FPI Overnight Brief: September 22, 2011

Egypt

Egypt, a fecund breeding ground for Arab and Islamic ideologies, is witnessing the birth of yet another: Islamic liberalism. Nageh Ibrahim, the ideologue of the Islamic Group, an umbrella organization for Egyptian militant student groups that in the 1980s and 1990s took up arms against President Hosni Mubarak, was one of the first to use the term, in an apparent bid to woo secularists into a rapprochement. – New York Times

Egypt's emergency law will be in place until June next year, the ruling military said on Wednesday, spurning demands by protesters for a swift end to the code that rights groups say was used by former President Hosni Mubarak to stifle dissent. - Reuters

Middle East

Analysis: - As Bahrainis prepare for a vote to fill parliamentary seats vacated in protest by opposition members, authorities have tried hard to restore a sense of normality to the streets after a harsh government crackdown on demonstrations in March. But a solution to the Gulf kingdom's sectarian split looks a long way off. - Reuters

The United Arab Emirates is gearing up for the second elections in its 40-year history, but officials and candidates are finding it tough to answer a commonly asked question: why can't everyone vote? - Reuters

Iran

Two American hikers detained in Iran for more than two years were released to Omani authorities, Iran's state news agency said on Wednesday, bolstering President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's diplomatic standing just in time for his annual appearance before the United Nations on Thursday. – Wall Street Journal

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a warning for Leon Panetta: Unless you can see into the future, stop making predictions about my country. - Politico

Iranian authorities have imposed a travel ban on several prominent religious activists, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Nicholas Kristof interviews Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Mr. Ahmadinejad is a complex, even bizarre, figure. A firebrand with a penchant for making explosive public statements, he is small in person, subdued and very soft-spoken. Even when I pushed him hard on human rights abuses and nuclear deceptions, he responded in even tones while claiming that Iran is manifestly more democratic than the United States. – New York Times

Read the transcript of Kristof’s interview.

Editorial: That Mr. Bauer and Mr. Fattal can return to their families is cause for relief, and gratitude to those who helped them. But Mr. Ahmadinejad’s attempt to claim credit should be seen for what it is: a grandstanding gesture by a man who lacks the power to change Iran’s destructive course. – Washington Post

Iraq

On the eve of what is likely to be a nearly complete withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq, one of the great questions is what Mr. Sadr is going to do. The Mumahidoon is one possible direction. – New York Times

Iraq's Human Rights Ministry has decided to create a center tasked with identifying the thousands of unidentified bodies found in Saddam Hussein-era mass graves in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The two governments are negotiating whether a few thousand U.S. troops should remain in Iraq past the deadline, a possibility that has triggered fierce political squabbling in both countries. But the debate is playing out very differently in the two capitals, highlighting a sharp disconnect between the two governments on a key aspect of the war's future and offering a vivid illustration of Washington's rapidly diminishing political influence here. – National Journal

Budget battles are the latest roadblock delaying a decision by Baghdad on how many U.S. troops it might request stay in Iraq, although a top government official predicts the American military will remain as a training force beyond a year-end departure deadline. – Associated Press

Iraq will need U.S. military trainers even after American combat troops leave this year, ending a mission that began with the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said. - Reuters

Israel

A last-ditch American effort to head off a Palestinian bid for membership in the United Nations faltered. President Obama tried to qualify his own call, just a year ago, for a Palestinian state. And President Nicolas Sarkozy of France stepped forcefully into the void, with a proposal that pointedly repudiated Mr. Obama’s approach. – New York Times

Israel's army is training soldiers to use minimal force to deal with Palestinian protesters, after a series of fatal encounters. The Israel Defense Forces' effort to adjust its strategy of responding to adversaries with disproportionate force comes as Israel faces rallies by Palestinians supporting their bid for admission as a state to the United Nations. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Thousands of Palestinians rallied in cities across the West Bank on Wednesday in support of their leadership’s bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations, with only scattered incidents of violence in the first test of the move’s impact on the streets. – Washington Post

In bringing his cause to the United Nations despite intense American pressure, Mr. Abbas has captivated the annual General Assembly gathering, bolstered the flagging devotion of his people and even cornered his rivals in Hamas. The question is whether this moment of unparalleled prestige for the Palestinian leader will produce concrete results or a new and more dangerous set of risks. – New York Times

The Senate appropriations committee on Wednesday raised the stakes for the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership by threatening to cut off U.S. economic aid and close the Palestinians’ office in Washington. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday called the Palestinian push for recognition by the world body “an unwise and diversionary gambit.” – Associated Press

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert writes: I truly believe that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a more stable Middle East and to grant Israel the security and well-being it desires. As tensions grow, I cannot but feel that we in the region are on the verge of missing an opportunity — one that we cannot afford to miss. – New York Times

Afghanistan

Mourners thronged the streets of the capital on Wednesday near the home of slain Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani, while the mystery deepened as to who was behind his assassination a day earlier. – Los Angeles Times

Even as U.S.-led forces draw down in Afghanistan, U.S. officials expect the number of detainees at their main prison to increase — and by a significant margin. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, is facing a fraught search for allies after the murder of one of the giants of the country’s political scene robbed him of a key supporter and threw his strategy for tackling the Taliban into disarray. – Financial Times

Analysis: Competing claims from Taliban spokesmen about the insurgent group's role - or lack of one - in the assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani may have exposed divisions in the movement over the high-profile killing. - Reuters

Pakistan

A key U.S. Senate committee has voted to make economic and security aid to Pakistan conditional on its cooperation in fighting militant groups, including the Haqqani network which U.S. officials blame for this month's rocket attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Armed men have gunned down 26 people, all of them belonging to the Shi'a sect, in Pakistan's southern Baluchistan Province, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The first of a pair of new Azmat-class fast attack craft built by China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. (CSOC) for the Pakistan Navy was launched by Pakistani naval chief Adm. Noman Bashir, at the Xhinggang shipyard in Tianjin, China, on Sept. 20. – Defense News

U.S. officials say there is mounting evidence that Pakistan's chief intelligence agency has been encouraging a Pakistan-based militant network to attack U.S. targets. - Reuters

Reza Jan writes: While the network has surely suffered heavy blows with the deaths of Osama bin Laden and dozens of other top leaders over the years, it has retained its vitality and survivability. Although personally diminished, al Qaeda’s core group has found new ways of expanding its lethality: it has succeeded in innervating other groups with the means to conduct violence in its name, causing the brand to supersede individual membership in importance. While al Qaeda’s traditional structure has deteriorated over the years, the threat emanating from Pakistan to the region, and the world, is diversified rather than diminished. Ten years on, the time for vigilance is not yet past. – AEI’s Critical Threats Project

Taiwan

The Pentagon on Wednesday announced the sale of advanced “smart bombs” and other high-tech strike arms to Taiwan under a new $5.8 billion arms package to upgrade the island’s F-16 force. – Washington Times

The Obama administration said Wednesday Washington will upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/B fighters under a new $5.9 billion arms deal, and will keep open talks with Taipei about the newest version of the Lockheed Martin-made jets. – The Hill

A U.S. decision not to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter jets is being seen by many U.S. allies in Asia as a sign of China’s growing clout. – Associated Press

China stepped up its condemnation of the United States on Thursday for selling arms to Taiwan saying they could disrupt military exchanges, a warning that is likely to unsettle, but not derail, ties with Washington. - Reuters

China

The police in central Henan Province have arrested two men suspected of killing a television reporter whose microblog posting touched on a scandal involving the illegal reuse of cooking oil, the state media reported Wednesday. – New York Times

Japan

The United States gave a stern warning on Wednesday over recent cyberattacks on Japan’s biggest defense contractors, the latest in a series of security breaches that have fueled concern about Tokyo’s ability to handle delicate information. – New York Times

Southeast Asia

The massive dam under construction in this remote corner of Myanmar is generating a litany of concerns that are not uncommon to such projects: about the risks of tampering with nature, about damage to wildlife, about the displacement of villagers. But for many people in Myanmar, also known as Burma, the fears surrounding the Myitsone dam go much deeper. It will be the first dam across the Irrawaddy River, the iconic, even mythic waterway that has given life to centuries of Burmese civilization. – New York Times

After restoring defense ties last year, India and Sri Lanka have begun joint naval exercises. – Defense News

Harsh Pant writes: New Delhi has steadily built relations with Washington in the past decade, while Vietnam has been courting America as the South China Sea becomes a flashpoint. As these three countries ponder how to manage China's rise, they will be drawn closer together. By lashing out against India for its dealings with Vietnam, China has shown it will try to deter strategic competitors from collaborating against it. But if both India and Vietnam stand firm, they could force Beijing to moderate its expansionist claims on the South China Sea and adopt a more conciliatory stance on other regional matters. – Wall Street Journal Asia (subscription required)

The War

In assembling a constellation of secret drone bases around Yemen and Somalia, the United States is trying to eliminate refuges for al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But it’s also trying to do something else: avoid the mistakes of the past. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington

Defense

The United States is at risk of losing its capacity to build cutting-edge weaponry unless the Defense Department moves to manage the defense sector in an era of budget cuts, a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon warned Wednesday. – The Hill

The U.S. Air Force will not push the envelope as it historically has when developing new technology for future weapons because declining defense spending will reshape the military's purchasing priorities. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force's nascent bomber program is crucial to the American industrial base, the service's top uniformed leader said. – Defense News

The U.S. Air Force's top uniformed officer reiterated the service's staunch support of the F-35 Lightning II program on Sept. 20. – Defense News

After conducting an in-depth integrated baseline review (IBR) of Boeing’s plans to develop the KC-46A refueler, U.S. Air Force officials say the program is on schedule and cost. However, the one area of elevated risk for the $4.9 billion program is whether the company can deliver 18 of the KC-135 replacements by August 2017, says Brig. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the Air Force program executive officer overseeing the KC-46. – Aviation Week

The U.S. Air Force has launched an effort to replace its aging arsenal of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM), which give the venerable B-52 its nuclear punch. – Defense News

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew has told U.S. House Republican defense and budget leaders that automatic across-the-board cuts “could pose a significant risk to national security.” - Bloomberg

The House Armed Services Committee chairman is warning that further reductions to projected defense spending could make a military career so unattractive that it would force the Pentagon to revive the draft. – Associated Press

Russia

An influential nationalist leader urged his followers on Wednesday to throw their support behind Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, telling them that they will no longer have to shiver at street demonstrations because the Kremlin will grant them access to executive and legislative power. – New York Times

Russia has decided to extend the life of a controversial generation of nuclear reactors like the one that catastrophically exploded at Chernobyl in 1986, the head of Russia's state-owned nuclear monopoly said. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Vladimir Putin has one word for out-of-control oligarchs: “hooliganism.” That’s how Russia’s prime minister Wednesday described the prime-time punch-up between two wealthy tycoons shown on a national TV talk show Sunday night. – WSJ’s Emerging Europe

The glowing coverage that business magnate Mikhail Prokhorov had been receiving from Russia's state-controlled media for months has come to an abrupt end. And in its place, television viewers are being fed critical -- and clearly orchestrated -- investigative reports targeting the tycoon's allies, including the legendary pop diva Alla Pugacheva and the controversial antidrug crusader Yevgeny Roizman. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Six people were killed and at least 50 injured when three car bombs exploded in the capital of the Muslim Dagestan region in Russia's North Caucasus, an Interior Ministry source and Islamist rebels said on Thursday. - Reuters

Russia faces instability and its future is in question if it fails to carry out political reforms and reduce its dependence on energy exports, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in an article published on Wednesday. - Reuters

United Kingdom

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats sought to revive his struggling party's fortunes, saying in a speech on Wednesday that sharing government with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives was "not easy but right" while warning the economy has a "long, hard road ahead." – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

United States of America

A group of plaintiffs hoping to mount a challenge to U.S. surveillance law secured a major victory Wednesday when a federal appeals court upheld their standing to sue the government. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint Washington

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on Wednesday accused GOP presidential candidates of “playing politics” with Israel. – The Hill

Josh Rogin reports: Keep your eye on these Capitol Hill staffers, all of whom were selected for the 2011 Fall Congressional Fellowship Program at the Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), a centrist, security-minded policy organization here in Washington. – The Cable

Mexico

The Aug. 25 arson attack has proved a debacle for Mayor Fernando Larrazabal and, by extension, for his National Action Party, or PAN, which also happens to be the party of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. – Los Angeles Times

Venezuela

Venezuela has proposed paying Exxon Mobil Corp $1 billion in compensation for the nationalization of its assets in 2007, much less than the U.S. oil giant wanted, the energy minister said on Wednesday. - Reuters

Africa

Zambia's High Court in Lusaka Wednesday granted an injunction to the country's Attorney General barring three private media houses from announcing results of the country's presidential and parliamentary polls before the official results, and from publishing speculative stories on the outcome of the Sept. 20 elections, state media reported Thursday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Fresh violence broke out in this southern African nation Wednesday when angry residents of one town threw stones at police and polling staff vehicles bringing ballot boxes to a counting center. – Washington Times

Hackers attacked the website of Zambia's Election Commission on Thursday, posting a string of false results showing opposition leader Michael Sata in the lead and causing delays to the release of the official tally. - Reuters

Libya

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization authorized a 90-day extension of the alliance's aerial mission over Libya on Wednesday, raising the prospect that U.S. and allied troops could be involved in the North African nation until Christmas. – Los Angeles Times

Their hometown of Misurata has largely been reduced to rubble, but the fighters say they haven't come to Moammar Kadafi's birthplace to wreak havoc. They say the several thousand troops fighting under the flag of Libya's revolutionary regime, most of them from Misurata, seek control of Surt, one of three major bastions still loyal to the ousted longtime ruler. – Los Angeles Times

Gulf members of OPEC will cut their output of oil once Libya’s production is back on track, Abdullah al-Badri, secretary general of OPEC, said this week. – New York Times

French air forces flying strike missions in Libya against Gaddafi's loyalists are not using detailed imagery and intelligence provided by US airborne surveillance aircraft, according to statements made today by French pilots involved in those sorties. – AOL Defense

Libya’s revolutionary government has enjoyed a surprise windfall that will help finance the country’s post-war recovery after discovering $23bn-worth of assets that were unspent by Col Muammer Gaddafi’s regime, officials in London and Tripoli have told the Financial Times. – Financial Times

Libya's interim rulers said they had captured one of Muammar Gaddafi's last strongholds deep in the Sahara desert, finding chemical weapons, and largely taken control of another. - Reuters

Paul Wolfowitz writes: One should neither exaggerate the threat that Gadhafi still poses nor dismiss him as an irrelevant buffoon. The longer he remains at large and able to do damage, the greater the risk that he might reawaken the fear he once instilled, destabilizing the efforts of the Libyan people to build a new, free society. It is important for them to succeed, not least so that dealing with chaos in Libya does not become an international concern. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Syria

Syrian forces killed at least six civilians in military operations in central and northwestern regions on Wednesday, residents said, following an increase in attacks on the army by defectors sheltering in rural areas. - Reuters

Interview: In an extensive interview with The Daily Caller from his mission in Syria, Ford detailed the difficulties of being an ambassador in Syria at this moment of tumult, his quest to bear witness to the evil of the Assad regime and what a post-Assad Syria might look like. – The Daily Caller

More: The American Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford called Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad evil in an extensive interview with The Daily Caller Wednesday from his mission in the Middle Eastern country. – The Daily Caller

Yemen

Eight months after the first protesters began calling for revolution in Yemen, the beleaguered country has entered a new round of violence, in which street demonstrators appear to have become little more than sacrificial pawns in a long-term rivalry among members of Yemen’s political elite. – New York Times

Yemeni forces clashed with soldiers backing a mass protest movement in the capital Sanaa on Wednesday, breaching a short-lived truce on a day when six protesters were killed by snipers, shelling and gunfire. - Reuters

Explosions rocked the Yemeni capital Sanaa and clashes between government forces and soldiers backing protesters resumed on Thursday with time running low for a diplomatic solution to prevent the country from sliding into full-blown civil war. - Reuters

Analysis: Saudi Arabia, the regional power with the weight to influence Yemen's political direction, seems unable to decide on whether to press President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit, a move which could spare his country the specter of civil war. - Reuters

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