17 June – Egypt’s New Cabinet Sworn In
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb was sworn in on Tuesday, retaining his position at the head of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s new government. Al-Sisi also retained key economic and security ministers, and created a new post for Investment Minister to attract funds to the Egyptian economy. Egypt’s government is facing a long task of economic rejuvenation. The economy is forecast to grow at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, insufficient to create new jobs and ease poverty. The government must re-stimulate tourism, close the deficit gap, address long-standing corruption and reassess a costly subsidy system. Ministers will provide Mahleb with a weekly plan to review at cabinet meetings.
Egypt’s new Investment Minister is Ashraf Salman, the co-founder and co-CEO of Cairo Financial Holding. The new Foreign Minister is former ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, and the Minister of International Cooperation is university professor Naglaa El Ahwany. The ministers of ministers for finance, defence, interior, planning, oil, electricity, supplies and communications have remained in place from the previous regime.
16 June – Journalist Abdullah Elshamy to be released
The Egyptian government will release Al Jazeera’s journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, because of his deteriorating health stemming from his hunger strike. Elshamy was arrested on August 14, the day that soldiers and the police used deadly force to break up Islamist protest against the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi. He had been detained without charges and began his hunger strike four months ago. Egyptian state news said that prosecutors were releasing 11 others, who were not identified.
Next Monday, a judge will rule on charges against three Al Jazeera journalists. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to broadcast false reports in order to bring down Egypt’s new military-backed government. The prosecution has not disclosed any evidence regarding the charges. Al Jazeera is currently the only broadcaster in Egypt that is sympathetic to the MB; supporters of the military-backed government have called the news station a terrorist organization.
17 June – British Embassy may re-open in Tehran
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to announce a plans leading to the re-opening of the British embassy in Tehran, after all diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran were suspended in 2011. The unexpected move comes as Iraqi forces clash with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has captured several cities in Iraq over the past week. The speed and organization of ISIS has created a shared interest in among the UK and Iran in confronting the group. Relations between the two nations under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were extremely tense; however in 2013, the election of more moderate President Hassan Rouhani proved a vital step in improving relations between Iran and the West, particularly after Iran’s agreement to scale back its nuclear programme earlier this year. The UK government is still concerned about Iran’s role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria; it is expected the relationship born of necessity may experience tensions.
17 June – ISIS advances spark discussions of separatism, action
The Sunni Islamist militant group, ISIS, have made major advances in the past week. New reports indicate the group has taken over parts of Baquba, 37 miles from Baghdad. If the group successfully captures the city, they will have uninterrupted access down major highways into Baghdad. On Monday, ISIS claimed control over the city of Tal Afar, which lies between previously captured Mosul and the Syrian border. News reports show the air strikes being conducted by the Iraqi Air Force in the strategic region.
The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, believes Iraq may break into separate regions, saying it will be hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before ISIS took control of major cities last week. He added that Sunni Muslims in the region are angered due to their neglect by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. Barzani believes a political solution is the only way forward, possibly leading to an autonomous Sunni region: “We have to leave it to Sunni areas to decide but I think this is the best model for them as well. First they have to take a decision: what they want exactly. And in our view… the best way is to have a Sunni region, like we have in Kurdistan.”
US President Barack Obama has announced that 275 military personnel are being sent to Iraq to defend US citizens and the embassy in Baghdad, and will attempt to relocate embassy staff to consulates in Basra and Ibril. Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to fight ISIS, but has left the door open for targeted drone strikes. The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has been deployed to the Gulf, accompanied by two more warships. On their path through Iraq, ISIS fighters have conducted mass executions, with images and footage being aired on international stations, and confirmed as real by the Iraqi military.
17 June – Jordan’s UN Ambassador Elected High Commissioner for Human Rights
The UN General Assembly has unanimously Jordan’s UN ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will begin his four-year mandate on 1 September, 2014. Zeid al-Hussein will be “the first high commissioner from the Asian continent and from the Muslim and Arab worlds.” He is currently
The UN Human Rights Council promotes and protects global human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development. The High Commissioner functions as the UN official with principal responsibility for global human rights efforts.
16 June – Kuwait to Provide Housing to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Dr. Abdullah Al-Maatouq, Chairman of International Islamic Charity Organization (IICO), has announced that Kuwait will provide 1,000 housing units to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The units will be integrated with necessary services, including clinics, schools, and mosques. Al-Maatouq and others called on the Lebanese government to specify the location for the new housing units. Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees, comprising nearly a quarter of its population. Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the region, is now hosting the largest numbers of refugees. The IICO has previously built 2,000 houses in the Zaatari camp in Jordan and 2,000 houses in a camp in Turkey.
15 June – Hiftar Launches another Offensive in Benghazi
Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar launched another offensive against Islamist militants in Benghazi, resulting in 12 deaths, 18 wounded, and causing dozens of families to flee the area. In fighting on Sunday, large parts of Eastern Libya suffered a disruption of power supplies after rockets hit a power station near Benghazi’s airport. Hiftar’s spokesman, Mohamed El Hejazi, said his forces had detained five leaders from militant groups. Hiftar has declared war against militants in Benghazi, and while he has no official authority, several Libyan army units have joined forces with him.
Some analysts believe that Hifter is supported by neighbouring nations, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are worried about Islamist militants exploiting the chaos in Libya. At a news conference on Sunday, Hiftar praised Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his work in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hiftar called an “international spy network”. He also accused Qatar of fuelling Libya’s chaos: “There is no doubt Qatar supports the militias in Libya,” later adding that Qatar was hampering the formation of a national army and police force in Libya.
The latest fighting in Libya comes less than two weeks before a parliamentary election. Libyans hope the elections will put an end political infighting and install an authoritative government.
14 June – Guards stop Illegal Migrants from Crossing Spain/Morocco Border
Nearly 1,000 African migrants were halted in their attempts to storm a three-tier, barbed wire border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla. Moroccan security forces drove back the migrants in the latest attempts to cross into Spanish territory. Illegal immigration has reached crisis levels in recent years; estimates by the Interior Ministry in Madrid suggest that nearly 40,000 sub-Saharan Africans are waiting for an opportunity to go to Spain. In addition, there are increasing numbers of boats attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. These boats often originate in Libya amid the chaos in the nation. A majority of migrants have come from Syria, Eritra, and other impoverished regions in Africa.
17 June – UN Report Suggests Sectarian War Engulfing Iraq and Syria
In a report released on Tuesday, UN human rights investigators say the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria. Militants from ISIS have seized the north of Iraq in the past week, linking it with territory previously taken in eastern Syria. In Syria, the report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds,” and adds that ISIS kidnapped nearly 200 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo at the end of May. “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern,” the report said.
“The international community, and specifically the (UN) Security Council, have yet to demand that the individuals perpetrating crimes against the men, women and children of Syria are held responsible. Through their inaction, a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself,” the report said.
16 June – Tunisia proposes Autumn Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
Tunisia’s election authority has proposed a parliamentary vote in October and the first round of presidential polls in late November. The nation has been run by a caretaker government since 2011; the government that saw through the adoption of a new constitution and has been lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
The proposal suggests holding parliamentary elections on October 26, and the first session of the presidential vote on November 23, with the second session on December 28.The proposal is widely accepted to be approved within coming days.
In the first post-revolution elections in 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won, but came under fire for perceived mishandling of the economy and lenience towards radical Islamist groups. Backlash against the party escalated sharply after the assassination of two secular opposition leaders in 2013, which caused the party to resign and hand control to a technocratic caretaker government.
Ennahda, and the secular party Nida Tounes, are expected to be the strongest election contenders in October. Nida Tounes will be open to a governing coalition with Ennahda if the next elections do not produce a clear majority. The Ennahda party said that Tunisia must be governed by consensus over the next five years to anchor its fragile democracy.
Elections commission chief Sarsar said last month that the new electoral law would assure a free and fair vote, with more than 1,000 international observers invited to monitor it.
United Arab Emirates
12 June – UAE Begins Compulsory Military Service
The UAE has instituted a compulsory military service law aimed at safeguarding peace and stability in the Gulf and combating terrorism. The law applies to all males between the ages of 18 and 30 and in good medical health. Men who have a high school degree or its equivalent will serve nine months, while those who do not have a high school diploma will serve for two years.
The law was imposed to protect UAE strategic resources and prepare for threats, and also to “teach its people, men and women, of solidarity through military service,” said Mousa Qallab, a senior researcher for the Orient Research Center in the UAE.
The small Gulf nation is in the centre of a politically instable region, with many surrounding nations experiencing significant upheaval. In addition, the UAE has a territorial dispute with Iran, over three Gulf islands controlled by the Islamic republic.
Apart from the UAE, the government of Qatar in 2013 also approved a draft bill making it compulsory for males to enlist for military service for a period of up to four months. It is believed that Kuwait is also debating drafting legislation for mandatory military service.
Qallab added, “It is important that the Gulf States strengthen their military forces. Regional security must be ensured because here we have over half of the oil reserves in the world, and we export about 35 percent of them to industrialized regions across the world.”
16 June – Yemeni President orders Removal of Artillery
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has ordered the removal of heavy artillery from hills surrounding Sana’a over fears of a coup led by his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters. Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being ousted in 2012 and replaced by his long-time deputy.
A statement by the Yemeni army said, “The military leadership has dismantled heavy artillery and rockets that were positioned on hills around Sana’a following information of a coup plot [by Saleh] whose loyalists continue to infiltrate the army.” The weapons had been stationed on the hills to secure Yemen from al Qaida insurgency, a northern rebellion and a southern separatist movement.
The decision to move the weapons comes after the Hadi’s presidential guard, backed by armoured vehicles, surrounded a mosque controlled by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a late Saturday. It is believed that weapons had been stored in the large mosque in the city and were being guarded by gunmen loyal to Saleh. A tunnel connecting the site to the presidential palace had also been discovered. Hadi ordered that the mosque and its surroundings be handed over to the presidential guard.
The mosque siege came days after authorities closed the Yemen Today newspaper and television channel. Both stations are owned by Saleh and have often been accused of biased coverage of the post-Saleh government and of inciting protests in Sana’a against power cuts and water and fuel shortages. Analysts have accused Saleh of impeding Yemen’s political transition.
8 May: Approximately 50 illegal migrants have gone missing in the desert along the border between Algeria and Niger after being abandoned by their smugglers. Nigerien authorities alerted their Algerian counterparts to the disappearance of the migrants, including women and children. The Algerian army immediately mobilized ground and airborne units in a wide-scale search operation, however, chances are slim to find them alive due to the harsh weather conditions in the area. The source also indicated that the missing migrants may not have crossed the Algerian border.
7 May: In an ongoing operation, Algerian troops have killed 10 militants near Tin-Zaouatine, bordering Mali. The army also captured eight automatic Kalashnikov-type rifles, an RPG-7 rocket launcher, technical equipment and a “large amount” of ammunition. The operation began after “effective use of information on suspicious movements of a terrorist group.” Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in his first comments since his re-election, called it “an attempted infiltration by a heavily armed terrorist group with elements from Mali, Libya and from Tunisia.” In April, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for an ambush on army patrols in the mountains east. The attack killed 14 soldiers, making it the deadliest attack on the military in years.
8 May: Egypt’s interim government will restore daylight saving beginning 15 May to alleviate a crippling energy crisis. Daylight saving time was abolished three years ago, however, energy crisis, exacerbated by hours-long crippling blackouts in Cairo and other provinces, has prompted its reintroduction. The holy month of Ramadan will be exempt from Daylight Savings time, to help reduce fasting time. Ramadan, which begins in late June this year, is when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
The energy crisis is a major platform in the current election campaigns. The candidates— Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi— have been consistently asked how they plan to deal with the problem, which was a major issue driving the opposition of Mohammed Morsi prior to his overthrow. Sisi has suggested a national program to replace regular light bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs to reduce consumption; while Sabbahi has called for exploration of solar energy.
Egypt is struggling with diminishing revenues and a growing need to pay for energy subsidies, estimated to comprise one fifth of the nation’s budget. Most of Egypt’s major gas fields are being depleted, and new fields won’t begin to produce for years, particularly as oil and gas companies are reluctant to invest due to the past three years of instability and economic crisis; the government currently owes at least $4.5 billion to international oil and gas companies. Further, electricity consumption increases at a rate of seven percent per year because of a combination of energy-heavy industries, steady population growth and increasing technology use.
7 May: A huge explosion has occurred near a nuclear facility in the northern Iranian city of Qazvin. The explosion was said to have taken place in a storage facility near a reportedly secret nuclear enrichment plant in Abyek. The Iranian government said no casualties were reported, however Iranian opposition says scores of people have been killed. At least 50 people were injured, and a fire has swept through the city. Fire-fighters are seeking to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby car oil storage facility. The Iranian army has closed off much of the city. Authorities are uncertain whether the explosion was targeted. Opposition members have said that Iran’s nuclear facilities have been repeatedly targeted by Israel and the West. A Western intelligence source said, “There could be a small facility in the [Qazvin] area, but it is not regarded as major.”
7 May: Jordanian military clashed with at least 10 militants along the Syria border, marking the second high-profile incident in the border region in less than a month. Jordanian border guard traded fire with an unidentified group of individuals as they attempted to illegally cross into Jordan from Syria. Two gunmen were injured in the clashes. Sources suggest that the gunmen were Jordanian citizens returning to the country after fighting alongside Islamist militants in southern Syria. They were reportedly returning to seek medical attention for wounds sustained while fighting alongside Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.
In late April, the Jordanian air force targeted a convoy of unidentified armoured vehicles attempting to cross into Jordan after they failed to heed a series of warning shots. Jordan has conducted a security clampdown on the nation’s 370 kilometre shared border; security forces have arrested over 50 Jordanian and alleged foreign jihadists over the past two weeks. More than 2,200 Jordanians are currently fighting alongside Islamist militias in Syria, predominantly serving under Al Nusra or Al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
7 May: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Lebanon is denying entry to Palestinians fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria, despite its insistence there was “no decision” to keep them out. “UNRWA has been monitoring the situation at the crossing point at Masnaa between Lebanon and Syria and can report that no Palestine refugees from Syria have been allowed into Lebanon today and that some families trying to cross have been refused entry.” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, adding that they have received assurances from Lebanese authorities that these restrictions are temporary. On Tuesday, Lebanese security chiefs agreed “there is absolutely no decision to bar them from entry, and the border is open to them.”
The statement came after the UN and Human Rights Watch expressed concern over “increased restrictions” on fleeing Palestinians entering Lebanon. While Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, the nation has generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx. Lebanon currently hosts over one million refugees from Syria, more than any other country. The nation has the highest refugee population per capita in the world; among their number are 52,000 Palestinians.
Rights activists say Palestinians in Syria have been targeted by both sides in the conflict, making them one of the country’s more vulnerable groups. The Yarmuk district in south Damascus, the most populous Palestinian district, has been under blockade by the army since last year. Civilians in the area are trapped and receive very limited supplies of food and medicines, which are organised by UNRWA and other agencies. Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians.
4 May: The Libyan Congress has appointed, and then rejected a new interim prime minister, hours after he was sworn in. Ahmed Matiq thought he had secured a majority support of 121 deputies after several rounds of voting in Congress; however the process was chaotic, causing Congressional chairman Ezzedine Al-Amawi to later declare the vote illegal because voting continued after he had declared the voting session to be over. Al-Amawi asked former Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who resigned in April following a gun attack on his family, to continue as caretaker, Al-Thani has agreed to comply with the request.
The vote was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but it was interrupted when gunmen stormed the General National Congress. Elections for a new parliament that will replace the General National Congress are expected later this year.
7 May: A cap or an outright ban may be placed on recruiting expatriate workers from nationalities deemed to have “negative records”, according to a proposal by Oman Municipal Council members. Elected officials in Muscat governorate have advocated capping the number of expats of certain nationalities in recruitment. Some of the council members have suggested that visas “for certain nationalities, which have negative records”, should be stopped. According to official figures, there are 597,769 Indians, 510,470 Bangladeshis, 222,355 Pakistanis, 43,201 Ethiopians, 31,511 Indonesians, 29,426 Filipinos, 23,021 Egyptians, 12,867 Nepalese and 12,557 Sri Lankans in Oman.
7 May: A Saudi Arabian has sentenced Raif Badawi, the editor of an internet forum he founded to discuss the role of religion in the country, to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes. Badawi, who started the Free Saudi Liberals website, was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in July last year, but an appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial. He was also fined 1m riyals (£160,000). The website, which included articles that were critical of senior religious figures such as Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, has been closed since his first trial. Badawi’s defence lawyers called the sentence too harsh; however the prosecutor had demanded a harsher penalty, demanding that he be tried for apostasy, which carries a death penalty in the nation. The apostasy charges were dismissed; the ruling is subject to appeal.
In a separate ruling, the court also convicted the administrator of a website on charges of supporting internet forums hostile to the state and which promoted demonstrations. The administrator was sentenced to six years in jail and a 50,000 riyal (£7,860) fine.
8 May: Rebel fighters are believed to have detonated a bomb in a tunnel beneath the Carlton Citadel Hotel, near Aleppo’s medieval citadel and souk. The explosion destroyed the hotel and several other buildings. The Carlton Citadel is situated inside a 150-year-old building that faces the entrance of the 13th-Century citadel, which, along with the rest of the Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was reportedly being used by government forces. Preliminary reports state the hotel had suffered “huge damage”, but did not reveal any casualties. Opposition activists say that government troops were based there and that a number had been killed. Other sources state that a number of security forces personnel and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were believed to have been killed.
Syria’s state news agency reported that “terrorists” had blown up tunnels they had dug underneath archaeological sites in the Old City. A statement from the Islamic Front said its fighters had “levelled the Carlton Hotel barracks in Old Aleppo and a number of buildings near it, killing 50 soldiers”.
7 May: Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has offered amnesty for Islamist fighters have not committed any acts of murder, saying the “door of hope and repentance is open.” The offer came during his visit to Mount Chaambi, where extremists have been fighting security forces near Tunisia’s border with Algeria. The offer of amnesty is similar to one conducted by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s in 2005. Algeria’s National Reconciliation Charter lured thousands of insurgents home, although some rejoined their groups later. In addressing the militant groups, Marzouki said, “You are fighting an imaginary enemy” and death won’t lead to martyrdom. The offer applies only to those who haven’t killed. For over a year, security forces have tracked extremists in the Mount Chaambi area. Over a dozen soldiers have been killed in clashes.
8 May: Yemen’s main oil export pipeline has been bombed, halting crude flows. Other gunmen have attacked electricity lines, causing a power outage in most of the country’s northern cities. No group has claimed responsibility but Yemeni tribesmen often attack oil pipelines and power lines. Al-Qaida-linked militants have also carried out such attacks. This latest round of attacks coincided with an offensive by Yemeni government forces to capture of the militants’ main stronghold in Yemen’s southern region. The pipeline, which carries crude from Maarib fields in central Yemen to the Red Sea, was bombed twice in less than 12 hours on Tuesday. In a separate event, gunmen forced the closure of the Maarib gas-fired power plant after twice attacking its power transmission lines on Wednesday. It was the third attack on electricity lines in less than 48 hours.
28 April: A potentially fatal virus is spreading throughout the Middle East and could become a global threat. The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has health officials on high alert. The virus causes severe respiratory difficulties in humans. Symptoms of an infection include coughing, fever, pneumonia and shortness of breath.
The virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and health care officials have observed a rise in cases of infection during March and April for the past three years. In the past month, over 120 cases of MERS-CoV have been reported in the country, with over 10 reported cases each day, up from two or three daily in previous years. In 2014, there have been more cases detected than in 2012 and 2013 combined. On Thursday alone, the Saudi Arabian health ministry confirmed 36 new cases and four deaths.
The epicentre of the outbreak appears to be in Jedda, where seven cases of MERS have been confirmed in April. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), most of the infections were secondary cases in which healthcare workers or other hospital patients have been infected by someone who already has the virus.
The virus appears to be spreading. Over the weekend, Egypt confirmed its first-ever case of MERS. The Egyptian patient had been working in Riyadh before returning to the country. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seven new cases have been confirmed, including a 4-year-old boy from Abu Dhabi, believed to have been infected by his mother who recently returned from Saudi Arabia. Cases of MERS infections have also been reported in Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Oman, and Kuwait, the UK, Tunisia, France, Italy, Germany, Malaysia, the Philippines and Greece. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control “has been preparing for the possibility that a MERS case could walk off an airplane onto American soil.”
The WHO has confirmed 254 cases of MERS since the virus first appeared in April 2012. Of those cases, 93 have resulted in the patient’s death (36% fatality rate).
Saudi Arabia has been accused of obscuring information about the outbreak, making it that much harder for the international health community to answer important questions. The WHO has suggested that “inadequate” infection prevention may have contributed to the outbreak, but health professionals know very little about the virus or its means of transmission. Scientists first linked MERS-CoV to bats; however recent tests have found that signs of the disease are also widespread in camels, as it often appeared in patients who worked with camels, or consumed camel meat or milk. However, it appears that the virus has evolved, making it easier to transmit the disease between humans. Currently, the virus appears to stop after the second person, yet scientists fear that the disease may evolve again, potentially cause a pandemic.
Because of the upswing in the number of cases during March and April, many scientists have considered that MERS may be a seasonal virus. However if cases continue to rise beyond April, the biggest fears may come to fruition in October, when over one million Muslims will travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, creating an opportunity for a spike in global infection.
Mali Rebels Offer Freedom Deal for Algerian Hostages
23 June, 2013- The Mali-based al-Qaeda affiliate, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has offered to release one individual from a group of Algerian diplomats which were kidnapped last year, in exchange for the release of three “mujahedeen” currently held in Algeria. A statement sent to the Algerian government said, “If Algeria rejects the proposal, the Algerian hostages’ lives will be in danger.” The group did not release the names of the three prisoners they wish to have released, nor where they were being held.
MUJAO abducted a group of seven people, including the Algerian diplomats, on 5 April, 2012 in Gao, northern Mali. The kidnappers initially asked for €15 million to release the group, however, they released three of those hostages months later in July. In September 2013, MUJAO announced that the group had killed one of the hostages, however, this has not verified by the Algerian government.
Bahraini Security Arrests 9 in Prison Break Plan
25 June, 2013- Bahrain announced the arrest of nine Shiites members of the group Jaish al-Imam (Army of the Imam) thought to be linked to Iran, that were planning, among other things, to attack a prison to facilitate a jail break. Arms, ammunition and a plan for attacking the prison were seized. Those arrested were intending to carry out attacks on key installations in the country, the ministry said.
Bahrain is a country with a Shiite Muslim majority population that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty. Relations between Bahrain and overwhelmingly Shiite Iran have been tense since the authorities in Manama, with the help of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors, suppressed a pro-democracy movement largely led by Shiites.
Egypt Reinforces Military Presence in Suez Region ahead of Protests
27 June, 2013- The Egyptian army has reinforced its presence in the Egyptian Suez Canal city of Port Said ahead of national anti-government protests on 30 June. Several armoured vehicles toured the city’s streets before parking in front of the governorate headquarters. The forces were received with cheers by residents. Egypt is bracing for the protests on 30 June, called for by signature drive ‘Tamarod’, which aims at withdrawing confidence from the president and holding early elections.
The campaign’s petition to remove Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi from office has gathered 15 million signatures, more than the number of votes amassed by Morsi last year. The petition accuses the president of “failing to implement policies to improve the life of ordinary people,” citing Egypt’s critical economic situation. Some Egyptians are calling for the army to take over power for a temporary period and appoint a new government, in the event that Morsi resigns.
In preparation for June 30 demonstrations, army troops have started to take over the assignment of safeguarding vital facilities, including Martyr Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel and the banks of the Suez Canal.
Meanwhile, early clashes north of Cairo resulted in one person killed and more than 200 injured as opponents of President Morsi pelted his supporters with garbage as they gathered outside a mosque to stage a march in support of the president. This clash is probably an omen of larger clashes likely this weekend.
Bombs Target Protesters, 14 Dead
25 June, 2013- Bombs targeting Shiite protesters and pilgrims killed 14 people in northern town of Tuz Khurmatu, a day after 35 people were killed nationwide, most of them in a wave of car bombings in the capital. The death toll for June is now over 350. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni militants linked to al Qaeda frequently target Shia Muslims.
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside a tent filled with Shia Turkmen protesters in the town, killing at least 11 people and wounding 55. The protesters had been rallying over poor security in the town, which is regularly hit with attacks.
Tuz Khurmatu lies in a tract of territory in the north that Kurdistan wants to incorporate into its three-province autonomous region over Baghdad’s objections. The unresolved dispute over the territory, which stretches from Iraq’s eastern border with Iran to its western frontier with Syria, is cited by diplomats as one of the biggest threats to the country’s long-term stability.
Also on 25 June, a “sticky bomb” attached to a minibus went off as Shiite pilgrims were on their way to the central shrine city of Karbala for Shabaniyah commemorations. Three people were killed and 15 wounded when the bomb went off near the town of Iskandiriyah. In east Baghdad, gunmen wounded two guards outside an Assyrian church.
Iraq is struggling with a prolonged political deadlock and violence at its worst levels since 2008. Attacks have increased considerably since the beginning of the year, coinciding with rising discontent among the Sunni Arab minority that erupted into protests in late December.
Libya Deemed Major Transit Hub for Terrorists
An African Union (AU) leader has warned that Libya has become a major transit hub for terrorists. AU representative Fransisco Cetano Jose Madiera stated that he has reports which indicate that Libya has become a major transit hub for the main terrorist groups travelling from one country to another. In addition, Libya is seen as a refuge and point for terrorists to “reorganize”
Following the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s weakened security and porous borders make it a prime location for rebel groups to transit through. This was a key concern at the two-day regional security meeting in Oran, Algeria. Libya is a key component to stabilising the Sahel region, however few countries in the region have the means to protect their borders. The EU has offered to work with Libya to tighten border security but the lack of organization in the country makes the endeavor very difficult. The European bloc believes that development of the region could be a solution to fighting the problem of porous borders.
Libya is working in close collaboration with Algeria and Tunisia to secure their borders and to fight against terrorism and organised crime. Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister has said that officials are “in a constant contact with the Libyan government”, including Algerian contributions to the training of the Libyan police and army.
Qatar’s New Emir to Follow in Father’s Footsteps
25 June, 2013- In his first speech as the new emir of Qatar, 33 year-old Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, announced that he plans to follow policies established by his father and the country’s last government. The emir signalled that Qatar would undergo drastic change in domestic or foreign policy despite new leadership. The new emir’s father announced the end of his 18-year rule the day before, an unprecedented move for the country.
During the previous emir’s rule, Qatar spread its wealth through foreign investments, largely financed by its vast natural gas sources, to increase its political and economic influence in the region.
While Qatar supported the Arab Spring and has maintained an alliance with the United States, critics worry that the nation’s open support of the Syrian opposition could mean financial support of al Qaeda-linked groups. Further, some Westerners fear Qatar’s friendly terms with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new emir reaffirmed his country’s wish to remain on peaceful diplomatic terms with all governments. “We respect all the influential and active political trends in the region, but we are not affiliated with one trend against the other. We are Muslims and Arabs who respect diversity of sects and respect all religions in our countries and outside of them.”
During his speech, Sheikh Tamim refrained from mentioning the Syrian war, instead expressing his support for the Palestinians’ struggle against Israel. The sheikh also unveiled his cabinet reshuffle; outgoing Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani is to be replaced by Sheik Abdullah bin Naser Al Thani and Khalid al-Atiyah, respectively. Qatar has been dominated by the Al Thani family for nearly 150 years.
Qatar holds the world’s third largest gas reserves and produces around 77 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually, making it the largest supplier on the planet. According to the International Monetary Fund, Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world.
Saudi Arabia Changes Start of Weekend
Saudi Arabia will change the start of its two-day weekend from Thursday to Friday, in order to bring it into line with other countries in the region and coordinate business and banking days. The royal decree takes effect this week.
Last month Oman switched to a Friday-Saturday weekend, making Saudi Arabia the only country left among the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council to persist with the old format. The change means that Saudi businesses will now have four working days overlapping with Western and regional businesses rather than three. Friday remains a holiday in Muslim countries because it is a holy day set aside for communal prayer.
Spain uncovers al Qaeda network for Syrian Militants
21 June 2013- Spanish authorities arrested eight suspected members of an al Qaeda network who are allegedly involved in training, funding, and facilitating travel for Islamic radical fighters to Syria. The network is based in the Spanish territory of Ceuta and in the city of Fnideq in neighboring Morocco. The names and nationalities of those arrested have not been disclosed, but they are all Spanish citizens. The network has apparently funneled “dozens” of fighters to Syria, where some have taken part in suicide attacks and others have joined training camps. The network recruited fighters from various parts of Spain as well as Morocco and Ceuta.
According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, investigations are underway for other groups which are still preparing to travel to Syria. Although separate investigations of al Qaeda networks were begun in 2009 and 2011 by the National Guard and the Civil Police, the two agencies began collaborating this year. Spain is one of many European countries from which an estimated 700 fighters have traveled to join the rebels in the Syrian conflict.
Al Qaeda has been active in Spain since the 1990s, when the Spanish cell was headed by a Syrian named Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a.k.a. Abu Dahdah. Yarkas was later found to have had foreknowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, although the full extent of his involvement was never determined. He was arrested in late 2001 and sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiracy in the 9/11 attacks, but his sentence was later reduced to 12 years for lack of proof on the conspiracy charge. He was released on 23 May. The US has been seeking to monitor Yarkas for some time. Although Yarkas has not been added to the US or UN lists of global terrorists, a 2003 UN designation of an Indonesian al Qaeda-linked terrorist notes that Yarkas was instrumental in establishing al Qaeda training camps in Indonesia for European recruits.
Al Qaeda has been linked to Spain’s worst terrorist attack, the Madrid train bombings of March 2004, which killed 191 people. The cell phones used to detonate the bombs were provided by Jamal Zougam, yet another member of Yarkas’ al Qaeda cell, and Zougam’s accomplices included members of a known al Qaeda affiliate, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.
Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question
On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health. An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.
Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.
In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.
While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation. Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.
US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain
3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain. The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”
Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.
A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.
Bombing suspects arrested, confess
2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May. A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.
Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote. At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.
Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed
Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.
Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected
2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.
It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.
To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature. However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam
31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.
In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.
Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”
A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.
The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.
Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.
Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.
Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq
2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .
Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.
It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.
60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.
Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.
Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair
3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.
Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.
Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.
On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.
The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.
A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.
Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court
Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.
Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.
In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.
Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”
Turkish Activists Issue Demands
5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.
Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.
Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda
6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.
The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.
Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.