In a move that shocked the nation, this morning Egypt’s military-backed government tendered its resignation to the republic.
In a televised address, Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi confirmed that the government has resigned. He gave no definitive reason for the decision. An unnamed source has revealed that the decision came after a 15-minute cabinet meeting, which included Defence Minister and Army Chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Sisi is widely expected to run for president in the upcoming elections. One official source said, “This was done as a step that was needed ahead of Sisi’s announcement that he will run for president.”
Sisi has skyrocketed in the political sphere since his role in removing former president Mohamed Morsi from office. Shortly after the removal, he unveiled a political roadmap which included a transition from an interim government to a new administration comprised of elected officials. Sisi has been a popular but divisive figure as supporters of the Morsi government have actively protested against the interim government and the army, leading to weekly (sometimes daily) clashes with pro-government citizens and security forces.
The decision also came as a series of strikes continue across several industries, including public transport workers and garbage collectors. Further, the nation has been suffering a great shortage of cooking gas. Prime minister El-Beblawi has been perceived by Egyptian media as indecisive and unable to provide a remedy for the Egypt’s failing economy. Beblawi has also been criticised for his inability to prevent or control escalating terror attacks within Egypt, attacks which have been blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood and extremist supporters of Morsi. Beblawi has acknowledged these poor conditions, but maintains that Egypt is in a better place now than during the Morsi regime.
While it remains unofficial, it is expected that Housing Minister Ibrahim Mehleb will succeed Beblawi.
Egyptian courts have ruled that the national state of emergency ended at 4 pm on Tuesday 14 November. Curfews that have been in place since 14 August have been lifted. The curfew was in place shortly following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi; economists are hopeful that the lifting of the curfew will result in a critical resurgence to the economy. Both the state of emergency and curfew were intended to last a month, however the government extended it for two more months on September 12. According to the Egyptian law, the government cannot extend a curfew beyond a three month period.
The Egyptian government is also in the process of drafting legislation to regulate demonstrations. To many activists, this is seen as a danger to their right to civil protests. The draft is currently in the hands of Interim President Adly Monsour, who in the absence of a parliament is the sole voice to decide on the issue.
Though the numbers have dwindled considerably, Morsi supporters have persisted in continuing demonstrations. On 11 November, protestors clashed with security forces at two universities north of Cairo on Tuesday. In Mansoura, four people were wounded in the clashes that also involved local residents. In Zagazig, five people were wounded clashes. Morsi, whose trial was delayed until January, remains in solitary confinement, reportedly at Burg el Arab prison in Alexandria. The former president will stand trial in connection to the killing of protesters outside of the presidential palace in December.
Meanwhile, Egyptians are awaiting a referendum on a new constitution, to take place in December. A 50- member committee has been tasked with evaluating and redesigning the current constitution, and have worked toward eliminating repressive passages, including restrictions on church construction. During Morsi’s tenure in office, he and his constitutional assembly, which were predominantly members of his Muslim Brotherhood party, developed a largely Islamist constitution, including a law that would make shari’a law, the Islamic legal system, applicable to the whole of Egypt.
Members of the Coptic Church, who comprise approximately 10% of the population, have felt that under the leadership of Morsi, the Christian population became increasingly marginalised. Following the removal of Morsi, the population was heavily targeted by Morsi supporters, including the destruction of Coptic owned properties and businesses.
Currently, the constitution has been redrafted to become increasingly secular. The committee eliminated a restriction that required Egypt’s Christians to obtain a presidential permit to build, repair or even renovate a church. Committee member Mohamed Abul-Ghar said, “Under a liberal constitution, all Egyptians, particularly Christians, must be allowed to build their own places of worship freely”. Still other proposals include suggestions to ban all political parties based upon religion.
Egypt is working to boost the economy with a tender for the development of the Suez Canal by the end of the month, in an effort to boost an economy struggling with political turmoil since 2011.
A spokesman for the project said, “No country is taking the lead, it is an Egyptian project and we are going to finalize the first stage by finalizing this tender by the end of this month.” Currently, Egypt’s economy benefits from about $5 billion a year in tolls for using the canal.
In addition, Egypt is also planning to launch an international tender in January to build its first nuclear power station. The development was announced on 14 November before talks with Russian officials on cooperation between the two countries. Egypt has suffered heavy fuel shortages since the 2011 uprising, which have placed a on power generating capabilities to the 85 million strong population, forcing power cuts and prompting energy-intensive industries to buy electricity from private suppliers at high prices. Former Trade and Industry Minister Hatem Saleh said in April that Russia had agreed to help Egypt develop atomic energy.
On 14 November, Russian and Egyptian senior officials met in Egypt to discuss military and economic cooperation between the two nations. While Egyptian officials have said that Egypt is not turning away from the United States, the meeting is a signal that the Egyptian government has options, with ties to Russian government going back several decades.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy downplayed speculation of a major foreign policy shift, saying, “We seek to energize a relationship that is already in existence,” and adding that Egypt is not looking for a “substitute for anyone”; Russia is too significant for such a role. Fahmy called the meeting an “activation” of existing ties and spoke of cooperation between the two countries “in multiple fields.”However the Egyptian government has expressed interest in purchasing Russian weaponry, in particular air defence missile systems and MiG-29 fighter jets, combat helicopters and other weapons. While there is speculation of how Egypt will afford the price tag of these items, an unnamed Egyptian military general close to army leadership said Egypt was close to signing a $2 billion deal with Russia for the purchase of 24 MiG fighter-jets as well as anti-tank missiles and an air-defence system.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shogiu, who vowed to develop military ties and increase bilateral contacts, said, “I expect to continue a constructive dialogue on the entire spectrum of military and military-technical issues.”
It is likely that the weaponry requested by Egypt is in an effort to continue pursuit of extremist networks, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Since the removal of Morsi on 3 July, the region has seen a significant increase in violence, particularly aimed at security forces. On Tuesday, Officer Tareq Mohamed Zaki was gunned down in North Sinai as he left a police station in Arish.
A security cordon has been placed around the police station to hunt down the attackers. Since July, hundreds of police and military troops have been targeted. The Egyptian army has responded with what military experts are calling the largest military operation on the peninsula since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, with the aim of combating “militancy and terrorism.”
UNHRC: Polisario camps becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers
A report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that refugee camps run by the separatist Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria, may have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers in North Africa.
Reports spanning back to 2009 show Polisario involvement in drugs and arms trafficking throughout the Sahel and Sahara; armed incursions in Mali; mercenary work under Gadhafi in Libya; and kidnappings and collaboration with AQIM. According to reports, the Polisario camps in Algeria have become a recruiting ground for AQIM, a hub for Polisario traffickers, and a threat to the region. Analysts are concerned about an “arc of instability” stretching across Africa, linking militants from AQIM, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Polisario. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently warned, “inaction could be catastrophic.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion. The UNHRC report recommends that support for the camps be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
Leaked report reveals Bahraini bid to replenish tear gas
A leaked report has revealed that in June, Bahrain’s interior ministry tendered bids for the provision of 1.6 million tear gas projectiles, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 stun grenades. The bid would replace nearly all of Bahrain’s projectiles used since 2011. The document does not reveal how much money Bahrain is prepared to spend on replenishing its supplies.
Bahraini forces have used tear gas extensively since 2011, as the minority Sunni government struggles faces daily low-level confrontations from a predominantly Shia population. Tear gas is among the most commonly-used methods to disperse protesters. In 2012, the US barred exports of tear gas to Bahrain, citing human rights concerns. Activists claim South Korean companies may be preparing to meet Bahrain’s tear gas requirements. The rise in global activism has spurred sales for non-lethal weapons as governments shift spending from counter terrorism to counter-activist policies.
Bombings in Suez, Sinai; police sent to trial
Two people were killed, and five wounded, when militants set off four roadside bombs targeting a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula on 22 October. The convoy was travelling from Rafah, on the Gaza border, towards El Arish. The militants then exchanged fire with the security forces and fled. No one has yet claimed responsibility. The same day, militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis claimed responsibility for a car bombing on 19 October in Ismailiya that wounded six.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s public prosecutor has sent policemen to trial on charges of manslaughter over the deaths of 37 Islamist prisoners that were tear-gassed in a transport truck in August. The trials will be the first of policemen accused of killings in a massive crackdown of pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters since army’s July 3 removal of president Mohamed Morsi.
Sectarian violence continues
At least 17 people were killed and 20 wounded in bombings and shootings on 22 October, when Iraqi forces clashed with an Al Qaeda militant hideout in the Himreen Mountains. The clashes resulted in the killing of four militants and the capture of seven others, all of whom were wanted for terrorism charges. A helicopter pilot was also wounded by the gunmen during the operation.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden car at the entrance of the home of Waqass Adnan, mayor of the city of Aana, some 250 km west of Baghdad. The blast was followed by a coordinated attack on the guards of the house, in an attempt to break in. In the process, four policemen and the brother of the mayor were killed, and four policemen were wounded. The mayor himself unharmed.
Meanwhile, in separate incidents, another suicide bomber rammed his explosive-packed car into the entrance of Aana police station and blew it up, killing two policemen and wounding three others. Gunmen fired mortars at a police station in Rawa city, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding seven others; a farmer was killed and his relative wounded when gunmen fired at them near a bridge northeast of Baquba, and a worker in a Sunni mosque was wounded by gunmen who fired at him in front of his house, about 20 km northeast of Baquba.
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Diyala province has increased, resulting in violence and reprisal killings. Sunnis and Shiites accuse each other of supporting extremists and militiamen. Across the nation Iraq is witnessing its worst escalation of violence in recent years, causing analysts to fear that the country is returning to the civil conflict that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.
Missiles from Syria Target Eastern Lebanon City
On 21 October, four rockets launched from Syria hit Hermel. The source was unable to confirm casualties. Hermel and other border areas of Lebanon have suffered frequent attacks since Syria’s uprising escalated into a civil war, sometimes impacting neighbouring Lebanon.
The eastern Lebanese city is a Hezbollah stronghold. Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad, has been openly involved in Syria’s war, sending fighters to support the loyalist army on the battlefield.
Lebanon had been dominated politically and militarily by Syria for 30 years, until 2005. The country is heavily divided on pro and anti Assad lines. As a result, the war in Syria has served to escalate Lebanon’s sectarian and political divisions.
Disabled veterans break into Libyan parliament building
On October 22, several disabled former rebels from the Libyan War broke into the parliament building and vandalised parts of the building. The event occurred on the day before the second anniversary of the rebel victory over Gadhafi forces, days after the dictator was killed in Sirte.
The protesters came from the town of Ajdabiya, between Tripoli and eastern Libya. The city was a major battleground in the 2011 war.
An MP stated, “They got into the Congress chamber and smashed some fittings.” The chamber was empty at the time but the act was decried as a “new assault on a state institution.” The vandalism is the latest in a series of security breaches at the General National Congress building.
In an effort to increase security and gain acceptance from rebel groups, the government has given some militia units varying degrees of official recognition. However, their control over the units is minimal. Analysts are concerned about the interim government’s ability to assert its control over militias and security throughout the country. Former rebels units, some sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, have refused to surrender their arms.
Saudi Arabia announces “major shift” in relationship with United States
On 22 October, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States.
The prince criticised actions and inactions taken by the United States, including failing to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing closer to the government in Tehran; and failing to back Saudi support for the Bahraini government when it crushed an anti-government revolt during the 2011 uprising. As a result, Prince Bandar has stated that he plans to limit interaction with the US, reportedly adding that there would be no further coordination with the United States over the fighting in Syria.
The report is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s reasons for refusal of a seat on the UN Security Council as a rotating member. Though they have not openly broken ties with the US, Saudi leaders have been quietly critical of several recent US actions in the Middle East.
Prince Bandar’s announcement marks a serious setback to the relationship between the two nations; it spotlights that Saudi and US interests are not aligned on several top issues driving instability in the Middle East. In particular, the Saudi’s point to the US shift toward a containment strategy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the US goal of driving Assad out while leaving a Baathist government in Damascus. The Saudi’s have vocally stated that both Assad and his government should be replaced. The US treats Syrian issues as separate from Iranian nuclear issues. The Saudis perceive them as inseparable. The differences in these world views are deep, and unlikely to be overcome easily. The change in stance could result in a strong shift in relations between the Middle East and the West.
Snipers targeting heavily pregnant women
Snipers are playing a “targeting game,” and heavily pregnant women are on the target list. David Nott, a British surgeon who volunteers with charity Syria Relief, says that up to 90% of the surgeries he performs daily are for sniper wounds. In the case of pregnant women, “Most of the children removed were seven, eight, nine month’s gestation, which meant it was fairly obvious to anybody that these women were pregnant.” He added that young children are also being targeted, and on some days, the wounds were “suspiciously similar”, with several victims coming in with shots to the same part of the body on the same day. The similarities suggest a game between the snipers.
Knott says he was told by other local doctors that snipers may receive little presents for people they’d shot during the day.
Mourning period announced for downed officers; Transition negotiations continue
In a televised speech on 23 October, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki announced three days of national mourning for eight officers killed by suspected militants in the central Sidi Bouzidi province. The announcement was made on the second anniversary of the country’s first free elections. Members of the National Guard were securing a building in the village of Sidi Ali Bououn after receiving a tip-off that a suspicious group was hiding there. A gun battle ensued, killing both security forces and militants.
Marzouki said the militants were retaliating for attacks on 17 October, when nine suspected militants were killed. Authorities say the militants had carried out an attack on police patrols.
The interior ministry believes that the militants belong to the Salafist Ansar al-Sharia group, who were linked to the murders of prominent left-wing figure Chokri Belaid in February and opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi in July.
Their deaths triggered mass protests against the government, and crippled progress between the ruling party and its opposition. While Ennahda condemned the killings, the opposition accused the leading party of failing to rein in radical Islamists.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh addressed the nation to confirm that the government would resign after talks with the opposition on appointing a caretaker administration were complete. Larayedh stated that Ennahda, the current ruling party in Tunisia, is committed to the “principle of relinquishing power in line with the different phases envisaged in the roadmap”.
Larayedh’s speech came following anti-government protests in Tunis, who demanded that the Islamist-led ruling coalition government leave immediately. Ennahda has been accused of stalling talks in order to maintain power in the government. Both Ennahda and the opposition have set a three weeks deadline to appoint the interim cabinet, and a one month deadline to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and set an election date.
Mohab Mamish, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, says that the Egyptian military foiled an attack on a container ship on Saturday. The attack, conducted by “terrorist elements” was intended to disrupt shipping in the Suez Canal. Reports indicate that the attempt was “completely unsuccessful” and the vessel was undamaged. The report did not indicate how the ship was targeted.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that two explosions occurred at 12:30 GMT as the Panama-flagged vessel, Cosco Asia, traversed the canal. Egyptian authorities have enacted extra security measures to secure the waterway, and have dealt “firmly” with the attempt. There was minimal interruption to shipping activity.
It is possible that the attack was linked to the increased arrests of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders and members following the removal of President Mohamed Morsi. Attacks in the Sinai have become a near daily occurrence since the removal of the MB backed leader. It is known that factions of al-Qaeda have taken residence in the North Sinai region. A week earlier, 25 off-duty, unarmed policemen were killed by suspected al-Qaeda militants; one of the worst militant strikes since the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The Egyptian government says they are conducting arrests of MB supporters in the fight against terrorism.
On Saturday, a top militant leader, Adel Mohammed (aka Adel Habara) was arrested in the Sinai Peninsula. Habara was tried in absentia and sentenced to death last year for the murder of soldiers in Nile Valley Egypt. The arrest of Habara could undermine militant activity in the area.
Earlier on Saturday, an Arabic recording was released by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, spokesman for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The recording stated, “There is nothing more right in God’s religion (Islam) than those who speak of the infidelity, reneging on Islam and abandonment of religion, and call for the necessity to fight these armies, foremost of which is the Egyptian army.” Al-Adnani also accused the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist al-Nour party of being co-opted to conduct the “futile secular approach to power through elections and democracy.”
There are currently no reported delays in the Suez Canal.
For the first time since 2011, most citizens of Egypt obeyed a 2100h curfew, following the deadliest day since the country’s uprisings began in 2011. The nation has declared a month-long state of emergency following the deadliest day since the start of the 2011 revolution, with curfews in effect in 14 of the 27 provinces.
Following the removal of Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi supporters engaged in nearly six weeks of protest. Middle Eastern and Western diplomats attempted to negotiate a political resolution of inclusion, however the attempts failed and protesters remained firmly in place.
Interior Minister Mohamad Ibrahim declared “Zero Hour” yesterday morning (14 August), initializing a plan to remove pro-Morsi protesters from camps at Nahda Square in Giza, and the camp near Rabaa al-Adawiyah mosque in Cairo. Operations began at 7 a.m. local time, with security forces first allowing safe passage for protesters to leave the site voluntarily prior to the clearing operations. Nahda Square in Giza was cleared within three hours; the camp at Rabaa Al-Adawiyah Mosque took 12 hours.
In a televised statement, the Egyptian Interior Minister described a scene in which protesters in Rabaa camp had created barricades, and were armed with weapons ranging from small firearms to “heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.” Early in the day, over 200 protesters from both camps were arrested for possessing firearms, bladed weapons, grenades, and gas canisters. Ibrahim continued, “Many protesters fired excessively from roof tops on security forces.”
Egyptian police troops and anti-riot squads continued with the forcible removal of the protesters. Violence escalated as protesters accused the forces of firing into the crows, igniting a rapid escalation of violence. Throughout the day, mayhem spread across Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked several police stations, including firing a rocket-propelled grenade into a station in Kerdasa, in Giza. A news broadcast showed Muslim Brotherhood supporters pushing an armoured vehicle off Cairo’s October 6 Bridge onto the road below. In addition, at least seven Coptic Christian churches, and over 40 Coptic-owned or operated institutions throughout Egypt were targeted, including bookshops and pharmacies. Coptic rights organizations say the numbers are a low estimate.
By mid-afternoon, Muslim Brotherhood protesters had attacked the historic Library at Alexandria and the Malawy Museum in Minya, with reports of looting of some of its contents. The attacks sparked an immediate and indefinite shut-down of all ancient or historic sites and museums across the nation. All branches of the central bank were closed, and train services running north and south were suspended to prevent transport of protestors.
According to the Ministry of Health, by 7 am on the 15th, there were 525 casualties, including 43 policemen, and 3,717 injuries. Representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood have placed the number of death at 2,000. Among those killed were three journalists: Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News; Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the UAE-based Gulf News; and Ahmed Abdel Gawad of Egypt’s state-run newspaper, Al Akhbar. Deane and Elaziz were shot to death; however there is no information on how Gawad was killed.
In Cairo, Interim Vice President El Baradei offered his resignation in protest to the violence sparked by the forcible removal of the protests. He had argued for a peaceful solution; allowing the protesters to remain in place and letting the gatherers decrease from attrition, as individuals became more resigned the reality that Morsi would not return, and they turn their focus to other issues, such as returning to work or finding means to support their family. In his resignation letter, he states, “It has become hard for me to keep bearing responsibility for decisions that I did not approve of and warned against their consequences. I cannot be responsible before God for a single drop of blood.”
The announcement caused very mixed reaction; some say the leader abandoned Egypt at a tough time. The Tamarod (rebel) campaign, which spearheaded the 30 June protests which resulted in Morsi’s removal from power, issued a statement on Facebook, calling El Baradei’s resignation an “escape from responsibility,” and adding, “We were hoping that El Baradei would do his role in explaining the situation to the global public opinion and international community and clarify that Egypt is facing organised terrorism, which highly endangers the Egyptian national security.” the statement read. Ahmed Darrag, a high ranking leader of El Baradei’s Constitution Party, denounced the decision and announced his resignation from the party.
Still others praised his decision. Khaled el-Masry, spokesman for the April 6 Youth Movement, says he “completely understands” the decision to resign from his post. In a statement, el-Masry said,
“El-Baradei has humanitarian biases as well as biases for justice and freedom that contradict bloodshed, especially if it happens while he is in a public post.”
The military actions received international condemnation and warning. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence used by Egyptian security forces to “in the strongest terms.” Through his spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, he said, “In the aftermath of today’s violence, the secretary-general urges all Egyptians to concentrate their efforts on promoting genuinely inclusive reconciliation. While recognizing that political clocks do not run backwards, the secretary-general also believes firmly that violence and incitement from any side are not the answers to the challenges Egypt faces.”
In a televised statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the Egyptian military’s actions “deplorable” and ”counter to Egyptian aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy.” Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said, “Violence won’t lead to any solution and we urge the Egyptian authorities to proceed with utmost restraint.”
Turkey President Erdogan has urged the UN Security Council and Arab League to act quickly: “It is clear that the international community, by supporting the military coup and remaining silent over previous massacres, has encouraged the current administration to carry out today’s intervention, instead of protecting democracy and constitutional legitimacy in Egypt.” Leaders from Iran have also warned of the risk of civil war.
The Egyptian Ambassador to the US called it “the least bad option.”
Since the initial uprising, police had largely and deliberately disappeared from the streets. As a result, Egyptians have complained about lax law and order, and an increase in criminal activity. However, since Mursi’s removal, the police have been more visible in the streets, while also implementing a public relations campaign to improve their image, despite Mursi’s failure to develop any police reform during his term in office. Ibrahim’s claim to restore security to the Mubarak era, while well-intended, brought reminders and fear of a notoriously oppressive security force.
The Muslim Brotherhood will not ended its protests, however it is likely that only hard-line protesters will remain resistant and active following the clashes of the 14th. With the actions taken yesterday, the Egyptian government has essentially established a baseline for what it is willing to tolerate.
The scale of violence during the security operations is likely to have put an end to any hope negotiations between the army-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, allegations of violence on the part of the Brotherhood supporters could be used to reinstate a ban on the group, including its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. With less than 20% of Egyptians supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, it is most likely that outrage at this action would emanate from outside of Egypt, rather than inside, posing a threat from radicalised actors entering the nation and acting on behalf of the group.
In order for the existing government to remain effective, it is imperative not only to focus on the security situation, but the economy. Economic improvement, even with incremental change, will assure the Egyptian populace that conditions are trending upward. To many outside of Egypt, this struggle is abuot religious versus secular government. However at the root of the clashes is the dire need for economic stability at all levels of income. If the government is swift in enacting security, economic, and political reforms, internal confrontations are likely to decrease. Yet the threat will still remain in place from those who support the concept of an Islamist party-led nation.