On 18 February, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced that the US has added Libya, Somalia and Yemen as “countries of concern” under its visa waiver programme. The three additional nations join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries that are subject to restrictions for those seeking to travel to the US. The move will effectively make US visa procedures more stringent for those individuals who have visited these countries in the past five years.
The new restrictions were imposed under a law that was passed in the wake of the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France, which were attributed to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. According to the new regulations, citizens of US allies who previously had been able to travel to the US without first obtaining a visa will now have to apply to US consulates for such visas if they have travelled to those designated countries in the past five years. The Homeland Security Department has disclosed that the new requirements will not automatically affect nationals from visa-waiver countries who also are dual nationals of Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The department did note however that under the new procedures, the Homeland Security secretary can waive the more stringent visa requirements on a case-by-case basis, adding that such waives would primarily be available to journalists or individuals travelling on behalf of international organizations of humanitarian groups.
The latest visa waiver restrictions were imposes as US agencies sharpen their focus on the threat posed by Islamist foreign fighters and seek to make it more difficult for them to take advantage of the US visa waiver programme. Under the current programme, citizens of thirty-eight, mainly European countries, are allowed to travel to the US for up to ninety days without a visa. Prior to travelling to the US, citizens of visa waiver countries must register online using a US government system, known as ESTA. This system effectively gives US agencies the opportunity to check out visa waiver applicants’ backgrounds through intelligence and law enforcement data bases before giving them permission to board US-bound flights.
After the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, the US visa waiver programme came under harsh scrutiny in the US Congress as some of the militants behind the attacks were European nationals, who had become radicalized after visiting Syria and who were theoretically eligible for US visa waives. Homeland Security has disclosed that it will continue to work with the State Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in order to determine whether additional countries should be added to the list.
Despite the fact that news outlets and the public have recently focused on the thousands of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and Eritrea descending on Calais waiting for a chance to cross the tunnel towards the United Kingdom, the problem is far from new. In 1999, the Sangatte refugee camp opened in Calais creating controversy between the people that supported the existence of a place were the migrants could stay in and the people that highlighted the dangers of the migrants’ presence in the area. The camp attracted thousands of would-be asylum seekers and people traffickers. The camp was closed in 2001 and 2002, on the orders of Nicolas Sarkozy that was placed as Minister of Interior in the French government at the time. Despite the closure of the camp, migrants continued to arrive in Calais and create makeshift camps near the port since the port did not lose its value due to its proximity to the UK borders, making it the ideal location for the migrants to cross towards the UK. The inhuman conditions that the migrants live in while waiting to cross the channel, and the ever increasing number of migrants descending in Calais has led to protests organised by the migrants for a treatment that respects their basic human rights. French authorities estimate that currently there are about 3,000 migrants living in these makeshift camps known as ‘’the Jungle’’ waiting to cross the Channel. One of they ways the migrants use attempting to cross to UK is by stowing away on lorries bound for cross-Channel ferries. During recent strikes by French ferry workers that resulted in closing the Channel Tunnel, the migrants stranded in Calais openly tried to board lorries stick in traffic on the roads leading to the port. At the same time, there have also been reports of migrants attempting to hide in people’s cars. However, recently, activity has shifted more to the Channel Tunnel. Nowadays migrants attempt to stow away on lorries headed for the Eurotunnel, or jump or cut security fences to try to hide on Eurotunnel trains themselves. There have been incidents reported claiming that migrants have tried to cross the Eurotunnel on foot. The attempts to reach UK have been proved fatal for many of these migrants, with more than ten incidents were migrants lost their lives when hit by passing trucks and trains during their attempt to cross the Channel. Eurotunnel has highlighted the increase of what it describes as ‘’nightly incursions’’ with groups up to to hundreds of migrants attempting to beach security all at once, and how that obstructs the operation of Eurotunnel. Due to these incidents, in July, Eurotunnel asked the French and British governments to pay almost 10 million euros to cover the cost of extra security measures that the migrant crisis has made necessary. Part of these sum is going to be given as compensation to tourist passengers due to the frequent disruptions in the operations of Eurotunnel in incidents involving migrants and strikes by ferry workers. According to Eurotunnel officials, the company has spent 13 million euros on additional security in the first half of 2015, which is the same as it spent in the whole of 2014.
The French and British governments have agreed the introduction of more security measures to tackle the problem. In 2014, the British government pledged 12 million pounds over three years to assist France in handling the problem. In July 2015, the UK announced a further 2 million pounds for a new secure zone at Calais for UK-bound lorries. It later was confirmed that it would provide an additional 7 million pounds for measures to improve security at Calais and the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. At the same time, UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire announced the creation of the ‘National Barrier Asset’ (NBA) that will be deployed to the French end of the Eurotunnel, at the terminal at Coquelles, to prevent irregular migration. NBA is a collection of temporary security barriers, mainly consisting of a large modular 9ft high fence, established in 2004 to provide police with the ability ‘to protect high profile locations or temporary events’. The fence is designed to withstand an impact from a 7.5-tonne vehicle travelling at 50mph. British authorities believe that the fence will help quell attempts by migrants to cross the English Channel. The port of Calais is currently protected by 16ft fences topped with coils of razor wire and CCTV, with the gates and exterior guarded by heavily armed French riot police. French police have been heavily criticised for taking migrants off lories, driving them a few miles away and then releasing them, knowing that the migrants will head back to Calais renewing their attempts to cross. However, according to the police, the problem is that there are simply too many to arrest and deal with, making it impossible for them to cope with the increasing influx of migrants descending in Calais. At the end of July, an extra 120 French riot police was deployed to Calais, however, it is not believed that the existing number of police force present in Calais is enough to stop the migrants’ attempts. Recently, there have been pledges by the head of the Alliance union for police deployed to Calais for additional help, with many calling for the deployment of the British army to help curb the crisis. UK has already received 27 million euros for the European Commission in emergency aid funding, which it applied for in March. France will receive its 20 million euros by the end of August. However, according to the Commission’s representative, neither country requested additional aid for security in Calais and will not receive funds from the aid program.
The situation in Calais is not an isolated problem but part of the wider migration crisis in Europe, caused by the instability in countries near the European continent, such as the displacement of people from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea and economic crisis that plagues many African states. For these people, UK is their final destination where many will either enter as asylum seekers, and others will try to enter incognito to remain in the country as illegal workers. This chaotic situation in Calais has resulted in the inability of the authorities to estimate with accuracy how many people have succeeded entering the UK. Home Secretary Theresa May has conceded that ‘a number’ of migrants do make it across the Channel, but no specific figures were given. Both Kent Police and Kent County Council have admitted that they do not hold official figures. The British Prime Minister, in an effort to make UK a less attractive destination for the economic migrants, he vowed that he will throw the illegal migrants out of UK, giving priority to the settlement of asylum seekers in UK.
At the same time, it became obvious that for the better handling of the problem in Calais, the close collaboration between France and UK was necessary. Last week, UK and France signed an agreement on new measures including a control and command centre to help alleviate the migrant crisis in Calais. According to reports, the centre will by jointly run by British and French police and will focus not only on the migrants, but mainly on the people-smugglers operating in the area. The joint command centre will also incorporate the UK Border Force will be led by two senior officers, one British and one French, each reporting to their own government. The joint deal also includes the arrival at Calais of an extra 500 police from the UK and France. Additionally new measures will be introduced, such as sniffer dogs, and additional freight search teams and UK-funded flights that will return the migrants to their home countries.
Despite the obvious problems that the migration crisis has caused across Europe, including the rapidly worsening crisis in Calais, there is another consequence that it has not been brought into greater focus. That consequence has to do with the way the, already rapidly augmenting, far right movements and parties across Europe use the migration crisis to their advantage. From UK, where the crisis in Calais could be used to strengthen the ‘No’ campaign in the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership, to France that has to face the problem of migration both in Calais and at its common borders with Italy, to Germany where arson attacks destroy shelters for asylum seekers and recent reports estimate that Germany will have to handle some 800,000 asylum claims in 2015.
Despite the fact that the Common European Asylum System is in force and the existence of the quota system that was agreed recently, it seems that rules and decisions are one thing, but putting them into practice EU-wide is another challenge. Not only that, but due to the crisis, there are countries such as Germany that have suspended the Dublin Regulation since they know that returning the asylum seekers back to their entry points, mainly Greece and Italy, it will only prolong the crisis. It is obvious that the existing regulations and measures are not enough to face this crisis, since it is a phenomenon that has never occurred before in such a scale. There is not going to be an easy solution to the migration problem, since its roots will be traced to the instability that reigns in states close the European continent, and if these causes are not terminated the migration flows will continue arriving at the European shores. However, the problem is a European one, and it should be handled as such, with the solution having at its core the migrants’ interests.
South Sudan Reconciliation “Possible” As Two Sides Meet
A chief negotiator in South Sudan has indicated that rebels are confident that “full reconciliation” can be achieved with the government. Taban Deng’s comments come as the two sides hold ceasefire talks in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. South Sudan’s Information Minister Michel Makuel has also indicated that the government is committed to ending the conflict. Fresh violence erupted in South Sudan on 15 December 2013, resulting in around 1,000 people being killed since then. In turn, nearly 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the fighting, which has seen clashes between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
After days of disputes pertaining to procedural issues and the agenda, direct talks between the two sides finally began on Sunday in Addis Ababa. On Tuesday, chief mediators Seyoum Mesfin and Lazurus Sumbeiywo flew to South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in order to hold talks with President Salva Kiir. A major issue to be raised during the talks will be the demand made by Riek Machar to release twelve people who have been detained over allegations of a coup plot. The president has so far repeatedly ruled out their release, stating that they will face justice. Mr Machar however denies that there was a coup plot, stating instead that the current president’s forces are responsible for the violence, which is being used as a mechanism to consolidate his hold on power ahead of elections which are due in 2015.
Since fighting began in mid-December of last year, both sides have been under intense diplomatic pressure to end the fighting in South Sudan, which is the world’s newest state. On Monday. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met with the two parties in Addis Ababa and urged them to negotiate a ceasefire. China is a major investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir also held talks with President Kiir on Monday. According to Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Karti, the two leaders were “in consultations about the deployment of a mixed force to protect the oilfields in the South.
When it seceded from Sudan in 2011, the South ended up with most of the oilfields however it has to export the oil using pipelines through ports in Sudan’s territory. With fighting escalating over the past few weeks, the government in Khartoum, Sudan now fears that the fighting that is occurring in the South will disrupt its oil revenue.
Despite the two sides hold talks in Ethiopia, fighting in South Sudan has continued. On Monday, heavy fighting between President Kiir’s and Mr Machar’s forces occurred near Bor, the capital of Jonglei state. Army spokesman Philip Aguer indicated that it was only a “matter of time” before Bor was recaptured from the rebels. The United Nations also announced on Monday that militiamen had taken control of a UN food warehouse in Bentiu and that UN vehicles had been commandeered in the rebel-held town of Bor.
On Monday, the South Sudanese government announced that it had agreed to a cessation of hostilities with rebel leader David Yau Yau. The government, which has been fighting Mr Yau Yau for nearly two years, feared that his troops, which are stationed in Jonglei state, would joint the new rebellion.
First Chemical Weapons Leave Syria
Meanwhile in Syria, the United Nations has confirmed that the first consignment of chemical weapons has left the Syrian port of Latakia. Officials at the UN have indicated that Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian frigates are escorting the consignment. A previous attempt to collect the arms was aborted after Syrian officials failed to deliver the toxic chemicals to the collection point in Latakia. The “most critical” chemical include about twenty tonnes of blister agent sulphur mustard.
The weapons are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Navy Ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board. Removing the most dangerous chemicals is the first step of a UN-backed agreement that aims to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of this year. The agreement was brokered by Russian and American officials after rockets filled with nerve agent sarin were fired at three towns in the Ghouta agricultural belt located around the Syrian capital Damascus on 21 August 2013. The attack resulted in the deaths of hundreds of peoples. While Western powers have indicated that the assault could have only bee carried out Syrian government forces, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has blamed the attack on rebel fighters.
Route of First Consignment
- The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from twelve sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
- Russia has also provided security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment’s. Meanwhile China has sent ten ambulances and surveillance cameras while Finland has sent an emergency response team in the event that accidents should occur.
- Denmark and Norway will provide cargo ships and military escorts in order to take the chemicals to an as yet unnamed port in Italy. Russia and China will also provide naval escorts.
- Upon arrival in Italy, the “most critical” chemical weapons will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, in order to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Meanwhile less toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.
On 4 December, a report entitled “The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond” was presented to EU home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in the European Parliament. This, the second report on the topic, focuses on collusion between authorities and criminal networks in human trafficking from the Horn of Africa into the Sinai Peninsula. Between 2007 and 2012, as many as 30,000 men, women and children were trafficked by Eritrean and Sudanese security officers working with Bedouin gangs.
The report categorises trafficking in two main categories, those who are “kidnapped”, and those who are “smuggled”, leaving voluntarily, but abducted in the process of migration. In both cases, the victims are ultimately transferred to members of the Rashaida and Hidarib Bedouin tribes (either through financial exchange, or surrendered by force), and sent to torture camps in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Many of the victims have been abducted from refugee camps in Ethiopia, Sudan or Eritrea. Most troubling, the report finds that approximately 95% of abductees are from Eritrea.
Nearly 3,000 Eritreans attempt to leave their landlocked nation each month. The disproportionate number of Eritreans abducted stems from three key factors: 1) the diaspora includes a tightly knit community structure and disposable income, which increases the chance of collecting ransom; 2) the lack of alternatives and relative destitution of Eritrean migrants and refugees particularly youth who are forced into conscription and child labour; and 3) the involvement of some Eritrean authorities in trafficking.
Eritreans require an exit visa to leave their nation. Because there is a “shoot to kill” policy at the Eritrea/Ethiopia border, many Eritreans choose to exit the nation through the Sudanese border, seeking shelter in Sudanese refugee camps. The report finds that trafficking would not be possible without the collusion of local Eritrean security officials. Further, many involuntary Eritrean victims are kidnapped by the country’s senior military officers and smuggled into Sudan.
Once in Sudan, the victims’ families are contacted with a threat to sell the hostages to Bedouin traffickers in Sinai if the ransom demand is not met. The report states that the hostages are, “chained together without toilets or washing facilities and dehydrated, starved and deprived of sleep.”
If demands are not met, victims are ultimately sent to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and placed in torture camps as ransom demands continue. Torture methods include “burning, beating, and electrocuting. Some hostages are slashed with knives, or have bottles melted on their skin. Some are repeated [sic] raped; some have been hung.” In addition, some victims have had their organs harvested.
Estimates reveal that between 5,000 and 10,000 of the hostages have died in captivity. Refugees continue to be abducted and held in Sinai, and an increasing number of victims are taken involuntarily from their home countries. Since 2009, nearly £366 million has been extorted from families in ransom payments. Those that escape trafficking risk further abduction, or are detained by Egyptian or Israeli authorities, where they are imprisoned then forced to pay their own deportation and repatriation fees.
An intercepted conference call between more than 20 al Qaeda senior leadership and representatives prompted the US to close 22 embassies through 10 August, as information drawn from the call hinted that the terrorist organization was in the final stages of preparing for an attack.
A US intelligence official indicated that the conference all included members from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda affiliates from Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula. The intercept provided insight into how al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages the international terrorist organization.
During the call, al-Zawahiri announced that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen, had been promoted to “Ma’sul al-Amm” (general manager), making Wuhayshi the second highest position in the network, giving him operational control of Qaeda throughout the Muslim world, and effectively moving the centre of gravity for the organisation to the Middle East. Leaders of the call also indicated that a team or teams were already in place an attack. This signal prompted the closure of US embassies throughout the Muslim world. In Yemen, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has temporarily closed the British embassy and “strongly urges” all British nationals to leave the country.
Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities issued a list of 25 wanted al-Qaida suspects on 5 August. Officials believe the group was planning terrorist attacks in Sana’a and other cities across the country.
Algeria Enters Security Agreements with Tunisia, Libya
Algeria, a country known for being staunchly autonomous in security actions, has made agreements this week to work with other nations in the Maghreb. In the first move, The Algerian government has entered a bilateral agreement with Tunisia to eliminate terrorist threats along their shared border.
The Tunisian army has conducted attacks in the remote Jebel Chaambi area, and Algeria has deployed 10,000 soldiers along the other side of the border to monitor and prevent prevent terrorists from escaping into Algeria during the Tunisian siege.
Joint operations will be launched in phases on the ground and from the air, and the two nations will share intelligence. Intelligence services from both nations are particularly concerned as to whether the al-Qaeda allied group, Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), has moved from Mali to Tunisia.
However, it is likely that the terrorist group has moved to Libya, where they have the best opportunity to procure weapons of various sizes.
To that end, on 6 August, Libya and Algeria have entered an agreement to form a joint commission to fight terrorism and trafficking in the Maghreb. Algerian Prime Minister Abdel Malek Sellal has called on countries in the Maghreb to work together to secure borders from terrorists, and trafficking, including human, drugs and arms trafficking, which he said have reached ”alarming levels”.
On the international relations front, Algeria has also agreed to expand and deepen its relationship with Iran. Newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced, “Iran is completely ready to expand and deepen bilateral relations with Algeria in economic, cultural and political fields and believes that settlement of the regional issues needs the partnership of the countries of the region.”
President Rouhani was inaugurated into office in Iran on 4 August. Algeria will be holding elections next year.
Bahrain’s New “Anti-Protest” Laws Draw Ire from UN
Bahrain enacted stricter penalties for protests on 31 July, which include increasing the detention period for committing or inciting an act of terrorism. Critics suspect that the law, which also includes penalties for sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings, will be used against peaceful protesters.
Anti-government rallies in Bahrain have been planned for 14 August, despite the new legislation. The UN has warned that the new laws could result in “serious consequences” to the impact of human rights.
Political Mediation Talks Stalled
7 August: As delegates from the US, European Union, Qatar and the UAE have come to Egypt in an attempt to negotiate an end to Egypt’s political crisis, interim Egyptian President Adly Monsour has announced that mediation efforts have failed.
While visiting in hopes of mediation, US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged the Egyptian military to release political prisoners in order to start a national dialog —a statement echoed by Qatari delegates— and also told the interim government that they consider the removal of Morsi to be a military coup – a term that the Obama administration had resisted using.
In a news conference last week, Senator Graham said, “The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable.” Calling the removal of Morsi a “coup” triggers a cutoff to the $1.3 billion in US aid that goes to Egypt each year. However, McCain said that “cutting off aid would be the wrong signal at the wrong time.” The Obama administration has not officially commented on the statements, but sources indicate that the US Administration is distancing itself from the senators’ statements. Reports indicate that the two Senators have left Egypt.
The statement caused outrage in the Egyptian media, and drew a strong response from Interim President Adly Monsour, who called it “an unacceptable interference in internal policies”.
Egyptian authorities allowed the delegates to meet with imprisoned Brotherhood leaders, hoping to gain peaceful solution. However, the interim government has now become determined to proceed with its own road map, which includes elections in nine months. On 5 August, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met with Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is held. The delegates urged Shater to recognize that there was no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated, and asked for the Brotherhood’s attempts to work toward political compromise. Shater reportedly insisted they should be talking to Morsi, and the only solution was the “reversal of the coup.”
The announcement of failed talks also foreshadows a forced dispersal of pro-Morsi protesters, as sources say the government is also preparing to declare that the Muslim Brotherhood protests against the army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi are non-peaceful. This is a critical signal that the government intends to remove the protesters by force, particularly in the Rabaa and al-Nahda protest camps in Cairo. Last week, security forces promised protesters safe exit if they left the camps, but warned their patience was limited.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in political violence since Morsi’s removal, including 80 killed by Egyptian security forces on 27 July.
Iran Prepared to Resume Nuclear Talks with World Leaders
In his first news conference as President, Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran is ready for “serious” and swift talks regarding the nation’s controversial nuclear program. “We are ready to engage in serious and substantial talks without wasting time,” Rouhani said, and added that Iran’s interactions with the West should be based on “talks, not threats.”
The U.S. and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranian government insists that the program is meant for peaceful operations, such as power generation and medical isotopes. Rouhani, a former top nuclear negotiator and a moderate cleric, has raised hopes among foreign diplomats. Several rounds of talks during Ahmedinijad’s tenure failed, resulting in heavy sanctions which decimated the nation’s economy as oil exports came to a standstill, and the nation suffered blocks on international banking transactions. Rouhani has made it his priority to work toward the sanctions against Iran lifted, despite the fact that Iranian policy rests primarily with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On 6 August, European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Rouhani to schedule “meaningful talks” on the nuclear issue as soon as possible, adding that the five permanent UN Security Council nations, as well as Germany, are ready to continue talks to find a resolution as quickly as possible.
Rouhani believes it is possible to strike an agreement that would allow Iran to keep enriching uranium while assuring the West it will not produce nuclear arms. US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have publicly supported diplomatic measures, though they have stated that military options are not off the table.
Rouhani indicated he would be willing to speak with representatives from Washington or the West, saying he would even go to Washington, as long as the nations “abandon the language of pressure and threat.” Rouhani did add, however, that there is a long way to go before Iran allows the U.S. consulate to resume work in Tehran.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to step up pressure on Tehran, saying that, “The only thing that has worked in the last two decades is pressure. And the only thing that will work now is increased pressure.” Netanyahu believes that despite Rouhani’s moderate speech, the leader backs enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.
Series of Bomb Attacks Kill 41
A series of bomb attacks in and around Baghdad has left 41 dead and over 100 wounded. On 6 August, six car bombs targeted markets and shopping streets in different parts of Baghdad.
The bombings are the latest in a wave of violence which has swept Iraq in the past six months. The attacks predominantly stem from Sunni Islamist militant groups which mostly target Shia Muslim districts. This year, over 4,000 people have been killed in these attacks, with a further 9,865 injuries.
Citizens blame the government and security forces for failing to stem the violence. Just before the attacks began on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement vowing to continue operations against militants, in a statement issued just before the attacks began. However, many Sunnis accuse Maliki’s Shia-led government of marginalising them, particularly after security forces broke up an anti-government Sunni protest in Hawija in April, killing and wounding dozens of protesters.
Libya Appoints New Defence Minister; Deputy Prime Minister resigns
On 5 August, Libya’s Congress swore in a newly appointed Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani, despite nearly daily attacks by gunmen on security forces. al-Thani replaces Mohammed Al-Barghathi, who resigned in May following a series of raids by militias on ministries in Tripoli, pressuring lawmakers to pass a contentious bill.
Under former dictator Moamar Gadhafi, Al-Thani was detained several times because of his brother’s criticism of Libya’s intervention in the internal affairs of neighbouring Chad.
A day earlier, Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Awad al-Barassi resigned his post, citing failed government policies and the deterioration of security following a string of assassinations. Al-Barassi accused the prime minister of monopolizing decision-making and hindering government efforts to discharge its “responsibilities for deteriorating security, especially in (the eastern city of) Benghazi.
The Prime Minister’s office accepted the resignation, but has made no further comment.
Moroccan King Revokes Paedophile’s Pardon
King Mohamed VI of Morocco has revoked a pardon granted to a Spanish serial paedophile. The pardon set off a series of angry protests in the kingdom.
On 30 July, the king pardoned 48 Spanish prisoners as part of the nation’s Throne Day celebrations. Among the pardoned was Daniel Galvan Vina, age 60, who was convicted of raping 11 children aged between four and 15. In September 2011, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
While the king often pardons prisoners on special occasions, the decision to release Spaniards was at the request of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who visited Morocco in late-July. The pardons of Spanish prisoners frustrated Moroccans, who feel the king put Spain’s interests about his nation’s needs. However the pardon of Vina sparked particular outrage.
Rallies and sit-ins were planned around the nation as King Mohamed VI withdrew the pardon. Protesters called the pardon “an international shame”. A statement explaining the pardon’s revocation stated that the decision was made due to the “gravity of the crimes committed and out of respect for the victims’ rights.”
An earlier statement from the palace indicated that the king was unaware of the nature of Vina’s crimes, and issued a probe to “determine the responsibilities and the failures that led to this regrettable release.”
Vina has left Morocco, but the Moroccan Justice Minister announced he would work with authorities in Madrid to address “the next step after the pardon’s revocation.”
Omani Maritime on the Rise
An economic update by the Oxford Business Group shows that investments by maritime services firms are helping Oman to improve its credentials as a shipping and trade centre. Oman Oil Marketing Company (OOMCO) has announced plans to develop an oil terminal at the port of Duqm to provide bunkering services to the regional market. Oman hopes to tap into growing maritime trade along its Indian Ocean coast, while simultaneously attracting more customers to the port itself.
CEO of OOMCO, Omar Ahmed Salim Qatan said, “We are in the process of negotiations to acquire a footprint in Duqm by establishing a terminal and bunkering services.” The group hopes to conclude negotiations in 2014, but a timeframe for the planned developments is still in early stages.
Qatar Airways Suspends Operations in Tripoli
Following a series of dangerous incidents, Qatar Airways has suspended operations in Tripoli.
On 4 August, a Qatar Airways flight was prevented from landing at Tripoli International Airport when an armed group forced air traffic control staff to deny the plane permission to land. The flight was diverted to Alexandria, Egypt to refuel before returning to Doha.
A day earlier, a group of gunmen stormed the Qatar Airways office at the Tripoli airport demanding staff to leave. The group wanted to prevent Qatari passenger and cargo aircraft from landing in Libya, and force the closure of the Qatar Airways office in Tripoli. There was no explanation provided. As a result, Qatar Airways has temporarily seized operations in Tripoli
In June, Qatar Airways suspended flights to Benghazi after militiamen forced non-Libyans arriving on a flight from Doha back onto the plane and prevented Libyans from boarding it for the return flight. The militiamen accused Qatar of interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan Interior Ministry condemned the attack and asserted that the armed group does not
Libya. He added that the group is sending the wrong message to the international community and foreign companies, which could have a negative impact on Libya’s struggling economy.
Saudi Arabia- Sudan
Al Bashir Plane denied flyover in Saudi Airspace
On 3 August, a charter aircraft carrying Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir to attend the inauguration ceremony of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, has been denied flyover rights by Saudi Arabian authorities. The plane was forced to return to Khartoum.
The Saudi-registered aircraft with a non-Sudanese crew circled on the periphery of Saudi airspace for an hour, attempting to negotiate clearance. The plane had obtained prior authorisation which was withdrawn when the pilots announced that Al Bashir was on board.
Al Bashir has been indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and is subject to international arrest warrants. While Saudi Arabia is not part of the ICC statute, the nation has voiced concerns about Sudan’s close ties with Iran. Sudan allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan twice last year, drawing concern from the Gulf States as well as the US. The Saudi pro-government newspaper, Al Riyadh, criticised the Khartoum government over the incident, saying there is no “logical justification” for a relationship between the two countries.
In Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi called the barring of Al Bashir in their airspace “very unfortunate” and added that “Tehran is investigating”.
Syrian Rebels Capture Aleppo Airbase
Rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured Menagh airport, a key airbase in Aleppo province, near the Turkish border. The rebels have been attempting to capture the airbase, which lies on a major supply route from Turkey, since last year. The airbase was the final piece to consolidate opposition control in the area, but rebel forces are still under daily attack from long-range artillery and air strikes.
Rebel forces have also taken over several villages in the majority Alawite province of Latakia, which is near to Bashar al Assad’s hometown of Qardaha. Rebels have been engaged in fights in Latakia since 4 August.
Meanwhile, pro-government recently recaptured the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood in Homs from rebels. However, in Aleppo, sources report army shelling of a market on Monday, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, including three children.
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syrian civil war, with a further 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
Protesters Demand Government Resignation
Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed Tunis to mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of prominent secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, and to demand the resignation of the Ennahda government.
Public outrage escalated following the assassination of a second prominent opposition leader two weeks earlier. Mohamed Brahmi was a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), a group charged with working on the development of a new Tunisian constitution. Brahmi, a member of the opposition party, was shot on 25 July, nearly six months after Chokri Belaid was killed. It was later discovered that the two victims were killed by the same gun, suggesting that one group was responsible for both murders.
Following the assassinations, nearly 70 members of the ANC withdrew in protest, staging sit-in outside its headquarters in Tunis. On 7 August, the Ennahda Party accepted the suspension of the works of the NCA. The work was frozen until the dialogue between political parties resume. The protesters called for the complete dissolution of the assembly and the resignation of the government.
Following completion of the constitution, elections were to be held in December, however, it is likely they will be delayed, as the NCA is eight months behind its deadline.
The turmoil in Tunisia is at its highest levels since he ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Yemeni authorities foil al Qaeda Plot
On 7 August, Yemeni security officials announced they had halted a plot by al Qaeda to seize an important port and kidnap or kill foreigners working there. According to Yemeni officials, al Qaeda had planned to take control of the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal, in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in Yemen’s south-eastern region. The officials continue that al Qaeda operatives intended to conduct the attacks while wearing fraudulent Yemeni military uniforms. It is unclear how the Yemeni government halted the plan.
Yemen has been in a state of high alert following an intercepted call in which al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced the promotion of Yemen-based Nasser al-Wuhayshi to the No. 2 position of the organisation. The US and Britain withdrew embassy staff from Yemen and encouraged all foreign nationals to leave the country. The US has conducted a series of drone strikes in the last two weeks. On 6 August, a stroke killed four people, and on 7 August, a targeted drone killed seven members of a Bedouin tribe in southeast Yemen.
The al Qaeda group in Yemen, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) makes frequent threats. In the midst of economic woes and political tensions, Yemen remains under international pressure to show that it is working to counter the terrorist threat.