Bouteflika to Return to Algeria
9 July, 2013- President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to leave hospital in Paris and return to Algeria soon. The 76 year old was rushed to a hospital in France on April 27 after a stroke. There has been little information released regarding his health, however Algerian state television released images of his meeting with his prime minister and army chief of staff in order to quell rumours about his health.
Bouteflika’s return ends the concern over a “presidential vacuum” in his absence. Opposition parties were preparing for the possibility of early elections; however a high-level source indicated that the elections will be held in the fall of 2014 as initially anticipated.
Algeria Steps up Security for Ramadan and Summer
10 July, 2013- Algeria’s security forces have taken preventive measures in counterterrorism during Ramadan and this summer. Ramadan, a lunar holiday, arrives early this year, coinciding with the summer season which is a high season for terrorist activity. The defence ministry has also drawn up permanent plans to secure the country’s borders.
The National Gendarmerie Command and Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) revealed a plan aimed at securing mosques, public spaces, beaches, and entertainment venues in 14 coastal provinces. Security measures include increasing surveillance operations, intensifying patrols, including foot and mobile patrols, particularly on roads with heavy traffic during the summer. Over 150,000 policemen, including 50,000 in the 14 coastal provinces, have been mobilised to secure holiday-makers, and 70 new neighbourhood security centres have been created near the beaches.
Security operations have already resulted in the deaths of 10 members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. On 5 July, the military conducted a three day sweep in the mountainous area of Bouira, an AQIM stronghold. Seven terrorists were killed by military helicopters. Two days earlier in Bordj Bou Arreridj, three terrorists were killed during a three-hour gun battle. The military seized weapons, hand grenades and some important documents.
Bahrain Police Tighten Security Measures after Violence
7 July, 2013- Bahraini police have come out in full force following outbursts of violence. On Saturday, the explosion of a homemade device killed one policeman and wounded five. The next day, thugs threw Molotov cocktails at a police vehicle, injuring three officers and destroying their vehicle. The same day, a gang hurled Molotov cocktails at a minibus during a clash with officers.
Police have set up several checkpoints at key entrances to Sitra, checking identities before allowing drivers to pass. Officers have also checked homes, searching for evidence. Since 2011, clashes have escalated in the nation as Shiite demonstrators continue protests against the Sunni dominated government.
Bahraini Forces Raid Homes as Protesters Demand Democratically Elected Government
8 July, 2013- Bahraini forces have attacked dozens of homes over the past three days in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The regime’s main opposition, al-Wefaq, reports that troops used poisonous gases in at least 34 areas to disperse anti-government protesters.
Thousands of Bahraini protesters demonstrated against the Al Khalifa regime outside Manama, demanding the release of political prisoners. The protest was called by the main opposition, Al-Wefaq party, and other political groups.
Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General, Ali Salman, says that the protests come after the arrest of over 640 individuals on various charges over the last three months. At least 13 people have been imprisoned for protests against the regime, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life. On Friday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 29 people to one month in prison for trying to enter the area formerly known as Pearl Square (now demolished), which was centre of the Bahrain’s anti-government protests.
A report published by the Bahrain Liberties and Human Rights Department in Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society found a number of human rights violations by the regime in June 2013, including 183 arrests (including 4 women and 9 children), more than 68 injuries due to use of excessive force, and 29 cases of brutal or inhumane torture. In addition, the group reported the raiding of over 263 homes, often occurring after midnight or at dawn, with forces vandalising or stealing the households’ belongings, as well as verbal abuse.
Protesters chanted anti-regime slogans while carrying Bahraini flags, anti-regime banners and placards. They say they will continue to demonstrate until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met.
Interim President Appoints Prime Minister and Vice President, Reveals Timetable for Elections
8 July, 2013- Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has released the timetable for new elections. Since the removal of Muslim Brotherhood backed President Mohamed Morsi, heavy clashes have occurred between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters, culminating in a deadly clash with the military on Monday, killing 55 people and injuring hundreds. The timetable was released quickly in an effort to quell instability in the nation.
The first action will be the formation of a panel to amend the constitution, which was suspended last week following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. The new panel will be formed within 15 days. All changes will be put to a referendum to occur within four months.
Following the referendum, parliamentary elections will be held. These are estimated to occur in early 2014. Once the newly elected parliament convenes, presidential elections will be held. The Brotherhood rejected the plan, with a senior figure calling it a “decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero”.
On Tuesday, Mansour appointed Hazem Beblawi as his prime minister and directed him to form a new government. Beblawi served as finance minister in 2011, following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. His sometime alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood has earned him the backing of the Salafist Nour Party, a key improvement after the party’s announcement that they would not participate in the incoming government following the bloodshed on Monday.
Mohamed El Baradei, leader of the National Salvation Front, was initially tapped as prime minister but was met with animosity from anti-Morsi Protesters. He has now been appointed the role of Vice President and the responsibility for foreign affairs.
Gulf States Provide Billions in Aid to Support Egypt
10 July, 2013- Gulf States have provided over $12 billion USD in aid, a great show of support for the Egyptian army’s move to push the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Despite concerns from Western nations such as the US and UK, the Gulf states have eagerly offered support. The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, while Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel. Both nations had promised aid following the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but withheld it while Morsi was in office. Morsi received backing predominantly from Qatar, which is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. On Thursday morning, Kuwait announced they would send $4 billion in support; $2 billion central bank deposit, a $1 billion grant and $1 billion in oil products.
The monetary aid provides Egypt with urgently needed funds to distribute the subsidized fuel and food for its 84 million people. Egypt’s economy has been in steady decline since 2011, as the Arab Spring drove away tourists and investors. The aid also gives the new leaders time to negotiate with the International Monetary fund for a long awaited $4.8 billion rescue loan.
Iraqi Shiite PM Seeks Alliance with Sunni Muslims
8 July, 2013- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making efforts to build alliances with moderate Iraqi Sunni groups, believing cross-sectarian cooperation will aid in closing the increasingly violent religious schism.
Shia and Sunni sectarian violence has escalated significantly as a result of the Syrian civil war. Iraq’s Shiite majority lives in the east, closer to Iran, which has supplied weapons and fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iraqi Sunnis live mainly in the west and north near Syria, where Sunni rebels have received support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iraqi militant groups are fighint on both sides of the issue. The Shiite-led Iraqi government has avoided taking sides; concerned with minimizing domestic unrest, particularly after suffering its three deadliest months in five years, and fearing a repeat of sectarian civil war of 2006 and 2007.
Until recently, al-Malaki has taken a hardline approach as the “Shiite defender.” However, as election season nears and the prime minister seeks to regain office, he has taken a more unified stance. al-Malaki’s party has lost support in his Shiite base, however he has approximately 33 percent of the Sunni community’s support. It is possible that al-Maliki could potentially partner with moderate Sunnis to form a governing coalition. To this end, the Iraqi government passed a law in June which transferred significant powers from the central government to the provinces; and al-Maliki approved a bill allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s (predominantly Sunni) Baath party to hold government positions.
Although the alliance depends on several factors outside of politics, al-Malaki hopes that the outreach will stem the tide of internal sectarian clashes.
Jordan receives Abu Qatada after Deportation from UK
7 July 2013– Jordan has received convicted Islamist Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mahmoud Mohammad Othman, after he was deported by Britain to face trial in the Kingdom. Qatada will be interrogated and retried in on terror charges stemming from 1999 and 2000.
The transfer follows the ratification of a treaty between Britain and Jordan aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport the Jordanian preacher. Although Britain had tried to deport Abu Qatada since 2001, courts have blocked extradition, fearing that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
In 1999, the Jordanian government sentenced Abu Qatada was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks targeting the Modern American School, and a major hotel, with bombings which caused minor property damage but no casualties. In 2000, he was sentenced to a further 25 years for involvement in a plot to bomb tourists attending Millennium celebrations in Jordan.
In Britain, Abu Qatada is accused of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. When the law was overturned in 2005, he was released but kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways. He most recently was being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices.
Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, says that Abu Qatada will receive a fair trial in accordance with the Jordanian law and in line with international agreements and human rights accords.
Kuwait Bans Expats from Driving and Hospitals
9 July, 2013- The Kuwaiti government has restricted expats from using public hospitals and driving. In early June, the Kuwaiti government barred foreigners from attending a major public hospital in the morning, freeing it for locals who have complained about overcrowding. The move is part of a six month trial to ease congestion for Kuwaiti patients. If it is successful, the plan will be rolled out nationally, allowing foreigners to receive morning treatment only in cases of emergency.
Kuwait is also ending subsidies to foreigners for public services such as electricity and water, calling them “a burden on the state”.
Earlier this year the Kuwaiti government said it relied too heavily on expats and wants to reduce their numbers, as expats outnumber Kuwaitis 2 to 1. Over the next decade, the nation plans to cut its 1.8 million expats by 100,000.
Kuwaiti authorities have also tightened restrictions on foreign drivers by withdrawing licences from students and housewives. Under current laws, most foreigners can only drive on public roads if they hold a university degree, earn 400 dinars (£910) a month and have lived in the country for at least two years. Students and housewives with children exempted from the conditions, as were judges and doctors. Kuwait’s traffic department is reviewing exemptions, and licences for students when they graduate and housewives who get a job.
In addition, over a thousand expats have been deported within the past two months for minor traffic offences. The anti-foreigner stance has caused Kuwait to drop down the World Economic Forum’s rankings for friendliness to tourists and visitors, falling to 137th place out of 140 countries.
313 Brigade Claims Responsibility for Car Bomb in Hezbollah Stronghold
10 July, 2013- A powerful car bomb exploded in a southern suburb in Beirut, wounding at least 53 people. The blast occurred in the heart of a highly secured Hezbollah territory, and was one of the biggest in the capital’s southern suburbs since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. The bombing raises fears that the Syrian war is spilling into the region and causing increases in sectarian violence, as is occurring in Iraq. On Wednesday, a group called the 313 Brigade took responsibility for the attack, blaming Hezbollah and parts of the Lebanese government for intervening in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Syrian government. In late June, the claimed responsibility for an attack on a Hezbollah convoy in eastern Lebanon. The 313 Brigade has released a statement warning that Hezbollah must withdraw from Syria or it would experience further attacks in Lebanon.
The car bomb occurred in a commercial and residential neighbourhood in Beir el-Abed, as many Lebanese Shiites began observing Ramadan. The blast went off in a parking lot near the Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers. Beir el-Abed is only few hundred metres from what is known as Hezbollah’s “security square,” where many of the party’s officials live and have offices.
Many believe that Hezbollah is facing retaliation for its role in fighting alongside Assad’s troops. Hezbollah fighters aided Assad’s troops in gaining a critical victory in the strategic town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. They are currently aiding the Syrian military in Homs. Syrian rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation.
Immediately following the explosion, about 100 outraged Hezbollah supporters stormed through the area, carrying posters of Nasrallah and chanting sectarian slogans. Hezbollah operatives wearing red caps and holding radios kept watch as Interior Minister Marwan Charbel came to inspect the scene of the blast. They fired into the air to disperse protesters who were pelting him with stones, trapping him for 45 minutes in a building before he was escorted through a backdoor. Charbel is seen by some Shiites as sympathetic to Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who has agitated against Hezbollah for months and is now on the run.
The European Union condemned the Beirut bombing, calling it an “appalling act of violence (that) underlines the need for all Lebanese to maintain their national unity.”
Libyan Protesters Demand Disbanding of Militias
8 July, 2013- Hundreds of Libyan protesters called for the disbanding of militias that have plagued Tripoli since the end of the 2011 war. The Libyan government is currently attempting to regain control of the interior ministry after it was besieged by an armed group that entered the building on Tuesday and ordered staff to leave.
Armed groups have grown in power and ambition since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi’s, and the weak government has struggled to impose its authority over them. A ministerial committee has been in talks to regain control of the interior ministry from a militia, and government officials are drawing up plans to disband them, but have not released details.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the Libyan government would raise salaries as a way to lure former rebel fighters into the state forces. Nearly 19,500 men would be sent for police and military training in the United States, France, Britain and Italy.
Istiqlal Party quits Islamist Led Government, Joins Opposition
9 July, 2013- A spokesman for the Istiqlal party, a secular centre-right party and the second largest in Moroccan parliament, has announced that its six Cabinet members have tendered their resignations, and the party announced it is formally joining the opposition.
The resignations come during domestic disputes over subsidy cuts, and as the dominant Islamist party in Morocco, the PJD, watches as Egyptian ally Mohamed Morsi is deposed. The PJD were supporters of the Muslim brotherhood, while Morocco’s king expressed support for Morsi’s replacement.
An Istiqlal leader Hamid Chabat has said that he hopes for the end of Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane, similar to what happened to Morsi. Prime Minister Benkirane must now either dissolve the government and call early elections, or try to form new alliances to fill the empty seats.
The government crisis is compounded by a struggling economy. Morocco is facing a large deficit and a slowdown in growth after public spending to defuse popular discontent during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. The current government is struggling to rein in spending and reform a costly system of subsidies and state pensions. In May, Istiqlal threatened to quit over the Islamists’ plans to cut subsidies, however those cuts were a demand of the International Monetary Fund, which extended Morocco a $6.2 billion precautionary line of credit with the condition that it would undertake these reforms. The cutting of subsidies is likely to elevate social tensions in a nation where demonstrations over the high cost of living are common.
Angry Taliban Abandon Doha Office
9 July, 2013- Following the removal of the Taliban flag, and the plaque of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from their ‘political office’ in Doha, Taliban negotiators have stopped visiting the office. Their absence dashes hopes for an early resumption of the peace process.
Following the inauguration of the office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration raised objections, calling the office an attempt to install a parallel government. In response, Qatari officials removed the Taliban’s white flag and plaque inscribed with ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a name the Taliban used for their regime before it was toppled by the United States in 2001.
Two spokesmen for the Taliban switched off their mobile phones and stopped replying to emails. Qatari officials that were present at the inauguration have gone silent on the controversy.
Karzai, angered at the prospect of being sidelined in any Taliban-US agreement, refused to send members of his High Peace Council to Doha.
A senior member of the High Peace Council said that the Taliban must hold exploratory talks with the US regarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, or to remove the names of their leaders from the UN sanction lists. In turn the US also hopes to discuss release of their prisoners held with the Taliban.
Sudan – South Sudan
20,000 People Neglected in Border Region
8 July, 2013- Over 20,000 people are almost cut off from aid in South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal state, after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan. There is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions.
The refugees are receiving minimal humanitarian assistance because of the remoteness of the region confusion over whether to call them internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees or returnees. The displaced people have almost doubled the region’s population and are mainly living in 11 makeshift camps scattered across isolated parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Because they have no specific settlements assigned to them, many people have had to move several times.
“When we first arrived in February, many people were actually living in the bush. Thousands of displaced people have arrived in this region but there has been very little action taken to serve their needs,” says Lummis.
Doctors without Borders has set up mobile clinics and is training teams of community-based healthcare workers to help combat diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition, the three leading causes of death among the population. The group is also running a basic healthcare clinic near the town of Pamat focused on children under five and pregnant women.
In Sudan on 5 July, a UN peacekeeping leader urged parties in Darfur to cease hostilities amid renewed tribal clashes which have caused over 300,000 since the beginning of this year.
Rebel Blockade Causes Food Shortages in Aleppo
9 July, 2013- As Syrian rebels intensify a blockade of government-held areas in Aleppo, residents face severe food shortages. The tactic is aimed at weakening supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but activists believe that indiscriminately punishes over 2 million people residents who live in the part of the city still held by the army.
Last year, rebels launched an offensive and seized nearly half of the city. For months, they have been working to block roads into the government controlled western part of the city. Food scarcity became a serious problem this week as fighters blocked a highway once left open to civilians. A rebel fighter called the problem an unfortunate side effect of rebel clashes with the army. Activists say food is now cheaper in rebel areas, as food prices have increased to over ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find. A main road that is still passable is near Bustan al-Qasr, but has become so dangerous that it is referred to as “The Crossing of Death.”
Since 2011, over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. Sectarian violence is also increasing, as opposition, led by a Sunni majority, combats the country’s minorities, particularly Assad’s Alawite sect. Many members of minority groups live in the districts now being blockaded by rebels.
United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon has called on those countries located in the Sahel to improve their border security as a means of countering terrorism, and for rich countries to further aid the impoverished nations in that region. In a new report released by the UN and sent to the Security Council, Mr. Ban warns that conflict in the vast region, which runs from Mauritania on Africa’s West Coast to Eritrea in the east, will only worsen unless a more integrated approach is taken which will focus on security and allowing those states to lift their fast-growing populations out of poverty. Amongst those countries located in the Sahel which have seen conflict are Mali and Sudan’s Darfur. The region also encompasses some of the world’s poorest countries which have vast and arid regions that see regular climate crises. In turn, the UN report states that within the next twenty-five years, the population in the region is set to “ballon” from 150 million to 250 million.
The report reflects mounting international concern over the region. It also comes at a time when Japan last week announced that it wold provided US $1 billion to help the “stabilization” of the Sahel. In the report, which was largely drawn up by Mr. Ban’s special envoy to the region, former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, the UN chief highlighted that “weak governance, widespread corruption,” and “chronic political instability,” were amongst the issues that were threatening the overall security in the region. He further indicated that “only through strong, common preventative actions geared primarily towards development can we avoid the Sahel turning into an area dominated by criminal and terrorist groups that undermine our collective security.” The UN chief noted that he was “alarmed” by the rise of groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has been active in Mali, as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria and other transnational criminal organizations in the region. In turn, he highlighted that there were clear links between crime syndicates trafficking drugs and militants in the Sahel and has called for greater efforts by countries and regional groups, such as the African Union (AU), to boost cooperation amongst police, military, frontier and customs services. Mr. Ban has also called for regional intelligence meetings and has offered UN aid to police and judges, who he states should devote greater attention to the financing terrorism, crime and ams trafficking. There is also a greater need of “exchange of information” between airports in Latin America, Africa and Europe in order to counter the narcotics trade which comes from South America through Africa. According to the UN report, an estimated eighteen tons of cocaine, worth US 1.25 billion, transited through West Africa in 2012, in which much of it passed through the Sahel. Mr. Ban has indicated that his proposed UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel seeks to boost security by helping to improve governance and getting aid to the 11.4 million people, including five million children, that are still threatened by malnutrition. The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, Robert Piper, indicated this week that a US $1.7 billion appeal for the region had only been thirty-six percent funded.
Ethiopia’s plan to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile for a hydroelectric dam has caused outrage in Egypt. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of a major investment project to boost power exports. The dam will have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
Ethiopia, which is the source of the Blue Nile, believes that it could wean itself off of food aid by irrigating the river, however some experts say that the reserve could cause nearly 20% reduction of the water supply to Egypt and Sudan. A colonial agreement gives Egypt and Sudan the right to use up to 90% of the Nile’s water. In 2010, six countries attempted to create a new arrangement for redistribution of Nile waters, but Egypt and Sudan refused to enter any agreement that affected their share of the water supply.
Egyptians see the building of the dam as a threat to national survival. As a desert nation with very little rainfall, the growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply. The nation relies on the Nile for 98 per cent of its irrigation, and estimates show that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million. Supporters of the dam say Egypt could solve the crisis by being more efficient with water usage; opponents argue that Egypt already recycles up to 15 billion cubic metres of water.
In a surprise move in late May, Ethiopia decided to proceed with the project days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. The Ethiopian government says a scientific report ensures that the dam will do “no appreciable harm” to Sudan and Egypt downstream. The report, which was to be released in early June, is still shrouded in secrecy.
The Egyptian Parliament denounced Prime Minister Hashim Kandil for failing to prevent the construction. One MP shouted, “Egypt will turn to a graveyard… We have to stop the construction of this dam first before entering negotiations.” Egypt’s Foreign Minister is planning a visit to Addis Ababa on 16 June to continue discussions.
In early June, senior Egyptian politicians were unknowingly caught on live television discussion options with President Morsi. Ayman Nour, head of Egypt’s Ghad party, suggested leaking false reports that Egypt was building up its air power. Younis Makhyoun, leader of the al-Nour party, suggested supporting Ethiopian rebels, or as a last resort, destroying the dam. The “secret” meeting triggered heavy backlash. Egypt has not issued an official apology for the broadcast; one member tweeted she was sorry members of the meeting were unknowingly broadcast. Opposition leader Mohamed El Baradei was invited but did not attend the meeting. He tweeted sincere apologies to the people and governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.
Egypt’s ambassador to Ethiopia has been summoned to explain the hostile remarks.
Meanwhile, President Morsi gave a speech to supporters on 10 June, in which he announced that “all options are open” in dealing with the situation. Morsi said to a cheering crowd, “We are not calling for war, but we will never permit our water security to be threatened.” Morsi received a standing ovation after quoting from an old Egyptian song, “If it diminishes by one drop, our blood is the alternative.”
A spokesman for the Ethiopian prime minister called Morsi’s speech irresponsible, and promised that the project would proceed. “Of course we are going to go ahead with the project, because we believe we are justified.”
Nile Basin Nations Water Relations
Disputes over the Nile’s water supply span over a century. Colonial treaties promised Egypt a vast majority of the water supply, and an agreement following Sudan’s independence in 1956 allocated 55.5 billion cubic metres of the Nile to Egypt, and 18.5 billion to Sudan, totalling 87 per cent of the Nile flow. However, the treaties provided nothing to nations further upstream.
Ethiopia and other nations believe the colonial treaties are antiquated. Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom said, “Ethiopia cannot remain poor. It must utilise its resources to lift its people out of poverty.”
The Nile Basin Initiative was created in 1998 to bring together all ten states that border on the Nile to discuss the issue, but have failed to reach an agreement as the Cairo government guards historic treaties. The failure to agree on water redistribution has created deep bitterness among other Nile nations. In March 2011, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Tanzania signed a new agreement to overturn the colonial-era treaties and replace them with a more equitable utilisation of the river.
Many in Ethiopia believe that Egypt is the source of many of its troubles. In 1959, Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser excluded Ethiopia from the planning of the Aswan Dam. In response, Ethiopian
Emperor Haile Selassie caused the separation of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from its sister church in Alexandria, ending a 1,600 year relationship.
In response to the Emperor’s actions, Nasser backed the Eritrean revolt against Ethiopia, and encouraged Somali Muslims to fight for Ethiopia’s Ogaden region. Eritrea’s eventual independence caused Ethiopia to become a landlocked nation, a source of great anger. Eritrea backs the Egyptian position over the Nile.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia continues with the project, with a $1 billion loan from China. The project, according to the Ethiopian government, began in May and is 21 percent complete.
Yemen: Pipeline Bombing
30 April: A main pipeline linking oil fields in Yemen’s eastern Marib province to an export terminal on the Red Sea has been attacked by an armed group, almost halting the flow of oil. The day before, the same group attacked Marib’s power lines, leaving the province in “total darkness”.
The pipeline in question runs 200 miles from Safer oil fields to the export terminal in the western Hudaydah province. It is frequently under attack in the Wadi Abida area; the last such incident occurred on 8 April. Electricity Minister Saleh Sumai has accused tribesmen loyal to the former president of carrying out the attacks.
Yemen produces about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, mostly for export. Production lost due to pipeline attacks has cost the government more than $1 billion in 2012 and more than $4 billion in revenue since February 2011.
Yemen: International Red Cross Workers Kidnapped
8 May: Two Indian employees of the international Red Cross were kidnapped and released by armed members of the Mariakisha tribe in southern Yemen. The gunmen intercepted the workers in Jaar and led them to a mountainous region. Negotiations lasted more than three hours; the victims are now in Aden.
On Monday, gunmen from the same tribe kidnapped two Egyptian technicians working at a cement factory in Abyan. The tribesmen seek the release of a tribe member jailed seven years ago on murder charges.
Syria: Rebels Kidnap UN Peacekeepers in Golan
8 May: Syrian members of the rebel Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade are holding four Filipino UN peacekeepers at the ceasefire line between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The group claims that the peacekeepers were in danger after clashes in the area, and took them for safe keeping.
The peacekeepers were detained as they patrolled Position 86, on the Syria and Israeli-occupied border of the Golan Heights, an area near where 21 Filipino observers were held for 3 days by the same group in March. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the detention and called for the peacekeepers’ immediate release.
While initial reports described the action as hostage-taking, the rebel unit denied it.”The brigade does not want this issue blown out of proportion like the last incident,” said a rebel from the group.
“They are safe and sound and will be handed over as soon as possible. But as happened last time, they were in an area where very heavy clashes took place in the Ghadeer al-Bustan area.” In March, a rebel leader said their “guests” would be returned after government forces retreated from the area.
Bouteflika Recovering from Stroke
7 May: The Algerian government has announced that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is improving from a transient ischemia (mini-stroke), but still needs rest. The president suffered the stroke on 27 April and was flown to the French military hospital of Val de Grace.
Following the announcement of his illness, there were few updates about the president’s health. This latest statement gave no indication of how long Bouteflika would need to rest. Though he had been known to be sick for some time, he was popularly believed to be gearing up to run in next year’s presidential elections.
Algeria and Egypt Strengthen Bilateral Counterterrorism Cooperation
7 May: Algeria and Egypt have established a bilateral contact group to strengthen bilateral security cooperation.
The agreement came at the conclusion of two days of talks on in Algiers between Egyptian Ambassador Hussein Abdul Karim, and Mohamed Kamal Razak Bara, counsellor to the Algerian President. The talks incorporated discussions about the recent situation in the region and the Sahel. The two nations agreed to hold regular meetings for bilateral communication group, with dates to be determined through diplomatic channels.
Morsi Reshuffles Egyptian Cabinet
7 May: Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi swore in nine new ministers in the second cabinet reshuffle since August, in a hope to boost Egypt’s economic portfolio. Morsi believes the changes will aid in completing the development of the public performance in Egypt, and urged citizens to give the new government an opportunity to work on meeting their demands.
Several ministers which bave been appointed are members of Morsi’s political party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Finance Minister Fayyad Abdel-Monem Hassanin, an economics professor Al-Azhar University, and Minister of International Cooperation and Planning Amr Darrag, are both members of Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood. Darrag is a senior member of Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Both ministers will be critical in handling negotiations with the IMF for a crucial $4.8-billion rescue loan.
Essam al-Erian, deputy chief of the FJP, stated that the aim of the reshuffle is to “confront the economic crisis and to conclude the agreement with the IMF with a new vision, and to confront the energy crises.”
National Salvation Front (NSF), opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, sees the reshuffle as a further step toward Islamist domination of the government. One member of the NSF stated, “They control the government more and more and the MB process is going on, and this means they intend to commit electoral fraud in the coming parliamentary elections. We reject domination of the MB and their control over the society, as this cabinet reshuffle puts everything in the hands of the MB’s guidance office.”
Amr Moussa, a leading member of the NSF, believes new cabinet reshuffle is a new step toward “comprehensive MB domination” in Egypt, rather than a step toward national consensus.
Egypt claims successes closing down Gaza smuggling tunnels
6 May: The head of engineering for the Egyptian Armed Forces, Major General Tahir Abdullah, announced that Egyptian security forces had successfully demolished 154 of 276 tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. Around 137 tunnels were destroyed twice. A recent Reuters report states there are around 1,000 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt; other reports claim the number is higher, still others say it is much lower.
In the last few days, authorities have also announced the seizure of a lifeboat and 10 vehicles which were being smuggled from Egypt to Gaza, and a cache of drugs and weapons near the Salloum land port in western Egypt.
Gunmen Surround Libyan Ministry, Present List of Demands
7 May: Armed men in vehicles with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns have surrounded the foreign and justice ministries for over a week, demanding the Libyan government’s resignation. On 5 March, under pressure from gunmen, the General National Congress pushed through a controversial law to exclude members of Gadaffi’s former regime from holding public posts, even if they switched to support the rebels during the course of the 2011 civil war.
A leader of the militias stated, “We are determined to continue our movement until the departure of (Prime Minister) Ali Zeidan.” The militias had promised to lift their siege if the law was passed. Zeidan’s government has recently launched a campaign to remove the militias from Tripoli.
Libya’s defence minister, Mohammed Al-Barghathi had resigned, and then rescinded his resignation on Tuesday in protest over the continuous show of force by the militias, calling it an “assault on democracy and elected authorities.”
On 9 May, the militia added several additional demands, including Zeidan’s resignation, the freezing of a recently released state budget and the right to form a committee to take charge of the Foreign Ministry.
Morocco captures two terrorist cells
6 May: Morocco’s interior ministry said it had arrested two “terrorist” cells in the northern Nador region. The cells were in contact with Islamist extremists in Mali. The ministry did not revial how many suspects were arrested, but did say that members of the group are being questioned. The cells are accused of committing robberies to finance their cause.The capture comes nearly six months after Moroccan authorities broke up a recruitment cell for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb December 2012.
China to Host Bilateral talks with Palestine, Israel
6 May: China is hosting both Palestinian and Israeli leaders to display the nation’s desire for a larger role in the Middle East. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Beijing as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Shanghai ahead of his trip to Beijing on Wednesday, a day after Abbas’ departure.
China’s Foreign Ministry is willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men wanted. While China has traditionally kept a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, recently the Chinese government has become more involved as it sees new markets, resources and diplomatic influence.
In a meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People, Abbas reviewed the history of Chinese-Palestinian relations and said the two sides shared the “same views on many world problems.” China recognized Palestine state in 1988, four years before establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit China since 2007, and is expected to use the visit to sign numerous trade deals.
A the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China would like to see a solution to the decades old conflict that allowed for Israeli security and a Palestinian state based on the handover of occupied territory to the Palestinian Authority.
Saudi Arabia (KSA)
Saudi Arabia Releases 166 Former AQ militants from Rehab
7 May: Saudi Arabia has released 166 former al Qaeda members after undergoing long-term state-sponsored counselling programme, called “Munasaha” to reintegrate them into normal society. Sixty two members of the “deviant group” as they are known, were released in Jeddah after completing the counselling programme at the Prince Mohammed Bin Naif Centre for Counselling and Care. An additional 104 former militants were also released in Riyadh.
The prisoners are required to participate in follow-up programmes for emotional rehabilitation and reintegration. They will be monitored by both government agencies and members of the counselling committees of the centre. The centres will also assist the former militants in getting their original jobs back, or securing new jobs.
Sudanese traders killed by gunmen
3 May: Eleven Sudanese traders were killed by unknown gunmen as they crossed into South Sudanese territory. A South Sudan military spokesman said attackers ambushed three trucks at a trading center near the border town of Renk. The bodies were later discovered by another group of traveling traders; and the South Sudanese military dispatched a contingent of soldiers to seek the attackers. When they caught up to the “gangsters” gunfire was exchanged as they fled to Sudanese territory.
The incident occurs nearly two weeks after an agreement between South Sudan and Sudan to open 10 border crossings to increase the movement of goods and people between the two nations.
The attacks are being blamed on militiamen who do not want peace to prevail between the two nations. However despite sporadic instances of violence, the two countries have worked toward building mutually beneficial relations. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir recently visited South Sudan, stating that he wants to normalize relations with the south.
Tunisian Troops clash with Militants
1 May: Tunisian troops have clashed with around 50 armed Salafi militants in the Mount Chaambi border region, and now have the area surrounded. Last week, Tunisian forces began to hunt for two groups, one hiding in the mountainous region, and another in the Kef region on the Algerian border. Authorities were originally looking for 11 terrorists linked to al Qaeda, but have learned that the group had recruited youths from Kasserine and Mali.
The defence ministry said that the situation near the Algerian border was “under control”, and they were working with Algerian intelligence to gain information. However, in the Mount Chaambi area, the militants have laid homemade land mines throughout the region, which have wounded around 15 soldiers and members of the national guard. The troop have since found grenades, military and homemade bombs, documents on how to make homemade bombs, coded documents, maps and mobile phones being used to make calls abroad. The operations are being carried out primarily by the Tunisian army, who have the only units capable of detecting land mines. The national guard are playing a secondary role.
Bassem Haj Yahia, a guard who lost a leg after a land mine explosion, said the army was facing an organised and well-armed adversary. “It’s like they are installed in a small village where they have their hideouts, a training site and some equipment.”
The currently ruling Ennahda party has recognised the terrorist threat facing Tunisia, verbalising warnings that groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were penetrating its borders. To date, 37 people have been caught and jailed, according to the interior ministry.
United Arab Emirates
Three Emiratis arrested in Tanzanian church bombing
8 May: Three UAE citizens have been arrested in Tanzania in connection with the bombing of a church in Arusha. The Vatican’s ambassador to Tanzania, Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla, was attending the official church opening when the explosion occurred. He escaped unharmed, though the attack killed two people and wounded six.
One Saudi and three Emeratis were arrested on Tuesday. Investigators are working to determine the type of device used in the attack on the church. UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed condemned the attack.
Saudi ambassador Hani Abdallah Mo’mena said he was on his way to Arusha, believing that the group was there as tourists and the issues is “mere suspicion”.
Japan and UAE sign nuclear cooperation agreement, agree on oil concessions
3 May: Japan and the United Arab Emirates signed a nuclear cooperation agreement during a visit to the UAE by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The agreement, which called for peaceful use of nuclear energy, was signed in Dubai, and the UAE also agreed to extend an oil concession agreement with Japan’s Abu Dhabi Oil Co. adding a new zone.
In mid July, the UAE will begin building two of four nuclear power plants, which will being produce electricity by 2017. Each plant will have a capacity of 1,400 megawatts. The project is expected to be completed and fully operational by 2020. The UAE hopes that nuclear energy will provide up to a quarter of the nation’s electricity needs.
Approximately one third of UAE crude oil and petrol derivatives go to Japan. The UAE exports 800,000 barrels of oil to Japan daily, and 5.5 million tonnes of natural gas.
Abe said that “stability and prosperity of the Middle East is directly connected to the prosperity of international society and Japan.”
AQAP Members Assassinate Director of Military Intelligence
27 April: Two masked gunmen, members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), killed the director of military intelligence in the Hadramout province. The shooters were riding a motorcycle and fired at Colonel Ahmed Abdul-Razzak outside of his home in Mukalla.
Approximately 60 military and security officials have been killed in Yemen over the last two years. Yemeni officials place the blame on the Yemen based AQAP, mostly in the southern region of the nation. AQAP is considered the most strategic threat to the Yemeni government and its neighboring oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who came to power in February 2012, is charged with restoring security in the nation, and protecting oil shipping routes in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Southern Leaders Quit National Dialogue meeting
4 May: Two leaders of Yemen’s Southern Movement have quite national dialog as talks failed to reach a solution to the secessionist issue. Ahmed bin Farid al-Suraimah and Ali Ba-Odah left the talks due to the belief that their aims toward secession had been marginalized, and the dialog will not meet the needs of southern Yemenis. Other leaders from the south have refused to join the talks until the Sanaa government withdraws its troops from the south.
The talks, which began on 18 March, are scheduled to run for six months. The dialog is intended to mend the split between the northern and southern regions, and draft a new constitution in time for general elections in February 2014. The secession issue dates back to the start of the Yemeni civil war in 1994, when southerners complained of being politically and economically marginalised and discriminated against.
Illegal Weapons Seizure
5 May: Yemen’s Defence Ministry announced a seizure of a boat carrying 20,000 guns in the southwestern Taiz province on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The boat was seized after soldiers in Bab el-Mandeb strait clashed with the armed crew members on the boat, and managed to capture the boat’s captain after a gunfight. Some of the crew members fled.
In the last six months, Yemeni forces have seized four boats loaded with arms. The weapons are suspected to have originated from Turkey. In December, a shipment came through Aden Port carrying guns hidden in biscuit containers. The guns were made using false brand names, which has slowed down investigations. The Yemeni government has not stated who is responsible for smuggling arms into the country.
Three Military Pilots Killed in AQ Ambush
8 May: Militants, suspected to be members of AQAP, killed three Yemeni air force pilots as they travelled to Al Anad air base in the Lahj province. Two militants on a motorcycle opened fire with a machine gun as the car containing the pilots slowed for a road bump. The three pilots all held the rank of colonel in the airforce. Two were trainers.
According to officials, the gunmen fled the scene, and believe that the attackers had been monitoring the pilots’ route and schedule to plan their ambush.
Al Qaeda Rebranding
The emir of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (a.k.a Abu Dua), announced a new brand for AQI’s: the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” The new name replaces all previous brands used by al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria, including the Al Nusrah Front. The new name was announced in an audio message released online on April 8.
Al Baghdadi also confirmed that the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s chief fighting force inside Syria, has always been a creation of his terrorist organization, but was not announced for security reasons. The Front’s leader was deputized, and sent, along with other members “from Iraq to the Levant so as to meet our cells in the Levant.”
“We laid for them plans, and drew up for them the policy of work, and gave them what financial support we could every month, and supplied them with men who had known the battlefields of jihad, from the emigrants and the natives,” al Baghdadi continues.
Al Qaeda uses multiple brands to mask its operations. The name often reflects how the organization views allied organizations and prospects in a specific geographic venue.
Egypt: On 11 April, armed Bedouin tribesmen released a Hungarian peacekeeper in Egypt’s Sinai after briefly detaining him on Thursday. The captive soldier was released after intervention from tribal leaders.
The Bedouin were pushing for the release of a jailed relative, and did not realise they had captured a member of the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) stationed in the peninsula.
The soldier was on leave and travelling to Cairo when forced to stop at a makeshift checkpoint the kidnappers had set up.
South Sudan: On April 9, authorities in Unity State confirmed the release of eight women who were abducted from Payinjiar County on 1 April by a group of 350 civilian cattle raiders allegedly from neighbouring Lakes state. The women were searching for food near a river when they were taken, and had been tortured and interrogated during their detention.
The raiders also stole nearly 800 cattle. Payinjiar county officials believe that the cattle rustlers come from Maper County. The 741 cows taken were later recovered in a battle on the same day. Three of the cattle rustlers were killed.
Although cattle raids are commonplace in the region, this event marks the first time that raids have been combined with abductions of people.
Payinjiar County Commissioner Biel called on the commissioners of counties across the border in Lake State to stop the cycle of cattle raiding by convincing them that they are all South Sudanese citizens.
Syria: The release of Lebanese man who was kidnapped in the border with Syria was freed on 13 April. His release prompted the release of 11 other people who were abducted in a string of retaliatory kidnaps.
Hussein Kamel Jaafar, a Shiite from an area near the northern Lebanese town of Arsal, was kidnapped last month and taken into Syria. In response, members of his family took captive several local Sunnis. Those families in turn carried out retaliatory kidnappings.
A security force said that a delegation of Arsal residents paid a $150,000 ransom and returned from Syria at dawn with the former captive, Hussein Kamel Jaafar.
Jaafar said, “I was kidnapped by bandits and thieves, not the Free Syrian Army,” adding that his captors “beat me and tortured me.”
Arsal is a majority Sunni Muslim town whose inhabitants generally support the revolt in Syria. Nearby Hermel and Baalbek are largely Shiite strongholds of Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria: On 13 April, four Italian journalists who had been kidnapped and held in Syria for nine days were released, according to Italy’s interim Foreign Minister, Mario Monti. The journalists were in Syria to film a documentary about a rebel faction close to al Qaeda. The group had been reportedly been held by an armed Islamist group; none were wounded and all are in good health.
The Minister’s statement did not reveal details about the captors who had taken the reporters, or information regarding their release. Italian state news agency ANSA reported the reporters are now in Turkey, and will return to Italy on Saturday evening.
Monti thanked those involved in securing the reporters’ release “which was particularly complicated because of the dangerous context”, adding that he had personally followed the situation since the reporters were taken hostage. He thanked the media for respecting a blackout requested by RAI state television, who employs one of the four journalists.
The Foreign Ministry has not released the names of the journalists, however they have been widely reported to include be RAI journalist Amedeo Ricucci, freelancers Elio Colavolpe and Andrea Vignali, and Italian-Syrian reporter Susan Dabbous.
Algeria – Riots in Southern Algeria
On 10 April, at least 40 people, including 22 riot police, were injured in clashes in the city of Ouargla in southern Algeria. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd, which hurled stones, set fire to car tires, and blocked roads.
The chairman of the National Committee for the Unemployed Taher Belabbas said, “The cause behind the protests in the city of Ouargla is the false promises made by the government about housing the poor, employing the unemployed, and solving the problems around development in the Southern region in general”.
A spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Movement said this occurrence is “similar to what happens before every political event, authorities seek to offer ‘social bribes’ to people, to license their political projects”.
The riots indicate a growing rift between Northern and Southern Algeria, the latter complaining of years of political neglect.
Bahrain – Petrol Bombs Hurled at Bahraini Ministry
On 11 April, four suspects were arrested after throwing homemade Molotov cocktails at the foreign ministry in an escalation of anti-government protests. There were no injuries or serious damage from the firebomb. The attack was a rare attempt to strike government offices during the 2-year-old uprising, led by majority Shiites who are seeking a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
In the past, police stations, security vehicles and personnel have been targeted, but government or royal compounds have been largely untouched. The ministry offered few details of the arrests. Online activists, however, said police stormed areas of the capital, Manama, at dawn.
Egypt – Morsi Meets with SCAF
On 11 April, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for an hour and a half. The army commanders expressed frustration that political forces are attempting to distort the image of the Armed Forces, specifically offended by findings that it used torture and murder during the 2011 revolution.
Morsi reportedly denounced the findings, saying they are an attempt to drive a wedge between the army and the presidency. A fact-finding committee found the allegations against SCAF were substantiated. The report was submitted to the Morsi, but was leaked to the media on 10 April. SCAF leadership used the leaked report as leverage to force Morsi to side with the military leaders and promote certain among them beyond good practice. Morsi promoted the heads of Egypt’s Air Force, Air Defence Forces and Navy to the rank of Lieutenant-general during the meeting.
Qatar to give $3 billion to Egypt
On 10 April, Qatar’s Prime Minister announced that the nation will give Egypt an additional $3 billion to bolster Egypt’s ailing economy and help rebuild key industries. The funds are in addition to Qatar’s promises to invest up to $18 billion in Egypt over the next five years.
Analysts suspect that Egypt is becoming a dependency of Qatar, as imports continue to decline and the nation’s currency reserves are reportedly able to cover no more than three months.
Coptic Pope Condemns Morsi
Coptic Pope Tawadros II has strongly condemned Mohamed Morsi for failing to deal properly with sectarian violence in early April that resulted in the death of six Christians and the country’s largest cathedral besieged by police and armed civilians.
Thousands of Christians had gathered at Egypt’s largest cathedral, St Mark’s, on 7 April to mourn the death of four Copts who were killed in earlier sectarian clashes north of Cairo. Attendees said they were attacked as they tried to leave the cathedral. They were forced them back inside in a siege that lasted into the night. Police fired teargas over the cathedral walls and looked on as civilians armed with birdshot, knives and Molotov cocktails scaled nearby buildings, attacking those inside the church grounds. Two Christians were killed and at least 80 injured.
On 9 April, Pope Tawadros II called a live current events news show to criticise Morsi for what he sees as negligence. The previous day, Morsi had claimed that any attack on the cathedral was an attack on him personally, and even telephoned Pope Tawadros, promising to do everything he could to protect it. However, after Morsi’s call, police continued to fire teargas into the cathedral.
Analysts believe the Pope’s tactics show a change in the Coptic Church, saying it was “interesting that he called in to a television show. He hasn’t used a sermon. He is trying to reach as large an audience as possible.” Tawadros may have been angered by a statement by a Morsi aide that laid the blame for Sunday’s cathedral siege at the feet of Copts.
For over a millennium, Egypt’s Christians lived peacefully among Egypt’s Muslim population. Sectarian tensions have risen over the past four decades, heightening by the elevation of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s new constitution inadequately protects the rights of Christians and other minorities.
On Sunday, a crowd of Muslims gathered outside the cathedral in support of Christians, and chanted anti-Brotherhood slogans. “Christians and Muslims are from one hand,” they sang. Muslims and Christians marched together to the cathedral on Thursday in solidarity with those who died.
Egyptian Legislature Approves Election Law
On 11 April, Egypt’s legislature approved a revised version of the law organizing the country’s parliamentary elections, which were scheduled to start in April. The elections were delayed because earlier versions of the law were declared invalid. The Shura council asked had asked for amendments to the earlier draft, and approved the changes on Thursday. The text has been sent to the Supreme Constitutional Court for review, which could take up to 45 days to rule on the new law. President Mohammed Morsi has said he expects the elections to be held in October.
Egypt’s opposition said it was not consulted on its drafting and had said before it would boycott the vote. The opposition has expressed concerns over gerrymandering by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. In televised sessions, members of the Shura council voted over the redrawing of districts, one of the changes the Supreme Court had asked for.
Libya – Libya and Egypt Sign Military Cooperation Agreement
On 11 April, Libya and Egypt signed an agreement for military cooperation, focusing on training, illegal immigration, illegal fishing operations and drug trafficking.
The agreement was made as the Chief of Staff of Egypt’s Armed Forces Sedki Sobhi and a delegation visited Libya. Libyan Ministry of Defence, Al-Bargati said that the visit “is the beginning of cooperation between the two countries to protect the region and achieve the revolution’s objectives of stability and development.”
UN Panel Report: Libyan Weapons Spreading at Alarming Rate
On 9 April, a UN Panel report indicated that Libyan weapons are spreading at to new territory in West Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean at “an alarming rate,” fuelling conflicts and increasing the arsenals of armed groups and terrorists.
The panel said cases of illicit transfers from Libya are under investigation, involving more than 12 countries and including heavy and light weapons such as portable air defence systems, explosives, mines, and small arms and ammunition. Since the 2011 Civil war, Libya has become a black market for those wishing to purchase weapons throughout the region.
The increased access to Libyan weapons has empowered “non-state actors” who are engaged in conflicts against national authorities. The panel expressed concern that extremist armed groups are strengthening their position.
In Libya, trade flourishes from weakened political and security infrastructure, an absence of control over stockpiles, and delays in disarmament and weapons collections. These encourage illegal trade and, “have generated considerable money-making opportunities for traffickers,” the panel said.
Sudan – Sudan and South Sudan Seek to Normalise Relations
On 12 April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made his first visit to South Sudan since July 2011 when the south seceded and became an independent state. The aim of the visit is to start cooperation and normalisation between the two countries.
South Sudan’s Salva Kiir agreed with continue a dialogue address outstanding conflicts between the nations, who agreed in March to resume cross-border oil flows, and work toward reducing tensions since the secession. They nations have yet to agree on who owns certain regions, including the Abyei province, along their disputed 2,000km border.
South Sudan shut down its entire oil output of 350,000 barrels a day in January 2012 during a dispute over pipeline fees. The move devastated economies in both nations. South Sudan re-launched oil production in early April. The first oil cargo expected to reach Sudan’s Red Sea export terminal by the end of May.
In addition, each nation has agreed to grant each others’ citizens residency, increase border trade and encourage close cooperation between their central banks.
Syria – Suicide bomber kills 14 in Damascus
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle in central Damascus, killing 16 people and wounding over 140. The attack is the third in the Damascus in 18 days. The dead were mostly civilians, and four from regular forces.
No group has claimed credit for the bombing, but it was likely executed by the the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which has claimed credit for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011.
Tunisia – Islamists Storm Tunisian School after Superintendent Bars Entry to Veiled Student
On 10 April, radical Muslims entered a school in Manzel Bouzelfa, 28 miles east of Tunis, and assaulted the superintendent after he barred entry to a teenage girl who was wearing a face veil. A witness says Salafists stormed the compound, smashing cars on the way in, and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom.”
School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati suffered several broken bones after being beaten with stones and sticks. Teachers claim that dozens of radicals remained on the premises, chanting anti-secular slogans. There have been no arrests yet in the incident. Classes at the school and others in the area have been suspended in protest at the assault, and the teachers union was considering a strike.
Tunisia is experiencing an increasing power struggle between moderate secularists, which have long dominated the country, and radical Islamists, whose influence is increasing. In 2012, the Education Ministry decided to preserve a classroom ban on women wearing the full face veil of strict Muslims. Hundreds of Islamists demanded segregated classes and the right for women to wear full-face veils.
Hardline Salafists want their form of Islam to be the law of the land, raising secularist fears women’s rights and democracy. Last year, Salafists prevented concerts and plays from being staged in across Tunisia, declaring that they violated Islamic principles.
“Topless Jihad” sparks controversy
In late March, a Tunisian woman who goes by the name of Amina Tyler angered Islamist groups by posting topless photos of herself online with the words “My body belongs to me” and “F(expletive deleted) your morals” written across her bare chest, as homage to the women’s power group, Femen.
Tyler disappeared from public view shortly after the photos gained widespread attention, and fears of reprisal sparked rallies around the globe in solidarity. On 6 April, Tyler reappeared on a special reports show, “Effet Papillon”, fearing for her and her family’s safety in Tunisia. Tyler had received several death threats by telephone and on her Facebook account – statements like, “You will die” and “We will throw acid at your face.”
Tyler explains that after the photos appeared, her family drove her home, where her cousin “destroyed her telephone SIM card” and “beat her”. The family then relocated to a town three hours from Tunis where she was forced to stay at her home.
On 4 April, Femen activists conducted a “topless jihad” in front of Tunisian embassies, mosques and Islamic associations across Europe to show their support for Tunisian activist Amina. Tyler said she did not regret baring her breasts, but she did condemn the burning of an Islamic flag by three feminists in front of Paris’s Great Mosque on Thursday. “Everyone is going to think that I encouraged it. That is unacceptable.”
The flag burning incident sparked further controversy, as it made stereotypical links to Islam and religious prejudices. One citizen said, “I personally consider going naked or wearing the niqab part of personal freedom and anyone has the right to wear what he or she wants, but the infringement and provocation of the feelings of others is vile.”
Tunisian women are some of the most free in the Arab world but have limited inheritance rights, which women’s groups say have been further abused by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.
Tunisian Government Releases Controversial Imam
On 5 April, the Tunisian government released a controversial Salafist accused of forging passports for jihadists seeking to wage war in Syria.
Imed Ben Saleh, (a.k.a Abou Abdullah Ettounsi), appeared in court on Friday morning, to answer questions about why he was deported from Egypt the previous day. Ettounsi was apprehended at an Egyptian airport, accompanied by a Libyan known for committing passport fraud. The Egyptian judiciary did not prove the involvement of Abou Abdullah Ettounsi in this case, but he was returned to Tunisia and informed that he was not welcome in Egypt.
“This man should not be freed until proven innocent from shipping jihadists and committing passport fraud,” Mouna Rabhi said. “After he was released, the judiciary opened for him the doors in Tunisia so he could send the rest of our young people to Syria to die.”
The case comes as the Tunisian government increases measures to stop the recruitment of young people for jihad in Syria.
Tunisian Girls Provide Sex to Syrian Extremists
On 7 April, a report indicated that at least 13 Tunisian girls have reportedly travelled Northern Syria to offer themselves as sex workers to opposition fighters. The announcement follows extremist “fatwas” that have circulated the internet, which calls on women to perform jihad through sex.
Last week, a Tunisian minister for religious affairs appealed to girls not to be influenced by extreme Islamic preachers outside of Tunisia who made a number of “sexual fatwas”.
A video widely circulated on the internet in Tunisia shows the parents of a veiled girl called Rahmah, 17, who disappeared one morning, her parents later learning that she went to Syria to carry out sexual jihad. Rahmah has returned to her family, who said that their daughter is not a religious fanatic “but was influenced by her fellow students who are known for their affiliation with the jihadist Salafist.” Stories like this are increasingly common in Tunisia. Parents are concerned about the influence charismatic Islamic leaders in other Arab countries can wield over their children.
The initial fatwa was attributed to sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi; however, sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued the fatwa. Al-Hadi Yahmad, a researcher on the affairs of Islamic groups, said, “The issue of sexual jihad was initially attributed to a Saudi sheikh who denied it, and this fatwa is abnormal and not endorsed by religious scholars.”
Reports in Tunisia stress though that the fatwa had gained attention on pro-Syrian regime websites, with the intention of tarnishing the image of the Islamic fighters. This propaganda would support Assad’s assertion that fundamentalists, supported by Salafist groups, are amongst the Syrian rebels.
Tunisia recovers $29 Million “Stolen” by Ben Ali
Tunisia has received $29 million (£19 million) “looted assets” held by former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The United Nations’ Stolen Asset Recovery team, who are responsible for to recovering money from leaders overthrown in the Arab spring, presented a check to President Moncef Marzouki.
The money had been held in a Lebanese bank account in the name of Laila Trabelsi, the wife of Ben Ali. Both Trabelsi and Ben Ali are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia after the Tunisian uprising.
Tunisia’s government faces pressure to recover the remaining money to ease stressful economic times, but there are political and legal difficulties in accessing accounts where the money is thought to be held.
Yemen – Military Restructuring in Yemen
On 10 April, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued decrees to restructure the country’s military.
President Hadi removed the former President Saleh’s son, Brigadier General Ahmed, from his post as commander of the elite Republican Guard, appointing him ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. In addition, two of Saleh’s nephews who had served in the Presidential Guard and the intelligence service have been appointed as military attaches in Germany and Ethiopia. A commander from an armoured division that split from the army in 2011 was made a presidential advisor.
Human rights observers are concerned that while the restructure is a positive step, placing Saleh’s allies in diplomatic posts could render the men immune from prosecution.
The restructure is a critical step in a US-backed transfer of power, which is intended to ease deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power and transition to his deputy, Hadi.
Saudi Arabia Builds Fence on Yemen Border
In an effort to tighten security, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) building a fence along its southern border with Yemen, spanning from the Red Sea coast to the border with Oman. Saudia Arabia began constructing in 2003 but halted a year later after protests from the Yemeni government. As turmoil has increased in Yemen, KSA has decided to proceed with its construction.
The fence, which will span 1,800 km and stand three metres high, will consist of a network of sandbags and pipelines, fitted with electronic detection systems. The first section of the fence has already been built along the coast in order to halt the flow of illegal immigrants, but the border remains a dangerous zone.