MENA ReportJanuary 31, 2014 in Africa, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
Algerian National Police deployed in Territorial Clashes
(29 January) Algerian authorities have arrested 60 people after a month of territorial clashes between Arabs and Berbers in Ghardaia. Ghardaia is oasis town on the edge of the Sahara desert, and has seen repeated clashes which have left two people dead, dozens injured and many shops burned. Last week, Algerian national police were sent to the town to restore calm. Berbers, who were the original inhabitants of North Africa, have accused local police of encouraging the Arabs. Three officers have been suspended after a video surfaced showing their alleged involvement. Thus far, 20 people have been charged with arson, theft and assault; 10 others are under house arrest and another 30 are in custody awaiting questioning.
Algeria to Regulate Mosques
(28 January) The Algerian government is calling on imams to become fully engaged in the fight against extremism. Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah said, “Mosques also have a part to play in preserving society and protecting it against division and hatred.” The government has trained 800 imams were trained between 2010 and 2012, and recruited 1,500 imam-lecturers and 240 principal imams.
The Algerian government wants to take back control of mosques used by extremist groups to spread messages of hatred and violence. Earlier this month, the government published a decree to regulate the 20,000 mosques in the nation. This law, the first of its kind, aims to enable mosques to conduct their role independently of political or other influences. The law explains that religious institutions must “help strengthen religious and national unity, protect society from fanatical, extremist and excessive ideas, foster and consolidate the values of tolerance and solidarity in society, combat violence and hatred, and counter anything that could harm the country.” The law also strictly forbids use of mosques for illicit, personal or collective goals, or for purely material ends, and prohibits use of mosques to harm people or groups. The law also covers the role of mosques in cultural, educational and social spheres, and subjects monetary collections to administrative authorisation. The decree has been positively received by the public.
Bahraini court shuts down Shi’ite clerical group
(29 January) A Bahraini court has ordered the dissolution of a group of Shiite Muslim clerics, declaring the group illegal. The decision comes after the revival of stalled reconciliation talks between the Sunni ruling family and Shiite opposition, and could harm reconciliation efforts to end political unrest that has occurred since 2011.
The court’s decision says that the Islamic Scholars’ Council, which has close ties to Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq, was not officially registered in Bahrain. Further, the group is believed to have adopted “a dangerous political and sectarian role.” Information Minister Sameera Rajab said, “The group that makes up the council includes political clerics who use the religious pulpit for political and sectarian incitement.” Rajab believes that the ruling should not stop dialogue with the opposition; however, members of the opposition have said that the ruling would have a negative effect on any attempts to move forward with the reconciliation process.
IED detonated in front of Security Forces Barracks
(31 January) Two improvised explosive devices were detonated in front of a Giza Central Security Forces barracks on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, injuring a police officer. The explosions severely damaged a central security vehicle parked in front of the camp. A wave of attacks by Islamic militants has swept across Egypt in the weeks since the mid-January constitutional referendum. Last Friday, four bombs exploded in different areas of Cairo, killing 6.
Twenty Journalists face charges in Egypt
(29 January) Twenty journalists are facing charges in Egypt. Sixteen of the journalists are Egyptians accused of belonging to a terrorist group, harming national unity and social peace, and using terrorism as a means to their goals. Four are foreigners accused of assisting the organisation by providing them with information, equipment, and money, and broadcasting false information and rumours to convince the international community that Egypt was undergoing a civil war. The defendants include two Britons, a Dutch national and an Australian. No names are mentioned, but warrants state that four foreigners were correspondents for al-Jazeera news network.
Eight of the defendants are in detention; 12 are on the run with arrest warrants issued against them. International news organisations have issued a joint call for the immediate release of all journalists held in Egypt.
Armed men storm government building in Iraq
(30 January) Eight armed men assaulted an office of Iraq’s transportation ministry in northeast Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage. Four of the eight men are believed to have been killed in clashes with security forces. Security forces sealed off the surrounding area, which houses other government offices including the headquarters of the transport ministry and a human rights ministry building. No group has claimed yet responsibility, but fighters affiliated with the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have mounted similar armed attacks on Iraqi government buildings.
On Thursday, bombings took place near a market and a restaurant in the Shia-majority neighbourhoods of Kasra and Talbiyah killed six people. On Wednesday, several car bombs detonated in predominantly Shia cities of Baghdad Jadidah, Shuala and Talbiyah, leaving nine people dead. Attacks on Wednesday also hit the outskirts of the capital, as well as the northern cities of Mosul and Tuz Khurmatu, killing seven others.
The death toll from Iraqi violence in January has gone past 900. With upcoming elections in three months, security forces have been grappling with intensifying violence and an extended standoff with anti-government fighters in western Anbar province. The fighters hold all of Fallujah, right next to Baghdad. ISIL has been involved in the fighting. The standoff has forced more than 140,000 people to flee their homes, the worst displacement in Iraq since the 2006-2008 sectarian conflict.
Man admits transporting bombs
(31 January) Omar Ibrahim Al Atrash, who was arrested last week, has confessed to transporting suicide bombers and car bombs between Syria and Lebanon, including to Beirut. Atrash has admitted ties to three wanted individuals, as well as to AQ-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, ISIL and Al Nusra Front. Atrash has “admitted to transporting car bombs to Beirut” after receiving them from a Syrian, and “transporting suicide bombers of different Arab nationalities into Syria and handing them over to the Nusra Front.” The army said two of the car bombs transported by Atrash had blown up, but it did not specify where.
Many bomb attacks have targeted strongholds of Hezbollah, which has drawn the ire of Sunni extremist groups in part because of its role fighting alongside the regime in Syria. Though Hezbollah is thought to be the target of the attacks, those killed in the bombings have largely been civilians.
Clashes erupt after kidnapping official’s son in Benghazi
(31 January) Clashes erupted Benghazi after the son of a commander in the army’s Special Forces was kidnapped. The clashes left at least one soldier dead and wounded two other army personnel.
The unknown kidnappers demanded that Libya’s special forces’ commander, Brigadier-General Wanis Bu Khamada, pull his forces from the city, especially the districts of al-Hawari and Gwarsha, in exchange of releasing his abducted son. While several military facilities are located in the listed districts, they are controlled by militias of former rebels
The heaviest clashes were reportedly seen at a base operated by the Brigade of the February 17 Martyrs, a group of former Islamist rebels; however the group denied kidnapping the general’s son on its Facebook page.
Ali Bu Khamada was taken outside Benghazi University, where he is a student. He tried resisting his kidnappers and appeared to have been injured by a gunshot. Last week, Special Forces announced the arrest of four suspects in possession of a hit list of officers that were to be targeted, or were already killed. A military source said the abduction was carried out to pressure the Special Forces to release prisoners held by the army.
Libya minister survives assassination attempt
(29 January) Libya’s acting interior minister, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim, has escaped an assassination attempt in Tripoli. Karim was on his way to a meeting when his car came under fire from unknown gunmen. After the attack, Al-Sidik Abdul-Karim said in a statement: “Libya’s men will not be intimidated by bullets, bombs or rockets.” Earlier in January, deputy industry minister Hassan al-Droui was shot dead; the first killing of a member of the interim government. No group has claimed responsibility.
The transitional government has been struggling to assert itself over up to 1,700 different armed militias, each with their own goals. Local officials in various regions of Libya have also been killed. Most cases remain unsolved and only few arrests have so far been made. Last week, the political instability in Libya worsened when the Justice and Construction Party, the second largest party in the interim administration, said it was quitting the government. The group made the announcement after it failed to win sufficient support for a motion to censure Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The move could deepen the deadlock in the interim parliament, and increase political infighting.
Syrian peace talks draw to a close
(31 January) The Syrian government and opposition traded insults after a week-long peace conference in Geneva. The conference ended with no firm agreement. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the opposition were immature, while the opposition’s Louay Safi said the regime had no desire to stop the bloodshed.
More talks are scheduled for 10 February. The opposition has agreed to take part, but Mr Muallem refused to commit, stating, “We represent the concerns and interests of our people. If we find that [another meeting] is their demand, then we will come back.” Opposition representative Safi said the opposition would not sit in talks “endlessly”, and urged the government to “talk seriously about transferring power”.
The two sides discussed humanitarian issues and possible ways to end the violence and made some agreements on access for humanitarian aid in some parts of the country. Both sides agreed to use a 2012 document known as the Geneva Communiqué, which includes proposals for a transitional government and democratic elections, as a basis for discussions. The opposition has insisted on addressing the transitional government issue, but the government has been stressing that the first step is to discuss “terrorism”. Diplomats have said that a top priority is to keep the talks process going, in the hope that hard-line positions can be modified over time.
Tunisia Signs New Constitution, Appoints Government
(January 30) Tunisia has a new constitution has been signed, and control of the government has passed from former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh to Mehdi Jomaa. Citizens are hopeful for major change in the country. The country’s president is Moncef Marzouki, told reporters that the newly-signed constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, requires that the government protect the environment and work to stop corruption, and puts power into two men’s hands. Power over the country is split between Marzouki and Jomaa. Marzouki will have important roles in defensc and foreign affairs; Jomaa will have the dominant role in the government.The caretaker government will run the country until elections, which will be held on an unspecified date this year.
Activists and media have criticized the new constitution, noting that it doesn’t do enough to reflect what the citizens want and that the committee drafting the document did not have the power to change constitutional sections on the right to strike and freedom of expression. There is also concern that the document doesn’t do enough to protect men from violence. The document does not ban the death penalty, but makes accusing people of being nonbelievers an illegal act. Attacks on religion are also restricted. The creation of this document presumably brings the Arab Spring to a close in Tunisia.
Suspected militants kill 15 soldiers in Yemen
(31 January) Fifteen soldiers were killed and four wounded by suspected al Qaeda militants in an attack on an army checkpoint in south-eastern Yemen on Friday. The soldiers were ambushed as they were having lunch in a desert area near the city of Shibam, in the eastern province of Hadramout. The gunmen were likely to be al Qaeda militants. Hadramout, a center of Yemen’s modest oil production, has been hit by sporadic fighting between government forces and a big tribal confederation, after a senior tribesman was killed in a shootout at an army checkpoint in December.