MENA Update: 17 June 17, 2014June 17, 2014 in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, MENA, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
17 June – Egypt’s New Cabinet Sworn In
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb was sworn in on Tuesday, retaining his position at the head of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s new government. Al-Sisi also retained key economic and security ministers, and created a new post for Investment Minister to attract funds to the Egyptian economy. Egypt’s government is facing a long task of economic rejuvenation. The economy is forecast to grow at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, insufficient to create new jobs and ease poverty. The government must re-stimulate tourism, close the deficit gap, address long-standing corruption and reassess a costly subsidy system. Ministers will provide Mahleb with a weekly plan to review at cabinet meetings.
Egypt’s new Investment Minister is Ashraf Salman, the co-founder and co-CEO of Cairo Financial Holding. The new Foreign Minister is former ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, and the Minister of International Cooperation is university professor Naglaa El Ahwany. The ministers of ministers for finance, defence, interior, planning, oil, electricity, supplies and communications have remained in place from the previous regime.
16 June – Journalist Abdullah Elshamy to be released
The Egyptian government will release Al Jazeera’s journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, because of his deteriorating health stemming from his hunger strike. Elshamy was arrested on August 14, the day that soldiers and the police used deadly force to break up Islamist protest against the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi. He had been detained without charges and began his hunger strike four months ago. Egyptian state news said that prosecutors were releasing 11 others, who were not identified.
Next Monday, a judge will rule on charges against three Al Jazeera journalists. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to broadcast false reports in order to bring down Egypt’s new military-backed government. The prosecution has not disclosed any evidence regarding the charges. Al Jazeera is currently the only broadcaster in Egypt that is sympathetic to the MB; supporters of the military-backed government have called the news station a terrorist organization.
17 June – British Embassy may re-open in Tehran
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to announce a plans leading to the re-opening of the British embassy in Tehran, after all diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran were suspended in 2011. The unexpected move comes as Iraqi forces clash with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has captured several cities in Iraq over the past week. The speed and organization of ISIS has created a shared interest in among the UK and Iran in confronting the group. Relations between the two nations under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were extremely tense; however in 2013, the election of more moderate President Hassan Rouhani proved a vital step in improving relations between Iran and the West, particularly after Iran’s agreement to scale back its nuclear programme earlier this year. The UK government is still concerned about Iran’s role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria; it is expected the relationship born of necessity may experience tensions.
17 June – ISIS advances spark discussions of separatism, action
The Sunni Islamist militant group, ISIS, have made major advances in the past week. New reports indicate the group has taken over parts of Baquba, 37 miles from Baghdad. If the group successfully captures the city, they will have uninterrupted access down major highways into Baghdad. On Monday, ISIS claimed control over the city of Tal Afar, which lies between previously captured Mosul and the Syrian border. News reports show the air strikes being conducted by the Iraqi Air Force in the strategic region.
The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, believes Iraq may break into separate regions, saying it will be hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before ISIS took control of major cities last week. He added that Sunni Muslims in the region are angered due to their neglect by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. Barzani believes a political solution is the only way forward, possibly leading to an autonomous Sunni region: “We have to leave it to Sunni areas to decide but I think this is the best model for them as well. First they have to take a decision: what they want exactly. And in our view… the best way is to have a Sunni region, like we have in Kurdistan.”
US President Barack Obama has announced that 275 military personnel are being sent to Iraq to defend US citizens and the embassy in Baghdad, and will attempt to relocate embassy staff to consulates in Basra and Ibril. Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to fight ISIS, but has left the door open for targeted drone strikes. The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has been deployed to the Gulf, accompanied by two more warships. On their path through Iraq, ISIS fighters have conducted mass executions, with images and footage being aired on international stations, and confirmed as real by the Iraqi military.
17 June – Jordan’s UN Ambassador Elected High Commissioner for Human Rights
The UN General Assembly has unanimously Jordan’s UN ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will begin his four-year mandate on 1 September, 2014. Zeid al-Hussein will be “the first high commissioner from the Asian continent and from the Muslim and Arab worlds.” He is currently
The UN Human Rights Council promotes and protects global human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development. The High Commissioner functions as the UN official with principal responsibility for global human rights efforts.
16 June – Kuwait to Provide Housing to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Dr. Abdullah Al-Maatouq, Chairman of International Islamic Charity Organization (IICO), has announced that Kuwait will provide 1,000 housing units to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The units will be integrated with necessary services, including clinics, schools, and mosques. Al-Maatouq and others called on the Lebanese government to specify the location for the new housing units. Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees, comprising nearly a quarter of its population. Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the region, is now hosting the largest numbers of refugees. The IICO has previously built 2,000 houses in the Zaatari camp in Jordan and 2,000 houses in a camp in Turkey.
15 June – Hiftar Launches another Offensive in Benghazi
Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar launched another offensive against Islamist militants in Benghazi, resulting in 12 deaths, 18 wounded, and causing dozens of families to flee the area. In fighting on Sunday, large parts of Eastern Libya suffered a disruption of power supplies after rockets hit a power station near Benghazi’s airport. Hiftar’s spokesman, Mohamed El Hejazi, said his forces had detained five leaders from militant groups. Hiftar has declared war against militants in Benghazi, and while he has no official authority, several Libyan army units have joined forces with him.
Some analysts believe that Hifter is supported by neighbouring nations, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are worried about Islamist militants exploiting the chaos in Libya. At a news conference on Sunday, Hiftar praised Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his work in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hiftar called an “international spy network”. He also accused Qatar of fuelling Libya’s chaos: “There is no doubt Qatar supports the militias in Libya,” later adding that Qatar was hampering the formation of a national army and police force in Libya.
The latest fighting in Libya comes less than two weeks before a parliamentary election. Libyans hope the elections will put an end political infighting and install an authoritative government.
14 June – Guards stop Illegal Migrants from Crossing Spain/Morocco Border
Nearly 1,000 African migrants were halted in their attempts to storm a three-tier, barbed wire border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla. Moroccan security forces drove back the migrants in the latest attempts to cross into Spanish territory. Illegal immigration has reached crisis levels in recent years; estimates by the Interior Ministry in Madrid suggest that nearly 40,000 sub-Saharan Africans are waiting for an opportunity to go to Spain. In addition, there are increasing numbers of boats attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. These boats often originate in Libya amid the chaos in the nation. A majority of migrants have come from Syria, Eritra, and other impoverished regions in Africa.
17 June – UN Report Suggests Sectarian War Engulfing Iraq and Syria
In a report released on Tuesday, UN human rights investigators say the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria. Militants from ISIS have seized the north of Iraq in the past week, linking it with territory previously taken in eastern Syria. In Syria, the report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds,” and adds that ISIS kidnapped nearly 200 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo at the end of May. “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern,” the report said.
“The international community, and specifically the (UN) Security Council, have yet to demand that the individuals perpetrating crimes against the men, women and children of Syria are held responsible. Through their inaction, a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself,” the report said.
16 June – Tunisia proposes Autumn Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
Tunisia’s election authority has proposed a parliamentary vote in October and the first round of presidential polls in late November. The nation has been run by a caretaker government since 2011; the government that saw through the adoption of a new constitution and has been lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
The proposal suggests holding parliamentary elections on October 26, and the first session of the presidential vote on November 23, with the second session on December 28.The proposal is widely accepted to be approved within coming days.
In the first post-revolution elections in 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won, but came under fire for perceived mishandling of the economy and lenience towards radical Islamist groups. Backlash against the party escalated sharply after the assassination of two secular opposition leaders in 2013, which caused the party to resign and hand control to a technocratic caretaker government.
Ennahda, and the secular party Nida Tounes, are expected to be the strongest election contenders in October. Nida Tounes will be open to a governing coalition with Ennahda if the next elections do not produce a clear majority. The Ennahda party said that Tunisia must be governed by consensus over the next five years to anchor its fragile democracy.
Elections commission chief Sarsar said last month that the new electoral law would assure a free and fair vote, with more than 1,000 international observers invited to monitor it.
United Arab Emirates
12 June – UAE Begins Compulsory Military Service
The UAE has instituted a compulsory military service law aimed at safeguarding peace and stability in the Gulf and combating terrorism. The law applies to all males between the ages of 18 and 30 and in good medical health. Men who have a high school degree or its equivalent will serve nine months, while those who do not have a high school diploma will serve for two years.
The law was imposed to protect UAE strategic resources and prepare for threats, and also to “teach its people, men and women, of solidarity through military service,” said Mousa Qallab, a senior researcher for the Orient Research Center in the UAE.
The small Gulf nation is in the centre of a politically instable region, with many surrounding nations experiencing significant upheaval. In addition, the UAE has a territorial dispute with Iran, over three Gulf islands controlled by the Islamic republic.
Apart from the UAE, the government of Qatar in 2013 also approved a draft bill making it compulsory for males to enlist for military service for a period of up to four months. It is believed that Kuwait is also debating drafting legislation for mandatory military service.
Qallab added, “It is important that the Gulf States strengthen their military forces. Regional security must be ensured because here we have over half of the oil reserves in the world, and we export about 35 percent of them to industrialized regions across the world.”
16 June – Yemeni President orders Removal of Artillery
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has ordered the removal of heavy artillery from hills surrounding Sana’a over fears of a coup led by his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters. Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being ousted in 2012 and replaced by his long-time deputy.
A statement by the Yemeni army said, “The military leadership has dismantled heavy artillery and rockets that were positioned on hills around Sana’a following information of a coup plot [by Saleh] whose loyalists continue to infiltrate the army.” The weapons had been stationed on the hills to secure Yemen from al Qaida insurgency, a northern rebellion and a southern separatist movement.
The decision to move the weapons comes after the Hadi’s presidential guard, backed by armoured vehicles, surrounded a mosque controlled by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a late Saturday. It is believed that weapons had been stored in the large mosque in the city and were being guarded by gunmen loyal to Saleh. A tunnel connecting the site to the presidential palace had also been discovered. Hadi ordered that the mosque and its surroundings be handed over to the presidential guard.
The mosque siege came days after authorities closed the Yemen Today newspaper and television channel. Both stations are owned by Saleh and have often been accused of biased coverage of the post-Saleh government and of inciting protests in Sana’a against power cuts and water and fuel shortages. Analysts have accused Saleh of impeding Yemen’s political transition.