MENA ReportFebruary 27, 2014 in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
Despite health issues, Bouteflika runs for fourth term
23 February: Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika ended months of speculation with the announcement of his intentions to run for a fourth term in the upcoming elections on 17 April.
Bouteflika, who is 76, has been at the helm in Algeria for 15 years. Last year, he endured a “mini-stroke”, which incapacitated for a large part of the year, causing fears of political upheaval. He has not appeared in public since the stroke, and has not addressed the nation for 18 months. However members of his cabinet have claimed that his health is improving and his mind remains unaffected.
Despite his absence from the public, Bouteflika remains heavily involved in governing the nation. He has replaced several cabinet ministers and regional officials, and removed high-ranking members of the intelligence service. It is believed these changes are an effort. Analysts believe the changes are an effort to consolidate support his re-election.
Report reveals statistics on anti-government incidents
25 February: In a new report, findings show that Bahrain’s police have seized a total of 154,816 weapons from violent anti-government radicals between 2011 and 2013. The number includes 35,914 Molotov cocktails. In addition, Bahrain has seen 11,195 acts of arson, 2,298 incidents of damage to public and private property and the blocking of 14,205 roads in the same period. The report additionally lists 36,774 security violations and 25,725 attacks on police resulting in 2,080 injuries and eight deaths, and damage to over 2,200 police patrol jeeps.
The statistics are part of a report released by Bahraini Human Rights Affairs Minister Dr Salah Ali. The release coincided with the visit by a technical team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Dr Ali used the opportunity to speak out against “terrorist tactics” employed by government opponents, and called on community leaders to help restore calm: “All political societies and religious leaders should take a strong stance in condemning violent attacks – including those targeting policemen.”
Further, the minister called on opposition groups to issue their demands at a negotiating table, instead of disrupting daily life.
After government walkout, new Prime Minister Appointed
25 February: Ibrahim Melheb has been named Egypt’s new prime minister, after his predecessor, Hazem al-Beblawy, announced the resignation of the interim government that had been in place since the removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July.
Mehleb is an industrialist who headed a state-owned construction company and served in the last cabinet as housing minister. In a news conference, he said the new government would be named within days, with a focus on improving living conditions, defeating terrorism and ensuring a smooth presidential election, which must occur by mid-April, according to the newly approved constitution.
Mehleb is the sixth prime minister in Egypt since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. He enters the post amidst a series of labour strikes, anger over power brownouts and fuel shortages, and violent militant campaign targeting the security services, tourists, and the general population. In addition, he faces the ire of pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government recently deemed a terrorist organisation. There has also been backlash against what is perceived as an increasingly authoritarian, military-dominated government. While army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has become widely popular, factions within Egypt believe that his potential bid for presidency will not serve in the best interests of the nation.
Hala Shukrallah, the newly appointed head of the liberal political party Constitution (also the first woman and first Christian to lead a political party in Egypt), said she and her party supported the military ouster of Mr. Morsi. However, she added that Egyptians needed to ask questions about the “repercussions of the military’s involvement in the political arena.” On the removal of Morsi, she said, hile Egyptians were grateful, “The military responded to a certain moment […]this doesn’t mean at all that an oath of allegiance is in place.”
It is still unknown why former Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi had chosen to resign. The silence has added to the overwhelming national feeling political decisions are still being brokered out of the public’s sight.
Killings spark protests in Benghazi
26 February: Two policemen were killed in Benghazi, sparking protests by residents who are outraged at the level of lawlessness and bloodshed in the city. Angry demonstrators blocked roads and burned tyres. The killings occurred a day after the UN mission in Libya voiced deep concern for the escalating and daily violence occurring, particularly in the eastern region of the country.
One of the slain policemen, who was a retired officer, was killed in the Guwersha district. The other, a serving officer, was killed near his home in the Majuri neighbourhood. A day earlier, another police office had been killed.
In recent months, Benghazi has suffered near daily attacks, mostly targeting security forces. The central government, although weakened, is attempting to reign in former rebel brigades and establish a national military. However, the rebel brigades that fought to overthrow Gadhafi have, for the most part, turned into militias—some sanctioned by the government following the death of Gadhafi, others proceeding without government approval.
The UN Support Mission in Libya has asked Libyan authorities to make every effort to rein in the rampant violence, “UNSMIL expresses its deep concern about the continued violence — including assassinations, bombings, kidnappings and attacks in the east and other Libyan areas,” the mission said in a statement.
Illegal migrants clash with security forces in attempt to enter Spanish territory
24 February: Nearly 300 African migrants stormed a border fence in an attempt to cross into the Spanish territory of Melilla from Morocco. The migrants hurled rocks at security forces as they stormed the six metre barbed wire fence. The subsequent clashes between the migrants and security forces left 27 wounded, among them 13 security troops. While ninety-six migrants were arrested, nearly 100 managed to cross over.
The territory of Melilla is one of only two land borders that the EU shares with Africa. The region is a major crossing point for sub-Saharan Africans seeking work or asylum in Europe. The majority of migrants who make the journey come from Eritrea and Somalia.
This is the second time in February that this type of assault has occurred. On 17 February, nearly 150 African migrants made it into Melilla after a similar attack on the border fence. On 6 February, 14 migrants drowned in Moroccan waters while trying to enter Ceuta, the other EU/Africa land border, by sea. In that event, Spanish authorities confirmed that police fired rubber bullets as the migrants swam into Spanish territory, but denied the shooting contributed to the drowning.
Al-Nusra Front issues ultimatum to ISIL
26 February: The head of al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda subsidiary fighting in Syria, has given an ultimatum to another extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL). Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, the chief of al-Nusra Front, has told ISIS to stop turning its guns on its allies, and asked them to come back under al-Qaeda’s central command. ISIS has five days to end infighting and accept arbitration from Sunni clerics or face expulsion from the region. The order comes two days after a suicide bombing allegedly carried out by ISIS killed a mediator representing al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in northern Syria. Al-Qaeda had severed ties with the group last month for their failure to act according to AQ directives. Zawahiri posted a notice online saying ISIS “is not a branch of the al Qaeda group.”
In a message produced by Nusra Front’s media wing, al-Jolani said, “I swear by God, if you again refuse God’s judgment, and do not stop your plague and pushing your ignorant ideology on the Muslim nation then you will be expelled, even from Iraq.”
Both the al-Nusra Front and ISIS are fighting in Syria, however while Al-Nusra and other militant opposition groups seek to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government, ISIS is seeking the formation of an Islamic emirate. ISIS has been fighting al-Nusra members and civilians who support the opposition. The acrimony began in April 2013, when ISIS Chief, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, announced his group’s expansion into Syria, hoping to absorb al-Nusra Front into his ranks. Tensions between ISIS an AQ escalated when al-Baghdadi refused to heed al-Zawahiri’s directive to disband and leave Syria. The infighting between the groups serves to strengthen the Assad government as the insurgents are distracted, depleting fighters and resources by battling one another.
Return of Tunisian fighters from Syria sparks fear across nation
25 February: The Tunisian Interior Minister has said that nearly 400 Tunisian militants have returned from fighting in war in Syria. Their return has sparked fears that the returnees could fuel violence back home. Tunisia has dealt with sporadic violence linked to Islamic extremism since the 2011 revolution that removed former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After the ouster of Ben Ali, a number of Tunisians left for Syria to join the ranks of extremist rebels who hope to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said, “We have managed to prevent nearly 8,000 people from going to Syria […] we don’t have exact figures for those who have returned, but they are estimated to number around 400.”
Authorities have been unable to arrest the returnees because of a “legal loophole” that has not been disclosed. However the government has indicated that the returnees are being monitored, and are listed in a database. In 2013, Tunisia’s public prosecutor began an inquiry into networks recruiting Tunisian fighters to head to Syria, including the introduction of airport checks to prevent would-be combatants from departing.
The violence that Tunisia has witnessed since 2011 has predominantly been blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, a hard-line Salafi movement believed to have links with Al-Qaeda. The group is believed responsible for the assassination of two liberal secular politicians last year, which sank Tunisia into political turmoil. Security forces have also battled militants hiding in the remote border regions of western Tunisia, notably in the Chaambi mountains.
UN Security Council threatens sanctions against those disrupting Yemen’s stability
The UN Security Council has proposed a resolution that would authorise sanctions against individuals and organisations threatening peace, security or stability in Yemen. The draft resolution states that those causing disruption would meet with travel bans and asset freezes for a minimum period of one year. The sanctions would target those who attempt “obstructing or undermining the successful completion of the political transition,” or who commit “attacks on essential infrastructure or acts of terrorism” and who violate human rights and international humanitarian law. The draft does not list specific individuals or groups, but intends to establish a committee to make these decisions.The measures could be approved this week.
Yemen has been struggling with its transition to democracy since Arab Spring protests in 2011. A transitional government is trying to promote national reconciliation, including the drafting of a new constitution, and new elections. However, the presence of an Al Qaeda insurgency has undermined efforts towards democracy, and some officials believe that loyalists to former president Saleh have quietly backed the terrorist group.
The draft resolution would authorise an asset freeze and travel ban under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can be enforced militarily, against those “engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen.”