MS Risk Blog

MENA Security Update

Posted on in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen title_rule


Retired General calls on Bouteflika to Step Down

12 February: Retired senior Algerian General Hocine Benhadid has called on President Abdulaziz Bouteflika to step down “with dignity” rather than running for a fourth term in the upcoming Algerian elections in April. In Benhadid’s interview, he claims to speak on behalf of others in the armed forces. He says the country’s stability cannot be guaranteed by someone who was “sick” and the “hostage of his entourage.” Bouteflika has been in power since 1999. In April 2013, he suffered a mini-stroke, and was flown to Paris for treatment, remaining there for three months. Bouteflika has not yet said if he is healthy enough to run for re-election.

Benhadid has also singled out for criticism Bouteflika’s brother Said, the “main actor” in the presidential clan, as well as Army Chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, saying “The chief of staff has no credibility, and no one is fond of him.”

Benhadid’s statements show an increasing power struggle between Bouteflika supporters and the army, which is likely to play out in the elections.



Morsi: Protests are useless; Sisi could face a coup

12 February: In comments to his lawyer, former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has called the weekly protests supporting him ‘useless’. The snippet was the third released from a 40 minute recording of a Morsi speaking to his lawyers during a court appearance in February. The matter of protests arises when Morsi asks his lawyer of news from the outside world. His lawyer, Selim el Awa, says that there are daily street protests by supporters, which routinely end in clashes. El Awa adds, “People must sit down, talk and reach a solution,” he says. “Without reaching a solution, Dr Mohamed, there’s no point,” to which Morsi agrees, adding the protests are “useless for both sides”.

On the streets of Egypt, attrition in protests has taken place as demonstrators consider the utility of regular protests, particularly as they invariably end in clashes with security forces. Although not intended for publicity, the comments from Morsi mark the first time it has been questioned from an authority figure from within the Muslim Brotherhood.

Constant clashes and increasing violence has left thousands dead, and spurred bombings and unprecedented violence by radical militant groups, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula and in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood has since been designated as a terrorist organisation by Egyptian authorities. Last week, interim president Adly Mansour, told a state newspaper last week that there was no prospect of political reconciliation between the Brotherhood and Egypt’s military leaders.

Morsi also asked why Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military leader responsible for removing him from office, has been promoted to the rank of field marshal. He asks, “Is it so there will be no one more senior than [Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el Sisi] when he becomes president?”

It is expected that al-Sisi will soon announce his bid for presidency in the upcoming election, and further expected that he would win by a large margin. In the recordings, Morsi shows surprise that that anyone would want to take the reins of such a troubled country, and warns that “whoever leads a coup must face a coup.”



Iran Tests New Missiles

11 February: The Iranian Defence Ministry has announced the successful test-firing of new missiles, including one designed to destroy “all types of enemy military equipment.” The new missiles include a laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile. Iran has also developed a long-range ballistic missile that can carry multiple warheads and can evade enemies’ anti-missile defence systems, with the “the capability of destroying massive targets and destroying multiple targets.”

Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby has called the missile program “a dangerous threat to region.” A UN Security Council Resolution has prohibited Iran from activities related to developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The tests come as reports are released that Iranian warships are en route toward U.S. maritime borders. The move is supposedly a response to the increase of United States naval presence in the Persian Gulf, however US military officials say there is no “operational information to support the claim.”



300,000 Displaced from Violence in Anbar Province

The UN has announced that as many as 300,000 people have been displaced by fighting between Sunni militants and security forces in the Anbar province of Iraq. The number marks the highest displacement in the region since the sectarian clashes between 2006 and 2008.

In December, groups of militants led by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) took over large parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, leaving Iraqi troops and pro-government supporters struggling to regain control. The roads leading into and out of these cities are also part of the battleground, as the army tries to secure supply routes and cut off militant groups. Security forces have slowly regained areas of Ramadi, but they have not yet launched an offensive to recapture Fallujah for fear of a repeat of the battles similar to those against US troops in 2004. On Saturday, Anbar Governor Ahmed al-Dulaimi gave the militants a week to surrender, but emphasised that officials would not negotiate with ISIS.



New App Lets Citizens Tweet After Bombings

12 February: An innovator in Lebanon has developed a new smartphone app: with one tap, citizens can automatically tweet, “I am still alive! #Lebanon #Latestbombing.” The app’s creator intended to showcase the deteriorating security in Lebanon with an “ironic solution” (the website says, “Every time there is an explosion, we have to spend a lot of time contacting our loved ones…Not anymore!”) However, the irony was lost as over 4,000 users have downloaded the tool since its launch in January. Further, citizens from other war-torn areas have contacted the creator to request their own localised versions.



Libyans Terrified as Government Unable to Stop Killings

12 February: Killings have been on the rise in Libya due to a combination of “score-settling”, extremist shootings, and rival killings by military wings, and gangs killing for profit.

Since the weekend, several killings have been reported. On 10 February, former policemen Montasser Anwar Bennaser was the latest in a string of targeted assassinations. A bomb under his car was detonated shortly after he dropped off his son at school in Derna. A day earlier, Saiqa Special Forces member Alaa Mohammad Ali’s corpse was found tied to a rock at Karsa beach. On Saturday, Former Libyan Attorney-General and Supreme Court Chancellor Abdul Aziz al-Hassadi was shot dead in the Derna city centre. On Friday, an imam, Cheikh Atef Madouli, was killed after prayers at al-Ansari mosque, in Benghazi’s Hadaiq district. There have also been a series of abductions that remain unresolved.

Libyan citizens extremely concerned, wondering how abductions and killings seem to occur with no witnesses, particularly when they occur in crowded areas and during daylight hours.



Sudanese, Egyptian Authorities Involved in Torture of Eritrean Refugees

12 February: A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that in the past 10 years, authorities in Sudan colluded with human traffickers in the kidnap and torture of hundreds of Eritrean refugees.

The report includes testimony from dozens of refugees who said that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers often facilitated their abuse rather than arresting the traffickers.

Earlier reports have shown that Eritrean refugees are regularly brutalised, having faced atrocities such as mutilation, burning, beatings and sexual assault. The threat and conduct of torture is devised to extort large ransoms from the victims’ families. The victims have described the pattern of being intercepted inside the eastern Sudanese border by police. The police arbitrarily detain them, and then hand them to traffickers. Many of those abducted report being abused for weeks or months in Kassala, or transferred to Arish, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they receive much the same treatment.

The author of the HRW report, Gerry Simpson, says that police and soldiers in Sudan and Egypt who help traffickers kidnap and torture refugees have nothing to fear. He adds that some police in eastern Sudan are so emboldened that they hand refugees over to traffickers in police stations.

Trafficking and abuse is inadequately investigated or prosecuted in both nations, which constitutes a breach of obligations under national and international anti-trafficking laws, international human rights law and national criminal law. Simpson adds, “The time has long passed for Egypt and Sudan to stop burying their heads in the sand and take meaningful action to end these appalling abuses.”

Up until December 2013, Egypt had prosecuted just one person with trafficking offences, while Sudan had launched 14 prosecutions of traffickers and four of police officers in connection with trafficking and torture.



ISIL Withdraws from Deir al-Zor Province

10 February: al Qaeda’s affiliate, al-Nusra front has been battling for days against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) for control of towns and oilfields Deir al-Zor province. There have been a series of car bombs and attacks in the region. However, the ISIL fighters have chosen to withdraw from the area.  A statement on Twitter said that ISIL had withdrawn to prevent further bloodshed. They have moved to the Hassaka and Raqqa provinces, the latter of which is a stronghold of ISIL.

Last month, several rebel groups joined forces and launched a campaign to push ISIL forces out of opposition-held regions in northern and eastern Syria. The anti ISIL groups include secular and religious members, who normally have territorial and ideological diputes. However ISIL, a group that has attracted non-Syrians to the region, has alienated the civilian populations in areas it controls by imposing harsh rulings (including beheadings) against what it perceives as dissent

Pro-opposition group, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Deir al-Zor province was now in the hands of al-Nusra and 10 other rebel groups. ISIL had asked for mediation which was rejected by Nusra.

ISIL’s goal is to set up an Islamic emirate in territories within Iraq and Syria. Their goals clash with other Syrian rebel forces, who aim to overthrow Assad and then determine a ruling system for Syria.



Yemen Divided into Six States

10 February: Final approval has been given for Yemen to become a federation of six regions as part of its political transition. The new federal structure, the result of the national dialogue, will be put into a constitution will be put to a referendum. The division into states is aimed at eliminating acrimonious and sometimes violent divides between North and South Yemenis. Delegates at the National Dialogue Conference also agreed to reverse the overt political and economic marginalisation against southern Yemenis that had been entrenched since the two regions were unified in 1994.

If passed in referendum, the six regions would be: in the south, Aden and Hadramawt; in the north  Saba, Janad, Azal and Tahama. Sanaa, the capital, would become “a federal city not subject to any regional authority” and the constitution would “guarantee its neutrality.” Aden, a major port city, would be given special status, including “independent legislative and executive powers”.

Many politicians from Southern Yemen have rejected the six-state idea. Some call it a “coup against what had been agreed at the dialogue.” They had urged for a two-state federation, feeling that the North has greater footing because they hold four of the six states. However, the south has access to a larger share of country’s oil resources