MENA UpdateMarch 25, 2014 in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, Yemen
22 March- In a rare event, nearly 5,000 supporters of Algerian opposition parties have rallied to call for a boycott of next month’s election, and to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s run for another term after 15 years in power. Bouteflika, 77, suffered a stroke last year; opponents believe that his condition has left him unfit to govern for another term. Finally, protestors called for reforms to the Algerian political system, which they view as corrupt.
Six additional candidates have begun campaigning in the run-up to the presidential elections, however, Bouteflika has the support of the powerful ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), army factions and business elites. It is believed that despite his absence from the public in the past year, Bouteflika is almost assured victory.
Further assuring victory are the divisions among the nation. Rival Islamist and secular party supporters chanted slogans opposing one another during the rally, a reminder of the splits between the RCD and the MSP Islamist party, who have been adversaries for years.
Since 2001, public protests have been banned in Algeria. The nation was under a state of emergency for nearly 20 years before it was lifted last month. However, the government still bans any event that is “likely to disturb public order and tranquility”. During the Arab Spring of 2011, Algeria remained relatively stable as nations around them experienced tumultuous uprisings, however there is now a growing anger at Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fourth term. Human Rights Watch has warned that Algerian authorities were deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters ahead of the elections.
24 March- In the capital, Manama, Bahraini security forces reportedly fired tear gas at funeral goers in a Shia mosque. The attack follows protests that took place near the capital on Friday. During the protest, thousands of mostly Shia Bahrainis, led by Al-Wefaq party, shut down the Budaiya Highway, a main thoroughfare between the surrounding Shia villages and the capital. Protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and petrol bombs.
A statement released by the Bahraini government announced that it will launch an investigation “into what has been circulating in some newspapers and mass media about a Ministry of Interior’s vehicle that fired a tear gas bomb near a religious building.” The statement added that legal measures will be taken against the violators should they are held accountable.
The event marks the latest attempt by the Bahraini regime to crack down on dissent stemming from the 2011 uprising against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah. The protesters are still calling for an end to sectarian discrimination toward the majority Shia population at the hands of the minority Sunni ruling party. The Shia majority maintains they have been marginalized in employment and housing, and excluded from the Sunni dominated political system.
Opposition leaders have called for lawmaking to be the responsibility of Parliament rather than the monarchy. However a political solution has yet to be reached.
24 March- After two court sessions, Egyptian courts have sentenced 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to death. They defendants were accused of killing a senior police officer and attempting to murder two others, as well as attacking public property, torching the Matay police station, seizing police weapons and disrupting public order. The men are reportedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Only 147 defendants were present for the sentencing. The remainder was tried in absentia. Sixteen defendants were acquitted. The final decision has been turned over to the grand Mufti for approval.
It is common for those tried in absentia to receive the harshest sentences, however this is the largest number of people convicted in one trial in Modern Egypt’s history. It is likely that the verdicts, or a large portion of them, will be overturned by appeal. The case was rife with irregularities. Most significantly, defense attorneys for the defendants were not allowed to argue for their clients. The trial judge had refused to allow them into the court room.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other lawyers have called the action a display of the extent of politicization of the court system. Others have cited institutionalized contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood, who since November 2013, have been considered a terrorist group in Egypt.
25 March- Iran’s Interior Ministry has confirmed that one of five border guards abducted by terrorists and transferred to Pakistan last month has been killed. On February 6, five Iranian border guards were abducted by the Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group in the Jakigour region of the Iranian province, which rests on the border with Pakistan. The men were later transferred to the Pakistani territory.
On Sunday, Jaish-ul-Adl terrorists tweeted that they had killed one of the abductees, Jamshid Danaeifar. Iran has declared that it holds the Pakistani government responsible for the lives of the Iranian hostages.
This is the latest action conducted by Jaish-ul-Adl. On October 25, 2013, the group killed 14 Iranian border guards and wounded six others on the border region in Sistan and Baluchestan Province.
In February 2013, Iran and Pakistan signed a bilateral security agreement requiring both countries to cooperate in combating organized crime, fighting terrorism and countering the activities that pose a threat to the national security of either country. Iran has repeatedly called on Pakistan to comply with the terms of the agreement.
25 March- A series of attacks around the nation have left at least 46 people dead and 32 wounded on Monday and Tuesday. Iraq is experiencing resurgence in sectarian violence and terrorist attacks. According to UN figures, in 2013, 8,868 people have been killed, among them 7,818 civilians.
In Al Hawiya, 155 miles north of Baghdad, three members of the pro-government militia known as the Salvation Council were killed and two others were wounded when armed gunmen attacked one of the group’s checkpoints. North of Tikrit in Al Asryia, three police officers and a civilian were killed in an attack carried out by armed men on a police station. In Al Huyay Zone, also north of Tikrit, an Iraqi government official was murdered by armed men as he was driving a state-owned vehicle, and in a separate attack, a driver with the Civil Defense department in the city of Al Sharkat was killed.
Attacks in Mosul appeared to be the heaviest on Monday. An Iraqi army soldier was killed with silenced weapons on a public street. A car bomb killed one civilian and injured five others, and one police officer died and another was wounded in an attack on their patrol car near the university. Also, in Mosul, the head of planning for the Mosul police, Col. Faisal Ahmed, and another person were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they were driving by.
There does not appear to be respite to the ongoing violence in Iraq.
25 March- The 2014 Arab League summit will begin today in Bayan Palace in Kuwait, south of Kuwait City. Thirteen heads of Arab states will attend the summit, including Kuwait Amir, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Adly Mansour, and Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani. Other states have sent high-ranking delegations to the summit. The theme of summit is “Unity for a better Future.”
During the opening ceremony, Kuwaiti Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah urged for closer ties between Arab states: “This summit was held in difficult circumstances regionally and internationally. So it’s very important to stand united and coordinate our policy for the sake of regional prosperity and security,” he said.
At the top of the agenda are the Syrian crisis and Palestinian cause. Attendees of the summit hope to hammer out a solution to end Syria’s civil war. Significantly, Syria’s membership to the Arab League has been suspended since 2011; however Ahmad Al-Jarba, leader of the opposition group Syria National Council, was invited to address the summit. With regard to the Palestinian cause, the Amir said, “it’s been the major challenge in Arab region, we’ll continue to support the Palestinians.”
The summit will also address additional issues, including terrorism, economic cooperation, the Lebanese security situation, and Egypt’s political progress. The summit will conclude on Wednesday with the release of the Kuwait Declaration, relating to political, economic, social, and development issues in the Arab world.
23 March- Lebanese troops were deployed after a number of casualties were reported in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area in Beirut, following clashes among supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The clashes come after over a week of factional violence in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli. The fighting raged between members of the predominantly Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which are anti Assad, and the Jabal Muhsin, which is populated mainly by Alawites, the heterodox sect of President Assad. The battle left 25 dead. Cars and buildings in Beirut were left riddled with bullet holes. The war in Syria has spread into parts of Lebanon and exacerbated tensions between the two districts in the northern port city.
24 March- Al-Sadik al-Sour, head investigator for Libya’s prosecutor general, has announced that the crew of the renegade oil tanker, the Morning Glory, has been released and will be deported
Al- Sour did not give the nationality of the 21 crew members, but did state that they were referred border police Monday to send them out of the country. Three eastern Libya militia members who were aboard the vessel will be detained for 14 days to be interrogated by prosecutors.
Witnesses in the investigation have revealed that that the crew members were working at gunpoint. The ship remains in Tripoli and is due to be unloaded in the port of Zawiya refinery, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tripoli. It was originally North Korean-flagged, but North Korean officials say they have cancelled its registration.
The Morning Glory was captured by U.S. Navy SEALs last week in the eastern Mediterranean and handed over to the Libyan navy, which escorted the tanker to Tripoli. The operation brought an end to an attempt by a militia from eastern Libya to sell the crude in defiance of the central government in Tripoli.
25 March- Moroccan Authorities have deported a group of Syrian citizens who had tried to reach the Moroccan territory via Algeria. The 21-person group, appearing to be a large family consisting of men, women, and children, had fled from Algeria to the Moroccan city of Saidia on the Moroccan-Algerian border. They were apprehended and taken to the Saaidia police station, where they remained for 8 days before being transported to Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca.
The group had requested asylum in Morocco and objected to being deported. Moroccan authorities denied their request. The deportation took place today on Monday despite appeals by human rights associations. The Syrians were promised that they would be deported to Lebanon, but they expressed concern that they would be taken to Turkey instead. The family patriarch, Akil Kassim said in an interview that he refused to take the plane to Turkey, defending his right to stay in Morocco.
25 March- Many Arab nations will likely use an Arab summit this week to try to pressure Qatar to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition movements throughout the region. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who have labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, will take the lead in attempting to isolate Qatar by calling for a collective Arab approach to terror. Both nations, as well as Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar.
The Arab leaders also want Qatar to stop supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, and to ensure that Qatari arms shipments to Syrian rebels do not wind up in the hands of terrorists. Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said, “There will be a breakthrough only if that nation changed [sic] the policies that caused the crisis in the first place.”
Qatari leaders insist they will push ahead with their own policies. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah has said his country will “follow a path of its own” and that the independence of its “foreign policy is simply non-negotiable.” Recently, Qatar has attempted to spearhead efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and mediated in some of Sudan’s internal conflicts.
The need for a collective Arab approach to terror will figure prominently in an address at the summit’s opening session Tuesday by Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour, where he restate a six-point plan of action against terror announced this month by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. The points, designed to embarrass Qatar, include a ban on providing a safe haven for terrorists or aiding them in any way, assisting investigations into terrorist attacks, and extraditing wanted militants.
25 March- Clashes between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to President Assad have spread to a coastal area near the Turkish border. Opposition fighters are engaged in a campaign to gain access to the sea through the seaside tourist village of Samra, on the Syria-Turkey border. The access would give rebels an outlet to the Mediterranean for the first time since the Syrian conflict began, and would follow the rebel capture of the area’s predominantly Armenian Christian town and border crossing of Kassab on Sunday.
The seizure of the border crossing severed one of the Assad government’s last links to the Turkish border. The move came after Syrian troops captured several towns near the border with Lebanon in an effort to sever rebel supply lines across the porous Lebanese frontier. Since Monday, more than 80 wounded Syrians had been brought across the border into Turkey for treatment and nine of them died.
On Friday, rebels launched their offensive in the Alawite stronghold of the Latakia province. The rebels in the region are mainly from hard-line Sunni groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, who view the Alawites as heretics. However in an effort to show no harm to local Christians, an activist posted a video from inside a church in Kassab to show that it was left untouched.
Syria’s conflict has killed more than 140,000 people, displaced at least a quarter of its pre-war population of 23 million and triggered a humanitarian crisis across the region.
24 March- A group of suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked a security checkpoint in southeastern Yemen, killing 22 troops and left only one survivor, who pretended he was dead.
The surprise attack occurred near the town of al-Rayda, in Yemen’s Hadramawt province. The group first sent in a suicide car bomb, then the attackers drove into the checkpoint in vehicles carrying what appeared to be stolen military license plates. The militants gunned down members of the Central Security Forces while asleep in their quarters; anonymous sources said the attackers also set fire to an armored vehicle and another car near the checkpoint. The lone survivor pretended he was dead as he was drenched in blood. The gunmen used heavy machine guns and fled the scene of the attack.
Yemen’s al-Qaida branch, also known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is considered to be the terror group’s most dangerous offshoot. The group increased its presence in southern Yemen after the country’s 2011 uprising.
Yemen’s newly-appointed Interior Minister, Major General Abdou Hussein el-Terb, suspended three senior security officers pending investigation in the attack, including Brigadier General Fahmi Mahrous, who was in charge of security in Hadramawt; Colonel Abdel-Wahab al-Waili commander of the CSF, and Major Youssef Baras, commander of the attacked checkpoint.
Across Yemen, and especially in the volatile Hadramawt, the government has struggled to eradicate the presence of al-Qaeda from territory they captured during the political turmoil.