Egypt, Gulf States in Advanced Talks for Military AllianceNovember 4, 2014 in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen
3 November– Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are in discussions to develop a military agreement to combat Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East. The Sunni-dominated nations share a view that the region is threatened by Sunni Islamic militants and Islamist political movements. The military pact goes beyond the current engagements in Iraq and Syria as part of the US-led coalition; aiming to target additional hotbeds of extremist activity. The alliance would focus on Libya and Yemen, where radicalised militants have seized control of territories from their respective governments. Egyptian President Abel Fattah el-Sisi has warned that extremists must be dealt with in several places, and that would require “a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy in the region.” Jordan and Algeria have also been approached to join the alliance.
While the talks remain secret, unnamed Egyptian officials have reported that the discussions are in advanced stages. The alliance is considering the establishment of a core force made up of elite troops, aircrafts, and an intelligence service comprised of members of the alliance. The nations have already held bilateral and multilateral war games the past year in advance of an alliance. Reportedly, there remain differences regarding the size of force, funding, location of headquarters, and whether to seek Arab League or U.N. political cover for operations. If the joint forces cannot be agreed upon, the alliance still aims to coordinate military action for pinpoint anti-militant operations. It is thought that actions such as these have already taken place; Egypt and the UAE are believed to have conducted targeted airstrikes in Libya over the summer, and Egypt has reportedly carried out unilateral strikes in Libya; although the Egyptian government denies involvement in either operation.
The alliance is being discussed as violent clashes intensify in Benghazi as the Libyan army attempts to retake areas seized by Islamist militants. On Monday, extremist fighters hit an oil tanker with a rocket propelled grenade, causing fire and major disruption at Benghazi’s port. The Libyan army asked residents in the central al-Sabri district to evacuate ahead of a major military operation. Over 200 people have been killed and several homes destroyed since the Libyan army began its offensive in October, yet residents are fearful of getting caught in crossfire while travelling.
Libya is currently divided by rival governments. The internationally recognized and recently elected government has taken shelter in Tobruk; Islamist militias that overran Tripoli during the summer have reinstituted the previous Islamist government in Tripoli. The nation is also facing a surplus of warring militias and militant groups, and has become a safe-haven for radicalised fighters.
In Yemen, where the government has been battling one of al-Qaeda’s most active branches for years, the government is also contending with Houthi Shiite rebels. The Houthis successfully overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, last month. Saudi Arabia has offered support against the Houthis in 2010, believing that the Shiite Houthis are serving as proxy fighters for Iran.
Pan Arab alliances in the past have not succeeded. However the impetus is strong for the coalition. Saudi Arabia and Egypt face a growing militant threat within their borders, and Gulf nations are eager to keep militant threats away from their borders and foreign interests. The multi-national alliance is also intended to serve as a symbol of unity and strength against the perceived influence of Iran. The nations will seek a nod of approval from the US, however Washington has not yet been privy to the talks.
MENA UPDATE: 8 May, 2014May 8, 2014 in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, MENA, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
8 May: Approximately 50 illegal migrants have gone missing in the desert along the border between Algeria and Niger after being abandoned by their smugglers. Nigerien authorities alerted their Algerian counterparts to the disappearance of the migrants, including women and children. The Algerian army immediately mobilized ground and airborne units in a wide-scale search operation, however, chances are slim to find them alive due to the harsh weather conditions in the area. The source also indicated that the missing migrants may not have crossed the Algerian border.
7 May: In an ongoing operation, Algerian troops have killed 10 militants near Tin-Zaouatine, bordering Mali. The army also captured eight automatic Kalashnikov-type rifles, an RPG-7 rocket launcher, technical equipment and a “large amount” of ammunition. The operation began after “effective use of information on suspicious movements of a terrorist group.” Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in his first comments since his re-election, called it “an attempted infiltration by a heavily armed terrorist group with elements from Mali, Libya and from Tunisia.” In April, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for an ambush on army patrols in the mountains east. The attack killed 14 soldiers, making it the deadliest attack on the military in years.
8 May: Egypt’s interim government will restore daylight saving beginning 15 May to alleviate a crippling energy crisis. Daylight saving time was abolished three years ago, however, energy crisis, exacerbated by hours-long crippling blackouts in Cairo and other provinces, has prompted its reintroduction. The holy month of Ramadan will be exempt from Daylight Savings time, to help reduce fasting time. Ramadan, which begins in late June this year, is when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
The energy crisis is a major platform in the current election campaigns. The candidates— Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi— have been consistently asked how they plan to deal with the problem, which was a major issue driving the opposition of Mohammed Morsi prior to his overthrow. Sisi has suggested a national program to replace regular light bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs to reduce consumption; while Sabbahi has called for exploration of solar energy.
Egypt is struggling with diminishing revenues and a growing need to pay for energy subsidies, estimated to comprise one fifth of the nation’s budget. Most of Egypt’s major gas fields are being depleted, and new fields won’t begin to produce for years, particularly as oil and gas companies are reluctant to invest due to the past three years of instability and economic crisis; the government currently owes at least $4.5 billion to international oil and gas companies. Further, electricity consumption increases at a rate of seven percent per year because of a combination of energy-heavy industries, steady population growth and increasing technology use.
7 May: A huge explosion has occurred near a nuclear facility in the northern Iranian city of Qazvin. The explosion was said to have taken place in a storage facility near a reportedly secret nuclear enrichment plant in Abyek. The Iranian government said no casualties were reported, however Iranian opposition says scores of people have been killed. At least 50 people were injured, and a fire has swept through the city. Fire-fighters are seeking to prevent the fire from spreading to a nearby car oil storage facility. The Iranian army has closed off much of the city. Authorities are uncertain whether the explosion was targeted. Opposition members have said that Iran’s nuclear facilities have been repeatedly targeted by Israel and the West. A Western intelligence source said, “There could be a small facility in the [Qazvin] area, but it is not regarded as major.”
7 May: Jordanian military clashed with at least 10 militants along the Syria border, marking the second high-profile incident in the border region in less than a month. Jordanian border guard traded fire with an unidentified group of individuals as they attempted to illegally cross into Jordan from Syria. Two gunmen were injured in the clashes. Sources suggest that the gunmen were Jordanian citizens returning to the country after fighting alongside Islamist militants in southern Syria. They were reportedly returning to seek medical attention for wounds sustained while fighting alongside Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.
In late April, the Jordanian air force targeted a convoy of unidentified armoured vehicles attempting to cross into Jordan after they failed to heed a series of warning shots. Jordan has conducted a security clampdown on the nation’s 370 kilometre shared border; security forces have arrested over 50 Jordanian and alleged foreign jihadists over the past two weeks. More than 2,200 Jordanians are currently fighting alongside Islamist militias in Syria, predominantly serving under Al Nusra or Al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
7 May: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Lebanon is denying entry to Palestinians fleeing the war in neighbouring Syria, despite its insistence there was “no decision” to keep them out. “UNRWA has been monitoring the situation at the crossing point at Masnaa between Lebanon and Syria and can report that no Palestine refugees from Syria have been allowed into Lebanon today and that some families trying to cross have been refused entry.” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, adding that they have received assurances from Lebanese authorities that these restrictions are temporary. On Tuesday, Lebanese security chiefs agreed “there is absolutely no decision to bar them from entry, and the border is open to them.”
The statement came after the UN and Human Rights Watch expressed concern over “increased restrictions” on fleeing Palestinians entering Lebanon. While Lebanon has not signed the international refugee convention, the nation has generally kept its border open to people fleeing the conflict in Syria despite the scale of the influx. Lebanon currently hosts over one million refugees from Syria, more than any other country. The nation has the highest refugee population per capita in the world; among their number are 52,000 Palestinians.
Rights activists say Palestinians in Syria have been targeted by both sides in the conflict, making them one of the country’s more vulnerable groups. The Yarmuk district in south Damascus, the most populous Palestinian district, has been under blockade by the army since last year. Civilians in the area are trapped and receive very limited supplies of food and medicines, which are organised by UNRWA and other agencies. Turkey and Jordan, which also host large numbers of refugees from Syria, have barred entry to Palestinians.
4 May: The Libyan Congress has appointed, and then rejected a new interim prime minister, hours after he was sworn in. Ahmed Matiq thought he had secured a majority support of 121 deputies after several rounds of voting in Congress; however the process was chaotic, causing Congressional chairman Ezzedine Al-Amawi to later declare the vote illegal because voting continued after he had declared the voting session to be over. Al-Amawi asked former Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who resigned in April following a gun attack on his family, to continue as caretaker, Al-Thani has agreed to comply with the request.
The vote was originally scheduled to take place on Tuesday, but it was interrupted when gunmen stormed the General National Congress. Elections for a new parliament that will replace the General National Congress are expected later this year.
7 May: A cap or an outright ban may be placed on recruiting expatriate workers from nationalities deemed to have “negative records”, according to a proposal by Oman Municipal Council members. Elected officials in Muscat governorate have advocated capping the number of expats of certain nationalities in recruitment. Some of the council members have suggested that visas “for certain nationalities, which have negative records”, should be stopped. According to official figures, there are 597,769 Indians, 510,470 Bangladeshis, 222,355 Pakistanis, 43,201 Ethiopians, 31,511 Indonesians, 29,426 Filipinos, 23,021 Egyptians, 12,867 Nepalese and 12,557 Sri Lankans in Oman.
7 May: A Saudi Arabian has sentenced Raif Badawi, the editor of an internet forum he founded to discuss the role of religion in the country, to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes. Badawi, who started the Free Saudi Liberals website, was originally sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in July last year, but an appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial. He was also fined 1m riyals (£160,000). The website, which included articles that were critical of senior religious figures such as Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, has been closed since his first trial. Badawi’s defence lawyers called the sentence too harsh; however the prosecutor had demanded a harsher penalty, demanding that he be tried for apostasy, which carries a death penalty in the nation. The apostasy charges were dismissed; the ruling is subject to appeal.
In a separate ruling, the court also convicted the administrator of a website on charges of supporting internet forums hostile to the state and which promoted demonstrations. The administrator was sentenced to six years in jail and a 50,000 riyal (£7,860) fine.
8 May: Rebel fighters are believed to have detonated a bomb in a tunnel beneath the Carlton Citadel Hotel, near Aleppo’s medieval citadel and souk. The explosion destroyed the hotel and several other buildings. The Carlton Citadel is situated inside a 150-year-old building that faces the entrance of the 13th-Century citadel, which, along with the rest of the Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was reportedly being used by government forces. Preliminary reports state the hotel had suffered “huge damage”, but did not reveal any casualties. Opposition activists say that government troops were based there and that a number had been killed. Other sources state that a number of security forces personnel and militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were believed to have been killed.
Syria’s state news agency reported that “terrorists” had blown up tunnels they had dug underneath archaeological sites in the Old City. A statement from the Islamic Front said its fighters had “levelled the Carlton Hotel barracks in Old Aleppo and a number of buildings near it, killing 50 soldiers”.
7 May: Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has offered amnesty for Islamist fighters have not committed any acts of murder, saying the “door of hope and repentance is open.” The offer came during his visit to Mount Chaambi, where extremists have been fighting security forces near Tunisia’s border with Algeria. The offer of amnesty is similar to one conducted by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s in 2005. Algeria’s National Reconciliation Charter lured thousands of insurgents home, although some rejoined their groups later. In addressing the militant groups, Marzouki said, “You are fighting an imaginary enemy” and death won’t lead to martyrdom. The offer applies only to those who haven’t killed. For over a year, security forces have tracked extremists in the Mount Chaambi area. Over a dozen soldiers have been killed in clashes.
8 May: Yemen’s main oil export pipeline has been bombed, halting crude flows. Other gunmen have attacked electricity lines, causing a power outage in most of the country’s northern cities. No group has claimed responsibility but Yemeni tribesmen often attack oil pipelines and power lines. Al-Qaida-linked militants have also carried out such attacks. This latest round of attacks coincided with an offensive by Yemeni government forces to capture of the militants’ main stronghold in Yemen’s southern region. The pipeline, which carries crude from Maarib fields in central Yemen to the Red Sea, was bombed twice in less than 12 hours on Tuesday. In a separate event, gunmen forced the closure of the Maarib gas-fired power plant after twice attacking its power transmission lines on Wednesday. It was the third attack on electricity lines in less than 48 hours.
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.
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.”
MENA Security UpdateFebruary 13, 2014 in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen
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