MENA Update: 17 June 17, 2014June 17, 2014 in Africa, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, MENA, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen
17 June – Egypt’s New Cabinet Sworn In
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahleb was sworn in on Tuesday, retaining his position at the head of President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi’s new government. Al-Sisi also retained key economic and security ministers, and created a new post for Investment Minister to attract funds to the Egyptian economy. Egypt’s government is facing a long task of economic rejuvenation. The economy is forecast to grow at just 3.2 percent in the fiscal year that begins on July 1, insufficient to create new jobs and ease poverty. The government must re-stimulate tourism, close the deficit gap, address long-standing corruption and reassess a costly subsidy system. Ministers will provide Mahleb with a weekly plan to review at cabinet meetings.
Egypt’s new Investment Minister is Ashraf Salman, the co-founder and co-CEO of Cairo Financial Holding. The new Foreign Minister is former ambassador to Washington Sameh Shukri, and the Minister of International Cooperation is university professor Naglaa El Ahwany. The ministers of ministers for finance, defence, interior, planning, oil, electricity, supplies and communications have remained in place from the previous regime.
16 June – Journalist Abdullah Elshamy to be released
The Egyptian government will release Al Jazeera’s journalist, Abdullah Elshamy, because of his deteriorating health stemming from his hunger strike. Elshamy was arrested on August 14, the day that soldiers and the police used deadly force to break up Islamist protest against the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi. He had been detained without charges and began his hunger strike four months ago. Egyptian state news said that prosecutors were releasing 11 others, who were not identified.
Next Monday, a judge will rule on charges against three Al Jazeera journalists. Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed were accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to broadcast false reports in order to bring down Egypt’s new military-backed government. The prosecution has not disclosed any evidence regarding the charges. Al Jazeera is currently the only broadcaster in Egypt that is sympathetic to the MB; supporters of the military-backed government have called the news station a terrorist organization.
17 June – British Embassy may re-open in Tehran
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to announce a plans leading to the re-opening of the British embassy in Tehran, after all diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran were suspended in 2011. The unexpected move comes as Iraqi forces clash with the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has captured several cities in Iraq over the past week. The speed and organization of ISIS has created a shared interest in among the UK and Iran in confronting the group. Relations between the two nations under former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were extremely tense; however in 2013, the election of more moderate President Hassan Rouhani proved a vital step in improving relations between Iran and the West, particularly after Iran’s agreement to scale back its nuclear programme earlier this year. The UK government is still concerned about Iran’s role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria; it is expected the relationship born of necessity may experience tensions.
17 June – ISIS advances spark discussions of separatism, action
The Sunni Islamist militant group, ISIS, have made major advances in the past week. New reports indicate the group has taken over parts of Baquba, 37 miles from Baghdad. If the group successfully captures the city, they will have uninterrupted access down major highways into Baghdad. On Monday, ISIS claimed control over the city of Tal Afar, which lies between previously captured Mosul and the Syrian border. News reports show the air strikes being conducted by the Iraqi Air Force in the strategic region.
The prime minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, Nechirvan Barzani, believes Iraq may break into separate regions, saying it will be hard for Iraq to return to the situation that existed before ISIS took control of major cities last week. He added that Sunni Muslims in the region are angered due to their neglect by the Shia-dominated Iraqi government. Barzani believes a political solution is the only way forward, possibly leading to an autonomous Sunni region: “We have to leave it to Sunni areas to decide but I think this is the best model for them as well. First they have to take a decision: what they want exactly. And in our view… the best way is to have a Sunni region, like we have in Kurdistan.”
US President Barack Obama has announced that 275 military personnel are being sent to Iraq to defend US citizens and the embassy in Baghdad, and will attempt to relocate embassy staff to consulates in Basra and Ibril. Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to fight ISIS, but has left the door open for targeted drone strikes. The aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush has been deployed to the Gulf, accompanied by two more warships. On their path through Iraq, ISIS fighters have conducted mass executions, with images and footage being aired on international stations, and confirmed as real by the Iraqi military.
17 June – Jordan’s UN Ambassador Elected High Commissioner for Human Rights
The UN General Assembly has unanimously Jordan’s UN ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. He will begin his four-year mandate on 1 September, 2014. Zeid al-Hussein will be “the first high commissioner from the Asian continent and from the Muslim and Arab worlds.” He is currently
The UN Human Rights Council promotes and protects global human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, including the right to development. The High Commissioner functions as the UN official with principal responsibility for global human rights efforts.
16 June – Kuwait to Provide Housing to Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Dr. Abdullah Al-Maatouq, Chairman of International Islamic Charity Organization (IICO), has announced that Kuwait will provide 1,000 housing units to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The units will be integrated with necessary services, including clinics, schools, and mosques. Al-Maatouq and others called on the Lebanese government to specify the location for the new housing units. Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees, comprising nearly a quarter of its population. Lebanon, one of the smallest countries in the region, is now hosting the largest numbers of refugees. The IICO has previously built 2,000 houses in the Zaatari camp in Jordan and 2,000 houses in a camp in Turkey.
15 June – Hiftar Launches another Offensive in Benghazi
Renegade Libyan general Khalifa Hiftar launched another offensive against Islamist militants in Benghazi, resulting in 12 deaths, 18 wounded, and causing dozens of families to flee the area. In fighting on Sunday, large parts of Eastern Libya suffered a disruption of power supplies after rockets hit a power station near Benghazi’s airport. Hiftar’s spokesman, Mohamed El Hejazi, said his forces had detained five leaders from militant groups. Hiftar has declared war against militants in Benghazi, and while he has no official authority, several Libyan army units have joined forces with him.
Some analysts believe that Hifter is supported by neighbouring nations, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which are worried about Islamist militants exploiting the chaos in Libya. At a news conference on Sunday, Hiftar praised Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his work in cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hiftar called an “international spy network”. He also accused Qatar of fuelling Libya’s chaos: “There is no doubt Qatar supports the militias in Libya,” later adding that Qatar was hampering the formation of a national army and police force in Libya.
The latest fighting in Libya comes less than two weeks before a parliamentary election. Libyans hope the elections will put an end political infighting and install an authoritative government.
14 June – Guards stop Illegal Migrants from Crossing Spain/Morocco Border
Nearly 1,000 African migrants were halted in their attempts to storm a three-tier, barbed wire border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave Melilla. Moroccan security forces drove back the migrants in the latest attempts to cross into Spanish territory. Illegal immigration has reached crisis levels in recent years; estimates by the Interior Ministry in Madrid suggest that nearly 40,000 sub-Saharan Africans are waiting for an opportunity to go to Spain. In addition, there are increasing numbers of boats attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. These boats often originate in Libya amid the chaos in the nation. A majority of migrants have come from Syria, Eritra, and other impoverished regions in Africa.
17 June – UN Report Suggests Sectarian War Engulfing Iraq and Syria
In a report released on Tuesday, UN human rights investigators say the Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq and Syria. Militants from ISIS have seized the north of Iraq in the past week, linking it with territory previously taken in eastern Syria. In Syria, the report states, “Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi’ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds,” and adds that ISIS kidnapped nearly 200 Kurdish civilians in Aleppo at the end of May. “ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern,” the report said.
“The international community, and specifically the (UN) Security Council, have yet to demand that the individuals perpetrating crimes against the men, women and children of Syria are held responsible. Through their inaction, a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself,” the report said.
16 June – Tunisia proposes Autumn Parliamentary and Presidential Elections
Tunisia’s election authority has proposed a parliamentary vote in October and the first round of presidential polls in late November. The nation has been run by a caretaker government since 2011; the government that saw through the adoption of a new constitution and has been lauded as a model of democratic evolution in an unstable region.
The proposal suggests holding parliamentary elections on October 26, and the first session of the presidential vote on November 23, with the second session on December 28.The proposal is widely accepted to be approved within coming days.
In the first post-revolution elections in 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party won, but came under fire for perceived mishandling of the economy and lenience towards radical Islamist groups. Backlash against the party escalated sharply after the assassination of two secular opposition leaders in 2013, which caused the party to resign and hand control to a technocratic caretaker government.
Ennahda, and the secular party Nida Tounes, are expected to be the strongest election contenders in October. Nida Tounes will be open to a governing coalition with Ennahda if the next elections do not produce a clear majority. The Ennahda party said that Tunisia must be governed by consensus over the next five years to anchor its fragile democracy.
Elections commission chief Sarsar said last month that the new electoral law would assure a free and fair vote, with more than 1,000 international observers invited to monitor it.
United Arab Emirates
12 June – UAE Begins Compulsory Military Service
The UAE has instituted a compulsory military service law aimed at safeguarding peace and stability in the Gulf and combating terrorism. The law applies to all males between the ages of 18 and 30 and in good medical health. Men who have a high school degree or its equivalent will serve nine months, while those who do not have a high school diploma will serve for two years.
The law was imposed to protect UAE strategic resources and prepare for threats, and also to “teach its people, men and women, of solidarity through military service,” said Mousa Qallab, a senior researcher for the Orient Research Center in the UAE.
The small Gulf nation is in the centre of a politically instable region, with many surrounding nations experiencing significant upheaval. In addition, the UAE has a territorial dispute with Iran, over three Gulf islands controlled by the Islamic republic.
Apart from the UAE, the government of Qatar in 2013 also approved a draft bill making it compulsory for males to enlist for military service for a period of up to four months. It is believed that Kuwait is also debating drafting legislation for mandatory military service.
Qallab added, “It is important that the Gulf States strengthen their military forces. Regional security must be ensured because here we have over half of the oil reserves in the world, and we export about 35 percent of them to industrialized regions across the world.”
16 June – Yemeni President orders Removal of Artillery
Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has ordered the removal of heavy artillery from hills surrounding Sana’a over fears of a coup led by his predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters. Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years before being ousted in 2012 and replaced by his long-time deputy.
A statement by the Yemeni army said, “The military leadership has dismantled heavy artillery and rockets that were positioned on hills around Sana’a following information of a coup plot [by Saleh] whose loyalists continue to infiltrate the army.” The weapons had been stationed on the hills to secure Yemen from al Qaida insurgency, a northern rebellion and a southern separatist movement.
The decision to move the weapons comes after the Hadi’s presidential guard, backed by armoured vehicles, surrounded a mosque controlled by ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sana’a late Saturday. It is believed that weapons had been stored in the large mosque in the city and were being guarded by gunmen loyal to Saleh. A tunnel connecting the site to the presidential palace had also been discovered. Hadi ordered that the mosque and its surroundings be handed over to the presidential guard.
The mosque siege came days after authorities closed the Yemen Today newspaper and television channel. Both stations are owned by Saleh and have often been accused of biased coverage of the post-Saleh government and of inciting protests in Sana’a against power cuts and water and fuel shortages. Analysts have accused Saleh of impeding Yemen’s political transition.
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 ReportAugust 8, 2013 in Africa, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia
An intercepted conference call between more than 20 al Qaeda senior leadership and representatives prompted the US to close 22 embassies through 10 August, as information drawn from the call hinted that the terrorist organization was in the final stages of preparing for an attack.
A US intelligence official indicated that the conference all included members from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda affiliates from Uzbekistan, and al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula. The intercept provided insight into how al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages the international terrorist organization.
During the call, al-Zawahiri announced that Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen, had been promoted to “Ma’sul al-Amm” (general manager), making Wuhayshi the second highest position in the network, giving him operational control of Qaeda throughout the Muslim world, and effectively moving the centre of gravity for the organisation to the Middle East. Leaders of the call also indicated that a team or teams were already in place an attack. This signal prompted the closure of US embassies throughout the Muslim world. In Yemen, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) has temporarily closed the British embassy and “strongly urges” all British nationals to leave the country.
Meanwhile, Yemeni authorities issued a list of 25 wanted al-Qaida suspects on 5 August. Officials believe the group was planning terrorist attacks in Sana’a and other cities across the country.
Algeria Enters Security Agreements with Tunisia, Libya
Algeria, a country known for being staunchly autonomous in security actions, has made agreements this week to work with other nations in the Maghreb. In the first move, The Algerian government has entered a bilateral agreement with Tunisia to eliminate terrorist threats along their shared border.
The Tunisian army has conducted attacks in the remote Jebel Chaambi area, and Algeria has deployed 10,000 soldiers along the other side of the border to monitor and prevent prevent terrorists from escaping into Algeria during the Tunisian siege.
Joint operations will be launched in phases on the ground and from the air, and the two nations will share intelligence. Intelligence services from both nations are particularly concerned as to whether the al-Qaeda allied group, Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), has moved from Mali to Tunisia.
However, it is likely that the terrorist group has moved to Libya, where they have the best opportunity to procure weapons of various sizes.
To that end, on 6 August, Libya and Algeria have entered an agreement to form a joint commission to fight terrorism and trafficking in the Maghreb. Algerian Prime Minister Abdel Malek Sellal has called on countries in the Maghreb to work together to secure borders from terrorists, and trafficking, including human, drugs and arms trafficking, which he said have reached ”alarming levels”.
On the international relations front, Algeria has also agreed to expand and deepen its relationship with Iran. Newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced, “Iran is completely ready to expand and deepen bilateral relations with Algeria in economic, cultural and political fields and believes that settlement of the regional issues needs the partnership of the countries of the region.”
President Rouhani was inaugurated into office in Iran on 4 August. Algeria will be holding elections next year.
Bahrain’s New “Anti-Protest” Laws Draw Ire from UN
Bahrain enacted stricter penalties for protests on 31 July, which include increasing the detention period for committing or inciting an act of terrorism. Critics suspect that the law, which also includes penalties for sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings, will be used against peaceful protesters.
Anti-government rallies in Bahrain have been planned for 14 August, despite the new legislation. The UN has warned that the new laws could result in “serious consequences” to the impact of human rights.
Political Mediation Talks Stalled
7 August: As delegates from the US, European Union, Qatar and the UAE have come to Egypt in an attempt to negotiate an end to Egypt’s political crisis, interim Egyptian President Adly Monsour has announced that mediation efforts have failed.
While visiting in hopes of mediation, US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham urged the Egyptian military to release political prisoners in order to start a national dialog —a statement echoed by Qatari delegates— and also told the interim government that they consider the removal of Morsi to be a military coup – a term that the Obama administration had resisted using.
In a news conference last week, Senator Graham said, “The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable.” Calling the removal of Morsi a “coup” triggers a cutoff to the $1.3 billion in US aid that goes to Egypt each year. However, McCain said that “cutting off aid would be the wrong signal at the wrong time.” The Obama administration has not officially commented on the statements, but sources indicate that the US Administration is distancing itself from the senators’ statements. Reports indicate that the two Senators have left Egypt.
The statement caused outrage in the Egyptian media, and drew a strong response from Interim President Adly Monsour, who called it “an unacceptable interference in internal policies”.
Egyptian authorities allowed the delegates to meet with imprisoned Brotherhood leaders, hoping to gain peaceful solution. However, the interim government has now become determined to proceed with its own road map, which includes elections in nine months. On 5 August, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met with Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is held. The delegates urged Shater to recognize that there was no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated, and asked for the Brotherhood’s attempts to work toward political compromise. Shater reportedly insisted they should be talking to Morsi, and the only solution was the “reversal of the coup.”
The announcement of failed talks also foreshadows a forced dispersal of pro-Morsi protesters, as sources say the government is also preparing to declare that the Muslim Brotherhood protests against the army’s overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi are non-peaceful. This is a critical signal that the government intends to remove the protesters by force, particularly in the Rabaa and al-Nahda protest camps in Cairo. Last week, security forces promised protesters safe exit if they left the camps, but warned their patience was limited.
Nearly 300 people have been killed in political violence since Morsi’s removal, including 80 killed by Egyptian security forces on 27 July.
Iran Prepared to Resume Nuclear Talks with World Leaders
In his first news conference as President, Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran is ready for “serious” and swift talks regarding the nation’s controversial nuclear program. “We are ready to engage in serious and substantial talks without wasting time,” Rouhani said, and added that Iran’s interactions with the West should be based on “talks, not threats.”
The U.S. and its allies believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The Iranian government insists that the program is meant for peaceful operations, such as power generation and medical isotopes. Rouhani, a former top nuclear negotiator and a moderate cleric, has raised hopes among foreign diplomats. Several rounds of talks during Ahmedinijad’s tenure failed, resulting in heavy sanctions which decimated the nation’s economy as oil exports came to a standstill, and the nation suffered blocks on international banking transactions. Rouhani has made it his priority to work toward the sanctions against Iran lifted, despite the fact that Iranian policy rests primarily with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On 6 August, European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Rouhani to schedule “meaningful talks” on the nuclear issue as soon as possible, adding that the five permanent UN Security Council nations, as well as Germany, are ready to continue talks to find a resolution as quickly as possible.
Rouhani believes it is possible to strike an agreement that would allow Iran to keep enriching uranium while assuring the West it will not produce nuclear arms. US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have publicly supported diplomatic measures, though they have stated that military options are not off the table.
Rouhani indicated he would be willing to speak with representatives from Washington or the West, saying he would even go to Washington, as long as the nations “abandon the language of pressure and threat.” Rouhani did add, however, that there is a long way to go before Iran allows the U.S. consulate to resume work in Tehran.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to step up pressure on Tehran, saying that, “The only thing that has worked in the last two decades is pressure. And the only thing that will work now is increased pressure.” Netanyahu believes that despite Rouhani’s moderate speech, the leader backs enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.
Series of Bomb Attacks Kill 41
A series of bomb attacks in and around Baghdad has left 41 dead and over 100 wounded. On 6 August, six car bombs targeted markets and shopping streets in different parts of Baghdad.
The bombings are the latest in a wave of violence which has swept Iraq in the past six months. The attacks predominantly stem from Sunni Islamist militant groups which mostly target Shia Muslim districts. This year, over 4,000 people have been killed in these attacks, with a further 9,865 injuries.
Citizens blame the government and security forces for failing to stem the violence. Just before the attacks began on Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement vowing to continue operations against militants, in a statement issued just before the attacks began. However, many Sunnis accuse Maliki’s Shia-led government of marginalising them, particularly after security forces broke up an anti-government Sunni protest in Hawija in April, killing and wounding dozens of protesters.
Libya Appoints New Defence Minister; Deputy Prime Minister resigns
On 5 August, Libya’s Congress swore in a newly appointed Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani, despite nearly daily attacks by gunmen on security forces. al-Thani replaces Mohammed Al-Barghathi, who resigned in May following a series of raids by militias on ministries in Tripoli, pressuring lawmakers to pass a contentious bill.
Under former dictator Moamar Gadhafi, Al-Thani was detained several times because of his brother’s criticism of Libya’s intervention in the internal affairs of neighbouring Chad.
A day earlier, Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Awad al-Barassi resigned his post, citing failed government policies and the deterioration of security following a string of assassinations. Al-Barassi accused the prime minister of monopolizing decision-making and hindering government efforts to discharge its “responsibilities for deteriorating security, especially in (the eastern city of) Benghazi.
The Prime Minister’s office accepted the resignation, but has made no further comment.
Moroccan King Revokes Paedophile’s Pardon
King Mohamed VI of Morocco has revoked a pardon granted to a Spanish serial paedophile. The pardon set off a series of angry protests in the kingdom.
On 30 July, the king pardoned 48 Spanish prisoners as part of the nation’s Throne Day celebrations. Among the pardoned was Daniel Galvan Vina, age 60, who was convicted of raping 11 children aged between four and 15. In September 2011, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
While the king often pardons prisoners on special occasions, the decision to release Spaniards was at the request of King Juan Carlos of Spain, who visited Morocco in late-July. The pardons of Spanish prisoners frustrated Moroccans, who feel the king put Spain’s interests about his nation’s needs. However the pardon of Vina sparked particular outrage.
Rallies and sit-ins were planned around the nation as King Mohamed VI withdrew the pardon. Protesters called the pardon “an international shame”. A statement explaining the pardon’s revocation stated that the decision was made due to the “gravity of the crimes committed and out of respect for the victims’ rights.”
An earlier statement from the palace indicated that the king was unaware of the nature of Vina’s crimes, and issued a probe to “determine the responsibilities and the failures that led to this regrettable release.”
Vina has left Morocco, but the Moroccan Justice Minister announced he would work with authorities in Madrid to address “the next step after the pardon’s revocation.”
Omani Maritime on the Rise
An economic update by the Oxford Business Group shows that investments by maritime services firms are helping Oman to improve its credentials as a shipping and trade centre. Oman Oil Marketing Company (OOMCO) has announced plans to develop an oil terminal at the port of Duqm to provide bunkering services to the regional market. Oman hopes to tap into growing maritime trade along its Indian Ocean coast, while simultaneously attracting more customers to the port itself.
CEO of OOMCO, Omar Ahmed Salim Qatan said, “We are in the process of negotiations to acquire a footprint in Duqm by establishing a terminal and bunkering services.” The group hopes to conclude negotiations in 2014, but a timeframe for the planned developments is still in early stages.
Qatar Airways Suspends Operations in Tripoli
Following a series of dangerous incidents, Qatar Airways has suspended operations in Tripoli.
On 4 August, a Qatar Airways flight was prevented from landing at Tripoli International Airport when an armed group forced air traffic control staff to deny the plane permission to land. The flight was diverted to Alexandria, Egypt to refuel before returning to Doha.
A day earlier, a group of gunmen stormed the Qatar Airways office at the Tripoli airport demanding staff to leave. The group wanted to prevent Qatari passenger and cargo aircraft from landing in Libya, and force the closure of the Qatar Airways office in Tripoli. There was no explanation provided. As a result, Qatar Airways has temporarily seized operations in Tripoli
In June, Qatar Airways suspended flights to Benghazi after militiamen forced non-Libyans arriving on a flight from Doha back onto the plane and prevented Libyans from boarding it for the return flight. The militiamen accused Qatar of interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan Interior Ministry condemned the attack and asserted that the armed group does not
Libya. He added that the group is sending the wrong message to the international community and foreign companies, which could have a negative impact on Libya’s struggling economy.
Saudi Arabia- Sudan
Al Bashir Plane denied flyover in Saudi Airspace
On 3 August, a charter aircraft carrying Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir to attend the inauguration ceremony of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, has been denied flyover rights by Saudi Arabian authorities. The plane was forced to return to Khartoum.
The Saudi-registered aircraft with a non-Sudanese crew circled on the periphery of Saudi airspace for an hour, attempting to negotiate clearance. The plane had obtained prior authorisation which was withdrawn when the pilots announced that Al Bashir was on board.
Al Bashir has been indicted by the ICC on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and is subject to international arrest warrants. While Saudi Arabia is not part of the ICC statute, the nation has voiced concerns about Sudan’s close ties with Iran. Sudan allowed Iranian warships to dock in Port Sudan twice last year, drawing concern from the Gulf States as well as the US. The Saudi pro-government newspaper, Al Riyadh, criticised the Khartoum government over the incident, saying there is no “logical justification” for a relationship between the two countries.
In Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi called the barring of Al Bashir in their airspace “very unfortunate” and added that “Tehran is investigating”.
Syrian Rebels Capture Aleppo Airbase
Rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have captured Menagh airport, a key airbase in Aleppo province, near the Turkish border. The rebels have been attempting to capture the airbase, which lies on a major supply route from Turkey, since last year. The airbase was the final piece to consolidate opposition control in the area, but rebel forces are still under daily attack from long-range artillery and air strikes.
Rebel forces have also taken over several villages in the majority Alawite province of Latakia, which is near to Bashar al Assad’s hometown of Qardaha. Rebels have been engaged in fights in Latakia since 4 August.
Meanwhile, pro-government recently recaptured the Khalidiyeh neighbourhood in Homs from rebels. However, in Aleppo, sources report army shelling of a market on Monday, resulting in the deaths of eight civilians, including three children.
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syrian civil war, with a further 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
Protesters Demand Government Resignation
Tens of thousands of protesters have swarmed Tunis to mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of prominent secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid, and to demand the resignation of the Ennahda government.
Public outrage escalated following the assassination of a second prominent opposition leader two weeks earlier. Mohamed Brahmi was a member of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), a group charged with working on the development of a new Tunisian constitution. Brahmi, a member of the opposition party, was shot on 25 July, nearly six months after Chokri Belaid was killed. It was later discovered that the two victims were killed by the same gun, suggesting that one group was responsible for both murders.
Following the assassinations, nearly 70 members of the ANC withdrew in protest, staging sit-in outside its headquarters in Tunis. On 7 August, the Ennahda Party accepted the suspension of the works of the NCA. The work was frozen until the dialogue between political parties resume. The protesters called for the complete dissolution of the assembly and the resignation of the government.
Following completion of the constitution, elections were to be held in December, however, it is likely they will be delayed, as the NCA is eight months behind its deadline.
The turmoil in Tunisia is at its highest levels since he ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
Yemeni authorities foil al Qaeda Plot
On 7 August, Yemeni security officials announced they had halted a plot by al Qaeda to seize an important port and kidnap or kill foreigners working there. According to Yemeni officials, al Qaeda had planned to take control of the Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal, in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in Yemen’s south-eastern region. The officials continue that al Qaeda operatives intended to conduct the attacks while wearing fraudulent Yemeni military uniforms. It is unclear how the Yemeni government halted the plan.
Yemen has been in a state of high alert following an intercepted call in which al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced the promotion of Yemen-based Nasser al-Wuhayshi to the No. 2 position of the organisation. The US and Britain withdrew embassy staff from Yemen and encouraged all foreign nationals to leave the country. The US has conducted a series of drone strikes in the last two weeks. On 6 August, a stroke killed four people, and on 7 August, a targeted drone killed seven members of a Bedouin tribe in southeast Yemen.
The al Qaeda group in Yemen, al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) makes frequent threats. In the midst of economic woes and political tensions, Yemen remains under international pressure to show that it is working to counter the terrorist threat.
MENA UpdateJuly 11, 2013 in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, Syria
Bouteflika to Return to Algeria
9 July, 2013- President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to leave hospital in Paris and return to Algeria soon. The 76 year old was rushed to a hospital in France on April 27 after a stroke. There has been little information released regarding his health, however Algerian state television released images of his meeting with his prime minister and army chief of staff in order to quell rumours about his health.
Bouteflika’s return ends the concern over a “presidential vacuum” in his absence. Opposition parties were preparing for the possibility of early elections; however a high-level source indicated that the elections will be held in the fall of 2014 as initially anticipated.
Algeria Steps up Security for Ramadan and Summer
10 July, 2013- Algeria’s security forces have taken preventive measures in counterterrorism during Ramadan and this summer. Ramadan, a lunar holiday, arrives early this year, coinciding with the summer season which is a high season for terrorist activity. The defence ministry has also drawn up permanent plans to secure the country’s borders.
The National Gendarmerie Command and Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) revealed a plan aimed at securing mosques, public spaces, beaches, and entertainment venues in 14 coastal provinces. Security measures include increasing surveillance operations, intensifying patrols, including foot and mobile patrols, particularly on roads with heavy traffic during the summer. Over 150,000 policemen, including 50,000 in the 14 coastal provinces, have been mobilised to secure holiday-makers, and 70 new neighbourhood security centres have been created near the beaches.
Security operations have already resulted in the deaths of 10 members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. On 5 July, the military conducted a three day sweep in the mountainous area of Bouira, an AQIM stronghold. Seven terrorists were killed by military helicopters. Two days earlier in Bordj Bou Arreridj, three terrorists were killed during a three-hour gun battle. The military seized weapons, hand grenades and some important documents.
Bahrain Police Tighten Security Measures after Violence
7 July, 2013- Bahraini police have come out in full force following outbursts of violence. On Saturday, the explosion of a homemade device killed one policeman and wounded five. The next day, thugs threw Molotov cocktails at a police vehicle, injuring three officers and destroying their vehicle. The same day, a gang hurled Molotov cocktails at a minibus during a clash with officers.
Police have set up several checkpoints at key entrances to Sitra, checking identities before allowing drivers to pass. Officers have also checked homes, searching for evidence. Since 2011, clashes have escalated in the nation as Shiite demonstrators continue protests against the Sunni dominated government.
Bahraini Forces Raid Homes as Protesters Demand Democratically Elected Government
8 July, 2013- Bahraini forces have attacked dozens of homes over the past three days in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The regime’s main opposition, al-Wefaq, reports that troops used poisonous gases in at least 34 areas to disperse anti-government protesters.
Thousands of Bahraini protesters demonstrated against the Al Khalifa regime outside Manama, demanding the release of political prisoners. The protest was called by the main opposition, Al-Wefaq party, and other political groups.
Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General, Ali Salman, says that the protests come after the arrest of over 640 individuals on various charges over the last three months. At least 13 people have been imprisoned for protests against the regime, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life. On Friday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 29 people to one month in prison for trying to enter the area formerly known as Pearl Square (now demolished), which was centre of the Bahrain’s anti-government protests.
A report published by the Bahrain Liberties and Human Rights Department in Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society found a number of human rights violations by the regime in June 2013, including 183 arrests (including 4 women and 9 children), more than 68 injuries due to use of excessive force, and 29 cases of brutal or inhumane torture. In addition, the group reported the raiding of over 263 homes, often occurring after midnight or at dawn, with forces vandalising or stealing the households’ belongings, as well as verbal abuse.
Protesters chanted anti-regime slogans while carrying Bahraini flags, anti-regime banners and placards. They say they will continue to demonstrate until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met.
Interim President Appoints Prime Minister and Vice President, Reveals Timetable for Elections
8 July, 2013- Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has released the timetable for new elections. Since the removal of Muslim Brotherhood backed President Mohamed Morsi, heavy clashes have occurred between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters, culminating in a deadly clash with the military on Monday, killing 55 people and injuring hundreds. The timetable was released quickly in an effort to quell instability in the nation.
The first action will be the formation of a panel to amend the constitution, which was suspended last week following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. The new panel will be formed within 15 days. All changes will be put to a referendum to occur within four months.
Following the referendum, parliamentary elections will be held. These are estimated to occur in early 2014. Once the newly elected parliament convenes, presidential elections will be held. The Brotherhood rejected the plan, with a senior figure calling it a “decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero”.
On Tuesday, Mansour appointed Hazem Beblawi as his prime minister and directed him to form a new government. Beblawi served as finance minister in 2011, following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. His sometime alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood has earned him the backing of the Salafist Nour Party, a key improvement after the party’s announcement that they would not participate in the incoming government following the bloodshed on Monday.
Mohamed El Baradei, leader of the National Salvation Front, was initially tapped as prime minister but was met with animosity from anti-Morsi Protesters. He has now been appointed the role of Vice President and the responsibility for foreign affairs.
Gulf States Provide Billions in Aid to Support Egypt
10 July, 2013- Gulf States have provided over $12 billion USD in aid, a great show of support for the Egyptian army’s move to push the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Despite concerns from Western nations such as the US and UK, the Gulf states have eagerly offered support. The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, while Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel. Both nations had promised aid following the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but withheld it while Morsi was in office. Morsi received backing predominantly from Qatar, which is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. On Thursday morning, Kuwait announced they would send $4 billion in support; $2 billion central bank deposit, a $1 billion grant and $1 billion in oil products.
The monetary aid provides Egypt with urgently needed funds to distribute the subsidized fuel and food for its 84 million people. Egypt’s economy has been in steady decline since 2011, as the Arab Spring drove away tourists and investors. The aid also gives the new leaders time to negotiate with the International Monetary fund for a long awaited $4.8 billion rescue loan.
Iraqi Shiite PM Seeks Alliance with Sunni Muslims
8 July, 2013- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making efforts to build alliances with moderate Iraqi Sunni groups, believing cross-sectarian cooperation will aid in closing the increasingly violent religious schism.
Shia and Sunni sectarian violence has escalated significantly as a result of the Syrian civil war. Iraq’s Shiite majority lives in the east, closer to Iran, which has supplied weapons and fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iraqi Sunnis live mainly in the west and north near Syria, where Sunni rebels have received support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iraqi militant groups are fighint on both sides of the issue. The Shiite-led Iraqi government has avoided taking sides; concerned with minimizing domestic unrest, particularly after suffering its three deadliest months in five years, and fearing a repeat of sectarian civil war of 2006 and 2007.
Until recently, al-Malaki has taken a hardline approach as the “Shiite defender.” However, as election season nears and the prime minister seeks to regain office, he has taken a more unified stance. al-Malaki’s party has lost support in his Shiite base, however he has approximately 33 percent of the Sunni community’s support. It is possible that al-Maliki could potentially partner with moderate Sunnis to form a governing coalition. To this end, the Iraqi government passed a law in June which transferred significant powers from the central government to the provinces; and al-Maliki approved a bill allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s (predominantly Sunni) Baath party to hold government positions.
Although the alliance depends on several factors outside of politics, al-Malaki hopes that the outreach will stem the tide of internal sectarian clashes.
Jordan receives Abu Qatada after Deportation from UK
7 July 2013– Jordan has received convicted Islamist Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mahmoud Mohammad Othman, after he was deported by Britain to face trial in the Kingdom. Qatada will be interrogated and retried in on terror charges stemming from 1999 and 2000.
The transfer follows the ratification of a treaty between Britain and Jordan aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport the Jordanian preacher. Although Britain had tried to deport Abu Qatada since 2001, courts have blocked extradition, fearing that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
In 1999, the Jordanian government sentenced Abu Qatada was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks targeting the Modern American School, and a major hotel, with bombings which caused minor property damage but no casualties. In 2000, he was sentenced to a further 25 years for involvement in a plot to bomb tourists attending Millennium celebrations in Jordan.
In Britain, Abu Qatada is accused of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. When the law was overturned in 2005, he was released but kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways. He most recently was being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices.
Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, says that Abu Qatada will receive a fair trial in accordance with the Jordanian law and in line with international agreements and human rights accords.
Kuwait Bans Expats from Driving and Hospitals
9 July, 2013- The Kuwaiti government has restricted expats from using public hospitals and driving. In early June, the Kuwaiti government barred foreigners from attending a major public hospital in the morning, freeing it for locals who have complained about overcrowding. The move is part of a six month trial to ease congestion for Kuwaiti patients. If it is successful, the plan will be rolled out nationally, allowing foreigners to receive morning treatment only in cases of emergency.
Kuwait is also ending subsidies to foreigners for public services such as electricity and water, calling them “a burden on the state”.
Earlier this year the Kuwaiti government said it relied too heavily on expats and wants to reduce their numbers, as expats outnumber Kuwaitis 2 to 1. Over the next decade, the nation plans to cut its 1.8 million expats by 100,000.
Kuwaiti authorities have also tightened restrictions on foreign drivers by withdrawing licences from students and housewives. Under current laws, most foreigners can only drive on public roads if they hold a university degree, earn 400 dinars (£910) a month and have lived in the country for at least two years. Students and housewives with children exempted from the conditions, as were judges and doctors. Kuwait’s traffic department is reviewing exemptions, and licences for students when they graduate and housewives who get a job.
In addition, over a thousand expats have been deported within the past two months for minor traffic offences. The anti-foreigner stance has caused Kuwait to drop down the World Economic Forum’s rankings for friendliness to tourists and visitors, falling to 137th place out of 140 countries.
313 Brigade Claims Responsibility for Car Bomb in Hezbollah Stronghold
10 July, 2013- A powerful car bomb exploded in a southern suburb in Beirut, wounding at least 53 people. The blast occurred in the heart of a highly secured Hezbollah territory, and was one of the biggest in the capital’s southern suburbs since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. The bombing raises fears that the Syrian war is spilling into the region and causing increases in sectarian violence, as is occurring in Iraq. On Wednesday, a group called the 313 Brigade took responsibility for the attack, blaming Hezbollah and parts of the Lebanese government for intervening in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Syrian government. In late June, the claimed responsibility for an attack on a Hezbollah convoy in eastern Lebanon. The 313 Brigade has released a statement warning that Hezbollah must withdraw from Syria or it would experience further attacks in Lebanon.
The car bomb occurred in a commercial and residential neighbourhood in Beir el-Abed, as many Lebanese Shiites began observing Ramadan. The blast went off in a parking lot near the Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers. Beir el-Abed is only few hundred metres from what is known as Hezbollah’s “security square,” where many of the party’s officials live and have offices.
Many believe that Hezbollah is facing retaliation for its role in fighting alongside Assad’s troops. Hezbollah fighters aided Assad’s troops in gaining a critical victory in the strategic town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. They are currently aiding the Syrian military in Homs. Syrian rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation.
Immediately following the explosion, about 100 outraged Hezbollah supporters stormed through the area, carrying posters of Nasrallah and chanting sectarian slogans. Hezbollah operatives wearing red caps and holding radios kept watch as Interior Minister Marwan Charbel came to inspect the scene of the blast. They fired into the air to disperse protesters who were pelting him with stones, trapping him for 45 minutes in a building before he was escorted through a backdoor. Charbel is seen by some Shiites as sympathetic to Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who has agitated against Hezbollah for months and is now on the run.
The European Union condemned the Beirut bombing, calling it an “appalling act of violence (that) underlines the need for all Lebanese to maintain their national unity.”
Libyan Protesters Demand Disbanding of Militias
8 July, 2013- Hundreds of Libyan protesters called for the disbanding of militias that have plagued Tripoli since the end of the 2011 war. The Libyan government is currently attempting to regain control of the interior ministry after it was besieged by an armed group that entered the building on Tuesday and ordered staff to leave.
Armed groups have grown in power and ambition since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi’s, and the weak government has struggled to impose its authority over them. A ministerial committee has been in talks to regain control of the interior ministry from a militia, and government officials are drawing up plans to disband them, but have not released details.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the Libyan government would raise salaries as a way to lure former rebel fighters into the state forces. Nearly 19,500 men would be sent for police and military training in the United States, France, Britain and Italy.
Istiqlal Party quits Islamist Led Government, Joins Opposition
9 July, 2013- A spokesman for the Istiqlal party, a secular centre-right party and the second largest in Moroccan parliament, has announced that its six Cabinet members have tendered their resignations, and the party announced it is formally joining the opposition.
The resignations come during domestic disputes over subsidy cuts, and as the dominant Islamist party in Morocco, the PJD, watches as Egyptian ally Mohamed Morsi is deposed. The PJD were supporters of the Muslim brotherhood, while Morocco’s king expressed support for Morsi’s replacement.
An Istiqlal leader Hamid Chabat has said that he hopes for the end of Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane, similar to what happened to Morsi. Prime Minister Benkirane must now either dissolve the government and call early elections, or try to form new alliances to fill the empty seats.
The government crisis is compounded by a struggling economy. Morocco is facing a large deficit and a slowdown in growth after public spending to defuse popular discontent during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. The current government is struggling to rein in spending and reform a costly system of subsidies and state pensions. In May, Istiqlal threatened to quit over the Islamists’ plans to cut subsidies, however those cuts were a demand of the International Monetary Fund, which extended Morocco a $6.2 billion precautionary line of credit with the condition that it would undertake these reforms. The cutting of subsidies is likely to elevate social tensions in a nation where demonstrations over the high cost of living are common.
Angry Taliban Abandon Doha Office
9 July, 2013- Following the removal of the Taliban flag, and the plaque of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from their ‘political office’ in Doha, Taliban negotiators have stopped visiting the office. Their absence dashes hopes for an early resumption of the peace process.
Following the inauguration of the office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration raised objections, calling the office an attempt to install a parallel government. In response, Qatari officials removed the Taliban’s white flag and plaque inscribed with ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a name the Taliban used for their regime before it was toppled by the United States in 2001.
Two spokesmen for the Taliban switched off their mobile phones and stopped replying to emails. Qatari officials that were present at the inauguration have gone silent on the controversy.
Karzai, angered at the prospect of being sidelined in any Taliban-US agreement, refused to send members of his High Peace Council to Doha.
A senior member of the High Peace Council said that the Taliban must hold exploratory talks with the US regarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, or to remove the names of their leaders from the UN sanction lists. In turn the US also hopes to discuss release of their prisoners held with the Taliban.
Sudan – South Sudan
20,000 People Neglected in Border Region
8 July, 2013- Over 20,000 people are almost cut off from aid in South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal state, after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan. There is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions.
The refugees are receiving minimal humanitarian assistance because of the remoteness of the region confusion over whether to call them internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees or returnees. The displaced people have almost doubled the region’s population and are mainly living in 11 makeshift camps scattered across isolated parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Because they have no specific settlements assigned to them, many people have had to move several times.
“When we first arrived in February, many people were actually living in the bush. Thousands of displaced people have arrived in this region but there has been very little action taken to serve their needs,” says Lummis.
Doctors without Borders has set up mobile clinics and is training teams of community-based healthcare workers to help combat diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition, the three leading causes of death among the population. The group is also running a basic healthcare clinic near the town of Pamat focused on children under five and pregnant women.
In Sudan on 5 July, a UN peacekeeping leader urged parties in Darfur to cease hostilities amid renewed tribal clashes which have caused over 300,000 since the beginning of this year.
Rebel Blockade Causes Food Shortages in Aleppo
9 July, 2013- As Syrian rebels intensify a blockade of government-held areas in Aleppo, residents face severe food shortages. The tactic is aimed at weakening supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but activists believe that indiscriminately punishes over 2 million people residents who live in the part of the city still held by the army.
Last year, rebels launched an offensive and seized nearly half of the city. For months, they have been working to block roads into the government controlled western part of the city. Food scarcity became a serious problem this week as fighters blocked a highway once left open to civilians. A rebel fighter called the problem an unfortunate side effect of rebel clashes with the army. Activists say food is now cheaper in rebel areas, as food prices have increased to over ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find. A main road that is still passable is near Bustan al-Qasr, but has become so dangerous that it is referred to as “The Crossing of Death.”
Since 2011, over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. Sectarian violence is also increasing, as opposition, led by a Sunni majority, combats the country’s minorities, particularly Assad’s Alawite sect. Many members of minority groups live in the districts now being blockaded by rebels.