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
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.
MENA UpdateApril 13, 2013 in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, MENA, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia
Al Qaeda Rebranding
The emir of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (a.k.a Abu Dua), announced a new brand for AQI’s: the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” The new name replaces all previous brands used by al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Syria, including the Al Nusrah Front. The new name was announced in an audio message released online on April 8.
Al Baghdadi also confirmed that the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s chief fighting force inside Syria, has always been a creation of his terrorist organization, but was not announced for security reasons. The Front’s leader was deputized, and sent, along with other members “from Iraq to the Levant so as to meet our cells in the Levant.”
“We laid for them plans, and drew up for them the policy of work, and gave them what financial support we could every month, and supplied them with men who had known the battlefields of jihad, from the emigrants and the natives,” al Baghdadi continues.
Al Qaeda uses multiple brands to mask its operations. The name often reflects how the organization views allied organizations and prospects in a specific geographic venue.
Egypt: On 11 April, armed Bedouin tribesmen released a Hungarian peacekeeper in Egypt’s Sinai after briefly detaining him on Thursday. The captive soldier was released after intervention from tribal leaders.
The Bedouin were pushing for the release of a jailed relative, and did not realise they had captured a member of the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) stationed in the peninsula.
The soldier was on leave and travelling to Cairo when forced to stop at a makeshift checkpoint the kidnappers had set up.
South Sudan: On April 9, authorities in Unity State confirmed the release of eight women who were abducted from Payinjiar County on 1 April by a group of 350 civilian cattle raiders allegedly from neighbouring Lakes state. The women were searching for food near a river when they were taken, and had been tortured and interrogated during their detention.
The raiders also stole nearly 800 cattle. Payinjiar county officials believe that the cattle rustlers come from Maper County. The 741 cows taken were later recovered in a battle on the same day. Three of the cattle rustlers were killed.
Although cattle raids are commonplace in the region, this event marks the first time that raids have been combined with abductions of people.
Payinjiar County Commissioner Biel called on the commissioners of counties across the border in Lake State to stop the cycle of cattle raiding by convincing them that they are all South Sudanese citizens.
Syria: The release of Lebanese man who was kidnapped in the border with Syria was freed on 13 April. His release prompted the release of 11 other people who were abducted in a string of retaliatory kidnaps.
Hussein Kamel Jaafar, a Shiite from an area near the northern Lebanese town of Arsal, was kidnapped last month and taken into Syria. In response, members of his family took captive several local Sunnis. Those families in turn carried out retaliatory kidnappings.
A security force said that a delegation of Arsal residents paid a $150,000 ransom and returned from Syria at dawn with the former captive, Hussein Kamel Jaafar.
Jaafar said, “I was kidnapped by bandits and thieves, not the Free Syrian Army,” adding that his captors “beat me and tortured me.”
Arsal is a majority Sunni Muslim town whose inhabitants generally support the revolt in Syria. Nearby Hermel and Baalbek are largely Shiite strongholds of Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria: On 13 April, four Italian journalists who had been kidnapped and held in Syria for nine days were released, according to Italy’s interim Foreign Minister, Mario Monti. The journalists were in Syria to film a documentary about a rebel faction close to al Qaeda. The group had been reportedly been held by an armed Islamist group; none were wounded and all are in good health.
The Minister’s statement did not reveal details about the captors who had taken the reporters, or information regarding their release. Italian state news agency ANSA reported the reporters are now in Turkey, and will return to Italy on Saturday evening.
Monti thanked those involved in securing the reporters’ release “which was particularly complicated because of the dangerous context”, adding that he had personally followed the situation since the reporters were taken hostage. He thanked the media for respecting a blackout requested by RAI state television, who employs one of the four journalists.
The Foreign Ministry has not released the names of the journalists, however they have been widely reported to include be RAI journalist Amedeo Ricucci, freelancers Elio Colavolpe and Andrea Vignali, and Italian-Syrian reporter Susan Dabbous.
Algeria – Riots in Southern Algeria
On 10 April, at least 40 people, including 22 riot police, were injured in clashes in the city of Ouargla in southern Algeria. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd, which hurled stones, set fire to car tires, and blocked roads.
The chairman of the National Committee for the Unemployed Taher Belabbas said, “The cause behind the protests in the city of Ouargla is the false promises made by the government about housing the poor, employing the unemployed, and solving the problems around development in the Southern region in general”.
A spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Movement said this occurrence is “similar to what happens before every political event, authorities seek to offer ‘social bribes’ to people, to license their political projects”.
The riots indicate a growing rift between Northern and Southern Algeria, the latter complaining of years of political neglect.
Bahrain – Petrol Bombs Hurled at Bahraini Ministry
On 11 April, four suspects were arrested after throwing homemade Molotov cocktails at the foreign ministry in an escalation of anti-government protests. There were no injuries or serious damage from the firebomb. The attack was a rare attempt to strike government offices during the 2-year-old uprising, led by majority Shiites who are seeking a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
In the past, police stations, security vehicles and personnel have been targeted, but government or royal compounds have been largely untouched. The ministry offered few details of the arrests. Online activists, however, said police stormed areas of the capital, Manama, at dawn.
Egypt – Morsi Meets with SCAF
On 11 April, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi met with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for an hour and a half. The army commanders expressed frustration that political forces are attempting to distort the image of the Armed Forces, specifically offended by findings that it used torture and murder during the 2011 revolution.
Morsi reportedly denounced the findings, saying they are an attempt to drive a wedge between the army and the presidency. A fact-finding committee found the allegations against SCAF were substantiated. The report was submitted to the Morsi, but was leaked to the media on 10 April. SCAF leadership used the leaked report as leverage to force Morsi to side with the military leaders and promote certain among them beyond good practice. Morsi promoted the heads of Egypt’s Air Force, Air Defence Forces and Navy to the rank of Lieutenant-general during the meeting.
Qatar to give $3 billion to Egypt
On 10 April, Qatar’s Prime Minister announced that the nation will give Egypt an additional $3 billion to bolster Egypt’s ailing economy and help rebuild key industries. The funds are in addition to Qatar’s promises to invest up to $18 billion in Egypt over the next five years.
Analysts suspect that Egypt is becoming a dependency of Qatar, as imports continue to decline and the nation’s currency reserves are reportedly able to cover no more than three months.
Coptic Pope Condemns Morsi
Coptic Pope Tawadros II has strongly condemned Mohamed Morsi for failing to deal properly with sectarian violence in early April that resulted in the death of six Christians and the country’s largest cathedral besieged by police and armed civilians.
Thousands of Christians had gathered at Egypt’s largest cathedral, St Mark’s, on 7 April to mourn the death of four Copts who were killed in earlier sectarian clashes north of Cairo. Attendees said they were attacked as they tried to leave the cathedral. They were forced them back inside in a siege that lasted into the night. Police fired teargas over the cathedral walls and looked on as civilians armed with birdshot, knives and Molotov cocktails scaled nearby buildings, attacking those inside the church grounds. Two Christians were killed and at least 80 injured.
On 9 April, Pope Tawadros II called a live current events news show to criticise Morsi for what he sees as negligence. The previous day, Morsi had claimed that any attack on the cathedral was an attack on him personally, and even telephoned Pope Tawadros, promising to do everything he could to protect it. However, after Morsi’s call, police continued to fire teargas into the cathedral.
Analysts believe the Pope’s tactics show a change in the Coptic Church, saying it was “interesting that he called in to a television show. He hasn’t used a sermon. He is trying to reach as large an audience as possible.” Tawadros may have been angered by a statement by a Morsi aide that laid the blame for Sunday’s cathedral siege at the feet of Copts.
For over a millennium, Egypt’s Christians lived peacefully among Egypt’s Muslim population. Sectarian tensions have risen over the past four decades, heightening by the elevation of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s new constitution inadequately protects the rights of Christians and other minorities.
On Sunday, a crowd of Muslims gathered outside the cathedral in support of Christians, and chanted anti-Brotherhood slogans. “Christians and Muslims are from one hand,” they sang. Muslims and Christians marched together to the cathedral on Thursday in solidarity with those who died.
Egyptian Legislature Approves Election Law
On 11 April, Egypt’s legislature approved a revised version of the law organizing the country’s parliamentary elections, which were scheduled to start in April. The elections were delayed because earlier versions of the law were declared invalid. The Shura council asked had asked for amendments to the earlier draft, and approved the changes on Thursday. The text has been sent to the Supreme Constitutional Court for review, which could take up to 45 days to rule on the new law. President Mohammed Morsi has said he expects the elections to be held in October.
Egypt’s opposition said it was not consulted on its drafting and had said before it would boycott the vote. The opposition has expressed concerns over gerrymandering by the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups. In televised sessions, members of the Shura council voted over the redrawing of districts, one of the changes the Supreme Court had asked for.
Libya – Libya and Egypt Sign Military Cooperation Agreement
On 11 April, Libya and Egypt signed an agreement for military cooperation, focusing on training, illegal immigration, illegal fishing operations and drug trafficking.
The agreement was made as the Chief of Staff of Egypt’s Armed Forces Sedki Sobhi and a delegation visited Libya. Libyan Ministry of Defence, Al-Bargati said that the visit “is the beginning of cooperation between the two countries to protect the region and achieve the revolution’s objectives of stability and development.”
UN Panel Report: Libyan Weapons Spreading at Alarming Rate
On 9 April, a UN Panel report indicated that Libyan weapons are spreading at to new territory in West Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean at “an alarming rate,” fuelling conflicts and increasing the arsenals of armed groups and terrorists.
The panel said cases of illicit transfers from Libya are under investigation, involving more than 12 countries and including heavy and light weapons such as portable air defence systems, explosives, mines, and small arms and ammunition. Since the 2011 Civil war, Libya has become a black market for those wishing to purchase weapons throughout the region.
The increased access to Libyan weapons has empowered “non-state actors” who are engaged in conflicts against national authorities. The panel expressed concern that extremist armed groups are strengthening their position.
In Libya, trade flourishes from weakened political and security infrastructure, an absence of control over stockpiles, and delays in disarmament and weapons collections. These encourage illegal trade and, “have generated considerable money-making opportunities for traffickers,” the panel said.
Sudan – Sudan and South Sudan Seek to Normalise Relations
On 12 April, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir made his first visit to South Sudan since July 2011 when the south seceded and became an independent state. The aim of the visit is to start cooperation and normalisation between the two countries.
South Sudan’s Salva Kiir agreed with continue a dialogue address outstanding conflicts between the nations, who agreed in March to resume cross-border oil flows, and work toward reducing tensions since the secession. They nations have yet to agree on who owns certain regions, including the Abyei province, along their disputed 2,000km border.
South Sudan shut down its entire oil output of 350,000 barrels a day in January 2012 during a dispute over pipeline fees. The move devastated economies in both nations. South Sudan re-launched oil production in early April. The first oil cargo expected to reach Sudan’s Red Sea export terminal by the end of May.
In addition, each nation has agreed to grant each others’ citizens residency, increase border trade and encourage close cooperation between their central banks.
Syria – Suicide bomber kills 14 in Damascus
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed vehicle in central Damascus, killing 16 people and wounding over 140. The attack is the third in the Damascus in 18 days. The dead were mostly civilians, and four from regular forces.
No group has claimed credit for the bombing, but it was likely executed by the the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which has claimed credit for 57 of the 70 suicide attacks that have been reported in Syria since December 2011.
Tunisia – Islamists Storm Tunisian School after Superintendent Bars Entry to Veiled Student
On 10 April, radical Muslims entered a school in Manzel Bouzelfa, 28 miles east of Tunis, and assaulted the superintendent after he barred entry to a teenage girl who was wearing a face veil. A witness says Salafists stormed the compound, smashing cars on the way in, and “tried to kill the director for refusing the entry of a schoolgirl dressed in niqab into the classroom.”
School superintendent Abdelwahed Sentati suffered several broken bones after being beaten with stones and sticks. Teachers claim that dozens of radicals remained on the premises, chanting anti-secular slogans. There have been no arrests yet in the incident. Classes at the school and others in the area have been suspended in protest at the assault, and the teachers union was considering a strike.
Tunisia is experiencing an increasing power struggle between moderate secularists, which have long dominated the country, and radical Islamists, whose influence is increasing. In 2012, the Education Ministry decided to preserve a classroom ban on women wearing the full face veil of strict Muslims. Hundreds of Islamists demanded segregated classes and the right for women to wear full-face veils.
Hardline Salafists want their form of Islam to be the law of the land, raising secularist fears women’s rights and democracy. Last year, Salafists prevented concerts and plays from being staged in across Tunisia, declaring that they violated Islamic principles.
“Topless Jihad” sparks controversy
In late March, a Tunisian woman who goes by the name of Amina Tyler angered Islamist groups by posting topless photos of herself online with the words “My body belongs to me” and “F(expletive deleted) your morals” written across her bare chest, as homage to the women’s power group, Femen.
Tyler disappeared from public view shortly after the photos gained widespread attention, and fears of reprisal sparked rallies around the globe in solidarity. On 6 April, Tyler reappeared on a special reports show, “Effet Papillon”, fearing for her and her family’s safety in Tunisia. Tyler had received several death threats by telephone and on her Facebook account – statements like, “You will die” and “We will throw acid at your face.”
Tyler explains that after the photos appeared, her family drove her home, where her cousin “destroyed her telephone SIM card” and “beat her”. The family then relocated to a town three hours from Tunis where she was forced to stay at her home.
On 4 April, Femen activists conducted a “topless jihad” in front of Tunisian embassies, mosques and Islamic associations across Europe to show their support for Tunisian activist Amina. Tyler said she did not regret baring her breasts, but she did condemn the burning of an Islamic flag by three feminists in front of Paris’s Great Mosque on Thursday. “Everyone is going to think that I encouraged it. That is unacceptable.”
The flag burning incident sparked further controversy, as it made stereotypical links to Islam and religious prejudices. One citizen said, “I personally consider going naked or wearing the niqab part of personal freedom and anyone has the right to wear what he or she wants, but the infringement and provocation of the feelings of others is vile.”
Tunisian women are some of the most free in the Arab world but have limited inheritance rights, which women’s groups say have been further abused by the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.
Tunisian Government Releases Controversial Imam
On 5 April, the Tunisian government released a controversial Salafist accused of forging passports for jihadists seeking to wage war in Syria.
Imed Ben Saleh, (a.k.a Abou Abdullah Ettounsi), appeared in court on Friday morning, to answer questions about why he was deported from Egypt the previous day. Ettounsi was apprehended at an Egyptian airport, accompanied by a Libyan known for committing passport fraud. The Egyptian judiciary did not prove the involvement of Abou Abdullah Ettounsi in this case, but he was returned to Tunisia and informed that he was not welcome in Egypt.
“This man should not be freed until proven innocent from shipping jihadists and committing passport fraud,” Mouna Rabhi said. “After he was released, the judiciary opened for him the doors in Tunisia so he could send the rest of our young people to Syria to die.”
The case comes as the Tunisian government increases measures to stop the recruitment of young people for jihad in Syria.
Tunisian Girls Provide Sex to Syrian Extremists
On 7 April, a report indicated that at least 13 Tunisian girls have reportedly travelled Northern Syria to offer themselves as sex workers to opposition fighters. The announcement follows extremist “fatwas” that have circulated the internet, which calls on women to perform jihad through sex.
Last week, a Tunisian minister for religious affairs appealed to girls not to be influenced by extreme Islamic preachers outside of Tunisia who made a number of “sexual fatwas”.
A video widely circulated on the internet in Tunisia shows the parents of a veiled girl called Rahmah, 17, who disappeared one morning, her parents later learning that she went to Syria to carry out sexual jihad. Rahmah has returned to her family, who said that their daughter is not a religious fanatic “but was influenced by her fellow students who are known for their affiliation with the jihadist Salafist.” Stories like this are increasingly common in Tunisia. Parents are concerned about the influence charismatic Islamic leaders in other Arab countries can wield over their children.
The initial fatwa was attributed to sheikh Mohamed al-Arifi; however, sources close to the sheikh denied that he had issued the fatwa. Al-Hadi Yahmad, a researcher on the affairs of Islamic groups, said, “The issue of sexual jihad was initially attributed to a Saudi sheikh who denied it, and this fatwa is abnormal and not endorsed by religious scholars.”
Reports in Tunisia stress though that the fatwa had gained attention on pro-Syrian regime websites, with the intention of tarnishing the image of the Islamic fighters. This propaganda would support Assad’s assertion that fundamentalists, supported by Salafist groups, are amongst the Syrian rebels.
Tunisia recovers $29 Million “Stolen” by Ben Ali
Tunisia has received $29 million (£19 million) “looted assets” held by former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. The United Nations’ Stolen Asset Recovery team, who are responsible for to recovering money from leaders overthrown in the Arab spring, presented a check to President Moncef Marzouki.
The money had been held in a Lebanese bank account in the name of Laila Trabelsi, the wife of Ben Ali. Both Trabelsi and Ben Ali are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia after the Tunisian uprising.
Tunisia’s government faces pressure to recover the remaining money to ease stressful economic times, but there are political and legal difficulties in accessing accounts where the money is thought to be held.
Yemen – Military Restructuring in Yemen
On 10 April, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi issued decrees to restructure the country’s military.
President Hadi removed the former President Saleh’s son, Brigadier General Ahmed, from his post as commander of the elite Republican Guard, appointing him ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. In addition, two of Saleh’s nephews who had served in the Presidential Guard and the intelligence service have been appointed as military attaches in Germany and Ethiopia. A commander from an armoured division that split from the army in 2011 was made a presidential advisor.
Human rights observers are concerned that while the restructure is a positive step, placing Saleh’s allies in diplomatic posts could render the men immune from prosecution.
The restructure is a critical step in a US-backed transfer of power, which is intended to ease deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power and transition to his deputy, Hadi.
Saudi Arabia Builds Fence on Yemen Border
In an effort to tighten security, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) building a fence along its southern border with Yemen, spanning from the Red Sea coast to the border with Oman. Saudia Arabia began constructing in 2003 but halted a year later after protests from the Yemeni government. As turmoil has increased in Yemen, KSA has decided to proceed with its construction.
The fence, which will span 1,800 km and stand three metres high, will consist of a network of sandbags and pipelines, fitted with electronic detection systems. The first section of the fence has already been built along the coast in order to halt the flow of illegal immigrants, but the border remains a dangerous zone.
MENA Security Update (1 April 2013)April 1, 2013 in Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia
Al-Qaeda Names Replacement Leader for North Africa
Al-Qaeda has named a replacement for Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a key commander of its North African branch who was killed in fighting with French-led forces in northern.
Djamel Okacha, also known Yahia Aboul Hammam, is a 34-year-old from Reghaia, Algeria. His new position, which includes responsibility for AQIM operations in southern Algeria and northern Mali, still has to be approved at a meeting of AQIM leaders. Okacha is a close aide of AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel and considered the “real leader” of the group.
His predecessor Abou Zeid, 46, was credited with having significantly expanded the jihadist group’s field of operation to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnapping activities across the region.
Okacha, despite not having gone to Afghanistan, has had a meteoric rise in the group. Okacha spent around 18 months in prison in Algeria in the 1990s. As a member of extremist organisations the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GPSC), he was active in northern Algeria, and condemned to death by a court in southern Algeria for acts of terrorism.
AQIM Opens Official Twitter Account
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has opened an official Twitter account on 16 March. Their first messages, sent on 28 March, targeted France, specifically threatening to kill French nationals that they have been holding hostage. At least 14 French nationals have been kidnapped between September 2010 and February 2013, and are currently being held hostage by militant groups in North Africa.
Their first tweet reads, “Will the French people succeed in convincing Hollande to save the lives of the hostages? @Andalus_Media.” A tweet the following day stated that AQIM cannot guarantee their safety to infinity.
Twitter accounts for AQIM have existed prior to this one, but the latest account is the first to be recognized by al-Fajr Media Center, al Qaeda’s propaganda group. The account gained over 2,000 followers in its first few days.
Libya: Two men arrested in the kidnap of Humanitarian Activists
On 29 March, Libyan security officials announced the arrest of two men in the kidnapping of five British humanitarian activists in Eastern Libya. At least two of them were women who had been sexually assaulted. Authorities did not release the identities of the suspects, but did state they were Libyan soldiers. Officials also believe they are close to a third arrest.
The activists, all British citizens of Pakistani origin, were travelling with a convoy which had started in London and travelled through several North African countries, attempting to aid to Gaza. The travellers had no visas, according to Western authorities. At the Egyptian border, Egyptian guards refused to let the convoy enter. After five days of being stranded at the Egyptian/Libyan border, the five activists, including a father and two daughters, headed to Benghazi airport to leave Libya. The activists were abducted in a taxi at a checkpoint near Benghazi.
A diplomat stated that the men were beaten up and the women were sexually assaulted. Four captives were free soon after their abduction, however, the fifth, a woman, was found several hours later. Libya’s deputy prime minister, Awad al-Barassi, visited the victims in the hospital, and stated that the father saw his daughters being raped. The activists were given shelter at the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi, and left for Britain on Friday.
A Libyan defense official, Abdul Salam Bargathi, believes the episode was an “individual, isolated attack.”
Sudan: 31 Kidnapped Darfuris Released after a week
On 30 March, Sudanese rebels released 31 Darfur is who were kidnapped on their way to a conference for people displaced by the Sudanese decade-long war.
The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) was escorting three buses carrying the Darfur is when it was stopped by a “large unidentified armed group in military uniforms and seven jeep-mounted guns.” The armed group took the hostages to an unknown location.
The incident occurred in on the border between Central and South South Darfur State. UNAMID has conflicting reports about whether the displaced people have been released. Government sources have not confirmed any release.
Algerian activists barred from World Social Forum
On 25 March, Algerian barred 96 civil activists from travelling to Tunisia without reason, illegally restricting rights to free movement. The activists intended to attend the World Social Forum, a global gathering of around 50,000 activists on areas such as human rights and the environment.
Activists included members of the Algerian League for Human Rights, the National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP), and other non-governmental organizations. After a three hour delay at the Layoun border crossing, Algerian officials would not let them through, claiming “that they have instructions”, according to Mourad Tchiko, a member of SNAPAP
A similar incident occurred in February; Algerian police arrested and expelled 10 foreign nationals from the Association of Unemployed Workers of the Maghreb in February. The travellers, five Tunisians, three Mauritanians and two Moroccans, were planning to attend the first Maghreb Forum for the Fight against Unemployment and Temporary Work in Algiers. They were held at the local police station for several hours before being taken to the airport to return home.
“The Algerian authorities are disrupting the legitimate activities of local human rights and civil society activists, as they have so many times before,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It is high time they end their campaign of harassment and intimidation of reform advocates, and observe their obligations under international law.”
Wife and Children of Gadhafi Missing in Algeria
The wife of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and three of his children, have gone missing from their Algerian home, where they have taken refuge since 2011. Safia Gadhafi, the dictator’s second wife, their daughter Aisha, and two of their sons, Hannibal and Muhammad, appear to have fled their home in the coastal community of Staoueli.
Algerian political spokespeople believe it is possible they have joined with former Gadhafi fighters in Mali, however it is also likely that the family has taken offers for asylum from Oman and Venezuela. Aisha and Hannibal Gadhafi are on an Interpol list which calls for their immediate arrest.
Kabylie: Algerian security forces kill Islamists
On 28 March, Algerian special forces killed five Islamists in a raid in Attouche, near the Kabylie city of Tizi Ouzou.
Among those killed were Badache Said, 39, who led the Ibn el-Moqafa militia, and Nouali Hamza. Both were were handed death sentences in absentia last week along with 33 others, including AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.
All five were implicated in an attack on an Algerian army barracks at Azazga near Tizi Ouzou in April 2011, in which 17 soldiers were killed.
Qatar-Algeria Joint venture for Steel Production
On 27 March, Industries Qatar announced that the governments of Qatar and Algeria have entered into a joint venture to build a steel production plant in Algeria. Industries Qatar has interests in petrochemicals, fertilisers and steel products. The planned steel complex will have a total annual production capacity of 4 million metric tonnes. The steel complex will cost $2bn in its first phase.
The project is anticipated to create over 1,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. Algeria, represented by Sider and Fonds National D’investissement, will hold 51 percent of the new company, while Qatar Steel International will hold the remaining 49 percent. The facility is expected to take 42 months to construct, and commercial production is expected to start in 2017.
Three Divers Arrested for Attempting to Cut Undersea Internet Cable
On 27 March, Egyptian authorities arrested three divers who were trying to cut through an undersea internet cable in the waters of Alexandria. The damaged cable caused a drop in the speed of online services in Egypt and some other countries.
The divers were arrested while attempting to cut the undersea wires of the main telecommunications company, Telecom Egypt. The damaged cable was the South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4), a critical cable under the Mediterranean. Cable operator Seacom said several lines connecting Europe with Africa, the Middle East and Asia were hit, slowing down internet services.
The arrested men are due to be interrogated. Their motive has not been made public.
Egyptian Satirist Arrested, Released on Bail
On 1 April, Bassem Youssef, the Middle East’s most popular TV satirist, was issued with an arrest warrant and questioned by Egypt’s top prosecutor for allegedly insulting Islam and the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. Youssef, regarded as Egypt’s Jon Stewart, turned himself in following the issue of an arrest warrant by prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah. He was released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (£1,500) after being questioned for three hours. According to Heba Morayaf, director of Human right watch in Egypt, it heralds the most serious affront to free speech since associates of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood assumed power.
Youssef became an increasingly notable figure following Egypt’s 2011 uprising. His show, “al Bernameg” humorously critiques politics, fundamentalist clerics, and Morsi. With over than 30 million viewers across the Middle East, the show is a beacon for free-speech in the region. Youssef has been sued several times by private individuals, but this is the first time that the prosecutor general followed up one of the complaints with legal action, a signal that President Morsi’s Brotherhood-backed regime is now prepared to take a harsher stance against its critics.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the leader of Egypt’s main opposition coalition, said on Twitter, “Pathetic efforts to smother dissent and intimidate media is a sign of a shaky regime and a bunker mentality”
Youssef, however took a light-hearted approach, arriving at court in a comically large version of a graduation hat worn by Morsi at a ceremony in Pakistan, and tweeting (and later deleting) comments such as, “Police officers and lawyers at the prosecutor-general’s office want to be photographed with me, maybe this is why they ordered my arrest?”
Last week, Morsi promised to take necessary measures against opposition figures that incited what he called violence and rioting, but also has spread his targets to vocal members of the media. Youssef’s arrest comes just a day after nine opposition activists and four lawyers were arrested in Alexandria, and a week after legal proceedings against five activists for inciting violence against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The prosecutor-general, who is considered politicized in his support for Brotherhood, was appointed after Morsi circumvented constitutional protocol to promote him in November. Last week, a judge this week ruled that Abdallah’s appointment was illegal – but he has refused to step aside.
Parliamentary Elections Possible for October
On March 27, President Morsi said that Egypt’s parliamentary elections are likely to be held in October. While in Doha, Qatar, for the Arab League Summit, Morsi met with overseas Egyptians and revealed that the first session of the People’s Assembly (the lower house of the parliament) would be held before the end of 2013.
Morsi also stated that he expected that the Shura Council (upper house of the parliament) to complete drafts of parliamentary election law within two weeks, to deliver to the Supreme Constitutional Court for approval. On Tuesday, the Shura Council approved a new draft for regulation of parliamentary elections “in principle.”
On March 6, the Supreme Administrative Court suspended a presidential decree of holding parliamentary elections on April 22, citing fourteen claims against the constitutionality of the newly- drafted election law to Supreme Constitutional Court. The Court will review the appeal against the suspension of parliamentary elections on April 7.
Egyptian Government Plans to Ration Subsidized Bread
The Egyptian government has announced plans to start rationing subsidized bread. The plan has outraged bakers and millions of families with few other food options than state-subsidized pita.
The announcement comes in the wake of cuts of State payments to private bakers, which are intended to keep the price of bread low. Egypt has subsided bread since the 1950s. The current administration has said the country’s weak economy has made the subsidies too expensive to keep up.
Hundreds of bakers travelled to Cairo in protest. Without the subsidies, they will be unable to stay in business. Subsidized bakers are required by law to sell a large portion of their production at low prices set by the state.
In an effort to appease the bakers and limit demand for cheap bread, the government has limited purchase of the commodity to three loaves per customer. Rationing has stirred up anger among low-income Egyptians who rely on the cheap bread as critical part of their diet. A similar attempt at rationing in 1977 resulted in riots throughout Egypt. Threats of a similar event caused the government to postpone implementing rationing last week.
Post-Revolution Egypt sees Spike in Tomb Raiding
Since the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen a spike in illegal digging near tombs in hopes of accessing rare archaeological treasures. Recently, large holes have been appearing in the ground at the Great Pyramids of Giza, and In Dahshur, near the Bent Pyramid.
Gunmen have also attacked storehouses at Saqqara and Abusir, which held yet-unregistered antiquities recovered from excavations. It is unknown how much has been stolen.
In Luxor, police have discovered vast tunnel networks, starting within a compound close to the ancient sites or even inside a home.
Libyan Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Feared Abducted
Officials in Libya have report that the Libyan prime minister’s chief of staff has disappeared and may have been abducted during a series of confrontations between the government and militiamen in Tripoli.
The prime minister’s office lost contact with Mohamed Ali Ghatous on Sunday. Ghatous’ car was found on the side of a road in the outskirts of Tripoli. Security forces are searching for him; officials say he may have been abducted.
Since the civil war, Libya has been working to rebuild a unified security force, however the government depends on militias to fill the security vacuum. Recently, militias, some who act with impunity, have taken offense at statements by ministers suggesting they needed to be brought under control.
Earlier in March, Prime Minister Ali Zidan was besieged in his office by militiamen who demanded his removal over remarks in which he threatened to summon outside help to confront the armed groups. On the same day that Ghatous disappeared, dozens of militiamen conducted a day-long siege, surrounding the Justice Ministry and calling for minister Salah al-Marghani’s resignation. Al-Marghani said on Libyan TV that some of the militias were illegitimate and were operating illegal prisons, and he demanded that the militias relinquish control to the Justice Ministry.
Zidan and al-Marghani held a joint news conference on Sunday, emphasizing that militias would be held accountable for any attacks.
Gunmen attack Libyan Airbase
On 30 March, more than 150 gunmen attacked an air base in Libya’s southern desert about 30 miles north of Sabha. The attackers were heavily armed and clashed with government forces, killing a colonel and a soldier, and wounding two troops.
The assailants were identified as Libyan, but an investigation is underway to determine who they were.
Extremists bomb 500-year-old Sufi shrine in Tripoli
A Libyan security official says that suspected Islamic extremists have bombed an ancient Sufi shrine in Tripoli. The attackers planted explosives inside the Sidi Mohammed al-Andalousi, and detonated them from a distance early on March 28.
Hard-line Salafis, an offshoot of Islam, oppose the veneration of saints, believing it to undermine the Islamic belief in monotheism. Salafis in Mali, Somalia and Tunisia have targeted the tombs of saints. The country’s grand cleric has since issued a religious edict against such assaults.
Egyptian Government extradites Gadhafi- era Libyan Officials
In Egypt’s first high-profile extradition in years, Egyptian authorities extradited two Libyan officials from the regime of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi back to Libya on 26 March. The 71-year-old former ambassador to Cairo, Ali Maria, and 44-year-old Mohammed Ibrahim Gadhafi, were handcuffed after resisting the extradition.
Last week, Gadhafi aide and cousin Ahmed Qaddaf al-Dam, a former high-ranking intelligence official, surrendered to police in Cairo after hours-long siege at his home. He remains in detention in Egypt.
Libya has demanded that Egypt extradition of officials from the former regime over various charges, including corruption and involvement in the country’s civil war. On 28 March, a Libyan intelligence delegation provided Egyptian officials a list of 88 names for extradition. A previous list included 40 names.
Saudi Arabia considers banning Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber
Saudi Arabia considering a potential block of messaging and real-time chat services. “Some telecom applications over the Internet protocol currently do not meet the regulatory conditions” in the kingdom, said the Communications and Information Technology. These apps— which include Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp— allow voice, video and text communication over the internet, but do not allow exchanges to be monitored by government agencies.
Industry sources said that authorities asked telecom operators to furnish a means of control that would allow censorship in the absolute monarchy. The providers have been given a week to comply. One source claims that telecom operators were behind the move, asking the commission to impose censorship because of the “damage” caused by free applications.
Recent political protests, which are illegal in Saudi Arabia, have been partially organized via WhatsApp. When the same issue arose with BlackBerry in 2010, it resulted in temporary suspension of Blackberry Messenger services, until an eventual deal between RIM and the Saudi government removed the suspension. The details of the agreement are not public
If similar deals are struck with these currently private apps, it is anticipated that individuals who people wish to maintain private communications will move on to other tools.
Tunisia Salafists threaten Ennahda
On March 27, the leader of Tunisia’s Salafist jihadist movement threatened to topple the prime minister. It is the first direct threat to Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Ennahda.
Saif Allah bin Hussein (aka Abou Iyadh), leader of Ansar al-Sharia, addressed a message to Ennahda published on Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page. “Hold back your sick person from us or else we’ll wage a war against him until we topple him and throw him into the dustbin of history.” It continued, “We won’t talk much, you’ll see and not just hear the response… if you don’t hold him back.” Abou Iyadh is wanted in connection with the deadly attack on the US embassy in Tunis last September.
The threat came a day after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh blamed Abou Iyadh for the spread of arms and increase of violence in Tunisia. In the past months, Tunisian security forces have found several weapons caches, detained many Salafist jihadists, and clashed with militants on the Algeria border.
Tensions between Ennahda and Ansar al-Sharia have been escalating since December, when embassy attack suspects Bechir Golli and Mohammed Bakhti died in Mornaguia prison after a 50-day hunger strike. Salafist jihadists blamed the government for their deaths.
“Our relations with Ennahda [have] been severed in full because that party is not Islamist as they so claim,” said Ansar al-Sharia spokesperson, Mohamed Anis Chaieb. “This is because they embrace the civil state concept, and there is nothing in their programmes indicating that they are adopting the Islamic rule model.”
al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri attacked Ennahda for failing to use Islamic Sharia as a main source of legislation. Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi responded strongly, calling al-Zawahri, a catastrophe for Islam and Muslims.
Tunisian citizens are concerned that the conflict between the Salafists and Ennahda will threaten the country’s political and social stability. There is fear that the increasing enmity on both sides will have serious repercussions in the country.