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Jordan: How did the sedition saga unfold, and what was the Prince’s role in it?

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On 3 April 2021, the security forces of the Kingdom of Jordan publicised they had arrested about 20 people on security grounds. Said security grounds barely were (and still have yet to be) elaborated on, but soon the Kingdom’s “security and stability” were invoked as somehow having been at risk. Further clues about the situation would come through revealing the identities of some of the arrestees. Right at the beginning of the saga it was announced that high ranking officials and leaders in Jordanian society had been implicated in the saga – including former royal envoy to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sharif Hassan Zaid, and former royal court chief and close confidant of the King, Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah. The proximity of such figures to both Jordanian power was worrying enough, and suggested sedition or a conspiracy against the rulers of Jordan might have been brewing in the country. This would spark an investigation, which would cause details of the saga to unfold.

Meanwhile, since the beginning the government and palace had been keeping tight lipped about what was happening, and thus whether or not it truly was sedition could not be confirmed. Nonetheless, whatever the situation was, it was certainly being taken seriously – this was evident from the increased police presence in the Dabouq area of Amman, near the royal court. That particular observation in itself provided some clues as to the nature of the saga – that it was something physically and metaphorically surrounding the royal court.

Going back to the chain of events, at the time of the arrests there were rumours that a high-profile member of the royal family was caught up in the saga: Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II of Jordan. Before I go into the details of how events in the saga unfolded, I have to provide context about who the Prince is and how he fits into everything. Prince Hamzah is the fourth son of the late King Hussein of Jordan and his fourth wife Queen Noor. He was a favourite son of the King, and was often described publicly by the King as the “delight of [his] eye”. This relationship in itself suggests the Prince himself felt beloved by the King, and extremely loyal to his father as a monarch.

For a time Prince Hamzah held the powerful title of Crown Prince of Jordan, and thus was heir to the throne, behind his brother King Abdullah II. The title stemmed from a decree made by King Abdullah II himself on the day of his father King Hussein’s passing: in expression of the late King’s wishes, his younger son would succeed his eldest son to the throne after he passes. Thus from 1999 onwards Prince Hamzah was the Crown Prince of Jordan. But this would change on 28 November 2004, when the King removed his brother as Crown Prince, expressing to him in a letter that the “symbolic position ha[d] restrained [Prince Hamzah’s] freedom and hindered […] entrusting [him] with certain responsibilities” – as the “honorary position” did not afford Prince Hamzah any real authority or responsibility. The Prince publicly accepted the decision, and declared his loyalty to the King. However, whether he did in his heart is another matter entirely. It is possible he took this decision to be a betrayal of his father’s wishes.

Meanwhile, the position was left vacant for years but was expected to be filled by the King’s own son, Prince Hussein – who was at the time his father assumed the throne, 10 years old. It should be noted that according to the Jordanian constitution, the eldest son of the monarch is to succeed them should he pass away, unless the King designates one of his brothers as his heir. Thus with this status having been rescinded from Hamzah, Hussein now seemed the natural person to become the next Crown Prince – a position that would be afforded to him on 2 July 2009. It is possible Prince Hamzah resented this choice, and saw it as perceived nepotism and corruption on the part of his brother the King. Such thoughts, as well as the theme of betrayal, are prominent in the Prince’s sentiment throughout this saga and will be revisited at as another part in the chain of events telling this saga.

Returning to the saga as it unfolded, at the time of the arrests, reports had been circulating that Prince Hamzah had been arrested by the security forces, and therefore the media focus suddenly shifted to him. To curb such opinions, the Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti denied the reports, but did not hide the Prince’s involvement in the saga – revealing Prince Hamzah had been asked by the security services to “cease all activities or movements exploited to target Jordan’s security and stability”. He also noted that investigations into the wider saga were ongoing and would be revealed in a “transparent and clear manner”. In short, the Army Chief’s statement was enough to implicate the Prince as a part of the conspiracy, but without revealing much about the role he played or the specific actions he had been asked to stop.

In the context of events the denial of his arrest led me to inferring one of two things. The first inference I made was that it was likely true the Prince had not been arrested and was asked to desist from his actions against Jordan’s security and stability. This is because a person of royal status, and no less someone closely related to the King, would be treated in the way that any more ordinary, less royal Jordanian subject would in such circumstances. Therefore it would make sense that the Prince would receive a courtesy call of sorts from the security forces, telling him to cease what he was doing – whereby it would give him a chance to abide by such a request, before further action is taken against him. On a side note, the request itself might also have a deeper meaning or purpose: a veiled threat that was made to sound dignified to public ears, but in actual fact functioned more as a command – and perhaps a precursor to more drastic actions to be taken in the future, should the Prince not comply.

The second thing I inferred from the statement was he possibly had been arrested, but that the security forces were withholding this information from the public temporarily – at the very least until the investigations had included or until a time they had deemed it best to do so. This would make sense, as if he was indeed implicated in the saga, this would be an embarrassing matter for the Hashemite royal house – which would make it likely they would try to conceal such high-profile matter from the guise of public scrutiny. It would also be understandable why they would choose to do so, considering the current pressures facing Jordanian society with the Coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. In other words, hiding this matter would ensure the stability of the country does not take another knock from such a serious situation. It would also make sense for the security forces to keep the situation from public view, as it would allow the King to deal with this rather royal issue ‘in-house’ – so as to allow the royal family privacy to deal with it.

But what the Prince himself would do next would do much to confirm his role in the saga. On the same day as the arrests, the Prince released a video, in which he tried to explain what was going on. He claimed he was under house arrest, and had been instructed to remain home and not have any contact with anyone bar his family. This seemed to contravene the idea that he had not been arrested, and that he had merely been asked to stop his harmful activities towards the state. According “to the Prince, Maj. Gen. Yousef Huneiti had told him “[he] was not allowed” to leave his residence, nor meet with or communicate with others – be it via phone, the internet or otherwise. In the video he also claimed other members of the security forces had instructed him in a similar manner – namely the Chief of Police and the Chief of Security Services. The Prince also shed light on the seditious activities he was said to have participated in: saying he had attended “meetings” that engaged in, or facilitated “criticism of the government or the king”. This personal admission confirms the Prince was by the very least passive in the saga, and at the very most an active participant in it – perhaps even having encouraged it.

He also stressed he was not part of any foreign conspiracy against the Kingdom – which could be read either one of two ways: he was either meaning to say he was not a part of any conspiracy at all, or he is neither confirming or denying he is involved, and is by the very least aware that the conspiracy is domestic in nature. Therefore, for much of the video he does not appear to incriminate himself much – rather he makes his involvement in the saga seem no more than circumstantial, and speaks more on the way he is being treated.

On the other hand, other things the Prince said in his video were odd. Notably, he denounced the Jordanian ruling system as corrupt, and said: “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance” in the country, nor [am I] for “the [endemic] corruption and […] incompetence that has been prevalent” in the Kingdom’s governance for the past 15-20 years – which he said has worsened each year. He also said “they are responsible”. Such words of the Prince can very easily be read into. Firstly, the 15 to 20 year period he speaks of roughly matches with both the amount of years his brother King Abdullah has ruler for, as well as the time that has elapsed since the title of Crown Prince was rescinded from him. Assuming that is true, this suggests the Prince has a grievance with the King – which makes sense when you consider that the Prince denounced the ruling system as corrupt, and held “they” as responsible. Whilst he did not offer clarification for “they,” it is quite possible the “they” he is referring to is King Abdullah II, or perhaps the establishment – specifically the government and the security services or state institutions.

Something else the Prince also said corroborates the above theory. In the video he referred to the others who were arrested in the saga as “[his] friends”. Putting this into the context of who we know to be caught up in the conspiracy, we know it was some in the royal court, along with tribal leaders and members of the security establishment. The fact such people had been arrested for sedition said involved parties, like the Prince, had grown tired of the institutions that they held high positions in. This would make sense – especially since the Prince had in the video said he had participated in meetings with said people espousing views that were critical of the government and the king.

Moving on, on 4 April, Jordanian media responded to the situation. The national newspaper of Jordan, Al-Rai released a statement warning that any attempts to harm the Kingdom’s “security and stability” are what they call a ‘red line’ – which they said “must not be crossed or even approached”. The paper also claimed some parties were “trying to create the illusion of an attempted coup,” trying to implicate Prince Hamzah in what it termed “sick fantasies”. This statement was very telling. First and foremost, it spoke to the gravity of the situation: that a party or various parties had gone beyond the bounds of the law. Secondly, it seemed to place the Prince at the centre of things, albeit deflecting the attention away from the Prince and painting a picture that he was not the guilty party in this situation. Instead, the Prince was portrayed as a victim, being used as a tool by opportunists who sought to use him to project the image of a coup – so as to make Jordan appear unstable. Use of the phrase “sick fantasies” in particular suggests the parties involved in the conspiracy were either using the Prince to further their own agenda (to take over Jordan), or they did so in order to blame him for their own transgressions against the state.

Meanwhile, pro-government newspaper Addustour had chosen not to publish an editorial on the arrests, but carried official statements (presumably from the government and the royal court), and reported that “moves to target Jordan’s security” had been “thwarted” by the Jordanian security services. Further, an independent daily newspaper, Al-Ghad, wrote about the global solidarity expressed with the Kingdom’s actions to safeguard its security. At a glance, the press response to the situation seems very measured – seemingly orchestrated to achieve the desired effect. This hypothesis was supported when it was revealed on 6 April that Jordan’s Public Prosecutor acted to ban outright the publishing of information pertaining to Prince Hamzah’s situation by all media and social media – so as to “preserve the confidentiality of the ongoing investigation”. The ban included all audio and visual media, and was set to be in effect until “another decision is made”.

With regards to the information ban itself, that quick decision to formally ban the publishing of information relating to Prince Hamzah’s situation seems somewhat reactive to what Prince Hamzah did in releasing the video. Thus in that regard, the decision seems to be a means of preventing the Prince from getting his views out there, and preventing him from garnering sympathy from the public and across the globe. This theory is supported by the words of Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi – who publicly made a speech in which he denied what Prince Hamzah had claimed in his video, dismissing the stunt as the Prince’s attempt to distort facts and invite local and foreign empathy for his cause.

However, the information ban can also be seen as active as opposed to reactive – by this, I mean the ban was planned before the video was released, so as to allow the state to control the narrative. This theory is plausible, as by observation, the ban was perfectly timed to give the Jordanian press enough time to flip the narrative to one that does not make the royal family (Prince Hamzah) look bad. It also allowed the Jordanian government enough time to get the media to portray Jordan as strong and resilient – reporting that Jordanian security forces had “thwarted” the sedition plot, and that it had the backing of foreign nations. Therefore, this controlling the narrative ensured the involved parties responsible for the conspiracy, and perhaps the Prince himself did not get air time were prevented from having a platform. Moreover, controlling the narrative in turn allowed Jordan to safeguard its stability and security from the damage of those seeking to overthrow it.

Aside from the information ban, another development would occur on 6 April. An audio recording of a heated exchange between the Prince and the Army Chief was leaked across social media. The authenticity of the recording was not yet to be verified, however the Prince’s voice was recognisable and matched with the other recording he himself made. Summarising the recording, its contents are were in line with the Prince’s claim that he was placed under house arrest and had been told to remain at home and not contact anybody. On the recording, Huneiti is heard saying: “I’m asking his royal highness starting from today to stop attending these events, stop meeting with these people… and stick to family visits, and that there be no tweets”. To paraphrase the Prince’s response to the Army Chief, he angrily rejected those commands – at one point saying: “You come to me, telling me what to do and what not to do… in my country. You’re coming to threaten me… What is this?” Then he went on to say: “I am a free Jordanian, the son of my father (King Hussein). I have the right to mix with my people, people of my country, and to serve my country, as I promised him and swore to him when he was on his deathbed.”

The entire exchange was very interesting, as it reveals much about the Prince’s character and how he sees himself in relation to Jordan. The Prince seems passionate about being a member of the Jordanian royal family, and speaks much about his royal duties. Specifically invoking his father and his own promise “to serve [his] country, as [he] swore to [his father] on his deathbed” was an especially telling statement. This is because it seemed to indicate the loyalty that he had to his father as monarch, but not necessarily to his brother’s role as monarch. Additionally, his promise “to serve [his] country” was tied up in his duties as former Crown Prince of Jordan. In other words, his words here seemingly refer to him serving his country as Crown Prince – something that he is no longer. This perhaps suggests a deep-seated bitterness for no longer holding this position – especially seeing as he no longer has the capacity to serve his country in the way his father envisioned for him. Serving his country could also be something that could account for the Prince’s role in the saga: assuming he did involve himself in sedition against the Jordanian state, perhaps his cause was in his mind a noble one: a quest for him to take back a position in the royal family that he perceived as being rightfully his. Assuming this was true, the Prince might have wanted to do this in order to have the opportunity to serve as a benevolent king, for the good of Jordan.

On the other hand, his attitude in the video could be interpreted as narcissism and entitlement. For instance, the Prince’s words to the Army Chief were: “You come to me, telling me what to do and what not to do… in my country. You’re coming to threaten me… What is this?” Such words are reminiscent of a “do you not know who I am…I am [so and so]” attitude, suggesting an air of superiority – call it being spoiled or bratty. In short, the Prince might himself have shown a different side to him in the recording: that he thought of himself as untouchable, and beyond the grip of the law in his country. This attitude could perhaps explain any decision to break said law – such as engaging in a conspiracy – as feeling entitled, he might have thought he had the power to act with impunity because he was a royal. This theory is credible, as in reality his elevated status reigns true – as in other words, him being a prince and no less the brother of the king seems to be the only thing that saved him from being detained and thrown into prison like the other involved parties. This is something I will revisit towards the end of this article.

Returning to the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech, what was also interesting is that he appeared hostile to the Prince – going as far as to publicly denounce his actions as having been directed towards harming the security of the Kingdom. This revelation is the first time the Prince had publicly been accused by the establishment as having engaged in sedition. Unlike the previous times the Prince was mentioned by a high-ranking figure or the media, this time the Prince was said to be guilty. This perhaps could be interpreted as a means of flipping the narrative (the Prince’s narrative: that those the people governing Jordan were to blame) and centring it on the Prince (as the guilty one).

Further, Safadi added that the investigations carried out revealed the Prince had planned to target the nation’s security. This claim was almost the proverbial nail in the coffin, as it used the weight of the law (the investigation) to demonstrate the Prince’s guilt. Further, looking deeper into what Safadi said the investigation revealed, his claim that Jordanian authorities had intercepted communications between the Prince and foreign entities was a massive revelation, as it provided clear-cut evidence to say the Prince was actively engaged in sedition, as opposed to his passive claim. Additionally, the issue of intercepted communications did much to legitimise the security service’s decision to cut the Prince’s communications – offering context as to why they prince had had his communications cut, and in turn reassuring the public that the security services had only subjected the Prince to such treatment in order to safeguard the security of the nation (as opposed to merely being antagonistic to the Prince).

Going back before the information ban and the leaked audio, on 5 April King Abdullah II authorised his uncle, Prince El Hassan bin Talal to deal with the situation regarding Prince Hamzah. From this action can two things can be inferred. The first inference is that this is the way the King recuses himself from his closeness to the situation. In other words, giving it to his uncle to deal with allows him to remain objective, and protect his impartial image – for the good of his family and also the good of the Kingdom of Jordan. The second thing I inferred from this action was that the King had done this in order to keep the issue in-house – leaving it to a wise, senior royal to deal with.

On the same day, Prince Hamzah wrote and signed a letter to King Abdullah II, saying: “I place myself in the hands of the King, stressing that I will remain committed to the constitution of Jordan, and I will always be of help and support to his majesty the King and his Crown Prince”. He also said in the letter: “The interests of the homeland must remain above every consideration, we must all stand behind the King in his efforts to protect Jordan and its national interests”. Such words only indicated to me one thing: this is the Prince’s way of proverbially bending the knee. In other words, this letter is something he was forced to say in order to prevent him going to prison. The later point would be found true when Jordanian legislators on 12 April revealed Prince Hamzah would not be facing trial.

This proverbial bending of the knee also appeared to be a very quick and formal way of getting the royal family appear as a united front. As the royal family is not an ordinary family in Jordanian society and can be seen as the lifeblood of the nation, the Hashemite family projecting itself to the public as united and free from infighting is necessary for maintaining the stability of Jordan. Therefore it would make sense that the royal house would require the King to make public reconciliation.

The above view has been supported by events the followed, as King Abdullah II himself publicised on 7 April gave a statement announcing to Jordan and the world that his brother Prince Hamzah had now committed himself to putting Jordanian interests and laws above any other considerations. With regards to how the royal court would be dealing with things going forward, he added that he had decided to deal with the saga within the Hashemite family – again, officially announcing he had tasked entrusted his uncle, Prince El Hassan bin Talal with doing so. With regards to the unified royal front, the royal family personified this through a public show of unity – when the King and Prince Hamzah made their first joint appearance since the saga unfolded, attending a wreath laying ceremony with other members of the royal family at the memorial in Raghdan palace.

After this apparent resolution to the issue within the royal court, the rest of Jordanian society proceeded with the trial of the other non-royal parties involved in it. This helped to shift away from the Prince’s role, and also gave the royal family the privacy they needed to deal with the Prince. How they will deal with him is unclear, but judging by King Abdullah II’s claim that the Prince was “with his family in his palace under [the King’s] care,” I would presume he is still being watched very closely by the King and the court, in case he ever tries a stunt like this again. Although, if I am being rash, I would say it would not be far-fetched to theorise he is currently under house arrest there – much like before, but this time without any possibility of leaked videos to the press.

On 14 April a trial was announced as soon as it began for the remaining parties to the sedition saga – with Jordan’s State Security Court tasked with the responsibility of carrying it out. The court has a limited jurisdiction over five areas: high treason, espionage, drug trafficking, counterfeiting money, and terrorism. It is unclear which area the alleged sedition conspiracy falls under – quite possibly multiple areas. Meanwhile, on 18 April the court revealed that 18 people have been arrested so far, accused of trying to destabilise Jordan. It was also announced by the Military Public Prosecution at the court that the investigations into the recent sedition saga had concluded. Such announcements appear to put an end to the sedition saga, but in truth it seems more plausible that this is only an end to most public matters – rather what is done behind closed doors is yet to be seen. It is quite possible that the matter will be revisited in the next few weeks or months, or more plausibly next year – once the country has recovered from its current health and economic crises.

There is however still the matter of the arrested parties: on 22 April 16 of the 18 had been released – with the two most notable figures, Sharif Hassan Zaid and Bassem Ibrahim Awadallah remaining in custody. Giving justification for their prolonged detention, Jordan’s State Prosecutor exclaimed: “They have not been released because of their role and the level of incitement which is different than those of the other [16] accused who were set free”. In short, they are likely being made an example of, so as to deter any future action.

GRU in E. Europe

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GRU acts with impunity in Easter Europe because Russia’s secret organizations are not secret anymore, it seems they don’t care. What has become clear is that to expect the Kremlin or its secret services to be embarrassed when they are unmasked is to miscalculate greatly.

Security Services in Bulgaria and Czech Republic are connecting the dots to a string of sabotage activities and assassinates, dating back since 2011. This month Bulgarian prosecutors stated that they are looking at whether four explosions at weapons depots over the past decade are part of a Russian effort to disrupt the flow of arms from Eastern Europe to battlefields in Ukraine and Georgia. The investigations into the explosions, which took place between 2011 and 2020, are part of wider probes in Europe linked to suspected Russian military intelligence agents.

Bulgaria’s announcement followed claims by Czech authorities last week that they suspect two agents from Unit 29155 in Russia’s GRU intelligence agency were linked to blasts at an arms warehouse in the Czech Republic in 2014. The agents they named were the same suspects as those British authorities linked to the 2018 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018 in Salisbury, Britain. Both Czech and Bulgarian authorities have linked consignments of arms in the targeted warehouses to the Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who survived a 2015 poisoning in which Bulgaria had initially charged three Russian agents. Two other Bulgarians, including Gebrev’s son, were hospitalised after presenting symptoms consistent with Novichok poisoning. Prosecutors are pointing to his arms deals at a time when Russia had interests in preventing weapons flowing to its adversaries in Europe. At the time Gebrev was poisoned, Russia was in the thick of its war with Ukraine. Therefore, on April 17, Prague announced that 18 diplomats would be expelled over the scandal, and Moscow retaliated by expelling 20. Saying the retaliation was stronger than expected, Prague then announced that it would expel dozens more Russian diplomats to bring the staffing at both embassies in line. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania have all expelled diplomats in an expression of solidarity with Prague, with Russia announcing more expulsions in return. Also relevant is this month counterintelligence operation in Sofia were 8 of its security services officers were arrested after they were caught spying for the Russians.

When Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012, his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was determined to get the GRU back on its feet. For that, the GRU needed more people, but where to get these new people from? The only source of recruits available was the special forces. These were tough guys, brutal, brave and ready to kill, but by no means intelligence operatives. It was these kinds of operatives who were assigned to the operation in Easter Europe, and they changed the modus operandi of Russian intelligence. They get caught red-handed, but they are not afraid of that, and that provided the Kremlin with a sort of protection from the new world of transparency.

Unlike traditional spies, this lot are not afraid of being exposed, or expelled from the country. They have no diplomatic positions in an embassy to fear losing. They don’t ask questions about the operation because they live in a world with no difference between war and peace, so no questions about collateral damage either. The training for this kind of operative is cheap, and the supply of potential recruits plentiful.  Putin, an intelligence officer by training, understands this well. Besides, if you are dealing with a country already accused of so many things, from downing a civilian plane to invading a neighbouring country, another accusation won’t change much and could have a liberating effect.

The accusations might be even used for internal purposes to paint the country as a besieged fortress facing an incessant information offensive from hostile foreign powers. Thus, the GRU has come full circle since the Soviet times. Despite moving into ultra-modern headquarters fully equipped with a helipad, the GRU remains staffed by people who view the world through a 1950s lens and indulge a Stalinist appetite for liquidating traitors.

 

Public Outrage and Crime across Lebanon

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Lebanon is currently experiencing a multilayer crisis economically, politically, and socially, with a paralyzed government and institutions in disarray, which has intensified public frustration, effectively transforming the country into a fertile ground for criminal activity. Crime incidents have spiked considerably during the 2020-2021 period, as organized groups take advantage of this pervading insecurity across the nation and as some locals resort to crime in order to secure their basic needs. The failing economy has also resulted in a series of protests, which hit a record in March 2021, against a flawed political system that fails to meet its peoples’ needs, dragging them into excessive poverty instead. The political leadership, which is largely viewed as incompetent in coming up with a rescue plan, now finds itself under increasing pressure to prevent the country from total collapse.

Political instability and security concerns in Lebanon have been a reality for many decades now, but mass anti-government demonstrations have been taking place periodically, since October 17, 2019, when the government announced a slew of new taxes, which further worsened economic stability. Eighteen months later, the economic conditions in the country are only deteriorating, affecting the citizens who cannot afford goods and services. Currently, some basic commodities, such as fuel, medicines and food are subsidised but the Central Bank has repeatedly warned that supplies may become increasingly scarce in the short-run. Along with the deteriorating economy, the value of the Lebanese Pound has recently fallen rapidly against the US Dollar. On 2nd of March, the Lebanese currency hit a record low, reaching about 10,000 pounds against the dollar on the black market, leading to a sharp increase in prices. This is better illustrated by the fact that according to the World Food Program, since May 2020 the price of subsidised bread has risen by 91.5%, while the price of a basket of key survival items such as rice, pasta and cooking oil has almost tripled since October 2019. The latest drop was logged two weeks later, with the currency trading in the black market at 15,000 Lebanese pounds to the U.S dollar, which demonstrates a devaluation of national currency of more than 20% within two weeks. Overall, the national currency has lost around 90% of its value against the U.S dollar, while inflation has driven some 55% of the population below the poverty line, the country has defaulted on its debts, and banks have locked most depositors out of their savings. A recent report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Hunger Hotspots, clearly stated that a background of food price increases and the lack of economic growth and rising unemployment, civil unrest and violent clashes are likely to become more frequent. In addition to that, the free-fall of the Lebanese currency has led to delays in the arrival of fuel shipments, leading to more extended power cuts around the country, in some areas reaching more than 12 hours a day.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that demonstrations in Lebanon throughout March could be better described as a commonplace. Being fed up with all the dire straits they have been experiencing over the last months, protesters pour into the streets across Lebanon more and more often, demanding an end to the economic crisis that has prevailed for more than a year and a half of political paralysis. The riots are centredmainly on Beirut and Tripoli, particularly outside governmental buildings, but have also occurred at various locations across the country, such as in the Beqaa Valley and Saida. Αs an expression of their outrage, people blocked many major roads with burning tires, torched garbage bins in many Lebanese cities, and carried banners demanding housing services, education and healthcare services. Violent confrontations were frequently reported during these incidents between protesters and security forces, often resulting in injuries from both sides. However, not even under these severe circumstances, did political parties managed to agree on a national rescue plan and form a government, putting their demands aside on Lebanese people’s account. President Michael Aoun, representing Christians, and the caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, representing the Sunni, are the main rivals in this political deadlock, accusing one another for acting deliberately, without taking into account the nation’s welfare. Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim party, traditionally an ally of Aoun, has repeatedly urged cabinet formation in order for reforms to be implemented and foreign aid to be unlocked.

The ongoing crisis has fueled insecurity across the country, offering criminality the chance to flourish. A crime spike has emerged in Lebanon and the primary cause is the country’s ongoing political and socio-economic crisis. Taking advantage of this turmoil, organized gangs carry out armed robberies, burglaries, and thefts. Car theft gangs, in particular, are prevalent and have increased by nearly 50% in recent months. Due to the lack of confidence in the banking sector, a considerable portion of Lebanese have opted for storing money in their homes, which is why criminals are increasingly targeting people’s houses. Desperate people resorting to crime, constituted another case in Lebanon, which could become widespread, if the current crisis is not effectively handled. Desperation might force someone to commit a crime in order to find some food, rather than opportunistic criminal activity. Meanwhile, being overburdened with tackling anti-government unrest and enforcing various Covid-19 restrictions, Lebanese security forces have been drained and unable to fulfil their duties. Data collected from the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and other authoritative sources indicate that theft crimes increased by 144% during January and February 2021 compared to the same period last year, while homicides have also increased sharply by 45.5% during the same period. Therefore, the landscape seems to have become quite insecure for Lebanese, mainly in large cities such as Beirut and Tripoli. It is remarkable that despite the Covid-10 pandemic and the consequent restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus across the country, crime scenes are not decreasing, compared to last year, when the outbreak of the pandemic in April played a significant role in the decline of crime. Experts also confirmed that robbery of shops and pharmacies has become more common in recent months, since the value of robbing pharmacies today is extremely high and their security levels are low.

That being said, it becomes apparent that the freefalling economy of Lebanon is a primary driver behind the sudden spike in crime, since early 2020. Citizens have long been fighting with dire economic conditions and a caretaker government, which has failed to provide the essentials to its people. Although the population has expressed its outrage through demonstrations, damages and daily confrontations with security forces, no significant changes have been made, pushing Lebanon to the edge. In addition to that, criminal gangs have taken advantage of this crisis, increasing insecurity even more. Consequently, as long as economic crisis deepens and as the various political figures do not allow the formation of a fully empowered government, it is highly likely that crime rates will be higher in the future and social cohesion will be further eroded, posing a serious threat of a civil conflict.

The Mozambican Crisis and the Issue of Foreign Intervention

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An armed group named regionally as al-Shaabab attacked Palma on 24 March in what appeared to be a coordinated assault from several directions. According to the Human Rights Watch, attackers shot people in their homes and on the streets indiscriminately. Witnesses reported seeing bodies in the streets, some of which had been beheaded.

Since October 2017, attacks by the armed group have increased significantly in the Cabo Delgado province. They are thought to be affiliated with the Islamic State and are a separate organisation from the Somali Al Shabaab. Little is known about the group, but it is believed that  figures from Tanzania and Mozambique are likely to be at the helm of the insurgency. The US claims to have “assessed with a high degree of confidence” that the group is led by a single person, Abu Yasir Hassan (a Tanzanian national). Before the conflict, a religious figure by that name had lived in Cabo Delgado, however, Tanzanian police say he is dead. The origin of the conflict is thought to be linked to a local community that hasn’t reaped the benefits of the region’s natural resource boom, local elite feuds, and drug trafficking, as well as the ISIL links.

Palma is a northern town at the heart of Mozambique’s vast oil and natural gas prospects and a key port in the province of Cabo Delgado in north-eastern Mozambique, near Tanzania. Cabo Delgado’s value to the government, as well as a source of local resentment, stems from the rich offshore natural gas reserves being explored in partnership with multinational energy firms.

While the province has long been unstable, an insurgency led by Islamist militants exacerbated the instability. The fighters have pillaged towns and taken hold of major highways. They have kidnapped and beheaded people, including young women and children. They demolished infrastructure and have extended their sphere of influence into Tanzania to the north. They have had possession of the important Mozambican port town of Mocímboa da Praia since August 2020. Cumulatively, the group has killed 2,500 people and displaced nearly 700,000 people.

In the first week of this current conflict, and according to the Mozambican government, hundreds of civilians were killed in an assault, including seven people whose convoy of vehicles was attacked as they tried to escape. The government stated that the Palma attack also killed many foreigners, but that the town was reclaimed in the second week of March after a “significant” amount of insurgents were killed.

Mozambican news sources have reported that many residents fled the violence by escaping into the thick tropical forests that surrounded the area. However, hundreds of foreign workers from South Africa, the United Kingdom, and France gathered at hotels that were easily targeted by the rebels. Specifically at the Hotel Amarula, it is estimated that there were 200 foreign workers. According to local sources, a number of them in vehicles rode together on 27 March [Saturday] to try to reach the beach, where they hoped to reach safety and be rescued, however their convoy came under heavy fire from the militants.

This attack presented further challenges for the French energy giant Total, as Palma is close to the multibillion-dollar Afungi gas project, in which the company is investing. Palma is inside the 25-kilometer security zone set up to secure the project. Total had just announced that it was resuming operations after an insurgent assault in January, and had just announced that it was resuming operations when the attack on Palma occurred. Afungi remains untouched and well-protected by government forces. The government units tasked with protecting Afungi are well-equipped and receive additional training, which includes the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights initiative.

Foreign Intervention.

The takeover in Palma prompted international – and especially regional – pressure to put an end to the violence. The new dramatic offensive has shone a harsh light on al-Shabaab’s violent tactics, prompting Mozambique’s government to appeal to the international community for help in combating the extremist group’s insurgency.

The assault on Palma demonstrates the insurgents’ growing capabilities as well as a security failure by Mozambique’s poorly trained and equipped security forces. The government has promised to retake Palma, but how much it will depend on its own forces is uncertain.

Analysts have long expressed concern that Mozambique’s security forces are unprepared to deal with the escalating crisis. In the past, it has used mercenary helicopters to fight wars. In a sign of improved coordination, President Filipe Nyusi recently gave the army more control over policy. Soldiers, on the other hand, are often sent into combat with antiquated AK-47s and low morale.

The assault has placed significant pressure on the Mozambican government to accept support from Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Western powers. However, the Mozambican government is very protective of its sovereignty; it does not want foreign troops on the ground in the country, and it wants to maintain authority and command over all other interventions, whether military or humanitarian. Foreign intervention could exacerbate the situation, similar to international interference in other parts of the world.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said analysts also believe that the government does not want international powers to intervene in Cabo Delgado because “then all eyes will be on the scale of illicit trafficking” that occurs in the province, and a lot of other problems will come to light.

Following a special summit in Maputo on April 8, SADC, which is currently chaired by Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi, called for an urgent deployment to Mozambique. The deployment’s specifics were not available immediately. However, the change is seen as signalling a shift in what has been a sort of security stalemate between Mozambique, regional and Western governments.

Prior to the attack on Palma, the US declared a two-month training mission of US Special Operations Forces to “support Mozambique’s efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism”. Mozambique made the decision shortly after accepting training from their former colonial power, Portugal, and following an increase in Western official visits to the country in December 2020. More preparation and intelligence assistance from the US and Portugal, the former colonial force, seem to be on the cards, but this is yet to be started. Given the threat to gas projects and the possibility that the insurgency will spread beyond its borders, Mozambique has no shortage of offers.

However, it seems to be encouraging to see them agree to even this minimal training from two separate partners. It appeared to be an acknowledgment that their security forces are not up to the challenge, and that they would need some help going forward. This could just be Mozambique testing the waters, however with time it will become apparent as to how far the government is willing to go in securing foreign help.

Famine in North Korea

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This report will analyse the impacts of the Pandemic but also the President of North Korea’s actions in affecting and causing the famine in the country that we are seeing today. The past year has created isolated cities all around the world, with people in every country being affected. However, how has one of the most isolated countries in the world even before the pandemic coped? Kim Jong Un the Supreme Leader of North Korea has stated that no one has the coronavirus and has ever had it in his country. Arguably, this statement should be questioned due to the country being situated next to China, where the pandemic first took place and despite almost every country around the world being impacted by the virus. Additionally, the North Korea leader isn’t known for his honesty and reliability. In fact, North Korea seems to be heavily impacted by the pandemic as much and if not worse than other countries.

North Korea relies heavily on imports, especially from China. This is due to the geography of the country. It is heavily mountainous meaning it doesn’t have vast spaces of land, with fertile soil. Thus, making it dependent on foreign imports. Additionally, last summer the country was hit by two major storms, which caused vast floods that damaged the few crops the country had and exacerbated the shortages. However, due to the global pandemic imports have decreased for the country due to high demand but small supplies. This has created a famine in parts of North Korea. Due to small amounts of import still coming in, the prices of commodities have sky rocketed. Some prices of items are 7 times higher than what they were in October 2020. An example is sugar. For the majority of North Koreans, the supply is so low that even if they do manage to find products they need, a lot of the time they are too expensive for them to buy. However, it is not just supply and demand because North Korea has rejected and continues to reject aid from the international community and many of its external aids within the country have been forced to leave and quit. In fact reports suggest that North Korea restricted imports of staple foods from China from as long ago as last August and then cut off all trade, including food and medicine in October.

It is a dire situation and on 8 April, Kim warned the party conference that the citizens should prepare for hard times ahead and warns of a famine similar to the 1990’s, which left millions dead. The previous famine was due to the fall of the Soviet Union and experts believe around 3 million people died.  “It is not unusual for Kim Jong-un to talk about difficulties and hardship but this time the language is quite stark and that’s different,” Colin Zwirko, North Korea analyst at NK News, told the BBC. “Last October for instance, he gave a speech where he said that he himself failed to bring about enough changes. But mentioning explicitly that he’s decided to carry out a new Arduous March is not something he has said before.”

The warnings of the crisis have been apparent for months now. A month ago, the UN warned of a “serious food crisis” in the country, that had already caused malnourishment and starvation. Additionally, there have been countless incidences of hardship at the Chinese border where food smuggling has been recorded. However, Kim has upped the punishments of smuggling describing it as “anti-socialist” and “enemy” behavior. Despite this the smuggling of food and resources across the border is still occurring due to the North Koreans being desperate.

Kim Jong Un has been very provocative in recent years with his nuclear weapons. Just last month the Supreme Leader fired two short range missiles, which both South Korea and Japan felt. This has increased tensions between the countries, the US, and the UN. Kim Jong Un’s pride needs to be put aside and accept international aid if he wants to protect his country and people from both the pandemic and famine. However, the North Korean leader could currently pin more of the blame of the country’s economic dire state on the Covid-19 pandemic and the strict economic sanctions designed by the UN to curb his nuclear weapons programme. This could be used as an example to the North Koreans as an excuse for his non diplomatic actions. However of course both of these actions play a part in the country’s suffering, but it still doesn’t excuse North Korea’s provocative stance in recent years and months with nuclear weapons and why Kim has rejected international aid and trade. In fact, last year trade with China dropped 80%, despite its reliability. Overall, Kim needs to take a more diplomatic stance with the international community in order to receive aid and support for the people of his country.