MENA Security Update (13 February 2013)February 13, 2013 in MENA
On 8 February, the Algerian army arrested two AQIM would-be suicide bombers in Tinzouatine. The individuals, a Malian and an Algerian, carried explosive belts and automatic weapons. They were arrested in the Tamanrasset province near the Mali border.
This arrest follows an attempt in the previous week by an armed terrorist group to break into military barracks in Jebel Boudoukhane, in the southern province of Khenchela. The incident unfolded as terrorists, dressed in military uniforms, set up a false checkpoint near the target, and intercepted trucks that supplied the military barracks with food. The rebels took the driver hostage and drove to the barracks, carrying machine guns and RPGs. One terrorist was killed and several soldiers were injured; the remaining attackers were hunted down by military reinforcements.
Algerian forces are raising their levels of vigilance, as analysts believe that Algerian and Tunisian radical groups are sharing experiences and will increase attempts to conduct both terrorist activities and smuggling of weapons and drugs.
Libya will close its borders with Tunisia and Egypt for five days, as a precaution on the two-year anniversary of the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan stated, “As of midnight on February 14th until the 18th, no one will be allowed to cross the Libyan borders between Egypt or Tunis as a security precaution.” The government has ruled out official celebrations for the 15th.
Many Libyans, particularly in the east, are likely to take to the streets to protest the government’s inability to provide reforms, including security measures to disarm militias, or the completion of a new constitution.
Lufthansa and Austrian airlines have suspended services until after 17 February, citing “tensions on the ground”. International organizations, including the UN and Western embassies, will also be on lockdown beginning 14 February. Many foreign nationals have left the country in advance of the anniversary.
Security in Tripoli and Benghazi has been tightened, including an increase in checkpoints. The UK FCO has not changed travel advice, but urges against all travel to the country, particularly in light of anticipated demonstrations between 15 and 17 February.
Tunisia has experienced a deepening political crisis since last week’s killing of Shokri Belaid, a leftist lawyer and outspoken opposition leader. The murder in broad daylight, which has not been seen since Tunisian colonial times, highlighted concerns over a largely unreformed police force and justice system.
Prime Minister Jebali delivered an emergency proposal to completely dissolve government and replace politicians with a non-political caretaker government in order to calm the unrest. The caretaker government would remain in place until elections could be held. The proposal sparked tensions within his own Ennahda party. Jebali has scaled back his proposals, which will be announced this week. If rejected, Jebali intends to resign.
One of the two secular parties in the coalition, Congress for the republic (CPR), is also opposed to Jebali’s proposal, fearing it will allow the return of figures from the former regime. Tunisian President Marzouki, who had also threatened to resign, has decided his CPR will remain involved in the transitional, Islamist-led government for an additional week. This announcement is a reversal on his threats to quit if two Islamist ministers were not replaced. CPR Secretary-General Mohamed Abbou stated, “The party has decided to freeze the resignations of its ministers for a week for more discussions on a coalition government.”
On Friday, tens of thousands of Tunisians took to the street for Belaid’s funeral, accusing the ruling Ennahda party of lax security measures in the face of increasing violence. The next day, thousands attended a pro-government rally in support of the current coalition.
UK FCO has issued no travel advice warnings.
In a rare move, hundreds of police officers held a protest on Tuesday, demanding that they not be used as a political tool of oppression by the reigning Muslim Brotherhood Party. Officers in at least 10 Egyptian provinces rallied around security officers, some carrying signs saying “we are innocent of the blood of martyrs.”
This uncommon protest by the police comes on the heels of increased police brutality during the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, which saw “old regime” tactics being used against protesters. On Monday, the second anniversary of the overthrow of Mubarak, police clashed with demonstrators in front of Ettihadiya Palace in Cairo, using water cannons and teargas to repel the protesters. The clashes have been smaller and less violent than in previous weeks.
Many protesters feel that President Muhammed Morsi is reverting to the tactics of force used by the Mubarak regime. Protesters also feel that the ruling party is using religious means to increase their control over the nation.
To underscore this, an Egyptian court banned YouTube in Egypt for one month due to the site’s continued hosting of an Anti-Islamic film which caused deadly protests throughout the Muslim world last September. Because the ban is both delayed and disproportional to the amount of unrest it caused in Egypt, human rights activists perceive it as a religious pretext for imposing restrictions and preventing free expression.
In addition, the nation was stirred last week by religious fatwas issued by hard-line Muslim clerics urging the assassination of opposition members. The ruling party has condemned these actions; Egyptian Interior Minister has issued an order for police to deploy additional security to the homes of opposition members. However, extreme actions such as the decree of a fatwa are unusual in Egypt, and are perceived to be in direct connection with the ruling party. The opposition party has since demanded that Morsi be put on trial over the deaths of 60 anti-government demonstrators in the past weeks; the public prosecutor claims there is no evidence to link Morsi with the deaths.