Speaking at a meeting in London, Libya’s former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issued an alarming message that Libya could become “the next crucible of global terrorism.” He strongly urged Libya’s allies to assist the country from falling into collapse. Zeidan stated, “Libya could be a base for al-Qaeda for any operation to Italy, to Britain, to France, to Spain, to Morocco, to everywhere. Weapons are everywhere, ammunition is everywhere.” Zeidan urged Britain to increase its support to help to train Libyan security forces and to assist with economic and political reforms.
Libya’s engagement in the Arab Spring of 2011 took the form of a civil war which ultimately saw the death of Dictator Muammar Gadhafi and the end of his regime. However, despite the end of autocratic rule, the nation has remained in turmoil. Weaponry looted from the regime, valued in the millions of dollars, remains prolific on the black market and in the hands of tribal militias and Islamic extremist groups. Factions have seized Libya’s oil assets and land in the eastern part of the nation, threatening to form an autonomous nation. The Libyan government had been reluctant to launch offensives against the militias and extremist groups for fear that those same groups would exploit the added chaos.
Zeidan’s warning is dire: Libya has become ungovernable, and requires a UN peacekeeping force to prevent al-Qaeda or inspired derivatives from gaining a stronghold in the region. The northern part of the nation extends into the Mediterranean Sea, making it a gateway for illegal immigrants or dangerous individuals to access Europe.
The former prime minister added that Libya’s General National Congress is no longer legitimate, and feels that and new elections should be held to bring in a new interim authority. However, he remains sympathetic to the role he left: “Do you think it is a privilege to be prime minister of Libya at this time? It is some kind of suffering. What it has cost me in terms of my nerves and my health over these 15 months, it was unbelievable.
Zeidan served as prime minister for 15 months, during which he was kidnapped and held by a rebel faction. In March, he was ousted from Libya’s parliament in a vote of no confidence following escalating chaos culminating the government’s inability to prevent rebels in the east from attempting to illegally export Libyan oil. Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, approximately 47 billion barrels. Currently, several ports in the east are in the hands of rebel factions.
Zeidan has since fled to Germany, where he had lived previously while in opposition against Gadhafi. However he is preparing to return to Libya in the near future, with intentions to restore stability to his nation.
Simultaneously, the Libyan government has also called for help and declared a “War on Terror”. A statement released on 25 March by the Council of Ministers states, “Libya’s interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism […] the government confirms that it wants this war on terror to start as soon as possible.”
The statement continues, “The nation is now confronting terrorist groups which requires making security and military resources available to fight such epidemic and bring peace and security to our cities […] the interim government asks the world community, especially the United Nations to provide the needed support in order to eradicate terrorism from Libyan cities.
The statement marks the first time in Libyan history that the government has called for outside help to fight terrorists on Libyan soil. The call for help comes after a wave of bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte. In Benghazi, killings or injuries through shooting or car bombs, have occurred on a near daily basis. Opposition to the declaration of war on terrorism has already emerged, particularly amongst Islamist supporters in the nation, who feel they will be targeted for their political leanings.
On 28 March, Tarek Mitri, Chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) visited Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, to officially request help. Mitri spoke with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Ennahda Party head Rachid Ghannouchi. Reportedly, Mitri asked the Tunisian government, which is on the road to recovery following their 2010 uprising, to share experiences regarding democratic transition and national dialogue.
Echoing the distress, a video has been released of Saddi Gadhafi, son of the former dictator. Saadi, who fled to Niger during the revolution, was extradited to Libya earlier this year. He is accused of trying to suppress the uprising against his father’s rule.
In the video, he says, “I apologise to the Libyan people, and I apologise to the dear brothers in the Libyan government for all the harm I’ve caused and for disturbing the security and stability of Libya. I admit that these things were wrong, and we should not have perpetrated these acts.” He also called on “those who carry weapons to hand over their weapons”. Saadi’s brother, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, remains in the hands of rebels in Zintan, where he was captured in November 2011.
There is no official word yet from the UK or the UN regarding support for action in Libya.
Yemen began the process of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in March to address the issues that have divided the nation in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The dialogue brings together 565 representatives from various groups across Yemen. Each delegate’s votes and ideas are meant to carry equal weight, regardless of age, gender, background, or social status. By autumn, participants will detail a list of grievances, and suggestions for reform. The group will work together to develop conceptual ideas for a new constitution and system of governance. Of the many nations that have undergone a version of the Arab Spring, Yemen is the only country to enact such a dialogue. However, the NDC has been accused of being Utopian in its endeavours, as Yemen is facing deep issues that stem from decades long grievances. In order for it to be effective, the National Dialogue needs to address several dissimilar issues, and unite them into the definitive goal.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, due to a combination of factors including: declining oil resources, crippled economy due to political climate, and the lack of potable water for livestock and agriculture. Yemen’s economy is dependent on foreign aid and remittance from Yemenis who are employed in other parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The majority of the nation survives on under $2 USD per day.
A report released in July by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 5 million Yemenis, over one fifth of the population, are suffering from severe hunger and an additional 5 million don’t have sufficient access to food. More than half of Yemen’s population does not have access to clean water and sanitation, and 6 million lack access to basic health care, including life-saving reproductive health services
According to a prominent Yemeni newspaper, Al-Thawra, nearly 80 percent of conflicts in Yemen’s rural regions are water-related. Water- and land-related disputes result in about 4,000 deaths nationwide each year. An estimated 13.1 million Yemenis do not have access to proper drinking water.
Decaying dams cause the loss of precious water, and wells for groundwater are contaminated by sewage. In 2011, water consumption from the Sana’a Basin was five times more than the natural rate of recharge. It is estimated that in a little more than 10 years, Sana’a will be the world’s first capital to run out of water. Yemeni officials have considered relocating the capital to the coast, or enacting desalination and conservation projects, and siphoning water from other source, but each option either delays the inevitable, or brings its own set of problems.
Further complicating the water crisis is the national addiction to qat (or khat). Qat, a narcotic and a mild stimulant, comes from a flowering plant which is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is a natural appetite suppressant, often chewed in place of meals. Due to its shelf life of only 48 hours, qat was not readily available on the market in Yemen until the 1970s when better roads were created which eased transport of the crop. Today, it features prominently in Yemeni culture. According to the World Health Organization, up to 90 percent of adult men in Yemen chew qat for three to four hours each day.
However, qat cultivation is extremely water-intensive, drawing as much as 40% of the water from the Sana’a Basin. Currently, qat production is also expanding at a rate of 12% per year, displacing vital crops and sending food prices soaring.
Yemen’s economic concerns existed at the outset of unification, as both parts of Yemen had underdeveloped economies. In the north, severe droughts had long-lasting damaging effects on the agricultural sector, particularly coffee crops— the nation’s main import. Shortly after uniting, and due Yemen’s support of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, nearly a million Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia, cutting remittance that the nation relied heavily on. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also drastically reduced economic aid.
Today, Yemen’s economy remains weak. The nation’s employment rate is roughly 35%, and a population boom with a growing youth sector searching for work continues to have detrimental impact on the economy. GDP has been declining at a rate of 10% per year since 2011. Yemen has also dealt with rapid inflation rates; in 1990, $1 US was equal to 11.70 Yemeni Rial. Today, one dollar equals 214.90 Yemeni Rial.
Yemen is predominantly agrarian, and suffers from dwindling natural resources. The economy depends heavily on the oil reserves in the south, but those reserves are expected to be depleted by 2017. This loss of oil could result in devastating economic collapse.
Apart from natural resources and economic weakness, the National Dialogue must also deal with a country divided. At the outset, representatives from South Yemen chose to abstain from attending the dialogue, as it does not address the secessionist movement. A delegate from the NDC was quoted as saying, “There are two Yemens: the Yemen inside the conference and the Yemen outside it.”
North and South Yemen were united in 1990. Following unification, residents in South Yemen felt economically and socially marginalised from the north. In May 1994, the country burst into a crippling civil war which would last for nearly three months, and kill 5,000 people. The North ultimately won the war, however in the aftermath, thousands of southern military and civil employees were forced into early retirement and given pensions below the sustenance level.
Residents of South Yemen continued to feel excluded from Yemeni society and governance. As the years progressed, the South Yemeni’s feeling of resentment and cultural distinction has continued to grow. In 2007, a group called the South Yemen Movement began calling for the re-establishment of an independent southern state. The South Yemen Insurgency embarked on a series of violent attacks aimed at seceding from North Yemen. In 2011, the Arab Spring became an opening for groups in the south to reassert their desire for federalism or separation.
In March, parties who advocated separating from the North announced their boycott of the NDC. Also boycotting are those who support federalism in a united Yemen. On 18 March, the opening day of the conference, a million-man demonstration took place in Aden calling for an honest dialogue. The demonstration’s motto: “The Decision Is Ours.”
TERRORISM, KIDNAPPING AND RADICALISED GROUPS
In 2006, 23 members of al-Qaeda escaped from prison in Sanaa. The group, calling themselves “al-Qaeda in Yemen” became the forerunners of the larger and more infamous terrorist organisation, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, (AQAP). The group surfaced following an announcement that Yemeni and Saudi terrorists were unifying under a common banner, and they intended to create a hug for hub for regional terrorism. AQAP soon became the most aggressive arm of al-Qaeda, and the most widely known terrorist organization in Yemen. The group is based in tribal areas outside of Sanaa, which for the most part remain largely outside the control of the Yemeni Government.
The US has been working with Yemen to fight al-Qaeda. On 28 July, a US drone strike hit two vehicles belonging to al-Qaeda militants. Six people were killed, three of whom were al-Qaeda militants. The strikes stir feelings of resentment in the Yemenis: although the US is conducting drone strikes to eradicate the terrorist group, the number of drone strikes has escalated. In 2011, the US conducted 18 strikes; in 2012 there were 53. While civilians were not targeted in the strikes, residents in the area have been killed, or had their home or land destroyed. The result is resentment toward not only the United States, but the Yemeni government, who citizens feel should prevent the strikes.
Al Qaeda-linked militants, as well as disgruntled tribesmen, have also been responsible for hundreds of kidnappings. In May, three members of the Red Cross were abducted, including a Swiss national. In June, gunmen abducted a Dutch couple, as well as two South Africans in the southern city of Taiz. On 21 July, al-Qaeda militants abducted Iranian diplomat Nour Ahmad Nikbakht in Sana’a. Hostages are sometimes taken as a bartering chip to release friends relatives, or demand improvement of public services. However, in more malicious attacks, the hostages are taken in order to make a political statement (particularly if the hostage is from the West), or demand a ransom.
The Yemeni National Dialogue has been applauded for being the first initiative to address Yemen’s needs with representatives from throughout the Yemeni diaspora. The nation has been applauded for the unique path that it has chosen to address deep-rooted issues in the hopes of developing a new constitution and preparing for elections in 2014.
It is imperative that Yemen, which is dealing with 20 hour blackouts, food and water shortages, economic instability, secessionists and terrorism, identify and address the impact that each issue subsequently has on the next. Political transition will be neither permanent nor widely accepted until the nation grapples with the humanitarian crisis. While the dialogue addresses national concerns, participants should be wary of neglecting the opinions of those who boycotted, particularly in the South lest they risk the ire of terrorist organizations or militant secessionists who anticipate being further marginalised.
However, hopes remain high within Yemen, as political figures and laypersons, for the first time, have equal footing in developing Yemen’s future.
Recruiting for Extremism – Rise of Islamic Extremism in Tunisia and Youth Recruitment for Syrian WarApril 11, 2013 in Tunisia
Fear of Extremism in Tunisia Rising
Tunisians fear a rise in Islamic militants will result in a threat to the moderate, democratic ideas that were intended in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. A weakened government, porous borders, and clashes between extremists and security forces, are causing tensions to increase in the nation.
As Malian and French-led forces battle to eliminate the Islamic extremist stronghold in Northern Mali, members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies have been searching for new locations to build power bases. Among those nations at risk are Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia. Analysts believe that Islamic extremists are exploiting the weakened government and security infrastructures resulting from the revolution, and using the frustration at the government to widen their support base. Sources estimate over 3,000 extremists currently live in Tunisia.
Over the last several months, Tunisian security forces have discovered several large arms caches and arrested dozens of suspected militants. Many of the weapons are believed to have come from Libya, and are assumed to have played a large role in the 2012 takeover of Northern Mali by AQIM and their affiliates. Tunisians fear that arms are also being stockpiled inside the country for use against the government if it continues to resist Ansar al-Sharia’s demands for Islamist rule.
Recruiting Tunisian Youths for Extremist Action in Syria
Last month, Tunisia began judicial investigations into networks which recruit Tunisian youths to fight in Syria. The Tunisian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Family reports that many teenagers disappear after networks target both male and female youths. The youths are then recruited through “intellectual and doctrinal mobilisation.” In most instances, families are unaware of their children’s departure from Tunisia until they receive a phone call informing them of the youth’s arrival in Syria.
The investigations follow demonstrations by Tunisian families who demanded that authorities put an end to the recruiting networks. For several months, media outlets have reported stories about Tunisians in Syria, indicating that thousands had gone to fight, and over 100 have reportedly been killed in the revolt against the Assad regime. Government opposition figures have accused the Ennahda-led government of knowing about the recruitment networks and hiding their identity. Ennahda leaders have denied these accusations.
Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said that the government is addressing the files of Tunisians known to be fighting in Syria, and also stated strict security measures have been implemented on the Libya/Tunisia border to prevent potential youth extremists from passing through Libya on their way Syria. Some youths are believed to travel to Libya or Turkey under the pretext of work or tourism, and then go on to Syria. However, stopping these youths is problematic; security forces could be stopping people who are legitimately travelling for work, school, or tourism, and authorities cannot legally prevent citizens from travelling. Most critically, Tunisian security forces are spread thinly, and unable to fully protect the porous border.
The greater fear is that returning extremists will return to pose a threat to Tunisia. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki states, “They must be persuaded that the real jihad in their own country is combating poverty, unemployed and ignorance.”
Tunisian Extremists Return from Syria, await Domestic “Jihad”
The first arrest in connection to Tunisian extremists returning from Syria was issued last week against Abu Zayd Al Tounsi, a militant who fought in Syria for eight months and returned to Tunisia in March. Upon his return, Al Tounsi appeared on “Attasiaa Massaa,” a programme on the Tunisian television channel Attounsiya. Al Tounsi spoke about participating in the Syrian war and killing several people, and stated that he would also participate in “jihad” in Tunisia if such a fatwa were launched. Finally, he called on Tunisian youths to join the armed uprising in Syria. Al Tounsi was arrested on 4 April, and is expected to face trial in the next few weeks on charges of incitement to terrorism.
Al Tounsi’s statements caused nationwide controversy, and the lack of official government response or action increased public outrage. Al Tounsi’s announcement underscored fears stemming from an earlier revelation by the Interior Ministry that AQIM and its affiliates intended to set up a camp just inside Tunisian border with Libya to practice jihad and impose their form of Islamic law.
In 2012, political activist Abdelkarim Ben Boubaker estimated the Salafist plan to implement the ideas of al Qaeda: “The aim was to change the societal model by a coup against the gains of the modern state, leading to the establishment of an Islamic emirate.” Former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali echoed this estimate, acknowledging that Salafist groups operate security patrols in some neighbourhoods, openly verbalising their desire to replace the state. The groups have a larger presence in neighbourhoods which suffer from poverty and marginalisation, using charity projects to gain public support. Ansar al-Sharia, for example, uses caravans to distribute goods to the needy in mountain villages and small towns. A recent study showed that in Tunisia, people between 19 and 30 years old represent about 80 per cent of the overall percentage of the Salafist movement, and in some regions up to 40% of the population are sympathetic to the movement.
U.S. and Tunisian authorities are increasingly worried. United States Army General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, declared, “It’s very clear to me that al Qaida intends to establish a presence in Tunisia.” Tunisian President Larayedh has spoken of “an inevitable confrontation.”