MENA UpdateAugust 29, 2013 in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen
Arab League to Pass Resolution on Syrian Chemical Weapons
Arab League ministers will meet in Cairo next week (September 2-3), and are expected to pass a resolution which blames Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the wide-scale chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week. A representative of the League said, “The Arab foreign ministers will affirm the full responsibility of the Syrian regime for the chemical weapons’ attack that took place in Eastern Ghouta.” The representative also indicated that the League will ask for those responsible for the attack to be taken to the International Criminal Court. The Arab League is expected to call for the UN to adopt tougher sanctions on Syria, and to urge Russia and China not to block resolutions which propose action against Assad.
Permanent representatives within the Arab League have already placed responsibility for the attack on the Assad regime. The announcements provided regional political cover in the event of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria.
Supporters of the resolution are expected to include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which both back anti-Assad rebels in Syria’s civil war. Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria are likely to oppose or abstain from any vote which condemns Syria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since November 2011.
Three Algerian troops killed in bombing
Three members of the Algerian army were killed and four injured following a bomb explosion in the Beni Milleuk Mountains in Tipaza Province. This marks the second attack in six weeks; in mid-July, four soldiers were killed after two bombs detonated in western Tipaza.
The Algerian military has been searching the region connecting Ain Defla and Tipaza provinces after receiving reports of terrorist activities in the area. Sources indicated that a terrorist group had planted a mine on a road that the army vehicles were using.
Egyptian Authorities Detain Families of Muslim Brotherhood Leaders
Within 24 hours, Egyptian authorities detained over 60 people who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), including relatives of the group’s leaders. Police have arrested the son of MB deputy Khairat el-Shater. The elder el-Shater was arrested on charges related to the killings of protesters outside the group’s headquarters in June. According to officials, el-Shater’s son, Saad, was reportedly arrested for threatening to release documents allegedly showing ties between his father and U.S. President Barack Obama. In addition, the brother-in-law of fugitive Brotherhood figurehead Mohammed el-Beltagy also was arrested. He was charged with violent protests aimed at toppling the interim government.
The crackdown on the Brotherhood intensified following the clearing of pro-Morsi protesters at Raba’a mosque in Cairo. In the ensuing unrest, over 1,000 people, including more than 100 officers were killed within a few days. As protesters turned violent, they were in turn met by neighbourhood watch groups. Authorities and local media have called the actions of the Brotherhood and their supporters “acts of terrorism.” Many among the arrested have been charged with inciting violence. While many of the MBs senior and mid-level leaders have been arrested, still others remain in hiding while encouraging protestors to ignore the protests and continue to rally against the removal of former president Morsi.
Many Egyptians suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies could be barred from politics, forced underground once again as under the Mubarak regime. However, Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said dissolving the group is not a solution, and urged against making dramatic decisions during turbulent times. Beblawi instead opts to monitor political parties rather than forcing them to operate covertly.
Meanwhile, interim president Adly Mansour issued a decree changing the nation’s military oath, removing a line that makes soldiers pledge allegiance to the presidency. Soldiers are now only required to pledge loyalty to their leadership and the country.
The security clampdown appears to have weakened the Brotherhood-led protests, which have been much smaller across the country this past week. There are planned protests Friday and calls for civil disobedience.
Coordinated bombings kill 65
A wave of bombings in the predominantly Shiite Muslim areas in and around Baghdad has killed at least 65 people and wounded many more. The blasts came in quick succession and targeted residents who were out shopping or on their way to work.
Unknown attackers deployed explosives-laden cars, suicide bombers and other bombs. They assailants struck parking lots, outdoor markets, and restaurants. In Kazimiyah, two bombs detonated in a parking lot, followed by a suicide car bomber who struck onlookers who had gathered at the scene. Ten people were killed and 27 wounded in that attack.
Car bombs went off in outdoor markets across the region. In Sadr City a car bomb was detonated, killing 5 and wounding 20. In Shula, a car bomb killed three and wounded nine; in Jisr Diyala a bomb killed eight and wounded 22; and one in New Baghdad area, killing three and wounding 12. Blasts in Bayaa, Jamila, Hurriyah and Saydiyah, resulted in 12 deaths. In Mahmoudiyah a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a restaurant, killing four and wounding 13. Finally, in Madain, a roadside bomb struck a passing military patrol, killing four soldiers and wounding six others.
In addition, seven Shiite family members killed when gunmen raided their home and shot them as they slept. Three children, ages eight to twelve, were killed along with their parents and two uncles in that attack.
It is suspected that the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda is responsible. Over 500 people have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of August.
Gadhafi Son and Chief Spy Charged
Moammar Gadhafi’s, son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, and former Gadhafi-regime Intelligence Chief Abdullah al-Senoussi have been charged with murder in relation to the country’s 2011 civil war. The trial will start on September 19 and will also include 28 former regime members who will face charges ranging from murder, forming armed groups in violation of the law, inciting rape and kidnappings.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Seif al-Islam Gadhafi with murder and persecution of civilians. If convicted in that court, Seif al-Islam could face life imprisonment. This summer, ICC judges had ruled that Libya cannot give Seif al-Islam a fair trial. However he remains held in captivity by a militia group that has refused to turn him over to the Hague. Seif al-Islam was as he attempted to flee to Niger.
In Libya, he will be tried on charges of harming state security, attempting to escape prison and insulting Libya’s new flag. Seif al-Islam wants to be tried for alleged war crimes in the Netherlands, as the ICC does not issue a death sentence. He claims that a Libyan trial would be tantamount to murder. The remaining Gadhafi family, including his mother, sister, two brothers and others, were granted asylum in Oman in 2012.
AQ Offshoot Threatens Revenge Over Chemical Weapons Attack
An al-Qaeda affiliate, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has announced plans to coordinate with other Syrian rebel groups to take revenge for the chemical weapons attack last week outside of Damascus.
The ISIL released a statement on Twitter that was signed by seven other militant groups. The signatories all have operations in Eastern Ghouta, where the attacks occurred. The statement indicates that the organizations have agreed to conduct joint operations after a meeting called for by the ISIL “for all the jihadi factions in Eastern Ghouta.”
The operation, dubbed “Volcano of Revenge,” will target “the main joints of the regime in imprisoned Damascus, including security branches, support and supply points, training centres, and infrastructure.”
The groups that signed the statement include:
- Ahrar al Sham Islamic Movement (Independent group)
- Ahrar Dimashq Battalion, or Muhajireen Army (AQ linked)
- Abu Dhar al Ghafari Brigade, (ISIL unit)
- Al Habib Al Mustafa Brigades (FSA unit)
- Al Furqan Brigade (FSA unit)
- Umm al Qura Battalion (presumed independent)
- Deraa al-‘Asima Brigade (Lebanon Capital Shield Brigade)
The statement was released as US officials deliberate plans to conduct strikes against the Syrian government, ironically putting them on the same side as the ISIL.
Yemen police foil potential terrorist attack
Police in Yemen have stopped an attempt to smuggle explosive materials through Sana’a airport, confiscating a package of explosives disguised as juice and soft drink. More details on the date of confiscation or the sender’s identity were not available.
Khalid Al Shaif, deputy director of the airport, has told reporters that airport police have previously aborted many bids to smuggle weapons, chemicals, and explosive materials, using tactics which include honey bottles or dismantling weapons and wrapping them with tin.
MENA ReportJune 6, 2013 in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon-Syria, MENA, Turkey, Yemen
Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question
On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health. An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.
Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.
In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.
While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation. Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.
US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain
3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain. The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”
Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.
A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.
Bombing suspects arrested, confess
2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May. A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.
Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote. At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.
Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed
Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.
Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected
2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.
It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.
To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature. However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam
31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.
In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.
Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”
A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.
The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.
Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.
Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.
Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq
2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .
Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.
It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.
60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.
Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.
Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair
3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.
Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.
Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.
On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.
The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.
A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.
Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court
Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.
Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.
In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.
Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”
Turkish Activists Issue Demands
5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.
Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.
Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda
6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.
The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.
Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.