MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

On January 11, President Elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, participated in a marathon nine-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee members pressed the former ExxonMobil CEO on a host of issues, including his reported ties to Russia and his views on extremism.

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Shortly after unprecedented jail terms were issued against leading members of Egypt’s Press Syndicate, President AbdelFattah al-Sisi approved a new press law, sparking further concern over the future of a relatively independent media in the country.

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As the situation on the ground in Libya continues to deteriorate, many fear a complete descent into chaos. The successful operation against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Sirte—formally conducted under the authority of the UN-sponsored and Tripoli-based Government of National Agreement (GNA)—but largely dominated by the Misrata militias, put the latter in close geographical proximity with the forces of their rival General Khalifa Haftar. Clashes between Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Misrata militias are already occurring in southern central Libya, and the worst case scenario of all-out war between these forces, which is becoming more and more probable, should be prevented at any cost.

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At an art exhibition opening on Monday evening, right across the street from the US embassy in Ankara, an assassin shot dead Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov. The shooter, identified as 22-year-old Mevlüt Mert Altinas, was a Turkish policeman according to statements made by the mayor of Ankara. 

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Turkish-European relations have declined considerably in recent years, with little progress made on the accession of Turkey to the European Union (EU) since formal negotiations began in 2005. Turkey’s actions following the failed July coup attempt and the rise of right-wing nationalist populism in the west further damaged any prospects of improving relations. The matter reached a new low when, in November, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution to temporarily freeze Turkey’s accession process.

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On December 10, following weeks of negotiations, Tunisia’s parliament approved a $14 billion budget for 2017. The budget includes a number of provisions aimed at cutting the country’s deficit in line with the economic reform plan of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who was appointed in August of this year. However, the controversy surrounding the budget and rejection of certain measures raise questions regarding Chahed’s ability to push through difficult but needed reforms. While the 2017 budget was presented by Chahed as one of consensus, it is clear that the country remains divided over reforms aimed at reviving the economy.  

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On December 11 at approximately 10 AM, Cairo time, a bomb ripped through the St. Paul and St. Peter Church in the Cairo district of Abassiya, killing 25 and injuring over 50 worshipers. Eyewitnesses described to local media a harrowing scene of devastation Cairo’s citizens haven’t felt in a long time. The explosion, which reportedly came from the direction of the women’s pews, caused the roof to partially collapse and knocked worshipers standing outside its walls to the ground. Most of the victims were women and children. There is no doubt the perpetrators intended mass carnage. 

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Mohamed Zarie, the director of Egypt's program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, doesn’t mince words when talking about Egypt’s new NGO law. He describes it as a death blow and a declaration of war. The law, which was approved in a record two weeks by the House of Representatives, imposes severe restrictions and tougher penalties for violators who could face up to five years in prison and hefty fines.

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As the situation in Libya increasingly declines, and in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump at President of the United States, Libya experts are considering new ideas for US policy in Libya. One idea is for the international community to abandon its effort to create a Libyan unity government in line with the December 2015 Skhirat agreement and instead lend support to a stronger party that could better ensure the rapid stabilization of the country. In other words, it would mean shifting support from the Presidential Council (PC) and Government of National Accord (GNA) of Fayez Serraj to the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar. Is this feasible? Is it desirable?

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Abu Mohamed stood outside his shrapnel-scarred gate in the eastern Zahra district of Mosul and pointed to where a mortar round had exploded the day before, killing two of his neighbors.

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