Reports have emerged that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) Algerian chief Abdelmalek Droukdel intends to establish a new branch in Tunisia and Libya. Khaled Chaieb, also known as Lokman Abou Sakhr, who is wanted by the interior ministry for involvement in the Jebel Chaambi massacre of Tunisian troops, will be the emir of the as-yet unnamed new body that merges Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia with the Okba Ibn Nafaa katibat, both of which are radical Islamist groups that operate within Tunisia. This new front is very important to the survival for AQIM because recently it has suffered from top-level defections and, in northern Mali, from heavy personnel losses. AQIM is also facing heavy pressure from the Algerian army and, as a result, is seeking new hideouts and strongholds abroad. In order to tackle this growing threat, the governments of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia will have to increase their security cooperation significantly. [All Africa, 1/31/2014]

Egypt | Libya | SyriaTunisia | Yemen | Related Issues


Egyptian prime minister says reshuffle to include defense minister
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has said a cabinet reshuffle will include the defense ministry, an Egyptian newspaper said on Saturday, in the clearest sign yet that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi plans to stand for president. Local media reports quoted Beblawi as saying that Sisi would run for president, but Beblawy denied on Saturday that he has said that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will run for presidency. “That issue should be determined only by the defense minister in accordance with his insight and what achieves supreme interests of the country,” he said. The reshuffle will not be announced before a visit by Beblawi to Saudi Arabia, a major financial supporter of Egypt’s interim government, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper quoted him as saying. [Reuters, 2/3/2014]

NASL member proposes national reconciliation initiative
Hossam Aql, member of the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) said he has proposed an initiative for reconciliation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the current regime entitled the “Grand Reconciliation Initiative,” Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. The political reconciliation includes paying blood money for families of victims killed by police and military since June 30 and guarantees for real justice for the detainees. Aql said on Saturday that the initiative includes also holding referendum under international supervision over the roadmap. It did not include reinstatement of former President Mohamed Morsi, unless citizens reject the roadmap. However, in the case of its approval, protests calling for reinstatement of legitimacy will stop. At the same time, however, Ehab Sheeha, the head of the Asala Party and an NASL member said the alliance is continuing its African and European tours as well as visits to Washington, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina to convince them not to recognize authority in Egypt. [Egypt Independent, 2/3/2014]

Egypt’s Galal approves EGP 1.31 billion funding to healthcare, education, other
The allocation of a total of EGP 1.31 billion to different sectors was approved by Minister of Finance Ahmed Galal on Sunday. According to a statement from the ministry, the allocations aim to improve public services for citizens. EGP 1.1 billion will be allocated to the petroleum sector to repay its January debts for petroleum products, including natural gas and diesel, used in power stations. Expenditure on health and education sectors is expected to increase starting from the 2014/2015 fiscal year.  According to the new ratified constitution, spending rates for the health sector will increase to 3 percent of GDP, 4 percent for education and 1 percent for scientific research. [DNE, 2/3/2014]

EU, UN Human Rights Office condemn crackdown on journalists
The European Union (EU) is the latest group to join the growing opposition to Egyptian authorities’ widespread crackdown on the media and other voices of dissent. In a statement released Tuesday, the EU’s delegation to Egypt expressed its concern about the government’s “growing tendency” to place “limitations put on the media,” citing the recent charges against twenty Al-Jazeera staffers as an example. The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a similar statement, saying it  is “extremely concerned about the increasingly severe clampdown and physical attacks on media in Egypt,” it said in a Friday statement. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [Navi Pillay] urged the Egyptian government to “release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights,” spokesman Rupert Colville said. [DNE, 2/2/2014]


Jailbreak in Libya, fifty four detainees escape
According to security officials over fifty four detainees have escaped from the Bawabat Al-Jibs prison in Tripoli due to a security failure. The jails are overseen by the judicial police and have been plagued by repeated prison breakouts due to the security vacuum in the country. This is the latest in a growing list of jailbreaks that has now seen more than 1,600 inmates escape over the past year. [AP, Libya Herald, 2/2/2014]

Libyan National Team wins first-ever International tournament
Libyan football made history on Saturday when it won the 2014 edition of the African Nations Championship by beating Ghana 4-3 on penalties after the match at the Cape Town Stadium in South Africa. The crowning of Libya as African Nations Champion is the first occasion the country has managed to win a major trophy in the international arena. This victory boosts not only Libya’s hopes in the sport but comes also at a time when it is most needed for the country which is soon facing the third anniversary of the revolution. [Tripoli Post, 2/2/2014]

Libya disposes of its chemical weapons arsenal
The United States and Libya have for the past three months discreetly destroyed what both sides say were the last remnants of Qaddafi’s lethal arsenal of chemical arms, a process Qaddafi himself started in 2004. They used a transportable oven technology to destroy the weapons, which American officials had feared could fall into the hands of terrorists. The effort also helped inspire the use of the same technology in the much bigger process in Syria. [NYT, 2/2/2014]

Libyan planes to renew flight to the European Union by March
Libya registered planes could resume flying to the European Union by March of this year, pending verification by an EU team.  The Libyan Civil Aviation Authority had been receiving help in raising its standards from an international partner in order to lift the self imposed ban offered by Libya in 2011. For the moment the restrictions have meant that Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah continue to service their European routes with wet-leased aircraft and crew. [Libya Herald, 2/2/2014]


Al-Qaeda breaks link with ISIS
Al-Qaeda’s general command said on Monday it had no links with the transnational militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), in an apparent attempt to reassert its authority over fragmented Islamist fighters in Syria’s civil war. “Al-Qaeda announces it is not linked to ISIS, as it was not informed of its creation… [and] did not accept it,” their statement read, adding, ISIS “is not a branch of al-Qaida, has no links to it, and al-Qaeda is not responsible for its acts.” After a month of rebel infighting, al-Qaeda’s disavowal of the increasingly independent ISIS is likely to bolster a rival Islamist group, the Nusra Front, as al-Qaeda’s official proxy in Syria. The switch is seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels, and could be intended to shift the strategic balance at a time when government forces are increasingly active on the battlefield. It could also embolden Nusra in its dispute with ISIS. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 2/3/2014]

Compounding regime assault, ISIS assassinates leader of Aleppo’s Tawheed Brigade
ISIS fighters killed the leader of a rival Islamic brigade in a twin car bombing near Aleppo, an attack likely to further exacerbate rebel infighting even as government forces continued their intense shelling of opposition-held areas of the city. The twin suicide bombing killed twenty-six on Saturday, including the military leader of a rival rebel group, the Tawheed Brigades. ISIS also killed another prominent commander of another local rebel brigade, said analyst Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center. Lister said the extremists killed Abu Hussein al-Dik of the powerful Suqour al-Sham, showing that ISIS was targeting key headquarters, “strategic checkpoints and senior influential commanders.” The development adds evidence to the speculation that ISIS works hand in glove with the regime. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/3/2014]

Regime forces kill eighty-three in barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo
Military helicopters dropped more improvised “barrel bombs” on the northern city of Aleppo on Sunday, bringing the death toll to at least eighty-three people in the latest episode of a campaign that many consider a war crime. Most of the victims killed since Friday have been civilians from the city’s eastern districts, including women and children. The use of barrel bombs—oil drums or cylinders packed with explosives and shrapnel—has drawn international condemnation. Western powers proposed a UN Security Council resolution in December to condemn the use of barrel bombs, which they say indiscriminately target civilians and have killed well over 700 Syrians in the past six weeks. But Russia, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad, has repeatedly blocked such plans in the Security Council. [Reuters, NYT, AFP, 2/3/2014]

United Nations bemoans failure in getting aid into Syria
The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs on Monday voiced disappointment over the international community’s failure to ensure safe passage for aid to civilians in conflict-torn Syria. Valerie Amos told a Syria aid meeting in Rome of her “disappointment that discussions last week in Geneva—focused as they were on the political—did not make progress on the humanitarian side.” The talks between the Syrian government and opposition delegations had been rich with the “potential to build trust between the two sides,” but ended without “any further progress on the issue of access to besieged communities.” Italy’s Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, hosting the meeting, spoke of her frustration that aid was blocked despite having the necessary medicines, food and transport ready. [AFP, 2/3/2014]


Jomaa visits Algeria
Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa arrived in Algeria on Saturday for a two-day visit. Jomaa stated that his visit to Algeria is part of efforts to strengthen relations and co-operation between the two countries. He stressed the importance of the security and economic partnerships between the countries but noted that this trip was intended to focus on political and security issues. On Sunday, he visited the National Company of Industrial Vehicles (SNVI) in the industrial zone of Rouiba. During this part of the trip, Jomaa discussed the importance of economic cooperation between the two countries in the car manufacturing sector. This was Jomaa’s first official visit since taking office.  [TAP, 2/1/2014]

Tunisian leaders absent from African Union Summit
President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Jomaa did not attend the twenty-second African Union Summit, which is attended by heads of state and government of member countries,  in Addis Ababa. As a result, while Tunisia received a lot of praise at the summit for its new constitution, Marzouki and Jomaa did not take advantage of the summit to translate Tunisia’s recent political progress into diplomatic gains. Foreign Minister Monji Hamdi, who was elected by the National Constituent Assembly last week, attended the closing session of the summit. This was his first official international appearance as foreign minister. [Tunisia Live, 2/3/2014]


Regions committee agrees on six regions
The Regions Committee has endorsed the six region model as the template for Yemen’s federal transition. The South will be comprised of two regions with the remaining four in the north. Some issues remain to be further studied by committees of experts such as giving Aden and Sana’a special status within this federal framework, and what divisions will be implemented within each region. The Herak Southern secessionists and the Yemeni Socialist Party continue to object to the plan. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/3/2014]

Even out of office, Saleh wields great power
The New York Times profiles ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, calling him a rare figure: an overthrown autocrat who remains in his country unmolested, even treated by visitors as “the most powerful man in Yemen.” Saleh’s political enemies allege that he is behind attacks on oil and power lines, as well as political assassinations, conspiring to maintain his family’s influence on Yemen’s affairs. [New York Times, 2/3/2014]

Three explosions rock Sana’a
Three large explosions occurred in the capital of Sana’a on Sunday, close to the defense ministry, the central bank, and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s home. Locals report that security forces rushed to the area and cordoned it off, but the sound of gunfire could be heard from the sites. Though injuries have been reported, there is no report of casualties at this time. [Reuters, 2/2/2014]

Houthi militants seize locations in Northern Yemen
The latest clashes between Hashid tribesmen and Houthi militants have left at least sixty dead, tribal sources report. On Sunday, Houthi militias overtook large parts of the Huth directorate in northern Amran province. A negotiator sent to mediate claims to have worked out an agreement between the two groups and says that both sides have agreed to the terms, including prisoner release and the return of displaced peoples to their homes in Huth. [World Bulletin, NOW Lebanon; 2/2/2014]


Israel may invade Gaza, hand control to PA; Hamas withdraws anti-rocket police
Following a recent spike in rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s minister of intelligence said that the military may “eliminate Hamas, and allow the Palestinian Authority to regain control of the Gaza Strip” if attacks do not stop. After an Israeli strike on Saturday, Gaza’s Hamas leaders withdrew their anti-rocket squads that police other militant groups along the Strip’s borders. An unidentified Hamas leader called the withdrawal a protest of the Israeli strike, following the January 21 deployment of the squad whose purpose was to “preserve the truce.” [Times of Israel, 2/3/2014]

Saudi Arabia passes new counterterrorism law, activists alarmed
A new law passed by Saudi Arabia under the guise of “counterterrorism” criminalizing any act that “destabilizes the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm.” It also states that terrorist acts include disabling the ruling system or “offending the nation’s reputation or its position.” Activists are alarmed, as calls for regime change, reform, and transparency can all now be tried as an acts of terrorism. The law also gives police powers to raid homes and offices without prior approval of a judge, to hold suspects incommunicado for up to ninety days without charge, and interrogate suspects without the presence of a lawyer. [AP, 2/3/2014]

Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda battle in Lebanon to increase
Bombings in Lebanon conducted by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are expected to continue and even increase in frequency as long as Hezbollah continues to intervene militarily in Syria. On Saturday evening, a car bomb killed four and injured 30 in the city of Hermel, a stronghold of Hezbollah. The Al-Nusra front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack. Recently, Al-Nusra and another jihadist group have released statements warning Sunnis to avoid all areas where Hezbollah operates, which they describe as “legitimate targets.” [Ahram Online, 2/2/2014]

Growing support for Bouteflika to run for reelection
More than two dozen political parties have announced their support for current Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fourth term. Bouteflika has been formally nominated by his party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), to run. In addition, he has received the support of the other major political party, the National Rally for Democracy (RND), twenty-six smaller political parties, and most of the country’s unions. Presidential elections are scheduled for April 17, 2014 and it remains unknown whether Bouteflika will seek reelection. Bouteflika suffered a stroke last spring which resulted in three months of hospitalization in France. Since returning to Algeria, there has been growing speculation that he may not run due to his deteriorating health. If he does not run, there are growing concerns that this will lead to a political crisis in Algeria. [The Daily Star, 2/3/2014]