MENA Week in Review - August 30, 2013

Middle East and North Africa

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the MENA region over the last week:

U.S. Policy:

  • President Obama said today that he is considering a limited military strike in response to the apparent chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime last Wednesday (8/21). The administration also released a backgrounder implicating the regime behind the attack. During a Wednesday interview with PBS, President Obama stated, “what I’ve said is that we have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place… We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out.” If a strike occurs, the likely aim will be to “restore the smudged ‘red line’ that President Obama drew a year ago against the use of poison gas,” rather than bring the downfall of the Assad regime, Micheal Gordon argued in the Times.

  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said earlier this week that the U.S. would act with its “allies and the international community,” but key allies such as Britain and the Arab League, while blaming the regime for the chemical attacks, both appear unlikely to support military action in Syria. France, meanwhile, said it is “prepared to punish” the Syrian regime for its actions. On Thursday the administration briefed Congressional lawmakers on intelligence proving that the regime was behind the chemical attack, as some Congress members pushed for a vote before the U.S. takes military action in the country.

  • This summer the Pentagon notified Congress of over USD 13 billion worth of arms sales to Middle East countries, Defense News reported. The sales include “$6.4 billion in potential defense trade with Saudi Arabia… $1.1 billion early warning radar deal to Qatar; a $588 million package of C-130J airlifters to Libya and $200 million to support Kuwait’s fleet of F/A-18 fighters.”


Middle East:

  • The UK suspended 49 export licenses to Egypt for police and military equipment, such as radar equipment and helicopter components, which could be used for repression.

  • Egyptian Interim Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi announced Wednesday that Egypt should not seek to ban the Muslim Brotherhood or exclude them from government. The statement came after the Egypt Independent reported that Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat Al-Shater’s son was arrested at his home on Wednesday, while on Thursday the political head of the Brotherhood’s political party, Mohamed Al-Beltagi, was arrested as well. Thousands marched in support of the Muslim Brotherhood on Friday.

  • The head of U.S. Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, visited Yemen on Saturday and praised the counterterrorism partnership with Yemen, saying it has achieved great success. This statement comes after Yemen President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi defended the country’s counterterrorism cooperation with the United States last Thursday (8/22), including U.S. drone strikes in the country, according to Yemen’s state news agency, President Hadi also referenced Yemen’s desire to acquire drone technology from the U.S.

  • The UN International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday that Iran has slowed down its accumulation of Uranium, delaying its progress towards obtaining nuclear weapons capabilities. The significance of this report, according to the New York Times, is “it delays the day when Iran could breach what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel last fall called a ‘red line’ beyond which Iran would not be allowed to pass...”

  • Lebanese authorities charged five people in connection to last Friday’s (8/23) bombings in Tripoli, Lebanon. For more on the bombings, read Leslie Adkins’ post on the Security Assistance Monitor blog.


North Africa:

  • Tunisia’s prime minister declared the largest radical Islamist group in the country, Ansar al-Shariah, a terrorist organization on Tuesday, blaming the group for two assassinations of liberal politicians as well as an attack on the U.S. embassy last September. As the New York Times noted, the governing Ennahda party had previously tried to encourage radical groups to join the political process and this step highlights a new crackdown by the party on radical Islamists. The following day Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou claimed that Al Qaeda was ordering its followers to destabilize the country.

  • Armed groups shut down oil fields in Libya’s western region on Tuesday, further crippling oil production in the country. Libya’s deputy oil minister, Omar Shakmak, differentiated this closure from the ones plaguing fields in eastern Libya, which are being carried out by protesting workers and dissatisfied guards. GlobalPost’s William Wheeler detailed some reasons behind these oil field occupations, writing that these armed groups want greater autonomy from the state for their regions.

  • Libyan President Ali Zeidan announced on Sunday that Libya will begin a national dialogue initiative with support from the United Nation that will, “initiate a debate around the issues of the future constitution, national reconciliation, displaced persons, disarmament or security,” according to Zeidan. Some groups, however, criticized Zeidan for not consulting with them prior to announcing this new initiative. 


This post was co-writtern by Leslie Adkins and Daniel Resnick