MENA Week in Review - October 4, 2013

Middle East and North Africa

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the Middle East and North Africa over the last week:

United Nations 68th General Assembly:

  • Numerous MENA leaders spoke at the UN General Assembly this week. For a round up of their statements, read our blog.



  • Last week, Bahraini courts sentenced 91 Shiites to varying prison terms for their alleged participation in underground opposition groups and for carrying out violent attacks. Amnesty International condemned the rulings and demanded that the cases be reviewed and that claims of torture be investigated.



  • The head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, reemphasized on Tuesday the need to accelerate Egypt’s transition and restore stability to the country.
  • A Democracy Index report found that there were 969 protests in Egypt in September, but that the Muslim Brotherhood’s capacity to organize protests declined throughout the month. Today, however, pro ex-President Muhammad Morsi supporters protested against the military-backed government and clashed with security forces throughout the country. 


Iran and Israel:

  • Prior to his address at the 68th UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama discussed Iran’s nuclear program at the White House on Monday. President Obama emphasized, “We have to test diplomacy [with Iran],” but assured the Prime Minister that “anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for.”  



  • For the first time since 2007, the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan was the target of a major attack, where explosions killed six people on Sunday.
  • The New York Times reported that some Shiite militias are beginning to search for ways to combat the attacks against Shiite communities, as confidence in the government’s ability to address the rising levels of violence falters.  



  • Lebanese security forces took over additional Hezbollah checkpoints in Baalbek and Nabatieh on Sunday and Tuesday respectively. On Wednesday, Lebanon’s caretaker Interior Minister, Marwan Charbel, announced that Hezbollah had surrendered or abandoned all of its checkpoints around the country. Al Monitor analyzes Hezbollah’s decision to remove the checkpoints and its impact on civil-military relations in the country.
  • Hezbollah relinquished its Baalbek checkpoint a day after sectarian fighting near the checkpoint killed four people, including two Hezbollah members.



  • A UN report released on Tuesday details torture and abuse in Libyan prisons operated by armed militia groups. The report notes that the conditions and treatment of detainees are significantly better in prisons controlled by trained officers of the Judicial Police, and recommends the urgent transfer of detainees from militia prisons to state-controlled facilities.



  • The CIA is expanding its training of moderate Syrian rebels, with the program aiming to graduate a few hundred fighters each month. The Washington Post reported that CIA officials are concerned that the moderate rebels are losing ground both to the Syrian regime and to more extremist groups.
  • Another series of clashes took place between Al Qaeda-linked rebels and the moderate Northern Storm Brigade near the Turkish border on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, six powerful rebel groups attempted to intervene and stop the infighting, though it is unclear whether these efforts were successful. These clashes coincide with a New York Times report stating that numerous rebel groups are growing increasingly frustrated by Al Qaeda linked groups, specifically Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because ISIS seems more concerned with promoting its hardline ideology than with overthrowing the Syrian regime.
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) began its efforts to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile on Thursday.



  • On Saturday, Tunisia’s ruling Islamist government agreed to step down. Recent protests against the ruling Ennahda party caused its leaders to determine that a neutral government would be in the best interests of Tunisia’s democratic transition.



  • U.S. and NATO officials expressed displeasure after the Turkish government announced that it planned to purchase an air defense system from a Chinese company that violated sanctions on Iran, rather than from a producer in NATO allied country. It is still unclear whether or not Turkey will go forward with the purchase, but Turkish officials asserted that they maintain the right to defend their security as they see fit.



  • Suspected Al Qaeda militants captured a military base near the Southeastern city of Makallah on Monday, which was then reclaimed by government forces on Thursday. Al Jazeera reported that three soldiers were killed during the initial fighting on Monday, and Al Arabiya reported that three troops died during the operation to retake the base on Thursday. 
  • In an interview with AlHayat on Wednesday, Yemen’s foreign minister acknowledged that the National Dialogue, which should have concluded on September 18, may take a few additional months.