MENA Week in Review - September 27, 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: 

United Nations General Assembly:

  • Various Middle Eastern leaders, as well as President Barack Obama, spoke at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly. For a round up of the first day’s MENA speakers, please click here, while full transcripts of each leader’s remarks can be found here.
  • Foreign Policy and the New York Times examined President Obama’s speech, which outlined the United States’ core interests in the Middle East as well as its main diplomatic focus in the region. Both publications noted that the biggest takeaway from the speech is the president’s warning that an American reluctance to remain engaged in the region would negatively affect the international community.



  • Presidents Obama and Hassan Rouhani spoke over the phone on Friday, following a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday during a P5+1 discussion on Iran’s nuclear program. These conversations represented the highest level of engagement between U.S. and Iranian officials in 36 years. Presidents Obama and Rouhani could have met at a General Assembly speakers’ lunch on Tuesday, but Iran appeared to back out of the encounter. President Rouhani also continued his outreach to U.S. audiences, stating in a Washington Post interview that the nuclear issues could be resolved within months.



  • The UN Security Council finalized a resolution on Thursday that obligates Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons. Penalties for Syria’s non-compliance would come under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the most stringent form of a UN resolution. However, specific repercussions were not listed and will have to be determined if Syria violates the agreement.
  • Thirteen rebel groups – including the hardline Al Nusra front and several Free Syrian Army associated groups – rejected the authority of the western-backed political opposition group, the Syrian National Council. This action challenges Western efforts to strengthen a moderate opposition that could negotiate with the Assad regime for a political solution to the conflict.



  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy conducted an interview with Al-Hayat, noting that the foreign minister called Egypt’s relationship with the U.S. “under strain” and emphasized that “Egyptian decision-making will not be influenced by U.S. aid.”
  • An Egyptian court banned all Muslim Brotherhood activities and ordered the confiscation of Brotherhood financial assets on Monday, accusing the group of "abuse and arrogance" while in power, among other charges. On Tuesday, however, an Egyptian minister clarified that this ruling would be postponed. The U.S. stated it is still seeking more details about the decision.



  • On Tuesday, the White House released a factsheet about U.S. security assistance to Lebanon. The factsheet noted that the main sources of assistance include USD 71.2 million in Foreign Military Financing and USD 8.7 million in the Defense Department’s Section 1206 Train and Equip Authority.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry attacked Hezbollah in his remarks at a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon on Wednesday, stating that the group is “putting its own interests… over the well being of the Lebanese people.”
  • Troops from the Lebanese Armed Forces began replacing Hezbollah fighters at checkpoints set up by the group throughout Shiite neighborhoods in Southern Beirut. Hezbollah set up these checkpoints earlier in the summer following a series of bombings in pro-Hezbollah neighborhoods.



  • Fox News reported new details about equipment stolen from a U.S. special operations facility in Libya. These items include dozens of armored vehicles that could be equipped with various weapons as well as hundreds of pistols and M4 rifles.
  • Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan announced on Sunday that 1600 additional Libyan troops will be trained abroad in the coming months, beyond the 8000 troops that are scheduled for training at U.S. military installations in Bulgaria.



  • Bahrain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, repudiated U.S. President Barack Obama’s statement at the United Nations General Assembly that Bahrain is experiencing sectarian tension. Sheikh Khalifa noted that Bahrain’s political situation, “… bares no equivalence to the sectarian conflicts occurring in Syria and Iraq.”



  • At least 96 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on Saturday, including a funeral bombing that represented one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in recent years. The United Nations has reported that more than 5,000 people have died in violence in Iraq so far this year.



  • Tunisia’s powerful trade union, the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), called for mass protests on Sunday against the Ennahda-led government after Ennahda refused to resign following UGTT-mediated talks between the government and the opposition.



  • This past week, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and affiliated groups continued to attack Yemeni security and military personnel. In separate incidences, unidentified gunmen killed two Yemeni air force officers on Tuesday followed by a suicide bombing that killed a Yemeni army intelligence officer on Wednesday.