On Friday, 26 June, Tunisia witnessed the deadliest armed attack in its history, leaving thirty-eight people, mostly British tourists, dead, and thirty-nine injured. This attack came three months after the Bardo National Museum attack, in which many foreign tourists were killed. The June attack, in Sousse, raised glaring questions about the efficacy of measures taken by the security forces to prevent attacks after Bardo.
The Sousse attack marked a new approach by armed groups in which they target Tunisia’s most vital economic sector – tourism, which provides employment for about half a million people. The attack coincided with a severe political crisis, due to the government’s inability to resolve various severe challenges facing the country. Its actions after the Sousse attack will increase the severity of the political and social crisis.
Since its declaration of a ‘caliphate’ on 29 June 2014, the Islamic State group (IS), the brutal successor to al-Qa'ida, has gone from strength to strength. Short of an indiscriminate air bombing campaign whose victims will include civilians and militants, a wide and well coordinated rebellion within IS ranks and/or the civilian population under its control, or a massive troop deployment and ground invasion by the United States or a regional hegemon such as Turkey or Iran, IS is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Egypt’s cabinet passed new draconian ‘anti-terrorism’ laws on Wednesday, in the wake of Monday’s assassination of the prosecutor general, Hisham Barakat. The new laws drastically reduce the already-short trial and sentencing process by eliminating second appeals for ‘national security’ trials, and increasing the punishment for involvement in ‘terrorist-related’ activities. This legislation, together with the war with the Islamic State group (IS) in Sinai, and the Wednesday assassination of thirteen Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members which resulted in the movement warning of possible violent retribution, mean Egypt is being driven closer to a state of chaos.
The results of Turkey’s 7 June parliamentary election is expected to have lasting consequences for the country’s domestic politics and foreign policy. The performance of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) signals the formal entrance of leftists and leftist agendas into parliamentary politics, and will impact negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish question, while the Islamist Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) decline will stymie President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspiration to convert the country’s political system to a presidential one. The country’s policy on Syria and the rest of the Middle East will likely also be affected by whatever new government takes power.
The recent sentencing to death of former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi and 121 others illustrates the farcical and politicised nature of the Egyptian judiciary which has, in the past two years, acted consistently to curb dissent and intimidate opponents of the military regime. Although it is still not certain whether the death sentences will be carried out, the consequences of the judgement are likely to be an increase in militancy, making the regime’s ‘anti-terrorism’ rhetoric a self-fulfilling prophecy. Aided in this regard is the weak and largely ineffective response from the international community, whose actions in recent months indicate a resignation with Egypt’s current trajectory.
The election of General Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president will see a renewed focus by the government on domestic challenges posed by endemic corruption, the Boko Haram insurgency, and lower oil prices. How successful Buhari will be in dealing with these remains to be seen, but there are hints from his past record about the approach he might take. The gravity of these domestic issues will thus mean little change in the country’s foreign policy.
US President Barack Obama, in his struggle to fashion a transformative foreign policy by reshaping the balance of America’s relationships in the Middle East, faces formidable resistance from Israel’s right-wing Likud government allied with the most reactionary Republican-controlled US Congress in recent memory. There are, however, two missing dimensions that must be inserted into Obama’s equations regarding Iran and Israel within the context of the framework accord between Tehran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany): the Palestinians, and the level of black support for Obama’s Middle East policy.
With the 31 March deadline for the conclusion of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme with the P5+1 looming, stakeholders have increased contact visits and interested actors have become more wary. Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have begun building a unified bloc to respond to the negotiations, while Israel has ratcheted up its rhetoric and used its congressional support in the USA to lobby against a deal. However, convergences – especially those resulting from US and Iranian attempts to defeat the Islamic State group (IS) and the tactical astuteness of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani – have increased the probability of an agreement. To paraphrase the German minister of foreign affairs, Guido Westerwelle, more has been achieved in the past few months than in the previous ten years of negotiations.
The Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) and Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations invites you to a conference titled: Palestinian Reconcilliation: Prospects and Challenges.
The conference will discuss the factors affecting Palestinian schism and possible solutions, while shedding light on international paradigms of reconciliation and transitional justice. A selection of Palestinian and international political figures, experts, academics and intellectuals will be participating in this conference.
Israelis are heading to the polls next week to choose among party candidates to serve in the 120-seat Knesset. A recent survey showed that Israel's Labour Party leader, Isaac Herzog, is maintaining its lead. However Palestinians, believe that the upcoming Israeli elections will not bring any change in relations between the two states. From the Afro-Middle East Center, or AMEC, we are joined by Na'eem Jeenah to look at the upcoming elections in Israel.
South Africa has been put on terror alert following reports that IS-linked suspects could be heading to the country. Reports suggest that 11 international terrorists might be considering using the country as an operational base. Na'eem Jeenah, the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, gives his analysis.
The agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme concluded this week seems to be an example of the benefits of concerted diplomacy. Once it is ratified by the US Congress and Iranian Supreme National Security Council, the agreement will improve relations between Iran and western countries, and will undoubtedly also have a significant impact on the regional level.
Libya is the Islamic State (IS) group’s third largest bastion after Syria and Iraq. The group’s actual head count in the country notwithstanding, its presence there is a major contributor to the ‘caliphate’ doctrine, the very legitimacy of which cannot be dependent only on its acceptance in the Levant. In Libya, IS found an ideal haven in which to expand and operate, especially considering the environment of rampant instability and an absence of a state.
As the Saudi-led aerial campaign on Yemen enters its third month, it is having severe consequences for states in the Horn of Africa. The rapid and unplanned return of migrant workers, a collapse in trade, and an influx of Yemeni refugees are factors set to impact negatively on these states if the conflict endures.
Geographically located less than thirty-five kilometres from Djibouti at its closest sea point, Yemenis’ contact and relations with Africans in states such as Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia have existed for millennia. In recent years the most emblematic aspect of this contact has been the flow of migrants from Africa seeking employment opportunities. Currently over a million Ethiopians are documented as residing in Yemen, and 250 000 Somalis fled to the country in the past two decades. Most of these migrated to Yemen to escape conflict at home, viewing the Arab country as a transit point en route to employment opportunities in the Persian Gulf. However, because of a crackdown on migrants in Gulf states, many have sought opportunities in Yemen instead.
Following recent rebel advances and regime defeats in Syria, speculation has been rife among commentators and some among the opposition about whether this represents the imminent demise of the Syrian regime. Regime losses since the end of March, including the complete loss of a second major city (Raqqa is already under opposition control), Idlib, along with the ceding of crucial strategic sites such as Jisr al-Shughur in the north, and, in the south, Busra al-Sham and the Nasib border crossing into Jordan.
The 25 January Egyptian uprising always had scant possibilities of success. The country’s secular and Islamist revolutionaries were odd bedfellows from the beginning. They agreed on forcing President Hosni Mubarak from power, but harboured different dreams and notions of a new Egypt, and often followed conflicting strategies. Other political forces, including the revolutionary youth, were weak and poorly organised. In the end, the uprising led to a totally different outcome than what the millions who took to the streets had envisaged, and by early 2013 it had run its course.
In early April 2015, sudden fighting broke out in the Yarmouk refugee camp between groups affiliated to the Islamic State group (IS) and Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), which is linked to Hamas. The already dire humanitarian situation in the camp has since worsened for about 15 000 Palestinian civilians still besieged there, out of the population of over 150 000 before the Syrian war began.
The closeness of the elections was matched only by their bizarreness. As Herzog and Netanyahu went into the final weeks neck and neck one Likud campaign video likened those who complained about the economy to Hamas terrorists. It is possible that this fear mongering played a large role in mobilising support for Likud and engineering the nationalist party’s victory. Netanyahu went so far as to argue that the “left” posed an existential threat to Israeli democracy, as they were bussing in Israeli Arabs to vote; an ironic statement not lost on many political commentators. In light of Likud’s victory at the polls liberal supporters of the Palestinian quest for security, justice and human rights have taken to the airwaves to express their lamentations. Where is the chance for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict when such a militaristic hawk is at the helm of Israel?
On 15 February 2015, an armed group calling itself the Tripoli Province of the Islamic State and claiming affiliation with the Islamic State group in Iraq (IS) posted a video on the internet of what looked like the execution of twenty-one Egyptian Copts. The incident likely occurred on the beach of the city of Sirte. That evening, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, delivered a hasty speech condemning the incident and warning that Egypt had the right to respond. He convened a late night meeting of Egypt’s Supreme Defence Council. The next four Egyptian Air Force fighter jets twice bombed targets in Darna (instead of Sirte), claiming Darna was controlled by IS.
The 15 February Islamic State group (IS) video showing the beheadings of twenty-one Egyptians raised concerns both about the possibility of the group’s influence growing in Libya (and North Africa more generally), and about the subsequent Egyptian airstrikes inside Libya, ostensibly against IS targets. Condemnation of IS has been widespread; however, Egypt’s attempt to further militarise the Libyan conflict should be equally concerning, and could help grow IS and increase its reach.
Against the backdrop of a South African couple liquidating their assets to travel to Iraq to join the extremist Islamist organisation, the Islamic State, which has established a caliphate in northern Iraq and Syria that it governs by sharia law, SACSIS caught up with Middle East expert, Na'eem Jeenah and put the question to him: "What would it take to defeat ISIS?"
Jeenah contends that it will take more than a military response. What is needed to properly defeat ISIS is an ideological battle and Muslims themselves need to take the lead in challenging ISIS' theological arguments. Sadly, however, he argues that the world is going to be stuck with ISIS for quite some time.
Na'eem Jeenah is the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) in Johannesburg. He is interviewed by SACSIS' Executive Director, Fazila Farouk.