All analyses in chronological order - Afro-Middle East Centre

By Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies

Late on Sunday, 25 January 2015, hundreds of protests broke in various Egyptian cities and towns, followed by attacks on public administration buildings and branches of the Interior Ministry; the burning of dozens of police and security vehicles; blocking of roads and railways all over the country; and even armed attacks on security patrols, with security personnel being ambushed and attacked at roadblocks. Some of these activities continued well into the following morning, with the death toll including more than twenty-five civilians and four security personnel, and with hundreds injured and hundreds more in custody.


This article is an initial reading of the events of that day, and their implications for the futures of both the popular opposition and the regime. It also discusses how regional and global forces view the regime.

Growth of the popular movement

Given the sheer number and spread of protests around the country, it would be nigh on impossible to estimate the number of participants in the popular movement with any measure of accuracy. It is clear, though, that Egypt last week witnessed the largest popular anti-regime gatherings since the sits-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares were quelled in August 2013.

There are various reasons behind this escalation by the opposition, not least of which is the prevailing political climate in the country more than one and a half years after the birth of the 3 July 2013 regime. It has also became apparent just how big a reversal Egypt has suffered, from an unstable but free democratic situation to one of oppression, where the iron fist of security routinely slams down on opposition and strangles political freedom, with no sign of stability on the horizon. The acquittal, and subsequent release, of several figures of the Mubarak regime, including Mubarak and his two sons, only reinforce the general feeling that Egypt is rapidly slipping back under the old regime, even if the names of those at the helm have changed. Moreover, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and the continuing deterioration of the economy have resulted in the strengthening belief that the regime, despite considerable financial support from certain GCC states, is no longer able to contain the runaway economic crisis.

In this climate, different sectors of the population are increasingly joining the opposition movement. But the situation is not confined to growth in the popularity of the movement. In the larger cities, especially Cairo, there are growing signs that some political groups, such as the April 6 movement, the radical left, and opposition student movements have become more willing to take to the streets and participate with the anti-coup National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy in popular demonstrations.

On the other hand, the successive changes in the leadership structure of the Muslim Brotherhood, both within the country and abroad, have boosted confidence among the Brotherhood’s rank-and-file, bolstering the ability of the movement and its sympathisers to mobilise, and reinvigorating its determination to continue its activities against the regime.

However, despite the massive mobilisation, and the sheer number and spread of the demonstrations, it would be premature to suggest that the balance of forces between the opposition and the regime has tilted in favour of the former. A significant majority of Egyptians is still wary of participating in the opposition, either out of fear of the regime and its oppressive machine, out of a collective desire to see a return to stability, or because of support for the regime. Some have been disillusioned by the lack of a viable alternative after the failure of the first attempt at democratic change and the crumbling of the revolutionary masses, while others actually support the regime fearing that Islamists might return to power. In other words, large swathes of the population have yet to reach a sufficient level of discontent to prompt them to go out to the streets and demand the downfall of the regime.

The armed option

The change in the disposition of the popular movement opposing the 3 July 2013 regime is undeniable. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood (the main force behind the anti-coup alliance that has led the opposition throughout the past nineteen months) and its partners in the alliance have adhered to completely peaceful methods in their opposition to the regime, there are some groups in various parts of the country that are resorting to different methods. The subtle indicators of this shift began to appear about a year ago, but by 25 January 2015 they had grown so strong that they can no longer be ignored.

These indicators fall into two main categories:

  • Vandalism and the destruction and arson of government institutions, police and security stations and vehicles, telecommunications towers, and electric power transformers, as well as the cutting off of roads and railways. More recently, the banking sector was targeted, with calls for people to withdraw their money from various banks.
  • Organised armed attacks on police and security stations and checkpoints, and attempts on the lives of security officers, judges, prosecutors and informers thought to be involved in the crackdowns.

The goal of the first category is to compromise the regime’s ability to govern and to cripple the state, while the motives of the second are revenge and settling of scores.

There are three groups that have openly claimed responsibility for such actions at different times. The first, Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt), went public a year ago with a black flag that resembles that of the Islamic State (IS) group. If a relationship, whether direct or indirect, between Ajnad Misr and IS can be confirmed, the group, which operates mainly in the governorates along the Nile Valley, would be the second to declare its allegiance to IS and its jihadi-oriented interpretation of Islam. The first was Ansar Bait al-Maqdis (Supporters of the Holy House), which is active in northern Sinai.

The second group, Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri (Revolutionary Retribution Movement), announced itself on 24 January 2015, claiming to have active cells in fifteen of Egypt’s twenty-seven governorates. Despite the obvious difficulties in verifying that claim, the wording of the announcement seemed free of the usual hallmarks of jihadi discourse, suggesting that the group has no jihadi leanings. However, the sheer magnitude of operations for which the group has claimed responsibility is astounding, since these occurred throughout the country, including in Cairo, Alexandria and cities along the Suez Canal.

Both Ajnad Misr and Harakat al-Iqaab al-Thawri appear to have no qualms about carrying out deadly attacks and bombings using triggered devices and time bombs, either targeting specific people or randomly killing security and police personnel. Despite the glaring contrast in discourse between the two, they clearly share the belief that armed violence is part and parcel of dealing with the regime, and that violence is the only course of action to bring about change in Egypt.

The third group, Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya (Popular Resistance), emerged about six months ago. The wording of its statements suggests a generally jihadi leaning, with close ties to the popular movement. Al-Muqawama al-Shaabiya is inclined more towards vandalism and road-blocking. To date, it is not known to have executed any armed attacks on security forces, even though it has been known to protect protesters from attacks by groups of thugs and criminal gangs believed to be affiliated with the regime’s security apparatus.

Unlike northern Sinai, which has witnessed almost open warfare between the armed forces and Ansar Bait al-Maqdis since the 3 July coup, the magnitude and frequency of vandalism and armed attacks in the governorates along the Nile Valley have not yet reached sufficient intensity to be described as an armed struggle. Unlike in Syria, where the popular movement receded as the armed struggle escalated, armed resistance in Egypt has not even reached a level that it could cripple the state or negatively impact the popular movement. Nevertheless, the magnitude and scale of events that took place on 25 January 2015 did cause the regime’s leaders serious concern.

The illusion of stability

The military officers who led the 3 July coup, and most of the civilian politicians who supported them, were hardly oblivious to the fact that they were desecrating the democratic process, nor were they unaware that their actions were – at least at the time – unwelcome to Egypt’s US and European allies. Washington and various European capitals certainly wanted to tame the rule of President Muhammad Mursi, but they also wanted the change to come about legally and constitutionally. On the other hand, the leaders of the 3 July regime were betting on the huge financial, economic and political support of some GCC countries, especially Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Israel’s welcoming of the coup. The generals gambled on the probability that these countries would eventually help change the western stance and build legitimacy for the regime. They also wagered that they would quickly be able to establish stability, thus providing a climate for continued Arab support and a gradual shift in the western stance. It would be safe to say that that objective of achieving stability as rapidly as possible became such a high priority for the regime that it made the ill-advised decision to brutally break up the Rabaa and Nahda sits-in in an attempt to end the manifestations of popular opposition and social discord.

During the past eighteen months, the pro-regime GCC governments have pumped more than US$40 billion into the Egyptian treasury and economy. With support from the West, these countries helped the regime to gradually normalise its relations with the USA and Europe. Over the past few months, the regime appeared to be slowly but surely achieving its aim of building an image of stability for the country, despite the repressive actions of the security sector and the tyranny of the judiciary which is aimed at quelling the opposition. But the events of 25 January 2015 demonstrate that the dream of stability is far from being a reality, that the regime is no longer capable of breaking, or even containing, the popular political opposition, and that the country is entering a phase of worsening tension that could be far more destructive than anything it has witnessed over the past year-and-a-half.

Western media outlets have generally displayed substantial interest in that Sunday’s events. Spokespersons for the US State Department, the European Union and a number of European countries expressed concern over the death toll among protesters. The impression of instability will make European governments hesitant to offer Egypt direct financial or economic assistance. Likewise, there are growing signs that the enthusiasm with which some Gulf countries offered direct financial assistance to Egypt has waned since a year ago, either because of the proverbial black hole of corruption that exists deep within the structure of the Egyptian state (as the UAE believes), or due to the rapid, successive changes in the country’s political leadership (as Saudi Arabia has just experienced), or because of the dramatic decline in oil prices (as Kuwait fears). The decline in direct financial support is the only explanation behind the Central Bank’s inability to keep propping up the value of the national currency, and the subsequent dramatic freefall of the Egyptian pound’s value against the US dollar.

Losing control

Since 3 July 2013, the Egyptian regime has repeatedly gambled on the security option to quell opposition and impose stability, and on the financial support of some GCC states to shore up the economy. However, at the fourth anniversary of the uprising, it finds itself staring down the barrel of instability, with more and more segments of the populace trying to cripple the state’s control of the country, and with a rapidly dwindling cash lifeline from the Gulf, which has weakened the Egyptian pound, causing buying power to drop and prices of imported goods to skyrocket, and making the lives of ordinary Egyptians increasingly difficult.

The bottom line is that the growing violence of the opposition and the state’s dwindling ability to build a popular base will inevitably lead to more unrest and lawlessness, which in turn will chip away at the state’s institutions and pave the way for violence to tear into the very fabric of society.

*This article was published in terms of a partnership agreement between Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies and AMEC

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The dismissal of two cabinet ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Libni, by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and the subsequent dissolution of parliament (the Knesset) is the latest in a string of events pointing to an extreme rightward shift in Israeli politics. This constant movement provides little room for optimism for Palestinians (including those who are Israeli citizens), the Israeli poor, and the dead ‘peace process’.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Tuesday’s attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem has not only elicited a strong wave of condemnation from western political leaders, but also harsh calls for reprisals from Israeli politicians, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. He revived the policy of house demolitions, and ordered the demolition of the homes of the two Palestinians responsible for the synagogue operation, and of the home of another Palestinian who had driven into and killed two Israeli pedestrians in October. In both instances, the perpetrators were killed at the scene of the incident, yet the Israeli government decided to avenge itself against their families and neighbours, continuing with its collective punishment against Palestinians.

Ennahda’s post-election future

  • 14 November, 2014
  • Published in Tunisia

By Afro-Middle East Centre

During the four years following former president Ben Ali’s ouster in January 2011, Tunisians have experienced tumultuous changes: the economy has stagnated, security has worsened, and increased freedoms have wrought a resurgence in public expressions of religiosity. On the political scene, four governments have been formed, two politicians have been assassinated, and a new constitution has been adopted in its fourth draft.

Crisis in northern Sinai worsens

  • 07 November, 2014
  • Published in Egypt

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On 24 October 2014, an armed attack on an Egyptian security detail in the Sheikh Zuweid area of Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate left more than thirty soldiers dead and dozens wounded. Details of the attack are still unclear, but the Egyptian government immediately declared a three-month state of emergency in the governorate, and deployed additional military and security troops to the region, adjacent to Egypt’s eastern border with Gaza and Israel.

Cairo also indefinitely closed the Rafah Crossing with Gaza, and postponed indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel, scheduled for the end of October in Cairo. Subsequently, the Egyptian authorities began establishing a buffer zone along Egypt’s border with Gaza, ranging from 400 metres to two kilometres, thus forcing thousands of residents in the area from their homes and agricultural lands.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The battle for the Kurdish Syrian town of Kobane, resulting from a siege of the city by the Islamic State group (IS) since 2 July, has become the iconic battle in the USA-led international coalition’s war against IS. Despite IS having fought its way to within a few kilometres of Baghdad, a city of far more strategic importance than Kobane, the latter has become the focus of international media attention. There are various reasons for this. First, the initial inaction and the subsequent hyperaction by the USA have generated much discussion and criticism. Second, the Kurdish population in Turkey, Iraq and Europe have successfully kept Kobane in the headlines for weeks through methods such as large, widespread protests. Third, the use of women fighters, even as suicide bombers, by Kurdish militias has also sparked more than a few conversations. However, the most significant aspects of the battle for Kobane relates to the geopolitical dimension of the conflict, especially in the way it intersects with the interests of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, Turkey and the USA.

By Abdul Latif al-Hanachi

Introduction

Tunisia’s political elite overcame various obstacles during the initial stages of democratic transition, and successfully revived several constitutional institutions,[1] thanks to the spirit of rapprochement and the concessions made by major political players. The Constitution of the Second Republic that was finalised earlier this year is comparable to the constitutions of mature democracies, and superior in some respects.[2] The constituent assembly also issued a law governing elections and referenda,[3] and elected nine members to the Higher Independent Electoral and Referendum Commission to oversee the legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 26 October 2014 and 23 November 2014 respectively, concluding the third phase of democratic transition.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

The striking advances of Houthis in Yemen, having already taken de facto control of the capital Sana'a last month, has implications for Yemen as well as for the greater Middle East. Within Yemen, they signal the return to political prominence of the Zaidi-Shia, who had been marginalised since 1962, and a divergence from the federalist future that was being contemplated for the country by President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Regionally, in addition to becoming part of the cold war confrontation between two hegemons, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Houthi gains also affect the manner in which al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) positions itself against its various enemies.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Air strikesaimed at the Libya Dawn militia in recent months could further escalate and regionalise the conflict in Libya. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is widely reported as having launched the air strikes, but the bombings seem to be part of increasing intervention in Libya by various regional powers in spite of their calls for non-intervention. If allowed to continue, the involvement of the UAE, Egypt and Qatar, in pursuit of their own interests, could provoke a full-scale civil war in Libya, and prevent Libyans from finding political solutions to the current impasse.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

In a much-anticipated speech on Wednesday, US president Barack Obama unveiled his strategy for confronting the Islamic State group (IS). He emphasised the need for an international coalition supporting the efforts of Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels through airstrikes and logistical support inside Iraq and Syria. The US administration had already been working on the formation of an international coalition. The recent NATO summit resulted in a ten-nation alliance against IS, and US secretary of state, John Kerry, has also been trying to build an Arab consensus against IS. That move was pre-empted by an Arab League resolution earlier this week announcing Arab states’ willingness to support international efforts against IS. Additionally, the United Nations Security Council had unanimously adopted resolution 2170 in August, which called on member states to prevent the movement of terrorists and their obtaining arms or finances.

By Omar Shaukat

With the release of another video showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, held hostage by the Islamic State (IS, also variously known as Isil, or Isis), IS’s confrontation with the US has become a hot topic of discussion throughout the world.

However, what such discussions typically miss is the manner in which IS has not only found enemies in the US but also within the Muslim world and the jihadist circles that at some point supported it. In fact, these internal divisions are so deep that a former ally of IS, and the US’s previous public enemy number one, al-Qaeda, too finds itself engaged in mortal combat with IS.

By Basheer Nafi’

A truism that is valid for almost all revolutions – including the English, French, and the European revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century, the Iranian Revolution and east European revolutions after the Cold War – is that every revolution has an associated counterrevolution. A common thread through most modern revolutions is that they expressed the desire of the people in a nation to restrain the modern state either by demanding constitutional rights and democracy, confronting authoritarianism and the hegemony of the ruling elite, or by demanding a just social system that would be based on the redistribution of economic burdens and wealth. The success of a revolution, however, has never been guaranteed. In the past few decades, the countries that have experienced relatively easy transitions to democracy have been those that had been part of broader regional systems, or which had received support from regional bodies such as the European Union. Even such countries were not always spared counterrevolutionary retaliations.

Afro-Middle East Centre invites you to a symposium with the theme: Unravelling Syria's civil war; exploring future scenarios.

Speakers:
 
Radwan Ziadeh
 
David Lesch
 
Ibrahim Mousawi

Women in Conflict

By Zeenat Adam

‘When women are violated like men who but for sex are like them – when women’s arms and legs bleed when severed, when women are shot in pits and gassed in vans, when women’s bodies are salted away at the bottom of abandoned mines or dropped from places into the ocean, when women’s skulls are sent from Auschwitz to Strasbourg for experiments – this is not recorded as the history of human rights atrocities to women...When things happen to women that also happen to men, like being beaten and disappeared and tortured to death, the fact that they happened to be women is not noted in the record books or human suffering…What happens to women is either too particular to be universal or too universal to be particular, meaning either too human to be female or too female to be human.’ – Catherine McKinnon, ‘Are Women Human?’

By Jane Duncan

In the past few weeks, the South African media have been dominated by the unfolding catastrophe in Gaza and South Africans have had to rely largely on foreign coverage of this issue to understand it.

The mainstream US media continued parroting the Israeli line that the country was acting in self defence, or insisting on its right to be ‘free from tunnels and rockets’, in Secretary of State John Kerry’s words, but Israel is clearly meting out collective punishment to Palestinians. At a deeper level, though, Israel’s motivation might well be to scupper Palestinian unity (albeit strained) after years of bitter conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and the killing of three Israeli teenagers provided a pretext to do just that. A united Palestine would be deeply threatening to Israeli interests.

By Saleh Naami

Israel’s current onslaught against Gaza is the third largest military confrontation between the Israel and Palestinian resistance movements in the enclave since Hamas became the sole ruler of the Gaza Strip in July 2007. The battle was launched in the aftermath of drastic transformations in the regional landscape, distinguishing it different from Israel’s November 2012 ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. This is likely to affect its outcomes.

By Larbi Sadiki

The gilt-edged skills on display for nearly a month in Brazil are no ‘match’ for the blood-curdling war ‘games’ surgically executed by US-made Israeli planes that have been ‘slicing’ into human flesh in Gaza since early July this year.

It has been interesting to observe how often the sportsmen who played ‘to the death’, seeking victory in the mythical Estadio Maracanã and other football stadiums dotted around Brazil during the World Cup, invoked metaphors that reflect the kinds of brinkmanship demonstrated by Palestinians and Israelis as they launch missiles and bombs across their disputed terrains – Gaza and Israel.

By Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies

The latest escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came in the form of an all-out Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. Exploiting the killing of three settlers in the West Bank’s Hebron region, the Israelis have set forth to realize a number of political aims through their latest attack, including an attack on the Hamas movement in the West Bank; the redundancy of the Palestinian Unity Cabinet; the abandonment of its international political obligations toward the Palestinian National Authority; and the ability to cloak heightened settlement construction and obduracy in the negotiations underneath the smoke of a “war on terror”. Notably, even though no Palestinian political faction has accepted responsibility for the killing of the three settlers, Israel has blamed Hamas for the operation and taken the conflict to the Gaza Strip. Utilizing regional realities, particularly the case of a pliant government in Egypt, the Israelis launched an attack on the Gaza Strip: the strength of Hamas’s response, however, surprised and embarrassed both the Israeli and Egyptian governments.

A few days ago, many people around the world believed there was some hope for a halt to the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza when Egypt announced a plan for a ceasefire. Many were then surprised that Hamas and other resistance groups in Gaza ‘rejected’ the ceasefire and chose, instead to continue fighting. The Palestinian groups believe they have good reason for doing so. Yesterday began with more talk of a ceasefire, but ended, last night in an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Turkey is preparing for the first round of its historic presidential election scheduled for 10 August. The election will be the first time to elect the country’s president through a popular vote rather than by parliament, as has been the case since a legislative amendment in 2007. Previously a single seven-year term of office, the next president’s term will be five years, followed by a possible second term.

By Tariq Dana

In his recent speech at the conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, emphasised that Palestinian Authority's (PA) willingness to maintain a strong security partnership with Israel. Abbas defended security coordination with Israel under any and all circumstances, claiming that it was a 'Palestinian national interest'. He had previously characterised it as 'sacred'. Such repeated statements by the PA president and other officials have sparked widespread condemnation and outrage among Palestinians, and also provoked renewed questioning of the increasingly suspicious role of the PA security sector.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Prior to the 2011 uprisings, the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was influential in Jordan’s politics and society. The Brotherhood participated in elections, ran social institutions, and was one of very few organisations that was able to straddle the Jordanian–Palestinian identity divide. The uprisings initially augmented its powers, and in 2011 and 2012 the Brotherhood widened its appeal, organising large protests. However the nature of the Jordanian political system, the stance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the Brotherhood’s decision not to participate in Jordan’s elections have since severely diminished its influence. The Brotherhood is now undergoing a process of introspection and, in the light of the GCC decision to declare it a terrorist organisation, it is reasserting its support for the monarch in an attempt to remain viable relevant.

By Afro-Middle East Centre

On 12 June 2014, three teenage boys were reported missing from Gush Etzion, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank near Hebron. The Israeli government quickly accused Hamas of kidnapping the boys and announced ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ – the most extensive military deployment on the West Bank since the second intifada. Israeli officials said the operation had two objectives: to find the missing settlers; and to crack down on Hamas. Thus, the operation must be understood in the context of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace initiative, and the decision by Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government. The operation has substantially targeted Hamas: 500 abductions/arrests have already occurred; 269 of these are Hamas members and twelve are parliamentarians who could have served in a unity government.

By Omar Shaukat

ISIS the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Levant), has burst dramatically onto the Iraqi scene in recent weeks, as it has captured one town after another. It has brought a substantial part of the north of Iraq under its control and come to within 100km of the capital, Baghdad.

But these developments should not have been surprising. Iraq — and Isis — have been heading in this direction for a while.

Isis is a transnational, militant Sunni group which wants to mobilise Islamic ideals for the creation of what it deems an Islamic state, or caliphate, within the Middle East. It developed out of an earlier entity, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), but is at odds with the leadership of Al-Qaeda since it rejects the authority represented by Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Almost three years after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the country is suffering the dramatic rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), a militant group that has succeeded in dividing Iraq, and has the potential to unravel the states that make up the modern Levant – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, northern Turkey and Cyprus. Some argue that ISIS has already created a new ‘state’, having carved a ‘country’ from the adjoining regions of eastern Syria and western Iraq. Its latest and most stunning victories have been the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the most important Sunni-majority city, on 10 June, followed by the seizure of Tikrit, less than 150 kilometres north of Baghdad, just one day later.

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