MENA Week in Review – October 25

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:

Egypt:

  • Egyptian police arrested 55 students from al-Azhar University as anti-military protestors clashed with security forces at the university on Sunday. Reuters noted that the protests might reflect a new strategy by ex-President Muhammad Morsi supporters to target sensitive sites rather than stage huge demonstrations.
  • Supporters of former President Morsi pledged to hold mass protests on November 4, when Morsi will stand trial for inciting murder.
  • A gunman opened fire on a wedding at a Coptic Christian Church in Cairo’s Warraq district on Sunday night, killing four people. The attack drew near universal condemnation from the Egyptian government and from Egypt’s anti- government coalition, as well as from the United States. Coptic activists demanded the resignation of Egypt’s Interior Minister following the attack.
  • An Egyptian government official announced Tuesday that the government does not plan to extend the state of emergency law that has been in effect since August, noting that such an extension would require a public referendum. The U.S. and European Union have urged that the state of emergency law be lifted.

Libya:

  • On Monday, NATO approved sending a small advisory mission to Libya that will assist with building defense institutions in the country. The team of advisers will be no greater than 10 people, according to a NATO spokesperson. NATO’s Secretary General also welcomed additional “efforts undertaken bilaterally by Allies to strengthen Libya’s security sector.”
  • This week marked the two-year anniversary of the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Despite a statement of congratulations from the Libyan government, Al Arabiya and the Libya Herald reported that there were no signs of celebration in Libya’s two biggest cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the anniversary on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia:

  • Saudi Arabia made the unprecedented move of turning down a United Nations Security Council seat last Friday due to the Council’s perceived inaction regarding the Syrian civil war and Iran’s nuclear program, among other issues.
  • On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief and former Ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, claimed that Saudi Arabia will make “a major shift” away from the U.S., as the country is upset with the United States’ inaction in Syria, outreach to Iran, criticism of Egypt’s government, and inability to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Monday, Secretary Kerry and Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister met in an attempt to discuss some of the issues between the countries.

Yemen:

  • Agence France Presse reported that Yemeni security forces prevented a massive prison break by Al Qaeda inmates in Sana’a on Wednesday. The escape attempt started when inmates staged a mutiny in the prison.
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released reports criticizing U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, arguing that civilian deaths as a result of these strikes violate international law. The White House stated it “strongly disagreed” with the groups’ assessments of U.S. drone policy and contended, “The administration has repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counter-terrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law.”

Lebanon:

  • Violence hit Tripoli this week as five days of clashes between Alawite supporters and Sunni opponents of Bashar al Assad’s regime left five people dead. The Lebanese Army recently began implementing a security plan in Tripoli, where attacks also occurred this summer.

Tunisia:

  • Following a similar clash last week, six national guardsmen and one police officer were killed on Wednesday in multiple incidents around the country. Security forces are now searching for the assailants who killed the guardsmen during a raid conducted in Sidi Ali Ben Aoun. On Saturday, Tunisian forces announced the death of nine Islamist militants reportedly responsible for last week’s attack, which the Interior Ministry blamed Ansar al-Sharia. Prime Minister Ali Larayedh argued that extremists continue to receive weapons and training in Libya.
  • Tunisia’s opposition continued to stage protests on Wednesday despite the scheduled beginning of the national dialogue, which is meant to lead to the resignation of the Islamist-led government. Protestors demanded further commitment from the government that it will resign at the conclusion of the three weeks of talks, though the government accused the opposition of trying to the “destroy” the negotiations with the protests.
  • National dialogue talks were postponed from Wednesday to today (Friday) due to the security situation and continued skepticism from the government and opposition.

Syria:

  • The head of the Arab League stated on Sunday that peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition would take place in late November. Syria’s main opposition group has refused to participate if the removal of President Assad is not a precondition for the talks. Foreign Policy reported disagreement within the State Department as to how to proceed if key opposition figures boycott the talks.

Israel and Iran:

  • Israel and the United States held talks on various diplomatic levels this week, mainly concentrating on Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns as part of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. During his trip to Washington, Steinitz advocated that the U.S. increase sanctions on Iran. On Wednesday, Secretary Kerry met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for seven hours to try and ease any doubt the Prime Minister has about U.S. policy.

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