MENA Week in Review – November 8

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:

  • On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest-ranking American official to visit Egypt since the removal of President Muhammad Morsi in July. In his remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Kerry stated that the government sponsored political roadmap was “being carried out to the best of our perception,” and emphasized that the partial suspension of assistance was not intended as punishment, but represented “a reflection of a policy in the United States under our law.”
  • On Monday, President Morsi was brought to trial along with 14 other Muslim Brotherhood defendants on charges of inciting murder. The trial was adjourned until January when Morsi refused to wear the white prison uniform and repeatedly asserted the illegitimacy of the trial during the proceedings. Egypt’s Ministry of Interior announced that police arrested more than 50 people around the country in protests following the trial.
  • In an interview preceding Kerry’s visit, Foreign Minister Fahmy stated that Egypt would look to purchase arms from other countries, including Russia. He emphasized that this move should not be viewed as a slight to the U.S. but rather as an attempt to “diversify [Egypt’s] relationship.”
  • The Ministry of the Interior announced plans to form a National Security Agency by reinstating 575 former intelligence officers of the Mubarak-era regime. This organization would replace the State Security Agency, which was dissolved in 2011 under SCAF rule.

Iran:

  • The P5+1 is meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister in Geneva to work on an agreement to resolve the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. would agree to temporary sanctions relief if the Iranians pledge to freeze uranium enrichment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his opposition to this possible accord, saying that it would be a “very bad” agreement.
  • In a Tuesday speech (pdf) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reiterated the Obama administration’s desire to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means, but pledged that the U.S. “will maintain a strong and ready military presence in the Persian Gulf, and the broader Middle East, to deter Iran’s destabilizing activities.”

Yemen:

  • Over 100 people died in clashes between Houthis and Salafists in Northern Yemen. The fighting began last Wednesday after Houthis accused Salafists of recruiting foreign fighters to plan an attack, while Salafists claimed the foreigners merely traveled to Yemen to study theology. A ceasefire announced by the United Nations envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar on Monday fell apart, though the International Red Cross was able to briefly access the site. The Group of Ten, including the United States, called on all fighters to quickly return to talks and denounced the presence of forces from outside the area.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama administration is talking with the Yemeni government to establish a detention facility outside the capital of Sana’a to house released Yemeni inmates from Guantanamo Bay.

Libya:

  • Government funded militias fought with one another in Tripoli on Tuesday in the worst fighting in the capital in weeks, according to Reuters. The clashes started after one militia detained the leader of another militia at a checkpoint. Additional clashes between rival militias were reported today.
  • Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) debated on Tuesday whether to dissolve the Libya Revolutionary Operations Room (LROR), a government-backed militia that was involved in last month’s kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. During the debate, the LROR surrounded the GNC, though the head of the LROR stated that this action was meant to protect, not pressure, the GNC. The Libyan government also announced a plan to stop paying any militia group that did not commit to joining the national security forces by year’s end.

Saudi Arabia:

  • Secretary of State Kerry met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to address a perceived discord in U.S-Saudi relations. In a joint news conference with Prince Saud al-Faisal, Kerry reasserted the United States’ commitment to Saudi Arabia and described Saudi Arabia as an “indispensable partner.” Saudi Arabia has recently expressed disagreement with U.S. policies regarding the conflict in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, and the new government in Egypt.
  • Foreign Policy magazine reported that Saudi Arabia might request Pakistan’s help to train Syrian rebels to fight the Bashar al-Assad government. Saudi government officials say the program came about because the kingdom has given up hope that the U.S. will adopt a more pro-active role to remove Assad from power.

Iraq:

  • U.S. President Barack Obama agreed that Iraq needed additional equipment to combat terrorism after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minster Nouri Maliki this week. A recent increase in violence led Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki to request U.S. assistance. To read more about the Prime Minister’s visit, please read our blog.

Bahrain:

  • The Bahraini government charged the leader of Bahrain’s main opposition group Al Wefaq with insulting authorities on Sunday. Bahraini law enforcement officials interrogated Sheikh Ali Salman for 9 hours after Al Wefaq opened an exhibition that extolled anti-government protestors. Bahraini police forces closed the exhibition last week because it contained “incitement material.”

Syria:

  • U.S. and Russian officials failed to schedule a Syrian peace conference before the end of the month because of differences over issues including Iran’s role in any future peace conference. According to the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, a Syrian peace conference could still be scheduled by the end of the year.

Jordan:

 

This post was co-written with Tranperancy and Accountability Intern Eddie Bejarano

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