MENA Week in Review – November 22, 2013

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:

  • In an interview with a Kuwaiti newspaper, Egypt’s Defense Minister General Abdul-Fatah Al-Sisi stated that it would unwise for Egypt to significantly alter its relationship with the United States. In the same interview, Gen. Sisi refused to confirm or deny his intention to run for Egypt’s presidency.
  • Despite a partial freeze on U.S. assistance and arms transfers, the Egyptian Navy received the first of four fast missile crafts from the U.S. on Tuesday. According to Defense News, “the ships are specifically designed to protect the Suez Canal region.”
  • In a Wednesday speech at the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the 2011 Egyptian revolution “got stolen” by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya:

  • Clashes broke out in Tripoli last Friday when armed militias fired on peaceful protestors, who were demanding that these militias leave the city. This violence, and subsequent fighting between rival militias on Saturday, left over 40 people dead.
  • On Sunday, militias from the Misrata region, who had been responsible for much of the violence over the weekend, were ordered to leave Tripoli by tribal and local leaders. On Monday, these militias started to leave the city and were replaced by Libyan soldiers, while other armed groups also reportedly withdrew from the city this week. Libya’s interior and defense ministers confirmed on Tuesday that the only forces patrolling the capital at the moment are members of official security agencies, and not recruits from militias.
  • The U.S. Defense Department officially announced its plan to train 5000 to 8000 Libyan soldiers in a U.S. facility in Bulgaria. The head of U.S. Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven, confirmed that some Libyan units would also receive special operations counterterrorism training. While promising extensive vetting of the soldiers, Adm. McRaven admitted, “There is probably some risk that some of the people we will be training with do not have the most clean records.”

Bahrain and Yemen:

  • The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing about U.S. policies in Yemen and Bahrain, featuring Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Arabian Peninsula Barbara Leaf. In her written testimony (pdf), Leaf noted that the U.S. has distributed USD 221 million in humanitarian assistance and USD 248 million in security assistance ($87 million from the State Department and $161 million from the Defense Department) to Yemen over the past two years.
  • On Monday, the White House’s top counterterrorism official, Lisa Monaco, spoke with Yemen President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi and expressed the United States’ support for Yemen’s National Dialogue and its fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula.

The UAE and Gulf Cooperation Council States:

  • The United Arab Emirates is hosting the bi-annual Dubai Airshow this week, which features both a civil and military component. In conjunction with the show, a number of articles were published this week describing potential and confirmed arms purchases and sales by various Gulf States, as well as these states’ growing defense budgets.

North Africa:

  • The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on Thursday to examine the political, economic, and security situation in North Africa (minus Egypt), featuring witnesses from the State Department, Defense Department, USAID, and the private sector. In her testimony (pdf), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory detailed U.S. security priorities in and U.S. defense cooperation with each of the countries in North Africa.

Tunisia:

  • Prime Minister Ali Larayedh announced Wednesday that he met with the head of U.S. Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, to discuss “how the United States can support Tunisia, in terms of equipment and training.” The talks specifically focused on border security and arms trafficking.

Morocco:

  • King Mohammed VI traveled to Washington this week, where he met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Wednesday. The King is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House today.

Iran:

  • Officials from the P5+1 states are meeting with Iranian officials in Geneva this week in a new round of talks regarding Iran’s nuclear program. As of Friday, no progress appears to have been made on reaching a deal. Prior to the start of these talks, a bipartisan group of Senators met with administration officials at the White House on Tuesday and acknowledged that the Senate is unlikely to pass a new batch of sanctions against Iran while talks go on.
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