MENA Week in Review – December 20, 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:

United States Policy:

  • Yemen’s Parliament voted Sunday to prohibit U.S. drone activity in the country after a strike on Thursday mistakenly killed around 14 people traveling to a wedding, according to local officials. The Wall Street Journal noted that President Hadi could disregard the parliament’s vote, which he is likely to do “because his impoverished government needs the American funding attached to [the drone program].” The United States has not commented on Thursday’s attack, only stating that it broadly seeks to minimize civilian causalities in its counterterrorism operations.
    • Despite reports that the drone strike was a mistake, Yemen’s official government statement said the airstrike targeted a car with numerous Al Qaeda leaders, not mentioning the wedding. Nonetheless, the tribe targeted by the strike protested and blocked roads over the weekend, and Yemeni military officials ultimately compensated the tribe for its casualties on Saturday.
  • Two weeks after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the United States hoped to sell defense articles to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a unit, President Obama issued a Presidential Determination to that effect on Monday. Obama stated that selling these articles to the GCC would enhance U.S. security and “promote world peace.” AFP noted that the determination could open the door to the sale of ballistic missile defense and counterterrorism equipment to the GCC bloc.
  • High-level Saudi Arabian officials and royal family members have continued to criticize U.S. policies in the Middle East. On Sunday, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said that U.S. allies might lose confidence with the United States, claiming President Obama has failed to deliver on certain assurances he has made. On Tuesday, the Saudi ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in the New York Times that the “West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East.” Prince bin Abdulaziz then promised a more assertive Saudi Arabian foreign policy in the region.
  • The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a bill, the “Egypt Assistance Reform Act of 2013,” on Wednesday which allows President Obama to waive preexisting restrictions on U.S. assistance to Egypt. Chairman Robert Menendez (D-CA) and Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) co-authored the bill. Chairman Menendez stated that the bill is meant to “reaffirm the enduring US commitment to our partnership with the Egyptian government.” Earlier this year, U.S. assistance to Egypt was restricted because of the violent reaction of the Egyptian government to protest from political opposition groups.
  • In order to “broaden the base of the moderate opposition” in Syria, Secretary Kerry expressed the United States’ willingness to meet with the Islamic Front rebel union on Tuesday. To date, the United States has only had direct contact with the more secular rebel alliance, the Supreme Military Council. However, U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, stated Wednesday that the Islamic Front has refused to meet with U.S. officials. Furthermore, a senior official in the opposition Syrian National Council complained Wednesday that Western countries may no longer push for Bashar al-Assad’s removal during the next round of peace negotiations due to the growing influence of Al Qaeda in Syria.
  • On Friday (12/13), the White House released its report to Congress about U.S. military deployments around the world. The report confirmed that 1,500 U.S. troops remain deployed in Jordan, manning the Patriot missile systems, F-16 aircraft, and other U.S. systems and equipment.
  • A Congressional delegation comprising of Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA), and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) toured the region this week. The delegation met with Egyptian President Adly Mansour and Defense Minister General al-Sisi, Lebanese officials, and Libyan General National Congress President Nuri Abu Sahmain.

Other Security Stories from the Region:

  • On Wednesday, Egypt’s public prosecutor charged former President Mohamed Morsi and 35 other Muslim Brotherhood members with multiple terrorism and espionage crimes. Some of the accusations levied against Morsi and the Brotherhood include preparing a terrorism plan in coordination with Hezbollah and Hamas, funding terrorism to support the goals of the international Muslim Brotherhood, divulging military secrets, and others.
  • An Egyptian court acquitted former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq of several corruption charges. According to the New York Times, this ruling suggests that Shafiq will be “removed from a list of people whose arrest has been ordered.” After serving as Prime Minister under ex-President Hosni Mubarak, Shafiq ran in Egypt’s presidential election last year but lost to the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi. Following his defeat in last year’s election, Shafiq moved to the United Arab Emirates.
  • DefenseWeb posted a detailed round up of the international community’s efforts to train and equip Libya’s military and police forces. The roundup includes details about Italy’s 250 million Euro investment in the country (mostly for security efforts), France’s training of over 2,500 police forces in counterterrorism and border security skills, Britain’s training of 2,000 troops in basic infantry skill, the United States’ commitment to train 5,000-8,000 soldiers, and other pledges. The article noted that private security firms would also likely benefit from Libya’s high demand for security assistance and training.
  • Iranian Air Force Chief, General Ali Reza Barkhor, told state TV that an air force military exercise would be held over the Strait of Hormuz. The exercise is set to take place over the weekend. According to General Barkhor, the purpose of the exercise is to “show off Iran’s air defense capabilities and military readiness.”
  • The United States sent two former Saudi Arabian Guantanamo Bay inmates back to Saudi Arabia, where they entered the kingdom’s “counseling and care programs.” These programs try to promote a more moderate interpretation of Islam among inmates convicted of Islamic militancy.
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released additional details about how it plans to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The OPCW stated Wednesday that Russian armored trucks will transport the material from 12 Syrian locations to the Latakia port, from where Danish and Norwegian ships will transport the material to Italy, at which point the material would be transferred to a U.S. Navy ship to be destroyed.

This post is co-authored by Program Associate Daniel Resnick and Transparency and Accountability intern Eddie Bejarano.

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