Category - Africa: North

North Africa

Egypt vs. ISIS: Is Sinai now an official battlefield?

Al Arabiya, By Sonia Farid, July 11

The July 1 Sinai attacks were not the first, but they were the most shocking. They followed the assassination of the prosecutor general, which made linking the two incidents inevitable, especially since they both took place around the second anniversary of the June 30 protests that toppled former President Mohamed Mursi.

Confusion ensued due to contradictory reports on the number of deaths, with an official figure of 21 but local sources saying 70-100. The media described the battle, between Islamist militants and the army, as the fiercest since the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel. Meanwhile, officials are trying to alleviate fears over the growing power the militant group Sinai Province, which is affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“This specific attack is by far the worst we’ve ever seen,” said Daniel Nisman, CEO of the Levantine Group Risk Consultancy, adding that the danger lies mainly in a plan to take over Sinai. “It’s not a hit and run – this is what [ISIS] used in places like Syria and Iraq to capture and hold territory.” Nisman said the operation underlined the shortcomings of the “scorched land” strategy of the Egyptian army, as it makes it harder for the state to garner local support.

Sinai security expert Zack Gold described the attack as “new and worrying,” and said militants either aimed to take over the city of Sheikh Zuwaid, where the attacks took place, or wanted to drag the army into an actual battle. “Either one is unprecedented.” However, he said comparing Sinai to Iraq and Syria was unrealistic, and the success of militants in the peninsula was extremely unlikely.

“Egypt isn’t Iraq; this isn’t Anbar. The [Egyptian] military is more cohesive, has more firepower, and has the capability to get them out,” Gold said, adding that the main obstacle is the number of civilians that could be killed in the process.

Middle East Briefing: The Unseen Significance of ISIL North Sinai Attack

ISIS claims Italian consulate car bomb in Cairo

Al Arabiya News, July 11

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group said it exploded a deadly car bomb Saturday outside the Italian consulate in Cairo, warning Muslims to stay away from such places, SITE Intelligence Group reported.

“Soldiers of the Islamic State in Cairo were able to detonate a parked booby-trapped vehicle laden with 450 kg (990 pounds) of explosives at the headquarters of the Italian consulate,” the U.S.-based security monitor quoted an ISIS tweet as saying.

“We advise Muslims to stay away from these security dens, because they are legitimate targets for strikes of the mujahedeen,” the statement added.

AP’s Timeline: The Latest: Egypt to repair Italian Consulate after bombing

Egypt extends state of emergency in northern Sinai by three months

Reuters, April 25

Cairo – Egypt said on Saturday it had extended by three months a state of emergency imposed on parts of northern Sinai in October after Islamist militants stepped up attacks in the peninsula bordering Israel, Gaza and the Suez Canal.

Insurgents have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen in Sinai since mid-2013, lashing out after then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi following protests. Sisi went on to be elected president last year.

The decision, announced in a statement from the presidency, will be implemented in Rafah, al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and surrounding areas starting on Sunday. It also extends a night-time curfew in place in the same areas.

Simultaneous Attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Kill 26

AP, By Ashraf Sweilam, January 29

El-Arish, Egypt – Militants struck more than a dozen army and police targets in the restive Sinai Peninsula with simultaneous attacks involving a car bomb and mortar rounds on Thursday, killing at least 26 security officers.

An Army spokesman immediately blamed former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating the attack, which killed 25 Army soldiers and one policeman.

The wide-ranging attacks late Thursday required a previously unseen level of coordination. At least one car bomb was set off outside a military base, while mortars were simultaneously fired at the base, toppling some buildings and leaving soldiers buried under the debris, official said.

Other attacks included mortar rounds fired at a hotel, a police club and more than a dozen checkpoints, officials said.

BBC: Egypt’s Sisi cuts short visit over Sinai attacks
Al Arabiya: Sisi cuts short overseas trip after Sinai attacks

Egypt acquits 26 men accused of debauchery in Cairo bathhouse

Associated Press, By Maggie Michael, January 12

Cairo — An Egyptian court on Monday acquitted 26 men arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, a ruling that set off deafening cheers and jubilation inside the courtroom as some of the defendants uncovered their faces and cried with relief.

The trial, which had caused an uproar among activists and rights groups, captured public attention after a pro-government TV network aired scenes of half-naked men being pulled from the bathhouse by police.

Same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited in Egyptian law but homosexuality is a social taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country. Same-sex marriage is unheard of. Only in recent years have movies and fiction included gay characters.


The courtroom erupted into a frenzy after the word “acquittal” was heard from the judge and women ululated. Scott Long, an American researcher who had followed the case said he was both “shocked and delighted.”

“I hope this is a sign that these raids will come to an end,” Long told The Associated Press amid the cheering. “Finally there was a judge who listened to the evidence.”

The secularists have it

The Economist, November 1

Nidaa Tounes resoundingly beats the Islamist Nahda party

In a region gripped by jihadist violence, civil war and the return of authoritarian rule, Tunisia’s parliamentary election on October 26th was an exception on many counts. Alone among the countries that saw popular revolts in the “Arab Spring” of 2011, it has remained on a path to democracy. Seemingly against the trend of Arab politics, voters inflicted a firm rebuke on Islamists and instead gave victory to the secularist coalition known as Nidaa Tounes. And the defeated Islamists of the Nahda party bowed peacefully before the verdict. A stint out of power, said its leader, Rached Ghannouchi, could be salutary.

Nidaa Tounes (“Tunisian Call”) won 85 of the 217 seats in parliament, against 69 for Nahda (“Awakening”). Nahda can still count on loyalists nationwide and has an organisational reach that is envied by other parties. Nevertheless, voters have been unimpressed by the Islamists’ two years at the helm of government, in 2012–13, particularly its inability to pull the economy out of stagnation and its failure to quash the emergence of violent jihadism. Senior Nahda figures concede that the job of running the country proved to be harder than they had expected.

Though often fractious and tainted by the presence of members of the ancien régime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the ex-president overthrown by a revolt in January 2011, Nidaa Tounes was helped to victory by the popularity of its leader, Beji Caid Sebsi. Three times a minister, he emerged from retirement in 2011 as a reassuring figure and headed the interim government that handed over to the Nahda-led coalition at the end of that year. Rattled by the army coup that deposed Egypt’s Islamist president, Nahda handed power to a technocratic government in January, after two political assassinations raised tensions. It also softened the Islamist flavour of the proposed new constitution.

Nahda would like to join a coalition under Nidaa Tounes, which has not yet made its intentions clear. The secularists could put together a government with smaller factions, albeit a rather fragile one. Moreover, opposition to Islamists is part of the raison d’être of Nidaa Tounes. The party accuses the former Nahda-led government of having undermined the separation of religion and state that was laid down by Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first post-independence president. Some admire the Egyptian army’s suppression of Islamists.

‘Freewheeling Militia Violence’ Forced US to Evacuate Embassy in Libya, Kerry Says

ABC News, By Ali Weinberg, July 26

The U.S. State Department was forced to suspend operations at its embassy in Libya because of “freewheeling militia violence” there, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Kerry, who spoke to reporters before a meeting with the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers about Gaza, made the comments after the State Department announced it evacuated its staff in Tripoli.

He blamed the “freewheeling militia violence,” caused by jihadist groups which have only grown in power since the ouster of former president Muammar Gaddafi, for creating an environment in which the diplomatic activities at the Libya embassy had to be suspended.

“A lot of the violence is around our embassy but not on the embassy, but nevertheless it presents a very real risk to our personnel,” Kerry said.

Bloomberg: U.S. Evacuates Embassy as Americans Urged to Leave Libya
CBC News: U.S. evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes
Reuters: Libya seeks ceasefire as south Tripoli a militia ‘war zone’

US warns of ‘widespread conflict’ in Libya

State Department calls for draft of new constitution to take place unhindered amid increasing volatility.

Al Jazeera, July 13

The United States has warned that the conflict in Libya could become “widespread,” urging that a new parliament be quickly seated after contested elections.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also called for work on drafting Libya’s new constitution to take place unhindered, amid increasing lawlessness and unrest in the country.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in Libya and dangerous posturing that could lead to widespread conflict there,” Psaki said in a statement.

“We affirm our support for Libya’s democratic transition and urge the seating of the new Council of Representatives as soon as possible.”

Jimmy Carter warns Egypt ‘stands on the precipice’

AP, May 17

Cairo – The former US president Jimmy Carter has warned Egypt that its transition to democracy after years of political turmoil is faltering, ahead of presidential elections later this month.

The Carter Center will not be sending observers for Egypt’s 26-27 May election, which many believe retired Field Marshal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will win following the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year. However, the center will be sending a small team of experts.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Carter Center warned that “Egypt’s political transition has stalled and stands on the precipice of total reversal,” and said Morsi’s overthrow deepened the political unrest in the country.

Egypt’s military-backed interim government has declared Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group a terrorist organisation, as hundreds of its followers have been killed and thousands have been arrested.

“I am gravely concerned that Egypt’s democratic transition has faltered,” Carter said in the statement.