Friday, 30 September 2011

Algeria: Djezzy valuation disappoints authorities

The process of evaluating the mobile phone operator Djezzy, which the Algerian government wants to buy from Orascom Telecom rather than let the Egyptian owner sell it to a third party, has apparently stalled. The French legal firm Sherman & Sterling, appointed by the government to provide an independent view, has completed its final report on the valuation, but the government has delayed receiving it, after what looks like a disappointing result.

According to “sources close to the file”, Djezzy has been valued at around $7 billion, a sum which is close to the sale price of $7.8 billion demanded by the former Orascom boss Naguib Sawiris when he tried to sell his concession to a South African buyer. The Algerian authorities have indicated that they are willing to pay just $2 billion–3 billion for Djezzy, which is now owned by Russian group Vimpelcom after it bought Orascom Telecom.

The evaluation of Djezzy was scheduled for completion in May this year, and the Algerian authorities indicated that they would go ahead with buying the operator as soon as this process was complete. The delay has met with no official comment or explanation, but it seems that the Algerians are in a something of a bind, and have yet to figure out their next move.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Aisha upsets the Algerians

The outspoken Aisha Qadhafi caused controversy and embarrassment for her Algerian hosts this month when she broadcast a four-minute message calling on Libyans to rise up against their new rulers, whom she described as 'traitors who have broken their oath of allegiance.' The colonel's daughter fled Libya in late August in an armed convoy with 30–60 family members and close supporters, including her mother, half-brother Mohamed , brother Hannibal , and a number of their children.

The convoy was allowed into Algeria on spurious humanitarian grounds because Aisha allegedly gave birth to a baby girl. This was miraculous because she would be Aisha's second baby in eight months – her last one having been killed in a NATO bombing in April when she was four months old. She told the Syrian Arrai television that Qadhafi was alive and still fighting and declared, 'The great leader is doing well. He carries weapons and is fighting on the fronts.'Aisha's comments did not go down well with her Algerian hosts. Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci denounced the broadcast as 'unacceptable.' Medelci, who was attending the UN General

Assembly in New York, pledged to 'take measures' against Qadhafi's relatives. This condemnation seems to have prompted reports in the El-Khabar newspaper – which is controlled by Algeria's notorious Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) intelligence service – that Aisha was among a party of eight of Qadhafi's relatives who left Algeria for Cairo. Egyptian security forces have denied the reports, however, and Egypt would in any case be an unlikely destination for Aisha, or anyone else from the Qadhafi family, because of both its own ongoing instability and the fierce dislike of the Qadhafi regime among Egypt's revolutionaries.

As for the whereabouts of other Qadhafi family members, there were reported sightings of Mu'atassim in Sirte this month and rumours that Saif al-Islam is holding out in Bani Walid. Meanwhile the Muammar Qadhafi is proving as elusive as ever.

He continues to release statements insisting that he is still in Libya although where he will eventually turn up is anyone's guess. All the time he is on the loose his spectre will loom large in the minds of the Libyans.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Nigeria and Benin join forces to tackle piracy

Nigeria and neighbouring Benin have begun collaborating on patrolling its waters in order to combat the threat of pirates. This year, the Gulf of Guinea has seen a marked increase in attacks.

A military crew of almost 100 people from the two West African nations embarked on three patrol boats and four fast-attack crafts.

In August, a London based insurance group rated the coast in the same high-risk category as Somalia. According to the International Maritime Bureau there have been 19 attacks off Benin's coast this year. The Bureau also said that no such incidents were reported in 2010.

Head of Nigeria's western naval command, Emmanual Ogbor, said that a no-nonsense approach from his ships has forced the pirates into areas where they can operate more easily.

The joint patrol efforts will initially be in place for six months and involve six Nigerian ships and helicopters with the Beninois contributing two vessels. A Benin's navy spokesman said pirate activity scared ships away and thereby affected the country's economy.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Nigeria Observer

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Libya in the throes of change

The situation in Libya has changed rapidly as the last redoubts of the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi regime fall one by one. At Sirte it seems as if the end-game is at hand. The rebels only have a short distance left before they take over the centre of the town and there are desperate efforts being made to enable civilians to evacuate the area and move to Misrata. In addition to the current damage being inflicted, the political raison d'etre for Sirte will evaporate and its likely position in the near future will be as a garrison town for the revolutionaries.

At Bani Walid the situation is very different. Its tribal elders are seeking to avoid a bloodbath and many of the townspeople have already decamped towards Misrata for shelter. Bani Walid, with its considerable qualities as a centre of the very large and combative Warfalla tribe, will have its fate determined by the end of October, or before. Political objectives will be at stake for Bani Walid and it will perhaps be able to play off the revolutionaries by agreeing to join one of the provinces for its economic benefit and military safety. Much will depend on the actions of the National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi and the criteria that are adopted within the new constitution.

It is very likely that, despite a past history of ill will towards the people of Misrata, the population of Bani Walid may, if there is a federal solution to the constitutional problem, wishes to be counted as part of Tripolitania rather than of Fezzan. If the elders opt for a fight it could come in the next few days because there is now a very large concentration of well-armed rebels surrounding the district ready to exert their authority.

The southern city of Sebha only has its size of population of approximately 100,000 as an asset and any direct army attack on the area would wreak a terrible toll in civilian deaths. So far there has been no sign so far that there will be any sustained resistance in this quarter. It is expected that Sebha's people will want to get back to the things in which they excel - agricultural trade and administration.

A final thrust to the south is also in hand with the interior oases of Um Araneb and the border towns with Algeria now or soon to be under command of the rebels. It is rumoured that Qadhafi is circulating in the desert of south western Libya and will become a target for the military in the very near future. The airport at Ghat, which is very close to the Algerian border, is disproportionally large for the volume of air-traffic and there are rumours that Qadhafi may be hiding in vast bunkers said to be built under the airport.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Egypt: Two high-ranking officials charged with corruption

Egypt's former information minister Anas al-Fekky has been sentence to seven years in prison for misappropriation of public funds. The court sentenced al-Fekky on charges of deliberately misusing funds from state run radio and television union.

The former head of state TV, Osama el-Sheikh, was also sentence to five years on the same charges. The two officials, the latest to be sentenced, were found guilty of paying inflated prices for television soap operas.

Al-Fekky was a member of cabinet under former president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February after months of popular protests calling for his departure. Earlier this month, al-Fekky was cleared of separate corruption charges.

The uprising in Egypt was inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. The unrest was further fuelled by the nation's disgruntlement about lack of political and social freedoms, poverty, dearth of employment opportunities and institutional corruption. The latter will be a test for the interim Egyptian authority, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Along with his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, Mubarak is being charged with "premeditated murder" of protesters during the height of the unrest. The former president, who is thought to be unwell, denies the charges. If found guilty, however, he could face the death penalty. Mubarak and his family is also being questioned over charges of illegally profiting during his three decade reign.

Sources: BCC News, Reuters, AP

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Yemen: Defence Minister Mohamed Nasser Ali escapes attack

Yemeni authorities have said that the country's Defence Minister Maj Gen Mohamed Nasser Ali escaped an attack on his convoy in the city of Aden. It is thought that a suicide bomber drove a vehicle full of explosive into the defence minister's convoy while others attacked by hurling hand grenades.

It is estimated that at least three soldiers were killed and nine others injured. The ongoing political turmoil in the country has given rise to outbreaks of violence. Yemen now faces serious security hurdles, including fighting between various ethnic factions and a surge in attacks by the Al-Qa'ida.

Islamist fighters connected to the Al-Qa'ida have taken advantage of Yemen's insecurity during the ongoing unrest and fighting between anti-government protesters and supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Three months after an attempt on his life, Saleh returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia on Friday 23rd September. Just hours after his return, a government spokesman said the president was calling for a “truce and a ceasefire.” But protests urging him to step down are still taking place in cities across the country.

It is yet unclear who carried out the attack on Ali's convoy, but one official told AFP news agency that the defence minister's convoy was hit as it left a tunnel on the way back to his hotel.

Ali was on an official visit to Aden, following reports that militants have recently taken control of three towns in the Abyan province. The Yemeni army has been deployed to the region in order to gain control of the territory.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

President Mills lauds Ghana's progress at UN

President John Atta Mills reiterated his commitment to credible and violence-free elections in 2012 when he addressed members of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“Ghana's democratic credentials stand tall and we intend to maintain the standards we have achieved,” he said, adding that the Ghana's Electoral Commission (EC) has the necessary resources to conduct the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner.

He invited the international community to monitor the 2012 poll, as it did in 2008.

Briefing the General Assembly on the government's development initiatives, he said that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration continued to invest heavily in young people by improving education and skills training, instituting anti-drug campaigns, and using the oil and gas industry to create new opportunities.

He said his government had also taken measures to strengthen the rule of law by implementing legislation to promote accountability and good governance, protect human rights, and ensure the independence and integrity of the judiciary and the freedom of the media.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Eni and Total resume operations in Libya

Italian oil giant Eni has resumed operations in Libya, as the National Transitional Council (NTC) tightens its grip on the economy. Eni, one of the biggest western oil investors within the country before Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, said it planned to reopen a number of other oil fields within a matter of days. French oil company Total has also resumed work at the Al-Jurf offshore facility, which is capable of producing 40,000 b/d.

Meanwhile, anti Qadhafi protesters are reportedly closing in on the Leader's home town of Sirte, which is one of the last remaining Qadhafi strongholds. Troops loyal to NTC launched a surprise assault on the city during the weekend.

Eni released a statement saying it has restarted production at 15 wells in the Abu Attifel oil field, about 300km south of Benghazi. The company said it was pumping 31,900 b/d, compared with a rate of 70,000 b/d before the unrest.

The company shut down its operations in March following months of violence and an increasing security threat to its personnel.

Earlier this month, Libya's state controlled Arabian Gulf Oil (Agoco) announced that it had started pumping 160,000 b/d from fields in the east. It is estimated that Libya was producing in the region of 1.6 million b/d before the popular uprising, which makes up a large portion of the country's revenues.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Egyptian pipeline under attack once again

Yet another attack on a pipeline carrying gas to Israel and Jordan has been reported by the Egyptian authorities. A witness told Reuters news agency that three men opened fire at a pumping station near the town of El-Arish, in northern Egypt, 50km from the Israeli border.

Attacks on the pipeline have been more frequent this year than at any other period in the past. This reportedly due to the sale of Egyptian gas to Israel, which some groups vehemently opposed. There have also been allegations that under former president Hosni Mubarak gas prices for the 20-year deal signed in 2008 were set at very low rates.

Unnamed Egyptian officials said that an initial assessment of the situation indicated that the gunmen had planted explosives at the station. One of the officials blamed the attack on "extremist militants inspired by Al-Qa'ida".

Three lines branch out from the pumping station: one to Israel, a second one to Jordan and a third to Egypt's domestic market. The Egyptian and Jordanian lines were shut down following the attack. The Israeli pipeline has not been operating since an attack in July.

Last month, Egypt's government deployed thousands of troops to the region as part of a campaign to contain the explosive situation after an assault on a police station by masked militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons killed five people and injured 28 others.

Sources: BBC News, ETaiwan News, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

Tunisia arrests Libyan PM near Algeria's border

Two rather extraordinary events – both reported by the Tunisian authorities - occurred last Wednesday 21st September near Tunisia's border with Algeria. So far, information about both is limited.

That evening Tunisia's Defence Ministry reported that it had attacked an armed convoy of nine vehicles, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, at Bir Znigra in Tunisia's southern desert region of Irg, some 470km southwest of Tunis. The location is only 20km from the Algerian border. The convoy was spotted by an air patrol at 05:00. The convoy opened fire on the plane, prompting an armed response.

Ministry spokesman Haykel Bouzouita said that ground forces, backed by h elicopter gun ships, destroyed seven of the nine vehicles, killing some of the occupants. Two other vehicles were stopped and their occupants taken into custody. Their identities are yet to be disclosed. Bouzouita made no further comments other than to say that “these people are very tenacious”.

The news prompted a response from Algeria, who said that the vehicles belonged to Al-Qa'ida militants. Tunisia, however, made no comment on whether the convoy belonged to AQIM or armed smugglers or, perhaps, Qadhafi loyalists trying to gain entry into Algeria.

The latest, if unverified, news to date (Friday morning 23rd) comes from the Oman Daily Observer, which quotes a senior Tunisian army officer, Mokhtar Ben Naceur, as saying that the army was sweeping the desert region where the attack took place “in search for the remnants of an armed convoy that infiltrated from Algeria”. He is also quoted as saying: “These people came from Algeria where they were being hunted down. They tried to find refuge in Tunisia in a remote area with huge sand dunes.” He added that Tunisian authorities were liaising with Algeria on the issue. The neighbouring countries share a 1,000km border.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Monday, 26 September 2011

Iraq: Transport Ministry plans $70bn national rail network

Ministry of Transport plans for a $70 billion rail network that links the Iraqi provinces with high-speed trains travelling at 240km/hour have been submitted to the cabinet for approval, says a senior ministry official.

Deputy transport minister Bangin Rekani told AKnews that the project has been submitted to the council of ministers as part of a scheme to connect Iraq with neighbouring countries, develop internal transportation and boost the economy.

The ministry has insufficient funds to implement the project, and therefore is awaiting the approval of the council of ministers to dedicate extra funds.

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Libya: A mass grave found within the grounds of Abu Salim prison

According to Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) a mass grave thought to contain up to 1,2700 human bodies has been found in the country's capital city of Tripoli. It is believed that the remains are of prisoners killed by security troops in 1996 in the Abu Salim prison.

The protests against Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, began as a demand to release the lawyer who represented the families of the prisoners.

NTC said it unearthed the site, a desert field scattered with bone fragments within the grounds of the Abu Salim prison, after questioning prison guards who had worked there when the prisoners were killed after protesting against their conditions.

It has been reported that several family members have visited the site, where excavations are set to begin shortly. Up to now, little has been known about the circumstance in which the prisoners died.

A few eyewitnesses spoke to the BBC about the fact that those killed were executed in their cells by grenades and sustained gunfire after a protest. Officials in the new government say they will need foreign forensic help to determine the circumstances of their deaths.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

China and India in tussle over Vietnamese oilfield

The exploration of oilfields off Vietnam's coast by India's state energy firm has provoked a stern response by China, opening yet another front in the contest over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea.

India's ONGC is working with PetroVietnam on exploring a block close to the disputed Vietnam-China maritime border. At the time the contract was won, back in 2006, China protested that the area was within its waters. Now, ONGC's return to the area after a pause for technical reasons has resulted in a number of outspoken warnings by China.

The state-run Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, published an editorial accusing India of a “serious political provocation” which could “push China to the limit”. The foreign ministry in Beijing has also said that India's actions were “illegal and invalid”. New Delhi has brushed off the warnings, saying that its actions are in line with international law and that the block is within Vietnamese waters.

The spat is another escalation in tensions between China and its neighbours in the South China Sea, of which it claims a significant area. Vietnam has been a particular focus of Beijing's ire, with a summer marked by tit-for-tat naval drills and mutual recriminations.

They appeared to make up in early September, with an agreement to compromise through friendly consultations, but the rapprochement seems to have fallen apart just as quickly. On 13th September, Hanoi also announced that it would start conducting joint patrols with Indonesia along their mutual border, in a bid to shore up stability in the area.

On 23rd September, the Philippines announced that their efforts to forge a common position among South China Sea states had been successful, with delegates from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreeing that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea should be used to settle regional territorial disputes.

Growing concern at China's claims and gunboat diplomacy is creating an opportunity for India in the region, as the ONGC episode shows. New Delhi is becoming increasingly confident in its dealings with China, and has the potential to begin acting as a counterweight to Beijing for smaller states in the area.

Sources: AFP, Wall Street Journal, Times of India, Global Times

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

Iran: Buyback contracts needs revision

Addressing a meeting of local manufacturers and contractors Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi made several statements about Iran's oil industry. He noted that domestic buy-back contracts will be modified by adding some incentives to be attractive for local investors. He also indicated, 'If we intend to accelerate the development of joint oil and gas fields, the interest rate paid to domestic banks, manufacturers, contractors and even individuals (through offering rial-denominated bonds) should increase.'

Iran contractors face tough demands from domestic banks, he pointed out, including huge guarantees and 20 to 30 per cent interest rates; these demands jeopardise work timetables and the viability of projects. Each year more than $50 billion is needed to be invested in oil industry infrastructure. Some of these funds have been taken into account in the Ministry's budget but the rest, said Qasemi, should be provided through other channels such as selling bonds.

Petroleum Ministry plans to sell foreign exchange bonds, to increase energy funds at local banks, and to sell paper oil on bourse. The Ministry will also be able to take $20 billion from the National Development Fund (NDF). The funds could be lent with low interest rates to private sector and local manufacturers involved in oil industry activities.

In the meantime, NIOC managing director Ahmad Qalebani said that from 21 September 2011 new oil and gas contracts will be signed with new methods and formats that will make them more attractive for contractors and financial organisations.

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 23 September 2011

President Saleh is back in Yemen and calling for a "truce"

Three months after an attempt on his life, Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has returned home from Saudi Arabia, where he sought treatment. According to Yemeni media, Saleh arrived in Sana'a by private plane. Just hours after his return, a government spokesman said the president was calling for a “truce and a ceasefire.”

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for over three decades, has faced growing criticism over his decision to remain in power, and months of protests urging him to step down. Experts say his return may cause an all-out civil war.

AFP news agency quoted an unnamed official as saying: “The president calls on all political and military parties to achieve a truce…There is no alternative to dialogue and negotiations to end the bloodshed and resolve the crisis.”

Today, shortly after Friday prayers, anti-government protesters and Saleh supporters took to the streets. The two sides are rallying within a few miles of each other, although it is thought that many opponents of the government have remained at home for fear of violence.

Protest organiser Mohammed al-Asl said Saleh's return would lead to "an escalation of violence". He added: “But let him come back - we want him to come back and be tried for his crimes.”

Anti-government protesters have been camping out in the capital's centre, in an area called Change Square, since January. The on-going conflicts between the two sides have recently intensified as Republican Guards, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, have taken to the streets in a bid to instil fear in the protesters.

It is estimated that more than 80 people have been killed since Sunday 18th September. Hopes of Saleh handing over power peacefully are fading fast as fears over the prospect of a civil war mount. On Tuesday 20th September, the government agreed a truce following talks with Western envoys. The ceasefire, however, was broken just hours later as security officials reportedly opened fire on protesters.

Speaking about the situation in Yemen, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said the country was at a "dangerous crossroads".

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Brazil: The 2012 budget

The government's proposal for the 2012 budget, submitted to Congress on 31 August, and amounting to R$2.2 trillion, envisages a 13.6 per cent increase in the minimum wage, from R$545 to R$619.21, causing an increase in federal expenditures of R$21.5 billion, largely derived from social security payments.

The increase in the minimum wage is part of Lula's legacy: it was he who introduced a new progressive system for its calculation, based on a combination of cumulative inflation in 2011 (5.7 per cent) and GDP growth in 2010 (7.5 per cent).The budget proposal – contrary to the government's announced efforts at fiscal tightening with a view to a reduction in the Selic interest rate – makes possible an increase in public expenditures, including a target of R$165.3 billion for investments, roughly two-thirds of which is by state enterprises (an 8.3 per cent increase over the figures for 2011).

Most analysts are revising their projections for Brazil's GDP growth in 2011 as a function of deceleration in economic growth in the United States, the European Union, and China. The Focus survey of 100 financial institutions polled by the Central Bank in late August reduced its average estimates, from 4 to 3.7 per cent this year, and from 4–6 to 3–5 per cent in 2012.m Morgan Stanley , UBS , and leading Brazilian consultancies MB Associados and Tendências are all downgrading their estimates, with slight variations.

For more news and expert analysis about Brazil, please see Brazil Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Nigeria: New Chief Justice may not have long

Reports state that the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Dahiru Musdapher may not hold office for more than six months. This despite the fact that Musdapher, who took over as CJN from the controversial Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, is set to be screened by the Senate in order to confirm him as CJN. According to sources, Musdapher may soon be replaced by Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, one of the few female Justices of the Nigerian Supreme Court.

If Mukhtar is appointed, she will make history as the first female CJN. In contrast to the general perception of Musdapher as Katsina-Alu's man, Mukhtar is considered capable of turning around the declining reputation and integrity of the Judiciary, which has been seriously undermined by the open warfare between now-former CJN Katsina-Alu and the erstwhile President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami.

This conflict continues to reverberate through the political system. Sources have now revealed the involvement of Chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice, Senator Umaru Dahiru. His purported involvement is related to the Sokoto State gubernatorial election tribunal, which was the basis for the allegations made against Katsina-Alu by Salami.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Parliamentary elections to take place in November

Elections for the People's Assembly – the lower house of parliament – will be held in three stages, the first commencing on 21st November. The announcement by the head of the electoral commission, Abdel Moez Ibrahim, has gone some way to allaying fears that Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has no intention of transferring power to a duly elected civil authority. This followed a series of decisions by the Council, including the extension of emergency laws in time and scope, and restrictions on the media. This raised concern that the gains of what is known as the 25th January revolution were being reversed.

Elections to the Shura Council, the upper house, will start on 22nd January. Final details of the voting days and procedures, including constituency boundaries, are due to be released on 26th September, after which campaigning can begin. Assistant Defence Minister, and member of SCAF, Gen Mamdouh Shahin, said: “The People's Assembly elections will be held at the end of November over three stages of two weeks each, followed by the Shura Council elections on the same basis.”

The decision followed a meeting between SCAF and 47 political parties and movements.

The new parliament is due to set up a 100 constituent assembly to draw up a new or revised constitution. No date has yet been fixed for presidential elections.

The proposed electoral system will have half the seats chosen according to party lists, by proportional representation, and the other half by direct vote in constituencies, via the first past the post system. This structure is, in effect, a compromise between the new and the old.

But the Muslim Brotherhood has criticised the compromise as favouring the old ruling party and traditional political families who have long dominated political life in rural areas. Secretary-general of the Freedom and Justice Party, the electoral vehicle of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Saad el-Katatni said: "We reject the suggested election law [as we want] to block the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and prevent the use of money or tribalism …We will demand that all parliament seats shall be elected through closed proportional lists."

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Violent clashes continue in Sana'a despite ceasefire

Violence has once again erupted in Yemen's capital city of Sana'a; just days after Yemen's Vice President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi agreed a truce following negotiations with western envoys who had urged an end to the violence.

It is estimated that at least three people have died while protesting. It is thought that they were hit by sniper fire and shelling, which put an end to the ceasefire. Thousands of people gathered in a protests camp called Change Square in the city centre, for the funerals of those killed in recent days.

It is thought that at least 75 people have been killed in violent clashes since Sunday 18th September.

Anti-government protesters and tribal fighters have promised to continue their demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who refuses to step down despite being in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's state news agency Saba has reported that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) chief Abdulatif al-Zayani, who arrived in Yemen on Tuesday, has now left the country after failing to reach a resolution about the ongoing crisis.

Speaking to AFP news agency an unnamed military official from the First Armoured Brigade, commanded by dissident Gen Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, said the shelling had targeted their headquarters, based near Change Square.

UN and GCC officials arrived in Yemen in hope of finding a solution to the ongoing crisis but failed to do so. The opposition have accused the government of orchestrating violence to derail any chance of agreement.

Speaking about it, the head of the opposition Yemeni National Council, Mohamed Qubaty, said it was an attempt by the authorities to "dodge" the requirements and the views of the GCC, especially the restructuring of the army and security forces.

The accusations have been continually rebuffed by government officials, who say that the unrest has been incited by Al-Qa'ida militants. The past three days have been the deadliest since demonstrations against Saleh began in January.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

AU finally recognises NTC as Libya's official government

US President Barack Obama met with Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil. The two men agreed that the US embassy in Libya shall resume business as usual forthwith.

Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has finally recognised NTC as Libya's official interim government. The AU, a pan-African organisation consisting of neighbouring states, said it was willing to help the NTC in its endeavours to rebuild the country's infrastructure after months of civil war.

The news comes shortly after Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's warning to his opponents that NATO support will not last indefinitely.

Speaking about AU's decision Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who holds the bloc's rotating chair, said: "The African Union stands ready to support the Libyan people as they rebuild their country towards a united, democratic, peaceful and prosperous Libya."

Nguema made the announcement after consulting with the remainder of the bloc, before the UN General Assembly in New York.

Shortly after his meeting with Obama at the international gathering, Jalil expressed thanks to the UN and other world leaders for their help with the Libyan crisis but noted that there was many an arduous task ahead.

He said: “Qadhafi is still in Libya and still possesses some resources that pose a threat not only to Libyans but to the international community as a whole…The road before us is still long and there are many challenges at many levels. Our needs are many, we have lost 25,000 martyrs and there are double the number of wounded."

Speaking at a high profile UN meeting, before the General Assembly, Obama praised the international community for having "the courage and the collective will to act" in Libya. He also said that the US ambassador was already on his way to Tripoli, adding: "This week, the American flag that was lowered before our embassy was attacked will be raised again, over a re-opened American embassy."

Obama reassured the Libyan nation that it can count on international support for the immediate future. He added: "Just as the world stood by you in your struggle to be free, we will stand with you in your struggle to realise the peace and prosperity that freedom can bring."

The message of hope and support came amid a defiant message from Qadhafi who said: "Do not rejoice and don't believe that one regime has been overthrown and another imposed with the help of air and maritime strikes…The bombs of NATO planes will not last."

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Misratans heavily involved in hostilities in and around Sirte

Concentrated fighting in Sirte, occupied by Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's supporters, has caused much bloodshed, and losses will be calculated in thousands before an outcome is achieved both there and in Bani Walid. According to Menas sources, the Misratans are particularly heavily involved in the hostilities in and around Sirte. It is thought that local commanders of the rebel forces anticipate the core of the town to fall into their hands within a few days. Some 70 per cent of the area of Sirte has already been taken.

Misratans have complained bitterly about the lack of support from surrounding Libyan areas that have mobilised irregular forces at their disposal. Reinforcements, it seems, have been slow to arrive even though some of the groups are within 60km of Sirte itself. As was expected, resistance in the town has been strong, with parts of the brigade formerly under Khamis Qadhafi in place with substantial armaments and missiles.

The heavily armed and well trained Qadhafi troops have been more than the lightly-armed rebels can cope with on a hit-and-run basis. In Bani Walid, some of the resistance has been felt but the rebels have yet to concentrate the bulk of their armour. On the military side, events appear to be heading for a grim form of attrition, which could affect the response of other communities lying in the south-west of Sirte including Orfella, Bani Walid and other tribes of the interior.

This judgement takes no account of the dedication of the rebels but is realistic in relation to the smaller groups situated in the Orfella/Soffegin valleys. Their loyalties to local tribal alliances could prevail and act as a serious constraint on an advance by the rebels. It could also result in loss of momentum.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Vietnam: Agreeing to disagree

China and Vietnam have climbed down from months of tense stand-off over territorial claims in the South China Sea by agreeing during a meeting in Hanoi to 'negotiations and peaceful, friendly consultations' to find a compromise. The two governments also decided to speed up talks and to sign an agreement as soon as possible.

China has long squabbled with its southern neighbours – not only Vietnam but also the Philippines, Malaysia, and others in Southeast Asia – over ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. It claims a large swath of the maritime territory, including areas that the other countries insist fall within internationally recognised maritime borders within 200km from their coastline.

This summer, Chinese ships raised hackles in both Hanoi and Manila by acting in ways that were viewed by the Southeast Asian governments as provocative and aggressive.

The agreement between China and Vietnam was signed on 6 September, the fifth anniversary of the establishment of a China–Vietnam Steering Committee on Cooperation. The two parties agreed that under the 'current, complex international environment' it made sense for the neighbours to attempt a reconciliation.

Earlier, in late August during a meeting in Beijing, the two governments agreed to establish a hotline linking the two defence ministries and to expand military ties using the exchange of official delegations and students. China also promised to share its experiences working with UN peacekeeping forces, something Vietnam has not done but in which it has expressed an interest.

For more news and expert analysis about Vietnam, please see Vietnam Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

District-level rights agencies “underfunded”

In a powerful indictment of the government's weak commitment to fighting corruption and voter education, state officials have told journalists that the district offices of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) are so poorly financed that they are unable to carry out their constitutional obligations.

The two bodies rely on quarterly transfers for their operations in the districts.

The CHRAJ and NCCE are established under the Constitution, and while CHRAJ serves as the chief advocate of human rights issues, the NCCE educates the electorate on its civic responsibilities.

Both institutions report directly to the National Assembly, which approves the annual budget. The district offices of each organisation get less than US$2000 each a year.

These details were revealed when the Omanhene (traditional ruler) of the Bekwai Traditional area in the Ashanti Region, Nana Karikari Appau II, paid a surprise visit to a number of district-level departments, including CHRAJ, NCCE, Ghana National Fire Service, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority at Bekwai on 15th September.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

US seeking to exempt South Sudan from sanctions, says diplomat

The US government has indicated that South Sudan will be exempt from the sanctions regime applied to Sudan, from which it declared independence earlier this year.

On 16th September, US special representative for Sudan Princeton Lyman, said that the US Treasury Department was currently drawing up a new set of regulations governing investments in South Sudan, which would allow oil companies to start moving into Juba without running afoul of sanctions targeted at Khartoum.

Technically, companies investing in South Sudan are already exempt from the sanctions on Sudan (imposed in 1997 in response to human rights violations and support for terrorism). The two countries' oil industries and infrastructure are so tightly connected, however, that it is difficult to invest without inadvertently becoming involved with Sudanese companies. Currently, the Sudanese oil industry is dominated by Asian companies, particularly Chinese and Indian firms, and US companies are eager to return to the market.

Revising the sanctions regime will take time and would require Congressional approval. Lyman suggested that the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control would produce regulations which permit new oil deals provided that the benefit to northern Sudan was incidental.

A major challenge will be ensuring that oil from South Sudan reaches world markets without breaching sanctions on Sudan. Although the south contains most of the oilfields, the north controls the pipeline infrastructure which allows oil to be exported.

Foreign investment will be critical to maintaining and upgrading South Sudan's dilapidated oil infrastructure. Another challenge will be to tackle corruption and transparency in South Sudan, which US officials have warned is a major factor in inhibiting foreign firms from investing in the country.

Sources: Reuters, Sudan Tribune

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

Video of suspected bomber who attacked Abuja UN headquarters circulating around Nigeria

It has been reported that a video message featuring a suicide bomber who allegedly carried out the attack on UN headquarters last month is circulating within Nigeria. Islamist group Boko Haram claimed the attack, which killed 23 people and injured more than 80 others.

The video obtained by AFP news agency is yet to be verified. It contains 25 minutes of speech by the alleged UN bomber holding an AK-47 automatic rifle, with two other people in the background. It also reportedly shows the alleged bomber pleading with his family to appreciate his actions, meant to teach the US “and other infidels” a lesson.

In the 26th August attack; a suicide bomber drove his car through the Abuja headquarters' security barriers crashing into the reception area before the explosion. The blasts brought down parts of the structure, where about 400 UN staff worked, also shattering the widows of nearby buildings.

A man claiming to be a spokesman for Boko Haram reportedly told AFP the suspected bomber was Mohammed Abul Barra, a 27 year-old married man from Maiduguri. The video also contains a reference to the UN headquarters as a "forum of all the global evil", and praise for former Al-Qa'ida leader Osama Bin Laden.

Boko Haram is fighting for the establishment of Sharia law across Nigeria, it has alleged to have connections with the Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, which operates in North Africa and Al-Shabab in Somalia.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, AP

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Iran, Russia oppose cross-border

Iran and Russia have both announced their opposition to a pipeline across the Caspian Sea, which was backed by the EU last week as a means to bring Caspian gas to Europe.

A trans-Caspian pipeline, running west from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan along the Caspian seabed, has been under discussion for years, but has never got off the ground due to a lack of commercial imperative and political will. An ongoing dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over their maritime border, and associated gas and oil fields, has also stymied progress.

On 13th September, however, the EU's Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger announced that the EU was would start negotiating a legally binding treaty between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to build a trans-Caspian pipeline. Europe, said Oettinger, “is now speaking with one voice” – previous efforts to coordinate the 'Southern Corridor' to bring Caspian gas to Europe have been hamstrung by competing European agendas and approaches. The new mandate will empower it to arrange the legal and commercial requirements of a trans-Caspian system.

The pipeline would enable Turkmen gas to reach Europe without crossing Russian or Iranian soil. The EU is keen to reduce its energy dependence on Russia and avoid politically problematic Iran, whilst Turkmenistan is looking to diversify its energy export routes.

Tehran and Moscow have reacted angrily to the EU's intervention. Iran has stated that it opposes the project on ecological and legal grounds. Russia expressed its regret, and warned that the project did not account for “the actually existing international legal and geopolitical situation in the Caspian Basin today”.

The reference to geopolitics is significant, as it indicates the main reason for Russian and Iranian opposition (notwithstanding ecological protestations) – that a Caspian pipeline would enable Central Asian gas to avoid their territory, reducing their political and commercial leverage.

The other objection is that the legal status of the Caspian Sea, including the littoral states' maritime boundaries, is still unclear. Although most of the states have simply got on with developing gas and oil fields in their presumed sectors, the exact boundaries and the right of states to undertake major projects – like a subsea pipeline – is still legally unclear.

It is likely that Russia and Iran will apply a range of legal and political pressures to stop the pipeline from going ahead. The EU's internal problems and lack of focus towards the Caspian region may make it an unreliable patron for Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and unable to push the pipeline through against Russian and Iranian opposition.

Sources: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.

More than 50 killed in Sana'a over last two days

According to a number of sources, explosions all over Sana'a were heard throughout the night. It is thought that at least two people died during clashes with security forces, who continue firing shells at protester camps in Yemen's capital.

The country's security troops launched an offensive on protesters on Sunday 18th September, killing more than 50 people in two days. Congregations of anti-government activists have occupied various corners of Sana'a during the course of the year, calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.

Saleh, who has been in power for over three decades, is currently in Saudi Arabia. He fled to the neighbouring country in June after sustaining various injuries when a rocket hit his presidential compound. Despite a number of calls for Saleh to step down, the Yemeni president remains in power and has continually vowed to return to Yemen.

The ongoing violence has been exacerbated in the last couple of days by security forces shooting at protesters from the rooftops. Government officials, however, have continued to deny that soldiers are targeting civilians, saying the unrest has been incited by Al-Qa'ida elements within the opposition.

More protests and deadly clashes between security forces and civilians have been reported in the cities of Taiz and Aden. Yemen has been plagued by internal problems and poverty for decades, as well as rampant terrorism.

On Monday 19th September, UN and Gulf Cooperation Council envoys landed in Yemen in a bid to sort out a ceasefire deal and stop the violence. It is yet to be seen whether or not the mission will be successful.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Abyei remains contested, says South Sudan

A senior official from South Sudan has said that the oil-rich border region of Abyei will remain disputed, until the governments of Sudan and South Sudan agree on a deal which will protect the rights of its residents.

Speaking on 17th September, Luka Biong Deng, a co-chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (set up to monitor the implementation of agreements there), said that Abyei would retain a special status until a legal and binding decision is made.

Biong said that the current agreement governing the administration of Abyei, which was signed in June, is not a permanent mandate. Abyei is nominally controlled by both states under UN supervision, since a referendum to decide its fate – alongside the vote which led to South Sudan's independence – was not held due to disputes between Juba and Khartoum.

Biong asserted, however, that the international community continues to work under the impression that Abyei belongs to north Sudan, and is therefore unable to provide the necessary support and assistance to it. At present, both Sudan and South Sudan have forces stationed in Abyei; there is also a UN peacekeeping force, composed of Ethiopian troops. Both sides are due to withdraw their forces by the end of September.

Troop withdrawal, said Biong, is a key first step towards a plebiscite. With the UN in charge, both governments will continue to administer it "until the final status of the area can be determined in a manner that respects the will of the residents of Abyei".

Biong's statement is intended to emphasise that the current arrangement, with both states jointly administering the region, is not permanent. It reflects a confidence that Abyei's residents, which have tended to support the south and have a range of grievances against the government in Khartoum, will agree to join South Sudan in any referendum and thereby handing control of the region's oil wealth to Juba.

Any flare-up in fighting would provide a good excuse for the north's government to maintain forces in the region and put off a referendum. Ensuring a smooth, demilitarised transition is therefore critical for the South Sudanese government.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, BBC

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

Algeria sets different standards for Libyan recognition

Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci has said at a Sunday 11th September press conference with his Malian counterpart that Algeria will officially recognise Libya's new rulers once the former rebels form a new government representative of all Libyans. His comments have already received considerable sarcastic comments because Algeria is the one North African country doing its best to hold out against a 'representative government'.

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) has plentiful evidence that Algeria gave strong support to the Qadhafi regime during the six months before he was overthrown. It is also currently sheltering several members of his family, almost certainly in contravention of the UN travel ban; still providing support to Qadhafi loyalists; and doing almost everything in its power to destabilise the NTC by giving as much publicity as it can to alleged feuds between its Islamist and secularist members.

Algeria's two-faced stance is beginning to irritate the NTC's Western backers, namely the US, France and UK. France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppé made a very pointed comment this week when he said that “Algeria's position is not clear”. If Algeria continues to make trouble for the NTC, it is conceivable that the US might begin seriously to reconsider its hitherto strong support of the Algerian regime.

Algeria is the only Arab state to hold out on recognition of the NTC and it has been reluctant to engage with Libya's new rulers. Medelci did say, however, that there had been direct contacts between the two countries in the last two weeks and that a dialogue was developing, even though Algiers does not recognise the NTC as the legitimate authority in Tripoli.

Algeria angered the NTC by giving refuge to members of Qadhafi's family; and the question of whether Aisha Qadhafi did actually give birth to a baby, as Algeria claimed and used as its reason for breaching the UN travel ban, is still unresolved. In fact, as we have reported over the last two weeks, the only acceptable proof that Algeria is telling the truth over Aisha's second birth in eight months would be through irrefutable DNA evidence.

There are also doubts as to whether Algeria has, in fact, closed its southern frontiers to Qadhafi loyalists fleeing Libya and possibly cutting across the south-east corner of Algeria into Niger, as it has publicly stated.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tensions escalate over National Assembly Committees

The two chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate and the House of Representatives – resumed on Tuesday 13th September after a seven-week recess. Both chambers are not yet fully underway because the Committees, which usually form the fulcrum of legislative activities and agenda, have not been yet been set up.

Sources have disclosed that in the Senate, there is a palpable feeling of unease over the Committees' establishment and the appointment of their heads and deputies. This unease stems from Senate president David Mark's decision to hand over the power of assigning the Committees and their heads to two individuals; his own deputy Ike Ekweremadu, and the House Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba.

According to our sources the Senators are kicking out against this while a House of Representatives' Selection Committee has been appointed and will soon meet to conclude the assignment of the committees to various House members.

It is expected that, following the brouhaha over the House's breach of the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) zoning agreement for the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker, there will be concession to the party and to President Goodluck Jonathan which will ensure that their favourites get the prime Committees.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Friday, 16 September 2011

Fight for Sirte and Bani Walid continues

Hoards of anti-Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi fighters have renewed assaults on two of the Leaders strongholds, Sirte and Bani Walid. Gunfire and explosions have been resonating through Bani Walid's hills, 180km south of Tripoli, as the anti Qadhafi fighters make their way to the town.

It has been reported that tanks are also approaching Sirte, just hours after an impromptu attack was pushed back by Qadhafi's loyalists. The latest attempts to seize the two towns come amid Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visit to Tripoli. Erdogan has met Libya's new leaders in the capital and is currently on a regional tour in Ankara.

The Turkish official's visit follows the state visit of UK's Prime Minister David Cameron and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who were the first world leaders to visit Libya since the National Transitional Council (NTC) seized Tripoli.

Judging from the ongoing fighting in both cities it is clear that pro-Qadhafi forces are still going strong and have the capacity to respond. Concern, however, is mounting for the tens of thousands of civilians still believed to be living in both cities, who have been struggling for weeks due to depleted supplies of food and water and electricity shortages.

According to Reuters, fighters loyal to the NTC have already captured a valley leading into Bani Walid following the initial push on Friday. Speaking to the BBC an unnamed NTC official said: “We were planning to hold Friday prayers, God willing, in Bani Walid...As we were about to advance, a clash took place with a surveillance crew made up of two or three enemy vehicles. They shot at us but thank God, we were able to stop them and defeat them."

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

r more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

Armenia claims to have shot down Azerbaijani

For the first time since the end of outright hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1994, an aircraft has been shot down over the conflict zone –an Azerbaijani drone, shot down by separatist forces of the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR).

The separatist authorities, which have close political and military links with Armenia, made their claim on 14th September, and released photos of the wreckage of the drone. Azerbaijan, usually quick and vociferous in denouncing 'Armenian propaganda', did not respond to the allegations until late on 15th September, when a terse statement from the defence ministry said that Azerbaijan “has nothing to do with the pilotless air force jet”.

Armenian and NKR officials have been vocal in discussing the incident. Armenia's chief of Air Defence Forces, Nikolai Babayan, said that drones were very difficult to hit, but that special hardware from Armenia had enabled the NKR forces to shoot it down. A senior Karabakh military official struck a triumphant note, saying that “the aggressor [Azerbaijan] will now feel more restrained because the destruction of such military hardware also shows the extent of the technical sophistication of our army”.

Officials also said that Azerbaijan's drones regularly fly along the Line of Contact between Azerbaijan and territories occupied by the NKR, but that in this instance the drone had penetrated around 10km into airspace claimed by the separatists.

The weapons used to bring down the drone are presumably Russian-made S300s, supplied to Armenia by Moscow as part of their long-standing military alliance. This indicates that, as widely surmised, Armenia has transferred military hardware to the NKR. Pictures of the wreckage indicate that the drone is an Israeli-made Hermes. Armenian groups in the US have said that markings indicate that the drone is supplied by a Canadian company with offices in the US, which would be a violation of an arms embargo imposed on Baku.

The physical evidence and the guarded Azerbaijani reaction suggests that Armenia's claims are genuine. Although ceasefire violations are nothing new, shooting down an advanced aircraft which was conducting surveillance deep in separatist territory represents a qualitative increase in the conflict. Armenia is allegedly producing its own drones, and Azerbaijan will be keen to respond in kind. This suggests that the air is becoming another theatre of the long-simmering conflict.

Sources; Bloomberg, News.az, PanArmenian, Eurasianet

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Egypt at a crossroads

Egyptians are given to conspiracy theories. For months, years even, after 9/11, many Egyptians including those of political maturity and sophistication would loudly assert that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with the attack. And that it was a Zionist plot to vilify the Muslim world. They would cite as so-called evidence the supposed absence of Jewish employees from the World Trade Centre on the day.

Conspiracy theories are then both frequent and must be treated with a large degree of caution and scepticism. It has been widely surmised in the press, however, that the army orchestrated the assault on the Israeli embassy to justify the imposition of harsh new emergency regulations.

What evidence is given? First, that the two places most heavily guarded both under the Mubarak regime and in the new dispensation have been the diplomatic missions of the US and Israel. Why then did residents in the building report a withdrawal of any army presence outside the Israeli embassy the day before the demonstrations planned for Tahrir Square, some 20 minutes' walk away? Why did those who got into the building say they were shown the way by army officers?

Whatever the truth, the incident has raised questions about the army's motives. Do they want to achieve a swift transfer of power to some duly elected civilian authority, as they have said? Or are they actually intent on hanging on to power, despite the fact that they have shown so little aptitude for exercising it?

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Foreign trade missions increasing in numbers as fighting subsides

It is reported that foreign trade missions are increasing in numbers as the fighting subsides. Despite the clear call by most European embassies for their respective nationals to avoid going to Libya until a settlement is reached, the situation on the ground is such that the northern Tripolitanian coastlands are returning to a form of normality as far as business is concerned.

Pent up demand for imported spares and equipment, in addition to foodstuffs and medicine, is noted by recent visitors to Tripoli. Regular air service is being resumed between Benghazi and destinations in Turkey. It is hoped others will follow in the near future.

The areas of unrest are sufficient to make Libya a considerable risk, and the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the National Transitional Council (NTC) requires that great care is taken by foreign staff.

A co-ordinated attempt is being undertaken by UK businesses to stabilise their financial situation in respect to ongoing projects within the country. Other countries with a strong presence in Libya, including Russia and China, as well as traditional EU trading partners, are taking up positions in preparation for the repair of the shattered infrastructure.

Professional assessments of the situation have considerably downgraded the danger of operating in Libya. This should show further improvement once the battle for Tripolitania and Fezzan is over.

It will be a test that will determine just how far the NTC is in charge if contracts signed in current conditions remain applicable, although existing pre-revolutionary commercial agreements remain in force. It is not clear how much and how fast the government is providing funds for this activity.

It will be necessary for foreign companies to check with great care the legality of any contracts with Libyan entities in order to ensure that authorisation will be given for transfer of funds on completion of projects.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Two separate bomb attacks target Iraqi security forces

Two seperate bomb explosions in Iraq have killed at least 15 people and left dozens injured. The first of the attacks occurred at about 08:00 (05:00 GMT) when a car bomb detonated nearby an eatery frequented by security forces near the central city of Hilla, killing at least 13. The second incident transpired when a bomb attached to a military bus inside a base in Habaniya, west of the capital, killed at least two personnel.

In an unrelated attack, gunmen killed two policemen at a Baghdad checkpoint. These latest episodes follow a number of recent attacks on Iraqi security forces. According to Iraq's defence ministry statistics at least 45 police officers and 39 soldiers were killed during August alone.

It is thought that at least two of the victims in the blast near Hilla, 100km south of the capital, were policemen. According to AP news agency, at least four more officers, out of 40 people, were wounded in the attack.

The second bomb which went off as personnel were being transported within the base detonated at about 08:00 local time. Iraqi officials confirmed that those responsible for the checkpoint incident escaped after killing two policemen and injuring a third.

It is estimated that violence in Iraq has dropped significantly since 2006-2007, but isolated acts of violence remain prevalent. This has caused some concern among Iraqis about the security situation in the country especially after the pending withdrawal of US troops in December.

Sources: BBC News, AP, Reuters

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Algeria to end State control of media

In what many consider a strategic move, Algeria has said it is in the process of making huge media reforms in order to allow private radio and television stations for the first time since the country gained independence in 1962. The move follows months of popular, if small, protests against high unemployment, governmental corruption and dearth of democratic freedoms.

The government has also reportedly agreed to drop prison time for journalists convicted of libel. Speaking about the proposed changes, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said they would enhance democracy. He added that they would come into play once the parliament ratified the reforms. The cabinet said the reforms were part of a package announced by Bouteflika on 15th April.

During the address, Bouteflika said the government would publish a new information law and amend the constitution to "strengthen democracy". Additionally, the cabinet also said it would set up a new commission, which would include journalist, to regulate the media. It would also have the task of approving new press licenses and imposing fines for libel. Any media that was thought to threaten state security, however, would be banned or temporarily suspended.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

Samia Yaba Nkrumah appointed as first female leader of a Ghanaian political party

Daughter of Ghana's first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Samia Yaba Nkrumah has been appointed the chairman of the opposition, Convention Peoples Party (CPP), after winning a 10th September poll at the party delegates' congress in Accra.

Nkrumah polled 1,151 votes to beat three other candidates including the incumbent Ladi Nylander who only received 353 votes. Former party chairman Prof Edmund Delle won 332 votes while, Bentsi-Enchill received only 10 votes.

Nkrumah, the CPP's only MP, is the party's first female chairman and the first female leader of a political party in Ghana.

The incumbent general secretary, Kobina Ivor Greenstreet, retained his position polling 716 votes to beat his closest contender Nii Akomfrah who received 672 votes.

The other winners include:

Seth Gomnah - National Treasurer - 1005 votes
Abu Forgor - National Organiser - 1093 votes
Mary Ankumah Boackye-Boateng - National Women's Organiser - 917 votes
Murtala Mohammed - National Youth Organiser - 802 votes.

For more news and expert analysis about Ghana, please see Ghana Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

President Jonathan keen to stop religious conflict in Plateau state

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has instructed the military to take “all necessary actions" in order to stop religious conflict in Plateau state. The initiative follows two bomb explosions in the state capital city of Jos.

It is estimated that as many as 100 people have been killed in the past two weeks during violent clashes between Muslim and Christian rival groups. The ongoing tensions have continued despite a strong police presence in the state.

Rival gangs have clashed in Plateau state repeatedly over the last 10 years.

Jonathan's office issued a statement saying the President has ordered Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshall Oluseyi Petinrin "to take full charge of the security situation in Plateau State immediately and take all necessary actions to stop the recent spate of killings in the state".

According to Nigerian officials, the two blasts went off at a packed outdoor eatery in the centre of Jos on Sunday night. According to AFP, at least one person was injured in the process. More than 1,000 people have been killed in religious and ethnic violence in Jos over the past two years.

Plateau state is situated in Nigeria's so-called Middle Belt, between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian south. Hausa-speaking Muslims are seen as supporters of the opposition in Plateau state, while ethnic Beroms, who are mostly Christian, are perceived to favour the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, WSJ

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

Top Iraqi corruption investigator resigns

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has accepted the resignation of Judge Rahim Hassan Al-Uqailee, the man leading Iraq's fight against corruption, in a blow to efforts to clean up the country's government and parliament.

Al-Uqaliee, the head of the country's Integrity Commission, submitted his resignation on 8th September, citing “pressure from political parties” to cover up corruption and a lack of political support for his agency.

Despite al-Uqaliee's public frustrations with stonewalling politicians, other explanations for his resignation are already circulating in Iraq's febrile political atmosphere. One of the members of the parliamentary committee on integrity, Sabah Saadi, claimed that the ruling party was pushing al-Uqaliee to launch “false and fabricated” corruption probes against political figures including Ahmad Chalabi, the US's former protégé in Iraq.

One of Saadi's fellow committee members, however, said that al-Uqaliee's resignation was a result of his failure to produce results in tackling Iraq's rampant corruption, ranked as the fourth worst in the world by Transparency International.

A third MP, Shakir Kitab claimed that the resignation “sheds light on complicated political relations and lack of transparency and stability in the government” rather than on the activities of one or another political bloc.

On 12th September, al-Uqaliee reiterated his reasons for resigning in a public letter to the integrity committee. In it, he declared that “the fight over stealing the money of the state and its property is the unspoken part of the struggle for power in Iraq today”. Despite such obstacles, however, in 2010 the Integrity Commission issued 4,082 arrest warrants for government officials, including 197 high-level figures.

According to Iraqi MPs, al-Maliki is planning to replace al-Uqaliee with a fellow member of his Dawa Party, Ala' al-Sa'idi. It remains to be seen whether the new head of the Integrity Commission will be able to ignore the pressures and obfuscations of shady officials.

Sources: AFP, Los Angeles Times, Aswat Al Iraq

For more news and expert analysis about Iraq, please see Iraq Focus.

Azerbaijan's gas reserves boosted by Total find

The French oil and gas major Total has discovered a major gas field off the coast of Azerbaijan, the company announced on 9th September. The field is believed to be one of the country's largest, providing a major boost to Azerbaijan's reserves.

The new field lies within the Ashberon block, which Total has been operating through a subsidiary since it made an agreement with Azerbaijan's state energy firm SOCAR in 2009. Total holds 40 per cent, as does SOCAR, while GDF Suez holds the remaining 20 per cent. The block is located around 100km east of the capital Baku, and around 25km north of the enormous Shah Deniz gas field.

The exact size of the discovery remains open to speculation at present. Total announced that the field as a whole had potential for “several trillion cubic feet of gas and associated condensates”, but on 12th September, SOCAR claimed that the discovery holds around 350 billion cubic metres of gas and 45 million tons of gas condensate.

Whatever the exact size of the field, it provides a major fillip to Azerbaijan's energy reserves, perhaps bringing them to 2.55 trillion cubic metres. Contrary to the hopes expressed by some analysts and officials, however, the new discovery is not necessarily a saving grace for the EU's Nabucco project to bring Caspian gas to Europe. Azerbaijan already possesses sufficient gas for Nabucco to get underway, mainly in the second phase of the Shah Deniz field and recent discoveries in the Umid field.

The problems with developing Nabucco have not therefore been about gas reserves – they have been about building pipelines to export the gas, as well as the technical work to actually extract the gas. This is particularly true in the deep and challenging waters of the Caspian Sea. First Vice-President of SOCAR Khoshbakht Yusifzadeh acknowledged this, saying that extraction from the new field was unlikely to begin before 2021 or 2022. Meanwhile negotiations over the pipeline project which will bring gas to Europe continue.

Azerbaijani officials are nonetheless exuberant over the find, with President Ilham Aliyev calling it a “truly remarkable event” and stating that it shows “that our country possesses great opportunities, great potential and bright future.”

Sources: News.az, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Russia vows to continue nuclear co-operation with Iran

On Sunday 11th September, during a joint press conference in Tehran with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Russia's Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said that Moscow will definitely continue its nuclear co-operation with Iran.

The conference followed the ninth meeting of Iran-Russia joint economic commission, chaired by the two ministers. Shmatko arrived in Iran to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, scheduled to be held in the southern port city of Bushehr today.

Speaking at the press conference, Shmatko said: “I would like to express with certainty that we will have more co-operation with Iran on the Bushehr nuclear power plant and other projects to develop nuclear energy…The inauguration ceremony of the Bushehr power plant will be held tomorrow, and this project, which was an unprecedented one, will be completed tomorrow (on Monday).”

He added: “I assure you we will continue our cooperation with Iran on launching Bushehr power plant and developing atomic energy in Iran's other projects."

The inauguration of the plant is expected to make way for further co-operation between the two countries. Shmatko remarked: “We are completely satisfied with the negotiations and emphasise that Russia is keen to cooperate with Iran” in implementing gas and oil projects.

For his part, Salehi said that Bushehr plant is a symbol of co-operation between Tehran and Moscow and thanked Russia for its efforts to complete the project. During the meeting of Iran-Russia joint economic commission, the two sides penned a number of co-operation agreements on expansion of bilateral relations in various sectors.

Sources: Tehran Times, ISNA, AFP

For more news and expert analysis about Iran, please see Iran Strategic Focus.
EU's counterterrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove has warned that Al-Qa'ida's North African branch is extending across Africa, and said that local governments require greater support in fighting it.

During a conference about security across the vast Sahel region, Saharan countries pledged to continue working together in the fight against terrorism.

Algeria's state news agency APS, quoted de Kerchove as saying that Algeria was well equipped to fight against Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but added that “other countries of the region, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, need help." He also warned that AQIM is working together with many terrorist organisation across Africa in order to extend its reach.

De Kerchove noted: "This is something that the intelligence services are following very closely. There is still nothing structural. There are efforts at contacts, and small transfers of money…It seems that some members of Boko Haram (in Nigeria) and al-Shabaab (in Somalia) were trained by AQIM."

Niger's Foreign Minister Mohamed Bazoum, however, has said that so far the collaborative efforts of the four-country joint military body based in the Algerian town of Tamanrasset have been unsuccessful. Speaking to Liberte, in reference to the Committee of Joint Chiefs of the four countries - Algeria, Niger, Mali and Mauritania, founded in 2010, Bazoum said: "So far, we have not seen it execute a single concrete operation. We would like CEMOC to carry out concrete actions."

Speaking at the closing of the even, Algeria's Minister for North African affairs Abdelkader Messahel noted: "The Algiers conference lets the countries of the region show their partners abroad that they possess a true strategy and unified vision for their struggle against terrorism, organized crime and poverty."

AQIM comprises largely of the armed groups who fought the Algerian government in the 1990s, after elections were cancelled in 1991 to stave off a victory for an Islamist political party. The group declared allegiance to Al-Qa'ida in 2006 and embarked on a renewed campaign of bombings and kidnappings across the Sahara.

On 1st September, the group announced that it had killed 29 members of Algeria's security forces between July and August, including 18 in twin suicide bombings of the Algerian military academy at Cherchell on 26th August. It is thought that it subsidises its terror campaigns with money obtained through ransoms from kidnappings and smuggling of guns and drugs through the Sahara.

Although Algeria is keen to show off its efforts to counteract AQIM's activities many remain unconvinced. An Algerian journalist with a background in security issues, Anis Rahmani, called on the government to find a radical solution in order to curtail AQIM's movements. Speaking at the conference, he said: “Talking about the experience of Algeria in the fight against terrorism does not mean that this country controls it.”

Sources: Ennahar Online, Fox News, Voice of America

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.