Friday, 30 March 2012

Nigeria: PDP Convention highlights lack of internal democracy

The ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) held a national convention to elect members of its national executive on 24 March. As expected – following the much talked-about horse-trading that saw President Goodluck Jonathan's apparent favourite, Bamanga Tukur, emerge as a 'consensus' candidate – Tukur was “elected" unopposed as the party's National Chairman.

In a bid to avoid legal wrangling that could arise out of merely “crowning” Tukur as the National Chairman, the PDP decided to put Tukur's chairmanship to a ballot. Delegates were asked to indicate either “Yes” or “No” beside Tukur's name in order to endorse him as the head of the party. Even though Tukur was the only candidate on the ballot paper, some members remained resolutely defiant, registering their displeasure by voting “No” beside Tukur's name. Of the 3,248 delegates who registered for the vote, 3185 voted “Yes” for Tukur, 12 voted “No” and 51 votes were invalid.

Intrigue at the convention was not limited to the election of the National Chairman. Several other positions were the focus of similar horse-trading and political wrangling. Ebenezer Babatope – a visibly upset candidate for the position of National Secretary (some say he was actually on the brink of tears) – gave an angry speech about being “forced” to step down so that former Governor of Osun State Olagunsoye Oyinlola could emerge as the National Secretary. Oyinlola was a late entrant into the race for the position, and sources say his emergence was the result of a trade between the State Governors and the Presidency, with the latter accepting Oyinlola in return for gubernatorial support for Tukur as National Chariman.

Others affected by similar political wrangling include National Publicity Secretary Uche Secondus, who was given up in favour of Olisa Metuh. National Auditor Remi Adikuwu-Bakare also claims that she was asked to stand down in favour of Bode Mustapha and complains that the party is marginalising women. In the aftermath of the convention, common criticism has pointed to the lack of internal democracy within the PDP, with some criticising the party and President Jonathan (who is regarded as the party's national leader) for not practising what it preaches. Other critical observers allege that the lack of internal party democracy is cause and effect of a wider failure to democratise Nigeria.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Egypt's military courts have tried at least 43 children over the past year

Egypt's military courts have investigated or tried at least 43 children over the past year, according to Human Rights Watch, including the pending trial of 13 year-old Ahmed Hamdy Abdel Aziz in connection with the Port Said football riots. Children prosecuted in military courts have not had access to lawyers, and often to their families, until after military authorities have investigated and sentenced them, HRW said. It added that since coming to power in February 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has referred over 12,000 civilians for prosecution by military courts before military judges “though these courts fail to meet minimum due process standards.”

A 13 year-old boy was shot in the back and killed and scores injured in Port Said during protests against the decision to suspend the city's Al-Masry club for two seasons as punishment for its part in the orchestrated violence that killed 74 people in a match against Al-Ahly of Cairo in February. Angry Al-Masry supporters blocked roads and burned tyres near the Suez Canal Authority, and police fired teargas and live rounds to disperse the crowds.

For their part, Al-Ahly have said the sanction is too lenient. They have said they will boycott the League until further notice. The current season was suspended in any case in the wake of the disaster. The chief prosecutor has charged 75 people with murder or negligence over the violence, and the city's police chief was sacked.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Libya: Prevailing mood of uncertainty in run up to elections

As the country settles down to rule by a new and virtually democratic institution and prepares for a general election in the near future there seem to be structural weaknesses in the National Transitional Council (NTC) regime. The attempt in Cyrenaica to interpolate a federal system of government appears, however, to have failed from the very beginning. This should at least concentrate the minds of those candidates who will be taking part in the forthcoming elections either as individuals or as part of a political party list.

Amongst the negative impacts of the current period of uncertainty and confrontation is the on-going persistence of the problem of the militias which dominate the local scene in many parts of the country. The scale of the problem can be seen from the fact that the Islamic moderates in Misrata made no attempt to adopt democratic processes for all community transactions. Hopes that a number of women would come forward as representatives in Misrata's new council have been dashed and few indeed are willing to fight their corner in the current political climate.

Although seventy militia units are reported as being active many will eventually settle for a status of official acceptance and as bona fide members of the official security services. There are, however, vast differences between the integrated echelons of the militias who fought throughout the campaign against the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi regime and the opportunists who appear to have gained the upper hand in winning control of many of the revolutionary brigades.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: Moroccan border open 'sooner or later'

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has confirmed that the border with Morocco is to open in due course, but warned against “declarations which would destroy the attempts at rapprochement”, an allusion to suggestions in the press that Algeria and Morocco do not agree on the precise delineation of the frontier.

Describing progress in negotiations between Algerian and Moroccan counterparts as “excellent”, Ouyahia denied that Algeria was making the disputed status of Western Sahara a condition of re-opening the border. The conflict “is in the hands of the UN, but it remains a matter of principle for Algeria”, he told El Khabar in an interview. “Algeria is not in total agreement with what our Moroccan brothers proposed but, thanks be to God, our brothers think that the matter needs to be handed to the UN, and we agree with them on that.”

His comments make clear Algeria's intention to put the Western Sahara conflict to one side to establish better ties with Morocco. As the region changes, Algeria's interests are shifting too, and the need to avoid being isolated in a Maghreb where the old order has been swept aside is coming to the fore. The long-standing ideological attachment to the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people and support for their independence movement, the Polisario Front, is not over, but it is set to one side for now.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Libya: NOC sets its budget

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) has approved its budget for 2012. It will spend LYD1.93 billion this year, according to planning and studies department senior manager Mohamed el-Harari. He said that just under LYD782 million will go on current projects, LYD545 million on development, LYD215 million on exploration, and LYD321 million on downstream infrastructure (mostly the construction of a new jetty at Az-Zawiya oil refinery).

Additionally, the corporation has proposed a further LYD1 billion development budget, dedicated mostly to potential future upstream projects.

The process of finalising the budget has taken months, mostly because the National Transitional Council (NTC) did not start planning its own overall budget until last December. In mid-March it announced plans to spend a total of LYD68.5 billion in 2012. Of this, LYD19.1 billion (28 per cent) will go on projects, development, and reconstruction. LYD18.67 billion on wages, LYD14.6 billion on fuel and food subsidies, and LYD12.1 billion on operational expenditures.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Saudi Arabia's deputy consul abducted in Aden

Saudi Arabia's deputy consul Abdullah al-Khalidi has been abducted in the southern city of Aden. According to police officials in the city's Mansoura district, gunmen seized al-Khalidi as he was about to get into his car. They fled the scene in another vehicle. A rescue operation is under way to find the official.

Aden is a large city closest to the Abyan province, where government forces have been working to control militant groups linked to Al-Qa'ida. It is thought that in the past year alone these groups have consolidated their power over a number of towns in the region, including Zinjibar.

The situation in Yemen remains troubled, with kidnappings becoming more common as lawlessness increases. Kidnap victims are often used as bargaining tools in disputes between rival factions and groups.

Earlier today, Saudi Arabia announced that it would provide Yemen with all its petroleum needs for two months. The deal was agreed during a meeting between Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Ghana: Government rescinds decision to boycott local Multimedia Group on grounds of its alleged anti-NDC “bias”

In a worrying development - albeit one since reversed by the government following criticism from all sides including from within, the party - the National Democratic Congress (NDC) announced a boycott of Accra-based radio and TV operator Multimedia Group (MGL) Limited which is the owner and operator of, amongst other outlets, both Asempa FM and Joy FM. It initially banned MGL representatives from attending government functions and events including those held by the multitude of government ministries and departments. The reasons that were provided mainly centred on Asempa FM decision to end a political discussion programme in late February. This followed an on-site protest by NPP supporters who were claiming radio presenter bias; the subsequent resumption of the programme by a new Asempa presenter; and the apparent failure of Joy FM to report the incident on the news.

The response from the political opposition and from media organizations was immediate, with the Media Foundation for West Africa calling on President John Atta Mills to reverse the decision. The Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG) even threatened to take legal action should the boycott not be reversed. As mentioned above, Nana Akufo-Addo voiced his astonishment, and Jerry John Rawlings - while reacting adversely to the suspension of his aide and spokesman Kofi Adams – authorised the latter to appear on a Joy FM programme following the announcement of the NDC boycott of its Multimedia Group parent company.

The subsequent rescinding of the boycott is important in particular as it re-affirms Ghana's commitment to press freedom. Government representatives still maintain, however, that the Multimedia Group has shown bias against the NDC for the past three years.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Iran to meet with six world powers in April

Iran and six other world powers have agreed to meet on 13 April for talks about the country's nuclear programme, but according to various sources the delegates are having trouble deciding on a venue. A formal announcement about the forthcoming meeting is yet to be made.

Speaking about it, however, three Western diplomats linked to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the starting date is set and they expect the venue dispute to be resolved in time.

The on-going squabbles between Iran and the world powers over the location after days of talks appeared to reflect the deep differences that have doomed previous meetings, during which Iran refused to observe international demands that it curb its nuclear activities.

The US and its Western allies have agreed on a number of punishing sanctions in recent weeks designed to add weight to UN penalties on Iran because of its enrichment programme, while attempting to convince Israel that there is no need to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

Sources: AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Former president Rawlings criticises Mills

Former president Jerry John Rawlings has spoken out against President John Atta Mills and his government. The former Ghanaian president issued a statement saying Mills' government was unable to “see the growing darkness around them” and was sinking into a bottomless pit.

In the statement to the media on Monday 26 March, Rawlings said the suspension of his aide, Kofi Adams, as Deputy General Secretary of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) over an alleged leaked tape, was “to serve a parochial and unpatriotic interest” of some party officials.

Adams is on suspension for 90 days pending the outcome of a Disciplinary Committee's investigation for allegedly saying in a secret recording that he will be part of a plot to ensure Mills' defeat in the December elections, after Nana Konadu lost the bid to become the party's presidential candidate at the Sunyani Congress.

Rawlings, who has spoken out against Mills before, concluded in his statement that “Ghana needs a real and true awakening." He added: "The government is fast speeding the country into an abyss and as Easter draws near let us seek God's guidance in honest, unpretentious prayer of supplication.”

Sources: Ghana Web, My Joy Online, Citifmonline

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

Security tight in Baghdad for Arab summit

Over 100,000 security guards have been deployed to Baghdad days before an Arab League summit. Airspace around the city has been closed until Thursday 29 March, and security personnel are already patrolling the streets and stop-searching vehicles.

The meeting is expected to focus on the crisis in Syria, but the occasion will also be a test for Iraq's government following the on-going violence of recent months. There have been a number of bomb attacks across the country since US troops withdrew at the end of December 2011.

Over 50 people were killed in the most recent series of co-ordinated attacks on Tuesday, the deadliest of which struck the cities of Karbala and Kirkuk.

It is estimated that between $400-500million have been spent refurbishing facilities and on security measures as this is an opportunity for Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to show how the country is progressing since US troops left last year.

The focus of the main meeting itself is likely to be Syria and what further pressure Arab leaders can put on the government of Bashar al-Assad, who has not been invited.

National security official Safa Hussein told the AFP news agency that the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qa'ida in Iraq, was planning an attack, but added: "We think security will go well."

Sources: BBC News, Bloomberg, AFP

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

Monday, 26 March 2012

Algeria: How the vote will be rigged

There are few who believe that the 10 May legislative elections will not be rigged in one way or another. It is not particularly important to the regime how the votes are distributed between parties, as the lower elected Chamber has only minimal real power. The vote will, therefore, be rigged to increase the turnout figure.

There are already clear indications that the regime is using a customary way of 'loading the ballot' by reallocating members of the security forces – army, gendarmerie, police – and other state functionaries to different constituencies so that their vote can be registered in at least two places.

In theory, this practice can be checked by astute observers but, because Algeria keeps a tight lid on all matters relating to its security forces and their movements, it is, in practice, difficult for observers, especially from other countries, to check such details.

In practice, and according to our sources in Algeria, this election could see as many as 500,000 votes being 'doubly registered' in this way. That is the approximate size of the country's security forces. Not all of them will be moved around in this way, but they are likely to be joined by a large number of other state employees.

The addition of some half a million extra votes to the overall ballot could make a significant difference to the regime's efforts to 'beat the boycott' and get a turnout figure around 50%. On a national roll, which is currently estimated by opposition sources as somewhere around 16-17 million, an extra half million votes could shift the turnout percentage by possibly as much as 9%, enough to increase it from around 40% to around 50%; this would enable the regime to breathe a sigh of relief. With other likely methods of ballot stuffing, the regime might possibly get the turnout up to 55-60% which would be very satisfactory for Algeria's Western allies.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Turkmenistan: Striking lucky again with new gas find

Turkmenistan has discovered a potentially major new gas field in the east of the country, the government says, boosting confidence that it can fulfil its ambitious gas contracts with China. The new find is on the Shiringuyy structure in the Bagtyyarlyk contract area, located in Lebap province. Bagtyyarlyk has been jointly developed by Turkmengaz and China National Petroleum Corporation since 2007. Last year the Chinese energy giant announced plans to increase production there from 5.5 billion cubic metres a year to 6.5 billion, a target that this field will go some way to fulfilling.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the find is capable of producing an impressive 1.5 million cubic metres/day. This would make a significant contribution to the Turkmenistan-China pipeline, which is supplied by the Bagtyyarlyk contract area. At the end of last year construction began on a new compressor station to allow Shiringuyy gas to be fed into the pipeline. The station will be complete by 2014 and will be able to process 9bcm of gas every year.

Turkmen media have yet to release details on the production timeframe or the geological conditions of the new field.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 23 March 2012

Nigeria: New Bayelsa governor finds suspicious payments left by his predecessors

Sources have disclosed that Bayelsa State's recently elected Governor Nelson Seriake Dickson is facing problems meeting some of the commitments made by his predecessors Timipre Sylva and the erstwhile Acting Governor Nestor Binabo. The latter took over as Acting Governor for 14 days after a Supreme Court's ruling threw Sylva out of office.

Some of the arrangements entered into by his predecessors on behalf of the State include one suspicious arrangement whereby the Bayelsa State Government has to pay about N300 million (US$1.9 million) a month to an unnamed recipient.

It has also been revealed that in his two weeks in office, Binabo hurriedly granted a rather suspicious N3.2 billion (US$20.29 million) contract. Seriake's headache is now to find a way out of these arrangements, which have some legal weight to them,without incurring any further losses to Bayelsa State.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Egypt: Brotherhood U-turn

The Muslim Brotherhood has indicated it is to make a U-turn over putting forward a candidate for the presidential elections, due to take place 23-24 May. The Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) had originally said it would not put forward a candidate but would endorse one of those who presented himself. The spokesman for the Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said that the organisation now says that it cannot endorse any of those who have so far registered. But in a classic example of political doublespeak it denied reversing policy. "This is not a retreat from our former position, but rather a reaction to the ruling military council's refusal to allow us [through the Freedom and Justice Party] to form a new government."

The quandary that the Brotherhood faces is that its youth wing supports one of those who are standing, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was expelled from the organisation for breaking ranks and disobeying the policy decision not to present his candidature. The organisation's hierarchy is unwilling to show any compromise over disciplinary matters, and yet faces the prospect of many of its members voting for someone who was expelled from the organisation.

The Brotherhood's guidance council is due to meet on 23 March to decide on the issue, with Khairat al-Shater, the group's financier, considered the front runner. He would appear not to be eligible, however, as he has a criminal record: he was convicted of providing university students with military training.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Mauritania to hand over Libya's former spy chief

Libya's Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagur has said Mauritania has agreed to extradite former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. The announcement was made after a meeting between Abushagur and Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.

Muritania's authorities, however, later said a decision on extradition is yet to be reached. Al-Senussi, once aide to former Libyan leader Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi, was arrested in Mauritania last week.

Libya's interim government has been adamant that it wants al-Senussi back in the country so he can stand trial on numerous allegations of murder and human rights violations during his time as Qadhafi's head of intelligence.

International police agency Interpol has issued a "red notice" at Libya's request for Senussi "for fraud offences including embezzling public funds and misuse of power for personal benefit". Meanwhile, he is also being sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity.

In addition, France wants to extradite him in connection with a bomb attack on a plane in 1989. A French court convicted al-Senussi on grounds of involvement in a 1989 attack on a French plane that killed 170 people, and sentenced him to life in prison.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Ghana: PPP is formally recognised as a legitimate political party

The opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) - founded by former Convention People's Party (CPP) leader Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom following his controversial departure from the CPP - received its official political party certificate from the Electoral Commission (EC) last week in Accra. The party, which had earlier received a provisional certificate from the EC, is now set fair to contest the 2012 elections. Under the Electoral Law, however, the PPP must both declare its assets and provide additional information to the EC within 90 days of final certificate receipt or risk revocation of the certificate.

Assuming that the PPP completes these formalities, the CPP, in particular, should have additional competition in the forthcoming elections, to add to its recent woes caused by defections following Nduom's departure. None of this changes the reality that the elections will be a two horse race between the incumbent NDC and opposition NPP, with the fragmentation of the existing minor parties perhaps reducing their influence.

Nduom, upon hearing the favourable news, claimed that the PPP would “conduct ourselves properly”, and to “protect the integrity of the elections”. This is something that should be easier for the smaller parties while the heavyweight NDC and NPP fight all the way in an election that promises to be extremely close. He also criticised the President, claiming that Mills' recent claims of unprecedented success should be deemed to refer to the “unprecedented” scale of the payment to NDC financier Alfred Woyome because “never in the history of this country has the state dished out such a huge sum of money to an individual as a judgement debt”.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Outbreaks of violence in Benghazi and Tripoli

In the past week there have been outbreaks of violence in Libya's two largest cities – albeit for different reasons.

The attempt by major interests in eastern Libya to have a tribally-based constitution in which the former province of Cyrenaica would become semi-autonomous within Libya has met with major opposition from what appears to be an organised source - allegedly the political Islamists - in Benghazi.

The latter oppose moves towards autonomy for two reasons: firstly because, as the likely winners, they do not want anything to postpone or alter the forthcoming elections. Secondly, the predominantly conservative tribal autonomists are viewed as a throwback to the monarchy headed by King Idris. He was also the head of the indigenous Senussi Brotherhood or Sufi politico-religious order which could both provide competition for allegiance of pious Libyans, particularly in the east, and also Sufism and mysticism considered apostasy by Sunni Muslim extremists.

On 16 March, a demonstration supporting the creation of an autonomous region was attacked by mobs which drove them out of the main square. During the incident one person was killed and several others were severely injured. The whole affair ended with the militias driving the attackers out of central Benghazi.

Meanwhile, on 18 March, a skirmish took place in the Abu Selim district of Tripoli between one of the militias there and the local residents. The powerful Zintan militia was confronted by what were termed ex-Qadhafi supporters, and a prolonged shooting match took place during which one militia man was killed. The Zintan militia still retains a considerable garrison in Tripoli and this situation is greatly disliked by the local people.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: El Merk 'mega project'

Following the announcement of the settlement of its tax dispute Anadarko issued a statement, ahead of its investor conference last week, saying that the El Merk mega project, in which Anadarko is the leading foreign shareholder, is approximately 90 per cent complete and expected production of significant volumes by the end of this year. The El Merk in the Berkine Basin is approximately 300 kms south-east of Hassi Messaoud. It was established to design and construct the surface facilities required for the exploitation of hydrocarbon liquid reserves of six reservoirs in Blocks 208, 405a and 212. It will also accommodate the processing of additional fluids from the Sonatrach/Anadarko and Sonatrach/Eni existing HBNS/HBN facilities (Block 403a/404a), approximately 80 Km north of the proposed El Merk development.

The US$4 billion El Merk Oil Field Development project is under the management of the Groupement Berkine whose shareholders are Sonatrach (37.70%), Anadarko (18.10 %), ConocoPhillips (16.90%), Maersk (9.10%), Eni (9.10%) and Talisman (9.10%) A considerable number of other foreign companies are involved in various aspects of the massive project. These include Petrofac for the central processing facilities; the ABB/SARPI/Petrojet consortium for the support networks; Kahrif for the transmission lines; and Siemens (for the armoured post package. The original design contract was awarded to KBR in 2006.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 16 March 2012

New Trans-Caspian Pipeline talks finish

The latest round of talks on a Trans-Caspian pipeline has concluded, with no concrete results. The negotiations - between the European Commission, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan - took place in Brussels at the beginning of the month but produced no outcome beyond a confirmation that the talks occurred “in a constructive atmosphere” and “are progressing well”, according to sources speaking to local media. Conclusions “will be found when the time is right”, said a source.

The Turkmen state media service only gave a bland statement on Turkmenistan's “responsible approach to international cooperation in the energy sector." A new discussion will be held next month, again to discuss technical aspects of the pipeline.

Without a political discussion which tackles the elephant in the room – Russian and Iranian opposition – the original June deadline for the completion of talks looks increasingly unlikely.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Egypt: US signals rapprochement after NGO standoff

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged other countries to support Egypt by giving it aid. “The international community must provide strong support for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to quickly conclude an economic reform and stabilisation programme with Egypt,” Mrs Clinton told the UN Security Council. “We call on Egypt's friends in the region and around the world to be prepared to use bilateral assistance to reinforce an IMF programme with Egypt.”

This appeal - yet to be translated into action in terms of dollars pledged and given - is the clearest sign yet that for its part the US administration is trying to put behind it the tensions over the Egyptian decision to prosecute NGO workers including 16 Americans. Another sign is the two-day visit to Cairo by the director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt Gen Ronald Burgess.

For her part, the Egyptian at the centre of the row with the US, Planning and International Cooperation Minister Fayza Aboul Naga showed no sign of any thawing of hostility towards Washington. She dismissed US aid to Egypt as a trifling US$250 million which Egypt could get along without. Mrs Aboul Naga has long been an irritant to NGOs in Egypt who accuse her of citing sovereignty in defence of her opposition to any scrutiny by Egyptians or others of the finances of the regime and its beneficiaries.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iran: Who's the boss?

The Majles has approved the outline of a bill to determine the scope of authority for the Ministry of Petroleum (MoP) with regard to the oil sector. The relevant areas of authority are the process of decision making over oil issues, related executive affairs, issues relating to investment, and Ministry international relations.

The bill also envisages a mechanism of common consensus for choosing top directors in key institutions such as the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). It calls as well for the approval of all oil and gas contracts by the cabinet before they become effective. MPs are still engaged in discussions over various parts of the bill, and it is expected to be finalised by 21 March. The government has already objected to the bill on the grounds that it would effectively reduce the president's authority over several key oil industry issues. This is particularly significant when considering that a large proportion of government revenues comes from petrodollars and that the president has always tried to put his own picks in crucial MoP posts to make sure decision making supports the interests of his camp.

One controversial aspect of the bill is a mechanism for 'sharing the oil produced at the fields with the contractors.' Production-sharing agreements (PSAs) have always been considered against the Iranian constitution. Critics say that PSAs could also prove detrimental to oil reserves, particularly now that MoP is awarding deals to locals with little expertise. For their part, international contractors have long complained about the inefficiencies of the current buy-back model and emphasised that they would be more interested if Iran adopted PSAs. If the bill is finalised it would open new possibilities for oil industry contracts.

Another controversial aspect of the bill is that it would allow certain state organisations outside the MoP to make decisions about marketing a share of Iranian oil. While the details are still unknown, it is clear that putting decision making over a portion of crucial petrodollars into the hands of institutions beyond the government could disrupt the Iranian economy.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

GCC continue to support the new Libya; albeit selectively

The closeness of the connections between Libya's rebels and the UAE developed early during the war, and particularly in relation to the supply of weapons to the rebel forces. The assistance came at the very beginning of hostilities when the fate of the coast road on the eastern side of the Gulf of Sirte was under severe pressure from Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi forces. The thanks for this assistance from the UAE were conveyed to the retiring UAE ambassador to Libya, Sultan Rashid al-Kaytoub, who was speaking on 11 March during a farewell call on the National Transitional Council (NTC) chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil.

The Emirates, but mainly Qatar, chose to play an overtly pro- revolutionary role at a time of great need. The immediate delivery of tanks and armoured personnel carriers to strengthen the revolutionary forces was very effective. Since then, Qatar has retained a special position of influence, albeit less publicly than before. The Qatari connection with, and support for, Libya's Islamists has, however, not been universally popular. Some Libyan analysts argue that the Qatari government are well intentioned but that it has been somewhat naïve, and has been unduly influenced by expatriate Libyans who have persuade Doha to support a couple of post-revolutionary political parties to the exclusion of others.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Libya: Trade and investment news

Chinese crude imports from Libya fell in 2011 as a result of the virtual civil war but now Sinopec's trading subsidiary, Unipec, has signed deals with National Oil Company (NOC) to import approximately 100,000 b/d of crude oil from Libya. Meanwhile PetroChina's trading department, Chinaoil, will lift a further 40,000 b/d. Taken together China's acquisition of Libyan oil will cover the cuts that are being made to liftings of Iranian crude.

Meanwhile BP has reported that it is continuing to evaluate its position in Libya but has made it clear that the security of all staff would be an essential pre-requisite before a return to Libya could be seriously considered.

There is news that Libya will amend its banking laws to attract and protect foreign investment as well as encourage expansion in the Libyan private sector. Reuters has reported that the Libyan leadership is seeking to create a new legal framework and infrastructure. In essence, the 2005 Banking Law, which opened the country for foreign banks, will be at the centre of changes.

The Maltese government has expressed its willingness to back up the operations of the Bank of Valetta which first opened up a representative office in Libya in 2002.

Egyptian workers are trying to retrieve their special role as a supply of cheap labour for the agriculture and construction industries but the Libyans have been slow to assist. A reported 8,000 Egyptian passports are awaiting entry visas. The situation for migrants from West Africa is very different with little hope of a return to Libya and a deep aversion to taking up the immigrant trail to a country like that has treated them so badly since the war.

The recent visit by French Defence Minister,Gerard Longuet, gave opportunity for discussions at the highest level on improving cooperation in defence between the two countries. France is especially aware that continuing instability in North Africa is providing opportunities for al-Qa'ida and its regional affiliates.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Political parties jockeying for a say in the drawing up of new constituent assembly

Egypt's political parties are all jockeying for a say in the drawing up of the new constituent assembly. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) , with the largest representation in parliament, is proposing that 40% of its members should be drawn from parliament and the remainder from the great and good of society including legal and constitutional experts as well as trades unionists. Their proposal would ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the drafting.

At the other end of the spectrum the activists and liberals want to see groups that are not represented in parliament - or at least, with few members drawn from their ranks, such as women, Christians and young people - have a say and would like the constituent assembly to touch all the bases by having their voices heard.

The procedural discussions are merely the prelude to the discussions of substance which will decide the political system that Egyptians will be bound by. The key will be the division of authority between the presidency and parliament. Until now the former has enjoyed total executive power with parliament little more than a talking shop that rubber stamps presidential decrees. Traditionally the presidency deals with security and sovereign issues – which are very broadly defined - including internal security, while the politically weaker and more technocratic government deals with the economy and other matters. The Muslim Brotherhood, which still maintains it will not put up a candidate for presidential elections, wants government and authority to derive more from parliament in which it has an effective majority. One idea might be to split responsibilities so that the presidency deals with foreign affairs and the parliament internal.

For their part the Salafis, with the second largest representation in parliament, would like an even higher proportion of members of the constituent assembly to be drawn from parliament. Some of their members want Article 2 of the constitution to be changed so that Islam is Egypt's only source of legislation rather than being the principle source as it is at present.

The ghost in the room as always is the military, which over the past year through the ill-fated proposals for "The Democratic Transition and Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution” that were produced by the former Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Ali El-Selmi has been manoeuvring for special dispensation from parliamentary oversight. None of the political parties wishes to give the military any special favours. All insist that the military should be subject to constitutional control and that its budget be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Yet the military, though openly declaring that it is handing over to a civil authority in July, is deeply opposed to any interference in its autonomous existence.

These are uncharted waters and any period of political transition is uncertain. Egyptian decisions are traditionally taken by the deep state irrespective of the shell institutions that are meant to take them. The test of the revolution is how much that will have changed and how much the old way of doing things will survive.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Ghana Refugee Board encourage Liberians to go home

Previously in Ghana Politics and Security we have mentioned that Liberian refugees currently in Ghana – most of whom arrived in the early 1990s during Liberia's civil war - could be affected by the scheduled end of June 2012 activation of a United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) clause that would remove refugee status from the Liberian refugees who are yet to return home. The loss of refugee status would mean that these Liberians would no longer be protected by the UNHCR or by Ghana's Refugee Board, and would therefore have to leave their current refugee camps, be repatriated, obtain legal right to remain in Ghana, or remain as “aliens”.

Last week the GRB's programme coordinator, Padi Tetteh, stated that, since the announcement of the impending change to their status, only 450 of around 11,000 Liberian refugees have indicated that they are willing to “take advantage of the voluntary repatriation”. After the expiration of a further three month grace period, any remaining refugees will – according to Tetteh – be treated as illegal immigrants unless they had undertaken successful efforts to acquire a legal right to remain in Ghana, and that Buduburam camp to the west of Accra will be closed down.

The Ghanaian authorities are not the only group that are apparently encouraging repatriation because, in the words ofTetteh, “a delegation mission from Liberia is in the country to encourage many refugees to return home” with the assistance of a US$300 dollar (for adults, or 200 for children) repatriation package.

As previously mentioned in Ghana Politics and Security, the UNHCR's Ghanaian “public information officer”, who announced the changes earlier this year had been quick to emphasise that the move had nothing to do with Ghana's upcoming elections. Instead it is the improved conditions in Liberia, the creation of a local Ghanaian Ghana Politics & Security 10

refugee board, and more stable situation in neighbouring Cote D'Ivoire. Nevertheless, should a large number of refugees illegally remain in Ghana following the expiration of the three month grace period this coming autumn, it would be interesting to see how the government and/or the NPP opposition encourage their repatriation.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Nigeria entertains diplomatic spat with South Africa

The Nigerian government appears determined to square off with its South African counterpart over the latter's deportation of 125 Nigerians who were heading to South Africa from Nigeria. The Nigerians were reportedly prevented from completing their journeys after they were found to be using invalid yellow fever vaccination cards. Abuja has expressed, in no uncertain terms, its extreme displeasure with the action of the South African immigration service in deporting its citizens.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gbenga Ashiru, has stated that the government will mete out a similar treatment to South Africans looking to come into Nigeria and has demanded that Pretoria apologise to the Nigerian government. He latter has already retaliated by refusing to grant entry to around 100 South Africans who have tried to enter gain entry into Nigeria since the incident.

The National Assembly is also talking tough. Plenary sessions in both the House of Representatives and the Senate have threatened to force the Federal Government to close down South African businesses such as mobile telecommunications service provider MTN and cable satellite television provider DSTV/Multichoice.

Some observers have stated that the only reason why the legislators are talking tough is because a Senator was amongst the Nigerians who were turned back from Johannesburg airport after allegedly using an invalid or “fake” yellow fever vaccination card.
The feud is shaping up to be quite bitter because the South African government has apparently insisted that it will not apologise to Nigerians for the incident, and argues that it was only protecting its borders and following due process.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Brazil: Privatisations – back again?

The undoubted success of the privatisation of Brazil's three largest airports – offerings were held on 6 February with an average premium of 348 per cent – raises the question whether privatisations, some strenuously opposed during Lula 's eight years in office and President Dilma Rousseff's first, are back to stay.

In fact, the airport tender was a special case, and the winning consortia will have the sweetest of deals, since the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) will finance 60 per cent of the works required for modernisation of the terminals and runways. The auction was also special in that the winning bidders were supported by the deep pockets of the pension funds of Brazilian state enterprises. But the issue remains, will the Workers' Party (PT) government permit other privatisations to take place – ports, for instance – now that the taboo has been broken? It all depends on Rousseff's capacity for leadership and her will to defy the entrenched interests of PT.

By road, sea, or rail

The government will propose tenders for 10-year concessions for the maintenance of federal highways. The Ministry of Transport intends to launch the initial tenders before the end of this year, under the public–private partnership (PPP) regime. Some 9,000 km of federal highways may be privatised, with new requirements for quality control. In the ports area, the government will have to tender at least 77 terminals whose concessions will expire by 2013. They are distributed over 15 ports.

As for the bullet train ( TAV ), the government decided to reformulate the terms of the tender, now scheduled for November, in order to absorb two risks pointed out by investors: foreign exchange and demand. It has been decided that the concession period will be 40 years, the internal rate of return of the project 6.32 per cent, and – for a total cost variously estimated at R$34 billion (by the government) and R$50 billion (by the builders) – the ceiling for public financing will be R$22 billion. (BNDES will not finance any imported equipment.) All of that, however, may still change.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ghana's economic progress wins qualified IMF approval

Although the Ministry of Finance's recordkeeping has been the subject of heavy criticism in the PAC enquires described above, the Ministry was able to report positive economic news last week.

Minister Kwabena Duffour has pointed to a lower than expected budget deficit of 4.3% of GDP compared with a target of 5.1%. This is supported among other things by improvements in tax collection of around 15% and by improvements in other sources of revenue and grants by over 8%, and the budget deficit is expected to remain relatively stable at 4.4% during 2012. Given concerns from ratings agencies and others about the levels of Ghana's deficits in an election year, these figures seem like positive news at first glance.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, presents a more nuanced view. It was articulated during its 22 February to 2 March mission to Ghana as part of a review under Ghana's Extended Credit Facility with the IMF during which officials met Duffour and Bank of Ghana (BoG) governor Kwesi Amissah-Arthur as well as other officials.

Among other things, the IMF noted that the 2011 budget deficit - quoted as 4.4% of non-oil GDP and 4.2% of total GDP - was indeed supported by improvements in revenue collection. This is an improvement used by a number of African governments following the global financial crisis but it also hides a large increase in the public wage bill. This trend that looks set to continue with recent reports of significant increases in guaranteed wages for many public-sector workers. In addition the government's “spending obligations”, including fuel price subsidy claims, of around 1% of non-oil GDP are being “carried over into 2012”.

According to the IMF, the combination of inflation risks, deteriorations in the trade balance and fiscal deficit, and a slowdown in global demand, are still risks for Ghana's economy in 2012. In addition there are excessive exchange rate fluctuations and the risk that rising oil prices will force the government to pay subsidies so that Ghanaian consumers can afford fuel. This view of downside risks, along with encouragement for the government to rebuild its foreign exchange buffers, largely echoes the views of senior research analysts that have been issued in recent months.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Leaders declare oil-rich eastern Libya semi-automatous

Tribal leaders and militia commanders have declared oil-rich eastern Libya a semi-automatous region. The decision was announced at a gathering dubbed the “Congress of the People of Cyrenaica,” attended by more than 2,000 people near the eastern city of Benghazi.

One of the organisers, a Libyan-US citizen Mohammed Buisier said: “We would like in Cyrenaica to take care of housing, education and other things and would delegate national security, defence ... to the central government… We believe in one Libya….People in Cyrenaica have for 40 years suffered from negligence ... If we keep this negligence towards the east, I cannot guarantee that Libya will be united in 25 years-time.”

The National Transitional Council (NTC) argued against federalism, amid fears that it would break up the already fragile country. Albeit it is not yet clear what degree of autonomy people of Cyrenaica are seeking, it is bound to drum-up a lot of debate within the NTC in Tripoli.

The move, however, has also gathered some opposition as several thousand people marched to Benghazi's courthouse on Monday 5 February to express their dismay. The protesters chanted: “Libya is united!” and “Do not break up Libya!"

Speaking about the situation, a spokesman for the NTC Mohammed al-Harizi said people were free to lobby for regional autonomy, but added: “This is not the vision of the NTC ... and I am sure that the Libyan people, as a whole, do not support this idea.”

Buisier said there were no plans to unilaterally declare autonomy from the rest of Libya. He added the first steps would be to create a 300-member “High Council for Cyrenaica” and to lobby for Cyrenaica to be given more representation in an election, scheduled for June, to choose a new national assembly.

Sources: Al Arabiya, BBC News, Bloomberg

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

Two British journalists detained in Tripoli

According to a Misratan brigade commander Faraj al-Swehli the two British journalists detained in the country are being held on suspicion of spying. He said the men had entered Libya illegally and were carrying "incriminating evidence".

Al-Swehli added that the activities of reporter Nicholas Davies, 37, and cameraman Gareth Montgomery-Johnson, 36, both of whom were working for Iran's English-language TV station Press TV, were being investigated.

Human rights groups have called for their release.

Among the reported evidence found on the two men was a field dressing allegedly used by the Israeli military. Swehli told reporters that he believed the two men were spies, adding that his brigade was conducting an investigation into the matter.

He added: "After we have finished the investigation we are going to transfer them to the state authorities to pursue the legal process against them."

The two men were detained on 21 February while filming late at night on the streets of Tripoli. The preliminary accusation against them was that their immigration documents were not in order.

The Libyan authorities in Tripoli say they know nothing about the allegations of spying. The country's interim government and the British embassy's efforts to persuade the militia to release the men have been unsuccessful.

Sources: Reuters, BBC News, Bloomberg

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

Yemen: More than 100 killed in clashes

According to Yemeni officials, the number of people killed in the clashes between security forces and suspected Al-Qa'ida militants has risen to more than 100. Dozens of soldiers were killed in the fighting at an army post in southern Yemen and 50 were reportedly taken prisoner.

It is estimated that at least 20 of the suspected al-Qa'ida members died. According to the BBC, some of the militants may also have links with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who surrendered power only a week ago.

The fighting occurred in the southern province of Abyan, west of the provincial capital and militant-held town of Zinjibar. It is thought that the clashes ensued after twin suicide bombings aimed at military posts in Zinjibar.

It is also thought that the militants appropriated some of the army's heavy weaponry before returning to Zinjibar and were helped by army leaders, who served under Saleh.

Islamist began taking control of Abyan last year and the country's security forces have been involved in trying to regain control ever since.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, AP

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

Egypt gas pipeline attacked, again

The main gas pipeline carrying supplies from Egypt to Jordan and Israel has been attacked again. The two explosions occurred near the town of Al-Arish in the north of the Sinai desert.

According to witnesses, the blasts ripped through the area, sending flames high into the air.

There have been many such attacks on the pipelines in the Sinai, following the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak. According to locals, the two explosions occurred close together after six men were seen in an unmarked vehicle.

The area has been subject to growing unrest, due to tensions with heavily armed Bedouin tribes who reside there.

According to Egyptian officials, there have been at least 12 attacks on pipelines since Mubarak was ousted in February 2011.

The pipeline only reopened last week after it was shut down on 5 February following a similar explosion.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Monday, 5 March 2012

Algeria: Effort to combat money laundering and 'terror financing'

A new order was introduced on 13 February in an attempt to tighten up on money laundering and so-called 'terror financing'. The ordinance puts the banks in the front line by giving them the task of detecting any attempt to use their channels for terrorist purposes. The financial institutions will now be obliged to play a monitoring role and report any suspicious activity that could serve the terrorists' interest.

Under Article 7 of the order, banks must conduct thorough checks before opening a bank or passbook account, holding shares or bonds, allocating a strongbox or agreeing to any other financial operations or relationships.

The article stipulates that banks must have a “suitable risk management system in order to determine whether a potential customer, actual customer or beneficiary is politically exposed, and to take any measures to allow the identification of the origin of the capital, and to provide enhanced on-going surveillance of the business relationship”. Any failure to abide by the new regulations could result in a fine of between 10 million and 50 million dinars. The new order also empowers courts to seize or freeze assets being directed towards terrorist activities for a renewable term of one month. A specialist body, the state prosecutor or international authorities can request the seizure, which is subject to an appeal.

“Banks are emerging as important players in the fight against money laundering and all forms of financial crime,” said Abderrahmane Benkhalfa who is the chief representative of the Association of Banks and Financial Institutions. “That task is already being taken on by banks through the general laws on the world of finance and the regulatory instructions issued by the Central Bank.”

He added: “Banks have a responsibility to manage, control and balance all cross-border flows of capital into and out of Algeria."

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Qatar to invest in Algerian steel complex

Industries Qatar is to invest $411 million in constructing a steel plant in Algeria, the company announced during its presentation of its financial results for 2011. The joint venture project, named Qatar Steel International, was announced by Mohamed Ben Salah Al-Sada, the Qatari energy and industry minister, who did not name the location of the factory; it is believed to be the Bellara industrial zone in Jijel.

Tender documents for the completion of feasibility studies are being prepared. Qatar Industries plans to take a 24% stake in the venture, while the Algerian press is speculating that another Qatari group, Qatar Mining , may also become a potential partner in the project, bringing the Qatari stake to 49%, the maximum possible level of foreign ownership as stipulated by the Algerian 49-51 investment law. After first mentioning the project last October without naming the foreign partner, Algerian industry minister Mohamed Benmeradi later elaborated that there were “several partners with whom we have signed a memorandum of understanding”.

The factory, which is to be 70% loan-financed, will begin operating in 2016 and will reach eventual production of 4.8 million tonnes a year. In its first phase, production will reach 2.5 million tonnes, rising to nearer 5 million tonnes in the second phase. The factory will produce steel primarily aimed at supporting and developing Algeria's railway industry. Algeria imports $10 million in steel products each year, equivalent to 20% of its total import bill, according to the industry ministry. Agreement was reached last September to extend the contract for the El Hadjar steel plant in Annaba, operated by the Algerian subsidiary of ArcelorMittal , which plans to increase production to 1.5 million tonnes in the next 18 months. Reports emerged last month that the complex was in financial difficulty, having failed to secure a loan from Algerian banks, but this was denied by parent company ArcelorMittal. The Algerian authorities have committed to supporting the plant come what may.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iraq: Shortfall in Kurdish exports

The Oil Ministry announced this month that the KRG is not meeting its export target of 175,000 b/d. The director of Somo, the state oil marketing board, Falah Al-Ameri, told the Iraqi media that the Kurds hadn't been able to export more than 65,000 b/d. He also asserted that despite Norwegian company DNO expecting production to increase in the Tawke field, there was no way the Kurds would be able to meet such a high target.

Baghdad's criticisms are a little rich, given that the central authorities have done almost everything in their powers over the past few years to make the KRG's export of its crude as difficult as possible. The criticisms have been taken as another bid by Baghdad to have a dig at Erbil.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates