Monday, 30 April 2012

Nigeria: Boko Haram bombs This Day offices in Abuja, Kaduna

Armed Islamist militant group Boko Haram struck again late morning on 26 April, detonating explosives at the offices of This Day newspaper in Abuja and Kaduna, killing at least six people. A smaller explosion occurred in Kaduna later that afternoon at the junction of a major highway.

A source in contact with the group claims that This Day was targeted because it was considered a mouthpiece of the government. The editor, Ndukka Ogbaigbena, is known to be close to President Goodluck Jonathan and former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

This Day is a controversial voice in the predominantly Muslim North. An article proposing that the Prophet Mohammed might wish to have married a beauty queen prompted serious sectarian violence in Kaduna at the time of the Miss World contest held in Nigeria in 2002. Moreover, journalists have been among Boko Haram's victims. In October 2011, the group killed a reporter for state-run television, accusing him of being an informant. In January this year, a correspondent for Channels TV was gunned down and killed when reporting on Boko Haram bombings in Kano.

According to media reports, witnesses claim that at least one of the attacks (in Abuja) was carried out by a suicide bomber. This was confirmed in a statement from the State Security Service. However, a spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency earlier stated that the explosion appeared to have occurred within the building. A man suspected of involvement in the main Kaduna blast has reportedly been arrested.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria: PM accused of arrogance and misuse of power

The commission in charge of supervising the elections (CNSEL) has publicly criticised Ahmed Ouyahia of misusing his position as prime minister in his electoral campaign as head of the RND. In what the commission regards as a clear-cut conflict of interest, it says that Ouyahia is deploying his position and access to state power in electioneering, giving himself an unfair advantage over competitors.

At a press conference, Mohammed Sidikki , the president of the CNSEL, accused the prime minister of “serious infractions”. He gave the example of the welcome given to Ouyahia by the wali of El Oued, who mobilised his administration and put local services – including transport – at the disposal of the campaigning politician; advantages not enjoyed by his electoral rivals. “The law is clear in this instance. The wali is the representative of the state, and as such, he cannot be used as a political propaganda tool by anyone,” said Sidikki. Sidikki also hit out at Ouyahia's arrogance, criticising his campaign speeches in which he declared that “all the achievements” in Algeria were thanks to him. “He should be the first to know that everything that has been achieved in this country is thanks to the hydrocarbons wealth,” noted Sidikki, adding that if Ouyahia did not stop this kind of campaigning, the legal authorities would intervene to force him.

Sidikki's interventions add a welcome frankness to the electoral campaign, and seem to underline further how much the prime minister is reviled among certain Algerians. Online comments on this story include: “Mr Ouyahia does not think anything is beyond dictatorship and the abuse of power, he has never respected the people” and the cynical observation that “you have not understood that Ouyahia is the republic”.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 27 April 2012

Egypt: EGAS suspends deal to export gas to Israel

After 14 explosions on the pipeline, and the trials of those accused of selling the country short over the deal, EGAS has suspended its deal to export gas to Israel. The company cited contractual differences. It said that East Mediterranean Gas, founded by Hussein Salem and Israeli partners, “was not fulfilling its side of the deal”.

Muhammad Shu'aib , chairman of EGAS, said the decision was taken by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) and EGAS. “This is a commercial agreement between EGPC and EGAS on one side and the EMG, which is an Egyptian company specialised in exporting gas, on the other side. A trade agreement has conditions, duties and rights for each side. When one party does not fulfil its side of the deal, the agreement dictates what the other side is to do.” Abdallah Ghorab, Egyptian oil minister, said the termination was “a contractual matter and we are exercising our rights under the contract.”

International Co-operation Minister Fayza Aboul Naga said Israel had been notified five times that it was not meeting its financial obligations under the old contract. Egypt's Electricity Minister Hassan Yunis said earlier that the natural gas being exported to Israel under the controversial deal would be used domestically.

The reaction from Israel and the Israeli partners was markedly different. Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, denied that Israel had not been paying for the gas. Israel's finance ministry said it viewed the cancellation with “great concern”. They said it was “a government-backed contract sealed by a memorandum of understanding between Egypt and Israel that specifically refers to the (1979) peace treaty".

Egypt had been trying to raise the price of the gas sold through negotiation but there are many in Egypt who always opposed the deal as it was seen to be a way of channelling revenue into the pockets of members of the former regime. President Mubarak's sons have been tried for corruption over the deal.

According to Al Masry Al Youm, Fayza Aboul Naga told the Shura Council's Finance and Economic Affairs Committee on Monday that she expects foreign reserves to rise in May with the stabilisation of political and economic conditions. She added that foreign reserves went down by US$3 billion a month at the beginning of last year and then the rate of decline reduced to US$600 million in the past months.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Iran: EU oil ban review

A senior EU official said the Union may review in the next two months an embargo on Iranian oil imports that is scheduled to take effect from 1 July. The official, who has not been identified, told Reuters that for now there was no economic reason to change the ban. EU member states had agreed to review the embargo plan as early as this month because of concerns over its potential impact on global crude oil prices and the difficulty countries such as Greece face in finding alternative supplies.

But the review has now been postponed until May or June. 'So far, Greece has come back to us saying that for the time being they seem to be able to handle the situation,' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'They asked for the possibility of coming back to this in May or maybe June. The situation in oil markets is being kept under close review and, if necessary, we will come back to this.'

The official did not say whether the change to the review schedule was linked to ongoing talks with Tehran over its nuclear programme. Tehran expects EU oil sanctions to be removed if the next round of nuclear negotiations in Baghdad produces positive results. Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi went on the record that if the sanctions are not removed in the next round, Iran will stop selling oil to EU customers with immediate effect.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Iran unsure about nuclear weapons

According to the head of Israel's military Lt Gen Benny Gantz, Iran is unlikely to develop nuclear weapons. In a statement in Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Gantz said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had not yet made the final decision about whether to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran maintains that it wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only but the West believes Tehran may be developing weapons. In November, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a report saying it was unable to "provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran" and that it continued to have "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme".

A number of world powers have imposed sanctions on Iran, including the US, the EU, Canada, Japan and Australia. These include restrictions on Iran's oil sales, ban countries supplying Tehran with heavy weaponry and nuclear-related technology and a freeze on certain assets, people and companies.

Gantz suggests that Iran is beginning to yeald to pressure, adding that Tehran "is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided to go the extra mile".

Additionally, speaking of Khamenei he said: "I don't think he will want to go the extra mile. I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people."

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, is not so confident. In an interview this week, Netanyahu said he would not want to bet "the security of the world on Iran's rational behaviour". He added that Israel would be prepared to take action against Iran to stop it obtaining a nuclear weapon.

For his part, Gantz did also warn that the more the "Iranians progress the worse the situation is. This is a critical year but not necessarily 'go, no-go'. We're in a period when something must happen”. Adding: “Either Iran takes its nuclear programme to a civilian footing only, or the world - perhaps we too - will have to do something. We're closer to the end of discussions than the middle."

Sources: BBC News, Haaretz, Reuters

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

Libya: UK Foreign Office under pressure

Of some importance for the future is whether Abdel Hakim Belhadj will use the legal confrontation with the British as a political tool to discredit the UK's military intervention in Libya in support of the revolution. A strong performance by the Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood in the forthcoming election could give Belhadj a ready-made base which, albeit made up of purported heroism in the war against Qadhafi and of a suffering patriot at the hands of the British crusaders aligned with the Qadhafi regime, would stand him in good stead to bid for a leading role in a country in turmoil.

Belhadj has, in the interim, also initiated proceedings against the senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, who had close ties to the former Libyan spy chief and erstwhile foreign minister Musa Kusa. The threat of legal claims against Jack Straw has been public knowledge for some time although he has firmly denied any role in acquiescing in torture. The Foreign Office might find that that there could be a long legal argument over many of the grievances listed by Belhadj.

Given the shadow of Belhadj's alleged involvement with al-Qa'ida, which he has not denied, there would inevitably be a great deal at stake in information coming from Belhadj for the secret services, and he is likely to have been treated as a security VIP. Such considerations would not necessarily prevail with respect to the US.

Meanwhile, there have also been fresh allegations in the past week about the scale and nature of the collusion between the British security service and the Qadhafi regime. The Mail on Sunday claims that MI5 betrayed London-based dissidents to Libyan spies who were allegedly even housed in British safe houses having been whisked through airport immigration with the assistance of British security personnel. The Sunday Telegraph then claimed that MI6 and Libyan agents has established a radical mosque in an undisclosed Western European city in order to lure al-Qa'ida terrorists. Both newspapers have said that the claims come from documents which were discovered in Tripoli after the war and are assumed to have come from the treasure-trove of incriminating evidence left behind in Musa Kusa's office.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ghana: Smaller political parties discredit both main parties

Ghana's smaller parties have also joined the debate, seizing upon the opportunity to discredit the two main parties. Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom, whose Progressive People's Party (PPP) was formed in January after he broke away from the Convention People's Party (CPP), said that the “violence, anger and divisive behaviour exhibited by the NDC and the NPP over the past month” should encourage Ghanaians to look elsewhere for their leadership. “Many are afraid of what will happen in December if either one of the two parties somehow won the presidency. Ghanaians want to protect the peace and stability we have all sacrificed to establish,” he said in a statement. Nduom begins a nationwide tour of the ten regions this week to “assess the biometric voter registration exercise” and drum up support for the PPP.

Bright Akwetey, who recently began his campaign to become the presidential candidate of the CPP, which was created by independent Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, said that corruption among the major political parties had been a deciding factor in the setback of the country's development.

Meanwhile, the NPP candidate, Ursula Owusu, has challenged the police to provide proof of their claim that she refused to co-operate with them. This followed a statement by the police's acting public relations officer, Sergeant Kwabena Danso, that Owusu has yet to respond to an invitation to help with investigations into her assault at Odododiodoo. For her part, she told Joy FM that the police are simply covering up their own inaction. “…I just want to assure them that I have no intentions of letting this case go,” she said.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Five killed by gunmen in Plateau state

According to Nigerian officials, five people have been killed and 10 injured in two unconnected attacks. Unidentified gunmen shot dead five villagers in an overnight attack on Rim, situated 50km south of Jos in Plateau state.

Nine people were injured in the city of Jos, following a blast outside a venue where football fans had been watching the Chelsea-Barcelona match. One other person was also injured in the attack on Rim.

Over the last couple of months, Jos has seen a number of inter-communal conflicts and Islamist militant attacks carried out by Boko Haram. These most recent explosions in Jos were recorded in the northern suburb of Tudun Wada, a predominantly Christian residential area.

Speaking to the BBC, a local police spokesman Samuel Dabai said the authorities are still investigating the cause of the blast, which injured nine. The explosions occurred when scores of people were leaving a TV viewing centre at the end of the Champions League semi-final.

Plateau state is situated between Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and Christian and animist south. The conflict between the two communities is on-going and violence is a common occurrence, especially in Jos.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

An Iranian plan to irrigate its desert cities using water from the Caspian has provoked concern in Russia and has raised questions about Iranian compliance with the Caspian community's self-proclaimed emphasis on equitable usage. The $1.5 billion project was announced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the northern city of Sari on 16 April. It would involve a desalination plant on the Caspian coast, from which the water would be pumped 140km south to the city of Semnan, which lies east of Tehran.

Around 200 million cubic metres of water would be transferred through the 500km pipeline each year under the first phase – subsequent phases will expand the volume of water supplied to inland cities to 500mcm. Officially, the other Caspian governments have yet to comment – all use desalination plants of their own, albeit on a smaller scale than Iran's new project. However, some Russian commentators drew parallels with the Aral Sea in Central Asia, where decades of Soviet over-irrigation led to an environmental catastrophe and a drastic shrinking of the size of the sea.

The Caspian's ecosystem is already widely recognised as being extremely fragile, and a decline in the water volume – made worse by declining inflows from the Volga river – could have serious effects across the Caspian. This is especially significant given Tehran's repeated insistence that any activity (ie, a Trans-Caspian Pipeline) that could damage the Caspian ecosystem must only be taken with the consent of all five littoral states. If a Caspian summit does get under way this year (see page 8), the other leaders may have some tough questions for Ahmadinejad.

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

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Nigeria: Forthcoming fuel subsidy report reveals £4 million fraud

Nigeria's parliament is to debate a 200 page parliamentary report, which reveals that £4 million has been defrauded from the fuel subsidy fund in the past two years. The discussion, to be broadcast live, will be disclosing findings that have been leaked in recent days.

The inquest followed nationwide protests in January after the government tried to remove the subsidy. Despite being one of the biggest oil producers in Africa, Nigeria imports most of its fuel.
The report uncovers a number of alleged offenses involving oil retailers, Nigeria's Oil Management Company and the state Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation.

According to the leaks, a total of 15 fuel importers received more than $300 million two years ago without importing any fuel, while more than 100 oil marketers collected the same amount of money on several occasions. It has been reported that officials in the government of President Goodluck Jonathan were among those who benefited.

Many of those named have denied the allegations, with some advertising their innocence in local newspapers. According to some experts, Nigeria's lawmakers might adopt some of the findings because of the on-going public outcry over the attempt to withdraw the subsidy, which was deemed economically unsustainable by the government.

The annual $8 billion subsidy means fuel prices in Nigeria are lower than those in neighbouring countries. Following a week of street protest and a general strike across the country, the government agreed to restore some of the subsidy and reduce the price of fuel.

President Jonathan, however, defended the cut, saying in order for Nigeria to “survive economically” it was necessary to “deregulate” the subsidy regime.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Monday, 23 April 2012

Caspian: Shootout in northern city raises terror fea

A rare clash between security forces and Islamist militants in the northern city of Ganja this month has raised concerns about the threat of terrorism in Azerbaijan. Although much recent attention has focused on Iranian-backed cells, the militants killed and captured in the April operations were referred to as 'Wahabbis', the catch-all term for hardline conservative Sunnis. The government claimed that the group was linked with Al Qa'ida, had trained in Iran, Syria and Pakistan, and had engaged in combat against NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In the Ganja incident, two people – one militant and one member of the security services – were killed when police stormed a house being used by the groups. Some reports suggested that the two died when the militant set off a suicide vest – if true, this would be the first case of a suicide attacker in Azerbaijan (other accounts reported that the militant set off a grenade which killed the two).

Subsequent operations across the country, mainly in the north but also in Baku and Sumgait, rounded up 17 suspects and netted a large cache of explosives and weapons, including assault rifles and a machine gun. The authorities accused them of planning “provocative acts and terrorist attacks with the view of violating socio-political stability”. The dead militant, allegedly the leader of the group, was identified as Vugar Padarov from Zagatala in the north-west, near the border with Russia.

The arms involved, the location, and the purportedly 'Wahabbi' identity of the suspects suggests that the group may be linked to Russia's volatile North Caucasus. Dagestan, just to the north, has steadily become the focal point of the Islamist insurgency there. In August 2008 Azeri and Dagestani security forces fought a group of militants, including Azerbaijani citizens along the border region. The leader of the dead rebels was the 'Emir' of Dagestan, Ilgar Mollachiyev, who was born in Zagatala.

The details of the latest incident suggests that the threat was fairly serious. There is no information on the planned target but state security structures, foreign embassies, and IOC headquarters are all plausible targets. The timing of the sweep, so close to the Eurovision Song Contest in May, has also sparked alarm that the militants were planning a large-scale attack on the contest. Nonetheless the overall scale of the militant threat remains insignificant and the country's security services are fairly well-equipped to cope with it.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Appealing to service companies

On 27 March, Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Omar Al-Shakmak told representatives of oil service companies in Tripoli that the government was 'doing everything it could to provide security for the oil areas and to activate the role of the Oil Installations Protection Force.'

The National Oil Corporation (NOC) budget has been adopted, he noted, and has 'approved the drilling and maintenance of a large number of oil wells, in addition to a large number of other projects that will provide many opportunities.' Shakmak had met with the companies to encourage them to resume operations.

Representatives of service companies told him that business was still difficult and that they were suffering not only from sabotage and theft carried out during the revolution and continued security problems but also from a lack of liquidity and problems in getting business from NOC while the budget had not been passed.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Libyan leader visits Algiers

Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil and fellow NTC member, Salem Messaoud Kenane, arrived in Algiers on Sunday 15 April for a two day visit. At the end of talks on Monday 16 April, Abdel Jalil said that he was confident that Algeria would not shelter anyone who poses a threat to his country, in a reference to Mu'ammar Qadhafi's family members who were granted asylum by Algiers.

"We appreciate the humanitarian position of Algeria for hosting the families, including women and children, but we are convinced that it would not shelter those who represent a threat for Libya's security," said Abdel Jalil after meeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. He went on to say: "We agreed that what constitutes a threat for Libya through financing or through subversion would not have a place in the Algerian territory."

Several of Qadhafi family members, including his widow Safiya, firebrand daughter Aisha, and sons Mohamed and Hannibal, fled to Algeria in late August. Algeria has twice had to reprimand Aisha for calling on Libyans to revolt against the transitional council which overthrew her father. Libya has been calling for the repatriation of Aisha and other members of the Qadhafi clan. According to media reports, however, Abdel Jalil does not appear to have publicly made such a request during his visit to Algiers.

Instead he underlined the "deep historic relations" between the two countries. In a joint statement quoted by the Algerian Press Service (APS) the Libyan and Algerian officials agreed to cooperate on security issues and fight extremism. The cooperation will include the fight against organised crime, arms and drug trafficking, clandestine migration and smuggling. How effective such cooperation will fare in practice is highly debatable, especially as security in Libya's southern and many other border regions is seemingly in the hands of militias whose loyalty to and concern for any central authority is highly questionable.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Friday, 20 April 2012

Nigeria: 'State of Osun' governor denies Islamist allegations

Governor of Osun State Rauf Aregbesola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has refuted allegations that he is trying to turn Osun State into an Islamic State and secede from Nigeria. The governor refuted the allegations in a state-wide broadcast, saying that the allegations were engineered by the opposition in the State and aimed at distracting his administration from fulfilling its mandate. Aregbesola also attributed the claims to a national security agency which was under a “misguided and overzealous leadership” and which “had mixed up allegiance to the constitution, the Nigerian people and their welfare with partisan interest”.

On 14 April, a national daily had published a report credited to the State Security Service (SSS) that the agency had placed Aregbesola under close surveillance owing to his activities with an Islamic organisation called Jama'atu Ta'awunil Muslimeen Society of Nigeria (TAWUN). Aregbesola is said to have taken control of the group, which is reported to have invaded some schools in the State and is enforcing the wearing of the hijab by female students. The SSS report likened the emergence of TAWUN to Boko Haram. Furthermore, Aregbesola is accused of trying to secede from Nigeria by changing the name of the State from “Osun State” to “The State of Osun”. Chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party in the State are said to have written to the Federal Government to stop the remittance of allocations to the State as the Constitution does not recognise The State of Osun but Osun State.

Aregbesola is a devout Muslim and one of the founders of a leading national Islamic organisation, Nasrul Lahi L Fatih Society. The group recently condemned the Easter Sunday bombing in Kaduna State, which had been attributed to Boko Haram. Meanwhile, the leadership of Aregbesola's party, ACN, has raised the alarm that Aregbesola's life is under threat.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood challenges the military

Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood say it has brought this mess over its candidate upon its own head. Its call for the current interim government to step down was a direct challenge to the military. It ended what appeared to be an agreement with the military. The Brotherhood would not demonstrate or rock the boat until after the handover of power. It agreed the timetable for elections for president, though with different aspirations. But when it decided to field its own candidate, and stuffed the constituent assembly with its own handpicked members and sympathisers, it was accused of overreaching itself and seeking to dominate political life like the former ruling party: the National Democratic Party (NDP) with beards.

Whatever happens in the presidential elections, the new president will have two enormous issues to deal with. The first is political. He will have to drive a path between a parliament dominated by the Islamists - the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and al-Nour - and the military, which, though it has promised to withdraw from day to day running of the country, will still remain the final arbiter of political life.

The second main challenge will be the economy. The state finances are a mess. Foreign currency earnings have not picked up; tourists are put off by continuing instability. The government's response is to spend rather than to rein in spending. Whoever comes to power will be forced to impose very difficult austerity measures.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Mali's former president Toumani in Senegal's embassy

In a joint press conference in Paris with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, Senegal's President Macky Sall said Mali's ousted leader is in the country at the Senegalese embassy. He noted: “President Amadou Toumani Toure [is] at this moment on the territory of the residence of the embassy of Senegal in Bamako."

Until recently, Toure's whereabouts since last month's military coup were unknown. The news of his whereabouts follows the arrest of several of his political allies this week.

Toure formally resigned on April 8, as part of a deal for the soldiers to hand back power. Mali's former prime minister Modi Sidibe was picked up by men in military police cars and reportedly taken to Kati, just outside the capital, Bamako, to the headquarters of the rebel soldiers. Reports later emerged that Defence Minister Sadio Gassama and the man responsible for the former president's personal security chief of staff Gen Hamidou Sissoko are also being detained by the military.

Speaking about the latest developments in Mali, Sall said: “This is a troubling situation." He added that West African leaders were "trying to find a rapid and peaceful solution first of all internally so we can return to the normal constitutional regime and then deal with the partition of Mali."

Since the coup, Tuareg and Islamist militants have taken over the majority of the northern desert region. The former have declared independence for the region, a move resisted by the civilian and military authorities as well as Islamist elements.

Sources: Reuters, AP, BBC News

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

Deadly blasts hit Iraq

A number of deadly bomb attacks have hit several Iraqi cities, reportedly killing 23 people and injuring many others. According to the police, explosions were reported in Baghdad, Baquba, Kirkuk, Samarra, Dibis and Taji.

It appears that the security forces appear to be the main target. Iraq has seen an overall decline in violence in recent years, but isolated bomb attacks remain prevalent. According to the BBC, a number of attacks have been co-ordinated. They reportedly occurred in the following cities:

In Baghdad, a succession of at least five bomb blasts hit in various Shi'a neighbourhoods
Two car bombs reportedly went off in Kirkuk, 290km north of Baghdad
A suicide bomber killed a police officer in Baquba
Two car bombs targeted security forces in Samarra
A parked car exploded killing passers-by in Dibis
A roadside device exploded in Taji.
The bomb blasts, which ensued over a period of an hour and a half, also appear to have targeted the convoy of Health Minister Majeed Hamad Amin. The official was not injured.

According to Baghdad's military command spokesman Col Dhia al-Wakeel the attacks bore all the hallmarks of al-Qa'ida. He said: "They want to send a message that they can target the stability that has been achieved recently...This will not discourage our security forces."

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, WSJ

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

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Qatar takes 49% stake in Libya's best private sector bank

In mid-April, it was announced that the Qatar National Bank (QNB) group had signed an agreement to buy a 49% stake in the Benghazi-based Bank of Commerce and Development (BDC), widely recognised as the best and most professionally run of Libya's private banks. The BCD's highly respected chairman, Jamal Abdelmalek, indicated that the agreement would be a first step in increasing Qatari interest in the Libyan market.

For its part, the QNB – co-owned by the hugely cash-rich Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and private investors, and operates in 24 countries – says that it will take on back-up and administrative support for BDC as well as engaging in financial transactions of mutual interest. CEO Ali Shareef al-Emadi said that he looked forward to engaging the Libyan market and developing operations in Europe.

The BCD was established in 1993, has 32 branches and 820 staff, and an excellent reputation of being untainted by links to the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi regime. Being based in Benghazi, it was always viewed as being a regional bank for Cyrenaica which set it apart from the majority of the inefficient and predominantly state-controlled banks.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algeria to revise tax on energy projects

Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi told El Khabar newspaper on 10 April that Algeria plans to change the way it levies tax on some energy projects. The change will mean that foreign oil companies pay tax on profits they make from the projects and not on their turnover. Yousfi was quoted as saying: "The tax imposed will be based on the profitability of the projects, not as before, based on turnover."

The promised change is to make the country more attractive to IOCs after three consecutive bid rounds for oil and gas acreage failed to attract much interest. Yousfi said, however, that the new tax mechanism would only apply to oil and gas projects that are not currently in production and are considered high risk.

The changes are included in draft amendments to the hydrocarbons law drawn up by the energy ministry. Yousfi said that a ministerial working group had finished drafting the amendments and had presented them to the government for approval. The next stage will be for parliament to vote through the amendments.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Bank of Ghana raises interest rates

As reported in Ghana Politics & Security, there has been considerable speculation about whether the Bank of Ghana (BoG) would implement a second increase in the policy interest rate this year, even if – according to some economists and analysts – further rate increases may only be partially effective in stemming Ghana cedi depreciation.

Last week, the bank confirmed this speculation and announced an increase in the interest policy rate by another percentage point to 14.5%. This means that Ghana has already raised interest rates by 2% during 2012 which is a fact that will particularly displease local businesses which are already complaining of reduced bank funding is the policy rate increase is be passed on by financial institutions to their corporate clients.

In making this announcement the Bank of Ghana governor Kwesi Amissah-Arthur warned of future price inflation and currency depreciation risk. He went so far as to say that the “recent developments in the exchange rate remain a major source of concern” and that Ghana may have to deplete international reserves to slow further decline.

Ghana's strong economic performance could be affected in the current election year, according to the governor, with cedi depreciation and general exchange rate developments able to negatively “offset” the positive effects of Ghana's recent macroeconomic stability.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Libya: INTERPOL arrest warrants issued for former regime officials

International arrest warrants – also known as INTERPOL Red Notices - have been issued for a number of senior officials from the former Qadhafi regime. They include:

Senussi al-Wazri (a.k.a. Al-Senussi Alozyre) (b.1948) who was both a former director general of public security (i.e. interior minister) and notorious head of security in Benghazi. He is wanted by Libya for “counterfeiting, forgery, kidnapping, life and health”. He was allegedly involved in the December 1993 kidnapping in Cairo of the leading opposition figure Mansour al-Kikhiya who was allegedly returned to Libya where he was executed.

Nasser al-Mabrouk Abdallah al-Riyani (b.1951) who was appointed in April 2009 as the deputy director general of public security who is also wanted for “kidnapping, life and health”. He is alleged to have been involved in torture and in the Abu Selim prison massacre, and was one of the key individuals within the Leader's entourage who was virtually adopted as a youth into Qadhafi's service.

Colonel Bashir Sahel Bashir, once Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's chief of staff and trusted aide, who since 2005 was the head of the Libya Africa Portfolio for Investment (LAPI) (a.k.a Libyan Fund for Investment in Africa) It is hoped that he could provide details of missing Libyan cash and assets worth an estimated US$7 billion. LAPI invested some of Libya's oil wealth in a multitude of companies in both Libya and Sub-Saharan Africa. Foreign Minister Ashour Ben Khayal, among many others, is anxious to locate the funds and return them to Libya. While Reuters reported that Bashir – who originally comes from the border area and speaks fluent French - was issued with a Nigerien passport in December 2011, there are also rumours that he may be in Paris.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 16 April 2012

Egypt: Arrival of Omar Suleiman in presidential race is a double-edged sword

The juggernaut that is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) appears to have been halted, at least temporarily, in what seemed its unstoppable journey to assume control of the two main centres of political power: the presidency and the parliament. They remain on course to achieve this goal but their previously irresistible progress has met a few obstacles.

Most critical is the suspension of the constituent assembly. The Brotherhood got greedy and tried to dominate the body. The courts have not given the reasons for their decision but the result is that there is a setback to the timetable.

The arrival in the presidential race of Omar Suleiman is a double-edged sword. He is a credible candidate of the old guard. He will appeal to those masses who feel that the economy and security have gone to the dogs. But he is also a useful whipping boy for the others.

One of the challenges for the Islamists is that they have defined themselves more by opposition to the old regime, by saying what they do not believe in, than by clearly articulating what they do stand for.

The two main candidates have something in common. Both operated in the shadows. And for all Khairat al-Shater's criticism of Omar Suleiman, the Brotherhood has a history. Indeed, in the early days of what has become known as the Egyptian revolution, Suleiman asked the opposition political parties to sit with him for a dialogue. All refused - except for the MB. The party is nothing if not pragmatic, but its double talk has eroded popular trust in its credibility.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Algerian troops in Mali

The linkage of the alleged Aguelhok executions to Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the DRS raises two significant questions:

What was the Algerian army doing in Aguelhok?
Was the West complicit?
Troops on the move

Algerian armed forces crossed into Mali on 20 December. While the Algerian government eventually admitted that 15 military instructors had been sent to Mali, local observers reported an Algerian army convoy of five army trucks with trailers and 24 heavily armed 4x4s heading south on the Bordj Mokhtar–Tessalit– Aguelhok road. The number of troops was not given but can be assumed at around 200.

The same sources confirmed Algerian troops were garrisoned at the army bases in both Tessalit and Aguelhok. In addition, an army transport was seen flying into Kidal. It contained an unspecified number of Algerian army officers and was reportedly heavily armed. What were these troops doing in Aguelhok and had they been withdrawn to Algeria by the time of the alleged executions? The official reason given by Algeria for its troop presence was to help Mali combat AQIM. That was untrue, however, as no attacks have been launched at any time against AQIM in Mali by either Malian or Algerian forces.

All the signs are that the Algerian army wasn't here to protect AQIM from any assault on it by the MNLA, which has threatened to rid Mali of AQIM. As the MNLA has stated, AQIM is a cover for the billion-dollar cocaine trafficking industry, which is controlled by elements of the political-military elites and their security services in both Mali and Algeria. While the MNLA's secessionist demands may be a threat to Mali's sovereignty, the most serious threat is to the continued presence of AQIM in Mali and the lucrative state-run cocaine business. Indeed, if Mali were not such a close client state of Washington, it is likely that it would already have been labelled a narco-state.

Western complicity?

The second question concerns the matter of complicity. The line of reasoning is as follows. If Abdelhamid Abou Zaïd and AQIM were involved in executions at Aguelhok, the DRS is implicated and its allies and backers, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, may also be deemed complicit. Both US and UK intelligence services are aware of the DRSled AQIM training camp in the Tassili-n-Ajjer. Thus, if Malian soldiers were executed at Aguelhok by AQIM, the people who undertook the executions were under or closely associated with Abou Zaïd's command and almost certainly trained in such methods at the DRS-managed AQIM training camp. If an international enquiry were to establish such a chain, then how far could Western allies of the DRS be held accountable? That question makes a full investigation of what took place at Aguelhok unlikely.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: Easter Sunday bombing in Kaduna kills scores of civilians

Nigeria remains very jittery following the Easter Sunday terrorism attack in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna on the morning of 8 April. It occurred near the Junction Road/ Sardauna Crescent commercial district which is a predominantly Christian area in the Muslim city. It is also frequented by large numbers of commercial motorcycle taxi operators.

The incident occurred close to the All Nations Christian Assembly (ANCA) Church which, in turn is also close to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, and this prompted speculation that the real target had been the church. The lone suicide bomber, who was driving a grey Honda Academy car, apparently attempted to enter Gwari Road where the ANCA church and the ECWA Good News Church are located but was stopped. Under new security rules no entry is now allowed into the street when the church service was going on.

The numbers who were killed is in doubt because, although the police claimed that 11 had been killed and 16 injured, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported that 38 bodies were retrieved from the scene and many more had been taken to hospital. Meanwhile the Union of Commercial Motorcycle Taxis, which are popularly referred to locally as Okadas, stated that it lost close to one hundred members because the bomb scene was a popular pick-up and drop-off spot for the motorcycle taxis.

In another contradiction from eye-witness reports, however, the Kaduna State Police Commissioner, Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar, said that two vehicles were used for the operation. Abubakar stated that “Situation report indicated that (on the) 8 April 2012 at about 8:45 hours, intelligence report received said two suspected vehicles heading towards Kakuri / Sabon Tasha axis exploded while in transit.

Abubakar further revealed that: “The two vehicles were pursued by Detective Corporal Francis Marcus and then, suddenly one of the vehicles hit the other, thereby causing a serious bomb explosion”.

A few days later there was a bomb scare in Kaduna when the security forces were called to investigate a large black bag which had been placed on the side of the road in Lagos Street. It turned out, however, that the bag was harmless and only contained refuse. Meanwhile last weekend in Kano a large drum containing explosives was successfully contained and detonated by security agencies.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi in Saudi Arabia

After a four day visit, Iraq's fugitive Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has left Qatar. The official's, allegedly unauthorised, trip to the fellow Arab country has sparked conflict with the rest of Iraqi government.

Al-Hashemi is the most senior Sunni minister in the government. He absconded to the sovereign Kurdish region of Iraq after being accused of partaking in terrorism last year. He then later fled to Qatar.

Earlier this week, Iraq demanded that Qatar hand-over al-Hashemi but it refused, saying such a step would go against diplomatic conventions. Speaking about the issue, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said Qatar harbouring a wanted person was an "unacceptable act" and that it should "return him to Iraq".

According to Reuters, al-Hashemi is now in Saudi Arabia, where he is to undergo a pilgrimage. The official told al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, during his time in Qatar, that he planned to visit Saudi Arabia on his trip of "friendly states".

Like Qatar, Saudi Arabia has a Sunni government; both countries have expressed concern about Iraq's largely Shi'a government. On Monday 2 April, Baghdad asked for Hashemi to be extradited, but Qatar refused, saying there was no court judgement to validate such a step.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Hashemi in December 2011 brought the country's national unity government close to ruin, and ignited fears that sectarian unrest would mount.

Iraq's government was due to hold reconciliation talks with Sunni and Kurdish counterparts on Thursday 5 April, but the meeting fell through as al-Maliki's opponents refused to attend the meeting. It is yet to be confirmed whether or not it will take place.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AFP

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

Nigeria's Finance Minister for World Bank president?

A group of 39 former World Bank officials have written an open letter backing Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be its next president. Traditionally, the post is given to the candidate put forward by the US, who at the moment is Dr Jim Yong Kim.

Three candidates are up for the job, including former World Bank managing director Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Colombia Jose Antonio Ocampo and public health expert and president of Dartmouth College Dr Jim Yong Kim. This is the first time World Bank has had to make a decision of this kind.

World Bank will be holding interviews next week and is planning to select the successor to its outgoing president Robert Zoellick by 20 April, in time for its spring meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The letter, written by a number of prominent officials, including Tunisia's Central Bank Chief Mustapha Nabli, said: "We believe that Mrs Okonjo-Iweala has outstanding qualifications across the full range of relevant criteria.”

In an unwritten agreement, the US always choses its own person for the post of World Bank president; while Europe appoints a European candidate as the Head of the IMF. Christine Lagarde, a French national, is Europe's latest appointment to the IMF.

The letter adds that Okonjo-Iweala "would bring the combination of her experience as finance and foreign minister of a large and complex African country with her wide experience of working at all levels of the Bank's hierarchy in different parts of the world, from agricultural economist to managing director". It also notes that "she would be the outstanding World Bank president the times call for".

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Libya: ICC demands the handover of Saif al-Islam Qadhafi

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has rebuffed Libya's request to potstone the handover of Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi's son Saif al-Islam Qadhafi. The deceased leader's son is being held captive in a secret location by a militia from the town of Zintan.

The ICC has ruled that Libya must prepare to hand over Saif al-Islam to the war crimes court at The Hague forthwith. He is wanted in relation to violent suppression of demonstrations during the Libyan unrest. Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), however, has said it wants to try Saif al-Islam on Libyan soil.

In a bid to delay the handover to The Hague, Libya has questioned the admissibility of the case but, according to the ICC, failed to provide the necessary evidence. The court issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam – as well as his father and the former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi – in June 2011.

Last month, Senussi was arrested in Mauritania, and Tripoli is also adamant that it wants to try him in Libya. But according to the ICC the UN Security Council resolution obliges Libya to co-operate with The Hague and hand over the men.

Sources: AP, Retuers, BBC News

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

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Libya: Government fails to control escalating tribal and ethnic violence

Libya has run into a storm of tribal and ethnic violence, and the government and National Transitional Council (NTC) appears to have little or no control over the deteriorating situation. Historically, conflicts in Libya have tended to revolve around the main tribes in the Sirte region confronting one another for supremacy over large parts of the country. Over time, this pattern has only changed very slightly but, in recent years during which the central tribes have developed signs of extreme confrontation, the traditional rivalries between the major northern groups have become more acute under conditions of revolution and the demands for political change.

At the same time the conflict has accelerated between local tribal groups in the south - particularly between the Tebu and other tribes who originally came from the Aouzou Strip region and further across the border in Chad - and sections of the Berber population with whom there were traditional alliances. During last year's fighting problems between the revolutionaries and the Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi loyalists led to the southern tribes changing sides, from having supported the Leader to prosecuting a war of supremacy with their rivals in the border areas.

The underlying forces behind the dispute in the south are not complicated and mainly involved an attempt by the Tebu and other incoming tribes to oust their former hosts from border settlements and abandoned townships.

The locally-based Arab and Berber groups regarded themselves as the traditional owners of both land and water in these areas but found themselves confronted by the new claimants, drawn from the various alliance groups who supported Qadhafi during the February 2011 uprising, against their normal alignment with the southern tribes.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Yemeni security forces are targeting al'Qa'ida militants in the south

According to Yemeni officials, about 40 al-Qa'ida militants have been killed in a number of air raids in the mountainous part of the south. It is believed that the government forces have taken hold of an al-Qa'ida base of al-Rahha after three days of attacks. The strikes follow an assault on a nearby army base that left 30 people dead.

Since President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi took office in February, militant groups have renewed attacks across the country.

Reports about the number of militants killed vary. One unnamed Yemeni official told AFP news agency that 38 militants had died, while another said 43 people had been killed.

Militant groups have taken advantage of on-going political turmoil and protests. In particular, a group connected to the al-Qa'ida called Ansar al-Sharia has been increasing its influence in southern Yemen over the past year.

The US has been encouraging the Yemeni authorities to fortify their efforts in tackling militant activities, as well as reportedly intensifying its own drone strikes. But the on-going tension within the country's political and military establishments is stifling the new government's efforts to curtain and control the militants.

Sources: AFP, BBC News, Reuters

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

Spain to handover Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem

According to a number of sources, Egypt has accepted Spain's conditions for the extradition of businessman -and former friend of Hosni Mubarak - Hussein Salem. The Egyptian authorities have promised Salem a fair trial, clearing the way for his handover.

Spain ordered Salem's extradition last month. Following his arrest in June on suspicion of money laundering and corruption, police froze €32.5 million in his bank accounts and properties worth €10 million.

The funds were allegedly obtained illegally in Egypt and sent to Salem's accounts in Spain through companies created by a Turkish "frontman". Salem is believed to have absconded on 3 February 2011, just over a week before Mubarak was forced to resign.

Salem was charged in Egypt with fraud in May, along with Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal. The outcome of the trial, which ended last month, is expected in June. Salem was detained in Spain in June 2011 with his son Khaled, and a Turkish businessman and associate Ali Evsen.

On 2 March 2012, Spain's National Court informed the Egyptian ambassador that it had "agreed to hand Hussein Salem and his son Khaled to Egypt". It is estimated that Salem has allegedly appropriated $714 million in public funds out of a deal to sell gas to Israel. It is thought that Mubarak allowed a company in which Salem was a major shareholder to buy gas from the government below market price, and then resold it to Israel at a substantial mark-up.

Sources: BBC News, AP, Reuters

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

Ghana: Arms trafficked to Nigeria may have been intended for terrorism

The Attorney-General's office, including its senior officials, have been the subject of considerable criticism in recent months, particularly in connection with high profile financial scandals, whether in turning a blind-eye to corruption, in inadequately prosecuting a corruption case, or actually being penalised – like former Attorney-General Martin Amidu – for alleging that “gargantuan corruption” has occurred.

Last week - during a bail hearing for defendants in an arms smuggling case that was reported in Ghana Politics & Security earlier this year - the Attorney-General's office claimed that the arms and munitions that were discovered and confiscated in transit to Nigeria were actually intended to assist terrorist activities in the neighbouring country. The three defendants in the case, who were denied bail following the prosecution's claims, could face life sentences for their actions with the case being big enough to attract senior attorney-general involvement. Their defence is that they were employed, prior to their arrest, by an arms-selling company called Globat although when captured it did not appear they were on assignment for any recognised company.

Although the case appears relatively minor, the severity of recent Nigerian terrorist activity notwithstanding, it can be viewed in conjunction with the increase of smuggling and criminal activity in Ghana in general. This includes drug smuggling, the spectre of piracy, and the corresponding need for the government to crack down on such activity and to be seen to do so. This is especially so because it involves one of Ghana's regional neighbours and the backdrop of increased ECOWAS cooperation against these criminal scourges.

The cocaine-for-baking powder story covered in Ghana Politics & Security at the end of 2011, even though the size of the cocaine court exhibit which disappeared was a drop in the ocean, illustrated the disorganisation and infighting among the police force and the judiciary over what should have been a straightforward case eventually required investigations and a report for the president. Hopefully this arms-smuggling case will be investigated and prosecuted without any major mishap.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Nigeria: Boko Haram bomb-making plant raided

According to Nigerian officials, security forces have raided a suspected bomb making plant, killing at least nine alleged Islamist activists. The operation, undertaken in Okene district of Kogi state, followed information that the facility was being run by the notorious Boko Haram group. Two security officers were killed in crossfire.

The Islamist group Boko Haram has launched a number of deadly attacks across northern Nigeria since 2009. The raid on Sunday 1 April, took place further south in Kogi state, and involved helicopters and dozens of security officers.

A spokesman for the state governor Jacob Edi told AFP news agency that there “were some skirmishes between some hoodlums and the military”. Nigerian security officials said they believed the facility belonged to Boko Haram, and described the nine people killed as "terrorists".

Boko Haram aims to overthrow the national government and install an extreme form of Islamic law. In a bid to achieve this aim, the group has killed hundreds of civilians mainly in northern Nigeria.

Sources: BBC News, AFP, Reuters

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

Iraq: Militant groups run extortion rackets

The parliamentary Security and Defence Committee revealed further details of the murky world of Iraq's militant movements this month. The committee reported that it had uncovered a series of extortion rackets being run by militant groups, some of them linked to Al-Qa'ida, in a number of governorates including Ninevah, Al-Anbar and Salehedinne. These militants are systematically blackmailing government officials and local businessmen. Police in Ninevah confirmed this month that they had arrested 13 members of a cell that was forcing officials from local government departments to pay up.

Among those targeted by these gangs are officials in the Oil Ministry. In particular, Oil Ministry employees working in these three governorates are being forced to hand over oil tankers to the militants, which they then sell on. What is even more disconcerting about the parliamentary committee's findings is that they discovered that while many of these officials are being forced to supply money to the militant groups, others are co-operating willingly. The committee announced that it has the names of a number of local government officials who have been helping to finance the groups. Such news only confirms existing suspicions about state institutions being infiltrated by members of or, at the very least, those who are sympathetic to the militant groups that are once again proliferating now that US troops have withdrawn.

'Emo' killings

In another sinister turn of events, it came to light this month that armed Islamist groups operating primarily in Baghdad have taken to carrying out brutal attacks against teenagers they deem to be deviating from the 'straight path'. According to local sources, over 100 young people have been killed by these groups, with the most common form of death being hit over the head by concrete blocks. Some of the youth were clearly tortured before being killed. Security forces in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad reported this month that they had found the corpse of a young male, whose body showed signs of torture.

All those killed were labelled as 'emos' – a term to denote young people who listen to punk-like music, who dress in black, often with tattoos and piercings, and who generally adopt a melancholy disposition. Emo males often have long spiky hair and sometimes wear make-up, while emo females tend to adopt an edgy attitude. These young people appear to the Islamist militants as the very epitome of westernisation and degeneration. There is also a strong fear that their habit of sporting skulls and piercings indicate that these emos are somehow involved in devil worship.

The attacks are believed to be the work of an armed underground religious group that goes by the name of the Wrath Brigades and that accuses its victims of 'sexual deviation'. The Shi'ite extremist group recently published a list containing dozens of names of emos, who they threatened to kill. It also went as far as to upload videos of killings on YouTube. The wave of attacks has terrified families in Baghdad to the point where young people who do not conform to conservative codes of dress are afraid to leave their homes.

The Interior Ministry has done its utmost to quell the fear: it has played down the attacks, insisting that no more than 15 teenagers were killed. It also asserted that they were killed because of social reasons related to revenge rather than because they were 'emos'. The Shi'ite religious establishment, meanwhile, has banned the killing of these young people. However, for all it may have condemned the killings, it seems as though the government may also be behind the push to eliminate the emo phenomenon. One young emo student told the

Al-Mada newspaper that she had been told by the head of her university faculty to remove a necklace she was wearing that was in the shape of a skull and to change her way of dressing. After asking her why she wanted to make herself look like a devil-worshipper, the professor reportedly showed her a memorandum from the Higher Education Ministry, which is run by the Dawa party's Ali Al- Adeeb, who is known to be particularly rigid religiously.

The memorandum from the ministry reportedly referred to emos as 'Satan worshippers' and instructed members of staff to monitor their students to root out any possible emo cases. The memorandum also instructed university staff to remove emo accessories, to punish offenders and to report their names to the ministry. This memorandum comes on the back of two statements reportedly issued by the Interior Ministry, the first of which announced official approval to “eliminate the Satanists” while the second, published on 29 February, announced a crackdown on shops selling emo clothes.

While it is not directly involved in the killings, it would appear that there may be a kind of tacit approval among some parts of the government for the Wrath Brigades' actions. There are clearly those in the Iraqi establishment who view the emo phenomenon as a dangerous challenge to the country's conservative and religious values.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Monday, 2 April 2012

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood names presidency candidate

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has nominated its deputy chairman, Khairat al-Shatir, as its candidate for the presidential elections in May. The announcement reverses a pledge made by the group earlier not to contest the election.

This development is likely to cause concern among certain factions as well as the army that the MB might monopolise power. According to BBC correspondents, the group's relations with the army have already deteriorated.

Speculation has been rife whether or not the group would back a candidate following its party's legislative election success in November. MB's political arm then won around a third of the vote, and nearly half the seats in the first parliamentary election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year.

Speaking about the decision the group's deputy leader said it had resolved to field a candidate following "attempts to abort the revolution". There are only several days left before the close of nominations.

Al-Shatir spent 12 years behind bars due to his association with the MB, but managed to upkeep a multimillion-dollar business empire and his dedication to political Islam. Since his release last year, al-Shatir's influence has only increased to rival that of MB's general guide.

The MB released a statement saying it had reversed its decision not to contest the presidency to overcome risks to Egypt's revolution and the transfer from military to civilian rule.

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, Bloomberg

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

Algeria: Over 25,000 candidates to contest the 10 May elections

While events in neighbouring Mali are dominating the local press, the Algerian election is now less than six weeks away and, although there is little genuine interest, getting a respectable turnout remains the governments' principal concern. According to data released by the Interior Ministry at the end of this week, which we have not been able to verify, around 25,800 candidates will contest the 462 parliamentary seats in the 10 May 10 legislative elections.

The ministry issued a statement saying that 2,053 lists of candidates had been received by 26 March which was the deadline for the submission of lists. According to the statement, 1,842 lists covered 44 political parties of which 21 were new parties approved and registered in January. The remaining 211 lists were for independent candidates.

A total of 7,646 of the 25,800 candidates are female which means that the female-male gender split of candidates is 30.18% and 69.82% respectively.

The lists will now be examined by those in charge of the election (i.e. the government) until 10 April. The rejected lists can appeal before the Administrative Court before 14 April with the election campaign officially beginning on April 15.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates

Nigeria: OSOPADEC boss arrested

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have arrested Debo Ajimuda, the chair of the Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC), over the alleged misappropriation of funds he was tasked with administering. EFCC brought Ajimuda in following several allegations of corruption against him and petitions sent to the anti-corruption commission accusing him of embezzling OSOPADEC funds.

The commission stated that his arrest had become necessary because he had refused to respond to invitations to attend questioning over the allegations raised. Some of the petitions alleged that Ajimuda had failed to undertake any tangible developmental projects for the oil-producing communities in Ondo State since his appointment. The petitioners also accused him of spending funds budgeted for developmental projects for the benefit of people in oil-rich communities on women and expensive cars.

According to reports, about 13 exotic cars, which were found parked in Ajimuda's residence in Akure, Ondo State, were impounded by EFCC operatives. The operatives also carted away several bags of files as evidence. Ajimuda was appointed to head the development commission by the governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko, in October 2009.

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

© 2012 Menas Associates