Tag Archives: Egypt

Former Crown Prince’s April 3 video message expressing criticism of state governance constitutes unprecedented, highly notable development – Jordan Analysis

Executive Summary

  • On April 3, an international news agency released a video of an address by former Crown Prince of Jordan, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, who claimed to be under house arrest and stated that the Kingdom had become “stymied in corruption.” This followed a report on April 3 of an alleged plot to “unseat” the King, which prompted the arrest of up to 20 senior officials.
  • Although the foiling of a coup plot remains unconfirmed, the very public expression of criticism by a prominent member of the royal family directed towards King Abdullah II due to the alleged endemic state corruption constitutes a highly notable and unprecedented event within Jordan, which has largely been one of the most stable states within the Middle East over recent years.
  • The dissemination of the video by Prince Hamzah is likely to legitimize other actors who may harbor anti-monarchy sentiments within Jordan and may foment protests. However, the King’s current control of the state security apparatus renders it unlikely that any efforts to unseat him or undermine his rule will succeed, at least at the current juncture.
  • Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.

Intel Portal Demo - Try our intelligence package


Please be advised:

Video by Prince Hamzah bin Hussein

  • During the night hours of April 3, a prominent international news agency released a six-minute-long video message by Jordan’s former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the half-brother of King Abdullah II. In the video, Prince Hamzah, sat with a picture of his father, the late King Hussein in the background, and alleged the following:
    • He was placed under house arrest after he was visited by the Chief of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF). He stated that the Chief of Staff informed him that he is not allowed to “go out [and] to communicate with people.”
    • The Chief of Staff stated that the reason behind the move was that in meetings in which Prince Hamzah participated, “or on social media, relating to visits that I have made, there had been criticism of the government, or the King [Abdullah II].” The Chief of Staff allegedly stated that Prince Hamzah was not himself critical of the King at these meetings in answer to this question.
    • Several people he knows, including his friends, have also been arrested by authorities. His security detail has also been removed.
    • His own internet and telephone have been cut and that he released this video using a satellite internet connection, which he was informed is going to be cut off as well.
    • “I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, for the corruption, and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse by the year. I am not responsible for the lack of faith that people have in their institutions.”

Other Related Developments, Statements

  • During the evening hours of April 3, Jordan’s official news agency reported that following a security investigation, several Jordanians, including officials, were “arrested for security reasons.” The report added that “an investigation is underway.”
  • An unconfirmed report in a prominent US-based news agency indicates that former Crown Prince, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, and up to 20 other officials, were detained “amid an ongoing investigation into an alleged plot to unseat King Abdullah II.”
  • Jordan’s official news agency reported during the night hours of April 3 that Prince Hamzah is neither under house arrest nor has he been detained “as reported by some media outlets.”
  • Several prominent news outlets in Jordan published reports on the developments on April 4. The news agencies largely voiced support for the monarchy.
  • On April 4, Queen Noor, the widow of Prince Hamzah’s father, the late King Hussein, and mother of Hamza, published a message on social media condemning the actions against her son, stating that she is “praying that truth and justice will prevail for all the innocent victims of this wicked slander.”
  • During the afternoon hours of April 4, the President of the Jordanian Senate, Faisal al-Fayez stated that “the King is a red line” and that “we will confront every trembling hand seeking to tamper with the security of Jordan” in response to what he said were “malicious plots being hatched in secret.”

International Responses

  • An Israeli diplomatic correspondent reported that Jordanian officials sent a message to Israel that “the situation is under control” and that there is no threat to the stability of Jordan against the backdrop of the development.
  • Several governments, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, extended their public support to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

 

Former Crown Prince’s Video & Reported Foiling of Coup Plot

  1. This ongoing development is highly notable given that public criticism of Jordan’s state governance from within the Jordanian royal family is largely unprecedented. This is given that such accusations of endemic corruption and nepotism, implicitly accuses the monarch. Moreover, although unconfirmed, if even parts of the report that elements within Jordan sought to stage an “alleged plot to unseat” the King are true, this would constitute an even more noteworthy development. This is because the Kingdom of Jordan has overall been one of the most stable states within the Middle East region over recent years and a strategic partner to the West. Although protests against the Prime Minister-led government and its policies are periodically recorded, public expressions of dissent within the upper echelons of the Kingdom against the monarch, and certainly calls for his removal, remain marginalized and extremely rare in Jordan.
  2. Based on the current information and Prince Hamzah’s indication of the stipulated reason for his arrest, namely, criticism towards Jordanian authorities during meetings he had participated in, it is less likely that Jordanian authorities were responding to an imminent armed coup attempt. It is more likely that the operation was an effort to curtail criticism of the monarchy from within the royal family and higher political echelons of the country. This is partially supported by the lack of reported armed conflict in Jordan, although it is unlikely at this stage that any coup plot within Jordan, especially one tied to members of the royal family itself, would have involved the use of force. Regardless, if any coup plot were imminent, the plotters would have likely used the April 3 arrest raids, as well as Prince Hamzah’s video message, as justification to execute their plan, prior to a likely prolonged crackdown by authorities on perceived dissidents following the current events.
  3. Given the reported scale of arrests and seniority of the arrestees as well as the public and direct criticism by the Prince regarding the functioning of the state, it remains possible that such a plan existed, albeit in a nascent stage. In this context, the current arrests highlight the monarch’s ability to monitor and clamp down on prominent forces within the Kingdom that express criticism towards him. The public nature of the detentions and the high-profile targets also constitute a show of force by Abdullah II and an effort to convey the message that public criticism towards the functioning of the monarchy is intolerable, especially from within the royal family. This is because such expressions of perceived dissent point to a lack of cohesion within the monarchy, which has constituted a source of stability within the Kingdom. To this end, the King and his supporters within the political system have used all means at their disposal to protect the monarch amid an overall effort to secure the stability of the state.
  4. The very fact that the arrests were carried out, likely at the King’s direct behest, and the April 4 publications in several of Jordan’s news agencies largely voicing support for the monarch, affirm that Abdullah II retains control over state security forces and indicates that influential figures within the country continue to defer to his rule. FORECAST: Taken as a whole, the materialization, successful or otherwise, of an organized coup against the current monarch and systematic effort to unseat him is unlikely at the current juncture, particularly one that uses military force. The King evidently continues to maintain control over the most critical and influential organs within the security and governmental apparatus, which will help to ensure any future organized dissidents or plots are swiftly repressed. In this context, going forward, to cement his control further, the King is liable to act with increased caution and vigilance and only allow a group of specific loyalists to be privy to the running of the state.

Background, Timing, and Potential Impact of Developments

  1. It cannot be ruled out that other dissident groups or individuals seeking to overthrow King Abdullah II have organized themselves within Jordan and have aspirations to gather support with the aim of ending his rule. This is indicated by the video message transmitted by Prince Hamzah, which suggests these elements hold support among influential factions within the monarchy itself. This is especially given that Hamzah is known to maintain strong relations with certain tribal leaders and is popular among segments of the wider population. The video release itself indicates that Prince Hamzah is undeterred by his placement under alleged house arrest and is willing to continue expressing his grievances towards how the Kingdom is being ruled. This points towards a level of confidence or resolve harbored by the Prince and perception that he has support for his actions within the Kingdom. This also indicates that a rift within Jordan’s high-ranking political echelon is gaining traction, as was also highlighted by the arrests of other senior officials.
  2. The fact that Prince Hamzah’s statements in the video were made in English signals an effort to reach out to Western actors. This is likely important for the Prince given the overall support that regional and international powers, such as the US and UK, extend to the Kingdom and the monarchy. He thus likely aims to undermine the King on the international as well as domestic level, which will increase the spotlight on the alleged failings of the current monarch’s governance and policies. The picture of his father, late King Hussein, which was apparent in the background during his remarks, further constitutes a symbolic measure by the Prince to project his credentials and legitimacy. Hamzah’s motivation also likely derives from the fact that his designation as Crown Prince was revoked by King Abdullah II himself and he therefore likely harbors very personal grievances against the current monarch, beyond his denunciations pertaining to policy and governance.
  3. The timing of the development is also crucial. It comes amid significant manifestations of unrest in Jordan over the recent weeks, particularly against the backdrop of public criticism over the authorities’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, its resultant adverse economic impact, and the prolonged travel and business restrictions it entails. Most significantly, after seven people died from oxygen depletion in a hospital in Salt on March 13, anti-government protests were recorded in multiple cities in which some protesters chanted slogans such as “Salt, rise up, let’s topple the regime.” Reports also indicated that riot police dispersed and arrested activists in Amman on March 24 during protests that were set to mark the tenth anniversary of the “Arab Spring.” Taken as a whole, these instances highlight the prevalence of some anti-monarchy sentiments among segments of the Jordanian population and may have emboldened the arrestees to take action in the more immediate future, at a time that is perceived to be more favorable to their cause.
  4. In this context, Prince Hamzah’s appeal to the “loss of hope that is apparent in pretty much every Jordanian” and his statement that “the situation will improve if we are able to come together and make our voice heard” is likely aimed at highlighting the perceived wrongdoings by his half-brother and thus undermine the latter’s legitimacy. FORECAST: In light of these comments, segments of the Jordanian population will likely perceive Prince Hamzah’s remarks as a legitimization of criticism of the King and his policies and a direct call to rise up i.e. “come together and make our voice heard”. This may foment anti-monarchy sentiments and calls for protests in the Kingdom over the coming days and weeks. This may manifest in protests in major Jordanian cities, including in cities that already witnessed demonstrations in recent weeks, such as Amman and Salt.
  5. FORECAST: As a measure to restrict further possible developments, including the emergence of a movement against the monarchy, as well as to repress any potential attempts to unseat the King either from within the royal family itself or by external elements, Jordanian authorities will likely implement elevated security protocols throughout the country, particularly in and around Amman, over the coming days and weeks. Measures will likely include a significant physical presence of security forces in and around central cities and the establishment of roadblocks and checkpoints near strategic facilities linked to the monarchy, such as the royal palaces. The government may also attempt to clamp down on any calls or circulation of anti-monarchy content on the internet and may employ restrictive cyber measures, as was reported on March 15 amid protests to condemn the government’s incompetence over the medical failure in Salt. Furthermore, Jordanian authorities will likely resort to further arrests of high-ranking officials that may be perceived to have participated in activities that undermine the state authorities and the monarchy in Jordan over the coming days and weeks.
  6. FORECAST: All of these actions taken together, and the monarchy’s continued control over key state security apparatus, will likely succeed in curbing any emerging movement against the King within Jordan, at least at the current juncture. Regardless, the development will have major implications within the upper echelons of the Jordanian political landscape and will significantly raise tensions between supporters and detractors of both King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza, who will likely be perceived as a traitor by some of the King’s supporters. These tensions also pose a potential threat to the security environment within Jordan over the coming weeks and months.

Recommendations:

  1. Travel to Amman may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and COVID-19 regulations. Consult with us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary-based consultation and on-ground contingency support options.
  2. Those operating or residing in Jordan on April 4 and over the coming days, particularly in Amman, are advised to maintain heightened vigilance given the aforementioned developments. This is particularly given the prospects for further arrests in Jordan over the coming hours and days.
  3. Keep a low profile and refrain from publishing or circulating any material pertaining to the current development, as this may be perceived by state authorities as potentially supportive of any anti-government or anti-monarchy plot.
  4. Maintain heightened vigilance in the vicinity of the Fourth Circle, al-Husseini Mosque and al-Nakheel Square, given that the area is the traditional route of opposition marches.
  5. Please be advised that there is a heightened risk for foreigners traveling outside of major urban centers in Jordan due to instances of civil unrest in the Kingdom’s more remote areas.
  6. Those operating or residing in Jordan are advised to avoid the immediate vicinity of the Jordanian-Syrian border, while avoiding nonessential travel to the vicinity of the Jordanian-Iraqi border due to an increased risk of militancy and potential for spillover violence.

Ever Given container ship blocking Suez Canal ‘partially’ refloats on March 29; disruptions to continue over coming days at least – Suez Canal Situation Update

Please be advised:

Re-floating of Container Ship

  • Reports from the morning hours of March 29 (local Egyptian time) indicate that a stranded Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned container ship, Ever Given, that has been blocking the Suez Canal for six days, was “partially” re-floated.
  • According to a maritime services company, the vessel was refloated at 04:30 (local Egyptian time) and is currently being secured. The breakthrough in attempts to refloat the ship reportedly occurred after 27,000 cubic meters of sand were dug out following a six-day operation involving tugboats and dredgers.
  • Tug boats are now reportedly operating at the site of the vessel to “straighten its course”. Additional reports citing “sources working inside the canal” said it had been refloated “roughly 65 percent of the way”.
  • The ship has moved approximately 23 meters at the time of writing, which was reportedly aided by “higher-than-usual” spring tides.
  • Suez Canal Authority (SCA) Chairman, Osama Rabie, reportedly stated on March 29 that “we are not finished yet, but it [the container ship] has moved”.
  • Video footage on social media appears to depict that the stern of the boat has moved away from Suez Canal’s eastern bank.
  • Satellite imagery of the container ship indicates that it has been dislodged from the eastern bank of the Canal and is still surrounded by tug boats.
  • The 222,000-ton, 400 meter-long vessel, Ever Given, is one of the world’s largest container ships, with a 20,000 container capacity.

Intel Portal Demo - Try our intelligence package


Backlog of Vessels & Economic Impact

  • As of March 28, there were reportedly at least 369 ships stuck in a queue waiting to pass through the 193 km Suez Canal on both sides of the blockage.
  • These include “dozens” of “container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels”, per March 29 reports citing the SCA’s Rabie.
  • It remains unclear when the Suez Canal will open to traffic.
  • Following the reported re-floating of the ship, oil prices fell. Brent crude went down by one USD to 63.67 USD per barrel.

 

Assessments & Forecast:

  1. The partial refloating of the Ever Given constitutes a breakthrough in the ongoing six-day operation to dislodge the vessel from the eastern bank of the Suez Canal after it ran aground on March 23. The “higher than usual” spring tides likely contributed significantly to the freeing of the ship and bolstered the efforts by tug boats and dredgers, which had made progress from March 26 onwards by freeing the ship’s rudder and turning on the engines of the vessel. FORECAST: The ongoing rescue effort will likely require dredgers to remove large quantities of sand around the ship’s bow, which could take several days. Thus, given that the cargo vessel has only partially refloated and will require extra work to completely refloat and thereafter continue its journey through the Suez Canal, there are likely to be continued disruptions to travel through the waterway. This is also due to the immense backlog that has formed at the waterway, with a reported 369 ships stuck in a queue to pass through the Canal.
  2. FORECASTRegardless of the dislodging of the container ship, the minimum six-day suspension of traffic through the Suez Canal, through which approximately 13 percent of global maritime trade, ten percent of oil shipments, and eight percent of LNG transit, will continue to have an impact on global supply chains over the coming days and possibly weeks. This has and will continue to primarily impact Asian and European-based companies initially, as the Suez Canal serves as a major maritime route for transit between these regions. However, it is liable to have a knock-on effect on other parts of the world by increasing delays and costs to importers and exporters of goods that are essential for assembly lines and retail. To mitigate this risk, the SCA may increase the number of ships that can pass through the canal, which reportedly is capped at a daily maximum of 106. This, in turn, may carry additional risks to vessels transiting through the area due to the difficulty in coordination with authorities and other ships, which will increase the chance of a miscalculated error. Moreover, although the increased number of vessels will facilitate continued transit by the vessels, destination ports in Europe such as Rotterdam and Antwerp, will face significant challenges in processing and unloading the increased quantities of cargo, which will increase delays at these locales and also add to the potential for error.
  3. The financial impact of the incident has been substantial and this is unlikely to subside over the coming days due to the backlog. Each day of continued blockage is estimated to disrupt approximately 9.6 billion USD of goods. Moreover, the cost of renting a cargo ship along routes between Asia and the Middle East has reportedly increased by up to 47 percent since March 23. This will be exacerbated by the costs incurred by shipowners that rerouted down the coast of Africa via the Cape of Good Hope, which will have added over a week, at the very least, to travel time. This will have a significant impact on fuel and operating costs as well as the potential penalties incurred by businesses due to the late delivery of goods.
  4. FORECAST: As previously assessed, the economic fallout from this maritime incident will also have an impact on insurance premiums, both in the immediate short-term and also over the coming months. Reports from March 26 stated that over three billion USD has been prepared for liability claims against the owner of the Ever Given. However, this may not be enough to cover the potential claims of the over 300 vessels stuck in the Suez Canal due to its blockage. Moreover, some of the vessels may seek to file claims against both the stranded ship’s insurer and their own, which would lead to substantial payouts and a long-term impact on insurance premiums for those traveling through the Suez Canal. This is especially due to the global coverage of the event, which will elevate perceptions of the risk attached to transit through the waterway.
  5. For Egypt specifically, this event is likely to have an adverse impact on its economy and international standing. In 2020, Egypt received 5.6 billion USD in revenue from travel through the Canal, which constituted two percent of its GDP and was a critical source of foreign currency for the country. Moreover, in 2015, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi launched an 8.5 billion USD expansion of the Suez Canal, naming it the “New Suez Canal” in an effort to increase traffic through the strategic waterway. This project has failed to significantly increase revenue as expected and the current global attention on the Suez Canal is likely to add to the scrutiny of the waterway and its desirability as a transit route for international cargo, with other countries already proposing alternatives. Although the Suez Canal remains the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, the current incident highlights the fragility and potential for disruptions through the waterway. The long-term potential for alternative methods and routes for the transportation of cargo may undermine President Sisi’s and Egypt’s global status. It may also more broadly deter international investors due to the perceived inability of the Egyptian authorities to manage crises, especially due to recent indications that the running aground of the vessel may have been due to unspecified human error, which did not indicate on the part of whom, as well as inclement weather conditions.
  6. The backlog of vessels waiting in the Red Sea also poses an underlying security risk due to the ongoing conflict between the Yemen-based Houthis and the Saudi-led Coalition that backs Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led government. On March 28 alone, Saudi authorities announced that two Houthi-operated explosive-laden vessels, allegedly planning an “imminent attack”, were intercepted in the Red Sea in the vicinity of Yemen’s Hodeidah Governorate. Although a significant distance from the Suez Canal, there is likely to be a large increase in shipping traffic seeking to reach the waterway in order to compensate for disruptions. These ships may need to pass through areas near Yemen and Saudi Arabia where Houthis are known to deploy naval mines and explosive-laden vessels, which will slightly increase the risk of a security incident in this area. This is even if the Houthis do not intentionally conduct an attack, which would further damage its international reputation as a credible actor in the event of damage to a vessel or casualties to its crew.

 

Recommendations:

  1. Those operating vessels through the Suez Canal on March 29 and over the coming days are advised to allot for disruptions to business continuity, including delivery delays, due to the ongoing cessation of maritime navigation through the waterway.
  2. Remain apprised of notifications issued by the Suez Canal Authority over the coming days for updates on the situation and any instructions for maritime operators to avoid further congestion of the strategic waterway.

Potential Israeli ‘annexation’ to destabilize security environment, affect relations with Gulf states – Israel & Palestinian Territories analysis

This report was written by:

Darren Cohen – Senior Intelligence Manager, Middle East and North Africa

 And reviewed by:

Oded Berkowitz – Deputy Chief Intelligence Officer

Executive Summary

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and current Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz reached a coalition agreement in April, which stipulates that Israel can apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, in coordination with the US administration, from July 1.

The different and currently unknown versions and timing of the potential application of sovereignty, also known as annexation, will have an impact on both the local backlash vis-a-vis the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s relations with prominent regional actors.

Overall, Israel’s potential annexation of parts of the West Bank will destabilize the local security environment and scale back Jerusalem’s rapprochement vis-a-vis Saudi-aligned Gulf states. However, the potential for significant violence in the West Bank or large-scale armed conflict with Gaza-based militant groups remains relatively low.

Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross-border violence. 

Current Situation

Netanyahu-Gantz Coalition Agreement

On April 20, Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu and “Blue and White” leader Benny Gantz reached a coalition agreement. The deal facilitated the formation of a unity government following a prolonged political deadlock, wherein Netanyahu and Gantz will alternate as PM.

As part of the deal, a clause stipulated that PM Netanyahu is authorized to bring “the agreement that will be reached with the US” on “applying [Israeli] sovereignty” [to unspecified parts of the West Bank] from July 1 “for approval by the government and/or the Knesset (Israeli Parliament).”

The agreement also states that the unity government will work with the US “while pursuing the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel, which include, maintaining regional stability, [maintaining existing] peace agreements, and striving for future ones”.

The application of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank has also been referred to as “annexation.”

Statements by Netanyahu, Gantz

In an interview on May 28, Netanyahu stated that Israel will apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and extensive territory in the West Bank, while keeping Jerusalem under undivided Israeli control and not uprooting a single Israeli West Bank community.

In January, prior to a March 2 election, Gantz stated he would annex the Jordan Valley, referring to it as “Israel’s eastern protective wall”, “in coordination with the international community”.

The Jordan Valley encompasses a strip of territory that spans the length of the border between the West Bank and Jordan.

Gantz has persistently emphasized the need for coordination with both the US and prominent Arab states in the region for any unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

Reaction of Prominent Regional Actors

Overall, all implications regarding potential annexation elicit overwhelmingly negative reactions from prominent regional actors. Below are some notable examples:

On May 19, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that in light of the coalition agreement, “the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)…are absolved, as of today, of all agreements and understandings with the American and Israeli governments and of all the commitments based on these understandings and agreements, including security”.

On June 15, a Hamas senior official and spokesperson stated that the group calls for “the annexation project to be confronted with resistance in all forms”.

In an interview on May 15, Jordanian King Abdullah II stated that Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank would lead to a “massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan”.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, stated on June 4 in a joint declaration with the Russian Foreign Minister, that Cairo “rejected the annexation of any parts of the West Bank to Israel” and “any [Israeli] unilateral declarations”.

In an unprecedented article published in an Israeli newspaper on June 12, UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, stated that while Israel has promoted normalization of relations with Arab states, “Israeli plans for annexation and…normalization are a contradiction.”

Background

Since 2017, President Trump’s US administration has made a series of policy announcements pertaining to Israel and the Palestinians that the latter perceive to be biased towards the former.

These include: the December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; the May 2018 transfer of Washington’s Embassy to Jerusalem; the March 2019 recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights; and the November 2019 statement that the administration does not consider “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank” as “inconsistent with international law.”

On January 28, the US administration launched its peace plan, known as “Deal of the Century”, which included recognition of Israeli sovereignty in approximately 30 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, all of Israel’s major settlement blocs to the east of the 1949 Armistice Line (“Green Line”), and all other Israeli West Bank communities in the West Bank.

The plan also stipulated the formation of a Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Negev, with territory east of Jerusalem as its capital at the culmination of a four-year process.

The US’s recognition of the Palestinian state would be conditioned on numerous commitments by the Palestinians, including the disarming of all Palestinian militant factions, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the termination of all payments to militants.

According to numerous reports during the month of June, the US administration seeks Gantz and his political partner, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, to be in agreement with any move advanced by the Israeli government in order for Washington to endorse the announcement.

The US presidential election is slated for November 2020. Democratic Party presidential candidate, Joe Biden, reportedly stated in May that he does “not support annexation”, adding that he will “reverse Trump’s undercutting of peace”.

Map of Trump’s “Deal of the Century” plan

Assessments & Forecast

Factors affecting version, timing of Israeli annexation in West Bank

There are several factors affecting both the version of annexation that the Israeli government may implement in the West Bank and the timing of any application of its sovereignty. All of these factors are pertinent in assessing the potential impact on the security environment.

Version

There are multiple scenarios for the version of potential annexation. This ranges from a “hard” annexation, which would take the form of the application of sovereignty to the entire Jordan Valley, the major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, as well as more isolated Israeli West Bank communities and their surrounding territory for security and expansion purposes. Overall, this would amount to approximately 30 percent of the territory of the West Bank.

A more “moderate” version would be limited to Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, with the exception of Palestinian territorial enclaves, as per Netanyahu’s recent statement. The Israeli control of or at least Israeli military presence in this territory has historically been part of the Israeli political consensus as a requisite for ensuring Israel’s national security. The “medium” annexation plan may also include all or some of the aforementioned major Israeli settlement blocs. These areas are relatively closer to the Green Line within the West Bank and are areas where the majority of the Israeli West Bank populace is located.

A “soft” version of annexation would be even more limited. This may include either just the Jordan Valley or be restricted to some or all of the major settlement blocs. The former would likely be presented by the Israeli government as de-jure recognition of Israeli security needs, while the latter would more likely be an attempt to represent the “facts on the ground”, namely, the large Israeli population living beyond the Green Line in major settlement areas.

FORECAST: In light of current reports indicating that the US seeks an Israeli consensus among the government partners in order to endorse annexation, and given that Gantz and Ashkenazi are known to be opposed to major unilateral moves, PM Netanyahu may be compelled to advance a more “moderate” or “soft” version of annexation. The statements condemning the move by both Joe Biden and prominent Arab states may also lead Jerusalem to pursue a softer version of annexation in order to avert a major crisis with either a potential future US administration or Israel’s regional partners.

Timing

Although the government can, in accordance with the coalition agreement, bring the annexation plan to the Knesset from July 1, if it happens, the process itself is likely to take several more weeks and possibly months to potentially even start. This will depend on multiple factors: In the event that Netanyahu and Gantz reach an agreement pertaining to the type of annexation, and thus satisfy this reported US requirement, the government will likely seek to act swiftly in order to implement the plan. This is due to the forthcoming US presidential election in November, which Israel will be reluctant to encroach upon and thus potentially limit the Trump administration’s willingness to make such a major foreign policy decision so close to a national vote.

However, in the event that the Israeli government assesses that Biden is likely to win the forthcoming election, it may seek to adopt a more cautious approach in order to avert a crisis with the potential incoming administration. Jerusalem may, therefore, apply its sovereignty to parts of the West Bank in stages. A more symbolic or security-minded initial annexation of the Jordan Valley and/or major settlement blocs may first be implemented in July. Thereafter, Israel may apply sovereignty to the more contentious Israeli communities situated deeper in the West Bank in the months following the US presidential election, in the event of a Trump victory.

The decision to apply sovereignty may be delayed due to other domestic considerations. Israel is currently experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases following an easing of restrictions amid a major reduction in the infection rate. In addition, the COVID-19-induced economic downturn, characterized by a sharp increase in unemployment, remains at the forefront of the Israeli political agenda. Thus, Netanyahu may consider delaying annexation until after both the US presidential election and the significant halting of the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel and the US, and attribute this decision to the prioritization of dealing with the health and economic crises that both countries are currently dealing with.

FORECAST: It cannot be entirely ruled out that the government will completely postpone plans to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank due to multiple reasons. These include: a possible failure to secure US backing for Jerusalem’s preferred version of annexation, external pressure from major regional and international stakeholders, domestic opposition from Israeli political parties, and, lastly, the ongoing instability of the current Israeli unity government. Since its inauguration in May, the new government has publicly clashed on a range of issues and it is known that the major components of the government, the Likud and Blue and White parties, have different visions of Israel’s future vis-a-vis the Palestinians. By the end of August, the Knesset must pass the government’s state budget. In the event that the coalition members fail to do so, this would lead to a premature collapse of the government and the postponement of annexation until after another Israeli election, which may yield a more favorable result for Netanyahu.

Israeli annexation in West Bank to destabilize security environment, unlikely to trigger widespread violence

Potential for major uprising in West Bank remains relatively low

The precedent of recent years shows growing apathy and a decline in nationalist motivation among local Palestinians in the West Bank and, as a result, an apparent decline in willingness to engage in militant activity and large acts of civil unrest. This is evidenced by the significantly reduced number of large-scale attacks over recent years and drop in the frequency and scale of unrest. In recent years, attacks have been largely limited to periodic stabbings, vehicle-rammings, small-scale shootings, and rock-hurling attacks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This has persisted despite the aforementioned period from 2017 onwards during which the US administration has announced a series of foreign policy measures pertaining to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, all of which the Palestinian leadership have deemed to be biased towards Israel. Calls by either the West Bank-based PA or Gaza-based Hamas militant faction for civil disobedience or “days of rage” in condemnation of these decisions have been met with a very limited response by local Palestinians, which underscores the aforementioned general apathy.

This trend has even continued since PA leader Abbas’ May 19 declaration that all agreements with Israel, including security coordination, were annulled. While there have been some limited indications that the PA has down-scaled its coordination with Israel, for instance, reports from May 22 that the PA security forces retreated from territory to the east of East Jerusalem, this was mostly symbolic. This was further demonstrated by a June 7 report indicating that PA security forces foiled an attack against the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in the Jenin area. Thus, it is likely that the declaration was rhetorical only and an attempt to pressure Israel into reversing its declared intention to annex West Bank territory. However, even in the event that security coordination is completely suspended between the parties, the limited evidence of the past month indicates that there is no major increase in motivation among Palestinians, either organized factions or local elements, to conduct large-scale attacks against Israeli security forces or civilians.

The PA has other options at its disposal. The Ramallah-based leadership may opt to completely dismantle the PA and all its institutions, which would transfer civil and security control of the entire West Bank to Israel. This is less likely, as the PA leadership remains interested in maintaining its power in the area, rather than relinquishing control, which would allow Hamas to gain a foothold. The PA may also seek to inflict an economic toll on Israel by blocking crossings between PA-administered territory and Israel, while also prohibiting Palestinian laborers and goods from entering the latter territory. This would cause economic damage to Israel, which is dependent on these workers and items in some sectors. However, this scenario is unlikely given the substantial socio-economic damage it would cause to the PA and the local populace.

The PA may wage a diplomatic campaign against Israel, rather than risk widespread security instability. Such diplomatic initiatives may include working with the PA’s supporters, both state and non-state actors, primarily in Europe, to build a coalition against Israel. This would be aimed at diplomatically and economically isolating Israel in the international area, and empowering the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to expand its activities. This is a likely scenario given the PA’s previous action and repeated warnings made by numerous European states and prominent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) against annexation of the West Bank. The PA can also act against Israel in the diplomatic arena by unilaterally declaring statehood in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip in coordination with its allies, while simultaneously initiating anti-Israel campaigns and resolutions at prominent international forums where it is represented, or alternatively, through its regional partners. Given precedent, a unilateral declaration of statehood by the PA, or international anti-Israel campaign, is likely, as the PA/PLO leadership has embarked on similar actions in the past. However, this would be mostly symbolic, and given Israel’s strong relationships with prominent international actors, primarily the US, any PA initiative will be limited in its ability to effectively isolate Israel.

Overall, the PA, and particularly its leader Abbas, who responded to the US peace plan with “1,000 nos”, have lost significant legitimacy and popularity among West Bank Palestinians. This is even more acute among the young demographic, many of whom disagree with the PA’s strategic direction and security cooperation with Israeli authorities over recent years. Many of these individuals also consider the PA to be a corrupt institution. Thus, they are likely to remain indifferent to the potential for Israeli annexation in the territory, and subsequent undermining of the PA’s vision of a two-state solution, because they have already ceased to support such a resolution to the conflict.

That being said, a potential annexation of territory in the West Bank is likely to be perceived as a crossing of a red line that perpetuates the ongoing conflict and potential for a long-lasting solution. This is in contrast with the aforementioned US policy declarations and peace proposal that have likely been considered as either symbolic or hypothetical, while annexation would constitute a practical move that has a tangible impact on the lives of some Palestinians. In addition to this, the PA-administered areas of the West Bank, in addition to Israel and the wider region, are currently experiencing a COVID-19-triggered economic crisis. This has been exacerbated by the PA’s refusal to accept clearance funds that Israel accepts on its behalf, which constitute a significant amount of the Ramallah-based authority’s budget. The PA attributes any economic crisis to Israel’s policies in the region, which tends to resonate with most segments of Palestinian society. The combination of the perceived intolerable annexation action by Israel and the economic crisis in the West Bank are likely to elevate nationalistic sentiments and increase the motivation to convey to Israel that its perceived belligerent actions will not go “unpunished”.

FORECAST: Therefore, it is likely that an increase in violence will be witnessed in the West Bank, though the PA will seek to limit its scope and scale, with the understanding that widespread unrest would ultimately pose a risk to its own governance. In this context, violence will likely be restricted to localized outbreaks of civil unrest and low-level militancy, such as stabbings and vehicle-ramming attacks, than large-scale IED attacks, mass shootings, or suicide bombings. Moreover, these incidents are more likely to remain contained to the West Bank, rather than occurring in Israeli territory west of the Green Line. Even within the West Bank, it is likely that the violence will not be widespread throughout Palestinian cities, but will be contained to Palestinian refugee camps that are known to be more hostile to Israe. While not in the West Bank, an increase in civil unrest is also likely in Arab-populated neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, primarily Issawiya, Silwan, and the Shuafat Refugee Camp, where violence is often recorded.

FORECAST: Palestinian militant groups in the West Bank will be more motivated to conduct a large-scale attack in order to present themselves as the “protectors of the Palestinian people”. The Hamas militant group maintains networks within the West Bank and will be determined to undermine its rival Fatah faction that leads the PA by claiming responsibility for action that portrays the latter in a negative light and as “out of touch” with the Palestinian people. Hamas will likely seek to capitalize on the PA’s perceived weakness and failure to prevent Israeli unilateralism and thus garner more support and expand its influence in the West Bank, which may include direct attacks by Hamas against PA targets in order to expedite this potential process.It is furthermore possible that the Palestinian militant factions operating in the West Bank, particularly Hamas, will order a large-scale symbolic attack against a prominent Israeli target in condemnation of the perceived seizure of Palestinian territory. However, given precedent of recent years, this will likely be foiled by Israeli authorities, although this will pose more of a challenge in the event of a complete suspension of coordination with the PA. A large-scale successful attack would significantly increase regional tensions and trigger a more extensive IDF operation in the West Bank.

Annexation to increase risk of escalation in violence between Israel, Gaza-based militant groups

The Gaza-based militant factions, led by Hamas, as well as more hardline Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other smaller Salafist groups, have repeatedly rejected any Israeli presence in the region. These groups maintain maximalist ideologies that consider all territory in the region to be “annexed” by Israel and have therefore persistently and violently responded to peace talks between Israel and the PLO/PA over the past 25 years. The potential annexation of parts of the West Bank will therefore be viewed differently by these factions to the way it is perceived by the PA, whose long-term stated strategy has been to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank on territory which includes the land Israel seeks to apply its sovereignty to.

Moreover, over the more recent period, despite employing more threatening rhetoric, the militant factions have largely refrained from significantly increasing rocket attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip in response to US policy announcements. While major unrest was witnessed along the Israel-Gaza border when the US Embassy was moved to Jerusalem, this came in the context of a protest movement that had already begun several months earlier. This highlights the point that US or Israeli policy declarations are not necessarily triggers for action for these groups.

Regardless, the Gaza-based groups, particularly Hamas, will likely feel compelled to show some form of symbolic opposition or resistance to Israel’s annexation of territory in the West Bank. As is the case in the West Bank, the militant groups will seek to portray the PA as weak and “out of touch” and highlight their ability to violently confront Israel. FORECAST: Thus, if/when Israel formally announces its intention to annex parts of the West Bank, passes the legislation in the Knesset, and implements the policy on the ground, an increase in violence in the Gaza area is likely. This may manifest in the form of rocket fire, unruly border protests, the placing of IEDs along the border, and the hurling of grenades, crude explosives, and rocks against IDF troops. Similar escalations have been recorded periodically over the past years and generally conclude after several days of violence, at most. However, the increased motivation to avenge Israel’s perceived seizure of Palestinian territory and violation of Palestinians’ rights may trigger these hostilities to spiral out of control and lead to a broader outbreak of violence. This remains a less likely option as it is not in Hamas’ interest to risk a large-scale armed conflict with Israel that significantly weakens the organization and diminishes its hold on the Gaza Strip. It will therefore likely demonstrate relative caution when initiating any hostilities.

Another factor in this respect is the role of the Iran-backed PIJ. Iran funds and supports the Gaza-based militant group and Tehran will have a distinct interest in presenting itself as the “defender of Palestine” in the Muslim world. FORECAST: It may therefore act via its regional proxy to launch a sustained rocket assault against Israel, which the militant group has proven it is capable of doing over the past year. While during previous rounds of violence, Hamas has opted not to engage in armed conflict vis-a-vis Israel and the IDF has responded by also specifically targeting the PIJ, due to the perceived severity of the annexation issue, it will be extremely difficult for Hamas to refrain from joining the PIJ or other groups in violently opposing Israel.

FORECAST: Overall, Israeli application of sovereignty to parts of the West Bank will raise tensions vis-a-vis the Gaza-based militant groups. It threatens to undermine any potential understandings that Hamas and Israel have reportedly reached and trigger a renewal of violence. However, due to Hamas’ interest in containing hostilities, this is unlikely to prompt a major round of fighting unless one of the parties makes a significant miscalculation, which cannot be ruled out.

Israeli annexation in West Bank to undermine relations with Jordan, may lead to downgrading of ties

Israel and Jordan have shared a peace agreement since 1994. During the majority of this period, the two countries have maintained full diplomatic relations and succeeded in overcoming several temporary crises. However, a potential Israeli annexation of any of the West Bank is likely to undermine relations between the countries. This can be attributed in part to the fact that a majority of the populace of Jordan is of Palestinian descent and many Jordanians harbor anti-Israel sentiments. This is evidenced by the continued controversy surrounding any cooperation between Israel and Jordan, as illustrated by periodic protests in Amman against an Israeli-Jordanian gas agreement, which were witnessed during 2019-2020.

The Jordanian authorities will seek to prevent a major outbreak of violence in the West Bank that has the potential to spill into Jordan. Despite it not being in Jordan’s interests to sever or downgrade relations with Israel, the Kingdom’s leaders will risk substantial condemnation and anti-government demonstrations if they fail to “punish” Israel’s annexation in a meaningful manner in the eyes of their population. This is especially given that socio-economic grievances are likely to be aggravated over the coming months amid the COVID-19-triggered global economic crisis. King Abdullah II and government officials will therefore seek to avoid taking actions that bolster the potential for anti-government unrest.

However, Jordan’s stability also depends on the significant economic assistance that the US provides to the Kingdom. In 2018, USAID donated more financial aid to Jordan than any other country in the region after Israel, with an accumulative transfer of almost 1.7 billion USD. Therefore, Amman faces a trade-off between preventing destabilization by inadequately responding to Israeli actions on one hand, and on the other, facing punitive US measures if it issues what Washington perceives to be too harsh a response, by, for example, cutting diplomatic relations with Israel and thus suspending or terminating the peace agreement.

FORECAST: With this in mind, the most likely scenario in the event of Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank is that Jordan will downgrade relations with Israel, rather than outright severing all ties with the latter. This may take the form of the recalling of its ambassador to Jordan and expulsion of Israel’s ambassador from the Kingdom, the suspension of all security and economic cooperation, and diplomatic international resolutions against Jerusalem. Meanwhile, there remains the potential for acts of unrest or low-scale militancy against perceived US-linked or Israeli-linked interests in Jordan, including government infrastructure and companies. There will likely be an overall elevation in anti-Israel and US sentiment in the country. However, given precedent and the rarity of militant activity in the country, militant infiltration attempts from Jordan into Israel are highly unlikely.

Egypt likely to condemn Israeli unilateral declaration, maintain current covert ties 

Israel reached a peace agreement with Egypt in 1979.  In recent years, particularly in the security realm, collaboration between Egypt and Israel has further intensified as both states have conducted counter-militancy campaigns and shared intelligence. However, the peace agreement between Jerusalem and Cairo has limited popular support among Egyptian citizens, especially those supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, who will increase pressure on the President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi-led government to condemn Israel. Regardless, opposition elements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have been significantly weakened over recent years by a prolonged government crackdown. The Egyptian government is less attentive to the popular will and has been very effective at clamping down on any civil unrest over recent years. President al-Sisi will therefore be more likely to act in accordance with Egypt’s strategic interests, than attempting to placate opposition figures and critics. This is in contrast to Jordan, even though both countries are US allies and rely on Washington for financial assistance.

FORECAST: Egypt will denounce any potential Israeli annexation of the West Bank, although this will likely be limited to a diplomatic condemnation. The government will be compelled to publicly demonstrate its opposition to Israel’s actions and thus cooperation between the two states will become even more discreet and covert over the coming months in any scenario in which Israel acts unilaterally.

Israeli application of sovereignty in West Bank to lead to scaling back of rapprochement with Saudi-aligned Gulf states

Over recent years, Israel and the Saudi-aligned Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Oman, have demonstrated an increasing willingness to move towards a full normalization of relations. The most recent and pertinent example of this was the June 12 article written by the UAE Ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, in an Israeli newspaper. While the article was specifically warning the Israeli people against the ramifications of annexation, the very fact that a senior Emirati official wrote in an Israeli newspaper following decades of antipathy is historic and noteworthy. An additional and highly relevant example in this context was the decision by Bahrain to host the launch of the economic component of the US peace plan in June 2019, and thus provide legitimization of the program by a prominent Gulf state.

The period of rapprochement can largely be attributed to two parallel phenomena. On one hand, many Saudi-aligned Gulf states have demonstrated less interest in supporting the PA or other Palestinian factions. On the other hand, Israel and the Gulf states share multiple common interests. These include a shared perception of the regional security threat posed by Iran and its proxies, as well as an understanding in the mutual benefit of cooperating in the intelligence, security, technological, and economic remits. This period of “detente” has been accelerated over recent years by the US administration’s close ties with the Saudi-led bloc, which has created a covert alliance of interests.

FORECAST: Annexation of parts of the West Bank is likely to scale this normalization process back. The Saudi-aligned states, including the UAE that has been most vocal in its willingness to engage with Israel, will be reluctant to be considered as “succumbing” to perceived Israeli aggression in the form of the seizure of Palestinian territory. The Gulf states will therefore be forced to publicly condemn this Israeli action.

FORECAST: The form that this condemnation takes and the impact on the current normalization process is likely to correlate with the version of annexation. As the Gulf states and Israel do not maintain official ties, there are few diplomatic tools at their disposal because all relations have largely been covert since their commencement over the past years. A “hard” annexation that is perceived as undermining any possibility for the solution envisioned by the PA and most of the Arab world will likely significantly impact covert economic and security ties between Israel and the Gulf states. In the event of a milder application of sovereignty to parts of the West Bank by Israel, it is possible that the Gulf states will publicly condemn Israel while covertly continuing to cooperate with Jerusalem.

Recommendations

Israel 

Travel to Israel may continue at this time while adhering to security precautions regarding militant attacks, while avoiding the immediate vicinity of the Syrian, Lebanese, and Egyptian borders, due to the persistent risk for cross-border violence.

Those traveling in the 40 km area surrounding the Gaza Strip should continue adhering to all safety precautions regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes.

In major Israeli cities, remain vigilant in crowded commercial areas or public transport hubs, as these locations have been targeted by militant groups in the past. Alert authorities to suspicious, unattended packages in these areas.

During escalations in violence:

Those operating or residing in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, should adhere to all Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Home Front Command guidelines regarding early warning sirens for incoming rockets. In case you hear a siren, seek shelter in a protected area and remain inside for at least 10 minutes. As a general security precaution, those operating or residing in Israel should ensure that contingency and emergency evacuation plans are updated due to the potential for a further deterioration in the security situation. We advise to contact us to be briefed on the situation, while consulting us for operational support.

We advise against all travel within 40 km of the Gaza Strip. Those remaining within this vicinity should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to the deterioration in the security situation. Contact us for itinerary and contingency support options.

Those operating or residing in Jerusalem are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the areas of Shuafat, Beit Hanina, Silwan, and Wadi al-Joz, as well as the vicinity of the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and the Damascus Gate given the potential for further unrest. Maintain heightened vigilance throughout East Jerusalem and the Old City for the same reason. Avoid nonessential travel to Arab-Israeli towns, particularly Nazareth, I’billin, Qalansawe, Tayibe, and Tira.

Palestinian Territories

Business-essential travel to Ramallah and Bethlehem can continue at this time. Adhere to basic security precautions regarding the threat of civil unrest and militancy. Consult with us for itinerary-based recommendations and ground support options.

Avoid nonessential travel to other Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank at this time given the persistent threat of civil unrest.

We advise against all travel to the Gaza Strip due to frequent border crossing closures and the threat of militant activity and armed conflict.

Minimize night travel in major cities, as the majority of IDF and PA security operations occur at this time, particularly in the vicinities of Palestinian refugee camps.

During escalations in violence:

As a general precaution, avoid all travel to the West Bank during an escalation in violence due to counter-militancy operations, and relating unrest in Palestinian urban centers. The risk for altercations remains most pronounced in the Hebron, Jenin, and Nablus areas, and to a lesser extent within Ramallah and Bethlehem.

Be advised that crossing points between Israeli and Palestinian controlled territories, including the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, have frequently witnessed unrest leading to violence. As a result, crossing points may be closed, or experiencing disruptions. Additionally, avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of the Ofer prison, due to the threat of unrest.

For those remaining in Gaza, in the event that orders to evacuate are issued by the IDF, including via flyers, it is advised to immediately comply with instructions and leave the mentioned areas. If airstrikes are reported in your vicinity, it is advised to seek shelter and remain away from windows. If no shelter is available, lie on the ground and shield your head.

Bolstered international support for LNA Field Marshal Haftar amid ongoing hostilities in Tripoli likely to prolong conflict – Libya Analysis

Executive summary

Over the past three years, the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar has gained increased domestic and international legitimacy amid his forces’ territorial advances in the Oil Crescent, Benghazi, Derna and the Fezzan Region.

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

Despite this development, recent actions by prominent Western leaders, particularly of the US, the UK, and France, have increased the international legitimacy of the LNA vis-a-vis the UN-backed GNA in Libya.

This increased Western support for Haftar may be interpreted as a “green light” for his regional supporters, namely the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, to further extend financial and military assistance to the LNA.

Meanwhile, Turkey and Qatar have, and will continue to bolster their own measures to assist GNA-linked forces in Tripoli in order to further their own interests in the oil-rich country.

Overall, the bolstered international and regional involvement in the Libyan conflict will fuel further hostilities and the prolongation of fighting throughout the country, and specifically around Tripoli, in the coming months.

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Focal Points in Libya

Current Situation

On April 4, Haftar announced the launch of Operation “Flood of Dignity” aimed at taking control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA)-linked militias.

On April 10, France blocked an attempt by the European Union (EU) to publish an official statement condemning the LNA offensive on Tripoli.

On April 19, an official statement by the US State Department indicated that on April 15 the US President Donald Trump conversed with LNA Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, recognizing his “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.

On April 23, the UN-backed Government of National Accord’s (GNA) Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, gave interviews for French news agencies, denouncing the French government’s support for Haftar.

On April 25, the LNA arrested two Turkish nationals in Tripoli. Reports quoting the LNA Spokesperson have indicated that they were arrested for alleged involvement in espionage activity. According to reports citing Turkish officials, the two were restaurant workers in Tripoli and were not involved with Turkish security forces.

On April 29, the GNA’s Interior Minister, Fathi Bashagha, visited Turkey to strengthen security and defense cooperation agreements. Bashagha was reportedly accompanied by the Chief of the Western Military Command, Usama al-Juwaili, and another top GNA-linked military official.

On April 29, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, conversed with the GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, and expressed Turkey’s support for the GNA.

On May 18, the GNA-linked “Volcano of Wrath” Operations Room announced that they had received a ship containing military reinforcements. Picture material and additional reports indicate that the ship arrived from Turkey’s Samsun Port and contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as other military hardware.

Background

The LNA’s Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s local and international legitimacy has significantly increased over the past three years. This can largely be attributed to the fact that since 2016, the LNA has made gradual territorial advances in Libya, which has resulted in an expansion of Haftar’s influence over almost two-thirds of the country. In September 2016, the LNA took control of the Oil Crescent from the former GNA-aligned Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). This was followed by the LNA’s announcement of the conclusion of its three-year long Operation “Dignity” on July 5, 2017, which resulted in the eviction of the Revolutionary Shura Council of Benghazi (RSCB) and the Islamic State (IS) from the city. On June 28, 2018, Haftar announced that its forces had taken full control of the eastern city of Derna from the Derna Protection Force (DPF), formerly known as the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD). Finally, the LNA took full control of southern Libya as part of its Operation “Murzuq Basin” in March 2019.

Although, Haftar received initial support from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and France, over the years, countries that were initially opposed to the LNA’s Operation “Dignity”, such as the US, the UK, and Italy have shown an increasing interest in negotiating with Haftar. This is underscored by a meeting between the former UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and the British Ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, and Haftar in August 2017. More recently, Italy invited both the UN-backed GNA Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj and Haftar to a conference on Libya in Palermo, Italy in November 2018 to discuss a potential date for a nationwide election process in the country.

Assessments & Forecast

Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia to extend further support to LNA amid ongoing clashes with GNA-linked forces in Tripoli

Initially, a significant support, mainly by Egypt and the UAE, had been extended to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, in light of the latter’s efforts to dislodge Islamist militants and militias from Benghazi. This most significantly came in the form of military hardware and logistical assistance by the two aforementioned countries, and the UAE’s manning of a al-Khadim airbase in 2016, to support the LNA’s military efforts. This extensive support was based since its initial phase upon Haftar’s self-positioning as the figure with the desire and ability to defeat Libya’s belligerent Islamist factions and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, which have gained significant foothold in the country amid the civil war. This is due to the fact that both Egypt and the UAE view these groups as a region-wide threat. Thus, the success of Haftar’s Operation “Dignity”, and his more recent success in taking control over the Fezzan Region, while emphasizing his determination to continue fighting such elements, has bolstered his position as a reliable ally for Egypt and the UAE. As for Egypt, another significant interest in strengthening the LNA was its determination to bolster an ally that would be able to secure the vast swaths of the desert-dense border areas between the two countries. These porous border areas serve as a major pipeline for both the smuggling of weapons and the movement of fighters from Libya into Egypt, and subsequently, to militant groups operating inside Egypt.

This emergence of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood alliance, characterizing the LNA’s relations with Egypt and the UAE, was paralelled by the increasing of relations between the Tripoli-based GNA and Turkey and Qatar, who are perceived by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to be supporting Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups across Libya, including in Tripoli. This has reportedly involved Turkish shipments of weapons to such elements in western Libya, as was highlighted by the seizure of a Turkish arms-carrying naval vessel, detained in Libya in December 2018. The increase of relations between Turkey and the GNA was likely further prompted by the current ongoing clashes in the designated capital, and was most significantly highlighted by both the April 29 security-related visit by the GNA Interior Minister to Turkey and the phone conversation between GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, and President Erdogan, during which the latter emphasised his support for the former. This, in turn, may have been the preceding arrangement for the May 18 reinforcement shipment, reportedly arriving from Turkey, which contained multiple Turkish-made armored vehicles as well as military hardware.

This more overt Turkish involvement has, in turn, drawn further accusation from the LNA of Turkish sponsorship of Islamist factions in and around the capital. In this framework, the LNA’s April 25 detention of two Turkish nationals on espionage charges indicates a further deterioration of relations between the LNA and Turkey. Regardless of whether or not the arrestees were indeed involved in espionage activities, the event is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to further paint Turkey as intervening in Libya’s internal affairs in support of “extreme elements”. This, in turn, is likely perceived by the LNA as an opportunity to prompt its traditional aforementioned backers to supply it with additional assistance and potentially even draw the attention of other international stakeholders towards Turkey’s policies. Such efforts may have been the reason behind what appears to be greater support for Field Marshal Haftar by Saudi Arabia’s King Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), who has expressed the Kingdom’s support for the former and has also reportedly offered to financially support the LNA’s Tripoli campaign during an official meeting between the two on March 27.

FORECAST: Significant support and material assistance will continue to be extended towards the LNA by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This will highly likely manifest in the form of direct aerial support, as well as military and financial aid aimed at bolstering the LNA’s capabilities and enabling it to continue its offensive on the designated capital. In terms of physical military assistance to the LNA, it remains likely that the UAE will assist the LNA with additional employment of attack and reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as it has done in the past, and given that it still possesses an active UAV base in eastern Libya. Such support is likely to be already taking place given multiple reports indicating the discovery of remnants of missiles believed to be a type used by the UAE UAVs, and is in any case not in use by any Libyan faction. However, such assistance is likely to remain relatively limited and covert, as the UAE will likely attempt to refrain from being painted as overtly challenging a UN-backed government.

FORECAST: Given the heightened tensions between the LNA on the one side and Turkey and Qatar on the other side, specifically surrounding the ongoing fighting in Tripoli, we assess that over the coming weeks, Turkish and Qatari nationals or corporations will face a growing threat of being subjected to arbitrary measures in LNA-controlled territories in Libya. This will most likely entail extrajudicial measures, such as arbitrary arrests and military prosecution over alleged charges of espionage and militant activity.

Increased political support for LNA by major Western stakeholders bolster LNA’s legitimacy, incentivise regional backers to extend further support to LNA

Most of the Western governments involved in Libya, such as the UK, Italy, France, and the US, initially primarily backed the UN-led initiative to reinvigorate a viable political process for Libya’s unification under one functioning government. This initiative partially came in the form of the establishment of the GNA in December 2015, which has since been the officially recognized government in Libya by the UN. That being said, the aforementioned ability of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar to take control of the Oil Crescent has consolidated his international standing among these countries. This was most significantly highlighted by the actions of Italy, a prominent supporter of the GNA, which has, after Haftar’s aforementioned successes, dedicated significant effort to convince him to participate in the political effort to unite the country under the Italian-initiated Palermo Conference in November 2018. Despite Italy’s backing of the GNA, Italian symbolic acceptance of Field Marshal Haftar was more recently highlighted even amid the ongoing offensive on the capital, when Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on May 7 that he is seeking to meet Field Marshal Haftar in the near future. In a similar vein, a process of gradual political acceptance towards the Field Marshal was also recorded in the UK. This mainly materialized after Haftar’s territorial gains in the Oil Crescent and Benghazi, resulting in a more accepting discourse by the UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, in an official meeting between the two in August 2017.

France, contrary to the aforementioned European powers, extended its support in terms of military advisory assistance to Field Marshal Haftar during his initial Operation “Dignity”, aimed at dislodging Islamist militants from Benghazi. A more robust support by France followed Haftar’s takeover of the Oil Crescent, when President Emmanuel Macron invited the Field Marshal to the Paris Conference in 2017. That being said, despite having given such support to the Field Marshal, the French government has never explicitly acted in defense of the LNA and against the UN-backed international effort to establish unified political establishments in the country. Thus, the April 10 measure by the French government, namely the blocking of an official EU condemnation, is highly notable as it constitutes France’s first overt political support for the LNA at the expense of the UN and EU efforts to condemn and exert political pressure upon Field Marshal Haftar. This, in turn, has prompted significant protests in GNA-controlled territories, such as the April 19 “yellow vests” demonstrations in Tripoli and Misrata, with protesters dispensing anti-Macron discourse to denounce the French government’s backing of Haftar. In addition, the development has prompted GNA Prime Minister, al-Serraj, to give interviews to two primary French news agencies, where he publicly denounced the French government’s support for the “Dictator” Hafter. Lastly, this has also prompted political action by the GNA, with most significantly the Interior Ministry’s decision on April 18 to suspend bilateral cooperation with France, and the GNA Ministry of Economy and Industry’s decision to suspend operation licences of 40 companies, including a major French oil and gas company, on May 8.

The April 19 incident involving the US President highlights another culmination of international support by Western leaders for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the LNA, despite the official UN support for the Tripoli-based GNA. Furthermore, on April 4, a press statement by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, expressed the US’ opposition to Haftar’s move towards Tripoli, urging a cessation of the offensive. The aforementioned phone call, however, took place approximately two weeks after the LNA has commenced its offensive, which could be interpreted as a shift in the US administration’s approach to Libya and its greater acceptance of Haftar, at least by the president himself. This apparent change in the US president’s approach and the robust support extended to the Field Marshal by France, could be interpreted as predicated upon a few factors.

First, the extensive territorial gains made by Haftar in the Fezzan Region have highly likely bolstered his standing vis-a-vis the GNA, regardless of whether or not the current assault on Tripoli will succeed. The Fezzan Region has been regarded as one of the major regional focal points for contraband, illegal immigration, and militancy-related activities for international stakeholders, such as the EU, and some of Libya’s neighboring Arab countries, primarily Egypt. This is due to the fact that since Muammar Ghaddhafi’s fall in 2011, the Fezzan Region has hosted the major transit routes through which immigrants from West Africa have been travelling, via Libya’s border-crossings with Niger and Chad, towards Europe. This, in turn, has also attracted criminal, militia, and militant networks wishing to capitalize upon the ungoverned territories of the Fezzan to further strengthen their operations, while local authorities were either absent or incapacitated to act upon these threats. For this reason, the LNA has dedicated extensive discursive and physical effort towards emphasizing its determination to mitigate threats emanating from the country’s border areas. Through this, Haftar is able to capitalize upon European interests related to counter-militancy and counter-immigration efforts to gain the aforementioned political support, primarily from France.

In addition, the Fezzan campaign has resulted in Haftar’s possession of the al-Feel and Sharara oil fields, which account for approximately a quarter of the country’s oil production potential. As was recorded after his takeover of the Oil Crescent, this development increased Haftar’s international standing as an arbiter in the competition between foreign companies over stakes in Libya’s oil industry. Such competition has reportedly taken place between major Italian and French companies seeking opportunities in the country’s oil market and wishing to see the stabilization of the region. Furthermore, Haftar’s control over the majority of Libya’s oil fields, with Libya potentially being one of the top world producers of oil, stations Haftar as a potential influencer in global oil prices. This, in turn, can make Haftar a lucrative partner for major international powers seeking to influence trends in global oil prices for their interests. In the case of the US, the stabilization of Libya’s oil industry in the hands of a potential ally could serve important American national security interests that are currently being pursued, such as stabilizing a low oil price amid the ongoing sanctions against Iran.

FORECAST: Given the aforementioned developments involving the US and France, it is likely that despite the overall condemnation of the LNA by major international institutions such as the UN, these countries will continue to extend their support to the LNA. Though such support is overall likely to remain symbolic, it may be interpreted by the actors more vigorously and physically supporting the LNA, such as the UAE and Egypt, as a “green light” to employ greater measures to facilitate the LNA’s takeover of the designated capital. Meanwhile, given the heightened tensions between the GNA and the French government, and given the increased anti-French sentiment expressed in Libya’s GNA-strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, over the coming months French nationals and corporations will face a growing threat from local citizens and potentially armed militias which operate in western Libya and are opposing current French policies towards Libya.

Recommendations

It is advised to defer all travel to Tripoli and Benghazi at this time due to ongoing violence, threats against foreigners, and the risk of a broad deterioration of security conditions. We advise at this time that those remaining in Tripoli and Benghazi should initiate contingency and emergency evacuation plans due to deterioration in the security situation. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support plans.

Travel to Misrata and Tobruk should be for essential purposes only, while adhering to all security precautions regarding civil unrest and militancy. We advise against all travel to outlying areas of the country, due to the threat of militancy, kidnapping, and general lawlessness in such areas.

French nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in western Libya’s major GNA strongholds, such as Tripoli and Misrata, due to increased public expression of anti-French sentiment in these locales.

Turkish and Qatari nationals operating or residing in Libya are advised to keep a low profile and to overall refrain from externalizing their nationality in LNA-controlled territories. This is due to a growing risk of arbitrary measures and detentions by the LNA, following the aforementioned countries’ support for GNA-linked forces.

Avoid entering Libyan territorial waters in the area between Benghazi and al-Tamimi without prior authorization, as a no-sail zone is currently in effect in this area and several naval vessels had been intercepted or attacked due to not following proper procedures.

In addition, avoid entering Libyan territorial waters off the coast of Tripoli due to the heavy deployment of LNA naval vessels in the area. If travel is unavoidable, seek prior permission from the relevant authorities in order to mitigate the risk of interception on account of misidentification.

Those planning to conduct air travel to, from and inside Libya should avoid entering the area between Marsa al-Brega, Sirte and Sebha, as it was declared a no-fly zone by the Libyan National Army (LNA).

Those planning to conduct air travel to and from Tripoli’s Mitiga International Airport are advised to follow all relevant security protocols due to the increased threat to aviation in the capital as a result of the ongoing hostilities.

We further advise against all travel to Libya’s border areas at this time due to persistent violence and lawlessness in these regions.

For those operating in or conducting business with oil facilities, it is advised to consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations and ground support options.

Constitutional amendments to significantly increase President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s power over legislature, judiciary branches – Egypt Analysis

Executive Summary

  • According to reports from April 23, amendments to 14 articles within Egypt’s 2014 constitution were approved in a nationwide referendum, which was held between April 19-22. 88.8 percent of the eligible electorate voted in favor of the amendments. The referendum witnessed a turnout of 44.3 percent.
  • This development is highly notable as it will extend President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s presidential term from four to six years as well as allow him to seek re-election for a third term. This will allow the president to further entrench himself within the country’s political apparatus.
  • The constitutional amendments will significantly expand presidential powers, allowing al-Sisi to exert increased influence over the parliament and the judiciary. It will also allow the military to influence the country’s civil apparatus through the appointment of a Minister of Defense.
  • The low voter turnout indicates that the amendments are likely not as popular among the locals as projected by the government. While opposition groups may utilize this argument to delegitimize the amendments, they are unlikely to be able to mobilize enough support to challenge al-Sisi, thus not interfering with his accumulation of further power over the coming years.
  • Travel to Egypt may continue while adhering to all security precautions. It is advised to refrain from discussions with locals on the current political situation, the constitutional amendment process, the Muslim Brotherhood, and criticism toward the government.

Background

In February 2019, Abdel Hady al-Qasabi, the leader of the majority party, the Support Egypt Coalition, submitted a proposal for 14 amendments to Egypt’s 2014 constitution to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ali Abdel Aal. The amendments were passed in the parliament by over a two-thirds majority, which is the required majority for the passage of a bill on constitutional amendments. 531 Members of Parliament (MPs) out of 596 voted in favor of the motion. On April 14, the parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee approved the final draft of the proposed amendments. A nationwide referendum was held from April 19-22 on this final draft of the proposed amendments. 88.8 percent of voters voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. The turnout for the referendum was 44.3 percent of the eligible electorate. According to Abdel Aal, Egypt will “need to write a completely new constitution within the next 10 years”.

Executive Branch

Current Situation

  • The constitutional amendments will increase the presidential term from four to six years, with a maximum limit of two terms. However, according to a provisional article introduced in the amendments, current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will be allowed to run for a third term following the conclusion of his second term in office in 2024.
  • The constitutional amendments will also re-introduce the position of vice president, which was abolished in 2012 to better balance the powers between a presidential and parliamentary system. The president will have the authority to appoint one or more vice presidents.
  • If the president is not able to exercise his/her powers, the vice president will be responsible for dispensing the role of the president of the republic. However, the vice president will not have the power to amend the constitution, dissolve the House of Representatives or Senate, or dismiss the government. He/she will also not be allowed to run for the position of the president.

Assessments & Forecast

  1. This development is highly notable as it will essentially allow al-Sisi to remain in power at least until 2030, depending upon whether the president decides to run for office for another term upon completion of his second term in 2024. The overwhelming support for al-Sisi within the Egyptian parliament likely facilitated the constitutional amendment process. During the 2018 presidential elections, there was speculation regarding whether al-Sisi would run for a third term in office, which goes against the two-term limit prescribed under the 2014 constitution. This had prompted a vague response from al-Sisi in his acceptance speech in April 2018, which indicated that he would “respect the constitution” and the “will of the people”.
  2. In this context, the recent constitutional amendments are part of an effort by the president to preserve his power, while at the same time purporting to the local and international media that he and his government are respecting democratic values and principals. The constitutional amendments and the nationwide referendum on them will enable al-Sisi to legitimize his power as well as preserve his relations with the West, particularly with the US and France, which have provided Egypt with substantial economic and military aid over the past years.
  3. Furthermore, as indicated by the Speaker of the Parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, there is a possibility that the parliament will propose additional amendments to the current constitution or possibly even draft a completely new constitution for the country over the coming years. Therefore, an increase in his presidential term and term limit will allow al-Sisi to ensure that any additional changes to the constitution take place under his overview, thereby allowing him to further cement his power within the Egyptian political apparatus over the coming years.
  4. The reinstatement of the post of vice president is also meant to align with this goal. The president has the sole authority to appoint a vice president, which will enable al-Sisi to appoint one of his loyalists to the post. The fact that the vice president will be in charge of dispensing the duties of the president, in the event that the latter is unable to exercise his powers, will ensure the continuation of the policies implemented under al-Sisi. This is opposed to the provisions stated under the 2014 constitution, wherein the Prime Minister, who is an elected official, would be responsible for dispensing presidential duties in the absence of the president. In addition, the vice president’s lack of power to amend the constitution, dissolve the House of Representatives or Senate, dismiss the government, or run for president, will ensure that al-Sisi does not face a challenge to his authority from within his inner circle.

Legislative Branch

Current Situation

  • The number of elected MPs in the House of Representatives will be reduced from 596 to 450, with 25 percent seats reserved for women representatives.
  • A Senate, comprising of a minimum of 180 members, will be established. Two-thirds of the members of the Senate will be elected in a secret ballot and one-third will be appointed by the president. The Senate will have a five-year term.
  • The Senate’s authority will extend to topics such as proposals for constitutional amendments, legislation on social and economic development as well as bilateral treaties and alliances.

Assessments & Forecast

  1. Prior to the referendum, Egypt had been a unicameral legislature, with only a House of Representatives. The introduction of a Senate, with a minimum of 180 members of parliament (MPs) would significantly increase the total number of MPs within the parliament, and therefore the decrease in the number of MPs in the House of Representatives is likely meant to balance this out. However, all MPs within the House of Representatives are directly elected by the local population, and the fact that one-third of the MPs within the Senate will be presidential nominees will significantly increase the president’s influence over the legislative branch of the government. Although the powers of the Senate are significantly lower than the House of Representatives, the former does have influence over several topics, such as proposals for constitutional amendments. This will further increase al-Sisi’s ability to get his policies enacted into legislation by the parliament, without any significant opposition.
  2. Aside from this, the decision to reserve 25 percent seats within the House of Representatives for women is likely part of the effort to project the current leadership as progressive. Pro-al-Sisi MPs will likely highlight this measure in their rhetoric to support the recent constitutional amendments and use it as a counter-argument for any criticism directed towards these measures by opposition groups, international media, and international human rights organizations. This will also allow al-Sisi to appeal to Western countries, by projecting that his government is upholding the liberal values of equitable representation. Moreover, it would help al-Sisi to garner the support of the country’s female population, which makes up almost half of the eligible electorate of the country, for any future legislation.

Judicial Branch

Current Situation

  • The president will have the power to appoint the heads of all judicial authorities for a term of four years. A higher council of judicial authorities will be established and the president will be its head. It remains unclear whether the judicial authorities would be eligible for re-appointment for a second consecutive term.
  • The president will also have the power to appoint a prosecutor-general from among three candidates nominated by the higher council of judicial authorities. The prosecutor-general’s term in office will be four years. It remains unclear whether the prosecutor-general would be eligible for re-appointment for a second consecutive term.
  • The president will furthermore have the authority to name the Chairman as well as the commissioners of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
  • Civilians can face trial in military courts is cases of assault against military establishments, military camps, military zones and borders, military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, secrets, funds, and army factories. Such crimes would also include assault of officers and personnel affiliated with the armed forces while they are performing their duties.
  • The Minister of Defense will be named only upon approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The SCAF is a statutory body comprised of 20-25 senior Egyptian military officers and is headed by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. The SCAF is convened only in times of war or a nationwide emergency.

 

Assessments & Forecast

  1. These provisions will significantly increase the president’s power over the judicial branch of the government. The president’s ability to appoint the heads of all judicial authorities within the country will allow al-Sisi to further crackdown on any form of dissent, which includes opposition leaders, journalists, and members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood political movement. This, in turn, would allow al-Sisi to further consolidate his powers, as the lack of an effective opposition would allow him to project an image of popular local support. The al-Sisi-led government has passed several laws over the past year, which allow security forces to increasingly monitor social media and traditional media platforms. On June 29, 2018, the Egyptian parliament approved a bill that would allow the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to monitor social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. The measure was reportedly adopted to block accounts that publish “fake news” or propagate the “breaking of law, violence or hatred”. Therefore, this constitutional amendment will ensure that the president is able to successfully have individuals arrested under such laws to be prosecuted by the courts.
  2. Moreover, the president’s authority over the appointment of the Chairman and commissioners of the Supreme Constitutional Court will provide al-Sisi with substantial powers over the review of legislative laws. The Supreme Constitutional Court in the sole judicial authority in charge of deciding the constitutionality of laws and regulations formulated by the parliament. Therefore, this measure will allow al-Sisi to influence judicial decisions on constitutional reviews, particularly on laws aimed at expanding his own powers or clamping down on dissent. This will also allow the al-Sisi-led government to censor traditional media, which is perceived to publish materials deemed as anti-government in nature, on the basis of “national security”, without the threat that such an exercise of power may attract the condemnation of the judiciary. This, in turn, would allow the president to influence local and international public opinion in favor of his presidency and policies.
  3. The provisions regarding the military will further increase the military establishment’s influence within the civil apparatus of Egypt. They will allow the government to try a varied number of individuals in military courts, regardless of the actual crime. On the one hand, this measure will allow the government to try militants who have engaged in attacks against security forces, such as those affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), IS-affiliated Wilayat Sinai, or disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups, to be tried in military courts. On the other hand, this measure will also allow the government to extend the jurisdiction of military courts to include those individuals who may be perceived by the authorities as being subversive. For example, locals who may have been involved in scuffles with the police during any kind of protest activity in the country could also be tried in military courts on grounds that they assaulted security personnel during the discharge of their duties. This may also include individuals arrested on charges of “espionage” or funding of anti-government groups. This will allow the president to successfully prosecute his opponents without having to adhere to the laws and procedures of civilian courts.
  4. The fact that the appointment of the Minister of Defense can only be done in consultation with the SCAF will increase the influence of the military in Egypt’s civil apparatus. The SCAF is known to be comprised of old guard military officers, who helped al-Sisi during the military coup against former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Al-Sisi is heavily reliant upon the support of the SCAF and the military establishment as a whole to ensure power stability. Therefore, through the appointment of a favorable Minister of Defense, the SCAF will be able to influence legislation and policies on national security. This will also at least partly allow the military to divert funds and resources towards the army, at the expense of other areas, such as economic and social development. The national security rhetoric adopted by the al-Sisi-led government will potentially aid in such a scenario.

Conclusion

Taken as a whole, the implementation of these constitutional amendments will significantly increase President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s powers within the country. However, the authorities had undertaken significant measures to incentivize voting in the nationwide referendum process and the fact that the turnout was only 44.3 percent of the eligible electorate indicates that these amendments are likely not as popular among the local population of Egypt as projected by the government. Opposition groups may attempt to utilize this argument to delegitimize the constitutional amendments and garner support for their anti-government activity. This will likely prompt a harsh response from the current leadership, which may manifest in the form of the detainment or arrest of political leaders, journalists, as well as individuals who are opposed to the constitutional amendments. The mobilization capacity of opposition groups in Egypt is currently very low, and this development has the potential to further adversely impact the ability of the opposition to organize under strong and unified leadership. Therefore, any potential low-level resistance to the constitutional amendments is unlikely to have a significant impact upon the al-Sisi-led government’s hold on political power in the country. This will allow al-Sisi to gradually accumulate further power both by taking advantage of vague laws and through additional amendments to the constitution in the coming years, further cementing his control over the country.

Recommendations

  1. Those operating or residing in Egypt are advised to refrain from discussions with locals on the current political situation, the constitutional amendment process, the Muslim Brotherhood, and criticism toward the government.
  2. Avoid making any statements critical of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, government policies, and ongoing trials, as well as companies, given that legal measures, including deportation and detention, have been taken regardless of nationality. This applies both to public spaces and online, including in social media.
  3. Be advised that authorities may monitor online communications and any statements perceived to be anti-government in nature may increase the risk of detention or even arrest.
  4. In the event that a security checkpoint is encountered, act respectfully and patiently, while cooperating fully with security personnel.
  5. In addition, refrain from photographing or documenting protests and security installations at all costs, as such actions may draw hostility from local residents or confiscation of equipment by security forces, or possible detainment.
  6. As a precaution, refrain from traveling with sophisticated cameras or other features affiliated with journalists, as this may be perceived by the authorities as an attempt to undermine the government and its policies.
  7. As a general precaution, avoid all demonstrations and political gatherings in Egypt due to potential unrest emanating from such events, particularly given the government’s increased crackdown on opposition groups across the country.

Potential for militancy, protest activity heightened during March 26-28 elections; major instability as seen in past years unlikely – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On March 26-28, Egypt will hold Presidential elections. Current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi will be running for reelection against El-Ghad Party leader Moussa Mostafa Moussa.

Moussa has stated that he supports al-Sisi for president, despite his own candidacy. Numerous political opposition leaders declared a boycott of the elections, in protest of the current administration’s detention and alleged pressure on previous candidates to withdraw.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood political organization and other anti-government groups have yet to release official calls for protests during the elections. In recent weeks, authorities announced arrests of Muslim Brotherhood elements “seeking to interrupt the elections and endanger public safety.” On less frequent occasions in past weeks, security forces apprehended militants belonging to the Hasam Movement, a militant group comprised of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements, who were “planning to carry out attacks during the elections”.

The Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai released media on February 11 in which it threatens to attack polling stations across the country during the elections, and warned “the Muslim public” to avoid voting sites and other locales associated with the elections in view of attack operations. The Sunni jihadist group stated the Presidential elections are “the greatest form of polytheism.”

In IS’s official literature on February 15, the group encouraged attacks by its militants and supporters, stating that “attacks will show al-Sisi’s allies that he is incapable of controlling security in the main areas under his rule, let alone distant regions like Sinai, the Western Desert, and areas in Aswan and Upper Egypt.”

Assessments & Forecast

Al-Sisi likely to be reelected

Considering al-Sisi’s current competition in the election, the result is likely predetermined, and al-Sisi will be reelected for another term. Moussa’s candidacy is likely meant to provide the elections with an appearance of being democratic and to lend credibility to al-Sisi’s mandate as head of state upon his reelection. The successful removal of all serious candidates is indicative of the support al-Sisi maintains among Egypt’s military and security elites, who trust that he will protect their interests, especially their financial stakes and Egypt’s overall stability. The detention of two former high-ranking figures of the armed forces demonstrated this, namely former Prime Minister and Egyptian Air Force (EAF) Commander in Chief Ahmed Shafiq, and former Chief of Staff of Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Sami Hafez Anan, who both subsequently left the Presidential race. Al-Sisi could not have placed these long-serving, well-connected military rivals into custody if he did not have the backing of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the heads of Egypt’s intelligence service. In light of this, al-Sisi will likely retain this support in the coming years, rendering a change in the country’s leadership improbable.

Protests likely in lead-up, during elections, but government likely to effectively contain

Though calls for holding anti-government protests during the elections have yet to be issued, they will likely be released in the coming days, given widely held sentiments against the current leadership, and a view of the elections as undemocratic prevailing among the public. Muslim Brotherhood activists release calls for nationwide protests on a weekly basis, and the theme of their anti-government protest activity in the coming week is liable to focus on denouncing the al-Sisi Presidency and elections as illegitimate. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups will likely stage protests in conjunction with the elections.

FORECAST: The rate of protest activity will likely rise over this period relative to recent months. Some of these will be planned, and others will occur on a sporadic, spontaneous basis, likely near polling stations. The protests may devolve into civil unrest, featuring scuffles and localized clashes between participants and security personnel. This would stem from the anti-government nature of the demonstrations and heightened sensitivity over the elections. Events of this volatile nature would likely be forcibly scattered by security forces, including through the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets.

However, this period is unlikely to witness the type of destabilizing unrest seen during Egypt’s revolution and subsequent political upheaval of 2011-2013. In more recent years, the rate of anti-government protest activity and unrest has declined significantly. This is due to various government measures, including the arrests of thousands of anti-government activists and their leaders. This has left such groups without much of its capable leadership who organized political operations and demonstrations, and deprived of a large share of their membership. Citizens’ political will to engage in major protest campaigns has also likely markedly diminished, given protesters’ general lack of success in achieving their goals, and the human toll taken over the course of their pursuits.

Moreover, in advance of recent sensitive political dates and events, authorities have also closed off symbolic places previously used as protest sites, including Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as main thoroughfares. This has prevented protests from materializing, thus averting large-scale violent incidents as seen in 2001-2013, and stopping protest movements from gaining traction and momentum overall. Authorities will once again implement this security strategy from May 26-28, which will likely be effective overall in containing and preventing anti-government demonstrations.

Militancy threats from jihadist, disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups heightened during election period

The rate of militancy-related events in mainland Egypt, including attacks and arrests of militants, has declined in recent years, and more so over past months. However, the potential for militant attacks on March 26-28 will be relatively heightened, as militant groups seek to damage al-Sisi’s reputation for tackling militancy, presenting him as unable to secure the country. A successful attack during the period of the Presidential elections would attract wide media attention for the militant group responsible, given the public and symbolic nature of this period. This would bolster the militant group’s profile, including by its members and supporters, possibly motivating further attacks and drawing recruits to its ranks. This is underscored by an IED attack targeting Alexandria’s chief of police on March 24 which authorities have stated was carried out by the Hasam Movement. A further example of such an event is the most recent attack in mainland Egypt claimed by IS, namely the operation targeting a Coptic Church in Helwan during the holiday season, on December 29, 2017.

As to the statements released by IS and its Sinai-affiliate threatening and calling for attacking polling stations and associated installations, these were likely aimed to deter Egyptians from voting, thus lowering the participation rate in the elections. This would further undermine al-Sisi’s mandate in the view of the Egyptian public, and diminish the reputation of the country’s authorities. This corresponds to IS’s overall strategy in Egypt, which is to weaken Egypt’s leadership, damage the State, in turn replacing it with an Islamic State in the future. Another Sunni jihadist group posing potential dangers during the election period, is the relatively new Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, which was responsible for the large-scale October 20, 2017 Bahariya Oasis attack. According to reports, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam has gained dozens of new members in recent months, including Islamist former members of the security forces, and an attack during the elections would greatly publicize the group’s existence and present it as especially capable.

The Hasam Movement, and similar militant groups consisting of pro-Muslim Brotherhood elements such as Liwaa al-Thawra, likely see the election period as a particularly attractive time to launch attacks. This is in response to the Muslim Brotherhood political organization’s continued banned status and removal from the sanctioned political landscape, and in response to authorities’ ongoing crackdown on the group’s members. These groups target security personnel, government officials, and those aligned with authorities. That said, bystanders face a threat of collateral damage in the event of the attacks. Overall, these groups have not been especially active of late, and the last claimed attack claimed was for an IED detonation at the Myanmar Embassy in Cairo on September 30, 2017, which Hasam claimed to have executed. However, the groups remain in operation, as indicated by periodically recorded arrests of their members over past months, and thus, they pose a persisting threat, especially during the symbolic election period.

FORECAST: Over the coming days, authorities will implement bolstered security protocols around the country, including posting additional security personnel, especially near polling stations and potential protest sites on May 26-28. Security forces will likely carry out raids targeting both militant elements and anti-government activists, to mitigate the potential for militant activity and larger-scale civil unrest to unfold. However, comparatively large gatherings of security personnel present attractive targets for militant groups, which may draw the attention of such elements during the elections. Citizens may view additional security personnel at protest sites as oppressive, exacerbating tensions between the sides, and fomenting localized unrest.

Recommendations

On March 26-28 avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of polling stations, given the heightened threat of militancy and protests posed to these locations during this time period.

Allot for disruptions and plan alternative routes for travel due to the likely closures of main roads and thoroughfares concurrent with the elections.

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

Avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

Remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

New military campaign in North Sinai likely linked to upcoming March 2018 presidential elections – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On February 9, the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAAF) Spokesperson announced the commencement of a large-scale “comprehensive” military operation to “eliminate all terrorist elements” across the country, called “Operation Sinai 2018”, with special emphasis placed on the Sinai Peninsula, Nile Delta, and Western Desert. The Spokesperson also announced an increase of the country’s alert level due to the operations.

As part of the of the campaign, the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) intensified the frequency of its airstrikes targeting militant hideouts throughout North Sinai Governorate, especially in the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle and Central Sinai District. The Egyptian Navy increased its activity along Sinai’s coastal region, while heightened security protocols were recorded at ports and border crossings. Security forces also increased presence in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations. Reports from February 9 indicate that civilian Suez Canal crossings from mainland Egypt to the Sinai, including by vessel and through tunnels, have been closed to civilian traffic due to the military campaign.

On March 8, the EAAF Spokesperson stated that Operation Sinai 2018 had yielded the deaths of 105 Islamic State (IS)-affiliated Wilayat Sinai fighters and the arrests of hundreds of the group’s militants, and that 16 soldiers had also been killed since the beginning of the campaign. The Spokesperson also announced that the EAAF destroyed 1,907 hideouts and weapon storehouses.

Assessments & Forecast

The Egyptian government has achieved partial success in containing militancy threats over the past year, with a reduction in the overall number of attacks. However, the persistence, albeit reduced frequency, of attacks in North Sinai Governorate and mainland Egypt likely motivated this recent operation, demonstrating efforts to mitigate threats from multiple groups, particularly the IS-affiliate Wilayat Sinai. The large-scale attack at a mosque in North Sinai’s Bir al-Abd on November 24, 2017, which killed over 300 people, also likely triggered the operation, and it took a period of months to prepare and mobilize for the current operation.

However, considering the timing of its commencement and execution, the primary motivation for the military campaign is likely political and connected to the upcoming March 2018 presidential elections, in which President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is the leading candidate. President al-Sisi likely initiated the operations in order to boost his status among the Egyptian populace and project an image of power, stability, and intensified efforts to tackle the threat of militancy. Al-Sisi also likely timed the operation to deflect domestic and international criticism away from the election’s perceived lack of legitimacy and toward the issue of counter-terrorism, following the withdrawal or arrest of most of his electoral opponents over the past several weeks. To a lesser but still significant degree, the operation was also likely launched to draw attention away from Egypt’s poor economic conditions and towards a different public issue, namely militancy, and measures taken by authorities to tackle it.

The operations also follow international media reports about Israeli airstrikes against Wilayat Sinai in North Sinai in recent years. The Egyptian government likely intends to use the operations to demonstrate their sovereignty over North Sinai Governorate and their ability to mitigate militant threats with their own forces. This is particularly likely in light of the heightened criticism regarding al-Sisi’s close cooperation with Israeli authorities vis-a-vis the threat of militancy stemming from Wilayat Sinai elements.

Strategically, the nationwide campaign aims largely at isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in North Sinai Governorate. The reported closure of Suez Canal crossings to the movement of civilians, as well as the intensified activity by the Egyptian Navy along the Sinai coastal region, are meant to prevent reinforcements and smugglers from aiding Wilayat Sinai militants, thus putting further pressure on the Sunni jihadist militant group in North Sinai Governorate. The heightened security measures in the vicinity of vital infrastructure and installations likely were put in place to prevent reprisal attacks by militants, which in turn, would embarrass the Egyptian authorities.

FORECAST: The EAAF will likely continue implementing a strategy aimed at further isolating Wilayat Sinai militants in their aforementioned strongholds of Central Sinai Distinct and the Rafah-al-Arish-Sheikh Zuweid triangle. By carrying out simultaneous assaults on these two areas, the EAAF likely seeks to fix militants in their positions, preventing them from reinforcing the two respective areas or conducting attacks to the rear of security forces. The intensified aerial bombardments are meant to hamper militant movements, which in turn, may impede their ability to regroup or conduct attacks in order to force the deployment of Egyptian troops away from the frontlines. Furthermore, tighter inspection is liable to be enforced between Egypt and Gaza at the Rafah border crossings.

Israel permitted Egypt to deploy a large amount of forces into Sinai, as according to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israeli permission is required for such a move. This highlights the increased coordination between the two countries, as they both perceived Wilayat Sinai as a strategic threat. In order to complicate and discourage the security coordination between the two countries, Wilayat Sinai may target southern Israel with rocket fire over the coming days and weeks. While in the short-term, the number of Wilayat Sinai attacks may decrease, given precedent of previous operations by the EAAF in North Sinai Governorate, over the coming months the Sunni jihadist militant group will likely renew its elevated activity in the region. The group will likely lower its profile in order to facilitate this, which would enable it to regroup and carry out multiple attacks against Egyptian security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

How Egypt’s new militant group will impact the threat landscape – Egypt Analysis

Current Situation

On November 3, a previously unknown militant group, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, claimed responsibility for an October 20 attack in western Egypt’s Bahariya Oasis, in which reports state at least 55 security forces personnel were killed during a raid operation targeting a militant base.

In its claim of responsibility, the group introduces itself to the Egyptian public, denouncing Egyptian leadership for its treatment of the populace. The group states that the October 20 attack, which it describes in specific detail, marks the commencement of its “jihad” against government and military authorities in Egypt and proclaims itself to be a group that has exercised a “divine patience.”

The organization memorializes one of its leaders, Emad al-Din Ahmed, a former military officer who became a jihadist, who was killed during a counter-militancy operation on October 31, which included ground raids and airstrikes in a mountainous area near al-Wahat Road, west of Fayoum. Ahmed is reported to have been a deputy of Hesham al-Ashmawy, an al-Qaeda member reportedly operating in the eastern Libya city of Derna, who along with Ahmed had been forced from the Egyptian military’s ranks for professing alleged extremist Islamic beliefs.

The group stated that it freed security forces’ personnel who were kidnapped during the Bahariya Oasis attack, after lecturing them on the principles of Islam, and explaining that Egypt’s leadership is an enemy of the faith. Previous reports had stated that a police officer who had been kidnapped during the October 20 incident was freed during the October 31 operation.

The group appeals to the Egyptian public, asking the country’s citizens to provide Jamaat Ansar al-Islam with various types of support, urging them to join the group’s ranks, as well as sponsor the group financially.

How Egypt's new militant group will impact the threat landscape - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

Assessments & Forecast

While Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is a previously unknown group, the claim of responsibility for the attack is likely credible. Although the Islamic State (IS) maintains a significant presence in the Western Desert where the attack occurred, the organization did not claim the attack, even mentioning it in its monthly literature without taking credit for it. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam is widely reported as linked to al-Qaeda, and several indications support such an affiliation. Following the Bahariya Oasis incident, numerous al-Qaeda online profiles on jihadist channels publicized and praised the attack, while Ahmed’s reported association with the al-Qaeda-loyal Ashmawy would lend credence to the al-Qaeda affiliation. The claim of responsibility’s graphics and wording also resemble those of other al-Qaeda affiliates. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement corresponds to al-Qaeda’s overall strategy of encouraging its affiliates to pursue local-specific goals, in this case to damage Egyptian leadership for its alleged mistreatment of Egypt’s population, as well as its perceived status as an enemy of Islam. IS, in contrast, targets these same interests, but rather for the purpose of destabilizing the state in order to advance the spread of an Islamic caliphate.

The emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Egypt is highly notable in its own right, as the Sunni jihadist group has not maintained an active presence in the country in recent years. This group’s self-introduction comes amidst IS’s sustained territorial losses yielded in Syria and Iraq, where it only maintains control of a few swaths of land. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely chose to reveal its existence at this particular time to present itself an attractive alternative for IS fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq, as IS is increasingly seen as on the decline. The significant length of time that passed before Jamaat Ansar al-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack and unveiled itself as a group is likely due to communications difficulties with al-Qaeda’s central organization, particularly given the group’s presence in Egypt’s remote Western Desert, and that it is a new organization likely in the initial stages of establishing these contacts and communications capabilities. However, this could have been intentional, as the group may have waited to announce its existence to maintain a low profile and avoid drawing authorities’ attention and thus allow its militants to regroup.

As seen in the group’s eulogizing of one of its commanders who had been an officer in the Egyptian military, Ahmed most likely maintained connections with members of the military sympathetic to Islamist militancy, who given the success of the October 20 attack, likely informed the militants that the raid was to take place in advance. This would bolster our previous assessment that the militants likely had prior intelligence of the security operation’s launching from informants within the security forces. Furthermore, while the size of the group’s personnel has not been established as of yet, it displayed high capabilities during the Bahariya Oasis attack, which were likely enhanced by former military officers such as Ahmed. This was witnessed in the group’s strategically entrenched positions during the ambush, which included directing RPG and heavy gunfire from higher ground at both the front and rear of the security convoy, which significantly immobilized its personnel, as well as in the detonation of IEDs that followed. This complex multi-pronged attack, including the use of explosives, displayed high sophistication in both method and technical expertise, and the group’s remaining members likely retain these capabilities and knowledge.

Given Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s likely affiliation with al-Qaeda, as well as its operations in Egypt’s Western Desert, the group most likely maintains ties with the Mujahideen Shura Council of Derna (MSCD), which is based across the border in Derna. The MSCD militia coalition’s largest faction, the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, is aligned with al-Qaeda. Jamaat al-Islam is likely to cooperate with the MSCD towards damaging shared enemies including Egyptian leadership, as well as Cairo’s Libyan ally, the Libyan National Army (LNA), whose dominion extends over much of eastern Libya. Such cooperation will likely include the exchange of weaponry and supplies across the border, as well as personnel on some occasions.

FORECAST: The group’s claim of responsibility will likely prompt a competition amongst militant groups operating in Egypt for manpower, prestige, and legitimacy. In response to Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s announcement, IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups are now likely further motivated to conduct attacks in order to continue to convince Egyptians to join and support them rather than defect to this new organization, raising the potential for attacks in mainland Egypt at this this time. In terms of recruitment and manpower, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam’s call for jihadist-style militancy against Egyptian authorities would appeal to those in line with IS’s doctrine, while the specific local aims of the group to attack Egypt’s leadership for its alleged maltreatment of Egyptians would attract those of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, including more radical elements part of groups such as the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra. Al-Qaeda has also attempted in the past to establish such relationships with disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militants. Furthermore, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam likely utilized a recent downtick in activity by both IS and disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood groups in mainland Egypt in recent weeks to portray itself as strong relative to these other organizations in an attempt to gain support.

FORECAST: In response, Egyptian authorities will prosecute further security raids and direct Egyptian Air Force (EAF) airstrikes targeting the group in Egypt’s Western Desert, aimed in part at preventing Jamaat Ansar al-Islam from strengthening itself through any cooperation with the MSCD and smugglers across the border in Libya. Towards this end, Cairo will likely heighten coordination with the LNA, and in some instances, as seen on May 26 and on a few occasions afterwards, will likely order EAF airstrikes against the MSCD in Derna. Furthermore, Egyptian authorities will seek to identify and arrest militant informers likely maintained by the new group within the military and security services. However, given the challenges inherent in policing the extensive Western Desert and its expansive international borders, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam will likely continue to operate there and will attempt to perpetrate further attacks. Furthermore, it remains possible that the group maintains personnel in other areas of Egypt, including in more heavily-populated areas in its interior cities, which would also be targeted by security forces.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.

 

 

Read more reports in our security blog

Threat to aviation by anti-tank guided missiles highlighted by al-Arish Airport attack case study – Special Analysis Report

Case study: December 20 attack on al-Arish Airport

On December 20, an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM)  targeted a helicopter on the ramp of al-Arish Airport, located in Egypt’s North Sinai Governorate. The helicopter carried, among others, the Egyptian interior and defense ministers who disembarked from the aircraft shortly before the attack.

On December 21, the Islamic State (IS)-linked news agency released a report on the attack, alongside a claim of responsibility by the local IS affiliate Wilayat Sinai, stating that the group had prior knowledge of the arrival of the ministers and dispatched a team of militants to ambush the entourage. It further stated that the attack was conducted with the use of a 9M133 “Kornet” ATGM that targeted an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that was escorting the VIPs.

Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack
Initial IS-linked report detailing the al-Arish attack

Later that day, the IS-linked news agency released a video showing the attack itself, in which the ministers and their entourage can be seen next to the helicopter with its navigation lights still on, which contrary to initial publications was a UH-60 “Blackhawk”, as it was hit by an ATGM.

Edition number 111 of IS’s weekly al-Naba newsletter published on December 22 included a more detailed and contradictory account of the attack, stating that militants spotted a helicopter with a “unique shape” and concluded that this would be a high value target.

This prompted militants to dispatch an ATGM team to a position overlooking the airport with the objective of destroying the “unique aircraft”.

It is important to mention that the Egyptian Air Force (EAAF) reportedly operated two Blackhawk helicopters prior to the attack, mainly in the role of VIP transport. These aircraft are much more distinct than others that would commonly be seen in Sinai’s airspace, such as Apaches or Mi-17s.

Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS's weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports
Report of the al-Arish attack released in IS’s weekly newsletter with details contradicting initial reports

Analysis of the missile launch:

While there has been no corroboration as to the type of missile used by IS in the attack at the time of writing, Wilayat Sinai have employed Kornets several times in the past, most notably in July 2015 when the group used the missile to attack an Egyptian naval vessel off the coast of North Sinai’s Rafah.

If the missile used was in fact a Kornet as IS claims, given that the missile was in flight for 14 seconds from launch until it hit its target and given that the speed of a standard Kornet missile is between 250 and 300 meters a second, it would place the launcher between 3.5 and 4.2 km from the target, well within the Kornet’s effective daytime range.

By comparing the video and imagery analysis of Al-Arish Airport, we concluded that the missile was launched from an elevated structure or a dirt berm southwest of the helicopter’s position, as can be see in the following map:

Analysis of the Missile against Helicopter in Al-Arish-Airport

Threat posed to aviation from proliferation of ATGMs

The attack does not represent a precedent, but rather serves as an opportunity to highlight the threat posed to aviation from the proliferation of ATGMs in the hands of numerous militant groups in multiple countries. Several accounts of ATGMs being fired against aircraft were recorded in recent years, including successfully targeting aircraft in flight, with the most prominent example being the downing of an Israeli Air Force (IAF) helicopter by Hezbollah in Lebanon on August 12, 2006. This is especially important as this threat is often overlooked in comparison to the more well known threat posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

While MANPADS pose a more prominent threat to aircraft, as they were designed with the specific goal of targeting aircraft, they have several shortcomings compared to ATGMs. These mainly include being more delicate, having parts with short shelf lives, requiring greater expertise and training to successfully operate, and being more rare. ATGMs still require expertise and training, although less than MANPADS, and are generally more durable and can be sustained for operations over longer time and in harsher conditions. Most importantly however, ATGMs are significantly more common than MANPADS, and with the destabilization of countries such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, thousands of these systems, of different generations and capabilities, were taken away from military storage and ended in the hands of militant groups across the world. This is in addition to illegal purchases through stable countries that do not adhere to international norms, such as Belarus and North Korea.

As noted, ATGMs were not designed primarily to hit aircraft and therefore do not excel in it, however, the features for which they were designed, namely attacking a comparatively slow moving target, still make them effective weapons against aircraft. This is mostly relevant during the takeoff and landing stages of both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, when these are most vulnerable due to their low speed and altitude. In addition, while there are several options of countermeasures against MANPADS that can be used by civil aircraft, countermeasures against ATGMs are fewer, and often involve explosives, making them currently non-optional for civil aircraft.

An additional weakness exposed in the recent attack is the dependency on local security forces and their protocols, which can often be low in standard. The attack occurred in a region currently undergoing prolonged and high intensity militant activity, in a city that was hit by the most attacks in the region in recent months. Despite this fact, the VIPs were flown in a distinct helicopter that draws attention, the airport lacks even basic and cheap means in place that may disrupt or prevent a missile attack, such as walls that would block line of sight into the airport, or metal nets that would negate the missile’s shaped charge mechanism. All of these expose the weaknesses of local security protocols, which were a direct factor in the attack.

Recommendations

The threat of ATGMs should be considered as a potential factor while conducting risk and vulnerability surveys, particularly in unstable regions.

Prior to conducting aerial activity in countries with known militant activity, contact us at [email protected] to consult on the possible threat posed by relevant militant groups’ weapons and capabilities and ways to mitigate these.

Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for security surveys of airports.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups – Egypt Analysis

Executive Summary:

Of the several militant groups that operate in mainland Egypt, the two most active ones currently are the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra, both composed of disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood elements.
While these are overtly two separate entities, there are many similarities between the groups that point to a joint origin, as well as possibly ongoing cooperation.
Regardless, both groups proved to be of high and growing capabilities, and are thus likely to attempt to continually expand their operations throughout mainland Egypt and conduct more sophisticated attacks targeting governmental locales, individuals perceived to be associated with the government, as well as security forces.
Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Ideology & Goals of Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood Groups

Both the Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra subscribe in essence to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, and set as an objective to remove the “regime of the military coup” and replace it with what they perceive as the democratically elected and legitimate Muslim Brotherhood-led government, similar to the model of the June 2012-July 2013 government.
However, one distinct difference between these groups and the current official Muslim Brotherhood leadership is the approach towards the application of violence. While the official stance of the current leadership of the Brotherhood movement is that it should be a “peaceful and democratic organization”, the approach of the militant groups is to sanction measured violence in the context of achieving the political movement’s overall objectives.
In this context, while given the organizations’ structures and their opaqueness, the characteristics of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the militant groups remain unclear, there are two likely possibilities, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
First, the dichotomy could be a manifestation of an internal struggle between an “old guard” that adheres to the guidelines of avoiding the use of deadly force, and a “new guard” that grew frustrated with the perceived inability to achieve the political goals strictly using non-violent means, prompting it to change strategies.
The second option is that the disconnect between the political movement and the various militant groups is maintained at an overt level only, in order to avoid causing a delegitimization of the whole Muslim Brotherhood movement. However, in this scenario, there would be at least a limited covert direct communication and subordination system. Should this be the case, it would mean that the entities in effect serve as a political and military wing of the organization, even if this structure is only accepted by parts of the overall movement.

Strategy & Evolution

Naturally, both Hasam Movement and Liwaa al-Thawra’s modus operandi and target selection are derived from their ideology and strategic goals. The militant groups target government facilities and personnel perceived to be associated with the government, as well as members of the judiciary. This is due to the perception that they are an integral part of the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, given their role in sentencing members of the group to prolonged incarcerations and even to death. Additionally, the main target of attacks are member of security forces, as they are perceived as those executing the will of the “illegitimate regime”, and are the main operational threat posed to the militant groups.
As a result of this, the groups are less likely to target Westerners, Western institutes and strategic facilities. The main reason for this is that their vision is to ultimately restore complete control over Egypt while causing as little damage to its infrastructure and core as possible, as they will need these elements, along with foreign tourism and investment, to more easily govern the state in the future. That said, it cannot be ruled out that the radicalization process that caused their creation will persist should the groups fail to reach their objectives, prompting them to conduct high profile attacks and attacks against soft targets out of desperation, however this remains a remote possibility at this time. Nonetheless, despite currently discreetly targeting state actors and attempting to avoid civilian casualties, some of the attacks by the groups caused collateral damage, thus indicating that they are willing to accept causing at least limited civilian casualties in order to achieve their goals.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

Furthermore, both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra’s capabilities were relatively high to start, as shown by their own published videos depicting their training, as well as by their attacks which at times are aimed at high-value targets. This is further indicated by the claims of responsibility for these attacks, depicting mostly advanced surveillance and intelligence collection techniques, as well as tactical proficiency. This itself serves as an indication that members of the group have previous training and experience, which may be due to previous membership in now defunct militant groups, such as Popular Resistance in Giza, Revolutionary Punishment, or even Ajnad Misr. This may also indicate that the groups have attracted former members of the security establishment, who became disillusioned with the state of affairs of post-revolution Egypt, and applied their skills in the ranks of these militant groups.
Additionally, while both groups showed relative high capabilities since inception in July-August 2016, these have continued to progress with time, from very limited scale operations such as assassinations, to larger scale and more sophisticated attacks, such as vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs). While Hasam is the slightly more veteran of the groups, the fact that the development in capabilities of both groups overlapped may serve as an indication of direct cooperation.

 Links between Hasam & Liwaa al-Thawra

In addition to the aforementioned, media publications by both groups highlight the similarities and connections between them:
Videos issued by the respective groups show emphasis on similar tactics and using similar techniques: Assassinations, drive-by shootings, IED making, assembly and activation, firing ranges with small arms fire and shoulder fired rocket launchers, small unit tactics- including combined and coordinated attacks by several small forces.
Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Shooting range and sentry takedown training by Hasam (left) and Liwaa al-Thawra (right)

 

Moreover, and in addition to the aforementioned similarities in modus operandi of the attacks themselves, the claims of responsibility by the respective groups use similar graphics and put an emphasis on the intelligence collection and surveillance element prior to conducting the mission, as well as of the battle damage assessment phase after the attack is conducted.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Photo reports of attacks issued by Hasam (left) and Liwaa al-Thawra (right)

 

Furthermore, while never issuing a joint statement thus far, following the December 11, 2016 suicide bombing in a Coptic church in Cairo which was later claimed by the Islamic State (IS), both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra issued separate statements condemning the attack less than 15 minutes apart. Both statements used similar rhetoric, offering condolences to the victims and their families, stating that targeting “innocent Egyptians” should not be accepted, and that the only legitimate targets are those associated with the “corrupt government”.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Statements issued by Hasam (top) and Liwaa al-Thawra (bottom) condemning the December 2016 suicide bombing of a Coptic church in Cairo.

 

Lastly, following two of the overall three attacks conducted thus far by Liwaa al-Thawra, the Hasam Movement issued congratulatory messages through their official media branch, affirming the positive connections between the groups.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security
Hasam’s congratulates Liwaa al-Thawra’s on assassination of a Brigadier General near Cairo

 

Future Projections

Previous attacks conducted by both of the groups show that they are not constrained to a specific area of the mainland, and have the ability to operate throughout large parts of it. As the respective groups are likely not large, given the still relative low frequency of their attacks, this is a further indication of their operational capabilities. As a result, regional cells are probably dispatched between different locales to attack notable targets, in likely addition to local cells capitalizing on coincidences to attack targets of opportunity which are typically of lesser quality. This would also account for the large number of attacks in and around Cairo, due to the city’s significance and the fact that it offers more quality targets.

Disenfranchised Muslim Brotherhood militant groups - Egypt Analysis | MAX Security

As the at least positive connection, and at most direct cooperation between Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra had been affirmed, it remains possible that the two groups made a conscious decision, or were directed by a possible higher level leadership to remain separate. Such a conduct would reduce the risks posed to either of the groups in case cells of a different group are compromised, as information extracted from these will not threaten fighters, assets and plans of the other group. Such procedures and protocols increase the likelihood of survivability of each group, and significantly reduce the potential that they both will be fully eliminated, at least within close time proximity.
The element of survivability had proven to be vital for both groups given their limited sizes and resources. Similarly, the fluctuations in their activities, along with the spread of their operations can also be associated with reducing their profile in order to evade the high intensity security operations waged against both groups. Thus, militants will go into hiding or completely escape the area, wait until immediate ramifications by security forces expire, or will exploit a weakness in their system, and then resume offensive operations.
While such operations witnessed successes, killing militants from both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawras in actions that were confirmed by the respective groups, the fact that the groups remain operational and even have expanded their operations is a testament to their overall high capabilities. With this in mind, while both groups may alternately limit their operations, particularly given the ongoing nationwide state of emergency, overall they are liable to seek to further expand their operations by conducting more notable attacks against high profile targets over the coming months. While security forces may foil some of these operations, given precedent at least some of these are likely to successful materialize. Furthermore, despite this desire to expand, both Hasam and Liwaa al-Thawra remain small in size and limited in resources, and given their proven experience and proficiency will be cautious of overstretching and overexposing themselves, thus any possible expansion in operation is liable to be measured.

Recommendations

Travel to Cairo and Alexandria may continue while adhering to all security precautions regarding militancy and civil unrest. Consult with us for itinerary-based travel recommendations.

Avoid all travel to the North Sinai Governorate and border areas with Libya, Sudan, and Israel due to the persistent risk for militant attacks, kidnappings, and general lawlessness.

We further advise to avoid nonessential travel to the Southern Sinai Peninsula, while maintaining heightened vigilance in the Suez Canal Zone, the Upper Nile area, and the Nile Delta region due to an increased risk of unrest and the heightened risk of militant attacks. Before traveling to Sharm al-Sheikh, confirm that flight operations are continuing and have not been impacted by recent militant threats.

In Cairo, maintain heightened vigilance and continue to allot extra time for travel due to possible delays emanating from increased security deployments, checkpoints, and closures throughout the capital.

As a general security precaution, remain vigilant in areas surrounding and avoid the immediate vicinity of government installations, police stations, and religious centers, particularly churches, as these locations remain under elevated threat of militant attacks. When traveling in central squares, or in areas with persistent police deployments, avoid the immediate vicinity of security forces, particularly fixed traffic booths, as such personnel and facilities have increasingly come under attack by militant elements.