Strategic implications of Libya’s Political Isolation Law
With the world’s attention fixated across the Mediterranean on the spiraling Syrian conflict, the efforts of Libya’s elected leaders to rehabilitate their nation have been stung by the poisonous barb of militia power-politics.
On May 5, the popularly-elected General National Congress (GNC) passed the Political Isolation Law, prohibiting former Gaddafi regime members from holding political office over the next ten years. The law reportedly passed with a majority of 164 votes out of 200 total, with only four members rejecting the legislation.
The overwhelming support for the law in the GNC is as much as an illusion as a desert mirage. 10 days prior to the vote on April 28, hundreds of staunchly “revolutionary” militiamen from Misrata and Tripoli’s outskirts entered the capital and laid siege to top government ministries, demanding they be purged of all “Gaddafi loyalists” and refusing to depart until a vote on the Political Isolation Law was held. For days, the Zidan administration stood firm against their demands, while a number of GNC members insisted on holding the vote in eastern Libya, away from the militias’ gun-barrels and armored vehicles.
Intelligence Analysis: Mounting tensions with Tunisia’s Jihadists
The month of March 2013 has witnessed an increase in tensions between local Tunisian Salafist networks, the newly formed government of P.M. Laarayedh, and the country’s secular/liberal societal factions.
On March 26, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia (AST) issued a warning on social media towards P.M. Laarayedh, after he condemned Tunisia’s Salafist minority as responsible for recent violence in an interview with French media that same day. The post featured a threat to topple the government from Abu Iyad al-Tunisi, a prominent jihadist founder of AST suspected of orchestrating the September 11, 2012 riots at the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Following those riots, Abu Iyad was targeted for arrest at the al-Fatah Mosque in Tunis, but escaped after his supporters confronted security forces.
Iyad’s warning came days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), issued a new message calling on jihadists across the region to to join its ranks and take up arms against French assets as well as Western-sympathetic local governments in the Arab World. The message included a specific call towards Ansar al-Sharia members in Tunisia, which was reportedly received positively by the group.
On March 27, the Tunisian government announced that it would take measures to curb the flow of Tunisian jihadists to the conflict in Syria, citing concerns over their return to the country to engage in militant activity. Reports indicate that thousands of Tunisians are currently participating in both the Syrian and Malian conflict. In Syria, Tunisian nationals are estimated to comprise 30-40 percent of all foreign fighters. The majority of Tunisian jihadists fighting in Syria hail from outlying communities in the west and south of the country, primarily the town of Ben Guerdane, located near the Libyan border. Multiple Tunisian nationals also participated in a deadly raid against Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013.
Following the 2010-11 Tunisian revolution, Salafist-jihadist elements have increased their activity substantially. Following the ousting of the Ben Ali regime, previously strict anti-Islamist policing policies were forgone, while the ensuing security vacuum enabled the establishment of training camps and weapons smuggling networks in outlying areas. Training camps near the Libyan and Algerian borders are currently meant to facilitate the indoctrination and transfer of Tunisian nationals to conflicts elsewhere in the region, including in Syria, Mali, and Algeria.
Intelligence Analysis: Jihadist militant threats in North Africa and the Sahel
By now the name Mokhtar Belmokhtar is familiar to anyone watching security-related events unfold in Saharan Africa. Since a January 16 raid executed by his “Masked Brigade” in Algeria, which led to the deaths of dozens of hostages, the one-eyed smuggler extraordinaire’s picture has been broadcast across TV and computer screens worldwide. As Western policymakers continue to adjust their strategy in the war on terror, it is important to understand Belmokhtar’s accomplishment in its true context: a victory of a thriving jihadist operational network.
As it turns out, the Masked Brigade’s attack was not, as reports originally indicated, a reprisal for French intervention in northern Mali. In fact, Western security officials recently stated that the attack was planned before January 11, when France intervened. This instead was simply intended to be a standard kidnap-and-ransom mission – a fundraiser and terrorist attack rolled into one.
However, northern Mali does play a role in the attack’s execution. The region has become a sanctuary for militants from Nigeria to Somalia who need free range to learn from experienced veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Belmokhtar’s men trained for and planned their attack in northern Mali. They raised funds by ransoming kidnap victims and smuggling drugs, as well as Belmokhtar’s trademark product, Marlboro cigarettes. They also smuggled fighters and weapons, many of which came from the caches of Libya’s former dictator, Moammar Ghaddafi.
Strategic Analysis: Algeria’s Growing Role in the War on Terror
Why is the United States cementing its support for Algeria, who just so happens to be a staunch ally of the Assad regime while cozying up to Iran? It’s a consideration US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likely had in the back of her mind during her latest talks in Algeria this week, the only North Africa stop on her way to the Balkans.
While Algeria has remained little more than a blip on the international media’s radar, its strategic importance has skyrocketed in the wake of the Arab Spring. After the fall of secular dictators across North Africa, the military-backed Abdelaziz Bouteflika regime has emerged as the last dependable ally in the war on terror in an age where the US needs all the friends it can get.
The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?
After almost a century of fighting and with little to show for, the traditionally nomadic and ethnic Tuareg people of North Africa are suddenly on the verge of accomplishing one of their premier goals- securing the territory needed to establish the state of Azawad within today’s northern Mali. The Tuaregs, who number some 1.2 million people in the region, are one of the many distinct ethnic groups who continue to shake North Africa’s geo-political future. In doing so, the Tuaregs have utilized their primary military front, the secular-nationalist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) to accomplish their military objectives. Furthermore, their latest offensive and the subsequent seizure of large swaths of territory has surprised many with the speed and firepower deployed. To that point, their latest gains are primarily due to two major developments – the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the alliance between Islamists and Tuaregs in Mali.
Even before Mali started hitting the headlines this past week, town after town along the northern Mali-Algeria border began to fall to the Tuareg-Islamist insurgents. Moreover, some 200,000 people have been displaced in the last three months alone. To that point, Malian soldiers – mainly ethnic sub-Saharan Africans – who once had the upper hand against the formerly lightly armed Tuareg insurgents were now facing a heavily armed, reinforced, and highly motivated fighting force. Simply put, the Mali army found itself outgunned and undersupplied to fight against a determined enemy in one of the harshest environments on the planet. Since the rebellion began in January, the mounting military defeats pressed the country’s junior officers and soldiers to seek a solution. Therefore, the now disgruntled and demoralized army decided to launch their coup d’état and seized power on March 22 from the Western-backed, now deposed President. Since then, little has gone the junta’s way, as the mutineers, including their leader – US military trained Captain Sanogo – were undoubtedly surprised, not only by the international outcry against them, but also the rebel offensive in the north that has seized territory roughly the size of France in just one week. Continue reading The Mali coup d’état: The rise of a new Islamist state?→
The Arab Spring: The Decline of the Arab Nation-State?
By Danny B.
The “Arab Spring,” simplistically coined as a regional freedom and democracy movement, is leading to protracted periods of sectarian fighting and an accelerated breakdown of the Arab states.
The genesis of Arab states is in mandates maintained by European powers, Britain and France, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War One. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, with reluctant consent from Moscow, carved up zones of influence for the two colonial powers in the Middle East. As a result, newly independent Arab states were hastily crafted without much consideration for outstanding sectarian conflicts. Generally speaking, concepts of nation-states are rather foreign to the region, thus a lack of unifying narratives, combined with outstanding internal sectarian conflicts, and destined these Arab states to be plagued with a myriad of seemingly irreversible problems.
For decades, Arab states have attempted to establish a variety of political platforms to ensure economic growth, security, and increase sovereign power. Excluding the oil-rich GCC monarchs, the political concepts of Arab socialism (Baathism), pan-Arabism, and secular-nationalism have failed. Then the collective Arab defeat in the Six Day War against Israel, compelled many in the Muslim world to seek a new sociopolitical answer to the Jewish State and the West. Their defeat, in addition to other factors, was one catalyst for the Islamic awakening in those nations. That said, moderate political Islamic movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, endured decades of modest, yet solid beginnings as a result of suppressive secular dictatorships. But with the weakening or ousting of these leaders, the political Islamists have seized the initiative, thus set to rule many Arab states. Most surprising however, are the unprecedented gains by more radical Salafist sects throughout the region – at the expense of inept liberal parties – which has propelled them to lead the new opposition against their new rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to note that Salafist Islam comes in various degrees, but the their burgeoning influence results from the work of the most radical Salafists. Their surge has become one of the most important consequences of the “Arab Spring.” For these reasons, this Salafist stream now appears to be the primary obstacle for more moderate political Islam, embodied in parties such as the Freedom and Justice in Egypt, or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia.
One tribe’s cooperation with various militant groups will continue to challenge stability in some of Africa’s most vital nations
By Jay R.
Since the downfall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya early last year, weapons proliferation throughout the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise and of primary concern. It is now widely known that masses of Libyan weaponry have made their way into the hands of such militant groups as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Libyan weaponry has traveled as far as the Gaza Strip and appeared in hand of militant groups there.
With the recent unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, the above-mentioned groups have been deeply reported on. However, one tribe, heavily active in Africa’s Sahel desert region is operating under the radar in comparison. The Tuareg tribe, composed of 1.2 million people, is historically nomadic. They have long roamed northwest Africa, primarily through the nations of Algeria, Libya, Mali, and Niger. Today, the group has become sedentary, the result of which has seen the Tuaregs actively engage such countries, particularly the Malian government, for stakes in power sharing and wealth benefits from the country’s natural resources.
The ongoing battle for the Tuareg’s perceived rights most recently manifested in the two-year Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and Niger from 2007-2009. This rebellion was ended through a series of peace talks and amnesty allowances; however, the conflict persists to this day as the Malian government regularly takes on the Tuareg militants along the Nigerian border.
In the absence of collective nationalism, the transitional government must buy the loyalty of renegade militias with resources it may not have.
Libya is currently undergoing a critical phase of its transition process, as the recognized government (NTC) attempts to assert its power over the country. The focal point of these efforts lies at the reformation of the Libyan national military. In post Gaddafi-Libya, this feat requires garnering the trust of powerful tribal militias, many of whom are reluctant to relinquish their hard-fought positions acquired during the civil war.
Efforts to establish a national military reached a crucial phase in January, when the NTC named Yussef Al-Mangush as chief of staff. The appointment has since been rejected by two powerful coalitions of tribal militias; the Thwars coalition, which includes the Misrata and Zintan factions; and the Cyrenaica Military Council (CMC), composed of militias in eastern Libya. Continue reading In Libya, The Militias Have The Upper Hand→
The Middle East and North Africa In 2012: What Lies Ahead?
The feelings of hope and opportunity initially evoked by the Arab Spring have evolved into fear that the region may be sliding into a new status quo of instability. We sweep the region from Morocco to Iran to determine that 2012 will be one of the most crucial years in the modern history of the Middle East.
While North Africa by and large experienced the most significant change from the Arab Spring uprisings, it would be a grave mistake to place the fate of these politically diverse set of nations into one. In Morocco, the people still have great respect for the region’s oldest monarchy, sentiment which prevented widespread unrest from engulfing the nation this past year. The recent victory of moderate Islamist factions in parliament forces the monarchy to balance between their wishes, while keeping Morocco an attractive address for foreign investment to keep the economy on its feet. While Morocco can be expected to remain relatively stable, a widening gap between rich and poor and growing unemployment only works to the favor of the liberal February 20 reformers and the outlawed Islamist Justice and Spirituality movement, which currently remain marginalized.
In Algeria, the situation is quite different. The country emerged unscathed from the Arab Spring, not out of any sort of respect for the military-backed government, but rather out of fears for a repeat of the country’s bloody civil war which is still fresh in the minds of most of the population. While stability prevailed in 2011, tensions are brewing beneath the surface as Algerians come to realize that they are indeed the last nation to tolerate a corrupt military dictatorship which has failed to provide both physical and economic security. The success of Islamist parties to the East and West has emboldened Algeria’s own conservative opposition to demand reforms ahead of the upcoming elections-slated for the Spring of 2012. Moreover Bouteflika’s ailing health places the military and its allies in a considerable predicament, as replacing Bouteflika without elections will only provide fuel to an increasingly disillusioned population. The loss of the Bouteflika regime would spell a considerable setback in North Africa’s war against Al Qaeda, which despite recent losses- still has its sights set on fomenting instability in Algeria.
While its people face incredible hardship under a corrupt regime, Algeria’s bloody recent history remains in fresh in the minds of anyone seeking to rise up.
While much of North Africa has been swept by political or social changes, Algeria’s political system has remained virtually untouched, with its short-lived and decentralized protest movement failing to resonate with the population until now. Several factors have attributed to this relative calm.
Like many North African countries, Algeria was a French colony, however unlike many countries, Algeria fought for its independence in a bloody war that lasted 8 years. In part, the Algerian nationality was built and forged during this conflict. This level of nationalism rarely exists in the Arab world; it can be seen in Algeria and periodically in Egypt, as it is in direct contradiction to conservative Islamic beliefs.
In the late 80’s the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) socialist faction was dominated the Algerian political system. Starting from 1987, the FLN’s influence began to wane as the economy, based on the production of crude oil and natural gas, collapsed due to a sharp decrease prices. In 1989 the FLN announced the formation of a new constitution which denounced socialism, promised freedom of speech and other personal freedoms. Continue reading Understanding Algeria→