Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Libya: Prelude to civil war?

Libya's political environment remains heavily fractured despite the emergence of a UN-backed unity government. The unity government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) has taken up residence in Tripoli; however, the two other governments, the Tripoli-based GNC and Tobruk-based HoR have refused to recognise it officially.

There are no indications of an impending deal, despite massive international support for the GNA. This has created conditions for a return to a civil war given that each of the three governments has the support of armed forces.

One impending area of competition between the three, which could signal the start of a deterioration in the security environment, is the status of Sirte. The city, located on Libya's northern coastline, is controlled by Islamic State forces. Since the start of the year these forces have expanded further along the coast and besieged or captured oil export and processing towns and sites.

The IS assault has raised international concern which has viewed the IS surge in North Africa as a direct threat to Europe. Libya's international partners have been keen to create a unified government; however, local disputes have prevented this. In the interim, local forces have begun preparing to repulse IS from Sirte knowing that by so doing, their negotiation position would be greatly improved.

In recent days, forces linked to the HoR, the Libyan National Army, have begun preparing for an offensive east of Sirte. A noticeable build up has been reported in the vicinity of Ajdabiya. Forces linked to Misratah, a strong city west of Sirte, which is home to many GNC members, has also begun deploying its forces in preparation for an assault.

The UN-backed GNA has responded with alarm and has called on both sides to desist from attempting separate assaults, knowing that if either is successful that its own position would be greatly undermined. In addition there are concerns that the competition to retake Sirte may end in clashes between Misratah and LNA forces.

These concerns have already started to come to fruition. On the 3rd of May, rival armed groups clashed in Zillah, 400km south of Sirte. The violence reportedly involved forces linked to the Libyan National Army (LNA) and those linked to the pro-Misratah Islamist Omar Mukhtar Brigade. As a side note, the Omar Mukhtar Brigade are one of a number of militias which have been involved in fighting against the LNA for control of Benghazi since 2014.

In the absence of a political agreement, local competition is likely to result in further instability and clashes which could lay the platform for a wider conflict. The Islamic State, under severe pressure, will seek to stoke tensions and it may look to conduct further probing attacks against its rivals or conduct bombings outside of its area of operation, including in Tripoli, over the near-term.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Iran-Saudi Tensions Top List of 2016 MENA Region Challenges

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia will top the challenges in the MENA region in 2016. More on this here

Elections in Iraq

Iran's elections are due to be held in February. I explore the polls and the competition between the hardliners and conservatives. Read it here

Zika in the Americas

My latest update for red24 on the Zika virus infections. Focuses on the Americas, mostly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A new cycle of violence in Israel

Israel and the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) have experienced a wave of civil unrest and associated violence since early October. The primary hotspots for protests have been religious sites, borders between Jewish settlements and Palestinian communities, as well as Israeli security force posts, checkpoints and border crossing points. Coinciding with this violence, knife, vehicular and shooting attacks have spiked considerably and have spread to Israel with notable recent incidents reported in Beersheba, Tel Aviv, western Jerusalem and Dimona. The protests and violence are linked to disputes over access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. Palestinian Muslims have accused the Israeli authorities of attempting to change the status quo in the area regarding access to the site. Visits by right-wing Jewish and Israeli political personalities have further stoked tensions and mistrust though the course of 2015. Indeed, associated low-level unrest and tensions as well as the general relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis have declined since the events of July and August 2014, when Israel and Hamas fought a major conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock (background) and Al-Aqsa Mosque (foreground).

Monday, October 12, 2015

red24: Egypt’s parliamentary elections

Egypt has entered an election phase with legislative elections due to be held from mid-October to early December. The election period coincides with ongoing insecurity in numerous areas of the country and attempts by the military-backed government to stabilise the political system, encourage economic growth and eliminate its domestic opponents. The forthcoming election, which is unlikely to result in any meaningful changes to the political system, is likely to be preceded by an increase in local level election-related rallies while a number of parties opposed to the military, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), are expected to boycott the poll and may increase anti-government protests marginally in the run up to and during the election phases. Non-state armed groups may also seek to disrupt the voting and any state-initiated election events as part of their overall strategy to undermine the military-backed regime. Protests and acts of violence will, however, not be severe and the current baseline security risks will remain largely unchanged.