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December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria

Algiers gave indications of downgrading relationship with Russia; court sentenced former senior state officials to prison as part of govt’s anti-corruption drive.

Algiers seemed to distance itself from Russia. Defence ministry late Nov said joint military manoeuvres with Russia scheduled to take place 16-28 Nov on Algerian territory had been cancelled. Several media outlets, including The New Arab 1 Dec, alleged Algeria was downgrading military cooperation with Russia due to U.S. pressure, including sanction threat. President Tebboune’s visit to Russia to discuss deepening strategic partnership, initially scheduled for late Dec, did not take place. Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Council coordinator for North Africa, Brett McGurk, 6 Dec met with Tebboune in capital Algiers to discuss Algiers’ relationship with Moscow, among other topics. Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab 3 Dec announced govt’s willingness to revive GALSI gas pipeline project connecting Algeria to Italy; 18 Dec suggested exporting country’s spare electricity capacity to Europe.

France lifted visa restrictions for Algerian nationals. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin 18 Dec visited Algiers, announced return to “normal consular relations” with Algeria, suggesting that Paris will no longer limit number of visas delivered to Algerians; France in Sept 2021 reduced visa quotas for Algerians and other North Africans in bid to pressure govts to step up cooperation against irregular migration. In interview with French daily Le Figaro, Tebboune 29 Dec welcomed new “relationships of trust” between France and Algeria.

In other important developments. Algiers court 1 Dec sentenced former President Bouteflika-era PMs, Ahmed Ouyahia, Abdelmalek Sellal and Noureddine Bedoui, to ten to 12 years in prison for corruption. Army 11 Dec killed three suspected jihadist militants and detained another one during operation at Mount Gouraya in Tipaza region. Authorities overnight 23-24 Dec detained prominent journalist Ihsane El-Kadi, 29 Dec placed him in pre-trial detention on charges of “receiving foreign funding”.

Egypt

Preparations for national dialogue among country’s political forces dragged on, jihadists launched rare attack west of Suez Canal in mainland Egypt, and govt secured IMF rescue package.

President Sisi-sponsored national dialogue initiative remained stalled. No date in sight for official launch of national dialogue among political forces more than eight months after Sisi announced initiative in April. Opposition Civil Democratic Movement 3 Dec conditioned participation in dialogue to release of 1,074 political prisoners.

Police suffered rare Sinai Province attack in mainland Egypt. Security forces early Dec reinforced checkpoints along Suez Canal, conducting night patrols and reconnaissance flights in area to prevent attacks by Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP). SP militants 30 Dec however attacked police checkpoint in Ismailia city, located on west bank of Suez Canal in mainland Egypt, killing at least three police officers.

Cairo secured external support amid financial crisis. International Monetary Fund 16 Dec approved 46-month $3bn bailout package, while govt 23 Dec announced World Bank approved $500mn support for social protection programs. Meanwhile, Cairo continued to diversify partnerships. Sisi 8 Dec attended China-Arab summit in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reports in following days emerged of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund eyeing $600mn purchase of Egypt’s state-owned United Bank and of China preparing $500mn in financing for Egypt. Sisi 13 Dec attended U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in U.S. capital, Washington DC, met with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken.

Libya

UN efforts to foster dialogue between rival parliaments faced new challenges, handover of terrorism suspect to U.S. sparked outrage domestically, and maritime borders riled Mediterranean waters.

Spat erupted between country’s rival parliaments after period of rapprochement. East-based House of Representatives (HoR) 6 Dec voted to set up constitutional court in eastern city of Benghazi. Tripoli-based advisory High Council of State (HCS) same day condemned move – which could invalidate recently reactivated Tripoli-based Constitutional Chamber – as unlawful, and 11 Dec suspended contact with HoR. HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh and HCS Chairman Khaled al-Mishri 23 Dec however agreed to drop plans to create constitutional court. Meanwhile, meeting between Saleh and al-Mishri scheduled for 4 Dec as part of UN-led political process postponed for “logistical reasons” and “political obstacles”. U.S. embassy in Libya 24 Dec called for “alternative mechanisms” to be considered as way of producing constitutional basis for elections if HoR-HCS talks fail.

Handover of Lockerbie suspect to U.S. sparked tensions. Media outlets, including British daily The Guardian 13 Dec, reported Tripoli-based govt (GNU) handed over Abu Ajila Masoud al-Marimi – key suspect in bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie town in Scotland in 1988 – to U.S. authorities after armed group in Nov kidnapped him in Tripoli. Head of rival govt, east-based PM Fathi Bashagha, 13 Dec called move “illegal”. Attorney general’s office next day announced investigation into Tripoli-based PM Dabaiba’s decision to extradite Masoud, and demonstrations against extradition 16 Dec took place in several cities.

Standoff persisted over maritime borders in Mediterranean Sea. GNU 7 Dec criticised as “irresponsible” Greece’s recent agreements with energy firms for oil and gas exploration near maritime borders with Libya. Athens same day retorted that GNU’s recent energy deals with Türkiye violated international law. After Egyptian President al-Sisi 11 Dec issued decree demarcating Egypt’s western maritime border, GNU 16 Dec and HoR 22 Dec said decision violated Libya’s territorial waters. Bashagha 14 Dec called on Egypt, Türkiye and Greece to not “take any unilateral steps” that would “worsen the situation in the Mediterranean”. Greek media late-Dec reported Athens plans to extend territorial waters south and west of Crete island.

Tunisia

Record-low turnout in legislative elections increased President Saïed’s political isolation amid worsening economic and social situation.

Legislative elections saw record-low turnout, opposition urged Saïed to step down. Only 11,22% of voters cast ballots in legislative elections held 17 Dec. In response, main opposition coalition, National Salvation Front, 18 Dec said Saïed had no legitimacy and should quit office, called for mass protests to demand early presidential elections. Election commission in following days announced only 23 candidates had secured seat; remaining 131 seats to be decided in run-off elections expected early Feb.

UGTT hardened stance toward Saïed, IMF postponed decision on rescue package. In clearest challenge to Saïed to date, powerful labour union UGTT 3 Dec openly questioned electoral process, saying it had “no colour and taste” as result of new constitution; also denounced “lack of transparency” on reform program negotiated with International Monetary Fund (IMF). UGTT 26 Dec threatened street protests and sit-ins in rejection of 2023 austerity budget and 28 Dec announced two-day strike by transport workers in late Jan. In last-minute move, IMF postponed board meeting scheduled for 19 Dec on four-year $1.9bn rescue package for Tunisia, citing need to give govt more time to finalise reform program. Amid inflation nearing 10% and shortage of many food commodities, European Investment Bank around mid-Dec approved €220mn loan including €150mn in emergency food support. Algeria 1 Dec pledged $200mn low-interest loan and $100mn financial assistance to Tunisia.

In other important developments. Police around 19 Dec detained Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda VP, former PM Ali Larayedh, over terrorism allegations. An-Nahda immediately denounced political attack to cover “failure” of polls, and party supporters 23 Dec protested in front of justice ministry in capital Tunis to demand Larayedh’s release.

Western Sahara

UK court validated Morocco-UK association agreement; France reiterated support for Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

Morocco-UK association agreement including Western Sahara deemed legal. London court 5 Dec quashed campaign group’s lawsuit against UK’s post-Brexit trade arrangements with Morocco, which extend preferential rate of import duty to goods originating from Western Sahara. Lawsuit unlikely to presage European Union (EU) Court of Justice’s verdict on inclusion of Western Sahara in EU’s association agreement with Morocco given different legal systems in use in UK and EU.

France reiterated support for Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara. French FM Catherine Colonna 16 Dec met with Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita in Morocco’s capital Rabat, said Paris remained “favorable” to Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria

Algiers doubled its defence budget amid growing military ties with Russia; Moroccan King Mohammed VI did not attend Arab League summit held in Algeria.

Repression of dissent continued. Algiers court 14 Nov sentenced in absentia leader of outlawed Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia, Ferhat Mehenni, to life imprisonment on charges of “establishing and running a terrorist organisation” and “undermining territorial integrity and national unity”.

Govt launched joint military exercises with Russia near Moroccan border. Army chief of staff, Gen. Saïd Chengriha, 10 Nov met with Russian head of military cooperation, Dimitri Evguenievitch Chougaev, in capital Algiers. Russia and Algeria 16-28 Nov conducted first joint military exercises on Algerian territory in Bechar region near Moroccan border. President Tebboune, who is due to visit Russia in Dec, reportedly close to signing military equipment contract worth around $12bn with Moscow as part of effort to modernise Algerian army. Meanwhile, parliament’s lower house 22 Nov approved 2023 finance law increasing military budget to $23bn from $10bn in 2022.

Tensions with Morocco remained high. Hours before Arab League summit kicked off in Algiers, Rabat 1 Nov announced that Moroccan King Mohammed VI would not attend event, prompting Algiers and Rabat to blame each other for missed opportunity. Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita, who represented kingdom at summit, 2 Nov said Mohammed VI had invited Tebboune to visit Morocco; Algiers rejected invitation as “deceitful marketing”.

Egypt

Widespread repression came under scrutiny during Egypt-hosted UN climate change conference (COP27); Islamist militants in Sinai Peninsula demonstrated resilience.

Security forces arrested scores ahead of planned protests during COP27. Authorities early Nov resorted to mass arrests and security forces deployment amid online calls to organise anti-govt protests on 11 Nov – to coincide with COP27 held 6-18 Nov in Sharm el-Sheikh city. Notably, NGO Human Rights Watch 16 Nov recorded 700 people detained 1 Oct-14 Nov across 18 governorates, denounced “nationwide crackdown”. As COP27 kicked off, imprisoned blogger and activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah 6 Nov stopped drinking water for about ten days in addition to his six-month-long hunger strike, drawing international attention to his plight; at least three other political detainees died in Egyptian prisons during COP27. European Parliament 23 Nov passed resolution calling for thorough review of European Union’s relations with Egypt in light of poor human rights record.

Media report alleged cracks in security apparatus. Paris-based media outlet Africa Intelligence early Nov reported that six intelligence officers 23 Oct resigned after failing to convince intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to address widespread popular frustration over economic hardship; incident, if confirmed, would highlight existence of major disagreements within security establishment.

Islamist militants proved resilient in Sinai Peninsula. Amid ongoing counter-insurgency operations by govt forces and allied tribal militiamen, Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants 18-19 Nov exchanged fire with govt forces and took over several govt buildings in Al-Qantara city near Suez Canal; air force fighter jets fired missiles at school where militants had barricaded themselves, reportedly killing them; at least one army officer and five soldiers also killed.

In other important developments. On sidelines of football World Cup opening ceremony in Qatar, President al-Sisi 20 Nov for first time shook hands with Turkish President Erdoğan, who few days later reaffirmed intent to pursue full normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cairo.

Libya

Tensions between Tripoli-based institutions reached new heights as country remained divided into two rival govts with no political solution in sight.

Rival institutions remained at odds on means to resolve political crisis. Tripoli-based advisory High Council of State (HCS) Chair Khalid al-Meshri 14 Nov accused militiamen affiliated with Tripoli-based PM Abdelhamid Dabaiba of “besieging” HCS headquarters; said HCS had convened session to follow up on tentative agreement with eastern-based legislature House of Representatives (HoR) to work toward forming new unity govt. Dabaiba, who is opposed to HoR-HSC negotiations, immediately denounced “incitement and exaggeration”, saying only “a few” protesters had gathered outside HCS building, accused Meshri of making secret “power-sharing” deals to delay elections. HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh same day condemned “threats and intimidation by armed groups using force” against HCS. Dabaiba 29 Nov reportedly accused Meshri and Saleh of “systematically obstructing elections”. East-based military commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar around 22 Nov weighed in on political crisis, saying “time has come for the Libyan people to put an end to failed experiments and dead ends”, accusing politicians of “worshipping their seats of power”.

Greek FM’s refusal to meet Tripoli-based govt minister sparked diplomatic spat. After Tripoli-based Govt of National Unity (GNU) in Oct signed deal with Türkyie on oil and gas exploration in areas of Mediterranean contested by Athens, Greek FM Nikos Dendias 17 Nov canceled Tripoli visit upon landing to avoid being welcomed by his Libyan counterpart, FM Najla al-Mangoush; Dendias claimed he had come to meet Tripoli-based Presidential Council head Mohamed al-Menfi. GNU subsequently recalled its ambassador from Athens and summoned Greek chargé d’affaires in Tripoli.

In other important developments. In his briefing to UN Security Council, UN sec-gen’s special representative for Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, 15 Nov renewed call for legislative and presidential elections but did not articulate how he planned to address sources of friction over electoral roadmap. International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan early Nov met with Haftar during first ever visit to Libya, 9 Nov told UN Security Council he expects latter to cooperate with ICC investigations into alleged crimes committed by Haftar’s Libyan National Army.

Tunisia

Despite opposition boycott and amid shrinking space for dissent, authorities proceeded apace with plans to hold legislative elections in December.

Electoral process went on despite opposition boycott. Electoral commission 3 Nov announced 1,058 candidates, including 936 men and 122 women, cleared to run in legislative elections set for 17 Dec, with seven constituencies lacking any candidates. Electoral campaign launched 25 Nov.

Authorities continued to use court and other means to stifle dissent. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi 10 Nov appeared before court in Sousse city as part of investigation into money-laundering and incitement to violence; anti-terror judge in capital Tunis 28 Nov questioned him for second time over terrorism allegations. After Business News media outlet 10 Nov published article critical of PM Najla Bouden’s track record, Justice Minister Leila Jaffel next day sued Business News chief editor Nizar Bahloul under new decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online. Afek Tounes opposition party leader Fadel Abdel Kefi said police 16 Nov prevented him from leaving country without any judicial warrant; interior ministry official same day said Tunis court had issued judicial decision to prevent Kefi from travelling abroad on unclear basis. In Zarzis town, security forces 18 Nov used tear gas to disperse demonstrators demanding renewed search for 18 Tunisian migrants who went missing in Mediterranean Sea in Sept.

Partners stepped up budget support to Tunisia amid ongoing economic crisis. Notably, European Union 13 Nov granted additional €100mn and France 19 Nov announced €200mn loan. Moves come as International Monetary Fund is expected to greenlight $1.9bn four-year program in Dec.

Western Sahara

Lawyers and NGO coalition filed new torture complaints against Morocco and UN Sec-Gen Guterres met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

Human rights groups, including International Federation for Human Rights, 8 Nov filed new complaints against Morocco before UN Committee Against Torture demanding release of six Sahrawi prisoners, saying their confessions were obtained under torture. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 23 Nov met in Morocco’s capital Rabat with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on margins of UN Alliance of Civiliza-tions conference; Mohammed VI reaffirmed Morocco’s position that Western Sahara conflict should be settled “within the framework of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom”.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Algeria

Govt poised to significantly increase military budget as Algiers seeks to enhance regional influence.

Govt submitted plans to double defence spending in 2023. Govt mid-Oct reportedly submitted 2023 draft finance law to parliament’s finance committee, seeking to push military budget to $23bn from $10bn this year; increase comes amid tensions with Morocco over disputed Western Sahara, jihadist violence in Sahel region and unrest in Libya; parliament expected to endorse law in Nov.

Algiers continued to reassert its position on international scene. Army chief of staff Gen. Saïd Chengriha 13 Oct gathered his counterparts from Mauritania, Mali and Niger in capital Algiers to discuss revival of joint military operations centre known as CEMOC. After Algiers in Sept took part in Vostok military exercises in Russia’s far east, Algeria and Russia around 20 Oct conducted four-day joint naval exercise in Mediterranean. In first visit by Moroccan state official since Algiers cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021, Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 29 Oct arrived in Algiers to take part in preparations for 1 Nov Arab League summit.

Silencing of dissent continued. Authorities 11 Oct arrested journalist Nadir Kerri on undisclosed charges after he published article on govt’s car import policy; 13 Oct released him under judicial control. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 18 Oct said it had submitted report to UN Human Rights Council warning that “journalists in Algeria have increasingly faced pretrial detention and judicial harassment”.

Egypt

Authorities faced increasing domestic and international pressure to improve human rights record as country hosts UN climate conference; jihadist activity persisted in Sinai Peninsula.

Pressure built up on govt to improve human rights record. Ahead of annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh city 6-18 Nov, UN experts 7 Oct said govt is creating “climate of fear” to dissuade civil society organisations to engage visibly at COP27. Local civil society coalition COP Civic Space 19 Oct said thousands still detained without legal basis, and NGO Amnesty International next day denounced “cruel and inhuman conditions” for opponents and civil society activists still in jail. As preparations for Sisi-sponsored national dialogue dragged on, authorities 11 Oct announced imminent liberation of 70 detainees held in pretrial detention for political issues; 16 Oct announced release of another 25 detainees.

Economic problems fed into political discontent. Amid economic crisis, govt 1 Oct increased cost of eight subsidised staple goods, including cheese, cooking oil and lentils. International Monetary Fund and govt late Oct reached preliminary agreement for $3bn loan conditioned on series of economic reforms. Calls for anti-govt protests to be held 11 Nov – to coincide with COP27 – mid-Oct started circulating online. In response, authorities in following days increased patrolling and erected checkpoints in capital Cairo and other cities, reportedly searching mobile phones for anti-govt content.

Govt forces and allies continued to combat jihadists in Sinai Peninsula. Parliament around 3 Oct extended state of emergency in North Sinai by another six months. Sinai Tribal Union and govt forces 3-5 Oct reportedly killed 11 Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated Sinai Province (SP) militants in Jilbana area, about 20km east of Suez Canal. Exchanges of fire between SP elements on one hand and army and tribal fighters on the other reported 5, 14,16 Oct in Rafah area, with fatalities on both sides. Suspected SP militants 20 Oct killed two tribal fighters south of Bir al-Abd town and in Jilbana area.

Libya

Series of deals between Ankara and Tripoli inflamed internal and regional tensions; UN Security Council extended political mission’s mandate as new envoy took office in capital Tripoli.

Energy deals between Tripoli-based govt and Ankara triggered uproar. Tripoli-based govt 3 Oct signed preliminary economic and maritime agreements with Türkiye, opening door to joint oil and gas exploration and drillings in Libya-claimed Exclusive Economic Zone in Mediterranean, disputed by Egypt and Greece. East-based PM Bashagha and House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Aguila Saleh immediately rejected deal as null and void, saying Tripoli-based govt’s term expired in Dec 2021. Egypt and Greece 3 and 9 Oct condemned hydrocarbon exploration deal as “illegal”, with Athens vowing to oppose it “with all legal means”. EU 3 Oct reiterated that it considers 2019 agreement demarcating Turkish and Libyan Exclusive Economic Zones (which latest oil and gas deal builds on) as infringement of sovereign rights of other states. Tripoli-based PM Dabaiba 25 Oct travelled to Türkiye and reportedly signed two military deals with Turkish govt with a view to strengthening military cooperation.

Rival camps held military parades, adopted bellicose rhetoric. On occasion of military parade in southern city of Sebha, East-based military commander Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar 17 Oct called for popular “rebellion” against “governmental failure”; said his forces “are ready to protect the people in their uprising”. Forces loyal to Tripoli-based govt 22 Oct held televised military exercise in Dabaiba’s presence. Aguila Saleh and Khaled al-Mishri, head of Tripoli-based High State Council, 20-21 Oct met in Morocco, said they had agreed to take steps to unify rival govts and resume dialogue on holding elections; Dabaiba 21 Oct rejected “parallel paths”.

UN renewed efforts to help break political stalemate. New UN Sec-Gen Special Representative Abdoulaye Bathily 14 Oct arrived in Tripoli to assume his duties and in following days held talks with rival leaders, including Dabaiba, Aguila Saleh, Presidential Council Chairman Mohammed al-Menfi, and National Oil Corporation chairman Farhat Bengdara. UN Security Council 28 Oct unanimously extended political mission UNSMIL’s mandate for another year, urged parties to agree on roadmap to presidential and parliamentary elections.

Tunisia

President Saïed’s plan to hold parliamentary elections in December continued to face opposition, including boycott calls, and govt reached preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund amid ever-worsening economic and fiscal crisis.

Opposition protests gathered thousands and more parties announced election boycott. Three political parties including Al Massar (Social Democratic Path) 3 Oct announced they will join group of at least 13 other parties boycotting parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 Dec. Thousands 15 Oct joined opposition coalition National Salvation Front protest in Tunis demanding Saïed’s resignation and accountability for economic crisis; anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party same day held parallel anti-govt demonstration. Meanwhile, Saïed 7 Oct said he may amend electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections to avoid attempts by would-be candidates to buy sponsorship – each candidate must gather 400 signatures of registered voters. Electoral commission President Farouk Bouasker 20 Oct ruled out any amendment, citing lack of time.

Tensions persisted within interior ministry. Military court in Sfax city 6 Oct ordered arrest of police trade union sec gen, Nabil Ayari, following clashes between police unionists and other security forces in Sept; Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has been in conflict with police unionists since August over control of security apparatus.

Govt and IMF reached preliminary agreement for loan conditioned on painful reforms. Govt around 15 Oct reached preliminary agreement with International Monetary Fund (IMF) over $1.9bn rescue package; approval by IMF’s executive board conditioned on reforms, including decrease of energy subsidies and privatisation of some state-owned companies by year’s end. Meanwhile, economic and fiscal crisis hit new low as gas stations around 8 Oct began running out of fuel, sparking long queues at petrol stations.

Western Sahara

UN Security Council renewed peacekeeping mission’s mandate for one year, while Morocco and pro-independence Polisario Front continued to seek diplomatic support for their respective positions.

UN Security Council called for revival of UN-led peace process. UN Security Council 27 Oct extended mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 Oct 2023; resolution, adopted by 13 votes in favour with Russia and Kenya abstaining, renewed call on Morocco and Polisario Front to “resume negotiations” to allow for “lasting and mutually acceptable” solution, and expressed “deep concern” at breakdown of 1991 ceasefire. Ahead of vote, UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 3 Oct released annual report on situation in Western Sahara, noting that low-intensity military clashes between Moroccan military and Polisario Front continued, Morocco conducted airstrikes in Western Sahara, and Polisario Front imposed limits to MINURSO’s operations east of the sand berm.

Diplomatic battle over Western Sahara continued. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa 18 Oct hosted Polisario Front leader and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali and reaffirmed his position in favour of Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. During visit to Morocco, Belgian FM Hadja Lahbib 20 Oct reiterated Belgium’s support for UN-led process and said Rabat’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara was “good basis” for final settlement of dispute.

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