Friday, June 29, 2012

MALI: Islamists oust Tuareg-nationalist MNLA -- making the reality official.

By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND
After the Malian government in Bamako was overthrown in a military coup on 22 March, the Tuareg nationalist-secularist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), with support from the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists of Ansar Dine, exploited the chaos to advance and seize control of northern Mali.  Since then, more than 300,000 people are estimated to have fled northern Mali.

See MALI: Christians flee as jihadists seize control of north
Religious Liberty Monitoring 11 April 2012

As long as the MNLA and Ansar Dine were fighting their common enemy (the Malian government) the alliance worked well. However, the mismatched forces proved unable to work together in government, for while the MNLA's goal is an independent state, Ansar Dine's goal is the imposition of Islamic Sharia law across the whole country. From the very beginning, despite the MNLA's leadership and elevated profile, the reality on the ground has always been that the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine is the stronger force and the one in control.

See MALI: Islamist's weapons seizure will greatly boost AQIM's striking power
Religious Liberty Monitoring 5 June 2012

ISLAMISTS OUST TUAREG-NATIONALIST MNLA
-- making the reality official.


On Tuesday 26 June, the Islamists seized control of Gao from the Tuareg MNLA. Twenty-six people were killed (mostly armed militants; mostly MNLA) and dozens wounded in fighting which involved the use of heavy weapons. MNLA political leader, Bilal Ag Cherif, was wounded. The al-Qaeda-linked Islamists took over buildings that had been occupied by the Tuaregs -- including their headquarters.

Claiming to have merely made a tactical retreat, the MNLA denies it has lost the fight. "Right now some MNLA units, stationed at the borders of Azawad, are coming back to completely rid the city of Gao of Islamist groups that are terrorizing the population," MNLA spokesman Mossa Ag Attaher said in a written statement.

Reuters reports that a Timbuktu resident said on Thursday (28 June) that MNLA fighters who had been stationed at the city's airport and port had now even abandoned those positions. (Confirmed by AP)

See Reuters: Islamists declare full control of Mali's north
By Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra
BAMAKO, Thu 28 June 2012

Details in Serge Daniel's account will give Bamako cause for concern, along with all the Christians, secularists and moderates who have fled there:

"The Islamists slowly moved their chessmen into place, first blocking the Tuareg from accessing the heavy weapons they had brought back from Libya and hidden in the AQIM-controlled mountains in north-eastern Mali, experts said.

"Then they won sympathy on the ground among the different tribes in the north, where Tuareg are a minority, by distributing basic goods and insisting they wanted to maintain the territorial integrity of Mali.

" 'When the mujahideen took Gao, they walked through the town brandishing the Malian flag, we liked that,' said Saly Toure who works for the Sahel Museum in Gao which has been closed since the beginning of the crisis.

"But to win 'the Islamists also played the corruption card wholeheartedly,' said an African diplomat based in Bamako, on condition of anonymity. 'A very influent leader of a citizens' association in Gao was "bought". Since then he turned his back on the Tuareg to support the Islamists.'

"He said the defeat of the MNLA would change the framework of negotiations with transition authorities who took over from the junta.

"Lacking money, abandoned by their supporters and riven by internal divisions [between French and Arabic speaking factions], the Tuareg rebels have been sorely weakened, and only hold small towns such as Gossi, Menaka and Anderamboukane.

See: Islamists rout Tuareg from their own rebellion in north Mali
By Serge Daniel (AFP) 28 June 2012

Al Jazeera has a more detailed report:
'Dozens killed' in northern Mali fighting
At least 20 people dead as Islamist and Tuareg groups battle for control of northern towns.
Al Jazeera 28 Jun 2012
NOTE: Al Jazeera reports there are at least two Islamist factions involved: the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) - which seized parts of Gao - and Ansar Dine, which based itself in Timbuktu. Both Islamist groups are believed to have links to al-Qaeda.

Monday, June 18, 2012

EGYPT: echos of Algeria as SCAF trumps Islamists

Updating the previous post: Egypt: the military versus the Islamists (15 June 2012)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Dr Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in Egypt's presidential elections. With around 95 percent of the vote counted, returns are showing Dr Morsi winning 52 percent of the vote (around12.7 million votes) with his opponent, the former air-force chief and Mubarak-era Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, winning 48 percent (around 11.84 million). The final official result is to be announced by Thursday.

However, on Sunday evening 17 June, before the polls had even closed, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued an Interim Constitutional Declaration with amendments that give the SCAF legislative power following the dissolution of the Islamists-led parliament. The interim constitution limits the president's powers, stripping him of any authority over the army. It also and gives the military the right to manage the budget and appoint the 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new and permanent constitution.

According to the SCAF's interim constitution, parliamentary elections will take place one month from the day the new constitution is approved by the national referendum.

See: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi wins Egypt's presidential election
Associated Press, 18 June 2012

English text of SCAF amended Egypt Constitutional Declaration
Ahram Online summarises the military-authored revised Constitutional Declaration - outlining the powers of the coming Egyptian president
Ahram Online, Monday 18 Jun 2012

Revised constitutional chart stirs up controversy
Political experts and public figures denounce the newly announced addendum to the interim Constitutional Declaration, saying it gives the military council unfettered authorities
Sadek Jalal al-Azm et al Ahram Online, Monday 18 Jun 2012

SHOWDOWN LOOMS

Jack Shenker writes from Cairo for the Guardian: "Pro-change activists and human rights campaigners said the junta's constitutional declaration – which comes just days after judges extended the army's ability to arrest civilians and following the dissolution of Egypt's Brotherhood-dominated parliament by the country's top court – rendered the scheduled 'handover' of power to a democratically-elected executive 'meaningless'. The Brotherhood were quick to label the declaration 'null and unconstitutional', raising the prospect of a dramatic showdown within the highest institutions of the state."

Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is insisting that the "SCAF has no authority to dissolve the freely and democratically elected parliament, not without a public referendum".

Dr Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Speaker of the People's Assembly, flatly rejected SCAF's Interim Constitutional Declaration. Katatni also deemed SCAF's decision to dissolve the parliament null and void because it is not based on any constitutional legitimacy, principle or procedure, according to the existing Constitutional Declaration. A statement on the MB's website, IkhwanWeb reads: "Dr. Katatni reiterated to SCAF members his categorical rejection of complementary constitutional declaration, as it infringes on the legislature which has the inherent right to legislate, adding that the Constitutional Declaration approved by popular referendum on March 19, 2011 and released on March 30, 2011 did not give SCAF the right to assume the power of legislation in the presence of an elected parliament."

See also: SCAF cannot execute High Court verdict: Defunct Egypt parliament speaker
Saad El-Katatni, the speaker of the People's Assembly, says the ruling junta does not have the right to implement a court verdict to dismantle the parliament's lower house - only the people do
Ahram Online, Saturday 16 Jun 2012

Analysts are drawing parallels with Algeria, where in 1991 the military cancelled a second round of elections when it became obvious that Islamists were set to win power. The move triggered a decade-long civil war. 

Algerian Islamists are warning that Egypt could be following in Algeria's footsteps. El-Hachemi Sahnouni, a former leader and founder of Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, told Al Arabiya that  what has happened in Egypt is "similar to what happened in Algeria in 1991". Sahnouni is "worried that the biggest Arab country might plunge into violence similar to what occurred in Algeria. If this happens, it will be a catastrophe not only for Egypt but for all of the Arab countries."

Others believe violence is unlikely. "I don't see an Algeria scenario," said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University, in reference to the Algerian civil war in 1991 after the military took power following an Islamist legislative win. "It was a different context. In Algeria, there was violence from both sides. But in Egypt, for the moment there has only been threats through statements."  Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, an expert on Islamist movements, also dismissed the prospect of widespread violence between the Brotherhood and the generals. "The Brotherhood will use a strategy of pressure to gain posts before finally adapting their politics," he said. (Egyptian Gazette 18 June)

But as Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think-tank comments: "This is an opening scene in what is certain to be a drama. It’s hard to imagine how this can pass quietly."

Friday, June 15, 2012

EGYPT: The military versus the Islamists


By Elizabeth Kendal

Updating Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 163
EGYPT: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 16-17 JUNE


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In April 2012, the Islamist-dominated parliament passed the Political Isolation Law which disqualified senior officials of Mubarak's regime from holding political posts. The law would have prevented Ahmed Shafiq (former air-force chief and Mubarak's last Prime Minister) from contesting the presidency had he not won an appeal against the law. At that point the Political Isolation Law was deferred to Egypt's Mubarak-appointed Supreme Constitutional Court.

On Wednesday 13 June, the day before the Constitutional Court was due to hand down its decision, Egypt's Justice Ministry issued a decree giving military police and intelligence officers permission to arrest civilians suspected of "crimes" such as activities deemed "harmful to the government", destruction of property, "obstructing traffic" and "resisting orders". The decree restores some of the powers of the decades-old emergency law which expired just two weeks ago. Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh, reporting from Cairo, "said Egyptian activists see the current order as 'much worse than the [previous] emergency law', in that it is seen as expanding the military's power".

Then, on Thursday 14 June, the Constitutional Court -- an institution in which the military maintains significant leverage -- unsurprisingly deemed the Political Isolation Law unconstitutional, thereby freeing Ahmed Shafiq to contest the presidential run-off this weekend.

In what activists and academics have described as a "soft military coup", the Constitutional Court also ruled the country's parliament illegitimate, paving the way for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) -- the military body that ruled after the first military coup ousted Mubarak -- to resume legislative powers.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the court found "that part of the law under which the parliament was elected was illegal, as it allowed parties to field nominees for [the one third of] seats earmarked for independent candidates. That ruling is irreversible and means the entire legislature is illegitimate, court spokesman Maher Sami said. . . . The court said parliament has no 'standing under law'."

Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an independent Islamist, decried the two court rulings, saying they amount to "a complete coup". Writing on his Facebook page, Fotouh raged, "Keeping the military candidate [in the race] and overturning the elected parliament after granting the military police the right to arrest is a complete coup and whoever thinks that millions of youth will let it pass is deluding themselves,"

See: Egypt Court Dissolves Parliament in 'Soft Coup'
By Tarek El-Tablawy, Abdel Latif Wahba and Mariam Fam
Bloomberg News, 14 June 2012

Egypt supreme court calls for parliament to be dissolved
BBC, 14 June 2012

At this point in time, the Islamists are refusing to dissolve the parliament and have vowed to win the presidency. And despite the threat posed by the Justice Ministry's repressive decree, protests have begun and are expected to intensify after Friday prayers and across the weekend.

See: Egyptians protest as court dissolves parliament, confirms Shafiq candidacy
Mohammed Morsi: Millions over the weekend will say 'no' to tyrants
14 June 2012

Stratfor sees strategy

In a report entitled "Egypt's Military Delivers Ultimatum to Muslim Brotherhood" (14 June 2012), Stratfor Global Intelligence surmises that the legal manoeuvres are part of a military strategy to intimidate and contain the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Egypt's military has the least amount of control when the country goes to the polls. Through parliamentary elections the MB, together with Egypt's Salafist faction, the al-Nour Party, came to dominate parliament. And MB candidate Mohammed Morsi had a strong chance of beating Shafiq at the presidential election polls.

"The military's authority instead comes from its institutional leverage. The MB may have had nominal control over the parliament, but the military's influence over the judiciary effectively has nullified any parliamentary move the MB attempted. Similarly, the military is using its institutional strength to keep the drafting of the country's constitution out of the MB's control.

"The SCAF [Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] could not be confident that its preferred candidate, Shafiq, would beat Morsi in the presidential runoff. The SCAF may be contemplating that the best way to protect its authority in the system is to back the MB [Muslim brotherhood] against a wall, first by pushing ahead Shafiq as a legitimate candidate, then by threatening to dissolve the MB-controlled parliament and finally by establishing itself as the final arbiter in the constitution-drafting process.

"The main question moving forward is whether the MB is ready for the grand bargain that the SCAF is trying to impose on the Islamist party. The SCAF appears willing to risk an MB presidency, so long as the MB cedes primary authority to the military in drafting the constitution, which will ultimately decide the balance of power among the military, parliament and presidency. The dissolution of parliament is a threat directed at the MB: If the MB accepts the military's demands on the constitution, then the SCAF could allow the parliament to remain as is; if not, it could dissolve parliament and schedule another round of parliamentary elections. In another round of elections, the MB would likely come out with another strong win. Only this time, the elections would theoretically take place within a constitutional framework shaped by the SCAF."


-----------


The first military coup -- in which military power was leveraged to oust Mubarak -- rode on the back of youth-driven pro-democracy protests in Tahrir Square. In this second military coup, military-controlled legal instruments are being leveraged against the parliament while military power will be leveraged against the street with the aim of asserting military control over the Islamists as they stand on the threshold of controlling both the parliament and the presidency.

The battle between the military and the Islamists has begun in earnest, leaving Egyptians who had dreamed of progress and liberty lamenting what might have been and questioning why it was not achieved.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MALI: Islamist's weapons seizure will greatly boost AQIM's striking power

The trend across Mali's rebel-held north is towards forced Islamisation, Arabisation, escalating hardship and persecution.

Writing for New Straits Times, 5 June 2012, Adam Nossiter, describes the situation in the historic city of Timbuktu:

"Women are now forced to wear full, face-covering veils. Music is banned from the radio. Cigarettes are snatched from the mouths of pedestrians. And the look of the ancient mud-brick town is changing.

"An ancient monument, the shrine of a 15th-century saint, has been defaced, bars have been demolished and black flags have been hung around town to honour Ansar Dine, or Defenders of the Faith, the radical Islamist movement that emerged from the desert and turned life upside down.

"'There is no liberty,' said Abdoulaye Ahmed, a tailor who fled Timbuktu and came to Mali's capital, Bamako, last week. He added that the Islamist rebels 'are constantly circulating with their guns. This is scaring people. The town is sinister'."

"The situation is said to be especially troubling for women in Timbuktu.'Women are living in terrible fear,' said Baba Aicha Kalil, a well-known civic activist who still lives in the town. . . 'They want to put a veil on everything,' Kalil said. 'They are everywhere with their guns'."

On 5 June around 50 women and children courageously demonstrated against the Islamist presence in Kidal. Marching from the stadium to the main Kidal market, they chanted in their local language, "We don't want strangers here", and "We don't want Islamists here", until men in three pick-ups bearing the Ansar Dine flag intervened and beat the demonstrators, violently dispersing their protest.

On 22 May, Christian Today published an Appeal for Christians in Mali (22 May) in which the Christian charity Worldshare claims that the Islamic jihadists who have seized control of northern Mali have conducted house to house searches hunting for Christians, and that people have been tortured into revealing their Christian relatives. Confirming earlier reports, Worldshare, which has been working with a ministry in Timbuktu since 2001 and with the Gao Evangelical Church since 2004, also said that church and Christian property in Timbuktu and Gao has either been looted or destroyed.

All across northern Mali, the humanitarian situation is dire (ICRC 25 May 2012).  Many Christians have fled south to Bamako, the capital, where they are living as refugees. Food stocks are low.

------------------------------------------
An agreement, A Split and The Reality
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An Agreement

On 26 May, the avowedly secular Tuareg nationalist group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), signed a protocol agreement with Islamic jihadists Ansar Dine, to join forces for the implementation of an independent Islamic state.

CNN reports: "The agreement between the secular Tuareg and the Islamists comes after weeks of sometimes heated discussions between two movements, separated both in their objectives and ideologies. While the MNLA is fighting for an independent Azawad, Ansar Dine's main objective is to impose Sharia law in all of Mali.

"In the besieged towns, drinking, smoking, listening to music, watching soccer on TV and playing video games have been banned in what now seems to be a preparation for the creation of an Islamic state."

See: Mali rebel groups join forces, vowing an Islamic state
From Katarina Höije, For CNN, 27 May 2012

A Split

Only 48 hours after the protocol was signed, the deal collapsed, allegedly because the parties could not agree on how strictly to impose Sharia (Islamic) Law.

"We have refused to approve the final statement because it is different from the protocol agreement which we have signed," said Ibrahim Assaley, representing the MNLA. "It is as if they want us to dissolve into Ansar Dine," he complained. "That is unacceptable." (Al Jazeera 31 May)

Moussa Ag Asherif, a fighter close to the leadership of the Ansar Dine, told reporters that Iyad Ag Ghaly -- the shadowy leader of Ansar Dine who is known to have ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- would travel to Gao on Tuesday morning 29 May "to solve the problem".

The confusion has exposed a split in the MNLA, allegedly between the MNLA's French and Arabic speaking factions.

A statement issued by Hama Ag Mahmoud, a senior MNLA political figure read: "The political wing, the executive wing of the MNLA, faced with the intransigence of Ansar Dine on applying sharia in Azawad and in line with its resolutely secular stance, denounce the accord with this organisation and declare all its dispositions null and void."

Reuters reports: "In an open letter posted on Berber website Tamazgha.fr, the MNLA's communication director Mossa Ag Attaher acknowledged 'a growing malaise' in the ranks of the group linked to a feud between its French-speaking and Arab-speaking factions.

"While Attaher did not elaborate, the linguistic split could partly reflect divisions between those rebels who have remained in the former French colony and those who were based in Libya until the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

"'The application of sharia and the Arabisation of our people is a grave violation of our culture and identity,' he said of a region in which nomadic Tuaregs have co-existed with other ethnic groups and where moderate Islam is widely practised.

"But a senior military official for Ansar Dine contacted in the northern city of Gao said the well-armed group continued to apply the agreement.

"The pact signed by the MNLA and Ansar Dine is irrevocable", Oumar Ould Hamama told Reuters by telephone from the northern city of Gao."The views of a few individuals within the MNLA cannot put this fusion in doubt. In any case, [the reality is] we are the majority in control of all three of Mali's northern regions."

See: Mali Tuareg leaders call off Islamist pact
Reuters, Friday 1 June 2012.

According to the most recent news, the rebels are working towards establishing a ruling council and a government of national unity.

The MNLA issued a statement in the northern city of Gao that said: 'The NMLA will put in place a provisional council that will lead the country in the coming period and will work to put in place a government of national unity'."

The statement said that the agreement signed between the two groups on May 26 "is being studied by the two parties and a commission is going to be appointed in order to treat the points of divergence." (Associated Press, 4 June)

The Reality

The reality on the ground is that al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Dine is stronger and in control; Sharia is being forcefully applied; and Northern Mali threatens to become a safe-haven for terrorist and a launch-pad for jihad.

In late May, the rebels seized a key underground weapons and ammunition depot of the Malian Army in Gao. A regional security source confirmed the seizure, saying the vast cache of weapons will greatly boost al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM's) striking power, adding that the group "is today more armed than the combined armies of Mali and Burkina Faso".

See: Al-Qaeda branch seizes key Mali arms depot as crisis deepens
By Serge Daniel (AFP) 27 May 2012 

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, a Mauritanian diplomat who has been a United Nations envoy in both West Africa and Somalia comments on the situation in Northern Mali: "We are in an early stage of Afghanistan and Somalia. There is no doubt in my mind."

Reporting for Reuters from Dakar, Senegal, David Lewis writes: "Ould-Abdallah and a swelling chorus of security experts point to an influx of foreign fighters, a debilitating rivalry between neighboring states, and steady flow of illicit funds as making Mali and the wider Saharan zone the next one to watch.

"In former colonial power France, the new defense minister warned last week of a 'west African Afghanistan' in Mali.

"The rebels' seizure of three major airstrips in the north - near the towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Tessalit - means that, in the absence of a functioning Malian air force, they can ferry in everything from drugs and weapons to yet more foreign fighters. . .

"Witnesses say the Islamists are better-resourced and more heavily armed than the Tuareg separatists . . . [a reality that is] allowing them to shunt the MNLA aside and take effective control on their own of towns across northern Mali."

See: Analysis: Mali: the world's next jihadi launchpad?
By David Lewis
DAKAR | Mon Jun 4, 2012

One wonders, what  Al Qaeda's strategic priorities might be now that it has a solid foothold in Northern Mali through the extremely well armed Ansar Dine.  Of one thing we may be certain: that jihad in Africa is about to go up a notch to become far more threatening and far more destructive.