Mention the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and one thinks of the impending US intervention in Syria and the ongoing political instability in Egypt. These thoughts are, naturally, determined by what we see in the general press and for South Africans, what we see on SABC News and the like. While this focus is reasonable, to a degree, and local news should take precedence there is a real lack of focus at times on international news that could impact us in the future. At present the MENA region is experiencing significant turmoil and changes as the impact of the 2011 Arab Spring continues to reverberate through the region. I have included some summaries below of news items that are getting very little coverage in South Africa but probably should be. The piece will be divided into three parts, this being the first, with short descriptions below each section of what the real impact is on South Africa.
The In Amenas hostage crisis in January 2013, which left dozens of foreign nationals dead, remains one of the deadliest acts of terrorism in recent memory in Algeria. The coverage it received initially was massive; however, since then there has been very little coverage of subsequent events and actions by the Algerian forces to capture and eliminate militants linked to the suspect groups. The Algerian military has launched a series of operations along its borders and bolstered security significantly. One primary area of focus recently has been the Tunisian border where it, and its Tunisian counterparts, have launched a series of raids against militants thought to be hiding out in the region, particularly in the vicinity of Tunisia’s Kasserine governorate. The prime suspect in the In Amenas crisis, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has also not been idle. In recent days he and his Katibat al-Mulathameen have formed a new alliance with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa to form a new group, Al-Murabitoun. This new group is likely to pose a serious headache to the authorities in Mali, Niger, Libya and Algeria in the coming months.
*South African interest: Increasing militant activity will have a largely negligible direct impact on South Africa; however, with SA business interest in the region, militants pose a real and direct kidnap threat. SA is also leading the continent in military intervention in a peace keeping capacity. Confronting groups like Al-Murabitoun should be a primary government goal given its desire to bring stability to the continent.
The National Dialogue Conference initiated earlier in the year offered Yemenis a real hope to unify the disparate groupings in the country and to create a functioning state. There were hopes by the Hadi administration that Shiite rebels in the north, tribal groupings, opposition parties and southern secessionists from Harak would join together to create a union that would offer the country the possibility of stability. Just days away from a final agreement, that whole process now appears to be falling apart. Over the weekend, gunmen in the capital, Sanaa, attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindawa, while the secessionists in the south have rejected a government apology for past indiscretions and resumed anti-government and pro-secessionist agitation. There are also growing signs that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is attempting to retake ground in Abyan governorate, a region they all but controlled for much of 2011 and early 2012. With continuing dwindling oil and water reserves, political stability remains critical for the survival of the state. If a deal cannot be reached the possibility of fragmentation of the state, which is already strongly divided, will increase further.
*South African interest: Again, events in Yemen have no real direct impact on South Africa. Yet should the state fail, instability in the region will exacerbate the already poor security environment in the Gulf of Aden, a critical shipping line, and possibly in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. If groups like AQAP are able to establish a foothold in Yemen, attacks against oil infrastructure in the Gulf area and Arabian Peninsula are a real possibility… and we all know that if someone sneezes near an oil refinery, the price of oil goes up and, therefore, petrol.
Part 2 – Lebanon and Iran…coming in a few days...
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