Global Political and Security Risk Monthly Briefing

Date: February 2015

Analysts: D. Crystal, J. Mairhöfer, T. Feuillade, N. Radovic, C. Wagner, S. Taylor, A. Skjelland, P. Bohacek

The Political and Security Risk Division of Bradburys Global Risk generates timely and strategic political risk and security information, insight and analysis, enabling clients to make informed decisions in the mitigation of operational and investment related risks.

In February’s briefing we analyse some of the key developments of global security and political concern from January across a number of AoRs and track changes in the vector or scope of regional issues providing summary, analysis, and prediction of Most Likely Scenarios (MLS) and Most Dangerous Scenarios (MDS).

AFRICA 

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: Rejection of census proposal weakens President Kabila’s position in power
  • Nigeria: Regional task force to fight Boko Haram needs Nigerian support
  • Somalia: On-going operations against al-Shabaab reaching a pivotal phase

 

AMERICAS

  • Colombia: New challenges arise in the final stages of the FARC peace talks
  • Venezuela: Economic and political crisis in Venezuela will bring turmoil and rapid changes in 2015
  • Mexico: New Mexican security strategy in Michoacán mirrors historic approaches

 

ASIA PACIFIC

  • Philippines: Variant degrees of internal conflict represent a conspicuous challenge for the Philippine Government
  • Pakistan: Increased Islamist violence has potential to heighten tensions in the Kashmir region
  • China: People’s Republic of China increases efforts to crack down on separatist violence in Xinjiang Province

 

EUROPE

  • Ukraine: Recent violence in Ukraine is the deadliest since September 2014

 

MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA

  • Egypt: Security crackdown on protests unlikely to provoke mass uprising in Egypt
  • Libya: Peace talks stall amidst national violence
  • Yemen: Domestic politics unravel spurring public protest and domestic unrest

 

AFRICA

Rejection of census proposal weakens President Kabila’s position in power in Democratic Republic of Congo

DRC’s Senate announced on 23 January its decision to reject the Kabila administration’s proposal to carry out a national census before the presidential elections in 2016. The census, which would have had to cover DRC’s population of 67.5 million spread across a vast, poorlyconnected, country, would have taken at least 12 months and was deemed by critics as an attempt by Kabila to extend his constitutionally limited presidential term. The initial approval of the proposal by the lower house of parliament on 17 January sparked a four-day protest in the capital city of Kinshasa, as well as in the eastern cities of Goma and Bukavu. Witnesses quoted claimed security forces fired teargas and live rounds at unarmed demonstrators and at least 36 people were believed to have died in Kinshasa and another four in Goma, however, government spokesman Lambert Mende Omalanga insisted that only 15 people had been killed, 10 of which were shot whilst attempting to loot shops. On 20 January, the government shut down Internet connections and text messaging services in Kinshasa. Meanwhile, opposition parties reported that they were prevented from joining demonstrations by security forces surrounding their offices. Opposition leader Jean-Claude Muyambo was arrested at his residence in the capital on 20 January.

The demonstrations served to highlight divisions within Kabila’s ruling coalition, as legislators gave in to pressure from the public, supported by western powers and the country’s Catholic church, unanimously voting to abandon the census proposal. This marked the first time DRC’s Senate decided against Parliament since 2010. A number of coalition members have left Kabila’s administration in recent months, including the popular governor of his home province Katanga, Moïse Katumbi Chapwe. For DRC’s opposition parties who have struggled to present a united front and mobilise large groups of supporters in the past and the Senate’s subsequent decision to reject the proposal, marked a significant win. The government’s repressive response, illustrating their growing concern over the political stability of the country was condemned by the UN, US and DRC Catholic church and fuelled criticism of the president, whose position has been considerably weakened.

President Kabila has neither confirmed nor denied his intention of stepping down after the presidential election in 2016. His party has been increasingly divided into two camps; one supportive of Kabila staying in power and the other in favour of finding a new alternative. As a result of the protests, the latter group is likely to grow in numbers. The decision by Chapwe to separate himself from Kabila has put the president at risk of failing to secure enough support from within the party to stand in the next election. There is simmering discontent with the government over its perceived failure to curb poverty, promote economic development and tackle the threat of M23 rebels. However, a popular uprising, similar to that resulting in the ousting of Blaise Compaoré, former president of Burkina Faso last October is unlikely in the DRC, as the opposition lacks unity and still struggles to mobilise the masses. Nevertheless, there is a risk that people could take to the streets should Kabila try to force through an extension of his term without constitutional or democratic backing.

Regional task force to fight Boko Haram needs Nigerian support

The African Union (AU) has endorsed a plan by Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon to set up a regional task force of 7,500 troops to fight the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram. The West African countries will now seek approval for the mission from the UN Security Council, from which they hope to draw international assistance. The Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) would have an initial mandate of one year. The initiative comes amid escalating concerns over the increased frequency of attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria’s neighbouring countries, particularly in northern Cameroon, where suspected members of the group kidnapped 80 people on 18 January. On the same day, Chadian troops deployed to the country to assist local forces in their fight against the Islamist insurgency. The governments of Chad, Niger and Cameroon have expressed skepticism over Nigeria’s ability to contain the Boko Haram threat, particularly after the group’s attack on a multinational military base near the town of Baga earlier this year, during which Nigerian forces reportedly fled the area after it was overrun, casting further doubt over the commitment of soldiers in the country’s armed forces. Prior to the attack on Baga, Niger and Chad withdrew their forces from the country.

Previous attempts to establish a regional taskforce have stalled, partly due to Nigeria’s perceived inability and reluctance to take action against Boko Haram. Recently, efforts by France to coordinate a response between the Lake Chad countries proved fruitless; with Niger claiming Nigeria had failed to meet its troop commitments. Nigeria has been opposed to international military intervention, insisting that its army is capable of tackling the insurgency on its own. Furthermore, there is underlying tension and mutual mistrust between the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon which has made it difficult for the countries to agree on a command structure and strategy. However, there are signs that Boko Haram is developing growing regional territorial ambitions and international pressure is mounting on the Nigerian government to accept outside assistance. The number of cross-border attacks into Nigeria’s neighbouring countries is on the rise and the group has stated its intention of establishing a Caliphate in the region. The flood of refugees from Nigeria into other Lake Chad countries further threatens regional stability.

The MJTF agreement could signal a shift in the Nigerian government’s policy on international military intervention, although it is not yet clear whether troops would be deployed as a border force, or operate from within Nigeria. Chadian troops have reportedly assisted Nigerian forces inside Nigeria in the week ending 1 February, which could be a sign of President Goodluck Jonathan’s willingness to receive outside assistance. However, Nigeria may not be willing to accept high numbers of foreign troops stationed within the country over an extended period of time. President Jonathan has previously demanded that operations in Nigeria will have to be under Nigerian command, a measure that the governments of neighbouring countries have been opposed to. An international force would, with the right mandate, be able to fight Boko Haram more effectively, however, its success depends on the ability and willingness of the Lake Chad countries, in particular Nigeria, to cooperate and provide the necessary troops. Attacks outside Nigeria’s borders will continue, particularly in northern Cameroon, and potentially also in Diffa, Niger. As the group’s capacity grows stronger within Nigeria, its ability to stage attacks on neighbouring countries will also increase. Without Nigeria at the centre, and in full support of an international response, the armies of other Lake Chad countries will only be able to deter and repel attacks.

On-going operations against al-Shabaab are reaching a pivotal phase

On 27 January, Somalia’s new Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, announced the appointment of a 20-member cabinet in a bid to shore-up Somalia’s fragile political apparatus and facilitate an effective recovery process. The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) does not currently have a working cabinet and despite previous attempts at outlining membership plans, contestation from Somali lawmakers over the reappointment of former cabinet member has so far stifled its establishment. Furthermore, on 27 January, Zakariya Ismail Hersi, former al-Shabaab Intelligence Chief, vocally denounced the al-Shabaab organisation, citing concern over human rights abuses and distorted ideological interpretations of Sharia Law and Holy Jihad. On 28 January the FGS responded positively to Hersi’s denouncements, reiterating the government’s commitment to providing amnesty for individuals turning away from al-Shabaab.

The vocal denouncements of Hersi, which followed his capture by AMISOM forces on 27 December 2014, are indicative of the internal divisions that are growing within the al-Shabaab organisations. As the denouncement represents a direct challenge to group’s quasi-religious ideological interpretations, it may have the propensity to cause a significant top-down effect on low-level al-Shabaab fighters; many of which have responded positively to the extended amnesty offering, intended by the FGS to augment the reduction in al-Shabaab’s leadership capacity. This reduction in capacity has been achieved through targeted eliminations by AMISOM forces, along with US drone support, and a number of high-level defections from alShabaab’s operational leadership. Prime Minister Sharmarke’s move to formally establish a working Somali cabinet may demonstrate recognition of the urgent need to provide political and social solutions that address the grievances that generate support for al-Shabaab, allowing the FGS to reduce the organisation’s remaining base of support.

It is likely that both AMISOM forces and the FGS will seek to capitalise on the weakened condition of alShabaab in terms of both ideological degradation and military confrontation. Despite the fact that al-Shabaab’s capacity for conventional operations has waned, the group continues to purport an uncompromising radicalIslamist narrative that is highly likely to allow it to retain at least a core membership of loyal fighters. The ability of the group to retain its hardline elements in conjunction with a conspicuous shift towards the adoption of more asymmetrical form of warfare is likely to continue to pose a significant challenge; not only for Somali security forces but also for nations contributing to AMISOM. Whilst progress has been made in countering the al-Shabaab insurgency, continued success in this regard, with a view towards normalising the security in Somalia, will invariably rely on the ability of the Somali government to address the socio-economic issues that have contributed to a steady flow of young recruits for al-Shabaab. The successful establishment of the proposed cabinet would undoubtedly be a positive step in this regard.

AMERICAS

New challenges arise in the final stages of the FARC peace talks

The unilateral ceasefire declared on 20 November 2014 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has improved the commitment of the guerrilla organisation in the eyes of the government, which despite their continuing attacks against the armed rebel group, is intent on commencing negotiations towards a permanent bilateral ceasefire at the start of the final phase of the talks on 2 February. President Santos’ newly announced initiatives for agricultural and educational projects for rural areas, with the creation of a rural police force resembling a similar function in supporting France, are to be enacted in conjunction with cooperation from pacified FARC members. These plans will be included in the final phase of the talks that will have to create a complex system of re-integrating FARC members into civil society.

The negotiations are at a critical phase and likely to reach a complete agreement. The FARC has showed true commitment to the negotiations, and whilst post-conflict solutions are beginning to present themselves as a viable course of action, the ball is firmly in the government’s court. The Government of Colombia will have to balance the construction of well-crafted integration solutions with a visibly robust approach to dealing with the FARC that will satisfy the conservative elements in the country. The special educational and agricultural projects will aim to project a certain level of autonomy in rural areas. Should this initiative be successfully established, they should generate the flexibility required for former guerrilla members to be peacefully reintegrated.

The bilateral ceasefire will have been the main point of negotiations as talks resumed on 2 February, and the Government of Colombia is likely to scale-down operations against the group if the process is successful. Furthermore, should a successful framework be reached, it may also serve as a blueprint for future negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN). Negotiating wider peace in Colombia would allow security forces to focus solely on urban issues, and the activities of narcocriminal groups, in order to improve the overall security situation in Colombia. Despite this opportunity, it is less likely that the government will entirely cease operations against the FARC forces, and consequently, a failure to engage wholly in post-conflict initiatives may lead previous FARC fighter to remain active despite the promising dialog. Such failures would likely prevent any possible reproach with other armed rebel groups such as the ELN, and may embolden them in rural areas, decreasing the likelihood of achieving a wider peace in Colombia.

Economic and political crisis in Venezuela will bring turmoil and rapid changes in 2015

President Nicolas Maduro’s international tour of oil-producing nations, which began on 5 January, and was intended to bolster financial support, and create a unified OPEC strategy to combat the effects of low oil prices, is considered to have been largely unsuccessful. Venezuela has been hit hard by severe shortages in food supplies and base products, causing large queues at supermarkets and governmental restrictions on sales. The Venezuelan opposition, lead by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) movement, has proved successful in mobilizing the electorate, and on 24 January, thousands marched in protest against the current economic situation. The new economic measures announced by President Maduro introduced a new three-tier dollar exchange system and vast investments into education and youth employment for 2015, in order to mitigate the crisis.

The lack of financing caused by the drop in oil prices has limited the ability of the government to subsidise food and other critical imports, falling by half from its usual $4 billion monthly to approximately $2 billion. As the new economic measures failure to address the structural faults of the regimes economic model, the government cannot continue to fund the vast social and welfare programs that constitute a major pillar of its public support. Consequently, the opposition is taking advantage of these shortcomings, building political momentum around the discontent in order to gather the necessary support for the 2015 National Assembly election. As such, the opposition is likely to continue to purport a unified position and to distance itself from the heightened levels of violence within the country.

Maduro’s government will continue to accuse the United States and the West of waging an economic war on Venezuela, whilst criticising the opposition for fueling discontent, and failing to vocalise effective solutions. The unsolved economic situation will continue to exert strain upon the population, and drive increasing levels of support for the opposition. Whilst an oil price stabilised at approximately $50pb will prevent Venezuela from experiencing complete economic failure; it will however, remain low enough to continue to cause severe supply issues. However, should the price of oil fall bellow $40pb, Venezuela will experience a lack of financing that will prevent it from maintaining the import of essential goods. This is highly likely to strengthen the position of the opposition. Despite this, should the opposition become fragmented, with some factions calling for a violent take down of the regime, escalating violence between more violent opposition groups and the government could prevent legitimate elections from taking place; with the potential to cement Maduro’s rule over Venezuela and to provide the conditions necessary for growing violence within the country.

New Mexican security strategy in Michoacán mirrors historic approaches

The security situation in the Mexican state of Michoacán has worsened in last few weeks with renewed attacks on the security forces by various armed groups. As a response, President Enrique Peña Nieto has dismissed the security and development chief of Michoacán, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, after complaints of inadequate security strategies by the state’s governor, Salvador Jara Guerrero. The new security commissioner, General Gurrola Ramirez, will work together with the new Secretary of State for Government, Jaime Esparza Cortina and the new federal prosecutor, Berta Paredes Garduno, to stabilize the security situation in Michoacán and prepare for the state election in June 2015.

The new security strategy announced by the governor will be built around investing more than $6 million into crime prevention and society reconstruction programs, but most importantly; will rekindle cooperation with local self-defence security groups – a strategy dismissed by the previous security commissioner. The role of military and federal forces will be to coordinate with the state in operations against criminal groups in order to create a sufficiently safe environment for the elections to take place. The previous security chief Alfred Castillo Cervantes opposed cooperation with local self-defence groups due to the illegal arms trade supplying these units, and in order to prevent criminal forces from infiltrating the police. These fears have not disappeared, and the decentralized nature of the criminal groups and linkage of self-defense groups with narco-trafficking remain an issue.

A well-functioning security force, including six thousand additional federal forces in cooperation with the state forces and local self-defence groups should supply the structural reform necessary to create a sufficiently stable environment for Michoacán state election on 7 June 2015. Narco-traffickers and other criminal groups will continue to pose a threat due to their decentralized organisational structures and inherently clandestine nature, which makes them difficult to identify and dismantle, in conjunction with their rich sources of funding from the persistent drug trade. Despite the unstable security situation, the election will be held but is likely to be plagued by corruption, and notably influenced by the criminal organisations colluding with, or controlling, electoral candidates.

ASIA PACIFIC

Variant degrees of internal conflict represent a conspicuous challenge for the Philippine Government

On 19 January, five rebels of the National People’s Army (NPA) were killed in clashes with government forces, furthermore, on 25 January, 44 police commandos from the police Special Action Force (SAF) unit were killed in a 12- hour clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The unit was in pursuit of two terrorist bomb makers, including the senior Jemaah Islamiyah figure, Zulkifli bin Hir, who is suspected of being behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people (including 88 Australians and 27 Britons). Authorities believe that bin Hir was killed amidts the conflict although it is yet to be confirmed. The government has elsewhere made ground against the Islamist group, Abu Sayyaf, capturing two camps in the province of Basilan on 21 January, killing six militants in the process.

Whilst the Christmas/Papal visit truce between the Philippine government and National People’s Army (NPA) was honoured by both sides of the agreement, the renewed violence suggests that the expiration of the ceasefire agreement has already heralded the resumption of violence following the departure of Pope Francis. In contrast, whilst the clash with MILF represents the largest number of police officers killed on duty in Philippine history, both the government and MILF have issued public statements reaffirming their commitment to peace and described the clash as a misunderstanding.

Despite the intensity of the clash between government forces and MILF, the peace deal is likely to hold, yet an important aspect of the clash is that MILF fought alongside BIFF, which is not a signatory to the peace deal. This may imply that MILF willingly provides a safe haven to BIFF and wanted terror suspects such as Zulkifli bin Hir, both of which are vigorously pursued by government forces. If this is proven to be the case, it may further complicate the situation and potentially be in breach of the peace deal. In terms of the NPA, government forces are likely to be increasingly drawn into clashes in the coming weeks and despite the truce, no permanent peace deal is likely to be reached in the foreseeable future, with previous talks stalling quickly. Furthermore, the probability of further bomb attacks by Abu Sayyaf remain extremely high as it grows increasingly frustrated by loss of numerous camps to government forces.

Increased Islamist violence has potential to heighten tensions in the Kashmir region

There has been an increase in border fighting between India and Pakistan with reports suggesting that 10 Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been killed in January of 2015. The city of Sopore in India’s Baramulla district has seen an increase in clashes between Indian security forces and militants, two of whom were killed on 18 January. The location of Sopore in the north of Kashmir has made it prone to violence, as many militants who infiltrate the border from Pakistan often transit through the city.

Whilst cross border exchanges of fire are not uncommon, the latest round of hostilities is characterised by a heightened level of intensity and Indian officials have stated that some 10,000 civilians close to the border have left their homes in response to the fighting. Despite this, exchanges of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces have long been a defining feature of the border region, and are unlikely to abate as long as no meaningful diplomatic accord is reached. The increased activities of Islamist militants, however, present a more worrying paradigm, as these organisations are proven to hold the capability to launch major terrorist attacks within Kashmir and indeed within broader India.

Diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan have continued to deteriorate since India’s cancellation of scheduled talks, citing intolerance to Pakistani ceasefire violations. Whilst it is unlikely that a full-scale conflict will be witnessed between India and Pakistan, the increase in hostilities between India and Pakistan may also see an increase in the latter’s support to militants operating within India as a proxy for more direct forms of action against India. Whilst the security situation has not degraded significantly at present, should Pakistan seek to substantially bolster militant operations along the border, the corresponding increase in violence may represent a substantial threat to the regions stability.

People’s Republic of China increases efforts to crack down on separatist violence in Xinjiang Province

On 12 January Chinese police reported that they had foiled an attempted suicide bombing, killing six suspects in the process. The incident occurred in the business district of the town Shule in Xinjiang province. On 13 January, Chinese authorities banned residents in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, from wearing the Burqa; stating that the Burqa is not traditional dress for Uyghur women and that it serves to promote extremism. Furthermore, on 19 January, two Uyghur men from Xinjiang province where shot and killed by Chinese border guards as they attempted to illegally cross over into Vietnam. It is believed that the men were attempting to reach the Middle East in order to receive jihadi training and join the ranks of either ISIS or Al Qaeda.

The flow of Uyghur men to Syria and Iraq in order to join Islamic State is the greatest security threat to Xinjiang province, as over 800 Uyghur Muslims have been prevented from traveling abroad to join jihadist groups in 2014 alone. The Chinese authorities have arguably increased measures intended to combat Islamic extremism within the Uyghur population, largely due to this transnational participation in Islamist violence, and as a response to the spate of knife attacks that took place over the past year. The banning of the Burqa is the most publicly visible component of these measures, however, it is likely that as these measures affect the wider Uyghur population, they are likely to be perceived as an attempt to marginalize the Uyghurs, fuelling already heightened levels of civil unrest in Xinjiang province.

The likelihood of further attempted suicide bombings and other modes of terrorist attack remaining particularly high in Xinjiang province. Increasing perceptions of marginalization may serve as a catalyst to further radicalisation of components of the Uyghur population, and hence may generate a corresponding increase in the levels of separatist violence within the province. However, it is unlikely that Islamists will receive any concessions from the Chinese Government, given People’s Republic of China’s record with regards to dealing with internal dissent. Should experienced Uyghur fighters manage to successfully return to Xinjiang, they pose a much more robust separatist threat to the region.

EUROPE

Recent violence in Ukraine is the deadliest since September 2014 Throughout January, fighting and mortar attacks have centred around three strategic points for the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists; the Donetsk airport (controlled by both sides), checkpoints in Luhansk and more recently from 30 January, near Debaltseve, a town located near a strategic railway junction between Donetsk and Luhansk. On 23 January, the United Nations reported that at least 5,086 soldiers and civilians had been killed since April 2014, with 262 deaths occurring nine days – thus, making this fresh burst of violence the deadliest since September 2014. On 29 January, European Union foreign ministers announced that the EU sanctions would be extended until at least September 2015, and that new sanctions may be added.

The renewed violence has significantly decreased the likelihood that Russia will cease arming easternUkrainian separatists, despite the falling oil prices and the impact of the sanctions on the Russian economy. There is increasing evidence that Russian troops and equipment are entering Ukraine. At the World Economic Forum at Davos, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia of sending 9,000 troops into Ukraine to aid separatist operations. Moscow continues to deny any direct involvement, claiming that only Russian volunteers are fighting alongside rebels, however; Ukraine and NATO argue that the recent change in tide of the conflict is similar to that in August, when Russia bolstered the rebels who were then on the verge of defeat. There has also been a notable change in the operational strategy of separatist forces, moving from the defence of occupied towns in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions to an offensive strategy. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic rebel group has indicated that the separatists have abandoned the idea of dialog with the Ukrainian government, and now intend to expand their occupied territory.

It is increasingly apparent that sanctions have had little impact on Russian strategy towards the conflict. Russia has allegedly increased support for eastern-Ukrainian rebels, and has made little progress in promoting reconciliatory dialog between both parties. Although expansionist rhetoric is commonplace from the eastern Ukrainian rebels, the appearance of fresh Russian troops and equipment in Ukraine makes these statements a notably more realistic iteration. Although the US has not indicated any plans to introduce further sanctions in the near future, it is likely that it will aim to keep sanctions closely in line with those imposed by the EU. It is very likely that violent confrontation will continue to prevail in eastern-Ukraine, however any direct NATO intervention in the conflict is highly unlikely

MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA

Security crackdown on protests unlikely to provoke mass uprising in Egypt

25 January marked the fourth anniversary of the popular uprising which resulted in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Anti-government protests took place in Cairo, particularly in the eastern district of Al-Matariyyah – a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold – and Alexandria, resulting in at least 25 deaths. Police moved quickly to disperse crowds, blocking the area surrounding Tahrir Square and reportedly fired teargas and live ammunition at demonstrators. In Alexandria, around 1,000 people marched in the funeral procession for liberal female activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, who was shot by police during protests on 24 January. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim stated that 516 Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested in clashes across the country on the anniversary. Meanwhile, Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa were released from prison on 23 January. The brothers, who were granted a retrial on their embezzlement charges are viewed by many Egyptians as symbols of the corruption that took place throughout Mubarak’s rule, and critics are likely to see their release as another step towards reversal of the pro-democracy uprising that ousted him.

President Sisi’s security crackdown is under heavy criticism from local activists and international organisations claiming that basic rights of Egyptians are being violated. The government has signed new laws curtailing political freedoms, including one requiring police authorisation for demonstrations, arrested thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pushed for media self-censorship in the country. On 29 January, Human Rights Watch published a report stating that the ‘brutal reign of the general-turned-president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,’ has led to ‘unprecedented repression’ in Egypt. Nevertheless, a majority of the population remains supportive of the government, which has been able to restore relative political stability in the country after four years of unrest and economic downturn. Sisi’s administration is viewed by many as effective in tackling the perceived threat posed by the rise of the Islamic State and increased regional instability. The government has also had some degree of success in terms of bringing about economic reform, recovering tourism numbers and attracting foreign investment, particularly from Gulf countries.

The security crackdown on the anniversary demonstrations is therefore unlikely to provoke a popular uprising that threatens President Sisi’s rule in the short term. In the long term, Egypt’s political stability depends on the government’s ability to speed up economic progress which has been slow to date; reduce unemployment (which currently stands at 13%); and reform the country’s police force which is accused of widespread human rights abuses. The opposition in the country is sizable, especially in areas such as AlMatariyyah, and stronger signs of a more pronounced return to authoritarianism by President Sisi could lead to a spread in resentment across the general population, which would raise the risk of a third mass uprising.

Libyan Peace talks stall amidst national violence

Clashes began in January with forces loyal to the internationally recognised government and elected House of Representatives (HoR) targeting the country’s largest steel plant in Misrata. Reports emerged of warplanes striking the perimeter wall and training centre of the plant, interrupting the production of the nationalised Libyan Iron and Steel Company (LISCO). Misrata remains strategically problematic for Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s government given local authorities and tribal elders have aligned themselves with rival party, Libya Dawn, following their seizure of Tripoli the previous year. The airstrikes followed the destruction of a number of oil tankers at the port of As-Sider; Libya’s largest port. On 15 January, a trawler carrying fuel to Benghazi was targeted by state war planes suspected of carrying resources to Benghazi’s Islamist militias. National hostilities continued to escalate during the month and including the kidnap of Deputy Foreign Minister, Hassan al-Saghir by Ansar al-Sharia on 25 January, and the death of at least nine individuals following the armed siege of Tripoli’s prestigious Corinthia hotel on 28 January. Members from both the House of Representatives and the General National Congress (GNC) blamed one another for the violence and destruction of national infrastructure.

Whilst the picture has appeared bleak domestically, the United Nations made significant progress in initiating a further round of peace talks in Geneva – aimed toward ending political violence and establishing a unity government. The latest diplomatic attempt to stem Libya’s growing instability began on 14 January, led by Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon. Leon previously announced his intention to secure a ceasefire agreement for the duration of negotiations; a principle Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, the GNC and HoR agreed to in principle. However, violence continued leading to the suspension of the talks by Tripoli’s GNC, aligned with Libya Dawn, on 21 January. Following the breakdown, negotiations resumed on 26 January with members of Libya Dawn and the GNC absent.

However frail the negotiations appear, they should nonetheless be viewed as a significant and positive step towards addressing domestic unrest. Indeed, of the groups involved, Vice-President Mohammad Shoaib of the Tobruk-based government indicated the issue of non-participation and breach of ceasefire could carry with it the threat of sanction on behalf of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Later in the month active parties agreed in principle to moving the talks from the Swiss city to a domestic location, appeasing the demands of the GNC and Libya Dawn. It remains to be seen if negotiations will, in fact, move or if any substantial progress will be made between the warring parties. Yet a demonstrable commitment to ceasefire agreement will go a long way in improving sub-state relations. However a lack of engagement with the more hard-line factions, such as the al-Qaeda linked Ansar al-Sharia and February 17 Martyrs Brigade will remain problematic. Ultimately, any diplomatic progress made will depend upon securing the trust of rival administrations and securing transparency of actions; without, this competition to fill the nation’s power vacuums and control of vital infrastructure will likely lead to the continuation of violence.

Domestic politics unravel in Yemen, spurring public protest and domestic unrest

Yemen’s political turmoil worsened throughout January, moving rapidly from violence, kidnap and hostage situations through to power-sharing agreements and Presidential resignation. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sana’a, Ibb and Taiz on 10 January forming the new ‘rejection movement’; demanding the resignation of westernbacked President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and the end of the city’s Houthi occupation. Later in the month Houthi gunmen kidnapped Hadi’s chief of staff and Prime Ministerial candidate, Ahmad Awad Bin Mubarak on 17 January. Political violence then escalated and witnessed President Hadi’s home residence and presidential buildings surrounded by gunmen, prompting the announcement of a power-sharing deal with the Houthi movement on 21 January.

Despite claims made by Houthi fighters that praised the decision of President Hadi to enter a coalition government, the terms of the agreement have failed to be reached. Houthi rebels remained in Sana’a, holding Hadi under house-arrest and Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak remained hostage. A day later Mansur Hadi announced his resignation from office, citing irreconcilable differences and unmanageable pressures from his political opposition. Elsewhere, the southern based alQaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the armed attack of the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo in Paris. In a video released on social media AQAP commander Nasr al-Ansi stated the killing of editorial staff was a direct result of them characterising the prophet Muhammad and the organisation later praised the actions of further lone-wolf attacks.

As a result of national instability, the 24 January witnessed an estimated 10,000 people protesting against the Houthi’s take-over of national political institutions. Problematically, the nature of Yemen’s demography is likely to cause greater instability in the coming months. The decision of former President Mansur Hadi to agree to power-sharing deals with Houthi rebels will have angered southern separatists whom have campaigned for autonomy following their assimilation in the 1990s; Sunni Tribesmen in the north have continued to clash with both government forces and Houthi rebels, accused of land-grabs and sectarian division; AQAP continue to amass support and target state infrastructure in the country’s southern and port towns. Should the nation’s power vacuums and diplomatic stability fail to be addressed and mutual agreements be arranged, the domestic picture looks bleak. The United States and a number of former Western allies announced the closure of their embassies toward the end of the month; an indication that the situation is likely to get worse. Whilst bin Mubarak was released unharmed on 27 January, the domestic security situation remains extremely volatile and it is unclear if a unity government will be formed.