Discuss Middle East/North Africa issues here. Anything from the Arab Spring to the invasion of Iraq to the rise of ISIS, including the Israel/Palestine issue, is fair game. I'll try to update this thread regularly with news and such. Full disclosure, I do investigative journalism with a group called Bellingcat and am about to graduate with my bachelor's degree in Modern History of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Eventually, I'd like to work for the State Department and eventually start a think tank, but that's a long way off. Those of you who know me via Facebook know that I live, breathe and eat this stuff, and when I'm not actively in class or doing classwork I'm studying the area (and of course still keeping tabs on my beloved Ukraine). If you have any questions, feel free to post them and I will answer them to the best of my abilities.
Current situation as of 29 October 2016:
Algeria remains relatively stable considering their neighbors, with the ongoing war against ISIS and Al-Qaeda still raging as part of the larger insurgency in the Maghreb. Algeria remained from the Arab Spring relatively unscathed, although a series of protests against low wages, high food costs and high unemployment led to at least 8 deaths. The protests ended in January of 2012 and Algeria has been more or less stable since then. In March of this year, the Algerian army killed 3 suspected Islamist militants near the eastern city of El Oued, seizing large amounts of weapons, including anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, and heavy machine guns.
The Arab Spring ignited rather violently in Bahrain, resulting in at least 93 civilian deaths. The protests and uprising began in 2011 and was violently suppressed by the government. Since then, occasional protests have cropped up, but the situation is relatively stable, albeit simmering. Bahrain is taking part in the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh). In January of this year, following Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Iran. This was in response to Saudi Arabia cutting ties with Iran following the execution. More will be explained in the Iran/Saudi Arabia sections. In February, four Americans were arrested in Bahrain for "unlawful obstruction of vehicles" and "attending unlawful gatherings". The reporter and her film crew were in Bahrain filming a 5-year anniversary piece for the Arab Spring. They have all been released "pending further investigations" and left Bahrain. Later that same month, Bahrain advised all citizens to leave Lebanon. This was followed the next month by recognizing, along with their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies, the Lebanese group Hezbollah as a terror group. In July, Bahrain and the UAE issued a travel warning for their citizens who may be travelling to any American cities in which there was unrest, following a series of deadly police shootings in the United States. Later that month, the Bahrain High Civil Court dissolved "Al Wefaq", the main Shia opposition group in Bahrain, which was accused of fostering terrorism. Bahrain is a majority-Shia nation ruled by Sunnis, and thus this adds much tension to the national atmosphere.
The Arab Spring struck Egypt rather hard, resulting in over 840 deaths. The protests and eventual revolution led to the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his replacement by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt has been in a state of semi-stasis since the revolution, with dissatisfaction rising among citizens and another overthrow likely on the horizon. Egypt is currently involved in the fight against both Daesh and Al-Qaeda in the Sinai peninsula as well as Libya. Egypt is also a part of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. In January of this year, two police officers were killed by gunmen near the famous Giza pyramids. In February, Sisi came out and admitted that EgyptAir Flight 9268 had, in fact, been brought down by a bomb planted by Daesh. On April 9th, Egypt and Saudi Arabia reached an agreement, handing control of the Egyptian-administered Sanafir Islands over to Saudi Arabia. The move was highly criticized in Egypt and resulted in large-scale protests. The 19th of May brought another airliner crashing after an "explosion" after leaving Paris for Egypt. No further information has been given, other than the fact that there was smoke in the aircraft at the time of the crash. In June former president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly leaking government secrets to Qatar. The trial resulted in the death of 6 other people, including 2 Al-Jazeera employees. In July an Amnesty International report came out condemning Egyptian authorities for forcible disappearance and torture in an attempt to crack down on dissent within Egypt, pointing toward unrest among the citizens. During the course of the year, dozens (perhaps hundreds) have been killed by the militants in the Sinai, aligned with Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
Following the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2011, a group known as ISIS began preparing an offensive to claim vast swaths of Iraqi territory. Remnants of Saddam's army, Al-Qaeda offshoots, and common criminals trained and exchanged information while spending time in coalition prisons during the Iraq war, and when they got out, they simply waited until the right opportunity and struck. As a result, a large portion of Iraq is out of government control and thousands have been killed. In 2016, Iraq's government made great advances against Daesh, with their goal of pushing the group out of Iraq by 2017 a moderately-reasonable possibility. In February, Iraqi forces pushed Daesh Ramadi, followed in May by Rutbah and Hit, and in June the city of Fallujah. Qayyarah fell to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in August, and Al-Shirqat in September. Currently the ISF and their Peshmerga/Hashd allies are pushing on the city of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city and the Islamic State headquarters in Iraq. The battle is guaranteed to be long, and will result in massive civilian casualties.
Jordan escaped the wrath of the Arab Spring because its leader, King Abdullah, essentially did what his people asked and sacked several ministers, along with scheduling early parliamentary elections. Jordan is an extremely active participant in the war against ISIS, after a Jordanian pilot was captured and burned alive in a cage by the group. The Jordanian king personally took part in several military operations. Jordan is also involved in the war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Throughout 2016 isolated border incidents took place, killing dozens (but no more than 150) civilians, military personnel, and Daesh militants.
The Arab Spring in Kuwait ended with the dissolution of the Kuwaiti parliament and the resignation of the prime minister. Since then, Kuwait has been relatively stable, and is taking part in the Saudi-led intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. In February Kuwait asked their citizens to leave or avoid travel to Lebanon. In March, Kuwait joined the GCC in recognizing Hezbollah as a terror group.
Despite some early protests during the Arab Spring, Lebanon was relatively untouched by the uprisings until the civil war in Syria began to spill across the borders. Lebanese organization Hezbollah is currently engaged in ground operations in Syria, supported by Iran, and Lebanon itself is fighting elements of Daesh and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's former branch in Syria). In February Lebanon was "punished" by the GCC after siding with Iran on the issue of the execution of Nimr al-Nimr. In response, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE asked their citizens to leave Lebanon. In March, the GCC, followed by the Arab League, declared the group Hezbollah to be a terror group.
Unemployment, hunger, and low wages propelled the Arab Spring protests in Yemen, which eventually culminated in the overthrow of the Yemeni government. Currently, an insurgency and uprising against the government known as the Houthi movement is holding ground throughout Yemen despite a concerted effort by Saudi Arabia and several Gulf countries to stamp it out. To date, over 10,000 have been killed and many, many more left homeless and/or injured. Throughout 2016 some thousands more have been killed. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) facilities have come under repeated attack by the Saudi-led coalition, along with schools, hospitals, and food supply infrastructure. 80 percent of the population is on the verge of starvation, and a US-backed blockade is strangling what little food is trickling into Yemen. The situation looks increasingly bleak, and 2017 will likely see more death and destruction in Yemen. Most recently, Houthi fighters began firing missiles at the USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer, with at least 4 flying toward the vessel and missing their targets or being destroyed. In response, several radar stations in Yemen were attacked and destroyed with cruise missiles.
United Arab Emirates (UAE):
The UAE escaped the Arab Spring, but is currently engaged in several local wars. The UAE is a party to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and took part in actions in Libya against al-Qaeda and ISIS. The UAE is also a party in the larger regional war against ISIS. In October, a naval vessel belonging to the UAE was attacked and destroyed (but not sunk) off the coast of Yemen. As a result, the vessel (former USN vessel HSV-2 Swift) was replaced by 3 US warships, which have themselves come under fire numerous times.
The Arab Spring took strong hold in Libya in 2011, eventually resulting in a NATO-led intervention against their leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi was captured in the streets, sodomized with rebar, and executed. The NATO-led intervention has since been discovered to have been a sham, with the threat to citizens greatly exaggerated and diplomatic options left unused. French desire to reassert their power and presence in North Africa was the primary cause of the intervention, as per a UK Parliament investigation. Since 2011, various governments have cropped up in Libya, never holding the whole country at once. Daesh took control of the city of Sirte, but was pushed out throughout 2016. Libya may be on the verge of stabilization, or it may be on the verge of descending into further chaos. I am not qualified to make an informed prediction on which way it will go.
Morocco saw turmoil during the Arab Spring, which resulted in at least 6 deaths and several-hundred injuries. In the end, the protests were successful, seeing the drafting of a new constitution among other things. Morocco continues to be an important ally in the fight against ISIS, contributing combat troops and supplies to the international coalition
The Arab Spring was successful in Oman, with the Sultan dismissing over 1/3 of the government at the request of the citizenry. Fewer than 10 people were killed, which is again rather successful for the Arab Spring.
I'm not gonna waste a ton of time summarizing the history of Israel and Palestine here, but what I can say is that tensions in 2016 have continued to climb. Another Israeli-Palestinian war, likely between Hamas in Gaza and the IDF, is likely in 2017.
Israel occupies a unique position in the middle east, being one of the military powerhouses but politically unable or unwilling to act. Tensions with Palestine remain extremely high and, as mentioned above, will likely result in a war in the near future. Israel has recently been striking at military targets in Syria, and has had several brief skirmishes with Syrian troops in recent history.
Qatar remains relatively stable and emerged from the Arab Spring more or less unscathed. Qatar is currently a member of the international coalition against ISIS and is a party to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, or KSA, is still in the process of making changes, albeit incredibly slowly, after the Arab Spring. Fewer than ten were killed in the protests in the KSA, and while some government shifts and changes have occurred, it remains simply a matter of time before the powderkeg that is Saudi Arabia goes up. It likely won't be anytime in the near future, but their political model is unsustainable (from their religious doctrine to their support of terrorist organizations worldwide). Saudi Arabia is currently leading an intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and has deployed over 100,000 soldiers, resulting in many KSA military losses. Throughout 2016, there were about a dozen terror attacks throughout Saudi Arabia, resulting in fewer than 50 deaths.
Turkey, the only MENA country in NATO, is currently engaged in a quasi-proxy war with the United States with regards to the Kurdish independence movement. The US supports the YPG (Syrian Kurds) and the Peshmerga in Iraq, but recognizes the Turkish Kurds (the PKK) as a terrorist organization. Essentially, the YPG/Pesh fall under the same general umbrella as the PKK, and as such the US is indirectly funding and supplying an enemy of a NATO ally. Recent elections in Turkey solidified support behind president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has increased support for the war against the Kurds. This has resulted in the tearing-up of a PKK-Turkish peace treaty and the resumption of suicide attacks and other terrorist activity throughout Turkey. Turkey is a part of the international coalition against ISIS. On July 15th, a group of military officers, allegedly led by New Jersey-based cleric Fethellah Gulen, launched a coup aimed at overthrowing the government of Erdogan. The coup resulted in several hundred deaths, but the Erdogan government remained in power and immediately began a crackdown, resulting in 60,000+ arrests and detentions around the country, with thousands of doctors, government officials, military officers, and teachers forced out of their jobs.
Tunisia was one of the first countries effected by the Arab Spring and is one of the success stories, despite several hundred deaths resulting from the movement. The protests ended with the resignation of the prime minister as well as several other government changes.
Droughts and economic misfortune led to great social discontent in Syria in 2011. When several young boys were kidnapped by police and tortured to death for protesting the government, citizens took to the streets. These protests were met with extremely heavy-handed tactics on the part of the government, and the ensuing conflict spiraled into a civil war. In the vacuum left by government forces, ISIS has claimed large swaths of Syria. The Syrian Kurds, the YPG/YPJ, have risen up and cleared ISIS from much of their land, and it's unlikely that it will ever be Syrian territory again. Syria will likely be partitioned into at least two states after this civil war ends. Over 500,000 people have been killed in the fighting thus far, making it the deadliest conflict in the world at the moment. There is no end in sight, and the conflict has recently come to include Russia and Iran in addition to a US-led coalition. I wrote a longer update on Syria here.