The Middle East Channel

Bomb Hits Bus in Sanaa Meanwhile Cease-Fire is Brokered in Northern Yemen

An explosion hit a military bus in Yemen's capital Sanaa moments after it came under fire by gunmen Tuesday. The attack killed two soldiers and wounded at least 10 others. Security officials said they are investigating whether the blast was caused by a bomb hidden on or under the bus, a roadside device, or a suicide bomber. The attack came after three explosions hit near the French Embassy, the defense ministry, and the central bank Sunday night, and a day after thousands of Shiite Houthis protested against the government in the capital. Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi sent Sanaa's governor, Abdulqader Hillal, to the northern province of Amran in efforts to curb nearly a month of violence between Houthis and fighters from the Hashid tribe, which has killed scores of people. On Tuesday, the parties reportedly agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Hilal, which stipulated that all fighters would withdraw from the area allowing the army to deploy.

Syria

Russia has said that the Syria government will complete the shipment of its chemical weapons by March 1 and will attend the next round of peace talks in Geneva. In a statement Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Syrian authorities announced a plan for "a large shipment of chemical substances" in February. Additionally, another Russian deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, said "We have no doubt that the government delegation will take part in the second round of international talks in Geneva." The statements have come as Western officials express concerns over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to peace negotiations and to the elimination of the country's chemical weapons arsenal, which has fallen far behind schedule. Meanwhile, Syrian government forces dropped a crude bomb on a mosque in the northern city of Aleppo Tuesday amid days of intense air raids of barrel bombings. The bombing killed at least five people at the Uthman Bin Affan mosque, which, according to an activist, was used as a religious school for children.

Headlines

  • A suicide bomber killed himself and wounded at least two people Monday on a passenger van during rush hour in the Choueifat district of Lebanon's capital Beirut.
  • A Tunisian policeman and two Islamist militants were killed in a firefight during a police raid on a house in a Tunis suburb, where weapons, explosives, and suicide bomb belts were found.
  • Several bombings hit in and around the Iraqi capital Baghdad killing at least seven people Tuesday a day after a wave of car bombings killed an estimated 23 people.
  • Iran has sent troops to two northern provinces hit by record snowfall, which has cut off power to around 480,000 homes and trapped thousands of people.
  • UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan is in "stable and reassuring" condition following surgery after he suffered a stroke on January 24.

Arguments and Analysis 

'Open for Business' (Khalid Mustafa Medani, Middle East Report)

"An all-out civil war in South Sudan could destabilize East Africa from the Horn to the Great Lakes. At the time of writing, regional powers are attempting to broker a ceasefire. But neither of the principal mediators, Uganda and Ethiopia, is a neutral arbiter. Ugandan President Yowereni Museveni is a long-time ally of the SPLM, and its leader Kiir, and would like to see South Sudanese oil transported to the world through his country rather than through Sudan. Ugandan troops have reportedly bombed Machar's forces in Jonglei in support of Juba. Ethiopia's prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, does not have the political clout with the warring sides that his predecessor, the late Meles Zenawi, is said to have had. Moreover, in what has been described as a game of high stakes 'pipeline poker,' Juba's neighbors are jockeying for preferential treatment in transporting South Sudan's oil to the world economy. Kenya and Uganda would like to build a pipeline through Uganda to the Kenyan port of Lamu, while Ethiopia hopes to persuade Juba to route the oil across Ethiopian territory to Djibouti. Either scheme would allow South Sudan to break its dependence on Khartoum.

For his part, therefore, Omar Bashir is not content to watch the war from Khartoum. He has clearly made a military alliance with Kiir to secure the oilfields. Following partition, approximately three quarters of the oil left in the ground belongs to South Sudan. But the pipelines, refineries and export terminals required to take South Sudan's oil to market are located in the north. Juba agreed to pay Khartoum $2.6 billion in export fees, over four years, to help cover one third of the north's revenue gap of an estimated $7.7 billion for the period 2011-2015. The Bashir regime is heavily dependent on these royalties. If the conflict continues, the Khartoum regime, like Uganda, is likely to intervene directly, which could mean additional combat along the already conflict-ridden borders of the two Sudans. Any long-term solution to the crisis in South Sudan must address its underlying political and economic causes rather than simply negotiating a tenuous peace between politicians who have a record of dangerously politicizing communal loyalties for personal and political gain."

'Algeria Three Years After the Arab Spring' (Daniela Huber, Susi Dennison, James. D. Le Suer, The German Marshall Fund)

"Its security, economic, and political weight notwithstanding, Algeria was largely ignored by international media and diplomacy when the Arab Spring started. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were perceived as the harbingers of a wave of democratic transition in the Arab world. While Algeria also initially witnessed the eruption of protests, the government showed relative restraint and immediately announced state subsidies. Protests soon died down. However, as Frederic Volpi has pointed out, the fact that the Algerian regime 'survived this wave of revolts does not mean that it is strong or stable in the full sense, but only that it was not vulnerable to the particular forms of mobilization that marked those uprisings.' Indeed, the Algerian polity seems more than troubled in political, as well as socio-economic terms. Youth unemployment stands at 21.5 percent; public sector spending has increased by 25 percent since 2011, which has to be supported by continuously rising oil and gas prices, the level of corruption remains high; and the question of the succession of ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has only been postponed for now.

At the same time, with the tides of the Arab Spring shifting, the importance of Algeria for regional security has come to the forefront once more. For both the United States and Europe, the perception of the Arab Spring has increasingly turned from a benign democratic transition to a security question, involving increased migration to Europe, the security vacuum in Libya and the broader Sahel region, the proliferation of extremist groups, and a wave of terror attacks such as the Benghazi attack on the American ambassador and the attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. In the run-up to and during the French intervention in Mali, Algeria emerged as a crucial link."

--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Federalism and Libya's Oil

Ibrahim Jadran seemingly has every advantage. With the help of like-minded guards, the rebel turned federalist leader took over three of Libya's most important oil terminals last summer. His men control 600,000 barrels of daily export capacity -- about half of Libya's total. If full, the storage tanks at these facilities could hold up to 17.5 million barrels of light, sweet crude oil worth nearly $2 billion. For its part, the elected government in Tripoli hasn't dared to retake the terminals, in spite of repeated threats. Jadran mocks the government for these and other failures from his office in Brega and home base in Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi.

Jadran's revolutionary credentials are impressive. Although his father was a well-known colonel in the civil defense force, Ibrahim, then 23, was arrested in 2005 for organizing an armed group to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi. He spent the next six years in Tripoli's brutal Abu Salim prison with his four brothers. In February 2011, just before Libya's revolution boiled over, the regime tried to buy itself time and goodwill by releasing prisoners, including the Jadran brothers.

Long denied his chance to fight back -- and detained and tortured in the interim -- Ibrahim joined the uprising. He later led the Petroleum Facilities Guard force in the central region, which gave him the men, firepower, and perfect opportunity to take over terminals in July and August 2013. His call to action was simple: For too long, eastern Libya was neglected and never saw its proper share of the region's oil wealth. Tripoli's influence must be rolled back; federalism must become law. Jadran, unlike many militia leaders, is really an activist with a small army.

While other oil fields and facilities were shut by protests last year, Jadran is unique for his ambition and media savvy. His oil blockade costs Libya about $60 million every day; his leadership of an aspiring regional government makes him the most recognizable thorn in the government's side; and his youthfulness, immaculate suits, and talking points make the 32-year old look and sound like a serious politician. He is successful insofar as he remains unchallenged, although rookie mistakes have hurt his brand lately. Six months into the oil crisis he precipitated, Jadran has not budged -- but he also has nothing to show for it.

That's not for lack of trying. Twice now, Jadran's self-appointed Cyrenaica Transitional Council has tried to sell oil outside of official channels. The first attempt was in mid-August 2013 just days after Jadran appeared at a conference in Ras Lanuf announcing that a regional government would be established. Libya's modest navy intervened, however, before a bankrupt shipper could dock a tanker at Es Sider. Federalists formed the official-sounding Libya Oil and Gas Corporation in November in an effort to attract buyers. That may or may not have convinced another tanker to approach Es Sider on January 6, 2014. It too was turned away by warning shots.

Jadran's reaction to the most recent failed oil sale was whiplash-inducing. Federalists denied that the ship was headed for the terminal. But a day later, they promised to protect any tanker that might try to load oil in the East. More embarrassing were comments made by a controversial Canadian lobbyist for the regional government. "My reaction was ‘What the hell are you doing?'" Ari Ben-Menashe complained on January 9. "Sneaking in a tanker ... isn't something that's going to work."

According to documents he filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, Ben-Menashe has a $2 million contract with the council to arrange oil deals and secure recognition, arms, and support from Moscow. The story raised eyebrows in Libya. As he did with the oil deal, Jadran shot off a quick denial, swearing he did not hire the "notorious" lobbyist. But his poor handling of these setbacks may have already alarmed potential oil customers. His constituents also have reason to be disappointed. In December 2013, tribal leaders made headlines when they claimed to have reached a deal ending the blockade. But Jadran backed out.

Jadran is learning the hard way that Tripoli still has the advantage when it comes to oil exports, even if it hasn't yet mustered the force to assault the terminals. Libya's navy, though unimpressive by world standards, is active in the Gulf of Sidra, where all three of Jadran's ports are located. And Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, however shaky at home, still maintains good relations with NATO members that helped oust Qaddafi. There is no doubt these commercial and legal heavyweights would come to his aid if necessary. A pirated cargo of Jadran's oil could be legally attached in just about any Mediterranean port.

Recently, Jadran and Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, the federalist "prime minister," have made a series of humbling admissions. On January 14, 2014 Jadran told CNN that his men believe in the cause but haven't been paid for months. Barassi was quoted on January 28 saying the regional government's 23 ministers "don't have work. We wait for oil exports or a budget." He also acknowledged that the federalist oil and gas company is an empty shell. "We've only appointed a director for the firm," Barassi said.

Libya's upcoming budget fight will only make life harder for Jadran's group. Its blockade has cost the country tens of billions of dollars and forced the government to dip into cash reserves. Going forward, Jadran will be blamed personally for budget shortfalls in 2014, with the potential to impact the entire country, including the East. Jadran's limited reach and diminishing support base may open a window for reconciliation soon. Negotiations are underway.

Ending the oil crisis and reopening terminals might require a face-saving deal. In order for Jadran to climb down, the government in Tripoli will probably have to hold the ladder for him. Barassi, says Tripoli has responded positively to two of the federalists' three demands: the government is ready to investigate corruption in the oil industry and give provinces a role in oversight. The third demand -- instituting a pre-Qaddafi revenue sharing law -- is a major obstacle, however.

Zeidan is in no position to satisfy that demand because it would represent a de facto recognition of federalism as the form of government. Defining Libya's institutions -- as well as their relationships and responsibilities, including budgetary tasks -- is up to the constitutional draft committee, elections for which will be held on February 20. Zeidan should not back down because the constitutional process is too important.

Simply rejecting this demand is not enough. Zeidan could do more to tackle the grievances that underpin Jadran's appeal. The prime minister could seek out regional councils to choose local development projects. He could also work with members of the General National Congress to shape the budget and prioritize infrastructure, while emphasizing that ambitious projects can only be pursued if the oil crisis ends. Libya's rehabilitation will take years. But explicit commitments from Tripoli could make it easier for Jadran to quit now -- and harder to resist pressure from local tribes.

After several tense weeks and a few failed no-confidence votes, Zeidan is desperate for a chance to display leadership. Reports today suggest the government is ready to use force and soon. But Jadran might still walk away if given the chance to claim two key demands were met and that the government was finally committed to developing Cyrenaica. A settlement like this would be less satisfying than arresting and trying Jadran. But given the weakness of Libya's security forces and legal system, it may be the best option, even if it risks setting a terrible precedent.

Matthew M. Reed is a Middle East specialist at Foreign Reports, Inc., a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter: @matthewmreed.

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images