Posts Tagged ‘North Africa’

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

Desertec Foundation deserts the Desertec project consortium

July 2, 2013

It was always too grandiose for its own good. The economics were never sound but it was “visionary” and it was riding the fashionable “renewables wave”. It seemed to be much more of a public relations exercise to win brownie points than any real project. Domestic German politics and positioning of German companies in North Africa and the Middle East was of more interest than any real commitment to the project itself.

The concept was to generate solar and wind power in the worlds deserts and the transfer them by HVDC links to populous regions upto 3000 km away! The Desertec Foundation started in January 2009 and the Desertec project consortium (Dii gmbh) was established in October 2009 to handle the specific project for generating solar and wind power in North Africa and the Middle East for export to Europe. Now the Desertec Foundation has left the consortium and it is likely that the project and the consortium will quietly disappear into the sand.

DESERTEC-Map_small

PV MagazineUncertainty shrouds the future of the Desertec project to generate energy from the world’s deserts after the foundation which developed the idea announced it had withdrawn from the scheme.

The Desertec Foundation was founded in January 2009 with the idea of generating solar and wind energy from the world’s deserts. The founding principle of the foundation is to use high voltage DC current – which loses only 3% every 1,000km it travels – to bring power to the 90% of the global population living within 3,000km of deserts.

In October 2009, the Dii GmbH consortium was founded in Munich to bring the concept to life using the deserts of the Middle East and north Africa, with the aim of supplying up to 15% of Europe’s energy from renewables by 2050.

But in an extraordinary press release, the Desertec Foundation has announced its withdrawal from the consortium, citing ‘irresolvable disputes’ with its partners over strategy, obligations, communications and ‘last but not least, the managerial style of Dii’s top management.’

(more…)

Political earthquake spreading and claims Tunisian PM and French Foreign Minister

February 27, 2011

The earthquakes that are ripping across the political foundations of North Africa and the Middle East are producing an uncharted landscape which is still changing everyday. The after-shocks continue in Tunisia where it all started and new shocks were felt in Oman today. In Libya, Gaddafi is increasingly isolated and further shocks will no doubt be felt. The speed of propagation is stunning and beyond anything predicted by “domino theories” and the directions of movement are quite unpredictable. That Egypt’s Mubarak would fall in 18 days is hard to believe. That his departure did not produce a long period of chaos is even more remarkable. That Saudi Arabia could be vulnerable at all seems ridiculous on the surface but the events in Bahrain and today in Oman suggest that the sand under the House of Saud is highly unstable and could be susceptible to very sudden shifts.

The consequences will be felt far outside the immediate region and not least in the old colonial powers of France and Italy and the UK. All the so-called defenders of freedom and democracy who -on the grounds of stability – continued to support the string of repressive dictators will have to devise new policies. The new found revolt against the corruption in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula will create new stresses in Europe and the US where the “establishments” have all been complicit in the corrupt practices and especially in the sale of defence equipment and in the extraction and refining of oil. How to continue supporting absolute monarchs and dictators in some countries while supporting the establishment of democratic institutions in others is going to be particularly challenging for the US.

French Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie quits over Tunisia

Embattled French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has announced her resignation after weeks of criticism over her contacts with the former Tunisian regime. But in announcing her resignation, she said she had committed no wrongdoing.

A veteran conservative politician and cabinet minister, she had been in her new job for just three months. She was heavily criticised for initially offering French help to quell the uprising in Tunisia. Subsequent revelations about her and her family’s links to the regime of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the fact that she had taken a Christmas holiday in Tunisia during the uprising made her position increasingly untenable.

Tunisians celebrate prime minister’s ouster

Less than a minute after Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned Sunday in a speech on national television, the massive crowd filling this city’s Casbah Square suddenly halted the angry chants that had continued around the clock for days. There was silence, and then cheers, chants and circles of ecstatic dancing.

For the second time in as many months, the people of Tunisia had toppled their government, and now their chant changed to “the act is done, the rest is yet to come.”

Ghannouchi, 69, quit because he had been unable to overcome his past as part of fallen president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s government, and the peaceful demonstrations that forced Ben Ali out had turned violent and police seemed unable to control the crowds, according to activists in several newly formed political parties.

Libya protesters control Zawiyah

Forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have surrounded the city of Zawiyah, where anti-government protesters are bracing for an attack. Men opposed to Gaddafi were patrolling the streets of the city 50km from the capital on Sunday, saying they had seized weapons and even tanks which they would use to defend themselves.

Ezeldina, a Zawiyah resident, told Al Jazeera that people in the city had raided some military camps.

“We are expecting an attack at any moment,” he said. “We are forming rotating watchgroups, guarding the neighbourhood.” Police stations and government offices inside the city have been torched and anti-Gaddafi graffiti painted of walls. Hundreds of protesters in the city centre chanted “Gaddafi Out”. Some stood on top of a captured tank, while others crowded around an anti-aircraft gun. Women stood on top of buildings cheering on the men in the crowd below.

An effigy of Gaddafi hung from a light pole in the main square.

A group of foreign journalists were driven to Zawiyah by Libyan authorities on Sunday to show that forces loyal to Gaddafi still held the town. But once there, it was evident that the protesters were in control.

Protests turn violent in Oman port

Thousands of Omani youths confronted police in the industrial port of Sohar on Sunday after witnesses reported that two protesters had been killed in clashes with the security forces. The small Gulf state, a close ally of the UK, is the latest country to be rocked by the wave of youth-driven democracy movements that have spread through the region since the fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders.

Unprecedented unrest in northern Oman marks an escalation of civil protest in the oil-rich Gulf, sparking fears of further contagion in a region whose oil reserves are vital to the global economy.

The flare-up follows rising tensions in Bahrain, where pro-democracy protests have shaken the country for the past two weeks, prompting other states such as Saudi Arabia to offer citizens billions of dollars worth of benefits in an attempt to ward off unrest.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said, Oman’s ruler, reshuffled the cabinet at the weekend. But this failed to placate the protesters in central Sohar. “We want all these ministers to go,” said one demonstrator. “They are thieves.”

Protest marches fill Bahrain capital as pressure mounts on rulers

Thousands of protesters streamed through Bahrain’s diplomatic area and other sites Sunday, chanting against the country’s king and rejecting his appeals for talks to end the tiny Gulf nation’s nearly two-week-old crisis.

At least three processions paralyzed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain’s rulers to hold talks to ease the increasingly bitter showdown in the strategic island nation, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

“No dialogue until the regime is gone,” marchers chanted as they moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.

Other marchers shouted slogans to oust Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and plastered fences with flyers denouncing security forces for attacks that have killed seven people since the first protests Feb. 14 inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.



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