TIME Egypt

Egypt Is Struggling to Cope With Its ISIS Insurgency

Palestinian watches as smokes rises from an Egyptian coastguard vessel on the coast of northern Sinai, as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters A Palestinian watches as smokes rises from an Egyptian coastguard vessel on the coast of northern Sinai, as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt, on July 16, 2015.

A rocket attack on a warship was just the latest in a series of escalating attacks on Egyptian forces in Sinai

They have attacked on land and at sea, killing dozens of soldiers. They have assassinated a senior official in daylight and attempted to seize a small Sinai town.

The insurgents control no significant area of land, but they are far from being defeated. A season of deadly attacks by insurgents in Egypt — including those backed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria group (ISIS) — underscores an escalating insurgency that the Egyptian state is struggling to suppress.

The surge in violence began in late June when Egypt’s chief prosecutor was killed in a car bombing in daylight in an upscale Cairo neighborhood. Two days later, the ISIS-affiliated militants launched a massive assault on military positions in north Sinai, attempting to seize control of a small chunk of territory in Egypt. At least 17 Egyptian soldiers died, although some reports placed the death toll much higher.

The attacks did not stop there. Early on the morning of July 11, a bomb destroyed part of the Italian consulate in Cairo. Another attack targeted soldiers on the Suez road. Later, Wilayet Sinai published photos of a missile hitting an Egyptian navy ship in the Mediterranean. The Egyptian military said no one died, while the insurgents claimed they killed the whole crew.

“Each attack is greater than the last one. It indicates a systematic failure, both on a strategic level and a tactical one,” said Ismail Alexandrani, an Egyptian analyst currently in Washington following a fellowship with the Woodrow Wilson Center. “All propaganda or optimistic analysis of this is just wishful thinking,” he says in a phone interview, “the worst is yet to come.”

Even before the massive June 1 assault in north Sinai, violent attacks were on the rise. In June, militants launched 130 separate attacks, according to reports compiled by the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. That number marks an increase in reported attacks since the beginning of 2015.

The most significant group behind the current wave of militancy is the Islamic State’s “Sinai Province” (Wilayat Sinai in Arabic). That group, originally known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis (ABM), pledged fealty to the Islamic State group in 2014. The group has been responsible for killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers and police in recent years.

The current uptick in the insurgency began in the summer of 2013, after the military deposed President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist elected the previous year. Hundreds died and thousands more have been jailed and injured in a state clampdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

The government has indicated that their response to the current violence will feature more restrictive measures. These include a proposed law that would criminalize media reporting that contradicts official accounts. The legislation initially included a two-year jail sentence for such reporting, but the draft was revised, imposing a fine of 200,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($25,530 to $63,840).

Reeling from the violence, the government is also making internal changes. Interior minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar carried out a major reshuffle of security officials, replacing 24 heads of security, according to the state newspaper Al-Ahram on Thursday. The security chiefs in greater Cairo will remain in place, while north Sinai will receive a new security director.

Arrayed against the state are multiple militant groups with varying capabilities. The Sinai Province remains the most potent, claiming responsibility for the north Sinai offensive, the Suez road attack, and the attack on the naval ship. The group did not however claim the assassination of the chief prosecutor, Hisham Barakat.

According to news reports, Egyptian security officials suspect that a former special forces officer turned militant leader masterminded the attacks. The former commander, Hisham Ashmawy, recently released an audio recording in which he urged a holy war against the government.

Until recently, Ashmawy was thought to be imparting his military expertise to the Sinai Province group, but in the new recording, Ashmawy indicates he is affiliated with a new group Al-Murabitoun, aligned with ISIS’ predecessor and main rival in the jihadist universe: Al-Qaeda. The recording, posted on YouTube, opens with a video of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri.

If authentic, the message from Ashmawy illustrates the depth and complexity of the problem facing Egyptian authorities already locked in battle with the ISIS-linked Sinai Province. It could also signal divisions within the insurgency in Egypt that map roughly onto the global rivalry between ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

“Ashmawy did likely train many militants but it seems he was among the dissident voices against the ISIS pledge of allegiance,” said Mokhtar Awad, a research associate tracking Egyptian militant movements at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

“Much of his military knowledge has however been absorbed by ABM, so his departure may not necessarily translate into a blow to their capacity as they now have other (likely ISIS trained) commanders,” Awad said in an email.

Egypt has a history of military officers joining the ranks of Islamist militants. The assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981 was carried out by a group of officers led by Abboud al-Zomour and Khaled al-Islambouli. In the current conflict, Ashmawy is not the only former military officer to defect to the insurgents. By all accounts their numbers are small, but analysts say they could be responsible for transferring knowledge to the militants.

Egypt’s central government has battled militancy in the Sinai for years. The peninsula, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, has been marginalized in the Egyptian system since Israel withdrew its occupying troops following the 1979 peace accord. Local Bedouin citizens are barred from joining the military and the people of the Sinai have been sidelined from much of the region’s economic development over the last three decades.

Regardless of the ferocity of the recent attacks, analysts also point out that the ISIS presence in Egypt looks different than it does in Syria and Iraq. The so-called Sinai Province controls no territory of any significance. Unlike the Iraqi army which fled advancing ISIS fighters last year, the Egyptian military reportedly managed to retake the town of Sheikh Zuwaid during the July 1 onslaught.

“Wilayet Sinai has and always will be a Sinai based, Sinai focused group. It can be contained. There is a reason why it is called Wilayet Sinai and not Wilayet Egypt,” says Awad. “Even ISIS central recognizes that the group has a limit. But with the ISIS pledge the group is caught between being a local actor and part of an international project.”

TIME Egypt

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Rocket Attack on Egyptian Navy Ship

Mideast Palestinians Egypt navy
Eyad Baba—AP An Egyptian navy vessel hoses down another, which caught fire on the Mediterranean Sea after an exchange of gunshots with militants on July 16, 2015.

Egypt's Sinai Province has seen a recent upsurge in militant violence

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has claimed its first naval attack on an Egyptian frigate in the Mediterranean, according to reports Thursday from SITE Intel Group. The Sinai branch of ISIS said they destroyed the naval ship with a guided missile.

The Egyptian military said in an early statement that a navy vessel had caught fire just off the coast of Sinai following a clash with militants. In a Facebook post, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir said there were no fatalities among the vessel’s crew in the shootout with “terrorists.”

However, photos posted by ISIS on Twitter appear to show the frigate being hit by a rocket.

According to AP, security officials said the vessel routinely patrols Egyptian territorial waters, sometimes used to transport army and public personnel to mainland Egypt.

Egypt’s ISIS affiliate killed at least 17 soldiers in a July 1 attack in the Sinai peninsula. The same group attempted to attack a military post on a highway between Cairo and Suezon Wednesday. ISIS said via Twitter it succeeded in killing several soldiers but Egypt’s military denied the claim, saying it foiled the attack.

Last week ISIS claimed a bomb attack in front of Cairo’s Italian consulate that killed one person. Militant violence has surged in Egypt since the army overthrew Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

TIME Egypt

ISIS Supporters Claim Fatal Car Bombing in Egypt’s Capital

Mideast Egypt
Hassan Ammar—AP Egyptian policemen stand at the base of the crumbled facade of the Italian consulate following a blast that killed at least one person in Cairo on July 11, 2015.

One Egyptian was killed

(CAIRO)—A car bomb ripped into the Italian Consulate in Cairo early Saturday, destroying a section of the historic building in a powerful blast that killed one Egyptian and marked the most significant attack yet on foreign interests as militants target the country’s security forces.

A group calling itself The Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for the bombing in a message circulated on social media. The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified but it was distributed by known militant sympathizers. Previous claims linked to Islamic State attacks in Egypt had been signed as the group’s Sinai Province. It wasn’t immediately clear what, if anything, the new name signified.

Egypt faces threats from multiple insurgent factions, including the Islamic State affiliate in the restive Sinai that the military says killed at least 17 soldiers in a recent assault there. Security officials from several branches of Egypt’s security forces previously told The Associated Press that that attack killed dozens more.

The bombing struck at around 6:30 a.m. (0430 GMT, 12:30 a.m. EDT), exploding in a side street in downtown Cairo near the building’s back entrance and a busy highway overpass. Italian authorities said the consulate was closed at the time and none of its workers were wounded.

The blast killed a passer-by and wounded eight, one of whom is still in the hospital, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Egyptian Heath Ministry official Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar told the AP that the man killed had some of his limbs blown off.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi after the attack, saying in a statement: “We will not leave Egypt alone: Italy and Egypt are and will always be together in the fight against terrorism.”

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy would increase security at Italian sites in Cairo and greater Egypt.

“This is not a challenge that the West will win by itself,” he said. “It is a challenge that we will win together with the large majority of the Islamic community and of the Arab governments.”

An Egyptian security official said investigators were reviewing closed-circuit video recordings from the area, noting that one vehicle that disintegrated in the explosion had license plates from the canal city of Suez.

The blast heavily damaged the distinctive early 20th century building that once housed a school and became the Italian Consulate after World War II. Charred car parts littered the street, which flooded in some areas from rupture water pipes. Several floors of the consulate were destroyed on one side, leaving a gaping hole.

The purported Islamic State claim said the group had used 450 kilograms (990 pounds) of explosives in the attack. It warned Muslims to stay away from such “security nests” that were “lawful targets” for attacks.

The bombing marked the first large-scale attack on a foreign diplomatic installation since President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi took office a year ago, following his 2013 ouster as army chief of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Since then, attacks on security personnel and officials have intensified, most recently one that killed the country’s chief prosecutor near his home in Cairo.

Some bombs went off near branches of foreign businesses ahead of an international investment conference in March. A few months prior, the British and Canadian embassies closed after senior Egyptian security officials said suspected militants revealed plans to target the embassies, abduct foreign nationals and assassinate public figures.

Egyptian authorities have blamed many attacks on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, which denies using violence and condemned Saturday’s bombing. The Brotherhood’s ranks have grown divided recently over whether to violently confront the government in response to a nearly 2-year-old heavy crackdown that has killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands of its members.

It wasn’t clear if Italy was specifically targeted in Saturday’s attack. Italy hosted el-Sissi’s first official visit to Europe late last year, and the Italian Consulate building also housed a restaurant popular among Westerners and Cairenes.

The consulate sits on one of the busiest intersections in downtown Cairo, along a major artery that connects Ramsis Square to the heart of the capital. The surrounding area includes a large hospital, a major police station surrounded by blast walls, a central ambulance dispatching station and the state-owned flagship newspaper Al-Ahram.

Meanwhile Saturday, a mortar shell fired by Sinai militants at an army position hit a car instead, killing one civilian and wounding three near the border town of Rafah, security officials said. All Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to brief reporters.

TIME Egypt

Egypt Marks Two Years Since Islamist Leader’s Ouster

Protest Giza Morsi death penalty
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Egyptians, who call themselves as an anti-coup group, shout slogans and light flares as they protest against the coup regime and the mass death sentence decisions including Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi, in Giza, Egypt on July 3, 2015.

Mohammed Morsi has since been sentenced to death

CAIRO (AP) — Two years to the day after the army overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president, the sounds coming from the mosque at Cairo’s Tahrir Square were sadly telling. At the focal point of Egypt’s upheavals, where authorities had hoped to stage celebrations, there was instead a prayer for the week’s dead, including soldiers cut down by militants in Sinai and the country’s chief prosecutor, assassinated by car bomb in the capital.

A sense of foreboding fills the air, with officials and media speaking of a state of war and urging national unity. President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has promised swift justice, which critics fear will mean a further step away from democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood, banned but unbowed, has upped the ante by calling for revolt against his rule. There is fear of even worse attacks of the kind that have become sadly familiar around the region.

It all presents a major challenge for el-Sissi, who as army chief led the takeover against Morsi two years ago, when millions filled the streets outraged over what they saw as Brotherhood misrule. He was later elected president, and the deal he has offered Egyptians — a curtailing of freedoms in exchange for stability and security — was one many seemed eagerly willing to embrace after several years of upheaval, in which the wider region has gone up in flames.

The first part of that equation has been carried out: the once-ruling Muslim Brotherhood has been largely crushed, thousands of its members and scores of leaders in jail and hundreds — including Morsi — handed the death penalty. Public protests are restricted, as is political activity. The media has been cowed amid an atmosphere that seems to equate criticism with disloyalty, and even many liberal activists are in jail. The result has been quieter streets, without protests that often turned to riots the past three years, and violence against Christian and Shiite minorities has lessened, though not stopped.

But stability, which for a time seemed attainable, seems to be in danger of unraveling. Militants affiliated with the regional Islamic State group have turned the northern part of the Sinai peninsula into a war zone, this week staging a brazen multi-pronged attack on army positions. Last month a key tourist site at Luxor was attacked, and on Tuesday chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat was assassinated while leaving his Cairo home for work.

Islamic radicals have claimed responsibility for the attacks. Authorities generally blame the Muslim Brotherhood itself, claiming its leaders issue orders from behind bars. Some believe the group’s denials while others don’t, and proof is scarce.

Michael Hanna, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Century Foundation, sees an “escalatory cycle … deteriorating security is eroding confidence in the capacity of the regime but at the same time also reinforcing hard-line trends in Egyptian society with respect of how to deal with these security threats.”

After the killing of Barakat, an angry el-Sissi went on TV to promise more efficient justice. He also suggested that the death penalties against the Islamist leaders would — contrary to expectations — actually be carried out.

Action will be taken within days “to enable us to execute the law, and bring justice as soon as possible,” he said. In a thinly veiled reference to jailed members of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi blamed the violence on those “issuing orders from behind bars,” and warned: “If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out.”

“We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world,” el-Sissi said.

El-Sissi was alluding to the widespread global criticism of his heavy-handed rule — charges certainly also echoed by domestic opponents, not all of them Islamists.

On Friday, hundreds of mostly young Islamist demonstrators held several small protests in Cairo suburbs, carrying pro-Morsi signs and chanting “down with military rule.”

But el-Sissi also has wide support among Egyptians who have come to feel that liberal democracy is a bad fit in a society where almost half the people are illiterate and significant political forces would, if allowed, create a theocracy which would hardly be democratic.

“There’s progress and stability, we feel more order in the streets and the economy. But there’s nobody who’s not sad in Egypt these days because of the attacks in Sinai,” said Ibrahim Hamdy, a shopkeeper at a hardware store in a popular neighborhood of central Cairo, where Ramadan decorations hung from the buildings.

The crackdown on the Brotherhood and other opponents following Morsi’s ouster claimed hundreds of lives and landed thousands in jail. With most of the Brotherhood cadres imprisoned, youth supporters have been left leaderless. Some still protest several times a week in dilapidated Cairo suburbs and narrow alleyways, or restive rural areas off-limits to the state.

Unprecedented, coordinated attacks by militants including massive suicide bombings on the army in the Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday underlined the failure to stem an insurgency that blossomed in the area after Morsi’s overthrow, despite a heavy-handed crackdown.

The army said 17 soldiers and over 100 militants were killed, although before the release of its official statement, several senior security officials from multiple branches of Egypt’s forces in Sinai had said that scores more troops also died in the fighting. The same day, a special forces raid on a Cairo apartment killed nine leaders of the outlawed Brotherhood, which said they were innocents “murdered in cold blood,” and called for a “rebellion.”

Sinai’s main insurgent organization, which calls itself the Sinai Province of the Islamic State group, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s assault. El-Sissi has yet to address the public about the attacks, but in the past he has described the Brotherhood as the root of all Islamic extremist groups. Just two days earlier, the assassination of Barakat was claimed by an obscure militant group.

The week’s events have pushed aside, for now, the talk of Egypt’s budding economic recovery. GDP is accelerating, foreign investment has jumped and the stock market is rising. Unemployment is down and the country’s credit ratings are up. Gas lines are gone and the country has capital to invest, thanks in part to a multi-billion dollar aid package from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Among Brotherhood’s supporters, calls to abandon non-violence are growing, deepening an internal split over the issue. Wednesday’s call for revolt may reinforce those urging the use of force.

Security expert H.A. Hellyer said it was not inevitable but “increasingly likely” that the call will result in “a more militant and insurgency-style route.” Hellyer, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said such calls would find “a much more receptive audience against the backdrop of the political realities in Egypt and the crackdown.”

The events do not bode well for attempts to support democracy, form a more pluralistic society, or even elect a parliament, which el-Sissi had said would come at the end of the year.

Those elections, whenever they take place, are likely to produce a strongly pro-el-Sissi legislature. Islamists, in various forms, may still have a solid base of support but are likely to largely boycott — something that allowed el-Sissi to easily win election a year ago. The existing non-Islamic parties, an assortment of nationalists and liberals, were disorganized and hapless in opposition to Morsi and largely back el-Sissi now.

TIME Egypt

ISIS Claims Credit for Attacks on Egyptian Army Checkpoints That Kill 50

Egypt Sinai
Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters Smoke rises in Egypt's North Sinai as seen from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt on July 1, 2015.

The attacks come two days after the assassination of the country's top prosecutor

(EL-ARISH, Egypt) — Islamist militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 50 soldiers, security and military officials said.

The coordinated morning assaults in Sinai came a day after Egypt’s president pledged to step up the battle against Islamic militants and two days after the country’s state prosecutor was assassinated in the capital, Cairo.

The scope and intensity of the attacks underscored the resilience and advanced planning by the militants who have for years battled Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai but intensified their insurgency over the past two years just as the government threw more resources into the drawn-out fight.

An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attacks, saying its fighters targeted a total of 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two of which targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club in the nearby city of el-Arish.

The authenticity of the claim could not be immediately verified but it was posted on a Facebook page associated with the group.

Except for the attack at the officers’ club, the rest took place in the town of Sheikh Zuweid and targeted at least six military checkpoints, the officials said. The militants also took soldiers captive and seized weapons and several armored vehicles, they added, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

At least 54 other soldiers were wounded, the officials said. As fighting raged, an army Apache gunship destroyed one of the armored carriers captured by the militants as they were driving it away, the officials added.

Egypt’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir, said clashes were still underway in the area between the armed forces and the militants. His statement put the number of soldiers killed so far at 10, but the conflicting numbers could not immediately be reconciled in the immediate aftermath of a major attack.

Samir’s statement, posted on his official Facebook page, said some 70 militants attacked five checkpoints in northern Sinai and that Egyptian troops killed 22 off them and destroyed three all-terrain vehicles fitted with antiaircraft guns.

The officials said scores of militants were besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s main police station, shelling it with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and exchanging fire with dozens of policemen inside.

Northern Sinai has over the past two years witnessed a series of complex and successful attacks targeting Egyptian security forces, many of which have been claimed by a local affiliate of the Islamic State group.

Two of the six checkpoints attacked Wednesday were completely destroyed, the officials said. Army checkpoints in the area routinely have between 50 and 60 soldiers. The IS statement said the two checkpoints were hit by suicide bombers.

The attacks came just two days after the assassination in Cairo of the country’s top prosecutor, Hisham Barakat, and one day after President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed to step up a two-year crackdown on militants.

Last week, Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called in an audio message on IS followers to launch massive attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is now entering its third week.

Militants in northern Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, have battled security forces for years but stepped up their attacks following the July 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi after days of mass street protests against his rule.

El-Sissi, then the nation’s army chief, led the ouster and went to become Egypt’s president, winning a landslide election a year ago on a ticket that emphasized security and economic recovery.

Wednesday’s attacks came in swift response to el-Sissi’s pledge the previous day to carry out justice for the prosecutor general’s assassination — and possibly move to execute Muslim Brotherhood leaders, an Islamist group from which Morsi hails.

Pounding his fist as he spoke Tuesday at the funeral of Barakat, who led the prosecution and oversaw scores of cases against thousands of Islamists, el-Sissi’s comments seemed to signal an even tougher campaign on the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist group that is now outlawed and declared a terrorist organization.

Egypt has since Morsi’s ouster waged a crackdown that has led to thousands of arrests, mass convictions and death sentences. Morsi is among those condemned to die, but has a potentially lengthy appeal process ahead of him.

El-Sissi said the government was ready to brush aside criticisms and free the judiciary’s hand for a “battle” the country is prepared to wage.

“The judiciary is restricted by laws, and swift justice is also restricted by laws. We will not wait for that,” el-Sissi said.

Action will be taken within days “to enable us to execute the law, and bring justice as soon as possible,” he said. “We will stand in the face of the whole world, and fight the whole world.”

In a thinly veiled reference to jailed members of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi blamed the violence on those “issuing orders from behind bars,” and warned: “If there is a death sentence, it will be carried out.”

TIME Egypt

Egypt State Prosecutor Dies After Cairo Bomb Attack

Hisham Barakat
Anadolu Agency — Getty Images Members of the Egyptian security services inspect the scene of a bombing targeting the convoy of the Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat, in a northern suburb of Heliopolis, Cairo, on June 29, 2015.

Hisham Barakat is first top official to be assassinated since President Morsi's ouster in 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s official news agency says the country’s state prosecutor has died of wounds sustained in a bomb attack on his convoy in a Cairo suburb.

MENA says the 65-year-old Hisham Barakat died in a Cairo hospital on Monday after undergoing a critical surgery.

He is the first top Egyptian official to be assassinated since the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi two years ago.

Hours earlier, a strong explosion had ripped through Barakat’s convoy in the busy upscale eastern suburb of Heliopolis as he was driving to his office in the downtown.

The attack came as Egyptian security forces were already on high alert on the eve of the second anniversary of massive anti-Islamist demonstrations that paved the way, days later, for the military’s ouster of Morsi.

TIME Egypt

Senior al-Jazeera Reporter Ahmed Mansour Detained in Germany on Egypt’s Request

GERMANY-EGYPT-MEDIA-ARREST-JAZEERA
JOHN MACDOUGALL—AFP/Getty Images Supporters of ousted Egyptian Islamist president Mohamed Morsi stage a demonstration to ask for the release of detained Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour in front of the local court of Berlin's Tiergarten district, where Mansour is being held in custody on June 21, 2015

Protesters are demanding the 52-year-old's immediate release

Ahmed Mansour, a presenter for al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel, has been arrested in Berlin at the request of the Egyptian government.

The New York Times says it’s the first time a Western government has acted to comply with one of Egypt’s many extradition requests. An extradition hearing will take place on Monday, according to the BBC.

In 2014, Mansour was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia by an Egyptian court. The 52-year-old Egyptian national was convicted of torturing a lawyer during the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising. He denies the charges.

Mansour was arrested at Tegel airport in Berlin as he boarded a flight to Qatar, where his employer is based. Since former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in 2013, al-Jazeera has been critical of the current government, headed by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the New York Times reports.

Protesters gathered outside the facility where Mansour is being held on Sunday to demand his release.

“It is quite ludicrous that a country like Germany would enforce and support such a request made by a dictatorial regime like the one we have in Egypt,” Mansour said in a video he recorded while in the Berlin prison.

TIME energy

Could Middle East Switch From Oil to Renewable Superpower?

wind-mills
Getty Images

Decreasing prices in solar power could provide opportunities for oil-poor countries

Even as Saudi Arabian officials continue to tout its shift to renewable energy, it may be oil-poor countries in the region like Jordan and Egypt that can benefit sooner from falling prices in solar power.

“Costs have halved in just three years,” energy consultant Robin Mills noted last week, “meaning solar can now beat all conventional generation apart from the very cheapest gas.”

Mills cited the bids in Jordan’s recent solar auction, which were just over 6 US cents per kilowatt-hour. These were just slightly above the record 5.84 cents from Acwa Power last November for the 200 MW second phase of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park.

It could be Egypt’s turn next, Mills suggested, as the North African country struggles with a gas and power crisis and is reportedly working on 6,500 MW of solar deals.

“Petroleum-poor countries such as Jordan should seize the opportunity now to boost their economic and energy security,” Mills, the head of consulting for Dubai-based Manaar Energy, urged in an article for Abu Dhabi’s “The National.”

In general, the expert said, any country burning oil for power – including oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran as well as oil-poor countries like Jordan and Egypt – should replace this with solar as much as possible.

Egypt, as well as Kuwait and Dubai, could also save on imported liquefied natural gas by switching to solar, even though LNG prices have dropped sharply, he said.

The prospects for solar in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region are even more promising than forecasted in Manaar’s optimistic 2012 study, “Sunrise in the Desert,” Mills said.

The new evidence of plunging costs for solar in MENA come as Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali al-Naimi reiterated the kingdom’s plans to become a “global power” in solar and wind energy.

“In Saudi Arabia, we recognize that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels,” Naimi said at a climate change conference this month [May] in Paris. “I don’t know when – 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy.”

The recent decline in oil prices won’t make solar power uneconomic, the influential official said. “I believe solar will be even more economic than fossil fuels,” Naimi told those attending the Business & Climate Summit at Unesco headquarters.

With its previously announced plans to develop solar and wind power, Saudi Arabia hopes one day to be exporting “gigawatts of electric power” instead of fossil fuels.

The 2012 report from Manaar, produced in collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Emirates Solar Industry Association, identified half a dozen different ways various countries in the MENA region can benefit from increased use of solar power.

For one group – Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, and the northern emirates in United Arab Emirates – solar power can save on high-cost oil imports. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria, solar can free up domestic oil consumption for export. For others, like Dubai and Tunisia, it can save on high-cost gas imports.

Other countries – Iraq, Libya and Yemen – can rely on solar while developing domestic gas resources. Another group – including Algeria, Abu Dhabi, Iran, and Oman – can free up gas consumption for export. Qatar, which limits gas exports as a matter of policy, is a case apart and would not find solar economic in the immediate future.

In short, solar has enormous benefits for nearly all countries in the region, even when taking into consideration their different circumstances.

In his new article, Mills sees the region poised to enter a third generation of solar power development, after a first generation of heavily subsidized pilot projects and the current generation becoming the cheapest energy source on its own.

The third generation must address the problem of intermittency, he says – meeting the need for electricity outside periods of maximum solar output. Possible solutions include grid interconnections with countries that have different demand patterns; energy storage, especially if there are further breakthroughs on battery costs; and better demand management.

Another issue that needs to be addressed in the third generation, Mills said, is meeting the demand for desalinated water. This is currently dealt with by using the waste heat from gas-burning power plants. Possible solar solutions would use solar electricity to drive reverse osmosis plants or use the sun’s heat directly for desalination.

This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com.

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TIME Middle East

These 5 Facts Explain the Troubled U.S.-Arab Relationship

Obama Hosts Gulf Cooperation Council Summit at Camp David
Kevin Dietsch—AP Obama encourages Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to make a statement alongside Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

A summit in Camp David shows the growing gap between the U.S. and its Arab allies, thanks to changing oil politics and aging leaders

President Barack Obama just concluded a two day summit with America’s Arab allies. The meeting wrapped up a rocky week that started when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman publicly withdrew from the summit and sent his son and his young nephew in his place. These 5 stats explain the tense relationship between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies, and the challenges those alliances will face going forward.

1. It’s the Oil, Stupid.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia comprise the grouping of monarchies in the Persian Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They are all major oil producers, with Saudi Arabia the heavyweight of the lot. Together they account for 24% of the world’s crude oil production. But after decades of critical dependence on their oil, America, thanks largely to the mid-2000s shale boom, has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to lead the world in oil production. The GCC has felt this acutely—Saudi Arabia saw its oil exports to the US plummet 23.74% between 2008 and 2014. The Saudis are not content to take this lying down. Riyadh is busy ramping up its own production (achieving a record high of 10.3 million barrels per day this past April) in an effort to drive down oil and price more expensive U.S. shale producers out of the global market.

(Middle East Monitor, Bloomberg, Energy Information Administration, Financial Times)

2. The Paradox of Plenty

While Saudis are increasing production largely to strengthen their long-term market position, the gambit poses significant short-term risks. Oil prices had already been tumbling for months, and the price of oil directly affects economies like that are heavily reliant upon the commodity. 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP comes directly from oil and gas, 40% of the UAE’s, and around 50-60% each for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. By keeping production high, Saudi Arabia is helping to keep oil prices low.

Economists often talk about the “resource curse,” when a country’s abundance of natural resources stunts the rest of its economy. In a healthy and balanced economy, the private sector should drive research, development and innovation. But only 20% of Bahraini nationals work in the private sector. The rest of the GCC are worse: a pitiful 0.5% of UAE nationals have the misfortune of private employment. The GCC countries have relied so long on oil that their workforces can’t compete in a globalized world. The ruling powers are keenly aware of this fact.

(Forbes, OPEC – UAE, OPEC – Qatar, OPEC – Kuwait, EIA, Al Jazeera)

3. Arab Spring, Still Blooming?

The GCC countries had a front-row seat to the Arab Spring. Beginning in 2011, countries throughout the Arab World erupted in demonstrations and protests, even bleeding into Bahrain and Kuwait. One of the main drivers of the movement was mass unemployment, which afflicts the affluent GCC as well. Ernst & Young estimates that unaddressed unemployment of youths aged 20-24 could eventually reach 40% across GCC member states. Those are numbers ripe for revolution.

The only thing scarier than the uprisings to the Gulf monarchs must have been the U.S. response to them. For years the understanding was that so long as the Gulf countries would keep the world market flush with oil, the U.S. would provide them with protection. Egypt had a variation of this type of relationship with Washington, but Obama wasted little time in throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus in 2011—at least as the GCC see it. If Egypt could be sacrificed at the altar of democracy, why couldn’t Saudi Arabia be next?

(Bloomberg, Ernst & Young)

4. The Threat of Iran

Looming over the GCC Summit is America’s reengagement with Iran. Washington’s greatest leverage over Tehran is the possibility of lifting sanctions in exchange for a nuclear deal. Experts estimate that Iran’s economy could grow anywhere from 2% to 5% in the first year after lifting sanctions, and then 7-8% the following 18 months. Those are rates on par with the remarkable growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1990s.

It’s not just the additional economic competition that worries the GCC. Saudi Arabia has spent the better part of the last decade combatting Iran’s influence across Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, even Bahrain—the end of sanctions would give Tehran additional financing to escalate the regional rivalry. Further destabilizing the region are serious threats posed by groups like ISIS. This is why the GCC sought a formal, Japan-style security alliance with the U.S. The leaders who showed up in Washington couldn’t get the pact they wanted—a treaty requiring Congressional approval is a nonstarter—but they did get assurances of America’s continued military support and significant arms sales.

(Financial Times, Vox, Reuters, Economist)

5. Age Matters

The absence of the Saudi king, along with his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, sent the message that the status quo in the Middle East cannot continue. Their snub of Obama was intended to project an image of strength in the region. But the reality is that the oil-dependent GCC countries have serious structural problems that will take generations to solve. Instead of dealing with four rulers with an average age of 75, Obama sat across from representatives with an average age of 56. This younger generation is poised to lead their countries for decades to come. After 70 years of intense engagement, it is clear that the GCC countries need America as much as ever. The question is how much America needs them.

(Crown Prince Court – UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain (a), Kingdom of Bahrain (b) AlJazeera, Reuters, BBC, Forbes, Al-Monitor, White House )

TIME Crowdsourcing

World’s First ‘Crowdsourced Country’ Campaign Aims to Solve World Hunger

Jeremiah Heaton hopes to establish an agricultural research center on a slice of unclaimed land to help solve the world's food shortages

A U.S. farmer who professes to have established the “Kingdom of North Sudan” so his daughter could be a princess launched the world’s first “crowdsourced country” campaign Tuesday to nail down his claim.

Virginia resident Jeremiah Heaton is hoping to found a state-of-the-art agricultural research center on some 800 sq. mi. of ostensibly unclaimed land between Egypt and Sudan known as Bir Tawil.

The Kingdom of North Sudan, he says on the Indiegogo crowdfunding page, will be “a nation fully dedicated to researching and developing solutions for our current global food shortages and impending food crisis.”

Through the campaign, Heaton intends to fund some of the world’s top scientists to conduct research at the center and develop sustainable agriculture methods focusing on ways to improve food production using less water.

He’s even offering a range of incentives to garner donations for the project, which he estimates will cost $505.5 million over five years. For $25 you could have an honorary title in the new kingdom, or a knighthood for $300. Meanwhile, $1.5 million will give you naming rights for a future international airport or the capital city for $1.7 million.

You can even donate $2,500 to the campaign to “torment the king” by subjecting him to 48 hours of continuous Justin Bieber music.

Heaton began his wildly ambitious campaign after his 6-year-old daughter asked to be a real-life princess. Taking his daughter’s wish literally, he began searching for terra nullius, or unclaimed land, and found Bir Tawil in East Africa. On June 16, 2014, he visited the area and planted a homemade flag for his new country.

But to go any further with his plan, Heaton must receive legal recognition from Egypt and Sudan, the U.N. and other world bodies, which could prove tricky.

“There’s no way either Egypt or Sudan would let it happen,” Professor Paul Nugent, a former director of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh, told al-Jazeera.

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