The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Daily describes “major” terrorist attack “foiled” in Tunisia…. concerns grow over an ISIS “Southern Strategy”

An important report from Qatari owned Al-Quds al-Arabi on October 1:

“Tunisian security forces have managed to foil a major terrorist scheme bearing the fingerprints of Islamic State [IS, also known as ISIL, ISIS] and targeting the Province of Tataouine in the south. Meanwhile, media sources indicated that the authorities have handed over the body of the perpetrator of the Sousse attack, Seifeddine Rezgui, to his relatives to be buried amid tight security measures.

The Interior Ministry issued statement on Thursday in which it confirmed that border guards personnel managed to seize two booby-trapped cars carrying the insignia of IS and coming from Libyan territory. The vehicles were seized in the area of Remada in Tataouine, southern Tunisia.

The statement said: “The Interior Ministry announces that two vehicles were seized in a qualitative intelligence operation and an ambush set by Azrat border guards personnel, affiliated with the national guard zone in Remada. A terrorist group was intercepted while trying to infiltrate into Tunisia aboard three SUVs at dawn on 30 September 2015. They could not advance because the national guard forces opened fire on them, while their advance was obstructed by the sand barrier, which made one of the three vehicles go back into Libyan territory.”

The statement said a number of machine guns and large quantities of ammunition were found in the two cars, in addition to hand grenades, night vision binoculars, and a Libyan telephone card. The Akhir Khabar electronic website said that Mehdi Zribi, an extremist militant wanted by Tunisian authorities, could be responsible for booby-trapping the vehicles. The website said Zribi joined the extremist ISIL organization some time ago, when he “received training on booby-trapping cars and making bombs. About a year ago, he moved to Libya upon instructions from the command of the organization to provide training on booby-trapping and planning bombings in Tunisia”.

Dozens of youths from the area of Remada have disappeared. Security sources said they most probably left to join the Islamic State in Libya.

Military expert Badrah Qa’lul had warned in previous statements to Al-Quds al-Arabi of the presence of a scenario to create a “new Bouazizi” in southern Tunisia, in which, she said, the “Da’ish thinking” prevails.

She added: “There will be serious provocation attempts between the security and citizens in southern Tunisia, where the situation is very fragile because of the absence of development and the deep anger felt by citizens. In addition, the prevailing unstable situation can create social disturbances, especially in the presence of slogans threatening to kill security officers. Perhaps a scenario or a hypothesis that can take place on the ground (such as the shooting dead of a youth by security forces), can be a signal for chaos in Tunisia or for what is being prepared for in Tunisia, which is a Da’ish emirate in the south.”…”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 12, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Two pieces raising questions about the Nobel Peace Prize award

Two items on the Nobel announcement to consider: “Will Tunisia’s Nobel Prize be an inspiration?”

“The Problem With Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 10, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nicholas Noe on Al-Jazeera today offers criticism & concerns over the Nobel Peace Prize award to Tunisian Quartet

I will be appearing on Inside Story via Al-Jazeera English at 6:30pm Tunis time today 5:30pm GMT (two and a half hours from now) to discuss the Nobel Peace Prize award and to offer some criticisms and concerns over the award that went to the National Dialogue Quartet.

Archived shows:

For the LiveStream:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 9, 2015 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Ten years too late, US starts to finally give Lebanon a few weapons that can be used w/ precision & wide effect

Still not enough but a good step for the LAF. See also my previous pieces on the subject:

2008/2009 White Paper on a new US approach to Lebanon:

Three NYTimes Op-Eds:

America Delivers Hellfire Missiles and Precision Munitions
to the Lebanese Armed Forces
Ambassador David Hale visited Beirut Airbase this morning to inspect America’s latest delivery of “Hellfire” missiles and artillery munitions to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).  Today’s shipment provides the LAF with 50 “Hellfire” air-to-ground missiles and 560 artillery rounds, including some precision munitions.  This represents $8.6 million worth of U.S. security assistance to Lebanon and boosts the LAF’s ability to secure Lebanon’s borders against violent extremists.

The “Hellfire” air-to-ground missiles are used on Cessna Caravan aircraft previously delivered to the LAF by the United States and allow the LAF to strike confirmed insurgent positions without exposing themselves to return fire.  The other artillery rounds include laser guided projectiles – the first munition of its kind in the LAF’s arsenal – which will provide the LAF with a precision-strike capability at significant stand-off ranges.

Today’s munitions delivery demonstrates America’s sustained commitment to ensure that the Lebanese Armed Forces has the support it needs to be the sole defender of Lebanese territory and its borders, and is answerable to the state and to the Lebanese people through the state.  This is a long term commitment.  Since 2004, America has provided over $1.3 billion dollars in security assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces, including both training and equipment.

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 9, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 unelected Tunisian clubs awarded Nobel Peace prize; even as country slips further away from stability & democracy

My piece recently in Tablet magazine last month….. fairly shocking that the Committee which represents so much of the old regime is now awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, especially in light of the hard return of the parallel state which was partially facilitated by the post Dialogue committee process!

“Another Middle Eastern State Could Collapse, and More Cash and Weapons Won’t Save It”/September 2015


Tunisia, the only democratic success story to come out of the “Arab Spring” revolts once heralded by the United States and other Western countries, is in serious danger. Even the country’s octogenarian President Beji Caid Essebsi seems to agree, warning recently of the distinct prospect that his country could become yet another failed state in the Middle East (and yet another accelerant for the Mediterranean refugee crisis). Although he quickly walked back his dramatic pronouncement, Essebsi expressed a barely concealed point of view that is increasingly common here: Tunisia is wholly unprepared for another terrorist attack, much less the general increase in religiously tinged violence, social breakdown, and broad economic collapse that has become the norm throughout the region.

What happened? The Tunisians appeared to admirably manage to make it through the transitional period that took place after the revolution of January 2011. A solid new constitution was written. Two elections took place. Power sharing between Islamists and their opposite was secured at the heart of a new national consensus. However, the system that has emerged is still largely anchored on, and increasingly subservient to, the corruption and vast inefficiencies of the old regime, including the police, various business elites, and a homegrown mafia.

And therein lies the core problem: What some Tunisians call the parallel state—the triangle of power assiduously built over the last several decades of a Western-backed dictatorship and that serves as the de facto authority—simply won’t be able to provide security in the new environment of relentless hi-tech insurgency; nor can it stimulate growth or even ensure economic stability for the vast majority of Tunisians.

In fact, the parallel state is structurally incapable of taking on either task effectively. First, unlike several other states in the region, it has very little strategic depth, experience, or demonstrable success in countering sustained violence. Second, the security elite is overwhelmingly resistant to any kind of reform or oversight that might make their agents more capable and accountable, preferring instead to double down on inept, heavy-handed methods, alongside deepening corrupt practices, that only breed greater resentment—already at exceptionally high levels—within the civilian population.

And then there is the issue of the rapidly disintegrating Tunisian economy: How can the parallel state be expected to enact the kinds of desperately needed reforms that might help stem the country’s decline but that would also necessarily undermine its own financial interests?

In early 2012, of course, these difficult trade-offs were far less apparent. The first elected, post-revolutionary government led by the Islamist An-Nahda party essentially chose not to take on the parallel state aggressively despite its earlier assurances to the Tunisian people—a decision supported by the U.S. government and key European Union member states. One indication of the turn-around was seen when An-Nahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jbali during his first year in office, partially out of blatant self-interest, backed off from a range of structural economic reforms that were designed to soften the monopolistic economic order of the country that ultimately feeds the police-mafia apparatus.

Crucially, such reforms would have opened up key sectors of the economy to greater local as well as foreign investment, thus undermining the overwhelming power that a few wealthy families use to shield their affiliated enterprises from both foreign and domestic competition. But Jbali (and his An-Nahda successor as prime minister in 2013) realized that his party and the self-described revolutionary forces didn’t have the political muscle to effect such a major change and that their preferred approach could lead to the government’s rapid destabilization. Moreover, the dominant thinking at the time went, why rock the boat so quickly after some of the newly elected officials had just been released from the regime’s jails?

Gradually, they imagined, the problem of the parallel state could be addressed within the framework of new laws, a new constitution, steady personnel changes at the ministry of interior, and, hopefully, supportive international efforts. The wildcard that Nahda, the Americans, and the Europeans didn’t properly calculate for, however, was the steady breakdown of the Libyan state, the inexorable pull of the Syrian civil war, and the spread of jihadist safe zones that now stretch across the Middle East and North Africa.

Simply put, the accommodationalist approach to the parallel state might have made sense in 2012 or even 2013. But over the last year and a half it has reached its termination point in terms of efficiency. Thousands of Tunisians are now engaged in a violent jihadist offensive in the region (many of the top emirs in ISIS and Syria’s al-Qaida franchise are Tunisians). More than a dozen major insurgent and terrorist attacks have taken place across the country in the last year alone (including a still-unbroken, three-year old insurgency in the central Chaambi mountain range, which is a mere 1,500 meters high). The country’s economy has been devastated, with most hotels sitting empty and businesses refusing to invest in what is rightfully viewed as an exceedingly difficult place to do business.


Unfortunately, the current president and most other observers usually point their fingers at subsidiary reasons for Tunisia’s current predicament: a lack of foreign cash assistance to prop up the country’s inefficient practices; not enough imported weapons or training for an anemic army; and home-grown extremists radicalized by outsiders or dangerously coddled by previous An-Nahda-led governments. Indeed, the list goes on, but invariably they explain the main cancer as lying outside of the “normal” realm of the Tunisian body politic (An-Nahda is even said by some of its critics to be a kind of foreign invention) and Tunisian responsibility.

They are wrong: The central problem lies within Tunisia and is embodied in the parallel state. Yet even though its incompetency is increasingly obvious—tragically underscored just three months ago by the enormous level of human and economic destruction that a single, poorly trained gunman was able to exact in just one attack in the resort city of Sousse on June 26—the old triangle of power has actually been steadily expanding its reach. In fact, from the July passage of a new anti-terrorism law that effectively returns key powers to the security apparatus (without any new benchmarks of responsibility, oversight, or monitoring of effectiveness), to the imminent passage of an “economic reconciliation” with ex-regime businesspersons (a bill that will avoid the issue of accountability and the prevention of corruption going forward), the legal framework ensuring the preponderance of the parallel state has almost been completed. This time, however, it is being stewarded by elected representatives who generally have found no other viable option but to cede crucial levers of power to the a system of governance they once fought.

At the same time, a wide array of civil society organizations are being threatened with closure while journalists, activists, and even some members of parliament are coming under increasing attack for questioning the dominant anti-terrorism line. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have also been swept up in mass arrests, and, predictably, more than a hundred mosques have been shuttered and imams silenced without a clear and consistent basis for doing so, or much of a plan for what to do with the leaders and their congregations afterward. In one particularly dramatic illustration of the power of the parallel state recently, according to the Associated Press, seven Tunisians charged under the new anti-terrorism law were released by a tribunal, only to be kidnapped moments later as they exited the courthouse by police commandos whose fellow officers had reportedly tortured several of the men.


Given the obvious threat to international security that another failed Mediterranean state would represent, the gravity of the situation demands far more from all concerned actors than empty statements about supporting reforms or hoping that Tunisia is an inherently peaceful country somehow immune to a Mosul-like, jihadist surge or sustained civil conflict. In this regard, several approaches are available, including the most ambitious and comprehensive one: The creation of a supra-national, International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) that would function in a similar manner to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As one proponent has put it: “Like the ICC, an IACC would operate on the principle of complementarity, meaning that only officials from those countries unable or unwilling to prosecute grand corruption properly would be subject to prosecution. This would give many nations a significant incentive to strengthen and demonstrate their capacity to combat grand corruption.”

But cobbling together broad international support for an IACC would undoubtedly take time and face numerous obstacles. A better alternative, then, for the vast majority of Tunisians who desperately want to see an end to the corruption of the parallel state, as well as for regional peace and security, may be an ad-hoc U.N. investigation, combined with the threat of a hybrid (Tunisian-international) tribunal should Tunisia prove itself unable to prosecute the handful of people and networks widely believed to be responsible for the bulk of the corruption.

Such an effort, strongly backed behind the scenes by the threat of possible individual sanctions on the part of the European Union and the United States, would send a powerful message to all Tunisians that the era of high-level impunity is over. The culture of corruption/crony protectionism and the inefficiency and injustice it breeds has become an existential threat to Tunisia and to “frontline” states in the region. Patrimonicide is not an option.

Of course, any U.N.-led process would necessarily be conducted in concert with the legitimate, elected representatives of Tunisia. This would mean that Tunisian democrats would finally have the leverage that they haven’t had since the revolution’s heady early days to take on the kind of grand theft and economic monopolization that most Tunisians realize is killing the country and its incredible potential.

For its part, the parallel state would surely fight back against such a multi-pronged, international effort: It might begin by trying to exercise its influence through the Nidaa Tounes party that holds the presidency as well as a plurality (not a majority) of seats in the parliament—and that is routinely castigated by its opponents as being a kind of “ex-regime” front. In reality, however, a number of Nidaa MPs (and many of their coalition allies) have strong opposition and human rights bona fides built up over the last few decades. And many would likely be ideologically receptive to the idea of rationalizing Tunisia’s regime by ending the monopolization of the economy and its dependency on the police-mafia anchor.

Furthermore, unlike in Egypt, Iraq, or Lebanon, the Tunisian parallel state possesses few levers of hard power to disrupt its own decapitation. Fortunately, there are no private militias in Tunisia and only minimal capabilities (at least for now) that could be used to apply pressure. Most important though, external actors, whose unflinching support would be vital, have few stress points that could be threatened in their effort to aid Tunisian democrats.

Yet strangely, the search for alternative approaches to stem Tunisia’s decline doesn’t seem to be particularly of the moment in New York, Washington, Brussels, or any Mediterranean capital. To cite but one example, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) recently outlined how “a dysfunctional internal security apparatus” in Tunisia was failing and had to be “thorough(ly) reformed”:

Without an Internal Security Force (ISF) reform that would allow for the formulation of a holistic security strategy, Tunisia will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis as its regional environment deteriorates and political and social tensions increase, at the risk of sinking into chaos or a return to dictatorship.

Brushing aside the full implications of its own dire predictions, ICG then went on to propose more of the same remedies that might have made sense in the 2011-2013 period: The parallel state, and especially its manifestations in the security sector, needs to be brought into the democratic process since “a head-on fight between the ISF and the political class is a dead end.” Rather than “impos(ing) their vision on the Internal Security Forces,” the report asserted, Tunisia’s democrats needed to somehow “channel the ISF’s desire for independence,” cooperate with it and offer “encourage(ment).”

It is time to recognize the situation as it is: There may be a rare chance to build a robust, non-corrupt democracy in the Middle East. But a “head on fight” that aims to dismantle Tunisia’s de facto triangle of power—the police, their associated business elites, and the mafia—is the only credible way to move forward and the only way left to prevent yet another disaster in a region that can’t bear it anymore.


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Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Applications now open for the 15th Beirut Exchange Politics Workshop January 4-14, 2016

The Exchange is an effort by and its partners to promote understanding and academic enrichment through a variety of city-focused conferences in and around the Middle East and North Africa.

During their stay, typically lasting from one to two weeks, students and professionals from around the globe engage directly with some of the leading intellectuals, academics and political leaders in the country – representing a variety of different viewpoints.

The First Exchange was launched in June 2008 in Beirut, Lebanon. Now, seven years on, almost 450 students from 48 different countries have participated, with many going on to work as diplomats in their home countries, for NGOs serving the region and as social entrepreneurs.

The next Exchange will be held in Beirut, January 4-14, 2016

To view previous Exchange programs in Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Tunis and the Gulf, as well as media coverage of our efforts, visit

View the CNN report on The Beirut Exchange at:

Beirut Exchange Group on Facebook

Tunis Exchange Group on Facebook

REQUEST AN APPLICATION for any Exchange via

Note that tuition discounts, beyond standard financial aid allocations for those applicants with demonstrated need, are available for alumni of previous Exchange programs as well as students who wish to attend more than one Exchange. For more information, please email

JANUARY 4-14, 2016
Application Deadline I November 20, 2015/Deadline II December 10, 2015
Limited spaces available/Rolling acceptance

The ten-day Beirut Exchange program rests on two tracks:

Academic – Participants will attend a series of lectures and colloquia led by leading academics and public intellectuals in Lebanon. Topics will include: Recent protest movements in Lebanon; The Arab Uprisings; The Syrian conflict and its regional implications; The Islamic State; The Special Tribunal for Lebanon; The United Nations role in Lebanon and the region; Engaging political Islam; Asymmetrical conflict: The July 2006 Lebanon War; Human Rights in Lebanon and the wider Middle East; Sectarianism and its deployment, as well as a range of other topics.

Dialogue with Leaders – Participants will have the opportunity to meet, listen and engage leading social, political and economic actors from across the spectrum in Lebanon.

NOTE: Due to the current security situation in Lebanon, the Fifteenth Beirut Exchange will generally restrict its meetings in and around Beirut, although at least one trip to the North and one trip to the South is planned.


Monday, January 5
9am – Nicholas Noe,
1:30 – Ayman Mhanna, Samir Kassir Foundation
4pm – Omar Nashabe, Consultant for the Defense Counsel at the STL
7pm – Jihad Yazigi, The Syria Report

Tuesday, January 6
9:30am – Karim Makdisi, American University of Beirut
1:30pm – Discussion section
3:30pm – Bashir Saade, Edinburgh University
6pm – Anne Barnard, New York Times
8pm – Nicolas Pouillard, Institut Français du Proche-Orient

Wednesday, January 7
10am – Discussion section
12:30pm – Shadi Karam, Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister
2:15pm – Nick Blanford, Times of London/Daily Star
4pm – Ibrahim Moussawi, Al-Manar TV
5:30 – Liz Sly, Washington Post

Thursday, January 8
9am – Alice Arrue, UNIFIL
10:30am – Angelina Eichhorst, EU Delegation to the Lebanese Republic
11:30am – Ahmed Fatfat, Future Movement
1:30pm – The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Staff
7pm – Abdullah Dardari, United Nations/Former VP of Syria

Friday, January 9
9am – Makram Rabah, Georgetown University
11:30pm – Zizette Darkazally, UNRWA
4:30pm – Sami Gemayel, Kataeb
7pm – Mohammad Obeid, Hizbullah

Saturday, January 10
10:30am – Vincent Battle, Former US Ambassador
12pm – Ali Hamdan, AMAL
4pm – Mustapha Alloush, Future Movement

Sunday, January 11
1:30pm- Trip to the South (“Resistance Museum at Mleeta,” weather permitting)
5pm – Walid Jumblatt, Progressive Socialist Party

Monday, January 12
10am – Rabih Shibley, AUB
1pm – Alain Aoun, Free Patriotic Movement
2pm – Antoine Zahra, Lebanese Forces
3:30pm – Eli Khoury, Saatchi & Saatchi/Quantum
5pm – Hanin Ghaddar, Now Lebanon
8:30 – Dinner @ Muzzienne Restaurant

Tuesday, January 13
9:30am – Ali Qanso, Lebanese Armed Forces General Directorate
11:30am – Mohammad Afif, Hizbullah
1pm – Nadim Houri, Human Rights Watch
2:30pm – May Akl, Free Patriotic Movement
4:30pm – Becharra Rai, Patriarch of the Maronite Church
7pm – Nadim Gemayel, Kateab

Wednesday, January 14
10am – Ali Fayyad, Hizbullah
11:30am – Mohammad Qabbani, Former Sunni Mufti of Lebanon

Tuition – $1200; Partial financial aid is available for those students and individuals that can demonstrate need.

Accommodation – $600; Except for those students already residing in Lebanon, we recommend that all participants in the Exchange reside at the conference hotel during the duration of the 10-day program. The hotel, located near Downtown Beirut, is priced at $60 per person/per night, including all taxes and breakfast, for a shared double room (we will arrange for sharing). Single rooms are available for $100 per night. Note that we can also arrange for less expensive, private housing near to the conference room which will be priced at approximately $40 per person, per night.

Airfare – $400, approximate from the European Union.

At the discretion of the student, tuition is 50% refundable up to three weeks before the program commences. (Airline tickets and accommodation should be purchased with travel insurance.)


Visit our Facebook page and ask alumni questions at:

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 6, 2015 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

[TRANSLATED] Key Announcement: Egypt supports Russian military escalation in Syria

Translated in today’s Daily Briefing (for a free trial of our services, email

On October 5, the Qatari-owned Al-Quds al-Arabi daily carried the following report by its correspondent in Cairo Manar Abdul Fattah: “The announcement made by Egypt yesterday regarding its support of Russia’s raids in Syria provoked wide controversy surrounding its new political priorities, especially since it represents “a new test for its relations with the US and Saudi Arabia,” as per some experts. Others however expressed their opposition to Cairo’s official position, thus voicing concerns over the fall of civilian victims. Yesterday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri stated to the Saudi Al-Arabiya channel: “The information we have acquired through our direct contacts with the Russian side point to its interest in fighting terror and containing the spread of terrorism in Syria… And we believe that Russia’s contribution to that effort with all its capabilities will contain and eliminate terrorism in Syria…”

“But the Egyptian position contradicted that of several states in the US-led coalition, which described this development as an “additional escalation that will only fuel extremism…” And until Sunday afternoon, no Saudi or US response had been issued in regard to the Egyptian stance. For his part, former Assistant Foreign Minister Ambassador Massoum Marzouk said to Al-Quds al-Arabi: “I personally do not encourage these Russian raids and do not think it is a good thing for Arab territories to be opened to all the sides from the east and west. I am not reassured about what is happening, as it is causing the fall of victims on Arab soil, whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya or Yemen, at a time when the Arab skies are filled with American, French and Russian planes among others and the Arab League is standing by, along with its members, like a broken down building, unable to adopt whichever decision.”

“He continued: “This support is unfathomable. On what basis does Egypt support what is happening, although we all know that in war strategies, air bombings do not differentiate between the victims on the ground, which will undoubtedly cause the fall of many innocent people?… Saudi Arabia’s anger towards Egypt’s position is like a “dark comedy” seen in the Arab world, because this anger is unjustified. Indeed, if we dig deeper, we would see that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, in close cooperation with the CIA and Turkish intelligence, are the ones that stood behind and funded the factions fighting on Syrian soil.” As for former Undersecretary of the Foreign Minister Ambassador Ibrahim Yusri, he said to Al-Quds al-Arabi: “No one knows in which direction Egypt’s policy is heading, but what is certain is that it is witnessing a complete shift…”

“Observers said at this level that the Egyptian position did not come as a surprise, especially in light of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah es-Sisi’s statements to the American CNN during his participation in the UN General Assembly meetings last week, regarding the fact that “the priority at this stage is to fight terrorism,” stressing: “The collapse of the state in Syria would mean the fall of all the regime’s weapons in terrorist hands.” Still, it conveys an unprecedented strategic transformation towards further autonomy from Cairo’s traditional allies throughout more than four decades.”

Written by nickbiddlenoe

October 5, 2015 at 8:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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