Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 6 June 2017: Militant group takes over areas of southern Filipino city of Marawi, United Kingdom experiences third terrorist attack in 75 days, multiple countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar

The weekly briefing, 6 June 2017: Militant group takes over areas of southern Filipino city of Marawi, United Kingdom experiences third terrorist attack in 75 days, multiple countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Lesotho awaits outcome of general election that opposition is expected to narrowly win; Libyan National Army and Egypt attack areas held by UN-backed Government of National Accord.

Americas: Donald Trump announces he will withdraw United States from Paris Agreement on climate change; Mexico’s most-populous state holds gubernatorial election that ruling party is projected to narrowly win.

Asia-Pacific: Militant group takes over areas of southern Filipino city of Marawi and president declares state of emergency; Indian prime minister announces plans to go ‘above and beyond’ Paris Agreement.

Europe and Central Asia: United Kingdom experiences third terrorist attack in 75 days as it heads towards general election; Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron meet at Palace of Versailles.

Middle East and North Africa: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Maldives cut diplomatic ties with Qatar; Officials from Sudan and Egypt meet in Cairo after several months of increased tensions over disputed Halayeb Triangle.

Africa

Lesotho

Lesotho held its third general election since 2012 on 3 June. The election result is expected to be close between the incumbent prime minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, and his principal opponent, Thomas Thabane, who was the prime minister during 2012 and 2015. Thabane has drawn large crowds at rallies, and is seen as the narrow favourite. It is expected to take several days to count the votes, though an early tally suggests Thabane may have won. The snap election was announced after Mosisili lost a no-confidence vote on 1 March after a series of coalition splits only two years into the parliament. In a country of 2.1 million people, 1.2 million are registered to vote; however, there are fears of a low turnout because of voter dissatisfaction with continued political in-fighting and the lack of stability in the country. Regardless of the election result, the next Lesothan prime minister will need to form a coalition government that addresses the country’s key challenges, including high rates of unemployment and HIV/AIDS.

Libya

General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) attacked forces loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) on 2 June just hours after unidentified fighter jets attacked GNA-held areas. The attacks took place in the central district of Jufra, around 400 km south of Sirte. The successful LNA offensive is the latest in a series of victories that has allowed it to establish its dominance in the south of the country. Egypt is believed to have sent the fighter jets that attacked overnight on 1 June. The coordinated operation between Egypt and the LNA appears to be part of a series of strikes that the Libyan Air Force announced on 28 May targeting terrorist groups in the Jufra area. Egypt launched similar air strikes against camps near Derna in eastern Libya after militants killed 29 Coptic Christians in Egypt on 26 May.

Americas

United States

On 1 June, the US president, Donald Trump, announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although toothless, the climate accord was claimed by world leaders as a major milestone in collective efforts to address climate change and the effects of global warming when it was adopted in December 2015. Trump argued that the agreement was detrimental to the US economy, and stated that he was ‘elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.’ His decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement drew support from the Republican Party and other US conservatives, but has generated widespread outcry across the United States and the world. Trump’s controversial decision apparently followed intense debate within his inner circle. It is highly likely that the move is part of an attempt to reinvigorate the president’s support base as his approval rating continues to fall. Trump has said that he will now try to negotiate a better deal for the United States; however, other countries, such as France, Germany and Italy, are unlikely be receptive to such negotiations. China and India, among the top carbon dioxide emitters, have already reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Donald Trump attempts to reinvigorate his support base as his approval rating fallsClick To Tweet

Mexico

Mexico’s most-populous state, the State of Mexico (also known as Edomex), held a gubernatorial election on 4 June. According to preliminary projections, the candidate of the ruling Institution Revolutionary Party (PRI), Alfredo del Mazo, is set to narrowly defeat his principal opponent, Delfina Gomez of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). The PRI has governed Edomex for nearly 90 years; however, its narrow victory suggests that the left-wing MORENA party led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has managed to make significant gains among Mexican voters. One in eight Mexican voters lives in the State of Mexico, and MORENA’s competitiveness in the state suggests it could do well in the country’s general election scheduled for July 2018. Lopez Obrador has referred to the campaign in Edomex as a ‘farce’, while Gomez insists that she has won the election. It is likely that voter intimidation took place in several districts of the State of Mexico, but it is also possible that the intimidation was carried out by both sides. MORENA has refused to accept the early results, and it is highly likely that the party will call for an investigation into voter fraud and for the election to be annulled once the full count is completed.

Asia-Pacific

Philippines

A militant group has taken over areas of the southern Filipino city of Marawi. The city is a stronghold for supporters of the Maute group, a radical Islamist group that pledged allegiance to Islamic State in 2015. On 23 May, government forces carried out an unsuccessful raid in Marawi to try and capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the violent jihadist group Abu Sayyaf, with which the Maute group is allied. Shortly afterwards, a large group of armed militants came onto the streets of the Mindanao city waving IS flags. At least 13 militants and seven soldiers were killed in the subsequent fighting, during which Maute group insurgents kidnapped 12-15 people from a local church. The Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, immediately declared martial law on Mindanao for 60 days. The Philippine Army has retaken some areas of the city, but around 1,000 residents are still trapped by the fighting. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group mediated a four-hour truce between the army and fighters in the city on 4 June, but the ceasefire was broken by gunfire after an hour, and only 130 residents were freed. It is highly likely that the army will eventually retake the city, but the likelihood of further civilian casualties is very high.

India

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has announced plans to go ‘above and beyond’ the Paris Agreement after the US president, Donald Trump, announced that he will withdraw the United States from the climate accord. Modi renewed India’s pledge to keep to the agreement in a joint speech with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, who promised to cooperate with India to tackle climate change. India is the world’s fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter (behind China, the United States and Russia), and it will need to make significant reforms if it is to succeed in cutting emissions and transitioning to a greener economy. India and the other top emitters – including the United States – will need to drastically cut their carbon emissions if global warming is to be limited to no more than 2°C above 1880 pre-industrial temperatures – the maximum scientists conclude is acceptable if we are to have any hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Europe and Central Asia

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has experienced its third terrorist attack in 75 days. Late in the evening of 3 June, police in the capital, London, received reports of a van running pedestrians down on London Bridge. The van then came to stop in the nearby popular nightspot of Borough Market. Three men with knives left the vehicle and attacked passers-by and people in restaurants and pubs, killing seven people and wounding 48 others. Within eight minutes of the first reports, armed police had responded and shot dead all three suspects. The men were found to be wearing fake suicide vests. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Police arrested 12 people in raids the next day. The severity of the attack was undoubtedly lessened by the bravery of unarmed on- and off-duty police officers and members of the public who attempted to stop the attackers before firearms officers had arrived on the scene. As the United Kingdom heads towards a general election on 8 June, questions are being raised over the intelligence failings that have allowed three terrorist attacks to take place in such a short time and the contribution that may have been made by the drastic reduction in the number of police officers in England and Wales as a result of government spending cuts since 2010. The prime minister, Theresa May, already facing the unexpected prospect of losing the government’s majority in parliament in the forthcoming election, is now under fire for her role as first home secretary and then prime minister in overseeing the cuts in police funding.

UK prime minister faces questions over her role in police funding cutsClick To Tweet

France

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, hosted the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the Palace of Versailles on 29 May. The purported main purpose of the visit was for the two leaders to co-host the inauguration of an exhibition celebrating the 300-year-old ties between France and Russia; however, the visit also included a two-hour meeting and lunch at the palace. It is likely that Macron took advantage of the visit’s relatively less-official nature to raise key concerns with the Russian president without risking a diplomatic crisis. During the joint press conference that followed the meeting, Macron candidly challenged the news organisations Russia Today and Sputnik for acting as organs of influence rather than real media outlets. He also raised concerns about the threat to gay and transgender people in Chechnya. Macron said that he desired cooperation with Russia in seeking a solution to the conflict in Syria, but that France would respond immediately to any further use of chemical weapons in the country. Paris will hope that Macron’s reasonably assertive first contact with Putin will establish a working relationship between the two leaders based on respect following recent tensions between the two countries over possible Russian influence in the French presidential election.

Middle East and North Africa

Qatar

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and the Maldives cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on 5 June. The countries accuse Qatar of destabilising the region, supporting terrorist groups and favouring closer ties with Iran. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have announced the closure of all transport links and borders with Qatar, and have given Qatari residents and visitors two weeks to return home. Egypt has closed its airspace and seaports to Qatar. Qatari troops will also no longer be involved in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The developments come just days after Qatar claimed that its state-run news agency, the Qatar News Agency, was hacked by unknown persons leading to comments being posted supposedly from the country’s emir, Sheikh Al Thani, in which he allegedly expressed support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel. Doha has responded to the seemingly-coordinated withdrawal of diplomatic ties by maintaining that it is unsure why the situation has escalated so quickly, but that it is keen to resolve the situation through open dialogue. The current situation threatens to create a rift between the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as Kuwait and Oman are unlikely to cut ties with Qatar as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have. Indeed, Kuwait has called for talks – as have Turkey, Iran and the United States – which Kuwait has offered to mediate.

Egypt

The foreign ministers of Sudan and Egypt met in Cairo on 3 June after several months of increased tensions between the neighbours over the Halayeb Triangle – a small, mineral-rich border region on the Red Sea controlled by Egypt since 1995 but claimed by both countries. Sudan first submitted a complaint to the United Nations about the sovereignty of the territory in 1958. Egypt has so far refused to accede to Sudan’s repeated requests for international arbitration. Tensions have recently increased after Sudan banned all agricultural and animal imports from Egypt due to ‘health concerns’ on 30 May. Despite claims of an honest and transparent meeting in Cairo, there appears to have been little real progress in repairing the relationship between the two states; however, the fact that the meeting went ahead at all – after an earlier meeting was postponed on 28 May – is positive. The Sudanese foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, also raised the need for joint patrols in the area to ensure that militants cannot cross the border to carry out attacks or attempt join the violent jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

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