Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 12 September 2017: Unpredictability of Hurricane Irma complicates US response, Rohingya insurgents announce month-long ceasefire, Saudi Arabia suspends dialogue with Qatar

The weekly briefing, 12 September 2017: Unpredictability of Hurricane Irma complicates US response, Rohingya insurgents announce month-long ceasefire, Saudi Arabia suspends dialogue with Qatar

by Kirsten Winterman, Raphaël Zaffran and Matthew Clarke

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Al-Shabaab attacks military base in Somali border town, killing at least 10 soldiers; Opposition supporters take to streets across Togo demanding constitutional reforms.

Americas: Unpredictability of Hurricane Irma complicates US response to storm; Head of JBS S.A. surrenders to Brazilian federal police over corruption scandal, putting country’s president in tenuous position.

Asia-Pacific: Rohingya insurgents announce month-long ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach north-western Myanmar; NATO secretary general refuses to be drawn on whether North Korean attack on US military bases on Guam would trigger collective defence clause.

Europe and Central Asia: Poland hosts Economic Forum with representatives from eastern EU states, Russia, Ukraine, Asia and the United States; Stateless former Georgian president forcefully crosses border into Ukraine.

Middle East and North Africa: Saudi Arabia suspends dialogue with Qatar on GCC crisis; Cabinet reshuffle in Tunisia following country-wide demonstrations calling for economic reforms.

Africa

Somalia

Heavy fighting broke out on 9 September in the Somali border town of Balad Hawo following an al-Shabaab car bombing and attack on the military base in the town. The Somali military stated that al-Shabaab killed at least 10 soldiers in the attack, though the militant group claims the actual figure is more than double that. The fighting came just a day after an al-Shabaab suicide bomber killed at least six people in the city of Beledweyne. Al-Shabaab has increased the frequency of attacks since the inauguration of Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi, in February. The militant group is likely to maintain this tempo.

Togo

Opposition supporters have taken to the streets across Togo, including in the capital, Lome, to demand constitutional reforms. The protests have continued despite an apparent concession by the government on 4 September in which it approved plans for a bill on restrictions on terms in office and changes to the voting system. The opposition has been vocal in calling for these changes since the country’s president, Faure Gnassingbe, succeeded his father in 2005. These recent protests come a month after anti-Gnassingbe protests in the city of Sokode, during which at least two people were killed. Protests are likely to continue until at least the parliament returns from recess in October.

Americas

United States

Hurricane Irma continues to cause damage despite the US National Hurricane Center downgrading it from a Category 3 storm to a Category 1 storm on 11 September. After it hit Cuba and the West Indies on 9 September, Irma hit the United States’ eastern coast and southwest Florida on 10 September. Approximately 3.5 million homes have been left without power, and parts of Miami are largely flooded. Around 6.4 million Florida residents had been instructed to evacuate the areas under greatest threat. This is the most violent hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which left about 3.5 million homes without electricity for several weeks. Despite its fading, Hurricane Irma continued to generate considerable destruction on 11-12 September due to strong winds up to of 85 mph (137km/h) that caused floods, uprooted trees and brought down power lines. Although it is likely that the hurricane will weaken further by the end of the week, US officials have had to upgrade and downgrade the storm repeatedly because of wind changes. This unpredictability is complicating and politicising the official response to the storm.

Unpredictability of Hurricane Irma complicates US response to the stormClick To Tweet

Brazil

Joesley Batista, a Brazilian billionaire and the head of largest meat processing company in the world, JBS S.A., has turned himself in to federal police in São Paulo. Several JBS executives have been at the centre of the infamous Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) criminal investigation into the largest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history. The investigation also involved the semi-public Brazilian multinational oil company Petrobras, and led to the former president Dilma Rousseff being impeached. Batista’s surrender is linked to his secret recording of the current Brazilian president, Michel Temer, in which the president allegedly acknowledged paying bribes. Temer is now in a very tenuous position, as it is likely that investigators will ask Batista to reveal what he knows about the president’s involvement in the corruption scandal in exchange for leniency in his own prosecution. Temer will likely attempt to undermine the credibility of Batista’s testimony by drawing attention to his questionable character. Nevertheless, Temer will likely face trial in the Supreme Court on corruption charges, and it is possible that this will lead to impeachment proceedings before the end of the year.

Asia-Pacific

Myanmar

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) announced a month-long ceasefire on 10 September in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach north-western Myanmar. The Myanmar government has rejected the ceasefire and the military stated that it would not negotiate with terrorists. Local residents have accused the Myanmar military of waging war on them. If ARSA’s fighters can maintain the ceasefire, the respite is likely to win support from local residents and the international community for the Rohingya insurgents. Meanwhile, the government’s refusal to recognise the ceasefire is likely to alienate domestic and foreign supporters. The conflict between the Rohingya insurgents and the Myanmar military escalated last month after ARSA attacked police posts and an army base, prompting a clampdown by the military. The violence has led to more than 270,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing to Bangladesh over the last two weeks, according to the UNHCR.

North Korea

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that the threat from nuclear weapons is a global threat requiring a global response, including NATO. However, when challenged on whether a North Korean attack on the United States’ military bases on Guam would trigger NATO’s collective defence clause, Article 5, he refused to speculate. Stoltenberg did say that NATO is focused on peaceful solutions to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. It is likely that NATO members would honour Article 5 in some form if triggered by the United States. North Korea has continued to threaten the United States, leading to escalating threats by both sides. The United States is seeking further sanctions in the UN Security Council, though Russia is sceptical about what this would achieve. It is likely, however, that the UNSC will vote for further sanctions.

Europe and Central Asia

Poland

The Eastern Europe equivalent of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos was held in Poland on 5-10 September. The key economic and political conference drew politicians, businesspeople and academics from eastern EU states, Russia and Ukraine as well as representatives from Asia and the United States. Key issues for the Economic Forum were the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, China’s new Maritime Silk Road and Poland’s relationship with Europe. Poland reiterated that it views the best path for the EU to be one of equal progress. It claimed that differing rates of integration would result in a divided Europe and ultimately destroy the EU. Despite it being the highest net recipient of EU funds, some have speculated that Poland may seek to leave the EU if Brexit goes well; however, Poland reiterated at the conference that it will not be seeking such a route.

Ukraine

On 10 September, the former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili crossed into Ukraine in a forced entry helped by hundreds of his supporters who clashed with Ukrainian border guards. Saakashvili is stateless, having been stripped of his Georgian citizenship after accepting Ukrainian citizenship in 2015, which was in turn revoked earlier this year following an argument with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. Saakashvili now faces extradition back to Georgia, where he will likely be prosecuted on corruption and abuse of power charges. Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. He earned many political enemies when he ordered a large number of arrests in the wake of Georgia’s war with Russia in 2008. Saakashvili’s unexpected arrival in Ukraine will add to Poroshenko’s domestic challenges, such as the ongoing Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine and public criticism of his apparent tolerance of the deep-rooted corruption in the country.

Stateless former Georgian president forcefully crosses border into UkraineClick To Tweet

Middle East and North Africa

Qatar

Saudi Arabia has suspended dialogue with Qatar on the crisis within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after only one phone call. Riyadh claims that that Doha leaked false information after the call between the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The issue appears to be one of protocol, as Qatar did not make it clear that it initiated the call. The crisis in the GCC began on 5 June, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed all air and sea links with the country. The Gulf states claim that Qatar supports terrorism. The call between the crown prince and the emir, which was brokered by the US president, Donald Trump, was the first formal contact between the two countries since the crisis began. Diplomatic attempts led by Kuwait and supported by Western powers have, so far, failed to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued a list of 13 demands that they say Qatar must meet; however, the demands, which include closing Al-Jazeera and cutting ties with Iran, are understood to be unacceptable to the Qataris.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s prime minister, Youssef Chahed, replaced his interior, defence and finance ministers on 6 September. The cabinet reshuffle comes after recent demonstrations across the country calling for fiscal reforms and further job creation. Chahed has described the new cabinet as a ‘war government’, claiming that it has been created to fight terrorism, corruption and unemployment. The changes were made in consultation with political parties and other stakeholders. It unclear whether the reshuffle will provide the stability needed to enact the necessary economic reforms.

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