Instability in North Africa. Several countries in North Africa are experiencing a period of volatility. Sudanese Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf announced Thursday that Sudan’s army has removed President Omar al-Bashir from power, dissolved parliament and suspended the country’s 2005 constitution. A military council will run a transitional government for the next two years. A curfew has been imposed for one month, a state of emergency will be implemented for the next three months and border crossings in all parts of Sudan will be closed until further notice. In Libya, meanwhile, clashes between rival armies south of Tripoli have been reported. There has also been unrest in Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania, including protests demanding more government funding and free expression. The unrest in these three countries is far less intense than what we’ve observed in Libya and Sudan, but they’re noteworthy given the apparent increasing instability across the region.
Egypt backs out. Egypt will withdraw from a U.S.-backed Arab military alliance, dubbed an “Arab NATO,” intended to counter Iran’s rise in the Middle East, according to Reuters, which cited four unnamed sources. Egypt reportedly informed the U.S. and other participants in the Middle East Strategic Alliance that it would pull out prior to a meeting of the organization last Sunday. Egypt’s decision is due to its doubts over the seriousness of the project, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2017, and questions over whether the initiative will be abandoned should U.S. President Donald Trump lose the 2020 election. A Saudi source cited in the Reuters report said little progress has been made in setting up the organization. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Egypt would be subject to sanctions if it were to purchase Russian-made Su-35 fighter jets.
Belarus bites back. At a government meeting on economic matters, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko criticized Moscow’s attempts to close the Russian market to certain products from Belarus, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency reported. On April 10, Russia prohibited imports of apples and pears from Belarus, and at the end of March, it banned the import of Turkish pears through Belarus. Lukashenko said the Russian move amounted to imposing sanctions on Belarus. He also pointed out that his country chose not to close pipelines delivering Russian energy to European markets that were in need of repair because it would have harmed the Russian economy, and added that Belarus may do so now. Russia, he said, has gone “too far in trying to twist our arms.” The Kremlin responded almost immediately, calling on Lukashenko to tone done his rhetoric and reminding Belarus of the close ties between the two countries.
The U.S. backs Cyprus. U.S. senators introduced legislation that would enable Washington to lift the embargo on arms transfers to Cyprus and support the partnership of Israel, Greece and Cyprus through energy and defense cooperation. Greece’s defense minister expressed his support for the bill. However, the legislation, if passed, won’t sit well with Ankara, which has its own claims to the Eastern Mediterranean. The move comes just as U.N.-backed talks on the status of Cyprus appear to be breaking down. The prime minister of Turkish Cyprus rejected the most recent Greek Cypriot proposal for a settlement, saying it lacked political equality. He said there is little reason to return to talks without strong prospects for a deal.
- European Union leaders have agreed to extend the Brexit deadline to Oct. 31.
- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington and Beijing agreed to establish “enforcement offices” to tackle the thorny issue of implementation of a potential trade deal.
- Japan will not discuss quotas on auto exports to the U.S. – the main source of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan – during next week’s trade talks in Washington, Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.
- On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having ties to al-Qaida. While it isn’t impossible, given Iran’s willingness to work with the Taliban, Iran’s security interests as a Shiite power conflict with those of al-Qaida, which, unlike the Taliban, has transnational aspirations.
- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called an election for May 18. Morrison took office less than a year ago, in August 2018, after former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by factions within his governing coalition.
- Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the group has a duty to confront those who threaten the country and warned it will respond. The comment is in response to the U.S. designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist group.
- The head of Cuba’s Communist Party, Raul Castro, told Cubans to prepare for the country’s already suffering economy to get worse in the coming months. He added that it would not be as bad as the last major crisis in the early 1990s.
- Three members of North Korea’s Ministry of State Security defected while in China. There are also reports of increased surveillance and controls on North Korean officials in China after an uptick in defections.
- Kazakhstan approved legislation that will allow the government to deliver military equipment to Tajikistan that will be used to strengthen its border with Afghanistan.