MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

March 10, 2016
The European Parliament passed a resolution Thursday recommending the suspension of military aid and assistance to Egypt in light of the “abduction, savage torture and killing” of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo. The resolution was passed by a majority of EU member states, with 558 voting in favor, 10 against, and 59 abstentions. While it is highly recommended, the resolution is not binding. The European Parliament emphasized Regeni’s murder “is not an isolated accident,” but took place within the context of an increase in unlawful practices in Egypt — reports of torture, forced disappearances and the deaths of detainees in police custody. The European Parliament referred to thousands of “prisoners of conscience,” jailed for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including detainees Mahienour al-Massry, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Aya Hegazy, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, Ahmed Saeed, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel. It also criticized travel bans issued against many human rights defenders, including Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Hossam al-Din Ali, Esraa Abdel Fattah, Omar Hazek and Mohamed Lotfi, among others. The motion cited deteriorating media and press freedoms, a crackdown on civil society organizations, mass death sentences issued for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, torture in police detention and prisons, among other practices. [Mada Masr, AFP, DNE, 3/10/2016]
EGYPT | LIBYA & THE MAGHREB | SYRIA AND ITS NEIGHBORS | IRAQ | YEMEN & THE GULF | ECONOMICS
EGYPT

Bomb in Giza injures three civilians
Egypt's Interior Ministry said three civilians were injured late Wednesday night in a bombing in the Giza neighborhood of Faysal. An improvised explosive device detonated while a police convoy was passing through a local street, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page. The explosion injured three people who happened to be at the scene and damaged two police vehicles. One suspect has been arrested in relation to the attack, the ministry added. [Ahram Online, AP, DNE, 3/10/2016]

Court acquits 49 Brotherhood members, including Gamal Heshmat, on protest charges
The Damanhour Criminal Court acquitted Thursday 49 Muslim Brotherhood members of illegal protesting and attempting to overthrow the ruling regime. The Brotherhood leaders, some of whom were sentenced in absentia, include former parliamentarians Gamal Heshmat, Osama Suleiman and Maher Hazeema as well as Mohammed Suweidan, who headed the Brotherhood's administrative office in Beheira province. The case dates back to events that took place in Egypt's delta governorate of Beheria in August 2013, one month after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi. The public prosecution can appeal the verdict. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 3/10/2016]

Egypt's rights groups ask for support of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Sixteen Egyptian rights groups sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad detailing the "ongoing deterioration" of human rights in Egypt shortly before his scheduled address to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva on Thursday. In the letter, the organizations, among them the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and  the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, detailed human rights abuses in  “seven major issues of concern,  including extrajudicial killing and police brutality; imprisonment, torture, and ill treatment; freedom of association and assembly; the suppression of media and artistic freedoms and draconian measures against cultural and academic institutions; economic and social justice; women’s rights; and religious freedoms.” The letter offered a list of recommendations and asked for the High Commissioner’s support in the 31st session of the HRC. The association of Al-Aqrab prisoners’ families, together with five human rights organizations, also released a statement Tuesday, marking international women’s day, in which they detailed the treatment of women Egyptian security forces over the past two and a half years. The signatories include the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. [Aswat Masriya, 3/10/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource

LIBYA & THE MAGHREB

Militants attack checkpoint near Libya's Misrata, air strikes hit Sirte
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants attacked a checkpoint south of Misrata on Wednesday, killing three security personnel, a military source said, after an airstrike in Sirte killed three children and wounded their mother. The Abu Grain checkpoint, west of Sirte, was attacked in the late afternoon, hours after the airstrikes, raising the possibility that it was a retaliatory move. Warplanes, believed to be from Misrata, carried out airstrikes at three different sites in Sirte, including near a water plant—where the children were killed—and close to a hotel complex in the city center, the resident said. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 3/9/2016]

Libya HOR members, dialogue participants, Presidency Council gather in Tunis
Participants to the Libyan political dialogue, together with the members of the Presidency Council and several members of the House of Representatives (HOR) have gathered in Tunis for talks in an attempt to break the impasse over the appointment of the Government of National Accord. Since last month, the HOR has found itself regularly inquorate and unable to carry out a vote on the proposed cabinet. However, the idea that the dialogue team, rather than the HOR, could legitimize the political agreement has not been well-received by other dialogue members. [Libya Herald, 3/9/2016]

Alleged ISIS leader in Libya says group stronger every day
A senior Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant has said in an interview identifying him as the new leader of the group’s Libyan offshoot that the extremist organization is getting "stronger every day" in the North African country. Abdul Qadr al-Najdi was described in an interview posted by the SITE monitoring group on Thursday as "the emir tasked with administering the Libyan provinces.” Najdi warned neighboring countries that they would not be able to defend themselves from the militants. He also said the Libyan province was in “constant communication" with central offices in Iraq and Syria. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

Obama says Libya is a “mess” due to European, Gulf failure to help
President Barack Obama said, five years after the US intervention in Libya, that the plan pushed by advisers, including Hillary Clinton, “didn’t work” and Libya is now “a mess.” Obama, speaking in interviews with The Atlantic magazine published Thursday, blamed lack of support from European and Gulf allies and longstanding tribal divisions within Libya for the failure of the mission intended to stabilize the country and usher in a democratically elected government. The United States actually executed this plan as well could have been expected, Obama said. “We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion—which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict ... And despite all that, Libya is a mess,” he said. [Bloomberg, 3/10/2016]

Tunisian troops kill ten militants near Libyan border after Monday's raid
Extremist gunmen in search of food battled Tunisian security forces at a construction site and attacked a house in a third day of fighting near the Libyan border. Tunisian troops have killed ten Islamist militants around Ben Guerdane since an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) attack on Monday that killed at least 55 people. A manhunt in a perimeter around the town has closed access roads as security forces search for armed men who fled the fighting on Monday. Most of Monday’s attackers were Tunisians, and the majority of them were already in Ben Guerdane, according to Government Spokesman Khaled Chaouket. [AP, Reuters, AFP, 3/9/2016]

SYRIA & ITS NEIGHBORS

Syria opposition sees fewer truce breaches, UN prepares talks
On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition said there had been fewer breaches of a truce agreement by the government and its allies in the past day as a UN envoy unveiled plans to resume peace talks next week. The “cessation of hostilities agreement” brokered by the United States and Russia has slowed the war considerably despite accusations of violations on all sides, preparing the ground for talks which the UN plans to convene in Geneva. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said he planned to launch substantive peace talks Monday, focusing on issues of Syria’s future governance, elections within 18 months, and a new constitution. While the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has yet to declare whether it will attend, spokesman Salem al-Muslat said it was positive that the talks would “start ... with discussion of the matter of political transition.” He said the HNC would announce its decision very soon. The Syrian government has also yet to say whether it will attend. The Syrian foreign minister is due to give a news conference Saturday at noon. [Reuters, BBC, Asharq al-Awsat, 3/10/2016]

Insurgents in Syria attack government positions in Hama
On Thursday, insurgent groups attacked several Syrian government positions in Hama province in what a rebel commander said was the biggest rebel assault in the area since a cessation of hostilities agreement came into effect two weeks ago. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Director of Rami Abdulrahman described it as a "comprehensive attack." There were conflicting accounts about the outcome of the attack and who carried it out. SOHR said the attack failed with at least 20 of the attackers killed, describing them as Islamists and foreign fighters. Fares al-Bayoush, head of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) group called the Northern Division, said the attack was carried out by "local groups." He called it a response to "violations that happened by the regime during the truce" and said two positions were captured. Syrian state TV said the attack was mounted by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which is not included in the ceasefire agreement. It said the assault failed with 70 militants killed. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

ISIS commander still alive, but badly wounded after US strike
Top Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) commander leader Omar al-Shishani, known as Omar the Chechen, was "seriously injured" in a recent strike in northeastern Syria, but not killed despite US suggestions to the contrary, said SOHR. On Wednesday SOHR said that the March 4 strike had indeed targeted the extremist's convoy, killing his bodyguards. While Shishani himself was seriously injured, SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman said, "He's not dead. He was taken from the province of Hassaka to a hospital in Raqqa province where he was treated by an extremist doctor of European origin." The United States had stopped short of declaring Shishani dead. The US official branded him the ISIS equivalent of the secretary of defense. Shishani is an ISIS leader most wanted by Washington, which put a $5 million bounty on his head. He hails from the Pankisi Gorge region in Georgia, populated mainly by ethnic Chechens. [Reuters, BBC, AFP, The National, The Guardian, 3/10/2016]

Syria's domestic opposition to boycott parliamentary vote
On Thursday, Syria's main domestic opposition body called for a widespread boycott of parliamentary elections next month, accusing the government of using the vote to gain leverage in peace talks. The National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), which is tolerated by the regime in Damascus, said it had decided to boycott the April 13 parliamentary polls. Group members will neither run for office nor cast their ballots, the group said in a statement posted on Facebook. It called on other "opposition forces and civil society to join the boycott". The NCCDC accused the government of seeking to "improve the conditions" of UN-mediated indirect talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition. [AFP, 3/10/2016]

Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of aiding sarin gas delivery to rebels
In an interview with RT, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia accused Turkey of providing a clear transit route for the chemical weapons that were deployed against them near the city of Aleppo on Tuesday. The Syrian militias have been using toxic substances to launch attacks against a Kurdish-controlled area near Aleppo in northern Syria, with some of these substances arriving from Turkey, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said in a interview. Kurdish deputies in the Turkish parliament have previously accused Ankara of supplying ISIS and other jihadist groups inside Syria with chemical weapons, which are used both in their fight against the Syrian government and to pin responsibility for their deployment on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Kurds have also accused Turkey of keeping the border open for militant groups and supplying them with weapons. [RT, AhlulBayt, 3/10/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.

IRAQ

ISIS used 'poisonous substances' in village; Germany obtains list of foreign fighters
More than 40 people suffered partial choking and skin irritation in northern Iraq when ISIS fired mortar shells and Katyusha rockets filled with "poisonous substances" into their village, according to the Governor of Kirkuk Province, Najmuddin Kareem. None of the casualties died but five of them remain in hospital, said health officials in Taza, a mainly Shia Turkmen 12 miles south of the oil city of Kirkuk, in a region under Kurdish control. A total of 24 shells and rockets were fired into Taza from the nearby Bashir area, said Wasta Rasul, a commander of the Peshmerga forces in the region. This comes as the US military conducted airstrikes against targets believed to be crucial to ISIS’s chemical weapons program, based on information provided by a captured senior ISIS operative involved in the group’s chemical weapons program. Intelligence against ISIS and its members continues to expand, as German officials have obtained the names of about 22,000 foreign ISIS fighters from a former ISIS fighter who became disillusioned with the group and fled with a memory stick containing the information. [Reuters, NYT, 3/10/2016]

Sadr supporters back Abadi’s move for nonpartisan cabinet to fight graft
Iraq's powerful Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr wants Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to stay in power but replace his cabinet with professionals with no party affiliation so he can fight corruption, according to Dhiaa al-Asadi, the head of the Sadrist bloc in parliament. A year and a half into his four-year term, Abadi said last month that he wanted to replace his ministers with technocrats to weaken the system of patronage that distributing posts along political, ethnic and sectarian lines creates. Corruption is eating away at Baghdad's resources especially as it struggles with falling revenue due to rock-bottom oil prices and high spending due to the costs of the war on ISIS. Asadi said the drive for a change of cabinet was what hundreds of thousands of Sadr’s followers have held protests in the capital for on the last two Fridays, and they plan to demonstrate this Friday as well. In a speech on Wednesday evening, Abadi said that he would announce ministerial changes soon and that the cabinet would be made of "competent professionals" who reflect the nation’s ethnic and sectarian makeup. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

United States warns Mosul dam collapse would be catastrophic
The United States and Iraq on Wednesday hosted a meeting of senior diplomats and UN officials to discuss the possible collapse of the Mosul hydroelectric dam, which US Ambassador Samantha Power said would create a catastrophe of "epic proportions." Wednesday's meeting at the United Nations included Power and her Iraqi counterpart Mohamed Ali Alhakim, experts from the US Army Corps of Engineers, officials from the UN Development Program and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and other senior diplomats. "While important steps have been taken to address a potential breach, the dam could still fail … In the event of a breach, there is the potential in some places for a flood wave up to 14 meters high that could sweep up everything in its path, including people, cars, unexploded ordnance, waste and other hazardous material, further endangering massive population centers,” Power said. She called on all UN member states to be prepared to help prevent what would be "a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions" because there are approximately 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis living in the flood path. [Reuters, 3/9/2016]

Iran returns first group of Kurdish prisoners in exchange deal with KRG
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on prisoner exchange last July, and Iranian authorities are expected to make the first exchange of five Kurdish prisoners next week. The five prisoners will be handed over to the Kurdish authorities at the Haji Omran border crossing next week, said Abdullah Akreyi, head of Iran-KRG relations in Kurdistan’s Department of Foreign Affairs. According to Akreyi, the KRG has so far returned 96 Iranian prisoners since the agreement was signed and Iran is expected to exchange six more Kurdish prisoners in the coming weeks. [Rudaw, 3/10/2016]

YEMEN & THE GULF

Tribal mediations underway after Houthis violate truce on Saudi border
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Wednesday the coalition welcomed the truce in Yemen sought by Houthi tribal leaders to allow the delivering of humanitarian aid to villages in need. Jubeir said the Gulf Cooperation Council supports international efforts on resolving the Yemeni crisis, though emphasizing that there must be a Yemeni solution to the conflict. He added that the Gulf states have devised a plan for the reconstruction of Yemen. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition announced Thursday that tribal mediations were underway on the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia to begin humanitarian aid deliveries. The mediations came after Houthi militants violated a truce on the Saudi border by firing rockets into the kingdom’s southern province of al-Tawal on Wednesday. The rockets killed a Saudi civilian and wounded three others. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Al Arabiya, 3/10/2016]

Houthis request Iran to stay out of Yemen crisis
A senior Houthi official told Iranian officials on Wednesday to stay out of Yemen’s conflict, after an Iranian general said Tehran might send military advisers to help Houthi forces fighting the Saudi-led coalition. "Officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran must be silent and leave aside the exploitation of the Yemen file," said Yousef al-Feshi, a member of the Houthis’ Revolutionary Committee, in a posting on Facebook. It was the first public remark from a senior official in the Houthi group to be directed at Iranian officials. [Reuters, 3/9/2016]

Saudi Arabia could build strong relations with Iran if it changes policies
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies could build strong relations with Iran if it respects them and stops “meddling” in their affairs, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Wednesday. “If Iran changes its way and its policies, nothing would prevent turning a page and building the best relationship based on good neighborliness, with no meddling in the affairs of others,” he told reporters in Riyadh. Jubeir said relations with Tehran had deteriorated “due to the sectarian policies” followed by Shia-dominated Iran and “its support for terrorism and planting terrorist cells in the countries of the region.” [AFP, 3/10/2016]

ECONOMICS

Egypt denies seeking IMF loan
Egypt dismissed as inaccurate reports that it is seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with CBE Governor Tarek Amer saying Egypt’s foreign-currency crunch is temporary. “Previous experiences prove that rumors and exaggerations don’t have economic foundations,” he said. A senior government official had told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the country plans to approach the IMF for loan talks, saying that the size of the loan had not yet been determined. Egypt has held several rounds of negotiations with the IMF since 2011, reaching two staff-level agreements that were never finalized. Head of Equities Strategy at Beltone Financial Hany Genena said that a deal may be easier this time. “Egypt has already implemented a big chunk of the economic measures that the IMF typically asks for,” he said, referring to cuts in fuel subsidies and higher electricity prices. [Ahram Online, Bloomberg, 3/9/2016]

UAE banks devise plan to help struggling SMEs
Banks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have agreed to a plan to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) struggling with debt, including suspending payments and restructuring loans. Under the proposal outlined by the UAE Banks Federation, companies owing debt to more than one bank that are having difficulty making payments will be able to restructure future payments. Payments could also be suspended while businesses reach a deal on their debt with lenders. "This again reflects banks' commitment to apply a coordinated approach, to alleviate SME funding difficulties and continue support to the SME sector being vital to the national economy," said Federation Chairman Abdul Aziz al-Ghurair said. Some struggling business people have opted to leave the country. A senior banking official in November estimated the amount owed by departed business people reached around $1.4 billion last year. [Reuters, 3/9/2016]

Fitch raises Turkey's growth forecast for 2016
Fitch Ratings agency has upgraded its 2016 growth forecast for Turkey to 3.5 percent from 3 percent, due to a better than expected economic performance. Fitch Chief Economist Brian Coulton said that incoming data for 2015 indicates more near-term economic momentum. "With the support of the increase in the minimum wage and low oil prices, consumer spending has been increasing," Coulton said. Fitch is forecasting 3.6 percent growth in 2017. Meanwhile, data on Thursday showed that Turkey's current account deficit narrowed more than expected in January as lower oil prices helped offset a decline in tourist and small-trade revenue from Russia. Analysts expect political tension with Moscow to contribute an additional $5 billion toward the current account deficit this year. [Anadolu Agency, Daily Sabah, 3/10/2016]

Iraq sells first local bonds to public since 2003
Iraq's central bank said it plans to sell 1.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($1.27 billion) in two-year government bonds, as part of an effort to reduce a deficit caused by falling oil prices and the cost of fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). It is the first such sale to the public since 2003 and the first tranche of a 5 trillion dinar bond plan announced in January, Central Bank Media Relations Officer Acer Jabbar said. The new issue, which carries a 6 percent interest rate, will be sold to the public and local lenders between March 15 and April 15, the bank said in a statement. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

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