MENASource|News, Analysis, Perspectives

March 7, 2014
On Friday, a royal decree in Saudi Arabia blacklisted the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and The Nusra Front as a terrorist group along with the Muslim Brotherhood, the kingdom’s branch of the Shia Hezbollah movement, and Yemen’s Houthi movement. Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Royal decree gave a fifteen-day ultimatum for those fighters to return home. The ultimatum was issued after King Abdullah announced on February 3 tough penalties for activities deemed as terrorist. Saudis fighting abroad face up to twenty years in jail. The decree also criminalized having membership in, supporting, and sympathizing with any of these four groups as well as issuing unauthorized fatwas, or religious edicts. [Al ArabiyaNashwan News (Arabic), 3/7/2014]


EGYPT

Brotherhood denounces human rights report on crackdown
A Muslim Brotherhood statement condemned the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) report about the police and army crackdown on a Brotherhood sit-in in Cairo last August. The statement described the NCHR's report as a crime and a death certificate for the council, adding that it is filled will fallacies and lies. This report is "a revival of the massacre's memory" and will deepen the wounds, the Brotherhood statement said. The report aims to underestimate the brutal nature of the crime and holds only the police accountable, not the army, it added. [Aswat Masriya, 3/7/2014]

Dozens of detainees complain of torture in Egypt police stations
Dozens of detained Egyptians say they were subject to police brutality during their arrest or while in police stations, a rights campaigner said after a field visit to a prison near Cairo. Over one hundred Egyptian detainees, arrested during protests marking the anniversary of the 2011 revolution in January, told human rights campaigner Hafez Abu Saeda that they were tortured while detained at police stations. Saeda, a member of the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) which recently investigated allegations of torture in jails and police stations said that 40 out of 119 recent prisoners interviewed by NCHR members at Abu Zaabal prison said they were tortured and beaten in police stations after being arrested. [Ahram Online, 3/6/2014]

Egypt tries harder to stop energy firm exodus
Egypt is enhancing exploration terms and striving to repay nearly $5 billion it owes to foreign oil and gas producers as it struggles to prevent them fleeing to more promising prospects elsewhere in Africa. Its new licensing rounds have attracted bids despite the turmoil. Egypt is offering firms to offset the signature bonus, a one-off fee paid to seal an exploration deal, against receivables rather than pay upfront. In an important change, new concessions would be able sell directly to commercial users, such as steel or power plants, bypassing government entities, executives and analysts said. Producers welcome the promise of higher future returns, but say new investment will not materialize while Egypt struggles to pay for output, even at today's lower prices. [Reuters, 3/6/2014]

LIBYA

Western countries alarmed as Libya slides toward chaos
Western countries voiced concern on Thursday that tensions in Libya could slip out of control in the absence of a functioning political system and urged the government and rival factions to start talking. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on the margins of the Rome conference that the uncertain security position, especially in the south, worsened an unstable political situation which required Libyan political forces to come together to reach a solution. The conference in Rome was overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, with a hectic round of bilateral talks at the margins culminating in a forty-minute meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but the lack of a stable political foundation in Libya is causing growing concern for energy-hungry western countries. The United Nations Special Rapporteur Tarek Mitri said Libya would be discussed at a Security Council meeting on Monday. [Reuters, 3/6/2014]

US Embassy to open consular section by May
Libyans wishing to apply for visas to travel to the United States will soon be able to do so in Tripoli, as the US embassy in Libya plans to open a new consular section by May. The complex, to be added to the current US embassy compound, would include a cultural center where events could be held, according to an embassy official. At present, the embassy only issues visas for officials, and ordinary Libyans have to go to embassies in other countries to apply for visas - a time-consuming and expensive pursuit. Most choose Jordan or Morocco, but a recent decision by the Moroccan government to impose visa restrictions for Libyans has made the process of getting an American visa even more challenging. US Ambassador Deborah Jones said the United States was a popular choice for Libyans wishing to study abroad, adding that the number of Libyan students in America had increased eight-fold since 2007. [Libya Herald, 3/7/2014]

BP shelves onshore exploration in Libya as instability grows
Oil and gas major BP said it had mothballed plans to explore in Libya's Ghadames basin because of security concerns, the latest in a series of companies to rethink their projects amid growing instability. Three years of turmoil since the Arab Spring and tough contract terms have prompted oil firms to reassess their role in Libya, and several have said they would postpone their plans or scrap them altogether. BP's exploration and production sharing agreement with Libya covers onshore acreage in Ghadames, near the border between Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, and offshore acreage in the central Sirte basin. The British company was continuing with its offshore plans, where safety risks are much lower. [Reuters, 3/7/2014]

Saadi to face numerous charges, says general attorney office
Saadi Qaddafi, extradited to Libya from Niger on Thursday, will face numerous charges, the general attorney’s office has said. These will include a number of charges related to the theft of public money, incitement to murder during the revolution, and bringing mercenaries from Sub-Saharan African countries to fight alongside Qaddafi’s troops. Saadi was also involved in many abuses relating to the suppression of public freedom before the revolution, according to the head of the investigation department of the general attorney’s office. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about Saadi’s case, urging Libyan authorities to ensure he receives his full process rights and be protected from torture and degrading treatment in prison. [Libya Herald, 3/6/2014]

SYRIA

Experts warn US Senate panel Syria war may last a decade or more
The brutal war in Syria could grind on for a decade as Iran and Russia prop up President Bashar Assad's regime and jihadist groups flood the battlefield, experts warned Thursday. Assad has chosen a deliberate "Machiavellian strategy" of standing by while militant groups such as al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant flourish, leaving the US-backed moderate opposition fighting on two fronts, lawmakers were told. "It's now clear that Assad's fall is not the inevitability that many analysts believed a year ago," said analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, referring to former confident predictions by the US administration that Assad's days were numbered. "The likeliest scenario is that which the US intelligence community now predicts, which is the war continuing for another decade or more," he told the Senate foreign relations committee. [AFP, 3/7/2014]

Warplanes pound Yabrud, escalating sectarian conflict in Lebanese border region
Syrian warplanes pounded an area near the rebel-held town of Yabrud near the Lebanese border Friday, a day after at least seventeen jihadists were killed in fighting there. The mix of Sunni Islamist fighters were killed during an offensive by loyalist forces backed by Hezbollah, aimed at seizing hills surrounding Yabrud, which is north of Damascus. Regime aircraft launched six raids on the al-Aqaba region on Friday. The Yabrud offensive by Syrian ground forces bolstered by fighters from Hezbollah along with other Shia fighters pouring in from across the region is aimed at severing a key rebel supply line linked to the town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah says that car bombs used to attack the movement inside Lebanon originated in the Yabrud area and were driven to their targets via Arsal, a Sunni town where support for the Syrian uprising runs high. In Syria's central province of Hama, meanwhile, at least fourteen members of the regime's security forces and nine rebels were killed in fighting for the town of Morek, which is on a key army supply route. [AFP, 3/7/2014]

Saudi Arabia classifies ISIS, Nusra, and Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist groups
On Friday, a royal decree in Saudi Arabia blacklisted the Syria-based Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and The Nusra Front as a terrorist group along with the Muslim Brotherhood, the kingdom’s branch of the Shia Hezbollah movement, and Yemen’s Houthi movement. Hundreds of Saudi fighters are believed to have joined ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria. The Royal decree gave a fifteen-day ultimatum for those fighters to return home. The ultimatum was issued after King Abdullah announced on February 3 tough penalties for activities deemed as terrorist. Saudis fighting abroad face up to twenty years in jail. The decree also criminalized having membership in, supporting, and sympathizing with any of these four groups as well as issuing unauthorized fatwas, or religious edicts. [Al Arabiya, Nashwan News (Arabic), 3/7/2014]

Syria is top training ground for al-Qaeda, US Senate is told
"Syria has become the pre-eminent location for al-Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, to train, and to equip what is now a growing number of extremists, some of who seek to conduct external attacks," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a congressional hearing on Thursday. "From a terrorism perspective, the most disturbing element is that al-Qaeda has declared Syria its most critical front." Olsen testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet. Foreign fighters attracted to the Syrian battleground "represent a long-term threat to US national security interests," Burns said while likening the environment to an "incubator for extremism" on both sides of the Sunni and Shia sectarian divide. [CNN, 3/7/2014]

TUNISIA

More than one thousand corruption cases await review
According to the administrative reform and anti-corruption commission at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), an estimated 1,199 corruption cases are still under examination by Tunisian courts. Of this total, 624 cases involve family and in-laws of the ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. According to one of the judges reviewing the cases, Sadok Lamari, the procedures are lengthy but things are moving and Switzerland and France will soon provide Tunisia with important documents concerning cases under investigation. [TAP, 3/6/3014]

Tunisia enlists citizens in effort to catch jihadists
Tunisia may soon offer financial rewards to citizens who help authorities capture terrorists. This is partly in response to the return of citizens who went to fight in Syria and are described by an interior ministry spokesperson as "ticking bombs". Even before the offer of reward, Tunisians were becoming increasingly aware of the importance of reporting unusual movements with respect to terrorist activities to the police. [All Africa, 03/06/3014]

‘Pioneering’ Environment Article in Tunisia’s Constitution
Environmental law experts have praised Tunisia’s new constitution for what they say is one of the most progressive references to climate protection in history. With the passage of the new constitution in January, Tunisia joins efforts in Ecuador (2008) and the Dominican Republic (2011) to mention climate change in the constitution. Article 45 of the new constitution states that “The state guarantees the right to a healthy and balanced environment and contributes to climate security.” Dhamir Mannai, an NCA member who sponsored the article, said “We [Tunisians] are victims of climate change, it is a global problem, but people don’t want to take responsibility.” [Tunisia Live, 3/7/3014]

Tunisia named a “country to watch” in 2014 for transitional justice and women’s rights
The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) listed Tunisia as one of four countries at the top of their gender justice priorities in the coming year. The other three priority countries are Kenya, Colombia, and Nepal. The formation of a truth commission is already underway in Tunisia and the law that establishes the commission incorporates gender-based criteria in the commissioner selection process, requiring that each gender be represented by at least one third of its members. According to the ICTJ, in order to ensure women's participation in the commission, it is also imperative to have gender experts on staff and working within the commission who are empowered and supported. In this critical moment for Tunisia, ICTJ works with women's rights and victims groups to ensure that women are included in the truth commission process. [All Africa, 3/5/2014]

YEMEN

Hadi meets with Conciliation Committee to discuss Constitutional Committee
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi met with the Conciliation Committee, a panel comprised of former National Dialogue Conference delegates, to discuss the formation of the a constitution drafting committee. The Saba state-run news agency reported that Hadi commented on the qualifications of the candidates, saying that they should “independent members that do not belong to any particular party and are highly regarded.” The candidates were nominated, however, by Yemen’s political parties. There was also a “comprehensive discussion” at the meeting about the mechanism for choosing the members of the Constitutional Committee. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/6/2014]

Arms trade goes to Facebook
Nearly 17.5 thousand users are following “The Price of Arms in Yemen” Facebook page, which hosts information about how much certain arms and explosives are and where they can be bought. In a country where various marketplaces throughout the country have such weaponry available, news of the trade moving onto the internet has begun raising concerns. Small arms like pistols and automatic rifles are discussed on the page, as well as heavier weapons like light machine guns and bombs. One user has requested information about anti-aircraft weaponry. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Huna Aden (Arabic), 3/7/2014]

Protests continue in the South against federal divisions
Thousands of people demonstrated across cities in Hadramawt rejecting the plan to divide Yemen’s south into two separate districts. Protesters called for “liberation” decrying the central government as “occupiers,” and condemning the government’s decision to refuse access to UN observers hoping to assess the situation in al-Dali’. However, UN officials were able to meet with exiled activists associated with the Southern movement in Beirut. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 3/7/2014]

Houthis and tribesmen clash in al-Jawf
Clashes continued in the northern al-Jawf province between Houthi and tribal militants, claiming at least three lives and wounding several others. Houthis have also abducted a soldier in the area. Meanwhile, the army blocked a Houthi protest in Amran province. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/7/2014]

RELATED ISSUES

Oman and Iran plan causeway over Hormuz
Oman and Iran are planning to build a causeway linking the two countries over the strait of Hormuz, the Iranian ambassador in Muscat was cited by local media as saying. Iran’s ambassador said that the project would be a bridge of “peace and friendship between Iran and Oman, other GCC countries and Yemen,” according to Al Watan daily newspaper. He said that the bridge would further help in strengthening relations between Iran and Oman. He pointed out that the project would connect Iran economically with the GCC countries and Yemen, through Oman. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to visit Oman in the near future, after he got a formal invitation from Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman. [Gulf News, 3/7/2014]

Forty protesters arrested in Algeria
On Thursday, security forces arrested forty people demonstrating in central Algiers against President Bouteflika’s bid for re-election in April. The protest was organized by a new movement, Barakat (enough), that opposes Bouteflika’s re-election. Public demonstrations in Algeria remain banned, despite the fact that a state of emergency was lifted in 2011. A similar protest was also broken up last week. Bouteflika has been in power for fifteen years and if elected, he will serve his fourth term in power. [Gulf News, 3/6/2014]

Nujaifi threatens to withdraw confidence from Maliki
Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, head of the Sunni-backed Mutahidoun bloc, has accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of carrying out a “a coup against legitimacy” and has threatened to withdraw confidence. The comments come after Maliki accused Nujaifi of “leading a conspiracy against the state.” Maliki accused Nujaifi of hampering the passage of Iraq’s 2014–2015 budget.. Nujaifi criticized Maliki’s call for MPs to disrupt parliament saying that “this sets a dangerous precedent that reveals the extent of his intervention in the work of this independent authority.” He added: “Maliki accused parliament of being behind the greatest conspiracy against the government in an attempt to cover up his government’s failures.” [Asharq al-Awsat, 3/7/2014]

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