Top News: Egypt Cabinet Resigns, Sisi Picks Petroleum Minister for New Prime Minister

Egypt’s cabinet has resigned but will stay on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed, a statement from the office of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday. It was not immediately clear why the government resigned but officials said that Sisi had been unhappy with the performance of several ministries. The announcement, which met with approval among Egyptian political parties, comes almost one week after authorities arrested Egypt’s Agriculture Minister over corruption allegations. Several other ministers have also been implicated in corruption cases, which may have contributed to the cabinet’s resignation. Head of Alexandria’s Appeal Court Mostafa Huseini said Sunday that outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, who had a 53 percent approval rating before his resignation, is mentioned by name in the corruption trial known as the “presidential palaces case,” though no charges have been directed against him by the court. Sisi has entrusted Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail with forming a new government within a week. Ismail began formal consultations to form a new cabinet on Sunday, while a high-level government source reported that half of the current ministers will not be included in the new cabinet. Among those reportedly remaining are the interior, defense, and foreign ministers. Two new ministries will also be introduced, including a ministry for Egyptian expatriates and another for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Ismail has also said that the cabinet will develop short- and long-term plans to achieve specific goals, including improving services provided to citizens. [Ahram OnlineDNEReutersAswat MasriyaMada Masr, 9/13/2015]



Almost 6,000 apply for parliamentary elections; For the Love of Egypt wins fifteen uncontested seats
Around 900 people applied Saturday to run in Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections, bringing the number of prospective candidates so far to 5,936. The door for filing applications to run in the elections closed on Saturday. In Qena and Qous, however, the deadline for applications was extended to September 15 after a court ruled to redraw districts concerning independent seats. The For the Love of Egypt (FLE) electoral list said it won fifteen seats in seven provinces after no other list fielded rival candidates before nominations closed. Egypt’s center-left electoral list Sahwet Misr, meanwhile, decided to withdraw late Friday from the upcoming parliamentary elections, according to a statement by the list. The coalition cited the High Elections Committee (HEC) “costly” decision to require candidates to retake medical checkups after an Administrative Court ruling said accepting previous medical checkups violated the House of Representatives law. The Salafi Nour Party announced in an official statement that it plans to run only two party-based electoral lists in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Administrative Court of Alexandria also ruled on Saturday that people under police custody would be permitted to run in the elections. According to the verdict, administrative detention is not a penalty, but rather “an investigative measure.” [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 9/14/2015]

Eight Mexican nationals, four Egyptians accidentally killed by Egyptian forces
Egyptian security forces accidentally killed twelve Egyptian and Mexican members of a tour group in the Western Desert after mistaking them for terrorists, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday. Ten people were injured in the attack, the ministry said. The Egyptian prosecution confirmed that seven of the twelve dead were Mexican nationals and that the other bodies were still at the site of the incident pending inspection. Security and judicial officials later said the number of Mexican tourists killed rose to eight. Tourism Minister Khaled Ramy said that one of those injured was American. Mexican Foreign Secretary Claudia Ruiz Massieu said that the Mexicans wounded in the attack described coming under aerial attack. While Egyptian authorities claimed the convoy entered the area illegally, an adviser to the Tourism Ministry said a police escort was provided to the tourist convoy. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned the attack, urging Egypt to conduct an “exhaustive” investigation. Egypt’s acting Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab visited the injured Mexican citizens, assuring that they are “receiving the best care.” Mexico’s Embassy in Cairo said it is cancelling its independence day celebration scheduled for Tuesday at the mission in Cairo. On Sunday, the Islamic State’s Egypt affiliate released a statement saying it had repelled an attack by the Egyptian military in the Western Desert. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 9/14/2015]

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UN Libya Envoy says political dialogue has reached consensus
Libya’s rival governments have reached a “consensus” on the main elements of a political agreement, UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said early Sunday. Leon said that the two sides were able to “overcome their differences” on major outstanding issues, increasing the likelihood of signing a long-awaited agreement to form a unity government this month. The most recent text of the draft agreement was not immediately available. He said the Tripoli government has been given forty-eight hours to submit names for leadership positions in a unity government, adding that the Tobruk-based government has already provided names. [AP, UN News Services, Libya Herald, 9/13/2015]

ISIS closes banks in Sirte; orders them to adopt sharia banking
A source in Sirte denied that Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) forces in the town have not taken over and looted the Central Bank, as was widely reported earlier. Rather, according to the source, ISIS went to all banks in the town on Thursday and closed them. ISIS has demanded that the banks adopt Islamic banking. When they have made the change, they can reopen, the source said. Taking over the Central Bank in Sirte, however, would be little more than a symbolic gesture, as no money has been transferred there in months. [Libya Herald, 9/13/2015]

Misrata and Tawergha slowly inch toward deal
Misrata and Tawergha continue to push slowly toward reconciliation and have added reparations to the issues they are seeking to resolve. According to UNSMIL, the latest meeting of the Misrata-Tawergha Joint Committee in Tunis on Friday agreed to set out a clear plan for reparations, including a way of working out damages. The Misratans also appear to have agreed to release a number of detained Tawerghans, most of whom have been held for approaching four years. The most recent releases last month saw fifteen detainees walk free. [Libya Herald, 9/12/2015]

Tunisians protest economic amnesty bill
Hundreds of Tunisians marched in Tunis on Saturday to protest a proposed law giving amnesty to businessmen accused of corruption during the rule of ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Waving banners saying “This law will not pass,” protesters took to the streets under tight security after authorities warned about possible car bomb attacks. Police had originally banned Saturday’s demonstration, citing threats of terrorist attacks, but left-wing and liberal parties as well as civic groups went forward with the march. The controversial draft law seeks to boost the economy by clearing cases against businessmen and civil servants accused of corruption. Opponents to the law, however, see it as an attempt to whitewash the crimes of the old regime and ignore an ongoing process of transitional justice. [Reuters, AP, All Africa/TAP, 9/12/2015]

Algeria’s Bouteflika replaces powerful head of military intelligence
On Sunday, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika replaced the long-standing head of Algeria’s military intelligence agency, Mohamed Mediene, in what is seen as his latest move to curb the spy chief’s influence in politics. Mediene had long played the role of political kingmaker, analysts say, influencing leadership choices in Algeria’s backroom tussles between civilian and military factions. Algerian press has called his replacement the “end of an era.” General Athmane Tartag, a specialist in fighting against armed groups who also served as Bouteflika’s security advisor, replaced Mediene. Last week, the presidency sacked several top generals working under Mediene. Bouteflika began easing the military and its DRS intelligence wing out of the political sphere before his re-election last April, in what observers said was preparation for his eventual departure after more than 15 years in power. [Reuters, AFP, 9/13/2015]


Russia building airstrip in Syria’s Latakia
Russia is building an airstrip in a stronghold of the Syrian regime and has brought hundreds of technicians and military advisers to the site, a monitoring group said on Sunday. Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman says officials describe the development as a plan to ensure larger planes can land in the airport that houses a military base. “It could mean there will be more supplies or that they want to turn it into an international airport,” Abdurrahman said. [The National, AP, AFP, 9/13/2015]

Saudi Arabia claims it has received 2.5 million Syrians
An official source in the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Saudi Arabia has received around 2.5 million Syrians since the start of the conflict in their country. The source claims that the Kingdom has adopted a policy not to treat these Syrians as refugees or place them in refugee camps “in order to ensure their dignity and safety.” Saudi Arabia did not specify how many of those Syrians admitted remain in the country, claiming “some hundreds of thousands” have been granted residency status. [Al Arabiya, AP, 9/12/2015]

David Cameron visits Lebanese refugee camp
British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Syrian refugees Monday during a visit to Beirut amid pressure at home for him to do more to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Amid tight security, Cameron traveled by a Chinook helicopter from Beirut airport to a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in the Bekaa valley. Cameron underlined Britain’s belief that aid should be an EU focus by announcing he has appointed the Conservative MP Richard Harrington as a home office minister with the sole responsibility of dealing with the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the country has agreed to resettle from camps. [WSJ, The Guardian, AFP, 9/14/2015]

Belgium ready to send troops to Syria after order is restored
Belgium is ready to send ground troops to Syria as part of an international coalition but “we must first reestablish order,” the country’s defense minister Steven Vandeput said. Belgium has been a member of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq. “If a similar coalition is created in Syria, we cannot stay on the sidelines,” Vandeput said in an interview published in a Belgian newspaper. “We must first reestablish order in Syria and then stay on the ground to protect it. The troops with whom I am speaking are ready. We are not going to play Rambo, but if clear conditions are established, I am ready to send Belgian troops to the territory of Syria,” Vandeput said. [AFP, 9/13/2015]

Clashes near Damascus kill eighty in six days
At least eighty rebels and regime fighters have been killed in six days of clashes northeast of Damascus, a monitoring group said. The clashes began on Tuesday when two prominent Islamist rebel groups launched simultaneous attacks on three areas outside the capital. The Jaysh al-Islam and Faylaq al-Sham attacks have focused on the areas of Harasta, Dahiyat al-Assad, and the region around Adra prison, the monitor said. In related news, at least twenty people were killed on Monday in two car bomb attacks in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka, state media reported. Control of Hasaka is divided between Kurdish militia and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The city has regularly been targeted by ISIS, which controls some territory in Hasaka. [AFP, 9/13/2015]

Curfews and casualties continue in Turkey’s southeast; NGOs and unions call for unity
The curfew on the majority-Kurdish town of Cizre was temporarily lifted, a move that allowed residents and mourners to bury over a dozen of their dead on Sunday. Attacks on police checkpoints in the southeastern provinces of Sirnak, Silcan, and Mardin have resulted in curfews and clashes with civilians. The Turkish state-run agency Anadolu Agency reported that a car bomb killed two police officers and injured five on Sunday at a police checkpoint in Sirnak. During a joint press conference on Monday, NGOs and unions called for a massive rally to be held in Ankara on Thursday condemning terrorism. President of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu said in reference to the rally, “We are together. Our common denominator is respect for human rights and law.” [AP, Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC, Hurriyet 9/14/2015]


Exiled President Hadi backs out of UN peace talks
Exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s office released a statement on September 13 saying he would not agree to attend peace talks with Houthi rebels unless they comply with the April UN Security Council resolution demanding they withdraw from areas they have seized, including the capital of Sana’a. President Hadi also demanded that the rebels hand over the heavy arms they have taken from government institutions since they swept into Sana’a last September. His refusal to attend peace talks coincided with the killing of five Saudi soldiers, also on September 13, in the southern province of Najran, near Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen. The United Nations says some 4,500 people, including at least 2,110 civilians, have been killed in fighting on the ground and by coalition air strikes since late March. However, according to senior Houthi-allied politicians and UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Houthis have accepted a majority of the resolution. “Accepting the UN resolution is not the concern; the problem is the implementation. The Houthis have accepted to withdraw their forces and hand in the arms they seized, but want to ensure this takes place in a manner that doesn’t keep Yemen lawless,” said Hasan Zaid, President of the Houthi-allied Haq party. “Withdrawing forces with no replacement for security will allow al-Qaeda to take control, as they did in southern provinces.” There have also been calls by the UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to hold an independent inquiry into the violations in Yemen committed by the Saudi-led coalition and by the Houthi rebels. [BBC, CNN, NYT, 9/14/2015]

Saudi Arabia reviews construction after mosque collapse
Saudi Arabia has begun an investigation into why a crane collapsed in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, killing 107 people and injuring 238. The huge red crane crashed into a part of the Grand Mosque as it was filled with worshippers, less than two weeks before the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The crane was one of several surrounding the mosque to support an ongoing expansion of the sanctuary. Officials say strong winds and heavy rains caused the crane to fall. Abdel Aziz Naqoor, who said he works at the mosque, told AFP he saw the crane fall after being hit by the storm. “If it weren’t for Al-Tawaf bridge the injuries and deaths would have been worse,” he said, referring to a covered walkway that surrounds the Holy Kaaba, which broke the crane’s fall. Authorities did not provide details on the victims’ nationalities, but it was likely that the tragedy will touch several countries. The crane collapse is also said to have exposed a shoddy breakneck construction boom that some Saudis complain is ruining the holy city. The 100 million riyal Mecca development project is overseen by one of the country’s leading developers, the Saudi Bin Laden Group, and has backing from the government. Supporters say that when the project is completed there will be new housing, a ring road, parking lots and a new metro system. However Saudi locals have complained that there have been too many accidents associated with the construction project. [The Guardian, NYT, Gulf News, BBC, 9/13/2015]

Bahraini forces have released prominent Shia cleric
Bahraini forces detained prominent Shia Cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Jidhafsi at a security checkpoint in the industrial neighborhood of Sitra, southeast of Manama. He had just delivered a speech at an anti-regime gathering. Hundreds of protesters condemned the arrest of the sheikh. His daughter and granddaughter were also arrested. While the regime forces released the cleric after a day in jail, he suffers from heart failure and had to be transported to a military hospital to receive treatment after his release. Regime forces reportedly raided the gathering in Sitra, firing birdshot and tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. The National Democratic Opposition in Bahrain claims that human rights have been largely ignored in the country, as political opposition and political activism are subjected to wide targeting, tightening, and unprecedented security pursuit. [Shafaqna, ABNA, Al Wefaq, Alalam, 9/14/2015]


OPEC cuts forecast of oil supplies from nonmembers in 2015
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut its forecast of oil supplies from nonmember countries in 2015, a sign that crude’s price collapse is hitting US shale drillers and other competing sources. In its closely watched monthly oil market report, OPEC Monday lowered its projection for non-OPEC supply in 2015 by about 72,000 barrels a day, to 880,000 barrels a day, because of lower-than-expected output in the United States. OPEC also revised up the demand for its crude this year by about 400,000 barrels a day to 29.3 million barrels. Saudi Arabia told the cartel it produced 10.265 million barrels a day last month, down from 10.361 million barrels a day in July. But according to secondary sources, the kingdom’s output went up slightly. [WSJ (subscription), 9/14/2015]

Egypt’s IMF visit to take place despite cabinet changes
The visit of the International Monetary Fund delegation is set to take place in mid-September as scheduled, with no delays despite the government’s resignation, IMF’s communication officer Randa El-Nagar said. “The IMF mission will be visiting Egypt soon and will conduct a mid-term review and maybe the hierarchy of the whole economy and not just the general budget,” Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian said in a recent interview. On revising the mid-term budget deficit, the Minister added that he imagines “it will happen during the first quarter of the next year.” [DNE, 9/14/2015]

Iran nuclear official says uranium exploration results promising
Preliminary exploration surveys for raw uranium in Iran are progressing well but it is too early to announce any discoveries, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran (AEOI) Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted as saying on Sunday. He spoke to ISNA news agency a day after AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that recent discoveries had made Iran confident of its reserves and that a new mine would become operational soon. The discovery of raw uranium, which can be refined to make nuclear fuel, would make Iran’s disputed nuclear program more self-sufficient and raise concerns among those who fear the program is aimed at developing a bomb, a charge Iran denies. [Reuters, 9/13/2015]

Italy, Kuwait agree Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet sale
The Italian and Kuwaiti governments have struck an agreement over the sale of 28 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets, as the Middle East country seeks to follow neighbors in modernizing its air force, the plane maker said Friday. “We are delighted to welcome Kuwait as the newest member of our Eurofighter Typhoon family,” said Alberto Gutierrez, chief executive of the Eurofighter consortium. The deal, involving the newest version of the Typhoon jet, would comprise 22 single-side jets and six dual-seat planes, a Eurofighter official said. [WSJ (subscription), 9/11/2015]