Top News: ISIS Says Chinese and Norwegian Hostages ‘for Sale’

The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is holding a Chinese man and a Norwegian man hostage and has reportedly asked for an unspecified ransom for their release. In Oslo, Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed that a Norwegian citizen was being held and insisted that “Norway does not pay ransoms.” The ISIS announcement came in the latest issue of the extremist group’s English-language magazine Dabiq distributed on Twitter. In what it described as a “limited time offer,” ISIS identified the men, their ages, and occupations, and provided a contact number for “whoever would like to pay the ransom for the release and transfer.” [AFPThe Independent, 9/10/2015]



Egypt Elections Committee will redraw constituency boundaries in Cairo and Qena
The High Elections Committee (HEC) announced on Wednesday that it will redraw the boundaries of electoral constituencies in Cairo and Qena, in accordance with an Administrative Court ruling issued on Monday. The ruling also stipulated that candidates must retake medical checkups performed in February. On Monday, the Administrative Court ruled that the cabinet must redraw two constituency boundaries due to administrative errors committed. HEC Spokesman Omar Marwan, meanwhile, confirmed that the court ruling would not lead to a delay in the elections. Meanwhile, the HEC accepted Thursday the application of steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz to stand as a nominated candidate in the elections despite Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upholding a ruling on Tuesday to disqualify his candidacy. Ezz’s solicitor Mohamed Hamouda, who submitted the application, said the ruling was relevant only to Ezz’s potential nomination for elections planned for March 2015, which were postponed. The total number of candidates who have applied to run in the elections increased on Wednesday to 4,532. [Ahram Online, 9/10/2015]

Egyptian student becomes anti-corruption icon
Schoolgirl Mariam Malak has become a symbol of the fight against corruption in Egypt after scoring zero in her final exams. The nineteen-year-old top student, who aced her exams in previous years, says her answers were replaced with someone else’s–clearly not in her handwriting. Her lawyers believe Malak’s exam papers were swapped for those of an influential person’s child. Malak appealed to Assiut’s education authority, which dismissed the complaint. She appealed to the prosecution, whose forensics team determined that the answers were in her handwriting. Her case came to the attention of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, who invited Malak to Cairo for a meeting. Mahlab said he would “support the student in her appeal as if she were his daughter.” The Coptic Pope Tawadros II also asked to meet her, but Malak, a Christian, declined lest it appear a sectarian issue, saying her case was “that of an Egyptian citizen.” The prosecution service has now reopened the case. [AFP, Ahram Online, AMAY, Mada Masr, 9/10/2015]

Israel embassy reopens doors in Egypt after four year closure
Israel has reopened an embassy in Cairo after four years of closure, the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman to the Arab media, Ofir Gendelman, announced on Wednesday. The Tel Aviv mission in Egypt closed its doors in the aftermath of the storming of its former premises in Giza in 2011 amid anti-Israel protests. Israel opened its new embassy inside its ambassador’s residence, saying on Thursday that holdups in finding separate premises as is customary had encumbered an already challenging relationship with Egypt. Months of scouting for a separate embassy building had been snagged by wrangling over leases and security arrangements, Israeli and Egyptian diplomats said. They described the new location in Ambassador Haim Koren’s residence as temporary. Dore Gold, Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, attended the reopening ceremony along with Israel’s ambassador to Cairo Haiem Koren. “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President al-Sisi we have seen off threats and we are working with Egypt to achieve stability in the region,” Gold said at the event, adding that “Egypt will always remain the region’s biggest and most significant country.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Egypt Independent, 9/10/2015]

Presidential source denies ground troops sent to Yemen
An unnamed presidential source denied media reports on Wednesday claiming that Egypt sent 800 ground troops to Yemen to face the armed Houthi group. “Such claims are groundless,” an anonymous presidential official was quoted as saying. Reuters reported that an anonymous Egyptian security source said four units of ground troops, tanks, and personnel carriers were sent to Yemen Tuesday to participate in the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthis. [Youm7, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 9/10/2015]

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Heavy fighting west of Tripoli spreads toward capital
Heavy fighting broke out Wednesday afternoon near Sabratha between fighters backed by the western Libya Shield, ostensibly aligned with the Tobruk government, and a Libyan National Army (LNA) Supported Forces unit. The clashes have been condemned by Colonel Idris Madi, head of the LNA’s Western Operations Room, who said that the fighting was not ordered by the LNA and was an illegal operation. This is the first time there have been clashes in the region between units supposedly under the control of the LNA and supporting the House of Representatives in Tobruk. [Libya Herald, 9/9/2015]

Benghazi school children killed in mine explosion
Four children, all under age ten, were killed and two others injured yesterday when a mine exploded at their school in Benghazi’s Benina district. The children were tidying up the primary school ahead of the new school year. It is not known why the mine was at the school or who left it there. Two of the children were killed instantly by the blast, while the other two died later in hospital. [Libya Herald, 9/10/2015]

Malta, Libya reaffirm cooperation in health sector
Malta’s Minister for Energy and Health Konrad Mizzi and the Libyan Minister of Health Reida al-Oakley have met to discuss cooperation in the health sector. According to a report in Malta Today, Malta and Libya agreed to enhance and develop their collaboration across the health sector. Both governments further extended their cooperation to the provision of medical services and treatment within the wider healthcare sector and to the provision of technologies. [Libya Business News, 9/9/2015]

HRW condemns Tunisian crackdown on peaceful protests
HRW criticized Tunisian police for using unlawful force to disperse apparently peaceful protests in at least three cities since September 1, 2015. The protests were organized against a proposed law to give businessmen and state officials from the Ben Ali era immunity from prosecution if they return the assets they plundered. International law requires that any restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly must be narrowly defined, proportionate, and necessary. “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right that is central to a democratic society,” Goldstein said. “The authorities need to ensure that people who want to speak out peacefully are protected, not beaten and abused.” [HRW, 9/10/2015]

Algerian troops kill Islamist gunmen
Algerian soldiers killed two Islamist gunmen Wednesday during an ongoing operation against the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to the Defense Ministry. The two were killed in the Boumerdes region, about fifty kilometers east of Algiers. In July, at least nine soldiers were killed in an ambush southwest of Algiers in an attack claimed by AQIM. The ministry says that more than sixty Islamists have been killed this year. [AFP, 9/9/2015]


ISIS advances on east Syria airbase
ISIS edged closer to a strategic airbase in eastern Syria and left more than forty-one combatants dead. The extremist group seized control late Wednesday of a small base near the regime-held military airport outside Deir Ezzor, a monitoring group said. The seizure of the small base, used by the army’s rocket battalion, brings ISIS within approximately one mile of the airport. According to the monitoring group, the regime is now only left with the Deir Ezzor airbase in the east. In related news, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov once again confirmed that Russia has military personnel in Syria for the purpose of training the regime’s military and that Russian planes flying to the airfield near the Syrian city of Latakia are carrying “military goods in accordance with existing contracts and humanitarian aid.” [AFP, 9/10/2015]

Lebanon reaches deal on trash crisis amid protests
Lebanon’s government agreed on a plan to resolve a waste disposal crisis, ending a dispute that has caused garbage to pile on Beirut’s streets and a wave of protests. The long-term plan, agreed on during an emergency cabinet meeting gives municipalities a main role in treating local waste with expert help and supervision, and also assigns two landfills in Akkar and Masnaa, near the border with Syria. Lebanese activists said in a Facebook post that they will review the clauses of the proposed resolution and make suggestions after consulting with environmental specialists. Some cautioned that the government proposal did not mean an end to the crisis because of the ambiguity on how municipalities would tackle the waste in a transparent and environmentally-friendly manner. [Reuters, WSJ, 9/10/2015]

Tensions cause Turkish nationalist backlash against Kurdish political party
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtas warned, “It is becoming impossible to hold an election given the security situation in the region.” He delivered the remarks in an address to media outlets in Diyarbakir on Thursday. Turkish nationalist protesters conducted over 400 attacks on HDP property since Tuesday. The Diyarbakir prosecutor’s office is also investigating Demirtas over comments he made allegedly insulting the Turkish state, inciting crime, insulting the president, and constituted terrorist propaganda. Demirtas warns of an imminent civil war, placing much of the blame on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies. Security forces blocked pro-Kurdish politicians, including cabinet ministers, who attempted to march to Cizre in southeast Turkey to protest a week-long military curfew in the town. Cizre has been under curfew since last week due to fighting with Kurdish militants. HDP politicians say they want to bring attention to what they describe as dire security and health conditions in the town. [Al Jazeera, Reuters, Guardian, Hurriyet, 9/10/2015]


Saudi-led coalition raids target Yemen bases and Houthi leaders’ houses
At least thirty-one people were killed and dozens wounded in intensified airstrikes carried out by Saudi-led coalition warplanes on several cities of Yemen during the last two days. War planes bombed Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on Thursday September 10, in what witnesses have described as one of the fiercest attacks on the city in over five months of war. Reportedly, more than twenty attacks were carried out in less than half an hour. The air strikes hit Houthi political leaders’ homes and military bases, causing a number of civilian casualties. On Wednesday, Saudi air strikes targeted the city of Bayhan, located on the border between Shabwa and Marib provinces, while coalition warplanes also hit multiple other positions in the provinces of Hajjah, Ma’rib, and Sa’ada. Since a Houthi missile attack killed at least sixty Gulf Arab troops east of Sana’a last Friday, the coalition has stepped up its air strikes on the capital and increased its deployment of troops. [Reuters, The Daily Star, Al-Bawaba, 9/10/2015]

President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi meets with Head of the EU mission to Yemen
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi discussed bilateral relations between Yemen and the European Union during his meeting with the Interim Head of the EU mission to Yemen Ambassador Bettina Muchyt. Hadi briefed Ambassador Muchyt on the latest developments in Yemen and discussed the concerning humanitarian situation. The meeting coincides with a recent report produced by UNICEF agency saying that 96,000 children are starving and close to death in the port city of al-Hodeida, estimating that nearly 8,000 children will suffer from severe malnutrition in the southern port city of Aden in the next year. Hadi stressed the importance of implementing the UN resolution 2216 in achieving Yemeni peace, security, and stability. It demands that all parties in the embattled country, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threaten the political transition. Ambassador Muchyt expressed EU support for Yemen to overcome its various challenges. [Sahafah, Al Jazeera, 9/10/2014]

Saudi Arabia tightens security in preparation for the Hajj
Saudi Arabia is increasing its security ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage at the end of this month, given the growing threat of ISIS in the region. The Saudi government is concerned that ISIS will attempt to extend its reach in the Arabian Peninsula, expanding the scope of its attacks and drawing in new recruits with its radical ideology. There are concerns that the group could threaten the safety of Shia completing the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage later this month. The extremist group has kept a relatively low profile in the Gulf, but has claimed four significant bombings since May, one of them in neighbouring Kuwait. Asked about possible security concerns on the Haj, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki replied that “that security forces will act swiftly and decisively with any violations of laws and instructions related to Hajj.” [Gulf News, 9/10/2015]


Iraq to seek up to $500 million in loans from Islamic Development Bank
Iraq will seek up to $500 million in loans from the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to help cover its projected deficit and complement the country’s return to the international debt market. Baghdad is aiming to raise $6 billion in a series of dollar-denominated bonds, Iraq’s first in nine years, to fund salaries and infrastructure projects in the oil and gas, electricity, and transportation sectors. Iraq’s 2015 federal budget empowers the Ministry of Finance to draw additional financing from sources including the IDB. Of the $500 million from the IDB, $225 million would be used for the development and renovation of a major trade corridor linking Iraq with neighboring countries. The IDB originally approved the financing in October 2013 and held discussions with Iraqi government officials in May. [Reuters, 9/10/2015]

IMF advises Saudi to review public sector wage bill
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged Saudi Arabia to reduce domestic energy subsidies and its public sector wage bill as the country struggles with plunging crude oil prices. Following consultations with the kingdom, the IMF forecast continued expansion of Saudi Arabia’s economy despite the oil price drop. However, while the government’s high level of reserves and low public debt mean it could continue to weather reduced oil revenue for several years, the IMF said the government should take steps now to control spending via economic reforms. The fund stressed the need for higher domestic energy prices, long-term reductions to the size of the civil service, an expansion of non-oil revenue via land and value added taxes and reforms to boost private sector employment. [AP, Reuters, 9/9/2015]

Turkish economy grows more than forecasts
Turkey’s economy grew 3.8 percent in the second quarter of the year, data showed on Thursday, an unexpected positive development for a government grappling with expectations of a slowdown in growth. However, the data was not enough to prevent the lira from hitting a record low on Thursday, underscoring investors’ chronic concerns about political uncertainty. The rapid expansion of Turkey’s economy was fueled by consumer spending, which soared to its fastest pace in two years, and rising government expenditure. Following the release of the data, Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said the economy will continue to grow in the third quarter of the year. Simsek said political instability poses the biggest risk to the economy, citing potential damage to public finances and further pressure on budget and current account deficits. “Depending on the intensification of those risks, we think a sequential contraction of [the] Turkish economy might be on the cards,” he said. [Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, 9/10/2015]

Egypt achieves $3.7 billion surplus in balance of payments for FY 2014/2015
Egypt’s economic transactions during fiscal year (FY) 2014/2015 achieved a surplus of $3.7 billion in the balance of payments, according to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). This comes after a surplus of about $1.5 billion in FY 2013/2014. The CBE said the surplus resulted from capital and fiscal transactions that achieved a net inflow of about $17.6 billion due to increased foreign investments in Egypt. According to the bank, inflows of foreign direct investment in Egypt increased from $4.1 billion to $6.4 billion in FY2014/2015. A surplus in services and income balance also contributed to the overall surplus in the balance of payments. These developments follow a 13 percent increase in Egypt’s trade deficit in FY 2014/2015.[DNE, 9/9/2015]