Kerry Visits Egypt For Strategic Dialogue Talks

The United States and Egypt are returning to a “stronger base” in bilateral ties despite tensions and human rights concerns, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday after talks with his Egyptian counterpart. Kerry told his counterpart Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, “[The United States would] continue to provide robust training to the Egyptian military, as the military seeks it and desires it, in an effort to build capacity and … meet the highest expectations of your military for its professionalism.” He also said a nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers last month would make Egypt and the region safer. US President Barack Obama told Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in a letter that he hopes that the strategic dialogue between the two countries will deepen cooperation and contribute to Egypt’s development, Sisi’s office has said. Shoukry said Cairo had no major disagreements with Washington, only “differences in points of view over some issues, which is natural.” Kerry later met Sisi, raising press freedom and the protection of peaceful dissent to stem the growth of violent extremism. In a joint statement, Egypt and the United States agreed to hold the next round of the Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC in 2016. [APReutersAswat MasriyaMada MasrThe Guardian, 8/2/2015]


Britain approves major new arms deals with Egypt in 2015
The British government has this year increased its arms deals with Egypt after a reduction in arms exports following the 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, the website Newsweek reported on Friday. According to the report, official records released by the British government and reported by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) showed that London approved military licences to Egypt for “components of military combat vehicles” worth 48.8 million GBP ($76.3 million). These figures represent a 3,000 percent increase year-on-year in the value of military deals between the two countries. According to Newsweek, in the first quarter of 2014 military deals between both countries were worth 1.6 million GBP ($2.4 million). A number of arms export licences were suspended by the UK in 2013 after the ouster of Morsi. [Ahram Online, 8/1/2015]

Egypt extends for six months military mandate in Gulf, Red Sea
The Egyptian government extended by six months the deployment of “some elements of the armed forces” outside Egypt’s borders to defend national and Arab security in the Gulf, Red Sea and the Strait of Mandeb, state news agency MENA said on Saturday. Egypt authorized a forty-day mandate on March 26, and extended it for three months in May 3 before extending it again on Saturday following the national defense council’s approval. [Reuters, Mada Masr, 8/1/2015]

Schedule for Egypt’s parliamentary elections expected next week
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued on Saturday the amended political participation law and amended parliamentary elections law to govern parliamentary elections, Minister of Transitional Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim al-Heneidy said. The election law allocates 448 seats to individual candidates and 120 seats to winner-takes-all lists, with quotas for women, youth, and Christians. The previous law allocated 420 seats to individuals and 120 through lists. A new date for elections is set to be announced next week, Heneidy said, after a ceremony marking the opening of a new Suez Canal channel on August 6. The High Electoral Commission (HEC) also formed three media commissions to monitor coverage of the parliamentary election and evaluate the media’s conduct, taking disciplinary actions against violators. Under the new decision, the HEC can require that media outlets publish an apology and ban violators from covering the elections. It is unclear what actions would constitute a violation. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 8/3/2015]

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GNC claims Leon agrees to change the Dialogue Draft
The General National Congress (GNC) claims that UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon has agreed to amend the dialogue draft agreement approved last month in Skhirat. Until that happens, the GNC plans to continue boycotting the UN-brokered negotiations. Other delegates to the dialogue and the House of Representatives have insisted on no changes to the text of the draft. In Algiers, Leon told the GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmain that the agreement was the only basis for solving Libya’s crisis. Following the return of Abu Sahmain from Algiers where he and his delegation had talks with Leon over the boycott, Deputy GNC President Saleh Makhzoum confirmed that the Tripoli parliament would not take part in the dialogue until the UN adopted its amendments. [Libya Herald, All Africa, 8/2/2015]

Kerry says to seek more support for Libya peace plan
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday he would seek greater backing for a UN peace plan for Libya, which has been spurned by some key players. Warring factions signed an initial UN-sponsored deal on July 12 to form a unity government and end fighting, but the parliament in Tripoli rejected the agreement. In a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in Cairo, Kerry said, “We cannot allow one, two, or three different spoiler groups who have not achieved all of their goals they had hoped to achieve through the conflict to destroy the entire process.” Kerry also discussed with Egyptian officials “increased border cooperation” with respect to Libya. [Reuters, 8/2/2015]

Five killed in clashes near oil port in eastern Libya
Five people were killed and twelve wounded on Sunday during clashes in eastern Libya between forces loyal to the internationally recognized government and Islamist groups. Fighting broke out on Saturday in Ajdabiya, near the oil port of Brega, and a war plane attacked suspected Islamist positions to the south of the town. It was unclear whether the Islamist fighters were affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, who killed five soldiers on Friday in an attack on a checkpoint outside Ajdabiya manned by troops loyal to the official government. Two more soldiers were killed when the government sent reinforcements, and another fifteen have been missing since. [Reuters, 8/2/2015]

Two of the four Indians held in Sirte are now safe
Four Indian nationals were detained near the Libyan city of Sirte on Friday. Two of the four men had been returned safely by Friday evening said Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup. Earlier in the day, Swarup told reporters that the four men were held at a checkpoint. Swarup gave no details of how the two men were returned safely to the university in Sirte. [AP, 7/31/2015]

Tebu and Tuareg agree to seek resolution of Obari conflict
Violent clashes broke out on Friday night between Tebu and Tuareg gunmen in the southwest town of Obari despite efforts to end hostilities between the two ethnic groups. In Brussels, Tuareg and Tebu delegations from Obari and elsewhere in southwest Libya met for three days of talks to end the violence. Promediation, a French NGO led by Eric Blanchot, brokered the meetings. According to Ahmed Baye, who headed the Tuareg delegation, the negotiations resulted in an agreement to work together for peace. Both teams have returned from Brussels, but further negotiations—possibly in Tunisia—will help ensure a lasting ceasefire. Both sides signed a statement in which they said they had started a dialogue that could lead to peace; they also called for humanitarian aid for all of Obari’s residents affected by the fighting, especially those who have been displaced. [Libya Herald, 8/2/2015]

Libyans authorities hand over Tunisian nationals; Bayda deemed unsafe for Tunisian diplomats
Official authorities in Libya handed over on Saturday at the border crossing of Ras Jedir eight wanted Tunisian nationals. A source said, “They are religious extremists suspected of belonging to terrorist organizations.” The Tunisian Ministry also arrested five people in Bizerte who intended to leave for Libya to join a terrorist group. Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche said his country was considering opening a diplomatic office in Bayda, but said Libya’s eastern government was unable to provide any security guarantees. Baccouche said plans for sending a diplomatic team to Bayda were being drafted, but the Tobruk government was unable to provide enough security assurances, highlighting the limited control it has. [All Africa/AP, 8/2/2015]


United States to defend Syrian rebels with airpower, including from Assad
US officials said Sunday that the United States would conduct air strikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the US military from any attackers, including other rebel groups and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. President Barack Obama’s decision could deepen the United States’ role in the conflict as it aims to shield the US-trained Syrian fighters. Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith said the US military’s program focuses on combatting Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, but the United States recognizes “that many of these groups now fight on multiple fronts, including against the Assad regime… and other terrorists.” Russia criticized the new US plan on Monday. “Moscow has stressed multiple times that helping Syrian opposition… [will] lead to a further desalinization of the situation,” a Kremlin spokesperson said. Clashes between the Nusra Front and US-trained Division 30 rebels stopped Saturday when the US-trained rebels fled their headquarters in the northern Syrian town of Azaz. The Nusra Front released a video Saturday, purportedly showing its capture of Division 30 rebels last week. The Nusra Front executed at least ten people accused of adultery or collaboration with the Syrian government per order of the group’s religious court in Aleppo city Saturday. [Reuters, WSJ, 8/3/2015]

Two soldiers dead, thirty-one wounded in suicide attack in Turkey
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants detonated an explosives-laden agricultural vehicle at a military police station in Dogubayazit, near the Turkey-Iran border, killing two soldiers and wounding thirty-one others. In a separate attack, one Turkish soldier was killed and four others injured Sunday when their military vehicle hit a landmine believed to have been placed by PKK militants in southeastern Turkey’s Mardin province. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militia accused Turkey on Saturday of targeting it with provocative and hostile attacks at least four times in the past week. President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani on Saturday condemned Turkey’s bombardment of the Iraqi Kurdish village of Zargala on Saturday and called for a return to the peace process between Ankara and the PKK. Turkey’s military denied allegations that it hit civilians in Zargala, claiming that air strikes targeted a PKK shelter. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed Monday to do “whatever necessary” to defend itself against attacks by Kurdish militants and called on Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to take action against PKK bases there themselves. [AP, 8/2/2015]

Syrian warplane crashes, killing and wounding many
Local Coordination Committees in the northwestern Syrian town of Ariha said that regime air raids and the subsequent crash of a Syrian warplane in a busy market killed at least seventeen people and wounded dozens more Monday morning. The warplane reportedly crashes in the center of the town, destroying several homes and killing at least twelve people. It is not clear whether the plane malfunctioned or was shot down. Activists said Saturday that at least twenty-five Syrian rebels and nine regime forces were killed in a failed attack by regime forces on a makeshift army base outside the city of Aleppo late Friday night. [AP, BBC, 8/3/2015]

Syria regime retakes ground near Latakia
Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters retook several areas Sunday from rebels in the Sahl al-Ghab region of the central Hama province. The rebel Army of Conquest alliance had seized more than a dozen strategic hilltops and other positions last week. In the past three days, however, the Syrian army retook nearly half the areas it had lost. Regime aircraft conducted air raids Sunday while the two sides traded heavy rocket fire and mortar rounds on the ground. The seventy-two hours of fighting killed at least seventy-three rebels and forty-two regime forces, including Hezbollah fighters and members of the National Defense Forces (NDF) militia allied with the regime. [Daily Star, 8/3/2015]

UN says at least 1,332 Iraqis killed by violence in July
The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq said Saturday that at least 1,322 Iraqis were killed and an additional 2,000 wounded by violence in July. The reports cite 844 civilians and 488 members of Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias among the dead. They also indicate that Baghdad was the worst affected province, with 355 individuals killed. The Baghdad province saw further attacks this weekend as two separate explosions killed five and wounded more than twenty on Saturday. The independent Airwars monitoring group released a report Monday claiming that US-led coalition air strikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria have likely killed hundreds of civilians, citing fifty-seven specific strikes that killed at least 459 civilians. The US-led coalition declined to comment on the report.[AP, 8/1/2015]


Houthi chief encourages troops to continue fighting in new statement
Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi gave a televised speech on Sunday aimed at shoring up the morale of the group’s forces. In the statement, al-Houthi said, “A political statement is still possible,” and welcomed a new attempt by a third party to broker a deal after the failure of the UN-sponsored talks in June. Also in the statement, al-Houthi played down the withdrawal of the rebels and their allies from Aden in mid-July and attributed the loss to Houthi forces returning home at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid with their families. Speaking to the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, al-Houthi said, “With the crimes that you are committing, you pose a danger to Yemen. To guarantee your security, you have to be a good neighbor.” [Reuters, 8/2/2015]

Former President Ali Abduallah Saleh gives interview on current situation in Yemen
Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh said in an interview with Huffington Post’s Arabic site that he wanted current exiled Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi tried for treason for enlisting Saudi-led attacks against the Iranian-allied militia. Saleh, an ally of the Houthi forces, called for Hadi to be tried at the International Criminal Court and labeled him “an enemy of all Yemenis” for his engagement of Saudi forces. Saleh condemned Saudi action in Yemen, saying, “Saudi Arabia, after its aggression against Yemen, is no longer a sisterly or friendly country, but rather an aggressor against … Yemeni people.” [Reuters 8/3/2015]

Vice President Khaled Bahah returns to Aden as government loyalists make gains in Yemen
Yemeni Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah arrived in the southern port city of Aden on Saturday, the most senior official from Yemen’s exiled government to visit since local fighters drove out the Iranian-backed Houthis. Also in Aden, pro-government forces have received a new shipment of weaponry to aid in the effort to retake the al-Anad air base. Houthis and government loyalists remain engaged in clashes in the strategic cities of Zanjibar and Taiz. [AP, 8/3/2015]

UAE prosecutor charges forty-one with terrorism
The United Arab Emirate’s top prosecutor referred forty-one people to trial on charges of planning to carry out terrorist acts with the aim of overthrowing the government and establishing an extremist state. In a statement carried by the state-run WAM news agency, Prosecutor General Salem Saeed Kubaish said in a statement that the cell called itself Shabab al-Manara or (Minaret Youths). Kubaish said the group planned to carry out terrorist acts against the country’s leadership and public with the aim of creating an Islamic state or caliphate. The trial is set to begin on August 24, with the accused including some UAE nationals. [AP, 8/3/2015]

Rouhani says Iran deal can help speed up solutions in Yemen and Syria
Iran’s president said Sunday his country’s nuclear deal with the West would create better prospects for faster solutions in Syria and Yemen, two of the Middle East’s worst conflict zones. In a live appearance on state television, Hassan Rouhani said the July 14 agreement had shown diplomacy and engagement were the only way to solve serious political problems and end crises. “The final solution in Yemen is political, in Syria the final solution is political,” he said. “The agreement will create a new atmosphere. The climate will be easier.” US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Gulf Arab counterparts for talks in Qatar Monday as he attempts to ease the concerns of key allies over the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary Kerry arrived in Doha Sunday night after a stop in Egypt. [AFP, 8/3/2015]


Tunisia prepares to issue Islamic bonds; government drafts five-year development plan
Tunisian firms are preparing to issue Islamic bonds as the government finalizes rules covering the sector. The bonds will create a new funding option for companies in an economy buffeted by labor unrest and militant attacks. Islamic finance accounts for only 2.5 percent of Tunisia’s financial sector. Tunisia’s government has been seeking ways to develop the industry, partly as a way to gain access to sharia-compliant capital in the Gulf. Tunisia’s first Islamic lender, Banque Zitouna, plans to open one hundred branches over the next five years. Tunisia’s Secretary of State in charge of international cooperation Amel Azzouz added that the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank Group is assisting in the establishment of an Islamic microfinance institution in Tunisia. Tunisia’s Minister of Development, Investment, and International Cooperation Yassine Brahim said the government has begun drafting a five-year economic development plan for 2016-2020. [Reuters, 8/3/2015]

BW Gas to provide Egypt with floating LNG terminal
Norwegian gas shipping company BW Gas will provide Egypt with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) floating import terminal under a five-year contract. The deal is worth about $60 million per year, according to Oil Minister Sherif Ismail. Egypt’s first floating terminal, which was provided by Norway’s Hoegh LNG, arrived in Egypt in April, allowing the country to begin LNG imports. The new terminal will have a capacity of 750 million cubic feet per day and will start pumping gas into the national grid in mid-October. The Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) is also in talks over importing additional LNG cargoes with Russia’s Gazprom and Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach. Egypt’s planning ministry said the country expects to import 28.6 million tonnes of crude oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and other oil products worth a total of almost $16 billion in 2015-16. [Reuters, 8/3/2015]

Iraqi Kurdistan says to share crude sale revenue with producers
Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said on Monday it plans to allocate a portion of its revenue from direct crude oil sales to producing international oil companies starting in September. The region’s natural resources ministry said in a statement that it remained determined to build on a 2015 budget deal with Baghdad and would continue to facilitate oil exports from state-operated fields in Kirkuk via a pipeline network to Turkey. Iraq’s southern oil exports rose in July to a record average of 3.064 million barrels per day (bpd) from 3.02 million in June, officials said. [Reuters, 8/3/2015]

Algeria boosts oil output by 32,000 bpd with two new fields
Algeria has increased crude oil output by 32,000 barrels per day (bpd) after starting production at two fields, according to an energy ministry official. Production increased on Saturday when the Bir Sebaa field started producing 20,000 bpd in addition to 12,000 bpd from the Bir Msana field. Algeria produced an average 1.1 million bpd in July. State energy firm Sonatrach has said it would stick to a plan to invest $90 billion over the next five years despite a crude oil price slump on global markets. [Reuters, 8/2/2015]

Iran to stop cash handouts to wealthy
Iran has said it will stop giving cash handouts to 1 million of its wealthiest citizens in order to ease a budget crisis caused in part by plunging oil prices and sanctions. State TV quoted Ali Rabiei, Labor and Social Welfare Minister, as saying that the new cuts will be implemented by August 22. A million people have already been removed from the rolls. The cuts are expected to save the government an estimated $30 million a month. In addition, Iran expects to raise oil output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) as soon as sanctions are lifted, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said. [AP, 8/3/2015]