Top New: President Obama visits new Saudi King

President Barack Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Tuesday to pay respects to the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and bolster a relationship that now stretches well beyond oil interests to security cooperation across the Gulf region.

King Salman did not express reservations over US-led negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. It was unclear whether King Salman’s comments on the nuclear talks offered a hint of change on the country’s position toward the nuclear negotiations. [ReutersAl Arabiya, 1/28/2015]



Security forces close Matariya main road as protests continue
Security forces blocked a main road in the lower-income northern Cairo district of Matariya on Tuesday night, in anticipation of more protests after two days of clashes in the area left at least 14 people killed. Military armored vehicles, along with central security forces, closed Al-Horreya Street from two directions. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim paid a ‘surprise’ visit to the area Tuesday night to inspect security conditions and tell officers to be “direct” and “decisive” in the elimination of any further unrest in the neighborhood. Protests had continued for a third day in Matariya, Daqahleya, and Fayoum. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 1/28/2015]

Egypt court approves former army chief of staff Anan’s party, rejects Tamarod
Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court rejected on Wednesday Tamarod’s appeal to form a political party ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections. The court, however, accepted an appeal by former military Chief of Staff Sami Anan, giving the green light for the formation of his Masr al-Orouba party. The political parties committee had previously rejected applications from the Tamarod movement and Anan’s party in December. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 1/28/2015]

Fourteen governors to be replaced by month’s end
Fourteen local governors are expected to be replaced by the end of January, Minister of Local Development Adel Labib announced in a press conference Tuesday. He added the announcement will be made during the weekend or upon President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s return from the African Summit on January 31. Labib had earlier met with Sisi and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, to discuss and choose suggested candidates, a presidential statement said on Tuesday. [DNE, 1/27/2015]

Egypt to participate in AU meeting after Qatar, Turkey uninvited; Criticizes Turkish rights record
Egypt announced it will participate in an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa after the African Union Commission withdrew invitations to both Qatar and Turkey, according to the foreign ministry spokesman. Earlier today, Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry said Egypt will not attend the morning session of the Libya Contact Group meeting because the African Union Commission, which acts only as a facilitator, invited Qatar and Turkey without consulting the member states. Meanwhile, Egypt’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amr Ramadan, expressed concerns towards the “deteriorated” human right situation in Turkey during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Tuesday. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, DNE, 1/28/2015]

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Geneva delegates agree to unity government, to unveil new government in two weeks
The UN-sponsored Geneva dialogue concluded with delegates agreeing to form a unity government. The discussions included the new government’s mandate, program, decision-making process and criteria for membership. Delegates also hope to announce the new government within two weeks and intend for it to address security, the economy, and healthcare. In order for the new government to begin, there is a need for security arrangements and it is undetermined whether that will come from local Libyan forces or a UN approved force. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 1/28/2015]

Nine killed as gunmen storm luxury hotel in Libyan capital
An attack on a luxury hotel in Tripoli has killed at least nine people when gunman stormed in firing weapons and detonating grenades. Militants with ties to the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack on social media, stating that it was revenge for a suspected Libyan al-Qaeda operative killed in the United States. But the Tripoli-based government claims the attack targeted its leader, Omar al-Hassi and was by forces loyal to the internationally recognized Tobruk government. A US security contractor was among the five foreigners killed. [Reuters, 1/27/2015]

Tobruk working on setup of new CBL office in Beida
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives is setting up a new Libyan Central Bank (CBL) office in Beida. The House appointed Ali al-Herbi as head of the CBL, but the previous CBL Governor, Saddeq al-Kaber effectively remains in charge. Al-Kaber continues to withhold CBL funds from the Tobruk-based House and it is unclear how the Beida office will acquire revenue without involvement in international oil sales. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/28/2015]

Tunisian ministry of interior dismantles terror cell
The Tunisian ministry of interior announced that it apprehended a terror cell of four people in Tunis. The cell was providing financial aid and resources to terrorists within Tunisia and to families of prisoners. The government forces captured two cars with Tunisian dinars, foreign currency, money orders, a computer, and a cellphone. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 1/28/2015]

Morocco toughens terrorism laws
Morocco recently amended its counterterror law to increase the punishment for any Moroccan who fights abroad or recruits jihadists. The amended law now imposes prison sentences from five to fifteen years. Moroccan government and civil society officials are calling for increased pressure on extremist groups such as the Islamic State by creating not just security solutions, but ones that include poverty reduction and religion as well. [Maghrebia, 1/26/2015]


Two rockets fired from Syria hit Israeli-controlled Golan; Tensions escalate in border region
At least two rockets fired from Syria struck the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights on Tuesday and Israel responded with artillery toward the suspected launching sites in Syria, according to the Israeli military. No casualties were reported on the Israeli side, where sirens warned of the incoming rockets, which fell on open ground. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-monitoring group, said Israel had bombed bases of the Syrian Army. There was no immediate information about casualties on the Syrian side. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The Israeli military blamed it on Hezbollah and the source of the fire came from Syrian army positions, a military official said. [NYT, WSJ, 1/28/2015]

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah trade fire across border
Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia exchanged deadly fire Wednesday across a border region monitored by UN peacekeepers, killing two Israeli soldiers and one Spanish member of the UN force in Lebanon. The salvos began when an antitank missile struck an Israeli army vehicle traveling in a convoy along the border. The attack was launched in apparent retaliation for an Israeli airstrike earlier this month that killed six fighters from Hezbollah and a senior military officer from Iran. The barrage was answered by dozens of artillery shells fired by the Israelis at suspected Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon. The clashes marked one of the most serious flare-ups of violence in the area since a fifty-day war in 2006. [Washington Post, AP, 1/28/2015]

Jordan offers to free militant in exchange for pilot held by ISIS
Jordan is willing to free an Iraqi female jihadist from prison in exchange for a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), state television said Wednesday. Following a cabinet meeting, government spokesperson Mohammad Momani said, “Jordan is ready to release the prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi if the Jordanian pilot is freed unharmed.” In a video released on Tuesday, ISIS threatened to kill airman Maaz al-Kassasbeh unless Rishawi was released. [Naharnet, Jordan Times, 1/28/2015]

Syria talks start in Moscow
Syrian opposition figures and members of the Bashar Assad regime are meeting in Moscow in efforts to end the civil war. Expectations for the talks are low for any success because the main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, is boycotting. The opposition representatives are presenting a ten-point list for winding down the war. Key priorities for the opposition include ending bombing campaigns, releasing political prisoners, and allowing humanitarian aid in. The United States gave support for the Moscow meetings after the rise of the Islamic State made it recalibrate its Syria policy. [Naharnet, 1/28/2015]

Polio immunization rate in Syria close to pre-war level
A vaccination drive due to an outbreak of polio has pushed the immunization rate in Syria back to near pre-war levels, according to the World Health Organization. The disease returned in 2013 near Deir Ezzor and killed thirty-six people. IBut in 2014, there was only one reported polio death. The immunization campaign has reached almost all of Syria and monitors went door-to-door to gauge the immunity levels of children. [Reuters, 1/28/2015]


Houthi leader wants a peaceful transition
In his speech on Tuesday, Abdul Malik al-Houthi warned against allowing Yemen to be pushed to collapse and said that consultations were proceeding under UN-backed talks to resolve the country’s standoff. He added that resolutions made during nearly a year of national dialogue organized by Hadi in 2013 and an agreement signed after the Houthis captured Sana’a last September would be the basis for any agreement. Al-Houthi blamed the southern provinces for preventing the country’s crisis from coming to a swift end. [Reuters, Al Masdar, WSJ, 1/27/2015]

United States in talks with Houthis
US officials are holding discussions with representatives of the Houthi militia in Yemen who have forced the resignation of the country’s president. However, the discussions with the Houthi militiamen do not amount to an agreement to share intelligence on al-Qaeda in Yemen, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters. Washington has vowed to keep up its fight against AQAP despite the turmoil gripping Yemen despite fears the upheaval will impact US counterterrorism efforts. [AFP, 1/27/2015]

Taiz joins southern provinces and refuses cooperation with Sana’a
Joining a growing collection of southern provinces, the Taiz government announced it will refuse any cooperation with the capital as long as it is under the control of Houthi rebels. Mass demonstrations have taken place in Taiz for the last six days to protest Houthi control of the country and to encourage the former government to retract their resignations. Other demonstrations are scheduled to take place across the country to demand the rebel group’s removal from the capital. Earlier on Wednesday, Houthi militiamen violently dispersed protests in Sana’a. [Al Arabiya, Al Masdar, 1/28/2015]

President Obama visits new Saudi King
President Barack Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Tuesday to pay respects to the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and bolster a relationship that now stretches well beyond oil interests to security cooperation across the Gulf region. King Salman did not express reservations over US-led negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. It was unclear whether King Salman’s comments on the nuclear talks offered a hint of change on the country’s position toward the nuclear negotiations. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 1/28/2015]


Iraq lowers oil price forecast in budget proposal to $55 per barrel
Falling oil prices forced Iraq’s cabinet to revise its draft 2015 budget and trim its forecast for oil to $55 a barrel from $60. According to a member of the parliament’s finance committee, spending was reduced to 119 trillion Iraqi dinars. Nonetheless, the budget deficit is expected to rise to 25 trillion dinars. The decision to lower the forecast oil price may satisfy some MPs who saw the previous estimate as unrealistic–currently Brent crude is still trading even lower than $50 a barrel. [Reuters, 1/27/2015]

World Bank warning of Libya’s increased deficit and weaker currency
In its MENA Quarterly Economic Brief, the World Bank has warned that the collapse in international crude oil prices and Libya’s low oil exports could lead to an increased deficit, eroded foreign currency reserves and a weaker currency. The report explained that the economies of oil exporters could be hurt, as oil accounts for more than half their budget revenues. Oil exports constitute more than 90 percent of Libya’s total exports. [Libya Herald, 1/27/2015]

Strong demand for Tunisia’s $1 billion bond
Tunisia’s transition to democratic stability was underlined on Tuesday with the country’s first unassisted sale of government debt. International investors, keen to capitalize on the country’s recent presidential elections, put in orders of more than $4 billion for the $1 billion bond, allowing the country to borrow at a lower than expected rate of 5.875 percent over ten years. [FT, 1/27/2015]

Egypt on a mission to restore confidence in its economy
According to Egyptian Finance Minister Hany Dimian, Egypt will push ahead with plans to phase out a costly energy subsidy, as Cairo seeks to boost spending on social programs and bring down its budget deficit. Further cuts to fuel subsidies would be implemented “at the latest” during the fiscal year beginning in July, after the halving of oil prices since the summer provided “room to maneuver.” Cairo aims to almost completely end fuel subsidies within five years and use the savings to raise spending on health and education. [FT, 1/28/2015]