Top News: Al-Qaeda Launches Assault On Three Security Force Targets In al-Bayda

Local sources are reporting that at least five Yemeni soldiers and six militants have been killed during the largest attack on government facilities by al-Qaeda-linked gunmen of the New Year. Two-hundred fighters were reportedly involved in the incidents, targeting two checkpoints and one police center. Three soldiers were abducted by the attackers who fled in an armored car belonging to security forces. Though the attacks began early Thursday morning, many sources cite some fighting still ongoing that evening. The attacks occurred in the town of Rida’ in central Yemen, 170 miles south of Sana’a.

[al-Masdar (Arabic), Business StandardAl-Arabiyya; 1/16/2014]


Initial referendum results show high approval rate, turnout uncertain
An overwhelming majority of Egyptians who voted on the country’s new constitution have backed the draft charter, a senior Egyptian official said Thursday. The election official told the Associated Press that unofficial results, after most of ballots have been counted, indicate that more than 90 percent of the voters have said ‘yes’ to the constitution. Initial results of the referendum in twenty-five governorates indicate a sweeping ‘yes’ vote.The High Elections Committee announced that Cairo voters backed the new constitution with a 97.57 percent ‘yes’ vote. The election official declined to give an estimate on the final turnout. On the second day of voting, there were reports of lower voter turnout in the canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez. According to Al-Ahram, civil society organizations observing the referendum reported a 65 percent turnout in rural areas and 75 percent turnout in cities. Military spokesman Ahmed Mohamed Ali praised the Egyptian people for the “overwhelming” turnout during the two-day referendum on the amended charter. Before the release of official results, Strong Egypt challenged the result of the referendum before the Administrative Court. Meanwhile, the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights said Wednesday that Egypt’s constitutional referendum saw a high turnout and that its transparency was not negatively affected by reported violations. Amnesty International has been monitoring the environment in which the referendum was held, and has shown concern primarily over the restrictions over a ‘no’ vote and the deadly clashes which occurred on Tuesday. There are also reports of politically-motivated child exploitation during the referendum. The High Elections Committee will announce official referendum results within the next seventy-two hours. [AP, Ahram Online, 1/16/2014]

Unfreezing US aid to Egypt will be a positive step: Army spokesman
Military spokesman Ahmed Ali expressed his content with a soon to be implemented decision by the United States to resume economic aid to Egypt. In a phone interview with private-owned TV channel Al-Hayat, Ali said that “unfreezing the aid is a positive step. It reflects more understanding as to what’s happening in Egypt and also a respect to the army’s role in protecting the will of the people.” He added that the relationship between the Egyptian and American army is a historic one that will not “fade away because of a dispute.” [Ahram Online, 1/15/2014]

Journalist detained for filming outside polling stations
Police on Wednesday detained a freelance Egyptian TV cameraman covering the country’s constitutional referendum for the Associated Press. Hassan Abdullah Hassan told the Associated Press by phone that he was arrested after police saw his footage being broadcast live on the Egyptian affiliate of Al-Jazeera Television affiliate and wrongly concluded that he was an Al-Jazeera employee. Hassan was arrested while filming military armored vehicles stationed outside a polling station. Many journalists reported being harassed by both security forces and sometimes voters themselves while reporting at polling stations during the constitutional referendum. In a separate incident, the Economist reported the arrest of a film crew belonging to a Washington public relations firms hired by the Egyptian government. [AP, 1/16/2014]

Putin congratulates Egypt on success of referendum
Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a ceremony with the Egyptian ambassador to Moscow, congratulated the Egyptian people on their new constitution. “We hope the Egyptian society will overcome current political and socio-economic difficulties and the country will return on the path of stability and growth.” Putin also described Egypt as one of Russia’s oldest strategic partners in the region. The ambassador reiterated the invitation for Putin to visit Egypt. [Shorouk (Arabic), Egypt Independent, 1/16/2014]


The Libyan National dialogue launched
The National Dialogue Preparatory Commission (NDPC), the entity tasked with preparing the Libyan national dialogue, presented its national dialogue model at a press conference yesterday in Tripoli. NDPC Chairman Fadel Lamen, said that the process should take six months of dialogue divided into two three-month stages. He explained that the process would lead to a National Charter, a set of agreed principles, expected to be ready in April, upon which the national dialogue process could proceed. [Libya Herald 1/16/2014]

Benghazi attack called avoidable in Senate report
A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that the attack on the american embassy in Benghazi sixteen month ago could have been prevented. The State Department is criticised for failing to bolster security in response to intelligence warnings about a growing security crisis around the city. It is also the first report to implicitly criticize Mr. Stevens, raising questions about his judgment and actions in the weeks before his death. [NYT 1/16/2014]

Demonstration called off at Sarir power station after successful negotiations
Following successful negotiations with the government, Tebu protesters threatening to restart their fortnight blockade of fuel trucks feeding the Sarir power station, called off their protest.  Demonstrators from Rebyana and Kufra had begun their blockade of the Sarir power station at the end of November, demanding greater rights for the Tebu minority in the south of the country. A Tebu representative said that the protest had been called off despite the outcome of the talks not being entirely satisfactory. [Libya Herald 1/16/2014]

Political activist and revolutionary assassinated in Derna
Local political activist and former revolutionary, Amer Saad Abdel, was gunned down in the eastern town of Derna, though the exact place and circumstances surrounding his death are not yet clear. Elsewhere on Thursday, a police station in Benghazi was the target of a grenade attack and the apartment of a newspaper editor was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. No injuries were reported in either case. [Libya Herald 1/16/2014]


Kerry to lead US team at Geneva, Syria’s internal political opposition may not attend
Secretary Kerry will lead the US delegation to at the Geneva II peace talks next week, though elements of the US-backed opposition have yet to commit their attendance. Haytham al-Manna, a senior leader in the National Committee for Coordinating Democratic Change (NCC), said his group would not attend the peace talks, although the NCC has yet to make a formal statement. The NCC had hoped to coordinate with the Syria National Coalition to finalize a unified delegation. According to a senior official in the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation, will not attend due to differences with the coalition. It remains unclear whether the Syrian National Council, a group within the Syrian National Coalition, will attend, even though they stated two weeks ago that it would not participate. The regime’s delegation has been finalized and will be lead by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. [Naharnet, 1/15/2014, Al-Monitor, 1/14/2014]

Executions by rebels may amount to war crimes
Reports of mass executions by Syrian rebel groups, especially an al-Qaeda linked faction, may be considered war crimes, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Reports of these executions are based on eyewitness accounts and, as a result, exact numbers are unknown. Civilians and fighters in custody have been the target of these mass executions, which have occurred with greater frequency since the beginning of the year. Over the last two weeks, there have been reports of mass executions in Raqqa, Aleppo, and Idlib carried out mainly by the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Executions and unlawful killings, as well as the taking of hostages, are violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. [Naharnet, 1/16/2015]

Fighting between ISIS and rebels continues as regime drops barrel bombs
Mainstream rebels and al-Qaeda linked jihadists clashed in the north on Thursday while the regime’s warplanes dropped barrel bombs on rebel positions near Damascus, namely Zabadani and Daraya. Daraya has been under siege for over a year and in recent days, the government has staged an offensive to take Daraya from the opposition.  In Saraqeb and Idlib, fierce clashes occurred between ISIS and several Islamist and moderate rebel groups. Saraqeb is ISIS’s only remaining position in northwestern Syria. Heavy fighting has occurred in Saraqeb since Tuesday as part of a massive offensive launched by forces opposed to President Assad against ISIS. In response, ISIS has staged around two dozen suicide attacks and car bombings in the last two weeks. [Naharnet, 1/16/2014]

Syria builds dollar reserves, thanks partly to Assad’s enemies
Syria’s central bank has bought hundreds of millions of dollars from the domestic currency market it now tightly controls in order to build up depleted reserves for a crippled economy. As the currency has remained relatively stable, the central bank has been able to prevent significant inflation, which could undermine support for the government in areas it controls. This has also helped to relieve economic pressure on the government before peace talks in Geneva next week. The relative stability demonstrates the government’s ability to mitigate the economic effects of the war and of Western sanctions. It is also partly the result of the millions flowing into Syria from the Gulf to aid the rebels. Through local trade, some of this money ends up in the central bank. [Reuters, 1/16/2014]  

Western officials increasingly concerned by number of Westerners fighting in Syria
Western leaders and intelligence officials are increasingly alarmed by the flow of young people leaving Europe and the United States to wage jihad against Assad. In Europe, in recent months, there have been reports of an increased push by Islamist radicals to recruit young Europeans to fight in Syria. US and European intelligence officials estimate that 1,200 have left to join Syria’s rebels, many with the hope of helping to establish an Islamic state. US intelligence officials report that at least seventy Americans have either traveled to Syria, or tried to, since the conflict began and express concern that these individuals will return radicalized. A Canadian citizen was executed by rebels on Wednesday after being captured while fighting alongside Nusra Front. [NYT, 1/15/2014]


Seventy deputies sign no-confidence motion against Ben Jaafar
On Wednesday, members from all political formations signed a no-confidence petition against Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the President of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). If the petition is successful, Ben Jafaar will have to face a vote in the NCA that could remove him from power. A no-confidence motion requires seventy-three signatures in order to move to a vote. The motion was in immediate response to Ben Jaafar’s decision on Wednesday to cancel the plenary session, but speaks to larger frustration with Jaafar and his management of the NCA, which has been growing since the summer. [Tunisia Live, 1/16/2014]

Tunisia joins Open Government Partnership
Tunisia has joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP). It is the sixty-third member to join the partnership. Launched in 2011, the OGP is intended to engage members to respect the principles of open government and good governance through transparency, civic engagement, access to information, and fighting against corruption. Other OGP members include the United States and the United Kingdom. The OGP Executive Board welcomed Tunisia because of the reforms it has made since the revolution. [TAP, 1/15/2014]

Religious coalition claims draft constitution violates principles of Islam
A coalition of religious groups has criticized the NCA’s draft constitution claiming that some of the articles approved so far violate the principles of Islam. The group is particularly opposed to Article 6 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of conscience. The group claims that this could pave the way for Satanism and homosexuality and are demanding that the article be amended and “freedom of conscience” removed. [Tunisia Live, 1/15/2014]

Elections commission sworn in
The nine members of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE II) were sworn in before President Marzouki on Wednesday. The ISIE II is tasked with preparations for the elections later this year. Marzouki expressed hope that elections would be held before the summer. [TAP, 1/16/2014]


Clashes break out between Herak gunmen and security forces
Clashes broke out in the province of al-Dali’ between gunmen associated with the Southern Movement (Herak) and government security forces. Clashes occurred at a bank killed two, including one retired army general. [al-Masdar (Arabic) 1/16/2014]

Critics say 2014 budget not in line with country’s trajectory
Following last week’s budget approval, many critics are coming out to say that the new budget suggests that the “old regime’s mindset still rules.” Critics point to the continuing neopatrimonial payouts to tribal leaders accruing to about $11 million. Meanwhile, a project like an increased budget for the coast guard—vital to prevent the flow of contraband and illegal weapons—remains underfunded at $7 million. A National Dialogue Conference delegate, Mueen Abdulmalik, is among its most adamant critics, saying that the budget “does not reflect a trend toward decentralization,” and should rather “ensure a move toward federalism.” [Yemen Times, 1/16/2014]

Intelligence officer assassinated; Popular Committee leader survives seventh assassination attempt
Colonel Mohammed Hussein Qadimi, director of political security in Aden, was assassinated as he left his home by gunmen who quickly escaped by car. In nearby Abyan province, Abdullatif al-Sayed, leader of the Popular Committees survived his seventh assassination attempt today as gunmen fired on his car from three motorcycles. No one was kill or injured in the attack. [Aden Online, Al-Masdar; 1/16/2014]

HRW calls for culpability following meeting with government
A day after meeting with Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on authorities to investigate the December 27 attack on a funeral procession that killed fifteen people. Though President Abdrabbo Hadi Mansour established a committee to investigate the incident, HRW has cast doubt on the impartiality of the investigation as the committee consists of senior security force officials. [Human Rights Watch, 1/16/2014]


US embassy urges citizens to avoid Saudi Shia town
Following an attack on a car of German diplomats, the US embassy in Riyadh has issued a warning to its citizens against going to the Shia village of Awamiya in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. Though no one was killed when gunmen fired on the diplomats’ car and there is no evidence that the attack had a “terrorist motive,” the embassy cautioned citizens to exercise situational awareness and avoid crowds. [NOW Lebanon, 1/16/2014]

PM Maliki asks United States for weapons, training
Iraq has provided Washington with a list of weapons it says it needs to retake Anbar province from anti-government militants, some of whom are linked to the al-Qaeda-linked transnational jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Iraq’s military is working with pro-government tribesmen in Ramadi and Fallujah, in hopes that they can push the militants outside the city, where the government can deal with them. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki explicitly stated that this tactic was being pursued to avoid the difficulties and casualties that US forces encountered in previous battles in the troubled Anbar province. [Washington Post, 1/16/2014]

Explosion hits Lebanon as Hariri assassination trial begins
At least three people were killed and scores injured when a car bomb went off ten miles from the Syrian border as the trial in absentia began for four Hezbollah members charged with the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri opened in The Hague. Hezbollah has remained mostly silent on the issue of the international tribunal. One former MP says this is because the group is more concerned about its involvement in Syria. [Asharq al-Awsat, 1/16/2014]