Top News: Arab Summit Agrees on Unified Military Force for Crises

Arab leaders at a summit in Egypt have agreed to the formation of a unified military force to counter growing security threats from Yemen to Libya, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Sunday. The chiefs of staffs of Arab armed forces will supervise the unified force and will agree to the composition and mode of intervention within four months. The final declaration of the summit came with a conciliatory tone, stating that joining the forces would not be considered binding. During the summit, Arab leaders also sought to tackle the most important regional issues of the moment, including the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts in Yemen, the threat of extremist groups, the Palestinian cause, and unrest in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Saturday that the Arab League Summit sends a message to the international community, specifically the United States, “that the Arab world has the desire to show solidarity, and its ability to take responsibility in the face of challenges in the region through Arab solutions.” Ahead of the opening of the summit, a meeting was held between Sisi and Qatar’s Emir Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, where both leaders discussed bilateral relations and where Tamim vowed to support “his brother President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s country” in all sectors. [ReutersAswat MasriyaThe GuardianMada MasrAhram Online, 3/29/2015]



Appeal accepted in Mubarak’s ‘Trial of the Century’
The Court of Cassation’s Prosecution demanded Saturday the reopening of murder charges against former President Hosni Mubarak over the January 25 Revolution events. The Court is scheduled to look into the case on April 2. The Criminal Court had previously dismissed the case against Mubarak, and acquitted former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly, along with six of his aides on charges of killing protesters. The charges against Mubarak were dismissed on the grounds that the general prosecution referred him to court sixty days after Adly and other security chiefs, making the case invalid. However, the Court of Cassation argued that the general prosecution has the right to refer defendants at any time, adding that the late referral was due to the unstable security situation in Egypt. The prosecution also added that the court ruling on Mubarak’s acquittal is illegal because the Criminal Court listened to the testimonies of only some witnesses and not others. [DNE, 3/29/2015]

Egypt puts top Brotherhood members on ‘terrorist list’
Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered on Sunday the listing of eighteen prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders as “terrorists,” including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat al-Shater, ex-supreme guide Mahdi Akef, former parliament speaker Saad al-Katatni, Essam al-Erian, Mahmoud Ezzat, Osama Yassin and Rashad Bayoumi. The move is the first implementation of the Terrorist Entities Law issued on February 24, which states that any person described as a “terrorist” in a court order will be added to a “terrorist list.” The top prosecutor said the decision is based on a final court verdict issued against the eighteen individuals for deadly violence that took place outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in 2013. Individuals on the terrorist list face a travel ban. If the individual is a foreigner, they are put on an entry ban list. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, AP, Reuters, 3/29/2015]

Minya church commemorating beheaded Egyptians attacked
Scores of mostly young Muslims gathered in the Minya governorate after midday prayer on Friday, demonstrating in front of a church under construction. Later on Friday, unknown militants attacked the church with Molotov cocktails. In the attack, seven people were injured and one car was left burning. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had approved the church construction, built to commemorate twenty Coptic Christians beheaded by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Libya. After the attack on the church, Minya’s governor conducted a meeting on Saturday with Coptic and Muslim residents to resolve the issue. Participants reached an initial agreement to move the church from the village entrance, according to EIPR’s Ishak Ibrahim. Seven defendants were arrested following clashes between Muslims and Copts over the construction of the church. [DNE, 3/29/2015]

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UNSMIL mandate extended, arms embargo remains
The United Nations has voted to extend the mandate of its mission in Libya until the end of September, while maintaining a ban on weapons exports to the war-torn country. Previous reports suggested the United Nations was scaling down its presence in the country due to security concerns over expatriate staff based in Libya. Meanwhile, President of Libya’s internationally recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aguila Saleh told an Arab summit on Saturday that the UN arms embargo on the country must be lifted to help prevent the advance of Islamic State militants (ISIS or ISIL). [Libya Monitor (subscription), Reuters, 3/30/2015]

Zawiya rocket strike kills one, wounds eight people; Tripoli pulls troops back from major oil ports
There is at least one dead and eight people wounded due to a rocket attack in the western Libyan town of Zawiya. Reports suggest the rocket was likely targeting the oil refinery in Zawiya. An official said that a Filipino was killed and three others, along with four Libyans, were injured. Over the weekend, the Tripoli-based government ordered troops loyal to it to withdraw from front lines near Libya’s biggest oil ports. This move raises hopes that the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf ports, which have been closed due to heavy fighting near them, will reopen and resume exporting oil. [Reuters, 3/30/3015]

Human rights defenders in Libya at serious risk of being murdered says UNHCR
A joint report by the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Special Mission in Libya reveals that rights defenders in Libya face threats of physical attacks, abduction, harm to their family, and even murder on a daily basis. The report describes attempts to silence human rights defenders in Libya, saying that violence and threats towards them have increased since May 2014. The consistent failure to complete any meaningful investigations of these murders or any other incident was indicative of a failure of the criminal justice system. The UN Human Rights Council intends to send a team to Libya to investigate human rights abuses with the aim of holding proceedings for those responsible. [Libya Herald, 3/29/2015]

Thousands of Tunisians, leaders march after Bardo attack
World leaders joined tens of thousands of Tunisians on Sunday to march in solidarity against Islamist militants after the deadly attack at the Bardo museum in downtown Tunis. A sea of people filled a major boulevard in the capital where several world leaders, including French President Francois Hollande, came to rally under the slogan “Le Monde est Bardo” (The World is Bardo). Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said in a speech after the march that the Tunisian people will not bow to terrorism and instead will unite against it. [Reuters, 3/29/2015]

Tunisian security forces kill chief orchestrator of museum attack
Tunisian security forces have killed the chief orchestrator behind the Bardo museum attack, known as Lokamane Ibn Skar, along with eight other militants in an ambush in Gafsa, according to the interior ministry. All were members of the Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade, an extremist group linked to al Qaeda and among those killed in the raid were three Algerians and one Tunisian. According the ministry of interior, the militants were planning to receive a car loaded with explosives from Libya, however, security forces were able to intercept this operation after receiving intelligence and ambushed them. [Tunisia Live, AP, 3/30/2015]


Islamist rebels seize Idlib city; civilians flee fearing government reprisals
A coalition of Islamist insurgents, including the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa, seized the northern Syrian city of Idlib on Saturday after four days of heavy fighting. Idlib, with a population of around 165,000 people, is the second provincial capital to fall to the opposition after Raqqa, the stronghold of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). With Idlib under rebel control, many residents fear that troops will retaliate harshly. The Syrian American Medical Society said that the fighting in Idlib could displace an estimated 100,000 more people. The pro-regime al-Watan newspaper said reinforcements had been sent to the area ahead of an operation to retake control of the city. On Sunday, the Syrian National Coalition vowed to launch efforts to turn Idlib into its base of operations and promised to work with all rebel factions in a bid to relocate inside Syria. [AP, NYT, AFP, Reuters, The National, BBC, 3/29/2015]

ISIS has expanded since start of US airstrikes says President Bashar al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes aired on Sunday that ISIS has been gaining recruits since the start of US-led airstrikes against the terrorist group. Assad said, “If you want to talk in terms of ISIS, actually ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes.” He added that ISIS established a presence in Libya and that militant groups in Egypt and Yemen have claimed allegiance or loyalty to the group. In a separate interview with Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Assad said that Russia is supplying weapons to Damascus under contracts signed since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, as well as under earlier deals. [Reuters, AP, 3/30/2015]

Turkey moves to close all gates at border with Syria
After maintaining an open-door policy throughout the conflict in Syria, Turkey has moved this month to close the two remaining border gates between the countries, shutting out displaced Syrian refugees. The Oncupinar and Cilvegozu border gates in Hatay Province were initially closed on March 9 as a precaution against clashes that intensified in northern Syria. But while trucks carrying aid and authorized trade have since been permitted to cross from Turkey into Syria, the gates have remained closed to individuals trying to cross into Turkey for over two weeks, including Syrian citizens carrying passports. The border gates have been shut sporadically throughout the conflict, but only for days at a time. Turkish officials have said that the decision to keep the crossings closed was due to intelligence pointing to a terrorist plot orchestrated by the Syrian government. [NYT, 3/29/2015]

ISIS beheads eight Shias in Hama
A new video released by ISIS on Sunday shows its fighters cutting off the heads of eight men said to be Shia Muslims. The video posted on social media said the men were beheaded in the central Syrian province of Hama. The video could not be independently verified, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the video was authentic. An ISIS terrorist speaks in the video, using a derogatory term for Shia and calling them “impure infidels.” The terrorist said that the current military campaign against ISIS would only make the organization stronger. “Our swords will soon, God willing, reach the Nuseiris and their allies like Bashar and his party,” the man said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah. The word Nuseiri is a derogatory term to refer to the Alawite sect.[AP, 3/29/2015]


Fighting moves to Aden
Fierce fighting has been reported in Yemen’s coastal city of Aden as Houthi rebels continued their push south despite a fifth night of Saudi-led airstrikes against the group’s positions. Clashes were reported in the Dar Saad district of Aden on Sunday as fighters loyal to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi battled Houthis trying to push their way to the city’s northern gate. Hadi loyalists said that they had recaptured the airport, which has changed hands several times in recent day. According to reports, nearly one hundred people have died in the violence in Aden alone. [Reuters, Al Jazeera, Al Masdar, Mareb Press, 3/30/2015]

Saudi King vows to continue bombing campaign in Yemen
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has vowed that the military intervention in Yemen will continue until the country is stable and safe. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi also addressed the Arab League. In his speech, President Hadi repeated condemnation of the Houthi group and its Iranian backers. “I tell Iran’s puppet [the Houthis], ‘You are the one that destroyed Yemen with your political immaturity’,” he said. Human Rights Watch released a report saying that the Saudi-led bombings on March 27-28 killed as many as thirty-four civilians. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/28/2015]

Bombing strikes refugee camp in northern Yemen
An air strike hit the area of al-Mazraq refugee camp in the northern Yemen district of Haradh on Monday, killing at least twenty-one people. One humanitarian official said the bombing had targeted a military installation in the vicinity. Al-Mazraq is home to thousands of displaced Yemenis who fled their homes during the previous civil wars between the Houthis and the Yemeni government. [Reuters, 3/30/2015]

Former Yemeni president urges peaceful solution
On Saturday, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh addressed the country urging a truce between the warring parties. In a gesture of compromise, Saleh promised that neither he nor anyone in his family would run for president. His supporters have been actively campaigning for his eldest son, Ahmed, the former commander of Republican Guard. Over the weekend, Ahmed was removed from his position as Yemen’s ambassador to the UAE. Saleh also made clear that he saw no room for the return of current President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, even though Saudi Arabia and most other Arab states see him as Yemen’s legitimate leader. [NYT, Al Masdar, 3/28/2015]

Saudi Arabia restores ambassador to Sweden
Saudi Arabia reinstated its ambassador to Sweden after receiving an apology from Stockholm following the recent diplomatic crisis between the two kingdoms. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received a letter from Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf in which the Swedish monarch expressed his commitment to bilateral relations between the two countries. King Salman also received a letter from Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén who expressed his “deep sorrow and regret” over the diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Löfvén stressed Stockholm’s commitment to maintaining good relations between the two countries. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/28/2015]


Fitch ratings upgrades Tunisia’s outlook to stable from negative
International rating agency Fitch has revised Tunisia’s outlooks from negative to stable. Its long term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings have been affirmed at ‘BB-‘ and ‘BB’ respectively. The rating agency estimates, in the report published on its website, that the country’s budget deficit is on an improving trend, helped by lower international oil prices in 2015-2016 and gradually improving economic performance. However, Fitch mentioned, “the political and economic destabilization risk from social unrest or terrorist attacks remains significant, as illustrated by the recent attack in Tunis.” [TAP, ANSAmed, 3/29/2015]

IMF official says Moroccan economy is on right track
Jean-Fançois Dauphin, Chief of French-speaking countries division at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), noted that the Moroccan economy is on the right track, and prospects are promising over the medium term. Over the past decade, a noteworthy diversification combined with an improved growth rate and drop in poverty characterized Morocco’s economy. Despite these achievements, some challenges such as the unemployment rate, especially among the youth, and income inequalities persist. [Morocco World News, 3/28/2015]

Contribution of SMEs to Qatari economy reaches 16 percent
The Qatari government’s decision to merge Enterprise Qatar (EQ) with Qatar Development Bank (QDB) to strengthen further the private sector business activities has brought positive results. The contribution of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to the national economy has reached 16 percent. The SME sector has played a significant role in the development of almost all the advanced economies in the world and provides the maximum number of employment opportunities. [The Peninsula, 3/29/2015]

Two tankers load oil at eastern Libyan ports for export
Rising exports from the ports of Hariga and Zueitina offer some hope for Libya’s oil sector, which has been battered by Islamist militant attacks and fighting between rival factions. Two tankers bound for Italy loaded 600,000 barrels of oil at the Libyan port of Hariga and 130,000 barrels of oil at the Zueitina port. According to the National Oil Company, numerous major oilfields have stopped working due to the struggle between the two governments, but Libya’s oil output has risen to 622,000 barrels per day. [Reuters, 3/29/2015]