Top News: Assad Sworn in For New Seven-Year Term, Declares Victory Over “Fake Arab Spring”

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in Wednesday for a new seven-year term, pledging to reclaim all Syrian land from insurgents and warning Western and Arab governments they will pay dearly for backing those who took up arms against him. In a triumphant speech delivered at a red carpet ceremony in Damascus, Assad branded the 2011 Arab uprisings a “fake spring.”


Hamas formally rejects Egyptian ceasefire initiative
Hamas has officially told Egypt that it rejects an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire, a spokesman for the Islamist group said on Wednesday. The statement comes a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asked Hamas to cooperate with the Egyptian initiative and after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced his “full backing” for the truce bid. (See the full text of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal.) A Hamas official is to hold talks in Cairo on Wednesday about Egyptian-led efforts to end the nine-day conflict between the Gaza-based Islamist movement and Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday in a telephone call that has been kept secret until now, after Quartet special envoy Tony Blair urged the Egyptian leader to become more actively involved in promoting a cease-fire, diplomatic sources said. During his visit in Cairo, Blair said that the international community supports Egypt’s initiative for a ceasefire. Egyptian houses on the border adjacent to the Gaza Strip have been directly affected by the intense Israeli bombardment. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 7/16/2014]

Egypt sentences nine to 20 years to life for sexual assault
An Egyptian court gave nine people sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison on Wednesday over four separate sexual harassment cases. Seven defendants were sentenced to life for sexually assaulting women during public rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in the first such heavy sentences since the government vowed to crack down on rampant sexual violence. Two were sentenced to 20 years. All were charged with forcible indecent assault and robbery, and put under probation for five years. The charges stemmed from four different incidents of sexual assault in 2013 and 2014, including one during celebrations of the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in June. After the sentences were announced, minor clashes occurred between security forces and the defendants’ relatives. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, AMAY (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 7/16/2014]

Consultants say Egypt needs $120 billion inflow over four years
Western consultants helping Egypt compile an economic reform plan say it needs at least $60 billion of investment to reach average GDP growth of 5 percent by 2018 and another $60 billion to bolster its foreign reserves, senior officials said. The driving force behind the consulting project—had also sought advice on the economic reform plan from former PIMCO chief executive officer Mohamed El-Erian. [Reuters, 7/16/2014]

Egypt tops list of countries that dislike United States
A new Pew Research Center Survey of 44 countries finds that Egypt is one of the top countries in which Anti-Americanism is particularly strong. In Egypt, only ten percent of the public favor the United States, which long backed the regime of Hosni Mubarak and failed to oppose the military overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government that succeeded him. The 10 percent figure marks a 17-percentage point fall since 2009. Meanwhile, 85 percent of the Egyptian public view the United States as unfavorable. Jordan follows Egypt as the next least public favorable view toward the United States. [PEW, 7/15/2014]


Kerry calls for halt to “dangerous” Libya violence
With armed inter-militia clashes in Libya escalating, prompting the closure of the country’s main airport and the withdrawal of UN staff, US Secretary of State John Kerry called for a halt to the “dangerous” levels of violence. Speaking at a news conference in Vienna, he said that the United States is “deeply concerned” about the current situation and that “we are working very, very hard through our special envoys to find the political cohesion…that can bring people together to create stronger capacity in the government of Libya so that this violence can end.” A Libyan government spokesman said Tripoli was studying the possibility of international forces to improve security, though it was unclear whether there was a real proposal or even international willingness to deploy troops there. [Reuters, 7/15/2014]

EU calls for an end to Tripoli violence
The European Union has issued a statement calling for an end to hostilities in Tripoli, saying the country’s political divisions can only be addressed through renewed dialogue and mediation. It described the parliamentary elections as a “window of opportunity” to get the derailed transition back on track. The EU’s statement said that it remained committed to a democratic, stable, and prosperous Libya. [Libya Herald, 7/15/2014]

General’s kidnapped son released
Mahmoud Obeidi, the son of  General Suleiman Obeidi who was kidnapped five days ago in Benghazi, has been released – a welcome relief after an attempt on his life and his brother’s abduction and continued disappearance since November. There are allegations that he was released in a deal with his kidnappers, after his father appeared on a Qatari-based TV channel condemning Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity, accusing it of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The family have remained quiet about the circumstances surrounding Mahmoud’s release. [Libya Herald, 7/15/2014]

Egypt warns citizens against travel to Libya
Concerned about the latest developments in neighboring Libya, the Egyptian foreign ministry has issued a warning to Egyptians against traveling to the country. Noting that the state’s agencies are coordinating efforts to monitor the conditions of Egyptians living in Libya, it also appealed to citizens there to exercise extreme caution. Meanwhile, Saiqa forces in Benghazi, Libya announced they secured the release of three abducted Egyptian drivers. [Youm7 (Arabic), 7/16/2014]


Assad sworn in for new seven-year term, declares victory over “fake Arab Spring”
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in Wednesday for a new seven-year term, pledging to reclaim all Syrian land from insurgents and warning Western and Arab governments they will pay dearly for backing those who took up arms against him. In a triumphant speech delivered at a red carpet ceremony in Damascus, Assad branded the 2011 Arab uprisings a “fake spring.” Assad told his supporters that “three years and four months… have passed since some cried ‘freedom’…. They wanted a revolution, but you have been the real revolutionaries. I congratulate you for your revolution and for your victory.” [AFP, Reuters, Daily Star, 7/16/2014

Istanbul to expel Syrian refugees to southeastern camps
Turkey is to take “drastic measures” to deal with the influx of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into its biggest city Istanbul, including forcibly sending them to camps in the southeast, the city’s top official said Wednesday. Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said that there were now 67,000 Syrian refugees in the city and legislation would now be adopted that could see them effectively deported back to the refugee camps “without their consent.” [AFP, 7/16/2014]

Canadian killed in Syria lives on in ISIS recruitment videos
A recruitment video circulated by a propaganda division of ISIS is one of the first pieces of media in which the group has used an English-speaking North American to try to lure others to fight in Syria. In the video, which includes footage of the protagonist’s death, Andre Poulin speaks about growing up as a normal teenager in Canada, fishing, and watching hockey. “I was a regular person. And, mujahedeen are regular people, too.” His pitch is fairly straightforward: Come join the fight—you do not need to be a radical to be a jihadi. [NYT, 7/16/2014]

New British foreign minister promises hard line on Assad
New British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Tuesday ruled out any possibility of working with Bashar al-Assad over the country’s civil war. “There’s no question of working with Assad. The attacks on his own citizens, the bloodshed and the humanitarian crisis that has been generated are beyond the pale.” The minister also promised Britain would work with moderate opposition elements to try to bring about democracy in the battle-ravaged nation, rather than cooperating with Islamist rebels. [AFP, 7/16/2014]


ISIE struggles to encourage voter registration in its final week
As the final week of voter registration approaches, Tunisian watchdog and civil society organizations remain concerned about low turnout. The Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) has increased its campaign efforts in response to these criticisms. Despite these efforts, the number of new registrants has underwhelmed. As of July 15, 270,776 new voters had registered, out of a target 2,000,000 new registrants. [Tunisia Live, 7/15/2014]

National Guard dismantles arms smuggling network
A terrorist network specializing in smuggling shotguns from Libya has been dismantled by the National Investigation Unit in terrorist crimes of the National Guard of Aouina and security units of the National Guard of Sidi Bouzid. Four persons were arrested for their involvement in planning terrorist acts and eleven for smuggling shotguns and marketing them illegally. This terrorist network specialized in smuggling shotguns from Libya works within a larger terrorist cell whose mission is to coordinate between foreign and Tunisian elements to perform terrorist operations on Tunisian territory. [L’Economiste Maghrébin (French), 7/16/2014]

Tunisian government seeks citizen assistance in tracking Syria returnees
Tunisia is aggressively prosecuting jihadists returning from the Levant, soliciting help from citizens to get the job done. Tunisian national Hichem Ben Mohamed Ben Abderrazzek Berrebeh and Algerian citizens Khaled Hamadi Chaied (aka Lokman Abou Sakhr) and Mohamed Amine Mahkouka (aka Abou Aymen Ouahrani) are being sought on terrorism-related charges, the interior ministry said Sunday, July 13th. The statement, which included the names and photos of the three men, urged citizens to inform authorities about any information they may have on the wanted individuals. Public prosecutors issued another six arrest warrants for jihadists on Friday. The accused are part of a group of a group of some twenty jihadists who fought with ISIS in Syria. [Magharebia, 7/15/2014]


More than 10 million Yemenis struggle for food
The preliminary findings of a new survey conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) reached emergency levels in some areas of the country. The agencies stated that around five million people were found to be severely food insecure, suffering from levels of hunger where external food assistance is generally required. The survey also showed the prevalence of chronic malnutrition among children under the age of five is beyond the international benchmark of critical. Levels of food insecurity showed a slight decline from forty-five percent to forty-one percent since a similar survey was conducted in 2011. [UNICEF, Saba (Arabic), 7/15/2014]

Armed militants seize 2 million Yemeni rials from post office
Suspected al-Qaida militants attacked a post office in Hadhramawt, killing a policeman and stealing two million rials ($9308.64) on Wednesday. Also in Hadhramawt, two al-Qaeda suspects on a motorbike killed a civilian and wounded one of his relatives. Officials did not elaborate on the motive for the attack. [Gulf News, 7/16/2014]

Two Yemeni soldiers killed by Houthi rebels in Hamdan
Two Yemeni soldiers were killed and three were wounded when Houthi rebels attacked a military outpost in Hamdan. Things seemed to calm down on Wednesday following the attack. Major General Mohammad Yahya Hawri met with residents of Hamdan and assured them that Houthi rebels were no longer present in the area and that military vehicles have left. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 7/15/2014]


Iraqi army retreats after failed Tikrit assault; Parliamentary speaker elected
Iraqi forces have withdrawn from the Islamic State in Syria and al-Sham (ISIS) city of Tikrit after their most recent offensive was countered by heavy resistance. This development highlights the difficulties that Baghdad faces in their struggle to recapture territory from the insurgents who seized several cities in northern and western Iraq. This news comes as Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi, one of the country’s most revered Shiite clerics, declared that the removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be an important part of the solution to Iraq’s political crisis. Separately, the US congratulated Iraq on Tuesday for electing a new parliamentary speaker, calling it an important first step in forming a new government after extensive delays. [Reuters, 7/16/2014]

Kuwait threatens to revoke citizenship of dissenters
The Kuwaiti government has threatened to revoke the citizenship of people it suspects of trying to undermine the stability of the country, local media reported on Tuesday. The warning is part of a policy adopted by the cabinet on Monday night, following protests earlier this month over the arrest of a prominent opposition politician. Kuwaiti political analyst Shamlan Alessa said the measure was aimed at naturalized Kuwaitis who have joined the opposition. [Reuters, 7/16/2014]

Saudi Arabia boosts security on its border with Iraq
Riyadh has sent thousands of troops to its border area with Iraq, since ISIS launched its offensive last month in Iraq. The Saudi government is reinforcing the border that is already protected by a series of earth berms and fences, forming an exclusion zone stretching six miles deep into Saudi territory. At least 1,000 army soldiers, 1,000 national guardsmen and three helicopter units have arrived to reinforce the border area since ISIS’s advance in June. [Reuters, 7/16/2014]

Saudi Arabia pledges fifty-three million dollars to the people of Gaza
King Abdullah has issued a directive to provide fifty-three million dollars in humanitarian aid for the people of the Gaza. The aid will be channeled through the Palestinian Red Crescent, reported a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Iyad Madani announced that the brutal aggression witnessed in Gaza had been preceded by an inhuman siege, a longstanding crime that must end immediately. [Al Arabiya, 7/16/2014]