Syrian government forces backed by foreign Shia militia advanced on rebels in the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, bent on recapturing districts from opposition brigades weakened by infighting. Rebels see the threat of President Bashar al-Assad wresting back Aleppo as so grave that Islamist brigades, including an al-Qaeda affiliate, have declared an emergency and summoned all fighters to head to the fronts. The rebel groups’ joint declaration said government forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the Iraqi Abu al-Fadl Abbas militia had launched “a fierce offensive to reoccupy” Aleppo. Dozens of men from both sides have been killed in the last few days in embattled northern and eastern areas of the city. [ReutersSyrian Observatory for Human RIghts, 11/12/2013]


Mohamed Morsi remains defiant in first statement
Defense lawyers representing toppled president Mohamed Morsi read out Wednesday a statement he made to Egyptians from detention, the first since his chaotic trial last week. “The kind Egyptian people should know that I have been kidnapped forcibly and against my will since July 2 and until July 5 in a Republican Guard house until I and my aide were moved again forcibly to a naval base belonging to the armed forces for four full months,” Morsi was quoted as saying. Morsi’s statement lay down a hard line, praising protesters for their “steadfastness” and vowing the coup would be reversed.”The coup has begun to fall apart and will topple in the face of the steadfastness of the Egyptian people,” he said in the statement, read by the lawyers at a press conference. His lawyers stressed that they had taken notes from Morsi and articulated the message themselves. President Mohamed Morsi has hired Selim al-Awa to represent him in court, according to security sources at Alexandria’s Borg al-Arab prison. Morsi’s next session is on January 8, when he will be tried for his role in the death of protesters outside the presidential palace last December.[Ahram Online, AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, 11/13/2013]

Army yet to receive orders to end curfew; US, UN, and April 6 welcome end to state of emergency
Egypt’s government declared an end to its state of emergency, but the military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali said on Tuesday that the Egyptian army will continue to enforce the nightly curfew until it receives an official notification that a court has ordered an end to the state of emergency. Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement welcomed the court decision, saying, “It will allow some of the economic and social issues that have beset us to be overcome.” The United States also welcomed lifting the state of emergency in Egypt. In a press briefing, state department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki expressed concern over legislation regarding security. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also noted in his statement, “the heightened debate in Egypt on a draft law regulating protest” and stressed that “international human rights standards should form the basis of any new legislation.” [Ahram Online, AP, DNE, Cairo Post, EGYNews (Arabic), Shorouk (Arabic), 11/13/2013]

Survey: 62 percent of Egyptians favor anti-terrorism act
A survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, also known as Baseera, has revealed that 62 percent of Egyptians approve of an anti-terrorism act while 57 percent agree to another draft law dealing with political demonstrations. Baseera also issued a statement saying that 65 percent were aware of the anti-terrorism act. The survey was conducted between October 30-31, using a sample of 1,964 citizens aged eighteen and over. [Egypt Independent, 11/12/2013]

Egypt expresses optimism over Russian ministers’ visit
Egypt’s foreign minister has said that the visit of the Russian foreign and defense ministers to Cairo is a positive message for Egypt and the region. “The presence of the defense and foreign ministers, both at the same time, in Cairo is an important political message that reflects care, appreciation and respect for Egypt and its history, and eagerness to participate in determining its future,” Fahmy said in an interview with Russia’s state-run Arabic language channel Russia Today on Tuesday, a day before the ministers are expected to arrive in Egypt. [Ahram Online, 11/13/2013]


Libya’s economy to shrink by 5.1 percent in 2013, says IMF
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that the Libyan economy will shrink by 5.1 percent due to the blockage of oil exports. Protests from militias, tribes, and civil servants at oil ports and fields have severely disrupted the country’s oil output, reducing it to a fraction of its capacity of 1.25 million barrels per day. In its outlook, the IMF said oil production would pick up gradually but that it could take years to reach pre-civil war output levels. [Reuters, 11/12/2013]

Mellitah workers go on strike, warn of power cuts
Workers at the Mellitah oil and gas complex are staging a three-day protest against the ongoing occupation of the facility by Amazigh protesters. In a statement addressed to Prime Minister Ali Zidan and the Libyan people, the workers urged the government to take action, saying the Amazigh protest had provoked the strike. The employees warned of possible power cuts in the west of Libya. The chief executive officer of Italian energy company Eni, which jointly owns the pipeline, said he is “optimistic” about the company’s future in Libya. The country’s official news agency reports that another oil refinery in the west has reopened one day after former rebels halted production and occupied the facility in the city of Zawiya. [Libya Herald, 11/12/2013]

Libya jihadists say security dependent on Islamic law
Libya’s top jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia, blamed for much of the violence gripping the country, including the September 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, said there will only be security if Islamic law is introduced. It also said it does not recognize state institutions, including the security forces, and accused them of apostasy. In its statement, Ansar al-Sharia defended its fighters, saying that “they are now considered criminals and extremists” after Libya’s war “turned against them.” [AFP/Naharnet, 11/12/2013]

LROR to keep securing Tripoli, but under control of general chief of staff
The General National Congress (GNC) has voted to keep the responsibility of securing the capital as part of the mandate of the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Rooms (LROR) but to move the entity under the control of the office of the general chief of staff. The decision was a surprise for a group of ninety-four GNC members who have been demanding that the assignment be canceled. According to a congresswoman from Beida, the eighty-five members who voted in favor of the transfer were from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party and the al-Wafa bloc. According to the decision, individual members of the LROR will now have a choice of joining either the defense or interior ministry. [Libya Herald, 11/12/2013]


Syrian troops capture rebel-held suburb south of Damascus
Syrian troops captured a contested suburb of Damascus on Wednesday as the government forged ahead with a military offensive that has already taken four other opposition strongholds south of the capital. For more than a year, much of the belt of neighbourhoods and towns just south of Damascus has been a rebel bastion and a key arms conduit for the opposition. But government forces, bolstered by fighters from Lebanon’s Shia militant group Hezbollah and Shia militants from Iraq, have made significant headway in the area in recent weeks. On Wednesday the town of Hejeira became the latest rebel-held suburb to fall into government hands. The advances could give the government a stronger position in proposed peace talks that the United States and Russia have been trying to convene since May. [AP, 11/13/2013]

Kurds declare an interim administration in Syria
The Democratic Union Party, a prominent Kurdish political bloc affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced on Monday from the unofficial Syrian Kurdish capital of Qamishli that it would form an interim transitional administration, despite objections from Turkey. The move further solidifies Kurdish geographic and political presence in northwestern Syria following several months of intense fighting against Islamist rebels. The announcement came on the same day as the opposition Syrian National Coalition announced their provisional government for rebel-held areas, which does not include members of the Kurdish nationalist parties. [Al Monitor, Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat, AFP, 11/12/2013]


Union hopes political talks will resume next week
Houcine Abbassi, secretary general of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), expressed optimism for restarting talks early next week during a meeting with caretaker President Moncef Marzouki on Tuesday. UGTT Deputy Secretary General Mouldi Jendoubi said that the mediators will start consultations on Wednesday with the parties to reach consensus on three key issues holding up the progression of the dialogue: possible revisions of amendments to the National Constituent Assembly internal rules, measures to be taken by the Independent High Authority for the Election selection commission after its selected candidates were rejected by an administrative court, and the choice of the future prime minister. [Tunisia Live, 11/13/2013]

Militant killed, eight arrested in Tunisia clash
Tunisia’s interior ministry says national guard units killed one suspected militant and arrested eight others in an operation near the remote desert town of Kebili. The ministry said that special forces descended on a house early Tuesday and fought with the “suspected terrorists.” ANSAMed reported that security forces on Tuesday also arrested deputy leader Wael Amami and spokesman Seifeddine Raes from the Ansar al-Sharia Islamist militant group, which the government has banned as a terrorist organization. [Ahram Online, 11/12/2013]

Survey: Tunisia best among Arab Spring nations in women’s rights
Tunisia was ranked sixth of twenty-two Arab states and best among Arab Spring nations in a Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) poll on women’s rights in the Arab world. However the report was originally released with inaccuracies, stating that “polygamy remains widespread and contraception is illegal,” eliciting harsh feedback from Tunisians. Hours after publication, TRF updated the initial report, which now states that “contraception is legal, but polygamy is spreading” in Tunisia. To respect respondents’ anonymity, the foundation declined to give names of the gender experts surveyed on the situation of women’s rights in Tunisia, but did give a statement regarding their updated article: “Tunisia did not allow polygamy but after the revolution and the rise of Islamists, polygamy has been secretly practiced by Salafis – though never officially recognized.” [TAP, Tunisia Live 11/12/2013]

Campaign to cancel illegitimate debt of Tunisia and Egypt
The Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt on Tuesday held a seminar on debt and human rights at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels, with a focus on Tunisia and Egypt. Renaud Vivien, legal expert in the committee, said that the seminar will be a further step to understand the circumstances surrounding the conclusion and use of European loans under the regimes of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. This seminar comes less than a week after a national network of social actors  launched a campaign in Tunis that calls for an immediate halt to the payment of odious debts. [Tunis Times, 11/11/2013]


Al-Qaeda in Yemen vows revenge for Shia rebel attack on Salafis
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has pledged revenge against Shia Houthi rebels in northern Yemen for their assault on a Salafi school in Dammaj, said a statement from the group. Fighting between Houthis and Salafis in the traditional Dammaj school, in the heart of Shia territory, caused more than one hundred deaths over the past two weeks and threatens to cause more sectarian tensions in Yemen. “We declare our total solidarity with our Sunni brothers in the center in Dammaj, and in other Sunni areas that the Houthi group had attacked,” said Harithi’s statement. “Your crimes against the Sunni people will not pass without punishment or disciplinary action,” it added. [Reuters, 11/13/2013]

NDC condemns violence in Dammaj
The comprehensive National Dialogue Conference (NDC) called for the immediate end to the fighting in Dammaj and other towns in the northern Saada province. The NDC issued a statement condemning any additional calls to war by local leaders and demanding the immediate implementation of a cease-fire. The statement also stressed the importance of the provision of humanitarian aid and emergency health care. [NDC (Arabic), Al Tagheer (Arabic), 11/13/2013]

Disagreement in the NDC transitional justice committee stalls voting
Members of the General People’s Congress (GPC) in the transitional justice committee of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) objected to some of the material contained in the committee’s report, to the disappointment of other representatives. A member of the committee, Arwa Wabel, said that the representatives of the GPC and their allies, who have a combined twenty-seven votes in the committee, rejected a number of articles on stolen land, justice, and the rights of women and minorities. GPC representatives also objected to those articles that deal with investigations into human rights violations. Because the GPC and its allies have so many votes, they can object to material and delay voting, even on items that have been passed by the Conciliation Committee. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Mareb Press (Arabic), 11/12/2013]

Security Council postpones its meeting on Yemen
Sources reported that the UN Security Council postponed for an indefinite period a special session that was to be held on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Yemen because of the lack of any progress on the issue of the South in the Yemeni National Dialogue. UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar is expected to hold additional meetings with members of the 8+8 committee and Hirak representatives this week. [Al Tagheer (Arabic), 11/13/2013]


Netanyahu cancels plan to build 20,000 new settler homes
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday abruptly halted a plan to explore the potential construction of thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements, saying it had created an “unnecessary confrontation” with the international community that threatened to weaken his campaign against Iran’s suspect nuclear program. The plan announced by Israel’s housing ministry earlier in the day had prompted a Palestinian threat to walk out of United States-brokered peace talks and drew angry criticism from officials in Washington, who said they had been blindsided by the move. [AP/CBS News, 11/13/2013]

Saudi Arabia wins UN Human Rights Council seat
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday won a seat at the Human Rights Council, the United Nation’s highest rights monitoring body. China, Russia, and Cuba were also elected, raising speculations of potential battles over human right issues to be considered by the council in the future. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and United Nations Watch strongly condemned the presence of countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba in the runup to the vote. [Al Arabiya, 11/12/2013]

Algeria’s opposition parties look for ‘consensus candidate’ for presidential elections
Algeria’s opposition intends to put forward a “consensus candidate” to compete in next April’s presidential elections against the ruling party’s candidate, widely expected to be current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The head of one opposition party told Asharq Al-Awsat that a group of opposition parties “that was formed … to denounce election rigging in favor of the ruling party has prepared a number of demands in return for competing in the presidential elections. This includes delaying amending the constitution until after the elections and withdrawing the process of organizing the elections from the interior ministry and tasking an independent body instead.” [Asharq al-Awsat, 11/12/2013]