Top News: China says all issues on table in Syria talks, including Assad’s role

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Wednesday that talks to end the war in Syria should cover all topics of concern to the two sides, including the future of President Bashar al-Assad.  Asked about Assad’s future, Wang told reporters: “All issues of concern to the two sides should be put on the table including the one you mentioned just now.” He said the talks should begin by tackling the easiest issues and then move onto more difficult ones. “I believe as long as the negotiation continues without disruption, then as the dialogue deepens and trust grows between the two parties, all issues should and can be resolved.” Syria’s government and opposition, meeting for the first time, vented their mutual hostility on Wednesday and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem insisted Assad’s future was not in question. [Reuters, 1/23/2014]



AUC professor accused of espionage, other criminal charges
Legal documents released on Wednesday reveal that Egyptian prosecutors have filed a host of criminal charges – including espionage – against Emad Shahin, professor of political science and public policy at the American University in Cairo.The 56-year-old Shahin, an Egyptian national, vehemently denied the charges brought against him, refuting them in a written response. Shahin was revealed to be included on a list of thirty-six defendants, primarily high-ranking members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including ousted President Mohamed Morsi and the Islamist group’s Guidance Bureau. Although he is not a Brotherhood member, prosecutors have filed charges against Shahin that include espionage, leading an outlawed organization, providing an illegal organization with information and financial support, calling for the suspension of the Egyptian Constitution, obstructing state institutions and authorities from performing their functions, harming national unity and social harmony, as well as conspiring to depose the government by force. [Mada Masr, 1/22/2014]

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claims responsibility for death of five policemen in Beni Suef
An armed attack on a police checkpoint in Beni Suef left five policemen dead and two injured and hospitalized, early morning Thursday. The attack was carried out by “masked men on two motorcycles” firing heavily, a statement posted by the ministry of interior read. A security source said police forces were searching the districts and neighboring agricultural lands and small villages where the assailants may have fled. The interior ministry has suspended a police officer for abandoning the 14-member checkpoint, pending investigation, Al-Ahram reported. According to Al-Masry a-Youm, in a statement posted on their Facebook page, Sinai militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack. Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy’s cabinet condemned the attack and described it as “terrorism.” A forensic report revealed that the victims were shot using 7.62mm caliber firearms. [DNE, SIS, Ahram (Arabic), Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, Reuters, 1/23/2013]

Egypt’s Ministerial Economic Group agrees to amend law on competition protection
The Ministerial Economic Group in Egypt has agreed to introduce essential amendments to the law on competition protection and monopoly prevention. The amendments should help upgrade market performance and achieve justice, according to Industry Minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour. The Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) will be more independent and will have more powers to better enforce law in a way that would create a healthy economic environment based on fair competition and free market regulations. The amendments will be discussed in a Cabinet meeting to refer them to the president for ratification as soon as possible, Abdel-Nour added. [MENA, 1/23/2014]

Beblawy supports Sisi and discusses Egypt’s changes at Davos
Egypt’s Prime Minister Hazem El-Bebalwy said Thursday the spirit of the Arab Spring was still alive in his country and that the army chief likely to run for the presidency was no dictator, but more a De Gaulle figure. He announced his support for Sisi’s candidacy for president on the sidelines at the Davos World Economic Forum saying, “Sisi is hugely popular and would be a candidate that can be relied upon, but the final decision is with the people.” He also discussed the political and economic development Egypt has undergone and said that Egypt’s transition is great. Other countries that have undergone such transitions have experienced similar circumstances, he added. [DNE, EGYNews (Arabic), Gateway (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), 1/23/2014]


Wary calm in Warshefana area and west Janzour after security forces pull back
A nervous calm has returned to west Janzour and the Wershefana area following an agreement yesterday evening between the government and the Wershefana Shura Council under which security forces were pulled out of the district in return for a promise by the Council that suspected criminals wanted by the Prosecutor General would be handed over within a week. After the agreement was approved, the troops, estimated at over 2,000, started pulling back late last night towards Tripoli in mass convoys. On Wednesday’s weekly press conference the Prime Minister, speaking about the recent skirmishes in the Wirshafana region between criminal gangs and state security forces, admitted that errors were committed by both sides. As a result, Zeidan announced a change of tactics, saying that forces from outside the area would be recalled and that the local police and Security Directorate in Wirshefana will be activated instead. The Prime Minister also confirmed at the  press conference that Sebha is now calm and that it was under control. [Libya Herald, 1/22/2014]

Former national leaders back plan to relieve Congress of its duties by 7 February
A number of political heavyweights heading civil society organisations have laid out an alternative roadmap for the transition of power from Congress,  relieving it of its duties no later than 7 February. The organisations’ so-called “summary of initiatives” was unveiled on Wednesday at a press conference coinciding with the recent announcement of Congress’ own roadmap which would see it quit in December. They have called on Congress to amend the Constitutional Declaration in order to form a new interim constitution which would see the formation a streamlined transitional government with  no more than ten ministers around an independent national figure acting as prime minister. [Libya Herald, 1/22/2014]

Kidnapped South Korean trade official freed in Libya
The South Korean trade official who was kidnapped in Libya has been freed three days after he was taken hostage by armed men, the Libyan and South Korean foreign ministries said on Wednesday. The head of the Libya unit of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), is said to be in good health. [Alarabiya 1/23/2014]


Al-Qaeda chief Zawahri tells Islamists in Syria to unite
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on rebels in Syria to stop fighting each other as a faction linked to his group pushed rival insurgents from a northern town on Thursday. The small but powerful al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been caught up in clashes with other insurgents in Syria in recent weeks, often triggered by disputes over authority and territory. About 1,400 people have died in the infighting over the last twenty days. Some 190 of them were civilians caught in the crossfire or executed. Zawahri urged the rebels to set up a committee to sort out their differences, according to an audio recording released on Islamist websites. [Reuters, AFP, 1/23/2014]

State Department learned in November of photos said to demonstrate regime torture
The Obama administration first learned last November about a harrowing trove of photographs that were said to document widespread torture and executions in Syrian prisons when a State Department official viewed some of the images on a laptop belonging to an anti-government activist, a senior official said Wednesday. The United States did not act on the photos for the past two months, because it did not have possession of the digital files and could not establish their authenticity. Nevertheless, the administration believes the photos are genuine, basing that assessment in part on the meticulous way in which the bodies in the photos were numbered. The photographs have helped prompt the administration to heighten its demand that President Bashar al-Assad release political prisoners and allow Red Cross inspectors access to the prisons. But it seems clear that the photos will not fundamentally alter American policy. [NYT, 1/23/2014]


Debate over the role of religion in the constitution continues
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) adjourned on Wednesday without reaching an agreement on an amendment to article six of the constitution. Article six addresses freedom of conscience and has become controversial in the last week due to a proposed amendment that bans insulting religion. The amendment has sparked both public and parliamentary debate. The amendment reflects a broader debate in Tunisia over the role of religion in the new constitution and in the country as a whole. [Tunis Times, 1/22/2014]  

Voting on the constitution nears completion
Articles 145 and 146, the last two articles in the constitution, are the only two that remain to be voted on by the NCA. In addition, there are amendments to articles 6, 35, 38, and 73 that also need to be voted on. Once voting on these articles and amendments is complete, the NCA will then vote on the constitution in its entirety. At least two-thirds of the NCA must vote in favor of the constitution in order for it to pass. In the case that the constitution does not pass through the NCA, Tunisians will vote on it in a referendum. [Tunis Times, 1/22/2014]

UGTT to push for wage increase
The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) will push to resume wage negotiations with the new cabinet. This push for higher wages is in response to the rising prices of goods, decreasing purchasing power, and pay freeze. In recent weeks there have been protests in response to these issues across the country. The UGTT will take up the issue of wages with the new cabinet once one is announced by caretaker Prime Minister Jomaa. [Tunis Afrique Press, 1/22/2014]


Houthis withdraw support for final NDC document
A Houthi spokesman has announced that his party does not stand by the National Dialogue Conference’s (NDC) final document. Though the Houthis allegedly sent a signed letter expressing their support for the Southern solutions document–the letter was never released–the Houthis appear to have withdrawn support. This comes after a Houthi NDC delegate was killed on the way to the concluding session. The Houthis have said that they will not take part in any future NDC meetings or the closing session scheduled on Saturday. [Yemen Times, 1/23/2014]

UN envoy pressing for sanctions on former president, vice president
Reports suggest that the UN special adviser on Yemen, Jamal Benomar, will push the Security Council to place sanctions on those in the country that “work to block progress in the political process and national dialogue.” The sanctions could result in a travel ban and an asset freeze on former president Saleh and former vice president Ali Salem al-Beidh. Benomar will arrive in New York on Monday to discuss the proposed sanctions. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/23/2014]

Hadi meets with ambassadors of the permanent members of the Security Council
A day after the conclusion of the NDC, President Hadi met with ambassadors representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Hadi praised the international community’s assistance to Yemen during its time of transition, and called for their continued support as the country moves forward to the next stage of Yemen’s reform process. [Saba, Al-Masdar (Arabic); 1/22/2014]

Drone crash in al-Mahra province
Following more than a week of unverified reports, a Yemeni official has confirmed that an alleged US unmanned drone crashed in al-Mahra province last Thursday. The crash caused a panic among the local population as no drone strike has ever occurred in the eastern-most province. The wreckage and two unexploded missiles were recovered by the military. The United States typically uses drones to track and target members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has undertaken a large campaign of assassinations against Yemen’s intelligence officials all across the country. [Yemen Times, 1/23/2014]


Iraq PM vows to crush al-Qaeda in Anbar province; Anbar council forms crisis unit
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki continues to call on Fallujah’s tribal leaders to oust al-Qaeda militants from the city as a potential military offensive looms. In a televised speech earlier this month Maliki warned that locals sheltering al-Qaeda militants would be targeted by security forces. Meanwhile, locals claim that the government’s current presence in the city is nearly nonexistent. Anbar’s provincial council has formed a crisis group to facilitate negotiations between tribal leaders and the government in an attempt to avert a potentially costly government raid. [Asharq al-Awsat, 1/23/2014]

Four terrorists killed south of Algiers
On Thursday, the ministry of defense announced that the army killed four terrorists in an overnight ambush just south of Algiers. Arms were confiscated during the raid. Last week, two jihadi militants were killed the mountainous part of Medea, a former terrorist stronghold from the civil war in the 1990s. Although terrorism has declined since the civil war, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb remains active in parts of Algeria. [Ahram Online, 1/23/2014]

Kuwait’s Shuaiba oil refinery still shut down; Oil exports to China hit five month high
One of Kuwait’s three oil refineries was still offline Thursday after a power cut shut all of them down on Wednesday. The refinery in Shuaiba produces 200,000 barrels per day. The remaining two refineries, though work has resumed, are not expected to be back to their regular rate of output until Friday. The power cut is blamed on Kuwait’s “antiquated and unstable electricity supply system.” Meanwhile, Kuwait announced that crude exports to China have reached a five month high, though Saudi Arabia remained the country’s top supplier though its shipments fell by six percent in the same period. [Al-Arabiya, 1/23/2014]

Twitter Suspends Hamas Accounts
Several Twitter accounts used by the military wing of Hamas have been suspended. Israel’s military celebrated accounts’ suspension, while Hamas condemned it. The twitter accounts of both Hamas and Israel’s military have gotten into online battles in the past, notably during the conflagration in November 2012. [New York Times, 1/23/2014]