Top News: Clashes in Egypt between students and police for the third day

A security official says police have fired tear gas to prevent students of Egypt’s Islamic al-Azhar University from taking protests outside their campus, in the third straight day of unrest there. Student spokesman Mahmoud Salah said the students organized a strike Tuesday in solidarity with university staff who he said was beaten by security in the violence a day earlier. Commerce students assembled in front of the university gate to prevent the entry of students and professors, while hundreds of Faculty of Education students gathered to protest the referral of colleagues to disciplinary boards as well as the intervention of the security forces in university affairs, accusing them of injuring and detaining dozens of students. Security forces arrested on Monday fifty-eight protesters during clashes and five people were injured, according to the health ministry. [Egypt IndependentAswat MasriyaAP, 12/10/2013]


Referendum on constitution mid-January, over two days
Egypt will hold a referendum on a new constitution in the middle of January, a government minister said on Monday. Hany Mahmoud, minister of administrative development, said the vote would be held nationwide over two days. “We are talking about mid-January,” Mahmoud said in an interview with Egyptian TV channel CBC. Egypt’s Local Development Minister Adel Labib said on Tuesday that all governorates have begun preparing for a referendum on the new constitution amid heavy security measures. Labib added in a press conference on Tuesday that measures to ease the process for voters and avoid manipulation are under consideration. He denied accusations that the government is pushing for a “yes” vote and explained that it merely encourages all eligible voters to participate. [Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 12/10/2013]

Egypt’s annual urban inflation rate highest in four years
Egyptian urban consumer inflation soared in November to its highest annual rate in nearly four years, increasing the risk of social unrest and potentially serving up a policy dilemma for the central bank. The Central Bank of Egypt said on Tuesday that the annual inflation rate increased to 11.95 percent in November, up from 11.5 percent in October. Crippled by political turmoil since a popular uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egypt’s economy expanded just 2.1 percent in the year to June 30.  “Clearly in a period where there is a restive population people expect a better standard of living and it’s likely that there will be social repercussions if inflation continues to run at these levels,” Angus Blair, chairman of business and economic forecasting think-tank Signet, said. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/10/2013]

EU to monitor referendum on constitutional amendments
EU Ambassador in Cairo James Moran said the Egyptian authorities had invited the European Union to monitor the referendum on constitutional amendments. He does not know, however, the number of the EU delegation members, because the date of the referendum has not yet been set. Moran added that it is important for Egyptians to cast their ballots, whether with “yes” or “no,” and the EU thinks that all parties should take part in the referendum. He also looks forward to the EU supervision on the next presidential and parliamentary elections. [Egypt Independent, 12/9/2013]


UN envoy calls for greater dialogue and less misunderstanding
UN envoy Tarek Mitri detailed before the UN Security Council the continued security deterioration in Libya and emphasized the need for a national dialogue to resolve the political polarization gripping the country. Mitri also announced that a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit Libya this month to inspect existing stockpiles and their storage conditions. According to Mitri, there is information indicating that 6,400 barrels of yellowcake are stored in a non-functional former military facility close to Sabha in the south. [Libya Herald, 12/9/2013]

Fuel subsidies removed in three stages, says economy minister Abufunas
A proposed subsidy reform law substituting goods subsidies for cash subsidies is currently with the General National Congress, according to Economy Minister Mustafa Abufunas. The proposed plan would reduce corruption and smuggling and allow businesses more opportunity to operate in subsidized sectors without the warping effect of state subsidies, he explained. Admitting that it would be difficult to remove fuel and electricity subsidies completely or in a single move, Abufunas revealed government plans to remove them over thirty months and in three stages. [Libya Herald, 12/10/2013]

Gunmen kill senior Libyan police officer
Colonel Ramadan al-Turouk was killed by gunmen in Sirte, the hometown of Muammar Qaddafi. Al-Turouk was head of the local passport and immigration office. An official source said the attackers were unknown and that an investigation is underway. Authorities are blaming the spate of targeted assassinations on militias resisting state authority and Islamists seeking revenge on Qaddafi-era officials. The Sirte elders and local council condemned the assassination in a statement and demanded that the government and General National Congress take swift action to stop the violence. [AP, 12/10/2013]

At least one dead in Kufra communal clashes
A Sudanese man has reportedly been killed in Kufra after troops tried to separate quarreling Zway and Tebu youths. Conversations on social media sites suggested the man was shot by a Tebu gang, while other posts claimed he died after Zway youths tried to take over an armored vehicle from an army unit. The Tebu-Zway stand-off has manifested in other ways; the Tebu have been blocking fuel deliveries to the Sarir power plant to force the government to act on their demands for a local council separate from the Zway Kufra council. [Libya Herald, 12/9/2013]


Army piles pressure on rebel-held Yabroud
Syria’s army Tuesday turned its sights on the town of Yabroud, the last rebel stronghold in the strategic Qalamoun region near Lebanon’s border, as it moved to open a key highway to Damascus. The town is believed to be where a group of nuns from the historic Christian hamlet of Maalula have been transferred, reportedly in the hands of jihadist rebels from al-Nusra Front. The advancing army is trying to capture the Qalamoun region and sever rebel supply lines that run across the border with Lebanon. In the mountainous Qalamoun region observers said regime forces were shelling Yabrud, a day after they captured the town of Nabak. [AFP, 12/10/2013]

United Nations plans first aid airlift to Syria from Iraq as winter grips
The United Nations’ first relief airlift to Syria from Iraq will deliver food and winter supplies to the mostly Kurdish northeast this week with the permission of both governments, the UNHCR refugee agency said on Tuesday. The airbridge to Hassakah from Erbil in northern Iraq will begin on Thursday and up to twelve flights are scheduled through Sunday. UN agencies have ferried limited aid supplies into Syria from Iraq and Lebanon, but not via Turkey because of objections from President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Syria gave permission about two weeks ago for the cross-border UN operation from Iraq into Syrian Kurdish areas of Hassakah province, which had initially envisaged truck convoys via the Yarubiya border crossing, a cheaper option. [Reuters, Naharnet, 12/10/2013]

Opposition activist kidnapped in Damascus; Journalists kidnapped in north
Prominent Syrian human rights lawyer and opposition activist Razan Zeitouneh has been kidnapped in Damascus. Zeitouneh heads the Violations and Documentation Center (VDC) organization and, as one of the founding members of the Local Coordination Committees, has been a leading figure of the opposition movement in Syria since the uprising in the country began in March 2011. She was kidnapped in the suburb of Douma, in the Damascus countryside on Monday evening. Zeitouneh’s husband and several of other VDC colleagues were also kidnapped from their offices. VDC activists said they believed Islamist rebels operating in Douma were responsible. It has been made public that fighters linked to al-Qaeda abducted a Spanish journalist and a photographer in a rebel-held area near the Turkish border in September. They have been taken to Raqqa city; negotiations to free the men have stalled. [The Daily Star, 12/10/2013]

Syrian Kurds discuss differences over Geneva II
The Kurdish parties in Syria are discussing how to participate in the January 22 Geneva II conference after heavy tensions erupted between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) along with its affiliate, the Democratic Union Party. The Syrian Kurds now have one month to solve their differences or face a disunited voice at Geneva II with the risk of being ignored. [Al Monitor, 12/9/2013]


NCA to convene plenary to discuss transitional justice
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Bureau will convene a plenary session next Friday to discuss the draft law on transitional justice, according to the assessor of the NCA president. The finance, compromise, and elections board selection commissions will meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, respectively, while the meeting of heads of parliamentary groups is scheduled for Thursday. [TAP, 12/9/2013]

Police rape trial further delayed, plaintiff alleges harassment
Lawyers for a Tunisian woman allegedly raped by two policemen asked Monday for the trial to be delayed so threats to her family and information about the accused can be considered. The young woman’s lawyers requested to view a disciplinary record of one of the officers, and demanded that one of the three accused, who is on trial for extorting money from her boyfriend, be tried for “complicity to rape.” The lawyers also asked for the trial to be adjourned so a threatening letter which the woman’s father received could be taken into account, without detailing the contents of the letter. Defense lawyers also called for the trial to be postponed in order to examine the woman’s medical file. [AFP 12/9/2013]

Government cancels match of football team named as Ben Ali supporter
The popular Tunis football team Esperance and the team from Sfax were set to face each other Sunday, but the game was postponed by the government. The ministry of interior said in a statement that the match scheduled to take place yesterday was postponed for “organizational purposes,” with the exact cause unclear, but the team believes the motivation is political. The “black book,” prepared by the office of interim President Moncef Marzouki and leaked, specifically mentioned Esperance, accusing them of supporting former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. [Tunisia Live 12/9/2013]

Essebsi’s proposal to lead Tunisia out of crisis
Former Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi proposed on Sunday the formation of a “supreme council” to lead the troubled North African country out of its current political crisis. The proposed council must have wide-ranging powers and be open to all political forces, the veteran politician and current head of the opposition party Nidaa Tounes said. Essebsi added that the powerful Tunisian General Labor Union and the Union for Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts must also be represented on the proposed council. [Middle East Online, 12/9/2013]


US drone kills three suspected al-Qaeda militants 
A US drone struck a car carrying suspected al-Qaeda militants on Monday in the province of Hadramawt, southeastern Yemen, a local official reported. The strike killed at least three suspected militants. “A drone launched three missiles on unidentified car in the village of Moudhour on the highway between Qatan and Sana’a,” Riyadh al-Jahwari, the director of Qaten district, said. [Gulf News, 12/9/2013]

Federalism forum hosts discussion on successful federal states
In preparation for the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) outcomes that are likely to recommend a federal state structure for Yemen, a two-day forum on federalism was held at the Movenpick Hotel in Sana’a. The organization Forum of Federations hosted the workshop to discuss federal states around the world. The workshop hoped to raise awareness among the numerous factions of the country on the benefits of a federal state, said Muamar Batweel, the forum’s coordinator, so that these groups can envision the benefits and obstacles of such a system. On Monday, the 8+8 subcommittee reconvened to discuss options for both a two-region state and a five-region state in detail. [Yemen Times, 12/10/2013]

Government committees leave conflict-ridden Dammaj
Both the presidential and parliamentary committees assigned to negotiate peace talks in Dammaj in the northern Saada province returned to the capital on Saturday in a helicopter after failing to secure a ceasefire in the conflicted area. The same day, fighting between the Houthis and the Salafis resumed in the small town in Saada. According to a Salafi spokesperson, five Salafis were killed and twenty-two injured in the fighting on Saturday. “The efforts of the two committees were met with no answers from the Houthis,” said Hussein al-Sawadi, the head of the parliamentary committee. He said the Salafis had shown a willingness to stop fighting. Ali al-Boukhaiti, a spokesperson for the Houthis said, “The Houthis were ready to give their positions to government forces if the Salafis left al-Barqa mountain.” [Yemen Times, 12/10/2013]

Militants attack oil infrastructure in Shabwa
A group of armed men blew up a major oil pipeline in the Ausailan area of Shabwa governorate on Sunday, in southeast Yemen. The targeted pipeline connects oil fields in Shabwa to an oil refinery station in the Safer area of Marib governorate. The local al-Balharith tribe is believed to be behind the attack according to Omer Mujawar, the general manager of the oil ministry office in Shabwa. Mujawar says repairs on the pipe will take a minimum of three days to complete. [Yemen Times, 12/10/2013]


Morocco set for $4 billion in World Bank loans
Morocco is set to receive $4 billion in loans from the World Bank from 2014 to 2017 for government energy, infrastructure and other projects, a source from the World Bank said on Tuesday. Under the deal, the bank will extend up to $1 billion each year to finance projects, in a sign of confidence in the North African kingdom’s finances despite concerns over the pace of progress in tackling its budget deficit. Morocco is under pressure from international lenders to push ahead with reforms to its fuel and food subsidies, for tighter control over its public wage bill and its state pension payments to help narrow the deficit. [Reuters, 12/10/2013]

Relatives of the “disappeared” protest, dozens arrested
Algerian security forces reacted harshly to a protest held in the capital, arresting about twenty participants in a demonstration by a committee that brings together relatives of many of those who became missing persons, or “the disappeared,” during the civil war that brought bloodshed to the country in the 1990s. The protesters, many of whom were elderly, held a sit-in in front of the Grand Post Office, calling for justice while holding photographs of relatives missing since the start of the violence in the 1990s, a victim toll for which has never been made official and includes many missing persons. [ANSAMed, 12/10/2013]

Full GCC union will happen in next generation, says GCC leader
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) union would be a preliminary step that could ultimately lead to a full unification of Gulf states in the next generation, Assistant Secretary General of the GCC Abdul Aziz al-Uwaisheq said on Monday ahead of the annual summit of GCC leaders. The comments followed the Omani foreign minister Yousef Bin Alawi’s announcement on Saturday that his country opposes the establishment of a confederation of Gulf states, warning that it would “simply withdraw” from the new body if it materialised. “The GCC’s charter stipulates that the objective in the GCC is to achieve unity in all aspects. The union would be a preliminary step that would precede ultimate unification that could take place in the next generation,” al-Uwaisheq said. [Gulf News, 12/10/2013]

Image: Police deploy to disperse Azhar student protests. (Photo: Mohamed Omar/DNE)