On Monday, police surrounded a house in Raoued (a northern suburb of Tunis) in an attempt to capture members of the hardline Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia who were taking refuge there. Washington has designated this group as a terrorist organization. Initially, security forces surrounded the house and began negotiating with those inside in order to get them to surrender. Gunfire was exchanged and left one police officer and seven of the suspected Islamists dead. The standoff continued into Tuesday morning. [Daily StarTunisia Live, 2/4/2014]


Reports that Sisi will declare electoral platform mid-February
Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is preparing to resign from his military post in order to announce his candidacy for the presidential elections within days, several local papers reported on Tuesday. The London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat reported that Sisi, who was recently granted the title of field marshal, is currently busy putting the military house in order ahead of his departure. Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) will convene within few days, with attendance of Sisi to select his successor as well as the chief of staff of the armed forces, informed sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Sources added that Sisi will declare his final decision to the council on running for president and leaving his position as the commander-in-chief and minister of defense and military production. He will reveal his electoral platform by the second half of February in a speech that will be aired on state TV and other privately-owned channels. He will also speak to his reasons for running in the elections. [Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, 2/4/2014]

Morsi ‘Ittihadeya’ trial adjourned to Wednesday; NASL calls for solidarity protests
A Cairo criminal court on Tuesday resumed the trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi on charges of inciting the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012. After a short hearing, the trial was adjourned to Wednesday. Tuesday’s hearing is the fourth since the trial started in November. The court has also set the date of March 1 to review a report on video footage of the deadly clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents in connection with the charges. Plaintiffs in the case also requested to add prominent Brotherhood leaders to the defense, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party Saad al-Katatny, Mahmoud Ghozlan and Mohamed al-Tahtawy. Al-Ahram also reported that the defense called for former National Salvation Front general coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahy and Amr Moussa to be added to the case. The defense had made the same request in the trial’s previous hearing. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy called for demonstrations on Tuesday in solidarity with Morsi as he stands trial. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 2/4/2014]

Egypt’s quick-fix minimum wage hike fails to calm workers
When Egypt announced plans for a minimum wage late last year, the government hoped to lift living standards and calm street turmoil that has helped topple two presidents in three years. Although one in four Egyptians lives below a poverty line of $1.65 a day, many workers say the EGP 1,200 ($170) minimum wage introduced in January is too little too late in a nation whose rulers have long favored the elite over the poor. The minimum wage applies to 4.9 million public employees and will cost the state an extra EGP 18 billion a year, swelling a budget deficit set to hit around EGP 200 billion this year. [Reuters, 2/3/2014]

Egypt summons Qatar’s charge d’affaires over extraditions
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Qatari chargé d’affaires on Tuesday to demand that Qatar “stop the media campaigns” against Egypt, according to foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty. Ambassador Abdelatty also revealed that Egypt had demanded Qatar hand over a number of fugitives currently facing trial. Several Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and allied Islamists, fled to Doha following Morsi’s ouster in July. This is the second time that Egypt sends a letter of protest to Qatar during one month. [Ahram Online, DNE, 2/4/2014]


Libya PM threatens eastern protesters with troops
Stepping up pressure on protesters blocking oil ports in eastern Libya, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said he had weeks ago ordered troops to prepare to move there to end the blockade. Zidan has repeatedly warned he may use force to free up three key ports, the blockades of which have cut off around 600,000 barrels per day of oil exports since summer. He gave no further details and did not clarify whether the army rejected his orders or whether it will actually take action. Protests at oilfields and installations have battered the OPEC country’s economy, cutting off the key source of state revenues. Negotiations have gone nowhere with the eastern federalists who have set up their own self-styled Cyrenaica government, but local tribal leaders and officials say support within the federalist movement for their leader Ibrahim Jadhran. [Reuters, Tripoli Post, 2/3/2014]

Zidan denies Le Figaro report of foreign troops in south Libya
Prime Minister Ali Zidan categorically denied claims by the French newspaper Le Figaro that US forces were present and training in Libya’s southern desert. He also refuted the report’s claim that their alleged presence in Libya was with the acquiescence of the Libyan government. Zidan assured the Libyan public that there are no foreign troops in any part of Libya with the agreement of the Libyan government, nor had the Libyan government agreed with any foreign forces to strike at any targets in Libya. He added that if Libya needed foreign troops, the process would be handled transparently through the cabinet and the legislature. [Libya Herald, 2/4/2014]

Libyan PM visits Egypt following kidnapping crisis
Prime Minister Ali Zidan visited Cairo over the weekend amid tensions between the two countries following last month’s kidnapping of six Egyptians, including diplomats, by Libyan militias. In a statement, Egyptian presidential spokesman Ehab Badawi said Zidan reassured Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour that the captives, who were released Monday, will be returned safely to Egypt soon. The kidnapping marked a low point in relations between the two countries since the 2011 civil war that removed Muammar Qaddafi. Prior to the revolution, Egypt and Libya had close relations and strong business ties. Officials also discussed the trade of illegal weapons from Libya in their meeting on Saturday. [AP, 2/1/2014]


Toll rises as regime continues campaign against Aleppo; No escape route for displaced
Army helicopters carried out new raids over the northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, dropping explosive-packed barrel bombs as they press a punishing aerial assault. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported multiple barrel bomb attacks across rebel-held parts of the city, where thirty people were killed in similar raids on Monday alone. The Aleppo Media Center said one of the raids hit a school in the Masakan Hanano neighborhood, and that children were among those killed. There were no immediate details on the number of dead in Tuesday’s raids, which came after another round of barrel bomb attacks on Monday killed fourteen men, thirteen children, and three women. Over the weekend eighty-five people were killed in a single day of air strikes and barrel bomb attacks on Saturday. The fierce air campaign has prompted an exodus of civilians from rebel-held areas in the east and north of Aleppo. But fighting between rebels and jihadists throughout Aleppo province has left those fleeing with few escape routes. [The Daily Star, 2/4/2014]

Russia says Syria will attend talks, ship more chemical weapons
Russia offered assurances on Tuesday that the Syrian government will show up at a new round of peace talks next week and will soon ship more toxic agents abroad for destruction under a deal to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal. The statements appeared intended to ease Western concerns about President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to a peace process that started last month, and to abandoning his chemical arsenal by mid-year under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. [Reuters, 2/4/2014]

Opposition in Moscow for talks
A Syrian opposition delegation began a visit to Moscow on Tuesday for talks with Russian officials, one week ahead of the second round of talks on the Syrian crisis in Geneva. The Syrian National Coalition spokesman said the delegation will be led by Ahmed al-Jarba, the Coalition’s president. He will be joined by the Coalition’s secretary-general, Badr Jamous, as well as opposition figures Burhan Ghalioun and Michel Kilo and the head of the opposition’s delegation to Geneva II, Hadi Al-Bahra. The delegation is expected to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov. The meetings will focus on the question of the transitional governing body, which will stipulate the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, and will also highlight humanitarian issues such as halting the siege on towns and opening humanitarian routes. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/4/2014]

Brahimi’s Palestinian deputy removed from Syria talks team
Nasser al-Kidwa, deputy head of the international team running the Syria peace talks, has been removed from his job, diplomatic sources said on Monday, after repeated calls from the Syrian government for his dismissal. “He has been sacked,” one of the diplomats said. Diplomats said Damascus had long objected to Kidwa, an ex-Palestinian foreign minister and nephew of Yasser Arafat, who was nominated by the Arab League and handled the opposition brief in the talks. The Arab League suspended Syria from its membership two years ago and has long called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Diplomats said Kidwa’s involvement in drafting the Geneva communique, the document underpinning the peace talks, and his close ties to opposition representatives may have contributed to his departure. Diplomatic sources said chief mediator Lakhdar Brahimi’s longstanding dislike of Kidwa did not work in his favor. “We do not know first-hand why Kidwa was sacked, but if he was removed because the regime has been objecting to him, then it undermines the spirit of the talks,” said an opposition representative. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 2/4/2014]


Tunisians arrested in Libya are released
Last Sunday, seven Tunisians were detained in the province of Dhahrat El Khass, on the Tunisia-Libya border, by Libyan security, customs and military units. In addition trucks carrying subsidized goods were seized and the Tunisian army arrested two Libyans, who were freed on Monday. The seven Tunisians were released early Tuesday morning. Negotiations are expected Tuesday morning in order to resume the passage of people and goods at Ras Jedir, the border-crossing point where the Tunisians were detained. The seven Tunisians were not abducted by Libyan militant groups. [TAP, 2/4/2014]

Obama invites Jomaa to Washington
On Monday, President Obama congratulated interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on the formation of his new government and the passing of Tunisia’s constitution last week. He extended an invitation to Jomaa to visit Washington later this year in order to continue to build US-Tunisian relations. [Al Arabiya, 2/4/2014]

Indian foreign minister visits Tunisia
The Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid arrived in Tunisia on Sunday for a two day visit. Khurshid’s visit is considered to be particularly significant because it is the first recorded official government visit in the history of Tunisia-India relations. He met with interim President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa and his counterpart Mongi Hamdi. The meetings focused on strengthening economic and trade relations. In his meeting with Jomaa, Khurshid congratulated him on the new constitution and expressed India’s willingness to initiate a new phase of economic partnership with Tunisia. Economic cooperation between Tunisia and India is not new. India is the largest phosphate and chemical fertilizer customer of Tunisia and in July 2013, a Tunisian-India phosphate acid plant was established in Skhira. All tons of phosphoric acid produced by this plant are exported to India. [All Africa, 2/3/2014, Tunis Times, 2/2/2014]


Houthis and tribesmen reach ceasefire in Arhab
The Sana’a mayor’s intervention in Arhab has successfully brokered a ceasefire between Houthi militants and the al-Ahmar clan, an influential family in the Hashid tribal confederation, after fierce fighting over the weekend. As part of the agreement, both sides have agreed to withdraw their forces from Amran province. The al-Ahmar clan, closely tied to the Islamist Islah party, accuses the Houthis of opportunistically expanding their influence while acting as Iranian proxies. For their part, the Houthis claim the al-Ahmar and Saudi Arabia are backing extremists in the northern province of Sa’ada. [Yemen Post, 2/4/2014]

Bus bombing in Sana’a
A bus transporting soldiers in Sana’a was the target of an attack this morning; several soldiers were killed and wounded. Security officials are unsure of who perpetrated the attack and it is also unclear whether an improvised explosive device or a rocket propelled grenade was used. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/4/2014]

Politician labeled terrorist says he is innocent
Abdulwahab al-Homayqani, head of Yemen’s Salafi Rashad party, was accused of funneling money to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) by the United States in December of last  year, labeling him a “specially designated global terrorist.” Homayqani discussed the accusation in an interview, accusing factions loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh of funneling false intelligence to the United States. Homayqani further stated that battling AQAP was the duty of all Muslims and that the Rashad party rejects all forms of political violence. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/3/2014]

Foreign minister blames recent spate of kidnappings on ransom payments
Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen’s foreign minister, says that ransom payments for abducted foreigners is the reason kidnappings continue to occur. In recent days, a British national and a German student were abducted, with kidnappers demanding that the government release imprisoned family members in one instance. Qirbi called for continued international support to aid Yemen’s counterterrorism efforts. A South African national is also being held by al-Qaeda militants; his capture has lasted nearly ten months. [Mareb Press, 2/4/2014]


Iraq’s Sunni bloc boycotts parliament over Anbar crisis
The Sunni Mutahidoun Coalition, Iraq’s biggest Sunni bloc. Though Iraqi security forces have been battling the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the country’s western provinces, Sunni MPs point to deteriorating conditions for their constituents, 140,000 of which have been displaced by the conflict. A spokesperson with PM Nuri al-Maliki’s coalition questioned the Sunni bloc’s stance, saying that they also blame the government for turning a blind eye to ISIS crimes. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/4/2014]

Obama to visit Saudi Arabia
In March, President Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah. The meeting will focus on a range of security issues that have strained US-Saudi relations. In particular, according to a statement from the White House, discussions will focus on Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security. Last October, Saudi Arabia turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council in a display of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief said the kingdom was looking at making a “major shift” in relations with the United States. In November, King Abdullah met with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss concerns about the unwillingness of the United State to intervene in Syria and recent overtures towards Iran. [Al Arabiya, 2/3/2014]

Suicide bomb kills two in Beirut
A suicide bomber killed at least two people on Monday in Choueifat, a southern district of Beirut, when he blew himself up on a minibus during rush hour traffic. According to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, the suicide bomber was trying to reach the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahya. This is one in a series of deadly bombings that are linked to the civil war in Syria and have targeted Shiite districts of Beirut’s southern suburbs in recent months. These attacks are believed to be retaliation for Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s conflict and support for Assad. [Al Arabiya, 2/3/2014]

One year minimum in jail for offending Bahrain’s king
Bahrain’s state news agency announced that King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has issued a new law regarding public offenses against the king. “A prison sentence of a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years,” the law reads, “for any person who offends publically the Monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the national flag or emblem, and the penalty shall be tightened if the offence was committed in the presence of the King.” A fine is also imposed on violators. [Bahrain News Agency, 2/4/2014]