Top News: Congress Expected to Adopt Bill Allowing Release of Military Aid to Egypt

The long-term spending bill that Congress is expected to adopt this week would allow the State Department to resume military aid to Egypt despite ongoing concerns with the country’s human rights record. The bill specifies a number of requirements before the $1.3 billion in annual military assistance can resume but reinstates Secretary of State John Kerry waiver authority, allowing him to bypass them for “national security” reasons. Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Cairo was among eight diplomatic missions issuing warnings to US citizens warning of the potential of “anti-US protests and violence against US interests” following the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report. [Al Monitor, 12/11/2014]



Parties concerned over Egypt’s draft parliamentary constituencies law
Several political parties and forces in Egypt reacted to the new draft law redrawing Egypt’s electoral constituencies issued Tuesday, emphasizing the need to verify a balanced and fair representation of seats in proportion to the number of voters in a given electoral district. Otherwise, they say, the legality of the law will be disputed. Farid Zahran, the leading member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, believes that political forces in Egypt need time to study the law. The division of administrative regions in the draft law also concerns him. Ahmed Fawzi, general secretary of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, believes that the current draft law of electoral constituencies alone, and without real reform, will kill parties and political life in Egypt. Salah Hassab-Allah, deputy head of the Conference Party, told Ahram Online that despite the fear of any imbalance in the representation of seats against the number of voters in a given district, he and his party supports the law. He also expressed concerns that the law can be disputed. Bahgat al-Hossamy, spokesperson of Wafd Party, also expressed concerns over how the law might be challenged in the case of a disproportionate allocation of seats. [Ahram Online, 12/10/2014]

Thirty-four protesters convicted for Raba’a anniversary violence
Old Cairo Misdemeanor Court fined seventeen protesters 100,000 Egyptian pounds each on charges related to violence on this year’s anniversary of the pro-Morsi Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in in August. They were charged with illegal assembly, rioting, vandalizing public and private property, and joining an outlawed group. The court added that the conviction would not be applied to those under eighteen. A Kafr al-Sheikh misdemeanor court also sentenced seventeen alleged Brotherhood members on similar charges to three years in prison. The defendants were also fined fifty thousand Egyptian pounds each. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/11/2014]

Ministry of Endowments warns against Baha’i threat
The Ministry of Endowments organized a workshop on Wednesday and Thursday to raise awareness among imams on the “growing dangers of the spread of Baha’ism,” the ministry said. According to the ministry, this workshop comes in the context of “maintaining the Islamic constants and foundations in the face of deviant thoughts that destroy the minds of young people.” The workshop, held in Abassiya’s Nour Mosque, is also intended to maintain “national security and stability” as Baha’i thought “threatens Islam specifically and Egyptian society in general,” according to the ministry. The workshop also aims to teach young imams how to respond to Baha’i thoughts and arguments. [DNE, 12/11/2014]

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Fighting in Benghazi kills almost fifty people in ten days, say medics
Forty-eight people have been killed in the past ten days of fighting between Libyan pro-government forces and Islamist groups in violence-ridden Benghazi, according to medical personnel. The death toll has now reached around 450 since forces led by former general Khalifa Haftar launched the Operation Dignity offensive against Islamists in Benghazi back in May. Banks and shops have reopened in some districts where fighting has ended, but the conflict appears to be stalemated at the city’s port. A Haftar spokesman said reinforcements were coming from the eastern cities of Tobruk and Ajdabiya to help pro-government forces in Benghazi. [Reuters, 12/10/2014]

Operation Libya Dawn refutes claims of House member
Operation Libya Dawn blasted a Misratan House of Representatives member, Fathi Bushaga, for claiming that the General National Congress (GNC)-appointed Tripoli government was illegitimate. Bushaga has been boycotting the elected, internationally recognized parliament’s sessions in Tobruk. In an interview, he said that Libya Dawn’s sole mandate was to purge the main Tripoli airport of Zintani militias and nothing more. He also asserted that the Omar al-Hassi administration is not legitimate because it was not appointed legally, as the GNC lacked quorum when voting to appoint al-Hassi. In response, Libya Dawn said its objective was to “correct the course of the February 17 revolution,” defending its armed operations as a struggle against counter-revolutionary elements. [Libya Herald, 12/10/2014]

ICC refers Libya to UN over trial of Qaddafi’s son
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have ruled that Libya failed to comply with a request to hand over the son of late dictator Moammar Qaddafi for prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity and referred the matter to the UN Security Council. The Security Council could impose new sanctions on the Libyan government, though it’s unclear whether any new action would be effective as the country is split between two warring governments. The militia holding Seif al-Islam Qaddafi in the western town of Zintan refuses to surrender him. Libya has begun its own trial against him and has argued that its courts should be given precedence. [AP, 12/10/2014]

Tunisians call for presidential debate
Tunisians are demanding a televised debate between incumbent President Moncef Marzouki and challenger Beji Caid Essebsi, arguing that such events in democratic countries give the electorate a clear vision before the vote. An online call for a debate between the rivals has seen lots of activity on social networks. According to organizers of the internet campaign, a debate would give Tunisians the opportunity to evaluate the candidates before the run-off election later this month, and give the candidates a chance to present their programs and projects for the country. [Magharebia, 12/10/2014]

Morocco youth discuss political activism
Young campaigners recently met in Rabat to discuss political activism in the wake of the Arab push for democracy. The December 3-4 event was organized by the Centre for Human Rights Studies and Democracy (CEDHD) in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Conference participant and February 20 Movement activist Amina Boghalbi pointed at the state for the reluctance of young people to participate in politics. But she did not exclude the responsibility of parties for the unwillingness of youth to engage in political action. [Magharebia, 12/10/2014]


McGurk says anti-ISIS coalition at odds over strategy; Rebels unable to defeat Assad
In a grim assessment before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Brett McGurk, one of the State Department’s pointmen in managing the international response to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), said that Syria’s armed opposition will not be able to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad now or in the foreseeable future. “We do not see a situation in which the rebels are able to remove him from power. It will have to be a diplomatic process.” McGurk testified that the anti-ISIS coalition has no unified strategy toward Assad due to internal disagreements whether Assad’s removal would increase stability. McGurk added that he “hopes” the US program to train and equip 5,000 mainstream Syrian rebels will begin in March 2015. A number of US lawmakers were skeptical of the testimony. [FP, AP, 12/11/2015]

Syria’s southern rebels take step toward unity
Rebels in southern Syria say they have taken a step toward unity that may attract more support from their Western and Arab backers, forging a joint defense pact to help shield them from government forces and ISIS. The south is the last major stronghold of the mainstream opposition following the expansion of the Islamic State in the east and north and gains by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in the northwest. “The joint defense agreement is part of the complete plan for uniting the southern front,” said Bashar al-Zoubi, head of the Yarmouk Army–one of the biggest rebel groups in the south. The agreement dated Dec. 6 and signed by seventeen rebel leaders was seen by Reuters. The agreement follows a unification pact of northern rebel groups this month, albeit under a different rationale. [Reuters, 12/11/2014]

ISIS executes its top official in Mosul
The Islamic State has executed several of its own militants, including the group’s top official in Mosul, on charges of espionage, Kurdish sources told reporters on Tuesday. A Kurdistan Democratic Party spokesman said that the Islamic State’s former governor in Mosul was executed by a firing squad on Tuesday morning after he was sacked and subsequently arrested. The militant group also executed nine other fighters under charges of fleeing the battlefield. The Kurdish official said that over 200 ISIS militants have been executed in Mosul so far, the majority of whom are Iraqi. [Asharq al-Awsat. 12/10/2014]

US launches new strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, Iraq
The United States launched twenty airstrikes against Islamic State militants on Wednesday striking targets in the Iraqi cities of Ramadi, Mosul, and Samarra while also targeting militant positions in Kobani as well as near Sinjar mountain. A statement from the Combined Joint Task Force tasked with overseeing the coalition effort confirmed that US forces have conducted seven strikes against the militant group in Syria and led thirteen airstrikes in Iraq since Monday. [Reuters, 12/10/2014]

Saudi Arabia moves closer to reopening Baghdad embassy
Saudi Arabia is set to send a delegation to Baghdad within a few weeks to choose a location for its embassy in coordination with the Iraqi government, a foreign ministry source told Asharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday. Saudi foreign ministry spokesman Ambassador Osama Naqli said that the delegation would evaluate possible locations around Baghdad but did not set a specific opening date. Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1990 after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/11/2014]

ISIS suicide attacks kill twelve in Baghdad, Samarra
A suicide bomb and mortar attack by Islamic State militants killed twelve Shia militia fighters in Samarra Wednesday while a separate attack in the Iraqi capital killed at least six people and injured twenty-three others. Iraqi security officials said that ISIS militants commandeered an armored Humvee, rigged it with explosives, and drove it into a school where Shia fighters were based near Dijla district, twelve miles south of Samarra. Separate attacks in Anbar province killed three people after militants attacked an army post in the town of Garma. [The Daily Star, 12/11/2014]


Military source says Houthis take control of Sana’a air defense systems
Yemen’s air defenses are now under control of the Houthi movement after the Shi’ite militia took control of Daylami Air Base, home of the country’s main missile system close to the capital Sana’a, military sources said. A high-level military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “The Houthis are now in control of more than one third of Yemen’s combined air, land and naval forces, including some of Yemen’s most strategically important bases … Most military and political officials are under virtual house arrest.” The senior military official claimed that President Hadi is no longer in control of decision-making in Yemen, describing his role at the present time as “ceremonial.” [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/11/2014]

Al-Qaeda in Yemen blames US for death of hostages in raid
Al Qaeda in Yemen blames the United States for the death of a U.S. and South African hostage killed in a failed rescue attempt by US forces, an official of the militant group said, arguing Washington had “foolishly” chosen armed force over negotiation. US President Barack Obama “and his government knew the fairness of our demands, and they could have at least negotiated with us about them, or been sincere in this matter”, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi said in a video published on Thursday by the SITE Intelligence group, which monitors Islamist militants. “Despite our warning to him not to act foolishly … he chose a military solution, which failed before and failed once again.” [Reuters, AFP, 12/11/2014]

Houthis reject Hadi’s choice for a new chief of staff
The armed Houthi group rejected President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s choice for chief of staff. Hadi issued decree 142/2014 selecting Brig. General Hussein Nagi Hadi Khairan as a replacement for Ahmed Ali al-Ashour who was appointed to the Shura Council. Houthis rejected the decree, claiming that their armed men occupying the ministry of defense and general administration buildings would refuse entry to the general if he should try to begin his work. The Houthi leadership submitted three other names for President Hadi’s consideration to replace Khairan. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/11/2014]

Saudi Arabia to reopen embassy in Baghdad
Saudi Arabia is sending a technical team to Baghdad to scout for a location for its embassy in the Iraqi capital. The mission is being coordinated with the Iraqi government ahead of the opening the diplomatic mission in Baghdad more than 24 years after the last Saudi ambassador residing in the Iraqi capital left the country following the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi army in August 1990. The new embassy building will be inside the Green Zone, the fortified area that contains a number of Iraqi ministries and the US and British embassies, and the location-finding mission will be in Iraq within weeks, Osama Naqli, the head of the media at the foreign ministry said. [Asharq al-Awsat, Gulf News, 12/11/2014]

Kuwait to halt recruiting Indian laborers after standoff with India
Three supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) group in Saudi Arabia have been arrested for shooting and wounding a Danish citizen last month, the interior ministry said on Thursday. “The perpetrators of this vile attack, three Saudis, have been arrested,” ministry spokesman General Mansour al-Turki said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. He said they “perpetrated their crime in support of the terrorist group ISIS.” [Gulf News, 12/11/2014]


Tunisia’s parliament unveils 2015 draft budget
Interim President Medhi Jomaa on Wednesday presented draft proposals to the 2015 state budget to the newly elected parliament and urged its members to maintain the pace of structural reforms taken to stabilize the country’s economy. Jomaa said that his administration had taken aggressive measures to combat a stagnated growth rate, high unemployment, and rising commodity prices but emphasized the fragile state of the country’s economy. The prime minister implored members of the legislative body to adopt new structural reforms, including a recently proposed finance bill, in order to address trade deficits, lagging productivity and low foreign investment. The 2015 draft bill forecasts a growth rate of 3 percent and an inflation rate of 5.2 percent. [TAP, Reuters, 12/11/2014]

Jordan growth to accelerate next year on cheaper oil
According to Jordan’s deputy central bank governor, Jordan’s economic growth is expected to accelerate to 4 percent in the next year due to the falling oil prices. Jordan imports all of its oil and thus benefits from the low prices, which lessen the burden on the country’s account deficit. In the short term, cheaper oil strengthens the government’s position by reducing fuel subsidies and losses by the state electricity company. In the medium term, low oil prices could negatively affect growth by reducing foreign direct investments and remittances from the Gulf. [Reuters, 12/10/2014]

Al-Thinni seeks to control oil revenues by bypassing central bank in Tripoli
Libya’s recognized government in Tobruk wants to control the country’s oil revenues by stopping any payments through Tripoli bank accounts out of its reach. The central bank, which books oil revenues, has sought to stay out of the political struggle, but each warring bloc has appointed its own competing officials to run the vital oil sector as well as the state National Oil Corporation. In an attempt to corral the country’s oil revenues, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said his government would set up an alternative payment system that bypasses Tripoli. He boasted that his government controlled up to 80 percent of Libya’s oil ports and terminals. It remains difficult to assess what level of control each authority has over the country’s oil revenues. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/11/2014]