Top News: Egypt is Trying to ‘Protect’ Human Rights Says Germany’s Merkel

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi defended Egypt’s human rights record during a visit to Germany, amid concerns over death sentences handed to dozens of Islamist figures. “We are keen on lives and on human beings,” Sisi said during a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday in Berlin. “We are seeking to foster high human values in the face of tough circumstances.” In a joint press conference, aired live on Egyptian state television, Merkel said she and Sisi discussed human rights and how “Egypt is trying to protect them.” Merkel said that she hoped Cairo would move to resolve the controversial death penalty issue and protect human rights. The chancellor added that her talks with Sisi have tackled militant violence in the region and the key role Cairo is playing to combat terrorism. [Aswat MasriyaAhram OnlineMada Masr, 6/3/2015]



US Congress seeks to lift last restrictions on aid to Egypt
The US House Appropriations Committee released a foreign aid bill June 2 that removes human rights restrictions on assistance to Egypt. The proposed appropriations bill eliminates previous requirements that Egypt hold “free and fair” parliamentary elections and take steps to foster democracy and protect human rights before $1.3 billion in military aid can be released. Doing so would in effect revert US bilateral assistance to the way it was under strongman Hosni Mubarak, with Egypt only required to sustain its strategic relationship with the United States and uphold its peace treaty with Israel. The bill comes as the State Department has informed Congress that it cannot certify Egypt’s democratic progress under the existing law. In a blistering assessment sent to Congress on May 12, the State Department bemoans a “pervasive lack of respect for international due process standards and other fair trial safeguards.” Still, the proposed changes appear to have bipartisan appeal. The subcommittee is scheduled to mark up the bill June 3. [Al-Monitor, 6/2/2015]

Egypt is trying to ‘protect’ human rights says Germany’s Merkel
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi defended Egypt’s human rights record during a visit to Germany, amid concerns over death sentences handed to dozens of Islamist figures. “We are keen on lives and on human beings,” Sisi said during a joint press conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday in Berlin. “We are seeking to foster high human values in the face of tough circumstances.” In a joint press conference, aired live on Egyptian state television, Merkel said she and Sisi discussed human rights and how “Egypt is trying to protect them.” Merkel said that she hoped Cairo would move to resolve the controversial death penalty issue and protect human rights. The chancellor added that her talks with Sisi have tackled militant violence in the region and the key role Cairo is playing to combat terrorism. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 6/3/2015]

Activist group reports surge in forced disappearances, arrests
Freedom for the Brave, a grassroots activist group campaigning for the release of political detainees, issued a statement on Tuesday saying there has been an unprecedented surge in the arrest and disappearance of young activists in Egypt. The statement urged families to report the arrests to the prosecutor. According to the group, individuals who have disappeared include April 6 member Ahmed Khattab, who was arrested in the street at dawn, as well as Dalia Radwan, and student Abdel Rahman al-Beyaly, who the group says were arrested from their homes. Meanwhile, freelance photojournalist Esraa al-Taweel, Al Jazeera trial defendant Sohaib Saad, and Omar Mohamed were announced missing Tuesday after disappearing since Monday. The three were not found in nearby police stations, and their relatives expressed fear over them being “abducted.” Magdy Ashour, who starred in the Oscar nominated documentary The Square, was arrested from his house in the Haram neighborhood in Giza Tuesday. Mohamed Sobhy, a lawyer from Nedal rights organization, confirmed Ashour was arrested, citing an ongoing campaign of arrests in the past two days. [Egypt Independent, DNE, 6/3/2015]

Gunmen kill two tourism policemen near Giza pyramids
Gunmen on a motorcycle shot dead two members of Egypt’s tourism and antiquities police force and left one police conscript injured on a road near the Giza pyramids on Wednesday, security sources said, in a rare attack near a tourist site. The assailants “fired a barrage of bullets” at the policemen, Mohamed Farouk, the director of Giza investigations said. The gunmen fled the area and that an investigation was underway, according to the state MENA news agency said. It was not immediately clear what motivated the Giza attack. [Reuters , Aswat Masriya, AP, Ahram Online, 6/3/2015]

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Algiers hosts third meeting of inter-Libyan dialogue
The Arab League General Secretariat called on Libyan political parties to resort to dialogue and to respond to the efforts of several Arab countries and the United Nation to form a national unity government and bring Libya out of crisis. The third meeting of the inter-Libyan dialogue started Wednesday, bringing together Libyan political leaders and social activists to find solutions to the country’s ongoing conflict. Bernardino Leon, UN Special Representative for Libya, said in the meeting that most groups are in support of a political solution, adding that 75 percent of Libyan political leaders wanted peace and emphasizing that “to not reach an agreement and continue the confrontation is not an option, the country is really at its limit.” [Algerie Presse Service/AllAfrica, Reuters, 6/3/2015]

Cyrenaican tribes in Libya call for restoration of 1951 constitution
A meeting of tribes from Cyrenaica, held south of Beida yesterday, demanded that Libya’s 1951 constitution be reinstated. The tribes affirmed that the House of Representatives (House) is the only body that can question or sack the government but expressed concerns about it, particularly over allegations of corruption in the Audit Commission. Delegates also complained that the Constitution Drafting Assembly is working too slowly and that what it has produced so far is unacceptable. They explored possible next steps with an eye beyond October 21, the date widely believed to be when the House’s mandate expires. Fearing a political vacuum in the country, delegates called on the House to produce a roadmap for the post-October 21 period, putting forth several recommendations. [Libya Herald, 6/3/2015]

Tebu and Tuareg reach ceasefire agreement
Tuareg and Tebu elders in Obari have agreed to a ceasefire as a prelude to a permanent peace deal. There have been numerous attempts by leading Libyan figures, including Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and General Khalifa Haftar, to mediate an end to the fighting between the two groups, which broke out last September. According to a Tuareg activist, however, the recent agreement was an endeavor undertaken by local elders, given the dire situation in the town, where food, water, and medical supplies were severely dwindling. The elders had been pushed to forge an agreement and did so without outside intervention, the activist said. [Libya Herald, 6/3/2015]

Libya blocks UN action on EU migrant plan
Libya’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ebrahim Dabbashi said on Tuesday that his government refuses to consent to UN action aimed at endorsing the European Union’s proposed military strategy to fight migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean. He pointed that there will be no consensus on the plan so long as European governments keep discussing it with Libyan militias controlling coastal territory. [Gulf News, 6/3/2015]

Tunisia to send consul to Damascus
As part of efforts to resume diplomatic ties with Syria, Tunisia will send a consul to Damascus by the end of the month, said Touhami Abdouli, Secretary of State for Arab and African affairs at Tunisia’s foreign ministry. The consul will be able to take office in Damascus once approved by the Syrian government. Abdouli specified that one of the issues to be examined is the release of forty-three Tunisian detainees held in a number of Syrian prisons. According to Abdouli, the Syrian state had promised their release on the condition that the two countries resume diplomatic relations. The detainees have reportedly not been charged with terrorist offenses. [ANSAmed, 6/3/2015]

Tunisia’s ruling quartet calls for national social dialogue
Following a coordination meeting with Prime Minister Habib Essid, the ruling quartet—comprising the four parties that have formed a coalition government—called for a national social dialogue to establish new socio-professional relations. They say such an effort will help get Tunisians back to work, relaunch investment, and generate prosperity. A leading figure from the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) affirmed that social claims are legitimate but called for Tunisians to return to work and resume productivity, given the country’s difficult economic situation. UPL, Nidaa Tounes, Ennahdha, and Afek Tounes comprise the quartet. [TAP, 6/3/2015]


Fact-finding team heads to Syria to probe toxic chemical use
A fact-finding team with the global chemical weapons watchdog is going to Syria to look into recent allegations of attacks using toxic chemicals. The latest monthly report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it received a letter from the Syrian government on May 21, 2015 with the permission needed for the team to go to Damascus. The team will look into allegations reported by the Syrian government and separate allegations by activists and doctors who say chlorine has been repeatedly used against civilians in recent weeks. In related news, government barrel bomb attacks on Wednesday killed at least twenty-four, including children, in the northern Syrian provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. [AP, 6/2/2015]

US-led coalition doubles down on ISIS strategy; more than 10,000 militants killed
The US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is doubling down on its strategy to fight the extremists, insisting on staying the course it set last year despite ISIS’s recent conquests on both sides of the border between Iraq and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pressed his case Tuesday in Paris for more support from the twenty-five countries in the coalition. A member of the main Western-backed Syrian Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, criticized the plan, saying the United States was avoiding targeting the Assad government and making it easier for ISIS’s takeover. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that the coalition is working on a plan to “streamline the provision of weapons to the forces that need them,” and the coalition, since its creation nine months ago, has killed more than 10,000 ISIS fighters. [AP, AFP, 6/2/2015]

Syrian refugees stranded at Jordanian border
Jordanian border restrictions have left hundreds of Syrians refugees stranded in a remote desert area, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, urging Jordan to let them enter the country. About 2,500 Syrians were stuck in the remote area just inside Jordan in mid-April, according to a report based on satellite images, aid agency reports, and testimony from refugees. The number of stranded Syrians dropped to 1,000 in late May after Jordan allowed some to move out of the border zone. [AP, AFP, 6/3/2015]

ISIS fighters attack city of Hasaka in northeastern Syria
ISIS militants launched a major attack on the predominantly Kurdish city of Hasaka in northeastern Syria, activists and Syrian state media said Wednesday. The push, which began on Tuesday night, appears to be an attempt by ISIS to reverse some of the advances made recently by Kurdish fighters in the province. Syrian state TV said ISIS extremists are battling for control of a juvenile prison still under construction on Hasaka’s southern edge and have so far attacked it with five suicide car bombs. In related news, Hezbollah fighters Wednesday seized four hilltops from militants on the outskirts of Arsal, a Lebanese town bordering Syria. Thousands of fighters affiliated with ISIS, the Nusra Front, and other extremist groups have been operating around Arsal since last spring. [AP, 6/3/2015]


Saudi-led air strikes continue across Yemen
At least twenty people were killed on Tuesday by Saudi war jets in different Yemeni governorates.A security source said that the Saudi-led air strikes were carried out in Sa’ada, Taiz, Aden, al-Dalie, and Sana’a. Explosions rocked Sana’a as Saudi- led coalition warplanes launched raids on several military sites controlled by Houthis and forces loyal to the ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh including the transportation military camp and the First Armored Division. Almaseera TV channel, controlled by the Houthis, reported that there were casualties in the raids targeting the transportation military camp near the ministry of information but did not give any numbers. Coalition aircrafts are still hovering around the capital, while Houthi militants continue to fire anti-aircraft munitions. [SABA, Yemen Times, Reuters, 6/3/2015]

Civilians killed in Houthi rocket attack in Aden
Civilians, including children, were killed and injured after Houthi militants fired a rocket on a car in Yemen’s port city of Aden, local sources said on Tuesday. Militants stationed at a Houthi checkpoint attacked the victims while they were driving on the highway leading the Fryoush district, they said. Houthis have detained many vegetable traders in this district, preventing them from reaching the people as part of a months-long siege around Aden. Clashes between pro-government and pro-Houthi forces using heavy weapons also continued in the Mimlah district, local sources said. In Hodeida, witnesses said Houthi militants killed a civilian after an argument at a fuel station. Several civilians were also killed after Houthis shelled populated areas in Taiz. [Yemen Post, 6/2/2015]

Hope for UN-led peace talks as Hadi and al-Houthi agree to participate
Yemen’s exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has agreed to travel to Geneva for peace talks with Houthi rebels who have taken over large swaths of his country, an aide said Tuesday. A UN official expects the talks to begin by June 10, although no new date for the UN-led talks has been officially announced. The second-in-command of Yemen’s Houthi rebels insists they are ready to travel to Geneva for UN-mediated peace talks on resolving the country’s crisis. The participation agreements come shortly after the UN Security Council’s press release calling on all Yemeni political factions to participate in the peace negotiations. The Security Council urged all parties to provide safe corridors for emergency personnel and relief agencies to deliver humanitarian aid and medical services. [AP, SABA (Arabic),6/3/2105]

Bahrain dismantles terrorist cell
Bahrain has dismantled a fourteen-member cell that carried out acts of terrorism between 2013 and 2015, the president of the Terror Crime Prosecution has said. Advocate General Ahmad al-Hammadi said that the terrorist group carried out terrorist acts over three years. “Ten suspects have been arrested and questioned by the public prosecution in the presence of their lawyers. All, except one, pleaded guilty to the accusations levelled at them. They are facing charges of setting up and joining a terrorist group, attempted murder of policemen, possessing and using explosive substances, carrying out explosions, training in using and making weapons and explosives and damaging properties for terror purposes.” [Gulf News, 6/3/2015]


IMF says Saudi Arabia may issue government bonds this year
The Saudi government may resume issuing bonds this year, easing downward pressure on the country’s foreign reserves caused by low oil prices, a senior official from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said after talks with Saudi officials. Bond issues would signal a large shift in Saudi economic policy, however Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf has said it is a possibility. Riyadh has been focusing on paying down its obligations; public debt fell to $11.8 billion at the end of last year, just 1.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The government last issued a development bond in 2007. Meanwhile, data showed Wednesday that growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private sector slowed to a twelve-month low in May as expansion of both output and new orders slackened. [Reuters, 6/3/2015]

Iraq sees 100,000-bpd export boost from Basra Heavy oil
Iraq’s oil exports, already running at record highs, may rise a further 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) this month due to the launch of a new Basra Heavy crude grade, Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said on the sidelines of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) seminar in Vienna. He said creating a new heavy oil stream has allowed Iraq to revive some fields that had been shut to maintain the quality of the Basra Light grade, which had come under criticism from some buyers over varying quality specifications. Exports rose to a record 3.145 million bpd in May, of which about 2.7 million went through the southern Basra terminals. Speaking at the seminar, Mahdi cited optimism regarding OPEC’s current strategy. [Reuters, 6/3/2015]

Egypt business activity steadier in May as employment rises
Business activity in Egypt’s private sector, excluding oil, shrank for the fifth month in a row in May but edged closer to expansion as employment rose. The HSBC Egypt Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) rose to 49.9 in May, almost touching the 50 mark. Scores above 50 signal growth in business activity. Meanwhile, employment rose for the first time in six months, with some companies saying they raised staffing levels because of new projects. Unemployment currently stands at 12.8 percent according to the Egyptian government’s statistics agency, but analysts believe actual unemployment may be higher. [Reuters, 6/3/2015]

IMF says Tunisia has margin to lower oil prices
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Mission Chief for Tunisia Amine Mati said that in light of declining global oil prices, Tunisia has a margin to lower oil prices on the local market. Speaking at a hearing held between the IMF mission and members of the Tunisia’s House of People’s Representatives, Mati added that Tunisia should find ways to support marginalized groups should it decide to lower oil prices. An IMF review mission has begun a series of consultations with government officials and representatives from political parties and civil society groups to evaluate the progress of Tunisia’s reforms. The review is scheduled to end on June 10, ahead of the IMF’s Executive Board meeting in late July. [All Africa/TAP, 6/2/2015]