Top News: Egypt may see presidential vote held first, President to receive draft constitution

Egypt’s political transition was pitched into uncertainty on Sunday when a draft constitution was amended to allow a presidential election to be held before parliamentary polls, indicating a potential change in the army’s roadmap. The fifty-member committee concluded Sunday night its amendment of the 2012 constitution, after passing four articles that failed to get the required votes in an earlier voting session, according to news reports. The committee is scheduled to hand the draft document to Interim President Adly Mansour on Tuesday. The draft avoids saying which vote should happen first, leaving the decision up to President Adly Mansour, seen as a front for army rule since he was installed to head the interim administration. The draft also says the “election procedures” must start within six months of the constitution’s ratification, meaning Egypt may not have an elected president and parliament until the second half of next year. A major milestone in Egypt’s political roadmap, the constitution must be approved in a referendum expected this month or next. [ReutersMada MasrSIS, 12/1/2013]


Egypt prosecutors release April 6 leader Ahmed Maher, extend detention of Alaa Abdel-Fattah
Prosecutors released April 6 Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher on Sunday afternoon, a judicial source has told Ahram Online. Maher’s arrest was ordered after April 6 took part in demonstrations outside parliament on Tuesday in defiance of a new protest law. He was charged with rioting, assaulting police officers, blocking roads and violating the protest law. Maher turned himself in to prosecutors on Saturday. Prosecutors have renewed the detention of leading activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah for a further fifteen days, a judicial source said on Sunday. He was also accused of inciting demonstrations in breach of a new protest law. [Ahram Online, 12/1/2013]

Saudi Arabia will provide Egypt with $5 billion package
A senior official at Egypt’s ministry of finance said Saudi Arabia would offer a new aid package to Egypt worth 5 billion dollars. “Negotiations over this package have lasted for nearly one month. It includes grants, a deposit in the Central Bank of Egypt and oil products,” the Anadolu news agency quoted the official. The official reportedly said that the package also includes a non-refundable grant of $1 billion, adding that additional details will be announced soon. [Egypt Independent, 12/1/2013]

Hagel and Ashton voice concern over arrest, government restrictions
United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel voiced his government’s concern over the Egyptian government’s restriction of demonstrations and protests on Saturday. During a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart, Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Hagel also raised the issue of the continued arrest of Egyptian activists and the arrest of a group of girls, who were sentenced last week in Alexandria. On Sunday, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton also voiced some concerns over recent developments in Egypt. “The reported use of force, arrests, and disproportionate sentences can only impede the country’s transition to democracy,” said a statement issued from Ashton’s office.  Ashton met with Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din last week to discuss the human rights situation further. [DNE, 12/1/2013]


Libya’s army tells militias, protesters to free up oil ports
Libya’s army has called on former fighters and protesters to end their occupations of the oil fields and ports and to allow crude exports to resume, saying Libya risks sliding into lawlessness. Analysts estimate the shutdowns have cost the country $6 billion in losses. In its statement, the army repeated Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s warnings that militias which do not join the regular armed forces by December 15 would be removed from the government payroll. Meanwhile, the Tripoli Local Council has suspended its general strike, which began after the Gharghour massacre, saying it will give the government fifteen days to implement the law ordering all militias to withdraw from the capital. The United States and its allies are offering to train a General Purpose Force, meant to fill the country’s security vacuum, but many challenges remain as armed groups are divided and outside actors support favored militias. [Reuters, 12/01/2013]

Libyan municipalities conduct council elections
The first in a series of what will be 102 municipal elections took place across four towns in the south and east of the country to replace local councils set up after the 2011 revolution. The elections, the second since the revolution, are a test for Libyan authorities and are meant to ensure decentralization and to strengthen local governance. Tebu protesters, who have been demonstrating near the Sarir oil field and power station and have blocked the road from Kufra to Benghazi, have extended by one week their deadline for a government response to their demands. The Tebus want the small town of Rebyana, west of Kufra, to have its own independent municipal council and the Tebu areas of Kufra to have a subcouncil separate from the town’s Arab-controlled governing body. [Tripoli Post, 12/01/2013]

Owner of Tripoli FM found shot dead
The owner and chief executive of the radio station Tripoli FM was found dead by members of the Libyan army. The radio station had not received any threats, according to one colleague. Police are investigating the case. In another assassination targeting security personnel, a twenty-one year old member of the Preventative Security Force in Benghazi was shot dead outside his home, the second such killing in as many days. Also in Benghazi, Ansar al-Sharia’s clinic was damaged by a bomb attack. [Libya Herald, 12/02/2013]

Libya says UN special force is not foreign military presence
In a statement issued by the foreign ministry, authorities said the UN special force that may be sent to Libya in the future will be limited in scope to the UN mission’s headquarters and would not constitute a foreign military presence in the country. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is in the process of deploying a 235-member team, including administrative and services staff, to protect UNSMIL offices and staff residence quarters. The UN Security Council approved the request for special forces; Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had stated in a letter to the council that UN staff are “at increased risk of attack” due to the worsening security situation in Libya. [Tripoli Post, 11/29/2013]


Toll in Syria’s conflict hits 126,000; UN suggests Assad guilty of crimes against humanity
The toll in thirty-three months of Syria’s brutal conflict has left nearly 126,000 people dead, according to the principal tracking group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The dead include 44,381 civilians, among them 6,627 children and 4,454 women. The group said at least 27,746 opposition fighters had been killed, as well as 50,927 among those fighting for Assad’s government. The UN human rights chief says there is mounting evidence that Syrian government officials including President Bashar Assad are responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes. A UN panel investigating abuses in Syria’s civil war has produced “massive evidence” of crimes that “indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state.” [AFP, 12/2/2013]

Kurdish group announces intent to seek autonomy in a federal Syria
Following two months of significant military gains, Syria’s Democratic Union Party, the country’s most powerful Kurdish group, hopes to create an autonomous Kurdish region in a federal Syria, its chief Salih Muslim said Sunday. Speaking during a visit to France, Salih Muslim confirmed that a commission is in the process of preparing a constitution for the northeastern and northwestern regions of Syria that are majority Kurdish. “The Kurdistan region will be divided into three autonomous provinces: Kobani (center), Afrin (west) and Qamishli (east). The goal is not to secede, but the Kurds want a federal system in Syria.” Syria’s Kurds make up around fifteen percent of the population and are mostly concentrated in the northeast and northwest. [Naharnet, 12/3/2013]

Fighting spills across borders into Lebanon and Israel
Syrian army helicopters bombarded the northern rebel-held town of al-Bab for a second day on Sunday, killing twenty people including four women when they dropped improvised barrel bombs on a market district. Three people were killed overnight in fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on Sunday, raising to nine the death toll in twenty hours of violence fueled by sectarian tensions over Syria’s civil war. A mortar shell fired from war-torn Syria struck the outskirts of a town in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Monday, landing on the western edge of Majdal Shams, but caused no injuries or damage. [Reuters, 12/2/2013]

US ship to destroy most dangerous chemicals; UN rejects Syrian request to convert chemical facilities
The United States has offered to destroy Syrian chemicals on a US ship, the UN chemical weapons watchdog said on Saturday, and is looking for a suitable Mediterranean port where processing can be carried out. Dozens of private firms are bidding for commercial contracts to destroy more than 800 tons of bulk industrial chemicals, but another 500 tons of chemicals, including nerve agents, are seen as too dangerous to import into a country or process commercially, and will be treated offshore on the US ship MV Cape Ray. The UN chemical watchdog on Friday rejected a request by the Syrian government to convert twelve of the chemical facilities into storage points. [Reuters, 11/30/2013]


NCA restarts work; Opposition will participate only within compromise commission
National Constituent Assembly (NCA) committees have restarted meetings without opposition members after the assembly overturned problematic changes to its procedural rules. Opposition parties stated that they will resume their activities early this week but only within the compromise commission over the constitution. NCA watchdog Al Bawsala reported that the consensus committee, created in June to iron out differences over the draft constitution, and the committee to select the elections board met Thursday and Friday after twenty days of inaction. Ettakatol party, which had joined the opposition in a boycott of NCA activities, attended the meetings. An opposition deputy said Friday that “it seems sponsors of national dialogue will announce major decisions on Monday; we will decide then if we will rejoin the assembly.” The head of the Tunisian Industry, Trade and Handicrafts Union, one of the four parties mediating the political talks, warned that “if the national dialogue fails and no agreement is reached about the next prime minister as soon as possible, the employers’ organization will reveal which party is hindering dialogue.”[Tunisia Live, 11/29/2013]

Commission resumes reviewing elections board candidates
A parliamentary commission last Thursday resumed deliberation on the nomination of nine members of the future Independent High Authority for the Elections. According to one of the members of the commission, Jalel Bouzid, the meeting was to be devoted to “the examination of means of ending the crisis and comply[ing] with the judgement of the administrative court,” adding, “we are committed … to respect and apply [the court’s] decisions.” Representatives of opposition parties were not present in the meeting due to consultations with the sponsors of Tunisia’s national dialogue after withdrawing from the process last week.[TAP, 11/28/2013]

Gang attacks Popular Front office in Tunis
Police in Tunis responded Thursday night to a clash between leftist Popular Front supporters and members of the further-left Radical Unionists, resulting in multiple injuries, Tunisia Live reported. Fighting reportedly broke out when a group of around sixty Radical Unionists attacked the Popular Front national headquarters in Place Pasteur, according to radio station Mosaique FM. A statement on the Popular Front’s official Facebook page called the attackers “a paid gang” and said ten of its members managed to hold back the assailants, although Tunisian media said police intervened to stop the attack, with some people injured. In Siliana, fifty Tunisian policeman were hurt in clashes with protesters when a general strike degenerated into violence, the interior ministry said last Thursday. The violence broke out on Wednesday as the town observed a strike to mark the first anniversary of riots that left more than 300 people injured.[AFP/Ahram Online, 11/29/2013]

China donates 18 million euros for development projects in Tunisia
China donated 37 million dinars, approximately 18 million euros, to be invested in development projects in Tunisia in the future. During a ceremony to sign the agreement, China’s ambassador to Tunis, Bian Yanhua, renewed Beijing’s call to help Tunisia throughout the delicate democratic transition phase. Yanhua also welcomed a proposal by the Tunisian business union to set up a Chinese-Tunisian chamber of commerce which, he said, “will not fail to contribute to give impulse to the two countries’ economic cooperation.” [ANSAMed, 12/2/2013]


Yemen bans motorbikes in Sana’a because of attacks
Yemen on Sunday began enforcing a temporary ban on motorbikes in the capital to prevent “shoot and scoot” attacks in the city during national dialogue sessions. The interior ministry said the ban will last until December 15 to “preserve security and stability” as Yemen undergoes a difficult political transition. An AFP correspondent reported that the ban was being strictly enforced, with no motorcycles on the streets on Sunday. [AFP/Gulf News, 12/1/2013]

Yemen to sign protocol of accession to WTO on December 4
Yemen is to sign on December 4 the protocol of its official accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to become the organization’s 160th member. Saad Eddin Bin Taleb, Yemeni minister of industry and trade, confirmed the importance of this historic accession, which, he said, will achieve great gains for Yemen. He pointed out that Yemen’s accession to the WTO will provide job opportunities and further investment opportunities throughout the country. [SABA, 11/30/2013]

Southerners rally for independence as Hadi says he will not tolerate secession of the South
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi warned Friday against any attempt to undermine his country’s unity, amidst ongoing tensions over the southern issue in the country’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC). “I will not allow anyone to haggle over the issue of the south of Yemen’s unity,” Hadi said in a speech marking the forty-sixth anniversary of the independence of South Yemen from British occupation. On Saturday, thousands demonstrated in south Yemen’s main city Aden to demand a return to independence. The rally was organized by the Southern Hirak. Demonstrators waved southern flags and banners proclaiming, “Yes to Freedom and Independence,” and, “Our Goal is the Reclamation of Statehood.” [Daily Star, 11/29/2013]

UN ready to consider measures on deterrents to Yemen’s transition
The UN Secretary-General has expressed concern about attempts to disrupt the transition in Yemen, and highlighted his readiness to consider further measures against those trying to derail the transition process. Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the Security Council’s November 27 statement on Yemen and called on all sides to participate in the NDC in good faith and to refrain from any obstruction of the transition process. He encouraged all parties to resolve their differences through genuine dialogue to enable the people of Yemen to advance the transition process. The Secretary-General also urged Yemenis to continue to work closely with the UN envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar. [SABA, 11/30/2013]


Israel to join UN rights council, says Israeli official
Israel is to join a United Nations rights body with which it has been feuding for years, as a member of its European bloc, an Israeli official said on Sunday. Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the official confirmed Israeli membership of the Western European and Others Group in the UN Human Rights Council had been approved and a formal invitation was expected shortly.[AFP/Ahram Online, 12/1/2013]

Unified GCC police to tackle crimes that threaten region
A unified Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) police force has been approved by Gulf interior ministers. The police force would be similar to the Interpol and Europol forces in fighting crime and deterring threats, GCC officials said in Manama, where the ministers held their meeting. The unified police move will be referred to the GCC leaders at their summit in Kuwait City next month. [Gulf News, 11/29/2013]

Algeria counterterrorism plan: an agent for each tourist
Faced with the possibility that terrorism could target tourists visiting the southern part of the country at the end of December, Algeria has approved a massive security plan deploying 4,000 officers, one for each foreign visitor expected, reports said Monday. According to the daily Le Jeune Independent, the plan, called “zero risks,”’ will guarantee the security of European and American tourists who traditionally choose the South to spend their winter holidays. The area has been targeted in bloody attacks by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, whose leadership is Algerian. [ANSAMed, 12/2/2013]

Image: The Socialist People's Alliance Party in Egypt organized a march with signs reading, "No constitution under military rule." (Photo: Gigi Ibrahim/Flickr)