Top News: Egypt Officials Say Ground Operation Planned In Yemen

Egyptian security and military officials say Saudi Arabia and Egypt will lead a ground operation in Yemen against Shiite rebels and their allies after a campaign of airstrikes to weaken them. Three senior officials say that forces would enter by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. They said Thursday that other nations will also be involved. [AP, 3/26/2015]



Egypt providing military support for Gulf operation in Yemen
Egypt participated in the Saudi-led campaign against Shia Houthis militias in Yemen with its naval and air forces, an Egyptian military source said on Thursday. Warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies struck the Houthi rebels fighting to oust Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi on Thursday. Four Egyptian naval vessels also sailed on Thursday through the Suez Canal en route to Yemen to support the operation, a military source said. Egypt’s foreign affairs ministry issued a statement late Wednesday announcing that Egypt fully supports the war against Houthis in Yemen. The statement added that Egypt is also discussing with its Gulf allies the use of Egyptian military forces on the ground “if it is necessary.” The coalition led by Saudi Arabia includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Pakistan. As of late Wednesday night, air traffic between Egypt and Yemen has been halted. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, SIS, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, AP, 3/26/2015]

Arabs to consider joint military force at Egypt summit
Arab foreign ministers held a consultative meeting on Thursday ahead of their preparatory session for the upcoming Arab League summit. At the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry urged Arab League member states to create a joint Arab military force to face regional security challenges. Shoukry expressed his hope the Arab League would take positive steps to implement Egypt’s previous proposal to form a joint Arab force. Arab leaders meeting at the summit this week face rapidly deteriorating conflicts in Yemen and Libya, but have yet to agree on a concrete plan to counter a growing threat from Islamist militant groups and regional chaos. [Ahram Online, AFP, Reuters, 3/26/2015]

Cabinet approves cybercrime draft law
The cabinet approved on Wednesday a draft law combating cyber-related crimes. The amended law now provides a more broad definition of cybercrime to include types of cyber-related activities that were not previously criminalized by the law. It defines the types of crimes that fall within this category and stipulates what constitutes a cybercrime. Shorouk reported on Thursday that the law also institutes harsh punishments for anyone involved in these crimes, but does not detail what these punishments are. It adds, however, that the law allows authorities to confiscate equipment, shut down places where the crimes were committed and delete websites that are detrimental to national security. [SIS, Shorouk (Arabic), 3/25/2015]

Egyptian reformist judge referred to disciplinary committee
Prominent reformist judge and former head of Egypt’s Judges’ Club, Zakaria Abdel Aziz, was referred Wednesday to a disciplinary committee for participating in the storming of the State Security Investigations headquarters in Nasr City in March 2011. The judge was filmed at the headquarters urging protesters to hand over all documents they found in the building to the Egyptian Armed Forces later securing the building. Several members of the Legal Committee to Defend the Judiciary, a judges group, accused Abdel Aziz of “storming the building during the January 25 revolution events.” For his part, Abdel Aziz said in media statements that the decision to refer him to a disciplinary committee was expected as part of a campaign of political vengeance against him due to his being a member the judicial independence movement during Mubarak’s rule. [Ahram Online, MENA, 3/25/2015]

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UN tells backers of Libyan rivals to pressure them for peace
In its efforts to promote a peaceful political solution to the Libyan crisis, the United Nations said that the international supporters of both the Tobruk-based and Tripoli-based governments must stop supplying weapons and pressure the rival groups to work out a political solution. UN officials further said that, should rivals reach a political deal, the next step is to convince the armed groups to back off and not be spoilers. Claudio Cordone Head of Human Rights at the UN Mission in Libya said that the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey are the main external actors in Libya and they need to push both the Tobruk or Tripoli governments to reach an agreement. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]

Pro-Libya Dawn municipalities demand that UN brands Jibril a war criminal
Representatives from nine municipalities loyal to Libya Dawn and the Tripoli government sent a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and called to indict Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the National Forces Alliance, and prime minister in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, as a war criminal. They claim that Jibril has obstructed the UN-brokered dialogue process, alleging that he was deliberately trying to deepen the rift between the General National Congress and the House of Representatives by his partiality to the latter and support of General Khalifa Haftar. Representatives from central Tripoli, Misrata, Sabratha, Sebha, Ghariyan, Abu Sleem, Ghat, Nalut, and Suq al-Juma signed the letter. [Libya Herald, 3/25/2015]

Human rights groups call for mechanism to investigate crimes in Libya
Thirteen national, regional, and international human rights organizations, including five from Libya, have called on the United Nations to support the creation of an independent body that would investigate human rights crimes in Libya by all sides since 2012. The groups say that it is the only way to ensure accountability, justice, truth, and reparation for Libyans. The suggestion for a new investigative body comes because the members of these human rights groups feel that the UN Human Rights Council is unable to address the situation in Libya because its technical assistance no longer adequately reflects the gravity of the situation. [Libya Herald, 3/25/2015]

Twenty-three arrested in connection with museum attack in Tunisia
Tunisian security officials say that the police have arrested twenty-three people from the group behind the attack on the Bardo museum that killed twenty-one, but Moroccan and Algerian suspects are still at large. The Interior Minister said that the arrests included a woman and that the group was connected to the Oqba Ibn Nafaa brigade, which has claimed allegiance to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The majority of the group behind the attack has been detained, but two Moroccans and an Algerian are still being sought. [AP, 3/26/2015]

Tunisian draft anti-terrorism law approved by cabinet, submitted to parliament
The Tunisian cabinet approved a draft anti-terrorism and money laundering bill, submitting it to the parliament for a vote. The text proposed stems from the desire to develop a legislative arsenal to fight against terrorism, notably the funding sources for terror groups. The draft law also includes provisions that will describe terrorist crimes with precision and new techniques for the investigation and fight against funding of terrorism and money laundering, which are required by international standards. [All Africa/TAP, 3/25/2015]


United States strikes ISIS in Tikrit
US warplanes began air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) positions in Tikrit late Wednesday, joining a stalled offensive to retake the Iraqi city. The decision to aid the offensive directly was made by President Barack Obama on Wednesday and represented a significant shift in the Iraqi campaign. For more than three weeks, the United States had stayed on the sideline of the battle for Tikrit, wary of being in the position of aiding an essentially Iranian-led operation. Obama approved the air strikes after a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the condition that Iranian-backed Shia militias move aside to allow a larger role for Iraqi government counterterrorism forces that have worked most closely with US troops. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who has been advising forces around Tikrit, was reported on Sunday to have left the area. In related news, Saudi Arabia will reopen its embassy in Baghdad before the end of April. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Baha Araji said that the Saudi embassy is an important step in normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. [NY Times, WSJ, BBC, AFP, AP, 3/26/2015]

The Syrian National Coalition will not attend new Moscow talks
The Syrian National Coalition says it will not attend the next round of peace talks on the Syrian conflict in Moscow set for April 6 through April 9. The Coalition rejects the idea of Russia framing the talks as a dialogue with the Syrian government. The coalition insists that President Bashar al-Assad must go. Russia’s UN ambassador on Tuesday said it is time for a “breakthrough in a political settlement” in the conflict.[AP, 3/25/2015]

Heavy fighting rages around Syria’s Idlib
An alliance of Syrian Islamist rebels including the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa have overrun at least thirteen defense posts around Idlib in an offensive to take the city from the army and allied militias, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Thousands of rebel fighters, overseen by the newly formed Jaish al-Fatah operations room, are involved in the operation. Despite the rebel successes around the city, intense fighting is expected over the next days for supply lines control of Idlib. The regime still has firepower in areas around Idlib, where it is already fighting Ahrar al-Sham, Mastoumeh, and Ariha. The Islamic Front’s Twitter account said that the Ahrar al-Sham military commander Abu Jamil Qutb had been killed during the offensive. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 3/26/2015]

Syria destroys three chemical weapons sites
Syria has destroyed three of its twelve chemical weapons production sites but is unable to dismantle three other facilities because of security conditions, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in its latest report released on Wednesday to the UN Security Council. Syria has agreed to destroy seven aircraft hangars and five underground structures identified by the OPCW as chemical weapons production sites, but there have been delays caused by logistical problems. OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu said his team of experts verified the destruction of three tunnels and that work on dismantling a fourth underground structure was underway. The report also notes that all five of Syria’s underground production facilities for chemical weapons will be destroyed by June and that the preparatory work for destroying seven aircraft hangars used as additional production facilities have been completed at five sites.[AFP, AP, 3/26/2015]

UK to train Syrian forces to fight ISIS
Britain will provide military training to mainstream Syrian rebels, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has confirmed. Fallon said the training, expected to begin in the next few weeks, would see around seventy-five British trainers and headquarters staff provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics, and medical skills. It will take place in Turkey and other countries in the region participating in the international coalition fighting ISIS. In related news, a group of British parliamentarians warned that not enough is being done to prevent people leaving the UK to join ISIS in Iraq or Syria. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said Britain must win their “hearts and minds.” [BBC, AFP, Reuters, 3/26/2015]


Saudi Arabia-led coalition bombs Houthi targets in Yemen
Saudi jets in partnership with ten other countries targeted Houthi positions in the capital Sana’a overnight, along with missile batteries and warplanes. The coalition has declared the country’s airspace a restricted zone. NBC News reported that Saudi Arabia mobilized 150,000 troops and one hundred jets for this operation. Wednesday night, the White House confirmed that the US is authorized to provide logistical and communications support for this operation. A Houthi official warned the coalition that it risked provoking a wider war. Houthi-run Al-Masirah television said the air strikes hit a residential neighborhood north of Sana’a and caused dozens of casualties. No independent count of casualties is currently available. [Reuters, Al Jazeera, Al-Masdar, Mareb Press, 3/25/2015]

Iran threatens further bloodshed as Saudi-led forces bomb Yemen
Saudi air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen have triggered a furious reaction from regional rival Iran, with top officials warning that military action could spill into other countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the air strikes would lead only to greater loss of life. “Military action from outside of Yemen against its territorial integrity and its people will have no other result than more bloodshed and more deaths,” he told the Iranian-owned Al-Alam television channel. Speaking to Al Jazeera from Sana’a, Houthi spokesman Mohammed al-Bukhaiti called the military action a declaration of war on Yemen. [Al Jazeera, Al-Masdar, 3/26/2015]

Conflicting reports on Hadi’s location
The exact whereabouts of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi are unknown. According to the Associated Press, President Hadi fled Yemen by sea Wednesday as Houthi rebels and their allies moved on his last refuge in the south, captured its airport and put a bounty on his head. However, Hadi’s aides deny this report. Foreign Minister Yassin told Al Arabiya that Hadi remained in Aden, calling for foreign military support to repel the Houthi offensive. Other sources are reporting that Hadi arrived in Oman Thursday morning. In a State Department press briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki only confirmed that President Hadi had left his residence in Aden but could provide no further details on his location. [AP, Al Arabiya, Reuters, 3/26/2015]

Ceasefire announced in Marib
Fighting between Marib tribesmen and Houthi militias backed by security forces in the Qania area of Marib governorate came to an end on Tuesday after reaching a ceasefire agreement. Houthi forces withdrew from the area on Thursday. Fighting between the groups began in Qania when Houthi militants, backed by Yemen security forces, entered the area in pursuit of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Fighting began when tribes resisted their attempts to close off roads leading into al-Beida from Marib. [Yemen Times, Al-Masdar, 3/25/2015]

Bahrain asks Congress for help restoring arms sales
Bahrain’s embassy in Washington is circulating a letter in the House and Senate that highlights the Gulf island kingdom’s role in the international coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. The letter also highlights the need for “unity and cohesiveness” amid nuclear talks with Iran that have put the Arab Gulf countries on edge. According to a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the withheld items include Humvees, rifles, ammunition, tear gas, and “other equipment that could be used against protesters.” Items were held up after Manama expelled Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski over his meeting with opposition figures last year. [Al Monitor, 3/25/2015]


Oil prices surge after Saudi air strikes in Yemen
Brent crude oil soared more than 4 percent towards $59 a barrel on Thursday after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies began a military operation in Yemen. The air strikes against Houthi rebels, who have driven President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi from Yemen’s capital of Sana’a, could stoke concerns about the security of Middle East oil shipments if the conflict widens. In order to export to Europe, Arab producers have to ship oil past Yemen’s coastlines via the Gulf of Aden to get to the Suez Canal. [Reuters, 3/26/2015]

Egypt’s stock market hit hard amid strikes on Yemen
Egypt’s stock market fell sharply in early trade on Thursday, after air strikes conducted by Saudi Arabia and Arab allies against Houthi rebels in Yemen, yet slightly recovered at closing time. The benchmark index EGX 30 fell by 2.43 percent in the morning, while the price index EGX 70 fell by 2.34 percent. The bourse’s administration halted trade for thirty minutes before resuming. The benchmark index meanwhile closed at 1.59 percent to 9052.5 points, whereas the price index closed at 1.34 percent to 503.07 points, reported MENA. Egypt’s bourse reached a two-month low on Wednesday, falling 1.8 percent to 9198 points. [Aswat Masriya, 3/26/2015]

Iraq plans oil sales from reserves and new production contracts
According to Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq plans to raise emergency funds by pre-selling oil reserves for the first time. It will kick off economic reforms by revising its oil contracts with major Western companies. Zabari further added that details of the volumes and value of the sales, known in the industry as pre-financing, are still to be finalized. Iraq needs cash to fund its military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and to compensate for revenue lost to the slump in world oil prices. The switch will move Iraq for the first time from service contracts where oil companies are paid a set fee to production-sharing contracts where revenues are divided in a percentage split. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]

Some UAE employees report 36 percent pay hike
According to the results of a global research, professionals in the UAE and the rest of the MENA region, particularly in the field of finance, saw more than 30 percent increase in their paychecks in 2014. The hefty pay hike is not across the board, but the average total compensation for management accounting and finance professionals in the MENA region increased by 36 percent to 147,028 dirhams ($40,030), roughly more than 12,000 dirhams a month in 2014. The salary adjustments have been attributed to the positive economic outlook in the region and the growing need for skilled finance professionals, especially those who have the knowledge and expertise in budgeting, planning, and cost control. [Gulf News, 3/26/2015]

Moroccan central bank keeps interest rate flat
Morocco’s central bank, said it is maintaining its benchmark interest rate at 2.5 percent because inflation will remain subdued. The bank’s quarterly report revealed that inflation reached 1.5 percent on average in the first two months of 2015, slightly higher than the forecast in December when it predicted 1.2-1.3 percent inflation in the first quarter of 2016. The bank, which cut its interest rate twice by 50 basis points in 2014, said that the country’s current account deficit is expected to drop to 4 percent of GDP in 2015, from 5.9 percent a year. [Morocco World News, 3/25/2015]