Top News: Egypt’s April 6 denounces fresh arrests, warns of ‘third revolution’

April 6 Youth Movement has condemned the arrest of six of its members for distributing flyers calling for gatherings on the revolution’s anniversary. They were arrested at Cairo’s Shohada Metro station and detained for nine hours before being released without charge. “If your message is that the revolution happened so only [Mubarak] regime figures and pro-military people have their freedom, then a third revolution is on its way because of your actions. Your oppression of the youth for merely distributing flyers is a clear invitation to rebel against your injustices,” the statement read. [Ahram Online, 1/22/2014]


Election schedule to be announced within the month
President Adly Mansour will announce the schedule for presidential and parliamentary elections within the month according the newly-endorsed constitution, presidential political adviser Mostafa Hegazy said Tuesday. Major General Rifaat Qumsan, elections adviser to the prime minister, said that preparations for upcoming elections will depend on the decision to hold parliamentary before presidential elections or vice versa. In accordance with Article 230 of the new constitution, new elections should be announced by February 17 but does not specify the order for presidential or parliamentary ones. [DNE, EGYNews (Arabic), 1/22/2014]

Army to finance major roadways due to lack of state funding
Due to lack of state financing, Egypt’s army now has the green light to undertake the construction of a major roadway at a cost of EGP 7 billion, according to the state-owned Middle East News Agency. Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved the project for a roadway called the Rod al-Farag Axis, which falls under the “strategic projects funded and carried out by the Armed Forces,” MENA reported. Construction of the roadway would cost a total of EGP 9 billion, of which the Armed Forces would pay EGP 7 billion. [Mada Masr, 1/22/2014]

Diplomat takes reins of US Embassy in Egypt
The diplomat in charge of the US Embassy in Cairo has been replaced by his deputy, effective Tuesday, according to an Embassy press release. Marc Sievers, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission will head the embassy after David Satterfield, who has completed his assignment as Charge d’Affaires. Ambassador Ann Patterson’s position has not been filled since she left in late August. [Mada Masr, 1/22/2014]


Congress plans to quit by December 24
The General National Congress has voted for plans committing it to transfer power to a newly elected legislature on December 24, 2014. The roadmap rests on the condition that the new constitution is drafted and ratified by referendum before that date. The agreement passed with 82 out of 110 votes in favor of extending its mandate in the short term but ultimately relinquishing power by December. If by May 2014, insufficient headway has been made on the new constitution and it is clear that the December transfer is not feasible, elections for a new Congress will be called and it will assume power in October while the Constitutional Committee continues its work. The roadmap was devised in a joint effort between civil society organizations and Congress and was discussed at a press conference led by those same organizations on Wednesday. [Libya Herald 1/22/2014]

Islamist party’s ministers quit government
On Tuesday, Islamist Justice and Construction Party (JCP) pulled its ministers for electricity, youth, economy, oil, and housing from Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government. Resignations by JCP, which had repeatedly failed to secure a vote of no-confidence against Zeidan, will deepen deadlock in the General National Congress parliament, which has made little progress in Libya’s transition to democracy. [Reuters, 1/22/2014]

Fighting subsides in Sebha as reconciliation talks get underway
Fighting in and around Sebha has calmed as reconciliation talks in the town gather momentum. Sebha Local Council said that since last Tuesday night the situation had become much calmer, although sporadic gunfire and explosions could still be heard on the outskirts of the town. As of Tuesday, the Sebha airbase is reportedly back in pro-Qaddafi hands after the Tebu forces from Murzuk who were guarding it withdrew. The forces unilaterally pulled out yesterday evening claiming that the government was deliberately exploiting clashes between the tribes in Sebha to divert attention from moves to replace it with a new administration. [Libya Herald, 1/22/2014]


Sharp divisions come to fore as peace talks on Syria Begin
After months of diplomatic maneuvering and last-minute slips, delegates gathered on Wednesday in Switzerland to press for a political settlement in Syria’s bloody civil war. But sharp divisions between the United States and Russia, and especially among the Syrian participants themselves, immediately came to the fore, casting doubt on the prospects for easing hostilities or even opening up humanitarian corridors for the delivery of food and medicine to besieged towns and cities. Secretary of State John Kerry described the Syria crisis as a test for the international community and said it was unthinkable that President Bashar al-Assad could play a role in a transitional administration that would govern the country. The establishment of such a transitional body by “mutual consent” of the Assad government and the opposition is the major goal of the conference. “The right to lead a country does not come from torture,” Mr. Kerry said. “The only thing standing in the way is the stubborn clinging to power of one man.” Speakers on the first day of the conference include: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (full text), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (video, full text in Russian), US Secretary of State John Kerry (full text), Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (video, news account, full text in Arabic), Head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmed Jabra (video, full text in Arabic), Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil Elaraby (full text in Arabic), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton (full text). [NYT, Reuters, AFP, 1/22/2014]

Back story emerges about Ban Ki-moon’s diplomatic misstep
Over the weekend Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, with a reputation for being risk averse, took a significant risk. He choreographed a precise diplomatic sequence on Syria that relied on others to perform their roles equally precisely. The choreography did not go as planned, and Mr. Ban stumbled under the spotlight. The sequence, according to interviews with diplomats, went like this: He would announce he was inviting Iran to join an international peace conference on Syria. Iran would accept, seconding what Mr. Ban had announced. At no point would it be said by either party that there were conditions for Iran’s participation—a sticking point for months—though Mr. Ban would make it clear that Iran welcomed the mandate for the conference: to discuss the establishment of a transitional government.

Syria rejects new report of systematic torture and killing
The Syrian regime on Wednesday rejected a report purporting to show the systematic torture and killing of about 11,000 detainees, calling it an attempt to undermine peace efforts as diplomats gathered in Switzerland for talks. The report released on Monday contains 55,000 images of emaciated and mutilated corpses. Bearing signs of torture, some of the corpses had no eyes. Others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution. The images were supplied by a Syrian military defector who had worked as a military police photographer for thirteen years. His identity has not been released to the media. Former war crimes prosecutors who authored the report said Syrian officials could face war crimes charges as a result of the evidence, which they said evoked images of Nazi death camps. But Syria’s Ministry of Justice said the report was “politicized” and “lacking objectivity and professionalism”. “Releasing the report one day before the Geneva 2 conference provides categorical evidence that its goal… is to undermine efforts aimed at achieving peace in Syria.” [Reuters, 1/22/2014]

Snubbed at Geneva, PYD announces ministers for planned autonomous region
Kurdish leaders who felt excluded from the Geneva process announced on Wednesday plans for the first executive assembly of their newly-formed autonomous local government. The dominant Syrian Kurdish political organization, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Al Jazeera that the assembly would be held in Al Hasakah province in the northeast and would consist of a president and two deputies in addition to twenty-two authorities (ministries) to run all affairs of the region. The managed areas will be divided to three cantons: Jazeera Canton, in Al Hasakah province; Kobaneh Canton, in northeastern Aleppo province; and Afrin, in western Aleppo province. These areas, with a Kurdish majority, are under control of Kurdish fighters of Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), and each canton has its own executive assembly. There are some Arab and Christian parties and organizations who joined this autonomous authority and share the management, but Kurds represent the majority. [Al Jazeera, 1/22/2014]


Articles 80, 81, 117, 118, and 119 re-adopted
On Tuesday, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) re-adopted five articles, all of which were regarded as controversial. These articles were reviewed in accordance with Article 93, which stipulates the process for reviewing constitutional articles. The articles relate to the competence of the president of the republic in the promulgation and publication of laws, the nature of constitutional court decisions (specifically, that constitutional court decisions are binding), and the area of intervention of the constitutional court. The NCA is expected to finish approving the draft constitution very soon.  [TAP, 1/21/2014]

Islamists demand that Article 6 include banning insults to religion
Article 6 of the draft constitution, which discusses freedom of conscience, came under debate in the NCA on Monday. Ennahda, the Islamist party, among others, are proposing an amendment to the article that would ban insulting religion. Currently, the article stipulates that the state is the “guarantor of the neutrality of places of worship” and “protector of the sacred.” It also assures “freedom of conscience,” “freedom of worship,” and bans “takfir,” an Arabic word meaning to accuse someone of being a nonbeliever. Ennahda is demanding the removal of the part that prohibits charges of apostasy in addition to the ban on insulting religion. Ennahda had hoped to establish Tunisia as an Islamic state and to institute sharia as the source of legal jurisprudence but neither effort came to fruition. [Tunisia Times, 1/21/2014]

Tunisia states willingness to assist Libya
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi spoke with his Libyan counterpart, Mohamed Abdelaziz, by telephone. Jerandi expressed Tunisia’s willingness to assist Libya to build its institutions and pursue joint efforts to combat terrorism, organized crime, and smuggling in Libya. [TAP, 1/21/2014]


National Dialogue adopts principles to guide next steps in transition
During its closing assembly, the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) adopted a list of safeguards and guarantees regarding the implementation of the NDC outcomes. The first step is for the constitution to be drafted and adopted by referendum; this will be followed by the drafting of a new electoral law and then elections. A full list of the principles and guarantees is found here. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/22/2014]

Leaders in Mareb meet with Hadi to discuss details of federal system
Sheiks and community leaders in Mareb province called on President Abdrabbo Hadi Mansour to meet with them and hear their perspectives before they are incorporated into any future federal province. These leaders are demanding greater representation for in the Shura Council as well as the establishment of a development fund for the region drawn from oil and gas revenues. In a meeting with the leaders, President Hadi blamed centralization as the main reason for inadequate government services in the province and assured them that the government would review their demands and seek to incorporate them into the implementation framework. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/22/2014]

Clashes in Amran continue between Houthis and Hashid tribesmen
Houthi fighters continued to clash with Hashid militants in Amran province. Casualty rates, though not exact, have been reported as “dozens.” Presidential mediators have been dispatched to the area to negotiate an end of hostilities. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/22/2014]


Jordan, Saudi Arabia sign nuclear cooperation agreement
Jordan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) signed a nuclear cooperation deal in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes related to nuclear energy, technologies, design, construction and operation, power plants and nuclear reactors. KSA will be the fourteenth country to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with Jordan. [Petra News Agency, 1/22/2014]

Iraq says it intends to make three new provinces
Iraq’s Shia-led government says that it has agreed in principle to create three new provinces in Tuz, Fallujah, and the Nineveh Plain, in order to address on Sunni grievances. The news comes as the government struggles with re-taking Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. The justice ministry also announced that it had executed twenty-six Iraqi nationals convicted of terrorism charges, and defended the death penalty as a weapon against insurgents.  [AP, 1/21/2014]

Bahrain deadlocked talks saved from brink, some hope for progress
Following a meeting between Bahrain’s largest opposition party and the Crown Prince last week, talks appear to be moving along with success. Khalil Marzouq, whose brief imprisonment last fall resulted in the opposition’s withdrawal the national dialogue, has said that the meetings with the Bahraini government have made him “cautiously optimistic.” While the government of Bahrain and the opposition have come to an agreement on five key issues to address grievances, other opposition activists remain skeptical. [Reuters, 1/22/2014]