The fifty-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the 2012 constitution began on Sunday voting on the draft constitution by passing five draft articles in the rights and freedoms section. The first article the assembly passed on Sunday is article 37, concerned with human dignity. The committee also adopted a transitional article that will cancel existing restrictions regulating the building of new churches. Under pressure from representatives of Egypt’s highest Sunni authority al-Azhar, the committee opted to postpone its vote on article 47 which stipulates “absolute freedom of belief” for Egyptian citizens and endows the state with the responsibility to ensure free practice of religion. Granting the defense minister immunity continues to be another source of controversy within the committee. According to a report in Shorouk, the committee agreed that the defense minister shall be appointed by the president and the prime minister “after consultation and approval from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” and that neither the president nor prime minister would be able to remove the minister from his post. Mediation efforts by Amr Moussa, chairman of Egypt’s constitution-drafting committee, have failed to resolve disagreements among members concerning Egypt’s identity as an Islamic state. [DNECairo PostAhram OnlineAswat MasriyaMada MasrEgypt Independent, 10/28/2013]


Egypt satirist Bassem Youssef’s return creates political fuss 
Egyptian political satirist Bassem Youssef returned to television on Friday with a bang, drawing both praise and criticism from all sides of the political spectrum after an almost three-month hiatus. Youssef, sparing no one in the season three premiere of al-Bernameg (The Program), poked fun at ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the zealous supporters of army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. According to the Associated Press, at least four complaints had been lodged by the public to the prosecutor general’s office as of Saturday, accusing Youssef of defaming the military and working to “undermine the honor and dignity of Egypt and its people.”  [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Mada Masr,

Egypt officials confirm alleged assassin in militant video was ex-army major
A Sinai-based Islamist militant group that claimed a September assassination attempt on Egypt’s interior minister released a video on Saturday saying a former major in the army carried out the suicide bombing. The video, which Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis released on militant websites, runs to 30 minutes and identifies former major Waleed Badr as being responsible for the attack, but does not say if he was a member of the group. Informed judicial sources have confirmed former officer Waleed Badr was aided by three other Egyptians, two Palestinians, and another, possibly from Afghanistan. The same sources confirmed that the officer carried out the attack while the rest of his colleagues were waiting at a flat in Nasr City before escaping to Sinai after the explosion. The National Security Agency (NSA) had ordered the arrest of the other six suspects, the sources added. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Reuters, 10/26/2013]

UAE boosts Egyptian aid to $4.9 billion
Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi discussed means of expanding economic cooperation between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with his Emirati counterpart, Mohamed bin Rashed al-Maktoum, during his three-day visit with his delegation to Abu Dhabi. El-Beblawi discussed organizing a global economic conference in Egypt with al-Makhtoum. Investment Minister Osama Saleh told Reuters Cairo would host a conference in early December, and had already contacted thousands of businessmen, to try to sell the region’s most populous nation to wealthy Arabs. The UAE says it has boosted its aid pledges to Egypt’s government, now making it a total of $4.9 billion. The generous aid package will most likely be followed by similar gestures from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi said in a press conference in Abu Dhabi. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, DNE, SIS, Egypt Independent , Cairo Post, 10/27/2013]


Amazigh protesters block oil tankers at Mellitah terminal, threaten to close pipelines
Armed Amazigh protesters are preventing oil tankers from docking at the Mellitah oil terminal, jointly operated by the Italian ENI and Libyan National Oil Corporation, and threatening to close the terminal’s pipeline in a protest targeting Libya’s oil industry over demands for more seats in the sixty-member Constitutional Committee, in which just two seats have been reserved for the Amazigh community. [Libya Herald, Reuters 10/27/2013]

Tawergha join Amazigh in election boycott
The acting Tawergha Local Council has called on the town’s displaced inhabitants to boycott the elections to the constitutional committee as well as the planned municipal poll in protest of what it says is the government’s lack of interest in their situation, particularly their return home to the town from which they had been expelled by Misratans at the end of the revolution. The Tawergha boycott comes after the Amazigh announced last week a boycott of the committee elections. [Libya Herald, 10/26/2013]

GNC members walk out in fury, claim Abu Sahmain rigged the agenda
Today’s General National Congress (GNC) sitting was the scene of a mass walkout, by ninety-four members, who left in protest over last-minute changes to the agenda of the session. They later released a statement explaining that their decision came after the agreed agenda was unexpectedly changed by Congress President Nuri Abu Sahmain. The altered agenda, it said, suited his own interests rather than those of the Congress. [Libya Herald, 10/27/2013]

Minister not targeted by gunmen, Libyan media must check facts
The Ministry of Martyrs and Missing People has called upon Libyan journalists to verify stories before publishing them, after a national TV station reported that a minister had escaped an assassination attempt. Alassema TV reported the assassination attempt on Minister of Martyrs and Missing People Ali Gadour on Saturday. However, the media manager of the ministry, Hamdi al-Alam, told the Libya Herald that Gadour’s car was merely struck by a stray bullet during a local gunfight. [Libya Herald, 10/28/2013]


Syrian Kurds capture key Iraq border crossing after intense fighting
Syrian Kurdish militias on Saturday seized a major border crossing–along with a cement factory and the headquarters of an oil company–in northeast Syria after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Iraqi intelligence officials confirmed that Kurdish rebels now held the Yarubiya crossing point–one of two main crossings with Iraq and a major thoroughfare of oil distribution–adding that Baghdad brought reinforcements to the area to prevent any spillover of violence. The seizure of the Yarubiya crossing comes as Kurdish fighters seek to expand their grip on the oil-rich province of Hasakah, which borders both Iraq and Turkey. On Monday, a stray artillery shell fired during clashes between Kurdish militias and ISIS fell on a house in Turkey, killing one man. [The Guardian, Haaretz, 10/26/2013]

Syria meets deadline for submitting destruction plan for chemical weapons
Syria submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and its plans for destroying its arsenal three days ahead of the deadline, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Sunday. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it received the Syrian submission on Thursday and would review the declaration’s “general plan of destruction” by November 15. It was not immediately clear, however, whether the declaration’s listing of chemical weapons sites was exhaustive, an important test of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to cooperate. [NYT, 10/27/2013]

Syrian army retakes Christian town as UN envoy arrives in Damascus
Syrian government forces retook a Christian town north of Damascus on Monday after a week of fierce clashes with al-Qaeda-linked fighters, state media said. The fighting came as the UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Syria on his first trip to the country in almost a year. Brahimi is trying to prepare a peace conference on Syria in Geneva next month but the gathering has been increasingly in doubt as Syria’s warring factions refuse to face each other at the negotiating table. Over the weekend Brahimi urged the participation of Iran while a coalition of Islamist rebels branded participation in Geneva II “treason.” [Asharq al-Awsat, AP, 10/28/2013]

Syrian government struggles to purchase food on international market as shortages worsen
A Syrian state agency, which has tried and repeatedly failed to secure foodstuffs on the open market since June, reissued two tenders on Monday to buy 276,000 tons of white sugar and 135,000 tons of white short grain rice. Traders have said Syria should relax its tender terms in light of the risk involved in doing business with a country embroiled in civil war, particularly the requirement to offer a $1.4 million bond as collateral for guarantee of delivery. In the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp located south of Damascus, where a sheikh recently issued a fatwa permitting the consumption of cat, dog, and donkey meat, residents warned of worsening humanitarian conditions and impending starvation. The European Commission on Monday said it would provide $120 million in humanitarian aid to help people caught up in Syria’s civil war. Nearly half the money is to go on UNICEF-led health and education programs in Syria, while most of the remainder will go towards helping some 500,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. [Reuters, 10/28/2013]


Ennahda and opposition start crisis talks, put forth candidates for caretaker prime minister
Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition began talks on Friday to form a caretaker government and prepare for elections under a roadmap agreement, now agreed to by all parties participating in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). “The train out of this crisis is on the tracks, and we are now on the way to finishing our transition to elections,” said Ennahda chairman Rached Ghannouchi. Parties participating in the talks also submitted candidates for caretaker prime minister, a post scheduled to be elected by the NCA on Monday. Once elected, according to the agreement, the prime minister will have two weeks to form a new government of independents. [AFP/Ahram Online, 10/26/2013, TAP 10/27/2013]

NCA sets schedule for selecting elections committee, looks to speed up adoption of constitution
With transitional talks now underway and strict deadlines in effect, President of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Mustapha Ben Jaafar said on Saturday that the assembly will establish several mechanisms to hasten adoption of the constitution. The Bureau of the NCA also on Saturday set a schedule to establish the Independent Higher Authority for Elections by the end of next week. “It is probable that this [transition] process and the new constitution will be completed in three weeks,” Ennahda party chairman Rached Ghannouchi said in an interview Sunday. Ghannouchi also stated that though his party will be resigning the government, they will not give up the power they retain as a member of the NCA and possibly through future elections.  [TAP, 10/26/2013]

Tunisia arrests eight “terrorist elements” over attack on policemen
Anti-terrorism units of the National Guard arrested “eight terrorist elements” in the Sidi Bouzid region of central Tunisia in connection with the deaths of six Tunisian policemen in a clash last week, the ministry of interior announced Sunday. On Friday, interim President Moncef Marzouki ordered the creation of a “military operation zone” in Sidi Bouzid and surrounding areas, to be in place until “the end of operations” in the region. Sources reported that the leader of outlawed Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, al-Khatib al-Idrissy, had been arrested in the region, but has since been released. [AFP/Ahram Online, TAP 10/28/2013]


Youth activist Hamza Kamali kidnapped
Activist Hamza Kamali was kidnapped from in front of his house Saturday and taken to an undisclosed location. Kamali is a representative in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) for the youth revolution. Members of the dialogue organized a vigil for Monday during the NDC plenary session demanding a search for Kamali. [Mareb Press (Arabic), Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/28/2013]

NDC meetings resume with Hirak and Houthi representatives in attendance
A National Dialogue Conference (NDC) member confirmed that a large group of Hirak and Houthi representatives participated at the opening the final session on Sunday. Hirak and Houthi representatives have been staging a weeks-long boycott of the conference, demanding that the unresolved Southern issue and the possibility of federalism in Yemen be addressed at the NDC. On Saturday, the conciliation committee formally announced that it has ratified a decision to resolve these remaining issues as part of the NDC in accordance with official procedures to encourage the return of boycotting representatives. [Al Masdar, 10/27/2013]

Houthis arrest fifteen Islah activists in Saada
Local sources said that the militant Houthi group launched a campaign of mass arrests on Friday in the Saada province in northern Yemen, including fifteen youth Islah activists. The sources reported that Houthi gunmen raided a number of houses in the directorates of Haydan and Saqin, arrested the youths, and took them to Houthi prisons. A local activist said that prior to the arrests, the Houthis told Islah-affiliated youths to cease their activities with the party or leave the province. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/26/2013]

Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haidar Shaye wins human rights award
The Swiss human rights organization, Alkarama, has announced that Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haidar Shaye will receive the 2013 Alkarama Award for human rights defenders. In a statement, Director of Alkarama’s Legal Department Rachid Mesli said that Shaye was awarded because “he personifies the struggle against human rights abuses in Yemen, and for his courageous investigative reporting in this regard.” [Saba News, Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/26/2013]


Bahrain defends use of teargas
Bahrain has defended its use of teargas after rights groups criticized the kingdom’s reported plans to buy 1.6 million canisters of the material. Local and international rights groups have accused the authorities of using teargas excessively and of firing canisters directly at protesters or into cars and houses where they can cause serious injuries. [Gulf News, 10/27/2013]

Algeria’s ailing President Bouteflika will run for fourth term
Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will run for a fourth term, his National Liberation Front (NLF) party announced on Saturday. The seventy-six year-old leader will run for another term despite having said publicly in April 2012 that his generation’s time had passed. He was referring to the independence-era leaders who have been running the country since the 1960s. Recently, Bouteflika has taken a series of measures in what observers saw as paving his way to run again for the presidency. [Al Arabiya, 10/26/2013]

Morocco’s warning of crackdown on freedom of speech as editor faces trial
Human rights groups have warned of a crackdown on freedom of speech in Morocco as one of the country’s few independent journalists prepared to appear in court this week on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism. Ali Anouzla, the editor of the Arabic news website Lakome, faces up to twenty years in prison if found guilty, in what Amnesty International described as a “worrying setback for freedom of expression.” He was arrested last month after posting an article on the terrorist threat in Morocco which included a link to an al-Qaeda video criticising the wealth of King Mohammed VI and calling for an uprising. [The Guardian, 10/27/2013]