Egypt’s foreign ministry criticized on Friday the reaction of some countries and organizations against the life sentences handed to 230 defendants, including political activist Ahmed Douma, describing them as “unacceptable interference in the work of the Egyptian judiciary and disrespect to its rulings.”

In addition to the international criticism, more than a dozen Egyptian rights groups condemned the verdict. The organizations, among them the Cairo International Institute for Human Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and Al-Nadeem Centre, issued a statement calling upon the country’s Supreme Judicial Council to interfere to put a stop to what it described as “a series of continuous collapse of (the) justice system,” demanding that the judiciary distance itself from “political conflict.” [Aswat MasriyaSISAhram Online, 2/6/2015]



Egypt’s foreign ministry slams reaction against recent life sentences
Egypt’s foreign ministry criticized on Friday the reaction of some countries and organizations against the life sentences handed to 230 defendants, including political activist Ahmed Douma, describing them as “unacceptable interference in the work of the Egyptian judiciary and disrespect to its rulings.” In addition to the international criticism, more than a dozen Egyptian rights groups condemned the verdict. The organizations, among them the Cairo International Institute for Human Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and Al-Nadeem Centre, issued a statement calling upon the country’s Supreme Judicial Council to interfere to put a stop to what it described as “a series of continuous collapse of (the) justice system,” demanding that the judiciary distance itself from “political conflict.” [Aswat Masriya, SIS, Ahram Online, 2/6/2015]

Sisi founds new councils for national security, education, scientific research and foreign policy
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a presidential decree to establish four specialized councils to be focused on economic development; foreign policy and national security; education and scientific research; and community development, according a presidential statement released Thursday. Decree 60/2015 states that the councils must report directly back to Sisi. However, the statement added that each council will be considered “independent.” Additional councils could potentially be established by presidential decree. The president must also choose the managing coordinator for each group. Should Sisi be present in any of the councils’ meetings, he would chair the council. [Ahram Online, DNE, SIS, 2/6/2015]

301 detained on protest charges: Interior Ministry Spokesperson
Spokesperson for the interior ministry Hany Abdel Latif said that the numbers of detainees arrested under the widely criticized protest law are 301, whose trials are pending. Many activists, among them members of the April 6 group, are currently in jail on charges related to this law. Some of the most prominent activists currently in jail from the group are Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Douma, and Ahmed Maher, along with renowned rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. Abdel Latif illustrated that since June 2013, the number of those detained on charges of protesting without legal permit was 2,703 prisoners; however, officials have released 2,402 of those individuals. [Ahram Online, 2/6/2015]

‘Imperialist powers’ behind chaos in region, says endowments minister
Egypt’s minister of religious endowments on Friday said recent militant attacks in Egypt are part of a plot by “imperialist powers to spread chaos in Egypt,” and added that Egypt’s army will defeat transregional militant group Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)—which he believes are part of the plot. In a conference on Friday, Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa accused the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood of attempting to carry out a plan to divide Egypt and destroy its army. Gomaa claimed that ISIS and other extremist groups are fighting a “proxy war for the Zionist entity and imperialists” and that “ISIS is being used to divide the Arab region into smaller territories for the interests of the Zionist enemy who wants to dominate it.” [Ahram Online, 2/6/2015]

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Car bomber kills two, wounds twenty in Benghazi; LNA claims capture of Benghazi port
A jeep filled with explosives killed at least two and wounded around twenty people in a suicide car bombing in Benghazi. Soldiers attempted to stop the vehicle with rifle fire and a rocket-propelled grenade as it sped toward a military base. Elsewhere in Benghazi Libyan National Army (LNA) and Operation Dignity forces claim to have taken control of the central port in the city. There has been fierce fighting in Benghazi lately as LNA and Operation Dignity forces attempt to push out Islamist militants. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/6/2015]

Libya’s rival PM Omar al-Hassi admits he has no control over Operation Libya Dawn
Omar al-Hassi, Prime Minister of the rival Tripoli-based government, stated that he has no control over Operation Libya Dawn militias and that he has no power on the ground. He said that he is unable to stop the current fighting in western Libya between a Zintan-based opposition and the Libya Dawn brigades from Misrata and Zawiya. This is the first time the General National Congress or Libya Dawn has admitted that their forces are Misrata-led. This statement serves as further evidence of a rift between al-Hassi’s government and the Libya Dawn forces. Hassi’s government later released a statement clarifying his remarks. [Libya Herald, 2/5/2015]

Libya Dawn and House of Representatives look to rivals Ukraine and Russia for support
As the political rivalry in Libya grows more entrenched, opposing figures are involved in separate talks with Ukraine and Russia regarding arms supplies. Abdurrahman Sewehli from Misrata, a staunch opponent of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, has held talks with Ukrainian officials, while Mohamed Abdulaziz, roving ambassador for House President Ageelah Salah Gwaider, is in Moscow to discuss building up military ties with Russia. It is unclear what support may come out of the talks, but the prospect of Libyan rivals acquiring military aid from warring Ukraine and Russia could cause a political row in Washington, if Kiev supplies arms to the Tripoli-based al-Hassi regime that Washington and major European capitals do not recognize. [Libya Herald, 2/5/2015]

Ennahda MPs defend decision to join Tunisia’s coalition government
Members of the Ennahda party are defending their decision to join a coalition government with the ruling Nidaa Tounes party. They explained it would have been easier for Ennahda to remain in full opposition of Nidaa Tounes, but in the interests of Tunisia, the party made the difficult decision to join and cooperate. They described the act as putting aside the differences between the secular Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahda in order to work together and move Tunisia forward. [Tunisia Live, 2/6/2015]

Tunisian PM Essid addresses parliament and lays out vision for 2015
In a speech to Tunisia’s parliament, Prime Minister Habib Essid stated that he created a national unity government and not simply a group of quota supporters. He also laid out his vision for Tunisia in the coming year. He said that an assessment will be made on the impact of the government after the first one hundred days. Essid also announced a new five-year plan for the country and intends to organize an international conference later this year to procure funding for the plan. He further emphasized that his government will seek renewable energy sources for the country. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 2/6/2015]


UN plan for local ceasefires in Syria “frozen”; Secret talks between Syrian regime, opposition
The UN plan for local ceasefires in Syria is deadlocked, with Damascus feeling it does not need to make concessions to disparate armed groups, according to Western diplomats. Since October, UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura has been working on a plan to broker “local freezes,” starting in the city of Aleppo, to alleviate fighting between regime and rebel forces. Both the United Nations and the government say talks continue, but diplomats say there is no progress. “The freeze is frozen. It is just going from bad to worse,” one diplomat said Friday. In related news, secret meetings under Norwegian sponsorship were recently held in Beirut that included regime-loyalist and opposition Syrian figures, according to Al-Akhbar English. Figures attending the talks included clerics, intellectuals, and politicians close to the regime and the former head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib. [Reuters, 2/6/2015]

European Union pledges 1 billion euros for fight ISIS
The European Union will channel an extra 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) into tackling the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. The European Union said Friday that the funds for the two countries over two years will be backed by measures like anti-radicalization programs, humanitarian aid, and steps to tackle terror financing and counter the flow of foreign fighters. Education and job training for children and youths will be a priority as the European Union seeks to tackle the root causes behind ISIS’s rise. The European Union will also boost assistance to countries coping with the influx of refugees from Syria. [AP, Naharnet, 2/6/2015]

Jordan, US, and France intensify anti-ISIS operations following murder of pilot
Jordan said its warplanes launched dozens of new strikes Thursday against ISIS. The United States, France, United Arab Emirates, and the European Union also announced various measures and shifting of strategies in the fight against ISIS following a Jordanian pilot’s death. A statement from the Jordanian Army said dozens of its jets were deployed in the attacks on Thursday morning, “hitting training camps of the terrorist groups as well as weapons and ammunition warehouses,” killing fifty-five ISIS militants including a senior commander known as the “Prince of Nineveh.” [Al-Akhbar English, WSJ, 2/6/2015]

Syria regime strikes kill eighty-two in Damascus; Barrel bombs kill twenty-five in Aleppo
The death toll increased to at least eighty-two as regime airstrikes continued to hit an opposition-held district outside Damascus, following rocket attacks by Jaish al-Islam that had hit downtown Damascus Thursday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air force conducted sixty strikes on the Eastern Ghouta district on Thursday and during the night, killing eleven fighters. The casualties also included at least twelve children. In Aleppo, Syrian army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs on a crowded square, killing at least twenty-five civilians as they sat on a bus and collected water. [Al-Akhbar English, AFP, 2/6/2015]


Houthis release constitutional declaration
Yemen’s Houthi rebels released a constitutional declaration in a move that will likely mark their formal takeover of the government. In the declaration, they dissolved parliament and created a transitional council which will govern for a two year transitional period. Yemeni factions held UN-brokered talks late Thursday to try to fill a power vacuum left by the president and premier offering to resign last month as the Houthis maintain their grip on the capital. However, Thursday evening drew to a close without an agreement between the parties when Islah refused to approve the formation of a presidential council. [Al Arabiya, BBC, Al Jazeera, AFP, AP, Al Masdar, 2/6/2015]

Factions call for two-state solution in Yemen
Former South Yemen President Ali Nasser Mohamed has said he would accept an invitation to chair a presidential council to fill the power vacuum in Yemen only if political factions endorsed a two-region federal state solution which he believes is the only solution to the crisis. The exiled politician is seen as a prominent contender to chair an interim presidential council. Even with a southern leader directing the council, it may be difficult to advocate a unified southern position. While some factions back federalization, others in southern Yemen call for complete autonomy from Sana’a. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/6/2015]

Three killed in Hadramout clashes
Tribesmen allegedly backed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) fought security forces Tuesday evening in al-Qatan district of Wadi Hadramout. The five-hour battle left three militants dead and four security forces injured. Since the Houthi takeover in the capital there have been fierce clashes between AQAP and the Houthis in the south of Yemen. [Yemen Times, 2/4/2015]

GCC moves closer to a unified healthcare system
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) moved closer to establishing a unified healthcare system following a meeting of GCC health ministers in Riyadh earlier this week. Gulf ministers put forward a number of recommendations including the introduction of a unified smart card system that would provide GCC residents with healthcare coverage in any GCC state. The move to unify healthcare across GCC states comes amid a general move for closer cooperation and coordination among Arab Gulf states, including talk of a Gulf Union. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/6/2015]


New Tunisian PM promises growth, reform, and new hope
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid promised quick reforms to stimulate growth as he took office on Friday at the head of a coalition government combining secular and Islamist parties. The new government faces pressure from its international lenders to curb high public spending, including by cutting politically sensitive subsidies on basic foods and fuel. Jobs, high living costs, and economic opportunities are the main worry for most Tunisians. [Reuters, 2/6/2015]

Egypt’s energy reforms spark rush of oil and gas deals
Egypt’s willingness to push fuel market reforms and stick to debt repayment plans has led to an unexpected resurgence in oil and gas exploration and supply deals previously delayed by political upheaval. The country has emerged as a major new oil and gas market as the government looks to ease the worst energy crunch in decades. According to the energy ministry, $2.9 billion of investment have flowed into Egypt’s upstream energy sector—exploration and production—since November 2013. [Reuters, 2/6/2015]

Unemployment rate in Morocco up to 9.9 percent
According to the Moroccan High Planning Commission, the unemployment rate in Morocco reached 9.9 percent in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, increasing by 0.7 points year on year. In urban zones, unemployment increased from 14 percent to 14.8 percent and in rural zones from 3.8 percent to 4.2 percent. The number of active unemployed Moroccans increased by 8 percent nationally, which means an additional 86,000 people out of work. [Morocco World News, 2/5/2015]

Oil companies in the cross hairs of Libyan violence
The violence in Libya has increasingly targeted oil companies and their assets, upending long-term investments by Western companies and driving down production in a country that helped launch the world-wide drop in oil prices. In just three months, Libyan oil production has fallen from nearly 900,000 barrels a day in October to about 325,000 barrels a day in January, due to oil fields being taken over by armed Libyan groups and shutdowns due to security concerns. [WSJ, 2/6/2015]