Top News: Egypt’s Minister of Interior Aide Shot Dead in Giza

 General Mohamed al-Saeed, head of the minister of interior’s technical office, was shot and killed by unknown militants on Tuesday morning on al-Haram Street, said a statement issued by the ministry of interior. Ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif added that the shooting came from two gunmen riding a motorbike close to al-Saied residence while he was in his car on al-Haram Street in Giza. The ministry said in a statement that efforts have intensified to arrest the criminals. The death of General Mohamed Saeed, head of the technical office of the minister of interior, suggested militants were stepping up their campaign against the state at a delicate time in Egyptian politics. The driver added that Saeed has no security guards with him, which made it easier for the attackers to escape. The Coptic Orthodox Church sent its condolences to interim President Mansour, Prime Minister Beblawy and Minister of Interior Ibrahim. [DNEEgypt IndependentReuters, 1/28/2014]

For more Egypt-related news visit our EgyptSource blog.


Morsi appoints defense lawyer, trial postponed to February 22
Deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood went on trial at a Cairo police academy on Tuesday on charges in connection with a mass jail break during the 2011 uprising, state television reported. Morsi, along with other twenty-one Islamist defendants, spent the session in a soundproof glass cage that was set up to prevent a repeat of the interruptions they made in their first court appearance last year. The rest of the defendants, including some seventy Palestinians, are on the run and being tried in absentia. Morsi and 130 codefendants are accused of “carrying out a plot to bring down the Egyptian state and its institutions.” A defiant Morsi told the court, “I am the legitimate president of the country and this trial is not legal.” Morsi also shouted at the judge, yelling, “Who are you? Tell me!”  In a surprise move, however, he appointed Islamist thinker Mohamed Selim al-Awa as his defense lawyer, who will represent him in this trial and the three other cases Morsi faces. The session was not broadcast live despite an earlier announcement that it would be aired on state-run television. It was broadcast few hours later. Supporters of army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi attempted to prevent defense lawyers from entering the premises and verbally abused them, according to Ahram Online. Morsi supporters did not appear in the vicinity of the court, according to Al-Ahram. The trial was postponed on Tuesday to February 22, while the prosecution ordered the arrest of 109 more fugitive defendants. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, AFP, AP, Mada Masr, AMAY (Arabic), Ahram (Arabic), Egypt Independent, Reuters, 1/28/2014]

Egypt’s second stimulus package almost ready says finance minister
The details of Egypt’s second stimulus package will be announced within days, Finance Minister Ahmed Galal told reporters at an investment conference today. Galal had previously said that EGP 20 billion of the stimulus package would be spent on public investment. The rest would be used to cover a public sector minimum wage. “It is ready, we just have a part missing with the oil ministry … and we’ll announce it within days,” Galal said. The launch of the stimulus package could coincide with army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, announcing he will run for the presidency, a vote he is almost sure to win. [Reuters, 1/28/2014]

US dodges questions on Sisi’s presidency bid; Hagel and Sisi discuss roadmap
US officials on Monday deflected questions about plans for Egypt’s army chief to run for the presidency, but stressed it was important to maintain “checks and balances” between the military and government. “Only the people of Egypt can take the next steps in their transition,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney as the Egyptian military backed its commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stand in presidential elections slated for mid-April. The US State Department reiterated Monday that the decision on who will run for the next presidential elections in Egypt is up to the Egyptian people, noting that Defense Minister Sisi has not yet announced running for the presidential election. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Sisi also spoke by phone Monday. Hagel expressed condolences for the loss of life and offered US assistance after several recent terrorist attacks. They both acknowledged the firm US-Egypt partnership given the recent attacks and agreed to speak again soon. [AFP/Ahram Online, White House briefing, Egypt Independent, State Dept statement, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), US Defense Dept Readout, 1/28/2014]


Libyan port rebels see deal possible within weeks
A deal to lift an armed blockade of Libyan oil ports and restart exports could be possible within two weeks after talks with the government advanced on key demands, senior leader of the self-declared eastern region movement Abbo-Rabbo al-Barassi said. Efforts by Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s government, deputies from the legislature, and tribal leaders to mediate an end to the port seizures, which have been ongoing for several months, have thus far failed. Led by former anti-Qadhafi rebel Ibrahim Jadhran, the federalist group seized three major eastern ports last summer to demand a greater share of oil wealth and more regional autonomy, significantly reducing oil export and production. Sources say Zidan could win the upper hand in this battle over the oil ports and that Jadhran’s political support may be waning. [Reuters, 1/28/2014]

Power cut misery to continue until Warshefana clashes resolved
Homes across Tripoli will continue to face rolling power cuts until the fighting in Warshefana has ended and security in the area stabilized, according to the General Electric Company of Libya (GECOL). Main transmission lines and pylons in Zahra and Ma’moura were damaged during recent fighting and engineers have been unable to safely work on the area to restore normal operations. Residents in some areas have reported long outages, with up to nine hours of cuts experienced in Janzour. The electricity shortages are also having a knock-on effect on internet services with many homes and offices left without internet, even when there is electricity. [Libya Herald, 1/28/2014]

Libya Post Company engineer kidnapped in Benghazi
In a sign of continued security deterioration and growing lawlessness, an engineer of the Libya Post Company was kidnapped in Benghazi by three unidentified gunmen, according to the city’s Joint Security Room. Authorities have launched an investigation. In a separate incident, gunmen attempted to kill a pilot who had previously worked for the interior ministry. The flight lieutenant was shot several times and rushed to the hospital; his condition is unknown. [Libya Herald, 1/28/2014]


Congress secretly approves US weapons flow to ‘moderate’ rebels
Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and US funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according US and European security officials. The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets. The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft. The weapons deliveries have been funded by the US Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said. A US official familiar with recent developments said national security officials and members of Congress are more confident that weapons delivered to southern Syria are going to, and remaining in, the hands of moderate rebels rather than militant jihadist factions. Congress approved funding for weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation, two sources familiar with the matter said. It was not clear when the funding was approved, but unclassified defense funding passed Congress in late December. [Reuters, 1/28/2014]

Talks fail to lift blockade of Homs; Aid convoy standing by; Afternoon negotiations cancelled
The Syrian government on Monday failed to authorize an international aid convoy to enter blockaded areas in the city of Homs, as the opposition’s Western backers declared that if the delivery was not allowed by next week they would be likely to challenge the government in the UN Security Council. UN mediators had hoped the aid delivery would serve as a confidence-building measure at the tenuous peace talks here, and the lack of progress sharpened tensions as the opposing delegations clashed over their widely differing views of the basic purpose of the negotiations. The United Nations has trucks loaded with food supplies for up to 2,500 people ready at a warehouse outside the Old City of Homs but has not yet received authorization to proceed. The opposition is willing to lift a siege on three pro-government villages in the north of the country as part of a wider agreement to relieve besieged towns on both sides, the opposition’s spokesman said on Tuesday. Tuesday’s afternoon negotiation session was cancelled owing to differences over the goal of the talks, namely the embrace of the Geneva I communique, which stipulates complete political transition in Syria. [NYT, Reuters, 1/28/2014]

Syria army edges forward in Aleppo
The Syrian army is edging its way towards southeastern Aleppo as it battles rebel fighters for control of the northern city, a monitor and a pro-government daily said Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was a “limited advance” but the first by government troops in more than a year, and that residents fearing a major operation were fleeing the region. The troops have gained some ground in Aleppo in the past few weeks, following a massive aerial bombing campaign, and taking advantage of the fact that rebels who hold large swathes of territory have turned their guns against jihadist fighters. The offensive was launched from Nairab military airport east of Aleppo. Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to President Bashar Assad’s government, said the troops made the advance on Monday and also seized the districts of Ballura and Kasr al-Tarrab. It too said the operation had been launched from Nairab airport in the east, as well as Aziza village in the south, while adding it had reached the outskirts of Mayssar, a rebel bastion in southeast Aleppo. Sources said residents of Mayssar, nearby Marjeh, and Enzarrat were fleeing their homes for “neighborhoods controlled by regime forces… because of the fighting.” [AFP, 1/28/2014]

Opposition seeks to woo Moscow
Syria’s opposition is trying to drive a wedge between the regime and its most powerful foreign backer by assuring Russia that if it backs a transitional government without President Bashar al-Assad, the military alliance would remain intact. Ahmad Jarba, leader of the opposition delegation to unprecedented talks with the Syrian regime in Geneva, told the Wall Street Journal that he had received assurances from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow wasn’t wedded to its longtime ally. Mr. Jarba said he had accepted an invitation from Mr. Lavrov to visit Moscow in the coming weeks. He said Mr. Lavrov had given him that assurance when they discussed plans for the visit during a meeting earlier this month in Paris. “The Russians said: ‘We aren’t holding on to Assad, but we must have a political process in Geneva,'” Mr. Jarba said, speaking from his heavily guarded hotel room in the Swiss city. [WSJ, 1/28/2014]


NCA to vote on Jomaa’s cabinet
On Tuesday morning, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will vote on the cabinet set forward by caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Sunday. Once elected, the caretaker government will manage the country as it moves towards elections at an undetermined date later this year. This is a significant step forward on the country’s roadmap towards democracy. Jomaa came to power earlier this year after Prime Minister Larayedh stepped down as part of a transition process negotiated by political leaders late last year to resolve a lengthy political stalemate. The replacement of the current government, led by the Islamist Ennahda party, with a caretaker administration was a key aspect of that agreement. [Tunisia Live, 1/28/2014]

Jomaa outlines government’s plan
Speaking in front of the NCA on Tuesday morning during a plenary session devoted to the confidence vote on his new government, Jomaa outlined a broad plan for his time as prime minister. He emphasized his commitment to the organization of free and transparent elections, to improve the security situation in the country, and to fight terrorism. He also stressed his commitment to respect the roadmap provisions. [TAP, 1/28/2014]

Jomaa’s cabinet includes some controversial choices
Jomaa’s cabinet is made up of twenty-one ministers and seven secretaries of state, a position below the rank of minister. While his cabinet still needs to be approved by the NCA today, the presentation of a cabinet lineup to the NCA demonstrates strong support from key political parties. Nonetheless, the cabinet is regarded as controversial for several reasons. Of the twenty-eight members of the cabinet, only three are women: Nejla Harrouch, Minister of Trade and Handicrafts; Amel Karboul, Minister of Tourism; and Neila Chaabane, Secretary of State for Women and the Family. Lotfi Ben Jeddou has been kept on as Minister of Interior, a position he has held since cabinets were reshuffled shortly after the assassination of Chokri Belaid in February 2013. He has been criticized for what some see as an ineffective investigation into Belaid’s death, as well as for his handling of the July assassination of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi. [Tunisia Live, 1/27/2014]

Tunisia’s constitution hailed as significant milestone around the world
Tunisia’s new constitution, which was ratified by the NCA on Sunday and signed by the president and prime minister on Monday, has been hailed as a significant and historic milestone for Tunisia’s transition to a democracy following its revolution over three years ago. The constitution and the country’s transition have received praise around the world, including from Canada, the EU, France, Iran, the UN, the UK, and the US. Tunisia is regarded as a beacon of hope in a region where the political transitions of the last three years are struggling to progress. [All Africa, 1/27/2014]


Hadi forms committee to determine federal regions
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi formed a committee of twenty-two members to determine the number of regions Yemen will have once the proposed federal system is implemented. The members are made up primarily of former National Dialogue Conference (NDC) members representing multiple political affiliations. The committee is tasked with studying a six-state and two-state option and what provinces would comprise the various states. No deadline is set, but the committee’s decision is meant to be passed to a constitutional committee that will be formed in the coming days. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/28/2014]

Hadi meets with Southern leaders to discuss federalism
President Hadi met with leaders of four southern districts—Aden, Lahj, Abyan, and al-Dali’—to discuss the benefits of federalism as well as the types of authority the districts will have. He noted that each region will have a parliament and a council of ministers. Hadi likewise emphasized that local administration of health and education services would improve service delivery. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Saba; 1/28/2014]

Security forces aim to build trust with citizens
In a meeting with security delegations from the United Kingdom and the European Union, Yemen’s chief of staff of the Special Security Forces said he welcomed the NDC outcomes calling for security forces to build relationships with citizens and respect human rights. A British military attaché called upon security forces to comply with the NDC outcomes, saying that Yemenis still associate security forces with “gross human rights violations.” [Yemen Times, 1/28/2014]

Ministry of finance report points to positive indicators
Yemen’s economy appears to have begun recovering in 2013 after two tumultuous years since the uprising in 2011. Yemen’s GDP rose to 5.4 percent from 2 percent in 2012 and negative 12.8 percent in 2011. There was also a steady decrease in inflation rates. Still, there are significant worries about the continued lack of foreign investment and disruption in oil pipelines due to sabotage, as the number of attacks on oil pipelines has increased in recent years. [al-Shorfa, 1/28/2014]


Iraq set to triple crude output by 2020 but Syria spillover interferes
Iraq may soon challenge Saudi Arabia as the “swing producer” in the world energy markets and which may lead to a dramatic fall in oil prices. Though Iraq’s export terminals will require billions to develop, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister for Energy Hussain al-Shahristani believes that they will be able to triple their capacity to pump crude oil by the end of the decade. The government of Iraq also issued a stern warning to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), that exporting oil from the region before an agreement is reached will force the central government to “take action to protect its oil wealth,” further indicating that fiscal measures would be pursued if oil was exported from the region. Other concerns for Iraq’s oil potential center around security, from fears of Syrian spillover to internal unrest. “The ongoing conflict in Syria has resulted in an increasing number of terrorists using vast desert areas between Syria and Iraq to establish bases from which they have carried out attacks against the civilian population and economic targets and infrastructure,” al-Shahristani said. “Attacking the energy sector has been among their top priorities to deprive the country of its main revenue source. The attacks have been focused on oil export pipelines, power generation and transmission lines.” To assist with Iraq’s security, the US Congress has cleared the way for Iraq to receive new forms of military equipment, like Apache Helicopters and Hellfire missiles. [Telegraph, 1/28/2014]

Image: Officers in front of Egypt's Ministry of Interior. (Photo: Reuters)