Top News: Egypt’s Shoukry, Kerry discuss security challenges, cooperation

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with US Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday as part of his three-day visit to Washington D.C. In a press conference held on Tuesday, Shoukry affirmed the significance of the Egyptian-US strategic relationship and expressed the desire to further strengthen bilateral relations and heighten cooperation. Kerry applauded Egypt’s efforts with regards to the Syrian crisis and asserted that Egypt plays a pivotal role in the region. Approaching the end of the press conference, Kerry mentioned that Egypt is in coordination with Israel, Jordan and the United States regarding Sinai and its eastern border with Gaza in particular. Kerry added that Egypt’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian political process was discussed in their meeting. Shoukri described his meetings with US officials as “fruitful,” adding that US-Egypt relations have been the keystone of Egypt’s foreign policy. Meanwhile, Ambassador David Thorne, the Senior Advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, arrived in Cairo to meet with senior Egyptian officials, business executives, and representatives of US businesses operating in Egypt. Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, also arrived in Cairo, where she plans to meet and talk with government officials, religious figures, and civil society leaders during her four-day visit. She also delivered remarks at the American University in Cairo on the role of women in Egypt. [Aswat Masriya, AMAY, SIS, DNE, 2/9/2016]



Court acquits Mubarak’s Information Minister of corruption charges
Anas al-Fiky, Egypt’s Minister of Information during former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, was acquitted of corruption by a Cairo criminal court in his retrial earlier Wednesday. Fiky, who served in public office for nearly 10 years, had been referred by prosecutors to court on accusations of “illegally obtaining” EGP 33.4 million ($4.3 million). The former minister was acquitted after the Court of Cassation accepted his appeal on the verdict previously handed to him in the case, a year with hard labor and a fine of EGP 1.8 million ($230,000). Fiky is not in custody but the verdict is subject to further appeal by the public prosecution, which is the body that has the authority to appeal not-guilty verdicts. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/10/2016]

Egyptian policeman sentenced to eight years for murder, torture
A police officer in Egypt’s eastern city of Ismailia has been sentenced to eight years in jail for beating a man to death in custody and falsifying police records, judicial sources said on Tuesday. The court sentenced Officer Mohamed Ibrahim to five years for “torture and beating leading to death” and three years for falsifying police records regarding the case. The verdict can be appealed. The case dates back to late November when veterinarian Afifi Hassan Afifi reportedly died while being interrogated by the police. In a video that went viral on social media, Afifi is seen in his wife’s pharmacy when four men in plain clothes entered and took him away. His funeral triggered protests against police violence. It was one of a series of incidents that prompted President Sisi to offer a rare apology for police abuses. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, AP, Mada Masr, 2/9/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Egypt supports UN-backed efforts to form Libya’s national unity government
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met on Tuesday with Libyan parliament head Aguila Saleh to stress Egypt’s support of the UN-backed political roadmap in Libya and the importance of having a unified government. Sisi told Saleh that Egypt is willing to provide support to Libya in working towards establishing stability and security, Egyptian Presidential Spokesperson Alaa Youssef said in a statement. Saleh expressed in the meeting Libya’s keenness to coordinate with Egypt in moving ahead with the political process in Libya. Sisi also stressed on the importance of lifting the arms embargo on Libya so as to help in the country’s fight against terrorism. In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the international community should not intervene against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) expansion in Libya until a Libyan government is formed and requests such assistance. Shoukry told reporters that the international community should recognize Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar and his forces in their fight against terrorists in the country. Shoukry echoed these statements in a Tuesday interview with Reuters, in which he acknowledged efforts to forge a single government in Libya have been “difficult.” Meanwhile, in an interview with AP, Brig. Gen. Saqr al-Jaroushi, Libya’s Air Force Chief of Staff, said four civilians were killed in Derna by an airstrike the day before. Jaroushi says that strike was carried out by a “neighboring country,” in a thinly-veiled reference to Egypt. [Reuters, Ahram Online, DNE, MENA, 2/10/2016]

Libya parliament extends deadline for new unity government
Lawmakers from Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) voted on Tuesday to give the UN-backed Presidential Council until Sunday, February 14 to form a national unity government. The HOR will then vote on the proposed cabinet on Monday, February 15. The council was supposed to present a new lineup for the power-sharing authority this week, but on Monday it asked for an extension. The selection of a defense minister has reportedly caused discord within the council and has required additional time to present the new slate. Last month the HOR rejected an initial lineup of 32 ministers and asked for it to be trimmed. [AFP, Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 2/10/2016]

Pentagon seeks funding for Libya, Africa military operations
The Pentagon is seeking $200 million in the 2017 budget for counterterrorism operations in Libya and other portions of North and West Africa. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force General Paul Selva said the new funding was aimed at addressing threats from militant groups across Africa, including al-Shabaab in the east, Boko Haram in the west, and ISIS in Libya. The new funding provides the first concrete indication of what the US military may do to battle the threat, including expanded drone and surveillance flights, strikes, and other operations. It is the first time the Pentagon has included a separate increase for operations against ISIS in Africa. [AP, Reuters, 2/9/2016]

RAF flying Libyan missions in preparation for helping unity government
The Royal Air Force is flying missions over Libya in preparation for a possible invitation by a Libyan unity government to help its army stabilize the country, including combating the growing threat of ISIS, UK Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said on Tuesday. Ellwood stressed there was no possibility of UK troops going to Libya to fight ISIS forces themselves, but that they may help with the training of the Libyan army if a government of national unity is formed. The forces would also help to train the Libyan forces responsible for protecting the vital oilfields. Ellwood was pressed to disclose how many missions the RAF had flown, and whether they involved the use of drones, but he refused to do so. [Guardian, 2/10/2016]

Morocco stands by Saudi against threats to Gulf peace
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said on Wednesday that Rabat stands in complete solidarity with Saudi Arabia against any threats to stability of the Gulf region. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was in Rabat on his first visit to Morocco since his appointment last year. Mezouar emphasized that Morocco stands with Saudi against threats to the Gulf region’s peace, and said that the Saudi-led military operation which began in Yemen last year “proved that it was launched to defend legitimacy” in the country. [Al Arabiya, 2/10/2016]


Washington hints at a military “Plan B” in Syria if ceasefire fails
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States may resort to a “Plan B” and a new military initiative in Syria if there is a lack of progress in securing a ceasefire. “What we’re doing is testing [Russian and Iranian] seriousness,” he said. “And if they’re not serious, then there has to be consideration of a Plan B. . . You can’t just sit there.” Kerry said the aim, would be “to lead a coalition against ISIS, and also to support the opposition against Assad.” He said Obama has already directed the Pentagon and the intelligence community to move “harder and faster” against ISIS so that the group “is reined in and curbed and degraded and neutralized as fast as possible.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday Russia had proposed a “concrete” plan to resolve the Syria crisis to the United States. Secretary Kerry also made statements on Tuesday, urging Russia to help with an agreement on a ceasefire. “Russia’s activities from Aleppo and in the region are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and be able to have a serious conversation,” Kerry said. [Asharq al-Awsat, Washington Post, 2/10/2016]

Syrian rebels demand US action ahead of peace talks
Rebel groups urged US President Barack Obama to do more to stop Russian bombing raids in Syria as pressure mounted on Washington for greater commitment towards resolving the five-year-old war ahead of a new round of peace talks this week. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will discuss the alarming humanitarian situation in Syria and the recent displacement of tens of thousands of people fleeing a Russian-backed assault around Aleppo, New Zealand’s UN envoy said Tuesday. The closed-door consultations scheduled for Wednesday and were jointly requested by New Zealand and Spain, backed by other Western powers. “There are reports of at least 30,000 people displaced from Aleppo and it’s the middle of winter,” New Zealand Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen said. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

Kurds attack Syrian air base held by insurgents
Kurdish fighters backed by Russian airstrikes launched an attack in northern Syria on Wednesday in an attempt to capture a military air base held by Syrian insurgents, activists and a rebel commander said. Syria’s Kurds have been among the most effective forces battling ISIS, but have remained largely neutral in the conflict. The Kurds appear to be exploiting the chaos, of the Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes waging a major offensive between Aleppo and the Turkish border, to expand their nearby Afrin enclave. Maj. Yasser Abdul-Rahim, a rebel commander in the northern province of Aleppo, said that fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are clashing with rebels near Mannagh air base. He accused the YPG of trying to take Arab villages near Afrin. “We are fighting on three fronts,” he said via Skype, referring to the YPG, Syrian troops, and ISIS. He warned that Mannagh air base could fall to Kurdish fighters because of the Russian air cover and the intensity of the attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said YPG fighters are trying to capture the former Syrian army air base, which fell to the opposition in August 2013. [AP, 2/10/2016]

Turkey summons US ambassador over Syrian Kurdish forces spat
Turkey has summoned the US ambassador to “convey unease” a day after the US State Department spokesman said that, unlike Turkey, Washington doesn’t recognize Syrian Kurdish forces as “terrorists.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced a visit by the US envoy to the coalition against ISIL, Brett McGurk, to Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, underlining the “mistrust” the visit created in Ankara over the nature of Turkey’s “partnership” with the United States. On Monday, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the US administration understands Turkey’s longstanding concerns over Syria’s Kurdish militias, but that it does not view them as a terrorist group and will continue supporting them in the fight against ISIS. The remarks prompted a harsh reaction in Ankara, who asked Washington to choose sides: either Turkey or the PYD. [AP, Reuters, Today’s Zaman, 2/10/2016]

500 dead in Syria regime’s Aleppo assault; airstrike hits MSF-supported hospital
More than 500 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed since a major Russian-backed regime offensive in Syria’s Aleppo province began this month, a monitor said on Wednesday. The SOHR said the toll of 506 included 23 children killed in Russian air strikes on Aleppo city and its surroundings since the operation was launched on February 1. Tens of thousands of Syrians were still stranded Wednesday at the frontier north of the second city of Aleppo, which remained closed despite an appeal by the United Nations to let civilians pass. Meanwhile, an airstrike hit a hospital in southern Syria that is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières, killing three people and wounding six, the medical charity has said in a statement on Tuesday. “It caused partial damage to the hospital building, and put its heavily used ambulance service out of action. . . The hospital is the latest medical facility to be hit in a series of airstrikes in southern Syria, which have been escalating over the past two months.” [AFP, 2/10/2016]

Turkish president fires back at UN over demand to open border
Turkey’s president on Wednesday fired back at the United Nations for demanding that Turkey open its border to tens of thousands of more Syrian refugees, accusing the world body of being ineffective over the refugee crisis and of not shouldering the burden like Turkey. Already home to about 3 million refugees, Turkey has kept a key border crossing closed, prompting UNHCR on Tuesday to urge Turkey to admit “all civilians who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection as they have done since the start of this crisis.” President Erdogan responded to that demand by saying the UN had provided $455 million to Turkey compared to the $10 billion Turkey had spent on the refugees since 2011. On Wednesday, Suleyman Tapsiz, the governor for the border province of Kilis, said Turkey allowed in 12 Syrians who were seriously injured in Russian and Syrian bombings near the town of Tel Rifaat, in northern Syria. The governor denied accusations that Turkey had closed its borders to the refugees, insisting that the country had chosen to assist the new arrivals at the displaced peoples’ camps just across the border, but would let them in if the need arises later. [AP, Washington Post, 2/10/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Iraqi Prime Minister to reshuffle cabinet
In a televised speech on Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said he would reshuffle his cabinet to appoint technocrats to replace ministers appointed based on political affiliations. He gave no details about the timing of the change or what positions would be affected, but promised decisions soon including ones related to fighting corruption. However, some in Iraq are not convinced that this will be an easy plan to implement. Wathiq al-Hashimi, chairman of the Iraqi Group for Strategic Studies think-tank, said Abadi’s decision to reshuffle his cabinet puts him in a face-off with powerful political groups, including those in his own ruling alliance. [Reuters, 2/9/2016]

Iraq army enters last ISIS stronghold in Ramadi
Iraqi security forces have entered the last remaining ISIS stronghold in Husaybah, which is east of the central city of Ramadi, security sources said. The announcement, more than a month after Ramadi was first declared liberated in December, underscores the slow nature of Iraqi ground operations despite heavy backing from US-led coalition airstrikes. Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said government forces are going from house to house clearing explosives left behind by ISIS. The governor of Anbar province praised Iraqi security forces and the U.S.-led coalition for their work to “liberate Ramadi completely,” but was quick to emphasize that critical security and humanitarian issues remained. Violence has emptied Ramadi of civilians and much of the city remains blanketed in homemade bombs, also called improvised explosive devices or IEDs that ISIS laid while they were retreating. [Al Jazeera, AP, 2/9/2016]

Baghdad arms Christian volunteers in Nineveh
The Iraqi government has offered arms and combat training to nearly 800 Christian recruits who have volunteered to join a new force based in the disputed Nineveh province, General Bahnam Aboosh, leader of the new unit, told Rudaw. Aboosh said the military unit was formed after nearly a year of negotiations and since last year, some 300 of the recruits have completed military exercises with both the US and Iraqi armies. Nineveh has been patrolled by Peshmerga forces since 2014 while the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition make plans and ready ground forces to retake the provincial capital of Mosul from ISIS in the coming year. [Rudaw, 2/10/2016]

Iraqi Prime Minister meets with the Pope
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met Pope Francis in the Vatican after arriving in Italy on an official visit. During a meeting, Abadi said that Iraqis are united in the fight against terrorism and stressed the importance of religious tolerance and freedom of religion in Iraq. Abadi further expressed his appreciation that the Pope has urged Christians to stay in Iraq and defend it. A statement from the Holy See Press Office called the talks “cordial,” adding that reference was made to the good state of bilateral relations between Iraq and the Holy See, the life of the Church in the country, as well as the situation of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities living in Iraq, with particular reference to the importance of their presence and the need to protect their rights. [Iraqi News, Vatican Radio, 2/10/2016]


Yemeni government forces reach outskirts of Sana’a
Yemeni Vice President Khaled Bahah said on Tuesday that his internationally recognized government and allies are now close enough to recapture the capital Sana’a from the Iranian-backed Houthi militias. “We are now in control of more than 80 percent of the Yemeni territories and we are now close to Sana’a,” Bahah said during the World Government Summit conference in Dubai. He said his government is taking necessary measures to lift its blockade of Taiz and ensure access to supplies. Amnesty International warned that Houthi militias and their allies are endangering “the lives of thousands of civilians” in Taiz after stopping entry of necessary medical and food supplies in the past three months. [Al Arabiya, 2/9/2016]

Kuwait backs alliances against ISIS, but no troops
Kuwait backs international efforts against hardline Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, although the Gulf Arab state’s constitution prevents it from fighting in anything but defensive wars, a senior Kuwaiti official said. Kuwait, a US ally and neighbor of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is part of a 34-nation alliance announced by Riyadh in December aimed at countering Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan. Several Gulf Arab states including Kuwait also provide varying kinds of support to a US-led coalition that has been fighting ISIS in Syria since 2014. [Reuters, 2/9/2016]

Family of five killed in coalition strike on Yemen capital
Five members of a family were killed when a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit their home in Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sana’a, rescuers, and neighbors said Wednesday. The bodies of a father and two of his children were still under the rubble of the destroyed building as rescue workers retrieved the bodies of a woman and young girl. It was not immediately clear if there were any other people in the building when it was hit. [AFP, 2/10/2016]

Nineteen terror suspects arrested in Saudi Arabia
Saudi security authorities have arrested 19 terror suspects from different Arab countries in the last two weeks. The suspects were detained in various parts of the country. According to the figures released by the Interior Ministry, 13 of the suspects were Egyptians, while the others were from Yemen, Syria, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. [Gulf News, 2/10/2016]


Iraq’s troubled finances slow efforts to rebuild Ramadi
Strains on Iraq’s budget from falling oil prices are delaying the removal of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) explosives in Ramadi and the restoration of basic services needed for displaced civilians to return to the city. Ramadi’s hundreds of thousands of residents will not be able to return until bombs are removed and infrastructure damaged by six months of fighting is rehabilitated. These operations require millions of dollars that Baghdad cannot spare. “We know that the government has its back against the wall fiscally. In order to stabilize areas and to help displaced families go back, we’ve got to do more,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Lise Grande. She appealed to international donors for at least $40 million in additional assistance for initial reconstruction efforts. Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi said his provincial government had not received its share of the federal budget in about two months. Other than UN-funded activities, he said efforts to prepare Ramadi for the return of civilians are being financed “through local efforts” of provincial authorities. Unless additional funds are provided, Grande says it could take nine months for efforts to clear a single district in southern Ramadi.[Reuters, 2/9/2016]

In Egypt, medicines disappear from shelves amid dollar shortage
Declines in the value of the Egyptian pound and a shortage of foreign exchange have made it harder for Egyptian pharmaceutical companies to import active ingredients they need to make generic medicines. Though medicines are classed as essential goods, which puts them high on the priority list at banks deciding how to allocate dollars, pharmaceutical companies say they still face serious problems that have forced them to slow or pause production. A weaker currency has also made it more expensive to import raw materials, while the price of finished medicines remains fixed by the Health Ministry. This has forced manufacturers to stop producing some cheap generic medicines. Head of the Health Ministry’s Drug Shortages Directorate (DSD) acknowledged that Egypt’s dollar crisis is exacerbating shortages. He said the Health Ministry is looking at raising prices to encourage production. Medical professionals, however, say the shortages are more widespread and urgent than the official figures suggest. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

New risk management, governance rules for UAE banks by year-end
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to release new risk management and corporate governance rules for banks by the end of this year, Head of Regulatory Development at the Central Bank James O’Brien said. “We are changing the UAE regulatory framework that will be consistent and transparent as per international standards,” O’Brien told a conference of regional regulators. “There will be a clear emphasis on board and management responsibility and accountability,” he said, adding that financial institutions will be given prior notice and time to implement the new regulations. O’Brien did not give details of the reforms, but said regulations governing non-bank financial companies are also under review. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain ban Iranian ships from ports
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have banned Iranian-flagged vessels from entering their waters and imposed other shipping restrictions. A ban on Iranian ships in those ports is unlikely to affect international trade, although it comes as Iran is struggling to increase oil exports amid insurance and financial hurdles that remain even though international curbs on its banking, insurance, and shipping sectors were lifted last month. Norwegian ship insurer Gard said that Bahrain had imposed a ban on any vessel that has visited Iran as one of its last three port calls. [Reuters, 2/9/2016]