Top News: EU Considers Naval Presence to Tackle Libya; Leon Favors Naval Blockade

The European Union (EU) is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if UN-backed peace talks lead to a settlement between the warring Tobruk-based and Tripoli-based governments. The EU currently has ships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries, but EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further. UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon agrees with Mogherini, saying that he favors a naval blockade and that it is a necessary and concrete action at this time. [ReutersAP, 3/7/2015]



US Congressional delegation meets Sisi, Shoukry, Sobhi
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Defense Minister Sedkhi Sobhi met a US Congress delegation Saturday, including key figures from the House of Representatives’ committees overseeing defense and foreign aid. The congressional delegation was headed  Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), head of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and Kay Granger (R-TX),  Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the State Department and foreign operations. They were accompanied by Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), John R. Carter (R-TX), and nine others. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, Shoukry briefed the delegation on social, political, and economic developments in Egypt. The parties reaffirmed the necessity of the bilateral relationship to advance mutual interests. The Ministry of Defense reported that talks focussed on joint military cooperation. Meanwhile, in a statement issued last week, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called on US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to invite Sisi to give a speech at Congress. [DNE, 3/7/2015]

Law banning dual-nationality Egyptians from parliament ruled unconstitutional
Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court decided on Saturday that an article banning dual nationals from running for elections is unconstitutional, deeming another law of the three laws issued to regulate elections as unconstitutional.  Article 8 of the parliamentary elections laws states that one of the conditions a parliamentary hopeful must have in order to run for elections is to bear only Egyptian citizenship. Meanwhile, the committee responsible for amending the Election Constituency Division Law seeks to increase the number of seats elected as single candidates from 420 to 440, professor of constitutional law at Ain Shams University Aly Abdel-Aal, a member of the committee told Al-Ahram on Sunday. [Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 3/9/2015]

Egypt carries out first execution on Morsi supporter for murdering youth
An Alexandrian man convicted of murder was hanged on Saturday for the killing of a young man in 2013, becoming the first supporter of former president Mohamed Morsi to be executed in Egypt. Mahmoud Ramadan was executed after exhausting all possible judicial appeals, an interior ministry statement said on Saturday. He was found guilty of “killing a child by stabbing him and throwing him off a roof” according to the court statement. Ramadan, whose body was handed over to his family after the execution, was arrested in July 2013 after a video went viral showing him among a group of men assaulting seemingly young teenagers and throwing two off a high ledge on the roof of a building onto the terrace below. Ramadan’s execution was met with harsh criticism from Egypt’s Islamist entities, among them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Front. The Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) also condemned the execution, arguing that the verdict was issued without sufficient evidence or legal defense. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Mada Masr, The Guardian, Aswat Masriya, 3/8/2015]

At least five killed as explosions hit Mahalla, Alexandria, Menoufiya
A policeman and an army conscript were killed in the early hours of Saturday when an explosive device detonated in the central Delta’s city of Mahalla. The policeman had been on guard duty outside Emirates NBD bank near the site of the explosion. A third policeman died on Sunday, at a hospital after both his legs had been amputated above the knee.  The explosion left fifteen others injured. A series of bombings killed one person and injured nine in Alexandria on Sunday. The first blast killed one person and wounded five others outside a Carrefour supermarket, while a bomb blast outside Harambe police station in central Alexandria wounded four more. Security forces disarmed a third bomb device in the vicinity. A fourth bomb went off near the Bab Sharq police station without injuring or killing anyone. An IED detonated early Sunday in the Menoufiya governorate, apparently targeting a Vodafone shop in Shebein al-Koum city. No casualties were reported as a result of the bomb. In the days preceding the Economic Summit, set to start on March 13, bombs have targeted mobile and telecommunications branches, electricity and gas supply units, and a large shopping centre. This, experts say, aims to discourage potential investors, as it marks militants’ shift from their usual attacks on security personnel. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 3/8/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Foreigners missing after Libya oilfield attack; Filipinos in Tripoli looking to leave
Up to ten foreign workers are missing after Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants attacked the al-Ghani oilfield and there is a possibility they have been taken hostage. Among those missing are Czech, Austrian, Bangladesh, and Philippine citizens. Foreigners have increasingly become targets in Libya’s turmoil. Also, following the disappearance of these four Filipino oil workers, Filipinos in Tripoli now want to join the exodus of their fellow countrymen from Libya. The Philippines told its citizens in Libya to leave some time ago, but over 4,000 remain in the country. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/9/2015]

EU considers bigger naval presence to tackle Libya security issues; Leon favors naval blockade
The European Union (EU) is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if UN-backed peace talks lead to a settlement between the warring Tobruk-based and Tripoli-based governments. The EU currently has ships patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries, but EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further. UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon agrees with Mogherini, saying that he favors a naval blockade and that it is a necessary and concrete action at this time. [Reuters, AP, 3/7/2015]

Dialogue delegates head home to report on progress amid renewed threats to pull out by Tobruk
Delegates from both the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) and the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) returned to Libya to consult their colleagues after the UN-brokered talks in Morocco. While this is the fourth round of talks, it is the first time representatives from each of the rival parliaments are actively negotiating with each other. They have discussed the formation of a national unity government and security arrangements to pull the militias out of cities and airports. However, issues remain, as the House delegates fear that the United Nations is sympathetic to the GN,C and some members have threatened to withdraw from the dialogue. [Libya Herald, AP, 3/7/2015]

Tunisian ministers of defense and interior visit Ras Jedir border crossing
The Tunisian defense and interior ministers held an inspection visit to the border crossing of Ras Jedir, near Ben Guerdane on the Tunisia-Libya border. The ministers inquired about the working conditions of the police, army, and customs officers, as well as the flow of travellers and goods. They also discussed border protection and the fight against terrorism and smuggling, along with identifying any shortcomings in equipment, security, work tools, or logistics. [TAP/All Africa, 37/2015]

Tunisian Bar Association calls for strike
The National Bar Association of Tunisia called a general strike for today, denouncing the pressures on the legal profession by the government. The attorneys will hold a series of marches and demonstrations throughout the week. The strike was called after a series of attacks against lawyers, including the lawyer Ben Farah Mahbouba, who was allegedly assaulted by security officials in the city of Sfax. Aside from the assaults, the attorneys are upset over the state’s abuse of power as seen when the Sfax prosecutor referred thirty-eight lawyers to court without indicating why. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 3/9/2015]


Arab League in “urgent need” for unified anti-jihadist force
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called on Monday for the creation of a unified Arab force to battle the spread of Islamic extremist groups. “There is an urgent need for the creation of a multi-purpose common Arab military force… able to intervene rapidly to fight terrorism and the activities of terrorist groups.” He also stressed the importance of “cooperation in areas related to security protection and the exchange of information between Arab countries.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also called for such a force, saying it is needed to confront security threats in a region where the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). [AFP, 3/9/2015]

Iraqi troops, militia advance towards Tikrit; Kurdish forces attack ISIS west of Kirkuk
Iraqi security forces and Shia militia fighting ISIS took control of the centre of the town of al-Dour on the southern outskirts of Saddam Hussein’s home city Tikrit on Sunday. Iraqi military commanders said the army and Popular Mobilization Forces launched another offensive late on Saturday to break into the centre of al-Dour. By Sunday, they had succeeded in recapturing the central area where government headquarters are located, but ISIS militants were still holding positions in the west. The campaign, which was launched a week ago, to retake Tikrit is the biggest offensive so far against ISIS. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces attacked ISIS Monday around the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, backed by airstrikes from the US-led coalition. General Martin Dempsey vowed in Baghdad on Monday that ISIS will be defeated. He emphasized that strikes must “be very precise” to avoid “additional suffering,” and that while the priority has been protecting people, it may also be possible to use air power to defend Iraqi heritage sites being targeted by the jihadists. [Reuters, 3/8/2015]

UN threatens force if chlorine used in Syria
The UN Security Council Friday approved a US-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals like chlorine in Syria without assigning blame, while threatening militarily enforced action in the case of further violations. The resolution follows last month’s condemnation by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog of the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) fact-finding mission concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in Syria last year, killing thirteen people. The OPCW did not assign blame, but some council members, including Britain and France, have blamed Syria’s government for the attacks, pointing out that the fact-finding reports linked chlorine attacks to helicopters and that only Syria’s government has helicopters.[AP, 3/7/2015]

German woman fighter dead in Kurd-ISIS clashes in Syria
A German woman Ivana Hoffman fighting with Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) was killed battling ISIS in Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Hoffman, born in Germany to South African parents, is the third foreign national – and the first female foreign fighter – known to be killed fighting with Kurdish forces against ISIS. A YPG spokesperson said Hoffman was a member of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in Turkey, and joined YPG fighters about six months ago. [AFP, AP, 3/9/2015]

Deadly strike on ISIS-run refinery in Syria
A US-led coalition air strike in Syria hit an oil refinery run by ISIS on the border with Turkey on Sunday, killing thirty people, according to SOHR. The targeted refinery was just northeast of the town of Tel Abyad between Kurdish controlled Kobani and al-Hasakah province. On Sunday, an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province hit a camp used by the Nusra Front, killing at least nine of its fighters, among them were four foreign fighters. Last week, a top military commander from the Nusra Front was killed in an airstrike in Idlib. The Syrian army said it carried out the attack. [BBC, Reuters, 3/9/2015]


Yemen’s president considers Aden the capital
On Saturday, an aid to the Yemeni president quoted him as saying, “Aden became the capital of Yemen as soon as the Houthis occupied Sana’a.” President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s claim is purely symbolic, as moving the capital would require a change to the constitution, but it reflects the president’s determination to hold out against Houthi efforts to extend their sway. Several Gulf countries moved their embassies to Aden where Hadi fled after escaping house arrest in Sana’a. [Al Arabiya, AFP, Al Jazeera, 3/7/2015]

Yemen’s Defense Minister escapes to Aden
Defense Minister General Mahmoud al-Subaihi escaped in a convoy on Saturday night, arriving in the southern port city of Aden early on Sunday. Houthis shot and killed four of Subaihi’s security guards in the western province of Hodeida, where they attacked a convoy in their search for the minister. Subaihi was placed under house arrest on February 6 after Houthis took control of the capital. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 3/7/2015]

UAE to try Kuwaiti ex-MP for inciting sedition
The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it would try a Kuwaiti Islamist ex-MP in absentia for allegedly “inciting sedition” in remarks he made about Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince. Mubarak al-Duwailah has been referred to the UAE’s top court, for abusing religion to incite sedition and disturb national peace. Duwailah is a leading figure in the Islamic Constitutional Movement, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait. On November 15, the UAE published a list of eighty-three terrorist groups, topped by the Muslim Brotherhood. [AFP, 3/8/2015]

Saudi Arabia rejects rights criticism after flogging of blogger
Saudi Arabia defended its human rights record on Saturday in its first public reaction to international criticism over last year’s sentencing of liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and ten years in jail for insulting Islam. “Saudi Arabia expresses its intense surprise and dismay at what is being reported by some media about the case of citizen Raif Badawi and his sentence,” said a statement carried on state media. The statement said Saudi courts were independent and that the kingdom’s constitution ensured the protection of human rights because it was based on Islamic Sharia law. [Reuters, BBC, Gulf News, 3/7/2015]

Oman jails rights activist who wrote letter to Obama
An Omani court jailed a prominent activist for three years on Sunday for a range of offences including undermining the state, a charge a newspaper said was related to an open letter to US president Barack Obama about human rights in the country. The Court of First Instance in Muscat found Said Jadad, who took part in the 2011 protests, guilty of “undermining the prestige of the state”, inciting the public to join an illegal gathering and using the Internet to publish materials that disturb public order. [Reuters, 3/8/2015]


Egypt’s economy grew 4.3 percent in second fiscal quarter
According to Egypt’s Planning Minister, Egypt’s economy grew 4.3 percent in the quarter ending in December 2013, compared with 1.4 percent during the same period the previous year. Unemployment was also calculated at 12.9 percent at the end of December, down from 13.4 percent a year earlier. The MInister further added that Egypt’s GDP grew 5.6 percent in the first half of the 2014/15 fiscal year, which began in July, versus 1.2 percent in the year-earlier period. [Amwal Al Ghad, 3/8/2015]

Bahrain to investigate alleged waste of $1.1 billion of public money
Bahraini legislators plan to investigate the alleged squandering of 400 million dinars ($1.06 billion) of public funds by government departments and state-linked companies. The $1 billion-plus would represent a significant proportion of the kingdom’s gross domestic product — pegged at $34 billion by the International Monetary Fund last year — at a time when the oil-producing Gulf Arab state’s finances are under increased pressure because of a fall in crude prices. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]

Al-Thinni cabinet to pay health care debts, still drafting 2015 budget
The cabinet of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni says it plans to pay off outstanding healthcare bills owned to Tunisia and Jordan, and continue to work on drafting the 2015 budget. In early 2013, the Jordanian Health Minister put the figure at around JD 150 million ($ 212 million) for Jordan alone. In October 2013, a member of the Misrata Local Council estimated that money owed to Tunisian hospitals was “no less than $10 million.”  It has previously admitted to not having access to funds from the Central Bank of Libya, which ultimately controls the country’s oil revenues. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 3/10/2015]