Top News: EU Urges Libya Parties to Grasp Peace Deal

The European Union is urging Libya’s warring factions to grasp the opportunity of a new peace deal and is promising backing once a unity government is formed. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said Wednesday that the parties “are now really in the last mile” and must take their responsibilities and end a year of crisis. Specifically, Mogherini said that the EU “continue[s] to actively support the negotiations and we stand ready to provide immediate support to the new government, notably with a substantial 100 million euro package to support Libya on its new course.” UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said Tuesday that he has presented the factions with a final draft of a peace deal and urged all parties to accept it. [AP, 9/23/2015]



Egypt pardons 100, including Al Jazeera journalists, activists Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Wednesday the pardoning of 100 prisoners, including Al Jazeera’s television journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, and prominent activists, Sanaa Seif and Yara Sallam, who were charged with violating the protest law. The pardon also included Shura Council protesters Hany al-Gamal and Peter Youssef and Alexandrian activist Omar Hazek, who was sentenced alongside Mahienour El-Massry, Youssef Shaaban, and Loay al-Ahwagy who recently had their appeal rejected. There was no news concerning the three activists. State-run news agency MENA said that the pardoned activists, among whom there were sixteen women, would be released Wednesday. The presidency is expected to pardon 358 others on Thursday. Amnesty International Egypt welcomed the decision via its Facebook page. The rights group said it “hoped that the decision stems from the authorities’ conviction of the innocence of those imprisoned and is not related to the Egyptian president’s upcoming visit to [the United States].” The pardons come ahead of Sisi’s visit to New York Thursday to attend the United Nations 70th General Assembly. The Canadian government also said it was pleased with Fahmy’s pardon, adding that it looks forward to his return to Canada. A day before the pardons were announced, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government will continue to press Egypt to pardon Australian journalist Peter Greste, and Fahmy and Mohamed. It is unclear if Greste was among those pardoned Wednesday. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, 9/23/2015]

HEC issues media coverage rules; Court rules on medical fees lawsuit
Egypt’s High Elections Committee issued Tuesday criteria and standards to be followed by media and advertising agencies in their coverage of upcoming parliamentary elections. The committee said media coverage must be neutral and balanced, and should avoid material that could be seen as positive or negative propaganda towards a certain candidate. Journalist candidates are prohibited from presenting any TV or radio shows during the campaigning period. Restrictions also include a ban on the use of religious slogans or discrimination based on gender or race, a ban on using governmental buildings, institutions or transportation, houses of worship, schools and universities in campaigning, and paid advertisements in newscasts. Meanwhile the Administrative Court rejected a lawsuit demanding the annulment of the Health Ministry’s fees for candidates’ examinations. It also rejected a lawsuit demanding the banning of Free Egyptian Party candidates from the elections. Mansoura Administrative Court, meanwhile, accepted an appeal by TV host Tawfik Okasha and former NDP leader Wahid Fouda on Tuesday, against the rejection of their candidacy applications. [Ahram Online, 9/22/2015]

Egypt ends first stage of Sinai operation, announces second phase
Egypt’s army announced on Tuesday the end of the first stage of the Martyr’s Right operation, which resulted in the death of over 500 militants in North Sinai. The first stage, which took place over sixteen consecutive days, resulted in the “achievement of its primary objectives,” according to the spokesman, which included the destruction of terrorist hideouts and artillery storage facilities. The second phase of the operation was announced in the same statement, and will aim to provide both security and support to local Sinai residents. [Ahram Online, SIS, DNE, 9/23/2015]

April 6 founder detained, relatives unable to confirm whereabouts
The April 6 Youth Movement announced on Tuesday that its current leader, Amr Ali, was arrested by security forces earlier in the day. In a statement published on its official Facebook page, the political opposition movement stated that Ali was arrested by state security from his home in the Shebin al-Kom district of Menoufeya. The movement added that the reasons behind his arrest are unclear. In a later post, the group stated that all police stations in Menoufeya and National Security denied having Ali in custody. “[This is] a crime of forced disappearance,” the statement said. In statements to Al-Ahram, Khaled Ismail, a member of the movement’s political office, said that Ali’s brother was the one who informed them of his arrest. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 9/22/2015]

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Fresh fighting in Zawiya, Benghazi
Fighting yesterday in the south of Libya in Zawiya between rival factions has left at least six people dead and over eighteen wounded, according to local residents. They said that one of the two factions supported the General National Congress, the other the House of Representatives. The latter, they alleged, had launched a revenge attack following the withdrawal of the last three Misratan brigades based west of Tripoli. Civilians are said to have been caught up in the missile attacks between both sides. The clashes were expected given predictions that fighting would occur following the Misratan pullout. In Benghazi, after a thirty-six hour lull, reports indicate that heavy fighting has erupted as the Libyan National Army launched attacks last night on all Islamic State (ISIL or ISIL) positions in the city. [Libya Herald, 9/22/2015]

Tunisian law on local elections should be ready by April 2016
The law on local elections should be ready by April 4, 2016, the expected date of its publication on the Tunisian Republic’s official journal, Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE) President Chafik Sarsar estimated. Last week, Sarsar presented a roadmap for local elections that called for submission of a draft law on municipal elections by November 10, 2015, and adoption of the law by February 15, 2016, which would allow for implementation by April 2016. Elections could be held October 30, 2016, according to this roadmap. [TAP, 9/22/2015]

Ex-fighter’s calls for Algerian Islamist party stir ghosts of past
A former Islamist guerrilla fighter, Madani Mezrag, plans to enter politics and fanned fears of instability in Algeria, more than two decades after the army halted an expected election victory by his allies and plunged the country into war. Mezrag proposed creating a political party based on the tenets of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), but he is willing to work within the country’s political system rather than against it. Mezrag says fears that a new Islamist political party will take Algeria back to the bloody years of the civil war are overblown. A collapse in the global oil price has forced the government to seek ways to make up for lost oil revenues and cut spending, emboldening opposition groups to seek concessions. Some critics even see Mezrag’s announcement as helping to rally support for the government by evoking the ghosts of the past. [Reuters, 9/22/2015]


Moscow optimistic about agreement in Syria; Syrian government airstrikes on Palmyra
On Wednesday, a Russian diplomatic source commented on the Kremlin’s optimism concerning international coordination on fighting terrorism in Syria. “Moscow now has an optimistic view of chances for a settlement on Syria and uniting efforts to combat Islamic State,” the source said. This optimism may come in use in shaping the dialogue at the UN General Assembly summit held later this month in New York. However, concerns remain over Russian support for Assad, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying on Wednesday that Russia’s military support for President Bashar al-Assad could further complicate the dynamic on the ground between anti-Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters and Russian forces. Following the delivery of armaments from Russia, the Syrian government has intensified its airstrikes on the ISIS-held ancient city of Palmyra, killing more than 100 people including civilians in recent days, activists said Wednesday. [AP, 09/23/2015]

Effectiveness of US policy in Syria questioned; US-trained Syrian rebels investigating defection
Wednesday marked the anniversary of US-led coalition airstrikes against ISIS, the Nusra Front, and other Islamist groups in Syria. A year later, ISIS has lost fifteen square kilometers of its previous strongholds in Syria, and the war has continued to intensify. Questioning the effectiveness of US military policy in Syria on Tuesday during a US Senate Committee hearing, General David Petraeus criticized the United States, claiming that it and its partners had been unable to establish a military position that could bring about a political solution to the war. General Petraeus called for the United States to set up safe havens for Syrian rebels to fight the regime. In related news, days after deployment into northern Syria from Turkey, US-trained rebels said Wednesday they have lost contact with one of their officers and that they are investigating reports he defected and handed over his weapons to the al-Qaeda-affiliate Nusra Front. [NYT, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 09/23/2015]

International momentum to find political solution in Syria mounting before UN summit
British Prime Minister David Cameron met with French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, where they agreed that a political process in Syria must be revived. A spokesman for PM Cameron said that the European Council meeting on Wednesday would focus on “increasing assistance for the countries neighboring Syria to enable more refugees to stay there.” In addition to greater European coordination to tackle the refugee crisis, the UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura held meetings this week aimed at reviving peace talks. The UN General Assembly will be held in New York later this month, with Syria at the top of the agenda. [Daily Star, 9/23/2015]

Turkey tightening enforcement of laws affecting Syrian refugee population inside its borders
An Interior Ministry document dated August 29 reassessed Turkish law enforcement’s relaxation of laws affecting refugee populations, specifically regarding the movement of persons. The document stated, “Syrians who are trying to go to third countries through our country illegally are posing a threat to public order and public security and are negatively affecting our country’s image internationally.” It also called for tighter controls over Syrian movement, as was seen last week in the Edirne province, which borders with Greece. Nazir Hakim, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, acknowledged that Ankara was reinforcing its existing rules, saying, “Before, they closed their eyes. Now, they apply the law.” [AP, 9/23/2015]

Turkish jets attack PKK targets in northern Iraq; Erdogan remains committed to the fight
Late on Tuesday, Turkish jets launched airstrikes against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces in northern Iraq. Security forces reported that the targeted facilities were used for the education and logistics of PKK forces. In a televised interview on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the PKK for reigniting the conflict in July and reaffirmed his position to meet the threat head on. [Reuters, Andalou, 9/23/2015]


President Hadi chairs cabinet meeting in Aden
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi began working on September 23 to restore his authority after returning from six months of exile in Riyadh. He held a cabinet meeting in Aden with Yemen Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, along with several other ministers who had returned to the city on September 16. President Hadi stressed the importance of promptly tackling the ramifications of war in Aden and other governorates by restoring a sense of security and stability in the country and by providing medicine for the wounded. He also called for the recruitment of Popular Resistance fighters into the Yemeni military. President Hadi’s return to Aden coincides with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s statement voicing extreme concern at the escalating ground fighting and airstrikes that have caused further devastation to Yemen’s cities, and an increasing number of civilian casualties in recent days. He also reiterated the need for accountability for serious violations of international law that may have occurred during the conflict. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Daily Star, UN, 9/23/2015]

Guantanamo detainee transferred to Saudi Arabia
The Pentagon announced on September 22 that it had transferred Abdul Shalabi, a longtime hunger striker at the Guantanamo Bay prison and described as a bodyguard for former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, to his home country of Saudi Arabia. The United States held Shalabi as a wartime prisoner for over thirteen years. The former detainee was one of thirty-two Middle Eastern men captured by the Pakistani military along the Afghanistan border in December 2001 and turned over to the United States. He was also among the first group of detainees taken to the prison when it opened at the US naval station in Cuba on January 11, 2002. Shalabi’s departure reduced the remaining detainee population at the prison to 114 men, of whom fifty-two are recommended for transfer if security conditions can be met in the receiving country. The United States coordinated with Saudi Arabia “to ensure this transfer took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.” [Reuters, NYT, 9/23/2015]

Almost 2 million pilgrims gather at Mount Arafat for beginning of Hajj
Some 2 million Muslim pilgrims from around the world gathered before dawn Wednesday in the valley of Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia for a day of prayer that marks the pinnacle of the annual hajj pilgrimage. The hajj is the largest gathering of Muslims worldwide, drawing to it people from different social classes and religious sects, with Sunnis and Shias praying side by side. The day spent in Mount Arafat is one of the few times during the hajj that all pilgrims are in the same location at the same time. The Saudi authorities deployed 100,000 security personnel, including members of the counterterrorism and the emergency civil defence units and 5,000 CCTV cameras amid concerns of a potential Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist attack. [AP, The Independent, 9/23/2015]


France says Egypt to buy Mistral warships after Russia deal scrapped
Egypt has agreed to buy two Mistral warships that France originally built for Russia before scrapping the sale over the Ukraine crisis, the French presidency said in a statement Wednesday. President Francois Hollande and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi “have agreed on the principle and terms and conditions of Egypt’s acquisition of the two Mistral-class vessels,” the statement said. The sale comes after previous arms deals with France, including the recent partial delivery of twenty-four warplanes to Egypt in July. Additionally, Sisi and Hollande discussed over a phone call on September 22 the importance of “realizing peace” in the Middle East and its impact on the security and economic situation in the region. [Ahram Online, AFP, AP, DNE, SIS, Reuters, 9/23/2015]

ISIS facing cash crunch in the caliphate
A series of unforeseen events, including the fall in the price of oil and the intensification of US-led airstrikes on oil facilities and fighters, has squeezed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) revenues and led it to rely increasingly on heavily taxing the estimated 8 million people living in the caliphate, say experts and people living under ISIS’s control. The steady departure of professionals and the group’s restrictive laws on women in the workplace have also hobbled the ISIS-run economy. These factors have caused the income gap to widen between ISIS fighters and regular people in the lands the group controls. As inequality has grown, so too has the public’s resentment. [Newsweek, 9/23/2015]

Part of Tunisian development plan presented to international donors
Tunisia presented to foreign donors on Tuesday some of the projects planned under the five-year development plan (2016-2020), including the Bousalem/Algeria borders motorway, the Bizerte bridge, the Taparura project in Sfax, and the Sebkha development in the Sijoumi neighborhood in Tunis. The presentation was made at a meeting between the Minister of Public Works, Housing, and Spatial Development Mohamed Salah Arfaoui and representatives of these donors. The African Development Bank granted Tunisia 49.39 million euros (115 million Tunisian dinars) to develop the transportation and distribution network of natural gas in northwest regions, namely, Jendouba, Kef, Beja and Siliana. [TAP, 9/23/2015]

Tripoli’s NOC holds meeting with Libyan Foreign Bank
Senior officials at the National Oil Corporation (NOC) met with board members from the Libyan Foreign Bank (LFB) in Tripoli on September 22, stressing the importance of ensuring oil revenues continue to come in through the ‘established’ mechanisms. The agenda of the meeting covered sufficient funding for the fuel account, increasing gas supply to the local market, and transfers through the SWIFT system. The LFB said it is committed to working with the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) to ensure funds are available for fuel import, on which Libya relies heavily. The attendees stressed that established state financial procedures ensure that oil revenues reach the CBL through the LFB, which has been the only approved channel for decades. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/23/2015]