Former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib, a prominent member of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, has defected and is now in Turkey, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters on Wednesday. If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011. [Reuters, 9/4/2013]


Rebels fight army near Christian village
Syrian government troops battled al-Qaeda-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day Thursday. Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighters included members of the of al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group and patrolled its streets on foot and in vehicles, briefly surrounding a church and a mosque before leaving early Thursday. [Daily Star/AP, 9/5/2013]

Human rights group decries Syrian cluster bomb use
The Syrian regime has used cluster munitions “extensively” in the second half of last year and first half of this year, causing many civilian casualties, according to a report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch. It said at least 165 people were killed or wounded by cluster munitions in Syria last year alone, representing a vast majority of the 190 known casualties from the weapons around the world in 2012. [Daily Star/AFP, 9/5/2013]

Syria’s economy goes underground as black market thrives
Every day, hundreds of trucks piled high with goods ranging from cooking oil to cement and nappies form queues stretching for miles at Oncupinar, Turkey, now a bustling hub for trade with Syria. The scenes being played out along the frontier are part of a broader shift in patterns of trade with Syria, where the conflict now in its third year presents growing opportunities for those willing to take the risks. [Reuters, 9/5/2013]


Bomb explodes near Egypt interior minister’s convoy
The Egyptian interior minister survived an assassination attempt unhurt on Thursday when a remote-controlled bomb blew up as his convoy drove through Cairo’s Nasr City district around 10:30am, security officials said. Security officials said at least two people had been killed and at least ten wounded, but gave no further details. The minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, was among those who oversaw a violent crackdown on supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president ousted two months ago by the army following mass protests against his rule. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, SIS, Mada Masr, EGYNews (Arabic), 9/5/2013]

Presidency clarifies Mansour’s military trials comments
In an interview on Al-Nahar satellite channel on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi clarified remarks made the evening before by interim President Adly Mansour concerning military court trials for civilians. Badawi said those tried in military courts used violence against members of the armed forces securing vital installations. During the interim president’s first interview since the beginning of his tenure Tuesday, he explained that “there have been no civilians referred to military courts” the same day that a member of the Muslim Brotherhood was handed a life sentence in a military trial in a case that forty-eight other defendants were given sentences between five and fifteen years, and twelve others were acquitted. [DNE, 9/5/2013]

Government committee tasked with implementing ‘Path to Democracy’ program
The government has formed a committee tasked with implementing the government’s political program, ‘Protecting the Path to Democracy,’ laid out on August 21 which it says aims to protect the country’s democratic transition. The committee, which includes Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa-Eldin, presidential adviser Moustafa Hegazy, Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Amr al-Shobaky, and Ezz al-Din Shoukry, will offer recommendations to the National Reconciliation Commission, the National Defense Council, and the cabinet, that should ensure the continuation of the democratic process, and the safeguarding of citizens’ freedoms and rights. [Ahram (Arabic), 9/5/2013]

Egypt’s foreign currency reserves inch up to $18.91 bn in August
Egypt’s foreign currency reserves inched up by $34 million in August to reach $18.91 billion, the Central Bank of Egypt announced on Thursday. The country’s reserves had leapt by nearly $4 billion to reach $18.88 billion in July, their highest level since November 2011, as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait showered Egypt with financial aid immediately following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. [Ahram Online, 9/5/2013]


Libya PM warns time running out for oil protests
Libya’s patience with protesters who have halted its onshore oil output is running out and action against them is nearer, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said on Wednesday. He added that the government had employed peaceful means to resolve the issue but that its patience is wearing thin and the state may have to “exercise its role seriously to stop this.” Oil industry executives say Zidan’s shaky central government risks widening violence that could descend into civil war if it uses force to recapture oilfields. [Reuters, 9/4/13]

Government increases public sector wages by 20 percent
The government announced it will raise salaries of public sector employees by 20 percent. The salary increases are part of the plan to remove subsidies on commodities, explained Prime Minister Ali Zidan, intended to improve the income and living conditions of Libyans. The cabinet has also decided to increase the salaries of Judicial Council staff. The announcement was largely well-received, but there are fears that such salary increases would be inflationary and would not help the private sector grow. [Libya Herald, 9/4/13]

Water cuts in addition to Tripoli’s electricity and fuel misery
Water supplies to parts of central Tripoli were cut temporarily, putting further strain on a city that has been hit by electricity outages and petrol stations. The water resources ministry has made no comment as to the reasons for the stoppage, but many citizens have attributed the stoppage to cuts to the Man-Made River by a southern tribe protesting the kidnapping of Abdullah Senussi’s daughter, Anoud Senussi. The water crisis has noticeably increased public resentment over the government’s performance. [Libya Herald, 9/4/13]

Anoud Senussi “protected,” not kidnapped, says congressman
A congressman from Sebah said Wednesday evening that Anoud Senussi had not been kidnapped earlier this week as originally reported but had been taken by “good people” – a unit of the Supreme Security Council that wanted to make sure she was safe from an apparent plan to kidnap her as she made her way to the airport. Another report said Senussi was released by her kidnappers and that the incident was a result of a breakdown in communication between the justice ministry and security forces. [Libya Herald, 9/4/13]


Opposition threatens more protests after talks fail
Tunisia’s secular opposition threatened Wednesday to launch more mass protests to force the Islamist-led government to step down, saying negotiations to end a political stand-off had failed. Hamma Hammami, a senior leader in a coalition of more than a dozen secular opposition parties agitating for new elections, blamed the Islamist Ennahda party heading the government coalition for the collapse of two weeks of mediated talks. Meanwhile, the power labor union mediating the dispute between the government and opposition has threatened to release details of the talks if progress is not made. [VOA, North Africa Post, 9/4/2013]

Jihadi group warns government over designation as terrorist group
Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia issued a statement Tuesday declaring their long-standing loyalty to “jihadist groups” and warned that the authorities are “dragging the country into a bloodbath.” The group accused the government of creating a pretext that would allow the United States to “directly intervene” in Tunisia by designating it a terrorist organization, which Prime Minister Ali Larayedh announced last month. [Tunisia Live, 9/5/2013]

Tunisia economic competitiveness downgraded in World Economic Forum report
The World Economic Forum released its findings on global economic competitiveness Wednesday and ranked Tunisia eighty-third of 148 countries in its 2013-2014 competitiveness index. According to the report, its ranking, down from last year, reflects the challenges the country faces in addressing sustainable economic growth, high unemployment, budget deficit and inflation. Tunisia also ranks law at 132 on the labor market efficiency pillar. [Tunis Times, 9/4/2013]


Ten killed by landmine
A detonated landmine left ten Houthis dead on Monday, a security manager in al-Asha district told the Yemen Times. Salafis and security forces continue to battle Houthis who have positioned themselves in al-Asha district’s mountains for twenty-one days. Al-Asha district borders Saada governorate where sectarian conflict between the Houthis and the Salafis has been ongoing. [Yemen Times, 9/5/2013]

Peace deal could be tentative
A mediation committee that was assigned by President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to negotiate a peace deal between warring Houthis and Salafis in the Damaj area of Saada left on Wednesday after tentatively securing a ceasefire in the area. A member of the committee, Alwi Basha, said they, working along with local tribal sheikhs, were able to talk fighters down from their positions in the mountains where the two groups were firing shots at each other. [Yemen Times, 9/5/2013]

Yemen: the second bombing of an oil export pipeline in Marib within forty-eight hours
Tribal militants blew up a major oil export pipeline in the Habab region of Marib province in eastern Yemen. According to witnesses, this is the second bombing that targeted an oil pipeline in Marib province within forty-eight hours. The Yemeni government says it is losing $15 million each day that it can’t export oil from the Marib fields. [Al Tagheer (Arabic), 9/5/2013]

MP accuses President Hadi of treason, calling for his dismissal and requesting a trial
Yemen’s House of Representatives saw a fierce debate after parliamentarian Abdu Bishr accused President Hadi of treason. The MP demanded the start of legal proceedings that would involve removing the President from office and prosecuting him for violation of the constitution on the grounds that Hadi and the government compromised the nation’s sovereignty by allowing the United States to implement air strikes killing Yemeni citizens and allowing foreign warships to occupy Yemen’s territorial waters, among other issues. [Al Balad News (Arabic), 9/5/2013]


Bahrain opposition boycott thwarts dialogue session
A scheduled round of the national dialogue in Bahrain was cancelled after the opposition decided to boycott it Wednesday. The two delegates representing the political opposition did not attend, attributing their move to boycott the round of talks to a decision announced by the justice ministry on Tuesday requesting local political societies planning to meet foreign diplomats or government representatives to coordinate with the ministry of foreign affairs. [Gulf News, 9/5/2013]

Chemical weapon claim ‘pretext’ to hit Syria, says Khamenei
Allegations the Syrian regime used chemical weapons last month are a “pretext” by the West to attack the country, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday. Separately, the chief of Iran’s elite Quds Force unit, Qassem Soleimani, said Tehran will back Syria “until the end” in the face of possible US-led military strikes. [Naharnet, 9/5/2013]

Jordan drops four places in Global Competitiveness Index
Jordan’s ranking in the 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) has dropped by four places to the sixty-eighth spot out of 148 countries, according to the report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday. The report said the drop in Jordan’s ranking mainly reflects the country’s macroeconomic challenges, indicating that there is significant room for improvement in boosting labor market efficiency as well as increasing openness to international trade and investment. [Jordan Times, 9/4/2013]