Top News: Gulf countries offer Egypt another $5.8 billion in aid

Saudi Arabia is expected to give Egypt up to $4 billion in additional aid in the form of central bank deposits and petroleum products, Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Thursday. The UAE is also expected to contribute $1.8 billion to the new aid package in the form of fuel shipments, the source added. The newspaper said the package would be worked out during a visit next week to the oil-rich kingdom by Egypt’s interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Central Bank (CBE) received $2 billion from Saudi Arabia, the Egyptian daily Al-Mal reported on Wednesday. Official sources at the CBE declined to comment, saying that “Hisham Ramez, head of CBE will soon clarify the issue.” [Ahram OnlineReutersEgypt Independent, 1/30/2014]


Interim president puts new election law to national dialogue
On Wednesday, interim President Adly Mansour proposed a national dialogue to discuss radical changes to the presidential election rules. “The dialogue will be completed by February 9 because the law should be officially passed before February 18, or when the Presidential Election Commission (PEC) begins preparing procedures for the poll,” Mansour’s constitutional affairs advisor Ali Awad said. There will be a new law regulating the poll, rather than changes to the old one (law 174 of 2005), because many changes are required to bring it into line with the new constitution, Awad added The draft law proposes certain stipulations on the presidential candidates and election protocol. Seven political parties belonging to the National Salvation Front had also called on the president to conduct a “serious dialogue” concerning the amendments before finalizing them, while also stressing the need for dialogue ahead of elections for the House of Representatives. They expressed concern that the draft law may exclude segments of society and feared the elimination of the multi-party system.Meanwhile, the Salafi Nour Party has already called for a mixed system to be used in the next parliamentary elections. [DNE, Ahram Online, 1/30/2014]

Egypt arrests eleven Brotherhood members for Facebook activity
Egyptian security forces arrested eleven Muslim Brotherhood members accused of running Facebook pages inciting violence against the police, the Interior Ministry said Thursday. The ministry accused the group of using the networking site to “incite violence, target citizens, make bombs and carry threatening messages.” The new arrests, which took place Wednesday and Thursday, were the first to target a group said to be administering Facebook pages. Meanwhile, Egypt’s South Giza prosecution referred top Muslim Brotherhood members, including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat al-Shater, to a criminal court for murder charges on Wednesday. The two men are accused of involvement in the killing of twenty-nine people in Giza in July. The accused also include prominent Brotherhood figures such as Mohamed al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian and Bassem Ouda as well as Brotherhood-aligned Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy and al-Jama’a al-Islamiya leader Assem Abdel Maged, who fled to Qatar. [AP, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 1/30/2014]

Tony Blair backs Egypt’s government; Foreign ministry fires back at US statement
Tony Blair has given staunch backing to Egypt’s government following a meeting on Wednesday with its army leader, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. In a television interview on Thursday morning, Britain’s former prime minister claimed that Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had stolen Egypt’s revolution, and that the army who deposed Morsi last July had put the country back on the path to democracy. Menawhile, Badr Abdel Aaty, spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, rejected a US statement criticizing the prosecution of journalists in Egypt saying it was “unacceptable for any state or third party to interfere in the work of the Egyptian judiciary.” He pointed out that the referral of a number of journalists to the criminal court was based on the decision of the public prosecution which is part of the Egyptian judicial system, and has full autonomy as its work is independent from the government. [Guardian, Egypt Independent, 1/30/2014]


Support crumbles in east Libya for oil blockade leader
Support is weakening in eastern Libya for a six-month blockade of three critical oil ports, as well as for former rebel commander Ibrahim Jadhran whose force led the seizure. Jadhran’s al-Magharba tribe is pressuring him to withdraw his men to free up at least 600,000 barrels a day of badly needed oil exports, as Tripoli warns it may no longer be able to pay public salaries because the blockade has cut oil revenues. Many in the impoverished town of Ajdabiya had long sympathized with Jadhran, but some are now concerned that his mutiny has damaged the popular cause for a federalist state. [Reuters, 1/30/2014]

France says no possibility of intervention in Libya
After remarks by French Admiral Edouard Guillaud earlier this week that an international operation should be mounted to restore stability in Libya, the French foreign ministry released a statement rejecting this, saying “no military intervention is envisaged there.” A ministry spokesman stressed that the only way to restore security in Libya is to help strengthen the country’s security forces. Admiral Guillaud led France’s involvement in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector, which culminated in Qaddafi’s ouster, and will retire in February. [Libya Herald, 1/29/2014]

Egyptian construction company shelves projects following embassy kidnappings
The Egyptian National Company for Construction and Development (NCCD) says it has suspended all discussions on projects in Libya following the abduction of five Egyptian diplomatic staff over the weekend. The President of the NCCD, Safwan Al-Salami, was quoted in Libya Al-Mostakbal as saying that the company would not discuss further projects until stability had returned. The NCCD, one of the largest construction companies in Egypt, had implemented £E 500 million-worth of projects in Libya prior to the revolution. The Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that Egyptian exports to Libya fell by 25 percent over 2013 due mostly to the deteriorating security situation. [Libya Herald, 1/29/2014]

Justice and Construction Party threaten to sue Warshefana congressman
The Justice and Construction Party (JCP) says it has started legal proceedings to sue Warshefana Congressman Juma Sayah over charges he made against the party in a television interview, claiming that the JCP stole nearly LD 30 billion and is behind the most recent security incidents. This is not the first time that Sayah and the JCP have had legal confrontation.  In September 2013, 61 out of 104 Congress members voted to lift his immunity as well as that of two other legislators, to enable the public prosecutor to investigate them, following the JCP’s claims that they had defamed the party. [Libya Herald, 1/30/2014]


Regime razed homes in seven neighborhoods as “collective punishment”
Syria’s government has razed thousands of homes as “collective punishment” of communities that back the opposition in the capital Damascus and in Hama province, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday. In a new report, the group accused Syria’s government of “wiping entire neighborhoods off the map” by means of bulldozers and explosives. The New York-based group said it had documented seven cases between July 2012 and July 2013—two in Hama province and five in and around Damascus. Using satellite imagery, the group said it estimated a total area of at least 140 hectares—around 200 football fields–had been razed, but pointed out that many of the buildings were several stories high, and resulted in thousands of people losing their homes. The group said the areas affected all appeared to be opposition strongholds, and said there was little evidence to back government claims that the demolitions were part of urban planning efforts. [AFP, 1/30/2014]

Barrel bombs kill thirteen in Aleppo; Ground skirmishes near Krak des Chevaliers
Government forces dropped barrel bombs on rebel-held districts of Aleppo Wednesday, killing thirteen as they pressed an assault southeast of the northern city. More than twenty barrel bombs had also been dropped on the town of Daraya, southwest of the capital Damascus. And government troops battled rebel forces near Krak des Chevaliers, a famed Crusader castle between the central city of Homs and the Mediterranean coast. [Al Arabiya, AFP, 1/30/2013]

Turkish army bombards ISIS convoy in Syria; Israel claims ISIS has bases in Turkey
The Turkish army said Wednesday it had opened fire on a convoy of vehicles in northern Syria belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) jihadist group. The army said the attack, carried out Tuesday, came after two Turkish military vehicles had been fired upon at the Cobanbey border post in the south of Turkey. “A pick-up, a truck, and a bus in an ISIS convoy were destroyed,” read the army statement. On Wednesday Israel’s military intelligence chief said some of the al-Qaeda militants fighting in Syria have set up bases in Turkey, where they can also easily access Europe. Al-Qaeda fighters from around the world enter Syria weekly, but they “do not stay there,” Major-General Aviv Kochavi told a security conference, while presenting a map of the Middle East, which was marked with areas of al-Qaeda presence. The map showed three markings of al-Qaeda bases in Turkey. [AFP, 1/30/2014]

UN expert dismisses regime theories that rebels used nerve gas
Syrian authorities who blamed the opposition for a deadly sarin gas attack last August have failed to present a plausible theory for how the rebels could have obtained the nerve agent, a UN investigator said in a rare interview published on Thursday. Without categorically saying which side was to blame, chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom said it was “difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized the toxins. He told CBRNe World, a specialist publication on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, that he had asked Syrian authorities several times to back up their claim that rebels fired the weapons. “They have quite poor theories: they talk about smuggling through Turkey, labs in Iraq and I asked them, pointedly, what about your own stores, have your own stores been stripped of anything, have you dropped a bomb that has been claimed, bombs that can be recovered by the opposition? They denied that. To me it is strange. If they really want to blame the opposition they should have a good story as to how they got hold of the munitions, and they didn’t take the chance to deliver that story.” In related chemical weapons news, less than five percent of the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal have left the country and Damascus will be pressured to move faster, sources close to the world’s chemical watchdog said Wednesday. [Reuters, 1/30/2014]


Kerry calls for swift elections in Tunisia
On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Tunisia’s new government to organize elections swiftly as the next step in the country’s democratic transition. Kerry described the new government and the adoption of the new constitution “historic milestone in Tunisia’s democratic transition” three years after the Arab Spring revolution. While Tunisia’s transition to democracy is not yet complete, these are very important steps. They are positive proof that Tunisia’s democratic transition can succeed.” Kerry also welcomed the creation of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE II), which will oversee elections later this year, and encouraged the government to move quickly to establish presidential and parliamentary elections. [Ahram Online, 1/29/2014]

Security to be a top priority for the new government
Security, counter-terrorism, and border protection will be top priorities for Tunisia’s caretaker government, according to Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou at his swearing in ceremony on Wednesday. The same day, Ben Jeddou met with the commander in-chief of the Algerian National Gendarmerie (the rural national police force) Major-General Ahmed Boustila to discuss co-operation with respect to security and the protection of borders from terrorism and smuggling. Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa reiterated this message when addressing the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) stating that his government will tackle the threat posed by the growth of jihadi groups and the social tensions resulting from unemployment and will enhance co-operation with neighboring countries to secure borders. There is growing concern in Tunisia that the growing insecurity in Libya could spill over into their territory. [All Africa, 1/29/2014]

Ben Ali’s lawyer requests a retrial
Akrem Azoury, the lawyer of former President Zein El Abidine Ben Ali, has stated that Ben Ali did not  give orders to use live ammunition against protesters during the uprisings that led to his removal from power in January 2011. Azoury is requesting a retrial for Ben Ali under the new constitution so that Ben Ali can prove his innocence. This request comes in light of a statement made by ex-military intelligence chief general Ahmed Chabir, in which he declared that the security system was infiltrated by a foreign entity and that Ben Ali did not order to fire on protesters. [Tunis Times, 1/30/2014]

Tourism minister resigns
Minister of Tourism Amel Karboul submitted her resignation to Prime Minister Jomaa on Wednesday, one day after her nomination to the position was approved by the NCA. She was one of the controversial selections in Jomaa’s cabinet and he spent twelve hours on Tuesday defending her, amongst others, as a choice to the NCA. Karboul was criticized for travelling to Israel in 2006 and cited this as her reason for resignation. She denies having visited Israel while Jomaa, in defending her, stated that she did visit Israel. Karboul travelled to Israel for a UN training program for Palestinian youths but reportedly left after one day following a lengthy interrogation at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Karboul was one of the three women in Jomaa’s twenty-eight member cabinet. [TAP, 1/29/2014, Jerusalem Post, 1/30/2014]


Regions committee holds first meeting; Socialist party criticizes composition
A recently formed committee met for the first time yesterday to begin determining how many federal regions will be adopted as part of Yemen’s transition to a federal framework. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi addressed the committee, calling its work the first step toward implementing the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). However, the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) issued a statement criticizing the composition of the committee, saying that its formation failed to heed NDC calls for balance and consultative processes. [Saba News, 1/29/2014]

Clashes between Houthis and tribesmen; Salafi-Houthi dialogue symposium in Sa’ada
Houthi militants continue to clash with tribesmen loyal to the government just north of Sana’a in Arhab, leaving as many as thirty-eight dead. Elsewhere, Salafi representatives and representatives of families from Sa’ada met today with a Houthi spokesman at a symposium to discuss the issue of the Salafis’ forced displacement from the province weeks ago as mandated by the central government initiative to enforce a ceasefire. [al-Masdar (Arabic), al-Nahar Net; 1/30/2014]

US statement at Yemen’s UN review
As part of the UN High Commissioner for Human Right’s Universal Periodic Review process, the United States contributed its recommendations for reform in Yemen. After congratulating the Yemeni people on the successful conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference, the United States called for a more transparent judiciary, investigations of gender-based violence and violence against journalists, and action to ensure that no armed groups are conscripting child soldiers to fight. [National Yemen, 1/29/2014]

Major LNG deal made with South Korea’s KOGAS
After turbulent talks regarding the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime’s corrupt practices in the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Yemen and the South Korean energy company KOGAS have come to an agreement raising the price of LNG from $3.5 to $14 per million BTUs. [Saba News, 1/30/2014]


Militants storm government building in Baghdad; death toll for January tops 900
Though no group has yet claimed responsibility, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is thought to be behind the storming of a government building in Baghdad operated by a company owned by the ministry of transportation. Several hostages have been taken in the attack. Elsewhere in the city, bombs targeted a market and a restaurant in Shia-majority neighborhoods. January has been a particularly turbulent month for Iraq, as the death toll surpassed 900 in the most recent attacks. [AFP, 1/30/2014]

Hamas to allow 120 Fatah leaders to return to Gaza
Though tensions have remained high since Hamas expelled their Fatah competitors after clashes in 2007, Gaza’s ruling Islamist group will allow 120 members of Fatah to return ahead of possible reconciliation talks. Observers believe that Hamas is more desperate pursue reconciliation given rising tension with Egypt’s new military leadership and persistent issues policing Gaza’s disparate militant factions. However, an unnamed diplomatic source reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has no will to realize reconciliation preferring to “see the Islamic movement sweat.” [Times of Israel, 1/30/2014]

Sectarian violence threatens fragile desert region in Algeria
Sectarian violence has continued in Algeria’s desert city of Ghardiya for over a month, enflamed by the destruction of a historic Berber shrine. Clashes between the Chaamba community, of Arab origin, and the majority Mozabites, indigenous Berbers belonging to the Ibadi Muslim sect, have lead to growing concerns that sectarian conflict will engulf the region. Violence has resulted in the looting and burning of homes, the closing of schools and shops, the deployment of thousands of police to control the unrest and three deaths. The two communities have coexisted for centuries, but as elsewhere in the region, limited economic opportunities, despite the proximity of Algeria’s vast oil and gas wealth, have aggravated social tensions. For now, calm has been restored in Ghardiya following the deployment of police and troop reinforcements. [Ahram Online, 1/30/2014]

Image: (Photo: State Information Service)