Top News: Houthis Rebels to Travel to Oman for Preliminary Peace Consultations

A Houthi delegation will travel to Oman on Saturday for preliminary consultations on UN-sponsored Geneva peace talks aimed at resolving Yemen’s complex civil war, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said. He called on Houthi supporters to remain steadfast against what he called continued “schemes” by the Saudi-led Arab coalition that intervened militarily in March in support of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. Abdul Salam said the Houthis accepted the invitation to consultations in Oman after receiving a “positive response” to their suggestions for the talks agenda. He added that the delegation was also invited to meet European envoys to clarify the Houthi political vision for Yemen. [NYT, 11/21/2015]



Egypt’s Sisi talks counterterrorism efforts, military relations with US congressional delegation
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met on Saturday with a US delegation in Cairo to discuss counterterrorism efforts and continued military relations between the two countries, the Egyptian presidency announced in a statement. The delegation, representing the US Congress, was headed by Congressman Rob Wittman, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Readiness, according to Egyptian presidency spokesperson Alaa Youssef. US Ambassador to Cairo Robert Beecroft and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry also attended the meeting. Sisi praised the resumption in March of US military aid to Egypt, which was temporarily halted following the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. The US previously delivered eight F-16 aircraft to Egypt in July and another four in October to complete a deliver of twenty aircraft to Egypt as part of its military aid package. Also in October, the United States agreed to the resumption of M1A1 military tank production in Egypt. Additionally, Sisi discussed with the US delegation Egypt’s commitment to establishing the foundations of a modern state that upholds the rule of law and nurtures the values of democracy and social solidarity. [Ahram Online, SIS, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 11/21/2015]

State Council approves appeal on NGOs law
The State Council accepted an appeal on Sunday by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) contesting the constitutionality of a few articles of the NGOs law 84/2002, the center announced in an official statement on Sunday. A final verdict will be issued in February 2016. The ECESR said it is currently preparing to present the appeal reasoning to the Supreme Constitutional Court in January 2016. According to ECESR lawyer Kareem Ezzat, the contested articles allow administrative entities to dissolve civil society organizations, which according the ECESR contradicts Article 75 of the 2014 Constitution that places restrictions on dissolving or interfering in any affairs related to civil society organizations by any authority except for the judiciary. [DNE, 11/22/2015]

Voting underway in Egypt for second stage of parliamentary elections
Polling stations opened in thirteen Egyptian governorates on Sunday, including Cairo, for two days of voting in the second stage of the 2015 parliamentary elections. The first day reportedly went smoothly, with turnout fluctuating depending on the polling station. Many who abstained, however, said they felt the polls offered little genuine choice in the absence of the main opposition Muslim Brotherhood, among other critics, and that parliament would change little in lives dominated by the struggle to earn a living. The number of Egyptian votes abroad increased by 22 percent in the second stage compared to the first, Deputy Foreign Minister for Elections Abroad Hamdi Loza said in a statement Monday. Cairo’s Deputy Governor for the Northern area said turnout was above average and that more participation is expected Monday. Egyptians working in the public sector were also given half of the day off on Sunday and Monday to allow them to vote. In parts of North Sinai governorate, where the army is fighting an insurgency, the curfew was shortened to facilitate voting. North Sinai-based journalist Ahmed Abu Deraa was arrested on the eve of voting while covering elections preparations at a polling station, and transferred to military detention. Another two journalists were prevented from covering the elections on Sunday, one by security forces, and the other by supporters of a candidate. Three other journalists were arrested while covering the elections and later released in Helwan and Ismailia, according to Journalists Against Torture. The High Elections Committee (HEC) banned privately-owned al-Faraeen, Sada al-Balad, and CBC from broadcasting anything pertaining the elections due to electoral violations in their coverage during the first round. By Sunday afternoon, the HEC announced that it had received 141 complaints in the first hours of voting, including delays in the opening of at least ninety-three polling stations or outdated information on the locations of polling stations. Other violations included group-voting, vote buying, busing voters to polling stations, and distributing food. [Ahram Online, AP, Reuters, DNE, 11/23/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


French Defense Minister says Libyans need to fight ISIS, not each other
Libya’s armed factions will be committing suicide unless they stop fighting each other and take on Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) growing presence, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday. ISIS militants have tightened their grip on central Libya and carried out summary executions, beheadings, and amputations, the United Nations said last week. “Daesh [ISIS] is in Libya because it can exploit the internal rivalries … If we reunite these forces, Daesh will cease to exist,” Le Drian said. Le Drian called for an international summit bringing together Libya’s neighboring countries as soon as possible to achieve some kind of political agreement in Libya. “It is an emergency. Tunisia is nearby, Egypt is nearby, Algeria is directly concerned, Niger, Chad … these countries need to be able to organize a forum with the support of international organizations and the United Nations,” he said. [Reuters, AFP, Libya Herald, 11/22/2015]

New UN envoy pushes Libya factions to sign peace deal
On Sunday, new UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler urged Libya’s warring factions to sign up to a previously negotiated agreement for a unity government, saying there could be consultations, but no changes to the draft. Kobler, on his first visit to Libya since assuming his new position last week, met over the weekend with the internationally recognized government and House of Representatives in the east, and with representatives of the government in Tripoli and its parliament, the General National Congress. Both houses are still to vote on the deal. [Reuters, AFP, 11/22/2015]

Libya’s Prime Minister-designate in Algiers for talks
Fayez Serraj, named by the UN as Prime Minister-designate Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), is reported to have arrived in Algiers Sunday evening for talks with the Algerian government. Talks will concentrate on the terrorist threat in Libya and the support Algeria can give to the GNA. Serraj had talks in Egypt on Thursday on the same subjects. It is not known if Serraj will be invited to the December 1 meeting of Libya’s neighboring states in Algeria to discuss the latest developments in the Libyan situation. [Libya Herald, 11/22/2015]

Group of thirty-one deputies of Tunisia’s ruling party decides resignation
The group of thirty-one members of parliament of the Nidaa Tounes party decided on Sunday to resign from the parliamentary group, according to Bochra Belhaj Hmida, leader of the movement. “This decision was made as a reaction to the cancellation of the party executive bureau meeting scheduled for Sunday,” she said, accusing the constitutive committee and its allies of “stirring up tension” and impeding consensus. A meeting of the executive bureau with the thirty-one deputies is scheduled for Wednesday to examine the possibilities to protect Nidaa Tounes, she said. Walid Jallad, MP for Nidaa Tounes, said that Wednesday’s meeting will be the last resort to avoid the division of the party. [TAP, Mosaique FM (French), 11/23/2015]

Tunisia group claims beheading of teen shepherd for ISIS
In a video posted on Sunday, a militant group claimed the beheading of a young Tunisian shepherd on behalf of ISIS, accusing the shepherd of having informed the army about their movements in the central province of Sidi Bouzid. The video, the authenticity of which could not be confirmed, claims the young shepherd gave information on “the soldiers of ISIS” to the Tunisian army. “This is the fate of all those in the ranks of the tyrants of Tunisia against Jund al-Khilafa (the soldiers of the caliphate),” the video says. Jund al-Khilafa is said to be a Tunisian branch of ISIS. In mid-November authorities arrested seven women accused of posting propaganda on the Internet on behalf of Jund al-Khilafa. [AFP, 11/23/2015]


Syria troops advance against ISIS in Homs province
The Syrian army recaptured a town and village in the central province of Homs from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Monday, state media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. “The army in cooperation with popular defense groups [pro-regime militias] took control of Maheen and Hawareen in the southeast of Homs province after inflicting heavy losses on Daesh,” state television said. SOHR confirmed the troops, backed by pro-government gunmen, entered the town of Mheen and the nearby village of Hawareen after midnight Sunday and were in full control of the area hours later. ISIS forces launched their assault on Maheen from neighboring al-Qaryatain, which the group captured earlier this year, kidnapping hundreds of civilians and destroying ancient Christian sites. [AP, AFP, 11/23/2015]

Kerry in Abu Dhabi for Talks on Syria peace plan
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Abu Dhabi on Monday to meet his Emirati counterparts on efforts to build a Syrian opposition coalition to lead peace talks with the Damascus regime. Kerry has scheduled meetings with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan. US officials said he also hoped to meet Saudi officials. Kerry is spearheading international efforts to halt Syria’s war by putting opposition and rebel factions around a table with President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Major powers with an interest in the conflict have set a target date of January 1 for talks and a ceasefire to begin, but the participants have yet to be identified. [AFP, 11/23/2015]

Assad says Syria troops advancing thanks to Russia strikes
Syrian government troops are advancing on “nearly every front” thanks to Russian air strikes that began in September, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview released Sunday. The President also said he favored new peace talks to be hosted in Moscow.” In the interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix television, Assad said the situation in Syria had “improved in a very good way” since Russia began air strikes. “Now I can say that the army is making advancement in nearly every front… in many different directions and areas on the Syrian ground,” he said. The army has made minimal progress on the ground, according to groups monitoring the war, though the Russian strikes have reportedly boosted morale among government troops and supporters. [AFP, 11/21/2015]

US ground forces traveling soon to Syria
Dozens of US special operations forces will arrive in Syria “very soon,” as promised by President Barack Obama’s administration, a senior official said. The troops will have the task of organizing local forces battling ISIS in northern Syria, according to Special Envoy Brett McGurk. In late October, Obama authorized no more than fifty special operations forces to deploy to northern Syria in a non-combatant, advisory role to help coordinate local ground troops and anti-ISIS coalition efforts. The US troops will assist an Arab-Kurd coalition that includes the main Syrian Kurdish militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Arab groups, and Syriac Christians. “This is focused on isolating the capital of ISIL in Raqqa,” McGurk said. [AFP, 11/23/2015]

Turkish warplanes pound Kurdish militant targets in southeast Turkey
Turkish warplanes struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant targets on Saturday, part of an air and ground offensive against the group in southeast Turkey, where some areas have been under curfew for as long as ten days. The Turkish army said it hit PKK shelters and supply points in the mountainous Semdinli district of Hakkari province, north of Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Iran. A round-the-clock curfew in Mardin’s Nusaybin district entered its tenth day on Sunday, during which ten PKK militants and two civilians had been killed, according to a statement by local governor’s office. Seven districts of Diyarbakir had a three-day curfew lifted on Sunday morning, though the restrictions stayed in place in other parts of the city. [Reuters, 11/22/2015]

Iraq closes northern airspace over missiles launched at Syria
Iraq closed its northern airspace to commercial flights on Monday for at least two days due to military traffic from Russia’s air campaign in neighboring Syria. The closure was expected to affect domestic routes to Irbil and Sulaimaniya as well as international flights from Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf, and Austria. Russia began launching cruise missiles and long-range bombers from warships in the Caspian last month, passing over Iran and Iraq and covering a distance of some 1,500 km to reach their targets. A spokesman for the US-led coalition, which conducts some operations near Irbil airport, said he was not aware of the cause for the shutdown. [Reuters, 11/23/2015]

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


Yemen’s Vice President visits Marib and says that Sana’a will be liberated soon
Yemen’s Vice President and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah arrived in the province of Marib on Sunday after a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), his first trip to the area since forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition regained full control of the city. A governmental source reported that Bahah arrived in Safar, northeast of Marib, along with two ministers. A joint meeting was held between Vice President Bahah and various military groups. During the meeting, Bahah promised that resistance forces will soon liberate Sana’a, saying that they are backbone of the resistance in the Yemen. Meanwhile, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud praised the return of the President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to Aden last week. [Al Arabiya, Gulf News, Al Masdar (Arabic), [11/23/2015]

Houthi landmines slow pro-government forces in Taiz offensive
Pro-government forces in Yemen pressed their advance Sunday to recapture the southwestern province of Taiz but were slowed by landmines planted by Houthi rebels. Government forces backed by air and ground support from the Saudi-led coalition launched an all-out offensive last week to push the Houthi rebels out of Taiz. Troops and allied Popular Resistance fighters had advanced towards al-Rahida, the province’s second-largest city, on the road linking main southern city Aden with Taiz. A Yemeni commander confirmed that mines were hampering the progress of government forces and had caused casualties among fighters, without providing any figures. Popular Resistance forces also made progress in the city of Dalea and confirmed that they had destroyed military vehicles belonging to the Houthi rebels and seized a big quantity of weapons. A new front opened east of the capital Sana’a, where tribesmen repelled military reinforcements that the Houthi rebels had sent to bypass Marib. Meanwhile, the UAE announced that it has finished training the first group of Popular Resistance fighters in efforts made by the Yemeni government to integrate the fighters into the army. Brigadier General Mushabab Nasser al-Otaibi said a select few will be chosen to fight the Houthi rebels alongside the Saudi-backed coalition forces. [AFP, Al Arabiya, Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/22/2015]

US issues an alert for American citizens in the UAE
US diplomatic missions in the UAE issued an alert for American citizens to remain vigilant in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and across the Middle East. In a statement sent out to American expatriates and posted on the Facebook pages of the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate General in Dubai, the US State Department said they “would like to remind US citizens of the continuing need to implement sound personal security practices as they go about their daily lives”. The statement noted that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has called on its supporters to attack American and allied targets following the military operations against the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. [Khaleej Times, 11/22/2015]


Algeria sees energy earnings, reserves dropping sharply in 2016
Algeria’s energy earnings are forecast to fall to $26.4 billion and foreign exchange reserves to $121 billion as low oil prices cut into the country’s economy, Finance Minister Abderrahmane Benkhalfa said on Sunday. Algeria had previously said energy earnings would fall by 50 percent this year to about $34 billion. Algeria is considering higher taxes, import duties, and a hike in subsidized diesel and electricity prices to help cover its deficit, according to the country’s draft 2016 budget. “We have to be vigilant in the management of our money. We have to control public spending,” Benkhalfa told parliament. “We have to mobilize new resources. We have planned a reasonable increase in the prices of fuel and electricity to cover production costs.” Benkhalfa said overall spending on subsidies will rise 7.5 percent next year, including food, transport, housing, and public health coverage. [Reuters, 11/22/2015]

S&P cuts Oman credit rating as budget deficit widens
Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has downgraded Oman’s sovereign debt, signaling growing pressure on Gulf Arab oil exporters’ finances. “We project that a period of sustained low oil prices will impair Oman’s fiscal and external balances more than we had previously expected,” S&P said, lowering its long-term local and foreign currency ratings to BBB-plus from A-minus. S&P also kept a negative outlook for Oman, citing risks over the next two years. “We could assess Oman as having insufficient fiscal and external strength to offset the concentration of its economy in the hydrocarbons sector and the resulting volatility.” S&P’s decision came after Oman’s finance ministry released data this week showing a government budget deficit of 2.93 billion rials ($7.62 billion) in the first nine months of 2015. Meanwhile, on Sunday Finance Ministry Under Secretary Naser al-Jashmi said Oman has started major reforms aimed at cutting spending and increasing revenues. He said the government is considering measures such as levying of taxes on expatriate remittances, increasing taxes on real estate rent contracts, and raising electricity tariffs. [Reuters, 11/21/2015]

Iraq to privatize two government banks
The Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) announced on Monday its intention to privatize the country’s two largest government banks. CBI Governor Ali al-Alaq said that CBE management is “moving to privatize al- Rafidain and al-Rasheed Banks or participate with the private sector,” noting that “the move is being coordinated with the World Bank after the cabinet approved this proposal.” In other news, the CBI rejected a proposal to distribute Iraqi employees’ salaries in dollars. “The Iraqi currency represents sovereignty and the dollar cannot be a substitute for the national currency,” the CBI said. [Shafaq News, 11/23/2015]

Siemens secures first financing for Egypt power plant project
Egypt has secured a first tranche of financing for an EUR 8 billion plan for power plants to be built by Siemens. A consortium of banks has agreed to supply credit for the Beni Suef natural gas-fired combined cycle power plant, the first of three planned plants, a spokesman for Siemens said Monday. Two agreements worth EUR 2 billion in total were signed by Siemens and El Sewedy Electric, according to Egypt’s Electricity Ministry. The project is expected to start operations in 2016, with full production by April 2018. Siemens signed the deal with Egypt in June to establish three high-efficiency natural gas power plants and wind power installations. The deal is designed to boost Egypt’s electricity generation by 50 percent. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 11/22/2015]