Top News: Houthis Shell Presidential Residence in Yemen

Yemen’s information minister says Houthi rebels are shelling the residence of the country’s president as they swept into the presidential palace in the capital.

President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is believed to be inside the house. The rebels have also raided the presidential palace and are looting its weapons depot. Earlier today at the presidential palace, Hadi and a Houthi adviser met to negotiate the makeup of an eighty-five member commission tasked with developing the outline of Yemen’s future federation, as stated in the draft constitution. [AP, 1/20/2015]



Egypt’s Sisi says respects right to protest but warns of harm to economy
Speaking in Cairo on Tuesday on the occasion of Police Day, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said people in Egypt have the right to demonstrate but cautioned that protesting now could cause more harm to the country’s battered economy. He commended the police for their efforts in fighting terrorism, asserting that Egypt is at the forefront of the International battle against it. He added that Egypt is paying the price for global stability. Earlier on Sunday, speaking to Sky News Arabia, Sisi had also said there are “no restrictions” on the freedom of expression in Egypt, adding that the standards Western countries promote concerning freedom of expression do not match Egypt’s current situation. Sisi’s statements come on the heels of his first official visit to the UAE since being elected president, where he met with Abu Dhabi crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 1/20/2015]

Morsi accuses army of role in deaths during 2011 protests
Former president Mohamed Morsi defended himself in court on Sunday for the first time since his ouster, claiming he was innocent of charges of espionage and asserting that he was still Egypt’s president. Speaking for two hours, he accused the country’s army of killing protesters during the 2011 uprising. Citing testimony in what he called a fact-finding report, he did not name then Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who went on to become elected president, but said that elements belonging to a sovereign body led by the “coup leader” took part in killing protesters. There was no immediate comment from the army or presidency. Earlier on Saturday, Morsi gave his account of the Wadi al-Natrun prison break that took place on January 29 during the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 1/19/2015]

Leak allegedly reveals government using media to shape public opinion
A new leak allegedly reveals that government officials instructed leading media figures to appeal to people’s emotions and encourage them to support Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during his presidential campaign in 2014. The leak, aired by the pro-Morsi satellite channel Mekamelin Monday night, allegedly features Sisi’s office head Abbas Kamel and the military spokesperson Ahmed Ali, speaking at the time of Sisi’s bid for the presidency. Kamel allegedly told Ali that he and Sisi wanted “our media personnel” on TV “to stage a mood which incites people”, Kamel said, referring to Sisi supporters who, he instructed, are required to believe that there is a defamation campaign targeting the current president. The media should drive the Egyptian people to protect the candidate and stand by him, without letting anyone question someone as “honorable” and “good” as Sisi. [DNE, 1/20/2015]

Forty-three NGOs register to monitor elections; HEC to open registration for media coverage
Since the official start of the registration process on January 12, the Ministry of Solidarity issued permits for forty-three Egyptian NGOs to observe the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Egyptian Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights will cooperate with the Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) and the International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights (IIPJHR), in addition to coordinating with thirty-one local NGOs across Egypt. Maat Foundation requested permits for 400 international observers and 7,000 local observers. In related news, the High Electoral Commission (HEC) announced on Monday that media outlets might apply for covering the coming parliamentary elections starting Wednesday and until February 1. Journalists will need to register online from February 5-16 and permits will be delivered from February 26 to March 12. [DNE, 1/19/2015]

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Confusion over Geneva dialogue after confidential Leon-Abu Sahmain talks in Istanbul
The Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) rejected any participation or outcome from the UN-led Geneva dialogue this past week. The GNC indicated at a confidential meeting in Istanbul between GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain and UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon, that the GNC would participate if the talks were held in Libya and the UN recognized the GNC as Libya’s legitimate government. There is now confusion among delegates on the time and location of the next round of dialogue. The GNC has proposed moving the talks to Ghat, which other negotiation delegates refuse to attend due to logistics and security concerns. [Libya Herald, 1/19/2015]

Libyan National Army announces ceasefire, but fight against “terrorists” excluded
The Libyan National Army (LNA), under the control of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, announced a ceasefire covering land, air, and naval forces. The announcement came in response to the call for peace by delegates at the UN-led Geneva talks last week. The ceasefire does not extend to the areas of Derna or Benghazi, in which the fighting is described to be against Islamist extremists. Medics from Benghazi report that three months of fighting has resulted in around 600 deaths. The House also recalled General Khalifa Haftar and 108 other former-Qaddafi era officers to active army duty, further cementing their alliance. Despite the ceasefire, there were renewed clashes between forces loyal to Operation Libya Dawn and the LNA at Libya’s largest oil port, Es Sider. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 1/19/2015]

EU to freeze Libya border security project
The European Union is looking at the option of freezing its border control project in Libya. The initiative began in 2013 but was suspended in July 2014. The concern was that the project cost 26 million Euros a year, but has not yielded any positive results. The EU identified Libya as the main source of small arms smuggling to Europe, as well as a transit point for returning European jihadists and illegal immigrants. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/20/2015]

Libyan governor at OPEC abducted; explosion outside Algerian embassy in Tripoli
Samir Salem Kamal, Libya’s number two official in OPEC, was abducted in Tripoli last week. Masked gunmen confronted him in his office. A car bomb also exploded outside of the Algerian embassy in Tripoli wounding two guards over the weekend. The Arab League’s Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi strongly condemned the attack as a blatant violation of international law. [Ansamed, Reuters, All Africa, 1/20/2015]

Tunisian filmmaker convicted for insult released
Ines Ben Othman, a Tunisian filmmaker recently sentenced to two months in jail for offending a police officer, has been freed. The case sparked international controversy and Amnesty International launched an appeal to the decision. Culture Minister Mourad Sakli personally intervened as a mediator to reconcile the issue between Ben Othman and the police officer. [Ansamed, 1/19/2015]


Israeli airstrikes in Syria kill six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general
An Israeli airstrike in southern Syria’s Quneitra province on Sunday killed the son of a slain top Hezbollah commander and at least five other fighters. In a statement issued to the media, Hezbollah identified one of the six slain men as Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah operative who was assassinated in 2008 in Damascus. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed Tuesday that one of their generals was also killed in the strike. Israeli news media reported that officials believed Hezbollah was planning an attack on Israelis from the area, near the Golan Heights. [LA Times, ABC News, NYT, 1/20/2015]

ISIS threatens to kill two Japanese hostages
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) released an online video on Tuesday purporting to show two Japanese captives and threatening to kill them unless it received $200 million within seventy-two hours, directly demanding the ransom from Japan’s premier during his visit to the Middle East. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the threat to the lives of the two Japanese captives was unacceptable and that he strongly condemned acts of terrorism. “Extremism and Islam are completely different things,” Abe said. “We strongly demand the immediate release of the Japanese citizens unharmed … The international community needs to respond firmly and cooperate without caving to terrorism.” [The Daily Star, The Guardian, The National, Reuters, BBC, AP, Al-Arabiya, 1/20/2015]

Canada Special Forces clash with ISIS in Iraq
Canadian soldiers have fired on Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in Iraq, in what is thought to be the first confirmed ground battle involving Western forces. The commander of the Canadian special operations forces said the forces came under “immediate and effective mortar fire” and responded with sniper fire, “neutralizing the mortar and the machine-gun position.” He added that the response was consistent with the inherent right of self-defense and suggested it was an incident typical of military missions, one that would not have been unusual even in past Canadian peacekeeping missions. [Naharnet, BBC, 1/19/2015]

Kurds capture strategic Kobani hilltop, battle Assad’s forces, opening new front
Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Kobani have captured a strategic hilltop, according to the People’s Protection Unit’s (YPG) official Twitter account. Observers said the advance was a key strategic victory for YPG, putting ISIS resupply lines to Aleppo in the west and Raqqa in the east within their line of fire. In other events, Kurds in Syria’s northeast battled on Saturday with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, breaking a longstanding tacit agreement between the two sides to focus on other enemies in a complex civil war. The violence broke out when army soldiers and allied militiamen took control of buildings in an area that both sides had agreed would stay demilitarized. [Naharnet, Reuters, 1/19/2015]


Houthis shell presidential residence in Yemen
Yemen’s information minister says Houthi rebels are shelling the residence of the country’s president as they swept into the presidential palace in the capital. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is believed to be inside the house. The rebels have also raided the presidential palace and are looting its weapons depot. Earlier today at the presidential palace, Hadi and a Houthi adviser met to negotiate the makeup of an eighty-five member commission tasked with developing the outline of Yemen’s future federation, as stated in the draft constitution. [AP, 1/20/2015]

Release of Yemen’s presidential chief of staff stalls
The fate of Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, who was abducted on Saturday by Houthi rebels, remains unclear after reports that the rebel group delayed his release. The militants had agreed to free Mubarak on Monday under the condition that some articles in the constitution be altered and changes made to the country’s political road map. [Asharq al-Awsat, 1/20/2015]

Heavy fighting breaks out in Sana’a
Government troops clashed with Houthi rebels near the presidential palace and a key military base in what one official called “a step toward a coup.” The militants seized control of state media in fierce fighting that marked the biggest challenge yet to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi by the rebels, who swept down from their northern strongholds last year and captured the capital in September. [NYT, Reuters, AP, BBC, Al Arabiya, Yemen Times, 1/19/2015]

Kuwait pulls license of company that publishes critical newspaper
Kuwait’s trade minister cancelled the business license of the company that publishes a newspaper known for being critical of the government, citing violations of corporate regulations, the newspaper reported on Tuesday. Al-Watan was one of two newspapers suspended by a judge for two weeks last year after they reported on an audio recording that discussed an alleged plot to overthrow the Gulf state’s rulers. [Gulf News, Reuters, 1/20/2015]


Egypt does not see oil price drop hitting investments from Gulf
According to Egypt’s investment minister, Egypt does not expect Gulf Arab countries to reduce their investment in the country despite the fall in oil prices, as Cairo is of particular strategic importance for the region. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, which support Sisi as a bulwark against the spread of political Islam in the region, have kept Egypt’s economy afloat. [Reuters, 1/19/2015]

Tunisia seen as strong prospect if foreign investment can be unlocked
Four years after Tunisia sparked off the Arab Spring uprisings, the country is seen as a rare regional success story, but its prospects hinge on it deepening reforms and attracting foreign investment. According to a portfolio manager in Investec’s frontier markets team, “Tunisia has enormous potential to reform. However [it] is in desperate need of foreign direct investment to drive economic growth and job creation.” [Reuters, 1/19/2015]

EBRD, IDB unit to launch SME Fund for Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the private sector arm of the Islamic Development Bank will launch this year a new fund to support small and medium-sized businesses in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Tunisia. [Zawya, 1/19/2015]

Syrians vent anger over fuel, bread price hikes
Regime-held areas of Syria faced a transportation crunch Monday after the government’s decision to raise prices on fuel, in an apparent bid to eliminate two-tiered pricing system that had led to shortages and rampant smuggling. The price of a packet of bread, weighing just under 1.5 kilograms, rose from $0.15 to $0.20, a canister of butane gas jumped from around $6.00 to $8.20, and a liter of diesel rose from $0.45 to $0.70. The decisions were followed up Monday with a decree by President Bashar al-Assad, granting a monthly “cost-of-living compensation” of $18.00 to public sector employees, members of the military, and retirees. [The Daily Star, SANA, 1/20/2015]

Aden Free Zone Customs levied YR 66 billion worth of revenues
The Yemeni Aden Free Zone Customs Unit levied more than YR 66 billion worth of revenues in 2014, of which YR 31.8 billion was in form of custom fees and YR 34.1 in other revenues. The levied total is 19 percent up from 2013. The unit director attributed this rise in revenues to the active international shipping witnessed by the seaport. [SABA, 1/18/2015]