Top News: Iran Says May Quit Syria Talks over Spat with Saudi; Russia Trying for Talks in Moscow

Iran said on Monday it would quit Syria peace talks if it found them unconstructive, citing the “negative role” of Saudi Arabia, in the latest spat between the regional rivals that jeopardizes efforts to ease turmoil across the Middle East. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that Iran would not participate if the talks were “not fruitful.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of attempting to smuggle weapons to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and meddling in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, something he said was “driving the negativity” in Iran-Saudi relationship. Meanwhile, a senior Russian diplomat says Moscow will host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that the Syrian government has agreed to participate, but that it is unclear which opposition groups might come. He did not give a specific date for the proposed talks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss attempts to start a dialogue between Damascus and the Syrian opposition, Moscow’s Foreign Ministry said. [APReuters, 11/3/2015]



Egypt’s Sisi to visit UK Thursday to discuss security, trade
For the first time since his election, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will travel to the UK on Thursday to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron, where they will discuss regional and international issues. British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson announced in a statement Monday three topics will be on the agenda of the bilateral talks: fighting terrorism and extremism in Egypt and the region, aiding Egypt to become a “stable and prosperous” democracy, and economic, trade, and educational ties. He said the pair would discuss security issues in the Middle East such as the latest developments in Syria, Libya and Yemen. Casson also said that as an Arab and Muslim country, Egypt plays a big role in fighting Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in Iraq and Syria and fighting “extremism.” He added Egypt has an important political and strategic role to play in the region in supporting stability and confronting the “growing threat of terrorist groups” and in setting political solutions to crises. “Egypt is a crucial country in a crucial region and is witnessing crucial timing,” the statement read. Sisi will also discuss with Cameron opportunities to strengthen economic and political ties between the two countries as well as the possibility of bolstering trade industries. Casson said Cameron will express his support for Sisi and the reforms that he is carrying out to revive the Egyptian economy, as well as his desire to see more political progress, which is considered the “basis” for long-term stability in Egypt. Casson said the UK also welcomes the election of a new parliament in Egypt. Casson added that the UK is Egypt’s largest investor, with $25 billion worth of investments in the country since 2010, and that exports between the two countries last year reached £1 billion in value. Meanwhile, Sisi conducted interviews with the BBC, BBC Arabic, and the Daily Telegraph ahead of his visit. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 11/3/2015]

F-16 shipment symbol of strong US-Egypt relations, says US Ambassador
US Ambassador to Egypt Stephen Beecroft described the recent delivery of four F-16 jets as a symbol of the cooperation between Egypt and the United States in a video statement posted Monday by the US Embassy on its Facebook page. “It is through this cooperation that we have a real chance to succeeding in ensuring our security, our prosperity, our rights, and our liberties,” the Ambassador said. The embassy, meanwhile, has instructed its staff not to travel anywhere in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as a “precautionary measure,” pending the outcome of the investigation into the crash of a Russian passenger jet. In its statement, emailed late Monday, the embassy said it will issue another message when the security measure is lifted. Also on Monday, Egypt’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy met Rear Admiral Kevin M. Donegan, Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and the US 5th Fleet in Cairo, Egyptian Armed Forces Spokesperson Mohamed Samir announced. The two military commanders discussed topics related to Egypt-US military relations, training, and the exchange of mutual expertise, according to Samir.[Cairo Post, 11/2/2015]

Campaigning in second phase of Egypt parliamentary elections kicks off
Campaigning in the second phase of Egypt’s parliamentary elections began Tuesday, officially kick-starting the competition across 102 constituencies in thirteen Egyptian governorates. According to State Information Service, 222 seats will be up for grabs in the second phase the elections. The final list of candidates joining the race is due to be announced later today. For many candidates, however, the start of the campaigning period only means stepping up the advertising, since many had already been campaigning before the official start date, in violation of rules set by the High Elections Committee (HEC). Candidates in the first phase also campaigned outside of official campaigning dates, but faced no consequences from the HEC. Meanwhile, Major General Sameh Seif al-Yazal, rapporteur for the For the Love of Egypt electoral list, expects the next Speaker of the House of Representatives will be among the members of parliament appointed by the president of the republic. “None of the candidates are fit for the position,” Yazal said in an interview with Al-Arabiya Monday evening. [Aswat Masriya, 11/3/2015]

Rights groups launch week-long campaign against forced disappearances
A group of seven rights organizations and movements have announced the launch of a campaign against forced disappearances, a practice that has become increasingly prevalent in Egypt over the past year. Starting on November 3, the organizations will host a week of activities in solidarity with victims of forced disappearances and their families, “who only dream of finding their children alive in prisons only to make sure they weren’t killed,” their statement read. The campaign will present the Prosecutor General with reports on the missing citizens, and will conclude with a press conference by lawyers who will share ways of tracking detention locations where the missing are being held. The organizations involved in the campaign include the Freedom for the Brave, Stop Forced Disappearances, Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, among others. [DNE, Mada Masr, 11/2/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Islamists stand to gain as ruling party split looms in Tunisia
After weeks of sharp disputes between its leaders, Tunisia’s ruling party Nidaa Tounes is on the verge of breaking up, which could allow the Islamist Ennahda party to usurp it as the largest bloc in parliament. Tensions between two wings of Nidaa Tounes spilled over into violence last week when a party meeting descended into open fighting at the beach resort of Hammamet. Thirty-two of Nidaa Tounes’ eighty-six lawmakers have already threatened to break away in protest at what they see as attempts by President Beji Caid Essebsi, who founded the secular party in 2012, to impose his son Hafedh as its leader. The president’s office rejects those accusations. Losing those seats would leave Ennahda, with sixty-seven seats in the 217-member parliament, as the biggest faction in the governing coalition. Insiders say Nidaa Tounes is now split into two wings, one led by Hafedh Caid Essebsi and the other by Mohsen Marzouk, a former leftist activist and the party’s secretary general. [Reuters, Tunisia Live, 11/2/2015]

UN pushes for final Libya agreement, expands executive council
The United Nations on Monday urged Libya’s warring factions to agree on a unity government after they were offered proposals to ease concerns over regional distribution in a UN-backed power-sharing deal. The UN said in a statement after consultations with both sides that a proposed presidential council would be expanded from six to nine members, including a prime minister, five deputy prime ministers, and three senior ministers. Members of Libya’s two rival parliaments were scheduled to meet separately to discuss the UN proposal on Tuesday. [Reuters, UNSMIL, 11/2/2015]

Ghariani urges staff at Tripoli Finance Ministry to end strike
Sheikh Sadik al-Ghariani has told strikers at the Ministry of Finance in Tripoli to cease their protest. In an open letter, he warned, “If the house collapsed, no one would survive.” A number of officials at the ministry stopped working on October 13 over low salaries and have been protesting outside ever since. They say they cannot make ends meet given the spiraling inflation in Libya. Ghariani, who is still regarded as the country’s grand mufti in much of the west but not the east of the country, admitted corruption and bribery in the government, but maintained that the demonstration camp outside the ministry was unproductive and unacceptable. Ghariani added that he advised officials suspected of corruption to resign. [Libya Herald, 11/3/2015]


UN panel head prepares for Syria gas attacks probe
A UN panel will soon begin work on identifying those responsible for deadly gas attacks in Syria, but the head of the investigation says it will be difficult to come up with a complete list of perpetrators. Disarmament expert Virginia Gamba heads the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), approved by the Security Council in August after evidence surfaced of chlorine gas attacks on three Syrian villages last year. The starting point for the international investigation are three fact-finding missions from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that concluded that chlorine was probably used as a weapon on the opposition-held villages, killing thirteen people. The OPCW followed its mandate and did not assign blame for the attacks in Idlib and Hama provinces. The panel has been asked to dig deeper to not only identify the perpetrators of the attacks, but also identify their co-conspirators, organizers, financial backers, and sponsors. [AFP, 11/3/2015]

UN envoy urges Syria ceasefires
UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura briefed the Syrian leadership in Damascus on the outcome of last week’s international talks in Vienna, reportedly pushing President Bashar al-Assad to accept a ceasefire. “What we need is also some facts on the ground, some ceasefires, some reductions of violence,” de Mistura said in Damascus before leaving the country. “That would make a big difference, to give a feeling to the Syrian people that the Vienna atmosphere is producing effects to them.” De Mistura met with and briefed Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and UN and EU representatives and on the outcome of talks held last Friday between seventeen nations aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. Neither the Syrian government nor the Syrian opposition received an invitation to the table. Another round of international talks is expected to take place in mid-November. [AFP, 11/3/2015]

Turkey detains fifty-seven linked to Gulen
On Tuesday, Turkish police have carried out dawn raids in eighteen provinces, detaining fifty-seven people, including senior police officers and bureaucrats, allegedly linked to President Tayyip Erdogan’s foe Fethullah Gulen, widening a campaign against the exiled US-based Muslim cleric. The raids come two days after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan founded, won a resounding victory in an election that restored its single-party rule. [AP, Reuters, 11/3/2015]

Turkish jets strike Kurdish targets in northern Iraq
The Turkish military announced on Tuesday that Turkish jets carried out raids on suspected Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. The air strikes hit shelters, underground bunkers, and weapon emplacements belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in six locations, including the PKK’s base in the Qandil Mountains, on Monday. Inside Turkey, authorities declared a curfew in certain parts of the mainly Kurdish town of Silvan, where security forces clashed with PKK rebels. At least two militants were killed. Monday’s air strikes come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) captured more than 49 percent of the vote on Sunday, regaining a parliamentary majority it lost in June. [AP, Anadolu Agency, 11/3/2015]

Iraq parliament bars Abadi government from passing reforms unilaterally
Iraq’s parliament voted unanimously on Monday to bar the government from passing important reforms without its approval, amid discontent over Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s leadership style. The chamber acted after Abadi unilaterally enacted reforms in August that it deemed a violation of the constitution including his dismissal of the vice presidents, deputy prime ministers, and cuts to salaries of government employees. An Iraqi lawmaker said, “Parliament rejects any parties, including the government, overlooking its authorities. The resolution was passed unanimously and it dictates that any decision needs the approval of parliament.” [Reuters, 11/2/2015]

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


Thousands flee homes, as rare cyclone hits Yemen
Thousands fled as the storm, named Chapala, brought hurricane-force winds, heavy rain and huge waves to the port city of Mukalla on Tuesday. Mukalla is controlled by militants from al-Qaeda and residents warned it was ill-equipped to deal with a disaster. Chapala is believed to be the most powerful storm Yemen has seen in decades. It comes as the country experiences a humanitarian crisis as a result of a war between forces loyal to the government and the Houthi rebel movement. The hurricane is expected to spread to the northern and central provinces of Yemen, including Marib, where there has been ongoing fighting between the Houthi rebels and government forces supporting President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. [BBC, Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/3/2015]

Guards clash at Yemen presidential palace in Aden
Guards at the presidential palace in Yemen’s second largest city, Aden, clashed with militiamen providing security for the complex on Tuesday in a dispute over unpaid wages. At least two members of the presidential guard were wounded in the shootout. The presidential guard is led by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s son, who returned briefly to Aden in September from exile in Riyadh, but who has since returned to Saudi Arabia. The Presidential Guard soldiers clashed with Popular Resistance fighters who had fought in the liberation of Aden from Houthi rebels. [The Daily Star, 11/3/2015]

Yemen’s Hadi discusses Taiz humanitarian crisis with US ambassador amid fears of famine
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi met with US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller on Tuesday in Riyadh to discuss the latest developments in Yemen and the worsening humanitarian crisis in Taiz. President Hadi detailed how indiscriminate shelling on the city and civilians’ lack of access to humanitarian supplies had made the humanitarian situation “brutal.” Ambassador Tueller reaffirmed US support for security and stability in Yemen. Meanwhile, UN spokesman Stephen Dujarric said on Monday that Yemen is on the verge of famine with children suffering from malnutrition and starvation. He also expressed concern over the effects of hurricane Chapala, as it is predicted to hit areas where 1.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/3/2015]

Deteriorating conditions for women and girls, as Yemen conflict continues
Conditions for Yemeni women and girls are deteriorating as the conflict in Yemen drags on. The stress and chaos of the crisis, coupled with entrenched gender inequality, have left women and girls extremely vulnerable to violence, abuse, and exploitation. Women and girls are the most vulnerable group in conflict-affected areas, as men join the fighting while women are increasingly left to manage households on their own. These women often struggle to access basic services and to protect themselves and their children. Many have been displaced from their communities. They are also subjected to gender-based violence due to becoming the heads of households, psychological pressure as a result of the war, the level of displacement, the lack of adequate housing and consequent lack of privacy, the level of poverty, and consequent food insecurity. [UNFPA, 11/2/2015]

Two contractors detained by Yemeni authorities
The United Nations said on Monday that two contractors detained by authorities in Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sana’a were not working for the world body, but were instead employed by a company that manages a facility used by the United Nations. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the two contractors arrived in Sana’a from Djibouti on a UN plane on October 20 and were detained by the authorities at the airport. A Saudi-led Arab coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore the government after it was toppled by the Houthi rebels. Dujarric said that contractors had been flown by the United Nations to Yemen before without any incident. [Reuters, 11/2/2015]


EBRD earmarks $250 million for renewable energy in MENA
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has launched a $250 million financing program to promote private sector investment in renewable energy in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan. Most of the energy produced will be sold directly to private sector consumers, such as cement firms and hotel groups, the EBRD said. The 120-megawatt Khalladi wind farm near Tangiers in Morocco is the first project expected to be financed through the program. Two other funds, the Climate Investment Funds’ Clean Technology Fund and the Global Environment Facility will provide financing of up to $35 million and $10 million, respectively. A technical assistance program funded by the European Union’s Neighborhood Investment Facility worth more than $1 million will support project preparation and analysis. [Reuters, 11/3/2015]

IMF official says GCC countries prepared to deal with low oil prices
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are well prepared to handle the fallout of the global slump in oil prices, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Director of Offices in Europe Jeffrey Franks. “GCC countries have set aside considerable resources in sovereign wealth funds that they can now draw on to continue funding and investing in education programs and other social benefits,” Franks said. However, while GCC countries are well equipped in the medium term, smart budgetary policies are needed to manage the long term, Franks added. He said the IMF does not foresee bankruptcy among GCC countries, but he emphasized budgetary challenges that arise from low oil prices. [Gulf News, 11/2/2015]

Moody’s says Saudi deficit will drive further debt issuance, spending controls
A statement by Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday said that while Saudi Arabia’s fiscal position is weakening, it is still relatively strong. Moody’s says it expects lower oil revenues from the drop in global oil prices to result in large budget deficits, a drawdown of foreign reserves, and increased sovereign debt issuance. Moody’s said the Saudi government needs to enact further cuts in order to preserve the country’s credit rating. “Given Saudi Arabia’s dependence on the volatile hydrocarbon sector, we expect that low oil prices will continue to drive fiscal deficits for several years. While the kingdom’s large assets provide a cushion, we believe that further measures to address the deficit will be forthcoming,” Moody’s Senior Vice President Steven Hess said. The ratings agency said it expects Saudi gross domestic product growth to be between 2.5 percent and 3 percent over the next two years. Meanwhile, concern about Saudi Arabia’s ability to cope with low oil prices pushed the cost of insuring its sovereign debt against default on Tuesday to its highest level since June 2009. [Moody’s, 11/2/2015]

EU allocates EUR 68 million to Egypt gas development project
The European Union (EU) announced in a statement Monday that it has allocated EUR 68 million to the Egypt Gas Connection Project. The planned project will “address key priorities in Egypt’s energy sector and boost its economic development,” the EU Delegation to Egypt said. “This project will be implemented in collaboration with the French Development Agency that will contribute with a 70 million euro loan and the World Bank that offered a $500 million loan,” the statement added. Egypt aims to start natural gas production from its massive offshore Zohr field in 2017, a year ahead of schedule, Oil Minister Tarek al-Molla said. “We’re looking to expedite the agreement with the partner and speed up production,” Molla said in an interview. Molla also said that the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation has agreed to import six shipments of fuel oil from Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, by the end of 2015. [SIS, 11/3/2015]

Eyes turn to Turkey Central Bank as inflation surges
Core inflation in Turkey hit a peak in October, putting pressure on its central bank to tighten policy only two days after the country’s parliamentary elections. Annual core consumer prices rose 8.9 percent last month, driven in part by sharp falls in the lira. The year-on-year jump in core prices was the biggest since November 2014. Headline inflation, which includes food prices, slowed to 7.58 percent. The bank has so far steered clear of trying to support the currency by increasing rates, which has raised market concerns about the bank’s independence. Experts says the bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) cannot hold off raising rates forever. “It remains to be seen how much influence the new government will try to exert on monetary policy. But we continue to think that the MPC will raise interest rates over the next three to six months,” said Capital Economics. [Reuters, 11/3/2015]