Top News: Jazeera reporter renounces Egypt citizenship in bid for release

Jailed Al Jazeera reporter Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian national, has renounced his Egyptian citizenship, paving the way for his release and deportation under a recent presidential decree.

The move comes after Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said late on Monday that Fahmy’s release was “imminent.” Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday morning that Fahmy could be released within hours. The ministry of interior confirmed on Tuesday it had accepted Fahmy’s decision to renounce his citizenship, however ministry official General Mohamed al-Khalisy told Aswat Masriya that a decision has not been made on Fahmy’s release. Uncertainty still looms over the fate of Fahmy’s Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed. Mohamed’s wife Jihan Rashed said that little attention is being given to him, suggesting that the release of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was a token to “shut up the foreign media.” [AFPAFPAswat MasriyaThe Guardian, 2/3/2015]



EU, US condemn mass death sentence for 183 Kerdasa suspects
The international community Monday criticized a verdict sentencing 183 defendants to death over the involvement in the killing at least eleven policemen in Kerdasa city in August 2013. In a statement on Monday, the European Union called the sentence a violation of Egypt’s international human rights obligations. During the State Department’s daily press briefing, the United States also expressed deep concern over the mass death sentences, calling for the Egyptian government to discontinue the practice of mass trials. Another statement by Amnesty International also condemned the death sentences describing it as “further sign of Egypt’s disregard for national and international law.” [Egypt Independent, 2/3/2015]

Jazeera reporter renounces Egypt citizenship in bid for release
Jailed Al Jazeera reporter Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian national, has renounced his Egyptian citizenship, paving the way for his release and deportation under a recent presidential decree. The move comes after Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said late on Monday that Fahmy’s release was “imminent.” Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday morning that Fahmy could be released within hours. The ministry of interior confirmed on Tuesday it had accepted Fahmy’s decision to renounce his citizenship, however ministry official General Mohamed al-Khalisy told Aswat Masriya that a decision has not been made on Fahmy’s release. Uncertainty still looms over the fate of Fahmy’s Egyptian colleague, Baher Mohamed. Mohamed’s wife Jihan Rashed said that little attention is being given to him, suggesting that the release of Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was a token to “shut up the foreign media.” [AFP, AFP, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 2/3/2015]

New alliance combines Egypt’s Wafd, Conference, Ghad, and Tagamoa parties
Egypt’s Conference Party, founded by Amr Moussa, is forming a new alliance with Mubarak-era liberal Ghad Party, the leftist Tagammu Party, and the liberal Wafd Party for the upcoming parliamentary elections. To bear the names of the Wafd and Conference parties, the new alliance has chosen members to run as independents in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, former prime minister Kamal al-Ganzoury has finished choosing 120 candidates for his electoral list. Most candidates are independent with decent representation for the youth. The Free Egyptians Party, however, will announce its candidates on Monday. The party candidates will not run for some seats, leaving room for leading figures and focusing its campaigning efforts to counter extremism. [Ahram Online, 2/3/2015]

Bomb kills one in Alexandria, two bombs defused at Cairo Airport
A roadside bomb near Egypt’s second largest city Alexandria killed a civilian bystander and injured two others on Tuesday. The bomb targeted a security convoy on the Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh highway. Bombs also went off in Alexandria, on Monday near the Judge’s Club, and on Tuesday close to a gas station but with no injuries reported. Unknown assailants also set fire to an Alexandria tram on Tuesday. In the capital, authorities defused two explosives at Cairo International Airport’s arrival hall of the EgyptAir terminal. In another incident, a flash-bang grenade planted inside an electrical box near Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo exploded, damaging shop windows but causing no injuries. Bombs were also dismantled in Qalubiya, near a post office in Alexandria, at a hospital in Mounifeya, and near a mall in Cairo’s Nasr City. Egypt’s transportation ministry announced on Monday that it would grant citizens who report suspicious activity free access to public transportation for a year. In Sinai, Egyptian troops fired warning shots on Tuesday after a bomb exploded on Gaza territory near an Egyptian army convoy, Egyptian security sources said. [AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, 2/2/2015]

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Libyan troops try to block PM visit, may signal rift with government
Troops loyal to General Khalifa Haftar of Operation Dignity attempted to block Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni of the Tobruk-based government from visiting Benghazi. Haftar’s men denied al-Thinni’s plane permission to land and attempted to block his convoy while in the city. This incident may signal a possible rift in the alliance between Haftar’s forces and al-Thinni’s administration. A spokesman for Haftar said that he was upset al-Thinni did not ask permission to visit the frontline and that, because al-Thinni has no official military post, his visit was not proper. [Reuters, 2/2/2015]

House of Representatives shelves political isolation law
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives shelved the Political Isolation Law (PIL), which prevents any prominent Qaddafi-era officials from holding office until 2023. The General National Congress passed the PIL in 2013amid widespread allegations that revolutionaries and Islamist fighters who controlled Tripoli coerced and intimidated its members into passing the law. Members of the parliament and the former UN Special Envoy Tarek Mitri have decried the law as unjust, and the Libyan National Council for Human Rights and Civil Liberties filed an appeal of the law. Removing the PIL is not expected to alter actions on the ground. [Libya Herald, 2/2/2015]

New fighting near Libyan oil port; Car bomb at Tripoli brigade headquarters
New fighting broke out in eastern Libya around the country’s largest oil port, Es Sidr. Forces loyal to the Tobruk-based Abdullah al-Thinni government conducted airstrikes against Operation Libya Dawn fighters seeking to take control of the port. A car bomb also exploded outside the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigade headquarters, killing at least one. The attack was claimed by supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), but cannot be confirmed as ISIS has taken credit for almost every recent attack in Tripoli. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/3/2015]

Tobruk economy ministry to use flour reserves
The Tobruk-based government is seeking to end a flour shortage in eastern Libya by releasing 200,000 bags of flour to bakeries within a week. The ministry of economy and industry announced that the bread shortage has been resolved and that the government has enough strategic reserves of flour to end the shortage. However, the exact amount it holds was not given. Libyan bakeries are supplied with subsidized flour to make bread. There is no such shortage of flour in western Libya. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 2/3/2015]

Essid cabinet towards confidence vote amid criticism
The new Tunisian coalition government formed with secular Nidaa Tounes, Afek Tounes, Union Patriotique Libre (UPL), and Islamist Ennahda is set for a confidence vote. Afek Tounes received three ministers and Ennahda received one minister and three secretaries of state to slightly alter the cabinet composition and draw in enough support from the parliament. The left wing Popular Front Party and the Congress of the Republic still voiced concern at the manner and composition of the new government. It is projected that the new coalition will have 179 votes, well above the necessary 109 required to form a majority. [Ansamed, 2/3/2015]


Kurdish forces progress against ISIS in Kobani countryside
Syrian-Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) backed by US-led airstrikes are making rapid advances against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in rural areas around Kobani after driving the group from the Syrian border town last week. Twenty-three ISIS fighters were killed in the fighting in the eastern Kobani countryside, according to pro-Kurdish media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday that Kurdish forces have progressed on the eastern, southern, western, and southwestern fronts, and have retaken more than thirty villages from ISIS. [Al-Arabiya, The Daily Star, Reuters, AP, 2/3/2015]

Iraqi cabinet drafts reform laws to end sectarian strife
Iraq’s cabinet approved on Tuesday two draft laws aimed at ending sectarian rifts, one creating a national guard and the other reforming government policies towards ex-members of the Baath party. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman described the national guard law as “a way to confront ISIS.” The news comes as al-Abadi declared the Karrada region of Baghdad an arms-free zone, following reports of clashes between different volunteer militias and the kidnapping of the secretary general of an Iraqi Hezbollah branch. In other events, tribes in Iraq’s Anbar province have announced a new joint coalition to fight ISIS in the region. [Al-Akhbar English, 2/3/2015]

UN alarmed by ISIS logo on food aid
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has declared itself “extremely concerned” by photographs showing its food parcels being handed out in Syria with ISIS’s logos on them. “WFP condemns this manipulation of desperately needed food aid inside Syria,” the agency’s emergency coordinator for the Syrian crisis, said in a statement Monday. In related news, armed groups preventing access to Yarmouk refugee camp have cut off tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees from UN emergency aid for nearly two months. [Naharnet, The Daily Star, BBC, Reuters, 2/3/2015]

Nusra Front emir says Damascus bombing is a clear message to Hezbollah
Abu Malik al-Shami, the emir of Nusra Front in al-Qalamoun, described the blast that targeted a bus carrying Lebanese Shia pilgrims in Damascus a “clear message for those who are assaulting Sunnis.” In a post on his Facebook page al-Shami added, “Hezbollah played a substantial role in supporting the vicious Nusairi regime [referring to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawi background] and shed the blood of Sunnis in Damascus… our response had to be brutal.” In other events, a mainstream Syrian rebel group said on Monday they were seeking to swap an Iranian taken captive in the southwestern province of Deraa last month for women held in Syrian government jails. [Naharnet, 2/3/2015]

Remains of twenty-five Yazidis found in Iraq mass grave
Iraqi Kurdish forces have uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of about twenty-five members of the Yazidi minority allegedly killed by ISIS militants. A peshmerga lieutenant colonel said the grave was found near Sinuni in Erbil province in northern Iraq during a search for explosives that ISIS often leaves behind. Some of the victims had been shot dead and others “slaughtered” using knives, he said. [Naharnet, Al-Arabiya, 2/3/2015]


Major parties leave Houthi talks
UN brokered talks aimed at resolving Yemen’s political crisis appeared to be falling apart Monday as the main political parties suspended their participation in negotiations with the Houthi rebels. A senior Yemeni politician said the main political parties had demanded that the parliament convene in order to consider Hadi’s resignation and to take the lead in a post-Hadi transition period. According to Yemen’s constitution, in the event of the president’s resignation the parliament speaker would assume the post until new elections could be held. The Houthis have been accused of using the talks as a political cover to complete their coup. [AP, Asharq al-Awsat, 2/2/2015]

Drone strike in Beida kills four
A drone strike killed at least four alleged al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen on Monday. The unmanned aircraft targeted a car in Beida province, which exploded loudly upon the missile’s impact. The explosion could mean the car was loaded with arms and explosives. This is the third attack in a week after Washington vowed to pursue its counterterrorism campaign in Yemen. So far, the identities of the charred remains have not been confirmed. [Al Jazeera, AFP, Al Masdar, 2/2/2015]

Kerry praises Qatar for help on Yemen crisis
Meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah at the State Department on Monday, Kerry said he was grateful for the “many ways in which Qatar, the emir, and Dr. Attiyah have made themselves available in order to be of assistance.” When asked, Attiyah did not give details surrounding the extent of Qatar’s involvement in the ongoing crisis. However, he did stress that Qatar has been discussing with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on how to help end the crisis. [AFP, 2/3/2015]

Qatar says released Taliban detainees not back to militant activities
Qatar’s foreign minister on Monday denied reports that one of five high-level Taliban detainees transferred from the Guantanamo Bay prison to Qatar has attempted to engage in militant activity. The five men were transferred from Guantanamo last May as part of an exchange that freed US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked off his military post in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by militants. CNN reported last week that US military and intelligence officials suspect that one of the five, whom it did not identify, had contacted suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan to encourage militant activity. [Reuters, 2/3/2015]


Jordan central bank cuts rates by 25 bps as inflation slows
Jordan’s Central Bank announced it would cut its benchmark lending rates by 25 basis point. This marks the first reduction since last june, following a record build-up in foreign reserves and an improved inflation outlook. The bank attributed its decision to a combination of slowing inflation, the increased attractiveness of dinar-denominated assets and a big improvement in the current account, which it said reflected robust economic growth and a record level of foreign exchange reserves. [Reuters, 2/2/2015]

Egypt’s non-oil private sector shrinks in January
Egypt’s non-oil private sector shrank in January for the first time since last July. Both output and new orders fell slightly. A corporate survey showed that poor weather conditions and the economic crisis in Russia, which hit export orders, were partially responsible for weaker demand in January. According to HSBC senior economist, “the numbers show that Egypt’s recovery remains weak and vulnerable to downside risk.” [Reuters, 2/3/2015]

Iraq oil field output suspended after IS fighting
Production at an oil field near the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk remained suspended after incurring severe damage during a weekend attack by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) insurgents. Khabbaz is a small oilfield with a maximum production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day; it was producing around 10,000 bpd before the attack. Hit by oil prices that have more than halved since June, Iraq is working to boost its shipments to make up for lost revenues dependent mainly on oil exports. [Reuters, 2/2/2015]

Tunisia’s FDI still in freefall
The flow of foreign investment into the Tunisian economy dropped by 5.8 percent to 1.878,6 million Tunisian dinars (MTD) in 2014. These investments are spread at a rate of 1718.1 MTD of foreign direct investment (FDI) and 160.5 MTD of portfolio investment. FDI were directed mainly towards the energy sector. However, investments in this activity have significantly decreased compared to 2013. [African Manager, 2/2/2015]