Top News: Libya and Neighboring States Snub Military Intervention

Libya’s struggling elected government and representatives of fifteen nations meeting in Madrid unanimously rejected the idea of military intervention as a way to restore stability in the country, which the Spanish foreign minister warned could slide into a Syria-style civil war. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz offered no specifics on how his government could regain control of Tripoli but said he did not believe a recent series of mysterious airstrikes in Libya or future airstrikes would shift the balance of power. US officials have said some airstrikes were carried out by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.




Egypt begins close monitoring of online communication with new technology
Egypt has contacted a sister company of a US-based online security firm to monitor the country’s cyber communications a few months after authorities unveiled a new campaign to keep  social networking sites under surveillance. See Egypt, the sister company of US-based Blue Coat, has already started monitoring Egypt’s online communications, according to BuzzFeed News which spoke with several Egyptian officials. In a statement issued on Thursday, however, the ministry of interior denied contracting a company to monitor online communications. [Ahram Online, BuzzFeed, 9/18/2014]

Egypt government reneges on amending protest law
The Egyptian government has dismissed reports that a widely-criticized protest law will be amended, in remarks challenging contrary statements by the ministry of transitional justice and state-run rights body, the National Council for Human Rights. A cabinet spokesperson stated that no discussions about the law or its provisions were held during the inter-ministerial meeting on Wednesday, and ruled out such a possibility in the near future. “The law was subject to a broad national dialogue and thus it is still in place,” cabinet spokesman Hossam al-Kawish said in television comments on Thursday. [Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), Ahram (Arabic), 9/18/2014]

Draft bill to regulate political activity at Azhar University
In a continuation of measures by Egyptian universities at the start of the new academic year, the Cabinet agreed on a draft bill to organize the affairs of Al-Azhar University. The draft mandates the suspension of university staff found guilty of inciting violence, participating in campus protests, belonging to extremist organizations, or facilitating the entrance of weapons to campus. The new measures will also include university employees and students involved in these activities. The amendment to the existing regulations are an effort to target an increasing number of staff and students belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose confrontation with security forces has elevated security concerns on campus in recent months. Several other universities have implemented similar measures. [Mada Masr, Reuters, 9/18/2014]

World Bank Report: Creating private sector jobs in Egypt is key to boosting economy
A new World Bank report titled ‘More Jobs, Better Jobs: A Priority for Egypt,’ provides insights into the deepening structural problems of the Egyptian labor market. The report highlights short and long term policy interventions needed to unleash the potential of the private sector to create a large and diverse set of jobs, it added. [World Bank, 9/18/2014]


Libya’s House of Representatives rejects prime minister’s new cabinet
Libya’s elected parliament has rejected Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s proposed sixteen-member cabinet, demanding that within three days he submit a new crisis government with no more than ten ministers. According to one parliamentarian from Sidra, if he does not, the House will appoint a different prime minister. Primary among the House’s concerns, according to a spokesman, was that the defense minister should not hold other positions, as al-Thinni has nominally held the role of both defense and prime minister since March. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 9/18/2014]

Libya and neighboring states snub military intervention
Libya’s struggling elected government and representatives of fifteen nations meeting in Madrid unanimously rejected the idea of military intervention as a way to restore stability in the country, which the Spanish foreign minister warned could slide into a Syria-style civil war. Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdulaziz offered no specifics on how his government could regain control of Tripoli but said he did not believe a recent series of mysterious airstrikes in Libya or future airstrikes would shift the balance of power. US officials have said some airstrikes were carried out by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. [AP, 9/17/2014]

UN says sanctions still under review as Libyan representative calls for greater action
The UN Sanctions Committee is still waiting to determine against whom to mete out sanctions, according to its chairman, following reports to the Security Council this week. The international body announced last month that it would impose travel bans, fines, and take criminal proceedings against those deemed to “threaten the peace, stability, or security of Libya, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition.” At the same time, Libya’s representative to the UN said necessary measures to maintain the authority of the state, including “the use of force,” should be applied if armed groups were “unwilling to withdraw from the city.” [Libya Herald, 9/17/2014]

Sharara oil field and Zawiya refinery both closed
The Zawiya refinery and the connected Sharara oil field have both been shut down, according to an oil ministry official. Sharara had been shut down after a storage tank was damaged during fighting between rival factions. The field, located in the southwest with a capacity of 340,000 barrels per day (bpd), supplies the Zawiya refinery. The closure will negatively affect Libya’s overall output, which has made a surprising recovery in recent weeks. Zawiya refinery is a major supplier of gasoline to Tripoli and surrounding areas; any disruption will likely lead to more fuel shortages in the capital. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/18/2014]


ISIS closes in on Kurdish town, could capture large portion of Turkish-Syrian border
Jihadists from ISIS using heavy weapons have seized a string of villages around Ain al-Arab as they close in on Syria’s third largest Kurdish town. “In the past twenty-four hours, IS fighters have launched a huge offensive and seized at least sixteen villages to the east and west of Kobane,” as part of a pincer movement encircling thousands of Kurdish fighters, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, using the Kurdish name for Ain al-Arab. Kobane is Syria’s third largest Kurdish town after Qamishli and Afrine and its capture would allow the jihadists to control a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border. [AFP, 9/18/2014]

Regime stepping up attacks on rebels as United States sets sights on ISIS
The people of Talbiseh, a rebel-held village north of Homs in central Syria, have seen many government air raids, but the strikes on Wednesday morning surprised them with their ferocity and their precision. “They are hitting us like crazy,” said Hassan Abu Nouh, an anti-government activist in Talbiseh who has close ties to the local insurgent force, the Iman bil Allah Brigade. “Maybe no one will be alive to tell the story next week.” Insurgents of all stripes, except for the Islamic State group, say the Syrian government appears to be stepping up its attacks on them ahead of the threatened American air campaign. [NYT, 9/17/2014]

House approves plan to train rebels; Obama plans to tightly control strikes on Syria
US lawmakers voted Wednesday to authorize training and arming of Syrian rebels to combat Islamist radicals. US officials, however, indicated that the president would exert a high degree of control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential signoff for strikes in Syrian territory. Officials explained that the additional scrutiny is necessary to limit the possibility of the United States being dragged into a protracted engagement in both Iraq and Syria. By demanding that the Pentagon receive presidential approval on any strikes in Syria, officials claim that the president’s approach will ensure that the campaign remains focused on the goal of weakening the ISIS hold on territory in neighboring Iraq. [Naharnet, 9/18/2014]

Nearly three million Syrian children not in school
A report by the Britain-based Save the Children international charity group indicated that nearly three million Syrian children are not attending school due to the war raging in their country. The report spotlighted how Syria’s conflict, now entering its fourth year, is denying a decent education to a generation of children, with consequences that may last for generations. Overall enrolment in Syrian schools has halved from almost one-hundred percent since the crisis started, leaving Syria with the second worst rate of school attendance in the world. [Naharnet, 9/18/2014]


Jomaa declines presidential bid
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa announced, Wednesday evening, his decision not to run for the upcoming presidential election. Jomaa explained, in a televised address, that this decision is pursuant to the commitment he had taken following his appointment as prime minister by the national dialogue. The prime minister pointed out that the key challenge for his government is to ensure the success of the transition by overseeing fair and transparent elections that will lay foundations for permanent state institutions. [TAP, 9/18/2014]

Former Ben Ali opponents to run for Tunisian presidency
Ahmed Najib Chebbi, a prominent opponent of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has applied to run in presidential polls slated for November 23. Chebbi, head of the liberal Democratic Progressive Party, joins the head of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jafar in a race that features more than fifty candidates, including four women, who have expressed interest in running for Tunisia’s top post. [TAP, 9/18/2014]

ISIE launches election outreach campaign
The Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE), on Wednesday, presented its outreach and information strategy for the upcoming election period. ISIE officials also announced that members of the civil society had been excluded from the outreach preparation campaign in order to remove undue influence on voters. The ISIE, however, explained that it would deploy its own ground teams to raise voter awareness and explain voting procedures to all potential voters. [All Africa, TAP, 9/18/2014]


Benomar says talks with al-Houthi are constructive and positive
UN Special Advisor on Yemen Jamal Benomar met with Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi in Saada province in the north of Yemen yesterday to discuss ending the violence between Houthi and government forces. Benomar issued a statement describing the talks as constructive and positive, leaving hope for positive outcomes. Houthi spokesperson Muhammad Abdulsalam said that al-Houthi assured Benomar that government demands against “popular” policies could not be met. The three-hour talks, which will continue Thursday, centered on mutually acceptable resolutions to the current crisis based on the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference. Sources said that challenging points of discussion included government demands that the Houthis remove political protest camps and hand over heavy weapons. Director of the president’s office Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak and head of political security, Jalal al-Rowaishan, also participated in discussions. [SABA, 9/18/2014]

Houthi forces make push into the capital
Armed Houthi forces moved through Shamlan district on the outskirts of Sana’a Thursday, passing along a major route into the western edge of the city. They also allegedly attacked a military camp at Sana’a’s southern entrance but were repelled by government forces. Soldiers withdrew from their positions in Shamlan to engage the Houthis and moved to reinforce tribal groups in other areas. Local sources said they witnessed over ten bands of armed Houthi militants roaming the streets of Shamlan, taking advantage of security forces’ withdrawal to the Sana’a district of Hamedan the day before. [Marib Press (Arabic), 9/18/2014]

Foreign diplomats criticize the use of violence by Houthis
Emirati minister of state and foreign affairs Anwar bin Mohammed Qarqash criticized Houthi militants for rebelling against a legitimate authority at a speech in Riyadh on Wednesday. He warned, “The crisis caused by Houthis in Yemen complicates the situation since they exploited the security situations, trying to attract supporters in order to end the political transition process in the country to seize power.” Additionally, he called Yemen “a fertile ground to allow foreign parties to intervene in order to base themselves in the region.” US ambassador to Yemen Matthew Tueller warned on Wednesday that the Houthi’s use of violence could cast them as obstructionists in the political process and expose them to international sanctions. He called on the Houthis to establish a political party and cease the use of violence to achieve their political objectives, warning that Yemen might otherwise turn down a path similar to Syria and Libya. [Marib Press (Arabic), 9/17/2014]

Civilian killed in al-Qaeda clashes
One civilian was killed by special forces following an explosion near the Agricultural Credit Bank in the city of Mukalla in the Hadramawt province. The explosion was believed to be the work of al-Qaeda, and witnesses said that special forces in a truck opened fire following the blast. Two soldiers were wounded as security forces subsequently engaged with al-Qaeda militants in the streets. [Marib Press (Arabic), 9/17/2014]


Kurdish officials reject claims of ISIS threats to Erbil
Peshmerga Ministry spokesman Col. Holgurt Hikmet announced Thursday that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) poses no threat to the Kurdish capital Erbil. The officials explained that Peshmerga forces have made significant progress in the Khazer region, driving back ISIS as far as possible from Erbil and liberating five villages north of Mosul. The spokesman also indicated that Pershmerga forces had opened a number of new battlefronts against ISIS fighters, but refused to divulge further details, citing operational security. [Asharq al-Awsat, 9/18/2014]

Families of missing Lebanese soldiers stage protests, demand government action
The families of missing security personnel held captive by jihadist militant groups from Syria staged a protest outside the Grand Serail in Beirut on Thursday, accusing the government of negligence and procrastination that further endangered the lives of their sons. The families charged that the army and security forces had been tightening the noose on Syrian refugees in Arsal, further aggravating tensions with the militants from the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) who are holding the captives. The families demanded swift action by the government, urging officials to secure quickly the release of the soldiers. The Nusra Front and ISIS militants issued separate threats to kill a third soldier within twenty-four hours, if the government fails to meet their demands. [The Daily Star, 9/18/2014]

Army General vows to defeat terrorists in Arsal; confirms additional US aid
Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji stressed on Thursday that the military had all the necessary capabilities to engage and defeat terrorists in the northeastern border town of Arsal, revealing that the United States and France will provide additional aid for security forces. The general indicated that the United States had accelerated the pace of delivering military aid to the army, noting that Washington and France will further assist the Lebanese military with advanced weapons. [Naharnet, 9/18/2014]

Lebanon to set up Syrian refugee camps, signaling ban on new arrivals
The Lebanese government is considering setting up refugee shelters for existing Syrian refugees as it mulls the introduction of new measures banning the entry of Syrian nationals into the tiny Mediterranean country. The Minister of Social Affairs Rashid Derbas, explained that the shelters would be administered in coordination with the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) though the final decision on the plan would be announced later on Thursday. Syrian refugees registered at the UNHCR in Lebanon have exceeded 1.158 million, while Lebanese authorities estimate that the overall number of Syrian residents in the country has reached 2 million. [Asharq al-Awsat, 918/2014]