Top News: Libya loses voting rights at UN General Assembly over non-payment of dues

Libya has had its voting rights United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) suspended because it has not paid its UN membership dues. In a letter to the UNGA a fortnight ago, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that to have the ban lifted, Libya would have to pay a minimum of $1,369,638 towards reducing its debt. Libya was one of 15 countries in the letter to be named as facing a possible ban because of non-payment. Five, including Somalia and Yemen, have been permitted to retain their voting rights because of their particular circumstances. The United Nations has decided Libya is able to pay its dues, and as a result it is the only state whose voting rights are being suspended. The decision does not affect Libya’s voting rights on other UN bodies. [Libya Herald, 2/4/2016]



Egypt’s top prosecutor orders striking doctors at Matariya Hospital back to work
Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered the immediate reopening of Matariya Hospital on Thursday so that medical care can resume after doctors launched a strike over an assault by a group of policemen last week. Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek launched an investigation into the closure of the hospital to take legal action against those responsible for the strike. According to a statement issued by the Prosecutor General’s office, the closure of the hospital and the suspension of medical service for citizens are considered crimes that are punishable by law and go against the Egyptian constitution. The doctors have said that they would strike until legal action is taken against the policemen involved in the incident. [Ahram Online, 2/4/2016]

Photojournalist Shawkan set to appear in court on February 6
The trial of photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid (known as Shawkan) and 738 others on multiple charges including belonging to a banned group, possessing firearms, murder, and vandalism, is set to continue on February 6. The first hearing of the trial, initially scheduled for December 12, was postponed due to limited space in the courtroom cage where all of the detained suspects would appear. The Impact Litigation Project of the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law has called for Shawkan’s release, and submitted a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of the photojournalist. Reporters without Borders also issued a statement Friday calling for Shawkan’s release, as well as the release of six journalists who are facing a retrial in the Raba’a Operations Room trial. The journalists were originally sentenced to life in prison. “RSF is supporting six of the 14 journalists in this case, but not the other eight because it has not been clearly established that they were arrested in connection with their journalistic work,” the group said in its statement. [Free Shawkan, 2/5/2016]

Senior adviser to Kerry to visit Cairo, Luxor next week
David Thorne, a Senior Adviser to US Secretary of State John Kerry, will start a tour of the region on Sunday, with plans to visit Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Cairo, and Luxor. During his stop in Egypt, Thorne will discuss regional economic issues as well as recent economic developments, the US Department of State said in a statement Thursday. On February 9, he will travel to Cairo to discuss a broad range of economic issues with senior Egyptian officials and business executives, as well as meet with representatives of US businesses operating in Egypt. Thorne will then travel to Luxor to meet with local officials and visit US Agency for International Development sponsored projects. He will visit a number of cultural sites in Luxor to highlight the contribution of Egypt’s cultural heritage and antiquities preservation as a vehicle to promote tourism and economic development in the country. [SIS, 2/4/2016]  

Italy sends investigators to Egypt to work with police on Regeni’s death
Italy has sent out a team of investigators to collaborate with Egyptian police on the death of Italian national Giulio Regeni, the Italian national public broadcaster RAI said Friday. RAI cited Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who also expressed his trust in Egypt’s “full cooperation” on Regeni’s case. According to Italian news agencies including RAI and ANSA a team of investigators comprising seven men from Italian police and Interpol will take part in the investigation. A funeral service was held for Regeni on Friday at an Italian church in Cairo. Security outside the chapel was high, with plainclothes intelligence officers and police patrolling the area. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meanwhile phoned Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to offer his condolences over Regeni’s death. [Aswat Masriya, 2/5/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


ISIS numbers go up in Libya, down in Syria and Iraq
New intelligence assessments show that the number of ISIS fighters has dropped in Iraq and Syria but is rising in Libya, a senior US defense official said Thursday. According to the official, reports suggest there are 19,000-25,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, compared to an earlier range of 20,000-30,000. The decrease in Iraq and Syria may explain some of the increase of ISIS in Libya, which has risen from a couple thousand to about 5,000. The official said that military operations in Iraq and Syria have killed ISIS fighters and made it more difficult for them to move into the region or recruit others. As a result, some appear to be going into Libya, where wide swaths of territory are ungoverned. [AP, 2/4/2016]

HRW says Libyans in UAE face unfair trial
Multiple serious due process violations in pretrial detention make it highly unlikely that four Libyans charged with links to armed and political groups in Libya can receive a fair trial in the United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today. The rights group maintains that no fair trial will be possible when defendants do not have full access to their lawyers or to the evidence against them, or if evidence obtained by torture is used to convict them. The men were allegedly held in incommunicado detention for four months at a state security facility where previous detainees claimed that interrogators tortured them into confessing to links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Family members and family-appointed lawyers have said the Libyans had no access to legal assistance for at least 16 months. [HRW, Libya Herald, 2/4/2016]

Tunisia’s Essebsi says countries must consult Tunisia before Libyan intervention
On Thursday, Tunisian President Beji Caïd Essebsi called on countries planning a military intervention in Libya to take into consideration the interests of Libya’s neighboring countries and consult with them. Essebsi emphasized that Tunisia sees the Libyan Political Agreement and the Government of National Accord, supported by the international community, as the only way forward. He added that Tunisia is the country most exposed to the repercussions of the crisis in Libya, particularly on the economic level. Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Khemaies Jhinaoui met with UNSMIL Chief Martin Kobler in Tunis on Thursday to discuss the Libyan crisis. [TAP, ANSAmed, 2/4/2016]


Syrian troops make gains in southern offensive
The Syrian Army and allied militias on Friday made advances when they retook a town at the doorstep of the southern provincial capital of Deraa, a contested city in the south that lies between Damascus and the Jordan border. Several supply routes go through Deraa, which is divided between government and opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, and was the scene of some of the first protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011. Syria’s official news agency says the offensive on Atman, north of Deraa, scattered rebel forces—which it labels terrorists. Troops advanced under the cover of heavy artillery bombardment and air power, SOHR reports. [AP, Al Arabiya, 2/5/2016]

Senior Iranian commander killed in Syria
A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has been killed in Syria in an incident that sheds light on Tehran’s role in bolstering President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Iranian forces confirmed on Friday that Hossein Hamedani, described as an elite and exceptional commander and a defender of the Shia holy sites in Damascus, was killed in the vicinity of Aleppo on Thursday evening. He was the most senior Iranian military officer on a foreign operation to be killed in 36 years since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Tasnim, an Iranian news agency affiliated to the guards, said Hamedani was operating in “an advisory capacity” when “takfiri terrorists” killed him—in reference to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)—but it did not disclose the exact details surrounding his death. [AP, AFP, Guardian, VOA, 2/5/2016]

Turkey accuses Russia of spreading propaganda
On Thursday, Russia said it suspected Turkey was preparing a military incursion into Syria. Turkey in turn accused Moscow of trying to divert attention from its own actions in Syria and said Aleppo was threatened with a “siege of starvation.” A senior Turkish government official on Friday said Turkey is not planning a military incursion into Syria and Russian talk of such action is propaganda. “Turkey does not have any plans or thoughts of staging a military campaign or ground incursion in Syria,” the official said, adding Russia was stepping up its own military campaign in Syria every day instead of working toward a solution. “Turkey is part of a coalition, is working with its allies, and will continue to do so. As we have repeatedly said, Turkey will not act unilaterally,” the official said. Meanwhile, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that Russia’s air strikes in Syria targeting rebel forces are “undermining” efforts to find a nonmilitary solution to the war. [Reuters, AFP, 2/5/2016]

Over 10,000 Syrians mass on Turkish border as regime advances
Thousands of Syrians were stuck on the Turkish border Friday after fleeing a major regime offensive backed by Russia near Aleppo where a new humanitarian disaster appeared to be unfolding. Tens of thousands of civilians are reported to have joined the exodus after fierce fighting by advancing government forces who severed the rebels’ main supply route into Syria’s second city. Turkey has said about 10,000 Syrians have amassed on the Syrian side of the Turkish border and that about 70,000 more were on their way. SOHR estimates that 40,000 people have fled the regime offensive near Aleppo. “Thousands of people, mainly families with women and children, are waiting to enter Turkey,” said SOHR Director Rami Abdel Rahman.[AFP, 2/5/2016]

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


New US intelligence report says ISIS weaker
White House spokesman John Earnest detailed a new intelligence report on ISIS in a press briefing on Thursday. The report showed that the US-led campaign to weaken and ultimately crush ISIS was making progress and that the number of fighters in ISIS has gone down from 31,000 to 25,000. The new intelligence estimate “means they continue to be a substantial threat, but the potential numbers have declined” and Earnest also lauded the international efforts to stem the flow of foreigners seeking to join the group as part of the overall decline in the group’s estimated number of fighters in Syria and Iraq, though the intelligence report did not account for ISIS affiliates in South Asia and other areas of the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Libya where numbers are estimated to be increasing. [Reuters, 2/4/2016]

Iraq’s top Shia cleric suspends weekly political sermons
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said on Friday he would no longer deliver regular weekly sermons about political affairs, which for years have been a source of guidance for Iraqi politicians and his millions of followers. Sistani did not give a reason for suspending the sermons, which have lately focused on the government’s battle against ISIS and anti-corruption efforts. “It has been decided not to continue this on a weekly basis at the present time, but only as demanded by events,” Sistani’s aide Ahmed al-Safi, who delivered the message, said in a televised speech from the southern shrine city of Kerbala before reciting a prayer. Sistani enjoys almost mythical status among millions of Shia followers and wields authority that few Iraqi politicians would openly challenge. His political sermons have ranged over issues such as security, elections and the economy. [Reuters, 2/5/2016]

Republican senators seek to appropriate funds for Kurds
Senator Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Appropriations’ subcommittee on Foreign Operations, and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain are exploring an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to get money to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which has not paid their fighters in months and have made a desperate plea to the United States for direct economic assistance. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker expressed skepticism over such an initiative because it seems to “[increase] the likelihood of Iraq breaking apart,” referring to the potential backlash from Baghdad since any assistance the United States sent to the KRG goes through the Iraqi capital first. Graham and McCain are two of the more hawkish members of Congress when it comes to the fight against ISIS, calling for everything from thousands of US ground troops to more resources for the Kurdish fighters. [The Washington Post, Rudaw, 2/5/2016]

Italy to send 130 military personnel to Iraq to recover wounded
In an interview with Canale 5 television on Thursday, Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said that Italy will send a team specialized in treating war wounded to Iraq as it prepares to send troops to guard Mosul dam maintenance workers. “It is a big commitment (of personnel) because to go and pick up a wounded person in a war zone is not something one can do without risks,” Pinotti said. In December, the Italian government said it would deploy 450 soldiers to protect workers making urgent repairs on the Mosul dam. Together the two new missions will at least double Italy’s presence in Iraq in coming months to more than 1,000. [NYT, 2/4/2016]


Senator calls for end of support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen
Democrat Senator Chris Murphy called for the US to cease military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, doubling down on his critique last week of the US-Saudi relationship. Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has not yet heard a legitimate defense of the Obama administration’s policy of providing military assistance to the Saudis in their aerial war in Yemen. He argued that the war in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians and deteriorated conditions in an already unstable country. “I just don’t see any evidence right now that the Saudis are conducting that military exercise in a way that’s responsible. It’s just feeding the humanitarian crisis inside Yemen,” the senator said. He also said Congress should block future sales to Saudi Arabia of weapons that likely would be used in Yemen. [Huffington Post, 2/5/2016]

US Defense Secretary welcomes Saudi offer on troops in Syria
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed on Thursday a Saudi offer to participate in any ground operations in Syria launched by the US-led coalition. Carter said increased activity by other countries would make it easier for the United States to accelerate its fight against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. “That kind of news is very welcome,” he told reporters while on a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Carter said he looked forward to discussing the offer of ground troops with the Saudi Defense Minister in Brussels next week. [Reuters, 2/4/2016]

World Bank says 80 percent of Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian aid
The World Bank on Friday said in a report that 80 percent of Yemen’s population (21.1 million) are in desperate need of humanitarian aid because of the conflict. The World Bank added that this is an increase of 30 percent since April 2015 when fighting intensified. It also said that the conflict has decreased Yemen’s GDP by 16 percent. [Al Masdar, 2/5/2016]

Riyadh says Iranian pilgrims welcome despite rift
Iranian pilgrims are still welcome to visit Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia despite increased tensions between the two countries, said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Thursday. “Any Muslim is welcome in Mecca and Medina . . . and this includes Iranian pilgrims,” Jubeir told reporters. He said the political crisis between Saudi Arabia and its predominantly Shia rival “has nothing to do at all” with the annual Hajj pilgrimage or the lesser pilgrimage (known as the Umra). [AFP, 2/4/2016]


World Bank says support to MENA will total $20 billion in the next five years
World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim announced Thursday that the World Bank Group will triple its commitment to the Middle East and North Africa over the next five years to nearly $20 billion. The World Bank Group, in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank and the United Nations, has launched an initiative to expand the amount of financing available to the region. For Jordan and Lebanon, the MENA Financing Initiative aims to provide concessional financing by using grants from donor countries to buy down interest on loans. The goal is to raise $1 billion dollars of grants from donors to leverage between $3 and $4 billion dollars in concessional financing. A second initiative aims to support rebuilding and recovery by tapping international financial markets to issue special bonds, including Islamic bonds. Meanwhile, in a report on Thursday, the World Bank said that 2015 economic growth in MENA likely came to just 2.6 percent, falling short of a 2.8 percent forecast. The bank said five years of war in Syria and spillovers to neighboring countries cost the region about $35 billion.[World Bank, Reuters, 2/4/2016]

Egypt sees World Bank funds arriving soon, eyes more Saudi aid
Egypt expects to receive a $1 billion World Bank loan approved in December once it finalizes outstanding paperwork and negotiates more aid from Saudi Arabia, International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr said Thursday. However, Egyptian media has questioned whether the $1 billion tranche of a three-year $3 billion loan from the World Bank will arrive soon, as it is linked to the government’s economic reform program, including plans for value-added tax (VAT). Egypt’s new parliament has yet to ratify the government’s economic plan or the World Bank loan. “We are just working on submitting the required documentation. It is nothing. We are normal. There is nothing [to say] about it,” Nasr said of the loan. Egypt is also in talks with Saudi Arabia to secure more aid, Nasr said. Egypt is negotiating the the details of a Saudi pledge to invest $8 billion in Egypt and a separate pledge to provide Egypt with petroleum aid over five years. Egypt signed an initial three-month deal with Riyadh to meet immediate needs while talks were ongoing. [Reuters, 2/4/2026]

Saudi foreign policy ‘will not be determined by oil price’
Saudi Arabia will not let a drop in global oil prices derail its foreign policy, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has said. “Our foreign policy is based on national security interests,” he said Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Riyadh, speaking on Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen and financial aid to Egypt. “We will not let our foreign policy be determined by the price of oil.” The oil shock left Saudi Arabia with a budget deficit of about $98 billion last year, pushing the kingdom to cut spending on energy subsidies and building projects. Meanwhile, Iran’s return to world markets is set to add to the global oil supply. Jubeir said, “We believe there is sufficient room in the market for countries who produce oil.” [Bloomberg, 2/5/2016]

Tunisia calls for financial support from allies
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on Thursday called for financial support from the country’s partners. “Though confident in the national economy’s capacity to recover, Tunisia aspires to a financial and economic support from its partners and friends,” Essebsi said. He said the support of Tunisia’s allies is vital to help stabilize the country. “The causes that triggered the revolution spark are still present,” Essebsi said, adding that that Tunisia’s democratic process has not been accompanied by improvements in the economy, development, and youth unemployment. He emphasized the  government’s commitment to create a new economic environment that will encourages investment and fair competition and speed up job creation. [TAP, 2/4/2016]