Top News: Libya’s elected parliament suspends participation in UN-backed talks

The Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) voted to suspend its participation in the UN-sponsored dialogue with its rival, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC).

A House spokesman cited the GNC’s failure to denounce the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) bombing in Qubbah last week as the reason for not participating, adding that the talks lacked vision. This boycott by the House casts doubt on whether the next round of UN-talks, scheduled to take place in Morocco, will happen and bodes ill for the political solution’s odds of success. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/23/2015] 



Egypt’s Sisi issues decree widening scope of security crackdown
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed off on an anti-terrorism law that gives authorities more sweeping powers to ban groups on charges ranging from harming national unity to disrupting public order. The law’s ten articles focus on defining terrorist entities, listing such groups and bodies, and stipulating the legal processes for appealing these lists. The law has been widely criticized since it was first drafted, with some claiming it restricts civil liberties. Following the final issuance of the decree, human rights activist and Egyptian Organization for Human Rights board member, Abdullah Khalil, criticized the law, arguing that the stated definition of terrorism contradicts international standards. Meanwhile, head of Arab Penal Reform organization, Mohamed Zari, said the law contradicts human and constitutional rights. [Reuters, Mada Masr, 2/24/2015]

Mubarak-era figures Nazif, Adly acquitted of corruption
The Cairo Criminal Court acquitted on Tuesday former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly of charges related to wasting 92 million Egyptian pounds of public funds through irregularly procuring vehicle license plates. The defendants were accused of securing a deal with the German company UTSCH, which allowed it to export license plates for a total of 22 million euros, a rate that greatly exceeded that in which a tender process would have resulted. Nazif allegedly violated the law by approving the deal with the German exporter, which, according to prosecutors, resulted in inordinate prices for the import of the plates. The verdict is the outcome of a retrial that began in July 2013. Adly was originally sentenced to five years in prison, while Nazif had received a suspended sentence of one year. Commenting on the verdict, the Strong Egypt party said Sisi’s regime represents the essence of counter-revolution, especially after the acquittal of Mubarak-era officials. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 2/24/2015]

Egypt denies reports by Amnesty of seven civilians killed in Libya airstrikes
Egypt has rejected a report by Amnesty International that said seven civilians were killed in airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group in Libya. London-based Amnesty said in a report “new eyewitness testimonies… indicate that the Egyptian Air Force failed to take the necessary precautions in carrying out [the] attack.” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atty said in a Tuesday statement that the targets were “carefully chosen” and that reports of civilian deaths “are mistaken and not true.” He said the airstrikes targeted training camps and weapon caches of the extremist group – which released a video of the beheadings of twenty Coptic Christians last week. [AP, DNE, 2/24/2015]

US expresses concern over activists’ prison sentences
International and local entities condemned a Monday court verdict sentencing prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to five years in prison and twenty-four others from three to fifteen years for unlicensed protesting among other charges. The US administration voiced concerns over Monday’s verdict. “The United States is deeply troubled by the new harsh sentences,” Secretary of State Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a press briefing. Psaki also said, “We urge defendants to pursue all legal avenues to contest this verdict, including the right to appeal.” The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and The Arab Organization for Human Rights condemned the verdict. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry criticized the “comments from some countries and international organizations on Egyptian judicial rulings,” according to a statement from the ministry spokesman. [DNE, 2/24/2015]

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Libya’s elected parliament suspends participation in UN-backed talks
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) voted to suspend its participation in the UN-sponsored dialogue with its rival, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC). A House spokesman cited the GNC’s failure to denounce the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) bombing in Qubbah last week as the reason for not participating, adding that the talks lacked vision. This boycott by the House casts doubt on whether the next round of UN-talks, scheduled to take place in Morocco, will happen and bodes ill for the political solution’s odds of success. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/23/2015]

ISIS brigade damns Tobruk and Tripoli governments alike; Obama says Libya poses threat to US
The Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) main brigade, the Battar brigade, declared the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, the Abdullah al-Thinni government, Khalifa Haftar, their rival Tripoli-based General National Congress, and Omar al-Hassi’s government, as well as anyone who supports democracy, as infidels. ISIS also warned the Misratan forces not to interfere with them and called on all forces to seek forgiveness or face punishment. The Battar brigade declared that it would spread Islam throughout the world. In Washington, President Barack Obama sent a letter to Congress extending a national security emergency for Libya. He stated in the letter that Libya poses a threat to US national security. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 2/23/2014]

Civil rights activist murdered in Tripoli
A friend confirmed the death of activist Intissar al-Hasaari, a popular LIbyan blogger and the founder of the Enlightenment Group, which led protests against militias. The Enlightenment Group focused principally on education, music, and the arts. She was found dead with her aunt in a car and is one of dozens of activists killed, abducted or who have fled the capital after receiving death threats. Tripoli has been under the control of Islamist militias since last summer. [AP, Libya Herald, 2/24/2015]

Libya’s largest ISIS camp just 45km from Tunisia; Tunisia arrests about 100 militant suspects
Ahmed Mesmari, the Libyan National Army spokesman, stated that the largest Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) camp, containing three to four thousand militants training, is in Sabratha only 45 kilometers from the Tunisian border. He added that the number of Tunisians fighting in Derna has drastically increased and that several have been involved in suicide bombings. Tunisia announced that it arrested about 100 militants, suspected of being tied to the Islamic State, in the past three days. The interior ministry said that the cell was in possession of instructions for making explosives and a picture of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State militant group. [Tunisia Live, Reuters, 2/24/2015]

Tunisian government presents priorities to Essid
Members of Tunisia’s government each presented Prime Minister Habib Essid with their top five priorities for the first 100 days of the government. Essid also declared that security was Tunisia’s major challenge currently. He wants to promote dialogue among social partners, local authorities, and civil society in efforts to hear citizens’ concerns and understand security issues. Meanwhile, the Tunisian government wants to create the tradition of civil society participation in cabinet and ministerial meetings. Several leading civil society members have already attended and participated in meetings and the government hopes to make it commonplace going forward. [All Africa, 2/23/2015]


Ninety Assyrian Christians abducted by ISIS in northeast Syria
Militants from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have kidnapped at least ninety Assyrian Christians in Syria’s northeastern al-Hasakah province. The abductions took place on Tuesday after ISIS seized two Assyrian villages, Tal Shamiram and Tal Hermuz, from Kurdish forces in the province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The abductions come as ISIS is trying to open a new front in al-Hasakah, which is strategically important because it borders territory controlled by the group in Iraq, to relieve pressure after the group’s string of losses since being driven from Kobani. [Al-Jazeera English, WSJ, Reuters, AP, BBC, AFP, 2/24/2015]

At least four dead in Damascus bombings near Sayyida Zeinab shrine
Two simultaneous suicide attacks killed four people and wounded thirteen on Monday at a security checkpoint in southern Damascus near the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, where Shia Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed’s granddaughter is buried. The attack came in the wake of a commemoration of her birthday on Monday, according to pro-regime Victory of Sayyida Zeinab. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. [AFP, The Daily Star, 2/24/2015]

Turkish Prime Minister says exercised “international rights” in Syrian tomb operation
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday that Turkey exercised its international rights when it sent troops into neighboring Syria on a mission to evacuate soldiers guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah and that the country’s policy on Syria has not changed following Saturday’s military operation. Davutoglu added that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were informed about the operation over the weekend. Asked about the reaction of Syrian regime to the operation, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the government would not take the regime’s criticism seriously. [Reuters, Anadolu Agency, 2/24/2015]

Nusra Front accused of killing former FSA leader
Mainstream opposition media accused the Nusra Front Monday of last week’s murder of the former head of a rebel FSA faction in Idlib province. They said the body of Qusay al-Malla was found with multiple gunshot wounds after he was reportedly detained by the Nusra front last week. Activists said that the Nusra Front had routed Malla’s Baraa Battalion last year, which forced him to flee to Turkey. But when Malla was unable to make ends meet across the border he returned to Idlib, where he was detained by Nusra Front militants. The news comes as residents in the area protested Nusra’s continued presence. [The Daily Star, 2/24/2015]

Iraqi forces fighting to recapture western town from ISIS
About 800 Iraqi forces backed by US warplanes are fighting to retake the western town of al-Baghdadi, which ISIS seized about a week ago. The town is located near the Iraqi army’s al-Asad base, where 300 US troops are stationed to advise and train local forces. Kurdish militias, meanwhile, rebuffed an attempt by the ISIS Sunday night to recapture an Iraqi town on a crucial supply route to the northern city of Mosul. [The Daily Star, 2/24/2015]


President of Yemen declared fugitive
Yemen’s Houthis said on Tuesday that President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has lost his legitimacy as head of state and warned anyone against dealing with him, saying he was being sought as a fugitive of justice. Yesterday, President Hadi withdrew his resignation and called for ministers to convene in Aden after escaping house arrest and fleeing there. Groups of protesters have been gathering around the country in support of the president. On Tuesday, the Shabwah tribes gathered to support President Hadi and display a show of force against the Houthis. [SABA, Reuters, Al Masdar, 2/24/2015]

French woman kidnapped in Sana’a
Gunmen kidnapped a French woman and her Yemeni driver in the center of Yemen’s capital on Tuesday morning while she was heading to work. The unidentified gunmen intercepted the vehicle in central Sana’a and led the women and the driver to an unknown location. Her identity was not immediately clear. [Reuters, AP, Al Jazeera, SABA, 2/24/2015]

Bomb explodes near police academy in Sana’a
A bomb exploded near a military academy in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Monday evening in a neighborhood that is a main stronghold of Houthi fighters. The blast did not cause any casualties and was being investigated. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken credit for many past bombings against the Houthis, whom they regard as apostates. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 2/23/2015]

Saudi sentences man to death for renouncing his Muslim faith
An Islamic court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a man to death for renouncing his Muslim faith. The man posted an online video ripping up a copy of the Quran, and hitting it with a shoe. Under the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia Islamic law, apostasy demands the death penalty, as do some other religious offenses like sorcery, while blasphemy and criticism of senior Muslim clerics have incurred jail terms and corporal punishment. [Reuters, Saudi Gazette, 2/24/2015]


Morocco economic growth rate to reach 4.5 percent in 2015
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) highlighted the “commendable progress” made by the Moroccan economy with growth rate prospects expected at 4.5 percent in 2015. According to the IMF, “Moroccan authorities have implemented a package of economic reform policies, supported by an IMF Precautionary and Liquidity Line, to help address economic vulnerabilities,” citing the “significant reduction” in the fiscal deficit following an “impressive reform” of the subsidy system. As a result, the current account deficit has also narrowed and foreign exchange reserves have increased. The emergence of new export sectors and the recent decline in international oil prices have also played a role in the rebalancing process. [Morocco World News, 2/23/2015]

GCC inflation rates between 0.8 percent and 3.1 percent in 2014
The inflation rates across the GCC region ranged between 3.1 percent and 0.8 percent over a twelve-month period through December 2014, according to the latest reports by the Statistical Centre for the Cooperation Council for the Arab Countries of the Gulf (GCC-Stat). The highest annual inflation rise was registered in the United Arab Emirates with 3.1 percent, followed by 3.04 percent in Kuwait, 2.7 percent in Qatar, 2.5 percent in Bahrain, and 2.4 percent in Saudi Arabia. Oman registered the lowest rise, compared to the GCC countries, by 0.08 percent. [Zawya, 2/24/2015]

New Egyptian investment law to be issued beginning of March
According to Investment Minister Ashraf Salman, the new Egyptian investment law will be announced in the first week of March, prior to the Economic Summit, which will be held in Sharm al-Sheikh. Salman added that negotiations and meetings for the new law are being held with all Egypt’s business sector entities, unlike any law issued in the country before. The new law is expected to designate all promotion activity under a separate administration within the Investment Authority. [Daily News Egypt, 2/23/2015]

Iraq’s cash crisis forces salary squeeze
Iraq has begun withholding the salaries of senior government officials in a measure meant to free cash and underscore the severity of the country’s growing economic crisis to its elite. Iraq’s economy, although riddled with corruption and mismanagement, flourished in recent years on the back of high oil prices but remains deeply affected by structural problems. Faced with plummeting oil prices and soaring expenses to meet the costs of the war against the ISIL, Iraq has burnt through its excess cash and has had to start imposing a series of austerity measures. [FT (subscription), 2/23/2015]