Top News: Libya’s Presidential Council arrives in Tripoli

Prime Minister-designate Faiez Serraj and most of the Presidency Council headed to Tripoli by boat in a last-ditch attempt to get to the Libyan capital. Serraj arrived in the capital with six deputies and set up a temporary seat of power in a naval base despite threats from rival factions. A post on the unity government’s website confirmed the arrival. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni has said that he will not give way to the UN Government of National Accord (GNA) unless it has been approved by the House of Representatives (HoR). Cutting to the heart of the issue of the legitimacy of the UN-brokered GNA, Thinni said today in Benghazi that his administration would disregard any government that had not been legitimized by the HoR. The president of the House of Representatives (HoR), Ageela Saleh, has again called on members to turn up and take the necessary political decisions to enable Libya to move forward. Tripoli-based Foreign Minister Ali Abu Zakouk said Serraj’s presence is “unacceptable.” Ghariyan’s Council of Elders had announced yesterday their rejection of the GNA. A number of civil society activists and members of the local Saraya militia supported their position. [AP, Libya Herald, 3/30/2016]



Leahy asked State Department to investigate Egyptian, Israeli human rights ‘violations
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven true could affect US military aid to the countries. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated February 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Raba’a Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination. Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions US military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses. “In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law,” the signatories state in the letter, which was obtained by Politico. [Politico, 3/29/2016]

Dismissal of Central Auditing Organization head sparks criticism
The dismissal of top auditor Hisham Geneina from his position as head of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), upon order of a presidential decree, has come under fire from some political parties and members of parliament. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) criticized the move in a statement Wednesday saying, “The decision strikes us as it comes one day after Prime Minister Sherif Ismail made promises to the people to adopt counter-corruption strategies during his statement before the House of Representatives on Sunday.” Despite accusing the state of “having planned to sack Geneina for a long-time,” ESDP stated it was not defending the former CAO head as a person, but rather questioning the legal, constitutional, and political grounds of his dismissal, expressing concern over “the executive authority’s fascist disregard of constitutional principles.” MPs Mohamed Anwar Sadat and Alaa Abdel Moneim were critical of the parliament’s decision not to investigate the corruption claims, saying Monday that an investigation was part of its monitoring role. They also denied allegations that the work of the parliament could have interfered with ongoing investigations. A few opposition figures including lawyer Khaled Ali and writer Alaa al-Aswany also condemned the decision. [DNE, 3/30/2016]

Interrogation of Nazra director postponed, lawyers not permitted to review case files
The interrogation of Mozn Hassan, executive director of the Nazra For Feminist Studies center, was postponed, according to a statement released by the organization on Tuesday morning. Hassan went to New Cairo Court on Tuesday morning to appear before an investigative judge, as per a summons she received last week, but when Hassan’s lawyers went to meet with the judge and review the case files, they were informed the interrogation had been delayed, and that they would be able to examine the files at a later date, after which Hassan would be re-summoned for investigation. Hassan’s lawyers originally had an appointment with the judge to review the case files on March 27, according to Nazra. Yet they were informed no one was available to examine the files with them on both Sunday, March 27 and Monday, March 28. Commenting on the re-opened NGO investigation, MP Anwar Sadat told Daily News Egypt in an interview that “wanting to regulate [NGO’s] work according to the law and ensure transparency in their funding should not translate into fighting, defaming and intimidating them, as is the current situation.” He added that, “NGOs have a role in raising awareness. According to international protocols that Egypt has ratified and the constitution, they must at the very least be protected and encouraged,” Sadat said. [Mada Masr, 3/30/2016]

April 6 Youth Movement case suspended due to lack of evidence
The Dokki prosecution decided on Monday to suspend a case involving seven members of the April 6 Youth Movement in a case known as the ‘Dokki March’. The seven were accused of organizing a demonstration in December 2015 without the necessary permit. The prosecution addressed official accusations against four of the members, including Mohamed Nabil, Sherif al-Roubi, Mahmoud Hesham, and Ayman Abdul Hamid. The four, who were released following the case’s suspension, were accused of joining an illegal group that aims to break constitutional law, disturb public peace, and incite demonstrations without permits. One of the defendants, al-Roubi, said the case depended only on narratives delivered by “secret investigation” authorities, adding that his lawyer questioned the judge about the identity of the “secret investigation” authority mentioned in the case, but no clarification was made. The prosecution also released the other three defendants in the case, who had been accused of holding a demonstration in Dokki that insulted the army and police forces and incited citizens to demonstrate against the government. [DNE , 3/29/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Italy says Libya air raids possible if UN talks fail, steps up migrant rescue missions
Echoing sentiment from France, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday said the protracted failure to install a national unity government in Libya might push the international community to bomb Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) strongholds in the country. Several politicians and militias have rejected the UN-backed unity government. Gentiloni said his country supported the efforts of the national unity government of Fayez Serraj to take up office in Tripoli, but said this must happen within a reasonable amount of time. Italy remains opposed to deploying ground troops, but may cave in to pressure from the United States and offer small special units and fighter jets for possible operations in Libya. President Barack Obama may discuss Libya with European allies on the margins of Friday’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Italian coast guard and navy vessels rescued nearly 1,400 migrants from boats and rubber dinghies in the southern Mediterranean on Tuesday, officials said, indicating numbers were rising as the weather warms up. [DPA, DW, Reuters, 3/30/2016]

In Tunisia, Ban stresses importance of youth employment in sustainable development
Speaking at a national conference on employment in Tunisia, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to help the North African country create new businesses and fund active labor market programs for young people. He emphasized that when young men and women are excluded from decent work, they could become susceptible to extremist discourse, and youth unemployment seriously hinders the sustainable development and growth of a country. “There are two areas in particular where I see an opportunity for international support here in Tunisia,” he said, underscoring that at 30 percent, the youth unemployment rate in North Africa remains the highest of all regions of the world, with 200,000 young Tunisians jobless. First, there is a mismatch between the number of graduates and the number of suitable jobs. Second, active labor market programs, targeting young graduates in particular, can be funded by public sector financing and resources from development partners. Ban welcomed programs to tackle these deficits. [UN News, 3/29/2016]

Morocco rejects UN view of Western Sahara “misunderstanding”
Morocco said on Tuesday that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s description of its annexation of Western Sahara as an “occupation” was not a misunderstanding but a “premeditated act to alter the nature of the dispute.” The foreign ministry statement came a day after a UN spokesman said Ban regretted the “misunderstanding” over his use of the word, which led to Morocco expelling dozens of United Nations staff from its mission in the disputed territory. “In the eyes of Morocco, these are premeditated acts to alter the nature of the dispute,” Morocco’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “At this level of responsibility, words have meaning, political and legal consequences, and personal opinions have no place.” [Reuters, 3/30/2016]


Russia shipping more to Syria despite withdrawal
After Putin’s March 14 declaration, the Yauza, a naval vessel that has supplied Russian forces in Syria, left the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk for Tartous. Its movements and those of other Russian ships in the two weeks since Putin’s announcement of a partial withdrawal suggest Moscow has in fact shipped more equipment and supplies to Syria than it has brought back in the same period. It is not known what the ships were carrying or how much equipment has been flown out in giant cargo planes accompanying returning war planes. The movements suggest Russia may be working intensively to maintain its military infrastructure in Syria and to supply the Syrian army so that it can scale up again swiftly if need be. [Reuters, 3/30/2016]

Austria will not process all asylum requests
Austria’s government plans to further tighten rules on those seeking asylum in the country as of mid-May. The move, announced Wednesday, places additional limits on who qualifies for safe haven after restrictions introduced earlier this year as Austria and its eastern neighbors shut down the west Balkans migrant route. Austria currently processes every request for asylum. Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner says that under the new rules, applications will be accepted only from “those that we have to” for cases where a person faces threats to safety in a neighboring country that he or she transited from. Austria has set a limit of 37,500 asylum applications for the year, after receiving nearly 90,000 in 2015. Mikl-Leitner says 14,000 have been submitted for 2016 as of the end of March. [AP, 3/30/2016]

Syrian opposition may end truce, de Mistura documents lack Assad leaving
After a month of implementation, the Syrian truce is now uncertain, especially as the armed Syrian opposition convene today in Turkey to decide whether to continue their commitment to the ceasefire. Senior Free Syrian Army (FSA) military commander Rami al-Dalati said the meeting will look into the state of affairs of the ceasefire and political settlement papers assembled by UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. Dalati emphasized that the ambiguity of Bashar Al-Assad’s future in de Mistura’s papers is the main reservation for opposition factions, which was the same reason lack of success in previous Geneva peace talks. “Everything is negotiable for us, except Assad’s departure from authority,” Dalati added. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/30/2016]

Assad thanks UN chief for comments on taking Palmyra
Syria’s state-run news agency says President Bashar al-Assad has sent a message to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reiterating his readiness to cooperate with all “sincere” efforts to fight terrorism. Assad thanked Ban Ki-moon for the UN chief’s statements. SANA says the message was sent on Wednesday. Assad also called on the United Nations and other international organizations Wednesday to help Syria restore Palmyra after government forces drove Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants out of the city. Ban on Wednesday called for greater global efforts to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, as he opened a conference on securing resettlement. “We are here to address the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time,” Ban told the conference in Geneva. “This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity.” [AFP, 3/30/2016]

US orders diplomatic, military families out of southern Turkey
The State Department and Pentagon ordered the families of US diplomats and military personnel Tuesday to leave posts in southern Turkey due to “increased threats from terrorist groups” in the country. The two agencies said dependents of American staffers at the US consulate in Adana, the Incirlik air base, and two other locations must leave. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said no specific threat triggered the order, but said it was done “out of an abundance of caution” for the safety of the families in that region. He said he was not aware of a deadline for the families to leave, but said “this will move very quickly.” [AP, Reuters, 3/29/2016]

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


Iraqi Prime Minister asks parliament to clarify stance on corruption and cabinet reshuffle
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked parliament to give him clear guidance on whether he should appoint party politicians or independent technocrats to a new cabinet aimed at fighting corruption. In his speech, Abadi promised to implement reforms and also indirectly called on Sadr to end the protests, which he said were burdening the security forces as they fight ISIS. Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr responded swiftly, threatening Abadi with a no-confidence vote if he did not present the promised cabinet lineup by Thursday. Sadr further warned Abadi to “stop giving futile promises” and start with grassroots government reforms if he wants to avoid impeachment. Nuri al-Maliki, the head of the State of Law Coalition, reaffirmed his position in supporting comprehensive and radical reform, while warning that time is “running out” to make substantial political reforms. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]

Czech government agrees to send pilot trainers to Iraq
The Czech government has approved a Ministry of Defense plan to send up to 35 instructors to Iraq to train pilots for Czech-made planes. Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky says they should be deployed in June and stay till the end of 2018 as a part of international efforts to help Iraq fight ISIS. The Czech government has also agreed to sell 15 Czech-made L-159 light combat planes to Iraq. The Czechs have already trained four Iraqi plane pilots and dozens of helicopter pilots in the Czech Republic and given the Iraqi army weapons and ammunition. [AP, 3/30/2016]

“Black Force” deployed to Khurmatu to combat violence
Peshmerga commander Sheikh Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa confirmed that the Black Force, a unit of the Peshmerga forces, has been temporarily deployed to Kirkuk Province’s southern city of Khurmatu to diffuse ethno-sectarian tensions between the Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen in the city. Deputy Commander of the Black Force Qader Hussein stated, “We are here to protect this city. We will not accept violence from any quarter. We will arrest anyone who tries to make trouble.” Khurmatu has seen an increase in violence between Shia militia and Sunni Arabs in recent months, so the Mayor of Khurmatu, Shalal Abdul, is confident that the presence of the Black Force will help contain these tensions. [Rudaw, 3/29/2016]


Yemeni army advances against al-Qaeda, blockades Houthis
The Yemeni army backed by local fighters seized control of parts of Aden held by al-Qaeda Wednesday as part of a push to clear the hardline group from its stronghold in the southern port city. The forces took over the central prison, surrounding buildings, and residential areas in Mansoura district after three days of clashes. They captured several fighters while others fled. Elsewhere, the Yemeni army launched offensives against Houthi militants in Safra, between Mareb and Jawf, and imposed a blockade. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 3/30/2016]

Bahrain court jails ten over police attack
Bahrain Tuesday sentenced four people to life in prison and six others for up to 15 years for attacking police during a protest in a Shia village, the prosecution said. The ten defendants were found guilty of engaging in “terrorist plots,” detonating explosives, and resisting police, the kingdom’s public prosecution said in a statement. “Four were sentenced to life in prison, while the remaining defendants were jailed between three to 15 years,” it said. The defendants were charged with detonating a roadside bomb when a police patrol passed through the village of Akr, south of Manama, in April 2014. [AFP, 3/29/2016]

UAE sending aid to Libya’s Benghazi
The United Arab Emirates is transporting humanitarian aid to residents in the war-torn Libyan city of Benghazi, the Emirates Red Crescent announced on Wednesday. The first of nine aircraft carrying food, medicine, medical supplies, and other materials departed this week to Benghazi, the aid organization said in a statement. [AFP, 3/30/2016]


IMF says Iraq could secure three-year standby deal by June
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) could approve as early as June a standby arrangement (SBA) with Iraq that would provide $15 billion in international assistance over the next three years. Following talks with Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari in Jordan, the head of the IMF’s Iraq mission Christian Josz said the assistance package, of which about one-third would come from the IMF and the rest from international groups and donor countries, would be in line for approval if talks with Iraq go well next month. Iraq could get as much as $3.9 billion from the IMF over the course of three years, with $1.9 billion disbursed in 2016, Josz said. He added that additional financial assistance could come from several sources including the IMF, the World Bank, Gulf states, the United States, and other G7 countries. Josz said the main challenge of the SBA would be gradually to bring spending into line with revenues so that Iraq could stabilize debt at 75 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]

Oil producers to take part in Doha’s April meeting
Qatar has invited all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and major oil producers from outside the exporting group to attend talks on April 17 on a deal to freeze output at January levels. “The need has become an urgent matter to bring back balance to the market and recovery to the global economy,” Qatar’s Energy Ministry said in an invitation letter. The ministry said that around 15 OPEC and non-OPEC producers, accounting for about 73 percent of global oil output, are supporting the initiative. Meanwhile, UAE Undersecretary of Energy Matar al-Neyadi confirmed that Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei would attend the meeting. For its part, Iran expects to attend the meeting but will not take part in negotiations for a production freeze. “An invitation has been extended … We support it but it doesn’t mean we will join in the freeze talks,” a source said. [Reuters, 3/30/30216]

Saudi’s Savola says EBRD will invest $100 million in Egypt subsidiary
Saudi Arabia’s largest food products company, Savola Group, said Tuesday that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will invest $100 million in one of its indirect subsidiaries in Egypt. The investment in United Sugar Company of Egypt (USCE) will include a fresh injection of $50 million, as well as the conversion of existing debt of $50 million to equity. The deal will bolster the USCE balance sheet and help it cope with Egypt’s economic challenges, a statement said. Savola said that under its deal the share capital of USCE will be increased and new shares will be issued to the EBRD. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]

Bahrain’s Nogaholding secures $570 million Islamic loan
Bahrain’s oil investment company Nogaholding will obtain a five-year $570 million Islamic loan to pay for expansion projects. The funding will support investment in projects including the BAPCO Modernization Program, a liquefied natural gas import terminal, and the Bahrain Gas Plant Project. The loan will be provided by 10 international, regional, and local institutions, including the Arab Banking Corp, Ahli United Bank, National Bank of Bahrain, BNP Paribas, and HSBC. “This is an investment in the future and highlights our continued efforts to grow the Kingdom of Bahrain’s oil and gas assets,” CEO of Nogaholding Mohamed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa said. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 3/30/2016]