Top News: Libya’s Presidential Council Names New Government

Libya’s Presidential Council announced a new government on Tuesday, although two of its nine members rejected it in a sign of continuing divisions. UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler has said that he strongly welcomes the formation of the Government of National Accord by the Presidential Council and urged its immediate endorsement by the House of Representatives. The Presidential Council said it agreed on a 32-member cabinet. Defense Minister-designate Mahdi al-Barghathi is one of eastern Libya’s army commanders, while the Interior Minister-designate Al-Aref al-Khoga is a former Interior Minister from the Tripoli-based government known to have close ties with Islamists. Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj also split some portfolios, such as the foreign ministry, distributing the sections among different tribes, political groups, and regions. A full list of ministers can be found here. Deputy Prime Minister-designate Ali al-Qatrani and Presidential Council Minister Omar al-Aswad suspended their membership prior to the government’s announcement, saying eastern Libya was underrepresented and there was insufficient support for the armed forces allied to the eastern government. The parliament in eastern Libya now has ten days to approve the new government. [UNSMIL, AP, Reuters, Libya Herald, WSJ, Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/19/2016]



Parliament approves terrorist entities, regulatory bodies laws
Egypt’s new parliament approved two controversial laws Sunday as it started reviewing legislation passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2014. As the parliament races to meet its two-week deadline, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal urged MPs to expedite the ratification of decrees that were issued during the legislature’s three-year absence. On Sunday, the newly elected parliament approved the terrorist entities law by an overwhelming 457 votes to 24, which details penalties for terrorism-related crimes and shields the military and police from legal penalties for what it calls proportionate use of force. The law also fines journalists for contradicting the authorities’ version of any militant attack. The parliament also approved a law which grants the president the right to remove the heads of four state financial and regulatory bodies. Also on Sunday, MPs voted in favor of approving the National Defense Council decision to extend deployment of the country’s Armed Forces units in the Gulf area, the Red Sea, and the Bab al-Mandab strait. On Saturday, the Housing Committee passed a law that empowers the Armed Forces to build on land it owns without a need for permits and endorsed a law that sets Sisi’s annual salary and rewards at a ceiling of $63,000 or around EGP500,000. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/19/2016]

Egyptian journalist who filmed ‘gay bathhouse orgy’ acquitted
A Cairo misdemeanor appeals court reversed on Tuesday a six-month prison sentence previously handed to an Egyptian journalist who had reported “a gay bathhouse orgy” to the police in late 2014. The court acquitted female journalist Mona Iraqi of charges of defamation and “publishing false information” in the case known in Egyptian media as the “Ramses Bathhouse” case. Iraqi sparked controversy when she filmed a police raid on a men’s bath house after tipping off police about the “practice of homosexuality” inside the bathhouse. Tarek al-Awady, a lawyer representing the Ramses Bathhouse victims, stated that he did not understand the court’s decision. “They still haven’t published the reasoning for the court’s decision. There were many legal reasons to sentence her to six months in the first decision. We can take the appropriate steps once we get the reasoning,” he told Mada Masr. He also said they plan to appeal the ruling. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 1/19/2016]

CIA head meets Sisi, Interior Minister in Cairo
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Sunday with CIA Director John Brennan to discuss regional developments and terrorism. The meeting was held in the attendance of Egyptian General Intelligence Director Khaled Fawzy and US Ambassador to Egypt Robert Stephen Beecroft. State news agency MENA reported that Brennan affirmed Egypt’s regional and international role, expressing US interest in knowing Egypt’s views regarding current regional affairs and ways to settle Middle East crises. During the meeting, Sisi reportedly underlined the Egyptian army’s efforts to combat terrorism in North Sinai. The president said that terrorism is limited in reach in the governorate, not exceeding one percent of North Sinai’s total area. According to the report, Brennan also congratulated Sisi on fulfilling the last step of the 2013 political roadmap, implemented following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, with the inauguration of a new parliament last week. On Monday, Brennan met with Interior Minister Magdy Abdel-Ghafar where they reportedly discussed terrorism domestically and internationally. The duo discussed the activities of militant groups regionally, especially the ISIS group, according to MENA. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, DNE, 1/19/2016]

British MPs recommend resumption of flights to Sharm al-Sheikh
During their visit to Cairo on Sunday, a delegation of members of the British House of Commons and the House of Lords affirmed they would recommend the resumption of British air flights to Sharm al-Sheikh upon their return to the UK, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry received the joint delegation comprised of representatives of the ruling Conservative Party in the context of the latter’s visit to Cairo, following the formation of the Egyptian parliament. The spokesman added that the delegation acknowledged the significance of the tourist sector to the Egyptian economy, and sought to overcome the difficulties that may have affected Egyptian-British relations recently. [Aswat Masriya, 1/18/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


German Defense Minister raises prospect of Libya mission
Advances by Islamist militants in Libya pose a new threat to Europe and could unleash a new wave of refugees, Germany’s defense minister said on Monday, adding she did not rule out deploying German troops in the North African country. “Germany will not be able to evade responsibility for contributing its share,” Ursula von der Leyen told Bild newspaper when asked about whether she plans to deploy troops in Libya. Also on Monday, Germany’s ruling coalition said that it wants to limit migration from North Africa by declaring Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia “safe countries,” greatly cutting those countries’ citizens’ chances of being granted asylum. Germany is planning measures to expedite the deportation of rejected asylum seekers, including placing them in special expulsion centers in Bavaria until their claims have been heard, similar to the practice currently used for applicants from Balkan countries who are unlikely to be granted asylum. [Reuters, AFP, 1/18/2016]

Beida council orders Thinni government out
The Beida municipal council has said that the al-Thinni government ministries must give up their occupancy of the town. The announcement was made via a document posted on the town’s social media page on Monday and was later reiterated on local radio and television. Abdullah al-Thinni’s government has been based in Beida since being forced out of Tripoli in 2014. The resident government has placed a heavy burden on local infrastructure and the council cites increasing electricity outages as a major motivation behind their announcement. There has not yet been a response from the eastern government. [Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/18/2016]

Main Tunisian union, industry association agree to wage hike in private sector
The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and its largest industry association reached agreement on Tuesday to increase wages for about 1.5 million private sector workers, a decision that could avert strikes and protests. The UGTT had threatened a general strike if the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UTICA) refused to raise wages. “We signed with UTICA an agreement that includes an increase of 6 percent for private sector workers,” senior UGTT official Bel Kacem Ayari said. UTICA Spokesman Adel Nakti confirmed the pay raise and said it was intended to “raise the purchasing power of workers and comes despite the economic difficulties of private companies.” [Reuters, 1/19/2016]

Moroccan journalist released after ten months in prison
A Moroccan investigative journalist was released from prison Sunday after serving a ten-month sentence. Journalist Hicham Mansouri had been working on a piece about electronic surveillance by the state when he was arrested. At the time, authorities issued a statement saying he was arrested while “preparing the location for prostitution and participating in adultery with a married woman.” Adultery is illegal but the law is rarely enforced. Although now free, Mansouri is among seven activists and journalists facing another trial on January 27 for charges that span from “threats to national security” to “failure to report foreign subsidies.” [NYT, 1/17/2016]


ISIS captures government held ground in eastern Syria
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants captured ground from Syrian government forces near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. SOHR said there was still no update on the fate of over 400 people kidnapped when ISIS began to attack government held areas of the city on Saturday. A Syrian official said that the Syrian army repelled the attacks but ISIS is continuing the offensive. Syria’s state news agency SANA said on Sunday that at least 300 people, including women and children, had been killed during the attacks in Deir Ezzor. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 1/18/2016]

Four injured in blast at Turkish school near Syria
Turkish military radar showed that ISIS outposts inside Syria had fired on the southeastern border town of Kilis on Monday, Turkish military sources said on Monday. The army retaliated “in kind” against ISIS after the attack, which the office of the Kilis governor said had struck a school in the town. Reports indicate one staff member has died, a teenage student was critically injured and is in the hospital being treated, and two other people have been injured. Turkish authorities identified the school as Eyup Gokce Imam Middle School. One correspondent reported that, according to local officials, the rocket was fired from ISIS positions “less than 20 km away from the Syrian border … There have been previous attacks along the border, but not anything like this,” he said. “It is still unclear if the attack was an accident or on purpose.” [AP, Reuters, 1/18/2016]

Dispute over opposition’s seat at table threatens to push back Syria peace talks
Barely a month after the world’s most powerful countries agreed to an ambitious road map to end the civil war in Syria, there is still no agreement on who, if anyone, will show up at the peace talks that are to begin in Geneva next Monday. Some worry that talks will be pushed back, along with any hopes of a ceasefire. The dispute is over who represents the opposition delegation. Saudi Arabia wants its handpicked rebel bloc alone to represent the opposition to the government of President Bashar al-Assad—and it has threatened to pull its proxies out of the process if others are added to the delegation, according to UN diplomats. Russia insists on a broader opposition bloc; otherwise, it has suggested, the Syrian government would not attend. “Mutual vetoes on who should be invited,” is how one diplomat described the threats. [NYT, AP, 1/18/2016]

Iraq searching for three US citizens reportedly abducted
Security forces in Baghdad in coordination with the US Embassy are searching for three US citizens who Iraqi lawmakers said on Monday had been kidnapped. Unknown gunmen seized the trio from a private apartment on Friday in the capital’s southeastern Dora district, said Mohammed al-Karbouli, who sits on parliament’s security and defense panel. It was not immediately clear if their motives were political or criminal. Two of the three also have Iraqi citizenship, according to Iskander Witwit, the deputy head of the security and defense panel. If confirmed, this would make them the first Americans abducted in the country since US troops withdrew in 2011. [Reuters, NYT, Al Jazeera English, 1/18/2016]

Battle against ISIS has turned Ramadi into a ghost town
Iraqi officials and the coalition say hundreds of airstrikes launched on Ramadi since July played a decisive role in recapturing it. But the scorched-earth battlefield tactics used by both sides means the prize is a shattered ruin. Residents, once numbering nearly half a million, have mostly fled and now sit in refugee camps. Baghdad and Washington have touted Ramadi as the first major success for Iraq’s US-backed army since it collapsed in the face of ISIS’s lightning advance across the country’s north and west in mid-2014. [Reuters, 1/18/2016]

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


Car bomb explodes in Yemeni port killing ten
A car bomb exploded on Sunday outside the home of the security chief of Aden, killing ten people and wounding ten others. A bomber wearing an explosives vest blew himself up at the entrance to General Shalal Shaea’s house in the Tawahi district of the port city. Eight civilians and two guards were killed, while the police chief remained unharmed, sources said. [Al Arabiya, 1/17/2016]

MSF delivers medical aid to Yemen’s besieged Taiz
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it delivered medical supplies on Sunday to areas in Taiz besieged by Houthi militias. The group said two trucks “full of essential medical supplies” entered the southwestern city in the first such operation in five months. The 600,000 residents of Taiz have been in dire need of humanitarian and medical supplies as Houthi militants besiege the community defended by pro-government forces. A Saudi aid dispatch, consisting of 40 tons of medicine and food, was dropped in the city on Wednesday. [Al Arabiya, 1/17/2016]

British and US military ‘in command room’ for Saudi strikes in Yemen
British and US military officials are in the command and control center for Saudi air strikes in Yemen, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday. Jubeir said that they have access to lists of targets but do not have any role in choosing them. Human rights groups, the European parliament, and the United Nations have all expressed concerns about the airstrikes conducted by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. The UK Ministry of Defense confirmed that British forces were in the operation room to provide training and advice on targeting techniques and “to help ensure continued compliance with international humanitarian law,” but said they did not have an operational role. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country had nothing to hide. A host of foreign officials posted to the Yemen command and control center have been able to scrutinize its air campaign and were satisfied by its safeguards, he said. [The Guardian, 1/15/2016]

Chinese president in Saudi Arabia to boost profile
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the first stop on an unprecedented trip to raise the economic giant’s profile in a troubled region. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Xi will hold one-on-one talks that will focus on a range of key regional and international issues, including conflicts in the Middle East. Xi arrives three days after a historic international deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in return for a scaling back of its nuclear capabilities. China and five other world powers helped broker that agreement. Riyadh fears it will further embolden Iran, which it accuses of regional interference. [AFP, Al Arabiya, 1/19/2016]

Putin and Qatari Emir talk Syria, economic cooperation
President Vladimir Putin and the Emir of Qatar on Monday discussed the Syrian crisis, as global powers seek to push the warring sides towards the negotiating table. “Russia plays a main role when it comes to stability in the world,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said at the start of the meeting at the Kremlin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said both Moscow and Doha were expecting that, in accordance with a UN-backed plan, talks between the Syrian government and the opposition would begin “in the nearest future, already this month.” The two countries also agreed to ramp up economic cooperation, with Putin telling Sheikh Tamim that Russia is keen to coordinate efforts in energy, “especially in the gas sphere.” [AFP, Reuters, AP, 1/18/2016]


Saudi Arabia plans new sovereign wealth fund
Saudi Arabia plans to create a new sovereign fund to manage part of its oil wealth and diversify its investments. It has asked investment banks and consultancies to submit proposals for the project. The new fund could change the way billions of dollars are invested and affect some of the world’s leading asset managers. One source said the fund would focus on investing in businesses outside the energy industry, such industrials, chemicals, maritime and transportation. Sources also said managers of the planned fund may be able to invest directly in companies rather than channeling investments through foreign asset managers, which could maximize returns. Meanwhile, projections released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and HSBC Holdings Plc see Saudi Arabia’s economy growing at its slowest pace this year since 2002. In an update to its World Economic Outlook, the IMF said Saudi economic growth would slow to 1.2 percent in 2016 from 3.4 percent in 2015. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said he remains optimistic that crude prices will rise and bring stability to the global oil market. [Reuters, 1/18/2016]

China to lend Egypt’s Central Bank $1 billion during presidential visit
China is expected to lend the Central Bank of Egypt $1 billion to help shore up its foreign reserves during a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, Egypt’s Ambassador to Beijing Magdi Amer said Sunday. Al Masry Al Youm quoted a banking source as saying that China would lend Egypt $1.5 billion. Egypt and China are expected to discuss potential Chinese investments in various Egyptian projects during the visit, including a planned new administrative capital. Amer said China would also sign a $700 million agreement with the state-owned National Bank of Egypt to provide a line of credit to finance future projects as well as a $100 million loan agreement with Banque Misr aimed at financing small and medium-sized projects. Meanwhile, Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said Egypt is in negotiations with the Export and Import Bank of China to secure a $15 billion financing package for foreign exchange reserves support and projects in energy, transport, and sanitation. Nasr said a separate deal would be announced with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank once Egypt’s membership in the bank is ratified. [Reuters, 1/18/2016]

Egypt plans to sell shares in state-owned companies
Egypt plans to list shares in state-owned bank and companies on the stock market, in a move aimed at jumpstarting investment and boosting economic growth. “The coming period will witness offerings of parts of the capital of successful Egyptian companies and banks on the bourse,” Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef said. The statement follows a meeting between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and ministers to discuss the stock market’s decline. The country’s benchmark index, the EGX 30, has fallen 15 percent since the start of 2016. Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer said the offerings would not include the National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr. He added that the central bank may offer a stake in one of its ventures to a strategic investor. [Reuters, 1/19/2016]

Turkey premier promises stability in 2016 amid global turmoil
Turkey is well-placed to outperform its emerging market peers as it moves away from a period of political instability, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. In a speech to investors at Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London, Davutoglu said the country’s economy would grow at 4.5 percent this year. The economy will be able to withstand challenges, including the spillover from war in Syria that has led to terrorist attacks in Turkey’s major cities in recent months, he said. Davutoglu added that the government has a “strong base” to implement reforms following its victory in the November 1 elections. He said the government is focusing on anti-inflation measures and lowering the current account gap, which has long been a key concern for Turkey’s economy. [Bloomberg, Reuters, 1/18/2016]

Iraq wants foreign oil firms to cut development spending
Iraq wants foreign oil companies to cut spending as it seeks to narrow a budget gap caused by lower crude prices, Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said Tuesday. “The ministry is discussing reducing financial spending by foreign companies,” he told a meeting of the oil fields’ joint management committees in Baghdad. Service agreements with foreign oil companies are putting Iraq’s budget under strain. Meanwhile, Iraq’s exports from its southern region have been running at an average daily rate of 3.297 million barrels per day (bpd) so far this month. All the fields are running normally, state-run South Oil Company’s Deputy Director General Salah Mahdi said. “Recent security operations in Basra are sending reassuring messages to international foreign oil companies,” he added. In other news, the Kurdistan Regional Government may sell parts of its electricity sector to raise funds to help plug a budget gap left by sinking oil prices. [Reuters, 1/19/2016]