Top News: Libyan Army Advances into Benghazi

Libyan army troops have pushed into Benghazi, the first time in two months since Islamist militias took control of the eastern city. Pro-government forces forced the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council from one of its most prominent positions in a move that one commander called “deeply symbolic.” The advance was a significant boost to the troops, as pictures of soldiers kissing the ground and residents welcoming the armored vehicles circulated online, though fighting was still raging in other parts of Benghazi. [APLibya Herald, 10/22/2014]



Ajnad Misr claims Wednesday’s Cairo University blast
Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility for a blast at Cairo University Wednesday. The operation was part of a “Retribution is Life” campaign that targets “criminal,” security forces, the group said in a statement released on its Twitter account. “This blessed operation comes after a rise in killing and maltreatment incidents against students. And we have been avoiding targeting the criminal apparatus near universities… until it was proven that they are carrying out systematic crimes [against students] without justification,” it said. The group also pointed out that it was keen on “minimizing the power” of the blast, so as not to affect civilians. An explosive device had detonated near a faculty building across the street from the main university campus in Giza, the site of a previous deadly bombing. The bomb, placed in a gap pipeline and likely detonated by a mobile phone, according to prosecution, had injured six policemen and five civilians. Prosecutors added that the bomb was clearly aimed to target policemen stationed across from the university. [DNE, Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 10/23/2014]

Egypt’s new electoral districts law will be subject to national dialogue
After chairing a meeting of a technical committee ‎entrusted with finalizing Egypt’s new electoral districts ‎law, Minister of Transitional Justice and House of ‎Representatives Affairs Ibrahim Heneidy indicated ‎that the law will not be ratified by President ‎Abdel Fattah al-Sisi until it gains support from ‎political parties in a national dialogue. Addressing parliamentary reporters, Heneidy said that the ‎electoral districts law is the last obstacle before ‎parliamentary elections. “Once the semi-final draft of ‎the law is issued, political forces will be able to give ‎their opinions on it… they will be able to submit their ‎remarks and proposed amendments… ‎within a period of two to three weeks.”‎ The Free Egyptians party released a statement praising the development and urging that the law not be subject to appeal in the constitutional court given the fragile period facing the country. Mohamed Anwar Sadat, head of the Reform and Development party, also urged that political parties meet quickly to discuss the law. [Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic), 10/23/2014]

Court rejects US consul’s request to release hunger-striking Soltan
Cairo Criminal Court denounced on Wednesday the US administration’s requests to release Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan, postponing his trial to November 5. Soltan’s lawyer Halim Henish said US President Barack Obama asked President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to release Soltan on bail, on account of his deteriorating health. The prosecution presented medical reports from the prison saying that Soltan’s health condition was stable and that he is faking his hunger strike, said Hanish. The court said it refused the interference of any country or party in a “purely judicial affair,” and that the Egyptian judiciary is independent and separate from any political dimensions, even if the defendant is a citizen of another country. [Aswat Masriya, DNE, 10/22/2014]

Egypt lacks medium-sized businesses, analysts blame regulation
Most of Egypt’s businesses are small-sized, with 97 percent employing less than 10 workers, according to census data released on Tuesday by state-run statistics body CAPMAS. Medium-sized enterprises with 10 to 50 employees account for around .27 percent of total businesses. However, big businesses with over 50 employees account for 0.4 percent of all enterprises nationwide. The data is part of Egypt’s 2012/13 economic census that shows Egypt is greatly lacking in medium-sized businesses. “Looking at the data, I realized that the medium-sized business is almost missing in Egypt,” says Sherif al-Diwany, executive director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies (ECES). Diwani believes this is due to policies that do not allow small business to grow, leading to a gap in Egypt’s economy. [Ahram Online, 10/23/2014]


Libyan army advances into Benghazi
Libyan army troops have pushed into Benghazi, the first time in two months since Islamist militias took control of the eastern city. Pro-government forces forced the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council from one of its most prominent positions in a move that one commander called “deeply symbolic.” The advance was a significant boost to the troops, as pictures of soldiers kissing the ground and residents welcoming the armored vehicles circulated online, though fighting was still raging in other parts of Benghazi. [AP, Libya Herald, 10/22/2014]

Four kidnapped and Egyptian embassy sacked in Tripoli
Disorder gripped Tripoli in a day of kidnappings and an assault on the Egyptian embassy. Witnesses said that at least ten vehicles stormed the embassy, smashing down the front gates and shooting their way through the front doors in an apparent response to reports that Egypt is assisting Libyan forces in targeting Ansar al-Sharia. Meanwhile, four individuals, including a Red Crescent employee, a security official, and a journalist, were abducted. Reporters Without Borders has launched a campaign to draw attention to the plight of Libyan journalists. [Libya Herald, 10/22/2014]

Ansar al-Sharia tightens hold in Derna, establishes Islamic court
Following its declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State, Derna’s Shura Council of Islamic Youth, part of the local Ansar al-Sharia structure, has moved to formally establish an Islamic court in the town. A Yemeni who reportedly met with education authorities in Derna to demand that they stop teaching foreign languages and science courses heads the court. Over the weekend, the court publicly flogged young men found guilty of alcohol abuse. Illuminated Islamic State signs can now be seen around the town. [Libya Herald, 10/22/2014]

Libya’s oil to flow despite struggle between rival governments
A common interest in maintaining oil revenues will keep Libyan exports flowing for now despite rival governments vying for control of the energy sector. Revenues from oil export sales are paid into a state-owned bank abroad. The money is remitted to the central bank in Tripoli, which pays the salaries of thousands of public employees on both sides of the political divide, helping to explain why oil production has risen despite the general chaos. Still, the industry remains highly vulnerable, and competition for control of the NOC and central bank might make foreign traders reluctant to buy Libyan oil. [Reuters, 10/23/2014]


Syrian Kurds sign power-sharing deal to draw more support
Syrian Kurdish factions have signed a deal to share power and set their rivalries aside to capitalize on growing international support for their fight against ISIS militants. The agreement was reached late on Wednesday after nine days of talks and coincided with a decision by Iraqi Kurdistan to send its own Peshmerga forces to relieve fellow Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobani—a plan which Turkish President Erdogan endorsed Wednesday to the tune of 200 fighters. Early this year, the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) established three “cantons” in northern Syria and declared self-rule, but other Kurdish parties rejected the move. Wednesday’s deal, which was signed in Iraqi Kurdistan under the auspices of the region’s President Masoud Barzani, puts decision-making in the hands of a new body in which all parties will be represented. The deal also seeks to address one of the main sticking points between the parties: the PYD’s insistence that no armed force other than its own militia, the Popular Protection Units (YPG), is viable. [Reuters, 10/23/2014]

US-led air strikes target ISIS oil fields in Deir Ezzor; Strikes have killed 521 fighters
US military forces again focused air strikes on the area near the Syrian city of Kobani in their campaign to turn back ISIS forces and hit oil facilities held by the militant group, the US Central Command said on Thursday. On Wednesday, US General John Allen suggested that Britain might join the fight against ISIS inside Syria. A monitoring group that tracks the Syria conflict said on Thursday that air strikes by US-led forces have killed 521 Islamist fighters and thirty-two civilians during a month-long campaign in Syria. The vast majority of the deaths, 464, were militants from ISIS. The attacks also killed fifty-seven members of the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Six of the civilians were children and five were women. [Reuters, 10/23/2014]

Syrian forces use US focus on ISIS to step up attacks on moderate rebels
Syrian forces have intensified air and land assaults against moderate rebel forces in Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, and areas near the Jordanian border as the US has shifted its gaze to the coalition air campaign against ISIS. Rebels in Aleppo said that Syrian forces increased their use of barrel bombs over the past three days. Fifty-five people were killed and over 100 injured in barrel bomb attacks in Idlib in recent days. The United States has rejected any coordination efforts with the Syrian regime, but analysts say that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has welcomed coalition airstrikes and exploited the global focus on ISIS. [Washington Post, 10/22/2014]

US and allied officials: Syrian rebel forces to be trained to defend territory, not retake it
According to senior US and allied officials, Syrian opposition members who are recruited for coalition-led training programs will be trained in how to defend territory, rather than how to take it. While moderate Syrian fighters are deemed essential to defeating ISIS under the Obama administration’s strategy, officials do not believe the new units will be capable of capturing key towns from militants without the help of US troops. The Syrian rebel force will be tasked instead with trying to prevent the Islamic State from extending its reach beyond the large stretches of territory it already controls. Some officials have expressed concerns that the approach is flawed. [Washington Post, 10/22/2014]


Interior minister denies reports of border closures on election day
Minister of the Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou on Wednesday noted that Tunisia’s borders with Libya and Algeria will remain open throughout the election period. The minister was responding to reports suggesting that the country’s borders would be closed on the eve of election day and remain closed throughout the voting period. The minister, however, stressed that security forces on both borders were on high alert and would remain in a state of heightened vigilance throughout the elections. [TAP, 10/23/2014]

Security officer killed in armed clashes with gunmen outside Tunis
A Tunisian security officer was killed on Thursday during a firefight between armed gunmen and security forces in the town of Oued Ellil near the capital. A statement from the interior ministry acknowledged the officer’s death and noted that separate clashes had also led to the arrest of two suspected terrorists and the seizure of several weapons in Kebili. [Ahram Online, 10/23/2014]

CPR party chief defends former alliance with Ennahda, presents new agenda for 2014
Imed Daimi, the secretary-general of the Congress for the Republic party (CPR), said on Wednesday that he had no regrets about his party’s decision to join the tripartite coalition government with the Ennahda Movement following the 2011 revolution. He noted that the coalition government, also known as the troika, stabilized the country at a critical time and protected Tunisia from the violent chaos that have since destabilized the region. He stressed that his party had learned from the mistakes of the troika government and presented a viable political alternative to voters that had lost trust in the first coalition government. [Asharq al-Awsat, 10/23/2014]

ISIE announces delivery of election materials to constituencies
President of the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) Chafik Sarsar announced Wednesday that the electoral body had safely delivered election materials to all domestic constituencies and polling centers abroad. The ISIE chief spoke at the opening ceremony of the election media center at the Tunis Convention Center where he emphasized that additional measures had been employed to prevent the falsification of ballot papers. Sarsar expressed his confidence in the training and certification of 17,338 domestic observers and noted that the inclusion of an additional 559 foreign observers would ensure that the conduct of the election would be well monitored. [TAP, 10/22/2014]


Clashes between Houthis and al-Qaeda leave over fifty dead in Bayda
Fighting in Bayda province since Tuesday has left at least thirty Houthi fighters dead and eighteen al-Qaeda militants as both sides struggle for control of the province. Houthi and al-Qaeda forces have clashed in the city of Rida since last week. The Houthis have moved fighters south and west since seizing hold of Sana’a in mid-September, provoking a violent response in the al-Qaeda strongholds of Yemen’s center. Tribal sources provided the casualty figures, and said the two sides clashed with light weapons over the course of several hours on Tuesday. Some tribal leaders in Rida described the Houthis as “occupiers,” and said that they will continue to fight them. Al-Qaeda militants also killed five Yemeni soldiers in an unrelated attack at a military checkpoint. [Reuters, 10/22/2014]

Houthi spokesman calls on central authorities to support struggle against al-Qaeda
Group spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalaam called on central authorities in Sana’a to support the Houthis’ struggles against al-Qaeda in Yemen’s center. Abdulsalaam justified the Houthis’ ongoing occupation of cities in Yemen’s center and west, claiming that if the Houthis were to leave then al-Qaeda forces would quickly replace them. He said that even though the government was too weak to hold cities, government forces’ support for the Houthis was necessary. Abdusalaam also acknowledged the human toll in military and civilian casualties from the group’s clashes with al-Qaeda, though he said that the media has exaggerated these numbers. The Houthi spokesman also added that the group was for the unity of the country, though it acknowledged the demands of southerners against injustice. Citizens in Sana’a and other provinces have protested the continuing Houthi militant presence in their cities. [Al Masdar, Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 10/23/2014]

Constitution drafting committee to continue work in Abu Dhabi
The Yemeni constitution drafting committee released a statement saying that it will hold meetings for a month in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital of Abu Dhabi. President Ismael al-Wazir said that the committee will start in the UAE on Thursday according to its work plan, and will end by reviewing the initial draft of the constitution. Al-Wazir said that the committee has doubled its efforts to complete the draft of the constitution. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/22/2014]


KRG approves Kurdish fighters to enter Syria
Lawmakers in Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region on Wednesday authorized Peshmerga forces to enter neighboring Syria and assist Syrian Kurds currently battling Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Islamic State) militants in the border town of Kobani. The possible deployment of Iraqi Kurdish fighters into Syria, via Turkey, however, got off to a turbulent start after Turkish President Recep Erdogan criticized US air supply of arms and ammunitions to Kurdish fighters after reports indicated that some of these weapons had fallen into the hands of ISIS militants. [The Daily Star, 10/23/2014]

Former Blackwater guards found guilty in 2007 Baghdad shooting
Four former Blackwater security guards were convicted Wednesday in the 2007 shootings of more than thirty Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, an incident that ignited international uproar over the role of defense contractors in the Iraq conflict. A jury in Federal District Court in Washington, DC found that the deaths of seventeen Iraqis in the shooting, was not a battlefield tragedy, but the result of a criminal act. The four men were then convicted on thirty-two combined charges of murder, manslaughter, and weapons charges. [Naharnet, New York Times, 10/23/2014]

Justice Minister welcomes amended anti-terror law in Morocco
Moroccan Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid noted Thursday that amendments to the country’s anti-terror legislation are aimed at preventing ISIS from gaining a foothold in the North African country. The minister stressed concerns with ISIS recruitment of Moroccan youths and noted that the new measures target potential recruiters and others that seek to radicalize the country’s youth. Morocco’s amended anti-terror law now raises the penalty for terrorism related crimes from five to fifteen years imprisonment. [Asharq al-Awsat, 10/23/2004]