Top News: Minister of information asserts that Syria’s Assad will lead any transition process

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain president and lead any transition agreed upon in Geneva peace talks planned for next month, a government minister insisted on Wednesday. “If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva II to hand the keys to Damascus over [to the opposition], then he might as well not go,” Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in remarks carried by the official Syrian agency. “The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one. He is the leader of Syria… And he will remain the president of Syria.” [Naharnet, 12/4/2013]



Islamists spurn Egypt’s new charter, Bishop Aziz says constitution draft changed
A coalition of Islamists has said it rejects the country’s newly amended constitution, but has stopped short of saying it will boycott a forthcoming referendum it claims will be rigged. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a pro-Morsi coalition led by his Muslim Brotherhood movement, labeled the rewriting of the charter “absurd” and “illegal,” adding it does not accept any procedure stemming from the military “coup” that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July. Bishop Antonios Aziz, representative of the Catholic Church on the draft constitution committee, has also accused the committee head of modifying the document after its passage Sunday. During a Tuesday night dinner event, Aziz is reported to have lashed out at Amr Moussa, head of the fifty-member committee.  [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 12/4/2013]

Brotherhood students continue protests on campuses
Clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents continued Tuesday on several university campuses. At Cairo University, hundreds of students protested the death of Mohamed Reda, who was killed on Thursday, November 28, during a university protest. Many students raised the Rabea sign, a four-finger tribute to hundreds who died during the forced dispersal of a sit-in protesting the deposition of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi at Rabaa al-Adaweya in August. [Mada Masr, 12/4/2013]

Egypt says to pay $1.5 bln arrears to foreign oil firms
Egypt promised on Wednesday to pay $1.5 billion of the $6 billion it says it owes oil firms, hoping the announcement made at an investment conference will revive confidence in an economy battered by nearly three years of political upheaval. “There is approval to pay $1.5 billion,” Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi told the gathering designed to lure investment from Gulf Arab states and businessmen. The oil-producing countries rallied behind Egypt after the army ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July, pledging billions of dollar in financial support. However, Egypt has returned a $3 billion deposit to Qatar, central bank governor Hisham Ramez said on Wednesday. Qatar sent Egypt $3 billion in May, of which $1 billion was converted into three-year bonds. Cairo’s relations with Qatar deteriorated after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was deposed on 3 July. [Reuters, AP, Ahram Online, 12/4/2013]

EU delegation press officer denies delegation’s presence in Egypt
The Anti-Coup Alliance said in a statement that they met a delegation from the European Parliament in a Cairo hotel on Tuesday. The alliance claimed that former Minister of Local Development Mohamed Ali Bishr, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Amr Farouk, spokesman for the Wasat Party, met with a six-man delegation. Press officer of the European Union delegation in Egypt, Rasha Serry, said, however that “there are no delegations from the European Parliament currently in Egypt.” Julia Ponce, press counselor of the Spanish Embassy in Cairo, clarified, “The delegation is from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE],” Ponce said, adding that the Spanish ambassador to Egypt, Fidel Sendagorta Gómez del Campillo, took part in the delegation meeting with the alliance. PACE is a sub-organization of the Council of Europe, separate from the EU. [DNE, Tahrir (Arabic), 12/4/2013]


Libya spends $7 billion from reserves to cover loss of oil revenues
Libya has burned through $7 billion of its foreign currency reserves to offset the revenue disruption caused by the oil strikes and will have to spend up to $6 billion in December alone to keep the country operating, according to the deputy central bank governor. If strikes continue to prevent oil exports, the central bank will restrict access to dollars next year to safeguard the Libyan dinar. The deputy governor, Ali Mohamed Salem, also suggested the Libyan government may have to seek foreign loans if the strikes are not resolved. [Reuters, 12/03/2013]

Libya hopes to restore full oil output in two weeks
At an OPEC meeting, Libya’s Oil Minister Abdelbari al-Arusi told reporters he is “optimistic” that the country will reopen all of its oil ports on December 10 and resume full production. The statement comes a few days after the Libyan army threatened to use force against armed protesters. Oil traders and analysts are skeptical, saying restoration of oil production and exports after a lengthy disruption often takes months to complete. [Reuters, 12/04/2013]

Ansar quits Derna headquarters in face of larger protests; radio station torched
After a third day of protests by Derna locals demanding that armed groups leave the city, Ansar al-Sharia abandoned its headquarters and seems to have left. In the east of the city, some demonstrators attacked a radio station, claiming it was broadcasting messages in support of Ansar al-Sharia and calling for jihad. It has also been reported that another militia in Derna said it would welcome the government sending the army and police to provide security, provided the security personnel act within the principles of sharia. Separately, Prime Minister Ali Zidan announced the formation of a ministerial committee to enforce the law banning all militias in the city of Benghazi. [Libya Herald, 12/03/2013]

Senator John McCain in Tripoli
Republican Senator John McCain arrived in Tripoli on Tuesday for an overnight visit. It is not known what meetings he will have during the official visit, although a US embassy spokesperson confirmed the senator was there on a “fact-finding” and “status update” mission. The senator is expected to reaffirm US commitment to Libya during its transition. [Libya Herald, 12/03/2013]


United States, allies reach out to Syria’s Islamist rebels
The United States and its allies have held direct talks with key Islamist militias in Syria, Western officials say, aiming to undercut al-Qaeda while acknowledging that religious fighters long shunned by Washington have gained on the battlefield. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is taking its own outreach further, moving to directly arm and fund one of the Islamist groups, the Army of Islam, despite US qualms. The goal of the US diplomacy is to persuade some Islamists to support a Syria peace conference in Geneva on January 22, for fear that the talks won’t yield a lasting accord without their backing. Such outreach to groups not on US terror lists aims “to find out whether these people are worthwhile bringing into the diplomatic process.” [WSJ, 12/3/2013]

Rockets kill eighteen in government-held areas of Aleppo
Rocket fire against government-held areas of Syria’s main northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday killed at least eighteen people, including four regime troops and an officer. The attack on the Furqan and Meridian neighbourhoods also wounded at least thirty people. Aleppo, once Syria’s bustling commercial hub, has been one of the main focuses of the thirty-three month conflict since rebels seized large swathes of the city in an offensive launched in July last year. Despite persistent skirmishes between loyalist forces and the rebels, the front lines have changed little in more than a year, though rebels are said to be bracing for a renewed government assault. [Daily Star, 12/4/2013]


Marzouki calls on Tunisians to overcome differences in the interest of safety
At a funeral for a police officer killed in a landmine blast Tuesday, Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki called on Tunisians “to overcome differences to lead the country to safe harbor.” During the funeral oration of Captain Youssef Dridi, Marzouki exhorted Tunisians to draw on the captain’s example of selflessness and devotion to defend the homeland. [TAP, 12/3/2013]

Study finds Tunisian education improving, major problems remain
A recent study assessing student performance shows that Tunisia continues to make yearly progress in key areas, but still ranks poorly in comparison to other countries. Tunisia’s score places it at number sixty out of sixty-five countries included in the report, prepared by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The data was derived from a test given to fifteen and sixteen-year-old students last year and included thirty-four higher-developed and thirty-one other countries spread around the world. [Tunisia Live, 12/3/2013]

General strike in Tozeur
The southern governorate of Tozeur is on a general strike on Wednesday, at the call of the Regional Labor Union to claim the right to development. [TAP, 12/4/2013]

Insecurity threatens Tunisian cultural events
The threat of terrorism is taking a toll on Tunisian arts and culture. The popular Carthage Theatre Days is just the latest entertainment event to pay the price for the country’s security concerns. “The atmosphere this year is unusual. There are fears of Salafists and terrorist operations, and this is evident from the heavy security presence,” student Zied ben Ahmed told Magharebia. Heavy security tainted the biennial festival that ended last Saturday. [Magharebia, 12/3/2013]


Saleh’s party blasts UN envoy to Yemen
The party of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh has filed a complaint to the UN Secretary General against his special envoy Jamal Benomar, accusing him of being “biased.” The General People’s Congress (GPC), said that the UN envoy has abandoned his role as a mediator and threw in his lots with the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the bloc of parties opposed to the Saleh regime. In its letter, the party said that Benomar provoked Saleh’s supporters when he called on the former president to leave his position as the head of the GPC and described Saleh’s regime as “corrupt and unjust.” [Gulf News, 12/4/2013]

Increasing tension in Hadramawt between tribesmen and security forces
Tension is growing in the Hadramawt province as al-Humoum tribesmen mobilize in response to the killing of the tribe’s sheikh in a clash with security forces on Monday. The clashes with al-Humoum, one of the largest tribes in the province, also resulted in the deaths of three Yemeni soldiers. This incident represents another challenge for security forces in the province, who are also grappling with frequent al-Qaeda attacks on military and intelligence officers. Sources say that the Humoum tribal elder was killed during a clash with security forces at a checkpoint at the entrance to the city of Seyoun. It is believed that the clash broke out because checkpoint guards mistook the tribesmen for al-Qaeda militants. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/3/2013]

Yemeni defense minister in Washington for second session of strategic dialogue
Talks between Yemeni and US defense officials are ongoing in Washington this week to discuss the continuation of American military support for Yemen. The two sides discussed the military aid proposed for Yemen for the next three years, considering the needs of the Yemeni army and security forces during the transitional period. According to a US State Department press release, Yemeni defense minister Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed Ali was welcomed by Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Tom Kelly on Monday for discussions. On Tuesday, Major General Ali met with counterterrorism and homeland security officials to consult on joint efforts to combat the threat of terrorism in Yemen. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/4/2013]

Yemen industrial survey provides foundation for development
Yemeni officials last month released a comprehensive report detailing the state of medium, small, and micro industries in the country. It surveyed industrial installations in the mining, quarrying, manufacturing, and energy (electricity, gas and water) sectors, among others. “The results of the survey give us realistic indicators on the state of various industries to develop and help the sectors that need support and other sectors that benefit the economy,” said Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Abdul Ilah Shaiban, who chaired the technical committee for the survey. The survey showed that small and micro businesses are growing slowly since they lack marketing and competitive capabilities. [Al-Shorfa, 12/3/2013]


Hezbollah commander assassinated outside his Beirut home
A senior Hezbollah commander was gunned down outside his home in Beirut, the Lebanese militant group said Wednesday, immediately blaming Israel for the assassination and warning that it would suffer the consequences. Hassan al-Laqees was shot late Tuesday in the Hadath area of the Lebanese capital as he returned from work, Hezbollah said in a statement. [Washington Post, 12/4/2013]

Former Saudi intelligence chief calls on Obama to ‘wake up’ over Iran
In a television interview, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud delivered a message for US President Barack Obama, asking him to “wake up,” in apparent reference to the current rapprochement between Iran and world powers following a deal reached over its nuclear program. “I hope that your words are genuine and I do know that you are a man who is true to his words,” was Prince Turki’s message to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. [Gulf News, 12/4/2013]

Bahrain court bars US observer from activist’s trial
The United States on Tuesday was seeking an explanation from Bahraini authorities after a US embassy observer was expelled from the trial of a prominent rights activist. A representative of the US embassy was asked to leave Monday’s court hearing for Shiite activist Nabeel Rajab, a State Department official confirmed. “We are seeking additional clarification from the Bahraini government as to why she was not allowed to observe the proceedings,” Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters. [AFP/Naharnet, 12/3/2013]

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