Top News: New Libya unity government to be proposed within ten days

A revamped Libyan unity government will be proposed within ten days, an official said Tuesday, after the eastern House of Representatives rejected an initial lineup proposed by the Presidency Council. Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Serraj will present the new cabinet at the request of the parliament, which had criticized the first one as too large, said Fathi Ben Issa, advisor to the unity government. [AFP, 1/26/2016]



At least 150 people arrested nationwide on January 25 anniversary
Media reports suggest that at least 150 protesters were arrested across the country on Monday as Egypt marked the fifth anniversary of the January 25 uprising. No official numbers have been released. More arrests in the lead up to the anniversary were also reported. According to Al Masry Al Youm, the administrator of the Revolutionary Socialists Facebook page was arrested on charges of instigating violence by calling for protests on January 25. The paper claimed that the administrator, 24-year-old Mohamed Essam, was actually a member of the banned April 6 Youth Movement. On Monday, prosecutors extended his detention for another 15 days pending criminal investigations, according to Akhbar al-Youm. On Sunday, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported police arrested 78 Muslim Brotherhood members in Giza as part of their security crackdown in the lead-up to the revolution anniversary. Meanwhile, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms documented 37 arrests in seven governorates on Monday. In related news, prominent Egyptian activist Sanaa Seif staged Monday a single-person demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Seif, who hails from a family known for leftist activism, stood in Tahrir while wearing a shirt with the words “It is still the January revolution.” She was sentenced to three years in jail for illegal protest in 2014 but was released in September 2015 after receiving a presidential pardon. [Mada Masr, 1/26/2016]

FJP spokesperson disagrees with judicial announcements on Brotherhood activities
Foreign Committee Spokesman of the dissolved Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Abdel Mawgood al-Dardiry, reportedly denied the legitimacy of the claims made by the committee to freeze Muslim Brotherhood assets on Sunday. “The committee is not specialized and we do not acknowledge its results. We highly question the veracity of what was announced, two years from the burning of the Guidance Bureau,” he said. According to al-Dardiry, the committee aimed to distort the image of the Brotherhood ahead of the anniversary of January 25, on which the Brotherhood called on people to protest. He further highlighted that the committee has not substantiated any of the corruption charges leveled against Brotherhood members. [DNE, 1/26/2016]

Egyptian writer Fatima Naoot sentenced to three years in jail for “contempt of religion”
Writer Fatima Naoot was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison and fined EGP20,000 after being found guilty of contempt of religion, the second public figure to receive a jail term in less than a month for charges related to blasphemy. The jail sentence is effective immediately, meaning the ex-candidate for parliament is set to be arrested and incarcerated. Naoot, however, will be able to lodge an appeal from behind bars. Naoot faced trial after expressing personal views regarding the slaughter rituals during the Muslim Eid El-Adha. In a post on her social media page back in October 2014, Naoot criticised “animal slaughter” in reference to the religious tradition of sacrificing sheep, and wrote “Happy massacre, everybody.” She was convicted according to Article 98 of the Penal Code on religious contempt. Naoot previously said her referral to court was the “price paid by the bearers of the torches of enlightenment in every age.” She expressed her “full respect” for the judiciary and for the prosecution and hopes to be acquitted from charges. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/26/2016]

Egyptian troops head to Saudi Arabia for ‘Thunder of the North’ exercise
Several Egyptian military units headed to Saudi Arabia on Monday to take part in “Thunder of the North,” a joint military exercise involving “a number of Arab and Muslim states,” according to Egypt’s armed forces. The military units participating in the exercise include ground and air forces and special forces, in addition to air defense equipment. According to an Egyptian Armed Forces statement, the military training exercise aims to raise the technical and combat standards of the units taking part in it. The Egyptian military’s statement did not specify the number of countries participating in the exercise. According to the Saudi-owned London newspaper Al Hayat, Jordanian troops, as well as forces from Gulf Cooperation Council member states, will also take part in the exercises. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 1/26/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


UN Libya Envoy takes positive view of HOR vote
The UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler has welcomed what he called “the endorsement in principle” by the House of Representatives (HOR) of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Skhirat last month. The deal was given tentative approval by 97 out of 104 members in an initial vote. However, the lawmakers called to revoke the clause transferring the power of military appointments to the Presidency Council. In a separate vote the HOR overwhelmingly rejected the 32-ministry government proposed by the Council. “I take note of the reservation of the House of Representatives on Article 8 [of the LPA],” Kobler said. “We will continue consultations with all parties to find consensual solutions to all outstanding issues,” Kobler added. [Libya Herald, UNSMIL, 1/25/2016]

Libya’s Prime Minister-designate visits Algeria
Libya’s Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Serraj began a visit to Algeria on Monday as part of Algeria’s efforts to find a consensual political solution between Libyans. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Minister for Maghreb Affairs, the African Union, and the Arab League Abdelkader Messahel welcomed Serraj upon his arrival. [APS, Libya Herald, 1/25/2016]

Tunisia relaxes curfew as security improves
Tunisia is relaxing a nationwide curfew imposed last week in the face of widespread protests by youths demanding jobs. The curfew will now only be enforced from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., two hours less than before. The government cited an improved security situation in the country. The curfew went into force Friday after protests by unemployed young people spread nationwide. [AP, TAP, 1/25/2016]

Moroccan journalist faces trial for Western Sahara comments
Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla is to stand trial next month over comments about the Western Sahara that he made to the German press, he said on Sunday. The head of the Lakome2 website faces charges of “undermining national territorial integrity” in a trial due to begin on February 9. The prosecution service opened an investigation after he mentioned the Western Sahara as one of three red lines for Moroccan journalists in an interview published last month in the German newspaper Bild, he said. [AFP, 1/25/2016]


Deadly blasts kill 20 in Syrian city ahead of peace talks
Multiple bombings targeted a government-run security checkpoint in the central Syrian city of Homs on Tuesday, killing at least 22 people. State television said another 100 people were wounded in the blasts in the Zara neighborhood of the city, with residents being mostly Alawites. This area had been targeted in multiple bomb attacks by ISIS, most recently in late December. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) chief Rami Abdel-Rahman said the second suicide bomber had been wearing military clothes. The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed the attack in an online statement describing the blast as the work of a single suicide bomber. The attack came as government forces retook a strategic town from opposition fighters and militants in the south of the country. Homs Governor Talal Barazi told the SANA news agency that the checkpoint was hit “first by a car bomb, which was then followed by a suicide bombing.” [AP, Reuters, 1/26/2016]

Syria opposition meets in Riyadh, casts doubt on talks
The Syrian opposition cast doubt on whether it would go to peace talks planned for Friday saying there was no hope or optimism on upcoming talks. This throws UN diplomatic efforts into question as it accused the United States of adopting unacceptable Iranian and Russian ideas for solving the conflict. The Saudi-backed opposition was meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to attend the talks which UN envoy Staffan de Mistura aims to open in Geneva on Friday. De Mistura said talks will focus on a ceasefire, stopping ISIS, and the distribution of human aid. [Reuters, 1/26/2016]

Russian air strikes have transformed situation in Syria
Air strikes by the Russian military in support of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have helped turn the tide in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. “The actions of the Russian air force, in response to the request of the Syrian leadership, have really helped to turn around the situation in the country, helped towards reducing the territory controlled by terrorists,” Lavrov said at his annual press conference. No one has ever supplied proof that Russian air strikes in Syria caused civilian deaths or struck the wrong militant groups, Lavrov said. He said the Russian military went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Syria. Lavrov also said Moscow did not ask Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, nor did it offer him political asylum. [AFP, 1/26/2016]

Kurds accuse Syria pro-regime militia of bombings
Syria’s Kurds on Monday accused a pro-regime militia of being behind two deadly bomb blasts that killed nearly 20 people in the city of Qamishli in recent weeks. A month of clashes erupted between Syrian Kurdish forces and pro-government fighters in the city in northeast Syria, where control is shared between the Kurds and the regime. Abdullah Saadun, spokesperson for the Kurdish Asayish security forces, said members of the National Defense Forces (NDF) were behind blasts on December 31 and January 25, even though ISIS claimed both attacks. “Based on our sources and evidence, and our investigations, we have confirmed that a faction within the NDF was behind the recent bombings,” Saadun said. Saadun declined to elaborate on what evidence pointed to NDF involvement, but said the explosions were intended to “undermine security and create sedition.” [AFP, 1/26/2016]

Russia, Turkey dispute over PYD inclusion at peace talks
Russia on Tuesday argued strongly against Turkey’s demand to keep the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) out of Syria’s peace talks, and said it expects the UN envoy to resist “blackmail” by Turkey and others. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasized that the PYD plays an important role in fighting ISIS and is an essential part of a political settlement in Syria. However, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said there is no difference for Turkey between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its representative groups in Syria, and that their previous cooperation with the regime does not make them a representative force for the Kurds. Lavrov said, however, that Russia would not “veto” the talks if the Kurds were not invited and that it was up to the UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura to decide which opposition groups would be asked to attend. [AP, Hurriyet, Daily Sabah, 1/26/2016]  

Search for US workers kidnapped in Baghdad focuses on Sadr City
The search for three US contractors kidnapped in Baghdad earlier this month is focusing on Sadr City, a sprawling neighborhood in the north of the capital, Iraqi officials have said. According to two intelligence officials, the men had gone to their translator’s house in a residential complex known as the Saha apartments in the southern suburb of Dora. The men’s sudden disappearance and subsequent difficulty in tracing them fits a pattern of hostage taking in Baghdad and southern Iraq over the past nine years. The most recent was the kidnapping of 16 Turkish construction workers last September. [The Guardian, 1/24/2016]

United States to send 101st Airborne Division to Iraq
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that the United States would send the 101st Airborne Division to Iraq in order to join the Iraqi forces in its war against ISIS. In addition to his speech on January 13 at Fort Campbell, Carter also wrote, “Our campaign to deliver ISIS a lasting defeat, at its source and wherever it rears its head, is far from over; but the outcome is clear. We will continue to adapt and build on our success, as ISIS’s territory decreases, its resources dwindle, and local, capable forces gain the capacity both to win the field of battle and to lay the foundation for lasting security in the region.” The 101st Airborne Division is also known as ‘the Screaming Eagles’ and it is armed with 300 helicopters, including three battalions of Apache attack helicopters. [Iraqi News, 1/25/2016]

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


Yemeni PM returns to Aden to reestablish government
Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet returned on Monday to the southern port city of Aden, months after he was targeted in a suicide bombing that forced him to leave the country. Bahah’s return is aimed at establishing a permanent government presence in Aden, officials in his office said. [AP, 1/25/2016]

Yemeni government faces international pressure to make concessions in Geneva II
Youth and Sports Minister Nayef al-Bakri said on Tuesday that the Yemeni government is facing pressure from a number of countries to make concessions in Geneva II, including the cessation of military operations against the Houthis and forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Bakri said that the Yemeni government has received proposals from a number of countries concerning truces and ceasefires, but that the government has refused all proposals not in line with Resolution 2216. He added that the Yemeni government would not agree to any draft that did not reference the Saudi-led coalition. [Al Masdar, 1/26/2016]

Saudi FM says no plans for Iran mediation
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has denied the existence of any Pakistani mediation between his country and Iran. The minister told the media on the sidelines of the first ministerial session of the Arab-India Cooperation Forum that some countries had offered to mediate and communicate ideas between Riyadh and Tehran, stressing that Iran knows what is required from it and that there will not be mediation unless Iran responds positively. He added that for over 35 years, Iran has adopted a hostile approach toward Arab countries by meddling in their internal affairs, sowing sectarian strife and backing terrorism as confirmed by reliable evidence. [Saudi Gazette, 1/25/2016]

Emirati on trial was self-proclaimed local ISIS ’emir’
An Emirati man accused of seeking to carry out attacks on targets including Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 circuit claimed to be the local leader of ISIS, local media reported Tuesday. A witness during his trial told the court that the man “appointed himself as the emir” of the group. He was married to Alaa Bader al-Hashemi, an Emirati woman executed in July for the extremist-inspired murder of US school teacher Ibolya Ryan in the restroom of an Abu Dhabi shopping mall in December 2014. The witness added that the couple had performed a “symbolic ceremony to pledge allegiance” to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. [AFP, 1/26/2016]

Kuwaiti court overturns conviction of ruling family member
An appeals court has overturned a suspended prison sentence against Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family and a power broker in international sport, local media reported Tuesday. A court last month convicted Sheikh Ahmad of disrespect to the public prosecutor and attributing a remark to the country’s ruler without special permission from the emir’s court. It gave him a six-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 1,000 dinars ($3,300). The Gulf Arab state’s constitution describes Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah as “immune and inviolable.” Quoting him without permission is punishable under Kuwaiti law. [Reuters, 1/26/2016]


Egypt raises cap on forex deposits for imports of essential goods
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) said Tuesday it would raise its cap on foreign currency deposits to $250,000 a month for imports of food, capital machinery, manufacturing components, and medicines. Last February, the CBE imposed capital controls and limited dollar-denominated deposits to $50,000 a month to crack down on the black market exchange. However, the move meant many importers could no longer get enough foreign currency to pay for foreign goods, which piled up at ports. The CBE said in a statement that the $50,000 a month cap would remain in place for ordinary deposits not used for imports of the list of “essential goods.” [Reuters, 1/26/2016]

Saudi Arabia presents plan to move beyond oil
Saudi Arabia outlined ambitious plans on Monday to move into industries including information technology, healthcare, and tourism, as the country seeks to convince international investors it can cope in an era of cheap oil. During a conference in Riyadh, top Saudi officials said they would reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and public sector employment. Growth and job creation would shift to the private sector, with state spending helping to jumpstart industries in the initial stage. “It’s going to switch from simple quantitative growth based on commodity exports to qualitative growth that is evenly distributed” across the economy, said Aramco Chairman Khalid al-Falih. Under the reforms, parts of the national health care system would be converted into independent commercial companies, officials said. Some participants in the conference expressed doubt about the scale of the planned change. However, they noted that strong political momentum has built up behind the reform plans. [Reuters, 1/25/2016]

European Parliament supports emergency plan to import Tunisian olive oil
The European Parliament’s (EP) Trade Committee on Monday backed a two-year emergency measure to import 70,000 tonnes of olive oil from Tunisia duty free to help the country’s struggling economy. “At a time when Tunisia is facing very serious problems, our vote gives the right signal: that the EU stands alongside Tunisians and that we intend to exercise solidarity in a tangible way,” French EP Member Marielle de Sarnez said. To meet the concerns of the EU olive oil producers, the committee inserted an amendment that allows the measure to be reviewed and corrected midway, should it harm the EU economy. “I know that for colleagues from some countries, the question of olive oil is a sensitive one. I want to reassure them that the amendment we adopted provides that, if after a year we realize that there is indeed a problem, the Commission may then take steps to rectify the imbalance,” de Sarnez said. [European Parliament, 1/25/2016]

Turkish central bank to tell government that collective effort needed against inflation
Turkey’s central bank will tell the government in a letter that a collective effort is needed to lower inflation, Central Bank Governor Erdem Başçı said Tuesday as he announced the bank’s quarterly inflation report. The bank increased its inflation forecast rate by from 6.5 to 7.5 percent for 2016. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek has said battling inflation will be this year’s main challenge. But a sharp rise in the minimum wage, hikes in electricity prices and taxes, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s preference for low rates to boost growth are all obstacles. Başçı also said he was happy with the relatively flat yield curve under the central bank’s current policy framework. Commercial loans were growing faster than consumer loans, he said, which would help price stability. [Reuters, 1/26/2016]