Top News: Obama Administration’s Backing of Saudi-Led Coalition May Violate US Law

In response to increasing air strikes committed by the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, has said that the US-backing of the coalition may potentially violate US law. Senator Leahy said, “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has received too little attention, and it directly, or indirectly, implicates us,” as it goes against legislation he authored barring the United States from providing security assistance to countries responsible for gross human rights abuses. He added, “The reports of civilian casualties from Saudi air attacks in densely populated areas compel us to ask if these operations, supported by the United States, violate [US law].” Members of Congress also sent a letter to President Barack Obama on October 14, voicing similar concerns. Other countries have also faced criticism for selling arms to Saudi Arabia that have similarly been used in attacks on civilians. Senator Leahy’s complaints coincide with the reports that the United States has finalized a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, selling them nine UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. [Foreign PolicyReutersThe Guardian, 10/16/2015]



Egypt wins nonpermanent UN Security Council seat
Egypt secured a nonpermanent UN Security Council seat for the fifth time on Thursday with 179 out of 193 votes. Following the announcement, Spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Ahmed Abu Zeid said on Twitter that Egypt would work to defend and support African and Arab priorities at the Security Council. “Through UNSC membership, Egypt will strive to support and promote peace and security across the globe and uphold the principles of the UN charter,” Abu Zeid added. Egypt ran for the North Africa seat unopposed and now represents Africa along with Senegal. A statement from Egypt’s presidency said that its election to the UN Security Council reflects international trust in Cairo to play a vital role during a critical time in history. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry echoed the statement, saying that it reflected the trust in Egypt after the June 30 revolution. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Cairo Post, 10/15/2015]

Egypt to resume production of tanks after US agreement
Minister of State for Military Production Mohamed al-Assar met Thursday with US Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft and Vice Chairman of General Dynamics, Donald Schenk, where they agreed to provide the necessary components to resume the production of tank’s in Egypt. Egypt and the United States had discussed the possibility of increasing cooperation between the two nations, to boost the volume of domestic manufacturing and exchange expertise on the development of military and heavy industry. Located in Helwan, the Egyptian Tank Plant Military Factory manufactures the M1A1 military tanks, an official in the Ministry of Military Production said. Production had recently been halted due to the unavailability of crucial components required for manufacturing. Also during the meeting, Ambassador Beecroft reiterated US support for Egypt’s fight against terrorism. [Aswat Masriya, AMAY, SIS, Cairo Post, 10/15/2015]

Three abducted in ISIS attack on Egypt’s Sinai checkpoint
Militants kidnapped three pro-government tribal fighters manning a checkpoint in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Thursday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the militants. Two fighters from a tribal militia at the checkpoint were also wounded in the attack in the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid, security officials and medics said. Sinai State, Egypt’s affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed the attack on a Twitter account, saying a number of tribal fighters were killed. Its claim could not be independently verified. [AFP, 10/15/2015]

Dispute inside NCHR over Sinai mission
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) is currently in an internal dispute involving its Sinai office. An NCHR mission dispatched to the peninsula without the knowledge of the Sinai unit, headed by Salah Salam, caught it off guard. Salam had already sent a fact-finding mission to inspect human rights violations in January, after which a statement was issued with recommendations. The recommendations have yet to be implemented. While an informed source has said that the second mission aimed to follow up on the implementation of these recommendations, Salam says he was not informed about the recent visit and was surprised to receive a phone call from the North Sinai governor inquiring about the NCHR mission. Salam said he was not aware of the objectives of the dispatched mission. “We issued a report with a number of important observations and recommendations to prevent the aggravation of the crisis, as the situation was not good,” Salam said. “We spotted the displacement of more than 1,800 families. The number has currently doubled,” he added. [AMAY, 10/16/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Missile attack in Benghazi kills civilians
Benghazi saw intensive rocket fire last night as Libyan National Army (LNA) and linked forces continued to try to dislodge militants. In one incident, two people were killed and four injured when a randomly fired missile hit an apartment block in the city’s Kish district. There are also unconfirmed reports that two LNA soldiers were killed and five injured in separate fighting with militants elsewhere in the city. It is not known who fired the Kish rocket. The LNA has said that it will continue its operations against the militants regardless of whether the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue deal is approved by the House of Representatives and the General National Congress. [Libya Herald, 10/16/2015]

Tripoli confirms new Lockerbie suspects include Qaddafi spy chief
Scottish and US investigators said on Thursday they had identified two new Libyan suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing almost 27 years ago. The two suspects are Abdullah al-Senussi, the former spy chief of ousted leader Muammar Qaddafi, and Mohammed Abu Ejaila, according to the spokesman for the government in Tripoli. No details were immediately available on the second suspect in the airline bombing that killed 270 people. Diplomats, including the British ambassador to Libya, said that putting the alleged perpetrators on trial remains a distant prospect. They think the Libyan authorities are unlikely to hand over al-Senussi, who is currently imprisoned for his role in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising against Qaddafi. [Reuters, AP, 10/16/2015]

Maintaining power stations quickest means of increasing electricity supply in Libya
Maintaining existing power stations that are either incomplete or not working to full capacity is the most practical way to solve the current acute electricity supply crises in Libya, former Deputy Prime Minister and Electricity Minister Awad Barasi said at the Libyan Experts Forum in Tunis earlier this week. Barasi, who has now left Libyan politics and works as chairman of the Libyan Organization of Policies and Strategies, added that the completion of units such as the Gulf Power station near Sirte would be the most logical next step in a short timeframe. His short technical presentation and comments came as part of the attempt to identify practical policies that the forthcoming Libyan Government of National Accord could implement to achieve “quick wins.” [Libya Herald, 10/15/2015]

Media freedom study condemns Libya’s repressive legal framework
In a new report, the London-based Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) has lambasted Libya for a legal system that is ambiguous in its treatment of abuses against the media. The report claims that the country “has failed to abolish laws that… restrict freedom of expression and media freedom.” The report went on to say that even laws currently not actively enforced but remain on the books risk arbitrary use in the future to restrict media freedom. The report added that the right to the media freedom enshrined in the 2011 Constitutional Declaration had not yet been put into practice. The study holds the post-2011 governments responsible for giving in to religious entities by prohibiting “media discussion of religious opinions (fatwas).” [Libya Herald, 10/16/2015]

One Moroccan in three is illiterate, report says
The sixth general census in Morocco has revealed that 8.5 million people are illiterate. Almost 32 percent of the population above ten years of age cannot read and write, according to a report drafted by the High Commissioner for the Project of Statistical Studies on the Population (HCP). The study also noted that illiteracy has decreased only 18.7 percent in ten years. Unfortunately, while the government, religious institutions, and NGOs have all increased their efforts in recent years, the youth who drop out of school fuel the large rate observed. Illiteracy is higher in rural rather than urban areas. In 2014, almost half of the rural population (47.7 percent) was illiterate against 22.2 percent in cities. The gender gap is also high: over 60 percent of women living in the country is illiterate against 35.2 percent of men. In the urban context, the ratio is 30.5 percent to 13 percent. [ANSAmed, 10/16/2015]


More than 250,000 people killed in Syrian war
More than a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it began over four years ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Friday. SOHR has documented the deaths of 250,124 people, including at least 74,426 civilians. The civilian toll includes 12,517 children and 8,062 women. It puts the toll for rebel fighters at 43,752, and the number of foreign militants killed at 37,010. At least 91,678 pro-government forces, among them 52,077 regime soldiers and other allied Syrian and non-Syrian fighters including 971 Hezbollah fighters have also been killed. SOHR also documented the deaths of 3,258 people who have no identification. Its toll does not include some 30,000 people missing in Syria, among them 20,000 held in Syrian jails. [AFP, 10/16/2015]

US ready to drop weapons to Syrian rebels
The US military is ready to increase its weapons supply to rebels fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), a US official said, days after an initial air drop of ammunition. “There will be more deliveries but only if they can demonstrate that they have used it in an effective way against ISIL,” the official said. “As they demonstrate results, the packages will get heavier and US strikes will occur in places that are advantageous to their operations.” The official described the rebel-arming program as “performance-based…We’ve left the door open to more things to include some weaponry,” he added. “If they fail … if the things fall into the wrong hands, then those particular groups will be cut off.” US-led coalition forces on Sunday parachuted 50 tons of small-arms ammunition and rockets to rebels fighting ISIS. [AFP, 10/16/2015]

Russian warplanes accidentally bomb regime forces in Homs
Russian airstrikes north of Homs have mistakenly hit regime forces conducting a major offensive against rebels, according to activists. Ahmad al-Daik said the mistakenly bombed sites include the “Aatoun checkpoint, the Mulouk base, [and] the Military College in Al-Waer…” The media activist claimed that the strikes caused regime fatalities, but added that the precise figure remains unknown “as all of the areas are military [zones] under [regime] control.” Pro-rebel Al-Souria Net went into details on the purported Russian air strikes on Syrian regime positions, reporting that the bombing of the Mulouk checkpoint “caused the death of two colonels and six privates.” [NOW, The Syrian Observer, 10/16/2015]

Turkey shoots down drone at border with Syria
According to the Turkish military, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that violated Turkey’s airspace at the border with Syria on Friday. The aircraft was shot down after it ignored three warnings for it to leave. It was not clear to which country the drone belonged. It crashed inside Turkey’s borders. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said that all Russian jets have safely returned to their base and all Russian drones “are functioning normally.” Since 2013, Turkey has shot down a Syrian military jet, a helicopter, and an unmanned surveillance drone that strayed into Turkish airspace. The incidents occurred after it changed its rules of engagement following the downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria. [AP, 10/16/2015]

EU tries for new Turkey strategy to stem refugee flow
European Union (EU) leaders met in Brussels Friday morning to agree to give “political support” for an action plan for Turkey to help it manage its refugee emergency, including easier access to EU visas and sped-up EU membership talks. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan derided Europe for not taking in more refugees, and accused the EU of being insincere about Turkey’s membership. The EU plan to give new aid and concessions to Turkey in exchange for stemming the unprecedented flow of people across borders could involve as much as 3 billion euros in aid. Discussions in Ankara will continue in coming days. French President Francois Hollande said he “insisted that if there is a liberalization of visas with Turkey … it should be on extremely specific, controlled terms.” The plan would see Turkey improve its asylum and documentation procedures and beef up border security. [AP, 10/16/2015]

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


UN envoy arrives to discuss Yemen crisis with President Hadi
A senior government source said the UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Friday, to discuss the resumption of negotiations to resolve the Yemeni crisis. Reportedly Mr. Ould Cheikh” will meet in the coming hours with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his deputy, Khaled Bahah, to determine the new round of negotiations with the rebels about UN resolution 2216. This meeting follows an announcement made UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson that he hoped UN-backed peace talks to end the conflict in Yemen could start by the end of October. [Sahafah (Arabic), Reuters, 10/16/2015]

Suicide bombing and gun battle kills twelve in Yemen
A suspected al-Qaeda suicide bombing, accompanied by an attack with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, killed ten soldiers guarding an intelligence building in the western Yemeni city of Hodaida on Friday, security sources said. The sources said two of the assailants were also killed. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have both gained ground in Yemen, where the war between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels has continued for the past seven months. The militant Islamist groups view the Shia Houthi movement, which controls Hodaida and much of Yemen’s north, as apostates deserving death. However, ISIS has also hit out against the Arab military alliance supporting Yemen’s embattled government. On October 6, ISIS claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Yemen’s two largest cities on Tuesday that killed at least twenty-five people. [Reuters, NYT, 10/16/2015]

UAE might seek right to enrich uranium
The United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba reportedly informed Republican Ed Royce that the UAE no longer felt bound by its previous nuclear agreement with the United States. Senator Royce said, “He told me, ‘Your worst enemy (Iran) has achieved this right to enrich. It is a right to enrich now that your friends are going to want, too, and we won’t be the only country.’” In a 2009 pact with the UAE, the United States agreed to share materials, technology, and equipment for producing nuclear energy. In the accord, known as a 123 Agreement, the UAE made a clear pledge not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel to extract plutonium, two pathways to an atomic weapon. However, in response, the UAE embassy in Washington said the “government has not formally changed its views or perspective on the 123 Agreement or commitments.” [Al Jazeera, 10/16/2015]


Egypt’s parliamentary campaigns lack concrete economic policy
Few if any political parties or coalitions running in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday, have provided a clear economic platform. Forty percent of the members of front runner For the Love of Egypt (FLE) list belong to liberal parties that support a free market economy. According to one candidate on the list, FLE is averse to an economic policy with “socialist leanings.” The Nour Party said in its campaign flyers that the party has a comprehensive developmental program that will ensure that state revenues will return to the treasury and improve the living conditions of the poor and middle classes. A leading figure on the Egypt Call list said that because he knows the list will not win a majority enabling it to form a government, it has decided not to offer an integrated economic vision. However, he did say, “[List members] have ideas for boosting the economy, removing obstacles facing investors, fighting corruption, and collecting taxes efficiently.” [Aswat Masriya, 10/16/2015]

Egypt negotiates with IMF over $5.5 billion loan for budget support
Egypt is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $5.5 billion loan to support the state budget, International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr said on Thursday. Egypt has embarked on a fiscal reform program in the hopes of reducing the budget’s widening financing gap. The IMF estimates the country’s financing gap at $20 billion over the next two years, IMF Director for the Middle East and North Africa Masood Ahmed said during annual meetings in Peru last week. [Ahram Online, 10/15/2015]

Tunisia sees growth at 2.5 percent in 2016
Tunisia’s economic growth is seen at 2.5 percent for 2016 versus an expected growth rate of 0.5 percent in 2015, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said on Friday. Chaker told reporters the country’s deficit was expected to narrow to 3.9 percent next year compared with an estimated 4.4 percent of gross domestic product this year. Chaker also said Tunisia needs 3 billion dinars in external financing for 2016 and expects to launch a delayed sukuk Islamic financing bond next year for 1 billion dinars. He said Tunisia expects inflation to slow to 4 percent next year from an expected 4.5 percent in 2015. Finally, Chaker announced announced that Tunisia will start a new system of automatic adjustments to petrol prices next year as an initial step to easing fuel subsidies. Tunisia is under pressure from international lenders to cut back on heavy public spending and subsidies as a way to ease its deficit. [Reuters, 10/16/2015]

Saudi Arabia launches committee to tackle unemployment
Saudi Arabia’s cabinet has approved the establishment of a Commission for Job Generation and Anti-Unemployment, in a bid to combat rising unemployment among young people. The commission was announced during a cabinet session this week chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. “This is a good measure given that this will allow for a very comprehensive review from the very top level, and allow for necessary measures from the broader perspective on job creation,” Saudi-based Director of the Ashmore Group John Sfakianakis said. Sfakianakis added that the government needs to signal to Saudis that it “won’t be the first or last” in terms of employing its citizens in government and ministerial jobs. [Al Arabiya, 10/15/2015]