Top News: Obama Invites New Tunisian President to Washington

President Barack Obama called newly elected Tunisian President Béji Caïd Essebsi to congratulate him and invite him to visit Washington, DC and the White House. Obama also applauded the “spirit of peaceful compromise” Tunisia displayed during its transition. He emphasized America’s intent to continue “strengthening and expanding our strategic partnership with Tunisia” and “to assist the incoming government as it works to meet all Tunisians’ aspirations for security and economic opportunity.” [Al Arabiya/AFP, White House, 1/6/2015]



Two policemen killed in Minya church attack
Unknown assailants killed two policemen on Tuesday during an attack on a church in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya. Unidentified gunmen shot the officers while they were guarding the Church of the Virgin Mary a day before Egypt’s Coptic Christmas. A state of emergency was declared in the city as security forces are investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the two policemen. Dozens of policemen gathered in the vicinity of the Minya University Hospital, protesting the attack. Meanwhile, at least one policeman was killed in an explosion Tuesday near a police station in Haram, Giza. Hany Fatouh, who was an explosives expert, was killed after attempting to dismantle a bomb near Talbeya police station in a densely-populated working class area. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, Reuters, AP, 1/6/2015]

Popular Current will not run in parliamentary elections

The Popular Current announced Monday that it will not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The party said in a statement that the electoral law issued by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi late December “allows for the return of figures from the toppled regime of Hosni Mubarak and Muslim Brotherhood followers to the political scene.” The party blamed the government for ignoring their calls to amend the law and announced it does not believe the current political climate allows real competition and neither promotes the holding of fair elections nor proper communication between political entities and people. The party also cited “restrictions” on political activities due to security apparatuses’ recent practices and the protest law as further reasons behind the boycott. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, 1/6/2015]

Foreign ministry denies Egyptians kidnapped in Libya are free

The Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdelatty denied Tuesday morning that there are “developments” in the situation of kidnapped Egyptians in Libya.  “I have no confirmed information about their situation,” Abdelatty said. A tribal leader in the Libyan city of Sirte, Moftah Marzouk, had announced the release of the thirteen kidnapped Coptic Egyptians, according to Libyan news portal Al-Wasat. Marzouk, however, denied that the Egyptian nationals were kidnapped, and said they were detained by a trafficker over a money related dispute as they headed to Harawa village, east of Sirte. [DNE, 1/6/2015]

Two police officers detained for shooting dead brothers at Suez checkpoint

Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered the detention of two police officers who shot dead ‎two brothers after refusing to stop at a security checkpoint in Suez on Monday.‎ Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat ordered the officers’ detention for four days ‎pending investigation.‎ The officers told the prosecution that the shooting was not intentional. Suez Security Director Tarek al-Gazzar said Monday that the two ‎killed men were driving an unlicensed motorbike, which aroused suspicion among ‎security forces at the checkpoint. The men sped away when an officer asked them to ‎stop, Gazzar said, prompting the officer to fire at them.‎ [Aswat Masriya, 1/5/2015]


Tobruk government bars Palestinian, Sudanese, and Syrian nationals
The interior ministry of the internationally recognized Tobruk government has banned Palestinians, Sudanese, and Syrians from entering Libya “until further notice,” claiming it had information that some nationals were taking part in “terrorist activities” against army and police personnel in Benghazi and western Libyan towns. With the rival Tripoli authorities not having imposed a similar ban, it appears that the restrictions will only be applied to the air, sea, and land borders controlled by Tobruk. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/6/2015]

Libya appeals for weapons to battle militias
The Tobruk government appealed for weapons to combat militias at an emergency meeting of the Arab League on Monday. Libya’s representative to the Cairo-based entity called on the international community “to assume its legal and moral responsibilities and to arm, without further delay, the Libyan army,” emphasizing the need to “prevent [militias] from further expanding their influence across Libya.” In a statement at the conclusion of its meeting, the Arab League condemned “all attacks on institutions and economic installations” in Libya, notably the vital oil sector. [AFP, 1/5/2015]

Derna radicals seek help from ISIS
Feeling pressure from Libyan troops and in conflict with other local Islamists, an extremist militia in Derna recently sent a distress call to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) requesting help. The group was already in the crosshairs of Operation Dignity, but clashes have also erupted with Ansar al-Sharia ally Derna Revolutionary Shura Council, which refuses to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. The embattled Derna fighters have called on ISIS to provide money and fighters from Syria in response to instructions to turn Libya into a center for recruiting jihadists from Maghreb countries. According to the letter, Maghreb jihadists, particularly Tunisians, are eager to join ISIS in Libya. [Magharebia, 1/5/2015]

Tunisia jails blogger over Facebook posts
Human Rights Watch has condemned the arrest and jailing of France-based Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari for Facebook posts allegedly defaming the military. Ayari was convicted in absentia by a military court on November 18 and sentenced to a three-year imprisonment for “defaming the army” and “insulting military high command,” about which he was notified upon his arrest at Carthage airport in December. According to international law, civilians cannot be tried before a military court, yet Article 91 of Tunisia’s military code allows for three year imprisonment for anyone who “commits… offenses against the dignity, reputation, or morale of the army… or criticizes the action of military hierarchy or the military officers, offending their dignity.” [Al Jazeera, HRW, 1/6/2015]

Meeting to discuss draft law on creation of national council of social dialogue
A working group tasked with crafting a draft law for Tunisia’s national council of social dialogue met in Tunis on Monday. The tripartite group was chaired by Minister of Social Affairs Ahmed Ammar Younbai. The minister reaffirmed the group’s commitment to enacting the social contract signed one year ago. The national council of social dialogue seeks to ensure sustainability, periodicity, and comprehensiveness of the social dialogue in Tunisia. [All Africa/TAP, 1/5/2015]


Kurds recapture 80 percent of Kobani
Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) battling Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in Kobani, backed by international airstrikes, have gradually recaptured territory in Kobani and now control 80 percent of the town. At least fourteen ISIS members were killed in the fighting, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday. ISIS attacked Kobani in mid-September and quickly overran much of the town as well as many surrounding villages. Since then, Kurdish fighters have managed to recapture territory in the town, which lies on the border to Turkey, in fighting that has cost hundreds of lives on both sides. [BBC, BBC Arabic, SOHR, The Daily Star, 1/6/2015]

Suicide bombings, clashes kill twenty-three in Iraq’s Anbar
At least twenty-three Iraqi troops and pro-government fighters have been killed in clashes with militants in the western province of Anbar. The suicide bombers attacked a mosque in the Al-Jubba area of Anbar where anti-jihadist fighters were resting, killing ten, resulting in clashes that left a further thirteen security personnel dead and twenty-one wounded. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. However, they come as Iraqi forces battle fighters from ISIS, which has seized large swathes of western Iraq. In other events, ISIS says it has killed eight men in northern Iraq’s Salahuddin province for cooperating with the government. [Naharnet, BBC, 1/6/2015]

Old diseases return as Syrian doctors warn of medical disaster
Syria is facing a “medical and humanitarian disaster” after nearly four years of war, leading to a return of eradicated diseases. A lack of doctors, supplies, and drugs have set health care services back decades, with polio and scabies on the rise as many children are no longer vaccinated because the majority of births take place at home. A Red Crescent volunteer told Al-Monitor that the International Committee of the Red Cross continues to face difficulties importing medical supplies due to insecurity and government regulation. The Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations condemned the international “silence” on the daily suffering of Syrians. [The Daily Star, 1/6/2015]

Iraq PM calls for tribal revolution against ISIS
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called Monday for a “tribal revolution” against ISIS, in a sign of the importance Baghdad places on tribal resistance against the militants. The support of Iraq’s powerful Sunni tribes is seen as essential to defeating ISIS, and tribal fighters—who are now being trained by Baghdad—have played a key role in keeping the militants from gaining further ground in Anbar. On Tuesday, in remarks broadcast on the anniversary of the founding of Iraq’s army, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obaidi addressed the weaknesses of the army including poor leadership and training that led to Baghdad’s forces being swept aside by militants. [Al Arabiya English, Naharnet, Asharq al-Awsat, 1/6/2015]

New Syria opposition head rules out Moscow talks
The newly elected head of Syria’s opposition-in-exile National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, ruled out participating in a Russian-led bid for new talks to end the Syrian conflict. “We can’t sit at the same table as the regime… except in a negotiating framework intended to achieve a peaceful transition of power and the formation of a transitional body with full powers.” It remains unclear whether the opposition coalition will forbid its members from attending the talks in Moscow. In a separate development, several opposition groups are expected to meet in Cairo this month to form a unified front, although a timetable and list of participants has not been made public. [The Daily Star, Asharq al-Awsat, 1/6/2015]


Hadi advisers discuss security situation with Houthi leader

Yemen’s embattled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi sent a delegation of advisers to meet with Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi in Saada province on Tuesday to discuss the deteriorating security situation in the country and to negotiate issues pertaining to the Peace and National Partnership Agreement (PNPA) that was signed last September. According to SABA, they agreed to engage in direct dialogue to resolve any differences relating to the PNPA. [Asharq Al Awsat, SABA, 1/6/2015]

Gunmen loot millions of riyals in South Yemen
Two armed men on a motorcycle robbed public servants of millions of Yemeni riyals on Sunday in the southeastern province of Hadramout. The attack is the fourth targeting government banks in southern Yemen in less than a week.  In Hadramout’s Ghail Bawazer district, residents reported that thieves intercepted a car belonging to the district’s government-run electricity company and stole three and a half million riyals ($16,000) as the money was being moved to a local post office. Residents said the armed men exchanged fire with the guards before fleeing with the money. [Gulf News, Al Masdar (Arabic), 1/6/2015]

Military equipment seized in Marib
Tribesmen in the Marib government are currently in negotiations with the ministry of defense to return a stockpile of weapons and military vehicles seized Friday morning from a government battalion returning to its base in the Arhab district north of Sana’a. The disgruntled tribesmen attacked the government convoy, as it passed through a valley in the Marib area. According to tribal sources, the tribesmen confiscated the equipment to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Houthis.  [Yemen Times, 1/6/2015]

Fugitives behind oil pipeline attacks arrested
Fugitive brothers Hammad and Mohammad Kalfout were arrested in Sana’a on Saturday.  Security forces in Hadda arrested the brothers on Saturday night after they were stopped at a checkpoint.  The brothers were wanted for sabotaging a number of oil pipelines and transmission towers in Marib government, in addition to stealing equipment used to build such facilities and holding the stolen goods for ransom.  [Yemen Times, 1/6/2015]


Egypt’s foreign reserves fall to $15.33 billion
According to the Egyptian Central Bank, Egypt’s foreign currency reserves fell to $15.33 billion at the end of December from $15.88 billion the previous month. Foreign reserves fell sharply after the 2011 uprising but had risen again with the inflow of billions of dollars of aid from the Gulf countries. In November, Egypt repaid to Qatar a $2.5 billion central bank deposit received under former president Mohamed Morsi, which according to some traders could have a negative impact on reserve levels. [Reuters, 1/6/2015]

Libya: Higher inflation in third quarter
The most recently published figures from the Central Bank of Libya show that the country’s Consumer Price Index increased more strongly in August and September last year. Annual inflation rose from 0.8 percent in July to 3 percent in August and 2.4 percent in September, the most recent month for which data is available. Earlier in 2014 inflation had been negative, dipping to -0.9 percent in March and April. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/6/2015]

Jordanian house panel needs two weeks to finish budget bill review
The parliamentary Finance and Economic Committee needs at least two more weeks to complete a review of the 2015 draft state budget law. The government sent the law to the Lower House on November 24. According to the head of the panel there is no provision in the constitution or in the Lower House’s rules of procedures obliging the committee to abide by a fixed time to finish budget laws. A major dispute in the committee reportedly focuses on the $100 the government used as the base price for oil in the budget. [The Jordan Times, 1/6/2015]