Top News: Prominent Egyptian Activists Sentenced to Three Years in Jail

Three leading figures of Egypt’s 2011 uprising were jailed for three years each on Sunday for their role in recent protests, as the army-backed authorities intensified a crackdown on dissent. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel are symbols of the protest movement that ignited the revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. They were each handed a three year sentence with hard labor and obliged to pay an EGP 50,000 ($7,200) fine. The defendants will also be under surveillance for three years after their release. The verdict was the first under a law passed by the army-backed government in November that requires police permission for demonstrations. The European Union urged Egypt to reconsider the jail sentences, while the April 6 Movement announced Sunday that it will drop its support for Egypt’s transitional roadmap, put into effect following the ouster 3 July of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, due to the verdict. [Ahram OnlineReutersEgypt IndependentAswat MasriyaDNE, 12/23/2013]


Mansour hints Sisi ‘hasn’t decided yet’ whether to run for presidency
Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour hinted Sunday that the country’s army chief, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is still deciding whether or not to run for the presidency amid the soaring popularity of the general following Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Mansour, in a meeting Sunday with dozens of political figures in Cairo to discuss the post-Morsi roadmap, urged attendees not to focus their efforts on “one certain person” whom they want to see as president, because “this person has not yet made his decision and he might eventually decide not to run.” Meanwhile, former presidential candidate and Popular Current founder Hamdeen Sabbahi denied claims circulating on news websites that he would support Sisi for president, announcing his intention to run. However, head of Egypt’s constitutional drafting committee, Amr Moussa, said that he is not willing to run in upcoming presidential elections, expressing his support for Sisi if he runs. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 12/22/2013]

More charges brought against former president Mohamed Morsi
Egypt’s deposed Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and 129 others including members of Hamas and Hezbollah, were referred to trial on Saturday on murder and other charges related to a mass jail break during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. These are the third set of charges brought against Morsi. Apart from kidnapping and holding police officers hostage, using heavy artillery, and sabotaging governmental premises, the defendants are also charged with stealing poultry and cattle from jail facilities. Meanwhile, a Misdemeanor court recused itself from considering a lawsuit on Monday accusing Morsi of adopting an “illusionary” platform as a candidate in the 2012 presidential elections.  [Reuters, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 12/23/2013]

Egypt says to complete $1.5 billion payment to oil firms this week
Egypt will complete payment this week of $1.5 billion of the $6.3 billion it says it owes oil firms, a state executive said on Monday, in line with a plan aimed at restoring confidence in an economy hit by nearly three years of political turmoil. “Today we are reimbursing $1 billion to the foreign partners and the rest during this week,” the chairman of state-run Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation, Tarek al-Molla, told Reuters by telephone. Molla said $1.2 billion of the initial tranche is being paid in US dollars and the remaining $300 million in Egyptian pounds, as officials had indicated. [Reuters, 12/23/2013]


Suicide bomber kills seven outside Libya’s Benghazi
Thirteen soldiers were killed at a military checkpoint outside Benghazi on Sunday in the first suicide bomb attack in Libya since the 2011 revolution. Car bombs and assassinations of security personnel are common in Benghazi, but the suicide bombing marks a shift in tactics. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Ansar al-Sharia fought last month with soldiers who drove Islamists from Benghazi. Most countries have closed their consulates in the eastern city, and western diplomats worry that the violence there will spill over to the capital Tripoli. Libya is holding three days of mourning for the soldiers who died in the attack, and Prime Minister Ali Zidan renewed his government’s commitment to stand against such acts. [Reuters, 12/22/2013]

Cyrenaica tribal elders reaffirm support for Jadhran, promise to export oil
Tribal chiefs and supporters of federalism have warned the government, legislature, and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room that any action or threat of action against the region or those who were “protecting” its ports and oil fields would be considered an assault on the people of Cyrenaica as a whole. They also insisted that Cyrenaica would export oil independently of the National Oil Corporation. Last week, the oil and energy committee of the General National Congress gave the government a week to reopen the oil terminals, saying that otherwise it would advise the legislature to authorize the use of force. [Libya Herald, 12/22/2013]

Internet returns to Libya’s west, south after disruptions
Internet service returned to Libya’s western and southern regions on Sunday following statements from officials a day earlier saying that protesters had stormed the main headquarters of major telecommunication companies, disrupting internet service. A senior telecommunications ministry official said Saturday that dozens of demonstrators stormed the companies’ offices in Tripoli and were holding staff there hostage, disrupting the internet in the capital as well. Meanwhile, the General Electricity Company of Libya announced the Sarir power station had completely stopped production due to security concerns. [Al Arabiya/AP, 12/22/2013]

Ajdabiya tribal clashes leave one dead
A revenge attack was carried out in Ajdabiya on Tebu civilians over the weekend. Nine Tebu members were kidnapped and five homes ransacked and burned down. Braheem Younis, an oil engineer nominated for the upcoming Constitutional Committee and a citizen from the city, said that two brigades, accompanied by a massive number of Zwai tribe members, started an attack on the Tebu community in revenge for the deaths they had suffered in their failed attack on the army at the Alsarir farm project two days earlier. Younis added there are fears that the historical Tebu-Zwai conflict could escalate, saying the attackers were heavily armed and had promised a potential genocide of the Tebu in the city. [Libya Herald, 12/22/2013]


More than 300 dead in eight days of air raids on Aleppo
Syrian warplanes have injured more than 1,000 people and killed more than 300, including almost ninety children, in an eight-day bombing campaign against rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo. “From December 15 to 22, 301 people have been killed, including eighty-seven children, thirty women, and thirty rebels,” a monitoring group said Monday. Opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accuse his forces of dropping explosives-filled barrels on rebel-held areas in an effort to demoralize their supporters and turn them against the insurgents. The air raids also claimed the life of Molam Baraket, the teenage photojournalist who took pictures for Reuters. On Monday government forces widened their bombing campaign in rebel-held areas of northern Syria, striking one of the main border towns near Turkey and killing fifteen. The government has not commented on the use of the crude weapons, nor on the intensified strikes over Aleppo. But the timing suggests that Syrian President Bashar Assad could be trying to strengthen his position a month ahead of planned peace talks in Switzerland. [AFP, 12/23/2013]

International Red Cross: Half a million wounded in Syria’s war
Half a million people across war-hit Syria have been wounded, many of them lacking access to basic healthcare and treatment, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday. Millions have also been displaced inside Syria and tens of thousands detained, ICRC chief Magne Barth said in a statement. The ICRC urged again the Syrian government and the rebels to allow humanitarian assistance to reach all people affected by the thirty-three-month conflict. Barth said Syrian authorities are preventing access to rebel-held areas besieged by loyalists troops, including in Homs and Damascus provinces, despite saying more humanitarian assistance was needed. [AFP, 12/23/2013]

United States blocking Iranian role in Syria peace talks next month
Saudi Arabia will be one of the participants in the Syria peace conference planned for next month, but the United States is blocking Iran’s participation, UN officials said on Friday. The Syrian opposition is also opposed to Iran’s involvement. Thirty countries have been invited to participate in the conference, which is scheduled to start with a meeting of foreign ministers from world and regional powers on January 22 in the Swiss city of Montreux. The actual negotiations between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition representatives will begin on January 24 at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva. The Syrian opposition, one of the key players, still has not agreed who will represent it in the negotiations, said Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria. Brahimi’s comments came after a day of meetings on Friday with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Syria’s neighbors Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Along with those nations, other invitees include Algeria, Brazil, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. [AP, 12/21/2013]


Tunisia’s Islamists, opponents set handover date
Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Ennahda party and opposition parties agreed on Monday in a postponed session of the national dialogue to finish their handover to a caretaker government by January 14, the third anniversary of the fall of autocratic leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. As part of the roadmap agreement governing the national dialogue, political leaders must finish the country’s constitution, agree on an election date, and name an electoral council to oversee the vote before Ennahda steps down to make way for the new administration. Secretary-General of Nidaa Tounes Taieb Baccouche on Friday announced that three members of the National Salvation Front (Nidaa Tounes, the Popular Front, and Al-Massar) “have agreed to rejoin the national dialogue.”[Reuters, 12/23/2013]

Complementary finance law for 2013 passed
Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly adopted a complementary finance law for 2013 on Sunday, serving to rectify the initial finance law due to “the pressure of the transitory period and the world economic situation,” according to government statements. The modifications in the law include an increase in state budget, support for ailing public banks, and a recommendation for the implementation of a tax on nights stayed in tourist hotels beginning October 2014. [TAP, 12/22/2013]

EIB to fund gas exploration project in Tunisian south
The European Investment Bank (EIB) board of directors has authorized the funding of a gas exploration project in the Tunisian south costing 380 million euros (856 million Tunisian dinars), EIB Vice-President Philippe De Fontaine-Vive announced. [TAP, 12/21/2013]


Five killed in Southern Yemen riots after tribal leader killed
Tribesmen killed three Yemeni soldiers in an assault on a military post Saturday, as a second day of confrontations sparked by a tribal chief’s death paralyzed cities across the restive south. The tribesmen attacked a checkpoint to the east of the town of al-Qotn, a day after they had warned the troops to leave, a local official said. Four southern Hirak militants and two policemen were wounded in an armed clash in Ataq, capital of Shabwa province, police said. Security sources said the militants seized a rapid intervention force vehicle and police had to repel gunmen who briefly took over a telecommunications center. On Friday, a child and a southern militant were killed in the main southern city of Aden and in Mukalla, in southeast Yemen, medics and witnesses said. A week of protests has been launched over the death of local tribal chief Said Ben Habriche, who was to be buried on Saturday. [AFP/Ahram Online, 12/21/2013]

Al-Qaeda in Yemen apologizes for hospital attack
Al-Qaeda’s wing in Yemen blamed a renegade fighter for targeting medics and patients in a military hospital during its attack on the defense ministry compound in Sana’a earlier this month, rejecting such an approach. “Now we acknowledge our mistake and guilt,” Qassim al-Rimi, commander of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, said in a video released late Saturday by al-Qaeda’s media arm Al-Mallahem. “We offer our apology and condolences to the victims’ families. We accept full responsibility for what happened in the hospital and will pay blood money for the victims’ families.” However, Rimi said that, despite the group making a mistake, “we are continuing with our jihad.” Commenting on al-Qaeda’s statement, analyst Saeed Obaid al-Jumahi, told Gulf News that the statement was an attempt to justify that attack in the wake of public outrage after the TV footage. [AP/Asharq Al-Awsat, 12/22/2013]

Jamal Benomar submits new proposal to the 8+8 subcommittee
At a meeting of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC)’s 8+8 subcommittee on Saturday, UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar submitted a proposal for the future of the federal system in Yemen. He explained on his Facebook that his submission comes in response to requests from interlocutors as the parties could not reach consensus on the number of regions in a federal Yemeni state. The proposal is based on agreement on a new federal state built on basic principles and includes a mechanism to address the number of regions and boundaries. [NDC (Arabic), 12/21/2013]

Yemen reopens airports after closure due to strike
Yemen has reopened its international airports after a brief closure on Monday due to a strike by workers at the civil aviation authority, the transport minister told the state news agency Saba. Airports were closed earlier in the day as workers went on strike in response to a dispute with the finance ministry over the aviation authority’s independence. The finance ministry froze the authority’s funds, making it unable to pay workers’ wages. Transport Minister Waed Batheeb promised the workers that he would help to resolve the issue, Saba reported. Officials at Sana’a and Aden airports confirmed the airports had reopened. [Reuters/Ahram Online, 12/23/2013]


UAE sentences American to one year in prison for parody video
A family spokeswoman says an American man tried under a cybercrimes law in the Gulf nation has been found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison after posting a parody video about youth culture in Dubai. Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National also says the State Security Court issued sentences to Shezanne Cassim and seven other defendants on Monday. The paper says the American, identified only by his initials, also faces a 10,000 dirham ($2,725) fine and will be deported after completing his sentence. His unnamed co-defendants received between eight months and one year in prison. [AP/Ahram Online, 12/23/2013]

Saudi king appoints son to head Mecca province
Saudi King Abdullah on Sunday appointed his son Prince Mishaal as governor of Mecca Province, one of the most prominent jobs in the country. It is the latest move in a rolling reshuffle of senior ruling family members over the past two years. He replaces Prince Khaled al-Faisal, who has been made education minister, a move that may revive stalled educational reforms aimed at reducing the influence of religious conservatives, Saudi analysts said. Analysts have said the changes reflect a desire by King Abdullah, who is thought to be ninety, to establish his sons and other allies in key positions for the future. [Reuters/Ahram Online, 12/22/2013]

Bahrain acquits police officers accused of torture
A lawyer says a Bahrain court has acquitted two police officers accused of torturing doctors who were detained while treating wounded Shia protesters in 2011. Lawyer Ali Al Juffairi says he attended Monday’s court session and that none of the six doctors or the two police officers were present when the verdict was read. The doctors were released from custody at different times over the past years. Among the two acquitted was Noora bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, a female police officer and member of Bahrain’s royal family. [AP/Ahram Online, 12/23/2013]