Top News: Protesters besiege Libya’s GNC demanding it sack the prime minister

The General National Congress (GNC) was blockaded Tuesday afternoon by protesters demanding that it vote to withdraw confidence from Prime Minister Ali Zidan. MOne hundred and twenty members must vote in favor for such a measure to pass. The evening parliamentary session, at which Zidan’s tenure was supposed to be discussed, was cancelled, and members left in the building negotiated an end to the standoff. No one was harmed. It has been reported by some elements in the Libyan media that the protesters are linked to the movement that supported the political isolation law, which the GNC passed in May 2013, but the claim was refuted. Zidan said he would reshuffle his cabinet within the next couple of weeks in a bid to counter critics pursuing a no-confidence vote. [Libya Herald, 1/7/2014]


Morsi trial postponed to February 1 due to fog; Clashes erupt
A Cairo criminal court has adjourned to February 1 the trial of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and fourteen other co-defendants–charged with inciting murder outside the presidential palace during unrest in late 2012–due to Morsi’s inability to reach the courthouse. Alexandria Security Chief Nasser El-Abd told state TV that the helicopter set to transfer ousted president Mohamed Morsi could not take off from his Alexandria prison due to bad weather conditions. Dozens of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rallied to back Morsi, resulting in clashes between security forces and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo’s Nasr City. Confrontations started when “Members of the Brotherhood torched a central security forces vehicle and billboards,” according to MENA. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 1/8/2014]

Strong Egypt Party angered by arrests, considers referendum boycott
The Strong Egypt Party has said that it is reviewing whether or not to boycott next week’s constitutional referendum. The party, which has given cautious support to the transitional authorities since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last summer, had announced in December that its members would vote no in the upcoming poll. Security forces have since arrested a number of members of Strong Egypt after seeing them putting up stickers and posters calling for a no vote, Al-Ahram reported. In a statement released on Monday, party spokesman Ahmed Imam condemned the arrests. The party also issued a statement on Monday condemning the “kidnapping” of a leading member in Gharbeya, Mahmoud Abdel Hamid, who went missing on Saturday. “The arrested member has not been sent to the prosecutor’s office and has not been charged up to this moment,” said Mohamed Othman, a member of the party’s political committee. [Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), DNE, 1/8/2014]

Egypt doctors stage second partial strike
Egypt’s doctors, pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians started on Wednesday their second partial strike in Cairo and several governorates, demanding improved financial and work conditions. They are also calling for better protection of patients and doctors from the spread of infections. They had commenced the new year with a first partial strike on 1 January. In Cairo hospitals, 75 percent of doctors and 85 percent of pharmacists are participating in the strike. The health minister has put an emergency plan in place in order to continue providing services despite the strike. These strikes have been met with incidents of violence with security forces forcefully breaking up a strike in the Manshayet el Bakry Hospital in Cairo, and managers breaking doors of pharmacies participating in the strikes. [Ahram Online, SIS, EGYNews (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), 1/8/2014]

UN Secretary-General meets with Egyptian rights organization
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Bahey Eldin Hassan, cofounder and director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, on Wednesday at the UN Headquarters in New York. During their meeting, the two discussed the current political and human rights situation in Egypt, over which Western governments have already voiced concern. Among the concerns are the jailing of activists, peaceful demonstrators and suspension of NGOs in Egypt, along with the declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group. US State Department Spokesperson Marie Harff said during a press conference on December 30 that the United States is “deeply concerned about all of the politically motivated arrests, detentions and charges in Egypt.” [Egypt Independent, 1/8/2014]


Libya autonomy group to sell oil from seized ports
Armed groups demanding autonomy for eastern Libya have invited foreign companies to buy oil from ports they have seized. They also pledged on Tuesday to protect tankers loading crude, after the Libyan defense ministry said it would destroy vessels using ports in the east, which are under control of the protesters aligned with the self-proclaimed Cyrenaican regional government. On Monday, the Libyan navy said it fired warning shots at a tanker trying to load oil at the eastern port of Sider, one of the seized terminals. The group, led by Ibrahim Jathran, shrugged off Tripoli’s warning by inviting foreign companies to buy eastern oil. The Libya Herald reports that Jathran has hired Canadian-based lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe on a $2 million contract to promote recognition of his federalist group. [Reuters, 1/8/2014]

Former NTC head unveils plan to regain stability
Former National Transitional Council (NTC) chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil announced a roadmap for reconciliation between Libya’s different political and minority groups and to regain stability while a constitution is written. Speaking at a press conference for the National Dialogue Group (NDG), Jalil added that the greatest challenge facing Libya at the moment was the building up of state institutions, particularly the police and army. The former NTC leader also voiced concerns over the future of the sixty-member constitutional draft committee, which he felt would become bogged down in political issues and diverted from the task of writing the constitution. The NDG’s initiatives include cutting all pay for members of the legislature. [Libya Herald, 1/7/2014]

Libya to start developing oil regions, cities
A long awaited and needed move to develop the regions and cities where oil and gas is produced in Libya is said to soon begin. A meeting held on Tuesday attended by a number of officials,  including the oil and housing ministers, gave the go ahead for the program, which could reach billions of dollars. Authorization has been granted to begin contracting procedures with specialized international consulting firms, which will prepare plans for modern cities with all facilities aimed at raising the standard of living. Coordination is also underway with the Libyan investment fund for studies to explore potential investment projects in these cities, which will help to create job opportunities. [Tripoli Post, 1/8/2014]


Rebels capture ISIS headquarters in Aleppo; ISIS vows revenge
Fighters from several Syrian rebel brigades have seized the headquarters of the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the main northern city of Aleppo. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS had been using the children’s hospital in the Qadi Askar district as its main base in the city. The Observatory said rebels freed dozens of ISIS captives but it was unclear what had happened to “hundreds” of ISIS fighters who had been inside the headquarters. Late Tuesday, an ISIS spokesman said the group would “crush” opposition fighters and warned that it considered members of the opposition National Coalition and the military command of the Free Syrian Army to be “legitimate targets.” [Naharnet, Washington Post, 1/8/2014]

Opposition delays Geneva participation decision until January 17
Syria’s exiled opposition has postponed until next week a decision on whether to take part in UN-hosted peace talks in Switzerland, following two days of heated debate in Turkey. The general assembly of the mainstream opposition National Coalition decided to suspend its debate and meet again in Istanbul on January 17, just five days before the peace conference is to open in the the lakeside town of Montreux. The Syrian National Council, the main component of the coalition, had said Friday it would boycott the conference opening on January 22. This coming Sunday, ministers from the Friends of Syria grouping are to meet in Paris with leaders of the National Coalition. A French diplomatic source said the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Qatar will be present, among others, as will Ahmad Jarba, head of Syria’s mainstream opposition National Coalition.[ AFP, 1/8/2014]

First batch of chemical weapons shipped; OPCW urges regime to speed process
Syria has started moving chemical weapons materials out of the country in a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament program that has been delayed by war and technical problems. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday that “priority chemical materials” were transported to the port of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel which was now sailing towards international waters. The world’s chemical weapons watchdog, which is overseeing the destruction of Syria’s toxic arsenal, called on the government of President Bashar al-Assad to pick up momentum in handing over the remaining chemicals. [Reuters, NYT, 1/8/2014]

Annual Christian survey finds Syria accounts for half of all sectarian killings
Reported cases of Christians killed for their faith around the world doubled in 2013 from the year before, with Syria accounting for more than the whole global total in 2012, according to an annual survey. Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, said on Wednesday it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year. “This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm,” said the head of research for Open Doors. Estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000. [Reuters, 1/8/2014]


Election of the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE II) moves forward
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Quartet overcame a deadlock that was preventing the establishment of the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE II). During the same meeting, the Quartet also discussed the progress on passing the constitution. On Wednesday morning, it decided on the final composition of the ISIE II. The National Constituent Assembly will ultimately confirm the composition of the commission. [TAP, 1/7/2014]

Islamists set to resign after deal on election commission
The ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, is planning to resign in the next few days. Last year, they agreed to step down be replaced by a caretaker government following the establishment of a new constitution, an election committee, and a date for elections. Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly last week began voting on the final parts of the new constitution. The Quartet reached consensus on the composition of the election commission Wednesday morning. [Reuters, TAP, 1/7/2014]

Protesters clash with police
Protesters clashed with police in Kasserine and Thala. Protests were in response to the new vehicle taxes and general economic hardship. In Kasserine, protesters tried to push their way into the Ennahda offices but were dispersed by police. In Thala, the protests began as peaceful but turned violent and resulted in two injured police officers Tuesday evening. Protests continued Wednesday morning, accompanied by general strikes organized by the UGTT labor union, which call for economic reforms in the region. The labor union released a statement criticizing the 2014 budget for disregarding the needs of the general population. It organized the protests to coincide with the anniversary of the first death in Kasserine during the revolution. [Tunisia Live, 1/8/2014]


Houthis seize the town of Khaiwan, as delegation arrives to broker truce
Houthi militants have attacked and seized control of Khaiwan, a town in the Amran province. The Houthis reportedly were armed with heavy weapons as they seized the town after days of conflict in the Amran governorate, with no reports of how many were wounded or killed during the takeover. While Houthi militant actions are normally limited to the northernmost Sa’ada province, the attacks in Amran are reprisal for the local support for the Houthis more regular Salafist foes in Sa’ada. Though a delegation was dispatched yesterday by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to broker a truce, the team has yet to make contact with leaders on either side of the conflict in Amran. [Al Masdar (Arabic), The Daily Star; 1/8/2014]

Gulf countries could extend rail network to Yemen
A Gulf Cooperation Council initiative set to build a $15.5 billion rail network is considering extending the railroad to the Yemeni border. The core rail network is set to be completed by 2018 and service Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman with loops branching off from the mainline to service Qatar and Bahrain, via a new bridge paralleling the King Fahd Causeway. The proposed extension would carry the rail to terminate at the Yemeni border. The extension would feature an additional twelve stations, cost an additional $10 billion, and require another 1,400 km of track, an increase of sixty percent from the original plan. [Arabian Business, Bloomberg; 1/8/2014]

US drone attack kills two al-Qaeda militants in south east Yemen
Two missiles fired from an unmanned drone struck a vehicle in the Hadramout province on the outskirts of al-Qatan. The strike allegedly killed a “top commander of the al-Qaeda terrorist group,” a US military official told Xinhua. Two people were killed in the strike and two others were wounded. [Xinhua, 1/8/2014]

A solution to the southern issue?
Speculation is mounting that the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) signed a “Just Solution” document to deal with Yemen’s southern issue. The document was signed by representatives of the General People’s Congress, the National Democratic Alliance, al-Rashad Union, and other civil society components, however little about the content of the document is currently known. President Abdrabbo Hadi had dismissed many media reports about the solution as inaccurate, but in a statement he confirmed the following: NDC outcomes and documents will be consistent with the Gulf initiative and with UN Security Council resolutions, will not establish any sectarian or other split entities that will threaten security, stability, and unity, and that the southern issue will be solved within the framework of a unified federal state. The NDC will tackle the issue within the framework of transitional justice and national reconciliation and will produce a new constitution that will safeguard Yemen’s unity. [Saba, NDC; 1/8/2014]


Lebanon edges closer to new government
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance has relinquished its cabinet demands, accepting the “tripartite” formula for the next government of Lebanon. Unnamed sources have told Asharq al-Awsat that a new government could be announced before the end of the month. However there are still complications regarding which parties will end up with which ministries, and Hezbollah’s political opponents are still skeptical of political cooperation after the December assassination of Mohamed Chatah. Yesterday marked the tenth month of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s term, the longest any politician has held the post without forming a government. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/8/2014]

Kuwait MPs criticize cabinet shuffle
Several parliamentarians harshly criticized the cabinet shuffle in Kuwait, arguing that it will not resolve any of the country’s problems. They also stated that the new cabinet lacks harmony and that the reshuffle reflects the government’s high level of corruption. The shuffle increased the number of Islamist ministers from two to four. Islamists now head the ministries of oil, Islamic affairs and justice, health, and communications. Kuwait has been in political crisis since 2006, with a dozen cabinets quitting and parliament dissolving six times. The shuffle follows the constitutional court striking down two petitions to dissolve the five-month old assembly. [Ahram Online, 1/8/2014]

Bahrain jails twenty-two Shias over police death
Twenty-two Shia were sentenced to fifteen years in prison on Wednesday. They were accused of involvement with a bomb that targeted police and of attacking police with iron rods and petrol bombs.  They were found guilty of killing a policeman and injuring another outside of Manama. In total, twenty-five were accused. Two were acquitted and another was sentenced to only three years because he is a minor. In addition, sixteen of the defendants remain at large. Since the Shia-led uprising began in 2011, eighty-nine people have been killed. [Ahram Online, 1/8/2014]

South Korea blocks $28 million tear gas order for Bahrain
The government of South Korea has vetoed Bahrain’s purchase of more than 3 million tear gas canisters. A spokesman for South Korea’s defense agency said the decision was influenced by “unstable politics in [Bahrain], people’s death due to tear gas and complaints from human rights groups.” After the human rights monitor Bahrain Watch obtained internal documents from Bahrain in October 2013, a large campaign was launched eventually ending in the South Korean veto. The scuttled $28 million deal would have exported three million canisters to Bahrain, or five canisters for each of Bahrain’s 600,000 citizens. [Al Akhbar, 1/8/2014]