Top News: Protesters in Yemen Commemorate Third Anniversary of Uprising

Ten of thousands of Yemenis gathered in Sana’a today, marking the third anniversary of the popular uprising that ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protesters called for the implementation of the steps agreed upon at National Dialogue Conference such as stripping the militias of their weapons but also demanded trials for security personnel and officials who were involved in the killing of demonstrators in 2011. Protesters also demonstrated outside of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s residence, demanding the release of dozens of revolutionary youth who are detained in prison. [BBC (Arabic), 2/7/2014]



State, MB both ignore reconciliation proposal
Neither the banned Muslim Brotherhood group nor the military-backed interim government have responded to a proposed plan for reconciliation, Hassan Nafaa, the political analyst who had put the initiative forward, said on Thursday. Nafaa, who is also a member for the National Association of Change (NAC), suggested forming what he called a “committee of wise men” comprised of thinkers and decision-makers who would develop general principles to which all involved parties would be obliged to commit. The NAC issued a statement, however, distancing itself from Nafaa’s plan and denying any affiliation with the initiative. Mohamed Nabawy, the spokesperson for the grassroots Tamarod (Rebel) campaign that helped launch the movement that ultimately led to former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, said Tamarod also rejected Nafaa’s initiative. April 6 Youth Movement spokesperson Khaled al-Masry said the group would support the initiative, saying the plan was similar to others April 6 had also proposed for national reconciliation. [Mada Masr, 2/6/2014]

One killed, dozens arrested as Pro-Morsi coalition calls for Friday rallies
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, which backs former President Mohamed Morsi, has called on its supporters to take to the streets for week-long rallies starting Friday. The rallies coincide with the anniversary of the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Marches on Friday took place in various neighborhoods in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities across the country under the banner “the people complete their revolution.”  In Alexandria, police forces arrested about 34 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, said Major General Nasser al-Abd, head of Alexandria’s police investigations. The arrestees were found in possession of anti-Armed Forces leaflets, petrol bombs, Rabaa symbols, and a live transmission device. Clashes broke out earlier in the Siouf area and Borg al-Arab between security forces and a group of pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators. Some local residents hung a large banner opposite to al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque to salute Alexandria’s security bodies, the Middle East News Agency reported. In Fayoum, clashes between Brotherhood supporters and security forces led to one death and four injuries, while security forces arrested three Morsi supporters on charges of torching a Fayoum police station and killing a police officer. In Cairo, security forces clashed with protesters in Mattariya, Nasr City, Helwan, Mohandiseen, and Media Production City. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 2/7/2014]

Ministerial decree to divert 10 percent of revenues to public budget
Minister of Finance Ahmed Galal issued on Thursday a ministerial decree to divert 10 percent of nongovernmental funds revenues to the public budget. The decree excluded medicinal purchases and service improvement funds from hospitals. It asked that the nongovernmental funds be received by February 15. Galal also warned against those not obliging the decree, threatening a cutting of 50 percent of funds accounts from the public budget. [Cairo Post 2/7/2014]

UK concerned by press restrictions; EU presses Egypt for open political system
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “very concerned” about “increasing restrictions placed upon journalists and the media in Egypt.” In a press release issued on Thursday, Hague highlighted the indictment of a group of Al Jazeera journalists, two of whom are British. Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Evangelos Venizelos told members of the European Parliament the ratification of a new Egyptian constitution last month was a step in the right direction, but that democracy needs to be supported by different political views in a future government. Members of the European Parliament urged all the political actors and security forces in Egypt to show the utmost restraint and avoid provocation and further violence, in a vote on Thursday. [DNE, UPI, Press release, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 2/6/2014]


Libyan PM urges all sides to avoid violence in standoff over parliament
Amid rising tensions, Prime Minister Ali Zidan appealed for Libyans to avoid violence in settling a standoff over the General National Congress (GNC). First elected in 2012, the GNC was supposed to end its term today (February 7), but legislators extended their mandate to allow a special committee time to draft the constitution. Many Libyans feel the GNC has made no progress, hindered by a deadlock between the nationalist National Forces Alliance, and the Justice and Construction Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The United Nations Mission in Libya said in a statement that political leaders, revolutionaries, and public leaders should prevent the use of violence “as a means of political pressure or resolving differences.” A young activist involved with the movement demanding the GNC’s dissolution survived an assassination attempt on Thursday. Protests against the extension of the GNC are planned in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square and in the eastern city of Benghazi, and soldiers from the Libyan army barricaded off access to the GNC building. [Reuters, 2/7/2014]

Unemployment, subsidies, stifled private sector are problems of Libyan economy
According to the World Bank’s latest January MENA Quarterly Economic Brief, Libya’s labor market is skewed toward the public sector, which employs more than 80 percent of the formal workforce, while the private sector employs just 4 percent of Libyans. Worryingly, World Bank estimates show that youth unemployment has remained at about 50 percent with the majority of unemployed holding university degrees. To address these challenges, Libya’s priorities, according to the report, include management of petroleum resources, streamlining subsidies and public sector wages, and addressing reforms to generate a vibrant private sector, such as improving access to financing. [Libya Herald, 2/7/2014]

Gunmen try to storm Libya army command, no casualties
Unidentified gunmen tried to storm the Libyan army command headquarters in Tripoli on Thursday, clashing with soldiers there before stealing a few rifles and some vehicles, the army and a military source said. The details of the incident were not clear, and there were no immediate reports of any casualties. One army source at the base said the clash occurred at the gate of the command building and gunmen stole a few Kalashnikov rifles and at least four cars. Another senior army officer, who asked not to be identified, said he believed it was a dispute between guards at the military base. [Reuters, 2/6/2014]

Attackers start fire after failed storming of Libya al-Ahrar office in Benghazi
More than eighty armed men attempted to storm Libya al-Ahrar’s office in Benghazi last night, setting fire to a car outside the building when they were unable to break in. Both Libya al-Ahrar and al-Asima TV have been critical of Ansar al-Sharia and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Asima TV has decided to withdraw its staff from Benghazi following threats of violence and the suspected kidnapping of its Benghazi office director, Mohammed al-Sarayit, who has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. [Libya Herald, 2/6/2014]


Russia announces “landmark” humanitarian deal in Homs; US officials remain skeptical
Russia and the United Nations said on Friday that a three-day ceasefire has been agreed so some of the estimated 2,500 civilians can evacuate the besieged Old City of Homs and supplies of humanitarian aid reach those who choose to remain, as part of what Russia called a “landmark” deal. The first bus carrying eleven weary-looking evacuees, accompanied by Syrian Arab Red Crescent officials, arrived at a meeting point outside Homs as government soldiers stood by. The aid group expected 200 people to leave. “It is foreseen that all children, women, men over age fifty-five, as well as wounded people, can leave the combat zone without obstacle,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. “Those residents of Old Homs who prefer to remain will be sent the necessary humanitarian aid.” US officials were doubtful when the deal was announced on Thursday, saying they feared for the fate of anyone who moved from rebel areas into government control. “We have reason on the basis of history to be very skeptical,” US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said. Rebels have rejected similar offers to evacuate women and children in the past because of concerns about what might happen to any men, including fighters, who are left behind. Dozens of men were detained and disappeared after a deal last year reached in Mouadamiya, west of Damascus. [Reuters, NYT, WSJ, BBC, Washington Post, 2/7/2014]

Damascus confirms it will join next round of Geneva peace talks
Syria’s deputy foreign minister said on Friday the government would take part in a second round of peace talks on Syria’s civil war in the Swiss city of Geneva. State news agency SANA cited Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal as saying the government delegation would attend the talks and demand a discussion “article by article” of the Geneva Communique, the document agreed by the United Nations and world powers as the basis for talks. [Reuters, AP, NYT, The National, 2/7/2014]

Peace talks pay dividends for rebels on the battlefield; Heavier artillery may come
In the run up to last month’s Geneva talks, rebels fighting in southern Syria complained supplies were drying up, as their international backers pressed them to sit and negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad. Ammunition was running so low for some brigades that they were wrapping machine guns in greased cloths and putting them into storage. With the Geneva talks now over, and no progress made, ammunition is flowing once more, thanks to US and Gulf funding. Rebels say the Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and the United States, have promised them better arms post-Geneva. What remains to be seen is whether that will include the shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles rebel factions have long dreamed of acquiring. The United States has so far vetoed those missile supplies, fearing they will end up in the hands of militants with links to al-Qaeda who might decide to shoot down a civilian airliner instead of Assad’s air force. However, on Wednesday Ahmed Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, and known to be close to Riyadh, hinted such weapons might be en route to rebels. [The National, 2/6/2014]

Air assault continues; Regime troops “retake most of Aleppo prison” from rebels
Regime troops retook Friday most of Aleppo’s prison, lost to rebels a day earlier, in fighting that has killed at least forty-six people over two days. But the fate of hundreds of prisoners reportedly freed after Islamist and jihadist fighters overran the facility was unclear, with suggestions that they may not have been able to flee amid the fighting. Regime aircraft continued their assault on rebel-held districts of the northern city with barrel bombs, which have killed at least 250 people since Saturday, including seventy-three children. Clashes in part of the jail and on its perimeter resumed between government forces and fighters of Ahrar al-Sham Brigade and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra front. The forty-six dead over two days were twenty soldiers, rebels and five prisoners. For months, rebels have launched attacks on the prison, which reportedly holds some 3,000 detainees, including Islamists, activists, and minors. But they have always failed to seize full control. [AFP, 2/7/2014]


Jomaa holds first cabinet meeting
Jomaa met with his cabinet for the first time on Thursday. The meeting focused on planning and working to ensure high government efficiency. One agreement that emerged from the meeting is the obligation for all the government members to file assets declaration at the beginning and at the end of their assignment. That day, Jomaa also met with Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) to discuss the social and economic situation in the country. The meeting discussed the problems facing Tunisian enterprises in different sectors, the means to boost investment in different regions, and the need to convey a positive message to Tunisian and foreign investors. They also agreed that during the prime minister’s next visits abroad, he should be accompanied by businessmen in order to boost economic diplomacy. [TAP, 2/6/2014]

Tunisians disavow takfirism
As takfirism, the act of accusing a Muslim of apostasy, continues to spread across the Maghreb, Tunisians agree it is time to disavow extremist views and stop labeling people as takfiris. Nonetheless, such incidents continue to occur in Tunisia. On January 28, members of the Regional Federation of Labor in Kairouan were taken aback when they found takfirist graffiti on the front wall of their office that stated “How many infidels crossed this entrance?” The Tunisian constitution aims to remedy this type of situation by banning accusations of apostasy. The individual arrested in relation to this incident was angry with the ratification of the constitution, believed it to establish a state of infidels, and saw Ennahda and UGTT as in cahoots to prevent the implementation of Islamic law. [All Africa, 2/6/2014]

Tunisia take steps to help the economy recover
Tunisia plans to issue around $1.8 billion in new foreign bonds with guarantees from the United States and Japan, and a $435 million sukuk, the Islamic equivalent of bonds, this year, as part of major efforts to help the economy continue to recover from the 2011 uprising. Despite political progress, high living costs and a lack of economic opportunities are still significant concerns for many Tunisians. The hope is for the financing package to be a major boost for the country’s economic stability and growth in order to consolidate the political gains that are seen by many as a model of transition in the region. In addition, on Thursday, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development announced that it will grant Tunisia a loan of 40 million Kuwaiti Dinars (240 MTD) to fund two infrastructure projects. [Al Arabiya, 2/6/2014]

Official ceremony celebrates the constitution
On Friday, Tunisia held a symbolic ceremony to celebrate the constitution at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) where the constitution was passed nearly two weeks ago. The ceremony was attended by presidents, monarchs, and delegates of Arab and foreign countries, international organizations and national and foreign officials. The constitution, which is regarded as the most progressive in the region, was applauded by French President Francois Hollande, the only European head of state to attend the ceremony. Hollande stated that the constitution “confirms […] that Islam is compatible with democracy.” At the beginning of the ceremony, verses of the Quran were read out, the national anthem sung, and then the NCA Speaker took the floor to hail the achievements carried out in Tunisia. [Ahram Online, TAP, 2/7/2014]


Breakdown in northern truce as Houthis advance on Sana’a and negotiator withdraws
A government negotiated ceasefire has deteriorated in northern Yemen as battles resumed between Houthi rebels and fighters from the Hashid tribal confederation. Clashes continued just north of Sana’a, near the international airport. After the breakdown of the truce, the mayor of Sana’a—the man who brokered it—resigned from his position on the presidential delegation charged with finding a ceasefire. The ceasefire talks broke down, according to the mayor, when the Houthis reneged on the part of the agreement that mandated them to recall their fighters from the area. The mayor’s full statement on the conflict and his resignation can be found here. [Al-Arabiya, Mukalla Today (Arabic), 2/7/2014]

UNOCHA says northern fighting has displaced over 80,000
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), clashes in the north have displaced more than 40,000 people from Amran province alone. There are currently more than 80,000 displaced persons residing in Amran that need assistance, though the current insecurity is preventing humanitarian response outside of the immediate boundaries of Amran city. [UNOCHA, 2/7/2014]


Kuwait’s demographic labor crisis
In the early 1950s, Kuwait’s population numbered only 150,000; today there are over 3.8 million people living in the country, with Kuwaiti nationals numbering about 1.8 million, out of which only 400,000 are working or wish to work. Over three-quarters of those indigenous workers are employed in the public sector, while Kuwait’s labor force is comprised of eighty-four percent foreign workers. [al-Monitor, 2/7/2014]

Beating the censor: the media in Saudi Arabia
While other countries are seeing a rapid decline in the business of printed newspaper, in Saudi Arabia the traditional print media is thriving. During the past decade, the media tended to focus on dramatics abroad, in Iraq or Syria, but recently local human interest stories seem to be what is driving the media. However, stories about dissidents and state abuses are still relegated to an ever-booming social media culture, a medium that is becoming more and more associated with intellectual clashes between reformists and traditionalists. [Economist, 2/7/2014]

Image: Protest in Sanaa, Yemen, February 3, 2011. (Photo: Wikimedia)