Top News: Rebels and Yemen’s president reach deal to end standoff

Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi expressed readiness on Wednesday to accept demands for constitutional change and power sharing with Houthi rebels. The late-night agreement left unclear who really controls the country.

In the deal, the Houthi rebels also agreed to release Hadi’s chief of staff, Ahmed Bin Mubarak, whom they had kidnapped a few days ago. Despite this agreement, violent clashes erupted between Houthi fighters and Marib tribesmen on Thursday. [Reuters, Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen Times, Washington Post, 1/22/2015]



Egypt pardons 584 prisoners for January 25 anniversary
The ministry of interior announced in a press statement that it would release 584 prisoners ‘in celebration’ of Police Day and the fourth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution. The statement added that this decision comes in light of a presidential decree issued in mid-January. The statement did not make clear whether those are to be released are criminal convicts or political prisoners and authorities did not yet announce the names of those pardoned. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/22/2015]

Egypt court orders release of Mubarak sons pending retrial
A lawyer for the sons of Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak said a court ordered their release on Thursday pending retrial in a corruption case, but judicial sources said they would not be freed until prosecutors review other legal cases against them. Their lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, however, said his defendants are expected to leave prison later Thursday. The court ordered their release pending the “presidential palaces” case, as they have served the maximum eighteen-month period for pre-trial detention. The public prosecutor has said the law does not allow the prosecution to appeal the court order. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, DNE, Egypt Independent, 1/22/2015]

Egypt president seeks end to Jazeera reporters’ detention
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he is seeking a resolution to the case of three Al Jazeera television journalists imprisoned for more than a year. “We are very keen on sorting this out and getting it finished as soon as possible,” Sisi said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We are trying very hard to find a way out within the legal framework and respect the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.” He added, “Had it been I in office at the time, I would have just sent those reporters home, not detained any of them.” [Bloomberg, 1/22/2015]

Egypt’s Court of Cassation orders retrial in Abu Zaabal prison van case
The Egyptian Court of Cassation accepted an appeal and ordered retrial on the Abu Zaabal case, in which four policemen are accused of killing at least thirty-seven people in a police van. The general prosecution had filed an appeal with the court after an initial appeal in June 2014 overturned a ten-year prison sentence handed down to one policeman and a one-year suspended sentence given to three others on charges of killing thirty-seven prisoners inside a police van. The four policemen stand accused of involuntary murder. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 1/22/2015]

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Libyan rival parliament suspends UN-sponsored peace talks
The Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) has suspended UN-sponsored peace negotiations due to what it calls new fighting by forces loyal to the internationally recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives. The GNC claims House allied troops stormed the Libyan Central Bank in Benghazi and, as a result, the GNC will not participate in any talks, regardless of the location. Earlier this week, the GNC stated it would participate in UN-sponsored dialogue, given the talks were held in Libya. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/21/2015]

Tobruk-allied forces claim seizure of Benghazi Central Bank of Libya branch
Forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government of Abdullah al-Thinni claimed to have forced Islamist fighters out of the Central Bank of Libya branch in Benghazi. The Libyan National Army (LNA) stated it took the building from Ansar al-Sharia, which was using it as a base of attack. The LNA also denied rumors that they looted and stole money from the bank. The attack on the building appears to be part of an LNA operation to clear Benghazi of Ansar al-Sharia forces. LNA Colonel Farraj al-Barasi said that his men are in control of the area. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 1/22/2015]

Libya-Egypt border closed for unspecified period
Libyan and Egyptian authorities have agreed to close the only land border crossing between the two countries. The crossing at Salloum will be closed for an indefinite period. The Libyan government requested that the border be closed and it is believed to be in anticipation of the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on January 25. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/22/2015]

Algeria fighting against terrorism financing with three amendments in new bill
Algeria has a new bill before the People’s National Assembly (Lower House) that will adapt Algerian law to the international standards for restricting money laundering and terrorist financing. The amendments seek to provide a precise and comprehensive definition of the crime of terrorist financing and extends the jurisdiction of courts related to when a terrorist act targets Algeria’s interests abroad or Algerian citizens. [Algeria Press Service, All Africa, 1/21/2015]

1,200 former Tunisian political prisoners file complaints to the Truth and Dignity Forum
From a total of 4,390 cases of human rights filed to the Truth and Dignity Commission, 1,200 come from former political prisoners. The commission is responsible for investigating human rights violations from 1955 up to December 2013. Many of the cases involve torture and the political prisoners include Arab nationalists to Islamists to leftists. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 1/22/2015]


Anti-ISIS coalition talks focus on jihadi threat
Foreign ministers from twenty-one countries are meeting in London to discuss ways to coordinate their efforts to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the countries want to find ways to halt the flow of recruits to ISIS, cut off its funding, and “tackle the underlying narrative.” A senior US State Department official confirmed that foreign fighters would be the “real focus” of the London conference and that an expert working group would be formed to discuss sharing information to stop potential fighters from travelling. They will also look at providing more military assistance to those fighting ISIS on the ground and more humanitarian aid to its victims. [The Daily Star, BBC, 1/22/2015]

Iraqi forces not ready to fight ISIS; ISIS working to fortify Mosul
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Thursday that ISIS will not be pushed out of Iraq for another year or two, saying Iraq’s armed forces are not yet ready or equipped to fight. He added that it would be months before Iraqi troops were sufficiently trained by the international coalition. Despite the admission, Hammond said the anti-ISIS coalition is “doing the things that need to be done to turn the tide against ISIL and I’m confident that ISIL will be defeated in Iraq. I don’t accept it’s failed at all. The coalition airstrikes have halted the ISIL advance.” Hammond’s statement comes as reports from Iraq reveal ISIS’s determination to defend Mosul and establish a state strong enough to weather severe popular discontent and military setbacks. [The Guardian, 1/22/2015]

Syrian opposition meets in Cairo to discuss Moscow talks; United States gives $6m to opposition
Representatives of the main Syrian opposition factions met Thursday in Cairo to discuss Moscow’s invitation to host talks with the Damascus government. The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs has invited several Syrian opposition figures to meet in Cairo with the aim of “reaching a consensus over [formulating] a political vision that is isolated from any pressures and influences.” But opposition figure and former coalition leader Moaz al-Khatib has turned down Cairo’s invitation and only two members of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) will attend the meeting. In other news, the SNC and the interim government said it had received $6 million from the United States in the first direct US financial support for the rebel body. The money is for development and relief projects in “areas liberated by the moderate Syrian opposition,” including food deliveries, public services, and supporting local rebel councils. [Naharnet, Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/22/2015]

US-led airstrikes have killed half of ISIS leaders
The US ambassador to Iraq said Thursday that more than half of the ISIS leadership has been killed by US and coalition airstrikes. According to Ambassador Stuart Jones, the total death toll is more than 6,000 ISIS fighters, and more than a thousand vehicles belonging to the group have been destroyed. “They show ISIS’s inability to supply forces inside Iraq,” he said of the numbers. On Wednesday, Kurdish forces said they broke an important ISIS supply line between Iraq and Syria with the help of airstrikes. [Al-Arabiya, The Daily Beast 1/22/2015]


Rebels and Yemen’s president reach deal to end standoff
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi expressed readiness on Wednesday to accept demands for constitutional change and power sharing with Houthi rebels. The late-night agreement left unclear who really controls the country. In the deal, the Houthi rebels also agreed to release Hadi’s chief of staff, Ahmed Bin Mubarak, whom they had kidnapped a few days ago. Despite this agreement, violent clashes erupted between Houthi fighters and Marib tribesmen on Thursday. [Reuters, Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen Times, Washington Post, 1/22/2015]

Militiamen remain outside Yemen’s presidential residence
Heavily armed rebels remain stationed outside the Yemeni president’s house and the palace in Sana’a, despite a deal calling for their immediate withdrawal to end a violent standoff. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi said the Houthis had agreed to leave his private residence and the presidential palace, but as of Thursday morning, they had not prepared to leave. [BBC, Reuters, 1/22/2015]

Recording of Yemen’s former president allegedly colluding with rebels
Leaked telephone conversations have shown that former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was in communication with Houthi rebels a month after the militia group took control of the capital Sana’a. In the audio recording, Saleh is heard apparently coordinating military and political moves with Houthi leader Abdul Wahid Abu Ras. The recordings’ authenticity have yet to be verified. On Wednesday, Saleh called for early elections, arguing that early presidential and parliamentary polls would help defuse the current political crisis. [Al Jazeera, Al Masdar, 1/21/2014]

Gulf Cooperation Council condemns coup
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers on Wednesday accused Houthi militias in Yemen of attempting to stage a coup against President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. They warned that Gulf states “would take all measures necessary to protect their security, stability and vital interests in Yemen.” The ministers offered to send a GCC envoy to Yemen for mediation. Gulf countries brokered an accord in November 2011 that eased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office following a year of nationwide protests. [AFP, Al Arabiya, Asharq al-Awsat, 1/22/2015]

Blogger’s flogging postponed again in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia plans to delay the public flogging of a rights activist on medical grounds, according to an Amnesty International report, raising the possibility that Riyadh may be trying to quietly drop the punishment that has drawn international rebuke. Raif Badawi, a blogger and founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was sentenced last year to ten years in jail, a fine of 1 million riyals ($267,000) and 1,000 lashes. He received the first fifty lashes of his punishment two weeks ago. [Reuters, 1/22/2015]


Oil export losses to reach $300 billion in Middle East
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), losses from lower oil exports should sap up to $300 billion from economies in the Middle East and Central Asia this year, as countries in the region adjust to falling crude prices. An updated outlook on the region predicted that economies particularly dependent on oil exports, including Qatar, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia, will be hit hardest by the more than 50 percent decline in petroleum prices. [Reuters, 1/22/2015]

Egypt’s index hits record high
Weakening oil prices helped Egypt’s index hit a six-and-a-half year closing high, as bets on property stocks and positive corporate news buoyed sentiment. The benchmark added 0.5 percent to 9,856 points, rising above a major chart barrier at 9,831 points. A clean break (two straight daily closes above that level) would indicate that the index could this year could challenge the record high of 12,039 points hit in June 2008. [Reuters, 1/21/2015]

Morocco inflation eases to 0.4 percent in December
According to Morocco’s high planning authority, the country’s consumer price inflation eased to an annual 0.4 percent in December from 1.2 percent in November in part because of decreasing food prices. Non-food inflation was up 1.6 percent in the twelve months through December. The food price index fell 1.1 percent from the previous month. [Reuters, 1/22/2015]

Libya’s official government to close embassies due to budget crisis
Libya’s internationally recognized government said it planned to close several embassies and reduce diplomatic staff to tackle a budget crisis due to the loss of oil revenues. The violence has cut oil output to less than 400,000 barrels a day; a quarter of what Libya was producing before 2011. The central bank said Libya had posted a budget deficit of 25.1 billion Libyan dinars (12.3 billion pounds) for 2014. [Reuters, 1/21/2015]