Top News: Regime Loyalists Seethe Over UN Aid Operation For Rebel Area

Regime loyalists in Homs voiced fury over a UN humanitarian relief mission for a rebel-held enclave in their city, accusing the organization of bias against minorities who support President Bashar al-Assad. Members of Assad’s Alawite sect accused the United Nations of being far more concerned about taking in food and medicine for rebels and civilians than determining the whereabouts of some 740 missing people from their community. They say the missing are believed to have been kidnapped by rebels since the start of the conflict almost three years ago and held in the besieged quarter. “Where are our children?” said an Alawite woman in Homs, referring to those allegedly abducted by rebels who include many young soldiers and conscripts. “People are bursting with anger as they see food being delivered to the armed men.” Some UN officials said this anger explains why the aid convoys were attacked over weekend. One official specifically blamed a pro-regime paramilitary group known as the National Defense Force. The government denies this allegation, saying the attacks were the work of rebels. The attack on the UN convoy on Saturday kept the aid workers from delivering half of the food rations they were allowed to bring in. [WSJ, 2/11/2014]



Poll: 27 percent satisfied with government
In a new poll released by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, Baseera, on Tuesday, diverging opinions were given about the cabinet performance. The poll revealed that 27 percent of Egyptians rated the cabinet performance as “good”, while 20 percent rated it as “bad”, with the majority of 38 percent rating it as “average” and some 16 percent saying they don’t know. The poll was conducted on a sample of 2,000 people by phone between 28 and 30 January. The poll shows higher levels of satisfaction with government performance in rural areas, where it reached 29 percent, compared to 24 percent in urban areas. According to Baseera, which publicized the results in a press release, the numbers reflect an improvement from results published back in November, when only 20 percent of Egyptians were satisfied with government performance, with 19 percent rating it as bad and 27 percent deeming it average. [Mada Masr, DNE, Ahram Gateway (Arabic), 2/11/2014]

Foreign investment in Egypt at about 2 billion in first half of year  
Egypt received at least $2 billion in foreign direct investment from July to December last year, investment minister Osama Saleh told Reuters on the sidelines of an investment event on Tuesday. “Foreign direct investment was between $2 billion and $2.1 billion in the first half,” Saleh said, referring to the fiscal year that began on July 1. In a press conference held on the sidelines of Cityscape Egypt Business Breakfast on Tuesday, the minister noted that the Egyptian government is targeting $4 billion in investments for FY14. Despite the ongoing security and political instability, Egypt’s net foreign investments attained around US$ 9.2 billion over the last three years, he added.  Moreover, the minister also stated that private investments in Egypt reached EGP 36 billion in the first quarter of the current fiscal year. [Reuters, Amwal al-Ghad, Aswat Masriya, 2/11/2014]

USAID says to increase aid to Egypt, if Congress accepts
Mary C. Ott, mission director for Egypt for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), expressed readiness to increase economic aid allocated to Egypt up to $300 million from $250 million after approval of the US Congress, Egypt Independent reported. On the sidelines of the third Euro-Mediterranean Conference for funding, Ott said the agency offers complete technical and financial support for private sector in Egypt and the Middle East. She added that several programs on development in Egypt and the Middle East were set to eradicate high poverty rates due to lack of competition between banks and the budget deficit that faces the government. She also mentioned establishing funds for companies in Egypt and Tunisia to increase the capital and create jobs as well as stimulating small- and medium-sized companies. The main problem in Egypt is financing the projects, which are self-financed by owners of the companies she said. [Egypt Independent, 2/11/2014]

European Union seeks wider free trade agreement with Egypt
The European Union wants to restart talks with Egypt over a wider free trade deal that could help double the value of commercial exchanges in the next few years, the EU ambassador to Cairo said on Monday. His comments signal the European Union’s wish to safeguard economic ties with Egypt, despite Western misgivings about its political evolution since the army overthrew elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July following mass protests against him. “Our offer for a far-reaching Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) remains on the table,” EU envoy James Moran told an investment conference in the Egyptian capital. “We doubled trade in the six-year period 2004 to 2010. We believe we can do it again and double it again over the next few years if we get these talks under way.” [Reuters, 2/11/2014]


Oil production reaches 600,000 barrels per day
The oil and gas ministry announced that Libya’s oil production has risen to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), up from 478,329 bpd earlier this month. The ministry says the increased production is a result of extra output from the Sharara oilfield which is now producing close to full capacity. Operations restarted at the oilfield at the beginning of January after the withdrawal of Tuareg protesters who had blockaded it for two months. A week ago, an armed group in Jebel Nafusa forced a 40 percent cut in Shahara production by turning down a valve on the pipeline from the field to Zawia. The problem appears to have been resolved, and Sharara was working at higher capacity because of increased exports from Zawia oil terminal. [Libya Herald, 2/11/2014]

Libya plans for Rome security conference; looks to greater collaboration with neighbors
Libya is preparing for next month’s Friends of Libya Conference in Rome designed to provide support on security, justice, and rule of law in the transitioning country. The conference, a follow-up to one held last year in Paris, comes against a background of continuing insecurity, particularly in the south. The Libyan government has formed a committee with representation from the interior, justice, and defense ministries to work on Libya’s involvement in the conference. The Libyan committee will look to international support for its national dialogue process and will also focus on training and capacity-building of security institutions in partnership with its neighbors and a number of Arab countries. [Libya Herald, 2/11/2014]

Journalist kidnapped in Libyan capital
Younis Ali Younis, a journalist with LANA news agency, has been abducted in central Tripoli while sitting in a cafe next to a five-star hotel. His whereabouts are unknown. A fellow newspaper employee who was with Younis when he was seized said he was taken by men dressed in military uniforms driving a white vehicle. The witness said he was threatened and prevented from trying to intervene, according to LANA. The incident was reported to the Tripoli Security Directorate, according to which this was the third reported kidnapping in the capital this week. [AP, Libya Herald, 2/11/2014]

France rules out Libya military intervention
On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ruled out the possibility of Western military action against Islamist fighters in southern Libya. The announcement essentially rebuffs an appeal for intervention from neighboring Niger, which, last week, called on the West to finish what they started in Libya by dealing with the Islamists who have established bases in the south since the 2011 overthrow of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Fabius did state that Western powers are drawing up plans to help the Libyan government deal with this issue. France, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt are all involved in said discussions. [Al Arabiya, 2/10/2014]


Second round of Geneva II talks makes faltering start
A second round of Syria peace talks got off to a shaky start on Monday, with the two sides complaining about violations of a local ceasefire and an Islamist offensive respectively in separate meetings with the international mediator. Ahead of the talks, mediator Lakhdar Brahimi told delegates to commit first to discussing both ending the fighting and setting up a transitional government. The government side said combating “terrorism”—its catchall term for the revolt—should be agreed first. In a further bad sign, Brahimi cancelled a planned news conference. [Reuters, AFP, 2/11/2014]

Iraq to step up inspections of Syria-bound planes from Iran
Iraq will step up random inspections of cargo planes from Iran that fly over its territory to Syria, once it gets an air traffic control system purchased from the United States, the Iraqi ambassador in Washington said Monday. “We need advanced defense capabilities to inspect overflights” of Iraq territory, ambassador Lukman Faily said in a question-and-answer session on Twitter. On February 4, the Pentagon announced a $700 million agreement—notified to Congress—to sell Iraq an air traffic control radar system. In the spring of 2013, the United States demanded Iraq increase inspections of Iranian cargo planes crossing its airspace en route to Syria. Washington suspected the aircraft of transporting weapons and fighters to the Syrian regime, which receives Tehran’s support. Americans have been less vocal in recent months over this issue, but Faily said “a number of random inspections have taken place.” In addition, to help Iraq fight al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups, Washington promised to speed up its delivery of Hellfire missiles, surveillance drones, and two dozen Apache attack helicopters. [AFP, 2/11/2014]

Arab Israeli gets fifteen months for training with al-Nusra in Syria
An Arab Israeli has been sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being convicted of travelling to Syria and receiving training with the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. According to the court ruling, Abdel Kader al-Taleh, twenty-seven, from the Arab village of Taibe in northern Israel, was convicted of “entering an enemy territory” and “illegal training for combat.” According to the indictment, Taleh was approached by al-Qaeda sympathizers while he was studying pharmacology in Jordan in 2010-2011. In July last year, he traveled to Turkey and from there crossed into northern Syria. There he made contact with al-Nusra activists and spent three days in one of their training camps, where he received instruction in the use of weapons. But he decided not to stay and ended up going home. In her ruling, the judge noted the danger inherent in Arab Israelis volunteering for jihadist groups in Syria, where they “receive ideological and military training which could then be used for carrying out attacks on Israeli targets.” She also flagged the danger of Arab Israeli volunteers “sharing information” with Islamist rebels fighting the Syrian government. Last month, the privately-run Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center estimated that about twenty Arab Israelis had joined the rebels in Syria, as well as thirty Palestinians from Gaza, and a handful from the West Bank. [AFP, 2/11/2014]


US ship arrive in Tunis for training exercises
On Sunday, USS Elrod, a guided missile frigate (a warship designed to protect other warships) arrived in Tunis. The USS Elrod staff will conduct joint training operations with the Tunisian Navy in maritime safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea. This is part of the USS Elrod’s six-month tour  to conduct maritime operations with several African nations on different facets of naval operation. Tunisia is the second stop on the tour following Morocco. The two navies will begin exercises on Tuesday on strategies to prevent smuggling and intercept shipments of weapons and drugs. The visit is intended to promote partnership and training with the Tunisian Navy. [Tunisia Live, 1/10/2014]

Tunisia’s new constitution goes into effect
Tunisia’s new constitution, which was passed on January 27, went into effect on February 10. Articles related to individuals’ rights and liberties enter immediately into force, while the others will only be applied after the election of the People’s Council and the President of the Republic and the confidence vote to the government issued from elections. A priority for the next phase of Tunisia’s transition is to establish an authority to monitor the constitutionality of laws passed by the National Constituent Assembly,  pending the setting up of the permanent Constitutional Court. [TAP, 1/10/2014]

Tunisia, Algeria trade agreement to go into effect in March
On Saturday, the Tunisian-Algerian High Joint Committee adopted a preferential trade agreement between the two countries. It will come into effect in March and is expected to increase the volume of trade between the two countries as well as the living conditions of communities in both countries that live along the border. This is seen as an important initiative by both countries not only to improve trade and enhance both economies but also to improve security by limiting the spread of terrorism, smuggling, and transnational organized crime and investing in the economically disenfranchised populations that live along both countries’ borders. [African Manager, 1/10/2014]

Jomaa reshuffles his office
The prime minister’s office announced on Monday that the prime minister’s office will be reshuffled. This decision follows the first meeting of interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s first cabinet meeting on February 6 that focused on maximizing government efficiency. Jomaa will eliminate the nine counselors and eight chargés de mission and instead nominate one diplomatic advisor, Hatem Atallah. [TAP, 1/10/2014]


Hadi: politically too difficult to investigate security service abuses
President Abdrabo Mansour Hadi responded to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) call to investigate security force abuses by saying that political circumstances made it too difficult to investigate wrongdoing by security forces; furthermore, he noted, the government does not have the capacity to enforce an investigative committee’s findings. “A general issue with the Yemeni military is that each brigade is formed from the same tribe,” Hadi said. “I cannot remove a commander who commits an abuse because the commander will simply reject the decision and the brigade will stand by him.” [HRW, 2/10/2014]

Houthis, Socialists, Herak, voice opposition to six-region plan
After yesterday’s decision to build a six-region state, several groups across Yemen have voiced their opposition to the federal model. Appearing on Al-Jazeera, a member of the Houthis said that that the group opposed the plan “because it divides Yemen into poor and wealthy” regions. The representative also went on to imply the Houthis wanted their own region comprised of Sa’ada, Hajja, and al-Jawf. A statement from the Yemeni Socialist Party, said that the plan failed to resolve the issue of the South, saying that unity for the south and for the north was the key to a unified Yemen; they appear to prefer the discarded two-region plan. A representative of the southern Herak separatists stated that the dialogue was “built on falsehood,” and furthermore failed to deal with the southern issue and grievances dating back to the 1994 civil war. The south, he said, did not want more autonomy, but full independence and the right to self-determination. [2/11/2014]

Yemenis stage demonstrations on third anniversary of the 2011 uprising
Protests marked the third anniversary of Yemen’s 2011 uprising across the country today. While some marches and protests were held in commemoration of the uprising, Houthi supporters gathered to demand a new government, calling the transitional government corrupt. Other groups used the anniversary to call for additional reform and change, notably the realization of the revolutionaries’ demands. The dismissal of corrupt ministers and the release of prisoners detained during the 2011 uprising were at the center of these demands. The Revolutionary Youth Council group called for a second revolution, highlighting the issues of rule of law and corruption. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/11/2014]


Kuwait mulls austerity as citizens call for increase in benefits
Though the country’s budget surplus adds up to more than $40,000 per person, attempts of the Kuwaiti government to persuade the public that its welfare is unaffordable continues to fall on deaf ears. The IMF has been calling on Gulf Cooperation Council countries to reduce expenditures on subsidies and government programs, but citizens continue to demand the implementation of government services they feel they are owed, like public housing. One state-employed engineer remarked that Kuwaitis are “hostile to even discussing the matter” of austerity and a reduction of welfare expenditures. Meanwhile Kuwaitis call on the government to confront the issue of corruption first before gutting public expenditures. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/11/2014]

Saudi Arabia plays realpolitik with oil prices
The Kingdom’s decision to cut oil prices for asian customers by more than expected appears to be a three-pronged move to maintain market share, boost refining margins and stave off demand destruction. The possibility of increased Iranian shipments and more cargoes from neighbouring Iraq is also likely a factor behind the Saudi decision to cut its official selling price by more than the market anticipated. Throw into the equation more Russian oil through the ESPO pipeline and it becomes apparent that Asian refiners, while not awash in a glut of oil, certainly have more choice of suppliers currently than they have had in recent months. [Gulf News, 2/11/2014]

Palestine plans to build two airports, a seaport, and a railway line
The Palestinian Authority (PA) announced plans to build two airports in the West Bank, as well as a seaport and a major railway line. A deal with Egypt has already been reached for the country to assist on the airport project, and there are ongoing talks about the development of a railway link between Cairo and Gaza. The PA plans to build one airport east of Jericho in the Israeli-controlled Area C section of the West Bank. Israel has yet to comment on its reaction to the plans. [International Business Times, 2/10/2014]

Image: Destruction in Homs, Syria. (Photo: Wikimedia)