Top News: Report finds corruption growing in Middle East hot spots

An international watchdog group says its annual survey shows the most violent nations in the Middle East are perceived to be the region’s most corrupt and are getting worse. Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks more than four-fifths of countries in the Middle East below fifty on a scale where zero is a country perceived to be highly corrupt and one hundred perceived to be very clean. [AP/Al Arabiya, 12/3/2013]


President Mansour expected to approve, parties start campaigns for and against constitution
Chairman of the constitution drafting committee Amr Moussa presented on Tuesday the final draft of the charter – finalized Sunday evening – to interim President Adly Mansour. According to government sources, Mansour is expected to promptly approve the text and call for a referendum on the constitution. “The government needs a few weeks to prepare for the referendum, so we are talking about the first or second week of January, but not much earlier,” said a government source. A source at the ministry of information said the next few weeks would be “well utilized” by the state-run media to “encourage people to vote in favor of the new constitution.” Partisan campaigns have launched around Egypt on both sides of the constitution, some calling for voting ‘yes’ in the referendum on the newly amended constitution, while others oppose it. Strong Egypt Party, April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, and the No to Military Trials group all announced their rejection of the newly amended constitution, while the Karama Party, Popular Socialist Alliance, Egyptian Socialist Party, and Tamarod have expressed support. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Shorouk (Arabic), 12/3/2013]

Egyptian activist Ahmed Douma arrested, Ahmed Maher to remain in detention
Prominent activist Ahmed Douma was arrested at his home in Cairo and taken to a police station on Tuesday morning, he said via Twitter. He did not specify the reason for his arrest. The young activist accompanied April 6 Youth Movement cofounder Ahmed Maher when he handed himself in to police earlier this week over breaking the protest law. Maher will remain in detention for four days pending investigations on charges related to violating a new protest law, despite an earlier order that he be released. The ministry of interior also announced that police arrested twenty year-old Sherif al-Sirfy for his part in defacing the monument that was erected in Tahrir Square by the interim government as a “memorial for the martyrs of the January 25 and June 30 revolutions.” Al-Sirfy, a member of the April 6 Democratic Front, was arrested Sunday night in Sixth of October City, according to front member Mohamed Youssef. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Ahram Online, DNE, 12/3/2013]

Egypt has postponed IMF loan decision ‘for time being’ says Deputy PM
Egypt has postponed any decision on taking a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as financial aid from Gulf states has given Cairo some breathing space as it starts to conduct economic reforms, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din said on Tuesday. Bahaa El-Din said Egypt has so far received around $8 billion of a $12 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates promised in July, days after the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The IMF and Egypt have sporadically discussed a possible loan worth up to $4.8 billion to help the ailing economy since a 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak drove away tourists and foreign investors, two main sources of foreign currency. [Egypt Independent, Reuters, 12/3/2013]

Pro-Morsi alliance meets EU delegation
The pro-Mohamed Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy will meet on Tuesday with a delegation from the European Union, which arrived in Cairo on Sunday evening for a three-day visit to discuss the latest developments of the situation in Egypt. Alliance member Magdy Salem, the vice president of the Islamic Party, told the press, “The Alliance decided to meet with the EU delegation on Tuesday, so that we can put forward [our] full vision.” Mohamed Ali Beshr, a Morsi-era local development minister, is to the alliance delegation in the talks. [Egypt Independent, 12/3/2013]


Libya eager for return of Russian embassy, wants to strengthen ties, says Libya FM
In an interview with the Voice of Russia, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz expressed his hope that the Russian embassy would resume its work in Libya to make it possible for the countries to “restore and strengthen ties.” Russia removed its diplomats from Tripoli in October 2013 after the embassy came under attack in the midst of clashes between armed groups. Abdelaziz expressed Libya’s readiness to provide security to Russian diplomats. Russian Ambassador Ivan Molotkov announced recently that a group would travel to Libya before year’s end to work on the issue of reopening the Russian embassy. [Tripoli Post, 12/03/2013]

Jordan’s King Abdullah tells Zidan of “absolute” support for Libyan aspirations
During Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s visit to Jordan this week, King Abdullah II expressed “total and continuous support” for Libya’s aspirations, according to a royal court statement. King Abdullah stated that Jordan is ready to extend all assistance, including medical and humanitarian, to Libya. Zidan said he was in Jordan to express gratitude to the country for supporting the Libyan revolution and to let Jordan know that Tripoli counts on its cooperation and expertise. He briefed King Abdullah on the latest developments and the efforts underway to rebuild the state’s institutions. [Libya Herald, 12/02/2013]

Four protesters shot in Derna demonstration
Gunmen opened fire at a procession of demonstrators in Derna, injuring four people. The demonstrators, in their second consecutive day taking to the streets, were protesting the continued presence of armed militias in the city and demanding proper security enforcement. In a TV interview, the Ansar al-Sharia commander in Derna said that the demonstrators were not representative of the general public, which he argued stands with the organization. The Derna local council condemned the firing and urged demonstrators to remain peaceful. [Libya Herald, 12/02/2013]

Opinion: Will Libya survive Qaddafi legacy and chaos?
Libya is descending into a patchwork of tribal and regional affiliations and even criminal networks. This is due to three critical mistakes, according to World Bank advisor Hafed Al Ghwell: a failure to plan and implement a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration strategy following Qaddafi’s ouster; the lack of Libyan political capacity and leadership to provide a strategic vision for the country’s future; and the failure by the opposition to bring old regime supporters into the fold. Libya requires international help under the auspices of the United Nations. It will also need to establish mechanisms for restorative – versus punitive – justice, as well as a robust economic plan. [Hafed Al Ghwell, Gulfnews, 12/01/2013]


United Nations falls short of feeding Syria’s hungry as winter bites
The United Nations said on Tuesday it had delivered food to 3.4 million people in Syria in November, falling short again of its monthly target of four million as heavy fighting kept it from reaching hungry people in contested areas. As winter draws on, the number of children in Syria deemed vulnerable and in need of assistance has nearly quadrupled from a year ago to 4.3 million. The World Food Program said it had reached eight communities in November that had been cut off for months, mainly in rural Homs and Deraa, but some areas in Damascus and in the northeasterly Hassakeh province, scene of heavy fighting, had seen no food deliveries for six months. The International Red Cross warned on Monday that at least a million Syrians are going hungry, as fighting and checkpoints prevent aid deliveries. [Reuters, The National, 12/3/2013]

Aleppo gears up for major regime offensive
After almost a year-long stalemate in Aleppo the table is now being set for a major showdown. Although a serious regime offensive to retake Aleppo has been rumored on many previous occasions, this time residents’ expectations are more certain. Aside from small pieces of territory exchanging hands and intermittent clashes and skirmishes of varying ferocity, there has been nothing like the large-scale offensive recently launched by the regime in the southeast of Aleppo. The regime’s rapid and successful takeover of the strategic town of Safireh and nearby villages just to the south of Aleppo city has rebels visibly shaken. For too long they’ve been overconfident that their control over much of Aleppo province was unchallengeable, but a number of significant factors have changed this calculus. [Al Monitor, 12/3/2013]

Suicide blast kills four in downtown Damascus
A suicide bomber killed at least four people and wounded seventeen in central Damascus on Tuesday. Observers said the target of the attack appeared to be a government building. [Naharnet, 12/3/2013]


Opposition deputies uphold boycott prior to quartet’s announcement
Opposition deputies announced Monday that they will hold off on discussing a return to National Constituent Assembly committees until the anticipated announcement next Wednesday by the quartet of mediators sponsoring the current national dialogue. The quartet is expected to announce the date the dialogue will resume “if any resumption will take place,” Tunisian General Labor Union Secretary-General Houcine Abassi had indicated after his meeting on Monday with Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi. Unnamed sources told TAP news agency that Jalloul Ayed, former minister of finance and Chawki Tabib, former president of the Bar are the only two individuals still in the running for prime minister. [TAP, 12/2/2013]

IMF says Tunisia needs ‘urgent’ reforms
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Monday that Tunisia needs urgent action to rein in budget deficits and generate growth, as its loan disbursements to the country remained under delay. The IMF said at the end of a mission to Tunisia that confidence in the economy continues to suffer due to the lack of progress on political reforms as well as ongoing security problems. The fund cut its forecast for economic growth to 2.7 percent this year from 3 percent and warned that the budget deficit could reach 8.8 percent of GDP, and its mission statement notably did not recommend a new disbursement in the IMF’s $1.74 billion loan program for the country. [AFP/Al Arabiya, 12/3/2013]

President’s office publishes book accusing journalists of cooperation with Ben Ali
The office of interim President Moncef Marzouki produced a book of journalists and intellectuals accused of cooperating with the government of deposed leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. On Friday, images of the book, called The Propaganda Apparatus Under Ben Ali: The Black Book, were shown on a television station. A source within the presidency confirmed the television report to Tunisia Live and said that a full list of names would be revealed at a press conference on Wednesday. [Tunisia Live, 12/2/2013]

Bomb blast kills Tunisia officer near Algerian border
A landmine killed a Tunisian army officer on Monday in the Mount Chaambi border region, where security forces have for months been hunting al-Qaeda linked militants, the defense ministry said. Captain Youssef Dridi, a military engineer, died in the blast, which occurred at the end of an “operational mission” and which lightly injured another soldier, according to the ministry spokesman. Since last December, security forces have been tracking jihadists holed up in the remote Mount Chaambi region that straddles the Algerian border. [AFP/Ahram Online, 12/2/2013]


Three soldiers among nine dead in clashes
Nine people, including three soldiers, were killed Monday when clashes broke out in southeastern Yemen’s Hadramaut region, officials said. The defense ministry initially said the fighting erupted when al-Qaeda militants attacked an army checkpoint, but the official SABA news agency later said it was a dispute between soldiers and a group of tribesmen, six of whom were killed. Officials contacted by AFP also denied the defense ministry’s report, saying the fighting broke out after a group of bodyguards escorting a tribal chief refused to hand over their weapons. [AFP/Gulf News, 12/3/2013]

Yemen admits using land mines mines
According to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Yemeni prime minister’s office admitted in a communique that a violation of the Landmine Treaty had occurred in Yemen in during the 2011 uprising. The statement cites reports of the former government’s Republican Guard laying antipersonnel land mines near Sana’a. HRW is urging the current Yemeni government to investigate these reports further, clear the mines, and provide assistance to victims. [HRW, 12/2/2013]

8+8 committee waiting for Benomar’s return to continue meetings
Meetings of the 8+8 subcommittee of the Southern Issue Working Group are due to resume Thursday after the return of UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar. Benomar will continue discussions on the future structure of Yemen and how the southern issue will be addressed. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary-General of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) Yasser al-Reina reported that the NDC Conciliation Committee is continuing to review the various working group reports it has received, but that it is still waiting for final recommendations on the Southern Issue. The final plenary session of the NDC will not resume until all the working groups finish their reports. [Al Tagheer (Arabic), 12/3/2013]


Experts say Iraq must make radical shift to combat unrest
Iraq must make radical changes in how it handles security and its Sunni minority to combat a surge in bloodletting but major steps are unlikely with elections looming, experts say. With violence at its worst since 2008 and the country appealing for international help in combating militancy, officials have trumpeted operations targeting militants and some concessions to disaffected Sunnis. But, analysts say, those measures do not go far enough when confronted with bloodshed that has left more than 6,000 people dead already this year and has sparked fears Iraq is slipping back into all-out sectarian war. [AFP/Ahram Online, 12/3/2013]

Saudi Arabia deports 110,234 in one month
Saudi Arabia has deported more than 110,000 foreigners who had been staying illegally in the kingdom, according to Ahmad Al Luhaidan, a spokesperson for the passports department. The deportation drive was launched on November 4, following the end of a seven-month amnesty for all expatriates to formalize their residence and work permits in the country. [Gulf News, 12/3/2013]

Bahrain jails sixteen Shiites over attack on police
A Bahraini court on Monday sentenced sixteen Shiites convicted of attacking a police patrol with Molotov cocktails to seven years in prison each, a judicial source said. They were also found guilty of blocking roads by setting tires on fire in May last year and for taking part in an unauthorized protest during which a police vehicle was attacked, although no one was hurt. [AFP/Ahram Online, 12/2/2013]

Image: Photo: Transparency International