In recent weeks Russia has stepped up supplies of military gear to Syria, including armored vehicles, drones, and guided bombs, boosting President Bashar al-Assad just as rebel infighting has weakened the insurgency against him, sources with knowledge of the deliveries say. The new Russian supplies come at a critically fluid stage of the conflict, with peace talks scheduled for next week in Switzerland, the factious opposition losing ground, and Western support for the rebellion growing increasingly wary of the role played by foreign militants. Syria has even said some countries formally opposed to Assad have begun discussing security cooperation with his government. Several sources told Reuters that Assad’s forces had since December received deliveries of weaponry and other military supplies, including unmanned spy drones known as UAVs, which have been arranged by Russia either directly or via proxies. [Reuters, 1/17/2014]



United States expresses concerns over arrests, waiting for observer reports on referendum
The United States has reiterated its concern over what State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described in a statement as “reports of politically-motivated arrests and detentions of political activists, peaceful demonstrators, and journalists in Egypt.” She added that Washington is looking forward to listening to Egyptian and international observers who monitored the referendum on the new draft constitution. Washington was watching the referendum process closely and was awaiting the announcement of official results. The United States is keen on asserting that the issue concerning who will lead Egypt in the future is up to Egyptians themselves. Meanwhile, a free and fair voting process in the constitutional referendum was “impaired” by the political context leading up to the polls, according to a statement issued by Transparency International, an international referendum observation mission on Thursday. While the official results are expected on Saturday night, a High Elections Committee source reported that there was a 38 percent turnout in the referendum vote. The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development and Human Rights Studies said that between 36 to 38 percent of 52,742,139 registered voters cast their votes in the referendum. [DNE, Egypt Independent, SIS, Mada Masr, 1/17/2014]

Egypt: Inflation up in 2013
Egypt’s inflation rate for 2013 as a whole came in at 10.3 percent compared to 7.5 percent in 2012, according to figures issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Experts attributed the increase to the pound’s devaluation against the dollar, the economic slowdown and the Central Bank of Egypt’s printing more cash. Other reasons provided by Abu Bakr al-Gindy, the CAPMAS chairman, included the low growth rate, which stood at 2 percent in 2013, few job opportunities, and a sharp reduction in foreign direct investment flows to Egypt. [Ahram Weekly, 1/17/2014]

General Prosecutor accuses Al-Jazeera journalists of breaking press laws
Egypt’s general prosecutor accused detained Al-Jazeera English reporters of violating Egyptian press laws that safeguard national security and the interests of the country. General Prosecutor Hisham Barakat said in a press release that the journalists face several charges that include possessing wireless communications devices without permission, belonging to a terrorist organization, and spreading false news that could endanger national security. He accused the journalists with the intent of harming Egypt’s image abroad. In his statement, he acknowledged that putting restrictions on freedom of speech is unlawful, until it harms national security and the country’s interests. Al-Jazeera rejected claims made by the general prosecutor that its detained journalists had confessed to joining the Muslim Brotherhood. The channel’s statement said, “The prosecutor’s measure of issuing a statement like this is unusual, as it looks like a prejudgment on an ongoing investigation.” [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/17/2014]

Five killed as security forces clash with protesters
Five pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces on Friday afternoon in cities around Egypt, according to security sources. Protesters were demonstrating in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and against the transitional authorities, on the first Friday after a constitutional referendum that authorities have touted as a key step in the post-Morsi roadmap. Two protesters were killed and three others injured in clashes in the Fayoum governorate, south of Cairo. Another was protester was killed in 6 October city, just outside Cairo. Two protesters were also killed in clashes in the Alf Maskan district of Cairo. [Ahram Online, 1/17/2014]


Prime Minister Zeidan admits weaknesses
It was reported Friday that during Tuesday’s press conference the prime minister acknowledged weaknesses of his offices and alleged that the state bureaucracy was stifling his government. Revealing some of the internal divisions that exist between the government, the General National Congress (GNC), and the military Chief of Staff, Zeidan admitted that the latter was refusing to take orders from him or send troops to the recent hotspot of Sebha. These internal problems are contributing to the ineffectiveness of the new Libyan state and the current political paralysis. In regards to the assassination of the Deputy Minister of Industry last Sunday, he added that use of force may be needed in order to preserve security, pointing to the weakness or unwillingness of the police to remain at their posts and show up to work while facing heavily armed militias. [Libya Herald 1/17/2014]

Discussions over vote of no confidence continue among rising tensions
Demonstrators camped outside the GNC building on Thursday claiming they would start a second revolution if the prime minister was not dismissed by Sunday. These events follow Tuesday’s storming of Congress by armed protesters who believe the prime minister is behind the deteriorating security situation in the country. While the prime minister is visiting Saudi Arabia, talks continued behind closed doors as Congress resumed its discussion of a vote of no confidence. The Muslim Brotherhood of Libya has also released a statement saying that Congress must vote to remove Zeidan and his government. If it refuses to do so the Brotherhood would place full responsibility for the political, security, economic, and social situation on all GNC members and on all political blocks dominating Congress. [Libya Herald 1/17/2014]

US Senate Benghazi Report: Fifteen Libyans killed during investigation
The report produced by the US Senate Intelligence Committee into the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi rejects any intelligence cover-up by the White House but states that fifteen individuals supporting the investigation or otherwise helpful to the United States were killed in Benghazi since the attack. It remains unclear if the killings were related to the investigation. [Libya Herald 1/17/2014]


Syria hands Aleppo ceasefire plan to Russia; Rebels say ceasefires have proved deceptive
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Friday he had handed Russia plans for a ceasefire with rebel forces in Aleppo and was ready to exchange lists on a possible prisoner swap. Washington and Moscow have been trying to negotiate some confidence-building measures between the warring sides and allow humanitarian aid to flow to areas worst hit in the nearly three-year-old civil war. “I count on the success of this plan if all sides carry out their obligations,” Moualem told a joint news conference in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “We would like this to serve as an example to other towns.” To the starving residents and rebel fighters in the bitterly contested suburbs of Damascus, ceasefire offers from the government can be tempting enough to overcome their deep mistrust: a cessation of violence accompanied by the delivery of food supplies, if they agree to give up their heavy weapons and let state-run news media show the government’s flag flying over their town. However, residents and rebel officials in some of the communities report a disturbing pattern in which the government has used ceasefires as cover for operations intended to attain a victory it could not achieve any other way. [Reuters, AFP, 1/17/2014]

Opposition meets to decide on peace talks; Kerry offers assurances to opposition
The divided opposition will meet Friday in Istanbul to decide whether to join next week’s landmark peace talks, as its Arab and Western allies ratchet up the pressure for it to attend.
On the eve of the National Coalition’s meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry made a powerful plea to the exiled group to decide in favor of the talks to be held in Switzerland on January 22. On Thursday Kerry offered public assurance that the Obama administration had not pulled back from its goal of establishing a transitional government that would not include President Bashar al-Assad. In a quickly arranged press appearance, Kerry criticized “revisionism” and attempts to “muddy the waters” over the reasons the peace conference has been organized. “Any names put forward for leadership of Syria’s transition” at the conference, Kerry said, “must be agreed to by both the opposition and the regime.” [Daily Star, NYT, 1/17/2014]

Rocket fired from Syria kills seven in Lebanese border town
Rocket fire into the Lebanese border town of Arsal killed at least seven people and wounded fifteen on Friday, Lebanon’s state news agency said, in one of several such salvoes to hit towns bordering war-torn Syria. At least ten rockets have struck Lebanese frontier areas, according to local security sources, in further spillover from Syria’s civil war that has raised tensions across Lebanon. [Reuters, 1/17/2014]


National Constituent Assembly passes Articles 103, 107, and 108
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) passed Articles 103, 107, and 108 of the draft constitution on Thursday. All three articles were rejected earlier this week by the NCA. Article 103 stirred controversy because it determines who appoints judges to the highest judicial offices. The final version that passed stipulates that judges will be nominated by the president, after consulting with the prime minister, based on proposals by the Supreme Judicial Council. Articles 107 and 108 passed after they were amended. Article 107 states the types of courts and their activities will be outlined by law, and that military courts will only try military crimes. Article 108 outlines the process of issuing and implementing a court sentence. [TAP, 1/16/2014]

Government to compensate Islamists
An amendment to Tunisia’s 2014 Finance Act creates a fund to compensate victims of repression, in particular Islamists. The fund will not be drawn from the 2014 budget but instead will be funded by associations and private donors. Nonetheless, the fund is highly controversial. Opponents believe it does not belong in the Finance Act. [All Africa, 1/16/2014]

Vice president of electoral council announced
Mourad Ben Moula was elected vice-president of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections (ISIE II) on Thursday. ISIE II is tasked with establishing and overseeing elections this year. The electoral council was named and confirmed by the NCA last week, sworn in by the president earlier this week, and met for the first time on Wednesday. Chafik Sarsar was elected president of the ISIE II on January 10.  [TAP, 1/16/2014]


Oil pipeline explosion in Shabwa; LNG negotiations underway with French company
Unidentified gunmen blew up an oil pipeline in southeast Yemen friday morning, before escaping security forces. Damages to oil pipelines have frequently been carried out by tribal militants in the past, though the identities of the perpetrators in this case have not been confirmed. Though Yemen is a small oil producer, the industry accounts for 70 percent of the state’s revenues and 90 percent of Yemeni exports. The attack comes amid numerous energy deals being discussed, the latest with the French company TOTAL, to export liquefied natural gas. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/17/2014]

Clashes in al-Dali’ after attack on water tanker
After a water tanker en route to a local military brigade was fired upon by gunmen suspected to be affiliated with the southern Herak movement, clashes erupted in al-Dali’ province. Initial reports claim two soldiers were killed in the attack. Locals allege the the military responded with indiscriminate shelling that has resulted in an unconfirmed number of casualties, with damage to local infrastructure as well. [Aden Tomorrow (Arabic), al-Masdar (Arabic); 1/17/2014]

Obama names new ambassador to Yemen
President Barack Obama has tapped the current ambassador to Kuwait, Matthew Tueller, to fill the vacant post in Yemen. Tueller has a record of foreign service in embassies across the region, in Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and previously worked in Yemen in 2000 and 2001. [Associated Press, 1/16/2014]

South African deputy minister heads to Yemen to negotiate captive’s release
Following last week’s release of a South African woman Yolande Korkie held by al-Qaeda, South Africa’s deputy international relations minister has been dispatched to Yemen to secure the release of her husband Pierre, still held by militants. The two were taken hostage last May in the city of Taiz. Though Yolande was released without any ransom being paid, militants are demanding approximately $150,000 for Pierre’s release by Saturday, while a local Yemeni civil society group is facilitating negotiations. [IAfrica, 1/17/2014]


Algeria’s presidential elections set for April 17
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika set the 2014 presidential elections for April 17. Bouteflika was in France this week for treatment for his deteriorating health. He has not yet declared if he will run in the elections for a fourth term even though he has been nominated by his party, the National Liberation Front (FLN). Last April, Bouteflika was hospitalized for three months in France because of a stroke. Since returning to Algeria, he has rarely been seen in public and rumors abound about his deteriorating health. Bouteflika has not named a successor and uncertainty regarding whether he will run has created a power vacuum. [Al-Arabiya, 1/17/2014]

GCC and China ink strategic action plan
The Gulf Cooperation Council and China have signed a strategic action dialogue plan to run from 2014 through 2017. The deal is set to boost multilevel political and economic relations and promote joint investment. [Gulf News, Bahrain News Agency, 1/17/2014]

Saudi Arabia’s labour pains
The economy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is experiencing turbulence related to the repatriation of over a million foreigners in the just a few months. Hardest hit is KSA’s construction sector that has long relied on cheap labor, with approximately $27 billion worth of infrastructure projects being disrupted. The departure of immigrants who operated food stalls has also contributed to a rapid increase in food prices. Several other industries have been adversely affected, though observers expect these to be temporary.. [Arabian Business, 1/17/2014]

EU to help Jordan with security of Syria refugee camps
On Thursday, the European Union announced it would give an additional twenty million euros to Jordan to help mitigate the impacts of the Syrian refugees. The European Union partnered with the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR. The funds will go towards helping Jordanian authorities improve security inside refugee camps and provide safe transportation for refugees from the border. [Jordan Times, 1/16/2014]