Top News: Russia, US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia Seek Solution to Syrian War in Vienna

US Secretary of State John Kerry opened talks in Vienna on Friday with his Russian, Saudi, and Turkish counterparts aimed at reviving a moribund effort to end Syria’s civil war. Kerry began a day-long series of meetings in the Austrian capital by consulting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, and Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu, both of whom share the US view that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go for the conflict is to be resolved. Kerry then met separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whose country is one of Assad’s prime backers. On Thursday in Berlin, Kerry said one focus of the talks would be to consider “a broader participation of very necessary countries, all of whom need to be at the table” to discuss the way forward in Syria. Russia is keen to bring Assad’s other main supporter, Iran, into the talks, but Saudi Arabia in particular is opposed. Lavrov was quoted as saying that the Russian and Jordanian militaries have agreed to coordinate actions on Syria via a special working mechanism in Amman. [AP, 10/23/2015]



Nour Party ready to withdraw from political arena
The Nour Party is ready to withdraw from the political arena to protect Egypt from collapse and from the dangers threatening other countries in the region, said Nour Party Chairman Younes Makhioun. Makhioun told TV channel al-Hewar, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, that the party garnered votes in the first stage of the elections equal to the votes garnered by all other parties, despite fraud allegations. “We entered the elections in an unfair atmosphere that lacked the most basic rules of fairness and justice, which was revealed in the whole atmosphere of fraud,” he added. Makhioun said fraud was not limited to votes, but was present in the whole electoral process. Many, especially youth, have called for a withdrawal from the elections due to the injustice placed on the party, particularly in the media, the party said in a statement Thursday. The state has not taking action against those who attacked the Nour Party in the pre-election silence, Borhamy added. Meanwhile, the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya alone saw ten Coptic candidates competing in the run-offs, in an unprecedented phenomenon, particularly for a tribal province that regularly makes headlines for its sectarian tensions. There are more than ten other Coptic candidates participating in the run-offs for individual seats. [AMAY, Mada Masr, 10/23/2015]

Egyptian Brotherhood businessman Hassan Malek arrested
Egyptian security forces arrested Hassan Malek, a leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, security officials said. A statement issued early Friday by the Interior Ministry said Malek, and four other members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested after the National Security Agency received information that the group was planning to harm the Egyptian economy by “gathering foreign currency from the market” in order to “destabilize the price of the US dollar” in Egypt. The five are accused of using foreign exchange companies affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood to smuggle money, especially foreign currency, out of the country. Malek’s family posted the news of his arrest on his daughter’s Facebook page. All of Malek’s assets have been frozen since September 2014 when the North Cairo Criminal Court upheld a decision by the prosecutor general to freeze the assets of prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 10/23/2015]

Shrine closed for Shia commemorations says Ministry
The shrine of Al-Hussein will be closed by the Ministry of Religious Endowments from Thursday to Saturday, during the religious Shia Ashoura celebrations, state-owned news agency MENA reported. An official statement from the ministry said the reason behind the closure was to prevent “Shia rituals that don’t belong to Islam,” and the “Shia lies” that take place during the celebrations. Endowments Ministry Undersecretary Mohamed Abdel Razek said, the Endowments Ministry and Al-Azhar are fighting the “Shia tide in the Arab region and Egypt in particular,” adding that the imams of the mosques were ordered to report any celebration activity to the police. [Ahram Online, 10/22/2015]

Egyptian police officer killed by explosive device in North Sinai
A police captain was killed and three security personnel were injured when an IED detonated in North Sinai on Friday, the Interior Ministry announced. A statement by the Ministry issued Friday afternoon said that Central Security Forces Police Captain Mohamed Gouda was killed while a policeman and two conscripts were injured. The IED was placed in a car and detonated as the security personnel passed it on the International Highway in al-Arish. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry released a statement announcing that a police officer and a soldier were injured by shrapnel when members of a bomb squad were defusing an IED in the Haram district of Giza. [Ahram Online, AP, Cairo Post, 10/23/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya’s HOR boycotters say they approve proposed Government of National Accord
Twenty-one boycotting members of the House of Representatives (HOR) have issued a statement in support of the final text of the Libyan Dialogue agreement issued on October 8 and of the Government of National Accord (GNA) to be led by Prime Minister-Designate Fayez al-Serraj. Separately, a group of twenty-five members of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, referred to as the National Accord Bloc, have also issued a statement in support of the Dialogue agreement and the GNA. At a press conference in Tunis on Wednesday, Leon suggested that some seventy members of the HOR and another seventy of the GNC are in favor of the agreement, implying that these figures constitute a majority in both places but that neither body has been allowed to vote on the deal. [Libya Herald, 10/22/2015]

Bernardino Leon to continue in post to Libya
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon to continue as Special Envoy to Libya following the refusal of both the House of Representatives (HOR) and the General National Congress (GNC) to approve the Government of National Accord and the political agreement by the deadline of October 20. Leon was expected to hand over his post to German diplomat Martin Kobler by the end of this month. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni gave the news of the extension of Leon’s tenure in a joint meeting of the Italian parliament’s Foreign and Defense Committees on the situation in Libya. No time limit was given to Leon’s extension. [Libya Herald, 10/22/2015]

Serraj makes first public statement as Prime Minister-Designate
Prime Minister-Designate Fayez al-Serraj said yesterday that Libya is at a crucial crossroads. “What is difficult today may become impossible tomorrow,” he warned in his first public statement since accepting the nomination as Prime Minister and Head of the Presidential Council in the new Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA, he insisted, will be one of reconciliation, but it can only succeed in its task with the support of all Libyans. Earlier on Thursday, Serraj spoke to EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, who welcomed his nomination. She assured him of Europe’s full support in his work and reaffirmed that the EU stands ready with a substantial and immediate support package once the GNA is formed. [Libya Herald, 10/22/2015]

EU draft text on DCFTA with Tunisia presented to civil society
Negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) between Tunisia and the European Union have produced a draft text that has now been presented to Tunisian civil society. At this stage, the European side has offered Tunisia a draft text that is not yet complete but includes provisions on the service sectors, liberalization of the agricultural sector, and harmonization of Tunisian and European trade legislation (including legislation on competition, procurement markets, facilitation of trade, and customs procedures), said Saida Hachicha, Director General of Economic and Trade Cooperation at the Ministry of Trade. [TAP, 10/22/2015]


Russian lawmakers visit Syria
Several Russian lawmakers arrived in Syria on Friday for a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad on the day when foreign policy chiefs of Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are discussing a political settlement to Syria’s civil war. The legislators from both chambers of the Russian parliament said they are on a humanitarian mission but will also be meeting Assad. [AP, 10/23/2015]

Nearly 450 killed in Russian strikes on Syria
Russian air strikes in Syria have killed at least 446 people, more than a third of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group said on Friday. Russia launched an air war on opponents of the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad on September 30 and says it is targeting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) jihadist group and other “terrorists.” Of the total killed since then, 151 are civilians and include thirty-eight children and thirty-five women, SOHR Chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. SOHR also reported that at least fourteen civilians, nearly half of them children, were killed on Friday in air strikes on flashpoint town of Talbiseh in central Syria. [AFP, 10/23/2015]

Turkey says new wave of Syrian refugees will head for Europe
Turkey is preparing for tens of thousands more refugees from Syria as government forces and Russian warplanes pound opposition-held areas in the north, and officials said many would try illegally to get to Europe. Estimates of the overall numbers on the move ranged between a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) figure of 30,000 to as many as 100,000. President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday there were “strong indications” that a new wave of migration was starting from Aleppo and renewed calls for a “safe zone” in Syria to protect civilians. A senior government official said many would try to smuggle themselves onwards to Europe, noting that, “Migrants who came to Turkey in the past had the hope of returning and saw Turkey as a temporary home. Now it has become a transit location. The final destination is Europe.” [Reuters, 10/23/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Taiz death toll rises, as the humanitarian situation becomes “dire”
Yemeni security officials say heavy fighting between pro-government forces and the Houthi rebels besieging the western city of Taiz has killed seventy-one people in the past two days. On Friday, the officials said that eleven of those killed were civilians while the rest were fighters from both sides. Another one hundred people were wounded fighting in the city, where the Saudi-led coalition continues to carry out airstrikes against the rebels. The International Red Cross Committee (IRCC) has said that the situation in Taiz is “dire,” as nearly six months of fighting has left city residents with acute shortages of water, food, electricity, gas, and fuel. Nearly half of the hospitals in the city have been closed while increasing numbers of wounded people are “desperate for treatment.” Despite a UN-brokered agreement for peace talks between the Yemeni government and the rebels, the Saudi-led coalition has said it will not stop its military operations in Yemen. [AP, Al Jazeera, Al Masdr (Arabic), Emirates 24/7, 10/23/2015]

Houthis reportedly target journalists in Yemen
A senior member of the Yemen Journalists’ Syndicate (YJS) has said that Houthi rebels are targeting journalists who oppose their rule on an “unprecedented scale.” Nabeil Al Ousaidi, a senior member of YJS, said that “they (the Houthis) have stopped all newspapers that oppose them. They control all government-run media. They have blocked all news sites that do not back them and cut salaries of journalists who do not praise them.” On Thursday, a group of journalists from the YJS arranged a sit-in in the Yemeni capital Sana’a to demand the release of some journalists arrested a week ago for planning to send drinking water from the province of Ibb to the besieged city of Taiz. [Gulf News, 10/23/2015]

UAE to train Yemen fighters
The United Arab Emirates will train 6,000 Yemeni resistance fighters who will then be deployed as a security force in the strategic port city of Aden. Some of the men will be trained in camps throughout the city while others will be sent to join security colleges in the United Arab Emirates. The newly-trained forces will control the Aden police stations and attempt to restore security amid fears that al-Qaeda has made in-roads in the city in the absence of state authority, and with the country mired in conflict. [Gulf News, 10/21/2015]


ISIS earning up to $50 million a month in oil sales
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is raking in up to $50 million a month from selling crude oil from fields under its control in Iraq and Syria, according to Iraqi intelligence and US officials. Washington spoke to regional governments, including Turkey, about its concerns over importing energy infrastructure into ISIS-run territory in Syria, including equipment for extraction, refinement, transport, and energy production, a senior US official said. The official called ISIS’s management of its oil fields “increasingly sophisticated.” It sells the crude oil to smugglers for discounted prices, sometimes as low as $10 a barrel, who then sell to middlemen in Turkey, Iraqi intelligence officials said. ISIS is believed to be extracting about 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Syria and between 10,000 and 20,000 bpd from Iraq. In total, Iraqi officials believe the group makes $40 to $50 million a month from sales. A report by ISIS’s Diwan al-Rakaaez (the group’s version of a finance ministry) shows that revenues from oil sales from Syria alone last April totaled $46.7 million. The report put the number of oil wells under ISIS control in Syria at 253 and said that 161 of them were operational. Turkish and Kurdish maintenance crews travel overland into ISIS held territory under heavy security to work on the wells and the refineries, according to the Iraqi officials. They also said that ISIS employs senior officials from Iraq’s state-owned, northern-based oil companies. [AP, IBT, 10/23/2015]

Can Egypt’s new central bank chief calm currency crisis?
New leadership at the top of Egypt’s Central Bank (CBE) has raised hopes of impending change to a monetary policy that has failed to stabilize the pound, angered importers, and become personally associated with current CBE governor Hisham Ramez. Tarek Amer, who begins his four-year term on November 27, is seen as a dynamic and collaborative manager credited with transforming the fortunes of Egypt’s largest bank. Bankers and importers say Amer’s arrival gives the CBE an opportunity to reverse some existing policies without losing credibility. However, Amer has difficult choices to make. While the CBE faces pressure to devalue the pound, many oppose such a move, fearing it appeases business but stokes inflation in an import-reliant country. When President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi named Amer to take over the CBE, he stressed the need to prioritize vulnerable Egyptians by controlling inflation and ensuring their access to food, medicine, and fuel. Calls by some businessmen to link the pound to a trade-weighted basket of currencies or to float the currency altogether carry considerable risks. On Thursday, the CBE fixed the price of the dollar against the pound in the first tender being offered to sell dollars to banks since Ramez’s resignation. [Reuters, 10/23/2015]

World Bank, AfDB reaffirm commitment to boost Egypt’s economy
A World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) delegation met on Thursday with Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to reaffirm commitment to assisting the country’s economy. Representatives from several of Egypt’s ministries also attended the meeting. Ismail stressed the Egyptian government’s determination to cooperate with international financial institutions in order to revive Egypt’s economy and improve the investment climate, Cabinet Spokesman Hossam Qaweesh said in a statement. Last week, Egypt started negotiations over a $3 billion loan from the World Bank, in addition to $1.5 billion from the AfDB to support development programs in the state budget. The government is negotiating the exact value of the loans. [Amwal Al Ghad, 10/22/2015]

Turkey rout ends as traders get over fear of political uncertainty
Turkey’s economic rebound may signal growing optimism that the country’s political parties will scrape together a coalition should the November 1 snap election fail to produce a clear winner. Since elections in June, the lira weakened to a record low, bond yields soared to the highest in six years, and five-year credit default swaps jumped 50 percent. However, the country’s two-year bonds have performed better than any others in emerging markets since the start of this month, while the cost of insuring against a debt default has fallen significantly. In theory, Turkey could be forced back to the ballot box for the third time in a year if the election results are inconclusive, although investors say the possibility is remote. “We assume that pragmatism will prevail,” one analyst said. “Holding third elections within less than a year would cause even more damage to an already fragile economy and would send the lira to a new all-time low.” [Bloomberg, 10/22/2015]