Top News: Saudi Arabia Recalls Ambassador to Sweden

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Stockholm deepening a diplomatic row between the two countries over Riyadh’s record on human rights and democracy. Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had informed the ministry that it was recalling Ambassador Ibrahim bin Saad al-Ibrahim because of “Sweden’s criticism regarding human rights and democracy” in the kingdom. Sweden said on Tuesday it would cancel a long-standing defense cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. That followed Riyadh’s decision to block a speech due to be given by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom to the Arab League on Monday in Cairo. [ReutersAP, 3/11/2015]



Army officer killed Wednesday in North Sinai assault; ABM claims Tuesday attacks
An army officer was killed on Wednesday in a shootout in Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, security sources said. The twenty-six year-old officer, Capt. Ayman Hassan, was shot dead in a firefight between Islamist militants and security forces during an assault on a security checkpoint in al-Baraham near the border town of Rafah. Meanwhile, the Islamic State affiliate in Egypt—previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM)—claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks that killed two and wounded dozens in restive Sinai. Nine alleged members of ABM were also killed on Tuesday following clashes with security forces in North Sinai, military sources said. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, 3/11/2015]

Egypt court sentences three Syrians to death over killing of pro-Assad student
An Egyptian court has sentenced three Syrian nationals to death over the murder of a fellow citizen in Cairo for his alleged support to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war. The charges stem from August 2013 when a Syrian student was killed in an eastern Cairo apartment by three of his fellow citizens to avenge his alleged killing of six Assad opponents before fleeing to Cairo. Egypt’s Grand Mufti, who according to Egyptian law reviews all death sentences, ratified the verdict. The ruling can still be appealed before the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest judicial authority. [Ahram Online, 3/10/2015]

Egyptian government challenges Hamas terrorist ruling
The Cairo Court of Appeals announced Wednesday that it will look into an appeal by the State Litigation Authority, which represents the Egyptian government, to an earlier court ruling declaring the Palestinian organization Hamas as a “terrorist” organization in a session on March 28. In late February, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters ruled Hamas a terrorist organization, a month after the group’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, was also designated a terror group by the same court. Hamas welcomed the decision of the Egyptian government to appeal against the ruling. “This decision proves that the verdict in February was a huge mistake,” an official Hamas spokesperson said on Wednesday. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 3/11/2015]

Nearly 10,500 Egyptians return from Libya by air, over 29,000 by land
The total number of Egyptians who have returned from Libya in flights reached 10,452 on Wednesday, a source at the aviation ministry said. In remarks made to the press, the source said the forty-fourth flight in the airlift set up to evacuate Egyptians landed in Cairo on Wednesday morning. As of Friday, however, more than 29,000 Egyptians had returned to Egypt through the Salloum border crossing on the Libya-Egypt border. [Aswat Masriya, 3/11/2015]

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Algiers dialogue draws in political party leaders; Elected parliament asks for postponement
Leaders of Libya’s political parties and other major political figures met in Algiers today for the latest in the UN’s multi-layered dialogue efforts to find a solution to the crisis in the country. The Algiers meeting, which comes in between sessions of the main UN-brokered negotiations in Morocco, is aimed at garnering broad political support for UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon’s roadmap for Libya—a national unity government, a ceasefire, disarmament, and the removal of militias from residential areas. However, the Libya Dawn faction said that it would not recognize any decisions made in Algiers. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives asked for a week delay of the UN-brokered dialogue to discuss the next government, its duties, timeframe, and relationship with the parliament. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 3/10/2015]

Haftar tells Italy of need for weapons to fight ISIS
Khalifa Haftar, recently confirmed as head of the Libyan National Army and backing the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, asked Italian Premier Matteo Renzi to convince the international community to end the weapons embargo and help Libya fight terrorism. Haftar said, “We are also fighting for you and, if we were to fail, the next target of terrorists would be Italy.” He continued to say that Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan are funding and arming extremist forces in Libya. Meanwhile, the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has gained a stronghold in Sirte, which no other fighting group has been able to displace. [ANSAmed, 3/10/2015]

Disagreement inside Nidaa Tounes threatens party’s stability
Internal disagreement among Nidaa Tounes leaders has sparked controversy in Tunisian media as members accuse one another of trying to monopolize the party. 148 party members will boycott the constituent committee and no longer recognize it as a legitimate body because of the committee’s inability to manage electoral success, communicate with supporters, members, and regional offices, and come to a consensus. [Tunisia Live, 3/10/2015]

Tunisian foreign minister emphasizes need to take counter terrorism measures
Speaking in Cairo at the Arab League Foreign Ministers Council, Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche emphasized the urgent need to take all necessary measures to counter terrorism and halt its expansion by strengthening inter-Arab coordination and establishing cooperation frameworks. He said that it is necessary to settle socio-economic problems first, then entrench the attributes of social justice, fight against extremist thinking, and improve the religious discourse. He also offered support for finding political solutions for the Libyan crisis and Syrian war. [All Africa, 3/10/2015]

More than 5,700 Moroccans leave Libya
More than 5,700 Moroccan citizens have left Libya through the Ras Jedir border crossing over the past few months due to the worsening security situation in the country. Tracking the numbers of Moroccan citizens in Libya has been made more difficult by the closure of Moroccan diplomatic offices in both Tripoli and Benghazi. Morocco has set up a team to facilitate the exit of Moroccans in Libya by issuing special passes to those without passports or children recently born to Moroccan-Libyan parents. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 3/11/2015]


Iraqi forces enter northern district of Tikrit; ISIS fighters launch attack on Ramadi
Iraqi forces and Shia militias entered the northern neighborhood Qadisiyah in Tikrit Wednesday, marking a new stage in the operation launched ten days ago to wrest the city back from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). On Tuesday, they took the town of al-Alam on the northern edge of Tikrit, paving the way for an attack on the city itself. As Iraqi forces continues to seal off the city, ISIS blew up the only bridge over the Tigris River in the entire Tikrit area Tuesday. On Wednesday, ISIS launched a coordinated attack on government-held areas in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province southwest from Tikrit, involving seven almost simultaneous suicide car bombs. At least ten people were killed and thirty wounded in the attack. [AFP, al-Arabiya, BBC, The Daily Star, Al Jazeera, 3/11/2015]

ISIS in major assault on Syria border town Ras al-Ain
ISIS launched a major offensive Wednesday to try to capture the strategic town of Ras al-Ain on the Syrian-Turkish border. The offensive is a preemptive strike against Kurdish militia who were planning an attack on the ISIS-held town of Tal Abyad, west of Ras al-Ain along the border, according to the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman. Kurdish fighters have also clashed with ISIS around the strategic town of Tal Tamir, just southeast of Ras al-Ain, which lies near a key road that links to their Iraqi bastion of Mosul to the east. On Tuesday, anti-ISIS forces cut critical communication and supply lines used by ISIS between Syria and Iraq after a two-week operation. [AFP, Reuters, AP, 3/11/2015]

ISIS claims execution of Arab-Israeli accused of spying
ISIS militants have posted a video online, which appears to show a young boy shooting dead an Arab-Israeli prisoner identified as Mohammed Said Ismail Musallam. ISIS accused Musallam of working for Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence service. The video, published by the group’s Furqan media outlet, showed Musallam sitting in a room wearing an orange jumpsuit, talking about how he had been recruited and trained by Mossad. It showed Musallam being escorted to a field and then being shot in the head by a boy, described by an older, French-speaking fighter as one of the “cubs of the caliphate.” In the video, Musallam said he had joined ISIS to report to the Israelis on weapons caches, bases, and Palestinian recruits. Israel and his family denied that he was an Israeli spy.[AFP, Reuters, BBC, WSJ, 3/11/2015]

Syria-based extremists prepare for Lebanon offensive
The Nusra Front and ISIS are expected to resume their attacks against Lebanese territories near Arsal on the northeastern border with Syria’s al-Qalamoun area with the advent of spring in the next few weeks. The anticipated terrorist attacks prompted the Lebanese Army to launch a series of preemptive operations against jihadists holed up in rugged areas near the border with Lebanon. The ISIS-Nusra relationship appears unique to Lebanon and the border region and does not extend to other battlefronts. [The Daily Star, 3/10/2015]


Houthi leader accuses Gulf states of backing al-Qaeda in Yemen
In a speech broadcast on al-Maseerah television, Abdelmalek al-Houthi accused Gulf Arab states on Tuesday of supplying weapons and funds to Islamist militants, in an effort to create an environment in the southern part of the country where al-Qaeda could flourish. He accused unnamed parties of recruiting al-Qaeda militants from abroad to justify a Western operation to occupy Yemen. Abdelmalek also denounced the Sunni Islamist Islah party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying the party had been working with unnamed parties “to recruit takfiris from abroad.” [Reuters, Al Masdar, 3/11/2015]

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Sweden after human rights spat
Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Stockholm deepening a diplomatic row between the two countries over Riyadh’s record on human rights and democracy. Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabriel Wernstedt said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia had informed the ministry that it was recalling Ambassador Ibrahim bin Saad al-Ibrahim because of “Sweden’s criticism regarding human rights and democracy” in the kingdom. Sweden said on Tuesday it would cancel a long-standing defense cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia. That followed Riyadh’s decision to block a speech due to be given by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom to the Arab League on Monday in Cairo. [Reuters, AP, 3/11/2015]

Construction workers stage protest in Dubai
Hundreds of foreign construction workers staged a rare public protest outside Dubai Mall in a pay dispute with their company. Authorities deployed riot police on Tuesday to the city’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, where the world’s tallest building is located, blocking some roads while negotiators tried to settle a dispute about overtime pay. Workers, mostly from South Asia, said the company had stopped overtime work and pay at a time when basic salaries were too low. Negotiators helped settle the dispute within an hour. [Al Jazeera, BBC, 3/10/2015]

Inmates injured in clashes at Bahraini prison
Bahrain’s security forces tear-gassed and beat inmates at a prison on Tuesday while trying to quell clashes that erupted during family visits. The disturbance at Jaw prison was sparked by an assault by security guards on family members trying to visit relatives held at the remote facility. Jaw prison is the main facility for hundreds of people jailed over participation in anti-government protests or political violence, or involvement in armed attacks on security forces or civilians. In 2013, at least forty Bahraini prisoners were hurt when security forces used batons, teargas, and stun grenades against inmates protesting their conditions. [Reuters, 3/11/2015]


Qatar moves fiscal year-end, reforms budget policy
Qatar’s government is moving the end of its fiscal year to December 31 from March 31 and giving more power to the finance ministry in reforms designed to help the government carry out tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects. The state budget for the current fiscal year to March 31, which originally envisaged a 3.7 percent rise in government spending to 218.4 billion riyals ($59.98 billion), will be extended to the end of 2015. By the end of January 2015, Qatar’s budget surplus stood at more than QR 100 billion, despite the sharp decline in global oil prices. Qatar also managed to achieve QR 160 billion current account surplus in the balance of payments during the first nine months of 2014. [Reuters, The Peninsula, 3/10/2015]

Libya shuts down two eastern oilfields for security reasons
According to oil officials, Libya has shut down two eastern oil fields due to security reasons following militant attacks on oil operations in the North African country. Only oil fields 103A and 103B were reportedly still operating. The National Oil Corporation has not published a national production figure, but oil insiders put it at about 400,000 bpd, a fraction of the 1.6 million bpd Libya pumped prior to 2011. The emergence of militants aligned with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have further hit Libya’s energy sector, already battered by fighting and strikes. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]

Egypt to introduce tax reforms under investment drive
According to Egypt’s investment minister, the Egyptian government plans to approve on Wednesday a lower tax ceiling for companies and individuals in high-income brackets in order to attract investors and boost the economy. Under the planned tax reform, the ceiling on companies and individuals earning more than one million Egyptian pounds ($131,148) a year will be reduced from 25 percent to 22.5 percent for a period of ten years. The minister further said that a temporary 5 percent tax on wealthy individuals earning over one million Egyptian pounds ($131,061) a year will be canceled as part of the new tax regime. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]

OECD supports Tunisia’s economic development experience
Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), stressed the organization’s commitment to support the success of the Tunisian experience in terms of development and promotion of the economy. OECD officials specifically emphasized the opportunities of cooperation in the areas of taxation and job creation. Tunisia will join the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project and the OECD Action Plan for Youth, aiming to offer young people a better start in working life. According to an OECD report, “An estimated 50 percent of employed youth in Tunisia work informally – with little or no protection and employment security while many others work on temporary contracts.” [AllAfrica, 3/10/2015]