Top News: Saudis Seek to Fend Off UN Inquiry on Yemen

Dutch diplomats want the UN human rights chief to send a mission to report on possible abuses and conflict-related crimes in Yemen. The Netherlands submitted a resolution Thursday at the UN Human Rights Council while Yemen and Saudi Arabia also submitted one calling for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide “technical assistance” to Yemen’s government. The Dutch resolution would authorize the creation of a fact-finding mission in Yemen before the three-week council session ends on October 2. The Human Rights Council has no power to compel countries to act, but its actions can draw awareness to human rights violations. Human Rights Watch praised the “important demonstration of principled leadership” by the Netherlands. It said that Arab states like Saudi Arabia appear “determined to avoid any scrutiny” of the war in Yemen. The Dutch move puts the United States in a position of having to decide between two allies’ resolutions over the Yemen crisis. [APNYT, 9/24/2015]



Egypt keen to participate effectively in UN General Assembly says presidency
Egypt will present its views on various issues during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to the UN General Assembly, said presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef, who added that the country is keen on participating fully in Assembly activities. Youssef said in press statements in New York that Sisi is set to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday to discuss the latest developments in the occupied territories. Youssef noted that Sisi’s speech at the General Assembly would focus on Syria. He also stressed that Egypt-US relations are of strategic importance and that the two countries are keen on working together. He did not confirm whether Sisi would meet with his US counterpart Barack Obama. Sisi held on Thursday evening talks with founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Klaus Schwab. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held Thursday separate meetings with his Romanian, Colombian, Iranian, and South Sudanese counterparts in New York. Environment Minister Khaled Fahmy said upon arrival in New York, “Climate change is among the top issues to be discussed during the upcoming sideline meetings, in preparation for the upcoming climate change summit in Paris this December.” Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said she is planning to meet with World Bank Leaders, among other international organizations, to strengthen cooperation for development between Egypt and other countries. [Ahram Online, 9/25/2015]

Sisi grants Prime Minister, Industry Minister some presidential powers
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree on Thursday giving newly- appointed Prime Minister Sherif Ismail some of his powers as he headed to New York to attend the 70th UN General Assembly meeting. The powers include protecting antiquities, disposing of state property, and granting pensions and special bonuses. Under the decree, Ismail is in charge of enforcing provisions of the law regulating markets and non-banking instruments and is entitled to delegate some of his powers in this respect. Sisi also gave Trade and Industry Minister Tarek Kabil the right to exercise presidential powers outlined in Articles 1 and 3 of the law regulating and promoting industrial activity in Egypt. Article 1 prohibits the establishment, enlargement, or change of activity or location of an industrial plant without a license from the Ministry of Industry and the approval of a presidential committee. The committee would base its decision on the state’s economic and social development plans. Article 3 gives the president the power to form a committee to decide on revoking a plant’s license. [SIS, Aswat Masriya, 9/24/2015]

Anti-sexual harassment group documents eighty-seven incidents on first day of Eid
An anti-sexual harassment campaign group documented eighty-seven cases of harassment in downtown Cairo on the first day of the Eid al-Adha holiday, which is one of most common days for this type of abuse to occur. I Saw Harassment reported nine cases of physical harassment and seventy-eight cases of verbal harassment on Thursday evening. The group works with volunteers to patrol the downtown Cairo area, where many people congregate in the evenings of public holidays. Activists say that the police have made slow but noticeable progress in dealing with the widespread social problem in recent years. The group’s report, however, said, “Despite the increase of police forces from various departments in the Ministry of Interior, sexual harassment crimes have not gone away, there were many incidents against women and girls in the downtown area.” In an effort to reduce and prosecute crimes of both terrorism and harassment during the holiday, Cairo authorities installed 310 cameras around the city. [DNE, 9/25/2015]

Twenty-seven alleged Brotherhood members arrested over violating designated praying areas
Twenty-seven individuals allegedly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested by security forces Thursday in Alexandria for trying to establish “irregular” open areas to perform Eid al-Adha. The Ministry of Endowment allocated over 4,000 areas across the country to perform the prayer, and warned against using undesignated areas. Those arrested were also accused of partaking in illegal protests and inciting violence. [Cairo Post, 9/24/2015]

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Appeal by SRSG Leon for release of detainees and peace during Eid al-Adha
On the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Bernardino Leon appealed to all parties in Libya to release those still detained outside the framework of the law. As well as contributing to the respect of human rights and building confidence among Libyans, such releases would be in line with the text and spirit of the political agreement that the Libyan parties are giving final consideration. SRSG Leon calls on the Libyan parties to put their country’s interests above all considerations and unite their efforts behind the political agreement to bring peace to their country. [UNSMIL, 9/25/2015]

Tunisian student sentenced to year in jail for homosexuality
A Tunisian court has sentenced a student to a year behind bars on charges of homosexuality, in a judgement condemned by local rights groups, the student’s lawyer said Thursday. The youth was detained on September 6 in Sousse for questioning in connection with a murder after his telephone number was found on the victim, lawyer Fadoua Braham said. He denied any involvement in the murder but admitted to having had sexual relations with the victim. Another statement was drawn up, and the youth was sentenced Tuesday. The court could not be reached for comment. [AFP, 9/24/2015]

Measures to support tourism in Tunisia to be implemented soon
Measures to bolster the tourism sector will be implemented soon and will support hotels, travel agencies, restaurants, and handicrafts, according Tunisian Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik. Rekik noted that any delay thus far is due to a concern for the legal process. The ministry is considering a reform strategy requiring the adoption of quality, services, insurance, and security standards that should be guaranteed in all hotels, she said, stressing that the sector suffers from dependence on international travel agencies. [TAP, 9/24/2015]

Conference in Tunisia on budget and investment opportunities
The mixed Tunisian-Italian , Tunisian-English, Tunisian-French, Tunisian-German, and Tunisian-Swiss Chambers of Commerce have jointly organized a conference titled, “The draft budget 2016, what impact for investments in Tunisia?” next Tuesday at the Hotel de Paris in Tunis. The conference, in which Tunisian Finance Minister Slim Chaker and other high officials from the Finance Ministry are expected to participate, will discuss new legislation in the 2016 budget and the possibilities afforded to foreign investors in Tunisia. [ANSAmed, 9/25/2015]


Carter says US and Russia could find areas of cooperation on Syria; Obama and Putin to meet in NY
The United States and Russia could find ways to cooperate on the crisis in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Thursday, as Moscow continues a military build-up in Syria. Carter said if Russia were to pursue a political solution to the four-and-a-half-year Syrian crisis, and not just “indiscriminately” attack foes of President Bashar Assad, “we could find areas of cooperation.” He also said that he would talk to his Russian counterpart, but cautioned that if the Russians insist on fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) without simultaneously pursuing a political solution to Syria’s civil war they will be “pouring gasoline” on the conflict. In related news, Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will meet next week in New York but disagree over the top priority for their talks. Russian Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “Of course, the primary topic will be Syria.” Asked whether Ukraine would be discussed, he said: “Well, if time allows.” Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s Spokesman Josh Earnest retorted during a briefing in Washington “There will be time.” [AFP, 9/25/2015]

Warring sides in Syria reach agreement on two villages and border town
Warring sides in Syria have agreed with UN help on a deal to extricate one group of rebel fighters and another group of trapped villagers. The deal was reached in talks backed by Iran and Turkey. With a ceasefire in the areas holding, it offers a rare chance of success for foreign-brokered diplomacy in the conflict. The agreement includes the withdrawal of rebel fighters holed up in the mostly government-held area near Lebanon, and the evacuation of civilians from two Shia villages under rebel siege in Idlib. The office of UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura confirmed that there were positive developments in the talks, but said it was up to the parties to say if there was a deal to announce. An evacuation of those wounded from both sides could begin on Friday. Some 500 opposition prisoners would be freed from government jails under the deal. [Reuters, 9/24/2015]

Russian fighter jets enter Syria with transponders off
A US official said Thursday that Russian fighter jets turned off their transponders as they flew into Syria in an apparent attempt to avoid detection. The official said the fighters flew very close to a transport plane that had its transponder on and functioning. US satellites rapidly saw that the aircrafts were there, according to the official. The same official said the Russians have begun flying drones around the coastal city of Latakia. [CNN, 9/25/2015]

Turkish PM proposes international mechanism to handle Syrian refugee crisis
Turkey has drawn up a document to establish a joint mechanism to handle the deteriorating Syrian refugee crisis affecting Europe and Turkey, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, adding the proposal had been written in letters and sent to world leaders. The first phase involved steps to prevent an influx of more refugees, noting that the root causes should addressed through political and diplomatic means. These means include a solution to the Syrian crisis, eliminating political disagreements in Iraq and the struggle against ISIS. The third phase would arrange for repatriating refugees. [Hurriyet, 9/25/2015]


President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi travels to New York
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is has gone to New York to participate in the meetings of the General Assembly of the United Nations after he led Eid al-Adha prayers in Aden. The president only recently returned to Aden on Tuesday after six months in exile in Saudi Arabia. So far the Yemen and Saudi Arabian representatives at the General Assembly have said an “effective investigation” of all human rights abuses in the country should be conducted by the government of President Hadi. The Yemeni president left the city of Aden for New York City amid protests calling for compensation to be paid to those who helped oust the Houthi rebels. However, before he left he greeted and thanked the Saudi special operations force for their role in regaining control of the southern port city and visited various districts in Aden to inspect the damaged infrastructure. [Sahafah (Arabic), Saba Voice (Arabic), NYT, 9/25/2015]

The UAE releases nearly 1,000 inmates on Eid al-Adha
Hundreds of prisoners across the United Arab Emirates have been released from prison to mark the occasion of Eid al-Adha. In Dubai alone, 490 prisoners have been released, as the attorney general Essam al-Humaidan said that the Public Prosecution is coordinating with Dubai Police to implement the orders and ensure the prisoners can reunite with their families for Eid al-Adha. He also said the pardon would have a positive impact on the families of the pardoned prisoners who will have the opportunity to reintegrate into society. Several Islamic countries pardon prisoners on the Eid al-Adha festival as a gesture of goodwill. [Gulf Business, Al Bawaba, 9/24/2015]


Report says gender equality could yield $2.7 trillion in economic gains for the region
A new study by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that were women in the Middle East and North Africa to enjoy the same economic opportunities as men, the region would be $2.7 trillion better off between now and 2025. That is equivalent to a four-point boost to regional economic growth every year. Female economic disadvantage takes at least three main forms, as measured in the report. Fewer women work, most work fewer hours than men, and most work in lower-productivity sectors such as agriculture as opposed to high-productivity sectors such as finance and engineering. The report found that high rates of female education in the Gulf have not filtered through into high rates of female labor force participation. The authors argue that governments should focus on boosting education among women, increasing financial inclusion, upgrading legal protections for women at work, and providing alternatives to maternal provision of care for children and the elderly. [The National, 9/24/2015]

Deadlock in battle for Iraq refinery casts doubts on Mosul campaign
The Iraqi army’s failure to recapture the country’s largest oil refinery from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) after fifteen months of fighting is calling into question the government’s plans to retake the northern city of Mosul from the jihadists. Iraq’s military has been trying to build momentum at the Baiji refinery and in Anbar province in the west before attempting to seize Mosul. Baiji has repeatedly changed hands since ISIS captured it last year. Complex tribal dynamics and oil wealth from the refinery have complicated government attempts to wrest control of Baiji from insurgents since the US invasion in 2003, according to Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Nobody ever takes Baiji,” he said. “It was out of bounds to multinational forces in Iraq the whole time. It was never liberated, it was never surged.” Knights said Baiji’s fragmented tribes make it difficult to forge consensus among local leaders, while insurgents have used money from refining and smuggling oil to coopt the local population. [Reuters, 9/24/2015]

Russia-Turkey gas link plans intact despite ‘difficulties’
Plans for a new gas pipeline between Russia and Turkey remain intact despite difficulties, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, days after Ankara said talks on the deal were frozen. At a meeting in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed that “work would continue” on the project, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “It is complex work, which implies difficulties, but it will all follow its course,” he said, indicating the two would meet again before the end of the year “to coordinate their approaches” to the partnership. On September 11, Turkey said talks on the new pipeline were suspended because of preconditions imposed by Russian gas giant Gazprom over the discount Turkey wants in the price of Russian gas imports. Putin had announced the plan for a Turkstream pipeline in December 2014. However, analysts remain suspicious over the feasibility of the project. [AFP, 9/23/2015]

Ismail assigns Salman to report on Sharm al-Sheikh projects
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has tasked Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman with compiling a comprehensive report on projects from the Sharm al-Sheikh conference that are facing difficulty being implemented. According to Cabinet Spokesman Hossam al-Kawish, Ismail requested that Salman identify the actions the government will take to finalize and implement the projects. The projects are in several sectors, including electricity, supply, agriculture, housing, transportation, and planning. Ismail reportedly ordered meetings with relevant ministries to study the obstacles facing the projects and to take the necessary steps quickly to proceed with their implementation. According to Salman, six signed agreements worth $30.215 billion are currently being implemented in the sectors of petroleum, electricity, and transportation. Ismail added that five memoranda of understanding have been converted into agreements worth $10.526 billion, while twenty-two agreements have been converted into contracts. [DNE, 9/25/2015]