Six hundred people left the besieged ruins of rebel-held central Homs on Sunday, escaping more than a year of hunger and deprivation caused by one of the most protracted blockades of the conflict. The evacuees, mainly women, children, and old men, were brought out by the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent on the third day of an operation during which the aid convoys came under fire and were briefly trapped themselves in the city. Some of those who came out were men of fighting age who were not originally eligible to leave, but they had agreed to hand themselves over to police and judicial authorities and could win their freedom through amnesty. Video footage from inside Homs showed scores of residents, carrying a few bags of possessions, rushing across an open expanse of no-man’s land towards ten white vehicles with UN markings. Gunshots could be heard as they raced to the cars. Assad’s authorities and rebel fighters have traded accusations of responsibility for attacks on Saturday which stranded the aid convoy in central Old Homs for several hours after dark. On Monday aid teams prepared to resume the evacuation of civilians. [ReutersNYT, 2/10/2014]



Abul-Fotouh will not run; Sabbahy enters presidential race; Tamarod split
Former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh will not run in the upcoming presidential elections, his Strong Egypt Party announced Sunday in a press conference, describing the polls as a “mockery” of elections. Former candidate Hamdeen Sabbahy, however, declared his candidacy, making him the first person to officially launch a presidential bid in the upcoming presidential elections. Two Tamarod co-founders, Hassan Shahin and Mohamed Abdel Aziz, promptly announced on the group’s official Facebook page that they support the presidential hopeful. Another group co-founder, Mahmoud Badr, announced that the memberships of Shahin, Abdel Aziz, and a third member have been frozen until further notice and that the Tamarod’s Facebook page has been hijacked and no longer represents the movement. Adviser to interim president for constitutional affairs Ali Awad said that Sunday was the deadline to receive suggestions over the upcoming presidential elections regulations, adding that the draft law would be finalized before February 17. [DNE, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 2/10/2014]

Prosecutors accuse Brotherhood of setting up military wing
Egypt’s state security prosecutors have ordered the detention of twelve suspects it accuses of forming a military wing of the Brotherhood in Upper Egypt’s Beni Suef and then carrying out an attack that killed five police officers in January. The Interior Ministry had announced earlier on Sunday that a Brotherhood member in Beni Suef was ordered by the group to form an armed “wing” tasked with targeting police, army facilities and personnel. The government’s accusation comes amid what analysts perceive as a spreading insurgency by previously unknown, smaller groups, who reject the Brotherhood’s official policy of staging only peaceful demonstrations and use weapons like Molotov cocktails and home-made grenades to attack security forces. [Ahram Online, AP, 2/9/2014]

Low-ranking Egyptian policemen strike in several governorates
Scattered police protests continued in several Egyptian governorates on Sunday, with officers and security personnel demanding higher wages and improved working conditions. In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, tens of officers and security personnel gathered in front of the city’s security directorate to protest “a low standard of living” brought on by poor working conditions and a lack of a minimum wage. The police demonstrators in Alexandria also called for better health care for themselves and their families. A protest organized by the General Federation of Policemen and Personnel in Kafr al-Sheikh also for called for better wages and protested against security personnel who have “special” posts that allow them access to certain perks. Similar protests took place in Gharbeya and Qaliubiya. [Ahram Online, DNE, 2/9/2014]

Despite political unrest, domestic tourism improves in 2013
International market research firm Research and Markets said in its latest report that the government’s efforts to promote domestic tourism have resulted in an increase in the number of domestic trips to 15m trip in 2013, compared to 12.4 in 2009. The report pointed out that the government has offered discounts to citizens to key destinations while hotels attempted to make up for the losses incurred from the absence of international tourists by providing additional discounts to Egyptians. The losses witnessed by the hotel market continued however, as revenues plummeted from EGP 19.3m in 2009 to EGP 12.5m in 2013, an 11.87 percent drop in the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). [DNE, 2/10/2014]


Voters guide website launched
In an effort to promote transparency and accountability, a range of civil society organizations have launched an online voters guide to help voters familiarize themselves with the candidates for the sixty-member committee that will draft Libya’s constitution. The website gives voters the chance to read about candidate positions on some controversial issues, including women’s rights, who interprets Islamic law, and whether former regime loyalists should be included in constitutional dialogues. It is intended to be a useful tool in the run-up to the election on February 20. A questionnaire is being circulated to all candidates related to different aspects of the constitution. Candidate responses will be published on the website. [Libya Herald, 2/10/2014]

Cabinet reshuffle announced
Prime Minister Ali Zidan’s much talked-about plan to reshuffle the cabinet took concrete form as eight new ministerial nominations were sent to the General National Congress (GNC) on Sunday. They include replacements for the finance and oil and gas ministries, among others. Minister Habib Al-Amin, seen as Zidan’s closest ally in government, would head the information ministry. Zidan is proposing to integrate the two ministries, according to the GNC’s First Deputy President, Ezziden Mohamed Younis al-Awami. Privately, some GNC members have said that there is already widespread agreement to reject the nominations on the basis that Zidan and his government should and will go within a couple of weeks. [Libya Herald, 2/9/2014]

Libya’s former prosecutor general shot dead
In another targeted assassination, Libya’s former prosecutor general was shot dead over the weekend by unknown attackers in the eastern city of Derna, according to Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani. Abdelaziz al-Hasadi was killed on Saturday while visiting relatives. Hasadi was the first prosecutor general appointed after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in the 2011 uprising and had resigned from his post in March 2013. In more violence, another air force officer was shot and killed in Benghazi, which also experienced two explosions over the weekend. another incident, the Ajdabiya Local Council office was badly damaged after unknown assailants set it ablaze with homemade explosives. [AFP/Al Jazeera, 2/9/2014]

US exports to Libya increase by 48 percent in 2013
US exports to Libya rose by 48 percent in 2013, with growth attributed to increased consumer demand in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. The US-Arab Chamber of Commerce said that developments in Libyan infrastructure were driving US exports to the country, in a report detailing US Census Bureau figures on exports to twenty-two Arab nations last year. The largest category of goods exported across the region was transportation equipment, which constituted $26.31 billion (around 37 percent) of total US goods shipped to the Arab world. [Libya Herald, 2/8/2014]


Second round of Geneva II talks begin; Brahimi to meet delegations separately
As fighting raged unabated in Syria, government and opposition representatives met in Geneva on Monday for a second round of peace negotiations. Mediator Lakhdar Brahimi will meet representatives of the warring sides separately for the first few days of talks, after the breaking of a local ceasefire set back peace efforts. In a letter reviewed by Reuters on Monday, Brahimi increased pressure on the two sides to show willingness in a peace process sponsored by Moscow and Washington that made no progress in the first round. He said he would talk to the two Syrian sides on their own for the next few days in hope of improving the negotiating atmosphere. In the eight-page document, dated February 7, which was given by Brahimi to both delegations at the weekend, he asked them to make a commitment at the start to deal with the two main issues: stopping the fighting and working out discussions of a transitional governing body. While talks continued in Geneva, France said Monday it will propose a UN Security Council resolution demanding the immediate opening of humanitarian corridors to besieged Syrian cities. [NYT, Reuters, BBC, 2/10/2014]

ISIS retreats from oil-rich Deir Ezzor; Top commander killed
An al-Qaeda splinter group has withdrawn its forces from the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor, activists and rebels said on Monday, after days of heavy fighting with its rivals. Rebel groups, including al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front, have been battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for control of towns and oilfields in the area, sparking a spate of car bombs in the province. The loss of Deir Ezzor province could be a serious setback for ISIS, as it holds oil reserves and is a key conduit for the jihadists to receive weapons and fighters from neighboring Iraq. “The ISIS fighters have almost completely withdrawn from Deir Ezzor. The fighters are moving to Hassaka and Raqqa [provinces],” said a source from the Nusra Front. Raqqa remains the stronghold of ISIS. Pro-ISIS activists on Twitter said the group had withdrawn from Deir Ezzor to prevent further bloodshed. ISIS’ top commander in Deir Ezzor, a Libyan, was killed in the clashes. More than 1,700 have been killed in the fighting between rebels and ISIS that began in early January. [Reuters, AFP, 2/10/2014]

Islamist fighters seize Alawite village in central Syria; State media claims massacre
Islamist fighters battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces seized control of an Alawite village in the central province of Hama on Sunday, part of an offensive to try to cut off supply routes from Damascus to the north of the country. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the Islamists killed twenty people in the village of Maan, mainly from a pro-Assad National Defense Force militia. But the government said the dead were mainly women and children and accused the fighters of committing a massacre. Residents of Maan, around five miles east of Syria’s main north-south highway, are from the same Alawite minority as the Assad family which has ruled Syria for the last four decades. [Reuters, AFP, 2/9/2014]


Four arrested following shootout in Tunis Suburb
Security forces arrested four individuals Saturday afternoon in the Ariana governorate, north of Tunis. One of the four, Ahmed Melki, is a suspect in the assassination of Mohamed Barhmi, a member of the constituent assembly who was killed in July 2013. The main suspect in Barhmi’s assassination, Aboubaker Hakim, was not among those arrested. The arrest was preceded by a shootout between the four suspects and anti-terrorism brigade officers wherein two suspects and two officers were injured. This shootout and arrest of suspects related to a political assassination is the second in a week. Last Monday, a shootout between terrorists and security forces left eight dead, including Kamel Gadhgadhi, the main suspect in Chokri Belaid’s assassination. [Tunisia Live, 2/10/2014]

Friday’s ceremony to celebrate the constitution draws criticism
On Friday, Tunisia held a ceremony to celebrate the constitution at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) where the constitution was passed nearly two weeks ago. It was attended by leaders and delegates from foreign countries and international organizations. Some observers were upset by the presence of multiple countries considered undemocratic, oppressive toward their citizens, or to have ongoing human rights abuses. In addition, the US delegation walked out the during remarks by Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Larijani referred to Israel as a “cancer” in the speech and accused it and the United States of working against the Arab Spring revolutions. [Tunisia Live, 2/7/2014]

Ministry of the interior denies MP was fired at
News spread across online newspapers and social media on Monday morning that MP Mongi Rahoui was shot at. The ministry of the interior has released a statement denying this and  stressed the need to be cautious in publishing such news and to check the accuracy with the ministry’s communication department which is, according to the statement, “the official source of news”. [TAP, 2/10/2014]


Six regions approved for federal transition
The Regions Committee assembled by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has agreed on six regions for Yemen’s federated state. Some dissent has already surfaced, however, with Houthi representatives refusing to vote for the proposed federal divisions. Despite this, committee members affirm that the six-region model entails a broad consensus. A map of the regions, based on the current provincial boundaries that may yet change, can be viewed here. [Naharnet, al-Masdar (Arabic); 2/10/2014]

Representatives talk NDC implementation
A forum was held in Sana’a on Sunday to discuss the implementation of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) outcomes, featuring a former NDC delegate, the head of the General People’s Congress (GPC), and a leader of the youth movement. The youth leader pointed to Yemen’s economic distress as the foremost issue that NDC implementation must address. Another speaker criticized the state’s “complicity and silence” regarding armed groups and Yemen’s deteriorating security situation. The forum was one of several hosted in Sana’a in the past week. A 150 member national commission will oversee the implementation of NDC outcomes until a constitution is drafted and ratified and elections are held. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/9/2014]

Yemen’s oil export revenue falls twenty-four percent in 2013
Comprising sixty-three percent of the country’s total exports and thirty percent of its GDP, the announcement that Yemen’s oil export revenue fell by twenty-four percent in 2013 signals the country’s ongoing economic woes. Imports of petroleum products in 2013 more than doubled when compared to 2012. The Central Bank attributed the decline in exports to a parallel fall in total production. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/10/2014]

Calm in Irhab as Houthi and tribal fighters sign new agreement
The presidential delegation dispatched to Irhab to restore a ceasefire between Houthi militants and Hashid tribesmen continue to work with the two sides in order to cement an ongoing ceasefire in the area. Though the Houthis initially refused to do so, they signed on to a reconciliation agreement Sunday. Houthi trepidation was based on a requirement that Houthis not native to Arhab were required to return to where they came from, primarily Sa’ada and Harf Sufyan. Local sources noted that the differences on the matter manifested between the Houthi political representation to the ceasefire talks—a native of Irhab—and the Houthi field commanders from elsewhere. [Mareb Press (Arabic), Al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/10/2014]


Fatah wants Abbas to appoint successor
Several Fatah leaders have recently called on President Mahmoud Abbas to name a deputy, arguing that such a move was necessary to avoid a power vacuum if and when he steps down. The leaders said that the appointment of a deputy president was also necessary in the wake of Israeli “threats” against Abbas because of his “refusal to make concessions” at the negotiating table. However, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is the only body entitled to make any amendment or change to the Basic Law which states that, “If the office of the President of the National Authority becomes vacant, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council shall temporarily assume the powers and duties of the presidency for a period not to exceed 60 days, during which free and direct elections to elect a new president shall take place in accordance with the Palestinian Election Law.” The current speaker of the PLC is Abdel Aziz Dweik, a senior Hamas representative from Hebron. [Jerusalem Post, 2/9/2014]

Kuwaiti MP proposes Saudi-style anti-terror law
A Kuwaiti MP Sunday proposed a draft law that would impose jail terms of up to 30 years on Kuwaiti jihadists fighting abroad, nearly a week after Saudi Arabia introduced similar penalties.The bill, submitted by pro-government legislator Nabeel al-Fadhl, stipulates jail terms of between five and twenty years for Kuwaitis who travel abroad to fight, as well as those who encourage or support such activities in any way. The same penalty would apply to members of religious and extremist groups that have been classified as “terrorist” locally, regionally or by Arab countries, the draft legislation says. [AFP/Ahram Online, 2/8/2014]

Morocco bans judges’ protest, riot police close streets in capital
Moroccan authorities banned a sit-in on Saturday by hundreds of judges who want greater independence for the judiciary, deploying dozens of riot police to central Rabat and closing off streets around the justice ministry. The Islamists of the Justice and Development party, which came to power after early elections held to quell protests in 2011, promising to fight corruption, have made reform of the judiciary one of its priorities. The reforms introduced by the king in 2011 did award the judiciary more autonomy, but the opposition says it is still not fully independent. [Reuters/Ahram Online, 2/8/2014]

Split blows open in Algeria ruling party as election looms
A split has blown open within Algeria’s ruling party ahead of an April presidential election, after its leader accused the powerful intelligence chief of opposing the ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reelection. Ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) secretary general Amar Saidani has repeatedly backed a fourth term for the incumbent. Saidani demanded that veteran intelligence director Mohamed “Tewfik” Mediene step down, saying that his persistent interference in politics came at the detriment of security in the strategic North African country. But his tirade drew condemnation from dissident members of the FLN. Some analysts say the whole debate, while designed to show differences between the president and intelligence services, was only a facade for public consumption. [AFP/Ahram Online, 2/8/2014]