Top News: Sixteen members of Tunisia’s ruling party resign from parliamentary bloc

On Thursday, 12 Nidaa Tounes members of parliament submitted their resignation from the Nidaa Tounes parliamentary bloc. This brings the number of resigning members to 16, including four representatives who resigned at the end of December. The Nidaa Tounes bloc thus decreases to 70 representatives, but still remains the largest bloc in the parliament over Ennahda, with 69 representatives. MP Bargoaui Slah reports that the resigning members will create a new bloc, and possibly will announce a new political party. The resignations will officially take effect in five days, according to parliamentary procedure. [Mosaique FM (French), Business News, Kapitalis, 1/8/2016]



ISIS-affiliated group claims attack on Giza hotel, bombing of Sinai gas pipeline
The Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) Egypt affiliate, Sinai State, claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel near the Giza Pyramids the previous day, according to a statement circulated Friday by sympathizers of the militant group. While authorities had said there were no casualties and that security forces were the target of the attack, the statement carried by ISIS sympathizers on Twitter claimed there were dead and wounded among the tourists and security officers protecting the hotel. It said the attackers “were able to target a tourist bus carrying Jews with light weapons” — an operation the ISIS affiliate claimed was in response to a call by the Islamic State group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “to target Jews everywhere.” The group also claimed responsibility for the bombing of a pipeline that carries gas to Jordan and Egypt’s North Sinai region on Thursday. According to security sources, the blast took place in the al-Midan area, west of the coastal city of al-Arish. The assailants placed explosive devices under the pipeline and detonated them remotely. The group said it bombed the pipeline in a statement posted on Twitter. “God willing, not a drop of gas will reach Jordan until the caliphate permits,” the statement said. The blast left no casualties. [Aswat Masriya, AP, Reuters, 1/8/2016]

Minister suggests uprising anniversary protests would violate Islamic law
Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments has warned against holding protests during the anniversary of the uprising that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, state news agency MENA said, and suggested any unrest would violate Islamic law. Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said during a meeting with officials in his ministry that maintaining stability and security is a priority. He referred to a statement from Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawki Allam, which said that any call for protests or destruction “is a full crime and illegal according to Islamic Sharia law.” [Reuters, 1/8/2016]

Court to consider Mubarak’s appeal on presidential palaces embezzlement case
The Cairo Court of Cassation will consider Saturday an appeal presented by the lawyer of former president Hosni Mubarak and his sons against jail sentences handed to them in a corruption case. The court will either uphold the sentence or accept the appeal and set a date to start the retrial accordingly.
Mubarak, and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, were each sentenced to three years in jail on charges of seizing EGP 125 million in public funds allocated for the upkeep of the presidential residences between 2002 and 2011. The Cairo Criminal Court had previously accepted an appeal in the case, releasing Alaa and Gamal, with the court ruling they had already served their sentence during time spent in preventative detention. [Cairo Post, 1/8/2016]

Egypt investigating reports of Egyptians kidnapped in Libya
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry says it’s investigating local media reports that 21 Egyptians have been abducted in Libya. The ministry said Friday that authorities are trying to verify through official and unofficial channels Thursday’s reports. Egypt’s al-Fagr newspaper and al-Bawaba online publication were among the outlets that carried the reports. Al-Bawaba said the Egyptians were staying in the southeastern Kufra region, and that communications with their families in Egypt ceased on December 31. [AP, MENA (Arabic), 1/8/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Suicide bombing kills seven at Libya oil port of Ras Lanuf
A car bombing at a checkpoint in the Libyan oil port of Ras Lanuf left seven people dead and 11 wounded on Thursday, a Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) spokesman said. The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber at the entrance to the town of Ras Lanuf, said Ossama al-Hodeiri, a spokesman for the PFG. The suicide bombing comes after the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) launched an offensive on Monday against Libya’s key oil terminals in Ras Lanuf and nearby Es Sider, and also coincided with a suicide truck bombing early Thursday on a police training school in the coastal city of Zliten that killed more than 50 people. Meanwhile, it is also reported that a Libyana mobile telecommunications relay station near Ajdabiya has been blown up by ISIS. [AFP, Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/7/2016]

Two fires extinguished at Libyan oil terminals, five still burning
Firefighters have extinguished two fires at oil storage tanks at Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal, but blazes continue at five tanks in the nearby port of Es Sider after attacks this week by Islamic State militants, a Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG) spokesman said on Thursday. Two tanks were hit by shelling this week and the fires spread later. Spokesman Ali al-Hassi said the PFG remained in control of the area and that there were no clashes on Thursday. [Reuters, 1/7/2016]

ISIS affiliate claims credit for attack in Libya’s Ras Lanuf
An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate in eastern Libya is claiming responsibility for Thursday’s suicide car bomb attack in Ras Lanuf. In a statement posted on the Twitter accounts of ISIS sympathizers several hours after the attack, the group calling itself the ISIS Barqa Province said the attack was carried out by Abu al-Abbas al-Muhajir. The attack killed at least seven and wounded 11 more. There are also reports that ISIS has claimed Thursday’s larger suicide bomb attack in Zliten, which killed 60 and wounded around 200. One internet site among a number used by the terrorists said that the suicide bomber who drove the explosive-filled water truck onto the parade ground was a Tunisian, whose nom de guerre was Abu Yakin Tunisi. ISIS has already published a picture of Abu al-Abbas al-Muhajir, no picture of Tunisi has yet emerged. [AP, Libya Herald, 1/8/2016]

Ennahda will support Tunisia’s new cabinet
According to Ennahda MP and party spokesperson Oussama Sghaier, Ennahda will support the new Essid government, despite the fact that the party is not represented as it should be in the new government. Sghaier added that, as it holds approximately one third of the members of parliament, Ennahda deserves larger representation within the government. He expressed surprise at the replacement of Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli, as the move did not take place after talks or negotiations. The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) released a statement Thursday saying, “[The cabinet reshuffle] only worsens the crisis undergone by the country,” and that the new line-up of the government is based on party politics rather than qualifications. [ANSAmed, TAP, 1/8/2016]

Morocco suspends mobile internet voice calls
Morocco has stopped calls made through mobile internet connections, the national regulator announced, in a move that could boost voice revenues for local telecom operators. The ban will apply to the three mobile operators in Morocco who offer internet access for computers via USB and other mobile modems, as well as via mobile phones. The Telecommunications Regulatory National Agency, known as ANRT, said telecom services such as phone calls need licenses whether they are Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or others. The ban would affect the two most used applications in Morocco: Skype and WhatsApp, along with Viber and other providers of VoIP services. [Reuters, 1/7/2016]


Aid to reach Syrian town of Madaya by Monday
Aid deliveries bringing food, medical supplies and blankets to three towns in Syria where residents say they are starving to death will begin by Sunday or Monday, a Red Cross official said. The official called for humanitarian organizations to be granted unimpeded access to all areas under siege in Syria, saying one-off deliveries were not enough to prevent civilians from starving. “We were granted access yesterday [Thursday] but the operation won’t happen before Sunday or Monday,” said Pawel Krzysiek, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman in Syria. “We are sorting out a few details.” The last aid delivery to the three towns, under siege by pro-government and opposition forces, took place in October. Doctors without Borders (MSF) said Friday that 23 people have died from starvation in Madaya since December 1. [Guardian, AFP, BBC, NYT, 1/8/2016]

ISIS militant ‘executes own mother’ in Raqqa
An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant carried out a public “execution” of his mother because she asked him to leave the group, activists say. Lena al-Qasem had reportedly told her son that the US-led military alliance fighting ISIS would “wipe out” the group and tried to convince him to leave the city with her. Her son is then said to have informed the group of her comment and they ordered her killing. Ali Saqr, 21, is reported to have shot her outside the post office where she worked, in front of hundreds of people. Also on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight children and three women killed in US-led coalition air strikes in a village north of Raqqa. [BBC, Reuters, Guardian, AFP, 1/8/2016]

UN envoy in Syria ahead of upcoming peace talks in Geneva
The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has arrived in Damascus for talks with Syrian officials in preparation for peace negotiations between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its opponents later this month in Geneva. De Mistura was received by Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Aymen Sossan upon arrival on Friday. He did not take questions from the media.De Mistura’s visit comes after his meetings with Syrian opposition officials in Saudi Arabia, which is the main backer of Assad’s opponents. After those meetings, Syrian rebels underscored their doubts about a new UN-led drive for peace talks planned to begin this month. The opposition council said it was under pressure “to offer concessions that will prolong the suffering of our people and the spilling of their blood” in a signed statement. [AP, 1/8/2016]

Idlib rebels execute ISIS-linked assassination cell
The Islamist Army of Conquest coalition, which controls Syria’s Idlib province, executed on Friday five members of a “security cell” who belonged to ISIS and the hardline Jund al-Aqsa, around two weeks after reports on the cell’s capture emerged. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported early on Friday morning that the five men had been executed on the same day in Idlib by the Army of Conquest’s policing body, the Executive Force. Activists close to the coalition told the Britain-based monitoring NGO that the men had been charged with “cooperating with ISIS, carrying out several assassinations including [the assassination of] leaders in Islamist factions, targeting vehicles belonging to the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement with IEDs and detonating IEDs at various locations in Idlib province.” [NOW, 1/8/2016]

Top US commander shares Ankara’s concerns over PKK-affiliate PYD
Top US commander General Dunford held a meeting with his Turkish counterpart General Akar in Ankara and expressed support for Turkey over its concerns about the PKK affiliated PYD’s plans to cross west of the Euphrates in Syria, which Ankara has called its redline. Dunford arrived in Ankara on Tuesday and held a series of official meetings on Wednesday, starting with Akar as well as several other top military officials at the General Staff and also met with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In addition to the PYD presence and activity in the region, Turkish officials and Dunford addressed border security. Dunford said that 30,000 military officers will be inadequate for securing the new borders that are to be established. He also underlined that airstrikes are highly effective in targeting ISIS militants located near the Turkish border. During the meetings, Turkish officials once again emphasized the importance of tackling the source of the Syrian crisis – the regime of President Bashar Assad – and reiterated that there needs to be a resolution in Syria. [Daily Sabah, 1/7/2016]

Special forces target ISIS in Hawija, Iraq
Foreign special forces have been carrying out raids on an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq ahead of an offensive planned later this year to retake Mosul, the largest city under the group’s control, Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said. He said several attacks behind ISIS lines around Hawija, 210 kilometers north of Baghdad, were carried out in recent weeks. Both the U.S. and Iraqi military have denied that US forces have carried out military operations on the ground in Hawija since October, when US special forces rescued 69 Iraqis in a raid that killed one US commando. But Dubai-based al-Hadath TV and Iraqi media have reported at least half a dozen raids in and around Hawija since late December, led by US special forces. Special operations in Hawija “have been repeated a second and third time … These operations are bearing fruit,” said Jabouri, Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab official. Meanwhile, clashes that erupted late Thursday between a joint Turkish-Iraqi force and ISIS near a training camp outside of Mosul have left at least 18 ISIS fighters dead. [Reuters, 1/8/2016]

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


Arab Coalition and Yemeni Foreign Ministry denies targeting Iranian embassy
The Arab coalition and Yemen’s foreign ministry have denied Iran’s accusation that Saudi fighter jets struck its embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Iran on Thursday said Saudi warplanes had attacked its embassy in Yemen’s capital. Saudi Arabia severed relations with Iran after an attack on its embassy in Tehran on Sunday following the kingdom’s execution of 47 people convicted on terrorism charges, including Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr. SABA news agency reported that a Foreign Ministry official said Yemen had taken the decision to cut diplomatic ties with Iran on October 2. [Al Jazeera, Al Masdar Online, 1/8/2016]

UN criticizes Yemen’s expulsion of rights official
The United Nations has condemned Yemen’s decision to expel the organization’s human rights representative in the country and called the government to reconsider its move. Media reports in Yemen said on Thursday the country’s Foreign Ministry had declared the head of the country office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights persona non grata. An AFP report identified the UN official as George Abu al-Zulof and said Yemen had accused him of lacking impartiality in his assessments of the human rights situation in the country. [Al Jazeera, 1/8/2016]

WHO calls for access to Yemen’s besieged Taiz
The World Health Organization is calling for access to Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city which has been under siege for months amid a civil war between an internationally recognized government and Shia rebels. The organization said in a Thursday statement that five of its trucks have been prevented from entering the city since December 14. [AP, 1/8/2016]

Saudi Arabia to try Iranian accused of spying
Four Iranians including an alleged spy will stand trial in Saudi Arabia, local media reported Friday as a diplomatic crisis festers between the regional rivals. The Arab News daily reported that the three were alleged “terrorists,” but gave no details of the accusations and the Iranians were not identified. The reports come after tensions escalated between the two countries over the weekend. [AFP, 1/8/2016]

UAE backs political solution to Yemen crisis
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash on Thursday met UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry. The UN official briefed Dr. Gargash on the latest developments on Yemeni negotiations and details of the next round, which is scheduled to be held in January. Ahmed hailed the UAE’s support for peaceful efforts by the United Nations in Yemen. Dr. Gargash stressed that the UAE, through its active role in the Saudi-led Arab Coalition, seeks to find a sustainable political solution to ensure the historical relationship between Yemen and the Arab world. [Khaleej Times, 1/8/2016]


Saudi Aramco confirms it is studying potential share sale
Saudi Arabia’s government is considering selling shares in state oil giant Saudi Aramco as part of a privatization drive to raise money in an era of cheap oil, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman told The Economist in an interview. “That is something that is being reviewed, and we believe a decision will be made over the next few months,” he said. “Personally I’m enthusiastic about this step. I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco, and it is for the interest of more transparency, and to counter corruption, if any, that may be circling around Aramco.” On Friday, Aramco confirmed that is studying whether to list “an appropriate percentage” of the company’s shares or a bundle of “downstream” units. The findings of its review will be presented to the board of directors, which would make recommendations to the company’s Supreme Council. The initial public offering proposal is consistent with the broader direction of economic reform in Saudi Arabia, including state asset sales and market deregulation, Aramco said. [AFP, BBC, Bloomberg, WSJ, Reuters, 1/7/2016]

Turkish central bank says may begin simplifying rate policy this month
Turkey’s central bank may begin steps to “simplify” monetary policy at its meeting this month if an easing of market volatility endures, according to the text of a presentation by Central Bank Governor Erdem Basci to parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission. Investors have long urged the bank to move towards using a single interest rate; markets were disappointed by the bank’s failure to simplify policy or hike rates at its last meeting on December 22. The bank’s inaction reignited concerns about political threats to its independence and renewed pressure on the lira. “If the decline in volatility witnessed with the start of global monetary policy normalization is lasting, monetary policy simplification steps could start from the next meeting,” Basci’s presentation said. The next meeting of Turkey’s monetary policy committee is scheduled for January 19. [Reuters, 1/7/2016]

Morocco government adopts draft bill on pension reform
Morocco’s government adopted a bill on Thursday outlining planned pension reforms. Unions have vowed to block the reforms, which they say would damage workers’ rights. According to a government statement, the proposed changes to state pension funds include an increase in the retirement age to 63 by 2019, higher workers’ contributions, and an expansion of the calculation base. Workers will have to pay 14 percent of their salaries by 2019 and government contributions will rise in tandem, adding 1 percentage point each year to meet the new plan. Morocco’s four largest labor unions said they are planning sit-ins and strikes in protest of the bill. “We reject the so-called reform that will make the workers pay for the managers’ mismanagement,” said a leader of the Moroccan Worker’s Union Mohamed al-Wafi. “The increase in the retirement age should be optional and the state should pay two thirds of the contribution,” he said. Wafi added that unions are planning a sit-in on Tuesday outside the Moroccan parliament and are discussing a general strike. [Reuters, 1/7/2016]

World Bank cuts Egypt’s predicted 2016 growth rate
The World Bank lowered its forecast for Egypt’s economic growth in fiscal year 2015/2016 from 4.2 percent to 3.8 percent, warning of the implications of the Russian Metrojet crash for the tourism industry and a foreign currency shortage. “The contraction in foreign currency inflows that would accompany a shrinking tourism industry would not only negatively impact growth, but would exacerbate the existing foreign currency shortage,” the Bank said in its Global Economic Prospects report. The Bank predicts “an additional round of currency devaluation” to be taken by new Central Bank Governor Tarek Amer to boost foreign currency reserves. However, the Bank warned that a further round of devaluation would mean “monetary policy will have to resist pressure on an inflation rate that is already high.” The Bank also noted that there is space to accelerate fiscal reforms, even the introduction of a second round of energy subsidy cuts and a plans to implement a value-added tax have stalled. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 1/7/2016]