Top News: Syrian Antiquities and the ISIS Billion-Dollar Economy

ISIS is awash in cash, terrorist financing experts say. Extortion and taxation of the populations the group controls, illicit oil sales, ransoms, seizures of bank deposits, and now the sale of small antiquities are all contributing to ISIS’s coffers. According to the Congressional Research Service, the trafficking of antiquities may have become ISIS’s second most important source of revenue. Syrian antiquities are showing up on the London antiques market with growing frequency, with individual items fetching up to $1 million, according to reports. However, one bright spot that officials see in working to counter ISIS financing is that much of the group’s revenue sources within the territories it controls are not renewable. [CSM, 8/25/2015]



Too early to judge Iran deal, says Egypt Presidency
In a meeting Wednesday with the media delegation accompanying President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on his visit to Russia, spokesman Alaa Youssef said that the Egyptian presidency believes it is too early to judge the nuclear deal signed by six leading world powers and Iran. Youssef added that there were still doubts regarding commitment to the terms of the deal. He expressed hope, however, that the Middle East will become a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Youssef also stated that the security of the Gulf countries was a priority and a commitment. Regarding the situation in Syria, Youssef expressed hope that there will be a common Arab agreement with international support to solve the crisis in the war-torn country. Youssef also told the Egyptian reporters that the Sisi was going to meet Jordanian King Abdullah II in Moscow early Wednesday. [Ahram Online, 8/26/2015]

Endowments Ministry asks preachers not to run for parliament
The Endowments Ministry will suspend religious duties of preachers that decide to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, said Head of the Religious Sector of the Endowments Ministry Mohamed Abdel Razeq. The ministry also warned its employees in a statement on Monday not to use their religious job titles for campaigning if they want to run in the elections. It added that additional legal measures would be taken against preachers who try to use their position to gain votes during the electoral campaign. [Egypt Independent, 8/26/2015]

Egypt’s administrative court rejects call to ban Facebook
A Cairo administrative court issued a ruling on Tuesday rejecting a lawsuit proposed by Egyptian lawyer Mahmoud Guweily that aimed to shut down Facebook in Egypt. The lawsuit claimed that Facebook facilitates prostitution and propagates false information. The court said that self-censorship and media are the best ways to face any violations on Facebook. It reasoned that freedom of expression allows self-censorship, and that objective media coverage can reduce the potential harm caused by false information on Facebook and other social mediums. The court said that any violations on Facebook that constitute facilitating prostitution, engaging in racism, or creating misleading fan pages should be dealt with individually. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 8/25/2015]  

Second prisoner dies in Fayoum police station in three days
A second prisoner died Monday in the Abshawi police station in Fayoum, due to a lack of medical care, marking the second case of death in police custody since Saturday. The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms said that the deceased, 52-year-old Shaaban Abdel Aal, “was prevented medical treatment.” Abdel Aal asked to be taken to hospital, but was denied by officers at the station, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) reported. It was reported that Abdel Aal died shortly afterwards. The police station, however, said that he was taken to the hospital. The Ministry of Interior was not available for comment on the incident. The Freedom for the Brave group reported that the head officer at the station denied Abdel Aal’s transferral to hospital, citing a lack of soldiers to secure the police station. The FJP further reported that the detention room where Abdel Aal died was “very tight and not well ventilated.” It added that medicine is not allowed in the detention room. [DNE, 8/26/2015]

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Uncertainty surrounds next meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue
With just two days to go until the Libyan dialogue resumes in Skhirat to choose a prime minister and two deputies to head the planned national unity government, uncertainty persists as to whether the General National Congress (GNC) will participate. GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmain is reported to have sent UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon a letter stating that the GNC team would not turn up because its demands for amendments to the draft agreement signed last month have not been accepted. [Libya Herald, 8/25/2015]

Arab League delays meeting on creating joint military force to Libya
The Arab League says it has postponed a meeting of defense ministers to ratify a protocol for a new joint military force to intervene in regional hot spots. The Arab League said in a Wednesday press statement that members requesting the meeting be postponed include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq. Experts say a joint force would have difficulty reaching consensus on intervention in Libya, where different Arab countries support rival parties. [AP, Aswat Masriya, 8/26/2015]

Libya’s phone system breaks down after cables damaged
The Telecommunications Ministry in Tripoli said Internet, landline, and Libyana mobile telephone connections in the eastern and southern regions have stopped “due to deliberate acts against a submarine cable station in Sirte,” held by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). It did not say who was responsible for the damage, adding that lack of security made it impossible to fix the damage. The internet is still is working in Tripoli, as are phone calls within the three regions. The cuts mainly affect areas from Sirte to Tobruk. The internet was reported down in Tobruk and Benghazi. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 8/26/2015]

Turkey introduces visa requirements for Libyans
Turkey is introducing visa requirements for Libyan citizens, making it more difficult to enter one of the few countries, which has remained accessible since the closure of embassies in Tripoli last year. Mohamed Tawil, a foreign ministry official from Libya’s Tripoli administration, said Turkey notified the Libyan embassy in Ankara that Libyans would need a visa starting September 25. Turkey has become a major holiday destination for Libyans seeking to escape the chaos. Turkey and Libya have strong trade ties and thousands of Turks work in Libya, importing food and running supermarkets and restaurants. [Reuters, Libya Monitor, 8/25/2015]

Mohamed Ayadi resigns from Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission
Mohamed Ayadi, an administrative judge, submitted his resignation from the Truth and Dignity Commission (French: IVD), for “lack of suitable climate.” In a statement Tuesday, Ayadi said his resignation takes effect on September 1. He declined to provide further details about his decision, merely saying, “The climate is not suitable inside and outside the IVD.” Three other members of the commission resigned during 2014. [All Africa/TAP, Mosaique FM, 8/25/2015]


UN Chief says 422,000 besieged Syrians got no UN aid in July
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused all parties in the Syrian conflict of “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks” on civilians and said in a UN report that it and its partners could not deliver food to 422,000 people in besieged areas in July. Ban said that UN agencies and their partners were able to reach only twenty-nine of the 127 hard-to-reach locations last month where 4.6 million Syrians live. Ban said 228,000 people are besieged by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in government-controlled western neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor city; 167,500 by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Daraya; and 26,500 by rebel groups in the pro-government villages of Nubul and Zahra. In related news, UNICEF report estimated that 2.3 million in Aleppo, 2.5 million in Damascus, and 250,000 people in the southern city of Dera’a are suffering from water shortages. This included eighteen deliberate cuts to the public water supply in Aleppo this year. [AP, 8/25/2015]

Jordan’s king pressures Putin for Syria solution, Assad confident of Russian support
King Abdullah of Jordan told Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday that Moscow had a vital role to play bringing together rival sides in Syria to seek a solution to a war that has killed a quarter of a million people. Abdullah told Putin, “We need to find a solution on Syria. Your role and the role of your country is vital in bringing together all the rival sides to a negotiating table towards a peace solution.” Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad told the Hezbollah-run Lebanese station Al-Manar on Tuesday, “We have strong confidence in the Russians, as they have proven throughout this crisis, for four years, that they are sincere and transparent in their relationship with us.” In the same interview, Assad defended the presence of Hezbollah fighters in Syria, saying, “It was a request by the Syrian state—which is a legitimate state—in order to help defend the Syrian people.” [Reuters, 8/26/2015]

Turkish air force to join anti-ISIS campaign
The United States and Turkey have reached an agreement in which Turkish jets join the air campaign against ISIS. US officials hailed the agreement as “a significant step forward” in the fight against ISIS. Turkey has already conducted a handful of strikes against the militants, but it will now be fully integrated into the strategy of the wider coalition. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “Co-operation with the Turks and the expansion of that co-operation remains a work in progress” and that talks were continuing with Turkey “with regard to border issues.” In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and former Foreign Minister Bob Carr support Australia extending air strikes to Syria and are now waiting for a formal request from the coalition. [Daily Star, BBC, 8/25/2015]

Allegations of chemical attack in northern Aleppo province
Activists and medical organizations have documented an alleged chemical weapons attack on a Syrian town last week that affected dozens of civilians, with one source blaming ISIS. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had treated civilians apparently exposed to a chemical agent in Marea, without saying what type or providing overall casualty figures. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) said its own doctors in the northern town had identified the agent as mustard gas. Journalist and activist from Marea Mamoun al-Khatib accused ISIS of firing the more than fifty artillery shells into the center of the town before midday last Friday. [AFP, BBC, 8/25/2015]

US military may have skewed ISIS analysis
The Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the US-led campaign in Iraq against ISIS to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry. Government officials explained that an investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst told authorities that he had evidence that officials at US Central Command—the military headquarters overseeing the US-led bombing campaign and other efforts against the ISIS—were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including for President Barack Obama. [NYT, AFP, 8/25/2015]


Yemeni forces launch Scud missile at Saudi Arabia
Yemeni army units allied with the Houthi rebel group fired ballistic missiles toward Saudi Arabia’s Jizan province on Wednesday, the Houthis’ TV channel reported. This marks the third time the Houthis and their allies have fired Scuds into Saudi territory since the conflict began in March. Like previous attacks, the Scud was intercepted by US-supplied patriot missiles Residents of the capital in Sana’a report hearing the missile launched nearby, followed by Saudi-led strikes on a military depot and the presidential palace. Arab Coalition spokesperson Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri confirmed other strikes on the Houthi stronghold in northern Saada province as well. [Reuters, al-Masdar Online (Arabic); 8/26/2015]

Saudi forces arrive in Aden, more to land in Taiz
Approximately 100 Saudi soldiers have arrived in Aden to help secure the city as part of Operation Restoring Hope. The operation aims to assist the return of the currently exiled government of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. In addition to these soldiers, demining units have also deployed to remove safely the estimated 150,000 landmines that Houthi rebels left as they retreated from the southern city in mid-July. A military source also confirmed to Saheefa al-Madina, a Saudi newspaper, that a landing operation is planned in Taiz governorate within forty-eight hours. He also explained that to prepare for the landing, airstrikes near Mokha targeted units loyal to the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 8/26/2015]

King Salman to visit United States in September
Saudi officials say King Salman will visit the United States for the first since ascending the throne and meet President Barack Obama on September 5. The visit could last two to three days, and comes amid Saudi concerns about a nuclear deal reached with regional rival Iran. [AP, 8/26/2015]


Saudi Arabia remains committed to dollar peg
Pressure on the Saudi Arabian riyal in the currency forwards market eased on Tuesday after Ahmed al-Kholifi, Deputy Governor for Research and International Affairs at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), said the kingdom was committed to keeping the riyal pegged to the US dollar. Kholifi denied market speculation that plunging oil prices will push the kingdom to reconsider the currency link, saying the riyal’s peg of 3.75 to the dollar “is a policy that has served us well in the past.” Saudi central bank officials rarely speak in public, Kholifi’s remarks may have been designed to ease market worries about the peg, which had increased in the last few days as sliding oil prices hurt Saudi export revenues. He added that the kingdom’s economy is expected to grow 3 percent this year. [WSJ, Reuters, Bloomberg, 8/25/2015]

Currency crisis in Iraq could risk fight against ISIS
The threat of a currency crisis in Iraq could have effects beyond the country’s economy and markets. A foreign-exchange crunch resulting from a global drop in oil prices could force a devaluation of the dinar and risk the ability to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Iraq is dependent on oil revenue to fund its operations against ISIS and quell growing unrest over the economy. In August, the central bank sold $4.6 billion of currency to keep the dinar at a pegged rate, marking a daily outflow of about $184 million. Devaluation of the dinar would raise the cost of living for Iraqis already protesting against government corruption, power cuts, and water shortages. “The policy now is to meet the demand for dollars,” said Waleed Eedi, a Director General at the Central Bank of Iraq. The reserves will not be depleted because of oil sales and the dinar will not devalue, he said. One expert said that if the battle against ISIS and low oil prices continues, “Iraq will then hit a wall.” [Bloomberg, 8/26/2015]

Hundreds of investors, policymakers expected to participate in Egypt’s Euromoney conference
The two-day Euromoney Egypt Conference is scheduled to begin in Cairo on September 7. The conference will focus on Egypt’s future finances and subsidy programs, according to Euromoney Conference Middle East Director Victoria Behn. “This year’s event will discuss possible alternatives to raise the needed finance to bolster Egypt’s economy in the coming period,” she said. Expected attendees include 600 major investors and and 1,000 policy makers from around the world. “Euromoney Egypt’s conference is particularly timely as Egypt’s investment promise is being turned into reality. We’re looking forward to seeing how the projects launched at [the Economic Development Conference] are being realized,” Behn added. Egypt’s Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian and Investment Minister Ashraf Salman are both expected to attend the conference. [DNE, Cairo Post, 8/25/2015]