Top News: Tobruk government appoints General Khalifa Haftar top commander of armed forces

General Khalifa Haftar has been appointed top commander of the Libyan army by Aguilah Saleh, President of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.

Haftar, who leads his own troops and is allied with the Tobruk government, will supervise the Libyan National Army and have power over both the defense ministry and the chiefs of staff. The move highlights Haftar’s increasing power within the Tobruk government, however, he is a divisive character that not everyone believes should be in charge of the military. [Reuters, Ansamed, 2/25/2015] 



Sisi meets with ex-Brotherhood figures, plan to pardon allegedly underway
Presidential sources said on Wednesday that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s met with several dissident Muslim Brotherhood leaders on Wednesday upon their request. During the meeting, the former Brotherhood figures, including Kamal al-Helbawy, Tharwat al-Kharbawy, and Mokhtar Nouh offered proposals to face the extremist ideology of terrorist groups, the sources added. In related news, a plan to pardon some Brotherhood members, which would allow them to leave custody in exchange for signing an agreement, is allegedly in the works. Informed sources said meetings are taking place among Muslim Brotherhood figures, involved in several lawsuits, and members of the special committee on reconciliation with the group’s prisoners. Helbawy and another former Brotherhood member, Tareq al-Bishbeeshy, are said to be on the committee. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that the meetings are taking place upon request of the security services. [Egypt Independent, 2/26/2015]

Report says at least EGP 7 billion to be spent on electoral campaigns
Spending on the upcoming parliamentary elections is poised to be higher than ever due to the omission of Shura council and rising ”terrorist activity,” according to a recent report by the Cairo Centre for Economic and Strategic Studies (CCES). According to the report, the total expected spending on the elections by candidates will not be less than EGP 7 billion, and may reach as high as EGP 10 billion. Meanwhile, former president of the State Council, Hamed al-Gamal, said at least EGP 1 billion could go to waste if the government proceeds with the parliamentary elections, despite legal challenges to the elections laws and the division of electoral districts. Gamal argued that parliamentary elections should be annulled or postponed during this period. [DNE, 2/25/2015]

Court sets May 16 for verdict in Morsi’s jailbreak trial
Cairo Criminal Court has set May 16 as the date for its final verdict in the jailbreak trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and 130 others. The court will rule on charges of the jailbreak of inmates from a number of prisons in the early days of the January 2011 uprising, including Morsi, who reportedly escaped from Wadi al-Natroun prison. Morsi and the rest of the defendants face charges of murder and attempted murder of policemen, torching government buildings, breaking into prison and helping prisoners escape. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/25/2015]

US Congress backs Sisi’s battle against Islamists
US lawmakers did not raise any objections to a proposed $1.3 billion military assistance package for Egypt during two days of hearings with Secretary of State John Kerry. Their silence is the clearest sign yet that Congress is lining up behind President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as he takes on Islamic State and other Islamists. Kerry indicated that a decision to release more aid is imminent. During his testimony at the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Kerry said that Egypt could offer much to counter extremism and fight terrorism in Sinai. He also highlighted the Egyptian role within the peace process in the Middle East as well as the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. [Al Monitor, Egypt Independent/MENA, 2/26/2015]

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UN mission in Libya holds urgent talks
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said it is holding urgent consultations with rival Libyan factions aimed at resuming a political dialogue after the internationally recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) suspended its participation. UNSMIL implored that the two sides must “not let this window of opportunity slip away.” The UN Special Representative to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has worked to bring the Tripoli-based General National Congress and the Tobruk-based House together for negotiations that would lead to a political solution and a unity government for Libya. [AFP/Yahoo, UN News Centre, 2/25/2015]

Tobruk government appoints General Khalifa Haftar top commander of armed forces
General Khalifa Haftar has been appointed top commander of the Libyan army by Aguilah Saleh, President of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. Haftar, who leads his own troops and is allied with the Tobruk government, will supervise the Libyan National Army and have power over both the defense ministry and the chiefs of staff. The move highlights Haftar’s increasing power within the Tobruk government, however, he is a divisive character that not everyone believes should be in charge of the military. [Reuters, Ansamed, 2/25/2015]

Tobruk government lifts entry ban for Sudanese nationals
Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has issued a decision to lift the ban on the entry of Sudanese citizens to Libya. Last month the Tobruk government announced a ban on the entry of citizens from Sudan, Syria, and Palestine, indicating security concerns and fears of people joining terrorists groups. The Sudanese foreign minister said that the ban was lifted after negotiations with the Tobruk government and in recognition of Sudan’s role in attempting to find a political solution in the Libya. Al-Thinni had previously accused Khartoum of supporting the rival Libya Dawn militia, but says Sudan has now changed this policy. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Sudan Tribune, 2/25/2015]

Gunmen seize chemical weapons in Libya
Armed men have reportedly stolen chemical weapons from a storage location in the Jufra district, 600 kilometers southeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The amount taken is unknown, but many fear that they could find their way to militants loyal to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Military sources who spoke to the media stated that mustard gas and sarin gas are among the chemical weapons taken. It is believed that various  militias in Libya know where these chemical weapons are stored, raising the concern of a chemical arms race to break the military stalemate. [Asharq al Awsat, 2/21/2015]

EU committed to supporting Tunisia’s counterterrorism efforts
The European Union (EU) Counterterrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, stated the EU’s commitment to supporting Tunisia’s counterterror efforts on Wednesday. In his meeting with Prime Minister Habib Essid, Kerchove emphasized the EU’s willingness to share intelligence and ensure permanent cooperation. Essid also stated Tunisia’s desire to work with the EU as a partner in what he sees as a shared threat to all parties. [All Africa/TAP, 2/25/2015]

Trial of blogger Yassine Ayari postponed, bail refused
The appeal hearing of Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari, who was sentenced in January to one year in prison for defaming the military, has been delayed to March. He was denied bail and will remain in prison until then. Ayari’s brother denounced the judgment as a limit to freedom of expression. Reporters Without Borders released a statement expressing its concern with the current state of human rights in Tunisia. [Tunisia Live, 2/25/2015]


Assyrians flee after ISIS abductions
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) abducted 220 Assyrian Christians, many of them women, children, or elderly, in Syria’s northeastern province of al-Hasakah in recent days. The kidnappings have prompted thousands more Christians to flee their homes; about 800 have taken refuge in the city of Hassakeh and 150 in Qamishli, both predominantly Kurdish cities. Ablahd Kourieh, an Assyrian Christian who is deputy head of a Kurdish-led defense council in northeastern Syria and an official in the Syriac Union Party, urged US-led air strikes to help repel the attack by ISIS militants on the Assyrian villages. “Our message to the alliance is to be sincere in their promises. Today is the third day of this attack… and we haven’t seen a single coalition airplane bomb the area.” [The Daily Star, AFP, AP, 2/26/2015]

Far more Syrians ready to fight ISIS than expected
The number of mainstream Syrian fighters ready to fight ISIS is more than US officials had expected. “The numbers are much higher than we thought, and it has been very encouraging. We’ve had an encouraging sense that there is an interest in this,” said General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, in a US Senate hearing Wednesday. US officials have said they plan to train about 5,000 Syrian fighters per year for three years at sites outside Syria as part of the campaign to stop ISIS and ultimately destroy the group. [al-Arabiya, Reuters, 2/26/2015]

Lebanese army clashes with militants near Syrian border
Clashes erupted overnight between the Lebanese army and unidentified militants along the border with Syria. Following the clashes, the Lebanese army advanced toward strategic locations on the outskirts of the northeastern villages of Ras Baalbek and Arsal that were occupied by the militants. The army established new checkpoints and surveillance posts in the area and now has “full control” on the hills of Sadr al-Jarash and Harf al-Jarash. In recent months, the Lebanese army has fought several battles against militants believed to be crossing in from across the border with Syria. [al-Akhbar English, Naharnet 2/26/2015]

Iraqi parliament allocates $60 million to Popular Mobilization forces
Iraq’s parliament on Monday allocated $60 million to support and develop Popular Mobilization forces in the fight against ISIS. The Popular Mobilization Committee is an umbrella group of powerful Shia militias and paramilitary groups, believed to be receiving direct support from Tehran, that have united under an initiative put forward by the Haider al-Abadi government to confront ISIS. Baghdad is also in the process of establishing National Guard forces in each Iraqi province to assist in the battle against the extremist group. Iraq’s National Guard will consist of local forces and will reflect the unique sectarian and ethnic makeup of each of Iraq’s governorates. [Asharq al-Awsat, 2/25/2015]

ISIS executioner “Jihadi John” identified as Kuwait-born Londoner
The man in the black balaclava who seems to have beheaded several foreign hostages in Islamic State videos has been identified by British security services as Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen from London. Known in the news media as Jihadi John, he is said to have been born in Kuwait and traveled to Syria in 2012. His name was first published on Thursday on the website of The Washington Post. A senior British security official, who said that the British government had identified Emwazi some time ago but had not disclosed his name for operational reasons, confirmed the report. [NYT, BBC, 2/26/2015]


UN sanctions probe accuses Saleh of amassing billions
Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is alleged to have amassed assets worth between $32 billion and $60 billion, most believed to have been transferred abroad under other names, UN experts said in a report circulated Wednesday. The panel of experts said in the report to the UN Security Council that Saleh, his family, and associates allegedly stole money from a fuel subsidy program which uses up to 10 percent of Yemen’s gross domestic product, as well as other ventures involving extortion, embezzlement, and abuse of power. [AP, BBC, Reuters, Mareb Press, 2/26/2015]

UN recognizes Hadi as legitimate president; welcomes moving negotiations
At the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, the council unanimously voted in support of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s legitimacy as president of Yemen. In a statement released yesterday, they demanded that all cabinet members be removed from house arrest. Along with reiterating their support for the agreements reached by national consensus before the Houthi takeover of the capital, the council asked UN Special Advisor Jamal Benomar to select another location for negotiations to continue between the country’s political factions. While the legality of President Hadi’s legitimacy is being debated in Yemen, they welcomed President Hadi’s participation in the dialogue process. [AP, SABA, 2/26/2015]

Uncertainty surrounds French woman’s kidnapping in Yemen
More than twenty-four hours after a French development worker and her Yemeni colleague were kidnapped in Sana’a, it remains unclear who their captors are or what their demands might be, their employer said Wednesday. The interior ministry in Yemen, which is leading the investigation with help from Ayala’s local security advisers, “are telling us that they are working on the case… but we don’t know anything concrete as yet,” he added. [AFP, France 24, 2/26/2015]

UAE court sentences six Iranians to life in jail over British businessman’s abduction
A court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has sentenced six Iranians, three of them in absentia, to life in prison for kidnapping Abbas Yazdi, a businessman of Iranian descent who owns a general trading company in Dubai. He disappeared in June 2013 and his wife told a UAE newspaper that she feared Iranian intelligence officers might have kidnapped him. At the time of his kidnapping, Yazdi was giving testimony to The Hague’s international arbitration intended to settle a dispute between UAE-based Crescent Petroleum and the National Iranian Oil Company. The Iranian government has denied any involvement in his kidnapping. [Reuters, 2/26/2015]


Libya plans to boost production to 180,000 barrels per day
Libya aims to boost production at the southeastern Sarir and Messla oilfields feeding the Hariga terminal to 180,000 barrels a day. Libya has restarted both fields, shut after a pipeline blast, which halted crude supplies to Hariga, the biggest onshore export port still working amid growing chaos in the OPEC member country. Most Libyan oilfields have stopped working due to the struggle between the recognized government in the east and a rival administration that took control of Tripoli last summer. The emergence of militants aligned with Islamic State have further complicated plans to restart oil production. [Reuters, 2/26/2015]

World Bank’s portfolio in Egypt reaches record $5.4 million in 2015
World Bank Group’s current portfolio in Egypt surged to $5.4 billion in the fiscal year 2015, including twenty-six projects. The current portfolio of the World Bank Group in Egypt encompasses seventeen lending operations for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), part of World Bank, worth $5.27 billion in addition to nine major trust funds valued at $139.6 million. The World Bank finances projects for faster delivery of benefits to the people of Egypt in key sectors including energy, transport, water and sanitation, agriculture and irrigation as well as health and education. [Zawya, 2/26/2015]

Tunisia’s central bank keeps key interest rate at 4.75 percent
Tunisia’s central bank kept its benchmark interest rate on hold at 4.75 percent but said that, despite progress in the political process, economic indicators were still negative in major sectors such as industry and tourism. The bank said also that inflation rose to 5.5 percent in January 2015 from 4.8 percent in December 2014. [Reuters, 2/26/2015]

Moroccan government proposes to boost central bank independence
The Moroccan government is proposing a draft law that gives the country’s central bank much more independence and prepares it for major financial reforms and a more flexible currency exchange system. The move to boost the central bank’s power is linked to demands by the International Monetary Fund for Morocco to adopt more exchange rate flexibility to make its economy more competitive and better able to absorb shocks. The country is also set to allow the creation of Islamic banks and enable private firms to issue Islamic debt after parliament approved an Islamic finance bill last November. [Reuters, 2/26/2015]