Top News: Tobruk Government Recalls Team from Morocco Talks

Delegates for Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representative (HOR) says it has recalled its team from UN-mediated talks in Morocco, where rival Libyan sides are supposed to agree on a unity government by September 20. An HOR lawmaker confirmed the recall, saying body “rejected the [GNC’s] amendments added in the last round of talks, but not the draft itself.” UN Special Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon downplayed the differences between the two sides, saying it is normal to have such debates in the final stages of the talks. Leon added that the HOR negotiating team is not leaving the talks despite the recall from Libya. [APReutersLibya HeraldAFP, 9/15/2015]



Egyptians in Yemen, Syria, and Libya will not vote in parliamentary elections
Egypt’s High Elections Committee (HEC) said on Tuesday that there would not be any electoral polling stations in countries stricken by armed conflicts such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya. Egyptian expatriates that are eligible to vote, are scheduled to cast their votes in the election in two phases: the first round beginning October 17 and 18 while the second will be carried out on November 21 and 22. Additionally, the HEC announced the names of the candidates for parliamentary elections, whose names will appear on lists hung up at the headquarters of the provincial elections commissions for three days. Individual candidates number 5,941 in addition to fourteen electoral lists. [Ahram Online, Cairo Post, 9/15/2015]

Shoukry pens open letter to the ‘people of Mexico;’ Sisi Receives Mexico’s Foreign Minister
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addressed the people of Mexico in an open letter to be published in major Mexican newspapers Wednesday regarding the accidental killing of Mexican tourists in Egypt last Sunday. In the letter, Shoukry expressed his condolences and sympathy to the Mexican people, adding that Egypt can understand Mexicans’ grief as Egyptians have seen “numerous innocent civilian lives lost due to terrorist violence.” He added that Egypt is “in the process of investigating exactly what happened,” referencing conflicting reports on the convoy’s permits and position. He said, “We still do not know if the convoy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if some error was involved.” President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will receive Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu in Cairo, the presidency said in a statement Wednesday. Massieu arrived early on Wednesday in Cairo along with six Mexican diplomats and nineteen family members of the deceased tourists. Spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism Rasha Azazy said that the nine injured victims are in stable condition, adding that Tourism Minister Khaled Ramy also visited them. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that the survivors would be flown to Mexico on the presidential plane. [Ahram Online, AFP, Reuters, 9/16/2015]

Egypt says killed fifty-five militants in Sinai, two soldiers killed
Two soldiers and fifty-five militants were killed on September 15 in an ongoing joint security operation focused on the cities of al-Arish, Rafah, and Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai. The information comes from a statement by the official Army Spokesman that also added that twelve soldiers were injured in clashes between security forces and militants, and that thirty-five suspects were arrested following the clashes. This is the ninth consecutive day of the Martyr’s Right operation. [Aswat Masriya, Reuters, 9/16/2015]

Court upholds death sentence for eight alleged Muslim Brotherhood
The Minya Criminal Court upheld Tuesday death sentences in absentia for eight alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters in a case involving violence that occurred in Samalout in Minya, following the dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in. In total, 119 defendants were brought to court in this trial on multiple charges including “murder and attempted murder” and “joining a terrorist group.” The court sentenced seventy-seven other defendants to life in prison, while another twenty-nine defendants received prison sentences ranging from ten to fifteen years; five were acquitted of all charges. In addition, five other defendants were given five years imprisonment. The Tuesday death sentences were issued in August and were confirmed after approval from Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam. [DNE, AMAY, Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 9/15/2015]

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Tobruk government recalls its team from talks in Morocco
Delegates for Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representative (HOR) says it has recalled its team from UN-mediated talks in Morocco, where rival Libyan sides are supposed to agree on a unity government by September 20. An HOR lawmaker confirmed the recall, saying body “rejected the [GNC’s] amendments added in the last round of talks, but not the draft itself.” UN Special Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon downplayed the differences between the two sides, saying it is normal to have such debates in the final stages of the talks. Leon added that the HOR negotiating team is not leaving the talks despite the recall from Libya. [AP, Reuters, Libya Herald, AFP, 9/15/2015]

Libya’s Prime Minister prevented from leaving Labraq
Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni of the Tobruk government was reportedly prevented from catching a flight to Malta by security officials at Labraq airport. Sources at the airport say the officials were carrying out orders from top military figures, seen as a reference to the Tobruk-aligned General Khalifa Haftar. Although there has been no statement about the incident, an official in Malta has confirmed that al-Thinni was due to fly there today. [Libya Herald, 9/16/2015]

Concern over rumors of Senussi and Baghdadi executions on Thursday
The London-based attorney for Libya’s former prime minister al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, who represents Mahmoudi in his continuing bid to have his case considered by the International Criminal Court, says he is investigating reports that his client and others face execution on Thursday. “We have received the latest news of imminent executions with obvious alarm and deep concern,” said Khan. “Execution without due process is murder and nothing less.” In July, Mahmoudi and other former Qaddafi-era officials, including former Intelligence Chief Abdullah Senussi, were sentenced to death by a court sitting in Hadba prison in Tripoli. Human rights groups have criticized the trial of Mahmoudi, Senussi, and more than twenty others for lacking transparency and due process. [Libya Herald, 9/15/2015]

Tunisia eyes enhanced security to win back tourists
Tunisia has seen tourism numbers plummet after a gunman killed dozens of holidaymakers at a beach resort in June, but it hopes increased security at hotels, airports, and museums can start to restore some confidence in the minds of tourists. “The top priority for the next years will be safety, safety, safety. We cannot afford any more incidents that (target) the tourism sector,” Abdellatif Hamam, the Director of the Tunisian Tourist Office said at a conference in Germany. Hamam said that Tunisia had been slow to halt the gunman in Sousse and that the country was now learning from security forces from Germany, France, Britain, and Italy. He said more spot checks were being carried out at hotels, both by Tunisian authorities and the hotel companies themselves, and the government had the power to close any hotels that were not complying with new tougher security provisions. He added that Tunisia was also providing German partners with weekly updates on security. [Reuters, 9/15/2015]


Assad speaks out against terrorism

In an interview aired Wednesday on Russian media, President Bashar al-Assad said that defeating terrorism is his main priority and urged all political and armed factions in the country to unite in the fight against terrorist groups. Assad reaffirmed that he will not quit under foreign pressure, citing the will of the Syrian people as the only factor he considers. In reference to the refugee crisis facing European countries, he said, “If you are worried about them [refugees], stop supporting terrorists.” [AP, BBC, 9/16/2015]

Foreign governments increase military and diplomatic pressure on Syrian conflict
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced today that he would meet with President Vladimir Putin in Russia for talks next week. The talks will address Moscow’s recent military support for the Assad regime. The French Defense Minister said on Wednesday that French airstrikes would begin within weeks to target Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, who he says train extremists to attack Europe. Australian warplanes completed their first air strike against the Islamic State in Syria today. Defense Minister Kevin Andrews said, “This is part of our logical extension in the fight against Daesh [ISIS] to operate not just over northern Iraq but also to operate over eastern Syria in order to degrade and destroy Daesh forces.” [Naharnet, AP, Naharnet, 9/16/2015]

Syria, refugee crisis push Turkey to look outward
In a speech delivered at an international ombudsman symposium held today in Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on European leaders to help solve the root of the refugee crisis: regime oppression and terrorism inside Syria. Erdogan delivered a pointed criticism of Russian military action in Syria. A documented 2 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, with more making their way to Europe. President Erdogan spoke to German Chancellor Merkel today, calling on Europe to coordinate with Turkey to share the burden of the influx of refugees. [Hurriyet, 9/16/2015]

Turkish state-PKK clashes continue
Military sources report that Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants killed three Turkish police officers overnight in a bomb attack on their armored vehicle on Wednesday. Turkish security forces killed nine PKK fighters in other clashes in the Siirt province in the southeast, largely Kurdish, region of Turkey. In Istanbul, Turkish police conducted early morning raids in twenty-three locations on the European side of the city, and detained thirteen suspected PKK members. Since July 24, over 1,600 people have been arrested in similar counterterrorism raids. [Reuters, BGN, Daily Sabah, 9/16/2015]


Prime Minister Bahah returns to Aden as fears of Islamic militants grow
Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah returned to the southern port of Aden today in a step towards restoring a government on home soil after months of working from exile with Gulf Arab allies to fight against Houthi control of the country. Vice President Rajeh Badi said seven ministers accompanied Bahah when he arrived in Aden. The Yemeni delegation left Riyadh and returned to Aden to do government work for the first time after five months governing from Saudi Arabia. Badi said that the security file, reconstruction, and incorporating the southern resistance into the army were at the top of the government’s agenda. Local officials say some 300 local police officers have returned to work in Aden since Yemeni forces reclaimed the city in July, but Aden locals have complained of a lack of basic services. Residents also say that nonresident fighters, including some affiliated to al-Qaeda, were seen on the streets, raising fears of a takeover by Islamist militants. The latest incident happened today in the city when masked assailants burned down St Joseph’s Catholic Church. [Reuters, al-Masdr (Arabic), Al Arabiya, 9/16/2015]

King Salman suspends Saudi Bin Laden firm
Saudi Arabia has suspended the Saudi Bin Laden Group from taking on new projects, just days after a deadly crane collapse in Mecca. A statement by the Saudi government on Tuesday said the company’s operations had been stopped until a review of all their work had been completed. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud also ordered that the group’s board members and senior executives be barred from travel abroad after an investigation into last week’s incident showed the crane was not erected in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and that the company had not “respected the norms of safety” at the site. The crane toppled over at Mecca’s Grand Mosque last Friday, less than two weeks before Islam’s annual hajj pilgrimage, killing 107 people and injuring 238. The Bin Laden company, one of the region’s largest construction firms, had been carrying expansion work at the Grand Mosque. Osama bin Laden’s father founded the company more than eighty years ago; Bin Laden’s brother, Bakr, runs it. Neither the company nor the family issued an immediate statement on the suspension. An engineer with Saudi Bin Laden Group reportedly said on Saturday that the accident was an “act of God” and not the result of a technical fault. [Al Jazeera, Reuters, Siasat Daily, 9/16/2015]

Kuwait terror suspects deny ties to Hezbollah, allege torture
More than twenty Kuwaitis denied in court on Tuesday that they were linked to Iran and the Shiite militia group Hezbollah, alleging that their confessions were extracted under extreme physical torture. All twenty-three men in court told Judge Mohammad al-Duaij they were systematically tortured, with interrogators threatening to kill them if they did not sign “prepared confessions.” The suspects have been charged with smuggling and assembling weapons, including 144 kilograms of explosives, for use in a plot against the Kuwait in collaboration with Iran and Hezbollah after a large amount of ammunition and explosives were discovered during a raid of the alleged “terror cell.” Hassan Abdulhadi Hassan, the main suspect in the case, told the court the weapons had been given to him by a member of the ruling al-Sabah family during the 1990-91 Iraq invasion and occupation. He told the court that he had been “hiding these arms” on the orders of a sheikh in order to use the weapons in the “resistance against the Iraqi troops.” Iran’s embassy has objected to being linked to the group on trial, saying it expressed deep sorrow at what it called a systematic media campaign against bilateral relations. [Kuwait Times, The Daily Star, Al Bawaba, Middle East Eye, 9/16/2015]


Libya’s internationally backed government may block exports by some oil companies
Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk may block exports via oil companies that refuse to deal with its new state oil company, an official said on Tuesday. The eastern government has formed its own National Oil Company (NOC) to compete with the existing Tripoli-based NOC, however, international companies and traders have maintained their long-established contacts with the NOC and shunned its eastern counterpart. Speaking to reporters Tuesday ahead of a meeting with oil companies, eastern NOC Chief Nagi al-Maghrabi said his government “will launch legal proceedings against” oil buyers still dealing with its Tripoli rival. The Tobruk government could block loadings “as a second step if [companies] continue to deal with the illegal [national oil company],” Maghrabi said. Libya’s eastern oil terminals currently export about 200,000 barrels a day, making up more than two-thirds of the country’s overall shipment, he added. [WSJ, Bloomberg, 9/15/2015]

Algeria considering 2016 tax hikes, import duties to cover deficit
Algeria is considering higher taxes, import duties, and a hike in subsidized diesel and electricity prices to help cover its deficit after a slump in crude oil prices eroded its revenues, a preliminary draft of its 2016 budget showed. The government has said it expects Algeria’s energy export earnings to fall 50 percent to $34 billion this year. This could exacerbate Algeria’s trade deficit, which reached $8.041 billion in the first seven months of 2015, compared to a $3.9 billion surplus in the same period last year. Officials have said the deficit will not affect subsidy policies, but authorities are seeking alternatives to fill the gap. According to a copy of the 2016 preliminary draft, the government plans to raise the value-added tax (VAT) for electricity from 7 percent to 17 percent when consumption exceeds 125-kilowatt hour. Diesel oil prices will increase slightly to 14.98 dinars a liter from 13.70 dinars. The VAT hike will also apply to 3G internet services and new vehicles. When finalized, the draft will pass to parliament for final approval. [Reuters, 9/15/2015]

Iraqi 2016 budget proposal sees deficit of $25.8 billion
Iraq’s Finance Ministry has proposed a 2016 government budget worth 113.5 trillion Iraqi dinars ($99.65 billion) with a budget deficit of 29.4 trillion Iraqi dinars ($25.81 billion), according to a draft posted online on Wednesday. The budget forecasts oil prices at around $45 a barrel and average production of 3.6 million barrels per day (bpd), up from the current rate of about 3 million bpd. The 2016 budget assumes continued agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil revenues. The KRG, however, has steadily increased independent crude oil sales via a pipeline to Turkey, effectively undoing the deal. Iraq’s deficit has also aggravated by higher military expenditures and other costs associated with the fight against Islamic State. The budget proposal said the financing gap would be filled with credits from multinational agencies—including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—in addition to international and local bonds each valued at more than $6 billion.[Reuters, 9/16/2015]

Tunisia seeks to cut joblessness through higher growth
Tunisia on Tuesday unveiled the outlines of a five-year plan to cut unemployment by stimulating growth. The plan, published by the development ministry, envisages average annual gross domestic product growth of 5 percent, starting with a moderate gain next year and accelerating from 2018. The higher growth, stimulated by better governance, diversification, and regionalization of the economy, would see unemployment dropping from 15.2 percent to 11 percent by 2020. The budget deficit would also be trimmed. Tunisia’s economy grew 1 percent in 2014 and is expected to grow only 0.5 percent in 2015. Joblessness stands at nearly 30 percent, hitting the youth the hardest. [AFP, 9/15/2015]