Top News: Transitional Council Agreed Upon in Yemen

Yemen’s political parties have agreed on a transitional council to govern the country. The agreement keeps Yemen’s old 301-member House of Representatives, which consists overwhelmingly of members from the former ruling party thought to be sympathetic to the Houthis.

The upper house will consist of traditionally unrepresented sectors among Yemen’s formerly independent South, women, and young people. Arrangements for the vacated presidency and ministries along with security required further dialogue. [SABA, Reuters, Al Masdar, Al Jazeera, 2/20/2015]



Pentagon says not notified in advance of Egypt’s strikes in Libya
The Pentagon has said that Egypt did not inform it in advance of its intention to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) bases in Libya earlier this week. Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday, “We didn’t participate or support them in any way, and we’re not taking a position on it.” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Friday that Egypt supports the US-led alliance to fight ISIS fighters and other “terrorist” organizations. Shoukry’s statements came in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the “Countering Violent Extremism” summit, which concluded on Thursday in Washington. Shoukry also met with Kerry, UN chief Ban Ki-moon, and EU High Representative Frederica Mogherini on the sidelines of the summit to discuss the situation in Libya. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice raised concerns about human rights during a separate meeting in which they talked about the attack on Christians, the White House said. National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan also said that Rice underlined the US commitment to a strategic partnership with Egypt. [Ahram Online, 2/20/2015]

Draft amendments to Criminal Procedures Law allow judges to overlook witness testimony  
Planned amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law would give the court the power to overlook witness testimonies during a trial, the privately owned newspaper Shorouk reported Thursday. In a cabinet meeting, ministers discussed a proposal to amend Articles 277 and 289 of the law, which oblige judges to hear the testimonies of witnesses for both the defense and the prosecution. These articles were intended as an important component of the checks and balances guaranteeing fairness in judicial proceedings. But the proposed amendments would give judges the freedom to overlook testimonies at will. The amendments have already been sent to the State Council for final review and approval. [Mada Masr, 2/19/2015]

Egypt freezes funds of pro-Brotherhood body
A judicial committee in charge of seizing and running assets of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group ordered the freezing of all assets and property of members of the so-called ‘Revolutionary Council.’ The decision will be applied to thirty members of the council, according to Committee Secretary General Yasser Abul Fotouh. The committee said all funds and property owned by the members either in or outside the country will be frozen. The Revolutionary Council, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was formed in Turkey in 2014. [SIS, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 2/20/2015]

HEC to announce final list of parliamentary elections candidates on Sunday
The Higher Elections Commission (HEC) spokesperson Omar Marwan said the commission will announce on Sunday the final list of candidates accepted to run for the coming parliamentary elections slated for March 22. The commission announced late Thursday that it would allow applicants who have already registered, but did not submit all the required documents, two more days to finalize their applications. The decision comes after some 509 applicants failed to provide their medical checkups. The HEC also announced it would consider candidate appeals from Sunday to Tuesday. Candidates will receive a response starting Wednesday, for a period of five days. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 2/20/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Car bomb in eastern Libya kills forty, officials say
Three car bombs ripped through the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah on Friday, killing forty people and wounding seventy more. The bombs targeted a petrol station, the local security headquarters, and the town council headquarters. Qubbah is under the control of the internationally recognized Tobruk- based House of Representatives and is the hometown of its Parliamentary Speaker, Aguila Saleh. Officials believe Islamist militants executed the attacks as revenge for the Egyptian airstrikes in Derna, which the Tobruk government supported. [Reuters, AP, 2/20/15]

Hassi calls for boycott of dialogue unless UN acts against Egypt; al-Thinni calls Turkey out
Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based government Omar al-Hassi said that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) video showing the Egyptians Copts murder was faked and that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi used it as a rationale for invading Libya. Hassi then called for a boycott of the UN-sponsored dialogue between his government and its rival, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, until the UN brought justice to Egypt for assaulting civilians in Derna. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni of the Tobruk-based government stated that Turkey will lose its investments in Libya for supporting terrorism and intervening in Libyan affairs. [Libya Herald, 2/19/2015]

US and Britain say Libya needs unity government before arms embargo change
The United States and Great Britain said that Libya needs to establish an unity government before the Security Council could change an arms embargo in order to better equip Libya’s military to combat ISIS and other militants. Libya’s foreign minister told an emergency council meeting Wednesday that lifting the embargo is necessary as the militant group establishes a presence in northern Africa and moves closer to Europe. However, both Security Council members believe a political and non-interventionist solution is the proper way forward in Libya. [Reuters, AP, 2/20/2015]

Pro-ISIS militants seize Libyan university, residents say
Militants claiming loyalty to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have seized the university in the central Libyan city of Sirte according to residents. Days before video was posted online showing ISIS militants parading through the town, they have also taken over administrative and government buildings. Sirte has long been a stronghold for the Islamist group, Ansar al-Sharia. Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi of the Tripoli-based government said that he directed military forces to Sirte in order to protect government institutions, he added that Qaddafi loyalists in Sirte were using the ISIS name to undermine Libya’s stability. [Reuters, 2/19/2015]

Commercial exchange reopens at Tunisia crossing; Tunisians block the evacuation of Egyptians
After Tunisian protests and demonstrations closed the border with Libya over an exit tax, commercial exchange reopened at the Ras Jedir border crossing once the Tunisian government decided to end the tax. However, more than 180 Egyptians are stranded at the border in Libya because of demonstrators at Ras Jedir preventing them from crossing and getting to the Djerba Zarzis airport in Tunisia for evacuation to Egypt. Egypt is evacuating its citizens in Libya because of the threat of retribution for Egyptian airstrikes. [Ansamed, L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 2/20/2015]


Turkey and the United States sign deal to arm, train Syrian rebels
The United States and Turkey on Thursday signed a deal to train and equip mainstream Syrian rebel forces. US Ambassador John Bass and Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu signed the deal. Sinirlioglu called it “an important step” in the strategic partnership between Turkey and the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday Turkey and the United States aimed to start a program to train and equip mainstream Syrian rebels early next month. It remains unclear who will decide which rebels will receive the training. [Reuters, AP, The Daily Star, AFP, 2/20/2015]

The United States wants Mosul offensive on ISIS in April
The United States wants Iraq to launch its offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in April or May. Mosul is believed to be held by 1,000-2,000 ISIS militants and 20,000-25,000 Iraqi troops are needed to carry out the offensive. A US ground role in the offensive force, to help direct air strikes, has not been ruled out. Iraqi troops will form the bulk of the force, while three Kurdish peshmerga brigades are planned to also participate, according to an official with US Central Command. [AFP, AP, 2/20/2015]

Kurdish and rebel forces advance into ISIS-held Raqqa province
Syrian Kurdish and rebel forces advanced on Thursday into ISIS-held Raqqa province. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, backed by Kurdish Akrad Front, Free Syrian Army affiliated Shams al-Shamal brigades and Raqqa Brigades, captured nineteen villages in Raqqa province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The advance comes as Kurdish and rebel forces push outwards from the border town of Kobani, from which they expelled ISIS forces in late January. Kurdish and rebel forces have taken much of the surrounding countryside in northern Aleppo province and begun pushing east into neighboring Raqqa province. [BBC, Al-Akhbar English, 2/20/2015]

UN chief seeks action on Syria sieges, barrel bombs
Denouncing a business-as-usual approach to Syria, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for urgent action to lift sieges on civilians and to end barrel bomb attacks. Ban said barrel bombs were used against civilians in Aleppo, where the UN envoy for Syria is seeking to freeze fighting as part of peace efforts. The appeal came in a report by the secretary general to the Security Council that also made the case for stepped-up efforts to reach a political solution and end the war. In a BBC interview earlier this month, Assad flatly denied that his forces were using barrel bombs, describing such claims as a “childish story.” [AFP, 2/20/2015]


Transitional council agreed upon in Yemen
Yemen’s political parties have agreed on a transitional council to govern the country. The agreement keeps Yemen’s old 301-member House of Representatives, which consists overwhelmingly of members from the former ruling party thought to be sympathetic to the Houthis. The upper house will consist of traditionally unrepresented sectors among Yemen’s formerly independent South, women, and young people. Arrangements for the vacated presidency and ministries along with security required further dialogue. [SABA, Reuters, Al Masdar, Al Jazeera, 2/20/2015]

Houthis using brutal tactics against opposition
The Houthi rebels who have seized control of northern Yemen are systematically targeting peaceful protesters in the capital with death threats, abductions, and severe beatings. The increasingly brutal tactics are meant to halt demonstrations that erupted after the Houthis toppled president Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government last month and then dissolved parliament. However the knifings and other violent measures appear to be having the opposite effect. Rallies against the Houthis have increased in frequency and size, raising concerns that Yemen is heading for all-out civil war. [Washington Post, 2/20/2015]

Two killed in attack on security force commander’s house in Aden
Forces surrounding the security forces commander’s house in Aden were attacked on Friday by gunmen, killing two of the soldiers and leaving several wounded. The attack on the house lasted for more than an hour, however, the commander escaped unharmed. Clashes between pro-Hadi rebels and pro-Houthi security forces have been continuing since Monday when pro-Hadi groups seized important government buildings in Aden. [Al Masdar, Aden al-Ghad, 2/20/2015]

Saudi Court upholds fifteen-year sentence for human rights lawyer
Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, will not be released from jail early after the Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal in Saudi Arabia upheld the original fifteen-year sentence. Abulkhair was convicted last July on a series of charges including “inciting public opinion” but the last five years of the sentence were initially suspended. In January, another court ordered Abulkhair to serve the full fifteen years of his sentence, a ruling upheld by the latest decision. The Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal normally hears terrorism cases. [AFP, 2/19/2015]


Yemen foreign exchange reserves stabilize but borrowing balloons in political crisis
Yemeni Central Bank data showed that Yemen’s foreign exchange reserves have stabilised after a steep fall due to its political turmoil, but ballooning government debt issuance indicates the country may be moving closer to a fiscal crunch. Gross foreign reserves, which had sunk to $4.65 billion in November, recovered slightly in December to $4.67 billion, equivalent to 4.6 months of the country’s imports. This suggests that for now at least, Yemen can avoid a collapse of its external payments position. Nonetheless, the government is being forced to borrow heavily from local banks to stay afloat. [Reuters, 2/20/2015]

Iraq to boost southern oil storage to 15 million barrels
According to a senior official, Iraq plans to increase its southern oil storage capacity to 15 million barrels by the end of 2015, to help cope with export bottlenecks caused by bad weather and absorb rising production. Near the southern city of Basra, a new facility will add more than 1 million barrels of capacity to the existing 9.5 million. The storage capacity increase will help Iraq absorb expected rising oil production from the southern oilfields and avoid export halts during rough weather. [Reuters, 2/20/2015]

Kuwait offers vote of confidence with $6.8 billion Egyptian investment
Offering a vote of investor confidence, Egypt’s energy sector announced a $6.8 billion investment partnership plan with Kuwait. This puts Egypt on track to meet a $14.5 billion industry goal announced last year. The plan sets aside the investment for petrochemical projects, which have fallen short in recent years due to the country’s gas shortfalls. The new partnership signals an improvement of investor confidence in Egypt as a whole and the country’s energy sector. [Forbes, 2/20/2015]

Former Egyptian intelligence chief, ex-ministers open consultancy, investment firm
Egypt’s former intelligence chief and three former ministers have established a financial consultancy firm with a vision to assist foreign investors targeting the Egyptian market, economic daily Al-Mal reported. Former head of the General Intelligence Service (GIS), Mourad Mowafy, has established MEASA, a company specialized in preparing feasibility studies for various economic projects, the newspaper said. The three other founders of the company are former foreign minister Ahmed Kamel Amr, former local development minister Hany Mahmoud and former petroleum minister Ossama Kamal. The fifth owner is Wageeh Gries, which the newspaper identified as an international financial expert. [Egypt Independent, 2/19/2015]