Top News: Tunisia’s Parliament Fails to Elect Speaker in Inaugural Session

Tunisia’s new parliament, the Assembly of People’s Representatives, held its first session on Tuesday but failed to elect a speaker and his two deputies after members voted to postpone the election to Thursday.

The session opened with a transfer in leadership from National Constituent Assembly speaker Mustapha ben Jaafar to Ali Ben Salem, a member of Nidaa Tounes, who will lead the parliament until the election of a new speaker. Of the 217 member body, 161 voted for postponement with deputies from Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda favoring the postponement despite resistance from the Democratic Current and Popular Front parties.




Egypt to criminalize insulting Jan 25, June 30 uprisings
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has said his office is drafting a law to criminalize insulting the uprisings that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and his Islamist successor Mohammed Morsi last year. The move intends to ease concerns on both sides of a widening rift over whether the two popular movements expressed the genuine will of Egyptians. Just what would constitute an insult however was unclear, as was the timeframe for the legislation’s implementation. News of the draft law broke late Tuesday when the presidential palace released comments by Sisi to a group of young media workers. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, AP, Aswat Masriya, 12/3/2014]

188 death sentences in Egypt’s latest mass capital punishment verdict
Giza’s criminal court sentenced 185 defendants to death on charges related to breaking into Kerdasa police station and killing twelve police officers. They were also found guilty of the attempted murder of ten other police personnel, sabotaging the police station, torching a number of police vehicles and possessing heavy firearms. Out of the 185, only 135 were present while the rest were tried in absentia. The ruling is preliminary and subject to a lengthy appeals process. It also goes to the country’s top religious authority for approval although his opinion is not binding. The European Union issued a statement expressing concern over the verdict, while Human Rights Watch said in a statement the mass death sentences are costing Egypt’s judiciary “whatever reputation for independence it once had. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, The Guardian, Aswat Masriya, 12/3/2014]

UN expresses concern over increasing polarization in Egypt
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern over developments in Egypt, noting “the seriously damaging lack of accountability for Human Rights violations by security forces.” The High Commissioner noted, “The increasing polarization is very alarming,” according to a Tuesday UN statement. The statement further noted that Egyptian authorities should ensure that “excessive use of force” is not used against protesters. At least five people, including two security personnel, were killed over the weekend. The UN further urged authorities to bring whoever was responsible for “killings of hundreds of people in February 2011 and August 2013″ to justice. The UN also called for the release of all those who have been detained for exercising their “legitimate right of assembly and peaceful protests.” [DNE, Egypt Independent, 12/2/2014]

Non-commissioned border guard officers granted right to arrest civilians
The Ministry of Defense granted non-commissioned border guard officers the right to arrest civilians in accordance with military law, according to an announcement published in the state-run Official Gazette on Tuesday. Non-commissioned are low-ranking officers, including corporals and sergeants. The decision, approved by Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi, entails that “non-commissioned officers from the Egyptian border guard are granted the power of military magistrate.” The decision also entails that anyone arrested in border areas, whether at sea or overland, will be subjected to military prosecution. [DNE, 12/3/2014]

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Zuwara reports fresh attack; claims plane destroyed
The Western town of Zuwara reported another airstrike today, targeting the town’s port. Local media claimed the military plane that conducted the attack fell from the air, though the reason behind it remains unclear. Reports on the fate of the plane have yet to be confirmed but one local radio station said it had “fallen into the sea.” Residents said they heard heavy gunfire from the ground during the morning when the plane was seen circling over the town, prior to the attack on the port. Yesterday, airstrikes conducted by the Libyan National Army that hit a warehouse in the town left at least seven people dead and more injured. [Libya Herald, AP, 12/3/2014]

Omar al-Hassi has not resigned
The Tripoli-based administration of Omar al-Hassi has quashed rumors about his resignation.
Foreign media office chief and spokesperson for the Tripoli administration Jamal Zubia said two other senior officials named al-Hassi had, however, just been dismissed from their posts by the General National Congress. Intelligence chief Mohammed Al-Hassi, who had previously tendered his resignation, but withdrew it after a short visit to Tobruk and head of the administration auditing department Salem al-Hassi (after his declaration of support for General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity) were both officially removed from their posts. Zubia said he suspected the rumors of Omar al-Hassi’s resignation, which circulated following a report in Al Arabiya, had come about because these three men shared the same surname. [Libya Herald, 12/3/2014]

UN mission calls for new talks between Libyan groups on Dec 9
The UN’s mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will call for a new round of talks to start on Tuesday between Libya’s warring parties, it said in a statement on Wednesday, to try to end a conflict threatening to tear apart the oil producing nation. In September, it held talks in the southern town of Ghadames, bringing together the elected House of Representatives and members who have boycotted the sessions. Previous rounds have not included members of armed groups linked to both sides but diplomats hope the talks will start a wider dialogue about Libya’s political crisis. [Reuters, 12/3/2014]

Tunisia’s parliament fails to elect Speaker in inaugural session
Tunisia’s new parliament, the Assembly of People’s Representatives, held its first session on Tuesday but failed to elect a speaker and his two deputies after members voted to postpone the election to Thursday. The session opened with a transfer in leadership from National Constituent Assembly speaker Mustapha ben Jaafar to Ali Ben Salem, a member of Nidaa Tounes, who will lead the parliament until the election of a new speaker. Of the 217 member body, 161 voted for postponement with deputies from Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda favoring the postponement despite resistance from the Democratic Current and Popular Front parties. [Tunisia Live, 12/3/2014]

Algerian authorities arrest foreign smugglers on the southern border
A defense ministry official on Tuesday confirmed that the Algerian army has arrested more than fifty foreign smugglers not far from the borders with Niger as the North African state tightens controls on its frontiers to halt Islamist militant attacks. Algeria has so far closed its borders with Libya and Mali and aggressively limited transit across its border with Tunisia. [Reuters, 12/2/2013]

Algeria re-launches constitutional reform
Three years after government talks on constitutional reform were boycotted by the opposition, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is giving the project another try. The goal is to “facilitate the process of opening up Algerian society, working to preserve its stability and saving it from the upheaval that has been seen in other countries around the world at a time of profound change,” Bouteflika said in a statement read on his behalf at an Algiers meeting on African constitutional law. The amendments will be based on the results of extensive consultations involving all groups of society, Bouteflika said. While Algeria’s president intends to revise the constitution, it is unclear what the opposition plans to do. [Magharebia, 12/2/2014]


Kerry claims ISIS substantially weakened; deems multi-year campaign necessary
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said that the US-led coalition to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has inflicted serious damage on the militant group but insisted that the campaign against the jihadists organization could last years. Kerry said ISIS’s momentum in Iraq had dissipated and Iraqi forces had retaken territory around Mosul and in Tikrit and had expanded security around some oil refineries. The Secretary noted that the roughly 1,000 airstrikes conducted by coalition forces had substantially reduced the Islamic State’s leadership and inflicted damage on its logistical and operational capabilities. In Syria, the secretary said that ISIS command facilities had been destroyed, oil infrastructure damaged, and a siege of the border town of Kobani blocked. The secretary praised the role of Arab states in the coalition and reiterated the US commitment to supporting all regional partners in the ongoing campaign. [The Daily Star, Asharq al-Awsat, 12/3/2014]

Syria’s Assad calls for ground offensive, claims US airstrike campaign largely ineffective
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday said that the US-led air campaign in Syria has so far failed to make significant progress against Islamist militants inside the country. The Syrian leader disputed earlier claims by US Secretary of State John Kerry who proposed that the aerial campaign had inflicted significant damage on the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and other jihadist groups. The Syrian president called for a ground offensive to retake territory currently governed by the Islamist militants, emphasizing that his forces have effectively battled these militant groups since the conflict began. [Reuters, 12/3/2014]

Assad regime, opposition leaders agree to new peace talks mediated by Russia
The Syrian regime and several leading dissidents have agreed to move toward new peace talks following several meetings with Russian officials late last month. The initial agreement came after separate delegations led by prominent opposition figure Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem who visited Moscow in November. A spokesman for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as positive and productive. Khatib, a former coalition chief within the opposition, insisted that Assad’s departure was a precondition to resolving the conflict but welcomed proposals to establish a timeline for the Syrian leader’s exit. [The Daily Star, 12/03/2014]

Iraqi officials dispute alleged arrest of ISIS leader’s wife
Iraq’s interior ministry said Wednesday that a woman detained by Lebanese authorities was not the wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but the sister of a man convicted of bombings in southern Iraq. A spokesman from the interior ministry identified the woman as Saja Dulaimi and insisted that she was part of a group of female detainees freed in exchange for the release of a group of nuns captured by Islamist rebels in Syria. Lebanese authorities confirmed that Baghdadi’s alleged wife was detained with her daughter late last month after attempting to enter the country with falsified documents. [The Daily Star, 12/3/2014]

Lebanese soldier killed, others injured in bomb explosion in Arsal
One soldier was killed and two others wounded when an explosion hit an army unit as soldiers attempted to defuse a bomb in the northeastern border town of Arsal. According to the state-run National News Agency, the explosion took place between Wadi Ata and Wadi al-Rayaan areas on the outskirts of Arsal where the Lebanese army has been battling jihadist militants from the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front since the abduction of nineteen servicemen and policemen in early August. [Naharnet, 12/3/2014]


Car bombing of Iran ambassador’s home in Yemen leaves one dead
At least one person was killed and seventeen wounded Wednesday when a car bomb struck the residence of Iran’s ambassador in Yemen, where Tehran is accused of backing the Zaydi Houthi group. Ambassador Hassan Sayed Nam was not at home when the attack took place in the diplomatic district of Hada in Sana’a, a security official said; he allegedly left the compound just ten minutes before the attack. The blast, which killed the son of a security guard, left a hole in the outer wall of the house and damaged nearby homes and cars. A medical source reported that he saw at least three dead bodies after the blast. It remains unclear who is responsible for the bombing, and the interior ministry has launched an investigation. The US embassy in Sana’a condemned the bombing, and offered its condolences to the families of the blast victims [AFP, 12/3/2014]

Herak leader says independence for the south is inevitable
Hassan Ba’oum, leader of Yemen’s secessionist Herak movement, claimed on Monday that independence for the south was only a matter of time as pro-independence protests continued in Aden. Ba’oum said discussions are ongoing within Herak over the issue of secession and the restoration of the state of South Yemen, but stressed that any “escalation” the movement may take to secure southern independence would be peaceful. His comments come as southern Yemeni political parties and leaders are hold intense meetings in Aden to reach a final agreement on what steps should be taken next, sources say. Reports have suggested that leadership struggles have been a primary factor in the South’s delayed declaration of independence, which was expected to take place November 30. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/3/2014]

Dispute in Ibb between Houthis, tribesmen results in casualties; security officer killed in Taizz
Eyewitnesses reported that clashes between tribesmen and Houthi forces in Ibb resulted in a number of deaths and injuries on Wednesday. Witnesses claimed that many of the injured were civilians who happened to be nearby as clashes broke out on a main road in the al-Sayida Arwa neighborhood. The clashes were believed to have taken place following an ownership dispute involving two brothers over an artesian well. Exact casualties were not reported. Meanwhile, witnesses said gunmen on a motorbike assassinated a member of the security forces in Taizz. Witnesses reported that the gunmen shot the man after he left work in the center of the city. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/3/2014]

US couple acquitted of killing daughter permitted to leave Qatar
Qatar’s government on Tuesday gave permission for a Los Angeles couple to leave for home, two days after an appeals court cleared them of charges in connection with the death of their eight-year-old daughter. Qatari police and prosecutors acquitted Matthew and Grace Huang Sunday of starving their adopted daughter to death in a case that revealed numerous missteps during the investigation of the crime and the subsequent trial. The Huangs were stopped and their passports confiscated by immigration at the airport following the trial, leading them to believe a travel ban had been set in place, but they were allowed to leave Wednesday. [Gulf News, FP, 12/2/2014]

Saudi Arabia examines ISIS video linked to shooting of Danish man
Saudi security authorities are examining a purported video of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claiming to show the shooting of a Danish man by its alleged supporters in Riyadh. An unknown assailant shot the man in the shoulder while driving home along Riyadh’s Kharj Road area on November 23. A security source said that the authorities have so far not received any evidence linking the video to the shooting, which is being circulated by some websites. [Al Arabiya, 12/3/2014]


Egypt climbs in corruption index as business climate improves
According to Transparency International, Egypt climbed twenty spots in the global corruption index from last year. While the country is among the biggest improvers worldwide, the ranking still remains shockingly low, according to the Berlin-based group. One criticism included a law passed in April that prevents third parties from challenging contracts made with the government, removing any judicial or civil oversight and opening the door for more corruption. [Ahram Online, 12/3/2014]

Libya’s Tobruk government considers establishing “futures market”
The industry and economy ministers in the Tobruk government have been tasked with preparing a draft report to examine the possibility of establishing a futures exchange market in the Libya. This market would be focused on goods specific to the country‘s economy, such as oil, petrochemicals, cement, steel and agricultural produce, allowing banks, investment funds and producers better access to funding. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/3/2014]

GCC investors urged to invest in Morocco’s SMEs
The head of United Nations Industrial Development Organization–Investment and Technology Promotion Office (UNIDO-ITPO) called on investors in Gulf countries to invest in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Morocco. Morocco is reported to have more than 800,000 SMEs that contribute roughly 40 percent to the country’s GDP. [Middle East Confidential, 12/2/2014]