Top News: Tunisia’s PM Larayedh resigns

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh resigned on January 9. His announcement came following the election of Tunisia’s election board by the National Constituent Assembly. Larayedh delivered his formal statement of resignation to President Moncef Marzouki this afternoon. Next steps include passing the constitution by January 14 and approving a caretaker government by January 15. Mehdi Jomaa will replace Larayedh as the caretaker prime minister, as agreed upon by the Islamists and the secular opposition. [ReutersTunisia LiveAhram Online, 1/9/2014]

Morsi lashes out at espionage charges
Ousted President Mohamed Morsi slammed espionage charges against him, deeming they have been “fabricated,” in an unconfirmed interview with independent Al-Watan newspaper Wednesday. According to Al-Watan, Morsi seemed not as concerned about charges relating to the Presidential Palace clashes, in which he and other Muslim Brotherhood members have been implicated in the killing of ten protesters in front of the palace in December 2012. In addition, Morsi faces charges of terrorism and espionage, as well as escaping from Wadi al-Natrun prison in 2011. Along with 35 other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi has been accused of plotting acts of terrorism, conspiring with foreign elements, and threatening Egypt’s national security by disclosing secrets to foreign powers. [Mada Masr, Watan (Arabic), 1/9/2014]

Egypt courts jail 113 pro-Morsi protesters; Prosecutors begin investigation of April 6
Courts on Thursday sentenced eighty-seven supporters of Egypt’s deposed president Mohamed Morsi to three years for taking part in unauthorized and violent protests, judicial sources said. One Cairo misdemeanor court condemned sixty-three supporters of the Islamist to three years in prison and fined them EGP 50,000 over protests in November, the officials said. They can post bail of EGP 5,000 to stay out of jail until an appeal hearing. Another Cairo court sentenced twenty-four Morsi supporters to three years for being in a “terrorist gang” and attacking policemen in a protest, the officials said. In a third case, a court sentenced twenty-six students of Al-Azhar University to two and a half years in prison each, also on charges including assaulting the security forces, illegal gathering and thuggery.  Meanwhile, prosecutors began fresh investigations with sixty-seven April 6 and Brotherhood members detained on charges of inciting riots during Morsi’s trial on Wednesday. [AFP/DNE, Reuters, Egypt Independent, EGYNews (Arabic), 1/9/2014]

Inflation drops 1.3 percent in December, CAMPAS
The inflation rate hit 10.3 percent in 2013, but declined in December by 1.3 percent, compared to November, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) announced Thursday. CAPMAS added that food and drink prices went down on December by 1.8 percent, compared to the previous month. However, food and drink prices went up by 18.1 percent in December last year, compared to the same month in 2012. CAPMAS attributed the monthly fall of inflation in December, to the price fall of fruits and vegetable, in addition to a decline in butane and gold process. [Cairo Post, 1/9/2014]

Washington committed to longstanding ties with Egypt despite concerns
In a statement Wednesday, United States State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki said the United States is committed to its “longstanding relationship” with Egypt as it continues to voice alarm about the climate of freedom in the county. It is primarily concerned about “polarization in Egypt” and the “current climate for freedom of expression and assembly”. A successful transition to democracy in Egypt is not only important for the Egyptian people, but for the entire region as well as the United States. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/9/2014]


United States to list Libyan groups and militant tied to Benghazi attack as terrorists
The US State Department is set to apply the terrorist designation to two Libyan organizations and one militant believed to have played a role in the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi in September 2012. The terrorist designations would be the US government’s first formal public accusations of responsibility for the attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Senior officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the State Department has not yet made the designations public, said they would apply to Ahmed Abu Khattala, a Benghazi militant described by witnesses as having played a role in directing the assault, as well as to an allied group, Ansar al-Sharia of Benghazi, whose fighters were seen participating in the attack. The designation is also expected to apply to Ansar al-Sharia of Derna, Libya, described as a separate militant Islamist organization, according to officials. [New York Times, 1/8/2014]

Libya yanks salaries for militiamen in bid to gain control
Local leaders from around Libya gathered in Tripoli at the end of December to discuss their challenges in the post-Qaddafi era, concerning the Libyan government’s inability to assert authority over the armed groups inherited from the 2011 war. Ali Mihirig, head of a ministerial committee charged with carrying out the disarmament of militias, believes that 2014 will be easier in this regard for two reasons First, officials are freezing all payment of salaries to militiamen, including those under the control of the defense ministry. Mihrig confirmed on January 6 that the payment stop had gone into effect. The government will also speed up integrating militiamen into the national army on an individual basis. Second, the militias have no choice to cooperate since the public uproar against the bloody clashes back in November 2013 when fighters from a militia fired on unarmed demonstrators. The question is whether a government running out of money will be able to address a problem it could not resolve when it still had resources. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/9/2014]

Zidan warns tankers not to attempt to access eastern oil export terminals
Prime Minister Ali Zidan has warned foreign oil tankers against trying to access eastern oil export terminals controlled by armed protesters, saying that the Libyan navy would target any ships attempting to do so. Speaking at a press conference, Zidan stressed that the navy would use force against any “state, company, or gang” trying to send tankers to load oil from those terminals. The General National Congress (GNC) may hold a special session today to discuss a possible no-confidence vote regarding Zidan. Although it may be unlikely, GNC spokesman Omar Hemidan said meetings between different GNC blocs are ongoing. [Libya Herald, 1/9/2014]

Women’s group stages anti-corruption demonstration outside tourism ministry
An organization called Women Against Corruption staged a demonstration outside the tourism ministry yesterday, alleging financial and administrative corruption. The group demanded the resignation of Minister of Tourism Ikram Abdulsalam Imam, saying she should be held accountable for wasting public funds. One protester said the group had evidence that the minister’s son had been using government cars, two of which he had written off in accidents. Meanwhile, thirty former prisoners demanding compensation for time served in jail under the former regime conducted a sit-in at the justice ministry. [Libya Herald, 1/9/2014]


Jihadists, losing ground, battle back in north Syria
Jihadists battling rebels in northern Syria fought Thursday to recover lost turf nearly a week after a new front opened in the deadly conflict gripping the country. Thursday’s fighting comes a day after the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) was expelled from Aleppo city by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. Disparate rebel groups joined forces last week to launch an all-out attack on the jihadist group. In a counterattack, ISIS launched deadly car bomb assaults late Wednesday and early Thursday targeting opposition checkpoints. Overnight attacks took place in Hreitan and Jarabulus in Aleppo province, and in Mayadeen in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. Early Thursday, the focus of the fighting was on Hama, Idlib, Aleppo, and on Raqqa, where the Saudi-backed Islamic Front helped push ISIS from the city. “ISIS has sent reinforcements from Deir Ezzor to back its fighters in the Aleppo countryside,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Residents say ISIS is preparing many suicide attacks in retaliation, and that their commanders wearing explosive belts all the time.” [AFP, 1/9/2014]

Opposition holds first “unified” meet ahead of peace talks
Disparate opposition groups, including several Islamist rebel representatives, met for the first time in the Spanish city of Cordoba to seek common ground ahead of peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s government later this month. The two-day meeting in Spain brings together members of the Western-backed National Coalition but also delegates from opposition groups inside Syria that are tolerated by Assad as they do not call for his removal–and are therefore distrusted by many exiled opposition members. At least three members of the Islamic Front had also come. [Reuters, 1/9/2014]

Russia again blocks UN Security Council from condemning Aleppo attacks
Russia blocked a UN Security Council statement on Wednesday that would have expressed outrage at deadly airstrikes by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and condemned the use of missiles and “barrel bombs” in residential areas. Russia opposed a similar statement on December 19 that would have condemned attacks by Syrian government troops on civilians. Russia, joined by China, has also vetoed three Security Council resolutions that would have condemned Assad’s government and threatened it with sanctions. The council could not reach agreement on Wednesday because amendments proposed by Russia were “clearly designed to rob the statement of any reference to what has happened in Aleppo,” said a UN diplomat. The British-drafted statement would have had the council express outrage at daily Aleppo airstrikes where more than 700 people have been killed and 3,000 injured since December 15. [Reuters, 1/8/2014]

Syria reports two attacks on chemical arms sites
Syria’s government said Wednesday that insurgents had assaulted two storage sites for some of the deadly chemical weapons components it has pledged to eliminate. It was the first time the Syrian authorities had reported such attacks in the three months since an international effort began to sequester and purge the country of the banned munitions. [NYT, 1/9/2014]


Larayedh resigns Thursday afternoon
Prime Minister Ali Larayedh resigned on January 9. This announcement came following the election of Tunisia’s election board by the National Constituent Assembly. He delivered his formal statement of resignation to President Moncef Marzouki this afternoon. Larayedh’s resignation is an important step forward for Tunisia’s political “roadmap.” The next steps include passing the constitution by January 14 and approving a caretaker government by January 15. Mehdi Jomaa will replace Larayedh as the caretaker prime minister, as agreed upon by the Islamists and the secular opposition. [Reuters, Tunisia Live, Ahram Online, 1/9/2014]

ISIE members elected Wednesday evening
On Wednesday night, the National Constituent Assembly appointed the nine member electoral council that will oversee elections this year. The appointment of the council is regarded as a significant step forward for Tunisia’s transition to democracy. It is also one in a series of steps agreed on by the ruling Islamists and the secular opposition after months of deadlock between the two. Mohamed Chafik Sarsar is expected to be elected president of the electoral council this afternoon by the National Constituent Assembly. The vice president of the council will either be appointed by consensus or elected in the case of no consensus. [Ahram Online, TAP 1/9/2014]

Protests in response to tax increases continue
Protests in across the country, including in Kasserine, Thala, and al-Kef, continued Wednesday. The protests are in response to the government’s budget for 2014 and the tax increases included in the budget, in particular, tax increases on public and agricultural transportation. Protests in Kasserine, typically an overlooked electorate, center on the lack of economic progress since the revolution. In addition, farmers are protesting a new budget law that requires them to have a state-issued license in order to qualify for a tax break on their vehicles. Obtaining such a license would be challenging, as 50 percent of farmers are illiterate, as well as time consuming and costly. In the past, farmers had an 80 percent tax reduction on vehicles that did not require a license. [Tunisia Live, 1/8/2014]

Tax increases maintained
On Wednesday, the media and social networks circulated information stating that the new taxes on transport vehicles, a major reason behind the current protests, were cancelled. Later on Wednesday, Minister of Finance Elyes Fakhfakh clarified at a press conference that the new taxes had not been cancelled, contrary to the information circulated by the media. Fakhfakh stated that these new taxes are reasonable and necessary for the state in order to prevent more significant economic issues later on. [TAP, 1/8/2014]


Less than half of Yemenis know about federalism, majority don’t favor federal system
In poll by the PERCENT Corporation, it was found that less than half of Yemenis know about federalism and a majority do not favor a federal system in the country. Moreover, there are large divisions between the population in Yemen regarding federalism. While 76.6 percent of people in southern governorates have heard of federalism, only 38 percent in northern governorates say the same. Support for the idea of federalism is much higher in the south than in the north. Of southerners who supported federalism, 85 percent preferred a system based on two self-governed regions. Only 8.5 percent of northern supporters of federalism approved of this structure, with 39 percent instead favoring five self-governed regions. [NDC, 1/9/2014]

Yemen legal affairs minister: former President Saleh could be prosecuted
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemen’s legal affairs minister Mohammed al-Mekhlafi said that former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his aides could have their immunity revoked and face charges in spite of the Gulf Initiative that led to the peaceful removal of Saleh’s administration. Al-Mekhlafi said that depending on language adopted in transitional justice laws and the former regime’s continued involvement in Yemeni politics could violate and nullify their established immunity. Al-Mekhlafi went as far as to accuse former regime affiliates of meddling with the ministry of legal affairs in particular as well as adopting “a strategy aimed at undermining all aspects of the transfer of power.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/9/2014]

Ceasefire declared between Salafis and Houthis in Northern provinces
After days of attacks and reprisals, a presidential delegation was successful in brokering a ceasefire between Houthis and pro-Salafi tribesmen in the Hajja and Amran governorates that went into effect on Wednesday night. As part of the ceasefire, pro-Salafi tribesmen have removed roadblocks in northern Hajja that had been in place for months, seriously affecting access to goods for Houthis in the Sa’ada governorate. However, tensions remain high as clashes between these groups continue elsewhere, and Salafis decrying a Houthi siege placed on the city of Dammaj. [Saba, al-Masdar (Arabic), Yemen Times; 1/9/2014]


Bahrain national dialogue suspended over impasse
The government of Bahrain has suspended its beleaguered national dialogue process less than a year than after it began. Eight Sunni political parties, mostly loyal to the ruling monarchy, have withdrawn from the dialogue process. The withdrawal comes after months of the predominantly Shiite opposition boycotting talks, a boycott instigated by the arrest of political leaders affiliated with al-Wefaq the largest opposition party in Bahrain. The government of Bahrain blamed the suspension of dialogue on the Shiite opposition parties who have boycotted dialogue talks. [Ahram, 1/9/2014]

Head of Saudi religious police slams ‘extremist’ preachers
Sheikh Abdulatif Al al-Sheikh, head of the religious police in Saudi Arabia, criticized extremist preachers who encourage young men to join the jihad in Syria. He criticized preachers for encouraging young men to fight while they live lives of luxury and accused them of misleading their audience.  Approximately 600 Saudis have joined al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria, according to a Saudi expert on Islamist movements. Saudis have also joined the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front. [Al Arabiya, 1/9/2014]

Algeria regime agrees on ‘Bouteflika’s successor’
Amid speculation that seventy-six year old President AbdulAziz Bouteflika will be unable to serve a fourth term due to health issues, there is speculation that the National Liberation Front (NLF), Algeria’s ruling party has agreed on his successor. Observers believe that current Prime Minister AbdulMalek Sellal is the most likely candidate to succeed Bouteflika. Though Bouteflika has not announced plans to run again, he has been officially nominated by the NLF to run. The date for Algeria’s presidential election is expected to be announced within one week. [World Bulletin, 1/9/2014]

Image: Ali Larayedh, former prime minister of Tunisia. (Photo: Wikimedia)