Top News: Tunisia Starts Voting on New Constitution

Three years since the revolution, Tunisia’s parliament began voting today on a new constitution. Of the National Assembly’s 217, 192 members attended the opening debate, where lawmakers began voting one by one on the introductory clauses to the constitution. Approval of all 146 articles is likely to take at least one week. Finishing the charter is a critical step before a caretaker government takes office. Divisions between Islamists and secular opposition parties, deepened by the assassinations of two secular politicians this year, had resulted in a political deadlock, but Ennahda and the main opposition party Nidaa Tounes compromised with a deal under which the Islamist-led government would step down and allow for a non-political cabinet to run the country until elections later in the year. [ReutersTAP, 1/3/2014]


Khaled Said trial protesters sentenced to prison for breaking protest law
A court in Alexandria has sentenced a group of activists to two years in jail and a EGP 50,000 ($7,100) fine for organizing an unauthorized protest during the Khaled Said trial. Six charges were pressed against the nine activists, including protesting without a prior notice, unlawful assembly, assaulting security personnel, vandalizing public property, and possession of unlicensed weapons. Leftist activists and human rights lawyers Mahienour el-Massry and Hassan Mustafa were among those sentenced. Activists Loai Kahwagy, Islam Hassanein, and Omar Hazeq were arrested at the protest. Hamdy Khalaf, an Alexandrian lawyer defending the activists, said they will appeal the verdict. Mustafa was previously sentenced to two years in prison for assaulting a prosecutor during ousted President Mohamed Morsi’s time in office. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, 1/2/2014]

Morsi international legal team files complaint to International Criminal Court
The international legal team representing the Muslim Brotherhood has filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), reported state-owned media agency MENA. The complaints are against what the team called the illegal arrests of Brotherhood members. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, appointed London-based human rights law firm ITN to represent them against Egypt’s government. The international defense team is set to hold a press conference in London on Monday. Egypt has not signed the ICC convention, which means the court has no jurisdiction to punish a non-member country. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, 1/3/2014]

Egypt Minister of Finance: $3.5 billion spent on energy supply for six months
Nagi al-Ashqar, head of central administration for the finance ministry’s technical office, said on Thursday that the Egyptian Public Treasury spent EGP 24.9 billion ($3.5 billion) for energy supply during the first half of the current fiscal year. The public treasury paid the cost of energy supply without using Arab countries aids, indicating that coordination between the ministries of finance and petroleum will settle the account. Ashqar said the energy subsidy cost EGP 99.6 billion ($14.3 billion) in the current fiscal year’s budget with EGP 13.3 billion ($1.9 million) for electricity supply and that subsidiary percentage for solar is 40 percent, 20 percent for gasoline, 22 percent for butane, 10 percent for diesel energy, and 8 percent directed for natural gas. [Cairo Post, 1/3/2014]

Four killed as Morsi supporters clash with police in governorates
Riot police clashed with supporters of Egypt’s former Islamist president across the country on Friday, leaving four dead as the Muslim Brotherhood renewed calls to protest ahead of a key referendum later this month. Fighting spread through heavily populated residential areas in several cities and provinces including Cairo, Giza, Ismailia, and Alexandria, as dozens of Brotherhood members and their supporters threw rocks at security forces who responded with water cannons and tear gas. Police also dispersed a protest at Cairo’s Supreme Constitutional Court. Two people died in clashes between police and supporters of the Brotherhood in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, a medical source told Ahram Online, with at least one demonstrator shot dead by police. Another protester died from a bullet wound to the head in the governorate of Fayoum in southern Egypt, according to Medhat Shoukri, undersecretary of the Health Ministry in Fayoum. Meanwhile, a woman was shot dead during clashes that broke out between security forces and Brotherhood supporters in Alexandria’s Sidi Beshr on Friday, a medical source at Alexandria’s health ministry headquarters said. Scores of others were injured as supporters of the Islamist movement clashed with security forces in Cairo and elsewhere. Eyewitnesses told Al-Ahram‘s Arabic website that protesters in the Faysal district in Giza threw Molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle and fired shots at police officers trying to escape from the car. Security forces closed off Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well as Raba’a al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares, in anticipation of the protests. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, 1/3/2014]


Briton, New Zealander killed in western Libya, says security source
A Briton and a New Zealander were found dead of gunshot wounds near the western coastal area of Mellitah, the large oil and gas complex co-owned by Italy’s ENI, according to Libyan security sources. No further details were immediately available, but Britain’s and New Zealand’s respective foreign ministries said they are working with Libyan authorities to find out more information. In a separate incident, two Americans, both basketball players, were arrested on the Benghazi University campus and held by the Libyan army at its headquarters in the eastern city. The US Embassy in Tripoli is working to obtain additional information. The incident comes just one week after four US military personnel were detained by the Libyan government and released after several hours in custody. [Reuters, 1/2/2014]

Row over Tebu and Zwai abductees holds up their release
A row over the status of two Zwai men seized during a raid against Tebus at an agricultural project last month threatens to derail attempts to ensure their freedom, as well as that of nine Tebus seized in reprisal and four Zwai students taken in a counter-reprisal. The two Zwais are militiamen, and the army brigade commander who captured them refuses to free them as part of an exchange negotiated by Zwai and Tebu elders and mediated by elders from Jalu. The head of the Murzuk military council, Barka Wardoku, a Tebu, insists that issues relating to civilians and militants be kept separate. “It is crucial not to put everything in a tribal context,” he said. “If we do so, the state’s authority will either dissolve or be exploited.” [Libya Herald, 1/2/2014]

Fire adds to Tawerghans’ misery
A New Year’s day fire at a camp on Tripoli’s Airport Road housing Tawerghan refugees has added to their misery just days after heavy rains caused major flooding in the camp. According to resident Ismael Ammar, eighteen accommodation units housing fifty-three people were burned down as a result of an apparent electrical fault. Several other units were made uninhabitable by the water used to put out the fire. The Red Crescent is providing blankets and heaters to the impacted families, according to Wasim Elkabir, head of the Tripoli local council. Ammar said civil society groups are providing assistance, “but we have yet to see any official move by the government.” [Libya Herald, 1/2/2014]

First disabled school opens in Zuwara
The first school in Zuwara to cater to children with disabilities has opened. The Najmi Algandouz School, named after a late social activist involved in helping disabled children, began its classes this week. The education ministry funds the school, which is being run by a charity organization. Many of the twenty-seven children attending the school suffer from autism or have psychological disorders. The school’s eight teachers, most of whom majored in psychology or sociology, received specialist training in Janzour for a year. [Libya Herald, 1/2/2014]


ISIS clashes with opposition, orchestrates attacks in Iraq, vows violence in Lebanon
Amid heightened tensions between locals and transnational jihadi militants across northern Syria, nationalist rebels clashed with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in an opposition-held area of Aleppo on Friday. The clashes in Atarab in the Aleppo province come after ISIS tortured and killed a popular commander of the rebel group Ahrar al-Sham, opened fire on anti-Assad protesters in northwestern Syria, and attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city of Latakia, detaining its entire staff. On Thursday ISIS carried out major attacks in two Iraqi cities, setting fire to police stations, freeing prisoners from jail, and occupying mosques–signaling not only increased spillover but that a Sunni insurgency in Anbar has begun. Also on Thursday, a leader in the salafist jihadist movement in Jordan announced that ISIS along with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have officially decided to militarily enter Lebanon “…until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syrian territories and frees all detainees.” [Naharnet, Al-Arabiya, 1/3/2014]

Amid food shortages, eight die of malnutrition in Aleppo prison, four others starve
Eight people held by the Syrian government in Aleppo’s central prison have died over the past two days from malnutrition. Negotiations between the regime and the Red Crescent to release prisoners on humanitarian grounds have stalled since mid-December. Elsewhere, three people died from malnutrition in Yarmouk in southern Damascus, among them a pregnant woman, and a fourth died in the central city of Homs. [The Times (South Africa), 1/3/2014]

Hezbollah moving long-range missiles from Syria to Lebanon
Amid the chaos of Syria’s civil war, Hezbollah has been moving long-range missiles to Lebanon from bases where it had stored them inside Syria, including long-range Scud D missiles that can strike deep into Israel, according to an Israeli national security analyst. [NYT, WSJ, 1/3/2013]

Syria’s small factories struggle to survive
The conflict in Syria has crippled the small factories that helped power what was a $60 billion economy before the war. More than half of the country’s manufacturing output has been lost since the uprising began in March 2011, according to an October report that the Syrian Center for Policy Research prepared for the United Nations. Officials for a UN program to rehabilitate Syria’s industry estimate that damage to the economy tops $2.4 billion. Since many of the country’s factories are inaccessible to government investigators, the reality is probably worse. [Bloomberg, 1/3/2014]


New PM’s choice of ministers expected January 8
Mehdi Jomaa, the designee to become caretaker prime minister, is expected to present his choice of ministers for a new cabinet by Wednesday, January 8. Bouali Mbarki, the chair of the committee coordinating the actions of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) and the national dialogue, and Mouldi Jendoubi of the UGTT labor union, a major broker in the political negotiations, confirmed this to the media. Parties have agreed to finalize adoption of the new constitution and preparations for new elections by January 13. Jendoubi said that new elections would be held by the end of the year. NCA Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said that some ministers in the current government should keep their positions because they have performed well, but he called on Tunisians to broadly support Jomaa’s decisions. [Tunisia Live, 1/3/2014]

Tunisian youth oppose extremism
The terrorism that gripped Tunisia in 2013 “reinforced our faith in the need to combat extremism in all its forms, whether ideological, religious or social,” said Issam Khemakhem, president of the Tunisian-Euro-Mediterranean Association of Youth (ATEMJ), which recently organized a seminar on the role of youth in curbing extremism. Those best able to understand the radicalization of youth are young people themselves, according to one participant. ATEMJ Secretary-General Yamen Akkari attributed the growing extremism to poverty and marginalization, the declining role of the family, and the deterioration of the educational system. [Magharebia, 1/2/2014]


Deadly clashes between armed forces and militants in Mareb
Following the failure of tribal mediation that would have allowed technical teams to repair sabotaged oil pipelines, tribesmen prevented a repair team from entering al-Shabwan in Mareb province. The military launched an air and land campaign against the perpetrators. There were losses on both sides, including a battalion commander, three soldiers, and seven militants who were wounded or killed. Clashes are ongoing. [Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni (Arabic), 1/3/14]

Sponsors of GCC initiative praise National Dialogue progress
The sponsors of the GCC initiative–the group of ten ambassadors representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the European Union–welcomed the progress made recently on overcoming obstacles to concluding the National Dialogue. The statement emphasized the need for all political parties to work together in the spirit of compromise to overcome remaining differences of opinion. [Saba (Arabic), 1/2/14]

Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for last week’s bombings in Aden
In a statement, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the explosions last week that targeted security and police headquarters in the southern province of Aden, saying that the attacks were a warning to the government and army. The bombings injured seven soldiers. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/2/14]


Iraqi jets target armed groups in Anbar
The Iraqi defense ministry released footage yesterday that showed jets targeting fighters suspected of belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), a group linked to al-Qaeda.Troops hammered the armed groups with Hellfire rockets recently sent by the United States to help the government’s fight against al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, which also operates with increasing strength in Syria’s civil war across the border.There have been clashes between the Iraqi military and gunmen in Anbar province triggered by the al-Qaeda-linked gunmen claiming control of several police stations there just days earlier. [Al Jazeera, 1/3/14]

Lieberman praises Kerry’s peace efforts, warns of day after deal
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday morning to discuss efforts at formulating a framework agreement that would present principles for solving the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lieberman underscored that even if all problems and disputes are resolved, there are still issues regarding the day after a peace agreement is signed. “These should be dealt with already at this stage.” [Haaretz, 1/3/14]                                                                                                                                   

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