Top News: UN Mulls Blacklisting Two Libyans to Help Political Talks

The United Nations is considering blacklisting two Libyans, Abdulrahman Swehli and Othman Maliqta. The former is a politician from Misrata who was elected to the General National Congress (GNC) and later to the House of Representatives. Swehli boycotted the House sessions and remains with the GNC. Swehli also reportedly pressed for an attack by Libya Dawn militias from Misrata against the oil port of Sidra in February to hinder peace talks. Maliqta is commander of Zintan’s Qaaqaa Brigade, which attacked the parliament in May 2014. The UN Security Council’s sanctions committee has set a Friday deadline for objections to the proposal of blacklisting the two men. [ReutersAPLibya Herald, 6/4/2015]



US Senator Chuck Schumer says Sisi is “very good”
US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) thinks Egypt’s president is “very good” pertaining to Israel’s security. “Sisi is very good, that is one of the very good things that’s happening. He’s so much better than Mubarak even was and certainly than Morsi,” Schumer said of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Schumer was addressing Orthodox Union, an advocacy organization for Orthodox Jews, in Washington on Tuesday. He argued that, with Iran continuing to pose an existential threat to Israel, the country needs strong allies in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Schumer’s praise of Sisi drew applause from the audience. [New York Observer, 6/4/2015]

Sisi and Hungarian PM discuss bilateral cooperation
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi explored means of bilateral cooperation with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Friday in Budapest. The talks witnessed the discussion of economic and terrorism-related cooperation, a statement by the Egyptian presidency read. A session to be attended by Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Investment Minister, and a number of senior officials is expected to proceed following Sisi’s meeting with Orbán, the statement added. Sisi and Orbán also witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for Hungary to supply Egypt with 700 train cars and a Memorandum of Understanding between the Egyptian and Hungarian ministries of interior. Sisi will also be awarded an honorary doctorate by Corvinus University in Budapest Friday. [Aswat Masriya, 6/5/2015]

Egypt plans to set up two new ministries
Egypt is planning to form two new ministries for entrepreneurs and Egyptian expatriates’ affairs, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday in Germany. Egyptian expats need a ministry to oversee their conditions and provide them with all support they need, he said, adding that such a ministry will also link them to their homeland. The second ministry will provide “technical, financial and marketing support” to small-and medium-sized business projects to help provide job opportunities for young people in Egypt, Sisi said. “The initial idea was to establish a governmental body that offers technical, financial and marketing support for the small and medium-sized enterprises but it was decided to establish a ministry instead of the body,” Sisi said during his meeting with the Egyptian expatriates in Germany Wednesday. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, SIS, Cairo Post, 6/5/2015]

Presidency orders probe into alleged wheat supply scandal
Egypt’s presidency has officially requested the Ministry of Agriculture to investigate the reports about violations in the supply of locally planted wheat, which allegedly allow importers to obtain illicit gains due to the difference between the prices of the imported and locally supplied crops. Official sources at the Agriculture Ministry said that a number of agricultural quarantine departments and others concerned with the import process, like the Supply and Trade Ministries, are involved in the scheme. According to the sources, the suspected officials helped increase the amount of imported foreign wheat. The situation encouraged traders to mix imported and local wheat, and therefore obtain gains of over 1,000 Egyptian pounds per ton, at the expense of state appropriations, earmarked for the purchase of local wheat, sources said. The mistake resulted in a fictitious increase in local supply to the government, up to 5.61 million tons this year, up from the targeted 3.7 million tons for the current fiscal year, as announced recently by Supply Minister Khaled Hanafy. [Egypt Independent, 6/5/2015]

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UN mulls blacklisting two Libyans to help political talks
The United Nations is considering blacklisting two Libyans, Abdulrahman Swehli and Othman Maliqta. The former is a politician from Misrata who was elected to the General National Congress (GNC) and later to the House of Representatives. Swehli boycotted the House sessions and remains with the GNC. Swehli also reportedly pressed for an attack by Libya Dawn militias from Misrata against the oil port of Sidra in February to hinder peace talks. Maliqta is commander of Zintan’s Qaaqaa Brigade, which attacked the parliament in May 2014. The UN Security Council’s sanctions committee has set a Friday deadline for objections to the proposal of blacklisting the two men. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 6/4/2015]

Libyan political dialogue round set for Monday in Morocco
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced that the next round of inter-Libyan dialogue will be held in Morocco on June 8. The UNSMIL statement also said, “The Mission has received thousands of messages from Libyans gravely concerned about the deteriorating conditions in their country,” adding that UNSMIL “commends the recent decision by the General National Congress in Tripoli to participate in the next round of dialogue.” [UN News Centre, 6/5/2015]

UN sends first food aid of 2015 to eastern Libya
The World Food Programme (WFP) has delivered the first tranche of food assistance to the east of Libya, where thousands of refugee families will receive food supplies. WFP reports that the food assistance is enough to assist around 50,000 refugees for a month. WFP reports that they “plan to support a total of 243,000 internally displaced people in Libya with life-saving food assistance over the next six months.” [Albawaba, 6/5/2015]

Twenty-four to stand trial in Tunisia over opposition figure’s murder
Officials declared on Thursday that the trial of twenty-four people suspected to be involved in the murder of prominent political figure Chokri Belaid will be opened on June 30, 2015. Defense lawyer Samir Ben Amor said that the charges include “incitement to commit terrorist crimes” and “membership of groups linked to a terrorist organization.” Belaid was an influential figure staunchly opposed to then-ruling Ennahda Party, and his murder in February 2013 triggered a political crisis that culminated in the resignation of Hamadi Jebali. [AFP, 6/4/2015]

Qatar pledges to develop its relations with Tunisia
Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Khaled Ben Mohamed Attia met Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on Thursday. Attia said that Qatar is committed to cooperate with Tunisia in several areas of development. President Caid Essebsi marked that the Tunisian-Qatari relations are at a privileged level and that there is a joint commitment to cooperation extends into other fields. [TAP/All Africa, 6/4/2015]

Algeria calls for comprehensive and joint approach to fighting terrorism
In Brussels on Thursday, Algeria called for a comprehensive and joint approach to fight terrorism and underscored the necessity of adopting an international convention to criminalize ransom payments. Algeria also asked the European Union to strengthen its cooperation with the African Mechanism for Police Cooperation, the African Center for Study and Research on Terrorism, and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute to deal with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear risks. [Algeria Press Service, 6/5/2015]


UN Envoy to Syria says Assad must go
While previously seeing President Bashar al-Assad as “part of the solution,” UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura now tells Syrian dissidents that the Assad regime should be militarily pressured to leave by the United States—a move that would require Washington to sidestep the UN Security Council. De Mistura had also controversially proposed that the warring sides in Aleppo halt their military operations, which would allow the entry of desperately needed humanitarian relief to the city’s residents. [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Daily Beast, 6/4/2015]

Syrian warplanes bomb ISIS near Hasaka
Syrian warplanes on Friday bombed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters trying to advance into the northeastern city of Hasaka. There were also reports of fierce battles between ISIS militants and the army backed by allied militia on the city’s southern outskirts. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, ISIS has advanced to 500 meters away from the entrance of Hasaka and seized all military posts in that area of northeastern Syria, including an unfinished prison building and a power plant. Regime helicopters meanwhile dropped barrel bombs on ISIS positions. [Daily Star, Al-Arabiya, 6/5/2015]

More than 3,300 Syrians flee fighting near Turkish border
A Turkish government official says more than 3,300 Syrians have crossed into Turkey in the past two days fleeing fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces in northern Syria’s Tel Abyad region. The official said Thursday that the refugees entered Turkey at the Akcakale border crossing. Kurdish fighters are closing in on ISIS in Tel Abyad, capturing towns and villages in the oil-rich swath in the country’s northeast, supported by US-led air strikes. [AP, 6/4/2015]

United States faces challenges in building up Syrian training program
The US military is gradually expanding a new program to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters, but building a force that can effectively take on ISIS may take longer than expected, President Obama’s top military adviser said Wednesday. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the training course will be a success if the United States recruits, vets, and trains enough fighters to form a new, moderate Syrian rebel force. [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Washington Post, 6/4/2015]

Coalition strike in Iraq blamed for civilian deaths
An air strike by the US-led coalition, targeting an ISIS bomb-making factory in Hawija, flattened an entire neighborhood Tuesday night, killing over seventy people, including civilians. A police chief in Kirkuk province where Hawija is located claimed that “dozens of terrorists” had been killed in the strike, along with an unknown number of civilians. In related news, President Barack Obama will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of a weekend G7 summit in Germany. According to White House officials, the meeting will allow President Obama to discuss the “situation on the ground and our effort to support Iraqi forces.” [Reuters, 6/5/2015]


New bombings target Houthis, result in civilian casualties
Air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have killed at least fifty people in Saada, officials and the director of a hospital said Thursday. The victims of the bombings, in two separate districts, were mostly civilians, according to Dr. Muhammed Abdulwahab Hajar, the director of the Republican Hospital in Saada. Overnight, around twelve air raids hit weapons stores around the presidential palace in Sana’a, according to one witness, triggering secondary blasts that lit up the night sky. Air strikes also hit a naval base and Yemen’s naval command in the Red Sea port city of Hodaida, residents said, and the state news agency reported that six people were killed. Saudi shelling also hit the main border crossing, demolishing Yemeni customs offices. In the southern city of Aden, a bastion of support for Hadi and scene of street clashes, air raids hit Houthi positions in the northern suburbs on Thursday. [NY Times, Reuters, 6/4/2015]

Al-Qaeda expands in Yemen as foreign militaries focus on Houthi threat
As the civil war in Yemen continues, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been quietly making gains throughout the country. With intense fighting between the pro-government supporters and the Houthis, AQAP has taken control of large sections of the Hadramawt province, including the capital Mukalla. The foreign military forces in Yemen led by Sunni Saudi Arabia have focused their attacks primarily on the Shia Houthis as opposed to the Sunni AQAP. Residents of Mukalla say that AQAP’s militants have seized banks and gained control over the town council, the judiciary, and nearby military installations, which hold battle tanks and heavy artillery. Residents also said AQAP has refrained from imposing strict interpretations of sharia, such as banning Arabic music and Western fashions, as the group did when it briefly established an emirate in the Yemeni province of Abyan in 2011. [Washington Post, 6/4/2015]

Houthis to withdraw militias from Aden, in accordance with UN resolution 2216
Local sources say that the Houthi movement will withdraw its militias from Aden, as part of initial efforts to reach an agreement with Yemen’s government to resolve the current crisis. This news comes after this week’s agreement to peace talks in Geneva. The sources warned, however, that the UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed did not reach an “ironclad agreement” with the rebel group, which only made “informal promises” that it would begin to comply with Resolution 2216. [Asharq Al-Awsat, Middle East Eye, 6/4/2015]

Saudi Arabia, Israel, reveal secret meetings about Iranian threat
It was revealed on Thursday at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations that Saudi Arabia and Israel have engaged in secret meetings five times since 2014. The meetings concerned their perceived mutual enemy Iran and its nuclear program. Incoming Foreign Ministry Director General for Israel Dore Gold addressed the unlikely partnership, saying, “Our standing today on this stage does not mean we have resolved all the differences that our countries have shared over the years. But our hope is we will be able to address them fully in the years ahead.” Saudi Arabia and Israel would be most affected if Iran were to obtain nuclear weapons, and it has been an open secret that Israel and Saudi Arabia share a common interest in ensuring the containment of Iran’s power. [International Business Times, Bloomberg News, 6/4/2015]


Oil prices turn higher as OPEC keeps output ceiling unchanged
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed to stick to its policy of unconstrained output for another six months on Friday, setting aside warnings of a second decline in prices as some members, including Iran and Iraq, look to ramp up exports. Concluding a meeting with no apparent dissent, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said OPEC had rolled over its current output ceiling, marking a continuation of its strategy to maintain its production target despite a global oil glut and a decline in prices. Naimi told the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper that he was “100 percent comfortable” with current supply and demand in the market, but commented, “prices are a different issue.” Naimi did not directly address a question about whether Saudi Arabia will increase investment in an effort to boost production capacity; however, he said the kingdom has the ability to activate spare capacity of 1.5 million barrels per day within ninety days by moving rigs. Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said he expects demand to rise and prices to reach $75 per barrel by the end of the year. [WSJ, Reuters, Bloomberg, 6/5/2015]

Egypt raises $1.5 billion in first international bond sale for five years
The government of Egypt conducted its first international bond sale in five years on Thursday, selling $1.5 billion of 10-year bonds at a yield of 6 percent. The sale drew more than $4.5 billion of investor orders, according to a document from lead managers. The market price of Egypt’s outstanding dollar bond maturing in 2020 reflects a pickup in economic growth. It is trading at a yield of 4.37 percent, higher than a low of 3.98 percent last December, but far lower than a peak of 11.09 percent in June 2013. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Natixis arranged Thursday’s bond sale. [Reuters, 6/5/2015]

The challenge of Egypt’s rising fecundity
Population growth in the Middle East, though higher than everywhere but sub-Saharan Africa, has been slowing thanks to falling fertility rates. But after fifty years of decline, the fertility rate in Egypt is now back up to 3.5. That is lower than in Iraq and Yemen, but above Saudi Arabia and Iran. Since infant mortality is falling and life expectancy increasing, the population will surely start growing faster. That would be “catastrophic,” says one researcher in Cairo. By 2050, the United Nations thinks Egypt could be home to up to 140 million people. Only with fewer than 55 million people would the country escape being classified as “water poor,” says Atef al-Shitany, head of family planning at the health ministry. [Economist, 6/6/2015]

IMF says cheap oil to push UAE into first fiscal deficit since 2009
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is set to post its first fiscal deficit since 2009 because of lower oil revenues, but it can avoid any serious economic slowdown, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said after annual consultations with UAE authorities. The UAE’s consolidated fiscal balance is expected to show a deficit of 2.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, compared to a 5 percent surplus last year. The IMF said the deficit does not pose a threat to the economy and estimated that at today’s oil prices the UAE could keep spending at current levels for at least thirty to forty years by drawing on its financial reserves. [Reuters, 6/4/2015]