Top News: UN Says Clashes In Iraq’s Anbar Displaced 300,000

Violence in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province where armed groups have full control of Fallujah and partial control Ramadi has resulted in 300,000 displaced persons in six weeks of fighting, the UN reported on Wednesday. Over the weekend the government gave militants in the province a week to surrender, but refused to negotiate with any party involved in the violence. There have been calls for the Shia-led government to address Sunni grievances in order to undermine support for fighters, but with April elections looming, Prime Minister al-Maliki has taken a hard line. [Al-Jazeera, 2/13/2014]



Presidential adviser announces new prerequisites for presidential candidacy
Presidential Adviser Ali Awad told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday that new conditions have been determined for the first time in the presidential elections law, including requirement for a university degree; at least 25,000 signatures supporting the candidate from fifteen governorates (with a minimum of 1,000 signatures in each), but without having to obtain approval from parliament; and neither the candidate nor his wife should have a nationality other than Egyptian. President Adly Mansour is expected to endorse the law in a few days after it is reviewed by the State Council. [Egypt Independent, 2/13/2014]

Dozens of detained protesters freed; groups pressure government on torture
Twenty five students arrested in last year’s protests at Al-Azhar University were released by Cairo prosecutors on Wednesday, a day which saw tens of other detained protesters set free across the country. Dozens of other detainees released on Wednesday in other Egyptian governorates had also been arrested for protesting. Also on Wednesday, six political groups released a statement at a press conference condemning the brutal accounts of torture and sexual assault that are allegedly taking place in prisons. The groups affirmed that they will form a committee to monitor the detained and provide legal help. The statement further referenced articles in Egypt’s newly-ratified constitution which offer stipulations regarding personal freedoms and the prevention of torture or human rights violations inside prisons. [Ahram Online, 2/12/2014]

Egyptian FM emphasis on close relations; Sisi negotiates arms deal in Russia
Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy discussed military cooperation with Russian ministers in Moscow on Wednesday. Anonymous Egyptian military sources have told Al-Ahram Arabic news website that Sisi is in Moscow to finalize a weapons deal made when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu visited Cairo in November. Fahmy said the talks reflect a serious desire to increase regional and international dialogue. The head of Russia’s state industrial holding company said after the Cairo meeting that Moscow was on the verge of reaching a landmark agreement to deliver air defense systems to Egypt’s army. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 2/13/2014]

Egypt welcomes five year cooperation plan with IDB, says Minister of Planning
The Egyptian government welcomes its five year strategic cooperation plan with the Islamic Development Bank, inked in June during the Deauville Partnership investment forum as a memorandum of understanding, Minister of Planning Ashraf al-Araby said Wednesday. The remarks came as the minister headed a delegation to attend the High Level Forum, organised by the bank in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. “The ministerial meeting on 12 February is expected to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the group’s performance during the past four decades and the future challenges,” the bank noted in an official statement. [DNE, 2/12/2014]


February committee formed to draft rules for possible June elections
The General National Congress (GNC) has formed what is being called the February Committee to draft an amendment to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration in order to set up the procedure for parliamentary and presidential elections. According to the roadmap adopted earlier this month, Libya will elect a new legislature and president if, by early May, it is clear that the constitutional draft committee is unable to formulate an agreed-upon constitution draft by July. If that is the case, the February Committee, composed of six GNC members and nine outside experts, will present its amendment to the GNC for a vote, and elections will be held in June. [Libya Herald, 2/12/2014]

Libya oil rebel’s brother arrested in UAE
The brother of Ibrahim Jadhran, a former rebel who has blockaded Libyan oil ports, was detained in Dubai after Tripoli issued an Interpol notice for his arrest on charges of trying to smuggle oil, according to Libyan authorities. He is awaiting extradition to Libya. The arrest came as the government wages a campaign of attrition to weaken Jadhran’s movement for more autonomy and control of oil wealth in eastern Libya. Members of the protest movement and Jadhran’s relatives confirmed his brother Khalid’s arrest but rejected the charges, accusing the Libyan government of fabricating the investigation to pressure Jadhran. [Reuters, 2/12/2014]

Defense minister threatens action after calls for military rule in Libya
Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said that the names of officers discussing proposals for military rule had been passed on to the military prosecutor. Speaking in a live television interview on Libya al-Ahrar, Thinni said military intelligence had been alerted to a secret meeting in the former Qaddafi Hall of the People in Tripoli where military officials discussed the creation of an Egyptian-style military council to replace the General National Congress (GNC) and the government. The Military Police had been sent, he said, and although no one was detained, their identities were known and they would be charged. However, a source linked to the Military Police said that it had refused orders by GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain to break up the meeting on the basis that the GNC no longer had legitimacy after it was supposed to dissolve on February 7. [Libya Herald, 2/12/2014]

Libyan army helicopter missing, possibly shot down
A Libyan military spokesman says an army helicopter with eight people on board has gone missing in the country’s east while en route to Benghazi and may have been shot down. Colonel Ali al-Sheikhy says there was no word on the fate of its two-member crew and six passengers. A regional security operations center in the coastal city of Ajdabiya said the aircraft went down near the oil town of Ras Lanov. A military official said the helicopter had come under fire, which forced it to change course before it went missing. [AP, 2/13/2014]


Escaped inmates from Iraq fuel Syrian insurgency
A series of daring but little noticed breakouts from Iraqi prisons has freed hundreds of hardened militants who are now among the leaders and foot soldiers of the radical Sunni groups operating in neighboring Syria. The role of the former inmates in fueling a new wave of Sunni jihad across the region is an unfortunate reminder of the breakdown of authority in Iraq since the United States departed in 2011. The prison breaks also reflect the surging demand for experienced fighters, which led to a concerted effort by militant groups, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, to seek them in the one place where they were held en masse—Iraq’s prison cells. That group even had a name for its prison strategy, “Operation Breaking the Walls,” which unfolded during a twelve-month campaign from July 2012 until a major break at Abu Ghraib, the main Iraqi prison, on the western outskirts of the capital, in July 2013. In all, American officials estimate, a few hundred of the escapees have joined ISIS, several in senior leadership roles. [NYT, 2/13/2014]

Homs governor says detained evacuees to be freed
Men arrested by the Syrian authorities after being evacuated from besieged districts of Homs under a UN-brokered ceasefire will be released on Thursday, the provincial governor said. “Young men aged between 18 and 54 will be freed today [Thursday],” Talal Barazi told reporters, without specifying how many would be released. Barazi said a total of 390 men of weapons-bearing age had been detained for interrogation after being evacuated from rebel-held districts of the country’s third city. He said on Wednesday that 111 had been released, though there was no immediate confirmation from the United Nations, which had earlier said forty-two had been freed. Anti-regime activists say they fear arrest if they leave the rebel-controlled enclaves. “The regime has said it would release men after they had been screened, and we expect them to keep that pledge,” a US State Department spokesman said in Washington on Wednesday. “Given the regime’s past actions, the international community cannot take this for granted and needs to monitor the fate of these men.” [AFP, 2/13/2014]

Government forces step up Yabrud campaign
Regime forces backed by Hezbollah fighters have stepped up their campaign to retake the strategically important town of Yabrud in the Rif Dimashq governorate after capturing the town of Jarajir, close to the Lebanese border. Activists say that rebel-held Yaabrud was hit by no fewer than twenty separate air strikes on Wednesday. Escalating clashes between government/Hezbollah troops and opposition rebels have also been reported in nearby Rima. Yabroud Free Syrian Army field commander Abu Al-Nour Al-Yabroudi told Asharq al-Awsat: “The government forces have surrounded the city and closed all the entrances and exits, specifically the southern ones. The regular forces are pushing in from the north, from the area around Nabak, but the opposition fighters have been able to destroy three tanks.” [Asharq al-Awsat, BBC, 2/13/2014]

Russia says Syria aid draft could open door to military action
Russia denounced on Wednesday a Western-Arab draft UN Security Council resolution on humanitarian aid access in Syria as a bid to lay the groundwork for military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Russia announced it would veto the current text because it contains “one-sided accusations” against Assad’s government, though Russia and its Security Council ally China said they are prepared to negotiate on a new draft if such a move could boost aid access. Since receiving the draft resolution on Thursday, Moscow has been outspoken in its opposition. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described it as “detached from reality,” while UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed it as a “non-starter.” On Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov added to Moscow’s argument: “Its whole purpose and aim is to create grounds for future military action against the Syrian government if some demands it includes are not met.” [Reuters, 2/13/2014]


Tunisia fares poorly in world freedom of the press index
On Thursday, international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, released its annual world freedom of the press index. Tunisia ranked 133 on the list, a five-place improvement from last year, but still ranked behind Lebanon, Qatar, the UAE, and Algeria. The report states that “Three years after Ben Ali’s removal, authoritarian methods continue to short-circuit reform attempts and block state media independence”. According to the report, in 2013, the Islamist Ennahdha government was “making and breaking careers at the head of the state radio and TV stations.” Multiple appointments to state broadcast agencies made under the Ennhadha governments of Ali Laarayedh and Hamadi Jebali drew criticism from journalists, the report states. [Tunisia Live, 2/13/2014]

New government alters law after concerns of censorship
Tunisia’s new interim government has loosed publishing procedures after publishers raised concerns regarding censorship. The law, established by former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh in January, required submissions before publication. Fearing the return of prior censorship practices, publishers and journalists slammed Larayedh’s decree. New procedures will require publishers to send copies of publications within 48 hours after they go public. The new measures were announced after a meeting between caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa and representatives of the publishing industry who were concerned about the recent decree, the prime ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. [Tunisia Live, 2/13/2014]

Issuing bonds will not be sufficient for Tunisia’s economic recovery
Tunisia intends to issue bonds on the international market in 2014 in order to help the economy recover. According to the Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) Chedly Ayari, the bonds may energize the economy but will not be sufficient for the recovery Tunisia’s economy needs. Ayari stated that in order to recover, Tunisia needs to build confidence and uphold political stability, along with boosting local and foreign investments and diversifying sources of financing. He also underscored the need to resort to Islamic finance as an alternative to fund public expenditure and “channel State funds to wealth creation rather than recurrent expenditure.” [All Africa, 2/12/2014]

Court orders Tunisia’s black book to be discontinued
The Tunis Court of First Instance ordered, on Wednesday, the suspension of printing, sales and distribution of the “black book”. The book’s full title, The Propaganda Apparatus Under Ben Ali: The Black Book, was published by President Moncef Marzouki in December. The book lists journalists and intellectuals accused of colluding with the former authoritarian regime and assisting in polishing its image in Tunisia and abroad. [TAP, 2/12/2014]


Presidential envoy meets with Southern leaders in Egypt
Mohamed Ali al-Shadadi, an envoy of President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi, met with former Southern prime minister Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas and several other Southern leaders today in Cairo. Al-Shadadi conveyed a message from Hadi urging the Southern leaders to return to Yemen and participate in the transition process. Notably, supporters of former Southern vice president Ali Salem al-Beidh, accused of interfering in the transition, were not present at the talks. [Mareb Press (Arabic) , 2/13/2014]

Youth activist reflects on anniversary of uprising: many goals to be achieved, but there has been progress
Prominent nonviolent activist and organizer during the 2011 uprising Bushra al-Maqtari reflected on the past three years in an interview with The Yemen Times. Al-Maqtari insists that the goals of the revolution have remained out of reach due to manipulation by proponents of the GCC initiative that resulted in former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster. The culture of corruption has not been addressed, says al-Maqtari, by the political process or the National Dialogue efforts. Al-Maqtari also criticized the government for failing to release political prisoners detained during the uprising who remain in custody. However, she says that despite the shortcomings, the revolution has benefited Yemen and made life for the people of her native Taiz better. [Yemen Times, 2/13/2014]

Presidential commission leaves Irhab as military moves in to secure ceasefire
The commission sent by President Hadi to reach an agreement between Houthi and tribal militants has left Irhab as both groups abandoned three occupied locations, handing them over to the military. The ceasefire comes after forty-five days of fighting that broke out when tribesmen began blocking the road to Sa’ada, a predominantly Houthi province, in response to the Houthi blockade of a Salafist school there. [al-Masdar (Arabic), Yemen Times; 2/13/2014]

Uprising has resulted in more school dropouts
The 2011 uprising and subsequent receding of the state left many schools unmonitored and underfunded. This, combined with economic conditions placing higher burdens on Yemeni families, has had a dramatic impact on the number of dropouts. An official in the ministry of education blamed the predicament on the “distraction” of the past three years: the uprising and the transition process occurring while schools were left half constructed. One NGO representative said that they had documented more than 20,000 dropouts since 2011. [Yemen Times, 2/13/2014]


UN says clashes in Iraq’s Anbar displaced 300,000
Violence in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province where armed groups have fully taken on Fallujah and partially control Ramadi has resulted in 300,000 displaced persons in six weeks of fighting, the UN reported on Wednesday. Over the weekend the government gave militants in the province a week to surrender, but refused to negotiate with any party involved in the violence. There have been calls for the Shia-led government to address Sunni grievances in order to undermine support for fighters, but with April elections looming, Prime Minister al-Maliki has taken a hard line. [Al-Jazeera, 2/13/2014]

Bahrain’s loyalist political societies call for resumption of national dialogue
A number of political societies loyal to Bahrain’s government have called on opposition groups to return to the National Dialogue, stalled since last September when opposition groups began a boycott due to the imprisonment of their members. The loyalist societies offered a number of government concessions from which to build from including a maximum eight-year term for government ministers, increased powers for parliament, and independence for the judiciary. However, on the matter of political prisoners the coalition said. “Regarding the demand of opposition groups to release prisoners, the law has been applied and court has found the men guilty.” Meanwhile, the first of a three day protest called by the opposition to mark the anniversary of the country’s uprising has begun, marked by clashes with Bahrain’s police. [Trade Arabia, 2/13/2014]

Jordan’s interests in the Palestinian refugee issue
The Kingdom of Jordan lacks oil, is short on water, is burdened by $25 billion in public debt and is host to numerous refugees: 200,000 Iraqis, 600,000 Syrians and more than two-million Palestinians. How the thorny issue of Palestinian refugees in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has the Kingdom worried. Many Jordanians have never fully accepted the Palestinians, who do not enjoy equal access to government jobs, university scholarships and military service. In the parliament, laws are rewritten every election cycle to ensure that Palestinians are underrepresented. Israel has said that it will not accept a large influx of Palestinians due to demographic concerns and it is unclear how many refugees a future Palestinian state would support. Jordanian lawmakers fear that a peace agreement will require them to naturalize Palestinians citizens, and others have threatened revolt over the issue. [Washington Post, 2/13/2015]

Retired Algerian general urges Bouteflika to step down
Hocine Benhadid, a retired senior Algerian general has called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down “with dignity” and not run for a fourth term in April. He also accused the president’s inner circle of “treason” after Amar Saidani, the ruling party’s secretary general, publicly accused the powerful military intelligence chief of interfering in politics to the detriment of the country’s security. Benhadid’s comment are the most recent sign of an intensifying power struggle between the army and Bouteflika’s supporters in the run up to the presidential elections in April. [Ahram Online, 2/12/2014]