Top News: UN talks aim to form unity government in Libya


UN-sponsored discussions between the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives and Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) began this week despite some members of the GNC refusing to attend.

The talks seek to form a unity government and end the fighting that is destroying Libya. The first day proceeded in a positive mood, with attendees agreeing to sit with their counterparts. UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon sent a strong message to those who objected to the negotiations, saying, “For those that want war, we’ll have no more patience.” [Reuters, Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/15/2015]



EU will not send full observation mission to Egypt elections
The European Union will not send a full mission to monitor Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the bloc’s top diplomat said Wednesday, while criticizing the country’s human rights record. The EU will instead “deploy a smaller expert mission,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said. The purpose of the mission will be to report on the polls, “including on the political environment and the electoral campaign,” she added. Mogherini welcomed the progress made by the adoption of a new constitution and the election of Egypt’s new president, but said that “difficulties” remain. She warned that challenges such as the country’s economic situation and its ongoing political transition “cannot allow any compromise on human rights.” [DPA, 1/15/2015]

Parties consider Sisi’s call for a unified electoral list unfeasible
Most political parties feel that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s invitation for political parties to form a unified list in the upcoming parliamentary elections is unfeasible. Several parties said the focus of each political party on its own interests would make it difficult to put this proposition into effect. Some parties pointed to their coalition under former minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, while others stressed the challenges met with trying to form a coalition with just one other party. [Mada Masr, 1/14/2015]

Interior ministry fined for negligence in inmate’s care
The administrative court in Alexandria on Wednesday fined the interior ministry 75,000 Egyptian pounds to be disbursed as damage payment to an inmate over negligent healthcare. The prisoner was serving a three-year term in Beheira when he suffered a sudden rise in body temperature. The court said doctors at the prison gave him a contaminated shot, which further worsened his condition. He was then transferred to a solitary cell for two days, after which he was found unconscious. When he was taken to a hospital, doctors amputated his arm to save his life. The court accused the prison’s board of negligence that caused the prisoner a permanent physical disability, accusing wardens of inhumane treatment. [Egypt Independent, 1/15/2015]

Egypt exempts Russian tourists from visa fees; mulls ‘barter’ with Russia
Egypt will exempt tourists from Russia from the $25 visa fee as part of its efforts to offset the effects of the depreciation of the ruble, which made Egypt a more expensive destination for Russian vacationers. The exemption will last from January 15 to April 20, traditionally the high season for beach tourism in Egypt, Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou said. Zaazou also said he had presented a proposal to the cabinet’s economic team to allow Russian tourists to pay for their vacations in Ruble; and Egypt in turn to use these rubles to buy certain Russian products. The “barter” system will be implemented if the central banks of Egypt and Russia approve it, he said. [Ahram Online, 1/15/2015]

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UN talks aim to form unity government in Libya
UN-sponsored discussions between the rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives and Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) began this week despite some members of the GNC refusing to attend. The talks seek to form a unity government and end the fighting that is destroying Libya. The first day proceeded in a positive mood, with attendees agreeing to sit with their counterparts. UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon sent a strong message to those who objected to the negotiations, saying, “For those that want war, we’ll have no more patience.” [Reuters, Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/15/2015]

Tunisian President Essebsi urges consensus and national unity
President Beji Caid Essebsi stated in a speech commemorating the fourth anniversary of the Tunisian revolution that consensus and unity are what make Tunisia exceptional and must continue moving forward in the transition. He also stressed that much still needs to be done to correct the issues that led to the revolution. During the ceremony, families of martyrs and the wounded from the revolution erupted in protest for not receiving honors from the president. Essebsi said that he understands their frustration and that resolving and finding justice must be a top priority of the new government. [TAP, 1/14/2015]

Marzouki’s new movement intends to ‘avert a return to dictatorship’ in Tunisia
Former Prime Minister Moncef Marzouki stated that the strategy of his newly formed political movement is to prevent the return of dictatorship in Tunisia. On a Facebook post this week, Marzouki expressed concerns that the general and presidential election ballots allowed for the return of the old regime. He believes this is the fault of missteps by political parties and a “foreign veto” on the Arab Spring. Marzouki intends to hold a series of regional meetings to plan and implement an effective opposition to the new government. [ANSAmed, 1/15/2015]

Transportation workers in Tunisia continue to strike
Transportation employees from TransTu, which runs the bus, tram, and suburban train services held an unannounced strike on Wednesday. The strike left walking or taxis as the only options for transportation, which can be up to ten times as costly. The walkout is the latest in a continuing dispute between the government and transportation workers who are upset over not receiving their year-end bonus. Tunisians affected by the strike blame the Tunisian government, which they hold responsible for providing transportation services. [Tunisia Live, 1/14/2015]

Algeria arrests militant cell on southern border
Algeria’s army arrested a cell of twelve militants along its southern Malian border this week. The army reported that the militants, with support from external terrorists, were planning an attack in Algeria. This comes on the heels of the Algerian army arresting Libyan smugglers and seizing illegal arms several days ago. Algeria has increased security operations along its Malian and Libyan borders to prevent the free movement extremists and smugglers. [Reuters, 1/14/2015]


Two-thirds of Syrian refugees living in Jordanian towns impoverished
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has urged the international community to help alleviate the “desperate living conditions” of Syrian refugees living outside Jordan’s main camps. According to new estimates, two-thirds of Syrian refugees living in urban and rural areas across Jordan are facing increasingly desperate conditions, living under the national poverty line. The UN refugee chief said Wednesday that problems had been made more acute due to freezing winter temperatures and electricity shortages, adding that further reductions in the current levels of UN support will have immediate and serious consequences for Syrian refugees in Jordan. [Naharnet, BBC, 1/15/2015]

Syrian rebels and government forces reach truce in Homs
Syrian rebels and government forces began observing a ten-day truce on Thursday in the rebel-held area of Homs’ al-Waar district. Government forces had blockaded al-Waar for twenty months, only sporadically allowing in food. According to local sources, rebels were outgunned and the experience of fighters once holed up Homs’ Old City was instructive: the area was destroyed, thousands of civilians were killed or forced to flee, and ultimately rebels negotiated their surrender in May 2014. It is not clear how many civilians remain in the sprawling area separated from the rest of the city by the Orontes River. Government officials promised to allow the UN to deliver more food while the two sides discussed how to end the standoff. [AP, 1/15/2015]

Airstrikes fail to slow ISIS in Syria
Three months of US-led airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from expanding their control in the country. While coalition airstrikes have put ISIS on the defensive in Iraq, they have not had the same impact in Syria. ISIS has not lost any key terrain in Syria; instead, militants have expanded their territory in Syria and at least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, according to the new estimates. ISIS progress in Syria is partly the result of the US decision to focus its military efforts on Iraq, leaving Syria as a relative safe haven for ISIS. [The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, 1/15/2015]

Nasrallah says talks with al-Mustaqbal contributed to self-restraint, meets with Syrian opposition
In an interview aired Thursday, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused a powerful regional state of backing the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and hailed the dialogue between his party and al-Mustaqbal Movement for encouraging “self-restraint.” Nasrallah said the country “is involved with ISIS in Syria and Iraq but is now suffering from a crisis because of its stance.” Nasrallah said that al-Mustaqbal leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri gave the green light to the dialogue between his movement’s representatives and Hezbollah despite the objection of several al-Mustaqbal officials. Nasrallah also said that he had met top Syrian opposition official Haytham Manna and other anti-Assad figures in a bid to help end the four-year-old war raging in the country. He revealed that a certain country involved in the Syria crisis has informed Russia of its readiness to accept any deal to end the conflict, “including the survival of the regime,” provided that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. [Naharnet, Annahar, The Daily Star, 1/15/2015]


GCC criticizes Beirut for Nasrallah’s anti-Bahrain comments
Oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf region have reacted with anger to the words and tone used by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in criticizing Bahrain’s arrest and detention of Ali Salman, the leader of the Shia opposition party Al-Wefaq. Bahrain, the UAE, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have summoned Lebanese ambassadors in their nations in protest. The UAE expressed its ”severe condemnation of these hostile, inflammatory, hateful and unacceptable remarks, which represent blatant interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs,” said UAE foreign affairs undersecretary Tarek Ahmad. [ANSAmed, 1/15/2015]

Five Yemeni prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay, sent to Estonia and Oman
Five men from Yemen were transferred from the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after more than a dozen years of captivity and sent to Estonia and Oman for resettlement, US officials said Wednesday. The release is the latest in a wave that has alarmed congressional opponents of closing the detention center. It was the first time either nation accepted Guantanamo prisoners for resettlement. Today, 122 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay. [AP, WSJ, Al Masdar 1/14/2015]

Security sector heads visit Marib, meet with tribal leaders
The heads of Yemen’s security apparatus conducted sweeps of military sites in Marib governorate on Wednesday after meeting with tribal leaders Tuesday night. The security officials were part of a new committee established by Prime Minister Khalid Bahah on Monday. Among the issues discussed were the withdrawal of all armed fighters from outside the government, disarmament of local tribes, and the possibility of returning weapons seized by tribesmen from the military. [Yemen Times, Yemen Post, 1/14/2015]

President appoints top security officials with ties to Houthis, Saleh
After the lethal bombing on the police academy that killed forty people, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has chosen to replace top police officials with appointees who have close ties to the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hadi gave no reason for the security appointments. Among the appointments were General Abdulrazaq al-Merwani, Colonel Nasser al-Shawthabi, and General Yehya Qarqar. The Houthi militia fighters, who now appear in full control of Sana’a, have demanded the government recruit thousands of their supporters for the army and security forces. [AFP, Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/14/2015]

Yemen’s Al-Thawra newspaper employees stage protest
Hundreds of journalists and employees of the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper staged a protest in front of the cabinet building on Wednesday, demanding the appointment of a director and editor-in-chief. Wednesday’s protests were the second this week, with newspaper staff having staged a similar protest in front of the ministry of information on Monday. The newspaper has been without an editor-in-chief since January 6, when Houthis stormed the newspaper and forced Faisal Mukaram’s resignation. [Yemen Times, 1/14/2015]


Tunisia trade deficit widens in 2014
According to recent statistics published by the National Institute of Statistics (INS), Tunisia’s trade deficit widened further in 2014, reaching a worrying level of 13,635.9 million Tunisian dinars. This deficit, 26.7 percent of which come from the energy balance deficit, was translated into a 2.5 percent drop in the coverage of imports by exports. Tunisia’s trade showed deficit in particular comparison with China, Russia, Italy and Spain. [Zawya, 1/14/2015]

Moroccan economy to grow 4.6 percent in 2015
A new World Bank report forecasts an average growth of 4.6 percent for Morocco in 2015. The report further elaborated that Morocco’s nonagricultural output remained flexible, adding that it was driven by private consumption and a surge in exports of manufactured goods and phosphates. Overall, Morocco has been able to make progress despite political opposition to increasing prices of basic goods and services. [Morocco World News, 1/15/2015]

Jordan, Saudi Arabia sign deal to boost cooperation in labor
The Jordanian Minister of Labor, Tourism, and Antiquities and his Saudi counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding between Jordan and Saudi Arabia concerning the country’s cooperation in labor affairs. The memo, among others, seeks to strengthen cooperation between the two countries by unifying recruitment procedures, exchanging expertise, and training programs for the better resolution of labor disputes. [Zawya, 1/15/2015]

Iraq plans to boost southern oil exports to record high
According to trade sources, Iraq plans to boost monthly crude oil exports from its southern ports to a record high level in February. The Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) has allocated 3.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of Basra crude to be shipped out in February, up from 2.7 million bpd in January. While it remains to be seen if SOMO can meet its target for February, new infrastructure at Iraq’s southern Basra ports has been able to shorten waiting time for tankers to about two days, an improvement over the previous one to two weeks waiting time. [Reuters, 1/15/2015]