Top News: UN to Adopt Resolution to Disrupt ISIS Funds

Finance ministers from the 15 Security Council nations will adopt a plan Thursday aimed at disrupting outside revenue that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) gets from oil and antiquities sales, ransom payments, and other criminal activities. ISIS is already subject to UN sanctions under resolutions dealing with al-Qaeda. The US and Russia-sponsored Security Council resolution elevates ISIS to the same level as al-Qaeda, reflecting its growing threat and split from the terrorist network. US Ambassador Samantha Power called the meeting an unprecedented chance to bring together the people with the technical abilities to starve ISIS of resources. The meeting will be chaired by US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who said earlier this month that cutting ISIS off from the international financial system is “critical to effectively combating this violent terrorist group.” [AP, 12/17/2015]



UK will not ban Muslim Brotherhood but finds link to extremism  
A British governmental review into Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood published on Thursday concluded that membership in or links to the political group should be considered a possible indicator of extremism, but that it should not be banned. The findings referred to the Brotherhood’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and its attacks on Israel as a sign of growing extremism, asserting that many groups affiliated with the Brotherhood perceive Britain as being “hostile to the Muslim faith.” The long-delayed review was first commissioned in April 2014 by Prime Minister David Cameron with the task of determining whether the group was a risk to British national security. “Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network, it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism,” Cameron said in a statement. He also described the group as “deliberately opaque, and habitually secretive,” as well as holding ideals “counter to British values of democracy.” The Muslim Brotherhood on Thursday criticized the report in a statement, calling its findings unacceptable and politically motivated. Lawyers for the Muslim Brotherhood also said that any “undue” criticism of the group will be subject to a legal challenge. [Reuters, AP, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 12/17/2015]

US military and economic assistance to Egypt renewed in spending bill, with conditions
The US House and Senate budget negotiators unveiled a $1.1 trillion FY2016 spending bill in the early hours of December 16 that boosts support for countries on the front line of the fight against terrorism. The bill retains the $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt but sets new conditions for its release, which the US Secretary of State may waive for national security reasons. The final bill will require an updated assessment from Secretary Kerry on the state of democratic reform and human rights in the country before some of Egypt’s military aid can be delivered, which could compel the Sisi government to make some improvements in these areas, said Deputy Director for Policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy Cole Bockenfeld. “And moving forward, the omnibus language will require the administration to consult with Congress on plans to restructure Egypt’s military assistance—a step that is long overdue for Egypt’s outdated aid package.” [Al Monitor, 12/16/2015]

NCHR calls on Interior Ministry to abide by Code of Criminal Procedure
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) expressed its concern regarding the increased number of forced-disappearance complaints in Egypt. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the council called on the Ministry of Interior to abide by the rules of the Code of Criminal Procedure with regard to referring those arrested to investigative authorities, in keeping with the constitution. According to the statement, breaching the Code of Criminal Procedure has led to ambiguities related to increasing complaints of forced disappearance. [DNE, AMAY, 12/16/2015]

Brotherhood launches alternative website as conflicts with youth deepen
The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood launched on Wednesday a new official website,, which is seen as an attempt to provide an alternative platform to replace the official youth-dominated The announcement came amid talk of internal conflicts within the organization following recent remarks by Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein, in which he defied calls for a wider influence for younger leadership at the expense of its old guards. On Saturday, Hussein defied calls to enable younger ranks to take over, stressing that the incumbent Guidance Bureau, the group’s top governing board currently led by acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat, would remain unchanged. The declaration of the new official website was made by Talaat Fahmi, a new spokesperson appointed by the group’s leadership. The website opened with a message by Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Abdel Rahman, who urged members to “rally behind the organization’s leaders … represented in the Supreme Guide and his deputies as the legitimate leadership. [AMAY, 12/17/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Delegates from Libya’s rival factions sign UN peace deal
Delegates from Libya’s rival factions signed a UN-brokered agreement to form a national government on Thursday, a deal that Western powers hope will bring stability and help fight a growing Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) presence. But the UN deal faces resistance. The heads of both rival parliaments and factions within both camps have rejected the agreement, illustrating the risks to establishing a new government on the ground. Nuri Abu Sahmain, who heads the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, said Wednesday that the signatories did not represent the parliaments. “Whoever has not been commissioned by the GNC to sign or initial a deal on its behalf is, and will remain, without legitimacy,” he said before the legislature in the capital. “The doors remain wide open to those who are not here today,” UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler said at the signing ceremony. Under the deal, a nine-member Presidential Council will form a government with the current, eastern-based House of Representatives as the main legislative and a State Council as a second consultative chamber. The Presidential Council will name a new government in a month and a UN Security Council resolution will endorse it. [Reuters, AP, 12/17/2015]

Libya’s General Haftar urges end to arms embargo
General Khalifa Haftar, who leads forces allied to Libya’s eastern government, called for an end to an arms embargo to help fight Islamist militants after talks with UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler. Haftar has become one of the most divisive figures among the rival armed factions in Libya. Haftar met Kobler at the Marj headquarters late on Wednesday to discuss points he said needed addressing in the draft agreement and urge support for his forces to battle Islamist militants. Kobler said a unity government would be needed before the United Nations could recognize it as legitimate and provide support or lift the arms embargo, which would also require a cohesive Libyan national army. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 12/17/2015]

Sirte facing communications blackout
Internet and telephone services in Sirte remain unavailable, with residents forced to travel long distances to make calls. According to Libyan media, internet and telephone services, including Libyana and Madar networks, have been unavailable now for four months. The telecoms are not working in the city and its suburbs, forcing banks and other institutions in Sirte to close. The village of Abu Qurayn, some 130 kilometers west of Sirte, is reported to be the closest point with telephone services. ISIS fighters control Sirte and some of the surrounding area. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/17/2015]

Over 22,000 cases received by Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission
Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD), the body responsible for investigating and reporting abuses of the past regimes, has received more than 22,600 cases from victims as of December 14, said IVD President Sihem Ben Sedrine. Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Ben Sedrine pointed out that it is expected the number will exceed 30,000 by the commission’s deadline, which was recently extended six months to reach June 15. [TAP, 12/16/2015]


Putin says outside force should not decide who rules Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he would never agree to any outside force deciding on who should rule Syria and added that there was no way to resolve the Syria crisis other than a political solution. Putin also said Moscow supported Washington’s initiative in general to prepare a resolution in the UN Security Council on Syria, stating the draft resolution was acceptable as a whole. Putin also indicated that it was not certain that Russia needs a permanent base in Syria, because Moscow possesses weapons powerful enough “to hit anyone” thousands of kilometers beyond Russia’s borders. Ahead of a new round of international talks on Syria in New York Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said disagreements on Assad’s future should not stand in the way of advancing prospects for peace. “It is unacceptable that the whole Syrian crisis and the solution to the crisis has to be dependent on the fate of one man,” Ban told a news conference. “That is unacceptable,” he repeated. [Reuters, 12/17/2015]

Kurdish rebels killed in clashes in Turkey
Turkey’s state-run news agency says operations launched by the security forces in southeast Turkey has killed twenty-three Kurdish rebels killed in two days. The government has imposed curfews in the mainly Kurdish towns of Cizre and Silopi to allow the security forces to battle militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who have moved their fight for Kurdish autonomy to some towns and city neighborhoods. The Anadolu Agency said Thursday twenty-two rebels were killed in Cizre and one other was killed in Silopi in the past two days. Media reports say thousands of police and soldiers were deployed to the two towns near Turkey’s border with Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Thursday that the struggle against militants of the outlawed PKK in Turkey’s southeast will continue. [AP, 12/17/2015]

Iraqi Kurds say repelled ISIS offensive, four Turkish troops wounded
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces say they repelled a multi-pronged offensive by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the northern province of Nineveh on Wednesday, officials said. “A number of fronts, including Bashiqa and Nawaran and Khazr north and east of Mosul, were attacked by [ISIS] terrorists this evening,” said Jabbar Yawar, the secretary general of the ministry responsible for the Peshmerga forces. “[The jihadists] used car bombs and mortars and rockets and after that launched attacks on Peshmerga sites on all of these fronts,” Yawar said. Four Turkish soldiers were wounded on Wednesday when ISIS fired mortars on a training camp near the Iraqi city of Mosul. ISIS jihadists reportedly fired up to 60 mortar rounds over several hours. The Turkish forces stationed in the camp responded with artillery fire. Separately, the Arab League said Wednesday it will hold an extraordinary meeting of its foreign ministers next week to discuss Turkey’s deployment of troops in Iraq, which has been opposed by the Baghdad administration. [AFP, 12/17/2015]

Qatari safari members, including royalty, are abducted in Iraq
Militants in the southern Iraqi desert ambushed and abducted at least 26 hunters from a Qatari safari early Wednesday, officials of both countries reported. The kidnapping victims were said to include some members of senior Qatari royalty. Dozens of kidnappers, dressed in military uniforms and riding in at least 50 sport utility vehicles with machine-gun mounts, overwhelmed Iraqi sentries guarding the Qataris’ tent encampment in the Samawa desert near the border with Saudi Arabia, said Governor of Muthanna Province Falih Hasan. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it was working with Iraq’s government “at the highest security and political levels” to determine who had abducted the hunters and to secure their release. [NYT, 12/17/2015]

US Defense Secretary arrives in Iraq’s Erbil
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter arrived in Erbil on Thursday for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials on the war against ISIS. Iraqi Kurdish forces are a key US partner in the war against ISIS, which overran large parts of Iraq last year. Carter’s visit to Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, followed a trip to Baghdad the day before. Mr. Carter has expressed optimism about efforts by Kurdish forces in the area. Those forces, which include the Peshmerga, are considered to be highly motivated and have proven effective against ISIS. Mr. Carter and his staff were briefed on clashes that began late Wednesday after ISIS fighters mounted three separate attacks north and east of Mosul. [AFP, WSJ, 12/17/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Yemen peace talks struggling in Switzerland amid disputes
UN-sponsored Yemeni peace talks in Switzerland appeared to be struggling amid differences over government demands for the release of senior officials held by the Houthi rebels. Direct talks between the two sides have been suspended since Wednesday evening, after the Houthis rejected demands to free senior officials, including Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s brother, Nasser. Both Subaihi and Nasser Mansour Hadi, who was responsible for intelligence operations in the provinces of Aden, Lahej, and Abyan, have been held by the Houthis since March. The Houthis say they are ready to free the prisoners once a permanent ceasefire was agreed upon. Meanwhile, Yemeni pro-government forces and rebels completed an exchange of hundreds of detainees on Thursday. [Reuters, AFP, Al Masdar, 12/17/2015]

Saudi-led coalition says Yemen ceasefire could collapse
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen has accused the rebel group of repeatedly violating a ceasefire and warned the truce could collapse. “The number of violations is around 150 and this does not represent true intentions,” Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri said. “We urge the United Nations to clarify to the Houthis that there will be no patience toward these practices and the truce could collapse at any moment,” he added. Assiri’s remarks came after a spokesman for Yemeni government forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh accused the Arab coalition of a “serious escalation by land, sea, and air,” according to the Houthi-controlled Saba news agency. Meanwhile, Houthi rebels reportedly kidnapped 20 civilians travelling in the Imran province, north of Sana’a, and took them to an unknown location. [NYT, Al Jazeera, Al Masdar, 12/16/2015]

Saudi Arabia says sending special forces to Syria under discussion
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are discussing sending special forces to Syria as part of US-led efforts to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday. Jubeir said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain will discuss over the next few week whether they will deploy troops. He was speaking in Paris after outlining a separate initiative by Riyadh to set up a coalition of Islamic countries for counterterrorism operations, especially in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan. While Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are part of the same coalition, they have carried out limited air strikes in Syria. Most of their effort has gone towards arming opposition groups and backing efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad. [NYT, 12/15/2015]

Yemeni court sentences US citizen to ten years for guard’s death
A court in the Yemeni capital Sana’a sentenced Sharif Mobley, a US citizen detained as a terrorism suspect in 2010, to ten years in prison on Wednesday, judicial sources said. Mobley and his family have denied any ties to militants. He was accused of killing a guard and wounding seven other people as he tried to shoot his way out of a hospital where he was being treated after he was shot during his arrest. Mobley told his lawyers by telephone from prison in May that he feared for his life amid the civil war in Yemen, which caused the United States to close its embassy in Sana’a. [NYT, 12/16/2015]


Gulf states raise interest rate after US Fed decision
Gulf states raised their interest rates Wednesday after a landmark decision by the US Federal Reserve to hike its rates. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates announced hikes of a quarter of a percentage point in key official rates. The Saudi central bank said the decision was taken in light of developments in local and international financial markets. Kuwait Central Bank Governor Mohammad al-Hashel said the increase would ensure the “competitiveness of the national currency” and support the national economy. On Wednesday, a senior banker in Oman said bank interest rates have started increasing gradually and will further strengthen in light of low oil prices and limited liquidity. Qatar said domestic interest rates are likely to rise between 2015 and 2017. All of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, except Kuwait, peg their currencies to the US dollar and have normally followed US decisions on interest rates. The plunge of oil prices has put pressure on those pegs by slashing government oil revenues and pushing the current account balances of some countries into deficit. In other news, Egypt’s Central Bank said it will hold the exchange rate steady at 7.7301 to the dollar on Thursday at its first foreign exchange sale following the US Fed’s decision. [AFP, Reuters, 12/17/2015]

In first hint of hike, Turkish Central Bank lifts rate on dollar reserves
Turkey’s Central Bank (CBRT) raised the interest rate it pays on US dollar-denominated required reserves on Thursday ahead of its last meeting of the year on December 22. The CBRT previously signaled it would wait to decide whether to raise rates in order to take its cue from the US Federal Reserve, which hiked rates on Wednesday. Failure to follow the Fed’s lead would exacerbate investor concerns about the CBRT’s independence in the face of pressure from President Tayyip Erdogan. “[Thursday’s] move is only symbolic to support markets, but it gives a signal that the December 22 meeting may result in a policy rate hike,” a liquidity manager at a bank in Istanbul bank. Erdogan’s chief economic adviser Yigit Bulut said late Wednesday that markets would respond positively to the US rate increase and that it would be beneficial for Turkey to seek an opportunity to cut interest rates. Economists have argued that Turkey is long overdue for an interest rate rise to rein in inflation and stabilize the lira, which has hit a series of record lows. [Reuters, 12/17/2015]

Egypt’s CIB to sell investment bank to Orascom for $128 million
Commercial International Bank (CIB), Egypt’s largest listed company, said Thursday it had accepted an EGP 1 billion ($127.7 million) offer from Orascom Telecom and Technology (OTMT) to buy its investment bank subsidiary CI Capital. OTMT, which is owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, plans to merge CI Capital with Beltone Financial, which it bought last month for almost EGP 650 million. CIB said in a statement that its board had met on Thursday and given preliminary approval for the deal. “It is important to note that consultations remain in the preliminary stages,” CIB said. “Completion of the sale depends on the results of negotiations between the two sides, the results of due diligence as well as obtaining the necessary approvals.” Egypt’s stocks rallied Thursday after news of the possible deal. [Reuters, Ahram Online, Bloomberg, 12/17/2015]

Iraq approves budget of 105.8 trillion dinars for 2016
Iraq’s parliament adopted a 2016 budget of 105.8 trillion Iraqi dinars ($88.2 billion) on Wednesday based on projected oil prices of $45 per barrel. The budget includes oil production that the federal government does not currently control and envisions a rise in oil prices. This means that revenue, projected at 81.7 trillion dinars ($68.1 billion), may fall short of projections. Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi announced that the budget had been approved, but did not provide further details. The budget figure was little changed from the 106 trillion dinars the cabinet proposed last month. The budget projects a deficit of 24.1 trillion dinars ($20.1 billion). “The Finance Ministry must now do its utmost to bring lenders to sign bond deals to bridge the tough deficit gap,” said a member of Parliament’s Finance Committee Ahmed Hama. [AFP, Reuters, 12/16/2015]