Top News: UN to Include Rival Government in Postponed Libya Peace Talks

The United Nations will widen a new round of negotiations by including the rival General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli, Special Representative Bernardino Leon said on Monday. After the first unsuccessful round of talks held in September, a second round was meant to begin on Tuesday but is postponed until the beginning of next week to give more time to work out details.

Leon might find it hard to sell the inclusion of the GNC to the House of Representatives when he visits Tobruk today. Leon dodged a question whether his plans means the United Nations is dropping its position that the House is the sole legitimate parliament, saying only that the recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating the body had changed the situation



Egypt’s State Council approves ‘terrorist entities’ draft law
Egypt’s State Council on Monday approved the draft law on “terrorist entities”, which would allow for the dissolution of these entities and ending their activities. The draft law was also approved by the cabinet in November. Article 1 of the new law defines a terrorist entity as any group “practicing or intending to advocate by any means to disturb public order or endanger the safety of the community and its interests or risk its security or harm national unity.” However, the law’s definition of a terrorist organization expands to encompass groups that “occupy public or private buildings, and public facilities” or endorse “damage to the environment or natural materials.” The draft law, however, must be considered by the president, as per Article 156 of the constitution, which states that the president has the power to issue laws by decree. These decrees must be “discussed and approved” by the House of Representatives “within fifteen days from the date the new House convenes.” [DNE, SIS, 12/9/2014]

Egypt’s electoral districts law ready for cabinet
Egypt’s new draft electoral consistencies law is now ready for cabinet approval, Al-Ahram reported on Monday. Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim al-Heneidy and a committee overlooking the drafting of the law had been working on the long-awaited draft that paves the way for holding parliamentary elections. The cabinet is expected to review the law on Wednesday, with polls slated for the first quarter of 2015. Akhbar Masr published the approved text of the draft law in Arabic, delineating the 231 districts and parliamentary seats available per district, on its website. [Ahram Online, DNE, SIS, EGYNews (Arabic), 12/9/2014]

“Fabricated” recording of military top brass referred to prosecution
Egypt’s General Prosecutor referred Tuesday investigations concerning “fabricated” secret recordings of top military brass discussing how to manipulate the legal status of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s detention to military prosecution. Initial investigations showed that the Brotherhood have been using media supported by foreign agendas to “fabricate” phone calls using advanced technology, the prosecution said in a statement. The general prosecution highlighted that Muslim Brotherhood members have been trying everything possible to influence judges in charge of cases for its top leadership.  Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat announced on Tuesday that the Supreme State Security Prosecution’s investigation revealed that the case falls under the military judiciary’s jurisdiction. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, EGYNews (Arabic), 12/9/2014]

Rights group moves its programs outside Egypt, calls to revise protest law
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has decided to move its regional and international programs outside Egypt in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations and the declaration of war on civil society. In particular, this move comes after the expiration of the deadline set by the Ministry of Social Solidarity for “unregistered entities” to register under a draconian associations law and the mounting security pressure aimed at shutting out every independent, critical voice from the public sphere. In a special session at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday, CIHRS director Bahey Eldin Hassan called on Egyptian authorities to revise the protest law to make it more consistent with the constitution and international standards. Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber, however, said Egypt has no intention to amend the controversial law. Changing the law will not occur until the parliament is elected,” he said. [CIHRS, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/9/2014]

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UN to include rival government in postponed Libya peace talks
The United Nations will widen a new round of negotiations by including the rival General National Congress (GNC) based in Tripoli, Special Representative Bernardino Leon said on Monday. After the first unsuccessful round of talks held in September, a second round was meant to begin on Tuesday but is postponed until the beginning of next week to give more time to work out details. Leon might find it hard to sell the inclusion of the GNC to the House of Representatives when he visits Tobruk today. Leon dodged a question whether his plans means the United Nations is dropping its position that the House is the sole legitimate parliament, saying only that the recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating the body had changed the situation. [Reuters, 12/8/2014]

United States says Libyan negotiations may be doomed by meddling powers
Washington has little faith in UN-brokered mediation in Libya because regional countries are defying requests to end their war by proxy there, according to senior US officials. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar continue to encourage local factions to fight instead of compromise, with Egypt and the UAE backing the government in the east and Qatar supporting the powers in Tripoli. Washington says it has spent months trying to ease rivalries inside and outside Libya, with Secretary of State John Kerry raising the issue with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and US officials threatening to impose sanctions on Libyan factions that continue fighting. Analysts say Egypt, in particular, had undermined diplomatic efforts by emboldening the government in the east. [Reuters, 12/8/2014]

Senior Libya Dawn commander killed; Misrata sends reinforcements
Units from Misrata’s Libya Shield Central brigade have reportedly arrived in Sabratha to reinforce the Islamist-leaning Operation Libya Dawn forces in the strategically crucial battle with the Libyan National Army for control of the western coastal road. The dispatch of some 150 to 200 vehicles follows the latest news that leading Libya Dawn commander and head of the main Sabratha military force, Omar Mukhtar Madhuni, was killed in clashes south of Sabratha yesterday. There are also unconfirmed claims by the Zintanis that they are now in control of a neighboring town. Madhuni was imprisoned under Qaddafi, set up a brigade during the revolution, and was elected to Sabratha’s municipal council in June. [Libya Herald, 12/9/2014]

Second round of presidential campaigns begin in Tunisia
The second round of presidential campaigns kicked off in Tunisia on Tuesday after an administrative court rejected appeals to invalidate the first round election results over the weekend. Presidential candidates Beji Caid Essebsi and Moncef Marzouki will have six days to campaign before the final presidential poll scheduled for December 21. Both candidates have picked up endorsements from previous rivals and reports over the weekend indicated that the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) party was throwing its support to Nidaa Tounes’ Essebsi, while the Democratic Current and Wafa Parties announced their support for Ennahda’s Moncef Marzouki. [Tunisia Live, 12/9/2014]

Tunisia’s newly elected parliament to begin deliberations on the 2015 state budget
Tunisia’s House of Representatives (HOR) is expected to hold a plenary session on Tuesday to discuss the legislative body’s procedural rules and the drafting of the 2015 state budget. Parliamentary members finalized the election of the house speaker and his deputies last Friday despite earlier delays caused by disagreements between members and their respective parties. [All Africa, 12/9/2014]


UN resumes food aid for Syrian refugees
The UN World Food Program is restarting food aid for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt after launching a successful social media campaign that raised enough donations to fund the previously halted program. The agency said on Tuesday that the fundraising drive had raised $80 million, which will allow it to distribute new funds of around $30 per family member by mid-December and also leave some funding for next month. Government donations made up the bulk of the amount raised while individuals and private sector donors in 158 countries contributed $1.8 million. [Reuters, AP, 12/9/2014]

Iraqi PM pushes for more US airstrikes and arms as Hagel visits Baghdad
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi pressed outgoing US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Tuesday for more air strikes and weaponry to accelerate Iraqi efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Hagel, who flew to Baghdad to get a first-hand report on progress against the Islamic State militants, held a series of meetings with top Iraqi government officials and conferred with American military commanders. The outgoing secretary stressed US commitment to the ongoing mission but emphasized the importance of Iraqi leadership in driving the fight to reclaim territory captured by Islamic State militants. Lieutenant General James Terry, the US commander for Operation Inherent Resolve which is aimed at defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria told reporters after the meeting that the militant group is so far on the defense and struggling to maintain its current territory. [AP, Reuters, Asharq Al-Awsat, 12/9/2014]

UN Envoy, Syria rebels discuss Aleppo ceasefire plan
UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura met Monday with Syrian opposition members to discuss plans to freeze fighting in Aleppo between government and rebel forces. The meeting featured representatives from the major armed and non-armed groups within the opposition, including the recently formed Revolutionary Command Council, which includes several dozen moderate and Islamist opposition groups. Sources indicated that both sides remained at loggerheads on the boundaries of the proposed freeze zone with the regime pushing for a ceasefire in Aleppo city only, while rebels advanced proposals for a ceasefire zone that stretches to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. [The Daily Star, 12/9/2014]

Nusra Front militants abduct Hezbollah fighters in Syria
Militants belonging to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, on Tuesday attacked and captured Hezbollah fighters in the border region of Qalamun. Hezbollah officials failed to confirm or deny the abduction but a newspaper outlet released the names of three abducted soldiers late Tuesday. Syrian regime forces recaptured most of the Qalamun region in April, with many rebel fighters withdrawing from the mountainous border region into Lebanon. The area has, however, been the site of numerous skirmishes between rebel fighters and regime forces as both groups grapple for control of the border region. [Naharnet, 12/9/2014]

Iranian official denies anti-ISIS airstrikes inside Iraq
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour on Tuesday denied remarks attributed to him in a British newspaper that seemed to confirm allegations that Iranian fighter jets had struck Islamic State targets inside Iraq. The official stressed that his remarks were inaccurately attributed and his comments were meant to reflect the Iranian government’s willingness to assist the Iraqi government if requested. [Naharnet, 12/92014]

Muslim Brotherhood faces pressure in Jordan
A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan on Tuesday criticized the newly instituted anti-terrorism law calling it overly ambiguous and repressive to civilian liberties. The spokesman addressed the November 21 arrest of Zaki Ben Rashid, the deputy leader of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and condemned the charges levied against him as unfounded. The Muslim Brotherhood official was arrested and charged with threatening Jordanian-Emirati relation after inflammatory comments was posted on his Facebook page in late November. [The Daily News Egypt, 12/9/2014]


Houthi, Herak leader seek two-state federal union
The Houthi movement, in alliance with former South Yemen president Ali Salim al-Beidh, is seeking to create a two-region federal state, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The Yemeni sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity on Monday, said that the Houthi-Beidh alliance has become increasingly apparent in recent weeks, as the group’s military advance across central Yemen has coincided with ongoing protests in Aden calling for secession. The Houthi-Beidh alliance would see the Houthis control of north Yemen with Beidh leading a southern federal state, the source alleged. While a new federal political structure for Yemen was agreed during multi-party talks in Sana’a that lasted over a year and concluded in January, this plan involved the creation of six federal regions, rather than two. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 12/9/2014]

Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Yemen bombings
Seven Yemeni government soldiers were killed on Tuesday when two al-Qaeda suicide bombers tried to drive cars laden with explosives into a military compound in Hadramawt, the defense ministry said. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack against the headquarters of the First Military Command base in Seyoun, Hadramawt’s second largest city, in a statement on its Twitter account. The attacks, which also injured eight soldiers, started with a suicide car bomb attack on the camp gates as a second suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle inside the camp grounds. Yemeni news sources reported that a third car bomber in Hadramawt was prevented from detonating his car bomb when soldiers at a checkpoint fired upon his vehicle from a distance, causing it to explode. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 12/9/2014]

Yemen al-Qaeda leader criticizes Islamic State beheadings as “un-Islamic”
A senior Yemeni al-Qaeda leader criticized beheadings by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters as un-Islamic. “There is no doubt that some of our brothers have been influenced by scenes of beheadings which have proliferated lately,” Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi said in video posted on Twitter, without referring to the Islamic State by name. “Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him and upon his family, has ordered us to be kind in everything, even in killing, and it is not part of kindness to film beheadings and slayings and publish them in public, where sons and daughters of those killed can see.” He also said that US drone strikes were bringing fighters to the al-Qaeda cause, saying, “with the martyrs, hearts grow more filled with hate and rancor against America. The drone strikes have turned our call from a narrow one into a popular one.” [Reuters, 12/8/2014]

France closes its embassy in Sana’a for security reasons
The French embassy in Sana’a decided to temporarily close its doors effective Tuesday until at least Sunday, citing “security reasons.” The decision comes following an attack on the Iranian embassy last week that left at least one dead and a number of citizens injured. However, a French diplomatic source did not elaborate on the exact reasons for the closure of the embassy. The French embassy suspended consular activities for several days in May after one of its diplomats was killed and several injured in a shooting by unidentified suspects. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 12/9/2014]

Bombing in Bahrain kills one, injures another
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said one citizen was killed in a “terrorist bombing” in a village southwest of the capital Manama, the second deadly explosion in as many days. A Jordanian police officer working as part of a security and training exchange agreement between the two kingdoms was killed in a separate attack late Monday. The interior ministry announced Tuesday’s attack in Karzakan on its official Twitter feed. The blast in the predominantly Shia community also injured an Asian man. Hard-line protesters of Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy have been known to occasionally use improvised explosives in attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2014]

Islamic extremism, oil slump to dominate Gulf Cooperation Council summit
The newly reconciled Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is gathering for its annual summit in Qatar, whose support for the Muslim Brotherhood caused months of acrimony with fellow members Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Leaders of the GCC states gathered Tuesday to hammer out a common strategy to fight the threat from Islamic extremism and plunging oil prices, as well as relations with neighboring Iran, economic integration, and unrest in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The summit will study steps to implement last year’s decision to form a joint military command, based in Riyadh, which will coordinate regional military cooperation and achieve “defense integration,” according to the GCC secretariat. [Ahram Online, 12/9/2014]


Libya’s budget income falls sharply; Tobruk struggles to exert influence over central bank
Libya’s central bank said the country’s budget income fell to around $15 billion in the period from January to November from $45 billion a year before, blaming the situation on the 40 percent fall in oil prices since June and the state’s inability to collect customs duties. Expenditure in the period was $30 billion. The bank warned the fall in income was affecting foreign currency reserves, which it has used in the past to cover deficits. The central bank has tried to stay out of the political struggle gripping Libya. Reports suggest that the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk exerts minimal control over the institution’s operations, which will become unsustainable as time comes to plan for a new budget. With limited banking services in the east, the government can make few transfers and is running low on funds. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/8/2014]

Egypt to launch tender for second LNG import terminal
According to an undisclosed source at the Egyptian state gas board, Egypt will open a tender for a second liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal to help address the country’s energy crisis. Egypt has had to become a net energy importer due to foreign firm’s reluctance to invest in the sector before Egypt repays the billions it owes. Egypt has been struggling with high energy bills caused by the fuel subsidies the government provides for its population. The first LNG port is expected to start operating by the end of March. [Reuters, 12/9/2014]

Non-oil sector to push Algeria growth above 4 percent
According to Algerian Central Bank governor, the expansion of non-oil businesses is expected to push Algeria’s economic growth above 4 percent in 2015. The growth is possible despite the global drop in oil prices because the country has large foreign reserves which are able to limit the negative impact. Inflation is expected to be around 2 percent or below in 2014, after 3.3 percent last year. [Reuters, 12/9/2014]

Moroccans lament high prices
According to Moroccan prime minister, the country will remove all subsidies on petroleum products by the end of the year. The prime minister added that he was committed to implement the reforms even if they were painful and would hurt the public’s spending power. The government is also considering means to support parts the population which would be hit hard by the decision. The current retail price of a 12-kilogram cylinder, used by hotels and in farming, is 42 dirhams while its real cost would approach 125 dirhams. [Magharebia, 12/8/2014]