The United Nations, under intense pressure from the United States and other countries, withdrew an invitation to Iran to participate in the Geneva II Syria peace conference this week, a diplomatic bungle that muddied international efforts to end the civil war. The bruising international face-off over Iran’s participation came just two days before world powers gather in Switzerland for a long-awaited conference aimed at finding a way out of the nearly three-year conflict. The Russian Foreign Minister said on Tuesday that the decision by the United Nations to bar Iran from taking part in the conference was a “mistake” that cast a shadow on the reputation of the global body. Also on Tuesday, a Syrian government delegation heading to Switzerland was delayed in Athens when a Greek firm refused to refuel their plane, citing an EU trade embargo. [WSJ, 1/21/2014]


Egyptians overwhelmingly back constitution
More than 98 percent of voters backed a new Egyptian constitution in a referendum this week, authorities said on Saturday, though the turnout was lower than some officials had indicated, with under 40 percent of the electorate taking part. A table posted in Ahram Online shows official results of Egypt’s 2014 constitutional referendum. The table also includes the results of the 2012 constitutional poll. Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour congratulated Egyptians for approving the country’s newly-amended constitution in last week’s referendum, but did not announce Egypt’s next steps regarding presidential or parliamentary elections. With conclusion of the referendum, many expect a cabinet reshuffle and for focus to shift towards a new elections law. The Muslim Brotherhood issued directives to the members of its legal committee to take legal action against the current authorities, defend deposed President Mohamed Morsy and file a lawsuit challenging the integrity of the referendum. [Reuters, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/19/2014]

Egypt charges secularists alongside Morsi in new case, other cases pending
Deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was on Sunday ordered to stand trial for insulting the judiciary, legal sources said, alongside twenty-four others including liberal activists who opposed his Islamist rule but have also been critical of the new army-backed order. It is the fourth case brought against Morsi since he was ousted by the army last year, after a year in power, following mass protests against his rule. An Egyptian court has February 1 for the hearing of the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leaders on charges of inciting violence during the days after June 30 protests. A Cairo appeal court also ordered on Tuesday Morsi to stand trial on February 16 over allegations he collaborated with Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations to commit terrorist acts in Egypt. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, 1/21/2014]

Egypt expects 33 percent rise in foreign investment this fiscal year
Net foreign direct investment in Egypt is expected to rise by a third to about $4 billion this fiscal year, which ends in June, Egyptian Investment Minister Osama Saleh said on Monday. Egypt’s economy began to stabilize in late 2013, helped by billions of dollars in aid that Gulf countries began to extend once the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was ousted last July. Before Egypt’s 2011 revolution, it was attracting net foreign direct investment of around $8 billion annually, according to central bank data. Saleh, who said he was meeting with several potential investors in the United Arab Emirates, in sectors ranging from real estate to shipping, predicted investment would rise further next fiscal year as tourism picked up. [Reuters, 1/20/2014]

EU’s Ashton welcomes Egypt’s vote; US delegation meets Egyptian army chief
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has welcomed Egypt’s constitution referendum, saying she expects the document to set the scene for civilian rule. Ashton noted the EU could not assess or verify alleged irregularities in the poll, but said they “do not appear to have fundamentally affected the outcome.” A US congressional delegation met on Sunday with Egyptian army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to discuss US-Egypt ties and recent developments in the region, a military source has said. The six-member team, led by Congressman Dana Tyrone, also held talks with interim President Adly Mansour. The delegation promised to relay the “actual picture” of the current situation in Egypt to their colleagues back in Washington, along with declaration of their support of the Egyptian government in its efforts to regain its role in retaining security and rebuilding the country’s institutions. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/20/2014]


Libya declares state of emergency and sends military to South
On Saturday, following renewed clashes that erupted in the south when gunmen seized a military base, Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) declared a state of emergency in the country. Troops were also sent to the region to help calm the situation and fight the heavily-armed militias, tribesmen and Islamists identified as Qadhafi loyalists by the government. The continued clashes and insecurity in the south are putting pressure and overstretching health facilities which experience serious shortages. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 1/18/2014]

Libya’s Islamist party says ministers will resign
On Tuesday, Libya’s Islamist Justice and Construction Party, the second largest force in parliament, said its five ministers, including the oil minister, would resign from Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s government. [Reuters, 1/21/2014]

Dispersed violence in Libya during the weekend
The past days in Libya have been marked by renewed violence not only in the south, w but also by dispersed violence in the whole country. A fourteen year-old boy was shot dead in Kufra, in what is believed to be part of a series of tribally-motivated revenge killings in the south of the country. Gunmen kidnapped a South Korean businessman in Tripoli. Motive remains unknown but he has been confirmed safe by authorities on Tuesday. Two Italian construction workers also went missing in Derna on Friday and three soldiers were killed near the Sarir oil field. On Monday two soldiers were killed and one injured in separate Benghazi incidents. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/20/2014]

No reversal of militia demobilization policy
Following the declaration of the state of emergency in Libya, authorities called upon all the militias to remobilize and head to the various hotspots to reimpose security. This move appears in contradiction with the policy to demobilize the militias and to relocate them outside of main urban centers. The government assured critics that it had not backtracked or cancelled the laws, and acted in the interest of the country’s security. [Libya Herald, 1/20/2014]


Trove of smuggled photographs detail “industrial” killing of 11,000 in Assad jails
Thousands of post-mortem photographs of scarred, emaciated corpses, provided to the Syrian opposition by a man who describes himself as a defector from the security forces of President Bashar al-Assad, appear to offer “direct evidence” of torture and execution on a mass scale, a team of legal and forensic experts concluded in a report made public on Monday. The report, which was first made available to The Guardian and CNN, was written by a panel of experts assembled by a law firm working for the government of Qatar, a main sponsor of the Syrian opposition. The team included three former prosecutors from the international tribunals for Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, a forensic pathologist, an anthropologist who investigated mass graves in Kosovo and an expert in digital imaging provenance. One of the prosecutors said the evidence documented “industrial scale killing” that was reminiscent of the World War II concentration camps of Belsen and Auschwitz. [NYT, Reuters, The Guardian, CNN, AFP, 1/20/2014]

Airstrike on Aleppo kills at least ten; Unrelenting aerial campaign enters second month
At least ten people were killed in a regime airstrike on Tuesday targeting an opposition-held neighborhood of Aleppo. Warplanes also targeted the Ansari neighborhood farther east. Aleppo has been wracked by violence since a massive rebel assault in July 2012. Then on December 15 last year, the air force unleashed a brutal air offensive that has killed hundreds of people, mostly civilians. Aleppo-based citizen journalist Mohammed said, “Today’s attack is part of that assault. There has been aerial bombing every day since December 15, except for the days when visibility was poor because of the weather.” [AFP, 1/21/2014]

Nusra Front takes credit for deadly suicide bombing in Beirut suburb
A suspected suicide bombing killed at least four people including a teenage girl and wounded forty-six others in a southern suburb of Beirut Tuesday, in the latest attack claimed by an anti-Hezbollah al-Qaeda-linked group. The explosion on the bustling al-Arid Street in Haret Hreik occurred just meters from the site of an explosion earlier in the month in the suburb that was claimed by the al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Tuesday’s attack was claimed by the Nusra Front in Lebanon, an offshoot of Syria’s Nusra Front which is blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist group. A statement posted on Nusra’s Twitter account said, “We were able to respond to the massacres committed by Iran’s party [Hezbollah] against the children of Syria and of Arsal [in northeast Lebanon] with a suicide operation that targeted the heart of its southern suburbs.” [The Daily Star, 1/21/2014]


Constitution debate paused as it nears conclusion
The debate to pass the last five articles of the draft constitution stalled Monday afternoon due to calls to amend some previously approved articles. The voting process in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) on the new constitution was due to be completed by January 13, in time for the third anniversary of the revolution. Members of both parties feel the debate is likely to continue for a few more days. Articles 6 and 73, both of which were previously approved by the NCA have come under debate. The former addresses freedom of conscience and the latter discusses presidential requirements such as age. [Tunisia Live, 1/20/2014]

Broad consensus over new version of Article 6
On Monday, the presidents of the parliamentary blocs agreed to amend article six of the constitution which discusses freedom of conscience. The proposed amendment would ban insulting religion. Currently, the article states that the state is the “guarantor of the neutrality of places of worship” and “protector of the sacred.” It also assures “freedom of conscience,” “freedom of worship,” and bans “takfir,” an Arabic word meaning to accuse someone of being a nonbeliever. On Monday, a delegation of imams and sheikhs met with caretaker President Marzouki to discuss the amendment. [TAP, Tunisia Live, 1/20/2014]

Jomaa to appoint cabinet by January 25
It has been nearly two weeks since Jomaa assumed the role of caretaker prime minister. He has yet to nominate his cabinet members and is expected to do so no later than January 25. Jomaa has promised that his government will be apolitical and independent. While he has not yet officially nominated anyone, there are speculations about a number of nominations including Hakim Ben Hammouda for minister of the economy and finance, Najla Harrouche Moalla for minister of commerce, Ghazi Jeribi for minister of justice, Kais Dali for minister of industry, and Lofti Ben Jeddou for minister of the interior. [Tunisia Times, 1/19/2014]


Hadi’s term extended by one year, federal state approved
In its concluding session, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) extended President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s term by one year, allowing him to oversee the transition to a federal system. One source from the NDC told al-Masdar that the president seems to prefer a six state system. At the close of the NDC, Hadi stated the importance of the new arrangement: “The federal system is the solution for all problems in Yemen.” [Reuters, 1/21/2014]

Houthi NDC delegate assassinated
Following a turbulent weekend in the North in which twenty-two people were killed in clashes between Houthi and Hashid tribesmen, the Houthi delegate to the NDC was gunned down in Sana’a as he was travelling to attend the final session of the dialogue. The UN special adviser Jamal Ben Omar and NDC parties expressed regret at the killing and released statements expressing their condolences to the delegate’s family and condemning the attack. President Hadi called the parties to continue talks for the sake of national unity. The Houthis’ political council released a statement blaming the US intelligence agencies for the assassination. [Reuters, 1/21/2014]

Clashes continue between Herak and Military in Dali’
Sporadic clashes between the Southern Movement (Herak) and the military continued throughout the weekend. Much of the anger is levelled at Brigade 33, responsible for a December attack on a funeral, and the outfit responsible for multiple civilian casualties and wounded during recent clashes due to what locals say is indiscriminate use of artillery. [Yemen Times, 1/21/2014]

Iran envoy killed
Unknown gunmen fatally shot an Iranian diplomat outside his house in Sana’a over the weekend. Reports indicated that it was an intended kidnapping that turned to murder. One other Iranian envoy is still being held captive after an abduction last July. At least one man has been arrested in connection with the attack, said to be the driver of the car used in the assassination. The Yemeni envoy in Tehran was subsequently summoned by Iran’s foreign ministry to protest the incident. A spokeswoman for Iran’s foreign ministry announced the Iran’s intention to file formal complaints with international bodies, blaming Saudi Arabia for the incident in Sana’a. [BBC, al-Masdar (Arabic); 1/18/2014]


One dead following sectarian violence in Algeria
Weeks of tensions between rival communities, the Chaamba community (Arab origin) and the Mozabites (a Berber minority group which adheres to the Ibadi faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam), in Ghardaia, a town in southern Algeria, erupted into violence leaving one dead on Sunday. Schools and shops were closed in response to the violence. In a town about 600 kilometres south of Algiers, violence left ten injured. [Al Arabiya, 1/20/2014]

Explosion targets Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut
A car bomb detonated outside of Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut killed five and wounded dozens on Tuesday. The al-Nusra front in Lebanon, which is linked to the al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack. [Al Arabiya, 1/21/2014]

UAE plans military service for men
The United Arab Emirates will introduce compulsory military service for men. Observers note that this is because of lingering tensions with Iran and as well as a region dealing with rising instability in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. It is not clear when the UAE’s draft will begin, but it follows a trend as Qatar’s cabinet approved a similar measure in November. [Reuters, 1/21/2014]