UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is sending out invitations on Monday to potential participants in Syrian peace talks scheduled to take place in Switzerland this month, the UN press office said. The UN statement said the list of invitees was determined at a December 20 meeting between Russia, the United States, and the United Nations. A UN spokesman said that there had been no agreement on whether to invite Iran though he said Ban supports the idea of Iran’s participation and hopes agreement can be reached on that issue. However, Iran on Monday appeared to rule out participation in Syrian peace talks, dismissing a suggestion on Sunday by US Secretary of State John Kerry that it could be involved “from the sidelines” as not respecting its dignity. [Reuters, 1/7/2014]


Egypt’s army chief Sisi seen edging closer to presidential bid
In Egypt, it no longer appears to be a question of if, but when army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will declare his candidacy for president. For the second time in three days, local media reported on Monday that Sisi had finally made up his mind. An official in the security services said Sisi was “most likely going to announce that he will run for the presidency… The army in a recent meeting expressed its support for him to run.” Sources now say that the general is preparing a political platform that focuses on economic issues. Sources report that Sisi has brought together experts to form several economic working groups. Responding to a local TV report saying Sisi would run, the army issued a statement on Saturday saying the military does not make declarations via anonymous sources and urged the media to show professionalism in its reporting. [Reuters, Mada Masr, 1/7/2014]

Size of second Egypt stimulus to be determined
There are two opinions about the second package, according to Momtaz Saeed, member of the National Investment Bank. The first is to make it worth LE30 billion, divided between LE20 billion as investment and LE10 billion to fund the minimum wage. The second opinion is to make the package worth LE20 billion, divided equally between investments and minimum wages. The Egyptian government has decided to increase the minimum wage limit from LE700 to LE1200, starting at the beginning of this year. The government finished introducing the first package to stimulate the economy at the end of October 2013, with the value of LE29.7 billion, and announced its intention to launch a second stimulus package. “Government agencies have not yet finished implementing the projects entrusted to the first package,” Saeed pointed out. [Egypt Independent, 1/7/2014]

Democracy International sends team to observe referendum, Carter Center calls for end to crackdown
US-based Democracy International will send a delegation to Egypt this month to observe the country’s constitutional referendum. The team, which will consist of eighty international observers, will be spread out in Egypt’s twenty-three governorates to monitor the voting process on the new constitution and the counting of ballots. The group is made up of elections experts and political and development experts from ten countries. The mission, which will account as the largest international observation team to watch the constitutional referendum, will be sent in response to an invitation from Egypt’s High Electoral Commission. The Carter Center says it is concerned about the political climate surrounding the upcoming constitutional referendum, referring to political polarization, a narrowed political space and the lack of an inclusive process in a statement released on Monday. “To increase the credibility of this process, the center recommends that Egyptian authorities reverse the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition activists and rescind the recently enacted protest law that severely restricts public gatherings and rallies, including for electoral campaigning,” the statement said. The center called on Egypt to reverse the crackdown on political opponents, lift restrictions on Islamist media, and limit use of violence by police. It also called on the government to release transparent information about results and campaigning rules, and full access to the electoral process for all Egyptian observer groups and parties. The center is sending a small expert mission of 10 observers that will focus on broader legal and political issues surrounding the polls. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, Ahram Gate (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 1/7/2014]


Libya says aim to run economy, banking system on Islamic lines
Experts will begin studying how best to apply Sharia law to transform the country’s banking and economic system to fully compliance with Islamic law that bans interest payments, according to Libyan Economy Minister Mustafa Abu Fanas. He offered scant details on how the plans would be implemented. Islamic banking was not encouraged under the former regime. Since Qaddafi’s ouster, the Libyan government has struggled to attract foreign investment and develop the non-oil sector of the economy. Islamists who dominate the General National Congress strongly support plans to introduce Islamic law into the economy. [Reuters, 1/6/2014]

Production resumes at Sharara oilfield
The Sharara oilfield is expected to begin producing oil at full capacity over the next few days following the lifting of a blockade there by protesters over a week ago. Remaining Tuareg demonstrators are causing some difficulties for employees at Sharara, however, as they threaten to resume their embargo if demands are not met. Hassan al-Sideek, manager of the Sharara oilfield, said the oilfield would send an estimated 280,000 barrels of oil to the Zawiya refinery in the west of the country, explaining that the lower rate of flow is due to the problems caused by the suspension of work at the oilfield for more than two months. [Libya Herald, 1/7/2014]

Second explosion in Benghazi as bloodletting continues
A child lost a leg in an explosion that ripped through his home in Benghazi – the second blast to occur in the eastern city in a single day. There has been no confirmed cause for the blast, although some speculate the attack was in revenge over an old family grudge. Assassinations are ongoing; a former special forces member was killed and the son of a Benghazi Joint Security Room official injured in two separate shootings over the weekend. Meanwhile, a lawyer who was kidnapped in August, was found dead by a roadside. The motives for her abduction and killing remain unknown. [Libya Herald, 1/7/2014]


Amid rebel infighting, al-Qaeda-linked group executes Aleppo civilian captives
Syrian rebels have killed thirty-four foreign fighters from al-Qaeda-linked groups in the northwest of the country over the last three days. The killings in the Jabal al-Zawiya region appeared to be part of the wider confrontation by an alliance of rebels against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The latest infighting between Assad’s foes erupted four days ago in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, fuelled by resentment against ISIS’s radical Islamist agenda and a turf war near the Turkish border for strongholds which control supply routes into northern Syria. The fighting has also spread to the eastern city of Raqqa, the only Syrian city under full rebel control. On Monday evening ISIS executed at least fifty media activists, relief workers, and other civilians that were held captive by the al-Qaeda-linked group in Aleppo. The prisoners were being held in the ISIS detention center in Qadi al-Askar district. On Tuesday, the leader of the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front called for a ceasefire with ISIS. [Reuters, 1/7/2014]

Unfrozen funds lead to massive surge in wheat imports
State wheat import deals surged to 2.4 million tons in 2013 from 550,000 a year earlier, the country’s General Establishment for Cereal Processing and Trade (Hoboob) said on Monday. Syria suffered its worst wheat harvest in nearly three decades in 2013 as war and sanctions continued to put pressure on the government to import food. The deals for imported wheat were done outside the tender process and paid through unlocked funds in frozen Syrian international bank accounts. France in September cleared the use of frozen Syrian bank assets for food under a European Union system that allows such funds to be used for humanitarian ends. “There are a lot of trading companies in the Middle East and Black Sea willing to take the risk of dealing with Syria although the big multinationals are still cautious,” a European trader said. “If the payment process using the frozen funds becomes more tried and tested, larger trading houses might come back into the Syrian grain sector.” [Reuters, 1/7/2014]

Thousands of Syrians cross into Iraq as border reopens
Thousands of Syrians fleeing civil war or planning to stock up on supplies crossed into northern Iraq after Iraqi Kurdish authorities reopened a long-closed border, the UN refugee agency said Tuesday. On Sunday afternoon, authorities reopened the Peshkhabour border at the Tigris River, which had been closed since mid-September, allowing more than 2,500 Syrians to cross into the country by barge. The border crossing is currently the only one open between Syria and Iraq. [AFP, 1/7/2014]


Quartet says three key issues to be completed January 14
Interim Prime Minister Ali Larayedh and the Quartet sponsoring the national dialogue met Monday in Kasbah. The meeting focused on the importance of completing the three processes—the completion of the constitution, the legal framework for elections, and the replacement of the current government—by the third anniversary of the revolution. Larayedh and the Quartet also committed to improving some of the challenges in the three processes. They called on all actors for more compromise and concessions in order to reach consensual solutions. [TAP, 1/6/2014]

Article 37 in Tunisia’s new constitution adopted
The voting process for the new constitution, which involves voting on each article, began last Friday. There are more than 145 articles and there are growing concerns that the new constitution will not be fully adopted by January 14. Thus far, voting has been delayed by death threats targeting opposition members. On January 7, Article 37 of the constitution was adopted with 158 voting in favor, six voting against, and one abstention. Article 37 concerns the right to health and social security. It guarantees free care for low-income individuals and individuals without support. [Mosaique FM, 1/7/2014]

Tunisia struggles to protect borders
According to the International Crisis Group, Tunisia is struggling to maintain control of its borders with Algeria and Libya. Hard drugs, weapons, and explosives enter Tunisia from Libya, and drug trafficking–namely cannabis, and small-arms trafficking–occur along the Algerian-Tunisian border. Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya are seeking to improve their security coordination through regular meetings to assess the situation and exchange information regarding smugglers, dealers, and terrorist groups. [allAfrica, 1/6/2014]

Regional finance revenue offices closed due to riots
On January 6, budget revenue offices in a number of regions closed for security reasons. The riots were in response to the 25 percent increase in taxes on cars, trucks, agricultural transport, and the public and private transport of goods in the Finance Act 2014. The secretary general of the Federation of Finance asked the ministry of finance to reconsider the new law, arguing that it will reduce the purchasing power of citizens. [The Tunis Times, 1/6/2014]


Gunmen kill Yemen police officer
In Aden, intelligence officer Colonel Saleh al-Qadi was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt involving an explosive device that was attached to his car by unknown assailants. Shortly after, unknown gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying military personnel, killing Lieutenant Mubarak al-Ashram and wounding another officer. Though no group has yet claimed responsibility, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is believed to be behind the attack. [AFPSahafa (Arabic); 1/7/2014]

Yemen president’s US snub ‘aimed at Salafists’
After the United States accused Abd al-Wahhab Mohammad Humaiqani of funnelling money to terrorist organizations, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi reportedly pledged to stand by the embattled cleric. However, Humaiqani himself disputes this narrative, explaining that Hadi has simply asked US officials to evidence their accusations. The United States has not officially asked that Humaiqani be extradited, so it is unlikely that the issue will affect relations. President Hadi is seen as acting cautiously in order to keep the Salafis engaged in the political process, fearing that Humaiqani’s arrest or condemnation may endanger Salafi participation. [Gulf News, 1/7/14]

Yemen inflation eases to nine-month low; President urges early arrangement for LNG import from Yemen
Annual inflation dropped from 9.4 percent in September to a nine month low of 8.6 percent in October. Core inflation prices excluding food and qat remained at 8.1 percent, however consumer prices on food, tobacco and qat remain high. Oil exports rose 2.6 percent in November, a boon for Yemen’s budget that depends on oil exports. Energy revenues could soon see a significant increase with the potential of a natural gas trade agreement on the horizon with Pakistan. [Reuters, Business Recorder; 1/7/2014]

UN rights office condemns deadly shelling of Yemeni funeral procession
The United Nations human rights office “strongly condemned” the December 27 shelling of a funeral in the Dhalai governorate that killed twenty-one civilians and injured thirty others. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Yemeni authorities to ensure that the ongoing probe into the incident is impartial and its findings are made public. [UN News Centre, 1/7/2014]


Jordan will not accept a Mideast solution compromising its interests
Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan decried his country’s absence from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, stating that his country will not accept a solution that contradicts Jordanian interests and security. Though Judeh explained that Jordan will under no circumstances negotiate on behalf of Palestinians, Jordan is nonetheless concerned about the ramifications of border talks, particularly with regard to the Jordan Valley, on the country’s national security. [Jordan Times, 1/7/2014]

Iraq PM urges Fallujah to expel militants to avoid assault
PM Nuri al-Maliki called on the residents of Fallujah to expel terrorists holding the city to avoid a government intervention as security forces battled gunmen in other locations held by militants in parts of Anbar and Ramadi. The call after an Iraqi official told reporters that the government is preparing a “major attack” expel militants and reassert the government’s control over the Fallujah. In the first five days of this month more than 250 people have been killed across Iraq, exceeding the toll for all of January in 2013. [Ahram Online, 1/6/2014]

Kuwait cabinet reshuffle brings seven new faces
Seven new ministers were sworn in today in Kuwait including oil and finance ministers. Members of the Salaf Alliance were appointed to head ministries of oil, health, Islamic affairs and justice, and communication. The cabinet’s only female member, Hind Sabeeh al-Sabeeh, was appointed Minister of Social Affairs and Labor and Minister of State for Planning and Development. The new additions to Kuwait’s cabinet come after the resignations tendered last month over disputes over the legality of the country’s 2013 parliamentary elections. [Asharq al-Awsat, 1/7/2014]