Top News: United States Approves $11.25 Billion Warship Sale to Saudi Arabia

The US government has approved a $11.25 billion sale of four Lockheed Martin multi-mission warships and associated equipment to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees foreign military sales, notified US lawmakers late Monday about the possible sale. Lawmakers have thirty days to block the sale, although such action is rare since potential deals are carefully vetted before any formal notification takes place. The approval allows Saudi Arabia and the US government to negotiate a formal contract for the ships, but the process is not expected to be completed before the end of the year. The sale marks the first major export of a newly built US-manufactured surface naval vessel in years and is expected to include training, radar, sonar systems, munitions, and fire-control systems. [ReutersBloomberg, 10/20/2015]



Egypt slams western media over claims of low turnout in parliamentary elections
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry took another swipe at foreign media outlets over its coverage of the ongoing parliamentary elections that kicked off on Sunday, saying it reflects “another failed attempt to tarnish the country’s image.” Western reports indicated a low turnout during the first stage of the elections on Sunday and Monday. A statement by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Monday that “attempts to jump to conclusions regarding the results and significance of the elections before the end of the first day of the first electoral phase, in order to meet publication deadlines, indicates these reports’ inaccuracy.” Abu Zeid added that such reports are implying that the opposition is absent because the “terrorist Brotherhood” is not participating. “Anyone with a basic knowledge of Egypt’s political landscape should know that this year’s parliamentary elections are subject to many complex factors,” he said, citing the development of parties, voters’ awareness, electoral fatigue and the absence of polarization. [Ahram Online, SIS, 10/20/2015]

Preliminary results show Fi Hob Misr dominating the vote
Election results in the first phase of parliamentary elections will be announced within two days, Spokesman of the High Elections Committee (HEC) Omar Marwan said Monday night. He added that there have been no orders to extend voting for a third day. According to media reports, turnout remained low on the second day of voting, while the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights said that an increased number of voters arrived in the early afternoon compared to the previous day. Preliminary figures suggest the Fi Hob Misr coalition has swept to victory in the list-based system in the first phase, with Islamist rivals the Nour Party lagging far behind. Figures from the expat vote also began to trickle in on Monday, with the highest turnout of voters recorded in Kuwait at 12,600 votes. According to the HEC, 35,000 Egyptian expatriates, or 5 percent of eligible voters, cast their votes. Observer missions documented violations in Egypt on Sunday and Monday. The Journalists Against Torture Observatory documented a total of nineteen violations against journalists in different governorates, while a team of international observers reported they were harassed by a security officer in Wadi al-Natrun. Clashes were reported between supporters of opposing candidates in Badrashein (Giza) and female students reportedly threw stones at a polling station in Damanhour in protest against the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections. A report by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic ‎Studies revealed that forty-four political parties ‎contested the first stage of elections. According to the report, the number of legally licensed ‎political parties decreased to eighty-three in 2015, from over 100 in ‎‎2012. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 10/20/2015]

Egypt to rally international efforts against terrorism and boost cooperation says Shoukry
Egypt will aim to utilize its two-year membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to mobilize the international community to fight terrorism, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday. Shoukry delivered a speech to the international conference on “Religious and Cultural Pluralism and Peaceful Coexistence in the Middle East” in Athens, where he stated that Egypt is keen to boost cooperation with Greece in the economic, cultural, and social domains. He pointed out that the Egyptian are in last leg of the political roadmap to build the Egyptian state’s constitutional institutions. Shoukry discussed the existence of complicated and important events in the Middle East, noting that the crises in the region were exacerbated by the absence of dialogue against the spread of intellectual and religious doctrines based on rigid ideology, leading to growing violence, extremism, and terrorism. Shoukry travelled to Amman, Jordan on Tuesday to take part in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Conference. He plans to discuss opportunities for cooperation on various challenges in the Mediterranean region. [SIS, Cairo Post, 10/20/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya’s HOR rejects UN proposal for unity government
On Monday, Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) appears to have rejected a UN proposal for a unity government, in a blow to efforts to end Libya’s political crisis. But the HOR said it would continue to take part in UN-backed peace talks with the General National Congress (GNC). The parliament’s spokesman Faraj Hashem confirmed the rejection, but said the HOR had not voted on it. “The President of the House Aghila Saleh read a statement and left; this is an arbitrary decision,” he said. Ghalma said the HOR had rejected all amendments added by UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon to a draft agreement initialed in July. “We demand to have one prime minister with only two deputies,” Ghalma said. The GNC has not yet decided on the UN proposal. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, AFP, 10/19/2015]

Warplanes target ISIS in Libyan city of Sirte
Warplanes carried out air strikes on the Libyan city of Sirte targeting areas controlled by fighters loyal to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, a witness in the city said on Tuesday. There was no immediate report of casualties or damage from the strikes on Monday. Forces from Libya’s Tobruk government have bombed Islamist militants in the past. But an official was not immediately available to comment on the Sirte attack. ISIS has made Sirte its base in Libya. [Reuters, 10/20/2015]

Mortar blast kills four children in Benghazi
Four children died today and four others were seriously injured when a mortar shell exploded where they were playing in Benghazi’s Leithi district. The children were rushed to Jalaa Hospital where four of them were pronounced dead. A hospital spokesman said the others were being treated for a range of injuries, some of them serious. The victims were not near any army position. These latest civilian deaths are, however, characteristic of recent battles involving mortar and artillery exchanges from either side and air strikes from the air force. [Libya Herald, 10/19/2015]

Robust debate on international assistance to a future Libyan government in London
The UK and UNSMIL co-chaired a meeting of senior officials from forty countries and international organizations with Libyan experts at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London yesterday. The London conference was intended to be a “technical meeting” on how they would offer assistance to a future Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) resulting from the UN-brokered Libyan political dialogue. It aimed at coordinating the support of the international community to ensure that it is effective and complementary. There were 147 projects of assistance for Libya already under consideration. [Libya Herald, 10/19/2015]

Essebsi on official visit in Jordan
On Tuesday, President Beji Caid Essebsi will start an official visit in Jordan, at the invitation of King of Jordan Abdullah II. During this official visit–the first for a Tunisian head of state in the past fifty years–Essebsi will have a series of talks with Hashemite King Abdallah II and several Jordanian senior officials. This visit aims to strengthen the Tunisian-Jordanian relations and pave the way for cooperation between the two countries. Essebsi hopes the occasion will also provide new foreign investment by encouraging Jordanian operators to invest in Tunisia. [TAP, 10/19/2015]


UN says tens of thousands flee Syria regime offensive in Aleppo
The Syrian government’s military offensive on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo has displaced thousands in recent days, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says. A spokeswoman for UNOCHA said that the fighting had displaced 35,000 people from Hader and Zerbeh on the outskirts of the city in the past few days. The Aleppo offensive is targeting areas a few kilometers to the south of the city. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes in the air and both Iranian and Hezbollah fighters on the ground, claimed they have captured several villages. Syrian state TV said the army had captured the town of al-Sabeqiya and that the rebels had suffered heavy casualties. One Aleppo-based rebel group, the Nour al Din al Zinki Brigades, said its military commander was among the dead. [AFP, Al Jazeera, 10/20/2015]

Saudi says Assad can stay only until transition council
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday President Bashar al-Assad can hold onto power in Syria only until a transitional council of opposition and government figures has been set up. “We have said that… after the formation of the governing council Bashar Assad will have to leave,” Jubeir stated at a joint press conference. “After the formation of this governmental body, President Assad must step down. If it is a matter of months, two or three months or less, that is not important. But Assad has no future in Syria,” Jubeir said. On Tuesday, the Turkish government announced that it is ready to accept a political transition in Syria in which President Bashar al-Assad remains in symbolic power only for six months before leaving office. [Reuters, AFP, 10/20/2015]

Hama gangs engaged in organ trade
Armed gangs and militiamen in Syria’s Hama have been selling organs harvested from captives, according to a purported intelligence document obtained by a pro-opposition outlet. Al-Souria Net on Tuesday published what it said was a General Intelligence Directorate fax leaked to the outlet from Syria’s Military Intelligence branch in Hama detailing the illicit business. The gangs are wanted by several regime security branches, but authorities remain hesitant to arrest the heavily armed groups, which have strong support from senior regime army officers. [NOW, Syrian Observer, 10/20/2015]

Warrant issued for prominent Turkish lawyer on ‘terrorist propaganda’ charges
Turkish news agencies report that a court issued an arrest warrant for a prominent lawyer in the Kurdish southeast on terrorist propaganda charges. Tahir Elci is the head of the bar association in Diyarbakir. He was criticized last week for saying on a news program on October 14 that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is not a terrorist organization, though Turkey and its Western allies including the United States consider it one. [AP, Al Jazeera, Anadolu Agency, 10/20/2015]

Turkish jets hit PKK targets in southeast
The Turkish General Staff announced on Tuesday that Turkish jets have destroyed a number of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in the southeastern province of Hakkari as a part of an air operation. “Shelters, caves, and weapon pits belonging to the separatist terrorist organization determined in the Daglica region of Hakkari were destroyed in an air operation,” the Turkish General Staff said through a statement on its website. The army also announced the detention of twenty-two collaborators for “forming an organization with felonious intent” and “smuggling arms and ammunition for terror purposes” in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa. [Hurriyet, 10/20/2015]

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


Iran rejects Saudi accusations of cross-border meddling
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham rejected criticism from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday about Tehran’s interventions in unstable countries in the Middle East and accused the kingdom in turn of playing a destabilizing role in the volatile region. She was responding to comments by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who on Monday said Iran’s military role in Syria disqualified it from playing a role in peacemaking efforts there. Jubeir said that by arming Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and sending “Shia militias” to fight alongside his forces, Tehran had become an “occupier of Arab lands,” as he repeated his call for Assad to step down. However, spokeswoman Afkham said, “The Saudi Foreign Minister, whose country has a military and extremist approach to crises… and bombed continuously for seven months in Yemen, is not qualified to talk about the role of Iran in the region.” [Reuters, Yahoo, 10/20/2015]

Sudanese troops to participate in Taiz offensive
Yemen National Army spokesman Brigadier General Samir Haj released a statement on Tuesday saying that the Sudanese forces were not in Aden for a security mission but rather to contribute to the Taiz offensive with the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government fighters. In a press statement, General Haj said that the Sudanese soldiers’ experience and training the mountains would help contribute to the offensive. The arrival of three hundred Sudanese troops is only the first out of an expected 10,000 soldiers and comes as the Saudi-led coalition continued to attack Houthi positions in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Monday. [Al Masdar (Arabic), AP, 10/20/2015]

Presumed US drone crashes in Yemen
A presumed US reconnaissance drone has crashed in Yemen where the United States has waged a sustained drone war against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a local tribal leader said. The unmanned aircraft crashed in the Wadi Abida district of the central province of Marib, a major battleground between the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. The United States operates both armed and reconnaissance drones in its campaign against AQAP militants, which it regards as al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branch. The rebel-controlled SABA news agency said the rebels and their allies had shot down the drone. [Gulf News, 10/20/2015]

Human rights groups call on UN Security Council to launch war crimes probe into Yemen
A group of leading human rights organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, called Monday for the UN Security Council to launch an independent probe into the possibility of war crimes by all sides in Yemen. In a letter to the Security Council, the aid groups said a thorough and transparent investigation is needed to explain the deaths of thousands of civilians who have been killed since Saudi Arabia began an airstrike campaign in late March against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Their letter coincides with a recent report from UNICEF saying half a million children at a risk of malnutrition because of the continuing conflict. [Foreign Policy, UN News Centre, 10/20/2015]


Moody’s says lower oil income to drive fiscal reforms in GCC
Moody’s Investor service said Tuesday that a projected long-term drop in oil prices would drive fiscal reforms in energy dependent Gulf states and spur public borrowing. “We expect that the impact of lower hydrocarbon revenues on [Gulf Cooperation Council members’] public finances will spur policy adjustments in 2016,” said Moody’s VP Senior Analyst Steffen Dyck. “These could include reductions in subsidy spending and measures to broaden the non-oil revenue base,” he added. Moody’s also said it expects that Gulf states will borrow to face budgetary shortfalls. “Overall government gross borrowing needs will likely average about 12.5 percent of regional GDP, or around $180 billion per year in 2015 and 2016,” Dyck said. Moody’s said it expects Gulf states to post a combined fiscal deficit of about 10 percent of gross domestic product (over $140 billion) in 2015 and 2016. [AFP, 10/20/2015]

Saudi regulatory agency may relax investor rules to join world indices
In his first interview with international media since his appointment in January, Chairman of the Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA) Mohammed al-Jadaan said that Saudi Arabia would be open to relaxing its rules on foreigners investing directly in its stock markets in order to join global indices. Jadaan defended the limited trading so far by qualified foreign investors and said that the kingdom has already benefited from direct foreign access to its stock market. “One of our objectives is to ensure we are included in international indices and we will … look to ways to ensure we convince them that the market is ready to be placed in their indices,” Jadaan said in an interview at the market regulator’s offices in Riyadh. “We will do whatever is needed from a regulatory point of view to be ready,” he added. Joining an index could dramatically increase the amount of foreign money going into the kingdom. Some estimates put the figure at $50 billion.[Reuters, 10/20/2015]

Egypt to buy Russian helicopters, hardware for new Mistral warships
The Kremlin’s Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov announced on Monday that Russia will sell to Egypt helicopters and other hardware worth over $1 billion to equip the Mistral aircraft carriers that Egypt recently bought from France. “Russia will be, if you want, a subcontractor, who will supply the missing equipment without which the Mistral warships are just tin cans. And of course, all the helicopters,” Ivanov said. The two ships are expected to arrive in Egypt by the summer of 2016. [Ahram Online, IBT, 10/19/2015]

IMF projects growth increase to 4.7 percent for Tunisia by 2020
Economic growth in Tunisia is projected to increase to 4.7 percent by 2020 and the country’s medium-term prospects are favorable, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the IMF noted that these prospects “hinge on reduced security risks and easing of social tensions and the successful and quick implementation of comprehensive reforms that improve the business climate and foster private sector development.” Meanwhile, Tunisian and European experts met in Tunis on Monday ahead of the start of negotiations over a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The negotiations began today and will continue until Thursday. [TAP, 10/20/2015]