Top News: United States, Tunisia to Institute Permanent Information Exchange on Terrorism

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Habib Essid received Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson. In a statement at the end of that talk, Patterson said that focus had been on bilateral cooperation regarding permanent exchange of information between the two countries on terrorism. The meeting was also an occasion to discuss the economic and security situation in Tunisia, she said, reaffirming her country’s constant support to the Tunisian democratic process. Reform of the corrections system and mechanisms for its modernization was also discussed with emphasis on the need to reinforce information exchange and training of Tunisian security units, in addition to material assistance. [All Africa/TAP, Mosaique FM (French), 9/1/2015]



Parliamentary elections to occur in complete transparency says Sisi
Parliamentary elections will be held in complete transparency and will be secured by police and military forces, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview Monday with Channel NewsAsia. Sisi said, “It is not the first time we have had elections amid circumstances of post-June 30.” He declined to comment on the trial of three Al Jazeera journalists, citing the “inappropriateness of criticizing the judicial system, which enjoys its absolute independence.” Ayman Aqeel, head of Maat for Peace, Development, and Human Rights, said that parliamentary elections would be observed by more than 2,500 local and foreign observers. A joint local and foreign alliance of NGOs will monitor elections in 164 constituencies, representing 80 percent of the total number of electoral districts. In related news, Egypt’s High Elections Commission (HEC) said that steel tycoon and ex-convict Ahmed Ezz is entitled to run in the upcoming elections. HEC spokesperson Omar Marawan said, “The commission has no right to omit any candidate.” Marwan said that Ezz would be able to submit a nomination for the commission to review, despite prior bans. [DNE, 9/1/2015]

1,250 forced disappearances since beginning of year says NGO
Following months of cases circulating on social media and press, a local Egyptian NGO claims to have recorded 1,250 cases of forced disappearances in the first eight months of 2015. The Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) laid out its findings in a report on the practice. ECRF recorded forty-four disappearances in January, ninety-one in February, 160 in March, 228 in April, and 393 in April. More than 100 were “forcibly disappeared in July,” the group said, and 124 in August. According to the NGO, 228 victims of forced disappearances remain unaccounted for. “They have neither appeared before prosecutors nor at any police station though information indicates that they have been detained by security forces,” an ECRF statement said. [DNE, Anadolou Agency, 8/31/2015]

Egyptian muezzin suspended for ‘prayer is better than Facebook’ alteration
Egypt’s state religious authority suspended on Sunday the muezzin of a mosque in the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, after he personalized the adhan (call to prayer) to include the phrase “prayer is better than Facebook” instead of “prayer is better than sleep.” The usual phrase, part of the dawn adhan only, is aimed at encouraging believers to get up and pray. The ministry of religious endowments summoned the muezzin, Mahmoud al-Moghazy, for questioning after local residents reported that he had repeatedly altered the call to Fajr (dawn prayers) by using the phrase “prayer is better than Facebook.” Moghazy denied in an interview on Dream TV Sunday that he had used the phrase. He claimed the reports against him are malicious fiction invented by the Muslim Brotherhood to hijack the mosque. [Ahram Online, 8/31/2015]

Egypt, US renew scientific technological cooperation agreement
US Ambassador Stephen Beecroft and Assistant Foreign Minister Farid Mounib signed Monday a five year extension to the 1995 US-Egypt Science and Technology Agreement which was about to expire, the US Embassy in Cairo announced in a statement. The extension, the embassy said, comes “after twenty years of successful implementation.” The statement added that the agreement “has been instrumental to Egypt’s economy and its growth as a knowledge society and has directly led to advances in health, agricultural practices, and archeological understanding.” Beecroft said at the signing ceremony, “These people-to-people activities strengthen our bilateral relationship.” Beecroft also said that the renewal “builds on the US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue held in Cairo August 2.” [US Embassy in Cairo, SIS, MFA (Arabic), 8/31/2015]

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Car bomb damages Italy’s ENI joint venture office in Tripoli
A car bomb went off in Tripoli on Monday in front of the headquarters of Mellitah, an oil and gas joint venture between Italy’s ENI and Libyan state oil firm NOC. “The explosion damaged the buildings around the ENI complex and burned three cars,” said Omar Khadrwai, a senior security official. ENI’s joint venture partner NOC said in a statement the blast had caused only minor damage to the building and wounded one person and would not impact Mellitah’s operations. ENI is still active in Libya, a major oil producer gripped by chaos and fighting. Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants have claimed the attack through a statement on social media, but the claims have not been verified. There are also reports that the Mellitah gas processing plant has been seized by an armed group calling itself “Revolutionaries of the Western Area,” although the NOC has denied these reports. [Reuters, AFP, Libya Herald (subscription), 8/31/2015]

UN envoy to meet with Libya’s Tripoli parliament ahead of talks
UN Libya Envoy Bernardino Leon will meet on Tuesday with representatives of the country’s General National Congress (GNC) parliament based in Tripoli, which has delayed participation in the Libyan dialogue until it forms a new negotiating team. The meeting in Istanbul will likely focus on convincing the GNC to take part in talks due to be held this week in Geneva. “The meeting in Istanbul… will discuss GNC concerns with respect to the political agreement and ways to overcome them,” said a UN statement. The September 3-4 talks in Geneva are the latest round in long-running peace negotiations between Libya’s rival factions. [AFP, 9/1/2015]

Libya forces continue to battle ISIS in Benghazi
Libyan forces affiliated with the eastern Tobruk government on Monday battled jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Benghazi, where five pro-government fighters have been killed in two days of violence, according to Libyan media. Four loyalist soldiers died and twenty-two were wounded on Sunday in clashes with ISIS in the southern district of Hawari, the pro-government LANA news agency reported. The eastern city has been rocked by near-daily fighting for more than a year between pro-government forces and armed groups including fighters from Ansar al-Sharia and ISIS. [AFP, 8/31/2015]

Transparency International condemns Tunisian draft reconciliation law
Transparency International yesterday strongly condemned a draft economic reconciliation law in Tunisia, saying it would allow people who stole public funds and other dirty money to be given amnesty for past crimes. Transparency International and I Watch, a Tunisian watchdog organization, call upon the Tunisian Parliament to stop the draft law in its current form and begin an open national dialogue with state and non-state actors on reconciliation and settlement measures that ensure justice, accountability, and social peace. [Transparency International, 8/31/2015]


Satellite images confirm Palmyra’s Temple of Baal destroyed
A UN agency said a satellite image Monday shows that the main building of the ancient Temple of Baal in the Syrian city of Palmyra has been destroyed. The image was taken a day after a massive explosion was set off near the 2,000-year-old temple in the city occupied by ISIS militants. Earlier, the Head of Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus Maamoun Abdulkarim said there was conflicting information about the fate of the temple, one of the most prominent structures in a sprawling Roman-era complex, because eyewitnesses were unable to approach the site. But manager of Geneva-based UN satellite analysts UNOSAT said a satellite image taken Monday “unfortunately shows the destruction of the temple’s main building as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity.” UNOSAT based its findings after comparing the image with one taken on August 27, which showed the main building and columns still intact. Bjorgo said the images were important so the UN cultural agency UNESCO could have “objective information” about the situation in Palmyra, which UNESCO has designated a world heritage site. [AP, Guardian, AFP, Reuters, Al Jazeera, NYT, 9/1/2015]

Syrian court acquits free-speech campaigner Mazen Darwish
A Syrian court Monday acquitted a prominent free-speech campaigner who was released from jail three weeks ago after being held for three-and-a-half years awaiting trial under anti-terrorism laws, his wife said. Mazen Darwish and activists Hani Zaitani and Hussein Ghreir were arrested in February 2012 and accused of “promoting terrorist acts.” Darwish’s wife Yara Badr said, “Today, the court has added his case to a presidential pardon issued last year. They said it is included in the pardon so all charges have been canceled.” However, human rights lawyer Michel Shammas said Monday that “the court delay[ed] the verdict to announce the dropped charges for Mazen” until September 16 because Ghreir and Zaitani, who had been released in July, did not attend Monday’s hearing. [Daily Star, 9/1/2015]

Syria inaugurates park in Damascus in honor of North Korea’s founding father
The Syrian government Monday inaugurated a park in Damascus to honor North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung. The 9,000-square-meter park lies in the southwestern Damascus district of Kafr Sousa, atop the ruins of recently bulldozed homes. At the opening ceremony, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Moqdad called Kim “a historic ruler and leader, famous for his struggle to liberate and build his country… For this reason, he deserves to be honored in Syria.” Kim is described by human rights organizations as a brutal dictator. [AFP, 9/1/2015]

Turkey to offer rewards for tips on terrorists
Turkish authorities will offer up to 4 million lira (1.37 million USD) in rewards for those who help a crackdown on “terrorists,” according to a new ruling published Monday. Under the government’s plan, informants’ rewards will be based on the “value of the information in preventing terrorism crimes and catching the suspects,” said a statement in the official gazette, where all new legislation and government rulings are published. Those who report the identity or location of a “suspected terrorist” anonymously will be awarded up to 200,000 Turkish lira (68,000 USD) as long as they as they are not involved in the terrorist activity that they report; the award will increase to 4 million lira if the suspect is the leader of a terrorist organization or the crime that is exposed is severe enough to cause “unrest.” The informant does not have to be a Turkish citizen to be eligible for the award, the statement said. [AFP, 9/1/2015]

Lebanon protesters storm government offices in Beirut
Around thirty protesters from Lebanon’s “You Stink!” movement have stormed the Ministry of Environment in Beirut and started a sit-in, refusing to move until the Minister resigns. The activists said on Tuesday that they will “occupy the ministry until [Minister Mohammad] Machnouk steps down”. They lined themselves along the hallways of the ministry, sitting on the floor, chanting for the Minister to step down, and singing the national anthem. According to one protester affiliated with the “You Stink!” campaign, there are more “surprises” to be expected. [Al Jazeera, Naharnet, 9/1/2015]


Southern leaders meet in Aden while two others gunned down
Two leaders of the Southern popular committees, Rasheed Khaled Saif and Hamdi al-Shutairi, were killed on Monday in separate attacks by gunmen on motorbikes. No group claimed responsibility for the killings. Residents have complained that since the Gulf-led coalition pushed the Houthi rebels out of the city, there has been no police or security forces in the area and exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government remains based in neighboring Saudi Arabia. Other leaders of the Southern popular committees, from Dali’, al-Bayda, Shabwa, Abyan, Hadramawt, and Lahj, met in Aden. They stressed the need to develop a security plan in which all of the Southern leaders participated. Aidroos Qassim al-Zubeidi, the leader of al-Dali’s popular committees, told Aden al-Ghad that he arrived in Aden to coordinate the city’s security with resistance leaders. [Reuters, Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 9/1/2015]

Medical services in Taiz deteriorate as fighting continues
Medical services in the city of Taiz, home to 3 million Yemenis, are grinding to halt as fighting continues between Houthis and the local resistance. Reports persist that Houthis are shelling the city indiscriminately and have cut off the main roads to the city. The Yemeni government in exile’s Ministry of Human Rights calls the Houthi imposed siege “genocide.” The ministry claims that many of the hospitals in the city are no longer operating due to the conflict. The Qatari and Yemeni Red Crescent Societies are issuing similar fears for patients suffering from chronic illnesses as medical services fail. Coalition airstrikes continue to target Houthi positions near Taiz. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 9/1/2015]

Marib Governor says province will be the turning point in the “liberation of Yemen”
Governor of Marib Province Sultan al-Arada said that it is an honor for his province that it will be the “launch pad for an operation that will regain the state from [the] Houthis.” In addition to large contingents of armored vehicles that have arrived in Marib from Saudi Arabia, sources claim that fighters are amassing in the province in preparation for a campaign to take the capital in Sana’a from Houthi rebels. The rebels entered Marib on the pretense of hunting down fighters of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the al-Arada called a “big lie.” Meanwhile, witnesses report that Houthis have begun raiding the homes of activists, political rivals, and NGO workers in the capital of Sana’a. [Gulf News, The Daily Star, 9/1/2015]

Car booking apps to offer free rides to women voters in Saudi Arabia
Popular car booking apps Uber and Careem have announced that they will offer free rides to women voters for Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections. Registration for women voters have reportedly been anemic, in part because the government does not issue driver’s licenses to women and many do not have the personal drivers to compensate. Careem cofounder Abdulla Elyas told reporters, “The debate on women drivers has been a critically discussed topic for many years now and I don’t think our opinion will change or count as much. But what we can is act in a constructive manner and believe that women voting and getting elected is a first step.” [Al Arabiya, 8/31/2015]

Kuwait charges twenty-six ‘linked to Iran’ with plotting attacks
Kuwait on Tuesday charged twenty-six people suspected of links to Iran and Shia militia group Hezbollah with plotting attacks against the Gulf state, prosecutors said. The men were charged with “spying for the Islamic republic of Iran and Hezbollah to carry out aggressive acts against the State of Kuwait” by smuggling and assembling explosives, firearms, and ammunition, the public prosecutor said in a statement. The men were also charged with “carrying out acts that would undermine the unity and territorial integrity” of Kuwait, and of possessing eavesdropping devices, the statement said. Kuwait has traditionally had better ties with Iran than its fellow Gulf Arab states, but tensions have been rising. On Sunday, a senior Kuwaiti lawmaker described Iran as the “true enemy” of Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states and said it was “seeking to spread chaos” in the region. [AFP, KUNA, 9/1/2015]


ISIS releases new propaganda video announcing new currency
An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) propaganda video has announced that a new currency has been minted for use in territory controlled by the jihadist group. The group’s media wing al-Hayat released an hour long documentary style video containing images that are said to be minting and circulation of the money. The video, narrated in English, says that the new gold dinar (equivalent to $139), silver dirham, and copper fulus will deal a blow to the United States and its financial system. The propaganda video did not explain where the coins were being minted or how they would replace the money that is in circulation in territories under their control in Iraq and Syria. ISIS first announced its intention to issue its own money in November. [Haaretz/Reuters, Independent, Bloomberg, Al Bawaba, 8/31/2015]

Algeria plans to raise gas output by 13 percent by 2019
Algeria plans to increase natural gas output by 13 percent by 2019, the Energy Ministry said, to reverse a decline in energy production in recent years that has damaged its export earnings and spending policy. Investment to increase its gas output is estimated at $40 billion, the government said in the latest edition of its inhouse magazine Algeria Energy. The article gave few details on how or where it would increase output. “Natural gas production will increase by over 13 percent by 2019 to meet domestic demand and increase exports,” the energy ministry said in the article. On Saturday, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said the government will cut spending by 9 percent in 2016 due to a decline in earnings after the drop in global crude oil prices. Earnings from oil and gas exports are expected to fall 50 percent this year. [Reuters, 8/31/2015]

Sisi invites foreign investments in Egypt during Singapore visit
During his three-day visit to Singapore, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi invited Singapore to increase its foreign investment in Egypt and said his trip “opens the door for bilateral cooperation and mutual benefits for both countries.” Sisi pointed out several steps taken to accommodate foreign investors, including a new investment law and a new mechanism to resolve disputes between the government and investors. He also stated that Egypt has signed twenty-nine new deals for oil and natural gas drilling worth $2 billion. He added that foreign direct investment has increased by about $5.7 billion in the period between July 2014 and March 2015. [Ahram Online, 8/31/2015]

Saudi Arabia and Egypt to cooperate in peaceful use of nuclear energy
Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it has decided to work bilaterally with Egypt in several fields, including the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Egyptian state-owned news agency MENA reported. The Saudi Social Affairs Minister Majed bin Abdullah al-Qasabi said following a cabinet meeting that the government has mandated president of King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy Hashim Abdullah Yamani to work with Egyptian officials to draft an agreement on cooperating on nuclear energy. The cabinet also mandated several Saudi ministers to sign agreements with Egypt in other fields including culture, media, education, and agriculture. [Ahram Online, 8/31/2015]