Top News: US Congressional Leaders Authorize New Powers For the US-led Anti-ISIS Fight

US lawmakers on Thursday passed a sweeping defense bill, including a new congressional authorization for President Barack Obama’s ongoing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The new war powers measure will be limited to three years and would require the administration to report on the fight against the Islamic state every sixty days.

The legislation will provide $5 billion for the President’s train and equip program for the next two years, but limits the use of ground troops in both Iraq and Syria. According the new war powers authorization, US troops will be limited to a support role and the president required to notify congress of any plans to implement large scale ground operations.




Mansoura court accepts appeal on FGM verdict
The Mansour Misdemeanor Court has accepted the appeal submitted by prosecutors in the case in which a doctor brought to trial on charges of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was acquitted. The appeal will begin on December 15. The doctor, and the thirteen year-old victim’s father, were acquitted in November. The judge gave no reason for his verdict. [EGYNews (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/12/2014]

Brotherhood urges ‘non-violent, anti-coup cooperation’
The Muslim Brotherhood called on its official website to unite political forces and groups opposed to military rule and renounce political disputes in order to focus energy against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. “Those who sincerely love this dear homeland cannot possibly support those who have been involved in corruption, treachery, oppression, fascism and repression,” read the statement. The statement said that nobody could support the military rule after its crimes have been exposed to the whole world. The Brotherhood called on its political opponents to unite and bring an end to the corrupt regime. [Egypt Independent, 12/12/2014]

Local media give conflicting reports on fire outside British embassy
A fire broke out near the British Embassy in Cairo’s Garden City district on Friday. The blaze erupted when the engine of a Central Security Forces vehicle stationed outside the embassy exploded, according to MENA. The fire was quickly put out and caused no significant damages, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. “We value our cooperation with the Egyptian authorities that quickly controlled the situation,” the embassy’s spokesperson said. However, a different narrative was put forth by the state-owned news site Ahram Gate, which reported that the fire started when a conscript accidently set off a tear gas canister inside the vehicle. Independent daily Shorouk reported, according to a security source, an electrical short circuit caused the fire. [Mada Masr, EGYNews, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/12/2014]

Egypt, Jordan agree on need for Syrian, Palestinian peace in Sisi visit
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II agreed in a meeting in Amman on Thursday on the necessity of a political solution to the Syrian conflict and the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. A statement by Egyptian presidential spokesperson Alaa Youssef said both sides saw eye-to-eye on the necessity of reaching a political solution to Syria’s civil war that safeguards Syrian national institutions. King Abdullah discussed with Sisi an anticipated Arab resolution to be presented to the United Nations Security Council on a timeframe to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, the statement said, adding that Egypt and Jordan implored the international community to create the suitable conditions for the resumption of negotiations between the two sides. Youssef also stated that in light of international terrorism, both sides agreed on efforts needed to correct the image of Islam and show it is a peaceful religion, designating Egypt’s Al-Azhar as the leading institution for efforts to entrench moderate Islam. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 12/11/2014]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Al-Thinni cabinet appoints new National Oil Corporation board members
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s government has appointed five new National Oil Corporation (NOC) board members, but it remains unclear whether it has the ability to implement the decision since its control of the institution is ambiguous. The Tobruk administration was able to send its representatives to the OPEC summit in Vienna last month, at the expense of the Tripoli-appointed oil minister. Al-Thinni upheld the case as evidence of his government’s authority over the oil sector, though it more reflected the international community’s reluctance to recognize the rival Tripoli-based administration. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/12/2014]

Libyan carriers banned from operating in EU airspace
The European Union (EU) has banned Libya’s seven airlines from operating in European skies, citing safety concerns linked to the ongoing fighting in the North African country. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said, “Recent events in Libya have led to a situation whereby the civil aviation authority is no longer able to fulfil its international obligations with regard to the safety of the Libyan aviation sector.” Libyan services have been effectively banned from flying to Europe since 2012, but the move was considered “self-imposed,” as Libya’s civil aviation authority itself prohibited any Libyan carriers from flying to Europe. [AP, Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/12/2014]

UN warns of Sahel spillover from Libya turmoil
The chaos in Libya, where Islamic State fighters are said to be gaining a foothold, threatens to engulf Sahel countries and must be quickly brought under control, a UN envoy warned Thursday. Ethiopian diplomat Hiroute Guebre Sellassie told the Security Council cited turmoil in Libya as a key factor contributing to the worsening humanitarian and security crises south of the Sahara desert. She said terrorist and criminal networks in Libya are developing closer ties to Mali and northern Nigeria, dealing in arms sales and drug trafficking, among other illicit trade, and that children make up 60 percent of human trafficking victims. [AFP, 12/11/2014]

Former Ennahda Secretary General steps down, cites internal conflict over party’s direction
Tunisia’s former prime minister and Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jebali announced on Thursday that he was stepping down from the Islamist party, as he no longer agreed with its policies. Jebali, who had already distanced himself from Ennahda, spent many years in prison under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in the 2011 revolution that launched the Arab Spring. He became prime minister in December 2011 after the country’s first free elections were won by Ennahda, and rumors suggested he might stand for president in this year’s election that now sees incumbent Moncef Marzouki and Nidaa Tounes chief Beji Caid Essebsi facing off on December 21. [Naharnet, 11/12/2014]


US Congressional leaders authorize new powers for the US-led anti-ISIS fight
US lawmakers on Thursday passed a sweeping defense bill, including a new congressional authorization for President Barack Obama’s ongoing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The new war powers measure will be limited to three years and would require the administration to report on the fight against the Islamic state every sixty days. The legislation will provide $5 billion for the President’s train and equip program for the next two years, but limits the use of ground troops in both Iraq and Syria. According the new war powers authorization, US troops will be limited to a support role and the president required to notify congress of any plans to implement large scale ground operations. [AP, 12/12/2014]

Lebanese lawmakers call for negotiations after failure to fill presidential vacancy
Senior Lebanese politicians issued alarming calls for renewed negotiations after parliament failed, for the 16th time to elect a new head of state this week. The Lebanese parliamentary speaker postponed the new session until January 7 following a lack of quorum over the vote, with several political parties opting to boycott the vote. The two most prominent political parties, Hezbollah-backed March 8 Alliance and the Future Movement are currently locked in a heated conflict over presidential nominations, with both parties unwilling to support a single consensus candidate. The ensuing stalemate has resulted in multiple failed attempts to fill the presidential post since Former president Michel Suleiman’s term in office ended on May 25. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/12/2014]

Human rights group condemns rebel use of improvised explosive devices
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Friday that at least 311 civilians have been killed by improvised mortar bombs used by Syria’s rebel forces. The human rights group noted that two-thirds of the casualties were killed in the northern city of Aleppo where the beleaguered opposition has been battling Islamist militant groups and government forces on dual fronts. The human rights organization condemned rebel use of these improvised weapons systems noting that they were highly inaccurate and indiscriminately killed innocent civilians. [Reuters, 12/12/2014]

US official meets with top Lebanese defense officials amid rising security fears
A Senior US Department of Defense official met with high-ranking Lebanese security officials to discuss the needs of the Lebanese army and its ongoing operations to confront militant groups that have spilled into the country since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The meeting also highlighted the immense strain placed on Lebanese institutions by the growing number of Syrian refugees, and the security threats that have since emerged along the Lebanese border. The US and Lebanon have a long-standing security partnership through ongoing training and assistance programs, with more than $1 billion dollars invested in bolstering Lebanese security services since 2005. [Naharnet, 12/12/2014]

Iraqi security forces on high alert as 17 million Shia pilgrims honor religious holiday in Karbala
A deadly mortar attack Friday near the Iraqi city of Karbala stoked security concerns as millions of Shiite pilgrims gathered for one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said Thursday that the number of pilgrims in the city of Karbala for the annual Arbaeen commemoration had reached a record 17.5 million this year. The minister said that security forces were adjusting existing plans to meet the rising threats of ISIS-led attacks on the pilgrims, noting that major roadways had been locked down to restrict access into the city. Three people were however killed and four others injured earlier this week when a militants detonated a bomb in Northwest Baghdad in the first ISIS-related attack on the religious event. [Naharnet, 12/12/2014]

Germany and China to assist Iraqi forces in anti-ISIS fight
Germany said Thursday it planned to send around 100 soldiers to northern Iraq to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters battling the Islamic State militant group.The German parliament is expected to pass a bill authorizing the training mission by the end of the year after cabinet ministers approved the measure on Thursday. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari also announced that Chinese authorities had offered to assist the Iraqi government in air strikes against Islamic State targets despite being outside the US-led coalition. A statement from the Chinese defense ministry failed to confirm Chinese support in the form of airstrikes, though a spokesman from the defense ministry said that the Chinese government has provided intelligence and training assistance to Iraqi forces. [Naharnet, 12/12/2014.


Al-Qaeda attacks US-Yemen air force base in Lahj
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen says it targeted a US-Yemeni air base with rockets in retaliation for a US raid on the group’s hideout to free an American hostage. Witnesses say a powerful explosion rocked the Al-Annad base early Thursday in the southern province of Lahj. The al-Qaeda affiliate claimed on its official Twitter account that its militants fired six grad missiles at the base and alleged that it was able to hit the “American section,” though this has not been verified and casualty numbers have not been reported. Al-Annad has been a center where US and European soldiers have assisted the Yemenis with calling in drone strikes against al-Qaeda. [Al Arabiya, 12/11/2014]

Army foils the kidnapping of a gas tanker in Marib
Military forces managed to foil the kidnapping of an oil tanker by smugglers in Yemen’s northern Marib province on Friday. The security forces reportedly received an anonymous tip alerting them to the plot to capture the oil tanker as it traveled on the road to the SAFER oil facility, Yemen’s largest producer of natural gas and second largest producer of oil. The military forces arrived on the scene and drove the smugglers off before escorting the vehicle to safety. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/12/2014] 

Houthis clash with tribesmen in Arhab on the outskirts of Sana’a
Violent clashes between the Houthis and tribal militias broke out in the directorate of Arhab on the northern outskirts of Sana’a on Friday. The clashes are reportedly ongoing, and the tribesmen allegedly burned alive Houthi units in the area. Official casualty numbers are not yet known. Sources said that clashes developed over the past few days as armed Houthi forces moved into the area and began to erect checkpoints, causing resentment among local tribesmen. The sources also reported that a local tribal leader in Arhab, Sheikh Muhammad Nufal, survived an assassination attempt against him and several family members on Thursday. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/12/2014]

Saudi Arabia arrests suspects in attacks on Germans, Danes
Saudi authorities arrested the suspect involved in the shooting of two German diplomats earlier this year, the Saudi Press Agency reported. In January, the diplomats survived a shooting attack on their car while on a visit to eastern Saudi Arabia. An interior ministry spokesman said Friday that security forces apprehended the suspect, who is one of several suspects involved in a number of shootings and armed robberies in Awamiya. This comes a day after the Saudis arrested three supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) for shooting a Danish national as he drove home from his job in the kingdom’s capital last month. [Al Arabiya, 12/12/2014]

GCC to study adopting Saudi, UAE terror lists
Gulf states are considering adopting the terror lists issued by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait’s Interior Minister Sheikh Mohamed al-Khalid al-Sabah said on Wednesday. Kuwait’s interior minister said that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are coordinating with one another to investigate the Saudi and Emirati terror lists with a view to adopting them, confirming that the adoption of a joint terror list was discussed at the recent Doha summit. The UAE released its list in November, formally designating eighty groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Yemen’s Houthis, as “terrorist groups.” Riyadh issued its own formal terror list in March, also designating the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and the Houthis as terrorist groups. The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the Nusra Front have also been formally designated as terrorist groups by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/11/2014]


OPEC powerless to halt oil slump without help, warns former president
OPEC is “powerless” to prevent oil prices falling further because of oversupply in the market and must seek a global deal to arrest the decline, according to Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, a former president of OPEC and a senior adviser to the Emir of Qatar. Oil prices dropped below $60 per barrel today, a five-year record. “OPEC can’t solve this problem alone like before. Now it’s a different story. Russia, Norway and Mexico all must sit down with OPEC to discuss making cuts,” he said. [The Telegraph, 12/12/2014]

Tunisia’s parliament passes 2015 budget; advances critical finance bill
Tunisia’s House of the People’s Representatives (HPR) on Wednesday passed twenty eight titles of the 2015 State budget with a substantial majority despite twenty ‘No’ votes and twenty-six abstentions. The HPR budget is estimated at 21.7 million Tunisian dollars, which is a three percent increase from the National Constituent Assembly’s budget passed in 2014. At least fifteen percent of the new budget will be directed to the defense and interior ministries while the education ministry notably received a thirteen percent allotment in the overall budget. Tunisian lawmakers also passed a highly contested finance bill on Friday despite earlier divisions amongst members that threatened to derail the bill. [All Africa, 12/12/2015]

Yemen, Russia discuss improving economic relations
Prime Minister Khaled Bahah met on Thursday with the Russian deputy Minister of Communications and Mass Media and discussed with him improving the economic relations between the two countries. The meeting comes within the framework of the meetings of the Joint Yemeni-Russian Committee, currently held in Sana’a. During the meeting, they discussed bilateral cooperation with a focus on improving the economic and investment ties, mainly in the electricity, ports, and fishery sectors. [SABA, 12/12/2014]

Libya burns through foreign reserves to plug payments deficit
Libya has run up an “unprecedented” $22 billion balance-of-payments deficit this year as conflict and falling oil prices suck up its foreign reserves, said the governor of the central bank, which is itself under dispute. Saddek Omar al-Kaber cautioned that Libya would face “an even worse [financial] crisis in 2015,” in rare comments to a journalist by email. Mr. al-Kaber has continued to disburse all state salaries and subsidies, while blocking other spending by both governments. “If things continue as they are, with the decline in revenues and the increase in budgetary expenditure, especially in the light of sliding crude prices, the situation will be very difficult,” Mr. al-Kaber said. “It will impact state reserves in the sovereign fund and in central bank foreign currency holdings, which have been extensively affected this year and are expected to decline further next year.” [FT, 12/11/2014]

Jordan rejects bill stipulating importing gas from Israel
The Jordanian House of Representatives voted against a draft agreement that would have stipulated importing gas from Israel. It asked the government not to sign the agreement and stressed on the need to look for alternatives to secure the country’s gas needs. During the hearing, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the government is looking for alternatives, especially in Arab countries, expressing his government’s willingness to purchase gas from Arab countries such as Qatar, even if prices are somewhat higher than Israeli prices. [Middle East Monitor, Your Middle East, 12/11/2014]