Top News: US Embassy Closes, Houthis Seize Vehicles

Houthi rebels took all US embassy vehicles parked at the Yemeni capital’s airport and would not allow departing US Marines to take their weapons with them.

The actions come after the United States, Britain, UAE, India, and France suspended operations at their respective embassies and moved out staffers due to instability in the country. Earlier yesterday, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi warned his enemies not to stand in the way of the rebel movement. Al-Houthi did not specify the planned US embassy closure as he said that anyone seeking to thwart his movement’s ambitions would suffer unspecified retaliation in response. [Reuters, WSJ, AP, NYT, Al Arabiya, 2/10/2015]



Two more Islamist parties boycott elections
The Islamist Building and Development Party (the political wing of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya) and the Salafi Wasat Party have announced they will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections. Wafd party leader Sayyid al-Badawi also threatened to withdraw from elections due to the interference of “a high-profile state apparatus.” A Wafd Party spokesman, however, said the party will not boycott elections, but that it opposes state intervention. Concerns have been raised over the considerable number of well-known former regime members contesting parliamentary seats. Former members of the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP), namely steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, his wife Shahinaz al-Naggar, and former MPs Hany Serour and Haider al-Baghdady, have presented themselves as candidates. Additionally, the National Council for Women has objected the absence of female candidates in electoral alliances. [DNE, 2/11/2015]

Court to retry thirty-six over post-Raba’a dispersal violence in Minya
Egypt’s Court of Cassation ordered a retrial for thirty-six defendants convicted for complicity in the violence in Minya, which followed the deadly dispersal of two pro-Mohamed Morsi camps in August 2013. The Minya criminal court had ratified in June 2014 the death sentences of 183 defendants accused of attacking a police station and killing two policemen in Minya. Among those sentenced in June was Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme guide. Badie is not among the defendants who will be retried, since he was sentenced in absentia. [Aswat Masriya, 2/11/2015]

Prosecution says Shaimaa al-Sabbagh killer in custody
The Qasr al-Nil prosecution announced Tuesday that the killer of leftist activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh is in custody, but his identity would be revealed by Prosecutor General’s office within days. Samir Hassan, the head of the Qasr al-Nil prosecution said that the perpetrator was identified after inspecting video footage of the protest in which Sabbagh was killed, adding that security forces were notified. [DNE, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/11/2015]

Russia to build nuclear power plant to generate electricity in Egypt
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have signed an agreement for Russia to construct a nuclear power plant to generate electricity in Egypt. The power plant is one of several potential industrial and trade deals discussed during the Putin’s visit to Egypt. Hours after the announcement of the project, during a press briefing, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States would not oppose a nuclear deal for peaceful purposes between Russia and Egypt. Sisi and Putin also agreed that “terrorism does not stop at borders.” In a joint press conference between the two heads of state on Tuesday, Sisi said the two sides agreed to “continue reinforcing military cooperation, especially given the current circumstances.” After a two-day visit, Putin left Cairo on Tuesday morning. [Ahram Online, AFP, AP, Mada Masr, DNE, Reuters, 2/11/2015]

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Libya reopens strike-hit oil port as UN convenes talks
The Hariga oil port has reopened, ending a strike by guards that had threatened to further slash exports. The oil tanker to which the guards refused entry has now been granted permission to enter. Libya struggles to keep electricity flowing due to a shortage of power and gas. Delegates from Libya’s rival governments are meeting in Ghadames to resume the UN-brokered negotiations to end hostilities that have shut down fuel production. UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon said that the most influential political and military groups now supported the political process. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 2/11/2015]

GNC fires back at EU talks
The General National Congress (GNC) has told the European Union (EU) parliament that the only way out of the current political crisis is through peaceful means and serious, constructive political dialogue, which can only be achieved if certain conditions are met. These remarks come after the EU stated that it was ready to impose sanctions against groups or individuals that seek to disrupt dialogue and democracy. An open letter from the GNC stated that in order to make the talks successful, the November 2014 Supreme Court decision invalidating the House of Representatives must be upheld. [Libya Herald, 2/10/2015]

Media and journalists under attack in Libya
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report indicating that there is a war on the media with journalists coming under attack in Libya. The report says that after the initial revolution to topple Muammar Qaddafi, the media in Libya flourished. Since then, journalists have been attacked forced to flee, their offices ransacked. A similar UN human rights report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The report says that the human rights outlook is bleak in a country plagued by lawlessness, summary executions, targeted assassinations, and indiscriminate killing. [Libya Herald, 2/10/2015]


Syrian government backed by Hezbollah launches offensive in south
Syria’s army backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters gained ground from rebels in the south Tuesday in a large-scale offensive against mainstream rebels and fighters from the Nusra Front. “The operation started two days ago and is very big,” said Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Abdel-Rahman said the offensive aims to take a triangle of rebel-held territory from rural areas southwest of Damascus to Deraa city to Quneitra in the Golan Heights. Syrian state television said the Syrian army had captured the town of Deir al-Adas, adding that the town of Denaji between Damascus and the southern boundary town of Quneitra was also taken after “a number of terrorists were eliminated.” [Reuters, Al-Akhbar English, AP, The Daily Star, 2/11/2015]

Obama seeks war powers from Congress to fight ISIS
President Barack Obama is asking Congress to authorize war against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and says the group could threaten the US homeland if left unchecked. The president is sending Congress a proposed three-page resolution on Wednesday to authorize military force, use of special forces, and advisors for defensive purposes. The draft resolution would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The proposal would not set geographic limits for the campaign against the group. [Reuters, AP, 2/11/2015]

UN envoy to report to Security Council on Syria mission
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said Wednesday that he would discuss his peace efforts with the Security Council when the body holds a special meeting on Syria on February 17. “My focus has been and is the importance of reducing the violence and conflict for the Syrian people, and the increase and unimpeded access of humanitarian assistance to all Syrians,” Mistura said, adding that his mission is to try to facilitate a political process that can lead to a political solution for the conflict. [AFP, 2/11/2015]

Foreign fighters still flowing to Syria, US intelligence says
The US bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria has failed to slow the pace of foreign fighters flocking to join ISIS and other extremist groups, including at least 3,400 from Western nations among 20,000 from around the world, according to the National Counterterrorism Center. The estimate of the total number of foreign fighters flocking to Syria was up from a previous estimate in January of roughly 19,000. The chief of the National Counterterrorism Center said the rate of foreign fighter travel to Syria and Iraq is without precedent, far exceeding the rate of foreigners who went to wage jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia at any other point in the past twenty years. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 2/11/2015]


US embassy closes, Houthis seize vehicles
Houthi rebels took all US embassy vehicles parked at the Yemeni capital’s airport and would not allow departing US Marines to take their weapons with them. The actions come after the United States, Britain, UAE, India, and France suspended operations at their respective embassies and moved out staffers due to instability in the country. Earlier yesterday, Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi warned his enemies not to stand in the way of the rebel movement. Al-Houthi did not specify the planned US embassy closure as he said that anyone seeking to thwart his movement’s ambitions would suffer unspecified retaliation in response. [Reuters, WSJ, AP, NYT, Al Arabiya, 2/10/2015]

Parts of Sana’a closed in anticipation of February 11 protests
Groups across Yemen have called for demonstrations on the four-year anniversary of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s resignation. In order to control the protests, Houthi rebels have closed key parts of the city and stationed security forces in the streets. Protests continue in Taiz, where thousands gathered to voice their opposition to Houthi rule yesterday. Further south, tribal areas are preparing for confrontation from Houthi forces. [Aden al-Ghad, Reuters, 2/11/2015]

Al-Beida seized by Houthi forces
Residents were surprised Tuesday morning when a military campaign, accompanied by tanks, heavy artillery, and military vehicles deployed across the streets, fortifying military and security posts overlooking the northern entrance of the city of al-Beida. Tribal militants from the city launched a series of attacks on Houthi checkpoints causing dozens of casualties. Wednesday morning, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city to demonstrate against Houthi rule. [Asharq al-Awsat, Aden al-Ghad, 2/11/2015]

Al-Qaeda group in Yemen pledges allegiance to ISIS
A group of Islamist fighters in Yemen renounced their loyalty to al-Qaeda’s leader and pledged allegiance to the head of the Islamic State, according to a Twitter message retrieved by US-based monitoring group SITE. The monitoring group could not immediately verify the statement distributed on Twitter. In the tweet the group said, “We announce breaking the pledge of allegiance to the sheikh, the holy warrior and scholar Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri … We pledge to the caliph of the believers Ibrahim bin Awad al-Baghdadi to listen and obey.” [Reuters, 2/11/2015]

Prince Charles raises flogging case with Saudi king
The Prince of Wales offered new hope to the liberal writer ordered to be given 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia by intervening in his case with the royal family in Riyadh. The Prince touched down in Riyadh on Tuesday for one of the most politically sensitive visits of his time as heir to the throne. Prince Charles rarely discusses his private conversations with other members of the royal family. However, he is visiting at the request of the UK government because of his close ties to the Saudi royal family, accompanied by senior Foreign Office officials. [Gulf News, 2/11/2015]


IMF says Egypt’s currency devaluation “step in right direction”
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Egypt’s devaluation of the pound will help promote investment and growth and is a “step in the right direction.” The IMF added that economic growth for Egypt was projected to reach 3.8 percent in the fiscal year that ends in June 2015 and 5 percent in the medium term, compared with an average of around 2 percent over the past four years. Net international reserves have also fallen to 2.5 months of imports in December, from 6.8 months in mid-2010. [Bloomberg, 2/11/2015]

Iraqi president approves the budget law for 2015
Iraqi President of the Republic Fuad Masum approved the financial federal budget law for the current year. Parliament passed the budget last month, consisting of 119.5 trillion dinars with a deficit of up 25.4 trillion dinars. The drafting of the budget had stalled due to disagreements on oil prices and a contested oil export deal with the Kurdish region. [Zawya, 2/11/2015]

Libya struggles to keep electricity on
Libya’s electricity grid is struggling to keep going as a shortage of power and gas for generation and the country’s break up under two governments hit supply. Residents in the two main cities Tripoli and Benghazi say they have been coping for days with outages lasting ten hours or longer. Mobile phone coverage in parts eastern Libya broke down this week due to a lack of electricity. [Reuters, 2/11/2015]

Tunisia to abolish exit tax following unrest
The Tunisian president says his government is working on removing the departure tax, which has been applied to Libyans in recent months, following protests from local groups in Tunisia hit by the fall in trade between the two countries. In October 2014, Tunisia introduced a departure tax of TND30 ($17) at border crossings with Libya, the main one being at Ras Jedir. In response, Libyan groups in control of the border crossing imposed a similar tax on Tunisians entering Libya, all of which had a negative effect on trade. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 2/11/2015]