Top News: Yemeni Opposition’s United Front Against Houthis

Opponents of Yemen’s Houthi militia announced the formation of a national alliance on Saturday to restore the authority of the state, in a major shakeup of Yemen’s political landscape. The coalition, called the National Salvation Alliance, formally unites players from across Yemen’s regional and ideological divides. It may strengthen their hand in ongoing United Nations-backed talks for a unity government. The seven-party coalition include activists, Islamists, and members of Yemen’s former ruling party, who back President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi from his base in the country’s South. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis or from UN mediator Jamal Benomar. [Reuters, 3/14/2015]



Kerry expects release of US military aid to Egypt ‘very soon’
US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference Saturday that he expects a decision on the release of US military aid to Egypt “very soon.” Meanwhile, a US Congress delegation met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday evening, to discuss bilateral relations between Egypt and the US, efforts to combat terrorism, and regional issues. The delegation noted its support for Egypt, adding that it will provide all assistance, including militarily, to support Egypt’s fight against terrorism, both in Sinai and along the western border. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, 3/15/2015]

Egypt set to start work on new capital city in as little as fifty days
Egypt’s government announced Friday plans to build a new capital adjacent to Cairo, in a massive new project that in its first phase would cost $45 billion and take up to seven years to complete. Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced the plan at the opening of the three-day international economic conference. The aim, he said, is to alleviate congestion and overpopulation in Cairo over the next forty years. The new capital would include 490 kilometer square of land available for urban development, to provide 1.1 million housing units and house 5 million citizens Madbouly said. The capital would also include 10,000 roads and a new airport. Egypt has agreed to start work on the new capital city within the next fifty days with Capital City Partners, the private real estate investment fund in charge of developing the project, Minister of Investment Ashraf Salman said. [AP, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 3/16/2015]

Prime Minister says parliamentary elections to be held in May or June
Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab has said that elections for the House of Representatives will be held in May or June, two weeks after the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that some clauses in the laws regulating the process were unconstitutional. Mahlab made the remarks in an exclusive interview with BBC on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Elections Observatory, a local-international joint mission to observe parliamentary elections, has stressed the necessity of involving politicians and NGO representatives in the government committee created to amend the law on electoral constituencies, as well as taking into account the political parties’ response to the amendments. [Egypt Independent, 3/16/2015]

Court ruling compels government to unfreeze NGO funds
The State Council’s administrative court issued a ruling Sunday compelling the government to unfreeze the funds and assets of the NGO al-Jamia al-Shariya. The ruling revokes the decision to freeze the assets and funds of 138 local branches of the NGO by the Justice Ministry’s committee entitled to review Muslim Brotherhood assets and funds. In December 2013, the committee announced freezing al-Jamia al-Shariya’s funds, claiming its affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood. The NGO has contested the decision and earned a ruling from the administrative court to revoke the ban. However, the government did not implement the court’s ruling, instead appealing before the Court of Urgent Matters, which ruled against the administrative court’s decision. The administrative court stated Sunday that its ruling is binding to the cabinet and that the urgent matters court is not entitled to decide on this case. [DNE, 3/16/2015]

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ISIS claims Tripoli attack, car bomb in Misrata
Militants loyal to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed a bomb attack on a police checkpoint in Tripoli. There was also a car bomb explosion in Misrata targeting a force tasked with fighting Islamic State militants; however, no force has claimed responsibility for this attack. Tripoli and Misrata are both nominally under the control of the General National Congress and its ally Operation Libya Dawn. Islamic State has claimed an increasing amount of attacks or bombings in Tripoli in recent weeks. [Reuters, 3/15/2015]

EU proposal to send soldiers to Libya met with skepticism
European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini wants the EU to consider sending soldiers to Libya to back up a potential national unity government, but EU governments worried about the risks are skeptical. Mogherini suggested the European Union send a team to Libya to monitor a ceasefire or to protect airports and other infrastructure if the talks led by UN envoy Bernardino Leon succeed. European diplomats are hesitant to commit to a plan that would send EU citizens into such a violent situation, especially with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) activity growing, and prefer to see a unity government formed before a decision must be made. [Reuters, 3/15/2015]

UN postpones Libyan talks to give parties time to prepare
UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon has postponed the next round of peace talks between the rival Tobruk-based and Tripoli-based governments. Leon said that the talks were delayed in order to give time for each side to prepare for the final stages of the dialogue. The goal of the UN-led negotiations is to achieve a unity government, a lasting ceasefire, and to put Libya’s democratic transition back on track. Western leaders see the UN talks as the only solution to the crisis in Libya, yet the two major factions have made little progress on actually establishing the desired unity government. [Reuters, 3/13/2015]

ISIS fighters and force allied with Tripoli clash in central Libya
Clashes erupted on Saturday between Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and Misratan forces of Operation Libya Dawn loyal to the Tripoli-based faction, in what is the first publicly known major confrontation between the two groups since elements loyal to Islamic State established a presence in Libya. The fighting took place in the central party of the country, about forty miles east of Sirte where Islamic State have taken over government buildings, a university, and a radio station. A military official of the Tripoli faction said two of its soldiers were killed and seven wounded, claiming that at least seventeen Islamic State fighters were killed and thirteen of their vehicles seized. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/15/2015]

Tunisian justice minister says anti-terrorism law to take international conventions into account
Tunisia’s draft law on fighting terrorism and money laundering, set to be referred to the cabinet in coming days, will take international conventions into consideration, particularly UN Security Council resolutions, before submission to the legislature. Justice Minister Mohamed Salah Ben Aissa said the bill aims to remedy shortcomings of the anti-terror law of 2003. The draft law contains a more precise definition of terrorism-related crime and clarifies means of investigation and different counter-terrorism techniques. [TAP/All Africa, 3/14/2015]


Kerry willing to talk with President Assad; Assad says awaiting action
The United States will have to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the civil war now entering its fifth year, Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday. “We have to negotiate in the end. We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process.” Stressing that that Washington was working hard to “re-ignite” efforts to find a political solution to end the war. Shortly after the interview was brought, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Twitter that “[US] policy remains same and is clear: there’s no future for Assad in Syria and we say so all the time.” Assad said Monday that he was waiting for US “action,” adding that any “talk about the future of the Syrian president is for Syrian people alone.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed Kerry for suggesting negotiations with the Syrian regime and said that Assad is the root cause of the Syrian conflict. Kerry’s comments comes after CIA Director John Brennan said Friday that the United States does not want to see a chaotic collapse of the Syrian regime as it could open the way to Islamist extremists taking power. [AP, Al-Arabiya, NY Times, The Daily Star, AFP, 3/16/2015]

More than 215,000 dead in four years of Syria war
More than 215,000 people have been killed in Syria in four years of conflict, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday as the civil war entered its fifth year. The civilian death toll includes 10,808 children, and nearly 7,000 women, according to the Observatory. On the government side, 46,138 soldiers have been killed, along with more than 30,000 Syrian pro-regime militiamen in addition to 3,401 Shia fighters from abroad have been killed in battle alongside regime forces, among them hundreds from Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. On the rebel side, nearly 27,000 jihadists from ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front have reportedly been killed. More than 39,000 other rebel fighters had been killed. Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the figures were almost certainly not complete and “is certainly higher than the more than 215,000 we have recorded because of the large number of missing people whose fate is unknown.” [AFP, 3/15/2015]

Influential Assad relative assassinated in Latakia
An influential relative of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been assassinated in a dispute over control of a key government stronghold, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Mohamed Tawfiq al-Assad was shot dead on Friday in Latakia province in the village of Qardaha, the heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite community and Qalbiyyah tribe. Believed to be in his late forties, Mohamed Assad gained infamy in the 1980s as one of the founders of the government-linked mafia known as the shabiha. Known as Sheikh al-Jabal (Lord of the Mountain), Mohamed Assad amassed wealth between 1989 and 1994 from his role in the shabiha, before going into business in the Qardaha area. [AFP, Asharq al-Awsat, 3/15/2015]

London teenagers stopped from entering Syria after parents raised alarm
Three British teenagers who were stopped in Turkey on suspicion of planning to join Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) terrorists in Syria have been bailed as further details emerged about how police were alerted by their families of the suspects. The three – two 17-year-old boys and a 19-year-old man – were arrested on their return to London on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts. The teenagers were stopped from reaching Syria in part because of a swift warning from the parents of the two 17-year-olds. They immediately raised the alarm after the boys went missing after Friday prayers. It also emerged that the three suspects travelled to Turkey via a flight from Luton airport to Barcelona in an apparent attempt to evade detection. They were arrested at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen airport, after arriving on a flight from Barcelona. [The Guardian, 3/16/2015]

Iraqi offensive on Tikrit appears stalled; Army says coalition strikes on Tikrit needed
The offensive to retake Tikrit appeared to stall Friday, two days after Iraqi security forces and Shia militia pushed into Saddam Hussein’s home city in their biggest offensive yet against ISIS. Using guerrilla warfare tactics, ISIS militants have turned the city into a labyrinth of homemade bombs and booby-trapped buildings, using snipers to halt the attack’s progress. Minister of Transport and head of Shia Badr Organization Hadi al-Amiri said the outcome of the battle for Tikrit was not in doubt, but Iraqi forces needed time. Amiri also accused the United States of falling short on promises to help Iraq and called Iranian assistance to Iraqi security forces “unconditional.” Iraq’s most influential Shia religious cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged Friday that the government step up support for the Shia militias battling ISIS alongside the Iraqi military. On Sunday, dozens of fighters with the militia loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr left Baghdad to take part in the offensive to capture Tikrit.[The National, The Daily Star, AFP, 3/15/2015]


Yemeni opposition announces united front against Houthis
Opponents of Yemen’s Houthi militia announced the formation of a national alliance on Saturday to restore the authority of the state, in a major shakeup of Yemen’s political landscape. The coalition, called the National Salvation Alliance, formally unites players from across Yemen’s regional and ideological divides. It may strengthen their hand in ongoing United Nations-backed talks for a unity government. The seven-party coalition include activists, Islamists, and members of Yemen’s former ruling party, who back President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi from his base in the country’s South. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis or from UN mediator Jamal Benomar. [Reuters, 3/14/2015]

Arrangements underway to hold a dialogue in Riyadh, says Hadi’s spokesman
Director of the Office of the Yemeni president said that logistical arrangements are underway to hold a Riyadh conference of political forces of Yemen to end the crisis in the country. Dr. Mohammed Ali Marim, in his first statement after his appointment, said he expected the completion of these arrangements over the next few days. Marim pointed out that he had spoken with actors across the political spectrum, including the Houthis in Yemen, and expected that all would attend the political negotiations. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 3/16/2015]

Hundreds of Houthis arrested trying to infiltrate Aden by sea
Security and intelligence sources in the southern province of Aden, Yemen, confirmed the arrest of hundreds of Houthi fighters currently held by security forces and are being interrogated. The Houthis were arrested after they tried to sneak into Aden by sea. Resident sources, who preferred not to be named, said that army, security forces, and fighters of the People’s Committees caught the Houthi fighters over the past two days as they tried to infiltrate the special security forces headquarters in Aden where President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is based. [Marib Press (Arabic), 3/16/2015]

US embassy warns oil workers of Saudi Arabia kidnap threat
The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia has issued a warning about a potential militant plot to kidnap Western oil workers. The warning, issued late Friday, said officials received information about a threat to kidnap the workers, including Americans, from oil fields in the kingdom’s Eastern province. The embassy said it had “no further information on the timing, target, location or method of any planned attacks.” The Saudi government and its official Saudi Press Agency made no immediate mention of the warning. [AP, Reuters, 3/14/2015]


Over $70 billion pledged at economic conference says Prime Minister
Contributions worth $72.5 billion were pledged over the course of Egypt’s Economic Development Conference, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said in his closing speech on Sunday. The contributions were divided between investments, aid, and loans, $33 billion of which had been signed and were ready to be implemented. Several agreements were signed in oil, gas and mining sectors were signed, valued at a total of $23.5 billion, including BP signing an agreement Saturday worth $12 billion. British energy company BG agreed to invest $4 billion in Egypt over the next two years, while the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation signed a $3 billion deal with Egypt. MOUs worth around $22 billion were signed by Egypt’s Electricity Minister, with German industrial giant Siemens agreeing to invest $10.5 billion in Egypt, with projects to build power plants that will boost the country’s electricity generation capacity by up to a third. Egypt’s Housing Minister signed four MOUs worth a total of $13.5 billion. Egypt’s central bank governor said on Monday that the deposits pledged in assistance to Egypt by Gulf countries are set to be delivered within days. The Egyptian government also launched on Saturday its sustainable development strategy on the sidelines of the conference. In his closing speech at the Economic Development Conference, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Egypt needs no less than $200-300 billion “in order to be built” and “so that there is real hope” for the Egyptian people. Sisi also announced that Egypt will hold a similar economic conference annually and invited all attendees to visit again next year. [Aswat Masriya, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, AFP, Ahram Online, 3/16/2015]

Oil companies offer to cut 2015 spending in Iraq
Oil companies have proposed millions in cuts to development spending in Iraq after Baghdad told them low oil prices and its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) had made payments difficult. A letter sent to oil firms last month asked them to propose amendments to their contracts “based on the linkage between oil prices and cost recovery and due remuneration as a sliding scale,” so that both sides “take the risk and enjoy the reward.” The oil ministry also called on firms to revise their oil field development plans by postponing new projects and delaying already committed projects as long as no additional costs were incurred. They should cut development budgets “by a certain percentage” and request subcontractors to reduce costs in order to match “the new oil prices world,” the ministry said. [Reuters, 3/15/2015]

UAE’s public spending up 3 percent despite oil price slide
Driven by an 8 percent jump in Dubai government spending, the consolidated public spending in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is projected to rise by 3 percent in 2015. According to the Institute of International Finance, the UAE looks resilient to the drop in oil prices, but continued growth in spending (albeit at a slower pace than in recent years) and flat oil production would raise the fiscal breakeven price of oil to 78 per barrel. As a result, the consolidated fiscal balance will shift from a surplus of 6.7 percent of the gross domestic product in 2014 to a deficit of 4.3 percent 2015. [MENAFN, 3/16/2015]