Top Story: Thousands in Tunis mark revolt anniversary

Thousands gathered in the Tunisian capital Thursday to mark the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the uprising that inspired the Arab Spring. Tunisians thronged Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in central Tunis and the epicenter of the country’s revolution five years ago. For many, the anniversary raised mixed feelings: pride at the revolution tempered by concerns over continued economic problems and a rise in militant violence. “We are proud of the Tunisian exception, which dazzled the world. Tunisia broke once and for all with authoritarianism and tyranny,” Prime Minister Habib Essid said in a statement to mark the anniversary. [AFP, TAP, 1/14/2016]



Cabinet approves draft bill criminalizing possession of ‘terrorist symbols’
The Egyptian cabinet approved on Wednesday a draft bill that punishes the possession and distribution of so-called “terrorist” symbols. The draft bill, which adds a new article to the existing criminal code, was proposed to the cabinet by the presidency. Violators could face hefty fines and jail time. A decision specifying which signs or drawings would be considered symbols of terrorist entities will be issued later. The draft bill also imposes the same penalties on those who knowingly or unknowingly abet violators, whether the prohibited materials were prepared for distribution or put on display. The law also criminalizes those who possess any means/equipment of print, recording, and broadcasting used to disseminate any material deemed “terrorist” by the authorities. Quoting Brigadier General Mohamed Nour al-Din, from the interior ministry, the privately-owned Sada al-Balad news portal reported that “this is a positive step” even though “it was issued late.” He added that this law would be specifically outlaw the use of symbols used by the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal April 6 Youth Movement. [Ahram Online, AMAY, Mada Masr, 1/14/2016]

Protest law not among laws reviewed by parliamentary committees
The Secretary of the Legislative Committee in the Egypt’s new parliament said on Thursday that all laws issued by then interim-President Adly Mansour, including the Protest Law, will not be subject to committee review. Only laws issued after the constitution was passed in 2014 will be presented and reviewed. Constitutional expert Shawky al-Sayed explains that Mansour’s 2013 Constitutional Declaration delegated legislative power to the president of the country in coordination with the prime minister. “There was no mention of the parliament in it, unlike in the constitution where it was clearly mentioned,” Sayed said. The approximately 50 laws that will not be reviewed include the amendment to the criminal procedural code, the decree granting ministers the power to contract projects without putting them out to tender in certain cases, and another facilitating reconciliation between those embroiled in tax disputes and the Taxation Authority. The Economic Committee reportedly approved all laws passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi relating to the economy. The Legislative Committee reportedly approved the Anti-Terror Law, while some MPs in the committee objected to the Illicit Gains Law. The Manpower Committee is also said to have rejected the Civil Service Law. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 1/14/2016]

Egypt extends participation in Yemen conflict for up to one year
Egypt’s National Defense Council on Thursday extended the military’s participation in a Saudi-led operation in Yemen for up to one year, the presidency said in a statement. “The national defense council agreed to extend the participation of the required elements from the Egyptian armed forces in a combat operation outside the nation’s border to defend Egyptian and Arab national security,” the statement said. “This is for an extra year or until the end of the combat operations, whichever comes first.” [Reuters, 1/14/2016]

UK and Egypt military talks focus on partnership, terrorism, and regional issues
The UK and Egypt held the tenth round of military-to-military staff talks in Cairo on January 12-13, a UK embassy statement said. The talks focused on deepening military cooperation and tackling challenges to stability across the Middle East and North Africa. Rear Admiral Simon Ancona, Assistant Chief of Defense Staff led the visiting British delegation. Admiral Ancona said, “Egypt is a key strategic partner in a region of vital importance to the UK. These talks are crucial in helping us strengthen and deepen our partnership, so that we are equipped to confront and defeat those who want to spread extremism and violence in this region.” British Ambassador John Casson said that the UK stands with Egypt in the fight against extremism and terrorism–whether in Syria and Iraq or North Sinai. “And now that we have a political agreement in Libya, I look forward to the UK and Egypt working together in support of a new Libyan government that can lead the fight in defeating Daesh [ISIS] and restoring stability to the country.” [Cairo Post, 1/14/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


New batch of resignations hits Tunisia’s ruling party
At least ten senior leaders quit Tunisia’s ruling party on Wednesday as a wave of resignations in a dispute over the role of the president’s son in the party continues to sap Nidaa Tounes’ strength. Defections among lawmakers over the past week have cost Nidaa Tounes its parliamentary leadership, causing it to fall behind its coalition partner, the Islamist Ennahda. The ten departing leaders, including the Health Minister and newly appointed Minister for Social Affairs, said they were leaving the party in protest of its non-democratic path. Twenty-two Nidaa Tounes lawmakers have so far officially resigned from its parliamentary group, leaving it with 64 deputies to Ennahda’s 69 in the 217-member congress. At least six more have said they will resign. Nidaa Tounes began negotiations on Wednesday with the Free National Unity Party, a minor liberal group, in an effort to recover some parliamentary strength. [Reuters, 1/13/2016]

Amnesty International reports new evidence of torture in Tunisia
New evidence of torture and deaths of detainees in police custody has emerged in Tunisia, indicating a rise in repression as the government has sought to crack down on terrorism, Amnesty International warned Wednesday. Amnesty said it had collected evidence showing that at least six people have died in police custody since 2011 and that detainees, including women, were tortured and mistreated in prison last year after being accused of terrorist activities. Interior Ministry officials have said that torture is no longer condoned by the state and that any allegations of torture are isolated cases that will be investigated. The ministry could not be reached Wednesday for comment on Amnesty’s report. [NYT, Amnesty International, Tunisia Live, 1/13/2016]

Italy pledges EUR 1.4 million in aid to Libya
Italy’s Foreign Ministry said it is planning to support a number of humanitarian activities in Libya with financial contributions worth a total of EUR 1.4 million. The funds will go to aid projects carried out by international organizations working in Libya, according to a statement released on January 14. Focus will be on funding “activities to protect the most vulnerable people and to prevent illegal migration across the Mediterranean, as well as providing healthcare for the population.” In particular, a contribution worth EUR 500,000 has been allocated to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with funding to go through the Libyan Red Crescent. The funding is organized in collaboration with the Italian Development Cooperation, which falls under the Foreign Ministry. [Libya Monitor (subscription), ANSAmed, Libya Herald, 1/14/2016]


World powers push for lifting sieges in Syria
Ahead of peace talks later this month, world powers will push for “immediate action” to deliver aid to besieged areas in Syria, the UN envoy said Wednesday. UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the new diplomatic effort in a statement following talks in Geneva with ambassadors from the Security Council’s permanent members. During the meeting, de Mistura emphasized “the crucial importance for the people of Syria to see sustained and unimpeded access to a number of besieged areas in the lead-up to the talks” on January 25 in Geneva. [AFP, France24, Naharnet, 1/14/2016]

Second aid convoy departs for besieged Syrian communities
Humanitarian relief convoys have departed to deliver aid to three besieged Syrian towns for the second time this week, Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said on Thursday. A convoy of 44 trucks from the UN World Food Programme, International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Syrian Red Crescent has left for the rebel-held town of Madaya, which has been under siege for months by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The trucks carried wheat, flour, cleaning materials, and some medical supplies. A similar aid convoy of 17 trucks headed to the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya, in the northern province of Idlib, which have been besieged by rebels. The Madaya convoy also included a nutritionist and health teams to assess the humanitarian situation, said Tarek Wheibi, spokesperson for the ICRC in Beirut. [AP, Daily Mail, Haaretz, 1/14/2016]

Lebanon turns back on Syrian refugees
After taking in a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has quietly changed course in recent months. It is forcing refugees to return to Syria, where they are at risk of persecution or death. If Syrians choose to stay illegally, it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The situation is drawing attention at a time when Turkey and Jordan have also tightened their admission policies. A Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday warned that Lebanon’s new regulations have “set the stage for a potentially explosive situation.” Lebanon last week forcibly repatriated 407 Syrians who were stranded at Beirut’s airport, after Turkey tightened its visa restrictions with little notice. Amnesty International called the action “an outrageous breach of Lebanon’s international obligations,” which require that it not return vulnerable people to a conflict zone. [AP, NYT, 1/14/2016]

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkish artillery hit ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria
Turkish tanks and artillery have attacked Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) positions in Iraq and in Syria in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed ten tourists, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday. Davutoglu said that the military was given orders to carry out operations against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, shortly after they confirmed that the attack was carried out by the terrorist organization. He noted that around 500 artillery rounds were fired at ISIS positions in the last 48 hours, killing 200 terrorists in total, including so-called regional chiefs. “From now on, any threat directed against Turkey’s guests will be retaliated in kind” Davutoğlu said, and added that Turkey will continue to fight the terrorist organization until they completely leave Turkey’s borders.” [AP, NYT, Iraqi News, Reuters, Daily Sabah, 1/14/2016]

Iraq receives Saudi envoy credentials despite anti-Riyadh anger
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari received the new Saudi ambassador’s credentials despite calls for his expulsion after Riyadh executed Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, last week. Jaafari’s office said he met with Sabhan and discussed Iraqi-Saudi relations and Baghdad’s efforts to ease tensions between Riyadh and Tehran that exploded following the kingdom’s execution of al-Nimr. Thamer al-Sabhan is the first Baghdad-based Saudi ambassador in 25 years, after relations were cut following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. [Al Arabiya, Al Hurra, Yahoo, 1/14/2016]

US Special Forces ‘now in place’ in Iraq
Two hundred US Special Forces have arrived in Iraq to work with Iraqi forces pursuing ISIS targets, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday. The force is separate from another deployment last year of up to 50 US special operations troops in Syria to coordinate on the ground with US-backed rebels fighting in a civil war raging since 2011. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 1/14/2016]

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


Al-Qaeda head calls for attacks over Saudi executions
Al-Qaeda’s leader in an audio recording on Tuesday called for attacks against Saudi Arabia and its Western allies in retaliation for its execution of 43 convicted members of the organization, US-based monitoring group SITE said on Thursday. The statement by Ayman al-Zawahri, who has the allegiance of Al-Qaeda branches across the region, urged Saudis to overthrow the Al Saud ruling dynasty and the movement’s followers elsewhere to damage the kingdom by attacking its Western allies. The 43 militants executed in Saudi Arabia had been convicted of participating in attacks staged by Al-Qaeda in the kingdom from 2003-2006 that killed hundreds of local people and foreigners. [Reuters, 1/14/2016]

Coalition strikes areas around Presidential Palace south of Sana’a
The Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes on the perimeter of the Presidential Palace south of Sana’a on Thursday. Local residents said the airstrikes came as similar attacks against Houthi militants and forces loyal to ousted President Saleh were taking place in other cities. [Al-Masdar, 1/14/2016]

Ten Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo arrive in Oman
The Omani Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that ten Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo were transferred to Muscat for temporary custody. A foreign ministry official said that the Yemeni detainees were received by Oman through a directive of Sultan Qaboos in accordance with the US government’s request for assistance in releasing the prisoners. [Al-Masdar, 1/14/2016]

Kerry to meet Saudi FM in London amid Iran tensions
US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet his Saudi counterpart Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair in London on Thursday amid concerns over the dramatic breakdown in relations between his country and Iran. On the eve of the trip, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “They’ll discuss a range of issues, bilateral and global issues, including obviously Iran and the ongoing crisis in Syria.”[AFP, 1/14/2016]

Saudi aid to Taiz arrives to besieged Yemeni city
A Saudi aid dispatch consisting of 40 tons of medicine and food was dropped in the besieged Yemeni city of Taiz on Wednesday. The aid included medicines, medical equipment, and dry food “to break the siege imposed on parts of Taiz province,” Abdullah al-Rabi`, director of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre, told the Saudi Press Agency. The 600,000 residents of the southwestern city of Taiz have been in dire need as Houthi rebels besiege the community defended by pro-government forces. [Al-Arabiya, 1/13/2016]


Gulf states prepare VAT laws ahead of introduction from 2018
Gulf Arab states are putting the finishing touches on draft laws for value-added taxes (VAT) of up to 5 percent that could be imposed starting in 2018, officials said on Thursday. The planned tax on consumer goods and services, drawn up in coordination with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), will be ready as soon as two GCC members are ready to implement it. “Each of the six Gulf states will have their own VAT law that will fall under the broad framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council law,” said UAE Finance Ministry Undersecretary Younis al-Khouri. “Any two countries that are ready can begin implementation of VAT from 2018,” he said. Khouri and his fellow Finance Undersecretaries from Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Bahrain, all currently in Abu Dhabi for a GCC financial meeting, confirmed that VAT laws are in the final stages of preparation in their countries. The draft legislation is now awaiting final approval from the cabinet or parliament in each country. Kuwait and Qatar are still drawing up their laws, their officials said. [Reuters, 1/14/2016]

Libya meets with energy companies to bolster recovery of petroleum sector
Chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation Mustafa Sanallah said Wednesday that he is meeting with major oil companies in an effort to jumpstart the country’s petroleum production potential. Sanallah said he is meeting with France’s Total SA, Italy’s Eni SpA, British Petroleum, and other companies in Istanbul to try to convince them to resume exploration efforts in Libya. Western oil companies have scaled back much of their operations in Libya. BP and Eni declined to comment. A Total official confirmed the talks, but declined to comment further. “The situation will stabilize once a unity government is formed. I am optimistic this will happen,” Sanallah said. Libya is currently pumping about 380,000 barrels of crude per day, however that could rise to 1.2 million barrels per day if a unity government is formed, he added. [WSJ, 1/13/2016]

Egypt to allocate additional $32 million to boost security measures in tourist resorts
Egypt will strengthen security measures in tourist resorts Sharm al-Shiekh and Hurghada with an allocation of $32 million, Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou announced Thursday. Zaazou said the plan includes the purchase of the latest scanning and detection equipment, as well as increasing the number of security personnel in the resorts. He said additional CCTV systems will be introduced to better monitor security in hotels and resorts. Advisor to the Minister of Tourism Adla Ragab said Egypt’s tourism revenues are expected to decline by 18 percent in 2015. She said the Ministry is planning “to establish a national carrier to increase inbound tourism to Egypt and avoid the monopolization by tour operators.” [DNE, 1/14/2015]

EBRD investment in Turkey hits record high in 2015
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said it invested a record high of EUR 1.9 billion in Turkey in 2015 from EUR 1.4 billion in 2014. Turkish projects represented 20 percent of the EBRD’s total EUR 9.4 billion in investments last year across some three dozen countries, according to a statement by the EBRD. “The EBRD delivered a remarkable performance in Turkey despite the challenging environment, responding to an ever-growing demand for finance, especially outside large metropolitan areas,” EBRD Turkey Country Director Jean-Patrick Marquet said. The EBRD financed 43 projects across a number of sectors, including the construction of the country’s biggest geothermal power plant. The Bank plans to “channel more investments into infrastructure and utilities such as water, waste and public transport, and invest in businesses that will create employment and boost the local economy for the benefit of all.” [Hurriyet, Anadolu Agency, 1/13/2016]