Top News: UN Says Libya Lawmakers to Rejoin the House of Representatives

The United Nations said on Friday that Libyan lawmakers had agreed to reunify the country’s House of Representatives (HOR) in a step towards a final agreement, which aims to form a Government of National Accord. More than twenty-five Libyan lawmakers had been boycotting the HOR since conflict erupted more than a year ago between the HOR and the rival General National Congress (GNC) government. The HOR will be the only legislative body under the UN proposal. After negotiations, the twenty-five boycotting lawmakers, many who are from areas loyal to the self-declared Tripoli government, agreed to return to the elected parliament. UN Envoy Bernardino Leon told reporters it was “the most important good news that [the] dialogue has produced so far.” The United Nations said the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) is expected to resume talks on Friday and both sides will start discussing the names that will lead the unity government. [ReutersUNSMIL, 9/18/2015]



Egyptian cabinet expected to be sworn in by Saturday
Egypt’s newly appointed cabinet is expected to be sworn in and replace the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab next Saturday. Anonymous sources said that the ministers of defense, justice, and sports and youth would remain in their positions, stating that no other potential ministers have been contacted to fill in their positions. A cabinet official reportedly revealed that a few ministries would merge in Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s new cabinet, totaling thirty-two ministries instead of thirty-six. The Urban Development Ministry will merge with the Housing Ministry, while the Scientific Research Ministry will merge with the Higher Education Ministry. The Population Ministry may also be merged with the Health Ministry, said the source, although the final decision for all mergers lies with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Ismail and Sisi met Thursday to review the nominees for the incoming cabinet. [Ahram Online, 9/18/2015]

Egypt’s ‘zero schoolgirl’ demands independent inquiry into exam results
Schoolgirl Mariam Malak was determined to contest the results of a second forensic committee that ruled against her on Wednesday, meaning that her results will stand despite her allegations of corruption. In July, the star pupil from Minya contested her high school exam scores, claiming that her answer sheets were switched with another student’s. During a solidarity protest on the steps of the Journalists Syndicate, Malak appealed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to intervene in her case. On Thursday, her lawyer Ehab Ramzy demanded the formation of an independent committee of university professors to examine the sheets for the third time. [AFP, Aswat Masriya, 9/17/2015]

Egypt denies reports Mexico demands compensation for attack victims
Mexico’s government reportedly demanded that Egypt compensate tourists mistakenly attacked by Egyptian security forces in a deadly incident that left eight Mexican nationals and four Egyptians dead. According to media reports, the demand was made in a diplomatic note delivered by Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos de Icaza to Egypt’s Ambassador to Mexico, as survivors and families of victims were flying home with Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu. A Mexican news outlet also reported Thursday that Mexico summoned its Egyptian ambassador. Ahmed Abu Zeid, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, however denied the claims, saying Egypt did not receive any demands, nor was he officially notified of the ambassador being summoned. Mexican survivor Susana Calderon told El Universal that their convoy was bombed around five times over a period of three hours, even after local security forces on the ground had stopped them twice and cleared their passage. [Ahram Online, AFP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 9/18/2015]

EU technical aid program for Egypt to be launched in October
An EU technical aid program worth 20 million euros for Egypt will be launched in early October, Minister of Trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said Thursday. The program aims to provide technical services to develop the mechanism for foreign trade, trade agreements, industrial development and quality infrastructure, Abdel Nour added. Abdel Nour’s comments came during a meeting with Head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt, Ambassador James Moran. [SIS, 9/18/2015]

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Libyan official says suspected ISIS militants attack prison at Mitiga airbase
Libyan security forces say suspected Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants penetrated Tripoli’s Mitiga airbase early Friday morning and attacked one of the prisons there. Special Forces spokesman Maad Khalil said that six militants wearing explosive belts broke through the prison fence using a rocket-propelled grenade. Prison guards repelled the attack and killed the gunmen. A guard and a prisoner were also killed. ISIS’s “Tripoli Province” affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated by sympathizers on Twitter, although the statement’s authenticity has not been verified. Flights were unaffected by the incident at what is the only airport still functioning in the city. Mitiga is a military airfield used for civilian traffic after Tripoli’s international airport was seriously damaged last year. [AP, Libya Herald, AFP, ANSAmed, 9/18/2015]

Tunisian teachers strike for pay raise
On Thursday, thousands of teachers in Tunisia started a two-day strike demanding better wages, two days after the beginning of the new school year in the country. The strike followed the collapse of talks between the government and the teachers’ union for pay increases and education reform. Repeated strikes by teachers last year prompted the Tunisian government to allow primary school children to advance to the next grade without sitting for exams. [All Africa, 9/17/2015]

Tunisia’s ISIE proposes roadmap for municipal elections
At a roundtable meeting with the government, ISIE President Chafik Sarsar presented a roadmap for the municipal elections. The elections could take place on October 30, 2016, according to the document. The roadmap presented by ISIE suggests that lawmakers submit the draft law on municipal elections to the Assembly of People’s Representatives by November 10 and debate it starting November 14. The law must be adopted on February 15, the latest in order to hold elections by October. [TAP, 9/17/2015]


Another drowned toddler washes up on Turkish beach
A four-year-old Syrian girl’s body washed up on a beach in western Turkey on Friday, just weeks after images of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi made major headlines. The yet-to-be-identified girl was found lifeless on a beach in the Aegean town of Cesme in Izmir province after a boat carrying fifteen Syrians to the Greek island of Chios sank, the official Anatolia news agency said. It said the Turkish coast guard rescued the remaining fourteen Syrians, including eight children, from the inflatable boat. The girl appeared to be the only casualty. [AFP, 9/18/2015]

Russia would consider a Syrian request to send troops
Moscow said Friday that it would consider any request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send troops, as Washington suspects a Russian military buildup in the war-torn country. “If there is any request then it would naturally be discussed and evaluated through bilateral contacts and dialogue but it is difficult to talk about this hypothetically,” Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a Russian news agency. The United States says that Russia has covertly deployed troops, artillery units, and tanks to Syria. Peskov spoke in response to comments by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who denied reports that Russian combat troops were fighting with Syrian troops, but said that Syria would ask for Russia’s help if needed. [AP, AFP, 9/18/2015]

Syrian warplanes attack ISIS-held Palmyra
Activists say Syrian warplanes are striking the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) controlled town of Palmyra in central Syria, killing at least fifteen people in a series of air strikes. They say Friday’s air strikes are some of the heaviest since the extremist group seized the ancient town May 10. The Palmyra air strikes come a day after the Syrian army carried out heavy air raids in the northern city of Raqqa, also held by ISIS, an attempt to regain land that has fallen to the militants. [AP, 9/18/2015]

Syria accuses UK, Australia, and France military involvement in Syria of violating UN charter
Damascus has accused the UK, Australian, and French military interventions in Syria as being a deliberate manipulation of Article 51 of the UN Charter. Syria’s Foreign Ministry appealed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council (UNSC), criticizing the violation of the UN Charter and a number of UNSC resolutions by the three Western nations. According to the ministry, the decision to take such measures grossly contravenes Article 51 of the UN Charter: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” Britain, Australia, and France have claimed their military role in Syria is a response meeting Iraq’s demand and supporting its collective self-defense efforts. [Syrian Observer, 9/18/2015]

Turkey spent $7.6 billion hosting 2.2 million Syrian refugees
Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population and has spent $7.6 billion caring for 2.2 million Syrians, says Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus on Friday. The refugee crisis is bleeding into European countries, with hundreds of migrants waiting at the Turkish border with Greece. Greek spokesperson Rodolphos Moronis said his government was taking necessary precautions for the new wave of migrants coming from the border with Turkey. [Reuters, 9/18/2015]

Measures to stem the Turkey-PKK violence slow to take hold
In an interview with the Firat news agency, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) field commander Murat Karayilan said, “A ceasefire can only be mutual. Our experience teaches us that positive outcomes cannot be achieved through unilateral ceasefires.” Violence has escalated between PKK fighters and the Turkish state since July, with some in the Turkish government raising concerns over Western armament of the group they designate as a terrorist organization. While peace talks seem far-off, Turkish civilians took to the streets of Ankara on Thursday in an organized demonstration against the violence, attended by over 200 civil society groups. [Reuters, BGN, 9/17/2015]


Saudi-led coalition bombs Houthi rebels near Marib
The Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen’s rebels bombed insurgents’ positions Thursday with heavy artillery fire on the outskirts Marib, part of their push to retake the capital, Sana’a. The bombardment came hours after Houthi rebels aired footage purporting to show a Saudi soldier held as a prisoner of war. A top al-Qaeda leader in Yemen meanwhile reportedly praised the campaign against the Houthis and called for Islamic rule in the Arab world’s poorest country. The coalition’s operations in the area include targeting Houthi positions near the Marib dam and the town of Sirwah, about forty kilometers west on the road to Sana’a. The influx of troops and hardware from the Emirates and other Gulf states appears to be adding momentum to the fight to retake territory. The immediate aim is to reinstate Hadi’s government, while the wider goal is to block what the coalition sees as Iranian expansion across the region. This latest bombardment coincided with US President Barack Obama discussing the growing conflict and humanitarian crisis with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud by phone on Thursday. [AP, Reuters, 9/18/2015]

United Nations condemn silence over impact of conflict on Yemen civilians
Two senior UN officials today condemned “the virtual silence” on the conflict in Yemen’s impact on civilians, and urged leaders from all sides to refrain from manipulating religious identities for political purposes. “Unless there is a serious commitment of the parties to find a political solution to the conflict that will end the violence and ensure humanitarian access to all populations, without discrimination, the situation is likely to degenerate further,” warned Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Jennifer Welsh, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. The joint statement comes a day after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council that over 2,000 civilians have been killed and more than 4,000 wounded in Yemen. Exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi refused to attend peace talks with Houthi rebels until they accept UN Security Council Resolution 2216. They “expressed concern at the ever increasing impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the virtual silence of the international community about the threat to populations.” [UN News Centre, 9/17/2015]

HRW condemns Saudi Arabia’s executions
Saudi Arabia’s execution record will hit an “appalling new low” if it follows through with a crucifixion sentence on a Saudi man for crimes related to a 2011 protest movement, committed when he was only seventeen, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. HRW claimed the trial of Ali al-Nimr was marred by “serious due process violations,” and that the court had failed to investigate his allegations that he that he had been tortured in detention and signed his confession under duress. Since January 1, Saudi Arabia has executed 135 people compared to the eighty-eight it executed in 2014. Most executions are carried out by beheading, sometimes in public. Al-Nimr’s paternal uncle, the prominent Shia cleric and government critic Nimr al-Nimr, also faces execution. [Arabian Business, Middle East Monitor, 9/17/2015]


Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sign contracts worth $300 million for new oil pipeline
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have signed contracts worth around $300 million to lay a new 350,000 barrel per day (bpd) oil pipeline between the two countries, Bahrain’s Energy Minister Abdul-Hussain bin Ali Mirza said on Thursday. The pipeline is due to be operational in 2018. Officials had previously estimated it would be completed by the third quarter of 2016. Bahrain relies on output from the Abu Safa oilfield that it shares with Saudi Arabia for the vast majority of its oil. The new pipeline will replace an ageing 230,000 bpd link and enable the Bahrain Petroleum Company to expand the processing capacity of its 267,000 bpd Sitra refinery. Eventually, the new pipeline’s capacity could be increased to 400,000 bpd. “It will be finished by the end of 2017 or early 2018 and then there will be a six-month trial period for the new pipeline,” said Mirza. [Reuters, 9/17/2015]

IMF staff concludes visit to Egypt
A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded its visit to Egypt on Thursday, led by IMF Mission Chief for Egypt Chris Jarvis. The delegation recommended that Egypt adopt flexible a exchange rate, implement a value-added tax (VAT), and further cut energy subsidies. The IMF also approved of measures taken by the government to reduce the deficit and by the Central Bank to curb the currency parallel market, according to a press release issued on Thursday. “There have been positive economic developments since the mission’s last visit in Egypt,” the press release read. However, the mission highlighted several challenges facing Egypt’s economic growth, including high unemployment, a large fiscal deficit, and high domestic public debt. “The mission welcomes the authorities’ plans to pursue fiscal and structural reforms in order to put public debt on a downward-trending path and encourage private sector credit, thereby supporting growth and employment. Lower fuel and electricity subsidies, combined with the implementation of the VAT, would go a long way toward improving the strength of the budget,” the mission said. [Ahram Online, 9/17/2015]

Kuwait revenues drop by nearly half on oil price slide
Kuwait said Thursday that its government revenues have nearly halved since April due to the global slump in crude oil prices. Kuwait’s Finance Ministry said revenues dropped 42.5 percent in the first five months of 2015 to 7.3 billion dinars ($24.2 billion). Oil receipts, which accounted for 94 percent of total revenues, slid at a similar rate, the ministry added. Kuwait is projecting a deficit of 7 billion dinars in this fiscal year, after posting a budget surplus for the past sixteen years. Despite Kuwait’s fiscal reserves, the ministry warned this summer the country is facing a “very difficult financial situation.” Kuwait’s 2015-2016 budget forecasts spending cuts of about 17 percent. Kuwait liberalized the prices of diesel, kerosene, and aviation fuel earlier this year and is considering lifting subsidies on petrol and electricity. [AFP, 9/17/2015]

Demand grows for oil trade finance in Middle East, banks say
Banks say they are seeing increased interest in trade finance from Middle East oil companies, especially in Egypt, as cash flows dry up due to lower oil prices. Trade finance can be used to provide working capital to producers and traders, or to allow them to borrow against the value of future output. “In the Middle East, previous liquidity is no more and if you’re a refinery or oil company you have debt on your balance sheet and can refinance that using this [trade finance],” said Emre Karter, Citigroup’s Head of Treasury and Trade Solutions for Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey. Interest in trade finance is particularly strong in Egypt and Iraq, he said. On Thursday, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) agreed to the latest of two large finance deals with Egyptian energy companies, both of which could include trade finance. Jean-Christophe Desaintfuscien, Executive Director and Global Head of Energy and Commodities Traders at NBAD, said the bank had seen a rise in demand from Egypt for oil and structured trade since expanding its energy and resources business eighteen months ago. [Reuters, 9/17/2015]