January 26/14

Bible Quotation for today/ God Is Light
01 John 01/05-10: " Now the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us."

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For For January 26/14

The bomb attacks targeting Egypt’s capital: Collapsing colossus/The Daily Star/January 26/14

Royal Rivalry: Bahrain's Ruling Family and the Island's Political Crisis/Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/January 26/14

The Counter Terrorism Card Backfires on Syrian Regime’s Delegation in Montreux /By Raghida Dergham/January 26/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 26/14

Lebanese Related News

Geagea reiterates call for neutral Cabinet

Report: U.S. Backs All-Embracing Cabinet to Hold Presidential Elections on Time

Saniora: Everyone's Committed to Political Deal on Rotation of Portfolios

Alain Aoun Slams Top Officials for Ignoring Partnership

Salam poised to form fait accompli government

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri: Sunnis oppose joining Hezbollah-Qaeda war

Regional wave of Sunni extremism reaches Lebanon

Al-Nusra Front, Marwan al-Hadidi Brigades Claim Targeting Hermel with Rockets

Nusra Front affiliate claims Hermel rocket attack

Five rockets from Syria hit Lebanon’s Hermel
Emotional testimony highlights impact on families

Syrian refugees inch closer to 1 million mark in Lebanon

Army Intelligence Detains Man Involved in Latest Haret Hreik Bombing

Abu Sayyaf Al-Ansari Pledges Allegiance to ISIL from Tripoli

Mansour Sticks to his Defense of Hizbullah Despite Criticism

Report: Hizbullah Officials to Move Out of Beirut's Southern Suburbs

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Pope Francis says time to expand women's responsibilities in Catholic Church

Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi says nuns seized in Syria okay
Seven protesters dead in clashes on anniversary of Egypt uprising
Buried baby is pulled from underneath rubble in Aleppo/Video
Syria fighting goes on, as Switzerland talks falter

Saudi royal calls for UN resolution to pull militias from Syria

Syrian civil war foes meet for first time, focus on aid

Syrian government, opposition face to face for 1st time - briefly, silently and with buffer
Three years after Egypt's revolution, a sweeping crackdown on dissent

Militants Claim Responsibility for Egypt Blasts

Egypt says evacuates Libya embassy, Benghazi consulate after kidnappings

Blast heard near police building in Egypt’s Suez: state TV
Al-Qaeda leader opposes fighting Christians in Egypt

Egypt's divisions smolder on anniversary of uprising

UAE president stable after stroke: ministry

Kidnapped Iranian diplomat found beheaded in Yemen: local official
Iran Gives ex-President's Daughter Suspended Jail Term
Official: French president ends relationship with first lady 2 weeks after report of affair
Thirty-two presumed dead in Quebec seniors' home fire


Pope Francis says time to expand women's responsibilities in Catholic Church
By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press /VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis says that women should have a bigger presence in the Catholic Church, as well as in the professional and public spheres.
Addressing a women's group at the Vatican Saturday, Francis said he has urged women to play a more "diffuse and incisive" role. He says he strongly hopes they will become more active in church roles. He praised women for their "talents," including a "special sensibility and tenderness."Women remain shut out of the church's most important positions. Francis has ruled out opening up the priesthood to women. His top advisers are drawn from cardinals, the elite group of men whose responsibilities include electing popes.

Geagea reiterates call for neutral Cabinet

January 25, 2014 /The Daily Star/BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Saturday that current circumstances in the country called for the formation of a neutral government. “The country cannot be left without a government on condition that the Cabinet is a real and harmonious one and these conditions can only be attained at the moment through a neutral government,” he said during a meeting with an LF delegation. Geagea also reiterated his criticism of Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria and said Lebanon’s situation would not improve until the party ends its campaign on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad. “I am convinced that as long as Hezbollah remains in its current position, we will not be able to improve the country but things will rather become worse,” he said. Political sources said Friday that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam intends to form a fait accompli government after intensive efforts failed to resolve the row over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios in a national unity Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup. The Free Patriotic Movement has rejected the proposed rotation of ministerial portfolios and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil has voiced his insistence on the party keeping the Energy and Telecom Ministries. However, the sources said behind-the-scene contacts were still ongoing to form a new government that would bring together the rival March 14 and March 8 alliances.


Report: U.S. Backs All-Embracing Cabinet to Hold Presidential Elections on Time
Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/U.S. Ambassador David Hale has informed top Lebanese officials that Washington prefers the formation of an all-embracing government that does not exclude any party over fears on a further crisis in the presidential elections, As Safir daily reported on Saturday. The newspaper said that Hale's round of discussions with the officials included a warning that the formation of a nonpartisan cabinet that does not receive the support of all the Lebanese parties would paralyze the presidential elections. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May. There are fears that differences between the rival parties would spill over to the presidency. “An all-embracing cabinet would provide the opportunity for holding the elections and would facilitate the formation of a new government that works on (an agreement) on a new electoral law … to hold the parliamentary elections next autumn based on it,” Hale allegedly told the officials. As Safir quoted well-informed diplomatic sources as saying that Washington has discussed with Western countries, mainly France, and regional states on the need to protect Lebanon's stability and hold the presidential polls on time. The sources said that an all-embracing cabinet would raise the chance of holding the elections by 50 percent.

Saniora: Everyone's Committed to Political Deal on Rotation of Portfolios

Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc leader Fouad Saniora has rejected to back off from an agreement reached between the country's top leaders on the rotation of portfolios in the new government. “We totally reject that,” Saniora said in remarks published on Saturday. “Rotation is an essential and important step and is required in Lebanon's political life,” he told As Safir newspaper. Premier-designate Tammam Salam has been informed about the approval of all rival parties of the concept of rotation, the lawmaker said. “There has been a political agreement on this issue and everyone's committed to it,” he said. But in similar remarks to An Nahar daily on Saturday, Change and Reform bloc lawmaker Alain Aoun denied Saniora's claims. “Huge agreements in the country cannot be based on quadripartite alliances,” he said.
Aoun claimed that the Free Patriotic Movement was not consulted when the deal on the rotation of portfolios was struck between the different parties. FPM chief Michel Aoun has rejected the rotation of portfolios in the new cabinet, delaying the line-up. He is holding onto the energy and telecommunications ministries that are part of his share in the resigned government of caretaker Premier Najib Miqati. But the delay is putting pressure on Premier-designate Tammam Salam, who is mulling again to form a fait accompli government over the failure of the rivals to agree on the 24-member all-embracing cabinet and the rotation.

Mansour Sticks to his Defense of Hizbullah Despite Criticism
Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Caretaker Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour shrugged off on Saturday the campaign of criticism against him after he defended Hizbullah in the Geneva II peace talks conference on Syria.
“I am convinced into what's in favor of Lebanon and its people,” Mansour said after laying the cornerstone for the new foreign ministry building in downtown Beirut near the Martyrs Square. “I will not back off from my stances no matter what the campaigns were,” he said. “We are a democratic country and there are different viewpoints in it,” he said. “I will take the path that I see as appropriate.” In his speech at the conference's opening session in Geneva on Wednesday, Mansour defended Hizbullah’s fighting alongside troops loyal to President Bashar Assad in Syria. He said critics of the group’s involvement in the neighboring country sought to provide cover for the takfiri threat in Lebanon. “Those claiming that what is happening in Syria is a result of Hizbullah's involvement in the war want to divert attention from the fact that there are foreign terrorist groups in the region,” the caretaker foreign minister said. The speech prompted President Michel Suleiman to issue a statement, saying distancing Lebanon from the Syrian crisis comes through the immediate end to interference in all of the neighboring country's internal affairs. Asked by a reporter that his stance represented only a faction of the Lebanese people, Mansour said: “I had already informed the president about my speech.” “But I added a paragraph to it during the (Geneva) meeting because the Lebanese people … cannot accept to be called terrorists,” he said. Several March 14 alliance officials have dubbed him as the foreign minister of Hizbullah and not Lebanon.

Army Intelligence Detains Man Involved in Latest Haret Hreik Bombing
Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/The army intelligence detained Khaled al-Satem for his suspicious links with the perpetrators who carried out the recent bombing in the Beirut's southern suburbs neighborhood of Haret Hreik, media reports said on Saturday. According to state-run National News Agency, al-Satem was detained by army intelligence on Friday night at Deir Ammar checkpoint. According to media reports, investigations are underway with al-Satem. The relatives of al-Satem stressed that khaled isn't involved in any of the security incidents in the country, pointing out that he's a taxi driver. LBCI said that the family had informed the army intelligence that Khaled had disappeared. Al-Jadeed TV reported that al-Satem was detained at a checkpoint for Hizbullah and handed over to the Lebanese army. Al-Satem is a relative of Qutaiba Mohammed al-Satem, who is allegedly behind the bombing that targeted the same area on January 2. A suicide bomber killed four people in Haret Hreik on Tuesday, in the latest in a string of attacks targeting strongholds of Hizbullah. The blast was quickly claimed by Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon, a group believed to be linked to al-Qaida's Syrian arm. The blast was the third to hit Lebanon this month, coming after a car bomb in the northern town of Hermel and an earlier bombing that also targeted Haret Hreik. DNA testing had confirmed that the January 2nd bombing was carried out by Qutaiba, who hails from Wadi Khaled resident in the northern district of Akkar. Lebanon is no stranger to violence. It suffered a brutal 15-year civil war that ended in 1990, and a string of political assassinations from 2005. But after a period of relative calm, the country has seen a sharp uptick in violence linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria.

Report: Hizbullah Officials to Move Out of Beirut's Southern Suburbs
Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Hizbullah has decided to move the residences of several of its officials to areas outside Beirut's southern suburbs, al-Liwaa newspaper reported on Saturday. The daily said the move would be temporary pending a firm decision to implement strict security measures in the Hizbullah stronghold following several deadly blasts that rocked the Beirut's southern suburbs and other areas where the party has a large influence. The latest attack was on Tuesday when a car bomb ripped through the Haret Hreik district of the suburbs, killing four people. It was the second bombing in the neighborhood this month.
A group known as the Nusra Front in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for Hizbullah's military support of President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria. Last week, a car bomb struck the northeastern Shiite town of Hermel close to the Syrian border during rush hour, killing at least three people.

Alain Aoun Slams Top Officials for Ignoring Partnership
Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Change and Reform bloc lawmaker Alain Aoun has criticized the country's top officials for failing to coordinate with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun when they struck a deal on the new government. In an interview with An Nahar daily published on Saturday, Aoun said: “Had there been a true Christian partner from the beginning, they would have known that it has a different stance and the agreement would have been struck based on different principles.” “Huge agreements in the country cannot be based on quadripartite alliances,” he stressed. The FPM chief has rejected the rotation of portfolios in the new cabinet, delaying the line-up. He is holding onto the energy and telecommunications ministries that are part of his share in the resigned government of caretaker Premier Najib Miqati. “Those who were surprised by our latest stance should have informed us on the general atmosphere from the beginning,” Alain Aoun said. “We want a fair and balanced all-embracing cabinet,” he said. “This is our battle now.” An Nahar also quoted Change and Reform bloc sources as saying that Aoun has objected to the deal struck between the top officials on the government over a lack of commitment to a written agreement reached between Speaker Nabih Berri's advisor Ali Hassan Khalil, the Hizbullah chief's aide Hussein Khalil and caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil, who is an FPM official. The sources said that the agreement was reached in the initial stages of Premier-designate Tammam Salam's appointment in April last year. Under the alleged deal, the three parties agreed not to make commitments in the cabinet formation process without consulting the rest of the signatories. But the sources said that the Change and Reform bloc was surprised by the deal reached by Speaker Berri's Amal movement and Hizbullah at a time when Salam did not even once cooperate with Aoun.

Abu Sayyaf Al-Ansari Pledges Allegiance to ISIL from Tripoli

Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Abu Sayyaf al-Ansari on Saturday pledged from the northern city of Tripoli allegiance to the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, calling on Sunnis enlisted in the army to defect and “repent.” “After the expansion of the Islamic mission from Iraq to the Levant, and its adoption of a correct path that could not be weakened or misrepresented by the decedents of Al Saloul, who are supported by the United States and by the crusaders, we decided from Tripoli to pledge allegiance to ISIL and to ally with it,” al-Ansari said in a video recording. “We also vow allegiance to Abu Bakr and we will be their gate to Lebanon and the Kingdom of Jerusalem,” he added, revealing that they suggested reviving cells that belong to the ISIL in the country to continue “calling for jihadism.” He explained the decision: “We only became active because the Islamic nation is losing its determination and is being shaken by the disloyalty of the Lebanese crusaders, who are endorsed by Hizbullah.”“But the heroes of the 'Abdullah Azzam Brigades' tortured the defectors in general and the supporters of Iran in particular, who announced their war against Sunnis and we took our decision after we referred to a Koranic verse that allows the vulnerable that are being attacked to fight back .”Al-Ansari continued: “We could not handle the whoredum of the devil's party (Hizbullah) at the expense of the Sunnis in Lebanon and crusaders' media campaigns portrayed us as extremists, terrorists that only cause destruction and chaos.” Addressing Sunnis in Lebanon, he said: “We tell you we are your brothers, sons and servants and we assault the unbelievers with you so do not forget to be prepared.”He also warned the Sheikhs in general and the members of the Committee of Muslim Ulemas in particular, urging them to endorse him. “We demand you not to stab us in the back after we entrusted you with your lives,” he expressed. “We ask for your advice and recommendation when we commit mistakes.” He also called on Sunnis “incorrectly enlisted in the crusaders's army to fear God and to repent.” “You are our brothers, and we urge you not to become a knife used by Christians and defectors to stab us with in the back.” He remarked that this video recording is only a message that will be followed by a speech from ISIL's spokesperson in Lebanon Abu Omar al-Mohajer.

Al-Qaeda leader opposes fighting Christians
January 25, 2014/Daily Star/CAIRO: Al-Qaeda's leader says that Egypt's majority Muslims should not fight their Christian compatriots, even though the head of their church supported a military coup that deposed the Islamist president. In an audio message posted on militant websites early Saturday, Ayman al-Zawahri said it was not in the interest of Muslims to be engaged with the Christians because "we have to be busy with confronting the Americanized coup of [Gen. Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi and establish an Islamic government instead." El-Sissi is Egypt's defense minister who removed President Mohammad Morsi from power in a popularly backed July 3 coup.

The bomb attacks targeting Egypt’s capital: Collapsing colossus
January 25, 2014/The Daily Star/The bomb attacks targeting Egypt’s capital Friday represent a disturbing development for the country’s stability, and highlight the presence of a growing segment of society which feels completely negated by the current system. Those who care about the region had tried to convince themselves Egypt was immune to the type and scale of violence that has befallen Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria, among others, but worryingly, it looks as though this is not the case. The region’s giant, Egypt seemed too big to fall, and while attacks targeting security forces have grown increasingly frequent in the Sinai and other provinces, these are the first major incidents in Cairo. Certainly, all the ingredients for widespread violence are there: extremely high levels of poverty and unemployment, a lack of education, and a hangover from decades of an often cruel and oppressive military dictatorship. The population has grown enormously over the last 50 years, but without the needed economic, urban and social planning. Stability is needed, badly. A climate of confidence and calm must be nurtured if these violent attacks are going to cease any time soon. After winning the first free elections, the Muslim Brotherhood neglected its opportunity to govern fairly, but depressingly, it appears that their form of dictatorship has been replaced by an army dictatorship, not unlike the era of Mubarak. But if this new regime is going to have any hope of lasting in place longer than its predecessors, it must choose to embrace its enemies, rather than remaining in permanent confrontation with them. Those Brotherhood supporters, not an insignificant minority, must be made to feel that they have a place in this new Egypt.

Five rockets from Syria hit Lebanon’s Hermel
January 25, 2014/By Rakan al-Fakih The Daily Star/HERMEL, Lebanon: Five rockets from Syria hit Lebanon’s northeastern region of Hermel Saturday, a security source said, with no reports of casualties.
The rockets were fired from Syria’s eastern mountain range and struck different parts of Hermel, causing only material damage, the source said. There was a similar incident Friday when rockets fired from the stretch of mountains hit Hermel. Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front in Lebanon has claimed responsibility for a number of previous rocket attacks into the Bekaa Valley. Syrian opposition groups have been firing rockets intermittently into the Bekaa Valley since the spring in retaliation for Hezbollah’s fighting alongside the Syrian army

Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi says nuns seized in Syria okay
January 25, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The group of nuns seized in the ancient Syrian town of Maaloula last month are doing well, Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi said Saturday, and a security source said that negotiations to secure their release were still ongoing. “The nuns are fine, I personally spoke to them over the phone a few days ago in the patriarchy’s headquarters,” Yazigi said before leaving Beirut’s international airport to Russia on a papal visit. “They are at one of the homes inside Yabroud and they are fine but it is not enough for us to know they are okay: we hope they will be released with the two kidnapped bishops soon because they hold a message of peace in the service of others,” he said. Thirteen nuns were taken by Syrian rebels from their convent in Maaloula in December. The rebels are believed to have taken the women to the nearby town of Yabroud, where they are reportedly staying in the home of a Christian family. Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim were also abducted in April by armed men while en route to the northern Syrian city from the Turkish border. However, their whereabouts remain unknown. John Yazigi expressed hope that the bishops were doing well. He also said that he would discuss the cases of the seized nuns and kidnapped bishops during his stay in Russia. Meanwhile, a security source told The Daily Star that Lebanon’s Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security, is still following up the case of the nuns. “The General Security chief is maintaining efforts to resolve this file,” the source said. “However, negotiations are being held discreetly and away from the limelight,” the source said. Ibrahim has been in contact with Qatari officials as part of efforts to secure the release of the 13 nuns. His involvement in the case comes after his successful efforts last year at securing the release of nine Shiite Lebanese men who were kidnapped in Syria by a rebel group. Ibrahim and Qatar have also said they are working on the release of two Syrian bishops who are also being held captive in Syria.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri: Sunnis oppose joining Hezbollah-Qaeda war

January 25, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Saturday warned against attempts at dragging the Lebanese into conflicts between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, a day after the local branch of the Nusra Front, which has claimed several bombings in Lebanon, called for the support of Sunnis in its battle against Hezbollah. “The Lebanese and the Sunni sect refuse to be part of any war in Lebanon or the region between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda,” Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, said in a statement. “They also reject that civilians in any Lebanese area become a target to this crazy war and its dangerous repercussions on national and Muslim unity.” The Nusra Front in Lebanon warned Lebanon’s Sunni sect Friday to avoid areas where Hezbollah has a presence or enjoys support . It also called for the support of the sect in its fight against Hezbollah.
Hariri said radical groups of this kind were linked to President Bashar Assad’s regime and aimed at bringing Syria’s war to Lebanon. “The suspicious calls launched by extremist forces that are clearly linked to the murderous regime in Damascus only aim to transfer the flames to Lebanon, to the benefit of this regime,” Hariri said. “And in this sense these calls meet with Hezbollah’s war in Syria in defense of the Assad regime,” he added.
“Every reasonable and patriotic Lebanese, of any sect, will refuse to be dragged behind these calls, as he refuses Hezbollah’s war in Syria. And he would confront, by all available peaceful and political means, all crimes against Lebanon, Syria, Arabism, Islam and human rights in our country,” he said. The Lebanon branch of the Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the country, including Tuesday’s deadly bombing in the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik that killed four people and wounded scores more. The group, an offshoot of Syria’s Nusra Front that is blacklisted by the U.S. as a terrorist group, has warned of further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria. For his part, MP Hasan Fadlallah, from Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc, stressed that his is determined to confront the “terrorism” of radical Islamist groups.
“Just like we confronted the Israeli terrorism in the past ... we continue today to confront with the same determination and same force the terrorism of the takfiris,” said Fadlallah, who spoke in the town of Saddikine in south Lebanon. “This kind of terrorism will not change our position ... and will not alter our political choices. On the contrary, such takfiri terrorism only makes us more convinced in our options,” he said.
Fadlallah also called for joining political efforts and employing the media and intellectual and cultural means to confront this new wave of terrorism.


Seven protesters dead in clashes on anniversary of Egypt uprising
CAIRO (Reuters) - Seven people were killed during anti-government marches on Saturday while thousands rallied in support of the army-led authorities, underlining Egypt's volatile political fissures three years after the fall of autocrat president Hosni Mubarak. Security forces lobbed teargas and fired in the air to try to prevent demonstrators opposed to the government from reaching Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled the former air force commander. Instead of commemorating Mubarak's overthrow, a large number of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir to pledge their support for the army chief who ousted the country's first freely-elected president last year. The chanting for General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi underscored the prevailing desire for a decisive military man they count on to end the political turmoil that has gripped Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution and crippled the economy. But an end to street violence seemed nowhere in sight with the sound of tear gas canisters being fired echoing through downtown Cairo as police confronted anti-government protesters.
Four protesters were killed in different parts of the capital, where armoured personnel carriers were deployed to try and keep order, and anyone entering Tahrir had to pass through a metal detector.
In the southern town of Minya, two people were killed in clashes between Mursi supporters and security forces, said Brigadier General Hisham Nasr, director of criminal investigations in the regional police department.
A woman was killed in Egypt's second city of Alexandria during clashes between supporters of Mursi and security forces. Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July after mass protests against what critics called his mismanagement and increasingly arbitrary rule, triggering a confrontation with the veteran Islamist movement that has hit investment and tourism hard.
The general, who served as head of military intelligence under Mubarak, is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency soon and likely to win by a landslide in elections, expected within six months.
Several leading politicians have indicated they would not run for president if Sisi does, highlighting his dominance and the barren political landscape that has emerged since Mubarak's fall. The most vocal critics of the new order - the Brotherhood - have been driven underground.
The army congratulated Egyptians on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising and said it would help people build on the gains of what it calls the June 30 Revolution, a reference to the street unrest that prompted the army to oust Mursi. Tensions have been smouldering anew since a wave of deadly bombings killed six people in Cairo on Friday. An al Qaeda-inspired group, based in the lawless Sinai Peninsula, claimed responsibility, according to the SITE monitoring organisation. Early on Saturday a bomb exploded near a Cairo police academy. No one was hurt, said the Interior Ministry.
In Tahrir, the mood on Saturday felt more like a campaign rally for Sisi than a commemoration of the 18-day revolt that Egyptians at the time hoped would bring democratic, civilian government to the Arab world's most populous country. Huge banners, posters and T-shirts displayed images of Sisi in his trademark dark sunglasses at Saturday's rally. Several hundred people chanted slogans in support of the general.
A woman named Heba dismissed the 2011 uprising and said the important revolution came when Egyptians held mass protests that led to the army takeover last July. "I'm here to support Sisi," she said.
Others didn't have the chance to express their views. Police fired live rounds in the air to disperse about 1,000 anti-government protesters in Cairo's Mohandiseen district and at two other marches in downtown.
Some of the demonstrators were supporters of the Brotherhood, while others were liberal activists. Witnesses said police also fired tear gas and birdshot at a crowds of activists moving toward Tahrir for an anti-government rally. Hisham Sadiq, a university student, said he was protesting against "military rule and the thugs of the Interior Ministry". At one rally, the crowd yelled "the people want the downfall of the regime!" - a common chant during the 18-day revolt that ousted Mubarak - before running from tear gas. Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested in Egypt's second city Alexandria, security sources said.
When he removed Mursi, Sisi promised a political roadmap that would lead to free and fair elections. But the Muslim Brotherhood says Sisi and his allies in the government have blood on their hands and accuse them of undermining democratic gains made since Mubarak's downfall. Security forces have killed up to 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters and put the movement's top leaders in jail. The Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s, has been declared a terrorist group. But the tough measures have failed to stabilise Egypt, which is of great strategic importance because of its peace treaty with Israel and control over the Suez Canal.
Islamist militants based in the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks against security forces since Sisi toppled Mursi. Hundreds have been killed. The security crackdown has been extended to secular-minded liberals, including ones who played a key role in the 2011 uprising. Human rights groups have accused the Egyptian authorities of quashing dissent and using excessive force, calling state violence since Mursi's ouster unprecedented.
Still, many Egyptians choose to look the other way and extend their full support to Sisi. "We are here to support Sisi," said a man in Tahrir who only gave his first name, Mahmoud. "Sisi is going to save the country," said his wife.

Syrian refugees inch closer to 1 million mark in Lebanon

January 25, 2014 /The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Almost 13,000 Syrians approached the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees this week, bringing the number of refugees registered or awaiting registration to 890,000, according to the latest figures.The agency noted that the average waiting time for refugees had decreased to 25 days, the lowest since January of last year. The majority of new arrivals continue to flock to the Bekaa Valley and North Lebanon, which now have a total registered refugee population of 282,853 and 247,425 respectively. Shelter support, one of the key challenges in humanitarian relief efforts, was offered to over 10,800 refugees, including cash for rent, cash to host families, rehabilitation of collective shelters and the distribution of sealing-off kits for shelters that are exposed to the outdoors. Between Jan. 9 and 22, about 2,300 Lebanese host families spread out across 16 municipalities in Wadi Khaled and Akroum each received $600 from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. These areas, among the most impoverished in the country, were also among the first to take in refugees when the Syrian uprising began in March 2011 and have been heavily burdened as a result. Also, 41 new informal tent settlements were identified in the Bekaa Valley by Medair, bringing the total number of informal settlements in Lebanon to over 450. Specialized teams are following up to profile the new residents. About 165 refugees received legal counseling from the International Relief and Development this week, including legal advice about passport renewal, birth and marriage registration, gender-based violence, illegal entry, assault charges and labor laws. Over 508,000 refugees had their food e-cards reloaded by the World Food Program this month and about 11,700 newly arrived refugees were given food parcels. About 16,148 Syrian students were enrolled in 48 second-shift schools, with three second-shift schools in the Bekaa Valley, Qobeiyat and Mount Lebanon yet to reach their enrolment threshold.

Royal Rivalry: Bahrain's Ruling Family and the Island's Political Crisis
Simon Henderson/Washington Institute
As the anniversary of the 2011 troubles approaches, Bahrain's political battles are seemingly being fought out in the palaces as much as the streets.
A long-running split in Bahrain's Sunni Muslim royal family over how to engage the island's majority Shiite population has visibly widened in the past two weeks as talks with the main opposition broke off and then suddenly revived. The flip-flop, likely due in part to U.S. and European pressure, is consistent with the often uncertain leadership style of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa (age 63). Yet the latest developments could spur open political warfare between his moderate and hardline relatives. The key royal in favor of compromise is the king's American-educated eldest son, Crown Prince Salman (44), while the hardliners are grouped around the king's uncle, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa (78), who has held the position of prime minister uninterrupted since 1970.
For decades, the basic narrative of Bahrain's politics has been that of an underenfranchised and relatively impoverished majority Shiite population ruled by minority Sunnis. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, there has been an additional overlay: the idea that Bahrain's Shiites sympathize with their coreligionists in Iran and therefore cannot be trusted. While imperfect, this narrative has seemed particularly valid since February 2011, when Bahraini riot police -- eventually reinforced by Saudi and Emirati forces -- cracked down harshly on local protests mimicking the "Arab Spring" demonstrations sweeping other parts of the region. Meanwhile, the government's preferred narrative of cautious political evolution -- as seen when the country converted to a constitutional monarchy in 2002 -- has been tarnished by its reluctance to give Shiites proportional representation in parliament, and by the Khalifa family's determination to retain political power (e.g., royals hold about half of the cabinet).
The latest royal disarray has been on display since January 9, when the government suspended the so-called "National Dialogue" after a Sunni political group said it was backing out of the process, which had been hampered by a Shiite boycott since September. But on January 15, Crown Prince Salman, acting "upon the request of His Majesty King Hamad," met with opposition groups "to explore means of overcoming the challenges faced by [the] Dialogue." Among the attendees was Sheikh Ali Salman, an Iranian-trained Shiite cleric who leads al-Wefaq, the main opposition group. The meeting was all the more surprising because the government had placed a travel ban on Sheikh Ali in late December and charged him with "incitement to religious hatred and spreading false news likely to harm national security." The hardline prime minister apparently did not receive advance notice of this powwow, and his absence from the January 19 weekly cabinet meeting likely reflected anger over Salman's move.
Meanwhile, the opposition has continued to organize demonstrations, including a "peaceful march" on January 17, and reports continue of nightly skirmishes between security forces and firebomb- and stone-throwing Shiite youths. Although no American citizens have been attacked, the website of the U.S. embassy in Manama depicts a wide swath across the populated north of the island that should be avoided by Americans at all times, including some areas close to the large U.S. naval base that houses the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet.
Against this backdrop of royal schisms and ongoing unrest, other recent news stories have added to the island's challenges:
In late December, Bahraini authorities announced the seizure of a boat carrying weapons and military-grade explosives. Although the boat came from Iraq, Iran was assumed to be the main culprit behind the cargo, which could have radically altered the nature of confrontations between militants and Bahraini police.
Earlier this month, South Korea suspended tear-gas exports to Bahrain, citing "unstable politics," deaths from gas exposure, and "complaints from human rights groups." The U.S. embassy website states that the government "routinely uses tear gas and stun grenades" against demonstrators, among other measures.
On January 10, a joint venture controlled by the U.S. aluminum company Alcoa agreed to pay $384 million to settle Justice Department charges concerning bribery in Bahrain. Documents related to the case allege that tens of millions were paid in court kickbacks to Bahraini officials, including senior royal family members. In a related criminal case that collapsed last year after witnesses refused to give evidence, Britain's Serious Fraud Office accused Alcoa of bribing Sheikh Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa, the chairman of the Bahraini aluminum smelting company Alba and a reportedly close advisor to the prime minister. Alba's former expatriate chief executive, who pleaded guilty to corruption in a separate London court case, agreed during cross-examination that "the royal family is all-powerful," and that "nothing of significance happened in Bahrain without the approval of the prime minister."
The nature of the rivalry between Bahraini moderates and hardliners was aptly illustrated in the just-published memoirs of former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates. The book recalls a February 2011 conversation in which Crown Prince Salman said "he was ready to become prime minister if asked." Yet despite describing him as "the voice of reason," Gates noted that Salman "was powerless" at the time. When visiting the island a month later, Gates "suggested to both the crown prince and king that they find a new and different role for the prime minister, who was disliked by nearly everyone but especially the Shia." Although Salman and the king responded positively to his suggestions, Gates concluded that "the royal family was split, and the hardliners had the edge."
How this rivalry will play out today is difficult to predict. The king will probably justify his reputation for vacillation, taking the advice of the last person to whom he speaks on any given issue. Although the crown prince has sought to curb corruption and engage the opposition, he still appears to lack supporters in the royal family, seemingly confirming the impression made on Gates in 2011. For his part, the prime minister is now more the godfather of the hardliners than their tactical political leader, but he is renowned for his political abilities -- his "people skills" far exceed those of the king. Even so, the most important hardliner at the moment is probably Field Marshal Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, commander-in-chief of the armed forces (he is in his fifties; his exact age is unknown). Other royal hardliners play a central role as well, including the ministers of justice, the royal court, and interior.
Outside Bahrain, Saudi Arabia -- joined to the island by a causeway -- is the royal family's most important ally, far exceeding Washington's influence. A year ago, Riyadh seemed frustrated by the continuing crisis in Bahrain and was encouraging dialogue with the opposition, but that impulse seems to have faded. In November, former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal told a Washington audience that "Iran had been meddling" in Bahrain since "right after the 1979 revolution...and its propaganda broadcasts had never ceased," adding, "Saudi Arabia will never accept that Iran will take power in Bahrain."
The revived talks between the palace and opposition reportedly cover five main issues: electoral districts; parliamentary approval of governments appointed by the king; the powers and composition of the appointed upper house of parliament; increased independence for the judiciary; and police and security matters. Such weighty subjects will be difficult to advance quickly. Meanwhile, Sunni supporters of the royal family are upset at what they see as concessions to the Shiite opposition. Overshadowing the whole process is the approaching anniversary of the 2011 troubles. The clandestine group "February 14," which rejects political compromise, is reportedly planning street action around that date.
The new talks, combined with the candor of the Gates book, provide an opportunity for U.S. diplomatic pressure to encourage political reform. Yet the timing is bad given the imminent protest anniversary and consequent increase in tensions. Washington's course of action could well depend on whether Saudi Arabia signals support for dialogue or sides with the hardliners.
**Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.

Iran Gives ex-President's Daughter Suspended Jail Term
by Naharnet Newsdesk 25 January 2014/Iran on Saturday handed a daughter of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani a suspended jail sentence for spreading lies about the authorities, her lawyer told the official IRNA news agency. "The verdict was issued by the court and my client has been sentenced to a six-month suspended jail term," Vahid Abolmoalayee said. Fatemeh Hashemi's sentence was suspended for the next two years, said Abolmoalayee, adding that he would appeal against the sentence. Her trial was held at a branch of Tehran's revolutionary court on January 18. The media reported that she made comments against the powerful Larijani brothers who head Iran's legislative and judiciary bodies. Her father is an influential cleric who was president from 1989 to 1997 and is seen as a moderate figure close to the reformist camps. Faezeh Hashemi, another of Rafsanjani's daughters, was arrested and imprisoned in late 2012 for six months for "propaganda against the regime". Her brother, Mehdi Hashemi, was also arrested in 2012 after he returned from abroad. He was later freed on bail.
Both Mehdi and Faezeh Hashemi were accused of involvement in 2009 street protests that erupted after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was given a second presidential term in an election the opposition said was marked by fraud.
SourceAgence France Presse.

The Counter Terrorism Card Backfires on Syrian Regime’s Delegation in Montreux

(Translation - Karim Traboulsi)01/24/2014
The Montreux episode did not go as desired by the diplomacy of the axis comprising Russia, Iran, China, and Hezbollah, which backs the Syrian regime in Damascus. The Geneva 2 round of negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition kicked off amid mutual obduracy and a “high ceiling” for demands, a conflict in priorities, and a dispute over which frame of reference to adopt. Nevertheless, what happened in Montreux remains an achievement worth building upon consciously and prudently, away from gloating. It is important to focus on the forest and not exclusively on the trees, the future of Syria being the – dense and difficult – forest. It is going to take wisdom and perseverance, particularly on the part of the co-sponsors of Geneva 2, the United States and Russia, as well ast he United Nations. Indeed, the latter now is the proprietor of the Geneva 2 “process,” through Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, his envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, but also via the Security Council, which had set the stage for Geneva 2through resolution 2118. This is why the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council were present at Montreux, at the invitation of Ban Ki-moon, which stated the purpose of the conference as being the implementation of the Geneva 1 communiqué calling for the establishment of a transitional authority with full executive powers, including over security, the armed forces, and intelligence, to be agreed upon by the two sides in a negotiated settlement.
The fact that Montreux convened is in and of itself a significant development in the political-diplomatic process concerned with the Syrian crisis, and so is the mere presence of the Syrian opposition delegation, led by Syrian National Coalition (SNC) chairman Ahmad Jarba, in the same room with an official delegation representing the regime of Bashar al-Assad, led by Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. To be sure, this is an admission that the Baath Party’s monopoly over power in Syria is history, and that there is an internationally recognized opposition in Syria today, no matter how hard Minister Muallem tries to belittle it by describing it as a bunch of “mercenaries.”
The international consensus on the fact that the aim of Geneva 2 is to implement Geneva 1 was the main theme of the Montreux meeting, putting the axis that supports the regime in Damascus in an awkward position. This axis’s diplomacy had wagered that the Syrian opposition would thwart Geneva 2, whether in the part that has to do with the international momentum in Montreux or the part that has to do with negotiations between the regime and the opposition in Geneva. The pro-regime camp made a bet on the divisions of the opposition, believing this would prevent it from attending the conference because – as the pro-regime camp thought – it would mean the opposition agreeing to Assad remaining in power until an agreement over a transitional authority is reached. But this axis’s wager was foiled when the SNC attended Montreux, and expressed its willingness to negotiate with the regime in Geneva 2. Indeed, not attending the conference would have given the diplomacy of the pro-regime axis ammunition to be used in delegitimizing the opposition, while consolidating the regime’s legitimacy.
For this reason perhaps, Damascus decided to add another item to the list of strict priorities that it brought to Monterux and Geneva, namely, counterterrorism, and took to challenging the legitimacy of the representation of the SNC, arguing that the real opposition is the internal Syrian opposition exclusively, while the opposition based abroad is nothing but “mercenaries.” This was the strategy Walid al-Muallem carried to Montreux and presented in his opening remarks, and also in his negotiations with the UN. His logic was: Your have your priorities and we have ours. He carried the priority of counter terrorism wherever he went, coupled with the claim that the opposition representatives represented no one, and therefore, the regime had no real partner in shaping the future of Syria, while there is no alternative to it in the fight against terror. But the counter terrorism card backfired on the Syrian delegation in Montreux, as did the ploy to dismiss the frame of reference of the negotiations and to claim that the opposition delegation was not a real partner.
The UN Secretary General said that he was shocked and “disappointed” to see Damascus agree to attend the conference under the frame of reference he had stated clearly in the text of the invitation, only to subsequently declare that the purpose of the conference, according to Damascus’s priorities, was the fight against terror.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took a very sharp tone against Bashar al-Assad, calling him a “one-man super-magnet for terrorism” in the region. Kerry also declared that the future of Syria “should not be about one man, [or] one family.” Kerry vowed that there can be no place for a man who turned against his people with support from Iran and a terrorist group that crossed over from Lebanon, adding that the regime has no credibility, and that there can be no salvation for Syria as long as Bashar remains in power.
Damascus was hoping to diplomatically solidify what it terms intelligence partnership with Western powers in counter terrorism. Damascus leaked information that British and U.S. intelligence services and others had been scrambling to coordinate with the Syrian regime against al-Qaeda and its affiliates. The regime thought that Montreux was an opportunity for political and diplomatic mobilization against terrorism, in partnership with the regime in Damascus.
However, this did not pan out, bringing another setback to Damascus and its allies in the axis consisting of Russia, China, Iran, and Hezbollah. This is particularly so when the Montreux international gathering gave the opportunity to SNC head Ahmad Jarba to tell the regime from an international platform: The terrorism is your terrorism.
To counter the regime’s strategy based on the pretense of fighting terrorism and making this issue the alternative frame of reference to Geneva 2, the opposition launched a strategy to reinforce Geneva 2’s reference and link terrorism to the regime. For this reason, Jarba deemed UN Security Council resolution 2118, which was issued regarding chemical weapons in Syria and called for holding Geneva 2, the basis for the Geneva conference.
By doing so, Jarba added to the frame of reference represented by Geneva 1 a UN Security Council resolution, which he described as a “historic resolution and a real opportunity to accomplish a political solution that would spare Syria and the region rivers of blood, and safeguard international peace and security, especially since Syria has become, thanks to the terrorism of Assad and his mercenaries, a hotbed for terrorists who constitute the other face of Assad, and who threaten peace and security in the region and the world.”
Jarba leaned on Resolution 2118, which was the result of the dismantlement of the siege imposed by the Russian-Chinese veto on the Security Council, after Russia succeeded in halting the U.S. military strike that President Barack Obama had pledged to carry out, by convincing Assad’s regime to destroy its chemical weapon’s arsenal. This way, the opposition’s strategy highlighted the additional component stated in Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to Montreux and Geneva, namely, Resolution 2118. It also stressed the role of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in fighting the “mercenaries of international terrorism,” including, as Jarba said, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and Hezbollah.
Iran has kept itself away from Montreux and Geneva because of its insistence on “ambiguity” in its stance regarding the Geneva 1 communiqué, which effectively requires the establishment of an alternative administration to the ruling Baath regime in Syria, and also because of its excessive prevarication and diplomatic manipulation of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who strongly wanted Iran to be part of the Geneva process and to be present at the table in Montreux to use its newfound moderation to influence the regime in Damascus.
For this reason, Ban Ki-moon tried to find a way to overcome the obstacle represented by Iran’s failure to endorse the frame of reference for Geneva 2, almost ruining the Montreux meeting when he wagered on Iran’s good will and declared that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarifhad expressed to him verbally Iran’s willingness to push for the success of Montreux and Geneva 2, and that Iran understood well that the reference point was Geneva 1.
If Tehran was honest about this stance, this would have truly been a paradigm shift in the Iranian position, and a clear indication of the triumph of the logic of the moderate camp in Iran, represented by President Hassan Rohani, over the logic of the hardliner camp represented by the IRGC. If Iran had truly endorsed the Geneva 1 communiqué, this would have had major implications, not only for Syria, but also Lebanon and the whole region.
So when Ban Ki-moon announced that, based on Iran’s verbal pledges, he was going to invite Iran to attend the conference, there was a wave of optimism about a new chapterin the Middle East, but this soon dissipated. It soon became clear to Ban Ki-moon that Tehran was not going to issue a statement confirming its verbal pledges. The Secretary-General felt deceived and was furious when he realized the he might have been naïve to believe that what he had heard from Javad Zarifhad removed the deliberate ambiguity from the Iranian position.
By rescinding the invitation, following U.S., French, and British pressure, and also as a result of the SNC’s threats to withdraw from the conference unless Tehran explicitly accepts Geneva 1 as the reference for the talks, Ban Ki-moon exposed the Iranian stance, though perhaps inadvertently. His goal was to ensure Iran would be present in Montreux, but Tehran issued a statement on the following day in which it rejected Geneva 1 as the reference point and said it would not attend on its basis, prompting Ban Ki-moon to withdraw the invitation and express his “disappointment” over the Iranian position and conduct.
Ban Ki-moon may own the Geneva 2 “process,” but the real burden falls on the shoulders of the United States and Russia. Yet the gap between the two powers is wide, and Russia may have endorsed Geneva 1 as the point of reference believing that Geneva 2 may never see the light. It is not clear whether the Russian position that accepts the implementation of Geneva 1 as the purpose of Geneva 2 was honest from the get-go, because Moscow has so far clung to Assad remaining in power, at least until the next presidential election, and has not consented to a transitional political process by means of a transitional authority with full powers that would replace the regime. Perhaps the aim is to assign different roles to Tehran, Moscow, Damascus, and Beijing, but more than one surprise has since taken place, and this axis’s strategy has now suffered serious setbacks. There could also be differences between the Russian and the Iranian positions.
Moscow and with it Beijing finds itself now in a position that exposes it to accountability. Russian-Chinese diplomacy had paralyzed the Security Council through a dual veto that was wielded three times, to avoid an actual implementation of Geneva 1, though the latter had been endorsed unanimously by the five permanent members of the Security Council. This diplomacy has enabled Bashar al-Assad to hold on to power, and the Assad obstacle has so far been the most intractable. Now, the Syrian regime’s diplomacy is endeavoring to replace the idea of a transitional authority in Syria with the term “expanded government” in Damascus, which would comprise regime figures infused with some elements from the domestic opposition exclusively, with the full exclusion of the opposition abroad.
Moscow wants the talks in Geneva to be at a bare minimum level to deflect blame, without real progress, until new attempts are made to blame the Syrian opposition for the failure of the peace process in Syria. Washington is saying that it is seeking convincing Russian guarantees and assurances that Bashar al-Assad would not run for another term, as a practical prelude for the concessions that need to be made by all parties, to reach a political settlement for the Syrian crisis. Both Washington and Moscow now recognize that prolonging the conflict in Syria would not curb the growth of terrorism and al-Qaeda affiliates, but only exacerbate it and push it to expand beyond the Syrian arena. This is part of why the two powers are working together on the Syrian question.
However, the gap between the U.S. and Russian attitudes are almost as deep as the gap between the Syrian regime and opposition at this juncture. This could be part of efforts to “raise the ceiling” of demands on the eve of the negotiations, or the gap could be very real. The American and Russian diplomacies might have a public escalatory face and another that is working hard on developing the features of a grand bargain, which this week looked quite far-fetched.
During the Montreux episode, the Syrian opposition and its backers scored some points. Now, it is time to invest this wisely to save Syria from the inferno ravaging the country.
*Translated from Arabic by Karim Traboulsi