Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rebels urge more NATO strikes after heavy losses in Qaddafi’s hometown

Anti-Qaddafi forces on Wednesday urged NATO to intensify its air war as they took heavy losses in a push on the ousted Libyan despot’s birthplace, Sirte, and his other remaining bastion, Bani Walid.

Wednesday’s fighting was so intense that the fighters of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Libya’s interim ruling body, had to retreat three kilometers (two miles) outside the eastern edge of Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown.

“There were heavy clashes today. Our men came under heavy attack,” said the commander, who asked not to be named.
“Fighting was particularly intense around the port and on the eastern outskirts of Sirte.”
 NTC fighters captured the port of Sirte, in the east of the city, two days ago, marking a major victory for them in the battle for the control of Qaddafi’s bastion.

It was unclear late Wednesday whether the port was still under the control of the fighters, but the commander said the NTC troops were still present there.

“It is becoming a day-to-day fight. One day we are winning, the next day they are winning,” he said.

While the fugitive Qaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown, Libya’s defense ministry spokesman said one of the deposed leader's sons, Seif al-Islam, was in Bani Walid and other, Mutassim, in Sirte.

Along with his father and former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi, Seif is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

Egypt could be the next GCC member state, Gulf sources say

Egypt is being considered for incorporation into the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC).

Discussions are under way about making Egypt a GCC member, the Kuwaiti al-Watan newspaper reported Gulf sources as saying.

The sources also said that the GCC states are enthusiastic about Egypt joining, as the country has the capabilities and shares mutual strategic interests with the Gulf states. Egypt’s security historically has also been linked to the security of the Gulf, they added.

Egypt and Morocco are the only Arab economies classified as emerging markets, and Egypt boasts the biggest army in the Arab world.

In addition, Egypt and the GCC states have strong mutual interests.

On September 11, Morocco and Jordan attended their first GCC ministerial meeting, in Jeddah.

The sources said that an Egyptian role is increasingly necessary to the stability of the region, especially after the change of regime in Iraq and the increasing Iranian interference in the Iraqi political sphere.

Meanwhile, sources said that the close ties of Tehran and Cairo is not a problem, because the Gulf States are convinced that any ties connecting Egypt and Iran will benefit the region as a whole.

Egyptian officials welcomed the news.

Last week, Egypt’s deputy prime minister, Hazem al-Beblawi, said Arab governments or their investment arms may soon buy Egyptian treasury bills to help the Cairo government reduce its borrowing costs.

Beblawi specifically mentioned Saudi Arabai and the UAE when discussing the treasury bills.

The GCC’s six member-states include: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Bahrain court sentences protester to death

Bahrain's special security court on Thursday sentenced a protester to death for killing a policeman, and gave doctors and nurses who had treated injured protesters during the country's uprising earlier this year lengthy prison sentences, a lawyer said.
Attorney Mohsen al-Alawi said the tribunal, set up during Bahrain's emergency rule, convicted and sentenced 13 medical professionals each to 15 years in prison. In addition, two doctors were sentenced to 10 years each while five other medics convicted on Thursday got shorter prison terms of 5 years each.
Thursday's harsh sentences suggest the Sunni authorities in the Gulf kingdom will not relent in pursing and punishing those they accuse of supporting the Shiite-led opposition and participating in dissent that has roiled the tiny island nation.
Earlier this year, the same special court sentenced two other protesters to death for killing a police officer in a separate incident.
Al-Alawi, the lawyer, said the 20 medical professionals, who were charged with various anti-state crimes, and the protester who got the death sentence on Thursday can all appeal their verdicts.
A Bahraini rights group identified the protester sentenced to death as Ali Yousef Abdulwahab. The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said in a statement that another suspect, Ali Attia Mahdi, was convicted on Thursday as Abdulwahab's accomplice and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Hundreds of activists have been imprisoned since March when Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law to deal with protests by the country's Shiite majority demanding greater rights and freedoms.
More than 30 people have been killed since the protests began in February, inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere. The Sunni monarchy that rules this strategically important Gulf nation, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet, responded with a violent crackdown.
Thursday's sentences came a day after the tribunal upheld sentences for 21 activists convicted for their roles in the protests, including eight prominent political figures who were given life terms on charges of trying to overthrow the kingdom's Sunni rulers.
The court's decision reflected the authorities' unwillingness to roll back punishments for those considered central to the anti-government uprising, although officials have taken some steps to ease tensions. They include releasing some detainees and reinstating state workers purged for suspected support of the seven-month-old protest movement.
The doctors' trial has been closely watched by rights groups, which have criticized Bahrain's use of the security court, which has military prosecutors and both civilian and military judges, in prosecuting civilians.
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's population of some 525,000 people, but claim they face deep-rooted discrimination such as being blocked from key government and security posts.
The Sunni dynasty, which has ruled the island for more than 200 years, has retained crucial support from the West and Gulf Arab neighbors through the months of protests and crackdowns.
Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law in March and invited a Saudi-led Gulf force to help them deal with the unprecedented dissent. Sunni rulers of Bahrain's neighbors like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fear that any concessions to the Shiite protesters in Bahrain could widen the influence of Shiite powerhouse Iran.

Military council considers allowing party members to run as independents

Informed sources have said that the military council is mulling, in consultation with the cabinet, the possibility of allowing party members to run as independents in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Article V of the recently amended elections law stipulates that members of political parties must run in the elections under the umbrella of their respective parties and remain so throughout the parliamentary session.
Should the article be amended, party members would be able to compete for the one-third seat ratio allocated for individual runners. It would also allow individuals to join party blocs in parliament after they win seats.
Political parties consider Article V unconstitutional, but it remained unchanged during a recent cabinet vote.

Police officer arrested on suspicion of torturing Salafi to death

The Alexandria public prosecutor has ordered the detention of Mohamed al-Shimy, a police officer from the National Security Apparatus, for four days pending investigation on charges of killing al-Sayed Belal, a Salafi who was allegedly tortured to death in a detention facility following the bombing of a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.
He also ordered the release of three officers and the arrest of five others accused in the case.
The prosecutor released Major General Tarek al-Mogy, former head of operations at the dissolved State Security Investigations Service, after hearing his testimony. He was found not to have been involved in the killing.
The prosecution has heard the testimony of 12 eyewitnesses who were with Belal in the detention facility. They confirmed that Belal was tortured continuously for 18 hours.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Egypt jails former information minister for 7 years and top TV official for 5 years

An Egyptian court sentenced former Information Minister Anas al-Fiki to seven years in prison for squandering public wealth from the state television union, the latest prison sentence to be handed to a member of Hosni Mubarak’s former cabinet.

The court also sentenced Osama al-Sheikh, the former head of the union, to five years on the same charges, the court ruled, according to Reuters.

The ruling was aired by state television.
Chaos broke out in the court when the verdict for Sheikh was read, with his supporters lunging past security towards the judge as others threw bottles at him. Judge Abdallah Abul Hashem had to be whisked away by security, AFP reported.

Sheikh had been cleared in a previous corruption case and his family and supporters had expected him to be released.

The two are the latest in a string of former regime officials to go on trial since a popular revolt forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down in February.

Mubarak himself is on trial for allegedly ordering the killings of anti-regime protesters and for alleged corruption. His two sons are also on trial for alleged corruption.

Israel approves 1100 new homes in east Jerusalem

JERUSALEM - Israel granted the go-ahead on Tuesday for construction of 1100 new Jewish housing units in east Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any freeze in settlement construction, raising already heightened tensions after last week's Palestinian move to seek UN membership.
Israel's Interior Ministry said the homes would be built in Gilo, a sprawling Jewish enclave in southeast Jerusalem. It said construction could begin after a mandatory 60-day period for public comment, a process that spokesman Roi Lachmanovich called a formality.
The announcement drew swift condemnation from the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as their future capital. The United States, European Union and United Nations all expressed disappointment with Israel's decision.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Israeli announcement was counterproductive to efforts to relaunch Mideast peace talks. She said both Israel and the Palestinians should avoid provocative actions, and that international mediators will remain focused on guiding the two sides back to direct negotiations.
Richard Miron, a spokesman for UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry, said the announcement "sends the wrong signal at this sensitive time."
The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt all settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank - territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war - as a condition for resuming peace talks.
Since capturing east Jerusalem, Israel has annexed the area and ringed it with about 10 Jewish enclaves that are meant to solidify its control. Gilo, which is close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, is among the largest, with about 50,000 residents. Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem has not been internationally recognized.
Meir Margalit, a Jerusalem city council member who is critical of east Jerusalem construction, said city officials had given initial approval to the Gilo project more than a year ago.
Margalit said he didn't expect the project to be "an obstacle of peace" since it is in an existing Jewish area that is widely expected to remain part of Israel in any peace deal. But he said Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the hawkish Shas Party, appeared to have timed the approval as a response to the Palestinian statehood gambit. Yishai declined an interview request.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Israeli decision amounted to "1100 no's to the resumption of peace talks."
He urged the US, Israel's closest and most important ally, to change its position and support the Palestinians in their quest for UN membership. The United States has repeatedly called on Israel to cease settlement construction on land that could constitute a Palestinian state, but says the UN is not the proper place to resolve the conflict.
With peace talks stalled for the past three years, the Palestinians last week asked the UN Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. Although the move won't change the situation on the ground, the Palestinians believe international support will boost their position in future peace negotiations.
The US has vowed to veto the Palestinian request in the Security Council. Both Israel and the US say a Palestinian state can be established only through negotiations.
In an interview published Tuesday, Netanyahu ruled out any settlement freeze, arguing that a 10-month moratorium on new housing construction last year had failed to yield results.
The Palestinians, saying his limited freeze was insufficient, agreed to resume negotiations just weeks before the moratorium ended. Netanyahu then refused a US-backed Palestinian demand to extend it, and the talks quickly collapsed.
"The Palestinians, by coming back to the issue of the settlement freeze, indicate that they don't really want to negotiate," Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post. "They use it again and again, but I think a lot of people see it as a ruse to avoid direct negotiations."
Netanyahu has called for the resumption of peace talks without preconditions. He has dismissed demands that a Palestinian state be based on Israel's 1967 prewar lines - putting him at odds with the Obama administration.
Seeking to break the deadlock, the international Quartet of Mideast mediators - the US, EU, UN and Russia - last week called on Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations without preconditions. It called for a peace agreement to end the more than 60-year-old conflict by the end of next year and urged both sides "to refrain from provocative actions."
The fate of east Jerusalem is the most explosive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The sector is home to Jerusalem's Old City, which houses sensitive Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
Netanyahu says he will never relinquish east Jerusalem, which Israel considers an integral part of its capital. The Palestinian leadership has vowed it will not accept a state without key parts of east Jerusalem as its capital.
In all, about 200,000 Jews live in east Jerusalem areas that Israel calls neighborhoods and the Palestinians call settlements. Squeezed between them are Arab neighborhoods that are home to some 250,000 Palestinians.

Elections declaration and Tantawi's walk

At the top of stories in today’s papers is the ruling military council's declaration setting the dates for the first post-revolution parliamentary elections.
State-owned Al-Ahram reports that the declaration, dated 25 September, stipulates that the first phase of elections for the People's Assembly, the lower house, will begin on 28 November. The elections will continue across the different governorates until 10 January and will be conducted in three phases.  The upper house, the Shura Council, will have its elections on 29 January.  
Amendments to the parliamentary elections law have caused consternation among political groups who are opposed to a single-winner system and want all the elections to be based on lists of candidates put forth by the various parties. Initially the law required a dual system in which half the MPs would be elected through the single-winner system and half through a list-based vote, but this week's declaration cements the change to a third and two-thirds, respectively.
The amendment has not satisfied many political forces, and privately owned Al-Shorouk reports that the Democratic Alliance - a bloc of 34 mainly Islamist political parties - plans to release a response to the new amendments within hours. The announcement has also prompted calls for a "Taking the revolution back" protest in Tahrir on Friday.
The other two major stories in today’s papers are the public transport workers’ strike and yet another explosion along the Sinai  pipeline that carries gas to Israel. State-owned Al-Akhbar reports that Manpower Minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai announced the transport workers' strike has been suspended for 15 days after the government agreed to review their demands. Except that the workers insist that the strike has not been suspended and will continue until Prime Minister Essam Sharaf signs off on bonuses and reviews the rest of their demands.
Leftist party paper Al-Wafd leads with the pipeline explosion - the sixth this year. The paper reports that six balaclava-clad men in an unmarked car were behind the blast, which left three people injured. The assailants allegedly placed an explosive under a section of pipe near a maintenance station near the town of Midan and then fled.
Another story that has piqued public interest is the video footage recently aired on state TV of Supreme Council of the Armed Forces head Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi parading the streets of downtown Cairo and pressing palms with the masses. The intriguing thing about the footage was that Tantawi was dressed in a suit, not his usual army fatigues.
Privately owned Al-Tahrir muses about the possible reasons for this left-field footage, reporting that the Tantawi walk took place Monday at 9 pm on Qasr al-Nil Street. Many people reportedly approached him, some with praise and others recounting personal or national problems. The paper reports that Tantawi’s stock response to all comers was a terse but friendly thanks.
The paper also quotes political analyst Ayman Abdel Wahab from Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in an attempt to decipher the impromptu visit. Abdel Wahab says that the visit coincides with the supposed end of the period of military transitional rule, adding that it means the military intends to stay on for a while more. He also rejects the idea that the stunt is a possible opening gambit for Tantawi’s presidential bid, as some suspect.
Cairo University political science professor Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed also discounted the presidential candidate theory, according to Al-Tahrir, and said the visit had many other messages. They were to show that the streets of Cairo were safe and also that the military was popular on the streets, in light of the opposition of political forces to their continued presence and the wish for them to return to their barracks.
Egypt's papers:
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run
Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Youm7: Daily, privately owned
Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned
Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Police fire tear gas to break up Khartoum demonstration

Police fired tear gas and used batons to break up a protest in Khartoum against the punitive rise in food prices, witnesses said, with protesters burning tires and demanding cheaper food.

The demonstration began Monday afternoon when some 400 youths gathered in a street in Burri, a residential district in the Sudanese capital, shouting “No, no to high food prices!” and burning tires, several witnesses told AFP.

Riot police used tear gas and batons against them, chasing some of them away.
But the demonstration continued until 10:00 pm, with some families living nearby joining the protesters and the street remaining closed, the witnesses said.

Police confirmed that a group of people had gathered in a street in east Khartoum, burning tires to block the traffic and demanding lower prices, but said they had “contained the disturbance” and that no one was hurt.

The Sudanese government is scrambling to contain the crisis of high food prices, which has hit ordinary Sudanese hard and forced painful household spending cuts.

Traders in Khartoum’s main market say the price of beef has doubled since January and demand has slumped.

A rare three-day meat boycott called two weeks ago by the Sudanese consumer protection society, a local NGO, in protest at soaring food inflation, had little effect on the rising prices.

Fresh attack on Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel

A section of pipeline in the North Sinai that supplies Israel and Jordan with gas has been blown up, the latest in a series of attacks in the area.
Sources in North Sinai said that a group of six armed men cut through the barbed wire around the gas terminal near the town of al-Arish and entered from the back.

They then placed an explosive device where the bombing took place moments later. They got back into the car that was waiting for them and fled the scene.

The secretary general of the North Sinai governorate said at least two people were injured from the explosion which also damaged nearby crops and farmland.
A local hospital said one man was admitted with burns from the blast.
Fire brigades were bringing the flames under control after the company operating the pipeline cut off the gas supply.

Since Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, was ousted in February, the pipeline has been repeatedly blown up by people believed to be opposed to selling Egyptian gas to Israel.

The last attack took place in July, when men armed with machine guns forced guards at a station to abandon their posts, and then blew it up.

Egypt has been trying to charge Israel and Jordan more for its gas after complaining that prices fixed during Mubarak's rule were below market rates.

The pipeline is run by Gasco, Egypt's gas transport company which is a subsidiary of the national gas company EGAS.

The Egyptian armed forces launched a security operation in Sinai in August to root out hundreds of suspected fighterss believed to be behind some of the attacks on the pipeline and police compounds in the peninsula.

Egypt military ruler’s ‘casual’ appearance raises questions about his intentions

A walkabout in central Cairo by Egypt’s military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi donning civilian clothes has unleashed a torrent of questions about his political intentions.

Tantawi took a stroll in Cairo’s Downtown area on Monday night wearing a business suit and with no personal security in tow.

The unusual sight, a picture of which appeared on the state-owned al-Ahram’s front page, set social networking sites ablaze with jokes and commentary.

That’s “Tantawi handing power to ‘civilian rule’,” wrote Adel on Twitter.
“The field marshal wears military uniform to try revolutionaries in military court, and now he wears civilian clothes to rule the people,” wrote a user who calls himself MrKimooo.

Tantawi heads a junta of military officials known as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) that took power when president Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down by a popular uprising in February.

SCAF has promised to oversee a transitional phase before a handover to civilian rule.

The military, who were hailed as heroes at the beginning of the uprising for not shooting protesters, have come under repeated criticism for their lack of transparency and for alleged human rights abuses.

Protesters have been taking to the streets for several months to demand the end of both military rule and military trials of civilians.

Tantawi’s late night walkabout came two days after he gave closed-door testimony at Mubarak’s murder trial, which was criticized on social networking sites when details were leaked.

NTC commander says troops seized Sirte’s port as civilians flee Qaddafi’s hometown

Troops of Libya’s new rulers seized control of the port in Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi’s birthplace, in fighting with the ousted leader’s diehards during the night, a commander told AFP on Tuesday, as hundreds of terrified civilians poured out of the Mediterranean coastal city.

“There were clashes in the night and we now are controlling the port,” said Commander Mustafa bin Dardef of the Zintan brigade, which is attached to the National Transitional Council (NTC), the new ruling body of Libya.

The capture of the port, located in eastern Sirte, marks a strategic victory for the anti-Qaddafi forces as they battle for control of Sirte, one of Qaddafi’s last remaining strongholds.
The fight for the Mediterranean city has intensified in the past few days with NATO carrying out raids for the third consecutive day on Monday.

NTC fighters have besieged the city from the east, west and south and were on Tuesday cleaning and oiling their weapons for what they said would be a thrust towards the centre, site of Qaddafi’s compound and military bunkers.

“As we move closer to the city center, it’s going to be face-to-face street fighting and we are preparing for it,” said one fighter, Ali Zaidi.

Fleeing residents spoke of dwindling supplies of food and water and said Qaddafi forces had attempted to stop people leaving, while doctors warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Fighters loyal to the new government also pounded Muammar Qaddafi’s forces in the desert city of Bani Walid, southeast of the capital Tripoli, the only other significant stronghold left to his loyalists.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Al-Jazeera says Israeli court frees journalist

An Israeli military court decided on Monday to release Al-Jazeera journalist Samer Allawi who was detained on August 10, the Doha-based news channel said.
Allawi, a Palestinian, is Al-Jazeera's Kabul bureau chief and was arrested by Israeli security officials as he tried to cross from Jordan into the West Bank after a family visit.
An Israeli military court in the northern West Bank has accused Allawi of being a member of Hamas and of having "contacts" with the military wing of the Islamist movement, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Cabinet approves amendments to Egypt's contested parliament law

Egypt’s cabinet yesterday approved amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Law in preparation for elections set for November.

The amendments were approved during a cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. The amendments included changes to Article 1 of the law, which reduced the number of parliamentary seats from 508 to 498. The members will be elected through a general vote, with at least half of the members being either farmers or workers.
The third article of the law was also amended, stipulating that two thirds of the parliament will be chosen through closed electoral lists and the remaining third will be elected through a single candidate list. Additionally, according to Mohamed Hegazy, the official spokesperson for cabinet, two thirds of the representatives of every governorate will be chosen through closed party lists while the other one third will be chosen through single candidate lists. In every list, every factional candidate should be followed by a candidate who is a worker or farmer. According to the new amendments, each list should also include at least one female candidate.
Additionally, the new law will divide the Egypt into 46 electoral constituencies where members will be elected using the electoral list voting system and 83 constituencies where members will be chosen on single candidate list voting system.
A new article was also introduced into the law, regarding the quota for workers and farmers in the parliament. According to the new article, if the workers and farmers do not get the required number of seats, the electoral committee should then refer to the next candidate list to pick new candidates to fill the quota.
According to Hegazy, the cabinet also approved amendments to the Shura Council (Upper House) Law, which lowered the numbers of seats in the council from 390 to 270. Additionally, two thirds of the council members will be elected through using closed electoral lists and the remaining third will be chosen through single candidate list.
The new council law also stipulates that Egypt will be divided into 30 constituencies using the electoral list voting system and another 30 with the single candidate list voting system. Voters will pick two members from each constituency, with at least one candidate being either a worker or farmer.
These changes come after Egypt's ruling military council met with political parties in which many of parties pushed for closed lists.

Diplomat accuses Yemeni president of assassination attempt

Former Yemeni Ambassador to the Arab League Abdel Malik Mansour on Sunday accused Yemen's president of planning an attempt to assassinate Mansour at his home in south Cairo.
"Bikers attacked my house with grenades and fire bottles at 3 am early Sunday," Mansour told reporters.
Mansour accused President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his loyalists of plotting Mansour's assassination to avenge his support for the uprising.
On 22 March, Mansour announced his support for the Yemen uprising and demanded the removal of Saleh, who has been in power since 1979.
In April, Saleh replaced Mansour with Mohamed al-Haisamy as Yemen's Arab League representative.
Egypt's Interior Ministry said in a statement that the attackers burned a balcony and a small room before fleeing on their motorbikes. However, the ministry did not suggest it was an assassination attempt.
The building's janitor gave a description of the attackers, and Giza Security Department has formed a task force to identify and arrest them, the statement said.
In August, Maareb Press, a Yemeni opposition website, said members of Yemen’s national security services had arrived in Cairo to kill certain Egypt-based opposition figures.

Saudi women given voting rights

Saudi women will have the right to join the advisory Shura Council (consultative assembly) as full members and participate in future municipal elections, King Abdullah has said.

The announcement came days before municipal elections where women will be excluded.

"Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others ... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term," Abdullah said on Sunday in a speech delivered to the Shura Council.

"Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote," Abdullah said.
The decision means women will take part in the elections to be held in four years. Nominations for municipal polls on Thursday are already in.
Women in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom are not allowed to drive.
Activists in the country have long called for greater rights for women, who are barred from travelling, working or having medical operations without the permission of a male relative.
More than 5,000 men will compete in Thursday's municipal elections, only the second in Saudi Arabia's history, to fill half the seats in the kingdom's 285 municipal councils. The other half are appointed by the government.
The first elections were held in 2005, but the government extended the existing councils' term for two more years.

More than 60 Saudi intellectuals and activists have called for a boycott of the ballot for excluding women

NATO paves way for fresh NTC push into Sirte

NATO has launched a bombing campaign on Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte to clear the way for fighters supporting Libya's interim government to advance deeper into the city and gain control.
The forces of the National Transitional Council (NTC) prepared to renew their advance into the coastal city on Monday, a day after the roar of jet engines and sporadic booms could be heard as NATO ordnance hit targets on the ground.
One strike, giving off a deep thud, released a big cloud of smoke and dust over the south of the city.
"NATO has dropped a lot of bombs today," said one NTC fighter, who declined to give his name. "You can see the planes up above. They struck along here," he said, gesturing with his hand across the area south of the city centre.

Earlier this weekend, NTC forces had pushed to within a few hundred metres of the centre of Sirte - one of the last bastions of pro-Gaddafi resistance in Libya - but later drew back to let the NATO jets do their work.
"Yesterday our freedom fighters attacked Sirte city from two sides. That doesn't mean that Sirte is free now, but it is an indication that Sirte will be free soon," said Ahmed Bani, an NTC military spokesman in Tripoli.
"I'm asking now any militiamen fighting on the side of the tyrant [to realise] that the game is over."
NATO's support for the anti-Gaddafi rebellion played a major part in toppling Gaddafi and the alliance says it will keep up its operations for as long as needed.
In a statement, the alliance said its sorties in the vicinity of Sirte had struck targets that included two command and control facilities, a military staging area, a storage bunker and radar facility, and 29 armed vehicles.
Meanwhile, many residents of Sirte have taken advantage of the relative lull in fighting to flee the city.
While many residents have claimed that Gaddafi's troops are attempting to prevent civilians from leaving, a Gaddafi spokesman has accused NATO of killing several hundred civilians in strikes on the city.

French citizen denied entry into Egypt is an AUC researcher not journalist

According to sources at American University in Cairo (AUC) who spoke in condition of anonymity, the French Marie Edmee Josette Duboc who has been denied entry at Cairo airport on Saturday is an academic and not a journalist as has been previously reported by several media sources.
Duboc is a new hire at AUC's Sociology unit.
On Saturday, Duboc was denied entry into Egypt and deported back to Paris together with her daughter who was accompanying her. Duboc's husband also works at AUC.  
Duboc was conducting her research on the workers movement in Egypt in 2009.
This is the first time Duboc attempts to travel back to Cairo since. She was told that her name was on the airport security's list of persons denied entry into the country. 

Egyptian intel chief in Khartoum to discuss bilateral relations

Egyptian Intelligence chief Mourad Mowafiarrived in Sudan on Monday for a two-day trip to Egypt's troubled African neighbour. He is expected to deliver a message to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from the leader of Egypt's interim government and the head of the ruling military council, Field-Marshal Hussein Tantawi.
Mowafiis also expected to discuss the current state of Egypt-Sudan relations with the embattled Sudanese leader, including the issue of proposed cooperation initiatives aimed at combating cross-border smuggling activity.
The visit follows recent statements by al-Bashir to London-based Saudi daily Al-Shark Al-Awsat in which he said that shaky relations between the two countries had been a result of poor policymaking by the ousted Mubarak regime, which, al-Bashir asserted, had "conspired against"Sudan. He added that Egypt's ruling military council was justifiably "concerned"about Egyptian security in terms of water, food and national defence.
The Sudanese president went on to predict an improvement in bilateral relations, describing Egypt's recent revolution as a "revolution with no leader."
Al-Bashir concluded his interview with the Saudi daily by expressing optimism that Egypt's next leader would be democratically elected and would therefore practice greater caution when taking critical decisions.

Egypt Cabinet approves 500 per cent rise in monopoly fines

Egypt’s cabinet has approved amending the anti-monopoly law to increase the fine for violations by 500 per cent, to at least LE300 million ($50.8 million) compared to LE50 million ($ 8.4 million) previously, Agencies reported, citing cabinet spokesperson Mohamed Hegazy.

Police officer sentenced to 5 years in prison for killing female demonstrator

The Cairo Criminal Court on Sunday sentenced police officer Tamer Sami Refaat to five years in prison for killing a female demonstrator in Nasr City on 28 January, during the revolution’s Friday of Anger.
Refaat was also ordered to pay LE10,000 in compensation.
This is the first verdict to be handed down for the killing of a protester during the 25 January revolution.

Freedom and Justice Party: Election delay would trigger revolution

On Sunday the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party warned Egypt's ruling military council that postponing parliamentary elections would lead to another revolution.
Delaying elections without putting the issue to a referendum would constitute a military coup, the party said.
In a post on Twitter, party Secretary General Mohamed Saad al-Katatny said, "The coming days represent a decisive stage for the revolution. If the dates of parliamentary and presidential elections are not announced or if the elections are delayed, then we will have had an unfinished revolution."
Azab Mostafa, a senior member of the party, said the party believes the entire parliament should be elected through the list-based candidacy system, a demand of all parties in the Democratic Coalition.
If the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) doesn't announce the schedule for elections before the end of September it will no longer have legitimacy, because it previously said it would stay in power for six months, Mostafa said.
Ahmed Abu Baraka, legal adviser to the party, said no entity has the right to violate the Interim Constitution.
Emad Abdel Ghafour, president of the Salafi-led Nour Party, said his party and other political powers will not remain silent if the elections are delayed.
Mamdouh Ismail, vice president of the Salafi-led Asala Party, said foreign powers want the elections postponed over fears that Islamists will seize a majority in parliament in the coming elections.
“Our response will be strong if the elections are postponed,” he said.

Court to review decision rejecting Jama'a al-Islamiya's party application

The High Administrative Court will convene on 10 October to discuss a challenge submitted by Jama’a al-Islamiya, demanding that it be allowed to form its own political party.
The Islamist group is challenging the decision of the Political Parties Committee, which recently rejected the group’s application to form the Building and Development Party.
Group members staged a vigil outside the court in protest against the committee's decision. “The party is not religious,” said Mohamed Selim al-Awa, a representative from the group.
The state commissioner’s representative said he would recommend the court accept the challenge and nullify the committee’s decision.
The court will also discuss a challenge presented by presidential candidate Ayman Nour against the committee for declining his application to form the New Ghad Party.
The state commissioner’s representative said he supports the committee’s decision with regards to Nour.