Recent developments in some countries of the region until November 10:

Forbes selects Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques as one of the most powerful leaders

King Abdullah receives congratulations over successful hajj season

Clashes continue in Yemen, no negotiations regarding signing of Gulf initiative

Egypt’s military council says dealing calmly with U.S. warning to nationals

Sleiman says Lebanon in alarming situation but there’s no explosion

Saudi Arabia:

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has been ranked among the most powerful leaders in the world for the third time in a row by the US business magazine Forbes.

King Abdullah has been placed sixth in the list of 70 people topped by US President Barack Obama. Last year King Abdullah came third while he was in the ninth position in 2009.

The magazine praised King Abdullah’s reforms in the Kingdom, including granting women the right to vote in local elections and efforts to modernize the nation's educational system.

Since ascending the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has made development a central focus of his reign. He has initiated a range of major economic, social, education, health, and infrastructure projects that have brought about remarkable changes throughout the Kingdom.

King Abdullah’s notable achievements in this area include the launch of four mega economic cities, the creation of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University for Women, projects to expand the Two Holy Mosques and major welfare initiatives.

He also approved a historic reorganization of Saudi Arabia’s judicial system and enacted laws to formalize the royal succession.

King Abdullah took the initiative to promote dialogue between followers of different faiths and cultures and establish an international counter terrorism center in New York. The king has also been successful in portraying the tolerant image of Islam to the world.

“We have to open up to other communities because the message of Islam does not address a particular community excluding others. In fact, it is a message for the whole humanity,” the king said in his opening speech at the 12th Makkah conference recently.

Other world leaders on the top 10 list are: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Pope Benedict XVI, US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Meanwhile, Eissa Qaraqie, the minister of Palestinian prisoners and freed captives’ affairs, expressed thanks to King Abdullah for affording the pilgrimage of 477 Palestinians who were recently released in a prisoner swap deal.

King Abdullah had instructed officials to host 477 Palestinians recently released from Israeli prisons to perform hajj at his personal expense, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

King Abdullah had earlier announced his plan to host 2,000 Palestinian pilgrims for hajj this year. "This is the third year in a row his majesty donates for Palestinians, which contributes in helping the poor and needy Palestinian families to perform the hajj," said Palestinian Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habash.

King Abdullah will also pay for the pilgrimage of 1,400 Muslims from around the world this year. They include pilgrims from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Russia, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Singapore and Myanmar. So far, 18,000 Muslims from around the globe have performed hajj as guests of the Kingdom.

The king has also invited the family of Farman Ali Khan, a Pakistani martial arts champion who drowned while saving people during the Jeddah floods of November 2009, to perform hajj, a senior official said.

"King Abdullah has instructed to host the family of martyr Farman Ali Khan to perform hajj as guests of King Abdullah," said Abdullah Al-Mudlaj, executive director of the Program for King Abdullah's Guests.

"We have completed all preparations to receive the royal guests to perform hajj. We have arranged for their visits to the Prophet's Mosque, King Fahd Qur'an Printing Complex and Kaaba Cover Factory," said Al-Mudlaj.


One person died and several were hurt in clashes on Thursday in the flashpoint city of Taez and the capital Sana’a during protests calling for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's prosecution, medics and witnesses said.

The bloodletting came as UN envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar arrived in Sana’a in an attempt to resolve the political crisis that has thrown the country into a spiral of violence in which hundreds have died since January.

"One man was killed and five others were wounded," said a medical official in Taez, Yemen's second city.

Witnesses said Republican Guard troops, commanded by Saleh's son Ahmed, fired artillery rounds into the centre of Taez where tens of thousands of protesters were staging a demonstration to call for Saleh to be brought to international justice.

Meanwhile, armed civilians opened fire on a similar demonstration in Sana’a, wounding three people, witnesses and medics there said.

"No immunity, no guarantee, Saleh must be tried with his regime," chanted the protesters as they marched on central Sana’a. "World, UN Security Council: Saleh is a war criminal."

The protesters were met with live rounds fired on them from a building as they neared the capital's centre, witnesses told AFP.

Saleh's opponents announced on Friday the creation of a "legal committee" to gather evidence and witness reports from citizens on "the crimes of Saleh and the remnants of his regime" to present to the International Criminal Court.

Peaceful protests have degenerated into battles between rival army troops, security forces and protesters, and between security forces and tribesmen, leaving hundreds of people dead across the impoverished country.

Meanwhile, a defiant Saleh has so far refused to sign a Gulf initiative, supported by the international community, that would see him step down in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and for members of his family.


Envoys of the Middle East Quartet were on Wednesday holding talks with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in a bid to find a way to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

But the chances of a breakthrough in the deadlock which has gripped the negotiations for more than a year looked extremely remote with both sides taking very different positions on the conditions for restarting talks.

Wednesday's talks at Government House, the UN headquarters in annexed east Jerusalem, is the latest in a series of international initiatives aimed at resuscitating direct negotiations which broke down in autumn 2010.

Envoys from the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States met Quartet envoy Tony Blair before holding talks with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a diplomatic source told AFP.

They are also scheduled to sit down for discussions with Israel's chief negotiator Yitzhak Molho.

"The whole aim of this is to bring them back to negotiations," the source said, on condition of anonymity. "They're trying to do it back-to-back at this stage to get them back to negotiations because that's probably the only way it's going to happen."

It is the first time the Quartet envoys have met the two sides since Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas submitted a request for UN state membership on September 23 that was sharply condemned by both Israel and Washington.

Just hours later, the Quartet issued a loosely worded statement proposing that Israel and the Palestinians resume direct peace talks within a month and make a commitment to securing a deal by the end of 2012.

But October 23 came and went with no sign that the parties were any closer to resuming talks, with both sides holding a different interpretation of the initiative.

Israel says it accepts the Quartet's proposal for an immediate resumption of talks as long as there are no "preconditions" but the Palestinians say they won't talk until Israel freezes settlement -- a demand they say is written into the proposal.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat repeated that position in his meeting with the Quartet envoys, he said in a statement after their discussions.

"These are not favors that Israel is doing for us. These are its obligations in accordance with international law and the road map," he added, referring to a document that was intended to pave the way for a peace deal. "Anything short of that will simply put us back on the failed track that we have been on for the last 20 years."

Erekat said the Palestinians wanted to know what "concrete measures" the Quartet would take to hold Israel accountable during any future peace talks.

"Issuing statements and press releases is not enough as evidenced by Israel's continued intransigence," he said.

The Quartet's September 23 proposal was issued with the aim of heading off a diplomatic showdown over the UN membership bid, which is set to be put to a vote in the UN Security Council in coming weeks.

Washington and Israel say a Palestinian state can emerge only as the result of a negotiated settlement between the parties, and not through a UN resolution. But Abbas says the bid can run concurrently with peace talks.

The United States has vowed to veto the request in a move many fear could spark an anti-US backlash in the Middle East.


Just weeks ahead of Egypt’s first elections since ousting former President Hosni Mubarak in February, the United States Department of State issued a travel warning for American citizens traveling or living in Egypt.

The memo said that there is the possibility of unrest as elections for both houses of Parliament begin on November 28 and run through March of next year.

The embassy said that demonstrations and protests are most likely to occur during this period and said that recent demonstrations in the past 9 months have led to violence, “in some instances resulting in deaths, injuries and extensive damage,” and as such “the State Department urges US nationals to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security.”

In addition, the State Department “strongly” urged its citizens to not attend any demonstrations in Egypt, as “even peaceful ones can quickly become violent and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse.”

It continued to say that American citizens should not attempt to enter the embassy when security forces block off the area during any demonstration.

In recent weeks, the US government has issued strong warnings against travel to Kenya and Nigeria in light of violence there and routinely issues warnings over security in Egypt.

Fair and transparent elections were a core demand of the thousands of protesters who toppled President Hosni Mubarak last winter, but now that the moment has arrived, many Egyptians are more anxious than eager.

Once in pole position to lead the Arab world's fitful transition from authoritarian rule, Egypt instead is becoming a study in the pitfalls of an unfinished revolution, political analysts say.

Ordinary Egyptians are confused by the complex electoral system and fearful that bloodshed will mar the historic vote, which begins Nov. 28 and continues in stages until March. The police haven't returned en masse since the uprising, and the overstretched military can't secure the polls alone.

Political analysts and liberal revolutionaries have longer-term concerns over the ambitions of the ruling military council, along with the prospects for democracy when the best-organized blocs are Islamists and members of the former regime.

About 15,000 candidates and 50 political parties are vying for seats in a parliament that, for now, has a narrow, ill-defined mandate to select drafters of a new constitution. All real power — to select a prime minister, name a Cabinet and control the budget — will remain with the ruling military council, which isn't scheduled to step aside until after presidential elections in 2013.

By contrast, Tunisia, Egypt's much smaller neighbor, worked closely with the United Nations last month for its first elections since the ouster of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Few violations were reported, the results were accepted and a jubilant air prevailed in the country whose uprising sparked the Arab Spring movements.

Nobody expects such a smooth path for Egypt.

"We made a mistake. We built this revolution and we broke it with a slogan: 'The people and the army are one hand.' The people and the army were never one hand," said Mohamed Aref, 32, a third-generation leather purveyor in downtown Cairo. "And what comes next is like a movie with a bad sequel: Mubarak's National Democratic Party and now the Brotherhood," a reference to the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood.

Few Egyptian voters — or, indeed, candidates — appear to fully understand how powerful the military council will remain after the election, thanks to hastily drawn-up, intricately worded election guidelines that have baffled even veteran political analysts.

"We don't understand it, either," confessed Mohamed Fayez Farahat, who studies Islamist movements for the Ahram Center research center in Cairo. He threw up his arms in mock helplessness. "We still don't even know how to calculate the winning percentage."

The military council's election system calls for voters to cast ballots for both individuals and electoral slates, a mishmash that's difficult to grasp.

Voting for 498 seats in the People's Assembly, the parliament's lower house, begins Nov. 28 and continues in two more stages, ending Jan. 10. Another 10 seats will be appointed, as was the practice in Mubarak's time.

Next come elections for the Shura Council, the upper house, with the first round Jan. 29 and the last March 11. Candidates are contesting 180 seats, and another 90 will be appointed.

The incoming legislature's main charge will be to select a panel to draft a new constitution, but the selection mechanism is still unclear and the generals are trying to wield enormous influence over the drafting body, including the right to disband it and start fresh if members don't meet their deadline, according to a set of controversial guidelines published widely last week.

With polls staggered throughout the next three months and then a presidential race to oversee, critics of the army leadership say, the process is designed to keep the generals in power long enough for them to safeguard military interests before eventually — and, it now appears, grudgingly — handing over Egypt to a civilian authority.

"It is becoming evident that the military is no longer in a hurry to relinquish power and that it is interested in influencing the outcome of elections before it does so," Marina Ottaway, a senior associate in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East Program, wrote in an essay published last week on the group's website.

In the meantime, the reclusive council has rejected nearly all foreign monitors or other outside help for the elections, leaving doubts as to how transparent the polls will be and how seriously the interim government will respond to alleged violations. Already, the Muslim Brotherhood's politicians are openly flouting a ban on religious campaigning with their election slogan: "Islam is the solution."

"We still tend to look at foreign monitoring as intervention in our own affairs, but how can foreign observers be banned when all of our armor is a gift from the United States?" said Ziad Akl, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, referring to the U.S. government's millions of dollars in military aid.

The regrouping and re-branding of formerly Mubarak-allied politicians is a main concern for the other candidates. Local newspapers report the emergence of at least five parties made up of holdovers from Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party. Their message is stability, an alluring promise for Egyptians who are fed up with the dismal economy and rising crime rate since the uprising.

"They're reaching for the un-politicized masses, and that's very dangerous," Akl said. "It's all about the state. Egyptians need the role of the state now."

On a recent evening, a few dozen supporters rallied outside the downtown Cairo offices of the Ghad Party, which is famous in Egypt because the old regime persecuted its reform-minded founder, Ayman Nour, for daring to run against Mubarak in a presidential race.

Nour isn't allowed to run this year because of a Mubarak-era conviction, but Ghad is fielding 25 candidates, including Shadi Taha, a liberal who's also deputy chairman of the party. Taha said the party was strict about not fielding or allying with any candidate who was suspected of ties to the old regime, even though that decision was sure to cost votes.

Other parties, Taha scoffed, have quietly embraced members of the old order and are refashioning them as supporters of the revolution, a revisionism that he finds despicable.

"It's easy seats, people with big money, big families," he said.

"I don't want to name names: Wafd. I don't want to name names: Tagammu," Taha added sarcastically, singling out two former opposition parties that generally are regarded now as part of the old regime establishment.

One group, the April 6 Youth Movement, a secular, pro-democracy collective that was at the forefront of the uprising, has launched a graffiti campaign to alert voters to questionable candidates. The artists target campaign posters: A white circle signifies candidates whose platforms meet revolutionary standards, while those marked with black are accused of having ties to the former regime.

"We want people to understand these are bad people and they shouldn't vote for them," said Rammy el Swissy, 22, a co-founder of April 6. "I'm not looking for a battle; I'm looking for people's rights."

The group also is preparing for the debut of an election-monitoring website whose name in Arabic means "Eyes." The site will allow Egyptian voters to upload video or share reports that show election violations.

Swissy said that several other projects in April 6's election awareness campaign were scrapped because of a lack of time and money. Its shoestring operation is no match for the deep pockets of the Muslim Brotherhood or the old money of Mubarak cronies, he conceded, but April 6 is determined to serve as "a watchdog" of Egypt's political evolution.

"As you can see, we've just spent all we've got," Swissy said, gesturing to stacked boxes of printer paper that the group plans to turn into 1 million pamphlets before the elections begin. "But we're doing whatever it takes to lead this country to democracy, whether it takes a day or a week or a year."


An appeals court in Tunis has approved the extradition of Libya's former Prime Minister, al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, back to Libya.

"It's an unfair decision, a political decision," his lawyer, Mabrouk Korchid, told Reuters.

The extradition request was made by Libya's new government, the National Transitional Council (NTC).

Mahmoudi has reportedly expressed fears for his safety if he is returned to Libya.

Korchid also voiced concern, saying: "If any harm comes to him in Libya, the Tunisian justice system will be a party to that."

Mahmoudi served as prime minister until Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted earlier this year.

In September he was detained in Tamaghza, southern Tunisia, close to the border with Algeria.

He was sentenced to six months in jail for illegal entry into Algeria, a decision that was overturned on appeal.

However, Mahmoudi has subsequently been detained at a prison near Tunis awaiting a ruling on the extradition request, the AFP news agency reports.

In August, Tunisia recognized the NTC as the Libyan government and has committed itself to co-operation on security issues.

Human rights organization Amnesty International last week urged Tunisia not to extradite Mahmoudi, saying he risked being subject to "serious human rights violations" in Libya.

After Col Gaddafi's death, Mahmoudi's lawyers expressed fears for his life, saying he now had sole knowledge of many Libyan state secrets.


President Michel Sleiman said in remarks published Monday that Lebanon must pay its share of funding to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), adding that funding does not mean “not criticizing the tribunal if it makes mistakes.”

Sleiman told Ad-Diyar newspaper that the STL made a mistake “when it leaked [information pertaining to the] investigation and the indictment.”

Asked if Lebanese officials have received warnings related to not paying Lebanon’s share of STL funding, Sleiman said “I am the president of the Lebanese Republic. No one threatens me.”

Four Hezbollah members have been indicted by the UN-backed court in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, the Shiite group strongly denied the charges and refuses to cooperate with the court Lebanon contributes 49 percent of the STL’s annual funding.

The president also rejected some MPs’ statements that he did not sign a decree promoting Internal Security Forces-Information Branch head Colonel Wissam al-Hassan for “malicious reasons,” adding that he had previously signed two decrees promoting Hassan.

The president signed on Friday a decree to promote officers below the rank of colonel.

Sleiman also denied that there is a dispute between him and Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun regarding Christian positions in certain institution.