Recent developments in the region until March 1, 2012

Prince Saud al-Faisal, replying to Egypt’s PM, asserts King Abdullah’s keenness on Egyptian people’s interests

Egyptian presidential polls on May 23-24

Yemen’s Saleh receives presidency from Saleh

IAEA: Iran increases uranium enrichment by threefold

Jerusalem conf. in Qatar to set up international investigation commission to resist Judaization

Bahrain postpones rights watchdog delegation’s visit

Sultan Qaboos announces government reshuffle

Israel rejects Russia’s warnings about Iran attack

SAUDI ARABIA:

Answering a question on what was attributed to Egyptian Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri that financial aid promises to Egypt from Arab and Western countries were not realized, Prince Saud Al Faisal, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, explained that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is very keen on the interests of the brotherly Egyptian People.

'On the basis of directives of directives of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Prince Saud said the Kingdom has already committed to supporting the brotherly Arab Republic of Egypt and standing by it to meet the challenges facing the Egyptian economy through a package of aid amounting to US$ 3,750,000,000 (Three billion and seven hundred and fifty million dollars).

The Kingdom transferred US$500,000,000 (Five hundred million dollars) as a grant to support the Egyptian budget. The amount was transferred to the Finance Ministry's account at the Egyptian Central Bank on 13/06/1432 H corresponding to 16/05/2011 AD.

The Kingdom also sent a delegation from the Saudi Development Fund to the Arab Republic of Egypt to discuss the development elements of this package totaling US$1,450,000,000 (One billion and four hundred and fifty million dollars).

Then, a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of International Cooperation of the Arab Republic of Egypt was signed so that the Egyptian side identifies the priority projects for consideration by the Fund in order to complete the implementation procedures.

But, the Egyptian side could not do so for domestic reasons which have been clarified in a letter received by the Fund last month. Instead, the Egyptian side suggested that a memorandum on priority sectors and not projects be signed and the fund agreed directly, provided that the Ministry of International Cooperation attain the necessary approvals from the Egyptian concerned authorities.

With regard to the remainder of the aid package concerning the deposit in the Central Bank and the purchase of Egyptian Treasury Bonds, the Minister of Finance of the Kingdom addressed the Egyptian Minister of Finance on 09/09/1432 H corresponding to 09/08//2011 AD where he requested to send a technical team from Egypt to complete their procedures.

The Minister of Finance of the Kingdom also reminded the former Minister of Finance of the Arab Republic of Egypt in this regard.

In addition to what has been mentioned, the Kingdom also provided assistance in kind consisting of 48,000 metric tons of the liquefied petroleum gas.'

The Foreign Minister stressed that the Government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has not hesitated to stand by the brotherly people of Egypt based on its historic commitment in supporting sisterly states.

EGYPT:

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces, issued a statement calling the newly-elected parliament to hold a bilateral meeting to elect the members of the board who will draft the constitution.

Tantawi's statement, announced in a People's Assembly session, stated that the meeting is to take place on Saturday morning, March 3.

Prime Minister Ganzouri in his first governmental address since his appointment in December assured the People’s Assembly on Sunday that the country’s economy will recover despite current obstacles.

Arab states have failed to honor the promises of budgetary and economic aid they made to Egypt after the January 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak, the prime minister said.

Ganzouri said the country can get over its financial impasse in spite of this. He said nearly US$10 billion has been siphoned out of the country after the revolution, and that some banks have been instructed not to direct foreign currency to Egypt.

He accused certain parties abroad, which he did not name, of stonewalling Egyptian exports.

Ganzouri said agricultural, industrial and construction sectors have been ignored since the breakout of the revolution, to the detriment of the economy.

He said that 1,500 factories remain inactive and that interests on their debts are soaring.

He said the budget deficit mounted to 10 percent, and there is a gap of LE25 billion the balance of payments. He added that the government debt jumped to LE807 billion, up from LE147 billion 10 years ago.

An injection of LE3 billion has been administered to support the Egyptian economy, he said.

He also said the number of jobless reached 3.5 million.

Ganzouri also revealed what he said were the final numbers of the dead and wounded during the revolution. He said his government had totaled 1,757 killed and 4,758 injured. He added that checks are ready for the wounded and the victims’ families.

Concerning foreign policy, Ganzouri stressed that relationships with other countries should be based on the citizens’ interests rather than those of the country’s rulers.

Egypt will vote on May 23 and 24 to elect its first president since a popular uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak a year ago, the head of the elections committee said on Wednesday.

Faruq Sultan told journalists expatriates will be allowed to vote from May 11 to May 17 and that any run-off will be held on June 16 and 17.

"The result will be announced on June 21," said Sultan, in keeping with a timetable set by the military rulers to hand power to an elected president before the end of June.

Sultan said there would be no international monitoring of the election.

The poll comes during a turbulent transitional period during which the military, lionized for not supporting Mubarak during the uprising, has become the target of the people who spearheaded that revolt that overthrew him.

Anti-military activists fear that the military, long the most powerful institution in the country and whose ranks produced the last three presidents, will try to cling to power through a pliant civilian administration.

Last month, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog chief turned Egyptian dissident, said he would not run in the election conducted under military auspices.

The remaining hopefuls, who may formally register their candidacies from March 10, include Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who served as Mubarak's foreign minister for a decade.

Islamists, who won a majority of seats in parliamentary and senatorial elections, are expected to support one of three Islamist candidates, including former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdelmoneim Abul-Fotouh and hardliner Hazem Abu Ismail.

The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) dominates the legislature, had said it will not field a candidate.

However, the media have reported that it would support an Islamic-oriented candidate, possibly one who has not yet declared his intention to run.

According to the military's initial timetable, the presidential election was not to take place before a parliamentary-appointed panel finished a new constitution, in place of the one suspended after Mubarak's ouster.

Military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi has called on parliament and the senate to meet on March 3 to elect the constitutional panel, but it is not clear whether it could finish its work before the start of the election.

Some presidential candidates have feared that by the time elections began, the constitution would have redrawn the political system to invest more powers in the hands of a prime minister, as the Freedom and Justice Party demands.

FJP officials have said they should be allowed to form the government, the current one having been appointed by the military.

YEMEN:

Yemen's new president was inaugurated on Monday, saying the impoverished Arab state faced a "complex and difficult phase" as his predecessor stood down after 33 years in power.

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi took office after elections last week in which he was the sole candidate to replace longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"We stand before a complex and difficult phase," Hadi said at his inauguration, standing beside Saleh, who later handed him the Yemeni flag.

"The Yemeni people who turned out in their millions for early elections have sent a clear message of their desire for security and stability and change for the better. Today...we receive a new leadership and we bid farewell to a leadership," he added.

The U.S.-backed power transfer plan was hammered out by Yemen's wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors, eager to end months of anti-Saleh protests that paralyzed the country for most of 2011.

Months of weakened central government control have been exploited by a regional wing of al Qaeda, which has expanded its foothold in the south of the country near oil shipping routes through the Red Sea.

A suicide bombing for which the militant network claimed responsibility killed at least 26 people on Saturday, hours after Hadi was sworn in as president.

"We call on all the sons of the nation to stand together alongside the political leadership ... I call for national solidarity to confront terrorism, principally al-Qaeda," said Saleh, who returned to Yemen last week from New York.

Saleh has said he will stay on the political scene as leader of his General People's Congress (GPC) party, casting doubt on his commitment to relinquishing power.

Yemenis gathered outside the new president's house on Monday demanding Saleh and his relatives be distanced from the military and security services, where they still wield influence.

"We came here to stress that the revolution is ongoing and to demand its second goal be achieved, namely the restructuring of the armed forces and the distancing of Saleh and his relatives from leadership of military and security units," said Adel Abdullah, one of the protest organizers. “We elected Abd-Rabbu (Hadi) to be president of Yemen, not to be an employee of Saleh.”

IRAN:

Israel has threatened to launch strikes to prevent Iran getting the bomb, saying Tehran's continued technological progress means it could soon pass into a "zone of immunity." U.S. officials say sanctions should be given time to work.

The IAEA's report showed that Iran had tripled output of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, well above what is usually needed to fuel nuclear power plants.

Iran says the more highly refined uranium will replenish the dwindling special fuel stocks of a reactor that produces medicinal isotopes.

But 20 percent enrichment, experts say, represents most of the effort needed to attain the 90 percent threshold required for nuclear explosions.

Much of this work is carried out deep inside a mountain at Iran's underground Fordow facility to better shield it against military strikes, and it is preparing for a further expansion.

Iran is now believed to be capable of increasing its output capacity of 20 pct uranium four-fold "over a fairly short period of time," a Western diplomat said.

The IAEA report showed total production so far of this higher-grade material at about 110 kg, roughly half way to the quantity Western experts say would be sufficient for one bomb.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is seeking weapons of mass destruction, saying it needs higher-grade uranium for a the Tehran research reactor making isotopes for cancer care.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, insisted that "substantial progress" was made in the Tehran meetings.

"There shouldn't be any provocative statements. There should be encouraging statements for Iran and the agency to continue the work," he told reporters this week.

During the two rounds of talks in the Iranian capital, Iran did not grant IAEA requests to visit the Parchin military facility, seen as central for its investigation.

The November IAEA report said the agency had information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests which, it said, were "strong indicators of possible weapon development."

Vienna-based diplomats said the agency team at the talks had turned down a last-minute offer for them to go to another site, Marivan, also mentioned in the IAEA report as it detailed research activities relevant for atomic bombs.

But that offer came "out of the blue" and the agency team was completely unprepared to go there, one envoy said.

The IAEA board was also expected to touch on North Korea's announcement this week that it would suspend major elements of its nuclear weapons program and allow U.N. inspectors back for the first time in three years.

On another sensitive nuclear issue, diplomats said Syria had once again made clear, in an exchange of letters with the IAEA, that it was not in a position to engage with the agency in its long-stalled investigation into Damascus's atomic activity.

"I simply can't imagine that there is any capacity in Syria at the moment to mobilize any sort of practical response on this," the Western diplomat said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad's ongoing campaign to stamp out a popular uprising.

QATAR:

Qatar urged the United Nations on Sunday to investigate Jewish settlement expansion in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, warning that Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories was unacceptable.

"We must act quickly to stop the Judaisation of Jerusalem," said Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, at the International Conference on Jerusalem in Doha.

The conference, which brings together international and regional experts and officials, is intended to address what the Palestinians warn is an Israeli push to cement its control over the occupied eastern sector of the Holy City.

In his remarks, Sheikh Hamad called on the UN to "investigate the measures Israel has taken to Judaise Jerusalem since its occupation in 1967."

Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, has proved one of the thorniest issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and adamantly reject Jewish settlement construction in the territory.

They accuse the Jewish state of building settlement neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, while denying Palestinian building permits and revoking their residency in a bid to rid the city of Arab residents.

Sheikh Hamad warned that public opinion in the Arab world, where months of popular protests overthrew four long-time strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen "has awakened and will not accept" anything "less than a just peace based on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people."

"Is it conceivable that the people that could no longer tolerate oppression at home will accept the oppression of a foreign occupation?" he asked.

Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and annexed it later in a move never recognized by the international community. It claims all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who was attending the two-day conference told participants that "the measures of annexation... are null and void. East Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office slammed Abbas's "harshly inflammatory speech" and demanded the Palestinian leadership stopped "distorting reality".

"For thousands of years Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish people," it said in a statement.

Unrest has been on the rise in east Jerusalem's Old City compound that houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, erupting into violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.

It is referred to by Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif and considered the third holiest site in Islam, while it is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and is revered as Judaism's most sacred place.

BAHRAIN:

Bahrain has imposed restrictions on groups trying to monitor reforms including the Gulf Arab state's handling of protests and asked the U.N. investigator into torture to postpone a trip, the United Nations and rights groups said on Thursday.

The U.N. human rights office in Geneva said Bahrain formally requested postponing until July the visit by the special rapporteur on torture, which had been scheduled for March 8-17.

The investigator, Juan Mendez, will express his regrets to Bahraini representatives in meetings next week over this "last minute postponement," said Xabier Celaya, a spokesman of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He would also "seek to secure new dates as he remains very committed to undertaking this important visit," Celaya added.

Bahrain said it was "still undergoing major reforms and wants some important steps, critical to the special rapporteur's mandate, to be in place before he visits so he can assess the progress that Bahrain has made to date," the spokesman said.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally ruled by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family, has been under Western pressure to improve its rights record and institute political reforms after it crushed a pro-democracy uprising last year, imposing a period of martial law.

Fatima al-Balooshi, Bahrain's minister for social development, told the U.N. Human Rights Council this week the kingdom had drawn lessons from the upheaval.

"Mistakes were made. Serious wrongs were committed," she told the Geneva forum. "We believe we are on the right track."

Bahrain told a number of human rights organizations in January they should delay trips to the country to after February 22, the date the government set itself for reviewing policing, the judiciary, education, media and other reforms such as paying torture victims and national reconciliation - as recommended by a body of international legal experts in November.

The government said on Thursday it would need up to 20 more days to complete its plans for implementing the recommendations of the experts, whose Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) issued a damning report in November.

The BICI said protesters, who come mainly from the majority Shiite population, had suffered systematic torture to force confessions that were used in military trials.

The country remains in turmoil as clashes between youths and riot police continue daily in Shiite neighborhoods and the banking and tourism-based economy, already down after the world financial crisis, struggles to pick up.

Three international rights groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Bahrain's Human Rights and Social Development Ministry informed them this week of new rules limiting them to five-day trips which must be arranged via a Bahraini sponsor.

Brian Dooley, director of the Human Rights Defenders Program with U.S. group Human Rights First, said he made three trips to Bahrain last year without such limits.

"After the BICI report the Bahraini government was supposed to improve its human rights record, but limiting NGO access like this is a step backwards," he said. HRW said it had planned a three week trip in March. Amnesty also hopes to send a team.

The ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The new rules follow an Interior Ministry announcement it would tighten tourist visa regulations after Western activists took part in anti-government demonstrations last month marking the first anniversary of the February 14 uprising.

Twelve activists, who entered on tourist visas, were deported.

The government also refused visas to some media organizations, saying it had received too many applications.

Bahrain is due to host the Formula One grand prix in April.

Washington, whose Fifth Fleet is based in Manama, and former colonial power Britain have pressed Bahrain to ensure peaceful protest is allowed. Police allowed the main parties, led by Shiite group Wefaq, to hold a rally inside the capital this week.

Youths and independent activists stage regular protests in Shiite districts that are put down by riot police using armored vehicles, teargas, stun grenades and birdshot.

The Interior Ministry describes the youth protests as rioters who are causing chaos without a political aim. In the past two months, teenagers have increasingly thrown petrol bombs and other objects at police, often without provocation.

Opposition parties and activists say heavy policing to lock dock unauthorized protesters in villages has taken the death toll from 35 in June to over 60, many from the effects of tear gas.

The government disputes the causes of death.

Opposition parties want a move to full-scale parliamentary democracy where the elected chamber has full legislative powers and can form cabinets. The government has given parliament more powers of scrutiny over budgets and ministers.

OMAN:

Oman's Sultan Qaboos has sacked the information minister and replaced the justice minister in a second major cabinet reshuffle in a year, state news agency ONA reported Wednesday.

The sultan appointed Abdulmunem al-Hasni, a mass communication professor at Sultan Qaboos University, as new information minister, ONA said.

Sheikh Abdulmalik al-Khalil, previously the tourism minister, was appointed justice minister replacing Mohammed al-Hinnaie who was named an advisor of state affairs. Meanwhile, the minister of trade and industry exchanged posts with the sports minister.

The reshuffle comes amid a string of changes Oman has seen following protests that hit the normally peaceful sultanate in February 2011.

Demonstrators took to the streets at that time to demand improved living conditions and more rights as well as the sacking of ministers they accused of corruption. Among those were the justice and information ministers.

Sultan Qaboos last March sacked his economy and interior ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle that followed the anti-government protests in the strategic Gulf state.

In October, members of Oman's elected Majlis Al-Shura consultative council elected their speaker for the first time ever.

Earlier the same month, Qaboos had granted some legislative and regulatory authorities which he had pledged to the advisory body in response to unprecedented social unrest.

ISRAEL:

Israel's foreign minister says the Jewish state will not bow to foreign pressure in deciding whether to attack Iran.

In an interview Wednesday with Israeli Channel 2 TV News, Avigdor Lieberman rebuffed suggestions that American and Russian warnings against striking Iran would affect Israeli decision making, saying the decision "is not their business."

He said "the security of the citizens of Israel, the future of the state of Israel, this is the Israeli government's responsibility." Israel fears Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, which Tehran denies.

Israel has sent a series of hints that it may attack Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. and others believe tough economic sanctions must be given time to work. This week, the U.S. military chief said an Israeli attack would be "not prudent."