Top News: Bouteflika Announces Presidential Terms Limits, Other Constitutional Reforms

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika proposed a two-term presidential limit and delegating more authority to the prime minister’s post as part of constitutional amendments after his reelection, a government source said on Thursday. Forty-seven proposed amendments were distributed to political parties on Thursday. They included lifting controls on the media and increasing parliament’s ability to question government officials. Following his reelection in April, Bouteflika pledged to pursue reforms to strengthen democracy. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]



Sisi describes his vision of Egypt’s future in extended interview
Presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave a wide ranging interview with Reuters. During the interview Sisi discussed the Egyptian military’s role in the economy, relations with the United States, and the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, among other topics. When asked about the economy, Sisi gave no concrete solutions only stressing the need to create jobs, deal with subsidies, and increase foreign investment in Egypt. When commenting on relations with the United States, Sisi called them ‘stable’ and urged President Obama to help Egypt in its struggle with terrorism in the region. He also asserted his desire to maintain peace with Israel and to see a future Palestinian state. When asked about the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi expressed his disgust with the Brotherhood’s version of Islam. According to the latest Baseera poll, 76 percent of respondents said they would vote for Sisi if elections were held tomorrow, 2 percent Sabbahi and 15 percent were undecided. Seven percent refused to answer. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

April 6 to boycott upcoming presidential elections
Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement has announced it will boycott the upcoming presidential elections, describing the process as “a farce” during a press conference on Wednesday. The group slammed the commanders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), accusing them of leading a counterrevolution against the 2011 revolution and using “the revolutionary wave of 30 June” to bring military rule back to Egypt in reference to the 2013 protests that led to the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, which the movement described as a coup. April 6 joins the Strong Egypt party with their decision to boycott the upcoming election. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, 5/14/2014]

Hagel says Egyptian government has done enough to continue US aid
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that Egypt’s new government “is not anywhere near where they need to be to fulfill the commitments that they made” to a pathway to a democratic society. But he also added that the government had done “enough” to keep its certification for continued American aid. Hagel’s comments came during a visit to Saudi Arabia in which he urged the Gulf states to unite against security threats to strengthen its influence in the region. [NYT, AMAY (Arabic), 5/15/2014]

Egypt unemployment unchanged at 13.4 percent in first quarter
Egypt’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in the first quarter of 2014 at 13.4 percent, state-run statistics body CAPMAS announced. Almost 70 percent of unemployed people were aged between 15 and 29, and more than 79 percent hold diplomas or university degrees. The CAPMAS quarterly report released on Wednesday said that the persistence of high unemployment reflects an on-going slowdown in economic activity, especially in productive sectors such as industry, tourism and construction. [Ahram Online, 5/15/2014]


United States positions forces in Sicily over Libya security fears
The Pentagon announced that it has temporarily moved nearly 200 Marines to Sicily from their base in an effort to bolster the US ability to respond to any crisis. The Pentagon declined to single out any countries, but two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said US concerns were centered squarely on Libya, where armed groups and Islamists have refused to disarm after the 2011 revolution. The Marines are part of a crisis response unit focused on embassy security created after the attack on the US Mission in Benghazi in September 2012. [Reuters, 5/14/2014]

Libya’s sovereign wealth fund to invest in stock market, set up budget fund
The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, plans to invest billions of dollars in the local stock market to help fund infrastructure projects. In an interview, Chairman Abdulmagid Breish also said the LIA, which owns assets worth $66 billion, plans a special fund to cover future budget deficits, a timely idea as oil terminal blockades undermine public finances. The LIA has been busy getting foreign assets temporarily frozen during the 2011 uprising released. The Libyan Local Investment and Development Fund, jointly set up by the LIA and central bank, will boost investment in the nascent local stock market, giving a lifeline to a tiny and illiquid market, Breish added. The government has tried to attract foreign investors, but a lack of liquidity has deterred even local firms from floating their stocks or investing there. [Reuters, 5/14/2014]

Libya’s election commission extends voter registration deadline
Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC) said Wednesday it is extending the registration period for voters until May 29, further delaying elections for a new legislature. The number of registered voters has increased from 45,000 to 135,000 in one week, but a spokesperson for HNEC said that “the number shows that the people’s interest in elections is still very weak.” As such, the commission is establishing a hotline number to assist people having problems in registering. Anyone who registered to vote in the Constitutional Committee elections will not have to reregister for House of Representative elections. Nearly 900 candidates for thirteen constituencies have registered to run in the legislative elections. [Libya Herald, AP, 5/14/2014]

New branch opens for Petroleum Facility Guards in Brega
The prime minister’s office has issued a decision making the eastern town of Brega the site of the new branch for the Petroleum Facility Guards (PFG). A spokesman for the PFG explained that the headquarters will remain in Tripoli, as the current regional and security concerns make moving PFG headquarters entirely to Brega difficult. PFG members, led by Ibrahim Jadhran, have been blockading oil ports in eastern Libya since last summer, demanding the appointment of a neutral committee to investigate the government’s alleged corruption in the oil industry and threatening to implement a federalist state with equal distribution of national oil revenues. PFG is a branch of the Libyan defense ministry but is administered independently. [Libya Herald, 5/14/2014]


Friends of Syria Core Group (London 11) Communique denounces Syria elections
The US State Department released the text of the Friends of Syria Core Group (London 11) Communique that states: “We the countries of the ‘London 11’ Core Group of the Friends of Syria denounce the Assad regime’s unilateral plan to hold illegitimate presidential elections on 3 June. This mocks the innocent lives lost in the conflict, utterly contradicts the Geneva communiqué and is a parody of democracy.” It also mentions unanimous agreement to “increase our support for the moderate opposition National Coalition, its Supreme Military Council and associated moderate armed groups; hold the Assad regime accountable for the terror it is perpetrating against its own people and spreading across the region, including through Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court; counter the rising forces of extremism; complete the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons; and step up efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.” [US State Dept., 5/15/2014]

United States “not on a path” to help Syrian rebels win, says Dempsey
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the United States is not providing Syrian rebels what they need to win the war against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Dempsey leads top Pentagon generals skeptical of using direct US military force to aid Syrian rebels or otherwise intervene militarily in Syria’s future because of the country’s anticipated long-term security needs after any initial conflict. Dempsey outlined specifically why he believes Syria’s rebels need far more than a rescue mission. “They need the force they have now… to protect local villages and try to harass the regime and level the playing field. They need something that eventually will be able to hold ground. And they need a counterterror capability–all of which is responsive to Syrians,” Dempsey said Wednesday at the Atlantic Council. “And we are not on a path currently to provide that.” [Defense One, 5/15/2014]

Egypt’s Sisi will not rule out a political future for Assad
In a wide-ranging interview with Egyptian presidential hopeful General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the candidate waffled on the issue of pursuing a Syrian future without Assad. Sisi stressed that his two interests in Syria are combatting regional terrorism and maintaining the territorial integrity of the nation. Asked twice if he thought Syria would be better off with Assad remaining in office, Sisi said, “This matter requires a dialogue and extensive talks because it is more dangerous than just expressing an opinion on it. We have to see the full picture and have in front of us the issue of the unity of Syrian lands. A peaceful solution so that region does not get more complicated… I don’t think you want to create another Afghanistan in the region.” [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

France says Syria used chlorine in fourteen recent attacks
Syria may have used chemical weapons involving chlorine in fourteen attacks in recent months, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday, expressing concerns that President Bashar al-Assad is hiding toxic weapons. “We have at least fourteen indications that show us that, in the past recent weeks again, chemical weapons in a smaller scale have been used, in particular chlorine,” Fabius said during a visit to Washington where he met with his American counterpart John Kerry. Fabius said the Assad government had handed over 92 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile under an international agreement overseen by the watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But France believes the Assad government was hiding some of the stockpiles and the reports involving chlorine gas attacks indicated he still had the ability to produce chemical weapons. [Reuters, 5/13/2014]


Tunisian premier sees $927 million deficit cut in 2014
Tunisia’s planned subsidy reforms and public spending cuts should help reduce the budget deficit by $927 million (1.5 billion dinars) in 2014 announced Prime Minister Jomaa on Wednesday. The government’s is tackling the fiscal deficit with subsidy cuts to reduce high public spending and by seeking international financial aid. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

Jomaa calls cannabis law too harsh
Tunisia’s prime minister has backed a reform of the country’s harsh penalties for cannabis possession, calling it “out of sync” with current times. On Wednesday, Jomma promised to “amend the law to adapt it to the new reality” in society. The current law gives prison sentences of up to five years for possession of cannabis. Jomaa’s statement came in response to protests on Tuesday condemning the arrest of blogger and political activist Azyz Amami on drug charges on Monday. Demonstrators called the charges politically motivated. [AP, 5/15/2014]

Jomaa reflects on first 100 days in office
Reflecting on his government’s 100 days on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jomaa asserted that the Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE) and all stakeholders in the elections’ organization are working to ensure that elections are held before the end of 2014. He reiterated that members of his government would not run in the upcoming elections, denying that parties had contacted him to remain in office after the elections. He stated that a reshuffle of first delegates and secretaries-general of governorates would be announced within the next two days. Jomaa also announced the creation of a counterterrorism center that will manage intervention, security, investigation, and intelligence. [All Africa, 5/14/2014]


Anti-AQAP campaign escalates in the south exacerbate humanitarian crises
Fierce fighting between soldiers and al-Qaeda militants in Shabwa left at least forty-two people dead. Yemeni officials stated that twelve soldiers were killed, and believed the remaining thirty to be militants. A resident of the Azzan area where fighting was fiercest said that the bombardment exchanged by the two sides turned the town into an inferno. Residents of al-bayda province fear a similar upheaval as the defense ministry plans for an offensive in the area to pursue fleeing al-Qaeda militants. In Shabwa, 11,748 people have been displaced—about 2,570 families—according to an initial estimate by local civil society groups. However according to the a member of an official committee charged with assisting the governor of Shabwa, more than 35,000 have been displaced internally and otherwise—about 90-95 percent of the population in the most affected areas. [AP, The Yemen Times; 5/14/2014]

Yemen signs action plan to end recruitment and use of children by armed forces
In a landmark development for the protection of children today, Yemen signed an action plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment of children by the Yemeni Armed Forces. The action plan sets out concrete steps, including: Aligning domestic legislation with international norms and standards prohibiting the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict; Issuing and disseminating military orders prohibiting the recruitment and use of children below age eighteen; Investigating allegations of recruitment and use of children by the Yemeni government forces and ensure that responsible individuals are held accountable; Facilitating access to the United Nations to monitor progress and compliance with the action plan. [UN Press Centre, 5/14/2014]

Hadi forms committee to study establishment of “extremist rehabilitation center”
Yemen is to formally look into building a secure rehabilitation center for radicals—a move that could hasten the return of its citizens held in the US Guantanamo Bay detention center on Cuba. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi issued a decree forming a committee “to prepare for and follow up the establishment of a rehabilitation center in Yemen. The rehabilitation center will be used to reintegrate extremists.” Closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center was an early promise by President Barack Obama after he took office in 2008, but the plan has been thwarted by the difficulty of returning prisoners to their home countries. Of the scores of detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release from Guantanamo, fifty-six are from Yemen. [Al-Jazeera, Reuters, 5/14/2014]

YPC representative discusses fuel shortage and subsidies, as drivers’ strike called off
Taxi drivers and car owners canceled a protest over fuel shortages planned for Wednesday. The decision followed a statement by the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) saying that a large quantity of petrol would be distributed Wednesday morning to petrol stations throughout Sana’a. The interior ministry website also warned of “strict measures” against anyone threatening public order in response to the protest announcement. A director of the YPC gave an extended interview about the fuel shortage crisis, in which she highlighted that the ministry of finance has been slow to pay for fuel derivatives as well. She also said that the controversial idea of lifting fuel subsidies would not solve the crisis if supply was not increased. [The Yemen Times, 5/15/2014]


Bouteflika announces presidential terms limits, other constitutional reforms
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika proposed a two-term presidential limit and delegating more authority to the prime minister’s post as part of constitutional amendments after his reelection, a government source said on Thursday. Forty-seven proposed amendments were distributed to political parties on Thursday. They included lifting controls on the media and increasing parliament’s ability to question government officials. Following his reelection in April, Bouteflika pledged to pursue reforms to strengthen democracy. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

Lebanese lawmakers fail for fourth time to elect president
Lebanese lawmakers failed for a fourth time to choose a new head of state on Thursday and will try again in a week’s time, only three days before President Michel Suleiman’s term ends.
If the next round on May 22 fails, many fear it will create a power vacuum in a country that desperately needs leadership to deal with a spillover of violence from neighboring Syria, more than a million refugees from the civil war there, and a budget deficit close to 10 percent of the size of its economy. Politicians say they expect disagreements over Suleiman’s replacement to drag on for months after he leaves office. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/15/2014]

OPEC must hit its output target to balance oil market
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has called on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to pump more oil to reach its 30 million barrels per day (bpd) target and meet rising demands. Turmoil in Sudan, Kazakhstan, and Libya, have been adversely affecting the international supply of oil. However, the IEA said OPEC produced 29.9 million bpd in April, a monthly increase of 405,000 bpd led by Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Algeria. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

Maliki says “no consideration for terrorists,” as opponents call for political solution
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called on the security forces to stand firm in battles with militants in Anbar, amid criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis. In his weekly address, Maliki said soldiers and police should ignore “disorderly voices” in the fighting to reclaim the city of Fallujah, which the government has been attempting to recapture from insurgents for five months. Maliki said, “There should not be any consideration given to the terrorists under any pretext,” however his opponents in the Iraqi parliament have kept up their criticism of his government’s handling of the crisis, accusing him and his cabinet of trying to deceive the public about the progress made by government forces and allied tribal militias. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/15/2014]