Egyptians will vote on a draft constitution on Tuesday and Wednesday in a referendum seen by the interim government as a stepping stone towards democracy, but by opponents as illegitimate. Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy issued a statement that the constitution is going smoothly without incidents, but incidents of violence and clashes have marked the first day of voting. One person was shot dead during clashes between demonstrators protesting against the referendum and police forces outside a polling station in Beni Suef. Three Muslim Brotherhood supporters were shot dead and twenty were injured when security forces dispersed a demonstration they organized against the constitutional referendum in Upper Egypt’s Sohag. A handmade bomb exploded by Giza’s Imbaba courthouse just before polls opened. In Fayoum, masked gunmen on a motorcycle fired shots at the back entrance of the Archangel Michael Church. Sharqiya security services have confronted several marches by Morsi supporters attempting to hinder the referendum process.[Aswat MasriyaDNE, 1/14/2014]



National Council for Human Rights: Alaa Abdel-Fattah, jailed activists denied lawyer
The National Council for Human Rights formed a committee on Saturday to ensure the implementation of minimum standard regulations of prisoner treatment following complaints of ill-treatment by imprisoned activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Douma, and Alaa Abdel Fattah. The committee visited the four activists in Tora Prison, and issued a report on Sunday detailing their “suffering” under detainment and asking the ministry of interior to end its mistreatment of detainees. The four men have not been allowed to meet with their lawyers since they were arrested. Some of them were also barred from calling or meeting their family members, “in spite of it being allowed by the prison’s bylaws.” [DNEAhram OnlineAswat Masriya, 1/14/2014]

US Congress could move to ease the way for more aid to Egypt
The House and Senate are set to unveil a year-long spending bill that will loosen restrictions on US aid to Egypt and negate the law that prevents the United States from funding a foreign military that has conducted a coup against a democratically elected government. President Barack Obama’s administration has been lobbying Congress for permission to give the aid to the Egyptian government. Congress unveiled the omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2014 on Monday. Following that certification, Congress would allow Obama to give the Egyptian government $250 million in economic support. Obama could give the Egyptian military $1.3 billion in two installments: $975 million after Egypt holds its constitutional referendum and $576.8 million after presidential and parliamentary elections. [The Wire, Daily Beast, 1/14/2014]

Students arrested for protesting the constitutional referendum
Ministry of Interior spokesman General Hany Abdel Latif announced Monday that twenty-nine students were arrested in Sunday’s clashes in Cairo. Among the arrested were two detained from clashes at Cairo University with fireworks and Molotov cocktails in their possession. On Monday, Students Against the Coup (SAC) protested in several universities as part of what they have coined the “Week of Student Rage.” Another six students were arrested at Ain Shams University on Monday while protesting on campus in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and against the upcoming constitutional referendum. Security forces claimed the detainees confessed that they intended to use weapons during their protest. [DNE, Mada Masr, 1/14/2014]


Zeidan says mediators are seeking to end oil dispute
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the government would give mediators a chance to end the standoff with the protesters blockading eastern oil ports, seeking a peaceful solution even after an escalation of the dispute over crude exports. Last week Libya’s navy fired warning shots at an oil tanker attempting to load crude at one of the terminals seized by protesters demanding more regional autonomy and a greater share of oil. Two years after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, the port dispute is the most serious challenge to the fragile central government as it struggles to control former militias and rebels who refuse to recognize Tripoli’s authority. According to the prime minister the solution is either through force or with peaceful means. [Reuters 1/14/2014]

Head of “Cyrenaica government” survives assassination attempt
The prime minister of the self-styled “Cyrenaica government,” Abdraba Abdulhameed al-Barasi, survived an assassination attempt yesterday in his Beida home. It remains unclear if the assassination attempt was due to a private matter or politically motivated. The Cyrenaica government, announced in October 2013, is not recognized by the Libyan government or the General National Congress. [Libya Herald 1/13/2014]

Kidnappers release defense minister’s son
After a kidnapping lasting almost four months, defence minister Abdullah Al-Thinni’s son, Mohamed was released on Monday. Little is known about his whereabouts in the past months since he was dragged from his car in September 2013. The defense minister had continued with a full program of official duties throughout the ordeal. It remains unclear if the abductors received payment or if they were persuaded by intermediaries to release their captive. Numerous kidnappings have plagued the country in recent years. On Monday the head of Sayyad Local Council in the municipality of Janzour, Haj Ibrahim Mansouri, was kidnapped by unknown assailants. [Libya Herald, 1/13/2014]


Government forces advance as rebel infighting rages

The Syrian government has retaken territory around the northern city of Aleppo, the military said on Tuesday, after two weeks of rebel infighting that has weakened the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad. The internecine conflict within the chaotic plethora of rebel groups will allow Assad to portray himself as the only secular alternative in Syria to a radical Islamist regime when peace talks begin in Switzerland on January 22. His military advances will give the Syrian government delegation greater leverage at the negotiating table. An army statement said government forces had pushed out from their base at Aleppo’s international airport, southeast of the city, and were moving towards an industrial complex used as a rebel base and the al-Bab road, urgently needed by insurgents to supply the half of Aleppo under their control. It said that government forces, along with militia loyal to Assad, were in “complete control” of the Naqareen, Zarzour, Taaneh, and Subeihieh areas along the eastern side of Aleppo. [Reuters,WSJ, 1/14/2014]

United Nations feeds record 3.8 million in December but concerned by malnutrition, access
The UN’s World Food Programme delivered rations to a record 3.8 million people in Syria in December, but civilians in eastern provinces and besieged towns near the capital remain out of reach. The agency voiced concern at reports of malnutrition in besieged areas, especially of children caught up in the nearly three-year-old civil war, and called for greater access. The organization has tried several times over the last few months to reach besieged areas in and around Damascus—especially Mouadamiya, Nashabiyeh, Douma, Harasta, and Yarmouk—without success. Fighting in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor also prevented aid convoys from reaching people in those eastern provinces for the second consecutive month. On Tuesday the European Union pledged an additional $225 million in humanitarian aid. [Reuters, 1/14/2014]

Syrian opposition risks British, US support over Geneva attendance
Secretary of State John Kerry told the Syrian opposition that support for the group could be reduced if it decides not to attend the upcoming peace conference in Switzerland, Western officials said on Tuesday. Mr. Kerry and a team of senior American officials met on Monday with Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, the president of the Syrian opposition coalition that the West is backing, and other opposition officials. British media reported similar arm-twisting on Tuesday. “The US and UK are telling us you need to go to Geneva,” an unnamed senior official in the Syrian National Coalition was quoted as saying by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper. “They are making it very clear that they will not continue to support us the way they are doing now and that we will lose credibility with the international community if we do not go.” [NYT, 1/14/2014]

Turkish police raid aid agency near Syrian border; Agency says raid is politically motivated
Turkish anti-terrorist police raided the offices of an aid agency on the border with Syria on Tuesday, in part of what local media said was an operation in six cities against individuals suspected of links to al-Qaeda. The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) said police had raided its offices in the southern Turkish city of Kilis, which borders Syria, and detained one person. The IHH came to prominence in May 2010 when Israeli marines stormed its Mavi Marmara ship to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists. IHH branded the operation as a “smear campaign” linked to the corruption scandal embroiling the government. Considered to be very close to the government, IHH claimed it was a victim of the feud between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a powerful exiled Islamic preacher at the root of the burgeoning political crisis. [Reuters, 1/14/2014]


Tunisia marks the third anniversary of the revolution
Today marks the third anniversary of the start of the revolution that eventually removed former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power. The anniversary was marked by a low key ceremony in the capital, attended by President Marzouki, outgoing Prime Minister Larayedh, and incoming Prime Minister Jomaa. The new constitution was supposed to be approved by the anniversary; however, one-third of the articles still need to be voted on and Jomaa’s caretaker government that will oversee elections has yet to be appointed. In a speech on Monday night, Marzouki spoke about how far Tunisia is from fulfilling the goals of the revolution. He stated the need to address poverty and that dealing with corruption and taxes will be top priorities for the government. [Ahram Online, TAP, 1/14/2014]

Judges threaten to strike
The Tunisian Judges Syndicate, has called on all judges to strike beginning January 15. The strike is in response to the articles currently under review by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) regarding judicial authority. In particular, the strike is in response to an amendment to Article 103, which would give the government the power to nominate individuals to the highest judicial appointments. Opponents argue that judicial appointments should be independent of the government. Thus far, articles 100-102, which focus on judicial functions and judicial immunity, have passed. On Monday, Human Rights Watch, The Carter Center, Amnesty International, and Al Bawsala issued a statement urging the NCA to strengthen guarantees for judicial independence. [Tunisia Live, 1/14/2014]

Sanitation workers’ strike enters fifth day
Sanitation workers in seventeen municipalities are on strike for the fifth day in response to poor working conditions. In October 2013, representatives for the Sanitation Union and the government came to an agreement to increase sanitation workers’ salaries. According to Nasir El Salmi, the secretary general for the sanitation workers chamber in the Tunisian General Labor Union, the government has not yet fulfilled its part of the agreement. The government appealed to the workers to end the strike, in particular because it coincides with the anniversary of the revolution. [The Tunisia Times, 1/13/2014]


NDC parties state opposition to solution document; NDC to conclude January 25
Members of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) representing the Houthis, Yemeni Socialist, and al-Haq parties are all stating opposition to the recently approved Solution Document, which aims to resolve the Southern Issue. Though these parties voted for the Solution Document, they have strong reservations regarding the provision for a presidential mandate, which would give President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi authority to form a committee to decide the number of regions for the future, federated state. Hadi’s committee will investigate the effects of a six state option—four in the north and two in the south—and a two state option before making a decision. Additionally, an unnamed government official has told al-Masdar Online that the NDC will conclude on January 25. [Yemen Times, 1/14/2014]

Youth movement calls for cabinet reshuffle; Increased scurity in Sana’a ahead of protests
An independent youth movement is calling for the launch of what they call the “Rescue Campaign,” the goal of which is a major cabinet reshuffle, including the resignation of Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa. The campaign has been compared to the Egyptian Tamarod movement that toppled President Mohammed Morsi. Though they deny such allegations, the youth movement has been accused of ties to former president Abdullah Saleh’s political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC). A GPC parliamentarian said the party is against the Rescue Campaign. As a result of the youth group’s call, Yemen’s capital has seen an intensification of security measures ahead of possible demonstrations, adding thirty-nine new security checkpoints throughout Sana’a. A statement from the ministry of interior’s media center said that “the security apparatus will deal strongly with riots and chaos that negatively affect public peace, security and stability in Sana’a.” The ministry of interior’s fears may be related to expected push back against the recent solution to the Southern Issue adopted by the NDC as well as the youth movement’s campaign. [Yemen Times, 1/14/2014]

Deaths of three children raises arms questions for Yemeni society
Three children were killed in Dhamar province just south of Sana’a after finding a grenade in the wall of a house they were playing in. The deaths have raised alarm over the prevalence of firearms in Yemeni society. It is estimated that there are approximately sixty million firearms in a country of just over twenty-three million people. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 1/14/2014]

More than 150 displaced in Hadramawt clashes; Colonel assassinated
Clashes in al-Shihr in southern Hadramawt have displaced more than 150 families as as armed men assaulted a military camp on Sunday. In addition, nine soldiers, one gunman, and one child were killed, though casualty reports remain incomplete. In fighting that lasted six hours, the military fired on militant positions with artillery, tanks, and machine guns destroying local homes. The gunmen are believed to have various affiliations, with some members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula among them, others from local tribes. Elsewhere in Hadramawt province, Colonel Abdul Ghani Maqalih, director of the Yemen Economic Corporation, was assassinated by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle. [Yemen Times, 1/14/2014]


European Union offers aid to Jordan as education costs rise
On Monday, the European Union granted Jordan $55 million to address the costs of hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan, in particular rising education costs. Syrian students are exempt from tuition fees and officials estimate that it costs $4,200 per year to educate a Syrian student. Currently, approximately 115,000 Syrian students are enrolled in Jordanian public schools and that number is expected to rise to 140,000 by the end of the year. In addition, education costs are expected to reach $560 million by year’s end. Three-fourths of the EU grant will go towards the education sector and the remainder towards improving the sewage networks in the north where most Syrian refugees live. [Jordan Times, 1/13/2014]

Mohammad bin Rashid launches UAE national agenda
Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and King of Dubai, has announced the UAE’s development agenda to be completed in 2021. The project includes an overhaul of public education and increased government investment in nurseries and infrastructure. The agenda also aims to increase “Emiratization,” a UAE employment initiative in the private sector by tenfold. Rashid claims the development goals will result in a sixty-five percent increase in gross national income within the next four years. [Gulf News, 1/14/2014]