Top News: New Libyan Prime Minister’s Home is Attacked

A government official says Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg was unharmed in an attack on his home that set off a gun battle with guards. The official says four attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades early Tuesday at Maiteg’s house, sparking clashes in which one of the assailants was killed, one was arrested, and the others fled. Despite threats from retired General Khalifa Haftar who has deemed the General National Congress (GNC) illegitimate, the legislature voted in favor of confirming Maiteg and his cabinet as the new prime minister and government. Disputes surrounding Maiteg’s election continue, however, as the GNC first deputy called on caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to continue in his post until the GNC appoints a new premier legally. [AP, 5/27/2014]



Sisi closes in on the presidency
Former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to emerge from a second and final day of voting on Tuesday as Egypt’s next president, with supporters seeing him as the man who can pull the Arab world’s most populous nation back from the brink. Despite calls for a big turnout by Sisi and media loyal to the army, the turnout on Monday appeared lower than in previous elections. With Sisi seemingly assured of victory, he needs a good turnout to shore up his legitimacy. Earlier on Monday, it was hard to find anyone who planned to vote for Sabbahi in lines of voters where young Egyptians were conspicuous by their absence. An opinion poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center suggested that enthusiasm for democracy among Egyptians is slipping, and that stability and a strong leader are becoming greater priorities. It found that 54 percent of Egyptians prioritized stability above democracy. Ayman Nour, an Egyptian liberal politician jailed after he mounted a challenge for the presidency in 2005, said the presidential election is more one-sided than the one he lost to Hosni Mubarak. [Reuters, 5/27/2014]

Egypt suspends more than a dozen pro-Morsi judges
A judicial disciplinary body in Egypt has suspended sixteen judges pending a probe on their affiliation to a group with alleged links to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Judges Disciplinary Council accuses the judges of joining the Judges for Egypt movement and working in politics along with dozens of others, a violation of Egypt’s judicial law. The suspension on Sunday is the latest in a succession of disciplinary measures taken by authorities against perceived pro-Morsi judges, which have deemed political reprisal against Morsi’s Islamist group and its sympathizers. [Ahram Online, 5/25/2014]

New Egypt budget sets deficit at 12 percent of GDP
Egypt’s budget deficit is forecasted to reach 12 percent of GDP, or LE288 billion, in the 2014/2015 fiscal year state budget, according to statements made by the country’s finance minister on Monday. The draft budget, which was passed for final presidential approval by the interim cabinet of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Monday, accounts for the cost of servicing foreign debt and constitutionally-required allocations to health and education, as well as financing Egypt’s newly-introduced public-sector minimum wage, said Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 5/26/2014]

US State department acknowledges shrinking space for dialogue in Egypt
US State department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday that US officials have noticed a “shrinking space for dialogue, for peaceful protest, for freedom of the press” in Egypt just days ahead of the country’s second presidential elections in as many years. In a report published Friday, Amnesty International said that it expected the human rights situation to continue deteriorating “with neither of Egypt’s two presidential candidates pledging any human rights reforms, nor action to hold those responsible for abuses to account.” [DNE, 5/24/2014]


Haftar forces carrying out reconnaissance missions over Derna
Members of retired General Khalifa Haftar’s self-declared Libyan National Army have been carrying out air reconnaissance missions over the eastern town of Derna as part of their campaign to root out extremist Islamist elements, according to a spokesman. He added that a number of Algerian and Tunisian al-Qaeda figures had “taken the town hostage.” Back in Tripoli, militias from Misrata reached the Libyan capital late last week upon being summoned by the General National Congress after Haftar supporters laid siege to government buildings. Haftar’s offensive and continued violence forced several thousand Libyans from Tripoli and Benghazi to flee to Tunisia, according to Tunisian radio reports. [Libya Herald, 5/25/2014]

Terrorist groups like Ansar al-Sharia threaten Libya, says EU special envoy
The EU High Representative’s Special Envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon, has said fighting terrorism, “particularly groups like Ansar al-Sharia,” is crucial to the creation of a free and democratic Libya. Leon said much was required of Libyan institutions as the country faced “the worst crisis since the civil war.” The special envoy has not spoken with retired General Khalifa Haftar, but said that “what is important to take into account is not Haftar but what he represents,” referring to Libyan people’s desire for the removal of armed groups. Leon also stressed the importance that elections to the House of Representatives be carried out on the proposed date of June 25 and that “all Libyan political actors and stakeholders work democratically and inclusively.” [Libya Herald, 5/26/2014]

Constitutional Committee president gives updates on progress
The Constitutional Committee is now prepared to begin its main task of drafting the constitution. At a press conference, Committee President Ali Tarhouni said the body had completed important initial steps, such as drafting internal laws, setting up committees, and approving a process for communicating with the public, that would ensure it can smoothly carry out its duties. The committee has also established a “behavior record” to protect members’ political independence; they are to have no contact with persons or groups outside of the committee that would try to influence the body’s procedures. [Libya Herald, 5/25/2014]


Jordan, Syria expels envoys in tit-for-tat diplomatic row
Jordan ordered Syria’s ambassador to leave the country within twenty-four hours on Monday after accusing him of “repeated insults to Jordan and its leadership, institutions, and citizens.” Syria responded by saying that it had barred the chargé d’affairs at the Jordanian Embassy in Damascus from reentering the country. It remained unclear whether the moves reflect a substantial change in the overall state of relations between the countries. [NYT, Reuters, 5/26/2014]

Rebels describe US-backed training in Qatar
In a new documentary to be aired Tuesday night, rebel fighters describe their clandestine journey from the Syrian battlefield to meet with their US handlers in Ankara, Turkey and then travel on to Qatar, where they say they received training in the use of sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques. The interviews are the latest evidence that after more than three years of warfare, the United States has stepped up the provision of lethal aid to the rebels. [McClatchy, 5/26/2014]

FSA commander says Britons make up majority of ISIS foreign fighters
In a letter to The Times, Brig-Gen Abdulellah al-Basheer of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) requests help in curbing the militant jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The letter says the majority of non-Syrian members of ISIS are from Britain and accuses these fighters of involvement in barbaric activities including beheadings and crucifixions. General al-Basheer warns that ignoring the problem could lead to British extremists returning home to “continue on their pernicious path of destruction.” Last week a Portsmouth man became the first person in the United Kingdom to be convicted of terrorist offenses in connection with the conflict in Syria. On Tuesday, Norway announced the arrest of three citizens affiliated with ISIS. [BBC, 5/26/2014]

Senior Hezbollah commander killed in Syria
A senior Hezbollah commander branded by the United States as one of the world’s “most wanted terrorists” was killed fighting in Syria, residents of his village in southern Lebanon said Tuesday. The FBI’s website says Fawzi Ayoub was indicted by a US court in 2009 for trying to enter Israel with a fake US passport “for the purpose of conducting a bombing.” Ayoub, who had lived in Canada, was arrested in Israel in 2000 and released three years later in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah. Another Hezbollah member suspected of trying to assassinate a Lebanese MP in 2012 was killed fighting in Syria in a separate incident, residents of his village in southern Lebanon said. [AFP, 5/27/2014]


Group accused of political violence dissolved by Tunisian court
On Monday, the Court of First Instance ordered the dissolution of the League for Protection of the Revolution (LPR), a group that has been accused of using violence to advance its political goals. The LPR was established to defend the principles of the 2011 revolution. It has called for the prosecution of members of the former Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime, and has also been seen as supporting the Islamist Ennahda party. LPR has been accused of attacks on journalists, politicians, unionists, and civil society organizations by groups including the Workers’ Party, the Nidaa Tounes party, the Center for Press Freedom, the UGTT labor union, and the Association for Minorities’ Support. [Tunisia Live, 5/26/2014]

Three arrested in alleged terrorist plot
Tunisian authorities arrested three suspected Islamist militants near the Libyan border on Sunday and said they uncovered a terror plot targeting industrial and tourist sites and politicians. The three were Tunisians believed to have been recently living in Libya with backing by armed groups that train Tunisians in Libyan camps, said Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Aroui. Sunday’s raid was the culmination of a series of operations over the past week in which thirteen other suspects were taken into custody and revealed information about planned attacks against Tunisia’s tourism industry, industrial sites, and politicians. [AP, 5/25/2014]

Tunisia calls on political stakeholders in Libya to uphold dialogue and consensus
Tunisia, on Monday, called on the different political stakeholders in Libya to uphold dialogue and consensus to avoid the bloodshed of Libyan people and defend its territorial integrity. “Tunisia, which is following with deep concern, the developments in Libya, is particularly worried about the climate of security and stability in this country,” the ministry of foreign affairs said in a press release. Tunisian authorities, in order to deal with and respond to developments in Libya established a national committee to monitor developments in Libya. [TAP, 5/26/2014]


Anti-terror campaign moves to Sei’oun, Arhab
The government’s campaign targeting al-Qaeda hideouts continues to spread beyond its initial confines, currently including to Sei’oun, in Hadramawt province, and Arhab, a town near the capital of Sana’a. At least thirty-two were killed in an attack on Sei’oun, where members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attacked military and civilian infrastructure and raided banks. Yemeni security forces have since retaken the area, as security officials allege that AQAP had assistance from Southern separatists affiliated with Herak. Central security forces also raided an alleged AQAP bomb making location in Arhab, an attack that included aerial bombardment. Local tribal leaders denied that the men had any affiliation with Arhab’s tribes. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/25/2014]

Houthis fighting on three fronts with al-Qaeda, Salafis, and the national army
At least thirty people were killed in clashes between the Yemeni military and Houthi militants in Amran province. The fighting occurred on Monday as the ceasefire reached on Saturday apparently deteriorated, with the lion’s share of the casualties reportedly on the Houthis’ side. The Yemeni government has been at odds with the Houthis over its demand that the group give up its heavy weapons and invest more in political processes. AQAP forces are thought to be behind a recent car bomb that targeted Houthis in al-Jawf province. The bomber’s apparent target was a cultural center, but he was stopped at a checkpoint manned by Houthi fighters where the bomb was detonated. Houthi cadres were also thought to be mobilizing near Dhamar province in anticipation of clashes with Salafis, though  an accord appears to have been reached. [World Bulletin, 5/27/2014]

Hadi meets with parliament, ministers to avert no-confidence vote
As tension between parliament and the unity government headed by Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basindwa has escalated in recent weeks, numerous figures in parliament have been threatening a vote of no-confidence, or in some cases demanding Basindwa’s resignation. Attempting to avert this crisis, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi held a meeting on Monday between ministers of the government and blocs from parliament to discuss reform efforts. The key issues discussed at the meeting were economic reforms, the current security situation, and the ongoing fuel shortage crisis. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Mareb Press (Arabic), 5/27/2014]

Government pledges 60,000 tons of diesel to alleviate fuel crisis
Prime Minister Basindwa declared that the government is planning to import 60,000 tons of diesel in a bid to overcome the diesel crisis the country has been facing. Economists say the government is not adequately supervising the distribution of petrol and diesel, which provides an opportunity to some well-connected individuals and groups to monopolize fuel in order to create black markets. The government also blames the fuel crisis in part on the repeated attacks by tribesmen on oil pipelines in Marib and Shabwa as well as tribal roadblocks on Sana’a-Marib road. [The Yemen Times, 5/27/2014]


Prominent human rights activist freed in Bahrain
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was released from prison on Saturday after serving a two-year sentence for encouraging “illegal gatherings,” referring to protests. Rajab told reporters that he is happy to be out after more than 600 days in prison, and called for the release of all political prisoners. He said stability could only be achieved through respect for human rights. “After two years in prison, I see Bahrain’s political environment as more difficult and still without a roadmap for real reforms,” he said. He further called for serious dialogue between the government and the opposition. [AP, AFP, 5/25/2014]

Iraq using barrel bombs indiscriminately in Fallujah
Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged on Tuesday that Iraq using barrel bombs in its battle for Fallujah, in one instance hitting a hospital. “By using barrel bombs on densely populated areas, Iraqi government forces used means and methods of warfare that could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, making attacks most likely indiscriminate and therefore unlawful,” HRW said in its latest report. Barrel bombs are commonly utilized by the regime in Syria against rebel held areas. HRW condemned the actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as well, but cautioned that the conflict should not equate to the Iraq government “rescinding responsibility” for protecting civilian populations. [The Daily Star, 5/27/2014]

Kurds say Iraqi bid to thwart oil exports to Turkey will fail
Iraq’s bid to thwart exports of oil from Kurdistan via Turkey by filing for international arbitration is a “hollow threat” that will fail, the Kurdistan Regional Government said on Sunday. The Iraqi oil ministry said on Friday it was taking legal action against Ankara and state-owned pipeline operator BOTAS for facilitating the first sale of crude to be piped from Kurdistan without Baghdad’s consent. The move raised the stakes again in a long-running game of political brinkmanship with ramifications for Iraq’s territorial integrity, as Kurdistan seeks greater self-sufficiency. Baghdad claims exclusive rights to manage all the oil in Iraq, and has already cut the Kurds’ share of state revenue as punishment for their move to export unilaterally, plunging the region into economic crisis. [Reuters, Rudaw; 5/25/2014]

Workers’ rights trampled in Algeria
Algeria arbitrarily restricts workers’ rights to form labor organizations, Human Rights Watch and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) said today. The government punishes peaceful protesters and strikers, including with retaliatory suspensions or dismissals from public service jobs, and arbitrarily arrests and prosecutes union activists on politically motivated charges. Algerian authorities use administrative maneuvers designed to withhold legal status from independent unions that attempt to operate outside of the General Union of Algerian Workers (Union générale des travailleurs algériens, UGTA), which many view as close to the authorities. [Human Rights Watch, 5/27/2014]