On Saturday, a North Korean tanker Morning Glory was loaded with thirty-six million dollars of crude oil at the rebel-held port of Es Sider. Prime Minister Ali Zidan has said the military will bomb the 37,000-tonne vessel if it tries to leave. Officials said on Sunday that the navy and pro-government militias had dispatched boats to stop it from getting out. In response, rebels said any attack on the tanker would be “a declaration of war.” Members of the General National Congress (GNC) have asked for General Chief of Staff Jadallah al-Obaidi to be recalled to Tripoli over his failure to take action against the North Korean tanker. The escalating conflict over the country’s oil wealth is a sign of mounting chaos in Libya, where the government has failed to rein in fighters who helped oust Qaddafi in 2011. The US State Department released a statement on Sunday expressing concern over this situation and describing it as “counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people.”  [Reuters, 3/9/2014]


Mehleb sets priorities for his government
In his first interview since taking office on February 25, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said that his government would focus on security issues, social justice, and tackling Egypt’s subsidies. During the interview he expressed support for the interior ministry pointing to the importance of improving security throughout the country. Mehleb, who is a former member of the Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, also emphasized the need for social justice saying, “Protecting the rights of minorities, women, disabled people and the establishment of social justice are important for protecting the human dignity of all Egyptians and this is what I will be aiming for.” Before concluding his interview, he acknowledged the problem of corruption within government institutions and said that he has already referred complaints to the prosecutor general. [Ahram Online, 3/9/2014]

Lawsuit filed against newly ratified presidential elections law
A long-awaited law aimed at regulating Egypt’s upcoming presidential polls was officially issued by interim President Adly Mansour on Saturday. In a press conference held on Saturday, Mansour’s legal and constitutional affairs advisor Ali Awad indicated that the next step will be a meeting of the Presidential Election Commission (PEC)–the five-member judicial body tasked with supervising presidential polls–to prepare for the process which will see Egypt elect its second president in three years. The secretary general of the Lawyers’ Syndicate in Beheira filed a lawsuit before the State Council in Alexandria on Saturday protesting an article in the law that immunizes the final results from being challenged in the courts. This article has also come under fire from several constitutional experts, politicians, and rights activists. In a separate move, a law that would prohibit those currently in detention and those convicted of a crime from participating in public life was struck down on Saturday by the State Council. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, 3/9/2014]

Sisi to launch low-income housing project in Egypt
Egypt’s military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi will launch a new initiative to build a million housing units for low-income Egyptians, an official spokesman announced on Sunday. Military spokesman Ahmed Ali said on Sunday that the “For Egypt’s Youth” initiative will be established through cooperation between leading UAE construction company Arabtec and the Egyptian armed forces. The collaboration is planned to continue for five years. On Sunday, Sisi met with managing director of Arabtec Hassan Abdullah Smeik to discuss the details of the project, including where the units will be built, and the time frame of the work. The project will have a total value of $40 billion, according to a statement yesterday by Arabtec, with the military saying it will focus on Egyptians with “limited income,” according to statements posted yesterday on the official Facebook page. [Ahram Online, Bloomberg, AP, Mada Masr, 3/9/2014]

Twenty-seven UN members urge Egypt to stop harassing dissidents
Twenty-seven nations on the United Nations Human Rights Council released a joint declaration on Friday expressing “concern about the escalating violence” in Egypt. The nations, which include Denmark, the United States, Japan, Turkey and several other European countries, said the outcome of the Egyptian transition is “not only important to the Egyptian people but also to the region and the international community.” While being careful to “strongly condemn the reprehensible terrorist attacks” perpetrated by insurgent groups, the report concentrated on repression and human rights abuses committed by the interim government. [DNE, 3/8/2014]


Libyan rebels warn of ‘war’ if navy attacks oil tanker
On Saturday, a North Korean tanker Morning Glory was loaded with thirty-six million dollars of crude oil at the rebel-held port of Es Sider. Prime Minister Ali Zidan has said the military will bomb the 37,000-tonne vessel if it tries to leave. Officials said on Sunday that the navy and pro-government militias had dispatched boats to stop it from getting out. In response, rebels said any attack on the tanker would be “a declaration of war.” Members of the General National Congress (GNC) have asked for General Chief of Staff Jadallah al-Obaidi to be recalled to Tripoli over his failure to take action against the North Korean tanker. The escalating conflict over the country’s oil wealth is a sign of mounting chaos in Libya, where the government has failed to rein in fighters who helped oust Qaddafi in 2011. The US State Department released a statement on Sunday expressing concern over this situation and describing it as “counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people.”  [Reuters, 3/9/2014]

2014 budget expected to be LD 68.59 billion; salaries and subsidies shoot up
The head of the GNC Budget, Finance and Planning Committee, Mohammed Abdullah, revealed that the 2014 budget is estimated to be LD 68.59 billion with huge increases in the salaries and subsidies sections. Salaries are expected to constitute approximately forty percent of the 2014 budget and subsidies twenty-two percent. In comparison, in the 2013 budget, salaries were thirty-one percent and subsidies were sixteen percent. According to Abdullah, the inflation in public expenditure will lead to a financial crisis in light of the oil ports closure and resultant decline of state revenues. [Libya Herald, 3/9/2014]

Zidan supports Egypt’s Rome Conference initiative to collect Libyan arms
At a press conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Zidan expressed support for the Egyptian initiative presented at the Rome Conference to collect Libyan arms. The initiative will create an international fund which would be used to buy back arms within Libya. The arms would subsequently be destroyed. Zidan stated that the initiative should be for heavy arms and not light arms and that he hopes the UN will be involved and there will be a clear role for Libya in the process. [Libya Herald, 3/9/2014]

Libyan bloggers discuss constitution
With results in from the vote to choose Libya’s constitution crafters, online commentators are looking ahead and beginning to discuss ways to formulate a consensus. Libyan bloggers are eager to see the constitution pull the country out of political turmoil, restore security and build a democratic state. Blogger’s vary in their level of optimism for the success of the constitution drafting process. Some regard the recent vote for the constitutional committee as having the potential to advance Libya’s transition to democracy. Others are critical of the election process and the absence of several segments of society. [Magharebia, 3/7/2014]


Idriss rejects deal to step down; Qatar bloc returns to fold
The former head of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has lashed out at the head of the opposition-in-exile Syria National Coalition, saying his recent ouster was the result of “bribery.” Senior opposition figures had said Thursday that they resolved a dispute after the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the FSA sacked General Salim Idriss, convincing him and his allies to accept the appointment of Col. Abdel-Ilah Bashir as his successor. However, Idriss said that coalition president Ahmad Jarba had engineered his dismissal by paying off members of the SMC. Idriss added that the vote on his ouster was illegal because a number of individuals sitting on the thirty-member SMC were not eligible to take part. A large bloc supported by Qatar that left the National Coalition has reversed its decision and wants to rejoin, setting the scene for confrontation with the group’s Saudi-backed president, opposition sources said on Sunday. The forty members, who withdrew from the 120-member coalition before peace talks began in Geneva in January, said they had returned to confront what they saw as their unfair exclusion from the decision making process. [Daily Star, 3/10/2014]

Health sector collapse linked to dramatic rise in death toll
Newborns freezing to death in hospital incubators, doctors cutting off limbs to stop patients from bleeding to death, surging cases of polio: a new report published on Monday paints a dire picture of Syria’s collapsing healthcare system. The report, issued by charity Save the Children, said some 60 percent of Syria’s hospitals have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the three-year-old conflict and nearly half of its doctors have fled the country. “It is not just the bullets and the shells that are killing and maiming children,” said the report, “A Devastating Toll.” The conflict has left a “shattered health system resulting in brutal medical practices that have left millions of children suffering,” the report said. [Daily Star, Reuters, NYT, 3/10/2014]

Syrian and Canadian journalists killed in separate incidents
A Syrian journalist has been killed covering clashes between government forces and opposition fighters in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor. Beirut-based Al Mayadeen said on its website that its cameraman Omar Abdelqader was shot in the neck by a government sniper on Saturday and was pronounced dead in hospital shortly afterwards. A Canadian freelance photojournalist, Ali Mustafa, was killed Saturday in Aleppo as he rushed to document a barrel bomb attack that claimed the lives of fourteen. At least twenty-nine journalists were killed covering the war last year, making Syria the deadliest place for journalists in 2013 for the second year in a row. [Naharnet, Reuters, 3/10/2014]

Nuns released after three-month ordeal
Syrian insurgents released thirteen nuns and three attendants who disappeared three months ago from their monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, Lebanese and Syrian officials said early Monday, ending a drama in which rebels said they were protecting the women from government shelling and Syrian officials said they were abducted in an act of intimidation against Christians. The handoff was infused with suspense until the last moment. Mother Pelagia Sayaf, the head of the Mar Taqla monastery in Maaloula, thanked President Bashar al-Assad, saying he had worked with Qatari officials for their release. The government portrayed the release as a major victory, sending senior figures like the Damascus governor Hafez Makhlouf, a relative of President Assad, to greet the nuns. [NYT, Reuters, 3/10/2014]


Women’s gains in new constitution highlighted at NCA ceremony
The gains of Tunisian women in the new constitution were highlighted at a festive ceremony held Saturday in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to celebrate International Women’s Day. First Deputy President of the NCA Mehrzia Labidi stressed, in an address, the active contribution of women deputies to creating a constitution that guarantees rights and freedom, particularly women’s rights, and which lays the foundations for a democratic state respecting human rights. Comments at the ceremony also focused on the amount of work still needed with respect to women’s equality in the country, particularly in less developed regions. [TAP, 3/8/2014]

Thirty-one assaults on journalists in February 2014
Thirty-five media professionals were assaulted in thirty-one acts of violence in February, according to a report of the Tunis Centre for Freedom of Press. On Friday, February 28, security forces violently broke-up a protest against the arrest of Imed Dghij, a leader of controversial group. Journalists covering the protest were targeted. On March 3, journalists held a rally to protest violence committed by police targeting journalists. Tunisia ranked poorly on Reporters Without Borders’ annual world freedom of the press index, which was released in February. Tunisia was listed as 133rd, a five-place improvement from last 2013. [TAP, 3/9/2014]  

Bahrain’s three billion dollar project in Tunis set to begin
Bahrain’s Gulf Finance House (GFH) will start building a $3 billion financial park and real estate development north of Tunisia’s capital, a project that had been suspended for five years, the Islamic investment bank said on Monday. The project will be one of the largest private foreign investments in the country, which has struggled to revive its economy since the revolution that toppled former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali three years ago. GFH’s project was scheduled to begin in 2009, but financial difficulties at the Islamic bank and Tunisia’s 2011 uprising froze several large-scale projects. [Gulf Business, 3/10/2014]

Israeli passengers on Norwegian cruise barred from entering Tunisia
Israeli tourists traveling on a Norwegian cruise ship were prevented from disembarking at a stop in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. The Israeli passengers were told quietly by staff aboard the Norwegian Jade that they were not welcome per the Tunisian government during the stop, B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement Sunday. There were about twenty Israelis on board the ship. They did not know in advance that they would be required to remain on the ship during the day-long stop. Jewish passengers who were not Israeli were permitted to disembark in Tunis. [Forward, 3/10/2014]


Constitution drafting committee established
On Sunday, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi established the long-awaited committee mandated to draft the country’s new constitution. The seventeen member panel is comprised of former diplomats and judges, and was ordered to operate independent of the executive branch, as well as political affiliation. However, only four out of the seventeen members of the committee are women, failing to meet the National Dialogue Conference’s quota of thirty percent women. [Al-Arabiya, Saba; 3/9/2014]

New intelligence chief and ministers of oil and interior appointed
Yemen appointed new oil and interior ministers on Friday, state news agency Saba reported, after a series of lethal attacks on security targets and oil facilities. The intelligence chief after a rise in unrest in the country, official news agency Saba reported on Saturday. Hadi had decided on the changes amid public anger over the mounting unrest in the country, political sources said. Branches of the security apparatus are still controlled by officials loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in 2011 following the uprising against his thirty-three years in power. Yemen’s new oil minister has also already made waves over a claim he made in 2013 that Yemen has a third of the world’s oil supply sitting beneath it. [Al-Arabiya, Gulf News, 3/10/2014]

Houthi-Islah violence draws close to capital
At least forty people have been killed in three days of fighting between Shia Muslim rebels and Sunni tribesmen in al-Jawf province, as sectarian fighting draws closer to the capital Sana’a. Clashes were seen in villages roughly twelve miles from the capital as Houthi militants blew up the house of a tribal leader and a public school overnight. Local sources say that fifteen children are missing. The Houthi spokesman has called for “national reconciliation” and has dismissed Saudi Arabia’s branding of the Houthis as terrorists. [New York Times, Al-Jazeera, 3/9/2014]

Forty-two refugees killed as boat capsizes of the coast of Shabwa
About forty-two African refugees drowned on Sunday evening off the Yemeni coast after their boat capsized in the Gulf of Aden, while about thirty people on the boat were rescued, the Yemeni defense ministry said in a statement.The ministry did not mention the nationality of the refugees, but local authorities said they were Somalis and Ethiopians. According to local media, hundreds of Africans drown every year trying to reach Yemen in crowded boats. They tried to travel to Yemen through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, hoping to reach Gulf countries or Europe. Over 62,000 asylum seekers, refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa in 2013, according to UNHCR. [Xinhua, Al-Masdar (Arabic); 3/10/2014]


Middle East drought a threat to global food prices
The Middle East’s driest winter in several decades could pose a threat to global food prices, with local crops depleted and farmers’ livelihoods blighted, UN experts and climatologists say. Varying degrees of drought are hitting almost two thirds of the limited arable land across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. The dry season has already hurt prospects for the cereal harvest in areas of Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq. The Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) shows the region has not had such low rainfall since at least 1970. This was part of the initial findings of a joint technical study on Drought Risk Management undertaken by several UN agencies, including the FAO, UNDP and UNESCO, that would be formally published later this month, Hossain said. [Reuters, 3/7/2014]

Iraqi PM Maliki says Saudi, Qatar openly funding violence in Anbar
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in western Anbar province, in his strongest such statement since fighting started there early this year. Maliki’s remarks play to Iraqi fears of the Sunni Arab states as he tries to burnish his standing as a defender of the mainly Shi’ite country before elections at the end of April. Security forces have been fighting insurgents from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Anbar’s two main cities—Fallujah and Ramadi—since January. [Reuters, 3/9/2014]

Domestic violence cases spark protests in Lebanon
Four domestic violence slayings in Lebanon in recent months are drawing new attention to women’s rights in this country of four million people. Although Lebanon appears very progressive on women rights compared to other countries in the Middle East, domestic violence remains an unspoken problem and the nation’s parliament has yet to vote on a bill protecting women’s rights nearly three years after it was approved by the Cabinet. Civil rights activists say that a woman is killed every month by their husbands on average in Lebanon, while thousands are subjected to physical or verbal abuse every year. [AP, 3/8/2014]

Drastic rise in Hezbollah’s death toll in March
Deaths among Hezbollah fighters battling rebels in Syria have increased significantly in March, as the party fights alongside the Syrian army in its struggle to capture the rebel-held town of Yabroud in the Qalamoun Mountains. Hezbollah announced that fifteen of its fighters died in March, saying they fell while carrying out their “jihadist duty.” Funerals were held in various areas across Lebanon including the Bekaa Valley, the Beirut southern suburbs and south Lebanon. A source close to Hezbollah told The Daily Star that around five hundred Hezbollah fighters had been killed since the party joined the civil war in Syria. [Daily Star, 3/10/2014]