The White House canceled plans for a summit this month between President Barack Obama and Persian Gulf monarchs in Riyadh because of splits between Washington’s closest allies in the region. The strains that scuttled the meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait—underscored the mounting challenges Washington faces in trying to contain the Middle East’s spiraling political turmoil, officials said. Obama is still scheduled to meet face-to-face with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh late next week at the end of a trip largely focused on Europe and the crisis in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal, 3/20/2014]


Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah moved to unknown location
Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was removed from his cell in Tora Prison on Wednesday evening, with his family left unaware of his whereabouts. A security source at the Ministry of the Interior denied that Abd El Fattah is being held in an undisclosed location, state-owned Al-Ahram daily newspaper reported on Friday, describing it as a rumor. On Friday evening, Manal Bahey El-Din Hassan, the wife of Abd El Fattah, wrote on Twitter, “Do you know what it feels like to have someone detained by the Ministry of Interior? It means that you cannot be assured that he is okay for a single moment. Alaa was taken from his cell yesterday and since then we do not know his whereabouts.” [Mada Masr, 3/21/2014]

Seventeen Al-Azhar students sentenced to fourteen years in jail for 2012 protests
A Cairo court has sentenced seventeen Al-Azhar University students to fourteen years in jail on charges of storming the university headquarters, judicial sources said on Thursday. Sources said the students were also each fined EGP 90,000 ($13,000) on charges of rioting, damaging public property, burning nine vehicles and attacking security personnel and Al-Azhar staff. The incident on which the court ruled dates back to May of last year, during the rule of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, when a wave of protests spread through Al-Azhar University after hundreds of students were hospitalized for food poisoning on two separate occasions. [Ahram Online, Reuters, 3/21/2014]

Gulf security is Egypt’s national responsibility says interim president
Interim President Adly Mansour said that the security of Gulf area is one of Egypt’s national security priorities, and that Egypt was fighting the war on terrorism on behalf of the Middle East region. In an interview which was published on Friday in Kuwait Al-Rai newspaper, Mansour said that life in Egypt would not stop because of “desperate terrorist attacks”. “Egypt is in a war against terrorism on behalf of the whole region,” he was quoted as saying. Since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi last July, Egyptian security forces have been targeted by militant attacks that have left hundreds dead. The interim president said that Egypt was going to call on Arab countries to activate the Arab counter-terrorism agreement at the upcoming Arab summit, which is to be held on March 25 in Kuwait. Countries that sign the agreement commit to not allowing their territory be used for planning or committing terrorist acts, and to block the funding or training of terrorist groups. [SIS, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya (Arabic) 3/21/2014]

Egypt pound strengthens on official, black market
The Egyptian pound strengthened slightly against the dollar at a central bank sale of foreign currency on Thursday, also rising on the black market. The central bank sold $38.4 million to banks at the auction, with a cut-off price of 6.9501 pounds to the dollar, inching up from 6.9502 at the last sale on Wednesday. On the black market, the dollar was offered for EGP 7.37 on Thursday, stronger than Wednesday’s rate of 7.40. [Reuters, 3/20/2014]


Flights resume at Tripoli airport after brief suspension
Air flights to Tripoli International Airport resumed Friday after a three-hour stoppage. Libyan authorities had closed the airport in the capital after rockets hit a runway, airport sources and state media said. An official from the transportation ministry confirmed that the airport had reopened after the maintenance team at the airport swiftly repaired the damage. The cause behind the rocket attack was unclear, but gunfire could be heard during the night in the capital, residents said. [Tripoli Post, 3/21/2014]

Oil tanker being escorted back by twenty-five US personnel and a warship
There are twenty-five US personnel on board the oil tanker Morning Glory, which is sailing back to Libya under escort of a US warship. The US sailors are supervising transit and performing security, navigation, and communication tasks, a Pentagon spokesperson said. The three Libyans who had attempted to flee with the vessel are in US custody aboard the ship. It is unclear what will happen to the other nationals upon arrival. Libyans interviewed by Magharebia expressed sharp criticism of moves made by independent militias to exploit the country’s resources. [Libya Herald, US Dept of Defense, 3/20/2014]

Congress divided about speaking to federalists
The General National Congress (GNC) is divided over talking to the self-proclaimed government of Cyrenaica about ending the blockade of the oil export terminals. According to GNC spokesperson Omar Hemidan, a number of members insist the GNC should not engage the Cyrenaican government because it is illegitimate. Others take the pragmatic view that talks had to be held in the interests of the country. No decision has been made. Earlier, following the failure of the Cyrenaicans’ attempts to sell oil on the international market, Cyrenaican leadership said that the federal movement was ready to hold talks with the GNC and the government in Tripoli to end the oil terminals crisis. As a precondition, the GNC had to withdraw Decision No. 42, which ordered force to be used to free the oil terminals. [Libya Herald, 3/20/2014]

Coast guard rescues 348 migrants
In two separate operations, Tripoli’s naval coast guard yesterday rescued 348 migrants trying to reach the shores of Europe. Navy spokesperson Ayoub Gassem said that the first vessel included sixty women and nine children. Most of the migrants on board were from Eritrea, and the captain was Tunisian. In a separate operation, a second boat carrying eighty-two men was rescued off the coast of Tajoura, on the outskirts of Tripoli. They were sub-Saharan Africans, Ghassem said, mainly from Somalia, Sudan and Egypt. [Libya Herald, 3/20/2014]


Kurdish exodus from Raqqa after jihadist threat
Some 600 Kurdish residents of villages in Raqqa province have fled after an ultimatum from the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 600 Kurds from the villages of Tal Akhdar, Tal Fandar, and the town of Tal Abyad had abandoned their homes after warnings from ISIS. The NGO said ISIS had also detained dozens of Kurds in the area, releasing them with a warning to leave their village in the northern province, where the jihadist group has a strong presence. It said more than 500 had entered Turkey, with others fleeing to the nearby town of Ain al-Arab. ISIS considers the Kurds infidels and has also sought to take control of oil resources in Kurdish areas. [AFP, 3/20/2014]

Islamist rebels fight to take Syria crossing with Turkey
Three Islamist opposition groups, including al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, were battling for control of a regime-held border crossing with Turkey on Friday. “Al-Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam, and Ansar al-Sham are engaged in fierce clashes around the Kasab crossing with Turkey in Latakia province,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. Syrian state television made reference to the fighting in a breaking news alert, saying the army was “tackling attempts by terrorist gangs to infiltrate from Turkish territory and attack border crossings in northern Latakia province.” The alert said seventeen opposition fighters had been killed and “many others” wounded in the fighting. The clashes came after the three Islamist groups announced the beginning of the “Anfal” campaign in the Latakia area. [AFP, 3/21/2014]

Ex-envoy Robert Ford sees Assad as staying in power for the “medium term”
The former US envoy for Syria said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad was likely to remain in power for the “medium term” and that a year from now the country would probably still be under the control of competing factions. “It is hard to imagine that Assad is going in the short term, and even in the medium term, to lose control of the area between Aleppo south to Damascus and then over to the coast.” Ford outlined three reasons Assad had been able to hang on to power. First, the opposition had been unable to assure the Alawite minority that it would not be threatened by Assad’s overthrow. Another factor that has helped Assad’s prospects has been “Iranian and Russian financing and huge amounts of arms coming from both Russia and Iran.” The third factor is that the Assad government has had a “certain unity and coherence, which is lacking on the opposition side.” [NYT, 2/20/2014]

Syria loses Internet, again; 95% of networks down
Multiple monitoring groups reported Thursday that Syria was cut off from the Internet, marking the second time in a month that the war-torn country has gone dark. The Internet monitor Renesys said 95% of Syria’s networks went down beginning at 8:26am. Google also shows traffic from the country dropping around that time and picking up only around 3:30pm. Internet blackouts occur with some frequency in Syria—the last reported instance was February 20, according to Mashable—and have in the past coincided with Syrian military operations, though the government typically blames technical problems. [Time, 3/20/2014]


The goal of the visit to the Gulf was not to ask for aid, says economy minister
Tunisia is not heading to the Gulf countries to ask for aid and to seek financing, said Hakim Ben Hammouda, economy and finance minister. The country has not had cooperative relations with the Gulf countries since the 1980s, he added. The trip, during which the Tunisian delegation met with high-level Gulf officials, gave authorities an idea about the obstacles that characterize relations and why cooperation has not evolved. Tunisia seeks to attract the automobile and aeronautic industries, in which Gulf investors have a great presence. [Mosaique FM (French), 3/21/2014]

Europe should do more for Tunisia, says MP
Europe should do more for Tunisia, said the jurist and parliament deputy Fadhel Moussa, president of the Constitutional Justice Commission of the National Constituent Assembly. Remarking on a delegation that met with high-level EU officials in Brussels, Moussa said, “All of them have praised the results of our revolution…but in the end we did not receive the support that we would have wanted.” Moussa spoke of a 300 million euro loan from the European Commission launched in recent weeks, after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also gave a green light to a 500 million dollar loan following the birth of the new ‘technical’ government guided by Mehdi Jomaa. The Tunisian delegation expected stronger signals from Europe, and more resources are needed for development in a country where the underground economy “represents 50 percent of the total” and where the plague of youth unemployment seems to have extinguished much of the hope born during the revolution. [ANSAmed, 3/21/2014]

Further efforts are required to preserve independence, says Marzouki
At a ceremony in honor of the fifty-eighth anniversary of Tunisia’s independence, attended by Mustapha Ben Jaafar of the National Constituent Assembly and Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, caretaker President Moncef Marzouki reminded youth that independence “was the fruit of the sacrifices of generations of Tunisians. It should not be an end in itself in the history of a people as further efforts are required to preserve it.” Defending Tunisia’s independence is a constant effort as it is under a daily threat, he pointed out. Marzouki asserted confidence in Tunisia’s future “thanks to its consensual Constitution, brave army, republican security forces, vivacious civil society, responsible political class, and mainly to its people who are against violence and all forms of fanaticism and attached to its national unity.” [TAP, 3/20/2014]


ISIS announces Yemen as starting point for invasion of Arabian Peninsula
The transnational jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) announced its intention to use Yemen as starting point for a takeover of the Arabian Peninsula. The group condemned the leaders of the Gulf states, and Middle East countries in general, as “apostates.” The groups also said that after it opens up a front in the Arabian Peninsula, it will follow with Persia. [Ibb Press (Arabic), 3/21/2014

Benomar meets with Rashad members
UN Special Envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar met with members of the Salafist Rashad party to discuss the implementation of and adherence to the outcomes and conclusions of the National Dialogue Conference. The meeting was attended by the party’s secretary general, Abdulwahhab Homayqani, currently labeled by the US government as a terrorist for allegedly funneling money to al-Qaeda forces. [Hona Hadhramout (Arabic), 3/21/2014]

Saleh lashes out against “Zionist spring,” decries political conspiracies
Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took to his personal Facebook page to warn against divisions wrought by the Arab Spring, saying that it came from “the Zionist kitchen.” Saleh accused foreign powers of wanting Yemen to be a nation of “beggars,” dependent on foreign aid and assistance. He called for unity and decried political conspiracies that exacerbate tribal, sectarian, and regional conflicts. [Khabara Agency (Arabic), 3/21/2014]


United States cancels summit with divided group of Gulf nations
The White House canceled plans for a summit this month between President Barack Obama and Persian Gulf monarchs in Riyadh because of splits between Washington’s closest allies in the region. The strains that scuttled the meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait—underscored the mounting challenges Washington faces in trying to contain the Middle East’s spiraling political turmoil, officials said. Obama is still scheduled to meet face-to-face with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh late next week at the end of a trip largely focused on Europe and the crisis in Ukraine. [Wall Street Journal, 3/20/2014]

Saudi Arabia sentences twenty-eight for backing militants
A Saudi court has jailed twenty-eight men for security offences including material support to wanted Islamist militants, aiding terrorism, and helping young men go to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to fight. The Kingdom has sentenced thousands of its citizens to prison terms for similar offences over the past decade. Al-Qaeda waged a campaign of attacks from 2003-2006 inside the country, killing hundreds of people. The growing role of militants in Syria has raised fear in Riyadh about a new wave of radicalism among its own citizens, and the government has issued stern new penalties for fighting abroad or supporting groups it says are extremist. [Reuters, 3/20/2014]

Sadr calls for high turnout as deepening divides threaten elections
Iraqi Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr called on the people of Iraq to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections to prevent “thieves” and “beneficiaries” from gaining power. Sadr has been an increasingly fierce critic of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, denouncing him earlier this month as a “dictator and a tyrant.” But, with violence rising to its worst level since 2007 and 2008, violence will surely prevent people from voting, even if they want to. The most volatile area is Anbar, a vast province sharing a border with Syria and Jordan. Violence there intensified in December, when Maliki ordered special forces to dismantle a protest camp in Ramadi and arrest local politicians. This led to all-out fighting between the security forces and locals, nearly all Sunnis loyal to tribal leaders. [Asharq al-Awsat, The Economist, 3/21/2014]

Lebanon’s new government gets go-ahead from parliament
Lebanon’s parliament gave a newly-formed cabinet a vote of confidence on Thursday, ending almost a year of political deadlock. The approval by ninety-six of the 101 parliamentarians who attended the vote was widely expected after the government reached a compromise last week on a policy statement following weeks of dispute that brought it to the verge of collapse. The vote gave Lebanon a fully empowered government for the first time in more than a year, raising hopes of holding presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman’s mandate expires in May and finally conducting parliamentary polls that were postponed last year. [Asharq al-Awsat, 3/21/2014]