Following President Bouteflika’s announcement over the weekend that he will run for a fourth term this April, three opposition parties have called for a boycott of the presidential elections. The opposition parties Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), and Ennahda–who pose no real challenge to the National Liberation Front and its party machinery–called for a boycott of a vote they say will not be fair with Bouteflika running. The boycott is unlikely to have major impact on Bouteflika’s election bid whose re-election is assumed to be guaranteed. Last week, Islamist party Justice and Development Front (FJD or Adala) decided to boycott the election as well meaning that no Islamist parties will participate in the election. [Reuters, 2/25/2014]


Former housing minister tasked with forming new Egypt government
Ibrahim Mehleb has been asked to form a new government by interim President Adly Mansour, he told Al-Ahram Arabic news website on Tuesday. Mehleb, who resigned as housing minister on Monday, said he would immediately start consultations on the appointment of a new cabinet. The former member of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) and ex-chairman of Arab Contractors, one of the region’s leading construction companies, will succeed Hazem El-Beblawy as prime minister, according to Ahram Online. Hours after Egypt’s interim Beblawy appeared on state-run TV and announced the resignation of his entire cabinet, interim President Adly Mansour issued a statement accepting the end of the ministers’ tenure. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Mada Masr, Tahrir (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic), 2/25/2014]

Strong Egypt members sentenced to three years prison for anti-referendum campaign
A Cairo misdemeanour court sentenced in absentia on Tuesday three Strong Egypt Party members to three years in prison and an EGP 500 fine for hanging posters calling for a ‘No’ vote on the now-passed 2012 amended constitution. Charged with disturbing public peace and distributing flyers, the party members were arrested early January while handing out leaflets calling for a ‘No’ vote ahead of the constitution referendum held on January 14-15. Strong Egypt Party Spokesman Ahmed Emam told Ahram Online that the verdict is against freedom of expression and contradicts liberties granted by the passed constitution. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/25/2014]

Social network group members arrested for inciting violence against security forces
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered the detention of eight Brotherhood members for fifteen days pending investigations into charges of inciting organized violence against army and police personnel on social networking sites. Barakat released four other under age members, who were less than 18 years old. The defendants are also charged with burning a police station and a police officer’s car, belonging to a terrorist group that attempts to disrupt the constitution and the law, preventing state institutions and public authorities from exercising work, assaulting personal freedoms and public rights, attacking facilities of the armed forces and the police and endangering the safety and security of society. [Egypt Independent, EGYNews (Arabic), 2/24/2014]

United States says resignation of Egypt cabinet was unexpected
The United States said on Monday it was surprised by the resignation of Egypt’s government and would continue to push for a transition process that led to a democratically elected government in the country. “This step was unexpected, so we are looking to obtain information on it,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing. “Our focus … remains on pressing and encouraging Egypt to take steps forward that will advance an inclusive transition process that leads to a democratic civilian-led government selected through a credible and transparent elections process,” Psaki said. The spokeswoman said Washington was watching the situation closely and reaching out to its Egyptian counterparts for details. The cabinet had come under intensifying pressure in recent months amid an imploding economy, terrorist attacks and labour unrest. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 2/24/2014]


Seven Egyptian Christians found shot execution-style on Libyan beach
Libyan police have found seven Egyptian Christians shot dead on a beach in eastern Libya, security officials and local residents said on Monday. A local resident and an Egyptian worker, who asked not to be identified due to fears for their security, said unknown gunmen had arrived at the Egyptians’ Benghazi home and dragged them away the night before. No further details were immediately available, and no group has claimed responsibility. Egypt’s foreign ministry said the country expects a speedy investigation. There have been a number of attacks on the Egyptian Coptic community in Libya, including the church in Benghazi being set on fire following an earlier assault on the priest. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, Libya Herald, 2/24/2014]

HNEC calls on GNC and government to secure voting tomorrow
The head of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) Nuri Elabbar has called on the General National Congress (GNC) and the government to urgently secure tomorrow’s voting for the Constitutional Committee, as HNEC has only technical and logistical roles to play. If polling stations cannot be secured, Elabbar said, the elections would be stopped. He indicated that the GNC and government were also responsible for the problems that hampered last week’s elections. Congress had failed to address the demands of ethnic groups, he said, which led to disruption in Ubari and Murzuq, and necessary security was not provided for centers in vulnerable areas like Derna. [Libya Herald, 2/24/2014]

Libya puts ministries under special budget rules after oil revenue slump
Libya has put some government departments under special spending rules as a slump in oil revenue has hampered drafting a budget for this year. Under this rule the ministries get a sum based on last year’s average monthly spending to keep basic services running, said Abdelsalam Ansiya, who until this month headed the legislature’s financial committee. He said, however, that even this approach was problematic because there was no budget approved to back up the payments. The government will also fund such spending with money originally earmarked for infrastructure projects, which risks fuelling social tensions as Libya needs new roads, universities, and schools damaged during the 2011 uprising. [Reuters, 2/24/2014]

Libya prisons ‘worse than time of Qaddafi’
Extremist militias are undermining Libya’s efforts to improve prison conditions, says Nasser Houari, president of the Human Rights Victims Organisation and founder of the Libyan Observatory for Human Rights. In an interview, Houari explains that inmates face torture if they fall into the hands of these unregulated armed groups. Some prisons were supposedly placed under the justice ministry, but prison directors and local military councils are the ones actually in control. Human rights organizations calling for reform and cooperation are threatened because they expose and publish violations. [Magharebia, 2/24/2014]


Air raids in central Syria kill twenty-six; Battle continues for key Aleppo district
Air raids on rebel-held towns across Syria killed twenty-six people on Monday, two days after the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding an end to indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks. Two women and ten children were among the dead in government air raids on the town of al-Neshabieh, in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, near a railway marking the frontline between Islamist fighters and Assad’s forces backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants, and in the province of Homs to the north. Also on Monday, government troops battled rebels over a strategic Aleppo district that could be key to securing a nearby prison and laying siege to the city’s rebel-held east. The Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, said troops had advanced in the Sheikh Najjar district of Syria’s second city and one-time economic hub.
The prison has been attacked multiple times by rebels hoping to free the approximately 3,500 detainees inside, who are reportedly being held in dire conditions. [Reuters, 2/24/2014]

Al-Nusra Front gives ISIS ultimatum after commander’s death
Syria’s official al-Qaeda affiliate on Tuesday gave rival jihadists a five-day ultimatum to submit to a joint Islamic court after a top operative was killed in a suicide bombing. The ultimatum issued by al-Nusra Front to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) comes after the killing of Abu Khaled al-Suri, the commander of an Islamist brigade who was close to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. Rival rebels accuse ISIS of being behind the fatal attack, and al-Nusra’s chief said his outfit would fight the group in Syria and neighboring Iraq if it refused joint arbitration.
Though both are rooted in al-Qaeda in Iraq, relations between al-Nusra and ISIS have collapsed in recent weeks as Syria’s rebels have turned on ISIS, accusing it of kidnapping, torturing and killing activists and rival rebels. Even many hardline Islamist rebels have been critical of ISIS’s quest for hegemony and its refusal to submit to joint arbitration in Islamic courts not run by ISIS clerics. [AFP, 2/25/2014]

Israeli warplanes strike near the border of Syria and Lebanon
Israeli warplanes launched two raids near the Syrian-Lebanese border late Monday, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency, raising speculation that Israel might have targeted a weapons convoy to prevent the Syrian government from delivering missiles to its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. Israel has struck Syria at least three times in the past year, according to United States officials, to prevent sophisticated weapons from reaching Hezbollah amid the chaos of Syria’s war. Neither Syria nor Hezbollah has retaliated. The potential significance of Monday’s strike depended on whether the raids hit Syrian or Lebanese territory, which was not immediately clear. Analysts said it would be politically harder for Hezbollah to refrain from striking back if Israel, its longtime enemy, had struck inside Lebanon. [NYT, The National, BBC, 2/24/2014]

Syria war stirs new US debate on cyberattacks
Not long after the uprising in Syria turned bloody, late in the spring of 2011, the Pentagon and the National Security Agency developed a battle plan that featured a sophisticated cyberattack on the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad’s command structure. The Syrian military’s ability to launch airstrikes was a particular target, along with missile production facilities. “It would essentially turn the lights out for Assad,” said one former official familiar with the planning. For President Obama, who has been adamantly opposed to direct US intervention in a worsening crisis in Syria, such methods would seem to be an obvious, low-cost, low-casualty alternative. But after briefings on variants of the plans, most of which are part of traditional strikes as well, he has so far turned them down, according to officials familiar with the administration’s long-running internal debate. [NYT, 2/25/2014]


Marzouki says elections must be held by September
In an interview over the weekend, caretaker President Moncef Marzouki stressed the need to expedite the organization of presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. More specifically, Marzouki stated that a prime minister and president should be elected in September and local elections should occur in October or November. On Monday, the heads of the parliamentary groups of the National Constituent Assembly met and established that electoral law must be passed by March at the latest. [TAP, 2/24/2014]

Jihadist fighters return from Syria
According to the interior ministry, approximately four hundred jihadist fighters have returned to Tunisia after participating in the war in Syria. This has sparked fears that the battle-hardened militants could fuel Islamist violence back home. Since the beginning of the revolution in January 2011, much of the deadly violence witnessed in Tunisia has been attributed to Ansar al-Sharia, a hardline Salafist movement with supposed links to ql-Qaeda. Minister of Interior Lofti Ben Jeddou stated that Tunisia has “managed to prevent nearly 8,000 people from going to Syria” and that the government is monitoring those who have returned. [The Daily Star, 2/25/2014]

Eleven terrorists arrested
In a press release on Monday, the interior ministry announced that eleven individuals suspected of being terrorists were arrested last week. Five were arrested in the governorate of Jendouba and six in the governorate of Kasserine. Counter-terrorism units in each of the governorates are responsible for the arrests. According to the interior ministry, the arrested individuals were providing logistical support to terrorist groups in their respective region. Last week, a terrorist attack in Jendouba killed four people. [TAP, 2/24/2014]


Challenges in the ministry of interior
A number of military officers in the ministry of interior held a press conference in Sana’a calling for the continuation of the February 11 revolution and the fall of the government. The officers signalled a desire for a government of technocrats. The officers cited their support for the revolution as based on the failure of the ministry of interior to provide security, specifically naming the interior minister a “disgrace” to the country. Elsewhere, Hadi addressed the leadership of the interior ministry, calling their role in the country’s transition to more decentralized security structures critical while chastising them for their recent failings. [Wefaq Press (Arabic), 2/25/2014]

South’s Preparatory Committee chairman: We won’t be led by leaders abroad
The chairman of the South’s Preparatory Committee rebuked the exiled leadership, saying that the committee “will not permit leaders living in five or seven-star accommodations to lead the people of the South.” He went on to accuse some leaders–without naming anyone specifically–of exploiting the blood of the South for “cheap gain,” and blamed them for the situation the South is in today. [Al-Ain Online (Arabic), 2/25/20214]

Mareb oil pipeline blown up again
Unidentified assailants blew up Yemen’s Maarib oil pipeline on Monday night, halting crude flows, a local official said. Tribesmen often carry out such attacks to pressure the government to create more jobs, settle land disputes, or free their relatives from prison. Before the spate of attacks began in 2011, the 270-mile pipeline carried around 110,000 barrels per day a terminal on the Red Sea. [Khaleej Times, 2/25/2014]

Community forums foster security partnership
Recent forums have been held across Yemen to promote public trust and cooperation with security forces. Organized by Partners Yemen in cooperation with the ministry of interior and civil society organizations, the forums took place in December and January in nine provinces: Sana’a, Aden, Hadramaut, al-Hodeidah, Abyan, Hajja, Marib, Shabwa and Lahj. [Al-Shorfa, 2/24/2014]


The race to arm Iraq

New documents reveal that Iran signed a deal to sell ammunition and arms worth $195 million to Iraq, breaking the UN embargo on weapon sales by Tehran. The agreement was reached at the end of November just weeks after Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from lobbying the Obama administration in Washington for extra weapons to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants. Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran. Several Iraqi lawmakers said Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays in US arms deliveries. Representatives from China and Russia have also visited the country in recent days eager to ink their own deals. [Reuters, 2/25/2014]

Saudi Arabia bans unveiled women from entering girls’ schools
Education departments in a number of regions of Saudi Arabia have banned female employees and visitors who do not wear a veil from entering girls’ schools. The education departments have made it mandatory for the male and female school guards to abide by Islamic rules, regulations and directives and moral principles. Additional rules include: no female employee or student should be allowed to leave school before the end of school hours unless they have written permission from the female school principal, the identity cards of drivers who transport female students in private cars should be checked, and men should not be allowed to enter the schools except in special circumstances after checking with the female in-charge and after taking precautions to prevent mixing between genders. [Al Arabiya, 2/24/2014]

Opposition parties ask Jordan to freeze peace deal with Israel
The Islamic Action Front (IAF), a Jordanian opposition party, called on the government to freeze a 1994 peace treaty with Israel as the Knesset was to debate Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound on Tuesday. The bill was introduced by a hardline member of the Likud party, which envisages the “application of Israeli sovereignty” over al-Aqsa mosque compound. No vote is expected at the end of the debate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is opposed to the bill and commentators say it is unlikely to attract much support. The IAF statement came as Israeli police early on Tuesday entered the compound to disperse stone-throwing Palestinian protesters, with an Israeli police spokesman speaking of “high tension.” [Khaleej Times, 2/25/2014]