Top News: Day Two of the Referendum Marked with Arrests and Boycotts

Undeterred after a day of sporadic violence, Egyptians on Wednesday lined up to vote on the second and final day of a key referendum on the country’s new constitution. Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi blocked the Cairo Metro on Wednesday afternoon as they marched along the track of the southern Ain Helwan station. They organized human chains in several cities outside the capital calling for a boycott of the referendum. Muslim Brotherhood supporters staged two protests east and west of Alexandria. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the second day of voting was going smoothly thanks to security efforts. Those efforts include blocking the entrance to Tahrir Square and the threat of using live ammunition on anyone who attempts to tamper with ballot boxes. The High Elections Committee has reported a high turnout and only minor incidents in Giza, where a handmade bomb was found. [AP, Ahram Online,1/15/2014]



Up to eleven killed and 249 arrested on day one of the constitutional referendum
While the High Elections Commission released a statement stating that the first day of the constitutional referendum passed without incident, the first day of voting was marked by violence, leaving between nine and eleven dead. Security forces arrested 249 people accused of “rioting and attempting to hinder the voting process.” The ministry of interior claimed all those arrested are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Minya, sixty-one Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters were arrested on charges of rioting and attempt to disrupt the referendum on the constitution. In Giza, eighteen Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested after gunmen opened fire near a polling station. Police forces securing the referendum in Minya found five improvised bombs inside four voting locations. Monitoring groups Shayfeencom, Judges’ Club, and Egyptian National Council for Human Rights reported receiving dozens of complaints nationwide. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information witnessed attempt to influence voters towards the “yes” and “no” votes. Two polling station employees in Alexandria were arrested for telling voters to vote “no.” Despite clashes and violations, there is a festive atmosphere, with plenty of dancing at a number of polling stations across the country. Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy also hailed the high turnout as evidence of Egyptians embracing their national role. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, 1/15/2014]

World Bank: Economic growth in Egypt expected to slowly pick up
The World Bank’s biannual Global Economic Prospects Report released this week predicted Egypt’s GDP growth rate to increase from an estimated two percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014 and 3.3 percent in 2016. This expected growth rate would be the highest since 2010 (about 5.1 percent), but is still much lower than Egypt’s potential or pre-revolutionary growth rates. The report stated that Egypt’s economy has been down in the past year, with industrial output falling by forty-four percent in three months through October, and a fall in FDI net inflows by about 14.5 percent. [DNE, 1/15/2014]

United Nations, United States, European Union weigh in on referendum
The United States and the United Nations have urged that authorities in Egypt ensure the voting for the constitutional referendum is peaceful, and the rights of citizens are respected, while the European Union praised Egypt for going forward with its roadmap. A Tuesday statement released by the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that Ban is “closely” monitoring the referendum in Egypt and stressed the importance of respecting “freedom of assembly and expression, as well as commitment to non-violence.” US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf condemned the Tuesday violence at polling stations in Egypt, and emphasised the need for protection of civil rights. “It should be clear to all Egyptians that violence has not and will not move Egypt’s political transition forward,” said Harf in a Tuesday press briefing. Speaking to press in Kuwait, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton praised Egypt’s interim government for its transition to democracy. “It is an important part of the roadmap that has been very carefully set out and which I think you and I both agree needs to be followed in order to see Egypt go forward on the democratic track.” [DNE, Egypt Independent, 1/15/2014]


Militiamen briefly storm parliament to demand vote
On Tuesday, former Libyan militia fighters stormed parliament and fired in the air in an attempt to force assembly members to take a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Reportedly, gunmen in a vehicle fired at the GNC chamber this afternoon, forcing security to evacuate members from the chamber. The incident underscores Libya’s struggle to contain former rebels and militias who often turn to force to make demands on the weak central government. [Reuters 1/14/2014]

Implementation of sharia begins
As part of its recent adoption of sharia law, the Libyan government announced a rough timetable for the implementation of Islamic banking and finance. All state institutions are required to abide by the decision adopted last month making Islamic law the source of legislation in Libya. The development is raising some concerns among citizens who fear the misuse and politicization of Islam. Preparations are underway for an international conference organized by the Central Bank of Libya in collaboration with the World Bank and the Islamic Development Bank on Islamic banking in Libya. [Magharebia 1/14/2014]

Amal El-Haj announces her candidacy for prime minister
Political activist Amal Al-Taher El-Haj has put her name forward to the General National Congress as a candidate to succeed Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, if he fails to pass the no confidence vote. El-Haj, forty-five, is a human resources professional who trained as an English teacher at Tripoli University. Before the revolution, she worked at the Libyan-Italian advanced technology helicopter assembly line in Suq al-Hamiss. She is now a board director at the Free Communications Organisation and believes the country is in need of a “woman’s touch.” [Libya Herald 1/14/2014]

First oil expansion in ten months aiding refiners
According to the government Libya tripled its crude reserves supply to about 650,000 barrels a day in the last three weeks.This is the first expansion in oil production in ten months and is poised to lower regional crude costs as well as boosting margins for European refiners that have been closing at the fastest rate in decades. [Bloomberg 1/15/2014]


United States pledges $380m Syria aid; Western, Arab states pledge total $1.4b
Western and Gulf Arab nations pledged $1.4 billion on Wednesday for UN aid efforts in Syria. The pledge arose from an appeal for $6.5 billion launched last month that is the largest in U.N. history. The world body estimates that the conflict has reversed development gains in Syria by thirty-five years, with half its people now living in poverty. But only seventy percent of $1.5 billion pledged at a similar meeting last year has reached UN coffers, hinting at donor fatigue with no end to the bloodshed on the horizon. At the donor conference in Kuwait, US Secretary of State John Kerry promised $380 million in additional humanitarian aid. [Reuters, AFP,1/15/2014]

Regime claims Western intelligence confers with Damascus about Islamist rebels
The intelligence services of some Western countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have visited Damascus to discuss security cooperation with his government, Syria’s deputy foreign minister said in remarks broadcast on Wednesday. “I will not specify [which countries] but many of them have visited Damascus, yes,” the deputy minister, Faisal Mekdad, said. According to Mekdad, the contacts appeared to show a rift between the political and security authorities in some countries opposed to Assad. Western powers have supported the opposition with rhetoric but have backed away from material aid as al Qaeda-linked groups take advantage of a power vacuum in rebel-held regions. “Frankly speaking the spirit has changed,” Mekdad added. “When these countries ask us for security cooperation, then it seems to me there is a schism between the political and security leaderships.” [BBC, Reuters, AFP, 1/15/2014]

Jihadist emir linked with ISIS killed by rebels in Idlib
A coalition of rebels fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the north of the country on Wednesday killed a jihadist leader in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province. Meanwhile in jihadist-held Raqqa, further east, ISIS set free dozens of rebels it had captured in battles over the past few days. The emir, Abul Baraa, a Belgian jihadist of Arab origin, last week warned rebels to halt an anti-ISIS offensive they launched early January or face suicide attacks against their positions. Fighters with EU citizenship are not uncommon in Syria; on Tuesday President Hollande said that 700 people have travelled from France to join the war in Syria. [AFP, 1/15/2014]

As al-Qaeda revives, Iraq struggles to secure Syria border
Iraq is struggling to tighten control of its border with Syria, alarmed by a resurgent al Qaeda force that seeks to build an Islamic state across a frontier drawn in colonial times. The Baghdad government has deployed troops and new US- and Russian-made weaponry to try and cut the militants’ cross-border supply lines, hoping that can kill off the threat. But as US forces found before them, it is a near-impossible task. The Syrian civil war that has inflamed sectarian tensions across the region, and a desolate geography favouring smugglers and guerrillas are just two of Baghdad’s difficulties in getting a firm grip on the 375-mile desert boundary.
Another is tribal ties that span the border, with Iraqis regularly sending food, supplies and weapons to Syrian relatives enduring that country’s war. Iraq says Sunni Islamists have gone back and forth from Syria during the conflict. Some local people, like desert tribesmen elsewhere, are reluctant even to recognise international borders. Crucially, political and sectarian animosities felt by the Sunni population of the western province of Anbar towards the Shia-led central government weaken its authority there. [Reuters, 1/15/2014]


Deadlock on constitution articles related to the judiciary continues
On Tuesday the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) was unable to reach a consensus on the wording of Articles 107 and 108 of the constitution. Article 107 states that the types of courts and their activities will be outlined by law and that military courts will only try military crimes. Article 108 outlines the process of issuing and implementing a court sentence. While consensus on these two articles seems likely on Wednesday, Article 103, which failed to pass earlier this week, is unlikely to progress. Article 103 would give the government the power to nominate individuals to the highest judicial appointments. The Tunisian Judges’ Syndicate released a statement Wednesday calling on the NCA to pass the original wording of the article and declaring an open-ended strike. [Tunisia Live, 1/15/2014]

Adoption of the constitution expected this week
Speaking on the third anniversary of the revolution, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, president of the National Constituent Assembly, stated that adoption of the constitution is expected by the end of the week. [TAP, 1/14/2014]

Chafik Sarsar to lead election preparations
Chafik Sarsar, who was elected head of the elections board on January 10, will be in charge of preparations for the elections expected later this year. The main preparations include creating election headquarters, assigning electoral precincts, and registering voters. Sarsar is a senior lecturer on constitutional law in the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of Tunis. He also served as a member of the High Commission for the Realization of the Objectives of the Revolution. [Tunisia Live, 1/15/2014]

Marzouki pardons 1,806 prisoners
On the third anniversary of the revolution, President Marzouki pardoned 1,806 prisoners of a total of 2,238 requests for pardon. Many of those pardoned were women, students, the disabled, and foreigners, in particular Libyans. [The Tunisia Times, 1/14/2014]


Alleged US drone strike kills one in Hadramawt
Local sources reported that one person was killed by what is believed to have been a US strike launched from an unmanned drone in Hadramawt province. Sources say the man was walking down a street in the town of Shibam when he was struck by shrapnel from two missiles. The man’s identity remains unknown as locals were unable to identify the remains, however he is believed to have been a farmer. No other injuries or casualties were reported. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Reuters; 1/15/2014]

FM meets with HRW delegation; Minister of human rights condemns US drone attacks
Foreign Minister Abu Baker al-Qirbi met with a delegation from Human Rights Watch in Sana’a. Yemen’s state news agency reported that counterterrorism and the government’s commitment to human rights were discussed, in addition to the status of Yemeni nationals in international prisons such and Guantanamo Bay and Bagram. Meanwhile, Yemen’s minister of human rights, Hooria Mashhour has written a condemnation of US drone attacks, saying that they “tear at the fabric of Yemeni society” and hinder the country’s national dialogue process. [Saba, 1/15/2014]

Yemen ranked among the worst states on availability of healthy food
A new Oxfam report places Yemen at the bottom of a list of states with access to healthy food due to high prices that limit access to food of sufficient quantity and quality. Yemen’s score overall was in the bottom ten along with nine other sub-Saharan states, while in the category of “enough to eat” Yemen was the second worst country on the list. Oxfam estimates that twenty-nine percent of the country is under-nourished and forty-three percent of children are underweight. [Oxfam International, 1/15/2014]


Algeria’s Bouteflika returns to hospital in Paris
President Bouteflika returned to the military hospital in Paris, where he was treated for a stroke last spring, for a routine check-up. A statement was released emphasizing that his health is improving steadily. Bouteflika’s deteriorating health is of particular concern because of the upcoming elections this spring. Bouteflika has been president since 1999 and, even though the National Liberation Front has nominated him as the party’s candidate, it remains unclear whether he will run for a fourth term. [Ahram Online, 1/14/2014]

Rare face-to-face meeting between Bahrain’s crown prince and opposition
Just a week after national dialogue talks were formally suspended and months of opposition groups boycotting said talks, Crown Prince Salman Hamad al Khalifa met face to face with representatives of al-Wefaq, Bahrain’s largest opposition group. Due to the sensitivity of the meeting, details remain scarce, though an anonymous source reported that a US official also attended the meeting. This is the first meeting between between a member of the ruling family and opposition leaders in three years. [Daily Star, 1/15/2014]

Bomb attacks kill sixty in Iraq, PM seeks world’s support
A series of bombings aimed at Shia targets around Baghdad have resulted in around forty deaths with more than eighty wounded. Another bombing in Baquba targeted a funeral tent where mourners were gathering to mark the death of a pro-government Sunni figure, killing eighteen. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, asking for international support, warned that the transnational jihadi group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) is attempting to create a network “of evil statelets that would wreak havoc with security in the region and the world.” [Reuters, 1/15/2014]

Image: Photo: Matthew Hall