Top News: Egypt’s Government Resigns in Surprise Move

Egypt’s Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy announced on State TV Monday that his cabinet has submitted its resignation to interim President Adly Mansour. Beblawi said, “Reform cannot take place through the government alone,” adding that all Egyptians should strive to achieve the change to which they aspire. Beblawy also mentioned that Egypt currently faces huge challenges as well as great opportunities to be grasped. He gave no clear reason for the decision. In a statement issued after the speech, the cabinet attributed the resignation to “current circumstances the country is experiencing” and “responsiveness to the requirements of the current stage.” The decision came amid a host of strikes, including one by public transport workers and garbage collectors. An official source told Ahram Online that Mansour is expected to accept the cabinet’s resignation and commission Ibrahim Mahleb, minister of housing in Beblawy’s government, to form the new cabinet. According to the Associated Press, this is a surprise move that could be designed in part to pave the way for the nation’s military chief to leave his defense minister’s post to run for president. [Ahram OnlineAPReutersMada Masr, 2/24/2014]


Egypt court acquits all defendants in final January 25 killing of protesters case
The Alexandria Criminal Court acquitted the last six remaining officers on trial for the killing of protesters during the January 25 uprising on Saturday, state owned MENA reported.The officers were accused of killing eighty-three protesters in a number of police stations in Alexandria. Among the accused were the former head of Alexandria’s security directorate, Mohamed Ibrahim; the former head of Alexandria’s Central Security Forces, Adel El-Lakany; and former chief of investigations in the Raml district of Alexandria, Wael al-Komy. The men were accused of inciting violence against protesters and inciting others to kill, and allegedly ordered the use of live ammunition and birdshot. This leaves just ousted President Hosni Mubarak, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six of his aides on trial for killing protesters in 2011. According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the courts have only convicted and sentenced three low-level security officers to prison since 2011 for the killing of over 800 protesters, two of whom are serving time in prison. [Mada Masr, DNE, Ahram Online, 2/22/2014]

Egypt’s unemployment rate remains steady at 13.4 percent
The nationwide unemployment rate remained steady through the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2013, registering 13.4 percent of the population, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics reported in an official statement. According to CAPMAS, 3.6 million Egyptians are unemployed, a 0.5 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 57.3 percent increase compared to the same quarter in 2010. The report indicated that youth constitutes 69 percent of the total unemployed. [DNE, 2/22/2014]

Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hold talks with NATO officials in Brussels
The ministry of foreign affairs announced Sunday that Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs Hisham Badr will be travelling to Brussels to hold bilateral talks with officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). According to a statement released by the ministry, the talks will focus primarily on NATO cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Badr also hopes to coordinate efforts in hosting a NATO seminar in Egypt concerning the fight against terrorism. The statement added that Egypt has a “bilateral plan” to increase cooperation with NATO, specifically in the fields of science and skills development. Crisis management, peacekeeping operations, mine-detection training, disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation policies will be discussed. [DNE, Egypt Independent, SIS, 2/23/2014]


Libya struggles to pay bills as protests slash oil revenues
Some Libyan government ministries are struggling to cover expenditures because of budget problems, a minister said on Sunday after protesters shut down another vital oilfield in the country. Militias and armed protesters have seized ports and oilfields over the last seven months to press demands on the central government. Oil output fell to 230,000 barrels per day (bpd) on Sunday after a new protest shut down the El Sharara field, down from 1.4 million bpd in July when nationwide protests started. Western powers fear Libya will slide into greater instability if budget problems worsen. Oil and gas exports are the government’s sole source of revenue, with more than half of the budget put toward public salaries and subsidies. [Reuters, 2/23/2014]

Constitutional Committee election final turnout put at half million
Releasing the full figures for the voter turnout in Thursday’s Constitutional Committee elections, the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) said it will try to hold a second round of voting on Wednesday in those polling centers where violence or blockades prevented it happening. If they are disrupted again, the issue will have to be resolved by the General National Congress, according to HNEC head Nuri Elabbar, as HNEC does not have the legal authority to call for third round of voting. Voting did not take place in eighty-one polling centers, and thirteen seats on the Committee cannot be declared. Elabbar said that in Kufra and Sebha, where 95 percent and 97 percent of polling stations had opened, ballot papers had been prevented from arriving by road. He added that negotiations  with the Amazigh community, which boycotted the elections, were still at an impasse. [Libya Herald, 2/23/2014]

RPG attack on Tunisian consulate in Benghazi
Unknown assailants fired an RPG at the Tunisian Consulate in Benghazi causing some limited, superficial damage to its outer wall. Spokesman for Benghazi Joint Security Room, Ibrahim Sharaa, said that the RPG was fired from a vehicle at around 10pm and most probably targeted, but missed, the car of diplomatic police stationed outside the consulate. No one was injured in the attack. The Tunisian Consulate in Benghazi was attacked by Ansar al-Sharia in June 2012 allegedly for insults made by Tunisian artists against Islam. In other incidents of violence, the General National Congress was evacuated Sunday evening in response to heavy gunfire. Meanwhile, in Derna, local residents denied reports of an RPG attack on the home of former Guantanamo Bay detainee and alleged Ansar al-Sharia leader Sufian Bin Qumu, despite sporadic fighting. [Libya Herald, 2/22/2014]

Libya arrests six Qataris at Benghazi airport with false papers, cash
Libyan police arrested six Qataris at Benghazi airport on Saturday as they tried to board a plane to Turkey using forged Libyan passports and carrying almost $146,000, airport security sources said. Western diplomats in Libya worry that Benina airport in the eastern city is being used by Islamists to travel to Turkey in order to join anti-government rebels in Syria. State news reported that one of the detainees claimed to be originally Sudanese, bringing the number of Qatari citizens involved in the case to five. Authorities are investigating the case. [Reuters, Tripoli Post, 2/22/2014]


UN orders both sides in Syria to allow humanitarian aid
In a rare show of unity among world powers, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday ordering the warring parties in Syria to stop blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid, though without the immediate prospect of punishment for those who disobey. The resolution (full text), which is legally binding, calls on the Syrian government to allow relief agencies to enter the country, decries the dropping of barrel bombs by government aircraft, and strongly condemns terror attacks, plainly referring to some of the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. It also calls on the UN secretary general to submit progress reports, and while it does not threaten sanctions, it promises to take “further steps” against those who do not comply. Before the vote, diplomats said it was clear that there would be no chance of approval from Russia, Syria’s strongest ally who has previously blocked three similar measures, if the measure contained any language on sanctions. Just before the text was finalized Wednesday night, the suggestion of sanctions came out; late Friday afternoon, Moscow signaled its assent. The countries pushing for the resolution were clearly aiming for a vote during the Olympic Games in Sochi to exert the greatest leverage on Russia. Damascus said Sunday it is ready to cooperate with the resolution so long as it respects “state sovereignty.” [NYT, Reuters, The Daily Star, 2/22/2014]

Syrian representative of al-Qaeda leader killed by rival Islamists
A Syrian rebel commander who fought alongside al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and was close to its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack on Sunday, intensifying infighting between rival Islamist fighters. Abu Khaled al-Souri, also known as Abu Omair al-Shamy, a commander of the Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham was killed along with six comrades by al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Al-Souri’s death will fuel the infighting among jihadis fighting President Bashar al-Assad, a violent rivalry that has killed more than one thousand fighters since mid-January. Two rebels told Reuters that five ISIS members had entered Ahrar al-Sham headquarters in Aleppo, engaged its fighters, and then one ISIS fighter blew himself up. Al-Souri had been in Aleppo to mediate the divisions between Islamist fighters. [Reuters, AFP, NYT, The Daily Star, 2/23/2014

Nearly thirty die as Kurds wrest northeastern town from Islamist control
A Kurdish group captured a town from Islamists fighting on Saturday in a battle that killed twenty-eight fighters, most of them Islamists. If the Kurds can hold on to the town, Tell Brak, on a highway between the cities of Hasaka and Qamishli, it will be a significant advance in their quest for wider control in the northeast. Islamist activists said online that fighting was still going on, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish groups known as People’s Protection Units had taken the town. Syrian Kurds have expanded their sway in the northeast, where they are setting up their own administration, since the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began three years ago. [NYT, 2/22/2014]

Jordan foils bid to smuggle ammunition from Syria
Jordanian border guards foiled an attempt to smuggle a large amount of ammunition from Syria and arrested five people early Monday, the army said. Jordan says smuggling across the border with Syria has risen by 300 percent in the past year and that hundreds of trafficking attempts have been foiled. The number of licensed weapons stands at 120,000. But the interior ministry also estimates that there are more than one million unlicensed guns in the nation of seven million people. [The Daily Star, 2/24/2014]


Governor’s reshuffle to be announced shortly
A reshuffle of governors will be announced shortly according to a source in the prime minister’s office. Tunisia’s roadmap, adopted by political parties taking part in the national dialogue, requires that the new government review administrative appointments made on the basis of party affiliation. A commission was tasked by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to evaluate governors’ work and propose names based on criteria of neutrality and competence. Administration neutrality is an important condition for the success of the next elections. [TAP, 2/22/2014]

Engine fire caused Libyan plane to crash in Tunisia on Friday
An engine fire caused a Libyan military plane to crash, early on Friday, according to the preliminary investigation of the ministry of interior. The two black boxes from the plane have been found. The commander of the aircraft had contacted the control tower of the Tunis Carthage airport to signal an outbreak of fire in its engine. Air controllers had guided him to ease its landing but contact was interrupted between the commander and the control tower moments after a call for help was issued twice. All eleven people on board were killed and have now been identified. One of the passengers was Meftah al-Mabrouk Issa al-Dhawadi. Dhawadi was a leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a now disbanded movement with alleged links to al-Qaeda which joined the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Qaddafi. [Al Arabiya, All Africa, 2/22/2014]

Quartet to meet on Monday
The Quartet will on meet Monday to assess the national dialogue process. The meeting will review the achievements accomplished in accordance with the commitments of the roadmap related to the electoral and governmental processes. The Quartet will not present a draft electoral law but, rather, will follow the debates over electoral law in the National Constituent Assembly. The meeting will also asses efforts by Prime Minister Jomaa and his interim government  with respect to the revision of nominations, the fight against terrorism, dissolution of the Revolution Protection Leagues, the neutrality of mosques and educational institutions as well as the fight against smuggling. [All Africa, 2/23/2014]

Judges go on strike
On Saturday, the Union of Tunisian Judges (SMT) announced that judges will go on a general strike in all courts on Monday, February 24. The strike was decided after lawyers assaulted a judge for issuing an arrest warrant against their colleague. [TAP, 2/22/2014]


Hadi allegedly gives Houthis an ultimatum
Sources claim that President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi gave a strict message to northern Houthi militants on Monday, saying that they have only two options before them: disarm and focus on political participation, or face confrontations with authorities and the people of Yemen. The statement was made in Amran during a meeting with tribal elders of the al-Ahmar tribe, a leading family of the Hashid Tribal Confederation, that has had repeated confrontations with Houthis. Though the statement reported on the government news agency’s website did not use such terms, attendees of the meeting associated with the al-Ahmar clan reported the ultimatum. The mayor Sana’a, who played a key role in ceasefire negotiations between Houthis and Hashid tribesmen in Arhab, also confirmed the government’s intention to disarm the Houthis. [Shbab Press (Arabic), Al-Masdar (Arabic); 2/24/2014]

UNSC promulgates draft resolution to establish sanctions committee
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has released the draft resolution that would create a sanctions committee capable of imposing asset freezes and travel bans on political actors threatening Yemen’s transition. The UNSC has previously expressed concern with specific reference to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president deposed as a result of the 2011 uprising, and Ali Salem al-Beidh, former Vice-President and formative leader in the country’s Southern separatist movement. [Reuters, 2/21/2014]

Central government halts printing of opposition newspaper
A newspaper associated with the Southern opposition has been barred from accessing government-owned printing presses, its editors said on Sunday. The paper in question reflects the views the Southern Herak separatists that have called for the restoration of the independent South that merged with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990. An unidentified source in the central government claims that the newspaper was going through issues with its permit, but the paper denied this, calling the motivation political. [Reuters, 2/23/2014]

Qatar opens its labor market to Yemen
Though Yemen is beset by numerous economic issues, unemployment remains a primary obstacle to recovery. However, following a recent agreement with Qatar, Yemenis have begun travelling to the country to offer their labor to help Qatar prepare for the 2022 World Cup. Part of the agreement includes investment in vocational and specialized training at at colleges and institutes in Sana’a and Yemen. [Al-Shorfa, Yemen Post, 2/24/2014]


Bomb blasts, clashes in Bahrain village
Two homemade bombs exploded overnight in a village west of Manama as Bahraini police attacked protesters, police said. Clashes have been frequent as protesters continue to demand that that ruling family relinquish certain ministerial posts in favor of an elected government. According the the official state news agency, police were confronting “acts of sabotage… and attacks with molotov cocktails” when the bombs went off. The main opposition bloc al-Wefaq has alleged that rather police had attacked a mourning procession in the village. [AFP/Al-Akhbar, 2/24/2014]

Bouteflika will run for reelection
Officials announced on Sunday that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans to run for re-election. If elected in April, this will be Bouteflika’s fourth term in power. Over the course of the last year, there has been much speculation as to whether Bouteflika would actually run because of his deteriorating health. Bouteflika suffered from a stroke last April and has not been seen in public since he returned to Algeria from a three-month hospital stay in France where he recovered from the stroke. [NYT, 2/24/2014]

Kuwait MP calls for the deportation of 1.4 million expats
A Kuwaiti lawmaker has called for the deportation of 280,000 expatriates per year for the next five years to help address the imbalanced demographics in the country. “We need to have a Kuwaiti population that is at least equal to the number of foreigners who live in the country,” the MP explained. He added that reducing the number of foreigners has become a necessity to ease the pressure on the local infrastructure and to eliminate congestions in all state institutions. [Gulf News, 2/24/2014]

Emir announces major shake-up of Qatar’s ministries and councils
The Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani has just announced a significant revamp of Qatar’s ministries and councils, the first major reorganization of the country’s governing bodies since he assumed power last June. The changes entail some ministries and authorities merged, significant alterations to the Supreme Councils responsible for public health and education, other offices have been outright abolished. [Doha News, 2/21/2014]

Image: Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawy, whose government submitted its resignation. (Photo: Wikimedia)