Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi resigned from the military on Wednesday and announced in a televised speech that he was determined to run in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, slated to begin March 30. “My determination to run in the election does not bar others from their right to run. I will be happy if whoever the people choose succeeds,” he said, adding that he hopes for “a nation for all without exclusion.” Any Egyptian who has not been convicted by the law, Sisi said, is unconditionally welcomed to be an active partner in the future of Egypt. He said that he does not intend to “have a traditional campaign but rather a comprehensive vision for the nation to rise,” and called on his supporters not “to spend a lot” for his campaign. [Ahram OnlineDNEEgypt IndependentAPMada Masr, 3/26/2014]


Egypt army extends power by taking charge of Gulf aid
Egypt’s army is taking charge of billions of dollars of development aid from the United Arab Emirates, an army official said, raising further doubts over the narrow separation of powers with the military backed administration in place since July. Major General Taher Abdullah, who heads the Engineering Authority of the Armed Forces, said when UAE officials discussed projects shortly after Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, it was with the army. The army’s role in building construction became public earlier this month when UAE government-linked Dubai firm Arabtec’s announced it had inked a $40 billion deal with the military to build one million homes in Egypt. [Reuters, 3/27/2014]

Kerry deeply troubled by Egypt death sentences
US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Egypt Wednesday to overturn a court decision sentencing 529 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death, warning it sent a “negative message” around the world. “I am deeply, deeply troubled by the sudden and unprecedented decision by an Egyptian court to issue preliminary death sentences for 529 citizens after a quick mass trial,” Kerry said in a statement, issued while he was on a surprise trip to Jordan. He added, “I urge the interim Egyptian government to reverse the court ruling and ensure due process for the accused. Anything less would dishonor the bravery of all who sacrificed their lives for democratic values.” [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 3/27/2014]


Small group of US soldiers in Libya ahead of training mission
The first two of an initial team of eleven US soldiers arrived in Libya this week to help lay the groundwork for upcoming training of Libyan forces in Bulgaria, which is expected to begin in July, according to a US military official. The United States announced last year its plans to train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan forces at the request of Tripoli, where a weak central government is struggling with rebels for control of vital petroleum resources. The US official said the team on the ground in Libya would help address logistical issues related to the training, included vetting of recruits. The rest of the team is expected to be in place in Tripoli by early April. The team is expected to grow as the program is developed, the official said. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

National Dialogue Commission goes south in tour of Libya
Continuing its tour of Libyan cities, the National Dialogue Preparatory Committee (NDPC) has announced further meetings in four towns in the Fezzan region. The Engagement and Participation Tour will kick off its southern tour in Sebha today, stopping also in Obari, Murzuk, and Ghat. This part of the tour follows what the NDPC says has been successful stops in the east and west of the country, with twenty events held in different towns and cities. Fadeel Lameen, NDPC chairman, says that the upcoming events in the south are vital in helping build consensus among Libyans. [Libya Herald, 3/26/2014]

New election law by month’s end, Abu Sahmain tells Arab League
The General National Congress (GNC) will instruct the High National Election Commission to hold elections for a successor legislature, the House of Representatives, before the end of the month, pledged GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain. Speaking at the two-day Arab Summit in Kuwait, he said that the new election law would state when the election was to be held and the system that was to operate. His pledge suggests that the election law will be debated and voted on Sunday when the GNC meets in full session. There is yet no indication that the GNC is ready to dissolve or that there is consensus on the details of a new election law. Those present at the summit expressed in the final communiqué “their solidarity with Libya in preserving its national sovereignty and independence while rejecting all attempts aimed at undermining its stability and territorial integrity.” [Libya Herald, 3/26/2014]

Libya investigates top leader’s questioning over visit by two women
Libyan authorities are investigating an incident, captured on video and circulated on Facebook, in which General National Congress President Nuri Abu Sahmain, the country’s most powerful man, was grilled by an unknown questioner about why two women visited his house at night. The attorney general’s office said on Wednesday it was looking into the suspected wrongful arrest of Abu Sahmain but also into possible “moral crimes.” The case has the potential to damage Abu Sahmain, who is the top army commander and has quasi-presidential powers. At the time of the incident in January, rumors surfaced that he had been briefly detained by a militia to question him about the women. He strongly denied that he had been kidnapped. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]


Islamists bomb Shia shrine in eastern Syria; Move unnerves Ankara
Islamist fighters from an al-Qaeda splinter group bombed a large Shia shrine in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa on Wednesday. The mosque of Ammar bin Yassir and Oweis al-Qarni was once a destination for Shia pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon, and Iraq before it was taken over a year ago by Sunni rebels. One photo posted on Twitter on Wednesday under the heading “the pagan Iranian shrine” showed extensive damage to the exterior walls and roof of the site. The destruction, attributed to the jihadi Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), have stirred fears in neighboring Turkey that the Islamists’ next target will be the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman Empire, which lies on the Euphrates river inside Syria but is guarded by Turkish special forces. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Turkey would defend the site in the same way it would defend any Turkish land. [Reuters, 3/27/2014]

Lawmakers bash Obama administration’s ‘delusional’ Syria policy
US lawmakers lashed out at the Obama administration’s handling of Syria’s civil war on Wednesday, demanding a stronger US response to the conflict and better communication from the White House about its plans. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed deep frustration after Anne Patterson, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, declined to answer a question about strategy in a public setting. Senator Bob Corker disputed an assertion from Assistant Secretary Tom Countryman, who handles nonproliferation issues, that the chemical weapons plan had been constructive. “With respect, I think you’re delusional,” Corker said. Senator John McCain, a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, called US Syria policy “a colossal failure.” [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

As Assad advances, Syria launches commercial airline
A new Syrian airline plans to start flights from the war-torn country in May, a company manager said Wednesday, following months of gains on the battlefield by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. The launch of Kinda Airlines, a private company, illustrates how Assad has been able—in part—to weather the three-year conflict, securing the capital and areas of the Mediterranean coast even as rebels advance in the north and east. Kinda Airlines will operate out of Damascus International airport and the coastal city of Latakia. It aims to fly to more than ten destinations within a year, including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, and “hopefully Lebanon and Jordan.” Rebels have taken several military airports and last year fired on Damascus International airport, however, according to the company’s vice president, “Damascus [airport] has been very safe in the last six or seven months.” [Reuters, 3/26/2014]


Tunisia sees elections in 2014, despite delays
A date has not yet been set for Tunisia’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Nonetheless, they will go ahead as planned later this year despite delays in approving a new election law, authorities said on Wednesday. These will be the second elections since the revolution in 2011. The Independent Election Commission (ISIE), which will oversee elections, was formed two months ago. After weeks of delay, the transitional parliament will start discussions geared towards approving the electoral law. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

NCA to hold plenary session April 7-8 to discuss electoral draft law
The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) will hold a plenary session on April 7 and 8 in order to have a general discussion on the electoral draft law according to Karima Souid, assessor of the President of the National Constituent Assembly in charge of communication told TAP Wednesday. Souid said the electoral law will be adopted and discussed article by article only after the establishment of the provisional authority to review the constitutionality of laws. [“>TAP, 3/26/2014]

NCA presidency shocked by death sentence of 529 in Egypt
The Presidency of the National Constituent Assembly expressed shock at the death sentence pronounced against leaders and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood including the last speaker and members of the Egyptian parliament. “This verdict that was rendered in defiance to the attributes of human rights … is likely to complicate the security situation in Egypt, increase the wave of tensions, exacerbate hatred, undermine the unity of the Egyptian people and jeopardize the gains of their revolution,” the NCA Presidency said in a statement issued Wednesday. [All Africa, 3/26/2014]


Strike halts oil production in Hadramawt
French energy giant Total on Monday halted oil and gas production at Block 10 in Hadramawt province after employees went on strike. The head of the union said the workers first presented their demands in 2010, calling for a raise competitive with other petroleum companies in Yemen. Employees first went on strike at the beginning of February, but resumed work after the deputy oil minister stepped in to mediate. The union head said workers had approved the agreement, but the company did not. This block accounts for nineteen percent of Yemen’s total daily oil output. Total responded in a press release, “the employee union’s decision is illegal… The Total Company holds the Block 10 employees’ union responsible for any consequences.” [Yemen Times, 3/27/2014]

Marib kidnappers threaten to sell hostage to al-Qaeda
Kidnappers in Marib province are threatening to sell a German national kidnapped to al-Qaeda if their demands are not met. The hostage was abducted in February and the kidnappers have demanded that the central government release their imprisoned relatives, but claim they are being ignored. The hostage takers said that al-Qaeda has offered them $14,000 dollars for the hostage. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/27/2014]

Despite crackdowns, weapons still rife in Yemen
“At the centre of the country, it’s difficult to find a bottle of water to buy while you can effortlessly purchase a firearm,” says a UN aid worker in al-Baida province. Yemen is widely cited as among the most heavily-armed societies in the world with fifty to sixty million weapons in circulation among twenty-three million people. A national survey of small arms ownership found that 61 percent of respondents reported owning weapons. “As long as weapons are available in several areas, armed conflicts will continue,” Colonel Ali Mohamed said, indicating that “the state’s grip is very weak particularly in the tribal areas where firearms are being openly carried and traded.” One activist that favors an ‘iron grip’ approach to address the issue remarked, “Unfortunately there is no cooperation among security authorities to conduct the crackdowns effectively at the present time.” [Gulf Times, 3/27/2014]

Interior minister meets with US charge d’affaires, European mission
Abdo Hussein al-Turb, Yemen’s interior minister, met with the US embassy’s Charge D’Affaires Dawn Bloom to discuss bilateral security issues. He also met with the European mission assigned to developing police stations and a new police academy. Al-Turb praised the commitments of both the US and Europe to Yemen’s security. [Saba (Arabic), 3/27/2014]


Kerry to visit Algeria and Morocco
US Secretary of State John Kerry will make long-delayed visits to Algeria and Morocco next week on his first trip to both countries. Kerry had originally planned to visit the two countries late last year, but had to change his schedule at the last minute. While in Algiers, Kerry will also co-chair the US-Algeria Strategic Dialogue with Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra. Kerry’s visit will come two weeks before presidential elections in Algeria. While in Rabat, Kerry and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar will co-chair the US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. [Al Arabiya, 3/26/2014]

Israel approves construction materials for hospital in Gaza
Israel said on Thursday it will allow into the Gaza Strip construction materials and electric equipment to help build a Turkish-sponsored hospital, in a possible sign of improving ties with Ankara. Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows but which also curbs imports of fuel and building supplies. Turkey began constructing the hospital in 2011 using materials smuggled into the territory through tunnels and this is first time Israel has let any in for the project. [Reuters, 3/27/2014]

Iraq PM warns of poll delay; Arabs in Kirkuk call for postponing elections
A day after Iraq’s electoral commission resigned en masse, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned that elections may be delayed. In Kirkuk, Arab minority representatives are calling for the poll to be postponed because of the security situation and an ongoing ban on certain candidates. However Kurds and Turkomans, comprising a majority in the governorate, are calling for elections to continue. [AFP, Rudaw, 3/27/2014]