Top News: Tunisia Electoral Law Approved in its Entirety, Election Preparations to Begin

On Thursday, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) approved a new electoral law with 132 votes for, eleven against, and nine abstentions. Two remaining points of contention included provisions regarding gender parity on electoral lists and the banning of former officials from the Ben Ali government. The parity rule was approved and the exclusion provision was rejected. The electoral law will now go before a temporary commission established to assess the constitutionality of new laws. Any articles deemed incompatible with the new constitution will be sent back to the NCA. The elections are now expected no later than November 23. The Independent High Electoral Commission will need between six and eight months to organize elections. [Tunisia LiveAl Arabiya, 5/2/2014]



Sisi meets with National Population Council
Presidential hopeful Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday that Egypt’s increasing population was one of the country’s most pressing problems, state news agency MENA reported. In a meeting with a group from the National Population Council (NPC), the former general also spoke about democracy, corruption, fair opportunity and investing manpower for an economic leap. Speaking to a group of experts, he equated the rise in corruption with the vanishing of the middle class, which he said destroys accountability in state institutions and individuals. A quarter of Egypt’s 85 million people live under the poverty line. He said fighting corruption in the immediate future will depend on convincing people to forgo excess and that hard work and dedication are the basis of excellence. He added that addressing a nation’s problems takes time and effort before any changes can be seen. [Ahram Online, 5/1/2014]

Prosecutor refers 102 accused of attacking churches in Minya to criminal court
A prosecutor in southern Minya referred 102 individuals to a criminal court for their involvement in the Mawaas monastery case, who were arrested after security forces dispersed two sit-ins in Cairo. The defendants are charged with acts of rioting, attacking citizens, targeting churches, and Copts’ homes. The move was made in preparation for their trial. [Shorouk (Arabic) 5/2/2014]

ICC rejects Muslim Brotherhood call to probe Egypt
The International Criminal Court said on Thursday it had rejected a bid by the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed president Mohamed Morsi to probe the military’s alleged crimes against humanity in Egypt. The request had been made on behalf of the Freedom and Justice Party of former Islamist president Morsi, ousted in July amid days of protests against him, in what his supporters say was a coup. The Brotherhood in December filed a complaint with the ICC seeking an investigation of alleged crimes against humanity committed since June 2013. Egypt has not ratified the ICC’s founding Rome Statute so the court’s prosecutor can only investigate the country in response to a request from the UN Security Council calls or the Egyptian government. [AFP/Ahram Online, 5/1/2014]

Unemployment rates rise to 13.4 percent in Egypt
Egypt’s unemployment rates reached 13.4 percent during the third quarter of 2013, registering an increase of 0.1 percent since the previous quarter, according to Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Ashraf al-Araby. Araby said any increase in investment will allow investors to regain trust in the Egyptian economy. [Cairo Post, 5/1/2014]


Eight killed as suspected Islamist militants attack security headquarters in Benghazi
Eight policemen and soldiers were killed and up to fifteen wounded when suspected Islamist militants tried to storm the Libyan government security headquarters in Benghazi on Friday, according to army officials and medics. Huge explosions could be heard in the early morning during a firefight that reportedly took place between Saiqa Special Forces and Ansar al-Sharia. Special forces later secured the headquarters near the city center. The bodies of two soldiers, kidnapped by militants during the attack, were found later bearing signs of torture, a medical source said. [Reuters, AP, 5/2/2014]

First tanker to be loaded at Zueitina expected Friday
The first tanker to export oil from Zueitina oil terminal since it reopened after an eight-month blockade by Ibrahim Jadhran is expected to arrive Friday. Marine traffic tracking websites currently show the Turkish-flagged oil tanker Ottoman Tenacity just off the coast of Benghazi and heading towards Zueitina. Another tanker is expected to arrive towards the end of next week. The order of force majeure, imposed by the National Oil Corporation, was lifted at Zueitina oil terminal three days ago. The announcement had the effect of pushing down the price of Brent Crude oil on the international markets by $1.46 per barrel. [Libya Herald, 5/1/2014]

First mayors elected for four Libyan municipalities
New mayors were elected for another four of Libya’s new municipalities at a series of inaugurations in Tripoli on Thursday. After members of the new municipal councils were separately sworn in by the acting minister of local government, each council proceeded to meet and elect its new mayor. These were for the municipalities of Nalut, Traghen, Kikla, and Braq al-Shatti. “We now have sixteen democratically elected mayors, and elections have taken place for forty-eight municipalities,” said Otman Gajiji, chairman of the central committee for municipal council elections. Altogether, he added, 980,000 people had registered to vote in municipal elections, 40 percent of whom had voted so far. [Libya Herald, 5/1/2014]


Homs ceasefire struck to allow rebel pullout
A ceasefire deal has been reached in the Syrian city of Homs which would allow rebels to leave unimpeded, according to the city’s governor. The Homs governor said on Friday that armed rebels will leave the Old City and head towards northern outskirts and the Syrian army will take over the Old City. The agreement comes after government forces began an assault against the few remaining rebel-held areas in the city last month. Regime troops laid siege to the Old City and a few surrounding areas for almost two years, with nearly 3,000 people trapped under a blockade as food and medical supplies dwindled. [Al Jazeera, The Daily Star, 5/2/2014]

Civilian casualties mount as suicide bombings, aerial bombardments continue
At least eighteen people, including eleven children, were killed in two suicide bombings in Hama, state media has reported. The attack comes days after scores of people were killed and injured in explosions in government-controlled parts of the central city of Homs. At least thirty-three people have been killed in an air strike on a market in a rebel-held district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, activists say. The attack comes after a school was bombed in the city, which prompted the United Nations Children’s Fund’s condemnation of what it said was the “latest wave of indiscriminate attacks perpetrated against schools and other civilian targets” across the country. [BBC, 5/2/2014]

Qaeda leader orders Syria affiliate to stop fighting rivals
Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the group’s Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, to end fighting with jihadist rivals, in an audiotape published online Friday. Powerful rebel groups in Syria, including al-Nusra Front, have been locked in fierce fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) since January that has killed thousands of fighters. ISIS was initially welcomed by other rebels, who have been fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, but allegations of brutal abuses against civilians—including public executions and crucifixions—sparked a backlash. [AFP, 5/2/2014]

In Iraq and Syria, a resurgence of foreign suicide bombers
Many bombings have been carried out by foreigners drawn to the Iraq and Syria conflicts from across the region and the West, European security and intelligence officials say. Most are with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), an ultra-conservative militant group reconstituted from an earlier incarnation of al-Qaeda and is active in Syria and Iraq and with al-Nusra Front, one of the most powerful Islamist rebel forces in Syria. Officials said they did not have precise data on the number of foreign fighters involved in the violence. But in March and April alone, at least fourteen Tunisians fighting with ISIS blew themselves up at various locations in Iraq, according to postings on social media sites affiliated with ISIS. [Reuters, 5/22014]


Military operation in Kasserine still ongoing
The army operation to maintain Kasserine as a closed military zone continued on Friday. The military is carrying on with their efforts to secure the area and their hunt for terrorists throughout the mountainous region. The national army forces backed up by the interior security forces are attempting to have the whole zone under control and to prevent the presence of any armed groups. This effort builds on Tunisian security forces’ operations to root out al-Qaeda-linked militants from a hideout in the Chaambi mountains bordering Algeria. [TAP, 5/2/2014]

Labor Day celebrations attract multiple demonstrations
The UGTT labor union and the leftist Popular Front political coalition demonstrated in downtown Tunis Thursday to mark Labor Day. Some attended the rally to demonstrate for the need to alleviate unemployment, but speakers and demonstrators did not restrict themselves to Labor Day’s traditional themes. Other issues raised at the demonstrations included the kidnapping of the two Tunisian diplomats in Libya, recent rulings shortening the sentences of former Ben Ali regime officials, a campaign supporting Tunisians accused of crimes during the revolution, normalization of relations with Israel, and the conflict in Syria. [Tunisia Live, 5/1/2014]


YSP criticizes the establishment of the NDC supervisory board
The general secretary of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) criticized the presidential decree establishing the supervisory board overseeing the implementation of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) recommendations on the grounds that the board is too weak to fulfill its mandate. He also added that the text of the presidential decree does not empower the supervisory board with the capacity the NDC intended for it. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/2/2014]

Anti-AQAP operations continue in Abyan, Shabwa
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video denying claims by the government that 70 percent of its fighters were foreign. A senior al-Qaeda field commander and six rebels have been killed in an army offensive in southern Yemen, a military source said on Thursday. A Yemeni official and a tribal source claim that the head of the AQAP cell in al-Mahfad, Ali Bin Lakraa’, had died of wounds inflicted during air strikes that targeted militant training camps last month. AQAP staged a failed assassination attempt on the governor of al-Bayda province as well as the head of the southern military command, though both men survived. In the wake of the violence, the ministry of interior raised its security alert level. [Reuters, 5/2/2014]

The South holds rallies commemorating the 2011 battles
Thousands of demonstrators commemorated battles fought between local tribesmen and the Yemeni military waged during the 2011 uprising. Figures from the Southern separatist movement Herak spoke at some of the rallies, praising the Yemenis who fought and died during clashes with the military, while calling on the youth to continue the peaceful struggle and defense of the South. [Aden Al-Ghad, 5/2/2014]


Saudi university severs ties with groups linked to terrorists
In compliance with the Saudi interior ministry’s designation of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Nusra Front, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as terrorist groups, the Imam Mohammad Bin Saud Islamic University announced a series of measures. The university has ordered the removal of all books and publications by authors who belonged to any of the above organizations. All departments will have to remove the banned books from the curricula and libraries. No reference will be made to the books and research documents by the “extremists” unless the purpose is to criticize their views. In addition, the university will not hire anyone known to be a member of the groups or to have links with them while those already on the staff payroll will not have their contracts renewed. The university is also banning staff from participating in any forum or conference held or hosted by the groups in any country. [Gulf News, 5/1/2014]

UN says 750 Iraqis killed in violence in April as US, UN hail Iraq election
On Thursday, the United Nations said 750 Iraqis were killed in violence in April, the highest monthly death toll of this year. The figures issued Thursday by the UN’s mission to Iraq state that 610 civilians and 140 members of the security forces were killed and that 1,541 Iraqis were wounded,  including 1,311 civilians. Vote counting was under way on Thursday after Iraqis braved a wave of attacks to cast ballots in elections hailed by the US and United Nations as a rebuke to jihadists. Preliminary results are not expected for at least two weeks. [Ahram Online, 5/1/2014]

Prime minister warns that failing to elect a new president will bring crisis to Lebanon
Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned Friday that Lebanon would plunge into crisis if lawmakers failed to elect a new president. Lebanon has entered its two-month constitutional deadline to elect a new president but none of the candidates have succeeded in garnering the needed majority in two Parliamentary electoral sessions. Salam also expressed hope that the presidential election would be held without foreign interference. US Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale stated on Friday that external powers, including Washington, are not playing a role in the Lebanese presidential election. Hale stressed that both the presidential election and parliamentary elections this fall are “entirely Lebanese processes.” [The Daily Star, 5/2/2014]