Top News: Houthis Seize Taiz, UN Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting

Fighters from the Houthi movement seized Yemen’s third-largest city Taiz late on Saturday. After the rebels took several key parts of the city, including the airport, residents gathered to protest the invasion. Large crowds marched on the special forces camp to protest the spread of Houthi militias to Taiz. Dozens of protesters were injured when the Houthis fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters at the groups. UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar warned at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Sunday that events are leading the country “to the edge of civil war” and urged all parties to step back to resolve the conflict peacefully. That view was echoed by the Security Council in a presidential statement, which reaffirmed UNSC readiness to take “further measures” against any party impeding the road to peace in Yemen, including new sanctions or possibly other actions. [APAsharq al-AwsatYemen PostAl Masdar, 3/22/2015]



Bomb explodes at house of judge who acquitted Mubarak-era interior minister
An improvised explosive planted by unidentified assailants exploded Monday in front of the house of one of the judges who acquitted Mubarak-era Interior Minister Habib al-Adly of illegal gains charges. The bomb exploded outside the house of Judge Fathy Bayoumy in Giza, damaging the front of the house and leaving no casualties. Meanwhile, Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said on Sunday that his house in his hometown of Beni Suef was the target of a failed terrorist attack. Unknown assailants attempted to burn down the minister’s house on Sunday, in the village of Saft Rashin in Beni Suef. His neighbors said they saw fire coming out of the balcony of the two-story house and that they put it out quickly. [Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, 3/23/2015]

Sisi conducts interview with religious broadcast, rallies against ‘extremism’
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave an interview to religious public radio service the Holy Quran Broadcast on Sunday, the first of its kind. Sisi called again for a revolution in religious views, saying the Islamic world needs to rethink and revolt “for religion and not against it.” In a lengthy interview with the Wall Street Journal Sisi refuted suggestions—fueled by cooperation between his country and Russia—that Egypt could reduce bilateral relations with the United States. “A country like Egypt will never be mischievous with bilateral relations with America,” he said on Friday. “We will never act foolishly.” [Ahram Online, Ahram Online, DNE, 3/22/2015]

More than 300 civilians referred to military trials in two days
At least 363 civilians have been referred to military trials in two days on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and engaging in violent incidents during protests. Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat referred 325 suspects, accused of violence in the Minya governorate on March 15, to the military courts. Charges included the storming of the police station and burning down the city council building of the Mallawi district back in August 2013. In January 2015, 250 others were referred to military trial accused in similar incidents around the same time, also in Minya. Military courts also sentenced seventeen defendants to prison terms, ranging from five years to life sentences in the governorate of Daqahleya. All defendants but three were sentenced in absentia. [DNE, 3/22/2015]

Forty-six Egyptian workers missing in Libya
Forty-six Egyptians have been missing since September when they were illegally traveling to Italy via Libya, head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Naguib Gabriel said in a press statement. Their relatives fear a similar destiny as the Egyptian workers who were kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in Libya. Relatives of twenty-six of the workers met with Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Atty Saturday to discuss ways to find the whereabouts of their relatives. More than 45,000 Egyptians have fled Libya since the beheadings. [Anadolu Agency, DNE, 3/23/2015]

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UN envoy hopeful about nominations to Libya unity cabinet, meets municipal representatives
UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon is cautiously optimistic that candidates for a government uniting all of the conflict-torn country’s political factions could be named this week. Despite its participation in the negotiations, the authority of the team from the House of Representatives is not fully clear and some in Tobruk do not wish their delegates to agree on a unity deal. The talks have not fallen apart despite fierce fighting between rival militias around Tripoli. Meanwhile, Leon will meet with municipal representatives in Libya today, part of another track in the dialogue process. [AP, Libya Herald, 3/23/2015]

Libyan army targets rival-controlled bases in Tripoli; US and Europe condemn actions
The Tobruk government says its soldiers shot down a warplane flown by the rival Tripoli-based government that is allied with Islamist militias after it had reportedly bombed Zintan. Rival fighting groups have frequently attacked airports and bases and have drawn the scorn of the international community. In a joint statement, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom strongly condemned these attacks and reaffirmed their support for the UN-led political dialogue, taking place in Morocco. [AP, Libya Herald, 3/21/2015]

Tribal leaders refuse dialogue outside Libya
Libyan tribal leaders have said that, while dialogue is necessary, it must be held inside Libya and that, contrary to UN plans, they will not meet in Egypt as originally suggested. Mohamed Al-Mubashr, Chairman of the Libyan Council of Elders, which comprises the country’s tribal leaders, said his colleagues had discussed and rejected the UN invitation to go to Egypt. Tribal leaders from Cyrenaica, Fezzan, Zintan, and the Tebus have reaffirmed their support for the House of Representatives (House) as the sole legitimate legislature in Libya and for the Libyan National Army in its war on terrorism. The leaders said that the UN should give more weight to the House as the only legitimate authority in Libya. [Libya Herald, 3/22/2015]

Tunisia releases footage of attackers entering Bardo Museum; Essid fires six police commanders
Tunisia’s interior ministry released footage that appears to show the two gunmen responsible for last Wednesday’s attack on the Bardo Museum, which left twenty-one dead and forty-three injured. The video follows the two men walking through the museum, carrying assault rifles and bags. At one point, they encounter another man with a backpack walking down a flight of stairs. They briefly acknowledge each other before walking on in opposite directions. There was no explanation about the third man and an interior ministry spokesman said the third gunman is not connected to the man in this video. Prime Minister Habib Essid fired six police commanders, including the head of tourist security, an intelligence brigade chief, and the Tunis district police chief. [Tunisia Live, AP, Reuters, 3/23/2015]

Tunisian soldier killed near Algeria; Ennahda calls for parliament vote on anti-terrorism law
One soldier was killed and three others wounded when a mine blew up their vehicle in an area known to be a refuge for al-Qaeda-linked Islamic radicals near the Algerian border. Tunisian forces have been tracking down Islamist militants in the border regions as part of the state’s war on terror. Meanwhile, the Ennahda Shura Council called for the government to submit its draft anti-terrorism law to the parliament. It emphasized the need to increase the level of vigilance and improve security action in Tunisia, saying that defeating terrorism must supersede any political disputes. [AP, All Africa/TAP, 3/23/2015]


Ahrar al-Sham merges with Islamist militia
The powerful Syrian Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham merged Sunday with the smaller jihadist faction Suqour al-Sham, under the name Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, in a move that could thwart the growing influence of the Nusra Front in northwestern Syria. A statement said the merger was prompted by a need to unify ranks in what some rebels say will expand Ahrar al-Sham’s clout in the northwestern province of Idlib, where its rival Nusra Front has expanded since recently crushing Western-backed non-jihadist rebel groups. Jihadist groups have been engaged in internecine fighting since the rise of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants that have sought to subjugate rival groupings. The factionalism has helped President Bashar al-Assad’s army gain ground and inch closer to encircling opponents in rebel held parts Aleppo city. Ahrar al-Sham draws most of its leaders and rank and file from local Syrians. It is widely believed to have received funding from Gulf states and has at least 10,000 fighters. [The Daily Star, Reuters, 2/23/2015]

ISIS’s momentum blunted in Syria and Iraq
The momentum of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been blunted and the extremist group is not “on the march” as it was previously, CIA Director John Brennan said on Sunday. Brennan also said that even though both the United States and Iran are fighting ISIS in Iraq he “wouldn’t consider Iran an ally,” in the fight. He added that Iran’s elite Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani’s presence on the battlefield in Iraq is contributing to destabilization. Brennan’s statement comes after former CIA Director General David Petraeus said Friday that Iran and the Shia militias it backs pose “the foremost” strategic threat to Iraq. On Sunday Hadi al-Ameri, the commander of the Badr militia and Iraqi minister of transportation, said that Suleimani provides assistance in Iraq “whenever we need him.” al-Ameri also criticized “weaklings” in the Iraqi army who want US-led air strikes to support the massive operation to retake Tikrit from ISIS. [Reuters, 2/22/2015]

Syria opposition indiscriminately attacked civilians
Syrian armed opposition groups, among them jihadists and Western-backed rebels, have indiscriminately targeted civilians in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday in a new report. HRW said it had documented dozens of opposition attacks against civilians in government-held parts of Syria. The group’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Nadim Houry said there had been a “race to the bottom in Syria, with rebel groups mimicking the ruthlessness of government forces… Civilians are paying the price, be it in government or rebel-held areas, with an inadequate international response.” The report said several dozen car bomb attacks in Damascus and Homs provinces had hit areas with no government military targets, and frequently targeted districts occupied by religious minorities. [AFP, Reuters, 2/23/2015]

ISIS moves to attack Syrian army in Homs; Rebels capture government airmen
ISIS militants attacked Tadmur military airport in Syria’s Homs province on Monday as they pushed on with an offensive against government strongholds towards the west, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The offensive followed a three-day battle, which erupted on Friday in Hama in an attempt by ISIS to cut the road from Hama to Aleppo. In Idlib province, Syrian government aircraft pounded the area on Sunday after rebels captured the crew of helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Jabal Zawiyeh area in southeast Idlib. Further north in Aleppo, at least twelve people were killed and thirty wounded on Monday in rebel fire on government-held districts, according to state news agency SANA. [Reuters, AFP, The Daily Star, AP, 2/23/2015]


Houthis seize Taiz, UN Security Council holds emergency meeting
Fighters from the Houthi movement seized Yemen’s third-largest city Taiz late on Saturday. After the rebels took several key parts of the city, including the airport, residents gathered to protest the invasion. Large crowds marched on the special forces camp to protest the spread of Houthi militias to Taiz. Dozens of protesters were injured when the Houthis fired live ammunition and tear gas canisters at the groups. UN Special Envoy Jamal Benomar warned at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Sunday that events are leading the country “to the edge of civil war” and urged all parties to step back to resolve the conflict peacefully. That view was echoed by the Security Council in a presidential statement, which reaffirmed UNSC readiness to take “further measures” against any party impeding the road to peace in Yemen, including new sanctions or possibly other actions. [AP, Asharq al-Awsat, Yemen Post, Al Masdar, 3/22/2015]

President Hadi gives first speech after fleeing the capital
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi on Saturday called on the Houthi militia to leave Sana’a and for its allied militias to return government ministries to their legitimate leaders in his first televised speech since escaping house arrest last month. Hadi urged all parties in Yemen to attend peace talks in Riyadh, but also vowed to plant the national flag in the Houthi stronghold of Saada—a comment that Houthis will likely interpret as a call to arms. Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi addressed the country on Sunday night in response to Hadi’s speech as well as issued a statement calling on supporters to mobilize. [Reuters, 3/22/2015]

Last US Special Forces leave Yemen
The US military has pulled its remaining personnel out of Yemen due to the deteriorating security situation. The evacuation involved about one hundred Special Operations forces members from the al-Anad airbase after heavy fighting between al-Qaeda and Yemen security forces broke out. Al-Qaeda engaged in heavy fighting in Lahj province where it held the capital of the province. Almost twenty soldiers were killed in the battle. [Reuters, AFP, 2/20/2015]

ISIS claims responsibility for mosque bombings in Yemen; White House is skeptical
Late on Monday, an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate claimed responsibility for the bombings on mosques in Sana’a which claimed the lives of more than 130 individuals, including children. They made the claim on a Twitter account previously purported to be affiliated with the extremist group. However, the White House and some experts remain skeptical of the group’s involvement. White House Spokesperson Josh Earnest said in a press briefing on Friday that at this point there is no clear evidence of an operational link between the bombings and the extremists fighting in Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen denied any responsibility for the attacks. [AP, Reuters, Al Masdar, 3/20/2015]

Swedish king offers help in argument with Saudi Arabia
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf expressed concern over his country’s diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia, offering to help in resolving the issue. King Gustaf has said he will meet Foreign Minister Margot Wallström “to help contribute in finding a solution to the situation,” Sweden’s The Local news site cited the royal palace as saying. The spat was triggered when Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom launched an attack on Saudi Arabia and criticized its judicial system. [Al Arabiya, Gulf News, 3/22/2015]


Export diversification a must for GCC
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), while the share of non-hydrocarbon output in GDP has increased steadily in many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the export diversification of these countries has been limited. The GCC countries have implemented policies to support economic diversification, including reforms to strengthen the business environment, develop infrastructure, and increase financing for companies and SMEs. But the IMF underscored that these countries need to further accentuate their diversification program to make their economies less reliant on volatile hydrocarbon revenues. Further diversification would create high-value-added private sector jobs for GCC nationals and would establish the non-oil economy that will be needed when oil reserves are eventually exhausted. [The Peninsula, 3/22/2015]

Iraq lost $4 billion in the last two months
A parliamentary finance committee’s member revealed that Iraq suffered a financial loss amounted to more than $4 billion. He said in a press release, “The production and export of crude oil during the past two months, (January and February) did not reach to the planned figure in the 2015 budget and this caused a financial loss estimated at more than $4 billion.” [NINA, 3/21/2015]

World Bank set to loan Egypt $500 million for housing project
Negotiations over a $500 million loan has been finalized between Egypt and the World bank, announced minister of housing Mostafa Madbouli in a press statement. The loan, allocated for ‘social housing’ or the 1 million residential units project, will be paid back by Egypt over the course of five years. The project, which was unveiled late 2014, aims to build 1 million residential units across the country for low-incomers. [Ahram Online, 3/22/2015]

World Bank allocates $4 billion to Tunisia to support economic reforms
The executive director of the World Bank, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, announced during a three-day visit to Tunisia, that the Bank would grant Tunisia a budget of $4 billion over the next four years to support economic reforms in the country. The funds should help fund reforms in the banking sector and improve the business climate. Indrawati further elaborated that the funds will “help create jobs, eradicate poverty, reduce regional disparities, and reform the Tunisian administration to cut red tape.” [Medafrica, 3/22/2015]