Top News: Humanitarian Chief Says Syria UN Aid Resolution Not Working

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said Wednesday that a Security Council measure designed to provide aid to millions of desperate Syrians was not working. Instead of alleviating the misery of more than nine million who urgently need help, a humanitarian crisis has worsened since the body adopted Resolution 2139 in February, she warned. Amos said less than 10 percent of 242,000 people living in besieged areas had received assistance in the last four weeks. [AFP, 5/1/2014]



Egypt PEC says Sabbahi violated campaigning rules
Egypt’s Presidential Elections Commission plans to convene to discuss the punishment of Hamdeen Sabbahi for announcing his electoral program ahead of the official date for the campaigns to kick off on May 2, an official from the commission said. Sabbahi announced his vision in a press conference on Wednesday.  According to the constitution, candidates who breach the set dates shall be fined anything from EGP 10,000 to 500,000. The PEC also accused privately own TV channel CBC Extra of violating the presidential elections campaigning rules for airing the press conference of Sabbahi. PEC also informed the minister of local development and the governor of Daqahliya governorate to remove all endorsement campaigns banners in the city of Mansoura which were spread before the start of the presidential campaigns. [Aswat Masriya, 5/1/2014]

Cairo Airport dismisses 120 policemen for breaking protest law
A security source said Cairo Airport security charged 120 policemen with breaking the protest law and dismissed them for participating in a strike. They also ordered the arrest of six others involved in the event. Abdel Hamid Darwish, the leader of the strike, was arrested on Tuesday. The policemen went on strike when a colleague of theirs was dismissed for allegedly harassing a foreign tourist last Friday. He was also allegedly found carrying narcotics. The strike’s spokesperson said the charges are false and assured that the strike was peaceful. In Beni Suef, striking police captains locked the doors to a police station in protest of the prosecutor’s decision to arrest seven police captains on charges of assaulting a police officer. [Egypt Independent, 5/1/2014]

Egyptian leader hints at fresh privatization
Egypt’s interim president suggested Wednesday that the biggest Arab nation was open to resuming privatization, a move that could revive confidence in the battered economy after years of turmoil. “There is no selling of the public sector at a cheap price,” Adly Mansour said in a televised speech, hinting that the state could sell some of the hundreds of companies it owns. Privatization could send a positive signal to investors, who have been unnerved by chronic political turbulence and violence since Mubarak’s fall. The economy has suffered as a result, growing by only 2.1 percent in the last fiscal year. [Daily Star, 5/1/2014]

US supports Egypt on security issues, urges political inclusiveness
The United States on Wednesday reaffirmed its commitment to its shared interests with Cairo while at the same time urging political inclusivity in Egypt’s progress towards democracy. Washington’s remarks were made during separate meetings convened by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Susan Rice with visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. Hagel and Fahmy discussed recent developments in Egypt and the Middle East as well as defense cooperation between both countries, the Pentagon said in a statement. Hagel called on Fahmy to help promote peaceful opposition through the release of detained journalists and activists. Rice and Fahmy discussed Egypt’s political transition and regional security issues. Rice reiterated the White House’s “growing concerns about recent developments in Egypt, including the mass trials and death sentences handed down this week, the continued detention of journalists and activists, and ongoing restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.” [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 5/1/2014]


Government condemns suicide attack on Saiqa Brigade in Benghazi
Following an emergency cabinet meeting, the Libyan government issued a statement strongly condemning the suicide attack on the Saiqa brigade in Benghazi, in which two special forces members were killed and two others injured. The cabinet called the attack “criminal,” adding that it did not believe the attack would deter the Benghazi Joint Security Room (BJSR) and those under its direction from continuing their efforts to enforce peace in the violence-ridden eastern city. The government committed to supplying the BJSR with whatever resources it required to carry out its work. The attack was the second suicide bombing in Libya since the revolution. [Libya Herald, 4/30/2014]

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni meets with British prime ministerial envoy
Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni met yesterday with special British Prime Ministerial envoy Jonathan Powell to discuss the United Kingdom’s support of Libya, including in infrastructure and military training. Al-Thinni expressed his desire to see continued mutual cooperation between Libya and Britain. Powell said the British government was ready to continue its support of Libya, particularly in the reform and development of the military and security forces. In a letter to al-Thinni prior to the meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron said plans were in their final stages for the arrival and training of 360 Libyan army recruits in Britain next month. [Libya Herald, 4/30/2014]

Former regime security official killed near Derna
A former member of the Qaddafi-era People’s Security Organization, Ahmed Boujela Mansouri, was shot and killed on Tuesday in Ain Maraa, 40km west of Derna. Masouri was deliberately targeted by unknown gunmen. It remains unclear whether his affiliation with the Qaddafi regime was a factor in  his killing. In Benghazi on Wednesday, a Benghazi Security Directorate official was killed and his colleague from the army’s 133rd Brigade wounded in a shooting. [Libya Herald, 4/30/2014]


Violence spirals a month from election
Syria’s air force killed at least twenty people, including seventeen children, on Wednesday in the latest strike on battered Aleppo city, as civilians bear the brunt of the civil war. The air strikes came a day after at least 100 people, including some eighty civilians, died in a twin car bomb attack on a pro-regime predominantly-Alawite area of Homs claimed by the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. In Aleppo, Syria’s second city, twin air strikes hit a school in the rebel-held Ansari neighborhood Wednesday. On Thursday, clashes between government forces backed by Hezbollah and opposition fighters killed fourteen rebels in a flare-up overnight along a strategic corridor between Damascus and the Lebanese border. The fighting in Zabadani—a town near Damascus and the last rebel stronghold in the area—is part of the larger battle for control of the mountainous Qalamoun region, raging since mid-November. [AFP, 5/1/2014]

Azraq, the biggest refugee camp in the world, opens in Jordan
A massive refugee camp opened Wednesday in the eastern desert of Jordan for Syrians fleeing the war in their country with the UN urging more aid in the long run. The Azraq camp can accommodate up to 50,000 people but the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) says it can be expanded to take in 130,000. “It is probably the biggest refugee camp in the world,” Andrew Harper, UNHCR representative in Jordan, told reporters, diplomats, and government officials at the opening ceremony. Jordan has taken in nearly 600,000 refugees from Syria since the war in its neighbor broke out three years ago and is now home to three camps, including the densely populated Zaatari camp. Located some sixty miles east of Amman, Azraq will help take some of the pressure off Zaatari, which is home to more than 100,000 refugees. In Azraq around 5,000 shelters have been erected to house up to 25,000 refugees, but only 437 have moved into the new camp since Monday. [Naharnet, 5/1/2014]

Six new candidates announced in presidential election
Syria’s parliament announced Wednesday that six more people have expressed a wish to stand for the presidency in a June 3 election widely expected to return Bashar al-Assad to power. That brings to seventeen the total number of would-be candidates for an election that has been mocked as a “farce” by the opposition and as a “parody of democracy” by the United States. After Thursday’s deadline for registering, parliament will examine their applications to see if they meet the requirements. In the end, however, there will only be three candidates because of a complex set of rules requiring that each one get the backing of a certain number of MPs. Assad will obviously be one of the three. Parliament speaker Mohammad al-Lahham announced six new names, among them three who come from areas currently under rebel control. In theory, the election will be Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential poll in more than fifty years. [AFP, 5/1/2014]


Disagreement on exclusion of Ben Ali officials delays electoral law
On Wednesday, the National Constituent Assembly rejected an article of the draft electoral law that would ban senior members of Ben Ali’s party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, from running in legislative elections, which are expected later this year. Some assembly members walked out of the plenary session in protest after the article failed to pass. Eighty-seven assembly members also signed a petition suggesting a new text for the article. The exclusion of members of the former regime had been debated during the drafting of the constitution. Resolution of the issue was pushed back, however, to be discussed while drafting the electoral law. [Tunisia Live, 5/1/2014]

Libyan kidnappers seek prisoner exchange
The two Tunisian diplomats and Jordanian ambassador kidnapped in Tripoli are in good health, Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani said Monday (April 28), adding that talks with the abductors were under way. The abductors of Ambassador Fawaz al-Aytan have demanded the release of Mohamed Dersi, a Libyan who received a life sentence in 2007 for planning to bomb a Jordanian airport. Those holding the Tunisian diplomats have also sought to free jailed jihadists, specifically two Libyans serving long prison sentences for terrorism. [All Africa, 4/30/2014]

Landmark action on women’s rights
Tunisia has officially lifted key reservations to the international women’s treaty, an important step toward realizing gender equality, according to Human Rights Watch on Wednesday. The United Nations on April 23, 2014, confirmed receipt of Tunisia’s notification to officially withdraw all of its specific reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These reservations had enabled Tunisia to opt out of certain provisions, including on women’s rights within the family, even though the country had ratified the treaty. Tunisia started this process in 2011, but only recently formally notified the United Nations. Tunisia is the first country in the region to remove all specific reservations to the treaty. [Human Rights Watch, 4/30/2014]


Details emerge about new oversight board
The committee established by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi last week is charged with overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). The body, which Hadi will head, will consist of eighty-two members. The board will oversee the constitution drafting process and other implementation efforts. The board’s decisions will be taken by consensus or, if consensus cannot be reached, by a majority vote of three quarters of members present. If this cannot be accomplished, the issue will be decided by the president. The board will be dissolved upon successful completion of the constitutional referendum to be held by next near. [Al-Shorfa, 5/1/2014]

Friends of Yemen restructured to mitigate impending crisis
Two years after Yemen’s friends came together with pledges of support, the economic and security situations in the country are worse, not better. To address this, the Friends of Yemen donor conference has restructured itself. Summarizing the criticism of the former structure, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said that too much emphasis was put on political matters to the detriment of economic and security concerns. The new structure includes a steering committee to head the donor group as well as three working groups dedicated to politics, security, and the economy. The World Bank has welcomed the restructuring. [Yemen Times, Saba; 4/30/2014]

Union members, February 11 Movement call for end to transitional government
About 1,000 union members gathered in Tahrir Square on Wednesday and marched to the Parliament and Cabinet, calling for the end of the transitional government. The February 11 Movement and the General Federation of Trade Unions called the demonstration to demand an end of the transitional government. All fifteen labor syndicates incorporated into the General Federation participated in the protest. [Yemen Times, Al-Arabiya; 5/1/2014]

Kidnapped Yemeni troops executed by AQAP as operations continue
Suspected jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have executed three Yemeni soldiers whom they captured in an ambush on an army convoy in Shabwa province that was backing an offensive against extremist strongholds. The executed men were among fifteen soldiers captured by militants during Tuesday’s ambush near al-Saeed, one of several towns targeted in the offensive by militia-backed Yemeni troops. After the three bodies were discovered Wednesday, the army made a “tactical withdrawal” from the area. An assault backed by aircraft began overnight focused on the Shabwa province towns of Maifaa and Azzan. So far, a total of twenty-one soldiers and twenty-one suspected militants have been reported killed in the ground offensive since the initial campaign began last week. [The Daily Star, Global Post; 5/1/2014]


Lebanon marks Labor Day amid unresolved wage crisis
President Michel Sleiman congratulated Lebanese workers on the occasion of Labor Day Thursday while urging them to take into consideration the burden on the Treasury of a controversial wage hike. Lebanon civil servants have upheld protests and strikes throughout the year urging Parliament to endorse a draft bill that would increase their salaries. Parliament has not yet endorsed the bill and is considering resources to fund the salary hike estimated to cost over LL1.6 billion. [The Daily Star, 5/1/2014]

Iraqis counting votes after election fraught with curfews and threats
Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia prime minister who has been in office since 2006 and is seeking a third term, voted at a polling station adjacent to the fortified government complex in central Baghdad saying he was “certain” of winning, even as violence by radical Sunni continued. Dozens have been killed in bomb attacks in recent days, and at fourteen people were killed on Wednesday including two election workers and a policeman. Motor vehicles were subject to curfew and civilian aircraft were grounded as polling began at 7am. The vehicle ban was eased as voting ended at 6pm. Iraq’s election monitoring commission said that preliminary forecasting estimated that sixty-percent of Iraq’s eligible voters participated in the election. [Financial Times, The Guardian, AFP; 5/1/2014]

GCC countries to set up Gulf police
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) interior ministers on Wednesday endorsed a recommendation to set up a Gulf police force (GCCPOL). The ministers also agreed at their meeting in Kuwait, the chair of the current GCC session, to set up a permanent GCC bureau at the United Nations in the Austrian capital Vienna, led by Oman. The GCCPOL will be headquartered in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, the ministers agreed. “Providing security and preserving the stability of nations is primarily the responsibility of security people,” Shaikh Mohammad al-Khalid, the Kuwaiti interior minister. However, Kuwait has yet to ratify the cooperation agreement to due to parliamentary concerns. All other GCC countries have done so. [Gulf News, 5/1/2014]

United States tells ally Bahrain ‘not the time’ to do business with Russia
The United States disapproves of a decision by its Gulf ally Bahrain to sign an investment cooperation deal with Russia at a time when United States and European governments are imposing economic sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. In a statement on Tuesday, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Bahraini sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat to identify and work together on investment opportunities in their countries. The Bahraini fund is one of the smaller sovereign funds in the Gulf, with $7.1 billion of assets as of last September. The RDIF is a $10 billion fund created by Russia’s government to make equity investments, mainly in the Russian economy. [Reuters, 5/1/2014]