Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have arrested two members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo’s request for committing violence in Port Said before fleeing abroad, Egypt’s prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday. According to the prosecutor’s statement, both Islamists leaders are accused of “committing terrorism, violence and inciting the killing of citizens.” They are also accused of plotting a raid on police stations in Port Said. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are among the Gulf nations that have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last July following mass protests against him. [Ahram OnlineReuters 3/13/2014]



In alleged leak, Shafiq says presidential elections will be rigged
Ahmed Shafiq has questioned the wisdom of a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) nomination of its top general—Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—for the upcoming presidential elections, according to an alleged leaked phone call attributed to the former presidential candidate. The authenticity of the sound clips attributed to Shafiq could not be independently verified. Shafiq commented that it is a “bizarre and ignorant decision” for SCAF to nominate Sisi for the presidency. The voice believed to be that of Shafiq cast doubt on Sisi’s political experience as well as his candidacy for the presidency. The voice appears to warn that SCAF may lose credibility and popularity by nominating its top leader to the burdensome post of president. The speaker during the call also commented that these elections would likely be rigged. “Is this the manly thing to do? Is this a fair fight?” Meanwhile, the Egyptian army has denied Al-Masry Al-Youm’s claim that its engineering authority is supervising the drafting of Sisi’s election manifesto. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, 3/13/2014]

INTERPOL arrests two Egyptian Brotherhood leaders in the Gulf
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have arrested two members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo’s request for committing violence in Port Said before fleeing abroad, Egypt’s prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday. According to the prosecutor’s statement, both Islamists leaders are accused of “committing terrorism, violence and inciting the killing of citizens.” They are also accused of plotting a raid on police stations in Port Said. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are among the Gulf nations that have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last July following mass protests against him. [Ahram Online, Reuters 3/13/2014]

Egypt considering increasing taxes on upper class
Egypt is studying a proposal to increase taxes on high earners, as it seeks to cut a budget deficit that’s set to miss this year’s target, the finance minister said.The plan under consideration would impose a 5 percent annual tax on the top incomes for a period of two or three years, Hany Qadry told reporters in Cairo today. He didn’t give further details, saying they’ll be be announced if the proposal is adopted. Egypt’s budget deficit in the fiscal year that ends in June is expected to be between 11 percent and 12 percent of gross domestic product, above the 10 percent target, Qadry said. The government aims to bring that down to between 10 and 10.5 percent next year, he said. [Bloomberg, Ahram Online 3/13/2014]

Kerry to decide ‘soon’ on resuming Egypt aid  
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday he will decide “in the days ahead” whether to resume U.S. aid to Egypt after suspending the funds last year over the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi and a crackdown against protesters. “We want this interim transitional government to succeed. We are committed to try to help make that happen,” Kerry told lawmakers at a hearing into the State Department’s 2015 budget request. When asked if he would release the aid before Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections Kerry responded, “I can’t absolutely say with certainty, but it’s our hope to be able to do that soon.” [Ahram Online, Reuters, 3/13/2014]


North Korea disowns oil tanker
On Thursday, an official in Pyongyang state that Morning Glory, the tanker in Libya that set sail with a shipment of oil from rebel forces, has nothing to do with North Korea and has had its North Korean registration revoked. The tanker flew a North Korean flag, which raised questions about whether North Korea was trying to get Libyan oil. Jon Ki Chol, deputy director-general of North Korea’s Maritime Administration, told the Associated Press that although North Korea had provided a flag for the tanker Morning Glory, it canceled registration of the ship after being notified of the incident. According to him, the tanker is operated by a company based in Egypt. North Korea offers its flag to foreign-owned ships in the same way as a number of other countries do. [AP, 3/13/2014]

UN experts say Libyan arms are fueling conflicts worldwide
UN experts say arms trafficking out of Libya is fueling conflict, insecurity and terrorism on several continents. In a report to the UN Security Council obtained Wednesday, the panel of experts said it is investigating the alleged transfer of weapons to fourteen countries in violation of a UN arms embargo. The experts said they have documented the transfer of Libyan shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to terrorist groups in Mali and Tunisia, and to others in Chad, Lebanon and “potentially” the Central African Republic. They said Lebanon’s seizure of a Syria-bound ship in April 2012 proved that there were attempts to transfer these shoulder-fired missiles, as well as short-range surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian opposition from Libya. [AP, 3/12/2014]

The GNC gives Jadhran two weeks to hand over oil terminals
The General National Congress (GNC) has given federalist forces two weeks to hand over oil export terminals in the east before they are taken by force. GNC head Nuri Abu Sahmain said yesterday that, after the two weeks, military forces from across Libya would unite and move against armed groups operating under the control of Ibrahim Jadran. The embargo of oil ports in the east had lasted for eight months. According to Sahmain, this has robbed the Libyan people of much-needed oil revenues. He added that this had left the country on the verge of bankruptcy. [Libya Herald, 3/13/2014]

Power vacuum threatens Libya and risks inter-region conflict
Libya’s ousted prime minister Zeidan left behind a country that risks being torn apart as the fault line between its eastern and western regions broke open Wednesday to a degree unseen since the 2011. A western-based militia fighting in the name of parliament has launched an offensive against an autonomy-minded militia in the east that has for months occupied most of Libya’s crucial oil facilities. In response to the offensive, other militias in the east are rallying to fight back. Eastern leaders have warned that unless Tripoli backs down they will seek outright independence for their region rather than greater autonomy. The voting out of secular figure Ali Zeidan by the Islamist-leaning parliament has sparked fears among their opponents of a power grab by the Islamists. These tensions that also could translate into militia clashes. [AP, 3/12/2014]


Syria closes embassies in Kuwait, Saudi
Syria has decided to close its embassies in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because they have refused to accept the accreditations of its envoys, diplomats posted in Damascus said on Wednesday. “Syria’s embassies in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are to close because these countries have been refusing to accredit the diplomats sent by Damascus since the start of the crisis,” one of the sources said. The Arab monarchies of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have supported the three-year-old armed revolt in Syria and called for the overthrow of President Bashar Assad. [AFP, 3/13/2014]

Iran hosts Syria conference of Assad sympathizers
Iran hosted a rival version of a “Friends of Syria” conference on Wednesday, convening lawmakers from allies around the world to push for a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war and lambaste alleged Western interference. At the conference in Tehran, attended by legislators from Russia, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Cuba, and Venezuela, Iran’s parliament speaker challenged Syrian rebels to put down their weapons and seek to oust Assad at the ballot box. “Elections are the best way to determine the destiny of a country,” Ali Larijani he said in remarks carried by Iran’s Press TV. “You don’t believe Assad has a popular power base? Ok, then let the people determine that.” [Reuters, 3/13/2014]

Syrian parliament approves new election law
Syria’s state TV says the parliament has unanimously approved a new election law allowing multiple candidates for president, opening doors to other potential candidates besides President Bashar Assad. The vote comes nearly four months before Assad’s seven-year term as president officially expires. Syrian officials say the presidential elections will be held on time and Assad has suggested he would run again. The bill adopted Thursday says only candidates who lived in Syria for ten years prior to nomination can run. State TV didn’t report how many lawmakers voted for the bill. [AP, 3/13/2014]

Syria issues law imposing visas on its visitors
Syrian authorities have issued a law under which visitors will now need a visa to visit the country. The law requires “any person entering or leaving Syria to hold a valid passport” which “would need to be stamped with a visa from one of our diplomatic missions or consulates abroad,” the state news agency reported Tuesday. In June 2013, the regime issued a law stipulating that anyone who illegally enters Syria will be sentenced to jail from one to five years and will pay a bail that ranges from five to ten million Syrian liras. Previously, citizens of most Arabs states would not require a visa to enter Syria. Since the anti-regime uprising erupted in March 2011, the Syrian government has repeatedly blamed violence in the country on “terrorists” entering Syria illegally. [Al Arabiya, 3/13/2014]


Elimination of cement subsidy could raise construction costs
The Tunisian government has decided to cut subsidies for cement in June 2014. This measure has divided members of the construction industry and raised concerns that housing prices could increase. Last week, Minister of Industry Kamel Bennaceur announced the cut the the National Constituent Assembly, stating that “we cut half the subsidy for the cement sector in January, and will cut the remaining half in June.” Currently a bag of cement costs 7.7 dinars. The first subsidy cut from January will raise the price to ten dinars and the additional subsidy cut in June will further raise the price to thirteen dinars. This decision follows an announcement earlier this month by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa that he would redirect government subsidies in ways that would most benefit consumers. [Tunisia Live, 3/13/2014]

Union and government discuss potential increase in the minimum wage
Tunisia’s largest labor union, the Tunisian General Labour Union, and the government agreed to revise the country’s the minimum guaranteed interprofessional wage. The decision came following a meeting between the UGTT union and government ministers on Wednesday. The amount of increase has not yet been set. Tunisia last raised minimum wages in June 2011 under former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi. The minimum guaranteed interprofessional wage was fixed at 286 dinars ($182) per month for forty-eight hours of work per week and 246 dinars per month ($157) for forty hours of work per week. The minimum wage for agricultural workers was also increased from eight dinars to nine dinars ($5.73) per day. [Tunisia Live, 3/13/2014]

Imam’s arrest sparks debate in Tunisia
Earlier this week, Khamis al-Mejri, a Salafi imam, was detained in Tunis for “preaching without a permit.” El Mejri’s arrest is the latest in a series of moves taken by the government to exert control on mosques and imams that the government deems “extremist.” Al-Mejri was not part of the union for religious officials, which includes all government-sanctioned preachers. Tunisian law allows for only government-sanctioned imams to preach in mosques. Al-Mejri made a number of controversial comments, including one where he referred to a suspect in the murder of leftist politician Chokri Belaid as a “martyr.” Tunisian authorities are seeking to regain control of certain mosques they say have become incubators for radical Islamist ideology, which has spread since the 2011 revolution. [Al Jazeera, News24, 3/13/2014]

NCA continues debating draft electoral law
The bureau of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), convened on Wednesday under the chairmanship of NCA President Mustapha Ben Jaafar. It called on the commissions to focus their work on the examination of the draft electoral law to finalise its chapters in the shortest terms and present it in a plenary session. On Wednesday, the General Legislation Commission at the NCA discussed articles twenty-six to thirty-eight of the draft electoral law on the replacement of vacant seats of candidates in case of death and appeal procedures for candidates in the legislative elections. [TAP, All Africa, 3/12/2014]


Economic situation worsens as oil revenues shrink
Economists warn that the Yemeni economy will continue to decline the government fails to improve the protection of its oil pipelines. Oil revenue was down to $214 million in January 2014 from  $301 million in January 2013. According to Nasr, economic stability largely depends on oil exports, which is the main source of revenue for the government. Targeting this sector, he said, is a clear attempt to affect the performance of the government. One economist is hopeful that the recent UN Security Council resolution in charge of sanctions will target those behind acts of sabotage. [Yemen Times, 3/13/2014]

Houthis clash with military near capital, plan for confrontation in Amran
Militants associated with the north’s Houthi group have begun clashing with the Yemeni military, in a recent escalation of what was previously limited to battles with tribal groups. Clashes with the military have begun occurring in Hamedan, just outside the capital of Sana’a. The chairman of the presidential mediation committee has been withdrawn from Hamedan as military reinforcements have arrived. Elsewhere in Amran province, Houthis have announced their intention to organize an armed demonstration, saying that they fear government forces or others may interfere with their protest. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/13/2014]

US denies release to Yemeni detainee in Guantánamo Bay as another files lawsuit
A parole-style panel at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has decided to recommend that the military continue to hold a Yemeni man in indefinite wartime detention without trial. The panel found that Abdel Malik al-Rahabi’s continued indefinite detention was necessary to “protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.” Rahabi told the board that he planned to work at a “milk and honey farm” or for his father’s tailoring business, and strongly wanted to return to his family. Rahabi has been detained without trial in Guantánamo Bay for twelve years. Another Yemeni inmate has filed a lawsuit over the policy of force feeding detainees on hunger strike—which the US refers to as “non-religious fasting”—in Guantánamo prison. This detainee has also been imprisoned for twelve years, and has been on a continuous hunger strike since 2007, having been force feed more than 5000 times. [New York Times, 3/13/2014]

US drone strikes car in al-Jawf
Two people were killed Wednesday evening in an apparent US drone strike that targeted a car travelling through al-Jawf province. One of the casualties was reportedly an al-Qaeda commander. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Al-Akhbar Al-Aan (Arabic); 3/12/2014]


Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders organize insurgency from Jordan
Jordan has quietly emerged in the past two years as a base for tribal leaders who say they have launched a new battle to topple Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The new exiled command, the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, emerged as a unified leadership of regional military councils coordinating attacks against in Iraq. The councils include tribal and former insurgent leaders but are headed by former army officers. As the Shia-dominated Iraqi security forces strive to expel the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Anbar province, they are also struggling to win the loyalty of Sunni tribes. After the US-led invasion in 2003, several tribes in Anbar formed alliances with al-Qaeda. The group’s brutality alienated many Iraqis, and al-Qaeda retains little popular support, but long-held Sunni grievances against the Shia-led government—including mass arrests, executions without fair trial, and a lack of jobs and government services—are helping to fuel the current fighting in Anbar. [Washington Post, 3/13/2014]

Israel exchanges fire with Islamic Jihad in Gaza
A number of Israeli airstrikes were carried out around Gaza on Thursday morning following a Wednesday night barrage of rockets. Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the barrage, though Israeli airstrikes fired on targets affiliated with multiple militant groups, including Hamas’ armed wing. Islamic Jihad said that the barrage was in retaliation for an Israeli strike on Monday that killed three of its members. No Israeli civilians were harmed in the barrage, which an Israeli security source quoted at around sixty rockets and mortar rounds, many of which were neutralized by Israel’s Iron Dome system. A Hamas spokesman said, “We hold the occupation responsible, we warn of the consequences of any escalation and we reiterate that resistance is the right of the Palestinian people to defend itself.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded, “If there won’t be quiet in the south [of Israel], there will be noise in Gaza, and this is an understatement.” [Al-Jazeera, BBC, 3/13/2014]

Algeria Police Block Meeting of Presidential Vote Boycott Parties
Police blocked a planned meeting in Algiers Wednesday of opposition party leaders urging a boycott of next month’s presidential election. The security forces cordoned off Martyrs Monument, the iconic landmark towering above the capital that commemorates the Algerian war of independence, where the party leaders had planned to gather. Dozens of police with dogs blocked all access roads to the monument, the El Watan newspaper said on its website. Parties planning to boycott the election include secular opposition party the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and Islamist parties the Front for Justice and Development (FJD), Ennahda, Jil el-Jadid, and the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP). [Naharnet, 3/13/2014]

Middle East grain buyers avoid Ukraine, import bills could rise
Turmoil in Ukraine is driving Middle Eastern grain buyers to shy away from striking new deals there and to consider rival suppliers, a shift that is likely to push up import bills. The Black Sea region, mostly Ukraine and Russia, has become the major source of wheat and barley for Middle East importers including Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Middle Eastern commodities traders and officials said fears that tensions between Russia and Ukraine could come to a head, however, are discouraging most buyers from striking deals with Ukraine suppliers for the new season, which starts in July. Conflict-torn Syria, which has relied mainly on Ukrainian wheat in the last two years to cover a shortfall in local production, is likely to be the hardest hit by the Black Sea conflict, traders say. [Reuters, 3/12/2014]