Militants stormed the complex in Baiji on Wednesday, setting fire to several storage tanks for refined products in a move that sent jitters through world oil markets. “Clashes stopped at about midnight Wednesday, but keep breaking out again from time to time,” an employee trapped inside the sprawling complex said by telephone. 


Sources: Adly Mansour to step down when Constitutional Court considers protest lawsuit
Judicial sources said that Adly Mansour, head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and former president of Egypt, would step down when the court considers a lawsuit filed against the protest law because it was he issued and ratified it when he was president. The sources added that Mansour decided to return as head of the court after the end of his term as interim president. He will reach the retirement age in two years. The lawsuit, filed by former presidential candidate and leftist lawyer, Khaled Ali, was referred by the Administrative Court to the SCC on Tuesday. [Egypt Independent, 6/18/2014]

Egypt ranks 143 out of 162 countries in 2014 Global Peace Index  
The Institute for Economics and Peace released its 2014 Global Peace Index (GPI) on Wednesday, in which Egypt ranked 143 out of 162, falling over 30 places and marking the second biggest loss in peace of any country in the world. “The main cause of this disruption was the military-led ousting of the former president, Mohamed Morsi, and the resulting crackdown on his supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood, which had risen to become the country’s largest party,” the report said. Egypt is ranked 13 out of the 19 countries that make up the Middle East and North Africa region. [Aswat Masriya, 6/19/2014]

Egypt reaches first deal to revise gas prices with foreign energy firm
Egypt has agreed to revise the price it pays to buy natural gas to be extracted by German oil and gas group RWE DEA, a move likely to mean higher prices for the state. Oil Minister Sherif Ismail said on Wednesday that state-run gas company EGAS had reached an agreement in principle with RWE DEA to modify its current Delta concession contract, the first step by the government to fulfill a pledge to provide more attractive terms to foreign firms needed to boost production. Though he did not say how the prices would change, he said that the move aims to match “the cost of development of some newly discovered gas fields”, suggesting the government would pay companies more for the gas they extracted. [Reuters, 6/19/2014]

Egypt rights groups challenge government internet surveillance plans
Several Egyptian human rights groups brought a court case on Tuesday against a recent government decision to introduce a new security system designed to monitor social networking sites. In a joint statement on Wednesday, eight rights groups strongly condemned the “illegitimate and unconstitutional approach the ministry is adopting to spy on citizens.” They said the proposed system constitutes a “serious breach of the foundations of justice” and “an infringement of freedoms and rights.” The groups include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. [Ahram Online, DNE, 6/19/2014]


Libya condemns US arrest of Benghazi suspect
Libyan Justice Minister Saleh al-Marghani has condemned US special forces’ arrest of Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a man suspected of masterminding a deadly Islamist militant attack on the US consulate in Benghaz, on its soil. Marghani described the detention as a violation of Libyan sovereignty. The action is very sensitive for the weak Libyan government which is under pressure from various militias, Islamists and armed tribesmen who helped topple Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 but defy state authority. The United States told the UN Security Council that Khatallah had been planning to target more Americans, and that his capture was justified as a matter of self-defense. Many Libyans welcomed the news that a violent criminal was off the streets. [Reuters, 6/18/2014]

Electricity cuts add to Benghazi’s woes
On top of the continuing deadly fighting in the city, electricity cuts totaling up to twelve hours a day are adding to Benghazi’s miseries. The electricity went off at midday on Wednesday, returning only at 9:45 in the evening. Tuesday the cuts were from 6:00 pm until about 11:00 pm. With power to local relay base stations cut, the outages affected mobile phone coverage as well. The cuts are likely attributed both to the security situation in Benghazi and the growing fuel supply problem, although there is an increasing belief that the cuts are deliberate, although there is little consensus over who is behind it. [Libya Herald, 6/18/2014]

Judicial High Council demands GNC respect separation of powers
The Supreme Judicial Council, in a bluntly worded statement, declared that the General National Congress (GNC) does not have the authority to dismiss or appoint the Attorney General, referencing the absolute need to observe separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of the government. The GNC recently dismissed Abdulqader Radwan and appointed Sadiq al-Sour as his replacement. Sour turned down the appointment, citing his desire to respect the rule of law and proper processes in place for such appointments. [Libya Herald, 6/18/2014]

Zeidan back in Libya to contest his sacking
Former prime minister Ali Zeidan, sacked by the General National Congress (GNC) in March, has appeared in al-Bayda and insisted that he is still Libya’s legitimate prime minister. Zeidan announced that he wants the courts to rule that Congress’ decision to fire him was illegal. He made no comment on the premiership of Abdullah al-Thinni. His call on the courts to reinstate him is seen as an attempt to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s annulment of Congress’ decision appointing Ahmed Maetig as prime minister. [Libya Herald, 6/18/2014]


Number of Syrian refugees in Turkey passes one million
The number of Syrians who are housed in refugee camps and cities in neighboring Turkey has reached 1.05 million, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a news conference Thursday. Ankara has maintained an “open border” policy to refugees fleeing the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and rebels in Syria. [Reuters, 6/19/2014]

Russia says Syria agrees to aid access from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan
Russia said late Tuesday it had gained Syrian approval to open four border crossings from Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey to deliver aid to millions of people under a “far-reaching formula” proposed to UN Security Council members. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin declined to elaborate on the formula, but diplomats familiar with the plan said it involved using international monitors to inspect humanitarian aid convoys entering Syria. Western diplomats said they needed time to study Russia’s proposal and consult with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on whether it could work on the ground. [The Daily Star, 6/19/2014]

Human Rights Watch accuses Kurdish PYD of abuses
The New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch published claims that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has ruled three enclaves in northeastern Syria since driving out Islamist rebels in 2012, has committed widespread abuses against its opponents. The 107-page report, “Under Kurdish Rule: Abuses in PYD-Run Enclaves of Syria,” documents arbitrary arrests of the PYD’s political opponents, abuse in detention, and unsolved abductions and murders. It also documents the use of children in the PYD’s police force and armed wing, the People’s Protection Units. [AP, 6/19/2014]

Two men arrested in Texas; Germany and Australia warn of foreign fighters
Two men in central Texas have been arrested on charges of trying “to provide material support to terrorists,” with one of the pair seeking to aid extremist groups fighting in Syria, US prosecutors said on Wednesday. The German Interior Minister said on Wednesday that battle-hardened jihadists returning from Syria are no longer an “abstract threat” but a “deadly danger” to Europe, adding that some 320 German citizens have travelled to Syria to fight alongside Islamist rebels. On Thursday the Australian Foreign Minister said around 150 Australians have fought with radical militants in Syria and Iraq, raising fears of a terrorist threat to Australia if the fighters return home. [Reuters, 6/19/2014]


Angela Merkel reaffirms Germany’s support to Tunisia
At a joint press conference in Berlin with Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reasserted her country’s continuing support to Tunisia in its transition process, especially in the economic, political and security spheres. Among the areas in which co-operation will be strengthened, Merkel cited education, tourism and training, pointing to a proposal for the creation of a German-Tunisian University. Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi said Wednesday that Germany had agreed to convert 60 million euros ($81.75 million) of Tunisian debt into investments. [TAP, Mosaique FM, 6/18/2014]

Municipal workers declare two-day nationwide strike
Municipal workers across the country have declared a two-day nationwide strike over promotions, wages, and the government’s failure to implement previous agreements. According to Nasser Selimi, the Secretary General of the Union of Municipal Workers (UGTT), these demands are: payment of the 180 dinar ($108) bonus that had been promised to each garbage collector in 2011, an unfreezing of all promotions for municipal workers, and greater progress on issuing laws to protect the rights of municipal workers. The strike is likely to exacerbate existing problems with waste disposal. [Tunisia Live, 6/18/2014]

Marzouki calls for implementation of land reform program
Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki has called to start implementation of the Tunisian land system reform program, to be assessed every three years and finalized by 2025. Marzouki has noted his rejection of mechanisms allowing foreigners to own agricultural lands, describing them as “sacred” and constituting a symbol of the Tunisian sovereignty and a heritage for the future generations. The meeting aims to unify views and ideas that will help formulate draft laws to achieve the land system’s reform. [TAP, 6/18/2014]


A revolution in reverse
Peter Salisbury writes in Foreign Policy that two and a half years after Saleh agreed to step down, Yemenis have seen little improvement in their day-to-day lives, leaving many yearning for the return of life before the Arab Spring and a strongman in Saleh’s mold. For many in Yemen, the past few months have been an increasingly unwelcome reminder of the darkest days of 2011. Supply of electricity, fuel, and water dwindled, prices shot up, and the security situation was also unsteady. [Foreign Policy, 6/18/2014]

Ali Abdullah Saleh Mosque re-opens
The General People’s Congress of Yemen (GPC) and state-run news agency Saba announced that an agreement had been reached between President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the GPC to end the six-day siege of Ali Abdullah Saleh Mosque and re-open it. Hadi sent troops to seize control of Saleh Mosque on Saturday after receiving information that the mosque and its grounds were used to plan the June 11 protests, trapping armed supporters of former President Ali Abdulla Saleh inside. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/19/2014]

Renewed fighting in Amran as warplanes strike Houthi rebels
Warplanes hit Houthi locations in Amran governorate on Tuesday after a short-lived ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the military broke down earlier this week. Houthi rebels continued to fight government troops on Wednesday. Mohammed Turaik, the security manager of Amran governorate, stated that the government is failing to contain the conflict. Warplanes targeted Houthi rebels in Sahb, Bani Maimon and Ayal Suraih areas in Amran. There were no immediate reports of casualties. [Reuters, 6/18/2014, and Yemen Times, 6/19/2014]


Conflicting responses from international community on Iraq crisis
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud, writes in The Telegraph that the crisis in Iraq should be sorted out between Iraqis alone, as it was a product of the sectarian divisions in the country. The Independent has learned that the United States has told senior Iraqi officials that the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, must leave office if it is to intervene militarily to stop the advance of Sunni extremists. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, has cautioned against air strikes in Iraq, saying they would cause a high number of civilian casualties. Israeli intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz says Israel is more alarmed by Iran gaining influence in Iraq than it is by the advance of Sunni extremists. [The Guardian, 6/19/2014]

Iraqi army controls refinery but militants fight on
Militants stormed the complex in Baiji on Wednesday, setting fire to several storage tanks for refined products in a move that sent jitters through world oil markets. “Clashes stopped at about midnight Wednesday, but keep breaking out again from time to time,” an employee trapped inside the sprawling complex said by telephone. Though Iraq forces are in control of the refinery, insurgents are still inside it in several places. However, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security spokesman told state television earlier on Thursday that the refinery was fully in government hands, and that the militant assault had been repelled. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is still waiting for a US response to an appeal for air strikes to beat back the threat to Baghdad. [AFP, NYT, Reuters, 6/19/2014]

Lebanese presidential vote rescheduled again
Members of parliament failed for the seventh time on Wednesday to elect a new president, after members of the March 8 Alliance continued their boycott of parliamentary sessions to select a new head of state. Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berry, postponed the vote for president until July 2, after only sixty-three of 128 members of parliament turned up to the latest session, as their numbers were not enough to secure a quorum. [Asharq Al Awsat, 6/19/2014]