Top News: Iraqis Vote as Violence Grips a Divided Country

Iraqis voted on Wednesday in their first national election since US forces withdrew in 2011. Iraq’s western province of Anbar is torn by fighting as Sunni Muslim militants battle the Iraqi military. Its economy is struggling and incumbent Prime MInister Nuri al-Maliki faces criticism that he is aggravating sectarian splits and trying to consolidate power. Voters are choosing from among 9,012 candidates and the parliamentary election will effectively serve as a referendum on Maliki, a Shia Muslim who has governed for eight years. The elections went off in central Iraq and the south with few hitches by midday, while turnout was low in Sunni regions, where residents are often afraid of the security forces and al-Qaeda inspired militants. The disparities were a reminder of the deep frictions now between the country’s Shia majority and Sunnis. [Reuters, 4/30/2014]



Sabbahi officially announces electoral platform
In a press conference on Wednesday, presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi announced his official electoral platform. Sabbahi’s top priorities are eliminating terrorism, achieving Egypt’s self-sufficiency, transitional justice, and achieving retribution for the country’s martyrs. He said the goals of his platform are what the Egyptian people chose as goals in the “squares of the revolution.” [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), Ahram (Arabic), Shorouk (Arabic), 4/30/2014]

Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement to appeal ban
Representatives from the April 6 Youth Movement and its offshoot the Democratic Font held a press conference on Tuesday in which they announced they would appeal Monday’s court ruling banning the group and ordering the closure of its offices. We will appeal the verdict before the administrative court,” said Sherif al-Hosary, head of the legal department of the Democratic Front, which split from the April 6 Youth Movement in 2011 after a dispute between the group’s leaders. Al-Hosary accused the verdict of being “politicized” and from a court that lacks subject matter jurisdiction. [Ahram Online, DNE, 4/29/2014]

Fahmy continues US visit; Leahy will not sign off on military aid to Egypt
Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy is scheduled to continue meeting high level US government officials on Wednesday. Fahmy is set to meet with US President Barack Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after his Tuesday meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. Following the conclusion of his visit to Washington, DC, Fahmy will travel to New York City and meet with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. During a joint press conference with Fahmy on Tuesday, Kerry said that the interim-government must prove it is serious about bringing democracy to Egypt. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said on Tuesday he would not approve sending funds to the Egyptian military, denouncing what he called a “sham trial” in which a court sentenced 683 people to death. [DNE, AP, 4/30/2014]

Egypt’s debt to foreign oil firms up at $5.7 billion
Egypt’s debts to foreign oil companies operating in the country rose to $5.7 billion by the end of March, the head of the state-run oil company said, up $800 million from the government’s last reported figure despite recent repayments. [Reuters, 4/30/2014]


Shooting outside General National Congress delays vote
Shooting broke out outside the main entrance to the General National Congress (GNC) on Tuesday, causing lawmakers to end their special session and postpone the selection of a new prime minister. The GNC had two candidates to choose from: businessman Ahmed Matiq from Misrata and Omar al-Hassi, a political science professor from Benghazi. Al-Hassi is backed by the hard-line Islamist bloc in the legislature, while Matiq is supported by independents. According to some reports, the armed group was believed to support Mohamed Boukar, a candidate who had lost in a first round of voting. According to others, the group may have been supporting al-Hassi. A number of legislators want an emergency session held this week to complete the selection of a new prime minister “to continue with the democratic process.” [AP, Libya Herald, 4/29/2014]

Power struggle blights Libya’s chaotic main airport
Western powers and regional neighbors worry that Libya’s Tripoli International Airport could be a gateway for illegal immigrants, including militant Islamists, from Africa and conflict zones. Between bombs on the runway, passengers flying without visas, and pets boarding planes, the situation at the airport exemplifies the chaos gripping Libya since the revolution. Nightly shootouts in the area have become more frequent, and the road leading to the airport is one of the most dangerous places in Tripoli. Morocco has introduced visa requirements for Libyans, and some European and Arab airlines have stopped flying to Tripoli out of security concerns. The European Union is training officials and helping to upgrade airport facilities, but the underlying problem of the government struggling to assert its authority remains. [Reuters, 4/29/2014]

Wall built at Derna university to separate male and female students
Derna’s Abu Saleem Brigade has built a wall across one of the town’s university campuses in an effort to segregate male and female students. The wall at Omar Mukhtar University’s al-Fatiah campus was built with the consent of the university’s administrators and was a condition for Abu Saleem Brigade’s agreement to guard the premises, according to one student. The university’s management approached the Islamist militia asking it to protect its students and premises after a series of security breaches forced the university to close in early April. [Libya Herald, 4/29/2014]

Cyrenaica leader grants first interview
In his first interview since being elected head of the Council of Elders by Cyrenaican tribal leaders, Abdel Jawad al-Badeen defended federalism and called on fellow Libyans to help the country achieve stability. Al-Badeen said Cyrenaica will hold a referendum on federalism, stressing that his group does not aim to be a separate entity from Libya, wanting rather to be a part of the Libyan state. Regarding the distribution of Libya’s oil wealth, he pointed to the Norwegian model in that an oil exporting country does not have an oil ministry but “the fate of each drop of oil and where it is spent is known.” [Magharebia, 4/29/2014]


Death toll from attacks in Homs climbs to 100
Twin car bombs claimed by jihadists on a government-held district of Homs killed at least 100 people, mostly civilians, a monitoring group said Wednesday, sharply raising an earlier toll. Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest of its kind in Homs since the Syrian conflict erupted three years ago, and came as government forces make a new attempt to overrun the handful of remaining rebel enclaves in the city center. Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, al-Nusra Front, said it carried out the twin bombings against the city’s Abbasiyeh neighborhood, which is mainly inhabited by members of Assad’s Alawite minority community. [Naharnet, 4/30/2014]

Aleppo school hosting children’s art exhibit hit by airstrikes
A government airstrike hit a school Wednesday in the northern city of Aleppo, killing at least nine people, including three children. Casualty numbers are expected to rise because of the extent of the explosion. The airstrike hit the Ein Jalout school in an eastern neighborhood of Aleppo. The school had been hosting an exhibition of children’s paintings when the airstrike hit, according to a man speaking in a video from the school that was posted online. Another video showed colorful scrawled paintings. The attack is the latest deadly government strike against rebel-held districts in Aleppo. [AP, 4/30/2014]

Unified Southern Front expands profile
Southern rebels say they have united tens of thousands of fighters and rejected the extremism and infighting that have plagued the uprising elsewhere, but still want for external support. The so-called Southern Front was created around two months ago and includes some 30,000 fighters from more than fifty-five mainstream rebel groups operating from the Jordanian border to the outskirts of Damascus and the Golan Heights. The new alliance aims to alleviate Western concerns that providing greater aid to the fractious rebels would bolster al-Qaeda-inspired groups and see heavy weapons fall into the hands of extremists. [AFP, 4/30/2014].

OPCW team to investigate chlorine gas claims
The international chemical weapons watchdog says it will send a team to Syria to investigate recent allegations about the use of chlorine gas in the country’s civil war. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Tuesday the Syrian government has agreed to the mission. Opposition forces have accused the government of attacking rebel-held areas with chlorine gas several times in recent months. While chlorine was first deployed militarily in World War I, it is no longer officially considered a warfare agent and was not among the chemicals declared by Syria when it joined the chemical weapons treaty. [AP, 4/30/2014]


Tunisia to raise the minimum wage as economy struggles
In addition to promising to slash their salaries, Tunisia’s top leaders are vowing to increase the minimum wage as the country faces tough economic times. The government agreed last month to negotiate an increase in the minimum wage for the private sector. The 2014 budget gap is forcing authorities to look for other ways to reduce the deficit. It is expected to lift subsidies on fuel prices and reduce subsidies for commodities such as bread. Unemployment remains significant with approximately eighteen percent of young dropouts unemployed. [All Africa, 4/29/2014]

New World Bank $250 million program for Tunisia
On Tuesday, the World Bank Group announced a $250 million program for Tunisia in order to promote growth and improved economic governance. The program will also support key economic and social reforms. It will focus on laying the foundations for a competitive economy to create more jobs and provide financial support for macroeconomic stabilization. [TAP, 4/29/2014]

NCA continues to vote on electoral law
Several articles of the draft electoral law were adopted on Tuesday at a plenary session after having been re-examined by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA). Articles adopted include article fifteen which covers disputes related to registration on the electoral lists and article eighteen which covers the conditions of eligibility to the Assembly. The NCA is nearly done reviewing the 170 articles of the electoral law and is currently reviewing laws that were contentious and not passed during the first round of voting. Once all articles are approved, the Independent High Authority for Elections will be able to set a date for presidential and parliamentary elections. [All Africa, 4/29/2014]


Parliamentarians threaten vote of no-confidence over minister snubs
After weeks of summoning ministers of oil, finance, defense, and interior to testify with little to show for it, members of Yemen’s House of Representatives are threatening to a vote of no-confidence in the ruling unity government. Parliament has summoned the ministers of oil and finance to speak about the ongoing fuel shortage and the ministers of defense and interior to answer questions about drone strikes and counterterrorism operations; none have appeared before the representative body yet. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/30/2014]

Yemen calls for help to tackle multiple crises
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi highlighted the need to address the deteriorating economy, high unemployment, and widespread poverty at the Friends of Yemen forum in London. UK Foreign Minister William Hague said in the conference’s opening statement that assisting Yemen now was critical in order to give al-Qaeda “no place to hide.” The final statement issued by Yemen’s state news agency also stated that the donor group plans to meet again in September. [The Guardian, Saba News, 4/30/2014]

Despite new era, anti-corruption agenda struggles in Yemen
Though addressing the issue of corruption was at the heart of the 2011 uprising, activists and observers note little positive movement toward reform. One activist notes that with the fall of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, bribes have become less regulated in some senses and in some areas the public officials and security forces are more corrupt today than they were before the uprising. However, the issue has not dissipated in the minds of activists. The General Federation of Trade Unions withdrew support for the reconciliation government on Wednesday, calling for a “workers uprising” against corruption on Thursday. [IRIN, 4/30/2014]

Yemen army launches new assault on Qaeda as casualties mount
Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed eighteen Yemeni soldiers in separate ambushes Tuesday as the army launched a ground offensive against their remaining strongholds in the south, medical and security sources said. Twelve militants were also killed when the ambush in Shabwa province sparked a firefight, tribal sources said. National Security chief Ali al-Ahmadi said the recent campaign reflects the Supreme Security Committee’s decision to “eradicate all forms of security problems” that had emerged during the uprising in 2012. President Hadi raised alarm at the number of foreigners among the militants, including fighters from Brazil, the Netherlands, Australia, France and other foreign countries. [AFP, 4/29/2014]


Kuwait PM’s grilling bid dropped
Kuwait’s parliament on Tuesday scrapped a motion to grill Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah after he said that it was not constitutional. The removal of the inquiry from the agenda of the weekly session of the fifty-five-member parliament was approved by thirty-nine lawmakers and rejected by ten while three abstained. The three abstentions were the same MPs that proposed the hearing, hoping to raise questions about allegations of corruption, deteriorating public services, and a crackdown on several newspapers. “I wish they could file a constitutional grilling so that I can respond to it,” Sabah said. “I would like also to thank the lawmakers for protecting the constitution.” [Gulf News, 4/30/2014]

Lebanon’s parliament fails to elect a president for a second time
Lebanon’s parliament has failed to elect a president for the second time after narrowly missing the required quorum. Wednesday’s 12pm parliamentary session was foiled when only 76 of 128 members of parliament entered the chambers. A two-thirds quorum – 86 MPs – is required for the vote to take place, and in the second round of voting, a candidate must obtain a simple majority (65 votes) to be declared president. Speaker Nabih Berri set May 7 as the next date for lawmakers to try to elect a president for the third time. The term for current President Michel Suleiman, ends on May 25. [Al Jazeera, 4/30/2014]

US senators remove requirement for disclosure over drone strike victims
US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims. The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “non-combatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. At the behest of James Clapper, director of national intelligence, the provision was dropped based on promises that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes. [The Guardian, 4/30/2014]