Top News: Jordan Amends Anti-Terror Law to Face Syria Fallout

Controversial amendments to Jordan’s anti-terrorism law seek to curb the influence of homegrown al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists fighting the Syrian regime. New articles added to the law and approved by MPs on Tuesday deem “joining or attempting to join armed or terrorist groups, or recruiting or attempting to recruit people to join these groups” acts of terrorism. They also outlaw “acts that would expose Jordan or Jordanians to the danger of acts of aggression, or harm the kingdom’s relations with another country.” [NOW, 4/24/2014]



Elections committee says no challenges from Sisi or Sabbahi
Chancellor Abdel Aziz Salman, secretary-general of the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) said on Wednesday that he did not receive any objections or challenges from the presidential candidates against each other. This came on the second day of receiving objection applications, the closing date of which is next Wednesday evening. Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that the examination of the candidates’ application documents would be finished early due to the fact that none of them objected to the other. The PEC began on Thursday to grant media passes to journalists covering the presidential elections. Journalists have been asked to submit their information via the PEC website. [Egypt Independent, 4/24/2014]

Clashes erupt in Upper Egypt over arrests of Islamists
Clashes erupted Thursday morning between security forces and supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi in Beni Suef governorate, south of Cairo, as police raided homes to arrest Islamists. Fights broke out in al-Maymoun village after alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood group blocked railway tracks and set tires on fire to protest the arrest of several group members in the northern village. The governor of Beni Suef reported that Brotherhood supporters burnt a police car during clashes. Police fired rounds of teargas to scatter the protesting crowds. Skirmishes continued at the time of publishing as forces blocked off roads in and out of the village. A security source said ten Brotherhood members had been arrested in raids. Train movements to and from the country’s southern governorates was brought to a halt for six hours due to the clashes, before they resumed in the afternoon, a railway authority official said. [Ahram Online, 4/24/2014]

New law to lure investors to Egypt could feed corruption, critics say
A new Egyptian law that prevents third parties from challenging contracts made with the government may encourage foreign investors but critics say it will increase scope for corruption. President Adly Mansour on Tuesday approved the law that will restrict the right to challenge state business and real estate deals to only the government, the institutions involved and business partners. “Although the law prior to this change was abused constantly, and to a large extent by vexatious litigants, this amendment effectively removes part of the judicial and civilian oversight over government deals,” Moustafa Bassiouny, an economist at Signet Institute, said. [Reuters, 4/23/2014]

US to release additional funds to Egypt upon congressional approval
Washington said on Wednesday it would move forward with releasing $650 million in funding for Egypt, continuing to ease a partial aid suspension following the overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi last year and a violent crackdown on his supporters. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said unlocking the $650 million in financing for the fiscal year 2014 was the next step to “support these critical security efforts and continue to fund contracts for other goods and services.” The measure hinges on two congressional notifications that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and maintaining its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the spokesperson told a regular press briefing. In related news, Egypt’s foreign minister along with an Egyptian delegation will be visiting Washington in the coming days to discuss bilateral ties between the two countries. [Ahram Online, 4/24/2014]


US vows to help Libya tackle ‘rising violent extremism’
US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on Thursday promised Libya more help against extremist violence, saying the country could not achieve political or economic stability without tackling its security challenges. Burns said rebuilding security was key to Libyan success. “It is impossible to foresee the successful political transition and successful economic revival without a greater sense of security,” Burns said. He did not elaborate on how Washington would deepen its security cooperation with Tripoli, repeating only that the United States and other partners would continue to train Libya’s nascent army and security forces. [Reuters, 4/24/2014]

Voter registration for vacant Constitutional Committee seats reopens
Voter registration for seats left vacant in the Constitutional Assembly restarted today following an announcement by the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC). HNEC vice president Emad al-Sayeh said the first part of this process would involve elections in the districts of Murzuk and Kufra, followed by Obari and Derna. Lack of physical security and boycotts by the Tebu and Amazigh minorities in the lead up to election day left thirteen seats vacant. The Constitutional Committee held an inaugural meeting this week but cannot begin its work until all seats are filled. The Amazigh Supreme Council has stated it will continue its boycott. HNEC has also begun registering voters for elections for the House of Representatives, which will replace the current General National Congress. [Libya Herald, 4/24/2014]

GNC announces cuts as it reviews one third of the 2014 budget
The head of the General National Congress (GNC) Budget Committee has said that cuts to infrastructure development and government salaries are necessary as the GNC overhauls expenditure. Mohammed Ali Abdullah said the GNC would soon be voting on a budget of LD 44 billion, a figure LD 24 billion lower than 2014 budget estimates revealed in March. The LD 24 billion would not be completely cut, but the GNC had been forced to review it, according to Abdullah, who explained that a decrease in oil revenues caused by blockades on oil terminals and facilities over the past nine months prompted the decision. [Libya Herald, 4/23/2014]


UN chief says aid access in Syria not improving, calls for UNSC action
Access for foreign aid for millions of Syrians desperately in need has not improved, violating a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution passed two months ago, the UN chief said in a report Wednesday. Almost 3.5 million people remain without access to essential goods and services, including life-saving medicines, in a “clear violation” of international law, wrote UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban further demanded that the UNSC take action in Syria on violations of international law as he reported to the body that none of the warring parties was adhering to UN demands for aid access. [Reuters, Naharnet; 4/24/2014]

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs chlorine attack probe
The head of the global chemical weapons watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria’s toxic stockpile is considering launching a fact-finding mission there to investigate reports of attacks with chlorine gas, sources said. Syria became a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last year as part of a deal with Russia and the United States to destroy its chemical weapons program. The news comes as activists have alleged that such chlorine gas attacks were employed by the regime in Damascus suburbs. In the United States, prosecutors have charged a Pennsylvania man and two foreign citizens with conspiring to illegally export chemical warfare detection devices and laboratory equipment to Syria. [The Daily Star, 4/24/2014]

Erdogan says military convoy to troops in Syria “not extraordinary”
Touching upon reports claiming that the Turkish Armed Forces had sent a large number of armored vehicles to the Tomb of Süleyman Şah for deployment near bases of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Erdoğan stated: “Right now, [ISIS] is not the issue. The job of our convoy there is to transfer aid to the Tomb of Süleyman Şah… These are planned activities, nothing extraordinary.” According to reports, six tanks and twelve armored vehicles have been deployed near the tomb, with claims that ISIS has started to send reinforcements to the area. [Today’s Zaman, World Bulletin, 4/24/2014]

Air raid kills twenty-five at Syria market
An airstrike on a market on Thursday killed at least twenty-five people, including three children, in a village of the north Syrian province of Aleppo, a monitoring group said. The deadly raid comes amid a massive aerial offensive targeting opposition-held areas across Aleppo city and province that began in mid-December. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the bombing campaign has killed hundreds, mostly civilians, and forced thousands of families to flee their homes. “The area that was struck today is a market area, that’s why there were so many civilians killed,” said an Aleppo-based activist. [The Daily Star, 4/24/2014]


Tunisia starts first post-revolution census
On Wednesday, Tunisia’s National Institute for Statistics began gathering information for the country’s census, the first held since the 2011 revolution. The last census was conducted under the regime of former president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. President Moncef Marzouki questioned the accuracy of the last 2004 census. Taha Khsib, the general director of the census, denied that false data has been presented in the past, but acknowledged that certain information had been suppressed by authorities. For instance, rates of extreme poverty in some regions would not be published, he said. [Tunisia Live, 4/23/2014]

National Dialogue session discusses upcoming elections
On Wednesday, the National Dialogue session was partly devoted to the examination of whether or not the legislative and presidential elections should be held simultaneously. The discussion of the controversial points of the future electoral law was delayed, pending the approval of these points by the consensus commission in the National Constituent Assembly. [TAP, 4/23/2014]

Israelis allowed in Tunisia, prime minister announces
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said Tuesday his government has decided to allow Israeli citizens to enter the country despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties with Israel. The announcement came in response to a request by National Constituent Assembly (NCA) members to hold a hearing on the subject. Jomaa said the decision reflected the government’s desire for the upcoming Jewish pilgrimage to the Ghriba synagogue on the southeast island of Djerba to be a success. [Tunisia Live, 4/23/2014]

Tunisian premier vows terror crackdown
Tunisian Interim-Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa pledged to eliminate the terrorist groups that threaten the country. According to Jomaa, the security situation in Tunisia has improved “and the operations represent a qualitative leap in addressing the issue of terrorism. There is no place for terrorism in Tunisia and that is the approach clearly envisaged by various teams of military and security forces in our country.” [All Africa, 4/23/2014]


Hadi meets with security committee, economic council
In a meeting with the Supreme Security Council, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi discussed the ongoing counterterrorism efforts throughout the country, against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Sharia. Hadi confirmed that sixty people had been killed in the weekend offensive in southern provinces. The Security Council subsequently approved the expansion of counterterrorism operations. Speaking to the Supreme Economic Council, Hadi also discussed the efforts clean up the interior and defense ministries by using biometric data to eliminate falsified names and so-called “ghost” accounts. Addressing the fuel crisis Hadi warned of the prosecution of parties acting to block oil shipments throughout the country. [Saba News, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/24/2014]

Delegation meets with Houthi leader in Sa’ada
A delegation of Yemeni officials, as well as an advisor to UN envoy Jamal Benomar, arrived in the Houthi dominated Sa’ada province to speak with Abdulmalik al-Houthi, the groups leader to discuss disarmament and the implementation of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference. The delegation intends to also press the group to engage politically and avoid the escalating trend of violence in Yemen’s north. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/24/2014]

Tribal mediation committee, security detachment recover oil tankers in Marib
A joint military and police detachment accompanied by a tribal mediation committee on Tuesday succeeded in releasing seven out of twelve oil tankers confiscated by gunmen in al-Wadi district of Marib on April 18. The remaining five oil tankers are still being held by the armed tribesmen. The ministry of interior on Wednesday said on its website that a military and police force including nine armored vehicles and a tank were able to lift a tribal roadblock on the main road in al-Wadi. The tribesmen demand money for the release of the remaining tankers, although mediation is ongoing. [Yemen Times, 4/24/2014]


Ukraine-Russia crisis may hit Arab food imports
According to the World Bank, the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis threatens some Arab countries’ food imports. Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan are the four countries most likely to be hit by the worsening crisis. The four countries rely on Ukraine for at least fifty percent of their wheat and corn supplies. At least fifty percent of Russian wheat gets exported to Egypt, followed by Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen. The crisis could lead to decreased levels of imports and could affect the prices of these commodities. [Al Arabiya, 4/23/2014]

Iraq parties trade accusations over security crisis
Rival political parties in Iraq traded accusations of politicizing the security crisis on Wednesday, one week ahead of legislative elections. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused his rivals of seeking to place “obstacles” in the government’s counter-terrorism plans while Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, head of the Sunni-led Moutahidoun Coalition, accused Baghdad of allowing the unrest in the western province of Anbar to continue in order to disrupt the electoral process in Sunni-majority areas. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/24/2014]

Lavrov says Russia to lend a hand to Lebanese Army
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia will work to boost the capacities of the Lebanese Army adding that his country respects the democratic process in Lebanon. The comments came during a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil, in Moscow. Lavrov also said Russia would not interfere in the Lebanese presidential election. Bassil said that Russia can play a prominent role in contributing to political stability in Lebanon and the Middle East. He also said that Lebanese and Russia should cooperate regarding Lebanon’s oil resources and the Syrian refugee crisis. Lavrov proposed a “systematic solution” for the refugee issue rather than “temporary humanitarian assistance.” [The Daily Star, 4/24/2014]