Top News: Lakhdar Brahimi Resigns From Post as UN-Arab League Envoy to Syria

International efforts to end the war in Syria faltered further on Tuesday as the United Nations mediator quit, citing frustrations over the moribund political negotiations. The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, announced that he had accepted the resignation of his special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who told reporters, “It’s very sad that I leave this position and leave Syria behind in such a bad state.” Upon the announcement of Brahimi’s retirement Russia’s deputy foreign minister said that there must not be a pause in the peace process. A Syrian official said he welcomes the resignation of Brahimi and called for the appointment of a “more objective” mediator. Fayez Sayegh, a member of parliament and a senior member of President Bashar Assad’s ruling Baath Party, describes Brahimi as a biased man who interfered in Syria’s internal affairs. [NYTThe National, 5/13/2014]



Egypt’s Douma transferred to hospital, Shamy to undisclosed location
Egyptian activist Ahmed Douma was transferred to a hospital on Tuesday for medical investigations following several calls to action concerning his deteriorating health, state news agency MENA reported. The activist was sent to the private Nile Badrawi Hospital to conduct an MRI on his back after experiencing pain in his spinal cord segments, security sources told MENA. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera released a statement on Monday claiming that their journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, detained by Egyptian security forces since August, has been relocated by authorities to an unknown location. Shamy has been on a hunger strike for over 100 days. Showing significant weight loss when he appeared on trial on May 3, he told the court he had lost thirty-five kilos during his detainment. Al-Jazeera’s statement elaborated that Shamy was suffering kidney function imbalance as well as a decrease in his red blood cell count, adding this his health was greatly compromised. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 5/14/2014]

Court sentences seventy-nine Muslim Brotherhood members in Alexandria to prison
An Alexandria criminal court handed down prison sentences ranging from five to ten years for seventy-nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood for their involvement in violence that occurred on July 26 last year. The court also acquitted seven others. The defendants were found guilty of a number of crimes including murder, belonging to a banned organization, and torturing citizens inside a mosque. The court reached the verdict after twelve sessions dating back to February. The court also banned journalists during its final session. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 5/14/2014]

Egypt to cut energy subsidies to spur growth
Egypt will speed up structural economic reforms this year, led by cuts in energy subsidies, stated Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian on Tuesday. The first phase of the energy reforms could begin next autumn, when the government introduces a smart card that would control the amount of fuel distributed at a subsidized price. Energy subsidies account for a fifth of all state spending in Egypt. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 5/14/2014]

Fahmy discusses security issues in London
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy met with the United Kingdom’s National Security Adviser on Tuesday morning in London ahead of a Wednesday meeting with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. Fahmy and Sir Kim Darroch “focused on the issue of terrorism faced by Egypt and its seriousness”, said a foreign ministry spokesman, who added “The British official expressed his country’s support for the war waged by Egypt against terrorism.” In an interview, Fahmy  blamed Ethiopia for the failure to reach an agreement regarding the construction of the al-Nahda dam. According to Fahmy, the Ethiopian government has ignored Egypt’s repeated inquiries about restarting negotiations between the two nations. [DNE, 5/13/2014]


Libya’s Feel oilfield restarts production
El Feel oilfield in western Libya has resumed production, according to the National Oil Corporation, as the country slowly restores some of its output following protests that shut down several fields. El Feel has a total capacity of 85,000 barrels per day (bpd). The status of the larger El Sharara oilfield, with total capacity of 340,000 bpd, remains unclear. Meanwhile, in the eastern part of the country, a deal struck to reopen critical oil ports looks likely to unravel as the blockading rebels reject newly-installed Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg. [Reuters, 5/14/2014]

France to start training Libyan police in coming weeks
The French foreign ministry said Tuesday it will begin training Libyan policemen in the coming weeks. France had agreed back in February 2013 to initially train 1,000 Libyan police in counterterrorism, followed by another 1,500 trainees, but overall efforts to follow through on pledges of support have stalled as Libya has been gripped by rivalries among political and armed groups. The training was supposed to begin in March; officials said training had been delayed due to Tripoli’s failure to provide financial guarantees to pay for the mission. [Reuters, 5/13/2014]

GNC postpones budget meeting until Sunday
The General National Congress (GNC) again canceled its regular session on Tuesday. Members were supposed to vote on the budget, but the vote has been postponed until Sunday in an apparent effort to give newly-installed Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg time to appoint members of his cabinet. Maiteg has said he will form his new cabinet by next week and that a large proportion of its members will be young men and women. Given the disputed vote that brought Maiteg to power, some still question the legality of his election, calling for him to ask the GNC for a new election in order to assure that he has full support as prime minister. [Libya Herald, 5/13/2014]

ICC calls on Libyan authorities to hand over Qaddafi’s son
In a report to the UN Security Council, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda said Libya needs to hand over Saif al-Islam, son of deposed dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Since his detention, powerful militias who refuse to hand him over to the central government have held Saif in Zintan. The ICC has not asked that another defendant, ex-intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi, be turned over to the court. Both men, whose trials have been adjourned multiple times, claim they have not received proper legal assistance in Libya where authorities insist they can grant a fair trial. [ANSAmed, 5/14/2014]


President Obama meets with President Jarba, praises leadership in crisis
President Barack Obama met for the first time with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba on Tuesday and praised the coalition’s role in trying to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, the White House said in a statement. “President Obama welcomed the coalition’s leadership and constructive approach to dialogue, and encouraged the coalition to further its vision for an inclusive government that represents all of the people of Syria,” the White House said. “The delegations also discussed the risks posed by growing extremism in Syria and agreed on the need to counter terrorist groups on all sides of the conflict,” the White House said. [Reuters, Bloomberg, Al Arabiya, AFP, 5/14/2014]

Rebels launch Golan Heights offensive
A major offensive against the Syrian army is under way in the south of the country, with fighting reaching the frontier with Israel. The immediate goal of the rebels seems to be the crossing point between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian-controlled territory at Quneitra, and the roads leading to the town itself. Israel has declared the area along the frontier a closed military zone and is watching developments closely. Over recent months, Syrian government forces have made significant gains to the north and west of Damascus. But some analysts see the fighting to the south as potentially having a key impact upon the wider dynamics of the conflict, as the south is seen as a possible launching pad for a concerted rebel advance on the capital. [BBC, 5/13/2014]

Nearly 850 dead in regime jails in 2014
Nearly 850 prisoners have died in regime jails this year, many executed summarily or tortured to death, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday. “All these people lost their lives as a result of torture, summary executions, maltreatment, poor detention conditions, including a lack of food, and because they were unable to obtain the medicine they needed.” The number of deaths in regime prisons was likely much higher because of the difficulty in recording the fatalities. Among those held by the government, approximately 18,000 people have disappeared, and many were feared dead. “The number of victims increases because there are no measures being taken to deter the regime,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. [AFP, 5/14/2014]


Elementary school teachers strike
Following a call by the General Union of Basic Education, under the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the teachers went on strike for two days, beginning May 14, 2014 in all primary schools. Those on strike will protest in front of the ministry of education and its regional offices on Thursday. They are protesting the indifference of the ministry to the dissolution of talks between the union and the government last week. [L’Economiste Maghrebin, 5/14/2014]

Tunisian discontent reflected in protests that have idled mines
In the towns of Moulares and Redeyef, protests have idled the phosphate mines, a cornerstone of the economy, for much of the last three years. Citizens regularly block roads and burn tires. The Gafsa mines are in many ways emblematic of the challenges that governments face. Jobs have been declining since a shift to open-pit mining in the 1970s. While International Monetary Fund economists criticize efforts for expanding the public sector, the state still fails to create nearly enough opportunities for the unemployed. Some 30,000 people applied in the last round of job openings at Gafsa for just 2,700 jobs. Each round of hiring incites a new bout of unrest from those not selected [NYT, 5/14/2014]

Former Ben Ali prime minister states he will ally with anyone but Nidaa Tounes
In an interview that made waves in the Tunisian press, the country’s former prime minister, Hamed Karoui, said that he is willing to work with any party save the popular Leftist movement Nidaa Tounes as he reenters the political scene ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections. Karoui’s new party aims to bring its spirit back into the spotlight ahead of elections planned for the end of this year. Many remain suspicious of the lingering influence of officials from the pre-revolutionary era in politics today. [Asharq Al Awsat, 5/14/2014]


Salafists and separatists meet in Aden
The Salafi Rashad party and the Southern separatist movement Herak met in Aden on Monday, apparently to discuss the latest political development. The Rashad party’s members in Hajja, Abyan, and Aden are said to have organized the meeting. Reportedly, the meeting also focused on the implementation of the National Dialogue resolutions. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/14/2014]

Territorial disputes kill over 4,000 Yemenis a year, hamper investor confidence
The newspaper al-Thawra reported that 4,000 Yemenis are killed every year in territorial disputes. An economist talking about the investment climate in the country said that such land disputes were the most notable challenge affecting investor confidence, particularly in locations that could otherwise be very lucrative, like Sana’a, Taiz, Mukalla, Aden, and Hodeidah. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 5/14/2014]

New documents may lead to Saleh prosecution
According to an anonymous source, the Yemeni government is now in possession of documents implicating former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the looting of government weapons during the 2011 uprising. Saleh allegedly stockpiled most of these arms while using some to preserve alliances with certain tribal groups. The source further added that these new documents and the charges pertaining to these allegations would not be impeded by the immunity Saleh was granted as part of the GCC initiative that secured his resignation. [Al-Ain (Arabic), 5/14/2014]

World Bank country director calls for reforms on subsidies, salaries
Wael Zakout, the World Bank’s country director for Yemen, is calling on the government to take critical reform steps by addressing the rampant corruption of salary payments, some of which go to “ghost names”–people who do not really exist. Reforming the system of subsidies on oil derivatives is also critical in order to balance the state’s budget, said Zakout. The issue of oil subsidy reform has been controversial particularly amidst the recent fuel shortage crisis, but Zakout said it should be undertaken within the context of a larger reform effort that includes a mechanism for offsetting the burden of the poorest Yemenis. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/14/2014]


As parties plot for power, IDPs fear for their safety in Baghdad
Though the preliminary results are not expected to be released until May 25, political parties have already begun maneuvering in anticipation of forming Iraq’s next government. Though opposition groups appear to be attempting to band together to isolate incumbent Nuri al-Maliki, he is widely his party is thought to be the biggest winner. Maliki also began mailing a political program to his opponents in the hopes of courting coalition partners. On the ground, however, Iraqis are still confronting insecurity dilemmas. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Baghdad, many of whom from the embattled Anbar province, remain socially isolated in in an increasingly hostile environment as their Sunni co-religionists from extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria continue assaults on Shia targets, heightening tensions the capital. [The Daily Star, 5/14/2014]

Lebanon’s UCC rules out salary scale compromise
The head of the Union Coordination Committee (UCC)  rejected any compromise over the draft salary scale bill being debated in parliament, as Hezbollah lawmakers expressed solidarity with civil servants gathered in Beirut in a “day of rage.” Wednesday morning, dozens of buses carried the protesters from across the country to the Banks’ Association in Beirut. From there, the demonstrators marched downtown to coincide with a legislative session where MPs are debating a compromise on the pay hike issue. MPs said that they expected Wednesday’s session to be a long one, stressing that all parliamentary blocs realized that they could not leave the meeting without a solution. [The Daily Star, 5/14/2014]

Syrians to vote in Jordan?
Approving or rejecting the Syrian authorities’ request to allow its nationals in the Kingdom to vote in the upcoming presidential elections hinges on the country’s security, Nasser Judeh, Minister of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday. He added that the government is still considering the request it has received from the Syrian embassy in Amman for allowing Syrians vote in their country’s upcoming elections. “We do not interfere in the Syria’s affairs, but if a decision [allowing Syrians here to vote] will affect our security, we have the right,” to take the appropriate measure, said Judeh. [The Jordan Times, 5/14/2014]