Top News: Libyan Special Forces Commander Says His Forces Join Renegade General

The Saiqa Special Forces in Benghazi has allied itself with retired General Khalifa Haftar in his campaign against militant Islamists. Citing the failure of the central government in Tripoli to assert its authority and the suffering members of his brigade have suffered at the hands of Islamists, Commander Wanis Bukhamada announced his forces will join “Operation Dignity,” as Haftar calls his campaign. Self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran, whose supporters have blockaded eastern oil terminals since last summer, has also come out in support of Haftar. As unrest grows, the United States has increased the number of Marines and aircraft stationed in Sicily who would be called upon to evacuate Americans from the US Embassy in Tripoli. [Libya HeraldReuters, 5/20/2014]



As expats polls close, Sisi appears to be big winner
According to the Presidential Elections Committee, more than 315,000 Egyptians living outside the country voted in the Egypt’s presidential elections exceeding the number of those who voted in the 2012 poll. The number of Egyptian expats is estimated at eight million people. The state owned MENA released the preliminary results of expat voting, which took place between Thursday and Monday. The results show a huge lead for ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi over his only competitor, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi. The collated results show Sisi claiming 92.5 percent of the ballots cast; Sabbahi won 5.98 percent and 1.9 percent of ballots were invalidated. The preliminary results from the 114 polling stations counted 225,299 votes. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 5/20/2014]

IEDs injure two children in Giza neighborhood
Two children were injured and hospitalized after accidentally triggering two Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) Monday night. A group of children had been playing on the rooftop of a building in the Giza neighborhood of Imbaba when they set off the explosive devices, a statement by the ministry of interior said. A third IED which contained a large amount of gunpowder and nails was deactivated. The incident follows another bombing earlier on Monday at Ain Shams University, which injured six students. [DNE, Mada Masr, 5/20/2014]

Egypt’s Sisi meets with Saudi Prince Bin Talal
Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi met on Monday with Saudi Arabia’s Prince al-Waleed Bin Talal as well as a number of a number of Egyptian actors. A statement released on Sisi’s official Facebook page said the former military chief met with Talal, who is also chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), to listen to the latter’s vision on Egypt’s economic future and how to improve the country’s investment environment. During the meeting, Sisi expressed his gratitude to Talal for Saudi’s role in supporting Egypt’s economy in the recent period. [Ahram Online, 5/19/2014]

Egyptian consumers’ confidence falls 8 percent in April
Egyptian consumers say they are less likely to spend more, as their perceived income levels fall and they become more doubtful of the government’s economic policies, according to a report from the government’s official think-tank. The monthly report, published on Monday by the cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center (IDSC), shows that the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) fell 8 percent to 98.1 points in April, as compared to the previous month. The survey reveals that the decline is driven by a sharp drop in the index for families’ income levels, down by 13.2 percent to record a mere 47.2 points. This indicates that families perceive their income levels as declining and are less likely to purchase durable goods like home appliances and furniture in the near future, despite a 2.3 percent rise in average annual salaries to EGP 26,161 in the fiscal year 2012/13. [Ahram Online, 5/19/2014]


Libyan government calls on GNC to go
Following an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday, the Libyan government has joined the growing calls demanding that the General National Congress (GNC) dissolve. In a hard-hitting open letter, it called for a second prime ministerial vote to put to rest ambiguities surrounding the election of Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg. The letter also demanded that the legislature pass a budget for 2014 and then step down and set a specific deadline of August 15 for the election of the new House of Representatives. According to sources, the GNC plans to hold a session Tuesday at an undisclosed location, moving ahead with a vote to approve Maiteg as prime minister, defying demands by retired General Khalifa Haftar’s campaign. [Libya Herald, 5/19/2014]

Arab League appoints special envoy for Libya
The Arab League has announced that former Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser al-Kudwa will serve as its special envoy to Libya. His responsibility will be to promote national dialogue and reconciliation among all Libyans, engaging the legislature, the government, civil society organizations, tribal leaders, the United Nations, and neighboring countries. Meanwhile, due to the deteriorating security, Saudi Arabia closed its embassy and consulate and withdrew its entire diplomatic staff. Citing a specific threat, Turkey also closed its consulate in Benghazi, and Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach has decided to evacuate its employees from Libya, following the evacuation of Algerian diplomats. [Libya Herald, 5/19/2014]


Army missile kills twenty-three while sleeping, including eight kids
A missile crashed into a rebel-held town while most people were at home sleeping, killing at least twenty-three, including an entire family, activists said Tuesday. The attack on northern town of Marea occurred late Monday. Those killed included an entire family composed of Mohammed Jafar, seventy, his forty-year old wife, and their eight children. The retired radiator repairman had boasted that his younger wife gave him a new lease on life and had decided late in life to re-enroll in high school, graduating when he was sixty. In the nearby town of Azaz, rocket fire by military helicopters killed at least ten people on Tuesday. The helicopter gunships opened fire on the eastern entrance to Azaz, a small town in Aleppo province near the Turkish border. [The Daily Star, 5/20/2014]

Activists say chlorine attack kills teenager in central Syria
Opposition activists said on Tuesday forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had dropped a chlorine bomb on a rebel-held village, killing a teenager, the sixth alleged poison gas attack there in two months. The village of Kfar Zeita, in the central province of Hama 125 miles north of Damascus, has been the epicenter of what activists and medics say is a chemical weapons campaign in which chlorine gas canisters are dropped out of helicopters. [Reuters, 5/20/2014]

Fifty-eight countries urge UN to refer Syria to ICC
Nearly sixty countries urged the UN Security Council on Monday to refer the war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible crimes against humanity and war crimes. France, which drafted the resolution and accompanying letter, has called for a vote Thursday and Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has already said Moscow opposes the measure, which means an almost certain veto. China, which also supports President Bashar al-Assad’s government and has joined Russia in vetoing three previous Syria resolutions, could make it a fourth double veto. [AP, HRW, 5/20/2014]

Tartus, sheltered from fighting, a major supplier of foot soldiers for Assad
While coastal Tartus has remained relatively insulated from actual fighting, its residents have swelled the ranks of the army and pro-regime militia, the National Defense Force (NDF). “Tartus has been called the capital of martyrs because it is the province with the highest proportional number of casualties in the army and the NDF—4,200 killed, 2,000 wounded and 2,000 missing,” Tartus governor Nizar Moussa said. [Naharnet, 5/20/2014]


Digital surveillance undermines Tunisia’s constitution
The new constitution sought to maintain robust protections of fundamental freedoms. However, the recent creation of the Technical Telecommunication Agency (ATT) threatens to undermine Tunisia’s progress. The ATT bypassed parliamentary approval and is established to monitor and record online traffic with full access to networks and information held by Internet Service Providers. With an emergent blogger-community, any movement to restrict, monitor or record online content, strikes at the heart of media freedom in Tunisia. [Index, 5/20/2014]

Tunisia forms commission to compensate Ben Ali victims
Tunisia on Monday formed a long-awaited truth and justice commission, more than three years after the 2011 revolution, to implement “transitional justice” and compensate the victims of decades of dictatorship. The fifteen-member body, which was elected by the national assembly with a majority of seventy-one votes, will also be tasked with identifying and bringing to trial those responsible for abuses committed under the former regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Habib Bourguiba. Separately, the national assembly was due to debate a bill on Monday that would set up special tribunals to try those responsible for the bloody crackdown on popular protests that led to Ben Ali’s ouster in which more than 300 people were killed. [Daily Star, 5/19/2014]

Tunisia’s growth expected to reach 4.6 percent in 2015
According to the African Economic Outlook Report 2014, Tunisia’s growth is expected to reach 4.6 percent in 2014. Tunisia is recovering from a recession that began in 2011 when growth dropped 1.8 percent. The report recommends that Tunisia streamline public spending and ensure efficient supervision of the financial sector, labor market, and investment in order to return to sustainable growth. [All Africa, 5/19/2014]


Houthis attack military post in Amran
On Tuesday, militants associated with the Houthi group launched an attack on a military post in Amran province, just north of the capital in Sana’a. Initial reports indicate that at least twenty-five people were killed, including six army personnel. The Supreme Security Committee is scheduled to meet regarding the incident to formulate a reaction. In recent months, skirmishes between the military and the Houthis were more limited, with Houthis attacking armed tribesmen rather than government forces. Such situations were previously resolved with presidential mediation committees. [AFP, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/20/2014]

Interior minister testifies before House of Representatives
Interior Minister Major General Abdo Hussein al-Tarb testified before the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Tarb gave the ministry’s perspective on the three biggest threats to Yemen as being the Houthis, the Southern Herak movement, and al-Qaeda. Tarb that the three groups are supported by factions that have vested interest in their existence, naming specifically illegal arms dealers. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 5/20/2014]

Yemeni government blocks Al Jazeera from covering conflict in Shabwa
Yemeni human rights organizations have condemned the Yemeni government’s move on last week to prevent Al Jazeera journalists from covering the ongoing war against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Shabwa and Abyan governorates. The ministry of defense said on its website, “the professionalism of… [Al-Jazeera] is contested and it is known for distorting the facts.” [The Yemen Times, 5/20/2014]

Fuel crisis exacerbates humanitarian woes
The Yemen Foundation for Water and Sanitation announced that attacks on energy infrastructure, including oil pipelines and electricity pylons has slowed groundwater extraction, threatening to put increased stress on Yemen’s already water-scarce economy. The ministry of water believes that the Sana’a, a city of 3 million people, will be the first to be affected. The World Bank has previously warned about water insecurity in Yemen in light of the steadily increasing population. Additionally, the fuel shortage resulted in the closure of two hospitals in Hajja province because they were unable to run their generators. They have since resumed operation. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/19/2014]


Iraq’s ex-PM Allawi calls for repeat of parliamentary polls
Former Iraqi premier Ayad Allawi’s political bloc on Tuesday demanded that parliamentary polls be repeated, claiming that the vote was rigged. “We reported all the violations to the electoral commission, but our complaints were ignored,” a spokeswoman said. Incumbent Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law won ninety-three out of 328 parliamentary seats, compared to eighty-nine seats in 2010 polls, forcing him to align with other coalitions to form a government. Maliki needs support from 165 lawmakers to secure a third term as prime minister. Allawi’s electoral list, which had been neck-and-neck with Maliki’s alliance in 2010 polls, won only twenty-two seats in the April polls, the first elections since the US withdrawal in 2011. [World Bulletin, 5/20/2014].

Kuwait to hold vote to replace resigned lawmakers
Kuwait has set June 26 as the day for by-elections to replace five lawmakers who resigned in protest after the largely pro-government parliament refused to question the country’s prime minister over corruption allegations. It is rare for lawmakers to resign in Kuwait and for the government to hold elections for just those posts. Normally when there is gridlock between the cabinet and parliament, the ruler of Kuwait disbands the legislature and reshuffles the cabinet before calling new elections. [AP, 5/20/2014]

Lebanon minister proposes extending president’s term; MPs cautious of next session
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Tuesday that extending the mandate of President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year-term ends later this week, is justified. Lebanon has less than a week to achieve a breakthrough in the presidential impasse and elect a new head of state. Sleiman has repeatedly said he is against the extension of his term. Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the rival March 8 and March 14 camps fear their opponents will set a “trap,” forcing the election of their candidate. March 14 parliamentary sources said that lawmakers from the coalition would withdraw from the session if they sensed that Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun could get the required sixty-five votes to make him the next president. The March 8 lawmakers, in turn, will also withdraw from the meeting if they detect some plot to elect a candidate against the group’s interests. [The Daily Star, 5/20/2014]

New Palestinian unity government to be announced this week
A senior Hamas advisor told journalists that that the new Palestinian unity government with Fatah and Hamas will be announced this week. He added that a senior Fatah official will go back to the Gaza Strip next week for the final discussion on the new government, and also to inform the Palestinian factions about the government ministers chosen by Fatah. Another adviser to the Gaza government said both the West Bank and Gaza polities will offer their resignations once a unity government is agreed upon. [PNN, 5/20/2014]