Top News: Libyans Vote For New Legislature in Test For Transition

Libyans began voting today for the new House of Representatives, in an election that officials hope will ease the turmoil that has gripped the country since the 2011 revolution. Participation is widely expected to be lower than it was in 2012; around 1.5 million voters have registered, roughly half the 2.8 million registered in July 2012 for Libya’s first free election in over forty years.


Eight injured in string of Cairo blasts; Authorities blame Brotherhood
At least eight people were injured in northern Cairo when homemade explosive devices blew up at four metro stations and a courthouse on Wednesday morning in the first attacks in Cairo since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became president earlier this month. Bombs were reported at the Shubra al-Kheyma, Ghamra, Hadayeq al-Quba and Ezbet al-Nakhl stations. Two more blasts were reported an hour later near a Cairo courthouse in Heliopolis, caused by a bomb planted under a car. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Egypt’s interior ministry has held the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood responsible for the series of blasts. Authorities accused the Brotherhood of orchestrating the attacks as “desperate attempts” to disrupt the “prevailing state of stability.”  The ministry also denied reports of at least one injury caused by the Heliopolis blast. A spokesman for the Metro company said the metro system was operating normally. Egypt’s prosecutor general has opened an investigation into the series of blasts. [Reuters, Ahram Online, AMAY (Arabic), Ahram Gateway (Arabic), DNE, Shorouk (Arabic), 6/25/2014]

US House Appropriations committee votes against Egypt aid amendments
Senior US lawmakers said on Tuesday they were rethinking the more than $1 billion in military aid Washington sends to Cairo. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the US Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said further funds should be withheld until Egypt’s leaders demonstrate a commitment to human rights. US Representative Adam Schiff introduced an amendment to an annual appropriations bill on Tuesday that would shrink Egypt’s overall aid package by about 30 percent and redistribute some of the money to support education and democracy. The House Appropriations committee voted 35-11 to defeat Schiff’s amendment, but he said he intended to introduce it again as the bill moves through Congress, with more hope of support in the full House and Senate. The lopsided vote was partly due to pressure by the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), according to statements made by Schiff to Al-Monitor. [Reuters, Al Monitor, DNE, 6/24/2014]

Egypt expanding efforts to ease food subsidy costs
Egypt is expanding its use of modern technology to tackle decades-old problems of corruption and waste in its costly food subsidies system as the government pursues reforms to ease the strain on state finances. Supplies Minister Khaled Hanafi said some 25 million Egyptian families who already have electronic smart cards for bread purchases will be able to use them to buy twenty different subsidized goods at grocery stores across the country starting in July. The new system aims to raise incentives for Egyptians to buy only as much subsidized bread as they need, helping to reduce spending on wheat, of which Egypt is the world’s top importer. [Reuters, 6/25/2014]

Court orders hunger-striking detainee Mohamed Soltan back to hospital
The Cairo Criminal Court on Monday ordered Egyptian-American hunger-striking political detainee Mohamed Soltan back to Manial Teaching Hospital for medical care. His trial has been postponed to July 8, when the court will hear eyewitness testimony, and the defense will further examine confiscated material. Soltan is accused, alongside other detainees in the case, of involvement in a range of activities, including forming an operations room to direct the Muslim Brotherhood and defying the government during the Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in dispersal. [DNE, 6/24/2014]


Libyans vote for new legislature in test for transition
Libyans began voting today for the new House of Representatives, in an election that officials hope will ease the turmoil that has gripped the country since the 2011 revolution. Participation is widely expected to be lower than it was in 2012; around 1.5 million voters have registered, roughly half the 2.8 million registered in July 2012 for Libya’s first free election in over forty years. The security situation, however, may preclude many from voting. An official in the town of Derna said that no campaigning or publicity for the legislative elections had taken place and that teachers had refused to use their schools as polling stations. Meanwhile, Juma Ateega, a lawyer and former first deputy president of the General National Congress (GNC), warned that GNC members are constitutionally barred from running for office in the new legislature and there could be court cases to disbar those who are elected. [Reuters, AP, 6/25/2014]

Libya central bank proposes Islamic bonds to offset loss of oil revenues
Libya’s central bank is proposing issuing Islamic bonds to help fund the budget and offset a loss of oil revenues that could create a serious deficit this year, the bank’s spokesman said. The country is struggling with a budget crisis as a wave of protests at oil fields and ports has reduced production to less than 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), down from 1.4 million bpd in July 2013 when the strikes started. The General National Congress approved a $47 billion budget on Sunday, but a central bank official said Libya would risk a budget deficit of $25 billion if it were implemented. [Reuters, 6/25/2014]

British minister inaugurates new police training facilities
British Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan officiated the opening of newly refurbished facilities and accommodation in Tripoli to train Libyan police officers. Focused on national security, improving institutional capacity, and enhancing operational capacity, the UK’s Security, Justice and Defense program in Libya will run until the end of 2017. In addition, the UK has provided training in investigative techniques, alongside other specialist skills. Separately, the British Council is suspending its English language courses until it finds Libyans to replace expatriate teachers, a decision driven mainly by security considerations for foreign staff. [Libya Herald, 6/24/2014]

Turkey evacuates hundreds of citizens from Libya after threat from general
Turkey has been evacuating hundreds of its citizens from Libya after a threat from retired general Khalifa Haftar who has waged a campaign of fighting Islamists. Earlier this week, Haftar called on Turks and Qataris to leave Libya within two days, accusing both of their countries of supporting “terrorism.” A Turkish embassy official said the Turks had not felt safe anymore and that another 140 would be flown out from Labraq airport near Benghazi. The more than 400 who left Misrata on Tuesday were working for Turkish construction company Gama, which is building the new Khalij power station in Sirte. Their departure may result in further power cuts, particularly in the Tripoli area. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 6/24/2014]


Syrian al-Qaeda pledges allegiance to ISIS in Iraq border town
Syria’s al-Qaeda wing has pledged allegiance to rival group the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in a Syrian border town, strengthening ISIS’s control of both sides of the Syria-Iraq frontier. Fighters from Nusra Front, the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda, took an oath of loyalty to ISIS in the town of Albu Kamal, close to the Iraqi border. Twitter users posted a photo they said showed the Nusra Front leader of Albu Kamal, Abu Yusuf al-Masri, swearing loyalty to one of ISIS’s prominent fighters. “It is very important because Nusra is strong in Albu Kamal,” said the head of the prominent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters, AFP, 6/25/2014]

Germany charges citizen with ISIS membership; Morocco busts ISIS cell
Germany’s federal prosecutor has charged a twenty-year-old German citizen with joining the banned militant Islamist group ISIS during six months he spent in Syria last year and also with taking arms training and plotting attacks. On Wednesday, the Moroccan interior ministry said police in Fez have busted a “terrorist” cell recruiting and sending volunteers to fight and train alongside Islamists in Syria and Iraq, arresting six people. [Reuters, 6/24/2014]

Palestinian president says Assad’s reelection helps to end war
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said in a letter to Bashar Assad that his election as Syrian president will help to end the country’s three-year war, Damascus said on Wednesday. “Your election to the presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic guarantees Syria’s unity and sovereignty, and starts of a countdown to the end of Syria’s crisis and its war against terrorism,” Abbas wrote, according to the Syrian presidency’s Facebook page. In the letter dated June 18, Abbas said the election will help to “end the crisis, and [create] political dialogue between all sides of the Syrian people, and will allow the country to recuperate its privileged position.” [Naharnet, 6/25/2014]


Tunisia sets date for new elections
Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA) voted to set elections for October and November of this year, in approval of the plan drawn up by Tunisia’s Independent High Authority for Elections. The vote for the new parliament will take place on October 26 and the vote for a new president on November 23. If no candidate for president wins a majority, a runoff will be held on December 28. Tunisia has been engaged in a drawn-out transition with interim leaders and an elected assembly. With the new vote, the move to democracy will be considered complete. [AP, 6/25/2014]

Civil society groups form election watchdog
Twelve Tunisian civil society groups established the Civil Coalition for Elections on Monday. The coalition will monitor the electoral process and intends to prevent violations. “The aim of this coalition is to monitor all stages of the election process—registration, voting, campaigning—and to train observers for this purpose,” said Abdelsattar Ben Mousa, a member of the Tunisian League for Human Rights. “After the election we will write a report about whether or not it was free and fair. If any violations occur, we will report them to the Independent High Authority for Elections and the judiciary.” [Tunisia Live, 6/24/2014]

Foreign Direct Investment down 27.5 percent in 2013
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tunisia edged down 27.5 percent in 2013, in comparison with 2012, the World Investment Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) indicated. In addition, the report indicated that Tunisian industry has captured 51.9 percent of Tunisia’s FDI in 2013. Tunisia attracted seven percent of FDI in the MENA region, coming in third place after Morocco and Egypt. [TAP, L’Economiste Maghrébin, 6/24/2014]


Women rally against Houthi advancement in Yemen
Women and children rallied against the government for failing to contain Houthi rebel activity in Amran. In a memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Basendwah, protesters also demanded that the government address Yemen’s humanitarian concerns. Houthi rebels continue their activities in Bani Matar district. Sources say they are preparing to attack a military outpost located west of Sana’a. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/25/2014]

Yemen’s unemployed turn to the black market
Ali Salem writes in Al Monitor that given Yemen’s status as the poorest country in the Gulf region, the country’s youth are drawn into the black market trade. According to official statistics, there are about 7 million Yemeni people abroad, including permanent and temporary immigrants. They constitute more than twenty-eight percent of the total number of citizens and forty percent of the total workforce. There are also some 1,317,000 Yemeni immigrants in Saudi Arabia. [Al Monitor, 6/24/2014]

Yemen and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development sign $20 million deal
Yemen and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) signed off on a $20 million agreement at the 39th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Islamic Development Bank Group (IDB). The deal stipulated that the AFESD would provide funding for Ghaida Central Hospital in Yemen. [Saba, 6/25/2014]

Oil firm DNO suspends production in Yemen
Norwegian oil firm DNO has temporarily suspended production from Block 32 and Block 43. Production from the two blocks averaged 1,600 barrels of oil per day. Operations on these blocks have been restricted since last year because of blockades by local groups restricting movement of equipment and supplies. On June 22 local labor unions initiated unilateral actions that led to work stoppages at Block 32 and Block 43. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/24/2014]


Maliki calls for political unity, as ISIS gains more territory
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called Wednesday for political unity in the face of the insurgency, as he sought to gather up support for his government. His speech, delivered two days after he met with John Kerry, contrasted sharply with his previous speeches that were delivered earlier in the crisis, which have appealed to religious motivations and were targeted mainly toward Shias. His speech comes as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases and seized control of several small oilfields. The group claimed that it had secured control of Iraq’s western borders with Syria, allowing them to move heavy military equipment freely between the both countries. [Washington Post, 6/25/2014]

Bahrain opposition leader cleared of terrorism charges
A senior member of Bahrain’s Shia opposition said he was cleared of terrorism charges on Wednesday, a move that could help stalled talks with the government to try and end months of sporadic unrest. Khalil al-Marzouq from the al-Wefaq party was an opposition figure and activist that was detained since the majority Shia Muslims led mass protests against the Bahraini government in 2011. [Reuters, 6/25/2014]

Five men part of terrorist cell arrested in Lebanon
A Lebanese army intelligence unit has arrested five men suspected of planning to assassinate senior security officials in the north of Lebanon, the army said on Wednesday. These arrests come after two deadly bombings struck Lebanon in three days that mainly targeted military checkpoints. It said the five men were part of a terrorist cell in Qalamoun, near the Mediterranean city of Tripoli. The army is still trying to track down the remaining members of the terrorist cell. [Gulf News, 6/24/2014]

Lebanon’s Hezbollah ready to fight ISIS in Iraq
During a Hezbollah rally in Lebanon on Monday, Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said the Shia militia is ready to confront ISIS and its backers both abroad and at home. Hassan Nasrallah confirmed Hezbollah’s aspirations by announcing that they are “willing to sacrifice for Iraq five times as much as we sacrificed in Syria for the significantly more important holy places,” according to Lebanese media outlets. [Asharq al-Awsat, 6/25/2014]