Top News: Low-Level Conflict Afflicts Bahrain on Third Uprising Anniversary

Three years after the eruption of a popular uprising in Bahrain that security forces subdued but have failed to stamp out, the ruling family has launched a new dialogue with the opposition but a breakthrough to end the turmoil remains elusive. Young men staged small rallies around the capital Manama in the run-up to Friday’s anniversary, blocking roads with metal bars, garbage containers and cinder blocks to keep security force out of Shia villages, witnesses said. Police deployed extra forces and closed some roads leading out of some villages around Manama, and they braced for marches expected on Friday by a group called February 14 and on Saturday by the main opposition al-Wefaq movement. Concern is rising that young Shia will resort more and more to violent militancy if mainstream opposition leaders fail to advance a political settlement. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa today delivered a keynote speech marking the thirtieth anniversary of the National Action Charter, “as it reminds us [Bahrainis] of our consensus on the national principles and interest which are our ultimate goals, and represents our agreement on our loyalty to our homeland, and our devotion to its defense.” [ReutersAl JazeeraBNA (King’s statement), 2/14/2014]


Prosecution refers 170 Brotherhood supporters to criminal court
The South Assiut Prosecution has referred 170 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Assiut to a criminal court on charges of damaging and torching a prosecutor’s office, a court, a police station, and a registration office. Among those referred to the court are head of the Brotherhood’s administrative office, Galal Abdel Sadek, and a number of the Brotherhood and al-Gamaa al-Islamiya and leading figures, judicial sources told Aswat Masriya on Thursday. The prosecution also charged the arrestees with smashing and setting ten police vehicles on fire and damaging two police checkpoints as well as the city council. [Aswat Masriya, 2/14/2014]

University guards to be trained by ministry of interior to secure campuses
The Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) plans to initiate a “cooperation protocol” with the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to guarantee the “stability of the educational process in the upcoming semester,” the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported on Thursday. Under the protocol, civilian administrative university guards would be trained by the MOI to ensure the stability and security of campuses with minimal intervention from state security forces. The council reportedly decided to launch the cooperation after agreeing in its Thursday meeting that police forces should be kept off campuses. They should only be allowed into universities if the campus was attacked by “outside assailants” at the request of the university’s presidents or their deputies, the council agreed. [Mada Masr, 2/13/2014]

Economic plan to be subject of public dialogue
The Ministry of Planning intends to submit a national economic plan for public dialogue as soon as it is completed, according to Minister Ashraf al-Araby. The plan is to be implemented over three years starting in April. Araby explained that the new plan encompasses seven areas in Sinai, Upper Egypt, Wadi Gedid, and the northern coast. [Cairo Post, 2/13/2014]

US criticizes comments on Sisi; Egypt and Russia near $3 billion arms deal
US Department of State Deputy Spokesman Marie Harf in a statement Thursday criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement endorsing Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for presidency. “We don’t endorse a candidate and I do not think it is, quite frankly, up to the United States or to Mr. Putin to decide who should govern Egypt,” Harf said during a daily press briefing. She added that the United States has urged the government to continue to advance an inclusive transition that includes all groups and all parties. She found it ironic that a foreign country issued a statement saying that other foreign countries should not get involved. In his first trip outside the country since ousting former president Mohamed Morsi, Sisi met with his Russian counterparts in Moscow to discuss a planned $2 billion arms deal. A report issued Friday states that Russia and Egypt are nearing a $3 billion arms purchase agreement that will be financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The two sides have already either “initialled or signed” contracts for Egypt’s purchase of Mig-29 fighters, air and coastal defence systems, Mi-35 attack helicopters and smaller arms, the Vedomosti daily quoted two Russian government sources as saying. The Egyptian ambassador to Moscow has described Sisi’s reception in Moscow as very festive. [DNE, AFP/Ahram Online, 2/14/2014]


Libyan PM says government safe after army statement
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said on Friday that the government was safe and security was under control after a senior army official called for the suspension of the General National Congress (GNC) and for the armed forces to “rescue” the country. General Khalifa Hafter, who is nominally in charge of land forces but does not possess any real military power, announced a coup d’etat on television, announcing, in the name of what he called the Libyan Republican Alliance, that he had suspended the GNC, the government, and the Constitutional Declaration, and that his forces were in Tripoli. He later said that it was not a coup d’etat as such but “a correction to the path of the revolution.” Zidan rejected this, saying Khalifa Haftar has no authority and that legal proceedings under military law would be taken against Haftar for his statement. Tripoli was calm, and there were no signs of any extraordinary troop movements or activity outside the parliament, the prime minister’s office, or any ministries. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 2/14/2014]

Oil production down to 450,000 barrels per day after pipeline sabotage
Oil production has plummeted to 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), a significant decline from 600,000 bpd reported two days ago, after further pipeline sabotage. The decrease was due to the partial closure of a pipeline carrying oil from the Sharara field, according to the National Oil Corporation, which said that the line had been tampered with near Reyayana in the Jebel Nafusa area but declined to give further details. The rise to 600,000 bpd had been attributed to the reopening of the pipeline from Sharara after an armed group turned down the valve using similar tactics. It is thought that the same group could be responsible for the current, partial closure. [Libya Herald, 2/13/2014]

Journalists targeted in Tripoli
After a spate of kidnappings of journalists and attacks targeting media outlets, the journalism community in Libya says freedom of expression has come under fire because some of the news they report is not in the perpetrators’ favor. LANA state news agency released a statement condemning the kidnapping of its reporter Younes Ali Younes, calling it “incompatible with international conventions and international laws.” The statement asserted that “such criminal acts will not deter us from continuing our national and professional duties” and called on the interior ministry to find the kidnappers. [Magharebia, 2/13/2014]

Omar Hameidan did not speak for GNC, says Zidan
Responding to media questions about a statement by General National Congress (GNC) official spokesperson Omar Hameidan that the GNC had come to an agreement on replacing him, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that he did not accept that Hamaidan was speaking for the GNC and publicly rebuked him, saying that he had spoken to him personally regarding the comment. Zidan admitted that there were members of the GNC who wanted to replace the government, just as there were members who supported it. The comments come amid a concerted attempt over the last two months by Zidan’s opponents to remove his government. [Libya Herald, 2/13/2014]


Brahimi on peace talks: Failure is staring us in the face
The second round of the Geneva II peace talks were scheduled to end Friday, but with few signs of progress, the process is in danger of collapse. Leaders have begun looking to the United States and Russia for help. As they did during the debut round of talks in January, the Syrian foes have spent this week wrangling over what should come top of the agenda, blocking all negotiation. The opposition insists peace talks must center on Syria’s political transition from one-party rule under President Bashar Assad. But government negotiators have refused to discuss a plan by the opposition to craft a transition body to halt violence and pave the way for elections. The parties did not meet Thursday, and were expected to have separate meetings with Brahimi Friday. Russian and US diplomats promised to help unblock the deadlocked peace talks, but blamed each other on Friday for the failure of Syrian peace talks to take off. An opposition spokesman said negotiations have reached a “dead end” but may continue for at least another day. Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said it will not place conditions on the third round of peace talks. [AFP/NOW, Naharnet, AP/Daily Star, Reuters, 2/14/2014]

Syrian Army Offensive Sparks New Refugee Exodus to Lebanon
The UN’s human rights office Friday raised the alarm over a looming Syrian government offensive on the opposition-held town of Yabroud, saying it feared civilians would bear the brunt. The Syrian army offensive in the Qalamun mountains between Damascus and the Lebanese border has sparked an exodus of more than 2,700 refugees, the UN refugee agency said on Friday. The new exodus adds to nearly one million Syrians who have already sought refuge in Lebanon from the three-year conflict in their homeland, according to UN figures. “The new arrivals are coming from the towns of Sahel, Jreijeer, Flita and Yabrud in Qalamun region, where military operations are reported to have escalated in the last two days,” the UNHCR tweeted. [Naharnet, 2/14/2014]

UN sets up air bridge for aid to Syria city
The UN refugee agency said Thursday it has set up an air bridge to deliver 800 tons of aid to the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria. Tarek Kurdi, the UNHCR head in Syria, told AFP at Damascus airport that more than 240 tons has already been sent by air from the capital since February 6. Nine flights have gone out as part of the aid operation, which is aimed at circumventing the dangers of overland travel. More flights are planned to deliver the rest of the aid, which mostly consists of medicine, clothing and blankets to be handed out within days with the help of the Syrian Red Crescent and other local organizations. The $3.5 million worth of assistance was raised by the UNHCR for 260,000 people who have sought refuge in Qamishli and been registered with the agency as internally displaced. Kurdi said the aid was only enough for 50,000 people and that further consignments would be needed. [AFP/NOW, 2/13/2014]

Russia in talks on Syria aid draft, UN aid chief urges action
UN aid chief Valerie Amos urged the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to act to increase humanitarian access in Syria as the United States, France and Britain tried to find common ground with Russia and China on a draft resolution on the situation. “We need action and implementation on the ground, so if a resolution is going to enable that it would be helpful. But a resolution that does not actually lead to a change on the ground … takes us no further,” Amos told reporters. Syria’s government is doing its best to improve humanitarian aid access, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said on Friday, a day after UN aid chief Valerie Amos urged the Security Council to act to improve access. “While we have done our best and will continue to do our best, I think some of her statements were absolutely unacceptable,” Mekdad told a news conference in Geneva. [Reuters, Daily Star, 2/14/2014]


European parliament to grant 300 million euro loan to Tunisia
The European parliament has decided to grant a 300 million euro loan to Tunisia to undertake economic and structural reforms. The decision was taken during a meeting held yesterday between a delegation of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) visiting the Belgian capital and the delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries in the European parliament. [TAP, 2/13/2014]

Tunisia’s finance minister encourages World Bank to consider another form of support
During a meeting with Simon Grey, director of operations for the Maghreb and MENA at the World Bank, Tunisia’s Minister of Finance and Economy Hakim Ben Hammouda invited the World Bank to collaborate with the ministry to come up with a new form of support for the country, in cooperation with other donors. Mr. Grey reaffirmed the commitment of the international institution to support Tunisia, saying that the World Bank is determined to finalize the last phase of Tunisia’s program and begin negotiations for the next program. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 2/13/2014]

Proposals to revise the transitional justice law are welcomed
Abdelaziz Kotti, a member of the Nidaa Tounes political party, stated on a radio program on Friday that the transitional justice law had been put in place with delay. In response to the statements by Amor Safraoui, president of the Independent National Coordination for Transitional Justice, Kotti explained that deputies of the National Constituent Assembly will be open to proposals to examine the different provisions of the transition law. [Mosaique FM (French), 2/14/2014]

Tunisia police rape trial resumes
The trial of two Tunisian policemen on charges of raping a young woman in 2012 resumed behind closed doors yesterday, after repeated delays described by the victim as an “ordeal.” The victim, known by the pseudonym Meriem Ben Mohamed, told AFP she feared that the hearing, in which the policemen are to be questioned and the arguments for the defense submitted, would once again be delayed, as has happened several times since October. In all, three police officers are on trial, two of them—Chawki Ben Ammar and Walid Feriani—on rape charges and a third on charges of extortion. [The Daily Star, 2/13/2014]


Government reshuffle will include Southern leaders, Houthis
Sources close to ruling parties revealed to UAE’s al-Bayan that there will soon be a reshuffling of Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindawa’s cabinet. The new cabinet will reportedly include representatives from the South as well as the Houthis. There is no word yet which ministries will be offered, but there will be five portfolios in total on the table. [Aden Post, 2/14/2014]

Attack on Sana’a prison leaves eleven dead; twenty-nine prisoners escaped
The central prison in Sana’a was the target of an attack yesterday evening by a “terrorist group,” according to the interior ministry, though no group has claimed responsibility. The attack came in three waves, beginning with a car bomb which was followed by armed gunmen storming the prison and others taking position on nearby rooftops. Authorities suspect that the attackers had assistance from someone inside the prison. Eleven people were killed, including seven guards. Twenty-nine prisoners escaped in the assault, including nineteen affiliated with al-Qaeda. [Reuters, AP, 2/13/2014]

Turkey to support human rights programs in Yemen
Turkey will support several human rights programs in Yemen, Turkish ambassador in Sanaa Fazli Corman said yesterday. The programs will be aimed at promoting transitional justice, human rights, and civil society. Corman lauded recent political developments but said the country would face more political and security challenges as it continues the transition to democracy. [Turkish Press, 2/13/2014]


Iraq turns to Sunni tribes, but distrust remains
Iraqi officials have begun recruiting thousands of Sunni fighters on the government payroll, supplying weapons to other volunteer tribal fighters and pledging millions of dollars in aid to restive Anbar province as they try to beat back extremist Sunni jihadi militants. But the push to expel the jihadis—members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, until recently al-Qaida’s powerful affiliate in Iraq—is complicated by divisions among the tribes that form the social fabric of the besieged city of Fallujah and other parts of Anbar, raising questions over whether the government needs to make a bigger investment to win over Sunni skeptics. [AP, 2/14/2014]

Image: 2011 protests in Manama, Bahrain. (Photo: Ryan Bayona/Flickr)