Top News: Obama Pledges More Military Aid to Reassure Gulf Allies on Iran Deal

A renewed joint commitment to build the regional defense system was one of the few firm outcomes of Thursday’s Camp David summit between President Barack Obama and Gulf allies seeking fresh US defense pledges ahead of a possible nuclear deal they fear will empower Iran. A US-supplied missile shield to protect Gulf nations against Iranian attacks will take years to complete, requiring a step-up in regional trust, more US sales of sensitive weapons, and intensive US training to avoid mishaps in the volatile region. A joint statement following the summit said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states were committed to developing a ballistic missile defense capability, including an early warning system, with U.S. technical help. Washington pledged to fast-track arms transfers to the GCC states and send a team to the region in the coming weeks to discuss the details. [ReutersNew York TimesGulf NewsAFP, 5/15/2015]



Hard to guarantee completely transparent election, says election committee member
Spokesperson for the High Elections Committee (HEC) Omar Marwan said on Wednesday that it’s “hard” for any elections supervision committee to guarantee completely transparent parliamentary elections. “I think it’s the voters’ role; they need to elect parliament members who could legislate new laws which guarantee better monitoring for the elections,” Marawan stated. However, he added that the current committee would be the last one formed by the government as the new 2014 constitution stipulates that parliament would choose the subsequent committees. He added that it was unclear when parliamentary elections would be held. [Cairo Post, 5/14/2015]

Judge, lawyers rule out death sentence against Morsi
A Cairo criminal court set to rule on Saturday in the espionage and jailbreak trials of deposed president Mohamed Morsi will likely hand out jail terms to some defendants and exonerate others, a judge has said, ruling out death sentences against the accused. Judge Moataz Khafagy, head of a Cairo criminal appeals court, said that the court is not expected to adjourn the cases either, as it has had months for deliberation. Khafagy as well as lawyers, including those of the defendants, said death sentences were not very likely since the bench had not referred the cases to the Grand Mufti, the country’s top religious authority who reviews all death penalty cases but whose rulings are not binding. [Ahram Online, 5/14/2015]

Ninety-four ‘middle-ranking’ Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested, says Interior Ministry
The ministry of interior announced in a statement Thursday it has arrested ninety-four “middle ranking” Muslim Brotherhood leaders. People were arrested from Cairo, Daqahleya, Beheira, and Fayoum, the ministry’s statement said. All are accused of belonging to a “terrorist” organization, violating public and private property, and planning attacks on the police and the military. The Muslim Brotherhood’s official website has yet to release a statement on the arrests. [DNE, 5/15/2015]

Egypt minister apologizes to Saudi national over restaurant ban
Egypt’s tourism minister has personally apologized to a Saudi national who was barred from entering a Cairo restaurant for wearing a traditional white robe, while the ministry has reportedly ordered the eatery be shut down. Minister Khaled Ramy received Hazzaa at his office on Thursday to offer a formal apology for what he said was an “unique” incident that did not reflect Egyptians’ attitude towards tourists and fellow Arabs, his office said. Earlier on Wednesday, Abdel Fattah al-Assy, the ministry’s undersecretary said on TV that the punishment for such behavior was closure of the venue where the violation had occurred and the cancellation of its license. Similarly, Assistant Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs and Egyptians Abroad Amr Moawad urged Egyptian expatriates to abide by Saudi law. They specifically called on Egyptians in Saudi Arabia not to allow passengers in their private cars, or vehicles of the companies they work for, to avoid being arrested. Saudi authorities underlined that transporting smugglers to the kingdom would not be tolerated, he added. [Ahram Online, 5/15/2015]

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Shelling in eastern Libya kills eight, including seven children
Random shelling of residential areas in Benghazi has killed eight people from one family, including seven children. No group has claimed responsibility, however, the shelling appears to be linked to Monday’s killing of nineteen-year-old Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) operative who returned from Syria where he had joined ISIS in 2013, according to an intelligence official. The fighting in Benghazi has pitted army units and fighters loyal to the Tobruk-based government on one side, against Islamic extremists, including militants from ISIS and Ansar al-Sharia. [AP, Reuters, 5/15/2015]

US delivers first batch of military equipment to Tunisia to boost security
The United States delivered fifty-two Humvee military vehicles and a patrol boat to Tunisia on Thursday to help it fight jihadists and tighten control over its coast. The vehicles’ aim is to improve force mobility of the Tunisian army. The patrol boat is the first of four to be delivered to improve Tunisia’s maritime security, joining a fleet of twenty-two other boats manufactured by the United States. Meanwhile, Tunisian security forces arrested four alleged Islamic terrorists near Bizerte through checkpoints and police roadblocks as officers were looking for jihadist cells in the area. The defense ministry also confirmed that Tunisian soldiers killed four suspected jihadists, all Algerian nationals, on Thursday as part of a sweeping military operation in Kasserine near the Algerian border. [Reuters, Tunisia Live, 5/14/2015]

Tunisian NGO reports on parliamentary members’ absenteeism
The NGO Al Bawsala has published a report tracking absenteeism among Tunisian parliamentarians. The report tracked attendance of members of parliament for the month of March 2015. It shows that only 133 deputies out of 217 attended every session and meeting. The overall attendance for members is around 73 percent over the course of forty-seven meetings on eight commissions. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 5/15/2015]

Algeria’s Bouteflika announces sweeping cabinet shakeup
Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Thursday named new energy, finance, and interior ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle, as the North African energy producer confronts a fall in oil prices and several high-profile corruption trials. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, a key Bouteflika political ally, kept his post, as did the deputy defense minister. New posts included finance minister, interior minister, transport minister, public works minister, culture, telecommunications, and higher education ministers. Algeria is facing a sharp drop in state revenues since world oil prices have fallen, forcing the government to streamline spending and discuss economic measures. Former Sonatrach executives and foreign companies have been implicated in long-running investigations in corruption that are coming to trial. [Reuters, 5/14/2015]


ISIS releases al-Baghdadi message
The leader of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) issued an audio statement on Thursday in which he called on supporters to join him or to take up arms wherever they live in the world. The audio message posted on militant websites features a voice that sounds like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, exhorting all Muslims to take up arms and fight on behalf of the group’s self-styled caliphate. “There is no excuse for any Muslim not to migrate to the Islamic State … Joining [its fight] is a duty on every Muslim. We are calling on you either join or carry weapons [to fight] wherever you are,” Baghdadi said. “Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting… No one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels,” he added. Baghdadi blasted Arab rulers, calling them “guard dogs” and saying the Yemen war will lead to the end of the Saudi royal family’s rule. [BBC, the Daily Star, Washington Post, 5/14/2015]

Syrian regime sends reinforcements as ISIS closes on Palmyra
Syria’s army dispatched reinforcements to Palmyra in a bid to push back jihadists who advanced Friday to within touching distance of the ancient city. “ISIS jihadists are now less than a mile from the archeological site of Palmyra… The regime sent reinforcements and the army is bombing the surroundings of Palmyra from the air,” head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman said. Since Tuesday, ISIS seized all regime checkpoints between Palmyra and the town of al-Sukhnah, which lies fifty miles away from Palmyra. On Thursday, militants from ISIS executed at least twenty-six civilians from villages near Palmyra, according to the Observatory. UNESCO chief Irina Bokova appealed to Syrian troops and militants to spare Palmyra archaeological site from destruction.[AFP, NY Times, 5/15/2015]

ISIS seizes Ramadi government headquarters in Anbar offensive
ISIS militants have seized the government headquarters of Ramadi Friday and raised their flag over the compound. The group issued a statement in which it said its fighters “broke into the Safavid government complex in the center of Ramadi.” The operation “resulted in the control of it after killing the murtadeen [apostates], then blowing up the adjacent buildings of Anbar’s governorate and the Safavid Anbar police HQ.” Safavid is a term used by ISIS in a derogatory way to refer to government forces. A senior tribal leader in charge of the coordination of local fighters with regular government forces also confirmed the government complex had fallen. Earlier in the day, ISIS militants used six car bombs to reach the center of Ramadi. [The Daily Star, AFP, BBC, Washington Post, 5/15/2015]

Iranian official criticizes Saudi, stresses support for Assad
Iran’s military and financial support to Syria’s regime is unlimited, an Iranian official said in Damascus Thursday, calling the US program to train Syrian rebels a strategic mistake. “We came to Syria to announce that our support for the Syrian regime is firm and eternal,” said Alaedin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy. Boroujerdi congratulated Syria’s army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on recent victories in the Qalamoun region. Boroujerdi also branded Saudi Arabia’s King Salman a traitor to Islam and equated the Gulf state’s military assault on Houthis in Yemen with Israeli actions against Palestinians. [Reuters, AFP, 5/14/2015]

Over 700 Britons have been to Syria
More than 700 potential terror suspects have traveled to Syria from the UK to fight or support extremists, and about half are believed to have returned. Mark Rowley, the national police lead for counterterrorism, said the suspects were “not aid workers or visiting relatives—they are people of real concern.” Rowley also said that a record 338 people were detained on suspicion of terrorism offenses since last year. He said more than half of those arrests were related to Syria. Eighty-nine people were convicted of terror-related offenses in that period. The figures also showed that increasing numbers of women and teenagers with troubled backgrounds were becoming drawn to extremism. “The make-up of terrorism has changed. Those statistics really illustrate that—you would not have seen that five or ten years ago. That mix of families, women, teenagers getting involved in terrorism is something that comes out,” Rowley said. [Reuters, AP, the Guardian, 5/15/2015]


Obama pledges more military aid to reassure Gulf allies on Iran deal
A renewed joint commitment to build the regional defense system was one of the few firm outcomes of Thursday’s Camp David summit between President Barack Obama and Gulf allies seeking fresh US defense pledges ahead of a possible nuclear deal they fear will empower Iran. A US-supplied missile shield to protect Gulf nations against Iranian attacks will take years to complete, requiring a step-up in regional trust, more US sales of sensitive weapons, and intensive US training to avoid mishaps in the volatile region. A joint statement following the summit said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states were committed to developing a ballistic missile defense capability, including an early warning system, with U.S. technical help. Washington pledged to fast-track arms transfers to the GCC states and send a team to the region in the coming weeks to discuss the details. [Reuters, New York Times, Gulf News, AFP, 5/15/2015]

Saudi warns rebels over Yemen truce breaches
The Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen warned a five-day truce “would not last long” in the face of alleged breaches, as the UN called for calm to allow badly needed aid to reach the country. The coalition accused Houthi rebels of violating the ceasefire for the second day in a row by carrying out military operations, including shelling Saudi troops in the border zone and targeting citizens’ homes, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Meanwhile an aviation official said operations at Sanaa airport, which was targeted in air raids, were returning to normal after a plane arrived from Jordan on Wednesday with 150 passengers on board. On Thursday, the government-in-exile announced the recall of the head of its embassy in Iran, accusing Tehran of “interference” in Yemen and “support for the Houthis”. Gulf-sponsored talks on Yemen, set to begin in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Sunday, will be followed by a second round of meetings to monitor the implementation of its outcomes. [AFP, 5/15/2015]

Al-Qaeda seen assuming policing role in eastern Yemen
A vigilante group linked to al-Qaeda in the eastern port city of Mukalla has decreed a ban on trading the mild narcotic leaf qat chewed as a cherished Yemeni pastime. A newly formed body of armed tribesmen and Sunni Muslim clerics assumed control over much of eastern Yemen’s oil-producing province of Hadramawt after army units abandoned it last month. The so-called “security directorate”, which officials say is made up of al-Qaeda members, in the province’s seaside capital Mukalla issued its qat ban on Wednesday and Yemeni social media users shared pictures of militants standing beside flaming bales of the crop in the city’s streets. [Reuters, 5/14/2015]

Iranians fire warning shots at ship in Gulf
Iranian Revolutionary Guards fired warning shots Thursday at a Singapore-flagged commercial ship in the Gulf that had collided recently with an Iranian oil rig, US officials said Thursday. After hearing a radio call for help, the United Arab Emirates dispatched coast guard vessels to aid the tanker and the Iranian boats then departed the area, US officials said. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels tried to intercept the Singapore-flagged ship, the Alpine Eternity, “in order to settle a legal dispute stemming from an incident on March 22, when the Alpine Eternity reportedly hit an Iranian-owned oil platform,” a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP. “Iran claims that the vessel is liable for damages to the oil platform,” the official said. The Pentagon acknowledged it was the third incident in a few weeks involving Iranian forces confronting commercial vessels in or near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. [AFP, 5/14/2015]

Appeals court upholds verdict against Bahrain activist
A Bahraini appeals court on Thursday upheld a verdict against prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab for insulting government ministries on Twitter, his lawyer said. The decision confirms a January verdict against Rajab, who was sentenced to six months in prison for insulting the ministries of defense and interior in tweets alleging that Bahrain’s security institutions were incubators for extremist ideology. Rajab will seek to have the charges in Thursday’s decision overturned by the court of cassation, the last court of appeal, lawyer Jalila al-Sayed said. [AP, 5/14/2015]


Abu Dhabi pivots to Asian partners in $22 billion oil push
Abu Dhabi, with 6 percent of global crude reserves, selected GS Energy Corporation of South Korea to join Japan’s Inpex Corporation as the second Asian partner in the Persian Gulf emirate’s biggest onshore oil concession. GS Energy secured a 3 percent stake for forty years in the venture, it said in a statement. Abu Dhabi is seeking new partners to replace some of the Western companies whose production agreement expired in 2014. France’s Total is so far the only legacy partner to have retained a share in the onshore areas. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is spending about $22 billion to increase capacity for onshore oil and gas production and exports. [Bloomberg, 5/14/2015]

Tunisia poorly ranked on World Economic Forum Index
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has issued its 2015 Human Capital Report. Tunisia is ranked 98th out of 124 countries with a score of 58.21 on the index. Structured around forty-two indicators, the index identifies the position of countries around the world in terms of the long-term economic potential of a country’s labor force. Tunisia underperformed in the 15-24 age group, where it is ranked 93rd. Its performance in the 25-54 age group was worse, where it ranked 107th. The report noted that Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia share similar strengths and weaknesses, with populations aged 15 to 24 marked by a high diversity of talent, high unemployment rates, and low enrollment in university and professional training programs. [African Manager, 5/15/2015]

Italy’s Eni says its Libyan oil production now exceeds pre-revolution levels
Eni, the state-owned Italian company, announced that its production in Libya now exceeds pre-revolution levels despite a multitude of challenges. The company says it is producing some 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), more than the 280,000 bpd during the Gaddafi regime. Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi has recently expressed his concern over deteriorating security conditions in the country, but said despite the problems operations were continuing as normal. The company has dealt with attacks on its oil pipelines and strikes by workers, however, Eni’s oil fields have remained largely unhurt by Islamic State attacks. Eni is one of the few foreign oil companies to remain in Libya and continue production in the face of these challenges. [Libya Herald, 5/14/2015]

Egypt stocks lose appeal as dollar squeeze curbs trading
Egypt’s dollar drought is driving a general decline in the country’s stock market as trading slumps. The EGX 30 Index slumped 2.6 percent on Thursday, extending the worst start to a year since the 2011 revolution as the average value of shares traded dwindled to a sixteen-month low. Equities have tumbled 17 percent since a seven-year high in February, as foreign investors struggle to repatriate their cash amid a dollar shortage that has prompted the reappearance of a black market on Cairo’s streets. [Bloomberg, 5/14/2015]