Top News: Obama Points to Yemen Campaign, Announces $5 billion Counterterrorism Fund

President Barack Obama highlighted the Yemen campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in his foreign-policy speech yesterday, pledging to train the Arab nation’s army to help it fight the militants. Obama said yesterday that he will set up a fund of as much as $5 billion to help US allies fight terrorism, and referred specifically to the “security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaeda.” [Bloomberg, 5/28/2014]



Egypt’s Sisi wins presidential election
Former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won a landslide victory in a presidential election on Thursday but a low turnout may have deprived him of the strong mandate he needs to fix the economy and face down an Islamist insurgency. Sisi won 93.3 percent of votes cast, judicial sources said, with most ballots counted after three days of voting. His only rival, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi, gained 3 percent while 3.7 percent of votes were declared void. A lower-than-expected turnout figure raised questions about the credibility of a man idolized by his supporters as a hero who can deliver stability. While all figures current reported are unofficial, Egypt’s Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) said that voter turnout exceeded 48 percent. The PEC will announce the official numbers on June 3-4 and Sisi is expected to be sworn into office on June 7 or 8. [Reuters, Ahram Online, AP, 5/29/2014]

Electoral observers comment on elections
Egypt’s electoral process were within the framework of law, Mario David, head of the EU’s Elections Observation Mission, announced in a televised press conference on Thursday. “The turnout was 46 percent and the elections took place in a democratic, free, and honest atmosphere,” David said these were the preliminary findings of the monitoring commission. He also said that extending the originally two-day election was legal and it did not influence the voting process. He added that the absence of the right to appeal the PEC’s decision was inconsistent with constitutional principles. The head of the African Union observing mission, Mohamed al-Amin Walid Jeej, said that the elections were in line with international standards. A representative from the Arab league announced that negatives surrounding the election “did not interfere in the electoral process.” The US-based Democracy International also released a report its preliminary findings on Egypt’s elections. The report was critical of the environment surrounding the elections saying the “continued suppression of political dissent and restrictions on fundamental freedoms have prevented free political participation and severely compromised the broader electoral environment.” Human Rights Watch, which was not among the electoral monitors, was also critical of atmosphere surrounding the elections. In a statement released Wednesday, HRW said the elections had been “stripped of any real meaning.” [Aswat Masriya, 5/29/2014]

Pro-Morsi coalition calls for “third revolutionary wave”
Amid the preliminary results of Egypt’s presidential poll announced on Thursday, a “third revolutionary wave” has been declared by the largest coalition supporting ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. In a press statement, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) requested the military to “step back” and allow the Egyptian people to rule the country. Sources insides the alliance said that detained members of the Muslim Brotherhood will begin a hunger strike protesting the results of recent elections. In related news, Brotherhood supporters marched on al-Haram street on Wednesday evening, disrupting traffic and chanting slogans against the armed forces and the police in expression of their rejection of the presidential elections. Security forces in Damanhour arrested fourteen people participating in an opposition demonstration against the armed forces and police. [Ahram Online, 5/28/2014]

Egypt’s petroleum ministry supplies more fuel to avoid blackouts
Egypt’s ministry of petroleum has announced providing 77 million cubic meters of natural gas to electricity stations, representing three percent more than usual daily consumption. Sherif Ismail, petroleum minister, said that the emergency unit in the ministry has been prepared to provide any station with fuel in case of shortages, to avoid blackouts during the presidential elections. The ministry also supplied 26,000 tons of mazot and 1,000 tons of diesel. [Ahram Online, 5/28/2014]


Standoff as Libyan premier refuses to yield to successor
Acting Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni vowed to stay in power and refused to hand over the reins to newly-elected Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg after questioning his legitimacy, as the confrontation among Libya’s rival factions escalates. Al-Thinni said he received conflicting orders from Libya’s divided legislature; the General National Congress (GNC) had voted to confirm Maiteg’s cabinet, but the GNC’s first deputy ordered al-Thinni to stay in office, and the justice ministry legal department ruled that Maiteg’s election was illegal. Maiteg is backed by independents and Islamists and was appointed after a chaotic and disputed vote. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 5/28/2014]

Libyan warplanes strike Islamist militias in Benghazi
Libyan warplanes bombed militia bases in Benghazi on Wednesday as part of renegade former general Khalifa Haftar’s campaign to purge the country of Islamist militants, witnesses and officials said. Two jets attacked a base belonging to the February 17 brigade, one of the Islamist-leaning armed groups operating in Benghazi, and an Ansar al-Sharia militant base in the west of the city. The strikes come just one day after Ansar al-Sharia vowed to fight back against Haftar and warned against foreign intervention. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/28/2014]

Prominent revolutionary leads race to head Tripoli central municipal council
A Tripoli revolutionary who formed one of the capital’s first revolutionary brigades is said to be leading the race to head central Tripoli’s newly elected municipal council. Almahdi al-Harati was selected to be mayor of central Tripoli by the others who were elected to form the municipal council. Preliminary results have been announced by the central committee for municipal council elections, although final results have not yet been released. Harati came to fame during the revolution and was the first individual to create a brigade of Tripoli fighters. During the war against the former regime, Harati was based in the Jebel Nafusa. He later travelled to Syria to take up the struggle against Bashar al-Assad. [Libya Herald, 5/28/2014]

Tebus and Awlad Suleiman exchange prisoners
In a bid to promote peace, security, and stability in Sebha, Tebus and members of the Awlad Suleiman tribe exchanged abductees earlier this week. The Awlad Suleiman released ten Tebus in exchange for six Awlad Suleiman tribe members. Misratan forces entered Sebha in late January after tribal and ethnic tensions escalated, destabilizing the surrounding region and allowing Qaddafi supporters to gain a foothold at a nearby airbase. In April, all factions involved in the conflict in Sebha accepted a reconciliation agreement, allowing the neutral Misratan forces to take control of the town’s military barracks and airport. [Libya Herald, 5/28/2014]


Obama pledges to increase aid to rebels, offers few details
President Barack Obama fought back against critics of his foreign policy on Wednesday by insisting US reliance on diplomacy over military intervention was working to resolve global crises, and pledged to ramp up support for Syria’s opposition. In the commencement address at the US Military Academy in West Point, Obama proposed a $5 billion “partnership fund” to help countries fight “violent extremism and terrorist ideology” on their soil. He said he will work with Congress to “ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators,” but he offered no specifics. The speech was followed by a background conference call led by an unnamed senior administration official that aimed to clarify aspects of the president’s speech. [Reuters, 5/28/2014]

Syria’s economy heads into ruin, says UN-sponsored report
Syria’s economy, rocked by four years of civil war, is shrinking fast as industrial and agricultural output falls, leaving almost two-thirds of the population in extreme poverty, according to a UN sponsored report released on Wednesday. The study, conducted by the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Policy Research, estimates a 40 percent contraction in GDP since the start the conflict in 2011. Almost half of Syria’s five million labor force is unemployed. “The tempo of contraction in the economy has accelerated now,” said principal researcher Zaki Mehchy. Losses were estimated at $143.8 billion, a figure the report said was based on estimated damage to residential and state buildings. Experts said it was too early to ascertain more accurately as the heaviest hit areas are still combat zones. [Reuters, 5/28/2014]

Ban Ki-Moon acknowledges Syria will miss deadline on chemical weapons
The United Nations secretary general has for the first time acknowledged that the eradication of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile will not be completed by June 30, the deadline imposed by a diplomatic agreement last September in which President Bashar al-Assad renounced the weapons and avoided a threatened American military strike. In a May 23 letter to the Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that roughly 8 percent of the stockpile remained in Syria, awaiting shipment for destruction abroad. Ban also said that one of Syria’s twelve storage facilities had yet to be closed, and that only five of eighteen production facilities had been closed. [NYT, AFP, 5/28/2014]

US citizen accused in Idlib suicide bombing
A United States citizen working in Syria with jihadist group Nusra Front conducted a suicide bombing there Sunday, in what is believed to be the first time an American has been involved in such an attack. US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because intelligence matters were involved, declined on Wednesday to identify the American or provide any information about him. Syrian activists and jihadist social media sites reported that the American went by the name Abu Huraira al-Amriki and carried out the suicide truck bombing in the northern province of Idlib. [NYT, 5/29/2014]


Date of elections must be set before June 23
President of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jafaar underlined the need to set the date of the elections before June 23, the day that voter registration, organized by the Independent Higher Authority for the Election (ISIE), is set to begin. The ISIE cannot set a date for elections, however, until a decision as to whether presidential and parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously or separately is made. [All Africa, 5/28/2014]

Algerian terrorists involved in the attack on Ben Jeddou’s house
Algerian terrorists were among the armed group that attacked the home of Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou in Kasserine. According to initial investigations, the group of assailants, made up of fifteen masked and armed individuals, is the same that killed eight Tunisian soldiers last July and laid mines on Mount Chaambi. This terrorist cell is affiliated to the Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade, which is tied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). [TAP, 5/28/2014]

Jomaa visits main courts in Tunis
On Wednesday interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa visited the main courts in Tunis where he observed the operation of judicial institutions and working conditions of judges, lawyers, and court clerks. Jomaa also used the visit as an opportunity to learn about the concerns of judges and their needs in terms of judicial reform, training, logistic resources, and the quality of services rendered to litigants. Jomaa reiterated the government’s full support for the independence of the judiciary, stressing the role of judges in the fight against terrorism, particularly in light of the creation of a center specializing in counterterrorism and the fight against organized crime. [All Africa, 5/28/2014]


Hadi warns Houthis over Amran conflict
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi commented on the recent clashes in Amran province between Houthi militants and the central security forces saying the security of Amran is “an essential part of the security of the capital,” and that there was no excuse for the continuing of violence. He called upon the Houthis not to hold onto past conflicts and to “open a new page” in light of Yemen’s new reality. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/29/2014]

Parliament extends debate over no-confidence vote
Supporters of the decision to issue a no-confidence vote for the current unity government failed to convince the heads of political blocs to join the motion. However, all parties agreed that rather than setting aside the move, they will continue to debate it during upcoming sessions. Skeptics of the no-confidence vote say that they are either unsure that it is a productive move or that there are no alternative solutions to the current political paralysis. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/28/2014]

Renewed fighting in al-Dali’
Two soldiers and a civilian were killed on Tuesday in a bomb blast targeting a security patrol in Sanah district of al-Dali’ province. The explosion came hours after clashes broke out between the Thirty-Third Armored Brigade and gunmen, which left seven civilians injured, according to local sources. The clashes in al-Dali’ have shattered a truce signed early February between the military and the gunmen through a presidential mediation committee. [The Yemen Times, 5/29/2014]


KRG foreign minister contemplates “divorce” from Baghdad
Foreign Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Falah Mustafa suggested that the KRG’s “divorce” from Iraq may be the only way to solve the ongoing political stalemate. Baghdad and Erbil have been at loggerheads as over the KRG’s recent export of oil to Turkey–excluding Baghdad from the revenue. However, Mustafa said the main grievance of the KRG is Baghdad’s failure to pay the salaries of the KRG’s peshmerga security forces in recent months, in spite of the peshmerga as being responsible for the KRG’s relative security. [Rudaw, 5/29/2014]

HRW slams Bahrain courts as “system of injustice”
A new Human Rights Watch report criticizes the judiciary of Bahrain as failing to reform and implement changes recommended by the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, despite the government’s acceptance of its recommendations–namely the biased verdicts exhibit prejudice against civilians and preference for security forces. The report, based on written verdicts and other court documents, reveals the stark contrast between prosecutions of serious human rights violations by security personnel on the one hand and prosecutions for “crimes” based on speech and peaceful assembly-related activities on the other. [HRW, 5/28/2014]

Iraq PM calls for “jihad” against Anbar jihadists
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for “jihad” against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq’s restive western Anbar province on Wednesday, pledging to crush the Islamist insurgency before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that is set to be begin in late June. Maliki also called for a “national dialogue” on Anbar. In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Faris Ibrahim, a member of the Anbar Salvation Council, dismissed Maliki’s calls for a national dialogue. “What Anbar and its people want is to be liberated from ISIS and its followers.” The Anbar leader accused Maliki’s government of lacking the will to crack down on ISIS in the province, adding that Baghdad has made a number of bad decisions that have lost it the trust and goodwill of the local tribes. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/29/2014]