Top News: Obama Requests $500m to Train ‘Appropriately Vetted’ Rebels

President Obama requested $500 million from Congress on Thursday to train and equip what the White House is calling “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition.


Egypt army allocates EGP1 billion for Sisi’s initiative
Egypt’s Defense Minister Sedky Sobhy said on Thursday that the army’s companies will allocate EGP1 billion ($140 million) to support the country’s ailing economy, as per an initiative launched this week by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. A statement by the army said that the donation from the army’s national service projects comes as a continuation to the armed forces’ commitment to the Egyptian people. The money will be placed in an account announced by Sisi under the name “Long Live Egypt,” which was his presidential campaign slogan. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, SIS, 6/26/2014]

Greste case overshadow persecution of Egypt’s own journalists, exile says
The imprisonment of Australian journalist Peter Greste has overshadowed Egypt’s active persecution of at least 100 of its own journalists, according to an exile who has fled to the United States. Yehia Ghanem, a journalist who edited the leading Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, said reporters in the country risked imprisonment and physical attack if they fell foul of an establishment heavily controlled by the military. He said the imprisonment of Greste and his Al-Jazeera colleagues is just the latest in a string of such convictions. Ghanem fled Egypt last year after being sentenced to two years in prison with hard labour for setting up a journalism training school with $900,000 of funding from the US state department. [The Guardian, 6/27/2014]

Deficit reduced in draft state budget
A high-level government official said Egypt’s budget deficit has been reduced for the second time in the new draft budget from EGP 288 billion ($40.2 billion) to EGP 240 billion ($33.5 billion). The official told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the cabinet, during its meeting on Wednesday, amended the draft budget, particularly with regard to energy subsidies and the rationalization of expenditure. Electricity prices will increase for top consumers, as well as the prices of petroleum products for energy-intensive industries, according to the official. Meanwhile, Shorouk reported that the budget will not reduce the allocation of fund for administrative bodies, and it will aim to reduce the budget by decreasing energy subsidies. [Egypt Independent, 6/26/2014]

Senate confirms new US ambassador to Egypt
The Senate has confirmed the new US ambassador, Robert Beecroft, to Egypt after lengthy delays. The president nominated the envoy in May, but his nomination was held up in a larger Senate logjam that has affected dozens of appointees. Beecroft’s nomination was confirmed by voice vote. Meanwhile, Egypt Independent reports that Minister of Scientific Research Sherif Hamad said on Thursday that the United States reactivated the funding of joint science and technology projects worth US$4 million after a hiatus of three years. [AP, 6/27/2014]


Libya to move new parliament to Benghazi despite collapse of security
Libya’s new parliament will hold sessions in Benghazi beginning August 1 in an effort to rebuild state authority in the marginalized eastern region, officials said on Thursday. On Wednesday, Libyans elected a new House of Representatives in an election marked by low turnout and violence, including the murder of a prominent human rights activist. Lawmakers intend to set up shop in a hotel in central Benghazi, but it is unclear how the government will ensure security. Meanwhile, the Higher National Election Commission announced election reruns in Sebha and Murzuk today where security concerns had prevented voters from casting their ballots. No solution has been reached regarding Derna, where more than a dozen polling stations did not even open. [Reuters, 6/26/2014]

Supreme Court delays Isolation Law decision
Supreme Court judges refused to deliver a verdict on the legality of the Political Isolation Law because of the presence of armed demonstrators, who were protesting any change in the law outside the court building, constituted a threat. They adjourned the session until after Ramadan but did not specify when it would reconvene. The controversial law was passed by the General National Congress in May 2013 after armed supporters of it pressured various ministries. The Libyan National Council for Human Rights and Civil Liberties launched an appeal on the basis that parts of the law infringe on the rights of many Libyans and contravened the August 2011 Constitutional Declaration. [Libya Herald, 6/26/2014]

Libyan oil output at 300,000 bpd after El-Feel ups production
Libya’s oil output has risen to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) after the El-Feel oilfield in the southwest increased production to 105,000 bpd, according to a spokesman for the National Oil Corporation (NOC). El Feel, operated by NOC and Italy’s ENI, resumed its work earlier this month after a protest there ended. In addition, the eastern Hariga oil port has reopened and is preparing to receive a tanker after a deal was reached with a different group of protesting security guards. [Reuters, 6/26/2014]

Disappearance of two Turkish workers in Tripoli adds to Turkey’s concern over security
Two Turkish workers are reportedly kidnapped in Tripoli, raising concerns that they may have fallen victim to supporters of retired general Khalifa Haftar whose spokesman recently ordered Turks in eastern Libya out of the country. Several hundred have since left. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has pledged to protect Turkish nationals and companies in Libya. In a meeting with Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Yakici, al-Thinni stressed that Libya “welcomes the Turkish people,” noting that Turkish companies had played a significant role during and since the 2011 revolution. Looking at ways to bolster their countries’ relations, al-Thinni and Yakici focused on military cooperation and Turkey’s commitment to rebuilding the Libyan army. [Libya Herald, 6/26/2014]


Obama requests $500m to train ‘appropriately vetted’ rebels
President Obama requested $500 million from Congress on Thursday to train and equip what the White House is calling “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition. (White House statement.) Military and State Department officials indicated that there were not yet any specific programs to arm and train the rebels that the money would fund, nor could administration officials specify which moderate Syrian opposition members they intended to train and support, or where they would be trained. [NYT, Reuters, 6/26/2014]

Opposition sacks rebel command over graft allegations
Syria’s opposition government sacked the military command of the rebel Free Syrian Army late Thursday over corruption allegations. A statement by the opposition government said its chief Ahmad Tohme “decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government’s financial and administration committee for investigation.” The decision came amid widespread reports of corruption within the ranks of the FSA. The government in exile said it was also sacking FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir and called on “revolutionary forces on the ground” to set up within a month a new defense council and to fully restructure the rebel army’s command. [AFP, 6/27/2014]

Syrian troops advance near Lebanon border
Syrian state media says that government forces have captured areas near the border with Lebanon, cutting supply lines for opposition fighters. Syrian troops are approaching the mountain resort of Zabadani, which has been under rebel control for two years. State TV says that troops in the Qalamoun region reached the edge of the Lebanese border town Tfail. [AP, 6/27/2014]


Initial difficulties in Tunisian voter registration process
Daily reports by the independent election observation NGO, Mourakiboun, have highlighted a number of problems with the voter registration process, including registration centers opening late, a lack of signage, and problems with the registration forms for voters based abroad. Mourakiboun is also concerned about the low turnout for voter registration so far. Many centers did not open the first day, some are still closed, and there are problems with the computer systems in some of the centers that are open. Other concerns include the inaccessibility of voting centers to the elderly or those with special needs, and the overall lack of awareness of voter registration and the importance of voting. [Tunisia Live, 6/26/2014]

Police assault highlights obstacles facing Tunisia’s journalists
Uniformed security officers assaulted a Shems FM reporter Monday in Sousse, according to a Tunis Center for Press Freedom (CTLP) press release. The reporter, Salah el Souissi, was filming a group of taxi drivers protesting in front of the state headquarters at the time. When Souissi began filming officers’ violent treatment of one of the demonstrators, they tried to take his mobile phone and wallet before throwing him to the ground and verbally abusing him, Shems FM reported. The ordeal stopped only after the police chief intervened. Thirty-one assaults on media sector employees, affecting ninety-four people, occurred in May alone, according to the CTLP. Such occurrences are on the rise in Tunisia, according to Fahem Boukaddous, a CTLP member. [Tunisia Live, 6/26/2014]

Tunisia to obtain fifth installment of IMF loan at the end of July
Minister of the Economy and Finance Hakim Ben Hammouda said he was optimistic that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will grant Tunisia the fifth installment of the Stand-By-Arrangement (2.7 billion dinars) estimated at nearly 220 million dollars at the end of July of this year. To be able to face major difficulties in the years 2015 and 2016, the Tunisian economy needs to achieve a growth rate ranging between six and seven percent, said Hammouda. [TAP, 6/26/2014]


Civilians form local council to protect Amran from Houthi rebels
Amran residents formed a civilian council aimed at protecting the city against Houthi rebel attacks. They expressed their duty to protect their families and their land. They voiced their refusal to sign a ceasefire agreement with the Houthis, unless Houthi rebels leave Amran. Citizens met with Amran’s governor to discuss their demands. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/26/2014]

Report reveals that half of Yemenis live below poverty line
The first national report for social protection in Yemen released on Thursday revealed that thirty-three percent Yemenis suffer from food insecurity, while half of Yemen’s population is living below the poverty line. The report also revealed that forty-four percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. The minister of social affairs and labor stated that the Social Security Fund only covers 1.5 million families, but it is not enough to reach the larger population. [Sahafa (Arabic), 6/27/2014]

Yemen seeks Netherlands support to lift EU air cargo ban
On Thursday, Yemen sought the Netherlands’ support to lift the European Union’s (EU) ban on air cargo shipments originating from Yemen. During their meeting, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Hamid al-Awadhi and Dutch ambassador to Yemen Jeroen Verheul also discussed areas of cooperation between Yemen and the Netherlands. [Saba, 6/26/2014]


Lebanon suicide bomb claimed by ISIS group
A Saudi suicide bomber killed in a raid by Lebanese security forces was part of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant group, according to a statement published on Friday. In the statement, the group also vowed to carry out more attacks against Hezbollah and its agents, saying Wednesday’s bombing was just the start. Wednesday’s attack was the third suicide bombing in Lebanon in less than a week. [Reuters, 6/26/2014]

Iraq’s top Shia cleric calls for new government to be formed by Tuesday
Iraq’s Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called on Friday for Iraq’s political blocs to agree on the next government’s prime minister, parliament speaker and president before parliament meets. The call comes amid an ongoing push by the Iraqi government to overtake the militant held city of Tikrit, in which commandos were flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after coming under fire from insurgents. On his part, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani said Friday there was no going back on autonomous Kurdish rule in oil city Kirkuk and other towns now defended against Sunni militants by Kurdish fighters. [Naharnet, 6/26/2014]

Saudi king orders steps against terrorist threats
King Abdullah ordered all necessary measures to protect Saudi Arabia against potential terrorist threats after chairing a security meeting to discuss the fallout from Iraq. The security meeting looked into the “developments and repercussions of [events in Iraq]” the Saudi Press Agency said.  In separate news, Kuwait’s ruler has told his people not to threaten stability by playing games with politics, pointing to turmoil in neighboring Iraq and elsewhere as examples of the dangers of political division. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 6/26/2014]