In its response to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia fully-accepted 145 recommendations out of 225 and partially accepted thirty-six others. Notable recommendations that were accepted pertained to prohibiting the use of torture as well as codifying a legal code to replace the current system. Amnesty International has criticized Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of the UPR recommendations saying that, “Although Saudi Arabia fully accepted a majority of the recommendations made to it during the review of its human rights record, it rejected crucial recommendations to ratify core international treaties including those that would safeguard the rights of women and grant victims access to justice.” [Al-Jazeera, 3/20/2014]


Political parties call on Mansour to allow appeals in presidential elections
Five Egyptian political parties have sent interim President Adly Mansour a letter asking him to amend a controversial law which elevates the results of the country’s upcoming presidential elections above judicial appeal. The letter’s five signatories—the leftist Egyptian Popular Current, the liberal Constitution Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Nasserist Al-Karama Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party—asked Mansour to amend article 7 of an elections law he issued earlier this month so that presidential candidates will be allowed to appeal the results of the polls. Meanwhile, military spokesperson Ahmed Ali said on Wednesday that individuals in Gharbiya and Beni Suef governorates have been illegally collecting financial donations to back Sisi’s presidential campaign, which has not officially commenced.  [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 3/20/2014]

Security concerns delay opening door to presidential hopefuls
Ali Awad, advisor to the interim president for constitutional affairs, said that the delay in opening the door for presidential hopefuls to submit their application was due to a particular security concern at the headquarters of the High Elections Commission which prevented its members from convening. Awad declined to specify or the expand on the security situation. [Egypt Independent, 3/20/2014]

NASL slams Raba’a report; Mansour calls for investigation into police violations
The Muslim Brotherhood-led National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) announced on Wednesday that it had documented 1,182 deaths in last August’s violent dispersal of the Raba’a al-Adaweya protest camp in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. The NASL statement comes in response to a previous estimate announced by the state-run National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on Monday, which said that 632 people had been killed during the dispersal, including eight police officers, with 1,492 injured. Ikhwanweb, the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English online site, described the NCHR report as “full of lies.” Meanwhile, interim President Adly Mansour has sent the NCHR report to the minister of justice, asking him to investigate police violations during the forcible sit-in dispersal. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, 3/20/2014]

Debt casts deepening shadow over Egypt’s economic recovery
Investors are celebrating; stocks have rocketed to levels last seen before the 2011 revolution while the yield on Egypt’s $1 billion sovereign bond due in 2020 hit 5.33 percent this week. But Egypt’s state finances are still getting worse and will continue deteriorating into the second half of the decade, at the very least. In that time, the ratio of public debt to GDP may rise above 100 percent, a level viewed as potentially dangerous by many economists. [Reuters, 3/20/2014]


Libya asks world for help after wave of violence
Libya has called on the United Nations and international community to help fight what it called a war on terrorism. The appeal came after a wave of bombings and assassinations in the eastern city of Benghazi and clashes between pro-government forces and a rebel militia controlling major oil ports in Sirte in central Libya. “Terrorist groups” had declared war on Benghazi, Sirte and other cities, and the “interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism,” the government said in a statement posted on its website. It did not say what kind of help it expected. According to an anonymous senior US Army official, a small team of soldiers will go into Libya in the coming weeks to begin preparations for a larger US mission to train Libyan troops in Bulgaria. Meanwhile, Japan has pledged $5.2 million for post-conflict weapons and ammunitions clearance operations in Libya. [Reuters, 3/20/2014]

United Nations imposes sanctions on vessels involved in illegal oil exports
The UN Security Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution condemning attempts to illicitly export oil from Libya and imposing sanctions on any vessels that try to do so. The move comes after the Morning Glory tanker successfully loaded a shipment of crude oil from Sidra oil export terminal, which has been under the control of a group of federalists operating under Ibrahim Jadhran since August last year. Libyan authorities have been asked to inform the Security Council committee, which already oversees the arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze imposed by resolution 1970, of any vessels suspected of involvement in illegal oil exports. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the UN’s support for Libya’s political process in a telephone call this week to General National Congress President Nuri Abu Sahmain. [Libya Herald, 3/19/2014]

Thinni holds first cabinet meeting in Ghat
Acting Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni held his first cabinet meeting in the deep southwest town of Ghat. Discussions focused on service provision in the area, including local health service, job creation, housing, and the condition of roads. Following their deliberations, ministers met with local officials, tribal figures, and local elders. The move may help to reassure Libyans living far from the capital who have complained that the post-revolution governments remain Tripoli-centric. [Libya Herald, 3/19/2014]

Sebha camp handover claimed and disputed
The Misrata-led Central Libya Shield forces says that it and Brigade No. 166, also from Misrata, now control Sebha’s historic castle and the nearby Qatiba Faris camp, previously in the hands of Brigade No. 6. The latter brigade, until last month the main national army unit in the town, is largely made up of members of the Awlad Sulaiman tribe. Sebha was engulfed in deadly communal clashes between the Awlad Suleiman and members of the Tebu community in January in which over a hundred people were killed. “We officially took charge of the 6th brigade camp yesterday after its members agreed to withdraw” the spokesperson of the Shield forces said. Disputing the handover claim, a Tebu source in Sebha claimed that not all the camp had been vacated. [Libya Herald, 3/19/2014]


Syrian army takes Krak des Chevaliers in Homs; sixty rebels and villagers killed
The Syrian army took over the historic citadel known as Krak des Chevaliers in Homs Thursday following fierce battles with rebels. Syrian troops killed eleven rebels and as many as fifty villagers as they fled the village of al-Hosn for the nearby Lebanese border. According to monitors on the ground, fierce fighting continues inside al-Hosn. [The Daily Star, AFP, 3/20/2014]

German prosecutors probe firms for Syria chemical weapons links
The German government has asked federal prosecutors to examine whether German firms broke the law by exporting equipment to Syria during the 1980s and early 1990s that may have helped the country to develop chemical weapons. An economy ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had provided a list of firms to Germany based on information supplied to it by Syria. German media reported on Wednesday that German firms had made more than fifty deliveries of monitoring and control systems, pumps, ventilators, gas detectors, and sulphuric acid that could be used to produce sarin. German project sketches for the construction of two plants capable of producing materials used in sarin production stemming from 1983 and 1984 were also found, according to the paper. Russia, France, and China are also said to have been involved in providing goods to Syria, the report said. [Reuters, 3/19/2014]

FSA seize Deraa jail after two-month siege
Rebel groups in Deraa scored a morale boost Wednesday when they seized the province’s central prison and freed political prisoners held by the regime. The attack was also notable for being entirely the work of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), without the usual participation by Islamist militias. The prison had been under a rebel blockade for fifty-five days. The rebels stepped up their assaults on the complex in recent days and launched the decisive attack in the early hours of Wednesday. An activist told reporters that the storming of the prison represented a “victory–not a big victory–but important for morale.” He said the facility contained 294 prisoners and detainees, but added, “we expected that many, many more people would have been inside” the multi-story buildings in the complex. “Unfortunately, we were also expecting to free female detainees, but it appears that all of them had been transferred out.” [The Daily Star, NYT, 3/20/2014]

Jordan intercepts drugs, arms haul from Syria
Jordanian border guards have intercepted two vehicles crossing from Syria loaded with arms and thousands of Captagon tablets, an amphetamine widely used by Syrian rebels, the army announced Thursday. The Petra news agency quoted an army official as saying one of the vehicles and its cargo was destroyed when it was fired on by border guards during the operation late on Wednesday. The other was found to be carrying 209 weapons, which the report did not identify, and 10,000 capsules of Captagon. Rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime reportedly widely use Captagon to help them cope with the rigors of battle, while sales of the drug reportedly generate millions of dollars for weapons purchases. Jordanian authorities announced at the beginning of the year that trafficking of arms between Jordan and Syria was up by 300 percent despite hundreds of smuggling attempts being foiled by the authorities. [AFP, 3/20/2014]


Tunisia confronts budget crisis
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jomaa returned from a four day trip to five Gulf countries, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar. The trip was intended to assure these countries that it is safe to invest in Tunisia. The EU promised a 250 million euro loan and the World Bank plans to give a five hundred million dollar loan. However, Tunisia needs funding now more than ever. The deficit in 2014 is expected to be around 3.56 billion dollars. Jomaa’s government has put forward a number of strategies to deal with the budget crisis including public underwriting and altering the subsidy fund. In addition, unemployment remains a significant challenge for the country. [Maghrebia, 3/19/2014]

Controversy over pictures released by the interior ministry
At a news conference on Monday, the interior ministry presented photos of what they claim are young men in a “terrorist cell” in the Monastir region who are training to fight in Syria. According to a ministry spokesman, the photos are not false and that the recent arrest of eleven suspected terrorists was linked to this camp. However, there have been claims that some of the photos actually show a boy scouts camp. The same photos appear on the Facebook page of a young Tunisian, are tagged as “Scouts of Menzel Nour”, and date back to 2011. A spokesman for the Tunisian scouts said that one of the photos shown by the ministry was taken in 2010. [Al Arabiya, 3/20/2014]

African development bank maintains $2.1 billion in support for Tunisia
In a statement on Wednesday, the African Development Bank said it would maintain programs in Tunisia worth over 2.1 billion dollars over the course of the next two years. According to the statement, “the strategy was designed to create the conditions for accelerated growth and job creation to ensure regional balance and inclusive development.” The funding will target infrastructure projects in order to improve the investment climate as well as governance to increase transparency. [Tunisia Live, 3/20/2014]


Islah offices in Hodeidah raided by unknown gunman
The executive offices of the Islah party in Hodeidah province were raided by unknown militants. Two guards at the office were abducted, though the presumed target, Secretary General Sheikh Hadi al-Heej, was not at the office. Local sources alleged that the raid was carried out by soldiers under direct orders from the deputy governor of Hodeidah. [Al-Mashhad Al-Yemeni (Arabic), 3/20/2014]

Rumors circulate that attorney general issues arrest warrant for Saleh
Following protests in front of his office Wednesday, reports began circulating that the attorney general had issued a warrant Thursday for the arrest of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and twelve other members of the former regime in connection with the 2011 “Day of Dignity” massacre. Though the report spread quickly through Yemeni publications, subsequent reports claim that while the attorney general has launched a new investigation into the massacre, no warrants have been issued. Protesters yesterday demanded that Saleh and his colleagues be tried for said crimes and furthermore called for the attorney general’s resignation for his failure to do so. [Sawha Net (Arabic), 3/20/2014]

Tribal intermediaries make contact with Korkie kidnappers
Abyan tribal mediators have made contact with al-Qaeda-linked militants currently holding South African hostage Pierre Korkie. A South African NGO helping to secure his release called on tribal assistance in February after kidnappers cut off contact with the group. The kidnappers refuse to speak directly to the foundation unless it hands over Anas Al-Hamati, the NGO’s representative in Yemen. They accuse Hamati of having stolen the ransom money they believe the South African government paid when it sent its deputy minister of foreign affairs, Ibrahim Ibrahim, to Yemen late January. Tribal mediators indicate that the militants are still seeking ransom money. [Yemen Times, 3/20/2014]

Sixty percent of Yemenis need assistance to meet basic needs
The United Nations called on the international community on Monday to provide support for 14.7 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. “The scale of current needs makes Yemen one of the largest humanitarian emergencies globally,” said the UN humanitarian coordinator. The implementation of the 2014 humanitarian response plan requires $592 million, but until now only two percent of this amount has been financed, according to a communication officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sana’a. [Yemen Times, 3/20/2014]


Lebanon parliament resumes cabinet policy debate
The second day of deliberations in Lebanon’s parliament over the Cabinet’s policy statement was marked by several tense exchanges between lawmakers. Heated debates centered on the role of the army regarding perceived favoritism and leniency being shown to various groups in different parts of the country, as well as the role of the previous government in how it reacted to forces fighting outside the country. [Daily Star, 3/20/2014]

Saudi Arabia accepts majority of UPR recommendations
In its response to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia fully-accepted 145 recommendations out of 225 and partially accepted thirty-six others. Notable recommendations that were accepted pertained to prohibiting the use of torture as well as codifying a legal code to replace the current system. Amnesty International has criticized Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of the UPR recommendations saying that, “Although Saudi Arabia fully accepted a majority of the recommendations made to it during the review of its human rights record, it rejected crucial recommendations to ratify core international treaties including those that would safeguard the rights of women and grant victims access to justice.” [Al-Jazeera, 3/20/2014]

Iraqi forces, images testify to atrocities in new fighting
Almost three months after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki declared war on Sunni militants in Iraq’s western Anbar province, the fighting seems to have descended into a series of brutal atrocities, often caught on video and in photographs by both militants and Iraqi soldiers. Sunni militants regularly post videos and photos of executions and torture of government troops. Now, according to the police officer, an army officer, a general and an Iraqi Special Forces member, some Iraqi troops have begun replying in kind, carrying out extrajudicial executions, torture and humiliations of their enemy and posting images of the results online. [Reuters, 3/20/2014]

Algerian ex-leader hints President should leave
Liamine Zeroual, a former general who led the country from 1995 to 1998 in the midst of its bloody civil war against the Islamists, issued a big hint Thursday that he thinks ailing incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika should withdraw from upcoming election in April because of his failing health. He called the duties of a president “a heavy and delicate task, both moral and physical” in addition to criticizing the 2008 decision to remove term limits for the presidency. Bouteflika’s political advisor Abdelaziz Belkhadem said that while the president’s legs are now paralyzed, “he is lucid and in possession of his intellectual capacities, allowing him to take decisions.” [The Daily Star, 3/20/2014]