Top News: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE Recall Ambassadors to Qatar

Citing what they view as Qatar’s failure to abide by an agreement not to interfere in the internal affairs of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE have recalled their ambassadors to the country. Qatar has said that it does not intend to withdraw its own ambassadors. The rift is thought to be related to the country’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in various countries, close relations with Turkey, opposition to Egypt’s new regime, and the perceived support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. [Gulf NewsAhram OnlineEgypt IndependentDNE AP, AFPMada Masr, EGYNews (Arabic), 3/5/2014]


Opposition to Sisi’s run for presidency
Egypt’s April 6 protest group, which helped topple Hosni Mubarak in 2011, spoke out on Wednesday against any attempt by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to seek the presidency, saying this would be divisive and destabilizing. Meanwhile, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), which supports deposed President Mohamed Morsi, said on Wednesday that Sisi’s Tuesday speech was deceiving. “His nomination for presidency will be ominous for Egypt,” the statement added. “Sisi continues to deceive. He pushes the country toward sabotage and destruction for clear personal interests.” [Reuters, DNE, Egypt Independent, 3/5/2014]

Egypt panel blames Mursi supporters for deaths during protest camp break-up
A government-appointed panel largely blamed supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi for the death of hundreds of people when security forces dispersed a Cairo protest camp last August, one of the bloodiest days in Egypt’s modern history. The panel placed some responsibility on security forces, saying that they did not maintain proportional use of force during the clearing operation and failed to secure safe passage out of the area when clashes occurred. In a departure from past official accounts, the panel said that the majority of the protesters were peaceful.[Reuters, Aswat Masriya (Arabic); 3/5/2014]

Trial of Al Jazeera journalists to resume in Cairo
The trial of 20 journalists working for Al Jazeera, including four foreigners, is scheduled to resume for its second session on Wednesday. The 16 Egyptians are charged with joining a terrorist organisation–a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, officially designated a terrorist group in December–harming national unity and social peace, dubbed by the prosecution as the “Marriott Cell.” Human rights groups, fellow journalists and the United States have condemned the trial as an attack on freedom of expression and the media in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, EGYNews (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic); 3/5/2014]

Egypt to create a sovereign fund to manage public business sector
Nine Egyptian public holding companies and their subsidiaries will soon be under an independent sovereign fund. The fund to restructure the public companies will be managed directly by the prime minister’s cabinet, said Hisham Ramez, governor of Egypt’s Central Bank (CEB), following a meeting with newly appointed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb.Following last week’s cabinet reshuffle, Egypt’s public sector is not under a new tripartite bureau, the Ministry of Investment, Foreign Trade and Industry. Egypt’s public sector was formerly under the investment ministry, which was merged with the ministry for foreign trade and industry to form this new tripartite bureau. [Ahram Online. 3/4/2014]


Zidan survives another dismissal attempt by Congress
Despite claims by General National Congress (GNC) members on Monday that they were going to sack Prime Minister Ali Zidan on the grounds that he was responsible for the deteriorating security in Libya, the legislature again failed to reach any decision at yesterday’s session. The reasons, according to one congressman speaking on condition of anonymity, were differing opinions and “personal interests.” A source close to the GNC said that there seemed to be a legal issue with regard to dismissing Zidan, forcing the GNC to postpone making a final decision until Sunday. The GNC has yet to officially announce candidates to replace the prime minister. [Libya Herald, 3/5/2014]

Power struggle disrupts oil port in Libya’s far east
Protesters shuttered the 110,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) Hariga oil port last summer to pressure the Libyan government, one of many disputes in Libya involving oil facilities that have contributed to a cut in petroleum output to 230,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in July. Three other ports in the east have also stopped exporting. For Faraj Yassin, the local mayor, the shutdown brings trouble, cutting off vital state revenues and eroding the budget just when the government needs all the help it can get. For his brother-in-law, Mansour al-Salhin, the protest is a justified battle against a central government that he feels has taken oil revenues at the expense of his hometown Tobruk and Libya’s east. The question of whether oil should flow or not is dividing families, protest leaders, and oil workers in the city near the Egyptian border. [Reuters, 3/5/2014]

Libyan TV national station assaulted, says official
Gunmen launched an attack on Libya’s official television station on Tuesday, firing rocket-propelled grenades at the troops guarding it before they were driven off by reinforcements, officials said. There were no reports of casualties. The officials said the attackers were likely the followers of militia leader Jumaa al-Shahm, who had controlled the Libya TV station building in Tripoli for months before they were ousted by government forces last week and al-Sham was arrested. Station employees had sought help from government security forces, according to a statement in the name of Libya TV workers. The officials said al-Shahm’s followers had also stormed the information ministry demanding salaries and support for the station. [AP, 3/4/2014]

Libya business confederation to be set up
Plans are in motion to set up an organization as the voice of the Libya private sector. A number of trade and business organizations agreed to create the Libyan Confederation of Trade, Industry, and Services, as many felt they were not strong enough alone to deal with the government or act internationally, according to Abdulnassar Alnajah, president of the Libyan Employers’ Association. He has been appointed to head a committee that will draft proposals on the confederation’s structure. The confederation is meant to serve as a “social partner with the government” and will play a role in private-public partnerships. The Libyan private sector, particularly the retail sector, has been expanding massively over the past couple of years. [Libya Herald, 3/4/2014]


Israel fires on Hezbollah in Syrian Golan; Navy seizes Gaza-bound rockets from Iran
Israeli troops shot two “Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists” who tried to plant a bomb near the fence between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syrian-held territory on Wednesday, the army said. An army spokeswoman said Israeli intelligence had identified the men as members of Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia which is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight a civil war. She had no immediate word on their condition. Also on Wednesday, the Israeli navy seized a ship in the Red Sea that was carrying dozens of advanced Iranian-supplied rockets made in Syria and intended for Palestinian guerrillas in the Gaza Strip, the military said. The disclosure came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States to press his case for tougher international action against Iran over its disputed nuclear program and support for Islamist guerrilla groups. [Reuters, NYT, 3/5/2014]

Regime renews air raids on Yabrud; Sectarian tension in Lebanon over Syria rocket fire
Syrian warplanes renewed air raids on the embattled rebel stronghold of Yabrud on Wednesday, launching ten strikes on the town near the border with Lebanon. Regime forces also shelled the city and troops backed by pro-regime militia and Hezbollah were engaged in fierce clashes with rebels including jihadists. Syrian forces are trying to capture Yabrud in a final push to secure the entire Qalamun region which lies next to the Lebanese border and on the strategic Damascus-Homs highway. Tensions flared Tuesday in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley where Shia villagers blocked a road leading to a Sunni town and attacked cars after a rocket attack they blamed on Syria. [Naharnet, 3/5/2014]

United Nations decries use of sieges, starvation in Syria military strategy
Syrian government forces are waging a campaign of siege warfare and starvation against civilians as part of its military strategy, a UN-mandated probe said Wednesday. “The government employs siege warfare, instrumentalizing basic human needs for water, food, shelter and medical care as part of its military strategy,” the independent Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria said in a report. The commission, which includes legendary former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, stressed that more than 250,000 people remain besieged in war-ravaged country. [AFP, 3/5/2014]

UN affirms chemical weapons used in Syria appear to come from army stockpile
Chemical weapons used in two incidents last year appear to come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military, UN human rights investigators said on Wednesday in a report that went beyond previous findings. The team of independent experts said that chemical agents used in the Damascus suburb of al-Ghouta on August 21 and in Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in March 2013 bore “the same unique hallmarks”. “The evidence available concerning the nature, quality, and quantity of the agents used on 21 August indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to the chemical weapons stockpile of the Syrian military, as well as the expertise and equipment necessary to manipulate safely large amount of chemical agents. Concerning the incident in Khan al-Assal on 19 March, the chemical agents used in that attack bore the same unique hallmarks as those used in al-Ghouta,” the report said. Without categorically saying which side was to blame, the chief UN investigator said in January it was “difficult to see” how the opposition could have weaponized the toxins used. [Reuters, 3/5/2014]


Tunisia targets terrorist financiers
Tunisia will begin to freeze the assets of individuals and entities with ties to terrorism. A law from 2003 enables the finance minister, upon consultation with the governor of Tunisia’s central bank, to freeze the assets of individuals or groups linked to terrorist crimes. According to an announcement by the ministry of finance from February 25, moveable assets, real estate, securities and financial instruments will be subject to freezing. The move is part of an effort to stop money laundering across the country. [All Africa, 3/4/3014]

Italian prime minister visits Tunisia
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Renzi visited Tunisia. This was Renzi’s first trip abroad since taking office. He met with the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha ben Jaafar, and interim Prime Minister Jomaa. The meetings focussed on fostering cooperation between the two countries and a broader Euro-Mediterranean partnership. Renzi praised Tunisia’s democratic transition and new constitution. [TAP, 3/4/2014, TAP, 3/5/2014]

Jabeur Mejri released from jail
Jabeur Mejri has been released from jail after serving nearly two years in prison. Mejri, a blogger, was jailed for sharing drawings of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook that were considered insulting to Islam. He and his friend Ghazi Beji were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in March 2012. Beji, however, fled the country before the start of the trial and now lives in France where he has obtained political asylum. Mejri’s cause has been taken up by advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International, which viewed him as a prisoner of conscience. [Tunisia Live, 3/4/3014]

Consumers see a rise in the price of tomato paste
A subsidy cut has increased the price of concentrated tomato paste, commonly sold canned in Tunisia, drawing ire from retailers and consumers of the staple food. The price for a one-kilogram can went from 1.890 dinars ($1.19) to 2.050 dinars ($1.30), a nearly ten percent hike. Tomato paste is one of the most common elements of the Tunisian diet. Retailers blamed the factories producing the tomato paste for the higher prices while the factories deny that they are getting any great benefit from the price increase. This price increase reflects the ongoing economic challenges facing Tunisia regardless of its recent political progress. Nonetheless, unemployment improved slightly in the fourth quarter of 2013. The unemployment rate in Tunisia dropped slightly to 15.3 percent in the fourth quarter compared to 15.7 percent during the third quarter, 15.9 percent in the second, and 16.5 percent in the first. [Tunisia Live, 3/4/2014]


As al-Beidh goes to Europe, Hadi and Benomar call on Lebanon to sever ties
Sources close to the former Vice-President Ali Salem al-Beidh confirmed to the media that the South’s exiled leader has begun a trip to visit European capitals. Meanwhile, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has requested UN special adviser Jamal Benomar to call upon the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to pressure Lebanon to stop hosting al-Beidh and pull the plug on Aden Live, a southern separatist television station based there. Al-Beidh is said to be a likely candidate for a travel ban and asset freeze from the UNSC’s recently established sanctions committee for his leadership in the Southern separatist Herak movement. [Moragboon Press (Arabic), 3/5/2014]

OHCHR delegation denied access to al-Dali’
The mission dispatched by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to Yemen to report on the ongoing clashes in al-Dali’ between the military and Southern Herak separatists has failed to visit the city as the ministries of defense and interior refused their request to visit the town. The OHCHR mission was waiting for permission in Aden, but after two days, they are returning to Sana’a unable to complete their visit to al-Dali’. Residents in the city meanwhile, are complaining that telecommunications, internet, and electricity are being interrupted deliberately by the military, alleging that they are attempting to keep locals from reporting events occurring there. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 3/5/204]

Three suspected militants killed in drone strike
The third US drone strike in as many days targeted a moving car in the southernmost part of al-Jawf province, near the border with al-Marib. Previous drone strikes this week attacked targets in Marib and Shabwa provinces. Three suspected militants were killed in the latest strike, one of which was identified by Yemeni officials as a leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Reuters; 3/5/2014]

Al-Saadi says large development projects to announced soon
Dr. Mohammad al-Saadi, the minister of planning and international cooperation, is planning to announce a series of development projects totalling more than four billion dollars. Al-Saadi said that the projects will be aimed at multiple sectors of the economy, including vital areas like roads, electricity, and ports. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 3/5/2014]


United States allocates $7 billion for Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen in 2015
US President Barack Obama allocated $46.2 billion of the FY2015 state budget to the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The department said in a statement that the new budget shows the continuous US efforts to achieve stability and prosperity with giving priority to achieve internal security and development across the world. The department announced allocating $7 billion to enhance stability, security and economic partnership with Middle East countries. The State Department seeks to assist regional countries, undergoing interim periods like in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, in addition to assisting the Syrian people especially the displaced citizens as a result of the conflict there. It also seeks to support reform in the region.[Egypt Independent, 3/5/2014]

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE recall ambassadors to Qatar
Citing what they view as Qatar’s failure to abide by an agreement not to interfere in the internal affairs of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE have recalled their ambassadors to the country. Qatar has said that it does not intend to withdraw its own ambassadors. The rift is thought to be related to the country’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in various countries, close relations with Turkey, opposition to Egypt’s new regime, and the perceived support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen. [Gulf NewsAhram OnlineEgypt Independent, DNEAPAFP, Mada Masr, EGYNews (Arabic), 3/5/2014]

Twelve candidates have registered for Algeria’s presidential election
As of Wednesday, twelve candidates have registered for Algeria’s presidential elections in April, including current  President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who is running for a fourth term in office. The Constitutional Council now has ten days to examine the applications of the candidates before announcing the final list of contenders, which is set to begin on March 23. On Monday, Bouteflika appeared in public, a very rare occurrence, to submit the papers for his candidacy. He confirmed his candidacy on television, the first time he has spoken in public since returning from hospital treatment in Paris last July after suffering a stroke. A number of presidential candidates announced that they would be withdrawing their candidacy following Bouteflika’s decision to run, claiming that any polls that include the ailing president would be unfair. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour and Retired General Mohand Tahar Yalsa withdrew their candidacies. [Al Arabiya, Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/5/2014]

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