Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to shut down the offices of Qatari-headquartered Al Jazeera network, following a diplomatic row between the countries centering on Qatar’s perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood and patronage of cleric Yusuf Qaradawi. A Saudi official told Al-Hayat that Saudis will be banned from working for visual, audio, print or electronic Qatari media. The official added that the decision to shut down the Al Jazeera office was taken in consensus with all the Kingdom’s official authorities. A report in US-based Huffington Post also quoted a source as saying that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal has threatened to block Qatar by land and sea unless it cuts ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, closes Al Jazeera, and shuts down local branches of US think tanks, the Brookings Doha Center and the Rand Qatar Policy Institute. [Gulf Business, 3/11/2014]


Egypt officials discuss preparations for presidential elections
Following the ratification of the presidential elections law, President Adly Mansour met with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy on Monday to discuss preparations for holding the presidential elections at embassies abroad for Egyptian expatriates. The head judge of Egypt’s state council, Farid Tanagho, told Al-Ahram that the constitution allows the president and the government to amend the new law. Presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi criticized the newly passed presidential elections law, expressing doubts about the integrity and fairness of the upcoming poll. Speaking at press conference Monday Sabahi added, “This is a real test for democracy, if we start this way it will never stop.” [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 3/11/2014]

Former army chief Sami Anan claims ‘terrorists’ attempted to assassinate him
Egypt’s former army chief of staff Sami Anan has said that he escaped an assassination attempt by unknown assailants late on Monday, but the interior ministry has denied it. According to Al-Ahram, Anan’s office released a statement saying that he survived the attempt unscathed, and is in good condition. Anan told London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Tuesday that his bodyguards recognized the attackers, whom he described as “terrorists,” and said that it is not the first time that he was targeted by such groups. Hany Abdel Latif, the official spokesperson of the ministry of interior, however, told privately owned satellite channel CBC that there was no evidence of such an attempt. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/11/2014]

Egyptian representative to UN addresses human rights concerns
Egypt’s representative to the United Nations, Walid Mahmoud Abdel Nasser, told the United Nations Council for Human Rights Monday that Egypt is determined to protect human rights, citing the newly ratified constitution as proof of the country’s dedication to “building democratic institutions.” A statement released by the ministry of foreign affairs Monday reported Abdel Nasser’s comments to the council, which were largely in response to recently issued statements condemning what twenty-seven members of the council recently called “the restrictions on the rights to peaceful assembly” and security forces’ “disproportionate use of lethal force” against protesters. The ministry’s statement said that Abdel Nasser remarked that the constitution solidifies Egypt’s “protection of human rights within the framework of respect for rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.” [DNE, 3/11/2014]


Libya says halts tanker outside rebel port, plans military offensive
Libya on Monday stopped a North Korean-flagged tanker that had loaded oil from a rebel-held port, after naval forces briefly exchanged fire with the rebels, officials said. They also said the government will assemble forces to “liberate” all occupied ports, raising the stakes over a blockage that has cut off vital oil revenue. General National Congress spokesman Omar Hemidan confirmed that the tanker, named Morning Glory, had been intercepted and was now being escorted to Misrata port. The rebels, who have seized three ports and partly control a fourth, said they had dispatched forces to central Libya to deal with any government attack. Ibrahim Jadhran, the Libyan commander whose militia took over the oil terminals, said Tuesday that he is seeking help from the United States in a standoff with the Libyan government. The State Department put out a statement asserting that loading a cargo of illicitly obtained oil “is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people.” [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/11/2014]

Libya key source for illicit arms, fueling conflicts, says UN envoy
UN experts say Libya has become a primary source of illicit weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, which have been trafficked to at least fourteen countries and are fueling conflicts on several continents. Rwandan Ambassador Eugene Gasana, chair of the UN Security Council’s Libya sanctions committee, briefed the fifteen-member council on the final report of the independent panel of experts who monitor violations of the world body’s sanctions regime. A UN arms embargo was imposed on Libya at the start of an uprising in 2011 that ousted Muammar Qaddafi. [Reuters, 3/10/2014]

Congress members walk out in February Committee vote dispute
About fifty members of the General National Congress (GNC) walked out of session in protest against debating on the proposals submitted by the February Committee regarding early elections. The members were angry at the decision by GNC president Nuri Abu Sahmain to allow for time to discuss the proposal, saying that the proposals had to be voted on in their entirety, without any amendments. The reason some members wanted to discuss the proposal, it was claimed, was so that they could amend the article on elections for the state president, making it an appointment by the new legislature rather than being elected by Libyan voters. Supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood are known to oppose direct elections of the president. [Libya Herald, 3/10/2014]

Misrata free trade zone celebrates port expansion
Misrata has opened a new dock in its Free Trade Zone, one of Libya’s best-equipped ports for handling containers, which will enable the commercial port to now accommodate medium-sized cargo vessels. A Turkish company carried out the project. Another project that would establish a new port and container terminal that would accommodate larger vessels was also announced at the opening ceremony. As the only independent Libyan port authority, Misrata is not obliged to use the state handling company. [Libya Herald, 3/10/2014]


United Nation reports 5.5 million children impacted by Syria conflict
The United Nations said Tuesday the number of children impacted by Syria’s war has doubled in the past year to 5.5 million, many of them trapped in besieged areas and beyond reach. In a report entitled “Under Siege: the devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria,” (full text) the UN children’s agency UNICEF warns that the situation was likely to get worse. [AFP, 3/11/2014]

Nuns freed through prisoner exchange; Regime frees 9/11 plotter in separate exchange
The Syrian government acknowledged that it freed twenty-five female prisoners in exchange for thirteen Greek Orthodox nuns who had been held by al-Qaeda-linked rebels. The exchange was mediated by Lebanese and Qatari officials, and has infuriated many in the opposition. In an earlier exchange that is now receiving wider attention, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, the al-Qaeda recruiter reputed to have assembled the so-called Hamburg Cell, which planned and largely carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, was set free in a prisoner exchange between rebel and regime forces in Syria. A naturalized German citizen of Syrian origin, Zammar left Germany shortly after the attacks and traveled to Morocco, where he was reportedly seized by the CIA and then “rendered” to Syria. According to local Syrian sources, his release and that of five other “political prisoners” last September was secured by Ahrar al-Sham in exchange for the release of Syrian army officers. Zammar was serving a twelve-year prison sentence in Aleppo’s central prison at the time. [Daily Star, 3/11/2014]

Five dead in hotel suicide bombings in de facto Kurdish capital, Qamishli
At least five people, including three women, were killed on Tuesday in a triple suicide bomb attack at a hotel in the Kurdish Syrian city of Qamishli. A Kurdish activist from the city said that Hadaya hotel was being used by the Kurdish “Asayesh” security forces, but there was no immediate confirmation or information on whether security forces were among the killed. Qamishli is Syria’s biggest Kurdish-majority city, and considered by the minority to be the capital of Hasakeh province in the country’s northeast. Syria’s regime has reached a fragile accommodation with the country’s Kurds, largely withdrawing its troops from areas where they are a majority to focus its efforts on fighting the uprising. In return, the Kurds have tried to prevent opposition fighters from embroiling their areas in the conflict, often raising their ire and accusations they are collaborating with the regime. [AFP, Daily Star, 3/11/2014]

GCC rift could trigger new power struggle in Syrian opposition
A renewed struggle is unfolding for control of Syria’s opposition, with the unprecedented diplomatic falling out between Saudi Arabia and Qatar tearing at the fragile Syrian National Coalition. Members of the disparate opposition alliance are jockeying for position ahead of a series of key events for the National Coalition, including a general assembly in Cairo in coming weeks and the election of a new president this summer. Decision making within the notoriously fractured alliance has always been fraught but, with the rift between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the stage has been set for an especially bitter round of infighting. [The National, 3/10/2014]


Jomaa calls for urgent measures to tackle rising commodity prices
Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa called on officials of the trade and handicrafts ministry to take urgent measures to curb the rising prices of such basic products as red and white meat and eggs. He recommended activating the National Price Control Commission, which is overseen by the prime ministry. Jomaa also emphasized the need to direct the compensation system to the poorest members of the population, in order to reduce the compensation charges weighing on the state budget. [TAP, 3/10/2014]

Electoral law discussion continues in the NCA
On Monday, presidents of parliamentary groups in the National Constituent Assembly discussed outstanding issues in the draft electoral law. These issues concern legislature, parity, electoral threshold, sponsoring, and funding and eligibility requirements. Regarding the right to vote and eligibility of security and military officers, the ban is to be retained. They agreed to maintain the same number of electoral districts from the October 23, 2011 elections and adopt principles pertaining to parity, electoral threshold, and financing of the election campaign. [TAP, 3/10/2014]

Recently freed to Tunisian blogger at risk
Jabeur Mejri, a Tunisian blogger recently released from prison, remains at risk of a violent response from the Salafist community. The current security situation in Tunisia and the rise of takfirism add to this concern. He was imprisoned for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on Facebook that were considered offensive to Islam. Mejri was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2012 and was pardoned earlier this year. He has not appeared in public since the announcement of his release from prison. [All Africa, 3/10/2014]


Presidential decree buys more time for constitutional drafting process
According to the presidential decree establishing the Constitution Drafting Committee, the drafting of the constitution and the constitutional referendum must take place within a year from the date the decree was issued. This means that the new constitution must come into force by March 8, 2014, instead of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) mandated January 25. The decree also stipulated how the body will function, stipulating that the committee’s head, two deputies including a woman, and the rapporteur are to be selected by the members at its first meeting. To pass a decree, the committee needs a two-thirds quorum. If a certain decision cannot be reached among members, it will be referred to the National Foundation Committee, tasked with monitoring the implementation of the NDC outcomes. [Yemen Times, 3/11/2014]

Islah leader and human rights activist calls on Hadi to act against Houthis
Khaled Anesi, noted human rights activist and a leader in the Islah party, has accused President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi of being blackmailed by the Houthi group. As clashes continue throughout northern Yemen–and making their way south toward the capital–some independent observers have noted that central security forces have done nothing to intervene in the conflict between Houthis and Sunni tribesmen, many affiliated with Islah. Anesi points to Houthis being treated in private hospitals in Sana’a and abroad as well as payment of compensation to the group as evidence of the government allowing itself to be blackmailed. Anesi said that Hadi should either “take up his responsibilities as president,” or resign–clearly calling on Hadi respond to the deteriorating security situation in the north. [Yemen Saeed (Arabic), 3/11/2014]

Truce in al-Dali’
After two months of clashes following an errant military strike that struck a funeral procession, a truce has been declared in al-Dali’ province between government forces and Herak separatists. Though the government last week prevented the UN mission sent to monitor the situation from visiting, citing security concerns, the mission will likely be able to visit the province soon. [Yemen Post, 3/11/2014]

Four killed in drone strike as UN calls for independent investigation
A US drone strike in northeast Yemen killed four people who a tribal sources claimed were militants. Two missiles struck two vehicles late Monday east of Sana’a, killing the occupants “who were all al-Qaeda members,” including two “local chiefs of al-Qaeda,” said a local source. The UN Human Rights Council has called for independent investigations of drone strikes in a new report. The special rapporteur on human rights devoted a large part of the report to listing specific drone strikes involving civilians, identifying thirty attacks out of a total of thirty-seven brought to his attention in which civilians had been killed, suffered life-threatening injuries or been put at risk. He also said that when a strike occurs and civilian casualties are reported, the party responsible must conduct an “independent and impartial fact-finding inquiry and provide a detailed public explanation of the results.” [Al-Akhbar English, 3/11/2014]


Israeli Knesset passes new electoral law requirements despite opposition
Israel approved a change to electoral law on Tuesday that raises the percentage of votes needed for seats in parliament, an amendment that may prevent smaller political constituencies, such as Arab and ultra-Orthodox Jewish minorities from finding representation. The opposition in the Knesset, or parliament, boycotted the 67-0 vote which supporters said will bring greater stability to government. The bill was packaged with other high profile legislation that streamlines government ministries and imposes new requirements for no confidence votes. Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman dismissed the boycotters and critics of the amendment as “whiners, post-Zionists, and terrorist representatives.” [Reuters, Jerusalem Post; 3/11/2014]

Saudi Arabia to shut down Al Jazeera offices as rumors swirl over Qatar spat
Saudi Arabia reportedly plans to shut down the offices of Qatari-headquartered Al Jazeera network, following a diplomatic row between the countries centering on Qatar’s perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood and patronage of cleric Yusuf Qaradawi. A Saudi official told Al-Hayat that Saudis will be banned from working for visual, audio, print or electronic Qatari media. The official added that the decision to shut down the Al Jazeera office was taken in consensus with all the Kingdom’s official authorities. A report in US-based Huffington Post also quoted a source as saying that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal has threatened to block Qatar by land and sea unless it cuts ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, closes Al Jazeera, and shuts down local branches of US think tanks, the Brookings Doha Center and the Rand Qatar Policy Institute. [Gulf Business, 3/11/2014]

Saudi tweeter jailed for anti-regime tweets
A Saudi court has jailed a Tweeter for ten years after convicting him of insulting the kingdom’s political and religious leaders and urging anti-regime protests. The defendant was also banned from travelling and posting on social media and received a 100,000 riyal ($27,000) fine. The court sentenced another defendant to eight years in jail after finding him guilty of taking part in protests and publishing anti-regime posts online. The identities of both have not yet been released. [Naharnet, Al Arabiya, 3/11/2014]