King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal order on Thursday appointing Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Deputy Crown Prince, making him second in line to the throne. Prince Muqrin is the youngest son of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. He served as the governor of Hail Province from 1980 until 1999 and was later appointed as the governor of Medina. He also served as head of the general intelligence between 2005 and 2012. King Abdullah appointed him as second deputy prime minister on February 1, 2013. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/28/2014]


Sisi’s supporters plan last-minute rallies in his support
Supporters of Egypt’s former military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi called for demonstrations on Friday in support of his bid for the presidency. The Tamarod campaign, which spearheaded protests against former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, on Thursday called for nationwide demonstrations in support of Sisi, who announced on Wednesday that he was resigning from his military position to stand for election. Dozens of Sisi supporters gathered in Tahrir square following Friday prayers to show their support for the former defense minister. [Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), EGYNews (Arabic), 3/28/2014]

Egypt budget deficit down by six percent in eight months
Egypt’s budget deficit shrank by six percent in the first eight months of the 2013/14 fiscal year as compared to the same period of the previous fiscal year, according to the finance ministry’s latest bulletin. The budget deficit is expected to reach between eleven and twelve percent by the end of the current fiscal year, the finance minister told reporters at his first press conference earlier in March. [Ahram Online, 3/28/2014]

Washington declares neutrality in Egypt’s upcoming elections
The United States vowed Thursday it was not backing any particular candidate in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, with former Army Chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi strongly favored to win. “The United States does not support individual parties or candidates in Egypt’s elections,” deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an email to AFP. During a press briefing Thursday, Harf called on the Egyptian government to conduct the upcoming elections “in a manner that is free, fair, transparent, where candidates are able to campaign freely—any candidates are able to campaign freely—without fear of harassment or intimidation.” [Ahram Online, 3/27/2014]


Libyan protesters block oil pipeline to Mellitah port as strikes widen
Libyan protesters have blocked a pipeline carrying oil condensates from the southwestern al-Wafa oilfield to the Mellitah export port, state-owned National Oil Corporation (NOC) said on Thursday. The action, the latest in a wave of protests paralyzing oilfields and ports across the country, knocks out one of the last oil export lines for the cash-strapped government. NOC spokesman Mohammed al-Harari said a gas pipeline from the Wafa field, which produces around 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) of very light oil was still working. But television reports said the protesters, made up of oil security guards, were also threatening to stop gas exports from the Mellitah complex, operated by NOC and Italy’s ENI, to Italy. Harari gave no new production figure, after NOC put output this week at 155,000 bpd. [Reuters, 3/27/2014]

EU report: Libya main exit point for migrants into Europe
Libya has become ”the main country of transit” for migrants leaving Africa and the Middle East for Europe for economic reasons, or as refugees and asylum seekers, according to the latest EU report on neighborhood policies with partner countries in the south and east. The report said that the Lampedusa tragedy last October, in which thousands of immigrants died as they were trying to reach Italy, is a strong recollection of the plight of these migrants and the need for common policies and management strategies. The report, which described the current situation in Libya, read that ”the political and security void is exploited by people of all kinds, including criminal groups,” adding that ”most institutions are still weak” despite support programs. [ANSAmed, 3/27/2014]

Major ordnance explosion outside Sebha “deliberate,” say security forces
A series of explosions at the Sebha ammunition depot earlier this week was deliberate, according to the Misrata-led Third Force currently providing security in the southern town. Unexploded ordnance that had been stored in forty underground bunkers at the depot was blown up by an unknown group, according to the spokesperson for the force. The camp, to the northwest of the town near the formerly named Fattah district, was heavily bombed by NATO during the 2011 revolution. However, according to the spokesman, a huge amount of ammunition “remained intact.” There have been a number of ammunition explosions and thefts around the country since the revolution, with depots being left largely unguarded. [Libya Herald, 3/27/2014]

Military intelligence targeted by Benghazi killers
In a further sign of growing lawlessness, military intelligence personnel have been targeted in the eastern city of Benghazi in a series of assaults. One person was attacked by a gang armed with knives, while another was shot dead in a different district. Separately, a security directorate member is being treated in the hospital after being shot in the legs by unknown assailants, while yet another was injured after a bomb exploded at an army tank depot. Security sources are also puzzled by the case of a local citizen who disappeared after collecting a “large amount of money.” [Libya Herald, 3/27/2014]


Obama appears ready to expand covert assistance to Syrian opposition
The Obama administration, stung by reversals in Ukraine and Syria, appears to have decided to expand its covert program of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition, deepening US involvement in the civil war. This stepped-up assistance program is likely to be discussed during talks Friday between President Obama and Saudi King Abdullah. US endorsement of the program would tighten US links with Saudi Arabia after a period of noisy disagreement about Syria policy. But it also would complicate already tense relations with Russia and Iran, the two key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Details are still murky, but it seems likely that Obama is ready to double the CIA-run training program to 600 fighters per month. Syrian opposition forces would be trained in camps in Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia and Qatar. [Washington Post, 3/28/2014]

Turkey calls Syria security leak “villainous,” amounting to a “declaration of war”
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday denounced as “villainous” the leaking of a recording of top security officials discussing possible military action in Syria. The leaked audio is purportedly a recording of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussing possible military operations in Syria with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of Military Staff Yasar Guler, and other senior officials. Speaking to reporters, Davutoglu confirmed the meeting took place and said, “A cyber attack has been carried out against the Turkish Republic, our state and our valued nation. This is a clear declaration of war against the Turkish state and our nation.” [NYT, 3/27/2014]

United Nations prolongs probe of Syria rights violations; HRW slams block of aid access
The United Nations on Friday extended a probe into the “gross, systematic and widespread” human rights abuses in war-ravaged Syria. The forty-seven member UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution extending for yet another year the mandate of a commission of inquiry that it had created in 2011. The resolution, submitted by Saudi Arabia and Britain, also reiterated a demand that Syria “cooperate fully” with the team tasked with probing rights abuses in the country, and give it “immediate, full and unfettered access” to its territory. The resolution was adopted with thirty-two votes in favor, four against, including Russia and China, and eleven abstentions. Human Rights Watch said on Friday that Damascus has failed to comply with a UN resolution calling for unimpeded humanitarian access to civilians throughout the country. By refusing to allow aid to cross opposition-held border crossings, the Syrian government “is undermining aid deliveries to hundreds of thousands of desperate people.” [AFP, 3/28/2014]

Syrian-Armenian town’s fate murky after rebel grab
When hundreds of residents of the postcard-pretty coastal village of Kassab fled this week, it bore historic weight: it was the third time since 1900 that ethnic Armenians there felt compelled to run for their lives. They left once at the hands of vengeful Turkish neighbors, and later because of Ottoman forces. This time it was Syrian rebels storming into town. It was a heavy blow for the minority community that sees the town as key to preserving the Armenians’ identity in Syria. Rebels from an array of Islamist groups, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, seized control of Kassab on Sunday after launching an attack two days earlier in the coastal Syrian province of Latakia. The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant church. [AFP, 3/28/2014]


Ben Ali family’s corrupt grasp on Tunisian economy detailed in new report
A new report, All in the Family: State Capture in Tunisia, was released by the World Bank on Thursday. The report depicts the huge extent to which the Tunisian strongman of twenty-four years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, took control of much of the country’s economy and enriched his family, feeding the resentment that led to the 2011 uprising against him. The study finds that the former Tunisian ruler’s “clan” invested in lucrative sectors that were protected, mainly through prior authorization requirements and the use of executive powers to change the legislation in the regime’s favor, creating a large scale system of crony capitalism. [Ahram Online, Tunisia Live, 3/27/2014]

Legal commission to be established, delaying electoral law
On Thursday, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) began to debate the creation of a commission to assess the constitutionality of new legislation. The adoption of other key legislation, including a long-awaited electoral law, will be delayed until this commission is established. The temporary commission will operate until a permanent constitutional court can be established. The new constitution, passed in January, calls for the establishment of a constitutional court but the court cannot be created until after elections. Electoral law is currently scheduled to be discussed in the NCA on April 7 and 8. [Tunisia Live, 3/27/2014]

Two members of religious party arrested
Two members of the Hizb Ettahrir political party were arrested Tuesday and their cases referred to the Ministry of Interior’s anti-terrorism unit. They were charged with incitement against the government and disturbing public order. The two members were arrested while distributing flyers in Mnihla, a suburb of Tunis. The flyers discussed Mehdi Jomaa’s government’s subordination to occupation. Hizb Ettahrir rejects Tunisia’s constitution and democratic political system but functions as an officially registered political party. The party calls for the creation of a caliphate to unite the Islamic world. [Tunisia Live, 3/27/2014]

Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund sets up operations in Tunisia
On Thursday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mongi Hamdi received Bowman Cutter, the board chairman of the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund (TAEF). TAEF has set up operations in Tunisia after having completed the necessary legal procedures. The Fund was officially launched in July 2013 with forty million dollars in initial capitalization. It has already begun examining applications for funding from young Tunisian entrepreneurs. TAEF hopes to begin providing assistance to them soon. Hamdi hopes to see the fund begin providing funding as soon as possible in order to boost the network of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Tunisia and help create jobs for young people. [All Africa, 3/27/2014]


Hadramawt tribes stage siege
The Tribal Alliance of Hadramawt began a blockade of petroleum facilities in the province on Friday. On Thursday, the Alliance issued a warning to oil companies deriding their authorization of workers from outside the province to work at the facilities while the company “brought bankruptcy to Hadramawt, making huge profits.” Local sources say fighters numbering in the hundreds have set up more than twenty roadblocks around the facility. The blockade begins a week after government arbitration awarded the tribes a billion Yemeni rials ($4.6 million). Employees of the oil company warned that impeding their operations violated agreements with the Yemeni government and could lead to disastrous consequences should the companies be forced to cancel their contracts. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/28/2014]

Houthis and army clash in Amran
Clashes broke out in Amran after Friday prayers between the Houthi militants and the Yemeni military. A number of casualties have been reported, though clashes were ongoing on Friday. Hundreds of militants reportedly mobilized to Amran following the order of the Houthi leader Abu Ali al-Hakim who vowed that Amran would “fall within a week.” [Mareb Press (Arabic), 3/28/2014]

Kidnappers of UN workers turned in by father, a tribal elder
The two UN workers kidnapped on Tuesday were quickly rescued thanks to the efforts of a tribal elder, a father of one of the kidnappers. The minister of interior praised the man’s efforts calling on other citizens to follow his example. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/27/2014]

Three killed in raid on militants in al-Dali’
Local officials reported that two al-Qaeda militants and a Yemeni soldier were killed on Friday in a raid by security forces on a residential building in the southern city of al-Dali’. The security forces seized a large quantity of weapons, the officials said without elaborating. There have been a succession of violent incidents in recent months in al-Dali’, a stronghold for Herak separatists, though calm has prevailed following a recently brokered ceasefire. [Reuters, 3/28/2014]


Saudi royal order names Muqrin the deputy crown prince
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a royal order on Thursday appointing Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as Deputy Crown Prince, making him second in line to the throne. Prince Muqrin is the youngest son of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. He served as the governor of Hail Province from 1980 until 1999 and was later appointed as the governor of Medina. He also served as head of the general intelligence between 2005 and 2012. King Abdullah appointed him as second deputy prime minister on February 1, 2013. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/28/2014]

UN warns of Syria spillover into Iraq
The United Nations has warned that armed groups are increasingly forging links across the border of Syria and Iraq, fuelling sectarian tensions in a region that has suffered from years of bloodshed. At a UN Security Council meeting, Nickolay Mladenov, the special envoy to Iraq, stated that the combination of a divided leadership in Iraq, unresolved constitutional issues between communities and the growing threat coming from Syria had created a “fragile and explosive” situation. Mladenov insisted the only way the violence could stop was through a political process that would bridge differences, increase development and make the government more inclusive. [Aljazeera, 3/28/2014]

United States, United Kingdom make plans to stay in Bahrain
The US Navy’s $580 million expansion of the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain will extend operational tenure in the gulf into the middle of the century, according to Vice Admiral John Miller. “We would not plan for this infrastructure if we did not plan on staying here.” According to Miller, the most important role of the United States presence is to provide the leadership. The United Kingdom will expand its military presence in Bahrain with a $9.7 million expansion of its maritime command in Manama. Bahrain beset with a popular uprising since 2011, and as dialogue and reform efforts have been stalled by the government, violence has become more frequent. [Defense News, 3/28/2014]