At least six militants were killed on Wednesday in an air strike by the army in Northern Sinai’s Sheikh Zuweid, including one of the prominent leaders of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis extremist group, army sources said. Twenty of the militants were wounded in the security operation, according to the sources. In Cairo and Qalyubiya, the National Security Sector arrested seven Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis members on Thursday, according to security sources. Four members were arrested in Qaliubiya while three others were arrested in Marg area in Cairo with electrical circuits and homemade bombs in their possession, sources told the Middle East News Agency. In related news, an Egyptian soldier was wounded in an armed attack on a security checkpoint in Sinai’s Sheikh Zuweid on Friday, security sources said. The attackers were in a truck when they started shooting on soldiers stationed at al-Zohoir checkpoint early on Friday. [Aswat Masriya, 4/25/2014]



Activists will march on April 26 to demand repeal of protest law
Egyptian activists held a press conference on Thursday in front of the presidential palace in Cairo to announce an escalation in their demands for the country’s controversial protest law to be repealed. Those participating in the conference included the April 6 movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Egyptian Popular Current, in addition to Nourhan Hefzy, wife of prominent activist Ahmed Douma, who was recently sentenced to three years in jail for breaking the protest law. The groups announced the march to the presidential palace for Saturday, April 26. [Ahram Online, 4/24/2014]

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Fahmy arrives in United States for talks
Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil Fahmy landed in San Francisco on Thursday to kick off his multi-day visit to the United Stated to hold talks on mutual ties and regional issues, the foreign ministry said. The senior diplomat is due to visit Washington, DC and San Francisco to hold talks on bilateral relations and regional issues with his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials in the Obama administration, the ministry said earlier this week. Fahmy on Thursday held discussions with US communications and investment experts and sat with members of the Egyptian community in San Francisco, official foreign ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel Atti said in a statement on Friday. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, SIS, 4/25/2014]

Egypt expects record purchase of domestic wheat in 2014
Egypt’s government is expecting more wheat than ever before from local farmers this year, thanks to the introduction of a new nationwide system of contractual farming, officials from the agriculture ministry said. The world’s largest wheat importer is expected to buy 4.25 million tons of local wheat by July this year, almost half of the projected harvest’s 9.6 million tons. Egyptians consume a total of between 15 and 20 million tons of wheat per year, of which 10 million tons are produced locally, with the rest coming from imports. In related news Egypt will try to save half the money it spends on wheat subsidies by issuing a new smart card system to ensure that the cheap bread goes to only the neediest. Supply Minister Khaled Hanafy said in an interview this week that the new cards will help the government prevent citizens from buying in bulk and save roughly EGP 11 billion ($1.6 billion), half of what it spends on bread subsidies annually. [Ahram Online, 4/24/2014]


Libya rebels warn Tripoli oil ports to stay closed unless deal implemented
A rebel group in eastern Libya that controls several oil ports said on Thursday it would not reopen the key Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals unless the government implemented its part of a recent deal to end the oil blockade. In a sign of further delays to restart vital oil exports, rebels said the Tripoli government had failed to fulfill its part of the accord reached this month. The country badly needs the oil revenue but tactical maneuvers and mutual mistrust are likely to cause delays. According to a rebel spokesperson, Tripoli has not paid state salaries to the rebels as per the deal reached earlier this month to reopen four oil ports. So far only the 110,000 barrels a day Hariga port in Tobruk has resumed work. [Reuters, 4/24/2014]

Government approves LD 50 million in aid for exiles in Tunisia and Egypt
In a bid to promote reconciliation, the government has approved LD 50 million in humanitarian aid to help Libyans in exile in Egypt and Tunisia, many of whom were supporters of the former regime. A spokesperson from the office of the prime minister said that the program had partly been unveiled to help ease the suffering of Libyans abroad during Ramadan but that the aid was important to ensuring these individuals were not recruited by organizations which seek to destabilize the country. He added that the money would alleviate child labor to which many Libyan families had resorted in exile. [Libya Herald, 4/24/2014]

Government pledges LD 98 million to municipal councils
The government has set aside LD 98 million to kick-start the work of the new municipal councils. A spokesman from the office of the prime minister said the cabinet’s commitment to local governance. The funds were intended to encourage the work of what will be fifty-nine new municipal councils. Elections were held for sixteen municipal councils this week, including in Benghazi, with elections set to take place for the remaining councils over the next fortnight. [Libya Herald, 4/25/2014]


Blast kills ISIS leader in Syria’s Hasakah
The commander of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was killed alongside ten other members of the transnational jihadist group in a blast in the northeastern province of al-Hasakah, a rebel news network reported on Thursday. The Masar Press Agency reported that Abu Bara al-Libi had taken charge of the ISIS branch only for a “short period.” Local tribes had declared war on the militant group, accused by other rebel groups and opposition activists of collaborating with the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. [Al-Arabiya, 4/24/2014]

Businessman second hopeful for Syria presidential vote
A businessman became the second hopeful to register for Syria’s controversial June presidential election, expected to return incumbent Bashar al-Assad to office. Like the first would-be candidate to declare, Hassan Abdullah al-Nouri is a member of the regime-tolerated opposition. Authorities have not spelled out how they plan to hold a credible election amid a raging civil war in which they have lost control of large swathes of the country to rebel groups and militias. The Syrian opposition has slammed the planned vote as a “farce,” while the UN and Arab League warned that it will deal a blow to efforts to broker a negotiated peace. [Naharnet, 4/24/2014]

Syria eyes end of chemical arms monitoring as Russia calls recent claims “fabricated”
Syria declared on Wednesday that it expected the dismantling of the mission overseeing the destruction of the country’s chemical arsenal, though Western officials said they want the team to keep working. The statement came after the head of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told the Security Council that the Syrian government should be able to meet an April 27 deadline to hand over all declared chemical agents. However, US and European delegations told the mission’s head that they were concerned about new allegations that Syria’s government had deployed chlorine gas, calling for a full investigation, though Russia declared the claims to be “fabricated.” [The Daily Star, Reuters, 4/25/2014]

If Assad wins war, challenge from his own sect may follow
As Assad seeks reelection and promises victory over insurgents by year’s end, Syrian loyalists and regional analysts say that his success, if it materializes, could set him up for a new challenge: demands for change from core supporters who believe he owes his survival mainly to them. Some loyalists say that the Syrians most responsible for keeping Assad afloat are newly aware of his dependence on them, and would push for a bigger share of power if they came to feel safe from the threat of insurgent revenge. [New York Times, 4/25/2014]


Consensus reached on articles 93 through 127 of draft electoral law
The Consensus Commission of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) convened on Wednesday evening and Thursday afternoon. It reached a compromise on articles 93 to 127 of the draft electoral law. The laws discussed covered technical issues such the organization of the vote and polling stations. The electoral law is expected to be adopted in its entirety by next Tuesday at the latest if the current pace of work is maintained. [All Africa, 4/24/2014]

United States reiterates commitment to Tunisia
On Thursday Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson met with President of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar. Patterson underlined the importance of discussing the achievements accomplished by Tunisia during the transitional phase, notably the constitution and the electoral law. She also emphasized that her visit is an opportunity to advance the implementation of the loan guarantee agreement concluded between the two countries during Jomaa’s recent visit to Washington. [All Africa, 4/24/2014]

Politicians say they’ll reduce their salaries to help economy
Faced with a dire public finances situation, Tunisian politicians have proposed cutting their salaries, but some citizens feel that this is too little, too late. On April 18, President Marzouki announced that he could cut his salary by a third. On April 21, Ahmed Ibrahim became the most recent National Constituent Assembly member to suggest that his colleagues’ pay be reduced. [Tunisia Live, 4/24/2014]


UN envoy briefs UNSC, reporters on Houthi conflict and drones
UN special advisor Jamal Benomar briefed the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday about the status of Yemen’s transition. Benomar discussed the constitution drafting and security challenges, but highlighted the economic and humanitarian situation in the country, emphasizing the need for donors to fulfill their pledges. Benomar said Thursday that the Houthis agreed to a new initiative by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to promote dialogue related to the rebels’ disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Addressing the recent military campaign in the south against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Benomar called AQAP “a very real and lethal  threat,” explaining that the country will need “all the help” it can get with regard to defeating it, though did not explicitly mention the United States or its unmanned drone strikes. Benomar also spoke with Asharq al-Awsat about the ongoing threat posed by militias and localized conflicts. [Saba, 4/25/2014]

New NDC implementation panel created
President Hadi created a new panel to oversee implementation of the outcomes and conclusions of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). This panel will be comprised of eighty-two previous NDC delegates. The formation of the panel was mandated by the NDC, though it remains unclear what specific powers the panel has. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/25/2014]

Tribal leaders protest curfew against traveling with weapons
A small group of tribal leaders and other influential people protested in Ibb against a curfew banning traveling with weapons. Three demonstrators insisted on their right to keep light and medium weapons, and were armed as they entered local government facilities, though no clashes occurred. A member of parliament was among the demonstrators, according to witnesses. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/25/2014]


Syria war threatens Lebanon’s stability
The UN secretary-general is warning that the conflict in Syria poses a serious threat to the stability of neighboring Lebanon, as thousands of refugees stream into the small country and weapons and fighters are transferred out. Ban Ki-moon’s latest report to the UN Security Council, circulated Thursday, says the involvement of Lebanese groups in the Syrian fighting “has had a devastating impact on security,” including several terrorist attacks in Lebanon “by groups claiming that they are acting in response to Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria.” [Gulf News, 4/25/2014]

Iraq’s rebellious west is wild card in upcoming parliamentary elections
When Iraq holds nationwide parliamentary elections on April 30, it will be with parts of its Sunni west in armed revolt and amid rising fears the country could be edging toward civil war. For fifteen weeks, government troops have been battling to retake parts of the western province of Anbar from a coalition of anti-government tribal forces and global jihadists. The unrest has greatly complicated preparations for elections, making them impossible to hold in Fallujah and raising high security concerns in Ramadi. But even in more rural areas where elections can be held, there is a question of how many people will vote amid widespread bitterness against the government over the fighting and displacements. [Radio Liberty, 4/25/2014]

UN rights monitor criticizes Bahrain over expulsion of Shia cleric
The UN’s religious freedom monitor on Thursday urged Sunni-ruled Bahrain to halt discrimination against its Shia majority and its spiritual leader, who was deported to Lebanon this week. The case of Sheikh Hussein al-Najati was a stark illustration of the broader mistreatment of Shiites in Bahrain, the UN expert said. He said that he had contacted Bahrain’s government to express his “grave concerns” over what he said appeared to be “religiously motivated discrimination” against the cleric. Najati, the Bahrain representative of Iraq-based Shia leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was among thirty-one Bahrainis stripped of their citizenship in November 2012, for allegedly undermining state security. [The Daily Star, 4/25/2014]

More unrest in southern Jordan after clashes kill one
“Outlaws” threw petrol bombs at government buildings in the restive southern city of Ma’an on Friday, where unrest this week has killed one man and wounded five policemen, according to a Jordanian security source. The violence first erupted Sunday when gunmen opened fire at police in Ma’an, seriously wounding one of them. It was not immediately clear what sparked the shooting in the impoverished city. Security sources claim that the subsequent investigation is what sparked riots in the city. During a security operation Tuesday a twenty year-old man was killed in clashes with policemen outside his home, which led to angry residents blocking roads and torching three banks and a tax office the following day as gunmen fired on police and other government buildings. [The Daily Star, 4/25/2014]