Top News: Third Day of Voting Begins as Egypt Authorities Fear Low Turnout

Egyptian authorities scrambled to rescue the country’s presidential election from the embarrassment of low voter turnout, but few people trickled to the polls Wednesday even after the balloting was extended for a third day. On Tuesday PM Ibrahim Mahlab threatened to fine those who choose not to vote. He also said that according to the latest reports voter turnout exceeded 30 percent. According to Judge Mosaad Abu Saada, Chief of Alexandria’s electoral commission, voter turnout in the Mediterranean governorate had reached 20 percent as of Tuesday. Divided into two governorates, the restive and sparsely populated Sinai Peninsula also witnessed low turnouts in the north and mediocre turnouts in south over the last two days of the presidential election. Figures from election officials suggest that 20-24 percent of voters took to the polls in the South Sinai governorate, while figures were lower in the more troubled North Sinai governorate, where 10 percent of eligible voters are said to have cast their ballots. An independent Egyptian newspaper quoted a high level source as saying that as of Wednesday afternoon roughly 23.5 million Egyptians had voted in the elections. [ReutersAP, 5/28/2014]



Sabbahi’s campaign withdraws delegates from polls
The campaign of presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi withdrew all its delegates from polling stations on Wednesday on the third day of Egypt’s presidential election. Sabbahi’s campaign said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that some of its members were attacked while trying to expose violations. The violations included being prevented by police and army forces from entering polling stations, being kicked out while observing the electoral process, and being arrested and attacked, the statement explained. The campaign said it filed official reports to the PEC, but received no response. Sabbahi’s campaign also denied rumors circulating on social media Tuesday that he would withdraw from the presidential race. In related news Egypt’s Dostour party also withdrew its involvement in the current elections including the party’s support for Sabbahi citing what it called “irregularities and blatant challenges to the law.” [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Shorouk (Arabic), 5/28/2014]

PEC: Allowing voters to cast ballots without residence restriction will nullify elections
The presidential elections commission (PEC) issued a statement late Tuesday afternoon slamming calls in the media for voters to cast their ballots without residence restrictions in order to raise the turnout in the 2014 poll. The commission stated that it would not allow the voters to cast their ballot without residence restriction because such action can “nullify” the whole elections process. According to PEC the number of voters who cast their ballots without residence restrictions during the Constitutional referendum in January 2014 was only 424,000 not millions as claimed on talk shows. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 5/27/2014]

FM spokesperson says international monitoring mission reports positive
Egypt’s foreign ministry said that it is in regular contact with various regional and international missions that are following the presidential elections. “We aim to help them overcome obstacles, facilitate their task and transfer any requests or inquiries to the Presidential Elections Commission,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Badr Abdel Aaty. “Initial reports by heads and members of these missions stated that they have not observed any violations that challenged the integrity of the electoral process.” On Wednesday, the US-based NGO Democracy International issued a statement criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend voting a third day. The statement said that the government’s decision “harmed” the credibility of elections and “raises more questions about the independence of the election commission, the impartiality of the government, and the integrity of Egypt’s electoral process.” Democracy International said that it will issue a preliminary statement on the elections on Thursday. [Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 5/28/2014]


Libyan militant leader warns US against interference
The leader of Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia militant group in Benghazi has warned the United States against interfering in the country’s crisis, accusing the US government of backing renegade retired general Khalifa Haftar, who has launched a campaign to purge Libya of Islamist militants. Ansar al-Sharia is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by Washington and was accused of orchestrating the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. On Tuesday, the US State Department told its citizens in Libya to leave immediately, warning that the security situation there is “unpredictable and unstable” and that Americans could be targeted for kidnappings, violent attacks, or death. [Reuters, AP, 5/27/2014]

Libya oil guards protest at Hariga port, disrupt operations
A brigade from Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) has been disrupting operations at the country’s Hariga port to demand salary payments, according to an official from state-run oil company AGOCO. The PFG at Hariga has been allied with self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran, a former rebel commander who defected from the PFG to take over four oil ports last summer. A spokesman for Jadhran declined to comment on the Hariga port protest and would not confirm his movement was involved in any action there. [Reuters, 5/27/2014]

Election commission opens process for challenging candidates
Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC) has opened a window until June 5 for citizens to challenge the candidacy of any individual registered to stand for the upcoming House of Representatives elections. HNEC also announced that candidates cannot spend more than 80,000 Libyan dinars on their campaign and are prohibited from campaigning outside of their districts. Meanwhile, the election body has set June 15 as the deadline by when Libyans living abroad can register to vote. [Libya Herald, 5/27/2014]

African Development Bank signs first grant agreement with post-revolution Libya
The African Development Bank Group has signed its first grant agreement with Libya since the revolution. Amounting to $3.5 million, the grant is meant to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of state institutions to deliver democratic governance and sustainable economic and social development. The project will support the transitional government and prepare conditions for a successful handover to the new post-election government, while running a pilot leadership-training program for executive level officials in the public and private sectors, as well as civil society. The project is financed through the Deauville Partnerships Transition Fund with complementary funding of $2 million from Libya’s ministry of planning. [AllAfrica, 5/23/2014]


Obama close to authorizing military training of rebels
President Barack Obama is close to authorizing a mission led by the Pentagon to train moderate rebels to fight the regime and al-Qaeda-linked groups, a move that would significantly expand Washington’s role in the conflict, US officials said. A new military training program, if implemented, would supplement a small train-and-equip program led by the Central Intelligence Agency that Obama authorized a year ago. In an address on Wednesday, officials said Obama will signal backing for the new efforts, but the president is not expected to provide details about how, or where, that training would be done. Responding to a report in Al Hayat newspaper, a State Department official on Tuesday denied that the White House had “lifted its veto” on deliveries of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, or MANPADS, to rebels. [WSJ, AP, 5/28/2014]

Chemical arms team visits chlorine site
A team from the world’s chemical weapons watchdog (OPCW) investigating an alleged chlorine attack against rebel-held Kafr Zeita managed to visit the town Tuesday, hours after the team came under attack. The circumstances of Tuesday’s attack were unclear. Syria’s Foreign Ministry initially reported that rebels abducted eleven people, including six members of a UN fact-finding mission and their Syrian drivers, but the OPCW issued a statement shortly afterward saying “all team members are safe and well and are traveling back to the operating base.” The foreign ministry said the four-car convoy was heading toward Kfar Zeita, where activists and Human Rights Watch reported gas attacks on April 11 and April 18 that killed two people. [The Daily Star, 5/28/2014]

Assad posts a letter of support from Virginia state senator
A letter from Virginia state Sen. Richard Black praising Bashar al-Assad was posted to the Syrian president’s Facebook page Sunday. “I write to thank the Syrian Arab Army for its heroic rescue of Christians in the Qalamoun Mountain Range,” the letter begins. Black (R-Loudoun County) praises the Syrian army’s efforts against the forces that have been challenging Assad’s power, which the letter claims are “dominated by our arch-enemy al-Qaeda.” By protecting Christians in the country, Assad has “followed the practice of [his] father by treating with respect all Christians and the small community of Jews in Damascus.” [Washington Post, 5/27/2014]

Assad forces flatten Syria’s oldest synagogue
A historic synagogue on the outskirts of Damascus was destroyed amid fighting over the weekend. Opposition leaders said army forces flattened the more than 400-year-old Eliyahu Hanabi Synagogue in an attack—part of a months-long bombardment of the suburb of Jobar—and also may have destroyed thousands of Jewish artifacts. The synagogue had been damaged by a mortar shell in 2013. Before the civil war, the synagogue—which had stopped functioning as a Jewish house of worship more than a century ago—reportedly housed thousands of religious and cultural treasures, including century-old Torah scrolls, historical texts, dishes, and ancient Judaica. The synagogue was a destination for Jewish pilgrims and was said to have been built atop the cave where the Prophet Elijah hid from his persecutors. [Ha’aretz, The Daily Beast, 5/28/2014]


Four police killed in attack on interior minister’s home
Four Tunisian police officers were killed during an attack overnight on the home of Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou in the west-central Kasserine region, a ministerial spokesman said Wednesday. It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, was in the house at the time of the attack, but the minister was not home. Kasserine is situated at the foot of Mount Chaambi on a range bordering Algeria. Since late 2012, security forces have been battling dozens of militants hiding out in the remote Mount Chaambi region, where eight soldiers were killed in an ambush last July. The attack on the interior minister’s house comes during a period of relative calm in Tunisia. [AFP, 5/28/2014]

Marzouki blames former regime for current state of education system
At the opening of the twenty-second ordinary session of the Arab League Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ALECSO) General Conference, caretaker President Moncef Marzouki stressed that “the despotic regime of the ousted president has shattered the educational system in Tunisia, preventing it from reaching the higher level sought by all Tunisians.” He cited among the errors committed by the former regime the abandonment of technical schools in the mid 1990’s. Marzouki called for not repeating such errors to be able to build a developed educational system.   [TAP, 5/27/2014]

Government spokesman announces postponement of national economic conference
The national economic conference, initially scheduled for Wednesday, May 28, 2014, has been postponed in order to allow greater participation from civil society. The conference will address necessary urgent economic measures, namely those concerning the supplementary budget law for 2014 and the finance bill for 2015. The conference will also address structural reforms for the national economy .[ All Africa, 5/27/2014]


Yemen to create a Supreme Council for Youth
Fulfilling one of the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), Yemen is set to create a Supreme Council for Youth to empower young Yemenis economically, politically, and socially. NDC deputy secretary-general Yasser al-Ruaini said that the body would operate “as a higher authority to put in place various policies to improve the education, health and economic status of the youth.” The council is going to be formed as part of Yemen’s next government and will be created pending completion of the constitution, which will more clearly define its role and powers. [Al-Shorfa, 5/28/2014]

Judges’ Club announces end to strike
After two months of being on strike, the Yemen Judges’ Club has announced that they will resume work in full on Wednesday. The strike began in March following the kidnapping of a judge in Hajjah. The strike continued after his release with the Club demanding assurances about security for judges and courts. The strike ended after an agreement between the Judges Club and the Supreme Judicial Council. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/28/2014]

Yemen joins WTO, says it aims to be maritime hub
Yemen joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Tuesday, vowing to use its membership and strategic location to overcome years of strife and transform itself into a hub for maritime commerce. WTO membership is seen as a key step in the global economy because it gives countries easier access to other countries’ markets under a set of agreed rules, as well as a forum to deal with trade disputes. [AFP, 5/28/2014]


Bahrain rejects US State Department report on human rights
In a wide-ranging report, Bahrain’s interior ministry criticized a US State Department report about the general situation in the country as “lacking neutrality and objectivity,” refuting a total of forty-two US claims in detail. Responding to claims that “dozens of deaths” were linked to Bahraini security forces’ actions, either directly or indirectly, the statement that the government claimed that more police officers died from protest-related violence than protesters, and flatly denied that tear gas had resulted in any deaths. The government additionally affirmed that the government had a “zero-tolerance” policy on torture, despite recent reports. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/28/2014]

Jordan Brotherhood talks suspended
A negotiation team tasked by the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership last month to reach out to three recently expelled prominent liberal members has abruptly suspended talks due to rising differences between delegation members. According to insiders, conservative-leaning members of the negotiation team are pushing the Brotherhood to offer the three men a full return to the movement provided they sever all ties with the Zamzam Initiative. Another one of the conditions being pushed by conservative factions, according to sources, is a ban on the three men from returning to leadership positions within the Brotherhood, or its political arm, the Islamic Action Front. [The Jordan Times, 5/27/2014]

Saudi court sentences activist to death for sedition
A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced to death an activist convicted of sedition, rioting, protesting and robbery in the district of Qatif, home to many of the kingdom’s Shiite sect who say they face entrenched discrimination. The sentence, issued on Tuesday and reported by state media early on Wednesday, is the second time in a week the death penalty has been imposed on a Shiite involved in unrest in Qatif, located in the oil-producing Eastern Province. [Gulf News, 5/28/2014]

Iraq attacks kill fourteen as 2014 toll tops 4,000
Attacks across Iraq killed fourteen people on Wednesday, the latest in a months-long surge in violence that has left more than 4,000 people dead this year. In Wednesday’s deadliest violence, a series of eleven bombings in the ethnically-mixed town of Tuz Khurmatu killed five people, four of them members of the same family, and wounded eleven, officials said. Insurgents often exploit poor communication between Arab and Kurdish security forces to carry out attacks in the area. [Gulf News, 5/28/2014]