Top News: Thousands Rally for South Yemen Independence

Thousands of separatists rallied in Yemen’s main southern city Aden Wednesday demanding renewed independence for the region on the twentieth anniversary of a secession bid that was crushed by northern troops. he demonstrators waved the flag of the formerly independent south and pictures of exiled separatist leader Ali Salem al-Beidh as they commemorated the short-lived Democratic Republic of Yemen that was crushed in the 1994 civil war. In a speech broadcast from Beirut on Aden Live television channel (owned by Beidh) the exiled leader said southerners were “determined to create an independent state.” He called on the “occupying regime to begin negotiations” with southern leaders “overseen by the Arab League and the international community… to prevent further bloodshed.” [Al-Arabiya, 5/21/2014]



New parliament law reserves twenty-four seats for women and Christians
The Committee of Amending Political Rights Law completed its amendments to the parliamentary law and submitted it for discussion. The latest draft of the law includes a provision that 480 of the 600 seats will be filled through individual elections, 120 will be filled through party lists, and thirty more will be appointed by the president—though it remains unclear whether the appointments are in addition to the 600 seat total. The draft law also includes a clause reserving twenty-four seats for women and Christian representatives in the parliament. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 5/21/2014]

Egyptian court sentences ousted leader Mubarak to three years in jail
A Cairo court on Wednesday convicted ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of embezzlement, sentencing him to three years in prison. The graft case against the 86-year-old Mubarak is one of two against him. Mubarak is also being retried over the killings of hundreds of protesters during the uprising. His two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were also convicted Wednesday of graft and sentenced to four years in prison each in the same case. Mubarak and his sons were convicted for embezzling millions of dollars’ worth of state funds over a decade until the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. The funds were meant for renovating and maintaining presidential palaces but were instead spent on upgrading the family’s private residences. Mubarak and his two sons showed no emotion as the verdict was read. The ousted president waved to supporters present at the courtroom before the verdict was announced. A judicial source said the decision to return Mubarak to a military hospital following the verdict was a legal violation.  [Reuters, Ahram Online, DNE, AP 5/21/2014]

Egyptian business leaders push Sisi for energy subsidy cuts
Several leading business figures, including in the energy sector and in energy-intensive manufacturing industries, expressed hope that Sisi, if elected, will rein in subsidies on fuel and electricity. Weakening currency, massive unemployment, and a widening budget deficit have resulted in an unsustainable economy that poses a greater risk to stability than the impact of cutting subsidies. [Reuters, 5/21/2014]

Egypt distances itself from violence in Libya
Egypt condemned on Monday “Libyan and foreign attempts” to involve it in the latest violence taking over the North African neighbor, which has left dozens killed. In a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ministry stressed that the Egyptian government and people are looking forward to an end to the “ongoing rift and the bloodshed” in Libya. Egypt’s foreign ministry asserted the unity of Libya and rejected any foreign intervention in the “brotherly” country, believed to be on the brink of civil war following Friday’s violence. [DNE, 5/20/2014]


Top Libyan air force official backs rebel general
The top commander of Libya’s air force, Colonel Gomaa al-Abbani, announced his support for renegade retired General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Islamist lawmakers and extremist militias, further building support from the country’s fragmented military for a campaign the government has described as a coup. After a couple of days of calm since gunmen stormed the General National Congress (GNC) compound, explosions and heavy fighting with anti-aircraft guns could be heard near two military camps in Tripoli early Wednesday, according to witnesses. It appears that the Central Libya Shield from Misrata, which is aligned with the GNC and had been called upon by GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain to secure the entrances to Tripoli, has returned to its barracks. [AP, 5/21/2014]

International community expresses concern over deteriorating situation in Libya
The UN Support Mission in Libya expressed grave concern over the escalating violence gripping Libya in recent days and called on authorities to address the lawlessness immediately, suggesting “a comprehensive security plan with the participation of political, security, and social actors” be developed. The EU similarly called on all parties to build consensus to preserve the transition to democracy. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference that NATO has responded positively to Libya’s request for assistance in developing its security sector but that instability has made it difficult to engage with Libyan authorities. The US State Department on Tuesday said it does not support, condone, or assist in the recent actions by retired General Khalifa Haftar and stressed that the United States continues to call on all parties to refrain from violence and resolve the crisis peacefully. [Libya Herald, 5/20/2014]

Confusion surrounds June date for House of Representatives election
There has been confusion over reports that June 25 is the date for elections for the new House of Representatives that is to replace the General National Congress (GNC). Libyan news agency Lana reported that the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) had set that date, despite an earlier HNEC statement that national elections to a new legislature would be logistically impossible before August. The HNEC later said June 25 was just one of a number of dates under consideration. Despite some media reports, the decision as to when to hold the vote was not made at the GNC session held yesterday. The legislature was supposed to consider a number of items, including the approval of Ahmed Maiteg’s government and the 2014 budget, but there was no quorum. [Libya Herald, 5/20/2014]

Kidnapped political isolation law officials still missing
Ten staff members of the Public Officials Standards Commission (POSC) abducted on Sunday when gunmen stormed the General National Congress (GNC) remain missing, and there is no update on their whereabouts or conditions. It is believed that the POSC was targeted deliberately once the attackers got into the compound. The organization was established last year to implement the Political Isolation Law, which the GNC passed after what was widely seen as an intimidation campaign by revolutionaries, Islamists, and elements said to be connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. Its role is to investigate public officials to determine whether they had a significant role in the Qaddafi regime and, if so, to disbar them from public office for ten years. [Libya Herald, 5/20/2014]


Syria capacity to produce sarin destroyed
Syria’s stocks of a key chemical used to produce the deadly nerve agent sarin have been destroyed, the mission overseeing the destruction of its chemical arsenal said. The joint mission mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations confirmed in  a statement late on Tuesday the destruction of the entire declared Syrian stockpile of isopropanol. “Now 7.2 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons material remains in country and awaits swift removal for onward destruction. The joint mission urges the Syrian authorities to undertake this task as soon as possible.” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed Tuesday that the chemical shipments are “starting to be moved as we speak.” [AFP, Reuters, 5/21/2014]

Activists report new poison gas attack in Hama
A Syrian opposition group on Tuesday said more than 130 villagers in the central province of Hama are in need of medical attention as a result of an alleged poison gas attack launched by the Damascus regime a day earlier. The Hama Media Center said the victims of the attack in Kfar Zeita were all showing extreme difficulties breathing, including twenty-one children in critical condition. Activists allege regime helicopters have frequently dropped chlorine gas canisters on Kfar Zeita. Several online videos showed men and children being treated in a field hospital, demonstrating severe respiratory symptoms. [Al Arabiya, 5/21/2014]

Russia vows to veto Security Council vote on Syria
Russia would veto a draft United Nations Security Council calling for Syria to be hauled before the International Criminal Court, deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said Tuesday. Gatilov called the resolution drafted by France and expected to be put to the vote on Thursday “intentionally politicized.” Russia was already widely expected to veto the measure along with China, as they have vetoed three previous Western resolutions since the start of the Syrian crisis three years ago. [AFP, 5/20/2014]

Presidential candidate says wealth hoarding caused conflict
A candidate standing against Bashar al-Assad in next month’s presidential election says the country’s conflict began because of the regime’s poor economic management and a minority elite monopolising wealth. “Today there is a nationwide war and a foreign plot, but in the beginning, people took to the streets to demand rights. We mustn’t forget that,” Hassan al-Nuri said Tuesday. Nuri, one of three candidates in the race, holds a PhD in management from an American university and was the minister of administrative development from 2000 to 2002. “The country’s wealth has been monopolised by 100 families,” he charged. Protesters at the start of the uprising frequently demonstrated near economic enterprises, especially offices of the telecommunications company that belongs to Assad’s cousin, magnate Rami Makhluf. [AFP, 5/21/2014]


Tunisia takes sensitive step to trim fuel, sugar, bread subsidies
The government announced on Tuesday that it will raise subsidized petrol prices by 6.3 percent in the coming days and also decrease subsidies for bread, sugar, and other basic materials in order to trim a worsening budget deficit. The price of petrol will increase to 1.67 dinars a liter from 1.570 dinars a liter. The last increase occurred in March 2013.  [Reuters, 5/20/2014]

President Marzouki expected to sign electoral law
The provisional authority charged with the supervision of the constitutionality of laws dismissed five appeals against the new electoral law. A fifth appeal has been deemed to have expired as the electoral law is expected to be signed by President Marzouki in the coming hours. [Mosaique, 5/21/2014]

Tunisia’s Ennahda slams ‘military coup’ in Libya
Tunisia’s powerful Islamist Ennahda party denounced the military campaign by rogue general Haftar in neighboring Libya as an “attempted coup” against the elected Islamist-dominated government. Ghannouchi warned that the “alarming spread of arms” could lead to civil war in Libya, urging the rival parties to engage in “national dialogue without exclusion.” [Alarabiya, 5/20/2014]


‘Weak government threat to Yemen’s unity,’ say analysts
Yemen will remain at risk of disintegration as long as the state is unable to exercise its influence on all provinces and cannot address pervasive corruption, local analysts said as the country marks the twenty-fourth anniversary of unification on May 22. This year’s celebrations come as the country approved turning into a federal state of six regions; four in the north and two in the south. Despite threats of secession from the South, analysts argue that the main threat to the unification comes from a weak government in Sana’a, highlighting the primary issues as corruption, ineffective provision of services, and failing to address economic challenges. [Gulf News, 5/21/2014]

Basindowa before House of Representatives
Although he had previously denied any corruption within his government, Prime Minsiter Mohammad Salem Basindowa admitted corruption does exist, but declared his innocence and willingness for himself and other parties to stand trial for such allegations. The comments came as Basindowa appeared before Yemen’s House of Representatives to answer questions from members. An Islah MP called on Basindowa to do more to confront the “terrorists” that continue attacking pipelines and electricity lines in Marib, calling them “more dangerous than al-Qaeda.” Other criticisms include allegations that parts of the government were conspiring with various social and political factions. [Barakish (Arabic), 5/21/2014]

Yemen moves to increase media transparency through YouTube in battle against AQAP
A new policy by the Yemeni government seeks to strengthen transparency by making information about its security operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) available to all. Since the start of the intensive military campaign against al-Qaeda in the southern provinces of Abyan and Shabwa last month, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense has used its “26 September News” YouTube channel and affiliated social media accounts to report on the army’s various activities. Nearly every day it posts video clips to the channel featuring army successes, officials said. One official pointed out that due to power outages, citizens find it easier to follow news online from their mobile phones rather than rely on television. Despite this purported move toward transparency, the military has had recent confrontations with non-government press sources like Al Jazeera and other foreign journalists. [Al-Shorfa, 5/21/2014]


UAE halts printing of New York Times over damning NYU labor article
Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times (NYT), which carries an investigative report detailing the extremely harsh conditions of constructions workers building New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi, will not be printed in the United Arab Emirates because a distribution partner determined the paper was “too sensitive for local printing.” The NYT emailed subscribers to announce that the printing was stopped by The Khaleej Times, the paper’s distribution partner in the region, which is partially owned by the prime minister of the UAE. [Newsweek, 5/21/2014]

Lebanon asks refugees to settle status; report says refugees denied medical care
General Security announced Wednesday that Palestinian and Syrian refugees have a one-month grace period to settle their residency status. Lebanese officials have also said that new regulations, which remain under study by the Cabinet, would also restrict the entry of Syrians to those who are in genuine need of refuge, arguing that many enter under a refugee status in order to benefit from international aid. Additionally, according to Amnesty International, underfunded medical institutions in Lebanon are incapable or unwilling to treat many Syrian refugees, rendering already vulnerable populations at risk of financial ruin, disability and death. Humanitarian agencies, notably the UNHCR, are woefully underfunded and have been forced to dramatically cut medical subsidies to refugees. As such, untold numbers of Syrian suffering from conditions like kidney failure, cancer and other insidious chronic diseases are either foregoing treatment or incurring immense debts to Lebanese medical institutions. [The Daily Star, 5/21/2014]

Algeria begins constitutional reform process
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised constitutional reform immediately upon his reelection, but not all political actors are ready to participate in the process. Last week, some 150 political figures, lawyers, judges and human rights activists received a copy of the first draft. But a thirteen-party opposition alliance rejected participation in talks aimed at issuing a new constitution. “The only real piece of news is that the prime minister can stand in for the head of state during his foreseeable absences by signing executive decrees,” a Rally for Culture and Democracy leader said. A member of the Islamist Ennahda party was equally critical: “Apart from the part about limiting the number of presidential terms of office, there are no changes… We had hoped that the governance system would be overhauled and that the powers of the judiciary and parliament would be strengthened, but these things do not appear in this draft,” he added. [Maghrebia, 5/20/2014]

Some of the competitors in the way of Maliki’s third term as Iraq PM
With final results from Iraq’s April 30 elections finally out, Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to face several contestants in his bid to win a third term in office. So far, the embattled Maliki seems to be the only solid contender nominated by his State of Law Coalition. But two of the competitors, Hussain Shahristani and Tariq Najm Abdulla, both from the Shia alliance, are seen as the more likely frontrunners. Shahristani has been cited as a potential rival but his stormy relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government complicate his chances. Abdulla has a reputation as a mediator and has healthy relations with Turkey, the United States, and Iran. Ayad Allawi is again thought to have a good chance as a Shia representing a secular party. Other contenders remain, although ultimately it will come down to what coalition forms to reach the critical 165 seats to form a government. [Rudaw, 5/21/2014]