Top News: Tunisia to Offer Amnesty to Jihadists Not Convicted of Murder

Tunisia’s president promised an amnesty Tuesday for jihadists who disarm and who have not been convicted of murder but gave no further details of the proposed amnesty. Under the current anti-terrorism law, adopted in 2003 under Ben Ali, heavy prison sentences can be handed to anyone linked to a banned group, whether or not the suspect is convicted of acts of violence. The authorities say the militants are linked to al-Qaeda. Last year, more than twenty security personnel were killed in what the government calls “terrorism-related incidents.” Last month, the authorities designated Mount Chaambi and neighboring mountain districts a closed military zone, and warned of the growing threat posed by “terrorist organizations” based in them. [Al Arabiya, 5/6/2014]



US asked Egypt to delay Morsi’s ouster says Sisi
In the second part of a media interview with presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, aired on Monday, he said former-US ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson requested the Egyptian army delay the removal of Mohamed Morsi from office “for a day or two.” Sisi said Patterson’s request was not heeded. “A very senior American official came and met with me at the ministry… I told him the time is up. I have no advice for you,” Sisi said. On the economy, Sisi said Egyptians would see living conditions improve within two years. Heaping praise on Saudi’s King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, Sisi stressed that part of his plans to finance national projects are through grants from Arab states who understand Egypt’s crisis. He spelled out Egypt’s external and internal debt at EGP 1.7 trillion ($240 billion). Speaking about the ongoing tension with Ethiopia over the Renaissance Dam, Sisi said, “Negotiations and mutual understanding are key to cooperation and solving all these issues.” Watch the second part of the interview here. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, AP, Reuters, 5/6/2014]

Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims Egypt approved US nominee for ambassador
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman, Badr Abdel Atty, in an announcement on Wednesday said that the United States has nominated a new ambassador to Egypt. Speaking at a press conference, Atty said that Egypt approved the US choice for ambassador, state news agency MENA reported. The United States government has made no official announcement. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 5/7/2014]

Cement firms will not wait for environmental regulations to begin importing coal
The government will allow cement firms to import coal without waiting for Ministry of Environment to devise standards to mitigate pollution, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office said Tuesday. “The decision to use coal as an energy source in the cement industry is final,” said Sherif Shawky, media counsel for interim Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab. “The cement firms will be committed to environmental standards currently in place until the Ministry of Environment develop the new ones. The ministry is working on it by now and it will be launched in one month.” [DNE, 5/6/2014]

African Union to monitor presidential elections
The African Union will send a mission of parliamentarians, journalists, and civil society representatives to monitor the upcoming presidential elections, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Abdelatty said on Wednesday. The mission will include more than fifty observers from various African countries. The announcement came after Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy met with the African Union Peace commissioner on Monday to discuss Egypt’s role in peacekeeping forces throughout the continent as well as the Egyptian roadmap, which is entering its final stages with presidential elections looming on the horizon. In related news, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said that arrangements for resuming Egypt’s activities in the African Union (AU) would be taken during an upcoming summit to be held in Equatorial Guinea later this month. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 5/7/2014]


New Libyan PM eyes “crisis” government, more powers for regions
Sworn in as the new prime minister following a disputed vote in the legislature, Ahmed Maiteg says he wants to engage all political forces in forming a “crisis government” in Libya and devolving some powers to the regions. A businessman who owns a hotel in the capital Tripoli, Maiteg said in a brief televised speech that he does not believe in party affiliations and wants to talk to all societal forces and groups to form a cabinet representing a “national accord.” According to Maiteg, his government would be based on four pillars: to improve state control and sovereignty, rebuild the security and military institutions, begin national reconciliation, and pursue transitional justice. He said his government wants to “decentralize” to give regional communities more power to start development projects and create jobs. [Reuters, AP, 5/6/2014]

Libyan rebels occupying oil ports refuse to deal with new prime minister
Rebels occupying major oil ports in eastern Libya said on Wednesday they would not deal with new Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteg, posing a further obstacle to ending the blockades. Maiteg’s predecessor Abdullah al-Thinni had reached an agreement with the rebels to reopen four of the ports, though only the smaller ones have been handed over to government forces. Both sides had agreed to hold further talks over the larger Ras Lanuf and Es Sider export terminals, but the rebels’ comments could threaten those efforts. [Reuters, 5/7/2014]

Western nations condemn Benghazi attacks
In a joint statement, the United States, Great Britain, Italy, France, and Germany condemned the “ongoing attacks by terrorist groups” targeting “Libya’s legitimate security forces in Benghazi” and “the revolution for which Libyans fought so dearly.” The statement did not refer specifically to last Friday’s attacks on the Benghazi security directorate, which left at least nine dead, but closely resembled the Libyan government’s response to the violence, which described the attacks as an act of terrorism. The statement went on to applaud the “the commencement of the work of Libya’s constitutional drafting assembly,” adding that the five countries remained “committed to supporting Libya and its institutions through this difficult phase.” [Libya Herald, 5/7/2014]

Twelve detainees released as Sebha peace talks make progress
Tebu captors released twelve militiamen said to have been involved in communal clashes in Sebha following negotiations to ease tensions between the two groups. Misratan forces entered Sebha in late January after tribal and ethnic tensions boiled over, destabilizing the surrounding region and allowing Qaddafi supporters to gain a foothold at a nearby airbase. A local council member called the deal part of “a long-term plan to restore peace in the town and eventually negotiate the withdrawal of all military forces from the area.” A month ago, all factions involved in the conflict in Sebha accepted a reconciliation agreement allowing the neutral Misratan forces to take control of the town’s military barracks and airport. [Libya Herald, 5/7/2014]


Rebels evacuated from Homs, cradle of Syrian uprising
Rebels started withdrawing from the heart of Homs city on Wednesday, leaving an early center of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad and handing him a symbolic victory less than a month before his likely reelection. Two buses carrying the first of the fighters evacuated the city center in a deal between insurgents and forces loyal to Assad. The deal also includes the release of captives held by rebels in Aleppo and Latakia provinces, and the easing of a rebel siege of two Shia towns in northern Syria. Video footage showed a group of men climbing aboard a green bus, watched by around a dozen men in khaki uniform and black flak jackets marked “police.” In front of the bus was a white car with the markings of the United Nations, which helped oversee the operation. Activists said 1,900 people, mainly rebel fighters, were being evacuated, starting with 600 wounded fighters and civilian relatives. [Reuters, AFP, 5/7/2014]

Syria struggling to fill food import needs
War-torn Syria is struggling to buy food commodities in the quantities it needs, despite repeatedly issuing tenders for hundreds of thousands of tons of sugar, rice, and wheat. Trade sources said the country’s civil war is taking its toll, with large suppliers increasingly unwilling or unable to provide cargo for the Syrian market. “What we are seeing is a fragmentation of the business now. Smaller, fly-by-night outfits and new companies connected with the Syrian government are more active. This is not enough in terms of what the country needs to buy, and they cannot do the high-volume business to meet the demand,” a Middle East-based trade source said. On top of the risks of trading with a country wracked by violence, suppliers to Syria require licenses from US and European Union authorities, even for unrestricted humanitarian goods, which creates extra red tape. [Reuters, 5/7/2014]

Rebels say a would-be election candidate is captured
Rebels have captured an army colonel who tried unsuccessfully to stand in next month’s presidential election, according to an Internet video posted on Tuesday. The video, posted in the name of the Tabarak al-Rahman brigade, showed a man who identified himself as Mohammad Hassan Kanaan, with a military ID card bearing his name. Syria’s parliamentary speaker named Kanaan as one of twenty-four people who had nominated themselves to stand in the June 3 presidential election. Flanked by two men in military uniform carrying rifles, Kanaan said he had been asked to stand in the election by his commanding officer. “When I refused, he threatened to eliminate members of my family one by one,” he said. Under questioning, he said other would-be candidates were also coerced into nominating themselves. [Reuters, 5/7/2014]

Friends of Syria to meet in Britain next week, Secretary Kerry to attend
Western and Gulf nations opposed to the Assad regime will hold their latest meeting in London on May 15 to discuss stepping up support for rebels, Britain’s Foreign Office said Tuesday. The core eleven countries involved in the Friends of Syria group will also seek ways of getting aid into Syria, and discuss the political situation ahead of a widely criticized presidential election in June. British Foreign Secretary William Hague will host the talks, which US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to attend. “Foreign Ministers will discuss how best to significantly step up our support to the Syrian opposition, make urgent progress on improving the deteriorating humanitarian crisis and reinvigorate a political process that has stalled due to regime intransigence.” [Naharnet, 5/7/2014]


Army continues crackdown in mounts Chaambi, Sammama
On Monday, security units arrested a group of individuals supplying terrorist cells in mounts Chaambi and Sammama, along the Algerian border, with food, mobile phones, pre-paid phone cards, cameras and money. The interior ministry stated that this group of individuals provided logistic support to the terrorist cell and information on sensitive centers and targets. In addition, Tunisian troops killed a gunman in Jebel Chaambi in its sweep of the terrorist stronghold on Monday. [TAP, Maghrebia, 5/6/2014]

Ben Jaafar visits the United States
On Monday, President of the National Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar met with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Burns stated that the United States lends importance to the success of the Tunisian experience. In their meeting Ben Jaafar highlighted the election law adopted by the NCA last week, promoted tourism in Tunisia, and underscored the need to build a mid- and long-term partnership to promote economic development and increase trade volume. Ben Jaafar’s visit follows Prime Minister Jomaa’s visit at the beginning to April to Washington in order to launch the US-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue. [TAP, 5/6/2014]


Army captures al-Mahfad, rejects alleged withdrawal deal with AQAP
Yemeni government forces captured al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) main stronghold in the southern part of the country on Tuesday after insurgents blew up the local government compound there and fled. The mountainous al-Mahfad area of Abyan province, along with Azzan in Shabwa, has been the militants’ main stronghold in Yemen since 2012, when the Yemeni army drove the fighters from towns they had seized during the uprising in 2011. Local tribes in Shabwa’s Mayfa’a—another site of intense fighting—negotiated with AQAP and came to deal involving their withdrawal, but the central government rejected the proposal. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi called upon tribes to help protect the southern approach to the capital in Sana’a. [Reuters, 5/7/2014]

IMF says Yemen in more urgent need of donor aid in 2014
Yemen has a more urgent need for financial aid in 2014 than last year to fund its budget spending as currency reserves shrink and donor aid is slow to arrive, a senior International Monetary Fund (IMF) official said on Tuesday. The impoverished nation, which came close to economic collapse after a popular uprising in 2011, received $7.9 billion in aid pledges from foreign donors in 2012—only a third of which has arrived. Yemen’s finances have been strained by attacks on oil pipelines blamed by the government on Islamist militants and disgruntled tribesmen. Crude exports provide up to seventy percent of government budget income. [Reuters, 5/7/2014]

Marib pipeline, power lines sabotaged; army bombards suspects’ village
Assailants blew up Yemen’s main oil export pipeline, halting crude flows, local officials said on Wednesday, while other gunmen attacked electricity lines, causing a power outage in most of the country’s northern cities. Local tribesmen have carried out previous attacks on infrastructure in Marib. Local sources reported that the army had bombed areas near homes of suspects, resulting in the evacuation of the village due to fear of more army rocket attacks. [Reuters, Hona Hadhramout (Arabic); 5/7/2014]

Yemen law on child brides and FGM offers hope of wider progress
Yemen is poised to vote on a comprehensive Child Rights Act over the coming months, which would ban child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). The new law would establish the minimum age for marriage as eighteen, in line with the international human rights standard. Fines would be imposed on guardians, signatories, marriage officials and any other witnesses aware of any contravention. The Yemeni human rights minister and others in government have endorsed the push for official legislation on such issues, though a similar bill in 2008 failed to raise the minimum marriage. According to the UN, more than half of Yemeni girls are married by age eighteen. [The Guardian, 5/6/2014]


Lebanon’s parliament adjourns third round of presidential election
On Wednesday, Lebanon’s parliament adjourned the third round of presidential election because the minimum number of parliament members necessary in order to vote was not present. A new round of voting was scheduled for May 15. Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday adjourned the session after only seventy-three MPs had shown up by noon. This is the third time this month that voting has been rescheduled. Some March 8 lawmakers boycotted the parliamentary session once again, arguing that a vote would not produce any tangible results due to a lack of agreement among rival groups. Future Movement lawmakers launched scathing attacks against their March 8 rivals, blaming them for obstructing the democratic process to elect a president. [The Daily Star, 5/7/2014]

New coalition forms to block a third Maliki term
According to Al-Dostour, “informed political sources” report that a large coalition of parties—including his primary Shia political competitors—are aligning with the intent of blocking incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s third term. The parties allegedly involved are the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq’s Citizen Coalition, the Sadrist Trend’s Ahrar bloc, as well as “Kurdish forces,” though it is unclear which Kurdish parties. Preliminary results have not been released for the election, and votes are still being counted. [Al-Baghdadia (Arabic), 5/7/2014]

Saudi Arabia breaks up al-Qaeda-linked terror cell
Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday it had apprehended the first terrorist cell affiliated to the outlawed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, arresting sixty-two suspects, including thirty-five Saudi nationals previously detained on terrorism-related charges. Suspects also had alleged ties to al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen as well. Authorities were still hunting for forty-four others. Saudi security forces also dismantled a factory used to make explosives and electronic detonators and seized about one million Saudi riyals ($266,000). The suspects had been involved in smuggling people and weapons across the southern Saudi border. [The Guardian, 5/7/2014]