Top News: UN Envoy to Yemen Resigns

The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, resigned on Wednesday. UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said that ministers from the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a trip to Kuwait in late March and told him of their unhappiness with Benomar. A UN diplomatic source said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was considering appointing Mauritanian diplomat Ould Cheikh Ahmed to the post. [BBCReutersAPAl-Masdar, 4/15/2015]



Egypt’s cabinet approves amendments to election laws
Egypt’s cabinet approved the amended electoral districts law after the committee tasked with amending the parliamentary law under the supervision of Minister of Transitional Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim al-Heneidy presented its final draft on Wednesday. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab presented the amendments to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, prior to approving the law. The law is to be sent to the State Council for revision. The transitional justice ministry issued on Thursday a statement explaining the amendments to the constituency law, the parliamentary elections law, and the political participation law. Several party leaders, however, criticized the committee for allegedly ignoring their proposals, saying that the amendments only addressed the articles challenged by the Supreme Constitutional Court. Hussein Abdel Razeq, member of the leftist Tagammu Party, said that the committee did not consider their proposals at all. There will be no consensus on the draft law, which should conform to the constitution, he said. The head of Egypt’s the liberal Wafd Party also criticized the Prime Minister’s meetings with political parties over the electoral laws, describing them as “useless.” Socialist Popular Alliance Party Acting President Medhat al-Zahed accused the cabinet of preparing the law in advance of any dialogue with Egypt’s political parties. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 4/16/2015]

Religious endowments ministry to form anti-atheism awareness groups
The ministry of religious endowments has decided to form special groups to spread awareness on controversial community issues in Egypt’s mosques. During a meeting with his deputies from different governorates on Tuesday, Religious Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said those groups would hold small monthly gatherings between the evening prayers in mosques. Ministry Spokesman Mohamed Abdel Razek said the groups aim to spread awareness on the “threats of atheism, Shi’a, Baha’ism expiation, killings, and drug addiction.” [DNE, 4/15/2015]

Former Morsi aide prevented from leaving for Canada
Authorities at Cairo International Airport prevented on Wednesday former President Mohamed Morsi’s aide from leaving the country. After over a year in prison, Khaled al-Qazzaz was released without charge in January due to his deteriorating health. Qazzaz’s family earlier said the father of four had received all of the needed documents to leave Egypt and expected to arrive in Toronto on Thursday. But late Wednesday, his brother-in-law said Qazzaz, his wife Sarah, and their four children were stopped at the airport and told they could not leave. The statement from Ahmed Attia also said their passports were taken and savings intended for Qazzaz’s medical costs were confiscated. [CBC, 4/16/2015]

Egypt, Bahrain to conduct first joint military exercise
For the first time, Egyptian and Bahraini Armed Forces will conduct air-maritime joint military exercises under the name of “Hamad-1.” Four Egyptian naval units and a number of F-16 fighter jets will participate in the exercise, due to kick off on April 20. Military expert Mohamed Mokhtar Qandil said that the reason behind the Egyptian-Bahraini military exercises is not only to train forces on operations that could be conducted in the Arabian Gulf in the future, but also comprises the initial steps that prelude the formation of a joint Arab military force. [SIS, 4/16/2015]

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Tobruk air strikes aimed at GNC delegation; A new car bomb explodes in Tobruk
Forces loyal to the Tobruk government recently carried out air strikes near Mitiga airport, which UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon claims was an attempt to prevent the General National Congress (GNC) delegation from traveling to Morocco for a new round of talks. Leon condemned the air strikes as an attempt to prevent the GNC delegation from travelling to Morocco for the UN-sponsored dialogue while a spokesman for the forces loyal to the Tobruk government confirmed it had carried out the strikes as part of its campaign against terrorism. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in Tobruk Wednesday, outside the building housing both a local TV network and military intelligence. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 4/16/2015]

Thinni accuses West of supporting Muslim Brotherhood; Calls on Russia, China to support Libya
The Tobruk-based Prime Minister, Abdullah al-Thinni has accused the West of favoring the “Muslim Brotherhood,” a reference to the Tripoli government. He called on Russia and China to support his government in the UN Security Council by ensuring the weapons ban is lifted in order for it to fight terrorists. Thinni is in Moscow and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin’s Middle East adviser. The Moscow visit is seen as a shift in the Tobruk government’s relationship with Russia and the aim is to conclude a military and technical cooperation agreement. [Libya Herald, 4/15/2015]

Discounts fail to lure oil buyers as Libya seeks to bypass Tripoli
Libya’s Tobruk-based government is struggling to sell crude oil under a new system it has devised in an attempt to bypass the rival administration in Tripoli. Buyers are reluctant to take advantage of discounts because they are unsure who exactly owns the oil being marketed by the Tobruk-government, even though it is internationally recognized following an election last year. Over the course of the conflict, control over oil production and export facilities has frequently changed hands, leaving major buyers wary of doing business with anybody other than the established National Oil Corporation (NOC). The battle over oil revenue is at the heart of the struggle between Tobruk and Tripoli. [Reuters, 4/14/2015]

Hundreds of migrants die in shipwreck off Libya, survivors say
About 400 migrants died in an attempt to reach Italy from Libya when their boat capsized, survivors said on Tuesday, marking the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean where the death toll from shipwrecks has surged this year. The boat was carrying about 550 migrants in total before it flipped about twenty-four hours after leaving the Libyan coast, according to some of the 150 survivors who were rescued and brought to a southern Italian port. [Reuters, AP, 4/15/2015]

New census figures in Tunisia reveal decrease in illiteracy, increase in unemployment
The Tunisian National Institute for Statistics has published the 2014 census, the first set of national statistics to be released post-revolution. The data shows that the national population is just under 11 million, with the percentage of females in the population (50.2 percent) overtaking the number of males (48.8 percent) for the first time. The average age of Tunisian citizens is now 32.4 years. There is also a fall in the level of illiteracy (down to 18.8 percent from 23.3 percent) but a rise in unemployment (up 14.8 percent from 14.1 percent) when compared with figures from 2004. Particularly striking is the number of unemployed who have spent more than two years searching for a job, more than doubling to 36.2 percent. [Tunisia Live, 4/14/2015]


ISIS steps up assault on Iraqi city of Ramadi
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has stepped up its assault on the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, launching a series of suicide bomb attacks on a government compound. Anbar provincial council member Athal al-Fahdawi said the compound was within range of ISIS weapons and that it and the city were “in great danger.” Military reinforcements sent to Ramadi were not sufficient to repel the terrorists’ attacks, he warned. On Wednesday, ISIS captured three villages on the outskirts of the city. An Iraqi official says that more than 2,000 families have fled their homes amid clashes between ISIS and Iraqi security forces in Anbar province. [BBC, AP, 4/16/2015]

Syria rebels in south reject cooperation with Nusra
Mainstream rebels fighting in southern Syria will not cooperate militarily with the Nusra Front, according to several statements. “We reject all forms of cooperation with the Nusra Front because keeping silent on its excesses, its statements, and its violations will only allow them to continue,” said Southern Front spokesperson Essam al-Rayes Wednesday. He said the groups fighting under the Southern Front banner hoped their position would “tell Syrians that Nusra’s ties with al-Qaeda push the revolution away from its path and objectives.” Despite his comments, Rayes said the groups did not intend to fight the Nusra Front. “This is not a declaration of war; we don’t want any tensions on the ground because our battle is not against Nusra.” [AFP, 4/16/2015]

Air raids kill twenty-four in Idlib province
At least twenty-four people have been killed in a series of Syrian government airstrikes around the city of Idlib, which rebels seized earlier this month. Two children were among twelve people killed when a barrel bomb hit a shelter in the rebel-held town of Saraqeb, southeast of Idlib, on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Inside the city, a wave of missile strikes killed eleven men, it added, without specifying whether they were rebel fighters or civilians. The state SANA news agency cited a military source saying that the air force had targeted “terrorist positions” in Idlib and its outskirts. [AFP, 4/15/2015]

UN envoy to visit Iraq, Syria to address sexual violence
A UN envoy will travel to Iraq and Syria this week to address the disturbing use of rape, sex slavery, and other sexual violence by extremists. Zainab Hawa Bangura, the special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, will also travel to Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. Bangura told the Security Council on Wednesday that the visit would take place “against the backdrop of a catastrophic new trend of the use of sexual violence as a ‘tactic of terror’ by extremist groups.” A UN report released this week showed extremist groups used sexual violence as part of their strategy to terrorize civilians, drive out populations, and generate revenue. The plight of women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi minority has raised alarm after hundreds captured by ISIS jihadists were sold in open markets as sex slaves last year. Over recent months, some 1,500 civilians including Yazidi women and children may have been forced into sexual slavery, the report said. [AFP, 4/15/2015]


UN envoy to Yemen resigns
The United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, resigned on Wednesday. UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were private, said that ministers from the Sunni-led Gulf Cooperation Council met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a trip to Kuwait in late March and told him of their unhappiness with Benomar. A UN diplomatic source said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was considering appointing Mauritanian diplomat Ould Cheikh Ahmed to the post. [BBC, Reuters, AP, Al-Masdar, 4/15/2015]

Iraq’s Prime Minister publicly criticizes Saudi campaign in Yemen
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke yesterday to a small group of reporters at Blair House, the White House guest residence for visiting dignitaries. He said the Saudi campaign and the fighting in Yemen had created huge humanitarian problems. “There is no logic to the operation at all in the first place,” Abadi said. “Mainly, the problem of Yemen is within Yemen.” He then suggested that the Obama administration agreed with him in his concerns about the Saudi campaign. The administration swiftly denied that President Obama had expressed concern about the Saudi air campaign during a meeting with Abadi on Tuesday at the White House. [New York Times, 4/15/2015]

Former Yemeni President asks Gulf states for safe exit
Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh sent messages to Arab Gulf states, asking for a safe exit for himself and his family, sources told Al Jazeera. While not mentioning the request directly, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri, spokesman for the Saudi military told Al Jazeera that Saleh would have no role in Yemen’s future. “Ali Abdullah Saleh is not part of the plan… nobody thinking logically can think he can be a part of the solution,” Asiri said. Sources said the request was rejected by Saudi Arabia, which is a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and is leading a coalition that has bombed Houthi positions since March 26. [Al Jazeera, 4/16/2015]

Abuse continues in Bahrain ahead of the Grand Prix
According to Amnesty International, Bahrain—the host of the Formula One Grand Prix this weekend—is carrying out rampant human rights abuses against opposition activists despite promises of reform. In a report, Amnesty said Bahrain authorities arbitrarily detain activists with excessive use of force. At least eighty-nine people have been killed in clashes with security forces, while hundreds, most of them Shiite, have been arrested and put on trial. “Four years on from the uprising, repression is widespread and rampant abuses by the security forces continues. Bahrain’s authorities must prove that the promises of reform they have made are more than empty rhetoric,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy head Said Boumedouha. [AFP, Amnesty International, 4/16/2015]


Iraq will seek $5 billion bond issue, other measures to relieve budget
Iraq has decided to issue $5 billion in international bonds and is negotiating the terms, Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said, in one of several measures that seeks to decrease the pressure of low oil prices on the country’s finances. Zebari said he is negotiating in Washington with Citibank and Deutsche Bank, but he declined to say what maturity and interest rates are being negotiated for the bonds. Iraq’s oil minister said Wednesday that the country’s oil exports should hit a record of about 3.1 million barrels per day in April, but exports are still below the 3.3 million target in Baghdad’s 2015 budget. [Reuters, 4/15/2015]

UN World Food Programme says Yemeni population going hungry as violence worsens
Worsening violence in Yemen has made almost half the country’s population “food insecure,” with flour shortages, closed shops, and disrupted supply routes driving up food prices, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said. The agency estimates that 12 million Yemenis are “food insecure,” up from 10.6 million in 2014. The situation is particularly dire in the southern regions, where the agency says the price of flour has increased by nearly 40 percent since the country’s conflict began. Yemen imports almost 90 percent of its basic food, which makes its population especially vulnerable to disruption of trade. [Reuters, 4/16/2015]

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to start monthly oil product deliveries to Egypt
State-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will start monthly deliveries of $400 million of petroleum products to Egypt starting next week until the end of October, a source at the state-owned Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) has said. Egypt will receive the products on credit, and the interest rate is still being negotiated. The Egyptian government has said that EGPC will buy 65 percent of its oil product import needs from ADNOC this year. The agreement covers gasoline, diesel, heavy fuel, and liquefied petroleum gas. [Reuters, 4/16/2015]

World Bank approves $50 million project to support startups in Jordan
The World Bank has approved a $50 million assistance package to Jordan to enhance access to finance for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The five-year project is geared towards rural areas in Jordan and marginalized segments of society and aims to create private sector job opportunities, promote inclusive growth and support poverty reduction efforts. [Jordan Times, 4/16/2015]