Top News: UN moves to prevent force against Libyan MPs

UN Libya envoy Tarek Mitri agreed with Libyan militia groups to allow political forces seventy-two hours to resolve a dispute over the legislature’s mandate extension, forming a new interim cabinet, and a plan to hold early presidential elections. Libya’s powerful militias from the town of Zintan had given the General National Congress a five hour ultimatum to dissolve on Tuesday, threatening to kidnap any lawmaker who ignored it. Prime Minister Ali Zidan appeared on national television denouncing the threat, saying, “We reject a military coup and the use of violence to force something on the Libyan people.” [Al ArabiyaAPReuters, 2/18/2014]


Mubarak appears in court; Embezzlement trial adjourned to March 19
A Cairo criminal court has adjourned the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak and his aides to March 19. Mubarak, and his sons Alaa and Gamal, as well as four new defendants, are accused of illegally spending over 100 million Egyptian pounds, from public funds, on the renovation of presidential palaces. Mubarak appeared in court and denied charges of stealing public funds, one of four cases against him, state television showed. “I do not agree … It never happened,” he said, sitting behind a wired mesh cage in the courtroom and wearing a suit. [Aswat Masriya, EGYNews (Arabic), Shorouk (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, AP, Reuters, 2/19/2014]

Prosecution requests delegating ten lawyers to defend Morsi in espionage lawsuit
The Lawyers Syndicate a received letter from supreme state security prosecution delegating ten lawyers to defend toppled President Mohamed Morsi and thirty-five other Muslim Brotherhood members, according to request by the Cairo Criminal Court which reviews the espionage lawsuit. The lawsuit was postponed to February 23 until lawyers are delegated as the defense withdrew during the last session. Sameh Ashour, chief of the syndicate, said they have begun communication with lawyers and that some lawyers rejected to take charge of the defense in the lawsuit, while others accepted. Although some prominent lawyers accepted to defend Morsi and other suspects, the ten-member list hadn’t been completed yet, Ashour said, adding that the names will be declared once the list is completed and will be sent to Court of Appeal to hand it over to the Criminal Court, which reviews the lawsuit. [Egypt Independent, 2/19/2014]

Egypt expecting $9 billion in aid from Gulf states
Egypt is expecting an aid package worth a total of $9.1 billion from Gulf countries within a few weeks, including $2.9 billion from the UAE, as part of a development assistance agreement. Egypt’s Al-Ahram reported the news on Tuesday quoting an “informed government source”, stating that UAE Minister of State Sultan Ahmad Algaber is due in Egypt to follow up on the $1 billion of the pledged out of the $4.9 billion fuel and gas deal that has already been paid. The source also claimed that Hussein Alnuwais, chairman of UAE’s Khalifah Monetary Fund, is preparing to send a further $200 million fund for small and medium Egyptian enterprises. Additionally, the Saudi Development Fund, the Islamic Bank for Development and the Kuwaiti Fund are expected to discuss loans worth $2 billion for Egypt. [World Bulletin, 2/18/2014]]

Kerry to continue conversations with Egypt leaders in ‘coming days’
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he hopes to meet with Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi soon. In a short visit to Tunisia on Tuesday, While he refused to say in public what Egypt’s military-appointed leaders could learn from Tunisia, he did say the United States would be continuing those conversations in private in the “coming days and weeks.” “My hope is to be able to meet with General [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi somewhere in the next days or weeks to be able to talk about Egypt, as I have in the past,” said Kerry on Tuesday at a press conference at the US Embassy in Tunis. Kerry said he would continue to communicate and “engage” with interim President Adly Mansour, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy and Sisi, saying that constant communication with the Egyptian side was “the appropriate way to deal with lessons or differences between how countries may approach a particular issue”. These comments come after Sisi, met on Tuesday with a United States Congress delegation headed by Mike Rogers, chairman of the House of Intelligence Committee at the Congress, said an armed forces spokesman. The meeting included discussions on several issues of joint interest as well as regional and international changes, spokesman Ahmed Mohamed Ali said. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 2/19/2014]


UN rights office urges Libya to reconsider new law curbing free expression
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the recent violence against journalists in Libya, called for investigations. It also criticized the recent passage of a law that would impose prison sentences on anyone “undermining the February 17 revolution” and for “publicly insulting one of the legislative, executive, or judicial authorities.” The headquarters of Alaseema TV were targeted in the second attack on the channel’s Tripoli offices in a week. The television station’s premises incurred damages when an assault with anti-aircraft missiles caused a blaze inside the building. There were no casualties. The channel has notably been critical of Ansar al-Sharia and the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. [UN News Centre, 2/18/2014]

Military personnel can vote in constitutional committee elections
Military personnel can vote in Thursday’s elections for the sixty-member constitutional committee, as long as they have registered, the Higher National Elections Commission (HNEC) has announced. Military personnel who are deployed away from home will vote at polling stations for oil workers and are to specify for which local area their vote should be counted. HNEC has no available statistics for the number of registered voters within the military. Although military personnel are able to register to vote, it is not known how many did so, given general perceptions that they could not exercise the right. [Libya Herald, 2/18/2014]


Rebel chief Idriss’ sacking sparks dissent
The sacking of Syria’s rebel chief Selim Idriss has prompted criticism by several armed opposition groups, in a fresh sign of growing disarray among rebel ranks. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) Higher Military Council replaced General Idriss as its chief with Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir on Sunday, citing the “difficulties faced by the Syrian revolution” in its battle with the regime. But several rebel leaders have lashed out at the move, with some branding it an undemocratic “coup.” “We consider the removal of… Idriss an invalid, illegitimate decision,” said a statement issued by all five top field commanders of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council, which Idriss had led from December 2012. In their statement, the commanders vowed to continue fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “under the leadership of General Selim Idriss” who was “elected democratically.” A well-connected rebel said Idriss’ removal was decided in a secret meeting, which many key rebels have abandoned in recent months. “Regardless of Idriss’ shortcomings, this is a military coup,” said the rebel. “The main problem is: why weren’t all the military councils called in to vote?” [AFP, 2/19/2014]

Following bomb in Beirut, group pledges more attacks until Hezbollah exits Syria
The al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed a twin bomb attack in Beirut on Wednesday, saying such attacks would continue until Hezbollah forces withdrew from the fighting in Syria and its own fighters were released from Lebanese jails. The radical Lebanese group, which claimed the attack on its Twitter account, also said it was responsible for a November 19 attack on the Iranian embassy that killed twenty-three people, using the same tactic of twin suicide bombs. In both cases, most of the victims were civilians. “We will continue… to target Iran and its party in Lebanon [Hezbollah] in all of their security, political and military centers to achieve our two demands: One, the exit of all fighters from the Party of Iran in Syria. Two, the release of all our prisoners from oppressive Lebanese prisons,” the statement said. [Reuters, 2/19/2014]

United Nations condemns bombing near school that killed at least eighteen
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Wednesday condemned a bomb attack near a school it operates in southern Syria that killed eighteen people, including five children. The UNRWA commissioner-general said he was “shocked and outraged” by the deaths in Muzeirib, in Dara’a province. The agency said eighteen people were killed, including five children, and twenty others wounded in the attack, including two children who lost limbs. “I must express my revulsion at this wanton disregard for civilian life and international law,” the commissioner-general added in a statement. “All parties to the conflict are obliged to ensure that civilians and UN installations are protected.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths were caused by an explosive-packed barrel bomb dropped by regime forces near the school. The NGO put the death toll in the incident at nineteen. [AFP, 2/19/2014]

Regime using “new cluster munitions”
A powerful type of cluster munition rocket not previously seen in the Syrian conflict is possibly being used by regime forces, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Wednesday. Basing its statement on photos taken after a recent attack in the central city of Hama, HRW said the images suggested the government had deployed 300mm 9M55K surface-to-surface rockets. The weapon, which carries dozens of submunitions, is Russian, according to AFP. The rockets, used during attacks on February 12 and 13, killed at least two civilians and wounded at least ten others. “It is appalling that Syrian government forces are still using banned cluster munitions on their people,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Cluster bombs are killing Syrian civilians now and threatening Syrians for generations to come.” [Al Arabiya, 2/19/2014]


Kerry pledges US support to Tunisia
During his visit to Tunisia, Kerry expressed his support for Tunisia’s new constitution and discussed new initiatives for security cooperation between the United States and Tunisia. Kerry described the constitution as “grounded in democratic principles, equality, freedom, security, economic opportunity, and the rule of law.” Kerry also stated that a date for Prime Minister Jomaa’s visit to Washington will soon be announced and that a new US-Tunisia strategic dialogue will be established during this visit. This dialogue, according to Kerry, will focus on “cooperation and security matters, and on promoting closer economic ties between our two nations.” This is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Tunisia since protesters stormed the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012. [Tunisia Live, State Department, 2/18/2014]

United States to continue to support Tunisia’s war on terrorism
In his meeting with Jomaa, Kerry reiterated US support for Tunisia’s fight against terrorism. Since the revolution in 2011, the United States has provided over $400 million to Tunisia since the revolution, consisting of security aid, job creation funds and a loan guarantee for the government. In order to further support for Tunisia’s security sector, Kerry announced that US will give Tunisia a “state of the art mobile command post vehicle for conducting terrorism investigations and a mobile crime lab for use by forensic police in order to gather evidence effectively.” The Tunisian government has requested more equipment but no further decisions have been made by the United States. Mr. Kerry denied any reports alleging that the US will be supplying the Tunisian ministry of interior with weapons, but confirmed the $24 million to train armed forces. [Tunis Times, TAP, 2/18/2014]

Landmine explodes in the Chaambi mountain
On Tuesday afternoon, a landmine exploded in the Chaambi mountain, along the Tunisian-Algerian border, as an armored vehicle passed it. No injuries or material damage have yet been reported. According to a spokesperson for the ministry of defense, the mine is a remnant previously planted in the region by militants. The previous mine explosion occurred last November near a closed military area at the base of Mount Chaambi and killed one civilian. In the last year, Mount Chaambi has become the sight of clashes between militants and security forces as militants have established a base in the mountain region. [Tunisia Live, 2/19/2014]

Corruption in public sector hiring alarming, according to survey
According to a report released by the government watchdog, I Watch, in a survey of 675 people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, across fourteen states in Tunisia, eight out of ten think that corruption in public sector hiring has increased since the revolution in 2011. Twelve percent report personally experiencing such acts of corruption, the report states. Of those questioned, 74 percent think the state of corruption in Tunisia’s public sector hiring is “alarming.” Seventy percent believe that the absence of laws and oversight is the main cause of this corruption. The report recommends establishing an “independent public body” to monitor the process, simplifying hiring procedures and selection criteria, and adopting a more transparent selection process to improve the situation. [Tunisia Live, 2/19/2014]


Benomar meets with Gulf representatives
UN Special Adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar met with the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) permanent representatives in New York yesterday to discuss the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and the remaining tasks in the Gulf Initiative that set Yemen on the path to transition. In a statement following the meetings, Benomar emphasized the important role Gulf countries play in supporting the political transition. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/18/2014]

World bank fears that expelled expats will compound economic woes
In a new report on the Middle East economic outlook, the World Bank states concerns that the 700,000 migrant workers being repatriated from Saudi Arabia will compound Yemen’s already considerable economic challenges. Yemen has the highest rate of poverty in the Middle  East as well as the highest rate of unemployment. However, some good news from the report suggests that Yemen’s growth rate could increase to six percent as non-oil sectors continue to develop. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/19/2014]

International press freedom conference scheduled for mid-year
Yemen’s state news agency announced on Monday that the country will host the 2014 International Conference on Press Freedom in the middle of the year, in collaboration with the regional journalists’ syndicates and the International Federation of Journalists. This news comes soon after Reporters Without Borders released its annual World Press Freedom Index, placing Yemen in 167th place out of 180. Speaking on Yemen, the report stated that though press freedoms have improved since the transition process began, a range of armed groups–Houthis, separatists, al-Qaeda, and others–continue to threaten journalists. [Saba, 2/18/2014]

Yemen’s billionaires and social responsibility
Though Yemen is more often associated with chronic poverty problems, the country does have a modest collection of billionaires. In a country where fourteen million people (out of twenty-four million) make less than two dollars a day, social inequalities that have deepened since 2011 have begun to stir conversations about social responsibility. The Yemen Post profiles some of the country’s richest citizens, looking at how they use their fortune in such a context. [Yemen Post, 2/18/2014]


Twin suicide bombs target Iranian cultural center in Beirut
A double suicide car bombing targeted an Iranian cultural centre in Beirut Wednesday, killing at least four people in the latest attack linked to the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a jihadist group inspired by Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades also claimed responsibility for the bombing outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November 2013. This is one in a series of attacks carried out by jihadist groups that target both Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah movement, for their support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as it battles a Sunni-led rebellion. [Ahram Online, 2/19/2014]

More than 700 migrant workers dead in Qatar ahead of 2022 World Cup
Over 700 migrant workers—more than 500 of whom were from India—have died Qatar since 2010. The workers are in the country facilitating projects relating to the World Cup that Qatar will host in 2022. The country’s minister of labor said that the government is working to understand the cause of these deaths, saying that these statistics may include “natural causes, and road safety incidents, as well as a smaller number of workplace incidents.” Head of a government affiliated human rights committee called the death rate “normal.” Previous reports from human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have pointed to unethical labor practices and conditions. [Daily Mail, Al-Jazeera; 2/19/2014]

Algerian president denies splits in the military
In a speech read by a minister Tuesday, Bouteflika, Algeria’s president, said there were no divisions between the military and the intelligence services despite fierce exchanges in the media over the past few weeks. In recent weeks, the media reported that the leader of Algeria’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front, accused the intelligence chief of opposing the ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reelection. Bouteflika described this story as a “fictitious conflict between the institutions of the National Popular Army were part of a plot to destabilize the country.” Presidential elections are scheduled to occur in two months and it remains unclear whether Bouteflika will run for reelection. Typically elections in Algeria involve a candidate with the clear backing of the military and political establishment. [AP, 2/18/2014]

Image: Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Tarek Mitri, briefs the Security Council on the situation in that country. (Photo: United Nation/Amanda Voisard)