Top News: UN Security Council Imposes Arms Embargo on Houthis

After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on Houthi fighters and left it to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes. The resolution, which is legally binding, prohibits the sale of weapons to three Houthi leaders, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his son and former military commander, Ahmed Ali Saleh. Russia, who supported a resolution that would place an embargo on all parties to the conflict, abstained from the vote. [New York TimesAl-MasdarAFP, 4/14/2015]



Egypt, Saudi mull military exercise amid Yemen airstrikes
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi agreed with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohamed bin Salman to form a joint military committee to look into carrying out a strategic maneuver with other Gulf countries. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi met with the Saudi Defense Minister on Tuesday in Cairo to discuss the latest Arab airstrikes, led by Saudi Arabia, on Houthi rebels in Yemen. Sisi said his country “would always help its brothers and defend Arab rights,” according to the statement, adding, “Security of the Gulf is a red line for Egypt and an integral part of its national security.” The upcoming maneuver is expected to take place on Saudi territory. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, 4/15/2015]

Police allowed to deport gay foreigners, rules Egypt court
Egypt’s Administrative Court issued a ruling on Tuesday allowing the Interior Ministry to deport homosexual foreigners and deny them entry into the country. The decision follows a court ruling, which upheld an interior ministry decision to ban a Libyan student accused of being a homosexual from entering the country. The student, who was not named, was barred from returning to Cairo from abroad in 2008 and had appealed the decision hoping to continue his studies at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport. A judicial official says the ministry has the right to issue bans in such cases on grounds of protecting public interest, religious and social values. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, AP, Mada Masr, 4/14/2015]

Proposed amendments to Egypt electoral law see number of MPs increased
Egypt’s cabinet is expected Wednesday to discuss new amendments to two election laws aimed at paving the way for Egypt’s long-delayed parliamentary elections. The two laws are on the workings of the House of Representatives and the Division of Electoral Constituencies. The government-appointed panel tasked with amending the laws added twenty-two seats for independent candidates, for 442 seats. This raises the number of seats in Egypt’s coming parliament from 567 to a total 589. The division of this new figure consists of: 442 to independents, 120 to party candidates, and twenty-seven to presidential appointees. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy said the cabinet’s discussion Wednesday will come after the panel has finalized amendments of the two legislations in a meeting Tuesday. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab submitted the final draft of the amended election law to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to review it before the cabinet convenes on Wednesday for his approval. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 4/15/2015]

Endowments Minister urges state bodies to expel Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers
Egypt’s Endowments Minister called upon state institutions to purge themselves of Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers, stressing that the ministry has managed to filter its employees and mosques under its management to that end. Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa said he has information that there are schools run by the Brotherhood that teach “special religious syllabi.” The endowments ministry has banned mosque preachers from delivering sermons except for those who have a license as part of a broader government strategy to crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood. [Egypt Independent, 4/15/2015]

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Air strikes near Tripoli as UN peace talks on Libya due to resume
Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized Tobruk government carried out air strikes on Wednesday near the capital Tripoli, which is controlled by its rival, as the United Nations peace talks were due to start again in Morocco between the two sides. The planes attacked Tripoli’s Mitiga airport and other targets in western Libya as part of the Tobruk government’s campaign against terror. The strikes reportedly did not damage the airport, but hit a missile battery around ten kilometers away. [Reuters, 4/15/2015]

House delegation in Washington to lobby for US support; Libyan Embassy hires Qorvis as PR firm
As Prime Minister of the Tobruk government Abdullah al-Thinni heads to Moscow to rebuild relations with Russia, a delegation of leading members of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) has flown to Washington for talks with members of the US Congress and Obama administration. The visit has been organized by the Libyan embassy in Washington in a bid to ensure US support for the House’s position as the sole legitimate legislature in the country. Meanwhile, the Libyan embassy in Washington has awarded a $1 million, yearlong contract to Qorvis MSL, a PR firm, to provide communications, lobbying and related services in the US capital. [Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/15/2015]

Haftar skeptical of political solution to Libya; UN-led talks in Algiers end with no concrete outcome
General Khalifa Haftar the military chief of Libya’s Tobruk government forces expressed skepticism Tuesday about UN-backed talks aimed at ending the country’s political split and said that he is betting on a military solution if a deal remains elusive. Haftar said that he does not oppose negotiations outright and he would abide by decisions of his government, but added it was not clear how the political rivals could reach a deal. He also stated that he would not agree to any cease-fire with militias and that he believes his forces can win throughout the country. Meanwhile, the UN-led talks in Algiers ended without a concrete outcome, except for the participants’ commitment to a political solution and need for the end to hostilities. [AP, Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/15/2015]

Tunisian ministry of finance announces priorities
Tunisian Minister of Finance Slim Chaker announced the top five urgent priorities for his ministry after the first one hundred days in government. They include finance laws for the years 2015 and 2016; financial and bank reforms; modernizing the ministry’s administration and customs; and finally, monitoring financial support given between January 2011 and December 2014 for investment projects. Chaker stated that the ministry is in favor of a light financial law, which would not include new fiscal measures, but instead would determine their changes based on the growth rate. [Tunisia Live, 4/15/2015]

Algeria discovers weapons cache near Libya border
The Algerian army has discovered a weapons cache near its border with Libya, according to the Algerian defense ministry. The cache was found in a remote southern corner of the country, bordering Libya and Niger. It included two mortars, two rocket launchers, forty-five rockets of different types and 225 kilograms of explosives and landmines. Algerian officials worry that militants from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are building up a presence in lawless southern Libya to move fighters and weapons across porous borders with Algeria, Chad, and Niger. [Reuters, 4/14/2015]


United Nations confirms new push for Syria talks, Iran to be invited
The United Nations said on Tuesday that its Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura planned to consult Syrian factions and interested countries on a new round of peace talks. UN spokesman in Geneva, Ahmad Fawzi, said de Mistura was “heavily engaged” in discussions on the process, which would be based on the Geneva communiqué, the June 2012 document that set out a path to peace and political transition but left unresolved the future role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. No invitations to the talks, which will be held in Geneva, have yet been sent out. Asked about Iran’s possible participation, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, “It is important that all those who have an influence on the current conflict be included in discussions.”[Reuters, 4/14/2015]

Obama pledges support to Iraqi Prime Minister in fight against ISIS
President Barack Obama hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House Tuesday and hailed the US-backed Iraqi forces’ progress against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Obama said the allies were “making serious progress” in pushing back ISIS, taking back a quarter of the territory lost last year. “Success won’t occur overnight,” Obama said, “but what is clear is that we will be successful.” Obama expressed confidence that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is a strong partner in fighting terrorism and forming a more inclusive government. He said al-Abadi is strengthening Iraqi security forces. Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid to help those displaced by ISIS, saying it is crucial the United States help support families who have been displaced by the terrorists. Obama also commented on Iran’s involvement in Iraq, saying, “We expect Iran to have an important relationship with Iraq as a close neighbor.” He added, “It is important for all unified forces to be under control,” and that foreign fighters in Iraq must respect Iraq’s sovereignty when assisting in the fight against ISIS. [AFP, AP, Reuters, The National, 4/15/2015]

ISIS loses ground in Syria’s Yarmouk camp
ISIS fighters have retreated from much of the territory they seized in the camp in southern Damascus after entering it on April 1. Khaled Abdel-Majid, head of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PFLP) said, “There are intermittent but ongoing clashes between Palestinian factions and ISIS,” adding that ISIS had quit most of the neighborhoods it previously controlled. ISIS fighters were now confined largely to the southwest of the camp, with Palestinian factions – both pro- and anti-Syrian regime – controlling most of the east and north of the camp. Syrian regime forces are stationed outside the camp and have maintained a tight siege around it. Abdel-Majid said some Palestinian factions had established a “joint operations room” with government forces. Palestinian forces inside the camp include the Hamas-affiliated Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis group that is opposed to the regime and has fought alongside Syrian rebels. Just south of Yarmouk, in al-Hajjar al-Aswad, a coalition of local rebel groups attacked ISIS positions. The rebel group Ajnad al-Sham “took a large part of al-Hajjar al-Aswad [on Tuesday] and stationed snipers in the area but ISIS was able to circumvent the snipers’ positions, forcing Ajnad to withdraw,” according to an activist in Yarmouk. [AFP, The Daily Star, 4/15/2015]

Turkish Prime Minister calls for move towards presidential system
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Wednesday a new constitution should be the next parliament’s priority, moving the country towards a presidential system, a key goal of President Tayyip Erdogan. A new constitution has long been a priority for Erdogan, meant to replace a text born of a 1980 coup, which despite numerous revisions, still bears the stamp of its military authors. Erdogan, who is no longer head of the party he founded but continues to dominate the political scene, has said he wants the AKP to win 400 parliamentary seats, which would comfortably allow the government to change the constitution unopposed. [Reuters, 4/15/2015]


UN Security Council imposes arms embargo on Houthis
After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on Houthi fighters and left it to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes. The resolution, which is legally binding, prohibits the sale of weapons to three Houthi leaders, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and his son and former military commander, Ahmed Ali Saleh. Russia, who supported a resolution that would place an embargo on all parties to the conflict, abstained from the vote. [New York Times, Al-Masdar, AFP, 4/14/2015]

US drone strikes kill top al-Qaeda leader
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced yesterday that its top cleric, a man with a $5 million US bounty on his head, has been killed in Yemen. The group said in a statement posted online that former Guantanamo Bay detainee Ibrahim al-Rubaysh was killed in a “crusader strike” over the weekend “after he spent almost two decades carrying out jihad against America and its agents.” The statement did not say who exactly AQAP believed carried out the purported strike. Yemeni officials had no immediate comment on the claim and the White House declined to comment. [ABC, AP, 4/14/2015]

Number of internally displaced persons in Yemen rises
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported estimates show that over 121,000 people had been displaced inside Yemen since a Saudi-led coalition airstrike campaign targeting Houthi rebels began on March 26, with nearly half that number concentrated in the country’s northwest. The country is also experiencing a fuel and gas shortage. The Yemeni natural gas company, whose main shareholder is French oil giant Total SA, said the violence forced the shutdown of its plant in the oil-rich central Shabwa province, where the rebels last week seized the capital. [AP, 4/14/2015]

Saudi Arabia boosts security on Yemen border
The Saudi military is boosting security along the Yemeni border, moving in tanks, artillery units and border guards to counter the threat posed by Houthi fighters. The deployments come nearly three weeks into a Saudi-led offensive against the Houthis. Three Saudi soldiers were killed by Houthi mortar shells in the border area of Najran on Saturday. The Saudi army said it does not yet have orders to chase the attackers beyond the border. In 2009, Houthi rebels were able to infiltrate the border and inflict heavy casualties on Saudi troops. [Al Jazeera, 4/15/2015]


Reinforcements sent to battle ISIS at Iraq’s largest oil refinery
Hundreds of additional Iraqi troops are being sent to reinforce forces working to fight off an attempt by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to overrun Iraq’s largest oil refinery. The reinforcements are being sent four days after ISIS began attacking the Baiji oil refinery, a key strategic resource that has long been a target because the facility refines much of the fuel used by Iraqis domestically. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama gave the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi a strong endorsement and $200 million in humanitarian aid yesterday. [CNN, 4/14/2015]

Discounts fail to lure oil buyers as Tobruk government seeks to bypass Tripoli
Libya’s eastern government in Tobruk is struggling to sell crude oil under a new system it devised in an attempt to bypass the rival administration in Tripoli. However, buyers are reluctant to take advantage of discounts on crude oil due to uncertainty over who actually owns the oil being sold by the Tobruk government. Amid the chaos in Libya, control of many oil production and export facilities has frequently changed hands, leaving major buyers wary of doing business with anyone other than the established state oil corporation. [Reuters, 4/14/2015]

IMF upgrades outlook for Egypt’s economic growth to 4 percent in 2015
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has increased its forecast for Egypt’s economic growth in 2015 to 4 percent, from 3.8 percent in its previous assessment. The fund forecasts Egypt’s economy to grow by 4.3 percent in 2016, noting that lower oil prices will reduce Egypt’s vulnerabilities as a main oil importer in the Middle East. The IMF cited Moody’s Investors Service’s recent decision to upgrade Egypt’s credit rating as signs of improvement in Egypt’s growth. [Cairo Post, 4/15/2015]

Report says North Africa’s key economies primed for growth spurt
Economic growth in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia could surge as high as 6 percent a year, according to a new report from London-based firm Capital Economics. The report argues that because these economies are starting from a lower base, they could theoretically catch up to more developed economies by rapidly implementing key technologies and focusing on high-productivity industries. Rapidly growing populations will also contribute to growing workforces. However, government-led economic reform is key to continued growth. [Wall Street Journal (blog), 4/14/2015]