Top News: UNSC establishes sanctions committee for Yemen

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution to form the sanctions committee responsible for imposing sanctions on actors fueling unrest in Yemen and seeking to derail the transition process. Western officials named former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and former Vice-President Ali Salem al-Beidh are top candidates for the “blacklist” to face asset freezes and travel bans, but the resolution did not mention any specific names. The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) also released a statement condemning indiscriminate attacks by military personnel affecting civilians. The Commissioner named specifically the conflict in al-Dali’ province. [UN News Centre, Reuters; 2/26/2014]


Mehleb names new minister of military production, manpower, and more
Egypt’s new premier, Ibrahim Mehleb, pursued meetings with candidates for ministerial posts Thursday to form a new government almost two months ahead of a decisive presidential poll. Most of the cabinet portfolios, expected to be thirty-three according to state news agency MENA, were assigned Wednesday, with a full swearing-in expected to take place by Saturday. Twelve ministers have been amalgamated into six portfolios. Daily News Egypt and Ahram Online have published names of new and existing ministers. Reports indicate that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will remain in his position of minister of defense. The position of minister of culture has proven tricky to fill, with actor Mohamed Sobhy declining the post for personal reasons, while Mehleb retracted his offer to appoint Ghazali Harb following complaints by prominent intellectuals. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, 2/27/2014]

Egypt’s new presidential election law to be issued March 1
A new law aimed at regulating Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections is expected to be issued March 1, a week earlier than expected. A judicial council should finish revising the law in the next few days and then submit it to interim President Adly Mansour, who is expected to officially endorse and issue the law on March 8, said Magdy al-Agaty, deputy chairman of the State Council and its affiliated Fatwa and Legislation Department. Al-Agaty released a public statement on Wednesday indicating that the council and Mansour’s legal team had reached a settlement over controversial articles, including article 7, which opened up the results of presidential elections to appeals from both politicians and citizens. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 2/26/2014]

UAE aims to ensure its billions are spent wisely in post-Morsi Egypt
Now that Gulf governments have underwritten almost $7 billion in aid, the United Arab Emirates is trying to ensure that its latest tranche of $2.9 billion is judiciously deployed, advocating reforms and helping to craft measures for stimulus measures that will help put the economy on track. [FT, 2/26/2014]

Egypt’s striking doctors threaten escalation as 85 percent of public hospitals participate
Striking doctors, pharmacists and dentists syndicates threatened Wednesday the upcoming government with escalation if their demands were not met by March 8. The Pharmacists and Dentists Syndicates joined the Doctors Syndicate in a one-day partial strike in public hospitals across the country on Wednesday with the general aim of improving Egypt’s health care system. Striking doctors are demanding an increase in basic salaries rather than a bonus system on top of existing salaries, as ordered by a presidential decree in February and the implementation of financial and administrative changes concerning a more suitable system of pay scales and promotions. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, 2/26/2014]


Security issues hamper elections reruns
Wednesday’s election reruns for the Constitutional Committee did not take place in a number of constituencies that could not be secured or were sabotaged by ethnic groups, the head of the High National Elections Commission Nuri Elabbar has said. These included thirteen polling centers in Derna. Tebu groups in Murzuk once again prevented ballot papers from reaching the town. Voting was severely disrupted in the south; in Kufra, the Tebu have continued their boycott, so voting cannot take place for Ajdabiya’s one ethnic minority seat. The seven Tebu candidates in Kufra for the Constitutional Committee have all withdrawn from the race for this seat over the last seven days. [Libya Herald, 2/26/2014]

Protesters storm Benghazi ministry of defense building
The defense ministry building in Benghazi was stormed last night and several rooms set alight amidst protests against deteriorating security conditions in the city. A ministry employee said that the men who attacked the premises were the same people who closed the road outside with makeshift barriers and burning tires. A number of rooms were torched, he said, although no one was hurt. He claimed that the attackers had been searching for weapons, but none were kept in the building. [Libya Herald, 2/27/2014]

Assassinations spark demonstrations in Benghazi
More killings and several attempted assassinations have sparked protests and road blockades across Benghazi. Several streets, including one of the main thoroughfares in central Benghazi’s Sidi Hussein district, were shut to traffic by groups of local people. One of the protesters said that locals were enraged at the current security situation and that action had to be taken. Another Benghazi resident said that the people of the eastern city felt neglected and ignored. The protests followed the deaths of two more security officials who were targeted by unknown gunmen in separate assassinations on Wednesday. [Libya Herald, 2/26/2014]

Confusion after Saif trial hearing not held
There was confusion Thursday over the trial of Saif al-Islam, son of Muammar Qaddafi, after a scheduled hearing on charges of threatening national security did not take place. Saif, whose charges stem from the 2011 uprising, last appeared in court in the western city of Zintan on December 12, 2013. His hearing was scheduled for Thursday, according to his lawyer. This was confirmed by prosecution spokesman Seddik al-Sour Sour who later retracted it, saying the hearing had actually been scheduled for last Thursday and was postponed because of the constitutional committee elections. He added that it is up to the Zintan court to reschedule the hearing. Zintan rebels have refused to transfer Saif al-Islam to Tripoli, despite a request from Libya’s prosecutor general and authorities’ assertions that his jail is under state control. [Gulf News/AFP, 2/27/2014]


Regime arrests relatives of Geneva delegates; Kerry characterizes move as retaliation
The State Department accused the Syrian government on Wednesday of retaliating against the Syrian opposition’s representatives to the Geneva peace talks by arresting their family members. After the second round of unproductive talks US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Damascus for the deadlock and said that it had undermined them by putting opposition delegates on a terrorist list and seizing their assets. On Wednesday, the State Department asserted that the Syrian government had also been detaining some of the delegates’ relatives.  “We call on the regime to immediately and unconditionally release all those unfairly arrested, including Mahmoud Sabra, brother of Geneva delegation member Mohammed Sabra.” According to a statement issued last week by the Syrian opposition, Mohammed Sabra said his brother had been detained at a checkpoint in the town of Jaramana. [NYT, BBC,  2/27/2014]

UK site ready to destroy chemical weapons
After weeks of deepening foreign frustration over missed deadlines and other delays in Syria’s elimination of its chemical weapons, the international mission policing the process reported on Wednesday that Syria had delivered a significant consignment of mustard gas, one of the deadliest toxic agents, to the Syrian port of Latakia to be exported and destroyed. Preparations are also under way in Britain to destroy key components of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. A waste handling site in Ellesmere Port is on standby to receive 150 tonnes of chemicals from Damascus. The facility, run by French-owned Veolia Environmental Services, plans to incinerate so-called precursors. This comes amid mounting international concern that Syria is dragging its feet over a promise to get rid of its chemical stockpile. Only four consignments have left Syria so far – the latest came yesterday when thirty tonnes of mustard gas were handed over. [BBC, NYT, 2/27/2014]

Syrian army readies ground assault on Yabroud
Syria’s army is preparing to assault a key rebel bastion near Damascus, a pro-regime newspaper said Thursday, as activists reported heavy shelling and fighting there. “The Syrian army is preparing to launch a new phase” on the town of Yabroud near the border with Lebanon in its offensive in the Qalamun mountains, Al-Watan reported. It said troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have seized control of two strategic hills near Yabroud, which has been the target of heavy air raids and tank fire since early February. [The Daily Star, 2/27/2014]

Pakistan Denies Plans to Arm Syrian Rebels
Pakistan on Thursday denied any plans to send weapons to Syrian rebels, amid reports that Saudi Arabia is holding talks with it about arming the insurgents. A Saudi source said Sunday that Riyadh was seeking Pakistani anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets for forces fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The United States has long opposed arming the rebels with such weapons, fearing they might end up in the hands of extremists. But Syrian opposition figures say the failure of peace talks in Geneva seems to have led Washington to soften its opposition. Sartaj Aziz, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, told reporters Pakistan has not considered such a proposal. [AFP/Naharnet, 2/27/2014]


EU ready to assist with Tunisia’s elections
On Wednesday, Director for Neighbourhood Policy at the European Commission Michael Kohler stressed during a meeting with President of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the European Union’s readiness to continue supporting Tunisia in what remains of its transition process. He emphasised the need to build on the European experience in organising elections, stated the European Union’s willingness to assist through mentoring, training and observation. [TAP, 2/26/2014]

Committee to monitor government progress to be established
As part of the national dialogue, a committee will be established with the purpose of monitoring the government’s actions and progress and reporting its mistakes. This announcement followed a national dialogue session on Wednesday. The committee will be important for ensuring that the roadmap for democratic transition is being adhered to and that progress is actually occurring with respect to establishing electoral law and the next presidential and parliamentary elections. [TAP, 2/27/2014]

Deputy police chief to be kept in custody in relation to Ouled Manaa terrorist attack
A spokesperson for the judge investigating the terrorist attack in Ouled Manaa (governorate of Jendouba) on February 16 stated that the judge ordered the deputy police chief of Jendouba to remain in custody. The attack occurred when terrorists dressed as military officers and established a checkpoint in Ouled Manaa. When security forces went to investigate, they were shot at and three were killed. A civilian was also killed. Last week Prime Minister Jomaa ordered the investigation of the attack to begin right away. According to a civilian witness of the attack, who appeared on national television last week, four hours before the attack, he saw individuals wearing military uniforms in the street where the attack occurred and reported this to the deputy police chief. [All Africa, 2/26/2014]

The NCA is set to review draft laws on Friday
In a plenary session on Friday, the NCA will examine a number of draft laws. The laws include: a draft law providing for the ratification of a financing agreement between the Tunisian government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development and a draft law modifying a law regulating the activity of microfinance institutions. During the same plenary session, the NCA will debate lifting the parliamentary immunity of a number of deputies. [TAP, 2/26/2014]


Details about the formation of the Constitutional Committee
Speaking to al-Masdar Online, an unnamed source has detailed the process surrounding the formation of the Constitutional Committee. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has called upon the sixteen participating parties of the NDC to nominate three candidates to participate in the constitutional committee that will be comprised of a total seventeen members, keeping in mind the required representation quotas for women and Southerners. Hadi has also requested nominations from local universities. Candidates must be Yemeni nationals, hold a higher-education degree, and not be convicted of any legal offenses pertaining to breaches of honor or trust. The formation of the committee, overdue by over a month, is expected to occur some time within the next week. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/26/2014

Economic experts: Without implementation, NDC is just “ink on paper”
During a seminar held by the Yemen Center for Strategic Studies, a panel of economists hailed the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), but warned that without implementation they are little more than “ink on paper.” A third of the NDC’s recommendations dealt specifically with economic matters, but for the economists, they said that political instability and security crises would continue to hinder economic recovery. One economist called for a system of “fiscal federalism” to address economic disparities and “dry up” a pervasive culture of corruption. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/26/2014]

ICG releases conflict alert for Yemen’s north
Detailing the threat posed a broader scope of the northern fighting between Houthi militants and tribal fighters, the International Crisis Group (ICG) is calling on the international community to “take bold action” to prevent further deterioration. They are also calling on Hadi to convene high-level negotiations between all of the parties with influence with Houthi and Hashid fighters, urging the parties to acknowledge and accept the rights to religious freedom and peaceful political participation. [ICG, 2/27/2014]


Lebanon and France finalize three billion dollar arms deal
Lebanon and France have finalized a major arms deal that will be funded by Saudi Arabia in an effort to improve Lebanon’s military’s capabilities. According to a French source, Lebanon’s armed forces will be provided with helicopters, armored vehicles and long-range missiles. The source confirmed that this will include High Subsonic Optical Remote-Guided Tube-Launched (HOT) missiles and a second-generation long-range anti-tank missile system, but not a comprehensive modern air defense system. In December last year, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman announced that Riyadh had provided a major 3 billion US dollar grant to the country to purchase weapons from France. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 2/27/2014]

Morocco suspends judicial cooperation with France
Morocco said it had suspended judicial cooperation agreements with France in a growing diplomatic row between the two countries over allegations of human rights abuses. On Saturday, Morocco summoned the French ambassador after French police went to the Moroccan Embassy in Paris seeking to question the head of the domestic intelligence service over torture allegations, following lawsuits filed against him in France by Moroccan activists. Since Saturday, tensions have been rising between the two countries.  [Al Arabiya, 2/27/2014]

Amnesty International accuses Israel of human rights violations, possible war crimes
The latest Amnesty International report, “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” has accused Israel of reckless violence in the occupied West Bank “to stifle dissent and freedom of expression.” Furthermore, in tandem with allowing granting its forces impunity in the face of allegations, the report accuses Israel of “war crimes and other serious violations of international law.” The report calls on the United States and European union to suspend all arms transfers to the country. Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom criticized the report citing “Amnesty’s obsessive focus on Israel, and its refusal to recognise the very real threat posed by deliberately-orchestrated violent demonstrations.” A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry said the report “smacks of bias, discrimination and racism.” [Jerusalem Post, Guardian, 2/27/2014]

Image: Security Council votes to adopt resolution on Yemen. (Photo: UN/Mark Garten)