US special forces have seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port, the US Department of Defense said on Monday, halting an attempt by rebels to sell petroleum on the global market. The vessel is now en route back to Libya.Libyan rebels controlling three oil export ports said on Saturday they were ready to negotiate with the government over ending their six-month blockade if Tripoli abandoned plans for a military offensive. Separately, the National Oil Company has placed the Marsa Hariga oil export terminal at Tobruk under force majeure. There have been reports that an oil tanker is moored in the vicinity of Tobruk, sparking concerns that this is a second vessel waiting to try and load oil from the eastern oil ports. In addition, Petroleum Facilities Guards loyal to Obari’s Supreme Council of Revolutionaries Production have stopped production at Sharara oilfield. [Reuters, 3/17/2014]



HPEC to announce presidential elections date within days; Khaled Ali will not run
Interim president Adly Mansour said Egypt will have an “elected” leader in two and a half months. He added on Sunday, that the High Presidential Election Commission (HPEC) will announce the date of the elections within the coming few days, and expressed a preference to pass a new presidential elections law rather than modify the existing one. Leftist activist and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali has said he will not stand in the upcoming presidential election, describing it as a farce at a press conference at the journalists syndicate on Sunday. A recent survey conducted by Egyptian polling centre, Baseera, says that fifty-one percent of the population would vote for Sisi, while forty-five percent of Egyptians said they were undecided as to who they would vote for. [DNE, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 3/16/2014]

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis says founding member died in accidental explosion
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based militant group said on Saturday that one of its founding members was killed in a car accident. A statement released to the Associated Press confirmed that Tawfiq Mohamed Freij, died when a bomb he was carrying was set off by a car accident on Tuesday. According to the statement, Freij masterminded the group’s tactic of blowing up pipelines to stop Egyptian gas supplies to Israel. The statement also claims he was in charge of a failed attack on the interior minister in September. This news comes as a Cairo court is currently determining whether or not to label Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis a terrorist group. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/16/2014]

Egypt crackdown brings most arrests in decades
Egypt’s crackdown on Islamists has jailed 16,000 people over the past eight months in the country’s biggest round-up in nearly two decades, according to previously unreleased figures from security officials. Rights activists say reports of abuses in prisons are mounting, with prisoners describing systematic beatings and miserable conditions for dozens packed into tiny cells. Samia Jaheen, an Egyptian rights activist, criticized the crackdown saying that security forces often arrest individuals for “unclear reasons, or for no reason at all.” [AP, Ahram Online, 3/17/2014]

Egypt says food subsidy bill to be $4.31 billion
Egypt’s food subsidy bill will be 30 billion Egyptian pounds ($4.31 billion) this year, an amount that is expected to remain stable in the next fiscal year that begins in July, the new supplies minister said, pledging to tackle a smuggling “mafia.” Khaled Hanafi was appointed last month after his predecessor sacked top officials at the state-owned silos and storage holding company and at the main wheat importing body amid allegations of corruption. The new minister is showing signs of being more outspoken than most about corruption that leaches much-needed funds from a struggling economy. Hanafi estimated that around 7 million Egyptian pounds of the subsidies bill was wasted yearly due to the smuggling. [Reuters, 3/16/2014]


National Dialogue Commission arrives in Tripoli
Representatives from civil society organizations met in Tripoli yesterday to discuss ways of fostering national dialogue. A panel of twelve representatives from the National Dialogue Preparatory Commission (NDPC) heard from a cross-section of groups including doctors, academics, students, and members of the Amazigh and Tebu communities, as well as politicians and activists. NDPC President Fadeel Lameen told the gathering that discussions of this kind were crucial to building consensus and were of paramount importance for Libya’s democratic transition, saying that “elections…on their own are not enough.” The NDPC has succeeded in holding talks in areas of the country worst affected by violence following the revolution, including in Derna where it was able to bring Ansar al-Sharia into discussions. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2014]

US Navy SEALS board tanker carrying oil from Libya rebel port
US special forces have seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port, the US Department of Defense said on Monday, halting an attempt by rebels to sell petroleum on the global market. The vessel is now en route back to Libya.Libyan rebels controlling three oil export ports said on Saturday they were ready to negotiate with the government over ending their six-month blockade if Tripoli abandoned plans for a military offensive. Separately, the National Oil Company has placed the Marsa Hariga oil export terminal at Tobruk under force majeure. There have been reports that an oil tanker is moored in the vicinity of Tobruk, sparking concerns that this is a second vessel waiting to try and load oil from the eastern oil ports. In addition, Petroleum Facilities Guards loyal to Obari’s Supreme Council of Revolutionaries Production have stopped production at Sharara oilfield. [Reuters, 3/17/2014]

Libyans beware of Islamists at next election, says Zeidan
In his first major interview since being removed from office, former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan blamed the failure of his government on the General National Congress (GNC), the Islamist parties, the militias, the spread of arms, and the weak post-revolutionary Libyan state. He called the night he was chosen as prime minister “the worst night of [his] life” and explained that the state’s capabilities to perform well were low. He cited security issues as the main failure of his administration but attributed this to Libya’s lack of institutions. Zeidan referred to GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain as a “hostage” of the Islamist Justice and Construction Party and the Wafa bloc. He also expressed fear that the Islamist bloc (the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wafa, and others) would monopolize power in Libya. [Libya Herald, 3/16/2014]

Amazigh and Touaregs dismissive of GNC’s acceptance of Consensus Principle
Libya’s Amazigh and Tuareg communities have reacted with scorn to the General National Congress’ decision to accept the Consensus Principle, saying the legislature has not explicitly stated what it believes the principle entails. The Amazigh have continued their boycott of the constitutional committee, demanding that Libyan authorities approve five points known as the Consensus Principle to serve as the basis for drawing up the constitution. Among the points is that any provision of the draft constitution that relates to any of the three minorities would have to be approved by its two representatives. The Tebu approved the principle shortly before last month’s vote and joined the boycott. [Libya Herald, 3/16/2014]


Syrian forces fully control rebel stronghold near Lebanon
Syrian forces backed by Hezbollah militants took full control of the town of Yabroud on Sunday after driving out rebels, helping President Bashar al-Assad secure the land route connecting the capital Damascus with Aleppo and the Mediterranean coast. The fall of Yabroud, the last rebel bastion near the Lebanese border, could sever a vital insurgent supply line from Lebanon and consolidate government control over a swathe of territory from Damascus to the central city of Homs. Before foreign fighters and Syrians with a more radical bent arrived in greater numbers late last year, it was a place where civilians, not fighters, held sway. A month of bombardments by the military exacted a heavy toll on the rebels there, who were also weakened by the failure of the exile opposition to unite and support the fighters, while an influx of jihadists undermined their claims to moderation and made them more of a target. [Reuters, NYT, Al Arabiya, The National, BBC, 3/16/2014]

Aid officials call for swift cross-border access in Syria
United Nations and independent aid officials called on Saturday for swift agreement to allow supplies from Turkey into northeastern Syria, a move that would mark a small step towards implementing a UN demand for cross-border humanitarian access. Anthony Lake, executive director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, said, “All of us have convoys ready to go and we urge that they work out those arrangements as quickly as possible,” he told a joint news conference in Beirut alongside the heads of four other aid agencies working on Syria’s humanitarian crisis. [Reuters, 3/15/2014]

Brahimi arrives in Iran for talks on Syria crisis
The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, arrived in Tehran on Sunday for talks on the Syria crisis with top Iranian officials, media reports said. The Fars news agency said he would meet President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials during his three-day visit. Tehran is accused of providing military and financial support to Damascus, despite repeatedly maintaining that it has no official military presence in Syria and that its backing takes the form of humanitarian aid. Brahimi’s arrival coincides with Syria’s army and Iranian-backed Hizbullah seizing total control of the strategic town of Yabrud from rebels after a fierce battle. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday urged Russia and Iran to encourage Syria to resume peace talks. [Naharnet, 3/16/2014]

Lebanese lawyers to file lawsuit against Syrian Foreign Minister
On Monday, thirteen Lebanese lawyers will file a lawsuit for the arrest and prosecution of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. Al-Muallem is currently recuperating from open heart surgery in Beirut. The lawyers seek to charge him with the killing of Lebanese nationals, specifically the fatalities in recent Syrian rocket barrages on the eastern Lebanese town of Arsal. [Al Jazeera, 3/17/2014]


Three suspected jihadists dead in police raid
Security forces surrounded a house in the Jendouba region along the Algerian border and killed three suspected jihadists in an anti-terrorist operation Monday according to the interior ministry. This is the same region where Islamist militants killed dead four people last month. Tunisia has been rocked by sporadic attacks blamed on jihadists since the 2011 revolution. Much of the deadly violence witnessed has been blamed on Ansar al-Sharia, a hardline Salafist movement which the authorities have linked to al-Qaeda. [Ahram Online, 3/17/2014]

Three policemen injured by gunmen on Sunday night
In central Sidi Bouzid, three policemen were wounded on Sunday night in a clash with gunmen travelling by car who refused to stop at a checkpoint. The policemen were hit in the exchange of fire that followed, with one of them left in serious condition due to chest wounds. The car used by the gunmen has been seized. Weapons were also seized during the raid. The police are hunting the two terrorists whose identity was not disclosed. [TAP, Ahram Online, 3/17/2014]

Tunisia’s main secular party open to coalition with main Islamist party
According to the chief of Nidaa Tounes, Tunisia’s main secular party that helped push ruling Islamists out of office last year, the party is open to governing with the Islamists if 2014 elections do not produce a clear majority. Nidaa Tounes, formed to challenge Ennahda and whose thirty percent support in recent opinion polls equals that of the Islamists, hopes to benefit from two years of messy Ennahda-led government. Tunisia is currently preparing for its second free elections since 2011 although a date has yet to be set. The National Constituent Assembly needs to finalize a new election law in the next few months before the newly appointed electoral commission can set a date for the elections. [Reuters, 3/17/2014]

Jomaa visits UAE and Saudi Arabia
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa arrived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday on the first leg of his Gulf tour, which will last until March 19. He held talks on Saturday evening with Vice-President of the UAE, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. On Sunday, Jomaa and the delegation of ministers and businessmen accompanying him continued talks with their Emirati counterparts and big investors in Tunisia with the aim of bolstering bilateral political and economic relations. The delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening. [TAP, 3/16/2014]


President Hadi seeks to double the size of the appointed Shura Council
The House of Representatives received a request from President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to nearly double the size of the Shura Council from 111 members to 221. The House of Representatives is a panel of 301 elected members, in comparison to the Shura Council’s appointed members. The representatives will debate the issue over the next two days. [Al-Motamar (Arabic), 3/17/2014]

Saudis hardened by wars in Syria, Iraq join al-Qaeda in Yemen
Dozens of Saudi Islamist militants have left the battlefields of Syria and Iraq for Yemen, where their experience appears to have contributed to a spate of lethal attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a senior Yemeni security official said. While the security official said many of these Saudi fighters had come to Yemen, as the impact of various conflicts ripple across the Middle East, gauging their numbers is hard, partly because of the existing Saudi presence in AQAP. The initial core of Saudis fled to Yemen after the kingdom defeated a violent al-Qaeda campaign between 2003 and 2006, helping to create AQAP with their Yemeni comrades in 2009. [Reuters, 3/15/2014]

Constitution Drafting Committee elects leadership
Yemen’s seventeen-member panel appointed to draft the country’s next constitution has elected a chairman, two deputies, and rapporteur. The chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee will be Ismail Ahmed, a former government official who has held numerous titles in the past, including minister of justice and attorney general. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/17/2014]

Leader in Herak movement makes claims about al-Beidh
Hussein Zaid bin Yahya, a leader in the Southern separatist movement Herak, has launched an unprecedented attack on Yemen’s former Vice President Ali Salem al-Beidh, saying that he is a “moronic, tacky, mercenary.” In Monday’s issue of Policy, Bin Yahya accused al-Beidh of working with both Iran and AQAP. Bin Yahya also took the opportunity to denounce the rival Islah party as well as President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 3/17/2014]


Algeria accused of protest crackdown
Human Rights Watch says Algerian authorities have been deploying large numbers of police and arresting protesters to prevent demonstrations in the capital ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. Over the weekend, three different opposition marches took place, with the largest organized by the Barakat movement, which was formed specifically to oppose incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking another term. At the same time, around 3,000 supporters of the president gathered in the capital to screen a documentary about Bouteflika’s fifteen years in power. Six candidates have been approved for the April 17 elections. Bouteflika, who is running for his fourth term in office despite his deteriorating health, is expected to win. [Al Jazeera, 3/17/2014]

Lebanon car bomb kills Hezbollah leader
A suicide car bomb attack has killed at least four people in a Hezbollah-dominated area of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, near the border with Syria. Among those killed in the attack, which struck a village late on Sunday, was  a Hezbollah leader. “The blast was carried out by a suicide attacker. Hezbollah members knew he was about to carry out the attack, and tried to stop the vehicle. That was when the attacker detonated the vehicle,” a Lebanese security source said. Hezbollah-dominated areas in eastern Lebanon and south Beirut have suffered a series of deadly attacks, many of them suicide car blasts, since the powerful Shia movement acknowledged sending fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s troops as they battle rebels. [Al-Jazeera, 3/16/2014]

Hamas breaks up Fatah demonstration in Gaza
Thirteen people were arrested on Sunday as Gaza security forces broke up a demonstration backing Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas ahead of key talks at the White House, organizers said. The rally was organized by Abbas’s Fatah party which is the dominant faction in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, but a minority in the Gaza Strip which is ruled by the rival Islamist Hamas movement. A Fatah official said police attacked around eighty demonstrators as they were gathering in Gaza City. A Hamas Police spokesman confirmed the arrests, saying the protesters had no permit. [AFP, 3/16/2014]

Militants attack Iraq anti-Qaeda leader, kill four
Heavily-armed militants attacked the home of an anti-Qaeda militiaman north of Baghdad Sunday, killing and decapitating his wife and two sons along with another person in a brutal pre-dawn assault. The militia leader, Abu Salim, was not in the house at the time of the attack. Policemen at a nearby checkpoint attempted to repel the assault, the officers said, but were unsuccessful and fled the scene when they ran out of ammunition and reinforcements failed to arrive. Abu Salim is a leader of the Sahwa, or Awakening, a collection of mostly-Sunni tribal militias that from late-2006 onwards sided with US forces against their co-religionists in al-Qaeda, helping turn the tide of Iraq’s insurgency. [AFP, 3/17/2014]