Top News: US-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue Launched

The very first US-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue was held in Washington on Thursday. The delegations, led by US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Tunisian Foreign Minister Monji Hamdi, discussed ways in which to “expand their relationship to address challenges facing Tunisia” as it transitions to a democracy. In addition, on Thursday, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa met with House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez, and other democratic and republican congressmen. The meetings were an opportunity for Jomaa to give an overview of the economic and social situation in Tunisia, particularly after the success of the national dialogue. [TAPUPI, 4/3/2014]



Egyptian cabinet passes new terrorism law to presidency
The Egyptian government has approved a new terrorism law and sent it to the presidency for ratification. The bill had been in discussion for months following the spread of militant attacks against Egyptian army and police forces. Egypt’s State Council revised the law and sent it back to the cabinet earlier on Thursday. The Council’s amendments included toughening the punishment of the perpetrators of any crimes of terrorism to death, and included provisions that facilitated the task of officers to enforce the law and do their jobs, a judicial source said. The cabinet is in the process of approving two counter-terrorism bills that some say could severely erode civil liberties in Egypt. The first would amend certain provisions in the penal code’s definition of terrorism, while the second would govern counter-terrorism procedures. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 4/4/2014]

Police disperse Brotherhood rally in Giza; Arrest eight for demonstrating without license
Egyptian security forces used tear gas to disperse a rally being held by Mohamed Morsi’s supporters on Friday in Giza. The rally began shortly after Friday prayers when worshippers gathered on al-Haram street and blocked traffic in front of a hospital while chanting slogans against the military. Responding to calls from the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy for demonstrations Friday, security forces were mobilized across Cairo and Giza. Egyptian police also arrested eight Brotherhood members on charges of organizing a protest without a license. [Ahram Online, AMAY (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 4/4/2014]

Egypt deports man lobbying against mass death sentences
Egyptian authorities deported a rights campaigner hours after he flew in to deliver a petition against death sentences imposed on 529 supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, the man and security officials said on Friday. Wissam Tarif, a Lebanese citizen from the international group Avaaz, was hoping to hand over the appeal at a meeting with the grand mufti, Egypt’s top religious authority who reviews all death sentences. Tarif said he was barred from leaving the airport to attend the meeting and authorities briefly seized his computer. Security officials at Cairo airport said Tarif arrived on Tuesday afternoon and was deported eleven hours later after his name appeared on a watch list. [Reuters, 4/3/2014]

Egypt’s government to issue T-bonds to reimburse pension funds
Egypt’s finance ministry has approved the repayment of EGP 20 billion ($2.8 billion), the remainder of the treasury’s debt to two Egyptian insurance funds—one for public employees and the other for those working in the private sector. The repayment will be in form of three bonds over a three-year period with an interest rate of 9 percent. The first bond will be issued in January 2015. [Ahram Online, 4/3/2014]


Libya sees good intentions in oil port talks; rebel split seen
Libya has seen evidence of “good intentions” at indirect talks with eastern rebels, which could lead to the lifting of their blockage of major oil ports within days, according to acting Oil Minister Omar Shakmak, making clear the negotiations were taking place through tribal leaders. Divisions in the rebel camp became apparent as the resignations of eight members of the rebels’ politburo leaves leader Jadhran with a deputy and a self-declared prime minister to finish talks. Other members quit earlier, accusing him of concentrating power. Analysts said a big problem in the talks is how to work around a rebel demand to hold a referendum on whether to introduce a federalist state, devolving some powers and control of oil revenue to regional authorities, as under Qaddafi’s predecessor King Idris. The government fears allowing this might open the door to secession. [Reuters, 4/3/2014]

Still no GNC consensus on a new prime minister
There is still no consensus in the General National Congress (GNC) on whether to formally appoint a new prime minister or to continue with caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni until the new House of Representatives takes its seat and then appoints its own head of government. Al-Thinni’s second fortnight in office as temporary prime minister is supposed to end next Tuesday. Reports say that out of the seventeen names suggested as prime minister, three easterners emerged as frontrunners, but GNC members deny that there is any consensus. One member from Benghazi said that the GNC is split on whether there should be consensus on a single figure, have a slate of four candidates to vote on, form a national unity government bringing together all the blocs in the legislature, or simply stick with al-Thinni until the GNC is dissolved. [Libya Herald, 4/3/2014]

Cabinet backs emergency power deal
Libya is to fast-track the acquisition of eight emergency power-generators to provide more than 600 megawatts of electricity. The cabinet agreed to the multi-million dollar deal, which is believed to involve Libya’s general electric company, at the second cabinet meeting of premier Abdullah al-Thinni’s caretaker government. The decision was made to make up for electricity shortfalls following recent attacks on power stations. The cabinet also signed off on a project from the ministry of water resources to set up a desalination plant in the Zuetina region. The ministry of higher education was also authorized to create a renewable energies center at Misrata University. [Libya Herald, 4/3/2014]

Payment delays leave 500 pilots stuck in Libya
Payment delays are preventing some 500 trainee pilots from taking up courses in the United Kingdom and Ireland, one of the prospective airmen said. It took more than two months to get the student visas sorted, the trainee said on condition of anonymity, but the prospective pilots were told they would not be able to leave for the United Kingdom until the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) transferred money into UK accounts. When approached by a few students regarding delays in payment, CBL management looked at the paperwork and said the number was too high, sending it back to the accountants for review. The student described these latest delays as “ridiculous” and said the pilots were planning to demonstrate outside CBL if the paperwork was not signed by Thursday. [Libya Herald, 4/3/2014]


Army steps up operations near Damascus
Syrian army tanks and warplanes pounded besieged Mleiha east of Damascus Friday, as the regime pressed a campaign to take control of the opposition-held town. Regime warplanes on Friday carried out four air strikes against Mleiha, which like much of the Eastern Ghouta area east of Damascus has been under army siege for nearly six months. Mleiha is strategically located near regime-held Jaramana, which frequently comes under rebel shelling. SANA reported that six children were killed in shelling on the Dikhaniyeh neighborhood there. An activist on the ground claimed that the offensive “is being repelled by the Free Syrian Army.” The activist added that fighting on the edges of Mleiha was “very fierce” and that the rebels are up against government troops backed by Syrian and Iraqi pro-regime militiamen. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still living in the Eastern Ghouta area. [AFP, 4/4/2014]

United States and ten nations protest plans for Syrian presidential elections
Eleven Western and Middle Eastern powers on Thursday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against holding elections, saying that the vote would have no credibility amid the country’s brutal civil war. In a joint statement, the eleven core members of the Friends of Syria urged Assad instead to embrace a plan outlined in Geneva talks that includes a transitional government as a way out of the three-year war. “Elections organized by the Assad regime would be a parody of democracy, would reveal the regime’s rejection of the basis of the Geneva talks, and would deepen the division of Syria,” said the statement, as issued by the US State Department. The statement said that a credible election would be impossible with millions of Syrians displaced. [AFP, Reuters, 4/4/2014]

Iran says does not seek indefinite power for Assad
Iran, Syria’s main regional ally, does not see President Bashar al-Assad staying in power indefinitely but neither does it want “extremist forces” to replace him, a senior Iranian diplomat said on Wednesday. Amir Abdollahian, deputy foreign minister for Arab and African Affairs, added in an interview Iran hoped to have talks next month with Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s regional rival, to address their differences about the Middle East. Abdollahian said it was necessary now for a “parallel track” to failed peace talks held in Switzerland earlier this year. He did not elaborate on what he has previously described as a four-part plan for Syria developed by Tehran and UN Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. But he said Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey “have all started to believe in a diplomatic process and are now more than ever working towards a political solution.” [Reuters, 4/2/2013]


US-Tunisia Strategic dialogue launched
The very first US-Tunisia Strategic Dialogue was held in Washington on Thursday. The delegations, led by US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and Tunisian Foreign Minister Monji Hamdi, discussed ways in which to “expand their relationship to address challenges facing Tunisia” as it transitions to a democracy. In addition, on Thursday, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa met with House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez, and other democratic and republican congressmen. The meetings were an opportunity for Jomaa to give an overview of the economic and social situation in Tunisia, particularly after the success of the national dialogue. [TAP, UPI, 4/3/2014]

Rape victim’s lawyers to appeal for stricter sentence
Earlier this week, the two police officers convicted of raping “Meriem” were sentenced to seven years in prison. The legal team representing “Meriem”, the pseudonym of a woman who accused two police officers of rape in 2012, condemned the sentences earlier this week as too lenient and will file an appeal requesting a stricter ruling, arguing that the sentence is not long enough to act as a deterrent. According to one of the lawyers, the average sentence for rape in Tunisia is between ten and fifteen years. A group of four Tunisian NGOs and the International Federation of Human Rights denounced the court’s ruling as “not satisfactory.” [Tunisia Live, 4/4/2014]

Overcrowding remains significant problem in prisons
Overcrowding remains a major problem in Tunisian prisons according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR). The rate of overcrowding, based on the number of beds and prison cell sizes, often exceeds 150 percent of prison capacity. Overcrowding combined with the lack of ventilation and lights in cells are factors that may cause contagious diseases. Overcrowding also increases the risk of violence between inmates and limits the ability of guards to maintain order. In addition, the separation of prisoners based on the nature of offenses is not always guaranteed. The OCHR, however, was positive with respect to prison’s food, sanitation, medical care, visitation policy, and education and reintegration programs. [All Africa, 4/3/2014]


Kidnapped judge released
An abducted Yemeni judge was released on Thursday following mediation by tribal chieftains, a tribal source said. “The judge has gone to the capital Sana’a in the company of some members of the mediation committee,” the source said, giving no further details. The judge was abducted by gunmen in Hajja ten days ago, shortly after he had slapped thirteen Yemeni revolutionaries with jail sentences between five and ten years on charges of killing policemen in April 2011. The judge’s release may signal an end to the Judges Club strike declared when their colleague was abducted. [World Bulletin, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/4/2014]

Houthi clashes in Dhamar province
Houthi militants and tribal fighters clashed in Dhamar province, just south of the capital in Sana’a. Local sources report that at least a dozen have been killed. A source in the Islah party, the primary political and military rival of the Houthi group, accused the northern-based rebels of seeking to control Yemen, saying that the tribes involved in clashes are defending themselves against Houthi aggression. Tribal sources blame the outbreak of fighting in Dhamar on the lack of commitment from both Islah and Houthi fighters to the agreement formerly reached by the mediation committee. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), World Bulletin, 4/4/2014]

Officials say stability of Yemeni riyal reflects positive effect of monetary policy
Yemen’s monetary policy has helped the exchange rate of the Yemeni riyal remain stable against hard currencies for the third consecutive year, officials said. An assistant undersecretary at the ministry of finance accredited the stability of the local currency’s exchange rate to the efficiency of the economic policy in general and monetary policy in particular. A Sana’a University economics professor attributed the Central Bank’s economic policies—such as its provision of hard currency to import basic foodstuffs and purchase oil derivatives—with creating stability and instilling confidence among depositors, merchants “and the community as a whole.” [Al-Shorfa, 4/4/2014]


Saudi court sentences al-Qaeda man to death
A Saudi court sentenced to death the “chief strategist” of a wave of al-Qaeda violence that erupted in the kingdom in 2003 on Wednesday, a decade after his reported arrest. Faris al-Zahrani had been in custody since his detention near the Yemeni border in 2004. The trial, in which sixteen codefendants were also sentenced to prison terms of up to twenty years, was the latest in a series of prosecutions begun in July 2011 for alleged offenses committed between 2003 and 2006. Throughout the trial, the chief defendant continued to defy the authority of the state and to defend the killing of security personnel as an act justified by his faith. [Gulf News, 4/3/2014]

Israel sanctions PA following unilateral move
Israel’s public radio service announced several punitive measures aimed at the Palestinian Authority (PA) following the Palestine Liberation Organization’s push to accede to fifteen UN agencies and conventions. Sanctions include a suspension of high-level contacts between ministers and funneling all government contacts to the Coordinating Office for Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli military’s administrative apparatus for the occupation. Freezes on 3G cellular technology to PA controlled areas and the transfer of communications equipment to Gaza were also announced. The fourth and final transfer of Palestinian prisoners was also cancelled on Thursday. [Arutz Sheva, 4/4/2014]

Kuwait parliamentary panel rejects Gulf security pact
In a three to two vote, the Kuwaiti parliamentary committee for foreign relations on Thursday rejected a security pact ratified by other Gulf nations, with MPs saying the government-backed treaty is unconstitutional. Leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) approved the pact at a summit in December 2012 after it was signed by all GCC interior ministers including Kuwait. opponents say the pact will undermine constitutional freedoms in Kuwait, the first member of the GCC to have a directly elected parliament and relatively few restrictions on the press and public expression. Several political groups have held rallies warning that the pact will turn Kuwait into a police state. [AFP, 4/3/2014]

Kuwait minister under US fire on Syria jihad quits
A Kuwaiti minister, accused by a senior US official of promoting jihad in Syria, has resigned just days after receiving the backing of fellow cabinet members. Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Nayef al-Ajmi, who strongly denies the US accusations, said he had asked to be relieved of his duties for health reasons. US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen charged earlier this year that Ajmi “has a history of promoting jihad in Syria.” His appointment to the cabinet in January was a “step in the wrong direction,” Cohen said in a lecture in the United States, parts of which were carried by the Kuwaiti press late last month. [AFP, 4/4/2014]