Top News: Vote Marked by Violence Across Libya

Seventy-one polling stations were closed across the country as a result of violence. Several polling stations in the eastern city of Darnah, a stronghold of Islamic militias, came under attack and one man was killed. Intimidation in southern cities also turned many voters away. In the southern town of Obari, the election for the Constitutional Committee were suspended. Two of the polling centers was stormed and set on fire and other polling centers in the area were closed as a result. [Al Arabiya, 2/21/2014, Libya Herald, 2/20/2014]


Khaled Ali announces presidential bid; Meets with Sabbahy
Sources close to former presidential candidate Khaled Ali said he will soon be announcing his presidential bid for the elections expected to take place this spring. The sources also said that Ali did not change his decision after he met on Wednesday with Hamdeen Sabbahy, who announced earlier this month that he will run in the elections. Al-Ahram reported that the two men met on Thursday in response to a call by head of the Egyptian Socialist Popular Alliance Party, Abdel-Ghafar Shokr. The potential candidates have refrained from giving any media statements about the subject of their discussions, but Shokr has said that the two campaigns agreed to coordinate on particular issues, “especially concerning exerting pressure for the release of the arrested revolutionary youth who face cruel mistreatment.” He also said the two candidates were to discuss how to cooperate in the election to avoid dividing the revolutionary vote, as in past elections. Heba Yasseen, spokesperson for Sabbahy’s Popular Current party, said that the party would issue a statement following the talk. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, 2/20/2014]

Clashes and arrests in pro-Morsi protests on Friday
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy called its supporters to stage marches on Friday after prayers in Cairo and Giza under the slogan “Bring Down the regime, the revolution continues.” The Alliance stressed in a statement Thursday that the protests would not be violent as the Alliance would not allow for a civil war. Protests nonetheless turned violent as security forces dispersed marches in several governorates. In Alexandria, ten Brotherhood supporters were arrested as police dispersed a protest in Sidi Beshr, while three were arrested in Mounifeya. Clashes also took place in Cairo, in the Ain Shams area, in Nasr City, where Egypt’s state television reported that Muslim Brotherhood elements cut off Abbas al-Aqqad street. In Mattariya, the clashes caused the metro station to shut down, while in Haram, satellite channel Tahrir TV accused protesters of setting fire to one of their vans. In Suez, violent clashes erupted between protesters and residents of the area, where cars and storefronts were damaged before police intervened. Meanwhile, in Alexandria’s Qaed Ibrahim, dozens of Egyptians took to the street calling on Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for president. [Egypt Independent, 2/21/2014]

Egypt to receive $3 billion in aid soon from Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia will provide Egypt with $3 billion in aid soon, mostly in the form of petroleum products, to help stabilize the country’s economy. Sami Khalaf, adviser to the Egyptian minister of finance, said in a press statement on Wednesday that Egypt has already received $2 billion from the Kingdom. The total aid package is worth $5 billion. He said the $2 billion non-refundable grant was given before the recent visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy to the Kingdom earlier this month. [Arab News, 2/21/2014]

United States warns Egypt not to target media
A US diplomat pressed Cairo to respect “basic rights and freedoms” Thursday, warning that Egypt’s stability and economic recovery were at stake, as a court opened a trial of Al Jazeera journalists. Washington, whose ties with historic ally Cairo have cooled in recent months, has previously reprimanded Egyptian authorities for the trial of twenty journalists of the Doha-based television news network. “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on questionable claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms,” a State Department official told AFP. These warnings come as interim President Adly Mansour met with US Senator Tim Kaine, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. Mansour and Kaine discussed bilateral relations between Egypt and the United States, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by Ambassador Ihab Badawy, spokesperson of the Egyptian presidency. “Egypt wanted the United States to understand what was happening in Egypt as we are fighting a real war against terrorism in Sinai and the rest of the country. It is important to find the friendly countries on Egypt’s side,” Badawy said. [AFP/DNE, Ahram Online, 2/21/14]


Low turnout for vote on Libya’s constitutional committee
The Libyan election committee stated that voter turnout was around forty-five percent for yesterday’s vote to elect a constitutional panel that will draft Libya’s first constitution in four decades. The number of voters reached nearly half a million out of a total of 1.1 million registered voters and less than one third of voters eligible to vote actually registered. The election lacked the voter enthusiasm that marked Libya’s first free election in July 2012 as public frustration mounts over the weak central government’s failure to restore order in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising. This vote is crucial for Libya’s transition to democracy after a political stalemate and violence since the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. [Al Arabiya, 2/21/2014, Ahram Online, 2/20/2014]

Leader of the Qaaqaa Brigade seriously injured after possible assassination attempt
On Thursday. Othman Milaiqtah, the commander of the Qaaqaa Brigade, was gravely injured in what is variously being called an assassination attempt or a car accident. Salah Al-Madani, nephew of the celebrated Zintan martyr Mohamed al-Madan, was killed. There are two conflicting reports as to what happened. The first is that Salah al-Madani had an argument with Milaiqtah and shot him, and then was shot dead by Milaiqtah’s guard. The second is that the car, driven by Madani, crashed in an ordinary accident. [Libya Herald, 2/20/2014]


Iran boosts military support in Syria to bolster Assad
While the presence of Iranian military personnel in Syria is not new, military experts believe Tehran has in recent months sent in more specialists to enable President Bashar al-Assad to outlast his enemies at home and abroad. Analysts believe this renewed support means Assad felt no need to make concessions at currently deadlocked peace talks in Geneva. Assad is now benefiting from the deployment by Tehran of hundreds more military specialists to Syria, including senior commanders from the elite Quds Force, the external and secretive arm of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as IRGC members. A former senior Iranian official with close IRGC links said the Quds force was gathering intelligence in Syria, which Iran regarded as a top priority. He said a few hundred commanders from the Quds Force and the IRGC were in Syria, but they did not get involved directly in the fighting. A recently retired senior IRGC commander said top Quds force commanders numbered sixty to seventy at any given time. These men were tasked with advising and training Assad’s military and his commanders while Revolutionary Guards directed the fighting on the instructions of the Quds Force commanders. [Reuters, 2/21/2014]

Air force steps up attacks in south; Bomb at Turkish border crossing kills six
The Syrian army has intensified its aerial bombardment of southern Syria amid reports that opposition fighters were preparing to launch a wide offensive in the province bordering Jordan. The Local Coordination Committees activist network said air raids and government shelling in the southern province of Dara’a killed at least two people there on Friday. Activists say the army has in recent days stepped up its use of crude barrel bombs in deadly airstrikes on rebel held areas of Dara’a said the shelling comes as opposition fighters were preparing to launch a push toward the heavily-guarded Syrian capital Damascus from the province in coming days. In the north, at least six people were killed and forty-five injured when a car bomb exploded at a border crossing between Syria and Turkey on Thursday. The bomb detonated on the Syrian side of the Bab al-Salama crossing. The Syrian side of the crossing is under the control of Islamist rebels who have been battling jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) since early January. [The Daily Start, 2/21/2014]

Syria to miss chemical destruction deadline
Syria will miss a UN-backed June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical arsenal, possibly by several months, sources said Thursday, amid growing Western frustration with Damascus’ perceived delays. With just 11 percent of Syria’s chemicals out of the country after a series of missed deadlines, an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) meeting on Friday will hear calls for Syria to do more. Because of the missed deadlines, Syria has submitted a new 100-day timeframe that sees all its chemicals removed from the country by the last week of May, a source close to the matter told reporters. The chemicals must then be taken from Syria’s main port Latakia by Western warships to a US vessel, aboard which they will be broken down at sea using hydrolysis, a process expected to take ninety days. That would put the destruction well beyond the June 30 deadline agreed by Russia and the United States last year. Western diplomats at an OPCW Executive Council meeting last month expressed frustration with the repeatedly delayed process, accusing Syria of unilaterally changing the June 30 destruction deadline into a deadline for the chemicals to have left the country. [AFP, 2/20/2014]

UN Security Council to vote on Syria aid resolution Saturday
The UN Security Council will vote Saturday morning on a resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in Syria, where the United Nations says 9.3 million people need help, although it is unclear if Russia and China will support or veto the draft. Australian UN Ambassador Gary Quinlan co-authored the text with envoys from Jordan and Luxembourg. The text includes demands for cross-border aid access and an end to shelling and aerial bombardment, including barrel bombs, and threatens “further steps” in the event of non-compliance. Russia, supported by China, has shielded its ally Syria on the UN, vetoing three previous resolutions condemning Syria’s government. Western diplomats said a possible Friday vote by the fifteen-member council was pushed to Saturday after Russia said it needed more time. [Reuters, 2/21/2014]


Libyan military plane crashes in Tunisia
A Libyan military plane crashed just outside the Tunisian capital early Friday morning. All eleven people on board were killed. The cause of the crash remains unclear. Some authorities believe the plane crashed as a result of engine failure while others state that bad weather was to blame. There are conflicting reports as to who was on the plane. One reports states six crew members, three doctors and two patients were on board. Another report says the eleven were comprised of five crew members, one doctor, two patients, and three people accompanying the patients. One of the three people accompanying the patients is reported to have been a senior member of Ansar al-Sharia. The chargé d’affaires of Libya’s Embassy in Tunis, Mokhtar Salem Drira, has denied reports that members of Al-Qaida were among the victims. [TAP, Libya Herald, 2/21/2014]   

Founder of anti-Islamist newspaper joins Nidaa Tounes
Omar S’habou, leader of the Free Destourian party and founder of the Al Maghreb newspaper, has joined the Nidaa Tounes party, a secularist political party formed after the 2011 revolution. He has dissolved the Free Destourian party. S’habou founded the Al Maghreb newspaper following the 2011 revolution. The paper has been harshly critical of the government, which until recently was led by the Islamist Ennahdha party. Recently, a number of notable politicians have joined Nidaa Tounes.  The party is expected to be a major force in elections expected later this year. [Tunisia Live, 2/20/2014]

Morocco to train Tunisian and Libyan Imams
Imams from Tunisia, Libya, and Guinea-Conakry will travel to Morocco to participate in a training program aimed at combating religious extremism. Last Wednesday, Libya and Tunisia sent requests to the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs to participate in the training program. They follow 500 Imams from Mali that have gone to Morocco to participate in the same program. Following the 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings, Morocco began began restructuring the religious domain. Countries participating the program aim to benefit from the Moroccan experience in building and running mosques, as well as for training courses in the field of management of religious affairs and moderate Islamic discourse. [All Africa, 2/20/2014]

Tunisia’s growth rate at 2.6 percent for 2013
According to the National Statistics Institute, economic growth in 2013 was 2.6 percent, a full one percent below 2012’s growth rate of 3.6 percent. Recently, Tunisia’s central bank announced a prediction that Tunisia’s economy will grow by 3.8 percent, although they originally predicted that it would grow by 4 percent. Tunisia’s economy has been struggling since the 2011 revolution and economic recovery is a top priority for the interim government. [All Africa, 2/20/2014]


Southern protesters clash with police in Aden
Following calls by the Southern separatist Herak movement for a million man march, protesters demanding Southern independence and voicing their opposition to National Dialogue Conference (NDC) outcomes began gathering in Aden last night. Aden’s security committee announced that central gathering places in the city would be closed off, citing concerns of a terrorist threat. The committee announced that no unauthorized gatherings would be permitted. Since last night, peaceful demonstrators have been met with tear gas and further clashes with police have left at least two dead due to live fire. [Al-Mashhad al-Yemeni (Arabic), Al-Masdar (Arabic),  The Daily Star; 2/21/2014]

Former Southern leaders release statement
After years of rivalry, exiled leaders representing Southern secessionists have released a statement to the media, warning the central government in Sana’a about its actions in the South. Following their meeting in Beirut, former president Ali Nasser Muhammad al-Husayni, former vice president Ali Salem al-Beidh, and a leader of Herak, Hassan Baoum, have called for Friday protests. They also decried “ongoing repression,” citing clashes in al-Dali’ and the military blockade on Ghail Bawazir, calling upon the international community and regional actors to respond. Some observers commented that the meeting between the Southern leaders marks “a clear launching of war against [President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi] in the south.” [Voice Yemen (Arabic), Hadramawt Press (Arabic), Aden Live TV (Arabic); 2/20/2014]

Protesters renew march against Total LNG arrangements
Student and youth activists gathered in Sana’a yesterday protesting the arrangements of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal with the French-based energy company Total. In addition, they called for an end of the monopoly on Yemen’s energy sector and for more transparency on the economy’s energy reserves, demanding that the government disclose the amount of oil, gas, and minerals remaining. [al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/21/2014]

Latest shoe bomb threat linked to Yemen-based AQAP
The latest warning to airlines about shoe-bomb threats is a product of heightened US concern about the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), whose leaders include a technically-savvy bomb maker, US security sources said on Thursday. Homeland Security authorities on Wednesday issued a new warning about shoe bombs to airlines that fly from overseas to the United States out of concern that Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a Saudi believed to have been planning airliner-related attacks on the United States in 2009 and 2010, may have come up with new bomb design innovations to evade airport security measures. [Reuters, 2/21/2014]


Mortar strike in Iraq kills twenty-two
A mortar attack on a mostly Shia town south of Baghdad left at least twenty-two people dead and over fifty wounded. Five rounds slammed into a busy market, a residential building and a parking lot in the early evening as people returned home from work and shopped in the town of Mussayab, police and hospital officials said. Police said it appeared the rounds came from the nearby Sunni-dominated town of Jurf al-Sakr, though it wasn’t immediately clear who fired them. [Al-Jazeera, 2/21/2014]

Saudi Arabia pledge to protect foreign workers as Indonesian maids face execution
For the first time, Indonesian maids working in Saudi Arabia will be guaranteed a monthly wage, time off, and contact with their loved ones, under a new agreement signed by the Gulf kingdom and Jakarta this week. Human rights groups say the pact is a step towards ensuring the protection of foreign workers’ basic rights in Saudi Arabia. But it fails to address a worrying trend of domestic helpers filing complaints of exploitation and abuse only to face counter-allegations by their employers of “theft, witchcraft or adultery,” according to Human Rights Watch. Earlier this month, King Abdullah pardoned an Indonesian maid, who was on death row after being convicted in 2003 of “casting a magic spell on her employer and his family,” a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy told Saudi news site, Arab news. [CNN, 2/21/2014]

Image: A voter casts his ballot in Tripoli’s Al-Batata district. (Photo: Ahmed Elumami/Libya Herald)