In an interview with the London-based al-Hayat, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi called on Iran to “lift its hand off Yemen,” claiming that interference from Iran persists “whether through its support for the [Southern] Herak separatists or some religious groups in northern Yemen.” Hadi also praised Gulf Cooperation Council and Saudi efforts at supporting Yemen’s transition. The president also called on Yemenis to understand the utility of drone strikes carried out against al-Qaeda despite the “limited dangers.” However, Yemen cosponsored on Friday, a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for increased adherence to international law when using such strikes. [ReutersAl-Hayat (Arabic), 3/31/2014]


Presidential elections timetable announced; Candidate registration Monday
Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) announced the timetable for presidential elections on Sunday. Hopeful candidates will be able to register with the PEC from March 31 until April 20, said Anwar al-Assi, chairman of the PEC and the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). The final and official list of the candidates will be announced on May 2. The election campaigns will officially kick off on May 3 and last until May 23. The first round of voting will be on May 26 and 27, after which candidates can file complaints with the PEC on May 29 and receive a final answer on May 31. The results of the election will be officially announced on June 5. In case of a tie, a runoff will be held on June 16 and 17, with the final results announced June 26. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 3/30/2014]

Two Islamists sentenced to death for throwing children off roof last July
Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced two men to death Saturday for throwing children off a roof last July, two days after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. They faced charges of manslaughter, thuggery, violence, illegal possession of weapons, and disturbing public order. The verdicts were delivered amid a heavy security presence outside the court. The defendants’ papers have been transferred to the Office of the Grand Mufti, the country’s official authority for issuing religious edicts, as Egyptian law stipulates that all death sentences must be reviewed by the grand mufti for ratification. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, 3/30/2014]

Egyptian court denies bail to Al-Jazeera journalists
A Cairo criminal court adjourned the trial of a number of Al Jazeera journalists, imprisoned on charges of aiding of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, on Monday for the fourth time. The court denied bail for the defendants for the second time, adjourning the trial to April 10. In Monday’s session, one of the defendants, Shady Abdel-Hameed, said that the defendants were beaten for three days straight to “confess to things we didn’t do.” The court ordered three defendants referred to forensics to investigate their claims they had been beaten. The judge also ordered the arrest of a police officer, who was supposed to deliver filmed material to the court, but failed to do so for the third week in a row. [Ahram Online, AP, 3/31/2014]

Egypt’s military held considerable sway over political decisions in 2013: EU annual report A recently published European Union report called 2013 a “very challenging year” politically in Egypt, with the military holding “considerable sway over key political decisions.” The annual country progress report by the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), published Thursday, highlighted that Egypt’s new constitution, passed in January, gives a high level of autonomy to the military as it will “grant a final say” over the position of defense minister to Egypt’s army. It said no particular progress can be reported in Egypt, in relation to the country’s Action Plan with the ENP, which pursues three priorities: political reform and good governance, competitiveness and productivity, and socioeconomic progress. [Ahram Online, DNE, 3/29/2014]


Libyan parliament passes law to organize new elections
Libyan lawmakers approved a new election law on Sunday, paving the way to call general elections later this year. According to the head of General National Congress (GNC) the elections law would be voted on and handed over to the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) to implement before the end of the month. The law passed with 124 votes out of 133 and sees the end of the GNC which after elections which replace it with a new interim legislature to be known as the House of Representatives. The new electoral law reserves thirty seats for women and removes the party list system, with all 200 members elected as individuals that can belong to political parties. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/30/2014]

Libya releases video of Qaddafi’s son apologizing
Libyan state TV has aired footage showing one of late dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s sons jailed in Libya apologizing to the nation and asking for forgiveness. Al-Saadi Qaddafi was extradited to Libya earlier this month from Niger, where he had taken refuge as his father’s regime crumbled in 2011. The Libyan government is preparing to prosecute him for his alleged role in trying to suppress the uprising against Qaddafi’s rule. [AP, Tripoli Post, 3/28/2014]

Libyan Army boosted by 300 newly-trained personnel
Nearly 300 army recruits will now be joining the Libyan Army after graduating in Turkey last week. Almost one third of the 440 recruits selected for training dropped out of the training with one of the reasons being that they found the training to challenging according to Turkish government officials. [Libya Herald, 3/30/2014]

Youth and sports ministry closed following attack
The ministry of youth and sports is closed until further notice following an attack yesterday at its main offices in Tripoli. According to the ministry’s international cooperation director a small group of armed men entered the ministry and told everyone to leave. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, it is known that Zintani elements are deeply opposed to the GNC’s continued term in office. [Libya Herald, 3/31/2014]


ISIS seizes town from Nusra in Hassakeh province; Infighting flares across northeast
Militants from the al-Qaeda splinter group ISIS have taken over the town of Markada in Hassakeh province in fighting with the Nusra Front and other Islamist militias, according to pro-opposition media and an activist group. The reports said that a local commander of ISIS, a Turkish national, was killed in the fighting, which claimed the lives of five ISIS fighters and approximately forty Nusra Front members. ISIS is engaged in fighting against the Nusra Front and its allies, as well as a separate campaign against the YPG Kurdish militia. Also in Hassakeh province, the Kurdish YPG wrested control of a village, Jazaa, from ISIS, which suffered at least fourteen fatalities during three days of fighting. In Raqqa province to the east, where ISIS enjoys its strongest presence in the country, the group alerted residents via minarets in the town of Raqqa to “open their windows and open up closed places” as the group was planning to carry out the second stage of the demolition of a local shrine. [The Daily Star, 3/31/2014]

Syrian Army gains ground along Lebanon border
Syrian troops made fresh gains in the strategic Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border on Saturday, seizing two villages, Ras al-Maarra and Flita, from rebels, a military source said. Regime troops, backed by Hezbollah fighters, have been waging a ferocious assault against rebel positions in Qalamoun, north of Damascus, since November. They seized the rebels’ last major stronghold in the region, the town of Yabrud, in mid-March and have since moved on rebel-held villages closer to the border in a bid to stop the flow of weapons and fighters from Lebanon. Rebel fighters in the two villages were overwhelmed by the army’s superior firepower, an activist in the region, Jawad al-Sayed, said. “The fighters are very visible from the sky, and they are being hit from afar, whether by planes or tanks.” Local rebel commander Ahmed Nawaf Durra was killed in the fighting. One analyst said that despite the army’s recapture of the two villages, “it will be very difficult to control the whole border. The army and Hezbollah would need to deploy fighters all along the border, which is impossible.” [AFP, 3/29/2014]

Obama says US military strikes could not have stopped Syria misery
The United States could not have stopped the humanitarian crisis in Syria with military strikes, President Barack Obama said in a television interview airing on Friday, and said US troops had reached their limits after long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama was asked in an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley [4:00] whether he regretted not applying US force in Syria, where the three-year civil war has killed more than 140,000 people and displaced millions. “It is, I think, a false notion that somehow we were in a position to, through a few selective strikes, prevent the kind of hardship that we’ve seen in Syria,” Obama said. “It’s not that it’s not worth it. It’s after a decade of war, you know, the United States has limits.” Obama said the United States would have a hard time committing to putting troops on the ground in Syria, a commitment he said could have lasted “perhaps another decade.” [Reuters, 3/29/2014]

Nasrallah says Hezbollah ‘late’ to join conflict in Syria
Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday called for domestic support for his militants after a year of growing sectarian violence in Lebanon following the Shiite militant group’s intervention in the Syrian war. “Some in Lebanon say the resistance [Hezbollah] has nothing to do with Syria,” Nasrallah told supporters via a television link from a secret location in South Lebanon. He justified sending his forces to a foreign war by saying that Sunni rebel groups would “eliminate everyone in Lebanon” if they won in Syria. “The problem in Lebanon is not that Hezbollah went to Syria, but that we were late in doing so,” he said. “This resistance will remain solid, with its head hung high, protecting its people and its nation.” [The National, 3/31/2014]


Belaid’s family to appeal decision to seal case
The family of Chokri Belaid, a prominent politician and critic of the Islamist government who was assassinated in February 2013, has decided to appeal the investigating judge’s decision to seal Belaid’s assassination case file, according to a member of the defense. The same member of the defense stated that the family is appealing because they believe the case was not treated as a state crime and because they do not feel the judge dealt with the “instigators of the crime, those who gave the order, or those who seek to hide it…” Belaid’s assassination was blamed on members of Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafi group suspected to have links to al-Qaeda. The main suspect in the assassination, Kamel Gadhgadhi, was killed in a government raid in February 2014. [TAP, 3/30/2014]

Leader of controversial group jailed for threatening police and judges
Imed Dghij, leader of Men for the Protection of the Revolution in Kram, has been sentenced to fourteen months in prison after threatening police officers and judges online. Dghij was convicted of incitement of violence and threatening and harming others’ reputations through public communication networks. For the former conviction he received eight months in prison and for the latter he received six months. Dghij’s lawyers walked out of the trial. Afterward, Seifeddine Makhlouf, a member of his defense committee, called the trial “political” in a video posted on Facebook and stated that they “refuse to participate in fake cases.” [Tunisia Live, 3/28/2014]

Tunisia to raise retirement age
On Friday, the Tunisian government named Rachid Barouni to head the national social security fund (CNSS). This follows an announcement from earlier in the week that the government will raise the retirement age to sixty-two. Barouni takes the post amidst controversy over the proposed retirement policy reform. While the measure aims to counter a shortfall in social funds, concerns grow that it could impact many citizens, especially unemployed graduates. If approved, the decision to increase the retirement age would take effect in January 2015. [Maghrebia, 3/28/2014]

Rached Ghannouchi says Tunisia is on a democratic path
In an interview, Rached Ghannouchi, an influential Islamic thinker and cofounder and president of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party spoke about the future of his homeland. He stated that Tunisia is no longer in crisis and has moved forward through the national dialogue reaching a consensus about important pillars like the constitution, the election commission, and a national government. He noted that the main problem moving forward is the economy. [New Europe, 3/30/2014]


Despite arbitration and ceasefire, Houthis continue to provoke fears
The presidential commission dispatched to Amran province has announced a fifteen day ceasefire agreement between Houthi militants and the government. Local sources indicated that Houthis accepted arbitration terms of twelve Kalashnikovs for the twelve Houthis killed in protests on March 22. Some parties in the Council of Representatives heavily criticized the commission, and by extension the president, for the arbitration agreement. The General People’s Congress supported the agreement, leading one of its MPs to resign. Amidst the ceasefire, Houthi militants abducted an activist affiliated with their rival Islah party. Also in a rare southern manifestation, members of the Houthi group made a show of parading around Aden chanting their slogan. [Al Masdar, 3/31/2014]

Hadi interviewed, talks Iranian influence, necessity of drones
In an interview with the London-based al-Hayat, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi called on Iran to “lift its hand off Yemen,” claiming that interference from Iran persists “whether through its support for the [Southern] Herak separatists or some religious groups in northern Yemen.” Hadi also praised Gulf Cooperation Council and Saudi efforts at supporting Yemen’s transition. The president also called on Yemenis to understand the utility of drone strikes carried out against al-Qaeda despite the “limited dangers.” However, Yemen cosponsored on Friday, a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for increased adherence to international law when using such strikes. [Reuters, Al-Hayat (Arabic), 3/31/2014]

Draft law on recovering looted money released
The ministry of legal affairs published the draft law aimed at recovering funds looted or sent abroad by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his regime. The law proposes the formation of a commission headed by the minister of legal affairs with members from the ministries of justice, foreign affairs, interior, and national security as well as representatives from banks and central control and auditing agencies. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/30/2014]

Yemen pro-government militiamen killed in ‘al-Qaeda’ ambush
Two members of Yemen’s auxiliary Popular Resistance Committees were killed in an overnight ambush in Abyan province by presumed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) members in the south. Members of the Popular Resistance Committees, who are recruited from tribes, backed a government offensive that led to security forces retaking Abyan province in June 2012 after it was under AQAP control for a year. [AFP, 3/30/2014]


Iraq’s IHEC rescinds resignation amidst series of attacks
Members of Iraq’s electoral commission retracted their resignations on Sunday, having threatened to quit en masse in protest against political interference just one month before a nationwide vote. The entire board of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) had previously tendered its resignation last week, complicating the parliamentary polls to be held on April 30. The elections are further complicated by ongoing violence demonstrated by a series of attacks on Sunday that killed sixteen people in Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh provinces, and Baghdad’s southern suburb of Yusifiyah. [Reuters, 3/30/2014]

Obama presents award to Saudi female activist
Saudi women’s rights activist Maha al-Muneef was honored by President Barack Obama with the International Women of Courage Award on Friday. Muneef is the founder of the National Family Safety Program, a state-funded body campaigning against domestic violence in the Kingdom. Muneef stated that the US State Department’s award will help her organization step up efforts to support victims of domestic violence and consolidate the image of the Saudi women and their contribution to changing society in line with Islamic sharia. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 3/30/2014]

Syria refugee crisis poses major threat to Lebanese stability
An influx of almost 1 million refugees from Syria into neighboring Lebanon poses a serious threat to the already fragile country, but donor nations may not grasp the potential impact of further destabilization, according to Ninette Kelley, the regional representative for Lebanon for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The massive influx threatens to upset Lebanon’s fragile demographic balance between Shia, Sunnis, Druze, and Christians. A major challenge for the new government will be the mounting cost of the refugee crisis. Educating refugee children is especially challenging. More than 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon require schooling, now outnumbering Lebanon’s own 300,000 children in public schools. [Reuters, 3/28/2014]