Top News: Yemen Struggles to Import Food as Coalition Navies Hold Up More Ships

Yemen is facing mounting problems bringing in food by sea as the danger from fighting between Houthis and government supporters is exacerbated by an arms blockade by Saudi-led coalition navies searching ships for weapons destined for the rebels. Yemen imports more than 90 percent of its food, most of it by sea. Ship tracking and port data on Monday showed at least ten ships, many carrying wheat and corn, were still waiting to enter Yemeni waters and discharge at ports including al-Saleef and the larger Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is controlled by Houthis. Yesterday, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson called the situation in Yemen “catastrophic.” Yemen’s government declared the cities of Taiz, Aden, and Sana’a to be disaster zones. [Reuters, 4/27/2015]



Interior ministry shuts down three satellite channels accused of illegal broadcast
The interior ministry shuttered three satellite television channels on Monday, arresting their owner and chief administrator pending further investigations. In a statement released Monday afternoon, the ministry said that the channels Art Music, Art Films, and Galaxy Cinema were operating illegally, charging the administrators with illegally broadcasting over a French satellite station. More than fifty-six satellite channels have been shut down since the military-led ouster of Mohamed Morsi. Gramafoon Radio also announced that it would shut down its online stream due to financial and legal restrictions, the radio’s management said in a statement. The radio’s founder Ahmed Kamal said the closure is a temporary break until a committee tasked with drafting a law governing the formation of National Media Authority (NMA) completes its work. The NMA will replace Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU), which exclusively governs the rights of radio and television broadcasts. Article 16 of the draft law would limit the extent to which online radio stations can broadcast. [Mada Masr, Watan, 4/28/2015]

Morsi attends Qatar espionage trial session, in blue prison uniform
Egypt’s former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi attended a session in his trial for espionage, wearing for the first time the blue uniform assigned to convicts, days after he was recently handed a twenty-year sentence for inciting violence. Prosecutors will display evidence they claim proves Morsi and his ten co-defendants attempted to leak classified state documents to Qatar during his year in power. Meanwhile, a military court in Suez sentenced four people affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood to life in prison in absentia on Monday. The court sentenced four others who were present in the trial to fifteen years. They were convicted of terrorizing citizens, resisting authorities, disrupting traffic, damaging public and private property and using violence. Charges brought against them include joining a banned organization and arms possession during clashes near the Suez governorate building last year. [Ahram Online, 4/28/2015]

North Sinai tribe retaliates against member’s death
A tribal source from al-Tarabeen in North Sinai confirmed Tuesday that the tribe has launched attacks on State of Sinai members, also known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. The attacks come in retaliation for the death of one of its members at the hands of the Sinai-based militant group. The source added that the person is said to have been “an army informant,” however he could not confirm this information. A resident in al-Arish said that, generally, all North Sinai tribes are cooperating with the army against Sinai militants, as most State of Sinai members are not from North Sinai. [DNE, 4/28/2015]

Shoukry discusses nuclear non-proliferation with Zarif and Kerry
Egypt’s foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met on Monday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of a UN conference on the global anti-nuclear weapons treaty. In a statement, the ministry said Shoukry discussed Egyptian and Arab visions regarding nuclear non-proliferation, saying he insisted on the necessity of exerting efforts to make the Middle East free of nuclear weapons. He also met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the conference to discuss a 1995 resolution to create a nuclear free Middle East. [Ahram Online, SIS, Aswat Masriya, 4/28/2015]

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Islamic State kills five Libyan journalists working for TV station
Five crew members from a private Libyan TV network were found dead on Monday, eight months after they were abducted in eastern Libya. The reporters, four Libyan and one Egyptian, had been missing since August, when they left Tobruk after covering the inauguration of the House of Representatives to travel to Benghazi. Faraj al-Barassi, a district army commander in eastern Libya, said militants loyal to the Islamic State were responsible for killing the journalists. Details of the killings are sketchy with reports differing as to the circumstances of the bodies’ discovery. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 4/27/2015]

Children killed in Benghazi random shelling
Two children became the latest casualties in the battle for Benghazi. A four year-old girl and her nine month-old brother died in random shelling in the Hadaiq district from Ansar al-Sharia positions. The Libyan National Army is also conducting major air strikes in the Laithi district of the city. Meanwhile, local fighters from Gharyan say they managed to push Zintani forces away from Heera, north of the town with the help of reinforcements from Tripoli. [Libya Herald, 4/27/2015]

Libyan House of Representatives blocks Libyan funds in Tunisia
The Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) has reportedly issued a decision blocking some LD295 million ($236 million) of Libyan funds deposited at the Central Bank of Tunisia. Omar Salih, recognized as the head of the audit bureau by the Tobruk-based parliament, made the decision on Monday. Salih made the move following a recent visit to Tunisia after information regarding suspicious contracts became known. However, it is unclear if the Tobruk audit bureau has the influence to ensure such a measure is implemented. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/28/2015]

Germany’s president in Tunisia sees opportunity to boost bilateral ties
German President Joachim Gauck visited Tunisia and met with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi. Gauck paid tribute to the people and government of Tunisia for their commitment to complete the democratic process, despite the crises that hit the region, specifically in Libya. He said that his visit was a real opportunity to boost bilateral cooperation and help the country successfully complete its democratic transition. He also made a point to highlight Tunisian civil society and its key role in helping Tunisia transition. [TAP/AllAfrica, 4/27/2015]

Tunisian students spark outrage by unfurling huge ISIS and Nazi banners
Every year in Tunisia, high school students across the country undergo sports exams, a sort of rigorous gym class where they are tested on knowledge and skills in a variety of athletic contests. The exams are followed by a celebration known as “Dakhla,” which features huge football stadium-style banners handmade by the future graduates. This year, students various schools put images of a sword-wielding Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) executioner, hostages in orange jumpsuits, some with slit throats, a man being engulfed in flames, and Nazi and ISIS propaganda. The incidents provoked an investigation, but also shed light on a failing education system that offers little hope for employment. [Vice, 4/27/2015]

Tunisia ranks 25th for integrity of elections, according to study
According to a joint study by Harvard University and the University of Sydney, Tunisia ranks 25th in terms of integrity of presidential elections and 34th for general elections. The study refers to media coverage, electoral laws, registration of voters for candidates, and electoral boundaries in 127 countries. Tunisia also placed ahead of the United States in the election campaign finance section of the study. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 4/28/2015]


Syria’s defense minister leads delegation to Iran
Syria’s Defense Minister General Fahd al-Freij began a visit Tuesday to Iran to discuss cooperation between the two countries’ armies. During the two-day visit, Freij and his Iranian counterpart will discuss “strengthening coordination and cooperation between the two allied militaries particularly in tackling terrorism and common challenges in the region,” according to Syrian state media SANA. The two-day visit comes as the Syrian military is facing increased pressure from insurgent groups on the ground, especially in Idlib province. [Reuters, AFP, 4/28/2015]

Yemen, Syria, defense deals top agenda as Erdogan heads for Kuwait
The crisis in Yemen and Syria as well as defense and construction deals will top the agenda when Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets Kuwait’s emir this week. Erdogan has supported Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in their campaign against Houthi insurgents in Yemen and has repeatedly accused Tehran of seeking to dominate the Middle East. “We will offer some deals to Kuwait that are beneficial to both countries, especially deals on defense,” Erdogan said on Monday. He said Turkish contractors had projects worth $1.6 billion in Kuwait and that he wanted to increase bilateral trade. [Reuters, 4/27/2015]

ISIS has killed over 2,000 off battlefield since June
The Islamic State (ISIS) has killed at least 2,154 people off the battlefield in Syria since the end of June when the group declared a “caliphate” in territory it controls, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The killings of mostly Syrians included deaths by beheading, stoning or gunshots in non-combat situations, the Observatory said, urging the United Nations Security Council to act. The Observatory said its figure included combatants, civilians, and 126 ISIS fighters who had tried to flee the group or were accused of being spies. It did not include several beheaded foreign journalists and a Jordanian pilot who was burnt to death by the group, so the probable figure is even higher, the Observatory’s Rami Abdulrahman said. One of the worst massacres was against the Sunni Muslim Sheitaat tribe in Deir Ezzor, which had been battling ISIS in eastern Syria. The group has killed at least 930 members of the tribe, the Observatory said.[Reuters, 4/28/2015]

Baghdad bombings kill at least twenty civilians
A string of car bombings in busy commercial areas of Baghdad killed at least twenty civilians on Monday. The deadliest attack on Monday night occurred in the western district of Mansour, killing ten people and wounding twenty-five. Security forces sealed off the area, which is often packed with nighttime shoppers. At least twenty cars were set on fire by the blast. No one claimed responsibility. [AP, 4/27/2015]


Houthis and tribesmen battle in central Yemen, at least fifteen dead
At least fifteen people were killed in heavy fighting between Houthi fighters and tribesmen in the oil-producing Marib province in central Yemen. Tribesmen allied with Hadi tried to stop Houthis and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh from advancing on the provincial capital. The Houthis say their advance on Marib is to flush out militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one of the most active branches of the Sunni Muslim militant network and an enemy of the Houthis. Vice President Khaled Bahah urged the Houthi forces to abide by the UN Security Council’s demand for a cessation of violence so that an agreement between the warring parties could be reached. [Reuters, 4/28/2015]

Yemen struggles to import food as coalition navies hold up more ships
Yemen is facing mounting problems bringing in food by sea as the danger from fighting between Houthis and government supporters is exacerbated by an arms blockade by Saudi-led coalition navies searching ships for weapons destined for the rebels. Yemen imports more than 90 percent of its food, most of it by sea. Ship tracking and port data on Monday showed at least ten ships, many carrying wheat and corn, were still waiting to enter Yemeni waters and discharge at ports including al-Saleef and the larger Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is controlled by Houthis. Yesterday, an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson called the situation in Yemen “catastrophic.” Yemen’s government declared the cities of Taiz, Aden, and Sana’a to be disaster zones. [Reuters, 4/27/2015]

Saudi-led coalition continues to pound Yemen’s rebels
Multiple explosions shook Sana’a as warplanes dropped bombs, targeting several rebel-held army camps, trucks carrying weapons and houses turned into weapons’ depots for the Houthis. The airstrikes also continued Tuesday in the southern port city of Aden, where poorly trained and lightly armed pro-government fighters have been resisting a siege by the Houthis, and in the western city of Dhale. So far, the US-backed campaign has failed to reign in the rebels who last year captured Sana’a and much of the country’s north. [AP, Mareb Press, 4/28/2015]

Saudi Arabia makes Islamic State arrests, thwarting attacks
Saudi authorities say they have arrested ninety-three people with ties to the Islamic State group in recent months, foiling their plans to carry out terrorist attacks including a strike on the US Embassy in the kingdom’s capital. Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said Tuesday the arrests include a cell of sixty-five people arrested in March who were involved in a plan that included targeting residential compounds, prisons and security forces. He says authorities also disrupted a plot for a suicide car bomber to attack the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh after receiving information about the plan in mid-March. [AP, 4/28/2015]

Bahrain arrests twenty-eight people planning attacks in villages
Bahraini authorities said on Tuesday they had arrested twenty-eight people who had been planning terrorist operations in villages in the Gulf island kingdom. The interior ministry did not name the detainees, say when they were held or elaborate on the nature of the planned attacks. Bahrainis accused in the past by the Sunni Muslim-led government of planning and launching attacks have included opposition activists from the majority Shi’ite community. The ministry said some of those detained had already been convicted on terrorism charges in absentia and had been sentenced to life terms in jail, while others had had their citizenships revoked. [Reuters, Gulf News, 4/28/2015]


Gulf banks tighten credit for small firms as cheap oil bites
Banks are tightening lending conditions for small, private companies in the Gulf, a sign that the region’s economies are not escaping damage from the plunge of oil prices. Mostly, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are coping comfortably with the new era of cheap oil. However, small firms without shareholding links to governments are finding it increasingly difficult to borrow. When small firms can secure loans, banks are demanding tougher terms such as more collateral, stricter documentation and shorter tenors. Lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is only a tiny part of GCC banks’ business, but what is happening with SMEs could eventually become a trend for the wider corporate sector. [Reuters, 4/28/2015]

Egyptian Central Bank Governor cites $40.2 billion decrease in external debt
The total external debt decreased to $40.2 billion at the end of February, compared to $50 billion last year, according to Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) Governor Hisham Ramez. The new figure represents a rate of 12-13 percent of gross domestic product. On the sidelines of the Arab Banking Conference 2015, Financing for Development held Monday, Ramez said the ratio of external debt is in accordance with the global rate of 25 percent of GDP. Ramez added that the external debt will increase after the new deposits and he expected an increase of debt services coverage ratio. [DNE, 4/27/2015]

Libya oilfield write-off by Total is ominous sign to other firms
The conflict in Libya is starting to force European oil companies to write off assets in North Africa as militias attack oil fields and terminals. Total SA became the first major European group to take an impairment in Libya, writing off $755 million from its onshore assets, the France-based producer said in its quarterly statement. Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol, which have much larger operations in Libya, have yet to mark down the value of their assets. Total also took a $75 million impairment on its onshore oil operations in Yemen. [Bloomberg, 4/28/2015]

Oil prices fall as Saudis vow to maintain Asian supply
Oil prices declined on Tuesday as Saudi Arabia vowed to remain a key supplier to Asia, China in particular. Asian demand for crude oil remains strong and Saudi Arabia is ready to supply to the continent, the kingdom’s oil minister said in a speech in Beijing. The oil official said the recent slump in oil prices, followed by a minor recovery, harms long-term plans and investments in the industry. Cheap oil has helped growing economies in Asia, but also posed difficult challenges for many of the oil producers. [Wall Street Journal, 4/28/2015]

World Bank releases report detailing the impact of Syria’s war on neighboring trade
A new World Bank report says the economic effects of Syria’s war extend beyond the country’s borders. In particular, the conflict has been detrimental to neighboring countries’ trade, as the declining demand for goods and services in Syria has affected exporters in neighboring countries. Trade through Syria has also become more difficult. In some cases, producers in neighboring countries have replaced Syrian producers as their assets in Syria were destroyed. [World Bank (blog), 4/27/2015]