Top News: Zidan Pledges Security For Today’s Constitutional Rerun Elections

Confirming that the re-run elections for the Constitutional Committee will be held today, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said that his government had made every effort to provide security for these elections. He was reacting to criticism from the head of the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), Nuri Elabbar, who had blamed the government for the failure of voting to take place in some areas. Meanwhile, the Derna local council has said elections will not be held in the town tomorrow as authorities have made no efforts to secure polling centers. Meanwhile, the HNEC released preliminary results from the February 20 elections for ten constituencies across the country, a total of thirty-nine seats. [Libya Herald, 2/26/2014]


Mehleb in talks with potential ministers; Sisi to stay on as defense minister
Egypt’s prime minister designate began talks on Wednesday with potential ministers tipped for the new cabinet. Mehleb met with Ashraf Mansour, a possible choice for the Higher Education Ministry, Ibrahim Younis for Military Production and Mohamed Shaker for the Ministry of Electricity. Sources said that fourteen ministers will be carried over from Beblawy’s cabinet, while eight new appointments are expected. Among those remaining are Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who will keep his post as defense minister in the new government, an official source said on Wednesday, quashing speculation he was about to announce a widely expected bid for the presidency. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim is also expected to remain in his position, as well as the ministers of tourism and planning, according to Egyptian State TV. Other ministers that will remain in their position include the foreign minister. [Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 2/26/2014]

Cairo court sentences twenty-six defendants to death in absentia
A Cairo criminal court has sentenced to death twenty-six defendants accused of forming a terrorist group to target security headquarters and ships sailing through the Suez Canal as well as possessing weapons and manufacturing missiles. The verdict by the Cairo Criminal Court came after judges held only one session in the case. One of the defendants, younger than eighteen, did not receive a death sentence, a statement announcing the verdict said. It did not elaborate. A judicial source said that the case dates back to 2010, when the defendants were arrested but later escaped prison during the 2011 uprising. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Reuters, AP, 2/26/2014]

Journalists face military court for allegedly publishing classified files
The North Cairo Misdemeanor Military Court postponed on Wednesday the trial of two Rassd News Network journalists charged with “attempting to harm the armed forces.” Amr Salama and Islam al-Homsi are accused of illegally obtaining and publishing classified military documents and videos, including interviews with Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The journalists are facing charges alongside two other defendants, RNN’s Public Relations Director Amr Farrag and its programmer Omar Shahin, who are currently being tried in absentia. Wednesday’s session was postponed to allow them to be summoned to court. [DNE, 2/26/2014]

Egyptian economic experts criticize Beblawi’s government over Gulf aid
Although the resigned government got big financial and popular support, unlike previous governments, it failed to revive the economy, economic experts said on Tuesday. According to economic expert Passant Fahmy, the Beblawi government should be held accountable for any possible charges of wasting public money. Similarly, Mustafa el-Nasharty claims that Gulf deposits were used to fund decrepit infrastructure. [Cairo Post, 2/25/2014]


Rockets rain on Libyan power plant as militias battle
More than one hundred rockets fired in clashes between rival government-paid militias have knocked out a power plant in southern Libya, heightening the risk of summer blackouts, the electricity minister said on Tuesday. Minister Ali Mohammed Muhairiq said that the General National Congress had approved a loan for the repairs, since the government had no budget to meet the bill of up to 300 million Libyan dinars ($242 million), but gave no details. Amid growing budget worries, Prime Minister Ali Zidan said he has only submitted a six-month budget proposal to the General National Congress, calling on the legislature to hasten the approval. [Reuters, 2/25/2014]

Zidan asks for international intervention in arms collection
Prime Minister Ali Zidan has reiterated his belief that Libya needs international mediation or arbitration in its effort to collect arms from the public and militias. Speaking at a press conference, Zidan said that Libyans do not trust each other enough and that the international community would need to participate in this process. Referring specifically to the increased occurrence of kidnappings and assassinations, Zidan warned that Libya would seek to issue an international arrest warrant with Interpol for such perpetrators. [Libya Herald, 2/25/2014]

Supreme Court postpones hearing of appeal against Political Isolation Law
The Libyan Supreme Court has postponed an appeal hearing against the Political Isolation Law amidst protests in defense of the law. Judges at the Supreme Court said they would resume the appeal hearing on April 18. The forty-one judges and lawyers demanding that the law be repealed argue that several sections of the legislation on political isolation contravene articles in the Constitutional Declaration. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court in support of the law. One demonstration organizer said that those seeking to repeal the law wanted to see Libya plunged into chaos. [Libya Herald, 2/25/2014]


Scores of Syrian fighters killed in army ambush near Damascus
Scores of Islamist fighters were killed in an army ambush in the Eastern Ghouta area of the Syrian capital Damascus, the national news agency SANA said on Wednesday. Saudis, Qataris and Chechens were among the dead, it said. Lebanon’s Al Manar television said the attack was near the town of Otaiba and that the death toll may have been higher than 170. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, said at least seventy fighters had been killed but the number could be much higher. The Britain-based Observatory said fighters from the Shia group Hezbollah carried out the ambush in cooperation with Syrian government forces. The dawn attack by Assad’s forces in the opposition-held area likely will push rebel groups against his rule further away from Damascus. [Reuters, AP, Naharnet, AFP/NOW, 2/26/2014]

Russia warns Saudi against giving Syria rebels missiles
Russia warned Saudi Arabia against supplying Syrian rebels with shoulder-launched missile launchers on Tuesday, saying such a move would endanger security across the Middle East and beyond. The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by news reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to buy Pakistani-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank systems for armed Syrian rebels based in Jordan. It said that the aim was to alter the balance of power in a planned spring offensive by rebels on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. [AFP/NOW, 2/26/2014]

UN says Syrians nearly largest refugee population in world
Syrians fleeing the civil war in their homeland are about to displace Afghans as the world’s largest refugee population, the United Nations said Tuesday. Briefing the General Assembly by video link, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres painted a devastating picture of the humanitarian crisis as a result of the three-year conflict. He said nearly 2.5 million Syrians have now registered as refugees with UNHCR in neighboring countries in the Middle East. The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees spoke Tuesday of the “shocking” conditions he had seen inside a Syrian camp which has been under siege and bombardment for months. UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi called for sustained access for aid deliveries to some 18,000 Palestinians who have been trapped under fire in the Yarmuk camp, in south Damascus, with dwindling food supplies. [AFP/NOW, 2/25/2014]

Turkish foreign minister says world has failed Syria
Turkey’s foreign minister said Syria’s worsening war now posed a danger to all countries because President Bashar al-Assad’s government had been allowed to continue its “crimes” while jihadists from around the world flooded in to fight him. Ahmet Davutoglu said a robust international strategy including “real intelligence cooperation” and withdrawal of all foreign fighters was needed to end the conflict and help millions of Syrians devastated by violence. The crisis was “a threat to all”, he said in an interview, pointing to what he called the totalitarian nature of the Assad government and the presence of al Qaeda-linked armed groups. [Reuters, 2/26/2014]


Unemployed Tunisians may receive stipend
The Tunisian National Constituent Assembly (NCA) is preparing to review the draft bill introduced last April to create a national unemployment fund. The bill, which is intended to assist jobless youths, is gaining significant traction. According to Samia Abbou, a member of the NCA, after the ratification of the draft electoral law, the unemployment fund will become the priority. The fund would grant stipends for all unemployed Tunisians. It would be subsidized by deducting a nominal amount (no more than 1 dinar) from the wages of public and private sector employees. The fund will also provide training for unemployed individuals as well as microenterprises and, thus, promote internal development. The fund is expected to assist an estimated 800,000 unemployed Tunisians. [All Africa, 2/25/2014]

Protesters torch police station
Late Tuesday, protesters set fire to a police station in the impoverished central region of Gafsa, where social discontent is rife over high unemployment. Local authorities said no one was hurt in the unrest but one of the town’s main roads blocked. The riot was triggered by the announcement of the results of a recruitment process by a public company operating in the environmental sector. Such announcements frequently lead to clashes between unlucky candidates and the police, prompting the authorities in January not to publish the list of people recruited by a company in Gafsa. Social unrest continues to occur in Tunisia’s poorest regions due to the lack of economic development since the revolution in 2011. [The Daily Star, 2/26/2014]

NCA moves forward to establish torture prevention body
The Rights and Freedoms Commission at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) started, on Tuesday, to select applicants for the National Authority for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The commission initially pre-selected forty-eight candidates, sixteen of whom will be finally retained at a plenary session of the NCA. On October 9, 2013, the NCA adopted a law to create a National Authority for the Prevention of Torture that will have the authority to visit any site where people are deprived of their liberty to document torture and ill-treatment, to request criminal and administrative investigations, and to issue recommendations for measures to eradicate torture and ill-treatment. [TAP, 2/25/2014]

Ninety-eight illegal immigrants rescued off the coast of Djerba Island
According to a spokesperson for the ministry of defense, ninety-eight illegal immigrants were rescued by the National Navy on Wednesday morning. They were rescued in the international waters, 23 miles northeast of the Island of Djerba, while their boat started sinking. They are of various African nationalities and departed from Libya. African migrants often try to reach Europe from Libya’s coast. [TAP, 2/26/2014]


GCC representative says political process hampered by escalating security crisis
The head of mission for the Gulf Cooperation Council in Yemen has accused unidentified parties of deliberately harming the political process by exacerbating security crises in the country. The ambassador expressed worry that the consensus produced by the national dialogue was being threatened by such actors. He reiterated the GCC’s support for Yemen’s transition, and also said that preparations were being prepared for a Friends of Yemen meeting in March to be held in Riyadh. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 2/26/2014]

Houthis set up tents in Change Square; refuse to leave Arhab
After recent reports that the central government intends to disarm them, Houthi protesters have set up tents in Sana’a’s Change Square, joining other protesters calling for the resignation of the government. They are also refusing to leave a site in Arhab that they had agreed to hand over to military control as part of a ceasefire agreement with local tribes. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/25/2014]

Chief of General Staff praises US role in restructuring army
In a meeting with the deputy director of plans for the US team charged with assisting with the restructuring of the Yemeni army, Yemen’s Chief of General Staff hailed the US efforts. The US team expressed that the need to restructure Yemen’s armed forces remains urgent. [Mareb Press, 2/26/2014]

Seventy-thousand IDPs in Amran have no access to aid
Aid workers and analysts warn that the clashes between Houthis and Hashid tribesmen have left over 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Amran province over the last seven months. The workers are most concerned due to the lack of access the IDPs have to international aid organizations and relief workers. A representative of Medecins Sans Frontieres says that the group was forced to pull its workers from the area after they came under fire, and even still it would take months to restart the operations if the security situation were to change. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 2/26/2014]


Lebanese Army arrests Nusra Front commander as instability mounts
On Wednesday afternoon, the Lebanese army detained Nidal Sweidan, a suspected commander of the Nusra Front, in the Lebanese border town of Masharih al-Qaa. Sweidan is a Syrian national who is suspected of being a leader in the Al-Qaeda-linked group. This arrest comes as sectarian tensions mount in Lebanon, partly due to the civil war in Syria . Many Sunnis accuse the military of siding with their rivals, the powerful Shiite group Hezbollah. Rising sectarian tensions further add to the likelihood of conflict erupting in Lebanon. A coalition of international diplomats, including Secretary of State Kerry, and bankers will attend a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris on March 5. The meeting will discuss the looming political and humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. [The Daily Star, 2/26/2014]

Syrian refugees in Lebanon at risk of dying from malnutrition
Syrian refugees in Lebanon, children in particular, are increasingly at risk of dying from malnutrition, according to a report released by international aid organizations on Tuesday. The assessment found that about 10,000 Syrians under five years old are suffering from acute malnutrition, including around 1,800 who are at risk of dying and require immediate treatment to survive. The study was based on a sample of about 9,000 refugees across Lebanon, where more than 935,000 Syrians have registered with the UN since Syria’s conflict began in 2011. UNICEF warned that the prevalence of malnutrition in some parts of Lebanon had almost doubled since 2012 and could deteriorate further. [Reuters, 2/25/2014]

Saudi Arabia to set up judge training centers
As Saudi Arabia sets up trainings centers for the country’s judges, the move is being criticized by judges as having a “westernizing stench.” The country’s judiciary is made up of clerics who use individual, often varying, interpretations of religious texts to make rulings. Critics say the lack of a codified body of law  leads to inconsistency and a lack of transparency. [BBC, 2/25/2014]

Kuwait detains stateless rights demonstrators
Rights activists in Kuwait report that fifteen people have been arrested during protests by stateless residents claiming that the state denies them citizenship. Demonstrators were held on suspicion of participation in illegal protests and inciting riots. The stateless residents are descendants of desert nomads who claim to have been in the area for generations and demand to be recognized as citizens. Kuwait has an estimated 100,000 stateless people, one of the largest numbers in the region. They often complain about being barred from conducting everyday activities due to a lack of identity documents, including marriage and travel. [Gulf News, 2/26/2014]