Top News: Egypt Presidential Campaign Period Begins; Salafi Nour Party Backs Sisi

Saturday marked the first official day of campaigning for Egypt’s only two candidates vying for the presidency, Hamdeen Sabbahi and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sabbahi launched his campaign in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut on Saturday, and highlighted various points of his electoral platform, including solar energy, foreign policy, and ways to combat corruption. In his first national address on state television on Saturday Sabbahi vowed to scrap the protest law and release political prisoners. On Saturday, Sisi’s campaign launched its official website and met with members of the media, where he explained that the core of his platform’s projects are based on social justice and a reliance on major national projects that provide many job opportunities. He is scheduled to appear Monday in his first ever TV interview co-hosted by Egyptian media figures Ibrahim Eissa and Lamees al-Hadidi. As more parties announce their support for individual candidates, the Nour, Tagamoa and Conference parties announced their support for Sisi to be Egypt’s next president. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II said on Sunday that the church would not support either candidate in the country’s upcoming presidential race. Finally, a poll conducted by Egyptian polling centre, Baseera showed 72 percent of respondents backing Sisi while only two percent backed Sabbahi. Twenty-two percent were undecided, three percent refused to respond and one percent said they would nullify their vote. [DNE, 5/5/2014]



Egypt court sentences 102 Morsi supporters to ten years prison
Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Saturday 102 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to ten years in prison, and two others to seven years, on charges of murder and rioting. The defendants were arrested last July following a protest in Cairo’s al-Zaher district, after the ouster of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood. They were also charged with attempted murder, inciting murder, threatening violence, and sabotaging private and public property. The protests led to the killing of Ahmed Salah al-Bassiouny, for which the defendants were accused of murder. Only thirty-five defendants were present in court, the others were tried in absentia. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 5/3/2014]

IMF’s Lagarde: Economic reforms a ‘must’ for Egypt growth
Economic reforms will be necessary for Egypt to see renewed growth and investment, according to IMF chief Christine Lagarde. Lagarde said that “the relationship with Egypt is not broken,” citing on-going technical assistance programs. The IMF chief did acknowledge progress, citing action taken on energy subsidy reform as “encouraging”. [DNE, 5/3/2014]

Political rights committee chooses mixed system for parliamentary elections
Egypt’s parliamentary elections will be held using  the mixed electoral system, combining individual candidates and party lists, the political rights law committee spokesperson said on Sunday. Judge Mahmoud Fazwy added that he date of parliamentary polls in Egypt will be decided by the committee. “The parliamentary election will be called for by the committee and not the president. This will ensure full judicial supervision of the election from beginning to end,” Judge Mahmoud Fawzy said. “The High Constitutional Court made it clear that the president should not interfere in the election process.” The parliamentary election should be held within six months of the passing of the new constitution. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 5/5/2014]


Maetig installed as new prime minister after dispute over election
Businessman Ahmed Maetig was sworn in as Libya’s new prime minister on Sunday after chaotic voting. General National Congress (GNC) President Nuri Abu Sahmain confirmed he had asked Maetig to form a new government within two weeks, after the deputy speaker declared the election invalid as a power struggle erupted in the legislature. Officials had given contradicting versions of the election outcome, with First Deputy Speaker Ezzedin al-Awami initially saying Maetig had failed to obtain the necessary quorum and instructing Abdullah al-Thinni to continue ruling. Later, second deputy speaker Saleh Makhzoum rejected Awami’s claims and said Maetig had won the necessary support. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 5/5/2014]

Blackouts feared from Misrata to Benghazi
The General Electric Company of Libya (GECOL) has warned that places from Misrata to Benghazi face power shortages as protesters blockade oilfields near Marada. According to a GECOL spokesperson, if demonstrators continued to prevent gas and fuel supplies from reaching power stations, the national grid would be “overwhelmed” and the power cuts would eventually have a knock-on effect across large areas of the country. A Sirte Oil Company spokesperson said demonstrations had continued at Marada, south of Sirte, where blockades began three days ago. Demonstrators, believed to be from the Jalu area, are reportedly campaigning for more seats in the House of Representatives for which elections are being planned. The Raguba oilfield in the Marada area produces roughly 18,000 barrels of oil per day. [Libya Herald, 5/4/2014]

Workshop organized to improve prison conditions
The World Organization Against Torture and the UN Support Mission in Libya are conducting a workshop in Tripoli to improve prison conditions in the North African country. The workshop for fifty wardens in charge of prisons affiliated with the defense, justice, and interior ministries will teach minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners, rules on use of force and firearms, personal responsibility, human rights, and application of current Libyan law criminalizing torture. According to a 2013 UN report, at least 8,000 people have been imprisoned without trial, legal assistance, or contact with relatives on charges related to the 2011 revolution. Between then and October 2013, the report says twenty-seven prisoners at both government and militia-controlled detention centers have died as a result of torture. [ANSAmed, 5/2/2014]

Encouraging turnout in local elections
Council elections were held yesterday in seventeen of Libya’s new municipalities, including Tobruk, Kufra, and Ajdabiya, with almost all seeing a turnout of 50 percent or more, according to officials from the Central Committee for Municipal Elections. Minor issues were resolved, according to the elections body, which stated that security was also in place. Elections were also due to take place in Murzuk, Qatrun, and Shargiya; however, these were postponed to May 24 so as to give more time to local civil society actors to organize and to support them. [Libya Herald, 5/4/2014]


Rebels to leave Homs on Tuesday in brokered agreement
Rebels in the city of Homs are expected to abandon their positions Tuesday as part of a deal struck with the regime, Iranian mediators, and the United Nations, as government forces advanced Sunday in Aleppo and in a strategic town near Damascus. The deal over the Old City of Homs, under total blockade since June 2012, will see some 2,250 people, mostly fighters, evacuate the flashpoint city in central Syria. Rebels will head to opposition-held areas in the north of Homs province, handing over control to the army. According to the opposition, the deal includes the exchange of an unknown number of Iranian and Lebanese prisoners—and perhaps one Russian—currently held by the Islamic Front, Syria’s largest rebel alliance. The governments of Syria, Iran, and Russia have not commented on the negotiations. [The Daily Star, Naharnet, 5/5/2014]

Nusra Front sets conditions to stop fighting ISIS; 60,000 flee inter-jihadist fighting
Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate on Sunday set its conditions to stop battling the rival Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), despite an order by the al-Qaeda chief to quit fighting immediately. “We will follow the orders of… Ayman al-Zawahiri… to stop any attack from our side against ISIS… as soon as ISIS announces the end of its attacks on Muslims,” said the jihadist group, adding it had only fought ISIS in areas “where it was on the attack.” Recent fighting has led to the displacement of around 60,000 people in Deir Ezzor province of eastern Syria. “Residents of the towns of Busayra, home to 35,000 people, Abriha, home to 12,000 people, and al-Zir, home to 15,000 people, have nearly all been displaced by the fighting in the area,” reported a prominent monitoring group. [AFP, 5/5/2014]

Nusra Front seizes Deraa FSA leader
Fighters belonging to the Nusra Front have seized a notorious rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander, Capt. Ahmad Naameh, in the southern province of Deraa, days after he announced the formation of the latest FSA group dedicated to battling extremists. Naameh, who was captured along with five other commanders of opposition factions, had traveled from Jordan to Deraa last week to help unite rebels fighting to topple the Assad regime, excluding those of the jihadist Nusra. In a video recorded this week Naameh said: “Who is going to rule Syria? Not the extremists… who behead people…. No, it will be the Free Syrian Army, which is well organized, and which believes in democracy, democratic rule, and the civil state.” Naameh was likely detained because of the statement, while Nusra also accused him of delivering the town of Khirbet Ghazaleh in Deraa to regime forces. Some activists in Deraa have also blamed him for allegedly engineering the kidnapping of rival rebel fighters in collusion with the regime, as well as mismanaging funds allocated for fighters and military equipment. Naameh has been based in northern Jordan for long periods of the war, due to local hostility directed at him. [The Daily Star, 5/5/2014]

Assad calls for aid cooperation without hurting “sovereignty”
President Assad has said government agencies should increase cooperation on aid work but it must be done without “compromising national sovereignty.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month none of the warring parties in Syria was meeting UN demands for aid access and demanded the Security Council take action on violations of international law. Assad was quoted by the state news agency late on Saturday as saying aid work was a top priority for the government and urged agencies to increase cooperation. Assad stressed “the importance of delivering aid without delay and continuing field work with all concerned bodies domestically and abroad to ease relief operations without compromising national sovereignty.” Syrian authorities often dictate how aid is distributed by UN agencies, who are legally obliged to work with national authorities, meaning more supplies go to government-controlled areas. [Reuters, 5/4/2014]


Algeria grants Tunisia financial assistance
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa visited Algeria on May 3 and 4. During this visit, the two countries signed three agreements: a deposit agreement worth $100 million between the Central Bank of Tunisia and the Bank of Algeria, a loan agreement worth $100 million between the two governments, and a donation agreement worth $50 million to Tunisia. During this visit, the Tunisian and Algerian delegations reviewed bilateral co-operation in the fields of energy, construction, and investment, and border areas’ development through creation of economic projects. [TAP, 5/4/2014]

Approximately 155 Tunisians confirmed killed in Syria
According to the chairman of the Tunisian Association for Saving Tunisians Blocked Abroad, 155 Tunisians have been killed in the fighting in Syria. The association has compiled the names, photos, and pseudonyms of those killed. In April, the interior ministry stated that approximately 1800 Tunisians are fighting in Syria. [All Africa, 5/4/2014]

Conference held on elections and neutrality of the administration
On Saturday, participants in the conference on elections and neutrality of the administration agreed on the need to ensure the neutrality of the administration with respect to presidential and legislative elections, as required by article fifteen of the new constitution. The Tunisian Federation of Public Service and Neutrality of the Administration presented a charter for the Independent Higher Authority for the Elections stating the criteria that need to be met in order to ensure independent elections. [All Africa, 5/3/2014]

Cabinet meeting decides ten percent pay cut for ministers, secretaries of state
A cabinet meeting, held Friday, decided a ten percent pay cut for ministers, secretaries of state and public officials having the same rank. The decision is part of an effort to streamline state spending. The cabinet meeting also agreed that starting from June 1, 2014, a premium will be paid in replacement of fuel coupons, with a ten percent cut. [All Africa, 5/2/2014]


Political parties pledge support for anti-AQAP campaign; AQAP leaders killed
Yemen’s disparate political blocs were unanimous in supporting the current military campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the southern provinces of Abyan, Shabwa, and al-Bayda. The prominent islamist party Islah was accused of lobbying the president to end the operations against AQAP on the website of the General People’s Congress, however they denied the allegation, voicing support for the campaign. The spokesman for the Houthi group also voiced support for the operation, and gave rare praise to the country’s military. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/4/2014]

Former PM Attas calls for Southern unity within federal framework
Exiled Southern leader and former Prime Minister Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas gave an extended interview to al-Bayan about Yemen’s transition and the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Reiterating previous statements that the NDC is a good starting point for reconciliation, Attas said that Southern unity is imperative. He said that the South could be united in a single region within the planned federal framework, which would recognize the rights of the South within a broader, unified Yemen. [Aden Al-Ghad (Arabic), 5/4/2014]

Judges Club agrees to partial lifting of strike
The Yemeni Judges Club, which has been on strike for weeks, has agreed to resume operations for two days a week, in order to address important issues. The strike began over the insecurity of judges when one of them was kidnapped in Hodeidah province, but that judge has since been released and the strike continues, not just over the security issue but also over the judiciary’s budget. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/5/2014]

Activists decry planned Oman border fence
While adjacent Yemen struggles to rein in violence across multiple provinces–including attacks on the military in the east and south as well as clashes with rebels in the north–Oman largely operates without the burden of either the domestic unrest or armed groups that plagues its neighbour. With the lingering fear that turmoil or fighting could spill into its peaceful terrain, however, Oman has discreetly begun preliminary surveys on a proposed security fence spanning the length of its border with Yemen. Eco-activists fear this could endanger local wildlife. [Al-Jazeera, 5/5/2014]


Iraq: Maliki ignores ISCI leader calls to reform National Alliance
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki rejected calls from the leader of the Shia Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) to reform the National Iraqi Alliance on Saturday. ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim called for the recreation of the Alliance, an electoral coalition of largely Shia parties that was originally formed in 2004 and once included Maliki’s Al-Da’wa party. His call reportedly came after the unexpected success of the Sunni secular-leaning Iraqiya List led by former PM Iyad Allawi in last Wednesday’s election. [Asharq al-Awsat, 5/4/2014]

Two Kuwaiti MPs quit over right to question PM
Two more Kuwaiti legislators have resigned in protest at the parliament’s refusal to question the prime minister on corruption allegations, bringing to five the number of MPs who have quit over the issue. Ali al-Rashed, a former parliamentary speaker, and Safa al-Hashem, the only female MP in the fifty-member house, said on Sunday that they had resigned because the situation in had reached a “deadlock.” On Wednesday, three opposition MPs resigned after the pro-government parliament rejected their demand to question the prime minister over allegations he gave cash handouts to lawmakers. The three MPs blamed the prime minister, a senior member of the ruling family, for deteriorating public services in the emirate and for the temporary closure of two newspapers, claiming the move stifled freedoms. [Al-Jazeera, 5/5/2014]

Dialogue concludes in Lebanon, emphasizes need for defense strategy
President Michel Sleiman’s final National Dialogue session concluded Monday with participants emphasizing the need to continue studying the national defense strategy put forward by the president. They also called for implementing past National Dialogue resolutions in order to shore up security and stability in the country. The statement cited the importance of the Baabda Declaration in shielding Lebanon from regional crises, and called for the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on time. The majority of the March 8 and some March 14 parties boycotted the talks. [The Daily Star, 5/5/2014]