Top Story: Seven Candidates to Run for Libya’s Prime Minister

The Libyan parliament Sunday began hearing seven candidates who are vying to replace prime minister Abdullah al-Thinni who quit last week just days after his appointment. Members of the General National Congress (GNC), were due to hear the candidates present their program of government Sunday, but no date has been fixed for the vote. The winner needs to secure 120 votes out of 200, but some observers doubt that the GNC, which is deeply divided, will be able to reach a consensus on a candidate. [The Daily Star, 4/20/2014]



Egypt’s presidential elections a two man race
Egypt’s Presidential Electoral Commission (PEC) said on Sunday only two presidential hopefuls—former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi—are to run in next month’s presidential poll. Controversial lawyer Mortada Mansour announced on Saturday that he would not run. Sisi’s electoral campaign submitted 188,930 signatures backing his candidacy to the commission organizing the vote, PEC Secretary-General Abdel-Aziz Salman said. Sabbahi gathered 31,555 signatures, Salman added. Sabbahi’s campaign called on supporters on Saturday to gather to celebrate his official presidential bid. Sabbahi also accused his rival’s campaign of bribing citizens to sign endorsements for the former defense minister’s candidacy. The commission has so far granted six international civil society groups approval to monitor the elections and is looking into requests by another 120. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, AFP/DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Mada Masr, 4/21/2014]

Bassem Youssef’s show on mandatory break to ‘not influence elections’
The MBC channel group said on Saturday that Bassem Youssef’s El-Bernameg (The Program) will be suspended until May 30 to prevent influencing voters during the upcoming presidential elections, Egypt’s state news agency said. The MBC group explained that the already-set suspension is in respect of the May elections and is in effort to prevent influencing public opinion. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 4/19/2014]

Bomb kills officer in Giza’s; Militants kill two more outside of Cairo
The Egyptian militant group Ajnad Misr claimed responsibility on Saturday for a blast that killed one police officer in Cairo. The bomb exploded in Cairo’s Lebanon Square on Friday night, killing the officer and wounding another. Ajnad Misr, or Soldiers of Egypt, said in a statement on an Islamist website that its militants had monitored a police checkpoint in the square before detonating the bomb. An interior ministry statement on Sunday confirmed that gunmen killed an Egyptian intelligence officer and a policeman on a road outside Cairo in a late-night firefight. The armed men fled the scene after shooting dead Captain Ashraf Badeer al-Qazaz of the intelligence service and a police conscript, the ministry said in a statement. The two men were on security patrol late on Saturday on a desert road linking Cairo to the canal city of Suez when they tried to stop a vehicle, which then opened fire on them. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, 4/20/2014]

Egypt to start energy subsidy restructure in July, says prime minister
In efforts to pare down the budget deficit, Egypt will push ahead July with subsidies restructuring while protecting poorer sectors of the population, says interim premier Ibrahim Mahlab. Egypt’s total subsidy bill registered a decline of EGP 9 billion ($1.2 billion) in the first eight months of FY2013/14 compared to the corresponding period of the previous fiscal year. [Ahram Online, 4/20/2014]


Technical problems delay reopening of Libya’s Zueitina oil port
Technical problems have delayed the reopening of Libya’s eastern Zueitina oil export terminal after the government reached a deal with rebels to end an eight-month blockade of the port, a minister said on Sunday. Two weeks ago, the Tripoli government reached an agreement with rebels in the east to end their occupation of four oil ports which had halted vital exports. Under the plan, the Hariga and Zueitina ports were due to open immediately while the larger Ras Lanuf and Es Sider terminals would resume oil exports within a month. Hariga port is the only one to start operations due to technical problems at Zueitina. A date for the resumption of oil exports from Hariga or for the Ras Lanuf and Es Sider ports has yet to be set. [Reuters, 4/21/2014]

No incidents mar elections in sixteen new municipalities
Polling took place yesterday in Benghazi and fifteen other new municipal councils across the country. In Benghazi, seventy-three candidates including women and war- wounded were on the ballot paper. Turnout was reportedly low across the city although there were long queues at polling centers in some districts. There were a few minor incidents with unregistered voters trying to cast ballots but on the whole elections went smoothly. In Jalu, just 5,750 voters had registered to vote although organizers had hoped for as many as 12,000. Forty-one municipalities are scheduled to hold elections over the next three weeks as the old local councils are replaced with new municipal ones. [Libya Herald, 4/20/2014]

Libyan militants whose freedom is sought by kidnappers are “innocent”
Two Libyan Islamist militants whose freedom from jail in Tunisia is being demanded by the kidnappers of two staff members at the Tunisian embassy in Tripoli are innocent victims of a miscarriage of justice, according to Taha Shakshuki, President of the Libyan Prisoners Abroad Defense Committee. He says the two are being used as “scapegoats” by the Tunisian authorities. He did admit that the two men were members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but stated that they have no link to an incident in Rouhia in May 2011 in which four members of the Tunisian security forces died. [Libya Herald, 4/20/2014]


Presidential elections set for June 3
Syria said Monday it will hold presidential elections expected to return President Bashar Assad to office on June 3. The contest will be Syria’s first presidential election, after constitutional amendments did away with the old referendum system. Parliament speaker Mohammad al-Lahham announced the election date at a special session, saying Syrians living outside the country would vote May 28 and candidates would be able to register to run from Tuesday until May 1. Lahham said voting would be “free and fair… and under full judicial supervision.” He urged Syrians “to give voice to their will through the ballot box and participate in the democratic process by electing whoever they think is most able to lead Syria to victory.” [Naharnet, 4/21/2014]

Air strikes kill dozens in Aleppo; Mortar fire kills five in central Damascus
Dozens of people have been killed in air strikes on the northern city of Aleppo, including at least twenty-nine in a single neighborhood. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes killed twenty-nine people on Sunday, including women and children, in the southern al-Ferdous district of Aleppo; another fourteen were killed in the Baeedeen neighborhood in barrel bomb attacks; five more died in barrel bomb attacks in the village of Tlajabin. In central Damascus, state-run media reported a pair of mortar shells hit near the parliament building, killing five. [Reuters, 4/21/2014]

Assad pays Easter visit to recaptured Christian town
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday visited an ancient Christian town recaptured from rebels last week, as he seeks to persuade minorities that the government is their best protection against hard-line Islamists. Assad’s Easter visit to Maaloula—a rare appearance outside central Damascus—also highlighted growing government confidence in recent gains against insurgents around the capital and along the Lebanese border. [Reuters, 4/20/2014]

Eighty percent of chemical weapons shipped out
Syria has shipped out or destroyed approximately 80 percent of its declared chemical weapons material, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said on Saturday. Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said if the momentum was sustained, Syria should be able to meet its April 27 deadline to hand over all declared chemical agents. [Reuters, 4/20/2014]


Video released of Tunisian embassy staff missing since March
A video featuring a kidnapped employee at the Tunisian embassy in Libya was released online Saturday by a Libyan militant group, Chabab Tawhid. The employee, Mohamed Bechikh has been missing since March 21. In the video he asked the Tunisian government to “negotiate seriously,” stating that the negotiation process is taking too long and increasingly threatening his life. Chabab Tawhid addressed the Tunisian government in a caption included in the video. “To the Tunisian government, as you capture from us we capture from you, as you kill from us we kill from you,” the organization said. [Tunisia Live, 4/21/2014]

FM calls Libyan authorities to do their utmost to release Tunisian diplomats
Tunisian diplomat, Aroussi Gantassi, an advisor to Tunisia’s ambassador to Libya, was kidnapped last Thursday in Tripoli. The Libyan kidnappers are “the family of a group of terrorists detained in Tunisia because of their involvement in attacks against security forces in Rouhia city [in 2011].” In May 2011, four Tunisian security officials were killed in a shootout with gunmen the authorities said were linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Three of the attackers were killed, two were arrested.  Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi called, Friday, the Libyan authorities to intervene to help release the two Tunisian diplomats kidnapped in Libya and ensure their safety. In addition, in response to the kidnapping, the Tunisian embassy in Tripoli has halved its staff. [Tunisia Live, 4/18/2014, All Africa, 4/19/2014]

NCA adopts first six articles of draft electoral law
On Friday, the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) debated and voted on the first six articles of the draft electoral law. Issues covered in the debate include the voluntary and automatic registration of voters and the right of security and army men to vote. The draft electoral law includes 170 articles and will be voted on article by article. Only 139 of the 217 members of the NCA were present. Voting on the remaining articles will continue on April 27. Once the draft electoral law is passed, a date will be set for elections. [AFP, 4/18/2014, All Africa, 4/19/2014]

Significant improvement in security situation according interior minister
On Friday Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou stated that the security situation in Tunisia has significantly improved yet, further efforts are needed to tackle the roots of terrorism. In his remarks, Ben Jeddou highlighted the progress made in countering terrorism, hailed the continued efforts expended by the army and security forces to protect borders, placed emphasis on the need to continue the war on terror by targeting sleeper cells, and emphasized that the counter-terrorism strategy should not only be a security-based strategy but requires the mobilization of all stakeholders. [All Africa, 4/18/2014]


Major offensive targets al-Qaeda, at least three civilians dead
On Saturday an alleged drone strike killed ten suspected militants along with three civilians, beginning a major operation against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This first strike occurred in the borderlands of al-Baida and Shabwa provinces. Subsequent airstrikes on Sunday killed thirty more suspects in Abyan and Shabwa province, in addition to an operation involving Yemeni commandos, all aimed at “high-level AQAP targets,” said an official. The joint US-Yemeni operation targeted an area that was just last week the sight of an AQAP meeting where scores of militants gathered. Unnamed officials cast doubt on government claims about the operation. Another alleged drone strike occurred on Monday morning, killing three suspected militants. [Daily Star, Reuters, CNN, AFP; 4/21/2014]

Hadi forms supervisory committee to prepare for elections
In a meeting with the High Committee for Elections, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi announced the formation of a new committee to supervise the process of voter registration. The committee will also ensure that the directorates and provinces across the country have the necessary equipment for elections. The next major electoral milestone for Yemen will be a referendum on the constitution, currently being drafted. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/21/2014]

Interior Minister mediates with protesters to suspend Ibb sit-in
Major General Abdo al-Tarab met with protesters in Ibb province currently staging protests in front of government facilities. He promised to personally raise their demands with President Hadi, and the protesters have agreed to remove their protest tents and suspend their demonstrations. He also inspected the security forces and facilities during his visit. [Mareb Press (Arabic), Al-Masdar (Arabic); 4/21/2014]

Hadi launches digital map project
President Hadi announced the launch of a digital map project on Sunday, calling it a strategic project would serve all fields of development. The digital map would include the fields of health, education, agriculture and security along with a different range of services.  The digital map project for whole Yemen, includes air photography of capitals, provinces, cities, islands and border area. The project used five aircrafts specialized for air digital imaging, taking more than 30,000 aerial photographs. [Saba News, 4/21/2014]


PLO meeting to talk dissolving PA
The Central Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is scheduled to discuss the future of the Palestinian Authority (PA) next week. Anonymous sources with knowledge of the agenda of the PLO’s Central Committee said its twenty-sixth session in Ramallah on April 26 and 27 will decide the fate of the PA. Hinging on the progress of negotiations with Israel, the source said the PLO will decide between two choices. The first option would be to dissolve the PA, forcing Israel assume direct security control over areas ceded to the PA security forces under the 1993 Oslo framework. The second choice would be to keep the PA but accede to forty-eight international bodies and agencies, including the Rome Statute. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/20/2014]

Kuwait papers closed for violating ‘plot’ blackout
A Kuwaiti judge has ordered the temporary closure of two newspapers for breaking a news blackout about an alleged coup plot. The independent newspapers, Al Watan and Alam Al Yawm, published details of a videotape said to show former senior officials planning the overthrow of the Gulf state’s leadership. The video purportedly contains allegations of a plot to topple the government of the Western-backed emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah. Reports about the tape have featured extensively in local media since the start of the year, prompting a recent call from the emir’s office to stop discussing the topic. [BBC, 4/20/2014]

Two killed by car bomb in Bahrain; protester dies months after being shot by police
Two people were killed in a car that blew up in a mainly Shia village in Bahrain on Saturday, and the interior ministry said the initial investigation showed that a homemade bomb had detonated inside the vehicle. In a separate incident, the ministry said a bomb wounded three civil defense officials as they were putting out burning tires near the entrance to a village outside the capital, Manama. On Friday, a Bahraini man died from wounds sustained during clashes with police almost two months ago, becoming the first person to be killed in such circumstances since February last year. The twenty-seven year-old was hit by a teargas canister and shotgun pellets fired by riot police attempting to disperse a funeral procession. [Reuters, 4/19/2014]

Militants kill soldiers in Algeria
Islamist militants killed at least fourteen Algerian soldiers in an ambush in mountains east of the capital over the weekend in one of the deadliest attacks on the military in years. The soldiers were attacked Saturday night in the Tizi Ouzou region by members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The soldiers were returning from a security deployment at polling places for last Thursday’s presidential election. Three militants from AQIM were also killed. Algerian officials are concerned about a spillover of violence from neighboring Libya, where fighters linked to al-Qaeda have sought refuge in the southern deserts. The Algerian army has killed thirty-seven militants since January. [NYT, 4/20/2014]