News Roundup: Temporary ceasefire in Gaza, protests continue in Algeria to remove the ruling elite, and Haftar urges continued fighting in Tripoli during Ramadan
A judge interviewed by Mada Masr expressed several concerns about the voting process for the recent referendum on the constitutional amendments. The judge cited several inconsistencies such as the officials lack of capacity to prevent unregistered voters from voting multiple times, pro-government party members employed at poll stations, and the distribution of food boxes as bribery. The judge reveals that the original plan was to place unregistered votes in a separate box, however just before polls opened workers were instructed to keep the votes in the same boxes.
On April 30, the New York Times reported that Trump intended to move forward with plans to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi encouraged the Administration to do so in his last meeting with Trump on April 9. Several policy experts in the D.C. circuit have advised the Administration against taking such action as the Brotherhood does not meet the criteria of an FTO and this would distract the Administration from actual terrorist organizations. Additionally, by catering to the requests of autocrats in the Middle East, the Administration is running the risk of undermining relations with countries such as Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Mauritania, all of whom have Brotherhood affiliated political parties widely represented in their governments.
On May 3, protesters continued to gather in the streets for peaceful demonstrations demanding the removal of the ruling elite which they believe is now being represented by the interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui. On May 4, Said Bouteflika the younger brother of ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as well as two former heads of security services were arrested. This comes after reports on Monday, April 29 that revealed the Minister of Finance Mohamed Loukal and the former Chief of Police Abdelghani Hamel were questioned regarding the corruption investigation that resulted in the arrest of five Algerian billionaires and close friend of the ousted Bouteflika.
On April 30, the National Liberation Front (FLN) Party elected businessman Mohamed Djemai as their new party leader. The 50 year old businessman is being hailed as a “youthful candidate,” and will be replacing Moad Bouchareb who stepped down on the same day Bouteflika stepped down.
National Guard members killed three men suspected of ties to Daesh on May 5 during a raid in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Ali Ben Aoun. The men were alleged members of Jund al-Khalifah, an affiliate group of Daesh based in Algeria. Security forces also seized weapons, explosives, and ammunition, according to an Interior Ministry statement.
On May 2, fuel distribution workers began a three-day strike demanding higher wages. A wage increase of 300 dinars ($100) per month had already been agreed on, but was delayed after talks between the government and the powerful UGTT trade union stalled. The current strike demands that the government implement the agreed wage increase immediately. The government faces steep inflation and pressure from international lenders, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to reduce public spending. Workers contend that their pay is insufficient to meet the demands of rising prices in a range of commodities and services, including a controversial fuel price hike in late March, 2019.
In a recording released by a Libyan National Army spokesman, Commander Khalifa Haftar urged LNA troops to continue their siege on Tripoli and fight harder during the month of Ramadan, ignoring UN calls for a temporary humanitarian truce to coincide with the beginning of the holy month on May 6. The most recent UN reports indicate that at least 50,000 people have been displaced by the recent violence in Tripoli. On May 4, Libya’s state oil firm (NOC) called for the safe return of the national head of the oil workers’ labor union, who was abducted on April 29 by an unspecified armed group outside the eastern city of Benghazi.
On May 2, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah has the capability to invade the Galilee. He noted that the Israelis acknowledged this and promised that if Israel’s army so much as thinks of invading southern Lebanon, it will be “crushed and destroyed for the world’s TV channels to see”.
On May 5, hundreds of foreign domestic workers demonstrated in Beirut to demand the abolishment of the Kafala System, a sponsorship system that many accuse denies workers the protection from abuse by employers.
On May 6, the Beirut Stock Exchange suspended trading on Monday due to an open-ended strike declared by the employees of Lebanon’s central bank, adding to the country’s economic crisis as the government discusses an austerity budget to avoid a recession.
On May 4th, Qatar Airways CEO and Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) secretary-general Akbar al-Baker sparked controversy during a press conference aimed at boosting the country’s tourism industry. al-Baker said enemies of Qatar will not enter the country during the summer festival in response to a question whether Egyptians will also be able to visit the country visa-free. He said citizens of Qatar are not allowed to go to Egypt visa-free so Qatar must reciprocate. Qatar’s Government Communications Office issued a statement on May 5th disavowing al-Baker’s comments saying Qatar will not involve the people in political disputes.
Kuwait’s ambitious “Silk City’ plan sees further delay following political resistance within parliament. The development initiative, which aims to build a city to shift the national economy away from oil calls for an economic free zone and deep trading port, will take 25 years to construct. Members of parliament expressed concerns over establishing a zone that would be “beyond parliamentary oversight” and were uncomfortable with the idea that alcohol would be sold in the Muslim country. Proponents of the plan emphasize that it will boost the private sector which will help cut public spending on salaries and subsidies, and will diversify and open up the economy of Kuwait. The plan also hopes to appeal to foreign investment from China, Iran, Iraq, and other international players.
On May 5, it was reported that Saudi Arabia cut oil prices for all crude grades to the U.S. and raised most pricing to other regions. The price change came as the Trump Administration tightened sanctions on Iranian exports and appears to be aimed at easing concerns over supplies to the U.S.On May 2, five of the women’s rights activist currently on trial were temporarily released. The trial is said to resume after the month of Ramadan. On May 1, Saudi Arabia’s coast guard assisted an Iranian oil tanker carry over a million barrels of fuel that had broken down off coast of Jeddah after officials received a request for help from Iran. There were no injuries among the 26-person crew.
On May 6, Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) annulled Istanbul’s local election results and ordered a new vote in the city, where opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu was confirmed as mayor in April, to be held on June 23. President Erdoğan has said that there was “corruption” in the Istanbul election.
Turkey condemned an Israeli attack on a building in Gaza that housed an office of Turkey’s state news agency, Anadolu Agency; the Israeli army stated that the building housed Hamas’s military intelligence. The EU and US have raised concerns over Turkey’s plans to begin offshore drilling for gas and oil in what is recognized to be Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone, after Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said they would do so.
The United States and Jordan signed three agreements on Tuesday, April 10th, in which USAID has committed to providing $329 million in development aid. The agreements include several projects in the areas of health, education, water, youth and gender policies, and democratic accountability.
Jordan and the World Bank will begin talks next week to discuss a $1 billion concessional loan to Jordan in support of fiscal reform.
On May 5, the latest Russian and Syrian government offensive on opposition-held parts of Idlib, Aleppo, and northern Hama killed at least eight people, and rendered two hospitals out of operation.
The United States Senate was unsuccessful in overriding President Trump’s veto of legislation to end U.S support for the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government in its fight against Houthi rebels. Two-thirds of the Senate votes were needed to override President Trump’s veto but only 53 out of 67 voted for the measure on May 2nd.
The United Nations team in Yemen was able to access grain mills stored in the Red Sea Mills just outside of Hodeidah port. The World Food Programme (WFP) reportedly lost access to this mill in September of last year. The WFP is leading fumigation efforts to salvage the wheat.
Iranian media writes that President Rouhani on May 8th will reveal countermeasures to the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Deal. President Trump announced the US withdrawal on May 8th, 2018. Iran is not expected to withdraw from the JCPOA, but to reduce compliance by restarting some nuclear activities, thereby no longer abiding by the limits on uranium enrichment specified in the deal.
The United States on May 6th sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East based on a “credible threat” from Iranian forces.
Earlier this week, Iraq’s Parliament voted to ban the country-wide popular video game titled “Player’s Unknown Battleground”. According to Iraq’s government, the video game was added to other banned games because it is harmful to society and a threat to national security.
On May 5th, eight ISIS militants were killed in a large-scale security operation. The Iraqi security services fear the a potential resurgence in ISIS-related violence, and ISIS fighters remain in north and west Iraq. Additionally, international experts are worried that the mass detention and torture of young ISIS prisoners may lead to a generation of Islamic militants.
On May 6th, a ceasefire agreed between Hamas and Israel brought an end (for the time being) to two days in which nearly 700 Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets were fired on Israel with numerous Israeli retaliatory strikes which destroyed 600 housing units in Gaza. In the outbreak of violence, four Israelis and more than twenty Palestinians were killed. There is public frustration on both sides that the current ceasefire is likely to be only a temporary interlude before renewed attacks with seemingly no long term solution in sight.
With Israel due to begin hosting the proceedings of the Eurovision Song Contest in a week’s time, there is fear in Israel and among participating countries that the Tel Aviv-based event to be watched by millions around the world may be too tempting a target for Hamas to resist.
On May 6, 19 people were sentenced to jail by Bahrain’s highest court over allegations of ties with Hezbollah and Iran. According to the Bahrain News Agency (BNA), fifteen out of the nineteen convicted in court were stripped of their citizenship and eight received a 25-year prison sentence.