The Middle East Channel

Libya Confirms New Prime Minister

The president of Libya's parliament, Nouri Abu Sahmain, has confirmed businessman Ahmed Maitiq as the country's prime minister, and has asked him to form a new government within two weeks. The statement, posted on the parliament's website Monday came after First Deputy Speaker Ezzedin al-Awami declared Maitiq's election on Sunday invalid, saying he had failed to obtain the required quorum. The confusion has been another challenge for Libya's transitional government, plagued by internal feuds and threatened by militias. The vote was one of various attempts to select a new premier after another vote was suspended last week following an attack by gunmen on parliament. Maitiq will be the fifth prime minister since the ouster of Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011. In April, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni resigned after only one month at the post, citing an attack by gunmen on his family. Thinni replaced Ali Zeidan, who was dismissed over his failure to stop rebel groups who had taken over oil ports in the east from exporting crude without government permission.

Syria

Fighting between rival opposition groups, al Qaeda backed al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has forced an estimated 60,000 people to flee their homes in Syria's eastern province of Deir al-Zour, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Around four days of heavy clashes were sparked after Nusra Front fighters overtook Abreeha, empting the town as well as the towns of al-Busayrah and al-Zir. Meanwhile, on Monday the governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi said a deal for the evacuation of rebel fighters from the Old City will be implemented in the next 48-hours. The agreement between opposition fighters and the Syrian government was reached Friday, however the withdrawal of about 2,250 fighters, civilians, and wounded people had been delayed.

Headlines

  • Yemen reported 37 suspected al Qaeda militants and several soldiers were killed in clashes with the army in the southern Shabwa province meanwhile a security officer was killed in a drive-by shooting in Sanaa.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal are holding talks in Doha, in the first meeting since the rival factions signed a unity deal.
  • U.N. nuclear inspectors have arrived in Iran to visit two sites as nuclear experts from Iran and six world powers meet in New York.

Arguments and Analysis

'Yemen's Fraught Constitution Drafting Committee' (Ashraf al-Falahi, Sada)

"On March 8, interim Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi announced the formation of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), which has been highly controversial within the Yemeni political scene. Several political groups, including the Socialist Party, independent youth organizations, and members of the Islah Party are protesting their lack of representation in the CDC, while others object to the committee's overall composition, arguing that its members have virtually no expertise in the federalist system model that Yemen aspires to adopt. 

In his announcement, Hadi specified that the CDC would have seventeen members; this contradicts the agreement reached by the nation-building team at the National Dialogue Conference, which recommended that the CDC be comprised of 30 members selected according to their area of expertise. However, the National Dialogue Conference Consensus Committee, which represented all the factions in the dialogue, reduced the number of CDC members without any explanation. Currently, only one of these members has experience in constitutional law, but lacks the requisite ten years in the field. The other members have assorted specializations, some of which are unrelated to the constitution. Yet Hadi's decision was not only heavily criticized for not having the CDC meet standards of legal expertise, but also for not representing the same spectrum of movements as the National Dialogue Conference did. The one group that is better represented in the CDC is women, of which there are four on the seventeen-member committee."

'Internet in Bahrain: All that is contrary to the ruling family's view is concealed.' (Bahrain Press Association)

"Though most of the concealed websites in Bahrain are relevant to the political and social situation, they do not promote terrorism, contrary to what the authorities have alleged. They are not general pornographic websites to be obscured out of fear for an outrage of modesty and corrupting the morals of the youthful Gulf society. They are just news, statistical or social websites.

The clear purpose of the obscuring and online targeting is to split an opposition that is calling for transparency and political reform. However, the facts that the regime is trying to conceal from the Bahraini people will not be hidden from the world beyond the small country. The outside world will browse the websites concealed in Bahrain, observe the details and draw its own conclusions."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Syrian Government and Rebels Reach Cease-Fire in Homs

The Syrian government and rebel forces reportedly agreed to a cease-fire in Homs on Friday, allowing for around 1,000 opposition fighters to withdraw from districts in and around the Old City of Homs. If the deal goes through, Syria's third-largest city will fall under government control just weeks ahead of presidential elections, in which President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win a third term. The agreement calls for a 48-hour truce in the rebel-held areas of Homs, after which fighters will be evacuated to regions north of the city. It has come just days after dozens of people were killed and wounded in explosions in government-held neighbors in the city. Syrian state television reported two car bombs exploded in the Hama province towns of Jibrin and al-Humairi Friday, killing 18 people, including 11 children and injuring 50 others. On Thursday, airstrikes killed at least 33 people at a busy market in the rebel-held district of Hullock in Aleppo, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, the United Nations is looking for a replacement for its special envoy to Syria as Lakhdar Brahimi, frustrated by the failed Geneva peace talks, is expected to resign at the end of May.  

Headlines

  • Tunisia's interim parliament passed a new electoral law Thursday paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
  • Turkish prosecutors dismissed a real estate graft case against 60 suspects, including a former minister's son and a construction magnate, one of three corruption inquiries plaguing Erdogan's government.
  • Two suicide attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed a soldier Friday and a car bomb killed a policeman at a checkpoint in Cairo.
  • Suspected Islamist militants attacked a security headquarters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi Friday killing eight soldiers and police officers.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to draft a bill promoting Israel's Jewish character in an apparent response to the failure of Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state during peace talks.

Arguments and Analysis

'How should we count the dead in Syria?' (Laia Balcells, Lionel Beehner, and Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, The Washington Post)

"Herein lies the problem with counting the dead in Syria's civil war: different methods to identifying casualties, different standards, and different agendas can lead to starkly contrasting interpretations of the violence on the ground.

Consider just the conflicting enumerations of fatalities in Syria. SOHR claims to be able to account for 99% of all violence in Syria and provides video or photographic evidence in 70% of its cases. No death gets recorded unless there is an accompanying name. Its 150,000-plus-casualty figure is the one most often cited by the international media and NGO community, even though the number could be well above 220,000, SOHR's director Rami Abdel-Rahman told Lebanon's Daily Star.

By contrast, the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) relies on a loose network of a few dozen reporters and activists located abroad and on the ground in Syria. Its data, which is periodically audited, is vastly different from the SOHR's and presents a much more one-sided picture of the violence. VDC claims to be able to document 60% of the instances of violence comprising its data. (Moreover, in light of the escalating number of foreign extremist fighters being killed on the rebel side, it is reportedly going to be doing away with the culturally loaded term ‘martyr')."

'Yemen's Counterterror Offensive Sidesteps Real Problems' (Vivian Salama, Atlantic Council)

"As military operations increase in the southern governorates, as many believe they could, the more productive option for winning hearts and minds is to seek reconciliation. Severe government neglect and dwindling resources, including declining water, soaring unemployment and rapid population growth - issues often at the heart of domestic conflicts - are becoming blurred as the government wages a war against these groups that supposedly represent a radical Islamist position. Resources including electricity, water, and gas are scarce and coming under increasing pressure. Many remote areas from Khawlan to Rada'a to the southern governorate of Abyaan have little-to-no access to healthcare or proper education, fueling further resentment against the state."

AFP PHOTO / BARAA AL-HALABI