Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East Ticker

By Yishai Schwartz, Jennifer R. Williams
Friday, May 15, 2015, 11:45 AM

New Israeli justice minister expected to clash with High Court: After an election that seemed to end extremely satisfyingly for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister was only able to cobble together a bare majority coalition minutes before the deadline. In the process, he has been forced to hand significant cabinet posts and political power to much smaller coalition partners. In particular, Netanyahu’s eleventh hour capitulation to the staunchly right-wing Bayit Yehudi party in naming Ayelet Shaked justice minister has shaken much of the Israeli left. Shaked has, for years, called for curbing the authority of Israel’s extremely powerful Supreme Court--both by changing the appointments process and permitting legislative overrides of its judicial review decisions. As justice minister, she will have a significant platform with which to pursue this agenda. However, given that the centrist Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon has been guaranteed freedom to vote against the coalition on issues related to the Supreme Court, Shaked will almost certainly lack a parliamentary majority for her most controversial reforms.

Israeli NGO hosts “Towards a New Law of War” Conference in Jerusalem: The conference was hosted by Shurat Hadin, an Israeli NGO well-known for filing lawsuits against dictatorships and adversaries of Israel, and featured speakers from Israeli adn American academia, government and militaries. The conference was aimed to conceptualize and advocate for “the development of armed conflict legal doctrine favorable to Western democracies engaged in conflict against non­traditional, non­-democratic, non-­state actors.”

President Obama and leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) met Thursday at Camp David for a summit aimed at calming the fears of U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, which have arisen from the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and an overall sense that the administration’s commitments to its security partners in the Gulf are wavering. Despite what many perceived as a snub from the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both of whom decided not to attend the summit at the last minute, the assembled leaders are expected to announce new security cooperation commitments, including joint military exercises and ballistic missile cooperation.

Meanwhile, the exiled leader of Yemen, Presdient Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, reportedly recalled Yemen’s ambassador to Iran on Thursday over what Hadi and his Gulf allies believe to be Iranian support for the Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Since late March, Saudi Arabia, assisted by several Arab allies and the United States, has been bombing Houthi positions in Yemen in an attempt to stop the Houthi takeover of that country and reinstall the government of President Hadi. Amid rumors of a possible Saudi-led ground offensive against the Houthis, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced at a press conference on Wednesday that his country’s troops would not participate in any ground offensive in Yemen. A brief, five-day humanitarian ceasefire went into effect in Yemen on Wednesday aimed at allowing aid agencies to deliver food, water, fuel, and other much-needed supplies to the war-torn country, but the truce is tenuous at best and both sides began accusing the other of violations just hours after it went into effect.

A jailed leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who had served in Egypt’s parliament during the brief presidency of Mohamed Mursi died in prison on Wednesday, sparking further concerns about the treatment of prisoners by Egyptian authorities amid what is widely seen as a brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood and other opposition voices by the military regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to the lawyer for Farid Esmail, the imprisoned leader’s health had been deteriorating over the past month but despite a court order to do so, prison authorities did not move the ailing man to an outside hospital for medical treatment until only a few days before his death. “Only when they thought he was about to die did they decide to transfer him,” he claimed, adding that he was transferred out of prison to a hospital three days before he died,” said the attorney, Ismail Abu Bakara. Egypt’s interior ministry has denied any medical negligence. On a similar note, verdicts in the trials of former President Mursi and over 130 others for their alleged involvement in a massive jailbreak that occurred during the uprising in 2011 are expected on Saturday, May 16. The head of a Cairo criminal appeals court and lawyers involved in the cases have stated that death sentences are not expected, though many of the accused will almost certainly receive jail sentences.

An appeals court in Bahrain has upheld the six-month prison sentence of prominent Shi’ite human rights activist Nabeel Rajab who was sentenced in January for posting insulting messages about the interior and defense ministries on Twitter. As reported by Ahram Online, “In one of the messages deemed offensive, Rajab charged that many Bahrainis fighting with jihadists in Syria were former Bahraini security forces personnel who had developed Sunni extremist views while in service. Rajab is already in detention following his arrest in April for posting comments on Twitter denouncing alleged torture in a prison where Shia activists are held.” Rajab can still appeal the ruling to the higher Court of Cassation.

For the first time in Qatar’s history, two women---Sheikha Jufairi and Fatma Al-Kuwari---have been elected to serve on the Central Municipal Council, the Gulf monarchy’s only directly elected body. Jufari has previously served on the 29-member council, which has advisory powers but no legislative powers, but Al-Kuwari is a newcomer. Five female candidates ran in the election, which had a voter turnout of almost 70 percent. This was only the fifth time the wealthy Gulf emirate has held direct elections.