Created on Saturday, 09 November 2013 12:13
A child and another person died Friday in clashes between supporters and opponents of Egypt’s ousted president in Cairo, state news agency MENA said, as Mohamed Mursi’s backers protested in several cities.
The 12-year-old boy and a man died in Cairo’s southern Giza neighborhood, MENA quoted emergency services as saying.
Protesters with firearms wounded three others there before police intervened to separate the two sides, arresting arrested several people, the interior ministry said.
In all, 20 people were wounded in violence around Egypt, particularly in cities in the Nile Delta, MENA reported.
Security officials also told AFP that police had fired tear gas to break up protests in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt's second city.
Mursi’s supporters have held near-daily protests since his overthrow and arrest by the military on July 3.
Several thousand marched on Friday in different provinces across the country.
Mursi appeared in court on Monday on the first day of his trial for inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012. It was his first public appearance since his ouster.
Despite regular calls to protest, Mursi’s Islamist supporters have been battered by a police crackdown that has severely hit their ability to stage large-scale demonstrations.
About 1,000 of them have been killed in clashes and more than 2,000 arrested.
Created on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 05:49
Deep in the desert and far from his former base of power, ousted President Mohammed Mursi is being held in a sprawling penitentiary that is notorious as one of Egypt’s highest-security prisons.
The move appears aimed not only at isolating him from other Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are jailed in Cairo but also to prevent his supporters from staging protests - or even trying to engineer a prison break, like those that occurred during the Arab Spring uprising of 2011.
Mursi spent his first night at the Borg el-Arab prison in a hospital room at the facility, complaining of high blood pressure and high blood sugar after a dramatic court appearance earlier Monday, the start of his trial on charges of inciting the killing of protesters in December 2012. The trial was adjourned by the judge for two months.
Mursi, 62, has been reported to have a number of ailments, including diabetes and a peptic ulcer. His room in the prison hospital has a TV set and a private bathroom, security officials said.
The 50-acre prison compound, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Alexandria, is garrisoned by a special unit of the security forces and sits behind layers of high concrete walls. New checkpoints stretching for a mile beyond the prison gates have been set up to make it more difficult for Mursi’s supporters to congregate in the area for possible protests.
Security officials said Borg el-Arab prison was the preferred choice of Egyptian authorities after Mursi spent four months in a secret military facility, held virtually incommunicado since he was ousted July 3 in a popularly backed military coup. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Officials have expressed fears about the possibility of jailbreaks, especially after Mursi and more than 30 Brotherhood leaders were freed from another remote prison at the height of the 2011 uprising that deposed autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. Mursi is still under investigation for the case and may yet face charges of conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to break out of prison.
The Borg el-Arab compound was one of the few complexes attacked without success during the uprising, when officials said highly organized attacks occurred at 11 of Egypt’s more than 40 prisons, springing thousands of inmates.
"I think moving him there was mainly a security concern," said Mohammed Zarie, the head of a human rights institution that works on reforming Egypt’s criminal laws and frequently visits prisons. "They want to avoid a security disaster."
The complex is one of Egypt’s newest prisons, built in 2004 and designed as a maximum-security facility. There are two sets of buildings: one for detainees awaiting sentence and another for inmates convicted of serious crimes, including those on death row. The units are surrounded by two separate walls, making escape or an assault difficult.
Borg el-Arab was one of the first prisons in Egypt to install security cameras, a senior security official in Cairo said.
It houses some of Egypt’s most notorious criminals, but they are held separately from prisoners with political backgrounds, Zarie said. It also holds some Palestinian militants arrested on charges of taking part in attacks in the restive Sinai Peninsula.
At least two other senior Brotherhood members are held there - former lawmakers Sobhi Saleh and Hassan el-Prince.
While Egyptian prisons are notorious for treating inmates poorly, Zarie said it can vary according to what instructions the guards receive from the prison authorities.
"If the instructions are to treat him well, he will get what he wants," Zarie said of Mursi. "If it is sticking by the book, then they may impose restrictions on him."
Mursi was transferred to the prison by helicopter after the chaotic session Monday during which he repeatedly interrupted the judge, refused to enter a plea and questioned the legitimacy of the court.
The ousted leader proclaimed he was still president of Egypt. His frequent interruptions and those of his co-defendants forced the judge to adjourn the sessions twice, before scheduling the next hearing Jan. 8.
It was Mursi’s first public appearance since he was deposed.
Most of the leaders of the Brotherhood, including those on trial with Mursi, are held in Cairo’s Tora prison complex, which is located in a residential area of the capital and is more difficult to isolate.
Mubarak, 85, was convicted in 2012 on charges connected to the killing of hundreds of protesters by police during the uprising and sentence to life in prison. But the verdict was later overturned on grounds prosecutors had not fully proven the charges, and his retrial began earlier this year.
He was first held in a military hospital, then moved to the Tora prison complex, where a special room in its hospital unit was prepared for him. He now is under house arrest, back in the military hospital.
Created on Sunday, 03 November 2013 07:40
Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammad Mursi, goes on trial on Monday under a security crackdown that has devastated his Muslim Brotherhood movement and raised concerns that the army-backed government is re-imposing a police state.
A popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised hopes that Egyptians would break the military establishment’s longstanding grip on power.
But the world’s most populous Arab nation has faltered in its political transition, and the generals are back in charge, to the dismay of Cairo’s Western allies who were hoping Egypt’s experiment with democracy would be smooth.
Mursi, who was ousted by the army on July 3 after mass protests against his rule, is due to appear in court along with 14 other senior Muslim Brotherhood figures on charges of inciting violence.
He and the other defendants could face a life sentence or death penalty if found guilty. That would likely further inflame tensions between the Brotherhood and the army-backed government and deepen the political instability that has decimated investment and tourism in a country where a quarter of people live under the poverty line.
When the military ousted Mursi, it promised a political roadmap would lead to free and fair elections.
What followed was one of the harshest clampdowns ever mounted against the Brotherhood, which is now struggling to survive after enduring state repression for decades.
In August, riot police backed by army snipers crushed Cairo protest camps demanding the reinstatement of Mursi, a U.S.-trained engineer.
Security officials accuse Brotherhood leaders of inciting violence and terrorism. Hundreds of the movement’s members have been killed and many of its leaders jailed.
The Brotherhood denies any links with violent activity.
Mursi has been held in an undisclosed location since his removal. The trial is expected to be held at a police institute near Cairo’s Tora prison.
The charges of inciting violence relate to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Mursi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers.
“What concerns me about this trial is that the justice system has been extremely selective and there has been almost near impunity for security services for the killing of hundreds of protesters,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch.
“And in that kind of environment of politicized prosecutions, the likelihood for real justice is compromised.”
Path to democracy
There are indications that the authorities are growing less tolerant of freedom of expression.
Egypt’s top television satirist was pulled off the airwaves a week after he poked fun at army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Egyptian officials admit the path to democracy has been rocky. But they caution that a proper democratic transformation will take time.
“It can’t be judged on what we do today and what we do tomorrow. I promise you we will succeed in doing this, but I am sure we will stumble on the way,” Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told Reuters in an interview.
Islamist militants based in the Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks on security forces since Mursi’s ouster.
Egyptian security officials accuse Hamas, which is an offshoot of the Brotherhood and runs the Gaza Strip, of supplying Sinai Islamists with arms, an accusation the Palestinian militant group denies.
Asked if there is direct link between Hamas and the Brotherhood, Fahmy said: “Are there indications that (there are) foreign sources of support for what is happening in Sinai? Yes. But I am not going to get into who is doing what. I leave that to the courts.”
Brotherhood officials say they are still determined to fight for Mursi’s reinstatement, even though far fewer Islamists seem ready to protest in the face of the onslaught by security forces.
“If Mursi is convicted there will be a major escalation through peaceful protests and without the use of force,” said a senior Brotherhood official, who added that other Islamists may take up arms against the state.
The Brotherhood accused the army of staging a coup and reversing the democratic gains made since the fall of Mubarak, who ruled with an iron fist for three decades.
But many Egyptians, who grew disillusioned with Mursi’s rule, do not share their view.
“The Brotherhood will continue to protest everywhere to spread chaos. These protests will not bring back Mursi or the Brotherhood to power,” said Fathi Awadallah, a 50-year-old businessman in Mansoura, a city in the Nile Delta.
The military says it was responding to the will of the people.
Popular Army General
Sisi, the man who toppled Mursi, has become wildly popular. Few doubt the general, who was head of military intelligence under Mubarak, would win if he runs for president.
Many liken him to Gamal Abdel Nasser, the colonel who led a coup against the monarchy in 1952, set up an army-led autocracy and rounded up thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members.
The resurgence of the military raises questions about the prospects for democracy in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a global trade route.
Relatives of Brotherhood detainees complain they are being held in cramped conditions and mistreated.
“This Mursi trial is a farce. Who should be put on trial? Those who had power stolen from them or those who did the stealing?” asked Abdullah Mustafa who said his brother, a Brotherhood member, died shortly after being held in prison.
Created on Saturday, 02 November 2013 18:23
Egyptian authorities Saturday launched a nationwide search for a French woman reported missing when she failed to catch a connecting flight the day after she arrived in Cairo, officials told AFP.
The 25-year-old arrived in Cairo from Ghana on Thursday evening and had been due to fly to Basel-Mulhouse airport in France on Friday, airport security officials said.
“The procedure for transits of longer than 12 hours is that immigration authorities keep the passport and take the passenger to a hotel,” one official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Airport security had escorted the woman to the nearby four-star Baron hotel after she landed.
“She was meant to go and pick up her passport the following day and fly to France,” the official added.
A French embassy official in Cairo, who also asked not to be identified, confirmed the woman had been reported missing after she failed to make her flight.
“The embassy and Paris are working on her case, with the constant cooperation of the Egyptian authorities,” the official said.
An Egyptian security official said a nationwide search had been launched to find her.
“She is not being held at any security facility in the country and is not in the custody of any authorities. We are now trying to determine the cause of her disappearance, whether it is kidnap or voluntary,” the official said.
Created on Saturday, 02 November 2013 08:36
Classes are overcrowded, curriculums out of date and facilities crumbling. In Egypt, frustrated parents have for decades relied on private tutors as overpopulation and government neglect have eviscerated public education.
And with the Arab world’s most populous country plunged into turmoil since 2011, when a popular uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak, hopes for reform are slimmer than ever as security dominates the political agenda.
At one primary school south of Cairo, 90 students sat at splintered desks in a noisy classroom built for 40.
“The conditions in which we work are extremely difficult. I have so many students in my classroom that I simply can’t give them the required attention,” maths teacher Hanna Ahmed said.
Egypt came last in September’s Global Competitiveness Report that looked at the quality of primary education in 148 countries, prompting even government officials to concede there was a problem.
“There is a great level of dissatisfaction with the education system in Egypt,” Mahmud Abul Nasr, education minister in the interim government installed by the military after its July 3 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, told AFP.
Free education was a pillar of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s socialist reforms in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing the dream of social mobility and opportunity to those long trapped in a rigid class system.
But over the decades, education - like other public services - has fallen prey to Egypt’s bloated and corrupt civil service, with poorly paid and undertrained staff drilling students based on the outdated method of rote learning.
Textbooks are out of date and moralistic in tone, and educators complain that exam results have become less about student achievement and more about fulfilling government quotas.
Mubarak’s 30-year rule saw the rise of private and foreign language schools catering to wealthier families, partly restoring the class divide Abdel Nasser’s policies had tried to eliminate.
“The system is so bad now that I’m forced to make up for the poor quality by having my children take private lessons,” says Hanan Atta, who enrolled her children in school 10 years ago.
“It’s much worse now than it was then,” she told AFP.
Teachers are forced to supplement their meagre income with private lessons, leaving them exhausted as well as unmotivated.
Atta says she pays 2,000 Egyptian pounds ($290, 220 euros) per month for private lessons in various subjects.
“It’s a huge strain on our budget at home, but I have no choice, I want my children to learn,” she said.
Experts say the problem goes far beyond lack of resources, with successive governments suppressing critical thinking for the sake of a more obedient society.
“Education is looked at from a security point of view,” says education expert Kamal Mughith.
“The state does not want children to be released from the grip of the ruling authority... It does not want the children to have critical thinking, analysis or thought.”
The system has come to appear even more antiquated as Egyptians have embraced mobile technology and the Internet, both of which were widely used by young activists during the revolt that toppled Mubarak and in organising subsequent protests.
“This is a generation of computers and tablets. They are much more exposed to the world than we were at that age. The system now leaves them unchallenged and uninterested,” said Dalia Hashem, a mother of two in Cairo who sends her children to private schools.
The government allocates 2,000 Egyptian pounds of government spending on each of its 16 million students annually, 85 percent of which goes to teachers’ salaries.
Mughith says the system is kept at a basic minimum - “a teacher, books, students” - with little creativity when it comes to teaching methods.
“It is impossible to ask for professionalism from a teacher who gets less than 100 dollars a month. It’s not enough to live,” said Mughith.
The situation outside the capital is even worse.
One teacher from the northern city of Damietta, Hisham Mohammed, said his school had not even received books.
“It is the middle of the school year and we have no material. How are we expected to work?” he told AFP.
Education minister Abul Nasr says the ministry has put together a “strategic plan to improve the quality of education”.
The ministry has designed a two-track government school system where one type of school would be free and the other would have small fees.
“It would still be affordable to most Egyptians, but the difference would be in the facilities in both types of school,” he said.
But Mughith says more far-reaching change is needed.
“The situation will only improve once there is a political will to do so. All the rest - human resources, salaries, facilities - will follow naturally,” he said.
Created on Friday, 01 November 2013 20:24
Thousands of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi demonstrated nationwide on Friday against the military-backed government ahead of his planned trial on Nov. 4.
In Alexandria, where opposition outrage grew after the arrest of 21 girls taking part in a demonstration on Thursday, clashes erupted between anti and pro-military protesters, Al Arabiya television reported.
Security and military forces were deployed in Sidi Bishr area to contain the clashes and disperse protesters. More than 40 people were arrested, Al Arabiya reporter said.
In Cairo thousands demonstrated after Friday’s prayer in the districts of Maadai, Giza, Shubra and other areas.
Fighting also erupted in the Gisr al-Suez district of Cairo, according to Reuters.
In the Nile Delta city of Zaqaziq, five people were wounded when pro-Mursi protesters clashed with civilian opponents, the official MENA news agency reported, AFP reported.
Demonstrators chanted slogans against the Egyptian army and the security forces, Mohamad Kamal, Al Arabiya correspondent reported.
Mursi is due to stand trial on Monday over the killings of protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo’s Etihadeya in December 2012.
He is also being investigated over his escape from jail during the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak.
Interior ministry officials say 20,000 policemen will be deployed that day to guard the south Cairo police academy hosting the trial and to secure Morsi’s transport to the makeshift court room, according to AFP.
“The mass rally on Monday... should be outside the (Police Officers’ Academy) building in Tora,” the Anti-Coup Coalition, which is led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, said in a statement.
Mursi, held at a secret location since the military overthrew him on July 3, is charged with inciting the murder of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
He is to be tried along with 14 other defendants.
The Islamist’s supporters have been battered by a police crackdown since his ouster. About 1,000 people have been killed in clashes and more than 2,000 arrested.
The campaign of arrests of Islamists has left much of their leadership in jail and restricted their ability to organize mass protests.
Created on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 19:41
U.S. lawmakers Tuesday urged the White House to lift its suspension of military aid to Egypt, warning freezing funds and weapons deliveries might unravel decades of cooperation with a key regional ally.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee, said he had initially supported a temporary halt to deliveries of F-16 aircraft to the Egyptian military following its ouster of President Mohammad Mursi in July.
“But today I do not believe that suspending the military aid will make the Egyptian government more democratic or make it easier for the United States to influence its behavior in the future,” he told the committee.
“In fact, I think it’s more than likely to have the opposite effect. And I’m afraid it could jeopardize the close US-Egypt military cooperation that we’ve worked so hard to build over the last several decades.”
The United States earlier this month said it was recalibrating its $1.5 billion a year in annual aid to Cairo including 1.3 billion in military aid after the bloody repression of Mursi supporters since his ouster.
Marking a dramatic break with years of unqualified support to Cairo, President Barack Obama in early October decided to freeze deliveries of big-ticket items, including Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tank parts and Harpoon missiles.
More than 1,000 people -- mainly Mursi supporters -- have been killed since July 3 -- and authorities have rounded up some 2,000 Islamists, including most of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership.
Engel condemned the violence and agreed that “it’s clear that the Egyptian military has made some serious mistakes in managing the ongoing transition.”
“But if I were given the choice between the military and the Brotherhood, I’d take the military every time.”
Committee chairman Ed Royce worried about harming security operations on the Sinai peninsula, and exposing other regional allies to greater insecurity.
“I would just urge the administration to reconsider its decision to withhold the sale of weapons systems that are going to be increasingly important to Egypt’s ability to confront terrorist organizations,” he said.
Republican Dana Rohrabacher went further, accusing the Obama administration of abandoning interim military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi despite being “grateful to him for stepping in to prevent this radical Islamic shift that would have destabilized the region.”
“We’re hanging General al-Sisi and the people that we’re applauding for defeating radical Islam in Egypt, we’re leaving them hanging out to dry,” Rohrabacher charged.
But Acting Assistant Secretary for the region, Beth Jones, told lawmakers that the U.S. was continuing to supply spare parts so the Egyptian military could continue to operate its already formidable arsenal.
“This recalibration reflects our effort to advance U.S. core interests in Egypt and the region while impressing upon the Egyptian leadership the importance of making progress toward a democratic transition,” Jones insisted.
The administration’s decisions would be reviewed, she assured, based on “credible progress on the interim government’s political roadmap toward a sustainable, inclusive and peaceful transition to democracy.”
Derek Challot, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, stressed assistance for security in the Sinai as well as counter-terrorism efforts would continue.
But he hinted that while delivery of large systems could be resumed, the nature of U.S. aid might change as it works with Egypt “to determine whether to sustain certain legacy systems that might otherwise be retired.”
“We want to continue a strong military-to-military relationship that preserves our strategic interests. And we want Egypt to develop a military that is prepared to meet the threats of the 21st century,” Challot said.
He insisted that the systems withheld from the Egyptian military were “not affecting their operational effectiveness in the Sinai at all.”
Created on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 19:22
The three judges presiding over the trial of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood general guide Mohammad Badie have withdrawn from the proceedings at the start of a session on Tuesday citing “reasons of conscience”.
Prior to their decision to step down the judges ordered that the defendants continue to be held in custody.
“The judges are retiring from this case for reasons of conscience and the accused must remain in detention,” head judge Mohammed Fahmy al-Qarmuty told the court at the start of the session, without elaborating, according to Agence France-Presse.
Badie and his two deputies , Khairat al-Shater and Rashad al-Bayoumi are facing charges of inciting the murder of protesters against ousted president Mohammad Mursi who stormed the Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters on June 30
A total of 32 other defendants are being prosecuted along with Badie, Shater and Bayoumi. None of the 35 defendants were in the court on Tuesday, AFP reported.
The Islamist’s group leader is also due to stand trial in a second case in connection with the deaths of seven people on July 16 on the sidelines of a demonstration in Cairo calling for Mursi’s reinstatement.
Several top figures in the Brotherhood will stand trial along with Badie at a date that is yet to be decided, the sources added.
Since the overthrow of Mursi by the army on July 3, more than 2,000 members of the Brotherhood have been arrested.
The military-backed interim government also launched a crackdown on pro-Mursi protest camps in August, at least 1,000 people were killed in the clashes.
Created on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 12:03
Egypt’s ousted president Mohammad Mursi has rejected the authority of the court that is due to try him next week for incitement to murder, his supporters said Monday.
Mursi, an Islamist hailing from the Muslim Brotherhood who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military on July 3 amid massive protests against his year-long rule.
He is due to stand trial with 14 others on Nov. 4 for incitement to murder in connection with deadly clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
“No lawyers will be defending president Mohammad Mursi, neither Egyptians nor foreigners, because the president does not recognize the trial or any action and processes that result from the coup,” the Anti-Coup Alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a statement.
The group said a team of Egyptian lawyers would be attending the trial with Mursi, but only “to observe proceedings, not to defend him.”
It said its statement was prompted by false reports in pro-military media outlets saying the Muslim Brotherhood had appointed lawyers from Turkey and Qatar to represent Mursi.
The group called on international human rights activists and lawyers to attend the trial to see firsthand “the trampling of justice.”
Created on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 11:00
In Egypt’s second city, medical student Ahmed Nabil lives in fear that the police may come and arrest him any day. As a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is part of a movement facing an onslaught by the security forces which toppled Islamist President Mohammad Mursi in July.
“These days we can be picked up at any time,” said Nabil, whose parents are also members of the organization, Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement and a supporter of Mursi.
The Brotherhood’s discipline and hierarchy helped it win elections after the 2011 popular uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, eventually propelling Mursi into power. But now the army-led government and its supporters regard the Brotherhood as a terrorist group and enemy of the state. The security forces and police, feared and despised under Mubarak, are lauded for cracking down on the organization.
The Brotherhood denounces violence and says it is committed to peaceful protest. But as members go into hiding, its key building blocks - local groups of seven members known as usras - are under pressure.
“The most important person for me is the head of my usra,” said Nabil. “I get everything from him.”
In Nabil’s eyes, the usras, which provide everything from Koran studies to marriage counseling, are crumbling. That raises the risk the organization will fracture, and that some members will abandon peaceful activism to take up arms.
In a sign of how the Brotherhood is retreating, Nabil has bought a new, unregistered mobile phone. He encrypts text messages and is careful about what he writes on Facebook, fearful that the authorities are monitoring communications.
Nabil said he has lost five friends killed in demonstrations and that he narrowly escaped arrest when he took part in a protest. He worries about survival and avoiding jail. The clampdown, he said, could radicalize some members.
This month suspected militants killed six Egyptian soldiers near the Suez Canal, fired rocket propelled grenades at a state satellite station in Cairo and exploded a car bomb near an Egyptian army intelligence building in the city of Ismailia. More than 50 people have been killed and more than 270 wounded in recent clashes between the police and protesters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Even as questions remain over who mounts such attacks, it seems clear the recruitment pool for radicals has grown significantly since Mursi’s overthrow.
“Not all people in the opposition can go on resisting peacefully if this unbelievable pressure continues, especially the detentions of leaders who pushed the movement to remain peaceful,” said Nabil. Before they were imprisoned, top Brotherhood leaders often told followers that avoiding violence would give the movement the moral high ground against the government.
“All these military actions against us, including killing and torture and arrests, push us to respond with force. One prays that God ends the crisis before we reach the situation in Syria,” he said, referring to civil war in that country.
“As our grand guide [top leader] said, ‘Our peaceful ways are stronger than a bullet.’”
The government makes no distinction between the Brotherhood and al Qaeda-inspired militants based in the Sinai Peninsula who have sharply stepped up attacks against soldiers and police since Mursi was overthrown. The authorities say the Brotherhood’s members are terrorists out to spread an Islamic caliphate across several nations, not focus on Egypt’s well-being.
A top security official who has monitored the Brotherhood for decades told Reuters: “The usra has been destroyed in a very big way. The Brotherhood member is taught not to think on his own, just to take orders. This is how the group functions. So if there is no one to give them orders it means the group is in trouble.”
The usra was devised by Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, to indoctrinate and mobilize followers. Usras typically used to meet once a week for at least three hours, usually at the home of a member. The usra leader could be so pivotal that members sought their permission to travel to Cairo.
During past crackdowns, the usra survived by adapting. Its size was reduced to three members when restrictions were tightened. Those small units avoided arrest by speaking while walking down streets or meeting in tea houses, not homes. In prison, the usra became the number of men in each cell.
After Mursi fell, the Brotherhood had hoped to mobilize millions of protesters; but the army reacted forcefully, bulldozing a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya in eastern Cairo on August 14, killing hundreds of Mursi’s supporters. Security forces have arrested many top Brotherhood leaders, including Mursi, on charges of inciting or perpetrating violence.
Before the leaders were detained, they sent messages to Brotherhood officials urging them to ensure that usras continued, according to the head of an usra and other Brotherhood members. But members are struggling.
In Alexandria, Abu Bakr al-Masri is the head of an usra and worships in a spartan Brotherhood mosque on the bottom floor of an apartment building. For decades, the Brotherhood has used such mosques in rundown neighborhoods across Egypt to deepen its influence and raise funds.
Masri’s usra has not met since Mursi fell. He is proud of his position but worried because he can no longer guide young men.
“I gave people advice on everything. Even if you have trouble with your wife you come to me,” he said, sitting in his apartment, a block from the mosque. “The usra is under a lot of pressure now. I speak to people in the usra by phone, but it is always brief and we never have a chance to speak about the important issues.”
There are usras for women and Masri’s wife, Um Abdullah, heads one. It, too, has not met since July and she is a member of another that has stopped gathering.
“I am sitting here doing nothing,” she said, complaining about the Brotherhood’s isolation. Um Abdullah, who was veiled, is tasked with spreading the Brotherhood’s views of how Muslim families should approach life. There is little scope for that now. “I used to be able to go out in the streets and tell other women about our vision, about the true Muslim family,” she said. “Now I can only wander in our building and speak to my neighbors.”
The Brotherhood has few options. Many Egyptians turned sharply against the organisation during Mursi’s year as president. He was accused of trying to give himself sweeping powers, entrenching the Brotherhood in the institutions of state and mismanaging the economy. The Brotherhood denies those charges.
While limited protests by Mursi supporters continue, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, head of the military, has announced a political roadmap promising new elections. The transition includes rewriting the constitution that was drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly, passed in a referendum and signed into law by Mursi. The most contentious feature of the new constitution may be a clause banning religious political parties.
The Brotherhood wants nothing to do with the transition and its supporters are retreating. In one tight-knit Brotherhood community in Alexandria, four families have already fled for fear of arrest after the security forces and army began conducting overnight searches of apartment buildings, according to local Brotherhood supporters.
In the office of Ahmed Fahim, a lawyer in Alexandria who represents Muslim Brotherhood members, stands a photograph of a past leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood. It’s a small sign of Fahim’s defiance.
His day usually starts with a brief walk to the courthouse, which he believes treats the Brotherhood unfairly. “Why do they let common criminals see their day in court while Muslim Brotherhood detainees are seen as a security risk and are only allowed hearings in jail?” he said.
A Justice Ministry official said security forces advise the ministry that taking Brotherhood members to a courthouse poses a security risk because there could be protests and other problems.
For Fahim, all around are reminders of the Brotherhood’s steep fall from power. In the street a young boy sells posters showing army chief Sisi with Gulf Arab leaders who pumped billions of dollars into Egypt after Mursi fell. At the courthouse, overlooking the sea, a blue police truck displays a poster showing Sisi beside Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former president of Egypt who ordered a crackdown on the Brotherhood after an attempt to assassinate him.
Fahim seemed resigned to the idea that the Brotherhood will experience hardship. “We knew from the beginning that our path would not be lined with roses, but thorns,” he said. He no longer thinks it is realistic to demand Mursi’s reinstatement.
He worries about the fate of the usra - but also the possibility that members of the Muslim Brotherhood may turn to armed struggle. “People won’t be able to hold back,” he said, though he calls for restraint.
At his modest apartment, Fahim spoke proudly about how his son Muiz, 10, and daughter Amena, 7, joined him at the demonstration at Rabaa al-Adawiya, which at times swelled to tens of thousands of protesters. The family laughed when the daughter said she didn’t like Sisi or Mubarak. But the mood soured when they recalled how the Rabaa protest was crushed.
The conversation turned to how unpopular the Brotherhood is. A joke doing the rounds illustrated the grim mood: A boy who wants to have his father killed leaves their fifth floor apartment, goes to the ground floor and posts a sign at the entrance, “Muslim Brotherhood headquarters is located on the fifth floor, apartment three.”
Like Fahim, some outside experts fear the severity of the crackdown could backfire. “The weekly usra meeting is a very important tool in shaping the mindset and behaviour of Brotherhood members. The alternative might be an extreme path,” said Khalil al-Anani, senior fellow at The Middle East Institute in Washington.
“This might replicate the 1950s and 1960s when the state cut links between the leadership and grassroots, leading in the end to the deviation of youth and creation of groups that started insurgencies.”
While Reuters found no evidence of Brotherhood members joining extremist groups, the authorities are now portraying most Islamists as one broad group of terrorists.
When reporters first met Nabil, the medical student in Alexandria, he was upbeat about the prospect of the Brotherhood returning to power. He had spent a great deal of time reading commentaries from Brotherhood officials about how many military coups had ultimately failed.
He was especially interested in reading about Algeria. There the army’s decision to cancel elections in 1991, which Islamists had won, plunged the North African country into a civil war that killed at least 150,000 people.
But later Nabil grew downbeat. With the top Muslim Brotherhood leaders behind bars and his usra leader on the run, Nabil has no one to help him get through tough times. Fear of arrest has forced Islamists to cut down on protests. Maintaining secrecy is important: Protest locations are only shared with a few. False destinations are sometimes announced on Facebook to confuse the authorities.
If Nabil does run into his ursa leader at a protest, there is little time to talk, he said. Demonstrations are often cut short to avoid clashes with security forces, who may have been tipped off by informers.
Pro-government activists called baltagiya, or thugs, usually attack the processions from behind, using everything from rocks to swords and guns, demonstrators say. Nabil pointed to Egyptian flags held by Brotherhood members and said: “Actually those flags have another purpose. When we are attacked, people holding them flip them around and use the wooden poles to defend protesters.”
He cannot count, as the Brotherhood once did, on popular support.
During one demonstration, Nabil and a friend looked up at the balconies of surrounding buildings to find people insulting them and hurling water. “Every week we count the numbers of people who are against us,” he said.
There is no doubt the army-backed government has the upper hand, and Brotherhood members often compare the current campaign against the group to the repression imposed by Nasser in the 1950s and 1960s.
In Alexandria, Abdel Latif Mohammed, a Brotherhood member who is now too old to kneel for prayers in the mosque, recalled how jailers during Nasser’s crackdown whipped his feet and then set dogs on him. He recalled, too, that 15,000 people were arrested in one night. Yet in Mohammed’s eyes, the current situation is worse.
No government spokesman would comment on the scale of the crackdown. But a senior security official told Reuters: “This group has to be stopped. They are terrorists with an international agenda. They don’t care about Egypt.”
Even lawyers who defend Muslim Brotherhood members say they no longer feel safe and move from one house to another to avoid arrest. In August, in an interview with Reuters, Khalaf Bayoumi, a leading Muslim Brotherhood lawyer in Alexandria, predicted he would be arrested. He is now being held with other Islamists at the sprawling Borg al-Arab prison on the edge of Alexandria.
Visitors to the prison say groups of 35 Mursi supporters are crowded into cells built for 10. Army tanks guard the premises.
Before he was incarcerated, Bayoumi said that to survive, the Brotherhood must preserve the usra. “If the Brotherhood loses that, the group will fall,” he said.
Created on Saturday, 26 October 2013 22:05
An ex-Egyptian army officer carried out the suicide bombing last month that unsuccessfully targeted the country’s interior minister, a video posted online Saturday by al-Qaeda-inspired militants claims.
Military officials reached by The Associated Press declined to comment on the video posted in the name of the Ansar Jerusalem militant group, which has carried out other attacks in the country’s lawless Sinai Peninsula. But it comes as security officials already sacked one police officer over alleged ties with Islamists as turmoil persists over the country’s July 3 military coup.
The video posted on militant websites shows a man identified as Waleed Badr, who wears a major’s uniform. He says in the video that the Egyptian army is “bent on fighting religion” and “loves America” more than Egyptians.
An unnamed narrator says officials fired Badr, who graduated from a military academy in 1991, from the army because he used to criticize officers for not being pious. The narrator says Badr also fought with militants in Afghanistan and Syria, but failed to get to Iraq after being arrested in Iran and held for a year in prison. The narrator gives no dates for these events and the AP could not immediately trace Badr’s whereabouts for this time.
The video also shows a car in streets described as being close to the home of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in Cairo. It shows the minister’s motorcade and provided a description of his armored SUV. The video does not explain, however, why the bombing failed to kill Ibrahim. The blast Sept. 5 killed one person and injured 22 others.
Ansar Jerusalem already claimed responsibility for last week’s bomb attack on a military intelligence compound in the Suez canal city of Ismailia and for a suicide car bomb attack on a security headquarters in the town of el-Tor, in southern Sinai on Oct. 7. Earlier, the group claimed attacks on gas pipelines to Israel, rockets targeting Israel and a 2012 shootout along the Israeli-Egyptian border in which three militants and an Israeli soldier were killed.
Attacks in the Sinai and elsewhere have risen following the July 3 military coup that overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Since then, supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood have staged near-daily rallies around the country, protesting security crackdown in which hundreds have been killed and more than 2,000 of group’s members have been jailed. Morsi has been held incommunicado since his ousting and a court has ordered an outright ban on his group.
Authorities appear to have expanded the scope of their crackdown. A police officer was suspended from his duties in the Nile province of Gharbiya, north of Cairo, because he was suspected of being a Brotherhood member, security officials said Friday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
The decision could signal that the military-backed leadership will purge Brotherhood members from the security forces, a move that could deepen tensions. Morsi supporters and those backing the military already accuse each other using violence to advance their causes.
In the video, however, Badr also criticized the Muslim Brotherhood and other Muslim groups for believing in democracy and repeated al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri’s ideology that establishing Islamic Shariah laws could only be achieved through jihad.
He urged Egyptian Muslims “to sacrifice your lives through the explosive devices and the explosive belts and to kill in the same way they kill.”
Created on Sunday, 20 October 2013 13:50
Egyptian police fired tear gas at Islamist students who pelted them with rocks during an anti-army protest in Cairo’s al-Azhar university on Sunday.
The students, who are supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammad Mursi, climbed on the campus fence and waved the four-fingered “Rabaa hand” salute, which represents protests at a previous site occupied by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al Arabiya’s crew members were attacked by the students while trying to cover the protest.
A group of Islamist students confiscated the team’s camera and some personal documents, said Randa Abou el-Azm, Al Arabiya’s Cairo-based correspondent.
About 3,000 students initially blocked the main Nasr road leading to the university’s campus.
The Egyptian interior ministry said students clashed with the police as they tried to persuade them to leave.
The police later used tear gas in attempt to disperse the protest. No casualties were reported in the clashes, a security official said.
“Police did not storm the university’s campus,” Ibrahim al-Hodhud, deputy head of al-Azhar university told Al Arabiya.
“The university is not responsible for security outside its walls. What is happening went far beyond what can be considered as peaceful demonstrations. [Pro-Mursi] students have written phrases on the university buildings and have attempted to storm some,” Hodhud added.
Islamists who reject the military-installed government have regularly staged protests against the army, which toppled Mursi on July 3 after millions took to the streets demanding his resignation.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Mursi’s backers, were killed in clashes in the ensuing crackdown on the former president’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Another 2,000 people, mostly Islamists, have been detained.
Created on Saturday, 19 October 2013 11:25
At least five people were wounded after a car bomb exploded outside a military intelligence building in Egypt’s Suez Canal city of Ismailia on Saturday, security and medical sources said.
Egyptian security forces stopped three suspects allegedly involved in Saturday’s explosion, according to media reports.
The blast caused one of the building’s walls to collapse and several surrounding cars were set on fire.
Live images broadcast on Egyptian state TV showed plumes of smoke coming out of the building.
Security officials told Al Arabiya that a second car bomb was found in the area, but experts managed to defuse it.
Witnesses said they heard gunfire around the time of the explosion, according to Agence France-Presse.
“This is the latest in a series of cowardly terrorist attacks by extremist elements against the people of Egypt and army installations,” said military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Ali in a statement carried by AFP.
Several areas across Egypt, including Ismailia, have witnessed regular attacks on police and military personnel since the military’s ouster of President Mohammad Mursi in July.
More than 100 policemen have been killed in Egypt since then, reported AFP.
Category: Coptic Monuments and History
Created on Thursday, 17 October 2013 16:47
Locked inside a 6th century church in a desert monastery are some of the jewels of early Christianity - ancient murals in vivid pinks, greens and reds depicting saints, angels and the Virgin Mary with a baby Jesus, hidden for centuries under a blanket of black soot.
Italian and Egyptian restorers are meticulously uncovering the paintings, some of the earliest surviving and most complete examples of early Coptic Christian art. But the work, in the final stages more than a decade after it started, is done quietly to avoid drawing attention - and there's no plan to try to attract visitors, at least not now.
“This is our heritage and we must protect it,” said Father Antonius, abbot of the Red Monastery where the Anba Bishay Church is located. He takes it as a personal mission to protect it. The church's heavy wooden door has only two keys. He keeps one and a young monk he trusts keeps the other.
“I don't think there is a church anywhere in Egypt that even begins to match the beauty of this one,” Antonius said, beaming like a proud father.
The little known Anba Bishay Church offers a striking example of how Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Church jealously guards its heritage against formidable odds - whether decades of neglect, discrimination by the Muslim majority or the violence by Islamic militants.
The protection of its heritage took on greater urgency when 40 churches were wrecked, burned and looted in a pogrom-like wave of attacks in August, blamed on Islamic militants. Coptic leaders say the attacks are the worst in centuries.
The attacks laid bare a worrisome failure or unwillingness by authorities, as well as moderate Muslims, to protect the churches. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 90 million citizens, were left with their deepest sense of vulnerability in recent history. Egypt's powerful military pledged with great fanfare to restore the churches. But Christians say that, two months later, they are still waiting for concrete steps.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of Christianity's earliest branches. It was born in Egypt, and almost all Egyptian Christians throughout the centuries have belonged to it. But it never ruled in Egypt. Instead, Copts were subjects in a succession of empires, from the Romans and Byzantines through various Muslim dynasties.
The result is a complicated legacy. A historic sense of persecution engrained a deep secrecy in the Church, which has long turned inward for its own protection. The lesson that Copts long absorbed - take care of yourselves and don't involve outsiders - has been applied to their conservation efforts.
Complicating those efforts, the Copts' material civilization is fragile. They have not left mighty stone temples, tombs and mosques like Egypt's pharaonic or Muslim rulers, noted Imad Farid, an expert on historical Coptic architecture.
Instead, Copts traditionally built in mud brick, which deteriorates over time, especially in the eroding moisture and floods in the Nile River valley. Desert monasteries, preserved by aridity, constitute most of what is left of Coptic civilization. They have been the traditional repositories for the Church's artistic treasures, from icons and murals to rare manuscripts.
Past generations of Copts “left us not with a history of rulers but of a people and their daily lives,” Farid said. “The monasteries have preserved their way of life. They are like conservation zones for human and intellectual heritage.”
But many monasteries were abandoned over the centuries, in part because of a shortage of monks. Over time, their mud brick chapels and hermit cells fell prey to elements, earthquakes or depredations from Bedouin attackers.
For example, the Red Monastery and the nearby White Monastery were once united in a sprawling complex to which some 5,000 monks belonged. Both were deserted by the 8th century and have only been resurrected in the last 30 years.
“Our heritage is disappearing because of random restoration work, urbanization and the work of the ignorant. I don't want future generations to curse us for not documenting what we have now,” said Father Maximus, a monk and one of the church's top conservation experts.
A slender 59-year-old who carries an IPad and an IPhone wherever he goes, Maximus has led a team of Italian restoration experts traveling across Egypt since 1996 to save as much as they can of Coptic heritage. His team, including Egyptian experts and backed by the American Research Center in Egypt, has worked on the murals of Anba Bishay Church since 2002, in the desert on the edge of the Nile River valley, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Cairo.
The Anba Bishay Church, modeled after Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre with an intricate array of niches and columns, is considered the most complete historical church structure in Egypt.
“It is a very unique church and now it is in a very good condition,” enthused Maximus. He says the work is a battle against time - to “protect the physical Coptic heritage, to prevent it from disappearing.”
The attacks in August illustrate the latest danger to Egypt's Coptic culture.
Among the 40 churches attacked was a 1,600-year-old church gutted by fire and stripped bare of its contents. Others were built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Most of the attacks took place in southern Egypt, an underdeveloped region with a combustible mix of powerful Islamic radicals and sizable Christian communities.
Some of the attacks began as retaliation for the Christians' support of the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in a popularly backed July 3 military coup.
But they devolved into an orgy of looting. In some cases, looters dug under altars searching for buried treasure.
Widely held myths of hidden wealth have been fueled by the Church's traditional secrecy, said Bishop Biemen, abbot of the Monastery of Archangel Michael, near the southern city of Luxor.
“Because we have been hurt so often, we have become an insular community. That has created a sort of mystique about us that included tales of priceless jewels hidden in churches,” he said.
In a recent tour of southern Egypt, The Associated Press found Christians still grieving over the loss of churches.
As a show of resilience, some have held Masses and weddings in the blackened shells of churches, using only a makeshift altar. Still, priests say, some worshippers have stayed away, too hurt to see the condition of the churches where they lived out milestones like weddings, baptisms and funerals.
“God, please be merciful to us and don't abandon us,” Father Boutros said in a recent early morning Mass at the John the Baptist Church in the town of Abanoub, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Cairo.
“God, please save us from the evil ones,” he said, as the congregation of around two dozen women and a handful of men repeated after him.
During the service, two church workers acted as lookouts outside, in case of renewed hostility by Muslim extremists. Schoolchildren dropped in for a quick prayer or communion on their way to classes.
The church's walls were blackened. Icons and murals, destroyed or stripped away in the looting, were replaced by posters of John the Baptist, Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Because the pews were burned or stolen, worshippers sat on rented chairs with dirty red velvet upholstery. Light bulbs were powered by a wire strung in from outside the church, since its own electrical system was destroyed.
“To burn a church is to burn the heart of every man who comes here to pray to God,” said Maher Nakhlah, a 42-year-old U.S.-trained English teacher attending the Mass. “It is difficult to understand how a place where people pray and which is void of any hatred could be attacked.”
In the nearby city of Assiut, the Gothic structure of the Franciscan Church of Saint Theresa, built by Italians early in the last century, remains largely intact after Muslim militants set it on fire.
But the damage inside betrayed a worrying hatred for the Christian faith.
A wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated, and the hands chopped off. The face, hands and feet were also bashed off a porcelain sculpture of Saint Theresa, dating back to 1924. One of the church's two confessional booths was torched.
Friday Mass at the church is now held earlier in the day so congregants can leave and lock the church gates before Muslims finish their noon prayers at the nearby mosque, used by ultraconservatives.
“We don't want trouble,” Father Bishara Ayoub said.
“The problem is not one of material loss, it is to do with psychology” said Jihan Bramble, a Christian engineer. “This is the price of freedom for now. But our persecution will continue indefinitely. It always has.”
Created on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 20:10
Relations between the United States and Egypt are in deep-seated turmoil which could harm the entire Middle East, the Egyptian foreign minister said in remarks published on Wednesday.
In an interview conducted by the state-owned daily newspaper al-Ahram, Nabil Fahmy said the extension of the period of instability in ties would “reflect negatively on the entire region, including American interests.”
“At the same time, I am not very worried about this unrest in relations,” he said, “The Egyptian people will not hesitate to bear the consequences of such a situation in order to preserve their freedom of choice after two revolutions.”
“In addition, this unrest will equally serve Egypt and the U.S. because both will reconsider and better estimate their relationship in the future,” the minister added.
Egypt criticized a U.S. decision last week to curtail military and economic aid to Cairo after a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, although Washington stressed it was not severing ties with its long-standing ally.
U.S. officials said the move reflected Washington’s unhappiness with Egypt’s path since the army overthrew freely-elected President Mohammad Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3.
Despite the tensions, Fahmy said the two countries will retain relations because Egypt is “the heart and mind of the Arab world,” and because Egypt is aware of the U.S. importance as a key world power.
Created on Thursday, 10 October 2013 08:18
The United States on Wednesday confirmed it was halting the delivery of Apache helicopters, as well as Harpoon missiles and tank parts to Egypt's military leaders.
Washington's review of deliveries of military aid, which includes parts for M1/A1 tanks, was not meant to be permanent, however, U.S. officials stressed, saying only that the armaments were worth “hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday in a statement the decsision would freeze “large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections,” according to AFP.
The aid cut includes a $260 million cash transfer and a planned $300 million loan guarantee to the Cairo government, a congressional source told Reuters after members of Congress were briefed by officials from the U.S. State Department about the administration’s plans.
The United States, however, said it will continue to provide aid to Egypt for counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security, and counter-proliferation.
Following Mursi’s ouster by the military in July, the Pentagon cancelled a planned exercise with Egypt and postponed the delivery of four F-16 fighters.
The United States has provided billions in aid to Cairo since the 1979 Camp David peace deal that ensures peace between Egypt and Israel. The aid was also aimed for priority access to the Suez Canal and anti-terrorism cooperation.
The United States has deposited $584 million in remaining military aid funds for the fiscal year 2013 in a federal reserve account pending the outcome of the policy review, according to State Department officials.
Created on Monday, 07 October 2013 16:50
Egypt’s armed forced intervened to overthrow former President Mohammed Mursi to avoid a “civil war,” army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in an interview with the Arabic daily al-Masry al-Youm published on Monday.
“The army’ move was dictated by the national interest and national security necessities and the anticipation that the country would reach a civil war within two months if the situation we were at continued,” Sisi said.
Prior to the Aug. 30 uprising, Gen. Sisi said he spoke with Mursi and asked him to present an initiative and make concessions to resolve the political deadlock.
“The truth is that i wanted to give an opportunity for former president to change his position and save his face,” Sisi said.
He said he favored a political solution to any direct military intervention.
“I stressed that there were very very serious dangers in the idea of a coup and that the appropriate and the best is to reach any change through ballot boxes and this was after several attempt for reform,” he said.
Gen. Sisi gave a week ultimatum for the political forces to reach an agreement prior to the Aug. 30 and after that he made another ultimatum, for 48 hours. When that ended without compromise, the army intervened to overthrow Mursi on July 3 and announced a political roadmap.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rejected Mursi’s overthrow and continued to protest across the country. More than 100 people have been killed in the events that followed as the country struggled with instability and economic woes.
Created on Monday, 07 October 2013 13:53
Egypt’s army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has vowed on Sunday to continue fulfilling “the people’s mandate to confront terrorism,” in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the country’s military victory in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
“We are responsible before God to continue fulfilling the mandate, we will protect Egypt and the Egyptians, this is a promise,” Sisi was quoted as saying at Cairo’s Air Defence Stadium where he spoke late Sunday.
“We are keen to be the guardians of this order and mandate,” he added.
At least 53 people were killed and more than 246 wounded on Sunday as Egyptian security forces clashed with supporters of ousted former President Mohammad Mursi, security and television sources said.
Mursi supporters were protesting in several cities to show their displeasure of the military’s overthrow of the former president, while thousands took part in the military celebrations.
Taking part in the festivities, al-Sisi and interim President Adly Mansour attended a fireworks extravaganza late on Sunday at the military-owned stadium in eastern Cairo.
In July, the military ousted and jailed Mohammad Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president, following nationwide protests asking for his resignation.
The authorities have since launched a crackdown on his supporters arresting over 200 Muslim Brotherhood members including top figures.
The interior ministry had warned on Saturday against “attempts that may disturb the October 6 celebrations in Egypt,” state news agency MENA quoted it as saying.
“The ministry asserts its determination to firmly confront all violence and infringements of law by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters through their marches.”
In his speech, Sisi spoke about the Egyptian people’s relationship with the army reiterating the popular statement “the Egyptian people and the army are one hand”.
“The military is as strong as the pyramids because of the people,” he added.
Created on Monday, 07 October 2013 12:58
The drafting of the new Egyptian constitution has been making headlines since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Several articles in the 2012 constitution are currently the subject of controversy, particularly those pertaining to the Islamic identity of Egypt, even though the representation of Islamists in the new constituent assembly has been drastically reduced in favor of liberal forces.
Articles that mention the relationship between Islam and Egypt go back to 1923, the year Egyptians had their first real constitution. Article 149 of this constitution stated: “Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language.” The insertion of this article was unanimously approved by all members of the assembly in charge of the drafting the constitution, including Christians.
This still raises eyebrows, with a heated debate about how far the article could be regarded as detrimental to the rights of religious minorities. The consensus over Article 149, however, could be best understood in relation to the context in which the constitution was written, which was entirely different from the one in which the current constitution is being drafted.
At a time when they were struggling to end British occupation, Egyptians did not want to be distracted by squabbles that would serve the interests of the occupying power and undermine their national cause. They were attempting “to solidify Egypt’s identity, which the British occupation had tried desperately to efface,” wrote Mohamed Abdelaal, lecturer of constitutional and administrative law at Alexandria University.
A major constitutional change
Constitutions that followed, in 1930 and 1956, retained the article. However, the one written in 1958 upon the establishment of the United Arab Republic - which saw the unification of Egypt and Syria that year until 1961 - omitted the article, which was retrieved in the 1964 constitution.
It was only in 1971 that Article 149 underwent a major change. That was also when it became Article 2, and has remained so to the present day. One year into his presidency, Anwar Sadat embarked on an expansive campaign to eliminate leftists and reverse the policies of his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser.
This necessitated currying favor with Islamists and, for him, amending the constitution in a way that addressed their ambitions regarding the establishment of a religious state. Thus Article 2 of the 1971 constitution read: “Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic law are a primary source of legislation.”
In 1980, Article 2 was amended once more. Sadat wanted to amend Article 77 that limited the presidency to two six-year terms. In order to garner Islamist support, Sadat proposed replacing the “a” of Article 2 with “the,” so that “principles of Islamic law are the primary source of legislation.” Through this “cunning move,” as Abdelaal calls it, Sadat was able to pass both amendments.
Article 2 had rarely stirred controversy since, especially as Egypt got more and more entangled in a variety of other more pressing problems pertaining to democracy, human rights and social justice. The 2011 revolution, which ousted Hosni Mubarak’s semi-secular regime, brought the issue to the forefront once more.
All about ‘principles’
With Islamists subsequently dominating parliament, the presidency, and the assembly that was drafting the post-revolution constitution, and with liberals and secularists struggling against the establishment of a religious state, a heated debate ensued. The crux of it was the extent to which Article 2 preserves the identity of Egypt, and how it can be amended to reach that end.
Ultraconservative Islamists wanted the word “principles” removed to ensure the strictest application of Islamic rulings, which may have included imposing penalties such as stoning, flogging, and amputation for crimes such as adultery, murder and theft. Some even suggested inserting the word “rulings.”
With strong resistance to the proposed amendments, Islamists gave up on changing Article 2, but managed to add Article 219, which aims at elucidating the meaning of the word “principles.”
According to Article 219, “the principles of Islamic law include the general evidence, fundamental and jurisprudence rules, and recognized sources as acknowledged by the Sunni school of thought.”
The article, therefore, is likely to “disenfranchise Shia Muslims, whose legal traditions differ in some ways,” Anthony F Lang Jr, director of the Scotland-based Centre for Global Constitutionalism, points out in his study “From Revolutions to Constitutions: The Case of Egypt.”
In other words, this article not only assumes that Egypt is strictly Islamic, but also Sunni Muslim, thus introducing a Sunni-Shiite divide that was shortly translated into verbal and physical attacks on Egyptian Shiites by ultraconservative Sunnis.
A more liberal constitutional assembly
After the fall of Islamist rule, removing from the constitution articles that promoted the establishment of a theocracy became a priority. While Article 2 is said to remain untouched in the post-Brotherhood constitution that is being drafted - possibly for the same reasons that led to its inception in 1923 - Article 219 has become a major source of controversy.
While the assembly in charge of drafting the constitution is predominantly liberal - unlike the one formed following the revolution that ousted Mubarak - debates about the link between Islam-related articles and Egyptian identity persist.
The 50-member assembly includes five Islamists - three from al-Azhar (regarded as representative of moderate Islam), a former Brotherhood member who is now one of the group’s staunchest critics, and a member of the Salafist al-Nour party that advocates an ultraconservative version of Islam and insists on keeping Article 219. Deleting it will be viewed by many as “a move against the Islamic identity of Egypt,” which “nobody wants,” said the party’s official spokesman Sherif Taha.
The objection to Article 219 by liberal forces has earned them the title “enemies of Islam,” and escalated the battle over the identity of Egypt. Hussein Abdel Razek, a leading member of the leftist al-Tagammu party, argues that the article “tries to impose a certain medieval interpretation of Islam, not to mention that several Islamist factions have their own interpretations of Sharia and each considers itself the most righteous.”
Abdel Razek supports the elimination of all articles about Islamic laws, including Article 2, in an attempt to “get rid of Sadat’s legacy, which led to the proliferation of radical religious forces.”
For Saad al-Din al-Hilali, professor of Islamic jurisprudence at al-Azhar University, Article 2 should suffice, while Article 219 is likely to spread “religious dogmatism” in Egyptian society. While Hilali still ties Article 2 to Egyptian identity, he prefers to steer clear of any text that might later be accountable for sectarian clashes.
Abdel Razek’s stance, however, could be seen as doing more justice to non-Muslim minorities, thus transcending the controversy about identity to more vital issues that constitute the crux of the modern state, such as citizenship.
On the other hand, some experts are calling for broadening the concept of Egyptian identity to include the African continent. Helmi Shaarawi, professor of African studies, stresses the necessity of highlighting the African identity of Egypt, and warns of the risks of not doing so on the future of Egyptian politics. The same would apply to the Arab identity of the country, other experts argue.
Some resolve the entire problem by stressing that Egypt’s identity is not confined to the advent of Islam. “The talk about Egypt’s identity makes it seems like a new state, and not one that is 7,000 years old,” said Judge Mahmoud al-Khodieri. The camp to which Khodieri belongs does not, however, clarify how this approach can be reflected in the constitution.
Sonia Farid, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English Literature at Cairo University. She is a translator, editor, and political activist. Her social work focuses on political awareness and women’s rights and her writing interests include society, politics, and security in Egypt. She took part in a number of local and international conferences and published several academic papers. She can be reached at email@example.com
Created on Monday, 07 October 2013 08:46
Unknown assailants have launched a string of deadly attacks across Egypt on Monday.
A car bomb hit security headquarters in a southern Sinai town, Egyptian officials said, killing two people and injuring around 50 after, security and medical officials said.
In further violence, five Egyptian soldiers were reported killed by gunmen in the northeastern city of Ismailia.
The security sources said the gunmen opened fire on the soldiers while they were sitting in a car at a checkpoint near Ismailia on the Suez Canal, a vital global trade route, reported Reuters.
The violence continued as unknown assailants fired rocket propelled grenades at communication satellite dishes in Cairo, damaging one, security officials told Agence France-Presse.
The officials said one of the rockets left a 25 centimetre (nine inch) breach in a satellite dish used for international phone calls.
It is not yet known if the attacks are related to Sunday’s protests, in which clashes between rival factions killed 53 people.
War anniversary clashes
The day was described as one of the bloodiest days since the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi in July this year. Mursi supporters battled security forces and army supporters, mainly in Cairo, on the anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel.
State radio reported that security had regained full control of Egypt but that the clashes had left 271 people wounded, according to Reuters news agency. The Muslim Brotherhood has urged Egyptians to stage more protests against the army takeover in Tahrir Square on Friday.
The recent clashes are certain to set back efforts by Egyptian’s fragile transitional government to revive the country’s stagnant economy, particularly the vital tourism sector, and bring order to the streets of Cairo, where crime and chaos have been rife.
The scene of the fighting contrasted with a festive mood in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, where thousands waved Egyptian flags, blew whistles and touted posters of army chief General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to the tune of a military band playing.
Taking part in the festivities, Sisi and interim President Adly Mansour attended a fireworks extravaganza late on Sunday at a military-owned stadium in eastern Cairo.
The Anti-Coup Alliance, the Pro-Mursi Islamist group led by the Brotherhood has repeatedly called for protests against the military's overthrow of Mursi, but its ability to mobilize large crowds has declined as security forces have detained more than 2,000 Islamists including several top Brotherhood leaders.
Interim President Adly Mansour has also called on Egyptians to take to the streets to commemorate the day. In a televised speech on Saturday he said that authorities will “defeat much-hated terrorism and blind violence with the rule of law that will protect the freedom of citizens and resources.”
Created on Friday, 04 October 2013 06:58
Egypt’s foreign reserves fell by $206 million in September to $18.71 billion, the central bank said on Thursday.
Reserves have been under pressure since Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising, but got a boost in July when Gulf Arab states sent it $5 billion after the army removed Islamist President Mohammad
Mursi from power.
Reserves were $18.92 billion at the end of August and $15.43 billion at the end of September 2012.
Created on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 10:11
Egypt was about to implode from years of oppression and social injustice in 2010 when Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule was tightening its grip and silencing the political opposition.
Emerging from a distinguished history of diplomatic accomplishments, a top post at the U.N. nuclear agency and a Nobel Peace Prize, Mohammad ElBaradei was for many the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Bardaei from Jan. 25 was an inspiration, he was a brink of hope , he was the light at the end of our tunnel,” says Ahmed Naguib, a political activist who was at the frontline of the January 25, 2011 revolution.
ElBaradei formed the National Association for Change in 2010, committed to challenging the rule of Mubarak and his party upon his return to Cairo after resigning from the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA).
ElBaradei dared to speak when no one could.
“He was important in breaking the fear barrier and as an international figure supporting Egypt’s political upheaval and giving them legitimacy,” says Said Sadek an Egyptian political sociologist.
The Nobel Laureate who said that he would stand for presidential elections in 2011 depending on guarantees of a fair election saw his movement gather quick support from Egyptians who saw in him a future civilian leader for the country.
Nevertheless, people saw him as an outsider who lived his whole life abroad. He was even deemed responsible for the U.S. invasion of Iraq while he was heading the IAEA.
With a smear campaign launched at him, claiming he drinks alcohol and images of his daughter in a swimsuit being spread by the country’s press, ElBaradei was also called an atheist. All this amounted to a general idea which spread like wildfire across the country: ElBaradei was unfit to rule a conservative country like Egypt.
The catalyst for change
But the death of Khaled Said in 2010 at the hands of police brutality paired with an uprising in Tunisia that led to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s escape from power, Egypt was ready for change.
After an 18-day uprising on January 25, 2011 in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which saw the end of Mubarak’s dictatorship, ElBaradei was seen as an inspiration for this change.
“He broke the culture of fear during Mubarak’s era. When no one could stand up to Mubarak, ElBaradei stood up to him. On January 28, 2011, he was in the streets in the middle of protests and tear gas was thrown at him,” says Sadek.
As the leaderless January 25 revolution ousted Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took charge of the transitional phase, the political figure lost face again, falling victim again to criticism. This time it was over his stuttering political stances and speculation over his “hidden foreign agenda.”
Famous for his posts on Twitter, activists started to blame him for his lack of action and for being too hesitant about political leadership.
“We had high hopes for him to lead, from 2011 until now, there were so many missed opportunities,” says Naguib.
Despite the fact ElBaradei formed the Dostour (Constitution) Party in April 2012, a month before presidential elections, Muslim Brotherhood members and Islamists had already won the upper hand in the parliamentary elections.
Naguib said that ElBaradei disappointed Egypt’s revolutionaries when he also refused to run for presidential elections.
“We wouldn’t be here if he had run for presidency so he truly failed us many many times, he is a decent man but he is a reluctant, hesitant person who cannot be a leader.”
ElBaradei became a vocal opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohammad Mursi and saw Egypt as a failed state, even worse than under Mubarak’s rule.
Ahead of June 30 protests staged to demand for Mursi’s resignation, as the head of the opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), he urged Egyptians to take part in the nationwide demonstrations sparked by a grassroots rebel movement named “Tamarod.”
“We gave him [Mursi] the license to drive; he doesn't know how to drive. The country is decaying and is falling, this is not Egypt and this is not the revolution,” ElBaradei said at the time.
When the military ousted Mursi from power last July, ElBaradei was appointed as vice president of the interim government.
His role did not last for long as he resigned in August, following a violent crackdown on pro-Mursi supporters that led to deadly clashes.
In his resignation letter to interim President Adly Mansour, ElBaradei said that “there were more peaceful ways” to solve the country’s crisis and that he could not “bear the responsibility of one drop of blood.”
His resignation confirmed doubts that he couldn’t lead the country and that his time was over.
Sadek says that ElBaradei was a source of ideas and inspirations but is now “no longer needed” in the next phase of Egypt’s revolution now being led by Tamarod and Army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“When his role as a catalyst faded and he became a vice president in a government facing terrorism it didn’t suit him of course. If you accept to be part of any government in the world you have to assume that there will be violence at some point,” Sadek adds.
Upon resigning in August, ElBaradei faced a barrage of condemnations by activists who accused him of giving up on Egypt.
“He does not have enough courage to lead, it takes a lot of bravery to lead. He somehow has always been running away,” says Naguib.
“A facist campaign”
ElBaradei has since been absent from the spotlight and is back in Vienna, limiting his presence to a few tweets. But his fall from political leadership was also paired with falling prey to campaigns and court orders against him.
The former vice president is now being accused of working from abroad in collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize Egypt's transition.
He also faces trial for the betrayal of trust over his decision to resign last August.
ElBaradei said on Monday the accusations were “a facist campaign” against him, according to the Associated Press.
“Violence begets violence,” he tweeted.
Despite disagreeing with him and jokingly musing that his Internet connection must not be working properly due to his recent lack of tweeting, Egyptians may still value ElBaradei’s contribution to the the country’s rough road to democracy.
Rasha Abdulla, an Associate Professor and the former Chair the Journalism and Mass Communication department at the American University in Cairo, says that there is no question about ElBaradei's vision and ethical standards despite her disagreements with some of his decisions.
“I still think he should come back to Egypt, and work with the youth who trust him and whom he trusts,” the professor told Al Arabiya News.
“This is no time to be out of the country, we need everyone's efforts.”
Created on Monday, 30 September 2013 17:55
There’s an age-old joke in the Arab world which overtly suggests that Sudan is the slowest country in the region to catch on to hot trends.
While such anecdotes may make good joke material, the idea could now be haunting Sudan’s leaders as they face up to a wave of mass protests against their rule, with scenes similar to those seen two years ago when the Arab Spring swept the region.
For Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya the Arab Spring has been and gone, but not without leaving behind a legacy.
Events in the countries sparked a fiery regional shift, the repercussions of which have already been put into question.
It has been a turbulent past two years, giving international observers the opportunity to create a raft of seasonal terms to describe what followed: a Summer of Protest, an Anti-American Autumn and an Islamist Winter.
Now, as Sudanese protesters begin their battle with the government, many are wondering whether Sudan has finally caught the regional fever.
“The protests reflect the same sentiments as the Arab Spring uprisings,” said Alex de Waal, a British writer and author on Sudanese affairs.
“The Sudanese government is divided and is mishandling the situation. The fuel price rises were only the spark for expressions of a deeper discontent,” Waal told Al Arabiya News.
Bashir, the ‘killer’
Over the past week, thousands of protesters have relentlessly poured out onto Khartoum’s streets, as police continued to fire teargas to break up crowds spiritedly chanting “freedom, freedom” and branding Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir a “killer” after protests turned deadly.
Authorities say that 33 people have died in the protests so far, while activists and international human rights groups put the death toll at 50, according to Agence France-Presse.
The body count makes the protests the deadliest since Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s regime took power over two decades ago.
The protests began when the oil-producing country scrapped its fuel subsidies, but quickly morphed into expressions of anti-government sentiment.
Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told AFP on Sunday that ditching fuel subsidies was “the only way out” and would save the country billions of dollars, although he admitted that scrapping the subsidy was “a bit heavy for the people.”
No more fear
On Friday, more than 5,000 people demonstrated in the capital, Khartoum, the biggest protest turnout in central Sudan for many years.
On the same day, Sudan’s government ordered the closure of Al Arabiya TV’s Khartoum office, just hours before summoning the channel’s correspondent for questioning.
“I do believe this is Sudan’s ‘Arab Spring’ – delayed only until anger finally overcame fear, as it now has clearly done,” Eric Reeves, a researcher and analyst of Sudanese political affairs, told Al Arabiya News.
More than two dozen officials from the ruling National Congress Party urged Bashir on Saturday to reinstate fuel subsidies and to stop killing protestors, according to the Sudan Tribune.
“The crisis is deeper than a matter of just raising the prices of these various oil and gas-related products,” says Osman Bakhach, a spokesman for Sudan’s Hizb ut-Tahrir opposition movement.
“At Hizbut ut-Tahrir, we oppose this government. Bashir is responsible for the failed measures and policies his government has implemented,” Bakhach told Al Arabiya News.
“We call for this whole regime to be brought down. Potentially, this unrest could grow into another Arab Spring. But at the same time, we notice that the so-called opposition parties have failed to fully support and stand by the popular protest,” he adds.
Since fuel subsidies were lifted, prices of gasoline and diesel have increased by almost 100 percent.
“This is what prompted many in the regime to call for a restoration of the subsidies. but this only compounds the problem,” said Reeves, citing high inflation which he estimates was over 50 percent before the subsidies were lifted.
“Now, money will have to be printed to cover the enormous budget cap and accelerating inflation, which may turn into economy-destroying ‘hyper-inflation,’” added the expert.
Meanwhile, the loss of oil revenue has led to a critical lack of foreign currency reserves, he said.
“Sudan can no longer finance its imports, since no one wants to be paid in Sudanese Pounds, which have lost a tremendous amount of their value in a very short time,” said Reeves.
“Also, the failure to attend to the desperate need of agriculture, over many years, has obliged the regime to import large quantities of food, especially wheat. And over this all looms the $42 billion in external debt, which can neither be serviced nor repaid,” he added.
‘No place to hide’
In addition to Sudan’s dismal economic indicators, there is also the issue of reports that government officials fled the country as the unrest began.
The news is reminiscent of events in Tunisia and Egypt, where top officials left at the first signs that security forces were no longer able to control the angry masses.
“I have received repeated reports of senior regime officials and their families moving out of Sudan. Dubai and Germany are two destinations I’ve noted in the accounts,” says Reeves, amid media speculation that Foreign Minister Ali Karti sent his family to Dubai several days ago.
For Bashir’s regime, “there is no place to hide” if the uprising lingers, says Reeves, adding that officials are attempting to use censorship, propaganda, and the unconstrained use of force to face the backlash.
But for some Sudanese observers, the protests aren’t entirely reminiscent of a fully-fledged Arab Spring-style revolt.
“It may not be accurate to say that what’s happening in Sudan is an emulation of an Arab Spring uprising,” said Sudanese political analyst Mahmoud Tamim.
“In modern history, the Sudanese people have twice risen against military rulers – in 1964 and 1985. They were two regimes that won power through a coup against legitimate and elected authorities,” added Tamim.
“The current leadership has been rejected since its early days in power, while the Sudanese opposition has not been effective enough to empower the people to oppose the leadership. This is what has made Bashir’s government stick around for so long,” said the analyst.
Another advantage for Bashir could be that there has not yet been a clear response to the protests from the international community.
“Various Western governments as well as the United Nations, the African Union and the Arab League are showing no real sympathy for the cause of those demonstrating; nothing that might cause the regime to reconsider its policies,” says Reeves.
Still, those wishing for the protests to evolve in a government-changing uprising have spotted several obvious factors similar to those that sparked the Arab Spring, according to Tamim.
“The people are protesting against the deterioration of living conditions, the economic environment, and the leadership’s power grab as well as the repression of the opposition,” he says.
What happens next?
While the protester’s demands have now been made clear, what happens next is still up for speculation, with fears that the deadly violence may swell.
“We have to wait a week or about 10 days to judge exactly where the Sudan protests are heading,” said Khalid Ewais, a Dubai-based Sudanese journalist.
“Will this be a short uprising that the Sudanese government will be able to crush? Or will it be a third Sudanese revolution? We can’t figure that out yet.
“Either way, it’s clear that there is popular support to rid of the country of the dictatorship led by Bashir,” Ewais added.
Created on Sunday, 29 September 2013 07:41
Egypt has received $7 billion out of the $12 billion pledged by Gulf countries, its central bank governor said on Sunday, adding he expected further support from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Of the $7 billion currently received, $3 billion was from the UAE, with a further $2 billion each from Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, Hisham Ramez told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of Arab central bankers in Abu Dhabi.
Egypt returned $2 billion of financial support from Qatar earlier this month after talks to convert the funds into three-year bonds broke down, a move interpreted as a sign of growing tensions between the two countries in the wake of the removal of Mohamed Mursi from the presidency in July.
“The decision was not politically driven. It was a technical decision by the central bank,” Ramez added.
Created on Saturday, 28 September 2013 19:30
An Egyptian soldier was shot dead in the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, security officials said, and militants released a video showing attacks against the army in the region where the state is trying to stamp out al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
The soldier, a conscript, was shot while standing guard by a government building the town of Sheikh Zuweid, close to the border with the Gaza Strip, the sources said. He was hit in the stomach.
Militant Islamists have stepped up attacks on security forces in Sinai since the army deposed President Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3.
The army spokesman said on Sept. 15 that more than 100 members of the security forces had been killed in Sinai since Mursi’s downfall.
The militants expanded into a security vacuum left by the 2011 downfall of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Since Mursi was ousted, they have mounted almost daily attacks.
One of the groups, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, posted a video on a jihadist website showing what appeared to be a roadside bomb attack on one armored vehicle in Sinai. In a second attack caught on camera, a parked armored vehicle was engulfed by an explosion after a man is seen placing something beneath it.
It did not specify where or when the attacks took place.
The video also included images of the aftermath of a third attack, showing what appeared to be human remains near an army vehicle that had been hit.
Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, meaning “Supporters of Jerusalem,” claimed responsibility for a Sept. 5 suicide bomb attack in Cairo that tried to assassinate the interior minister. He survived unscathed.
The group first appeared in 2012, when it claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on a pipeline being used to export gas to Israel. Its stated aim was to mount a holy war against Israel from Egyptian territory.
But since Mursi’s downfall it has turned its attention to attacking Egyptian security forces in Sinai and has issued statements demanding they leave the territory.
Created on Wednesday, 25 September 2013 05:21
Egyptian authorities have shut down the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice newspaper in Cairo, the latest move aimed at crushing the Islamist movement, the Brotherhood said on Wednesday.
“We the journalists of the Freedom and Justice newspaper condemn the security forces for closing down the headquarters of the newspaper,” the Brotherhood said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
Police stormed the building overnight and removed the contents. A source at the Cairo Security Department said the raid followed Monday's court ruling which banned the Brotherhood and ordered its funds seized.
“A court ruling was issued to do it on charges of inciting violence and terrorism in the recent past,” a security source said, referring to the operation.
The army overthrew Mursi in July, and the Brotherhood has seen hundreds of its members killed and thousands arrested since then.
The campaign had forced many of the 50 journalists who produced the daily Freedom and Justice to work in secret to avoid arrest.
The newspaper, named after the Brotherhood's political wing, had focused on efforts to reverse what it called a military coup against an elected government.
The Brotherhood emerged from the shadows to win parliamentary and presidential elections after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011.
Many Egyptians became disillusioned with Mursi after he gave himself sweeping powers and mismanaged the economy, taking to the streets in protest and prompting the army move.
They now revere the man who toppled Mursi - army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Created on Thursday, 19 September 2013 18:03
Egypt is to shorten a night-time curfew imposed on Cairo and 13 provinces starting Saturday, the cabinet said on Thursday.
The curfew will be from midnight to 5:00am (0300 GMT), except on Fridays when it will begin at 07:00 pm (1700 GMT), according to a cabinet statement.
The curfew was imposed last month as authorities launched a massive crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
On September 12, Egypt's interim authorities extended a state of emergency in force since mid-August by another two months because of the country's continued security problems.
Egyptian troops and police on Thursday stormed the village of Kerdassah on the outskirts of Cairo to flush out militants as part of a sustained crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammad Mursi.
One police officer has been killed in the operation.
Created on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 15:56
An Egyptian court on Tuesday ordered the freezing of the assets of senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as part of a crackdown on Islamists by the army-backed authorities, a judicial source said.
Among those facing sanctions are Brotherhood general guide Mohammad Badie, his two deputies Khairat al-Shater and Rashad Bayoumi, as well as Salafist leader Hazem Abu Ismail and preacher Safwat Higazy, Agence France Press reported.
Earlier last week authorities began investigating former President Mohammad Mursi’s family wealth and assets.
Egypt’s general prosecutor opened the investigation into the ousted Islamist president’s wealth, after a report was filed by the head of an anti-corruption association.
The report accuses Mursi of taking advantage of his posts and squandering $285.7 million during his election campaign.
Created on Friday, 13 September 2013 22:15
Egyptian military helicopters on Friday carried out air strikes on Islamist militant positions in Sinai, two days after suicide bombers killed six soldiers in the restive peninsula, security sources said.
Apache helicopters targeted hideouts and vehicles used by the militants near the town of Sheikh Zuwayid in northern Sinai, the sources said.
On Wednesday, two car bombs targeting the military intelligence headquarters in the town of Rafah and a nearby checkpoint killed six soldiers and the two militants who drove the vehicles.
A little known jihadist group in Sinai claimed responsibility for the attacks in the town bordering the Gaza Strip.
Jund al-Islam, or Islam’s Soldiers in English, made the claim in a statement posted on militant Islamist forums.
The group accused the Egyptian military of targeting “unarmed Muslims” in its campaign to quell an Islamist militant insurgency in north Sinai.
The military has poured troops and armour into Sinai to crush the insurgency which surged after the army overthrew Egypt’s Islamist president Mohammad Mursi on July 3.
A subsequent crackdown on Islamists left hundreds killed and more than 2,000 arrested across the country.
Created on Tuesday, 10 September 2013 23:15
Egypt’s urban consumer price inflation fell slightly in August, official figures showed on Tuesday, a slowdown attributed partly to a curfew to curb violence sparked by political turmoil, and to a strengthening in the national currency.
The state CAPMAS statistics agency said inflation fell in August to an annual 9.7 percent from 10.3 percent in July.
Egyptian inflation has been driven higher this year by a weakening of the Egyptian pound, though the currency has steadily appreciated against the dollar since the army deposed President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.
“The slowdown is attributable to lower consumption activity as a result of the end of Ramadan and curfew hours imposed by mid-month,” Beltone Research said. Consumption spikes during festivities that mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
“An improved domestic currency has also contributed to a cheaper import bill, which feeds into the CPI (consumer price index),” it said. Lower international food prices had contributed to lower food inflation, it added.
The authorities imposed a nightly curfew on Aug. 14 after countrywide violence ignited by the dispersal of Mursi supporters protesting at two Cairo sit-ins. This touched off the bloodiest spasm of bloodshed in Egypt’s modern history: hundreds of Mursi backers and more than 100 members of the security forces were killed.
The curfew now starts at 11 p.m.
Egypt’s annual consumer price inflation stood at 4.7 percent last December, before the central bank allowed the pound to fall against the dollar to stave off a currency crisis.
The pound has strengthened since the army overthrew Mursi - a move that was met by $12 billion in financial assistance from Gulf states hostile to his Muslim Brotherhood - and laid out a political transition plan envisioning new elections.
At official rates, the pound hit a historic low of 7 to the dollar, but has now strengthened to 6.89.
Created on Sunday, 08 September 2013 20:46
An al-Qaeda-linked group based in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt that targeted the country’s interior minister last week, a statement on militant Islamist forums said.
“God has allowed your brothers in Ansar Beit al-Maqdis [the Sinai-based group] to shatter the security organization of the murderer Mohammed Ibrahim through a martyrdom operation,” the group said in the online statement carried by AFP.
A car bomb ripped through the interior minister’s convoy as he was leaving home for work on Thursday, killing one person.
Ibrahim, who was travelling in an armored car, survived the attempt unhurt.
The militant group apologized in the statement “for not killing the tyrant,” pledging more attacks against Ibrahim and military commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Created on Sunday, 08 September 2013 20:13
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood general guide Mohammad Badie will stand trial in a second case regarding clashes in which several demonstrators were killed, judicial sources told AFP.
Several top figures in the Brotherhood, the group from which ousted President Mohammad Mursi hails, will stand trial along with Badie at a date that is yet to be decided, the sources added.
They are to be prosecuted in connection with the deaths of seven people on July 16 on the sidelines of a demonstration in Cairo calling for Mursi’s reinstatement, reported AFP.
The 14 people to be tried include senior Brotherhood members Mohammad al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian, deputy head of its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, firebrand preacher Safwat Hegazy and Mursi’s Supplies Minister Bassem Ouda.
Badie’s first trial, on allegations of having incited the murder of anti-Mursi protesters, is due to resume on October 29, reported AFP.
Along with Badie’s two deputies, both of who are also in jail, he is also accused of involvement in the deaths of protesters who stormed and torched the Brotherhood headquarters on June 30, as millions took to the streets demanding Mursi’s ouster.
Since the overthrow of Mursi by the army on July 3, more than 2,000 members of the Brotherhood have been arrested.
The military-backed interim government also launched a crackdown on pro-Mursi protest camps in August, at least 1,000 people were killed in the clashes.
Created on Saturday, 07 September 2013 03:09
An Egyptian policeman was shot dead and another wounded on Wednesday at a checkpoint in the southern town of Aswan, the Interior Ministry said, in what appeared to be a revenge killing.
The attack was carried out by relatives of a man killed earlier in an exchange of fire with police at the checkpoint.
The man had tried to avoid the police by reversing at speed away from the checkpoint, an Interior Ministry statement said.
Aswan is around 900 km (560 miles) south of Cairo on the River Nile.
Created on Friday, 06 September 2013 06:05
An Egyptian doctor once close to Osama bin Laden is bringing together multiple al-Qaeda-inspired militant groups in Egypt’s Sinai to fight the country’s military, as the lawless peninsula emerges as a new theater for jihad, according to Egyptian intelligence and security officials.
There have been other signs of a dangerous shift in the longtime turmoil in the peninsula bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip since the military’s July 3 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, the officials say.
With the shifts, Sinai’s instability is becoming more regionalized and threatens to turn into an outright insurgency.
Sinai has seen an influx of foreign fighters over the past two months, including several hundred Yemenis.
Several militant groups that long operated in the area to establish an Islamic Caliphate and attack their traditional enemy Israel have joined others in declaring formally that their objective now is to battle Egypt’s military.
Also, Sinai has become the focus of attention among major regional jihadi groups.
A leader of al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, last weekend called on Egyptians to fight the military, as did al-Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri.
The militant considered the most dangerous man in the Sahara - one-eyed terror leader Moktar Belmoktar, a former member of al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch - joined forces with a Mali-based jihadi group last month and vowed attacks in Egypt.
Topping the most wanted list in Sinai is Ramzi Mawafi, a doctor who joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Mawafi, 61, escaped from an Egyptian prison in 2011 in a massive jailbreak that also sprung free Mursi and more than a dozen Muslim Brotherhood members during the chaos of the uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Mawafi is now believed to be in Sinai coordinating among militant groups and helping arrange money and weapons, security officials told The Associated Press.
The four officials were from military intelligence, the military and the security forces and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Sinai’s disparate militant groups are now “on the same page, in full cooperation in the face of the same threat,” Gen. Sherif Ismail, a recently retired security adviser to the governor of Northern Sinai, told the AP.
He said the groups are inspired by al-Qaeda, but not necessarily linked to the mother group.
Mursi’s fall opened the way for an escalation by Sinai’s jihadis.
Most militants had seen Mursi as too willing to compromise in bringing rule by Islamic Shariah law in Egypt.
But his removal by the military, backed by liberals, was seen as an attack on Islam.
More importantly, it ended the policy Mursi pursued during his year in office of negotiating with Sinai armed groups, restraining security operations against them in return for a halt in attacks on the military.
Now, the military has stepped up operations.
On Tuesday, helicopter gunships struck suspected militant hideouts in several villages near the borders with Israel and Gaza, killing at least eight and wounding 15, the state news agency MENA announced.
Since Mursi’s ouster, more than 70 police and soldiers have been killed by militants in a cycle of attack and counterattack that has seen jihadis turn to more brutal tactics.
In the worst single attack, gunmen pulled police recruits from buses, lay them on the ground and shot 25 of them to death on Aug. 19.
Days later, a group of militants was killed before carrying out a suicide car bombing in a significant escalation.
Over the same period, security forces have killed 87 militants, including 32 foreigners, and arrested 250 others, including 80 foreigners, according to the army spokesman’s office.
Hit-and-run attacks take place nearly daily in northern Sinai, targeting security forces in the provincial capital of el-Arish and towns dotting the coast and the borders with Gaza and Israel.
Two militants - a Yemeni and a Palestinian - who were recently arrested in Sinai provided information about Mawafi’s role while under questioning, the security officials said.
Recently, Nabeel Naeem, a founder of the Islamic Jihad militant group who has known Mawafi since Afghanistan - said on an Egyptian TV station that Mawafi “is leading the militants in Sinai.”
Mawafi specialized in bomb-making during his years in Afghanistan, the officials said. He also supervised clinics that treated wounded Islamic fighters, earning him the nickname “bin Laden’s doctor” - though Naeem said he never treated the late al-Qaida leader himself.
An Egyptian court in June last year accused Mawafi, along with Mursi and other Muslim Brotherhood members of conspiring with Hamas and Hezbollah to orchestrate the 2011 break from Wadi Natroun prison.
The court described Mawafi as “the secretary general of al-Qaeda in Sinai.”
The number of jihadi groups operating in Sinai’s rugged, mountainous deserts has mushroomed over recent years, believed to have thousands of fighters.
Some are mainly Egyptian, such as Ansar Jerusalem - thought to include Egyptians from outside Sinai - and the Shura Council of Mujahedeen of Environs of Jerusalem - which is mostly Sinai locals - and the Salafi Jihadi group.
Among Sinai’s population, there has been a growing movement of “Takfiris,” who reject as heretical anyone who does not adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam.
While not all Takfiris are involved in armed action, their ideology makes them an easy pool for armed groups to draw from.
Other groups are based in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, such as the Islam Army and Jaljalat, which are believed to send fighters into Sinai.
Some groups were oriented toward fighting Israel, occasionally firing rockets across the border.
Others attacked Egyptian security forces, usually in retaliation for arrests or out of the deep-seeded resentment of the police among Sinai’s population.
In the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall in 2011, a group attacked police stations and drove security forces out of the border towns, declaring the area an Islamic Caliphate.
Many of them were later tried and sentenced to death.
Now multiple groups are overtly calling for “jihad” against Egypt’s military.
Several hundred Yemeni fighters came in after Mursi’s ouster in response to religious edicts by clerics back home urging them to fight jihad in Egypt, according to a Yemeni security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
Al-Qaeda in Yemen, known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered the most active branch of the terror network.
The Egyptian officials say fighters have also come from Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria.
The military intelligence official said commanders of jihadi groups are joining ranks with prominent Sinai-based militants who belong to major tribes to ensure protection and facilitate weapons smuggling.
One of the most influential tribes, the Swarkas, has split between anti- and pro-government families.
An Egyptian military official in el-Arish said jihadis run at least nine main training camps in Sinai, hidden in villages controlled by allied tribes or in mountainous regions.
Ismail el-Iskandarani, a researcher at the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic rights who writes extensively about Sinai, says it’s hard to pin down the number of militants or camps because local jihadis hide in homes among their own families after carrying out hit-and-run attacks.
“Even their relatives might not know they are involved in Islamic militancy,” he said.
He said there is also no single leader, with small cells of differing ideologies.
The situation is further complicated by the overlap of militants and criminal networks involved in smuggling, sometimes with the involvement of corrupt police officials.
“Different security agencies are meddling in making it hard to tell who is doing what,” he said.
Now international terror groups are adding their calls for jihad in the wake of the coup.
In an Aug. 3 statement, al-Zawahri mocked Morsi’s participation in the democratic process, calling democracy “an idol made of date paste” created by secularists.
The al-Qaeda leader called upon “the soldiers of the Quran to wage the war for the Quran.”
From North Africa, the militant leader Belmoktar and a Mali jihadi group announced last month that they aim to form a jihadi front from the River Nile to North Africa’s Atlantic coast.
So far, Egypt’s military has not launched a major offensive against armed groups in Sinai.
El-Iskandarani believes the generals are wary of a sparking a wider confrontation with disgruntled Bedouin tribes.
Also, Sinai jihadis have powerful new arsenals of heavy anti-aircraft guns, rockets and other weapons smuggled from Libya.
“The price will be very heavy,” el-Iskandarani said.
Created on Friday, 06 September 2013 05:14
Egypt military helicopters killed 8 militants and wounded 15 others in intensive air strikes in the Sinai Peninsula, said security forces.
The strikes hit four Islamist positions south of Rafah and targeted militants using the Rafah area as a hideout.
The operation began at around 9:00 AM (0700 GMT). At least four helicopters were used dropping around 15 bombs on several houses where militants had been hiding south of Rafah border. Security forces said the rockets targetted weapons depots.
Egyptian security forces have announced the arrest of two members of the Mujahideen Shura Council on Tuesday, a group closely linked to Al-Qaeda.
Ever since Islamist president Mohammad Morsi was ousted on July 3, this restive region has turned into a battlefield for clashes between militants and security forces.
Militants have launched frequent attacks on police and armed forces in Sinai, most notably on August 19 on which they killed 25 Egyptian police who were heading towards the town of Rafah.
Created on Monday, 02 September 2013 11:32
Inspired by Egypt’s “Tamarod” (rebellion) campaign, a Tunisian petition has so far collected around 1.7 million signatures in a move to oust the current Islamist government, the group’s founder said in an interview with the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published on Monday.
The founder Mohamed Bennour said the group is determined to bring down the current government, regardless of any attempts for national dialogue between the opposition and the governing authorities.
Bennour also accused the governing coalition of continuously attacking the movement and sparking conflicts between its members.
In the interview, Bennour said that “Tamarod” was the “first to light the spark of a rebellion” against the current government by demanding the dissolution of parliament.
The movement was launched in June, spearheading demands for a new constitution that would represent all Tunisians.
Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly has failed to adopt a new constitution nearly two years after it was elected, due to a lack of consensus among MPs, and has also been repeatedly criticized for its inefficiency and the non-attendance of members.
Tunisia’s “Tamarod” was inspired by Egypt’s version of the grassroots movements which was founded in April and collected more than 22 million votes against the currently ousted Islamist government in Egypt by June 29, 2013.
Egypt's movement mobilized thousands and paved the way for the military overthrow of former President Mohammad Mursi.
They are believed to have ignited the Egyptian protests , which preceded the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état.
Created on Monday, 02 September 2013 11:01
Egyptian Islamists backing ousted President Mohamed Mursi have called for demonstrations across the country on Tuesday, two months since he was toppled by the military.
The call comes a day after Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour announced a panel to draw up a revised constitution but without the inclusion of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood which rejected to take part.
In a statement issued early on Monday, the Anti-Coup Alliance which is led by the Brotherhood said Tuesday's demonstrations would be held under the slogan: “The coup is terrorism,” to mark Mursi's July 3 ouster.
The alliance “calls for active participation in these demonstrations and other activities aimed at achieving the return of Mursi,” the statement said.
On Friday, the alliance organized protests in support of the deposed president but mustered far fewer participants than expected.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the main group organizing the protests, has lost its ability to mobilize supporters in large numbers because of sweeping arrests which have netted its top leaders among at least 2,000 Islamists detained since August 14.
On Monday, the Anti-Coup Alliance also said its members in Europe are documenting evidence against those who removed Mursi.
“The free Egyptians in Europe are documenting the crimes of coup leaders so they can be presented in the International Court of Justice,” the group said.
Mursi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, served for only a year before the military ousted him in the popularly backed coup.
On Sunday, Mansour announced a 50-member panel to draw up a revised constitution.
But the Brotherhood has declined to take part, and reflecting the deep divisions plaguing Egypt, state television announced later on Sunday that Mursi is to stand trial in a criminal court for “incitement to murder”, along with 14 other members of the Islamist movement.
The constitutional panel has 60 days to submit a final version of the revised charter to the interim president, who in turn has 30 days to announce the date of a referendum.
Created on Thursday, 22 August 2013 17:53
A firebrand Egyptian cleric and television preacher has denounced the Muslim Brotherhood after his arrest on Wednesday near the Libyan border.
Safwat el-Hegazy told investigators that he was not part of the Muslim Brotherhood and that if he could go back in time he would have never supported them, a security source said.
“It’s not because they are terrorists and encourage blood shedding, but it is because they don’t work well and cannot do anything right,” Hegazy was quoted as saying.
Hegazy who is wanted over charges of instigating violence was captured early Wednesday at a checkpoint near the Siwa Oasis, near Libya. He reportedly tried to flee the country across the Libyan border.
The cleric also denied that he approved of ousted- President Mursi’s actions and added that he was neither for nor against his removal or trial.
Hegazy also said in his statements that he has always called for pacifism and had no idea of the Brotherhood’s violent plans.
He also told investigators that he wasn’t aware of the presence of weapons in Rabaa al-Adawiya square, where Islamist supporters of deposed President Mohammad Mursi held a sit-in.
“I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah, I swear by Allah that if I knew there was even one plastic knife in Rabaa, I would have left the square immediately,” he said according to the security source.
Hegazi threatened on August 6 to “break the necks of former regime figures and symbols of the National Salvation Front” if ousted President Mohammad Mursi is hurt, reported Al Arabiya.
He was previously reported to have set up an armed militia comprising hardline members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The militia was allegedly referred to as Egypt’s Free Army and was equipped with military uniform and fire arms, according Egyptian media reports.
Created on Thursday, 22 August 2013 17:31
A spokesperson for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Arif, was arrested in an apartment in a Cairo district early Thursday in the escalating crackdown by authorities on the Islamist movement in which hundreds have also been arrested, Al Arabiya’s correspondent reported.
Arif was arrested after the security forces obtained information of him hiding in an apartment belonging to his father-in-law on al-Batrawi Street in Nasr City.
Details on how the information was obtained, however, were not disclosed.
Interior Minister Lieutenant Mohammed Ibrahim, said the speedy arrest of Arif was in accordance with the required legal measures needed, and that the general prosecutors were told to immediately investigate the spokesperson’s involvement in what authorities say is the Muslim Brotherhood’s inciting of violence against protesters.
On Tuesday, the movement’s general guide, Mohammed Badie, was arrested.
Badie, 70, together with his two deputies are due to stand trial on August 25 after they were charged with inciting murder.
Created on Thursday, 22 August 2013 10:27
Egypt’s Brotherhood- linked cleric Safwat el-Hegazy had his “beard shaved and hair dyed as a disguise,” when he was arrested this week, according to a local media report. This has prompted analysts to believe that Islamists are adopting a fatwa (religious edict) legalizing the shaving of one’s beard to avoid standing out as Mursi supporters during demonstrations.
It seems el-Hegazy adopted the fatwa set by Dr. Mouahmmad Abdulmaksoud, a hardliner cleric, who legalized shaving one’s beard “in order to bluff the army and the police and arrive safely at pro-Mursi demonstrations.”
Sporting a beard is seen as a marker of Muslim identity for some male followers of Islam and some clerics see the act of beard shaving as unacceptable.
Sheikh Abu Ishaak al-Huwainy, a member of the cleric’s advisory council, was quoted condemning the act by his son who relayed the statement on a social media website.
“It is wrong to shave the beard and it shouldn’t be done as this is breaking a rule set by the prophet, and this will pave the way to considering wearing a beard as a ground for accusation, and will expose bearded men to [more] pressure.”
The debate over beard shaving was raised in October 2012 when dozens of Egyptian policemen, who had been suspended from work in February for growing long beards, protested outside the Interior Ministry and called on the now-ousted President Mohammed Mursi to secure their reinstatement.
The policemen sought to challenge the de-facto rule that stopped members of the security forces from growing beards under President Hosni Mubarak.
In January, a fatwa was issued by Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa that growing a beard, or shaving it off, are both unrelated to Sharia (Islamic law).
The fatwa quotes the late prominent Egyptian religious scholar and Islamic theologian Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout as saying everything relating to clothing and physical appearance, including beards and shaving, “is a habit that should be adopted according to one’s living environment.”
Created on Wednesday, 21 August 2013 09:20
An Emirati journalist offered to give one million Egyptian pounds ($143,000) for anyone who leads Egyptian security forces to arrest three senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
Hamad al-Mazroui made his offer in a Twitter post, saying he would offer the money to whoever discloses the whereabouts of fugitive Brotherhood leaders Mohammad el-Beltagy, Essam el-Erian and Safwat Hegazy.
He said the prize is available to all Egyptians “regardless of their religion or race.”
Mazroui previously made a phone call to an Egyptian television talk show and announced granting the Egyptian people a similar amount to congratulate them for ousting Mohammad Mursi from power.
During the phone call he also unveiled other grants made by several UAE journalists and writers.
The UAE government has recently deposited $3 billion in Egypt’s Central Bank. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE together pledged $12 billion to help the Arab world’s biggest country overcome its economic crisis following the Mursi’s ouster.
Created on Tuesday, 20 August 2013 09:43
Gas-rich Qatar has dispatched a second shipment of free liquefied gas it had pledged to Egypt, a report said, despite Doha’s criticism of Cairo’s deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
The tanker left “to brotherly Egypt on August 9,” QNA state news agency said in a report late on Monday.
The shipments aim to ease the shortage of energy resources in Egypt during the summer, QNA cited an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
“Concerned parties are finalizing measures to provide the remaining shipments promised as a gift to the brotherly Egyptian people,” the official said.
Qatar in June pledged five shipments of liquefied natural gas as a grant to Egypt, as the Gulf state led donors to the North African nation before the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
Qatar stood out among other Gulf nations in condemning Egypt’s deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters, after the army deposed Mursi on July 3.
But Qatar’s foreign minister Khaled al-Attiyah said on Sunday that his country had never given aid to the Muslim Brotherhood and that its assistance was always pledged to Egypt as a whole.
“Qatar has never given aid to an Egyptian group or an Egyptian political party. The aid has always been provided to Egypt,” he told journalists in Paris after meeting French counterpart Laurent Fabius.
Qatar has pledged an aid package of $5 billion to Egypt, comprising $4bn in bank deposits and a grant of $1bn.
Created on Tuesday, 20 August 2013 07:33
Egypt’s media, both public and private, have lined up behind the government in portraying its fight against the Muslim Brotherhood as a “war on terror” and vilifying foreign journalists.
As police and troops chase down members of the Islamist group, from which ousted president Mohamed Mursi hails, the media have taken part in a “campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents,” political commentator Hisham Kassem told AFP.
“In one year of Mursi’s presidency, more journalists were prosecuted than in the 185 years of the Egyptian press before,” he said.
“Now, the media are exploiting the situation the Brotherhood is in to pay them back.”
For days, Egypt’s three state television channels have broadcast under a banner in English reading “Egypt fighting terrorism.”
They report around the clock on the latest clashes between Mursi supporters and security forces that have claimed nearly 900 lives since Wednesday.
Between broadcasts, patriotic songs play over footage of the armed forces carrying out military exercises and showing kindness to civilians.
A piece entitled “The Black History of the Brotherhood Organization” purports to show the group’s violent history.
It includes archive footage of Brotherhood members, as well as the attempted murder of President Gamal Abdul Nasser and the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by Islamists.
It ends with clips from recent clashes, showing gunmen purportedly belonging to the group, and buildings set ablaze.
The country’s newspapers have been equally uniform in their criticism of the group and in rallying behind the government and the army chief who installed it, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Government daily Al-Ahram on Monday devoted its entire front page -- and nine separate headlines -- to a speech by Sisi a day earlier.
Abdel Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of the independent Sawt al-Ummah daily, sees the media’s united front as a normal response to the country’s “national battle.”
A fierce critic of Islamists, he accuses the Western media of swinging between two extremes: hatred for Islam and love of the Brotherhood.
“This is what has created serious anger and suspicion on the part of Egyptians” towards foreign media, he said.
Since Mursi’s July 3 ouster by the military after mass demonstrations, the foreign media have come under attack from the government and the population, particularly in Cairo.
Authorities accuse Western journalists of ignoring the victims of violence committed by Mursi’s supporters, such as police and soldiers.
Simply walking in the street with a camera has become increasingly dangerous, said one Western photographer on condition of anonymity.
"I’m afraid to go into the street with my cameras since the government authorized security forces to open fire” on demonstrators targeting government buildings, he said.
“Today, I managed to take a few pictures from the car. I got out for 45 seconds to take some others,” added the photographer, who has been in Egypt for 18 months.
“By publishing statements accusing the Western media of being biased, the government is inciting public hatred against us,” he said.
“Two photographer friends of mine were beaten up a few days ago by a group of young guys when they were taking photos inside a government building.
“They dragged them out of the building shouting ‘They are spies!’ before beating them up.”
In front of a morgue in Cairo on Monday, a group surrounded two journalists from an international news agency as they tried to interview relatives of the dead.
“A group surrounded me, trying to rip the camera out of my hands,” one of them told AFP, saying he escaped with the help of some relatives, sprinting through side streets until he outran the mob.
Three journalists have been killed in Cairo since Wednesday, when security forces cleared two pro-Mursi protest camps, including a cameraman for Britain’s Sky News.
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 19:03
Ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi has been accused of complicity in the death of protesters, AFP reported on Monday quoting judicial sources.
State news agency MENA had reported that the public prosecutor ordered the detention of the deposed president for15 days pending an investigation into allegations he participated in “violent acts.”
On Thursday, Egyptian judicial authorities extended Mursi’s detention period for 30 days in a separate case.
Mursi, who was overthrown by the army on July 3, is being held at an undisclosed location on allegations of murder and spying. The new case centers on protests that took place in front of the presidential palace last December, MENA said.
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 18:29
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior released a video on Monday claiming to show Muslim Brotherhood “snipers” firing on security forces last week while a protester camp in Cairo was being dispersed.
The video shows aerial shots seemingly taken from a helicopter, and other shots that appear to be filmed from a high-rise building.
A conversation can be heard by two members of the security forces speaking on a two-way radio.
“He’s still shooting from above,” one of them says, as shots are heard coming out from a tower block in view.
“They’re shooting from the roof and the floor just below the roof,” he shouted.
The video shows what appear to be petrol bombs being thrown from the building.
Security forces on Wednesday forcibly dispersed thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohammad Mursi from two sit-ins in Cairo.
Egypt’s Health Ministry said on Thursday that 623 people were killed and thousands wounded, in what has been described by commentators as the worst day of civil violence in the country’s modern history.
The Brotherhood said 2,200 were killed.
The military had vowed to clear the protests outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque and Nahda Square, saying they were not peaceful and represented a threat to stability.
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 18:11
Members of Congress are split over whether the U.S. should cut off military aid to Egypt, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration amid spiraling violence on the streets of an important Middle East ally.
Democratic leaders have generally supported the president’s approach. But on Sunday, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
“I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before,” Ellison said. “In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.”
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said funding for Egypt remains under review.
“As we’ve made clear, all of our assistance to Egypt is currently under review, and we will consider additional steps as we deem necessary,” Hayden said. “At this point, no additional decisions have been made regarding assistance. That review process is ongoing.”
Among Republicans, there were growing calls to eliminate military aid to Egypt. But others were more hesitant.
Congressman Pete King said curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt’s interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.
“We certainly shouldn’t cut off all aid,” said King, who chairs the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.
King said there are no good choices in Egypt. Ousted President Mohammad Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.
“The fact is, there’s no good guys there,” King said. “But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military.”
The split among members of the same political party illustrates the uncertainty facing President Barack Obama as he tries to navigate volatile developments in Egypt, where crackdowns last week left more than 600 people dead and thousands more injured.
Obama has denounced the violence, canceled joint military exercises scheduled for September and delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets. But the White House has refused to declare Mursi’s removal a coup - a step that would require Obama to suspend $1.3 billion in annual military aid. The president insists that the U.S. stands with Egyptians seeking a democratic government. But he says America cannot determine Egypt’s future.
Sen. John McCain renewed his call Sunday to stop aid as the Egyptian military continues to crack down on protesters seeking Mursi’s return.
“For us to sit by and watch this happen is a violation of everything that we stood for,” said the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We’re not sticking with our values.”
The military ousted Mursi July 3 after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand he step down, accusing him of giving the Brotherhood undue influence and failing to implement vital reforms or bolster the ailing economy.
But Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel said he supports the president’s approach.
“These are very, very difficult choices,” said Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I’m very unhappy, obviously, with the crackdown. But we essentially have two choices in Egypt. And that’s a military government, which hopefully will transition as quickly as possible to civilian government, or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is a choice.”
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed said Congress should give the president flexibility in dealing with Egypt.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul said U.S. aid to Egypt was more likely to “buy a chateau in Paris” for an Egyptian military leader than “bread in Cairo” for the poor.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker had resisted calls to cut off aid. But on Sunday, he switched positions.
Corker said he expects Congress to debate next year’s aid this fall, after lawmakers return from their summer recess.
McCain spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” King and Paul made their comments on “Fox News Sunday,” Reed spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Engel, Ellison and Corker appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”
Created on Monday, 19 August 2013 09:56
As the army ruthlessly crushes the Muslim Brotherhood on the streets of Cairo, having swept away its elected president, Egypt is being painted as the graveyard of the Arab Spring and of Islamist hopes of shaping the region’s future.
This week’s bloody drama has sent shockwaves out of Egypt, the political weathervane and cultural heart of the Arab world. The effect on the region of the army’s power grab will not be uniform, because while countries such as Egypt are locked in a battle over identity, other states, from Syria to Yemen, and Libya to Iraq, are in an existential struggle for survival.
The Egyptian chapter of the Arab awakening began with the uprising that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and has moved on to the spectacular implosion of the Brotherhood that replaced him. Having been outlawed intermittently since their founding 80 years ago, the organization won parliamentary and presidential elections, then self-destructed in one year.
Deposed President Mohamed Mursi alienated all but a hard-core constituency by devoting his energy to seizing control of Egypt’s institutions rather than implementing policies to revive its paralyzed economy and heal political divisions, analysts say.
“I was surprised by the rapid fall of the Islamists,” said Jamel Arfaoui, an analyst on Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings.
“I was expecting that the Muslim Brotherhood would continue long in power and benefit from the experience of the Islamists in Turkey,” where the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party has won three straight elections.
The Egyptian Brothers, or al-Ikhwan, now have reason to fear they could be back in the wilderness for decades after the army, with much bloodshed, imposed a state of emergency last week. The last time emergency rule was implemented - after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 - it remained in force for more than 30 years.
In power, Mursi and his backers in the Brotherhood proved unable to collaborate with either Islamist allies or secular adversaries and fatally alienated an army they first tried toco-opt. They have left the country more divided than at any time since it became a republic in 1953.
“They have no understanding whatsoever of the way democratic politics operates,” says George Joffe, an expert on North Africa at Cambridge University. “It is difficult to imagine how anyone, given the opportunity of power, could in any circumstances have behaved as stupidly as they did. It is staggering incompetence.”
The 2011 upheavals promoted Islamist groups affiliated with or similar to the Brotherhood to the heart of politics across the Arab world, and most observers say events in Egypt are not just a national but a regional setback for the organization.
“The Brotherhood have committed political suicide. It will take them decades to recover ... because a significant number of Egyptians now mistrust them. Al-Ikhwan is a toxic brand now in Egypt and the region,” said academic Fawaz Gerges, adding that the damage goes beyond Egypt to its affiliates in Tunisia, Jordan and Gaza, where the ruling Hamas evolved from the Brotherhood.
This has delighted leaders as distinct as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, traditionally wary of rival flavors of Islam, and Bashar al-Assad, who greeted last month’s military takeover in Egypt as vindication of his own bloody fight against Islamists.
Some say Egypt is a setback for democracy itself in the Arab world.
“It delegitimizes the ballot box and legitimizes in the eyes of Arabs that the army is the only institution we can fall back on to protect us against disintegration or Islamists who hijack the state,” said Gerges of the London School of Economics.
Tarek Osman, author of “Egypt on the Brink”, said Egypt represented a clash over whether these states are to be governed according to traditions of secular nationalism or see their rich, ancient identities squeezed into the Islamist strait-jacket of the Brotherhood.
It is “the Islamic frame of reference versus old, entrenched, rich national identities”, he says: “This identity clash is a root cause for the antagonism that wide social segments have for the Islamists.
Struggle for identity and survival
The struggle might be about the identity of the state in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, where political structures are relatively strong, but in Libya and Yemen, riven by tribal rivalries and lacking properly functioning institutions, it is about the survival of the state.
“In Libya, the Brotherhood is hardly in the scene,” says Joffe. “The danger is that there is chaos, no centralized government, not even regional authority of any kind.”
In Libya, armed militias have filled the vacuum left by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. In Yemen, the militant Islamists of al-Qaeda have taken over swathes of land, while sectarian, tribal and regional rivalries are tearing the country of 25million apart.
In Syria, a popular uprising against Assad’s 40-year family rule has evolved into a civil war that has killed 100,000 people and provided a new opportunity for al Qaeda and a proxy battleground for regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.
And now in Iraq, fresh venom is being injected into the conflict between the country’s Sunni minority and Shi’ite-led majority.
It is obvious, analysts say, that the future of the East Mediterranean nation states, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, is in danger. These countries were created by Britain and France from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire after World War One, but their imperial interests took priority over the sectarian and ethnic cohesion of the new states.
The fault lines have since been kept in check by the deepfreeze of the Arab security state.
The removal of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the lethal challenge to Assad has certainly brought Islamism to the fore, and made these countries the front line of the Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian battle.
“Sectarianism now rules supreme. The Iraq war and its aftermath - effectively dividing the country along confessional lines - and then the Syrian civil war, which is already sending tremors into tense sectarian-ridden Lebanon, create various triggers for potentially wider conflicts.”
“Now that these nation states have fallen (in Iraq and Syria) and face serious threats (in Lebanon), these realities are crumbling, and the region’s societies are confronting these demons,” Osman said.
Al Qaeda militants have been quick to exploit sectarian tensions in Iraq, the power vacuum in Yemen and civil war in Syria. They have yet to play a significant role in Egypt, though the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, as part of a push to disseminate the state’s narrative of events, has distributed photos showing, among other things, Muslim Brotherhood members carrying clubs, firearms and a black al-Qaeda flag.
The Brotherhood denies links to the network
In the new Arab order, the region’s leaders and generals arefinding that their people will no longer roll over in the faceof violent suppression. Heavy-handed attempts to stamp out civic unrest led to the ousting of Zine al-Abidine Ben-Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and Gaddafi in Libya, as well as triggering the revolt against Assad.
Although the Brotherhood is the big loser of recent weeks, the war zone in Cairo where young Islamists keep pouring into the streets undeterred by tanks and snipers of the mighty Egyptian army and security forces is a vivid illustration.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other parts of the region, over two-thirds of the population are under 30-years old, which should give pause to the generals and secret policemen as much as the politicians, whether Islamist or secular.
“Not only do these huge young masses have immediate economic demands; they are also the first Arab generation ever to grow up with immediate gratification and expression,” says Tarek Osman.
“Their exposure to the Internet, satellite channels and instant communication make them express their views quickly, share their frustrations instantly, build and destroy narrative sat incredible speeds, and certainly they are not willing to wait and be patient for inexperienced leaders to learn on the job.”
Created on Sunday, 18 August 2013 14:55
Egypt’s army has no intention of seizing power and the country is for “everyone,” including Islamist supporters of deposed President Mohammed Mursi, military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in a speech on Sunday.
“There is room for everyone in Egypt,” Agence France-Presse quoted Sisi as saying when he addressed military and police officers in his first public comments since last week’s security clampdown on Mursi loyalists that left hundreds killed.
The general, however, warned that anyone who resorts to violence will not be tolerated.
“Whoever imagines violence will make the state and Egyptians kneel must reconsider; we will never be silent in the face of the destruction of the country,” AFP quoted him as saying.
He added: “We have given many chances ... to end the crisis peacefully and call for the followers of the former regime to participate in rebuilding the democratic track and integrate in the political process and the future map instead of confrontations and destroying the Egyptian state,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
On Saturday, Egypt’s premier said the country was mulling over whether to disband the Muslim Brotherhood – Mursi’s Islamists movement, due to what he described as violence committed by the group.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy also insisted that the interim government had not abandoned the path towards democracy amid a deadly crackdown on opponents, in an interview with German news weekly Der Spiegel published Monday.
Fahmy, a former ambassador to the United States, said that Egypt’s military leaders were unlikely to extend a month-long nationwide state of emergency imposed last week.
“I assure our friends that we are maintaining our roadmap to democracy,” he is quoted as saying.
He said Egyptians “would not accept the country staying under the now-imposed state of emergency in the long run.”
He added that the Muslim Brotherhood supporters were welcome to a participate in dialogue on Egypt’s political future “as soon as calm and order have been restored.”
“Those who have not broken the law can take part in the political process,” he added.
Created on Sunday, 18 August 2013 14:37
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy insisted the interim government had not abandoned the path to democracy amid a deadly crackdown on opponents, in an interview to be published Monday.
Fahmy, a former ambassador to the United States, told German news weekly Der Spiegel that Egypt’s military leaders were unlikely to extend a month-long nationwide state of emergency imposed last week.
“I assure our friends that we are maintaining our roadmap to democracy,” he said.
He said Egyptians “would not accept the country staying under the now-imposed state of emergency in the long run.”
And he said the Muslim Brotherhood backers of ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi were welcome to a dialogue on Egypt’s political future “as soon as calm and order have been restored”.
“Those who have not broken the law can take part in the political process,” he said.
Fahmy chided Western allies for their sharp criticism of government force against pro-Mursi demonstrators, which has left hundreds dead.
“I am disappointed that the violence by the other side has not been more clearly recognized and condemned by the West,” he said.
He discouraged direct intervention in the conflict by the United States or the European Union.
“This is an Egyptian problem that we must solve,” he said.
“I trust the military, I am sure that the officers are not fixated on power.”
The death toll in four days of violence topped 750 in Egypt in clashes following massive operations by the army-led government against Mursi supporters.
The bloodshed has shocked the international community, with European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso warning Sunday that the bloc would review its ties with the country unless it ended.
Created on Sunday, 18 August 2013 11:27
After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war” before a Muslim woman offered them refuge.
Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.
In the four days since security forces cleared two sit-in camps by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Islamists have attacked dozens of Coptic churches along with homes and businesses owned by the Christian minority.
The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside Cairo to stand down from political activism.
Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Muslim majority Egypt, where they make up 10 percent of the 90 million populations.
Attacks increased after the Islamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that drove Hosni Mubarak from power, emboldening extremists.
But Christians have come further under fire since President Mohammed Mursi was ousted on July 3, sparking a wave of Islamist anger led by Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Nearly 40 churches have been looted and torched, while 23 others have been attacked and heavily damaged since Wednesday, when chaos erupted after Egypt’s military-backed interim administration moved in to clear two camps packed with protesters calling for Mursi’s reinstatement, killing scores of protesters and sparking deadly clashes nationwide.
One of the world’s oldest Christian communities has generally kept a low-profile, but has become more politically active since Mubarak was ousted and Christians sought to ensure fair treatment in the aftermath.
Many Morsi supporters say Christians played a disproportionately large role in the days of mass rallies, with millions demanding that he step down ahead of the coup.
Despite the violence, Egypt’s Coptic Christian church renewed its commitment to the new political order on Friday, saying in a statement that it stood by the army and the police in their fight against “the armed violent groups and black terrorism.”
While the Christians of Egypt have endured attacks by extremists, they have drawn closer to moderate Muslims in some places, in a rare show of solidarity.
Hundreds from both communities thronged two monasteries in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo to thwart what they had expected to be imminent attacks on Saturday, local activist Girgis Waheeb said.
Activists reported similar incidents elsewhere in regions south of Cairo, but not enough to provide effective protection of churches and monasteries.
Waheeb, other activists and victims of the latest wave of attacks blame the police as much as hard-line Islamists for what happened.
The attacks, they said, coincided with assaults on police stations in provinces like Bani Suef and Minya, leaving most police pinned down to defend their stations or reinforcing others rather than rushing to the rescue of Christians under attack.
Another Christian activist, Ezzat Ibrahim of Minya, a province also south of Cairo where Christians make up around 35 percent of the population, said police have melted away from seven of the region’s nine districts, leaving the extremists to act with near impunity.
Two Christians have been killed since Wednesday, including a taxi driver who strayed into a protest by Morsi supporters in Alexandria and another man who was shot to death by Islamists in the southern province of Sohag, according to security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.
The attacks served as a reminder that while on the defensive in Cairo, Islamists maintain influence and the ability to stage violence in provincial strongholds with a large minority of Christians.
Gamaa Islamiya, the hard-line Islamist group that wields considerable influence in provinces south of Cairo, denied any link to the attacks.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which has led the defiant protest against Mursi’s ouster, has condemned the attacks, spokesman Mourad Ali said.
Sister Manal is the principal of the Franciscan school in Bani Suef. She was having breakfast with two visiting nuns when news broke of the clearance of the two sit-in camps by police, killing hundreds.
In an ordeal that lasted about six hours, she, sisters Abeer and Demiana and a handful of school employees saw a mob break into the school through the wall and windows, loot its contents, knock off the cross on the street gate and replace it with a black banner resembling the flag of al-Qaida.
By the time the Islamists ordered them out, fire was raging at every corner of the 115-year-old main building and two recent additions.
Money saved for a new school was gone, said Manal, and every computer, projector, desk and chair was hauled away. Frantic SOS calls to the police, including senior officers with children at the school, produced promises of quick response but no one came.
The Islamists gave her just enough time to grab some clothes.
In an hourlong telephone interview with The Associated Press, Manal, 47, recounted her ordeal while trapped at the school with others as the fire raged in the ground floor and a battle between police and Islamists went on out on the street.
At times she was overwhelmed by the toxic fumes from the fire in the library or the whiffs of tears gas used by the police outside.
Sister Manal recalled being told a week earlier by the policeman father of one pupil that her school was targeted by hard-line Islamists convinced that it was giving an inappropriate education to Muslim children.
She paid no attention, comfortable in the belief that a school that had an equal number of Muslim and Christian pupils could not be targeted by Muslim extremists. She was wrong.
The school has a high-profile location. It is across the road from the main railway station and adjacent to a busy bus terminal that in recent weeks attracted a large number of Islamists headed to Cairo to join the larger of two sit-in camps by Morsi’s supporters.
The area of the school is also in one of Bani Suef’s main bastions of Islamists from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis.
“We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us,” she said. “At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us,” she said.
A Muslim woman who once taught at the school spotted Manal and the two other nuns as they walked past her home, attracting a crowd of curious onlookers.
“I remembered her, her name is Saadiyah. She offered to take us in and said she can protect us since her son-in-law was a policeman. We accepted her offer,” she said.
Two Christian women employed by the school, siblings Wardah and Bedour, had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists. “I looked at that and it was very nasty,” said Manal.
The incident at the Franciscan school was repeated at Minya where a Catholic school was razed to the ground by an arson attack and a Christian orphanage was also torched.
“I am terrified and unable to focus,” said Boulos Fahmy, the pastor of a Catholic church a short distance away from Manal’s school. “I am expecting an attack on my church any time now,” he said on Saturday.
Bishoy Alfons Naguib, a 33-year-old businessman from Minya, has a similarly harrowing story.
His home supplies store on a main commercial street in the provincial capital, also called Minya, was torched this week and the flames consumed everything inside.
“A neighbor called me and said the store was on fire. When I arrived, three extremists with knifes approached me menacingly when they realized I was the owner,” recounted Naguib.
His father and brother pleaded with the men to spare him. Luckily, he said, someone shouted that a Christian boy was filming the proceedings using his cell phone, so the crowd rushed toward the boy shouting “Nusrani, Nusrani,” the Quranic word for Christians which has become a derogatory way of referring to them in today’s Egypt.
Naguib ran up a nearby building where he has an apartment and locked himself in. After waiting there for a while, he left the apartment, ran up to the roof and jumped to the one next door building from which he exited at a safe distance from the crowd.
“On our Mustafa Fahmy Street, the Islamists had earlier painted a red X on Muslim stores and a black X on Christian stores,” he said. “You can be sure that the ones with a red X are intact.”
In Fayoum, an oasis province southwest of Cairo, Islamists looted and torched five churches, according to Bishop Ibram, the local head of the Coptic Orthodox church, by far the largest of Egypt’s Christian denominations.
He said he had instructed Christians and clerics alike not to try to resist the mobs of Islamists, fearing any loss of life.
“The looters were so diligent that they came back to one of the five churches they had ransacked to see if they can get more,” he told the AP. “They were loading our chairs and benches on trucks and when they had no space for more, they destroyed them.”
Created on Saturday, 17 August 2013 14:54
Egypt’s prime minister has proposed disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood of ousted President Mohamed Mursi, the government said on Saturday, raising the stakes in a bloody struggle between the state and Islamists for control of the country.
Live television showed a gunman firing at soldiers and police from the minaret of a central Cairo mosque, with security forces shooting back at the building where Mursi followers had taken shelter. Reuters witnesses said Mursi supporters also exchanged gunfire with security forces inside the mosque.
The interior ministry said 173 people died in clashes across Egypt on Friday, bringing the death toll from three days of violence to almost 800.
Among those killed was a son of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, shot dead during a protest in Cairo’s huge Ramses Square where about 95 people died in an afternoon of gunfire on Friday.
Egyptian authorities said they had rounded up more than 1,000 Islamists and surrounded Ramses Square following Friday’s “Day of Rage” called by the Brotherhood to denounce a lethal crackdown on its followers on Wednesday.
Witnesses said tear gas was fired into the mosque prayer room to try to flush everyone out and gunshots were heard.
With anger rising on all sides, and no sign of a compromise in sight, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi proposed the legal dissolution of the Brotherhood - a move that would force the group underground and could lead to a broad crackdown.
“It is being studied currently,” said government spokesman Sherif Shawky.
The Brotherhood was officially dissolved by Egypt’s military rulers in 1954, but registered itself as a non-governmental organization in March in a response to a court case brought by opponents of the group who were contesting its legality.
Founded in 1928, the movement also has a legally registered political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which was set up in 2011 after the uprising that led to the downfall of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
“Reconciliation is there for those who hands are not sullied with blood,” Shawky added.
The Brotherhood won all five elections that followed the toppling of Mubarak, and Mursi governed the country for a year until he was undermined by mammoth rallies called by critics who denounced his rule as incompetent and partisan.
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says he removed Mursi from office on July 3 to protect the country from possible civil war.
The interior ministry said that 1,004 Muslim Brotherhood “elements” had been arrested in the last 24 hours, accusing members of Mursi’s movement of committing acts of terrorism.
Amongst those detained on Saturday was Mohamed Al-Zawahiri, the brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, security sources said.
The ministry also said that since Wednesday, 57 policemen were killed and 563 wounded in the violence.
Almost 600 people died on Wednesday when police cleared out two Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo. Despite the growing bloodshed, the Islamist group has urged its supporters to take to the streets every day for the coming week.
“Our rejection of the coup regime has become an Islamic, national and ethical obligation that we can never abandon,” said the Brotherhood, which has accused the military of plotting the downfall of Mursi to regain the levers of power.
Many Western allies have denounced the killings, including the United States, but Saudi Arabia threw its weight behind the army-backed government on Friday, accusing its old foe the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to destabilize Egypt.
Worryingly for the army, violence was reported across Egypt on Friday, suggesting it will struggle to impose control on the vast, largely desert state.
The government said 12 churches had been attacked and burned on Friday, blaming the Islamists for the destruction.
Created on Saturday, 17 August 2013 13:06
At least 173 people have been killed across Egypt in the last 24 hours, the government said on Saturday, after clashes between security forces and protesters.
The deaths came after supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammad Mursi took to the streets after Friday prayers for nationwide demonstrations that quickly triggered violence.
Egyptian police announced in the early hours of Saturday that 1004 arrests of alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood had been made throughout a day of nationwide deadly clashes, the interior ministry said in a statement.
“The number of Muslim Brotherhood elements arrested reached 1004,” the statement reported by AFP news agency said, in what was labeled by Brotherhood supporters as the “Day of Anger.”
The arrests include 558 in Cairo alone. The clashes on Friday killed more than 80 people, according to AFP reports citing officials and witnesses in makeshift morgues.
A statement from a government spokesman later on Saturday said that among those arrested were Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians.
On Friday, the army deployed armored vehicles on major roads around the capital. The Egyptian government had said it was confronting a “malicious terrorist plot” by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The cabinet affirms that the government, the armed forces, the police and the great people of Egypt are united in confronting the malicious terrorist plot by the Muslim Brotherhood,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Mursi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) pleaded for another “massacre” to be avoided after at least 578 people were killed across the country Wednesday when police cleared protest camps set up by loyalists of the former president deposed by the military on July 3.
As never before in recent history, the crackdown has divided Egyptians, splintering the army-installed government following Mursi’s ouster in July.
Created on Saturday, 17 August 2013 12:34
Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for the Obama administration to shut off aid to Egypt in the aftermath of the army’s lethal crackdown on protesters. But untangling the aid relationship with Cairo would not be simple and could be costly for the United States as well as Egypt.
A special financing arrangement Cairo uses could leave U.S. taxpayers holding the bill for billions of dollars in equipment Egypt already has ordered on credit, and companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics that build military hardware for Egypt would be affected by aid restrictions.
President Barack Obama said on Thursday that normal cooperation with Cairo could not continue and announced the cancellation of military exercises with Egypt next month.
But an aid cutoff - which might see Washington losing what limited leverage it has with Egypt’s interim military government - does not appear imminent.
Since 1979, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, it has been the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. bilateral foreign aid, the Congressional Research Service says. From 1948 to 2011, American aid to Cairo amounted to $71.6 billion.
Lately, the U.S. aid has been running at about $1.55 billion a year. About $1.3 billion of this is military aid, which comes back to the United States in spending on things like tanks and planes.
“Most of Egypt’s military assistance is captured by the U.S. defense industry that provides the platforms, maintenance and spare parts to Egypt,” said Jeffrey Martini, a Middle East analyst at the RAND Corporation think tank.
“So in pure economic terms, the Egyptian military would take a hit in having less money for acquisitions but U.S. defense contractors would also lose a client,” Martini said.
There were calls this week from both ends of the U.S. political spectrum for Obama to follow a U.S. law that triggers an aid cutoff if a military coup against a democratically elected government has taken place. The Obama administration says it has not determined whether the military’s actions in Cairo in the departure of President Mohamed Mursi amounted to a coup.
“While President Obama ‘condemns the violence in Egypt,’ his administration continues to send billions of taxpayer dollars to help pay for it,” said Senator Rand Paul, a Republican with connections to the conservative Tea Party movement.
Egypt’s credit card
U.S. taxpayers could take a hit if the aid pipeline is shut down. A special arrangement known as cash flow financing lets Egypt and Israel make arms purchases from the United States against promises of future aid and pay for things over time - like a credit card.
The Pentagon declined to discuss what amounts might be outstanding under Egypt’s cash flow financing arrangement, but analysts say it is at least $2 billion.
“So Egypt has used its credit card recently to buy an additional squadron of F-16 (fighter jets) and an additional batch of M1A1 (tank) kits,” said Robert Springborg, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
“If suddenly we were to say, you are not sending those F-16s or those M1A1 kits, then the question arises what’s going to happen to them. If nothing else can be found to be done with them, then the U.S. government would be liable to be sued by the manufacturers ... The estimated outstanding amounts are somewhere between $2.3 billion and $3.5 billion,” Springborg said.
Under cash flow financing, multi-year contracts may be signed and payment schedules are prepared. This allows for the award of contracts that are more than the annual appropriation for a country, as long as the payments estimated in the out years are within the traditional amount of aid. Springborg said Egypt had contracts going out until 2017.
Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, has long been a critic of the cash flow financing.
“This arrangement, which has been on autopilot for decades, has gotten us into a situation where we have mortgaged ourselves well into the future for equipment which is not necessarily needed, for a military that can’t be trusted, and that is costing us huge amounts of money,” he said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Cutting military aid to Egypt also would leave some U.S. defense companies looking elsewhere for clients. Joel Johnson, an analyst with the Virginia-based Teal Group, said it could lead to layoffs in Lima, Ohio, where General Dynamics Corp is building kits to upgrade 125 M1A1 Egyptian tanks.
Johnson said a U.S. aid shut-off also would hit small to medium-sized suppliers that provide components for the tank, which are often more vulnerable than the prime contractors. One industry official said some 500 suppliers could be hurt.
Egyptian tank order
General Dynamics won the tank contract valued at $395 million in 2011. It builds the hulls and various parts and then ships the kits to Egypt for final assembly, said company spokesman Rob Doolittle. He declined to comment on the possible impact of a decision to cancel the Egyptian tank order.
The Lima facility has been counting on foreign orders and smaller contracts with the U.S. government to remain open, given the U.S. Army’s plans to “pause” production of heavy ground vehicles for the United States.
Obama’s announcement Thursday that the United States was canceling joint military exercises with Egypt was the first significant U.S. move to penalize Egypt’s military rulers after the ouster of Mursi. Previously, the U.S. government had announced a decision to halt delivery to Egypt of four U.S.-made F-16 fighters.
Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin is under contract to supply 20 F-16s to Egypt at a cost of $776 million. Spokesman Ken Ross said 14 of the planes have been delivered through June 30, including seven this year.
Created on Friday, 16 August 2013 18:56
Egypt’s tourism industry was facing meltdown on Friday as foreign governments ordered visitors to stay in their hotels and tour operators began cancelling trips to the crisis-hit country.
Fears of nationwide unrest in the wake of a violent crackdown by the military-backed interim government earlier this week have resulted in a string of countries issuing official advice against all but essential travel to the land of the Pyramids.
Tourists already in the country are being told to stay in their hotels and resorts, even in areas untouched by the troubles, adding to a sense of insecurity that has hit the beleaguered sector hard.
Tourism is a vital component of the Egyptian economy, accounting for more than 11 percent of GDP before the current wave of political instability began with the Arab Spring in 2011.
German travel groups TUI and Thomas Cook announced Friday that they were cancelling all holidays to Egypt until September 15 in light of the uncertain security situation.
Russia, which has more than 50,000 of its nationals currently on holiday in Egypt and a similar number booked to go there in the coming months, advised travel agents to stop selling packages to the north African state.
Britain, which had previously excluded Egypt’s popular Red Sea resorts from its travel advisory, on Friday told its nationals visiting the resort of Hurghada to stay in their hotels, in line with advice received from the Egyptian police.
The warning followed a death in Hurghada on Wednesday.
“Hurghada police advised tourists to remain in hotel grounds,” a statement from the Foreign Office said. “We advise you to follow their advice.”
“You are strongly advised to avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings.
“If you become aware of any nearby protests, leave the area immediately. Do not attempt to cross road blocks erected by the security forces or protestors.”
British travel association ABTA estimates that there are currently around 40,000 Britons in Red Sea resorts such as Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh, which is an eight-hour drive from Cairo.
Tour operator Thomas Cook said it had cancelled excursions from the Red Sea resorts to Cairo, Luxor, Moses’ mountain and Saint Catherine’s monastery.
But a spokeswoman added: “Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada are fully operational and holidaymakers are continuing to enjoy these popular resorts.”
Italy, which has an estimated 19,000 citizens in Egypt, advised them not to venture out on excursions.
“We strongly advise you to avoid excursions outside of tourist areas, particularly in cities,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
The ministry also said the security situation in the northern part of the Sinai peninsula was "very precarious" and advised against any travel there.
“There is a risk of terrorist attacks. There should be particular caution in the region bordering the Gaza Strip, in Cairo and Alexandria,” it said.
“Great prudence is recommended in crowded areas.”
The federation of Italian tour operators Fiavet said earlier this week that there had been an 80-percent drop in the number of Italians visiting Egypt this year.
The warnings issued by Britain and Italy were mirrored in France, Germany and Spain.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated that a possible evacuation of French nationals was being kept under review. “We will see how the situation evolves,” he said, adding that, in the meantime, citizens in Egypt were “very strongly advised to stay at home.”
Created on Friday, 16 August 2013 18:08
A number of international companies have suspended operations in Egypt as three days of violent street battles make the streets of Cairo unsafe.
General Motors Co., Electrolux AB, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Toyota Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp., BASF SE and others shut down facilities and told thousands of workers to stay at home during unrest that has left more 700 people dead as of late Friday.
“This was a precautionary safety measure to ensure employees would not be exposed to risks traveling to and from work,” Daniel Frykholm, a spokesman for Swedish appliance maker Electrolux, said in an email. The company, which has about 6,700 workers in Egypt, asked employees to stay home Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.
Friday and Saturday are the Egyptian weekend, and the company will decide Saturday evening if it’s safe enough to resume normal operations, Frykholm said.
Royal Dutch Shell closed its offices Thursday. They will remain shuttered Friday and Saturday. The company also restricted employee travel as the violence continued and said it was monitoring the situation. It was unclear whether Shell's main production facility, a joint venture with Badr El-Din Petroleum Co., had been closed .
General Motors’ Egyptian operations will remain shut indefinitely, including a plant in the Cairo suburb of 6th October City where it makes cars, light trucks and minibuses. The auto giant has about 1,400 workers in Egypt, where in 1983 it became the first private automaker to establish operations in the country.
At least 698 people have been killed in violence that continues to rage after riot police razed two Cairo encampments where supporters of President Mohammed Mursi were protesting his ouster.
Mursi was deposed by the military on July 3 after months of protests against his rule.
On Friday, at least 60 people, including eight police officers, died in fighting nationwide. Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters clashed with civilians, police and troops in the fiercest street battles to engulf the capital since the country’s Arab Spring uprising.
In Cairo, German retail giant Metro closed its headquarters, and its only two grocery stores in the capital were shuttered on Friday, a spokesman for the Duesseldorf company confirmed.
The chemical company BASF temporarily closed its manufacturing facilities and offices. BASF has been operating in Egypt for about 60 years and produces chemicals used in construction at a plant in the Cairo suburb of Sadat City.
IHS Automotive analyst Paul Newton in London said that Toyota and Suzuki also halted Egyptian production. Because of the unstable political situation, the forecasting company predicted that light-vehicle production in Egypt would fall almost 8 percent this year, with sales dropping nearly 4 percent.
Egypt is one of the largest vehicle manufacturing centers in Africa, Newton said.
Category: Archeology and History
Created on Friday, 16 August 2013 12:42
Egypt’s Malawi National Museum was damaged and looted by rioters during the clashes that have erupted throughout the country, reported Ahram online on Thursday.
The museum, in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, was allegedly broken into and some artifacts were damaged and stolen, according to a statement made by the Ministry of Antiquities.
The ministry’s official statement accords pro-Mursi supporters the blame for the break in.
According to the ministry, the protesters announced a sit-in in the museum’s garden and then took down the building’s internal gate and broke into its halls, damaging surveillance cameras in the process.
No police were reportedly present at the museum, said an anonymous source to Ahram online.
“It is a great loss and I am really saddened by what has happened to such a museum,” Minister of State of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim told Ahram Online.
Ibrahim added that an archaeological committee is inspecting the site with the aim of providing a list of the missing objects to send to the prosecutor-general pending an investigation.
According to the minister, this list will be distributed to all Egyptian ports to curtain any smuggling attempts.
Ibrahim further stated that all museum and archeological sites in the country will remain open, but will close two hours earlier due to the unrest in Egypt. The Malawi National Museum, however, will remain closed, reported Ahram online.
On Wednesday, Egypt witnessed nationwide violence that left over 600 dead and thousands injured after security forces cleared sit-ins by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Mursi in Cairo.
Created on Thursday, 15 August 2013 11:09
Security forces struggled to clamp a lid on Egypt on Thursday after hundreds of people were killed when authorities forcibly broke up camps of supporters protesting the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, in the worst nationwide bloodshed in decades.
Islamists clashed with police and troops who used bulldozers, teargas and live fire on Wednesday to clear out two Cairo sit-ins that had become a hub of Muslim Brotherhood resistance to the military after it deposed Mursi on July 3.
The clashes spread quickly, and a health ministry official said about 300 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured infighting in Cairo, Alexandria and numerous towns and cities around the mostly Muslim nation of 84 million.
The crackdown defied Western appeals for restraint and a peaceful, negotiated settlement to Egypt’s political stand-off, prompting international statements of dismay and condemnation.
The Muslim Brotherhood said the true death toll was far higher, with a spokesman saying 2,000 people had been killed in a “massacre.” It was impossible to verify the figures independently given the extent of the violence.
The military-installed government declared a month-long state of emergency and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Cairo and 10 other provinces, restoring to the army powers of arrest and indefinite detention it held for decades until the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a 2011 popular uprising.
The army insists it does not seek power and acted in response to mass demonstrations calling for Mursi’s removal.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who lent liberal political support to the ousting of Egypt’s first freely elected president, resigned in dismay at the use force instead of a negotiated end to the six-week stand-off.
“It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear. I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood,” ElBaradei said.
Other liberals and technocrats in the interim government did not follow suit.
Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi spoke in a televised address of a “difficult day for Egypt” but saidthe government had no choice but to order the crackdown to prevent anarchy spreading.
“We found that matters had reached a point that noself-respecting state could accept,” he said.
Islamists staged revenge attacks on Christian targets in several areas, torching churches, homes and business after Coptic Pope Tawadros gave his blessing to the military takeover that ousted Mursi, security sources and state media said.
Churches were attacked in the Nile Valley towns of Minya, Sohag and Assiut, where Christians escaped across the roof into a neighboring building after a mob surrounded and hurled bricks at their place of worship, state news agency MENA said.
The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and fellow Muslim power Turkey condemned the violence and called for the lifting of the state of emergency and an inclusive political solution to Egypt’s crisis.
An EU envoy involved in mediation efforts that collapsed last week said the authorities had spurned a plan for staged confidence-building measures that could have led to a political solution.
The Brotherhood publicly rejected any plan that did not involve Mursi’s restoration to office. An Egyptian military source said the army did not believe the Islamists would eventually agree to a deal and felt they were only stringing the diplomats along to gain time.
In Cairo, police and soldiers aided by self-styled “popular committees” of civilian vigilantes armed with clubs and machetes enforced the curfew, searching cars and checking identity cards of people passing through makeshift checkpoints made of tires and concrete blocks.
Despite the lockdown, hundreds of Mursi supporters tried to gather at al-Iman mosque in the Cairo neighborhood of Nasr Cityin an attempt to start a new sit-in to replace the main campd ispersed at nearby Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, MENA reported.
They chanted “down, down, military rule” and “police are thugs,” a Reuters witness said.
The protesters converted part of the mosque into a field hospital to tend to the wounded from the other sit-in, it said.
“They killed us, those coup makers and their thugs. Help us people, help us!” shouted Magda Ali, a woman marcher who was forced to leave the Rabaa camp.
Egyptian state television broadcast aerial footage of the burning remains of sprawling tent cities, as well as images of handmade guns it said were found at the sites. It also showed some video of alleged armed protesters shooting at police.
Reuters witnesses saw no protesters armed with more than bricks, stones and sticks as black-clad central security police in riot gear poured out of vans firing teargas and snipers fired from rooftops.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told a news conference 43 members of the police force were killed in the clashes.
He vowed to restore Mubarak-era security after announcing, in a statement last month that chilled human rights campaigners, the return of notorious political police departments that had been scrapped after the 2011 revolution.
Wednesday’s death toll took the number of people killed in political violence since Mursi’s fall to about 600, mostly Islamist supporters of the ousted president.
Violence rippled out from Cairo, with Mursi supporters and security forces clashing in the cities of Alexandria, Minya, Assiut, Fayoum and Suez and in Buhayra and Beni Suef provinces.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the bloodshed in Egypt “deplorable” - a word U.S. diplomats rarely use – and urged all sides to seek a political solution.
Created on Wednesday, 14 August 2013 13:09
Egypt’s Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei resigned on Wednesday saying he couldn’t bear the responsibility for decisions he disagreed with.
ElBaradei’s resignation came after more than one hundred people were killed in a crackdown by security forces to clear protests by supporters of ousted President Mohammad Mursi.
In a resignation letter to Interim President Adly Mansour, ElBaradei said that “the beneficiaries of what happened today are those who call for violence, terrorism and the most extreme groups.”
Mursi loyalists are calling for the re-installment of the Islamist leader who was toppled by a popularly backed military coup on July 3. They were warned by the country’s military to clear their sit-ins by Wednesday.
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said “there were more peaceful ways” to solve the country’s crisis.
“As you know, I saw that there were peaceful ways to end this clash in society, there were proposed and acceptable solutions for beginnings that would take us to national consensus,” Reuters quoted him saying in his letter.
He added: “It has become difficult for me to continue bearing responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear. I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.”
Meanwhile, Tareq Fahmy, professor of International Relations at Cairo University, told Al Arabiya that Baradei’s resignation will not affect the political roadmap unveiled by the army when the Mursi was overthrown.
Last week, Egypt said efforts by international envoys to find a solution for the country’s crisis had failed.
Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mursi is now being detained at an undisclosed location.
Created on Sunday, 11 August 2013 14:58
Egypt’s smaller companies have struggled since the uprising that pushed aside Hosni Mubarak in 2011. But in a few corners of the economy, businesses are doing just fine.
Against a background of unrest, access to credit and foreign currency has dried up. Government officials have stopped taking decisions and security has all but disappeared from the streets.
Factories and workshops have been hit by interruptions in subsidized diesel and gasoline and by regular power outages as the government runs low on the dollars it needs to import petroleum products from abroad.
Angry workers routinely shut down plants and block ports.
Gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of just 2.3 percent in the nine months to end-March, well below the 6 percent a year thought necessary to absorb new entrants to the labor force.
But for many in the food production, building supply and other businesses, even though the economy may have slowed, people keep demanding services.
“Last year we had in sales volume terms and in value terms our best-ever year in the Egyptian market, and this year will be even better,” said Taher Gargour, managing director of sanitary ware and tile-maker Lecico Egypt.
“We’re selling more at higher prices than we’ve done in any year, even the best years of the Mubarak economy when overall GDP growth was at its peak.”
At a time when mainstream contractors were suffering for lack of business, Lecico has been supplying toilets and tiles to small and individual builders who were taking advantage of a breakdown in government zoning rules.
Across the country, skylines have turned brick-red as people add illegal floors and build concrete and fired-brick building son agricultural and other restricted land.
The building boom has also been driven by Egypt’s bulge of young adults at marriage age seeking a place to live.
“The other story is that given uncertainties about the economy and the strength of the Egyptian pound, people are moving to real estate as a sort of safe haven investment,” Gargour said.
Lecico’s net profit jumped 28 percent year-on-year to 16.3 million Egyptian pounds in the first quarter of 2013, while revenue climbed 15 percent to 331.9m pounds.
Feeding the fish
Hussien Mansour, chief executive of Aller Aqua Egypt, a maker of extruded feed pellets for fish farms, says the business environment has become insufferable.
“Egypt’s currency problem makes it harder to import,” Mansour said. “The diesel shortage is hurting production. Wages are rising and security on roads has become a problem.”
As the government borrows to finance a steadily growing budget deficit, private borrowers are being crowded out.
Banks are giving fewer loans, demanding more rigorous guarantees and setting more conditions. They now typically charge 18 percent interest on loans, plus administrative costs and fees, Mansour said.
The lack of access to credit means businesses have to prepay with cash, which ties up capital and is painful for companies whose products have an expiry date.
“The collection time that used to take a week can now take two months. This is affecting very big companies as well as small companies,” he said.
Yet this hasn’t stopped Aller Aqua, an Egyptian-Danish partnership, from taking advantage of the economic downturn to build a new factory in Sixth of October City west of Cairo.
“Lots of contractors are suffering because the market is bad. Many have suspended operations,” Mansour said.
Egypt is a world leader in tilapia farming, mostly on the Nile Delta, where fish are typically reared in flooded rice fields. Aller Aqua’s 40 permanent staff and 40 temporary workers use imported soy, corn, fish meal and other raw materials to produce 20 percent of the country’s extruded fish feed.
The factory will triple the company’s capacity, making it the biggest extruded feed maker in Egypt’s rapidly growing market, Mansour said.
Hammam Elabd, chief executive of Western Mechatronics, a maker of industrial scales, conveyor belts and other factory products, also says credit has been a concern.
Before the 2011 uprising, smaller companies were rarely asked to provide letters of guarantee when buying goods on installment, but now it is standard. And before, the bank would typically demand a down payment of 30 to 40 percent. Now they are asking for 100 percent, Elabd said.
“The impact has been tremendous. Sales have gone down, expenses have gone up, and financing of the basic things that you buy and sell has been a problem,” he said.
This has cut into Elabd’s sales, but he has found an alternative to the home market.
“If not for our contracts outside Egypt it would have been worse,” said Elabd, who said he had turned in particular to the market in Libya.
The foreign sales have helped Elabd skirt the problem of foreign currency for imports that has hurt many other companies.
The government tightened access to foreign currency after a run on the pound in December, with priority given to importers of commodities defined as essential, such as basic foods.
But even importers of these commodities who were eligible for currency at the official rate have had to buy some of their currency on the black market, said Mansour of Aqua Aller.
Even then banks keep demanding new documents.
“Companies must provide customs documents to banks. Companies are allowed to withdraw a maximum $30,000 a day, so it can take two weeks or more to complete a sizeable import purchase,” Mansour said.
“We have problems convincing foreign investors to work with us or to finance what we import from them or to allow us to pay later in installments - they all demand up-front payments for anything they would export here,” Elabd said.
Category: Archeology and History
Created on Saturday, 10 August 2013 20:38
A 10-year-old German boy discovered what may be an ancient Egyptian mummy hidden in a corner of his grandmother’s attic, reported The Telegraph.
Alexander Kettler found the “mummy” inside a sarcophagus covered with hieroglyphics while searching around his grandmother’s flat in Diepholz, northern Germany.
It was unclear if the item was a genuine relic from ancient Egypt. However, Alexander’s father. Lutz Wolfgang Kettler, believes it could be real.
He told Bild newspaper that his own father had acquired “a chest while travelling in north Africa in the 1950s” and had it transported back to Germany, according to The Telegraph.
Kettler said that the mysterious find will be taken to Berlin for an X-ray, adding that the “mummy” has been lying up in the attic for more than 40 years.
Created on Saturday, 10 August 2013 18:16
An al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group active in the Sinai Peninsula says its fighters were the target of a rare Israeli drone strike into Egyptian territory on Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, in a statement posted on a militant website Saturday, said that four of its members were killed in the Friday attack as they were preparing a cross-border rocket strike into Israel. It said the dead were from Egyptian Sinai tribes. The group said the rocket squad’s leader escaped.
Egyptian security officials speaking anonymously had initially said on Friday that a drone firing from the Israeli side of the border had killed five suspected militants. The conflicting death tolls could not be reconciled.
Later, an Egyptian military source denied that the Israeli air force had carried out any raids inside Egypt. The Egyptian military official said the Egyptian borders are a “red line.”
The Palestinian news agency Maan had quoted an Egyptian army source as saying that an Israeli plane targeted rocket launchers in an area in the Egyptian Rafah. The launchers were reportedly deployed on Thursday by Islamist militants.
Israel maintained official silence about the strike.
Created on Saturday, 10 August 2013 10:05
A distraught Polish-born woman donned a burka to travel to Egypt and retrieve her three-year-old daughter who had been snatched by her Egyptian father, British newspaper the Daily Mail reported on Monday.
Alex Abou-El-Ella from Berkshire in England, risked her safety to rescue her young daughter, Mona, two years after the girl was kidnapped and taken to Cairo by her Egyptian father.
She disguised herself in loose clothing and a burka, successfully returning Mona to the UK.
“Despite the fact police, the Serious Organized Crime Agency and Interpol were all put on red alert when Mona disappeared, no one had been able to retrieve Mona after she left on an EgyptAir flight with her father,” The Telegraph newspaper reported.
During the two years, Alex’s husband would periodically threaten to cut off contact altogether, she said. Police told her she could do nothing since the UK has no extradition treaty with Egypt.
Alex had enlisted the help of British author Donya al-Nahi, author of "Heroine of the Desert,” a Scottish born woman, dubbed “Jane Bond” in the British press for helping a string of women rescue their children.
Nahi has particularly masterminded countless “operations” to rescue children snatched by Arab fathers, according to The Telegraph.
Dressed in black robes, with a veil over her face, Alex waited for her daughter to emerge from the apartment she was living in with her father before snatching her off the street and carrying her to a getaway car.
At first, three-year old Mona did not recognize her mother, calling out in Arabic to a woman that had cared for her.
'I felt shocked and upset to hear those words coming out of her mouth about another woman,' she Alex said in an interview with UK-based The Sunday People. 'But after half an hour she looked up at me and said, "Are you my mum?"'
“She finally recognized me and it was a beautiful moment for me, especially after not having her for the past two years," she said.
Alex praised Nahi, thanking her for her help to retrieve her daughter after two long years.
Nahi was quoted as saying: “You only have one mother and no-one has the right to take you away from your mum. But Alex was the real hero here. She took the girl.”
Created on Saturday, 03 August 2013 06:29
A U.S. envoy met Egyptian officials Saturday amid efforts to find a peaceful solution to the stand-off between supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi and the army-installed interim government.
William Burns met Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, hours after seeing members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, reported the official MENA news agency.
The talks come as tensions mount over the looming break-up of two sit-ins in Cairo staged by Mursi loyalists which have paralyzed parts of the city and deepened divisions.
Burns' visit is his second since the army's July 3 ouster of Mursi, and comes after EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited to help broker a peaceful solution.
EU Middle East envoy Bernardino Leon and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also visited Cairo this week to urge both sides to reach a compromise.
The flurry of diplomatic activity comes as Mursi loyalists vowed to keep fighting for his reinstatement despite police calls to lift the sit-ins.
They staged defiant rallies on Friday, but plans for four later marches, including to two key army headquarters, fizzled out after police dispersed a new sit-in outside the Media Production City in a Cairo suburb.
Meanwhile, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egypt-born head of al-Qaeda, accused the United States of "plotting" Mursi's overthrow with Egypt's military and its Christian minority.
"Crusaders and secularists and the Americanised army have converged ... with Gulf money and American plotting to topple Mohammed Mursi's government," he said in a 15-minute audio recording posted on militant Islamist forums.
In his first comments since the July 3 coup, Zawahiri also attacked Mursi's secular opposition and Coptic Christians, who he said wanted a secessionist state in Egypt, and called for a mass movement to install Islamic law.
Mursi supporters began to march after Friday prayers, pouring out of several mosques in Cairo.
An early evening protest outside Cairo's media production city descended into mayhem, with at least one protester wounded by birdshot.
Police fired tear gas at protesters who had set up tents and brick fortifications outside the compound. The protesters responded with stones.
"I am a Muslim, not a terrorist," they chanted.
The interior ministry accused protesters of firing birdshot, wounding a conscript, and said police made 31 arrests.
Witnesses also reported clashes between residents in the Alf Maskan area and Mursi loyalists after they tried to establish a protest site.
Mursi supporters had announced Friday evening marches to several security facilities, including the Republican Guard headquarters where more than 50 demonstrators were killed last month.
While large crowds turned out to one march at the military intelligence headquarters, stopping short of the building and turning back after a brief protest, attempts to march to the Republican Guards appeared to have been called off.
Mursi's supporters have remained defiant in the face of mounting threats from the interim government.
The interior ministry has urged people at protest sites in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda squares "to let reason and the national interest prevail, and to quickly leave".
State-owned al-Ahram newspaper reported Friday that police had a plan to disperse the sit-ins but were holding out for a peaceful resolution.
Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei called for a halt to violence in an interview with the Washington Post.
"Once we do that, we immediately have to go into a dialogue to ensure that the Brotherhood understand that Mr Mursi failed. But that doesn't mean that the Brotherhood should be excluded in any way."
More than 250 people have been killed since Mursi's ousting.
His supporters have been angered by comments from US Secretary of State John Kerry, who told Pakistani television that Egypt's military was "restoring democracy" when it ousted him.
"Is it the job of the army to restore democracy?" asked Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad on Friday.
Mursi has been formally remanded in custody on suspicion of offences committed when he broke out of prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Prosecutors have also referred three top Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including supreme guide Mohamed Badie, for prosecution on allegations of inciting the deaths of demonstrators.
Mursi was detained hours after the coup and is being held at an undisclosed location.
His family has been unable to see him, but Ashton met Mursi on Tuesday and said he was "well".
Created on Friday, 02 August 2013 05:41
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's stern features look down from behind aviator sunglasses in photos on Egypt's front pages and from street posters, and there's already talk of a presidential run.
In the weeks since the army he heads evicted President Mohammad Mursi from office after nationwide protests against the elected Islamist head of state, Sisi has become something of a national icon.
"He is the one we can trust," declares one poster above his official portrait. Another shows the general standing and saluting in front of the pyramids, with a lion by his side and an eagle superimposed above.
And a cartoon in Akhbar al-Youm weekly depicts the general, in full military regalia, as a representative of the different faces of Egypt. The media, both state-owned and independent, have lined up behind the general, especially after he urged Egyptians to take to the streets to demonstrate their support for military action against "terrorism."
"Sisi's message is received, and the people respond 'we authorise you!'" al-Akhbar trumpeted on its front page. The country's columnists have even been competing to heap praise on the 58-year-old general.
Al-Akhbar columnist Mohamed Hassan al-Banna said he would attend public shows of support called by Sisi.
"Of course I'll come out... to say to Sisi, I'm a soldier among your troops, because you are a commander who is loyal to Egypt and because you are one of our sons," he wrote.
Such praise has stirred comparisons with the late president Gamal Abdul Nasser, a former officer who helped lead Egypt's 1952 revolution and became a nationalist icon across the Arab world.
Nasser is still revered in Egypt and his tough stance against the Muslim Brotherhood has been likened to Sisi, who is also said to greatly admire the former president.
In an article on Sisi, al-Masry al-Youm columnist Yasser Rizq said the general has "a dignity that reminds me of the extraordinary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser."
Not to be outdone, columnist Ghada Sherif described Sisi as Nasser's "reincarnation", in an article that has tested even some of the strongest supporters of Mursi's ouster.
"He doesn't need to order or command us, all he needs to do is give us a wink with one eye, or even just flutter his eyelashes," she wrote in al-Masry al-Youm. "This is a man adored by Egyptians. And if he wants to take four wives, we're at his service."
Even state television, which has undergone a rapid shift in editorial line over the course of the tumultuous events since President Hosni Mubarak's 2011 ouster, has been effusive.
In covering a police academy graduation, it kept he cameras largely concentrated on Sisi, who serves as defense minister, at the expense of the man seated to his side -- the army-appointed interim president Adly Mansour.
For many Egyptians, the media hype merely reflects their respect for a man they say helped save the country. "I love Sisi," said 47-year-old Amany Mohammed, who works for a Cairo public relations firm.
"I believe most Egyptian people support him. They were waiting for a leader and they found him in Sisi."
Like many Egyptians, Mohammed has faith in the army as an institution staffed by "our relatives and families."
She dismissed fear of a power grab or past abuses under military rule since the uprising of two years ago. "They've made some mistakes in the past, but I don't think they'll do it again."
"People are very alert and they (the army) know they will pay attention to all their actions."
Ali Abdullah, 22-year-old kiosk owner in Cairo, agreed. "He's a good man. What he did was right and it was what we wanted. "
"I like him because he has a strong personality, he leads both the army and the people. He's a man who understands."
Such high praise worries some observers, including an activist movement which has held "Third Square" protests to reject both Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and military rule.
"He's experiencing his moment of glory right now," Mostafa Kamel el-Sayyed, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told AFP.
His popularity runs the risk of becoming "a cult of personality," he warned. That hasn't stopped his supporters from urging Sisi to run for president, a prospect warmly welcomed by Mohammed.
"I hope he will, because he is a leader," she said. "I don't see anyone else on the ground who is capable of being president."
Created on Saturday, 27 July 2013 12:54
Egypt’s ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi is likely to be transferred to the same Cairo prison where former leader Hosni Mubarak is now held, interior minister said on Saturday.
Mohamed Ibrahim said Mursi, who has been accused of murder and other crimes, would be taken “mostly likely to Torah” prison, where Mubarak, his sons and members of his government have been held after the uprising that erupted in January 2011.
The minister said a decision on where to hold the Islamist president will be determined by the investigating judge.
Mursi’s whereabouts remain unknown since his ouster by a popularly-backed military coup on July 3. He is under investigation on several counts, including, state treason, escape from prison and economic crimes.
Created on Thursday, 25 July 2013 18:57
The Muslim Brotherhood has until Saturday afternoon to sign up to political reconciliation, said statement on a military-linked website Thursday, on the eve of pro-army rallies.
“We will not initiate any move, but will definitely react harshly against any calls for violence or black terrorism from Brotherhood leaders or their supporters. We pledge to protect peaceful protesters regardless of their affiliation,” Reuters reported the statement as saying.
The statement said that the military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued the ultimatum in a Wednesday speech for all Egyptians “to return to the national fold and prepare for the future.”
The 48-hour deadline also comes after Sisi has called for mass rallies on Friday to give him a “mandate” to fight what he called “terrorism and violence.”
The statement appeared on an unofficial Facebook account with ties to the top council of military generals.
A senior army official told AFP that the statement did not reflect the military’s point of view, although it appeared on a “page with links to the armed forces.”
“The 48-hour ultimatum is a political invitation,” the officer said. “It doesn’t mean that after 48 hours we are going to crack down.”
After the ouster of President Mohammed Mursi, a Brotherhood politician, on July 3, the installed an interim administration has set out a roadmap for a new political transition leading to parliamentary elections in about six months.
Washington urges for restraint
Meanwhile, the White House on Thursday urged the Egyptian military to exercise “maximum restraint” and to do its utmost to prevent clashes between rival protesters.
“The administration has urged the security forces to exercise maximum restraint and caution,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Barack Obama headed for Florida.
Earnest said Washington was concerned about “any rhetoric that inflames tension” after Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Egyptians to take to the streets to show their support.
Mursi supporters and the army that toppled him prepared for rival protests on Friday.
Created on Thursday, 25 July 2013 17:48
The overthrow of former President Mohammad Mursi by the Egyptian army is worse than destroying Islam’s holiest shrine, the Kaaba, Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Leader Mohammad Badie said Thursday.
“I swear by God that what [Gen. Abdel-Fattah] al-Sissi did in Egypt is more criminal than if he had carried an ax and demolished the holy Kaaba, stone by stone,” Badie said.
Badie’s analogy compares the popularly-backed military overthrow of Mursi on July 3 to a hypothetical destruction of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped shrine in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is faced by Muslims worldwide in their daily prayers.
His statement appeared to channel religious sentiments against a call by military chief for a popular mandate to quash “violence and terrorism.”
The Muslim Brotherhood fear that Sisi is planning a possible bloody crackdown against them and that he is calling for mass rallies to grant him popular cover for that.
The statement by the Brotherhood’s leader takes to a new level the enmity between the camp of Islamists led by the Brotherhood and their opponents, including liberals, moderate Muslim and secular Egyptians and minority Christians.
Badie, who has an arrest warrant against him for allegedly inciting violence, also called Sissi a “traitor” and urged him to repent.
Islamists also planned pro-Mursi rallies on Friday, raising fears of more street battles.
Created on Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:06
Egyptian military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for nationwide rallies on Friday to grant him a mandate to fight what he termed violence and terrorism following the ousting of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
“I ask ... that next Friday all honest and trustworthy Egyptians must come out,” said Sisi, wearing dark sunglasses as he took to the podium on Wednesday to address a graduation ceremony of military cadets near Alexandria.
“Why come out? They come out to give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism.”
It was an apparent reference to a series of attacks by suspected Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula and the violence taking place nationwide between supporters and opponents of Mursi.
Almost 200 people have been killed in clashes since the days leading up to Mursi’s overthrow, with militants in Sinai also carrying out daily attacks on security forces, according to Associated Press.
Mursi’s Islamist backers have accused security forces of conspiring to blame them for the attacks.
In a statement, they warned of “an apparent plan by security and intelligence agencies to plot violent attacks to terrorize citizens and then attempt to link these incidents to the peaceful protesters.”
The authorities have accused Mursi’s supporters of employing violence since he was removed from power following mass protests against his rule.
General Sisi said Mursi’s aides had warned him that “if there is any problem, there will be lots of violence because of armed groups, to scare me.”
The powerful general denied accusations that he had betrayed Mursi and vowed to stick to a political roadmap that laid the way for a reform of the constitution and new elections within some six months.
He said his appeal for protests on Friday was not a call for violence and expressed support for efforts for national reconciliation.
Senior Muslim Brotherhood politician Essam al-Erian said the army’s call for rallies on Friday is a threat and will not stop pro-Mursi protests.
“Your threat will not stop the millions from continuing together,” El-Erian wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday, calling Sisi “a coup leader who kills women, children and those at prayer.”
Egyptian youth movement Tamarud, which was behind the enormous protests against Mursi before his ouster, said it backed the army’s call Friday’ rallies.
“We call on the people to take to the streets on Friday to support their armed forces, which we support and are happy for it to play its role in confronting the violence and terrorism practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Tamarud leader Mahmoud Badr told Reuters.
Created on Thursday, 25 July 2013 07:44
Egypt’s new government has imposed the toughest border restrictions on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in years, sealing smuggling tunnels, blocking most passenger traffic and causing millions of dollars in economic losses.
Some in Hamas fear the movement is being swept up in the same Egyptian military campaign that earlier this month toppled the country’s democratically elected Islamist president, Mohammed Mursi - like the Gaza rulers part of the region’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s military has said the Gaza restrictions are part of its security crackdown in the Sinai Peninsula and has not suggested it is trying to weaken the Hamas government or bring it down in the process.
Past predications that Gazans fed up with the daily hardships of life under blockade will rise up against Hamas have not materialized.
However, the new Gaza border restrictions are tougher than any enforced by Mursi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Gaza residents and Hamas officials.
And an ongoing border closure is bound to further weaken Hamas’ popularity in Gaza, as the economy takes a new hit and Gazans are once again unable to travel.
“It’s getting worse every day,” Gaza City taxi driver Khaled Jaradeh said of the shortage of cheap Egyptian fuel caused by the closure. Jaradeh was waiting in a slow-moving line outside a gas station, with about 30 cars in front of him.
“Even when Mubarak was president, we used to get fuel through the tunnels,” Jaradeh said.
At the time of Mursi’s ouster, some officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, Hamas’ main rival, privately expressed hope that the Hamas government would be next.
Hamas leaders have been careful not to criticize Egypt’s border clampdown in public, for fear of being accused of meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs. However, Gaza’s top Hamas official, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, has complained that Egyptian media reports “about Hamas interference in the Egyptian affairs in support of President Mursi are not true.”
Some Egyptian media outlets have described Hamas as a troublemaker aiding Muslim militants in Egypt’s lawless Sinai, next to Gaza. Mursi is believed to have held back on security clampdowns for fear of angering more radical supporters.
Speaking privately, a senior Hamas official who frequently deals with the Egyptian authorities stopped short of saying Egypt’s military is intentionally trying to weaken Hamas rule in Gaza through the new restrictions. However, he said he views the Gaza clampdown as part of an attempt by the Egyptian army to justify its continued campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Authorities in Egypt moved quickly against the Brotherhood after Mursi’s July 3 ouster. They arrested several of the group’s leaders, and have kept Mursi incommunicado at an undisclosed location. Sinai militants have taken advantage of the turmoil and launched daily attacks against Egyptian security forces, killing more than a dozen soldiers and policemen this month alone.
The clampdown and the Sinai violence are only intensifying.
On Wednesday, Egypt’s military chief called on his countrymen to hold mass demonstrations later this week to voice their support for the army. And in four new Sinai attacks, suspected militants killed two soldiers and wounded three others.
Gaza has endured varying degrees of Israeli and Egyptian border closures since 2006, when the Islamic militant Hamas first came to power in Palestinian parliament elections. The blockade was tightened a year later, after Hamas overran Gaza and assumed sole control, defeating forces loyal to Abbas, whose authority is now confined to the West Bank.
After Mursi was elected Egypt’s president last year, he eased some of the border restrictions, though he did not open Gaza’s only gate to the world as wide as Hamas had hoped.
Still, during Mursi’s yearlong rule, cheap fuel and building materials from Egypt flowed relatively freely via the Sinai through border smuggling tunnels into Gaza, bypassing Israeli restrictions on certain imports to the territory. Aboveground, most Gazans were able to cross into Egypt after years of strict travel restrictions.
All that changed when the Egyptian military deposed Mursi after millions took the streets in protest against the president and his Brotherhood backers.
Since his ouster, only those with foreign passports and medical patients have been allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing, reducing the number of daily passengers from about 1,000 to 150. Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said there is a growing backlog, with about 10,000 passengers having signed up so far in July to leave Gaza and only a fraction actually getting out.
Egypt’s security forces have also clamped down on the tunnels, which along with consumer goods also bring weapons to Hamas and allow militants to move between Gaza and the Sinai. Three times this month, an Egyptian military helicopter has flown over southern Gaza, a rare event meant as a warning to Hamas to prevent the movement of militants.
An Egyptian intelligence official who often meets with Israeli counterparts told The Associated Press that several weeks before his ouster, Mursi ordered the army to stop storming homes on the Gaza border suspected of operating tunnels.
The order was made shortly after Mursi held a round table with tribal leaders from northern Sinai and security officers at the presidential palace, according to the official. The official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information to reporters, said military leaders were unhappy with the decision, saying Hamas used the smuggling routes to buy and sell weapons.
During Mursi’s year in office, security forces flooded dozens of tunnels with sewage water.
Robert Serry, the United Nations’ Mideast envoy, told the Security Council on Tuesday that Egypt has taken “robust measures” against the tunnels and that he believes 80 percent no longer function.
A tunnel smuggler said little merchandise gets through. “We are under enormous pressure, with strict security conditions,” he said on condition of anonymity because of his illicit business. “Only few tunnels are still working, and we can’t meet the demand of the market.”
Samir Fares, 64, who lives on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border, confirmed that the Egyptian military has destroyed many tunnels and only a few are still operating. He said the smuggling of building materials has virtually stopped.
For Gaza’s vulnerable economy, hit by years of closures, the sharp drop in cheap fuel and cement from Egypt is most damaging. Gaza Deputy Economics Minister Hatem Awaida said the economy has lost about $235 million as a result of the new closures. This likely includes a direct loss to the Hamas treasury - millions of dollars in taxes normally imposed on tunnel goods.
Fuel imported from Israel is still available but is twice as expensive and finds few takers. When Egyptian fuel on occasion still reaches Gaza, motorists line up at gas stations selling the smuggled shipment.
Mohammed Masoud, manager of a taxi station in Gaza City, said only 10 of his 20 cars are working at any given time. He said he can’t buy the expensive Israeli fuel because that would require him to raise prices, a move banned by the government. “When our customers call for a taxi, we ask them to expect a delay because of the ongoing fuel crisis,” he said.
In Egypt, newspapers - many known for their anti-Mursi stance - are full of talk about Hamas. They repeatedly carry poorly sourced reports of Hamas’ alleged involvement in Egypt’s affairs.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper raised eyebrows with a front-page article this week that claimed Mursi would be detained on a number of charges, including phoning Hamas leaders days before his ouster to alert them to prepare attacks in northern Sinai against the military and police. Egypt’s top prosecutor dismissed the article as unfounded, and the paper’s editor-in-chief was questioned by prosecutors.
The steady campaign against Palestinians by some of Egypt’s state-owned and liberal media intensified after authorities said Palestinians, along with Syrians, were detained in violent pro-Mursi protests in recent weeks. No further details were given.
TV talk shows have also fueled the anti-Palestinian rhetoric. A guest on one claimed that Mursi is of Palestinian origin, while another said it would soon provide proof that Hamas was behind a Sinai attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers last year.
It’s not clear how long the Egyptian clampdown on Gaza will continue, though in Egypt’s current climate it appears unlikely the restrictions will be eased anytime soon.
Created on Tuesday, 23 July 2013 17:55
At least 10 people were killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi in Cairo on Tuesday, the health ministry announced.
Khaled al-Khateeb, a health ministry official, said 86 more were wounded in the violence, which erupted when the Islamist protesters marched toward the U.S. embassy in Cairo coming near the Tahrir square where rival protester are camped.
A hospital official said the corpses of two people killed in clashes near Cairo University, where Mursi’s supporters are staging a sit-in demanding his reinstatement, had been received.
Ahram Online, a state-run news website, said police fired tear gas to quell the violence and several cars in the area were destroyed or set on fire.
The Muslim Brotherhood said on the Facebook page of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which Mursi headed before he was elected president in June 2012, that the pro-Mursi protesters were being “terrorized.”
“Leaders of the military coup continue to terrorize the peaceful protesters in Egypt,” the FJP said in a statement in English.
The Brotherhood accuses the army of orchestrating “a coup” that has exposed deep political divisions in the Arab world’s most populous and influential nation.
Forces that support Mursi’s overthrow call the June 30 uprising “a revolution” that was backed by the armed forces,
The National Salvation Front, an alliance of liberal and leftist parties that supported Mursi’s ouster, condemned what it described as attacks by Brotherhood supporters on protesters over the last three weeks.
The interior ministry said in a statement posted on its Facebook page that pro-Mursi protesters in in the Giza Square, Qalyubiya and Fayoum, were not peaceful. It said they used bladed weapons and firearms to attack protesters in Tahrir and blocked roads and obstructed traffic in other areas of Cairo.
The interior ministry warned Tuesday it would deal with any lawlessness “firmly and decisively” while urging “everyone of all affiliations to maintain peaceful expressions of opinion” following the latest bloodshed, AFP reported.
Created on Sunday, 21 July 2013 16:32
As thousands of Islamists massed for a third week at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square, residents were beginning to lose patience with ousted president Mohamed Mursi’s supporters camped on their doorsteps.
In the neighborhood of Nasr City, where the hot summer winds whip up the dust during the day, traffic grinds to a halt ahead of Rabaa al-Adawiya square and its mosque.
Three weeks ago, tens of thousands of Mursi supporters flooded into the area and occupied it to demand his reinstatement.
They have been there ever since, and the square, decorated with pictures of the ousted president, now seems like a village market, with vegetable stalls, flag sellers and rest areas all catering to the crowds.
Under a sweltering July sun, many take refuge in the shade, sleeping or reading the Koran before the evening’s iftar, when together they break the Ramadan fast.
In the so-called press center, behind the stage where speakers spout rabble-rousing speeches, Farid Ismail, an official from Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, insists that those gathered around the mosque are not going anywhere.
“We’ve stayed here for three weeks now, 21 days, and we will continue in this way, with this peaceful resistance,” he said.
But he does admit there has been some friction with residents.
“Of course this large crowd in this place affects the residents of this area,” he said. “We are working to remedy the problems.”
Some of those living around Rabaa al-Adawiya have taken a dim view of the protesters, a significant number of whom are camped on the small grass squares outside their apartment blocks.
On Saturday morning an energetic clean-up operation was under way, after a residents’ statement voiced anger at the disruption.
Mindful of its image, the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, through its media relations outfit, offered “sincere apologies” for the disturbance.
It said protesters had been told to keep the place tidy and promised to turn down loudspeakers after midnight.
But Mohsen Fahmy, a bank manager who works nearby, could not hide his irritation.
“The situation is very bad now. For 17 days there have been about 20,000 people, strangers to the place, who have no apartments, nowhere to go to the toilet,” he said.
Fahmy said those camping out in the area were dumping rubbish around the square and in the side streets.
The protesters have also set up checkpoints, where they examine residents’ ID cards and bags as they come and go.
“They have no right to act like this,” he said.
Many of the area’s temporary residents were bused in to Rabaa al-Adawiya from provinces outside Cairo.
“They are paid to stay. They come with their women and their children. They have no idea about the problems they are creating,” Fahmy said.
Munir, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community who runs a pharmacy near the protest hub, said the demonstration was hitting his business.
“Personally I want them to go, because I want my livelihood back,” he said.
While some demonstrators come to him to buy medication, Munir says the companies that deliver his supplies are struggling to reach his shop because the streets are blocked.
His delivery boys, who drop prescriptions off to customers by scooter, are also finding it difficult to get around because of checkpoints set up by the army and the protesters.
Ismail, the Brotherhood official, conceded that there have been some problems with residents, but he countered that “many of them support this ‘revolution’.”
Dr Hazem Farouk is one sympathetic resident.
“We have a problem here,” he admitted, pointing to the closed roads.
“But as Egyptian people, we are searching for our dignity. It is a matter of dignity” to continue the protests, he said.
But as the Muslim Brotherhood risks becoming ever more marginalized by Egypt’s interim government, by rejecting its legitimacy, so the protesters camping at Rabaa al-Adawiya increasingly risk losing the goodwill of their neighbors.
Created on Sunday, 21 July 2013 09:15
The biggest mistake deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi made was stopping wheat imports, Egypt’s new minister of supplies said, pledging to ensure that supplies of a strategic good like wheat do not reach the critically low levels they did during Mursi’s year in office.
Mohamed Abu Shadi, a 62-year-old former police general with a doctorate in economics, said Mursi’s government made “incorrect calculations” regarding Egypt’s wheat stocks.
The estimates made by former supplies minister Bassem Ouda, who hails from Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, were “based on guesses, not on facts,” Abu Shadi told Reuters in an interview.
When asked why Mursi’s administration was unable to accurately assess its wheat stocks, a crucial issue for a country where much of the population of 84 million relies on heavily subsidized loaves of bread, Abu Shadi replied: “That was why he left.”
Abu Shadi said Egypt’s current stocks of wheat were enough to last until November 25 adding that after the arrival of 480,000 tons purchased this month, Egypt would have stocks to last until the end of the year.
Abu Shadi said the military-backed interim government would aim to increase total stocks to between 5 million and 6.5 million tons by the end of Egypt’s current fiscal year next June. He said the government currently had reserves of 3-6 million to 3.7 million tons of local wheat and 500,000 of imported wheat.
Sworn in last week as part of the military-backed interim government running the country, Abu Shadi is in charge of regulating wheat stocks and dealing with the subsidized fuel and bread system that eats up almost a quarter of the state’s budget.
Bread has long been a sensitive issue in Egypt. Mubarak faced unrest in 2008 when the rising price of wheat caused shortages. Similar problems in the 1970s provoked riots against former President Anwar Sadat.
Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, but it froze its international purchase for months, from February until the eve of Mursi’s overthrow on July 3, hoping for a bigger domestic crop. It was its longest absence from the market in years.
Although it also grows its own wheat, Egypt still needs huge quantities of foreign wheat with higher gluten content to make flour suitable for subsidized bread..
Abu Shadi ordered the purchase of 300,000 tons of Romanian, Ukrainian, and Russian wheat on Thursday, his second day in office. It dwarfed a July 2 tender of 180,000 tons ordered by his Mursi-era predecessor Ouda.
Mamdouh Abdel Fattah, who managed Thursday’s purchase, said days after Mursi’s overthrow this month that Egypt was unlikely to buy wheat from abroad any time soon.
Fattah is the vice chairman of the state grain buying agency, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC). The agency typically announces tenders the night before they occur.
The 300,000-ton purchase was the new minister’s first step to boost dwindling stocks of imported wheat that Ouda told Reuters on July 11 were only enough to last for two months.
Mursi’s ousted government had said it would purchase 4 million to 5 million tons of local wheat but had only bought 3.7 million tons of home-grown wheat during the harvest which ended last month.
Political turmoil and street violence since the January 2011uprising that ousted veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak have steadily driven Egypt into a deep economic crisis, scaring off investors and tourists and draining foreign currency reserves needed to secure critical imports like wheat and fuel.
Abu Shadi said he was optimistic that the economy would begin to recover, saying this would come as the political and security situation stabilized, but did not give details on how the government would pay for his plans for rebuilding stocks.
He said he did not have details of his ministry’s budget, but said that a recent package of $12 billion in loans and grants from Gulf nations was enough to support Egypt through the transition, echoing similar comments by the new planning minister last week.
Abu Shadi said he would work to boost next season’s local wheat harvest, which runs from April to June, to reduce dependence on imports.
But the minister said international purchases would continue. “We are open to everyone,” he said, saying the government would “definitely” issue more tenders, though he did not specify when.
He singled out Russia, one of Egypt’s main wheat suppliers, saying that his ministry would speak with officials there “within days” to discuss price and payment facilities.
Russia’s Agriculture Ministry offered last week to hold discussions on possible humanitarian deliveries of wheat to Egypt.
Abu Shadi dismissed that possibility: “No one gives a grant of wheat,” he said
In his previous work as a senior official in the Supplies Ministry, he built a reputation for targeting theft and corruption in a subsidies scheme that is notorious for being abused.
But the current state of the supply system shows that his efforts had limited success. Bread and fuel subsidies eat up more than 106bn Egyptian pounds ($15.14bn) annually.
Despite his plans to purchase more imported wheat and increase local production, Abu Shadi did not reveal any parallel plans to clamp down on waste and losses in the supply system that could help to plug a budget deficit that has ballooned since the 2011 uprising.
Admitting it would not be possible to completely stop fuel smuggling or corruption in the subsidized bread system, Abu Shadi said increased security measures were the answer to targeting “criminals.”
He pledged to “protect” the subsidies system for “those who need it,” and said any reforms to the system would only happen after securing broad consensus from all groups with the consumers of the products being the priority.
Reform of the broken system was viewed as a prerequisite to securing a $4.8bn loan from the International Monetary Fund that Mursi’s administration had sought this year.
Months of talks ran aground with the government unable to agree to steep cuts to the unaffordable food and fuel subsidies.
He also said the government would go ahead with a smart card system pushed by Mursi’s government in an attempt to reduce the state’s expensive energy bill, another step towards meeting the IMF’s terms for the loan.
“We will complete the system of smart cards ... it will be the beginning of the citizen’s right to obtain the quantities they want and after a period, we will determine the consumption amount for citizens.
Created on Tuesday, 16 July 2013 15:15
Egypt’s interim government voiced “strong resentment” on Tuesday at comments by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backing ousted Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.
The foreign ministry expressed “strong resentment at comments like these, which... represent a clear intervention in internal Egyptian affairs,” its spokesman Badr Abdelatty said.
The Turkish premier said on Sunday that democratically elected Mursi, who was ousted in a popularly backed military coup on July 3, was Egypt’s only legitimate president.
“Currently, my president in Egypt is Mursi because he was elected by the people,” Erdogan, who like Mursi hails from an Islamist party, said in an interview with a Turkish newspaper.
Abdelatty called on Turkish officials to put “the historic relationship and shared interests” of their two countries above any “narrow party interests”.
A spokesman for Egypt’s interim president also criticized the Turkish leader’s remarks, calling them “inappropriate” and an “intervention” in Egypt’s domestic affairs.
“It is down to Ankara to respect the will of the Egyptian people who went out on June 30,” Ahmed al-Muslimani said in comments reported by Egyptian daily Al-Ahram’s website.
Created on Monday, 15 July 2013 10:41
Activists on social media circulated on Sunday a document attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, which allegedly calls for shedding blood and dividing the army.
The document states that “emerging victorious over the enemy requires patience, faith and determination” and at the same time calls for disbanding the Egyptian army, dividing it and distorting its image.
It comes almost two weeks after Islamist President Mohammad Mursi's overthrow following mass oppositional protests, which prompted a military decision to topple him, install an interim cabinet and scrap the constitution.
Since then, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Mursi hails from, has been calling for the elected president’s return to power.
The document voices the importance of sparking bloodshed in the upcoming phase, with focus on "martyrs" and sacrifices.
The document also speaks of how to restore "collective consciousness" of the Egyptian revolution's aims and of continuously marketing towards planting the concept of struggle against "the rapists" of authority in Egypt.
Distorting Sissi's image
The document also answers the question of "why did the Americans push [Egypt’s Defense Minister and armed forces chief] Abdelfattah Sissi towards a coup?"
"They [the Americans] based their moves on the view that Mursi and the Brotherhood have essentially become the ones destabilizing the country," the document said.
"But the Americans have once again proved their historical foolishness. The Egyptian army in its current situation will not be able to provide stability," it added.
Attempts to intimidate the Egyptian people
Walaa Nureddine, a member of the Tamrod (rebellion) campaign which sparked the protests that led to Mursi’s ouster, told Al Arabiya "this document is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate rebels and youths who toppled the Brotherhood's regime," adding that failure is the inevitable fate of such "poisonous" scenarios.
Security expert, Raafat Abdelhamid, told Al Arabiya that "such statements published on social networking websites cannot be called 'documents.'"
"Such statements published on Facebook aim to mislead the public opinion and spread fear and rumors," Abdelhamid said.
Created on Monday, 15 July 2013 10:19
At least three people were killed and 17 wounded early on Monday in Egypt’s North Sinai province following a suspected militant attack on a bus carrying workers employed at a cement factory.
The suspected militants used rocket-propelled grenades in the attack, according to security and medical sources.
“The bus was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade near Al-Arish airport. Three people died and 17 were injured in the attack,” a security official told AFP news agency.
A medical source confirmed the toll, adding that “many of those injuries are critical.”
According to eye witnesses, the attackers shouted “Allahu akbar!” (God is greatest) after the bus was hit, Reuters news agency reported.
The restive Sinai peninsula has been hit by a surge of violence since president Mohammed Mursi’s ouster on July 3, with militants killing a police officer early on Friday.
A Coptic Christian man was found decapitated a day earlier, while two people died in an attack on a checkpoint in the peninsula on Wednesday.
Exploiting a security and political vacuum following the 2011 uprising that ousted autocratic President Hosni Mubarak, hardline Islamist groups based in North Sinai have intensified attacks on police and soldiers over the past two years.
Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 09:51
A fatwa (religious edict) apparently permitting ‘sexual jihad’ appeared on a Facebook page reportedly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), but some have dismissed it as a parody.
The fatwa supposedly came in response to a question by a female Brotherhood supporter asking if ‘sexual Jihad’ is allowed in Rabea al-Adawiya Square and other squares in Egypt where people have been protesting against Mohammed Mursi’s ouster since June 30.
The religious answer appearing on the Facebook page was: “Not now. Let us wait first for what will happen, may God strengthen the Mujahedeen.”
“Sexual Jihad” refers to the idea of the female Islamists offering their sexual services to their male counterparts so they remain motivated to continue the struggle for their cause.
The fatwa prompted more than 1,400 user comments, with many responding with sarcasm and ridicule. One commenter wrote: “If there is sexual Jihad, we are ready to abandon Tahrir square and join Rabea al-Adawiya, may God destroy the Hashish camp.”
Tahrir square is where liberal anti-Mursi protesters are camping to defend the military’s decision to overthrow the Islamist president.
Another commenter wrote: “Is this a square or a house of prostitution? And you are calling us seculars and apostates; I swear we are more honorable than you.”
One person challenged the fatwa as “wrong,” sarcastically saying that that “sexual Jihad should be allowed now for the square to become an attraction for Jihadists nationwide.”
However, other commenters dismissed the reaction to the post, saying it was a parody.
Arab daily online newspaper Elaph quoted Muslim Brotherhood member Saif al-Nahi as saying that the Facebook page is part of a smear campaign against the Islamist group that has been ongoing since Mursi’s ascension to power.
Created on Saturday, 13 July 2013 09:24
The youthfulness of Qatar’s new leader Sheikh Tamim may help steer the country to a new course in its regional and international foreign policy, notes an analysis published by the Atlantic Council.
The article --What’s next for the youngest leader in the Arab world -- states that Qatar has been the most consistent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its “ambitious program to support political Islam” turning “sour” as the Islamist movement collapsed, it leaves post-revolutionary Egypt with sectarian strife and political polarization.
“[Qatar’s] narrow association with the elected Islamist government in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamist fighters in Libya and Syria, came to be resented by many in these societies and in the international community,” writes Kristin Smith Diwan, Assistant Professor of Comparative and Regional Studies at the American University School of International Service.
The former Qatari Sheikh Hamad’s resignation is an unusual incident in the Arab world, and within days of taking power, 33-year-old Sheikh Tamim had to deal with former ally Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi being overthrown. Diwan notes that these events have cast Qatar’s future path and influence into “doubt.”
Qatar is viewed as a partisan in the post-Arab Spring’s political struggles, rather than leading the Arab popular will. The country’s support for armed revolutionaries in Libya and Syria showed the extent of Qatar’s strategy to “keep ahead of the Arab Spring.”
The article notes that Qatar’s stance in supporting Islamist movements differs from many member states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait giving $12 billion in financial grants and assistance to Egypt almost immediately after Mursi’s ouster.
While Sheikh Tamim is a relatively inexperienced leader compared to his father, the article states that “Emir Tamim’s best asset may, in fact, be his youth.”
While Qatar’s new generation is “raised in comfort,” the nation’s youth are more willing to question both the ruler’s competence and how the nation’s vast wealth should be distributed.
Sheikh Tamim may be the right person at the right time.
“If Emir Tamim can connect with this new generation in substantive ways that further empower them, then Qatar could truly bequeath a revolutionary legacy in the Gulf and regain its stature within the region,” notes Diwan.
Created on Friday, 12 July 2013 09:58
Prosecutors will investigate allegations that Egypt's ousted president escaped from prison during the 2011 revolution with help from the Palestinian militant group Hamas, officials said Thursday.
Chief prosecutor Hesham Barakat has received testimonies from a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia that will be the base for an investigation by state security prosecutors into the jailbreak by Mohammed Mursi and more than 30 other Muslim Brotherhood leaders, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The question of whether Hamas helped them escape amid the chaos surrounding the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak has been debated in the media for months and proved a political headache for Mursi during his one-year rule as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics in the opposition and judiciary have suggested that proof of foreign intervention on Egyptian soil could lead to treason charges.
The issue has taken on more significance since Mursi was ousted on July 3 by the military following a wave of protests in which millions of Egyptians called on him to step down. The toppled Islamist leader has been kept at an undisclosed Defense Ministry facility and no charges against him have been announced.
Hamas has denied any role in the Jan. 29, 2011, jailbreak at Wadi el-Natroun prison northwest of Cairo. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders have said local residents helped them escape after most inmates left the facility.
The investigation stems from a court case against a former inmate, but judge Khaled Mahgoub turned what was in effect a low-profile trial into a public inquiry into the escape by Mursi and the other Brotherhood officials. A series of prison officials, police and intelligence agents testified, some behind closed doors.
In the end, Mahgoub referred the testimonies he collected to the chief prosecutor's office with a request that he investigates the matter further.
In part at least, the trial in Ismailia fits into a picture of strained relations between Mursi and the judiciary after what many judges saw as his encroachment on the independence of the judiciary.
A string of top police, prison and intelligence officials have blamed Hamas, a close ally of Mursi's Brotherhood, saying the militant group sent fighters from the Gaza Strip to join with Bedouins from the Sinai Peninsula to storm prisons and break out the jailed Hamas members.
In Egypt's polarized political climate, opponents of the ousted leader used the issue against him, saying friends of the Brotherhood violated the country's security and fed its instability. The eagerness of some in the intelligence and security agencies to blame Hamas reflect in part resentment of the Brotherhood's ties with the militant group, which they have long seen as a threat.
News of the intended investigation came one day after authorities issued arrest warrants for the Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, and nine other Islamists accused of inciting violence after deadly clashes - the latest moves by the new military-backed government as it tries to choke off the group's campaign to reinstate Mursi.
The warrants drew an angry response from the Brotherhood, which said "dictatorship is back" and insisted it will never work with the interim rulers.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Egypt's Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Ali Amr to express his "deep concern about continued detentions in Egypt and arrest warrants issued against Muslim Brotherhood leaders and others."
Ban said, "There is no place for retribution or for the exclusion of any major party or community in Egypt."
Badie's whereabouts are not known, but many of the others are believed to be taking refuge somewhere near a continuing sit-in by the group's supporters outside the Rabaah al-Adawiya Mosque in an eastern Cairo district that is traditionally a Brotherhood stronghold.
Security agencies have already jailed five leaders of the Brotherhood, including Badie's powerful deputy, Khairat el-Shaiter, and shut down its media outlets.
The prosecutor general's office said Badie, another deputy, Mahmoud Ezzat, el-Beltagy and popular preacher Safwat Hegazy are suspected of instigating Monday's clashes with security forces outside a Republican Guard building that killed 54 people - most Mursi supporters - in the worst bloodshed since he was ousted.
The Islamists have accused the troops of gunning down the protesters, while the military blamed armed backers of Mursi for attempting to storm a military building.
The arrest warrants highlight the armed forces' zero-tolerance policy toward the Brotherhood, which was banned under authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
"This just signals that dictatorship is back," said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref. "We are returning to what is worse than Mubarak's regime, which wouldn't dare to issue an arrest warrant of the general leader of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Created on Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:52
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood suddenly fell from grace last week after decades of underground work to reach the heavens. Today, the mighty movement appears to have begun a phase of disintegration, or renewal as some would argue.
More than 500 young Brotherhoods have decided to break away from the group, holding its senior hawkish leaders responsible for what they see as its failure.
The young members of the group have established a movement they called “Brotherhood without Violence,” seeking to steer the group back onto a course drawn for it by its founder Hassan al-Banna.
The young Brotherhoods also seek to withdraw confidence from the group’s leadership, primarily its Supreme Guide Mohammad Badei and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater.
Ahmad Yehia, the movement’s coordinator, told Al Arabiya on Thursday that they “deeply grieve” the situation of the Muslim Brotherhood today.
“The Brotherhood’s leadership is dragging the movement into abyss [after] a long history of struggle for more than 80 years,” Yehia said.
The people “embraced” the Brotherhood throughout history, he added, referring to the social role the group has played since it was established in 1928.
“The current leaders violated the Brotherhood’s principles and the teachings of Imam Hassan al-Banna ,” Yehia said.
Using a technique similar to the one used by the Tamarod campaign that called for Mursi’s ouster, the movement said it aims to collect signatures from members to restructure the group’s governing body.
“The Brotherhood is now dying,” Yehia said. “We won’t accept this.”
The movement said it will call protesters at Rabaa Adawiya mosque, a venue where pro-Mursi supports have gathered since his ouster demanding his recall, to sign the petition and leave the sit-in. Tens have started leaving, Yehia said.
“We will continue our efforts to return the Brotherhood to the moderate, balanced and forgiving principles Islam has called for,” he added.
Yehia said not all those participating in the sit-in are from the Brotherhood. Some belong to Jihadist groups, he explained, who feel insecure after the overthrow of the Islamist president.
In a remarkable difference, the logo of the “Brotherhood without Violence” movement tends to reflect the group’s new views.
Although it still resembles the Muslim Brotherhood’s initial symbol with its green background and a Quran in the center, it replaced the swords in the old logo to olive branches and a flying dove with national flag as its wing. It also changed the phrase “be prepared” with “fear God.”
He blamed the current unrest in Egypt on the Islamist group, saying: “If Mursi called for early presidential elections in his last speech or a referendum he would have remained the country’s president and avoided violence.”
Created on Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:22
The Muslim Brotherhood has been accused of gross distortions of the truth in its TV and social-media broadcasts, with some of its messages constituting what one commentator called “a big lie”.
Both mainstream media and social channels like Facebook and Twitter became battlegrounds between opposing sides in the unrest that led up to the ouster of Egypt’s Mohammad Mursi.
Critics point to the distortions of the truth made by Muslim Brotherhood-linked media, while accusations of bias have been leveled against Al Jazeera, just as others have attacked channels such as Al Arabiya and CNN for their coverage.
In one of the most brazen and alarming cases, the Facebook page of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) - the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood - displayed images of children killed in Syria claiming they were victims of the recent unrest in Egypt.
Gamal Zayda, managing editor of the Al Ahram newspaper in Egypt, said that the Muslim Brotherhood used some images to “benefit their cause”.
“The Muslim brothers know the importance of the image in the western media; they use it to seek sympathy,” he told Al Arabiya.
The Muslim Brotherhood Facebook page also featured a picture of Egyptian football player Mohammad Abu Trika, apparently leading a demonstration against the military council in Cairo. Yet Abu Trika was pictured wearing winter clothes, in what turned out to be older footage that was passed off as being current.
“It was a big lie”, said Zayda.
In another case, the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website last week posted an article claiming that the new interim president Adly Mansour is secretly Jewish. It also made other unfounded allegations about him, such as Mansour being part of a conspiracy to appoint Mohammed ElBaradei, the former U.N. official and opposition figure, as president, according to Foreign Policy.
The article – later removed from the website – “suggests that some elements of the Muslim Brotherhood may be indulging in conspiracy theories”, the Washington Post said.
Zayda alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood had recruited young people to criticize him and others via the internet.
“Every column I write I receive tons of emails from Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood members] insulting me; they try very hard to use the social media to portray a negative image and to destroy their political rivals; unfortunately for them the media in Egypt is wider than that,” he said.
Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Mursi TV channels have also been accused of bias.
At least three Islamist TV stations – including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt 25 channel, as well as al-Hafiz and al-Nas – were forced off air by the army in the hours after Mursi was overthrown.
Author and journalist Abdel Latif el-Menawy, who was head of the Egypt News Center under ex-president Hosni Mubarak, said such channels lacked balanced and had helped stir tensions.
“These channels were not dealing in a proper way,” el-Menawy told Al Arabiya. “They were tools in a fight. They were completely biased. [They were] creating hatred between Muslims and Christians, even between Muslims and Muslims.”
Press freedom groups Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists slammed the army’s move to close the TV stations, saying it constituted a threat to free speech.
Yet while el-Menawy said he was “against any action that threatens the free media”, he pointed out that “difficult circumstances” sometimes called for such measures.
Allowing the channels to start broadcasting again, and then dealing with any transgressions through proper legal channels is the best way forward, el-Menawy added. “They should get these channels to work again, and deal with them legally,” he said.
During their heyday under Mursi, the Islamist channels were known for hosting guests that made wild accusations against public figures.
In June the presenter of a popular TV talk show on the Brotherhood’s Egypt 25 channel accused several popular figures in the Egyptian media of apostasy and of links to the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Nourdeddin Abdel Hafiz even leveled accusations against Amr Mousa, saying the former presidential candidate worked for a “Zionist company” along with other remnants of the old regime.
The Al-Hafiz channel also hosted Mahmoud Shaban, a prominent Islamic professor from Al-Azhar university, who attacked the popular TV satirist Bassem Youssef.
Youssef had mocked Shaban on his own show, after the professor apparently refused to be interviewed by a female TV anchor. On al-Hafiz, Shaban responded to Youssef, calling him a “ribald” and “hypocrite”. He alleged that Youssef received funding from Christian groups.
“If you are a man as you claim to be, and I doubt that, I challenge you to attack the Pope or any Christian figure… but you get paid by them and their associates, who manage your channel [CBC] through their advertisements and money,” Shaban said in his angry response to Youssef.
Mainstream media channels such as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera have also been subject to criticism during the recent events in Egypt.
Several Al Jazeera employees in Egypt quit their jobs amid concern over the channel’s alleged bias towards the Muslim Brotherhood and its coverage of Egypt, with some media reports putting the number at 22. A source at Al Jazeera told Al Arabiya however that number is “considerably too high”.
A media expert with access to Al Jazeera’s newsroom said that the station’s alleged pro-Brotherhood stance is being associated with its Qatari backers.
“The problem is Al Jazeera has recently cemented its position as being an instrument of the Qatari government, people associate it with the Qatari leadership,” the media expert told Al Arabiya. “While it is true a lot of people are angry with Al Jazeera’s pro-Brotherhood coverage, many more are really just angry at Qatar as they feel that nothing has changed with the abdication of the Emir [Sheikh Hamad] who is still ruling from behind the scenes.”
Al Jazeera fiercely denies its coverage lacks balance, and said yesterday in a statement that the channel covers “all angles of events in Egypt with balance and integrity.”
In the following video, Al Jazeera’s television presenter and interviewer Ahmad Mansour calls for a counter uprising to the June 30 revolution. The slogan of the anticipated events, Mansour says, should be the Jan. 25 revolution, and not reinstating ousted president Mursi.
The Al Arabiya News Channel has also come under fire for its alleged anti-Brotherhood stance.
“Al Arabiya is fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, they are making fictitious enemies,” said Omar Alzaid, a TV presenter at the Kasr Alsanam TV program on the Saudi-based Al Safa religious TV channel, in a clip available on YouTube.
“Al Arabiya has offended us, we love the Egyptian people, and they are our brothers… Al Arabiya abused us and made us seem conspirators towards other Arabs,” he added.
Some tweeps resorted to claiming that Al Arabiya had falsified videos and Photoshopped images used in its coverage – something that the channel has denied.
A senior editor at Al Arabiya news channel said such fictitious claims were inevitable given the regional upheaval, saying that all the falsification is happening by activists on social media platforms, and that sometimes, Al Arabiya is a victim of such falsification attempts.
“In any conflict situation, emotions run high and people tend to want to shoot the messenger,” the editor said. “At Al Arabiya we continue to pursue the truth and strive to let our audience know more; obviously, certain sides of the conflict will always not like this and accuse us of all sorts of things, however this doesn’t and will not stop our pursuit of the truth.”
Created on Monday, 08 July 2013 14:13
Iran deems “unacceptable” the Egyptian army's toppling of the country's first freely elected president Mohamed Mursi, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
“The intervention of armed forces in political affairs is unacceptable and disturbing,” ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told the Mehr news agency, when asked about the developments in Egypt.
“It cannot be denied that foreign hands are at work here,” Araqchi said, adding: “The polarization of Egyptian society is dangerous.”
He did not specify which foreign hands he believed were behind the coup but said: “The West and the Zionist (Israeli) regime do not want a strong Egypt.”
His remarks came after gunfire killed 42 Islamist protesters demonstrating outside an elite Cairo army base against last week's coup.
Iran had tried to improve its long strained relations with Egypt after Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, took power in June last year.
Last August, Mursi became the first Egyptian leader to travel to Tehran since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Created on Monday, 08 July 2013 14:05
Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb said on Monday that he will go into seclusion until violence ends after the death of more than 50 people were killed in an attack outside the Republican Guard building.
Tayyeb said he would “remain in seclusion in his house until all the spilling of Egyptian blood ends and those behind it take responsibility,” Reuters reported.
The grand imam was a key party to army-sponsored talks that yielded a roadmap for a political transition in Egypt after the military's ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi on Wednesday.
He warned of civil war and called for the transitional period that began following last week's ouster of the president to be limited to six months.
El-Tayeb is the grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque, the world's primary seat of learning for Sunni Muslims, the vast majority of the world's Muslims.
El-Tayeb's Monday statement came hours after clashes between security forces and supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi left at least 42 killed.
Created on Monday, 08 July 2013 10:07
Egypt's prosecutor general ordered on Sunday the arrest of two high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood officials accused of inciting violence following the ouster of former president Mohammad Mursi, Youm 7 newspaper reported.
Essam El-Erian and Mohamed El-Beltagy are both accused of inciting violence against those who demonstrated outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo earlier this week.
Office of the prosecutor general also issued an arrest warrant to the preacher Safwat Hegazy, also a Muslim Brotherhood’s supporter, on the same charges.
The Egyptian authorities began detaining a number of Muslim Brotherhood officials since the toppling of Mursi last Wednesday by a popularly backed military coup.
It has previously ordered to arrest the Islamist group’s top leader, Mohamed Badie, but wasn’t able to capture him.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy head, Khairat al-Shater, and the group’s former head Mahdy Akef are already detained by the police.
Akef was accused of hiring a sniper to attack protesters trying to storm the group’s headquarters.
But he denied the accusations by sniper Mustapha Mohamed, who had turned himself and confessed that he received orders from group officials to maim and kill those attempting to raid their office.
Mohamed said the Islamist group provided him with rubber-bullets and machine guns.
Created on Sunday, 07 July 2013 22:28
Egypt’s stock market opened higher on Sunday as some investors continued to cheer the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, despite fresh political turmoil over the weekend.
The main stock index opened 1.5 percent higher and was up 1.2 percent after several minutes of trade. Turnover was thin and buying focused on small-caps rather than blue chips, suggesting most interest came from local retail investors rather than institutions or foreigners.
Hopes that Mursi will be succeeded by a technocratic government that addresses economic problems helped boost the stock market 7.3 percent on Thursday.
These hopes persist among some investors, although the planned appointment of United Nations nuclear agency chief Mohamed el-Baradei as interim prime minister was derailed over the weekend, and rioting in some parts of the country worsened.
Created on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:34
are key dates in the one-year rule of ousted Egyptian president Mohammad Mursi.
His destitution by the Egyptian army followed widespread protests and ended an administration based on the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group.
-- 2012 --
- 30: Mursi, elected with 51.7 percent of the vote, is sworn in, becoming Egypt's first civilian and Islamist president.
- 12: Mursi scraps a constitutional document that gave sweeping powers to the military and sacks Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who ruled after Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February, 2011.
- 22: Mursi decrees sweeping new powers for himself.
- 30: Islamist-dominated constituent assembly adopts a draft constitution despite boycott by liberals, Christians.
- 8: Mursi annuls decree giving himself increased powers.
- 15 and 22: 64 percent of voters in a two-round referendum back the new constitution.
Egypt plunges into political crisis, with sometimes deadly demonstrations by Mursi supporters and opponents.
-- 2013 --
- 24: Violence between protesters and police on the eve of the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Nearly 60 people die in a week.
- 2: Egypt's highest court invalidates the Islamist-dominated Senate, which assumed a legislative role when parliament was dissolved, and a panel that drafted the constitution.
- 29: The Tamarod ("rebellion") campaign which called rallies for June 30 says more than 22 million have signed a petition demanding Mursi's resignation and a snap election.
- 30: Huge numbers of Egyptians take to the streets nationwide determined to oust Mursi on the anniversary of his turbulent first year in power.
- A military source tells AFP: "It is the biggest protest in Egypt's history."
- The health ministry says at least 16 people die in nationwide protests.
- 1: Tamarod gives Mursi a day to quit or face civil disobedience.
Egypt's army warns that it will intervene if the people's demands are not met within 48 hours.
- Mursi's office rebuffs the army's ultimatum.
- 2: Mursi holds talks with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
- Opposition groups choose dissident Mohammad ElBaradei to represent them in talks called for by the army.
- Clashes between the rival sides leave 23 people dead, including 16 killed by gunmen at a Cairo rally supporting Mursi.
- 3: As the army deadline passes, Mursi proposes a consensus government.
- Army chief Sisi ousts Mursi, who is placed in detention, and declares the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court caretaker leader.
- Mursi denounces the move as "a coup" and in a prerecorded speech says: "I am Egypt's elected president."
- Police round up key Mursi aides and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Ten people are killed in clashes.
- 4: Egypt's chief justice Adly Mansour is sworn in as interim president.
- Overnight clashes bring the overall casualty toll to around 57 dead.
egypt, egypt president mohammed mursi, mohammed mursi
Created on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 18:57
When President Mohammed Mursi swept aside the acommanders of Egypt’s military a year ago and named a soft-spoken, deeply religious younger general to head the armed forces, it was a demonstration that the military was now subordinate to Egypt’s first freely elected leader.
Fast forward one year, and now it is the general, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who appears poised to sweep aside the president.
At the time of his appointment last August, the choice of Sisi, 58, seemed to suit both Mursi and the younger generation of army commanders seeking promotion after years under older generals, like 78-year-old Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mubarak’s defense minister for two decades.
The army had produced the autocrats that had ruled Egypt forth previous 60 years. It had run the country itself during the tumultuous 16 months after the revolution that toppled the last general to serve as president, Hosni Mubarak.
And it had seemed reluctant to hand power to Mursi until the new president briskly dispatched Tantawi and a host of other commanders into retirement.
Egyptians wanted their soldiers back in barracks, and the charismatic, chisel-jawed Sisi spoke like a man who would keep them there. Over the course of the next year, Sisi warned of unrest and political divisions, but repeatedly held firm in asserting that the army should not return to politics.
“The armed forces’ loyalty is to the people and the nation,”Sisi said in November when Mursi’s supporters and opponents clashed on the streets over plans to introduce a new constitution.
Sisi finally ditched his refusal to pick sides on Monday, announcing a dramatic ultimatum that gave Mursi, the man who had chosen him, just 48 hours to agree on a power-sharing deal with his rivals.
Islam and Uncle Sam
A career military man, Sisi was groomed for a leadership role after serving in top roles in the command, intelligence and diplomatic branches of the armed forces.
Among his previous postings were a stint as defense attaché in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and command positions in the Sinai Peninsula which borders Israel and in the Northern Military Region which includes the second city of Alexandria.
“He had been carefully prepared for a high command position,” said Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military based at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
Apart from his comparative youth among top ranking commanders, two other attributes made him a good fit for the Islamist Mursi seeking a new generation of military leaders.
In a military known for its secularism, Sisi is a devout Muslim, whose wife is said to wear the niqab full-body covering. And after a year at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2005-2006, he was comfortable with the U.S., which funds Egypt’s military with $1.3 billion a year.
“Insiders in the U.S. government and military were aware of him. He was a name that was mentioned when people talked about next generations,” said Springborg.
He had a favorable reputation among those who worked with him in the American military, although his course work was described as showing Islamist leanings, Springborg said.
“Islamic ideology penetrates Sisi’s thinking about political and security matters,” he said, citing material Sisi produced while at the course.
Steve Gerras, a retired Army colonel who was Sisi’s faculty adviser at the college, described him to Reuters as a serious student and pious Muslim, open to the United States and passionate about Egypt’s future.
“He was a serious guy. He is not a guy who would go to standup comedy show. But at the same time he would stop by - I mean every week ... His eyes were always very warm. His tone was very warm.”
Some liberals were initially wary of Sisi, especially after remarks he made defending the army’s practice - later disavowed- of conducting “virginity tests” on female protesters who complained of abuse.
Nevertheless, the army under Sisi has continued to enjoy widespread support in the country, arguably the only institution that has such favor.
According to a Zogby poll published last month, the army as an institution scored a 94-percent confidence level. About 60percent of non-Islamists favored a temporary return to army rule, while almost all Islamists opposed that.
Sisi has carefully nurtured public support for the army in recent days, sending aircraft to drop thousands of Egyptian flags on crowds of cheering protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The army’s dramatic re-entry into politics was not inevitable, said Michael Wahid Hanna of the New York-based Century Foundation.
The army was not angling to get back in and rule, and Sisi in particular was not among the minority of hawks within the army leadership keen on reasserting such a role, Hanna said.
Egyptian military sources say Mursi’s call last month for foreign intervention in Syria was a turning point. Mursi’s Brotherhood went further, backing calls for holy war, rhetoric that alarmed a military that had spent decades hunting down radical militants.
“This doesn’t mean that Sisi gives up on the idea that Islam should be a very important consideration in Egyptian national security policy, but this is not the way it’s done,” Springborg said.
“It means he looks at the world from an Islamist framework so he would not want the whole project of Islamism to be destroyed and that’s what is now in the offing because the Brotherhood has so mishandled things - Sisi probably feels to some extent betrayed by Mursi and the Brothers who have mishandled things so badly.”
Created on Wednesday, 03 July 2013 18:26
lf Arab rulers are resisting the temptation to gloat in public about the political woes of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a group most of them mistrust, for fear of deepening unrest in a country that remains a potential ally in their standoff with Iran.
Officials and analysts said official Gulf Arab silence reflected a longstanding belief among the mainly small, U.S.-allied Sunni Muslim-ruled oil producers that their security is closely linked to that of Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab World, which is also Sunni.
For most of the past 30 years Egypt has been a strategic ally for Gulf Arab states worried about being dominated by the much bigger, Shi’ite Muslim Islamic Republic across the Gulf.
Now, with the stakes so high and Egypt’s situation so volatile, the official thinking seems to be that public meddling might only make things worse, analysts say.
Expressions of concern are couched in term of seeking the common good and favoring dialogue.
“To have a peaceful and stable Egypt is very important for Saudi and the rest of the Arab world,” said Abdullah al-Askar, foreign affairs committee chairman at Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, a body appointed by King Abdullah to advice on policy.
Stressing he was speaking in his personal capacity, Askar said that given the anti-government protests’ size, President Mohammad Mursi should be more open to the opposition’s complaints.
“I think it’s advisable to give attention to these people and listen to them. He was elected and came to power with the voice of these people,” Askar told Reuters.
The only official comments from the Gulf on the situation in Egypt came from Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who appealed to Egyptians to avoid bloodshed, and Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah.
“In this period, although we are following the developments and events in Egypt with concern, I want to reiterate our confidence that our Egyptian brothers are capable of overcoming the current situation,” Sheikh Sabah said.
UAE political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla warned of a repeat of the Algerian scenario, where years of violence costing an estimated 150,000 lives followed the army’s cancellation of 1991 elections that Islamists looked set to win.
“The divisions in Egypt can ignite a cycle of violence, and if the army comes in, it may even be more violent,” he said.
Ebtesam Al Ketbi, another UAE analyst, said the silence of most Gulf Arab officials did not mean they were not worried over the situation there.
“They don’t want to be accused of taking sides at this stage. The Brotherhood are always ready to accuse the Gulf of financing the unrest,” Ketbi, a political science professor at Emirates University in the United Arab Emirates, said.
“But it is not a secret that there are those in the Gulf who want to see the fall of this model,” she added.
Not all Gulf states are hostile to the Brotherhood.
Qatar was alone among Gulf Arab states in celebrating the 2011 Arab Spring revolt that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Iran and a longtime ally of the hereditary states that sit on nearly a quarter of the world’s oil reserves.
Qatar: a change in stance on Egypt?
Qatar has been a major financier of the Islamist groups around the Arab World, including Egypt’s Brotherhood.
“Qatar must be viewing the situation in Egypt with alarm. It has been a backer of the Egyptian government and I see no reason that it will fall back from that,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, said.
But a change in Qatari leadership last week that saw the emir succeeded by his 33-year-old son Sheikh Tamim has raised questions about a possible shift away from the Brotherhood.
Influential Muslim cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi had denied reports that Qatar’s young emir had asked him to leave the country, but the denial has failed to quell rumors of a rift beginning to emerge with the Muslim Brotherhood.
There were also unconfirmed reports that Qatar, which has flown hundreds of its citizens home since the protests began, had also recalled its ambassador, fearing for his safety.
“The new Qatari Emir gave mixed messages in his first speech, first saying that Qatar does not take sides and then indicating that he will continue his father’s policy,” UAE commentator Sultan al-Qassemi said.
“But from the way he greeted Qaradawi, kissing him on the shoulder this shows a sign of respect for this man and what he represents,” he added.
Unlike Qatar, most Gulf Arab states regretted losing Mubarak, fearing the Brotherhood’s rise would embolden Islamists at home to challenge their long-established tribal monarchies.
The United Arab Emirates has launched a crackdown on Islamists, culminating in the conviction on Tuesday of more than 60 people on charges of plotting to seize power.
“For the UAE the story is very clear. The Brotherhood is now their enemy number one, closely followed by Iran,” said Toby Matthiesen, author of a new book on the impact of the Arab uprisings and sectarianism on Gulf states.
Created on Tuesday, 02 July 2013 08:27
Egypt’s top appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court decision to dismiss the prosecutor general appointed by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, judicial sources and the state news agency MENA said.
The decision removed public prosecutor Talaat Abdallah and ordered the return of former prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud to his post, MENA said.
Abdallah’s appointment was fiercely contested by the liberal opposition, which accused him of bias towards the Islamist government and of using his position to prosecute critics of the president while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.
For the up-to-the-minute news on the Egyptian uprising, click here.
Created on Tuesday, 02 July 2013 08:00
Egypt’s Islamist “National Alliance” called early Tuesday for mass rallies in support of embattled President Mohammad Mursi, following a 48-hour army ultimatum for all parties to reach a resolution.
Al Arabiya correspondent reported that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups began amassing their supporters in different provinces with a focus on Cairo and Giza.
Activists reported that a pro-Mursi rally headed late Monday toward Cairo University where Islamists plan to stage an open sit-in to counter opposition rallies.
During its press conference, the National Alliance of Islamist parties including Muslim Brotherhood rejected the use of army to “assault legitimacy” in a way that leads to a coup.
Defense Minister General AbdelFattah al-Sissi issued on Monday a 48-hour ultimatum to all Egyptian political forces to reach a resolution or face a military “road map for the future” that “will not exclude anyone.”
He underlined that the military will “not be a party in politics or rule.” But he said it has a responsibility to act because Egypt’s national security is facing a “grave danger,” according to the statement, read out on state television.
The Islamist Alliance said it respects all initiatives to resolve the crisis but it must be based on the constitution. It also condemned acts of violence that killed a dozen protesters and wounded hundreds others.
Supporters and opponents of Mursi exchanged gunfire in the city of Suez at the mouth of the Suez Canal on Monday, witnesses said.
At least 16 people have been killed in clashes between rival protesters since Sunday, when millions of Egyptians flooded the streets to demand Mursi resign.
Created on Monday, 01 July 2013 12:35
Ten Egyptian ministers have submitted their resignation after huge protests against Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, Al Arabiya correspondent reported Monday.
Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil has rejected the resignation request of five ministers, a senior government official told AFP.
Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Khaled Abdel-Aal, Communication and Information Technology Minister Atef Helmi, Minister of State for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hatem Bagato, and Water Minister Abdel Qawy Khalifa handed their resignation letters at the same time to Qandil, the official said.
Zazou had already attempted resignation last month after Mursi appointed the controversial Adel al-Khayat as governor of Luxor.
Khayat was a member of an Islamist party linked to an incident where 58 tourists were killed in 1997, in the same city.
However, Zazou returned to work last week after Khayat’s resignation.
Eight MPs submit resignations
In addition to the minsters submitting their resignations, eight parliamentarians have also requested to quit, Al Ahram website reported Monday.
The government not responding to people’s demands to make early presidential elections is the reason for the parliamentarian Suzy Adly to submit her resignation.
Adly said that she wants to quit to “protest against bloodshed in Egypt and the government not responding to millions of Egyptians expressing their anger.”
On Sunday, at least five people have been killed and more than 200 wounded in Egypt as millions took to the streets in pro and anti- Mursi rallies.
Created on Monday, 01 July 2013 07:57
The headquarters of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo was stormed and ransacked on Monday following deadly clashes there between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi who hails from the group, an AFP correspondent said.
The building in Cairo's Moqattam district was set ablaze before people stormed inside and began throwing things out of the windows, as others were seen leaving with items including furniture.
Witnesses told AFP there were no Brotherhood members still inside the building, after they were escorted out by a group of people early on Monday.
After millions of protesters flooded streets across Egypt, the country was locked in a tense standoff on Monday as demands for the resignation of Mursi remain stern, and the opposition plans its next moves.
At least 10 people were killed during Sunday’s protests and more than 600 wounded during clashes between Mursi’s supporters and opponents, according to Al Arabiya reports on the ground and medical sources.
Reuters news agency reported that five of the dead were shot in towns south of Cairo, one each in Beni Suef and Fayoum and three in Assiut.
Two more were killed by gunfire during an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood national headquarters of in a suburb of the capital, medical sources confirmed.
The demonstrations, which brought half a million people to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square and a similar crowd in the second city, Alexandria, were easily the largest since the Arab Spring uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Around 150 “thugs” attacked the building in the Moqqattam neighborhood with molotov cocktails, birdshot and stones, said Gehad al-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The opposition National Salvation Front said protesters will remain in the streets until the fall of the regime.
A leading opposition figure told AFP on Sunday that Egypt’s army should intervene Mursi refuses to step down in response to calls from anti-government protests.
“The armed forces must act, because they have always been on the side of the people,” which “has expressed its will”, said Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential election, running as a left-wing nationalist candidate.
Opposition leaders, who have seen previous protest waves fizzle after a few days in December and January, were to meet on Monday afternoon to plot their next move, Reuters news agency reported.
The Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, also vowed that the pro-Mursi coalition will also remain in sit-ins to defend until opposition end their rallies.
As Egypt appeared deeply divided on Sunday with the escalation of violence, the office of the president said it was open for dialogue with the opposition.
“Dialogue is the only way through which we can reach an understanding... The presidency is open to a real and serious national dialogue,” presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said in a press interview broadcast by Al Arabiya.
Fahmy called on protesters to maintain “the peaceful nature” of their protest, describing anti-Mursi demonstrations as an example of free expression in Egypt.
Interviewed by a British newspaper, Mursi repeated his determination to ride out what he sees as an undemocratic attack on his electoral legitimacy. But he also offered to revise the new, Islamist-inspired constitution, saying clauses on religious authority, which fueled liberal resentment, were not his choice.
Created on Monday, 01 July 2013 07:29
Egypt's opposition rebel movement (named “Tamarod” in Arabic) announced early Monday a deadline for President Mohammed Mursi to cede power.
The group gave Mursi until 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday to quit, threatening escalated protests if he doesn’t.
"(Mursi) has until 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2 to leave power. He must do this in order for Egyptian state institutions to prepare for early presidential elections," the movement said in its first official statement published on its website.
The statement warned that if Mursi does not comply with their request, it will call on Egyptians to gather in all protest hotspots to march towards al-Quba presidential palace in Cairo.
"This date (July 2 at 5:00 p.m.) can be considered the beginning of a general civil disobedience for the sake of implementing the will of the Egyptian people."
The movement also called on "state institutions, such as the army, police and the judiciary, to be biased towards the prevalent [anti-Mursi] sentiment seen in the masses of Egyptians in Tahrir Square and nationwide."
It added that protests will resume and warned that the protests could drag the country into a civil war.
"It's no longer possible to accept any halfway solutions and there's (no other choice) but to peacefully end the Brotherhood’s power and call for holding early presidential elections."
Opposition leaders were to meet on Monday afternoon to plot their next move, Reuters news agency reported.
As Egypt appeared deeply divided on Sunday with the escalation of violence and millions gathering to protest against Mursi, the office of the president said it was open for dialogue with the opposition.
“Dialogue is the only way through which we can reach an understanding... The presidency is open to a real and serious national dialogue,” presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said in a press interview broadcast by Al Arabiya.
Fahmy called on protesters to maintain “the peaceful nature” of their protest, describing anti-Mursi demonstrations as an example of free expression in Egypt.
Created on Sunday, 30 June 2013 16:56
One year after President Mohammed Mursi came to office, foreign investors are still waiting for reassurances it is safe to return to Egypt as many grow increasingly concerned about the economy.
Cairo’s stock market was today braced for the worst, amid fears of renewed violence following days of anti-Mursi protests in which several people were killed and hundreds wounded.
The economic woes of the Arab world’s most populous nation have deepened since Mursi took power 12 months ago, according to official data. Growth has stalled, unemployment has risen, poverty has increased, the deficit has widened and Egypt’s debts have soared.
Egypt’s foreign-exchange reserves inched up slightly, from $15.5 billion in June 2012 to just over $16bn by the end of May this year – but this figure includes $12bn in various forms of aid from allies including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Libya. The current level of reserves is still considered dangerously low and only covers the cost of a few months of essential imports like food and fuel.
The country’s currency has lost more than 16 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar as the central bank loosened its grip on the pound and foreign capital flowed out of the country. The pound is currently trading at just over LE7 to the dollar according to official central bank data, versus LE6.06 at the time of president Mursi’s election.
Egypt’s sovereign credit rating has been downgraded twice by Moody’s during Mursi’s first year in office, standing firmly in junk territory at CAA1. Since the January 2011 revolution Egypt has suffered six downgrades by Moody’s. The country is seen as an increasingly risky investment with the cost of insuring the country’s debt rising to a record high in the past weeks.
Experts say the key concerns for investors are the continued political uncertainty and the lack of clarity in policymaking.
“Foremost among investors’ minds is the lack of predictability in the policymaking environment,” William Jackson, an analyst at Capital Economics told Al Arabiya in interview.
Jackson pointed to the lack of progress on urgent economic reforms and concern over the value of the Egyptian pound which some investors feel still has further to fall.
“If investors are thinking about putting money into Egypt they won’t do so until they feel the pound has fallen to the level at which it will stabilize,” Jackson said. “At the moment Egypt’s precarious external position means that the pound looks set to fall but the central bank is trying to prevent it.”
Alia Moubayed of Barclays Capital said that the lack of clarity over the political outlook “is creating a lot of uncertainty in the legal and regulatory frameworks, and delaying reforms aimed at reducing the deficit and bringing inflation under control.”
“The Egyptian economy has weakened considerably since the beginning of the revolution, and eroded most of its buffers,” Moubayed said, adding that progress on economic, social or fiscal reforms has been “extremely limited”.
Foreign direct investment hit a record below between July and December of last year, coming in at just over $300 million. But it has improved slightly since the beginning of this year, inching up to $1.4bn according to the central bank. In a statement, the bank said the improvement was the result of a decrease in the capital outflows from and oil and gas sector.
Egypt’s economy is still growing, with gross domestic product, a measure of overall economic activity reaching 2.3 percent in the first quarter of the year, unchanged from the previous quarter but slower than a year earlier.
Experts say that despite the current economic gloom, Egypt has potential over the long term due to its large workforce, low labor costs and strategic location.
“Egypt has the potential,” Gabriel Sterne, economist at Exotix investment bank said. “It has a lot of educated people and a large workforce but without stability a lot of foreign investors will be put off.”
Sterne said it is important for banks to increase their lending to businesses, but pointed out that with interest rates on government bonds as high at 16 percent, banks have little incentive to lend to companies, preferring to hold government bonds instead.
Banks have been hit by new legislation aimed at increasing government revenue, namely new taxes on bank loans and provisions, which experts say could make them even more reluctant to lend.
Investor confidence has also been hit by the introduction of taxes on share trading and an increase in corporate taxes.
“The financial markets don’t appear to have passed a good judgment on President Mursi’s first year,” Jackson of Capital Economics wrote in a note. “The equity market has fallen over the past year and bond yields have reached a post-Arab Spring high.”
In early June, MSCI issued a stinging warning about Egypt’s stock market, saying it might be forced to consider excluding Egypt from its emerging market index if international investors continued to face difficulties repatriating their funds.
In a statement MSCI said it was closely monitoring Egypt’s foreign exchange market due to the recent shortage of foreign currency which was “of great concern to international institutional investors.”
MSCI said this situation could have a negative impact on the liquidity of the Egyptian equity market and “could trigger a review of the MSCI Egypt Index for potential reclassification to Frontier Markets due to the lack of liquid investable stocks.”
Investors also cite the apparent deadlock with the IMF over a $4.8bn financing package as a major concern. The two key areas of contention are unpopular reforms to energy subsidies and a proposed sales-tax increase.
“The IMF seems unconvinced by the savings expected from the government’s proposed plans to introduce a smart-card system for the distribution of fuel (diesel) and a voucher system for the distribution of gas cylinders,” Alia Moubayed of Barclays Capital said in a report.
Experts say consensus is urgently needed if Egypt is to win back foreign investors.
“The best way to progress is to form consensus in society,” Jackson of Capital Economics said.
“Egyptian society seems extremely polarized and because of this polarization the government is reluctant or unwilling to make unpopular reforms needed to improve business environment and seal a deal with IMF and bring private foreign capital back.”
Jackson added that given all the headwinds, president Mursi’s second year looks set to be just as challenging as the first.
Created on Saturday, 29 June 2013 11:29
More than 22 million people have signed a petition in Egypt demanding the departure of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi and a snap election, the opposition Tamarod (Arabic for rebellion) group said on Saturday, according to AFP.
“Our petition has gathered 22,134,465 signatures,” Tamarod spokesman Mahmud Badr told journalists on the eve of Sunday’s first anniversary of Mursi’s inauguration when it has called for nationwide protests.
According to The Associated Press, at least six Egyptians have been killed in days of clashes ahead of nationwide protests Sunday demanding Mursi’s removal.
Thousands of Egyptians gathered in Cairo on Friday in two opposing mass rallies, one calling for the Mursi’s ouster, and another showing support for the embattled Islamist president.
Created on Saturday, 29 June 2013 07:49
Teenager Gehad Mustafa wears an ultraconservative veil over her face and was raised in a family of staunch Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Yet for the past weeks, she has been walking though chaotic street markets and crowded subway stations, collecting signatures on a petition demanding Islamist President Mohammad Mursi step down.
The months-long petition campaign by the group “Tamarod,” Arabic for “rebel,” is now culminating in nationwide protests Sunday in which the opposition hopes to bring out millions to force Morsi out of office, a year after his inauguration.
But Tamarod’s organizers say they are not stopping there. No matter what happens on Sunday, they say they have created through their petition drive a real grassroots network, an opposition version in the spirit of the Islamists’ expert street organizing, and have brought forth a sort of second generation of street activists, like Mustafa, after the first that led the revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
They want to use that network going ahead, to keep the public involved and to pressure the secular and liberal opposition parties, who the activists say have wasted opportunities through infighting and fragmentation, to get their act together.
On a recent day, Tamarod’s main office, steps away from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, was bustling with several dozen volunteers as young as 13 and as old as their 50s and 60s. University professors, government employees, students and housewives sipped tea, smoked and chatted while going through the organization's prize possession: the sheaves of signed petitions still coming in from around the country, filling the office.
The pages of signatures, they say, are proof of how deeply the country of 90 million has turned against the Muslim Brotherhood. They plan to announce their full count ahead of Sunday’s protests but have claimed to have as many as 20 million signatures, which they collate, confirm and record in a database in a precise operation, knowing their count will be questioned.
Among the volunteers was 17-year-old Mustafa. She said she turned against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood after the first protesters were killed under his administration in late 2012. “I saw the reality,” she said.” You told us that the blood of the martyrs will not go in vain. But there were more ... falling under your rule.”
She joined Tamarod, which launched in late April, and volunteered to canvas the street for signatures. At one point, while passing out petitions in the subway, a man wearing the beard of a Muslim conservative attacked her, pulling the veil off her face. But other commuters then wrestled the man away in support of her.
“This strengthened me. I felt what I am doing is right,” she said.
Organizers say Tamarod mushroomed across the country. Founded by five activists, its leadership is a central group of about 25, connected to a network of coordinators in Egypt’s 27 provinces, each with a team of volunteers in towns and villages.
The signatures are effectively a database of the dissatisfied: Each signatory puts his or her name, province of residence and national ID number.
Collecting signatures in itself is a breakthrough, overcoming Egyptians’ engrained resistance to signing onto any paper presented by a stranger, especially political, from the Mubarak days when doing so could get you a visit from state security or even arrested. Volunteers carrying the petitions brought politics into every corner - weddings, slum alleys, buses and subways. Volunteers included strangers to political campaigning, from men selling cigarettes in kiosks to impoverished women selling in vegetable markets.
Ahmed el-Masry, one of the founders of Tamarod, calls the success “astonishing.”
“I can’t tell how many members out there. I can think that millions of Egyptians are members,” he said.
“At one point, people gave up [on Mursi] ... it reached a point where a new class of Brothers are gaining higher status in society that to join them, you have to let your beard grow. We reached a point where no one is heard but the president and his tribe.”
Brotherhood officials cast doubt on the signatures, claiming forgeries and multiple names. While Mursi says peaceful demonstrations are a legitimate form of expression, he and his allies also say Mubarak loyalists are behind the campaign and protests, trying to use the streets to topple an elected leader.
A spokesman for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said he sympathizes with some activists in Tamarod – “the young revolutionaries who had great expectations out of the revolution. Due to their inexperience and age, they wanted to see change too fast and too soon and that is what I call frustration.”
But Abdel-Mawgoud el-Dardery said “opportunist politicians” are exploiting them for their political agenda and that former regime elements are exploiting both the politicians and the activists.
“There is unholy alliance among these groups. They have insisted on having one enemy and that is President Mursi,” he said.
Tamarod activists say it is they who are leading the politicians of the mainly liberal and secular opposition parties and factions, trying to drag them into a better connection with the public. The campaign’s plan calls for Mursi to leave, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court to become a largely symbolic interim president while a technocrat Cabinet governs, a panel would write a new constitution and presidential elections would be held in six months.
Ahmed Abdu, one of the first Tamarod street campaigners, said the group will pressure the opposition to coalesce behind a candidate.
If they can’t get organized “we will pick one away from all the top leaders of opposition and we will be able to rally support to him.”
He blamed liberal parties for running multiple candidates in last year’s presidential election, which resulted in a runoff between Mursi and a former Mubarak prime minister, forcing people to choose between an Islamist and a loyalist of the regime just ousted.
“I hope they don't let us down again,” Abdu said.
Tamarod’s nationwide network and pavement-pounding methods contrast with many of the political parties, which have struggled to establish a nationwide presence. That is in large part what opened the way for the Muslim Brotherhood, an 83-year-old organization that has highly disciplined cadres nationwide, and harder-line Islamist with their own organizations to dominate parliament elections in late 2011-early 2012, to ensure the constitution passed a December referendum, and to boost Mursi to victory.
Tamarod’s volunteers - some former Mursi supporters, others who disliked him from the start - had varying stories of what brought them to the campaign. Most said they were dismayed by what they call the Brotherhood’s opportunism and determination to control the system rather than reform state institutions and police. That is a frequent refrain from critics of Mursi. His allies insist they are not trying to monopolize, that opponents have refused to work with them and that old regime loyalists have sabotaged their attempts at reform.
At the Tamarod office, Doaa Mohammed, a young Justice Ministry employee, said the day after Mursi’s election, a man on the street spit at her face and yelled, “Tomorrow, Mursi will get rid of you all.”
Mohammad wears a stylish scarf covering her hair, less strict than the more cloaking coverings and veils that hard-liners believe women should wear.
She said managers in her ministry were replaced by Brotherhood sympathizers.
“From day one, I have been treated like a second-class citizen. The Sister enjoys higher status than me just because she belongs to the group,” she said, referring to the Muslim Sisters, the women’s branch of the Brotherhood.
The heart of Tamarod is its petitions. Through Facebook and Twitter, volunteers could download the form, copy it and distribute them among friends and family members or hit the streets for signatures, then get back in touch with coordinators to return the papers.
At the Tamarod office, a psychology university lecturer-turned-volunteer explained how the papers are sorted by province, counted, scanned and entered into a database to ensure there are no doubled ID numbers and that the numbers - which have prefixes by province - match where they’re said to come from. Much of the work takes place in a room labeled “Control Room. No Entry.”
Secrecy is tight. The university lecturer spoke on condition of anonymity - he goes by the nickname “Maestro” - so he could not be singled out for pressure by anyone trying to get to the petitions. He said only two of the founders know the whereabouts of the originals of the signed forms and are responsible for moving them every few days to new locations.
“We are working in the daylight but they don’t want us to work in the daylight,” he said and added, “we are holding a pen and a paper. This is our weapon. And this is how we tell them, enough.”
Created on Friday, 28 June 2013 15:04
One person was killed and 30 injured late Thursday as supporters and critics of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi clashed in the north of the country, the health ministry reported.
The fighting took place in the northern Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, said the agency, cited by the official MENA news agency.
The clashes broke out in front of the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, where Mursi draws his support.
A statement from the FJP posted on its Facebook page said one of its members had been killed.
The clashes came as Egyptian Islamist parties prepared for an open-ended demonstration Friday in support of Mursi, two days before planned rallies against him.
Mursi's legitimacy is at the heart of protests both for and against him.
His supporters say he derives his authority from the first free presidential election in Egypt’s history, and that the challenges he faces -- corrupt and inefficient institutions, economic troubles and religious tensions -- were inherited.
His critics see him as a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, favouring Islamists in key positions and returning the country to authoritarianism.
Created on Friday, 28 June 2013 14:18
President Mohamed Mursi came to office promising to be a president for all Egyptians.
A year into his term, the divisions deepened by his rule have pitched the nation into crisis.
As Mursi’s opponents mobilize for protests aimed at toppling him, the Muslim Brotherhood man shows no sign of flinching. Instead, he is digging in, backed by Islamist allies determined to shield Mursi from what they see as an attempted coup.
That he should battle on regardless, fending off a storm of criticism which he said is personally hurtful, reflects Mursi’s approach during a year in which his efforts have been obstructed by political unrest, resistance from vested interests within the state and failures by a government that seems to lack vision.
“Of course, the first president to come following the revolution will struggle, this is normal -- the load is heavy and no one is objecting to this,” Ahmed Maher, Head of April 6 Youth Movement and activist told Reuters TV.
“We have not seen any ideas for creating jobs or ideas to resolve the security gap, so we to tried to help. We presented proposals when we sat down with President Mursi -- the last time we sat down with him was on November 4, 2012 and we even handed him written proposals. We submitted a proposal to deal with traffic issues. I am an engineer so there are ideas in terms of traffic engineering and there are specialists at universities and even engineers living outside Egypt who are contributing through research and ideas to organize traffic, but nothing came of it.”
As hopes for consensus have faded, Mursi has ploughed on regardless, casting his opponents as spoilers who have rejected his attempts at outreach. His allies, meanwhile, have been whittled down to Islamists at the extreme religious right.
Addressing his supporters on Wednesday, Mursi said the conflict threatened “our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos”. In a pattern seen before, he offered concessions, but these were dismissed as too little by the opposition.
“I say to the opposition: the road to change is clear,” he said, alluding to elections won by the Islamists to date.
A determined man of action to his supporters and a would-be despot to his opponents, Mursi, 61, is a civil engineer and university lecturer with a doctorate from the United States. He was raised in a rural village a two-hour drive north of Cairo.
He was thrust into the presidential race when the Brotherhood’s first-choice candidate was disqualified. Dismissed at first as the “spare tyre”, he has grown into his role, appearing ever more confident in his public addresses.
Leaning over the podium and digressing from his written remarks during a nearly three-hour speech late on Wednesday, Mursi sought to appeal to ordinary people with a folksy style that departed from stiffer habits that were often mocked.
When Mursi took office, the extent of his authority was thrown into doubt by the role of Hosni Mubarak-era generals who had established themselves as a rival source of authority.
Yet the novice president stunned observers in August when he sacked Mubarak’s veteran defence minister, a move that drew grudging respect from some critics, even in the liberal camp.
In his first weeks in office, visits to China and Iran set a new tone for Egypt’s foreign policy. He also preserved Egypt’s role as a vital Middle East actor by helping broker an end to a short war between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.
The ceasefire declared from Cairo in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reassured the West that Islamist rule did not mean a dramatic shift in a regional order underpinned by Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
But no sooner had Mursi helped settle one international conflict than he set off another at home by issuing a decree that infuriated opponents and triggered days of lethal violence.
The decree allowed the Islamists to complete a constitution free of the risk of legal challenges. Mursi then put the controversial text to referendum, ignoring protests from non-Islamists who said it did not reflect Egypt’s diversity.
Maher says Mursi’s push to get the constitutional declaration approved marked the beginning of a division in society.
“The defining moment that made us realize there was no hope was the constitutional declaration. This marked the beginning of the division in society and then followed the string of violence and people started to feel they (the government) were truly tyrannical and have no intention to leave power,” said Maher.
“So all the fears and doubts people had, which we brushed off and said, maybe it will happen and such, we realized it was in fact a reality. So the constitutional declaration and the insistence on making the constitution pass at any price, which they openly confronted us with, was the main mistake. Since last December up until today there has been no stability at all and even a path for resolving the division is no longer there,” he added.
The opposition condemned Mursi’s constitutional decree as a power grab with echoes of the Mubarak era. The Brotherhood billed it as a pre-emptive move against a plot by old regime loyalists to obstruct the political transition.
Mursi and the Brotherhood won, but not without cost. The episode deepened the political divide, burying hopes for the consensus needed to embark on reforms to tackle an economic crisis that has sent the currency to record lows.
Strong Egypt Party founder and former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, told Reuters he hoped Mursi would prove an effective leader, but soon lost hope.
”I am among the people who were betting that Dr. Mursi, after he goes from managing a group or an organization that was being segregated against and chased by the authorities (Muslim Brotherhood), that he was going to change the way he performs and the way he manages things, but I have not seen any change in his managerial process,” said Abul Futuh.
“It’s like he’s running Egypt the country in the same way he would run a group, or organization that is segregated against and being chased by the police. The driving force in such organizations (like the Muslim Brotherhood) is to turn to those you trust, because the police are after you, so you confide in the ones you trust, but running a country is different. You cannot run a country in this manner and this system does not work,” he added.
Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a 4.8 billion USD loan vital to restoring investor confidence stumbled as Mursi balked at politically-sensitive terms such as tax increases.
Even the Brotherhood spoke out publicly against Mursi’s prime minister, the independent technocrat Hisham Kandil.
The government’s commitment to democracy was thrown into question by laws criticized for restricting civil society and the right to protest. The United States and Europe - major donors - both expressed concern.
Critics have depicted Mursi as a puppet of the Islamist movement that launched him to power - a claim rejected by the presidency and the Brotherhood. But ex-members of the presidential staff have cited the group’s interference as their reason for quitting.
Strong Egypt Party’s Abul Futuh says Mursi must call an early referendum on early presidential elections.
”I feel that Dr. Mursi has no choice at this moment except to have a degree of knowledge and understanding and to be able to safe keep the country and himself -- by himself I mean his faction (Muslim Brotherhood), by proposing a referendum on early presidential elections to the people and whatever the public decides, we will respect it, my party will respect it. The alternative to this is that we will continue in our peaceful, constitutional, legal strife to confront the regime so that it either reforms its performance and returns to its promises or it exits the government through democratic means, so through elections or a referendum,” said Abul Futuh, once a senior figure in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
As his circle of friends tightens to groups such al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a once-armed jihadist movement, Mursi will likely find it even harder to convince critics that he can be a president for all Egyptians and not just a party man.
Created on Thursday, 27 June 2013 07:01
At least two people were killed and 200 wounded on Wednesday after clashes between supporters and opponents of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, security and health officials said.
Al Arabiya’s Cairo office reported that the 52-year-old man who died during the fighting in the coastal city of Mansoura, north of the Capital, is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Witnesses heard gunfire and state television showed a man in hospital with birdshot wounds.
Violence erupted when Mursi’s opponents pelted supporters of the president with garbage outside a mosque where they had gathered to stage a pro-regime march.
Clashes were also reported in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria, where supporters and foes of the Islamist president threw rocks and fired shotguns early on Thursday, Reuters reported.
A Reuters reporter saw dozens of youths approach a rally of Mursi's supporters in the Mediterranean port and the two sides then fought. There was no immediate information on casualties.
Clashes between the two sides have grown in frequency over the past few days during the buildup to the June 30 protests by the Egyptian opposition, which is looking to oust Mursi from power.
Toppling the government
Meanwhile, in a televised speech Mursi accused former regime members of attempting to block Egypt from moving forward.
“I understand differences with the opposition, but I reject its involvement in acting against the revolution,” he told a live audience.
He said leading opposition figures were bidding to topple the government, currently headed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The leader, who heads the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, said “there is only one revolution” in Egypt, but acknowledged that it may be time for reforms.
Mursi said “some ignored the hand that believes in dialogue,” referring to the objection by certain opposition figures for talks.
Created on Thursday, 27 June 2013 06:35
Political polarization in Egypt is threatening the country’s democracy, President Mohammed Mursi said Wednesday ahead of planned mass protests on June 30 by opposition forces.
“Political polarization and conflict has reached a stage that threatens our nascent democratic experience and threatens to put the whole nation in a state of paralysis and chaos,” Reuters reported Mursi as saying.
In a televised address Mursi, who has opposition forces vying to unseat him, said he has “erred in some decisions” while being correct in others.
Speaking to a large crowd of Islamist supporters Mursi said he has an “obligation” to correct his mistakes, adding he is standing before his audience as a “citizen” while emphasizing Egypt was his responsibility.
On June 30 opposition forces have vowed to take to the streets in an attempt to urge Mursi to cede power, however, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have planned mass counter-demonstrations. “Egypt above all” Mursi told those planning protest on June 30.
The Egyptian army has warned against the country descending into chaos, and said it will intervene if necessary.
Blocking Egypt’s Future
Meanwhile, Mursi accused former regime members of attempting to block Egypt from moving forward.
The president also accused “enemies of the revolution” of wanting to destroy the Egyptian democratic experience, claiming “we have evidence.”
He added “it is time for surgery, to purify,” the country.
“I understand differences with the opposition, but I reject its involvement in acting against the revolution,” he told a live audience.
He said leading opposition figures were bidding to topple the government, currently headed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The leader, who heads the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, said “there is only one revolution” in Egypt, but acknowledged that it may be time for reforms.
Mursi said “some ignored the hand that believes in dialogue,” referring to the objection by certain opposition figures for talks.
He said Munir Fakhri Noor, former minister of tourism, who is affiliated with the liberal Wafd Party, rejected his offer to stay on in the government as the tourism minister.
Moreover, Mursi accused former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was runner up in the last presidential elections, of embezzlement.
The Egyptian president announced an ongoing investigation against Shafiq after he allegedly bought a plane costing $148 million. Mursi said Shafiq should be tried.
Mursi criticized opposition figures and certain members of the judiciary, adding some participants have to be investigated.
The president also pointed fingers at both local and regional media for spreading lies.
Reconciliation committee to be formed
While Mursi hailed the military, he said it must focus on defense of nation, and that the judiciary shouldn’t be involved in politics.
In an attempt to address complaints about Egypt’s constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel in spite of complaints from the opposition, the leader said that he was forming an all-party committee.
He invited party leaders to start work on it on Thursday, adding that he would form a second committee to work on “national reconciliation.”
Created on Monday, 24 June 2013 08:24
An Egyptian lawmaker was expelled from a lower house of parliament session for wearing a blue sash labeled “a new president is needed.”
The call for change by Abdulrahman Huraidi, who is part of the secularist leftist party, the Egyptian Popular Current, irked members of the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
As a result, FJP members approached him trying to strip the sash off him.
Following a parliament vote against his behavior, Huraidi was asked to leave the council session. However, heremoved his sash and insisted he wanted to stay.
Despite his change of act he was escorted out the Shura council.
Created on Sunday, 23 June 2013 07:48
An Egyptian court on Sunday said Muslim Brotherhood members conspired with Hamas, Hezbollah and local militants to storm a prison in 2011 and free 34 Brotherhood leaders, including the future President Mohammed Mursi.
The court statement read by judge Khaled Mahgoub named two members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood - Ibrahim Haggag and Sayed Ayad - to be among the alleged conspirators in the attack on Wadi el-Natroun prison on Jan. 29, 2011.
It is the first statement by a court that holds members of the Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah responsible for the attack on Wadi el-Natroun and two other prisons in which members of the Palestinian and Lebanese groups were held.
Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders have maintained that they were freed by local residents. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Brotherhood, has denied involvement in the attacks on prisons.
The prison breaks took place during the 18-day popular uprising that toppled the 29-year regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The breaks led to a flood of some 23,000 criminals onto the streets, fueling a crime wave that continues to this day. Among those who escaped were around 40 members of Hamas and Hezbollah as well as the 34 Brotherhood leaders.
A total of 26 top police, prison and intelligence officials have testified before the court, which held its hearings in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. Some gave their testimony in closed session.
The case began in January when a former inmate appealed a three-month sentence passed by a lower court that convicted him of escaping Wadi el-Natroun. The defendant was acquitted by judge Mahgoub, who on Sunday referred the testimonies and evidence gathered during the trial on the jailbreak at Wadi el-Natroun to prosecutors to investigate.
In Egypt's polarized political climate, Mursi's opponents have been using his escape from Wadi el-Natroun against him, saying friends of the Brotherhood violated the country's security and fed its instability. The eagerness of some in the intelligence and security agencies to blame Hamas could in part reflect resentment of the Brotherhood's ties with the militant group, which they have long seen as a threat.
The Wadi el-Natroun prison in which Mursi and his Brotherhood comrades were held is part of a four-jail complex northwest of Cairo. A total of 11,171 inmates were released from the complex. Thirteen inmates were also killed, according to Mahgoub, who said the attackers used machine-guns mounted on pickup trucks and SUVs as well as huge earth-moving vehicles that demolished parts of the walls and gates.
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 21:52
Egyptian hardline Islamist group al-Gamaa al-Islamiya said on Saturday that its member Adel el-Khayat will resign from his post as governor of the ancient touristic city of Luxor following violent protests over his appointment.
Safwat Abdel-Ghani, the head of the political bureau of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s Construction and Development Party, told Egypt’s al-Mehwar TV that there are “objective reasons” behind the popular rejection of el-Khayat.
El-Khayat is a founding member of Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which was responsible for the murder of 58 foreign tourists and four and four Egyptians in 1997.
Abdel-Ghani said President Mohammad Mursi did not consult the group before appointing el-Khayat. “If it were consulted we would not have approved the appointment,” he said.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Hisham Zaazou stepped down last week in protest against el-Khayat’s appointment.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya made an ideological U-turn denouncing violence following the 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. It formed the Building and Development Party and won 13 seats in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections.
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 17:45
Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi on Saturday renewed his calls for dialogue with the opposition in an attempt to ease deep political rifts ahead of planned protests calling for his resignation set for June 30.
“I have said it before. I urge everyone to sit together to discuss what would achieve the interests of our nation,” Mursi said in an interview published in the state-owned Akhbar al-Youm newspaper.
The interview comes a day after tens of thousands of Mursi supporters massed in Cairo in a show of strength.
Mursi and the Brotherhood have turned their organizational prowess into electoral success since the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, but a diverse opposition coalition now hopes to force Mursi to resign by demonstrating en masse on the first anniversary of his inauguration on June 30.
“I will continue in my pursuit for contact, and I may speed up parliamentary elections as a way of involving everyone in an agreed method to manage our differences,” Mursi said.
“The call for protest on June 30 reflects the atmosphere of freedom granted to us by the revolution” of 2011, he said.
Mursi appealed for calm and accused those who supported the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak of inciting instability.
“They want to bring back the past because the revolution harmed their interests. (People) must stop their evil plans because they do not want calm and stability for Egypt,” Mursi said.
Egyptian PM warns protesters
Meanwhile, the country’s prime minister said late Friday he was concerned by mounting calls for violence.
Hisham Qandil, speaking in a midnight television program on state TV, warned that no one was above the law, while saying that peaceful protests would be protected.
“What we hear in terms of calls for violence here and there worries me a lot,” Qandil said, as quoted by Reuters news agency. “We are preparing for June 30 in terms of security and by raising awareness among the people so they commit to peaceful demonstrations.
“Since the revolution, the only way to deal with peaceful protesters is to protect them.” But Qandil made clear that the Islamists will not give in to the power of the street, insisting on the democratic legitimacy of the administration: “Real change comes through the polling station,” Qandil said.
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 16:36
Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei on Saturday urged President Mohammed Mursi to step down ahead of planned anti-Mursi protests calling for the Islamist president’s resignation.
During a press conference, ElBaradei said Mursi’s resignation will mark a new era, where another constitution is to be drafted to replace a current one drafted by Islamists.
The former U.N. nuclear chief accused the Muslim Brotherhood, which Mursi hails from, of dividing the Egyptian people and “dragging the country back to Middle Ages.”
ElBaradei said that campaigns calling for protests on June 30, Mursi’s first anniversary in power present a “peaceful, democratic tool” in which people use to express their frustration with Mursi’s government that “has failed to lead the country.”
ElBaradei, a leader at the country’s main opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), said that the country’s charter, which was drafted earlier by an Islamist-dominated constitutional panel, had to respect freedom of expression and beliefs. The current constitution does not guarantee that, he said.
Meanwhile, the NSF leader added that national reconciliation should be reached in the coming period between the country’s different factions, including officials who were in ties with the regime of toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.
Still, a yet-untested political isolation clause in the current constitution may ban these officials from top posts.
“I can’t isolate millions of Egyptian people because they were part of the National Democratic Party,” ElBaradei said, referring to Mubarak’s party.
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 14:23
Egypt’s airports will raise their alert level to “high” ahead of June 30 when opposition-backed protesters plan to demonstrate against President Mohamed Mursi, security officials said on Saturday.
“An emergency plan will be put in place from June 28 until July 1,” the head of Cairo airport security, General Magdy al-Yussri, told reporters.
At Cairo airport, security patrols will be increased, passengers will be thoroughly checked and new cameras will be installed “to monitor and confront any emergency,” he said.
Civil Aviation Minister Wael al-Maadawy has been in talks for several days with airport and security officials as well as the heads of companies affiliated with the EgyptAir holding company that runs the national carrier.
“A state of high alert will be declared from June 28 to July 1,” said General Magdy Elwan, who heads the EgyptAir holding company.
In the provinces, security will be beefed up at airports and EgyptAir offices.
Security personnel will be given the necessary arms and equipment “to protect these vital establishments,” an airport official said.
A campaign dubbed Tamarod (rebellion in Arabic) first called for the anti-Mursi rally to coincide with the first anniversary of his taking office.
Tamarod rapidly picked up steam, and organizers said they have collected 15 million signatures demanding that Mursi step down.
Created on Saturday, 22 June 2013 06:52
Ahead of opposition protests planned for June 30, marking Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi’s first anniversary in power, the country’s prime minister said late Friday he was concerned by mounting calls for violence.
Hisham Qandil, speaking in a midnight television program on state TV, warned that no one was above the law, while saying that peaceful protests would be protected.
His comments came after the Muslim Brotherhood staged a rally in Cairo to show its strength behind Mursi.
Mursi and the Brotherhood have turned their organizational prowess into electoral success since the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, but a diverse opposition coalition now hopes to force Mursi to resign by demonstrating en masse on the first anniversary of his inauguration on June 30.
“What we hear in terms of calls for violence here and there worries me a lot,” Qandil said, as quoted by Reuters news agency. “We are preparing for June 30 in terms of security and by raising awareness among the people so they commit to peaceful demonstrations.
“Since the revolution, the only way to deal with peaceful protesters is to protect them.”
But Qandil made clear that the Islamists will not give in to the power of the street, insisting on the democratic legitimacy of the administration: “Real change comes through the polling station,” Qandil said.
Created on Thursday, 20 June 2013 21:09
The U.S. ambassador to Egypt is under fire from opposition groups who were angered by her criticism this week of planned mass rallies against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
Anne Patterson responded to widespread talk among Egyptian liberals that Washington had thrown its weight behind Islamist President Mohamed Mursi by saying in a speech on Tuesday that the United States was working closely with the elected government and also listening to all Egypt’s political groups.
But by Thursday, after extensive local media coverage of her remarks and condemnation by opposition leaders of “interference” in Egypt’s internal affairs, social media was dominated by angry and hostile comments directed toward Patterson and her embassy.
Among the more polite, tycoon Naguib Sawiris tweeted: “Madam Ambassador, ... Please bless us with your silence.”
Groups involved in promoting demonstrations for June 30aimed at pushing Mursi to step down a year after he took office, rejected her suggestion they risked further violence and would be better engaged in improving their electoral organizations.
“This is the government that you and your fellow citizens elected,” she said. “Even if you voted for others, I don’t think the elected nature of this government is seriously in doubt.
“The United States took the position that we would work with whoever won elections that met international standards.”
Of the planned protests, she said: “Egypt needs stability to get its economic house in order, and more violence on the streets will do little more than add new names to the lists of martyrs. Instead, I recommend Egyptians get organized.
“Join or start a political party that reflects your values and aspirations. Egyptians need to know a better path forward. This will take time. You will have to roll up your sleeves and work hard.”
The United States forged an alliance with Egypt’s military rulers during the Cold War, helping persuade them to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It provided substantial aid throughout the 30 years that Hosni Mubarak ran the country, despite qualms about a lack of democracy. It continues to provide aid.
Patterson also spoke of what she called “conspiracy theories” that Washington connived to topple Mubarak in 2011 and replace him with the Brotherhood, with which U.S. diplomats had long maintained contact while it was banned and in opposition.
“Such speculation is groundless,” she said.
Created on Thursday, 20 June 2013 20:50
Egtpt'sFederation of Tourism Chambers has threatened mass resignations in protest against the appointment of a member of the political arm of a former Islamist militant group as governor of Luxor province.
Several tourism companies have cancelled their winter trips to Luxor in objection to the appointment of Adel al-Khayat.
Among the companies is Thomas Cook, a well-informed source told Al Arabiya.
The new governor belongs to the Construction and Development Party, the political arm of Gamaa Islamiya, which was blamed for a spate of attacks in the 1990s before it renounced violence.
Gamaa Islamiya claimed responsibility for an attack on a major tourist attraction in Luxor, in southern Egypt, that killed 58 tourists in 1997.
Khayat’s appointment came when President Mohamed Mursi replaced 17 of Egypt’s governors on Sunday.
The move sparked fury across the tourism sector, which has been devastated in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mursi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
In objection to the move, Tourism Minister Hesham Zazou submitted his resignation on Wednesday.
However, Prime Minister Hesham Qandil has refused the resignation, and asked Zazou to remain in his post until the situation is reviewed.
Adel Farid, head of the Religious Tourism Commission at the Chamber of Tourism, told Al Arabiya that the chamber is looking into how to respond to Khayat’s appointment.
Farid said he expects more trips to Luxor to be cancelled in the coming days.
Created on Monday, 17 June 2013 17:35
Does Egypt face a new revolution?
Millions hope so, it seems; they have signed a national petition demanding the president resign and plan to take to the streets on June 30, when Mohamed Mursi marks a year in office.
Their slogan is a call for revolt: “Tamarud - Rebel!”
But for all the simmering discontent with the Islamist who has presided over political and economic paralysis, millions more are ready to defend Egypt's first freely elected leader; they say those campaigning for him to quit are agents of the old regime and plan their own pro-Mursi rallies starting Friday.
Their counter-campaign – “Tagarud” - calls for open minds.
There is a risk of more of the violence that has punctuated the two and a half years since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a blast of rage from Tahrir Square. “June 30” crops up endlessly in conversation. The Cairo bourse has shriveled in anticipation and security forces say they are preparing to deal with trouble.
“There is a strong chance of violence,” said retired general Sameh Seif al-Yazal. “It could start from any side.”
It is unclear what can end stalemate between the Islamists, whose organized electoral base has handed them the formal levers of power, and a diffuse opposition of liberals, Christians and secular conservatives united in fear of Islamic rule, plus amass of the uncommitted, fed up with economic drift under Mursi.
The “culture war” between elected Islamists and a secular opposition, with a once-political army in the background, has echoes of today’s unrest in Turkey, but deep economic crisis anda still unformed political system makes Egypt much more fragile.
With world powers at odds over Syria, where Mursi has backed the Sunni Muslim revolt, and Washington funding an Egyptian army that honors Cairo’s peace treaty with Israel, any instability in the most populous Arab state has implications far beyond.
The wealthy generals, once led by Mubarak but who sacrificed him to save themselves, have said they want no more political role. Islamists say it would mean civil war if the troops moved against them. Yet the army is still held in high regard by the vast majority and says it will intervene to maintain order.
However June 30 ends - and few will bet with confidence on the outcome - it will help determine whether the Arab Spring eventually blossoms, or withers - not just for 84 million Egyptians but for would-be democracies across the Middle East.
“This revolution is not over yet,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a former top U.N. diplomat and one of the best known faces of Tamarud, whose keen young sidewalk volunteers say their petition is close to gathering more signatures for Mursi’s - hypothetical- removal than the 13 million votes that elected him a year ago.
ElBaradei spoke at a two-week-old sit-in by artists at the Culture Ministry. It was prompted by the new minister firing the head of Cairo Opera and by fears of a new puritanism after an Islamist lawmaker urged a ban on ballet, calling it “naked art.”
Such threats grip the liberal media and ElBaradei said Islamist dominance must be stopped: “We ask every Egyptian to go out on the 30th, to free ourselves and reclaim our revolution.”
For the millions of poor, for whom the ballet ranks low in their priorities, it is an economy caught in a vice of collapsed tourist income, rising world commodity prices and a growing population dependent on subsidized bread and fuel that matters.
“We don’t want Mursi. We want change,” said Umm Sultan, working with her son at the family juice stall in Cairo's OldCity. “They must give us money so our children can live.”
Echoing fellow Islamists governing in Turkey, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood insists he has a democratic mandate and warn that protest is permitted - "a healthy sign that this revolution has actually worked", one aide called it - but must be peaceful.
Mursi himself says he will react “fiercely” to trouble from “felloul” – ‘remnants’ of Mubarak - and calls the petition, which has no legal weight, “an absurd and illegitimate action.”
There have been scuffles this month between groups gathering signatures; an apartment used by Tamarud was firebombed. A new test looms this Friday, when Islamists plan pro-Mursi rallies.
The heart of the problem is a failure to build consensus.
With opponents in disarray, the Brotherhood and its allies won majorities in both houses of parliament and the presidency last year and rushed a constitution through a referendum. The opposition, partly backed by a judiciary the Islamists see as Mubarak holdovers, now reject most of those state institutions.
Elections for a new lower house that might provide a forum for national dialogue are being held up by rows over the rules.
Anchoring his power in the provinces, Mursi named Islamists to run several governorates on Sunday, including one from a group whose gunmen massacred 58 foreigners in Luxor and will now head the administration in the temple city, a hub for tourism.
But, lacking broad popular support, the legislature and the executive have struggled to act decisively on an economy being kept afloat by soft loans from Qatar and other regional allies.
Islamists warn army
There seems little prospect the Tamarud petition will induce Mursi to resign - and even some liberal commentators say that might set an unwelcome precedent. Mursi’s win seemed fair and anew presidential vote might produce a broadly similar result.
Yet a Zogby poll on Monday showed only 28percent of voters now see his election as positive or at least an outcome to be respected - down from 57 percent a year ago.
The poll also showed, however, that no current opponent is clearly more popular than the bespectacled, bearded face crossed out with a red “X” on Tamarud’s ubiquitous posters.
But if the protest movement seems like a leap into the unknown, that is not deterring large numbers from joining it.
“Tamarud is a representative public reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi’s failure to run the state,” said Hassan Nafaa, a Cairo University political scientist who says Mursi must resign for his “stupidity.” “It has left people no option but the streets and so they will come out - in large numbers.”
The president’s allies will not give in so easily:
“If Mursi ends up being ousted by violence or a coup by the army or police, there will be an Islamic revolution,” said al-Ghaddafi Abdel Razek, manager of the pro-Mursi Tagarud campaign which he said had collected 7 million signatures backing Mursi.
“We have our people in the army and the police, too, and we are ready,” added Abdel Razek, 37, a pharmacist once jailed for his membership of militant group al-Gamaa al-Islamiya.
“We know that if Mursi goes, we’ll all be in prison.”
Over at the opposition campaign, spokesman Mahmoud Badr is grappling with piles of signatures and ID numbers that need to be verified against databases if Tamarud is to make the case it hopes to the United Nations that its petition is genuine.
Even without international intervention, Badr argued, the weight of opinion could embarrass Mursi into stepping aside. Others say that at least it might push him to listen to them.
“It is a new factor, this kind of mobilizing effort with the numbers of folks involved,” said U.S. pollster James Zogby. “We don’t know where it's going, but we're clearly turning a page.
“This is a revolution still to be resolved.”
And if Mursi goes? It seems hypothetical now, but Badr and his team have a post-Mursi plan: the constitutional court chief would be interim head of state with a small technocrat cabinet.
For many, exasperated by power cuts, shortage of fuel and rising prices, a return to army rule would be welcome - though the military insists it wants no such responsibility. Its chief, appointed by Mursi, has urged “a framework for consensus.”
One military source told Reuters the army was ready for all eventualities after June 30 – “but we will not interfere unless the situation seems to be heading towards violent conflict.”
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said troops will “defend the state and what is sacred to the people” - that, the source said, included their rights to protest.
As the rallies approach, Egyptians have decisions to make.
Ahmed Mahmoud, 30, a laborer from Alexandria is already in the capital to make his voice heard: “I want to tell Mursi loud and clear he needs to go since he has failed to meet the demands of our revolution, for a better life and freedom,” he said.
“We are tired and cannot take it anymore. We want to live.”
But others, who fear yet more unrest can only plunge them deeper into poverty, are more patient. Mohamed Ali, 26, a waiter at a Cairo cafe, said Mursi should be given his chance: “We are new to democracy and we should give him time to work and learn.”
Created on Monday, 17 June 2013 11:28
June 30 will be the “day of salvation" from the government of Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq said on Monday.
Shafiq was referring to nationwide protests planned by opposition groups to mark Mursi’s first anniversary in power.
This day will be “the certain end” of the “shameful” Muslim Brotherhood governance, or at least “the beginning of the end,” he told al-Tahrir newspaper.
“Why adopt threatening rhetoric when you are no more than 300,000 people?” asked Shafiq, addressing Mursi supporters, who have threatened to confront the planned protests.
He urged Mursi’s supporters to behave peacefully.
The opposition-backed campaign dubbed Tamarod, Arabic for rebellion, has called for a demonstration outside the presidential palace against Mursi on June 30.
Tamarod says it has gathered millions of signatures to a petition demanding that Mursi step down to pave the way for an early presidential election.
In a reaction, Islamist parties said they plan to organize a “million-man march” in front of Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque next Friday, to counter Tamarod’s protest at the end of the month
Created on Sunday, 16 June 2013 14:00
In an atmosphere similar to a Friday sermon, a prominent Salafist preacher recently described participants in the upcoming demonstrations against Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi as hypocrites and unbelievers.
“I pray to God that the intuitions of these unbelievers and hypocrites will be reversed,” said Sheikh Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, deputy head of the Salafi Legitimate Authority for Rights and Reform.
In response to Abdel-Maqsoud’s remarks, Kareem Abdulhafeez, a member of the rebel movement, commented by questioning the cleric’s authority as a guardian of Islam.
“We say to the Egyptian people of all sects: we, the Egyptian people, believe that the corrupt hypocrites and killers are the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers,” he told Al Arabiya.
“Egypt is for all Egyptians, the only segment that doesn’t belong amongst Egyptians is the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Abdulhafeez.
“Egyptians are no longer ignorant, they are aware of who is a hypocrite, who is a killer, who is the real culprit, and the true identity of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he added.
Aided by Egypt’s Interior Minister stating that he will not prevent demonstrations, the rebel movement announced that it will not back down in any way on the protests planned for June 30.
Created on Thursday, 13 June 2013 16:43
Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday approved the Nile River Cooperative Framework Agreement, replacing all colonial-era deals that granted Egypt and Sudan the majority of water rights to the world’s longest river, Egyptian daily al-Yawm al-Sabea reported.
The parliament unanimously ratified the agreement, which is strongly opposed by Egypt and Sudan.
The move comes amid tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s decision to build the Renaissance Dam, which will divert Nile water.
Egypt strongly opposes the dam out of fear that it will cause a dangerous water shortage.
“All options are open” in dealing with the situation, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said on Monday, adding that his country is willing to confront any threats to its water security.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn responded that a declaration of war by Egypt would be “tantamount to insanity.”
Desalegn described statements by Egyptian politicians, particularly those from the Muslim Brotherhood, as “provocative.”
He accused the Egyptian government of exploiting the issue of the dam “to confront its rivals and evade its local crises.”
Desalegn said: “No one, no matter who he is, can prevent Ethiopia from establishing developmental projects on its land.”
He added that the dam is “a national plan” that will lift the Ethiopian people out of poverty.
Desalegn emphasized his belief in “dialogue and negotiating in order to serve both countries’ interests,” adding that the dam will not harm Sudan or Egypt.
Created on Thursday, 13 June 2013 09:06
Some members of the U.S. Congress are calling into question aid to Cairo, after a court there sentenced to jail 16 Americans who work for non-governmental organizations based in Egypt.
The NGOs were convicted of using foreign aid to foment unrest.
Leaders from four of the organizations testified to a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee about how the U.S. government should proceed in its relationship with Egypt’s government.
“We must stand in solidarity with those who continue to seek the ideals of the revolution,” the chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said during the hearing.
“It’s no longer acceptable to send unconditional aid to a regime that persecutes, prosecutes, and convicts those who seek to aid Egyptians seeking freedom and true democracy for all of Egypt,” she added.
“The relationship can’t be allowed to operate on auto-pilot,” said Charles Dunne, one of the convicted members of the organization Freedom House. “Politics is what drove this case.”
Dunne told members of Congress that Freedom House believes the United States should suspend its aid to Egypt until there is a resolution to the issue.
However, he and the other witnesses agreed that Washington needs to continue engaging with Egypt as it goes through a democratic transition.
“It’ll be a long process and a messy process, but it does require outside support,” Dunne said.
Earlier in June, Egyptian Judge Makram Awad handed down a verdict against 43 foreign aid workers, including the 16 Americans, surprising many of the NGOs with the stridency of his sentencing.
He gave all of the defendants jail time ranging from one to five years.
Funding “has become a new form of control and domination, a soft imperialism... pursued by donors to destabilize, weaken and dismantle beneficiary countries,” Awad said in his verdict.
The judge accused the non-profits of involvement in a neo-colonial plot in partnership with Israel.
The three other NGO directors did not want to weigh in on whether the United States should suspend aid to Egypt.
Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, said his organization does not take stances on political issues, including funding.
“The ICFJ isn’t a political organization… so how on Earth do we even relate to any of these charges?” said Barnathan.
Ros-Lehtinen introduced a bill in January making aid to Egypt conditional on the government’s track record on political freedom and human rights.
Though the bill has not been passed by Congress, many members agree that the United States needs to take a stronger stand against what they say is the Egyptian government’s abuse of power.
Regardless of Congressional censure, however, the country will continue to receive military aid.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed a waiver in June guaranteeing $1.3 billion for Egypt’s armed forces.
The witnesses also gave their opinions on Egypt’s democratic transition, and how the United States should manage its relationship with the government.
“The Egyptian transition, at this point, can only be described as a mess,” said Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute.
The transition in Tunisia and Libya has been more successful than in Egypt, he added.
“Egypt is worse than it was” under former President Hosni Mubarak, said Dunne.
The NGOs want the U.S. government to seek legal pardon so they can resume their work in Egypt.
Their offices have been closed since Dec. 2011, when officials raided their offices and froze all their assets.
“Our organizations do have willing partners in Egypt... We look forward to the day when we can cooperate with them once more,” Dunne said.
Created on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 15:25
Egypt’s central bank said it had suspended its Tuesday deposit auction and would hold a repurchase agreement (repo) auction in its place, a move bankers said was designed to give some banks access to more liquidity.
Most foreign investors have fled Egypt since the uprising, forcing the government to rely on local banks to finance a budget deficit which has mushroomed to some 12 percent of GDP in the financial year that ends this month, stretching to the limit he banks’ ability to lend.
“I think liquidity is concentrated in some banks, and others are in need of liquidity,” said a dealer at the treasury of a Cairo-based bank.
Repos add liquidity to the banking system while deposit auctions drain it.
The Central Bank introduced repos in March 2011 to boost liquidity weeks after the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak spread turmoil throughout Egypt’s financial markets.
Its last repos matured on April 2 of this year, when the Central Bank introduced the deposit operations instead.
Central Bank officials declined to comment on the reason for Tuesday’s switch to repos.
State-owned banks, which account for nearly half of bank assets in Egypt, seem to have been buying large quantities of treasury bills and bonds, while private banks have tended to buy less, creating an imbalance in funds available in the banking system, bankers said.
The central bank sold 5 billion Egyptian pounds ($715 million) in 7-day repos on Tue
ay at a fixed rate of 10.25 percent after having accepted 6bn pounds in 7-day deposits at an offering on June 4.
The deposits also carried a fixed rate of 10.25 percent.
In addition to using their funds to buy T-bills and bonds, banks have been buying dollars at the central bank’s foreign currency auctions, which are taking $120m worth of Egyptian pounds out of the system each week, another dealer said.
Still, banks placed 28bn pounds at the central bank’s overnight deposit facility on Monday, indicating that banks nonetheless remain liquid overall, the dealer added.
Youssef Kamel, a fixed income analyst at financial firm Rasmala, said liquidity was tight in May, but the past week seemed to have eased.
“It could be that the central bank is taking action to prevent liquidity from tightening again as we approach the end of the fiscal year,” he said.
Created on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 08:31
Egypt’s president warned Monday that “all options are open” in dealing with Ethiopia’s efforts to build a dam that threatens to leave Nile-dependent Egypt with a dangerous water shortage.
Speaking in a live televised speech before hundreds of his supporters, Mohammad Mursi said Egypt is not calling for war, but it is willing to confront any threats to its water security.
“Our blood is the alternative,” Mursi said, and the crowd of largely Islamist supporters erupted in a standing ovation.
Mursi’s speech reflected the importance of the Nile River to Egypt. It provides almost all of the fresh water to a country that is otherwise largely parched desert.
“We are not calling for war, but we will not allow, at all, threats against our water security,” Mursi said before adding, “all options are open.”
He did, however, note that Egypt considers Ethiopia a “friend” and that he has visited the country twice since taking office.
Mursi is facing growing dissent at home by a diverse spectrum of the population because of instability, poor security and a struggling economy more than two years after an uprising toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
Opposition activists are hoping to harness the frustration of Egyptians into mass protests planned on the anniversary of Mursi’s taking office June 30.
The president appeared to be using the concern about Ethiopia’s Nile dam to whip up nationalistic fervor ahead of the protests. He said he would be willing to approach the opposition groups themselves to unite Egyptians around a common position with regard the dam.
“If Egypt is the Nile’s gift, then the Nile is a gift to Egypt,” he said.
“The great Nile is that which all our lives are connected to. The lives of the Egyptians are connected around it... as one great people,” he added.
Angry Egyptian lawmakers accused the country’s prime minister and government earlier in the day of doing nothing to prevent Ethiopia from building the dam. Prime Minister Hesham Kandil had just finished addressing parliament about how the government planned to work diplomatically, legally and technically to negotiate with Ethiopia over the dam when the session heated up.
Kandil called the dam’s construction an “act of defiance” and stressed that Egypt will not give “a single drop of water,” but then hurriedly left the chamber despite calls for clarification over how to handle the situation if Ethiopia rejects overtures.
“Egypt will turn to a graveyard” if the dam is completed, Egyptian lawmaker Khaled Ouda, a geologist, shouted to parliament. “The prime minister didn’t provide anything.”
The crisis started last month when Ethiopia diverted the flow of the Blue Nile, one of the Nile’s sources, to make way for the dam, before a 10-member panel of experts from Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries released a study on the dam’s impact. The move took the Egyptian government by surprise. As much as 85 percent of the Nile’s water comes from Ethiopia.
Egypt in the past has threatened to go to war over its “historic rights” to the Nile waters. Last week, Egyptian political leaders caused an uproar after proposing to aid rebels against the Ethiopian government or even sabotaging the dam itself. Ethiopia demanded an official explanation.
Egypt faces the prospect of its current water shortage worsening when the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is completed.
Ethiopia’s unilateral action appeared to ignore the 10-nation Nile Basin Initiative, a regional partnership formed in 1999 that seeks to develop the river in a cooperative manner.
Created on Sunday, 09 June 2013 17:01
Liberal-minded Egyptians and supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood now share one thing: the rival sides are closely following protests in Turkey, a country that has provided the heavily polarized and increasingly impoverished Egyptians with a tantalizing model for marrying Islamist government with a secular establishment and achieving prosperity along the way.
Turkey, a NATO member with a mostly Muslim population has been touted as a democratic model for Egypt and other Arab countries swept up in popular revolts over the past two years.
But scenes of tens of thousands of Turks filling Istanbul’s central Taksim Square for more than a week of anti-government protests reminiscent of the mass demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that led to the 2011 ouster of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak have alarmed Islamists in both countries.
The rapid unraveling of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s image at home has spilled into Egypt in what experts say is a warning to Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood as they balance the need to meet the demands of both the deeply conservative and the secular communities in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
“This is certainly a bad omen for Islamists,” said Mohammad Abdel-Kader Khalil, a Cairo-based senior researcher at the East Center for Strategic and Regional Studies. “Their model is violently shaking as the man they say they want to emulate has been dealt a blow.”
Experts are more sanguine: Given the vast differences in history and circumstances, Taksim Square, they warn, is no Tahrir.
“Various parties attempt to make a connection between the so-called Turkish model and the Egyptian. They are very mistaken. The two are vastly different,” said Amr Ismail Adly, a Turkish affairs scholar in Cairo. “Portraying this as a struggle between secularism and Islam is also oversimplifying a much more complex issue given the diversity of protesters and motives.”
For the first time in a decade of power, however, Erdogan appears vulnerable and embattled despite the country’s stunning economic performance and heightened international profile.
The demonstrations began May 31 with a violent police crackdown against a small protest over a plan to develop the landmark Taksim Square and spread to dozens of cities amid discontent over what critics see as the prime minister’s increasing authoritarianism and efforts to encroach on secular lifestyles.
His critics point to attempts to curtail the selling and promotion of alcohol, his comments on how women should dress and statements that each woman should have at least three children.
A devout Muslim who says he is committed to upholding Turkey’s secular tradition, Erdogan vehemently rejects charges of autocracy and points out that he enjoyed 50 percent support in the last elections in 2011.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been cool to Turkey’s secular leaning but gave Erdogan a hero’s welcome when he visited Egypt last year, erecting giant billboards with his image on Cairo’s main bridges and boulevards.
The Brotherhood’s deputy leader Khairat el-Shater depicted himself as “Egypt’s Erdogan” during his short-lived presidential campaign last year before he was thrown out of the race over a Mubarak-era conviction.
The opposition and many other Egyptians, meanwhile, have been skeptical about the analogy with the Turkish model, calling it a Brotherhood tactic to assuage fears in the West and at home that it would try to impose strict Islamic rule even as its members dominate the country’s power structures.
Khalil, the Cairo-based researcher, said the Brotherhood actually “inverted the model” by trying to monopolize power through the infusion of its members in state institutions under the pretext of battling the “deep state,” a term used in Turkey to refer to a network of military and civilian allies accused of trying to destabilize the country during the early years of Erdogan’s rule.
The term is repeatedly used by Brotherhood leaders to refer to the legacy of Mubarak’s 29-year regime.
“They wanted to consolidate power, take control of state institutions while the streets are boiling and the economy in shambles,” said Khalil, the researcher. “They are in a rush and they didn’t really benefit from Turkey’s experience.”
Opposition activists look to the Turkey protests - with a daily stream of pictures of injured Turkish protesters and people acting as human shields against water cannons - as a way to boost their continued movement and demonstrations against Morsi’s rule, which they claim has over a very short time reproduced the authoritarian regime ousted in 2011.
“The impact is doubled in Egypt,” said prominent activist Hossam el-Hamalawy. “On one hand this is a blow to Islamic project which Islamists held up high as a model they were preaching with and on the other hand, any movement in any country will have a domino effect.”
But Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood appeared to be only hardening its stance in the wake of the protests.
A member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, Farid Ismail, said protests in both countries amount to a “war, not against the regime or President Mohammad Mursi, but against the Islamic identity.”
“It is a struggle between right and wrong,” he added in remarks at a rally this week in a Nile Delta province north of Cairo.
Created on Saturday, 08 June 2013 13:46
Secretary of State John Kerry last month approved $1.3 billion in annual US military aid to Egypt, despite concerns over democratic progress by the country’s new government, a US official said Friday.
All such aid is “carefully considered,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, but it was felt the funding was necessary to help “preserve important regional interests.”
On May 10, Kerry quietly approved the transfer of the annual aid, notifying the US Congress of his decision, she confirmed.
The move came well before Tuesday’s sentencing by a Cairo court that handed down jail terms and fines on 43 Egyptian and foreign NGO workers in what Kerry has denounced as a “politically-motivated trial.”
The sentences were just the latest move to raise tensions between Washington and the government of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi.
Mursi was elected in June last year in what were billed as Egypt’s first ever democratic elections, after former strongman Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in early 2011.
But US officials and others have warned that the promise of the Egyptian revolution is in danger of being hijacked, and Mursi’s opponents accuse him of governing in the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party on whose ticket he ran in the presidential election.
Psaki defended Kerry’s approval of aid for the fiscal year 2013 saying it was in US national security interests and helped such things as “maintaining access to the Suez Canal and the interdiction of weapons smuggling.”
Last year, the funds were held up after the Egyptian authorities first moved against the US-funded non-governmental organizations. Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton finally gave the green light for the funds to be paid in March.
Created on Thursday, 06 June 2013 16:35
The Ethiopian government has summoned the Egyptian ambassador to demand an explanation after comments were made by politicians in Cairo suggesting their country sabotage a Nile River dam Ethiopia is constructing, AP reported.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Dina Mufti said Thursday that the ambassador was summoned to explain the “hostile remarks.”
Ethiopia will press ahead with the building of its dam on the Blue Nile River, officials said Thursday, according to AFP, a day after Cairo said “all options are open” if its water supply is affected.
“We are going to continue with our project, I don’t think it will depend on the will of politicians in Egypt,” said Getachew Reda, spokesperson for Ethiopian premier. “As far as the will of the Ethiopian government and the will of the Ethiopian people are concerned, there shouldn’t be any question whatsoever about the Renaissance Dam, it will continue.”
In a statement released earlier Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammad Kamel Amr said that his country will coordinate with Sudan and Ethiopia over the dam issue. However, a day earlier, Cairo said it would demand Ethiopia end the building of the hydroelectric plant.
Last week, Ethiopia began diverting the flow of the Nile River to make way for a $4.2 billion massive dam, which was dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Cairo is concerned that the new project will mean a diminished share of the Nile River.
Unaware Egyptian politicians
Apparently unaware they were being filmed on live TV, Egyptian politicians meeting with Egypt’s president on Monday proposed to sabotage Ethiopia’s plans to build the dam.
Some politicians suggested backing rebels to carry out sabotage. However, Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi did not directly react to the suggestions but said in concluding remarks that Egypt respects Ethiopia and its people and will not engage in any aggressive acts against the East African nation.
Meanwhile, an aide to Mursi apologized after she failed to inform politicians holding talks with the president that they were live on air.
“Due to the importance of the topic it was decided at the last minute to air the meeting live. I forgot to inform the participants about the changes,” presidential aide for political affairs Pakinam el-Sharkawi said.
“I apologize for any embarrassment caused to the political leaders,” she said on Twitter.
Created on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 13:32
Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt on Tuesday accused Turkish protesters of receiving foreign funds from entities which they claim “want to make the highly successful Islamic project fail,” according to local Egyptian media reports.
Hussein Ibrahim, secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), blamed “foreign groups” who wish to “manipulate internal issues to serve international interests.” He did not clarify.
Ibrahim said the protests serve a purpose of fighting everything Islamic, even if Turkey “has made unprecedented strides with regards to developments rates and the improvement of citizens’ incomes,” Egypt Independent reported.
Meanwhile, Mourad Aly, the FJP’s media adviser, said: “Some parties intentionally want to make its seem that what is going on in Turkey is a revolution,” adding that those assessments “are exaggerated and have nothing to do with what is happening on the ground.”
In statements to Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, he said: “What is going on in Turkey has nothing to do with daily or economic needs. It is intended to promote the idea that Islamic regimes, which have made economic achievements and proved to the world that they can strand in the face of all external challenges, have failed”.
Thousands gathered at Istanbul’s Taksim Square for a sixth day Wednesday, yelling defiance at Erdogan, who earlier had dismissed the protesters as “extremists” and “vandals”. He was in Algeria on the second day of a four-day official visit to north Africa.
“The vandals are here! Where is Tayyip?” yelled the crowd.
They accuse Erdogan, who has won three successive national elections, of imposing conservative Islamic reforms on the predominantly Muslim, but constitutionally secular, nation.
Two people have been killed in the clashes, officials and medics say, and rights groups say thousands have been injured. The government puts the figure at around 300.
Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) first took power in 2002, has accused the main opposition Republican People’s Party of having a hand in the protests.
Created on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 13:00
Thousands of volunteers are hitting the pavement around Egypt, on streets, in metro stations, even in hospitals, passing out black-and-white forms to whoever will take them. The goal: To collect millions of signatures on a petition calling for the removal of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Mursi.
The signature drive, known as “Tamarod” or “Rebel” in Arabic, is helping galvanize an opposition that has been in disarray and demoralized. It has also provoked a paper war, as Mursi’s Islamist supporters in turn have launched a counter-campaign gathering millions of signatures in his support, called “Tajarod” or “Impartiality.”
The Tamarod campaign reflects the growing discontent with Mursi over Egypt’s ailing economy, fuel shortages and a lack of security, as he nears the end of a tumultuous first year in office.
It also marks a shift in tactics. The mainly liberal and secular opposition parties have made little headway in building on the discontent to form a popular political force able to counter the Islamists’ lock on elected bodies. A wave of anti-Mursi protests earlier this year by revolutionary youth groups and others also faded away, from exhaustion, frustration and a heavy crackdown.
Activists now hope the signature campaign can show the strength of anti-Mursi sentiment among the large sectors of the public that have largely given up on politics. The organizers, joined by other opposition movements, are planning massive anti-Mursi rallies around the country on June 30, the one-year anniversary of Mursi’s inauguration.
On Tuesday, Ali Ahmed pulled over the truck he was driving and jumped out when he saw a group of campaigners in the Cairo district of Shubra, so he could add his name. “We can't find food,” was his only explanation before climbing back in to finish off a day’s work.
Tamarod says it has 7 million signatures so far and it aims to collect 15 million - around 2 million more than the number of votes that Mursi garnered in last year’s presidential election, which he won with 52 percent of the votes. Egypt’s population is around 90 million.
The petition calls for early elections to be held, declaring that “Mursi has been a total failure.” It says that since his inauguration in June last year, “the average citizen feels none of the goals of the revolution have been achieved - a life of dignity, freedom, social justice and national independence.”
But the petition has no legal force - underscoring the limitations of the campaign. The organizers say they will take the petition to the Supreme Constitutional Court to seek new elections, but there’s no constitutional basis for doing so. Mursi has three more years to his term.
Mursi said last month that Tamarod’s calls for him to step down “are not possible,” telling reporters that he has a “constitutional responsibility” to complete his term.
He said some involved in the campaign are “sincere” and he urged them to “get involved in political activity with a party or organization.”
“But from a constitutional and legal perspective, I am the legitimate president of Egypt. Everyone must accept democratic mechanisms and we must not waste time or lose opportunities through conflicts,” he said.
The reaction from officials in the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Mursi hails and which has the largest bloc in parliament, has ranged from dismissing the campaign as irrelevant to denouncing it as an attempt to overturn democracy. The website of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has posted claims of forged signatures in a bid to discredit the campaign - a claim Tamarod denies.
“Anyone who signs should go directly to prison because it’s a call for to overturn the legitimate, elected authority,” one local FJP leader, Ibrahim Abu Ouf, said last month.
The political arm of the hard-line Gamaa Islamiya, a former militant group that waged a campaign of violence in the 1990s but since forswore its arms and is now an ally of Mursi, launched the pro-Mursi “Tajarod” petition campaign.
So far, the group says, it has gathered 2 million signatures on its petition, which expresses support for “the president to complete his legitimate and constitutional term” and opposition to any attempt to counter the “decision of free Egyptians.”
The Brotherhood and other Islamists, who have the country’s strongest political machines, have repeatedly shown their strength at the polls, winning parliamentary and presidential elections since the 2011 fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Their opponents accuse them of using their electoral majorities to seal a monopoly on power, marginalize others and ram through their own agenda.
Mursi repeatedly says he is a president for all Egyptians and denies focusing decision-making with the Brotherhood, while Brotherhood officials and other Islamists say they have a right to implement their program given their election wins.
One of the top organizations of the anti-Mursi Tamarod campaign, Mohammed Haikal, acknowledges the realities. But he says, at the least the signature drive “exposes Mursi’s mistakes.”
“This initiative at this time is uniting the opposition parties around a cause and a document,” said Haikal, a 29-year-old who worked with the independent Al-Badil newspaper until he quit to work on the campaign. “It brings politics back to the streets after people became scared of joining protests where people were being killed.”
The campaign was launched by youth protesters disappointed with the direction of the country. Since then, opposition political parties have backed the campaign, but Tamarod still relies on its thousands of volunteers to garner signatures. Signatories fill out the black and white form with their name, national identity number and the province where they live.
Some of the group’s volunteers have been attacked while passing out petitions, allegedly by Mursi supporters. On Monday, Tamarod organizers said one volunteer traveling from the southern city of Assiut to Cairo to turn in signed leaflets from the university there was abducted and his documents stolen. No further details were immediately available.
Haikal says the signatures are being safeguarded in opposition party offices and that volunteers have offered to hide some in their homes, with one woman keeping signed leaflets in her freezer.
The spokesman for the main opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, called the campaign a “civilized way” to tell Mursi and the Brotherhood “that they have failed in running this country.”
“I tremendously understand the importance of holding elections once every four years,” Khaled Daoud said. But “I don’t think that this country can take three more years of failure, three more years of lack of security, three more years of failed economy and division and polarization.”
Hisham Amin, a 39-year-old father of two, signed the petition after spotting Tamarod volunteers standing on a median in a busy Cairo street. He had heard about the campaign and was eager to sign. His reason, like for many: the economy.
“Things are getting worse,” he said. “Under Mubarak things were moving, but now under Mursi everything is stopped.”
Policeman Ahmed Fargallah was among those inking his name to a Tamarod leaflet in Shobra on Tuesday.
He vowed to join protesters on Mursi’s one-year anniversary in office.
“Mursi is not qualified and is not up to the task,” he said.
Created on Tuesday, 21 May 2013 16:27
Officials said Egyptian authorities accidentally fired at a Bedouin funeral in Sinai during a search for security personnel kidnapped by suspected militants, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
A security official said a senior military officer offered an apology to the family of the dead man.
Before the official's statement, Egyptian TV reported an airstrike on Al-Berth village in Sinai, which had killed one militant. The TV report said three others were arrested and eight cars were confiscated.
The officials, however, said police and troops believed the funeral convoy of eight pickup trucks was carrying gunmen who refused orders to stop. The troops opened fire, and some among the mourners fired back before the funeral-goers fled. The officials said one dead body was left behind, and troops believed that they were the ones who killed him.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity given they are unauthorized to speak to the media.
Egyptian military previously said it won’t wage any military operation against the Islamist kidnappers until the presidency gives a “green light.”
Egypt exerting ‘intense efforts’
Egypt exerted “intense efforts” on Tuesday to secure the release the seven captured security personnel, the prime minister said, as witnesses spoke of increased military movements in the Sinai peninsula.
“There are intense efforts on all fronts for the return of the captured conscripts safely,” Hisham Qandil said in a statement carried on the official MENA news agency.
On Monday, the presidency said all options were on the table to secure the men's release.
The seven were abducted at gunpoint on Thursday as they were returning from leave.
The presidency said it was not negotiating with the kidnappers, but did not rule out future talks.
Authorities sent police reinforcements to Sinai on Monday following a dawn attack on the Al-Ahrash police camp in northern Sinai, where assailants fired heavy weapons for 25 minutes, security officials said.
That was followed by another attack, on the Oja border crossing with Israel, which is also close to a police camp.
Attacks on police and soldiers in the sparsely populated peninsula have surged since an uprising overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, as have cross-border attacks on Israel.
Created on Saturday, 18 May 2013 11:08
The pale, young Christian woman sat handcuffed in the courtroom, accused of insulting Islam while teaching history of religions to fourth-graders. A team of Islamist lawyers with long beards sang in unison, “All except the Prophet Muhammad.”
The case against Dimyana Abdel-Nour in southern Egypt’s ancient city of Luxor began when parents of three of her pupils claimed that their children, aged 10, complained their teacher showed disgust when she spoke of Islam in class. According to the parents, Abdel-Nour, 24, told the children that Pope Shenouda, who led the Egyptian Coptic Church until his death last year, was better than the Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy charges were not uncommon in Egypt under the now-ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s regime, but there has been a surge in such cases in recent months, according to rights activists. The trend is widely seen as a reflection of the growing power and confidence of Islamists, particularly the ultraconservative Salafis.
“Salafis are the engineers of these stories,” said Abdel-Hamid Hassan, a Muslim and the head of the parents’ council at the primary school where Abdel-Nour teaches. Hassan’s daughter was among several students who denied any wrongdoing by Abdel-Nour.
“If the pope himself came here from the Vatican and tried to spread Christianity among us, he would fail. We learn about our religion starting from the age of 5,” he said, alluding to the allegation against Abdel-Nour, since withdrawn, of “spreading Christianity.”
Criminalizing blasphemy was enshrined in the country’s Islamist-backed constitution that was adopted in December.
Writers, activists and even a famous television comedian have been accused of blasphemy since then. But Christians seem to be the favorite target of Islamist prosecutors. Their fragile cases - the main basis of the case against Abdel-Nour’s case the testimony of children - are greeted with sympathy from courtroom judges with their own religious bias or who fear the wrath of Islamists, according to activists.
The result is a growing number of Egyptians, including many Christians, who have been convicted and sent to prison for blasphemy.
In at least one celebrated case, the offense was clearly provocative: Seven Coptic Christians living in the United States received death sentences in absentia for producing an anti-Islam film that sparked waves of protests by ultraconservative Islamists in front of U.S. embassies across the Arab world on Sept. 11, 2012.
But rights groups say the vast majority of blasphemy cases are merely attempts by Islamists to crack down on their opponents.
“Islamists are using the law to hunt down critics to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Christians are the weakest,” said Medhat Klada, a Switzerland-based Coptic Christian activist whose organization Copts United tracks such cases. “The numbers of Christians implicated is unprecedented,” he added.
Many believe that restrictions on freedoms are more severe under Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first freely elected president, than during his predecessor’s 29-year reign.
Under Mubarak, “you might have had 50 cases, which means a case or two a year on average, but now you have like 10 cases in a year,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, who leads The Word Group for Human Rights and focuses on Christian-related persecution.
Freed Tuesday on nearly $3,000 bail after almost a week in detention, Abdel-Nour is due to stand trial on May 21. Her family refused several requests by The Associated Press to speak to her. Her father, Ebid Abdel-Nour, said: “She is innocent. God be with us. She can’t talk because she is in very bad condition.”
Emil Nazeer, a Christian activist who visited her, says she is suffering a “nervous breakdown.”
Rights advocates see cases like Abdel-Nour’s as politically motivated persecution. They say the verdicts tend to be harsher in southern Egypt, where Islamists are particularly powerful and Muslims are more conservative.
“Any move or word by a Christian is enough to get the rumor mill working,” said Amr Ezzat, a prominent researcher in Islamic groups at the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). “Rumors quickly spread in villages or the towns where the radar of Islamist activists detect them and turn them into a rallying cry under the pretext that Islam’s supremacy is endangered.”
Salafis advocate an uncompromising and literal interpretation of the Quran, believing society must mirror the way the prophet and his immediate successors ruled in the 7th century. Some Salafi-based political groups are at odds with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group from which Morsi hails, while others are avid supporters of his government.
Part of the Salafis’ antagonism toward Christians is rooted in the belief that they were a protected group under Mubarak’s regime while they, the Salafis, were persecuted. Now empowered, they may be out to exact revenge on the Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people.
The Egyptian Federation for Human Rights, led by former judge Naguib Gibrael, detects a trend in the number of lawsuits and court rulings leveled against Christians and school teachers in particular over the past year.
Gibrael, a lawyer who is representing Abdul-Nour, says it’s his 18th case defending Christians - several of them teachers - detained over insulting Islam. He says his 17 other clients received three to six years in prison. They go to appeals courts, hoping for retrials or lighter sentences.
Another rights group, the EIPR, said it chronicled at least 36 blasphemy cases in 2011 and 2012, including more than 10 convictions, and that Christian school teachers were frequent targets.
“Teachers are an easy target,” said Gibrael. “Any two students can say anything about their teachers. Islamist teachers collect signatures, and quickly Islamists move a case, then terrorize the court by holding protests and besieging the court building until the judge issues a verdict. I have seen it all,” he said.
In Cairo, public figures who have lately faced blasphemy accusations or trials like movie star Adel Imam were all cleared, thanks to media attention, lobbying by rights groups and heavy police presence.
In rural areas, according to EIPR researcher Ishak Ibrahim, even those acquitted or otherwise cleared of blasphemy accusations face social or administrative punishment, with some forced by villagers to leave their homes, pay a fine or get demoted or suspended by their state employers.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood likes to project itself as a more moderate Islamist group when compared to the ultraconservative Salafis, but they still play a role in the blasphemy cases.
The top Brotherhood leader in Luxor, Abdel-Hamid el-Senoussi, is a lawmaker and the head of the legal team representing the families whose children testified against Abdel-Nour.
He acknowledged that two investigations by the school found no justification for the children’s claims, but said he does not trust those findings.
“They just want to avoid discord. But we prefer to get to the bottom of it,” he said. “Even if the court clears the teacher and rules that she is innocent, she must be fired from the school.”
“There are people who want to mess up with the ship of the nation and this teacher is one of them,” he said.
For him, the penalty for contempt of religion is not harsh enough. “I prefer 10 years imprisonment and, in case the judge clears the defendant, a fine that goes toward the upkeep of places of worship.”
“Anyone who insults religions must be punished to deter further assaults,” he said.