Top News: Egypt Parliament Expels Lawmaker over Meeting with Israeli Ambassador

An Egyptian lawmaker and popular TV talk show host was expelled from parliament Wednesday over a meeting he had with the Israeli ambassador to Egypt. The controversy over the meeting began when Ambassador Haim Koren posted a picture on the embassy’s Facebook page last week of himself and Egyptian lawmaker Tawfiq Okasha during their meeting. Okasha’s expulsion from the 596-seat legislature was decided in a vote Wednesday by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers. A total of 490 lawmakers took part in the vote, with 465 supporting the motion to kick him out. Sixteen voted against and nine abstained. Witnesses said Okasha tried to get into the session to apologize to colleagues before it was too late but was barred by security on the orders of the speaker. Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al, seeking to head off charges that the legislature was anti-Israeli, told lawmakers that Egypt respected the country’s diplomatic commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel. Lawmakers who supported Okasha’s expulsion said he was punished for meeting with a foreign diplomat without the legislature’s authorization or advance coordination with “relevant” agencies. Mohamed Mounir, an independent MP, however, argued that “a strong reaction against Okasha could send a message to the outside world that Egypt does not respect the peace treaty with Israel.” Egypt businessman Akmal Qortam criticized the decision to expel Okasha saying, “The decision taken by parliament against Okasha was dictated by personal and political interests rather than by the constitution and internal bylaws we took an oath to respect.”  The committee tasked with investigation Okasha said his decision to discuss national security issues with the ambassador of a foreign country on issues like Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam could cause serious damage to Egypt’s strategic interests. The committee had ruled to suspend Okasha for a period of one term, due to end in July, but parliamentarians moved for more stringent action against him. Hours after the decision, Al-Faraeen, a satellite channel owned by Okasha, announced the complete suspension of its programs, and its impending sale. Okasha’s seat must be filled within sixty days of his expulsion, and the parliament is expected to announce an election date in the coming week. [AP, Egypt Independent, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/3/2016]


Egypt’s parliament approves defense loan agreement with France
Egypt’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a defense loan agreement with France, aiming to boost the powers of the former country’s armed forces. A parliamentary report explained that the agreement is between Egypt’s Defense Ministry and a number of French banks led by Credit Agricole for Companies and Investment. “These banks will provide a cash loan of 3375.54 million euros, representing 60 per cent of the value of French military equipment that will be delivered to Egypt,” the report stated. “The total value of this equipment is estimated at 5625.9 million euros, with Egypt to pay the remaining 40 per cent,” the report revealed. The loan will be guaranteed by Egypt’s Finance Ministry. [Ahram Online, 3/2/2016]

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Court upholds six month sentence for TV presenter Mona Iraqi
A misdemeanor court has upheld a six-month prison sentence and a EGP10,000 fine against TV presenter Mona Iraqi, who was found guilty of photographing a person without his consent. The 6th of October court confirmed the sentence on Wednesday, along with her bail of EGP1,000. Iraqi, a presenter for an investigative TV show on Al-Qahera wal Nas satellite channel, was charged after completing a report involving a doctor allegedly involved in fraud. Dr Eihab Abul Ela accused Iraqi of filming him with a hidden camera and making slanderous accusations. [AMAY, 3/2/2016]

Military court sentences 117 for attacks on Minya church, electricity pylon
An Egyptian military court handed down prison sentences to 117 purported members and supporters of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, on Wednesday. The defendants were sentenced in two separate cases to prison sentences ranging from five to ten years for incidents of violence that took place in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya, dating back to August 2013. In one case, 106 defendants, some of whom were being tried in absentia, were convicted of breaking into Mar Girgis church in Minya, and setting it on fire. The other 11 defendants were sentenced to prison for blowing up an electricity pylon. The cases were referred to the military judiciary after the defendants were accused of joining a banned group, participating in violence and riots, and of breaking into and vandalizing public property. The No Military Trials for Civilians advocacy group said in a statement, “Through that law, thousands of civilians were referred to military prosecution, including hundreds of university students.” The group added that military trials “actually increased in frequency substantially under the guise of the war on terror” after the constitution was passed in 2014. [AMAY, Aswat Masriya, 3/2/2016]

Dostour Party board member detained four days, released on bail
Dostour Party board member in Ismailia Mahmoud Abdelazeem was released Thursday on EGP 5,000 bail after four days of detention pending investigation, the party announced in an official statement. Abdelazeem was arrested from an internet cafe he owns, and was charged by the prosecution with disturbing national security, holding weapons, and publishing false news through a Facebook page named Mubasher Ismailia for incitement against the regime. According to the Dostour Party, he was transferred to the Mostakbal prison in Ismailia and remained in detention for four days. The party strongly condemned Abdelazeem’s arrest and said it is not the first of its kind. “Those acts adopted by Interior Ministry are violating laws and constitutions and are considered a threat to citizens and aim to eradicate other political voices,” the statement read. It also called for the Interior Minister to be removed and criticized the lack of security in the country. [DNE, 3/3/2016]

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  • Court renews detention for Doctors Syndicate activist Taher Mokhtar | Ahram Online, DNE
  • Pre-trial detention used as ‘systematic punishment’ in Egypt says lawyer | Aswat Masriya


Egypt says reaches agreement over foreign airline payments
Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said Thursday it had reached an agreement with the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) over payments to foreign airlines. Several airlines have complained in recent weeks of being unable to repatriate earnings due to foreign currency restrictions. Airlines will be paid what they are owed in foreign currency through payment programs over “the coming period,” the ministry said in a statement. The airlines affected include British Airways, Air France-KLM, and Saudi Arabian Airlines. The CBE agreed to transfer 50 percent of what British Airways is owed and pay the rest in installments, advisor to the Tourism Ministry Gehad al-Ghazali said. Egypt also agreed to transfer EGP 30 million ($3.83 million) to Air France-KLM, out of a total EGP 120 million owed. Ghazali said negotiations are ongoing regarding the EGP 100 million owed to the Saudi airline. On Wednesday, a CBE source said Egypt had addressed the concerns of the airlines. Meanwhile, the Egyptian pound held steady against the dollar on Thursday but weakened significantly on the black market, with traders quoting 9.50 pounds to the dollar. Despite ongoing speculation that the CBE will devalue the pound, former Pacific Investment Management CEO Mohamed El-Erian told reporters Thursday that Egyptian officials should focus less on the valuation of the currency and more on reform and growth measures. [Reuters, 3/3/2016]

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Egyptian journalists suspend sit-in after some demands met
A number of Egyptian journalists suspended their sit-in at the press syndicate headquarters in downtown Cairo after some of their demands cornering their jailed colleagues were met. Khaled al-Balshy, head of the syndicate’s freedom committee and a leading journalist who called for the sit-in, which started on Monday, said they took the decision after they saw a response from the Ministry of Interior. “I was informed that [journalist Hisham] Gaafar will undergo surgery next Wednesday after his release from prison to do some medical examinations, while [Youssef] Shabaan is currently undergoing examinations at a public hospital as a perquisite for setting up a medical treatment programme for him,” Balshy said. “Other jailed colleagues met with their families at the prison as they requested, while others met with security officials to listen to their complaints over the deteriorating state they are facing in their imprisonment,” he said. Balshy added that police approved journalist Ibrahim al-Darawy’s request for a transfer from Mazraet Tora prison to Leyman Tora prison due to the conditions. Meanwhile, detainees in the Shebin al-Kom prison in Menoufia started a hunger strike on Wednesday, the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence said, while the Interior Ministry denied the matter. The hunger strike is in protest of alleged “beating and electrocution” and the general “deteriorating conditions” in the prison, the Nadeem center said in a statement. Assistant to the Interior Minister for Prison Affairs, Hassan al-Sohagy told Aswat Masriya that news of the hunger strike were unfounded. [Ahram Online, 3/3/2016]

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Two police officers in custody after assaulting Alexandria doctor
A doctor at Alexandria University Hospital was taken into emergency surgery on Wednesday after he was allegedly assaulted by a police officer and three others, two of whom were remanded in custody on Thursday pending investigation. Abdel Rahman Zahran, spokesperson for the university’s Faculty of Medicine, said the doctors felt reassured by the prosecution’s action against the officers. He labelled the police officer’s action as “individual” and “unrepresentative of the police service.” The incident comes as yet another episode in a series of assaults by police officers on hospital workers over the past few months, which prompted the Doctors Syndicate to organize a strike where medical services are provided for free to deny the government revenue. [AMAY, 3/3/2016]

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  • Police officer killed in Egypt’s Shubra al-Kheima | Ahram Online
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Egyptian student may be deported from United States after Trump threat
A flight student from Egypt is facing deportation from the United States after being investigated by federal agents for posting on his Facebook page that he was willing to kill Donald Trump and the world would thank him. While US prosecutors have not charged 23-year-old Emadeldin Elsayed with a crime, immigration authorities arrested him last month at the Los Angeles-area flight school he attended and now are trying to deport him, attorney Hani Bushra said Wednesday. An immigration court hearing will determine whether Elsayed will be deported. “It seems like the government was not able to get a criminal charge to stick on him, so they used the immigration process to have him leave the country,” Bushra said. US Secret Service agents interviewed Elsayed in early February after he posted a photo of Trump on Facebook and wrote he was willing to serve a life sentence for killing the billionaire and the world would thank him, Bushra said. The agents returned eight days later and told him federal prosecutors had declined to charge him but said his visa to attend flight school had been revoked. He was arrested by immigration authorities. Elsayed said he wrote the message because he was angered by Trump’s comments about Muslims. He said he immediately regretted it and he never intended to harm anyone. [AP, Egypt Independent, 3/3/2016]

Egypt hands over some evidence about student’s murder to Italy
Egyptian authorities have given Italian investigators some evidence they had been seeking for weeks regarding the murder of an Italian graduate student in Cairo, the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday. The move came just hours after an Italian judicial source told Reuters that Italy was considering recalling its seven-member legal team in Cairo because of a lack of cooperation from their Egyptian counterparts. The Foreign Ministry said in its statement that this was “a helpful first step,” adding that the documents were only “a part of the material requested.” They included witness statements made to Egyptian authorities, data from Regeni’s cell phone and “a partial synthesis” of the autopsy report. The statement added that “collaboration in investigations must promptly be accomplished in the interest of establishing the truth.” Meanwhile, Italy is reportedly resuming flights to Sharm al-Sheikh Airport, ending a suspension that followed the crash of a Russian passenger plane in October 2015. [Reuters, AP, 3/3/2016]

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