Top News: Egypt Designated a “Country of Particular Concern” in US Religious Freedom Report

For the fifth year in a row, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended in its 2015 report that Egypt be designated a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the annual report contends that since he assumed office in June 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made several important public statements and gestures encouraging religious tolerance including being the first head of state to attend a Coptic Christmas eve mass, it also holds the government accountable for “not adequately [protecting] religious minorities, particularly Coptic Orthodox Christians and their property, from periodic violence.” It notes increased government control over Muslim religious institutions as well as the negative effect that the government’s efforts to combat terrorism and extremism have had on civil society and a crackdown on activists and journalists. The government-run State Information Services covered the positive aspects of the report, stating improvements in the status of Christians in Egypt. [Aswat Masriya, 10/15/2015]


Candidates make last-minute campaigning efforts before election silence
As the last day for campaigning approaches on Thursday, parties are making last-minute efforts to promote their stances. The Nour Party will lead shuttle-tours in a number of provinces on the last campaigning day, to mobilize the largest possible number of votes. The party has also opted for less media presence in private TV channels. Electoral list, For the Love of Egypt (FLE), displayed large banners across Cairo, Giza, and other governorates, issued television and radio advertisements, amid a wide media presence in TV programs. According to the Spokesperson for a joint local-international observation mission, Ayman Okeil, a total of 223 complaints have been referred to the High Elections Committee (HEC) over electioneering irregularities, three of which have been referred to investigation. Some parliamentary candidates are also being accused of allegedly abusing their positions as owners of media platforms to promote their electoral campaigns. Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC) head Osama Heikal has been accused of using the compound’s TV studios to shoot ads for the FLE list. Heikal is a leading figure in the alliance’s political office, and part of the list’s Greater Cairo ticket. EMPC denied the allegations. Privately owned al-Bawaba newspaper ran a front-page story announcing that its editor-in-chief, Abdel Rehim Ali, was opening a facility to sell meat at reduced prices to residents of the Meet Okba district, which falls in the constituency where he is running. In addition, an entire section of the website is dedicated to promoting events in Rehim Ali’s electoral campaign. The privately owned al-Wafd newspaper, which is the official mouthpiece of the liberal Wafd Party, has also dedicated an entire section to publicizing campaign events for the party’s candidates nationwide. Meanwhile, an independent candidate who works as a preacher at the Endowment Ministry was suspended and referred to investigations for allegedly printing his picture on the Quran. Egyptians abroad will start to vote for the parliamentary elections in 139 embassies across the world on 17 and 18 October. The High Elections Committee (HEC) announced in a press conference on Monday. Egyptians living abroad, however, have expressed difficulties regarding voting. Complaints include unfamiliarity with candidates, while others say that candidates placed on the list to meet the quota for representation for Egyptians living abroad are marginalized. HEC Spokesman Omar Marwan and Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram have both called on Egyptians abroad to vote, emphasizing the importance of broad popular participation in the elections. [DNE, 10/14/2015]

Also of Interest

  • Eighty-five ministerial corruption incidents in September says PFT | DNE
  • ‘For the Love of Egypt’ seeking political coalition in parliament to support the state | DNE
  • Egypt’s election likely to produce rubber stamp parliament | AP
  • Elections Snapshot: Ex-NDP and Al-Nour face off in Alexandria | Aswat Masriya
  • Governor Reshuffle expected after parliamentary elections: Minister | Cairo Post


Zawahiri acquitted in al-Qaeda linked case, faces fresh charges
An Egyptian court has acquitted the younger brother of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri of terror charges. Mohamed al-Zawahri was arrested in August 2013 in the wake of the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.  He was charged with the formation and leadership of a terrorist organization and with attempting to overthrow the government by force. In its Thursday ruling, the court sentenced ten of al-Zawahri’s sixty-seven co-defendants to death and handed life sentences to thirty-two others. After the ruling, prosecutors filed a new case against him for forming a terrorist group called ‘al-Taefa al-Mansoura’ (The Victorious Sect). [Ahram Online, AMAY, AP, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 10/15/2015]


Egypt’s Central Bank depreciates pound against dollar
The Egyptian Central Bank depreciated the pound for the third time this year after the nation’s foreign reserves tumbled and the currency fell to a record in black-market trading. The Egyptian pound weakened by 10 piasters to 7.93 per dollar on Thursday after the Central Bank reduced its price in an auction to 7.83 per dollar. This marks a 9.8 percent currency decline in 2015. The depreciation was expected and urged by many economists who say that propping up the pound had helped deplete Egypt’s foreign currency reserves. Egypt’s foreign currency reserves fell 9.7 percent in September to $16.3 billion, the third consecutive monthly drop, the central bank said last week. “[Devaluation] was becoming more expected given the toll that maintaining an overvalued currency was taking on the economy,” said Middle East Economist at Capital Economics Jason Turvey. “A move closer to the black market rate would, in our view, start to restore Egypt’s external competitiveness. But it’s difficult to see for how long and how far the central bank will allow the pound to fall.” [Reuters, AP, Bloomberg, Aswat Masriya, 10/15/2015]

Also of Interest

  • NBK-Egypt, Mortgage Finance Fund sign deal for low-income citizens | DNE
  • Communications ministry launches tender to mechanize land registry offices | DNE
  • GAFI signs MoUs worth $12 billion for Marsa Matruh projects says Chairman | DNE
  • Egypt to pay $1.25 billion for outstanding balances of treasury bonds issued in foreign markets 10 years ago | DNE
  • Government rice mills facing imminent collapse | AMAY
  • Arab trade ministers meet in KSA | SIS
  • Egypt to host Arab-Russian economic summit before year’s end | MENA
  • Egypt provides unemployed youth with 1,000 taxis through facilitated loans | Ahram Online
  • Egyptian pound devaluation has positive impact on tourism: Colliers official | DNE
  • Egypt’s Investment Minister says energy crisis in factories to end next month | Ahram Online
  • Interview with Egypt’s International Cooperation Minister post WB, IMF meetings | Ahram Online
  • Egyptian government seeks to increase private sector investment | DNE


No forced disappearance cases in Egypt says Interior Ministry
There are no cases of involuntary or forced disappearance in Egypt, said Salah Fouad, the Interior Minister’s Aide for Human Rights on Wednesday, demanding that those “who promote such allegations must prove them.” Fouad accused the Muslim Brotherhood–now designated a terrorist organization–of waging a propaganda campaign to “exploit civil society organizations, whether international or domestic, by claiming that there are cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt in order to put pressure on the government and restrict its ability to prosecute terrorists.” In an interview with state-affiliated MENA News Agency, Fouad explained that Egypt is one of the countries that signed a treaty with the United Nations to fight against forced disappearances. Fouad also denied claims made by Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, a government entity, that there are currently 163 cases of enforced disappearance in Egypt, challenging the group to provide a list of names, not numbers to allow him to “verify” these claims, which he says only serve to “create chaos and confusion.” [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 10/15/2015]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt’s Culture Minister Helmy al-Namnam talks about his vision, plans | Ahram Online
  • Egypt partially opens Rafah border again for pilgrims returning to Gaza | Ahram Online
  • Members of Pharmacist Syndicate to rebut expired medication agreement | DNE
  • Egypt calls on increasing efforts to secure women in conflict zones | DNE
  • Health Ministry stymied by mystery illness spreading across Assiut | Mada Masr, AMAY
  • Internet Revolution to sue government over service prices | AMAY
  • Cairo University bans veil for instructors | Al Monitor
  • Could Egypt’s new reconciliation law unfreeze Mubarak assets? | Cairo Post
  • Twenty-nine relocated from ‘risky area’ in Duweiqa to October 6 City | Cairo Post


Two dead, six injured in blast at Egypt’s al-Arish police station
A police conscript and a citizen died late Wednesday in a blast that detonated in the North Sinai city of al-Arish, Egypt’s Interior Ministry announced in a statement. Six other police officers were also injured in the explosion. The Ministry statement explained that the bomb was planted by “unknown assailants” near a police station in al-Arish city, and that the citizen who died was passing by the station at the time of the blast. Additionally, the Air Force destroyed three vehicles suspected of belonging to militants in the area of al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid. The vehicles were found to be full of weapons and ammunition. Meanwhile, unknown assailants and security forces exchanged fire during a gunfight in Badrasheen, North of Cairo after the men were caught trying to steal a vehicle. The assailants managed to escape. [Ahram Online, AP, Cairo Post, 10/15/2015]


UN votes on Egypt’s fifth Security Council membership
The United Nations General Assembly will vote Thursday on granting Egypt a non-permanent seat in the Security Council for 2016-2017 as North Africa’s representative. Hours before the vote, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry intensified efforts to promote Egypt’s nomination in New York. Former Assistant Foreign Minister Hassan Haridy told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Egypt has a good chance of winning the UNSC seat for the fifth time, noting that its last membership was during the 1996-1997 session. If awarded the temporary membership, Egypt will be the sole representative of North African, Arab, and Islamic nations, Haridy explained. Egypt’s pursuit of the UNSC seat is uncontested and enjoys the backing of the European Union, many African countries, and many other major world powers. It needs the votes of two-thirds of the assembly’s member states before winning a final approval from the Security Council. [AMAY, 10/15/2015]

Also of Interest

  • Thirteen Egyptian fishermen return home after Sudan release order | Ahram Online
  • Egyptian, Spanish defense ministers discuss military cooperation in Madrid meeting | Ahram Online
  • Nineteen Egyptians deported from Saudi Arabia without passports | Cairo Post
  • Cairo-Tunis flights to resume Saturday | Cairo Post