Top News: Egypt Detains Al-Jazeera Journalists on Terrorism Charge

Egypt’s top prosecutor on Tuesday ordered five people – including four journalists working for satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English – held for 15 days on suspicion of joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news harmful to the state security.


Muslim Brotherhood rejects terrorist designation
The Muslim Brotherhood responded on Monday to its recent designation as a terrorist organization. In a statement the group called the government’s move “illegitimate” before declaring that the “government is a failure.”  The Egyptian government formally listed the group as a terrorist organization after accusing it of carrying out a suicide bomb attack on a police station that killed sixteen. The decision gives the government the power to charge any member of the Brotherhood with belonging to a terrorist group, as well as anyone who finances the group or promotes it “verbally, or in writing.” According to authorities, the organization will be legally accountable under Article 86 of the Egyptian Penal Code, which stipulates that the death penalty may be handed out to individuals belonging to the organization if found guilty of acts of terrorism.  Shaaban Abdel Aleem, a member of the Salafi-led Nour Party’s presidential council, also rejected labeling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, stating that everyone in the group is responsible for himself as well as the violence he commits. More than 1,000 Brotherhood-funded entities are now eligible to be shut down across the country. Interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy revealed on Sunday that the cabinet came to a consensus on the decision to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.  [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, Reuters, 12/30/2013]

Cabinet poll shows most voters plan to approve constitution
The majority of Egyptians are poised to vote “yes” in the upcoming constitutional referendum, according to a poll conducted by the interim Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center. 78.3 percent of those who said they would vote planned on approving the new constitution, the survey indicated. IDSC surveyed 1,316 people aged 18 and above during the period of December 21-23, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA). The referendum is scheduled for January 14 and 15. [Mada Masr, 12/30/2013]

Also of Interest:
FJP says ‘countdown for January 25’ started | Egypt Independent
Egypt likely to change roadmap, hold presidential vote first: sources | Reuters, Egypt Independent
Egypt’s president says elections within six months of constitution approval | Reuters


Morsi jailbreak trial to begin late January
Former president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members are to face a fresh trial beginning on January 28, an appeal court in Cairo has announced. One hundred and thirty Brotherhood members will be tried alongside Morsi, including senior leaders Mohamed Saad al-Katatni, Essam al-Erian, Mohamed al-Beltagy, and Safwat Hegazy. They are accused of collaborating with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah to escape from Wadi al-Natroun prison during the January 2011 uprising and attempting to murder police officers. The prosecution said last month that the defendants have also been accused of murdering police officers. It said almost 70 of the defendants were members of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Lebanese Shi’a militant group Hezbollah. Symbolically, the trial date falls on the third anniversary of the day when Morsi and more than 30 others from his Muslim Brotherhood group, who were jailed at the time, escaped from a Cairo prison. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AFP/DNE, AP, Egypt Independent, 1/2/2014]

Ad featuring puppet prompts investigation by state security prosecutors
Prosecutors have questioned officials in one of Egypt’s largest telecommunications companies over an online advertisement featuring a puppet, which a controversial blogger has accused of delivering a coded message linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, the company said Wednesday. The Egyptian unit of Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile operator by revenue, rejected the suggestions. The preliminary investigation was launched following a complaint by twenty-five year-old Ahmed Spider, a self-styled youth activist known as a strong supporter of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, security and judicial sources said. Spider explained the alleged code on the al-Tahrir network on Tuesday night. A statement by Vodafone said that the prosecutors summoned the company representatives and asked about the accusations but did not make any accusations themselves. [Reuters, AP, Mada Masr, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/2/2014]

Egypt detains Al-Jazeera journalists on terrorism charge
Egypt’s top prosecutor on Tuesday ordered five people – including four journalists working for satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera English – held for 15 days on suspicion of joining a terrorist organization and spreading false news harmful to the state security. Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat accused the five of belonging to a “terrorist” group, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which ousted President Mohamed Morsi hails. The order had a list of accusations against the five, including alleging they set up a media network with the aim of “tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad and harming its political position.” They were arrested following accusations by the interior ministry of illegally broadcasting from a hotel suite. Those in detention are Australian award-winning correspondent Peter Greste, Al-Jazeera English Bureau Chief Mohamed Fahmy and producer Baher Mohamed. A spokesman for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said that the fourth, cameraman Mohamed Fawzy, was released early Tuesday morning, even though the prosecutor’s statement said all remained held. The spokesman said he had no knowledge of a fifth detainee. Al-Jazeera denounced the move in a statement on Wednesday describing the arrests as “arbitrary” and demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists. [Ahram Online, AP, Mada Masr, DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, 1/1/2014]

Egyptian police arrest son of Brotherhood figure, Morsi’s former prime minister and spokesman
Egyptian security forces have arrested the son of senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed al-Beltagy on charges of rioting and violent acts, a judicial source told Ahram Online. Anas al-Beltagy was arrested in Nasr City in eastern Cairo on Tuesday, along with two other men, Al-Ahram Arabic website reported. The men were allegedly in possession of birdshot pellets, live broadcast cameras and banners bearing anti-army and pro-Brotherhood slogans, Al-Ahram reported. The three young men, who are all students, are accused of rioting and violent acts at Cairo University and Ain Shams University. Former Prime Minister and Muslim Brotherhood loyalist Hesham Qandil was also arrested on a remote desert road while attempting to escape to Sudan, security forces announced late Tuesday. Qandil was admitted to Tora prison on Wednesday morning, the official Middle East News Agency reported. Qandil, 51, was sentenced to one year in prison for failing to impose a court order won by workers in the Nile Cotton Ginning Company in Tanta to undo the privatization of the company. North Giza prosecution also ordered the detention of former presidency spokesperson Yasser Ali for 15 days pending a probe in charges related to inciting violence. He has been transferred to al-Aqrab Prison in Tora, south of Cairo. Ali faces charges of helping Qandil in his attempted escape to Sudan, in addition to providing him with a hideout at a Nasr City apartment. He is also accused of affiliation with a terrorist group, as well as disrupting public security. [Reuters, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent,  Ahram Online, DNE, 1/1/2014]

Also of Interest:
Five-year sentences for supporting Muslim Brotherhood | Mada Masr
Ramses protesters in mid-July get two-year sentences | Ahram Online, DNE
Court requires permit for on-campus protests | Ahram Online, DNE
Brotherhood groups to be banned from monitoring referendum | Ahram Online
Investigations of former prosecutor general Talaat Abdallah begin Ahram Online
Judges to release new list of Brotherhood names targeted for asset freeze | Mada Masr
Rights groups request investigation into tapping of activist’s phone calls | Egypt Independent
Al-Azhar to launch satellite channel to counter terrorism | Egypt Independent
Court clears nine suspects accused of protesting outside cabinet | Egypt Independent
Colombian detained for taking pictures of police installation | Egypt Independent


Egypt freezes assets of 572 Brotherhood leaders
Egypt’s government announced on Tuesday that the assets of 572 Muslim Brotherhood leaders had been frozen, according to the decisions of the newly formed committee tasked with examining the issue. The committee has also decided putting 87 schools owned by Brotherhood under the state’s supervision. Last week, Ezzat Khamis, assistant to Egypt’s Minister of Justice, announced in a press conference that a total of 132 Brotherhood leaders had had their assets frozen in execution of a court ruling in September. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/1/2014]

Also of Interest:
Middle East funds most bullish about Egypt equities: Survey | Reuters/Ahram Online
A historic opportunity to rebuild Egypt’s economy? | Mada Masr
Poll: 49 percent oppose further US aid to Egypt | UPI


Two killed in clashes between Egyptian police and protesters in Alexandria
Two people were killed in violent clashes that erupted late on Wednesday between pro-Islamist protesters and police in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria, the Ministry of Interior said. The Interior Ministry said the clashes happened during two marches organized by some 200 Brotherhood members in Alexandria. “They (the Brotherhood protesters) blocked the road… set shops on fire, burned a citizen’s car, fired guns and bird shot and clashed with and terrorized the people,” the Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Thursday. It said some residents had exchanged fire with the Brotherhood protesters, killing two people and injuring three police officers. The police forces managed to end the clashes and arrested ten, according to the Interior Ministry statement. Meanwhile, Hisham Abdel Hamid, spokesperson of the Forensic Authority, stated that four Al-Azhar University students have been killed to date since the start of clashes at the university. Abdel Hamid added that the Forensic Authority submitted reports on the killed students to be included in the general prosecution’s investigations. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Egypt Independent, 1/2/2014]

One death following clashes outside church on New Year’s Eve
The Maspero Youth Union has blamed the death of Coptic youth Ihab Ghattas on security forces and the Ministry of Health for falling short of their responsibilities. Ghattas, 23, was shot on Tuesday night after a Coptic mass in Mar Girgis church in Ain Shams, Cairo, and was allegedly attacked by a Muslim Brotherhood protester, according to the Maspero Youth Union. He died later in a hospital due to his wounds. “Insignificant” clashes had taken place between security forces and Muslim Brotherhood marches at Ain Shams on Tuesday night, according to the Ministry of Interior. The ministry’s media office stressed that none of “our Christian brothers” were hurt from the clashes. The march, which began at Ahmed Essmat Street, was dispersed after a short period of time with the use of teargas as stipulated by the Protest Law, after protesters allegedly began provoking bystanders. [DNE, 1/2/2014]

Muslim Brotherhood paper banned
On December 26, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement announcing the ban of the Freedom and Justice Paper, which is considered one of the media outlets of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The interior ministry coordinated with state owned Al-Ahram, which prints the paper, and confiscated the printed issue of Thursday, 26 December. Journalists of the Freedom and Justice Paper protested the banning and confiscation of the paper, describing the decision as illegal in a statement later on Thursday. According to the statement, the paper had been previously confiscated; the first time was on 4 July, the day following what they call “the coup.” The statement added that the 200 journalists and staff had been working in “extremely stressful conditions”, as they have been suffering from “incessant police harassments.” The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said on Monday that the decision to shut down the newspaper is illegal and described it as a “blatant assault on freedom of expression.” [DNE, 12/31/2013]

Also of Interest:
Doctors launch partial strike across Egypt | Mada Masr, DNE
Poll: 35 percent blame Brothers for Mansoura bombing | Mada Masr
ANHRI denounces media crackdown | DNE
NASL calls for demos on Friday | Egypt Independent
Cairo University professor referred to investigative committee | Egypt Independent
Police fire teargas at pro-Morsi student protests in Cairo | Ahram Online
80 Al-Azhar students suspended | Mada Masr
Exams disrupted at Al-Azhar and Cairo universities | Mada Masr
Cairo University allows police on-campus during exams | DNE


Interior minister accuses Hamas of involvement in Mansoura blast
The Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim has accused Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas of providing logistical support to assailants in the recent Mansoura terrorist attack that killed 16 people and injured more than 130. Ibrahim also said on Tuesday that “90 percent” of those responsible for the bomb attack in the city of Mansoura last week have been arrested. The minister said at a press conference that the details will be announced once all the perpetrators have been arrested. No further details on the arrests were given. On December 25, the Sinai-based Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the attack. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Reuters, 1/2/2014]

Also of Interest:
Bomb found on Heliopolis bus detonated without injury | Mada Masr, DNE
Homemade bomb found during rush hour Thursday | Mada Masr
Four injured in blast near Egypt’s Sharqiya Military Intelligence Headquarters | Ahram Online, Reuters, DNE


US expresses concern over activist arrests and Brotherhood classification as ‘terrorist group
The United States expressed alarm on Monday over Egypt’s recent declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group as well as the ongoing detentions of peaceful protesters and activists, moves it says will hinder Egypt’s transition to democracy. A State Department official said Washington was “concerned” that the movement – which propelled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to power last year, but has been battered by a sustained crackdown since he was deposed in July – was last week designated as terrorist. Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf also voiced anxiety about the ongoing detentions by authorities, which encompass “peaceful demonstrators, civil society, and political activists.” The top US defense official also expressed “concern” about recent developments in Egypt in a call on Sunday to Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Pentagon said. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed his condolences for the victims of a spate of recent bomb attacks in Egypt, and offered US assistance to investigate the incidents, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement. In his call with Sisi, Hagel also “stressed the role of political inclusiveness,” and the two men discussed “the balance between security and freedom,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in the statement. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, 12/31/2013]

Also of Interest:
Muslim Brotherhood ‘terrorist’ label politically motivated: HRW report | DNE
Justice Minister officially requests Assem Abdel Maged’s extradition from Qatar | Ahram Online, Egypt Independent
Hamas rejects terror label of Egypt Islamists | Reuters
Haniyah: Hamas ready to enhance relations with Egypt | Egypt Independent
Fatah calls on Hamas to ‘stop interfering’ in Egyptian affairs | Egypt Independent
UK has not blacklisted Brotherhood, ready to hear ‘terrorism’ evidence | Ahram Online

Image: Photo: Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr office after it was torched by angry protesters in November 2012 (Zeinab Mohamed)