Top News: Egypt’s New Anti-Terrorism Bill Would Impact Basic Freedoms, Says Washington

The United States denounced Egypt’s newly expanded counterterrorism law Tuesday, expressing concern about its potential impact on human rights in the country, a military ally of the United States. “We are concerned that some measures in Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing. But Kirby reaffirmed that Washington stands with Egypt in its fight against terror. Kirby reiterated remarks made by Secretary of State John Kerry during strategic talks in Cairo earlier in August that called for creating a sense of balance between combating terrorism and preserving citizens’ right to disagree with authorities. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also criticized the law in a statement Monday. “As of today, journalists are legally prohibited from investigating, verifying, and reporting on one of the most important matters of public interest,” CPJ Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “The state has effectively made itself the only permissible source of news on these stories.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Wednesday in a statement that the law erodes basic rights and defines terrorism so broadly that it could encompass civil disobedience. “The government has equipped itself with even greater powers to continue stamping out its critics and opponents under its vague and ever-expanding war on terrorism,” said Nadim Houry, HRW’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director. Criticism for the law also came from local rights groups including the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the country’s Journalists Syndicate. “This way, every citizen is accused of terrorism until proven otherwise,” NCHR head Kamal Abbas, said. [Ahram Online,AFP, 8/19/2015]

Egypt’s Wasat Party denies political reconciliation initiative
Islamist Party, al-Wasat, denied media reports about a possible political initiative proposed by party leader, Abul Ela Mady, following his release last week. Since his release, several newspapers claimed Mady proposed a reconciliation initiative between Egypt’s current government and the pro-Morsi political parties and powers, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Mady has been imprisoned for two years and will will not speak to the media the Islamist party announced in an official statement. The party also affirmed that Mady had not been able to follow political developments while detained. “The leader of the party did not propose any political initiatives, nor did he issue any recent political statement since his release, as he did not follow the latest political developments in Egypt during his detention,” the party said in a statement issued on its official Facebook page Tuesday. [Ahram Online, 8/19/2015]  

Thirty-seven small parties attempt second unified electoral coalition
Approximately thirty-seven political parties and forty-two groups have decided to form a new electoral coalition called “Egypt’s Unity” ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. The coalition, led by Ahmed al-Fadaly who is also head of the Association of Muslim Youth, said the alliance “come[s] in response to the president’s calls for unity,” referring to a January meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with political party leaders. Sisi had told political representatives that the state was not endorsing any specific political groups, but that it could do so if “different political powers became unified.”  The coalition is yet to announce a political program, except for making general statements on improving health and education. However, the coalition announced on Monday that it has already raised EGP35 million for its electoral campaign. [DNE, 8/19/2015]

Egypt’s Prime Minister ‘ready to discuss’ civil service law
Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said on Tuesday that proposals concerning the new civil service law will be considered and discussed with experts and stakeholders, including the tax authority and customs authority, before the law is implemented. However, workers at the Finance Ministry said that a Tuesday meeting with Mahlab to discuss their objections to the civil service law was “unfruitful,” vowing to continue their protests against the controversial law. Tareq Qaeed, who heads an independent union of workers at the Real Estate Tax Authority, said he had predicted the meeting would fail. “Lobbying will continue against the law and all the agencies applying it,” Qaeed said, adding that employees opposed to the law will announce new measures to be taken next Thursday. Earlier this month hundreds of protesters gathered at the press syndicate in downtown Cairo to condemn the law, with some government employees calling for Mahlab’s removal. [Ahram Online,Egypt Independent, 8/19/2015]

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Court refuses to accept Shawkan’s release documents
A Cairo appeals court refused Tuesday to accept an official request from lawyers for detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, for his release, after exceeding the maximum pretrial detention period. The court insisted that it cannot receive the file prior to receiving the documents for the case in which Shawkan has been detained, according to his lawyer Ahmed Abdel Nabi. Since Shawkan has not been referred to trial, his lawyers and family had anticipated his release. On August 14, Shawkan completed two years in Tora Prison since his arrest in 2013 while covering the violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Raba’a al-Adaweya. According to the law, pretrial detention period is limited to a maximum of two years for crimes with strict penalties, such as death sentences or life imprisonment. Currently, there is no confirmation regarding whether Shawkan has been referred to court in the “dispersing Rabaa sit-in” case. [DNE, 8/19/2015]

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  • Egypt’s competition authority says Oriental Weavers referred to prosecutors, despite company’s denial | Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr
  • Prosecution releases 125 over health, educational issues | Cairo Post

Egypt to issue EUR 600 million one year T-bill  
Egypt will issue a one year treasury bill worth EUR 600 million to local and foreign financial institutions on August 25, the central bank said in a statement said on Wednesday. The government has turned to the local money market to finance its public deficit since the 2011 revolution, which deterred many foreign investors. [Reuters, 8/19/2015]

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More Fayoum mosques requisitioned by Ministry of Religious Endowments
The Ministry of Religious Endowments requisitioned two mosques in the city Fayoum on Monday, as part of measures to regulate religious speech in Egypt. The mosques allegedly belong to al-Jamia al-Shariya, an NGO accused of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafi Call, the religious arm of the Salafi Nour Party. Abdel Nasser Atyan, a Deputy with the Ministry of Religious Endowments in Fayoum, said that the Salafi Call has used the mosque “outside of the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Religious Endowments.” The mosque, called al Madina al-Monawara, is currently being controlled by the ministry’s directorate in Fayoum. [DNE, 8/19/2015]

599 labor protests in H1 of 2015: Democracy Meter
Egyptian NGO Democracy Meter issued a report Tuesday on Egypt’s labor movement in the first half of 2015, marking steadiness in the labor protest movement size since 2014. The report tracked the labor movement in the broader sense of the term, including every wage worker whether for a public or private institution, small businesses, or handicrafts. The report tracked forty-eight categories of laborers who demanded rights related to their work. The categories included lawyers, journalists, university staff, security workers, butchers, engineers, pharmacists and pilots. A total of 599 protests were recorded between January and June of 2015, with an average of three protests a day. These numbers are consistent with the 433 protests in the last four months of 2014, according to the report. Democracy Meter figures conflict with official figures. Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry said last Tuesday that the number of labor protests in 2015 were approximately 100 protests in comparison to 200 protests in 2014. [DNE, 8/18/2015]

Also of Interest

Seven alleged terror cell members arrested for Sharqiya bombing
Seven men allegedly belonging to two terrorist cells based in Sharqiya were arrested and their explosives storehouses were seized, according to a Tuesday statement by the police. The defendants were implicated in the bombing of water pipelines in Sharqiya’s Ramadan 10 and Belbais cities in August and November 2014, respectively, according to the Ministry of Interior’s statement. They are also accused of targeting gas pipelines in the two cities in January and March 2015, respectively. According to the statement, police seized equipment including fifty-two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and 50 kilogrammes of explosive chemical materials. [Cairo Post, 8/18/2015]

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US reportedly weighs more security, withdrawal option for Sinai forces
The Obama administration is reportedly quietly reviewing the future of America’s three-decade deployment to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, fearful the peacekeepers could be targets of escalating violence. Options range from beefing up their protection or even pulling them out altogether, officials told The Associated Press. Armed primarily with light weapons, armored personnel carriers and similarly limited materiel, the forces lack the capacity to take on Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) or other militants across the sparsely populated, desert territory. As a result, officials said, the Obama administration has been conducting an “interagency review” of the US posture in the Sinai. The talks have included an examination of ways to bolster the safety of the Americans there, possibly by bringing in additional equipment to better secure positions, according to senior administration officials familiar with the discussions. But the debate also has encompassed the question of bringing the US peacekeepers home, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the subject and demanded anonymity. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, meanwhile, said the US supports the role being played by the force and was working with Egypt’s government to address the danger to American and other soldiers. Given America’s close relationships with both Egypt and Israel, one senior official said the United States would prefer not to make changes to its posture unilaterally. [AP, 8/19/2015]

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  • Hamas official detained at Cairo airport | AFP, Reuters
  • Qatari diplomat found possessing hash deported from Cairo airport | Ahram Online, Cairo Post
  • Egypt welcomes UN adoption of de Mistura’s Syria plan | DNE
  • Jordanian labor office calls on Egyptian workers to abide by laws | Egypt Independent
  • Ninety-five Egyptians deported from Libya | Cairo Post