Top News: Egypt’s Parliament Rejects EU Parliament’s ‘Interference’ in Domestic Affairs

Egypt’s parliament has rejected all interference in its work and the country’s domestic affairs in response to a resolution from the European Union (EU) parliament on Thursday that criticized Egypt’s human rights record. The House of Representatives issued a statement on Friday after the EU parliament’s resolution, which was overwhelmingly passed on Thursday, over the death of Giulio Regeni. The European lawmakers also demanded the Egyptian chamber review specific laws that it deemed to be repressive. “[The Parliament] does not accept interference in Egyptian domestic affairs … and urges it against employing a selective approach to dealing with human rights issues or the politicization of some of the cases,” the statement read. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abou Zaid added that it is shameful for a prestigious legislative institution like the European Parliament to issue decisions based upon unconfirmed media reports. A ministry statement demanded that respect be shown toward the Egyptian judiciary. On Thursday, Egypt’s Ambassador to Italy Amr Helmy called on the Italian prosecutor to hold a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian investigators to see the results of investigations into Regeni’s murder, which he accepted. Egyptian media and lawmakers have accused the Muslim Brotherhood of bribing European Parliament members to adopt a resolution stating a “grave concern” that Egyptian authorities might be culprits in the torture and killing of an Italian graduate student in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, AMAY, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/13/2016]


Justice Minister fired over comments on ‘imprisoning prophet’
Egypt’s Prime Minister sacked Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend on Sunday after he was criticized for saying he would jail Islam’s Prophet Mohammad himself if he broke the law. Zend said Friday in a television interview that he would put anyone who violates the law in prison, “even if he is the prophet, peace and blessing be upon him.” Zend made the remark in defense of his litigation of a number of journalists who accused him of financial corruption. He quickly followed by saying “I ask God for forgiveness” for making the comment. Cabinet spokesman Hossam Qawish said on Sunday that Ahmed al-Zend was “released from his position,” without providing further details. Responding to the storm of criticism, Zend said on Twitter that his statement was “a slip of the tongue.” He also made a couple of phone calls to satellite TV channels stressing that he was “speaking metaphorically” and that he had “asked for God’s forgiveness for the mistake.” Al-Azhar issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally. An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for his trial went viral in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with numerous Muslim users expressing anger over his comment and heaping scorn on him even after his apology. Egyptian judges issued a statement opposing Zend’s removal over what the head of the Judges Club said was a slip of the tongue that could have happened to anyone. “Egypt’s judges are sorry that someone who defended Egypt and its people, judiciary, and nation in the face of the terrorist organization that wanted to bring it down should be punished in this way,” said Abdallah Fathi. It was not immediately clear who would replace Zend, though Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has appointed Zend’s assistant Rend Shawkat to serve as interim Justice Minister while a search for a permanent replacement is underway. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, The Guardian, 3/13/2016]

Legislative amendments stiffen penalties on police; parliament to debate disappearances
Egypt’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Magdi al-Agati told reporters that the government submitted new amendments to the Police Law to parliament on sunday aimed at imposing harsher penalties for rights violations. “These amendments will help a lot to impose discipline on the interior ministry and stem assaults by police against ordinary citizens,” Agati said. The amendments were drafted upon the request of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after a low-ranking policeman killed a taxi driver in Cairo last month. Al-Agati also indicated that policemen would be banned from holding guns when they are not on duty. “In addition, policemen would also be banned by the new amendments from the right of organising protests… Violators could be sentenced to five years in prison,” Al-Agati added. The minister also indicated that the State Council, led by judge Mahmoud Raslan, has finalized revising the Police Law (Law no.109/1971) amendments on Saturday, after which they were sent to parliament on Sunday. Meanwhile, MP Haitham al-Hariry has put in an official request for the Egyptian parliament to debate the issue of forced disappearance with a view to taking action. Hariry said that due to disorder within the Egyptian justice system, the system of remand had been replaced by that of arbitrary detention, adding that the current law regulating protests is unconstitutional. [Ahram Online, AMAY, 3/14/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt’s parliament speaker to meet Journalists Syndicate delegation Monday | Ahram Online


Prosecution bans expelled MP Okasha from travel over ‘forged PhD’
Egypt’s top prosecutor banned controversial ex-lawmaker Tawfik Okasha from travel on Saturday, for forging a doctoral degree certificate, state-run MENA news agency said. Okasha used the doctoral degree certificate when he applied to run as a candidate during the House elections, held last year. The certificate was among a number of documents submitted by Okasha to the country’s Supreme Electoral Committee (SEC) as part of his parliamentary candidacy application. In a report forwarded to the prosecution, the police’s public funds department said that its own investigations concluded Okasha did not obtain a doctoral degree. Okasha presented himself to the public for years as a doctor of mass communications who earned his degree from “Lakewood Bradenton International University” in Florida. On Saturday, the Misdemeanor Court of October 6 acquitted Okasha of charges of assaulting an employee at the Egyptian Media Production Center (EMPC). Okasha was accused of beating employee Khadiga Hamdy who works as assistant communication manager for the Nile Radio Production company. The prosecution previously referred the case to trial after Hamdy filed a complaint against Okasha, accusing him of striking her after their cars crashed in front of EMPC’s second entry gate. Also on Saturday, the SEC opened the registration period for candidates planning to run in the by-election for Okasha’s seat. Okasha challenged the decision to expel him from Egypt’s House of Representatives. His lawyer Hala Osman, is challenging the SEC decision and warned that the appeal has not yet been ruled upon. The by-election will be held in April. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 3/12/2016]

Court suspends death sentences in ‘October cell’ trial
The Cassation Court suspended death sentences previously issued against five defendants on Saturday, in a case publicly known as the “October terrorist cell,” state-run news agency MENA reported.  In September 2014, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced the five defendants to death by hanging, and two other defendants to life imprisonment. They filed appeals against verdicts issued against them by the criminal court. The Cassation Court postponed the decision for their appeal in December 2015, then again in February, before suspending the verdicts on Saturday. The court has ordered a retrial of the case. The defendants were convicted of forming a terrorist cell targeting police and army forces, in addition to persecuting Coptic Christians. Other charges included advocating for obstruction of the constitution, assaulting personal freedoms of citizens, and disturbing national unity. [DNE, 3/13/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt jails Facebook administrator for three years | Ahram Online, Reuters, Mada Masr
  • Trial of police officers accused of torturing detainee to death adjourned to March 15 | DNE
  • State Council to rule in dispute between prosecution, judge in Qatar espionage trial | DNE
  • Trial of Salafi preacher over contempt of religion postponed until April 2 | AMAY
  • IGA negotiates with Mubarak’s men for reconciliation over financial lawsuits | AMAY
  • Egypt court forms committee to probe Habib al-Adly graft case | Aswat Masriya
  • Judicial Sources: Reconciliation with Mubarak-era tycoon to be reached | DNE, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr


Egypt devalues currency to record low against the dollar
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) on Monday devalued the Egyptian pound to 8.85 per dollar from 7.73 and said it would move to a more flexible exchange rate policy, as it sold $198.1 million to local banks in a $200 million exceptional auction. Markets welcomed the move, with the EGX 30 benchmark index rising 6.4 percent. “The CBE decided to adopt a more flexible policy to heal the exchange rate distortions and to sustainably and regularly restore the circulation of foreign currency in banks,” the bank said in a statement. “The central bank affirms that it will follow all developments closely and will not hesitate to use all the tools and authority at its disposal to maintain order in the currency market and stability in price levels in the medium term.” The CBE added that it expects to rebuild foreign currency reserves to $25 billion by year-end from about $16.5 billion. [Reuters, Bloomberg, Ahram Online, 3/14/16]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt bourse soars close to 7 percent after Egyptian Pound devalued | Ahram Online
  • Egypt’s public banks to issue Euro certificates for citizens abroad | Ahram Online
  • Egyptian pound hits all-time low against the dollar on black market | Egypt Independent


Rights group calls on Egypt to reverse blasphemy conviction
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called on Egypt to drop prison sentences against four Coptic Christian teenagers convicted of blasphemy. The teenagers’ Feb. 25 conviction was based on a video in which they intended to mock the extremist Islamic State group after its Libyan affiliate beheaded a group of Egyptian Christians last year. The 30-second clip showed the students pretending to pray, with one kneeling on the floor while reciting Quranic verses and two others standing behind him and laughing. One ran his hand on another one’s throat, mimicking a beheading. Three of the boys, who were tried in absentia, were sentenced to five years in prison. A fourth was referred to a juvenile facility. HRW also called on Egyptian authorities to revoke the penal code used to prosecute blasphemy. [AP, Ahram Online, 3/14/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Three preachers accused of belonging to outlawed group, barred from work | DNE
  • Elderly homeless forcefully ejected from public hospital in Al-Sharqiya | DNE


Clashes in North Sinai kill one officer and 12 alleged ISIS affiliates
A police officer was reportedly killed on Friday by an IED during a patrol in Sheikh Zuweid city in North Sinai. According to state-run newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm, the officer, Mohamed Gamal, was patrolling to capture Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants from Sinai State. State-security forces on the same patrol killed 12 militants on Friday night during airstrikes in North Sinai. Apache helicopters were used to target several facilities, aiming to eliminate ammunition stores and vehicles, according to testimonies from residents. Sinai State broadcast video footage on Saturday showing two “martyrdom operations” launched against two army checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid. According to a statement issued by security forces, an IED was detonated near a military convoy south of Sheikh Zuweid city, located in North Sinai on Saturday. No injuries were reported and state security forces set up a checkpoint in an attempt to arrest those responsible for the incident. The statement also indicated that 32 defendants, who fled from judicial verdicts, were arrested in a security operation undertaken by North Sinai police forces. The campaign surveyed known criminal locations in the governorate. Reports circulated on social media claimed that three citizens were injured by an IED that exploded as a car passed over it on a road south of Rafah city. Social media reports said that police forces in Al-Arish were able to dismantle a bomb planted near Al-Nasr Mosque, after receiving a notification that it was found beside a parked car, according to eyewitness testimonies. [DNE, 3/12/2016]

Also of Interest

  • IS leaks purportedly reveal 10 percent of the group’s suicide bombers are Egyptian | DNE
  • More suspects arrested in connection with Faisal explosion | DNE
  • Egypt to allocate $32 million to airport security amid tourism crisis | Aswat Masriya


Cairo defends abstention from UN resolution on peacekeeping sex abuse
Egypt has slammed criticism related to its reservation on supporting a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the repatriation of peacekeeping units whose troops face allegations of sexual abuse. The resolution passed 14-0 on Friday, with Egypt abstaining, after Cairo’s representative described the measures being passed as libel and “branding entire states.” US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power described Egypt and other states’ “undermining” of the resolution as “sad” on Twitter. Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid responded in kind: “What is sad is for a #UNSC Permanent Rep. to impose resolution on Security Council for publicity & personal ambition,” he wrote. The US-drafted resolution endorses Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plan for reform, including his decision to repatriate military or police units “where there is credible evidence of widespread or systemic sexual exploitation and abuse.” The resolution asks Ban to replace contingents where allegations are not properly investigated, perpetrators are not held accountable, or the secretary-general is not informed on the progress of investigations. Under a floor amendment put forth by Egypt, all three conditions would need to be met before a contingent could be returned. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/12/2016]

Cairo hosts Hamas to break the ice with the Islamist movement
Three senior leaders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas traveled to Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials. The delegation is headed by senior Hamas member Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas said in a statement on its website. The meeting will tackle Hamas’s “bilateral relations” with Egypt. The talks will also address the opening of the Rafah border crossing which connects Egypt with the Gaza Strip. The visit comes a week after Egypt accused Hamas of involvement in last year’s assassination of Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat. Hamas rejected the claim as “politically motivated.” Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the group’s leader, Khaled Meshal, asked the director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Khaled Fawzi, in a telephone call to hold a bilateral meeting between the two sides. Abu Zuhri affirmed Hamas’s keenness to forge positive relations with Cairo and to open a new page in bilateral relations. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 3/12/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt prepares to share Giulio Regeni murder investigation files with Italian side | Ahram Online
  • Egypt’s top prosecutor meets Italian attorney general | Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya
  • Egypt Foreign Minister discusses Syria, Libya crises with Kerry | Ahram Online
  • Egypt ‘stands by Turkish people’ following Ankara blast | Ahram Online, SIS
  • Al-Sisi, Macedonian counterpart agree on enforcing cooperation | DNE, SIS
  • German national, his son claim they were tortured in Al-Amreya police station | DNE
  • German security experts complete inspection of Hurghada airport | DNE
  • Newly elected Arab League chief pledges to enhance collaboration to combat regional challenges | DNE