Top News: Egypt Sentences Coptic Students to Five Years in Jail for ‘Insulting Islam’

An Egyptian court convicted four Coptic Christian teenagers for contempt of Islam on Thursday, sentencing three to five years in prison, the maximum penalty for blasphemy. A fourth student, who is under 18, was referred to a juvenile detention facility. The four 16-17 year-olds made a video about the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) that was later posted by their teacher online, causing a backlash in their local neighborhood that resulted in the arrest of both the teenagers and their teacher in April 2015. The teacher was sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Islam in a separate trial. The teenagers’ lawyer, Maher Naguib, said his clients, who are high school students in the southern province of Minya, have not been detained and did not appear in court for the trial. According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, this is not the first incident of minors convicted of blasphemy-related charges, but it is the first time they have been handed the maximum penalty. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Mada Masr, 2/25/2016]


Egypt Facebook admin Sobki referred to court for ‘spreading false news’
Giza prosecution referred Wednesday the administrator of a Facebook page to the misdemeanors court on charges of “spreading false news” during a television appearance last December. Popular Facebook page admin Taymour al-Sobki Taymour was arrested last week on a warrant issued by the Prosecutor General after he was reported by nine different people for insulting Egyptian women. During an appearance on a CBC channel talk show Sobki claimed that 30 percent of women have a readiness for “immorality” but could not find someone to encourage them. The trial is scheduled to begin on February 27.  [Ahram Online, AMAY, 2/24/2016]

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Egypt launches final sustainable development strategy for 2030
Egypt launched the final draft its sustainable development strategy for 2030 on Wednesday. The strategy aims to raise gross domestic product (GDP) growth to 12 percent in 2030, up from 4.2 percent last year, reduce the budget deficit to 2.28 percent from the current 11.5 percent, and reduce the unemployment rate to 5 percent from 12.8 percent. The strategy was first announced last March last year during the Economic Development Conference in Sharm al-Sheikh. “The sustainable development strategy incorporates economic, social, and environmental dimensions in addition to knowledge and innovations,” Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said. According to Ismail, the plan will also raise the private sector’s contribution to GDP to 75 percent from 60 percent. Egypt will continue to make the best use of aid from Arab Gulf countries and issue new securities to finance projects and international bonds, he added. Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt Tarek Amer said the bank’s main objective in the upcoming years is to boost the growth of small and medium enterprises. The CBE aims to finance 350,000 businesses and create 4 million new jobs. The government is also working to finish building  656,000 affordable housing units over the next two and a half years.  [Ahram Online, 2/24/2016]

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Anti-torture NGO Al-Nadeem rejects Health Ministry’s reasons for shutdown
Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence issued a statement Thursday responding to reasons cited by the Health Ministry to shut down the nongovernmental organization last week. On Wednesday, the Health Ministry issued a statement, published on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Facebook page, saying the NGO committed two violations: changing its name from a ‘clinic’ to a ‘center,’ since the licenses are different for each, and changing the center’s activities from ‘medical’ to ‘human rights-related.’ The Health Ministry said that a warning was previously directed at Al Nadeem to take corrective action but the center did not respond in time, which necessitated the shutdown order. Al Nadeem denied this in its statement, adding that its doctors will go to the center’s headquarters on Saturday, and will continue to issue reports. Commenting on the ministry’s statement, Al-Nadeem Director Magda Adly said that the center operates legally as both a clinic and a rehabilitation centre for victims of violence and torture. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 2/25/2016]

Egypt confiscates 7 percent of Juhayna’s shares for alleged Brotherhood ties
The committee tasked with managing the Muslim Brotherhood group’s funds confiscated on Wednesday 7.204 per cent of Juhayna’s shares, owned by businessman Safwan Thabet, for alleged Brotherhood ties. The committee said that the company’s chairman Thabet indirectly owns 7.204 per cent of its shares through a contribution of 14.2 per cent to Pharon Investment which holds, according to Juhayna’s website, 52.22 per cent of Juhayna’s shares. Pharon Investment is an offshore company owned mostly by the Thabet family and is located in the British Virgin Islands, known to be a tax haven. Earlier in August, the committee ordered the confiscation of Thabet’s assets for alleged ties with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The move had no direct effect on Juhayna, since it is a joint stock company, according to the committee’s chairman statements at the time. [Aswat Masriya, 2/24/2016]

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Egyptian troops kill nine militants in North Sinai operation
Egyptian troops killed nine militants and arrested several other suspects in Rafah on Wednesday, state news agency MENA reported. The nine militants were killed during a raid of a hideout in the North Sinai border town of Rafah, MENA added. Ten other suspects were arrested during raids on the towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, where most of the recent deadly attacks by militant extremists have taken place. Meanwhile, one person was killed, and three others severely injured after a missile from an unknown source hit the Balaa area of Rafah, in North Sinai, eyewitnesses said. Army spokesman Mohamed Samir published early Thursday photos of what he said were ammunitions and explosives seized by Egyptian forces during a separate raid in Barth in central Sinai. [Ahram Online, 2/25/2016]


House panel passes bill to call Muslim Brotherhood terror group
The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee has approved legislation calling on the US State Department to label the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. Lawmakers voted Wednesday along party lines, 17-10. Supporters say if the measure is signed into law, the United States would have to deny admittance to individuals who are tied to the Brotherhood but are not US citizens. Individuals who provide material support to the group would face criminal penalties. The bill would allow the Treasury Department to require US banks and financial institutions to block transactions involving assets held by the Brotherhood. The bill, while it has little chance of becoming law, is nevertheless sure to be welcomed by Egypt. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said that he was not directly lobbied by either the UAE or Egypt on the issue. Republican candidate Ted Cruz has introduced identical legislation in the Senate. [AP, Egypt Independent, Al Monitor, 2/25/2016]

Italy seeks more access to Egyptian probe into student murder
Italy on Wednesday said Egyptian investigators should hand over the evidence they had uncovered in the death of an Italian graduate student who was tortured and killed in Cairo. “Cooperation with our investigative team can be and must be more effective. It cannot be only formal,” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said. He added that Italy wanted access to specific evidence. “Italian investigators must have access to audio and video documentation, medical test results and the legal documents from the Giza prosecutor’s office,” he said. Giulio Regeni’s family, meanwhile, will commemorate his death in a sit-in in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome Thursday, marking one month since the disappearance of the Italian student in Cairo. [Reuters, 2/24/2016]

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