Top News: EgyptAir Hijacking Suspect Arrested in Cyprus

An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday but the passengers and crew were freed unharmed and the hijacker was arrested after giving himself up. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been onboard the Airbus 320 flight when it took off, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. The suspect was identified by Cypriot and Egyptian officials as dual US-Egyptian citizen Seif Eldin Mustafa, an Egyptian living in Cyprus. Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives, with Cypriot officials saying early on the incident did not appear related to terrorism but the Cypriot state broadcaster saying he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt, and also called for a meeting with his former wife, who lived in Cyprus. She visited the airport and helped persuade him to surrender, the broadcaster reported. Speaking to reporters after the crisis ended, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said,  “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said, adding that the man would now be questioned to ascertain his motives. Cypriot TV also said he did not have an explosive belt. Earlier, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his country was taking all measures to ensure the safety of those on board. In a phone call with Cypriot counterpart Nikos Anastasiades early on Tuesday, Sisi praised Cypriot authorities for their cooperation with Egypt in relation to the incident. [NYTCNNAPAhram OnlineDNEReutersMada Masr, 3/29/2016]


Egypt’s top auditor Hisham Geneina dismissed by presidential decree
Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA says President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dismissed the country’s top auditor who earlier had said corruption has cost the country billions of dollars. MENA reported Monday that Sisi dismissed Hisham Geneina, head of the Central Auditing Organization, and appointed Geneina’s top deputy, Hisham Badawi, to run the agency. Geneina’s dismissal came hours after State Security Prosecution issued a statement accusing him of making false claims about widespread government corruption. The statement said that Geneina had exaggerated the sums lost to corruption by harking back to violations prior to 2012, and that he had abused his position as head auditor in gathering documents to make his case, charges on which State Security Prosecution would “confront” Geneina. Geneina had been under investigation by a presidential commission that quickly concluded that Geneina had misled the public by saying corruption had cost the equivalent of approximately US $76 billion over a four-year period. A media gag order was also imposed on the investigations into the corruption report. There were reports of Geneina appearing in front of State Security Prosecution on Monday, which his lawyer denied. According to the lawyer, Ali Taha, Geneina has not received any official notification that he is being investigated by state authorities nor was he officially notified of his removal. Taha insists that the decision to remove Geneina is not legally sound. Despite the new law that allows Sisi to dismiss heads of supervisory boards, Taha explained that an amendment to the CAA bylaws through the parliament was also necessary. Taha added that Geneina is unlikely to appeal the decision. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Mada Masr, 3/29/2016]

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33 Egyptian judges forced into retirement for ‘engaging in politics’
Egypt’s state-run news agency says the top judicial disciplinary council issued a final verdict on Monday mandating the forced retirement of 33 judges who signed a statement in support of former President Mohamed Morsi shortly after he was deposed in July 2013. The council, which oversaw the appeal of 55 judges who were sentenced to early retirement by the judges’ disciplinary board in 2015, accepted the appeals of the other 23 judges involved in the case. The board’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. [Ahram Online, AP, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 3/28/2016]

Egypt court bans demolition of churches
An Alexandria administrative court stopped on Monday an order to demolish a Church in Beheira governorate and banned the demolition of churches in Egypt. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Rashid had sold a piece of land two decades ago that included small shops and a church. The new owner later decided to demolish the church, claiming it was abandoned, but the Coptic Orthodox Church intervened to challenge the demolition and entered a legal dispute to stop the order for another decade. “The Coptic Orthodox Church has already offered to buy this church in Rashid,” Mounir Sami, the legal adviser of the Greek Patriarchate in Cairo, said. Sami said that the sale of the church by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was legally invalid. The administrative court stated in its ruling that churches cannot be demolished or used for anything other than worship. It also added that the Greek Orthodox Church’s decision to sell the church for the purpose of demolition was “against public order.” The court based its ruling on a previous ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that equated the legal status of churches to that of mosques. [Ahram Online, 3/28/2016]

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  • National Security renews detention for 14-year-old charged with terrorism | DNE


Egypt to establish infrastructure investment fund
Egypt is in the process of establishing a specialized fund for infrastructure investments through the National Investment Bank, Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby said Monday. The fund will be owned by the state with subsidiaries funds for different sectors, including agriculture, electricity, and industry. “The government is working on establishing a major entity that carries out consultancy work and studies for major projects implemented by the state,” Araby said. He said the fund would be made up of “Egyptians with long years of expertise in world consultancy offices.” [AMAY, DNE, 3/28/2016]

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  • Egypt’s market slightly up, foreigners are net buyers | Ahram Online, Reuters
  • Central Bank Governor calls for bank leaders to hold expanded meeting next Sunday | DNE
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Local civil society group blasts criticisms of NGO case, insists on Egyptian sovereignty
The Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs (ECFA) — a Cairo-based civil society organization — issued a statement Sunday lambasting the Working Group on Egypt’s recent letter to US President Barack Obama, which urged him to “publicly and privately” condemn Egypt’s “accelerating crackdown on human rights and civil society.” The letter, issued on March 23 said, “You must make crystal clear to the Egyptian president that continued assaults on civil society, including harassment of US organizations, will make it difficult for the administration to cooperate across a range of issues, including your administration’s efforts to promote American investment in Egypt and to provide financial assistance to the Egyptian government and military,” said the letter, issued March 23. In response, the ECFA issued a statement saying, “Who mandated the Working Group on Egypt to examine the human rights situation in Egypt?” It added, “Egyptians will not allow any country or group of individuals, including the United States, to pressure Egypt’s judiciary to terminate or reshape the outcomes of ongoing investigations,” the statement argued. [Mada Masr, 3/28/2016]

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Despite recent Arab League decision, Shoukry says Hezbollah remains a Lebanese issue
Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry said the Arab League’s recent decision to label Hezbollah as a “terrorist group” is related to perceived acts of terrorism, but the group remains a domestic issue in Lebanon. In an interview with local newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabaa on Sunday, Shoukry said Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group in some countries but has no classification in the international community as the international community has not yet agreed on a unified definition for terrorism. Regarding Egypt’s stance towards considering the Lebanese party as a terrorist group, Shoukry said, “I won’t judge. Hezbollah has a special situation in Lebanon, and Lebanon is suffering from severe political unrest, and this is an issue that should be solved internally.” Shoukry also described the Iran-Gulf conflict as a “political conflict” that existed even before the Iranian Islamic revolution. He added that while the relationship between Iran and the Gulf was competitive before, Iran has added a sectarian perspective. [DNE, 3/28/2016]

Israeli Supreme Court temporarily halts gas export deals with Egypt, others
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Sunday to halt the Israeli government’s plan to regulate the natural gas industry, in a move that is set to complicate export deals with Egypt and other states. In November, Israel’s Leviathan partners entered into negotiations with Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings to supply as much as 4 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually for 10 to 15 years, according to Bloomberg. The Israeli Supreme Court ruling today invalidated a clause present in a deal reached between Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the consortium of Texas-based giant Noble Energy, and Israeli partner Delek Group last year. The clause was inserted to encourage investment by preventing major regulatory changes for 10 years. The court gave the Israeli government a year to reach an alternative arrangement, Haaretz reported. The Egyptian government had expressed its approval of importing gas from Israel by private Egyptian companies amid an energy crisis that intensified in the past years. However this has yet to materialize into actual imports. The potential deal with Dolphinus indicated that the gas would be supplied from Israel through the existing pipeline operated by East Mediterranean Gas Limited (EMG). [Aswat Masriya, 3/28/2016]

Also of Interest

  • 32 Egyptians arrested in Sudan over allegedly leaking high school exams | Cairo Post
  • Egypt minister to travel to Sudan over arrest of Egyptian students | Ahram Online, MENA
  • Egypt condemns deadly Pakistan bombing | Ahram Online
  • Sisi discusses counter-terrorism efforts with Bahraini King | Ahram Online, DNE, SIS
  • Foreign Ministry: Saudi employer to compensate family of deceased Egyptian worker | DNE
  • Egyptian cabinet announces French President Hollande to visit Cairo mid-April | Cairo Post
  • Egypt signs three loan agreements with Japan worth $0.5 bln | Aswat Masriya