Top News: Islamic State Claims Shubra al-Kheima Bomb which Wounded Twenty-Nine

Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) Egypt affiliate said it was behind a car bombing that wounded twenty-nine people near a state security building and courthouse in Qalyubiya’s Shubra al-Kheima district early on Thursday. “A car exploded after the driver suddenly stopped in front of the state security building, exited the vehicle, and fled on a motorbike that was following the car,” the interior ministry said in a statement. Of those hurt, eleven were police and soldiers. The health ministry also reported that most of the wounded sustained only minor injuries and have since been released from the hospital. No deaths were reported. The claim for the attack came in a message circulated on social media stamped with a logo reading “Islamic State, Egypt,” similar to the statement issued after a similar blast at the Italian Consulate in early July. The statement said that the operation was in retribution for the “martyrs of Arab Sharkas,” referring to the execution of six alleged members of ISIS’ Sinai affiliate, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. Authorities said high-powered explosives were used in the blast, which was heard and felt across the city. The blast, which went off around 2 am, demolished a wall in front of the government building, smashed its structure and left gaping holes exposing its offices. Several parts of the historical Mohamed Ali Palace were damaged by the blast. Qalyubiya Governor Mohamed Abdel-Zaher ordered the formation of a committee to inspect homes and shops near the targeted state security building that were damaged in the attack. [Ahram OnlineReutersAPAswat MasriyaThe GuardianSIS, 8/20/2015]

We cannot stop Brotherhood from participating in elections says Prime Minister’s advisor
Major General Refaat Komsan, Election Affairs Advisor to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, said in an interview with al-Shorouk that his committee cannot prevent certain factions, presumably including the Muslim Brotherhood, from joining this year’s parliamentary elections. Komsan is a member of the committee charged with the preparation of the electoral process laws. “We can’t tailor the laws to stop a certain faction from participating in the elections. However, the community will sort out who it wants to be represented by. Now it’s all about awareness and the electoral culture,” said Komsan. Although there is currently no law that bans certain groups from participating in the next parliamentary election, Komsan said that the general public will only accept the Brotherhood if the group abandons their “extremist beliefs.” [Ahram Online, 8/20/2015]

TV host Tawfik Okasha released on bail pending appeal
A Cairo court on Wednesday suspended the six-month jail sentence of controversial TV figure Tawfik Okasha, pending appeal. As a result of the Cairo Misdemeanor Court’s decision, Okasha, who was arrested last week, was immediately released from detention. The founder of al-Faraeen TV channel appeared in court on Wednesday for the first time since his arrest on Friday. According to a statement published by the interior ministry last week, Okasha was arrested due to three outstanding court rulings against him. In the one ruling, he was sentenced in absentia to six months in jail for squandering marital funds, and in a second he was sentenced to two weeks in jail as well as an EGP100 fine for spousal abuse. He was also fined EGP10,000 in another court case in 2015 for defaming his ex-wife. Okasha’s channel, al-Faraeen, has speculated that the reason behind the arrest was the presenter’s recent criticism of the interior ministry and other state officials. [Ahram Online, 8/20/2015]  

Egypt to lower top tax rate and threshold, freeze capital gains tax within two weeks
Egypt will lower the top tax rate and threshold for companies and individuals in high income brackets and freeze a 10 percent tax on capital gains within two weeks, Finance Minister Hany Dimian said. The moves are aimed at attracting investors and boosting the country’s economy. “We await the issuing of amendments lowering the income tax ceiling to 22.5 percent as well as amendments to the capital gains tax within a few days; one or two weeks at the most,” Dimian said. The government announced the decision to lower the top tax rates in March, but it has yet to be signed into law by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In May, the government said it would freeze the capital gains tax, reversing part of its economic reform agenda, but the freeze has also not been signed into law. [Reuters, 8/20/2015]

Egypt, Saudi Aramco sign $1.4 billion oil products deal
Egypt has agreed to a three-month oil products deal worth $1.4 billion with Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco. The deal will begin in September and stipulates that Egypt pay Aramco within a year, Oil Minister Sherif Ismail said. Financial support from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia has helped Cairo keep its economy afloat and ease an energy crisis. [Reuters, 8/20/2015]

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Rise in sexual harassment in schools, says Administrative Prosecution
More than sixty-one cases of sexual harassment and physical assault occurring inside educational institutions were reported in 2014, based on the findings of the annual report on the education sector prepared by the Administrative Prosecution. The Administrative Prosecution published its annual report on the education sector Monday, documenting various forms of violations, as part of its constitutional duty to implement administrative reform and fight corruption. Prosecution investigations have revealed that sexual harassment crimes were carried out by teachers against female students in the primary and preparatory stages. The number of cases mentioned in the report is “much less” than the actual number of sexual harassment cases, because of the reluctance to report such crimes due to their “special nature,” the report said. [DNE, 8/19/2015]

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Barakat assassination suspect wanted by ISIS in Libya
A former Egyptian army officer who is purported to have founded a jihadi group in Libya, Hisham Ashmawy, is “wanted” by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), a statement by an ISIS branch in Libya said. Ashmawy, also known as Abu Omar al-Muhajir, is a lead suspect in the assassination of Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in late June. Ashmawy announced in a voice recording released on July 25 the launch of a new jihadi group in Libya called al-Murabitoun, which is said to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. The ISIS statement said that Ashmawy, 35, joined the Sinai-based jihadi group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis after coming back from Syria in 2013, then defected from the group in 2014 when it pledged allegiance to ISIS. He moved to Libya and fought with the Qaeda-affiliated Magles al-Sahawat in Derna, eastern Libya, a group that fights against ISIS. [Mada Masr, 8/20/2015]

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Libya, Egypt seek international aid against ISIS
Libya’s internationally recognized government, with strong backing from neighboring Egypt, on Tuesday urged fellow Arab countries to provide arms to help it defeat a local Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate and criticized the US led coalition for confining its efforts to Syria and Iraq. Egypt criticized what it called international “double standards” and “lethargy” in dealing with the spread of the ISIS group in Libya. Cairo’s representative to the Arab League, Tarek Adel, said his country would keep pressuring the international community to lift an arms embargo and provide assistance to Libya’s military. Meanwhile, Libya’s regular border security guards have stopped working at the main border crossing to Egypt, officials said on Wednesday, a further breakdown of state authority. “The force protecting the Musaid border crossing between Egypt and Libya have withdrawn due to some problems,” said Tariq Kharaz, a spokesman for the interior ministry of Libya’s internationally recognised government, based in the east. He said another force was now manning the border, declining to say why the regular troops had left. An Egyptian security source said the regular Libyan border guards had stopped working five days ago, adding that civilians now appeared to be working on the Libyan side of the border. [AP, 8/20/2015]

Egypt hits back at western criticism of its new counter-terrorism law
Egypt responded to western criticism of its newly-ratified counter-terrorism law, saying that foreign critics have misunderstood the law, and calling for Egypt’s right to self-determination to be respected. “Foreign criticism and remarks on the law stem from a lack of accurate analysis of its provisions as well as the failure to see its objective,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abou Zeid said in a statement on Wednesday. The ministry also issued a statement, in both Arabic and English, defending some of the provisions that have stirred controversy, while reaffirming that Egypt is “committed to its human rights obligations under the Egyptian constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions.” The ministry said the law’s definition of terrorism – which has been denounced for being extremely broad – has been developed to “match the evolving nature of terrorist crimes.” The special court circuits that will be set up to speed along the prosecution of terror-related offences will not affect the fairness of the trials or the right of those accused to appeal, it added. It also defended an article allowing the law’s enforcers, such as the police, to use force to defend themselves or perform their duties. The law “does not sanction the use of force randomly or arbitrarily,” but rather limit this to “necessary and proportionate” force, the ministry added. The ministry said the law was drawn up with reference to the US Patriot Act and the British Terrorism Act, highlighting that it could still be reviewed by the country’s parliament – expected to be elected later this year. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 8/19/2015]

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