Top News: “Marriott Cell” Case of Twenty Journalists Postponed to March 5

Twenty journalists, among them employees of the Qatari-based television network Al-Jazeera, are standing trial Thursday for the case widely known as the ‘Marriott Cell‘, on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, working without permission, and other accusations. Police claim that the defendants were in possession of false videos of clashes that took place in Al-Azhar University, showing that police attacked students, in addition to alleged reports that they instructed protesters on how to attack security personnel.


Prosecution makes surprise visits to Egypt prisons, reports few complaints
Egypt’s general prosecutor released a statement Wednesday saying random visits have been made to several Egyptian prisons to inspect the state of prisoners “in accordance with the prosecution’s role in protecting freedoms and applying the law.” Members of the prosecution inspected four prisons, including Molhaq al-Mazraa in Cairo’s Tora Prison, Qalyubia’s prisons of Abu Zaabal (1 and 2) and Wadi al-Natroun Prison in Beheira. In Tora, according to the statement, seventeen prisoners were in a cell, which can house forty prisoners, and none had any complaints. The statement said the prison is in a good condition, is well cleaned, ventilated and is spacious with a place for prisoners to exercise. In Wadi al-Natroun Prison, detainees also had no complaints. The prison, big enough for 4,500 inmates, currently holds 2,681. All prisoners are detained in accordance to the law and the prison is in a good state, the prosecution said. The same was reported regarding Abu Zabaal Prison 1. In Abu Zabaal Prison 2, however, the report said it was overcrowded, under-ventilated and prisoners complained of too little food and bad quality water. Prosecutors ordered an investigation into the complaints, the report concluded. [Ahram Online, 2/20/14]

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“Marriott Cell” case of twenty journalists postponed to March 5
Twenty journalists, among them employees of the Qatari-based television network Al-Jazeera, are standing trial Thursday for the case widely known as the ‘Marriott Cell‘, on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, working without permission, and other accusations. Police claim that the defendants were in possession of false videos of clashes that took place in Al-Azhar University, showing that police attacked students, in addition to alleged reports that they instructed protesters on how to attack security personnel. The case was adjourned to March 5. The journalists, wearing white prison outfits, appeared in metal cages, a Reuters witness said. Six others identified as Al-Jazeera journalists are being tried in absentia. Three of the journalists – Peter Greste, an Australian; Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian national; and Baher Mohamed – were detained in Cairo on December 29 and remain in custody, Al-Jazeera said. All three deny the charges and Al-Jazeera has said the accusations are absurd. Egyptian officials have said the case is not linked to freedom of expression and that the journalists raised suspicions by operating without official permission. Fahmy and Greste also shouted to reporters in the courtroom that they had no access to books or newspapers and were allowed only one hour of exercise a day. They said they were allowed a weekly visit by their lawyers and that prison officials monitored family visits. “It’s physically fine, but psychologically unbearable,” Fahmy shouted. “We are strong,” he said to the reporters in a makeshift courtroom set up at a police academy south of Cairo. The trial was adjourned after a forty-minute hearing in order to implement the defense’s requests. [Mada Masr, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 2/20/14]

Ex-minister sentenced to one year, fined EGP 1 million for illicit gains
An Egyptian criminal court sentenced Mubarak-era information minister Anas al-Fekky to a suspended sentence of one year in prison on Thursday and fined him EGP 1.8 million over charges of illicit gains. The case last adjourned January 21 when the court held the verdict, releasing Fekky pending the case. The court revealed that Fekky had been making illicit gains worth EGP 33.4 million from 2002 to 2011. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram (Arabic), 2/20/14]

Also of Interest:
Doctors’ union member referred to prosecution by health minister over strike call | Ahram Online
Detention of 191 Muslim Brotherhood suspects renewed over violence investigations | Egypt Independent


Egypt boosts police salaries as strikes mount

Egypt’s interim president has raised pay for police as some of their forces join strike actions that have mushroomed across the country. Adly Mansour said that police will receive a 30 percent salary increase as hazard pay starting in March. Labor coordinators and activists say that workers’ strikes have spiked this past week, with more than 20,000 workers at Egypt’s largest public textile company, along with doctors, pharmacists, and even policemen stopping work to demand better pay amid worsening living conditions. [AP, 2/20/14]

Fitch: Public finances remain Egypt’s main rating weakness
Egypt’s public finances remain the main weakness in the country’s sovereign credit profile, despite a slight improvement in its budgetary performance in the first half of the current fiscal year, Fitch Ratings says. Data for the first six months of the fiscal year ending June 2014 show the budget sector deficit narrowing to 4.4 percent of forecast GDP from 5.2 percent a year earlier. But the 15 percent improvement in government revenues was entirely driven by grants, which were EGP 36.9 billion ($5.3 billion) compared with EGP 3 billion in the first half of FY13. Spending rose 8 percent, driven by public sector pay and interest payments. Wages, subsidies, and interest payments have posted some of the largest increases in expenditure in recent years. [Reuters, 2/19/14]

Also of Interest:
Egyptian pound inches up on official, steady on black market | DNE
Egypt central bank allocates EGP 10 billion for cheap mortgages | Ahram Online
Egypt: Entrepreneurship subsidized at GAFI | EBD
Interview- Jaber: UAE won’t let Egypt down, aid still ongoing | Amwal Al-Ghad
Egypt Islamic banking assets to hit $18 billion in 2014 | Zawya DJ [sub]


Cairo University takes measures to preempt campus violence, NASL calls for student protests
Ahead of the beginning of the new academic year, postponed two weeks to start 8 March, head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar announced Wednesday several decisions, including expelling 150 students found to have been involved in violence from university dorms, and referring professors previously working with ousted president Mohamed Morsi to interrogation.  Teaching Assistant at the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University (FECU) Sherif Hany received on Wednesday evening a notice, signed by Nassar, for a three-month suspension pending investigation. The notice, dated February 16, accused Hany of leading the student protest, inciting them to break into the Faculty of Engineering on Saturday, 7 December 2013 and cheering with “aggressive and unacceptable chants” against the university chairman. A day prior to Nassar’s announcement, Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour amended a law allowing university heads to expel protesting students. Nassar also announced that the Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) agreed on signing a protocol with the interior ministry to train security on campus. According to this agreement, police will also be available outside university gates to allow university administrative security to work on campus in times of security threats. Nassar’s announcement comes on the heels of a decision by the SCU to ban political activity on the university campuses. Meanwhile, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), led by Muslim Brotherhood, has called for a new week of protests starting Friday. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, DNE, 2/20/2014]

Also of Interest:
Outrage, accusations of neglect, confusion reign over deaths of St. Catherine hikers | Ahram Online, Mada Masr
Army blames trip organizers for Sinai hiker deaths | Ahram Online, DNE
Mahalla workers strike continues, delegation walks out on meeting with investment minister | DNE, Aswat Masriya
Security forces forcibly evacuate residents of Ezbat al-Nakhl | Mada Masr
Pro-Morsi supporters form human chain protesting against military rule in Kafr al-Sheikh | Shorouk (Arabic)


Eighteen suspected militants killed in Sinai
Almost a dozen suspected militants have been killed in the northern Sinai Peninsula as Egyptian troops continue an extensive campaign against an Islamist insurgency in the volatile region. An air offensive by Apache helicopters Thursday targeted a militant hideout south of the North Sinai town of Rafah, killing at least five suspected Islamist militants and injured several others, eyewitnesses told Reuters’ Aswat Masriya.  Elsewhere in Sinai, six militants were killed late Wednesday in a separate strike in the northern town of Sheikh Zuweid, state news agency MENA reported. Eight other suspects were arrested in the raid, and some twenty-seven insurgent hideouts of shacks and houses used as bases for terrorist attacks have been destroyed. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, AP, 2/20/2014]

Three suspects apprehended in Taba bus blast
Security sources in Sharqiya say three suspects have been apprehended for involvement in the Taba tourist bus blast which took place on Sunday by a suicide bomber killing four and injuring sixteen others, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis earlier claimed responsibility for the attack. “It’s still not clear whether the group is behind [the attack], but [the ministry] is taking steps to contact all South Koreans traveling or staying in the region and advise them to leave,” said the official said on the condition of anonymity. [Egypt Independent, 2/19/2014]

Multiple fatalities in attacks on police in Sharqiya, Zagazig, and Sinai
An Egyptian policeman was killed and three others were injured in an attack by unknown armed assailants in Sharqiya on Thursday, a security source said, adding that this is the third incident of this kind in the past 24 hours. In a separate attack, an Egyptian army officer suffered gunshot injuries to his neck after being attacked by unknown assailants in a drive-by shooting in the Nile Delta city of Belbis, Sharqiyah governorate, Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website reported. A police sergeant in Zagazig was also killed and three others injured after unidentified assailants in a car and on a motorcycle attacked a cash-in-transit vehicle and stole the money. An army officer and five soldiers from the counter-terrorism operations in North Sinai were wounded on Wednesday in two terrorist attacks. [Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Ahram (Arabic), Ahram Online, 2/20/2013]

Also of Interest:
Family of Taba bombing bus driver receives EGP 150,000 | DNE
Bedouin tribe al-Azazma hands over weapons to head of the army in Suez | Shorouk (Arabic)
Egypt dreads Sinai bus bomb impact on tourism | DNE


Second US congressional delegation visits Cairo
A five-member US congressional delegation arrived in Egypt on Wednesday to hold talks with top Egyptian government officials, days after discussions by another congressional team concluded in Cairo. Led by congressman Tim Kaine, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, the delegation is due to hold talks with interim President Adly Mansour and foreign minister Nabil Fahmy on recent developments in the country and the region as part of a three-day visit, Al-Ahram Arabic news website reported. A separate group of congresspeople met with military chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Tuesday as part of talks on US-Egypt ties and recent regional developments. [Ahram Online, 2/20/2014]

Spanish parliament rejects request to suspend arms deals with Egypt
The Defense Committee of the Spanish parliament rejected on Wednesday a request submitted by the Catalan Republican Left party to suspend arms deals with Egypt immediately due to the Egyptian government’s violation of human rights. According to the Spanish News Agency EFE, the committee turned down the request after twenty-five MPs rejected it, and sixteen others voted for it. [Egypt Independent, 2/20/2014]

Also of Interest:
Egypt welcomes more ‘serious’ talks on Ethiopia dam | Ahram Online
British Foreign Ministry warns its nationals against travelling to Sinai | Egypt Independent
Sudan declares neutrality in Renaissance Dam problem, offers mediation between Egypt and Ethiopia | Egypt Independent
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights looks to open a regional office in Egypt | EGYNews (Arabic)
Egypt condemns Beirut bombings | Shorouk (Arabic)