Top News: Novelist Ahmed Naji Handed Two Years in Prison After Initial Acquittal

An Egyptian court has sentenced an author to two years in jail for public indecency after excerpts of his sexually explicit novel were published in a literary newspaper. A chapter from Ahmed Naji’s novel Istikhdam al-Hayat, or Using Life, was serialized in a state-owned literary newspaper and a case was brought against him last year by a private citizen who claimed the excerpt caused him distress and heart palpitations. Naji was initially acquitted in January but the prosecution appealed the ruling. He was immediately arrested from the courthouse after receiving the maximum penalty possible. The magazine’s editor-in-chief Tarek al-Taher, who faced charges in the same case, was fined EGP 10,000. Naji’s lawyer, Mahmoud Othman, filed an appeal against the sentence, saying it is unconstitutional and based on an incorrect application of the law. Egypt’s Press Syndicate also presented on Sunday a petition to the top prosecutor demanding Naji’s release. In the petition, the syndicate said that the verdict constitutes a “violation” against Article 67 in the Egyptian constitution, which guarantees “freedom of artistic and literary creativity.” A group of journalists from Akhbar al-Adab filed a third appeal against the verdict. Thirteen rights organizations including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, meanwhile, issued a statement Sunday condemning the verdict, as did the original publisher of the novel, Dar al Tanweer, and a group of independent media outlets, including Zahma, Mada Masr, Qoll, and Zaed 18. Press Syndicate Board Member Mahmoud Khaled told Mada Masr that the prosecution has also threatened Naji with drug charges in relation to the novel’s main character. In a front-page column in daily newspaper al-Maqal, Ibrahim Eissa expressed outrage over the verdict. “Say what you will, Mr. President, and speak at your conferences . . . as you wish, but the reality of your state is different,” he wrote. “Your state violates the constitution, harasses thinkers and creators and jails writers and authors. [DNE, Reuters, The Guardian, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 2/21/2016]


Police reform tops Ministry of Interior and parliament agenda
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for new security legislation that will regulate the behavior of security forces on the streets and ensure they are punished for violations, calling on the minister to submit recommendations to the parliament within 15 days. Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar told police officials on Friday that it has become necessary to firmly deal with some police elements that give the ministry a “bad name,” in the wake of a policeman shooting dead a taxi driver, a Saturday ministry statement read. The statement added that the ministry is not and will not be a protector of those who do not “understand the message of security” and will not shield anyone who abuses his power or violates a citizen’s rights. “The ministry will hold accountable all violators and will not tolerate these irresponsible acts that do not reflect the ministry’s policies,” the statement added. Abdel Ghaffar ordered that all laws that address treatment by policemen of citizens be amended before being presented to parliament. The anticipated amendments will see changes to the type and severity of penalties applied. Police officers would also be subjected to “disciplinary councils.” The killing of the taxi driver ‎last week also led Egypt’s parliament, at the request of 100 MPs, to devote its ‎ Sunday morning session to review the ‎performance of the Interior Ministry. Although MPs agreed that the ministry ‎should be reformed to allow greater ‎respect for human rights and impose ‎control on the alleged abuses of the security ‎apparatus, they were divided into two ‎camps on how to achieve these goals.‎ The liberal camp, led by MP Anwar al-‎Sadat, chairman of the Reform and ‎Development Party, insisted that Abdel Ghaffar should ‎resign. Samir Ghattas, a political researcher and ‎MP for Cairo’s Nasr City district, said ‎that the problem lay with low-ranking policemen who were ‎dismissed from the interior ministry after ‎the January 25 revolution, and were ‎allowed to re-join the ranks of the ministry. Outspoken independent MP ‎Mortada Mansour said that “those who ‎call for reforming the Interior Ministry are in ‎fact trying their best to undermine the ‎Egyptian state.” [Ahram Online, 2/21/2016]

MPs warn harsh economic measures could spark street protests
Many Egyptian MPs are warning the government against “any shocking measures” that might hit poor and limited-income classes hard. The MPs say they insisted in their meetings with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail that they will strongly oppose any further devaluation of the Egyptian pound or even any partial phasing-out of subsidies on electricity and water. Anwar al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, told Ahram Online that most independent MPs stand against the government taking any measures that might cause a new reduction in the lives of ordinary citizens. Mohamed Zeineddin, an MP affiliated with the In Support of Egypt parliamentary bloc, said that “while MPs are aware of the current dollar crisis which led Egypt’s import bill to spiral out of control and exert huge pressure on the country’s foreign exchange reserves, we also urge the government not to let poor classes bear the burden of this crisis.” [Ahram Online, 2/21/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Parliament formally accepts MP Sirri Siam’s resignation | DNEAMAY


Policeman referred to criminal trial over driver’s death
Egypt’s highest prosecutor referred a policeman accused of the high-profile killing of a civilian in the Cairo neighborhood of al-Darb al-Ahmar to trial on Sunday. The referral decision came quickly based on the policeman’s confessions, police inquiries, and eyewitness accounts, Hisham Hamdy from the south Cairo prosecution said in press remarks. On Friday, the policeman confessed to killing the driver and prosecutors ordered his detention for four days for investigation. In related news, the Court of Appeal approved a previous sentence issued by the Criminal Court sentencing policeman Mohamed Mahmoud to two years in prison, after rejecting his appeal. Mahmoud was accused of threatening citizens in the Haddaq al-Qoba police station, citizens in what was considered an act of terrorism. He was immediately transferred to prison following the verdict. [AMAY, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 2/21/2016]

Seven Egyptian policemen face charges of ‘incitement against police’
Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered on Sunday the detention of seven low-ranking policemen for 15 days pending investigation on charges related to inciting their colleagues to strike. The seven policemen were arrested at the Egyptian Media Production City on the outskirts of Cairo as they were on their way to participate in Wael al-Ibrashy’s talk show Saturday night on Dream TV. Citing a security source, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that security forces arrested the police officers after receiving a tip that they were going to incite people against the Ministry of Interior. However, it is alleged that the group was simply going to speak about the problems facing low-ranking police officers. The same source added that following the arrests, another group of officers blocked the Oasis Road to condemn the measure. These reports were denied by an official statement from the Interior Ministry. The state security prosecution accused the policemen of inciting to disrupt work, illegal striking, and joining a group which targets the work of a state authority. According to Al-Watan, in the wake of the arrest, many low-ranking police officers in the Sharqiya Governorate organized a protest Sunday in front of the security directorate in solidarity with the arrested officers, demanding their immediate release. [Ahram Online, DNE, AMAY, Aswat Masriya, 2/21/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Court hands tough sentences to 33 Brotherhood supporters | DNE



Egypt signs $500 million facility agreement with Afreximbank to ease FX shortage
The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) agreed to a $500 million facility with the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to help Egyptian importers facing a foreign currency shortage. The deal, which was signed on Friday, will provide trade liquidity facility to Egyptian importers with a focus on imports considered strategic to the Egyptian economy. In November, Afreximbank offered to arrange a facility of up to $1 billion to improve Egypt’s foreign currency liquidity. On Sunday, CBE Governor Tarek Amer said the bank will not devalue the Egyptian pound until foreign reserves increase to $25 billion to $30 billion from the current $16.48 billion. He said Egypt’s economy will not be negatively impacted by the foreign exchange crises. In other foreign assistance news, the African Development Bank said it will offer Egypt $140 million to fund the new Administrative Capital project. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 2/20/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt’s Central Bank to restructure state agricultural lender | Ahram Online
  • Finance Minister says Egypt hopes to issue international bond by end of June | Reuters
  • Egypt’s Sisi opens Africa investment conference | AP, Ahram Online
  • Central bank of Egypt says it will float United Bank of Egypt | Reuters
  • Egypt says strategic wheat reserves to last until start of June | Reuters, Ahram Online
  • Eni completes authorization process for Egypt’s Zohr gas field | Reuters
  • Egypt’s new import regulations frustrate traders | Al Ahram Weekly
  • World Bank cancels $38 million loan for Egypt sanitation projects | Amwal Al Ghad


Egyptian anti-torture center vows to defy closure
The Egyptian government’s plan to shut down a center that aids the survivors of torture and abuse will not stop its activists from documenting cases of torture committed by security forces, the center’s founders said Sunday. Suzan Fayyad, a psychiatrist at the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture said that the center would continue to operate, despite the closure order, which the authorities plan to implement on Monday. Officials had initially tried to close the center last Wednesday, but agreed to delay enforcing the order until Monday morning to give the center time to contest it. Fayyad said the center’s workers were told the closure order came “from the highest level.” The center has filed an urgent application to a court in the hope of halting plans by authorities to shut it down. “This is a political decision,” said Aida Seif al-Dawla. “And it’s coming from the cabinet that represents all the actors that are keen on the survival of this regime, despite the oppression and the torture that the Egyptian people are living through on a daily basis.” The Ministry of Health maintains that the decision to close to the center was made due to the center changing its operations and activities to ones other than those it was licensed to perform, without informing the ministry. “Al-Nadeem has changed its activity from being a clinic which treated psychological and nervous diseases into a center for the rehabilitation of torture victims without informing the Health Ministry’s license department,” Health Ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed told Daily News Egypt Sunday. Nadeem Center staff said that they should have been informed of any violations of regulations and given time to rectify them before the closure order was issued. [AP, Reuters, The Guardian, DNE, Mada Masr, 2/21/2016]  

Also of Interest

  • Cairo gallery bemoans unprecedented censorship as it prepares to reopen | The Guardian
  • Military spokesperson confirms error in four-year-old’s conviction | Egypt Independent
  • Father of four-year old sentenced to life in prison speaks out | Ahram Online, Egypt Independent
  • Nubians protest at Egypt tourist site demanding right to return to ancestral lands | Ahram Online, DNE
  • Doctors hold silent nationwide protests in hospitals against police violence | Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr
  • Families of missing individuals and detainees demand ‘justice’ | DNE
  • Face-veiled members of Qasr al-Aini school, hospitals protest Niqab ban | AMAY


Sinai State claims responsibility for bomb attack in North Sinai
Militant group Sinai State, affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility Sunday for targeting a police patrol with explosives in Bir al-Abd, in North Sinai. The group issued a statement on social media websites that included details of the attack. “Thanks to Allah, the soldiers of the Caliphate planted two bombs in an apostate police patrol that included an armored car and 4×4 vehicles…This act led to the perdition to all who were involved in the patrol,” their statement said. The statement, which was circulated on social media by users claiming to support the group’s ideology, could not be independently verified. One civilian was killed and 16 were injured by the explosives, according to security officials. Photos of the aftermath showing the destroyed vehicles were circulated on social media websites. In a separate incident, an 18-year-old university student was killed, and seven others injured Monday when an explosive device detonated on al-Bahr street in al-Arish, state news agency MENA reported. Security sources said the bomb, which was placed by militants, was targeting security forces, adding that the victims happened to be passing by when the bomb went off. [DNE, 2/22/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Suspect involved in terrorist operations arrested in Giza | AMAY


Defense Minister meets US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi met with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph F. Dunford in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the security partnership between the two countries. According to a statement from the US embassy in Cairo, Dunford affirmed his intent to maintain a strong military relationship with Egypt as a partner in the shared fight against terrorism. The meeting was also attended by a number of military officials from Egypt and the United States. Military spokesperson Colonel Mohamed Samir said the meeting addressed military cooperation in the areas of training, exchange of expertise, and supporting the combat and technical capabilities of the Armed Forces. [DNE, 2/20/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt’s Sisi calls for anti-terror cooperation in meeting with Nigerian president | Ahram Online, DNE
  • Cairo consults with Syrian government to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid | DNE
  • Egyptian-Arab military exercises commence in Saudi Arabia | Ahram Online, DNE
  • Sisi opens African business forum, calls for joint action | Ahram Online, DNE, SIS, Mada Masr
  • Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan agree on measures to strengthen trilateral ties | Ahram Online
  • Foreign Minister Shoukry: Ethiopia affirms commitment to declaration of principles | DNE