Top News: Russia, Egypt Dismiss UK, US Suggestion That Bomb Caused Plane Crash

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday there was a “significant possibility” the Russian jetliner that crashed in the Egyptian desert may have been brought down by a bomb, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We cannot be certain that the Russian airliner was brought down by a terrorist bomb, but it looks increasingly likely that that was the case.”  A US official briefed on the matter also said that Intercepted communications played a role in the tentative conclusion that the Islamic State group’s Egypt affiliate, Sinai State, planted an explosive device on the plane. Russia and Egypt dismissed the suggestion, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying Thursday that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the causes of the crash, but ordered additional security measures. Alexander Neradko, head of Russian aviation agency Rosaviatsia, said he team investigating the crash will examine whether there was any explosive material onboard the plane. A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, insisted that aviation investigators were working on all possible theories as to what caused the crash. Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister said investigators have found no evidence so far that an explosion brought down the plane, while Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he was “somewhat surprised” by Cameron’s remarks. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Cameron agreed in a phone call Thursday on the need for “the tightest possible security” at the Sinai resort airport, London said. Meanwhile, the Sinai State dismissed in an audio message on Wednesday doubts that it had downed the plane, and said it would tell the world how it did so in its own time. As the investigation continues, all flights carrying British and Irish passengers home from Egypt were suspended on Wednesday, affecting around 20,000 British travelers. Britain said Thursday it was planning emergency measures to repatriate holidaymakers from Sharm al-Sheikh, and the Irish Aviation Authority directed all Irish airlines on Wednesday not to fly to or from the Sinai Peninsula until further notice. Egypt said on Thursday Britain’s decision to suspend flights was made without consulting Egyptian authorities, while Konstantin Kosachev, a senior member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Britain’s decision was motivated by London’s opposition to Russia’s actions in Syria. Russian media also reacted with skepticism to the news that the UK and Ireland were stopping flights to Sharm al-Sheikh. Germany’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday also urged travelers to Egypt to avoid the Sinai Peninsula, while the White House Wednesday said it has no plans to update its flight advisory on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. No US airlines regularly operate out of Sinai and the Federal Aviation Administration has had a flight advisory for the area since March, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. Follow The Guardian’s live on the story updates here. [AP, CNN, AFP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 11/5/2015]


Almost 3,000 candidates in second phase of parliamentary elections
The High Elections Committee (HEC) said in a press conference Thursday that a total of 2,847 candidates will be competing over 222 individual seats in the second phase of parliamentary elections scheduled for November 21 – 23. According to HEC spokesperson Omar Marwan, a total of 28,204,225 voters are registered, and nearly 15,000 judges will be supervising over 12,000 local polling stations. The HEC will announce the final list of individual candidates on November 12, after all appeals are reviewed by the court. As campaigning begins, the Ministry of Religious Endowment renewed its warning against the use of worship places to campaign for elections, saying it would also immediately revoke any preacher’s license if they use mosques to discuss parliamentary elections. Ayman Okeil, Director of the Maat Foundation and coordinator of the local-international joint observatory mission, said violations have already been documented as most candidates did not respect the dates set to start campaigning. Finally, the For the Love of Egypt (FLE), an alliance supportive of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which won all sixty seats allocated to electoral lists in the first phase, said it will seek alliances with fellow member parties and independents to secure a parliamentary majority. [DNE, 11/5/2015]

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Egypt court reduces jail terms for Brotherhood leaders Beltagy and Hegazy in torture case
An Egyptian appeals court has halved the twenty year prison sentences for Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohamed al-Beltagy and Safwat Hegazy on charges of torturing police officers at a 2013 Brotherhood sit-in. However, the two defendants are still appealing other life sentences handed down by a Cairo court on other charges. The appeals court also reduced jail sentences from ten to five years for Abdel-Aziz Ibrahim and Mohamed Mahmoud, two Brotherhood members convicted in the same torture case. All four Brotherhood members were accused of illegally detaining, torturing, and attempting to kill two policemen at the 2013 sit-in at Cairo’s Raba’a al-Adaweya. The sentences against the defendants were reduced following appeals against the initial court rulings. [Ahram Online, 11/4/2015]

Egypt court postpones Mubarak’s final trial over 2011 killing of protesters
Egypt’s Cassation Court on Thursday postponed to January 21 the final trial of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak over the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended his 30-year rule. According to state-owned Al-Ahram, the court is to look into a second appeal on the verdict, in which charges against Mubarak were dismissed in November 2014 due to a lack of evidence. The original session was to be held at the Supreme Court House and not at the Police Academy, according to Cassation Court protocols, and is the highest and last judicial step possible in the case. The upcoming court decision cannot be reversed and the defendant must be present in person. The case was postponed due to Mubarak’s absence, which Cairo security authorities apologized for in a letter sent to the court, stating that Mubarak is still recovering from a thigh fracture and needs ongoing medical attention for kidney and blood problems. [DNE, AMAY, Reuters, 10/5/2015]

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Egypt says foreign reserves rise to $16.415 billion at end-October
Egypt’s foreign currency reserves rose to $16.415 billion at the end of October from $16.335 billion the previous month, the central bank said on Wednesday, increasing by $80 million. The process of rebuilding the foreign exchange reserves is the most important challenge facing Tarek Amer, CBE’s new governor, during the coming period as a large portion of the reserves were spent over the past year. According to CBE, the current level of foreign reserves barely covers three months worth of basic commodity imports for Egypt. The value of gold included in the foreign exchange reserves is about $2.5 billion, and the rest is in the form of liquidity, which is invested in global financial markets. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have provided billions of dollars in aid since 2013, and the reserves had previously stood at about $36 billion before the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak. [DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 10/5/2015]

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Eleven killed, 100 evacuated in Beheira after heavy showers across Egypt
Floods in the Beheira governorate have killed eleven according to a security source, while 100 people were evacuated from the village of Wadi al-Natrun as Egypt suffers from a second round of stormy weather in less than a month. Wadi al-Natrun was completely inundated with rainwater, necessitating the evacuation of civilians by military personnel and the arrival of a dozen relief and drainage trucks. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail arrived in the province on Wednesday to assess the situation, according to state run television, and the government has allocated EGP 10,000 to the families of those who have died in the flooding. This comes at a time when the head of Egypt’s Meteorological Authority (EMA) has declared that the recent rainfall across the country has occurred at unprecedented levels. Meanwhile in Alexandria, which also received deadly amounts of rainfall last week, it was announced that there would be an official day off from work on Thursday following additional rainfall. Attitudes toward the governmental response to the floods has been negative in Alexandria, with dozens of residents blocking a major road in protest, calling on officials to do more to alleviate problems caused by the flooding. On Wednesday, also in Alexandria, a total of 5,000 homes, at risk of collapse due to age or condition, were evacuated by an official order. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, Ahram Online, DNE, AMAY, 10/4/2015]

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  • In wake of crash, Egypt opens tombs to spur tourist interest | AP
  • Tourism movement to Egypt not affected by Russian plane crash says Tourism Authority head | DNE


Sisi supporters and opponents protest outside Downing Street
Large demonstrations took place outside Downing Street before the arrival of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for a three day visit to the UK. Supporters of Sisi, and those opposed to his regime, sought to drown each other out on Thursday, separated only by a police van and officers. Hundreds of Sisi supporters attended, chanted “welcome Sisi” as banners were held aloft declaring their love for the president. A few feet away, anti-Sisi protesters, despite being outnumbered, matched the opposing demonstration for noise. They held a large banner declaring “Sisi not welcome.” At least seven demonstrators opposed to Sisi’s visit were taken away by police. Five had to be removed by police after they lay on the ground pretending to be dead outside the gates to Downing Street in an attempt to block Sisi’s route. [The Guardian, 11/5/2015]

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  • Exiled Egyptian activist asks Congress to halt aid to Cairo | Egypt Independent
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  • One of two black boxes from Russian plane damaged: Egypt ministry | Reuters
  • Russian plane crash: New clues emerge from wreckage, victims’ injuries | CNN