Dozens of Egyptian military and police armored vehicles crossed into Sinai on Monday, beefing up the security presence in the volatile peninsula five days after suspected militants kidnapped six policemen and a border guard there. 


Egypt’s presidency to talk on kidnapped soldiers crisis

Egypt’s presidency is to hold a press conference at 1:30pm Monday to explain the latest developments regarding the seven kidnapped soldiers. President Mohamed Morsi has vowed to consider all options to free the hostages who were kidnapped by unidentified Islamist militants last week. President Mohamed Morsi on Sunday declared that all Egyptian state apparatuses were working "in unison" to secure the soldiers’ release and would "not be subject to blackmail attempts." A statement, released after President Morsi met with the Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, Head of the General Intelligence, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Chief of Operations of the Armed Forces and other army officials, denied differences between Egyptian state apparatuses over the crisis, noting that there was "complete coordination" between ministries. Egypt’s presidential spokesman stated Sunday that the president is scheduled to meet with heads of political parties and political figures to discuss the crisis. Hatem Azzam, deputy head of al-Wasat party, denied that political figures refused to participate in the meeting. NSF opposition in Suez say any negotiation with the kidnappers insults Egypt and calls for immediate military operations. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Shorouk (Arabic), 5/20/2013]

Judges elect new SCC chief; Justice Minister criticizes lowered age limit of judges
The Supreme Constitutional Court’s general assembly approved Adly Mansour’s appointment as Chief Justice on Sunday. Mansour will replace Maher al-Behiery who retires on June 30.  A 2011 amendment requires the court’s head to be elected from among the three top SCC deputies, following the general assembly’s approval. Before the amendment, Egypt’s president could appoint the Chief Justice from outside the court and thus without the general assembly’s approval. Meanwhile, Judges for Egypt (JFE) outlined the importance of amending the current Judiciary Law and praised the controversial judiciary bill to be approved by the Shura Council. JFE spokesman Waleed al-Sharaby called on the Shura Council to speed up the issuance of the amended Judiciary Law. However, speaking about the Judicial Authority Law, Minister of Justice Ahmed Suleiman said that lowering the maximum age limits for judges impedes the work of the judiciary, adding that the suspension of the Justice Conference was a “natural reaction” to the way in which the state’s legislative body had initially approached amending the law. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 5/19/2013]

NSF attacks NGO draft law; Morsi pledges financial support for civil society
Egypt’s main opposition bloc said on Saturday that a Muslim Brotherhood-backed bill to regulate human rights groups and other private organizations was an attempt to stifle their work. The National Salvation Front (NSF), an alliance of liberal and leftist opposition parties, said the draft law submitted to the Shura Council, which for now has legislative powers, was more restrictive than laws under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. Meanwhile, during a meeting with the head of the General Union for Civil Society Associations and Institutions, Hatem Khater, President Mohamed Morsi reaffirmed the significance of civil society and its role as “one of the major pillars of the development triangle”, adding that he is eager to provide all the support he can in ensuring their freedom to perform their roles. [Reuters, DNE, 5/19/2013]

Also of Interest:
Shura to discuss amendments to NCHR law | DNE
Egypt forms body to confront violence against women | Aswat Masriya, DNE, SIS
Salafists launch attack on Egypt’s ‘ruling’ Muslim Brotherhood | Ahram Online
Salafi leader Makhyoun calls on Morsi to form a dialogue committee with the opposition | EGYNews (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic)


Egypt’s top prosecutor orders investigation into ‘torture’ of Sinai militant
Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation in a lawsuit accusing the interior minister and the chief of Torah Prison of torturing a prisoner until he lost his eyesight. The lawsuit demanded that the prosecutor-general takes all the necessary legal actions against everyone involved in this incident, and that he assigns a number of prosecutors to investigate the situation in Torah Prison. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 5/19/2013]

Two Egyptian journalists, critical of Morsi, face trial
Two Egyptian journalists at a newspaper critical of President Mohamed Morsi were ordered on Sunday to face an expedited criminal trial for defamation. Public Prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim ordered the trial for Magdy al-Galad, editor in chief of Watan newspaper, and Alaa al-Ghatrify, its managing editor, state newspaper al-Ahram reported. Earlier this month, al-Galad was charged by the prosecutor with "publishing false news that aims to disturb public peace and stir panic" after Watan printed the names of people that it said Islamist militants planned to assassinate. The latest charges were for defaming the director of a local public opinion research centre. [Reuters, 5/19/2013]

Also of Interest:
Commissioners Authority: Information Ministry’s continuation is constitutional | DNE
Administrative Court: FJP and Nour dissolution case postponed to June 18 | AMAY
FJP member faces criminal charge of insulting Egypt’s judiciary | Ahram Online, AMAY
SAC rejects case to reinstate dissolved NDP | Watan
Sheikh appeals jail sentence for insulting Egyptian actress | Ahram Online
Egypt’s new culture minister accuses rival of defamation | Ahram Online
Court sets verdict date in jailed activist Hassan Mostafa’s case | Ahram Online


IMF: Tax reforms to increase Egypt’s GDP by 0.75%

A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report said that a new set of tax reforms recently implemented by Egypt’s government will increase the country’s GDP by 0.75%. The report stated, however, that the primary component of the country’s tax reform programme has not yet been implemented because it is still under review by the Shura Council. The council has so far agreed on amendments to the country’s income and stamp taxes, in addition to legal regulations regarding the latter, but not discussions have taken place regarding amendments to the country’s sales tax code. [DNE, 5/19/2013]

Egyptian foreign debt increases by $8bn
Egypt’s foreign debt has increased by $8bn, reaching $42bn as of last April compared to $34.4 last year, a Finance Ministry official stated. Egypt’s rate of external debt recorded right after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted was around $33bn. The debt increase has led global finance rating company Standard & Poor’s to lower the credit ratings of local banks National Bank of Egypt, National Societe General Bank (NSGB), Banque Misr and Commercial International Bank (CIB) to CCC+. Internal debts hit an alarming EGP 1.4tn, equivalent to about $200bn. [DNE, 5/18/2013]

Also of Interest:
Digitized database will exclude 1.5 million from receiving subsidies: Ouda | DNE
North Cairo may face power outages as workers strike | Ahram Online
PM: Fund to support tourism with a capital of EGP 6bn will be set up | SIS
300mln loan from WB to implement 1st phase of SMEs program | SIS
EU finances agricultural projects in Egypt | SIS
President stresses need for reducing inflation rates to protect low-income brackets | SIS
Egyptian banking officials protest new loan loss provision tax | Ahram Online


Security beefed up in Egypt’s Sinai after kidnapping of security personnel

Dozens of Egyptian military and police armored vehicles crossed into Sinai on Monday, beefing up the security presence in the volatile peninsula five days after suspected militants kidnapped six policemen and a border guard there. The security deployment comes a day after the release of a video of the captive security men. An Egyptian soldier at the Rafah border crossing said on Sunday that he recognized four of his colleagues in the video. Morsi has said all options are open to free the seven men and there was no room for dialogue with “criminals,” but officials have also said mediators and local tribesmen have been in touch with the captors. Egypt’s security forces have not received any orders to initiate an armed operation to free the security personnel kidnapped in Sinai, a senior security source told the state-run news agency. The unnamed source said the security forces prefer negotiating with the kidnappers in order to maintain the safety of hostages. North Sinai Governor Abdel Fattah Harhur, however, denied reports on ongoing negotiations with the kidnappers. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Bedouin tribes in Sinai denied knowing the location of the kidnapped personnel, adding that they are in constant communication with the security services and are helping them search for the kidnapped men. Egyptian police closed a commercial passage with Israel on Sunday in support of colleagues who shut down a crossing with Gaza to protest the abduction of the policemen, while Central Security Forces conscripts at five police stations in northern Sinai have gone on strike to demand the release of the men. [AP, Ahram Online, SIS, 5/20/2013]

Gunmen storm security camp in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula
Gunmen stormed an Egyptian security forces base in the Sinai Peninsula at dawn on Monday and exchanged gunfire with forces inside the base before retreating, security sources said. The gunmen attacked the base in the al-Ahrash area in North Sinai from a truck and fired automatic weapons, but the attack did not result in any casualties. The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear, but security sources said they were likely to be Islamist militants. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 5/20/2013]

Also of Interest:
Interior ministry tightens security ahead of march for Egypt’s ‘bearded policeman’ | Ahram Online
Report: Egypt’s Army ranked 14th worldwide | SIS
Investigations reveal role of 3 suspects in terror cell | Ahram (Arabic)


Education minister and al-Azhar to establish Islamic Studies curriculum

Minister of Education Ibrahim Ghoneim released a press statement on Sunday saying the education budget has been increased to EGP 62bn from the previous budget of EGP 49bn. According to Aswat Masriya, the statement said an agreement was also reached with al-Azhar to establish Islamic studies as part of the state school curriculum. A meeting is expected to be held next Tuesday between the minister and al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb. The meeting will focus on sharing resources between the ministry and al-Azhar, who plan on developing the curriculum. [DNE, 5/19/2013]

Egyptians targeted with blasphemy charges
The case against Dimyana Abdel-Nour in southern Egypt’s ancient city of Luxor began when parents of three of her pupils claimed that their children, aged 10, complained their teacher showed disgust when she spoke of Islam in class. According to the parents, Abdel-Nour, 24, told the children that Pope Shenouda, who led the Egyptian Coptic Church until his death last year, was better than the Prophet Muhammad. Criminalizing blasphemy was enshrined in the country’s Islamist-backed constitution that was adopted in December. Writers, activists and even a famous television comedian have been accused of blasphemy since then. But Christians seem to be the favorite target of Islamist prosecutors. Their fragile cases — the main basis of the case against Abdel-Nour’s case the testimony of children — are greeted with sympathy from courtroom judges with their own religious bias or who fear the wrath of Islamists, according to activists. [AP, 5/18/2013]

‘Rebel’ signature campaign is just a survey: Brotherhood’s al-Beltagy
Mohamed al-Beltagy, an influential Muslim Brotherhood leader, dismissed the proclaimed target of the newly-launched ‘Rebel’ campaign, which seeks to secure signatures in favor of ousting President Mohamed Morsi. "It remains illogical even if the news that the campaign had collected two million signatures is true. Morsi was elected as president with 12 million votes," al-Beltagy added. On Thursday a statement was released on Tamarod’s official page denouncing the endorsement by Shafiq. The founder of the Arab Centre for Research and Studies, Abdul Rahim Ali, called on Tamarod and the Shafiq camp to set aside their differences to face the “fascist regime” in the upcoming parliamentary elections. [Ahram Online, 5/17/2013]

One dead, dozens wounded in sectarian clashes in Egypt
One person died and dozens were wounded during clashes between Muslims and Christians late Friday night outside a Coptic church in Egypt’s second city, state newspaper al-Ahram reported, in the latest violent sectarian row in the Muslim-majority country. A quarrel between two young men, one Christian and one Muslim, morphed into a family feud that sparked clashes in a western district of Alexandria. The two sides threw firebombs at each other before security forces intervened and cordoned off the area around the church. Police arrested eight people after about two hours of fighting. [Reuters, 5/18/2013]

Also of Interest:

State radio employees strike at Egypt’s Maspero | Ahram Online, DNE
Clashes erupt near Tahrir Square between police, unknown civilians | Ahram Online, AP, AMAY


Palestine-Egypt relations face political and security challenges

President Mohamed Morsi and Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh discussed on Friday the latest developments of the Palestinian reconciliation file, as well as discussing the “security situation on the ground”. A Gazan official said that hundreds of stranded Palestinians, including members of parliament and patients, were mistreated by Egyptian police during their return from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after performing hajj. Interior Ministry Spokesman Islam Shahwan told Asharq Alawsat on Sunday that he received complaints from stranded citizens who said they were detained and threatened by Egyptian police officers. Reports emerged that Hamas declared the border area between Egypt and the Gaza Strip a “closed military zone” on Monday as the Sinai hostage crisis entered its fifth day. Hamas, however, has denied these reports. [SIS, Aswat Masriya, DNE, AMAY, 5/20/2013]

Egypt requests aid from Saudi Arabia; Qatar gas deal postponed
Egypt is expected to sign an agreement with Saudi Arabia this Wednesday for the construction of an electrical power line between the two countries. Meanwhile, Mohamed al-Makawi, advisor to Egypt’s Minister of Finance for Foreign Relations, stated that Finance Minister Fayad Abdel Moneim recently requested $500m in aid from his Saudi Arabian counterpart, Ibrahim bin Abdel Aziz al-Assaf. The request was made in order to help prop up Egypt’s national budget.  Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Sherif Hadarra stated on Saturday that a pending agreement for Egypt to import natural gas from Qatar has been postponed until further notice. The postponement came as a result of a number of unresolved legal details that still have yet to be worked out. Turkey, however, will increase its $1 billion credit line to Egypt by $250 million, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said on Monday. Turkey was expected to transfer the remaining $1 billion of a $2 billion budget support package agreed last year for Egypt this month. [Ahram Online, DNE, 5/19/2013]

Also of Interest:
FM: Egypt’s position on Syria has not changed; Assad’s govt must go | Watan (Arabic)
Egyptian-Ethiopian talks on Ethiopian Renaissance Dam | SIS
Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamed warns Egyptians against ‘abusing freedom’ | Ahram Online
Muslim Brotherhood hosts former Malaysian PM | DNE