Top News: Shoukry Meets with Kerry, Clinton Adviser in Washington

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry met Wednesday US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington. The two discussed a number of issues, foremost among them regional development in Syria, Libya and Yemen, the Egyptian foreign ministry announced. In a statement issued Thursday, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Abuzeid said Shoukry discussed with Kerry bilateral relations between Egypt and the United States. The State Department issued a statement Wednesday saying Kerry underlined the importance of “easing restrictions on association and expression” in Egypt and “allowing human rights NGOs to operate freely.” Abuzeid added that Shoukry and Kerry discussed the political process in Syria and enforcing the ceasefire, as well as ways to support the national unity government in Libya, especially in fighting terrorism. Kerry and Shoukry also evaluated progress in Yemeni talks held under UN sponsorship. In public statements Shoukry said, “We believe that we can only succeed with the continued support of the United States, and we value what has been provided in the past and we are reassured of the commitment of the United States towards Egypt’s prosperity and its role in the region.” Kerry, meanwhile, said Egypt is “playing a critical role” in dealing with the Libyan crisis. On Thursday, Shoukry met with Wendy Sherman, an adviser to the US Democratic Party’s presidential primary candidate Hillary Clinton. Abuzeid said that Sherman listened to Shoukry’s evaluations of political and economic developments taking place in Egypt, the country’s regional and international relations, as well as the country’s efforts to fight terrorism. “The meeting reflected the mutual wish to enforce Egyptian-American relations if Hillary Clinton wins the US presidential elections,” the Foreign Ministry statement read. Also on Thursday, Shoukry met with David Thorne, Kerry’s Senior Adviser. Shoukry is currently in Washington to attend the Nuclear Security Summit. [Ahram Online, DNE, 3/31/2016]


Egypt parliament approves new bylaws by MP majority
Egypt’s parliament approved the final draft of its new bylaws by the majority of its members Wednesday evening. The new bylaws were sent to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for ratification and to be enacted into law.   The new bylaws were approved by a majority of 403 MPs after finalizing many amendments and remarks raised by Egypt’s State Council. Most of these amendments are related to procedural issues that help shield these bylaws ‎from constitutional or legal ‎appeals. The parliament, however, rejected amendments related to its internal budget. Meanwhile, the parliament’s general secretariat informed MPs on Tuesday that they will receive a training course on national security, the dangers that the Middle East faces and “fourth-generation warfare” at the Defense Ministry-affiliated Nasser Military Academy throughout the month of April. The topics that will be discussed in the sessions, according to the list released by parliament, include Egypt’s defense strategy and western plans to divide the Middle East – a conspiracy theory that has been widely propagated since 2011, which blames western states for sparking unrest across the region in order to create a new map for the Middle East consisting of smaller nations that are easier to conquer. [Ahram Online, DNE, 3/30/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Implementing the constitution necessary before talk of amendments says Amr Moussa | Ahram Online


Egyptian court upholds three year jail sentence for writer Fatma Naoot
A Cairo misdemeanor court upheld Thursday a three-year jail sentence handed down on Egyptian writer Fatma Naoot for contempt of religion.  In January, Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison and fined EGP 20,000 (over $2550) after being found guilty of charges related to blasphemy. Neither Naoot nor her defense team attended the court session. On Wednesday, Naoot said on her official Facebook account she was travelling to Canada to attend the “The First Egyptian-Canadian Conference in Toronto,” where several issues including blasphemy laws and freedom of expression would be discussed, according to the writer. However, Naoot’s lawyer Sherif Adib told Ahram Online that Naoot will still present an appeal document in ten days. If the court rejects the yet to be presented appeal document, Naoot will appeal the sentence before of Court of Cassation. [Ahram Online, 3/31/2016]

Egypt rights center appeals against president’s decision to sack top auditor
An Egyptian rights center said on Wednesday it has appealed with an administrative court against the president’s decision to dismiss the country’s top auditor, who had sparked controversy when he said the size of governmental corruption amounted to billions of dollars. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree on Monday sacking Hisham Geneina, the director of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), which monitors financial institutions and government bodies. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) said in a press statement Wednesday that it filed an appeal with the Administrative Judicial Court, a first-instance court that has the right to nullify decrees issued by the president. ECESR said the presidential decree issued by Sisi to dismiss Geneina “circumvents the law” and violates the CAO’s independence as an auditing body. ECESR further accused Sisi’s decision of being an attempt to keep the CAO and the reports it issues under control. In its statement, the rights center expressed concern about the auditing of state funds and the government’s budget now that Geneina has been sacked. [Aswat Masriya, 3/30/2016]


Egypt’s current account deficit $8.9 billion
Egypt’s current account deficit reached $8.9 billion in the first half of fiscal year 2015/2016, more than double the deficit the year before, the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) said in a statement Wednesday. The widening deficit was driven partly by a decline in net transfers, which fell to about $3.99 billion in the second quarter of the fiscal year from around $5.79 billion in the same period a year earlier. Net official transfers, including cash and commodities, fell to $10.3 million in the second quarter from $1.13 billion in the same period a year earlier. A steep decline in the services surplus, from $1.9 billion to $543.7 million, also contributed to the widening of the deficit. Tourism revenues fell by almost a third to $2.7 billion from $4 billion. Also on Wednesday, Egypt’s government approved a draft state budget for 2016-17 that targets economic growth of 5 to 6 percent. [Reuters, 3/30/30216]

Also of Interest

  • Egypt’s Ezz Steel returns to profit in fourth quarter | Reuters


Maat accused in foreign funding case, claims ministry denied it finances

Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights is among the NGOs accused in the foreign funding case, general director of Maat Ayman Okeil said. Maat also announced on Wednesday that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has prohibited it from receiving funds from the Anna Lindh Foundation. Okeil said the foundation’s lawyer had received confirmation that the Maat was involved in the recently reopened foreign funding case levelled against a number of local NGOs. He noted, however, that no one from the organization was summoned for investigations as of yet, saying that he is not concerned, as the foundation is registered under the Ministry of Social Solidarity and has not been involved in any illegal activity, whether receiving funds or otherwise. Okeil added that the ministry prohibiting funds from reaching Maat, saying: “I submitted in January a request to the Social Solidarity Ministry administration in Dar Al-Salam for approval for a fund from the international NGO, the Anna Lindh Foundation, which operates from an office in Alexandria.” The request was sent on January 14, and was not answered, despite the legal duration of keeping requests in directorate being set at 60 days. Okeil has sent several complaints to the ministry, but has received no response. He added that Maat regularly faces such intransigence on the ministry’s part, noting that the foundation has been denied funds on numerous occasions. The ministry has previously delayed a project for Maat by 12 months without clear justification, he noted. [DNE, 3/30/2016]

Egyptian author Ahmed Naji to receive PEN award
An imprisoned Egyptian author and journalist is being given the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, presented by PEN America. Ahmed Naji received a two-year sentence in February for “destroying social values,” an allegation tied to the content of his novel “The Use of Life.” “Naji’s case is emblematic of Egypt’s escalating crackdown on artistic freedom in flagrant disregard for its own constitutional protections and at the expense of the country’s rich cultural traditions,” PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday. “PEN hopes that this award will spur writers, readers, advocates, and world leaders to press Egypt to release Naji immediately and to stop treating creativity as a crime.” [AP, 3/31/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Egyptian feminist leader Mozn Hassan resolute in face of official investigation | The Guardian
  • Alexandria taxi drivers threaten strike over Uber, Careem apps | Ahram Online
  • At least nine bodies found, search continues in Mediterranean after boat capsizes | DNE


New investigation team formed by Egypt’s Prosecutor General to probe Regeni murder

A new investigation team at the office of Egypt’s Prosecutor General will follow up on leads in the murder case of Italian student Giulio Regeni until the full truth is revealed, a statement from the office announced Wednesday. “Due to the fact that different evidence in the murder case appeared in different geographical locations, a new investigating team is set up at the prosecutor general’s office in order to follow up the investigations,” the statement of Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek said. The statement also revealed that Sadek spoke on the phone with Rome’s chief prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone, about the latest developments in the Regeni case. The prosecutor’s office also made statements Wednesday about the alleged criminal gang accused of robbing and kidnapping foreigners and Egyptians and that was linked to the 28-year-old Italian student’s murder. According to the office, Cairo prosecution is still investigating the exchange of fire that took place between suspected gang members and security forces in New Cairo last Thursday in which all suspects were killed. The Prosecutor General’s office reiterated that Giulio Regeni’s passport and university ID, among other items, were found in a red bag at the house of the sister of one of the suspects. [Ahram Online, 3/30/2016]

ANHRI says Egyptian blogger jailed in Qatar due to guarantor system
An Egyptian blogger is being kept in a Qatari jail after suing his guarantor for unfair dismissal and unpaid wages. Tamer Mabrouk has been held in Qatar since February 21 due to an ongoing legal battle with his Qatari guarantor Abdullah Youssef al-Ansary, who hired Mabrouk to build a website. Mabrouk was jailed after his guarantor countersued, accusing him of breaking the terms of his contract as a foreign employee. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), he has been given the option of remaining in jail in Qatar or relinquishing any claim to outstanding payments for his work and returning to Egypt. In a statement, ANRHI urged the swift release of Mabrouk, saying that his case highlights that of many other Egyptian workers who are jailed in Qatar due to the guarantor system, which they say puts foreign workers in an unfair position at the mercy of their Qatari employers. [Egypt Independent, 3/30/2016]

German Interior Minister delivers speech at Al-Azhar
As a part of his two-day visit to Egypt, German interior minister Thomas de Maizière delivered a speech to students from Al-Azhar University that focused on religious tolerance, according to an official statement from Al-Azhar. Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb noted that the Sunni institution is ready to contribute to establishing and supervising a foundation to teach Arabic to German citizens. He added that Al-Azhar is ready to provide training to German Imams. During his visit, De Maizière also met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egyptian Minister of Interior Mohamed Abdel Ghaffar. [DNE, 3/31/2016]

Also of Interest

  • Cypriot ex-wife says Egyptian hijacker ‘abusive, dangerous’ | AFP, AP
  • Flight attendant who ushered passengers to safety during hijacking speaks out | Ahram Online
  • Egyptian hijacker should be tried in Cyprus before extradition says Egypt FM spokesman | Ahram Online
  • Obama briefed on EgyptAir hijacking: White House | Reuters
  • Egyptian Special Forces were en route to Laranca to free hostages | DNE