Top News: Sisi Addresses Issues in Sinai, Libya in Telephone Interview

In a phone interview on Amr Adib’s Al-Qahera al-Youm, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Egyptians to be patient with the government while discussing development in Sinai, and local and regional security. Sisi outlined development projects in Egypt, including in Sinai. “You do not have enough information about what is going on in Sinai,” he said, but promised that the peninsula will be “fully developed” by the end of his first term in 2018. Sisi said his government set up a plan that includes EGP 10 billion ($1.28 billion) worth of development projects in Sinai, and an execution timeframe of around a year and a half. The North Sinai Social Solidarity Department has also said it will pay EGP1.13 million in compensation to Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid residents who have been affected by terrorism and efforts to fight terrorism in North Sinai. During the interview, Sisi said Egypt would not intervene militarily in Libya, describing the neighboring country as a “sovereign state.” Sisi’s comments came after dozens of Islamist militants in the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan, near the Libyan border, attacked army and police posts in a raid that left at least 50 people dead. The Egyptian army is capable of foiling such attacks near the borders, Sisi said. “You don’t know the power of the Egyptian army. We are waiting and ready for the evil people.”  [DNE, Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Cairo Post, 3/8/2016]


Sabbahi proposes unified opposition coalition
Hamdeen Sabbahi issued a statement on March 4 calling on political powers to form a “civilian alternative” to the current political situation, but there remain many unanswered questions regarding the initiative’s goals, political orientation, and members. Sabbahi’s statement was issued in cooperation with the founders of the Karama Party and the Popular Current Party, both of which he has led, and was signed by the Preparation Committee to Unite Civil Forces—a new initiative which, presumably, Sabbahi intends to act as this “alternative.” Committee coordinator Tarek Said said that it includes “a large number of leading members of the Karama Party and the Popular Current, in addition to intellectuals and independent politicians,” but the identity of most of these members is not known. According to Popular Current Spokesperson, Emad Hamdy, the initiative “aims to remove the current political parties that are subordinate to security management and censorship, as they represent the current regime’s point of view.” Sabbahi said the initiative aims to “unite the Popular Current and the Karama Party and open the door for independent politicians to join,” and that it is an “attempt to strengthen the Civil Democratic Current as a political front.” The Free Egyptians Party rejected the initiative, while the Future of the Nation Party described it as vague. [DNE, Mada Masr, 3/7/2016]

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Citizen detained for burning Islamic teachings in front of Al-Azhar
The detention of a 31-year-old man was renewed for 15 days pending investigations into accusations of ‘contempt of religion,’ the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) reported Monday. Al-Sayed Al-Naggar, the defendant, is the administrator of a page on Facebook calling for a “religious revolution,” according to AFTE lawyer Fatma Serag. He was arrested last Thursday, after protesting at the Al-Azhar headquarters. “He called for the protest via Facebook, stating that Sahih al-Bukhary’s Islamic teachings promote extremism and support ideologies of the ‘Islamic State’ group,” Serag said. Naggar staged a one-man protest on Thursday in front of Al-Azhar and burnt Bukhary’s books. Naggar was arrested after his protest was reported by by citizens, and was questioned Friday, in the absence of lawyers. “It is possible that he will face further charges related to religious discrimination and incitement against religion, according to what he told us today when we met him,” said Serag, adding that lawyers have not yet been handed copies of the investigation. “The charge is unjust. The books he burned are not sacred books so he cannot be accused of contempt of religion,” she said. [DNE, 3/7/2016]

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Egypt’s EGAS makes first LNG payments for year
Egypt’s state-owned EGAS has made its first payments to liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers since terms for deliveries were extended. Egypt imports around six to eight cargoes of LNG per month. Traders say that until last week, EGAS had not paid suppliers since December when it extended payment terms to 90 days from the usual 15 days due to the country’s foreign currency crisis. EGAS Head Khaled Abdel Badie said the company made all payments that were due on LNG shipments. “We agreed with the companies to pay dues owed to them over a period of 90 days, and we are committed to this payment process,” he said. Market participants said Egypt now owes LNG suppliers up to $1 billion. The extended payment terms have increased Egypt’s risk profile for future LNG deals. [Reuters, 3/7/2016]

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Doctors to protest police abuse on March 12, 19
The Doctors’ Syndicate said Monday it will hold protests on March 12 and 19 to condemn ongoing assaults by security personnel against medical workers. The syndicate said in a statement the demonstrations will take place outside its Cairo headquarters as well as at major hospitals across all governorates. The statement added that the events will voice demands for “dignity for doctors, security for hospitals and the enforcement of laws holding assailants of doctors and medical facilities accountable.” The protests will not interfere with delivering medical care to patients, said the syndicate, adding that participants will ensure no political slogans are voiced during the demonstrations. [Egypt Independent, 3/7/2016]

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Security forces arrest ‘fugitive terrorist affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood’
A security official announced on Tuesday that Giza security forces arrested a fugitive terrorist, Mohamed Abdel Razek, affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. A statement from the Interior Ministry noted the defendant was found hiding from security forces in a rented apartment in the Giza governorate. Abdel Razek had previously received a death sentence in absentia on charges of being involved in the Al-Astqama Mosque clashes, the first violent incident that took place following the dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Raba’a Al-Adaweya in August 2013. Security forces allegedly confiscated equipment found with Abdel Razek including four mobile phones and a computer. [DNE, 3/7/2016]

Sinai State claims responsibility for killing five soldiers in al-Arish
A statement from the Interior Ministry reported that two policemen were killed and three injured in an attack Monday. According to the statement, an explosive device went off as an armored vehicle passed by. The attack comes one day after two conscripts were killed and another was injured when an explosive device went off as a police vehicle passed by in Sheikh Zuweid, also in North Sinai, according to a security source. The Sinai State, Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, also reportedly claimed responsibility Monday for an attack in al-Arish, but claimed five soldiers were killed after an IED detonated under their armored tank in al-Arish. The group published a statement circulated on social media detailing the attack. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, 3/8/2016].


Egypt officially nominates Ahmed Aboul-Gheit to head Arab League
The Arab League said on Monday that Egypt has presented Ahmed Abul Gheit, former President Hosni Mubarak’s last Foreign Minister, as its candidate to head the 22-member body after its present chief declined a second term. Abul Gheit is the only nominee for the position, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Bin Helli said in a statement released Monday. The Arab League will hold an urgent meeting on March 10 to choose a new Secretary General to succeed the current Secretary General Nabil al-Araby. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Monday that Egypt had submitted an official note to the Arab League nominating Abul Gheit for the position. A Ministry Spokesman told reporters that Egypt’s consultations with Arab countries revealed strong support for the Egyptian candidate. Abul Gheit is expected to garner support from neighboring Arab states based on his strong anti-Iran sentiment and his support of Saudi Arabia. He has also expressed his support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, referring to him as “my hero who saved Egypt” in a December 2015 interview. If his nomination is approved, Abul Gheit would assume the role after Araby’s term concludes on June 30. [Ahram Online, AFP, DNE, SIS, Mada Masr, 3/7/2016]  

Sisi discusses bilateral relations with Russia’s Putin by phone
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi highlighted in a phone conversation on Monday that the fight against terrorists should continue not only in Syria but also in Libya and Yemen, the Kremlin said in a statement. “The two presidents discussed… the Syrian issue and ways to support the agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, with Sisi praising the roles of both Russia and the United States in reaching this agreement,” a statement from the Egyptian Office of the Presidency read. Both leaders confirmed they will support the International Syria Support Group. “They also discussed the war on terror, which [they agreed] should not be limited to Syria but extend to Libya and Yemen,” the statement added. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of cooperation in fields of power and industry, as well as reviving Russian tourism in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, 3/7/2016]

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