Is there a place for women within Egypt’s judiciary?

Egyptian MP Nadia Henry submitted on February 7 a draft law to the House of Representatives demanding gender equality in judicial positions. The proposal, which was referred by the parliament speaker to the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, states that all judiciary entities should be committed to appointing women in accordance with the same criteria based on which men are selected and that any laws to the contrary are to be revoked.

The draft law cites articles 9, 11, and 53, all of which stress equality between Egyptian citizens and article 14, which states that appointment in public positions is merit-based. She also refers to the law regulating appointments in the State Council, the judicial entity most known for its adamant objection to the appointment of women in addition to the General Prosecution Authority, and noted that nothing in this law justifies the council’s stance. Henry’s draft law reignited a debate that has hardly subsided over years as women seem more determined to defy what they see as a flagrant infringement upon their rights.

Omnia Gadallah case

Henry’s initiative was to a great extent driven by the case of Omnia Gadallah, a female lawyer whose application for the position of assistant delegate—and eventually judge—at the State Council was rejected despite meeting all the requirements. Gadallah’s appeal against the council’s decision was rejected by the Commissioners Authority of the Supreme Administrative Court in November 2017. The authority’s report denied Gadallah’s claim that the council’s rejection of her application is an act of discrimination and argued that “the State Council has the right to select the applicants it sees fit and the constitution did not specify any conditions it needs to abide by.”

The report also underlined the difference between constitutional rights in daily life and the specificity of particular jobs in which the nature of the work and the working environment needs to be taken into consideration. More than 120 rights organizations and public figures declared solidarity with Gadallah and issued a statement that accused the entire judiciary system, not only the State Council, of discriminating against women.

“Even though Egyptian women were ahead of their counterparts in Arab and even some European countries as far as political rights are concerned, this does not apply to the judiciary,” said the statement. “Out of a total of 16,000 judges only 66 are women.”

Professor of political science Nevine Mosaad noted that Egyptian women’s battle for the judiciary has been ongoing for 70 years, particularly since 1949 when then lawyer later professor of international law, first Egyptian female ambassador, and minister of social affairs Aisha Rateb applied for the position of assistant delegate at the State Council and was rejected. “A ruling was issued in 1953 to the effect that there are no legal, constitutional, or religious rules that hinder women’s work in the judiciary, but rather social considerations and factors pertaining to the job itself,” she wrote.

Fighting for rights

“Ever since, women have been fighting for their right to work in the judiciary.” Mosaad admits that progress has been made starting 2003 with the appointment of Tahani al-Geblai as vice president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, hence becoming the first Egyptian woman to occupy a judicial position, then in 2007 and 2008 as a number of women started working in civil, criminal, and family courts. “Yet, the State Council remained a restricted area for women even after adding article 11 in the 2014 constitution and which gives women the right to work in judiciary entities.” According to Mosaad, the constitution is in many cases being dealt with selectively so that articles that are not in line with long established norms are ignored. “What is also ignored is the contribution of women to the judiciary in different Arab countries starting with Morocco in 1961 through Lebanon, Sudan, Libya, Jordan, Oman, the UAE and most recently Mauritania in 2014.”

Mosaad scoffed at claims that female judges in the Arab world have proven a failure and cited the example of Lebanese judge Jocelyne Matta who sentenced three Muslim men charged with insulting Virgin Mary to memorizing a chapter from the Quran that glorifies the Virgin and Jesus. “This is a unique verdict that unravels the judge’s wisdom and it was praised by people and authorities alike.”

Incapability to perform

Judge Adel Farghali, former deputy director of the State Council, argued that while many women are qualified to become judges and have all the right to, the nature of their responsibilities would render them incapable of performing efficiently. “In order for a verdict to be issued, judges have to be present throughout hearing sessions, deliberations, and the ruling, but the developments in a woman’s life might not make this possible,” he said. “She will get married and have kids so she will be on leave for some time more than once, which means that another panel has to be formed and the cases she was on will be started from the beginning.”

Farghali added that a female judge can also decide to don a face veil, which will be a major obstacle. “Plaintiffs and defendants have the right to know the identity of the judges in charge of their lawsuits to ensure fairness and due process, hence the entire case becomes invalidated if the judge covers her face.” Another obstacle, Farghali said, would be if the judge is conservative and would not agree to be in a closed room with her fellow male judges during deliberations. “Even if she’s not conservative at the beginning, this can happen after she gets married.”

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Journalist Mohamed Roshdi quoted a source from the State Council as saying that despite article 11 that allows women to occupy all position, the council has its own law that does not allow this. “In its last emergency meeting, the State Council General Assembly voted against the appointment of women,” the source said.

The source added that the assembly, which is comprised of all the council judges, is the highest body within the council and the only one capable of changing this decision and until then no women can be appointed. “It is also noteworthy that any article in the constitution requires a law that puts it into actionand there no is law that binds the State Council as far as appointing women is concerned.”

Desalination, water treatment, and making up for lost Nile water

“Egypt is embarking on the biggest desalination and water treatment project in its history,” said President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a speech. “We cannot allow a water shortage in Egypt and we have to be prepared so that all citizens across the country get their share of water for both farming and drinking.” This statement coincided with growing concerns over an impending water crisis as construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam progresses and negotiations between the two countries have not so far resolved any of the technical disputes. While this project is presented as a contingency plan, its ability to make up for lost Nile water if the impasse persists is put to question.

Ahmed Fawzi Diab, expert in water strategies and professor at the Cairo-based Desert Research Center, said that the project has nothing to do with the construction of the Renaissance Dam and will by no means make up for the water shortage caused by the dam. It is rather to deal with current shortage. “Egypt is currently suffering from an annual shortage of 30 billion cubic meters,” he said.

“In order to face this shortage, we need to treat sewage and agricultural wastewater which are directly discharged into the Nile.” Diab added that soon enough another 30 billion cubic meters will be needed owing to the agricultural expansion Egypt is witnessing as well as the expected population growth. “That is why while this project constitutes a positive step towards solving Egypt’s water problems, it should have been done much earlier.” Regarding desalination, Diab said that Egypt needs four stations, each of which producing four billion cubic meters annually. “The real challenge here is the enormous financial cost, which might hinder the realization of those projects on the ground.”

Desalination expert and professor of water chemistry Hossam Ahmed Shawki agreed that the project is required to solve current problems apart from future ones to because by the Renaissance Dam, yet admitted that the dam played a role in pushing the project forward. “The construction of the dam alerted us all to the necessity of looking for alternatives to Nile water which we now depend on almost exclusively,” he said. Shawki explained that Egypt’s share of Nile water is 55.5 billion cubic meters and another seven billion come from subterranean water while the country’s needs exceed 80 billion. “That is why the desalination of sea water was seen as one of the best choices, especially that it depends on an inexhaustible source.” Shawki added that Egypt’s production of desalinated water was 20-30 thousand cubic meters daily 25 years ago then kept increasing until it reached 130,000 one and a half year ago, is currently 250,000, and is expected to reach 700,000 in three years’ time.

“A few months ago, the Hurghada desalination station started operating and is now producing 180,000 cubic meters daily.” Shawki noted that desalination in Egypt started in coastal areas where potable water was needed for resorts, but with the new project stations will be spread across the country. “Desert areas, on the other hand, can depend mostly on subterranean water and there was a previous successful example in Algeria. Also, the desalination of subterranean water is cheaper than the desalination of sea water.”

Inevitable construction of the Jonglei Canal

According to water expert Nader Nour al-Din resuming the construction of the Jonglei Canal, which would make use of water wasted in the swamps and divert it to the main river channel, is now inevitable. “This canal will produce around 20 billion cubic meters,” he said. “Egypt has good relations with South Sudan, where the canal is now located, which would help move the project forward. It is also as important for South Sudan as it is for Egypt since it will provide irrigation water for hundreds of thousands of acres.” This project, Nour al-Din noted, still faces a lot of challenges that are not confined to sources of funding. “The project stopped before because of the war between the Sudanese government and South Sudan rebels and now the political situation in South Sudan is not very stable,” he explained. “If further clashes erupt, the project will be threatened once more.”

Sudanese water expert Salman Mohamed Salman underlined other challenges that are likely to hinder the implementation of the canal project. “Locals in the area where the canal is to be dug have for long objected to the project and staged several protests because they believe it will harm them,” he said. “The canal will obstruct the movement of the cattle in the area and is likely to have a negative impact on the amount of rain in the region.” The amount of rain in the area is determined by the water evaporating from the swamps, which will decrease when the water is diverted. Salman also noted that the swamps in this part have been designated an ecological zone, which makes the construction of the canal even more difficult now.

Safwat Abdel Dayem, advisor to the Arab Water Council, detailed the losses expected to be incurred by the Renaissance Dam in addition to the already-existing water shortage. “According to research, our share of Nile water will decrease by 5-10 billion cubic meters annually and the water stored in the High Dam will also be affected,” he said. “This will have a negative impact on agriculture both in terms of consumption and export.” Abdel Dayem explained that is Egypt share of Nile water decreases by five billion cubic meters, the losses of the agriculture sector will amount to 75 billion Egyptian pounds. “This loss will reach 150 billion Egyptian pounds if our share decreases by 10 billion cubic meters.”

Egypt and Ethiopia between deadlock and breakthrough over Nile dam

Upon his return from Cairo on January 19, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that he rejected Egypt’s proposal to seek the mediation of the World Bank in the dispute over the Renaissance Dam, which is expected to affect Egypt’s share of Nile Water. Upon finishing a meeting in Addis Ababa with Desalegn and Sudanese Present Omar al-Bashir on January 29, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told reporters who asked whether the crisis was resolved that “there is no crisis” and none of the countries involved will be harmed.

On the same day, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that all pending technical issues will be finalized within one month, still giving no details. Unlike the first statement, which gives the impression that the impasse stands and negotiations are still failing, the second implies a breakthrough. However, with no obvious change in the few days that separated the two statements and no official announcements of a resolution, the situation remains blurred and so is the fate of Egypt’s one and only lifeline.

Ambassador and former deputy foreign minister Ahmed Abul Kheir said that despite how reassuring the president’s statement was, it still does not mean the crisis is resolved. “I don’t trust Ethiopia especially following the rejection of World Bank mediation,” he said. “The World Bank would have been extremely helpful in disputed technical issues and we are worried that any other entity might be swayed by Ethiopia.”

Abul Kheir added that Egypt should have come out of the meeting with more tangible results. “Obviously, Egypt had to do with good will gestures and promises rather than concrete agreements since unfortunately Ethiopia is in a stronger position and we need to be patient.” He, however, doubted that anything can be resolved within one month as the foreign minister said since the two countries have been negotiating for the past three years and are still unable to reach a middle ground. “This is, of course, unless Ethiopia offers huge concessions, which is extremely unlikely.”

Expert in African affairs Amani al-Tawil argued that the results of the negotiations in Cairo and Addis Ababa are not announced because both parties opted for discretion so that matters would not be blown out of proportion by the media, which was especially the case in Egypt where an anti-Ethiopian discourse prevailed in most media outlets.

“We also need to take into consideration that the Egyptian regime is cautious not to adopt a confrontational stance and to solve the issue through diplomacy and good will.” Tawil refuted claims that the ambiguity of the situation is attributed to the regime’s inability to manage negotiations.

“Such claims overlook the fact that the current regime inherited the problem. This is a result of years of negligence of African affairs under Mubarak as well as strained relations with African countries when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power,” she explained. Tawil, however, admitted that the two sides have not reached any agreement on the main pending issues. “For example, there is obviously no progress on the issue of filling the dam reservoir,” she said, in reference to both the timing and the speed of the filling, a major bone of contention between the two countries.

For professor of political science Tarek Fahmy, the optimistic tone with which the president spoke following his meeting with Desalegn and Bashir is due to Egypt’s ability to gain more ground in the negotiations. “Egypt scored a number of diplomatic victories in this meeting. First, Ethiopia did not reject the principle of mediation, so an international organization other than the World Bank can be asked to do this job,” he said.

“Second, the technical committee which stopped following an earlier deadlock in negotiations will now resume its work.” Ethiopia and Sudan, Fahmy added, also pledged not to make any agreements regarding the filling of the reservoir without involving Egypt. “All these achievements imply that Egypt did not offer any concessions and adhered to its position as far as its historic rights to Nile water are concerned.”

According to Ethiopian journalist Anwar Ibrahim, one of the reasons why negotiations are not moving forward is Egypt’s insistence on more demands in every round. “This includes the request for the mediation of the World Bank, which Ethiopia rejected because it believes that the two countries can resolve the issue without intervention,” he said.

“Add to this Egypt’s demand to know the amount of water to fill the reservoirs and the speed with which the water will be pumped and its request that Ethiopia constructs gates at the entrance to the dam in addition to proposals of joint administration of the dam.” Ibrahim added that he also heard reports that Egypt wanted to exclude Sudan from the negotiations. Ibrahim said that Egypt keeps adding demands despite reassurances from the Ethiopian side that its share of Nile water will not be harmed. “The Egyptian administration gives the impression that it is always trying to buy more time.”

Sudanese journalist Khaled al-Tijani Nour notes that strained Egyptian-Sudanese relations complicate the issue even more. “Both Egypt and Sudan are on the weak side since they are the downstream countries to be harmed by the construction of the dam, while Ethiopia calls the shots and that is exactly why it does not need to offer any concessions whatsoever,” he wrote.

“So, both Egypt and Sudan will eventually have to bow.” The problem, Nour explained, is that relations between the two countries have been souring lately, which is in Ethiopia’s best interest. “Ethiopia is aware that Egypt and Sudan will not unite against it so while they are both busy fighting, it is going ahead with its plans.”

Nour added that the technical issues over which Egypt and Ethiopia disagree are the least important. “This is not about water. This is about power. The Nile is just a strategic tool to determine who has leverage in the region and the problem needs to be dealt with from this perspective.”

The rise and fall of Egyptian presidential hopeful Sami Anan

In the early hours of Saturday January 20, former Egyptian Chief of Staff Major General Sami Anan announced his intention to run for president in the upcoming elections. The Tuesday after, Anan was arrested and a statement by the Armed Forces, aired on state TV, announced he is being investigated for a number of violations.

These include breaking military codes by running for a political post without obtaining the necessary permissions, incitement against the army, and forgery of election documents. Between the surprise of the presidential bid and the shock of the presidential hopeful’s quick demise, countless questions beg for an answer.

According to General Sayed Hashem, former head of the Military Judiciary, Anan’s actions are punishable under the military penal code. “Sami Anan is still subject to be recalled by the army, which means that according to military law he needs to get permission before running for president,” he said. “He also forged official documents in order to have his name listed among potential presidential candidates.”

Hashem added that Anan is also accused of inciting the people against the Egyptian army, in reference to his criticism of the current regime. “Incitement can be punished by expulsion from the army, but this is just a disciplinary action,” Hashem added. “However, the other charges are definitely punishable by prison sentences according to military law.”

Journalist Mohamed Basal quoted a legal source as saying that all members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces SCAF have since the January 2011 revolution become on call for life after they reach the age of retirement.

“This applies to Anan who had to submit a former request to end his on-call status before running for president and can only run after obtaining the approval of the minister of defense,” he wrote. Basal explained that this did not apply to current president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi who had not reached the age of retirement when he decided to run for president. “He, therefore, went through different procedures.”

Alliance with the Brotherhood?

Apart from the legal violations Anan might have committed, speculations over the political aspect of the issue have been rife. This particularly applied to talk about a possible alliance between Anan and the Muslim Brotherhood. For political analyst Akram al-Alfi, Anan was the only candidate through whom they can go back to the political scene. “Also, it was in Anan’s best interest to curry favor with entities known for their opposition of the current regime and of course the Muslim Brotherhood were on top of those,” he said.

“The same applies to revolutionary youths.” That is why, Alfi argued, Anan chose two figures for vice presidents that are acceptable by both. Expert in political Islam Ahmed Ban refuted this argument and stressed that Anan is as much of an enemy for the Muslim Brotherhood as Sisi. “We should not forget that it was former president Mohamed Morsi who dismissed Anan,” he said. “Plus, while the Muslim Brotherhood would want to support a candidate who can challenge Sisi, they will never do so if this candidate does not give them the guarantees they want and Anan did not do that.” Ban added that the Muslim Brotherhood are no longer one voting entity as they were before, so it is very hard to determine who they might support. “The group disintegrated after Morsi’s ouster and it no longer has the mobilizing power it enjoyed before and which reached its peak in 2012.”

Political analyst and senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council H. A. Hellyer argued that it was in the best interest of the Egyptian administration to stop Anan from running. “Anan never stood a chance of winning the election, but he did stand an excellent chance of disrupting the system more generally,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like the establishment is remotely interested in that scenario in the slightest – a critical mass within the establishment is on the same page, and isn’t willing to let anyone not on the same page to move beyond particular lines.”

Middle East expert Nirvana Mahmoud argued that Sami Anan miscalculated many of his moves and that was the main reason for his downfall. “How could an army officer as experienced as Anan announce running for president before getting an official permission from the army?” she wrote. Mahmoud added that Anan made a grave mistake through not clarifying his stance on the Muslim Brotherhood from the beginning, which opened the door for speculations. “This was made worse when Muslim Brotherhood financial strategist Youssef Nada announced that the group has six conditions for supporting Anan.” Mahmoud also expressed her surprise that Anan was naïve enough to assume that the Egyptian people would favor him over Sisi.

“If the two are ex-army generals, then of course they will choose the one who is already in power and who has for them proven that he is capable of ruling, hence obviously stronger.” According to Mahmoud, another miscalculation is associated with Anan’s supporters or rather Sisi’s opponents. “Many people who supported Anan did so only to oppose Sisi and without even knowing what his platform is, which made it clear that Anan’s camp is detached from the common aspirations of the Egyptian people.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning Anan’s arrest as a violation of political rights and alleging that targeting potential presidential candidates has become a common practice by the Egyptian authorities.

“Sami Anan is among a growing number of candidates arrested or convicted on trumped up charges by the Egyptian authorities shortly after announcing their candidacy for the March 2018 presidential elections.” The statement referred to former army colonel Ahmed Konsowa, sentenced to six months in jails for violating military laws, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, deported from the UAE and detained upon arrival in Egypt, and leftist lawyer Khaled Ali, tried for violation of public decency.

Is reopening of Egypt’s ‘unlicensed’ churches a step toward sectarian stability?

The Egyptian Ministry of Housing has issued a decree allowing Christians to perform their prayers in unlicensed churches until they obtain permits as official houses of worship.

The decision came in response to requests submitted by representatives of Egypt’s main Churches at the committee formed in January 2017 to look into the legalization of unlicensed churches in accordance with law number 80 for the year 2016 on the construction of churches.

The Coptic Orthodox Church submitted a list of 2,600 churches and service centers that need to be official organized — 450 Anglican Churches and 120 Catholic Churches. While this step puts an end to the impasse that followed the closure of a few churches in Upper Egypt for lack of permits, it does not necessarily eliminate concerns over the eruption of more sectarian clashes.

According to the Bishop Michael Antoun, representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church at the committee in charge of legalizing unlicensed churches, representatives submitted the names of unlicensed churches to request a license.

“Our church submitted a list of 2,600 churches that needed to be legalized under the 2016 law and when we did not get the license we asked the state for an explanation,” he said. “The response was that those churches will work normally provided that their names are on the list on churches seeking license.”

The extremist threat to churches

Karim Kamal, president of the Union of Copts for Nation, said the ministry’s decision constitutes a positive step towards implementing the 2016 law on the construction of churches, which facilitates building and renovating churches and church-affiliated centers.

“However, it is important to note that the state, the governors, and the ministries of housing or interior were never our main concern,” he said. “In fact, all Copts remember how the state helped us in 2013, when the Armed Forces rebuilt the churches burnt down by the Muslim Brotherhood following the June 30 protests.”

The problem, Kamal explained, lies in extremist groups that wield influence in a considerable number of villages in the countryside and Upper Egypt.

“These groups are always ready to start clashes over churches, which in turn drives security forces to close those churches in an attempt to solve the problem,” he added, in reference to the closure in October 2017 of four churches in Minya governorate in Upper Egypt following attacks by Islamist extremists who objected to the use of houses as places of worship and the attack on another house turned into a church in Giza governorate in December 2017.

Bureaucratic hassles

Journalist Hani Sabri Labib does not see the Ministry of Housing’s decision as a breakthrough, but rather argues that no development was made at all. “The 2016 law on the construction of churches states that unlicensed churches should be legalized, so the ministry’s decision not to stop prayers in these churches is not progress,” he said. “In fact, we are back to square one because licenses should have been issued by now, which is not the case.”

Labib noted that the committee in charge of looking into the status of unlicensed churches was formed four months after the law was issued, which meant that the churches lost one third of the year they were given to submit the necessary paperwork. “After submitting the lists and waiting, we expected to receive the licenses, but we only got a decision that prayers won’t stop, which was already a given,” he added.

“Christians pay for those delays as they are subjected to more attacks under the pretext that their houses of worship are not licensed.” Labib argued that official licenses are likely to reduce those attacks. Journalist Emad al-Din Hussein agrees with Labib as far as the repercussion of lack of permits are concerned. He cites the example of the attack that targeted a church in the district of Helwan in southern Cairo in December 2017.

“Because the church was not licensed, the owner of the building, who is supposed to be the victim was also arrested and will be tried, and the attackers were charged with vandalizing public property and not attacking a church, hence not treated as terrorists,” he wrote.

According to Hussein, the issue of unlicensed churches goes back to restrictions imposed on the construction of churches, which is to a great extent linked to the state’s inclination to avoid inciting sectarian violence usually triggered by building churches in areas where extremists are influential.

“The state tries to avoid provoking ultra-conservatives. Christians, therefore, are forced to turn their own private property into houses of worship and they are attacked for that too, and so on.”

High number of closed churches

According to Coptic lawyer Ihab Ramzi, the number of churches that have been closed for being unlicensed amounts to 258. “These churches are included in the lists and we are expecting them to be opened as part of the decision to resume prayers in unlicensed churches,” he said.

Journalist Hamdi Rizk said that the state should have at least opened several of the closed churches on the occasion of the Coptic Christmas, which falls on January 7 of every year. “This would have coincided with the opening of the Coptic Chrurch in the New Capital, hence delivering a strong message about the state’s stance vis-à-vis the Christian community,” he wrote.

“Since a closed church is a symbol of the triumph of sectarianism, opening those churches is the first step towards eliminating the excuse extremists use to target Christian houses of worship.”

Lifting the freeze on Mubarak’s assets in Switzerland: Why now?

The Swiss Federal Council lifted the freeze on the assets of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak following the end of the mutual legal assistance between Egypt and Switzerland.

The agreement between the two governments, which had been renewed on December of each year and which is the typical arrangement between the Swiss government and other governments that request that retrieval of illicit money deposited in Swiss banks, was terminated by Swiss authorities. This decision brought back to the forefront an issue that had for quite a while preoccupied Egyptians following the president’s ouster, especially that getting that money back became at a certain time one of the goals of the 2011 revolution. Now that the assets are unfrozen, a question about the timing seems inevitable.

Before speculating over what would happen to the money, it is important to note that the unfrozen amount is the not the same as the one frozen in 2011 for the amount was reduced from 590 million Swiss francs to 430 million Swiss francs as a result of dropping the names of several individuals linked to the frozen assets whether because they were acquitted of the charges they faced or struck reconciliation agreements with Egyptian authorities. “After almost seven years since the freeze was imposed in 2011 and despite the joint efforts undertaken, the cooperation between the two countries has failed to produce the anticipated results,” said the statement issued by the Federal Council to justify ending the agreement, adding that lifting the freeze does not mean that the assets will be released right away.

Tunisian ex-leader’s assets

“They remain sequestered within the framework of criminal proceedings in Switzerland being conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland for the purpose of determining whether or not their origin is licit.” The statement also explained why the same was not applied to former Tunisian President Zein al-Abedin Bin Ali’s assets, which amount to 56 million Swiss francs and whose freeze was renewed for another year. Unlike Egypt, judicial authorities in Tunisia are still proceeding with their cases against Bin Ali and his associates, which means court rulings can determine that the origin of these assets is illicit. “The Federal Council’s decision to extend the freeze on the assets is warranted because this objective has not yet been fully met while the legal conditions for its extension remain valid. This one-year extension is expected to yield tangible progress in pending proceedings and increase the likelihood of the assets being returned to the country of origin.”

Mubarak’s lawyer Farid al-Deeb issued a statement following the Federal Council’s decision to underline that freezing the assets was in the first place a precautionary procedure on the part of the Swiss authorities and was not based on any proof that this money was obtained illicitly. “The list of people linked to the frozen assets included Mubarak’s name even though there was no proof that he personally owned any assets abroad,” said Deed. “And I always made sure to stress throughout my defense that he did not own any and that it was all the result of a media campaign that alleged so.” Deeb referred to a part of the Swiss Federal Council statement which clarified that not every person whose name is listed in the ordinance on frozen assets does necessarily own assets in Switzerland and that this applies to Mubarak.

According to journalist Mohamed al-Masry, around 300 million Swiss francs of the frozen 430 million actually belong to Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, in reference to the fact that Mubarak’s name was added to the list not because he personally owned money, but rather because of his role in facilitating the illicit acquisition and smuggling of his sons’ money. “The Swiss prosecutor general will now look into the origins of the money and if nothing proves they were obtained illicitly, the money will be released,” he wrote. Masry quoted professor of international law Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim as saying that in this case within two years, all the names of the list will get the money back.

Mubarak’s salary

When asked why the Federal Council decided not to renew the freeze any longer, expert on international law Hassan Omar said that Switzerland gave Egypt more than one opportunity to take decisive steps, but nothing happened.

“Egypt was supposed to submit court rulings which prove that individuals linked to the frozen assets were found guilty of corruption, especially that Egypt had signed the anti- money laundering agreement a long time before the 2011 uprising,” he said. “According to this agreement, money that officials get through illicit means or from unknown sources and smuggle abroad are to be frozen and those officials should be tried for corruption.” However, Omar added, no court ruling were issued against the officials linked to the frozen money and no documents to prove their corruption were submitted to the Swiss government, which for the Swiss meant that no progress was being made so the agreement was terminated.

Economic analyst Mustafa Abdel Salam blames the Egyptian government for wasting the opportunity to retrieve the frozen the money by not providing the necessary documents needed by the Swiss. “The Egyptian government could have proven that this money was produced through illicit means, which would mean that they belong to the Egyptian people,” he wrote.

“For example, it was easy to prove that Mubarak’s monthly salary did not exceed $808 according to official documents, therefore he couldn’t have accumulated all this wealth through licit means.” Abdel Salam added that the government could have also sent copies of all court rulings issued against Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal and which prove they were found guilty in corruption charges and could have proven that Mubarak and his aides made Egypt lose billions of dollars over the years when he decided to sell natural gas to Israel for the cheapest of prices. “The Swiss government’s decision is indicative of lack of cooperation on the part of the Egyptian government, especially that the same decision was not made with bin Ali’s money for example,” he added.

The endless ‘war on niqab’ in Egyptian universities

On December 11, the American University in Cairo AUC announced a ban on the niqab, the face veil, citing security concerns. “In order to ensure a safe and secure environment for all members of our community and visitors alike, we determined that the identity of all persons on campus and AUC-operated transportation must be immediately apparent,” said a statement issued by AUC President Francis J. Ricciardone.

The ban, originally due to go into effect on December 21, triggered a wave of protests across campus including by unveiled female students who marched while donning the niqab in solidarity with their colleagues who are affected by the ban. On December 18, the AUC backtracked on its decision and face-veiled students are now allowed on campus. The ban and its annulment were not the first and are not expected to be the last as the fight over the niqab on Egyptian campuses does not seem to be ending any time soon.

The battle for niqab at AUC started in 2001 when a doctoral student at al-Azhar University was denied entry to the library for wearing a face veil, citing safety concerns. The student, who was then stripped of her library privileges after refusing to take off her face veil, sued the university. The court ruled that the face veil was a matter of personal and religious freedom, hence the university had no right to ban face-veiled students from accessing campus facilities.

In 2007, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that a ban on the niqab is a violation of constitutional rights, yet noted the necessity of women’s compliance with rules of identification followed by public institutions and which would require revealing their faces to security personnel.

The controversy about the niqab reached its peak in Cairo University in 2015 when former President Gaber Nassar issued a decree that banned all professors and their assistants from wearing the face veil during lectures or lab work, citing communication difficulties. The same applied to doctors and nurses at university hospitals. Affected faculty members, estimated at 77 at the time, filed a lawsuit, yet the Administrative Court upheld the president’s decision in 2016 citing article number 96 of the Egyptian Universities’ Regulation Law and which stipulates the necessity of “direct interaction with students.”

This was preceded by a series of disputes pertaining to the sitting for exams of face-veiled students as they became required to take off the niqab throughout the exam following a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2010. In 2009, a similar controversy erupted in al-Azhar when late Grand Imam Mohamed Sayed Tantawi forced a junior high student to take off her face veil and insisted it is a habit rather than a religious obligation. However, no measures were taken in al-Azhar towards banning the niqab whether for students or professors.

Salah Fawzi, legal advisor to Mansoura University, explains the difference between absolute and organizational ban when it comes to the face veil. “When the Administrative Court upheld the decision of Cairo University’s president, it was an organizational ban since the face veil hinders communication between professors and students or medical staff and patients, but they are allowed to wear it anywhere else on campus as long as they are not working,” he said. Fawzi explained that it is only when the ban is absolute that it becomes a violation of personal freedom. “The same should apply to the AUC since it is on Egyptian territories,” he added.

Security concerns

As for safety concerns, Fawzi said that all face-veiled women have to comply whenever they are asked to verify their identity. For Fawzi, comparing the problem of the face veil in Egyptian universities with that in France, for example, is not valid since in the latter it is more of a cultural problem. “There, women who are wearing the niqab are obviously not willing to integrate into the culture and this is a different story.”

Salafi preacher Sameh Abdel Hamid, who launched a campaign calling for boycotting the AUC, argued that absolute ban on campus is sheer discrimination and dismissed the security argument. “If students’ identities are verified at the entrance why should they keep the face veil removed while walking around campus?” he wondered, adding that even the argument of poor communication promoted in Cairo University was not applicable in the case of AUC. Abdel Hamid added that it was unfair of the university administration to take such a step right before the finals.

“This way they trap the students so that they don’t even have the choice to leave if they want to.” Saeid Sadek, professor of political sociology at the AUC, disagrees and sees that walking around campus with one’s face covered is in itself a security threat. “This is especially the case when American institutions in the Middle East keep receiving several threats and anyone can carry out a terrorist attack while covering his/her face and it would be impossible to identify who he/she is,” he said. “This gives the AUC every right to take all the necessary precautions and to set the rules it deems necessary to protect its grounds.” Sadek added that the AUC had hardly had any face-veiled students and that those who came to campus were usually external students who did research at the library. “I personally never had a face-veiled student.”

Despite the fact that the decision to revoke is official and face-veiled students were already informed they can go into campus without having to remove the niqab, AUC Communications Officer Rehab Saad said that this does not mean it is final. “This decision will be applied to face-veiled students who are already enrolled at the university, three in total, until they graduate” she said. “However, we don’t know what’s going to happen with students who enroll next year.” Saad explained that the ban was reversed following meetings between the representatives of the university administration and face-veiled students and added that this ban had no religious grounds whatsoever, but was mainly security-based.

How Egypt’s Al-Azhar aims to crack down on unauthorized ‘TV fatwas’

In a press conference held at the Egyptian Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a list of the names of 50 scholars authorized by al-Azhar, Egypt’s top religious authority, to issue religious edicts fatwas in Egyptian media outlets was released.

According to the council, this step aims at putting an end to a series of groundless fatwas issued by unqualified preachers who appear on TV shows until a legislation is issued to regulate religious discourse in the media.

The council, which in charge of monitoring the content of media outlets on both the professional and moral levels, threatened to penalize channels and anchors that do not abide by the list it provided. While this decision was met with relief by most Egyptians who have for a long time been complaining of fatwas they labelled “sick,” many were taken by surprised since a number of prominent religious scholars who made frequent appearances on TV were not part of the list. This, consequently, raised questions about the criteria based on which the selection was made in the first place.

Veteran journalist and chairman of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation Makram Mohamed Ahmed said that the decision came in response to the recommendations of the International Conference on Iftaa, held in Cairo in October 2017, and which included the regulation of fatwas to make sure they have scholarly basis.

“We have especially seen a number of abnormal fatwas that tarnish the image of Islam,” he said in the press conference held at the council headquarters to announce the release of the list.

“Following negotiations between the council and both al-Azhar and the Grand Mufti we came up with a few decisions including the necessity of issuing a legislation to regulate the issuing of fatwas and the compilation of a list of names of trustworthy scholars who can issue fatwas in the media.”

Ahmed said that all scholars are permitted to discuss different religious issues in the media, but only fatwa is restricted to the 50 on the list.

“Scholars are free to talk about religion as long as they are qualified, adopt a moderate discourse, do not deride religious symbols, or incite violence.” Ahmed added that until the law is issued, violators will be penalized in accordance with the council’s rules.


Professor of comparative jurisprudence at al-Azhar University Souad Saleh expressed her disappointment in the list, from which she was excluded. “I have the highest degrees in jurisprudence that enable me to compare between all schools of thought in order to reach the proper fatwa, I wrote several books in this field, and I have been an expert in religious edicts for the past 30 years during which all TV channels hosted me,” she said.

“I’ve also had my own religious TV program for the past seven years.” Saleh also noted that the list only has one woman out of 50, which is not practical for women who seek fatwas and also signals a decline in the role of women in religious affairs. “Women are more comfortable seeking advice from women, especially in private matters, and this has been the case since the time of Prophet Mohamed. Now, you are forcing women to ask around in the mosques near them instead of qualified scholars.”

Saleh argued that she does not see the point of appearing on TV at all if she is not to issue fatwas. “What if people call and ask for a fatwa. Shall I just deny it to them?” she wondered, adding that in all cases women from all over the Muslim world call her to seek her advice on different religious matters.

Problematic fatwas

Abdel Ghani Hindi, member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, argued that the list is not the right way to deal with problematic fatwas, which need to be addressed directly instead. “The list is not going to put an end to those fatwas that will still keep coming through the internet anyway,” he said. “Actually, what the list did is excluding a number of moderate preachers that were quite popular in the media and could’ve helped a lot in countering any extremist discourse.” Abdel Galil al-Sharnoubi, researcher in Islamic movements, said that al-Azhar is repeating the mistake of making procedural changes and not addressing the core of its discourse.

“If al-Azhar wants to modify the religious discourse as it keeps saying then there is a serious need for producing a new form of jurisprudence that suits the present time like what the four Imams did back at their time,” he said. “Al-Azhar has for years been assigning itself the responsibility of safe-guarding Islamic heritage rather than adding to it.” Sharnoubi noted that several of the controversial fatwas that this list aims at curbing were, in fact, issued by Azhar scholars.

According to journalist Moussa al-Utaibi, the list might be a form of compromise between the presidency and al-Azhar, whose relationship has not been at its best in the past couple of years. “This particularly started when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wanted al-Azhar to issue a fatwa that verbal divorce is not valid and the latter objected and several fatwas were issued at the time to back al-Azhar’s position,” he wrote. “There were also many times when several al-Azhar scholars issued fatwas that angered the authorities.” That is why, Utaibi added, the two parties could have decided to issue a list of scholars they both approve. Utaibi also noted that the list excluded many scholars who are known to support the regime and the president and saw this as a possible change of strategy on the part of the state. “The state could have realized that those pro-regime scholars are no longer popular, possibly for their obvious bias, and was worried that youths would instead start resorting to Salafi channels so decided to give them new faces.”

Understanding the (mis)calculations made by Egypt’s Ahmed Shafiq

Former Egyptian minister of aviation, the last prime minister in the Mubarak wra, and runner-up in the first post-revolution presidential elections Ahmed Shafiq had been away from the limelight for almost five years, during which he stayed in the UAE. In quite a sudden move, he recorded a video that was first exclusively aired on Reuters and in which he announced his intention to run for the 2018 presidential elections and to return soon to Egypt to start his campaign.

A few hours later, the Qatari-owned al-Jazeera aired another video in which Shafiq said he was not allowed to leave the UAE and criticized the UAE for interfering in Egypt’s affairs. While Shafiq’s lawyer and his party The Patriotic Movement insisted the video was leaked to al-Jazeera, Shafiq was reportedly given 48 hours to leave the UAE, his arrival in/ deportation to Egypt was shrouded in mystery until he gave a phone interview to one of the popular TV shows, and the drama intensified as accusations of collaborating with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood were leveled at him. In the meantime, why Shafiq started it all and how aware he was of the repercussions remain open to speculation.

Journalist and MP Mustafa Bakri explains the “plan,” as he calls it, behind Shafiq’s announcement. According to Bakri, Shafiq intended to head to several European cities, starting with Paris, to garner support for his candidacy. “There the plan was to start. This plan involved Qatar, which was to fund his campaign, and several leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote. “This was to be done under the protection of the Turkish intelligence.”

The plan, Bakri added, included mobilizing prominent media agencies and outlets to support Shafiq and he cited Reuters, The New York Times, and The Guardian as examples. “The next step involved bribing several democracy and human rights organizations to support the campaign and to report alleged violations committed by Egyptian authorities to pave the way for calling upon the International Community to intervene like what happened in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections.” For Bakri, the entire plan was aborted when the UAE decided to deport Shafiq to Egypt. “What the Emirati authorities did was quite normal, though, since making the announcement from there gave the impression that the UAE supports him. This was part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to embarrass the UAE against which they hold a deep grudge for supporting Egypt after their ouster in 2013.” Shafiq, Bakri said, did not also realize that he had not sought political asylum in the UAE, therefore the moment he crossed the line in the second video, his visa was cancelled and he was sent back to his country. “This is totally legal.”

Three scenarios

Journalist Moayed Kanaan looked into the possible scenarios that led to Shafiq’s announcement, with three being the most likely. “First, Shafiq could’ve asked the Emirati authorities to announce his candidacy from the UAE and they refused, so he did it anyway to embarrass them and claimed they are barring him from leaving to make sure they let him go,” he wrote. “This is the most logical scenario.” The second scenario, Kanaan added, was that Shafiq decided to make the announcement without consulting with the Emirati authorities at all and when he did their first reaction was to stop him from leaving so he decided to escalate through al-Jazeera video. “This is more unlikely bearing in mind how much time he spent in the UAE.” Third, several European countries, particularly France and Germany, gave Shafiq the impression that they would support him if he decides to run for president. “Being a European-backed candidate would definitely give him a lot of leverage.” Shafiq did say in his second video that he planned to meet with Egyptian communities abroad. Kanaan noted that apart from Europe, and possibly the United States, the question about whether Shafiq is supported by Qatar, hence Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, remains valid.

For Journalist Adel Hamouda, al-Jazeera video was the biggest mistake Shafiq made. “His decision to appear on al-Jazeera means he is allying with Qatar, hence also involved in attempts at undermining the Egyptian state in coordination with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he wrote. “That explains all accusations of betrayal that he faced right after.” Hamouda added that it is hard to believe that al-Jazeera hacked his daughters phone to get the video as Shafiq claimed. “He kept swearing that he never contacted al-Jazeera and maybe he didn’t personally. He could’ve had someone send the video to the channel. Doing that he lost a lot of sympathy.” Hamouda argued that the situation would have been different had Shafiq announced his candidacy from Egypt and while in the headquarters of his party.

According to journalist Walid Abbas, Shafiq misread the political scene in Egypt, believing that the criticism the Egyptian regime is facing for a number of issues such as the war on terrorism, the economy, and the Renaissance Dam standoff would give him a chance in the elections. “He also judged by the support he had in the 2012 elections, a large part of which was the result of not wanting to see the Muslim Brotherhood in power,” he wrote. “At the time, he was also supported by the military and state institutions.” Abbas added that most of powers that supported him then now support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with few exceptions, such as businessmen whose interests are affected by the military’s economic power. “He also did not take into consideration that if the UAE does not support him, then most likely the rest of the Gulf region wouldn’t.”

Hossam Badrawi, the last secretary general of the formerly ruling National Democratic Party, said that while making the announcement from outside Egypt was not the best idea, it is not fair to call Shafiq a traitor. “So many details are still not clear including why he decided to make the announcement from the UAE,” he said. “We are also not sure he decided to record a video to al-Jazeera so we cannot judge based on this.” Badrawi criticized accusations leveled against Shafiq and lawsuits calling for stripping him of the Egyptian citizenship or charging him with destabilizing state security. “No matter how mistaken he was, nothing he did makes him a criminal or a traitor. This is character assassination and it gives a bad image of freedoms in Egypt.”

An Egyptian interview with a Libyan terrorist: What went wrong?

Abdel Rahim al-Mesmari, a Libyan national, is the only surviving militant among the group involved in the shootout with Egyptian police in Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert.

Apprehending him alive a week after the attack, which took the lives of 16 officers, was considered a major achievement as he was expected to provide answers to the many questions surrounding the incident.

For the same reason, Egyptian viewers impatiently awaited Mesmari’s interview on a private Egyptian satellite channel and were glued to the screen to get a glimpse of what cold-blooded terrorists looked like talking and explaining their actions.

Contrary to expectations, the interview, conducted by veteran media professional Emad al-Din Adib, turned out to be disappointing to many not because of what was said in the interview as much as how the interview was managed and the fact that it was conducted in the first place.

Security expert Refaat Abdel Hamid objected to hosting on TV a terrorist who has not yet been tried and sentenced. “Such interviews should only be conducted with terrorists who do their time and renounce violence afterwards,” he said. “Appearing on TV before going to court and receiving the penalty he deserves is disrespectful to the law and the judiciary.”

Abdel Hamid added that the public would feel offended to see a terrorist who was involved in killing many Egyptians getting airtime to say things like, “I am not a killer. I am a freedom fighter and a hero.” He also argued that hosting terrorist on TV would not be acceptable anywhere in the world. “Had it been acceptable, we would have seen it done in France, Belgium, or the United States.”

Journalist Ahmed Nada focuses on the mistakes in which Adib fell while interviewing Mesmari. Nada uses excerpts from the interview to cite examples of these mistakes:
– Adib: Don’t you feel guilty for killing people you share the same country or religion with?
– Mesmari: The prophet killed his uncles.
– Adib: But those were infidels.
– Mesmari: Exactly!
Adib, Nada noted, acknowledged a completely false historical statement about the prophet killing his uncles, which did not happen. “He also justified the alleged killings by the fact that the targets were infidels, which is exactly the logic used by the terrorist and all terrorists,” Nada wrote. “Adib unknowingly defended the terrorist.” Nada also criticized Adib for turning the interview in certain parts into a religious debate:
– Adib: The killings you carried out are they sanctioned by God?
– Mesmari: Yes, and I have religious evidence.

For Nada, Adib turned the problem into a religious one that revolves around the interpretation of religious texts and made it seem like they only had an ideological difference. “Meanwhile, he allowed the terrorist to explain to us how what he does is based on firm religious foundations.” Nada added that Adib gave a chance to Mesmari to gain sympathy when he asked him, “What is your message to the audience?” and Mesmari replied. “I pray for them all to find the path of God.” According to Nada, Adib was not well-prepared and it was not clear what he wanted from the interview. “Did he want to beast the terrorist’s arguments? Did he want him to repent? Or did he think he can just belittle him in front of the audience?”

Journalist Mohamed Ali Hassan criticized Adib’s calmness, which he believes made the terrorist prevail. Hassan compared this interview with that conducted in 1954 by the late Mohamed Hassanein Heikal with Mahmoud Abdel Latif, who attempted to assassinate then president Gamal Abdel Nasser. “Heikal was extremely powerful in the interview and managed to provoke Abdel Latif into admitting several things including his disobedience of the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide,” Hassan wrote. “He even made him admit that Nasser was brave since he resumed talking to the people after he was shot at.” Hassan argued that Adib’s tone sounded too reconciliatory, which allowed the terrorist to have the upper hand in the interview. “He looked very composed and even smiled at times and was calm enough to be evasive and not to answer several questions because his interlocutor gave him such leeway,” he explained. “Had Adib been firm, he would have forced the terrorist to reveal his weaknesses and appear shaken instead of confident.”

Professor of mass communication Sami Abdel Aziz argued that the calmness with which Adib addressed Mesmari was more of an advantage. “It was through this calmness that encouraged Mesmari to talk, hence revealing to audience a lot about his and his likes’ ideology and how brainwashed they are,” he said. “When Mesmari spoke candidly, we were illuminated about a lot of things, on top of which is the fact that the security solution alone cannot eliminate terrorism.” Abdel Aziz added that many critics of the interview made the mistake of dealing with Adib as an interrogator who is in charge of extracting confessions from a suspect, which was not the case.” When asked whether hosting terrorists on TV is wrong on the professional or social level, Abel Aziz replied in the negative. “If such interviews will be beneficial for society then why not? Exposing the ideologies of terrorists directly to the people is a form of protective measure and is likely to reduce the risks of falling into the trap of extremism.”

While considering the interview quite successful and supporting the initiative, General Fouad Allam, member of the National Counter-Terrorism Council, argued that the presence of a religious scholar was necessary. “A scholar specialized in Islamic jurisprudence should have been in the interview to refute the terrorist’s allegations whether about the justification of the killings or historical falsities like the prophet killing his uncles,” Allam, who also supervised the ideological revisions initiated by Egyptian militants in the 1990s, said. It was particularly important, he added, that this scholar would stress that the ideologies promoted by the terrorists are not part of Islam. “It is necessary to make sure that youths are not affected by his ideas.”