Egypt

Egypt: top court halts Red Sea islands transfer

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government agreed to transfer the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated by a lower court in Cairo, but that decision was overturned by another court. Egypt's parliament last week agreed to go through with the plan despite public protests. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The protesters, however, assert that Egypt's sovereignty over the islands was established before Saudi Arabia was founded.

Qatar crisis places US regional policing in pickle

In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC NewsAl Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)

Egypt bombs Libya after new attack on Copts

Egyptian warplanes on May 26 carried out air-strikes on what President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi called six "terrorist training camps" in Libya after a new massacre of Coptic Christians earlier in the day. The latest of a series of bloody attacks on Copts in Egypt came as Christians were headed to the Saint Samuel Monastery, near the city of Minya, some 220 kilometers south of Cairo. Masked gunmen cut off the bus in three pick-up trucks, and opened fire before fleeing the scene. At least 28 people were killed, many of them children. The retaliatory air-strikes apparently struck locations of the Mujahedeen Shura Council in Libya's eastern city of Derna. (Al Arabiya, BBC News, France24, Egyptian Streets, Al Jazeera)

Trump-Duterte 'bromance' bodes ill for freedom

The Philippines' inimitable President Rodrigo Duterte is being his usual charming self. The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, arrived in the country on May 5 to attend a conference on drug policy and human rights at the University of the Philippines. Callamard is of course a harsh critic of Duterte's campaign of police and paramilitary terror against low-level drug dealers and users. Duterte wasted not a moment in voicing defiance, warning drug users: "And here's the shocker: I will kill you. I will really kill you. And that's why the rapporteur of the UN is here, investigating extrajudicial killing."

UN rights chief blasts Egypt security measures

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said May 1 that Egypt's recent security measures have been encouraging the very radicalization they were trying to control. In a press conference in Geneva, al-Hussein criticized the increased security measures Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has instituted since the bombings of Christian churches last month. While condemning the attacks, al-Hussien said that al-Sisi's declaration of a three-month state of emergency was only likely to increase radicalization. Al-Hussein said that the state of emergency was leading to "massive numbers of detentions, reports of torture, and continued arbitrary arrests" which "facilitates radicalization in prisons." He continued that "the crackdown on civil society through travel bans, freezing orders, [and] anti-protest laws...is not the way to fight terror." Al-Hussein concluded that "national security...must be a priority for every country, [but not] at the expense of human rights."

Egypt: Sisi extends control over judiciary

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ratified a law April 27 that will allow him to appoint head judges in the country's highest courts. The amended law, which was ratified when it was published in the official gazette, allows el-Sisi to chose one of three potential judges nominated by each court to be the head of that court. Previously, leadership passed to the most senior member of the court, and the president was expected to sign off on the leadership role in a process that was largely ceremonial. El-Sisi and supporters of the change insist that the move is necessary to strengthen his administration's authority as they tackle issues such as terrorism, but members of the Egyptian judiciary have resisted the change.

Egypt: ISIS claims attack at historic monastery

ISIS has claimed responsibility for an April 18 attack on a security checkpoint near the gates of St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, in which one officer was slain and four injured. Founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's is believed to be the world's oldest continuously used Christian monastery, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox church. The attack came just 10 days before Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Egypt, and nine days after two deadly suicide bombings on Coptic churches, also claimed by ISIS. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, April 19)

Egypt: state of emergency after ISIS attack on Copts

Egyptian authorities have declared a three-month state of emergency after twin ISIS bombings killed 43 at two Coptic churches in the Nile Delta cities of in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday. Dozens more were injured in the attacks, which came as the churches were filled with worshippers. The first suicide blast, at Mar Girgis (St George) Church in Tanta, killed 27. Hours later, a second blast struck outside Saint Mark's church in Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a service, killing a further 16. ISIS warned of more attacks in its statement. "The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing," the group said in Arabic.

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