Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
15 - 21 March 2001
Issue No.525
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Power links

THE LEADERS of Egypt, Syria and Jordan turned three keys linking the power grids of their countries yesterday during a ceremony held at Deir Ali, in Syria. President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and King Abdullah of Jordan were briefed by their ministers of electricity and then gave the go-ahead for the Syria-Jordan link-up -- the second stage in a six-nation power grid plan. Taking the opportunity of a meeting, the three leaders also held talks in preparation for the Arab summit, scheduled to be held in Amman on 27-28 March.

Egypt joined its power grid with Jordan in March 1999, and now Syria will be the pivotal link to the electricity network of Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. It is expected that the six-nation initiative will later expand by linking to the power grid that joins the Maghreb countries to the west, and the one joining Gulf countries to the East. Later, more connections will be made to European electricity networks.

Custody battle

FOUR Germans were still being held hostage on Wednesday by an Egyptian tour operator fighting a child-custody battle with his German wife. The police identified the kidnapper and the location of the hostages, somewhere south of Luxor and, at press time, were "hoping that the matter will end within hours."

After the kidnapping on Monday, Ibrahim Ali Moussa called the German embassy in Cairo to inform them of his action. On Tuesday, Moussa called his wife, Heike Ritter, in Germany and asked her to return their two sons, Karim, 7, and Rami, 3. "She admitted the German government had pressured her not to come," Moussa told Reuters.

Apparently, the hostages were tied up but in good health. "I am sorry I am doing this," said Moussa. "These people have no connection to my problem... but they have expressed understanding of my situation."

Germany has offered to send in an elite anti-guerrilla force to "take out" the kidnapper, but Egypt refused.

EU appeal

AN EU DELEGATION has reiterated a call to ease economic restrictions imposed on the Palestinians by Israel. After talks with President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, told reporters that the EU wanted to play a role in the peace process alongside the US, but would not replace it.

During a two-day visit to the region, the group, which includes EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and EU special envoy to the peace process Miguel Moratinos, met Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

According to a UN report, five months after the beginning of the intifada, the Palestinian economy has lost $1.5 billion in income and business opportunities. Last month, the EU pledged an emergency $55 million to help the Palestinian Authority.

Flying colours

FOR OVER two hours on Sunday, President Hosni Mubarak discussed with his aides the government's plan to upgrade key airports across the country, particularly the Cairo International Airport. This is slated to have an additional runway, an extra air corridor and a third terminal. The meeting also discussed fresh legislation regulating civil aviation. Mubarak agreed in principle to issue a presidential decree converting the Civil Aviation Authority into a holding company and to the creation of a self-sustaining Civil Aviation Academy to replace the existing Civil Aviation Institute.

The meeting was attended by the prime minister, the ministers of transport, defence, tourism, interior and information, as well as the governor of Cairo and the chairmen of the Cairo Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority.

The president's directives called for encouraging foreign investors to submit tenders to renovate the airports. He gave the upgrading and expansion of Sharm Al-Sheikh, Hurghada and Luxor airports particular priority.

The meeting also examined a feasibility study for the construction of a new airport west of Cairo at a cost of LE3 billion under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) system.

Unpleasant news

US SENIOR officials said that an upcoming report on the cause of the 1999 EgyptAir crash is unlikely to satisfy Egyptian authorities. "Essentially, it is probably not going to make them happy," said National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) vice-chairman Carol Carmody. She described the report, scheduled to be released at the end of the month, as "a thorough evaluation."

NTSB investigators do not believe that mechanical failure was the reason behind the crash but have not, to date, confirmed widespread rumours that the crash was the deliberate act of co-pilot Gamil El-Batouti.

Egyptian authorities, rejecting this theory, have called for a more profound US investigation. The Egyptians will have 60 days to respond to the report.

Frozen draft

PARLIAMENT has indefinitely postponed the debate of a controversial bill, described as an attempt to curtail the freedom of the press. "The draft law regulating the publication of documents will not be discussed by the current session of parliament which ends in mid-April," said Mustafa Kamal Helmi, speaker of the Shura Council. Any basic draft law must go to the Council, an upper house without legislative authority, before it is debated by the People's Assembly.

The Press Syndicate's council had held a special meeting this week to discuss the "negative consequences which the draft law will have on press freedoms." According to Yehia Qallash, the syndicate's secretary-general, the draft law stipulates "the ban of any document whose distribution is likely to harm the nation's security, its military, political, diplomatic or economic position."

Opponents fear that apart from a definitive withdrawal, the draft will return to haunt them only too soon.

Family in crisis

A CONFERENCE organised by the Economic Committee of the Press Syndicate shows that 60 per cent of all murders take place within the same family and that the incidence of incest is on the rise.

According to committee members, poverty and economic recession have plunged the Egyptian family into crisis. They highlighted the fact that many families are confined to a single room, averaging seven people to the room. More than 3.5 million women over 30 are single, marriage having become all but impossible because of limited finances.

Over the bridge

TRUCKS do not have the right to cross inter-city bridges, and yet trailer-trucks seeking short cuts are a common sight late at night and in the early morning. The consequences of these breaches of the law became manifest on Monday when a truck fell off of Cairo's Al-Azhar bridge, injuring the driver and a companion.

Eid casualties

THE EID Al-Adha [feast of sacrifice] holiday this week was marred by 27 deaths and 447 injuries in 68 road, and other, accidents nationwide. And yet, the figures were lower compared to previous years.

Obituary

CAIRO Radio listeners have lost broadcaster Amal El-Omdah who died this week at Cairo's Al-Safa hospital after a long illness. The hostess of a Wednesday evening programme, El-Omdah continued to contribute until the last minute, even from her hospital bed. She was the wife of journalist and TV anchor man Moufid Fawzi and mother of Hanan Moufid, a journalist with the magazine Nisf Al-Dunya.

Compiled by Fatemah Farag

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