Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 December 2002
Issue No. 617
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
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Merry Christmas

STARTING 2003, Egypt will officially celebrate Coptic Christian Christmas, which falls on 7 January of every year. President Hosni Mubarak made the announcement on Tuesday at a public rally in Aswan. "It will be an official holiday for both Muslims and Christians," he said. In the past, official holidays in Egypt only took into account Muslim or national occasions, while only Christians were allowed to officially take the day off during their religious festivals. "We have to interact with each other not as Muslims and Christians, but as Egyptians regardless of our creed," Mubarak said.

Religious unity

MUSLIM and Christian clergymen from across the Arab world gathered together this week for the annual Muslim-Christian dialogue organised by the Arab Group for Islamic-Christian Dialogue in association with the Middle East Council of Churches -- to which Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church belongs. This year's theme was "Muslims and Christians -- confronting current challenges together." Riad Gargour, secretary-general of the Middle East Council of Churches, told the press that the dialogues are founded on the common ground between religions, with an emphasis on tolerance and the importance of rejecting religious fanaticism. The occupation of Palestine continues to be the issue given top priority in the discussions, Gargour said, with the council aiming to come up with a unified Arab vision to address the region's unique problems, such as the possibility of war against Iraq.

Ghanaian 'spy'

Ibrahim Boghdadi's detention was extended for 45 days as security authorities continued investigating charges that the 25- year old Ghanaian was spying for Israel. Although Boghdadi was arrested in May for allegedly "spying for Israel and smuggling tourists illegally from Egypt into Israel", the case was only disclosed this week. His detention period had to be renewed after the original six-month detention had ended.

In a similar case which only came to light last month, an alleged spy ring composed of nine Egyptians were ordered to trial, charged with spying for Israel and using a travel agency as a cover to smuggle nationals from China, Russia, Malaysia and the Philippines into Israel via Egyptian borders in both north and south Sinai.

Liberal violence

IN A RECENT development related to the power struggle within the Liberal Party, Ragab Hemeida -- one of 11 competitors for the party's chairmanship -- and his supporters attempted to seize the party's headquarters and the offices of its mouthpiece Al-Ahrar, reports Mona El-Nahhas.

The incident occurred on 12 December. Anti-riot forces intervened, cordoning off both the party headquarters and the newspaper offices. Salah Qabadaya, Al-Ahrar's chief editor, and the paper's staff were not allowed into the premises so as to avoid clashes with Hemeida's men. The anti-riot forces eventually managed to scatter the gathering, but the party's headquarters and the newspaper offices are still under strict security watch.

Hemeida was attempting to impose his control on the party. He reportedly said that he was forced to take such a step "to restore the party's legitimacy". The move, he said, is a way of "implementing the results of a conference held two months ago", during which Hemeida was elected as party chairman.

The conference was held after the political parties committee gave the party a three-month deadline to hold a general conference and elect a new chairman. The committee's decision aimed to put an end to the chaos that had reigned in the party since the death of its leader Mustafa Kamel Murad in 1998.

With 11 party members fighting over the party's chairmanship, Hemeida was not the only one "elected" as chairman. Four of his competitors also held separate conferences and claimed they were elected as chairmen. The four are lawyer Talaat El-Sadat, Mohamed Farid Zakareya ,one of the party's old founders, Helmi Salem, the party's secretary-general, and Mustafa Naguib, a party member.

Each conference submitted its results to the political parties committee for a final decision, but the committee has still not given its word on the matter.

Actress retried

AFTER spending almost a year in prison, actress Wafaa Mekki's conviction was thrown out by the Court of Cassation on Monday on procedural grounds. The court ordered the actress to be retried on charges that she tortured two sisters who worked for her as maids.

Mekki was originally sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour -- the case made sensational headlines, with most of the press portraying Mekki as a heartless star. One of the girls, 15-year-old Marwa Fikri, told police that Mekki tore out her fingernails and burned her with an iron on her genitals, scalp, arms and legs. Mekki was also accused of beating Marwa's sister, 18- year-old Hanadi.

Mekki's alleged accomplices will also be retried after being sentenced to a year in prison each. Mekki's mother, Layla El-Far, is charged with helping her daughter torture the girls, and the actress's ex-husband, Ayman El-Ghazali, stands accused of sheltering Mekki and her mother as they tried to avoid arrest. Her cousin, Sayed El-Far, and a friend named Ahmed El-Bora'i, are accused of throwing Marwa into the street as she was on the verge of death.

The Court of Cassation ordered the retrial on procedural grounds, saying it should have been held in Cairo, where Mekki is accused of torturing the girls, and not in the girls' hometown of Shibin Al-Kom, 80 kilometres north of Cairo. No date has yet been set for the retrial.

Compiled by Shaden Shehab

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