Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 October 2003
Issue No. 658
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Rural Women's Day

AS CHAIRPERSON of the National Council for Women (NCW), Mrs Suzanne Mubarak yesterday celebrated the first Rural Women's Day in Qena which will be annually marked on 1 October, reports Reem Leila .

Mrs Mubarak chose Qena as the venue because it is the first Upper Egyptian governorate in which all women were issued with identification cards. "The Egyptian village still requires a lot of effort to improve its conditions; the status of rural women -- who play a fundamental role in the process of development -- must be improved." To mark the occasion, the council will be investing in new machinery, for butter or cheese production, to improve conditions for women. In association with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the NCW will train women on how to use and benefit from this equipment.

Mrs Mubarak took a tour of the governorate and opened an exhibition of goods produced by rural women, as well as the Red Crescent Hospital.

New Mufti

PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak appointed Ali Gomaa as the Mufti to replace former Mufti Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, who held the post for less than two years. El-Tayeb has been appointed Al-Azhar University president, taking over from Ahmed Omar Hashem.

Gomaa, who speaks fluent English, worked as a professor at Al-Azhar's Faculty of Islamic and Arabic Studies and is a former chairman of the university's Islamic Jurisprudence Department.

A regular commentator on Arab satellite TV stations, Gomaa is also a member of a North American Islamic organisation and has written more than 30 books on Islam and attended many international Islamic conferences.

Militants freed

SOME 900 members of the outlawed Al-Gama'a Al- Islamiya were released from prison on Tuesday. A splinter Al-Gama'a group was indicted for the attack on tourists at the Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor in 1997 in which 58 tourists were killed, and the parent organisation was implicated in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar El-Sadat. News of the event came two days after the release of Karam Zohdi, 51, the influential head of Al-Gama'a's policy-making Shura council, on Sunday.

According to official sources, Zohdi was freed because he "had completed his [22-year] prison sentence" for his role in plotting to assassinate Sadat. Humanitarian reasons were also cited for his release, as he suffers from coronary problems, diabetes and osteoporosis.

During the 1990s, Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiya aimed to overthrow Egypt's government and install an Islamist regime. But in 1997 jailed Gama'a leaders, including Zohdi, called for a truce, thereby causing a split in the movement. In recent months, several interviews with jailed Gama'a leaders, including Zohdi, were published in the Egyptian press where they reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire. In a press interview last July, Zohdi said that "Sadat died a martyr during civil strife" and expressed "deep sorrow" for having approved his assassination.

It is believed that Zohdi's release may have a moderating influence on prospective militants. While in jail, he co-authored several books including Prohibition of Extremism in Religion, Shedding Light on the Mistakes of Holy War and Peace Initiative.

Those released on Tuesday include other group leaders, such as Mamdouh El-Youssef, as well as grass- roots members; more Al-Gama'a followers are expected to be freed in the near future. Observers believe that this will help the movement gain a political voice and could strengthen the hand of more moderate Islamists in Egypt.

Getting even

A LIBYAN businessman, Mahmoud Al-Beshir Ahmed, was sentenced to one year in jail on Monday after being found guilty of assaulting Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal during a visit to Cairo. A second Libyan, Fathi Al-Beshir Saad, was acquitted of insulting the minister at a hotel in Cairo, where he was attending an Arab League meeting on 8 September.

Security sources said at the time of the assault that guards had foiled the attack and the men had called Saudi Arabia a US agent.

According to police, the two men had wanted to defend the honour of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who had been involved in a spat with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz. At an Arab summit in Egypt on 1 March, which was shown live on Arab television, Crown Prince Abdullah and Gaddafi exchanged insults.

The action "constitutes a humiliation for a representative of a state on the territory of another state ... which could lead to a break in the friendly ties between the two brother Arab countries," the court ruled.

The ruling came at the second hearing of the trial, which opened Saturday in the presence of representatives of the Saudi and Libyan embassies in the Egyptian capital.

Dam improvements

THE ASWAN Dam was injected with a new lease on life as a new turbine generator, instrumentation and control system, as well as control room facilities were inaugurated on Monday, reports Niveen Wahish. With US$13.5 million from the US Agency for International Development and LE7.48 million donated by the Egyptian government, "the new system will enhance the efficiency and safety of the operations of the dam," US Ambassador David Welch said at the inauguration ceremony, which was also attended by Egyptian Minister for Electricity Hassan Younes and Aswan Governor Samir Youssef. Although the system was operating well, it needed upgrading after 30 years in service.

The addition of the control system is the last in a series of improvements made to the Aswan Dam at a cost of US$154 million, which was donated by USAID. The improvements were agreed upon in 1980 with the Egyptian government. As a result of the rehabilitation and modernisation, the life of the High Dam power station has been extended by more than 30 years.

The output of the High Dam power station, which came into operation in the late 1960s, represented 44 per cent of the country's total output in 1970. Today it represents 14 per cent due to increased capacity and the establishment of other power plants around the country.

The High Dam is one of only a handful of infrastructure projects in the electricity, water and waste water and telecommunications sectors that are supported by USAID. As part of its policy to phase out its support for infrastructural projects, all projects supported by the agency should be completed between 2005 and 2007, said one US official. During the past five years USAID funding for infrastructure averaged US$70-80 million, but "it will be significantly less in the future," he said. However, he added "we will be trying to target it so that we reach the small pockets of people who still do not have some basic services."

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