Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 May 2005
Issue No. 742
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


Eritrean caller

PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday discussed with Eritrean Minister of External Affairs Ali Sayed Abdullah the overall situation in the African continent as far as peace is concerned.

Following their talks, presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told reporters the discussions focussed on the available means to help reach "a peaceful settlement" regarding the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict. The agenda also included the current situation in Somalia and means of attaining "comprehensive peace" in Sudan.

Another item was Egyptian-Eritrean relations and possible areas for mutual cooperation.

Following the meeting, Abdullah stated his country's "deep appreciation" for the Egyptian efforts to ensure peace and security in the African continent especially in the East African sub region. "Egypt's efforts to guarantee stability in Africa are in the continent's best interests," he said.

The Eritrean official also emphasised the necessity of enhancing "Egyptian-Eritrean cooperation in order to find a comprehensive solution to all of Sudan's conflicts."

Corroborating claims

THE HUMAN Rights Watch (HRW) has corroborated the findings of Egypt's government-backed National Council for Human Rights whereby the Central Intelligence Agency -- in agreement with Cairo -- sends suspected terrorists to other countries for questioning, resulting in confessions made under duress and torture.

In the 53-page report called Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt, HRW slams Egypt as the world's main recipient of detainees, including suspected Islamist militants believed to offer useful intelligence for the US war on terrorism.

The report confirmed at least 60 cases in which individuals, mainly Egyptian terror suspects, had been transferred to Egyptian custody since 1994. Two others were Yemenis transferred from Egypt -- one to Yemen and the other to US custody at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The rights group, however, said the number of suspects transferred to Egyptian custody is much higher but that no accurate statistics were available since such shifts are usually shrouded in secrecy. According to estimates by Egyptian rights activists, from 150 to 200 detainees have been transferred since the 9/11 attacks.

"The person sent back to Egypt under these circumstances is almost surely going to be tortured," said Joe Storck, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

At least 290 torture cases were reported in Egypt between January 1993 and April 2004 in violation of the international convention against torture, the report said. In 120 incidents, the suspect or prisoner died.

But the United States, according to the report, also violates international human rights laws each time it sends a terrorist suspect to Egypt. The rights group insists that the Bush administration knows that the suspects it sends to Egypt will be tortured, a claim the White Houses strongly rejects.

"Because many exiled Egyptian militants were former associates of top Al-Qaeda leader Ayman El-Zawahri, himself Egyptian, the United States has been particularly interested in intelligence from Egyptian nationals," the report said.

The CIA took part in more than 80 transfers of detainees before 9/11, and another 100 to 150 since then, according to officials and media reports. "I'm afraid it is an open and shut case," Stork said.

Lift the ban

HUNDREDS of engineers demonstrated in front of their syndicate's headquarters on Tuesday afternoon then later took to the Press Syndicate to protest against the 10-year- long sequestration imposed upon the syndicate, reports Mona El-Nahhas. The engineers shouted slogans condemning the sequestration and the court-appointed custodians.

Tuesday's protests came five days after engineers convened a conference at the headquarters of the Bar Association during which they vowed to free the syndicate of sequestration and restore its legitimacy.

Representatives of professional syndicates attending last Thursday's conference called for a general union for professional syndicates to be formed as a step towards freeing syndicates from government control.

MP Hamdein Sabahi, active in the Kifaya (Enough) movement -- Popular Movement for Change -- called on engineers to join public movements demanding reform. "You cannot liberate your syndicate without liberating your country," Sabahi told the assembled gathering.

Leftist lawyer Nabil El-Helali asked engineers to continue their struggle and not to be fooled by government promises which are nothing but "political manoeuvres".

Earlier this year the Administrative Court ruled that engineers should hold an emergency general assembly as a step towards syndicate elections. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the minister of irrigation and the syndicate's legal supervisor, and 93-year-old custodian Ahmed Moharram, blocked the implementation of the ruling, while the security forces prevented engineers from holding meetings inside the syndicate.

During the conference members accused the custodians of wasting syndicate money and of responsibility for the deteriorating services offered to syndicate members.

"We have the right to know what happens to our budget but have been kept in the dark for 10 years," said Omar Abdallah, a leading member of the Engineers Against Sequestration group founded last year.

Promising promises

ON TUESDAY Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif announced that LE600 million would be added to the budget of the Social Insurance Fund, raising average monthly pensions to the poorest to between LE60-80 instead of the current figure of LE50-70. The increases will effect more than 600,000 families.

The prime minister allocated a further LE20 monthly to school age children in a bid to encourage them to remain in education.

Nazif used his meeting on Monday with newspaper editors-in-chief to announce a three-pronged initiative to improve living standards by stabilising prices, increasing salaries and creating more job opportunities.

Nazif was upbeat over the prospects of making progress on all three fronts while conceding the government had failed to resolve "the day to day problems citizens face".

Unemployment, he said, remains the government's greatest challenge. "By pushing forward our economy, driving the attention of investors to such areas as reconstruction, agriculture and tourism we could nip unemployment in the bud."

Jailed for fraud

CAIRO's Criminal Court on Tuesday sentenced Abdallah Tayel, former chairman of the parliament's economic committee, to 15 years in prison and was fined $21 million for embezzlement of public money and fraud.

Tayel, ex-head of Misr-Exterior Bank, was charged with having ordered bank employees to write off as unrecoverable loans of up to LE1.5 billion after obtaining the sums through fake firms registered in the names of his sons and relatives.

Tayel's deputy, Mahmoud Bedir, was handed down the same sentence and fine.

The former head of the bank's main branch, Mohamed Abdel-Razik, was sentenced to three years and must pay a part of the fine.

Tayel, a former member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), was arrested in January 2003 after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

The three can appeal the rulings before a higher court.

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