Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 January 2006
Issue No. 778
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


Re-trial begins

THE RE-TRIAL of Mamdouh Hamza, accused of involvement in assassination plots against high-ranking Egyptian government officials, started on 13 January, reports Amer Sultan from London. Shortly before Christmas, a judge at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) decided to re-try Hamza after a jury failed to agree on a verdict.

Hamza, who was arrested on 12 July 2004 after entering the UK to attend a reception at Buckingham Palace, was charged with soliciting the help of a hitman to assassinate four Egyptian officials -- former Housing Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman, ex-Minister of State for the People's Assembly Kamal El-Shazli, Presidential Chief of Staff Zakaria Azmi and Parliament Speaker Fathi Sorour.

While prosecutors claim they have enough evidence to convict Hamza of soliciting to murder, his defence team is confident he is innocent. A spokesman for the Code for Crown Prosecutors said that before taking any case to the court, the CP must be satisfied there is enough evidence to provide "a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant on each charge".

Despite the retrial, the British government is willing to extradite Hamza to be tried in Egypt, but "we should receive a formal request from the Egyptian government," a British Home Office spokesman told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Whatever the nature of the alleged crime, we are ready to discuss any request of extradition.

"The place where the crime is committed, whether in Egypt or the UK, does not matter," the spokesman said. Egypt has not made any request to extradite Hamza and has not declared any intention to do so.

Hamza is seen in Egypt as an outstanding public figure and model citizen. As the head of Hamza Associates, one of the largest engineering consultancy firms in the Middle East, Hamza was the consultant for such mega projects as the award- winning Bibliotheca Alexandrina, power stations at Toshka and the design of Sharq Al-Tafreea Canal.

Mina stampede

DOZENS of Egyptian pilgrims were killed during the pilgrimage or hajj after being trampled to death. There were conflicting reports as to how many Egyptians out of 362 pilgrims were killed. Official figures say the number is 27 but news agencies and Saudi hospitals put the toll at more than 100.

Medical officials at Al-Moaysem Medical Centre said at least 60 Egyptians remained in critical condition following the incident last week on Thursday.

The stampede began when many of the thousands of pilgrims who were moving between the various stages of the hajj, tripped over their personal belongings, causing a huge human pileup.

The National Insurance Company announced earlier this week that there will be LE10,000 in compensation for each family of the Egyptian victims. The site of the stampede, in a desert plain in Mina, east of the holy city of Mecca, has witnessed many similar incidents, including the 1990 stampede that killed 1,426 people and another in February 2004 that killed 244.

Court verdicts

THE SUPREME Constitutional Court (SCC) on Sunday delivered three long-awaited verdicts. In the first, pertaining to Article 76 of the constitution, the court said it has no authority to judge whether the article was constitutional. "This article," the verdict said, "is part of the constitution while the SCC's authority is strictly confined to declaring whether legislation or articles of legislation are constitutional or not." Passed by the People's Assembly and approved in a public referendum in May last year, Article 76 allowed the holding of multi- candidate presidential elections in Egypt for the first time.

In its second verdict, the SCC ruled that the law regulating presidential elections was constitutional. The verdict stated that since the People's Assembly met the condition accepting the SCC's prior scrutiny of the law, the SCC emphasised that the law had no constitutional defects.

In the third verdict, SCC said decisions taken by the prime minister, in his capacity as chairman of the council of ministers and deputy of the military ruler, on banning the demolition of old villas and palaces, should be ruled unconstitutional. SCC said the emergency law, in compliance with which the prime minister issued the ban, does not allow the president of the republic, or the military ruler to issue a ban on certain activities which include demolishing old villas and palaces.

Bank furor

A FUROR over the sale of Bank of Alexandria shares in the Egyptian-American Bank (EAB) erupted in parliament this week. Mohamed Khalil Qiwita, a deputy for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP, accused the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) of approving the sale of Alexandria Bank's EAB shares at a relatively cheap price. Qiwita said the price per share was concluded at LE45 although it was being traded at Cairo's stock market at LE56. "Financial analysts even thought that the price would climb to LE88 per share," Qiwita said, adding that CBE's wish to privatise Bank of Alexandria next month led it to take the hasty step of selling its shares at such prices.

Bakri alleged that the sale itself should be considered unconstitutional because Mohamed Mansour and Ahmed El-Maghrabi, the ministers of transport and housing, own 25 per cent of shares in the buying bank French Calyon. Article 158 of the constitution, said Bakri, states that during their term in office, cabinet ministers shall not buy or rent any state property.

In response, El-Maghrabi and Mansour said they submitted their resignation from Calyon Bank's board once they were appointed cabinet ministers.

CBE Governor Farouk El-Okkda said CBE approved the sale of Bank of Alexandria's 32 per cent shares in EAB because Calyon Bank offered the highest price and because it met the basic condition of having a capital higher than LE500 million.

To stand trial

AFTER almost four months of investigation into the Beni Sweif fire that killed 50 people, General-Prosecutor Maher Abdel-Wahed has agreed to refer former Head of Culture Palaces Mustafa Elwi and seven other officials in the Ministry of Culture to trial. The first court session will start on 30 January.

Investigations revealed severe negligence in the Beni Sweif Cultural Palace gallery blaze which also injured 38 people. The officials were blamed for allowing the troupe to perform in an art gallery not properly equipped as a theatre and that its main gate was locked in order to use it as part of the set. Candles and prohibited flammable material were used as part of the set that evening. In addition to coloured paper and wood, the materials were highly combustible.

After the fire broke out, the audience, made up of spectators, actors, theatre critics and intellectuals, stampeded towards the door. Since the main door was locked, many were trapped inside. Some found their way through a small exit at the other end of the hall.

The incident led to a fierce campaign directed at the Ministry of Culture, which was accused of negligence. Hosni dismissed the accusations levelled at him as unfounded. "I have myself demanded a criminal as well as an administrative investigation to find out who is responsible," Hosni said at the time. "No one is above the law. If the investigation ends up indicting me, I will be more than ready to stand trial." He also set up a special committee to look into the incident and the safety procedures throughout Ministry of Culture venues.

A few days following the fire, Hosni tendered his resignation to President Hosni Mubarak. Responding to the pleas of some 400 high-profile intellectuals, but the president said that Hosni should resume his duties.

Hosni then replaced Elwi, temporarily appointing Ahmed Nawar, chairman of the Plastic Arts Sector.

An administrative investigation is also being conducted. Its results will be announced soon.

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