PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak is pursuing an increasing trend to cement friendships with countries in Asia. Over the weekend, Mubarak received Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev. Mubarak's talks with the visiting dignitaries focussed on expanding economic, scientific and agricultural cooperation.
ALONGSIDE its established partnership agreements with the European Union, Egypt is pursuing a systematic mechanism of political dialogue with the EU as part of Egypt's conviction for the need to entertain a closer European political input in Middle East developments, especially in relation to the peace process and Iraq. Today, in Brussels, the seat of the EU, Egypt and the European Union will kick off the first round of their newly established policy planning meetings. Scheduled to take place twice a year in Brussels and Cairo, the meetings will attempt to coordinate stances on resolving acute political conflicts in the Middle East.
CAIRO Administrative Court on Tuesday ruled that President Hosni Mubarak's decision to refer 400 outlawed Muslim Brotherhood detainees to military tribunal illegal. According to MB lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, the ruling effectively required their release although there were no guarantees the government would comply. "The court, thank God, has accepted the appeal and decided to stop the president's decision... which entails their release. But will the government carry out the ruling or will it as usual procrastinate? That is the question that everyone is waiting to have answered," he said.
While not unprecedented, such a ruling is rare since it is effectively a challenge to the president who ordered the referrals. Legally, the ruling is binding and effective immediately, however, in similar cases the state has often ignored court release orders. In February, the MB members were referred to a military tribunal, including deputy supreme guide and businessman Khairat El-Shatter, on charges of terrorism and money-laundering, the first such transfer since 2001. On 29 April the detained Brothers appeared before a closed military court but the session was adjourned until June.
FAMED singer Angham has been cleared of shooting a video love song inside a mosque -- and while wearing revealing attire.
An investigation conducted by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) said Angham had not shot the song in the Al-Selehdar Mosque but in an adjacent sabil. The SCA also said the shooting of the video clip did not violate an antiquities law and did not include any transgression. It said the song's lyrics were "an expression of feelings and not triviality".
The week-long controversy erupted after Angham was spotted in Gammaliya district in historic Cairo, around Al-Selehdar monument complex, shooting a video clip for her new song Kol ma tearrab (Whenever you approach).
Rumours and many local newspapers had it that Angham was shooting a love song in Al-Selehdar Mosque while wearing a revealing outfit.
Reports said the public had been incensed and the minister of culture called for an immediate administrative investigation, stressing that houses of worship, be they Muslim or Coptic, are holy and must be respected.
Zahi Hawass, SCA secretary-general, warned that if the news was true, the person responsible will be severely punished for not only violating the sanctity of an Islamic shrine but breaking an Egyptian antiquities law prohibiting the shooting of any TV programme or video clip -- except those of a religious nature -- inside houses of prayer.
On the Orbit satellite midnight show Al-Qahira Al-Yom Angham said the shooting had taken place in Sabil Al-Selehdar neighbouring the mosque, not the mosque itself. "Islamic mosques have their own divinity that no one can touch," she said, flatly denying reports she was wearing a skimpy dress at the time of filming. She said she never wears such clothing when shooting video clips or in her private life.
THE GIZA Pyramid has escaped, unscathed, an online poll scam.
The poll, conducted by an organisation calling itself the New Seven Wonders Foundation, had claimed that the Giza Pyramid could not be included as part of the New Seven Wonders because it was already a candidate.
In a letter sent to Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, Bernard Weber, the poll's creator, wrote: "After careful consideration, the New Seven Wonders Foundation designates the Pyramids of Giza -- the only original wonder of the world remaining -- an honorary New Seven Wonders candidate. Therefore, you cannot vote for the Pyramids of Giza as part of the New Seven Wonders campaign.
"The decision took into consideration the views of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA] and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The Pyramids are a shared world culture and heritage site and deserve their special status as the only honorary candidate of the New Seven Wonders of the World campaign," the letter added.
Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly that the organisation's campaign was solely to make money from voting on its website. Weber's organisation is a profit-making enterprise whose main aim is not cultural, as the organisation claims.
Hosni also praised UNESCO's support in Egypt's refusal to participate in the poll. "The Giza Pyramids are a great monument which cannot be subjected to auction or comparison," he said, adding that most of Egypt's monuments are wonders, including the Abu Simbel Temple where the sun enters to illuminate the face of Ramses II twice a year. "We must protect our heritage from amateurs and abusers who are always trying to take advantage of our heritage," Hosni said.
The poll was launched in 2001 and will end on 7 July.
EGYPT, Angola, Belarus and Qatar are not qualified to sit on the Human Rights Council. That was the assessment of the Geneva-based council, the UN Watch and Freedom House which described the four countries as "not qualified to be members under the applicable standards".
"It's important for General Assembly members to vote against them [the four], or to abstain, or to write in the name of another country," Tom Melia, deputy director of the Washington-based Freedom House, told a press conference. "The challenge for democracies is to vote only for democracies."
Fifteen countries are vying for the 14 council seats which are allocated on a regional geographical basis. Each candidate is evaluated based on criteria including political rights and political freedoms, freedom of the press and human rights promotion at the UN, according to Hillel Neuer, head of the Geneva-based UN Watch.
The council is due to elect 14 new members on 17 May.
AT LEAST three people were killed after a four-storey building collapsed in the poor Cairene district of Al-Sayeda Zeinab late Sunday. The cause of the fall is still unknown, but neighbours said residents of the building had brought in workers to fix cracks in the building.
Two of the dead were the workmen charged with the restoration works.