Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 June - 4 July 2007
Issue No. 851
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


Spare the children

STRONG voices were raised by both the government and NGOs in Cairo this week against the disturbing level of violence perpetrated against children.

The alarm bell was strongly sounded, admonishing the violence against children, in the wake of the shocking death of 11-year-old Bodour Shaker while undergoing female genital mutilation at a surgeon's clinic in rural Egypt.

The death of Bodour prompted the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, chaired by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, to promise a renewed commitment to its two- decade old campaign to eliminate this practice, as well as other forms of bodily and psychological injuries to which a large number of Egyptian girls are subjected. Such violations of children's rights include early marriages and the denial of access to education.

Meanwhile, Dar Al-Iftaa, the official religious establishment, evoking Islamic principles, has decided to side with the concerned governmental and non-governmental bodies, in their campaign to prohibit such forms of violence against girls.

Simultaneously, the launch of a recent report on the widespread forms of violence against children in the Middle East was an opportunity for the government to reiterate its commitment to combat all violations of children's basic rights, including physical punishment and forced labour.

However, sceptical NGOs have cast doubt over the value of the state's declared commitment. They argue that in most cases, violence against children is but an outcome of the socio-economic hardships sustained by families and children alike, as a result of both misguided socio- economic practices and the policies adopted by the government. If social sensitivities are not taken into account, in realising the government's economic plans, the NGOs warned, then it is children, and society in general, that will continue to suffer.

List lengthens

THE STATE Security Prosecution added Ahmed Sobhi Mansour, spiritual father of the Muslim Al-Quranien group, and Osman Mohamed Ali, Mansour's cousin, as defendants along with the five suspects arrested earlier in a case deriding religion.

Mansour, who is currently a refugee in the US, was a professor in Al-Azhar University before being fired in 1987.

Adel Ramadan, a member of the defence team of the suspects and a representative of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the prosecution's decision to add the two names to the list came as a surprise. The decision, issued Sunday, was a result of questioning that lasted for more than seven hours with suspects Ahmed Dahmash, Abdel-Latif Said, Omar Tharwat and Ayman Abdel-Rahman.

Ramadan added that the investigation included two of Mansour's books on Abu Horraira, one of the Prophet Mohamed's companions, and the killing of apostates. Ramadan also pointed out that the prosecutor's questions were focussed on the suspects' faiths, ideas, and their opinions on the killing of apostates and the intercession of Prophet Mohamed. According to Ramadan, the questions violated Article 46 of the constitution.

According to the prosecution's investigations, four of the defendants said they do not pray the Sunna prayers because it is based on the verbal Sunna and anecdotal accounts of the prophet's companions, which according to the defendants might have been altered or added to by the companions, unlike the actual Sunna, like the daily prayers and pilgrimage, which was carried out by the prophet.

The suspects denied deriding the Islamic religion, and stressed that they are Muslims and that not believing in the verbal Sunna does not make them apostates. They also stressed that the Quran should be the sole source for legislation since Allah pledged to protect it from distortion.

Ramadan said the defence team had asked for several requests from the State Security Prosecution, explaining the unconstitutionality of Article 89 of the penal code on denigrating religions, standing as it does in contradiction to several articles of the constitution including articles 46, 65 and 69. The article also contradicts the rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court which described Article 98 as saying, "it is like a net or a trap for the people."

The requests were denied by the prosecution.

Protest over Gaza

DOZENS of human rights activists organised a protest on Friday in front of the Press Syndicate to protest against the latest clashes which erupted in the Palestinian city of Gaza between Hamas and Fatah.

Protesters, dressed in black, held candles and Palestinian flags and shouted angry slogans, "He who kills his brother is cursed," and "Shame on you, shame on you, to point a gun at your brother." They also called on the rivals to re- unite "against the Zionists" instead of each other and to stop the fighting which has killed and displaced hundreds of Palestinians.

During the protest, Mohamed Abdel-Qodous, head of the Press Syndicate's Freedom Committee, tore apart Al-Tagammu Party's statement, "No to turning Gaza into an Islamic emirate." Several of the protesters described the act as an attack on the freedom of expression which they said the syndicate supposedly calls for.

Burying the hatchets

ON SUNDAY, a misdemeanour court in Luxor ordered the release of 17 suspects who were in police custody pending an investigation into the violent clashes that took place in Al-Madamoud village.

The clashes occurred on 16 June between the family of a Muslim landlord and that of his Christian tenant over a piece of land. The owner tried to recover his land from the tenant who refused, basing his position on outdated laws. The owner took the case to court which ruled in his favour and the tenant was forcibly evicted by the police. However, the Christian family tried later to recover the land by force injuring 13 -- six Muslims and seven Christians.

The prosecution's decision came after the conciliation of the two families following mediation by a number of Islamic and Christian officials headed by Mohamed Al-Amri, a member of parliament and vice-chairman of the People Assembly's Health Committee, and Mamdouh Philip, a well-known local businessman.

Sit-in week

WORKERS throughout the country have been staging several sit-ins. In the coastal city of Alexandria, north of Cairo, 18 workers in the Containers Handling Company protested at working on a daily basis instead of a long-term contract with the company. The workers, who have been in the company for 12 years, criticised the company's need for new employees in the same specialisation and complained of the poor working conditions provided to them by the company. They have asked the Ministry of Manpower to intervene.

In Sohag, south of Cairo, a sit-in in front of the Governorate Cabinet headquarters was organised by 57 employees in the Directorate of Finance to protest at not receiving their wages since February 2006. The protesters asked to meet Governor Mohsen Al-Noamani but the request was denied.

According to press reports, the employees claim that Tharwat Sheba, undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance, has threatened to transfer any employee who tries to escalate the situation.

Compiled by Salonaz Sami

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