Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2007
Issue No. 856
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


A Somali affair

A LIMITED delegation representing the expelled Somali Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) arrived in Cairo this week for talks with Egyptian and Arab League officials on the future of the political process in their country.

In their talks, the delegates of the CIC, whose limited control of the Somali capital was terminated earlier in the year following US- supported Ethiopian military intervention, made it clear that any attempt to induce political reconciliation in their country would be impossible without their adequate and fair participation.

According to informed sources the CIC delegation said it has so far declined to heed calls made for the inclusion of individual representatives of the CIC in the fragile political reconciliation process due to their determination to refrain from any political talks with the Ethiopia-US supported transitional Somali government in light of the continued presence of Ethiopian military forces.

Sources say that the CIC delegation expressed "unprecedented flexibility" towards their participation in the political process. "Previously, they insisted that their participation in any reconciliation process be conditional on the full pullout of Ethiopian troops. Now they say they don't mind starting talks in parallel with a gradual but definite withdrawal of Ethiopian troops," one source told Al-Ahram Weekly.

In talks he held this week in Cairo with the Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qerabi, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit discussed the potential support that both Cairo and Yemen, with direct interest in stabilising the situation in Somalia, could lend to secure the operation of what the source said was "a comprehensive and sustainable reconciliation political process."

Ties endorsed

FOREIGN Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and his Saudi counterpart Saud Al-Faisal on 30 July signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a new committee for regular political consultations between Cairo and Riyadh. According to a Foreign Ministry press statement, the new deal stipulates that both ministers should meet on an annual basis "to revise" all aspects of bilateral relations and "address any problems."

The signing came against a backdrop of recurrent problems encountered by the voluminous body of Egyptian labour in Saudi Arabia.

Prospects for Lebanon

THIS WEEK, Cairo hosted a meeting aimed at coordinating regional and international efforts to achieve elusive Lebanese reconciliation.

On Sunday, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the secretary-general of the Arab League met French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner after his arrival from Lebanon. The four-way meeting acknowledged the limitations of the initiatives of both Arab League-Secretary General Amr Moussa and that of Kouchner to concluded a reconciliation meeting between the conflicting Lebanese political parties.

Sources close to the meeting said there was understanding by all participants that "on their own the Lebanese are unlikely to conclude a constructive and conclusive dialogue even if they met." The sources say the participants agreed that while working with the Lebanese parties, mediators, including Moussa and Kouchner, would need to step up their efforts "with the influential powers whose views are integral to the Lebanese decision-making process." These include Syria and Iran who are in close consultation with the opposition, and the US whose political positions are accorded much attention on the part of the Lebanese government, the representative of the political majority.

In press statements made before and after the meeting, participants appeared hesitant to commit any time frame for the processing of their mediation efforts. They were even less committed to speculation about a potential end to the political crisis. Rather the opposite. Kouchner warned that short of a prompt political reconciliation process, Lebanon could be heading towards a new civil war. "We should not abandon Lebanon to that fate," he said in Cairo on 29 July.

Moussa and Abul-Gheit told reporters that they are holding close consultations with the Lebanese as well as regional and international players.

Also on 29 July, Abul-Gheit received a delegation representing groups within the Lebanese majority. A press statement issued by Abul-Gheit's office after the meeting said that the top Egyptian diplomat affirmed in his talks with the visiting Lebanese delegation that Egypt would support a compromise solution that could accommodate the points of views of both the majority and opposition.

In a joint political conference with his French counterpart on 29 July, Abul-Gheit said Lebanon was facing some seriously "defining times" especially with the expected expiry of the mandate of the Lebanese president within three months.

The political crisis in Lebanon was triggered late last summer in the wake of the Israeli military aggression on the country. Political power sharing is divisive in a country loaded with political and religious diversification. The majority and opposition are in conflict about the political identity and orientation of their country.

Hosni UNESCO candidate

PRESIDENT Hosni Mubarak has agreed to nominate Egypt's Culture Minister Farouk Hosni for the post of director-general of UNESCO in elections in 2009 in Paris.

Hosni told Nevine El-Aref that being nominated to such a post was a great honour and that it was a big responsibility and obligation.

He added that the choice of an Arab figure to such a post was a big success for the Arab world and required much effort to draw up new plans, visions and policies in UNESCO. "My nomination is really a great honour but Egypt will always be in my heart and my first and last priority," Hosni told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Hosni is the second Egyptian to be nominated to the position at UNESCO, the first being Ismail Serageddin, director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrian, in 1999. The current UNESCO director-general is Koichiro Matsuura.

If selected by the 58-member board, Hosni will be the first Arab to hold the post.

The executive board is elected by the General Conference and is one of the three constitutional organs of UNESCO. It consists of 58 member states with a four- year term of office. Each member (192 member states and six associate members) appoints one representative and may also appoint alternates. The board examines the programme of work of the organisation and corresponding budget estimates. It ensures the effective and rational execution of the programme by the director-general.

Older than thought

THE TRIAL of the man accused of raping a girl who gave birth has found that she is probably not less than 15.

Hend Mohamed, whose rape and consequent delivery of a baby girl made headlines, was found to be between 15 and 16 years old, according to preliminary forensic reports. It was originally reported she was 11. In another twist, DNA tests also proved that the man she accused of raping her was not the father.

Hend accused 21-year-old Mohamed Sami, a tuk-tuk taxi driver of raping her almost nine months ago in Qalyubia governorate while she was on her way to a youth club to pick up her younger brother.

Neither Hend nor her family attended the trial which took place almost two weeks ago. Nehad Abul-Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR), said that despite Hend's birth certificate which proved she was born in 1995, Hend's bone structure and dental examinations show that she is between the ages of 15 and 16. Hend's birth certificate is computerised therefore unlikely to be forged.

According to Abul-Qomsan, the penalty for the rapist in this case, according to Article 291 of the penal code, will not exceed three years prison if the victim is over 16 years of age. The penalty ranges from 25 years in prison with hard labour to death for raping somebody less than 16.

Abul-Qomsan blamed the press for publishing what she said was inaccurate information regarding the final results of the DNA tests and that Menatallah, the baby, is not the daughter of the accused according to DNA test.

Final results are to be announced by September. The judge has adjourned the trial until then. "I believe this is a long time but there is no other solution except to wait," Abul-Qomsan said. "Of course, the defence lawyers will do their best to prove the innocence of the accused and give the girl a bad reputation to imply someone else was the father. They might come up with fake witnesses who might say the accused did not rape Hend."

Need to be official

MP IBTSAM Habib has presented to the People's Assembly's (PA) Suggestions and Complaints Committee a suggestion of a new draft law to limit mushrooming urfi marriages. According to Habib, the new draft law aims at modifying an item in Article 10 of Law No 60 issued in 1947. The amendment would impose a fine of between LE1,000 and LE10,000 in addition to one year in jail for those who do not authenticate their urfi marriage contract at the registration authority. In addition, two witnesses are needed. Habib, who believes that the new draft law, if approved, will reduce the number of youths getting married via an urfi contract, which greatly restricts the financial rights accorded women, said the new draft will be discussed at November's PA session.

Official statistics, according to Habib, estimate that there are about 700,000 urfi marriages in Egypt, 12,000 of which are being handled in the courts. " Urfi marriages are common among university students and poor people who cannot afford soaring marriage costs," Habib said. "The arrangement is often made between the two partners, sometimes with or without witnesses. The husband usually keeps the alleged document and may tear it up after his first dispute with the partner who will then find it difficult to legalise their marriage," Habib told Al-Ahram Weekly. Urfi marriages are an unofficial but legitimate arrangement. Habib said they are acceptable under certain conditions, such as if a man whose wife is ill wants to remarry; a widow with grownup children who wants to get married but without embarrassing her children; or a woman who seeks to collect the pension of her dead husband but would also like to marry again. Other than these cases, Habib said urfi marriages can put women in a particularly precarious position. Cases of men destroying or hiding the contract are not uncommon. Without the contract, a woman cannot prove the marriage took place. She cannot get a divorce and cannot remarry.

Slaughtered zoo camel

ANOTHER Moroccan camel has mysteriously been slaughtered in Giza Zoo. A few weeks ago a camel was similarly killed with what is claimed to be the help of zookeepers wanting their meat.

In the latest incident they slaughtered the female camel at the far end of the zoo, cut away the liver, shoulders and ribs and left the rest to rot. The camel, the mother of the previously slaughtered animal, was 12 years old and two months pregnant.

Police are investigating the incident.

Following the deaths, the minister of agriculture and land reclamation appointed Nabil Sedki as the new zoo manager. Sedki said the zoo which at one time was one of the largest in the world in terms of area and which is comprised of five hilly areas, had been guarded by only 17 people. Security personnel will be increased to 30 armed security guards. Also, police cars will be combing the zoo night and day, and the zoo's fence will be lit. Giza Zoo, which was first inaugurated in 1891 during the era of Khedive Ismail, houses rare imported plants, including cacti, and has walkways paved with coloured pebbles set in beautiful mosaic pictures. Its streams, lakes, bridges and hilly habitat form the scenery for the animals.

Nabil said Giza Zoo was like a huge exhibition of African wildlife. It is a habitat for many species of animals and birds which are now extinct in Egypt. Accordingly, Nabil has drawn up a plan to increase security measures in the zoo and has already presented it to the General Organisation for Veterinary Services.

Compiled by Reem Leila

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