THIS WEEK President Hosni Mubarak resumed mediating between the Ahmed Nazif cabinet and deputies of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The president had last week met with NDP deputies from Upper Egypt; this week he received representatives of the Middle Delta governorates of Menoufiya and Sharqiya on Monday. Once again he stressed his commitment to implementing the 2005 presidential election programme.
"This will take place as per a clear-cut timetable over the next six years," he said, pointing out that the programme will take off after a year-long preparation period and emphasising that "nobody is above the law" and that it is the government that should "take the initiative to expose corruption". NDP deputies, he added, are free to voice their criticisms of the Nazif government, "so long as it is a majority vote".
Abrogating emergency law, the president explained, depends on the drafting of a new anti-terrorism law: "It is not in our interest that the state of emergency should continue, but at the same we must ensure stability. Maintaining the stability and security of Egypt is a red line that I will never allow anyone to cross." Advising that they should do so in the framework of the assembly's general committee hearings, Mubarak gave NDP deputies the go-ahead to discuss the reform law agenda.
On Egypt's foreign policy, Mubarak said Egypt is exerting tremendous effort to ensure that the international community will provide Palestinians with financial support. "Egypt will intensify these efforts after the end of the Israeli elections," he said, indicating the country's opposition to a military strike against Iran and the lack of any intention to send Egyptian troops to foreign lands. Expressing fear of further complications in Iraq, he said there was no option but rebuilding state authorities.
ANOTHER person died of bird flu this week, Reem Leila reports. Last Monday, 30-year-old Fatima Mohamed Youssef from the village of Khanka in Qalyoubiya died of the H5N1 strain of the disease at the Abbassiya Hospital, where she was taken when she fell ill. The strain is believed to have killed some 100 people worldwide, though millions of birds have been culled in the mean time.
Ministry of Health spokesman Abdel-Rahman Shahin said, "Youssef is the second fatality in the country. This is Egypt's fourth confirmed case of the deadly virus, with Youssef being the second casualty after Amal Ismail, 30, from the village of Nawa in Qalyoubiya, who passed away some 10 days ago. The other two cases were released from hospital over the weekend. Nineteen of Egypt's 26 governorates are now infected, after the virus spread to the Mediterranean seaside. More recently a teenager was hospitalised with bird flu symptoms; this could be the fifth case of the disease.
Egypt is on a major migratory bird route; and bird flu, essentially an animal condition that can nonetheless affect people who come in contact with infected poultry, is an increasing risk. According to Hassan Al-Bushra, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance, "There has been no sign of human-to-human transmission in Egypt. Still, more health education is needed as most cases reported have come from farms where Ministry of Health regulations are not abided by. Some people moved their poultry indoors when they were told to dispose of it. These cases were only to be expected, the result of hygienic ignorance. That said, I expect human bird flu death to disappear soon because the government has put even stricter measures in place. Significantly, the cases are not related, since this means there is no human- to-human transmission; all were in direct contact with poultry. In general the government is doing a good job of managing the crisis, as they now have proper supervision in every single province."
The virus was first detected among birds in Egypt in February; the first human infection appeared mid-March. The poultry industry, which had attracted LE17 billion worth of investments, has been dealt a severe blow as a result, with an estimated loss of LE10 million per day.