Hot off the press: Sectarianism and real estate taxes

The three government-run newspapers focused today on President Mubarak’s recent trip to Kafr el-Sheikh. While the headlines mention real estate taxes, the details of the corresponding reports are more concerned with the importance of national unity, which the President repeatedly emphasized during a press conference held at the Kafr el-Sheikh Governorate Center.

Al-Ahram leads its report with President Mubarak’s request that the Egyptian people—Muslims and Christians—unite in the face of recent attempts intended to divide them, and to “stick together as children of the same nation, and not supply rift-makers with the ammunition they need.” The president went on to denounce and reject religious extremism and intolerance, particularly that which he says occurs because of foreign influences intent on increasing animosity between Egypt’s Muslim and Christian populations.

"We are all one nation," Al-Ahram reported the president as saying, "We do not discriminate, as we all come from the same land. There is no difference between a Muslim, Christian, or Jewish Egyptian. We are all from and for this country.”

Al-Gomhurriya’s coverage of the event was similar, including many of the same quotes put in a different order. Al-Gomhurriya’s report started with Mubarak’s statement that the fallah and the worker represent the cornerstones of Egypt, and it is for that reason that he has refused a reduction in the number of their representatives in the Electoral Council, number already exceeding half of the council’s constituency.

The President’s comments on national unity were also reiterated in Al-Gomhurriya, but without the inclusion of “Jewish Egyptians.” Instead, the paper printed the president’s remarks on Palestine, reporting that “the president made clear that Egypt has offered 120,000 martyrs for the Palestinian cause, and that we will continue to work towards this cause in spite of mistreatment, in certainty that the Palestinian division only serves the interests of Israel while extending the plight of the Palestinian people.”

Concerning the real estate taxes, the same papers echo Mubarak’s announcement that a final decision has not yet been reached. According to Al-Gomhurriya, the president is considering a gradual solution to the problem, envisioning a plan that will unfold in multiple stages while also considering extending the value assessment periods for properties and trying to change the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar mentioned the president’s commission of a research team that would, based on the studies it will conduct, come up with a new pricing system for agricultural harvests that would be in farmers’ best interests.

All three state-owned papers carried news of President Mubarak’s insistence that Egypt will “not be goaded into a new war…but will not hesitate to engage in war-like retaliation to any attack on its land,” an announcement which made the headlines in Al-Akhbar. The president followed this statement by “clarifying that Egypt has no problem forming healthy relationships with all nations, including Iran,” a reference to a recent judicial dispute between the two nations in which the Iranian government refused to hand over 32 convicted Egyptians living within its borders.

The independent daily Al-Shorouq ignored news of the president’s speech on national unity and instead focused on reporting details of the plans discussed during Mubarak’s Kafr el-Sheikh visit. According to Al-Shorouq, the president’s trip revolved around the inauguration of the new constructed el-Sayd Port, as well as other development initiatives and projects in the region.

The aftermath of the Naga Hammadi church shootings also took up today’s front pages, although to different extents. Al-Ahram, Al-Gomhurriya, and Al-Akhbar ran brief updates, while Al-Shorouq neglected to mention anything regarding the incident. In Al-Wafd, the Naga Hammadi incident provided the basis for the paper’s main story, which ran under the headline, “13 February…Trial begins for accused Naga Hammadi slaughterers.” With a court date set for the three alleged murderers—Hammam el-Kamouny, Qershi Abou el-Haggag, and Hendawy Mohamed Hassan—the issue currently being considered is location. Officials are reportedly contemplating moving the trial to Cairo for “security reasons.” However, according to Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marei, the idea “has yet to be settled.”

In related news, Al-Wafd also ran a story on the US State Department’s “growing concern” over the Egyptian government’s arrest of activists in the wake of the Naga Hammadi shooting. A statement released by the State Department called on the Egyptian government to “respect the rights of all those who seek to peacefully express their political views and religious sentiments.” The statement coincided with a series of protests and demonstrations in Florida, organized and attended by Egyptian Christian immigrants living in the state.

Al-Dostour’s leads with the president’s indecision on real estate taxes, but also focuses on the aftermath of the Naga Hammadi shootings. Beneath the headline “Mobile text messages warn Naga Hammadi Copts of celebrating Theophany,” the paper reports an anonymously led campaign of racist and threatening mobile phone messages warning local Christians of a “surprise” on Tuesday 19—a significant Coptic holiday known as Theophany or Epiphany, which commemorates the Jesus’s baptism. In response to the messages, Al-Dostour reports many members of the Coptic community in Naga Hammadi turned to their religious leaders for comfort before seeking help from the authorities. A local priest told Al-Dostour that he did not expect any sort of incident, primarily because of the strong presence of police forces in the village.

Al-Dostour follows up this story by revisiting the cause behind the Naga Hammadi violence, in an update on Guirguis Barsoum William, the 25-year-old Copt charged with raping a young Muslim girl in November 2009. The incident infuriated the community and led to several acts of sectarian violence, culminating in the drive-by shooting at the Naga Hammadi on Coptic Christmas eve. Following a tightly guarded trial held on Sunday and which was finished in under 15 minutes, William’s case was postponed for two days, allowing the defendant to find a lawyer, as official court members had refused to appoint one.

The website of the government-run Al-Ahram can be found here.
The website of the government-run Al-Gomhurriya can be found here.
The website of the government-run Al-Akhbar can be found here.
The website of the independent Al-Shorouq can be found here.
The website of the independent Al-Dostour can be found here.
The website of the independent Al-Wafd can be found here.

This press review is based on the print-edition of these newspapers and not all articles can be found online.

Related Articles

Back to top button