Monday’s papers: Israel-Palestine and protest prep

The front page of Al-Ahram features no fewer than four lead stories, the first of which concerns President Mubarak’s upcoming meeting today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sharm el-Sheikh. According to the paper’s headline, the president will “assure” the Israeli leader that “Egypt rejects any partial solution” to Palestinian-Israeli disputes. Reportedly, President Mubarak will also outline to Netanyahu the “Egyptian point of view” on the crisis, as well as that of the rest of the Arab world, which the paper claims also “rejects” recent Israeli threats toward Syria and Lebanon.
Recent measures taken by the government and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to ensure the “protection” of impoverished rural families are detailed in Al-Ahram’s second leading story, which also leads in Al-Akhbar. With the creation of new services and the “further development” of existing ones, as well as initiatives aimed at creating jobs, strengthening rural infrastructure, and preserving basic civil rights, the measures indicate that the issue is a “priority” for the government, according to the two state-owned papers. Details of the proposed project were discussed during yesterday’s NDP assembly, presided over by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.
Nazif also features in Al-Ahram’s third lead story. The prime minister explained that the relationship between Egypt and other Nile basin countries “relies on mutual understanding, and a cooperative effort toward achieving equivalent development benefiting citizens of all participating countries.” The statement came during the High Council of Nile Water’s annual meeting yesterday in Cairo. Nazif went on to explain that Egypt “is prepared to offer what it can of technical assistance to other Nile basin nations, and will continue to do so in the spirit of friendly and proportionate relationships.”
In what the paper calls “an unprecedented move,” Hamas has begun to impose “taxes” on residents of the Gaza Strip. The new taxes, which were placed last Saturday, are a direct result of the tighter security on the Egyptian end of the network of tunnels that are used to smuggle goods and people in and out of Gaza, the paper reports. Al-Ahram also claims to have in its possession a copy of Hamas’s “price list”—a record of all the activities for which Hamas will now claim taxes—in short, everything from a walk on the beach (1 shekel), to a hospital visit (2 shekels), to smuggling a car through underground tunnels (2500-10,000 shekels, depending on the tunnel).
Al-Ahram finds space for a brief report on the demonstration planned by the National Association for Change—the pro-reform movement formed by potential presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei. Scheduled to take place on Monday morning, and moving along a downtown route that will end in front of parliament, the demonstration has not been approved by the Ministry of Interior, which, Al-Ahram reports, proceeded to warn of “severe consequences” to befall any protester.

The decision was taken by Minister of Interior Habib el-Adly, and echoed by speaker of the People’s Assembly Fathi Sorour during yesterday’s parliamentary session, which saw a “heated debate” rise over the protest. According to Al-Ahram, el-Adly included his reasons for denying NAC members the right to demonstrate in a letter addressed to Sorour, citing the “uncertainty regarding the possibility of independent protesters joining the event.” Al-Akhbar also included a similar report on its front page, while Al-Gomhurriya failed to address the issue.

Al-Wafd’s front page, however, deals almost exclusively with the planned protest. “Egypt under siege,” declares one typical headline. Beyond outlining the details of yesterday’s demonstration—held downtown by “hundreds” of citizens demanding an increase in national minimum wages—the independent paper also reports on violent clashes between security forces and members of the Kefaya movement.

Independent MPs, who are anxious about Monday’s potentially explosive demonstration, have requested that parliament ensure their protection—as well as the preservation of their rights—“against martial law,” Al-Wafd reports. The independent parliamentary members insisted that they “are not seeking clashes with security forces,” the proof of which can be seen in their attempt to obtain government approval by making their plans clear in advance. The independent MPs request was met with stringent disapproval, however, when one member suggested that independents “do not get a fair chance to express themselves [in parliament],” a comment which reportedly incensed Sorour, whose angry response stated that the claim was “an unfair exaggeration” and that “independent members enjoy more chances to speak [in parliament] then majority members.” The meeting ended with Sorour announcing that participation in any demonstration on Monday was “forbidden,” Al-Wafd reports.

Al-Shorouq is the only paper, independent or otherwise, that neglects any mention of MP Nash’at el-Qassas, who, last week, suggested to parliament that security forces use live ammunition to silence protesters, and who, in today’s news, was proven beyond a doubt to have actually made the inflammatory suggestion which he has since denied. Instead, Al-Shorouq leads with a story detailing how the “heart of New York City” escaped a potentially “major explosion” after a poorly-designed car bomb failed to properly detonate. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attempted attack, and authorities have yet to publicly name suspects.

Al-Shorouq also reports on mock Egyptian presidential elections, held at the Egyptian embassy in Washington, DC. The results of the election were 74 percent favoring Mohamed ElBaradei, with 14 percent voting for Ghad Party founder Ayman Nour. Only 75 Egyptians attended the event, despite the fact that it was held on a Saturday, in what Al-Shorouq describes as “perfect weather conditions.”

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