Thursday’s Papers: Furor over Moustafa’s “light” sentence, debate on Mubarak’s economic legacy

The furor over the "light" 15-year sentence–down from the death penalty–given to Egyptian tycoon Hisham Talaat Moustafa receives front-page headlines in today's newspapers.

All the major papers focus their coverage on the political and economic fallout of the changed ruling–one that also changed the prison garb of Moustafa from a red jumpsuit (attire worn by those on death row) to a blue suit.

The independent Al-Dostour headlines "Egypt is still surprised by Talaat's (new) sentence." The paper argues that the "quick verdict and its surprises and the compromises made by the defense lawyer have made all the verdict’s surroundings ambiguous."

Al-Dostour publishes an opinion piece by acting judge and Court of Cassation Vice President Ahmed Mekki, who argues that the verdict may violate the penal code divisions which state both alleged perpetrators of the murder, Moustafa and his accomplice Mohsen al-Sukkary, should face the same sentence. Al-Sukkary received a 25-year sentence.

Other law professors say the verdict violates the criminal court's procedures because it was issued too quickly.

The independent Al-Shorouk has two exculsive short interviews with Moustafa's lawyers who argue, in contrast, that the verdict is "legally correct".

The paper quotes Farid al-Deeb, head of Moustafa's defense team, as saying the panel of three judges was convinced that his client is responsible for the murder of the Lebanese pop singer Suzanne Tamim.

According to al-Deeb, the judges were also convinced that Tamim "provoked him (Moustafa), cheated on him, stole him, got his money and then went with another man."

In its coverage of the same issue, state-owned Al-Ahram quotes a "distinguished judicial source," who says the verdict comes after careful deliberations from the court's judges.

Meanwhile, state-owned Al-Gomhorriya discusses the possibility of a return to the death sentence. The paper says, quoting judicial sources, the prosecution office is convinced that Moustafa deserves the death penalty.

In other news, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif's statements Wednesday denying the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) has selected its presidential candidate, hasn't provoked much debate in independent or state-owned newspapers.

Speaking at the Euromoney Conference, Nazif said "If he (President Mubarak) feels capable of running for another term then we will all stand behind him. He is the leader of the NDP and we should wait for his decision before thinking of any other alternative–not to say that there aren't any other alternatives."

Coverage President Mubarak's new project openings and meetings with artists are peppered throughout today's newspapers. State-owned Al-Ahram allocates almost a full page and a half to Mubark's visits to Burj Alarb city to check on factory developments in the area.

Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid, according to the paper, emphasized the achievements made during Mubarak's fifth presidential term. Industrial investments reached LE150 billion during the six-year period, Rachid said.

Al-Wafd newspaper takes a different stance on the economic legacy of Mubarak's fifth term. The paper chastises Economic Development Minister Osman Mohamed Osman's Wednesday remarks in which he argued the country's poverty rate is decreasing–a result of the country's growing economy.

The economy grew by 5.2 percent in the 2009/10 fiscal year and 4.7 percent in 2008/09.

"We could reach a poverty rate of 15 percent" by 2015, said Osman.

However, the paper doesn't offer a substantive critique of Osman's remarks. Instead it allocates a whole page for a feature article that exposes the extreme poverty that people who live in the graveyards face.

According to the feature, people aren't financially capable of sending their kids to school or purchasing basic food items.

The article highlights the impact of soaring prices for staple products–now a kilo of tomato costs eight pounds, a kilo of peas costs 10 pounds, and a kilo of rice costs four pounds–on less privileged Egyptians.

A special section in the state-owned Al-Ahram Alektesady magazine juxtaposes the differences in Egyptian papers in their propensity to criticize the government. The 15-page section also discussed anxiety over the rise of privately owned newspapers.

Alektesady attacked independent newspapers for not having a "patriotic agenda" while saying it is convinced private newspapers do not pose a challenge to state-owned newspapers.

A 2010 annual report by Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt dismally low (numbering 143 among 175 countries) in press freedoms.

Egypt's papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose el-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party

Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

Sawt el-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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