Thursday’s papers: Palestinians celebrate Mubarak, Zaki Badr backlash?

Al-Ahram leads with news on government subsidies for medical procedures. Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali announced yesterday that an additional LE200 million has been added to the national budget for medical expenses for underprivileged or impoverished citizens.

The extra LE200 million will increase medical subsidies to a total of LE580 million, according to Al-Ahram. Boutros-Ghali explained the increase: “The LE200 million will be used to pay back some of the Ministry of Health’s towering debts, in addition to facilitating funds for medical procedures for those who would not be able to afford them otherwise.” Boutros-Ghali described the issue as “at the top of the government’s list of priorities.”

Al-Ahram also includes an update on the recent illegal immigration incident, which resulted in at least three young men drowning off the coast of Rashid. Two boats illegally transporting an unspecified number of young men to Italy were intercepted by the Egyptian Coast Guard on Tuesday. In an attempt to escape the authorities, many of the would-be immigrants leapt into the water. Three drowned while the majority were arrested. The Coast Guard has since been searching the area for bodies, extending the radius of its search by two nautical miles on Wednesday. So far, no bodies have been found.

In the meantime, authorities have released 24 survivors, after learning from them that the ill-fated immigration attempt was planned by at least ten people. The agents reportedly requested LE10,000 to LE15,000 from each passenger, with a larger unstipulated amount agreed to be paid on arrival. Following the release of the survivors, authorities have been instructed to focus their efforts on apprehending the organizers of the illegal operation.

State-owned papers also report on the “hundreds of Palestinians crowding along the Rafah crossing to celebrate President Mubarak’s recovery and safe return,” as described in Al-Ahram. In the accompanying photograph, members of the jubilant crowd hold up posters of Mubarak and wave the Egyptian flag from behind a chain link fence.

Al-Ahram also mentions that convoys of cars and motorcycles drove the length of the Egypt-Gaza border chanting pro-Egypt slogans and cheers. Al-Ahram interpreted the celebration as a “confirmation by the Palestinians that President Mubarak is indeed ruler of all Arabs, particularly Palestinians, who pray that God preserve him for the sake of both Egyptians and Arabs.”

Al-Dostour leads with the headline, “Ahmed Zaki Badr’s folly.” The story says that Minister of Education Ahmed Zaki Badr’s surprise inspection of Helwan’s schools–and subsequent reprimands of staff and students for negligence–may have backfired. The paper reports that students at El-Kholafaa’ El-Rashideen School for Boys, which Badr had labeled as “the worst school” after his visit two days ago, spent the school day yesterday engaged in a series of demonstrations supporting their teachers and headmaster, who Badr transferred to remote locations as punishment for their job performance.

According to Al-Dostour, the students voiced their disapproval through a variety of chants, such as “hey minister, hey minister; we oppose the changes you’ve administered.” Speaking in his own defense, the school’s headmaster reportedly explained, “I don’t know what I did wrong. I was sick, and I had a note from the doctor to prove it. But in spite of that, I still forced myself to go to school, only to find the minister waiting for me, mocking me…I was only 15 minutes late.”

Al-Shorouq leads with a story about “Egypt’s attempts at permanently securing the position of Arab League Secretary General for Egyptians.” The independent daily reports on Cairo’s efforts to convince Secretary General Amr Moussa to extend his term, in hopes that an extension would dissuade other Arab states from taking the seat. In the meantime, the government is preparing a list of potential candidates which it will present if Moussa chooses not to extend his term. Candidates on the list reportedly include Minister of Legal Affairs and Parliamentary Councils Moufid Shehab, as well as Chairman of the People’s Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee Mostafa el-Feqi.

Egypt’s newspapers:

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-Shorouq: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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