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February 16, 2015

Islamic State execute 21 Coptic Christians held in Libya

Islamic State execute 21 Coptic Christians held in Libya

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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A video purporting to show the execution of 21 Coptic Christians by supporters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been released yesterday. The video shows them being beheaded in a location apparently near Tripoli in Libya.

The captives, all shown being executed in orange jumpsuits in the video, were picked up in Sirte, a coastal town in Libya, during December and January. The video asserts the Christians were targeted by ISIL because of their religion.

The Coptic Orthodox Church stated they were “confident” justice would be done on those who executed their followers. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated: “Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals”.

Al-Azhar University, a Cairo-based centre for Islamic learning, described the killing of Christians “barbaric” and stated the actions have “nothing to do with any religion or human values”.



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November 5, 2012

Coptic Christians select their 118th pope

Coptic Christians select their 118th pope

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Shrine of St. Athanasius in St Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo.
Image: Kyrillos2.

Egypt
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Yesterday, the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt selected the 60-year-old Bishop Tawadros from Beheira in the Nile Delta as the new leader of the church in a ceremony held at St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. The ceremony which selected Tawadros consisted of an altar boy wearing a blindfold picking one of three names from a chalice.

The election process follows the death in March of the previous leader, Pope Shenouda III. Tawadros will formally take his position as pope on November 18.

The Coptic Orthodox Church represents six to ten percent of the 83 million people of Egypt and is the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and the election of the Muslim Brotherhood there have been a number of violent attacks on Copts as well as complaints of discrimination.



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March 20, 2012

Funeral for Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria held in Cairo

Funeral for Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria held in Cairo

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria in 2009
Image: Chuck Kennedy.

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, the leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christian church, has died at the age of 88. His funeral was held at a packed St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo today.

Cquote1.svg It is because of him that we have national unity with our Muslim brothers. Cquote2.svg

—Cleric

The mass featured hymns, prayers and incense-burning as crowds in and outside the cathedral paid their respects. A large police presence watched over the scenes as mourners wept. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, presently leader of Egypt, has made today a day of mourning. The Coptic Church is among the world’s oldest and traces its roots to St Mark in the first century.

Shenouda spent 40 years as pope to the Coptics, who make up the majority of the nation’s estimated ten million Christians. Much of this time was spent pacifying his followers in the wake of violence and perceived discrimination, whilst working with the majority Muslims. He spent three years exiled in the cathedral after claims of sectarian troublemaking from then-President Anwar Sadat in 1981. He was freed by Hosni Mubarak in 1985. With Mubarak gone, many Copts are concerned that Islamist political parties gaining new influence could mark a time of trouble for their religion.

“He left us an example of leadership that we should all follow,” a cleric told the congregation at the fourth-century cathedral. “It is because of him that we have national unity with our Muslim brothers.”

Traffic was congested around the cathedral, which the pope remained fond of, while services were ongoing today. Shenouda was dressed in full regalia, complete with a gold crown. His body was taken to a military airfield and was to be taken to desert monastery St Bishoy for burial.

Tributes have been paid to Pope Shenouda as thousands of people mourned his death. President of the United States Barack Obama said in a statement “We will remember Pope Shenouda III as a man of deep faith, a leader of a great faith, and an advocate for unity and reconciliation… His commitment to Egypt’s national unity is also a testament to what can be accomplished when people of all religions and creeds work together.”



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January 25, 2012

One year on: Egyptians mark anniversary of protests that toppled Mubarak

One year on: Egyptians mark anniversary of protests that toppled Mubarak

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

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Across Egypt hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets for the day, marking exactly one year since the outbreak of protests leading to 83-year-old longstanding ruler Hosni Mubarak’s downfall. The country’s decades-long emergency rule was partially lifted this week; meanwhile, a possible economic meltdown looms and a newly-elected parliament held their first meeting on Monday.

Protestors in Tahrir Square during the revolution.
Image: Jonathan Rashad.

Protestors in Tahrir Square today.
Image: Gigi Ibrahim.

Despite the new parliament, military rule introduced following Mubarak’s fall last spring remains. Echoing the demands from a year ago, some protesters are demanding the military relinquish power; there are doubts an elected civilian leader will be permitted to replace the army.

The brief unity against Mubarak has since fragmented, with Secularists and Islamists marking the revolution’s anniversary splitting to opposing sides of Cairo’s famed Tahrir Square and chanting at each other. Initial demonstrations last year were mainly from young secularists; now, Islamic parties hold most of the new parliament’s seats — the country’s first democratic one in six decades.

Salafis hold 25% of the seats and 47% are held by the Muslim Brotherhood, which brought supporters to Cairo for the anniversary. Tahrir Square alone contained tens of thousands of people, some witnesses putting the crowd at 150,000 strong. It’s the largest number on the streets since the revolution.

Military rulers planned celebrations including pyrotechnics, commemorative coins, and air displays. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces took power after last year’s February 11 resignation of Mubarak.

Alaa al-Aswani, a pro-democracy activist writing in al-Masry al-Youm, said: “We must take to the streets on Wednesday, not to celebrate a revolution which has not achieved its goals, but to demonstrate peacefully our determination to achieve the objectives of the revolution,” — to “live in dignity, bring about justice, try the killers of the martyrs and achieve a minimum social justice”

Alexandria in the north and the eastern port city of Suez also saw large gatherings. It was bitter fighting in Suez led to the first of the revolution’s 850 casualties in ousting Mubarak. “We didn’t come out to celebrate. We came out to protest against the military council and to tell it to leave power immediately and hand over power to civilians,” said protestor Mohamed Ismail.

“Martyrs, sleep and rest. We will complete the struggle,” chanted crowds in Alexandria, a reference to the 850 ‘martyrs of the revolution’. No convictions are in yet although Mubarak is on trial. Photos of the dead were displayed in Tahrir Square. Young Tahrir chanters went with “Down with military rule” and “Revolution until victory, revolution in all of Egypt’s streets”.

If the protestors demanding the military leave power get their way, the Islamists celebrating election victory face a variety of challenges. For now, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi — whose career featured twenty years as defence minister under Mubarak — rules the nation and promises to cede power following presidential elections this year.

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, pictured whilst he was still Mubarak’s defence minister, is now ruling the country.
Image: Helene C. Stikke, US DoD.

The economy is troubled and unemployment is up since Mubarak left. With tourism and foreign investment greatly lower than usual, budget and payment deficits are up — with the Central Bank eating into its reserves in a bid to keep the Egyptian pound from losing too much value.

Last week the nation sought US$3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund. The IMF insists upon funding also being secured from other donors, and strong support from Egypt’s leaders. IMF estimates say the money could be handed over in a few months — whereas Egypt wanted it in a matter of weeks.

The country has managed to bolster trade with the United States and Jordan. Amr Abul Ata, Egyptian ambassador to the fellow Middle-East state, told The Jordan Times in an interview for the anniversary that trade between the nations increased in 2011, and he expects another increase this year. This despite insurgent attacks reducing Egyptian gas production — alongside electricity the main export to Jordan. Jordan exports foodstuffs to Egypt and has just signed a deal increasing the prices it pays for gas. 2011 trade between the countries was worth US$1 billion.

The anniversary also saw a new trade deal with the US, signed by foreign trade and industry minister Mahmoud Eisa and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. President Barack Obama promises work to improve U.S. investment in, and trade with, nations changing political systems after the Arab Spring. Details remain to be agreed, but various proposals include US assistance for Egyptian small and medium enterprises. Both nations intend subjecting plans to ministerial scrutiny.

The U.S. hailed “several historic milestones in its transition to democracy” within a matter of days of Egypt’s revolution. This despite U.S.-Egypt ties being close during Mubarak’s rule.

US$1 billion in grants has been received already from Qatar and Saudi Arabia but army rulers refused to take loans from Gulf nations despite offers-in-principle coming from nations including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Foreign aid has trickled in; no money at all has been sent from G8 nations, despite the G8 Deauville Partnership earmarking US$20 billion for Arab Spring nations.

A total of US$7 billion was promised from the Gulf. The United Kingdom pledged to split £110 million between Egypt and Arab Spring initiator Tunisia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development says G8 money should start arriving in June, when the presidential election is scheduled.

The African Development Bank approved US$1.5 billion in loans whilst Mubarak still held power but, despite discussions since last March, no further funding has been agreed. The IMF offered a cheap loan six months ago, but was turned away. Foreign investment last year fell from US$6 billion to $375 million.

Rights, justice and public order remain contentious issues. Tantawi lifted the state of emergency on Tuesday, a day before the revolution’s anniversary, but left it in place to deal with the exception of ‘thuggery’. “This is not a real cancellation of the state of emergency,” said Islamist Wasat Party MP Essam Sultan. “The proper law designates the ending of the state of emergency completely or enforcing it completely, nothing in between.”

One year after the protests that led to his loss of power, Hosni Mubarak faces death if convicted of killing those protesting against him.
Image: 2008 World Economic Forum.

The same day, Amnesty International released a report on its efforts to establish basic human rights and end the death penalty in the country. Despite sending a ten-point manifesto to all 54 political parties, only the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (of the Egyptian Bloc liberals) and the left-wing Popular Socialist Alliance Party signed up. Measures included religious freedom, help to the impoverished, and rights for women. Elections did see a handful of women win seats in the new parliament.

The largest parliamentary group is the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood, who Amnesty say did not respond. Oral assurances on all but female rights and abolition of the death penalty were given by Al-Nour, the Salafist runners-up in the elections, but no written declaration or signature.

“We challenge the new parliament to use the opportunity of drafting the new constitution to guarantee all of these rights for all people in Egypt. The cornerstone must be non-discrimination and gender equality,” said Amnesty, noting that the first seven points were less contentious amongst the twelve responding parties. There was general agreement for free speech, free assembly, fair trials, investigating Mubarak’s 30-year rule for atrocities, and lifting the state of emergency. A more mixed response was given to ensuring no discrimination against LGBT individuals, whilst two parties claimed reports of Coptic Christian persecution are exaggerated.

Mubarak himself is a prominent contender for the death penalty, currently on trial for the killings of protesters. The five-man prosecution team are also seeking death for six senior police officers and the chief of security in the same case. Corruption offences are also being tried, with Gamal Mubarak and Alaa Mubarak accused alongside their father Hosni.

The prosecution case has been hampered by changes in witness testimony and there are complaints of Interior Ministry obstruction in producing evidence. Tantawi has testified in a closed hearing that Mubarak never ordered protesters shot.

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Hisham Talaat Moustafa, an ex-MP and real estate billionaire, is another death penalty candidate. He, alongside Ahmed Sukkari, was initially sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. A new trial was granted on procedural grounds and he is now serving a fifteen-year term for paying Sukkari US$2 million to slit 30-year-old’s Tamim’s throat in Dubai. Her assassin was caught when police followed him back to his hotel and found a shirt stained with her blood; he was in custody within two hours of the murder.

The court of appeals is now set to hear another trial for both men after the convictions were once more ruled unsound.

A military crackdown took place last November, the morning after a major protest, and sparking off days of violence. Egypt was wary of a repeat this week, with police and military massed near Tahrir Square whilst volunteers manned checkpoints into the square itself.

The military has pardoned and released at least 2,000 prisoners jailed following military trials, prominently including a blogger imprisoned for defaming the army and deemed troublesome for supporting Israel. 26-year-old Maikel Nabil was given a three year sentence in April. He has been on hunger strike alleging abuse at the hands of his captors. He wants normalised relations with Israel. Thousands have now left Tora prison in Cairo.

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December 1, 2011

Early returns in Egyptian polls show victory for Islamist parties

Early returns in Egyptian polls show victory for Islamist parties

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Egypt
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Election posters on a street in Cairo.
Image: chi hoon kim.

Early returns in the elections in Egypt suggest the Freedom and Justice Party, strongly linked to Islamist organization the Muslim Brotherhood, is likely to win 40 percent of the seats in the first elections following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, according to analysts.

Al Nour, a conservative, Salafi Islamist party, may come second. Al Nour is considered more hard-line than the Muslim Brotherhood, and a party spokesman stated they wanted the country to realize that “sovereignty comes from God”. He claimed they would not harm the Coptic minority: “Touching one hair on a Copt’s head violates our program.”

The liberal Egyptian Bloc alliance claims to have 20 to 30 percent of the vote in Cairo.

Following delays to the counting process, the results of the first stage in the Egyptian election are expected to be announced tomorrow. After this, the election process is to continue with further rounds of voting until a final decision on forming the government on January 13 for seats in the lower house, and March 14 for seats in the upper house.



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October 13, 2011

Eyewitnesses challenge Egyptian state media impartiality in fatal protests

Eyewitnesses challenge Egyptian state media impartiality in fatal protests

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

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With at least 24 dead, eye-witnesses to Sunday night’s protests in Egypt assert state-run media broadcast unreliable information, and incorrectly claimed Coptic protesters provoked military action.

Challenging the official narrative provided by Egyptian state media channels, including Channel One and Nile News, blog reports and other social media coverage dispute early reports on Channel One that those protesting threw stones, and fired live ammunition, at military personnel. Further allegations assert coverage was selective, with footage of military vehicles pursuing and running over protesters not aired.

Nile News conducted interviews with injured on each side of the clash. Military and security barred protestors from reaching their building. Nile News anchor Hesham Assy said: ” We did the best we could, given the circumstances, as it was very difficult to leave the building last night.”

Despite this, journalist Mai Elwakil writing for Almasry Alyoum claims “the coverage [overall] seems to have led viewers to believe that Coptic protesters caused the violence.”

Challenging the stance of state media, it is claimed the military fired upon protesters, and deliberately attacked them using excessive force. Members of the state media also question the coverage; state TV worker Taghreed al-Dossouky announced via her Twitter account, “I reject the Egyptian state media’s coverage because it incites sectarianism, and I condemn all those who partake in it.”

At least 24 people were killed and over 200 wounded as the demonstration turned violent.



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March 22, 2011

Egyptian voters approve constitutional changes

Egyptian voters approve constitutional changes

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Egypt
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Massive protests led to Mubarak’s resignation.

In a referendum held Saturday, Egyptians voted overwhelmingly to amend the nation’s constitution immediately, moving Egypt closer to a democracy, according to results announced today.

Electoral officials said 77% of voters endorsed a set of constitutional amendments that included limiting presidential terms, removing limitations on forming political parties, and holding a general election within six months.

Many of the mostly secular protest leaders who headed the revolution leading to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation were opposed to the amendments, not wanting to hold elections so quickly. Mohamed ElBaradei, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said the nation needed more political maturity before holding elections so soon. Leaders of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church also were against the amendments.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group previously banned under Mubarak’s rule, and the National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s ruling party, were almost alone in supporting the amendments. Each hoped that its strong organization would give it an advantage in electing the parliament members who will write the new constitution.

Approximately 18 million people, 41% of those eligible, voted, according to electoral officials. This is in contrast to parliamentary elections held four months ago, when the turnout was only six million.

Although there were some problems at the voting places, observers said these were mostly due to the military’s hasty preparations, not wrongdoing by officials. Opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei was prevented from voting by men throwing stones in the worst incidence of sporadic violence.

The results were met with jubilation by Egyptians; in Cairo, horns were honked and fireworks set off. The elections are considered the first in decades not rigged in favor of one party.

“It’s not important what the result is, it’s important that it was fair,” said a revolutionary leader, Abdul Rahman Yusuf.



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February 27, 2007

Egypt sentences blogger to four years for insulting Islam

Egypt sentences blogger to four years for insulting Islam

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Egyptian Flag

An Egyptian blogger, Abdul Kareem Suleiman Amer, known online as Kareem Amer, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday for insulting Islam on his weblog.

Blogs had been considered a relatively safe means of expression for citizens of countries with restrictive Islamic laws. Mideast governments have harassed and arrested bloggers before, but Kareem is the first to receive jail time.

Kareem had written about becoming a human rights lawyer and working for the betterment of Muslim and Arabic women; however, the Al-Azhar University expelled him in 2006 for criticizing the school’s religious leaders.

He had criticized various Muslim beliefs and suggested that there was no God. The court took special interest in his posting to Coptic blogs, i.e. those run by Egyptian Christians.

His arrest last November inspired rallies in Washington, Rome, Paris, London, and Stockholm.

Gamal Eid, the Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said that the most repressive regime for blogging had been Tunisia, followed by Saudi Arabia, Syria and Libya, which have blocked sites and limited internet access. Expressing surprise at the severity of the sentence given Egypt’s recent history, he said it was a “gloomy day for all the advocates of freedom of expression”, not only in Egypt but also around the world.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based advocacy group for press freedom condemned the sentence. Pointing out that President Mubarak had promised in 2004 to end prison terms for press offenses, it called the sentence a “message of intimidation” to Egyptian bloggers who, it said, were emerging as an “effective bulwark” against what it called the regime’s authoritarian excesses.

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