Cairo Times
Egypt's only independent English-language news magazine


This week:
Torture, Sudanese refugees, Iraq dispatch, Press review, Music festival

 

Note: The Cairo Times will be publishing on a reduced schedule for the foreseeable future. We will be using the time to improve the magazine through restructuring and refinancing, and will be returning in due course to weekly publication.

 

news
Ministry denies torture reports

A report issued by the Egyptian Association against Torture (EAAT) on 21 June provides evidence of abuse in prisons nationwide. The report followed an unprecedented letter from the Ministry of the Interior to members of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, denying accusations that 38 incidents of torture and seven deaths occurred at the hands of state security intelligence officers.
In the letter, issued 29 February, the ministry claimed that all seven deaths could be attributed to suicide or infighting among prisoners, and that 19 of the 38 alleged cases of torture “did not happen.” Investigations are pending in the remaining cases.
When EAAT announced its findings, the group accused the government of operating solely to defend its reputation abroad.
“With Egypt’s public image at stake, the ministry’s reaction is a form of damage control,” said EAAT founder and president, Aida Seif Al Dawla. “As a result, not a single police officer or prison guard has ever been prosecuted for the mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.” full story

 

news
Status of the nation

Sudanese refugees in Cairo say a recent decision by the United Nations to suspend resettlement interviews for six months confuses their situation and throws their future into doubt.
The policy change by the United Nations High Commisser for Refugees (UNHCR), which took effect on 1 June, suspends individual interviews for Sudanese asylum seekers until the political situation in the war-torn country becomes clearer.
“This is not a major policy change,” says Damtew Dessalegne, assistant regional representative at UNHCR’s Cairo office.
“The changes we have introduced are in fact to the benefit of asylum seekers in Egypt,” he told the Cairo Times. He says all refugees will continue to be granted UNCHR status that will allow them to obtain temporary resident status in Egypt.
The UNHCR made the decision in response to the nascent peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), who until recently were embroiled in the world’s longest-running civil war. full story
 

dispatch
Coming apart at the seams

Global leaders and citizens have spent this year anticipating and arguing over what would happen after the 30 June transfer of power in Iraq. As the days ticked down, bringing the country closer to the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government, a long-expected run of terror bombings ripped through Iraqi cities, fanning fears that sovereignty would do nothing to improve Iraqis’ most frequently articulated complaint, security.
Still, some Iraqis are optimistic about the transfer. They detested rule by foreigners, particularly the coalition leadership, which was perceived to be arrogant and unable to admit error. The public irresolution and private nepotism of the coalition’s appointed Iraqi Governing Council also sapped their confidence. Many of the optimists have warmed to the new Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who has gone on television vowing to take whatever “drastic measures” may be necessary to improve the security situation. Others have their confidence inspired by the new president, Sunni tribal leader Sheikh Ghazi Al Yawar, whose stately robes, some say, show that he is a man at home in a traditional society, who will know how to wield his authority in a way that people respect. full story
 

press review
“Total cultural collapse”

Does Samir Ragab live in Egypt? That’s the question on everyone’s lips after his bizarre commentary on Safwat Al Sherif’s move from information minister to head of the Shura Council. “I believe that the choice of Sherif as speaker of the Shura Council will bear positively on the march for democracy in Egypt under the leadership of President Mubarak,” the editor of the state’s Al Gomhouriya daily wrote in his 26 June publication. “In addition, I’m confident that the choice of Sherif will enhance the role of the Supreme Council for Journalism in promoting democracy in the country.” Huh?
Other writers said that difficulties in creating democratic institutions in Egpyt caused not individuals but in the sickness of the system as a whole. In the opposition press, Al Wafd editor Abbas Al Tarabili said that the president’s illness had delayed the announcement of a new government and added to political paralysis. “If it wasn’t for the president’s condition, the government would have been changed. That’s what people are saying. They also say that the president’s illness has saved the government from falling and prolonged its life,” he wrote in the 27 June issue. “What we want is a real change, by the will of the whole nation and not just a small section that’s only looking for its interests. We want a democratic change in a democratic manner. We don’t want one group to suddenly jump into the job, because that’s been Egypt’s tragedy before. full story

 

culture
Sax, drums and rock’n’roll

On 21 June, Cairo’s 11th Fête de la Musique gathered singers, percussionists, a jazz band and a Frenchman with an upright bass for a night of music beside the Nile. The event was part of the international Fête de la Musique, which started in Paris in 1982 and quickly spread to over 120 countries around the world.
Intended to “democratize” access to live music by providing free outdoor concerts, the Fête takes place simultaneously across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America on the evening of 21 June—the summer solstice.
Cairo’s Fête is run by the city’s French cultural center, the CFCC. Vincent Martigny, a charming, energetic Parisian, has worked on the event for the past three years. Organizing Cairo’s own Woodstock or Glastonbury has its own difficulties, he explains. “Egyptian audiences aren’t used to the idea of outdoor festivals.”
Despite this, Cairenes have been quick to embrace the festival. The 2004 event attracted a 3,000-strong audience, a third bigger than last year’s.
Despite this, Cairenes have been quick to embrace the festival. The 2004 event attracted a 3,000-strong audience, a third bigger than last year’s. full story