Egypt: court acquits officer in torture death

An Egyptian court on May 28 acquitted a police officer accused of torturing an Islamist to death over a church bombing. Mohammed Abdel Rahman al-Shimi was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June 2012 for taking part in the tortue of Sayed Bilal. On appeal the verdict was overturned, and the retrial that resulted in this week's verdict was ordered. The bombing occurred weeks before the 2011 uprising against then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, when a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a church near Alexandria, killing more than 20. Police responded by arresting Islamists, including Bilal. He was tortured to death by al-Shimi and others, and his badly bruised body was returned to his family the next day. Police abuses were a major catalyst for the 2011 uprising.

Libya: Coptic Christians abducted by ISIS?

Claims of an active Libyan branch of the ISIS franchise are given grim credence by photos circulating on social media purporting to show abducted Coptic Christians in the charactersitic pose of ISIS captives—kneeling in orange jump-suits as black-clad masked me stand over them menacingly. Text says they will be punished (presumably executed) as "revenge for the Muslims persecuted by the Coptic Crusaders of Egypt." A total of 21 Copts, all migrant laborers from Egypt, were abducted in the Libyan city of Sirte on in two incidents Dec. 31 and Jan. 3. Egypt's Foreign Ministry is investigating the authenticity of the photos, and has organized an emergency evacuation of Egyptian nationals from Libya. The anti-terrorist Quilliam Foundation is meanwhile claiming that ISIS has seized control of a radio station in Sirte. (Al ArabiyaNewsweek, Feb. 13; Egyptian Streets, Feb. 12)

Egypt: secularism and dictatorship?

Opposition and human rights activists in Egypt are bracing for the impacts of a new law "anti-terrorism" decree signed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that allows life sentences for such ill-defined crimes as intending to "harm the national interest," "compromise national unity," or "breach security or public peace." Human rights attorney Ragia Omran told the New York Times, "Everyone in civil society is panicking." (Inquisitr, Dec. 27) At the end of 2014, el-Sisi boatsed of having detained nearly 10,000 for "rioting" and "terrorism" over the course of the year. (Daily News Egypt, Dec. 21)

Egypt: new charter approved amid violence

Egyptians voter appear to have approved a new constitution, potentially setting the stage for army chief Ge. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare his candidacy for president. Authorities put the preliminary results at 90% in favor of the new charter. But the two-day vote was marred by violence. As polls opened, a bomb exploded near a Cairo courthouse, although no casualties were claimed. Over the next tow days, scattered clashes left 10 dead, despite streets flooded with soldiers. The Muslim Brotherhood, now officially banned and declared a terrorist group, called for a boycott of the vote, and is promising a new protest mobilization in the following 10 days, leading up to the third anniversary of the start of the revolution that brought down strongman Hosni Mubarak. Security forces have sealed off Tahrir Square to keep protesters from gathering. (Reuters, Daily News Egypt, Jan. 15; CNN, BBC News, Jan. 14)

Egypt: Ikhwan unleash rage on Copts

As the death toll from the previous day's operation to clear Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) protest camps in Cairo was estimated as high as 600, Ikhwan supporters on Aug. 15 staged new marches in the capital, where a government building was set alight, as well as in Alexandria, where street clashes were reported. A governorate building was also torched in Giza, while seven soldiers were killed by unknown gunmen near El Arish in the Sinai peninsula. Ikhwan supporters also unleashed their rage on Coptic Christians, with several churches, homes, and Copt-owned businesses attacked throughout the country. Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) estimated that as many as 36 churches were "completely" devastated by fire across nine governorates, including Minya, Sohag and Assiut. Egyptians on Twitter used #EgyChurch to crowd-source images and reports of attacks on churches. (Ahram Online, Ahram OnlineMiddle East Online, BBC News, Aug. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 12)

Egypt: labor repression amid Ikhwan crackdown

A mixed force of Egyptian Interior Ministry and military troops with armored bulldozers moved into the two protest camps maintained by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi shortly after dawn Aug. 14. The smaller camp in Nahda Square was cleared relatively quickly, but clashes raged for most of the day around the main camp near Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque—leaving at least 200 dead and 10 times as many wounded. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) put the death toll as high as 300, while authorities said some of the protesters were armed and that 43 members of the security forces were among the dead. Ikhwan leaders have been rounded up, and a 30-day state of emergency has been declared. Street clashes have spread to Alexandria and other cities, and vice president Mohamed ElBaradei has resigned in protest of the repression.

Egypt: escalating violence in Sinai Peninsula

Some 40 supporters of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi were injured as soldiers opened fire on protesters outside a government office in El Arish, a town in the northern Sinai Peninsula July 6. (Euronews, July 6) That same day, a Coptic Christian priest, Mina Aboud Sharween, was shot dead while walking on a street in El Arish—apparently the first sectarian killing since the power transfer. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood had criticized Pope Tawadros, spiritual leader of Egypt's 8 million Copts, for giving his blessing to the removal of the president and attending the announcement by army chief Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, suspending the constitution. (The Guardian, July 6)

Egypt: death sentences for anti-Muslim 'film'

An Egyptian court on Jan. 29 upheld the in absentia death sentences of seven Coptic Christians and an American preacher on charges stemming from the amateur anti-Muslim "film" Innocence of Muslims, which sparked violent protests in the Middle East last year. A criminal court in Cairo sentenced the convicted defendants in November, pending the final verdict just announced. The death sentences are primarily symbolic, as all of the defendants live outside of Egypt. The eight defendants include Mark Basseley Youssef, the California man who produced the film, as well as Florida pastor Terry Jones, who aroused controversy last year by publicly burning a Koran. The film depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud and a womanizer. The court found the defendants guilty of subverting national unity, spreading false information and insulting Islam, charges that carry the death penalty.

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