|‘Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night’ isn’t just a motto for postmen anymore. Despite the wind and rain, truckers held their ground on a strike that at press time had already lasted two weeks. Around 100,000 truck drivers around the country went on strike on December 10 to protest what they claimed was a Ministry of Finance decision to apply new retroactive taxes.The truckers took themselves off the streets, claiming they had been hit with a tax increase to LE 20,000 per year — up from LE 1,500 — levied retroactively to cover the past five years.
On December 13; however, Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali denied that the tax codes had been amended and said that no new taxes had been imposed on truck drivers, and especially not retroactively.
The big rigs remained parked as truckers revived their long-running complaint over the ban on trucks hauling two trailers at a time. Drivers of two-trailer vehicles were given until the end of 2012 to replace their existing trucks to comply with the ban, which was part of the Traffic Law passed in August 2008.
Truckers have long maintained that the ban threatens their livelihoods and that their vehicles are not responsible for the nation’s many road accidents. The Ministry of Transportation has refused to reconsider the ban.
As protestors moved to the steps of Parliament, the strike turned violent outside the capitol. Striking drivers attacked vehicles that continued to transport goods, with nine trucks damaged by fire and water in the Sharqiya and Daqahliya governorates.
On December 21, one strike-breaking driver was killed and his brother was injured when their vehicle was attacked with thrown rocks, and 80 strikers were arrested for causing property damage.
The strike has caused estimated daily losses of LE 500 million in perishable products, with supply shortages driving up prices for other products — including construction materials, fruits and vegetables — due to shortages.
The Chamber of Grains requested immediate help to transport wheat from marinas before bread shortages occur.
At press time, there were conflicting reports about the status of the strike. Local media initially reported that the strike ended on December 22 after the General Union for Commercial Chambers (GUCC) promised to resolve the taxes’ issue. However, drivers told Daily News Egypt on December 23 that while they had met with the GUCC, the strike was still ongoing.
THE SPY WHO SEDUCED THE TELECOM INDUSTRY
The Ministry of Interior announced on December 12, that it broke an Israeli spy network operating in Egypt and England. Officials reported that they had arrested four Egyptians and arrested two Israelis for illegally recording the conversations of Egyptian government officials.
The alleged spies apparently never watched the TV series Raafat El-Hagan, or else they would have known that spies working for Egypt are smart and those working for Israel always end up getting caught.
One of the arrested Egyptians, 37-year-old Tariq Abdel Razeq Hassan, reportedly gave a detailed confession to state security prosecutors about years of espionage activities. Though coming from a poor family, Hassan managed to travel to China to study martial arts. After that, the story of the alleged spy ring starts to read like a mosalsal script, and we have to wonder if the local media helped the scriptwriter.
One talk show host alleged that Hassan joined the Israeli security agency Mossad in 2007 after seeing an advertisement on their website asking for Middle Eastern agents — because who doesn’t join Mossad through posted job opportunities? After being trained, Hassan reportedly went to China and set up an import-export company as a cover, with a secret mission to recruit telecommunications specialists in return for $37,000.
An unnamed former female basketball player has also been arrested in connection with the case for allegedly renting a communications office in Cairo that along with an office in England recorded government calls and passed the recordings on to an office in Israel.
Egyptian authorities have also accused a public relations manager at a tourism company of providing information about tour groups in Sinai to Israeli officers. These groups were then allegedly abducted and returned after a few days in an effort to disrupt the tourism industry in Sinai.
Would the governor of South Sinai be correct to question whether or not the sharks attacking Sharm El-Sheikh tourists are Israeli agents as well?
HIGH-TECH, LOW PROFILE
Some politicians make home visits to show they care for the voters. Others host charity events and community iftars during Ramadan. Mohamed El-Baradei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and current political reformer, showed he is a cutting-edge prospective candidate and gave his speech through a mobile phone in a conference held to support him.
The Nobel laureate couldn’t make it in person to his December 19 media conference on ‘The National Campaign to Support El-Baradei, forcing the organizers to broadcast El-Baradei’s five minute speech through a mobile phone speaker. He apologized for missing the conference due to his mother’s illness, but assured his supporters that his campaign for change is going in the right direction. He then asked attendees to double their efforts to gather more signatures for his campaign for change.
RETREAT IN PROTEST
Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, went on retreat at Wadi Al Natroun’s Monastery of Anba Bishoy to protest the death of two Coptic Christians and the arrest of more than 150 others after riots in Al Omraneyah, Giza. The pope ended his one-week-retreat on December 17 after Mostafa El Feky, head of the Shura Council’s exterior affairs and national security committee paid him a visitto convince him to attend President Hosni Mubarak’s speech to the joint session of Parliament between the Shura Council and the People’s Assembly.
Amid the sectarian tensions, Shenouda met with Mubarak on December 22 to discuss the Coptic community’s grievances.
On November 24, police and members of the Coptic community clashed at a construction site after governorate officials stopped construction on what was reported to be a church, claiming it was in violation of its building permit. Most of the protesters were released at intervals throughout the month, and at press time, 42 protestors remained in custody, according to state-run media.
PLANT A TREE FOR UNITYForget foreign policies, free trade agreements or opening the door for refugees. The way to Arab unity, the NGO the Arab-African Youth Council has decided, is to plant trees.
During the council’s third summit for Arab-African Youth, held in Egypt last month, Sheikh Nasr El-Masry, coordinator of the Arab Union for Youth and Environment in Kuwait, planted one tree in the name of Kuwait in Luxor’s forest and another in the name of Iraq.
“The Kuwaiti citizen plants a tree for his Iraqi brother to be irrigated by Egyptian water on good Egyptian land,” said El-Masry to the Arabic daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. “This is an expression of the unity between sister Arab countries.”
The trees were planted in an area irrigated by sewage water as part of the project to plant a billion trees according to Al Ahram and Al Masry Al Youm. The billion trees campaign is international with trees being planted not just Egypt. In Luxor, they are planning to plant 1,700 feddans of Jatropha trees (a tree that is used for producing oil). If it doesn’t bring peace in the region, at least it adds a few more plants to the area.
AIRPORT TRAIN TESTS
It might be easier to learn to fly a plane than to figure out how to navigate between terminals at the ever-expanding Cairo International Airport. That is due to change, according to Ibrahim Manaa, chairman of the Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation, who announced on December 16 that the airport would start testing a new electric train that connects the three passenger terminals, the air mall and the garage.
The test schedule was derailed before it even started, after the train was damaged by sea water when the ship transporting it from France to Alexandria ran into severe storms, independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on December 20. Airport company officials told the paper that they were returning the train to the manufacturer and receiving a new one, asserting they were still on schedule to be fully functional by June 2011.
The free train will run every two and a half minutes and is expected to shuttle 80,000 passengers during every 20 hour operation cycle.
The shuttle service, which cost LE 480 million, is fully computerized and automated, requiring no driver. That’s an impressive feat for an airport that employs two people to press the button and hand you the parking ticket from the automatic ticket machine.
SWINE FLU WITHOUT THE PANIC
Flu season is upon us, once again offering a menagerie of ailments. Since October, hospitals in five different governorates have reported 348 cases of the H1N1 virus, aka ‘swine flu’ and H5N1 virus, better known as bird flu. At press time, two women had died from swine or bird flu. While high, the numbers are not as alarming as in 2009, where in the same period about 11,000 cases were discovered and over 120 people died. Government officials confirmed that schools would continue to operate normally as opposed to 2009 when schools were forced to close to minimize the spread of the virus.
HOSPITAL HAPPY HOURS
As part of its plan for free public health care, the government has announced an early bird special for ailing citizens: hospitals are now to provide free services to anybody who is entitled to free medical care from 9am to 1pm. Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabali and Minister of Local Development Abd El Salam Mahgoub signed a ministerial decree on December 8 stipulating that no less than 40 percent of a hospital’s staff have to be dedicated to free treatment.
In an attempt to motivate the nursing staff, the decree ties salaries to performance standards, with a goal of equalizing incomes among medical staff. In another laudable and ambitious goal, the decree will also eliminate centralized authority.
This latest ministerial decree updates Decree no. 239 for 1997, which created an administration dedicated to patients’ affairs in every hospital to supervise nursing, nutrition, medical care and cleanliness.
BOTTOM OF THE CLASS
Shortly after its exercise in democracy, the People’s Assembly elections, Egypt ranked 138 out of 167 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) 2010 Democracy Index. Published every two years, the EIU report assesses democracy based on 60 indicators, with each country categorized as a Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid Regime and Authoritarian Regime according to its score. Worldwide, Norway ranked number 1, while North Korea bottomed out the list at 167.
With an index score of 3.07, Egypt fell into the report’s Authoritarian Regime category, joined by 13 other MENA countries. Within the region, Israel ranked 37 as a Flawed Democracy; Lebanon, labeled a Hybrid Regime, ranked highest among Arab countries at 86. Turkey, Palestine, Iraq — all listed as Hybrid Regimes — ranked higher than Egypt, as did the Authoritarian Regimes of Kuwait, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria and Qatar.
According to the EIU, Authoritarian Regimes account for one-third of all the countries surveyed, and 36.5 percent of the world’s population. Full Democracies are in the minority, with the EIU report identifying only 26 countries, accounting for 12.3 percent of the world’s population.
QATAR TAKES THE WORLD CUP
December 2 was a banner day for Qatar, after its bid to host the 2022 World Cup won and it became the first Arab country to host football’s most famous tournament. The tiny Gulf country was bidding against Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was so impressed by Qatar’s bid that they are considering a break from a long-standing tradition by holding the World Cup during the winter months to avoid the region’s excruciating heat. Qatari officials say heat is no problem, as they’re planning to build air-conditioned stadiums.
In addition to building new high-tech stadiums, Qatar’s World Cup plans include building a rail network and extensive infrastructure upgrades, with an expected total cost of $64 billion. Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani denied rumors that the country would sell bonds to cover World Cup costs.
Qatar had its first taste as a large-scale international sports venue in 2006 when it hosted the fifteenth Asian Games. This month, the country is hosting the Asian Cup of Nations football tournament.
The decision to host the World Cup in a conservative Muslim country has already generated controversy, with FIFA President Joseph Blatter coming under fire for joking about homosexuals refraining from sexual activity in the country where homosexuality is illegal.
While we are happy for our regional neighbor, we can’t help reliving the horrid memories of the zero votes Egypt garnered in its bid for the 2010 World Cup. Perhaps in a bid to take the sting out of that memory, Qatar’s national football team hosted Egypt’s Pharaohs for a pre-Cup of Nations friendly match in Doha. Egypt lost, 2–1. Ouch. et
— Newsreel is written by Nadine El-Sayed
“Aren’t you talking about the parallel parliament? Let them have fun.”
9 people died and 44 were injured in road accidents during the heavy rains, fog and sandstorms on December 11–12.
70 percent of Egyptians believe corruption increased during 2010, according to a national survey on corruption and public services by the Cabinet’s Information Decision Support Center. The survey also found 94 percent of respondents believe corruption is a serious problem, while 77 percent said they do not know how to report corruption.
90 percent of the nation’s tourism investments are entirely owned by Egyptians, according to Minister of Tourism Zohair Garrana in a speech to Shura Council’s Housing and Urban Communities Committee.
465 thousand fatwas were issued in 2010, according to the annual report by Al Azhar’s Dar El Ifta. More than 255,000 fatwas were given in response to phone requests, while nearly 113,500 of them were issued online.