Egypt’s El-Sisi urges big voter turnout, denies sidelining rivals

Girls walk by a poster of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election, in Cairo, Egypt March 19, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Egypt’s El-Sisi urges big voter turnout, denies sidelining rivals

CAIRO: President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has urged Egyptians to come out in force and vote in next week’s election to show they are in charge, a day after he denied any role in sidelining his political rivals.
The incumbent will stand in the March 26-28 vote against just one candidate whose half-hearted campaign poses little to no threat, after more heavyweight rivals were sidelined or detained.
“I need you because the journey is not over,” Sissi told a mostly female audience in a speech. “I need every lady and mother and sister, please, I need the entire world to see us in the street” voting.
“Even if they vote ‘no’. It’s still a big deal and a respectable thing which will be implemented... We should affirm to the world that this country is ruled by its people.”
The former army chief was first elected in 2014, a year after ousting his predecessor Muhammad Mursi following mass protests against the Islamist.
Critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent, and in the run up to the election a rival, former army chief of staff Sami Anan, was detained shortly after announcing his candidacy.
The army said the reserve general broke the law by illegally declaring his candidacy.
Another potential contender, former premier Ahmed Shafiq, was deported from his exile in the UAE after declaring his candidacy, then taken by government officials to a Cairo hotel where he stayed until he announced a change of heart.
In an Egyptian television interview on Tuesday, Sissi said he had nothing to do with either case, or two other candidates who withdrew from the race citing restrictions.
Another army officer, a colonel, has been sentenced to six years in prison for announcing his candidacy while still enlisted.
“You’re talking to me about something I cannot be blamed for at all. I swear, I wished there were one, or two, or three, or 10 candidates...and you choose whom you want,” he said.
The only candidate left in the race, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, had been a cheerleader for Sissi until the last day before the deadline for candidate registration expired.
His critics say he entered the race to spare Sissi the embarrassment of a one-man election, redolent of the referendums held by autocrats.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced in absentia nine alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to life imprisonment for forming a “terrorist cell” to plot attacks on security forces and other institutions.
Life sentences in Egypt are equal to 25 years, and the suspects, who remain at large, can be re-tried once they are apprehended.
The Cairo Criminal Court also sentenced another 13 defendants to 10 years each on similar charges, including planning to kill public figures and security officials, and joining an outlawed group, a reference to the Brotherhood. Two minors were sentenced each to two years. Those 15 suspects are in custody and their sentences can be appealed.
Egypt designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization after the 2013’s removal from power of President Muhammad Morsi, a senior Brotherhood figure. Morsi has been jailed and sentenced to death.


UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

Updated 23 April 2018
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UAE to rebuild Iraq’s iconic Mosul mosque destroyed in Daesh fight

  • UAE donates over $50mn to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri
  • The five-year project aims to give hope to Iraqi youths

BAGHDAD: The United Arab Emirates and Iraq on Monday launched a joint effort to reconstruct Mosul’s Great Mosque of Al-Nuri and its iconic leaning minaret, ravaged last year during battles to retake the city from militants.
During the ceremony at Baghdad’s National Museum, UAE Culture Minister Noura Al-Kaabi said her country would put forward $50.4 million (41.2 million euros) for the task.
“The five-year project is not just about rebuilding the mosque, the minaret and the infrastructure, but also about giving hope to young Iraqis,” she said.
“The millenia-old civilization must be preserved.”
The deal was signed by Kaabi and her Iraqi counterpart, Faryad Rawanduzi, in the presence of UNESCO’s Iraq representative Louise Haxthausen.
“This is an ambitious, highly symbolic project for the resurrection of Mosul and Iraq,” said Haxthausen.
“The work has already begun, the site is now protected... we must first clear the site, remove the rubble (and) document, before we can begin reconstructing the mosque and its minaret.”
The famed 12th century mosque and its leaning minaret — dubbed “the hunchback,” or Al-Habda, by locals — was destroyed in June 2017.
The Iraqi army accused Daesh militants of destroying it with explosives as Iraqi forces steadily retook ground in the embattled city.
It was in this mosque in 2014 that Daesh’s self-proclaimed “caliph,” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, made his only public appearance as leader. His whereabouts are still unknown.
Kaabi, the Emirati minister, called on the international community “to unite to protect universal heritage sites, especially those in our Arab region” in theaters of conflict.
The Al-Nuri mosque is named after Nureddine Al-Zinki, who once ruled over Aleppo and Mosul and ordered the construction of the mosque in 1172.
Al-Habda, which maintained the same structure for nine centuries, was one of the only remnants of the original construction.
Decorated with geometric brick designs, the minaret was long a symbol of the city.
It was printed on 10,000 Iraqi dinar banknotes before it became a symbol of Daesh rule, when the militants planted their black flag at the top of its 45-meter spire.
“This is a historic partnership, the largest and unprecedented cooperation to rebuild cultural heritage in Iraq ever,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.
The first year of reconstruction will focus on documenting and clearing the site, UNESCO said.
The following four years will focus on the restoration and “faithful reconstruction” of the mosque, its minaret as well as the city’s historic gardens and open spaces.