Egyptian police question, release son of jailed ex-president

Egyptian authorities detained the youngest son of jailed former President Muhammad Mursi on Wednesday for questioning on charges of spreading “fake news,” then released him on bail. (AP)
Updated 11 October 2018
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Egyptian police question, release son of jailed ex-president

  • State security men and a special forces officer took Abdullah Mursi at dawn along with his ID and mobile phone from the family house outside Cairo.
  • Mursi's family says it has seen the former president only three times since his arrest.

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities detained the youngest son of jailed former President Muhammad Mursi on Wednesday for questioning on charges of spreading “fake news,” then released him on bail.
State security men and a special forces officer took Abdullah Mursi at dawn along with his ID and mobile phone from the family house outside Cairo, his brother Ahmed said. The brother later confirmed that Abdullah Mursi had been released, but said the phone wasn’t returned. Neither of the two responded to further requests for comment.
Attorney General Nabil Sadek issued a brief statement late Wednesday ordering the release on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($280) on the charges after questioning by Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution.
Abdullah Mursi told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he would be pressing a campaign to seek more visitation rights and better health care for his ailing father, who has been held in solitary confinement since he was overthrown in 2013 by the army, which was led then by current President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Abdullah Mursi, a 25-year-old business student, has been waiting outside Cairo’s notorious Tora prison for hours once a month to leave money for food and necessities for his father, hoping for a chance to see him. But almost every time for five years he has been denied.
The family says it has seen the former president only three times since his arrest, and all in prison visits closely monitored by police officers.
The family says the 67-year-old Mursi is suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure that have been exacerbated by harsh conditions, including sleeping on the floor and years of isolation. Relatives say that at times he has been in a diabetic coma.
Abdullah Mursi said his father has “no idea what’s going on in the country since he was arrested, they don’t allow him newspapers,” any access to news, or even a pen to write with.
With Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood group banned and branded a terrorist organization, and the family banned from travel, a campaign to improve Mursi’s conditions has been run from London, where several prominent British politicians have backed it.
During his tumultuous year in office, Mursi’s opponents accused the Brotherhood of trying to use election victories to dominate the state. Mursi cracked down at times on protesters and used executive powers to force through policies, but he never managed to control the levers of power, facing opposition in the courts and among police.
In the end, his opponents organized mass demonstrations against his rule, and it was against this backdrop that El-Sisi overthrew him.
Since then, the government has largely crushed the Brotherhood with a heavy crackdown. Tens of thousands of Egyptians have been arrested since 2013, the vast majority of them accused of working with or for the group, says the US-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
Vaguely worded legislation in Egypt allows wide-ranging prosecution on accusations of “fake news.”
Authorities have over the past year blocked some 500 websites, including those of independent media and rights groups. Authorities have claimed such websites supported “terrorism” or reported “fake news.”
Egypt was ranked 161 out of 180 countries in the 2017 Press Freedom Index, according to Reporters Without Borders advocacy group.
Parliament has passed a bill targeting popular social media accounts that authorities accuse of publishing “fake news,” the latest move in a five-year-old drive to suppress dissent and silence independent sources of news.


One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.