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.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.