Egypt arrests author, publisher over book on economy

In this March 19, 2018 file photo, an election billboard for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with Arabic that reads, "you are the hope," hangs in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Egypt arrests author, publisher over book on economy

  • The author and the publisher are accused of spreading “fake news”
  • Authorities seized 185 copies of an initial 200-copy run, which had not yet been distributed

CAIRO: Egypt has arrested an economist and his publisher over a book that challenged President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s economic policies, a lawyer said Tuesday, the latest in a wave of detentions in recent years targeting all forms of dissent.
Prize-winning economist Abdel-Khaleq Farouq and his publisher, Ibrahim el-Khateib, were detained Sunday. Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a lawyer for the author, said the two are accused of spreading “fake news,” which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The book — entitled “Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?” — was posted online by activists. Authorities seized 185 copies of an initial 200-copy run, which had not yet been distributed.
The book contains scathing criticism of El-Sisi’s economic policies, accusing the general-turned-president of lacking the vision needed to remedy Egypt’s economic woes.
Farouq blames the country’s poor economy on what he calls the military’s monopoly of power since 1952, when officers toppled the monarchy.
The book’s thesis is primarily a repudiation of an assertion made by El-Sisi that Egypt was a poor country that could no longer afford costly state subsidies on key commodities and services, for decades a cornerstone of state policy to help the poor make ends meet.
In the book’s introduction, the author claims that El-Sisi’s assertion on Egypt’s poverty “exposed blatant ignorance of the realistic and untapped capabilities in Egypt’s economy and society and the lack of vision capable of exploiting these abilities and potential.”
Egypt has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since El-Sisi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Thousands of people have been jailed, mainly Islamists but also several prominent secular activists.
The government has banned all unauthorized street protests and has blocked hundreds of websites, including some run by independent media and human rights groups.
First elected to office in 2014 and now serving a second, four-year term, El-Sisi has made the economy the focus of his rule, with a hands-on drive for fiscal reform, improving infrastructure and the construction of new cities. In exchange for a $12 billion IMF loan secured in 2016, he ordered steep hikes in the price of fuel, government services and utilities. The measures fed popular discontent but did not spark significant unrest.
Egypt’s parliament is packed with El-Sisi’s supporters, and his Cabinet is entirely made up of loyalists, which means that the president’s policies are never effectively challenged. He has on occasion bristled at criticism of his policies, once angrily yelling at a lawmaker who suggested postponing the lifting of state subsidies and on another occasion telling Egyptians to only listen to him.
In a televised address earlier this month, the 63-year-old El-Sisi boasted that he has for 55 years been closely monitoring “every detail, every part and every circumstance” in Egypt. His accumulated knowledge of the country, he said, has given him the will to take difficult decisions.
In the same address, he said Egypt would never realize its aspirations if the state continues to subsidize goods and services. If the rapid growth of the population — which has doubled to 100 million over the last 30 years — is not checked, then there will be no “realistic hope” for economic improvement, El-Sisi warned. “Can a nation prosper while facing such a challenge? How?“
Farouq’s book, according to the text published online, offers suggestions for improving the economy based in large part on fighting graft and waste as well as tax and administrative reforms.


Dozens of migrants refuse to leave container ship in Libya

Updated 12 min 58 sec ago
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Dozens of migrants refuse to leave container ship in Libya

  • Loaded with cars, the ship Nivin was already bound for Misrata when it picked up 93 migrants in a foundering raft in the Mediterranean Sea late on Friday
  • The ship’s cargo of cars was peacefully unloaded, but the migrants remained unmoved

MISRATA: Dozens of migrants have barricaded themselves in a container ship in the Libyan port city of Misrata for the past five days, after being picked up at sea, and refuse to disembark, saying Libya is too dangerous for them.
Loaded with cars, the ship Nivin was already bound for Misrata when it picked up 93 migrants in a foundering raft in the Mediterranean Sea late on Friday and continued toward its destination. Two of the migrants agreed to leave with the Libyan coast guard, but the others refused, saying Libya was deadly for migrants and they wanted to go to Europe.
They have been in the Misrata port ever since, with the captain and crew taking refuge on the upper decks.
One of the migrants, a man from South Sudan reached by The Associated Press on the ship, vowed on Wednesday to reach Europe or die trying. He said six commercial ships passed his group before the Nivin finally stopped.
Libya’s coast guard had no immediate comment on the situation.
With just one rescue ship patrolling the Mediterranean, and European ports refusing to take in rescued migrants, commercial ships have become increasingly leery of picking up people in the sea. Repeatedly in recent months, they have found themselves caught in the middle between governments hostile to new migrants and an obligation under international maritime law to save
The man, who identified himself only by his name, Victor, fearing for his safety, said he himself had already been imprisoned repeatedly in Libya and that his own brother had died there. He had no intention of returning, he said.
“We don’t want to go out in Libya,” he told The Associated Press. “You can come and take my dead body outside.”
Julien Raickman, who is the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Libya, said Europe’s policy of refusing to take in rescued migrants has led to a spike in deaths. Now one in five who cross perish at sea, he said.
Raickman said the Libyan coast guard has given international organizations access to the migrants, who have food and some degree of medical care now, but no toilets or other sanitary facilities. The ship’s cargo of cars was peacefully unloaded, but the migrants remained unmoved.
“We’re afraid that this dispute will end in violence. The people who are on board are determined. They know that they went far and could face charges for taking control of a boat,” he said. “But these are people motivated by despair.”