Egypt’s Sisi names military general as transport minister after train crash

Fire fighters and onlookers gather at the scene of a fiery train crash at the Egyptian capital Cairo's main railway station on February 27, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 March 2019

Egypt’s Sisi names military general as transport minister after train crash

  • The pervious minister resigned after the train crash in Cairo
  • The new appointment is still pending for approval

CAIRO: Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed military General Kamel al-Wazir as transport minister on Sunday, after the previous minister resigned following a train crash that left more than 20 dead at Cairo's main station last month.
Wazir serves as head of the Armed Forces Engineering Authority, one of the main owners of the new administrative capital being built outside Cairo and a developer of large infrastructure and national projects commissioned by Sisi.
The previous minister, Hisham Arafat, stepped down immediately after the Feb. 27 crash, in which a locomotive smashed through station buffers and burst into flames, killing at least 22 and injuring dozens.
"When this (the accident) happened, we said the person who will take over (the ministry) is Kamel al-Wazir," Sisi said during a seminar organised by the armed forces to celebrate martyrs' day.
Sisi told Wazir, who frequently appears alongside the president at public events, that he can call upon any support he needs to revamp the rail system from all state institutions, including the military.
"If you want officers from the vehicles administration, the armoured vehicles or the engineers .. I don't have a problem," he said, as he turned to Defence Minister Mohamed Zaki, who was also on stage along with the speaker of parliament.
He then promoted Wazir from major general to lieutenant general, pinning new epaulettes on his uniform.
The appointment is part of what analysts say is a broader trend to expand the role of the military since Sisi led the 2013 military overthrow of Egypt's first freely-elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Parliament is currently debating proposed constitutional changes that could allow Sisi to stay in power until 2034 and tighten his control over the judiciary.
The changes include amending article 200 of the constitution to add that the military has a duty to protect "the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature".
The military's economic and civilian activities have expanded since Sisi became president in 2014, and companies owned by the military have flourished, causing concern amongst local businessmen and foreign investors.
"This trend is rooted in the claim that the military is uniquely capable of delivering results," said Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
"(This), in turn, justifies the military's expanding control over state institutions and participation in the economy as its businesses and enterprises continue to grow and diversify," he added.

Warning to Turkish artists as singer is jailed for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

Updated 21 July 2019

Warning to Turkish artists as singer is jailed for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

  • Actress and singer Zuhal Olcay was charged with insulting Erdogan using hand gestures at a concert in Istanbul in 2016
  • Turkey’s appeals court has upheld an 11-month sentence, originally imposed last year but suspended

ANKARA: Accusations of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may lead to a jail sentence — even if the “insult” is in private, analysts told Arab News on Saturday.

Turkey’s appeals court has upheld an 11-month sentence on actress and singer Zuhal Olcay, 61, after a complaint that she had changed lyrics of songs and used hand gestures to insult the president at a concert in Istanbul in 2016.

The revised lyrics said: “Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it’s all empty, it’s all a lie. Life will end one day and you’ll say ‘I had a dream’.” Olcay said she had changed the lyrics only because the president’s name fitted the rhyme.

The court confirmed a sentence originally imposed last year, which had been suspended. The singer is expected to spend up to three days in prison, before being released on probation.

“This case highlights the blurring of the public and private spheres.”

Louis Fishman Academic

“Zuhal Olcay is an artist with great stature, and this case shows that no one is out of reach of a judiciary that increasingly has little independence from the government,” Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at City University of New York, told Arab News.

“The message is clear; artists in Turkey should be silent or face legal consequences that can be drawn out for years and eventually lead to prison,” said Fishman, an expert on Turkey.

He said it was significant that the hand gesture at the center of the case had happened at a private concert, and the prosecution began only after it was reported to police by someone in the audience.

“Therefore, this case also highlights the blurring of the public and private spheres,” he said. 

“In other words, there is a growing fear in Turkey of criticizing, or ‘defaming’ Erdogan, not only in public, but also in private. In both cases, vigilant citizens can report such alleged cases to the police.”