Hot off the press

State-owned newspapers ran with the obvious: President Hosni Mubarak’s visit to the Supreme Court Council on the occasion of the court’s 25th anniversary. Banner headlines reminded us of the importance of the judiciary: In Al-Ahram: "Egypt’s judiciary will remain a bastion of justice and its constitution and judges are the pride of the Egyptian people"; in Al-Akhbar "The Independence of the judiciary is a pillar of society and not a grant from anyone."

The independent daily Al-Shorouq highlighted on their front page that Cairo basically shut down Sunday morning to accommodate the president’s movement, but the paper led with the second part of their exclusive interview with Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna, as well as news of the details of the Muslim Brotherhood elections.

In the first part of the interview, ElBaradei comes out strong against his critics in Egypt, pointing out that "Everyone has the right to express their opinion as to whether I am fit or not [to run in the Egyptian presidential elections], but the bottom line is with the people and not the National Democratic Party (NDP)."

He told Al-Shorouq’s Gamil Mattar that he had not expected the vehemence of the attacks against him "but unfortunately some government newspapers have become mere government bulletins."

For his part, Chief Editor of Al-Ahram Abdel Moniem Saieed also expressed his distress and hurt feelings regarding the criticism of his articles that oppose ElBaradei’s nomination. "The deep wound came as a result of the comments of writers and readers who that said that my article about Dr. ElBaradei were in payment for my having been given the position of Chairman of Al-Ahram."

Hurt feelings aside, as ElBaradei pointed out in his interview, "this is about the future after 2011… [I] believe that the Egyptian people deserve ten times better than what they have now."

The contentious Muslim Brotherhood elections were featured as top news in the independent press and not mentioned in the state-owned press. Will the conservatives or the reformists prevail? It is an internal crisis the likes of which have not been witnessed by the organization in the past 50 years. In an exclusive interview with Al-Shorouq, reformist Brotherhood leader Mohamed Habib says that being murshid, the Brotherhood’s supreme leader, is "not fun. Whoever takes this position will be responsible for the future of the ummah."

In the interview, Habib details what he describes as the malfunctions in the current electoral process and points out that "the regime is clever and has many [security] bodies and these bodies have a great amount of information [about the MB]. More than I have about ourselves and our ideas. Some officers told the MB: ‘please stop writing because the amount of information we have about you is amazing and we don’t know what to do with it all.’ So the security is planning and strategizing."

In another story related to Islamic movements Al-Shorouq mentioned briefly and Al-Dostour ran on the front page, the Administrative Court has decided to give women wearing the niqab the right to live in Ain Shams University dormitories. The ruling overturns university head Ahmed Zaki’s decision to bar student Shaimaa Bakry, who wears the niqab, from living in the dorm.

While few seem to care about yet another step towards consolidating the niqab as a part of Egyptian life, everyone is in uproar over the implementation of a new property tax. News that the start of the tax has been postponed to 31 March was showcased in newspapers across the board.

Commenting on the debate surrounding the implementation of the new real-estate tax, Salah Montassir–who supported the law–recounted in Al-Ahram that in 2008 he had visited the tax office in the Cairo district of Zaytoun and found that there are "11.5 million buildings including 30 million units owned by 12 million owners. What is recorded of these 30 million units is les than one million and only 50,000 of these are recorded at their actual values – the rest being recorded at values much less than the actual."

Corruption, particularly in the real estate sector, was also highlighted in comments published in the state owned press. Notably, Mohamed El Saadani in Al-Ahram criticized the Council of Ministers for inaction against government employees responsible for the Ezbet el-Haggana crisis last week. "[A] decision should have been taken to send all those responsible for allowing the shanty housing of Ezbet el-Haganah to exist to the state prosecutor instead of simply saying that it is important to execute building code laws. There is no meaning for the citizen alone to be responsible for executing the law when the officials are allowed to overlook their responsibilities and walk away."

The delayed implementation of the real estate tax is, according to Al Ahram, because the parliament’s Budget and Planning Committee announced yesterday that extending this period is not the privilege of the minister of finance. Committee chairman Ahmed Ezz "threatened to embarrass the government in front of parliament and sent an urgent memo to the minister of finance saying the latter had ignored attending the committees meetings. ‘I will talk to the prime minister about appointing two finance ministers. One to be only responsible for attending parliament sessions and answering MPs’ questions’" said Ezz, according to Al-Ahram.

Ezz is not the only one unhappy with the mechanisms at parliament. Ibrahim Mansour, managing editor of Al-Dostour, commented on yesterday’s parliamentary discussion of the new education plan, writing, "Of course the Egyptian people do not deny the declining state of the educational process… yet the government can’t take nine questions fielded by MPs. These were aborted by [People’s Assembly Speaker Fathi] Sorour who squeezed them into one three hour session and then announced that 30 NDP MPs requested the closure of the discussion. As if the issue of education in Egypt only deserves one session."

Finally, the wild card was played by Al-Wafd, which led with news of Goat Flu in Egypt. According to the banner "[Ministry of] Health denies registering cases, news of 8 cases and a human case."

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