Thursday’s papers: ‘Facilitated’ debts, dispute over Israeli actions

Al-Ahram leads with a story that is good news for farmers across five Egyptian governorates. In an attempt to, as the paper puts it, “close the case” on debts owed by farmers–a sum total of approximately LE186 million–the Bank of Agricultural Development and Credit will reportedly cancel all interest fees and provide those in debt with the option of paying back now, or in interest-free installments over a ten-year period. Farmers who pay immediately will receive significant deductions, ranging from 20 to 50 percent, depending on the amounts owed, according to Al-Ahram. The initiative was approved by Minister of Agriculture Amin Abaza.

Al-Ahram fronts and Al-Akhbar leads with clashes between Israelis and Palestinians yesterday. “Egypt requests Israel immediately ceases provocative actions,” read identical headlines in both papers. The Foreign Ministry–under direct orders from Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit–summoned the Israeli chargé d’affaires in Egypt to deliver a message to his government officials, namely to protest the “provocative” and “illegal” actions taken recently by the Israeli government in Jerusalem, the papers reported.

Both papers report on the meeting between the Israeli official and Hossam Zaki of the Egyptian foreign ministry, but Al-Akhbar provides more details on the conversation, during which Zaki said that measures taken by the Israeli government over the past few weeks are “perpetuating the struggle” between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Israeli official reportedly responded that the Egyptian government “has taken an excessive interest in ongoing developments in Jerusalem,” to which Zaki replied, “Egypt recognizes the danger of the current situation, which is fueled in part by the confrontational actions of Israeli extremists.”

State papers report that following the meeting, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit sent out a series of letters to leaders from the Middle East quartet–comprised of Russia, the US, the UN, and the EU–which allegedly announce Egypt’s “rejection” of the Israeli government’s actions while simultaneously requesting that leaders “take a firm stance” in their Moscow meeting tomorrow.

Al-Akhbar also includes some good news on its front page. Michael Bock, the German ambassador to Egypt, wished President Mubarak well on behalf of the entire German population. Bock went on to express the German people’s “appreciation” of President Mubarak, who has over the years, “been able to build bridges between East and West.” The German ambassador went so far as to claim several churches in Germany have held special prayer services for the Egyptian President during his recent gallbladder/tumor removal. The comments came during a meeting between Bock and Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, in which the two discussed potential ways to “correct” the image of Islam around the world.

Al-Shorouq also features a story on President Mubarak’s recent resurgence in Egyptian media. Following his emergency operation in a German hospital two weeks ago, the president had remained unseen up until a brief video broadcast on Egyptian television last Tuesday showed him in the company of men dressed as doctors. Al-Shorouq described the broadcast as representing Mubarak’s “commitment to transparency,” while advising “do not anticipate more images anytime soon.” The comments were made by Abdel Latif el-Minawy, head of Al-Shorouq’s news center in Egypt, who denied that the broadcast was a response to rumors. “It is the right of every Egyptian citizen to know the state of health of their president, regardless of any rumors,” said el-Minawy. “We do not need [to see] any more visual reports–the population has been reassured,” he added.

Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie warned of an inevitable “explosion” in Egypt, according to quotes in Al-Shorouq. “We [the Brotherhood], the system, and even the tyrants are all in the same boat, and we won’t let them destroy it,” vowed Badie. “We will all sink.”

Badie proceeded to describe Egypt as “a room full of gas, about to explode,” explaining that “if the windows of freedom are not opened soon, all will perish.” His statements came during a celebration held by the Brotherhood yesterday evening in honor of members recently released by the authorities following the government’s latest crackdown on the organization.

Al-Wafd continues its media war with Al-Masry Al-Youm, under a headline that reads “Al-Wafd president reports Al-Masry Al-Youm to attorney general.” According to his own paper, Wafd party head Mahmoud Abaza filed a complaint with Attorney General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud against Al-Masry Al-Youm for a headline run by the paper last Sunday. The offending headline claimed the possession of documents revealing a clandestine agreement between Wafd and the ruling National Democratic Party, granting Wafd party members 23 seats in parliament if they agree to support neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor Mohamed ElBaradei in upcoming elections.

For the fourth consecutive day, Al-Wafd continues to ask the same questions over Al-Masry Al-Youm’s possible “motives for lying” while debating its status as an independent paper. In a somewhat unsurprising, but no less irritating turn of events, NDP member and Shura Council Speaker Safwat el-Sherif has gotten involved, providing a backup chorus to Abaza’s broken record, lyrically describing Al-Masry Al-Youm’s reports as “calumny.”

Egypt’s newspapers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run
Rose el-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party’s Policies Secretariat
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouq:Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party
Youm7: Weekly, privately owned
Sawt el-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

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