Today’s papers: Mubarak and Qadhafi, anti-sectarian protests

In today’s news, state-owned and independent papers covered a range of issues from football and diplomatic visits by President Hosni Mubarak to the retrial ordered by the court of cassation for the murderer of "Heba and Nadine," two friends, one the daughter of a singer, in an upscale Cairo suburb last April.

Al-Ahram led with news of President Mubarak’s meeting with Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. The two heads of state will discuss Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as bilateral relations and Egyptian investments in Libya, which, according to the paper, are worth US$150 billion. The two leaders also discussed preparations for the Arab League Summit to be held in Tripoli on 27 March, where Arab leaders will discuss Hamas’ approval of a reconciliation agreement with rival Palestinian factions. Otherwise, the short visit was uneventful and the paper did not carry statements from either Mubarak or Qadhafi.

Al-Shorouq led with news of a protest yesterday against religious discrimination. The protest was attended by several secular and political activists, including the National Committee for Combating Sectarian Violence. The protest was staged in downtown Cairo near the parliament and was otherwise ignored by most media outlets. The demonstrators, according to the independent newspaper, said that religious tension reached an unprecedented level with the Naga Hammadi incident in which six Coptic deacons were shot dead on Christmas Eve. The activists called for putting into effect the first article of the Egyptian constitution, which guarantees justice for all. The protesters, according to Al-Shorouq, demanded Interior Minister Habib el-Adly be held accountable for "his extreme failure in providing protection to citizens and their property, whatever their religion."

Many newspapers carried reviews of last Sunday’s football victory that earned Egypt its third consecutive title at the Africa Cup of Nations. Al-Dostour denied rumors that super-sub Mohamed "Gedo" Nagy, the highest goal scorer of the tournament, will be signing a contract with Egyptian football club Zamalek. Al-Dostour, edited by Ibrahim Eissa, carried the juiciest news spots in comparison to similar outlets, including quoting Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Erian saying that the Brotherhood is "ready to make concessions" in an effort to ally with other opposition political forces. El-Erian’s statement comes in the wake of a vicious power struggle between reformists and conservatives within the group, a struggle that ousted the group’s number two and left many established members bitter or disgruntled.

El-Erian’s statements came during a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate, which brought together partisan representatives and pro-democracy political leaders, including Hamdein Sabahi of the Karama Party. The leaders agreed on general issues, which include expanding efforts to fight corruption and the need for more face-to-face interaction with the grassroots, something that opposition forces and pro-democracy groups have been accused of ignoring. Conference participants said that ideally the different forces should unite over demands ahead of holding a national general conference that brings together all government opponents and advocates of political change.

"The political forces present need to agree on a goal that all the Egyptian people can work toward and rally around," said Sabahi during the conference, according to Al-Dostour. Writer and novelist Alaa el-Aswany, in his column, said the country is currently in a phase similar to that between 1948 and 1952, before the Free Officers’ coup. "They were certain that the old system worked no more, and that a big change is about to take place," el-Aswany wrote of mid-century and contemporary Egyptians.

Meanwhile, Eissa launched an attack against the ruling National Democratic Party in his weekly column. Al-Dostour’s editor-in-chief alleged that the government is spending considerable amounts of money to improve the party’s image in the United States and also in an effort to establish Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and the party’s second in command after Secretary General Safwat el-Sherif, as the next leader of Egypt. "The Egyptian government is covering up the fact that it pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to drum up support for President Mubarak and the NDP in the US, including signing deals with PR and media giants in order to lobby the US State Department for the benefit of the Egyptian government," wrote Eissa. He added, without disclosing his sources, that the NDP have hidden this information from parliament.

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