Wednesday’s papers: Mubarak in the Gulf and Boutros-Ghali on the campaign trail

State-owned flagship daily Al-Ahram leads things off with a curious editorial decision on Wednesday. With parliamentary elections looming on Sunday and the whole country focused on domestic affairs, Al-Ahram tops its front page with news of President Hosni Mubarak’s current diplomatic tour of the Arabian Gulf. Mubarak is shown warmly greeting Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, upon arriving Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.

The accompanying article is a classic example of the Al-Ahram foreign relations coverage template–revealing almost no useful details and relying on the usual catchphrases about the two leaders’ discussions of “issues of mutual interest” and their joint desire to “enhance cooperation” between their respective nations. Mubarak travels to Qatar today, presumably to have the exact same discussion there with Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Lower down on the front page, Al-Ahram turns its attention to the elections. But the pair of front-page election-related stories seem weirdly focused on trivialities. One story spends a disproportionate amount of space talking about an Administrative Court decision to reject a lawsuit by former MP Mohamed Badrashini asking that the elections be cancelled in Alexandria’s Gharbal district. The details are slightly tedious, but its safe to say there was very little chance of an Egyptian court being able to unilaterally cancel the election five days before the vote. So why is this a front page story?

A second story quotes a new report by the Hans Zeidal Foundation, a German NGO, predicting that the National Democratic Party would win the vast majority of the 508 People’s Assembly seats up for grabs on Sunday. The report, according to Al-Ahram, estimates that the Wafd Party will emerge with eight seats–a lower number than many people here expect–and that independent candidates affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood will win 65 seats–which is probably a little more than many, including some Brotherhood leaders, are predicting.

The inside pages of Al-Ahram bring us a little more meat with three dedicated pages of election stories. Among the highlights: seven Muslim Brotherhood activists arrested in Qalyoubiya have had their detentions extended, 67 local civil society organizations have been issued licenses to monitor the elections; and a brief visit to a Giza electoral district where a “state of calm” exists and millionaire NDP incumbent Mohammed Aboleneen is judged to have no serious challengers.

Among the privately owned press, it’s all elections and football on the front pages. Both Al-Dostour and Al-Shorouk give major coverage to the appointment of Abdel Aziz Abdel Shafi, AKA “Zizo” as interim technical director of the Al-Ahly Club football team through January.

On to politics: Al-Shorouk brings us serious allegations from Mohamed Saad al-Katatni, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc. Al-Katatni tells the newspaper that his campaign rally in Minya was besieged by thugs–allegedly supporters of his NDP opponent General Shadi Abou Ela and among them Alou Ela’s brother. One of them, al-Katatni claims, attempted to “attack him with a knife.” In almost any other country, this would be a potentially explosive allegation. But the campaign trail in modern day Egypt is a pretty rough place.

Al-Shorouk also brings us an amusing front-page picture of Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali on the campaign trail in Shubra. Normally Boutros-Ghali, as befitting a man of his position, appears soberly dressed and deeply serious. But this time he’s looking comparatively festive, smiling and waving to the crowd, and apparently tossing out candies to the crowd.

Egypt's papers:

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-Shorouk: 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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