03/03/2015, 00.00
EGYPT - ISLAM
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Bombs, elections, and convictions on Egypt's path

by André Azzam
A bomb attack yesterday in Cairo killed two people and wounded nine. Two more people died two days ago in Aswan. Many praise al-Sisi's iron fist; others criticise him for being illiberal. The elections planned for March and May were postponed after the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the existing election law. Some Islamists get the death penalty and a number of Arab spring protesters get heavy prison sentences. The president of the Federation of Protestant Churches believes in a better future for Egypt.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - A bomb exploded yesterday in front of the Supreme Court in Cairo, killing two people and wounding nine. Police officers guarding the Court were the apparent objective of the attack. A day earlier, two civilians were killed in Aswan in an explosion in front of a police station. Yesterday five, homemade bombs blew up at various locations in the capital. There were casualties.

Since the ouster in July 2013 of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, attacks have increased against police and the military targets, especially at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former general who became president in May 2014, has vowed to eradicate Islamist violence, but so far has had only limited success.

Although several people accuse him of using an iron fist against all opposition, most Egyptians see him, after many troubled years, as the saviour of Egypt and its economy.

Two days ago, al-Sisi's Janus-like image (as liberator and dictator) came to the fore again, when the Constitutional Court rejected the existing election law. This had the effect of postponing the upcoming March and May parliamentary elections. Egypt's last elected parliament was dissolved as unconstitutional in 2012.

Opponents criticise al-Sisi for the delay, although he did urge the Court to make the necessary amendments to enact a new law within a month. The existing law on electoral constituencies was declared unconstitutional because it did not guarantee fair representation.

Some 5,690 candidates are running for the 420 elected seats in the 567-member parliament, either as independent or on 19 party tickets. Two parties, 'For the Love of Egypt' alliance and the 'Republican Alliance of Social Forces' are openly backing al-Sisi even though the former general does not belong to any party.

Many editorial writers and observers think that the delay in the elections is a positive thing because it would ensure that the electoral process is more democratic.

Meanwhile, Egyptians seem to have well received the decision to uphold the death penalty inflicted on four members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the life sentence imposed on their spiritual leader Mohamed Badie. Their conviction, which was reached last December, was upheld by the Grand Mufti and then again by the Court.

The prisoners had been charged with murder, incitement to murder, attempted murder, weapons possession and association with armed gangs that terrorised people during the clashes that took place in June 2013 in front of the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, in which 12 demonstrators were killed and 91 wounded.

At the same time, public opinion is shocked by a court decision against protesters arrested in connection with the demonstrations on 25 January 2011 against Hosni Mubarak and on 30 June 2013 against Mohamed. The court handed prison sentences ranging between 5 and 15 years for breaking the law against public demonstrations. Well-known activists Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Abdel-Rahman are among those sentenced.

Egyptians are divided between those who see protesters as troublemakers who broke the law and those who slam the sentences against protesters who were simply expressing their opposition to a violent police state.

Last week, President al-Sisi publicly acknowledged the harshness of the ruling and announced that he would exercise his right to pardon.

Meanwhile, the Bar Association two days ago called for justice in the killing of Karim Yahya, a lawyer who was mistreated and tortured at a Cairo police station.

Two police officers were arrested in connection with Yahya's death, but the Bar Association wants the Internal Affairs minister to be dismissed, the publication ban on the matter lifted as well as an impartial and unbiased trial.

In a press interview, Rev André Zaki, head of the Egyptian Evangelical Church and president of Egypt's 17-member Federation of Protestant Churches, expressed his faith in a better future for Egypt.

Increasingly, he noted that the Christian contribution in the anti-Mubarak and anti-Morsi revolutions is being recognised.  Government attitudes towards the country's Christians are also changing. At the same time, the increased recognition of the role Christians play in the nation's life is going hand in hand with greater unity among Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches.

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