In late June, Egypt’s state security court sentenced 31 people, including three members of parliament from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), to up to 15 years in jail for their role in a major corruption ordeal. Sentences were handed down to a group of bankers, businessmen and parliamentarians accused of using five banks during the 1990s to extend or receive unsecured loans valued at EP 1.6 billion ($500 million). The 37-month trial had focused the country’s public attention on corruption in high places. The hearing was rare for its inclusion of active MPs, whose immunity parliament voted to waive prior to the trial. Although this does not mark the first time in which associates of the NDP have been accused of corruption, it came at a politically sensitive period with parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year.
Last December, Egyptian Authorities began releasing a group of imprisoned Jama'ah al-Islamiyah members, the main opposition Islamic movement in the country. This move fell within the framework of general amnesty prior to the month of Ramadan. The number of freed captives reached approximately 1,200, which marks the single largest prisoner release since the launch of wide-scale terrorist attacks in Egypt back in 1992.
Nevertheless, government sources indicated that this amnesty did not signify the beginning of negotiations with extremists, merely the release of prisoners nearing the end of their jail terms. The released prisoners, who originate from various districts, had either been incarcerated for at least 15 years or were being held for interrogation purposes.
Since the discharge of extremists commenced at the beginning of 1998, the number of discharged prisoners has climbed above 4,000. While some observers believe this process reflects a new stage in relations between the government and opposition movements, security sources deny this claim. On the other hand, Islamic quarters and human rights organizations have praised this gesture by the government.
Still, maintaining internal tranquility remains an ongoing concern for the country’s regime. Clashes between Christians and Muslims in southern Egypt erupted in early 2000 during a financial dispute between Muslim and Coptic Christian businessmen in Kusheh. The ultimate consequence was over 20 deaths (mainly Christians) and 44 injuries. More than 20 buildings and several vehicles were torched. While this savagery was not the work of any particular organized group, many of the underlying social tensions that fuel Islamic radicalism endure, especially in the southern regions.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)