Monday’s papers: Salem’s release in Spain and a call for youth to organize amid debate

The release on bail of Hosni Mubarak associate Hussein Salem continues to get front page coverage, some quite contradictory.

On today’s front page of state-owned Al-Ahram, a small headline reads, “A diplomatic source: Complete collaboration with Spain on the issue of Hussein Salem.” In the story, the “high-level diplomatic source” told Al-Ahram that Salem’s release in Spain doesn’t mean that he is free. The source added that there is much collaboration between Spain and Egypt on the matter, and it’s based on this that Salem was arrested in the first place.

The privately-owned Al-Shorouk, however, leads with “Israel pressured Spain not to hand in Salem to Egypt.” In the story, the paper quotes “a high-level Israeli security source” as saying that Israel has exerted a lot of pressure on Spain so that Salem isn’t returned to Egypt, where he faces corruption charges. The paper says that is the reason why he relinquished his Egyptian citizenship – which has complicated the legal quest to extradite him. The source added that Israel’s pressure is a reward for the gas deal brokered by Salem, through which Egypt exports gas to Israel at lower than international rates.

An enticing headline on the “Full story of the fall of Mubarak’s black box” in the state-owned Al-Akhbar leads to some insights about how Salem was arrested, and also highlights Egypt’s role in the arrest. According to the paper, there is an extradition agreement between Egypt and Spain that Justice Minister Mohamed al-Guindi asked to be activated. According to Adel Fahmy, of the International Cooperation Unit of the Ministry of Justice, the fact that Salem has both Egyptian and Spanish nationalities obligates Spain to either extradite him or try him before Spanish courts on the charges brought against him in Egypt. Fahmy said Egypt has sent an official request to the Spanish authorities for an explanation for Salem’s release and the possibility of appealing it. Al-Akhbar says Salem left Egypt on 29 January for the United Arab Emirates, then went to Romania and then Switzerland before settling in Madrid. Directly contradicting Al-Ahram’s report, a judicial source told Al-Akhbar that the arrest of Salem has nothing to do with Egypt's request to Interpol for his arrest. Spanish authorities arrested him due to some dubious financial transactions he conducted in Spain with his Turkish partner.

Further on high profile investigations, Al-Akhbar runs another strong front page headline, reading “Military investigations into arms deals Mubarak is implicated in.” There has been no previous mention of the military's direct involvement in the investigation and prosecution of Mubarak, except for an unsupported report by the privately-owned Al-Dostour that suggested that the toppled president might be tried in a military court. In the brief story run by Al-Akhbar, the military prosecutor is reportedly investigating charges that Mubarak received money for facilitating arms deals for the armed forces. The case files were immediately transferred from the public prosecutor to the military prosecutor when issues related to the armed forces arose.

Al-Ahram adds more insight to the issue by stating that there hasn’t been enough evidence presented to the military prosecutor to support the charges against Mubarak, who denied his involvement.

On the political transition front, headlines continue to deal with reactions to certain political players' demand that the constitution be drafted prior to elections, an idea vehemently rejected by most Islamists, who are seen as the forces most ready to compete at the polls. A new presidential hopeful, the controversial Islamist Selim al-Awa, is quoted in the privately-owned Youm7 as saying that those making such demands are “devils in humans.”

Al-Akhbar’s contribution to the debate today is through the State Council’s take on the matter, as it is the main judicial authority in the country. According to Mohamed Atteya, vice president of the State Council, such a demand would require a public referendum to pass. Al-Ahram leads by stating that the ruling military council denies it is considering the demand and is committed to holding elections on time. The story adds that the council expressed willingness to have constitutional guarantees on which all political forces agree.

Beyond the roadmap for the transition, Arab thinker and former Israel Knesset member Azmi Bishara spoke exclusively to Al-Shorouk on the importance of creating a context-specific “Egyptian model” of post-dictatorship rebuilding, transcending the experience of Tahrir to reinstate new ruling elites.

In the interview, Bishara added that the success of this model will be influential in the region at large. He characterized the conversation about whether the constitution should be written before or after the elections as “one of the past ruling elite,” and this mode must be replaced by more involvement from youth in decision-making processes.

Accordingly, Bishara urges young people to get together more consciously, beyond parties, to articulate 10 main values to be upheld in the constitution and to meet regularly to discuss how the revolution should be protected. He warned the youth not to be distracted by foreign funding flooding the country for democracy building in the transition, the function of which could be detrimental to their involvement in the political process.

Bishara's view is that the foreign-funded Palestinian civil society movement has been taken away from politics and that no democracy can be built without national sovereignty. He is critical of the state receiving foreign funding in general, as it would “reproduce the same political elite of the past, through a development model that prevents Egypt from being like Brazil, but makes it closer to Pakistan.” He thus called on the youth to develop a discourse toward not only political but also economic issues.

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-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

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

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