Sunday’s papers: ElBaradei bows out, parliament steps in

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nobel laureate, announced yesterday that he will not be running in the upcoming presidential elections, whenever those will be. Since ElBaradei was often listed as one of a handful of prominent names who could potentially rule the country, this is big news. How big though? Well, that depends on what paper you read.

If the independent paper Al-Tahrir is your cup of tea, then ElBaradei’s withdrawal is pretty much the most important thing to happen anywhere in the country over the past 24 hours. Al-Tahrir dedicates its entire front page to the news, quoting in full ElBaradei’s statement explaining the reasons behind his change of heart. “My conscience will not allow me to run for president unless it is in the context of a truly democratic system,” he said. Much of his statement was directly critical of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' (SCAF) stewardship of the transitional period.

As is their custom, Al-Tahrir reveals their editorial position on the matter without subtlety. “The presidency has lost, not ElBaradei,” reads a headline on a two-page spread dedicated to the news, which also includes political reactions to the announcement.

Independent Al-Shorouk reports on ElBaradei’s withdrawal but doesn’t splash it over the entire front page. According to their report, members of the SCAF attempted to convince ElBaradei to rethink his withdrawal, or at least wait until after 25 January. He said that he cannot abide running within a system “that would look more like a deal (between the elected government and SCAF)” than a truly democratic system in which the parliament and president are actually allowed to run the country. “It is as if the revolution has not taken place yet,” he said.

The state’s flagship paper, Al-Ahram, focuses on reactions to ElBaradei’s withdrawal on their front-page, rather than the reasons behind his decision, which would force them to prominently print criticism of their military masters. Another government paper, Al-Akhbar, deserves credit for quoting ElBaradei in its top headline, saying “Mubarak’s regime has not fallen.”

Almost ironically, Al-Ahram leads with a half-page story about a meeting in the cabinet between Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri and the top brass of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The FJP’s Secretary General Saad al-Katatny said after the meeting that his party rejects calls for a handover of power on 25 January and insists on the SCAF’s declared deadline of June. Katatny is the FJP’s probable candidate to be president of the parliament, Al-Ahram says. They will most likely get their way as they hold 233 of the 498 possible elected seats, while the Salafi Nour Party won 121 seats. Al-Akhbar posts different numbers, however, saying the FJP won 212 seats and Nour garnered 114.

All papers indicate that political parties are scrambling to cement their alliances before the parliament’s opening session on 23 January. Al-Ahram says that although alliances are not yet set in stone, the FJP is looking to form an alliance with parties holding smaller numbers of seats so that they can easily garner a simple majority for any FJP decisions and proposals, as they only need 23 seats to achieve a majority.

Also on the opening parliamentary session, Al-Shorouk’s reports that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi intends to announce the abolishment of Emergency Law when he addresses the new parliament.

The courts have been busy as ever lately. Al-Akhbar says that the prosecutor will listen to the statements of political activists Nawara Negm, Mazhar Shaheen, Tarek Khouly and Mamdouh Hamza regarding claims that they were behind the mid-December clashes in front of the cabinet building that left the Institut d'Egypte and geological archives in flames. Independent Al-Dostour says the trial of Naguib Sawiris for belittling Islam by tweeting a picture of Mickey Mouse sporting a beard and Minnie Mouse wearing a full-body veil was postponed until 11 February.

Social upheaval continues in many parts of the country, as residents of the Dabaa area on the North Coast, earmarked to become a nuclear energy site, are staging a sit-in on the land, according to Al-Ahram. They are demanding that the government reverse the decision to build a nuclear power plant there.

Families in the Cairo neighborhood of Abbasseya blocked roads to protest continued high prices of propane tanks and their scarcity in the markets. Al-Akhbar’s sources, however, insist that the propane tank crisis is not due to any institutional failures but rather the fault of hoarding merchants who are attempting to inflate prices.

For a bit of comic relief, everyone’s favorite onscreen clown, Tawfiq Okasha, has been banned from presenting his show due to its sheer absurdity. The High Administrative Court ordered that his show Misr al-Youm be suspended from airing “due to its infringements on conditions of broadcast and the code of media ethics.” Al-Shorouk says that Okasha’s private channel, Al-Faraeen, has become a pulpit for libel while its board of directors makes little or no attempt to corroborate the information presented on air. In his show last night, Okasha blamed attempts to take his show off air on Zionist conspiracies lead by the CIA and the Jewish community, reinforcing the absurdity of the show having been allowed to air for this long.

The most prominent piece of cultural news reported in most papers are reviews of Mohamed Heikal’s new book, “The Age of Mubarak,” where he reportedly offers insight into high-level meetings and insightful and personable accounts of the deposed president.

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

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

Al-Nour: Official paper of the Salafi Nour Party

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