Thursday’s papers: Alleged gunmen in custody, rising tensions between Islamists and opposition

Topping the news in Thursday’s papers are three chief developments: the arrest and detention of two Islamists, increasing tensions between the Islamist and opposition camps ahead of Friday protests, and the second phase of a constitutional referendum scheduled for Saturday.

The independent Al-Watan newspaper runs a headline reading, “Hazemoun member possessing machine gun and 150 bullets arrested.” The article claims that Ahmed Arafa initially confessed that Salafi Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail had paid him LE20,000 to purchase the rifle and ammunition for use in future operations, but later retracted his statements.

Al-Watan mentions that, along with the machine gun and bullets, security forces confiscated two laptops and other material from Arafa’s home. The suspect’s mother has filed a complaint against the Interior Ministry, alleging that security forces dressed in civilian clothing stormed the house in the middle of the night and detained her son.

State-owned daily Al-Ahram quotes unnamed “security sources” as denying the raid on the suspect’s home and allegations of torture. The state mouthpiece reports that Arafa had purchased a machine gun for LE13,000 from an arms dealer in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya.

On Tuesday, Khalil Osama, bodyguard for Muslim Brotherhood leader and financier Khairat al-Shater, was also arrested. Al-Watan publishes three photos of the defendant acting as a bodyguard at events with high profile Brotherhood members. Osama is seen (with his face encircled in red) standing next to President Mohamed Morsy and other leading figures. The privately-owned daily states, “Shater’s bodyguard is ever-present in photos of Morsy and [Freedom and Justice Party head] Saad al-Katatny.”

Al-Watan reports that Osama is being held for questioning for 15 days following his arrest for possession of an unlicensed firearm. Independent Al-Shorouk newspaper adds that Osama is being held in Tora Prison, and his detention can be renewed for an additional 15 days.  

The opposition Al-Wafd newspaper runs photos of former presidential candidate Abu Ismail under an English headline reading, “WANTED.” In captions to the photos, the partisan paper describes Abu Ismail as a “terrorist holding the degree of sheikh” and Abdel Rahman Ezz, a young Islamist, as a “thug under Brotherhood protection.”

The Wafd Party’s headquarters were attacked on Saturday night during the first phase of the constitutional referendum, reportedly by armed Islamists. The party’s newspaper accuses Hazemoun of being behind the attack, along with Brotherhood members/sympathizers like Ezz.

While Abu Ismail denied any relationship to the attack on Wafd, the newspaper disregards such denials. This paper also runs a feature claiming, “State of militias will burn down Egypt.” This feature denounces not only the attack on the Wafd Party headquarters, but also condemns threats — allegedly made by Hazemoun — against journalists and newspapers.  

Independent Al-Fagr runs a photo of Abu Ismail under the headline, “The Suspect.” The article alleges that there is “no accountability for the misdemeanor crimes committed by Abu Ismail.”

Al-Fagr continues that, “Abu Ismail should be sentenced to at least fifteen years in prison for the crimes he committed.” These crimes, according to the paper, include: “Forgery of official documents, besieging Media Production City and terrorizing its employees, issuing physical threats, performing construction without license, stealing/diverting public electricity, and destroying others’ property.” Al-Fagr concludes, “neither Abu Ismail, nor any members [of the Hazemoun movement] have been brought to account for these crimes.”

State mouthpiece Al-Ahram writes, “Following the Wafd headquarters… Masked arsonists target Al-Tawheed Wal-Nour [an Islamist-owned department store chain].” The paper notes that one suspect from a group of 15 people was arrested while setting fire to a branch of the store in Abdeen on Wednesday.  

In further tensions between Islamists and opposition forces, Al-Watan reports, “Islamist current to organize its forces for a million-person protest dubbed ‘In protection of Mosques.’”

The privately-owned daily says that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups, along with Jama’a al-Islamiya and Hazemoun, are planning a mass rally in Alexandria on Friday outside Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque to denounce an incident last week. After Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahalawy delivered a sermon in which he urged “yes” votes on the draft constitution, anti-constitution protesters reportedly besieged the mosque, trapping the sheikh inside for at least 12 hours.

Finally, the next phase of the constitutional referendum, which will take place in 17 governorates on Saturday, also captures headlines. Independent Al-Tahrir newspaper quotes unnamed judges as saying that no more than 650 judges will supervise the vote, in spite of the executive authority previously stating that several thousand judges were required to monitor polling stations nationwide.

Al-Tahrir also quotes an anonymous member of the Administrative Prosecution as saying these prosecutors will also boycott the second stage of the referendum.

The government had already decided to hold the referendum over a two day period —15 December in 10 governorates and 22 December in the remaining 17 — due to a shortage of judicial supervisors.

State-run Al-Ahram runs an indecisive and unclear article entitled, “Contradictions among judicial authorities regarding supervision of the second stage of referendum.” The article notes that the Administrative Prosecution would boycott the poll, but with regard to other judicial authorities merely states, “It is up to the judges’ discretion as to whether or not they will oversee the referendum.”

Meanwhile, privately-owned Al-Shorouk reports that Local Development Minister Ahmed Zaki Abdeen has announced that the second stage of the referendum will proceed according to schedule, as polling stations have been prepared to receive voters on Saturday.

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-Watan: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Al-Sabah: 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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