Thursday’s papers: Presidential campaigns take dramatic turn, election timetable released

The long-awaited announcement of a presidential election schedule makes headlines in most newspapers Thursday. Al-Ahram leads with: “The presidential poll on 23 May, runoffs on 16 June and the winner to be announced on 21 June.” The state-owned daily quotes Judge Farouk Sultan, the head of the Presidential Elections Commission as saying that the ceiling for campaign spending is LE10 million. Officially campaigns will last from 30 April to 20 May, although many would-be contenders have been rallying support over the past few months.

State-run Al-Akhbar newspaper provides the latest updates on presidential hopefuls, writing that Islamist Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh is expected to resume his campaign today after he was assaulted during a highway robbery last Thursday. He is slated to speak at Alexandria University during the day and hold a campaign rally in the evening. The state-owned paper reports that Amr Moussa, another presidential hopeful, denied that he had accused the April 6 Youth Movement of sabotaging his recent rally in the Delta province of Sharqiya. The report also quotes Abdullah al-Ashal, a political expert who has announced he will run for president, as calling on all candidates to withdraw from the race in objection to the security void that is putting their lives at risk.

Freedom and Justice, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party of the same name, is waging war against Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, who plans to run for president as well. The paper quotes “well-informed sources” as saying that some former state security officers have met with a group of businessmen linked to the disbanded National Democratic Party to map out a plan for backing Shafiq.

Al-Tahrir newspaper reports that the Interior Ministry has announced a new shake-up, 170 days ahead of schedule. The independent paper says that 117 officers were relocated in order to please the Brotherhood, which has been calling for the restructuring of the police apparatus. In the meantime, the privately owned daily downplays the significance of the shake-up, arguing that it does not entail any “radical changes” to the structure of the Interior Ministry. Al-Tahrir quotes security expert Salah Abdel Wahab as saying, “These changes that the interior minister has made are not enough.” He adds: “We do not need to change names only, but to change specializations … and to introduce new technologies.”

The paper also reports that the three judges presiding over the case against NGO employees have recused themselves from the trial. Forty-three employees, including 16 Americans, are accused of receiving foreign funding and conducting the work of civil society organizations without government approval. The report says that the judges made this decision after Justice Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the Cairo Court of Appeal, had asked them to lift the travel ban on the American defendants. “The court considered that an interference with its work and attempt to influence its decisions. Hence, it stepped down from looking into the case,” reads the paper.

Al-Tahrir goes on to report that MP Essam Sultan, the head of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, had filed a request for information to the justice minister about the matter. The paper quotes the request as reading that Justice Ibrahim contacted the judges to convey the government’s demand they lift the ban. Some judicial sources drew links between the judges’ decision to step aside and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that Egypt and the US were holding talks to resolve the matter, according to Al-Tahrir. In the meantime, the paper quotes reformist judge Hesham Geneina as saying that judges should not recused themselves, but they should have filed a legal complaint with another court about the alleged interference.

It is worth mentioning that the travel ban was lifted by another court on Wednesday. The Muslim Brotherhood’s media spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, is quoted in the Freedom and Justice daily as dismissing the judges’ decision as a “dangerous matter.” He also says that the US is exerting pressure on Egypt to influence the case. He went on to say: “The Egyptians shall not surrender to any foreign pressure after the revolution and our judges should only subdue to what their conscience and the law dictate.”

The same paper dedicates almost a full page to a group of lawmakers’ visit Wednesday to the headquarters of the National Security Agency, which was created last year to replace the notorious State Security Investigation Services. During the meeting, agency chief General Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, told the MPs that the apparatus has undergone radical changes to sever all ties with its past practices, according to the paper. Abdel Ghaffar affirmed that the new body is only meant to gather information and has nothing to do with politics. As for its infamous officers, they were sacked and the rest are being trained in the new requirements of their job, he added.

In a column, Waed Qandil, managing editor of the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, bashes Salafi preacher Mohamed Hassan, accusing him of instilling sectarian divisions in Egypt. He features one of Hassan’s recent statements: “We should correct the notion of belonging; one should belong first to his religion and then to his country.” He accuses Hassan of breeding “a divisive” and “isolationist” discourse. “I am asking Sheikh Hassan,” writes Qandil, “would he accept a Christian citizen announcing that his Christianity is more important to him than Egypt?”

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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