Tuesday’s papers: Madinaty fallout and a loss of American hope

State-owned Al-Ahram leads off its front page with comments from Minister of Housing Ahmed al-Maghrabi defending the government’s controversial sale of 8000 feddans of desert land to the Talaat Mustafa Group (TMG) for construction of the Madinaty housing development. Al-Maghraby is quoted as saying the initial sale was “more than fair.”  

In June, an administrative court invalidated the sale, saying the bidding process had been closed and secretive. After a summer of legal back-and-forth, a government-appointed legal commission this week essentially restored the status quo by allowing the initial annulment of the contract while at the same time permitting the government to simply resell the land to TMG again.

According to the Al-Ahram article, al-Maghraby hailed the renewed contract as the best possible option to serve the public interest. But the fight might not be over. Al-Ahram also quotes Hamdi al-Fakhrani, the architect whose lawsuit prompted the original contract annulment, as saying he plans to continue his campaign. Al-Fakhrani, according to Al-Ahram, intends to pursue further legal avenues “until the land for the project is offered in an open public auction available to all [development] companies.”

Al-Ahram also comments on what it claims is “a loss of hope” on the part of the US government over the Israeli government’s decision against extending a ten-month moratorium on construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the newspaper says, is in urgent consultations to formulate a response and is considering pulling out of the nascent US-backed peace negotiations.

Independent daily Al-Shorouk features a Talaat Mustafa-centric front page. One story promises behind-the-scenes details of the government decision-making on the Madinaty land case. The article quotes anonymous “judicial sources” saying that Minister al-Maghraby convened a 23-member special committee and consulted with experts from the Finance Ministry to determine the new price for the land when it was re-sold to TMG this week. In the end, Al-Maghraby set a price of just under LE10 billion–a sizable sum to be sure, but still well below the original sale price of nearly US$3 billion–more than LE15 billion.

A second front-page Al-Dostour article explores the latest twists in the murder retrial of Hisham Talaat Mustafa himself, head of TMG. Mustafa was sentenced to death in May 2009 for allegedly ordering the 2008 murder of his former lover, Lebanese singer Suzanne Tamim, in Dubai. But the death sentence was overturned, leading to an ongoing retrial.

The article, citing anonymous court sources, claims that Mustafa was spending up to US$200,000 per month on Tamim, funneling the funds through a Swiss bank account.

Al-Dostour also covers Monday’s cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. According to the newspaper, the Madinaty case dominated much of the cabinet discussion, with Nazif calling for new laws to clarify and streamline similar large land deals. Nazif and al-Maghraby discussed at length how to ensure that the Madinaty debacle doesn’t “weaken the trust of foreign investors in the Egyptian economy,” Al-Dostour reports.  

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-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run

Rose el-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat

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

Sawt el-Umma: Weekly, privately owned


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