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South Africa’s increasingly cosy relationship with coup Egypt

Is Sheikh Bassiouni a victim of South Africa’s increasingly cosy relationship with coup Egypt?

Shoks Mnisi Mzolo

The past five months have been hellish for Sheikh Abdus Salaam Jad Bassiouni, a South African citizen who was detained on arrival in Egypt without trial in December. Bassiouni, a diabetic academic and clergy with roots in the North African country, is held in Tora prison – notorious for brutality and human rights violations. Foreign affairs, which has not made contact with the Tora inmate’s family, is duly accused of turning a blind eye and relying on Cairo’s narrative and neglecting to approach Bilal Bassiouni, Sheikh’s son, who was there and interrogated as well.

In the first week of his detention, at the beginning of December, he sustained a severe back injury. “We are told that Sheikh slipped while making wudu but we also know that Tora prison is quite renowned for torture and physical abuse. So, we are very concerned about these injuries because they have not been treated to date,” Media Review Network (MRN) chairman Zakir Mayet told Cii, and discussed what the medical report recorded. “Those documents call for urgent medical intervention and assistance by an external medical practitioner.”

While openly blasting Pretoria’s response to Bassiouni’s detention, without trial, in a foreign country, Mayet noted that the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has since entered the fray. He expected the LRC’s coming on board could help get things moving – that includes Sheikh’s consulate access, treatment, protection from Tora’s ritual torture, and journey to justice – and facilitate progress to a just conclusion. Mayet feels, with the LRC’s intervention, there could be news, of where this matter is headed, as early as Thursday.

Whichever way this unfolds, it doesn’t explain Pretoria’s failure to negotiate Sheikh’s release as it blindly accepted Cairo’s narrative – which Mayet feels is plain “ridiculous”. Whether Bassiouni was involved with now-criminalised Ikhwaan Muslimeen, which was outlawed by the advent of the junta, is yet to be tested or communicated. Why has the state (that includes consulate) not intervened and updated the family?

“It’s perplexing. To be totally honest this is unbecoming of our state. We know that the South African government turned over every stone and every leaf when it was the Pierre Korkie issue but in this particular instance we see a very lax, and a very slow and comatose way of dealing with the issue of and one has to ask the question: why is this? And to date that is what the problem, we have no answers for this,” said Mayet. In the meantime, it seems, rumours were circulating that Sheikh had been released, he added. “A few of them surfaced yesterday.”

At the same time, the MRN leader cited a growing link between Pretoria and Cairo, a dictatorship since the ouster of the now-imprisoned Mohammed Morsi in 2013. President Jacob Zuma, Mayet said, was in talks with his Egyptian counterpart. That militarist’s junta, Mayet said, was not only illegal but is liable for massacring so many ordinary people especially those pushing for change. Even journalists citing Al-Jazeera staff, were, like Bassiouni, subject to Cairo’s paranoia and illegal coup regime. He blasted the unwelcome precedence Pretoria was setting.

“There are indications that the South African position towards the Egyptian government has softened. We know that our president, Jacob Zuma, was in meetings with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. We know that certain ministers had traveled, prior to that, to South Africa,” Mayet said of the probable financial gains and the dictator’s “craving” for legitimacy. “Yes, (there are) the questions as to why South Africa has acted this way. We are deeply disappointed as South African citizens because it creates this impression that if you are, by chance, (detained in a foreign country) and you know there’s no charge against you what is the protection of South African citizens. Now he’s sitting in a prison without trial.”

Mayet, who urged Cii listeners to support social media campaigns and the “Free Bassiouni March”, likely mid-May, was hopeful that it was now a matter of time before Sheikh was released from prison and sent back home. Missing in Egypt’s narrative is that the man was nabbed on arrival, and sent to Tora, while in that troubled country for his daughter’s engagement. “To date there’s been no charge,” Mayet said. “There has been an Egyptian lawyer present at one particular hearing but even that lawyer did not have access to the charge sheet. He has not seen it.”

Congo-Brazzaville becomes first African country to ban the Niqab

Agencies | 26 Rajab 1436/04 May 2015

Congo-Brazzaville has banned Muslim women from wearing the full face-veil in public, citing security reasons, an Islamic association told news agency AFP on Saturday.

“The Interior Minister (Raymond Zephirin Mboulou) notified us of the decision to prohibit Muslim women from wearing the full veil. The decision was taken in order to prevent any act of terrorism and insecurity,” said El Hadj Abdoulaye Djibril Bopaka, who heads the Islamic Supreme Council of Congo-Brazzaville.

“Muslim women can now only wear the full veil at home and in places of worship, but not in public places,” he said, adding that only a tiny minority of women in Congo-Brazzaville actually cover their faces and entire bodies.

The ban does not affect any other kind of veil, leaving exempt other variants of Hijab such as headscarves, khimar, shayla, al amira and chador.

Bopaka said the authorities had made a “good” move, citing reports that “some non-Muslims have been using the full veil to hide and to carry out uncivic acts”.

Congo-Brazzaville is home to some 800,000 Muslims in a population of nearly six million. Only 10% are local with the rest coming from Arab or neighbouring west African nations.

Unlike its neighbour Cameroon, which has suffered fierce attacks by the Nigeria-based jihadist group Boko Haram, Congo-Brazzaville has not been hit by any such terror attacks.

Targeting the Muslim veil usually also arouses issues of personal freedom and religion in addition to security. The Congo-Brazzaville’s move would make it the first country to do so in the region.

Globally, only Belgium and France have a national ban on wearing the burqa in public, with fines in place for violation, but even Muslim majority countries have considered restrictions, mainly on security concerns.

A handful of other countries have local bans such as Russia and Switzerland, but none in Africa. Tunisia spent the last year debating the issue, but there has been no clear outcome on government plans to tighten restrictions on the veil.

The country has dabbled with issue since the 1950s.

Almost one third of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims reside in Africa, with the earliest Islamic presence on the continent spanning back to the 7th century. The religion is predominant in the northern half of Africa—North Africa, the Horn and Sahel, and West Africa.

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