Egypt Names Bombing Suspect from Resort Attack

Egyptian investigators say they may have identified one of the suicide bombers involved in Friday's attacks in Sharm el Sheik. Agents believe Youssef Badran, and Egyptian, drove a car full of explosives into the lobby of a luxury hotel. Forensic experts are relying on DNA to identify the bombers and their victims.

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The attack in Sharm el-Sheikh happened just as Egypt set the date for its first multicandidate presidential election. It will take place on September 7th. Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, has not formally said that he's running, but it's widely assumed that he will, and opposition parties say the government has stacked the deck in his favor and against them. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, after the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks, voters are likely to stick with Mubarak, who has led them for 24 years.

PETER KENYON reporting:

On one level this will be a historic election simply because there will be names on the ballot besides President Mubarak's. A key rallying cry for the handful of challengers that has emerged is reform, including new limits on the vast police powers given to Mubarak's administration. Egypt still operates under harsh emergency laws that remain in effect more than two decades after they were passed in the wake of Anwar Sadat's assassination. But analysts say the political dynamic changed completely over the weekend as three large bombs turned a Red Sea town of leisure into a scene of carnage and panic. In a national address after he visited Sharm el-Sheikh, Mubarak, heard here through an interpreter, left no doubt that he considers himself the man to lead Egypt in its ongoing fight against terrorism.

President HOSNI MUBARAK (Egypt): (Through Translator) I, with all Egyptians supporting me, stress that the powers of terrorism will not divert Egypt from its march to achieve peace and stability for its sons, region and nation.

KENYON: Candidates will be permitted to sign up to run during a weeklong registration period that begins July 29th, but the three biggest opposition parties with leftist or Arab nationalist agendas have decided to boycott the race. And two announced challengers, human rights activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and author and lecturer Nawal Saadawi, now say they won't run.

In her early 70s, Saadawi still has the outspoken views that led to her imprisonment during Sadat's presidency. Her gray hair tosses around her head as she animatedly recounts her disillusionment with the new political process. She likens modern-day Egypt to a vast open-air prison with 70 million inmates.

Ms. NAWAL SAADAWI (Author): When I declare that I'm running the election, almost all my meetings were canceled and prevented by the police. They were running after me so that I will be silent. So then how--where is the freedom? Where is democracy?

(Soundbite of protest)

Group of Protesters: (Shouting in foreign language)

KENYON: Even before the bombings, Egypt's opposition was badly splintered. A few days earlier, the National Coalition for Reform and Change had rallied in Cairo. The vast majority of the demonstrators were backers of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and the liberal shouts of `Down with Mubarak' quickly gave way to the Islamist rallying cry, `With our lives, with our blood, we offer ourselves to Islam.'

(Soundbite of protest)

Group of Protesters: (Shouting in foreign language)

KENYON: In the West, the best-known of Mubarak's challengers is Ayman Nour, a previously little-known lawmaker who helped found the al-Ghad, or Tomorrow Party. Nour's name recognition soared after his arrest on what he calls fabricated charges of forgery. Nour's trial has been postponed until late September. That means he can run but it also means Mubarak's supporters can brand him a politician under a legal cloud. At his party headquarters in downtown Cairo, Nour says pushing the elections up to September 7th makes it all but impossible for underfunded opposition parties to mount effective campaigns. Even so, he's not going to give the government the satisfaction of withdrawing.

Mr. AYMAN NOUR (Candidate for President): (Through Translator) The people who have decided to boycott the elections are helping the regime, are helping Mubarak, rather than taking away his legitimacy--they're giving him more legitimacy because they're helping him be victorious when otherwise he would only win if the elections are rigged.

KENYON: Earlier this month US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said he urged Egypt to permit international observers to monitor the vote. Egyptian judges who tried to oversee a recent referendum on a constitutional amendment said the balloting was marred by fraud, as only 5 percent of the 54,000 polling stations had monitors. Counsellor Ishan Bostawisi(ph), closely involved in the monitoring process, says without the addition of thousands of international monitors or an election spread over four days, the vote this September may be suspect.

Mr. ISHAN BOSTAWISI (Election Monitor): (Through Translator) OK, so there is no chance at all--unless the judiciary is supervising all the polling stations and there is complete independence of the judiciary, then there is no chance that the elections will be fair.

KENYON: National Democratic Party leaders dismiss such complaints, saying everything possible will be done to hold free and fair elections. Analysts say in any event if the opposition ever had hopes of unseating Mubarak this year, they probably went up in smoke in the early hours of last Saturday in Sharm el-Sheikh. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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