President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi pardoned 100 prisoners on Thursday, in light of the major Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. Among the pardoned individuals were two Al Jazeera journalists, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.
Pardoning prisoners on Eid al-Adha is a tradition of sorts in Egyptian politics, and in a statement Sisi’s office said that the act was grounded in humanitarian and health reasons, and that it was “in line with the president’s initiative last December to release detained youth.”
Many of the prisoners were prominent left-wing activists arrested for protesting against the government, which quickly began to serve as a source of criticism against Sisi’s administration by the international community. Many were quick to note that Sisi’s pardon came one day before he was scheduled to travel to a United National General Assembly gathering in New York.
Fahmy and Mohamed, along with a third journalist colleague who was released in February, Peter Greste, were arrested in December 2013 at a hotel in Cairo after being charged with broadcasting false news. The Egyptian government also accused the journalists of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, although sound evidence was never presented to support these claims.
The United States
In his first visit to the United States, Pope Francis delivered an address to Congress on Thursday in which he challenged the nation’s elected officials to break out of partisan paralysis to heal the “open wounds” of the world.
“Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples,” said the bishop of Rome to a joint meeting of Congress. “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”
Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, took up issues that his predecessors have long shied from, including immigration, the death penalty, the arms trade, environmental legislation, religious liberty and abortion. Many pundits noted how the Pope’s address catered to both liberals and conservatives, although his rhetoric concerning the former was much clearer.
However, the Pope’s influence on Congress was far from significant. The Senate was quickly back to a stalemate as the Democrats and Republicans quarreled over whether to defund Planned Parenthood or not.
Following his speech, Pope Francis visited a local church where he addressed the issue of homelessness. He mingled with a crowd of homeless people, among them felons, mentally ill individuals, victims of domestic violence and substance abusers. Pope Francis chose to spend his last few hours in the Capitol in a nontraditional way, to the surprise of many.
On Friday, President Enrique Pena Nieto announced the creation of a specially designated unit to investigate the case of the disappearance of 43 students last year.
President Nieto’s announcement came after meeting with the relatives of the missing students in light of the first anniversary on their disappearance.
Despite the president’s efforts, the families of the students voiced their wish for an international commission of experts to lead the investigation. They believe the government’s special unit is fundamentally flawed and have suggested that the Mexican army played a role in the disappearance of the students.
The students disappeared on September 26, 2014 in the city of Iguala in Guerrero state, where they had gone to gather for a commemoration.
The Mexican government has said that local police officers had apprehended the students and gave them to a local drug gang, which allegedly killed the students and burned their bodies.