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Briefly: Middle East

- - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

EGYPT

Sheik proposes bill of rights for Egypt

CAIRO — The head of Al-Azhar, the pre-eminent institute of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, put forward a bill of rights on Tuesday upholding freedom of expression and belief ahead of the drafting of Egypt's new constitution.

The bill, which was in the works for three months, is a bid by Al-Azhar to assert its role as the voice of moderate Islam in the face of growing political power of more conservative Islamic groups in Egypt following the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The conservative Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized political force, and the more radical ultraconservative Salafis have won a majority in the country's first elected post-Mubarak parliament.

Both call for an Islamic basis for the state, raising worries among Egypt's liberal and Christian groups that conservative religious teachings will dictate the shape of the new constitution.

In theory, parliament is to be in charge of nominating who will draft the document.

The Al-Azhar document appears aimed at establishing a religious backing for preserving broader rights that liberals and Christians fear conservatives will try to limit.

Al-Azhar's Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb told reporters the bill of rights - which would preserve freedoms of worship, opinion, scientific research, and art and creative expression - is drafted to be a basis for the country's new constitution, according to comments published by Egypt's state news agency.

In a message to Egypt's increasingly nervous Christian minorities, he said Islamic rulings protect freedom of religion and guarantee equal citizenship rights,

IRAQ

Bombs kill 10, including 3 schoolboys

BAGHDAD — Three schoolboys were among at least 10 people killed in Iraq on Tuesday in the latest in a wave of bomb attacks to hit the country since U.S. troops pulled out.

The bombs exploded in predominantly Sunni areas north of the capital. They followed deadly car-bomb blasts the evening before and pushed the number of Iraqis killed to more 90 in less than a week.

The increase in violence comes as Iraq's leaders remain locked in a political crisis that is stoking tensions between the Shiite majority in power and the country's Sunnis, who benefited most from ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's rule.

Many of the earlier attacks in recent days targeted Iraq's Shiite majority, raising fears of a serious outbreak of sectarian violence following the withdrawal of U.S. troops last month. Large-scale sectarian fighting pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006-7.

Tuesday's youngest victims were the three boys, nine and 10 years old. They were hit by a roadside bomb on their way to school near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, police and hospital officials said.

Northwest of the capital, two agriculture ministry workers were killed and a third was wounded when a bomb stuck to their car exploded in Sharqat, about 155 miles northwest of Baghdad.

ISRAEL

Harsh penalties approved for illegal migrants

JERUSALEM — Israel's parliament on Tuesday approved harsh new penalties on illegal migrants and Israelis who help them, building on other contentious measures designed to stanch the flood of Africans seeking sanctuary here.

The bill allows imprisonment of illegal migrants for an unlimited time without trial. People caught helping them could face prison terms of up to 15 years.

Critics deplore the new law as an unconstitutional trampling of human rights. They accuse the government of failing to formulate a coherent, humane policy on illegal migration that would address an issue that has become increasingly urgent over the years.

"I am not familiar with a Western country that allows such a law," said Asaf Weipzen, a lawyer for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group.

Detentions in other countries are finite, and the European Union, for example, has an 18-month limit on incarceration, Mr. Weipzen said.

Africans began trickling into Israel through its porous southern border with Egypt's Sinai desert after Egyptian security forces violently quashed a demonstration by a group of Sudanese refugees in 2005.

The number of migrants surged as word spread of safety and job opportunities in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. The government estimates 50,000 Africans - the overwhelming majority from Sudan and Eritrea - have illegally entered Israel since then.

From wire dispatches and staff reports