By Marwa Al-A’asar
CAIRO: Former TV host and columnist Hamdy Qandil will stand trial before the Giza Criminal Court on Saturday for charges of insulting and defaming Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in a column published in the daily independent Al-Shorouk newspaper.
The official charges state that Qandil “defamed and insulted a government employee [Aboul Gheit] while on duty.”
During the interrogation, Qandil told the prosecutor that he did not intend to offend Aboul Gheit personally, adding that he had the “public’s interest” at heart.
“Qandil did not mean to offend Aboul Gheit. He meant to criticize his performance as a minister,” said Assem Qandil, the defendant’s brother and a member of the defense team.
Qandil retaliated by accusing Aboul Gheit of insulting him and inciting the public against him after an article in which Qandil criticized the current interests of Arab citizens, describing them as being “the nation of Mohannad” (a Turkish TV series hero) instead of a nation of Prophet Mohamed.
The prosecutor, however, has shelved Qandil’s complaint against Aboul Gheit.
During the first hearing on Nov. 20, Aboul Gheit’s lawyers called on the judge to include Al-Shorouk publisher Ibrahim El-Moaleim as an opponent in the case, calling for both the latter and Qandil to pay LE 20 million in compensation.
Qandil’s defense team called on Aboul Gheit to testify in person, but the judge did not officially summon Egypt’s foreign minister.
The court is expected to look into the video recordings of press conferences during which Aboul Gheit gave statements against Palestinians who attempted to cross the border into Egypt as well as a press conference with his Israeli counterpart.
Qandil and his lawyer declined to express any speculations about the coming session. Neither did they expose any defense plans.
“By all means I can’t speak on behalf of the 12-member defense team, or reveal our plans,” he told Daily News Egypt.
On May 3, Qandil wrote an article titled “The Homeland’s Disgrace and that of the Citizen,” concluding it by denouncing the state for its normalization with Israel.
In his column, Qandil fiercely criticized contradictory remarks made by both Egypt’s ambassador to Israel and Aboul Gheit.
“Egypt’s ambassador to Israel has confirmed that he lives in [a friendly] country, which contradicts earlier statements by the foreign minister, describing Israel as an enemy,” he wrote.
Qandil added that the reason the ambassador made this comment was to correct the foreign minister’s previous gaffe. He further said that the foreign minister made his statement “inadvertently.”
“Usually words fall from his mouth like garbage falling out of a torn rubbish bag,” Qandil wrote.
“Qandil is not the only one who criticized Aboul Gheit. Other journalists and writers did as well,” the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said in a statement Thursday.
“Not only did this minister fail to preserve Egyptians’ interests and dignity abroad, but also resorted to prosecuting those who criticized his performance,” the statement added.
Qandil is known for his scathing criticism of Arab regimes. A TV show he used to host was halted more than once on several satellite channels.
Qandil is also a founding member of the National Association for Change (NAC) which is lobbying for political reform demanded by opposition leader and former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei.