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Sisi sacks Egypt's spymaster days after embarrassing leaks

Removal of Khalid Fawzy comes after leaks about Cairo's attempts to back new US policy on Jerusalem
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks at a press conference at the presidential palace in Cairo in December 2017 (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has fired his intelligence chief after controversial leaks to the New York Times appeared to reveal a covert government attempt to convince the public to back Donald Trump's Jerusalem plan.

Sisi's chief of staff Abbas Kamel will serve as interim head of the General Intelligence Directorate, the non-military state branch of the Egyptian intelligence services, replacing Khalid Fawzy, who has served since 2014, according to Al-Masry al-Youm.

Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi suggested that the promotion of Kamel indicated a dwindling pool of potential appointments for the post.

“When Sisi can’t find anyone else but his chief of staff to hand over the general intelligence to, you know there is a deep confidence issue within Egypt’s ruling circles," he tweeted.

The appointment of Kamel followed a cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, two months ahead of a scheduled presidential election.

Among other appointments were Abu Bakr al-Gendi as minister for local development, Rania al-Mashat as tourism minister, Enas Abdeldayem as culture minister and Khaled Badawy as public enterprise minister.

Housing Minister Mustafa Madbuly will continue to serve as interim prime minister while Prime Minister Sherif Ismail recovers from surgery, government sources said.

Egyptians vote in the presidential election on 26-28 March, with a run-off on 24-26 April. Candidates must register between 20 and 29 January.

'War with Egypt'

The Kamel appointment comes a week after a series of damaging leaks to the New York Times and other media outlets, which indicated that the Egyptian government was trying to shift public opinion in favour of US President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The NYT article, published on 6 January, "undermines Egypt's security and public peace, and harms the country's public interest", general prosecutor Nabil Sadek said in a statement.

Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel Aal said the report proved that the newspaper was allied with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, local media reported.

Cairo said it had launched an investigation after a wave of commentary from MPs and pro-government media denounced the Times article as part of an international conspiracy against Egypt.

Lawmaker Mostafa el-Gendy accused the newspaper of being "at war with Egypt" and trying to "bring down the nation, not just the state or the president", wrote the New York Times.

Pro-government television anchors in Egypt called on the Times to explain how they obtained the recordings, suggesting that the newspaper was secretly allied with the Brotherhood and Qatar, according to the report.

NYT stands by story

In four phone conversations, a man named by the Times as Captain Ashraf al-Kholi told talk-show hosts Mofid Fawzy, Saeed Hassaseen and Azmi Megahed and actress Yousra that the Egyptian state wanted highly influential people such as themselves to convince Egyptians that Trump's plan was in their country's interests.

After the article was published, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) said in a statement that no one by the name of Ashraf al-Kholi worked for the intelligence service and denied the accuracy of the report.

The statement added that two of the people mentioned by the report as TV talk show hosts - Fawzy and Hassaseen – had stopped presenting television shows.

Initially Megahed, the other TV host, confirmed the authenticity of the recording, describing the intelligence officer as a long-time acquaintance. But Megahed later retracted that statement, and in an Egyptian TV interview claimed that the Times had misquoted him.

Responding to the claims, the Times's international editor, Michael Slackman, said: "Our story was a deeply reported, consequential piece of journalism, and we stand fully behind it.

"We disclosed in the original report that the audio recordings were provided to the Times by an intermediary supportive of the Palestinian cause, but we had no agenda other than giving our readers the facts they needed to know."

- Additional reporting by Reuters

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