The device is said to resemble a bomb detector similar to this one pictured in Israel in 2009. Photo: Getty.
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Egyptian army to launch "miracle" anti-Aids zapper

On Monday the Egyptian government is set to introduce its new – and completely bogus – anti-Aids equipment. Let's hope it quietly ducks out of this promise.

On Monday, the Egyptian army is set to release a new high-tech tool to its arsenal. Except it’s not actually high-tech, and it won’t work. In February 2014, the army first released details on its new detector, which it says can not only detect Hepatitis C and Aids from 500m away, but can cure them.

Major General Ibrahim Atti explained how it works: “I take Aids from the patient, and feed the patient on Aids. I give it to him as a kofta skewer for him to eat. I take the disease, and I give it to him as food, and this is the pinnacle of scientific miracles.”

When this was met with ridicule, the army made a second attempt at a more scientific explanation, involving the use of electro-magnetic waves. Commentators have since noted that the device, described by the Guardian as “an antenna affixed to the handle of a blender”, closely resembles the bogus bomb detection devices sold by James McCormick to governments throughout the Middle East. Last May, McCormick was sentenced to ten years in jail for fraud – an astonishingly lenient sentence considering that he knowingly sold over £38m worth of the completely useless kit to Iraq alone, giving security forces the false assurance that they would be able to avert bomb attacks. Pictures have since emerged of the Egyptian security forces using a device indistinguishable from their anti-Aids zapper to detect car bombs. 

Unsurprisingly, prominent scientists have tried to expose the army’s new device as quack science, but this hasn’t stopped 40,000 Egyptians from requesting the treatment from the government when it's made available early next week. Egypt has one of the highest rates of Hepatitis C in the world, and many ordinary Egyptians struggle to access treatment. If the government finds a way to quietly back out of its commitment to roll out treatment on 30 June, this will shatter the hopes of the tens of thousands who believe the army’s propaganda. But if it does go ahead and introduce what it calls its “complete cure device” this will be much, much worse. 

The whole episode – as well as other recent mad government claims such as that Vodafone was transmitting coded bomb plot information in its adverts starring mobile-phone wielding puppets – reveals how little value the new, military-backed Egyptian government places on the truth. It is this same instinct that led to the tragic jailing of four Al Jazeera journalists earlier this week. And it is very worrying indeed. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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