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Egypt presses ahead with ridiculed medical device

CAIRO — Egypt’s military on Saturday pressed ahead with promotion of a fanciful device it claims can diagnose and cure AIDS and hepatitis, announcing that it would be tested in the next six months on larger numbers of patients in army hospitals.

It was another sign of the times in Abdel Fattah Sisi’s Egypt — coming on a day that also saw a prominent human rights activist’s failed bid for release from prison, the killing of four police conscripts in the restive Sinai Peninsula by suspected Islamist militants and a bombing in the capital that claimed the life of a teenage girl and her mother.

Sisi, the former military chief who was sworn in three weeks ago as president, has presided over what has been shaping up as an apparent continuation of the harsh policies of the interim government that took power last July after elected President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist, was overthrown by the military.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to bring its followers into the streets this week to mark the one-year anniversary of their leader’s ouster after massive nationwide protests against his rule.

The military’s supposedly miraculous medical device — a metal gizmo that has been described as resembling a kitchen hand mixer — drew wide ridicule when it was unveiled in February as the invention of an army general. Even a science adviser to the then-interim president, Adly Mansour, said the claim it cures viruses had no scientific basis.

Nonetheless, at a news conference Saturday, with only selected Egyptian news media outlets allowed to attend, officials again said that it had already successfully treated some patients and that the device would now be used on 160 more for testing purposes over the next six months. Egypt has an extremely high rate of hepatitis C, which is generally considered to be among the most serious of the hepatitis viruses.

As the military was trumpeting its alleged medical breakthrough, a court in the coastal city of Alexandria adjourned until next month the appeal of a human rights campaigner and lawyer who had been sentenced to two years in jail for violating a tough anti-protest law that took effect late last year. From the defendant’s cage, Mahienour al-Massry unleashed defiant chants as she was taken back to jail.

By official admission, about 16,000 government opponents are behind bars, with the figure estimated by rights activists as being far higher. Egypt’s courts in recent months have emerged as a prime enforcer of the government’s harsh crackdown on dissent — primarily moving against supporters of the Brotherhood, but also taking aim at secular figures such as al-Massry.

Many of these court cases have been internationally denounced as lacking any semblance of fairness or due process. In the weeks after Sisi’s inauguration, a court upheld a mass death sentence for 183 defendants, and another judge sentenced three journalists from the broadcaster Al-Jazeera English to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges. One of the trio received an additional three years for possessing ammunition — a single spent bullet casing picked up as a souvenir, his employer said.

The journalists’ sentencing on Monday sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups, but Sisi said the next day he would not “interfere” with actions of the judiciary.

Much of the retired field marshal’s popularity stems from his promises to aggressively battle Islamist armed groups. Violence attributed to them increased sharply in the months after Morsi was deposed and hundreds of his followers were killed when authorities broke up protest camps set up by his supporters.

Many of the confrontations have taken place in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian troops and soldiers have been seeking to eject militant groups that ensconced themselves during Morsi’s rule. On Saturday, four police conscripts were shot to death after gunmen intercepted the van in which they were traveling near the Sinai town of Rafah.

Insurgents have also been attacking military installations and singling out high-ranking members of the security forces for assassination. In the latest such attempt, gunmen early Saturday targeted a police official outside his home in the northern Sinai city of El Arish, state media said. The official escaped but two men accompanying him were killed.

Over the winter and spring, violence spilled over from Sinai into heartland Egyptian cities including Cairo. But a series of bomb attacks, including a major strike in Cairo in January, had eased around the time of Egypt’s presidential election in May.

The bombing campaign could be picking up again, at least on a small scale. A homemade device exploded early Saturday in a building under construction in Cairo, and the wife and 15-year-old daughter of a watchman at the site were reportedly killed.

The blast came three days after a series of crude devices exploded in four metro stations and near a courthouse during Cairo’s morning rush hour. There were several injuries but no deaths. Sisi’s government, without citing proof, blamed the Brotherhood.

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(Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report.)

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