Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Authorities raid & close atheist/satan-worshippers' café

Mada Masr

Authorities raid & close 'atheists' cafe' in downtown Cairo

Sunday December 14, 2014

Jano Charbel

Security forces raided and closed what they described as the “atheists’ café” in the Abdeen neighborhood of downtown Cairo, municipal authorities announced Sunday.

The café has also been described as a den for “Satan worshippers.”

 The closure spurred a reaction on social networking sites, with “atheists’ café” trending nationwide.
The mainstream media portal Sada al-Balad reported on Sunday that the coffee shop was raided and demolished.

Gamal Mohie, chief of the Abdeen Municipality, told Mada Masr that the coffee shop in question was not raided on Sunday, but one month earlier, on November 10.

“There was no demolition involved, only confiscation of the coffee shop’s property. This was all done in accordance with the law and legal procedures,” Mohie clarified, adding that the only person arrested during the raid was the owner, “as his coffee shop was unauthorized, unlicensed, and also because drugs were found inside.”

The café had originally been licensed as an import/export and trade office, Mohie explained, adding, “There was no sign reading ‘atheists’ café’ outside, as nobody would put up such a public announcement. However, it was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances. There were also Satanic drawings at the entrance.”

The police chief did not explain how or why atheists might be worshiping Satan in a coffee shop. Atheists deny the existence of both God and Satan, as they deny the existence of both heaven and hell.

The municipal official said the “atheists’ café” was located at 61 Falaky Street in downtown Cairo. He added that it was raided last month, “following noise complaints from local residents. It was later shuttered and sealed off with red wax.”

In response to the news published in the Sada al-Balad portal, social networking sites were flooded with satirical comments regarding the actions of the authorities against perceived atheism.

One Twitter user commented that in light of this incident, “authorities might storm the Café of Vampires very soon.”

Another Twitter user sarcastically commented, “Religion has been introduced to Falaky Street during the reign of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.” Another wrote, “The ruling regime has proven to be a bunch of comedians … Even funnier than the Brotherhood.”

Scores of other users criticized the effectiveness of closing coffee shops as part of the state’s attempt to eliminate the phenomenon of atheism in Egypt.

On Wednesday, religious authorities — citing an alleged survey — announced that Egypt has a total of 866 atheists, a figure which has widely been dismissed as baseless.

Some religious authorities announced outreach programs to eradicate atheism nationwide. This year, Muslim and Christian clerics, alongside police forces, have established committees and launched campaigns to rid the country of atheism.

Being an atheist is not criminalized by Egyptian law, although Article 98(f) of the Penal Code stipulates that individuals found guilty by a court of law of defaming, insulting or ridiculing the heavenly (Abrahamic) religions are to be issued prison sentences ranging from six months to five years, and/or fines of LE500 to 1,000.

Judge sentences democracy activst to 3 years in jail for Facebook questions

Egyptian Democracy Activist Jailed For Accusing Judge Of Bias In Facebook Comments
Ahmed Douma was found to have “insulted the court” after he accused the judge of making anti-opposition comments on Facebook.

David Mack

December 9, 2014

One of the more prominent young democracy activists in Egypt, Ahmed Douma, was sentenced to three years in jail on Tuesday for contempt of court, multiple outlets have reported.

Douma, an activist aligned with Egypt’s secular and liberal democracy movement, was jailed for “insulting the court” after he accused Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata of bias against the opposition.

He questioned whether the judge was using a Facebook account to denounce opposition members, a popular theory among activists on social media.
The judge reportedly denied having an account, saying only people like Douma and “his friends” use the site, according to the English-language site Ahram Online.

The judge then found Douma to be in contempt of court, imposing the jail sentence and fining him almost $1,400. Douma responded by shouting, “Down, down, military rule!” from his court-room cage, according to Reuters.

Last month, Egypt’s lawyers union publicly criticized Judge Shehata for “disparaging” and “terrorizing” Douma’s defense team.

Douma had been on trial with more than 260 other defendants, accused of attacking a government building in December 2011.

He was a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak, but also took part in later demonstrations against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, as well as the current role played by the military in Egypt.

In June, Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata also presided over the notorious trial in which three Al Jazeera journalists – an Australian, a Canadian, and an Egyptian – were jailed from seven to 10 years – on evidence widely denounced as ridiculous – for supposedly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week, Shehata sentenced 188 defendants to death for an alleged attack on a police station in 2013.

*Photo of Douma by Amr Dalsh, courtesy of Reuters
**Photo of Judge Nagy Shehata courtesy of Getty Images


TV host leads police raid on "Gay Bathhouse" - 26 jailed

Mada Masr

TV host works with police to raid Cairo bathhouse; dozens arrested on perversion charges

Monday - December 8, 2014 

Dozens of men were arrested on "perversion" charges in a bathhouse in downtown Cairo’s Ramses area on Sunday, according to broadcast journalist Mona Iraqi, who filmed the security raid.

Iraqi, a presenter on “Al-Mestakhabi” (The Hidden), an investigative journalism show that broadcasts on the privately owned channel Al-Qahera wal Nas, wrote on her Facebook page that she and her team had been investigating the bathhouse, alleging it was a “den of illegal gay sex workers.”

“Today is one of Al-Mestakhabi’s good days — we have to share with you a new and big victory for the program. Al-Mestakhabi managed to shut down a den of group sex for men, and they were all arrested red-handed,” she wrote.

“Success is great and achieving goals are greater,” she added.

Iraqi also posted photos showing dozens of almost-naked men being arrested in the public bathhouse, which she alleged was a popular site for both Egyptian and foreign gay men. She further accused the 60-year-old manager of running a sex ring.

Al-Mestakhabi reporters secretly infiltrated the bathhouse and filmed what Iraqi described as “gay sex parties,” as well as the owner’s “confessions.”

The owner of the bathhouse had kicked Iraqi and her team out of his establishment before security forces conducted the raid.

The first episode on the investigation was to be aired next week, but Iraqi claimed the broadcast would be postponed “to give police forces the chance to raid the bathhouse and arrest those involved.”

Human rights activists and social media users took to the Internet to lambaste Iraqi’s Facebook report, decrying the journalist’s cooperation with police forces as a flagrant violation of citizens’ personal rights.

Homosexuality is not a crime according to the Egyptian Penal Code, and furthermore, Iraqi did not prove any prostitution had occurred in the bathhouse, rights activist Sherif Azer wrote in response to Iraqi’s post.

Responding to the attacks, Iraqi claimed that the investigation was part of her program’s work on social groups that are most vulnerable to AIDS, as International AIDS Awareness Day was December 1.

“In case of public indecency, it has to be done in public. Is the bathhouse a public place? What are the accusations you presented to the prosecution so that they are arrested? If they [the detained men] are really patients of AIDS, they should be treated as patients not criminals and given proper medical support even if it is contagious. Do you accept seeing one of your family members who has a serious disease to be arrested naked by police?” Azer continued.

Others questioned Iraqi’s ethics and journalistic reputation given her cooperation with the police.

“The airing of the two-episodes investigation was adjourned for human, ethical and security reasons, and all the incident’s inside affairs shall be aired in a third episode. We did our work with the highest levels of professionalism and accuracy, and we urge the public not to judge the episodes positively or negatively before watching them,” Iraqi defended herself in a statement released on Monday.

But internet commentators continued to castigate the journalist, accusing her of heedlessly destroying the reputation of the arrested men — whose faces appeared in the photos she posted on her Facebook page — in her pursuit of fame.

US-based rights activist Scott Long blogged about the incident in his blog, the Paper Bird, and suggested the possibility of a government-sponsored campaign against gay rights.

“What’s clear is that another pro-Sisi media organ is working in close collusion with security forces, to produce a sensational show about sex with appalling and terrifying images, to invade privacy and engorge the prisons and destroy innocent people’s lives,” he wrote.

Long highlighted another recent incident in which eight men appearing in a video that allegedly portrayed a gay marriage ceremony were sentenced to three years in prison on charges of perversion.

“This message about ‘networks’ is a menacing constant. Egypt’s powers-that-be treat homosexuality and gender dissidence as political, and — like any kind of politics under an ever more constricting dictatorship — conspiratorial and sinister,” Long added.


*Photo from Facebook page of police-informer Mona Iraqi

 Read also:

Film festival fires TV reporter who led police arrests at 'gay bathhouse'


Yet more mass-death sentences: Court orders 188 to hang for police station attack

Court Condemns 188 Defendants for Police Station Attack
December 3, 2014
An Egyptian criminal court handed down provisional death sentences against 188 defendants on December 2, 2014, the third such mass sentencing this year.

Judge Nagi Shehata imposed the sentences after he convicted all the defendants of participating in an August 2013 attack on a police station in the governorate of Giza, which came to be known as the “Kerdasa massacre” after the neighborhood where it took place. Eleven police officers and two civilians died in the attack, which occurred shortly after the military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

“Mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt’s judiciary whatever reputation for independence it once had,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Instead of weighing the evidence against each person, judges are convicting defendants en masse without regard for fair trial standards.”

The court imposed provisional death sentences, meaning that they will be sent to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s highest religious authority, for his legally required evaluation and advice on whether they should stand. Of the 188 defendants, 135 were present in custody; 53 others were tried and sentenced in absentia. Shehata set a January 24 court date to finalize the sentences.

Prior to this case, a judge in the governorate of Minya imposed 1,212 death sentences in March and April after two trials arising from other attacks on police stations in 2013 that left at least two police officers dead. After receiving the Grand Mufti’s opinion, the judge approved 220 of those death sentences. The judge sentenced 495 other defendants to life in prison.

These mass trials have principally targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, which the government designated a terrorist group in 2013 after Morsy’s overthrow. Among those sentenced to death in Minya was the Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie.

The Kerdasa trial also highlights the role of what some legal analysts have labeled Egypt’s new “special circuits”: judges assigned to handle cases that involve terrorism or organized violence or which are deemed sensitive to national security. In December 2013, the Cairo Court of Appeals appointed six judges from the Cairo and Giza governorates to special circuits. These judges convene for two weeks each month in Cairo’s Police Academy to hear such cases, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper.

Shehata presided over the Kerdasa trial in his capacity as a special circuit judge, hearing the case in the Police Academy. He has presided over a number of other high-profile proceedings. In June, he sentenced three Al Jazeera English journalists to between 7 and 10 years in prison after a trial that was conspicuously unfair. 
He is also presiding over the trial of 270 protesters accused of attacking the cabinet offices during a protest in December 2011, among them prominent activist and hunger striker Ahmed Douma, whom Shehata has not allowed to be moved to a hospital. Shehata has also ordered prosecutors to investigate at least five defense lawyers in that case, including prominent human rights defender Ragia Omran and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali. On November 22, Egypt’s Lawyers Syndicate issued a statement criticizing Shehata for “terrorizing” the defense team and said it supported their decision to withdraw from the case in protest.

A police officer who witnessed the Kerdasa attack told the Associated Press that a mob stormed the police station with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and Molotov cocktails. Graphic video aired by Egyptian media showed slain police officers slumped against one another in a soot-stained room. Local residents, however, told a reporter from El Badil newspaper that police had killed 12 young protesters from Kerdasa and nearby villages between the July 2013 coup and the violent dispersal of pro-Morsy sit-ins that August. 
When residents protested outside the police station demanding that security forces withdraw, they told the reporter, police opened fire on the crowd. The residents claimed that an armed group from outside the village launched the deadly attack but admitted some in Kerdasa provided assistance.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party, limits the circumstances in which a state can impose the death sentence. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the ICCPR, has said that “in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important.” Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment.

“Clearly, serious crimes were committed during the Kerdasa attack and those responsible should be given a fair trial,” Whitson said. “But it isn’t right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings. And no trial that’s so blatantly unjust should send someone to the gallows.” 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

This is how the "justice" system functions in Egypt



*Art courtesy of Carlos Latuff

Independent trade unionism in Tunisia VS. Egypt's state-controlled unions

Mada Masr
A Uniting Union 
Tunisia's labor federation has much to teach Egyptian trade unions

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Behind Tunisia’s ongoing presidential elections, with a run-off already scheduled for December 21, lies an intricate web of power conflicts and mediation.

Moving beyond the traditional labor federation role, Tunisia’s Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) has been playing a pivotal role in helping to resolve national political disputes, as it has been widely credited with helping the country avert bloody power struggles since the revolution.

The UGTT has been an integral mediator in Tunisia’s National Dialogue sessions since 2012. Following political assassinations and heated governmental conflicts, it succeeded in resolving a deadlock between the Islamist Ennahda Party and secular parties in October 2013.

This is when the UGTT moved a crisis-solving initiative that preserved the National Constituent Assembly drafting the constitution, formed a technocratic government and set the dates for the elections.

UGTT’s position in the Tunisian political landscape today sits in stark contrast with that of Egypt’s Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which closely remains within the state’s sphere of influence.

After the July 2013 military-led takeover from the Muslim Brotherhood, it campaigned for a “yes” vote in the January 2014 Constitutional Referendum, a move that also acted as an endorsement for the pro-military regime that followed its toppled Brotherhood predecessor.

In 2014, the ETUF commemorated the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising by campaigning for the presidential bid of military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Acting ETUF President Gebali al-Maragahi announced in his official address: “All of Egypt’s workers and populace call on you o’ Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to nominate yourself for the presidency.”

ETUF would officially join Sisi’s presidential campaign in May. Since then it has organized labor conferences to support the general-turned-president, Armed Forces and the police.

Moreover, the federation has echoed governmental calls to end strikes and industrial actions. In May 2014, ETUF signed a “code of honor” with the Ministry of Manpower to “halt strikes and all other forms of labor protests” until the election of a president and parliament. Parliamentary elections have been slated for 2015.

Some point to the basic difference in the independent outlook, since their inception, between the two workers' organizations.

“There’s almost no common ground on which to compare the ETUF and UGTT. In Tunisia their federation was established for the defense of workers’ rights. While the ETUF is a state-controlled apparatus that has always remained in the embrace of Egypt’s ruling regimes and the Ministry of Interior,” says worker-activist Nagy Rashad, who served as caretaker bureau member of the ETUF.

Secretary of the UGTT’s Educational Workers' Union, Qassem al-Afiya, echoes Rashad’s conviction. During his 23 years in power, he says, “[former Tunisian President Zein al-Abidine] Ben Ali managed to manipulate much of civil society to support his regime, with the exception of the local UGTT unions. The independence of our unions from the government is of paramount importance to us.”

The UGTT’s independence was played out during the revolution where its supportive stance was a major player in breaking Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011.

In late December 2010, scores of UGTT secretaries along with rank-and-file members participated in Tunisia’s protest marches and occupations. However, the UGTT’s executive leadership was reluctant to move against Ben Ali.

The UGTT’s upper rungs were finally pressured into launching a general strike on January 14, 2011 – the day on which Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

Not only did the UGTT call for a general strike during Ben Ali’s last days as president, it also opened its doors to protesters injured on the streets of Tunis, along with making demands to release imprisoned political activists.

The Teachers’ Union was particularly involved in these street protests. “Following great pressures from lower-ranking membership, the top leadership found itself forced to ride the revolutionary bandwagon and support the popular demands of the uprising,” says Afiya, a teacher and trade unionist.

Egypt was different. According to Rashad, the ETUF openly stood against the revolution.

Following Tunisia’s lead, Egypt’s January 25 uprising would be joined with public bus drivers’ strikes, labor protests along the Suez Canal and nationwide industrial actions beginning on February 7 – until Mubarak stepped down on February 11.

Meanwhile, Rashad explains he was summoned to the ETUF headquarters along with other workers and unionists two days prior to the revolution – on January 23 – where “the federation’s leadership and high ranking police officers called on us to refrain from joining the planned protests, or engaging in any strikes.”

During the 18-day uprising, ETUF headquarters closed its doors to anti-Mubarak protesters, while its leadership denounced the uprising in media outlets.

Rashad claims to have witnessed evidence of ETUF leaders actively organizing attacks against the January 25 uprising.

ETUF President Hussein Megawer would later be implicated in organizing attacks on anti-Mubarak protesters – specifically on Tahrir Square, including an attack on February 2, dubbed the Battle of the Camel, resulting in 11 fatalities and over 1,000 injuries.

Megawer was arrested in April and jailed pending trial on charges of instigating the attack. However, in October 2012, the court acquitted Megawer and his 23 co-defendants – mostly figures from Mubarak’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, additional purges and democratic renewals within UGTT ranks are responsible for pushing it forth, while additional governmental intervention has kept the ETUF stagnating in its traditional role, analysts argue.

The UGTT Secretary General Abdelsalam Jerad, and ETUF President Hussein Megawer, were both deposed shortly after the downfalls of Mubarak and Ben Ali. Their executive leaderships have since been replaced – but through very different means.

During the UGTT’s 22nd Congress in December 2011, Jerad and the federation’s old executive bureau were purged and new leaderships were chosen – via elections involving rank-and-file members.

In Egypt, however ETUF’s executive bureau was dissolved on August 4, 2011 - by decree of the interim cabinet. The Ministry of Manpower appointed caretaker committees to replace this executive bureau, and has been doing so for the past three years. Although ETUF elections were scheduled for October/November 2011 they have repeatedly been postponed.

The last time the ETUF held nationwide elections was in 2006.  The decision to dissolve the ETUF’s executive bureau was backed by an Administrative Court verdict in November 2006 – ruling that these elections were invalid due to mass violations and irregularities – including the absence of judicial supervision. 

“We initially had hopes and aspirations regarding our ability to reform this federation. We quickly realized that it is resistant to reform,” says Wael Habib, worker at the Mahalla Textile Company and former caretaker member at the ETUF.

For Habib, the ETUF is doomed to remain a state-controlled entity, “especially if no progress is made in reforming the outdated Trade Union Law (35/1976.)”   

In 2014, several of the ETUF’s constituent unions have filed lawsuits to ban or outlaw independent unions in accordance with this law. These unions have sprung up in response to the state's control over ETUF.

The UGTT’s relevance today arguably stems from its ability to serve the interests of the workers it represents, which is considered to be less the case with ETUF. The 750,000 member union represents a national workforce estimated at four million people and includes nationwide professional associations, industrial and service workers’ unions, with blue-collar and white collar workers, in both the public and private sectors.

“The UGGT has always stood by our side and our demands, although we sometimes wish they’d act quicker to resolve our problems of punitive sackings and increased unemployment,” says Abdel Qader Selim, a Tunisian textile worker and unionist.

With the official unemployment rate in 2014 at 15.2 percent, Tunisia has the highest rate of joblessness in North Africa.

As for the ETUF membership, it has declined since the 2011 uprising. It currently claims around 4 million members – from Egypt’s national labor force of approximately 28 million – and consists of 23 general unions and around 1,900 local union committees, largely industrial and service sector unions – primarily in the public sector.

The history of both establishments gives reason to understand the level of their independence today.

The UGTT was freely and officially established on January 20, 1946, coming into existence a decade prior to independence from France, and prior to Tunisian state control.

Armed with a long history of strikes and labor resistance against French colonialism, the UGTT has aligned with national independence leaders. Nevertheless, it was subjected to crackdowns in the late 1970s at the hands of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba.

Subsequently the UGTT’s upper rungs would be coopted to some extent. Its executive bureau endorsed Ben Ali’s presidential bids and re-elections. However, the more independent lower rungs were subjected to dismissals, arrests and police harassment under both Bourguiba and Ben Ali.

As for the ETUF, its origins date back to 1957. Established by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser as the only legally recognized union federation, it has remained under the influence of the Ministry of Manpower since then.

Since the 1950s, tens of leaders from the ETUF and UGTT served as members of parliament in both Egypt and Tunisia, typically representing the ruling party. While several of their top leaders have served as ministers.

Meanwhile, the ETUF and UGTT have entirely different track records when it comes to labor strikes.

While thousands of strikes have taken place in Egypt over the past few decades, the ETUF has officially authorized only two: the national miners’ strike in 1993, and the Tanta Flax and Oils Company strike in 2009.

The ETUF has not staged a single general strike in its 57-year long history.

In contrast, the UGTT continues to authorize both local and general strikes for its members’ rights – as it has over its nearly 70-year history.

*Photos by Jano Charbel

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Photos: Protests against Mubarak regime acquittal in Abdel Moneim Riyad Sq.

Peaceful protesters chant against Mubarak, Sisi & military rule

Elderly activist holds signs commemorating martyrs of the January 25th Revolution, denouncing the governments of Mubarak & Sisi
Well over 2,000 joined peaceful protests near Tahrir Square, numbers were growing until police cracked-down around 9pm

Chants against Ministry of Interior & police brutality
Strong criticism of the judiciary and their verdicts
Riot police trucks deployed in front of army APCs in Tahrir Square, sealed-off by barbed wire barriers. Water cannons, tear gas, and shotguns were used to forcefully disperse the peaceful protesters. At least one protester was killed, tens of others injured and arrested.