Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yemen: Heavy toll of Saudi-led assault on civilian non-combatants

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

Saudis Should Not Repeat Use of Cluster Bombs
March 28, 2015

(Beirut) – The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab countries that conducted airstrikes in Yemen on March 26 and 27, 2015, killed at least 11 and possibly as many as 34 civilians during the first day of bombings in Sanaa, the capital, Human Rights Watch said today. The 11 dead included 2 children and 2 women. Saudi and other warplanes also carried out strikes on apparent targets in the cities of Saada, Hodaida, Taiz, and Aden.

The airstrikes targeted Ansar Allah, the armed wing of the Zaidi Shia group known as the Houthis, that has controlled much of northern Yemen since September 2014.

In January, the group effectively ousted the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi. Human Rights Watch found that on March 26 warplanes struck populated urban neighborhoods in Sanaa and observed Ansar Allah forces who appeared to be firing anti-aircraft weapons from residential neighborhoods.

“Both the Saudi-led forces and the Houthis need to do everything they can to protect civilians from attack,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Reports of air strikes and anti-aircraft weapons in heavily populated areas raise serious concerns that not enough is being done to ensure their safety.”

The governments of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan said that their warplanes also participated in airstrikes on March 26 and 27. Pakistan and Egypt provided naval support and the United States provided intelligence and logistical support, media reports said.

Interior Ministry officials linked to Ansar Allah shared with Human Rights Watch details of their final casualty count from the bombings in Sanaa on March 26.

They said that warplanes bombed various parts of the city, including Bani Hawat, a predominantly Houthi neighborhood near Sanaa’s international and military airports, and al-Nasr, near the presidential palace.

The officials said they had documented that 23 civilians had been killed and 24 wounded. Among the dead were 5 children, ages 2 to 13, 6 women, and an elderly man, they said. The wounded included 12 children, ages 3 to 8, and 2 women.

These numbers are consistent with information provided by two hospitals that Human Rights Watch visited. At the hospitals, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of 11 civilians, including 2 women and 2 children, whose names were not included among those provided by Interior Ministry officials as well as 14 more wounded, including 3 children and 1 woman.

Amnesty International reported that bombing destroyed at least 14 homes in Bani Hawat.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether specific attacks complied with the laws of war, which apply to the armed conflict in Yemen. The laws of war prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian property, or that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and fighters.

Attacks that cause casualties or damage disproportionate to any anticipated military advantage are also prohibited. All parties to the conflict have an obligation to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from harm, and not to deploy forces in densely populated areas.

Saudi Arabia’s past use of cluster bombs, which are indiscriminate weapons, raises concerns that they will be used in the current fighting, Human Rights Watch said. There is credible evidence that in November 2009 Saudi Arabia dropped cluster bombs in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate during fighting between the Houthis and the Yemeni and Saudi militaries.

Cluster munition remnants from the 2009 airstrikes, including unexploded submunitions, have been reported by a number of sources. In July 2013, Yemeni clearance personnel photographed unexploded US-made BLU-97 and BLU-61 submunitions. In May 2014, VICE News published photos and a video shot near Saada showing numerous remnants of US-made CBU-52 cluster bombs deployed in 2009.

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of submunitions. The submunitions are designed to explode when they hit the ground but spread over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time of attack at risk of death or injury. In addition, many submunitions do not explode on impact but remain armed, becoming de facto landmines.

The US provided Saudi Arabia with significant exports of cluster bombs between 1970 and 1999. Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch has urged Saudi Arabia and Yemen to join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use of cluster munitions in any circumstance.

“Saudi forces should publicly reject any use of cluster munitions and recognize that their use could have a devastating impact on civilians,” Stork said.

To satisfy Saudi paymasters, Sisi ready to send ground troops into Yemen

The Guardian

Yemen conflict poised to escalate as Egypt says it is ready to send troops

Houthi rebels say country will be ‘graveyard of invaders’ if ground offensive follows Saudi-led air strikes

Thursday 26 March 2015

People search for casualties at a bomb site near an air base in Sana’a, Yemen.

The possibility of a ground offensive in Yemen has grown significantly as Egypt declared its readiness to send troops into the embattled country “if necessary” in the wake of air strikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition.

Arab officials still hope the air campaign – launched late on Wednesday and backed by the US, Gulf states, Egypt and Turkey – will weaken the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who are attempting to overthrow President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and make a ground offensive unnecessary.

But the rebels’ leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi, declared that Yemen would be the “graveyard of invaders” if the coalition launched a ground invasion and called for an end to what he declared an illegal, unprovoked aggression.

Hadi, who fled to Aden earlier this month, arrived in Riyadh on Thursday, Saudi state television reported.

The campaign, Operation Decisive Storm, threatens to spark a regional confrontation between Iran and its Arab rivals, who are increasingly anxious at the Islamic Republic’s growing influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

“Egypt has declared its political and military support, as well as its participation with the coalition with an aerial and naval Egyptian force, as well as a ground force if necessary, in light of Egypt’s historic and unshakeable responsibility towards Arab and Gulf national security,” Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, told a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Sharm el-Sheikh on Thursday.

Three senior Egyptian security and military officials told the Associated Press that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would lead a ground operation in Yemen after a campaign of air strikes to weaken the rebels, saying the forces would enter by land from Saudi Arabia and by sea from the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. They said on Thursday that other nations would also be involved.

They would not specify troop numbers or say when the operation would start, only that it would be after air strikes weakened the rebels. They said the offensive aimed to push them into negotiations on power sharing.

Houthi, the rebel leader, delivered a defiant television address late on Thursday, calling on all Yemenis to mobilise in preparation for a ground invasion and decrying the “idiotic, stupid aggression.”
“These criminal, collaborative powers will discover that they committed a huge error with this aggression,” he said. “If any armies come to occupy, the Yemeni people will prove once again that Yemen is the graveyard of invaders.

“Do not enter into more stupidities. Stop immediately or all options are open,” he added. “If this aggression continues, there will be no surrender.”

Kuwait’s foreign minister urged the Yemeni factions involved in the conflict to come to Saudi-hosted talks to end the crisis, to prevent the country from “sliding into more chaos and destruction.”

The Gulf states have intervened on the ground before in recent years, with Saudi troops moving in to quell the uprising in Bahrain in 2011 in support of the Sunni Khalifa monarchy, which rules over a Shia majority. But a ground intervention in Yemen would pose major challenges, pitting the coalition against an insurgent movement backed by Iran with important redoubts in the country’s north.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, called for an “immediate cessation of military activities” in Yemen in phone conversations with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, the Kremlin said on Thursday.

Iran, which has aligned itself with the Houthis, strongly objected to the Saudi air strikes, urging their immediate halt.

“We demand an immediate stop to the Saudi military operations in Yemen and we believe they are an infringement to Yemen’s sovereignty,” said Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to the semi-official Isna news agency. “These operations will only lead to bloodshed and we will spare no efforts to contain the crisis in Yemen.”

Ali al-Noaimi, a prominent UAE columnist for the state-run newspaper al-Ittihad, said the Gulf states were ready for a ground intervention but were hoping the air strikes would create “paralysis and shock” among the Houthis and energise the popular opposition to their rule, compelling them to retreat and avoid the need for a land offensive.

Saudi Arabia deployed 100 fighter jets and 150,000 troops for the operation, according to the Saudi-owned news channel al-Arabiya. The UAE also contributed 30 fighter jets, Kuwait and Bahrain 15 each, Qatar 10 and Jordan six.

Egypt is also providing naval support, deploying four warships to secure the Gulf of Aden, maritime sources at the Suez Canal told Reuters. The White House said it was providing “logistical and intelligence support.” The operation is led by the Saudi defence minister, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the king’s son.

“We will do all we can to protect the legitimate government in Yemen and prevent it from collapsing and facing the dangers of militias,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, told a press conference late on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia said Houthi-controlled air defences and four warplanes had been destroyed as well as al-Dulaimi airbase. A Houthi-backed TV station said 18 civilians were killed in the air strikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had been informed of a “considerable number” of civilian deaths and injuries following the air strikes.

Cedric Schweizer, the head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, said it had been “a long and difficult night” for residents of Sana’a, Aden, Lahj and al-Baydha. “It is very difficult at this stage to establish the exact figures of those who lost their lives or were injured, but we have learned from our contacts with the ministry of public health and population on that there was a considerable number of civilians killed or wounded.”

The intervention came a day after Hadi’s government demanded an Arab military intervention to halt the Houthi advance, which came close to storming his southern redoubt of Aden. The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are members of the Zaydi Shia sect, and took control of the capital, Sana’a, last year before placing Hadi under house arrest.

The escalation in Yemen comes amid growing Arab anxiety over Iran’s rise, with its influence spreading in Yemen and Iraq, as well as its involvement alongside the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its prominence in Lebanon, where it backs the powerful military and political organisation Hezbollah.

Since the Houthi takeover of Sana’a, Iran has boosted its relations with the rebels, establishing direct flights to the Yemeni capital and hosting a group of influential rebels in Tehran for talks.

David Cameron’s spokeswoman said the prime minister had told Rouhani in a phone call on Thursday that other countries should not be supporting Houthi fighters in Yemen – something Tehran is already doing.

“In order to restore stability what we need is a political process and … as part of that other countries should not be supporting the Houthi rebels and instead be encouraging all the different parties in Yemen with different interests to come together in a political process,” the spokeswoman said.

In an interview with France 24, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, backed the Saudi-led coalition, saying he was considering providing logistical support. “Iran and the terrorist groups must withdraw,” he said.


*Additional reporting by Sam Jones

Prosecutors release mass-murdering interior minister from prison


Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Former police chief Habib al-Adly, who served as Hosni Mubarak’s interior minister, has been released from prison today after receiving clearance from the Prosecutor General's office. He is the latest figure – and perhaps the most controversial – from Mubarak’s inner circle to be released from detention over the past few months.

The state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) confirmed that authorities at Tora Prison released the 77 year-old Adly upon orders from Egyptian prosecutors.                                                                                       
Adly had been jailed for the past four years pending his four trials, in which he had been charged with the mass killing of over 800 anti-Mubarak protesters (according to official figures from the Health Ministry) in late January 2011, along with charges of corruption, money laundering, illicit gains and misappropriation of public funds amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds, and the use of conscript labor to construct his personal villa.

In the four court cases where he has stood trial, Egyptian judges have cleared Adly of all charges leveled against him, with the exception of the case pertaining to the use of forced labor for the construction of his estate. In February 2014, Adly was sentenced to three years imprisonment for his role in exploiting conscripts for his personal ends.

However, after having spent four years in Tora Prison, Adly may imminently be cleared of every last criminal charge filed against him, according to statements issued by his defense lawyer to local media outlets. One final court acquittal could render the former interior minister a free man.

Mubarak appointed Adly as minister of interior in 1997, as a successor to Hassan al-Alfi following the Deir al-Bahari massacre in Luxor Governorate, which resulted in the deaths of 62 individuals – mostly foreign tourists – that had been claimed by the armed group Jama’a al-Islamiya.
Adly was Mubarak's longest-serving interior minister.

During his nearly 13-year tenure as interior minister, human rights groups had accused Adly and his police apparatus of the systematic use torture, forced disappearances, involvement in extraordinary renditions, physical and psychological abuse of detainees in places of detention, espionage against opposition figures, among other violations, although neither Adly nor his deputies stood trial on these charges.

In November 2014, the Cairo Criminal Court dismissed charges brought against Mubarak and Adly, along with his six police deputies, pertaining to the deaths of hundreds of anti-regime protesters during Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising.

In his court defense, Adly denied that his police forces had killed protesters, and instead pinned the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Islamic resistance group Hamas, despite the fact that the minister of interior had personally issued a host of threats against protesters on state-owned media warning of a heavy-handed police response ahead of the 2011 mass protests.

On his personal account on Twitter, human rights lawyer Gamal Eid commented that Mubarak’s clique of officials who "sought to crush the January 25 revolution" have all been released, while the many of the youth who struggled for the revolution are either buried or jailed.

Another Egyptian Twitter user wrote, "Today Habib al-Adly is released and has returned to his home, while thousands of peaceful protesters are kept away from their homes and families as they languish behind prison bars."

The first day of the 2011 uprising was organized on January 25 – Egypt’s National Police Day – largely as a display of popular protest against police brutality.

However, since 2011 only a handful of policemen or officers have stood trial for the killings of protester or other transgressions. Egypt’s judiciary has subsequently cleared the majority of these security forces of any wrongdoing.

3,000 civilians tried before military courts in 5 months

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Omar Said 


The No to Military Trials for Civilians campaign said on Monday that 3000 civilians were tried in military courts in the last five months, since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed new legislation treating certain state facilities as military institutions.

The findings formed part of the campaign’s fourth annual conference, which included testimonies from those who have been through military trials and their families.

Campaign member Sara al-Sherif says this constitutes a “dramatic” increase in an already endemic practice, presenting a greater challenge for the campaign, as public outrage has been more recently directed at harsh rulings by civilian courts.

She says people claim, “civilian judiciaries issue death penalties and life sentences without restriction, in contrast to verdicts by military judiciaries that are swift and will never be worse than what is already practiced in civilian courts,” but maintains this is not accurate, given the nature of military courts and the verdicts they have issued.

Lawyer Ahmed Heshmat raises concerns over the independence of military courts in the first place.

“The law that enabled military courts to try civilians stipulated that this judiciary is independent, but it is not independent at all. Military judges are employees of the Defense Ministry, and as such they have to adhere to the demands of their superiors.”

“Verdicts issued by military courts should be approved by the military leader or his deputy, and he has the right to request the amending of a sentence, or a retrial if the defendants were acquitted,” he adds.

Heshmat also questioned the legal procedures for military trials. Verdicts by military courts are all issued as if the defendants are present, even if they are actually absent.

Since Sisi’s decree, the number of civilians referred to military courts has increased, especially among students arrested on campuses for protesting, many of who have been handed lengthy prison sentences. Universities are now considered military institutions under the new law.

An activist in the “Horreya” (freedom) campaign, concerned with the detention of students, Seif al-Islam Farag, said that the campaign has recorded the cases of 160 students referred to military tribunals, including 48 students from Mansoura University, 31 from Al-Azhar University and 14 from Monufiya University.

He added that the sentences against many of these students are not based on reality, as in the example of student Ahmed Shokier, who was sentenced to life in prison, when he had actually passed away one month before the incident for which he was convicted took place. Another student in Port Said was referred to 11 military tribunals.

Mother of 16-year-old Youssef Shaaban, who was arrested in September, says her son was tortured to make him confess to crimes he didn’t commit, including killing a police officer. The grieving mother says she is not able to visit her son in prison as no one knows his whereabouts.

Father of 19-year-old Ain Shams student Mohamed al-Araby, said that he was surprised when five police officers stormed his house and arrested his son. They said his son had published a video concerning the military and would face charges of “spreading false news about the Armed Forces.” The father was told his son would return home in a few hours, but he never came back.

“Days later, I found a lawyer asking for a lot of money to defend my son who was facing a military trial. When I went to military prosecution, they said there is no need to hire a lawyer, as the case would be heard by a misdemeanor court and not a criminal one. I have just realized that the case was referred to criminal court,” Araby’s father added.

Araby himself spent many weeks in military prison before he was referred to Tora, with signs of torture on his face, according to his father.

The No to Military Trials campaign organizers pleaded with local media to raise the issue of military trials for civilians, which they say threatens everyone under the new legislation.

Judiciary refuses to abide by maximum wage law

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


The State Council officially exempted the judiciary and the prosecution from the Maximum Wage Law in a Wednesday ruling.

Ratified last summer, the law caps wages at LE42,000 for public-sector employees. That includes bonuses and all other payments on top of regular monthly wages, with the exception of travel expenses.

At the time, members from several branches of the judiciary protested against the law and demanded their exclusion from its provisions. The State Council looked into the matter at the request of the head of the Mansoura Court of Appeals.

Responding to another request from Telecom Egypt, the State Council had also ruled that joint stock companies financed by the state were exempt from the wage limit, as well. That ruling then led to the further exclusion of public sector banks established through these stock companies.

Ahmed Hossam, a lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), told Mada Masr that exempting joint companies from the law has a sound legal basis, but excluding the judiciary is harder to rationalize.

In the absence of a legal explanation behind the decision, Hossam speculated that it may have been motivated by an ongoing effort to exclude the judiciary from state bodies, and treat is as an independent, stand-alone institution.

However, from a legal and economic perspective, the judiciary is still a state facility whose wages are paid by the state and tax payers, Hossam explained. From that perspective, he asserted that the maximum wage cap should be applied.

The law’s vague stipulations have already allowed for several exceptions, and may ultimately render the law useless and only applicable to a handful of state employees, Hossam argued.

He also pointed out that because the law was passed by presidential decree without the State Council’s review, as mandated by the 2014 Constitution, then it could be attacked as unconstitutional.

Therefore, according to Hossam, if anyone affected by the wage cap decided to challenge the law, it could legally be struck down.


*Photo by Sarah Carr

Egyptian dwarfs succeed in establishing trade union & constitutional amendment safeguarding their rights

Mada Masr
Dwarfs of Egypt Unite

Dwarfism-rights activists succeed in establishing associations, a trade union, and constitutional amendment safeguarding their rights

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Jano Charbel


During the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt people with dwarfism were believed to be celestially-gifted little people - some of whom became renowned royal court officials, while many others were employed in esteemed occupations. In modern day Egypt, however, the story is very different.

Currently estimated to number around 75,000 nationwide - Egyptians with dwarfism suffer discrimination, marginalization, unemployment, and poverty. They are subjected to ridicule in schools, workplaces, and in public on a daily basis. *Dwarfs also cite a lack of affordable healthcare and easily accessible transportation, amongst other grievances.

It is on the basis of confronting such discrimination, and a host of socio-economic obstacles, that groups of Egyptian dwarfs have begun to unite their ranks in recent years.

The 'Association for the Welfare of Dwarfs in Alexandria' (AWDA) was officially established in this Mediterranean city in December 2012, while the 'Independent Trade Union of Dwarfs' was established in March 2014 and officially registered with the Ministry of Manpower. This labor union for dwarfs is the only such organization in the Arab World, and perhaps worldwide.

AWDA currently boasts a general assembly membership of around 120 - with smaller branches in Cairo, along with the Suez Canal cities of Port Said and Ismailiya.

This while the newly established 'Independent Trade Union of Dwarfs' currently has a membership of some 50 members, with only one union committee - which is also headquartered in Alexandria.

The Association for the Welfare of Dwarfs describes itself as being a venue for social, cultural and sports events. While the Trade Union of Dwarfs is concerned with its members' employment, vocational training programs, professional skills, workplace discrimination, and other labor-related issues.

Both the association and the union are open to the membership of any Egyptian with dwarfism.

While there is no official national census data or other records indicating the exact number of the dwarfism community countrywide. By AWDA's rough estimates there are some 400,000 Egyptians (the vast majority of whom are of full-stature) whose families include at least one person with dwarfism. Families headed by dwarf parents are particularly prone to economic hardships in contemporary Egypt.


CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION

The association won an unprecedented victory last year when Egyptians with dwarfism were recognized in a constitutional amendment including them in employment quotas. The amendment also granted special consideration to the community in terms of their socio-economic rights.

Thanks to AWDA’s advocacy, the 2014 Constitution now stipulates in Article 81:

“The state is committed to ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and dwarfs in terms of healthcare, economic and social rights, in the fields of culture, entertainment, sports and education. Along with the provision of job opportunities for them, the allocation of employment quotas, the creation of public facilities and an environment whereby they may exercise all their political rights so as to facilitate their integration amongst other citizens — in keeping with the principles of equity, justice and equal opportunities.”

A 5 percent employment quota is specifically stipulated for both public and private sector enterprises, in accordance with the labor law.

Previous constitutions provided these rights to citizens with disabilities, but never contained provisions specifically for dwarfs. Employers would thus often exclude people with dwarfism from such quotas, on the basis that they were not mentally or physically disabled.

Essam Shehata and his wife Nisreen Hamed were the driving force behind the amendment. Tireless activists for the dwarfism community since the 1980s and co-founders of AWDA, the couple successfully lobbied lawyers and other Constituent Assembly members to include these provisions during the constitution drafting process.

Shehata, AWDA's Director and the President of the Union for Dwarfs, told Mada Masr that the new provision of constitutional article 81 is not being enforced, however.

"Neither the state nor private businessmen are standing with us in terms of the providing employment opportunities for dwarfs."
Shehata added that political parties have also neglected the rights of Egyptians with dwarfism.

Some AWDA members have successfully maintained steady jobs in the public sector, working as customs officials, employees at the Alexandria Port Authority and in the healthcare sector. Yet these cases are the exception, not the rule.

Ahmed Fouad - who has dwarfism - is employed at the Health Ministry explained that public sector employers would typically not classify dwarfs amongst the ranks of the physically or mentally disabled, especially prior to the issuing of the (January) 2014 Constitution with its Article 81.

Fouad explained that - in his experience - "We would often find that employers do recognize the five percent quota for disabled persons. But instead of providing such people with jobs at their workplaces, they are paid to stay at home." He went on to criticize such practices as being dismissive and non-constructive acts of charity.

Fouad emphatically added: "We're not asking for charity, we are asking for our rights and for equal opportunities in our country."

BARRED FROM THE WORKFORCE

Unemployment or precarious employment is often cited as the most pernicious problem facing the dwarfism community.

AWDA co-founder and secretary for women’s and children’s affairs, Nisreen Hamed points out that the association’s professional skills workshops — such as courses in cellphone repairs and maintenance — have “proven that dwarfs are mentally and physically capable of performing technical work exactly like fully grown people."

Sami Ramsis has been out of work for three years. “I've been repeatedly seeking employment at the Ministry of Manpower's bureaus,” he says. “But the employees there ridicule me, saying normal people can't even find employment, let alone dwarfs.”

Ramsis feels like he's stuck in a cycle of social exclusion. "Since I can’t find a job, I can't buy or rent an apartment for myself,” he continues. “Since I don't have any steady income or an apartment, I can't get married or have a family of my own.”

And even if a person with dwarfism does get a job, he or she is then confronted with the problem of how to get there — many report that most forms of public transportation are inaccessible.

"I have no problem riding the tramway, but some buses and microbuses are very difficult to climb aboard. They are not easily accessible to people our height," AWDA member Qadria Mahrous says.

Other association members say they hope government officials or private donors will help to subsidize the purchase of cars or motorcycles that are modified for their height, so as to increase their mobility - and, by extension, their prospects for employment.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

AWDA may still have a long way to go when it comes to tackling issues of national infrastructure and transportation — but it has been successful in creating a community center, and offering the services and activities that Egyptian dwarfs can’t find elsewhere.

AWDA offers some medical services to its members, who often struggle with access to healthcare. Hamed explained that there are a multitude of different forms of dwarfism. Her association provides human growth hormone injections for those children whose specific form of dwarfism is caused by hormonal imbalances or nutritional deficiencies.

Hamed added: “from childhood dwarfs are ridiculed at school, then in adulthood suffer discrimination in employment,” she asserts.

“We've been calling on the Ministry of Education to raise awareness, to increase tolerance and acceptance of dwarf children in schools,” Hamed explains. “We want to end the physical and verbal bullying of dwarf students by their classmates.”

She hopes that increased efforts on the part of education officials will help to foster a sense of social integration and belonging that would ultimately lead to greater success later in life.

And aside from these crucial services, the social experience the association provides makes a major impact on its members’ lives.

"I enjoy the sense of community, and the company of friends I've made here. We can relate to each other's daily grievances,” says Mahrous.

The association convenes for its general assembly meetings on the first Friday of every month. Mahrous expressed her appreciation for the trips, excursions, (limited) health care assistance, pilgrimages to Mecca/Medina, Ramadan food packages, along with vocational training and job skills that AWDA offers its members.

These activities have helped to build a close, tight-knit community — Hamed proudly notes that at least six couples with dwarfism met and got married through the association. Several of AWDA's married members have subsequently produced offspring who are of full-stature.

Shehata is currently working to establish a National Day for Egyptian Dwarfs on March 27 to raise awareness regarding the community, and its needs and aspirations. AWDA is preparing events including football matches between teams of dwarfs, together with songs, dances, competitions, and cultural shows - by performers with dwarfism.


At the association's headquarters, five costumed AWDA members are rehearsing an Upper Egyptian stick dance and a Nubian jig in traditional costumes. They smile joyfully for their photo shoot, and say they’re excited to perform in front of an audience. They even hope to perform professionally in the future.

But the rehearsals might be in vain if Shehata doesn’t secure the funds required for such a national event.

"If we don't have sponsors to promote or financially assist us with these events, then we won't be able to be able to go ahead with them,” he explains. “Our plans for this National Day of Egyptian Dwarfs may have to be put on hold."


While the Association for the Welfare of Dwarfs in Alexandria does not have an official webpage, pertinent information on the Egyptian little people community can be found on the Dwarves Dot Com Facebook page.


*In interviews with Mada Masr, members of the community referred to themselves as "qezm/aqzam," literally "dwarf/dwarfs." This term has been contested globally, with some preferring to use "people of short-stature" or "little people," as there is no agreement on whether or not dwarfism is a disability. 
**Photos by Jano Charbel 

Sisi to squander $45 Billion in attempt to build new capital city?


The Guardian

A new New Cairo: Egypt plans £30bn purpose-built capital in desert





The currently nameless city of five million would be home to 660 hospitals, 1,250 mosques and churches, and a theme park four times the size of Disneyland – all to be completed within seven years. Could it happen?

A scale-model of Egypt's planned new capital, on display at the Egyptian Economic Development Conference at Sharm el-Sheikh

Egypt’s capital has moved two-dozen times in the country’s 5,000-year history, but its current seat of power has remained unchanged since AD 969. That was the year when Fatimid invaders began to build a grand enclosure to house their new mosques and palaces – a private city known to its residents as al-Qahera, and eventually to the world as Cairo.

But a millennium on, and nearly 20 million inhabitants later, Cairo’s time might finally be up – if Egyptian officials are to be believed. The government has announced plans to pass Cairo’s baton to another foreign-helmed development. Just as al-Qahera once was, this new capital is to be built from scratch – in this case by the Emirati businessman behind the Burj Khalifa – on virgin sands to the east of its predecessor.

“Egypt has more wonders than any other country in the world, and provides more works that defy description,” said the bombastic housing minister, Mostafa Madbouly, as he unveiled the £30bn project in front of 30 visiting emirs, kings and presidents, and hundreds of would-be investors. “This is why it is necessary for us as Egyptians to enrich this picture – and to add to it something that our grandchildren will be able to say enhances Egypt’s characteristics.”

The scale of the plans certainly defy historical norms. If completed, the currently nameless city would span 700 sq km (a space almost as big as Singapore), house a park double the size of New York’s Central Park, and a theme park four times as big as Disneyland – all to be completed within five to seven years.

According to the brochure, there will be exactly 21 residential districts, 25 “dedicated districts”, 663 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques and churches, and 1.1m homes housing at least five million residents.
In terms of population, that would make it the biggest purpose-built capital in human history – nearly as large as Islamabad (population: an estimated 1.8 million), Brasilia (2.8 million), and Canberra (380,000) put together.

In certain quarters in Egypt, these astonishing numbers have been hailed by those who desperately hope a new capital can symbolise a process of national renewal under President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, after several years of deep social division, political upheaval and economic crisis.

Traffic in Tahrir Square. Cairo's population is forecast to double by 2040.

Writing in a state-owned newspaper, columnist Sayed el-Bably confidently said the city exemplified how the economic conference at which it was announced would allow Egypt to “convert dreams into facts and projects”. In a nod to failed attempts to build a new capital under Hosni Mubarak, Bably said that Egyptians can now “think, dream, and look forward to the completion of what we previously thought was impossible.”

But the problem for the likes of Bably and Madbouly is that there are also those who doubt this particular dream will ever reach reality.

“Based on historic and global track records, trying to build a new city from scratch is a massive gamble,” says Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner, and a consultant for several cities outside of the Middle East. “The most concerning thing to me was the speed at which this is intended to be built – five to seven years. That’s incredibly fast. And if you build it that fast, it will be a ghost town, like most other development plays have been.”

Toderian cites less ambitious projects in China – places like Caofeidian, which hoped to attract a million residents but ended up with only a few thousand. Dubai is an obvious counter-example of success.

But elsewhere in the UAE, the new “city” called Masdar (founded, incidentally, by the minister now driving Emirati investment in Egypt, Sultan al-Jaber) was supposed to house 50,000 people by now. Instead, it has just a few hundred.

Pressed by the Guardian, Madbouly said he already had the money to build at least 100 sq km of the new capital, including a new parliament. “We are committed for the first phase,” he says. “We have already a very clear plan.”

But in Egypt, even the best urban plans have tended to go awry. Egypt has a history of building unfinished towns in the desert, the product of a decades-old belief that satellite developments will curb overcrowding in its main cities. In theory, the strategy is based in logic: around 96% of Egyptians live on just 4% of Egyptian land, and as the population mushrooms, relocating some of the former might solve the congestion in the latter.

But experience, time and again, has suggested otherwise. These 22 existing “new towns” – some of them more than 30 years old – still collectively hold little more than a million residents, and contain thousands of empty homes. Far from Cairo’s madding crowds, they are in theory an attractive prospect for many Egyptians. But in practice, most cannot afford to move there.

In the most notorious example, New Cairo, a recent suburb to the east of its namesake, was meant to attract several million residents. But after a decade and a half it still only holds a few hundred thousand – an irony lost on Egypt’s investment minister, Ashraf Salman, when he quipped that Cairo’s yet-to-be-named replacement would be “the new New Cairo.”

David Sims, a Cairo-based urban planner, has spent years cataloguing the failures of Egypt’s satellite cities, culminating in last week’s well-timed publication of his latest book – Egypt’s Desert Dreams: Development or Disaster? Sims leans towards the latter.

“It’s just a bunch of crazy figures,” he says. “The scale is huge, and there are questions like: how are you going to do the infrastructure? How are you going to get the water? How will they move all these ministries? In other words, I think it’s just desperation. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it, but I rather doubt it.”

The reason earlier desert settlements failed to attract residents is largely due to a lack of infrastructure and employment. Places like New Cairo have not provided enough jobs for poorer residents, or affordable transport to areas where they could find more work.

“There is a demand to live there, but it’s a demand from a very specific group of people, and it’s not a very big demographic,” says Nick Simcik Arese, an anthropologist at the Oxford Programme for the Future of Cities, and a former resident of, and researcher in, the new desert town of Haram City.

“People do want to abandon Cairo and live in their secessionary envelope. But to do that you need a car, and that means you have to have a certain income to live there.”
Historically, the Egyptian government has forced people to live in areas on Cairo’s periphery, by evicting them from poor inner-city areas, and relocating them to the desert towns. But once there, their lives exemplify why the crowds have not followed in their wake. “Governments think they can just move people to new areas, but actually people go where they want to go,” said Simcik Arese.

“For a lot of people, their homes are also their workshops, and that can’t happen out in the desert tower blocks. Their entire business and support system collapses. Their access to clients, materials, and supplies evaporates.”

For Herbert Girardet, the author of a dozen books on urban theory, this isn’t the most urgent concern. He feels Egypt’s new capital stands a good chance of providing better employment opportunities than its predecessors, mainly because Egypt’s vast government will be relocated there. Instead, his biggest worries lie in the city’s carbon footprint. Its architects claim it will uphold “the highest stands of sustainability.” But in the rush to design it, Girardet wonders if the finer details of waste disposal and green power were lost.

“What happens to the waste of this city, where does its energy come from? You have to ask whether these ideas are built into the concept or not,” says Girardet, who sets out a vision for green urban planning in his new book Creative Regenerative Cities.

“It’s true that Cairo as a city is massively congested, and there is probably a need for a new capital city. But it seems to me that it would be a city driven above all else by developers keen to create prestige, rather than long-term sustainability.”

Even if he’s wrong, the sustainability of the existing capital would still stay unaddressed. In justifying the desire for a new city, Madbouly said that something had to be done to lighten the load on Cairo, whose projected population will be 40 million by 2050. But Cairo’s plight will ironically worsen if resources and attention are diverted to new projects elsewhere, as one Egyptian commentator argued this weekend.

Writing for Cairobserver, a blog about the current capital, Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University in Cairo, said: “Assuming that the aim of building a new administrative capital is to alleviate the pressure from downtown Cairo where the majority of government offices are located, and assuming, for argument’s sake, that the 5 million inhabitants will actually be moved from overcrowded city, what will happen to the rest of us?”

The fear is that Egypt’s capital, if it gets built, will be just as exclusive and private a city as al-Qahera was when it began back in 969.


*Additional reporting: Manu Abdo
**Photos courtesy of Reuters