Friday, September 30, 2016

Free Alaa! Free the 1,000s of other political prisoners in Egypt


London street art, in solidarity with the imprisoned Egyptian blogger & leftist activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. 

Alaa has spent 2.5 years in Cairo's Torah Prison - half of his five year prison sentence - for partaking in a non-violent protest, back in November 2013.

Alaa is just one of the tens of thousands of political prisoners who have languished in the jail cells of Dictator Sisi - for peacefully expressing their opinions, or for opposing the military dictatorship.


Deaths & serious systematic abuses in Egypt's 'Scorpion Prison'

Inmates Isolated, Beaten, Denied Food and Medicine

Labor protests on the rise, bus drivers remain jailed for attempting to strike

Mada Masr
Agriculture Ministry workers, postgraduates demand employment & transport strike organizers remain jailed

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jano Charbel

Egyptians from various labor sectors across Egypt have mobilized in the past few days to pursue improvements in labor conditions and gainful employment in accord with previous government decrees.

Protests have been organized by tree planters outside the Agriculture Ministry in Giza, while demonstrations by postgraduates demanding employment opportunities have been held outside the Cabinet’s headquarters in Cairo.

This while authorities continue to jail six Cairo Public Transport Authority workers - in undisclosed locations - who had planned a strike which was forcefully aborted by police units.



Dozens of tree planters who had been hired by the Agriculture Ministry on temporary contracts protested outside the ministry’s headquarters in the Dokki district of Giza on Tuesday, demanding full-time contracted employment and livable monthly wages.

Camelia Saeed, a tree planter from the Gharbiya Governorate who traveled by bus to Giza with her coworkers, told Mada Masr that she and the other protesters are only paid LE 40 per month, just over $US 4.

“That is all we get paid per month. That is our total wage. There are no bonuses. Some of us have been employed on part-time contracts for over a decade with the ministry, with this same monthly wage,” Saeed said.

The Agriculture Ministry employs around 2,000 tree-planters on temporary contracts in at least six different governorates. Over the past few years, many of these precarious laborers have been promised full-time contracts and a monthly wage of LE 500, which is still less than half the national minimum wage of LE 1,200 per month.

With her current salary, Saeed is unable to pay for her basic needs. “I am 50 years old, but my family still has to support me. I cannot provide for myself, even with LE 500 per month, let alone LE 40, which is a joke," she said.

Similar protests occurred in March, with temporary laborers calling for many of the same demands. According to Saeed however, the history of the labor struggle has a longer trajectory that has been met with continued intransigence.

“This is not the first time we’ve protested outside the ministry to demand full-time contracts and realistic wages and bonuses. I have protested several times outside the ministry’s gates over the past three years, to no avail,” she said.

“Like the host of ministers who have come and gone over the years, since the 2011 revolution, [Agriculture Minister] Essam Fayed doesn’t do anything about our demands. It’s like playing the same old broken record, where they promise to grant us full-time contracts and yet do nothing about it.”

Photos and videos documenting Tuesday’s protest show dozens of temporary laborers sitting on the road outside the ministry, with some partially blocking traffic around the building.

Ministry officials and delegates representing groups of tree planters from different governorates reportedly were in negotiations until late Tuesday evening. However, the results have yet to be announced.




Between 200 and 300 postgraduates from across Egypt descended upon the Cabinet’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on Tuesday to protest for employment opportunities with the state.

The gathered protesters chanted and carried signs with slogans such as, “Postgraduates are unemployed and on the sidewalk,” “Egypt’s postgraduates are jobless” and “Employ us!”

The protesters were demanding that the Egyptian state uphold a 2002 Cabinet decree that allocated administrative posts in the government to public university postgraduates. Thousands of postgraduates have demonstrated to enforce the decree since it was issued, subsequently succeeding in landing government jobs but not  guaranteeing employment for future graduating classes.

Mahmoud Abu Zeid, 25, participated in Tuesday’s protest outside the Cabinet. Afterward, he told Mada Masr that the protesters “want to land jobs in the state’s administrative authorities. We want to help the state with our skills, qualifications and expertise, wherever our field of expertise is required.”

Abu Zeid is a Kafr al-Sheikh Governorate resident and was awarded a Master’s degree in law in 2015. Exasperated, he questioned why postgraduates must protest every year to ensure the state upholds its own decree regarding employment.

Delegates representing postgraduates met with the assistant to the Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s chief of staff, according to Abu Zeid.

“We were told that our demands are being examined, and that we are listed to be employed. As for where or when we will actually be employed? We have not yet been informed,” he said.

The young unemployed lawyer said he had been arrested while on his way to a rally outside the Cabinet’s headquarters in November 2015, subsequently being held in detention for four days in the Qasr al-Nil Police Station. Three other postgraduate protesters were arrested the following month, similarly demanding government employment.

“However, we’ve had no trouble from police forces today” Abu Zeid said, expressing a sense of relief.


Sixteen political parties and rights groups signed and jointly issued a statement on Tuesday, demanding the release of six Cairo Public Transport Authority (PTA) bus drivers and workers, whom police arrested from their homes on Friday, a day before a planned strike.

The six workers were the principal organizers of a Saturday PTA strike that would have coincided with the first day of the new academic year.

However, the planned PTA strike was reportedly obstructed, according to several local media outlets, by the arrest of the six strike leaders and the noticeable presence of police forces and officers who had been deployed to the PTA’s many garages across Cairo and who pressured workers not to strike.

On Sunday, the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) announced that it had filed a complaint with the office of the general prosecutor, demanding that authorities disclose the whereabouts of the six jailed PTA workers and inquiring into the charges being leveled against the labor organizers.

The CTUWS is also calling on the Interior Ministry and the state-appointed National Council for Human Rights to identify the police station or detention center where the six PTA workers are being held.

Hundreds of Cairo’s PTA workers have been threatening to strike to further their demands that include that the PTA be under the auspices of the Transport Ministry rather than local governorates, increases in production bonuses by up to 17 percent of current rates and wage parity with Alexandria’s Public Transport Authority.

The public transport sector has witnessed repeated strikes over the last five years around the same demands, leading to continual negotiations between striking workers and the Transport Authority. 

*Archived photos courtesy of Vetogate & Al Arabya News, Video courtesy of Masr Al Arabia

Hatshepsut, Cleopatra & the women who ruled Egypt before them

Mada Masr
Hatshepsut, Cleopatra and the women who ruled Egypt

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jano Charbel

Ancient Egypt had female rulers sitting on the throne before the advent of the renowned Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled nearly 3,500 years ago, with some Egyptologists claiming one woman may have been a pharaoh around 5,000 years ago.

If this claim is accurate, Meryt Neith (or Merneith), who lived during ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty – sometime around 3,000-2,970 BC – may have been the world’s first female ruler, a title officially held by Kubaba, the Sumerian queen regnant, who is estimated to have lived and ruled sometime between 2,500-2,330 BC.

Besides this contentious claim, there are a handful of royal women who ruled ancient Egypt, and several others – mothers, wives and daughters – who shared the throne as co-rulers, queen consorts or queen regents. This typically transpired in cases where there was a crisis in designating a royal male as the heir and legitimate successor to the throne.

While Hatsepshut and Cleopatra are often referred to as being Egypt’s “female pharaohs,” Egyptologists insist the title isn’t correct.

“They should be known as women rulers, not pharaohs. Each one of these royal women’s historic conditions is different, and they held different official titles,” explains Monica Hanna, an associate professor of archaeology and cultural Heritage at the Arab Academy for Technology and Maritime Transport in Aswan.

Associate Professor in Egyptology at the American University in Cairo Mariam Ayad agrees, asserting that “pharaoh” is a Hellenized term derived from the ancient Egyptian “pr-aa,” which first appears in official records from the 19th Dynasty – circa 1,292-1,189 BC – and onwards.

“Female pharaoh” is a misnomer for ancient Egyptian “women who ruled in their own right. Some even had their own titles in the manner of kings,” she adds.

There are only about four or five royal women who assumed the throne as kings, Ayad says, and who thus served as the sole rulers of ancient Egypt. These women, with the exception of Hatshepsut, came to power when there were no male heirs. “There were queens who identified themselves as kings, such as Hatshepsut. She donned male regalia, costumes and even the king’s false beard to depict herself as king.”

But the female rulers of ancient Egypt were more than just royals who filled gaps in dynastic succession. Most contributed to construction work, served as unifying forces, engaged in historic acts of foreign diplomacy, led expeditions to foreign lands and perhaps also waged wars.

Hatshepsut is particularly known for her massive construction works that include temples, obelisks, statues and monuments. She also embarked on expeditions to the land of Punt – near present day Somalia – while Hanna says Cleopatra is internationally more renowned in Greek literature.

“Archaeological excavations have yet to shed further light on the full extent of the accomplishments of Hatshepsut, Cleopatra and the other historic female rulers of Egypt. In many cases, this evidence hasn’t yet been discovered,” Hanna adds.

Cleopatra is Egypt’s most well known female ruler, even though she wasn’t Egyptian, but ethnically Macedonian. “She is an integral part of Roman history. Her numerous affairs, her relations and links to powerful men, along with her diplomacy and warfare are also widely featured in modern media,” Ayad says.

The five women who are assumed to have ruled ancient Egypt as kings, according to Ayad, include: Nitocris of the Sixth Dynasty, who lived and ruled approximately 4,200 years ago; Sobekneferu of the 12th Dynasty, 3,800 years ago; Hatshepsut of the 18th Dynasty, over 3,400 years ago; Queen Nefertiti of the 18th Dynasty, who may have assumed a male name and male regalia after her husband’s death, possibly ruling alone for a few years following the death of Akhenaton, her husband, around 3,300 years ago; and Tawosret of the 19th Dynasty, around 3,200 years ago.

Yet, according to Hanna’s count, there may be as many as eight women who were the sole rulers of Egypt at various moments. In addition to the five Ayad mentions and Meryt Neith of the First Dynasty, who may have reigned nearly 5,000 years ago, there are the female rulers of Ptolemaic Egypt: Cleopatra II, who reigned briefly as sole ruler over 2,100 years ago, and Cleopatra VII Philopator, the last and greatest renowned Cleo, who ruler over 2,050 years ago.

That most of these women are not as well known as Cleopatra and Hatshepsut has prompted Ayad to speculate why they have been relegated to the footnotes of history. Several of the women in question ruled during the turbulent endings of dynasties, she observes.

While it was almost universally perceived that the role of king was reserved for male heirs, “Hatshesput broke with this tradition, and accordingly may be perceived to have violated the Ma’at,” the ancient Egyptian concept of law, order and social harmony, Ayad says.

The king’s mother, wife and daughter all had their own royal titles, but there was no specific word for queen. Rather, royal women were defined according to their relationship to the king, along with descriptors that emphasized their charm and beauty.

But were the historical records of these ruling women erased, or intentionally wiped out because they were women? For example, the statue of Sobekneferu in the Louvre Museum no longer has a head, which appears to have gone missing.

As for Hatshepsut, in several instances, her name, titles and images have been chiseled away. Hatshepsut is depicted as the senior king, while Thutmose III, her stepson, nephew and male co-regent, appears as a junior ruler. He subsequently removed her name from many murals.

Hanna says this is likely “the result of personal disputes among royal successors, not because they were women.”

While ancient Egyptian society was highly stratified and centralized, it was not particularly sexist or misogynistic, particularly not in the context of the ancient world.

Some historic studies indicate noblewomen in ancient Egypt worked as administrators, doctors, governors, judges, high-ranking priestesses and supervisors. One woman, identified as Nebet, even served as the vizier, the king’s top advisor or minister, around 4,000 years ago.

Egyptian women from lower classes typically worked as farmers, cooks, beer brewers, dancers, musicians and weavers.

Egypt may have been among the best places to be a woman in the ancient world, as women had the right to divorce and own property, as well as access to luxury items, gynecology and healthcare, according to Hanna, who adds, “The men even washed the clothes at the time.”



+MERYT NEITH (or MERNEITH) : First Dynasty, Old Kingdom. May have reigned circa 2,970 BC. Daughter of King Djet. Wife and co-regent of King Den. Was buried with sacrificial items in her tomb, in the royal necropolis of Abydos, where the first kings of a unified Egypt were entombed. Meryt Neith was also buried with a solar boat, or sun boat, as was the practice with the very early “pharaohs.”

+NITOCRIS (or NITIQRET): Sixth Dynasty, Old Kingdom. May have reigned circa 2,180 BC. Bore the title of king. May be considered the final “king” of the Sixth Dynasty. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus claims Nitocris may have killed her brother, the king, by drowning him.

+SOBEKNEFERU (or NEFERUSOBEK): 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,806-1,802 BC. The first ancient Egyptian woman known to be a “king” and the only legitimate heir to the throne following the death of her brother, King Amenemhat IV. Listed as the last king of the 12thDynasty. Records frequently note that she is buried within the Northern Mazghuna Pyramid, near Dahshour.

+HATSHEPSUT: 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,478-1,458 BC. Prime example of an ancient Egyptian female “king” and likely the longest reigning woman. Daughter of King Thutmose I. Wife and Queen Consort to King Thutmose II, and regent for Thutmose III.

She rose to prominence as high priestess, or “God’s Wife,” in the cult of Amun. Acting in the capacity of a male king, she presided over prolific construction works – temples, obelisks, statues, and artifacts – along with foreign expeditions and the reestablishment of foreign trade routes. Built temples at Luxor (Thebes), including Hatshepsut Mortuary Temple at Deir al-Bahari, and obelisks at Karnak Temple and the Grotto of Artemis near Minya.

+NEFERTITI: 18th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,353-1,336 BC or 1,351-1,334 BC, as co-ruler with her husband, the sun-worshiping King Akhenaton – arguably the first monotheist, in Tal al-Amarna. Some historians and Egyptologists claim she may have ruled as king alone for a few years following Akhenaton’s death.

+TAWOSRET (or TAUSRET): 19th Dynasty, New Kingdom. Reigned circa 1,191-1,189 BC. Ruled for one to two years, and appears to be listed as the last king of the 19th Dynasty. She may have been the stepmother to her predecessor, King Siptah. Was not a very powerful or influential king, and her turbulent reign may have ended in civil war. She is buried in the Valley of the Kings.

+CLEOPATRA II: Ptolemaic Egypt. Reigned circa 170-127 BC. Was not ethnically Egyptian, but of Macedonian origin. Successor to Ptolemy VIII. This lesser known Cleo reigned as the sole ruler of Egypt from around 132-127 BC.

+CLEOPATRA VII PHILOPATOR: Ptolemaic Egypt. Reigned 51-30 BC. The internationally renowned “Cleopatra,” the historical Macedonian woman reigned as co-ruler with her brother Ptolemy XIII. Served as Egypt’s sole ruler from around 47 BC to 30 BC. Had romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony and was defeated, along with Antony, by the Roman Empire in the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Allegedly committed suicide the following year. Cleopatra generally referred to herself as a queen, yet she is often described as “Egypt’s last pharaoh.”

6 bus drivers arrested before staging planned strike

Mada Masr
Dawn arrests of public transport labor leaders make planned strike unlikely

Saturday, September 24, 2016

At least six labor leaders employed by the Transport Authority were arrested on early Saturday morning after calls were made for public transport workers to strike.

“Police arrested several labor leaders, who work in different garages in Imbaba and Mazalat, at around 6 am on Saturday,” an authority employee who asked to remain anonymous told Mada Masr, “which pushed the rest of the workers to continue to resume work operations as normal.”

Public transportation workers had made several demands, including putting the authority under the supervision of the Transportation Ministry rather than local governorates, increasing production bonuses by up to 17 percent of current rates, as well as increasing other types of bonus.

A post appeared on the Facebook account of strike leader Tarek al-Behairy, written by his son, early Saturday morning, saying that Behairy was summoned by national security on Friday night, and his family agreed to announce his arrest as soon as his phone was switched off.

“Now my father is in danger, 15 hours inside national security, please act quickly,” the post said.

The unnamed Transport Authority employee told Mada Masr that there were several attempts during the last few days to end the workers’ strike plans, but none resulted in realizing workers’ demands.

"Rumors started circulating that the authority will agree to our demands, but we were not officially notified of this. We were not promised anything,” the employee said. “On Thursday, we were surprised by a decision to give a financial reward to workers to mark the occasion of receiving new buses, as well as another reward for excellence, but this did not calm us down."

Around this time, the employee explained, the workers developed a new demand to call for the resignation of the authority’s head, Rizk Abou Ali.

Ali has repeatedly said that workers wouldn't agree to calls for strikes, describing them as a “conspiracy aiming to spread strife.”

The independent union for public transportation workers released a similar statement, congratulating the workers on the new buses and urging them not to respond for calls to strike.

In March, striking public transport workers in Alexandria argued that despite sharp increases in public bus fares since 2008, their meager wages had largely stagnated.

The public transport sector has witnessed repeated strikes over the last five years around the same demands, leading to continual negotiations between striking workers and the Transport Authority.

*Photo by Roger Anis

Italy: Protests continue for Egyptian worker killed on picket line

Mada Masr
Protests continue in Italy in solidarity with Egyptian worker killed on picket line

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Jano Charbel

Italian workers, unionists and labor activists continue protests two weeks after the death of Egyptian worker Abdel Salam al-Danf in the northern city of Piacenza and other locations across the country.

Danf was fatally injured on September 14 by a truck at a General Logistics Services (GLS) plant in Piacenza, where he was employed and striking to demand that managerial staff uphold contractual agreements for 13 of his co-workers.

The plant at Piacenza is owned by the parcel delivery company GLS, but is contracted to the SEAM company, which recently sacked over 37 temporary workers.

Staff at the plant say managerial staff urged a driver to use his truck to break the picket line on the night of September 14.

A day of national protests was observed at several locations across Italy from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning. Most protests were organized and coordinated by the USB union (Unione Sindacale di Base) and the Cobas union confederation (Confederazione dei Comitati di Base), along with the Communist Refoundation Party (Rifondazione Communista), among others.

The 53-year-old father of five, who was formerly a teacher in Egypt, was a member of the USB labor union, and a longtime employee at the GLS plant in Italy.

The USB union explained on its webpage that a strike and picket line was organized at the Piacenza plant on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to demand justice for Danf and “fight for the recognition of the rights of precarious labor.”

Mario Cipriani, an Italian video maker and social media journalist, who took part in the protests, told Mada Masr that strikes are being organized at Piacenza’s GLS warehouses for the next six days.

Cipriani explained why Danf’s death is so significant. “Over the past 30 years in Italy, nobody has been killed during a strike,” he said, adding that chants and slogans used during protests were: “We are all Abdel Salam” and “GLS are killers.”

Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that prosecutors are investigating the circumstances surrounding Danf’s death, including viewing footage from a surveillance camera at the plant.

Citing Alfredo Zampogna, a lawyer for the GLS management, La Repubblica reported: “The videos in our possession reveal that there was no incitement” by managerial staff to use the company’s truck to break the picket line.

It is not yet clear if the Danf family, who have been long-term residents in Italy, will take legal action against the GLS or SEAM management at the Piacenza plant.

The hashtag #Abdesselem was used widely in Italy to commemorate Danf, express solidarity with his family, and to spread information regarding local protests in the wake of his death.

Diplomatic relations have been strained between Egypt and Italy since the beginning of this year, when 28-year-old Italian researcher and PhD candidate Giulio Regeni was found dead on a road in one of Cairo’s suburbs on February 3, with his body showing clear signs of torture.

Regeni had been researching labor issues and Egypt’s independent labor union movement before his disappearance on January 25th, the fifth anniversary of the popular uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak.

While it is not clear who is responsible for Regeni’s death, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior has repeatedly denied any responsibility, despite speculation security forces may have been involved.

Initial police reports claimed Regeni died in a traffic accident, the Ministry of Interior then claimed forces had shot dead five suspects in a gang responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and murdering the Italian student.

The UN-affiliated International Labor Organization issued a statement in April, calling on the Egyptian government to “clarify all the facts surrounding the death of Mr. Regeni.”

Shortly after the discovery of Regeni’s body in February, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) issued a statement expressing “great sorrow for the killing of the Italian student,” dismissing claims that Egyptian security forces were involved in Regeni’s disappearance, torture, or death.

“The ETUF refuses this harsh attack against Egypt conducted by foreign organizations, supported by illegal organizations in Egypt, that try to manipulate the event to disseminate their poisons to attack stability in Egypt,” the statement asserted.

“ETUF is stressing that Egyptian workers are fully aware of the plots against their country conducted by foreign or local plotters,” it continued, adding, “We Egyptian workers are one front against any illegal organization’s plots.”

*Photo of Italian solidarity rally for Danf family, courtesy of @Tino

Video: Angry Billy Goat Terrorizes Town :-)


*Read about this angry animal's rampage through a town in southern Brazil