Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good donkey!

Donkey eating poster of Egyptian dictator Sisi

 :-)

Egypt topped developing countries in arms imports in 2015 - Sisi continues to squander national budget

Mada Masr
US report: Egypt topped developing countries in arms imports in 2015

December 27, 2016

 
Egypt imported US$5.3 billion worth of arms in 2015, more than any other developing country, according to a report released this month by Congressional Research Service, a public policy research arm of the United States Congress.

Egypt also came second among developing countries in 2015 arms transfer agreements — agreements that were signed but not necessarily delivered — signing agreements worth $11.9 billion. Qatar ranked first, with agreements worth $17.5 billion.

According to the report, which traces arms sales to developing nations between 2008 and 2015, Egypt signed arms transfers agreements totaling $30 billion, coming third after Saudi Arabia and India.

Egypt ranked sixth among developing countries in total arms transfers agreements between 2008 and 2011, worth $8.6 billion. The US was the biggest arms exporter to Egypt in this period, with 79 percent of total arms transfer agreements, followed by China then Russia.

In the same period, Egypt’s actual arms imports reached $5 billion, the fifth largest among developing countries. Between 2012 and 2015, Egypt ranked fourth in arms imports at a total of $9.8 billion, preceded by Saudi, India and Iraq. The report indicates that Egypt’s arms transfer agreements for this period reached $21.5 billion.

Western European countries and Russia were major arms exporters to Egypt in this period, with 43 percent of agreements respectively, then came the US with 6 percent.

The report revealed that US and Russia were major arms exporters to developing countries in the period between 2012 and 2015, with 81 percent of the total arms transfer agreements.

In 2015 only, Qatar topped the developing nations signing arms transfer agreements with $17.5 billion, followed by Egypt with $11.9 billion, Saudi with $8.6 billion, then South Korea with $5.4 billion.

Arms transfer agreements signed by Egypt in 2015 represented 15 percent of total agreements signed worldwide, which reached $80 billion, according to the report.

But the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has shown that Egypt’s arms imports between 2011 and 2015 reached just $3.4 billion, ranking 12th worldwide.

A report published by London-based global analysis firm IHS Markit. indicated that Egypt’s military imports reached $2.268 billion in 2015, making it the world’s fourth-largest defense importer.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the US, and under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi it has also made major purchases from other exporting countries, including Russia and France.

High-profile deals include a 2015 agreement with France to purchase 5.2 billion euro worth of military equipment, including 24 Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate, and a contract with Russian firm Rosoboronexport to buy 46 attack helicopters.

Sisi prepares clamp down on press freedom, sets up govt-picked council to oversee media

Agence France-Presse 
Egypt prepares to clamp down press freedom, sets up govt-picked council to oversee media




Cairo (AFP) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved a law to set up a council headed by his appointees that oversees the media and ensures compliance with "national security" requirements.

The law, passed by parliament and published in the official gazette on Monday, mandates the council to investigate media funding and fine or revoke permits of those deemed in violation.

The council will be composed of a head picked by Sisi and 12 members recommended by parliament and other institutions, and also approved by the president. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has accused Egypt of placing restrictions on media and being a "leading jailer of journalists."

The law says the council would guarantee the right of citizens "to enjoy a free and honest media". But it also tasks the council with "guaranteeing the compliance of media institutions to the requirements of national security."

Sisi has dismissed criticisms of media restrictions in Egypt, but he regularly complains of its performance and has suggested it occasionally harms the country with critical coverage.

The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate official Khaled Elbalshy said the law tightens government control on media. "The new law entrenches the status quo including control over the media through a council picked by the executive branch," he told AFP.

The law came days after police arrested a journalist with the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel on suspicion of fabricating news on the country.

Egypt accuses the channel of backing the Muslim Brotherhood movement, outlawed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and cracked down on his supporters.

Egypt had provoked international condemnation in 2013 when it arrested three Al-Jazeera journalists, including a Canadian and an Australian, and sentenced them to jail on similar accusations. They were later released.


*Photo of dictator Sisi courtesy of AFP 

Egypt: 1,736 social, economic & labor protests in 2016

Mada Masr
1,736 social, economic and labor protests across Egypt in 2016: ECESR

Monday December 26, 2016


According to a report published by the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) on Monday, a total of 1,736 protests took place in Egypt over the course of  2016. This figure represents a decrease in the number of protests that the ECESR reported in 2015, when a total of 1,955 protests took place nationwide.

The ECESR report outlines that in 2016 the state’s new austerity measures, tax hikes and associated economic policies contributed to increased pressures and hardships on Egyptians, pushing many citizens to protest. However, the continued imposition of restrictive legislation regulating the right to demonstrate – along with security crackdowns on dissent – have likely contributed to a decrease in the total number of protests this year.

According to the ECESR acts of protest can be divided into three distinct categories: social, economic and labor protests. Based on this breakdown, the ECESR reported that the majority of protests which took place this year can be categorized as labor protests, numbering 726.

The second highest category was social protests, with 633 taking place across the country. The report also states hat 377 economic protests took place nationwide.

LABOR PROTESTS

February saw the largest number of recorded labor and workplace protests, with 108 taking place.

Government employees carried out the greatest number of labor actions throughout the year, engaging in 478 acts of protest, followed by the public then the private sector, which witnessed 133 and 107 protests, respectively.

According to the ECESR report, the high number of protests among government workers and employees was largely triggered by the passing of the controversial Civil Service Law, a revised version of which was approved this year. The law and imposes a caps on wages and bonuses.

Employees from the Health Ministry were at the forefront of labor protests in the governmental sector this year, engaging in 159 demonstrations. This was followed by the Education Ministry’s employees who took part in 74 protests.

Looking at the specific grievances, the greatest number of industrial actions (379) were in protest against working conditions. This was followed by protests over demands for financial compensation, amounting to 368, followed by 367 protests over claims of corruption and financial irregularities. 

Protests over demands for employment amounted to 153, while 139 protests took place over disputes pertaining to contractual agreements.

Cairo was the governorate that accounted for the largest number of labor protests in 2016, with 454 industrial actions taking place, followed by Sharqiya with 128, and Gharbiya with 119 labor protests.

SOCIAL PROTESTS

According to the ECESR, the category of social protests are those which are not based on, or motivated by, economic factors. Accordingly ‘social protests’ include actions organized by members of residential communities, students, and others.

Of the 633 social protests witnessed across Egypt this year, the majority took place in September – with 86 recorded that month.

The main motivating factors behind social protests this year were corruption and negligence, with citizens organizing 366 such protests. Education-related protests followed, with 218 taking place this year, as well as 77 protests organized over security-related demands.

ECONOMIC PROTESTS

Out of the 377 economic protests recorded this year, May saw the highest incidence with 59 taking place.

According to the ECESR, economic protests are those triggered primarily by the government’s monetary and fiscal policies, which directly impact the economic interests of different categories of people, particularly small business owners.

Within all three categories, the most common form of dissent this year was the protest rally, which included protests and marches, reaching a total of 1,210. This was followed by labor strikes or work stoppages, of which 282 incidents were reported, followed by 134 sit-ins or sleep-ins. Finally the ECESR reported  84 incidents where participants inflicted self harm, including suicides and attempted suicides.

Local residents were the demographic which carried out the highest number of protests this year (457.)

Manual workers and laborers partook in 359 industrial actions, civil servants participated in 167 protests, students in 160, transport workers and drivers were involved in 132, teachers participated in 75, doctors in 67, nurses in 71, shopkeepers in 41 while the unemployed and graduates were collectively involved in 62 protests.

The ECESR’s monthly and annual protest figures are based on information published on news websites and portals. They have been issuing periodic and annual reports on protests in Egypt since 2012.

The latest report covers the period from January 1 until December 20. The ECESR will follow up this publication with a more detailed annual report on 2016 protests in February 2017.


*Photo of Public Transport Authority workers by Jano Charbel

US absention allows UNSC to demand end to Israel's settlements

The Guardian
US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements

Donald Trump and Israel had urged Washington to use its veto to stop historic security council resolution


The United Nations security council has adopted a landmark resolution demanding a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories after Barack Obama’s administration refused to veto the resolution.
A White House official said Obama had taken the decision to abstain in the absence of any meaningful peace process.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote on Friday night. Loud applause was heard in the packed chamber when the US ambassador, Samantha Power, abstained.

All remaining members of the security council, including the UK, voted in support. Egypt, which had drafted the resolution and had been briefly persuaded by Israel to postpone the vote, also backed the move.

Friday’s vote was scheduled at the request of four countries – New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela – who stepped in to push for action a day after Egypt put the draft resolution on hold.

Israel recalled its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal in protest on Saturday.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s office said the vote was “a big blow” to Israeli policy and a show of “strong support for the two-state solution”.

The resolution says Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity” and demands a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities,” saying this “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”


The resolution reiterated that Israeli settlement was a “flagrant violation” of international law.
The United States vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, which was the sole veto cast by the Obama administration at the security council.

The abstention decision underlined the tension between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had made furious efforts to prevent such a move.

A resolution requires nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China in order to be adopted. Among those who welcomed the resolution was UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“The secretary general takes this opportunity to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work with the international community to create a conducive environment for a return to meaningful negotiations,” said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Explaining the US abstention, Power said the Israeli settlement “seriously undermines Israel’s security”, adding : “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Power said the US did not veto the resolution because the Obama administration believed it reflected the state of affairs regarding settlement and remained consistent with US policy.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation,” Power said.

The US decision to abstain was immediately condemned by Netanyahu’s office as “shameful” which pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with Donald Trump.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes.

“Israel looks forward to working with president-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, bluntly told the council that the resolution would not have the hoped-for impact of spurring peace efforts.

“By voting yes in favour of this resolution, you have in fact voted no. You voted no to negotiation, you voted no to progress and a chance for better lives for Israelis and Palestinians, and you voted no to the possibility of peace,” Danon told the council.

The vote will, however, be seen as a major defeat for Netanyahu, who has long had a difficult relationship with the Obama administration.

Netanyahu had tried to prevent the vote by appealing to Trump, who will not be sworn in until late January, and to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatal al-Sisi.

While the resolution is largely symbolic, it will be seen as empowering an increasingly tough UN over Israel and will give pause to international companies who have interests in the occupied territories.

Originally drafted by Egypt, the original version of the resolution had been supposed to go to a vote on Thursday night, but was withdrawn by Sisi under pressure orchestrated by Israel.

Following the vote Trump, tweeted: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20.”

Commenting on Trump’s attempted intervention, a White House official insisted that until Trump’s inauguration on 20 January there was one US president - Obama.

Pro-Israel senators and lobby groups also weighed in following the vote. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most influential lobby groups, said it was “deeply disturbed by the failure of the Obama administration to exercise its veto to prevent a destructive, one-sided, anti-Israel resolution from being enacted by the United Nations security council.”

It also pointedly thanked Trump for his attempts to intervene: “AIPAC expresses its appreciation to president-elect Trump and the many Democratic and Republican members of Congress who urged a veto of this resolution.”

The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.

About 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”.

It states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution.”


*Photos courtesy of Reuters

Proposal to ban animal carts in Cairo doomed to failure

Mada Masr
Cairo’s governor has proposed a project to rid the capital’s streets of animal carts. He is not the first to do so, but how likely is it to succeed this time?


Cart owners don’t think the new government program 'Cairo Without Animal Carts' will achieve its stated aim of ridding the Egyptian capital of carts drawn by horses, donkeys and mules.

The program, announced by Cairo Governor Atef Abdel Hamid at the end of November, would marshal in a process by which animal-drawn carts would be phased out and their owners given economic support to purchase motor vehicles.

Yahia Shawkat, an urban researcher and one of the founders of 10 Tooba Applied Research for the Built Environment, explains that “Certain types of carts — such as those used in garbage disposal, recycling, tanneries, pleasure rides — are usually associated with the local industries of certain neighborhoods.”

Animal-drawn carts sustain thousands of low-income households, and yet, in recent years, numerous municipal officials across several governorates have sought to ban them, attempts which have proven unsuccessful.

In the Cairo Governorate alone, movement against carts has been ventured as an outright prohibition in 1973, 1987, 1999 and 2006 and as the center of anti-cart police campaigns in 2010.

The state’s argument for banning animal-drawn carts is twofold: As slow moving vehicles, carts obstruct the flow of traffic and lead to road accidents, and carts negatively affect Egypt’s image, presenting it as unclean and disorderly.


But far from this understanding of animal carts as primitive and backward, Shawkat suggests that they are actually safer and more environmentally friendly. The attempts to ban and curb the use of carts in Egypt, he has previously argued, “cannot be dissociated from it being a poor person’s vehicle.” 

On last week’s episode of television show “Manchettes Qarmouty” (Qarmouty’s Headlines) last week, which is broadcast on the privately owned Al-Assema television channel, Gaber al-Qarmouty arranged to have a donkey cart rolled into the studio. With dramatic flare, the words “Goodbye to the animal carts of Cairo” were written on the animal’s hind.

Qarmouty climbed into the back of the cart with its owner, Sameh, and asked if the word “arbagy” (cart driver) – which is often used as a derogatory term to roughly denote someone who is callous, of low-social standing, or with little formal education – offended him.

“Yes, it upsets me,” Sameh responded. In a show of respect, Qarmouty kissed his head.

Qarmouty continued on to outline the failure of previous attempts to ban animal carts, asking Sameh about a range of viable alternatives, including motorcycle-rickshaws. 

BUY-IN AND FEASIBILITY OF A 'CAIRO WITHOUT CARTS' 

Within the framework established by the Cairo Without Animal Carts initiatives, the sale of motor vehicles – ranging from motorcycle-rickshaws and trucks to pickups – will be incentivized by providing cart owners with soft loans that have long-term repayment plans, on the condition that they forfeit their carts.

While the full extent of the financing details has not been disclosed, Cairo’s governor has stated that the Fund for Social Development and civil society organizations will be a part of the process.

However, the governorate’s plan faces potential obstacles on two fronts: the legal problems posed by an influx of new first-time drivers and doubts regarding the transition’s economic feasibility that are joined to skepticism about being lifted out of the informal economy and into the state’s line of vision.

The transition from animal-drawn carts to motor vehicles must confront problems posed by the literacy requirement for drivers licenses, as many of Cairo’s cart drivers cannot read and write.

However, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Cairo Governorate has taken the issue into account and is offering basic literacy courses in coordination with the Fund for Social Development and adult educational institutions.

The larger issue, however, centers on the financial feasibility of the modernization plan and whether those whom it will most affect view it as legitimate.

The financial terms suggested by Cairo Governorate, Shawkat argues, would be a significant burden on households dependent on economic activities linked to animal-driven carts. “Many would go into debt, and defaults on loans would likely be very high.”

While Shawkat estimates a cart driver’s monthly net income at LE1,400, the labor that is associated with the mode of transport is often precarious. Sameh, the driver that spoke to Qarmouty and works in a supplementary role for construction companies in the capital, said his take-home wages have fallen to a few hundred pounds due to the economic downturn.

Ahmed Hamdy, the owner of a horse-drawn cart from which he sells tangerines in Cairo’s working class neighborhood Manshiet Nasser, puts the cost of a cart between several hundred pounds and approximately LE2,000, depending on its specifications and weight capacity. The price of an adult horse, he adds, can range from LE1,000 to LE5,000, while the cost of a donkey or mule may range from several hundred pounds to LE2,500.

In comparison, a used pickup would cost tens of thousands of pounds and a used truck would come in at over LE100,000. 

“How could we make a living or feed our families without our carts? Our livelihoods depend on these animals and equipment,” says cart owner Galal Hafez, who lives in Cairo’s working class neighborhood Zahraa and has spent the past 30 years collecting paper, cardboard, plastic and glass for recycling. His two sons work in the same line of business, and each operate their own animal-drawn cart.

“Yes, sometimes our carts obstruct traffic,” Hafez admits, but he contends that traffic is slow due in greater part due to the number of cars on the road.

Hafez says his horse consumes about LE50 worth of animal fodder each day and sleeps in the family’s living room, as he has nowhere else to keep it. He estimates he takes home LE1,200 per month from the recycling he is able to collect using his cart.


While Hafez had not heard of the Cairo Without Animal Carts initiative, when informed he professes skepticism of its chance of success.

“If I could afford to pay installments for a truck, I would. But we’re struggling just to pay for life’s basic necessities. We are barely making a living these days,” he said.

Gamal Mahmoud drives his cart through the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, collecting and reselling used household goods. He states that any attempt to ban animal carts will be “a failed project.”

Not dissimilar to Hafez, Mahmoud concedes that carts can obstruct the flow of traffic and says he would gladly trade in his donkey and cart for an automobile, but that he cannot afford the change.

“What about people like me who cannot afford to pay for installments?” he says. “Are we supposed to steal so that we can buy a truck?”


In Manshiet Nasser, a line of animal-drawn carts loaded with refuse slowly wind their way down streets, making their way toward disposal and recycling centers. Here, Hamdy parks on a side street to sell tangerines.

While cart drivers’ placement in the informal economy comes with burdens – including the high cost of equipment and animal maintenance – Hamdy says that his lot is better now than if he had to cover the higher costs that come with motor vehicles. He looks around, pointing out the cart workshops around him.

And beyond whether the government’s plan is economically prudent, the tangerine seller says a motor vehicle would not suit his trade. The flatbed of a motorcycle-rickshaw can transport less than half of the two tons his cart can carry and is restricted in the type of cargo it can carry due to its dimensions. While his cart is longer than a pickup truck, Hamdy says, “it is also narrower and can be driven down tight alleyways.”

Across the street, Ahmed Farid, another fruit vendor, says he is frequently harassed by police officers and municipal authorities. “They either want to fine us or confiscate our carts. We just want to be left alone to tend to our work.”

Farid says he would never trade in his horse and cart for a motor vehicle, because he is concerned that a license plate would make it easier for the police to monitor him. 

A PROPOSAL FOR REGULATION AND REFORM

Regulation and reforms rather than a ban are the best way to address the issues posed by animal-drawn carts, says Shawkat, pointing out that carts are allowed on the streets of the United Kingdom and the United States, among other industrial and “civilized” countries, albeit with strict regulations governing their operation.

“A complete ban would amount to the loss of the livelihoods of countless cart drivers and their families,” he says.

Shawkat argues that special lanes should be created for animal-drawn carts to ease traffic congestion, particularly on high-speed intercity roads and highways. He also advocates for other measures to reduce the likelihood of accident, such as mandating carts by equipped with battery-powered lights and reflectors, so as to be more visible at night.

However, while Egypt has one of the world’s highest rates of traffic accidents, they are not primarily caused by the presence of animal-drawn carts.

In 2015, 25,500 people were either killed or injured in traffic accidents, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Private cars caused 36.8 percent of accidents, with trucks causing 27.8 percent and taxis 18.9 percent.

The figures suggest that, even if a move to ban animal-drawn carts from the capital’s streets were possible, it may not lead to a significant decrease in accidents.

“We need better traffic regulations for road safety and efficiency in general,” Shawkat says. “This applies to animal carts, but some automobiles don’t have lights. Why should we worry only about applying these regulations to animal carts?”


*Photos by Basma Fathy

Egypt is world's 3rd worst jailer of journalists - CPJ

Mada Masr
Number of imprisoned journalists reaches global high, Egypt 3rd worst offender: CPJ

Wednesday December 14, 2016

 
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2016 has seen a record number of journalists jailed worldwide, marking the worst year on record with an unprecedented 259 behind bars. Egypt is listed as the third worst offender with 25 journalists in jail, preceded by China with 38 and Turkey with 81.

In its latest report, published on Tuesday, the New York-based group writes that, “More journalists are jailed around the world than at any time since the CPJ began keeping detailed records in 1990, with Turkey accounting for nearly a third of the global total.”

The five countries at the top of the list account for 68 percent of all journalists imprisoned worldwide since December 1, 2016. This includes Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

This year’s statistics are a significant increase from the 199 journalists who were behind bars in 2015, and surpass the previous record of 232 imprisoned in 2012.

Turkey’s high ranking this year is a result of an “ongoing crackdown that accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July,” according to the report. The government has increasingly imprisoned journalists seen as sympathetic to exiled opposition cleric Fethullah Gülen or the attempted coup.

Eight of Egypt’s 25 jailed journalists have been locked up for more than three years, since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013. The remaining 17 have been imprisoned for periods ranging from several weeks to years. This is an increase from the 23 imprisoned in 2015, when Egypt was ranked the second worst jailer of journalists after China.

Some are linked to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated newspapers like Rassd, while several others are TV correspondents, freelance reporters and photojournalists. Most are being detained in Cairo’s Tora Prison, although some are being held in Alexandria, Port Said, Arish, Fayoum and Gamasa, among others.

One of the most high profile prisoners is freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid — popularly known as Shawkan — who has spent over three years in jail. He was arrested by security forces for photographing the violent dispersal of the Rabea sit-in. Shawkan, who suffers from Hepatitis C, has claimed he has been denied access to necessary medical care, and has not yet been sentenced by a court.

Detained on July 3, 2013, Rassd photojournalist Mahmoud Abdel Nabi has spent the most time behind bars. He has remained in detention for over three years and five months, pending his sentencing.

The CPJ has reported that 12 journalists have been killed in Egypt since 1992, seven of them since July 3, 2013.

In November the committee criticized President Abdel Fattah alSisi for continuing to imprison journalists, impose travel bans on media workers and for the sentencing of three top members of the Journalists Syndicate.

In November, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) included both Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on its list of 35 global press predators.

It ranked Egypt as 159th out of 180 states on the 2016 World Press Freedom index.