Monday, June 30, 2014

Accurate depictions of Sisi's dictatorship

Altered image of Dictator Sisi washing feet of Saudi Arabia's absolute monarch - his paymaster - King Abdallah during most recent visit to Egypt aboard his personal jet

Press freedom in Egypt under Dictator Sisi

Dictator Sisi: Building A New Egypt

*Art courtesy of JoeTube, Financial Times, and KAL's Cartoon respectively

Journalist sentenced to 5 yrs in prison for reporting on sectarianism

Mada Masr 
Coptic journalist sent to jail for reporting on sectarian violence

Monday June 23, 2014

Journalist Mohamed Hegazy was sentenced to five years in prison by the Minya Misdemeanor Court on Monday, reported the state-owned news site Al-Ahram Gate.

Hegazy, a correspondent for the US-based Coptic channel Al-Tareq, was arrested in Minya while reporting on sectarian violence there in December 2013.

His camera and flash drives were confiscated, and he was accused of spreading fabricated news and inciting sectarian strife by falsely reporting that Copts face religious discrimination in Egypt.

Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told Mada Masr that Hegazy — who changed his name to Bishoy Armia after converting to Christianity three years ago — was filming Coptic families whose homes were burned down in Minya’s Bany Obiad village at the time of his arrest.

“But instead of arresting the perpetrators of the violence, they arrested Hegazy — the police knew about the story of his conversion,” Ibrahim asserted.

The reporter had filed a suit with the Administrative Court to change the religious affiliation on his national ID card after he and his wife converted, but the case was thrown out. Egyptians wishing to legally register their religious conversion — particularly those who have converted to Christianity or Baha’i — face several bureaucratic obstacles to doing so.

Since the failed court case, Hegazy was repeatedly harassed by security forces, impelling him to move across the country several times over the past year, according to Ibrahim.

The journalist’s lawyer has said that Hegazy was also harassed by police and other inmates during his detention, Ibrahim added.

Australian, British, Dutch & Egyptian journalists sentenced to prison

RSF - Reporters Without Borders

Politically-orchestrated trial ends in long jail terms

Monday 23 June

In a sign of the Egyptian regime’s increasingly totalitarian nature, a Cairo court today passed sentences ranging from seven to ten years in prison on Al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Adel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who have already been held for more than 160 days.

Not content with criminalizing all political opposition, the Egyptian authorities are pursuing a policy of gagging news media that try to offer a different take on reality from the government’s,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We point out that such arrests and arbitrary convictions violate the provisions of the new constitution, especially article 71.”

Mohamed Adel Fahmy, Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief, who has Canadian and Egyptian dual nationality, and Peter Greste, an Australian reporter, were given seven-year terms on charges of "broadcasting false reports" with the aim of supporting the Islamist movement and harming Egypt’s image.

Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, received the same sentence plus an extra three-year jail term on additional charges, giving him a combined sentence of ten years in prison.

Of the six other detained defendants, four were sentenced to seven years in prison and two were acquitted. Eleven other defendants who were tried in absentia –including two British journalists and a Dutch journalist – were given ten-year jail terms.

The 16 Egyptian defendants were accused of membership of a “terrorist organization” (the Muslim Brotherhood) and of trying to harm Egypt’s image. The four foreign journalists were accused to trying to support Muslim Brotherhood by means of false reports.


Journalists continue to be subject to arbitrary arrest in Egypt although the new constitution guarantees freedom of expression and opinion (article 65), media freedom (article 70) and media independence (article 72).

The government established after President Mohammed Morsi’s removal in July 2013 has systematically persecuted media regarded as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera has been one of the leading targets of this anti-Brotherhood witch-hunt, with the authorities closing its offices and arresting its journalists arbitrarily.

The campaign was intensified after the government’s decision on 25 December to add the Muslim Brotherhood to its list of terrorist organizations. It is now prohibited for journalists to possess or disseminate Muslim Brotherhood statements or recordings.

The extreme polarization of the Egyptian media (between those that support and those that oppose Morsi) is reinforcing the polarization of Egyptian society as a whole. As seen again during the recent election campaign, many media are overtly supporting the current government and, as a result, failing to play their watchdog role.

A total of six journalists have been killed by live rounds since 3 July 2013. Most were killed while covering pro-Morsi demonstrations. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), more than 65 journalists were arrested for varying periods of time between 3 July and 30 April.

In a recent open letter, Reporters Without Borders urged Egypt’s new ruler, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, to act as a guarantor of freedom of the media and information and to release all detained journalists.

Egypt is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Minya court confirms another 183 death sentences

Case Makes Mockery of Right to Fair Trial

(Beirut) – An Egyptian court in Minya on June 21, 2014, confirmed 183 of the 683 provisional death sentences imposed after a lightning trial that severely violated the defendants’ due process rights. The authorities should ensure that all the defendants have a prompt retrial in accordance with international fair trial standards.

Judge Said Youssef confirmed the 183 death sentences, including for Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, Mohamed al-Badie, in connection with a mid-August 2013 attack on the Adwa police station in the central Egyptian governorate of Minya that left two policemen dead.

On April 28, 2014, Judge Youssef had recommended the death penalty for 683 defendants. These provisional sentences were reviewed by Egypt’s Mufti, the country’s preeminent interpreter of Islamic law, whose advice to judges is nonbinding and confidential.

The court commuted four of the other provisional death sentences to lengthy prison terms, including two women and one man given life sentences and one man sentenced to 15 years in prison in addition to receiving a death sentence, and acquitted 496 others, a human rights activist who attended the June 21 session told Human Rights Watch.

“Condemning 183 rather than 683 people to die after a cursory and one-sided trial is still a travesty of justice,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The punishments are deadly serious, but the trials weren’t.”

Only 74 defendants were present for the Adwa trial’s single hearing on March 25. None were present for the sentencing on April 28 and June 21. The charges included murder, the attempted murder of five people, including a local Christian man, threatening public order, and burning the Adwa police station.

Defense lawyers had boycotted the trial after the same judge condemned 529 people to death for an August 2013 attack on the Matay police station, also in Minya, following a similarly brief trial on nearly identical charges. On April 28, Judge Youssef confirmed 37 of those 529 death sentences and sentenced the other defendants to life in prison.

Attacks on the two police stations in Minya took place in August 2013 amid riots following security forces’ lethal dispersal of two large Cairo sit-ins.

Under Egyptian judicial procedure, the country's general prosecutor automatically appeals death sentences to the Court of Cassation, which can order a retrial. Defendants may also appeal to the court for a retrial. If the retrial results in a similar verdict, the defense may again ask the Court of Cassation to grant a retrial.

The original trial was in clear violation of Egyptian and international law, Human Rights Watch said. Article 96 of Egypt’s constitution holds that all those accused of a crime are “presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair legal trial in which the right to defend oneself is guaranteed.”

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

The Minya verdicts followed a spate of death-penalty rulings for fatal violence sparked by security forces’ use of lethal force in August 2013 to disperse the Cairo sit-ins. On June 19, a Giza criminal court headed by Judge Mohamed Nagi Shahata recommended the death penalty for 14 senior Islamist politicians, including al-Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, on charges including inciting murder in connection with fatal violence outside Giza's Al-Istiqama Mosque.

The previous day, a Giza criminal court headed by Judge Moataz Khafagi recommended the death penalty for 12 men convicted of ambushing and killing police Gen. Nabil Farrag in the Giza village of Kirdasa, also in the wake of the lethal dispersal of the Cairo sit-ins.

Those 12 men and 11 others also faced charges of, among other things, attacking soldiers, police, Christians, places of worship, and public facilities. Egypt's Mufti will review the provisional sentences in both cases.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment.

“By confirming death sentences after blatantly unfair trials, the Minya court is undermining the basic rights that Egypt's new constitution seeks to protect,” Stork said. “The right to a fair trial is absolute, regardless of the circumstances, and is all the more vital where lives are at stake.”

Everyone's right to protest!

Comrades from Cairo
Everyone's Right to Protest

June 20, 2014

To Those At Whose Side We Struggle,

We write to you again at the bloody dawn of a new presidency: our fourth in as many years. General Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who oversaw the brutal overthrow of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, now sits on Egypt’s Iron Throne.

Mubarak’s resurgent police state is more ferocious than ever. The media, controlled by a handful of millionaires, is terrorizing the populace into sacrificing their most basic rights to the double-faced deity of Security and Stability. And the young revolutionaries who dared to challenge the status quo and who, for a moment in 2011, glimpsed the possibility of something new, are being rounded up and jailed one by one.

Having hijacked the popular protests of 30 June 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood to ride back into power, the military establishment is now using every means at its disposal to silence all forms of dissent and annihilate the hard-won political space of the past three years.

Violence and intimidation have always been the principal tools of the police force, but in Sisi’s Egypt the judiciary has been given a new and leading role in the suppression of freedoms.

Their tool is the Protest Law, which in its seven months of life, has been used to round up, detain and sentence thousands of participants in peaceful protests - and to target specific and influential activists within them.

The most noted example today is Alaa Abd El Fattah. On 26 November 2013, around two hundred protesters gathered outside Egypt’s Parliamentary Upper House were attacked by police with water canons, batons, plainclothes thugs, and tear gas.

Fifty people were arrested, and once the women, journalists and lawyers--who were all beaten--were released, twenty four men were left in jail. The following night, the police violently arrested Alaa from his home.

Today, Alaa and the twenty four have been sentenced to fifteen years in prison. In Alexandria, Mahienour el-Massry, one of the coastal city’s most tireless human rights lawyers, sits in prison on a two-year sentence for holding a protest outside a courthouse where the policemen who murdered Khaled Said were standing trial.

Back in Cairo, the founders of the April 6th Youth Movement, one of the most organised, young political groups in the country, are serving three year sentences in maximum security. And there are many many more. Since 3 July 2013, over thirty six thousand have been arrested for political participation. More than eighty have died in custody.

So now we face the police’s bullets, the prosecution’s corruption and the courtroom’s cages. But there can only be one way forward. We will not hand our rights over to a tyrant and his security state. We will not let our comrades waste their youth in Mubarak’s prison cells. We will not be silenced.

And so on Saturday we march to the Presidential Palace. And around the world friends and comrades have stepped forward in solidarity. Protests have been announced for Athens, Berlin, Derry, London, Paris, New York, and Stockholm, with more still to join.

Though we know it will be a long time before we reach the dizzying heights of 2011 again, moments of unity and of international struggle are as important as ever.

The right to protest is not just under attack in Egypt but is being repressed and criminalized across the globe. And from Gezi Park to Nabi Saleh to US campuses to Marikana, people are fighting for it.

It is impossible to engage on all fronts, on all injustices, simultaneously. And often tragedy is required for focus. In Egypt we are at a crucial juncture.

The protest law must be brought down. The imprisoned must be freed. The government must know that it cannot act with impunity. Small actions multiplied, amplify.

When the world watched Tahrir Square in February 2011, it swelled the pressure building on Mubarak. When the revolution squared up to the Army (SCAF) later that year, the Generals’ delegitimization was hastened by the international public’s aversion to them.

The effects of solidarity are unquantifiable, unknowable. But we do know that if we, or anyone, gives up their right to protest we are giving up the right to shape our own world.

Government announces campaign to combat atheism

Mada Masr

Govt announces campaign to save youth from atheism

Thursday June 19, 2014

The newly formed Cabinet is planning a campaign to combat atheism, according to an official statement released Wednesday.

Neamat Saty, the Youth Ministry’s director of civic education, would work with Ahmed Turky, the head of the Endowment Ministry’s mosques management unit, and a team of psychiatrists to form a national strategy to eradicate atheism.

Although Article 64 of Egypt's recently passed Constitution stipulates that "freedom of religion is absolute,” the ministries plan on “confronting and abolishing [atheism] through religious, educational and psychological means handled by experts in these fields,” according to a report published by the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

The plan is part of a Cabinet-wide effort to “confront all issues that negatively affect [youth] and hinder the steps of development towards the future.”

Turky told Mada Masr in a phone interview that there is a protocol between the two ministries to address various intellectual “threats” facing the country’s youth.

“Previously, we launched a similar campaign against religious extremism where we targeted 200,000 youth whom we saw to be most vulnerable to such ideas, especially in Sinai,” Turky said.

He added that the two ministries are now hoping to combat certain “intellectual pests” that target Egyptian youth, like atheism, asserting that the scope of atheism’s reach in Egypt is still being determined by a joint research committee.

“We are taking preventive and preemptive measures. We do not want to see atheism being endemic in Egypt,” the official explained.

Turky pointed to the ongoing standoff between politics and religion, and arguments concerning how those two realms should ideally interact, as direct causes for an upsurge in both religious extremism and atheism.

“The ongoing conflict will lead youth to either be religious extremists or push them more toward profanity and atheism,” Turky claimed.

But some say it’s problematic for state institutions to get involved in such matters.

Amr Ezzat, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that state bodies are meant to serve all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, and it’s extremely dangerous for them to launch campaigns against certain religious views.

“If we are talking about a modern civil state, the existence of a ministry that runs the affairs of Islam in the first place [the Endowments Ministry] is problematic in itself,” Ezzat argued.

Initiatives like the one announced on Wednesday "do not simply campaign against atheism, but they call for violating the rights of those citizens who hold such beliefs in the first place, which is considered mere incitement. These initiatives propagate that atheists threaten the national unity of the society, while the existence of such religious institutions at the first place is the threat,” he continued.

Belying Ezzat’s concerns are actions like the one taken in March by a Ministry of Interior official in Alexandria, who declared that a special police task force would be formed to arrest a group of atheists residing in the coastal city who were open about their beliefs on Facebook.

In a phone interview with presenter Mohamed Moussa on his television show Redline, aired on the Honest satellite channel, Alexandria Security Directorate chief Amin Ezz al-Din said that the task force would be spearheaded by police officers with expertise in such "crimes,” and that they would legalize arrest procedures against these controversial activists.

The ministries’ campaign echoes recent attacks on atheism in local media, a discourse that is particularly prevalent on private satellite channels. In the same episode in which he interviewed Ezz al-Din, Moussa called for the arrest and execution of an atheist he had hosted on his show as punishment for his beliefs.

In another high-profile incident, a television host on the popular Sabaya program, aired on Al-Nahar satellite channel, kicked her guest off the show live on air for expressing her anti-Islamic views.

On a similar note, the EIPR issued a statement Thursday condemning the 6-month prison sentence levied against a Coptic teacher in the southern governorate of Luxor. The teacher was found guilty of religious blasphemy and defaming Islam.

According to EIPR, this is Luxor’s third court case against religious blasphemy, with each case being brought against religious minorities and those holding religious beliefs contradicting with the Sunni Muslim majority.

In its statement, EIPR cautioned that "freedom of opinion and expression is imperiled by individuals and institutions that seek to impose moral guardianship on the citizenry, in a climate hostile to liberties and supported by the governing authority."

The legal persecution of religious minorities is not unique to the newly sworn-in government. Former President Mohamed Morsi’s yearlong administration was broadly criticized for its perceived crackdown on religious freedoms, as well as a wave of lawsuits against political dissidents and religious minorities accusing them of insulting Islam.

Activist Alber Saber was sentenced to three years in prison by a misdemeanor court in January 2013 for insulting religion after he published a video on his Facebook page promoting atheism

Government moves to outlaw labor strikes, but it is promoting production?

Mada Masr 
Govt moves to outlaw strikes, but is it promoting production?

Tuesday June 17, 2014

Jano Charbel

In an effort to stabilize the national economy, Egypt’s authorities have repeatedly called on the working classes to increase production, and to refrain from strikes and other forms of labor protests.

Citing massive losses of revenue amounting to tens of millions of pounds each year, the Ministry of Manpower has been calling for a one-year ban on strikes. It has moved to prohibit strikes in Alexandria, and may potentially implement similar strike bans in other governorates nationwide.

Joining these calls are the prime minister, former and current presidents.
Their talk of increased production and the cessation of strikes has been parroted in the mainstream media.

However, recent policies indicate that the ruling authorities are not assisting in increasing productivity. Hundreds of factories and production lines remain idle, while daily power outages leave many companies and services without electricity — often for hours at a time.

Over the past week, authorities in several governorates — particularly Cairo, Giza, Damietta, Matrouh, Qalyubiya, Ismailia, Sohag and Assiut — have ordered security forces to clear vendors from the streets, to improve traffic flow and maintain “clean” and “civilized-looking” streets, according to officials.

Several thousands of unlicensed street vendors have had their merchandise confiscated in these security sweeps.

Despite talk of increased productivity, the state also moved to declare official holidays for both the public and private sectors on May 28, to extend voting in the presidential election for a third day, as well as for the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on June 8.

“The double standards of the authorities are very obvious,” said independent union organizer Fatma Ramadan.

“They call on supporters of the ruling regime to rally in streets and squares across the country, while security forces block off many roads for them. Whereas, opponents of the regime are issued prison sentences for up to 15 years for participating in unauthorized rallies” — under the Protest Law issued in November.

“The authorities are calling on workers to give up their only tool of resistance, their only weapon — the right to strike — while offering practically nothing in return,” she added.

According to figures issued by the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, 87 workers were arrested and/or prosecuted in association with strikes and other labor protests between July 3, 2013 and May 15, 2014. Additionally, 41,163 individuals were arrested and prosecuted on charges relating to unauthorized protests or other illegal political actions.

While the right to strike is not banned by law, Trade Union Law 35/1976 and Unified Labor Law 12/2003 impose numerous restrictions on the ability of workers to legally exercise this right.

Since its establishment in 1957, the country’s largest labor body, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has authorized only two strikes.

Under the rule of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the then-Minister of Manpower, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Azhari, actively advocated a one-year ban on strikes in 2013.

More recently, the acting Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry has moved to enforce this one-year ban on strikes.

On May 10, Ashry presided over the signing of a “code of honor,” in which representatives of Alexandria’s chambers of commerce, state-controlled federations, and independent labor federations agreed to “halt strikes and all other formers of labor protests” until the election of a president and parliament.

According to Ramadan, “Written agreements to ban strikes won’t succeed in ending them as long as workers’ rights are violated and their freedoms are denied.” While the frequency of strikes may have temporarily decreased from earlier this year, labor problems persist unresolved, the independent union organizer adds.

Ramadan explained that the Ministry of Manpower has discussed enforcing another governorate-wide ban on strikes in the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, although this has not yet materialized.

Many workers appear to be pinning their hopes on Sisi’s presidency, welcoming the state’s calls for increased productivity and the halting of labor protests. “We will halt our strikes and our demands for the minimum wage, while striving to double our production and also contributing one additional hour of work per day,” said textile worker Yasser Salama in Mahalla City, located in the Gharbiya.

In an interview with the private Al-Shorouk newspaper on Friday, this worker from the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company championed the initiative of the ETUF calling for a halt to strikes to assist the elected President and enable the new government in moving forward.

The Misr Spinning and Weaving Company is Egypt’s largest textile mill, employing some 20,000 workers. This company has been at the forefront of the country’s strikes and industrial actions since December 2006.

Other workers at this mammoth textile company are not willing to give up their right to strike, however.

Worker and activist Kamal al-Fayoumi explained that most of the strikes at this company have been targeted at “the mismanagement and corruption of company administrators,” which have allegedly cost the company hundreds of millions of pounds worth of losses since 2006.

Fayoumi claimed that the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company has been operating at around 50 percent of its productive capacity or less, while many production lines are stalling.

“We demand raw materials needed to operate our factories, and to bring this company back to its original productive capacity,” Fayoumi said.

Yet the Holding Company for Spinning and Weaving, which manages 32 public sector textile companies, and the Ministry of Investment have not yet provided the necessary amount of raw materials or investment to get these companies back to their optimum levels of productivity.

According to Tamer Fayez, another worker at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla said, “The authorities are constantly talking of increased production and productivity, yet our factories are falling into disarray.”

Fayez was dismayed by the fact that the company’s administration granted its 20,000 workers a half-day off work on May 26 and 27 for the election. Fayez was even more disturbed when Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb announced that May 27 would be an official holiday for employees of both the public and private sector.

“Mehleb visited our company on March 5, and told us not to obstruct production with our strikes, yet he is officially obstructing production for the sake of electoral and political gains. How is this acceptable?”

Mehleb also promised Mahalla’s workers that they would receive the minimum wage of LE1,200 per month. This has not yet been implemented.
According to the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, an independent NGO, some 4,000 factories — in both the public and private sectors — have been shut down since the January 2011 uprising. State sources have denied these claims and their figures indicate that only a few hundred factories have been stalled since the January 25 Revolution.

While these figures may be disputed, there are seven companies that have been awaiting state investment in order to re-operate since September 2011.

The Administrative Court annulled the privatization contracts for the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company, Nile Cotton Ginning Company, Nasr Steam Boilers Company, the Nubariya Seed Company, Omar Effendy Department Stores Company, and the Simo Paper Company.

The court found that these seven companies — privatized from the 1990s to early 2000s — were sold-off for well under their real market value. The state is supposed to re-incorporate these companies into the public sector, but has not yet done so.

Only the Omar Effendy Department Stores Company has been re-operated under the public sector, but not all of its branches are back in service. The Shebin al-Kom Textile Company has been intermittently operating at a greatly reduced rate.

According to Hisham al-Oql, a sacked worker from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, “We’re stuck in the same old situation, with the same empty government reassurances.”

Oql explained that production at this company has been entirely halted since October 2013. There are some 480 workers — from an original workforce of around 2,300 —  still receiving their basic wages from the Ministry of Investment and the Holding Company for Chemical Industries (which oversees this company) although there is no production here whatsoever.

“We don’t want handouts or assistance payments. We want our jobs back and our company back,” said Oql. “We want to get back to work, to increase production like the authorities keep telling us to do. We’ve repeatedly offered to work for a whole month without pay, until the company gets back on its feet.”

“What is keeping this company from production?” asked Oql. “The raw materials are available, the factories are available, and the workers are available. The only thing that is not available is the political will to invest and re-operate our company.”

When Tanta Flax’s workers sought to self-manage their company on March 19, local authorities and the electric company cut-off all power to it.

“We hope the government fulfils its promises … we hope for a resumption of production at our company and all other stalled companies,” Oql concluded.

*Photo by Mohamed Al-Saeed