Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Photos: Gaza Freedom Marchers Protest in Cairo

Hundreds of international activists affiliated with the Gaza Freedom March have been protesting throughout Cairo - since Sunday 27, December - in demand of their rights to travel into Gaza via Egypt's Rafah border.

Dicktator Mubarak's openly pro-Zionist government has actively assisted Israel in besieging the 1.5 million residents of Gaza, and is presently keeping the border shut to Gaza Freedom Marchers and the Viva Palestina Convoy - with all their humanitarian aid.

On Day 1 - Egyptian pigs prevented GFM activists from setting afloat 1,400 lighten candles in the Nile in commemoration of the number of deaths during last year's war on Gaza

On Day 2 - Pigs continue to bully GFM activists, and detain three journalists from Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper (myself included) who were covering the sleep-in protest at the French Embassy

On Day 3 - GFM activists and Egyptian activists protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Cairo. Stand in solidarity with Gaza outside the Journalists' Syndicate



AFP - Egypt to allow 100 protesters into Gaza

Egypt to allow 100 protesters into Gaza
December 30
By Samer al-Atrush (AFP)

CAIRO — Protest leaders stranded in Cairo accepted an Egyptian offer on Tuesday to allow only 100 out of about 1,300 protesters into blockaded Gaza after the activists staged demonstrations and a hunger strike.

The decision split delegates from more than 40 countries who came to Cairo planning to reach the Palestinian enclave, which shares the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Some organisers said Egypt's offer was a victory after it initially refused to allow any of the protesters into the Gaza Strip for the Gaza Freedom March, which is scheduled to take place on Thursday.

"It's a partial victory," said Medea Benjamin, an American activist and one of the demonstrations organisers. "It shows that mass pressure has an effect."

They said the foreign ministry offered to let them choose 100 delegates who would be allowed into Gaza. They were due to leave Cairo for Gaza on Wednesday morning.

Activists have staged demonstrations and sit-ins around Cairo to push for entry to Gaza. Dozens of French activists camped out in front of their embassy in Cairo after being refused passage.

The offer, however, angered many of the activists. A French organiser rejected it as divisive and said the sit-in in front of the French embassy would continue.

"This just gives the Egyptian government a photo-up and the chance say we allowed people through," said Bassem Omar, a Canadian protester. Activists left behind in Cairo said they planned further protests.

Egypt had said it barred the protesters because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza. It has refused to permanently open the Rafah crossing since the militant Islamist group Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, prompting Israel's blockade, but opens it for a few days every month.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said earlier at a press conference that his country would allow some of the protesters to enter Gaza.

"We are looking into allowing a limited number...in the coming days," he said. He accused other protesters of "conspiring" against Egypt and said they could remain "on the street."

Egypt has vigorously contested allegations of complicity in the blockade of Gaza, which was devastated last winter during a war between its Hamas rulers and Israel that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Separately, organisers of another aid convoy trying to reach Gaza -- Viva Palestina led by British MP George Galloway -- said it would head to Syria en route for Egypt after being stranded in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba for five days.

They had planned to drive to Gaza from the Red Sea port of Nuweiba -- the most direct route -- but Egypt insisted the convoy could only enter through El-Arish, on its Mediterranean coast.

Police Detain 3 Journalists from Al-Masry Al-Youm

Hours of detention
Tue, 29/12/2009

Jano Charbel

Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist Jano Charbel was detained by security forces last night as he was covering the pro-Gaza demonstrations. The following is his personal account from the darker side of reporting:

I arrived at the demo shortly before 9 pm, and took less than ten photos - in less than three minutes - before I was stopped. A plain-clothed state security officer asked me for my press card and national ID.

He then ordered me to accompany him, and I followed him into the Four Seasons hotel where he handed my identification to his superior officer who was seated in the lobby.

The superior officer, dressed in a beige suit and tie, asked me where my press card was. I pointed out to him that he was holding it and he said, “This is just a card with a photo. Where is the syndicate ID?”

Since you can only apply to the press syndicate if you are given a full-time contract by a national organization, I and hundreds of my fellow journalists work with the cards issued by our organizations. So I told him, "This is what I have got." He gave me a really angry look and signaled to his junior officer to take me away.

The junior officer led me to a dark blue micro-bus, and said, "Your colleagues are here." I looked inside and found Al-Masry journalists Ahmad Ragab and Mustafa Bahgat smiling. They said, “We saw you and tried to warn you, but you didn't notice.”

We were detained for just under three hours in the micro-bus which was primarily being used for making and distributing tea and coffee to the police officers. They had confiscated Ragab and Bahgat phones, but not mine. We received lots of phone calls from colleagues, family and friends. We spent our time talking, joking, and smoking cigarettes in the micro-bus; we'd all been arrested before, so it wasn't really a big deal.

There was a British-Egyptian female activist who was with us at first, but she was released within 45 minutes. Using a Vado camera I managed to quietly and jokingly interview Ragab and Bahgat about their experiences in the micro-bus. (hyperlink to MM)

At 11:15pm the superior officer returned and gave us back our press cards and IDs. He then told us to "leave immediately or else be subjected to arrest."

Gaza Freedom Marchers on Hunger Strike in Egypt

BBC News
Gaza marchers on hunger strike in Egypt

Protesters trying to march into Gaza a year after an Israeli offensive are on hunger strike after Egypt blocked them from crossing the border.

Hundreds of people in Cairo have been prevented from getting close to the border with Gaza.

A group who got as far as the Sinai port of El Arish have been detained by the Egyptian police.

A separate convoy of vans delivering medical supplies is stuck in the Jordanian port town of Aqaba.

At least 38 people of various nationalities were picked up by Egyptian security services in El Arish and held in their hotel rooms, AFP news agency reported.

'Whatever it takes'

In Cairo hundreds of activists are camped outside the United Nations mission in Cairo trying to get them to pressure the Egyptians to let them cross the border with the Gaza Strip.

"I've never done this before, I don't know how my body will react, but I'll do whatever it takes," 85-year-old Hedy Epstein told AFP.

The American activist is a Holocaust survivor, the agency reported.

Meanwhile a convoy of vans carrying supplies which travelled all the way from London to Jordan has been told by Egyptian officials it must go all the way back to Syria to get into Egypt.

The "Viva Palestina" convoy, led by British MP George Galloway, has been blocked from getting on a ferry from Aqaba to the Egyptian town of Nuweiba where it planned to continue by road to the Rafah border crossing.

But now the convoy faces a potentially budget-draining journey back through Jordan to the Syrian port of Latakia, followed by several ferries to El Arish.

'Sensitive situation'

Earlier in December, Egypt rejected a request to allow activists to march across the border into the Gaza Strip to mark the anniversary of last year's conflict.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said the march could not be allowed because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza.

Over 1,000 activists from 42 countries had signed up to join "the Gaza freedom march" to mark the anniversary of the Israeli military incursion into Gaza last year.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the 22-day conflict that ended in January, but Israel puts the figure at 1,166.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.

Gaza is under a tight Israeli and Egyptian blockade, tightened since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.

Most medicines are allowed into the territory, but their transfer can be slowed by Israeli and Palestinian bureaucracy, and the entry of medical equipment and other supplies is limited.

The World Health Organization says that at the end of November 2009, 125 of 480 essential drugs were at "zero level", meaning there was less than one month's stock left.

Israel says the military operation was - and the continuing blockade is - targeted at Hamas, not Gaza's civilians.

The Islamist movement has controlled Gaza since June 2007, and has launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel in recent years.

Gaza Freedom March Perseveres

Gaza Freedom March Perseveres
Mon, 28/12/2009

Jano Charbel

The Gaza Freedom March (GFM) made its presence known in Downtown Cairo Yesterday. A group of around 700 activists, reportedly from more than 40 countries, congregated in Garden City on the eastern bank of the Nile - where they had intended to discuss their action plans aboard some twenty river boats. However, an assortment of security forces prevented these international activists from conducting their floating discussions.

Palestinian flags, and flags reading "Peace" and "Salam" (Peace), were waved amid the chants of "Viva Palestina," "Gaza, Gaza do not cry, Palestine will never die," and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." Hundreds of activists, many of them wearing Palestinian kufiyas (traditional head scarves), held up small cups containing lit candles.

"We just want to go to Gaza," stated GFM organizer Ann Wright, "We like Cairo, but our destination is Gaza."

Another organizer, Ehab Lotayef, said "These people have come to Egypt from around the world at their own expense in order to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza. Not the government of Gaza, but the besieged people in the Gaza Strip. They paid for airplane tickets, hotel accommodation, and transport in Egypt." Lotayef argued that such activists must be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip.

Police forces confined the activists to the sidewalk, and prevented them from moving in large groups.

A group of some 300 French nationals announced their intention of congregating outside their embassy where they would board busses bound for the Gaza border. They stated that they would sit-in at, and sleep outside, the site of the French Embassy if they were prevented from traveling or boarding the busses.

State security officers dressed in civilian clothing informed GFM organizers that they could not meet at the Church of the Holy Family to discuss their plans. The officers also requested the names of the hotel conference halls in which the activists planned to meet. Numerous GFM activists expressed their frustration regarding these security measures.

Later at 7:30pm activists converged at Tahrir Square, to clarify their action plans and coordinate their efforts in hopes of getting into the Gaza Strip. Security forces, both uniformed and in civilian clothes, kept Egyptian bystanders away from the GFM activists. A young American woman, addressing the congregation, spoke of confusion and frustration. She called upon the activists to split up into their respective groups in order to dispel this confusion.

What started as an Anglo-phone congregation ended up sounding like the Tower of Babel. Groups of Belgians, Koreans, Spaniards, Bulgarians, Libyans, Americans, Jordanians, Indians, Italians, Canadians and Greeks, amongst others, all spoke their native languages amongst their group members. There were also groups of international students, a women's group, the Christian Peacemaker Team, an interfaith group, and a group of non-violence trainers, along with others.

Scottish activist Tom McVitie said “I arrived in Egypt on Christmas day. Although we are currently stuck in Cairo we are still planning, and still intending on going to Gaza. He added “our bus trips have been canceled but the French may have a chance to go because their embassy is trying to arrange this with the Egyptian government.” McVitie concluded “it is important to spread awareness regarding the suffering of the Gazans and regarding the new underground wall that Egypt is constructing to cut off the tunnels.”

Belgian activist Sanne Wenderickx also arrived in Egypt on Christmas, she said “we are here to help in raising awareness regarding the situation in Gaza. This is important and human rights are important.” She went on to say “we are not here to cause problems with the Egyptian government, but this government is standing in our way to Gaza. I'm so frustrated."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Egypt bans protest march into Gaza

BBC News
Egypt Bans a Protest March into Gaza
Monday, 21 December 2009

Egypt has rejected a request to allow activists to march across the border into the Gaza Strip to mark the anniversary of last year's conflict.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said the march could not be allowed because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza.

Over 1,000 activists from 42 countries had signed-up to join "the Gaza freedom march" planned for next week.

Egypt warned that anyone attempting the crossing from Egypt would be "dealt with by the law".

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Gazans were killed in the violence between 27 December and 16 January, though Israel puts the figure at 1,166. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers were also killed.

The UN's Goldstone report has said both the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during fighting.

Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels.

When it is finished the wall will be 10-11km (6-7 miles) long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.

Gaza is under a tight Israeli and Egyptian blockade, tightened since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.

Fuck X-Factor, RATM are UK Christmas #1

Rage Against The Machine are UK Christmas Number One
Dec 20th 2009
Liz Colville

Rage Against The Machine has beaten 'X Factor' winner Joe McElderry to the UK Christmas No. 1 spot with its 1993 song 'Killing In the Name.' Frontman Zack de la Rocha, pictured, called it a victory over a "very sterile pop monopoly," NME reports.

Announced as the winner this evening in the UK, the RATM track sold some 500,000 copies, a victory margin of about 50,000. Bookies had named McElderry's song, a cover of Miley Cyrus' 'The Climb,' the favorite, but RATM began edging out the 18-year-old singer last week.

The band has promised to celebrate the win with a free concert in the UK that guitarist Tom Morello said will be "the victory party to end all victory parties."

'Killing In the Name' resurfaced this holiday season thanks to a grassroots campaign by two fans, husband and wife Jon and Tracy Morter, who were motivated by the fact that 'The X Factor' and its creator Simon Cowell's "music machine" has had a four-year run atop the Christmas chart.

The fans, who gathered in the hundreds of thousands on a Facebook group, were encouraged buyers of 'Killing In the Name' to donate to the charity Shelter, which fights homelessness. A portion of proceeds from 'X Factor' sales are also donated to charity.

RATM was fully behind the campaign, with Morello recently explaining to the press, "I think people are fed up of being spoon-fed some sugary ballad that sits on top of the charts. It's a little dose of anarchy."

But will the RATM track get any airplay? There is a clean version of the song, but lately, the band has seemingly been reluctant to edit out the song's offending line, "F--- you, I won't do what you tell me."

On Thursday, the band performed the song for the BBC's Radio 5Live Breakfast, repeating the expletive in the final minute of the song despite orders from the BBC not to. The performance was interrupted with co-host Shelagh Fogerty saying, "Get rid of it."

She then added, "Sorry. We needed to get rid of that because it suddenly turned into something we weren't expecting. Well, we were expecting it, and had asked them not to do it, but they did it anyway, so buy Joe's record." The BBC was later forced to apologize.

Watch a video of the interview and the entire performance on Rock Pit.

Live & Unedited - RATM on the BBC


Fuck you I won't do what the BBC tells me!

Pro-gov't candidate re-elected head of journos syndicate

Pro-govt candidate reelected head of journos syndicate
Sun, 13/12/2009
Saif Nasrawi

Government-backed incumbent Makram Mohamed Ahmed was reelected head of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate Sunday after beating independent candidate Diaa Rashwan, known for opposing the transfer of power from President Hosni Mubarak to his son, Gamal.

Following the vote, Mohamed el-Sayed, head of the judicial committee mandated with overseeing elections, announced that Ahmed had received 2419 votes to Rashwan’s 1561 in a run-off vote following a first round on 6 December in which both candidates failed to secure an absolute majority.

Independent observers attribute Ahmed’s landslide victory to the state’s strategy of mobilizing hundreds of journalists at government-funded newspapers through a combination of vote buying and intimidation.

In the first round, Ahmed had received 1497 votes to Rashwan’s 1458.

Rashwan, 49, an expert on political Islam at the semi-official Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, has been a vocal opponent of the notion of father-to-son presidential succession--a widely anticipated scenario in Egypt.

Ahmed, 74, was first elected to the syndicate board in 1968. Since then, he has held several senior positions at leading official publications, such as flagship government daily Al-Ahram and weekly magazine Al-Mussawer, serving as editor-in-chief of the latter for more than 20 years.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Photos: Journalists' Syndicate Elections

Run-off elections for the presidency of the Journalists' Syndicate were held today - December 13.

Some 4,000 eligible syndicate members cast their votes.

The ruling regime's puppet candidate, the elderly Makram Mohamed Ahmed, managed to hold on to the presidency of the syndicate for another two years.

His contender, Diaa Rashwan, a hope-inspiring "candidate for change" may very well have won these second round of elections - had the two candidates been on even playing grounds.

The regime had clearly mobilized its forces against the candidate calling for change. One could not overlook the fact that buses from state-owned papers were transporting government employees en masse (hundreds, if not thousands) to vote for Makram; each of these sheepish voters was given a free combo meal from Egypt's crappy fast-food joint - Mo'men.

Diaa won a total of 1,561 votes, while 2,419 votes were cast for the old government stooge Makram.


Egypt's Apartheid Wall on Gaza Strip Border

BBC News
Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border
Wednesday, 9 December 2009

By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Cairo

Egypt has begun constructing a huge metal wall along its border with the Gaza Strip as it attempts to cut smuggling tunnels, the BBC has learned.

When it is finished the wall will be 10-11km (6-7 miles) long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.

The Egyptians are being helped by American army engineers, who the BBC understands have designed the wall.

The plan has been shrouded in secrecy, with no comment or confirmation from the Egyptian government.

The wall will take 18 months to complete.

For weeks local farmers have noticed more activity at the border where trees were being cut down, but very few of them were aware that a barrier was being built.


That is because the barrier, made of super-strength steel, has been hidden deep underground.

The BBC has been told that it was manufactured in the US, that it fits together in similar fashion to a jigsaw, and that it has been tested to ensure it is bomb proof.

US officials have though denied to the BBC that they are involved in building or supplying the wall.

The reports say the wall cannot be cut or melted - in short it is impenetrable.

Intelligence sources in Egypt say the barrier is being sunk close to the perimeter wall that already exists.

They claim 4km of the wall has already been completed north of the Rafah crossing, with work now beginning to the south.

The land beneath Egypt and Gaza resembles a Swiss cheese, full of holes and tunnels through which the Palestinians smuggle the everyday items they are denied by the blockade.

But the Israelis say the tunnels are also used to smuggle people, weapons, and the components of the rockets that are fired at southern Israeli towns.

The wall is not expected to stop all the smuggling, but it will force the Palestinians to go deeper and it will likely cut the hundreds of superficial tunnels closer to the surface that are used to move the bulk of the goods.

Egypt: Protesting joblessness

Protesting joblessness
Mon, 07/12/2009

Jano Charbel

Over 200 workers and labor activists demonstrated Monday outside the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) headquarters in downtown Cairo.

Outside the ETUF, more than 100 protestors demanded the reinstatement of dozens of colleagues recently laid off by 35 different companies. In front of NDP headquarters, meanwhile, some 100 employees of the Egyptian Company for Telephone Units protested against the planned liquidation of the firm.

Spokespeople for both groups said their demands were being disregarded by both company and government officials.

A statement issued by the first group noted that ETUF President Hussein Megawer had "traveled all the way to Sudan to attend the Egypt-Algeria football match, while he refuses to assist persecuted workers in Egypt."

The 35 sacked workers had been employed at both public- and private-sector companies, including the Indorama Shebin Textile Company; the Tanta Flax and Oils Company; the Mahalla Textile Company; the Nile Cotton Ginning Company; the Fayoum Textile Company; Trust Textiles, Bolivar Textiles; El-Hennawy Tobacco Company; and the Fayoum Sugar Company.

Surrounded by black-clad security personnel, protestors outside the ETUF chanted, "We want a free union; our lives have grown bitter" and "Workers' rights before profits."

"Six of us received court orders saying we were to be reinstated at our jobs, but the Saudi investor [Abdel Ellah al-Kaaky] and the company's administration have refused to recognize these orders," trade unionist Hisham el-Okal, one of nine striking workers to be recently sacked from the Tanta Flax Company, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "We've sent innumerable letters to the ETUF, the Manpower Ministry and the prime minister regarding our situation, but to no avail."

"We're demonstrating today in hopes of applying pressure on these officials, but--as usual--we don't expect them to heed our demands," el-Okal added. "[General Union for Textile Workers President] Saeed el-Gohary, Hussein Megawer and [Manpower Minister] Aisha Abdel Hady only offer us stopgap solutions."

Megawer, for his part, could not be reached for comment.

"Company management is squandering public resources and preparing to liquidate the firm and force us all into early retirement," said Fayoum Textile Company worker Abdel Tawwab Bakir. "There were 500 employees at the company in 2007, whereas now there are only 328."

"We just want to continue working so as to provide for our families," Bakir added.

Outside NDP headquarters, meanwhile, ranks of security personnel likewise cordoned off protesting employees of the Egyptian Company for Telephone Units. Police officers at the scene threatened journalists attempting to cover the incident with arrest and prevented them from speaking with demonstrators.

"We didn't manage to meet any NDP officials, but we did speak with the deputy president of the National Council for Human Rights and gave him our list of demands," worker Ahmed Ibrahim told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

"Production has been halted at the company for the past six months, while most employees haven't been paid in three months," Ibrahim added. "And the Jordanian investor, Ayman Hegawy, is planning to liquidate the company and dismiss all remaining 960 workers."

He went on to explain that the company, established in 1966 and privatized in 1999, had made an annual profit of LE30 million in 1999 alone. "Yet the company has incurred millions of pounds of debts since its privatization due to mismanagement," he said.

"We want this company to remain in business; we want to continue working," Ibrahim concluded. "But if they're going to liquidate it, we demand fair end-of-service payments, along with reimbursement for the 10 percent of company shares held by workers."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Photos: The Greeks in Action

Courtesy of whoever took these photos. Thanks
Solidarity with the good Greeks, fuck the pigs!

Greek Anarchists Commemorate Teen's Murder

Greece: Violence, Anarchists Mark Anniversary of Teen's Death from Police Shooting

December 7, 2009

Ayinde O. Chase - AHN Editor

Athens, Greece (AHN) - Greek police arrested hundreds of rioting youths and used tear gas and shock grenades on Monday during a second day of protests. Rioters were protesting marking the anniversary of the police shooting which killed a teenager igniting an outpouring of violence the country hadn't seen in decades.

Youths donning hoods threw incendiary devices and marble chunks at police during a protest march through Athens' city center.

Violence has been escalating in the Greek cities of Athens, Patras and Ioannina since Saturday as authorities have been clashing with hooded protesters and demonstrating students.

Several thousand police officers were deployed ahead of the weekend in an attempt to quell any up swell of violence commemorating the death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

On Sunday local media showed images of rioters smashing bank windows and shops, setting garbage bins on fire and destroying cars. Authorities report at least 25 policemen and five protesters and 25 policemen have been injured, including the dean of the Athens University.

On Sunday Anarchists broke into a building at Athens University and tore down the Greek flag and replaced it with the red and black anarchist banner. During the attack the Dean of the university suffered massive head injuries and is currently listed in critical condition.

Several high schools and universities in the country are listed as being under the occupation by students on Monday as part of the protest.

Officials report more than 300 people have been detained by authorities.

2008's original rioting violence spread throughout the country's cities and lasted for weeks. During those troublesome weeks authorities had to deal with bombings, shootings, and arson attacks all directed towards banks, and multinational institutions.

Greek officials are saying they won't tolerate lawlessness this year. Karolos Papoulias, the president of Greece, is pleading for calm and asked for nonviolent protests.

Officials are fearing that the influx of anarchists from other countries will further ignite an already rapidly growing problem.

In 2008 Grigoropoulos was killed by a police officer who claimed he fired into the air while being attacked by teens. Subsequently two police officers have been charged with murder and attempted murder in the teen's death. They are scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 20.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Egypt's endangered breed of trade unionists

An endangered breed of trade unionists
Sat. December 5, 2009

Jano Charbel

The number of women working in Egypt's trade union offices has always been negligible. Two prominent examples of contemporary female trade union leaders are Aisha Abdel Hady, now minister of labor, and Aisha Abu Samada, an independent unionist who was sacked from her job and had her union membership suspended two years ago.

The 43-year-old Abu Samada has been employed at the El-Hennawy Tobacco Company, in the Nile Delta city of Damanhour, for the last 20 years. Yet despite her long years of service, her monthly wage only comes to LE400 (roughly US$72). “Starting salaries and basic wages at the company amount to LE300 per month," she told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "Nevertheless, the company stopped hiring new workers in 2003.”

Ten years ago, the El-Hennawy company boasted a workforce of some 800 employees. Now it only employs a total of 300 workers and administrators.

“Owner Talaat el-Hennawy and the company's administrative committee have sought to lay off hundreds of workers by withholding annual 10-percent pay raises and decreasing annual bonuses,” said Abu Samada. "Poor wages and working conditions have led hundreds to quit their jobs and look for better-paying work elsewhere.”

These and similar grievances are said to have prompted a series of labor strikes that rocked the company in both 2003 and 2006.

During trade union elections in November 2006, Abu Samada was nominated for council membership in her local union committee. “We didn't conduct elections in the traditional sense of the word. It was election by default," she explained. "We had nine candidates competing for nine council seats. Four other workers -- independents -- nominated themselves, but their candidacies were rejected.”

"My eight fellow unionists were all closely affiliated to the company's administrative council,” she added.

Once elected, she quickly sprang into action. By early 2007, Abu Samada had begun mobilizing her co-workers to demand annual 10-percent pay raises and full payment of promised bonuses. Isolated within the trade union committee -- and increasingly frustrated with the apathetic attitude of her fellow committee members -- Abu Samada urged her co-workers to issue a vote of no confidence against the eight pro-management unionists.

By August 1, 2007, her fellow union committee members had voted to remove Abu Samada from her seat on the committee. In response, she -- along with some 100 other workers from the El-Hennawy company -- staged protests outside the Cairo headquarters of the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and the Labor Ministry.

Yet even though workers managed to collect around 250 signatures for a no confidence vote against the eight other unionists, both the ETUF and the Labor Ministry refused to recognize the petition. Shortly afterward, the General Union for Workers in Food Industries -- to which the El-Hennawy company's union committee is affiliated -- officially informed Abu Samada that the General Union council had voted to suspend her from union service.

“Aisha's membership has only been suspended," the General Union's chief official in charge of membership, Secretary-General Shaaban Mustafa, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "She hasn't been sacked from her union committee council.”

“It was the unanimous decision of the General Union council owing to her irresponsible actions. She defamed her union in the press," Mustafa added. "I don't want to speak negatively about Aisha since this was her first term in union office, but she simply doesn't have enough union experience.”

In addition to her suspension from the union, el-Hennawy fired Abu Samada from her job at the company the following month. On the same day, el-Hennawy filed a lawsuit against Abu Samada at the Damanhour Primary Court, in which he accused her of slandering both himself and the company's administrative council in media statements and press interviews.

Yet despite Abu Samada's removal, the tobacco company continued to be plagued with labor unrest. In August 2008, 32 female workers were sacked for staging protests in which they demanded unpaid annual raises and bonuses, as well as Abu Samada's reinstatement. Three months later, the 32 women were themselves reinstated at the behest of the local union committee and the General Union for Workers in Food Industries. Their economic demands, however, remain unmet.

Abu Samada herself was reinstated at the company two years later, in October 2009, after her lawyers reached a compromise with el-Hennawy. Charges against her were dropped and legal proceedings brought to a halt, while she was given two years' of unpaid wages. Nevertheless, her membership in the union committee remains suspended.

“Based upon a social, economic and legal evaluation of the situation, the 21 members of the General Union council voted to reinstate the 32 workers that had been sacked," President of the General Union for Employees in Food Industries, Mohamad Naguib, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "We even paid them compensation amounting to LE300 a month for every month they were jobless."

Naguib went on, however, to defend the General Union's decision to suspend Abu Samada's union membership.

"We seek to maintain harmony among employers and employees,” he said. “When a worker actively weakens this sense of unity in her union, then she is counterproductive and even detrimental. In some cases the General Union council must assume the role of surgeon, amputating an infected finger to save the hand.”

For his part, Mustafa said: “Aisha overstepped the legal regulations of unionism, but we're willing to reevaluate her standing now that she has been reinstated in her job. If she refrains from making slanderous remarks in the press, she may eventually be reinstated in her union committee -- but this is contingent upon the approval of the majority of the general syndicate council.”

The general syndicate council is composed of 21 members, most of whom -- including Naguib -- are members of the ruling National Democratic Party.

Abu Samada is currently appealing to the General Union, filing the necessary petitions and documents in hopes of returning to union service. “I really hope that I'm able to return to my union work," she said. "But this ultimately lies in the hands of the General Union.”

Why Doesn't Egypt Go the Solar Energy Way?

Towards cities powered by the sun
Thurs. December 3, 2009

Jano Charbel

Our sun shines every day, yet solar energy remains an elusive commodity. We are told that the answer to this paradox is simple: harnessing this clean and renewable source of energy is too expensive.

But the scientists persist. Egypt has an advantageous geo-strategic location and a virtually unmatched ability to tap solar energy, either through photovoltaic cells or thermal energy processes. So the government, environmentalists and Europe are coming together with the hope of introducing more solar technology to Egypt.

Under the administration of the Ministry of Electricity, the New and Renewable Energy Authority was established in 1986 to assist in the augmentation and diversification of Egypt's energy sources. At the authority's headquarters in Nasr City, panels of solar cells are situated on top of lampposts where they gather the sun's radiation and convert this energy into a direct electric current that illuminates the area.

The New and Renewable Energy Authority

The authority's General Manager of Planning and Follow-up, Mohammad el-Khayat, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that "in February 2008 the government announced its plan to attain 20 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources of energy by the year 2020."

"At the present time hydro-electric power generates approximately12.5 per cent of the country's electricity--primarily from the electric turbines powered by the falling waters of the Aswan Dam--while wind power constitutes around 1.7 per cent of total electric energy production." Solar energy accounts for only a fraction of a percent of electricity generation, while over 85 per cent is generated by carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

"The purchase of solar cell panels, along with their installation and operation, costs five times as much as electricity-generating wind mills," el-Khayat explains.

"Egypt presently has an official capacity of five megawatts worth of electricity-generating solar panels," he says. "This is not much. But take into consideration that there is a capacity of over 120,000 megawatts worth of electricity-generating windmills and wind-technology installed worldwide. As for solar-energy technology there is only about 500 megawatts worth of electricity-generating solar cells installed worldwide."

The government has set up the Solar & Integrated Energy Power Plant in the town of Kuraymat, near Beni Suef, about 90 kilometers south of Cairo. The Kuraymat project will be fully operational by the second half of 2010, according to el-Khayat. The expected total electric power to be generated by this project is estimated at 852 giga-watt hours per year.

"From 2012-2017 we plan on installing a capacity of another 20 megawatts worth of solar photovoltaics in southern Egypt," says el-Khayat, though this part of the plan is still being researched.

There are also smaller projects working on the installation of photovoltaics for indoor illumination in Matrouh Governorate. "The Italian government is now working in coordination with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs on a project involving the fitting of electricity-generating solar cell panels. Their aim is to connect 50 houses, schools and mosques with artificial lighting via electricity produced by solar photovoltaics," says el-Khayat.

Another positive development is the use of photovoltaic cells in the commercial sector, primarily for the illumination of billboards and advertisements along desert highways and rural areas where electricity grids are not present.


The initiative getting attention these days, however, is the Solar CITIES (C3ITIES - Connecting Community Catalysts & Integrating Technologies for Industrial Ecology Systems) project, which was initiated by six environmental activists in November 2007.

The project is spearheaded by Thomas Culhane, an American urban-planner, and his German wife Sybille Frutel. This team has since managed to install 33 handmade solar-powered water heating units around Cairo, with seventeen such units in Manshiyet Nasser, fifteen Darb el-Ahmar, and one in Dokki.

The Solar CITIES Egypt project was launched in Manshiyet Nasser, and was initially funded by USAID through the Spirit of Youth NGO, which maintains its own recycling school for children. This NGO has received US$25,000 worth of funding for this project from January 2008 until June 2009. Since then, funding has dried up and the team is currently looking for alternative funding from the German Agency for Sustainable Development (GTZ) among others.
"We have been able to manually construct these solar water heating systems by using and recycling scrap materials found in the dumps here," Culhane told Al-Masry Al-Youm during an interview in Manshiyet Nasser.

"All that is needed is two barrels: one for storing cold water, and the other for storing water that is heated by the solar panels to the temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. For the solar panels we use large aluminum boxes which we fit with copper pipes, Styrofoam insulation and pipes connecting the panels with the barrels. These solar water heating systems are 85 per cent more energy efficient than the traditional gas or electric water heaters."

Hanna Fathy, a resident of Manshiyet Nasser and a member of the Solar CITIES team, has installed a solar heating system on his rooftop. "It costs about LE600 to 800 to purchase an electric or gas-powered water heater and to install it indoors," Fathy says. "On the other hand it costs around LE2800 to 3000 for us to purchase the material, to assemble it, and finally to install one of these bulky solar powered water heating systems, which are typically installed on rooftops."

Despite the price difference, Fathy thinks that the solar system is worthwhile."On the upside, this solar water heater saves energy in the short-run and it saves money in the long-run," he says. "Unlike gas-powered water heaters. the solar heaters don't leave black smoke marks or rings on ceilings or walls. Furthermore, with solar power there are none of the dangers associated with gas leaks and explosions. Plus it lasts for around 25 years. The solar heater requires minimal maintenance, unlike the electric or gas heaters. This maintenance only involves cleaning off the dust from the solar panels twice a week, more frequently on dusty days. A single solar power heater may service two or three apartments, supplying around 10 to 20 individuals with hot water each day."

Solar-powered water heaters are manufactured in Egypt by the Olympic Company and the Banha Company for Electronic Industries, as well as others. They are for sale across the country at just over LE3500 per unit.

According to Fathy, it will take a while for solar energy to become truly widespread in Egypt. "Appliances are not presently geared towards this. We can continue to import expensive solar panels, or we can attempt to produce them locally at lower expenses," he says. Culhane adds: "What is lacking here is the capital to do so."

According to Culhane, "the governments of California and China are actively encouraging their citizens to make the shift towards solar water heating systems. This sort of official encouragement and sponsorship is lacking in Egypt and in so many other parts of the world."

The Solar CITIES team is concurrently working on the installation of biogas digesters which are fueled by organic garbage (primarily kitchen waste) and produce methane for clean cooking gas, and also for the powering of electricity generators. This rudimentary biogas contraption originated in India. The team has already installed five such digesters around Cairo, and hopes to move into the field of wind power.

Fathy will to travel to Tanzania in December to attend workshops and share his technical expertise about solar water heaters and biogas digesters with environmentalists there.

Culhane says that "people in Egypt will begin to make the move to solar power, biogas, and other renewable sources of energy when the Egyptian government lifts its subsidies on natural gas and oil. These subsidies keep the prices of fossil fuels artificially low, and as such people are not motivated to invest in clean and renewable energy."

But the issues at stake here are not only the local. Climate change and global warming associated with increased carbon emissions have spurred individuals, NGOs, companies, and states across the globe to search for alternatives to polluting fossil fuels.

European Ambitions for Solar Energy Production

With little to no subsidized fuel and fewer hours of direct sunlight per year, European companies and states have expressed a keen interest in tapping into the solar potentials of Egypt and North Africa.

Desertec is one such initiative. The project was proposed by a consortium of 12 European companies, based in Germany, which seek to supply Europe with 15 per cent of its energy needs by 2050. The vast majority of electricity generated in Egypt and North Africa will bypass these countries and head to Europe by way of high-tech, underwater cables which suffer little conductive loss of power. The initiative's planners hope to start supplying Europe with electricity by 2015.

"This initiative is still in its planning phases, but we have no role in this plan," el-Khayat says. "Apparently this is going to be massive project, but it is to be planned and implemented by private sector companies. Siemens Egypt is already involved in this endeavor."

Another proposed initiative is the Mediterranean Solar Plan. This state-sponsored plan was proposed on 13 July 2008 at the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean Region. It seeks to establish a technological capacity of 20 giga-watts in the region by 2020, including 10-12 giga-watts of concentrated solar power. El-Khayat indicated that this plan was being studied by the Ministries of Electricity, Environmental Affairs, and Scientific Research.

*Photo Courtesy of SOLAR CITIES Blog

Torture is Systematic in the Police-State of Egypt

Torture is systematic in Egypt 'police state': rights groups
December 3,2009

By Jailan Zayan (AFP)

CAIRO — Egypt has become a police state where citizens receive no protection from torture, human rights groups said in a report published on Thursday.

"The basic feature of human rights in Egypt today is the prevalence of a policy of exception in which those responsible for violations usually escape punishment amid a climate of impunity intentionally created and fostered for several decades," said the report by 16 Egyptian human rights groups.

"With this policy of impunity gradually becoming the norm, the prerogatives of the security apparatus have been expanded and Egypt has turned into a police state," the report said.

The rights groups, including the Hesham Mubarak Law Centre and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), lashed out at the state for its "systematic" use of torture.

"Egyptians enjoy no protection against torture -- a systematic, routine practice," they said. "Crimes of torture continue to be an everyday practice in police stations (as well as) prisons and even on public roads.

"In many documented cases, torture has resulted in death," despite the Egyptian government insisting they are isolated cases, the groups said.

The report said that torture is not limited to political activists but is applied to society's most vulnerable.

"Everyone who falls in the grasp of the police, particularly the poor, is in imminent danger of torture and bodily harm inflicted through various means, including beatings, kicks, floggings, burning with cigarettes, sexual harm... electroshocks to the feet, head, sexual organs and breasts, and hanging from iron bars or the door of the cell," the report continued.

Egypt has been operating under a state of emergency since the 1981 assassination of president Anwar Sadat, which has been renewed repeatedly since then despite protests from rights groups and regime opponents.

The report accused the government of exaggerating the danger of political Islam and of "manipulating religion and culture" to justify human rights abuses.

It said police have expanded the use of "collective and arbitrary" raids, citing waves of arrests following bombings like those that targeted Red Sea tourist resorts in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

But the practice is also applied to those wanted for non-political crimes.

"The security apparatus also commonly detains entire families as hostages to force wanted fugitives to turn themselves in," the report said.

The state of emergency allows for the detention of anyone who falls under the broad category of constituting "a danger to public security".

As a result, there are now around 12,000 to 14,000 detained persons "some of whom have been under detention for 15 years without charge or trial, although many have received numerous release orders."

The report, which also covers political and religious freedoms, has been handed to the UN Human Rights Council, EIPR director Hossam Bahgat told AFP.