Monday, November 22, 2010

Call for Immediate Release of Journalist Youssef Shaaban

Egypt detains journalist on drug charges in Alexandria

New York, November 22, 2010--Egyptian authorities should immediately release Youssef Shaaban, a reporter for the online newspaper Al-Badil who was arrested while covering street protests in Alexandria, and drop the criminal charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Shaaban was arrested Friday during a demonstration against a new construction project in the Abu Suleyman neighborhood that local residents say threatens their buildings with collapse. Dozens of people were rounded up but most of them were released, according to news reports. Shaaban is accused of possessing drugs, according to his lawyer, who did not specify what kind of drugs he is accused of possessing or what sort of punishment he may face.

Ahmed Elmasry, an Egyptian blogger and Shaaban's friend, told CPJ that Shaaban was detained several times this year, in April, May, and September, while he was covering street protests calling for reforms in Egypt and against the succession of Gamal Mubarak, the son of the Egyptian president. He said that during these arrests police officers threatened Shaaban: "They told him, 'We will teach you how to write,'" he said. Elmasry also called the drug possession charges absurd: "He doesn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol," he said.

Ahmed Mamdouh, Shaaban's lawyer, said the journalist was interrogated without an attorney present. He said he believes the reason behind Shaaban's arrest was a recent article in which he exposed police brutality and cases of security forces robbing protesters of their cell phones and personal belongings.

"The criminal charges against Youssef Shaaban appear to be a pretext to stop him from covering street protests or from writing critically about the authorities," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator. "We call on the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately and drop these charges."

Mamdouh told CPJ that leveling criminal drug-related charges against a journalist sets a dangerous precedent and is meant to intimidate journalists. The government has used such charges against the political opposition before but the lawyer said this is a new and unusual tactic to use against a journalist.

Israel starts building barrier on Egyptian border

BBC News
Israel starts building barrier on Egypt border

22 November 2010

Work is beginning in Israel on a barrier along the border with Egypt, aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

The barrier, including an electric fence and surveillance technology, will run for 250km (155 miles).

Work on the $372m (£232m) project is expected to take up to a year.

Hundreds of migrants - including many asylum seekers - enter Israel from Egypt every week, Israeli government figures suggest.

Egyptian border guards have shot dead dozens of migrants - mostly from Africa - in recent years.

Egyptian officials insist they only shoot at the border after those crossing ignore repeated orders to stop, and point out that human-trafficking gangs carry guns.

However, the United Nations and human rights groups have asked Egypt to stop excessive force being used.

The Israeli government says the barrier will also control the threat of Islamic militants, who cross into Egypt from the Gaza Strip and then try to infiltrate Israeli territory.


The Israeli defence ministry said on Sunday that "dozens of heavy engineering vehicles will be deployed at points along the Israeli-Egypt border" on Monday.

The Israeli government approved the construction of the barrier in March, after months of planning and preparatory work.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the influx of illegal migrants across the border as a major threat to "the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel".

The Israeli immigration authority said in a report earlier this month that some 700 illegal migrants - a record number - infiltrated through the Egypt-Israel border on a weekly basis, Israel's Haaretz newspaper says.

This marked an increase of about 300% since the start of 2010, according to the report, which put the number of migrants at 10,858 over the January-November period.

In 2009, 4,341 migrants were recorded.

A deal struck between Libya and Italy in 2009 has cut off a popular sea route to Europe for illegal African migrants and helped direct the flow towards Israel, the BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says.

Our correspondent adds that many African migrants believe that Israel is currently offering better work opportunities and more Western standards.

Some migrants claim political asylum but that is only granted by Israel in very rare cases.

Egypt restricts opposition before vote: Amnesty

Egypt restricts opposition before vote: Amnesty

Sun Nov 21, 2010

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Egyptian authorities are hindering opposition activists and clamping down on the media ahead of parliamentary elections next week in the Arab world's most populous country, Amnesty International said on Sunday.

Government critics have faced harassment and arrest without charge or trial under an emergency law in place since 1981, and authorities have restricted public access to information in the run-up to the vote, the human rights group said in a statement.

It pointed to seizures of newspapers carrying reports seen as politically sensitive and the closure of some TV channels.

The vote is seen as a test of Egypt's tolerance of dissident voices and opposition campaigning ahead of a presidential vote in 2011. President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, has not said if he will run for a sixth term in office.

"The eyes of the world will be on the conduct of the Egyptian authorities during this election," said Amnesty's regional director Malcolm Smart. "It's an opportunity for them to show that Egypt can be a place where human rights are respected."

The amnesty statement follows a call from the United States for Egypt to allow peaceful gatherings, open media coverage and international observers before and during the November 28 vote.

Egypt, which receives large amounts of U.S. aid and is a key ally in Washington's efforts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, regularly dismisses such calls as meddling in its internal affairs.

It insists the elections will be free and fair and says local monitors can handle their task without any need for international intervention.

"Our rejection of international monitoring does not mean we intend to falsify the elections," Minister of Legal and Assembly Affairs Moufid Shehab was quoted as saying by state news agency MENA. "Every state has the right to organise elections in accordance with its perspective, rules, and legislation."

Security forces detained over 100 supporters of Egypt's main opposition Muslim Brotherhood in different cities on Friday. Police sources and MENA said they were held for holding unauthorised public gatherings or hanging election posters.



AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Egyptian authorities urged to uphold human rights during election

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Egypt must investigate death in police custody

Egyptian authorities must ensure new death in custody case is fully investigated

16 November 2010

Egyptian authorities must independently investigate, without delay, allegations that a young man was tortured to death at a police station in Alexandria, and guarantee the safety of another young man still in custody there, Amnesty International said today.

The family of Ahmed Shaaban, a 19-year-old man, allege that he died after being tortured and physically abused by police officers at Sidi Gaber police station on 7 November, and that his body was then dumped into a canal near his neighbourhood to give the impression that he committed suicide.

"These disturbing allegations of enforced disappearance and death in custody, and possibly unlawful killing by police, must be immediately and fully investigated by an independent body," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Ahmed Shaaban went missing, allegedly in police detention, on 7 November. His corpse was returned to his family on 11 November, covered in bruises to the head and body, which family members attribute to police torture and beating.

Ahmed Shaaban's family learnt on 7 November that he was arrested at a police check point on his way back from a wedding, and taken to Sidi Gaber police station together with his friend, Ahmed Farrag Labib.

When the family went to look for Ahmed Shaaban at the police station, police told them he was not detained there, admitting only to detaining Ahmed Farrag Labib in relation to the theft of a mobile phone.

The day after his disappearance, Ahmed Shaaban's family received an anonymous phone call informing them that he was in detention and being tortured at Sidi Gaber police station.

On 11 November, the family went to Muharram Bek police station where they were informed that the body of Ahmed Shaaban had been found and was at the morgue.

Police reportedly told the family not to hold a funeral but to bury the body immediately. Members of the security forces are said to have accompanied the family at the burial and afterwards to have been stationed near the family's home.

Ahmed Shaaban's friend Ahmed Farrag Labib has been detained since 7 November and is reportedly being denied access to his family and lawyers.

"The Egyptian authorities must ensure that Ahmed Farrag Labib is protected against possible torture or other mistreatment, and not intimidated by those detaining him. His evidence about what occurred on 7 November is likely to be crucial to uncovering the truth," said Malcolm Smart

In a separate case, two police officers from Sidi Gaber station are currently being tried in connection with the death of Khaled Said, a young man who is alleged to have been dragged out of an internet café by plainclothes police and beaten to death in public on the sidewalk.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Alexandrian Police Torture Another Youth to Death

BBC News
Egypt police accused in new Alexandria torture case

15 November 2010

Police in Egypt have been accused of beating a teenager to death and dumping his body in a canal.

The family of Ahmed Shaaban, 19, claims he was tortured by policemen from a station in Alexandria already implicated in the death of another young man, Khaled Said.

Two officers are being tried in connection with that death.

The authorities say Mr Shaaban committed suicide but his family says his body showed clear signs of torture.

A spokesman for Egypt's interior ministry has refused a request for comment from the BBC's Arabic Service. He accused the BBC of peddling lies and propaganda in reporting the allegations.

The case has emerged two weeks before Egyptian parliamentary elections, seen as an important indicator for presidential elections in late 2011.


In a video posted on YouTube, Mr Shaaban's family says he was on his way home from a friend's wedding earlier this month when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. They say there was an argument when he refused to be searched, and that he was arrested and taken to a police station.

The family says they were not allowed to visit him for three days. They then received an anonymous phone call, saying that the teenager's jacket and mobile phone were found in the Mahmoudia canal.

The next morning, the morgue authorities contacted the family, asking them to identify Mr Shaaban's body. The family says that his eyes were dark blue and that his stomach and arms were "ripped open", among other alleged abuses.

A lawyer for the young man, Ahmad Qutb, has dismissed official claims that he took his own life.

"There are photos and evidence [that] confirm that he did not commit suicide," Mr Qutb said, adding that a preliminary investigation suggests that he was tortured and pushed or thrown in the lake.

"We are not accusing anyone officially right now, but we need [an] investigation to identify the criminal," he added.

The police station where the alleged torture took place, Sidi Gaber in the port city of Alexandria, is the same one that was implicated in a police torture scandal concerning Khaled Said.

Witnesses say the 28-year-old died after he was dragged out of an internet cafe and beaten up. The government says he swallowed a packet of drugs and choked.

His death has become a rallying point against police brutality for Egyptians.


See also:

Al-Jazeera English: Egypt police blamed for death

Alexandrian police strike again, killing teenager

Update: Shaaban’s family under severe intimidation


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Egypt: Journalists feel the pressure before election

BBC News
Egyptian journalists feel the pressure before election

13 November 2010

Jon Leyne
BBC News, Cairo

As parliamentary elections approach, journalists and human rights groups in Egypt believe that freedom of speech is coming under threat.

Ahead of the polls on 28 November, the authorities have closed a number of television channels, tightened regulations on the sending of news by text message, and forced operators of satellite dishes to reapply for their licences.

"I think they are jittery about the upcoming elections, which no doubt they have started to rig already long before election day," says Hisham Kassem, a journalist and former chairman of the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights.

"They are going to try to have minimum exposure to what is going to be scandalous elections. Not only rigging - I also imagine there is going to be a lot of violence."

"I imagine they don't want that on international and local media."


The concerns began following the sacking of Ibrahim Issa.

He was the independent-minded editor of the opposition newspaper, al-Dustour.

He was let go following a takeover of the paper. Journalists feared a cosy deal with the government to remove one of its most outspoken opponents.

Staff held protests and a sit-in at the paper's offices.

Around the same time, a number of satellite TV channels were closed down. Most were religious and medical channels.

The government claimed they were broadcasting extremism, or selling quack remedies.

In a separate case, the cable TV channel Orbit was taken off air.

Ostensibly it was over an argument about unpaid fees, but the suspicion was that the move was really intended to silence Amr Adib, the presenter of a nightly chat show, Cairo Today.

Such chat shows are one of the few independent avenues for discussion of politics on television in Egypt.

Another chat show presenter, Mona al-Shazli, says she feels under pressure and fears being taken off air as well.


"What happened to the media has been taken totally out of context by some," argues Aley al-Din Hilal, media director of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

"It has nothing to do with 'political competition' or 'political pluralism' - it was targeted against the bulk of religious [and] one or two health [channels], which violated the licence according to which they operated."

But opponents argue that the government is sending a warning to the media.

Nader Gohar, who runs an independent satellite-dish company, says the government knows it cannot be seen openly repressing freedom of speech.

"The image of Egypt in the Western world is very important for the government. They have to keep it looking clean," he explains.

"That's why they won't close us down, but they want to control us. That way nobody can say they closed us down or they stopped you from working.

"They let you work, but when you work under threat, or feeling that any minute someone can come and raise a law in front of you, it is a bit difficult. We will work, but we will be cautious."

His operation, Cairo News Company, and other satellite dish operators, have had their licences cancelled, and been told to reapply under new, tighter restrictions.

Mr Gohar believes the government is particularly sensitive about the foreign news channels for whom he provides a service.


All of this is denied by Mr Hilal.

"Freedom of expression is a major ingredient of our political system - we protect it, we guarantee it. As long as you don't violate the law, you don't violate the licence according to which you are operating," he insists.

At the very least, the government has created an impression, and made independent journalists more cautious as they approach the election.

Not that anyone expects any serious threat to the control of the Egyptian parliament by the NDP.

But some observers also see this as a rehearsal for next year's presidential elections.

That is when President Hosni Mubarak will either run for re-election aged 83, or possibly give his support to a nominated successor.

It is a rare moment of uncertainty in Egypt's usually tightly controlled politics, so it would be no surprise if those in power were a little more nervous than usual.

Liberal opposition campaigners arrested in downtown Cairo

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Al-Ghad elections campaigners arrested in downtown Cairo

Fri, 12/11/2010

John Ehab

Egyptian security forces arrested two election campaigners for al-Ghad opposition party in downtown Cairo on Thursday evening.

The activists were accused of distributing leaflets promoting Gamila Ismail, an opposition candidate for the district of Kasr al-Nil in Cairo, outside the official election campaigning period which will start next week.

“The police are trying to target our campaigners because the regime is afraid of our capacity to mobilize voters,” Ismail said.

According to the regulations of the High Elections Commission, electoral campaigning should be launched only two weeks prior to the parliamentary elections which are scheduled to take place on 28 November.

However, almost all contenders for the parliamentary elections, both from the ruling National Democratic Party and opposition groups, have already posted their banners in various districts throughout Egypt.

Mohamed Soka and Abdullah Saadawi, the detained campaigners, were released around 2:30 AM after being questioned by prosecutors.

Ismail is the ex-wife of well-known opposition figure Ayman Nour who came a distant second after President Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections.

*Photograph by Mohamed Abdel Ghany

Mubarak asserted Iraq had biological weapons, Bush memoir says

NTI: Global Security Newswire
Egyptian Leader Asserted Iraq had Bioweapons, Bush Memoir Says

Friday, Nov. 12, 2010

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak privately asserted prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that the regime of then-dictator Saddam Hussein held biological weapons, former President Bush said in his memoir published this week (see GSN, Nov. 4).

The Bush administration said intelligence demonstrated Iraq possessed of weapons of mass destruction in making its case for war against the Hussein regime. However, no operational WMD stockpiles or programs were discovered in the Middle Eastern country following the invasion.

"President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had told [U.S. Gen.] Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on our troops," Voice of America quoted Bush as saying in his book, titled "Decision Points."

The Egyptian leader "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street," Bush wrote.

"Intelligence from a Middle Eastern leader who knew (former Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) well had an impact on my thinking," he said. "Just as there were risks to actions, there were risks to inaction as well" (Diaa Bekheet, Voice of America, Nov. 11).

Behind an Israeli Strike in Gaza, Help from Egypt

TIME Magazine
Behind an Israeli Strike in Gaza, Help from Egypt

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

Karl Vick / Jerusalem

The Nov. 3 assassination of Mohammad Namnam looked pretty much exactly like the fiery deaths of a lot of other Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip over the years. He was making his way in broad daylight through the tattered streets of Gaza City when his sedan turned into a fireball. The missile arrived from an Israeli helicopter hovering so far away that onlookers at first thought the explosion was a car bomb.

The death was not routine, however. Israel has refrained for months from assassination by missile, just as Hamas, the fundamentalist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, has held back from launching homemade rockets into Israel. And the dead man was a senior operative not of Hamas but of another, more extreme militia called the Army of Islam. Namnam, a senior commander of the group some analysts describe as linked to al-Qaeda, was tracked and killed after Israeli security operatives learned that he was preparing a terror attack on U.S. forces stationed in the Sinai Desert not far from coastal Palestinian enclave ruled by Hamas. (What's behind Gaza's siege mentality?)

But the most striking element of the operation was the source of the tip: Egyptian intelligence gleaned news of the plot from Army of Islam operatives captured earlier in the Sinai. Egyptian security forces work to interdict arms and explosives on smuggling routes that run across the vast expanse from Sudan to Gaza. But sharing the intelligence on Namnam with their Israeli counterparts marked a level of Egyptian cooperation not seen by the Jewish state in years. "Egypt is helping much more," a security source in the region tells TIME.

This being the Middle East, the explanation involves a blend of shared interests and revenge. Sources familiar with the operation credited the change in Egypt's posture to President Hosni Mubarak's anger at another enemy of Israel, Hizballah, the Shi'a militia based in Lebanon. Last year Egyptian state media announced that 49 Hizballah agents were arrested in Sinai for plotting against Egypt. "They bought apartments near the Suez, speedboats, cars," says the security source. "They built a very big infrastructure around not only Gaza smuggling but also targeting Sinai tourism." Mubarak, incensed, issued a public warning to Hizballah, Hamas and their main state sponsors, Syria and Iran. "We will uncover their plot," the president proclaimed. "Beware of Egypt's wrath."

Egypt and Israel have maintained diplomatic relations since signing a peace treaty in 1979. That treaty returned to Egypt the Sinai peninsula that Israel had captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. It also put in place the multinational force charged with monitoring the desert from a string of outposts and two bases. The Army of Islam plot was aimed at the northern base, called El Gorah, about a dozen miles west of Gaza, apparently hoping to kill Americans. U.S. forces account for almost 700 of the approximately 1,600 military personnel assigned to the Multnational Force and Observers (MFO). Normand St. Pierre, head of the MFO office in Cairo, says Israel and Egypt share responsibility for the forces' security. "The relationship between the countries is really up to them, and I think they know things work better when they cooperate," St. Pierre told TIME, adding that he knew of no specific threat to El Gorah.

Israeli sources offered no specifics either, though in announcing the strike on Namnam an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman described him as a "ticking bomb." The dead man was 27, lived in the Shati refugee camp, and was an aide to Mumtaz Dughmush, the leader of a Gaza clan and commander of the Army of Islam. On the spectrum of militant Islam, the group is described as closer to al-Qaeda than to Hamas, which has both embraced and punished the rival. In 2006, Hamas and the Army of Islam cooperated on the capture of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier still held in Gaza. But after Hamas took power of the coastal strip in 2007 it launched an attack against the group, and news reports said Namnam was recently called on the carpet by Hamas for firing rockets into Israel. Hamas suspended rocket attacks after Israel's devastating December 2008 military incursion, which killed more than 700 of its fighters, and a similar number of civilians.

Israeli officials claimed that Hamas was again cooperating with the Army of Islam in the alleged plot against U.S. forces in the Sinai, but offered no evidence to support the allegation.

Students & opposition protest continued police presence on campus

Daily News Egypt
Students, opposition protest continued police presence on campus

November 11, 2010

Marwa Al-A'sar

CAIRO: Dozens of activists from different political groups protested Thursday afternoon outside the main gate of Cairo University in Giza against the continued presence of police on campus.

The protesters called for putting into force the Supreme Administrative Court ruling that upheld on Oct. 23 a previous verdict rendering police presence and work at Cairo University Campus as illegal.

"A red card to police forces on campus … get out … of the campus," protesters shouted.

"We are protesting today against the [non-compliance of the interior ministry] as to the ruling that ends police interference on campus," secretary general of the Egyptian Kefaya Movement for Change Abdel-Halim Qandil said.

"We call for expelling the interior ministry security forces," Qandil told Daily News Egypt, adding that there have been several cases where the Supreme Administrative Court orders were not carried out.

"[We don't want] a regime that does not respect court orders," he said.

Protesters also shouted anti-regime and anti-government slogans as well as other about the possible scenario of the inheritance of power in Egypt.

"Down with Mubarak … Long live the independence of universities," all protesters said in a loud voice.

"Egypt is our homeland … not a property inherited by … the son [Gamal Mubarak]," they said.

"There is a connection between the independence of universities and other political [demands]," Karima El-Hefnawy, member of the National Association for Change (NAC), argued.

"We say no for forging results of elections and yes for kicking police forces out of universities," she told Daily News Egypt.

Members of the March 9 Movement — a group of Cairo University academics who press for university autonomy and academic freedom — were mostly absent from the protest.

"The March 9 Movement activities have to do more with academic affairs … and are conducted inside the campus … The scope of today's protest is a bit wider," activist and psychology professor Aida Saif El-Dawla explained.

"I did not join his protest as a March 9 Movement member; but as an activist representing the Popular Democratic Movement," Saif El-Dawla added.

Hundreds of security forces were deployed on the opposite side of the street and police officers in civilian clothes surrounding the protesters.

A march by Cairo University students that called for similar demands was held inside the campus almost an hour after the activists' protest kicked off.

Thursday's protest was preceded by alleged attacks that a number of professors and students were subject to at Ain Shams University last week.

A number of professors who belong to the March 9 Movement claimed that the administration of Ain Shams University allowed "thugs" to assault students and prevent professors from handing out leaflets on campus.

The leaflets summarized the recent ruling that held the presence of Interior Ministry police officers on Cairo University's campus as illegal, and that these bodies must be replaced with civil security personnel.

Pictures and videos published by daily independent El-Youm El-Sabe' newspaper showed individuals carrying sticks and chains attacking students.

The administration of Ain Shams University responded in a statement to what it called the "false allegations pertaining to the assault on students and allowing bullies into Ain Shams University" circulating in the media.

The statement claimed that the professors got into Ain Shams University "without accessing prior permission from … the administration."

*Additional reporting by Sarah Carr

Blogger beaten & kept in detention after completing 4-year jail sentence

Reporters Sans Frontières - Reporters Without Borders
Blogger beaten and kept in detention after completing four-year jail sentence

10 November 2010

Reporters Without Borders condemns last night’s disgraceful mistreatment of Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, better known by the blog name of Kareem Amer, and calls for his immediate release. The detained blogger should have been freed on 5 November on completing a four-year jail sentence.

Kareem Amer was transferred from Burj Al Arab prison to Alexandria on 6 November with the apparent aim of releasing him. But last night, an official reportedly gave him a severe beating at the headquarters of the internal security department in Alexandria. Detained since 6 November 2006, he has been held illegally for the past four days.

“The criminal behaviour of the security forces is shocking and unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Kareem Amer has already suffered enough in prison. This mistreatment must be investigated and the person responsible punished. The Egyptian authorities must also free this blogger at once and stop flouting law. His continuing detention is a complete violation of legality. It is time for his ordeal to end.”

Gamal Eid, the head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, accused the interior ministry of “sadistic practices against an unarmed prisoner” and wondered how the authorities could continue to “beat and hold him illegally” when his release had now become mandatory.

Arrested in November 2006 for criticising the government’s religious and authoritarian excesses in his blog (, Kareem Amer was sentenced on 22 February 2007 to three years in prison for inciting hatred of Islam and another year for insulting the president. His blog entries also criticised discrimination against women and the Sunni University of Al-Azhar where he studied law until he was expelled and sued by his professors. He was previously arrested for similar reasons on 2005.

Kareem Amer has been subjected to appalling conditions in detention. In letters he has described being put in solitary confinement for 10 days and “physical torture that was covered up by the prison doctor, who altered my medical file.” His request for a new trial was rejected in 2009. His request for early release, for which he qualified a year ago on completing three quarters of his jail term, was also rejected.

Countless protests have been organised by the Free Kareem Coalition during past four years to press for his release. Reporters Without Borders awarded him its “Cyber-Freedom” prize in December 2007. That year, Reporters Without Borders demonstrated outside the Egyptian embassy in Paris and the Egyptian stand at the world tourism trade fair in Paris. Last year, Reporters Without Borders staged another demonstration in support of Kareem Amer in front of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.

Egypt is ranked 127th out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet,” above all because of its harassment of bloggers.

Greek anarchists briefly seize French Consulate

The Voice of Russia
Greek anarchists briefly seize French Consulate in Patras

Nov 10, 2010

Greek anarchists for a brief time Tuesday night seized the French Consulate in the city of Patras. Thus, they vented their protest against the pension reform, approved by the French authorities.

The anarchists claimed that they "oppose slavery for wages" and "do not agree with the policies of French President Nicolas Sarkozy regarding working people, as well as the Roma and refugees." Police units were sent to the consulate, but their intervention was not necessary.

The anarchists voluntarily left the building.

Egyptian police fire shots at opposition supporters

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Egyptian security fire shots at opposition supporters

November 9, 2010

Cairo- Police confirmed Tuesday that they had used live ammunition during a scuffle with opposition supporters who were hanging posters for a candidate ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

Three men, according to security, were arrested late Monday after police fired warning shots into the air to stop a group of Muslim Brotherhood activists from hanging 'illegal' flyers with religious slogans.

The banned, but tolerated, Muslim Brotherhood have said they are vying for 30 per cent of seats in parliament. They already hold 20 per cent - as independents - making them the largest opposition bloc in the legislature.

The government outlawed any political party from using religious slogans ahead of the November 28 elections, forcing the Muslim Brotherhood to rework their slogan 'Islam is the Solution.'

But supporters of parliamentarian Mahmoud Attia said that police shot in the air and in the direction of the protesters as an intimidation tactic in the northern coastal city of Alexandria.

One of the activists was taken to the hospital for injuries sustained by baton beatings during the scuffle with state security, according to the MB supporters.

According to the Egyptian Center for Human Rights, the shooting at Muslim Brotherhood supporters was a 'flagrant violation of freedom of expression and political rights.'

Egyptian rights groups say fair election unlikely

Agence France Presse
Egypt rights groups say fair Nov. election unlikely

9 November 2010

(AFP) CAIRO — A coalition of Egyptian rights groups said on Tuesday that a government crackdown on opposition candidates will prevent a fair parliamentary election later this month.

The Forum of Independent Human Rights Organisations charged in a press conference that violations in the poll, which will be held on November 28, “started early for these elections.”

Gamal Eid, the director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, noted in particular the broad powers granted to the interior ministry and “restrictions on independent candidates belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and those who splintered from the National Democratic Party.”

The Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition movement, is fielding 134 candidates, registering them as independents to get around a ban on religious parties. The ruling NDP is running about 800 candidates for the 508 seats.

“This climate cannot lead to a fair and free election,” said Magdi Abdel Hamid, the director of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement.

Bahieddine Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said there was a climate of “terror” in the media after the dismissal of an opposition newspaper editor and the suspension of several satellite stations.

“It is a farce rather than a legislative election,” he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a fifth of parliament, has accused the government of arresting dozens of its members since it announced it would run for election.

The last election in 2005 was marred by violence and allegations of fraud by judges who supervised the ballot count.

Israel plans 1,300 settler homes in East Jerusalem

BBC News
Israel plans 1,300 East Jerusalem Jewish settler homes

9 November 2010

Israel has revealed plans to build nearly 1,300 housing units for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.

Building settlements is seen as illegal under international law and the issue has stalled recent efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The announcement comes as Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is on an official visit to the US.

The US and the UN criticised the move, while Palestinian officials said it was an attempt to sabotage the talks.

"We thought that Netanyahu was going to the United States to stop settlement activity and restart negotiations, but it is clear to us that he is determined to destroy the talks," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The Interior Ministry said that final approval had been given for almost 1,000 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, near the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, and about 300 in an area called Ramot.

A ministry spokeswoman told the BBC that the plans were being published to invite public comment and that actual construction was likely to be years away.

East Jerusalem is regarded as occupied Palestinian territory by the international community, but Israel says it is part of its territory.


Israel has been urged by many foreign governments, including the United States, to resume a partial building freeze in settlements on the occupied West Bank and to maintain an unofficial status quo in East Jerusalem, in order to help faltering peace talks with the Palestinians.

The news that more than 1,000 new homes have been approved in East Jerusalem could cast a shadow over a visit to the US by Mr Netanyahu, says the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem.

US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said the White House was "deeply disappointed" by the announcement and viewed it as "counter-productive" to efforts to resume direct talks.

He said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would bring the matter up in a meeting with Mr Netanyahu in New York on Thursday.

Israel angered the US administration earlier this year when a similar announcement was made during a trip to Jerusalem by US Vice-President Joe Biden.

Mr Biden and other US officials are holding meetings this week with the Israeli leader about ways to resume the peace talks - and peace campaigners say the latest announcement from the Israeli government is deliberately provocative, our correspondent says.

In New York, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon "expressed concern at the resumption of settlement activity and recent announcements of further settlement construction in East Jerusalem," the UN press office said.

The Palestinians have refused to go back to the negotiations - which resumed in Washington in September after a break of almost 20 months - without a stop to building Jewish settlements on the territory they want as their future state.

Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements.

Protesting against "insufficient" new minimum wage

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Tensions continue to mount over recent minimum wage ruling

Mon, 08/11/2010

Jano Charbel

Over a hundred labor activists and workers staged a protest on Sunday evening outside the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, demanding Egypt's minimum wage be raised to LE1,200 (around US$215) per month. Angry chants and slogans were directed against government officials who, during the last month, set the new national minimum wage to LE400 (around US$70) per month.

Following the protest, workers and activists joined in a panel discussion at the syndicate. Demonstration leaders announced they will file on November 30 a judicial appeal against this "insufficient" new minimum wage.

The lion's share of criticism and angry slogans, during both the demonstration and panel discussion, were directed towards Minister of State for Economic Development, Othman Mohamed Othman, who also presides over the National Council for Wages (NCW). The government-appointed NCW established the new minimum monthly wage on 28 October, and appears completely unwilling to heed demands to increase the figure.

Government officials claim the national budget cannot support such wages for public sector workers. They argue raising wages to this level will fuel inflation. Last week Othman announced the government could locate economical labor if it elects to do so. On a TV talk show Othman said "we could get cheaper labor from Bangladesh, and they would be satisfied with LE400 or less."

The last official minimum wage was set in 1984, at LE35 (around US$6) per month. NCW officials, however, claim a more recent minimum wage was set in 2008 at LE355 (less than US$65) per month. The NCW decision to raise the wage to LE400 came just two days after an Administrative Court verdict, issued on 26 October, ruled authorities must set a new minimum wage in light of rising living expenses. This was the second court verdict to this effect. The courts, however, do not have jurisdiction to determine the actual minimum wage.

Both of these court cases were filed by Khaled Ali, labor lawyer and director of the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, on behalf of Nagy Rashad, a worker at the state-owned South Cairo Grain Mill. Rashad charged "what the National Council for Wages is offering us is not an adequate minimum wage, but a joke."

The demand for a minimum wage of LE1,200 per month dates back to the year 2007, he added. "LE1,200 is an old demand, it is barely sufficient for an individual to support himself in this day and age; and it is currently insufficient for those who have children or other family members to support."

Ali commented on the lack of willingness on the government's part to implement this new minimum wage in the public sector. "The minimum wage of LE400, as insufficient as it is, must be established as the basic minimum wage, not the total monthly minimum wage" (which also includes bonuses, benefits, etc.).

He added that this basic minimum wage "must be enforced, not only in the private sector, but also in the public sector and in all state-owned enterprises. It was the National Council for Wages which established this new minimum wage, so it must be enforced on the national level."

Ali stated that he would file for a third judicial hearing, against the new minimum wage, on 30 November on the grounds that LE400 per month is insufficient in light of current living expenses. He intends on utilizing economic studies and indicators to support his legal case.

Other activists raised calls for the government to establish a minimum monthly pension, a maximum monthly salary for government officials, a system of progressive taxation and independent trade unions, as well as curbing ministers' salaries and benefits.

Mobilizing Egypt's workers to vote for Mubarak & ruling party

Al-Masry Al-Youm
ETUF makes bid to rally workers behind president, regime

Fri, 05/11/2010

Jano Charbel

Since 2006, Egypt's organized labor force has proven to be the country's most powerful--and vocal--sector of civil society. Although the demands of organized labor and their actions are generally described as apolitical, there are numerous parties and movements vying to mobilize these workers and their unions to serve their own political interests.

Late last month, Hussein Megawer, president of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), announced that nationwide union elections, originally scheduled for next year, would be postponed until 2012 so as not to overlap with Egypt’s 2011 presidential election.

"Our elections must not keep us from supporting President [Hosni] Mubarak, as he is our true supporter, and we are his supporters,” Megawer, an MP for Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), said. “We will continue supporting him as long as he is able to continue giving." He added: "We will not accept anyone else."

The 82-year-old Mubarak, however, has not officially announced whether or not he would seek a sixth term in office. ETUF elections are, according to Article 41 of Trade Union Law 35/1976, to be conducted once every five years. Therefore, an act of parliament would be required to put the elections off for a year.

Kamal Abbas, director of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services, said that the postponement of trade union elections would “serve to decrease the accountability of workers' representatives and trade union officials."

During the tenures of presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, trade union elections had been held once every three years, then, later, every four years. And with the enactment of law 35 in 1976, it was stipulated that elections be conducted once every five years.

"Now these government officials want to hold elections once every six years," said Abbas. Abbas went on to describe the ETUF as "a governmental institution, not a federation of genuine trade unions. Nor does it represent Egypt's workers in any way."

He pointed to the fact that Sayyed Rashid, the previous ETUF president, had "pledged the support of Egypt's 17 million workers for the election of Mubarak in 2005.” Rashid’s announcement, Abbas noted, “was widely criticized at the time by independent and opposition forces throughout the country."

Abbas argued that Megawer was playing the same game--namely, mobilizing Egypt's workers for the sake of the ruling party and its president. He claimed the idea to delay ETUF elections had come from Mohamed Wahballah, president of the General Union of Commerce Workers.

Wahballah, also an NDP member, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the ETUF was “totally independent,” and was “not a governmental apparatus in any way." He refuted the claim that the initiative to postpone elections was his. "It was not my idea, but rather that of Hussein Megawer, in order to return the favor to President Mubarak,” he said.

“But I do support Megawer's decision." “We support Mubarak not because he is the head of the ruling party or the head of state, but because he is the foremost advocate of workers’ rights," he added.

According to Wahballah, "Workers are free to vote for any worker they chose, but the majority of workers will vote for the president, since they know that he is on their side; that their concerns are his concerns."

Wahballah went on to highlight the fact that, when constitutional amendments were made in 2007, "President Mubarak insisted on keeping the 50-percent quota in parliament for workers and farmers," as stipulated in Article 87 of the national charter. "This proves that the president is keen on protecting the rights of workers and lower-income brackets." The ETUF is also said to be mobilizing workers ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for 28 November.

Kamal al-Fayoumi, an unaffiliated worker-activist at the state-owned Mahalla Textile Company, said that the ETUF and businessmen would often "mobilize and bus in their workers to polling stations en masse." He added, "This occurs not only during elections to the People's Assembly, but also during presidential elections, Shura Council elections, and municipal council elections."

He clarified that such mobilization took place not only at the Mahalla Textile Company, but at nearly all other companies and factories throughout the country. "During these elections, short-sighted workers are lured with free meals and bonuses offered by their employers, while other workers--who are more aware of their rights--look at the long-term benefits," said Fayoumi.

He claimed that opportunistic businessmen and trade union officials typically made empty promises and baseless claims regarding their alleged championing of workers' causes. Fayoumi called for a policy of “selective boycotting," whereby workers would boycott the candidates and businessmen responsible for vote-rigging, ballot-buying, and other forms of electoral fraud.

"We should never support the candidacies of businessmen who offer us a free meal and LE50 to vote for them," he said. "Once they are elected, these so-called representatives become unreachable and unaccountable. They end up serving their own business interests at the expense of workers' rights.”

According to Abbas, it is not only workers who are bused in to polling stations. “Businessmen, regardless of their political affiliations, try to bus in all the lower-income people in their constituency," he said.

According to Wahballah, most workers are acutely aware of their rights. “They won't give up their vote in exchange for a sandwich or a bonus,” he said. “They are more intelligent than that." Nevertheless, he argued that, "Our [trade union] elections must be delayed for a year. Otherwise, we would be consumed with our own elections and not available to vote in decisive presidential elections." He openly stated: "We must mobilize workers to vote for Mubarak, since he is the champion of workers’ rights."

When asked why trade union elections can’t be held ahead of schedule, Wahballah replied: "Some people in the ETUF are calling to keep elections at every five years, while some want to make it every six years. Some want elections to be held ahead of schedule, but most want to keep them after the presidential election.”

"In any case, the issue will be discussed and put before a vote in parliament,” he added. “The only problem with conducting elections every six years is that they will continue to overlap with the upcoming presidential poll." He expects the new parliament to approve the delay of trade union elections until 2012.

The ETUF is the country's sole trade union confederation. Its elections are indirect. Workers are only allowed to vote for their local trade union committees (of which there are around 2,000 nationwide.) Workers are not entitled to vote for the representatives of the 24 general union councils that preside over local committees. Of these general union councils, 22 are headed up by NDP members.

Nevertheless, 27,000 employees of the Real Estate Tax Authority from across the country managed to break off from the ETUF and establish their own federation in January of last year. The move effectively created Egypt’s first independent union since 1957.

Zionists settlers & "Al-Qaeda" attack churches

The deadly attack on the church in Baghdad, at the hands of "Al-Qaeda", received wide international coverage; while an attack by Zionist settlers on a church in Jerusalem received virtually no coverage whatsoever.

True, there were casualties and deaths in the Baghdad attack; yet the mainstream media across the world is clearly willing to turn a blind eye to attacks on churches perpetrated by Zionist settlers/terrorists.

This is biased news coverage.



Palestine News Network
Extremist Settlers Burn Jerusalem Church


Jerusalem – PNN - Extremist settlers burned a church on Prophets Street in Jerusalem on Friday.

Zachariah al-Mashriqi , one of the leaders of the church, condemned the crime and said it was intended to destabilize relations between the religious groups. He said the attack should be seen in the context of others by extremist settlers as a way of baiting Palestinians.

The church was built in 1897 and housed the Palestinian Bible College until 1948, when most parishioners fled the old city during the Nakba.

Al-Mashriqi explained that the information he received indicated that extremist settlers broke several back windows and threw Molotov cocktails into the first floor of the church. He appealed to the political sector and the public to act quickly to protect the city’s sacred sites and called on all priests and holy men to pressure the Israeli government to pursue justice.

Al-Mashriqi also stressed the need for an international authority in Jerusalem to protect the holy sites and the Palestinian population from violence and promote interfaith dialogue.

Source: Wafa (Palestinian News and Information Agency)


CBC News
Baghdad church attack kills 58

Monday, November 1, 2010

Unclear whether hostages died at the hands of attackers or during rescue siege

Iraq's prime minister says a deadly attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad was an attempt by insurgents to pull Iraq back into sectarian fighting.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a statement Monday that the attackers also sought to drive more Christians out of the country.

At least 58 people, including a priest, died after Iraqi security forces stormed a Baghdad church where militants had taken an entire congregation hostage for several hours, Iraqi officials said Monday.

The incident began when militants wearing suicide vests and armed with grenades attacked the Iraqi stock exchange at dusk Sunday before turning their attention to the nearby Our Lady of Deliverance church — one of Baghdad's main Catholic places of worship — taking about 120 Christians hostage.

It was not immediately clear whether the hostages died at the hands of the attackers or during the rescue late on Sunday night in an affluent neighbourhood of the capital. Roughly 4.5 hours passed between the car bombing and the end of the siege at 10 p.m.

Officials said the bloodbath left at least 58 people killed and 78 wounded, more than the total number of hostages.

At least one priest and 12 policemen were among the dead. It is believed at least five bystanders were killed by the blasts outside before the massacre began inside.

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the "ferocious" attack and called for renewed international efforts to broker peace in the region.


A Christian member of parliament on Monday described the Iraqi rescue operation as "not professional," saying "it was a hasty action that prompted the terrorists to kill the worshippers."

"We have no clear picture yet whether the worshippers were killed by the security forces' bullets or by terrorists, but what we know is that most of them were killed when the security forces started to storm the church," Younadem Kana said.

Video footage from an American drone that was overhead during the attack showed a black plume of smoke followed by flashes from inside the building before what appears to be soldiers going in. U.S. forces often supply air support to Iraqi forces conducting operations on the ground, feeding them video footage of what American drones see from the air.

There were conflicting accounts about the number of attackers involved in the assault, with Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi saying Sunday night that security forces killed eight, while the U.S. military said between five and seven died.

Two police officers on the scene, however, said only three attackers were killed and another seven arrested afterward.

Outside the Syrian Catholic church Monday morning, Raed Hadi leaned against his car on top of which rested a casket holding the body of his cousin, who was killed in the siege. Hadi was waiting for the police to let him onto the church grounds to bury his relative. He railed against Iraqi authorities.

"It was a massacre in there and now they are cleaning it up," said Raed. "We Christians don't have enough protection .… What shall I do now? Leave and ask for asylum?"

Police pushed back onlookers from around the church by erecting a barbed wire fence but residents and people from the Christian community claimed that it was too little, too late.

A cryptically worded statement posted late Sunday on a militant website allegedly by the Islamic State of Iraq appeared to claim responsibility for the attack. The group, which is linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, said it would "exterminate Iraqi Christians" if Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.


During a holiday blessing Monday from his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square, Benedict said he was praying for the victims "of this absurd violence, made more ferocious because it was directed against unarmed people gathered in the house of God."

He called for new international and national efforts to end violence, and said he wanted to renew his solidarity with the Christian community in the Middle East and encourage the faithful there to "be strong and safe in hope."

"Faced with such brutal episodes of violence which continue to tear apart the people of the Middle East, I want to renew again my heartfelt appeal for peace," Benedict said.

His appeal came just a week after he closed a two-week meeting of Mideast bishops dedicated to supporting the minority Christian flock in the largely Muslim region. During the meeting, Iraq's bishops in particular denounced how their faithful were disproportionately targeted by violence.

Iraqi Christians, who have been frequent targets for Sunni insurgents, have left in droves since the 2003 U.S.-led war.

Egypt cancels live broadcast licenses

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egypt cancels live broadcast licenses

By Staff

Egypt's Minister of Information has canceled all licenses of firms providing television satellite uplinks, a further step in a crackdown on the media ahead of a crucial parliamentary election.

The Middle East News Agency said on Monday the minister Annas al-Fiqqi has ordered all firms providing the service or television network to apply for new licenses.

Providers have complained that the measure is aimed at controlling live television broadcasts such as political talk-shows.

Live broadcast providers have confirmed the decision.

“Although we have a valid permit, but we were asked to renew the license,” a manager in a Cairo-based firm told Al-Masry Al-Youm on condition of anonymity.

Last month Egypt shut down several private television channels on grounds of violating broadcasting license.

Activists say the move will stifle efforts to mobilize voters ahead of the upcoming elections slated for 28 November.

*Photo by Mohamed Maarouf