Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revolutionaries confront military junta with protests on Friday

Ahram Online
Revolutionaries, ruling council to face off in Friday protests

Thursday 29 Sept. 2011

Yasmine Fathi

Millions of Egyptians are once again being urged to amass in Cairo’s Tahrir Square tomorrow - and other squares across the country - to join Friday protests. This time, however, much of the anger appears to be directed at recent measures adopted by Egypt’s ruling military council.

Several monikers have already been applied to the 30 September protests, including “the Friday of the End of Emergency Law” and “Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution.” But the one thing on which all political forces agree is their general displeasure over the way the military council has been administering the post-Mubarak transitional period.

On Wednesday, 13 political parties and movements held a press conference, entitled “No to the military, yes to freedom and social justice,” at which they announced plans to participate in Friday's scheduled protests. “We invite the Egyptian people to protest against the latest practices by the military council, which contradict the goals of the revolution: namely, freedom, social justice and human dignity,” the group stated.

The group includes the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Popular Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, the Democratic Front Party and the Workers Democratic Party.

The military council, the group asserted, has been taking measures that violate human rights and restrict the Egyptian people’s basic freedoms. The group went on to list five basic demands, the first of which is for the military council to announce a timetable detailing when exactly it plans to hand over power to a civilian authority.

“Even though the council’s authority expires this September, it has yet to announce a date for handing over power to a civil government in line with the will of the revolution,” the group said.

The group’s second demand is for the government to address all the grievances of public-sector workers who have been striking for months in demand of better pay and working conditions. Workers’ strikes have been ongoing since Mubarak’s ouster in February.

This month alone, public transport drivers, teachers and health workers have all gone on strike. Until now, however, they have either been ignored by the government or had their demands only partially met.

Political forces’ third demand is for the ruling council and government to abrogate an unpopular emergency law and a law banning protests. The former was reactivated earlier this month after 9 September protests near Israel’s Cairo embassy turned violent.

The law banning protests, meanwhile, went into effect in March, only weeks after Mubarak’s departure. The law criminalises protests and demonstrations, threatening violators with a maximum sentence of one year in prison and stiff monetary penalties.

The introduction of the anti-protest law was seen by many critics as an attempt by the ruling council to halt the revolution’s progress once it realised that protests would not let up following Mubarak’s ouster.

The group is also demanding a halt to the longstanding practice of trying civilians in military courts. Since the ruling council assumed control of the nation’s affairs, as many as 12,000 civilians - including political activists, bloggers, curfew violators and so-called “thugs” - have been hauled before military tribunals.

Another, more recent point of contention between the council and revolutionaries has been the recent amendment of the law governing parliamentary elections, which are currently slated for 28 November. The amended law now stipulates that two thirds of parliament must be elected through a proportional-list system and one third through single-ticket voting.

Most political forces have slammed the amended law, including the Egyptian Bloc - a coalition consisting of liberal and socialist parties - and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political forces complain that the ruling council ignored their suggestions for a more equitable electoral law at an earlier meeting between council members and representatives of 47 political parties and groups. During the meeting, parties had called for an exclusively proportional list electoral system, arguing that a single ticket voting system would allow elements of the former regime to re-enter parliament.

The 6 April protest movement has also announced its intention to participate in tomorrow’s protests. At a separate press conference yesterday, it, too, expressed support for the above-cited demands, and further called on the government to activate a decades-old treason law with the aim of trying all members of the former regime. They also demanded that Egyptians living abroad be given the right to vote in national elections.

The movement also blasted the recent reactivation of the emergency law, insisting that - constitutionally speaking - the law is no longer valid. According to the constitutional declaration announced by the ruling council on 30 March, the emergency law is valid for only six months, leading activists and legal experts to point out that the unpopular law has now expired.

“The emergency law is invalid starting from 30 September,” the group noted at its press conference. “Therefore, the arrest and interrogation of activists without prior permission from the prosecution will be considered a form of kidnapping against which we will take legal action.”

It remains unclear whether protesters plan to evacuate the square at the end of the day tomorrow or launch an open-ended sit-in reminiscent of the 18-day revolution. The army is no longer tolerant of protesters camping out in the square; the last group that attempted to do so was forcibly removed on the first day of Ramadan (1 August) following a three-week sit-in.

One Facebook group dubbed “the Second Egyptian Revolution of Anger” is calling for a weeklong sit-in in Tahrir Square until the ruling council hands power over to a civilian authority.

“We will not return until we have all our rights,” the group states, adding that it plans to hold daily marches in low-income areas of the capital before moving its sit-in to the Ministry of Defence building. The group claims that, according to an online poll on their Facebook page, the “overwhelming majority” of Egyptians want an open-ended sit-in.

Another Facebook group calling itself “The Sons of Egypt” is also calling for nationwide protests tomorrow. It is vowing to hold the “biggest march in the world” tomorrow, from the Fatah Mosque in Cairo’s Ramses district to Tahrir Square.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, despite being at odds with the military council over recent changes to the electoral law, has announced its decision to refrain from joining tomorrow’s protests. So, notably, has the Salafist Dawa group, which announced it would not participate “in any way.”

“And we reject even more vehemently calls for protests on 6 October, many of the organisers of which hint may turn violent,” the group said in a statement.

“There are forces taking the lead in this revolution that have previously lost control and participated in vandalism,” the group went on to note. “They’re also calling for the military council to be replaced by a presidential council, yet we don’t know how [the proposed presidential council’s] members would be elected and with what legitimacy they would exercise power.”

In their statement, however, the Salafists went on to voice support for several of the demands of the 30 September protesters, including those for speedy elections and the annulment of the emergency law.

The Islamist Wasat (‘Center’) Party, however, has, for its part, announced its intention to take part in tomorrow’s demonstrations.

“We believe it’s important to participate for two main reasons: to reject the emergency law and to demand a timetable for the [military council's] transferral of power,” party spokesperson Tarek El-Malt said. The party agrees that the council must hold elections - presidential, parliamentary and for the Shura Council - by February of next year.

With all these groups expressing divergent views, it remained unclear as of press time whether tomorrow’s demonstration would be successful or not. The absence of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, Egypt’s most organised political grouping, is expected to adversely affect the hoped-for turnout.

But one lesson learned since the revolution began is that Friday protests are impossible to predict - both in terms of numbers and outcome - with some being peaceful while others turn violent. But even if tomorrow turns out to be a bust, revolutionaries promise yet more Friday protests to come.

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

Amid uncertainty, labor uprisings reignite revolution

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Amid uncertainty, labor uprisings reignite revolution

Wed. 28/09/2011

Rana Khazbak

Just when everyone thought that the fervor of Egypt’s revolution might be flagging, labor protests and fears of a Mubarak-era comeback following military rulers' announcement they would broaden Emergency Law enforcement are reigniting revolutionary spirit.

Labor strikes have swept the country’s governorates over the past two weeks as hundreds of thousands of public workers and professionals have protested low pay, shoddy public services and unfulfilled government promises for better conditions. But unlike most previous labor efforts, these strikes are marked by both high participation and a developing nationwide coordination.

Doctors have stopped working in all hospital units except emergency care, teachers sent students home and have refused to hold classes since the beginning of school year and bus drivers are camping out in garages, with about a dozen going on hunger strike.

That general strikes in different sectors across the nation occur at the same time and with participation reaching above 50 percent of the workforce and even 100 percent in some governorates is unprecedented in Egypt, said Khaled Ali, director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).

“The wave of strikes and workers’ protests that accompanied the downfall of Mubarak and have continued since then are a continuation of a movement that began over 10 years ago,” said Ali.

Unlike previous labor protests in which workers used to ask only for better wages, the current ones have been calling for a general improvement of the service that would benefit both the workers and the people at the receiving end. The discourse stands in clear defiance to SCAF’s repeated calls to end “class-based” protests and strikes as they hamper economic and political progress.

“We are not asking for class-based demands. The Egyptian citizen has the right to find a decent service. The buses we ride are dysfunctional. We are demanding a new bus fleet because when the people pay for a bus and then it stops in the middle of the road, they get upset and fight with us,” said Ali Fattouh, head of the Public Transportation Authority’s independent syndicate in Qalyubiya.

Teachers held up signs and repeated chants such as “The nation’s reform starts with reform of the teacher," and “I don’t want to have to give private lessons again.” Tutored private lessons are an ongoing parallel scheme to public education; many students resort to paying extra fees for better learning that cannot be accommodated in underfunded, overcrowded classrooms.

“We are parents just like we are teachers. We want better education for our children and the government should pay to improve it, not the people who are forced to pay extra money in private lessons for the lack of good education at schools,” said Eman Hafez, a primary school teacher and member of the Egyptian Teachers Union.

Doctors are demanding better security in hospitals and have rejected the minister’s proposal to raise treatment prices, saying they don’t want their rights to come at the expense of patients. They also demanded an increase in healthcare spending from 3 percent to 15 percent of the national budget.

The level of organization within strikes in different governorates and the use of unified demands are setting these protests apart from previous ones, which were often marked by geographically and institutionally specific grievances.

When organizing the strikes, representatives from different independent associations and syndicates across the country first met to agree on a list of demands and set a plan of action. They maintained communication through a Facebook group that made it easier and faster to exchange ideas and think about the next steps, said Hafez.

Hafez attributed the reinvigorated strikes to the transition government's resistance to changing the old regime’s policies.

“After the revolution, we had high hopes that things would change because social justice was on top of the uprising’s demands. But the government didn’t make any positive steps in this direction. It didn’t even apply its promised LE700 minimum wage and didn’t set a maximum wage,” said Hafez.

Joel Benin, professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and author of the book "The Struggle for Worker Rights in Egypt," said the SCAF is trying to keep as much of the old regime in tact as possible.

“The workers’ strike wave shows that they reject this. They want a democratic voice in their workplaces. They want an economic policy that ensures that working people have a decent standard of living - enough food to eat and clothes to wear, enough for decent housing and healthcare, and education for their children. This is not too much to ask. A democratic society should provide these things for its citizens.”

According to Benin, while most of the initiative for strikes and protests is coming from individual factories and workplaces, one major factor in the success of this movement is the national leadership and coordination provided by the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, which was formed in January, and other institutions such as the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services and the ECESR.

While not overtly a political movement, the ongoing labor activity defies both the law criminalizing strikes and protests and the Emergency Law. Although some protesters have received detention threats, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seems unwilling to impose a complete clampdown on the thriving labor movement.

“We don’t care about their laws. Striking is a legitimate right for all of us citizens as long as we are peaceful and not harming any person or public facility. The revolution’s wheel will not turn backward,” said Hafez.

Only a few socialist political parties have expressed their support for the labor strikes while the majority have remained silent.

“Political forces are busy with their narrow political battles and as a result they will lose the street’s support,” said Ali.

Ali added that the role of political parties must not go beyond providing support to the labor demands because they will never be an alternative to the labor movement.

“It’s the workers' fight and they have to do it on their own," Ali said.

*Photographed by Fouad Elgarnousy

Egyptian graphic novel rekindles an art form

The National
Egyptian graphic novel rekindles an art form

Sep 26, 2011

Oliver Good

More than six months after toppling their deeply unpopular ruler Hosni Mubarak on a wave of hope and optimism, some Egyptians are now struggling to identify change for the better within their homeland.

But a pair of 24-year-old Cairo residents have seized upon recent events to offer the Arab world's most populous nation something it probably never knew it needed: graphic novels.

Egypt has had a longer association with comic books than any other Middle Eastern nation - providing the Arabic-language's first outing, 1923's The Children (Al Awlaad) and, more recently, child-friendly superhero stories published by AK Comics.

But adult-oriented material of the kind created in the West and afforded serious literary acclaim - such as Will Eisner's A Contract with God, Alan Moore's V for Vendetta or Neil Gaiman's Sandman - has been rare.

"The normal idea about comics in Egypt is that they are for children. We are going to change that," says Mohamed Reda, the co-founder of Cairo's latest publishing imprint, Division Comics. "We need to explain to people that graphic novels are a mix of literature and art."

Reda and his long-time friend Marwan Imam began plotting their entry into the publishing world in February, as Cairo surged with a post-revolution can-do spirit.

The pair, who were reared on American superhero stories and translated Franco-Belgian bande dessinées ("drawn strips), wanted to create a platform for home-grown artists and writers to produce intelligent and mature work, such as the kind offered by the cutting-edge US imprints Vertigo and Image Comics.

In July, just four months after Cairo's first comic book store, Kryptonite Toys, opened in the Heliopolis neighbourhood selling almost entirely imported titles, Division's debut release, Autostrade, appeared on the shelves.

"The Mubarak regime caused one huge frustration, which was censorship," says Imam.

The engineering graduate cites the banning of graphic novel Metro, written by a fellow Cairo native Magdy El-Shafee in 2009, as evidence. The highly political book, which delves into corruption in Egyptian government and business, and even sexual harassment in society, was removed from shelves permanently by a court order. Both its writer and publisher were fined 5,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh3,081).

"Now, it's easier to get things done and we do not have to worry about the government banning things," says Imam. "I think it would still have been possible to have done [this] before, but certainly after the revolution it's a lot better; we wouldn't have had any creative freedom."

But despite being conceived in the wake of Egypt's revolution and the ongoing Arab Spring by creators keen to prove that comics are not just for kids, Autostrade gives politics a wide berth.

"Well, we want to sell Autostrade as entertainment," says Reda. "There will be comics about the revolution and maybe some stories about it in Autostrade in the future, but we didn't want people to think it is a political book."

With more than 140 pages, the book contains 12 separate stories (six in Arabic, six in English), each a kaleidoscopic collaboration between a different writer and artist. It has a scratchy, indie aesthetic overall, but plenty of brightly coloured set pieces, too, of the kind found in mainstream American comics.

Stories include The Pharoh (El Far'on), about a young Egyptian who discovers he is the descendant of an ancient king and capable of wielding immense power; the ward-based comedy Hospital Stories (Hekayat Mostashfa) and a revisionist superhero tale, Whirlwind/Short Circuit.

In it Imam has also tried his hand at writing, with Stages of Life (Marahel el Haya) a reflection on social issues in modern-day Egypt, while the banned author of Metro, El Shafee, appears with the new story The Castle Remix (El Qasr Remix), a wry spin on the lauded Egyptian author Tawfiq El-Hakim's classic novel, El Qasr.

Division plans to release a new issue of Autostrade every two months, although Reda says the second issue, which was due out this month, has "had to be delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. The printer has too much work on, so we had to delay the product. It will be ready by mid-October". Still, hopes are that the anthology will act as a breeding ground for spin-off projects. The publisher has already begun encouraging readers to vote for their favourite stories on its website - the most popular will then leave the pages of Autostrade and continue in their own separately released issues.

"The word 'autostrade' means highway," says Imam. "The book itself is basically a highway for the artists to come into the market."

But while Reda and Imam's knowledge of the medium is in little doubt, they admit that their understanding of publishing is minimal. As expected, the first edition of Autostrade has failed to turn a profit and only around 600 of the initial print run of 1,000 copies have so far been sold. The book, which sells for Dh18.5 is comparable in cost to similar releases from western publishers, but would still price-out the average Egyptian. The decision to publish stories in both Arabic and English may help the book receive a wider international readership, but will likely exclude non-university educated Egyptians. Reda has also admitted that the practicalities of assembling the first issue proved challenging for the novice publishers.

"It was very difficult for us to realise how technical it would be," says Reda. "Problems like getting all the work from the artists and writers at the right time. It could have been better, some stories could have been improved, but I think we did a good job."

But despite teething problems, the pair hope to triple the number of copies of Autostrade printed by mid-2012, as well as running a number of separate monthly spin-off stories. They have also begun discussing the simultaneous release of electronic copies of their graphic novels to be read on tablet devices - a practice already adopted by US comics giants DC and Marvel.

In a political climate that the duo believe will allow their creative endeavours to flourish and with an untapped market for graphic novels within Egypt, Reda and Imam might just be the Middle East's next publishing success story. But even that would not be enough to please the pair.

"We're not just looking at the Middle East," says Imam. "We're hoping to reach the US, France and Japan."

Saudi women granted right to vote, but not drive

New York Times
Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote

September 25, 2011


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on Sunday granted women the right to vote and run in future municipal elections, the biggest change in a decade for women in a puritanical kingdom that practices strict separation of the sexes, including banning women from driving.

Saudi women, who are legally subject to male chaperones for almost any public activity, hailed the royal decree as an important, if limited, step toward making them equal to their male counterparts. They said the uprisings sweeping the Arab world for the past nine months — along with sustained domestic pressure for women’s rights and a more representative form of government — prompted the change.

“There is the element of the Arab Spring, there is the element of the strength of Saudi social media, and there is the element of Saudi women themselves, who are not silent,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a history professor and one of the women who organized a campaign demanding the right to vote this spring. “Plus, the fact that the issue of women has turned Saudi Arabia into an international joke is another thing that brought the decision now.”

Although political activists celebrated the change, they also cautioned how deep it would go and how fast, given that the king referred to the next election cycle, which would not be until 2015. Some women wondered aloud how they would be able to campaign for office when they were not even allowed to drive. And there is a long history of royal decrees stalling, as weak enactment collides with the bulwark of traditions ordained by the Wahhabi sect of Islam and its fierce resistance to change.

In his announcement, the king said that women would also be appointed to the Majlis Al-Shura, a consultative council that advises the monarchy on matters of public policy. But it is a toothless body that avoids matters of royal prerogative, like where the nation’s oil revenue goes.

“We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society,” the king said in an address to the Shura, noting during the five minutes he spent on the subject that senior religious scholars had endorsed the change.

Even under the new law, it was unclear how many women would take part in elections. In many aspects of life, men — whether fathers, husbands or brothers — prevent women from participating in legal activities. Public education for women took years to gain acceptance after it was introduced in 1960.

King Abdullah, the 87-year-old monarch who has a reputation for pushing reforms opposed by some of his half-brothers among the senior princes, said the monarchy was simply following Islamic guidelines, and that those who shunned such practices were “arrogant.”

Some analysts described the king’s choice as the path of least resistance. Many Saudis have been loudly demanding that all 150 members of the Shura be elected, not appointed. By suddenly putting women in the mix, activists feared, the government might use the excuse of integration to delay introducing a nationally elected council.

Political participation for women is also a less contentious issue than granting them the right to drive, an idea fiercely opposed by some of the most powerful clerics and princes. Even as the king made the political announcement, activists said that one prominent opponent of the ban, Najla al-Hariri, was being questioned Sunday for continuing her stealth campaign of driving.

Mrs. Hariri has been vociferous in demanding the right as a single mother who cannot afford one of the ubiquitous foreign chauffeurs to ferry her children to school. In recent weeks, a woman even drove down King Fahd Expressway, the main thoroughfare through downtown Riyadh, activists said.

Municipal elections in the kingdom are scheduled for Thursday, but the campaign is almost over and the king said that women would be able to nominate themselves and vote “as of the next session.” Introduced in 2005, the municipal councils have proved disappointing for those who had hoped they would create more political change.

Saudi Arabia remains an absolute monarchy. Fouad al-Farhan, once jailed briefly for his blog critical of the monarchy, led a slate of young Saudis from the cosmopolitan commercial capital of Jidda, determined to run in this year’s municipal elections to use whatever democratic openings they might afford for change. When the final list of candidates was posted weeks ago, his name had been unceremoniously removed — without anyone from the Jidda governorate run by Prince Khalid al-Faisal calling him to explain, Mr. Farhan said.

Despite the snail’s pace of change, women on Sunday were optimistic that the right to vote and run would give them leverage to change the measures, big and small, that hem them in.

“It is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it,” said Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who defied the ban on driving this year, said of the king’s announcement. “But we still need more rights.”

Women require the permission of a male sponsor, or “mahram,” to travel or undertake much of the commercial activity needed to run a business. They inhabit separate and often inferior spaces in restaurants, banks and health clubs, when they are allowed in at all.

Women were granted the right to their own national identification cards in 2001, the last major step that many hoped would lead to greater public freedom, but it failed to materialize. The Saudi judiciary, a conservative bastion, has yet to allow female lawyers, a new phenomenon, to argue in court. And a royal decree issued earlier this year that women should be allowed to work in public to sell lingerie has not been enacted — leaving Saudi women to buy their bras from male clerks, who mostly hail from South Asia.

Social media, heavily used in Saudi Arabia to start with, lit up with the announcement, with supporters endorsing it as “a great leap forward,” as one Twitter post put it. Some conservatives inveighed against it.

“Muslim scholars believe it is un-Islamic to allow women to participate in the Shura council,” wrote Mohammad al-Habdan, one such scholar.

In March, King Abdullah announced $130 billion in public spending over the next decade on measures like affordable housing, hoping for social peace after the first governments in the region were toppled. But uprisings have continued to challenge Arab governments.

Around the Persian Gulf, many citizens of the wealthy monarchies jealously track the rights and largess granted in neighboring states. On Saturday, 19 men and one woman were elected to a legislative body in the United Arab Emirates. Last summer, Qatar granted a notable 60 percent pay raise to all state employees.

Such regional and domestic pressures weighed on the Saudi monarchy to make some type of gesture. The one King Abdullah chose was less sweeping than many political activists had wanted, but one they hoped was a sign of more to come.

“It is not something that will change the life of most women,” said Fawaziah Bakr, an education professor in Riyadh, noting that she had just held a monthly dinner for professional women who were buzzing with excitement about the change.

“We are now looking for even more,” Mrs. Bakr said. “The Arab spring means that things are changing, that the political power has to listen to the people. The spring gave us a clear voice.”

*Nada Bakri contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

Egypt’s Military Leader Testifies at Mubarak Trial

New York Times
Egypt’s Military Leader Testifies at Mubarak Trial

September 24, 2011


CAIRO — Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, testified Saturday at the trial of his onetime patron and colleague, former President Hosni Mubarak, in a closed hearing that disappointed prosecutors who had hoped he would help determine whether the ousted Egyptian leader conspired to order the killing of unarmed demonstrators in his final days in power in February.

The appearance of Field Marshal Tantawi was another dramatic moment in a trial that has swung between poignant moments that seemed to illustrate the frailty of absolute power, and chaotic scenes in court that have undermined public faith in the proceedings. The judge presiding over the trial ordered that Field Marshal Tantawi’s testimony be heard behind closed doors, in contrast to the court’s first session in August, when Mr. Mubarak pleaded innocent from a gurney in a courtroom cage. That session, lasting hours, was televised nationwide by Egyptian state television.

Lawyers said that Field Marshal Tantawi’s testimony lasted nearly an hour but fell far short of their expectations. One lawyer said he failed to provide evidence one way or the other about Mr. Mubarak’s role in the crackdown on protesters, saying that he was not present in meetings that could have proven decisive to the prosecutors’ case. “We thought that he would say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and solve the whole case, but this didn’t happen,” the lawyer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

If the lawyer’s version proves correct, it may serve to deepen suspicions in the country that Mr. Mubarak’s former allies in the military are trying to acquit him of more serious charges. The military leaders seem loath, as well, to possibly incriminate themselves in decisions taken before the president was overthrown.

Those suspicions surfaced early in the trial, when the first five witnesses, all police officials, recanted what prosecutors said were initial statements about instructions from senior police officials to use live ammunition or other force against demonstrators. It appeared at that time that prosecutors had intended to build their case against the country’s former leaders from the bottom up, starting with the orders issued to police officers confronting the demonstrators.

Lawyers for victims’ families described Saturday’s session as chaotic — one said a fight broke out and the police roughed up a lawyer. Many of their colleagues were not allowed into court, and lawyers were allowed to ask only a handful of questions of Field Marshal Tantawi. In response, one lawyer filed a challenge, insisting Judge Ahmed Refaat be replaced. The trial was adjourned until Oct. 30 to allow another court time to review the challenge and decide the judge’s fate.

“This is all a big show,” said Abdel-Karim Ibrahim, whose brother was among those killed in the protests. “How long are they going to postpone the trial? Will they keep postponing it till people forget? If there are no positive steps taken before the end of September, we will go back to the streets and take our rights with our own hands.”

Until last week, there were questions of whether Field Marshal Tantawi would even testify, which is being held in a police academy once bearing Mr. Mubarak’s name. He was scheduled to appear Sept. 11, but failed to attend, citing a busy schedule and offering to provide written testimony instead. He was summoned again, and on Friday, in a statement carried by the state news agency, he said he would appear before the court.

Though a veteran of Mr. Mubarak’s tenure, having served 20 years as his defense minister, Field Marshal Tantawi said he wanted “to stress the rule of law, which must be the guiding approach for the Egyptian state after the January 25 revolution.”

Since Feb. 11, when Mr. Mubarak was forced from office after protests convened in Tahrir Square, Field Marshal Tantawi has served as the head of the ruling military council, which has exercised absolute and largely unaccountable power. It claimed to seize power in the name of the revolution, but after months of ineffectual rule, suspicions over its willingness to fully surrender power and a plan for elections that has satisfied few, the council’s appeal has diminished.

“All of those ruling us were here before the revolution and they did nothing for us,” Mohammed Abdel-Gawad, an accountant, said after Friday Prayer at a crowded mosque. “We’re still waiting for the party that’s going to bring us change, real change.”

Mr. Mubarak, 83, is being tried on charges of corruption and of conspiring to kill nearly 840 unarmed protesters. Field Marshal Tantawi’s testimony was considered crucial to the second charge since he was part of the former president’s inner circle.

Last week, another confidant of Mr. Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief and, briefly, vice president, testified. Field Marshal Tantawi’s deputy on the council, Sami Anan, the chief of staff of the armed forces, was scheduled to appear before the court on Sunday, but that will apparently be delayed.

Field Marshal Tantawi arrived Saturday with a military escort to the court where, as in past sessions, scores of admirers and detractors of Mr. Mubarak shared space in a parking lot. Mr. Mubarak was at the trial, though given the news blackout, it was unclear how he responded to the testimony. Lawyers had said that Mr. Mubarak would be offered a chance to comment after each witness testified.

Also facing the charges of conspiring to kill protesters are former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, one of the most loathed figures in recent years here, along with six senior former security officials. On the corruption charges, Mr. Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, stand accused with their father.

*Photo by Amr Nabil

Why 'Occupy Wall Street' makes sense

The Guardian
Why 'Occupy Wall Street' makes sense

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Amy Goodman

If 2,000 Tea Party activists descended on Wall Street, you would probably have an equal number of reporters there covering them. Yet 2,000 people did occupy Wall Street last Saturday. They weren't carrying the banner of the Tea Party, the Gadsden flag with its coiled snake and the threat "Don't Tread on Me". Yet their message was clear: "We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%." They were there, mostly young, protesting the virtually unregulated speculation of Wall Street that caused the global financial meltdown.

One of New York's better-known billionaires, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, commented on the protests: "You have a lot of kids graduating college, can't find jobs. That's what happened in Cairo. That's what happened in Madrid. You don't want those kinds of riots here."

Riots? Is that really what the Arab Spring and the European protests are about?

Perhaps to the chagrin of Mayor Bloomberg, that is exactly what inspired many who occupied Wall Street. In its most recent communique, the Wall Street protest umbrella group said:

"On Saturday we held a general assembly, two thousand strong. … By 8pm on Monday we still held the plaza, despite constant police presence. … We are building the world that we want to see, based on human need and sustainability, not corporate greed."

Speaking of the Tea Party, Texas Governor Rick Perry has caused a continuous fracas in the Republican presidential debates with his declaration that the US's revered social security system is a "Ponzi scheme" Charles Ponzi was the con artist who swindled thousands in 1920 with a fraudulent promise for high returns on investments. A typical Ponzi scheme involves taking money from investors, then paying them off with money taken from new investors, rather than paying them from actual earnings. Social security is actually solvent, with a trust fund of more than $2.6tn. The real Ponzi scheme threatening the US public is the voracious greed of Wall Street banks.

I interviewed one of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest organisers. David Graeber teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London, and has authored several books – most recently, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Graeber points out that, in the midst of the financial crash of 2008, enormous debts between banks were renegotiated. Yet only a fraction of troubled mortgages have gotten the same treatment. He said:

"Debts between the very wealthy or between governments can always be renegotiated and always have been throughout world history. … It's when you have debts owed by the poor to the rich that suddenly debts become a sacred obligation, more important than anything else. The idea of renegotiating them becomes unthinkable."

President Barack Obama has proposed a jobs plan and further efforts to reduce the deficit. One is a so-called millionaire's tax, endorsed by billionaire Obama supporter Warren Buffett. The Republicans call the proposed tax "class warfare". Graeber commented:

"For the last 30 years, we've seen a political battle being waged by the super-rich against everyone else, and this is the latest move in the shadow dance, which is completely dysfunctional economically and politically. It's the reason why young people have just abandoned any thought of appealing to politicians. We all know what's going to happen. The tax proposals are a sort of mock populist gesture, which everyone knows will be shot down. What will actually probably happen would be more cuts to social services."

Outside in the cold Tuesday morning, the demonstrators continued their fourth day of the protest with a march amidst a heavy police presence and the ringing of an opening bell at 9.30am for a "people's exchange", just as the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange is rung. While the bankers remained secure in their bailed-out banks, outside, the police began arresting protesters. In a just world, with a just economy, we have to wonder: who would be out in the cold? Who would be getting arrested?

*Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column
*Photo by Steven Greaves

Reform of Egypt's police hits a wall

Associated Press
Reform of Egypt's police hits a wall: The Police

September 18, 2011

Hamza Hendawi

CAIRO—A gang that broke out of prison during the revolution was killing people and robbing merchants in the town of Abu Teeg. So the chief of detectives gave his officers their orders: Do nothing.

"The revolution let them out, so let the people have a taste of their revolution," he said, according to two of the seven officers at the meeting, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals.

For the next four months, residents in the southern Egyptian town say, they appealed repeatedly for help, but were rebuffed by a police force still bitter about its humiliation in the uprising that ended President Hosni Mubarak's rule. The gang went on to kill at least seven people, officials and residents believe.

The Egyptian police force has long been hated for its corruption and use of torture, and many Egyptians saw the downfall of the police state as a critical goal of their 18-day uprising.

But current and former officers say some members of the force are thwarting any attempt at change, and in many cases are avenging their fall from power by refusing to do their jobs.

These alleged sanctions are blamed for a surge in crime. According to Interior Ministry figures, there were 36 armed robberies nationwide in January but the figure rose sharply to 420 in July; murders went from 44 to 166, kidnappings from three to 42.

Midlevel officers have "an attitude that borders on mutiny," says Lt. Col. Mohammed Mahfouz, who left the force in late 2009 and now advocates reform.

Their attitude, he told The Associated Press, is that "Egyptians must be taught a lesson before the police come back to the streets. They want people to suffer without effective policing so they realize the prestige of the state is a red line that must not be crossed again."

As far back as the 1952 coup that put the military in power, the police force, now one million-strong, has been a sworn enemy of reform and its advocates.

From street cops to agents of the daunting State Security Agency, policemen were untouchable and intimidation kept order on the streets. Talking back to a policeman could earn a slap on the head or worse. In 2006, in an incident that was filmed and posted on YouTube, a Cairo minibus driver who annoyed an officer was dragged to a station and sodomized with a wooden pole.

Torture was a basic investigative tool. If a car was stolen, police would often round up suspects and beat them until someone confessed. Bribery was common. Rarely was a policeman investigated, much less prosecuted.

And then there was the State Security Agency, an arm of the police that operated at the political level but was seen by the public as just another instrument of police oppression.

The agency was involved in election-rigging to keep the ruling party's in power. It weighed in on the running of universities, trade unions, the media, and even had the final word on appointments of Cabinet ministers, governors and ambassadors.

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It also suppressed and spied on the opposition. After Kareem el-Behery, a 27-year-old blogger, helped organize a protest against corruption in April 2008, he was arrested, taken to a basement in a State Security compound and tortured through the night, he said.

It was the casualness of the scene that stunned him, he said. He recalled how his tormenter listened to recordings of recitations from the Quran, Islam's holy book, even as he inflicted electric shocks, then took a prayer break.

"How can you do this to me while listening to the Quran, and then just go and pray?" el-Behery says he asked the officer.

"I'll go and give God what I owe him, then I'll come back and give you what you deserve," the officer replied. "You think I'm an infidel like you?"

The anti-Mubarak uprising shattered the fear barrier.

On Jan. 28, the deadliest day, tens of thousands of protesters withstood water cannons, tear gas and gunfire until overwhelmed police broke and ran.

The next dramatic move came in March, when protesters stormed the main Cairo headquarters and several branch offices of the State Security Agency, aiming to stop the shredding and burning of secret documents.

"It was sweet revenge for all those who have been tortured there over the years," said el-Behery, who was among the protesters.

Since then, momentum has faltered.

Interior Minister Mansour el-Issawi, who heads the police, dissolved the State Security Agency and replaced it with a new body called the National Security Authority, which he vowed would not be involved in politics. However, it has kept on nearly half the staff of the outgoing agency.

Protesters have handed back most of the documents they seized lest they embarrass the victims of State Security's spying. There has been no public airing of the agency's abuses since.

Prosecutors have put 140 police officers on trial for killing protesters during the uprising, and in July, el-Issawi sacked 700 senior officers from the various police branches, including the State Security Agency and the notorious Criminal Investigation Department, but most of them were near retirement anyway.

Many State Security officers whom activists and victims have identified as being involved in torture have simply been transferred to other posts. El-Issawi says their experience is still needed.

He acknowledges that some police were reluctant to shoulder their duties, but denies it's a conspiracy.

He also says police are wary of acting to restore order, because some of those being prosecuted for using lethal force did so to fend off dangerous mobs.

"People who were shot dead while trying to storm police stations are counted as 'martyrs' just like the protesters killed in cold blood," el-Issawi complained in a TV interview.

One group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, has put forward a detailed proposal for reform, starting with a widespread investigation of officers suspected of abuses.

It calls for monitoring police stations for abuses and appointing a civilian as interior minister instead of a career police officer. It says police should get better salaries and crime-fighting technology to blunt the efficacy of bribes and beatings.

So far, the group says, the ministry has shown no interest.

"Many in the police force are filled with a desire for revenge," said the group's head, Hossam Bahgat. "They are convinced that for them to be an effective police force again, fear of the police must be reinstalled in society."

Mahfouz, the former officer, keeps in touch with his colleagues on the force and says most police know no way other than intimidation. "They can only work in a climate that does not respect human rights."

Lt. Col. Mohammed Abdel-Rahman, a serving officer who also heads a reformist group, says that even though Mubarak is ousted and on trial, senior officers have been helping pro-Mubarak businessmen hire thugs who attack pro-democracy demonstrators. The charge, in many variations, has been widely reported by the media and sometimes repeated by officials, but no investigation is known to have taken place.

In Abu Teeg, a farming and trading town of 300,000 people some 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Cairo, the five escaped criminals went on a rampage for months. They smuggled drugs and weapons, carried out robberies and settled old blood feuds.

Brig. Mitwali Abdou, who headed Assiut Province's Criminal Investigations Division at the time, denies the charge that he told the seven district chiefs of his division at the Feb. 15 meeting in his office not to pursue the criminals.

Speaking to the AP, Abdou praised the anti-Mubarak uprising, saying "the revolution is a glorious thing."

One of the two officers who described the meeting, a major, said he opposed the order but did not speak up, since that would have meant "swimming against the current."

"It is a decision that saddened me, a decision whose consequences we'll have to live with for years to come," the major told AP.

Desperate residents went to police in Abu Teeg and the nearby provincial capital Assiut, but each time were told to just protect themselves, said a local resident, Younis Darweesh.

Eventually, it was the army that took action, capturing two of the five criminals.

Abdou has been moved to the post of general inspector in October 6 Province, near Cairo. Three of the seven district chiefs at the Feb. 15 meeting have been transferred to the central police headquarters in Assiut following repeated complaints from residents that they were using criminals and thugs to protect police stations.

Abdel-Rahman, the officer and reformist, said the police force's "job has been to protect the (Mubarak) regime, not the people. ... Only a genuine purge of the force will bring reconciliation between the people and the police."

Egypt protesters call for end to 'Emergency Law'

Associated Press
Egypt protesters call for end to 'Emergency Law'

Sept. 16, 2011

CAIRO — Several hundred people are demonstrating in Cairo against a decision by Egypt's military rulers to enforce and expand the widely despised Emergency Law.

The law, in place for over three decades, allows civilians to be tried in state security courts and detained indefinitely. Its cancellation was a key demand in protests that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Protesters Friday held a banner that said: "No to Emergency Law. No to military trials. No to military rule."

Amnesty International called the expansion of the law the greatest erosion of human rights since Mubarak's resignation, noting it now includes bans on blocking roads and broadcasting rumors.

Friday's protest was much smaller than last week's, which was followed by ransacking of the Israeli Embassy.

Egypt: Mass strikes for unmet economic demands

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Unfulfilled economic and political demands keep Egypt’s laborers furious

Thu. 15/09/2011

Jano Charbel

The first two weeks of September have witnessed a massive wave of strikes, with many more planned for the rest of the month. These are taking place despite the law - issued in April - criminalizing strikes which harm the national economy, and despite regulations issued by the ruling military junta making negotiations during the course of strikes unacceptable.

Hundreds of thousands of workers and employees have launched strikes, sit-ins and marches to protest their working conditions. Among these are public school teachers - who are planning a general strike on the new academic year's first day of classes, 17 September; workers at private and public-sector textile mills; security and custodial workers at the American University in Cairo; farmers; and nurses and doctors in eight different governorates.

These strike actions come against a political backdrop that once seemed encouraging to Egypt’s 27-million labor force.

Shortly after President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in 11 February, over 500,000 workers, professionals, farmers, employees and pensioners moved to establish their own independent trade unions and federations to provide a bargaining mechanism for workers long deprived of negotiating with both the state and the business community. These independent unions are reportedly playing a significant role in organizing protest actions and strikes nationwide.

Yet the recent resurgence of widespread strikes, analysts say, reflect a deep disillusionment with the democratic transition process, with workers feeling more and more that improving their economic and political conditions were but hollow promises from the revolution.

"The primary demand behind all the strikes - in the public, private and informal sectors - is improved incomes in line with increasing living expenses," said Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights. Other common demands include the payment of overdue bonuses, incentive payments, fixed or full-time contracts for full-time work, among other demands.

"The interim authorities have made very little progress in terms of raising wages, incomes and salaries; or in terms of putting a cap on the salaries of managerial officials in the form of a maximum wage," Saber said.

According to Saber Barakat, a member of the caretaker council at the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, there are other reasons motivating the working class to protest and strike. One of the main factors causing dismay is the fact that Mubarak's officials and generals are still calling the shots and pulling Egypt's strings. The old guard is still in power.

"The revolution gave workers the impression that their conditions would improve; but reality has proven otherwise," said Barakat. "The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has sent signals to investors reassuring them that their interests will be protected and upheld."

In April, the SCAF and the interim cabinet issued a law outlawing strikes, and they have failed to issue a new trade union law to replace the old and restrictive 1976 law which places severe bureaucratic hurdles on independent labor organization. Furthermore, these authorities have insisted they will not engage in negotiations with strikers until they stop striking or protesting.

Egyptian laborers’ grievances are countless, and the fruits of the 18-day revolution that raised the slogans of freedom and social justice are yet to be reaped.

The interim cabinet has been procrastinating over implementing an LE700 minimum wage. On Wednesday, Finance Minister Hazem al-Beblawy said that the government will implement it in January 2012, six months later than originally announced.

Some 700 textile workers at the Indorama Shebin al-Kom Textile Company - which was privatized in 2007 - went on strike this week, and around 400 of them blocked highways, roads and even occupied the Munifiya Governorate headquarters on Monday to demand the re-nationalization of their company, as well as improved working conditions and wages.

In the Nile Delta governorate of Gharbiya, over 1000 workers went on strike at the Wool Production Company in the town of Samannoud on Saturday, and on the same day, over 3000 workers at the Nasr Company for Fabric Dyeing in Mahalla City went on strike. Both groups of workers were demanding the payment of overdue bonuses, along with increased incentive payments.

Elsewhere in Mahalla City, over 20,000 workers at the Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving threatened to launch an open-ended strike this past week. Workers at this massive textile mill (the largest in the Middle East) demand increased bonuses and food allowances. They also demand increased investment in public sector textile enterprises in order to save the industry from collapse.

"All of Egypt's workers from Aswan to Alexandria are exploited and under-paid. The interim government and SCAF should set a just and adequate minimum wage, for workers in all sectors of the economy, which is in keeping with rising living expenses," said Mohamed al-Attar, a veteran labor activist at Misr Company for Spinning and Weaving.

"Workers are tired of empty promises. Workers gave the authorities seven months to address these common grievances and have seen little to nothing in terms of actual reforms. We are reaching boiling point.”

On Thursday, Minister of Manpower and Immigration Ahmed Hassan al-Borai said that labor unions’ elections will be postponed till after the parliamentary elections slated for November, yet another blow to the aspirations of independent labor organizations which have been trying to legally consolidate their emerging structures.

"The interim authorities are treating workers and the general populace just as Mubarak did. If they do not change their course then another popular revolt may break out," Attar said.

*Photograph by Ahmed Hayman

Egypt: Military institutes new media restrictions

Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian military institutes new media restrictions

New York, September 13, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the new measures taken by Egypt's ruling military council.

In recent days, the military announced that it would actively enforce the Hosni Mubarak-era Emergency Law, which allows civilians, including journalists, to be tried in state security courts. Other recent anti-press measures include an Al-Jazeera bureau being raided and shut down, the military announcing a "temporary freeze" on issuing licenses to satellite television stations, and a foreign blogger being denied entry into the country.

"For months now, the ruling Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] has been going to great lengths to hamstring the media and snuff out critical reporting," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "As the self-proclaimed guardian of the revolution, the military council ought to facilitate the work of long-silenced voices in the media instead of shutting them down and threatening them with repressive state security proceedings."

On Saturday, the SCAF announced that it will enforce the Emergency Law, which allows civilians, including journalists, to be tried in state security courts and detained indefinitely, the independent daily Al-Masry al-Youm reported. The announcement came despite the military's commitment to annul the law by September--a core demand of the revolution. Under the law, security officials would be allowed to take "legal procedures" to crack down on acts of "thuggery" and could use "all legal powers to safeguard the country's security," Al-Masry al-Youm said.

On Sunday, Egyptian police raided the Al-Agouza District offices of Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Al-Jazeera Live-Egypt), an affiliate of the Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera-Mubasher, shutting down their live, around-the-clock broadcasts from Cairo, Al-Jazeera reported. Uniformed security personnel raided the bureau, seizing live broadcasting equipment and detaining engineer Islam al-Banna, Station Director Ayman Gaballah told CPJ. Al-Banna was released on Monday, the station's Cairo bureau chief, Ahmad Zein, said in an interview with broadcaster ONTV. Gaballah said that the channel continued to broadcast live from Doha. Egyptian authorities on Sunday also stopped the station's live broadcasts from another location at the Media Production City outside Cairo.

Gaballah told CPJ that Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr began broadcasting shortly after the former regime's fall in February and that they had applied for a license six months ago but were repeatedly told by the ministry that they could go on broadcasting without a problem since their license would be issued "within days." Although the SCAF said the shutdown was the result of the channel operating without a license, CPJ research indicates that this was merely a pretext to silence the critical broadcaster. CPJ interviews also indicate that at least a handful of other stations were given similar instructions regarding their licenses and have operated in this manner since February.

Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr had extensively covered the recent protests in front of Israel's embassy in Cairo, which had culminated in the ransacking of the embassy, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported.

On Wednesday, the SCAF announced a "temporary freeze" on broadcasting licenses for new satellite television stations, the news channel Al-Arabiya reported. The SCAF also assigned the Investment Authority, a government organ entirely unrelated to the media, with taking legal action against satellite channels broadcasting what it deemed could incite violence or "destabilize" the country.

In a separate anti-press incident, Imad Bazzi, the Lebanese blogger who pens and is the founder of the Arab Blogging Forum, was denied entry at Cairo International Airport upon his arrival from Beirut on Tuesday, local and human rights groups reported. After 10 hours of questioning, Bazzi was deported, as he had reportedly been "blacklisted" as a security concern, the Lebanese daily Al-Akbar said. In June, the journalist had visited the jailed Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who has been imprisoned since March 28 on charges of insulting Egypt's armed forces.

*Photo courtesy of Reuters

Egypt: Authorities raid & close Al Jazeera's office in Cairo

Ahram Online
Egyptian authorities raid and close one of Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo

Sunday 11 Sept. 2011

Dina Samak

National security police raided Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr office in Cairo early Sunday afternoon, according to sources inside the office.

Al Jazeera journalists - which rent the office, equipment and studio in Giza - say that they did not receive any legal notice from the ministry of information.

According to Mahmoud Abdel Moniem, the channel's news editor, the authorities have arrested a member of the channel's technical team and are questioning those in charge of both Al Jazeera team and the service provider whom they rent from.

The channel stopped broadcasting immediately.

Media reports mentioned that the government has started an inspection operation on the legal accreditation of 16 TV news channels that started functioning in Egypt after the ouster of president Mubarak in February.

Sources close to Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr admitted to Ahram Online that, indeed, the channel has been working without any accreditation throughout the past seven months, but, then again, when they tried to get the required permits they didn't receive an answer.

The minister of information announced last week that the government will suspend issuing new licenses to satellite television stations and that the Cabinet will start legal procedures to review licenses it issued to any satellite television network that "incites violence and protests."

Aljazeera Mubasher Misr broadcasted - live - most of the major protests that Egypt witnessed since the ouster of Mubarak.

Trial begins over Egypt's 'Camel Battle'

Al Jazeera
Trial begins over Egypt's 'camel battle'

Former top officials deny ordering men on horseback and camels to attack protesters in Tahrir Square.

Egypt has started the trial of former top officials accused of sending men on horseback and camels to attack protesters on one of the most violent days of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the ex-president, in February.

Among the 25 people on trial are Safwat al-Sharif, the former head of parliament's upper house who was a longtime confidant of Mubarak, and Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the lower house.

All those appearing in court on Sunday denied the charges filed against them.

After the first day of the trial was televised, Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah said live broadcasts of future hearings would be banned, except for the session in which the verdict would be pronounced.

A fact-finding judicial committee ruled in July that al-Sharif masterminded the February 2 assault that left several protesters dead. Horse and camel riders stormed into Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the revolution, attacking protesters with whips and swords. Clashes between opponents of Mubarak and his loyalists ensued.


Separately on Sunday, the testimony of Egypt's military ruler in the trial of Mubarak was postponed.

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had been expected to offer highly anticipated testimony about Mubarak's alleged role in the killing of protesters in the uprising.

Assem Qandil, a defence lawyer, said Tantawi was unable to testify because he was busy dealing with security issues after the Israeli embassy was attacked on Friday.

Qandil said the field marshal had offered to send written testimony, but "the judge refused and reissued a request for Tantawi to show up in court".

Egyptian state television said Tantawi had now been ordered to give his testimony on September 24 or 25.

Tantawi, who was Mubarak's defence minister during the uprising in January and February, is the leader of the military council which was handed power when Mubarak stepped down.

Mubarak is charged with ordering the killing of anti-government protesters but denies the charges against him.

Nearly 900 people were killed in the unrest which lasted for 18 days.

Military junta chief fails to testify at Mubarak trial

Arab News
Tantawi fails to testify at Mubarak trial

Sept. 11, 2011


CAIRO: Egypt's military ruler and one-time confidant of Hosni Mubarak failed Sunday to attend a court session in which he was expected to offer highly anticipated testimony about the former president's alleged role in the death of protesters.

Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi was asked to return to court on Sept. 24.

A report on Egyptian State TV did not give a reason for Tantawi's absence in court, but a defense lawyer said the head of the military council told the court he was dealing with the fallout after the storming of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo on Friday by mobs of protesters.

The delay is a major disappointment for Egyptians impatient to have Mubarak-era officials pressed for details on the inner workings of the regime. The court has asked Tantawi and other former regime insiders to take the stand in the Mubarak trial.

Assem Qandil, a lawyer for one of the defendants tried along with Mubarak, said Tantawi notified the court in a written statement that he could not show up because of the tensions after the embassy assault.

Thousands of Egyptians working in the Kingdom have been following the Cairo trials with interest. Saeed Yahya, a prominent member of the Egyptian community in Jeddah, said more than 800 people had lost their lives as a result of security crackdown on anti-government protesters in January. "This is the reason many Egyptians, especially relatives and friends of the victims, are interested in these trials," he told Arab News.

Abul Ala Murtadha, a lawyer, said the trial would take a long time because of the large number of defendants. "People are interested in following this trial because it involves judicial action against top officials of the previous regime," he added.

Dr. Ala Hejab, a physician, said people do not have any sympathy for the accused in the "camel battleground" case as all of them are corrupt.

Most Egyptians contacted by Arab News expressed their hope that the trials would be conducted quickly in order to bring peace and stability to the country.

*Galal Fakkar contributed reporting

Never forget “the other 9/11”
Never forget “the other 9/11”

September 11, 2011

Henry Kissinger thanks Augusto Pinochet for the bang-up job he's doing

Adrian Mack

You couldn’t really blame anyone for thinking that the September 11, 2001 attacks were the only thing that ever happened in history ever, what with all the twin tower snuff porn we've seen in the media for the last week.

But there was of course a previous event, known to many these days as “the other 9/11”, when the United States and other western governments supported a military coup in Chile and the brutal, 17 year regime of General Augusto Pinochet that followed.

Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende was overthrown on September 11, 1973. At that point, Allende led the most progressive nation in Latin America, with a strong parliament, free press, and plans already underway to nationalize western investments in Chile. In the ‘60s, Allende had been the target of a CIA propaganda campaign. After the election in 1970, matters became more lethal.

Allende died in the presidential palace in Santiago during the coup. Pinochet’s military regime suspended the constitution, outlawed political and trade union activity, and muzzled the media. In the purges that followed, thousands of dissidents were tortured and killed. Pinochet’s secret police, the DINA, recruited CIA agent Michael Townley to assist in its bloody war against the left. All of this took place in the context of broad, vicious, covert US intervention in Latin America that lasted for decades.

Chile remains perhaps the most potent symbol of that terrible time; a period that you might characterize as Wall Street's asymmetric war against one continent.

We should certainly honour the victims of 9/11—those both in the U.S. and those who have died needlessly in the aftermath abroad. But since “Never Forget” has become such a ubiquitous slogan for that day 10 years ago, maybe we should also work on making our collective memory a little less selective.

Retry/Release 12,000 After Unfair Military Trials

Human Rights Watch
Egypt: Retry or Free 12,000 After Unfair Military Trials

Civilians Tried Since February Exceed Total Under Mubarak

September 10, 2011

(New York) – Since it took over patrolling the streets from the police on January 28, 2011, Egypt’s military has arrested almost 12,000 civilians and brought them before military tribunals, Human Rights Watch said today. This is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak and undermines Egypt’s move from dictatorship to democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said.

“Nearly 12,000 prosecutions since February is astounding and shows how Egypt’s military rulers are undermining the transition to democracy,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The military can end these trials today – all it takes is one order to end this travesty of justice.”

In a September 5 news conference Gen. Adel Morsy of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said that between January 28 and August 29, military tribunals tried 11,879 civilians. The tribunals convicted 8,071, including 1,836 suspended sentences; a further 1,225 convictions are awaiting ratification by the military.

Under the Mubarak government, such trials were reserved for high-profile political cases, such as the 2008 conviction of the former deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shatir, and 24 others; cases in which the defendants had been arrested in a military zone such as the Sinai; or bloggers who criticized the military.

Human Rights Watch strongly opposes any trials of civilians before military courts, where the proceedings do not protect basic due process rights and do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law. Defendants in Egyptian military courts usually do not have access to counsel of their own choosing and judges do not respect the rights of defense. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command and therefore do not enjoy the independence to ignore instructions by superiors.

Over the past months there has been growing consensus among all political parties and activist groups in Egypt against the military trial of civilians.

Morsy also said the referral of civilians to trial before military courts for violations of the Egyptian penal code would end as soon as the state of emergency is lifted. SCAF generals previously have said that the Code of Military Justice gives them the jurisdictional grounds to bring civilians before tribunals.

This law provides overly broad jurisdiction to the military justice system in articles 5-6, which allow for civilians to be brought before military tribunals for crimes under the penal code if the crime takes place in an area controlled by the military or if one of the parties involved is a military officer. Since taking over the government, the military appears to consider the whole country “controlled by the military” and therefore everyone is potentially subject to military trials.

“The military should end the state of emergency immediately, but even that will not be enough to end military trials of civilians,” Stork said. “The Egyptian authorities should amend the Code of Military Justice in line with its obligations under international law to limit military jurisdiction to military offenses.”

International human rights bodies over the last 15 years have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the due process guarantees in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which affirms that everyone has the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. Egyptian human rights lawyers have filed two cases before Egypt’s administrative court, the Council of State, appealing against SCAF’s administrative decision to bring civilians before military tribunals, which the court will hear in September.

Military courts have acquitted only 795 of the nearly 12,000 cases they have tried, a conviction rate of 93 percent, Human Rights Watch said.

In July, the SCAF issued statement number 68 in which it announced that it was limiting the use of military tribunals to three categories of crimes: “thuggery,” rape, and assault against police officers, a limitation of little practical relevance since these categories cover the vast majority of cases before tribunals over the past months.

The vast majority of those sentenced by military tribunals are not political cases but involve individuals arrested in connection with alleged regular criminal activities. Those sentenced included a 16-year-old child, Islam Harby Raga, currently in Tora prison serving a seven-year sentence after a military trial in February in which he was convicted on charges of assaulting a public official.

One of the political prisoners who remain in detention after an unfair military trial is protester Amr al-Beheiry. Military officers arrested al-Beheiry, along with at least eight others, in the early hours of February 26 after forcibly evicting protesters from Tahrir Square, beat him, and brought him before a military prosecutor. Al-Beheiry’s family learned of his arrest from a newspaper and found out that al-Beheiry had been tried and sentenced on February 28 in the absence of his lawyer. Al-Beheiry is serving a five-year sentence in Wadi Gedid prison, 400 miles from his home, rather than in Tora prison outside Cairo. The military appeals court has scheduled his appeal for May 1, 2012.

Another protester, 21-year-old Mu’aty Abu Arab remains imprisoned in Wadi Gedid prison. Military officers arrested him on February 3 in Tahrir Square. They took him to the military prison and brought him before a military court, which sentenced him to five years on charges of breaking curfew and “thuggery.” His lawyer, Adel Ramadan, told Human Rights Watch that his appeal had been scheduled for February 24, 2012.

“One of the basic due process protections is the right to an effective appeal,” Stork said. “Those wrongfully detained should not have to wait a year and a half before being able to appeal a patently unfair conviction.”

Blogger Maikel Nabil, currently on hunger strike, is serving a three-year prison sentence for “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information” – in fact, for peaceful expression of his views on his blog and on Facebook. Nabil’s lawyers have appealed his sentence and another military court will hear his appeal on November 1. On September 5, Morsy insisted that there were no cases regarding freedom of expression before the military courts, saying that Nabil was a case of “insulting the armed forces.”

In response to growing public calls for an end to military trials of civilians, the military has chosen instead to criticize the media for its coverage of the trials. In a news release on September 7, Morsy warned the media to stop commenting on military trials and spreading “false” information about proceedings.

“We call upon all parties to pursue the legal route to appeal decisions and to directly submit complaints to the competent parties for those who have standing or their legal representatives instead of spreading rumors without basis,” he said. In response to criticism of the military, the military prosecutor has thus far summoned nine people on charges of “insulting the military” for questioning though so far he has not referred any of these cases to court, with the exception of Nabil.

In a speech on February 12, Gen. Mohsen Fangary, a member of the SCAF, declared that Egypt would abide by its international obligations under the treaties it had signed. Those international treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which obligates states to protect and ensure the right to fair trial and freedom of expression.

The Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity, presented before the former United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2005, states that “the jurisdiction of military tribunals must be restricted solely to specifically military offenses committed by military personnel, to the exclusion of human rights violations, which shall come under the jurisdiction of the ordinary domestic courts or, where appropriate, in the case of serious crimes under international law, of an international or internationalized criminal court.”

“The military cannot pick and choose which parts of international law it considers relevant or convenient,” said Stork. “By insisting on using military trials to try civilians the military is showing contempt for Egypt’s obligations under human rights law.”

***In Arabic:

مصر: بعد محاكمات عسكرية جائرة.. يجب إعادة محاكمة الـ 12000 شخص أو إخلاء سبيلهم


Egyptian farmers refuse to be co-opted after Jan25

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Co-opting Egypt’s farmers no longer feasible after 25 January

Sat. 10/09/2011

Jano Charbel

Amid rising labor and social protests across Egypt, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) planned to breathe life into a Nasser-era celebration: Farmers’ Day.

Egypt's Farmers’ Day, which occurs annually on 9 September, was informally commemorated in the 1950s and 1960s when the regime of then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser advocated socialist policies.

On Friday, the SCAF attempted to restore the celebration after 40 years in a move seen by many analysts as aiming to calm social tension among Egypt’s 11 million farmers and agricultural workers.

Farmers' Day was celebrated by various groups of agricultural workers and unionized farmers across Cairo. The Ministry of Agriculture and the SCAF organized a commemorative service in honor of Egypt's farmers at Cairo Stadium, for which over 20,000 employees of the ministry along with farmers and agricultural workers were bused in.

At the stadium, Agriculture Minister Salah Youssef spoke in honor of Egypt's agricultural workers. He pledged the ministry's support and distributed land entitlements to dozens of farmers. Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Hisham Qandil and Governor of Cairo Abdel Qawi Khalifa were also in attendance, along with a host of celebrities including actor Mohamed Sobhi.

The planned 8-hour celebration soon backfired when hundreds of farmers gathered outside the stadium to demand the dissolution of state-run agricultural cooperatives and purging government bodies of corrupt bureaucrats.

Indeed, representatives of the newly-established farmers' federations and unions chose to boycott the state-sponsored celebration and protest in Tahrir Square instead.

They joined several hundred - recently unionized - farmers who conducted a protest march from the Ministry of Agriculture in Dokki to Tahrir Square where they denounced Youssef and his ministry. They criticized the Mubarak-era policy of bussing in people en masse to support to the ruling regime, and claimed that this was a ploy to keep farmers away from planned pro-democracy protests in the square, which demanded that the SCAF set a clear timeline to hand over power to an elected civilian government.

"The Ministry of Agriculture has paid LE5,000 to each agricultural cooperative in order to mobilize and transport farmers from their respective governorates to Cairo Stadium. Each farmer and ministry employee has been given LE100, a free meal, and they also pay for transportation expenses," alleged Mohamed al-Barbary, spokesman for the Kafr al-Dawwar Farmers' Union.

“We demand the resignation of this minister because he does not recognize our unions, and because he and his men are generating huge profits by hoarding fertilizers and selling them at black-market prices. The minister is trying to hijack Farmers' Day for his own political gains," he added.

Other farmers believe that celebrating their day is merely a symbolic farce.

"We demand concrete measures and policies to assist farmers, not a politicized celebration in Cairo Stadium," said Abdel Latif Abdel Gawwad, president of the same union. These concrete measures include subsidized fertilizers, market prices for agricultural produce, improved irrigation networks, access to agricultural machinery, provision of desert lands for agricultural reclamation, and recognition of farmers' unions and federations.

Abdel Gawwad added that various farmers’ unions will be organizing another protest in Tahrir Square next Friday for the realization of these demands.

“We expect a turn-out of tens of thousands, maybe up to 80,000 if we bring along our wives and children,” he said.

Yehia Abu Qamar, a unionized farmer from Monufiya Governorate, said the government and Ministry of Agriculture protect the interests of large farmers and foreign investors, as opposed to protecting the interests of small farmers and landless peasants.

"We demand the release of all farmers imprisoned due to debt, and we demand that fertilizers be sold at the cost of production - that is LE75 per sack, not LE250, which is the average price available in the cooperatives, markets and black markets," he said. "Farmers are the ones that feed the Egyptian populace - without us the masses will go hungry. We hope that the revolution will save us from poverty and protect our rights, but our conditions continue to deteriorate."

Farmers’ demands were echoed by other political forces.

“Authorities must stop jailing indebted farmers,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading presidential contender, in a statement on Friday. “Fertilizers and pesticides should be provided to farmers at fair market prices and not through the black market."

In August, farmers’ rights watchdogs said around 60,000 farmers could be jailed for failing to repay loans due to the state-owned Agriculture Development and Credit Bank.

Turkish warships to escort aid vessels to Gaza?

Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza

9 September 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) - Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year's Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey's row with Israel over its refusal to apologise for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

"Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorised to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza," Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

"From now on, we will not let these ships be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla," Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan's comments, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: "This is a statement well-worth not commenting on."

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close US allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as "spilled milk".

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

"Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognise reality. They recognise reality," Barak told Israel Radio. "We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region... I am certain that we can overcome these [disagreements]."

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

"You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean," Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

"You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean," he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey's plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey's reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: "Look, it's spilled milk. It's not important right now."

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian fighters by sea.

"A normalisation or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn't be expected unless they apologise, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza," Erdogan said on Thursday.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Photos: Protests & Clashes Outside Zionist Embassy

Several thousand angry protesters destroyed the concrete barriers recently constructed around the Zionist embassy.

Youth activists chant and hold up signs/banners demanding the closure of the Zionist embassy in Cairo. Thousands of activists (from all political tendencies) demanded the scrapping of the Camp David Accords, cessation of gas exports to Israel, cancellation of Egypt's partnership with Israel in the Qualified Industrial Zones/QIZs, and the end of Zionist occupation/aggression.

Young activists climbed up the walls of this building housing the Israeli embassy and tore down the Zionist flag. Others activists were able to penetrate the embassy and threw hundreds of its documents out of its windows to protesters below.

Over 400 injuries were reported on the night of Sept. 9 and the following morning. At least two deaths were also reported.

Hundreds of army troops blocked and guarded the entrance to the Zionist embassy. Thousands riot police forces were also deployed around the embassy. Police forces repeatedly attacked the activists around the embassy, and thus came under heavy attack themselves.

A police truck ran over an activist behind the Israeli embassy, youth protesters torched two of the Central Security Forces' paddy wagons in retaliation.

Central Security Forces waved Egyptian flags at angry protesters who congregated outside the Giza Police Department. In order to calm these protesters down, CSF officers chanted "the police and people are one."

CSF trucks burn. Protesters also hurled rocked and stones at the nearby Saudi Arabian Embassy. A few windows were shattered as activists chanted against the Saudi government and its role as the leading counter-revolutionary force in the Arab World.

Activists climbed on top of armored personnel carriers and chanted slogans against Israel, Egypt's police forces and the ruling military junta. Other chanted slogans in solidarity with the Egyptian army.

Clashes escalated between police forces and youth activists later in the night and morning leaving hundreds injured; over a dozen arrests were also reported.