Thursday, June 30, 2011

Egypt: Protesters Clash With Police

Associated Press
Egyptian Protesters Clash With Police

June 29, 2011

Egypt: Military pledges to stop forced ‘virginity tests’

Egypt: Military pledges to stop forced ‘virginity tests’

27 June 2011

The head of Egypt’s military intelligence has promised Amnesty International that the army will no longer carry out forced ‘virginity tests’ after defending their use, during a meeting with the organisation in Cairo on Sunday.

Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), discussed the issue with Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty months after the organisation publicized allegations of the forced ‘tests’.

Major General al-Sisi said that ‘virginity tests’ had been carried out on female detainees in March to "protect" the army against possible allegations of rape, but that such forced tests would not be carried out again. He also added that army would avoid detaining women in the future.

“The Major General’s comments must translate into unequivocal instructions to army staff that women are never forced to undergo this treatment again in Egypt,” said Amnesty International.

“Subjecting women to such degrading procedures hoping to show that they were not raped in detention makes no sense, and was nothing less than torture. The government should now provide reparation to the victims, including medical and psychological support, and apologise to them for their treatment.”

The Major General’s comments came during discussion of a range of human rights abuses, including the ongoing military trials of thousands of civilians including demonstrators, workers and people suspected of petty crimes.

When army officers violently cleared Tahrir Square on 9 March – the day after International Women’s Day – 17 women were detained, beaten, prodded with electric shock batons, subjected to strip searches, forced to submit to ‘virginity tests’ and threatened with prostitution charges.

The women were brought before a military court on 11 March and released on 13 March. Several received one-year suspended sentences for charges including disorderly conduct, destroying property, obstructing traffic and possession of weapons.

That month, Amnesty International wrote to SCAF to investigate the women’s treatment, but received no direct reply or comment from them on the ‘virginity tests’ until the meeting.

In relation to abuses by the security forces during the uprising and in the past thirty years, Major General al-Sisi told Amnesty International at Sunday’s meeting that there was a need to change the culture of the security forces, and gave assurances that instructions had now been given not to use violence against demonstrators, and to protect detainees against ill-treatment.

Such a commitment is particularly welcome ahead of mass demonstrations called for 8 July in solidarity with families of victims of the uprising, and for greater social justice.

According to Major General al-Sisi, people alleging human rights abuses at the hands of the army should complain to the military prosecutor, and can also post their complaints on the SCAF Facebook page.

Major General al-Sisi also stressed the importance of ensuring social justice for all Egyptians, an aim shared by Amnesty International.

“We are hopeful that Egypt’s 25 January Revolution will ultimately lead to justice for those wronged and mistreated by security forces,” said Amnesty International. “But ultimately what matters are the actions of the Egyptian authorities, not their words.”

*UPDATE: This story was amended on June 29 to reflect precisely the translation of the meeting.

Egypt: End military trials, scrap repressive laws

Egypt: End military trials, scrap repressive laws

June 25, 2011

The Egyptian authorities must earn the trust of the people by abolishing repressive laws and ending abusive practices, the Secretary General of Amnesty International said today in Cairo.

Speaking after his week-long visit to Egypt, his first official trip to the Middle East and North Africa, Salil Shetty called on the Egyptian authorities, including the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to use the post-Mubarak transition period to carry out urgent reforms and lift new repressive steps such as the law banning strikes and the use of military trials against civilians.

“This is an incredible moment of opportunity for the Egyptian authorities to show they have made a clean break with past abuses,” said Salil Shetty. “And there have been some important encouraging steps, including the release of administrative detainees, the dissolution of the old State Security Investigation Services and the commitment for Egypt to become a party to the International Criminal Court.”

“As a statement of intent, the authorities should immediately scrap the Emergency Law and end the 30-year state of emergency. Its continued existence, combined with other new restrictive measures is creating an atmosphere of distrust which is likely to seriously affect preparations for elections.”

Amnesty International said that while SCAF had a responsibility to maintain law and order, they did not require this range of repressive powers to do so.

SCAF has said that at least 7000 civilians have been tried in military courts since Mubarak stepped down. Amnesty International considers such trials to violate fundamental requirements of due process and fair trials.

Shetty said that while he had been in Egypt he had learnt of several cases of people brought before military courts or summoned before the military prosecutor – for ‘offences’ such as criticising the military, going on strike and squatting.

In April the authorities passed a new law that criminalizes any strike that “prevents or delays or obstructs” state institutions from working.

Earlier this month a group of workers from the Ministry of Petroleum who were holding a sit-in were the first people to be brought to trial under the new law.

“The Egyptian authorities must listen to the legitimate demands of those who sacrificed so much for their dignity,” said Salil Shetty.

During his visit, Shetty met Government officials including the Minister of Interior Mansour Essawy and Deputy Foreign Minister Wafa Bassim. A meeting had been requested with SCAF.

In his meetings he sought details on the authorities’ strategy to eliminate torture.

“We welcome the announcement of a new panel to look into cases of torture. It is essential that it is able to investigate all cases of torture, including by the armed forces,” said Salil Shetty.

“An urgent priority should be to investigate and hold to account those responsible for the recent cases of forced virginity tests against female protesters.”

Shetty also raised with the authorities the cases of the victims of security forces’ brutality during protests, many of whom have been trying without success to hold accountable those responsible for the deaths of their spouses, children or siblings.

During his visit he met families of those killed during the “25 January revolution” in Cairo and Suez, some of whom yesterday held a protest at Maspero calling for justice and reparations from the authorities for the loss of loved ones.

Among other grievances, many families object to the fact that several of the police officers on trial for unlawfully killing protesters continue to carry out their duties as normal.

Amnesty International said more must be done for victims of serious injury, including payment of their medical costs. Government officials have said they are looking at how to help injured protesters, but to Amnesty International's knowledge no action has yet been taken.

Shetty also visited Manshiyet Nasr informal settlement in Greater Cairo, meeting residents in “unsafe” areas, at risk from rock falls and forced eviction.

Residents of slums have told Amnesty International of their sense of powerlessness and neglect, of the past regime of torture and humiliation at the hands of local police, which drove them to join the uprising.

“The vast majority of the victims killed or injured during the “January 25 revolution” came from underprivileged backgrounds,“ said Salil Shetty.

“Although Egypt may be in a transitional period, that cannot reduce the urgency of addressing the needs of those struggling to live in dignity or provide for their families.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

Palestinians use bulldozer to ram Apartheid barrier

Palestinians use bulldozer to ram Israeli fence

June 24, 2011

Ismail Khader

(Reuters) - Palestinian protesters rammed a bulldozer Friday into a contested barrier near the village of Bilin, days after the Israeli army said it would finally comply with a court order and reposition the fence.

Israeli soldiers fired volleys of tear gas and jets of foul-smelling liquid to force the flag-waving demonstrators away from the metal fencing that keeps locals from their land.

Bilin, which lies about 25 km (15 miles) east of Tel Aviv, has become the focal point of protests against the controversial Israeli network of walls and fences that separates much of the occupied West Bank from Israel.

The Israeli military tore down a watchtower overlooking Bilin Wednesday and said they were ready to dismantle part of the fence, four years after the high court ruled it should be re-routed to give Palestinians greater access to farmland.

Palestinian leaders and activists descended on Bilin on Friday to celebrate the decision, but said the protests would continue because much of the land remained inaccessible.

"What the village of Bilin has got back because of the changing of the course of the wall represents less than half of the lands that were confiscated," Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Reuters television.

"This represents a backing down, and therefore this event has an important meaning ... but this can only end with the ending of the occupation along with its injustice, its settlements and walls," he said after attending midday prayers.


Israel has built a concrete wall several hundred meters back from the fence, which will take the place of the old barrier. But the original metal fence still stands and a few dozen protesters tried to tear it down using a yellow bulldozer.

The Palestinians, including one man in a wheelchair, made their way along a dirt track amidst olive trees and used a bulldozer to rip up a metal gate before being forced back by soldiers.

The cabin of the bulldozer was thick with tear gas as the driver struggled to retreat.

Israel started building its barrier, which is a mix of metal fencing, barbed wire and concrete walls, in 2002 following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

The Israeli government calls it a "security fence" and says it is vital to protect Israeli lives. The Palestinians refer to it as an "apartheid wall" and say it amounts to a land grab, swallowing up swathes of ancestral farmland.

The World Court in The Hague said in 2004 that the proposed 720-km (430-mile) barrier was illegal.

At Bilin, the barrier curves 3 km (2 miles) inside the Green Line, established by a 1949 ceasefire, which divides Israel and the West Bank. It does so to ensure nearby Jewish settlements lie on the Israeli side of the barrier.

*(Additional reporting by Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh; writing by Crispian Balmer; editing by Robert Woodward)

Farmers' federations emerge from the revolution

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egypt's farmers ready for independent organizing

Thu, 23/06/2011

Jano Charbel

For the first time in Egypt's history, the last four months have seen tens of thousands of peasants and farmers formally establishing unions and federations to defend their rights. These associations have been established in 16 governorates from Aswan to Alexandria. But questions remain about whether these agrarian associations can make their presence felt.

The first independent union was established on 13 May. Since then, numerous initiatives have emerged in attempts to organize in defense of peasants' and farmers' interests.

This is not an entirely new trend. Initiatives to establish farmers' unions date back nearly 30 years, but they have traditionally been met with official resistance and outright rejection from President Hosni Mubarak's Manpower and Agriculture ministries. With the onset of the revolution, political players, including leftist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood, have been involved in these organizational initiatives.

"Since the 25 January revolution numerous groups of farmers and activists have come forth with initiatives to establish independent unions and federations,” said Shahinda Miqlad, a veteran farmers activist.

Miqlad is a founder of the recently established Independent Federation of Egyptian Farmers, which is still in its early stages. This federation has its roots in the first general assembly of farmers' unions, which was convened on 30 April, 1983. The state refused to recognize the union.

“We're still in the process of collecting notarized signatures from farmers nationwide to officially establish our federation as a viable entity able to represent farmers, and to protect their rights," Miqlad said. Thousands of signatures have already been gathered, Miqlad said, who hopes the group will collect thousands more.

The Independent Federation of Egyptian Farmers is temporarily headquartered in the village of Kamshish, in the Nile Delta governorate of Monufiya. This village and its farmers have a long history of anti-feudal resistance. Miqlad's husband, Salah Hussein, was killed in such an act of resistance in April 1966.

The federation seeks “cooperation and coordination among farmers, to have them organize themselves independently of the state and its municipal councils. We are also aiming for agricultural self-sufficiency in Egypt, along with the protection of farm lands from unplanned urban encroachments, and to confront poverty in all its forms, to raise the living standards of farmers nationwide," Miqlad said.

The Muslim Brotherhood had announced the establishment of a similar federation in May, but little is known about this endeavor. The Brotherhood's labor affairs spokesman could not be reached for clarification regarding the initiative.

Miqlad dismissed questions about cooperation between the Brotherhood and left-wing forces on agriculture issues.

"There is no such thing as Muslim Brotherhood farmers and leftist farmers,” she said. “We seek a democratic unionist federation amongst all farmers, independent of all parties and religious platforms. We seek the unity of all Egyptian farmers. The farmers must organize themselves by themselves and for themselves, not for this or that political current."

But some are skeptical of the organization's viability.

Khaled Badawy, director of the Rural Studies Center, said the unionization of peasants and farmers is long overdue. But Badawy has concerns about the current configuration’s future.

"The farmers' federations being organized by the leftists and by the Muslim Brotherhood are both likely to fail if they do not democratically represent farmers, their interests and their aspirations," he said.

“Such unions or federations cannot succeed if they are organized from above by political actors who are not farmers," said Badawy.

"Their success is contingent upon their ability, or inability, to improve farmers' working conditions,” he said. “This will be determined by the actual number of members, their organizational bylaws, their electoral process and democratic policies, and by their services in fields, towns, villages and hamlets."

Badawy went on to say that both federations have exaggerated their membership figures.

"If these federations do not place a cap on land ownership as a guideline for membership, then members' interests will conflict with one another. A large land-owning farmer does not have the same interests as a landless peasant - on the contrary."

Some farmers have spoken of establishing a land-ownership cap as a condition for membership in the Independent Federation of Egyptian Farmers.

"We would like to have a limit on land-ownership, specifically 10 feddans or less, as a precondition for membership in our federation," said Bassiouny Harb, a small-farmer from the Nile Delta City of Tanta.

Harb claimed that there are some 1500 farmers in and around Tanta who have submitted their signatures to join the Independent Federation, while an additional 3000 to 4000 have expressed interest in joining but are waiting to see what services and benefits are provided.

"If the federation and its local unions prove capable of assisting farmers in safeguarding their lands and livelihoods, then the number of members will increase exponentially,” Harb said.

Amgad Faramawy, a small-scale farmer from the Nile Delta City of Mansura, said the federation has collected over 5000 signatures in Daqahlia Governorate for membership.

"We farmers expect this federation to assist us in acquiring the lands on which we have been laboring for decades,” Faramawy said.

"We labor on this land like our ancestors before us, yet it does not belong to us. It is state-owned land affiliated with the Ministry of Religious Endowments. The ministry refuses to grant us this land; instead, it sells off large plots of farm land, along with buildings, homes and other properties… to private investors," he said.

Faramawy explained that the federation can best prove its credentials by defending the rights of small farmers and landless peasants. "Members of the federation have recently supported five farmers who were arrested while protesting outside the cabinet. It has organized for their release. This is the sort of work which will help the federation gain members,” he said.

Mohamed al-Shendy, a farmer in Alexandria, said that the federation has collected about 2000 signatures in that governorate, but they still lack a local union office.

Shendy hopes that the federation will benefit local farmers economically.

"Chemical fertilizers cost LE70 per sack, but the agricultural cooperatives sell them at LE75. Traders will sell you a sack for LE150. We want our unions to help provide chemicals to us poor farmers." he said

"We hope that the federation will help us in the distribution of our produce at good prices. We hope that the federation will supply us with agricultural machinery and services, and we hope it will protect the rights of farmers which have been trodden upon for… centuries."

Roots of Egypt’s Revolution: Labor Unions & Uprising in Tahrir

Toward Freedom
Roots of Egypt’s Revolution: Labor Unions and the Uprising in Tahrir Square

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dan Read

Kamal Abbas comes across as a modest man. As coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) in Egypt, nearly twenty years of activism under repressive conditions seem to him little reason to boast. Others beg to differ.

Kamal recently arrived in the UK as part of a speaking tour to visit with British activists and trade unionists. His talks focused on the victory won four months ago when Abbas and his fellow activists overthrew long-hated President Hosni Mubarak.

“What we witnessed in Egypt and Tunisia, and now in Libya, Syria and Yemen, is that the struggle for freedom is not limited to one nation,” said Kamal, his quietly spoken Arabic relayed via a translator to an enthralled London audience.

Abbas’ story, however, begins way before the tumultuous events witnessed in Tahrir square; it is part of a legacy of resistance that goes back decades. Under the regime of former President Mubarak, grass-roots workers’ organizations in Egypt had to operate in conditions that could at best be described as “semi-legal.” This had been the rule since 1957, when President Nasser had ordained it necessary for all Egyptian unions to join a single organization, known as the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

This became the norm in much of the Arab world, where mainstream union leaders held to a tradition that saw the state as being integral to the functioning of the labor movement. In the case of Egypt, the ETUF tried to hold onto its government-approved monopoly, even at the expense of other, independent and democratic initiatives such as the CTUWS.

“The Egyptian trade unions were a lot like those in the Stalinist countries,” said Eric Lee, international trade union activist and founder of the LaborStart campaign website. “They were a state-controlled federation. It was a complete monopoly; you could not form an independent trade union. And the federation just supported the state - if the state supported privatizations they the federation supported privatizations.”

It was not unheard of for disillusioned workers to seek their own solutions to wider problems of poverty, unemployment and draconian government measures. Kamal Abbas himself began his time as a worker activist when he participated in a strike at the steel works in Helwan, just south of Cairo. The strike was put down with several deaths, yet despite brutal repression, the ETUF did little to help the workers’ cause. Abbas and others then decide to start a new, grass-roots workers organization.

“The situation for trade unions in Egypt was difficult,” Abbas explained. “The official federation was dominated by the government since its establishment. However, in 1990 we managed to form the CTUWS and for the next twenty years were advocating and defending workers’ rights such as the right to strike and form independent trade unions.”

Unsurprisingly, then President Mubarak did not look kindly on such endeavors. Kamal and those like him were frequently harassed and arrested by security forces. In 2007, the organization came under particularly heavy pressure due to their involvement in on-going strikes in the textile sector. Although less than a year later over twenty thousand workers were again on strike, the CTUWS headquarters in Helwan was shut down, alongside several other branch offices.

In this instance the ETUF directly turned on the CTUWS, attacking them in the media and blaming them for the onset of industrial unrest. The CTUWS in turn claimed they had a responsibility to defend the workers, yet coupled with increased government scrutiny over CTUWS moves to annul state interference in internal trade union elections, the union was largely forced underground.

“They had endless difficulties,” Eric Lee said. “Kamal was in and out of jail often. What the union was clever about was that they looked for international support from early on. They knew that international support would help them survive the onslaughts. But they faced constant repression. When I attended a meeting with them last year, only nine months before the regime was overthrown, they said to all of us ‘you are aware that at any moment the police could burst in and arrest everyone.’ That was the atmosphere, even as recently as a year ago.”


The Arab Spring appeared to catch Western commentators off guard. Given that the mainstream media appeared to want to avoid reporting on events such as the 2006-2007 textile strikes, this is perhaps unsurprising.

Revolutions, however, do not appear out of thin air. “People who think that revolutions come out of nowhere have never studied revolutions”, said Lee. “Many international activists knew that Egypt was absolutely bubbling in turmoil. When I was there last year I knew very little about Egypt – the Solidarity Centre which is the AFL-CIO’s foreign policy arm – was there in strength, they had been backing the CTUWS for some time. And they were distributing a book which had some academic material about the Egyptian working class which covered right up to about a year ago.”

The book described the past decade’s union struggle which led to a wave of strikes which continued for the last five years. The strike, explained Lee, “involved millions and millions of workers, and enormous street demonstrations – they had ten thousand workers camped outside the Prime Minister’s office. This proved that society was losing its grip – the police couldn’t control the streets, ten thousand workers camped out is a very significant protest and this wasn’t picked up on most of the global media; they just weren’t looking for it. Trade unionists who were involved did know about it.”

When mass street protests erupted last January, however, the CTUWS began to play a decisive role. As demonstrators took to the streets in their thousands and huge swathes of the urban working class came out on strike, Tahrir square became world famous as the focal point for revolution. It was in this square that Kamal Abbas made his first appeal for a new federation of trade unions.

“On January 30th we met with representative of other independent trade union organizations and we discussed forming a new federation,” said Abbas. “We then made an announcement in Tahrir square, calling for a new federation. But at the time we had no idea what would happen. Since then this call has been responded to by the workers. The challenge now that the revolution has succeeded is to be able to build a society of social justice.”

During this time, the old ETUF largely ignored the protest movement and instead committed itself to “monitoring” the labor force for signs of discontent. In the process, they effectively signed their death warrant as an alleged workers’ organization by showing clearly which side they were on.

Additionally, the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) – a conservative body influenced by Muamour Gadaffi – appears to have taken a back seat in the face of independent unionism. Having long pursued a policy of Arab nationalism that saw non-Arabs in the Middle East excluded from membership, some have called for the ICATU’s disbandment and the formation of a more ethnically-inclusive body.

“ICATU does not accept unions that are not Arab,” said Lee. “So people like the Kurds are not welcome, Iranians are not welcome and of course the Israelis are not welcome. Not only that, but the Palestinians are not welcome. The Palestine General Federation of trade unions, which is generally accepted to be the Palestinian labor movement, has never been a member of ICATU because ICATU deemed they were tainted by collaboration with Zionism.”

ICATU, arguably now something of a relic which fails to represent the true ethnic diversity of the Middle East, now stands to be swept away by a new tide of popular trade unionism standing in a different tradition than that of Arab nationalism and state control.

Hope for the future now takes precedence in the minds of a population long accustomed to living under a repressive government. With the military government having made moves to ban strikes and curtail workers’ organizations, Egyptians are generally feeling optimistic about future possibilities.

“This revolution in Egypt started with the uprising of young people, which shows that this revolution has a great future,” said Abbas.

It remains to be seen how far the Arab Spring may continue, considering the convoluted situation in Libya and the savage repression in Yemen and Syria. Given that the Egyptian and Tunisian former presidents in particular were long-supported by western powers, another question is what relationship the new Egypt may pursue with their former imperial partners in the west.

Abbas believes that the political situation may have changed fundamentally with the entry of popular protest and upheaval. “The policy-makers of Europe and America have been shown that the people in the Middle East are not satisfied with dictatorships. This revolution has really forced them to acknowledge that the people themselves can act in their own interests.”

*Photo of Abbas by Hossam el-Hamalawy
*Photo of Tahrir Square courtesy of the Associated Press

Middle Eastern bloggers fight sexual harassment

TNW Middle East
Middle Eastern bloggers unite to fight against sexual harassment

Monday June 20, 2011

Nancy Messieh

Activists across the Arab world are taking to their keyboards in their fight against sexual harassment.

Using the hashtag #EndSH on Twitter, bloggers from Egypt, Sudan, Syria and Lebanon are encouraging people to take part in speaking out against harassment and gender violence.

The #EndSH initiative is the brainchild of the Egyptian startup HarassMap, but the cause has been picked up by other similar websites in the region, including Lebanon’s Resist Harassment Lebanon. RHL has also created a Facebook event for the initiative.

It’s still relatively early in the Middle East, but the tweets and blog posts have already started pouring in. Activists are coming forward with personal stories, ways to fight the stigma, as well as looking at the causes behind the problem.

Bloggers are also encouraged to post links to their pieces on the Facebook page, Blogging and Tweeting Against Sexual Harassment.

It’s no surprise that Middle Eastern activists are taking advantage of social media to tackle what is a very serious problem in the region. If Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been key tools used by activists across the Middle East to fight their oppressive regimes, it seems only natural that these same tools are a part of the arsenal in their fight against sexual harassment.

But how effective can an online campaign be in taking down a problem that is entrenched in Middle Eastern streets? A tweet from the HarassMap Twitter account explains how it can help. “So much media exposure to the cause, the buzz would create reaction. Tiny steps are important.”

The reaction by some on Twitter to the campaign has highlighted how far we really have to go, with some tweets going so far as to say that women crave verbal harassment, or that it comes down to the way a woman is dressed.

Egyptian tweeter, Safi tweets, “Do you think there are no harassers on FB & Twitter? Think again. Plus think of all the younger generations online, who will one day #endSH.”

Military interrogates journalists for publishing "false information"

Al-Ahram Online
Journalists questioned by military for publishing "false information" released without bail

Sunday 19 Jun 2011

Mohamed El Hebeishy

At around 1pm on Sunday, 19 June, two hours after appearing in front of the military prosecutor, Al-Fajr editor in chief Adel Hammouda walked out of the now infamous C-28 building; where activists and journalists have been called for questioning by the military prosecutor with increasing frequency.

In an impromptu press conference in front of C-28 building, Hammouda announced that his colleague, journalist Rasha Azab was being accused of publishing false information with the potential to stir public disorder. Hammouda himself had been accused of editorial supervision allowing such news to be published.

Such allegations could lead to a prison sentence or fine for Azab and a fine of between LE5,000 and 10,000 for Hammouda.

While Azab was still being questioned, Hammouda remained confident she would be released. “There is no reason to keep her in custody. I believe she will be out today,” he said.

Within hours Azab was indeed released without bail, instantly joining protesters outside the building with the chant, “Egypt stands for freedom, not juntas or robbers.“

Today’s subpoenas came after Al-Fajr published an article detailing an earlier meeting between members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the ‘No to Military Trials’ campaigners.

In her article, Azab tackled more than 35 claims of torture and “virginity tests” conducted by members of the military establishment. The claims mainly revolved around the crackdown on the 9 March sit-in, though some incidents date back to 3 February. Azab had also voiced her concerns regarding the revolution’s achievements.

The military summonses have been criticized by the Journalists Syndicate’s Committee of Freedoms in a statement issued earlier on Saturday, 18 June.

Less than a hundred demonstrators have been rallying in front of the military prosecutor's building since early morning, protesting military rule and calling for freedom of speech. “You are not Gods. Do not expect us not to criticize you,” read one of the placards.

This is not the only example of journalists being summoned by the military in the past three weeks.

Around the end of May, blogger and Ahram Online colleague Hossam El-Hamalawy, along with TV presenter Reem Maged, both appeared in front of military prosecutor. They were not accused or even questioned, but rather asked to provide evidence of military police violations after El-Hamalawy’s statements made on Maged’s TV programme. Journalists from Alwafd newpaper have also been summoned.

Egypt: Military regime moves to suppress strike wave

World Socialist Website
Egypt’s military regime prepares clampdown on strike wave

17 June 2011

Harvey Thompson

The upsurge of industrial struggle by Egyptian workers that preceded the January revolution shows no sign of diminishing.

Workers are now in a mounting conflict with the post-Mubarak military regime in Cairo.

With workers pressing their demands on pay, conditions and official corruption―demands that accompanied the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak and remain unmet―the military regime is employing ever more repressive measures.

On June 8, the government confirmed that the law it approved in April criminalising protests, strikes, public gatherings and street assemblies, is now to be enforced.

Al Masry Al-Youm notes, “The law stipulates that protesters or strikers disrupting work at state institutions, public authorities, and public or private institutions will be arrested, fined and/or imprisoned, with fines ranging from LE30,000 to LE500,000 (from US$5,000 to US$83,000), and prison sentences of one year or more. Even those promoting strikes or protests but not participating in them are subject to imprisonment and fines reaching up to LE50,000 (around US$8,300)”.

The new legislation was issued March 24 by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf’s cabinet and ratified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) a month later. It was never fully enforced, as the military regime feared the response of the working class.

A statement issued by the SCAF June 8, said, “In order to achieve stability, the cabinet declares the activation of the law that criminalises strikes and the disruption of production”.

It stressed that the government “will not hesitate to respond to any attempts by any party or group to disrupt the law or harm the national economy, especially during this critical stage the country is going through”.

On June 8, the military police arrested five workers at Petrojet (Petroleum Projects and Technical Consultations Company) for staging a two-week sit-in outside the headquarters of the Petroleum Ministry to protest the dismissal of 1,200 workers. A statement issued by the Centre for Trade Union & Workers’ Services (CTUWS), said the arrests represented the first efforts to enforce the law criminalising protests and strikes.

The proclamation was made in the face of continuing industrial militancy, with sections of workers compelled to challenge the anti-protest measures.

On the same day as the issuing of the SCAF statement, workers, professionals, farmers and young people protested, demanding better wages and working conditions throughout Cairo and other governorates.

Demonstrators included, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm, graduates of Al-Azhar University who demanded their appointment as assistant professors, while graduates of the Agricultural Research Institute protested before the parliament building to demand wage increases.

EgyptAir cabin crew staged protests, demanding that the airline be purged of corrupt management.

Temporary workers of the Mansoura Petroleum Company took part in protests and demanded permanent contracts, while train drivers of the Damietta-Sherbin line staged a sit-in demanding better wages.

Tenant farmers protested against the government for depriving them of land. The farmers called on all other dispossessed farmers to join their movement.

On Kasr El-Eini Street, there was a demonstration of employees of the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA)—demanding permanent contracts and improved working conditions. The MSA workers also sought the removal of Zahi Hawass, the head of the ministry, and of Safwat El-Nahhas, president of the Central Agency for Organisation and Management and chairperson of the Complaints Committee for the High Council of Wages.

The MSA announced that from June 8 employees would begin an open-ended national strike and a sit-in from June 15 in front of the Egyptian Museum.

Students of Mansoura Faculty of Veterinary Medicine continued their sit-in for the 58th consecutive day, demanding the dismissal of their faculty dean. Students in Alexandria demanded the resignation of the director of the city’s Veterinary Directory.

Pensioners also staged demonstrations demanding the disbursement of their retirement bonuses.

Lawyers have been staging a sit-in at the Lawyers Syndicate since the beginning of the month. They have since threatened a hunger strike if their demands are not met. They are demanding that the syndicate’s general assembly be dissolved, new elections be conducted, and an amendment of the law governing their profession. They accuse Hamdi Khalifa, their syndicate head, of colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood to allow it to control the syndicate and use it for political gains.

Over 4,000 workers in Mahalla—the Nile Delta city that has been the site of repeated textile workers struggles―marched on the city council to announce a walkout involving 1,300 factories and fabric workshops squeezed by cotton prices, which have quadrupled in the past six months.

On June 6, over 500 metro employees, including conductors, operators and ticket collectors, staged a sit-in at the Anwar Sadat Metro Station in Tahrir Square, calling for the dismissal of Mohamed Al-Shemy, head of the Egyptian Company for Metro Management and Operation, who they say wants to privatise the subway train company.

Temporary workers stormed the Ministry of Transport offices June 12, to demand that the minister appoint them on a permanent basis, according to a report by Al Masry Al-Youm. Ministry officials called the military police.

Cairo International Airport air traffic controllers threatened to go on strike for several hours on June 9, closing the air space to incoming flights, except for air ambulances and presidential planes. The strike threat was prompted by the intention of the Ministry of Civil Aviation to cut wages after a new batch of traffic control officers were employed. The airport also witnessed protests in the past week by air hostesses and security personnel demanding better working conditions.

In a June 6 press statement, Egypt’s minister of Civil Aviation, Ibrahim Manna, threatened, “There is a decision preventing strikes in public facilities, and the air traffic control officers have no right to organise such a strike”.

On June 7, a worker was run over and killed during a protest in the long-running industrial dispute at Mansoura-España Garments Company, Talkha, over unpaid wages.

Over 100 workers had gathered outside the United Bank, which owns the company, demanding they be paid their wages for May. Workers had blocked the road. A truck ploughed into Mariam Abdel Ghaffar, a mother of three, and two other women. Abdel Ghaffar later died of her injuries.

“Another woman, Samah Abdel Aziz was dragged along for around 300 metres until protestors were able to make the driver stop”, reports Al Masry Al-Youm. She was in critical condition in intensive care after undergoing a five-hour operation.

The Mansoura-España workers have refused a redundancy package offered last month. Mohsen al-Shaer, who was dismissed for his involvement in past strikes and protests, told Al Masry Al-Youm, “Nothing has changed since the revolution. It’s the same system. Nothing has changed”.

On June 12, workers at electric power stations continued protests to demand increased pay and the dismissal of Mohamed Awad, head of the holding company for electricity. The workers have said they will escalate their strike.

On June 13 a sit-in by more than 1,000 workers at Upper Egypt industrial complex in Naga Hammadi, the country’s largest aluminium factory, entered its third day. According to Ahram Online the workers have several demands, including a wage rise, an increase in bonus payments, a restructuring of financial allowances, jobs for their sons and the resignation of administrative managerial director, Abdel-Razak Morsy. Last year, around 6,000 of Egypt Aluminium’s 8,000 work force held a sit-in for the same demands.

The Egyptian Gazette reported that the Doctors’ Association held a general assembly meeting last week to discuss “escalatory moves against the government, which they accuse of ignoring pay rise and better work condition demands”.

Saudi women drive cars in protest at ban

BBC News
Saudi Arabia women drive cars in protest at ban

17 June 2011

Women in Saudi Arabia have been openly driving cars in defiance of an official ban on female drivers in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The direct action has been organised on social network sites, where women have been posting images and videos of themselves behind the wheel.

The Women2Drive Facebook page said the direct action would continue until a royal decree reversed the ban.

Last month, a woman was arrested after uploading a video of herself driving.

Manal al-Sherif was accused of "besmirching the kingdom's reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion", but was released after 10 days having promised not to drive again.

Campaigners have not called for a mass protest - which would be illegal - but have asked women who have foreign driving licenses to drive themselves as they go about their daily life.

"All that we need is to run our errands without depending on drivers," said one woman in the first film posted in the early hours of Friday morning.

The film showed the unnamed woman talking as she drove to a supermarket and parking.

"It is not out of love for driving or traffic or the experience. All this is about is that if I wanted to go to work, I can go. If I needed something I can go and get it.

"I think that society is ready to welcome us."

Another protester said she drove around the streets of Riyadh for 45 minutes "to make a point".

"I took it directly to the streets of the capital," said Maha al-Qahtani, a computer specialist at the Ministry of Education.


On Twitter, Mrs Qahtani described the route she had taken around the city with her husband, saying: "I decided that the car for today is mine."

Her husband said she was carrying her essential belongings with her and was "ready to go to prison without fear", AFP news agency reported.

One woman who asked not to be named told the BBC driving was often considered to be "something really minor".

"It's not one of your major rights. But we tell them that even if you give us all the basic and big rights, that you are claiming are more important than driving, we can't enjoy practising those rights because the mobility is not there.

"We can't move around without a male."

The motoring ban is not enforced by law, but is a religious fatwa imposed by conservative Muslim clerics. It is one of a number of severe restrictions on women in the country.

Supporters of the ban say it protects women and relieves them of the obligation to drive, while also preventing them from leaving home unescorted or travelling with an unrelated male.

But the men and women behind the campaign - emboldened by uprisings across the Middle East and Arab world - say they hope the ban will be lifted and that other reforms will follow.

Amnesty International has said the Saudi authorities "must stop treating women as second-class citizens", describing the ban as "an immense barrier to their freedom of movement".

The last mass protest against the ban took place in 1990, when a group of 47 women were arrested for driving and severely punished - many subsequently lost their jobs.

The women were angered that female US soldiers based in the kingdom could drive freely while they could not.

Legal battle against Mubarak's trade union federation begins

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Legal battle against Mubarak's trade union federation begins

Tue, 14/06/2011

Jano Charbel

A legal case was lodged with the Administrative Court on Tuesday calling for the dissolution of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

The appeal was filed by three members of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), Kamal Abbas, Mohamed Omar, and Sayyed Saad el-Dein. They called for the state's sequestration of the ETUF headquarters, buildings, its Workers' University, cultural institute, hospitals and clinics.

Furthermore, the CTUWS aims at barring the ETUF from representing Egypt's workers or unions at international conferences.

During the most recent International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Geneva, Switzerland, held on 9 June, a heated confrontation took place between Abbas and Ismail Fahmy – the acting president of the ETUF – regarding the representation of Egypt's workers. Abbas, who is the director of the CTUWS, interrupted Fahmy's speech and accused him of misrepresenting Egypt's workers and unions. Fahmy, in return, has accused Abbas of tarnishing Egypt's image and attempting to weaken the unity of Egypt's trade union movement.

Fahmy has called on the ILO to take disciplinary action against Abbas, and against the International Trade Union Confederation, which had invited him to attend the conference in Geneva. Furthermore, the ETUF has since filed a legal complaint to the General Prosecutor against the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU.) This independent federation, established on 30 January, is the first of its sort since 1957.

Addressing the Administrative Court's judges in Doqqi, Defense Lawyer Mohamed al-Damati said, "The Administrative Court ruled for the dissolution of Mubarak's so-called National Democratic Party, as it was a corrupt and oppressive party. Today, we ask the esteemed court to rule for the dissolution of another corrupt and oppressive party – namely the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.

"This federation is a diabolical apparatus of the old regime," Damati added. "This federation does not in any way represent Egypt's workers or unions. It represents only the Mubarak regime."

The lawyer made reference to the ETUF's mobilization of workers in support of Mubarak and his party during presidential and parliamentary elections. Along with the fact the the ETUF had sought to postpone its elections, slated for the end of 2011, so as not to overlap with the presidential elections. Late last year, the president of the ETUF, Hussein Megawer, announced, "Our elections must not keep us from supporting President Mubarak, as he is our true supporter, and we are his supporters.”

Megawer was a member of parliament and a member of Mubarak's party. As for the ETUF's 24 general unions, 22 are presided over by members of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party.

"The Egyptian Trade Union Federation is nearly identical to the National Democratic Party" argued Damati. The lawyer pointed out that Egypt had signed and ratified international conventions guaranteeing trade union independence, democracy and plurality, but had failed to implement these conventions over the course of more than 50 years."

Another defense lawyer, Mohsen el-Bahnasi told the panel of judges, "The legitimacy of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation is gone, as is the legitimacy of the old regime and its party. This federation was appointed by the old regime through blatant violations of trade union elections, and through vote-rigging."

Outside the courtroom, Abbas exclaimed, "The [Administrative] Court had ruled that this federation's elections [October-November 2006] were null and void. Yet the court verdict was never enforced."

The ETUF's media spokesman, Ali Othman, could not be reached for comments regarding this legal case. However, the ETUF, with an estimated membership of some four million workers, has repeatedly accused independent trade unions, and especially the EFITU, of weakening and dissolving the country's trade union unity.

Egypt's independent trade union movement resurfaced in late 2008. By April 2009, some 27,000 employees of the Real Estate Tax Authority had formed the first independent trade union since 1957. Since then, dozens of trade unions have been established independently of the ETUF.

According to statistics provided by the Land Center for Human Rights, there are now around 150 independent trade unions, including general unions and their regional union committees, nationwide. Membership in these newly established independent unions is now estimated at nearly 500,000. Over the course of the past three years, independent unions have been established for teachers, farmers, pensioners, fishermen, quarry workers, bus drivers, grocery store employees, health technicians, and nurses, amongst a host of others.

The date of the next court session is yet to be determined.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

لحكومة المصرية تؤكد على عقوبات قانون تجريم الإضرابات

دار الخدمات النقابية والعمالية
بعد إحالة خمسة عمال للمحاكمة العسكرية ومقتل عاملة - الحكومة المصرية تؤكد على تغليظ عقوبات قانون تجريم الإضرابات


فى الوقت الذى اتخذت فيه حكومة الدكتور عصام شرف ( حكومة الثورة) فى اجتماعها اليوم قرار بإلغاء الضريبة على الأرباح الرأسمالية التى كانت قد فرضتها على رجال أعمال البورصة المصرية ، تعود وتؤكد على
تفعيلها للمادة 64 و 64 مكرر من قانون حظر الاعتصامات والإضرابات ، والمطالبة بتوقيع العقوبات المنصوص عليها على من يضرب او يعتصم من العمال بدعوى تعطيله لعجلة الإنتاج .. بل يصل الأمر فى البيان الرسمى الصادر عن مجلس الوزراء بالنص حرفيا على لفظ "تجريم " الإضراب ..

المفارقة العجيبة أن ذلك يأتى فى الوقت الذى يعقد فيه المؤتمر السنوى لمنظمة العمل الدولية والذى شهدت وقائعه حتى الآن انفراجة فى موقف مصر السيئ والوعد برفع اسمها من القائمة السوداء التى تشمل أسوأ الدول التى تنتهك حقوق العمال ..

تتخذ الحكومة المصرية هذا التوجه الخطير وهى تعى جيدا أن من أهم أسباب وضع مصر على قائمة الحالات الفردية ( القائمة السوداء) هى مواد قانون العمل المصرى الذى يحد من حق العمال فى الإضراب ويضع العديد من الشروط التى تجعله شبه مستحيل !!

إن دار الخدمات النقابية والعمالية تؤكد على أن تعهدات مصر والتزاماتها الدولية التى أعلن المجلس العسكرى الأعلى منذ اليوم الأول لتوليه السلطات عن التزامه بها- لا تعنى فقط الاتفاقيات السياسية والاقتصادية.. وإنما تعنى أيضاً مواثيق حقوق الإنسان، واتفاقيات العمل الدولية.. التى يمثل تجريم الإضراب والاعتصام إخلالاً صريحاً وحاداً بها لا يصلح لتبريره التعلل بأوضاع مصر الآن- مهما كان شأنها-.

المفجع والمثير للدهشة ان ذلك يأتى عقب قيام الشرطة العسكرية باعتقال خمسة من عمال شركة المشروعات البترولية " بتروجيت" المعتصمين أمام وزارة البترول ، ويتم تحويلهم للنيابة العسكرية بتهمة التجمهر وإشغال الطريق حيث قررت النيابة حبسهم 15 يوما على ذمة التحقيق وهم خميس محمد السيد ومحمد إبراهيم محمد ومحمود أبو زيد ومحمد كمال عبد الله وأحمد محمد السيد سعد .

بل ويأتى ذلك بعد اقل من يوم من قتل مريم عبد الغفار حواس العاملة بشركة المنصورة اسبانيا وإصابة سبعة من زميلاتها بعد أن دهستهم احدى سيارات المارة وهن معتصمات أمام مقر المصرف المتحد ، للمطالبة بصرف رواتبهن ، وذلك بعد أن اجبر رجال المرور أصحاب السيارات على دهس المعتصمات !!

وبمجرد ان يصدر بيان مجلس الوزراء بمنحاه الخطير والمقلق تعود جحافل الأمن المركزى لتمارس دورها الذى تمرست عليه فى ظل نظام الرئيس السابق لفض الاعتصامات أمام مجلس الوزراء بالقوة ويتم القبض على بعض المعتصمين بدعوى إثارة الشغب !!

أن دار الخدمات النقابية والعمالية إذ نطالب الحكومة المصرية والمجلس العسكرى بضرورة إعادة النظر فى مرسوم القانون المذكور، تؤكد مجدداً على الأهمية القصوى لإدارة حوار مجتمعى منتظم تشارك فيه مختلف القوى السياسية، ومنظمات المجتمع المدنى، وممثلى العاملين فى القطاعات المختلفة، وممثلى رجال الأعمال لمناقشة التحديات الحالية.. كما تؤكد على ضرورة تطوير وتفعيل آلية منتظمة للمفاوضة الاجتماعية.

Egypt: Workers defy controversial anti-strike law

BNO News
Egyptian workers defy controversial anti-strike law

June 8, 2011

CAIRO (BNO NEWS) -- Egyptian workers on Wednesday took to the streets to demand better working conditions, defying the controversial anti-strike law, Ahram Online reported.

Employees of Egypt's state owned automobile company Nasr Car, along with tenant farmers, graduates of Al-Azhar University and staff members from the ministry of state for antiquities (MSA) gathered in front of the Cabinet offices to make their demands known.

Nasr Car Company employees called on the company's management to rehabilitate workers forced to take early retirement, while top graduates of Al-Azhar University began their first day of a collective hunger strike to demand employment within the university.

Tenant farmers protested against the government for depriving them of land, while employees of the newly formed MSA demanded permanent contracts and decent working conditions.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's interim government announced after the workers went on strike their decision to apply the anti-strike law criminalizing any form of action that disrupts work and production. Shortly after, police forces and plain-clothed police officers used force to disperse the crowd and arrested at least seven tenant farmers.

Waleed Sami, speaking on behalf of the protesting MSA staff, announced that employees would begin an open-ended strike, spanning the length of Egypt from Alexandria to Aswan. The strikers are debating when to close down all tourist sites in Egypt, but security staff from the Pyramid site in Giza already announced that it will be shut down on 15 June.

In March, the Egyptian interim cabinet approved a decree-law that criminalizes protests, strikes and sit-ins that disrupt the economy. The law assigns severe punishment to those who call for or incite sit-ins, with the maximum sentence one year in prison and fines of up to half a million Egyptian pounds (84,000 dollars).

Government enforces law criminalizing strikes

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Government confirms application of law criminalizing protests

June 8, 2001

The Egyptian government confirmed on Wednesday that the law criminalizing protests and strikes, which was approved in late April but never fully applied, will be enforced from now on.

The law criminalizing strikes, protests, public gatherings and street assemblies, was issued on 24 March by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet and ratified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) a month later. However, despite having been ratified, the new law was never fully enforced for political reasons, having met with stiff opposition from revolutionary groups and political parties.

The law stipulates that protesters or strikers disrupting work at state institutions, public authorities, and public or private institutions will be arrested, fined and/or imprisoned, with fines ranging from LE30,000 to LE500,000 (from US$5,000 to US$83,000), and prison sentences of one year or more. Even those promoting strikes or protests but not participating in them are subject to imprisonment and fines reaching up to LE50,000 (around US$8,300).

According to a statement issued by the SCAF on Wednesday, "In order to achieve stability, the cabinet declares the activation of the law that criminalizes strikes and the disruption of production." The statement noted that "some sit-ins and labor strikes led to the disruption of production, decline in investment opportunities and the halt of progress in many government departments."

He said that the law had been activated "so as to avoid further economic risks and to achieve stability for the country."

The government stressed that it "will not hesitate to respond to any attempts by any party or group to disrupt the law or harm the national economy, especially during this critical stage the country is going through."

A number of political movements, including youth organizations formed by the revolutionaries and trade unions, announced their rejection of the new law.

The law has also been criticized by a number of politicians and legal experts, who described it as “a return to the past era” and the former regime's policy of suppressing protests.

*Translated from the Arabic Edition

*Photo by Mohamed Abdel Ghany

Monday, June 6, 2011

1,000s commemorate Khaled Said, & confront police brutality

Thousands protested across the country in memory of Khaled Said, 28 year-old blogger who died at the hands of Alexandrian police forces one year ago. In Cairo demonstrations, marches, and protest stands were held at the Interior Ministry, on Qasr el-Nil Bridge, and in Tahrir Square - amongst other locations.

Protesters commemorate the anniversary of Khaled Said's murder - outside the Interior Ministry. This protester carries a sign with the images of Said, and Tunisia's revolutionary/martyr Mohamed Bouazizi.

Female activists were very prominent in today's protests across Cairo. Along with hundreds of other women, Said's mother - Layla Marzouq - took part in Alexandria's protests.

Angry protesters chant against the Minister of the Interior - Mansour el-Eissawy. Hundreds of protesters chanted against the Interior Ministry and its thugs - especially in light of a minibus driver's death in police custody.

Protesters at Qasr el-Nil Bridge. Egyptian flag reads: Freedom & Dignity.

A silent protest stand was held for Khaled Said - along with the martyrs of the January 25th Revolution, and all other victims of police brutality/torture.

Around 1,000 protesters on the bridge, marched to join the protest outside the Interior Ministry.

In commemoration of this victim of police brutality - Khaled Said's portrait was spray-painted across the Interior Ministry's walls.

No to police brutality!

"Down with military rule! The revolutionaries are not thugs." Protesters chanted against the police, the military police, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The picture of (Martyr) Mohamed Abdel Latif was hung on the ministry's side gate. "We are all Khaled Said" spray-painted on gates. A banner bears the images of other martyrs of the January 25th Revolution.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Egypt: Activists to commemorate blogger's murder

The Egyptian Gazette
Egypt's activists to commemorate blogger's death

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ashraf Madbouly

CAIRO - Activists nationwide are due to march Monday on the Nile Corniches in 18 different governorates, as well as outside police stations, marking the first anniversary of the death of Khaled Saeed, Egypt's most famous victim of police brutality.

"All free Egyptians are invited to show they are against police brutality. This is not a protest. Participants are urged to wear black in mourning the martyr Khaled Saeed," read a recurring post on 'We Are All Khaled Saeed', a group set up by a Google executive in sympathy with Saeed.

It added that the marches will be held on Nile Corniches up and down the country, in those places where the last protest prior to the revolution was held.

"Activists will then walk to police stations as well as to the home of Khaled Saeed in Alexandria," the post added.The biggest protest are expected outside Sidi Gaber Police Station, where the two policemen who beat Saeed to death worked, according to the group.

The death of Saeed is believed to be one of the triggers of the January 25 revolution, after images of his battered face were circulated across social media sites.

"The marches will start at 5pm in 18 governorates," read the post.

Aiming to help fight injustice in Egypt, the founders of 'We Are All Khaled Saeed' were among the first to call for the 25 January protests. "Let's make Khaled's anniversary a commemoration for all the revolution's martyrs," said his mother, Leila Marzouq.

Routine police abuse and torture, rife in Hosni Mubarak's era, were a driving force behind the massive popular protests that ousted the veteran strongman.

Death of driver in police custody sparks clashes in Cairo

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Death of driver in police custody sparks clashes in Cairo

Sat, 04/06/2011

Violence broke out on Friday afternoon between citizens and police officers from Azbakeya police station.
The fight started after a driver detained at the station died. Colleagues and relatives of Mohamed Saeed, 40, accused the police of torturing him to death.

The Ministry of Interior denied this, saying locals beat the driver after he assaulted the head of the police station. It added that he died at the Demerdash Hospital.

Eyewitnesses said they saw stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown near the station. Central security forces used tear gas to disperse the protesters, who torched a central security truck. Some protesters claimed the police brought in thugs to attack them.

Disturbances initially erupted when officers from the police station detained eight drivers in Ramses Square for obstructing traffic. When fellow drivers learned of Saeed's death after an alleged beating, they attempted to break into the station. Police responded by firing shots into the air to disperse them.

Walid Mahmoud, a driver, claimed the police beat the arrested drivers with sticks, injuring some of them. "One hour later Saeed died, even though he was able-bodied," he said.

On its official Facebook page, the Interior Ministry said the deceased driver obstructed traffic by stopping in the middle of the road and loading passengers unsystematically. It said he refused to show his driving license or step out of the car, and that he insulted and hit the head of the Azbakeya police station.

The ministry added that the drivers' behavior angered locals, who prevented Saeed from driving off, forced him out of the car and beat him.

The statement did not say how police reacted, and whether they intervened to prevent the people from beating the driver or arrested his attackers.

The ministry said that Saeed felt extremely tired and was taken to the Demerdash Hospital where he died. It added that Saeed had been charged in eight previous cases.

*Translated from the Arabic Edition
*Photo by Mohamed Hossam Eddin

Egypt's journalists battle to organize independently

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egypt's journalists battle to organize independently

Fri, 03/06/2011

Jano Charbel

Like many other independent labor and professional unions, as journalists try to organize their own associations, they are being met with bureaucratic obstacles as well as a legal confrontation from their official syndicate.

Independent associations have criticized the official Journalists Syndicate and its guidelines for membership for being excessively restrictive. Of the tens of thousands of professional journalists in Egypt only some 6,000 are members of the syndicate.

A day after the Independent Journalists Syndicate announced its (informal) establishment on 22 April, the official syndicate's lawyer filed a legal complaint with the public prosecutor in an attempt to ban the alternate organization.

Wael Tawfiq is a founding member of the independent syndicate and an activist with the group known as Journalists Without a Syndicate.

"The Journalists Syndicate is confronting us with legal action. Nonetheless, we will drive ahead with our efforts to organize Egypt's journalists into an independent syndicate,” Tawfiq said. "A syndicate which actually represents us and protects our rights."

He said the official syndicate's legal action is "an attempt to monopolize the representation and organization of journalists."

Sayyed Abu Zeid, lawyer for the official Journalists Syndicate, said, "We filed our legal complaint to the public prosecutor on the basis that the so-called Independent Journalists Syndicate was established in contravention to Law 10 of 1941."

Abu Zeid clarified: "Any professional syndicate must be established by an act of Parliament. A syndicate cannot be established from behind any podium, for there are laws which govern such professional associations."

Although they may be informally organized, Tawfiq claims that the Independent Journalists Syndicate has between 300 and 400 members, of whom about 80 percent previously did not belong to a union. The other 20 percent are former members of the official syndicate.

"Since we declared our establishment we have been accepting new members, almost on a daily basis," he said.

The Nabil el-Helaly Center for Human Rights, where the independent syndicate’s formation was announced, is serving as its ad hoc headquarters. The group is looking for more permanent headquarters and regional offices.

According to Tawfiq, the syndicate plans to hold a founding general assembly to elect officers and draw up bylaws within the next two weeks.

Tawfiq added that they will also discuss whether to join forces with the recently established Egyptian Online Journalists Syndicate, which, like the Independent Journalists Syndicate, was contrived due to the official syndicate’s membership restrictions on online journalists. The EOJS reportedly has some 200 members and is headquartered in the Multaqa Towers in Abbasseya.

Both the Independent Journalists Syndicate and the EOJS have committees to approve new members on the basis of a documented archive of published, screened or aired work indicating steady employment for at least one year.

Abu Zeid, the Journalists Syndicate attorney, said the legal complaint was directed against the Independent Journalists Syndicate, not the EOJS.

"We hope to amend our regulations to facilitate the admission of more online journalists; and we hope to absorb the online syndicate within our ranks," Abu Zeid said. “The efforts of the so-called Independent Syndicate will only serve to divide the ranks of Egypt's journalists.”

However, the official Journalists Syndicate has been shaken to its foundations with the sacking of (former, pro-Mubarak) President Makram Mohamed Ahmed and his council in February. Afflicted with schisms and in-fighting, the official syndicate is currently being managed by a caretaker council. Elections – reportedly, along with membership reforms – are scheduled for November.

Over the past decades, thousands of professional journalists have struggled to gain membership, and often been denied, in the Journalists Syndicate. The requirement of a full-time contract for at least a year and restrictions on non-print media – along with a host of other prerequisites – have kept the majority of Egyptian journalists from joining. The membership committee also convenes infrequently to accept new members on a seasonal basis.

In October 2008, some 40 applicant journalists protested when the committee denied them membership. Ten journalists conducted a hunger strike at the syndicate's headquarters, with a number of them ultimately being hospitalized.

Socialist journalist Omar Saeed, one of the hunger strikers, was eventually admitted into the syndicate's rosters.

"The membership committee asked me totally irrelevant questions, like 'What are your political tendencies?' and 'Do you belong to a workers' platform or organization?' They asked me few professional questions relating to journalism," he said.

"In the eyes of the authorities you are only officially recognized as being a journalist if you are a member of the syndicate." He believes that the official Journalists Syndicate offers more in terms of services, than in protecting the rights of its constituents – or journalistic freedoms.

"I support syndicate pluralism. This talk about dividing the ranks of the syndicate movement is utter nonsense," Saeed said. "Plurality and competition among syndicates bring about the best representation, the best protection of rights, and the best provision of services. A person should have the right to pick and chose which syndicate serves them best."

The official syndicate, not surprisingly, disagrees.

"I support plurality for political parties, but not for syndicates,” Abu Zeid said. “Journalists have common interests; we should unite to protect our interests. Strength is in unity, all we need is to clean-up our house, and get it in order."

In terms of international law, Egypt is a state party to the International Labor Organization's Conventions 87 and 98 “Concerning the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize” and “The Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.” Although Egypt ratified these conventions over five decades ago, it has failed to enforce them.

Labor organizations have traditionally been tightly controlled by the state and Egypt's first independent union (since 1957) did not emerge until late 2008.

In mid-March, interim Minister of Manpower Ahmad al-Borai vowed to allow for union/syndicate plurality. With the revolution, about 30 fledgling independent unions and syndicates have attracted an estimated 300,000 members across the country.

*Photographed by Tahseen Bakr

Against Egyptian Dictators Old & New - anarchist perspective
An Egyptian anarchist talks about the January 25th Revolution interview Jano Charbel, an Egyptian anarchist and blogger, on the January 25th uprising, how it has progressed and the possibilities for working class struggle in Egypt and beyond.

*1) What forms of workers' organisation has Egypt seen since the events of Jan 25th?

Since January 25th the Egyptian masses self-organised themselves into numerous grass-roots organisations. Civil-society associations mushroomed nationwide, including 'popular-committees', town-councils, cooperatives, independent trade unions, workers' parties and coalitions. These grass-roots associations emerged spontaneously, out of necessity. It was a sort of organic-anarchism that was practiced by millions of Egyptians.

The defeat of Egypt's police forces on January 28th led to their withdrawal and disappearance from the streets. Their disappearance was also intended to create a 'security vacuum'. To be precise, it was the uniformed police forces which disappeared, and the plain-clothed armed police which stepped in to terrorise neighborhoods.

Furthermore, in many cases police officers emptied prisons; criminal elements were armed and given orders to loot, shoot, burn, and wreak havoc. There were also a number of jail breaks orchestrated by family members and friends of the prisoners.

In response to this 'security vacuum' neighborhood patrols emerged, along with teams of civilians to direct street traffic. Others manned roadblocks and barricades established by the 'popular-committees'.

'Popular committees' sprung-up in neighborhoods across the country - to protect homes, shops, agricultural lands, crops, livestock, automobiles and other properties. The people in these committees armed themselves with anything they could get their hands on: wooden sticks, iron rods, kitchen rolling-pins, clubs, swords, guns, rifles, mace-spray, Molotovs, etc.

In terms of industries and services, there were some incidents of capital-flight and employers' lockouts and as a result there were also some brief experiments in factory occupations, and workers' self-management.

Egyptians are still organizing themselves into trade union committees, general unions and federations. These labor unions, professional syndicates, unions for peasants and small farmers - are being established independently of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF.) This yellow state-controlled federation had monopolized the union movement since 1957.

An independent union movement existed from the turn of the 20th Century, but was crushed following the military coup of 1952. Greek anarchists (based in Cairo and Alexandria) were instrumental in establishing Egypt's first trade union - the cigarette rollers' union in 1899. Italian anarchists were also involved in Egypt's union movement until the 1950s. The independent trade union movement re-emerged in late 2006, but only really materialized in late 2008.

*2) How much continuity has there been from the 2007-8 strikes? Have those strikes and other workers struggles influenced the 2011 movement?

There is an almost seamless continuity in the labor strikes and their demands, which began in December 2006. The demands for independent trade unions and an adequate minimum wage emerged from the Mahalla Textile Strike in December 2006. These are still the primary demands of millions of workers across the country.

A national minimum wage of LE 1,200 (around $US 200) was one of the few economic demands raised during the 18-day uprising, which began on January 25. It remains a popular demand of the revolution until this day. Workers have also been demanding a maximum wage (or salary-cap) for administrators and managers.

On January 30, four independent unions and syndicates joined forces to establish the 'Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions.' EFITU announced its active solidarity with the Egyptian revolution, and is still challenging the undemocratic and unrepresentative authority of the state-controlled ETUF.

Then on February 8th a new strike wave emerged and dictator Hosni Mubarak abdicated three days later. This strike wave dealt a fatal blow to the Mubarak dictatorship as it involved public transport workers across greater Cairo, along with other public sector workers; laborers along the Suez Canal also began protesting and threatened to strike.

Soon after Mubarak's abdication on February 11, the public transport workers established their own independent unions. Tens of thousands of workers followed suit, and unions mushroomed across the country. There are some 30 independent unions now in existence, including: blue-collar and white-collar unions, professional syndicates, along with farmers' and peasants' unions. Estimates suggest that the independent union movement has an aggregate constituency of over 250,000 - from quarry workers to hospital staffs, from seasonally employed agricultural laborers to pensioners.

The state-controlled ETUF reportedly had a membership of over 4 million, but countless numbers of workers are quitting this yellow federation. The corrupt and undemocratic ETUF is soon expected to wither away.

Other than unions, workers are now organizing themselves into workers' parties and coalitions. The Democratic Workers' Party (with a membership of more than 1,000) has informally been established. However, the Egyptian (interim) constitution and political parties law prevent the establishment of class-based parties. Workers in this party intend to push ahead nonetheless.

*3) At the start of the movement, it seemed that people both in Egypt and abroad saw the police as enemies of the movement, and the army as on the side of the people. What is the general feeling towards the army now?

Yes, the general Egyptian populace hated the interior ministry, the police forces, and especially the State Security Investigations Apparatus - due to their oppressive practices, espionage, corruption, brutality, systematic torture, and extra-judicial killings. January 25th used to be Egyptian Police Day. Thousands poured out onto the streets across the country to protest against Mubarak and his police-state on this day. Three days later, Mubarak's police forces were decisively defeated.

On January 28th, when the armed forces were first deployed across Egypt's streets, there was a sense that the army is more respectable and honorable than the police. Which is not saying much. Yet the army was in fact patrolling streets and protecting neighborhoods. They (initially) chose not to fire upon protesters. They were policing, while the police had only been assaulting, shooting and terrorizing.

People in Tahrir Square, and across Egypt were chanting "the army and the people are one." This relationship quickly spoiled when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) reared up its ugly head. Since February 11, this military junta has assumed (interim) dictatorial powers. The SCAF currently acts as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the state.

The state is now in the hands of Mubarak's generals; the ruling military junta is presided over by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi - Mubarak's loyal lapdog, and minister of defense for 20 years.

Since February 11, when SCAF assumed its dictatorial powers, over 7,000 civilians (including hundreds of political activists) have stood trials before military tribunals. Thousands are serving prison sentences which were hastily handed down, and do not have the right to appeal.

This is happening while only a handful of Mubarak's corrupt and criminal billionaire ministers stand trial before civilian courts. Hosni Mubarak is allowed to play dead at a five-star hospital suite in Sharm el-Sheikh, while Suzanne Mubarak has been released on bail. Their billionaire children are locked up pending trial. Yet this deposed family has access to the best lawyers, they have the right to due-process, and can appeal and re-appeal their cases before the courts.

Furthermore, the SCAF has moved to crackdown against popular dissent - both on the streets and in factories. The armed forces have repeatedly assaulted, and even killed activists occupying Tahrir Square. The armed forces even have a makeshift torture center by the Egyptian Museum were Tahrir's activists have been brutality assaulted, and female activists have been forced to undergo virginity tests.

As for workers and labor strikes, SCAF ordered a violent attack on striking textile workers in Shebin el-Kom (in the Nile Delta). Several were injured and detained in Shebin el-Kom, as was the case with striking employees of petroleum companies, and a leading unionist in the public transport union movement is on trial for 'instigating strike action.' On May 10, in the City of Mahalla, the army forced striking physicians to break their strike - by threatening them with arrest and trials before a military court.

Furthermore, in April SCAF secretly passed a law criminalizing labor strikes - with penalties of imprisonment and/or fines of up to LE 500,000 (more than $US 83,000)! The fines stipulated are absurd because they are far beyond the means of any Egyptian worker or employee. The SCAF has, over and over again, proven that it is a fascist-leaning group of Mubarak's military men.

*4) What role have women played in the protests? Women played a very important role during the 2007 strike wave (Mansoura-España occupation, Mahalla textile strikes etc), has the same been true in 2011? Has a specific working class women's politics emerged?

Women have been on the front-lines of the protests and marches from the very beginning of this revolution and in protests leading up to it. This has been the case ever since the Revolution of 1919.

Throughout the course of this revolution, women have proven to be capable and militant speakers at Tahrir, nurses and doctors in the field hospitals around the Square; they served as cooks and street-cleaners. Women occupied the square, distributed leaflets, protested, slept-in, and even fought off police and thugs in the same capacity as men.

On the neighborhood level, women served in the 'popular committees'. They prepared food and beverages for the street patrols, and on many occasions they prepared Molotov cocktails. Some women and girls could even be seen manning street patrols and roadblocks.

In terms of industry and services, women have proven to been militant strike-leaders and protesters. The example of Mansoura España is just one of many where women have been at the forefront of the class-struggle. Women are increasingly involved in the independent union movement, and many are now leading figures within this movement.

A liberal female activist, Bothaina Kamel, is nominating herself for Egypt's presidential elections. This is an unprecedented development, although she is unlikely to succeed this time around. I respect her effort and determination, yet I believe that women must liberate themselves on the grassroots level - and cannot be liberated from above.

This revolution has empowered countless thousands of women, and - through their actions and bravery - women have served to shatter many sexist stereotypes. In any case, however, Egyptian women are still a very long way from equality with men, and there are many - social, economic, political, educational, familial and religious - shackles left to be destroyed.

*5) What is the current make up of the left in Egypt? Are there any anarchist groups? Marxists/Trotskyists/Maoists? What is their influence within the movement and Egyptian society? What are the relationships between these groups like?

The left in Egypt very broadly includes (the center left): 'Tagammu' National Progressive Unionist Party, Nasserists and the their Party, and the 'Karama' (Dignity) Party, along with an assortment of social democratic groupings. The radical left includes the Egyptian Communist Party, two Trotskyist groupings - the Revolutionary Socialists, and the Socialist Renewal Current - amongst others. I hear that there are some Maoists still in existence.

Despite my disliking of state-socialism, party politics and vanguardism - and despite my distaste for the authoritarian ideologies of Lenin and Trotsky - I believe that the Trotskyists are our comrades in the class struggle. They have done some excellent work in terms of encouraging workers to unionize and strike for their rights.

A radical leftist front, comprising five Marxist groupings, was established on May 10. I don't know to what extent we anarchists should coordinate with this front but in any case I express my solidarity with them, and hope that this front will serve to radicalise the revolution, to confront capitalist exploitation, sectarianism, and religious reaction.

In terms of anarchist groups there is one - very loose - grouping in existence; and perhaps another such grouping in Cairo or Alexandria. We are still getting in contact with other self-proclaimed anarchists, including closet-anarchists and anarcho-curious people.

In our individual capacities, we Egyptian anarchists have been involved in the 'Kefaya' Movement since December 2004.'Kefaya' (meaning "Enough") is an opposition umbrella movement which helped to prepare Egypt, and a generation of activists, for the January 25th Revolution.

Anarchism is not (yet) a movement or political current in Egypt, however, the number of self-proclaimed anarchists has grown exponentially, and continues to grow with the ongoing revolution.

In our limited capacity, we Egyptian anarchists have been involved in supporting workers struggles, promoting workers' self-management, graffiti/street art, marches, protests, and the occupation of Tahrir Square. An Egyptian-ized red & black anarchist banner was unfurled for the first time at the Labor Day rally in Tahrir Square, on May 1, 2011.

*6) In many of the struggles across North Africa and the Middle East, national flags have been flown and the movements have been seen by many as a struggle to free 'the nation' from tyranny. To what extent do you see the nationalism displayed at these protests as problematic? Has national unity been seen as a reason for the working class to keep quiet about their needs and interests?

Yes, the nationalism and flag waving are overdone. It's understandable that people are happy to reclaim their countries, to feel nationally empowered, and that they actually belong to the countries for which they struggle. Yet nationalism is used to mask the class struggle, to give the populace the impression that we are all struggling for the same Egypt.

Some nationalist sentiments even border on fascism, such as the slogan "Egypt is above all!", reminiscent of the Nazi's "Deutschland über alles!". The SCAF and interim cabinet have played on such nationalist sentiments in order to portray labor strikes, the class struggle, and street protests as running against 'Egypt's national interests.' In terms of their propaganda, the interim rulers have gone so far as to refer to labor strikes as being part of the counter-revolution!

*7) Where next for the movement? What opportunities or dangers do you see the movement facing in the future?

The first recorded labor strike in history took place in Egypt over 3,000 years ago. It's only natural, in the course of this ongoing revolution, that Egyptian workers will continue to strike, struggle and organize for their rights, freedoms and for social justice. Egypt's revolution will be a failed revolution if it only brings regime change, without bringing social justice.

Social justice, equality and freedoms will not be handed-out by this government or the next, these rights must be seized by the people. The people's revolution in Tunisia sparked the revolution in Egypt, which sparked popular uprisings in Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Libya, and Syria, amongst a host of other Arab countries.

The revolutionary tide which began with the year 2011 has spread like wildfire throughout the Arab World, because the Arab peoples have been oppressed by their tyrannical states - under very similar dictatorships - since they gained independence from colonial powers. This revolutionary tidal wave has reverberated as far as China and Swaziland.

The effects of this revolutionary wave have also been felt at the capitol building in Wisconsin. This class struggle has since spilled over into Ohio and Indiana, amongst other American states. Wisconsin's protesting workers praised Egypt's revolution; and Egyptian unionists delivered speeches in Tahrir Square in solidarity with America's workers and their struggle for their right to collective bargaining.

The revolutionary tide, or "Arab Spring," has influenced protests and occupations in both Spain and Greece. People are now speaking of a "European Spring." I can't predict where this is going, but I hope that the "Arab Spring" does blossom into a "European Spring." Hopefully this popular wave of discontent will bring about other revolutionary springs in North and South America; in Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Whatever names are pinned on this revolutionary tide, I hope that the people of the Arab World - and the World at large - empower themselves. I hope that people will reclaim their rights and freedoms from states, generals, businessmen and capitalists; from clergymen and institutionalised religions.