Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Labor strikes & social struggles increase exponentially

Ahram Online

Monday 29 Apr 2013

Salma Shukrallah and Randa Ali
Egypt saw almost four times as many workers' protests last year – in both public and private sectors – as it did in 2010, according to new report by local NGO

The Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights (ECESR) on Sunday issued a new report documenting labour strikes that took place in Egypt last year.

According to the report, in 2012, Egypt witnessed 1,969 protests by workers - in the government, public and private sectors - marking a considerable increase compared to 2010, when only 530 protests were recorded.

The 2012 protests listed in the report represent one of the highest levels of social struggle worldwide and include demonstrations, sit-ins, road blockages and strikes.

Thirty-six percent of these protests were staged to demand better pay, the report stated, going on to note that roughly five major labour protests per day were currently taking place in Egypt.

The report went on to assert that some 380 protests had been held to protest unemployment or demand permanent work contracts.

Another 70, meanwhile, had been prompted by arbitrary practices by management against workers.

The report further cited around 111 protests against 'corrupt' or 'failed' managements. It cited another 29 industrial actions in which workers demanded the re-operating of factories and companies, in addition to the reopening of companies that had been renationalized via court order.

Labour rights activists and ECESR lawyers have succeeded in winning court verdicts ordering the renationalisation of several privatised companies, including the Steam Boilers Company, Omar Effendi, Ideal, Assiut Cement, Nile Ginning Cotton Company, Shebin El-Kom Textiles Company, and Tanta for Flax and Oil.

Many of these verdicts, however, were never applied. Recently, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil was slapped with a suspended one-year jail sentence for failing to implement an administrative court ruling ordering the renationalisation of Egypt's Tanta Flax and Oil Company.

According to a recent report by the International Development Centre, an Egyptian rights organisation, Egypt is currently witnessing a sharp spike in labour and other social protests, with 1,354 protests recorded in March alone compared to 864 protests during the previous month. This means an average of 44 protests per day, or 1.8 protests every hour.

The report also states that the protests were held by 40 different social categories, with most being staged by politically unaffiliated individuals.

The vast majority of protests involved labour rights and rising fuel prices, the report added.

Within the past two years, the report went on, major strikes in Egypt involved railway workers, public transport workers, doctors and police officers.

After the January 25 Revolution ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, expectations were high that many of Egypt's social and economic woes – which many saw as the triggers of the uprising – would be minimised, and that demands for better working conditions and pay would be met.

According to the ECESR report, however, the number of strikes increased when President Mohamed Morsi won the elections, after which hopes were high for economic stability following months of uncertainty.

However, since 2011, Egypt has instead seen weak economic growth and rising costs of living. Government attempts to reduce subsidies have also led to rising prices for basic utilities, including electricity and natural gas.

What's more, the local currency has suffered a sharp devaluation this year due to dwindling foreign currency reserves.

The government is currently trying to modify an economic reform plan in hopes of obtaining a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund after the latter deemed an earlier plan 'weak.' A modified version of the plan is expected to further reduce energy subsidies and raise sales taxes.

*Photo courtesy of Mai Shaheen

Protesters clash with police near presidential palace


Egyptian protesters clashed with police near the Presidential Palace in Cairo on Friday leaving at least 16 people injured, Al Arabiya correspondent reported.

To disperse protesters, who were throwing rocks at the police to keep them away from the vicinity, security forces in turn fired tear gas.

A police car was also set ablaze by the angry demonstrators.

The clashes came after dozens of protesters from Tahrir Square, backed up by the Black Bloc group and football ultras youth, started their march toward the Presidential Palace from Al-Murj metro station in the capital.

Black Bloc group stands against Islamist President Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and its slogan is “chaos against injustice.” The group emerged in January and was at the forefront of anti-government protests in Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal.

On Saturday, Egypt’s state security prosecution detained seven Black Bloc members and banned them from traveling on charges the group seeks to cause destruction in the country.

In another incident on Friday, the black-clad group threw Molotov cocktail at the headquarters of the Freedom and Justice Party in Al-Sharqiya provice, Youm 7 newspaper reported Friday.

The party is the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Before setting the exterior frontier of the party’s headquarters on fire, the group was protesting against the Brotherhood.

*Photo courtesy of Al-Arabiya

Egypt's 2nd Independent Labor Union Federation is Launched

Ahram Online

Following months of groundwork, Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) officially launches, bringing together 300 independent trade unions from across the country 

Ayat Al-Tawy

The Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) was officially launched as an independent labour federation on Wednesday.

During a press conference at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo, hundreds of workers from across the country, representatives of independent trade unions, political parties and NGOs gathered to announce the birth of the "long sought-after" body.

The launch also saw a big turnout of international labour organisations, including representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – the world's largest trade union federation, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), as well representatives of trade unions from across European and Arab countries.

Present at the conference was Kamal Abu-Ayta, president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).

"Both unions [the EFITU and the EDLC] represent the democratic labour movement," Abu-Ayta said.

"Our goal is to attain the freedom to form unions."

The fundamental demands of Egyptian workers are, he said, a 'trade union freedom' law, the reinstatement of thousands of laid-off workers, the renationalisation of privatised companies, and a minimum and maximum wage.

The EDLC, which brings together 300 independent trade unions from across Egypt, was originally established in October 2011 as a broad labour coalition that sought to build a democratic independent trade union federation.

Since the 2011 revolt that unseated autocratic president Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian labour movement has made headway in challenging the stranglehold of the state-sponsored Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) by forming independent unions and federations.

Independent of the ETUF, the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress and the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) are the country's largest autonomous labour organisations.

"Workers want a government that respects them and creates jobs, respectful jobs," said Jaap Wienen, deputy general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation."Economies without respected workers cannot grow."

Wienen expressed solidarity with Egyptian workers and offered the EDLC association with the world's largest trade union confederation.

"Your government still does not understand that workers have the right to form their own trade union," he added. "We only see all these matters of not recognizing independent bodies in dictatorships, not democracies."

Since the 2011 uprising, labour action has been on the rise with strikes and protests to demand better pay and the elimination of widespread corruption across state institutions.

President Morsi's government has been accused of continuing the Mubarak regime's policy of stifling labour dissidence and opposing trade union freedom. Since Morsi assumed office, an increasing number of attacks on trade union activists have occurred, either through smear campaigns, the sacking of trade union leaders or even jail sentences for strike leaders.

In September 2012, union leaders at the Alexandria Port Containers Company were sentenced to three years in jail for leading a strike in October 2011.

Abrupt closure of Egypt Independent website & newspaper

New York Times 
News Web Site in Egypt Abruptly Shuts Down

April 25, 2013

Liam Stack

Egypt Independent, the country’s premier independent English language news source, ceased publication on Thursday after four years during which its staff chronicled the waning days of the Mubarak regime, the outbreak of revolution in their own country and across the Arab world, military rule and most recently the administration of the first democratically elected Islamist leader of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi.

Investors behind the paper cited financial difficulties as the reason for the closure, but the newspaper’s editorial staff, and many of its supporters, said they suspected a political motive behind the closure of the left-leaning outlet, which has been stridently critical of Mr. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed political party.

On Thursday, the editorial staff released the final issue on the Web site and as a fully downloadable document on Scribd.com after investors “ordered a last-minute stoppage” of the presses “after scrutinizing the issue’s content,” said the editorial staff in an online statement.

In an essay published on the Web site Tahrir Squared, prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah extolled the paper as a “revolutionary” voice and attacked its closure as a political move meant to silence dissent.

“Today the owners decided to kill the paper, they claim financial trouble, but in reality the big business behind Al Masry Al Youm is no longer interested in a true revolutionary voice,” he wrote.
Egypt Independent had to be killed, you might think that an English paper in Arabic speaking revolutionary Egypt cannot be that dangerous, but where else do you find a paper run by young women? A paper that became home for an amalgam of misfits and radicals without compromising them, no one had to wear a suit, not physical or metaphorical. Hell, even when the editorial team was forced to deal with the business side and prove the paper could be a profit center they did it without compromising on their radicalism.
Staff members of Egypt Independent spoke often of the paper’s “vision,” a term that denoted an institutional commitment to professionalism and civil rights in a country emerging from generations of dictatorship, and where newspapers more often than not serve as mouthpieces for the state, political parties or powerful men.

Editor in chief Lina Attalah posted an update to Twiitter on Thursday announcing the end of the newspapers’ four year run.

In an editor’s letter, Ms. Attalah described the paper as an “intellectual laboratory” committed to challenging “the plague of self-censorship” and venality that afflicts so many Egyptian newspapers.

While Ms. Attalah said the staff was told two months ago that changes were needed to keep the paper afloat, she described the final decision to close its doors as a shock: in the form of a note left with the office receptionist.
Abdel Moneim Saeed, the new chairperson of the Al-Masry Media Corporation board, said closing Egypt Independent, which he argued had only constituted a financial burden on the institution, was a measure of his capacity as “a surgeon who has to conduct the fine operation of letting go of the child in order for the mother to survive.”
It is a fine operation indeed, if only Al-Masry was indeed our mother, and if only its survival was conditional on our closure, and not a much-needed reinvigorating and rigorous review of its institutional practice.
But it is also only a fine operation if closure is given its due attention, as much as openings are. In other words, a closure transcends a letter announcing it on hard copy left with the receptionist for the Egypt Independent team.
As Egypt struggles to emerge from the shadow of president Mubarak, overthrown by street protests in 2011, and move into a more democratic future under the rule of its new Islamist leaders, Ms. Attalah wrote that she considered one of the key questions for professional journalists to be, “How do we become active mediators as opposed to silent vehicles of information?”

As Egypt has gone through an extended period of political turmoil, the paper has been a go-to source of news for international readers hungry for detailed news about the country. On Thursday, there as an online outpouring over news of it’s closure from Egyptians, foreign journalists and Middle East analysts.

Kristen Chick, a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, expressed her concern for the fate of the newspaper’s Web site – an invaluable journalism archive of four critical years of Egyptian history – in an update she posted to Twitter.

In her editor’s letter, Ms. Attalah said the fate of the Web site and its archives was an open question, and argued that the collected works of her staff should remain available online.

“The archive transcend the legality of copyrights and follow the promise of the Internet as a democratic and open medium,” she wrote. “Not only should it stay online, it should also be an active site of memory and production, constantly linked and relinked to new content.”

Egypt Independent is the second independent English-language publication to shut down in Egypt in the last twelve months. One year ago this week, The Daily News Egypt abruptly closed after a seven year run when investors also claimed unbearable financial losses. Several laid-off reporters from that paper found their way to the Egypt Independent.

In an article published in the last issue, editor Amira Salah Ahmed joked, “History is supposed to repeat itself but not this soon, right?”

In her final letter, Ms. Attalah said that she and her staff “strive to continue and reincarnate in a new configuration,” and vowed that their work would continue in some new form.

Their readers, she said, had not seen the last of them. “We leave you with the hope of coming back soon, stronger and unbeaten, ready to incessantly travel to uncharted territories of storytelling.”

Journalism: Increasingly dangerous & precarious profession in Egypt

Egypt Independent
Final Issue: Job security, financial problems and dangers plague journalists

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jano Charbel

This piece was written for Egypt Independent’s final weekly print edition, which was banned from going to press. We offer you our 50th and final edition here.

Journalism is becoming an increasingly dangerous and precarious profession in Egypt. Thousands of journalists risk life and limb on the streets while covering volatile events — often to find that their job security is also being threatened. In numerous cases, journalists are “rewarded” for their efforts by being dismissed from their jobs.

Al-Masry Media Corporation is the most recent employer to “reward” its journalists and employees with mass layoffs. Concerned with profitability, the company recently dismissed a number of its employees, with its closure of Al-Siyassy magazine in February and Egypt Independent this month.

While Egypt Independent is the most recent victim of closures and layoffs, a host of other newspapers and magazines — particularly independent and opposition publications — have also been shut down in recent years. Several of the remaining newspapers have raised the prices of their publications while cutting their budgets, and laying off employees.

Al-Siyassy and Egypt Independent follow in the footsteps of many including Al-Badeel, Al-Dostour and Daily News Egypt — the original versions — which have all been forced to shut down in recent years.

Khaled al-Balshy, Journalists Syndicate secretary and former editor of Al-Badeel newspaper, says that 13 papers have been closed down over the past few years.

“These closures have left some 350 journalists unemployed,” Balshy says.

Balshy adds that a total of 650 to 700 journalists, if not more, have been dismissed prior to and since the 25 January revolution two years ago.

“More closures are expected in the near future and more job losses are expected as a result,” Balshy says.


In Egypt and the Arab world, journalism is known as “mahnat al-mataeb” — the burdensome profession. Faced with physical danger, the threat of arrests, growing financial crises, the mismanagement of news outlets and rising unemployment — along with a host of other problems — Egypt’s journalists increasingly find themselves paying the price for these burdens with their own welfare and jobs.

Prior to and since the revolution’s onset, journalists are continuing to risk their lives and physical safety while covering violent protests, clashes and uprisings.

Police shotguns have claimed the eyes of several journalists, while independent journalist Al-Husseini Abu Deif was shot dead outside the presidential palace in December, and journalist Mohamed Sabry faces a military tribunal for his work in Sinai.

Countless others have been beaten and arrested by security forces, assaulted by supporters of the ruling regime (outside Muslim Brotherhood offices and the presidential palace), and even attacked by the Coptic Orthodox Church’s boy scouts.

“Neither employers nor the Journalists Syndicate provide sufficient safety nets for journalists,” says Mohamed Radwan, a freelancer who used to work for Al-Dostour newspaper.

Radwan is one of nearly 100 journalists who have lost their jobs at Al-Dostour.


The average salaries of full-time journalists in daily newspapers range from LE400 to LE2,000 per month. For internships and training, beginner journalists are typically not paid at all.

Moreover, the widespread practice of employing full-time journalists on part-time contracts serves to deny these employees their right to bonuses, promotions, insurance coverage, profit sharing (when applicable), job stability and the right to join the Journalists Syndicate.

“I’d been employed for five years at Al-Dostour, yet was not even offered a part-time contract,” Radwan says. “I was thus denied my periodic bonuses, insurance plan and end-of-service payment, along with all of my other rights.”

Only a minority of journalists are accepted into the Journalists Syndicate, Radwan adds.
“The syndicate neither serves the interests nor protects the rights of the majority of Egypt’s journalists,” he says. “The syndicate doesn’t care about our grievances, difficulties and daily suffering.”

Balshy says the syndicate has a membership of about 9,000 journalists nationwide, of which some 7,000 are still practicing the profession. Another 6,000 or more journalists are not syndicate members.

The syndicate’s bylaws are the problem, he argues.

“We must change syndicate bylaws,” he says. “It is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to apply for membership.”

He asserts that the syndicate is supposed to protect all journalists, especially those beginning their careers and those who are denied full-time contracts.

“It should be a syndicate for all those who practice the profession,” he says.
Balshy concedes that, given present economic hardships, it may be more difficult for journalists to acquire full-time contracts.

“Nevertheless, the syndicate should strive to protect disadvantaged journalists, not merely those lucky enough to have full-time contracts,” he argues.

But administrative shortcomings, financial mismanagement and other social, economic and political factors continue to hinder the provision of full-time contracts for full-time work, Balshy says, and may lead to additional closures of news outlets in the near future.

With regard to the closure of Egypt Independent, the secretary of the syndicate states, “I generally attribute the closure to the lack of English-speaking readers in Egypt, low subscriptions, high expenses and mismanagement on the part of Al-Masry Al-Youm.”


While the average salaries of foreign journalists and Egyptians employed in foreign-language media outlets is nearly double that of local journalists, non-Egyptian journalists face numerous difficulties.
Foreign media personnel are not allowed membership in the Journalists Syndicate.

Non-Egyptian journalists can only register themselves at the state-controlled Foreign Press Association (FPA).
The FPA provides these non-Egyptians with work permits and journalist IDs, which are subject to selective renewals.

Foreign journalists who have fallen out of favor with the FPA have been slapped with travel bans, criminal investigations and, in many cases, are denied re-entry into Egypt. Foreign journalists also face a rising tide of xenophobia.

Earlier this month, Dutch journalist Rena Netjes was arrested and handed over to police, who accused her of “espionage” and “disseminating Western culture.” She was released, but later charged with not having a valid work permit.

Wael Tawfiq, founding member of the Independent Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, says the group accepts foreigners in the syndicate, but only as affiliates.

“They do not have the right to vote in syndicate elections nor to nominate themselves. On the other hand, the official [Journalists] Syndicate does not accept foreigners under any condition,” Tawfiq says.

Tawfiq says his independent syndicate claims a membership of some 600 people, nearly all of whom are Egyptian.

“We don’t demand full-time contracts as a prerequisite for membership, only an archive of published materials in a news outlet based in Egypt,” he says.

In what he calls an “absence of safeguards” from employers and the official syndicate, the independent syndicate stands “for the defense of journalists’ rights through all stages of their work,” and attempts to protect members from punitive measures.

However, his syndicate does not have an emergency fund, nor does it provide unemployment assistance.

The official Journalists Syndicate has filed lawsuits against both the Independent Journalists Syndicate and the Egyptian Online Journalists Syndicate, both of which were established in 2011. The official syndicate claims it is the sole association legally entrusted with representing and organizing Egyptian journalists.


Radwan says Egypt’s press freedoms and right to free expression are being “eroded” by the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Plus, we are expecting more economic problems in the media industry and in the general economy as a whole,” he says.

Radwan expects higher unemployment rates for journalists and media employees, along with fewer independent and opposition news outlets.

Tawfiq also expects more media outlets to close, due to both the Brotherhood’s attempts at “gagging” the media and the faltering economic conditions throughout the country.

“We’ve seen how President Mohamed Morsy’s supporters have besieged the [private] Media Production City. We’ve witnessed an unprecedented number of lawsuits against critical journalists, the appointment of regime loyalists to the top state-owned publications and channels, and the court-ordered closures of several satellite TV channels,” says Tawfiq.

He says he expects fewer job opportunities, lower salaries for full-time journalists and decreased rates for freelancers in the future.

Additional English-language publications and websites are expected to soon close. These closures will leave the state with a near monopoly on foreign-language news publications.

*Photo by Tarek Wageeh
*Second photo courtesy of Reuters/Khaled Elfiqi
*Third photo courtesy of AFP/Mohammed Abed

Egypt's Street Children - Victims of Poverty, Abuse & Neglect

Middle East Voices
VOICES: Egypt’s Street Children – Victims of Political Instability  

April 23, 2013

Amira Mikhail

Egypt's street children had a lot to gain from the country's revolution. However, change has come slowly if at all, and in many ways, their cause has been pushed off course. Increasing poverty, a growing shadow economy, and continued political instability, have proven challenges to the safety of these children.

The issue of street children is not a new phenomenon in Egypt, and even before the revolution, these children were often found at corners and under bridges – begging, cleaning cars, or selling tissue paper.

In 2005, the ESCWA estimated that there were anywhere between 200,000 to 2 million children on the streets. Other sources claimed that there were even up to 3 million on the streets. With a government resistant to social research and data, the real number of children on the streets remains unknown.

Like many Egyptians, these children have become intimately involved in the revolution. During sit-ins, many homeless families and children wander toward Tahrir Square to find work and even just a place to sleep at night. Street children adopt tents to take shelter among the activists.

Small schools and shelters have been set up in the square and downtown for children’s safety and education. Vending carts with seeds or sweet potatoes, some being manned by kids as young as nine, line the streets of every protest. Young boys have joined the front lines of the clashes.

Yet despite the rise and fall of revolutionary fervor and social change, street children remain victims of the state’s mismanagement and disregard for human rights, and are generally forgotten by society. There have been ongoing reports of sweeping arrest campaigns resulting in the arrest of thousands of children over the past year and a half.

Children are often apprehended during clashes or protests, but at other times they are picked up randomly. One child reported that he was in Tahrir Square buying a laser pointer when he was dragged off by a policeman. The detainees, sometimes as young as five, are often accused of ‘thuggery,’ ‘theft,’ ‘resisting authorities,’ and ‘damage of public property.’

At a recent conference held between civil society and relevant government officials, Ahmed Moselhy, a representative of the Egyptian Coalition for Child Rights, reported that over 1,000 minors under the age of 18 have been killed in the past seven months.
The well-known case of Omar Salah, one of the victims, demonstrates the government’s blatant role. On February 3, at the age of around 10, Omar was shot in the chest twice by military personnel in an ‘accidental’ show of force.

Almost two months later, the lawyers and Omar’s family are still struggling against a court that is dragging its feet despite clear evidence implicating the accused in Omar’s death.

In a report released April 4, the Popular Campaign for the Protection of Children confirmed that the courts have been working with an altered forensic report favoring the defendant.
In addition to reports of child deaths, thousands have been detained and incarcerated.The alarming treatment of children, post apprehension, is in clear violation of both local and international law.

Reports of physical and sexual abuse are common, reaching the degree of severe beatings, torture, and rape. Many of the children are not sent to age-appropriate institutions, but are kept in cells with adult criminals, thus subjected to further abuse.

But even juvenile detention centers are in dire condition. Horrific stories of abuse, even between the children themselves, make it difficult to recommend such centers as a viable alternative.

Despite some legal gains in 2008 when portions of the Child Law (Law No. 12 of 1996) were revised, the greatest challenge remains the law’s implementation. In fact, it is a sad irony that the very people who bear the responsibility of implementing these laws are often the first to break them.

Article 4 says, “The State shall provide the child deprived of family care with alternative care,” clearly mandating the state’s responsibility for the protection of displaced children.

And yet the Egyptian government remains in violation of their own local law, not to mention their commitment to international law. The Convention on the Rights of Children clearly indicates the responsibility of the state to protect a child’s right to protection, care, education, and health.

For years, Egyptian civil society and international non-governmental organizations have worked to improve the lives of these children. However, under the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, the recently drafted NGO law threatens to create crippling obstacles for civil society.

Many NGOs rely on foreign funding for development and charity work. Now, with the new draft law, NGOs and other similar institutions are worried about their ability to keep up with the changing policies and regulations.

The political and societal consequences of Egypt’s growing population of street children are vast, and serious steps must be taken to address this issue. These children are becoming further alienated from society.

Policies are restrictive, and many of these children cannot go to school, join the workforce, or in some cases, even obtain a national identity documents, including their own birth certificates.
Certain proposals from the current government, if passed into law, would be catastrophic for children’s development. For example, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Insurance announced last year that 17 million EGP would be allocated to build self-sustaining cities for street children where they would be kept until they were ‘ready to be rehabilitated back into society.’ 

Fortunately, this proposal has not yet been passed. Such ideas are far from effective and keep civil society on edge about the future of street children’s lives under the current government.

With up to three million street children (a number that could be larger than the actual membership of the Muslim Brotherhood), Egypt is faced with a growing portion of society that is disillusioned and uneducated, a disaster scenario given the economy’s downward spiral. The government's policies are essentially fostering an accelerated growth of poverty in Egypt, which could lead the country to long-term instability.

The Egyptian government carries the responsibility of tackling this serious and deepening problem, starting with prevention of child runaways in each home, while addressing the immediate needs of each child already on the streets. Serious reform is needed, and the unimpeded work of civil society groups is essential for providing Egypt's children with their inherent and national rights.

*First photo courtesy of Reuters
*Second photo courtesy of Ahram
*Third photo courtesy of AFP

4 men arrested at underwear protest languish in max. security prison

Daily News Egypt

Profile: Teacher, scientist and activist held in max-security prison

Four men arrested at protest are being held at a high security prison

April 22, 2013

In Tora maximum-security prison (also known as Al-Aqrab) is a facility reserved for Egypt’s most dangerous criminals. Four men arrested at a protest are imprisoned there.

Three of the men are members of the 6 April Youth Movement and took part in a protest outside Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim’s house on 29 March. The movement members surrounded the minister’s house and proceeded to throw ladies undergarments at the house, declaring that the Ministry of Interior is “a prostitute of all regimes.”

The fourth man, though not a movement member, decided to join the protest as was passing by, the 6 April Movement claim that the protest was violently dispersed and the four men were arrested.

Since their arrest the men have been moved around different detention centres, reported Amnesty International. One place is the Central Security Forces encampment Al-Gabal Al-Ahmar that is not an official place of detention. The four men were eventually moved to Al-Aqrab on 6 April.

Mohamed Mostafa is 30 years old and a laboratory director for a national petroleum company. He is also a co-founder of 6 April Youth Movement. He has a wife and two young daughters.

DNE spoke to Mostafa’s wife, Rasha Salem, who had recently been allowed to visit her husband at Al-Aqrab. “Mostafa is psychologically not well. He is moody and is always tired. He is covered in mosquito bites and the conditions they are keeping him in are inhumane,” she said.

In the three weeks since his detention, Mostafa now faces the possibility of losing his job, said his wife. She added that he is no longer receiving a wage.

“How can his only crime be insulting the minister of interior?” she asked. “Everyone insults him and the president every day.” She added: “They are holding him over 23 pieces of underwear.” Salem added that the underwear is being used as evidence against the four men in court.

Zizou Abdu is 28 years old and is a history teacher in a private school. He is the coordinator for the 6 April Youth Movement in his local neighbourhood of Boulaq Al-Dakrour. He is also very active in supporting workers’ rights.

Abdu’s brother, Ibrahim Fahmy, said that he was able to visit his brother at Al-Aqrab on Monday. He was pleased to see that the conditions had become better for his brother. “They were kept in solitary confinement, only allowed to drink from the sink and the food given to them was inhumane. They are locked up with jihadists, terrorists and drug dealers.”

He noted that the conditions had improved thanks to pressure applied to the authorities and the media coverage. Fahmy reported that a policeman told the detainees that they were being held under the preventative detention law in order to make an example of them.

“Abdu joined 6 April in 2009 and was a member of Kefaya in 2008. He teaches during the day and works on his political activism at night.”

Usually he does not tell their mother when Abdu is arrested but this time he has been gone for too long. “She does not speak or eat, she is always sleeping,” Fahmy explained.

Mamdouh Hassan, also known as Abu Adam, is 28 years old and a sales manager at a private company. Among the 6 April group Hassan is responsible for training and educating younger members of the group on non-violent and peaceful methods of protesting.

Speaking to DNE, Hassan’s father said: “6 April is always peaceful and never uses violence. It is the Muslim Brotherhood that has always used violence.”

Sayed Mounir is not a member of the movement but was arrested at the same time as the three 6 April members. Mounir’s mother told the 6 April Movement that her son went to see the protest at 11pm and never returned. She insisted that he does not participate in protests and she believes he was arrested arbitrarily.

Khaled El-Masry, media director for the youth movement reported that the Ministry of Interior has assured the group that the men are being treated well. El-Masry said that the conditions had improved, “but we believe they are still at high risk.”

The group have lodged a formal complaint with the authorities and has contacted the human rights committee of the Shura Council and various NGOs.

He added that the four men will appear in court next Monday and the group are hopeful that they will be released. “They have no case to keep them detained any longer. They have nothing on them.”

Authorities arrest 7 alleged Black Bloc members


Egypt detains 7 alleged members of black-clad youth group

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's state security prosecution on Saturday ordered the detention of 7 people for 15 days on charges of belonging to the "Black Bloc," a black-clad youth group opposed to Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.

Hundreds of apparent supporters of the Black Bloc Egypt emerged in January in the forefront of anti-government protests in Cairo, Alexandria and the Suez Canal cities.

Little is known about the group whose first post on its Facebook page was dated January 21 this year, but it has swiftly garnered over 20,000 online followers. Its slogan is "chaos against injustice" and it says it has one enemy only - the Muslim Brotherhood group from which Mursi hails.

The group's tactics appear to be inspired by Black Bloc protesters in Europe who, dressed in black and covering their faces, have formed a hardcore in anti-globalization protests.

In January, Public Prosecutor Talaat Abdallah ordered police, army officers and the public to arrest anyone suspected of being Black Bloc members and accused them of being an "organized group that participates in terrorist acts." Last week, Abdallah ordered the arrest of 22 suspected group members.

The state security prosecution ordered the 15-day detention of 7 people it said were Black Bloc members on accusations that the group seeks destruction of the country, the state news agency MENA said. It also placed a travel ban on them.

Some opposition members and youth activists denounced the prosecution's arrest and detention orders, saying the government was staging a deliberate crackdown on liberal youth protesters, often randomly and with fabricated charges, while tolerating acts of violence from Islamist protesters during protests.

*(Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Black Bloc calls for anti-Brotherhood protests

Daily News Egypt
Black Bloc calls for anti-Brotherhood protests on Friday

Prosecutor General orders arrest of 22 people accused of founding and "financing" the group

Prosecutor General Tala’at Abdallah asked the Ministry of Interior to expedite the process of carrying out an arrest warrant against members of the Black Bloc he had issued earlier, a prosecution spokesperson said on Thursday.

“The prosecutor general’s office sent an official request to the Ministry of Interior to carry out his arrest warrant for elements of the destructive Black Bloc organisation for their role in acts of vandalism on the second anniversary of the 25 January revolution,” the public prosecution’s acting spokesperson Mahmoud Al-Hefnawy said in a Thursday statement.

He added that Abdallah’s issuing of an arrest warrant for 22 people on Wednesday was based on investigations conducted by the Homeland Security sector that pointed to these individuals being the founders and financers of the group.

The prosecution charged them with founding a group aiming to commit crimes or acts of terror, violence, theft, premeditated murder, armed robbery, vandalism of public or private property, and disturbing the peace.

Al-Hefnawy said the names of the 22 wanted individuals would not be publicised so that they would not be able to flee prosecution. Abdallah had issued arrest warrants for five individuals in March, also charged with founding the group.

The Black Bloc, alongside a new group calling itself “The Hooligans” called for protests against President Mohamed Morsi on Friday in order to “end his rule”.

The calls, made on social media, encouraged participants to protest in front of the Itihadiya presidential palace and the Muslim Brotherhood’s main headquarters in the Moqattam neighbourhood of Cairo, as well as at local branches of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, all over the country.

The Muslim Brotherhood in turn is organising protests on Friday calling for the “purification of the judiciary” which they blame for the acquittal and release of several former regime members and suspension of elections.

Black Bloc is a protest technique adopted by anarchist groups and other protesters in Europe in the 1970s and to a lesser extent in the United States in the 1990s.

It is based on the protection of other protesters through engaging the police or other riot squads and does not adhere to non-violent methods. Black Bloc groups have been known to damage property as a way to protest capitalism.

An Egyptian version emerged on the political scene earlier this year. Black Bloc members are dressed in black clothes and don black balaclavas in order to hide their identities.

*Photo courtesy of AFP

Campaign to rid national IDs of religion

Daily News Egypt

My religion is “none of your business:” Campaigning against division

Following sectarian strife that hit Egypt a few weeks ago, a group of young activists initiated the “none of your business” online campaign against division and sectarianism. The campaign is calling for concealing religious affiliation on national identity cards, stirring controversy and debate in different media outlets. Daily News Egypt speaks to the campaign’s organisers, supporters and opposition.

In the past few weeks, Egypt has witnessed sectarian confrontation in the village of Al-Khosous in Qaliubiya governorate that led to the death of seven deaths. The incident was followed by an attack on St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral during the funeral of the Christian victims of Al-Khosous that left behind two dead and 14 wounded.

Egypt’s religious institutions, political parties, civil society organisations and activists condemned this new episode of sectarian violence. And like other sectarian clashes in the past, the incident has provoked debate about how to end sectarian tension once and for all.

My religion is “none of your business”

In an effort to take action against sectarianism, a group of youth and activists initiated an online campaign on Facebook that is calling for the concealing of religious affiliation on national identity cards. “None of your business” (“haga tekhosini” in Arabic) identifies itself as “a campaign against interference in citizens’ private lives by the state, and by other citizens.”

“The religion field in official documents serves no purpose. It is a reminder that the state’s handling of religion over the decades, its classification of citizens on religious lines has succeeded only in alienating them from each other and intensified Egypt’s sectarian problem, and we are seeing the results today,” reads the description of the “none of your business” campaign.

Aalam Wassef, one of the campaign’s organisers, produced a video for the campaign that is going viral over the video sharing website YouTube. As a result of the publicity, the campaign has attracted the attention of about 1,000 supporters in one week.

The supporters responded to the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter account by posting photos of their identity cards with the religious affiliation covered up with messages such as “none of your business”, “guess”, and “human” in Arabic.

Mohamad Adam is one of the organisers of the campaign. He explains how the idea came into being. “We don’t claim by any means that we were the first to initiate such a call. Many before us called for the removal of the religion field from ID cards. However, after Sarah Carr (a British-Egyptian journalist and blogger) reported on the events of Al-Khosous, the cathedral and Maspero in 2011, she concealed religion on her ID. Then it started from there,” the organiser says.

Adam confirms that the recent sectarian clashes are what charged the campaign. “We first posted our own covered ID cards on our personal Facebook accounts. Then when it got popular with friends and colleagues, we decided to create a Facebook page, Twitter account and then finally the video,” says Adam.

He says the page received a barrage of criticism, explaining that any new idea in Egypt takes a little bit of time for people to accept. “We have been living under oppression for so long and people fear change, especially if this new step is related to religion,” he says.

“We couldn’t find any one who gave us reasonable justifications or the purpose of having your religion on your ID card,” he adds.

Previous attempts

As Adam notes, the “none of your business” campaign was not the first to call for the removal of the field of religion. In fact several activists and human rights groups called for it before and after the revolution.

One of them is Almaneyoun, or “Seculars”, movement. It is a movement that calls for secularising the state and society on a grassroots level. It was established in December 2011 and has recently organised a stand in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in February under the slogan “one nation without discrimination: removing religion from identity cards.”

The movement has been accused of propagating atheism and secularism and attempting to strip Egypt of its Islamic identity. However, the movement is continuing its activities and planning for another demonstration on 27 April in Alexandria to continue applying pressure on the state.

Rasha Abdullah is a professor and the former chair of the Journalism and Mass Communication Department at the American University in Cairo. She is among those who called for the removal of religious affiliation.

In 2007, she was among a team supervised by Cairo University to conduct a survey on citizenship. One of the questions of the survey asked about cancelling out religion from national identity cards. State Security, which was still active at the time, got involved and removed the question from the survey.

“This really infuriated me because if you’re conducting a survey on citizenship, that’s what you ask about. Ever since then, the question had been on my mind. In 2010, I established an online group on Facebook calling for the removal of religion from IDs,” says Abdullah.

The response to Abdullah’s group helped to attract a couple of hundred members.  Nevertheless, when she heard of the “none of your business” campaign, she communicated with the organisers to join the efforts of the two groups and expand its influence.

Abdullah saw the responses against the call and wonders: “Why would we need to have religious labels on our IDs? Is it for people to treat you in a certain way? Is it to favour you if you’re a Muslim?”

She adds: “There are infinitely other documents that people could refer back to if they wanted to know information about the religious affiliation of a person such as the birth certificate. But to carry something on a daily basis that states your religion allows discrimination.”

Abdullah believes that the time of the campaign is significant because “if we spread awareness and asked people why we need religion on our IDs, people will eventually realise that we don’t need it. The main goal here is to spread awareness at this point and get people to think about the issue; about why we need to carry a label saying ‘I’m Muslim or Christian’.”

A tool of discrimination and control

“It allows for establishing a national database for citizens… simplifies procedures…connects all sectors citizens deal with throughout his or her life… It facilitates extracting statistics such as the number of males and females, married, single or divorced individuals and coordinates with security authorities to arrest outlaws who are wanted by authorities.”

This is how the Ministry of Interior’s Civil Status Sector identifies the significance of national identity card and the purposes of different fields. However, no clause interprets or justifies why a field for religious affiliation is displayed.

Gamal Eid is a lawyer and the director of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. He comments on how a person’s religion is not required information for any governmental papers or institutions.

“The removal of the religious affiliation from the ID has been a demand we pushed for long ago. The only purpose religion might be needed in official papers is when the matter has to do with marriage or inheritance. In these two cases, you can use your birth certificate and not the national ID card,” he explains.

Eid adds: “The religion field on IDs has been used by the state to brown nose Islamist religious groups since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Al-Sadat. The state is always seeking to prove it is not against religion.”

Adam shares similar sentiments with Eid. He says: “Through national ID cards, the state collects information about its citizens (name, address, religion and marital status and so on). Why would religion be an important piece of info for the state, unless it would be used to discriminate one group against the other?”

Adam explains that the campaign received other suggestions, such as removing the job identification entry of IDs. He posits that those holding powerful jobs may be able to get away with breaking the law because of their perceived influence, whereas citizens of more modest means suffer the full force of a discriminatory police force.

Why keep religion on identity cards?

After the wide response the campaign acquired over one week, debates and discussion took place online.

BBC Arabic’s website held a poll asking readers if they agree to the removal of the religion field from the identity cards. About 1,921 individuals voted in the poll; 57% of them agreed with the removal while 43% disagreed.

However, the response from people on the streets of Cairo disagreed with the online voting. Speaking to seven individuals, their responses were as follows:

Nariman, a 46-year-old housewife, forcefully says: “This is our religion and we shouldn’t disown it in any way. I take pride in my religion; why should they remove it from my ID? Additionally, having it on my ID means nothing to other people. It won’t affect how I deal with others because in daily interactions we [Egyptians] don’t ask each other to show our IDs before talking. Since we were born our IDs had our religion. I think the youth wants this because they’ll manipulate it by pursuing each other while coming from different religious backgrounds.”

Fatma, who is 20 years younger, is a tour guide. She thinks it is crucial to have religion on identity cards. “What if some people deceived each other? What if a boy tells a girl he’s Muslim and makes her fall in love with him while he is Christian?” she asks.

Am Mahmoud, a janitor in his 50s, also thinks it is important to keep religion on ID cards. He assumes: “What if someone died all of a sudden and people needed to know about where to bury him in Christians’ tombs or Muslims’? What rituals should they follow? This will help as a quick means of identification then.”

Sherif, 30, a lawyer at a company, argues that legally having the religion on the ID can differentiate between people with similar names. “In some criminal cases, the tiniest differences can help identify the right suspect. Also, I do not think having religion affects relationships between citizens, rather it’s between the state and its citizens.

Until Egypt develops a good documentation system for of its citizens, having as much information on the ID as possible is useful from a legal aspect,” he asserts.

One dissenter who disagreed with this crowd was Marian, a 45-year-old housewife. She says: “No, it shouldn’t be there. Religion should be disentangled from politics. Having religion on IDs is related to the current tensions the country suffers from.”

Facing the waves of criticism

Similar responses echo these comments on the “none of your business” campaign. Adam, in response to them, thinks the campaign is not against the Islamic identity of Egypt nor religion in general.

He says: “At the time of Prophet Muhammed, the people did not have ID cards to prove they were Muslims. Also, faith is kept in the heart, we don’t want a label to be used to favour the majority over the minority and same thing goes for the minority. We do not want to use a piece of paper to receive privileges. We want everyone to be equal by the law and the state.”

He cites the example of Lebanon which removed the religion field from national identity cards in 2009. There, identity cards were associated to sectarian violence. Adam explains: “We saw in Lebanon how killings used to happen based on your religion if you’re Sunni or Shi’a Muslim or with any other religious affiliation you could be killed in the street. After removing the religion from ID, the situation got a bit better.”

“We need to learn from countries with no IDs for their citizens like the United Kingdom and neighbouring countries that faced similar sectarian issues like us,” he adds.

The “none of your business” campaign was launched without a long term plan. However, after receiving wide support across social media outlets, the campaign expects to apply more pressure and spread more awareness. According to Adam, the campaign is now planning to approach sheikhs of Al-Azhar, clerics from churches and political parties.

He says: “We are merely proposing an idea that will improve the status of citizenship in our country and make the state neutral towards its citizens. We are not imposing our will on the people, but we will continue to engage in discussions with those who disagree with us until we reach a conclusion.”

Egypt: Release report on police/army abuses of protesters

Human Rights Watch  
Egypt: Release Report on Abuse of Protesters 
April 12, 2013
(New York) – President Mohamed Morsy of Egypt should immediately release the report by a fact-finding committee he created to investigate police and military abuses against protesters from January 2011 to June 2012. The committee submitted its report to the president in December, but the president has not made it public.

The media recently published leaked sections of the report highlighting police use of live gunfire against protesters in Alexandria and Suez, and the military’s role in the use of force against protesters and enforced disappearances. In January 2013, the public prosecutor’s office indicated that it was investigating 14 incidents included in the report.

“Releasing the fact-finding report would be the Egyptian government’s first acknowledgment of two years’ worth of police and military abuses,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Victims’ families have the right to know the truth about their loved ones’ deaths. Even if certain information can’t be made public in the interests of justice, all Egyptians need to know what happened.”

Over the past month, the Egyptian daily al Shorouk and the Guardian have published leaked chapters of the report on police violence in Alexandria in January and November 2011, and the use of live ammunition by the police in Suez in January 2011. The chapters also describe the military’s torture of detained protesters in May 2012, which Human Rights Watch documented, and several cases of enforced disappearance by the military in January and February 2011.

President Morsy appointed the committee in July 2012, with one of his first decrees after he took office in June. The fact-finding committee was composed of judges, an assistant public prosecutor, an assistant interior minister, the head of National Security Egyptian General Intelligence Services, human rights lawyers, and relatives of victims.

The committee’s mandate was to gather information and evidence about the killing and injuring of demonstrators between January 25, 2011, and June 30, 2012, and to review the “measures taken by executive branches of government and the extent to which they cooperated with the judicial authorities and any shortcomings that may exist.” The committee said on its website that it had identified 19 separate incidents in which the police or military used excessive force or committed other violations against protesters.

After it submitted its report in late December, Morsy forwarded it to the public prosecutor. The prosecutor appointed an investigative team of 20 prosecutors, whose spokesman said on January 21 that the committee had revealed “14 new incidents” that prosecutors were investigating in “absolute secrecy.” But neither the prosecutor nor the investigative team   has made any further announcements.

A source at the president's office told the Guardian that Morsy had not seen the findings and that “as soon as results appear, they will be made public. The findings you mentioned are speculative, and not authentic. We haven't received the findings from the [fact-finding] committee, and the investigations are still ongoing.”

Two years after the January 2011 uprising in Egypt, those responsible for the killing of at least 846 protesters and subsequent police and military abuses, including the excessive use of force against protesters, are largely at liberty. Only 4 of the 36 trials of middle-ranking and low-level police officers accused of killing protesters near police stations during that period have resulted in prison sentences. Other convictions have been suspended or imposed in absentia, with only two police officers serving prison time.

Ineffective investigations, security agency obstruction, and laws that give overly broad discretion to the police in using live gunfire have meant that the police are still using excessive and unnecessary force in policing, Human Rights Watch said. In January, the police response to an attack on a prison in Port Said resulted in three days of violence that left 48 dead.

With the retrial of the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, and his former interior minister and other police officials scheduled to begin on April 13, accountability for serious human rights violations should be a key priority for the government, Human Rights Watch said.

“More than two years after the uprising, we are seeing new cases of police torture and excessive force in policing protests,” Houry said. “Without accountability and the political will for serious security reform, there can be little hope of ending the abuse.”

Report in Arabic:
مصر - يجب نشر التقرير الخاص بالانتهاكات بحق المتظاهرين

Prime Minister sentenced to prison in privatization case

Egypt Independent
Misdemeanor court hands PM jail sentence 

Wed, 17/04/2013

The Dokki Misdemeanor Court on Wednesday sentenced Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to one year in prison and ordered he be removed from office for failing to implement a court ruling annulling a privatization deal.
The court set bail at LE2000.

On 17 December 2011 the Administrative Court nullified the privatization contract for the Nile Cotton Ginning Company - a massive group of factories in several cities along the Nile — after finding that the company was sold for under its initial value.

Shareholders filed an appeal against the verdict on 16 February 2012, while state authorities refused to reabsorb the company into the public sector.

Qandil was not prime minister at the time of the ruling, but as head of the government is still responsible for implementing previously issued court verdicts, as Article 79 of the Constitution saying that any refusal on the part of civil servants to enforce court rulings is a "crime punishable by the law."
The Supreme Administrative Court is reviewing the case and is scheduled to reconvene on 3 June.
Several media outlets have incorrectly reported that Wednesday's ruling pertains to a similar privatization case regarding the Tanta Flax and Oils Company. The court acquitted Qandil in that case last week.

*Photo courtesy of Al-Masry Al-Youm

Prime Minister acquitted in privatization case

Egypt Independent
Qandil acquitted in privatization case

Wed, 10/04/2013

Jano Charbel 

The Dokki Misdemeanors Court issued its verdict today acquitting Prime Minister Hesham Qandil from liability and impeachment in light of a lawsuit filed by workers at the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, accusing him of failing to uphold an administrative court ruling issued in September 2011 — ruling that the privatized company should be returned to the public sector.

‪A final judicial ruling on the company's legal status is due to be issued on 15 April.

Nearly one and half years ago, the Administrative Court issued a historic verdict annulling the privatization contract of the Tanta Flax and Oils Company — finding that the company had been sold off to a Saudi investor for far less than its true market value.‬

“I feel let-down by today’s verdict," said Tanta Flax worker Gamal Othman. “The court claimed that Qandil is not responsible for the failure of incorporating our company back into the public sector.”

Othman went on to say, “If the prime minister is not to blame and is not responsible for this mess, then who is? Everybody is washing their hands of responsibility. Authorities previously told us that the Ministry of Investment is not responsible, nor is the Governorate of Gharbiya, nor is the Council of Ministers or the prime minister. The court should’ve at least told us who is responsible. Who should we turn to?”

Othman added, “All of us workers were disappointed by today’s verdict.”

Sacked unionist Hesham al-Oql said he is "not very concerned with the court's verdict on Qandil,"
since the authorities would not have enforced a verdict against figures of the ruling regime, even if the court had ruled in favor of the workers.

A former employee of Tanta Flax, Oql went on to say, “Today’s verdict is politicized and is not surprising.” He added that he pinning his hopes on the other verdict scheduled for April 15 — regarding the rightful ownership of the company, and a final decision on the company's privatization contract.

"Given the previous court rulings and legal findings, issued in the favor of companies being returned to the public sector, I trust that a final verdict will help us get our company back in order. And hopefully will help us get our jobs back too," he said.

Along with the Tanta Flax Company, the Administrative Court had also ruled for the nullification of the privatization contracts for the Shebin El Kom Spinning and Weaving Company and the Nasr Company for Steam Boilers — on 21 September 2011. On 13 September 2012 the same court annulled the privatization contract of the CEMEX Assiut Cement Company.‬

 On 17 December 2011 the Administrative Court ordered the nullification of the privatization contract for the Nile Cotton Ginning Company — a massive group of factories in a host of cities stretching along the Nile River.

Refusing to re-absorb this mammoth company back into its public sector, on 16 February 2012 state authorities filed an appeal against this verdict. The Supreme Administrative Court is reviewing the case and is set to issue a final verdict on 15 April — the same date as the Tanta Flax verdict.

An exception to the state’s policy towards the five aforementioned companies are the Omar Effendi department stores. This giant company had its privatization contract nullified by the Administrative Court on 7 May 2011, and has since been re-absorbed into the public sector.

"Although the Administrative Court issued a verdict in our favor 18 months ago, this verdict has been ignored by three successive governments — those of Prime Ministers Kamal al-Ganzouri, Essam Sharaf, and now Hesham Qandil," said Othman. "They've all been dragging their feet and declining to take back the company into the public sector.”

Othman added "Qandil, like his predecessors, promised to abide by the court's verdict — but has done the exact opposite. He is intentionally ignoring the court's verdict.”

According to Othman, "the prime minister is reneging on his promises, and yet the Morsy regime is still holding on to him.”

Privatized in 2005 and reportedly sold at a third of its real market value to Saudi investor Abdel Ellah al-Kahky, the Tanta Flax and Oils Company has since lost a majority of its workforce as well as seen a decline in productivity.

Workers at this company point out that, prior to privatization, the company had a workforce of some 2,850 - now down to just 170. Moreover, out of 10 factories/production lines, only two are currently operational.

Regarding his expectations for the 15 April verdict, Oql commented: "The Mubarak regime was an awful violator of rights, but at least they tended to respect judicial verdicts. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood is openly violating courts' verdicts and is repeatedly appealing against them in attempts to strike them down.”

‪Oql added, "Qandil is dragging his feet because he has received orders from the Brotherhood's guidance bureau to do so. They think they are above the law, and that they can flout any judicial verdicts which the Brotherhood doesn't approve of.”

Othman added that he would’ve been pleased to see the prime minister held accountable for his disregard of previous judicial verdicts, "but more important to us is the functioning of our company.”

Regardless of today’s verdict clearing Qandil of culpability, Othman said that his top demand of authorities is: “governmental assistance in purchasing raw materials for us to keep our company running. We are willing and able to pay them back for such an investment.”

Analyzing the reality of the situation, Othman added that "none of the state authorities are willing to step-in and save this company." This worker claimed that the Textile Holding Company, along with the Ministries of Finance, Investment, and Labor have "turned a deaf ear to our demands.”

"Investment is supposed to provide new job opportunities, to create new industries and services. Yet Abdel Ellah's idea of investment appears to be closing down industries and laying-off workers en masse. This so-called investment is not the sort which the government should be supporting," he said.

Oql adds, "I feel uneasy towards both the verdicts - regarding Qandil and the company. There are many other companies which have had their privatization contracts overruled, yet they remain in a state of limbo along with thousands of their workers.”

In the meantime, Kahky has been resorting to international commercial arbitration against the Administrative Court's ruling. Neither Kahky nor his administrators could be reached for comments or clarifications‬.

*Photo by Ahmed Hayman

Army conscription for railway strikers is scrapped

Egypt Independent
State backs down on forcing striking train drivers into army 

April 9, 2013 

Jano Charbel

State authorities halted attempts at conscripting striking train drivers into the service of the Armed Forces on Wednesday, a campaign they had begun the day before.  The state’s “public mobilization” order was rescinded following solidarity protests and a host of legal complaints filed by labor lawyers.

The attempt to enlist 97 striking train drivers into military service came after previous efforts at strikebreaking had failed.

At a Thursday news conference at the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, labor lawyers pointed out that according to the law, acts of public mobilization can only be issued by the president’s office in times of war or natural disaster.

“There was no announcement of a disaster or state of war,” argued labor lawyer Mohamed Adel. “Furthermore, it was not the president who issued this order for public mobilization. Therefore, this order is null and void."

The public mobilization order was issued on Tuesday by Transportation Minister Hatem Abdel Latif via the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), and was enforced by the Ministry of Defense.

By forcefully enlisting the strikers into the service of the Defense Ministry, under this decree their continued work stoppage would have been considered an act of sedition — punishable by military trial.

Train drivers had launched the largest nationwide railway strike since 1986 on Sunday in demand for increased salaries, more time off and other benefits. By Monday night the strike had largely fizzled out, and the few protesters who remained were summoned to an army barracks in the Cairo neighborhood of Sharabiya on Tuesday.

“The Morsy administration’s targeting of strikers has proven to be much worse and more oppressive than the actions of the Mubarak regime” said train driver Ashraf Momtaz.

Momtaz explained that he and 96 of his coworkers were detained at the military barracks in Sharabiya for nearly 24 hours. “We were not allowed to go home, and we were denied visitations.”

“We were singled out as being the chief strike leaders. The army held us as if we were war criminals; we were not given any food or drink. We would give money to the soldiers so they could buy us food and beverages,” recounted Mohamed Khalil, another train driver who was held for public mobilization in Sharabiya.

The Egyptian National Railways Authority (ENRA) and Ministry of Transport resorted to this tactic after they had threatened to replace train drivers with members of the Armed Forces, but had to back down when the Ministry of Defense conceded that it did not have the personnel qualified to operate trains.

The ENRA and the Transport Ministry then sought to recruit retired train drivers to break the strike, but to no avail. Metro drivers were offered bonuses to take over operating the trains, but they refused out of solidarity with the train drivers, said Khaled Ali, a labor lawyer and former presidential candidate.

Refaat Arafat, a member of the Independent Union of Metro Workers, denounced the “punitive measures” taken against striking workers.

“The authorities are quick to issue laws against strikes and protests, while they continue to drag their feet when it comes to issuing laws that protect our labor rights,” he stated.

The ENRA had also asked the public prosecution to press criminal charges against the striking drivers, accusing them of obstructing transportation and harming the economy. The body claimed that the two-day strike resulted in a loss of several million pounds of revenues.

 “Tens of our names were sent to the public prosecutor for criminal investigations, while the railway authority moved to suspend 17 of us drivers for three months,” claimed Khalil.

“Apparently these suspensions have been revoked, but we don’t know if we are still being investigated or not,” he added.

Another train driver, Karim Ibrahim, explained, “We were promised that conscription would not be imposed on us again. The national railway authority also promised us that our wage scales would be augmented by June.”

“We have heard a lot of promises from the authority in the past, but none of these promises have been fulfilled,” he added.

The recent attempt at conscription is just the latest in a series of labor violations perpetrated by Morsy’s government, according to labor lawyer Haitham Mohamadein.

“Tens of unionists and striking workers have been referred to prosecution and criminal investigations for exercising their right to strike,” he said.

“We’ve seen also that the regime is willing to crackdown against strikes by any means available,” he alleged, referring to the recent use of police dogs against striking cement workers in Alexandria.

The army has also actively involved itself in acts of strike-breaking. The Armed Forces operated alternate bus services during the Delta Bus workers’ strike in February and March 2012. Prior to this, in May 2011, military police in the industrial hub of Mahalla are reported to have threatened striking doctors with military trials if they did not resume their work.

*Archived photo courtesy of Al-Masry Al-Youm