Thursday, October 31, 2013

Egypt: Government drafting law to ban protests & sit-ins

Human Rights Watch
Egypt: Draft Law Would Effectively Ban Protests 
Amend Repressive Draft Assembly Law
October 30, 2013

(New York) – A draft law on assembly awaiting ratification by the interim president would effectively give the police carte blanche to ban protest in Egypt. The bill would ban all demonstrations near official buildings, give the police absolute discretion to ban any other protest, and allow officers to forcibly disperse overall peaceful protests if even a single protester throws a stone.

The bill would also require organizers to notify the police in advance of any public meeting of more than 10 people in a private or public place. It would allow the police to ban these meetings, which could severely restrict the freedom of assembly of political parties and nongovernmental groups, Human Rights Watch said.

“This draft law would effectively mandate the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The final law will be an important indicator of the extent to which the new government is going to allow for political space in Egypt.”

Human Rights Watch reviewed the October 21 draft of the Law on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations. As it stands, the draft law falls far short of Egypt’s obligation to respect freedom of assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Human Rights Watch said.

On October 10, 2013, the cabinet approved the assembly law drafted by the Justice Ministry and sent it to the interim president for ratification. Under the July 8 Constitutional Declaration, the interim president, Adly Mansour, has full legislative powers.

After a week of rare public criticism of the draft law from political parties and human rights groups, Prime Minister Hazem Beblawy said in an interview on Egyptian CBC TV on October 20 that the government was open to amending the law and had sent it to the National Council for Human Rights for comments. However, Beblawy also said that the right to assembly must not “disturb the authorities” or threaten security, and that the “police today enjoy more popular respect and support than any other time previously.”

The draft law is a revision of the assembly law the Shura Council discussed for four months during the presidency of Mohamed Morsy. Human Rights Watch and others had criticized that draft as deeply restrictive.

The new draft includes a few small improvements, limiting the way in which police could use force to disperse protests and requiring the force used to be proportionate to the threat. But those provisions also state that the police could use lethal force in “legitimate self-defense,” which under Egyptian law is broadly defined to grant police discretion to use lethal force in circumstances other than those strictly necessary to protect life.

However, the draft law also includes many provisions that are more restrictive than in previous drafts, including requiring organizers to give advance notification of any public meeting of 10 people or more, or any public protest. The draft law would also allow police to disperse an assembly on vague grounds, such as that those gathered are trying to “influence the course of justice” or are impeding “citizens’ interests.” This means that political parties and other groups wishing to hold open meetings in the privacy of their offices would have to notify the Interior Ministry and risk an outright ban on the meeting.

“One of the few rights protections in the 2012 constitution was a ban on security agents appearing at private meetings,” Whitson said. “This law would reverse that, and truly strangle what’s left of independent political life in Egypt.”

Under the new law, organizers of protests or meetings of 10 or more people would have to inform the Interior Ministry at least a week in advance. The ministry could then ban the protest or meeting without providing any justification. Although article 11 of the draft law states that protest or meeting organizers could appeal a police ban before the courts, no time frame is specified, meaning that the court could hear the appeal after the scheduled date of the event.

The law would include an outright ban on sit-ins and on any demonstrations that come within 100 meters of any official executive, legislative, or judicial building in the country, effectively moving protesters out of the sight and hearing of the officials they seek to influence, Human Rights Watch said.

It also includes vague language on prohibited types of assembly, including those that would “impede the interests of citizens,” or seek to “influence the course of justice,” which could be interpreted to ban meetings of many groups.

Most problematically, article 6 of the draft law would allow police to disperse a protest by force, even if one protester commits a crime, which in effect would amount to collective punishment of protesters, Human Rights Watch said. Article 6 would also ban protesters from wearing masks or covering their faces. That would clearly discriminate against Egyptian women who wear the niqab, a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the face.

In February, Human Rights Watch submitted a letter to the Justice Ministry with recommendations to bring the earlier version of the draft law in line with international law, but the ministry did not make the suggested changes before submitting the law for approval. The draft grew more restrictive during discussions in the Shura Council. In one of the council’s final sessions, on June 24, the drafting committee changed a requirement for the interior minister to seek an order from a judge if he wished to ban a demonstration, giving the minister the right to ban or postpone a demonstration without providing justification.

Egypt’s current protest laws, the Illegal Assembly Law of 1914, Law 10 of 1914, and Public Assembly Act No. 14 of 1923, are very restrictive and effectively allowed the police under former President Hosni Mubarak to ban public protests. Under the emergency law currently in force, the authorities have the right to ban protests, though they have not thus far invoked these provisions. Egypt’s current state of emergency will expire on November 14 and cannot be extended except through a popular referendum.

For more detail about problematic provisions in the draft law, please see the following.

Key Concerns in the Draft Assembly Law
Under international law, any restriction on the right to peaceful assembly must be limited to what is necessary and proportionate: the manner and intensity of state interference must be necessary to attain a legitimate purpose, and the prohibition or forceful dispersion of an assembly may only be considered when milder means have failed.

Scope of Application
One of the most problematic aspects of the draft law is the stipulation in article 2 that the law, including the notification requirements and the right for police to disperse assemblies, shall apply to “public meetings,” which it defines as “every assembly of individuals in a public or private place to which anyone can enter without a previous personal invitation.” This effectively prohibits political parties or other groups from holding meetings, news conferences, or seminars on their premises unless they notify the police a week in advance. Articles 3 and 4 state that the provisions of the law shall apply to any non-political procession or any political protest of more than 10 people.

Overly Broad Restrictions on Legitimate Assembly
The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated that, “In adopting laws providing for restrictions … States should always be guided by the principle that the restrictions must not impair the essence of the right ... the relation between right and restriction, between norm and exception, must not be reversed.” Egypt’s draft assembly law goes well beyond any permissible restrictions on public assembly under international law.

Article 5 would ban public assembly in places of worship “for any purpose other than prayer,” and would ban processions leading toward places of worship. This provision is overly broad, covering a whole host of social gatherings that take place on the grounds of churches and mosques in Egypt, and, as worded, could even affect religious ceremonies such as funeral processions.

Article 16 would ban any protests from taking place within a 100 to 300-meter radius of any government building, legislative council, any police or military building, court, hospital, airport, educational institution, public facility, embassy, museum or any other place designated by local governors.

Article 22 would establish a penalty of imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Egyptian pounds (US$7,200 to $14,500) for any violation of this provision.

The long list of buildings set out in this provision, along with the 100 to 300-meter-radius requirement, and the stipulation that the government may add any other buildings to the list, is not consistent with international law because it sets overly broad limitations on the right to peaceful assembly. These restrictions are neither narrowly construed nor proportionate. While in some circumstances banning a demonstration within 200 meters of a particular building might be appropriate, such as in the case of a protest near a sensitive military building, it is unlawful for governments to impose blanket bans of the type envisaged under article 16 to prevent public gatherings or demonstrations outside such a wide range of government and public buildings.

Governments may take measures to protect the security of public buildings and those who work in or use them and to ensure access to hospitals and places of worship. But a notification requirement should be sufficient to facilitate such measures, and would allow the authorities to require demonstrators to alter their route if there are clear, specific, and proportionate grounds to do so.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association said in his May 2012 report that demonstrations must be facilitated within “sight and sound” of the demonstration’s object and target audience, and that “organizers of peaceful assemblies should not be coerced to follow the authorities’ suggestions if these would undermine the essence of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” He warned against limiting the venue for a demonstration to the outskirts of the city or a specific, out-of-the-way square, where its impact would be muted.

Vague Language as Basis for Dispersal
Article 7 says that the right to public assembly could not include sit-ins, “impeding the interests of citizens,” or “influencing the course of justice.” The use of these terms is conspicuously overly broad and open to wide interpretation: “influencing the course of justice” could lead to the dispersal of any protests calling for the release of political prisoners or the prosecution of security officials. In addition, anoutright ban on all sit-ins would be a violation of the right to peaceful assembly.

Article 7 also lists crimes including assault and the destruction of public or private property as limitations on public assembly. While laws can stipulate that the right to assembly is limited by “public order,” it is redundant to list crimes such as “attacks on individuals or their properties” in this context because such acts of violence are already clearly criminalized in the penal code.

Article 11 states that the Interior Ministry could ban an assembly if it received information that any of the organizers or participants planned to commit any of the acts set out in article 7.

Article 12 further states that the police would be allowed to disperse a demonstration if any participant in the assembly committed an offense under this law.

Article 6 would ban protesters from “carrying weapons or explosives or firecrackers,” or “any tools or substances that could endanger or harm individuals or buildings.” Article 19 would set out a penalty of 10 years in prison and 300,000 to 500,000 Egyptian pounds ($43,500 to $72,500) for anyone who “obtains or carries a weapon, explosives, ammunition, or flammable substances while participating in a meeting, procession or demonstration.” Article 20 would establish an additional penalty of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,500 to $43,500) for anyone who provides funding or support to organize protests with the intention of committing the offenses listed in article 6.

Excessive Notification Requirement
Article 8
would require organizers to notify the local police station in writing seven days ahead of any planned public meeting, demonstration, or procession involving more than 10 people. An earlier draft of the law required notification only 24 hours in advance.

Article 10 states that the police shall “establish measures and guarantees to secure public meetings and demonstrations,” without stipulating that the measures may not include further restrictions on assembly.

The government has the right to regulate the use of public space for demonstrations by requiring reasonable advance notification. However, seven days is excessive, and the provision should also include a procedure for exceptions in cases of urgent and spontaneous assembly, or when the number of demonstrators is unlikely to impede traffic or public order. For example, when a US-led coalition of military forces attacked Iraq in March 2003, many Egyptians gathered spontaneously in Tahrir Square in central Cairo to voice their protest.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association stated in his May 2012 report that, “A notification should be subject to a proportionality assessment, not unduly bureaucratic and be required a maximum of, for example, 48 hours prior to the day the assembly is planned to take place.” The requirement for notification a week in advance is worse than the three-day requirement under the current assembly law No. 14 of 1923, which dates back to British occupation.

Police Discretion to Ban Assemblies
Article 11
would give Interior Ministry officials full discretion to ban a public assembly, merely on the basis of “serious information” that the organizers intended to commit” one of the offenses listed in article 7 or any other crime.” The provision would impose no limitation on police officials’ right to ban assemblies, nor would it require them to justify their decision.

Under international law, any notification system must not restrict the essence of the right to assembly. Giving the Interior Ministry absolute discretion to object to any public assembly on the basis of secret information would be tantamount to turning a notification system into a requirement for permission. To fully protect the right to assembly, the law should require the authorities to apply to a court to prohibit any demonstration and to provide evidentiary reasons that meet the narrow requirements of international law, rather than requiring organizers to give notification, Human Rights Watch said.

The article would place no requirement for a timely response by a judge hearing an appeal on a decision to ban a protest or assembly within the seven-day period, creating further uncertainty about the legal status of a demonstration. The law would also fail to provide exceptions for smaller demonstrations that would not cause disruption, or for urgent and spontaneous demonstrations in response to news, Human Rights Watch said.

Discrimination against Women Who Cover Their Faces
Article 6 would ban wearing masks or any face covering, and article 22 would set out a penalty of imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 100,00 Egyptian pounds ($7,250 to $14,500) for anyone who attended a meeting, protest, or procession wearing a mask or face covering. This provision was first included in earlier versions of the draft protest law under Morsy.

When asked about this in a live interview in January on the Egyptian TV station CBC, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki responded that women who wear the niqab should “stay at home.” This provision would discriminate against women who choose to wear the niqab, preventing them from participating in public meetings or protests, Human Rights Watch said.

Germany and other countries have laws that prohibit demonstrators from “wearing masks or covering the face,” but in all cases any such measure imposed on grounds of promoting public order must be both necessary and non-discriminatory.

In Egypt, where many women wear the niqab lawfully in public, the government cannot legitimately impose such a broad prohibition, as this would inevitably have a discriminatory impact. It would prevent many women from exercising their right to participate in peaceful demonstrations, and also contravene their rights to freedom of opinion, religion, and expression. Discriminating against women who wear the niqab would outweigh the public order limitation in this case, and such a restriction should not be imposed.

مصر - مشروع قانون قد يحظر التظاهر فعلياً - In Arabic
*Photo of Egyptian (puppet) president Adly Mansour courtesy of REUTERS

Egypt: Kung-fu champion suspended for wearing anti-coup T-shirt

The Guardian 
Egypt kung fu champion suspended for wearing pro-Mohamed Morsi T-shirt 

Mohamed Youssef wore shirt with yellow Rabaa logo widely used by supporters of deposed president at medals ceremony

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Egypt's kung fu champion has been suspended by his national federation for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a symbol associated with opposition to the Egypt's army-backed interim government.

Mohamed Youssef is the latest Egyptian to be censored for wearing the yellow Rabaa sign – a four-fingered salute that honours the hundreds of Islamists killed during August's Rabaa al-Adawiya massacre – as authorities attempt to stamp out opposition Islamist movements.

Youssef wore the T-shirt as judges presented him with a gold medal at an international championship in Russia. In response, a spokesman for Egypt's kung fu association told state media that Youssef had been flown home early, suspended from competition and barred from taking part in a kung fu tournament next month in Malaysia.

Egypt's establishment appears to be deeply irked by the Rabaa symbol, which has been drawn on walls across the country and displayed by supporters of the deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi since the August massacre.

Three men were arrested in September for creating T-shirts carrying the symbol, while a schoolboy was later photographed being detained while forming a version of the logo with his right hand.

The sign has gained currency among Islamists across the world, with many overseas supporters of Morsi displaying it on their social media profiles, or in person at protests. Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has also been pictured displaying the four-fingered salute.

In Jordan, an ally of Egypt's new secular-minded regime, three protesters were arrested for carrying a version of the symbol – an act, a Jordanian official said, "that would harm Jordan's relations with a brotherly Arab country".

The non-religious nature of the Rabaa sign has been perceived as an attempt to appeal to secular opponents of Egypt's military-backed government, but so far it used almost exclusively by Islamist supporters of Morsi.

The government crackdown on displaying the symbol has been interpreted as part of a wider campaign to drive Morsi's backers from the public arena. More than 1,000 of his supporters have been killed by state officials since his overthrow in July, and thousands more have been arrested and detained without charge.

Only a handful of the leaders of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood operate openly since the group's activities were banned by government order in September.

Under the current interim government, police have also raided the offices of several well known secular activists, and others have been smeared by state newspapers.

On Tuesday, Egyptian media reported that the attorney general had launched an investigation into the country's best-known television satirist, Bassem Youssef, only four days after the comedian returned to the airwaves for the first time since Morsi was ousted.

Bassem Youssef's spokesman told the Guardian there had been no official confirmation of the news, but should it be confirmed, it would mark a much swifter censorship of the comedian than under Morsi.

Youssef was also investigated during Morsi's tenure, but the former president's prosecutors took months to enact the procedures.

*Photo courtesy of OnIslam.Net

Police arrest & investigate student for atheist Facebook group

Egypt security investigates student for forming 'atheist' Facebook group

Suez Canal University filed a complaint against a 20 year-old commerce student who started a Facebook group for atheists 

Monday, Oct. 28, 2013

National security officials in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia are conducting investigations into a university student who allegedly set-up a Facebook group calling for atheism.

Police arrested the 20-year old student of the Faculty of Commerce, Suez Canal University, following a report submitted by the university's administration saying he had formed a group for atheists on the social networking site.

The accused student appeared before the prosecution, who transferred him to national security for further investigation.

In December 2012, an Egyptian court sentenced activist Alber Saber to three years in jail for posting the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims on his Facebook page. He was released after paying bail.

Article 98 of Egypt's penal code says anyone convicted of offending religion in any form can face up to six years in prison.

Egypt: End deplorable detention & deportation of Syrian refugees


Egypt: End deplorable detention and deportation of refugees from Syria

17 October 2013

The Egyptian authorities must end their appalling policy of unlawfully detaining and forcibly returning hundreds of refugees who have fled the armed conflict in Syria, said Amnesty International.

Following the deaths in recent weeks of refugees and asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, a short report published by Amnesty International today, ‘We cannot live here any more’: Refugees from Syria in Egypt, throws a spotlight on the tragic consequences of Egypt’s hardline stance towards refugees from Syria.

More and more refugees are risking their lives to make the treacherous journey by sea to Europe – often paying smugglers up to US$3,500 each to make the trip.

“The Egyptian authorities have a duty to provide protection to anyone who has fled the conflict in Syria and is seeking safe refuge in their country. At present Egypt is failing abysmally to meet its international obligations to protect even the most vulnerable refugees,” said Sherif Elsayed Ali, Amnesty International’s Head of Refugee and Migrants’ Rights.

“Instead of offering vital help and support to refugees from Syria the Egyptian authorities are arresting and deporting them, flouting human rights standards. Most refugees lost their homes and livelihoods when they fled Syria. Failing to help and protect them is a stain on the reputation of Egypt and could seriously damage its image as a key stakeholder in the region.”

Hundreds of refugees who fled Syria, including scores of children, many of them without their parents, face ongoing detention in poor conditions or deportation – in some cases separating family members. Amnesty International found two one-year-old twins among the refugees being indefinitely detained.

Several refugees told the organization that they felt compelled to leave Egypt due to the hostile conditions they face in the country.

The Egyptian navy has intercepted around 13 boats carrying refugees from Syria in their attempt to reach Europe. According to the latest figures from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 946 people have been arrested by the Egyptian authorities while attempting the crossing and 724 – women, children and men – remain in detention.

In most cases, once arrested people are kept in continued detention under orders of Egypt’s National Security agency, even after the public prosecution has ordered their release.

In one case a nine-year-old boy from Aleppo was arrested on a boat with a family friend. He was detained and denied access to his mother for four days.

Last week 12 people drowned when a boat carrying refugees from Syria sank off the coast of Alexandria. Earlier in October more than 300 people, including several Syrians, died when their vessel capsized trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa.

One woman, interviewed by Amnesty International, whose husband was detained trying to reach Italy said:
“We live without hope as the days go past… All I want is to have my husband back. We want to be settled in any country where we can be safe… [or a] way to leave Egypt so that we don’t have to use the sea. We cannot live here anymore.”

During a visit to a police station in Alexandria last week Amnesty International found approximately 40 refugees from Syria unlawfully and indefinitely detained there, including 10 children. The youngest of these were two one-year-old twins who had been held there since 17 September.

Lawyers also told Amnesty International they had been prevented from representing refugees detained in police stations along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. UNHCR does not have access to the detained refugees.

Refugees arrested face a choice between accepting deportation or prolonged and unlawful detention. Dozens of families have been forcibly separated as a result. Lawyers told Amnesty International that in at least two instances refugees were collectively deported back to Damascus, Syria.

“Sending refugees back to a bloody conflict zone is a serious violation of international law. Refugees who have fled are at an obvious risk of human rights abuses,” said Sherif Elsayed Ali.

Most recently a group of 36 mostly Palestinian refugees from Syria were deported to Damascus on 4 October. Many are believed to have been detained at the Palestine Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence in Damascus.

Syrian and Palestinian refugees were accused of being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and being complicit in political violence in Egypt following the deposition of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. They face deep stigma and have been subjected to xenophobic attacks in the media.

In recent months, the Egyptian authorities have also imposed new restrictions on Syrian nationals entering Egypt requiring them to obtain visas and security clearance before they arrive. Amnesty International calls upon countries in the region to keep their borders open to those fleeing the conflict and upon the international community to increase the opportunities for vulnerable refugees to be resettled outside the region.

“Introducing restrictions that effectively seal off borders to refugees fleeing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria sends an entirely wrong message. Egypt should be helping Syrians get back on their feet, not hindering them at every turn,” said Sherif Elsayed Ali.

CC on the walls: Graffiti mirrors Egypt's political tug-of-war

Mada Masr
CC on the walls: Cairo's graffiti mirrors political tug-of-war 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Jano Charbel

Cairo’s streets have been overtaken by a new kind of political rhetoric. A barrage of hastily scrawled “anti-coup” graffiti covers walls, billboards, sidewalks, garbage cans, trees — almost any surface that can be written on or spray-painted.

This new wave of political graffiti is the handiwork of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. And it has come to dominate the political graffiti and street art scene that flourished after the January 25 uprising, but went dormant after Morsi’s ouster on July 3.

Protests demanding Morsi’s reinstatement clearly denounce the interim government and the military’s intervention in politics, which demonstrators call a coup. But above all, they staunchly oppose Defense Minister Colonel General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is the target of most of their graffiti messages.

Anti-coup and pro-Morsi graffiti is perhaps most prevalent in Cairo’s eastern district of Nasr City, where troops forcefully dispersed the largest pro-Morsi sit-in outside the Rabea al-Adaweya Mosque on August 14, resulting in more than 600 deaths, thousands of injuries and hundreds of arrests.

Virtually every street in Nasr City is covered with graffiti denouncing military rule, the “bloody military coup” and Sisi, whose name has been abbreviated to the Roman letters CC.

The most common graffiti messages claim that “CC is a traitor,” “CC is a killer” and “CC is here” — the latter message commonly painted on garbage cans.

The words “anti-coup” written in English are also seen frequently, as are “coup = terrorism” and the popular chant by Muslim Brotherhood supporters: “Depart oh Sisi, Morsi is my president.”

The only form of expression left

On October 6, the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies in the umbrella group that calls itself the Anti-Coup Alliance organized protests across the country. When some tried to enter Tahrir Square, they clashed with security forces and scattered to surrounding neighborhoods, where they also faced off with residents of the areas.

Marching through Nasr City with a small group of around 100 Morsi supporters, one protester swiftly spray-painted his graffiti on a billboard: “Down with military rule.”

The young man refused to be interviewed and angrily demanded that he not be photographed while spray-painting.

Standing by his side, another young Morsi supporter who identified himself only as Mahmoud said, “They’ve killed and arrested us. They’ve censored and banned all our media outlets. And so we are left only with our peaceful protests and peaceful expression.”

According to Mahmoud, “These writings are the means by which we deliver our messages of opposition against the bloody coup.”

Both of them quickly walked away to catch up with the advancing march.
But where is the art?

Meanwhile, the street artists of the 2011 uprising appear to have either abandoned their art, chosen to remain silent or been forced underground in the months since mass protests led to the Armed Force’s removal of the former president.

“Nowadays, the politically charged atmosphere is not conducive to making attractive or artistic graffiti and murals,” says Alexandria-based artist Aya Tarek. “Graffiti is presently viewed as being garbage, something that should be cleaned up or covered up.” 

Indeed, authorities have whitewashed older murals and street art commemorating the 2011 uprising and its subsequent struggles — images that had become iconic of the fight and those who lost their lives for it.

For Tarek, the new types of graffiti that are taking the place of the old murals are “more like vandalization rather than art.”

The activists involved in these new graffiti campaigns appear to be more interested in publicly posting their messages than in the aesthetic value of their graffiti. In Cairo, they have produced no murals and very few stencils, forms which became prevalent over the past three years.

The most common stencils include Morsi’s bearded and bespectacled face along with the four finger salute signifying Rabea (four) al-Adaweya, with the letters “R4BIA” beneath the hand.

According to the revolutionary street artist Omar Mostafa, the graffiti painters of the Brotherhood and Anti-Coup Alliance “use quick freehand writings.”

“They don’t produce murals or intricate street art, as they are afraid of being arrested,” he says. “These people don’t have the opportunity to stand by and prepare a time-consuming mural. If they attempted to do so they would be attacked by the populace and arrested by the police.”

It does appear to have become more dangerous to make street art in recent months. On the 40th anniversary of the October 6 War, authorities arrested the anti-authoritarian and anti-Morsi street artist Ahmed Naguib as he was painting graffiti critical of the police near Tahrir Square on Mohamed Mahmoud Street — a veritable open air street art gallery.

A few weeks earlier, on September 19, security forces arrested two members of the Ultras White Knights after they spray-painted messages critical of the police near the Zamalek Sporting Club in Cairo. Security forces also reportedly arrested a number of Morsi supporters while painting “anti-coup” messages, but the total number of these arrests is not known.

But Mostafa doesn’t think the need for speed is an excuse. “They’re using our earlier paint-and-run tactics. Moreover, their graffiti lacks originality and artistic value,” he claims.

Mostafa argues that the four-fingered “R4BIA” insignia, especially its yellow and black colors, was inspired by previous street art associated with the No to Military Trials campaign.

Street artist Amar Abu Bakr agrees that the pro-Morsi camp is recycling previously used ideas and art forms.

“Nevertheless, this is their way of expressing themselves following the crackdown at Rabea, just as we expressed ourselves through street art and murals of martyrs on Mohamed Mahmoud Street,” after bloody clashes took place there in 2011 and 2012, he says.
Sectarian street messages

Despite being victims of violent crackdowns, the Anti-Coup Alliance has also produced more divisive and intolerant messages.

Immediately after security forces forcefully dispersed the Rabea and Nahda Square protest camps, a series of nationwide attacks targeted tens of churches, Coptic homes and properties.

While the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, officially denounced these sectarian attacks, pro-Morsi graffiti around the Rabea sit-in carries clear sectarian messages.

Pro-Morsi Islamists condemned the Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar for openly siding with General Sisi’s removal of Morsi.

After the military stepped in on July 3, messages of a sectarian nature sprung up around Nasr City: “CC is the dog of Tawadros,” along with “CC is the dog of the cross” and “Down with the pope’s rule.”

Most of these were painted over when sectarian assaults escalated after the August 14 dispersals.
More recently, the symbol of the cross has been replaced by that of the Jewish Star of David, with newer graffiti reading “CC = Star of David” or “CC is the agent of Star of David.”
Cat and mouse

Often, graffiti messages from opponents and supporters on both sides are layered as the political fight plays out on the walls of the city.

Anti-coup graffiti is sometimes painted over altogether. In some cases, the letters “CC” are visibly crossed out and replaced with “Morsi.” Other times, words denouncing Sisi are erased while the letters “CC” are left and placed inside a heart shape.

“Wipe it off and I’ll paint it again” reads one message on the walls where pro-Morsi graffiti was whitewashed.

Around the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace, a military stronghold and bastion of pro-Sisi sentiments, pro-army graffiti screams “God damn Rabea” along with an assortment of anti-Morsi messages.

Describing such graffiti as an eyesore, Tarek says, “All these accusations and curses, back and forth, are merely insults written on walls, not street art. I wouldn’t even call it graffiti.”

“I want to re-enter and revive the street art scene, using good materials to make quality art. Yet collective street art events are not taking place because of the current unrest and instability,” she says.

Tarek aspires to create beautiful art on Egypt’s streets to replace the now-prevalent political graffiti which is scribbled on walls, blotched-over and re-painted.

“My work is not political, it is purely artistic,” she says.

Mostafa points out that “the present political situation is unclear and uncertain. The state’s so-called ‘war on terrorism’ and other propaganda is being instilled in the populace — so if we are involved in street art critical of the security forces, then we will be accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood, or terrorists.”

He believes there will be a “resurgence of proper street art in the near future when the political situation becomes clearer and more settled.”

Abu Bakr and other street artists are working on a large mural on Qasr al-Nil Street in downtown Cairo. He insists the street art scene has not died.

“People need to know who killed the martyrs, and people need art in their everyday lives — not merely for those who can afford to go to an enclosed art gallery, but for everybody walking or driving past on the streets.”

“We are not hiding,” he says, “Anti-graffiti laws will not keep us from expressing ourselves through street art.”

*Photos by Jano Charbel

2 Germans detained in Qatar for filming labor conditions at World Cup construction sites

The Guardian 
Qatar detained two Germans who filmed World Cup labour conditions 

Pair say they were detained for 27 hours after filming working conditions of labourers from balcony of hotel

Monday 14 October 2013


Two German broadcasters have said they were detained by Qatari police this month as they attempted to investigate the plight of migrant labourers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.

Peter Giesel, a film-maker and the head of a Munich-based production company, and his cameraman Robin Ahne were detained for 27 hours after filming the working conditions of labourers from the balcony of the Mercure Grand hotel in Doha.

The pair were following up on the Guardian's investigation into the conditions endured by many of the 1.2 million migrant workers who have flooded into the country to fuel a £100bn-plus construction boom before the football tournament.

"They said they just wanted to talk to us, but it wasn't clear about what," Giesel told the Guardian. "But the interrogations went on for several hours and then the security police got involved. They were talking about us sparking a riot by talking to the workers … and that's why we got detained and put in jail."

The pair, who say they were treated well while in custody, were told their equipment was being confiscated as they had been filming without permission.

"We went to the Nepalese embassy and it was flooded with workers trying to get their passports and documents back," Giesel said. "They tried to manipulate some of the footage and erase some. We weren't finished with the shooting in general, but afterwards I didn't have the nerve for it any more."

Documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha revealed last month that at least 44 Nepalese migrant labourers died between 4 June and 8 August, more than half from heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

International trade unions said up to 4,000 workers could die before a ball is kicked in 2022 if nothing was done to improve conditions for the workers, many of whom are heavily in debt and tied to their employers by law.

The Qatar 2022 supreme committee, which is overseeing preparations for the World Cup and has senior representatives from all the key government departments to ensure it is aligned with a parallel 2030 masterplan, has promised to take the issue of worker's rights seriously.

Before a key meeting of the Fifa executive committee in Zurich this month, the supreme committee chief executive, Hassan al-Thawadi, said the tournament would not be "built on the blood of innocents."

Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, said he would visit the recently appointed emir to discuss the issue, but drew criticism from campaign groups for promising that the World Cup would go ahead regardless and claiming there was "plenty of time" to resolve any problems.

The International Trade Union Confederation called the Qatari response to an international outcry over the issue "weak and disappointing."

Giesel and Ahne were seized and held on 3 October, at exactly the same time as Fifa's executive committee was discussing the issue in Zurich.

The pair were released after friends and family got in touch with the German embassy in Qatar, prompting the German government's human rights commissioner to get involved.

Giesel said they had been treated well and even invited back to Qatar. "They were explaining, saying we know everything's not right in our country," he said. "But I think I should go back one day, just to make sure they didn't fool around with us too much and that what's been said in public there is in some way true. I can't say I will go back, but I might go back."

The footage shot by the German broadcasters has been acquired by Sky Sports News.

Last week an 18-strong delegation from the Building and Wood Workers' International union claimed they had been denied access to a construction site when they stopped as part of a surprise inspection visit.

The group was attempting to examine conditions on a construction site at Lusail, an area 44 miles north of Doha where an entire new city is being built including the stadium that will host the 2022 World Cup final.

*Photo by Sean Gallup courtesy of Getty Images

State-sanctioned norm of excessive use of force by security forces


Egypt: State-sanctioned pattern of excessive use of force by security forces

14 October 2013  

Evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, health officials and wounded protesters suggests security forces used live ammunition to disperse crowds of mostly peaceful demonstrators on 6 October, said Amnesty International.

At least 49 people were killed and hundreds injured in Cairo alone, as security forces used excessive and unwarranted lethal force to disperse pro-Morsi protesters. According to eyewitnesses, in some instances, security forces stood by as men in civilian clothing armed with knives, swords or firearms attacked and clashed with demonstrators.

“The Egyptian security forces patently failed to prevent the loss of life. In a number of cases bystanders or non-violent protesters were caught up in the violence,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.  

“Although some pro-Morsi protesters threw rocks, burned tyres and used fireworks or other incendiaries against security forces and local residents, the security forces – once again -resorted to the use of lethal force when it was not strictly necessary. Excessive use of force seems to have become the ‘normal’ modus operandi of Egyptian security forces.”

Under international law and standards, security forces should refrain from the use of firearms unless there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury.

Amnesty International is calling for a full, impartial and independent investigation into the events on 6 October.

No members of the security forces were killed during the violence.

Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds to stop two pro-Morsi marches heading towards Tahrir Square – the epicentre of the “25 January Revolution” - where pro-army rallies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s war with Israel were taking place.

In the bloodiest incident in the Al-Dokki district of Greater Cairo, 30 people were killed as security forces used teargas, shotguns and live ammunition against protesters attempting to reach and cross a bridge leading to Tahrir Square. Eyewitnesses said that armed men in civilian dress attacked demonstrators, in some cases stabbing them as security forces looked on.  According to mortuary records 27 died as a result of live ammunition and three others as a result of shotgun pellet wounds the incident.

At Ibn Sina Hospital, Amnesty International representatives saw five dead bodies lying on the floor in the reception area hours after the clashes. A young man in blood-soaked clothes told the organization that he helped carry several injured protesters to the hospital in his arms.

Amnesty International also met at least five people who had been struck in the eye by shotgun pellets and could go blind or partially blind as a result. Among them was an unemployed father of two who got caught in the violence in Al-Dokki as he left a mosque nearby.

“When I got outside, it was chaos. There was lots of tear gas and [members of the Ministry of] Interior were shooting at protesters. Men dressed in civilian clothes were beside them... I was lost and trying to figure out where to run to, when I was shot in the head with shotgun pellets… There were no ambulances…a guy on a motorbike drove me to the hospital… I have no money for medical treatment how am I going to find work and feed my family now?” he said.

Other eyewitnesses present at the site of the clashes also described scenes of mayhem. One told Amnesty International:
“We came under a rain of shotgun pellets and live ammunition… We were then attacked by ‘thugs’ [men in civilian dress] … Police, soldiers [from the armed forces] and ‘thugs’ were attacking us all at once…”

A number of protesters, including one who was shot in the stomach, said soldiers on foot had attacked the crowd from the side streets in an apparently coordinated attack.  

Sixteen people were shot dead near Ramsis when security forces used live ammunition to disperse a pro-Morsi march aiming to reach Tahrir Square. Among those injured was a 16 year-old schoolboy who was shot in the arm and leg. “One bullet went straight through me and hit the man standing behind me,” he said.

Oum Sara [mother of Sara], a protester also on the scene said: “There was heavy teargas lingering in the air, and bullets whizzing by...People were running away, and security forces were chasing them...We ran with the crowd, people were falling around us.”  

“The Egyptian security forces have an abysmal track record of using disproportionate force during protests. The authorities’ utter disregard for international standards on the lawful use of force suggests that they are prepared to crackdown on Morsi supporters at any cost,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

At least 1,000 people were killed when security forces dispersed pro-Morsi sit-ins and other protests last August.  

Ahead of 6 October, the Egyptian authorities warned that those protesting against the army on that day would pose a threat to national security and would not be considered activists.

“This effectively gave security forces a green light to commit abuses against protesters. The Egyptian authorities must ensure that its statements do not appear to sanction the excessive use of force to avoid further needless blood being spilled,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Hundreds were arrested during the violence or shortly afterwards. Amnesty International fears that some of those arrested were merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. All those arrested must either be charged with recognizably criminal offences or released. Some detainees were held in unofficial places of detention such as riot police camps. Many were denied access to their lawyers and families.

Amnesty International calls on the Egyptian authorities to ensure all in custody are granted immediate access to lawyers, their relatives and any medical attention they require.

*Photo by AHMED GAMEL courtesy of AFP/Getty Images 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gaza chokes as Egyptian army tightens its blockade

The Guardian

Gaza chokes as Egypt's economic garotte tightens

With the network of underground supply tunnels rapidly being shut down, prices have soared for Palestinians in the Strip

Monday 14, October 2013

Harriet Sherwood

In Gaza City's main market Mohammed Hilis stood disconsolately among piles of fruit and vegetables, waiting for customers. In the runup to Eid al-Adha, the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar, the market was unusually quiet. Steep price rises, unpaid salaries and layoffs – the consequences of the new Egyptian regime's antipathy towards Hamas – have been painfully felt by the Gaza Strip.

"A kilo of tomatoes used to be one shekel [17p]; now it is five shekels. Most prices have gone up 50 – 60%," said Hilis. "Why? Because of the costs of transportation, because there is no power to pump water to the fields, because there is no water. So people buy less." As a result, his wages have slumped from 30 – 20 shekels a day, playing its small part in propelling the downward spiral of Gaza's economy.

Six years after Israel imposed a stranglehold on Gaza as a punitive measure against the Hamas government, the strip of land along the Mediterranean is facing a new chokepoint from the south. After the Egyptian military forced President Mohamed Morsi out of office in July amid a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the army embarked on a drive to regain control of the anarchic Sinai peninsula, isolate the Brotherhood's allies in neighbouring Gaza, and halt the traffic in goods, weapons and people through the tunnels under the border with the Palestinian territory.

According to the commander of Egypt's border guards force, Major-General Ahmad Ibrahim, almost 800 tunnels have been destroyed by his troops this year. Hamas is coy about the number of tunnels put out of action. But Hatem Owida, Gaza's deputy economic minister, said activity had been reduced by 80-90% since the military takeover in Egypt.

The impact has been swift and harsh for the people of Gaza. The plentiful supply of cheap Egyptian fuel has almost dried up; fuel from Israel is both scarce and twice the price. The fuel crisis has meant Gaza's daily power cuts now last up to eight hours. Prices of basic foodstuffs have risen, according to Owida: flour is up 9%; cooking oil 4 – 5%; and sugar 7%

The flow of construction materials has also slowed to a trickle, reversing a building boom seen in Gaza in the last few years. As a result of the crisis, Israel has eased its tight restrictions on the import of cement, gravel and iron, but only about 25% of Gaza's needs are being met and prices are around 30% higher. And on Sunday, Israel suspended delivery of construction materials following the discovery of a tunnel between Gaza and Israel, which it said was intended to be used to launch an attack.

The impact on the Gazan building industry has been catastrophic. "This is the second worst year we have known," said Nabil Abu Muaileq, head of the Palestinian Contractors' Union. Only 2008 – after Israel imposed its blockade – was worse. At least 15,000 construction jobs had been lost, he estimated. "The situation is very unstable."

According to a paper produced by the economics ministry, $450m (£280m) was lost to the Gazan economy between mid-June and the end of August as a result of the tunnels closures. More than a quarter of a million jobs have been lost across all sectors, with construction, services, transport and storage, manufacturing and agriculture taking big hits. It is a massive blow to an economy which had been showing small signs of growth.

Now, the beleaguered and overcrowded Gaza Strip faces a new economic free fall. The Hamas government's income has slumped, having lost nearly all its revenue from the taxes imposed on goods brought through the tunnels. "We cannot deny we are affected badly," said Owida. "We've lost about 30% of our income."

Around 47,000 government employees were paid only half their salaries for August, and had received nothing for September, although some payment was expected before the start of Eid.

The new regime in Cairo has also closed the Rafah crossing for long periods, the only exit from Gaza to Egypt. According to Gisha, an Israeli organisation that monitors the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, the number of people leaving through Rafah has fallen by 76% since July.

Although Israel has increased by 24% the much smaller number of permits it grants to exit through the Erez crossing at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, there are still thousands of Palestinians trapped in Gaza: patients unable to access medical treatment; students unable to take up university places; expatriate Gazans unable to return to jobs in the Gulf states and elsewhere.
Fida'a Abu Assi, 25, was supposed to enrol at the University of Indianapolis by the 26 August for a masters in international relations, for which she had won a rare scholarship. On 7 October, the deadline for entry to the US detailed on her documentation, she was still in Gaza City, unable to leave either via Rafah or Erez.

"I blame Israel because they make our lives hell, and I blame Egypt for closing the Rafah border. They know there are students, patients, businessmen trapped here. People's lives are not a game. They are collectively punishing us," she said. "Every time you think things are getting better in Gaza, it gets worse again. You learn not to have any expectations."

Gaza's oldest travel agency, Shurafa Tours, has been dealing with the practical consequences of closures for decades. "People feel they are in a big prison. Every movement needs a permit, there is no schedule for when the crossings will be open, people just have to wait," said the manager, Nabil al-Shurafa, adding that some travellers were rebooking tickets three or four times at huge expense.

The military takeover in Egypt, and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, has had a significant political, as well as economic, impact. "Yes, it's a blow to Hamas," said Taher al-Nounou, an official in the Palestinian movement.

In the past two years, Hamas has loosened its ties with its former sponsors and allies – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – while investing hope and expectation in the regional rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. The strategy now appears to have backfired.

"The isolation imposed on Hamas and the Gaza Strip is now even worse than in the summer of 2007," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University Gaza, referring to the period after Hamas took control of the Strip 18 months after winning elections. In an indication of the chill winds felt by the movement, Hamas leaders have largely gone to ground since the Egyptian coup, rarely travelling and making relatively few public appearances.

"The issue is not just about Egypt and Hamas; the whole region is now becoming more hostile to Islamists," said Abusada. "Hamas looks at this as a new siege of Gaza. And people on the street are sick and tired of being kept in a cage. The situation here could be on the verge of collapse.

Egypt police arrest Briton for wearing police-like clothes

Egypt arrests Briton over police-like clothes

October 14, 2013

CAIRO: Egyptian police said on Monday they had arrested a Briton in the restive north Sinai town of El-Arish in possession of "a black jacket and trousers" similar to police uniforms.

The 44-year-old also had a laptop with a picture of a man suspected of belonging to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that rules neighbouring Gaza, a police statement said.

The statement said police searched for the man after receiving reports of "a foreigner who frequents cafes and mixes with citizens".

"He was found in possession of a black jacket, black trousers and a pair of shoes suspected of being a Central Security Forces uniform," the statement said, adding he also had two mobile phones along with the laptop.

Wearing clothes that resemble police or military uniforms can lead to arrest in Egypt.

The statement came a day after an American man arrested in north Sinai in August hanged himself in a jail cell.

James Lunn had been detained for violating a curfew imposed in August as security forces battled loyalists of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Britain advises its citizens against all travel to north Sinai.

The province has seen a spate of attacks on the security forces since the army's July 3 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and a subsequent crackdown on his supporters.

Egyptian student tortured to death in police custody

Daily News Egypt

Student dies in custody

Ministry of Interior claimed he is in custody and still alive, now claiming that he drowned to death


El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence proclaimed on Wednesday that a detained student was tortured to death after being arrested and sent to Al-Salam Camp on 6 October.

The deceased is Omar Mohamed Khalifa Al-Sayed, a 21 year old engineering student who partook in the 6 October Pro-Morsi protests last Sunday near Qasr Al-Einy Street.

The Ministry of Interior stated on Friday that “Khalifa is detained under the jurisdiction of Qasr Al-Nil police station after partaking in the 6 October protests, a case was filed and media reports about his death are false, the student is in good health”

Al-Nadeem centre said that the Ministry of Interior told the Khalifa’s parents that he drowned to his death.
Last month, a French citizen who was detained for breaking the curfew in Zamalek, was attacked by his cellmates and later died of his injuries, in the same police station where Khalifa allegedly died.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights condemned on Tuesday the brutality faced by many detainees and called on the officials responsible for their safety to be investigated, claiming that 24 individuals have died over the past year within Egyptian prisons.

The Front to Defend Egypt’s Protestors recorded the arrest of Khalifa as detainee number 81, case file number 9993 Qasr Al-Nil Misdemeanors .

American man found hanged in Egyptian jail cell

ABC News

US Man Found Hanged in Egypt Jail Cell

Oct. 13, 2013


An American man was found hanged in a jail cell on Sunday in a police station near the banks of the Suez Canal.

The man, identified by the U.S. state department as 66-year-old James Lunn, had apparently committed suicide. He had been arrested on August 29 for breaking the curfew put in place amid the violent unrest that followed the military's ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in early July.

The American embassy in Cairo confirmed the death to ABC News, saying he died of "apparent suicide." The State Department also issued confirmation of the death today, and said that his family has been contacted.

Egypt officials had identified Lunn as a retired U.S. Army officer, but the U.S. State Department said Sunday that he was not a veteran.

Lunn was found after breakfast was served in the Ismailia police station, hung from the bathroom door of his prison cell, Egypt's public prosecutor said. A black belt wrapped around his neck was attached with string to both his shoes, which were tangled up on the other side of the door, according to the prosecutor. 

The statement said that blood was seen coming from his nose and that he had already died when they found him.

His body was then sent to the morgue at the main hospital in the city for an autopsy. Egypt's public prosecutor has now ordered an official investigation into the death.

Lunn had been living alone in a town called Sheikh Zuwayed in the northeast of the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian state news agency MENA reported at the time of his arrest. He was reportedly on his way to the Palestinian Gaza Strip when he was arrested for breaking the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew.

Lunn had been arrested for breaking curfew in the Sheikh Zuweyid area, where a terrorist operation was carried out targeting a police station with a car bomb, according to a statement from the prosecutor's office. Authorities found him in possession of an Egyptian map and an electronic device that's currently being examined.

A consular team from the embassy had visited him at the jail last week but the embassy declined to say what Lunn was doing in the Sinai, the most violent part of the country.

Since Morsi was deposed, the already lawless Sinai has grown increasingly bloody. The ouster was followed by a military and police crackdown and there have been almost daily attacks against security targets by Islamic militants. On Friday, three soldiers and one policeman were killed when a suicide bomber drove a car bomb into a checkpoint.

*Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Two Canadians jailed in Egypt return home


John Greyson and Tarek Loubani: Canadians jailed in Egypt return home

John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were warmly greeted by family and friends when they arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport.

 Fri Oct. 11 2013

Saying “we owe you our freedom” two Canadians who spent seven weeks in an Egyptian prison returned home to Canada on Friday evening expressing gratitude to everyone who fought for their release.

John Greyson and Tarek Loubani were warmly greeted by family and friends when they arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport.

We’re delighted to be here, to be free,” Loubani said.

“We want to thank our friends, our families — those people who stood by us were steadfast in their belief that we were innocent,” Loubani said.

“Your hard work mattered, your voice mattered, it made a difference, we owe you our freedom,” he said.
Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and professor, and Loubani, a London, Ont., doctor, were arrested Aug. 16 after they said they went to check out anti-government protests in Cairo.

Greyson said they were detained without charges after being “swept up in a brutal roundup.”

“We were beaten, we were housed in very cramped conditions, sleeping on the concrete with cockroaches,” he said. “We sometimes despaired, sometimes quarreled.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other government officials waged an aggressive campaign for their release, which came last weekend.

But they were prevented from boarding a flight out of the country that same day after their names appeared on a “stop-list” issued by prosecutors.

Badr Abdel-Atty, Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the two were accused of participating in illegal protests and or resisting authorities during arrest, like many others during a protest by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

But Abdel-Atty said Thursday that accusations against them had been dropped and the pair had been cleared to leave Egypt.

The two Canadians said Loubani heeded a call for a doctor and began treating wounded demonstrators while Greyson recorded the unrest on video.

The two have said they only intended to stay overnight in Cairo on their way to Gaza and acknowledged on Friday it was unwise for them to take a look at the protests in the Egyptian capital.

“In hindsight it’s really obvious we made mistakes,” Loubani said, who admitted they misjudged how Egyptian authorities would view their actions.

Loubani said he learned some practical things during their imprisonment such as how to make a jailhouse kettle out of “two nails, two bottle caps and some wire.”

“I can show you if you’re interested,” he said to reporters.

He also said they learned to make an alcoholic drink out of macaroni and sugar: “Incredibly strong — just boil it, let it ferment for three days.”

Greyson did touch on politics in their news conference following their arrival in Toronto.

“We call out the collusion of Western powers seemingly unwilling to denounce military violence against peaceful citizens, and perhaps most crucially on the ongoing role of billions in U.S. military aid ... that is helping return Egypt to a nightmare of military dictatorship,” Greyson said.

Egypt: Boat sinking underlines wider tragedy for Syrian refugees


Egypt: Boat sinking underlines wider tragedy for refugees from Syria 

11 October 2013

Today’s shipwreck off the coast of Alexandria that drowned at least 12 people, many believed to be refugees from Syria, highlights the crushing life-and-death decisions facing many who fled to Egypt to escape Syria’s armed conflict, Amnesty International said.

The organization is due to launch a briefing next week on the plight of refugees from Syria in Egypt, and currently has a delegation on the ground researching the situation.

“Our research has shown how the backdrop to today’s terrible boat accident is a much wider tragedy. Refugees from Syria are compelled to risk life and limb yet again in Egypt after facing arbitrary arrests, detentions and increased hostility,” said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty International's Head of Refugee and Migrants' Rights.

“Refugees from Syria have fled the depths of despair to seek safety in Egypt. But instead of providing shelter and hope for a new life, the Egyptian authorities’ actions are compelling many refugees from Syria into life-threatening situations, including entrusting their lives to smugglers in order to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.”

According to media reports, at least 100 people were rescued from today’s shipwreck and taken to a naval base and then to a police station in Alexandria. It is unknown what will happen to them next.

A second boat carrying migrants from Tunisia to Italy also reportedly sank off the coast of the island of Lampedusa today.

The shipwrecks come just a week after another tragic sinking off the coast of Lampedusa in Italy, in which more than 100 migrants and asylum-seekers – mainly Eritreans and Somalis – were killed when the overcrowded vessel carrying them sank after reportedly catching fire.

Egyptian Christians scapegoated after dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins


Egypt: Christians scapegoated after dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins

9 October 2013 


A detailed report into the attacks targeting Coptic Christian communities in August reveals the extent of the failure of the security services to protect the minority group, said Amnesty International.

The new report published today examines events during the unprecedented wave of sectarian attacks in the wake of the dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August.

It details how security forces failed to prevent angry mobs attacks on Christian churches, schools and charity buildings, setting them ablaze and razing some to the ground. At least four people were killed.

“It is deeply disturbing that the Christian community across Egypt was singled out for revenge attacks over the events in Cairo by some supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“In light of previous attacks, particularly since Morsi’s outsing on 3 July, a backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated, yet security forces failed to prevent attacks or intervene to put an end to the violence.”

Amnesty International urges the Egyptian authorities to conduct an impartial, independent investigation into these sectarian attacks, and to take immediate steps to prevent their recurrence. A comprehensive strategy to fight discrimination against religious minorities must be devised and implemented. Discriminatory laws and policies must be repealed.

“Failure to bring to justice those responsible for sectarian attacks sends the message that Copts and other religious minorities are fair game. The authorities must make it absolutely clear that sectarian attacks will not be tolerated,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

More than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches were seriously damaged across the country in the aftermath of events on 14 August.

One Coptic Christian from the governorate of Fayoum described his dismay at the violence: “Why is it when there is a problem, Christians always pay the price? What do we have to do with the events in Cairo to be punished like this?”

Amnesty International visited sites of the sectarian violence in Al-Minya, Fayoum and Greater Cairo to gather evidence from eyewitnesses, local officials and religious leaders.

In several instances residents said mobs of angry men armed with firearms, metal bars and knives had ransacked churches and Christian properties. Many chanted slogans such as “God is Great” or used derogatory terms like “you Christian dogs” as they launched their attacks.

Historical and religious relics were desecrated. Graffiti left scrawled upon walls in the aftermath of the attacks included slogans such as “Morsi is my President” and “They killed our brothers during prayer”.

The messages leave little doubt as to the sectarian nature of the attacks and link the events firmly to the crackdown against Morsi supporters in Cairo. Attacks were frequently preceded by incitement from local mosques and religious leaders.

“Given the fact that these attacks were in retaliation for the crackdown on pro-Morsi sit-ins, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood said too little too late, and laid the blame on ‘thugs’ distancing their supporters from the attacks” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “They must condemn their supporters’ actions and urge them to refrain from sectarian attacks and the use of sectarian language.”

In Al-Minya, where most of the attacks occurred, a journalist, Zeinab Ismail, who witnessed scenes of violence, said attackers were armed with machetes and swords.

Some residents were attacked in their homes. The body of a 60-year-old Coptic Christian man shot dead at home in the village of Delga in Al-Minya, was later dragged through the streets by a tractor. After he was buried his grave was dug up twice.

“Any investigation must also examine the role of the security forces. Some incidents lasted for hours and recurred in subsequent days,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “Why were the security forces unable to prevent and put an end to such attacks?”

There is a long history of abuse and discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt. A litany of attacks occurred under Hosni Mubarak, military rule and Mohamed Morsi.

The release of Amnesty International’s new briefing coincides with the second anniversary of a bloody crackdown by the armed forces on protesters, outside the state television building known as Maspero in Cairo on 9 October 2011, in which 26 Coptic Christians protesters and a Muslim were killed.

Impunity for these attacks is entrenched. For Maspero, only three low-ranking soldiers were sentenced to prison terms between two and three years for manslaughter.

‘Reconciliation sessions’ – the favoured method by authorities to resolve sectarian disputes in Egypt – have so far only consolidated the feelings of injustice among minority communities and allowed perpetrators to walk free. Proper mechanisms to protect religious minorities and safeguard their rights must instead be introduced.

“For too long the Christians of Egypt have borne the brunt of sectarian violence. This pattern of inaction by the authorities must change,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Words of condemnation must be backed up by concrete steps to provide adequate protection to religious minorities. The state must ensure full reparation, including financial compensation, to the victims of sectarian attacks. 

The rebuilding of places of worship must be also be prioritized and legal obstacles to building churches immediately repealed. Without such concrete measures, Coptic Christians, once again, would just have been used as an excuse to settle political scores.”


Successive governments have failed to address discrimination and targeting of religious minorities in Egypt. Under Hosni Mubarak at least 15 major attacks against Copts were documented. Following the fall of Mubarak, under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, deadly sectarian clashes continued to take place. The situation also failed to improve under Mohamed Morsi, attacks against Copts continued and anti-Christian rhetoric was stepped up. Christian communities have for decades faced legal and bureaucratic hurdles to build and restore places of worship.

*Photo by VIRGINIE NGUYEN HOANG courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

US arms industry profits from aid funds to Egypt

DW News

US arms industry profits from aid funds to Egypt

The EU has put on hold arms shipments to Egypt, while the US continues to support the Egyptian military. Defense contractors in the US stand to profit. 

Oct. 8, 2013

It seemed to be a difficult answer for Barack Obama. The US president appeared to weigh every word when he was asked during a TV interview in August why the US has not cut military aid to Egypt.

"What we’re doing right now is a full evaluation of the US-Egyptian relationship," he replied. "There’s no doubt that at this point we’ve got to take a look and see what is in the interest of the Egyptian people, and what is in the interest of the United States."

The US annually sends Egypt $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in aid funds, and a hefty $1.3 billion of that goes to the military. Military aid has been under criticism since Egypt's military ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July – but the US government has held firm. Observers say the US could lose its military privileges in the region if it cuts aid, thereby endangering America's security interests.

Obama did not breathe a word about a little-known aspect of the military aid: the program is not only of political significance but it's also closely linked to the interests of the US arms industry, and backed by a powerful lobby.

The money never reaches Egypt

Under a military aid agreement, the aid for Egypt in fact never leaves the United States. As soon as the US Congress approves the payments, the money goes to an account at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. The bank transfers the aid to a trust fund at the Treasury, and from there to US military contractors and suppliers.

The contracting parties, some of them multinational groups with subsidiaries in the US, must be based in the US and it is essential that they employ personnel in the US. As a result, the financial aid does not go to Cairo, but to America's heartland, creating more or less state-subsidized jobs.

Impact on employment

US military aid in Egypt dates back to the 1979 Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty. Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab World, is regarded as an important pillar of US foreign policies in the Arab world, not least due to the strategically important Suez Canal, controlled by Egypt and connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Over the decades, the aid to Egypt was often questioned in the US Congress, said Shana Marshall, a political scientist at the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University. When someone raises an objection to the military assistance program, which is once every few years, "usually the defense industry will send a team of lobbyists to visit different people in Congress to make the argument that the military assistance should continue, " she said.

"This argument is based not only on these sort of geostrategic questions but also on the number of jobs and production lines that may be put at risk if the military assistance program were to be scratched."

Tanks in storage

This year, the debate had an additional domestic component: since the spring, the US has been grappling with deep budget cuts aimed at reducing the budget deficit. The US military is one of the hardest-hit sectors. Production of new military hardware has been cut back, and that in turn affects the arms industry. Some companies, fearful of having to dismiss highly qualified workers who might move on to other sectors, have demanded contracts in arms exports as a "trade-off." It is not clear in how far such demands are met by the state.

What is clear, however, is that not all military hardware the Egyptian military purchases with US funds is actually needed and used. "There are tanks that are just sitting in warehouses in Egypt right now," said Jason Brownlee, an expert on US-Egyptian relations at the University of Texas. "Overall, there’s not a compelling argument for providing a lot more traditional hardware to the Egyptian military."

US government is a signatory

Experts agree that the US benefits politically from the partnership with Egypt. The extent of aid payments is comparatively small in view of the many privileges the country enjoys in the region. The needs of the domestic arms companies - despite their great influence - most likely play a minor role in the decision of whether to continue the military aid.

What if the payments were stopped for political reasons? The US government is a co-signatory in the Egyptian military's contracts with US companies. Washington guarantees the weapons will be sold. "To offset their loss in that case, US arms firms that had very lucrative contracts with Egypt would probably simply receive similar contracts with other countries, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Somalia," Marshall says.

In Obama's August TV interview, the interviewer seemed satisfied with the president's evasive answer. Obama last commented on the Egyptian aid in a speech to the United Nations last month. He repeated that relations were still under review. The last aid payment for 2013 was assigned at the beginning of this month.

Currently, the government shutdown has benn dominating US headlines. Public interest in the aid to Egypt has decreased and the pressure on Obama has lessened. So the military assistance continues, much as it has for more than 30 years, to the benefit of the Egyptian military and the US armament industry.

*Photo courtesy of DPA