Monday, September 29, 2014

Textile workers killed in factory collapse, others shot by police at labor protest

Mada Masr

Textile workers killed in factory collapse, shot in labor protest

September 16, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Egypt’s textile industry was dealt a hand of fatal blows this week when a garment factory collapsed in Obour City, claiming at least five lives, and at least seven textile workers were shot by police forces in Alexandria when a labor protest turned violent.

On Tuesday, rescue teams recovered the fifth body from the rubble of a garment dying factory that collapsed early on Monday morning in Obour City, an industrial area outside of Cairo. The incident also reportedly injured more than 30 workers, who were on the night shift at the time of the accident.

On Monday, the Agence France-Presse reported six casualties, but local media only report five deaths.

Factory workers and witnesses attributed the fatal accident to the unauthorized construction of a third floor in the factory. Nearly half the company’s workforce was inside the building when one of the new ceilings reportedly caved-in.

The prosecutor general’s office sought to question factory owner Bekheit Ramzy Beshaiy regarding the incident, but he and the company’s three co-owners could not be located, the privately owned newspaper Youm7 reported on Tuesday. The prosecutor has banned the four men from travel, according to the newspaper.

The factory’s architects and engineers are also being investigated in the incident.

Compensation is being sought for the injured and deceased workers, while lawsuits are also reportedly being filed. The prosecutor is considering leveling criminal liability charges against the company owners, the newspaper said.

Factory workers blamed the owners’ “greed and neglect of safety standards” for the tragedy, reported the privately owned news site Al-Badeel. They also criticized the “slow response from emergency services” to recover their coworkers’ bodies from the rubble.

Elsewhere in the textile industry, on Sunday police forces shot seven workers from the Alexandria Textiles Company and arrested 14 others during a labor protest.

The workers’ league at the company issued a statement online claiming that hundreds rallied outside the company gates on Sunday to peacefully protest for the payment of their overdue bonuses and wages, which are two months late.

Police forces were deployed to forcefully disperse the protest, the statement continued, alleging that Central Security Forces fired tear gas and birdshot, injuring six workers, while a seventh was reportedly shot with a lead bullet.

The injured protesters are in serious condition. No fatalities have been reported in the incident.

The 14 workers arrested during the protest were released from detention Monday night pending investigations, reported the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

On Tuesday, the privately owned Al-Mogaz news site published statements attributed to the protesting workers, declaring that they would not allow any raw materials into the factory or release any textiles until the overdue wages were paid in full.

Prosecutors in Alexandria called the workers’ protest actions “unauthorized,” Al-Ahram reported, and accused them of “blocking roads, obstructing traffic and transportation, thuggery and terrorizing the populace.”

The state-owned paper did not report any excessive use of police force against the demonstrators


 *Photo of collapsed factory in Obour City courtesy of Al-Badeel Website

Critically ill hunger-striker denied crucial medical care

Egypt: Critically ill hunger-striker denied crucial medical care 

September 19, 2014

The Egyptian authorities are putting at risk the life of a jailed activist, whose health has sharply deteriorated after more than 230 days on hunger strike, by denying him sustained medical care and placing him in solitary confinement, said Amnesty International.

Mohamed Soltan, a dual US-Egyptian national, is among 86 jailed activists who are on hunger strike in prisons and police stations across Egypt in protest at the dire conditions in which they are held, or in some cases, their prolonged pre-charge or pre-trial detention and unfair trials. They are also protesting against the repressive protest law that many are accused of breaching.

Mohamed Soltan’s family have warned that his health is in a critical state and he is at imminent risk of organ failure.

“Denying medical care to someone who is critically ill is not just callous and cruel, but blatantly unlawful,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa programme.

“The authorities have an obligation to ensure that all detainees in their custody are granted access to adequate medical care.”

Mohamed Soltan has been placed in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab maximum security prison as punishment for his hunger strike. According to his lawyer, prison authorities only transfer him to the prison medical unit when he loses consciousness. He is returned to his cell each time he comes round.
Mohamed Soltan was arrested in August 2013 during the crackdown against pro-Morsi supporters at Rabaa Al Adeweya Square. He had been working with a media committee which reported violations by the security forces against pro-Morsi supporters since his ousting.

Mohamed Soltan has been charged with “funding the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in” and spreading “false information” to destabilize the country. The security forces raided Mohamed Soltan’s home in Cairo on 25 August 2013, looking for his father, Salah Soltan, a Muslim Brotherhood figure. The security forces arrested Mohamed Soltan and three of his friends when they did not find his father.

“Mohamed Soltan should not have been in jail in the first place and what he is accused of should not be a criminal offence.  Now, the authorities are toying with his life in this manner,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. "He should be released without delay."

According to official statistics, the Egyptian authorities continue to hold at least 16,000 detainees, in prisons and police stations since the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi. Their conditions of detention frequently fall far short of international human rights standards and may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Often the detainees face trumped up or politically motivated charges and trials that fall far short of international standards.

The Egyptian authorities must abide by their international obligations, including by carrying out fair trials that meet international standards and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

In another case illustrating the inhumane treatment of hunger-strikers, security forces attempted to force Ibrahim El Yamany to end his hunger strike by placing him in solitary confinement for 20 days and tying his arms and legs to the bars of his cell door for several hours in Wadi al Natroun Prison. 

He has been on hunger strike for more than 150 days. He was detained for his work in a field hospital during protests in Ramsis Square, in Cairo on 16 and 17 August 2013. He is charged with belonging to a banned group, protesting without authorization and using violence, among other charges.

“The authorities have an obligation to ensure the right to health of all detainees, including hunger strikers,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Punishing detainees to force them to end their hunger strike is a violation of their right to freedom of expression. Such treatment in Egypt’s notorious prisons must end now.”

There are other prisons across Egypt where detainees held in harsh detention conditions are on hunger strike. According to “Freedom for the Brave Campaign” a support group for prisoners, at least 57 detainees are on hunger strike in Abu Zabaal Prison in Cairo and at least 15 are on hunger strike in Tora Prison.

Other prominent detainees on hunger strike include the well-known blogger Ahmed Douma, who is serving a three year prison sentence for defying Egypt’s draconian protest law. Also among them is Sanaa Seif, a well-known activist who has been on hunger strike since 28 August 2014.

Her father, the tireless human rights lawyer, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, passed away last month. She is on hunger strike in protest at the authorities’ refusal to allow her to spend some time with her father in his final days.

Outside of prison, at least 54 activists and human rights defenders are on hunger strike in solidarity with those in detention including Sanaa’s sister, Mona Seif and Aida Seif El Dawla, executive director at al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.

*Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Egypt hunger strike movement gains momentum - inside & outside prison


Egypt hunger strikes gain momentum

A nationwide hunger strike is gaining support in Egypt against the country's controversial Protest Law

September 14, 2014
Cairo, Egypt - As Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi heads to New York next week for the UN General Assembly, he leaves behind a country with a growing movement of hunger strikers calling for the release of detainees jailed under a controversial Protest Law.

Several political parties and journalists began a symbolic nationwide hunger strike on Saturday to demand the release of detainees held for violating a law enacted last year that has been criticised by both domestic and international human rights groups, as well as prominent political figures, as curtailing peoples' right to protest.

Laila Soueif, an assistant professor of mathematics at Cairo University, whose two children, Sanaa and Alaa, are in jail for demonstrating against the law, has been on hunger strike with her only child that remains out of jail, Mona Seif, since September 4.

"I'm on a hunger strike until my children are released, and all those in their two cases are released with them," she said. "The circle of people joining our hunger strike increases every day. We haven't reached the stage yet to achieve what is needed, but as long as more people keep joining our protest then this is a success."

The nationwide strike coincided with the court session of Soueif's daughter, Sanaa, a human rights defender, and 22 other detainees. They were jailed on June 21 after they denounced the law in front of the Ettehadiya presidential palace in Cairo. Their case has been adjourned until October 21, with all the detainees - which include prominent human rights activists, lawyers and journalists - remaining in jail.

Sanaa's brother, prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, is also in jail in a separate case. In June, Alaa and 24 others were sentenced to 15 years in prison for participating in a protest outside the Shura Council, Egypt's consultative assembly, last year.

His retrial, along with the other Shura Council detainees, resumed on September 10. During the hearing, the prosecution showed a home video of Alaa's wife belly dancing as evidence against him, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Taher Abul-Nasr, the lead defence lawyer, told the court the video was taken from a computer seized from the couple's home without a search warrant, and called the material irrelevant and defamatory. None of the video evidence presented showed Abdel Fattah or any other defendants in the case. The retrial is set to resume on September 15.

Alaa and Sanaa's father, Ahmed Seif, an internationally-respected human rights lawyer who was on their defence team, died on August 27. In January, at a press conference while Alaa was in jail, Seif addressed his son: "I wanted you to inherit a democratic society that guards your rights, my son, but instead I passed on the prison cell that held me, and now holds you."

Sanaa and Alaa have joined at least 63 other detainees who are refraining from food in jail, according to the Freedom to the Brave campaign group, which was formed in January to call for the release of the increasing number of people they say are being unjustly detained.

"The hunger strikes are an expression of desperation, because of the extreme level of political and human rights abuses in Egypt," said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington DC based think-tank.

"It's become so difficult to protest in the ways Egyptians were used to in the past, because of the very draconian Protest Law. Even the media is more closed, and civil society is under threat," Dunne said.

Egypt has come under increased criticism by domestic and international human rights groups since the army deposed former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, after a wave of mass protests calling on him to resign. Sisi, then acting as the country's defence minister, led Morsi's ouster.
In a joint statement on June 10, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Sisi would be taking office as president "in the midst of a human rights crisis as dire as in any period in the country's modern history."

They criticised excessive use of force by security forces, leading to the worst incident of mass unlawful killings in Egypt's recent history, unprecedented large-scale death sentences, mass arrests and torture. They described it as hearkening "back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak's rule".

The Protest Law was enacted in November 2013 by Egypt's then interim president, Adly Mansour, banning protests without prior police notification. "The draft law seeks to criminalise all forms of peaceful assembly, including demonstrations and public meetings, and gives the state free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by use of force," read a joint statement issued in November 2013 by 19 Egyptian rights organisations.

The legislation has been used against supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group and Morsi, as well as secular political activists and youth protesters that led the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.
Supporters of the law say it is necessary to stabilise a country that has been rocked by protests since 2011. When Sisi was campaigning for the presidency in May, he defended the law, saying that "irresponsible" demonstrations threaten the state, according to the state-owned Ahram Online news website. 

Since the 2011 uprising, Egypt's economy has been stuck in its deepest slump in two decades, according to Bloomberg News, as tourists and investors have been deterred by political instability.
But as domestic and international rights groups have criticised recent moves by the government to impose greater state control over non-governmental organisations, Sisi does not seem shaken.

"Sisi and the Egyptian government have been quite insensitive to protests. It's quite unlike the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled after Mubarak stepped down, and before Morsi's election. Those leaders felt they were on shaky grounds, and they often did respond to street protests. That doesn't seem to be the case here," Dunne said.

Laila Soueif, the sister of prominent novelist Ahdaf Soueif, said she had no faith in Egypt's judiciary and is relying entirely on public opinion to help release the detainees. "In order to protect the progress we have made in our rights and freedoms, we need a new system of government around the world, based not on repression, but on negotiation and compromise," she said.

*Art by Carlos Latuff

Egypt: State-worship mocked in revolutionary artworks


Photo Essay: Worshiping the Egyptian State

September 9, 2014

Angela Boskovitch

Abo Bakr was an assistant professor of fine arts before the events of January 2011, when he turned the city walls into his canvas and the street into a kind of open-air classroom.

“When you fight with the regime, you fight with yourself and your profession too, because art institutions are really lacking here,” he said.

It’s not uncommon for public museums to be closed for years in Egypt with no planned reopening. The famed Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum has been closed since 2010, when a prized Van Gogh painting was stolen. Twenty-five other museums were subsequently closed due to security concerns raised by the theft, and though some have since reopened, they conduct little public educational outreach and are largely not visited by locals.

Artists and independent cultural actors have stepped in to fill the void with street art projects and independent cultural spaces.

Prior to his participation in Amen, a CARAVAN group exhibition, Abo Bakr’s work has been featured in several other exhibitions and murals since the events of 2011. Egyptian artwork over this period, documented in countless photographs shared by social media users, has created a kind of visual memory of the revolution.

Murals and graffiti have recorded events as they happened; for example, a mural on Mohamed Mahmoud Street done in February 2012 displayed the portraits of those killed in the Port Said football massacre.

And in November 2013, the revolutionaries and artists painted a pink camouflage mural as a commentary about authoritarian leaders who act with impunity, disputing the official narrative that conflated all protesters with supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president.

For this sculpture, Abo Bakr took the pink camouflage motif he and others painted last year as his starting point. The figure kneels on a prayer mat designed to resemble a popular board game with the image of an anonymous general at the helm.

“Religion is part of the game of power here in Egypt,” the artist said.

Referring to his sculpture, he adds “I didn’t paint something beautiful, but something that people should see now. This figure represents anyone who worships strongmen.” Abo Bakr’s praying figure prompts viewers to reexamine President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s statements and question how religious arguments are used by political figures to gain popular support.

During media and campaign appearances, Sisi has leveraged the Islamist dialogue with frequent references to God and morality. In his first ever TV interview broadcast on May 5, then-candidate Sisi said he was “an Egyptian Muslim who loves his country, religion, and people” and reminisced about growing up in an old Cairo quarter where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together.

The former military head billed himself as the defender of “moderate Islam,” implying that religious discourse of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood had “robbed Islam of its humanity.”

Before that pre-recorded interview aired, Sisi met with members of the media in a forum on May 3 where he talked of his unwavering faith, saying that God wouldn’t abandon Egyptians after all they’d gone through, and that as president he’d only be accountable to God and the Egyptian people.

Abo Bakr’s CARAVAN sculpture also wears a military-style hat. At the center of it is a triangular sign with an exclamation mark that one encounters on the road warning of dangers ahead—this is intended to jolt the audience. “The idea is to wake people up and link events happening around them,” Abo Bakr explained.

The statue is also peppered with finely drawn small flies representing corruption, a reference to the military-owned companies that operate in nearly every sector without effective oversight or transparency.

Despite the country experiencing daily power cuts, $10 billion in gas revenues had been lost between 2005 and 2011 in corrupt contracts that under-priced exports, and citizens are still paying the price for elite networks of corruption.

Also in keeping with his cartoonist-like commentary, Abo Bakr stenciled the flag of Saudi Arabia as a kind of brand label on his sculpture’s back—referencing the growing influence of the kingdom on the Egyptian state. Saudi-Egyptian joint ventures carry out mega development projects throughout the country, often on state-owned land, and the kingdom has granted Egypt more than $12 billion in much-needed aid after the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

King Abdullah’s first visit to Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster came on June 20, 2014—a way to congratulate the former defense minister who once served as military attaché in Riyadh on winning the presidency. When Sisi then visited Saudi Arabia on August 10, he was awarded the King Abdulaziz Necklace, the country’s highest and most prestigious medal.

The inclusion of the symbolically painted sculpture in the CARAVAN exhibition is a testament to the work of a new generation of Egyptian artists. “The country’s younger artists are using an international code of language,” explained Josef Danner, who included the artwork of young Egyptian artists in his 2013 poster project that covered billboards around Austria.

“They pick up ready-made images that are part of the collective identity and then rework and combine them surrealistically using new technologies in a way that really shocks the older generation of artists.”

Many younger artists like Abo Bakr say they’ve chosen to leave the constraining hierarchy of art academies and institutions in order to contribute critical media at a pivotal time in history. Ironically, this artwork has now made it back into the more traditional art space.

*Photos by Angela Boskovitch & Amanda Mustard

Egypt: Release 7 men jailed on charges of homosexuality

Unlawful Arrests Undermine Basic Freedoms, Rule of Law
September 9, 2014
(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should immediately release seven men arrested on September 6, 2014 for allegedly “inciting debauchery,” Human Rights Watch said today.  Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat ordered the men detained and “physically examined” after an online video emerged showing the men attending what appeared to be a same-sex marriage ceremony on a Nile riverboat.

The arrests are the latest of a long line of cases in which Egyptian authorities have persecuted men suspected of homosexual conduct. In the most recent convictions, in April, four men were sentenced to up to eight years in prison.

“Over the years, Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested, tortured, and detained men suspected of consensual homosexual conduct,” said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “These arrests represent another assault on fundamental human rights and reflect the Egyptian government’s growing disdain for the rule of law.”

In a statement announcing the arrests, the prosecutor general’s office accused the men of broadcasting footage that “violates public decency,” and urged investigators to quickly refer the suspects to trial, “to protect social values and mete out justice.” The state news agency said that authorities are still searching for two men allegedly involved in the incident, which they have described as a “devilish shameless party.”

One of the men involved in the incident reportedly phoned in to an Egyptian television news program to deny that he was homosexual or that the filmed event was a gay marriage. He said the publication of the video, on YouTube, had made him afraid to appear in public.

As the prosecutor general had directed, the arrested suspects were subjected to forensic anal examinations—a procedure which the Egyptian authorities have used repeatedly in cases of alleged homosexual conduct—and which violates international standards against torture.

In the past, those subjected to the examinations in Egypt said they were forced to bend over while a government doctor working for the police massaged their buttocks and examined and sometimes probed their anus.

“Findings” from such examinations have been used in court, though experts have dismissed them as medically and scientifically useless in determining whether consensual anal sex has taken place.

Hisham Abdel Hamid, a spokesman for the Health Ministry’s Forensic Medical Authority, announced on September 8 that, based on results of the forensic anal exams, the men were “not homosexuals.”

Egypt does not explicitly criminalize same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults, but same-sex marriage is not legal, and authorities have routinely arrested people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of “debauchery.”

In October 2013, prosecutors ordered 14 suspects detained and subjected to anal examinations for engaging in homosexual conduct at a medical center in Cairo. In April, four men were convicted of “debauchery” and sentenced to up to eight years in prison after holding parties where authorities found makeup and women’s clothing and which allegedly involved consensual homosexual conduct.

The largest such case in recent Egyptian history, known as the Queen Boat Trials, occurred in 2001with the arrests of more than 50 men allegedly involved in a party at a discotheque on a cruise vessel moored in the Nile.

Egyptian authorities have also sexually assaulted women using the excuse of similarly abusive medical examinations. In 2011, seven women were subjected to “virginity tests” by military authorities after protests in Tahrir Square. The military has never adequately investigated the assaults or held any officer accountable.

In 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in the case of Toonen v. Australia that laws criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct between adults violate the rights to nondiscrimination and privacy.

The committee monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is party. Furthermore, Egypt’s use of forensic anal examinations violates international standards against torture. The U.N. Committee Against Torture, in its 2002 review of Egypt, investigated the issue of forensic anal examinations and called on the government “to prevent all degrading treatment on the occasion of body searches.”

In the 14 months since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military, at least 22,000 Egyptians have been arrested, many of them for expressing political dissent.

One Egyptian non-governmental organization has documented over 41,000 arrests or indictments in the same period. Authorities have held many detainees without charge or trial for months, amid mounting reports of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.

“Egyptian authorities should immediately end the practice of arbitrarily arresting and torturing adults who are privately engaged in consensual sexual relations,” Reid said. “These latest arrests are an ominous indication that President al-Sisi’s government will show no greater respect for the rights of vulnerable groups than its predecessors.”

Little to celebrate on Egypt's 62nd 'National Farmers' Day'

Mada Masr
Egypt Commemorates its 62nd 'National Farmers' Day'

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Amidst little fanfare, Egypt commemorated its National Farmers’ Day on Tuesday, marking 62 years since populist agrarian reforms were introduced by the country’s military leadership on September 9, 1952.

However, Egypt’s 12 million farmers do not appear to have much to celebrate this year, and this symbolic commemoration appears to have gone largely forgotten.

Unlike Labor Day – which is officially celebrated on May 1 – September 9 is not a paid holiday away from work.

Osama al-Khouli, a farmer from the Nile Delta governorate of Monufiya told Mada Masr that “National Farmers’ Day is no longer celebrated or even recognized as a holiday in our governorate.”

“The condition of Egypt’s small farmers seems to be moving from bad to worse,” he added.
"The commemoration of Egypt’s farmers ended after the days of [former President Gamal] Abdel Nasser, and is no longer of any real relevance in Monufiya, or the other governorates.”

After overthrowing the monarchy in July 1952, populist agrarian reform laws were issued by the then-ruling Free Officers within weeks of their military coup.

Celebrations, as well as the recognition of the rights of peasants and farmers, followed in September 1952, along with attempts to limit mass land ownership by feudalist families – who controlled a majority of the agricultural land and production.

The Free Officers' Movement decreed the establishment of state-sponsored agricultural cooperatives for farmers working on less than five feddans (little over five acres), while a maximum limit for land ownership – 300 feddans – was imposed on large land-owning families.

However, most of these reforms have since been turned back under the regimes of Anwar Sadat, Hosni Mubarak and their successors.

In an interview with the privately owned news website Al-Mogaz on Tuesday, farmer Ramadan Gamal said: “We don’t know when Farmers’ Day is commemorated,” adding that it is of little significance to him.

"We feel forgotten and marginalized,” Gamal claimed, adding that National Farmers’ Day is merely a "symbolic state commemoration."

"In reality," he added, "the state doesn’t care about our rights.”

Khouli explained that over the past few decades, peasants and small farmers across Egypt have been demanding – and occasionally protesting for – access to affordable chemical fertilizers, improved irrigation networks, the sale of their produce to the Ministry of Agriculture for adequate or profitable prices, the provision of empty plots of state-owned land (for reclamation and farming), along with the lifting of interest or accumulated-debts from agricultural loans from banks.

"We've witnessed little to no action from the state in terms of assisting needy farmers," Khouli said. "The Ministry of Agriculture and its cooperatives appear to have washed their hands of our many grievances.”

“In Monufiya, the globally renowned long-staple cotton is disappearing from our fields. This is a phenomenon that is happening nationwide, and is also affecting our production of textiles. Both Egypt’s agricultural and textile industries now face a grim future," he warned.

Khouli and his late father, Abdel Meguid, were central to the founding of the Independent Federation of Egyptian Farmers over three years ago.

The Egyptian state did not recognize the establishment of unions and federations for farmers or peasants until the January 25 uprising in 2011 when, of their own initiative, several different farmers’ unions emerged nationwide.

"There are many farmers’ unions which claim to represent farmers, yet they actually represent certain political parties or governmental interests," Khouli claimed.

One of these prominent organizations is the Egyptian Farmers’ Union, which was founded late last year under the auspices of former agriculture minister, Mohamed Abu Hadeed.

The Egyptian Farmers’ Union has featured prominently in the country’s mainstream media outlets, while other farmers’ unions and federations have largely been ignored.

Over the past year, Osama al-Gahsh has run the organization. Under him, the union has openly denounced former President Mohamed Morsi and mobilized farmers to vote "yes" in January's constitutional referendum and then again in the presidential elections in May.

The union is also currently busy promoting the New Suez Canal Project, championed by President Abdel Fatth al-Sisi.

Despite their support for Sisi, the incumbent president was reportedly unable to attend Tuesday’s commemoration of National Farmers’ Day, according to local media reports.

Egypt’s mainstream media focused much of its coverage of the commemoration on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Islamist group's calls for protests the same day.

Privately owned website Al-Bawaba reported on Tuesday that the "Brotherhood’s terrorist society” sought to further destabilize the country, and “instigate social unrest for their own political ends” – thereby exploiting the historic commemoration of National Farmers’ Day.

However, very little of the aforementioned unrest – if any at all – was reported in other media outlets today.

*Photo by Nasser Nuri Courtesy of Reuters

No justice yet for 11 journalists killed in Egypt

Rights group demands justice for reporters killed in Egypt

ANHRI holds police responsible for the death of five journalists


Marwa Al-A’sar

Eleven journalists were killed while working in Egypt between 28 January 2011 and 28 March 2014, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said on Saturday.

“Most of those responsible for killing those journalists haven’t been brought to justice yet,” the ANHRI statement said, announcing the release of a booklet entitled “The Journalism Martyrs in Egypt and Escaping Justice.”

The killed journalists belonged to state-owned media, as well as local and international independent media outlets.

The ANHRI holds the police responsible for the death of five journalists, the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters for murdering three, the armed forces for causing the death of two others, while the person or entity behind the killing of one reporter remains unknown.

“The 55-page booklet includes the names of the journalists and their pictures, to highlight a phenomenon new to Egypt, the killing of journalists,” the statement said.

The statement added that such incidents were accompanied by a lack of justice that first emerged during the reign of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

“Yet the governments that came to power consecutively became involved to a great extent in the same practices… while justice remained absent and the sovereignty of law became a pressing demand wasted by the absence of a political will to impose it,” the statement added.

The ANHRI called for finding specific mechanisms that hinder such occurrences, putting forward several recommendations for a number of entities.

The rights group called on the authorities to provide reporters with the necessary protective measures inside risky areas and to offer the judiciary the required information and evidence to help identify the perpetrators.

The ANHRI further urged the public prosecutor to open an investigation into the death of each individual case.

*Photo by Mahmoud Khaled, courtesy of AFP

TV Channels, shows & books banned amid increasing censorship

Mada Masr

TV channels and books banned amid increasing censorship

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The State Council court banned two satellite channels on Wednesday deemed mouthpieces for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. In two unrelated incidents, religious authorities called for the banning of a belly dancing show on another channel, and censors prevented the import of three book titles.

For the second time since the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013, the state council court upheld the canceling of licenses for Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr (live broadcasts from Egypt), along with that of the Rabea Channel, which is based in Turkey.

These two channels can no longer broadcast on the Egyptian communications satellite, Nilesat.
According to the court’s legal findings, published on the BBC’s Arabic website, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr “incited foreign countries and powers against Egypt and transmitted inaccurate information … with the aim of harming national security.”

The court further alleged that the channel “sought to sow discord between the populace and Egypt’s Armed Forces,” with the intention of “toppling Egypt.”

According to state-owned Akhbar Al-Youm, the court said the channel was supporting “the foreign occupation of Egypt,” whilst describing the “June 30 revolution as a military coup.”

Lawyer Mamdouh Tamam, who filed this case for the banning of the Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr channel claimed, according to state-owned Al-Ahram news portal, that the channel instigated “crimes against the Egyptian populace, and sowed sectarian strife between Egypt’s Christians and Muslims,” as well as “promoting hatred” and “violating domestic law.”

While the entire Al Jazeera network has been banned from operating in the country, Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr continues to broadcast from its headquarters in the Qatari capital Doha.

Exactly one year ago, on September 3, the State Council’s administrative court ordered the closure of Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, along with three opposition Islamist channels: Al-Yarmouk, Al-Quds, and Ahrar 25. Three other Islamist satellite channels, Al-Hafez, Al-Nas, and Misr 25, were forced to shut down on July 3, 2013.

On June 23, Giza Criminal Court sentenced two staff members from Al Jazeera International to seven years in prison, while a third staffer was sentenced to 10 years.

The Rabea Channel, named after the site of a pro-Morsi sit-in that was forcefully dispersed on August 14, 2013, was also found guilty of broadcasting false and intentionally misleading information by the State Council.

According to Akhbar Al-Youm, the Rabea Channel was accused of “fueling demonstrations and inciting students to protest and engage in violence so as to disrupt the educational process, as well as inciting against security forces and seeking to destabilize the homeland.”

The lawsuit against the Rabea Channel was filed by pro-regime lawyer Samir Sabry.

While these two channels have been banned from broadcasting on the Egyptian satellite Nilesat, they may be viewed on other satellite providers.

Also on Wednesday, Dar al-Ifta — Egypt’s top body of Islamic jurisprudence — called for the banning of belly dancing show, “Dancer,” on Al-Qahera wal Nas satellite channel.

Citing a statement from Dar al-Ifta, Associated Press reported that objections to the show include its “corrupting morals,” and that it “serves extremists who take such matters as justification to promote the idea that society is fighting religion.”

On Tuesday the Al-Qahera wal Nas channel announced that it might postpone the show for political reasons. However, no official governmental decision has been made. 

Another example of censorship includes the banning of three books on Saturday from import and circulation, including, “Introduction to Semiotics,” by Egyptian author Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, “Al-Mabrouma,” by Lebanese author Rabee Jaber, and “In Praise of Love,” by French writer Alain Badiou.

In the mid-1980s, the Islamic thinker and author Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid was found guilty of apostasy. On this basis a court ruled that his wife should divorce him.

The three books are all published by Al-Tanweer, an Egyptian publisher based in Lebanon.

Al-Tanweer’s director, Sherif Joseph Rizk told private owned Al-Shorouk newspaper on Wednesday that no clear reasons were provided by the censorship authorities as to why they had stopped the circulation of these books in Egypt.

Rizk added that the books were handed-over to Al-Tanweer on condition that they would not be sold until a final decision is made next week regarding their distribution.

Lawyer Ahmed Ezzat, Director of the Legal Unit at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression emphasized to Al-Shorouk newspaper that the new Egyptian Constitution enshrines freedom of thought and opinion (Article 65) along with freedom of literature and artistic rights (Article 67). Accordingly, he said, “no confiscations should be carried out except via a prior court order.”

Unprecedented power cut affects many parts of Egypt, disrupts metro lines & media

Egyptian Streets
Power cut paralyzes Egypt's transport, media

September 4, 2014

A massive power cut has been ongoing in major parts of Cairo and other governorates since Thursday morning, putting three metro lines out of service.

The major electricity blackout began Thursday around 7am during rush hour, causing disruptions among residents of the Egyptian capital, which is home to almost 20 million people.

The power cut put three metro lines out of service, causing major traffic congestion and overcrowding. However, metro services are back to normal.

The Minister of Electricity Ahmed Shaker told ONTV that the power outage was a technical error and not a terrorist attack.

Electricity Ministry spokesperson Mohamed El-Yamani also told AFP that, “power is gradually being restored.”

El-Yamani said earlier that the current power cut is a result of maintenance works and efforts to divert power loads to other areas of Cairo.

According to the ministry, supply is expected to return within a few hours.

Several media channels including ONTV, Al-Hayat and some CBC channels were also affected by the blackout.

Water supplies to various areas in Giza and Cairo were also cut.

Several accounts were reported via social media users in which power outages also affected Alexandria and Aswan.

As Egypt continues to battle power crises, Thursday’s power cut comes as one of the worst in years.
Egypt has been a subject to several power crises over the past few years, however, this summer marks the worst yet.

*Photo courtesy of Agence France-Presse/AFP

Haunting photos of children toiling in Egypt’s limestone quarries

September 3, 2014 

Pete Brook

The haunting figures in Myriam Abdelaziz’s photographs look otherworldly as they emerge from the haze wearing makeshift masks and protective eyewear. But they are not the stuff of science fiction, but a harsh reality.

They are the limestone workers of Egypt, eking out a living doing back-breaking work in searing temperatures.

They also happen to be children.

Abdelaziz’s series Menya’s Kids chronicles the children who toil in the limestone quarries south of Cairo, leading lives as hard as the rocks they carve from the earth.

“The work is very dangerous,” says Abdelaziz. “Many children working there die prematurely, from electrocution or from injury due to heavy machinery. Also common are permanent injuries such as the loss of an arm or a leg.”

Menya, on the banks of the Nile River 150 miles south of the Egyptian capital, has more than 300 quarries employing 15,000 people. Many of them are children as young as 10; the youngest workers follow the stone-cutting machines, stacking bricks and bagging the ever-present dust. Nothing in the mines is wasted.

The quarries are central to the city’s economy, yet rarely chronicled. Menya’s Kids attempts to illuminate this dark corner of the Egyptian workforce. Employing children in the mines is illegal, so it is no surprise then that most quarry owners refused Abdelaziz entry. “They understood that international exposure could back fire on their business,” she says.

And what a business it is. “Child labor is a dominating phenomenon in Egypt,” reads the opening line of a 2011 report on child workers by the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

Between 3 and 15 percent of Egyptian children have been classified as child laborers, or between 1.3 million and 3 million children. The figures, compiled by NGOs and independent agencies, vary widely because most child labor is seasonal (cotton harvesting), informal (selling goods on the street), or unmonitored (domestic work.) Whatever the number, most agree poverty is to blame.

“Children take jobs wherever and whenever an extra hand is needed,” says Abdelaziz. “Some families cannot survive if everyone is not working so child labor is seen as something common.”
An average quarry workers earns between $7 and $14 daily. That’s a lot compared to farmers, carpenters and mechanics. That makes the work very appealing to a family on the edge.

Eight years ago, the World Bank worked with the Catholic organization Caritas and Wadi El-Nil Association for the Protection of Quarry Workers to remove kids from quarries by 2008. But efforts to raise awareness of the problem, get the child workers back in school and train them for less dangerous jobs did little to improve the situation—which has been exacerbated by the economic instability that followed the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Change is unlikely to come quickly, but Abdelaziz remains hopeful. And she is doing her part to help. Beyond illuminating the issue, she has donated her photos to a local charity that provides alternatives to lives in the mines.

“Sending children to work is an easy way to increase a family’s income. Those who are poor and uneducated cannot think of any other way to survive,” she says. “Mentalities need to change.”

*Photos by Myriam Abdelaziz

Witness of police-led massacre is beaten, jailed & his home raided


Beaten, House Raided
September 1, 2014
Egyptian security forces on August 29, 2014 arrested, at a demonstration, an academic who had provided information about the massacre of protesters in Rab’a Square in August, 2013. Police also raided the man’s home and beat him, his lawyer and a relative told Human Rights Watch.

Mohamed Tareq, who previously taught at Alexandria University, was one of eight men arrested at a demonstration in Alexandria on August 29. Prosecutors ordered a 15-day detention for five of the men, including Tareq, pending interrogations into accusations of protesting without authorization, illegal public assembly, blocking traffic, and membership in the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Saeed, an Alexandria lawyer working on the case, told Human Rights Watch.

“After more than a year of denying wrongdoing and covering up its grave abuses for the Rab’a massacre, beating and raiding the home of an academic who described what he saw there would be a new low,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Egyptian police should know that the further they go down the road of repression, the louder calls for accountability will grow.”

Tareq provided evidence that Human Rights Watch used in an August 2014 report about the Rab’a dispersal, “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt” and appeared in a video Human Rights Watch released about the subject.

The arrest and accusations appear to be unrelated to Tareq’s interview with Human Rights Watch. Saeed said, however, that, among the eight men arrested, Tareq was the only one beaten and whose home was raided. Police significantly damaged his house and confiscated materials commemorating the Rab’a massacre during the raid on August 29, Saeed and the relative told Human Rights Watch. Prosecutors have instructed the Forensic Medical Authority to evaluate Tareq’s injuries to establish whether police beat him, Saeed said.

Tareq had given numerous statements to the media about the horrific events he witnessed and experienced on August 14, 2013. Tareq was seriously injured during the Rab’a massacre, with gunshot wounds to his arm and chest.

Tareq taught in the Faculty of Sciences of Alexandria University until he was dismissed in 2010 for demonstrating against the brutal beating and killing of Khaled Said, who became an iconic figure during the 2011 uprising, by Egyptian police. He has been an activist for years with different groups, including the Al-Ghad Party and the National Association for Change formerly led by Mohamed al-Baradei.

As of September 1, Tareq and the four other men were being held at Moharram Bek police station in Alexandria. They are next due to appear in court on September 10.

Egyptian authorities should release the men or promptly charge them with offenses that do not violate their rights. The authorities should protect the men from mistreatment and provide full due process rights, including regular access to counsel and family visits as well as all necessary medical care. If they are charged, they should have the opportunity to review evidence and mount a meaningful defense.