Friday, January 31, 2014

Over 21,317 arrested since coup, including 330+ minors

Mada Masr
Too Many To Count

January 31, 2014

Sarah Carr and Leyla Doss

Amr was on his way to buy groceries from the supermarket when he disappeared.

“We tried calling him for hours, and then eventually his phone was switched off,” says Amr’s brother Ramy, 23.

Ramy recounts that he later learned his brother, a 29-year-old accountant, was passing by a Muslim Brotherhood protest in his Cairo neighborhood of Nasr City when he was arrested on January 18 2014.

Within hours, Amr had been charged with participating in a protest and of belonging to an illegal organization. A few days later, he was charged with resisting the authorities.

Today, Amr remains in detention. Ramy says that his brother is neither a member of the Muslim Brotherhood nor politically active.

Amr’s case illustrates the haphazard nature of the state’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, the group which until July of last year was governing Egypt.

The state's primary weapon against the Brotherhood’s rank and file has been mass detentions. It has proven impossible to obtain the exact number of detainees. Rights groups say that in addition to the difficulty of identifying whether every individual targeted is a Brotherhood member, the sheer scale of the arrests makes it difficult for them to keep up.

Nabil Shalaby, a lawyer with the governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), says that the NCHR is not keeping a record of detentions.

Wiki Thawra, an initiative created by Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights (ECSER), which documents all those detained, arrested and killed since the January 25 uprising, has claimed that between June 30 and December 31 over 21,317 people have been detained, including over 330 minors.

Most of their information is sourced from reports by the ECSER itself, as well as other human rights organizations, journalists and official government statements.

Mohamed al-Damaty, a lawyer who is defending Brotherhood detainees, estimates on the basis of the cases he and his colleagues are involved in that 15,000 people — either members of the Brotherhood or sympathetic to their cause — have been arrested since July.

A rough survey of reports in the media detailing arrests and detentions gives an idea of both the scale of the arrests and the variety of charges involved, which run from the banal to the bizarre.

During the constitutional referendum in mid-January, 444 Muslim Brothers were arrested for attempting to disrupt the vote and “influence voters.”

One report from September 2013 describes the detention of 18 unnamed protesters arrested for a truly staggering array of crimes: Murder, attempted murder, possession of knives, firearms and Molotov cocktails, thuggery, vandalism of public property, illegal assembly, blocking traffic and attempting to break into police buildings.

And then there are the bizarre cases. A schoolboy was held in detention for 30 days because he brought a ruler bearing a picture of the four finger salute that has come to represent the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in to school with him. His father and two teachers were then arrested for “inciting” the child to possess the ruler.

A 20-year-old woman was arrested in Alexandria for possessing a diary in which she wrote statements that were “hostile to the army, the police and the current regime.” In October, a young man was arrested for selling Rabea badges on Alexandria’s Corniche.

A bewildered-looking 12-year-old boy was arrested in North Sinai for allegedly spying on monitoring patrols and “attempting to detonate a bomb” — his photograph was plastered all over the official Facebook page of the Armed Forces spokesperson.

Wiki Thawra estimates that 83 people have been arrested for using certain political slogans since June 30.

The accusation of belonging to an illegal organization has even been levied against individuals known for their active opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Activist Nazly Hussein was arrested with 20 other protesters last Saturday during a march in Maadi on the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising. On January 27, she was given 15 days detention pending investigations into whether she has links to the Brotherhood.

Hussein is a well-known activist from the No to Military Trials Campaign established in 2011, and has battled against all successive governments, including that of the Brotherhood, since the 2011 uprising. She and eight of her fellow protesters were ultimately released on January 27, though 16 others stayed in detention due to the alleged ties to the Brotherhood.

 *Photo by Virginie Nguyen

UN denounces Egyptian authorities' crackdown on journalists

VOA News

UN Denounces Egypt's Clampdown on Journalists

January 31, 2014

Lisa Schlein

*Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Professional Syndicates: Loss of Muslim Brotherhood's last stronghold?

Mada Masr

Syndicates: Loss of the MB’s last stronghold

January 30, 2014

Jano Charbel

The Muslim Brotherhood appears to be losing its grip on many of Egypt’s professional syndicates, which it has dominated for over two decades.

Most recently the Brotherhood was voted out of office in the Doctors Syndicate, issued a vote-of-no-confidence in the Engineers Syndicate, while it is also facing petitions, campaigns and court cases to purge the boards of the Teachers Syndicate, along with a pending decision to withdraw confidence from a regional Farmers Syndicate.

According to Shereen Barakat, of the Brotherhood’s Doctors for Egypt bloc, these losses can be attributed to “the ruling regime and their mainstream media, which has frightened and led voters away from the [Islamist] current. They’ve distorted our image and portrayed us all as terrorists.”

Brotherhood representatives have been successfully elected to the boards of a number of professional associations for nearly 25 years, especially the syndicates of the doctors, engineers, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, teachers, and lawyers, among others.

Furthermore, crackdowns on the Brotherhood and their Islamist allies by the interim government have reportedly led to the deaths of several physicians, an estimated 100 arrests of doctors affiliated to the Anti-Coup Alliance, and hundreds more seeking voluntary exile outside the country, according to Brotherhood sources in the Doctors Syndicate.

However, state crackdowns against the Brotherhood within professional syndicates date back several decades. The Mubarak regime imposed a host of restrictions on syndicates’ electoral and organizational rights, with the aim of keeping the Brotherhood off their boards.

Law 100/1993 ‘Guaranteeing Democracy in Professional Syndicates’ imposed quorums on all syndicate elections in an attempt to keep the well-organized Brotherhood from sweeping elections with low turnout rates.

These restrictions resulted in the state’s sequestration of the Engineers Syndicate, along with a number of doctors' branch syndicates, and the Lawyers Cairo Branch Syndicate — which were dominated by the Brotherhood — although no such quorums or sequestration existed for any other elections or referendums in Egypt.

Law 100/1993 was scrapped in January 2011 when the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled it to be unconstitutional. The Brotherhood was once again able to sweep a number of syndicate elections, and continued to do so until mid-2013.

The Brotherhood and their Islamist allies utilized professional syndicates to campaign and mobilize voters for the Brotherhood-drafted constitution in late 2012. The Brotherhood-dominated syndicate boards were accused of politicizing professional syndicates for the sake of their political agenda.

“As a political current, the Brotherhood sought to involve itself in any social, popular or political organization in order to promote their brand of politics,” Karam Saber, Director of the Land Center for Human Rights, says.

Saber adds that state-imposed political restrictions have pushed the Islamist group towards the white-collar professional syndicate movement. “The Brotherhood has historically been guided by its middle-class leadership. Their politics appeal primarily to the middle classes, not to the organized working classes or labor unions.”

Indeed the Brotherhood had a negligible presence among blue-collar trade unions until President Mohamed Morsi briefly appointed Brotherhood member Khaled al-Azhari to preside over both the Ministry of Manpower and the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation. In his ministerial post, Azhari proposed a one-year-ban on all strikes.

Until Morsi’s ouster on July 3, 2013, the Brotherhood had openly denounced strikes and other industrial action. However, since their loss of power, the Brotherhood has started to condone, support and even partake in some strikes, particularly among the medical professions.


The Brotherhood, and their electoral bloc Doctors for Egypt have come under heavy criticism for their apparent double standards regarding strikes.

The Brotherhood bloc openly called for strike action during the Doctors General Assembly meeting last month. Despite denouncing strikes when the Brotherhood controlled parliament, the presidency and cabinet, Doctors for Egypt has partaken in two partial strikes this year — on January 1 and 8.

Their blocs in the Pharmacists and Veterinarians Syndicates have also taken part in limited strike action this month. Such participation in strikes has convinced many doctors that the Brotherhood is now (hypocritically) using strike action as a political pressure tool.

Barakat argues, “The syndicate is a professional association for all Egyptian doctors, not a political pressure tool,” adding, “Regardless of our political tendencies, we should all strive to uphold the rights of Egyptian physicians through the doctors’ syndicates.”

Yet party politics have been, and apparently still are, an integral part of syndicate politics.

After being postponed for 19 years under the Mubarak regime, the Doctors Syndicate finally held its elections in 2011. The results of these elections, as with the previous elections, resulted in a Muslim Brotherhood majority amongst the Doctors General Syndicate and its branch syndicate boards.

However, midterm elections held on December 13, 2013, drastically reduced the number of Brotherhood representatives and their Doctors For Egypt Bloc on these boards. The winners were the candidates of the Independence Current — a coalition of liberals, centrists, and left-leaning doctors — who formed a new majority.

“Beyond our losses in Cairo, Giza and Alexandria, we still fared well in a number of branch syndicates nationwide during these last mid-term elections,” Barakat comments. “Politicized petitions and sectarian campaigning from the church against our current contributed to our losses.”

“The army generals and Christian businessmen also bussed-in pro-regime elements to vote against our current. This is the same thing that happened at the Engineers Syndicate during their general assembly,” the bearded doctor adds.


The Engineers Syndicate convened an emergency general assembly meeting on January 17 to determine the fate of the Brotherhood-dominated syndicate boards.

With nearly 16,000 engineers casting their ballots, a vote-of-no-confidence was issued against the syndicate boards, with around 56 percent of engineers voting to withdraw confidence from the Brotherhood’s leadership.

The Minister of Irrigation has since appointed caretaker committees to oversee the affairs of the Engineers General Syndicate board and the boards of regional branch syndicates until the next elections are to be held — within 90 days.

The state-owned MENA news agency quoted Minister Mohamed Abdel Motelleb saying there would be no intervention into the syndicates’ affairs from the ministry. Abdel Motelleb added there would be no politicization and no state-sequestration of the syndicate.

However, the minister’s rhetoric regarding the syndicate is clearly political. In a reference to the Brotherhood, MENA mentions Abdel Motelleb said that Engineers have liberated themselves from those with bloodied hands.

The Engineers Liberties Committee had been active in demanding the release of President Morsi since his ouster and detention by the military on July 3.

The board of the Engineers General Syndicate rested firmly in the hands of the Brotherhood’s electoral bloc since they won the syndicate’s 2011 elections.

In light of allegations of financial irregularities and mismanagement, the Engineers Syndicate had been under state sequestration since 1994. The general and branch syndicates were all under the custodianship of the Ministry of Irrigation and his caretaker committees.


Over the past three years, two independent/alternative syndicates have been established to challenge the Brotherhood’s domination of the Teachers Syndicate.

Moreover, since 2012 there have been a number of petitions and campaigns to impeach the Brotherhood-dominated syndicate boards across the country, especially after the Brotherhood openly stood against a nationwide teachers’ strike in September 2011.

Teachers syndicate elections were held early in that same month, and the Brotherhood’s bloc won by a landslide. However, many teachers claimed that there were electoral irregularities, violations and vote-riggings involved in these elections.

Moving from petitions and impeachment campaigns, protesting teachers eventually filed a lawsuit demanding the dissolution of the Teachers Syndicate boards.

On January 26, Egypt’s Administrative Court said that it does not have jurisdiction to rule on the dissolution of the Teachers Syndicate boards, referring the case to the Court of Cassation.


The only agricultural professional association recognized by law prior to the 2011 uprising was the Syndicate of Agricultural Professions — for agricultural engineers, machine operators and consultants. Since early this month, the Agricultural Professions’ branch syndicate in the Nile Delta City of Mansoura has moved to vote against its Brotherhood-dominated board following allegations of financial mismanagement and biased party politics within the syndicate.

On the other hand, farmers’ unions emerged shortly after the January 25 uprising, and since then have mushroomed nationwide. There are now an estimated 10 farmers’ unions and federations across the country. In 2011, the Brotherhood claimed influence in one of these unions in the Nile Delta.

Yet over the past two months, the Minister of Agriculture, Ayman Farid Abul Hadid, has been attempting to unify several of these farmers’ unions into a singular Federation of Farmers’ Unions.

According to Abdel Meguid al-Khouli, President of the Independent Farmers’ Union,  “the minister’s efforts constitute a non-democratic intervention into the affairs of farmers and their unions.”

“Farmers’ unions should determine their own organizational and membership regulations, so as not to allow feudalists, large farmers and landowners, or agricultural engineers and technicians into such unions,” he says.

“Without consulting us, Abul Hadid has appointed his own leadership from amongst his ‘yes-men’ in an attempt to have them rule over all the farmers’ unions,” Khouli adds.  

This month Abul Hadid appointed his own president to the Federation of Farmers Unions — Osama al-Gahsh.

State-owned MENA news agency quoted Gahsh as saying, “We will stage farmers’ conferences, and organize convoys to campaign for Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s nomination to the presidential elections.”

Khouli comments, “we all want a unified farmers union, one that is democratically chosen and independently organized. Not one that is controlled by any particular current — whether left or right — or by the state. We demand inclusive membership in this union for all Egyptian farmers.”

“The Brotherhood has sought to exploit religion in its organization and leadership. Yet there must be no distinction between Muslim or Christian farmers, we’re all in the same boat,” Khouli adds.

According to Saber, “the organizational rights of labor unions, professional syndicates, NGOs, and all other civil society groups in Egypt, will to be determined according to the margins of freedoms and democracy in this country.

“If democracy, human rights and liberties are upheld, then the organizational rights of civil society will flourish,” he says. “Otherwise they will wither.”

*Photos by Jano Charbel

Sisi promoted to field marshal on same day as top generals bless his presidential bid

Los Angeles Times

Egypt's Sisi promoted to field marshal, mulls presidential run 

January 27, 2014

Laura King

CAIRO--Egypt’s top generals gave their blessing to a presidential run by Abdel Fattah Sisi on Monday, the same day he was also promoted to field marshal. Both actions were viewed as indicators of a near-certain candidacy by Egypt’s most powerful figure.

Sisi, who led a popularly supported coup nearly seven months ago against the country’s first democratically elected president, has not declared his political intentions, but even before Monday’s endorsement by the top military council, there were growing signs he would do so soon.

On Sunday, interim President Adly Mansour announced that the country would hold presidential elections prior to parliamentary balloting. That was significant because it would allow the president-elect to build alliances and wield influence in the selection of lawmakers.

Sisi would have to quit the army in order to run, and the promotion to field marshal would be in keeping with an Egyptian tradition of elevation of rank preceding high-profile retirements from the military.

Although Egypt has a civilian interim president, Sisi is widely understood to make virtually all important decisions. In many quarters, he has an almost cult-like following, with his image emblazoned on everything from cupcakes to lingerie.

Official commemorations of Saturday’s third anniversary of Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarak were transformed into what had the feel of campaign-style rallies for Sisi, with song-and-dance spectacles performed before huge, adoring crowds across the country. But nearly 50 people also died that day when rallies of Islamist and secular opponents of the military-backed government were broken up by police.

Sisi would probably win a presidential vote, but taking on the office would not be without its pitfalls. Some commentators believe his enormous popularity would be eroded by unpopular but necessary measures to reform the economy.

Earlier this month, he had indicated he would see the constitutional referendum as a popular mandate on his candidacy. The new charter won overwhelming approval, but turnout was less than 40%, suggesting deep polarization among the electorate.

Deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood insist he is still the country’s rightful leader, and secular activists -- many of them key players in the 2011 revolution -- have been alarmed by harsh curbs on freedom of expression and assembly under the interim government. Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized what they have termed abuse of judicial and law-enforcement powers, indiscriminate arrests and other authoritarian measures.

*Photo by Ed Giles courtesy of Getty Images

Egypt: 49 killed on third anniversary of revolution

BBC News

Egypt clashes kill 49 on third anniversary of revolution

January 26, 2014

At least 49 people have been killed in clashes in Egypt as the country marks the anniversary of the 2011 uprising which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak, the health ministry says.

Rival demonstrations of supporters and opponents of the military-backed government took place in Cairo.

But police broke up anti-government protests, and arrests were reported in Cairo and Alexandria.
Hundreds have died since July when the army deposed President Mohammed Morsi.

Extra security measures were in place for Saturday.


Egyptian Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim had urged Egyptians not to be afraid to go to events marking the anniversary of the uprising.

Thousands of supporters of the military and the government gathered in high-profile locations including Tahrir Square - the focal point of the 18-day 2011 popular revolt.

Participants waved Egyptian flags and banners showing army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom many urged to run for president.

Meanwhile on Saturday, an army helicopter crashed in the restive Sinai peninsula, with an unconfirmed report that its crew of five soldiers was dead.

A large car bomb exploded near a police building in Suez, at the southern entrance of the Suez canal, with reports that nine people were injured.

At least 18 people died in violence on Friday.


The BBC's Yolande Knell, in Cairo, says that three years on from an uprising that raised hopes of political reform in the Arab world's most populated country, rival demonstrations are showing the deep divisions.

There is an extreme anti-Islamist emphasis at pro-government rallies, with chants for "the execution of the Brotherhood" and fury at anyone believed to be critical of the post-coup leadership, reports said.

At anti-government protests, police chase protesters into side streets, firing live rounds as well as tear gas and birdshot.

One of those killed was a member of the April 6 movement, which led protests against Mubarak before and during the 2011 uprising and also opposed Mr Morsi, the group said.

Scores of arrests have been reported in Cairo and Egypt's second city, Alexandria - not just of Islamist supporters of deposed President Morsi, but secular opponents of the military government who have also been protesting.

"The only thing allowed is Sisi revolutionaries," one of the activists, blogger Wael Khalil, told the Associated Press news agency.

"This was supposed to be a day to mark the revolution... I don't get it. Do they think that there will be a working democracy this way?"

Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste - detained by Egyptian authorities for nearly a month - has written a letter from solitary confinement, describing Egypt's prisons as "overflowing with anyone who opposes or challenges the government."

The Anti-Coup Alliance, led by Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, called in a statement for 18 days of protests beginning on Saturday, mirroring the 18 days of protests that three years ago led to Mr Mubarak stepping down.

The Brotherhood has regularly held protests since the overthrow of Mr Morsi. Hundreds of its supporters have been killed, and thousands detained.

It has been declared a "terrorist organisation" and accused by the interim government of being behind a string of violent attacks in recent months, which the Brotherhood denies.

In a defiant statement on Saturday, the Brotherhood vowed not to leave the streets "until it fully regains its rights and breaks the coup and puts the killers on trial", reported the Associated Press news agency.

*Photos courtesy of Associated Press

Egypt: Four bombings kill 6, injure nearly 100

New York Times

Prolonged Fight Feared in Egypt After Bombings

January 24, 2014

David Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — Three years after the start of its revolt for democracy, the capital was shaken Friday by four deadly bombings, in the clearest sign yet that Egypt is entering a prolonged and violent struggle between the military-backed government and a growing Islamist insurgency.

The bombs, scattered around the city and aimed at the police, killed six people and left in their aftermath a grim realization that a cycle of terrorism and repression is hardening the determination of each side to fight to the death, all but extinguishing the three-year-old dream of an inclusive democracy and open debate.

“The timing is a message that the third anniversary of the revolution will not be a celebration; they want to color it with blood,” said Moataz Abdel-Fattah, a political scientist at the American University of Cairo. “And it will only darken the political waters, with more people calling for a hard-line stance against the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters.”

Within two hours of the first and largest explosion, a car bombing at dawn outside a security headquarters, a crowd of at least 200 had gathered at the police line to cheer for Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer and is now poised to succeed him. “The people want the execution of the Brothers,” they chanted, blaming the Brotherhood for the attack in a bloodthirsty imitation of the calls that rang out three years ago calling for “the fall of the regime.”
A government statement evoked the earlier battle against a militant Islamist insurgency that flared here in the 1990s, vowing to “uproot it once again” and “show neither pity nor mercy.”

“Everything is left now to the army and the police, there is no politics in Egypt,” said Fahmy Howeidy, a veteran columnist considered sympathetic to political Islam. “And if you close the door against peaceful solutions, you should expect violence as an alternative.”

No one had claimed responsibility for Friday’s bombings by the end of the night. But the explosions occurred just hours after a young Islamist militant group that has claimed responsibility for many recent attacks, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, warned Egyptian security officers in a video message to “escape with your weapons” because “we will target you as we target your leaders.”

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis often quotes the leaders of Al Qaeda in video messages. Those Qaeda leaders, in turn, drew their inspiration from an ideology forged in Egyptian jails under previous crackdowns on Islamists by Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hosni Mubarak. If the group is responsible, then a militant strand of Islamist radicalism will have come full circle.

Although commentators on state television and demonstrators at the scene immediately blamed the Brotherhood, the group said in a statement that it “strongly condemns the cowardly bombings in Cairo, expresses condolences to the families of those killed” and “demands swift investigations.” It blamed the “coup authorities” for deteriorating security, including the failure to apprehend the perpetrators of previous bombings.

Security forces around the capital had been on high alert even before the bombings in anticipation of the anniversary on Saturday. The police had already cut off train access from southern Egypt, where support for the Islamists is strong. Each night this week security forces have set up heavily armed checkpoints around the city, although they apparently did little to stop the bombers.

Egyptian television networks broadcast security camera footage of the scene leading up to the first attack: a handful of figures walking slowly away from a white pickup truck just minutes before it explodes.

“It felt like Judgment Day,” said Yahia, 26, who was sleeping at a friend’s home nearby and declined to give his full name for fear of reprisals.

“Yesterday, the whole area was barricaded by the police, and even the residents of the area could not get around,” he said. “If you wanted to take a taxi, they wouldn’t let it stop in front of the security headquarters. How did they get in?”

The blast killed four policemen and injured more than 70 people, the government said in a statement. The explosion left a truck-size crater in the pavement so deep that it burst an underground water pipe.

In addition to severely damaging several stories of the security building, the bomb damaged the facade and contents of the Museum of Islamic Art across the street and an adjacent national library as well.

Supporters of General Sisi began gathering almost immediately, waving Egyptian flags and holding signs depicting a profile of General Sisi in dark sunglasses against the profile of a lion, or, in other posters, of a hawk.

Half a block away, a police officer clutching an Egyptian flag climbed a barricade in front of the damaged security headquarters to address a small crowd and several television cameras. “We are here for you, we will sacrifice our souls for you, we are here for this,” he said, pointing to the flag and choking back tears. “They are martyrs, too,” he said, gesturing at his fellow officers.

Mohamed Ahmed, a banker, said he had come to show his support for the police. “Who else but the Muslim Brotherhood has an interest in this kind of attack?” he asked. “After they were forced out of politics, they just want to destroy the country.”

The interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, arrived at the scene of the first bombing around 9 a.m. in a heavily armed motorcade to inspect the damage. “They don’t want the people to celebrate,” he told reporters, according to state news media, in an apparent reference to the Brotherhood. He called on Egyptians to take to the streets on Saturday to demonstrate in support of the police, and said the attacks would not deter them “in their war against black terrorism.”

Two more attacks unfolded the same morning. In the Dokki neighborhood across the Nile in Giza, three men threw a bag of explosives at a security vehicle, killing a soldier and injuring 11 other security personnel, according to a statement from the public prosecutor. Another pro-Sisi crowd responded with the same chant for the “execution” of the Brotherhood members.

The third blast came from a primitive explosive device thrown at a police station in the Talbeya neighborhood of the Haram district in Giza; no one was hurt.

Then, in the late afternoon, a roadside bomb in the Haram district targeted a group of police vehicles returning from the clashes with Islamists protesting the military takeover. At least one bystander was killed in the explosion.

In addition to the six people killed by the bombs, at least eight more civilian protesters were killed in battles with the police, the Health Ministry said, bringing to 14 the total number who died Friday in violence.

Deadly attacks on soldiers and police officers have become commonplace since the military takeover, especially in the lawless Sinai. But Friday’s attack was at least the second car bombing inside Cairo, where the government and its supporters are strongest. In September, a smaller car bomb was detonated in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the interior minister. In late December, a car bomb at a police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura killed at least 15 people and injured more than 100.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group whose name means “Supporters of Jerusalem,” has claimed responsibility for both the assassination attempt on the interior minister and the Mansoura bombing. In its video messages the group often criticizes the Brotherhood for its nonviolent politics, which failed to stop the military takeover. But the new Egyptian authorities treat Ansar Beit al-Maqdis as an extension of the Brotherhood, and in response they outlawed the Brotherhood.

By late afternoon the streets of Cairo were eerily deserted. Military helicopters buzzed low overhead, and roadside vendors hawked Egyptian flags, hoping to capitalize on a surge in nationalistic feeling.

Many were increasingly fearful about Saturday. General Sisi’s supporters have called for a rally to demand that he seek the presidency. The Brotherhood has called for its own demonstrations against the military takeover. A smaller third contingent, which comprises the April 6 Group and other activists who helped set off the original 2011 revolt, has called for demonstrations in opposition to either a military- or Islamist-led government.

*Marwa Nasser contributed reporting.
**Photo by Mahmoud Khaled courtesy of AFP

Egypt: 3 yrs on, wide-scale repression continues unabated


Egypt three years on, wide-scale repression continues unabated

January 23, 2014


The Egyptian authorities are using every resource at their disposal to quash dissent and trample on human rights, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published ahead of the third anniversary of the “25 January Revolution.”

The briefing entitled Roadmap to repression: No end in sight to human rights violations, paints a bleak picture of the state of rights and liberties in Egypt since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

“Egypt has witnessed a series of damaging blows to human rights and state violence on an unprecedented scale over the last seven months. Three years on, the demands of the ‘25 January Revolution’ for dignity and human rights seem further away than ever. Several of its architects are behind bars and repression and impunity are the order of the day,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Across the board the Egyptian authorities have tightened the noose on freedom of expression and assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced making it easier for the government to silence its critics and crack down on protests. Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law and with no prospect of being held to account for abuses.

“With such measures in place, Egypt is headed firmly down the path towards further repression and confrontation. Unless the authorities change course and take concrete steps to show they respect human rights and the rule of law, starting with the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners of conscience, Egypt is likely to find its jails packed with unlawful detained prisoners and its morgues and hospitals with yet more victims of arbitrary and abusive force by its police,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

In a speech last weekend President Adly Mansour described the newly adopted Egyptian constitution as paving the way for building a country that “respects freedom, democracy and makes rights and justice a way of work and life.”

“In reality, the current state of human rights is abysmal. The Egyptian government will be judged by its actions not its words. Verbal reassurances will ring hollow if repression on the ground is increasing and a mere tweet can lead you to prison”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“The authorities must loosen their stranglehold on civil society and allow peaceful protests and other avenues for lawful dissent. Their current policies are a betrayal of all the aspirations for bread, freedom and social justice of the ‘25 January Revolution’.”

In recent months, the country has seen violence on an unprecedented scale, with security forces committing gross human rights violations, routinely using excessive, including lethal, force against opposition protesters and at demonstrations on university campuses.

Since 3 July 2013, 1,400 people have been killed in political violence, most of them due to excessive force used by security forces. No proper investigation has been carried out into the deaths of more than 500  Morsi supporters when excessive force was used to disperse a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya in August 2013.

Not a single member of the security forces has been charged in connection with the incident which was a callous bloodbath on an unprecedented scale.

“Instead of reining in the security forces, the authorities have effectively handed them a mandate for repression. Once again in Egypt, the rhetoric of ‘countering terrorism’ is being used to justify sweeping crackdowns that fail to distinguish between legitimate dissent and violent attacks,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Security forces must be held to account for human rights violations. Far from it, by allowing them to operate with impunity, the authorities have emboldened them. The cycle of abuse will only be broken when the rule of law applies to all, regardless of their rank, and political affiliations.”

Since the “25 January Revolution” just a handful of low-ranking security forces have been convicted over the deaths of protesters.

In the months following the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi as president, army checkpoints, security personnel and government buildings have come under increased attack by groups described by the authorities as “terrorists.”

While the Egyptian government has the right and duty to protect lives and prosecute those responsible for such crimes, human rights must not be sacrificed in the name of “countering terrorism.”

Ahead of the third anniversary of the uprising, Egypt’s interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, warned that prisons and police stations have been secured with heavy weapons. In a show of force, signalling how emboldened the security forces have become, he dared anyone to try to test their strength.

The most brazen clampdown has been on freedom of expression and assembly. Thousands of perceived Muslim Brotherhood supporters and members have been rounded up by the security forces for criticizing Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Women, men and children peacefully expressing their opposition to the military have not been spared.

In December the Muslim Brotherhood was officially designated a “terrorist organization”, making it even easier for the authorities to crack down on the group. On 23 December at least 1,055 charities affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood had their assets frozen.

Hundreds of students have also been arrested during protests and clashes. In one emblematic case in November, a 19-year-old student Mohamed Reda was shot dead at Cairo University when riot police fired teargas and shotguns inside the university grounds.

Secular activists and students have also been targeted in an apparent attempt by the government to quash all dissent, across the political spectrum. Prominent “25 January Revolution” activists are today in jail for daring to call for accountability and human rights.

A new protest law placing restrictions on public gatherings and demonstrations has been introduced posing a grave threat to freedom of assembly and granting security forces license to use excessive force against peaceful protesters. The result is a charter for state-sanctioned repression and carte blanche for security force abuses.

This has been coupled with attacks on journalists and media freedom as well as raids and attempts to place further restrictions on non-governmental organizations.

“There is a concerted effort underway to squeeze out any independent observers from activists, to journalists to nongovernmental organizations. This is a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for them to operate in Egypt and continue their work documenting and reporting on state abuses,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

The authorities have also sought to use the criminal justice system as a tool of repression.

“The judiciary is being used to punish government opponents while allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to walk free,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

*Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany courtesy of Reuters

Egypt turns back the clock with army-backed referendum

The Telegraph

Egypt turns the clock back with military-backed referendum

Overwhelming 'Yes' vote but low turn-out expected as voters back stability over revolution

14 Jan 2014

Richard Spencer

The army said it was a vote for the future, but Egypt’s weary citizens returned to the ballot box on Tuesday seemingly determined to turn the clock back.
For three years, the country has seen permanent revolution under the guise of a democratic transition. Now, its third constitutional referendum since the overthrow of ex-President Hosni Mubarak may represent a return to military rule under the guise of a ballot box.

The country’s divisions were on full show. Some polling stations were already empty by half-way through the morning, thanks to a boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and election fatigue. At others, in districts where pro-army banners hung from lamp-posts, queues snaked round the corner.

The previous two referendums were intended to enshrine the 2011 Tahrir Square revolution, but for those who did dip their fingers in the electoral ink, Tuesday was more about returning the generals to power.

The only question was which general’s name was held in the highest esteem.

“I was against the revolution and always supported Mubarak,” said Safa Mohammed, an accountant voting in north Cairo. “We don’t want any more instability,” she added. “We want security - enough of all this destruction.”

This year’s constitution follows the army’s removal in July of the Brotherhood president, Mohammed Morsi, and the immediate scrapping of the document he pushed through 13 months ago.

The new version, negotiated by a 50-strong committee that was broad-based apart from the absence of Brotherhood representatives, removes much of the religious language of Mr Morsi.

Human rights groups praise it for guaranteeing equal rights and banning torture, but add that it strengthens the powers of the military and removes accountability from the judiciary. This makes it unclear how its more laudable goals are going to be guaranteed in a state where police violence is routine.

For most of those who turned out, however, the details were irrelevant. More important was that the familiar certainties of old should replace three years of endless protest, economic disruption, and conflict between the Brotherhood and its military, secular and Christian opponents about the very nature of Egypt.

“So if you don’t like five things about the constitution and vote against it because of that, what happens tomorrow?” said Essam Abdulhakim, a retired engineer. “You won’t eat bread tomorrow, that’s what. You will be going into the unknown.”

It is not that Mr Mubarak has suddenly become popular. It is more that the generals who are now calling the shots represent a “discipline”, as several voters put it, that other parts of Egyptian society lack.

The Brotherhood was also supposed to be disciplined, but that idea was undermined by the chaos of Mr Morsi’s year in office.

Many of the military’s supporters hark back further than Mr Mubarak, to the full-blown dictatorships of Gamal Abdul Nasser, who died in 1970, and his successor, Anwar Sadat, murdered in 1981.

“I want the Egypt of before 1970,” said Nasrallah Shukrallah, 54, a teacher. He said that was when Egyptian society began to be infected with the “desert culture” represented by Islamists like the Brotherhood, which Nasser persecuted.

Nasser’s portrait has made a come-back in recent months, often alongside pictures of Egypt’s new military strongman, Gen Abdulfattah al-Sisi, the defence minister, who engineered the coup against Mr Morsi.

Gen Sisi has dropped hints that he would take a “Yes” vote as a mandate to stand for president himself, a return to the status quo. Mr Morsi was modern Egypt’s sole non-military leader.

A “Yes” vote is in fact a foregone conclusion. Campaigning for “No” was all but banned, with activists who tried to do so arrested and beaten under anti-terror laws. “Yes” posters festooned the streets, with pictures of Gen Sisi hung from prominent buildings and waved by passing children.

Supporters sang and danced at polling stations. Brotherhood demonstrators were chased away.

Three people were killed when police opened fire in the southern Egyptian town of Sohag, an Islamist stronghold, and eight others around the country.

Turn-out was hard to estimate. The previous two referendums only tallied around 40 and 30 per cent of eligible voters. An even lower figure now would indicate success for the boycott led by the Brotherhood, which has condemned the referendum as whitewashing a dictatorship that has blood on its hands after the killing of hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators in the summer.

Many secular youth also saw the return of the military and the police as overturning the 2011 revolution.

“I’m not taking part - not after all the bloodshed,” said Mohmen Mustafa, 25. “Our revolution has achieved nothing at all. But there will be another revolution, for sure.”

Not far from where he was speaking, a bomb exploded before polls opened outside Cairo’s North Giza court-house, an example of the instability that many Egyptians fear and Gen Sisi’s supporters think they are voting against.

A Sinai-based Islamist militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks, including in Cairo, since Mr Morsi was overthrown.

The authorities have used this to tar the Brotherhood as terrorists, though the group insists it supports only peaceful means.

No-one was injured, however. A small protest of mainly women, holding posters of Gen Sisi, gathered shortly afterwards, shouting anti-Brotherhood slogans.

*Photo courtesy of Associated Press

Labor rights & violations in Egypt's new constitution

Mada Masr

An analysis of the draft constitution

Experts weight in on possible impacts of forced labor, child labor, military tribunals, restrictions on unionization, and the elimination of labor quotas

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jano Charbel

The 2013 draft constitution contains a number of provisions which some feared could be used to curb labor rights and freedoms. Other articles could be used to violate basic, internationally recognized, labor rights.

The draft constitution also protects the continued use of forced labor, child labor, military tribunals for civilians, restrictions on the plurality of trade unions and professional syndicates, along with limitations on the right to strike for certain professions.

It also, however, includes measures which could be used to increase labor rights, including workers’ right to a minimum wage and a maximum wage for public-sector administrators, along with the right to establish labor (or class-based) political parties.

Most notably, the charter removed a unique populist measure from the era of President Gamal Abdel Nasser half a century ago, by scrapping the 50 percent quota of workers’ and farmers’ representatives in parliament.

“The provisions of the new constitution are more specific and direct than the constitutions of 1971 and 2012,” says Talal Shokr of the independent Egyptian Democratic Labor Confederation.

“For the first time, the Egyptian constitution has become far less ambiguous,” he explains. “It clearly spells out housing and health rights, along with other social and economic rights.”

Shokr says the charter protects basic rights, including the right to social security, employment opportunities, collective bargaining, and safeguards against punitive sackings of workers and punitive dissolutions of labor organizations.

It also outlines provisions for Egypt’s workers, small farmers, peasants, fishermen, persons with special needs, pensioners, minorities and women, he says.

“Nonetheless, there are a number of reservations I have regarding extant articles in the constitution,” Shokr says.

“For example, the right to strike, according to Article 15, should be regulated in accordance with international law, not in accordance with yet another intrusive and restrictive Egyptian labor law.”

According to Saud Omar, of the independent Suez Regional Union Federation, “This new constitution contains many of the same labor violations contained in the Muslim Brotherhood’s 2012 Constitution; it’s merely another version of it.

“Many of its provisions are worryingly similar to the 2012 Constitution, and its predecessors,” she says.

According to Article 93 of the new draft constitution, “The state is committed to the agreements, covenants, and international human rights conventions that Egypt has ratified. They have the force of law after publication in accordance with the specified circumstances.”

Yet a number of provisions in the draft constitution appear to directly contravene such international human rights and labor instruments that the Egyptian State has voluntarily ratified.

Despite the fact that Egypt ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Conventions 29 and 105 Concerning Forced Labor, and the Abolition of Forced Labor) in the 1950s, Article 12 in the new draft constitution still stipulates that “[t]here can be no forced labor except in accordance with the law, and with the objective of performing a public service for a defined period of time and in return for a fair wage.”

For Omar, it is “shocking to find that in 2014 forced labor is still being stipulated for in the national constitution, and is meant to be upheld with a governing law.”

She maintains that forced labor should be outlawed in all its forms, under all pretexts, in accordance with the labor and human rights conventions to which Egypt is a state party.

Shokr also explains that there should be no law governing the conditions of forced labor.

“We had hoped that this provision would be scrapped from the constitution altogether, not merely amended. There must be no provision allowing for forced labor in the constitution or in any other laws,” he said.

Following in the footsteps of the 2012 Constitution, the new draft stipulates in Article 80 that the state shall protect children and shield them from all abuse, mistreatment and exploitation.

“It is prohibited to employ children prior to reaching the age of completing their basic education, and is prohibited to employ them in jobs exposing them to hazards,” it reads.

Egypt’s basic education concludes at the age of 14 or 15, while the age of majority is set at 18 years.
Subsequent laws governing this constitutional article should comply with the ILO’s Conventions 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (which Egypt ratified in 2002), and Convention 138 on the Minimum Age (ratified in 1999), which sets the minimum age for legal child labor at 15.

Nonetheless, millions of Egyptian children are reportedly employed in agriculture, industry and the service sectors well before they have completed their basic education, or prior to the age of 15.

The draft constitution of 2014 continues to enshrine military trials against civilians and non-military employees.

According to Article 204, civilians may be brought to stand trial before military tribunals for “crimes constituting a direct assault on military facilities, barracks, or whatever falls under their authority; military or border zones; its equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent a direct assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.

The law defines such crimes and determines the other competencies of the Military Judiciary.

Civilians are often denied their due-process rights under such exceptional courts, and are also denied the right to appeal military courts’ verdicts.

According to Omar, this article “empowers the armed forces to continue sending civilian workers who protest at army-owned enterprises to military trials, along with conscripted troops, journalists, media crews, and just about anybody else who questions them.”

Omar explains that this provision has been preserved in the constitution, while the interim authorities have issued laws strictly curtailing freedom of assembly and the right to protest.

“Together these laws will naturally be used to crack down on labor unrest and industrial actions in the future,” she warns.

Shokr echoed her sentiment, saying that this provision may be used against anyone who protests or holds strikes at any of the numerous military-owned enterprises, including at non-military production sites and factories.

Article 204 of the draft constitution apparently contravenes Article 14 of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates judicial procedural fairness and the rights of the accused, which the Egyptian State voluntarily ratified in 1982.

While Article 76 of the draft constitution safeguards the right to democratically establish trade unions, it adds a novel and vague provision stipulating that such unions “may not be established within governmental bodies.”

This new provision, not included in any constitution before, directly violates ILO Conventions 87 and 98 concerning freedom of association, and the right to organize, which Egypt ratified in the 1950s.

“What do they mean by preventing unionization with government bodies?” Shokr asks. "This is unheard of. This is a clear violation of the ILO conventions that Egypt has ratified. These conventions only grant states the power to prohibit unionization within their police or armed forces, not in any other governmental body.

He deemed this “an unprecedented breach of labor rights.”

According to a provision introduced in the 2012 Constitution, and enshrined in the new draft constitution as Article 77, “not more than one professional syndicate may be established for each profession. “

This article pertains not to Egypt’s labor unions, but to professional associations, including the general syndicates of teachers, doctors, engineers, lawyers and others.

Nonetheless, Article 77 remains in direct violation of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, which guarantee employees the right to establish any professional organization, union or syndicate for all legally recognized professions.

“This is an unwarranted intervention into the liberties of Egypt’s professionals, and a violation of their organizational rights in accordance to international law,” Shokr says.

According to Amr al-Shoura, board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate, this article limits the rights of doctors and other professionals, as well as their syndicate freedoms.

Shoura pointed out that a nearly identical article was introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s constituent assembly in 2012 to ensure the ruling regimes’ control over professional associations. The Muslim Brotherhood had dominated the boards of numerous professional syndicates for nearly three decades.

“Since 2011, many doctors had been discussing the establishment of an independent or parallel doctors’ syndicate to better represent them,” he says. Yet such ambitions for syndicate plurality have now been rendered unconstitutional.

Perhaps the most controversial amendment made to the Constitution of 2012, in terms of labor rights, was the scrapping of the 50 percent quota for representatives of workers and farmers in both houses of parliament. This was a populist measure included in the Constitution of 1964 at the behest of Nasser’s regime.

A host of labor unions and farmers’ organizations have recently denounced the scrapping of the quota.

In November, Abdel Fattah Ibrahim, president of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and a member of the 50-person constituent assembly, withdrew from the constitution-drafting process in protest at the cancellation of the quota.

“Out of his anguish at the current condition of workers and farmers, the late President Abdel Nasser must be rolling over in his grave,” he said in an earlier interview.

Ironically, despite pulling out of the constituent assembly, Ibrahim has been mobilizing and campaigning for a “yes” vote among the ETUF’s nationwide membership of some four million workers.

Ibrahim has commented that the ETUF endorses the draft constitution as a part and parcel of the interim government’s political roadmap for the country.

Critics of the 50 percent quota claim that it did not genuinely represent either workers or farmers, but rather the ruling regimes’ loyalists.

Explains Omar, “I opposed the 50 percent quota as it failed to represent the working classes. However, I now fear that there will be no representation whatsoever for workers or farmers in the next parliament.”

He adds, “We should have held on to the 50 percent quota, for at least one or two parliamentary terms, so as to enable workers and farmers to establish viable political parties through which they could compete for seats in parliament.”

The new draft constitution has lifted a prohibition on labor-based or class-based parties, thus facilitating the establishment of such political entities for both workers and farmers.

Despite the scrapping of the workers’ and farmers’ quota in parliament, the new draft constitution still maintains this 50 percent quota for local town councils, as is stipulated in Article 180.

*Photo by Jano Charbel

Egypt: Activists arrested for ‘No’ campaign

Repression Intensifies Ahead of Constitutional Referendum
January 13, 2014

(New York) – At least seven peaceful activists from the Strong Egypt party face criminal charges, apparently for hanging posters calling for a “no” vote in the forthcoming constitutional referendum. During interrogations with prosecutors and police, questions fixated on the posters and the men’s political views. The constitutional referendum will be held on January 14 and 15, 2014.

Police arrested the activists in three separate incidents after finding them in possession of posters calling for a “no” vote in the week preceding the referendum. Prosecutors charged the first group of three, arrested on January 7, under a section of the penal code that criminalizes “propogat[ing]… the call for changing the basic principles of the constitution…when the use of force or terrorism, or any other illegal method, is noted during the act.”

A fourth party member detained on January 10 faces charges related to alleged involvement in terrorism. Three others, apprehended on January 12 for “distributing fliers, attempting to overthrow the regime, provoking citizens to reject the constitution, and engaging in incitement against the police and army,” will be brought in front of prosecutors on January 13 to face specific charges.

“Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘no’ vote,” said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa deputy director. “Protecting the right to vote requires safeguarding the right to free expression.”

The referendum comes in the midst of widening repression against political dissent in which arbitrary arrests solely for the exercise of peaceful expression and assembly have increased. While streets are awash with billboards and signs calling for a “yes” vote, “no” posters have been virtually absent from the public square.

On January 7, police arrested three volunteers from the Strong Egypt party, a centrist party founded by Abd al-Moneim Abu al-Fotouh, who left the Muslim Brotherhood due to ideological differences in 2011.

The three – 30-year-old accountant Ihab Abd al-Karim, the party’s secretary for public outreach in Giza; 21-year-old Islam al-Akabawy, a law student at Cairo University; and 22-year-old Ali Mohamed Ali, a law student at al-Azhar University – were arrested around 10 p.m., minutes after they had finished hanging several dozen “No to the Constitution” posters in the Garden City neighborhood of downtown Cairo, Abd al-Karim and a witness told Human Rights Watch.

Police approached the men from behind as they walked together on the Corniche al-Nil, a road along the Nile River, still holding a handful of posters, on their way to catch public minibuses home. After asking a few questions about the signs, the police arrested the men and transported them to the nearby Qasr al-Nil police station.

Police detained a fourth party activist, 35-year-old Mahmoud Emam, who runs a make-up and perfume store, in the early hours of January 10. He told Human Rights Watch that police pulled him off a minibus at a police checkpoint near the Ahmed Sa’ed Bridge in the Abbassiya district of eastern Cairo and discovered posters and fliers calling for a “no” vote inside a newspaper he was carrying.

Emam had been on his way home after a night in which he had put up “no” signs in the Dokki neighborhood of western Cairo and had stopped at the Qasr al-Nil station to check on Abd al-Karim, al-Akabawy, and Ali.

The police arrested three other party members, Sami Ashraf, Mohamed Abu Leila, and Ahmed Badawi, as they finished hanging posters in Hadayek al-Qobba, a district in eastern Cairo, at around 7 p.m. on January 12, according to Abd al-Rahman Yusif, a Strong Egypt party lawyer who spoke to the men at the Hadayek al-Qobba police station where they were held later that night.

The posters read “No to the Constitution” and “2013 = 2012” in Arabic at the top, and include the name of the Strong Egypt party in both Arabic and English at the bottom. Different variations of the middle section contain one of five slogans in Arabic: “No to Military Trials for Civilians,” “No to the Army’s Loss of Prestige and Politicization,” “No to the Denial of Oversight Over the Corruption of Institutions,” “No to the Loss of the Rights of the Downtrodden to the Account of Businessmen,” and “No to the Continuation of the Interior Ministry’s Thuggery.”

Upon seeing this last sign, officers at the checkpoint who arrested Emam punched him repeatedly, exclaiming: “We will show you the thuggery of the Interior Ministry,” Emam told Human Rights Watch. Abd al-Karim and Emam both said that when police took their pictures at the respective stations they were being held at, they forced them to hold signs that read “Posters in Opposition to the Regime.”

Prosecutors interrogated Abd al-Karim, al-Akabawy, and Ali on January 8. According to Mohamed Atef and Yasmin al-Sheikh, lawyers present for the interrogations of each of the three men, prosecutors questioned the activists about where they got the posters, who funded the effort, and why they were putting them up. Having confiscated the men’s phones, they also asked about video footage of protests found on them. In none of the interrogations did prosecutors ask about or accuse the activists of using force or coercion of any kind.

Prosecutors charged the three men under article 98(b) of the penal code. The section prescribes penalties of not more than five years imprisonment and fines of no less than 50,000 Egyptian pounds (USD$7180) to:
Whoever propagates in the Republic of Egypt, by any means, the call for changing the basic principles of the constitution or the basic system of the social body, or condemning a social class with regards to other classes or eliminating social classes or to overthrow the basic state economic or social system, or destroying any core institution to the social body when the use of force or terrorism, or any other illegal method, is noted during the act.
Prosecutors initially questioned Emam on January 10 without a lawyer present, he told Human Rights Watch. Police focused on the posters calling for a “no” vote and on Emam’s political views, asking why he opposed the constitution and whether party head Abu al-Fotouh would run for president. On January 11, prosecutors again interrogated Emam, but this time in the presence of lawyers. Strong Egypt party lawyer Yusif, present for the interrogation, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors decided to charge Emam under article 86 of the penal code, which proscribes penalties for involvement in acts of terrorism. The only evidence produced by the prosecutor were the posters and Emam’s involvement in the Strong Egypt party, Yusif said.

Prosecutors ordered al-Karim, al-Akabawy, Ali, and Emam released from custody pending charges. Al-Akabawy and Ali left the Qasr al-Nil police station in the early hours of January 10, while Abd al-Karim was released around 5 p.m. that day. The men told Human Rights Watch they spent their nights in custody in overcrowded detention cells in the basement of the police station, where they were crammed so tightly along with several dozen criminal detainees that they had no room to sit. Police released Emam from the al-Dhaher police station at around 10:30 p.m. on January 11, after two nights in tiny three-by-three meter underground cells with 20 criminal detainees, all of whom had been there over a month, Emam said.

Emam and Abd al-Karim told Human Rights Watch that before agreeing to release the four men, police turned them over to an officer with National Security for questioning. Abd al-Karim said that the officer from National Security told him he “should be thankful for your good luck. If the situation [in Egypt] had not calmed down, we would have renewed your detention for 15 days after 15 days and kept you in prison, where the conditions are like nothing you have seen. You have been spoiled.”

Hours before his release, police officers approached Emam in his detention cell and asked him to take off his undershirt and tear it up in front of the other detainees, Emam told Human Rights Watch. Then two police officers blindfolded him and whisked him out of the cell. Blindfolded and firmly held between the two officers, they forced him to run up two flights of stairs as they hit him repeatedly. At the top of the staircase, an unidentified officer interrogated Emam about his political views, asking him how he voted in previous elections, what parts of the constitution he opposed, and what he thought would happen in Egypt if the constitution did not pass.

At the time of writing, police had yet to release Ashraf, Abu Leila, and Badawi.

Police on January 11 arrested an eighth Strong Egypt party activist, 20 year-old engineering student Mohamed Baghat, in Khosous, a city in the Qaloybia Governorate north of Cairo, according to a Strong Egypt party member in the city who spoke with Baghat and requested anonymity. This person told Human Rights Watch that police detained and repeatedly struck Baghat after witnessing him spray-paint “No to the Constitution” on the wall of a public school, where a “Yes to the Constitution” conference was being held. Baghat was released without charge on January 12 after a night in a detention cell at the Khosous police station and interrogation by National Security officers.

Police held another party member for several hours at the Khosous police station as he attempted to secure Baghat’s release, according to the party member who spoke with the man and Human Rights Watch and requested that the man’s name not be mentioned. While in detention, the party member said, police violently beat the man, including by hitting him in the head with the barrel of a rifle.

The arrests of the Strong Egypt activists fit an increasingly prevalent practice of police detaining political activists solely on the basis of peaceful expression, Human Rights Watch said. With specific regards to the campaign around the referendum, the ONA news agency reported on December 9, 2013, that police had arrested seven activists from al-Azhar University carrying banners calling for “No to the Constitution” and “No to the Protest Law.” According to the state-run al-Ahramnewspaper, police in Aswan in Upper Egypt arrested nine members of the Muslim Brotherhood on January 5, 2014, for distributing flyers calling for a boycott of the referendum.

In a January 10 news conference, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim declared “every Friday no less than 500 to 600 get arrested… at the beginning, we used to wait for the demonstration to turn violent, but now we confront them once they congregate. When we confront them, there are some that run, but, whoever we can grab, we detain.” Over the past three Fridays police have arrested 703 protesters and killed 27, according to the Interior and Health Ministries. Ibrahim also warned that “any attempt to disrupt the referendum or to prevent citizens from voting will be confronted by a level of force and severity that has not been seen before.”

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, Egypt is required to protect freedom of expression. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body of experts that reviews states’ compliance with the ICCPR, has written that the freedom of expression is “essential” to the full enjoyment of the right to participate in public affairs and vote.

Article 65 of Egypt’s draft constitution states that “[a]ll individuals have the right to express their opinion through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication.”

“The assessment of whether a vote is free and fair has to involve a comprehensive evaluation of the political climate,” Stork said. “Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against the Strong Egypt activists and ensure that citizens can peacefully protest during the referendum.”
In Arabic:
تصاعد القمع قبل الاستفتاء على الدستور

Airport authorities bar 61 Canadian Shia pilgrims from entering Egypt

61 pilgrims stopped at airport en route to religious sites

Egypt stopped 61 Canadian Shia Muslim pilgrims from entering the country and decided to hold them at Cairo airport until their onward flight, security officials said on Sunday.

The Canadians landed in Egypt from Iraq to complete a pilgrimage to Shia sites in the region, but were kept out on the orders of security authorities, said airport security officials who gave no further explanation. Canadians are usually allowed into Egypt with a visa bought upon arrival.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is in contact with the group and is monitoring the situation, a spokeswoman told CBC News, though she noted Egypt, like any country, is free to determine who can enter.

A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Ottawa would react later on Sunday.
The government of Egypt, an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim nation, has long been criticized for discriminating against the country's small Shia community. Egypt's official Islamic establishment has previously warned against the spread of Shia beliefs.

The U.S. State Department's religious freedom report for 2012 said the government "continued to harass" Shias.

In June, four Egyptian Shias were beaten to death by a mob, a lynching blamed partly on sectarian passions whipped up by ultra-orthodox Salafist Muslim allies of President Mohammed Morsi, who was deposed by the army a few weeks later.

The Shia denomination emerged in the earliest days of Islam from a dispute over who should lead the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shias believe leadership should have passed to Ali, the prophet's son-in-law, and his descendants.

Doctors launch partial strike across Egypt

Mada Masr

Doctors launch partial strike across Egypt

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

 Jano Charbel

Thousands of doctors began the year by launching a partial one-day strike across the country, in public hospitals and the Health Ministry’s medical facilities, to demand increased salaries for physicians and improved conditions for patients. The second day of the strike is slated for January 8.

For the first time in its history, the Pharmacists Syndicate officially joined in with the Doctors Syndicate in a strike. Nursing staff in numerous hospitals are also reported to have joined Wednesday’s strikes — although their union leaders have announced that nurses will not participate in any official capacity.

The doctors’ strike committee announced it would reveal new tactics and plans for escalation if need be, depending on the government’s response.

Estimates provided by the Doctors Syndicate strike committee suggest that an average of 80 percent of physicians at the Health Ministry’s hospitals participated in the first day of the strike. An estimated 70 percent of pharmacists are reported to have joined in this strike action.

Amr al-Shora, a leading board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate, told Mada Masr, “Based on what I personally witnessed, I estimate a participation rate in the strike of around 85 percent to 90 percent in hospitals around Cairo and Giza.”

Shora explained that more definitive figures would be compiled by the Doctors Syndicate strike committee on Wednesday evening.

“This is the first day of the strike,” he said. “It is meant to serve as a warning to the authorities regarding our demands. If they don’t heed our demands we will move towards an escalation.”    
However, the Health Ministry has downplayed the strike and has issued figures suggesting that only 30 percent of public sector doctors participated in the work stoppage.

Shora said that the Health Ministry’s claims regarding the strike are “false,” explaining that ministry officials provided this estimate based on the number of patients who entered hospitals and sought medical attention.

The strike committee had announced at a press conference, held at the Doctors Syndicate on Tuesday, that the strike would not halt or affect operations in emergency rooms, urgent surgeries, incubators or other pressing medical needs.

Mona Mina, recently elected as secretary general of the syndicate and a leading member of the strike committee, said, “All doctors will be present at hospitals during the strike, regardless of whether they are striking or not.”

Mina explained that all critical and life-threatening medical conditions will be attended to during the strike.

She clarified that the doctors are embarking on professional strike — “This is not a political strike,” she said, adding that “our demands are exactly the same as they were during our previous strikes” over the past two years.

These demands include, raising the national health budget from its current level just below 4.5 percent (to around 15 percent of the national budget), raising doctors’ salaries (which average only a few hundred pounds per month,) ensuring the security of hospitals from assaults and from infectious diseases.

Speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, Khaled Samir said, “We don’t want doctors to exploit this strike for political ends or objectives. This is not an act of civil disobedience nor a political pressure tool.”

Nonetheless, officials from the Health Ministry have accused striking doctors of causing chaos, and of working in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some divisions and schisms were apparent even within the ranks of the striking doctors. During Tuesday’s press conference Amir al-Adl commented, “There is no place for the Muslim Brotherhood’s political maneuverings in the course of this strike.”

This comment was met with disapproval from bearded doctors, affiliated to the Brotherhood’s bloc, dubbed ‘Doctors For Egypt.’

A member of Doctors For Egypt bloc whose name is being withheld for security reasons said that in addition to the other strike demands, “We also demand the release of all wrongfully imprisoned doctors.”

The Brotherhood-led bloc claims that some 100 doctors have been jailed since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi by the Armed Forces on July 3.

The Doctors For Egypt bloc had opposed strike action over the past two years — led by such groups as Doctors Without Rights and the Independence Current — when the Muslim Brotherhood was the ruling party, especially under Morsi’s rule.

It is on this basis that the Brotherhood bloc has been accused of double standards regarding strike action, and also politicizing strikes for their immediate interests.

The Brotherhood’s bloc was largely defeated during the midterm Doctor’s Syndicate elections held on December 13. These elections unseated the Brotherhood’s bloc, which had dominated the syndicate for nearly 20 years.

The Independence Current — made up of liberal, centrist and left-leaning physicians — now dominates the Doctors Syndicate on a national level.

“We are witnessing new conditions in the Doctors Syndicate in light of the most recent elections,” Mina said. “There is now less resistance from the board of the Doctors Syndicate regarding strike action.”

She went on to say, “We are tired of the poor concessions that the ministries of health and finance have offered us. These concessions and trivial bonuses are nothing more than temporary painkillers.”

“We urgently need a radical change in doctors’ salaries and in patients’ healthcare,” she said. “The previous concessions have been insufficient for both doctors and patients.”