Friday, October 31, 2014

Army forcefully displaces 10,000 residents & destroys 100s of homes by Gaza border

Associated Press 
Egyptian army demolishes homes along Gaza border

Thursday - October 30, 2014

EL-ARISH, Egypt - With dynamite and bulldozers, Egypt's army demolished dozens of homes along its border with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after the military ordered residents out to make way for a planned buffer zone meant to stop extremists and smugglers.

The plan to clear 10,000 residents from some 800 houses over just several days has angered the area's population, which has long held grievances with Cairo.

"To throw 10,000 people into the street in a second, this is the biggest threat to national security," said Ayman Mohsen, whose sister left her house about 350 yards from the border. Speaking to the Associated Press via online messages, he said the army told residents to leave on Tuesday within 48 hours, and that houses would be blown up even if people remained inside.

Over the last decade, the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula has become a hub for Islamic extremists, although insurgency has spiked since last year's military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. It has also spread to other parts of Egypt, with extremists targeting police in Cairo and the Nile Delta.

The move to set up the planned 8-mile buffer zone, which will be 500 yards wide, comes after extremists attacked an army checkpoint near Sheikh Zuweyid town last week, killing 31 soldiers. No group claimed responsibility.

After the attack, Egypt declared a three-month state of emergency and dawn-to-dusk curfew there and indefinitely closed the Gaza crossing, the only non-Israeli passage for the crowded strip with the world.

Mona Barhomaa, an activist who lives 800 yards from the border and who is not affected by the evacuation order, said she supported the demolitions.

"The tunnels to me are like windows that for years my neighbors have used to infiltrate my house," she said, referring to the underground passageways used to smuggle goods and weapons. "The tunnels led us into this hellish situation."

Many residents were angered by the short notice and poor local organization, as well as a hostile media campaign unleashed days earlier that saw private and public television commentators equating opposition to the plan with treason.

Tanks and armored vehicles sealed off all of Rafah as thick gray smoke rose in the sky each time demolition charges went off and another house was toppled.

The corridor will eventually be monitored by surveillance cameras and feature a water-filled trench that will be 40 yards wide, 20 yards deep, and run all along the border to the Mediterranean Sea, officials said.

*Photo by Said Khatib, courtesy of AFP/Getty Images 

Interpol rejects Egypt's request for arrest of Al-Jazeera journalist

No Interpol arrest warrant for Al-Jazeera journalist

Global police body says Egypt's request for international arrest warrant against Ahmed Mansour "did not meet its rules."

October 28, 2014         

The global police organisation Interpol has rejected Egypt's request for an international arrest warrant against Ahmed Mansour, a senior Al Jazeera Arabic TV journalist.

Mansour, who is facing a 15-year jail term in his home country, is one of several journalists working for the Qatar-based media network convicted in absentia by Egyptian courts.

In a statement on Tuesday, Doha-based Al Jazeera quoted Interpol as saying that the "red notice request" issued by Egyptian authorities "did not meet Interpol’s rules."

Egypt has stepped up efforts to curb dissent following the military coup in 2013 that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, ordering the arrest of prominent opposition leaders, Muslim Brotherhood members, activists and journalist.

Three Al Jazeera English journalists - Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste - were arrested late in 2013 and recently marked their 300th day in jail.

An Egyptian court convicted Mansour earlier this month of "carrying out torture against a lawyer in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the revolution" of January 2011.

Mansour has vigorously rejected the charges, which Doha-based Al Jazeera has dismissed as "a flimsy attempt at character assassination."

Speaking to Al Jazeera English on Tuesday, Mansour said the Interpol's rebuff casts doubt on the Egyptian judiciary's decisions.

"The Interpol decision means that all Al Jazeera employees including Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy, convicted by Egyptian courts are completely innocent."

An Al Jazeera Media Network spokesman in the Qatari capital Doha said the Egyptian "campaign" to intimidate journalists is "not working" and called on the government to stop going after journalists including Mansour.

The spokesman also repeated the media network's call for the release of Greste, Mohamed and Fahmy.

Sisi expands army's power to send civilians to military trials

Egypt’s leader grants military broad powers to put civilians on trial

October 27, 2014

Egypt’s president expanded the powers of the country’s armed forces Monday to enable the prosecution of civilians in military courts, a move that rights activists fear will intensify an already searing government crackdown on dissent.

The measures by President ­Abdel Fatah al-Sissi give the military even broader reach than during the decades under Hosni Mubarak, who applied relentless pressure on perceived opponents until his ouster in early 2011.

Sissi’s decree allows the military to try civilians for a wide variety of crimes, including destroying public property and blocking roads.

Egypt’s constitution already grants the army the ability to try cases that directly involve a military officer or an army installation. But Monday’s edict extends the military’s jurisdiction to cover attacks on “vital” institutions such as power plants, oil fields and bridges.

The move by Sissi, a former defense minister who rose to power as a military strongman, follows a devastating attack last week on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, where militant groups have flourished in recent years.

The suicide car bombing killed more than 30 soldiers, making it the deadliest attack on Egyptian army personnel in decades. Government officials said Monday that the law is necessary to ensure the safety of citizens and that it will remain in force for two years.

But military trials in Egypt are often held in secret, and judges mete out swift verdicts that can be challenged only before a military appeals court. Activists say civilian lawyers have trouble navigating the military justice system, leaving defendants without proper legal counsel.

Experts are worried that the scope of the military’s expanded jurisdiction will permanently sideline civilian courts in favor of army tribunals.

“This decree means we will destroy the civilian courts and make military justice the norm,” said Mohamed Zarea, director of the Cairo-based Arab Penal Reform Organization, which offers legal assistance to prisoners. “We can’t just turn all of our state institutions into military institutions.”

The current government has presided over one of the most repressive periods in Egypt’s history, beginning when Sissi toppled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in a military coup in 2013.

The subsequent rise of a low-level insurgency has contributed to steady attacks against security personnel, killing hundreds.

Authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people in a bid to cripple the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed Morsi and that is Egypt’s largest opposition movement. But the clampdown also has extended to secular activists and students opposed to Sissi’s rule.

On Sunday, an Egyptian judge sentenced 23 activists to three years in prison for violating a protest law adopted late last year. In the wake of the Sinai attack, Egyptian media personalities have urged the local press to refrain from publishing stories that would “undermine” the army’s efforts to fight terrorism.

“This is just the imposition of authoritarian power through emergency law,” said Amir Salem, an Egyptian human rights lawyer. “And what it means is that there will be more decrees like this and probably more crackdowns.”

*Heba Habib contributed to this report.

Mainstream media pledges to limit criticism of Sisi's dictatorship

New York Times
Egyptian Media to Limit Criticism of Government

OCT. 26, 2014

CAIRO — A group of Egyptian newspaper editors pledged Sunday to limit their criticism of state institutions, a day after Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, warned of a “conspiracy” behind a militant attack last week that killed at least 31 soldiers.

The editors said they condemned the attack, which occurred on Friday in the Sinai Peninsula, while promising to confront the “hostile culture toward the national project and the foundations of the Egyptian state.”

The statement raised the likelihood of growing limits on dissent, and appeared to be an attempt to please Mr. Sisi, who drastically sharpened his own tone on Saturday in dealing with the simmering Islamist insurgency centered in the Sinai Peninsula that escalated after the military takeover in July 2013.

In discussing Friday’s attack — the deadliest assault on the Egyptian military in years — Mr. Sisi grew visibly angry, vaguely blaming foreign plots that he said sought to “break Egypt’s will.”

Court sentences 23 activists to 3 years in jail for partaking in peaceful protest march

Three Years in Prison for Rights Activist, Others
October 26, 2014
(Beirut) – A Cairo court of minor offenses handed down three-year sentences to 23 people for breaking an anti-protest law that allows Egyptian authorities broad powers to ban or disperse most public demonstrations. 
One of those sentenced on October 20, 2014, Yara Sallam, is a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, one of the country’s leading human rights organizations. The court also fined the defendants 10,000 EGP (US$1,400) each.

Police arrested the group on June 21 at a peaceful protest where they were calling for the repeal of the law, which then-interim President Adly Mansour issued by decree on November 24, 2013. The defendants can appeal the verdict.

“It’s back to business as usual in Egypt, with the Egyptian government brazenly trampling on the rights of its citizens and Western governments supporting it,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “The Sisi government will clearly go to any length to crush domestic opposition, whether secular or Islamist.”

Rights activists estimate that authorities have arrested hundreds for breaking the law, which grants the Interior Ministry an absolute right to ban protests or public meetings on the basis of “serious information or evidence that there will be a threat to peace and security,” without requiring any proof.

In June 2014, the United States released $575 million in military aid to Egypt that it had frozen since a July 2013 military coup led by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that ousted former President Mohamed Morsy. 
It did so on the basis of a national security exception to requirements that the State Department certify that Egypt was “taking steps to support a democratic transition… and for the development of…basic freedoms, including civil society and the media.” 

Student dies from injuries sustained following police raid of campus

Aswat Masriya

Egypt: Student Dies Due to Wounds Sustained During On-Campus Violence

 October 21, 2014

Alexandria — A student at the University of Alexandria was reported dead on Tuesday morning due to wounds sustained during on-campus violence last week.

Omar Abdel Wahab, a sophomore at the university's faculty of law, was admitted into the university hospital following his injury last Tuesday. He is the first student to die as a result of on-campus violence during the current academic year, which started on October 11.

University campuses have witnessed unprecedented violence throughout the past academic year, with at least 16 students killed amid on-campus protests, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression's Student Observatory.

The pro-Mohamed Mursi "Students against the coup" movement has been organising protests against the former Islamist president's military ouster throughout the past academic year. Protests have often devolved into clashes with security forces.

"Students against the coup" in the University of Alexandria mourned the death of Abdel Wahab. In a statement released on Tuesday, the movement vowed that the deceased student's blood "will not go in vain."

A number of students from the University of Alexandria organised a demonstration protesting Abdel Wahab's death and calling for retribution on Tuesday, an eye-witness told Aswat Masriya.

The Ministry of Interior said on October 14 that two policemen were wounded in clashes between students who "belong to the Muslim Brotherhood" and the security forces inside Alexandria University.

The security forces arrested 37 students, the ministry added in a statement. It accused around 250 protesting students of vandalising one of the gates and pelting security personnel outside the university with rocks.

Mohamed Ramadan, an Alexandrian lawyer defending 16 students arrested on background of the violence which took place in the University of Alexandria on October 14, told Aswat Masriya that all 16 defendants were "randomly arrested" from the scene of the violence, denying that any of them has political affiliations.

The 16 defendants are accused of murdering Abdel Wahab, the attempted murder of another student who was injured in the violence, illegal assembly and protesting without notice, Ramadan said. They were detained for 15 days on Thursday.

Before the start of the academic year, the cabinet discussed measures to be adopted during the year to quell any possible tension.

Minister of Higher Education Sayed Abdel Khalek hired a private security company on September 24 to guard 12 public universities during the coming academic year.

Strict security measures adopted by Falcon Security Services at the university gates nevertheless triggered violence from the students, who became frustrated with their delayed entrance into campus.

The Cairo-based Democracy Index reported on Saturday the occurrence of 58 student protests during the first week of the new academic year, at the rate of almost 10 protests per day.

AFTE reported the arrest of over 200 students during the past week in a report released on Saturday. AFTE said that 186 students remain detained. Those arrested include 70 students arrested from their homes, AFTE had earlier reported.

Eight domestic civil society organisations condemned the arrest of students during the first three days of the year in a statement released last Tuesday. International Watchdog Human Rights Watch also condemned the students' arrest in a separate statement on the same day, calling for their release.

Police use excessive force in attempt to crush student protests

Egypt: Security forces use excessive force to crush student protests 

17 October 2014

Testimonies gathered by Amnesty International indicate that Egyptian security forces used excessive force to crack down on student demonstrations at Alexandria University this week, injuring at least 35 students and leaving three other students in a critical condition. Two security officers were injured during the clashes according to official figures. 

Students interviewed by Amnesty International described how protests that started peacefully on university grounds later descended into violence. Security forces stationed outside the university’s main gate fired tear gas and shotgun pellets at a crowd of students, some of whom hurled ‘hmarich’ (fireworks), Molotov cocktails and stones.

It is not clear how the clashes began but as they intensified, security forces broke down the main gate storming the university premises, chasing students and continuing to fire at them.

“The Egyptian security forces have a bleak record of using arbitrary and abusive force against protesters including students. The lack of accountability for such violations, including unlawful killings, gives them the green light to carry on brutalizing protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The demonstrations at Alexandria University began in the early afternoon on 14 October when around 500 students gathered to protest against security measures introduced by the university’s new security agency ‘Falcon’. The agency has been contracted by the Ministry of Higher Education to maintain security in 15 universities across Egypt.

The new security measures imposed include searches at the university gates, stricter policies on male and female students mixing and the power to stop and search students on the university campus at any time. The students were also protesting against the unfair trials and prolonged detention of fellow students arrested during previous demonstrations.

One student told Amnesty International how security forces stationed outside the main gate had shot at students protesting on campus nearby. “They started firing tear gas followed by shotgun pellets.

The pellets were raining down on us and I could see students around me getting injured. We were suffocated by the tear gas and ran away moving further inside the university campus,” he said.

Another student recounted how security forces who had broken down the main gate chased students who sought refuge in the Mechanical Engineering department building.

“They were even following us with their armoured vehicles inside the university campus,” he said.

“They started to shoot pellets and I saw my friend Abdel Rahman Abdel Aziz shot in his mouth and eye, I carried him inside the Mechanical Engineering building with the help of other colleagues to seek protection, but the security forces followed us and continued to shoot tear gas and pellets inside the building.”

Another student who was inside the building told Amnesty International: “We were inside on the ground floor of the Mechanical Engineering department building. Security forces were shooting pellets and tear gas inside the building, they broke the glass of the windows of the ground floor and continued firing tear gas. They also fired pellets through gaps in the iron bars of the door to the building.”

Evidence collected by Amnesty International indicates that the security forces shot tear gas inside the building and used firearms and pellets, randomly against students when it was not necessary. One of the students injured during the incident, Omar Abdelwahab, is in a critical condition after sustaining pellet shots in his neck and both eyes.

“The government must act urgently to rein in the security forces,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Any use of force in the policing of demonstrations, even when they have turned violent or are regarded by the authorities as illegal, must comply with international law.

The use of force by security forces is prohibited by international law except as strictly necessary and to the extent required for them to perform their duty. Firearms may only be used as a last resort in self-defence or to protect others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Tear gas should not be fired at protesters inside buildings.

Widespread student protests against the repressive practices of the current government have rocked Egypt since the academic year began on 11 October and have been met by a fierce response from the authorities. At least 200 students across the country have been arrested during demonstrations and 90 have been injured according to Marsad Tolab Horreya (Student Freedom Observatory), an Egyptian student group that has been documenting violations during university protests.

At least 150 students were arrested during the protests at Alexandria University. Twenty-two remain in detention on vague or groundless charges including participating in protests without authorization.

 All those arrested merely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, must be released immediately and unconditionally with all charges against them dropped.

“Across the world, universities have provided a fertile ground for debates and dissent. This should be praised as a sign of a vibrant youth activism rather than crushed,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Where there is sufficient evidence of violent criminal activity against any protester, they must be tried only on recognizably criminal charges in proceedings that conform to international standards on fair trials.

Sixteen of the detained students have been accused of attempting to murder two students who were injured during the protests. The 16 students are also facing charges such as injuring two police officers, protesting without authorization, destroying public property and belonging to a banned group. These are felony crimes under Egyptian law and may be punished by up to 15 years in prison.

The six other students detained are accused of belonging to a banned group, protesting without authorization, possessing weapons and destroying public property. These are considered misdemeanours punishable by up to three years in prison.  The prosecutor ordered the detention of the two groups on 16 October for 15 days. 

*Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian workers & butchers riot in western Saudi Arabia

Associated Press
Egyptian workers riot in western Saudi Arabia

Monday, October 13, 2014

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia: The official Saudi Press Agency says five Saudi civilians were injured when a group of Egyptians rioted in the northwestern Red Sea city of Duba in a rare protest by foreign workers in the kingdom.

The news agency reported Monday that the workers threw rocks, burnt tires and closed a major road late Sunday to protest their employers' negligence. The protesters say they should have been provided transportation back to Egypt by now.

The men are among 1,700 seasonal butchers who stay in Saudi Arabia during the month of hajj. They are typically paid around 1,500 riyals, or about $400.

Employers often promise to pay for the roundtrip transportation to Saudi Arabia from Egypt, giving the workers a rare chance to also perform the Muslim pilgrimage while there.

Arab leftists meet in Tunis to address their shortcomings & hopes

Mada Masr
The left of the Arab world
The region's leftists meet in Tunis to share concerns, hopes
October 13, 2014
Jano Charbel
Why is the leftist movement in the Arab World weak, divided and marginalized? Why have leftist movements not landed themselves in power in any country since the so-called Arab Spring? What hopes lie in store for them?

While leftists played an active role in the 2011 uprisings and in the events that led up to them, they have since been eclipsed by the better-organized political Islamists, military authorities, businessmen and members of the ancien régimes.

These were some the questions and thoughts put up for debate at the ¨Contemporary Leftist Politics in the Arab World” conference held in Tunis last Thursday. The event touched on what the broader leftist movement across the region has been grappling with as the possibilities of the 2011 uprisings continue to unfold.

The conference was organized by the Germany-based Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Tunisia. Named after the communist leader Rosa Luxemburg — who was killed alongside many of her fellow leftist insurgents in January 1919 at the hands of German troops following an attempted workers' uprising in Berlin — the foundation inaugurated its first office in the North Africa region on October 8.

The conference builds on two books published by the foundation this month in Arabic and English mapping out the different leftist movements in several Arab countries, while attempting to draw new lessons from past histories.

Speaking in Tunis, renowned Egyptian labor lawyer, human rights activist and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali declared, “The time for socialist politics is approaching.”

That statement, however, came against a backdrop of self-criticism that loomed behind many discussions at the conference.

Ali, the founder of the Bread and Freedom Party, said that the emergence of the left ¨depends on the ability to respond to the demands of the populace and the streets.¨

“We should overcome our infighting and schisms, we must move beyond talk of shortcomings and failures. Social and economic struggles lay ahead of us, therefore we must be prepared and organized. We must shirk violence, even if it is directed against us,” Ali said.

He added that there are ¨generational conflicts¨ between the political outlooks of younger and older leftists.

The Arab left ¨is stuck in an ongoing struggle between Islamist states and military states,” Ali continued. “Both sorts of states threaten to bury the peoples' revolutionary demands.”

He also slammed the position of some leftist figures and groups vis-a-vis the Egyptian military’s ascent to power over the past year.

“Some have chosen to side with [President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi in hopes of wiping out Islamist politics,” Ali explained. “Others have sided with him in hopes of landing themselves in office, or winning parliamentary seats in the upcoming elections.”

Egypt’s problems were echoed by representatives of the leftist movement in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Bassem Salhy of the Palestinian People's Party (PPP) explained that the leftist movement there is fragmented amongst several small parties — primarily the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, small communist parties and the PPP.

“We've been seeking to unite our ranks for years, but have been unable to do so. Therefore, we are presently just seeking coordination amongst these different factions — for this is the least we can strive to achieve,” he said.

Echoing Ali’s thoughts, Salhy hoped that the Palestinian left will not be eclipsed by the Islamist Hamas Party and the liberal Fatah Party.

But unity is difficult to realize, he pointed out, "especially in light of the fact that the Israeli occupation is actively seeking to thwart efforts toward unity and reconciliation — even amongst Hamas and Fatah.”

“We need to step away from classical and outdated leftist politics. We need to move toward the politics of socialist renewal and reinvigoration,” Salhy concluded.

Another Egyptian socialist activist, Mohamed al-Agaty, argued that the left is not short of ideas — it just hasn’t been given a chance to implement them.

¨Many alternatives were proposed by leftist and progressive groups since the January 25 revolution, nearly all of which were ignored or sidelined,” Agaty said.

With the exception of a handful of elected parliamentarians and appointed ministers who served brief and interrupted terms, the Egyptian left did not succeed in influencing state policies.

However, participants chose to refer to their ¨shortcomings¨ rather than using the word “failures.”
Ahmed Abdel Hameed, a member of the Revolutionary Renewal Group, listed several reasons underlying those “shortcomings” in the Egyptian context, including a historical disillusionment with the politics of the Soviet Union and its subsequent collapse, ¨the rigid bureaucracy of old and new leftist parties alike, outdated classical centralism, the inability of leftist groupings to unite in viable political fronts or coalitions.¨

Leftists must learn from these mistakes and undo them if they seek to rise to prominence in the region, Abdel Hameed argued.

Despite these complications, Ali expressed hope for the new left in terms of their contemporary social, political and economic stances.

¨Leftist youth in Egypt have sided with recent student protests,¨ he pointed out, and the right to protest regardless of political allegiances. “Leftist youth in Egypt have taken an open stance against the new Protest Law, which greatly empowers the police, restricts the right to protest and the freedom of assembly."

But many at the conference contended that taking part in formal political processes is an important element for the success of the left.

Agaty said that the setbacks suffered by the Egyptian left were at least partially attributed to ¨repeated boycotts of elections and referendums that have kept leftists from interacting with voters and the general populace.¨

Egyptian leftists remain divided as to whether or not to run their candidates — or even to cast their ballots — in light of the draconian political conditions currently prevailing in the country.

State officials have still not specified the exact dates for Egypt's parliamentary elections, which are already overdue according to the provisions of the new Constitution.

Tunisian representatives at the conference appeared more determined with regards to fielding their candidates in their parliamentary elections, which are slated for October 26.

Leftists in Tunis, where a unified left-leaning coalition called the Popular Front has been gaining traction since 2012, appeared more united and prepared for these upcoming legislative elections.

A spokesperson for the Popular Front, Mawloudi al-Qassoumi, explained that this coalition initially included 11 constituent groupings, which have now dropped to nine, including Marxist and Nasserist parties, pan-Arab populists and others.

However, there are a host of other leftist, labor and communist groups which are not affiliated to this front, and which have already fielded their candidates.

¨The absence of a cohesive or unified left means a weakened stance, and an inability to realize the revolutionary demands of the populace,” Qassoumi said.

Despite their relative optimism with regards to the upcoming parliamentary elections, Tunisian leftists expressed concern that the Islamist Ennahda Party would win a majority of votes and seats.

¨We must move beyond sloganeering and merely chanting revolutionary demands,” Qassoumi urged.

“Otherwise, we shall continue to fail and lose opportunities to reach out to the general population.”
*Photo by Jano Charbel
Author's note: Amongst the most serious shortcomings/failures of leftist movements in the Arab world is their inability to coordinate with local labor movements, trade unions, farmers' organizations, student unions, neighborhood-watch committees, environmental activists, squatter communities, etc.
Nearly none of the participants at this conference in Tunis mentioned these civil society groups, nor did they mention their inability to coordinate with them. 
Most participants had state-centric outlooks and proposals - focusing on elections and representative democracy. Many of these participants spoke of leftist political parties, their role in parliamentary/presidential elections and "representative democracy." Nearly none spoke of direct democracy, or grassroots independent organizations.

Well over 110 students jailed for protesting against new security measures

Raids Aim to Suppress Campus Dissent
October 14, 2014

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities should release more than 110 university students arrested since the start of the school year on October 11, 2014. The arrests were apparently aimed at preventing a revival of campus protests that have erupted repeatedly since the overthrow of the former president, Mohamed Morsy, in July 2013. The arrests and subsequent activities appear to be solely directed at the students’ peaceful exercise of the right to free assembly.

Security forces arrested at least 71 students in 15 governorates on October 11, according to the Students for Freedom Observatory, an activist group formed this year to track worsening restrictions on campus political activities. The group said many students were seized from their homes in pre-dawn raids that involved uniformed police, plainclothes officers, and heavily-armed special forces units.

Police arrested another 44 on October 12 after protests erupted at universities across the country, and a further 17 on October 13. Authorities have released 14 students, the observatory said, but ordered many others detained for 15 days pending investigation. One institution, Monofeya University, ordered five students suspended for organizing protests, the Observatory said.

“This mass arrest of students is a pre-emptive strike on free speech and free assembly,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Universities should be safe zones for the exchange of ideas, including political debates.”

Most of those arrested apparently had participated in protests calling for academic freedom and the release of previously detained students, as well as expressing opposition to Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former defense minister who removed Morsy and was elected president in June.

In the 2013-2014 academic year following Morsy’s ouster, at least 14 students died in protest-related violence, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. Authorities delayed this academic year to mid-October to prepare for demonstrations. In June, al-Sisi issued a presidential decree that allows him to directly appoint university and faculty deans. Following a 2011 change made by Egypt’s post-revolutionary military rulers, university faculty had elected their own leadership. University deans can now dismiss faculty members for “crimes that disturb the educational process.” Cairo University, the country’s preeminent secular higher education institution, has banned all political activity. The government has hired the private security firm Falcon to guard entrances at 12 universities.

Saturday’s campaign of arrests appeared to unfold the same way across Egypt.

Police arrived at the home of Mustafa Tarek, 21, at around 2:30 a.m. on October 11, his brother, Mohamed, told Human Rights Watch. Tarek, a recent graduate in engineering from Mansoura University, had helped organize a boycott of the university’s final exams this year to protest the beating of students by campus security guards. The university was forced to reschedule the exams, his brother said.

Around two dozen uniformed and plainclothes police entered the family apartment, located near the university, and refused to show Tarek’s father a warrant when he asked for one, Mohamed said. When Mohamed objected to the police entering Tarek’s bedroom, where Mohamed’s four-year-old son was also sleeping, police punched him and his father, Mohamed said. After overturning furniture and searching drawers, the police took Tarek from the apartment. When Mohamed asked where they were taking him, the police told him that it was none of his business. Authorities questioned Tarek about whether he belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood or organized protests and ordered him detained for 15 days, Mohamed said.

Police took Islam Abdullah, 21, from his family’s home in the Shehadiyya district of Damietta at around 1:30 a.m. on October 11, according to his father, Gamal. Around 10 to 15 policemen wearing uniforms and plainclothes, some armed with assault rifles, woke the family and took Abdullah to the street, where two microbuses were waiting, the father said.

Abdullah, a fourth-year commerce student at Damietta University, is student union deputy president. His father said he did not know whether his son had participated in protests. After police arrested Abdullah, Gamal said he went to the city’s main state security building to wait. At around 3 a.m., he said, he saw police march Abdullah, his hands handcuffed in front of him, into the building. Gamal said he has received no further information about his son.

Also at around 3 a.m. on October 11, in Cairo’s Sayyida Zeinab district, police knocked on the door of Ibrahim Salah’s family apartment, according to Salah’s mother, Aisha. They asked Salah, who answered the door, for his university and personal identification cards, then searched the apartment, overturning drawers and furniture. The group included police officers and special forces troops who wore masks, she said.

After police found a clothespin that said “The Martyr Abdel Rahman Hassan,” Salah, a 23-year-old engineering student in his second year at Helwan University, told them that it referred to a friend. The officers took Salah’s mobile phone and laptop and did not respond when Aisha asked where they were taking her son. They marched Salah from the apartment, she said.

Aisha said that Salah’s older brothers visited the local police station and prosecutor’s office, but authorities have not provided any information about where he is being held or what charges he might face. A police officer told a lawyer for the family that it would be better if he did not follow them as they took Salah away, Aisha said.

“I just don’t want my son to be hurt, he’s a very good person, he doesn’t deserve that,” she said. “I’m so scared for him, I’m so scared for his sake. But I stood my ground, I didn’t break down.”

In another arrest at the same time, state security officers came to the family apartment of Ahmed Yasser, a 22-year-old computer science student in his fourth year at Helwan University, at around 3 a.m. on October 11, his sister Inas told Human Rights Watch. Three men carried weapons, including a man who stood at the door with an assault rifle, she said.

The officers who searched the apartment, in Cairo’s Medinat Nasr district, said they had come because Yasser was calling for protests on October 12, according to Inas. Yasser, a vocal supporter of Morsy, had once belonged to the university’s student union and had organized “anti-coup” protests calling for the release of detained students, Inas said.

Police had earlier arrested him at a protest in May 2014, and a court sentenced him to five years in prison for protesting illegally, belonging to a banned group, and insulting the army and police. Authorities had released Yasser during the trial and had not re-arrested him following his conviction, Inas said.

On October 12, she said, prosecutors ordered Yasser, now held in Madinat Nasr’s First Police Station, to be held for 15 days pending investigation.

*Photo by REUTERS

University students revolt against private security firm on 2nd day of classes

The Nasr City prosecution has ordered the detention of three Al-Azhar University students on Monday for their role in clashes on campus pursuant to demonstrations against security forces yesterday, the second day of classes.

The students face charges of rioting and inciting others to riot, belonging to a terrorist organization, illegal assembly, thuggery and vandalizing public property.

Clashes broke out at four Egyptian universities as students demonstrated against the on-campus presence of the private security firm Falcon. The security guards fled the altercation and allowed the police to intervene.

At A-Azhar University, students reportedly destroyed Falcon’s offices on the campus and broke the newly installed electronic gates.

On Sunday, the second day of school started exceptionally. Long queues of students formed in front of Falcon’s gates. News reports stated that Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated students attacked security personnel in several faculties, but there were widespread demonstrations against the strict policies implemented by new private security company Falcon and university guards.

At Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Students Against the Coup organized a march to demand the release of their arrested colleagues and the return to school of those who were expelled last year. The students also protested against the strict policies of the new security company and destroyed its office on campus. Later, police entered the campus, arrested five students and closed several streets in the vicinity.

At Ain Shams University, students protested the long queues at the gates and the new procedures implemented by Falcon, in collaboration with the university’s guards, who closed the doors to Zafarana castle in the middle of campus, as well as the faculties of science and computer science.  

At Cairo University, students organized a march that toured campus and chanted against Falcon and military rule, which they said has led to a state of chaos. Falcon security personnel fled the scene and five CSF and Special Forces tankers entered the campus to disperse the protest, arresting several students.

Students were also reportedly arrested yesterday from their houses in anticipation of activity on campuses. In a statement, the Freedom for the Brave student movement described the arrests as outrageous.

The spokesperson for Students against the Coup at Zagazig University, Ahmed Nassef, told Mada Masr that recent events indicate the state’s concern about a growing student movement, which, according to him did not stop throughout the last school year and expanded to several major squares off campus. “Our protests are peaceful, but self defense is a right guaranteed by the law,” added Nassef. 

The Ministry of Higher Education contracted Falcon Security to guard and secure 15 universities, according to the website of the private security company. Falcon Chief Executive Sherif Khaled informed Mada Masr that their one year renewable contract with the ministry authorizes the company to provide security services for a number of universities, including Cairo, Ain Shams, Helwan, Al-Azhar, Alexandria, Beni Suef, Zagazig, Mansoura, Assiut, Fayoum, Banha and Minya.

Khaled refused to disclose the amount of money agreed upon for Falcon’s services due to client confidentiality, but stated that the Head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar allocated LE50 million last year for security, adding that the company does not even get 10 percent of that amount for securing one campus.

The first members of Falcon security personnel appeared yesterday at campus gates, searching students and demanding their identification cards, which resulted in long queues.

Reports showed that clashes occurred between Falcon personnel and the university guards and police were called to resolve the situation. 

2,000+ residents displaced from homes & farms, denied work on Suez Canal project

Mada Masr
Over 2,000 residents forced from homes, denied work on Suez Canal project

October 1, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Touted as Egypt’s national project of the century, the construction of a navigational bypass known as the “New Suez Canal” is projected to replenish the state’s coffers with billions, while providing one million new job opportunities in the process. However, it has thus far displaced well over 2,000 longtime residents living by the planned course of this new megaproject – rendering them both homeless and jobless.
According to lawyers for the displaced, well over 1,000 residential units have been torn down and their agricultural lands confiscated since the beginning of this month, in the villages of Qantara Sharq and Abtal, just east of the central part of the Suez Canal.

No monetary compensation has yet been paid for the demolitions, nor has alternate housing been provided, although state officials have pledged allotted plots of empty land, amounting to a mere 150 square meters per family.

Displaced families have been told that they will be repatriated in the villages of Amal and Ahrar, near Qantara Sharq, around 130 kilometers northeast of Cairo.

Neither the Suez Canal Authority nor the governorate of Ismailia has thus far made any mention of compensation for loss of agricultural lands and farmers’ livelihoods.

Attempts to contact the Ismailia governorate’s media spokesperson for specific details regarding these relocation efforts went unanswered.

In addition to being displaced from their homes, lands, and livelihoods, these evicted residents are being denied work opportunities in the New Suez Canal Project, due to unspecified security concerns.

A lawyer for the displaced families, Sherine al-Haddad, warns that as this new megaproject pushes forth from the central canal governorate of Ismailia, and hundreds of additional homes may be demolished.

According to her, an estimated 2000, or more, residents living and working along its trajectory may also potentially be displaced from their villages, which lay along the route of the planned bypass.

Earlier this month, the Armed Forces and governorate of Ismailia began the process of evicting some 2,500 locals and demolishing their homes, while simultaneously confiscating hundreds of feddans (one feddan = 1.038 acres) of their family-owned agricultural lands.

Many, if not most, of these uprooted families have resided in the town of Qantara Sharq and the nearby village of Abtal for up to 30 years, whilst reclaiming their surrounding desert environs into farmlands, primarily through the cultivation of mango trees.

Haddad tells Mada Masr there are approximately 500 families, whose members total well over 2,000, that have been hastily displaced from their homes and lands.

“These families were given very little notice prior to their eviction – just around one week – and have not received any concrete form of compensation. Only promises from the officials involved in the New Suez Canal Project.”

Haddad adds that an additional 500 families, amounting to another 2000–2500, may be evicted from their homes over the course of the year, and may also have their farmlands confiscated to make way for the planned route of the canal, along with its planned zones for industry, services and investment.

“Beyond Qantara Sharq and Abttal, additional villages located to the east of Ismailia’s Bitter Lakes may similarly be wiped away to make space for the new project,” she says.

The project, which is actually a new artery (rather than a second canal) for the existing international waterway, is planned to run 72 kilometers parallel to the Suez Canal, and lies east of the original canal.

The lawyer points out that the Sinai Peninsula is virtually all military and state-owned land, and that “all civilian claims of land ownership here are thus considered contentious.”

It is on this basis that the authorities have evicted the residents of Qantara Sharq and Abtal, tore down their homes, and dug up their farmlands. “They’ve been evicted from these two villages as they are situated on land between the old Suez Canal and the new project,” she explains.  

Regardless of original land claims, Haddad points out, “The evicted residents had been residing on these lands for nearly three decades. Thus, by virtue Egypt’s occupancy regulations and the construction of permanent homes on these lands for more than eight to 15 years legally recognizes it as their abodes.”

“Further recognizing their residency on these lands are the utility bills that these residents have been paying the governorate of Ismailia over the course of the years and decades in which they have lived there,” she adds.

Diaa Eddin Negm has been residing and farming in the village of Abtal for the past 30 years. He and his nine sons have been forced off their lands, and are now internally displaced people with no means of income.

Negm explains that his family’s lands are not officially registered in their name with the governorate of Ismailia, “yet we’ve been paying our gas bills, electricity bills, and landline phone bills to the governorate from our address for well over 20 years.”

At over 60 years of age, Negm says “I’m a farmer, as was my father and grandfather before him. This is my profession and that of my children. I’m an ageing farmer who is too old to learn a new profession, or to seek alternate job opportunities. Farming is all I know.”

Further adding to their plight, Negm explains that “after our eviction, I sought other employment opportunities for my nine sons, each of whom has a family of his own.”

When the elderly farmer asked security authorities in Ismailia for permits to allow his children and grandchildren to work with contracting companies on the New Suez Canal Project, he and his extended family were all denied work permits.

“When he found out that we were evicted residents of Abtal, the presiding police general told me that due to security concerns we were not allowed to work on the project. He did not specify what these security concerns are,” he says.

According to Haddad, “the security authorities consider these evicted residents as potential subversive elements.”

“These authorities don’t trust them, as several families and residents have been resisting or protesting their evictions, and some have been detained for doing so. The authorities fear they may stir up trouble along the new project,” she adds.

“So what else are they to do for a living these days?” she asks.

Negm and his extended family are currently living north of the village of Serabium in Ismailia. “We’re all renting apartments now, with the rent being paid from our own pockets. We’re all unemployed now. We’ve received no compensation or alternate housing has yet been provided,” he says.

Negm hopes that the Ismailia governorate will specify the exact location of the 150 square meters on which they will be allowed to build new, permanent homes.

“Together we owned 34 feddans of mango orchards from which we earned our livelihoods, and nine separate homes. The average size of these units was 250 square meters.”

“Regarding the New Suez Canal Project, I am personally both pleased and distressed with it,” Negm concludes.

“To President Sisi, I say: we support your national project and nationwide ambitions. Yet we require agricultural land to sustain ourselves, even if just three or four feddans per family. We are willing to reclaim desert lands, to plant them and turn them into fertile farmlands.”

On August 5, Sisi addressed the nation, stating that this megaproject would serve as a “new artery of life benefiting Egypt, its great people and the whole world.”

However, the forcefully evicted residents of Qantara Sharq and Abtal have not felt any of these benefits.

Another displaced mango farmer from the village of Abtal, Ibrahim al-Sayyed, also sent a message of despair to the president. “My family and I voted for President Sisi, and will vote for him again in the upcoming presidential elections. We support the president and his great national project that will help the economy of the whole country. However, we also want to have homes and farms of our own, as we did just three weeks ago,” he says.

Sayyed hails from a family that has been living and farming in Abtal for the past 30 years. “We have bills and receipts to prove our residency here.”

Together with his family, the 25-year-old Sayyed worked and owned six feddans of mango orchards. The displaced family of 12 had owned a home measuring over 260 square meters.

Like most other residents of Abtal, Sayyed claims he was given a 10-day notice to vacate his home and farmland. Like the others evicted, they were not given any compensation – only the pledge of a 150 square meters of land on which they are to build a new home – using their own resources.

They now rent two small apartments in the village of Serabium, “one in which we all live together, and another in which we have placed all our furniture and belongings,” he says.

They are now paying LE1,000 in rent for both units, although they’ve lost their land and only source of income.

“I have asked about any sort of paid work or service that my relatives or I could provide on the new project, but were turned down when the officials learned that we were displaced from Abtal,” he says.

“In the 1980s, under President Hosni Mubarak, my family and other farming families were encouraged to settle to the east of the canal in Sinai. Now we’ve been pushed back to west of the canal, have been driven from our homes, lands and jobs,” Sayyed explains.       

Haddad says she aims to reach an amicable settlement with the respective state authorities – the governorate of Ismailia, Ministry of Agriculture, Armed Forces, and the Suez Canal Authority - through the channels of legal mediation and arbitration.

“Failing this, I will take my clients’ cases to the State Council Court.”

According to Egypt’s Constitution of 2014, Article 35 stipulates that private properties shall be protected and the right to inheritance thereto guaranteed. Private property may not be placed under sequestration except in those cases specified by law, and with a court order. Private property may not be expropriated except for the public interest, and with fair compensation paid in advance in accordance with the law.

Constitutional Article 63 stipulates that arbitrary forced displaced of citizens in all its forms and manifestations is prohibited and is a crime with no statute of limitations.

*Photo of Suez Canal courtesy of Shutterstock

Sisi hypocritically speaks of free speech as satirist is investigated on criminal charges

Committee to Protect Journalists

As al-Sisi promises freedom of speech, TV host Youssef is put under investigation

October 1, 2014

Sherif Mansour

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was given a great platform for his country last week, with a speech at the United Nation's General Assembly in which he said that his "new Egypt" would "guarantee freedom of speech," and his first ever meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

However, when pressed by Obama, the U.S. media, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over concerns about the absence of due process for detainees and the sentencing of journalists, al-Sisi argued that he wanted to respect the independence of the Egyptian judiciary.

His contradictory responses were further illustrated by reports today that Bassem Youssef, a 2013 awardee of the Committee to Protect Journalists' International Press Freedom Awards, is under investigation and has been banned from travel. The experiences of the satirical journalist are the latest example of the Egyptian government's use of legal action, arbitrary detention, media vilification and other forms of censorship that have placed the country on CPJ's most recent Risk List.

 As president, al-Sisi has executive power. Since grabbing legislative control in June, and in the absence of Parliament, the former army chief has appointed allies as judicial officials. But when it comes to releasing journalists and allowing critics such as Youssef to express their views, al-Sisi claims suddenly that his hands are tied.

Youssef has been accused of insulting al-Sisi and his media allies during an altercation with members of the press who were accompanying the president on his visit to New York last week, according to news reports. Youssef, who hosted a popular satirical news program, told me in a message that he has become the victim of a media witch hunt in the past two days.

The investigation against him is based on a tweet posted by Khaled Abou Bakr, a lawyer and co-host of the TV show "Al-Qahera Alyoum," which runs on the pro-government privately owned Orbit channel. Bakr's tweet claimed Youssef had insulted and mocked al-Sisi in public.

A "legal plaintiff complaint" has been filed to Egypt's Prosecutor General, but Youssef mocked it on Twitter, highlighting how it called for the withdrawal of his citizenship, and for him to be both kicked out of the country and banned from travel.

It is not the first time Youssef has come under pressure from the Egyptian government and its supporters. In his satirical show "Al Bernameg" (The Program), which at one point had more than 40 million viewers, Youssef critiqued government failures to improve the economy, public services, and safety, and its efforts to suppress opinion. In 2012, the Morsi-led government pursued criminal charges against Youssef for the very same accusation of "insulting the president."

An arrest warrant for Youssef was issued in March 2013, and he had to report to the prosecutor general for a six-hour investigation. However, to his credit, Morsi withdrew the complaint in April 2013, "out of respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the press." It remains to be seen if we can expect the same outcome from al-Sisi.

The prospects are pretty grim. When Youssef first criticized those investigating the then Egyptian Defense Minister al-Sisi, after Morsi was ousted in July 2013, his show was taken off the air multiple times. He eventually had to announce its end in June after pressure and harassment in the lead up to al-Sisi taking office in August-- something he didn't have to do under Morsi. Lacking a platform, Youssef and many other independent voices, have been forced into silence.

Since Morsi was ousted by the military in July, dozens of reporters have been detained. According to CPJ research 11 journalists were still behind bars in mid-September.

However, the ball is still in al-Sisi's court. If he and his government are in any way serious about the "new Egypt" that al-Sisi boasted of in front of the U.N. last week, they could immediately withdraw charges against Youssef; they could release journalists who are being held without charge for extended periods of time, such as freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid; they could expedite the appeal of the Al-Jazeera journalists who have been waiting for a hearing since June; and they could give amnesty to indicted journalists including Abdel Rahman Shaheen, a correspondent for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice News Gate website.
But most importantly, the Egyptian government could amend the penal code to ensure journalists are not prosecuted for doing their job in the first place, and to prevent members of the press being detained arbitrarily. This will be the ultimate test, and one that Morsi and al-Sisi have failed in so far.

Egypt pilgrim arrested in Mecca for chanting against Arab leaders

Daily News Egypt
Egyptian pilgrim arrested in Mecca for ‘chanting against Arab rulers’

September 30, 2014

Aya Nader 

Saudi authorities arrested an Egyptian pilgrim in Mecca for protesting against Arab leaders on Tuesday.

The Egyptian was taken to Al-Taif psychiatric hospital for a check-up, a source in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Daily News Egypt.

The pilgrim was “chanting against Arab rulers, accusing them of harming Islam,” during a hajj (pilgrimage) in Mecca.

The Egyptian Minister of Endowments Mohamed Gomaa called for his deportation to Egypt to be arrested and tried.

The death toll of Egyptian pilgrims this year reached 13, reported state-owned Al-Ahram, while confirming that there are no outbreaks of disease among them. The annual religious event often results in the death of scores pilgrims as a result of being trampled by crowds or from exhaustion.

The hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be carried out at least once by every adult Muslim who is physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey.

*Additional reporting by Joel Gulhane

Monday, October 13, 2014

Graffiti of resistance on walls of Tunis city

Fuck the system

You've starved us - Anarchy is order

Occupy the streets

The streets belong to us

 Workers' Party

All Cops Are Bastards

*Photos by Jano Charbel