Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year of Animal Headlines in Egypt

Mada Masr
Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jano Charbel 

Animals proved to be veritable news-makers in Egypt in 2015: From monkey antics on the streets of Nasr City to aggressive airport cats, and from calls to give up meat in protest at rising prices to calls to take up camel meat as an alternative, animals made headlines throughout the year.

Local residents chasing monkeys in the streets in Cairo’s eastern district of Nasr City came to public attention in March. Over a dozen moneys escaped from a veterinary hospital, wreaking havoc, jumping onto ledges of buildings, windowsills, and into trees.

Some outlets reported that 14 monkeys – with others reporting 18 – escaped together from a clinic into a highly populated urban landscape.

Some residents of Nasr City reported that these monkeys rampaged through their urban gardens, eating and destroying some vegetation.

Some users of social networking sites in Nasr City called for poisoning the monkeys while others proposed non-lethal ways of capturing them, such as luring them into cages.

A local resident tweeted: “We should welcome the monkeys and let them live among us like the street dogs do.”

How these monkeys were ultimately captured or apprehended was not subsequently reported on.

Then there was the donkey who made his way to Cairo International Airport on April 27. After breaching fences and several lines of security, the donkey reportedly found its way to Terminal 3. For two days, the donkey lingered around the parking lot as talk-show hosts discussed the issue.

“The donkey was chased out by the police and security personnel at the airport,” a statement by the airport police force's general directorate read, adding that the donkey is believed to belong to one of the garbage collectors who frequent the area surrounding the airport.

A source at the airport described the incident at the time to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm as an “unprecedented scandal,” that can only be an indication of “serious flaws in the performance of the Ministries of Interior and Civil Aviation.”

According to the anonymous source, it was not the first time this donkey had breached security surrounding the airport.

Photos and videos of the donkey wandering through the parking lot at the airport were widely circulated on social media platforms. Several users suggested that even donkeys want to leave the country. “Donkey emigration … The donkey headed to Terminal 3 in hopes of leaving Egypt and its problems behind.”

In a separate incident in Terminal 3 of Cairo Airport, the chief quarantine officer there told media outlets that four EgyptAir employees were injured when a male cat violently attacked them on September 30. This cat had been sheltering in a storage room, and reportedly pounced upon the employees as they were attempting to remove some items from storage. Scratching and biting them, this aggressive kitty left his mark on the four employees.

Associated Press reported that authorities and staff were trying to capture a “rebellious feline” running around through the airport – ahead of a visit by representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organization. AP reported that as of October 28, airport staff were still chasing the cat around, unable to catch it. Passengers and airport staff had reportedly been feeding it.
AP added that airport authorities had declared the cat to be “persona non grata.”

Camels also captured headlines this year. An escaped camel ran loose through the new campus of the American University in Cairo (AUC) in May after jumping out a vehicle and then running through the campus gates.

When American porn actress Carmen De Luz posted a photo of herself in skimpy underwear on a camel during a visit to the Giza Pyramids, local media outlets reported that she was shooting an erotic film by the historic site.

An investigation ensued and De Luz apologized on her Twitter account for any inconvenience that her actions may have caused.

In other news, camel meat — which is not widely consumed as a source of protein in Egypt — is being promoted as an alternative to beef and other red meats, which is growing increasingly costly and beyond the means of many Egyptians. The state-owned Al-Gomhuriyya has recently been encouraging the expansion of the camel meat industry, indicating it currently represents just 2 percent of domestic meat consumption.

Some nutrition specialists have even been questioning the use of donkey meat as a source of protein. Speaking on a talk-show broadcast on Al-Assema satellite channel in June, Hussein Mansour, president of Egypt’s National Food Safety Agency, commented that donkey meat is indeed mixed-in among other meats and sold at some markets and restaurants in order to cut their expenses.

The only way to ensure that donkey meat — or that of cats or dogs — was not being mixed into minced beef was to conduct DNA tests on samples, he said.

With the cost of beef ranging between LE35 per kilo (for lower grade meat) and LE100, a popular campaign emerged in August to boycott red meats altogether.

The campaign dubbed ‘Balaha Lahma,’ which loosely translates as “Let’s forget about meat,” encouraged consumers to refrain from purchasing meat with the aim of forcing the meat industry to bring down its prices to affordable levels. While this campaign picked up steam prior to the Eid al-Adha holiday when sheep are traditionally slaughtered, and even received mainstream media attention, it does not appear to have made much of an impact on the market prices of meat, or the population’s dietary habits.

Also related to the Eid al-Adha holiday and the consumption of livestock, poet Fatima Naoot stood trial this year on charges of blasphemy due to her critical online postings regarding the ritual slaughter of animals on this Islamic festival commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep rather than his son.

Naoot’s trial began in January, after a lawsuit was filed against her by a conservative lawyer. In late 2014, Naoot had written, “Millions of innocent creatures have been driven to the most horrible massacres committed by humans for ten and a half centuries,” Naoot wrote. “A massacre that is repeated every year because of the nightmare of a righteous man about his good son.”

The blasphemy charges leveled against Naoot were subsequently referred to another court - for which she could face up to three years imprisonment.

During the last week of this year, the appointment of a new governor in Alexandria has reportedly led to a policy of killing street dogs after complaints from residents about the dogs’ growing numbers and their barking.

The governor denied these allegations while municipal veterinary employees also denied their involvement claiming that they had stopped the practice of killing street animals with shotguns since the year 2011.

A hashtag emerged on social networking sites denouncing the new governor, “The Governor of Alexandria is a Butcher.”

Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that some animal rights activists even sent photos of these dead dogs to Vladimir Putin’s Facebook page as the Russian president is apparently a major dog-lover.

In March, a rare verdict against an act of animal cruelty was issued, in which the Shobra al-Kheima Criminal Court sentenced four men to three years imprisonment in association with the brutal killing of a street dog.

Another act of animal cruelty — resulting in the deaths of several cats — was not referred to trial. In November, cats that had previously roamed throughout the grounds of Cairo’s Ahly Sporting Club were found dead at the entrance.

The club’s media spokesperson initially denied the incident, claiming that a contracted company had only drugged the cats, but protests by club members and animal rights activists against Al-Ahly Club’s management ensued.

According to media reports, after samples from two of the dead cats were sent for veterinary forensic analysis, the results revealed that poison had been put in their food. An official complaint was filed at the local police station, and the Qasr al-Nil District Prosecutor was notified of the vet’s findings, but the incident has not been referred to trial.

Cat killings, reportedly on a larger scale, have also taken place at Cairo’s Gezira Sporting Club in previous years. Similarly, this has resulted in outrage and protests, but no trials.

However, a cartoon animal – Mickey Mouse — did result in a trial and sentencing this year. In October, a military court sentenced 22-year-old army conscript Amr Nohan to three years imprisonment after he digitally altered an image of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, putting Mickey Mouse ears atop his head, and posted it on his Facebook account.

Nohan was then charged and reportedly found guilty of defaming the president and conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime.

Ahead of anniverary of Jan. 25 Revolt - Police arrest opposition activists

Monday, December 28, 2015

Four members of the April 6 Youth movement were arrested Monday and charged with illegal protests and belonging to a banned organization. An additional two are wanted by prosecutors but by Monday evening had not been arrested.

The charges stem from a December 21 protest in Dokki Square, but lawyers representing the detainees say they were targeted as part of a broader effort to suppress dissent ahead of the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Ayman Abdel Meguid, Mohamed Nabil and Mahmoud Hesham were arrested from their homes in the early hours of Monday morning, said Ahmed Othman of the Association for Free Thought and Expression, one of the lawyers involved in the case. The fourth detainee, Sherif al-Rouby was arrested on the street.

All four are being held at the Dokki Police Station and may be referred to Central Security Forces Camp informally known as Camp 10.5, Othman told Mada Masr.

They are scheduled for a hearing on January 10, but Othman said he expects their pretrial detention will be extended until January 25 has passed.

Two others, Islam Abdel Hamid Orabi and Mohammed Samih al-Bayoumi, are wanted by prosecution but have not been arrested.

According to a statement posted on the April 6 Youth Movement Facebook page, the six have been charged with calling for protests, participating in a protest without a permit, and possession of flares. Hesham and Orabi have also been charged with instigating protests.

Under the November 2013 protest law, participants in unsanctioned protests face two to five years in prison and a sentence of up to seven years for possession of explosive devices such as fireworks while protesting.

Othman told Mada Masr prosecutors had not yet produced proof that any of the men charged had attended the December 21 demonstration.

Nabil, Bayoumi, Rouby and Abdel Meguid also face charges of belonging to a banned organization, although the charges do not clarify which organization they allegedly belong to.

In April 2014, a Cairo court banned the activities of the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups instrumental in organizing the January 2011 protests that led to the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. According to the court ruling, the group is responsible for “acts that tarnish Egypt’s image as well as espionage.”

The movement remained defiant following the arrests on Monday.

“We demand the immediate release of our abducted members and we hold the regime responsible for their safety,” the group declared in a statement. “The revolution continues and will not rest and or remain silent.”

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Egypt border guards shoot dead naked man crossing Gaza border, said to suffer mental illness

Footage appears to show a man gesticulating at Egyptian forces to stop shooting at man in the sea, who had severe mental-health issues

Saturday - December 26, 2015 

Mary Atkinson 

Footage has emerged appearing to show Egyptian forces shooting dead an unarmed man who had strayed a few metres over its border with Gaza.

Ishaq Khalil Hassan, 26, reportedly had severe mental health issues and was completely naked when he walked through the sea close to the shore, passing under a fence that marks the border between Egypt and Gaza.

The incident took place on Thursday near the Egyptian border town of Rafah.

Hassan, who also suffered from learning difficulties, had previously received treatment at hospitals in Egypt, his family told Al Jazeera Arabic.

Hassan’s nephew said on Saturday that his uncle, from the south of Gaza, had been suffering from a mental-health crisis and decided to attempt to get into Egypt for further treatment, Al Jazeera Arabic reported.

According to Hassan’s relative, he was unable to cross over legally due to the Egypt-Palestine border crossing at Rafah being closed.

Egyptian forces stationed at the border reportedly fired 15 shots at Hassan without prior warning.
The video appears to show a member of the Palestinian border force standing near the sea gesturing at his Egyptian counterparts to stop and gesturing at his head in an attempt to show that Hassan did not pose a threat, after which the shooting continues.

Hassan’s relatives said on Saturday that Egyptian authorities had yet to return his body for burial.

Egyptian officials have yet to comment on the reports.

Egypt: Labor Unrest from North to South

Mada Masr
Labor unrest from north to south

As 2015 draws to a close, worker protests are building momentum across the country

Egypt is World’s 2nd Worst Jailer of Journalists in 2015

Committee to Protect Journalists 

China, Egypt imprison record numbers of journalists

Egypt is second only to China as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2015. Worldwide, the number of journalists behind bars for their work declined moderately during the year, but a handful of countries continue to use systematic imprisonment to silence criticism. 

December 15, 2015

Elana Beiser

A record number of journalists are behind bars in China, and the number of journalists jailed in Turkey and Egypt also rose dramatically in 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. Overall, the number of journalists imprisoned around the world declined modestly from record levels recorded in the past three years.

CPJ identified 199 journalists in prison because of their work in 2015, compared with 221 the previous year.

Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia were among those countries holding fewer journalists prisoner, but in all three countries a climate of fear for the media persists, with many of those released continuing to face legal charges or harsh restrictions, including forced exile­.

Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues to use the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent. Cairo is holding 23 journalists in jail, compared with 12 a year ago.

As recently as 2012, no journalists were in jail for their work in Egypt. Those behind bars include Ismail Alexandrani, a freelancer who focuses on the troubled Sinai Peninsula and who was recently arrested on arrival in Egypt from Germany. (Read detailed accounts of each prisoner here.)

Conditions for the media have also taken a turn for the worse in Turkey, which doubled the number of journalists in jail over the year to 14.

The country released dozens of journalists in 2014 after being the world’s worst jailer for two consecutive years, but in 2015—amid two general elections, further entanglement in the Syrian civil war, and the end of a fragile ceasefire with fighters of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)—fresh arrests make it the fifth worst jailer globally.

Most recently, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, senior staff members of independent daily Cumhuriyet, were arrested on charges of espionage and aiding an alleged terrorist group after publishing reports that alleged Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had transferred weapons to Syria under cover of humanitarian aid.

A quarter of those jailed globally are in China, the world’s worst offender for the second year in a row; the 49 journalists in prison there are a record for that country. As President Xi Jinping continues his crackdown on corruption and as the country’s economic growth slows and its markets become more volatile, reporting on financial issues has taken on new sensitivity.

Wang Xiaolu, a reporter for the Beijing-based business magazine Caijing, was arrested on August 25 on suspicion of “colluding with others and fabricating and spreading false information about securities and futures trading” after he reported that a regulator was examining ways for securities companies to withdraw funds from the stock market.

He later appeared on state television saying that he regretted writing the story and pleading for leniency, even as it was unclear whether he had been formally charged with a crime. As CPJ has documented, televised confessions are a tactic repeatedly deployed by Chinese authorities for dealing with journalists who cover sensitive stories.

The lengths to which China is willing to go to silence its critics is demonstrated by at least three people not on CPJ’s imprisoned list: the brothers of Shohret Hoshur. The Washington D.C.-based Uighur journalist for U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports critically on China’s treatment of his ethnic minority.

According to Hoshur and RFA, China, unable to arrest him, has thrown three of his brothers who still live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region—Tudaxun, Shawket, and Rexim—into jail on anti-state charges in retaliation for Hoshur’s work.

Anti-state charges remain the favored tool for jailing journalists in Iran, where the number of journalists in jail fell in 2015 to 19 from 30 a year earlier, but where the revolving-door policy of allowing some prisoners out on furlough while others are arrested continues.

On November 2, authorities rounded up at least four journalists, including the prominent columnist Issa Saharkhiz, on anti-state accusations.

The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, who has been held longer than any U.S. correspondent by any foreign government since CPJ began tracking imprisonments in 1990, is accused of espionage, among other charges. State media has reported that he has been convicted and sentenced, but has not said on which charges or provided any other detail.

The number of prisoners also shrank in Vietnam, but in some cases release from jail comes at a high cost. Ta Phong Tan was freed after serving three years of a 10-year term and was immediately flown to the U.S. In October 2014 Tan's colleague, Nguyen Van Hai, with whom she co-founded the Free Journalists Club in 2007 and who was also imprisoned for his work, was also forced into exile. The country remains among the most censored in the world.

Another of the 10 most censored countries is Ethiopia, which released six bloggers from the Zone 9 collective in 2015, but they report that they face travel restrictions. Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s prisoners still include prominent online columnist Eskinder Nega, who is serving an 18-year term on terrorism charges, and Temesghen Desalegn, an opinion writer who has been denied health care in prison, according to people who have visited.

While anti-state accusations are the most commonly used charge for putting journalists in jail, applied in 55 percent of cases, CPJ found the highest proportion of charges in five years, 25 percent, are retaliatory—arbitrary, trumped-up accusations such as drugs or weapons possession, embezzlement, or assault.

Two such cases are Khadija Ismayilova, sentenced to seven and a half years in Azerbaijan for illegal business, tax evasion, abuse of power, and embezzlement, in retaliation for her investigations of alleged corruption; and Azimjon Askarov, sentenced to life in prison by Kyrgyzstan for the murder of a policeman in retaliation for his exposure of wrongdoing by police and prosecutors.

Other trends and details that emerged in CPJ’s research include:
  • While 28 countries worldwide had journalists in jail, 10 of those were imprisoning a single journalist. The 2015 survey reinforces CPJ’s finding that only a handful of countries engage in systematic imprisonment of journalists.
  • For the second time since CPJ began compiling annual prison surveys in 1990, not a single journalist in the Americas was in jail for work-related reasons on December 1. This also occurred in 2011. Factors include a change in Cuba’s policy of regularly jailing journalists, the effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights system, and campaigns against criminal defamation by CPJ and other groups, although plenty of challenges remain for journalists in the Americas hemisphere.
  • With 17 behind bars, Eritrea remained the worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, and the world’s worst abuser of due process. No Eritrean detainee on CPJ’s census has ever been publicly charged with a crime or brought before a court for trial. Six journalists who worked for the government-controlled station Radio Bana were released early in 2015, the reason for which was not clear.
  • The percentage of journalist prisoners who are freelancers was 28 percent. The percentage has steadily declined since 2011.
  • Globally, 109 of the prisoners worked online, and 83 worked in print.
  • The number of prisoners rose in Bangladesh, Gambia, India, and Saudi Arabia in addition to China, Egypt, and Turkey.
  • Countries that appeared on the 2015 prison census after having no imprisoned journalists in the 2014 survey were Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
  • CPJ is aware of at least two cases of journalists in prison that families have asked not to publicize, in hopes that quiet negotiation will win their freedom.
The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state groups. (These cases, such as U.S. freelancer Austin Tice, are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”) For example, CPJ estimates that at least 40 journalists are missing in the Middle East and North Africa, many of whom are believed held by militant groups including Islamic State.

CPJ defines journalists as people who cover the news or comment on public affairs in media, including print, photographs, radio, television, and online. In its annual prison census, CPJ includes only those journalists who it has confirmed have been imprisoned in relation to their work.

CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs. The organization has sent letters expressing its serious concerns to each country that has imprisoned a journalist. In the past year, CPJ advocacy led to the early release of at least 31 imprisoned journalists worldwide.

CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2015. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at

Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody.

*Photo of jailed Egyptian photojournalist 'Shawkan' by Lobna Tarek, courtesy of Associated Press


In Arabic:

الصين ومصر تسجنان أعداداً قياسية من الصحفيين


Rights groups demand immediate release of Journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Mada Masr
Rights groups demand release of journalist Ismail Alexandrani

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Several international and local rights groups issued statements demanding the release of investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher Ismail Alexandrani, detained for 15 days pending investigation into charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group and disseminating false information.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said his arrest “is the latest attempt by the Egyptian government to silence critical reporting through force and intimidation,” according to its Middle East and North Africa research associate Jason Stern.

CPJ warned that Alexandrani’s detention could be renewed indefinitely.

"We call on authorities to release Alexandrani immediately and drop all charges against him," Stern said.

Alexandrani was taken into custody by National Security forces in Hurghada, where he was arrested at the airport early on Sunday, according to his wife Khadiga Gaafar’s Twitter account. He was then moved to Cairo, where he was interrogated for over eight hours by National Security Prosecution.

The prosecution inspected Alexandrani’s laptop, his cellphone and business cards he kept in his wallet of friends, colleagues, fellow journalists and academics, according to his lawyers.

In another joint statement, several local rights groups condemned Alexandrani’s detention, deeming it a violation, and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

The statement was signed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, among others.

The groups asserted Alexandrani’s detention is in line with the continued crackdown on journalists and opposition writers, which is “a violation of freedom of thought and expression and a disregard of rights and international standards to protect freedom of the press.” It also violates the Egyptian constitution, the statement added.

They also called for the release of all prisoners of conscience and the opening up of political space for expression, urging “abandoning the gagging policy which only pushed us further into a dark tunnel.”

Alexandrani was held for over 10 hours at Hurghada airport on Sunday and was not allowed to see a lawyer until Tuesday. Human Rights Watch deemed this a violation of Egyptian law, which requires security officials to inform detainees of the reasons behind their detention and allow them to contact a lawyer.

“The arrest of Ismail Alexandrani is deeply disturbing and fits a pattern of Egyptian security agencies arresting people whose writings don’t conform to official views,” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director, stated.

“If Alexandrani had any arrest warrant or official charges, he should have been informed immediately,” Stork added. “What happened to him is clear intimidation and has little to do with the rule of law.”

Alexandrani’s journalistic work is often critical of government policies. Recent articles he published in Beirut-based newspapers As-Safir Arabic and Al-Modon claimed the new Suez Canal passageway is a delusion, criticized the state’s war on Sinai-based militants and used local sources to report details on the military’s battle with militants in the Western Desert.

All the statements by human rights organizations also referred to the three-day detention of Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat last month, who was held on charges of publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs the public peace.

Bahgat was released from military intelligence after he signed a document pledging to abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Egypt: In one week, three cases of torture & deaths in police custody


Ahram Online

Egypt policeman accused of torture, murder transferred from Luxor post

Saturday 28 Nov 2015

Media reports citing security sources have suggested that the policeman accused of torturing a man to death in Luxor earlier this week has been transferred from his post at the El-Awameya police station.

On Friday, hundreds marched across Luxor to protest the death of Talaat Shabeeb, with demonstrators chanting anti-police slogans and demanding the dismissal of the head of the El-Awameya police station where the victim was being held.

The prosecutor-general has opened an investigation into the case and the forensic authority has been tasked with determining the cause of death.

On Thursday, Luxor’s prosecutor-general ordered the release of 24 people who were arrested on Wednesday night after demonstrators clashed with police outside El-Awameya police station over Shabeeb’s death.

There have been unconfirmed reports on Saturday that Luxor Security Directorate officers will stage a vigil later tonight to offer condolences to Shabeeb’s family.

Security officials had said on Wednesday that the 47-year-old Shabeeb, a father of four, was arrested at a local El-Awameya café for the illegal possession of prescription painkillers, and had later fallen ill before being taken to Luxor International Hospital where he died.

In a press statement released shortly after his death, the head of Luxor security Essam El-Hamali claimed that Shabeeb was a drug dealer and had a criminal record.

Shabeeb's family, however, claims that Shabeeb was in fact arrested over a personal dispute with a policeman, and not for drug possession.

The family denied that Shabeeb was a drug dealer, stating that he worked as a papyrus vendor at Luxor's ancient temples.

Shabeeb’s family also claims that Shabeeb died at the police station, not the hospital, half an hour after his arrest.

A video and photos of Shabeeb's dead body have been released online by his family, showing what the family says are signs he sustained beatings before he died.

Ahram Online could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage.

The family also released a copy of what they say is a hospital medical report stating that Shabeeb was already dead upon arriving at the hospital.

The assistant to the interior minister for media and public relations, Major General Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim, has repeatedly stated that if any policeman is found guilty of wrongdoing, they will be held accountable.

Some locals in Luxor, Upper Egypt, have set up a Facebook page titled "We are Talaat Shabeeb."

Shabeeb’s case is the third in Egypt involving allegations of police abuse over the past week, with the latest involving an Ismailiya policeman who is accused of torturing a man to death while he was in police custody.

On Thursday, another police officer was detained in Greater Cairo for four days pending an investigation into allegations of assault and abuse of power. The officer is being accused of assaulting a bus driver in the satellite city of 6 October over a traffic dispute, as well as conducting a false arrest and filing a false police report accusing the driver of illicit drug possession.

Torture is prohibited by Egypt's 2014 constitution, with Article 52 stating that "torture in all its forms is a crime without a statute of limitations."

However, local and international rights group have said that torture by security forces remains prevalent in Egypt.

Troops shoot dead another 5 Sudanese migrants, wound several others by border with Israel

Monday, November 23, 2015

Egyptian border guards shot dead at least five Sudanese migrants and injured several others as they attempted to cross into Israel from North Sinai, according to a Ministry of Defense statement released on Monday.

Reports suggest that six people may have died, with up to 17 others injured. Five others were reportedly arrested after the incident.

Associated Press reported that six Sudanese migrants were killed while the wounded were later transferred to a hospital in Rafah. Agence France-Presse also reported six dead.

The Defense Ministry's statement reported that security forces “succeeded in foiling an attempt to infiltrate the international border in the north-east” of the country.

The shooting reportedly took place around dawn on Monday, although the exact location where it happened is as yet unknown.

The ministry’s statement claimed that Egyptian border guards fired “several” warning shots as smugglers prepared a group of Sudanese migrants to cross the border with Israel.

After the warning shots were fired, the statement continued, the smugglers responded with live fire.
A conscript was wounded during the shoot-out, according to the Defense Ministry statement.

The latest border deaths come just one week after another 15 Sudanese migrants were shot dead in North Sinai, with conflicting reports suggesting that they were either killed by border guards or in a cross-fire between security forces and Bedouin smugglers. The November 15 incident also happened as the migrants attempted to cross the border into Israel.

Egypt has in the past been fiercely criticized for a “shoot-to-stop” policy enforced along the border with Israel, which has cost the lives of dozens of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants hoping to find international protection or job opportunities in Israel.

According to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, Egyptian security forces shot at least 33 African migrants on the border between 2007 and 2008.

After 2009, North Sinai would later see hundreds of victims of trafficking, usually from Eritrea, kidnapped and then trafficked towards the border area in order to be tortured for vast amounts of ransom money.

It is thought this trafficking route was significantly hampered by the intensified security presence in North Sinai after 2013, and may have since moved west towards Libya, according to the US State Department’s 2015 report on global trafficking trends.

Although it appears refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa are still making the perilous journey towards Israel, the flow of Sudanese and other African migrants dropped significantly after 2011, when Israel fortified its border with Egypt using surveillance cameras, motion detectors and radar.

Egypt has meanwhile attracted criticism from Sudanese officials and newspapers, following growing reports of abuse and mistreatment by Sudanese nationals at the hands of Egyptian security forces.

Last week, the Sudanese Embassy in Cairo sent a letter to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry decrying security campaigns targeting Sudanese nationals in Egypt, who they say are increasingly subjected to searches and detention.

The embassy accused Egyptian security forces of mistreating its nationals, and noted that the ministry had not responded to an earlier letter on the matter sent at the beginning of the month.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told a Sudanese newspaper on Monday that officials are looking into the embassy’s complaint, but he denied that Sudanese nationals in Egypt were being systematically targeted.

Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party has issued statements over the past couple days calling on Egyptian authorities to investigate the growing number of incidents and to immediately end such violations.

*Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

Sudan enraged as citizens arrested, tortured & killed in Egypt

Mada Masr
Sudan enraged by reports of Sudanese citizens arrested, tortured, killed in Egypt

November 18, 2015 

Sudan was outraged by the arrest, abuse and killing of Sudanese nationals in Egypt over the past few weeks, with a slew of social media campaigns, diplomatic statements and newspaper articles castigating the Egyptian authorities for what they say is a systematic campaign against them.

The Sudanese Embassy in Cairo sent a letter to Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Friday decrying security campaigns targeting Sudanese nationals in Egypt, who they say are increasingly subjected to searches and detention. The embassy accused Egyptian security forces of mistreating its nationals, and noted that the ministry had not responded to an earlier letter on the matter sent at the beginning of the month.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told a Sudanese newspaper on Monday that officials are looking into the embassy’s complaint, but he denied that Sudanese nationals in Egypt were being systematically targeted.

The Sudanese citizens who were arrested recently were suspected of illegally trading currency, Abu Zeid claimed, and were arrested alongside people of several other nationalities, including Egyptians.

Yehia Zakareya, a 50-year-old Sudanese man who was arrested after bringing his son to Egypt for surgery, gave an account of his arrest on Facebook that circulated widely online and enraged the Sudanese public.

Zakareya said he was arrested with another Sudanese man as they were leaving a currency exchange office in downtown Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square. He said they were taken to the Abdeen police station, where they were assaulted and tortured. Police also allegedly confiscated the US$500 Zakareya was carrying to pay for his son’s operation.

In pictures attached to his testimony, Zakareya appears to have bloodied eyes and bruises and burn marks on his arms and legs.

Zakareya said that he was then taken to the prosecutor, who ordered his release the next day and the return of his money. But instead, Zakareya was taken back to the police station pending national security checks.  He said for the next three days security forces continued to torture him, burning him with cigarettes and beating him with their boots.

He was eventually escorted to the airport, then flew back to Sudan after contacting family members to attend to his ill son in Cairo.

Social media campaigns were launched calling for Egyptians to be expelled from Sudan and a general boycott of Egyptian products. Social media users criticized the lack of a serious official response, and exhorted all Sudanese people to stand up for their dignity.

The Sudanese Al-Jareeda newspaper reported that the Sudanese parliament is waiting for Egyptian officials to comment on the arrest of hundreds of Sudanese nationals in the last few weeks, but all options are currently open in terms of the measures Sudanese authorities could take in response.

Ahmed Badawy, who works with the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights, told Mada Masr that the surge in inspection campaigns targeting refugees and other foreigners started last month, ahead of the parliamentary elections.

The violations mostly target Sudanese people on tourist visas, rather than refugees registered with the United Nations, he said.

Mohamed Abdel Latif, a field researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, confirmed that the crackdown mainly targets unregistered visitors who do not have protection and support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Many of the arrests and the detentions of Sudanese people are associated with their attempt to cross the Mediterranean,” he said. Abdel Latif has documented several cases of migrants and refugees who were intercepted by police while attempting to leave the country, and were accused of belonging to smuggling networks.

In 2005, Egyptian security forces killed dozens of Sudanese refugees while violently dispersing a sit-in they were holding in Mostafa Mahmoud Square, where they had protested the government’s order to deport them back to Sudan.

Since then, a wave of Sudanese migrants and refugees have attempted to flee to Israel via Sinai.

Many people trying to cross the border have been shot or detained by Egyptian guards.

When Egyptian police forces shot 15 Sudanese people dead at the Egypt-Israel border earlier this week, outrage in Sudan mounted even further.

The number of Sudanese people attempting to cross the Sinai border has dropped recently, however, due to rising violence in the peninsula after the Armed Forces declared war against militant groups there.

Egyptian troops shoot dead 15 Sudanese migrants, wound 8 others on border with Israel

Mada Masr
15 Sudanese migrants killed by security forces on Egypt's border with Israel

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Egyptian border guards killed 15 Sudanese migrants at the Sinai border with Israel on Sunday as they were reportedly caught in the crossfire between security forces and Bedouin traffickers, according to the Associated Press. 

They were killed 17 kilometers South of Rafah City, where eight others were also shot in the chest and abdomen as they attempted to jump the border fence, AP reported, quoting unnamed security and hospital sources in the Sinai Peninsula.

Those injured are now being interrogated, after reportedly ignoring warning shots by security forces, AP added.

There has been little coverage of this fatal incident in Egyptian media or by government and security officials.

The privately owned Cairo News Portal issued a similar report, citing Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Israeli radio.

The incident is one of the bloodiest since December 2005, when Egyptian police forces killed 23 Sudanese nationals — including women, children, and the elderly — who had established a protest camp in the Mohandiseen district of Cairo. Consequently, many have sought asylum in Israel since 2006.

According to figures compiled by Human Rights Watch, Egyptian forces killed 10 people attempting to cross the border with Israel throughout 2007. In 2008, another 23 Sudanese and Sub-Saharan Africans were killed by Egyptian forces, and many others have experienced severe physical and psychological abuse from human traffickers.

Israel’s Interior Ministry claims there are over 45,000 African migrants in the country, most of whom are Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who have fled war and violence, although Israel classes them predominantly as economic migrants. Many have cited discrimination and threats of deportation by the Israeli state.

From 2011 to its completion in 2013, Israel fortified its border with Egypt by building a barrier equipped with cameras, motion detectors and radar to keep people from crossing.

*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Russia plane crash due to terrorist attack - Russian Federal Security Service

RT News

Plane crash in Sinai a terrorist attack - Russian Security Service

17 Nov, 2015 

The Russian plane crash in Sinai, Egypt, was caused by a terrorist attack as traces of explosives have been found in the wreckage of the plane, Federal Security Service director Aleksandr Bortnikov told President Vladimir Putin.

“We can say that that [Sinai plane crash] was a terror act,” Bortnikov told Putin. According to the FSB chief, experts analyzed passengers’ belongings as well as the parts of the plane. “After the examination on all these objects, we have found traces of a foreign-made explosive substance,” Bortnikov said.

“During the flight, a homemade device with the power of 1.5 kilograms of TNT was detonated. As a result, the plane fell apart in the air, which can be explained by the huge scattering of the fuselage parts of the plane,” he added.

This not the first time that Russia has faced “barbarous terrorist crimes, more often without apparent causes, outside or domestic, as it was with the explosion at the railway station in Volgograd at the end of 2013,” He added: “We haven’t forgotten anything or anyone. The murder of our nationals in Sinai is among the bloodiest crimes in [terms of] the number of casualties.”

But Russia won’t be “wiping tears from our soul and heart,” he said. “This [tragedy] will stay with us forever. But this won’t stop us from finding and punishing the culprit.”

Vladimir Putin has vowed to find and punish the culprits behind the Sinai plane attack. “Our military work in Syria must not only continue. It must be strengthened in such a way so that the terrorists will understand that retribution is inevitable,” he said.

The Federal Security Service director also announced a reward of $50 million for information on those behind the terror attack on the A321.

The Russian president asked the Foreign Ministry to “call on all our [foreign] partners” to assist in the search for the terrorists behind the attack. “We look forward in the course of this work to [help from] all our friends, including in finding and punishing the criminals," he added.
Russia will act in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which provides for countries’ right to self-defense, Putin said. “Those who attempt to assist criminals should be aware that the consequences of such attempts will be entirely their responsibility,” he added.

The Kogalymavia A321 air crash took place over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt on October 31. All 224 people on board the plane were killed, making it the deadliest air accident in modern Russian aviation history.

*Photo by Alaa El Kassas, courtesy of Getty Images

Workers question state claims of only 12.8% unemployment rate

Mada Masr

Workers question official statistics on unemployment figures

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jano Charbel 

According to figures published on Sunday by the state’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), unemployment increased slightly in the third quarter of 2015, affecting 12.8 percent of the Egyptian workforce.

CAPMAS reports there are currently 3.6 million unemployed Egyptians. According to these findings, the Egyptian workforce currently numbers around 28 million (from a total domestic population of over 89.4 million, with another eight million reportedly living abroad.)

Worker and labor rights activists, however, are questioning CAPMAS’s latest figures, claiming they are inaccurate.

CAPMAS indicates that 12.8 percent represents a minor increase in the national unemployment rate, as the second quarter of 2015 had registered a rate of 12.7 percent. This increase translates into 78,000 additional unemployed workers and employees in the third quarter of this year.

The figures do show improvement compared to the same quarter last year, when the official unemployment rate was 13.1 percent.

However, Fatma Ramadan, an industrial-safety inspector at the Ministry of Manpower and independent union organizer, believes that the unemployment figures cited by CAPMAS "are inaccurate and have been largely downplayed."

“The real unemployment rate may be up to double that which they are currently claiming,” she asserts.

"We demand genuine and accurate statistics regarding unemployment, so that we can find genuine solutions to this national problem,” Ramadan explains.

“Apparently, this unemployment rate doesn't include or take into account factors such as seasonal unemployment, temporary employment, masked and hidden unemployment, or child labor.”

Among those not accounted for within the statistics are homemakers, domestic help, and many other workers in the informal sector.

“CAPMAS calculates unemployment rates based on the numbers of those actively seeking employment — primarily at the offices of the Ministry of Manpower," Ramadan explains. “What typically happens is that if a jobless worker doesn’t find a job opportunity through the ministry, they don’t keep coming back.”

Ramadan adds that these workers may instead seek job opportunities via private employment firms, or informal networks.

Ramadan highlighted in particular the mass-layoffs associated with the closure of hundreds of state-owned factories since the 2011 revolution, adding that only a trivial number of new factories or industries are being established.

“The government is not concerned with the plight of unemployed workers, and this is reflected in the lack of implementation of judicial verdicts demanding that stalled public sector companies be re-operated, and that thousands of workers be reinstated,” Ramadan argues.

Proportional to the workforce, the unemployment rate in urban areas of Cairo currently amounts to 15 percent while in rural areas it reportedly amounts to 11.2 percent. These rates are gradually increasing – in both the countryside and cities – in comparison to the past four quarters.

CAPMAS issued additional details regarding the unemployment rate. According to its breakdown, 9.3 percent of males in the workforce are unemployed, while 24.9 percent of females in the workforce are currently jobless. Over the last few quarters, the unemployment rate continues to gradually increase among women, while it has slightly decreased among men.

Hisham al-Oql, one of nearly 600 former workers at the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, who has been unemployed for the past seven years, also points to the general governmental disinterest in labor rights.

Oql dismisses CAPMAS’s unemployment figures as inaccurate. "Real unemployment probably amounts to more than double the figure they’ve cited.”

“We are filing further legal appeals for the implementation of the court verdicts," Oql explains, referring to those issued in 2011 for the re-operation of stalled companies and reinstatement of workers. "Yet the government is simply ignoring our demands, and refusing to respect judicial rulings,” he adds.

Fifty-year-old Oql adds that he has to rely on his mother for financial assistance, so that he can support his wife and son.

For the past four years, Oql has been seeking to unify the efforts and demands of thousands of other jobless workers to demand the re-opening of the following stalled companies: Tanta Flax and Oils, Simo Paper, Nile Cotton Ginning, Nasr Steam Boilers and Omar Effendy department stores, among others.

Oql said the government talks of promoting production and creating additional job opportunities, but is not doing so effectively.

Ramadan also pointed to “an increase in the rate of punitive sackings of workers,” including laborers who are fired for organizing independent unions in their workplaces for protesting, striking, or "calling for the accountability of corrupt administrators.”

According to the independent unionist, the fourth quarter of 2015 may bear the grimmest unemployment rate yet, as tourism has been hit hard over the past two weeks in Sharm el-Sheikh and elsewhere, amid allegations of a bomb on board a Russian Metrojet passenger plane that crashed in Sinai, killing all 224 passengers and crew members on October 31.

Ramadan concluded that this employment crisis coincides with the high season of foreign tourism to Egypt.

*Photo courtesy of

Following dawn raids on their homes, another 2 journalists jailed

Mada Masr

Journalists Syndicate decries arrest of 2 reporters in dawn raids

Tuesday November 17, 2015

Two journalists were arrested in a dawn raid of their homes on Saturday, the Journalists Syndicate said in a statement that lambasted security authorities for aggressively targeting media workers and violating their basic rights.

The prosecutor general approved the release of one of the journalists, Sobhy Shoaib, from the Bassioun Police Station in the Gharbiya governorate on Sunday after the syndicate released its statement, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said.

However, Abdel Rahman Mohamed, deputy editor-in-chief of the privately owned Al-Mesryoon news site and a reporter for the National Company for Distribution, is reportedly still in custody at the Qanater al-Khairiya Police Station, pending investigations into charges that he belongs to a banned organization.

Mohamed was arrested from his home in Qalyubiya early on November 14. According to the aforementioned statement, police forces also raided his residence and “terrorized his family.”

Journalists Syndicate President Yehia Qallash issued a separate statement exhorting the prosecutor general and interior minister to immediately order Mohamed’s release, arguing the charges against him were "baseless and fabricated."

Al-Mesryoon chief editor Mahmoud Sultan published an op-ed adamantly dismissing claims that Mohamed belonged to any banned or radicalized group. He confirmed that Mohamed was a specialist in the field of political Islam, but did not identify in any way with that school of thought.

Mohamed’s reporting shed light on rampant corruption in Egyptian businesses, Sultan said, but now he’s in jail while many of these corrupt businessmen have gone free.

2013 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists found that Egypt was the third most dangerous country for reporters — coming in only after Syria and Iraq — and conditions have only continued to worsen, Sultan wrote.

The Journalists Syndicate denounced tactics like dawn raids, punitive detentions and forced disappearances that security forces wield against reporters. The statement urged media professionals to adopt “a serious and unified stance against the expanding practice of arresting journalists and referring them to criminal hearings on the basis of faulty charges and questionable investigations.”

The statement further condemned the arrests of other journalists, including Mada Masr contributor Hossam Baghat, due to their writing.

The Interior Ministry is directly “responsible for the lives and well-being” of the 33 journalists currently detained or imprisoned, who must all be immediately released, the statement said.

The syndicate called for new legislation to safeguard and uphold basic rights for journalists while deregulating the sector and giving reporters more freedom to do their jobs.


Despite his release, journalist may still face military prosecution for his writings

Mada Masr

A statement by Hossam Bahgat on his military detention, interrogation

By: Hossam Bahgat

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 

Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat recently published a statement on his Facebook account in which he documents the events that took place during his three-day detention by military intelligence and interrogation by military prosecution, from Sunday November 7 until his release today at Tuesday November 10 at noon.

A translation of Bahgat's statement by Mada Masr reads as follows:

Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has expressed any form of solidarity during the three days in which I was “hosted” by the Egyptian military.

It is not the appropriate moment for me to narrate all the details of the past three days, so I will only document the events that took place briefly.

On the morning of Sunday November 8, I headed to military intelligence headquarters in response to a written summons that was delivered to my house three days earlier.

I spent approximately three hours at military intelligence before I was escorted through a back door to a car and driven to the military judiciary, accompanied by armed guards. My request to contact my family, lawyer or colleagues, who were waiting for me outside the building, was denied.

At the military judiciary, I was held in the car with armed guards for over five hours, before being made to appear in front of a member of the North Cairo Military Prosecution and interrogated as someone facing charges.

I resisted several attempts to intimidate and entice me into waiving my right to have a lawyer present. Upon my insistence, I was allowed one phone call to inform a friend of my whereabouts and request a lawyer.

As my interrogation began, a large number of colleagues, friends and lawyers, who are the companions of years of struggle, waited for me outside with the knowledge of the colonel who heads the prosecution.

The interrogation, which commenced in the presence of 25 volunteer defense lawyers, was wholly focused on a journalistic investigation that I published in Mada Masr on October 13 with the headline “A coup busted?”

My interrogation was based on a report by military intelligence against me. At the end, the head of the prosecution informed me that I faced charges of deliberately broadcasting false news that harms national interests and involuntarily disseminating information that harms public interests, as per Articles 102 and 188 of the Penal Code.

After the interrogation was completed and the lawyers were dismissed, I was transferred to military intelligence again. I waited in the same car until 11 pm, when another car arrived with three armed men in civilian clothing. They searched me thoroughly, then took me to their car, blindfolded me and asked me to lower my head on the seat in front of me.

I was taken to an unknown location and questioned by a doctor upon arrival, who asked if I had any illnesses or was taking any medication. I was then asked to take off my clothes, and the doctor performed a non-invasive physical inspection.

Afterward, I was allowed to get dressed and was escorted into a building. My blindfold was taken off and all my possessions were confiscated, including my glasses, and I was moved to a small, dark cell with nothing but two blankets on the floor.

After about 15 minutes, the guard blindfolded me again and I spoke to officials who did not reveal their identities. They told me that the matter would end in the morning and ordered that I be transferred to the “villa.”

I was then escorted to a room with a bed and a small bathroom and I was allowed to bring in some of the food that lawyers had provided while I was at military prosecution.

I was kept in this room, which was secured by both a wooden and metal door, from Sunday November 8 at midnight until Tuesday November 9 at noon. During this time, I was not interrogated.

All of the demands I made to the guards were ignored. I requested many times that they inform officials of my wishes to know the military prosecution’s decision regarding my detention and to understand my legal position — to know whether I was being detained under investigation, referred to trial or abducted. I was not even allowed to meet any of the officers.

Today, on Tuesday, at noon, I was blindfolded and escorted by an armed guard in a car to military intelligence again. I met with two officers, a general and a lieutenant colonel, for an hour, and was informed for the first time that the prosecution had ordered my detention for four days pending investigations, but that military intelligence had decided to release me today.

At the end of the meeting, I wrote a statement that was dictated to me stating: “I will abide by legal and security procedures when publishing material pertaining to the Armed Forces” and asserting that I did not experience any physical or emotional abuse during my detention at military intelligence. My possessions were returned to me and I was allowed to leave.

I still do not know the fate of the investigations into the two charges mentioned above. Defense lawyers will try to clarify the matter in the coming days.

Throughout the course of my interrogation by military prosecution, they reiterated that I do not enjoy the legal and syndicate protection that journalists have, because I am not a member of the Journalists Syndicate.

While I thank the syndicate for sending a lawyer to attend my interrogation, I urge, again, the board of the Journalists Syndicate and its general assembly to take immediate measures to secure syndicate protection to all those who practice journalism with no discrimination.

In the end, I was lucky to receive an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy, which guaranteed a degree of relatively better treatment during my detention and the short duration of my stay, despite the aforementioned procedural violations of my rights as a detainee. I can only thank all the lawyers, colleagues, friends, comrades and Egyptian and international organizations that expressed their support and offered me their assistance.

I wish for freedom for the thousands of people unfairly detained in Egyptian prisons. I reassert my rejection of the criminalization of journalistic work, the use of the Penal Code to imprison journalists, and the trial of civilians in military courts.



Read Also:

Egypt: Arrest of prominent activist Hossam Bahgat another blow for freedom of expression (Amnesty International)

CPJ calls on Egypt to release investigative journalist Hossam Bahgat (Committee to Protect Journalists)

Egypt: Free Journalist Facing Military Prosecution (Human Rights Watch)

Ban Ki Moon concerned about detention of human rights defender in Egypt (United Nations, Secretary General)

Putin suspends Russian flights to Egypt after Sinai plane crash

The Guardian
Russian plane crash: flight recorder captured 'sound of explosion'

Vladimir Putin orders halt to all flights to Egyptian airports as evidence mounts that flight 9268 was brought down rather than suffering mechanical failure

Saturday 7 November, 2015

The sound of an apparent explosion can be heard on the flight recorder of the Russian-operated plane that came down over the Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people on board, adding to the evidence that a bomb was smuggled aboard, French media sources said on Friday.

Giving further credence to the idea that the plane crash was a terrorist act rather than because of structural failure, Russia, which for a week has been resistant to speculation about a bomb, suspended flights to all Egyptian airports.

An Egyptian-led international team of aviation experts, including some from France, successfully recovered the black box, the flight recorder, from the crash site.

Several French media outlets, including the television station France 2, reported that the investigators had listened to it and concluded that a bomb had detonated, which would seem to rule out structural failure or pilot error.

The pilots can be heard chatting normally, including contact with airport controllers, up until the apparent explosion.

One source close to the investigation told AFP that the black box data “strongly favours” this theory. While another source reportedly said: “Everything was normal during the flight, absolutely normal, and suddenly there was nothing,” adding that the plane had suffered “a violent, sudden,” end.

A news conference is due to be held on Saturday afternoon by the Egyptian aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, and the head of the Egypt-led investigation into the disaster, although the government warned it could be delayed.
While Russia had earlier suggested that the UK was acting prematurely in halting flights to the Red Sea resort over terrorism fears, Vladimir Putin ordered even wider restrictions on Friday, including halting all flights from Cairo. The head of his federal security services said it would be expedient to suspend flights until they had discovered why the Airbus A321 had crashed last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the US announced new security measures – including tighter screening – for flights from some airports in the Middle East. Jeh Johnson, the homeland security secretary, said that the move was motivated by “an abundance of caution.”

Russia initially dismissed claims by Islamic State of responsibility for downing the Metrojet flight, which came weeks after threats of retaliation for Russian planes bombing Syria, and Moscow reacted angrily after David Cameron said it was “more likely than not” a bomb.

Suspicions had intensified throughout the week that the Metrojet airliner was blown up. In addition to the French media reports about the black box, according to reports from the US, a “flash” from the plane was picked up by US satellites.

American officials have also told Reuters that intercepted intelligence “chatter” involving militant groups in Sinai supported the bomb theory. An Isis-affiliated group has claimed three times that it was responsible for bringing down the plane.

Russia will now begin to bring home its tourists, up to 79,000 of whom are currently on holiday in Egypt, according to Russian tourist authorities.

However, there were chaotic scenes at Sharm el-Sheikh airport on Friday as the schedule of “rescue flights” apparently agreed by airlines disintegrated. Thousands of travellers who had gone to the airport expecting to leave were further delayed. Eight easyJet flights were cancelled in the morning, while empty Monarch, Thomas Cook and Thomson airliners that had flown from Britain to bring back holidaymakers were diverted before reaching Egypt.

EasyJet claimed that Egyptian authorities were blocking their extra flights, as passengers were sent back to their hotels pending “top-level government talks” to resolve the situation. In extraordinary scenes at the airport, Britain’s ambassador to Cairo, John Casson, was heckled by passengers, who shouted: “What is the problem and when can we go home?”

Tour operators promised that stranded customers would remain in their accommodation free of charge or be reimbursed.

Egypt’s civil aviation ministry denied that it was blocking any flights, but said only eight of the 29 planned flights from Sharm el-Sheikh to the UK on Friday were operating because the airport did not have the capacity to store hold luggage. Only hand luggage is being allowed on flights back to Britain amid fears that a bomb was placed in the hold of the Metrojet plane.

Kamal, Egypt’s aviation minister, said: “The British airline [easyJet] wants to schedule 18 flights at the same time and wants to transport British passengers from Sharm el-Sheikh without their luggage, which we would have to transport later. This constitutes a huge burden on the airport because its capacity does not allow for that.”

Britain had expected that all passengers who were due to fly home this week before flights were cancelled over security fears – about 3,500 people – would have returned by Friday night. Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, had told the BBC: “We feel that should be possible.” But as the day unfolded, a Downing Street spokesman said the situation was “very fluid … complicated and difficult.”

He said a broken-down aircraft at the airport had contributed to delays on the ground.

The first 180 tourists to return to the UK arrived at Gatwick airport on an easyJet flight at 4.25pm, describing chaotic scenes before departure. They said the pilot had assured them that intelligence officials from MI5 and the Egyptian army had guarded their plane before takeoff to ensure its safety.
Some were in tears outside the arrivals area of Gatwick. Emma Turner, from Kent, said her husband had been hit by other tourists, whom she believed to be Russian, amid scuffles to get through the departure area in Egypt. “It was absolutely horrendous. We got hit twice in arrivals at Sharm going through security. They had one door open and we had children with us.”

Nicky Bull, from Bath, described the airport as “dreadful”, saying: “I appreciate all the extra security, but they just could not cope with it … everybody was getting crushed. Everybody was shouting and screaming.”

Another passenger, Nathan Hazelwood, said security at Sharm was shocking. “I think it’s a joke. We need a bit of a presence out there. I don’t think we should be flying out there at all. Security needs to be tightened.”

A further 179 passengers were on board a second easyJet plane that landed at 5.30pm at Luton. A number of the cancelled UK –bound flights were expected to operate on Saturday, while the hold luggage of returning British passengers would be transported on separate flights over the next 10 days.

While Egypt said the decision to cancel the majority of UK-bound flights on Friday was purely logistical, an easyJet spokesman suggested it was a political decision after Britain took a lead in restricting travel. Egypt has rejected claims that Isis carried out the attack and maintains there is nothing wrong with security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

The country stands to lose a large, critical source of income in the region if the tourist industry is in effect shut down because of terrorism fears.

Isis, which has not generally pursued major attacks outside its base in Syria, has claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane. The suspension of flights to and from Egypt is the first sign that Moscow is attaching credibility to the theory, but the Kremlin continued to insist there is no presumption of a bomb.

A spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said: “The decision of the president to suspend flights to Egypt does not mean that a terrorist attack is the main suspected cause of the catastrophe with [the airline] Kogalymavia.” He said Putin was not suspending flights to Egypt until the cause of the crash was identified, but only “until it is possible to establish the necessary safety level for air travel.”

Russian state television channels have largely shied away from discussing the possibility that a terrorist bomb or missile could have caused the crash, and politicians described the UK’s decision to cancel Egypt flights as “psychological pressure” on Russia over its airstrikes against Syrian rebels.

On Friday, a Downing Street spokesman said Britain’s curbs on flights to the Red Sea resort were not dependent on the possible causes of the Metrojet disaster. “The evidence we received suggested there was a credible threat with regard to Sharm el-Sheikh airport, which is why we have taken the actions we have.”

In 2014, about 1.9 million Russians visited Egypt, making it the second most popular holiday destination for Russians after Turkey. Although the number of Russians holidaying abroad has been falling since the Ruble lost half its value in 2014, Egypt has remained popular, as operators have lowered prices for package tours there.

Vladimir Kaganer, the general director of the tourist agency Tez Tour, which said it had 10,000 clients in Egypt, claimed that an evacuation order would be needed to bring Russian holidaymakers home. “If people are at a resort and they come to them to say a plane was sent to take you back, they would say: ‘No, we want to be on holiday for two more weeks, we’re not going anywhere.’”

A third Russian government plane carrying victims’ remains and their personal belongings from Egypt returned to St Petersburg on Friday.