Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Following release of jailed Al-Jazeera journalists, Egypt must release all remaining media personnel languishing in prisons

Reporters Without Borders/RSF

RSF calls for release of six journalists sentenced to life imprisonment

Wednesday 30 September 2015

While Egypt’s president has just claimed on CNN that his country enjoys unprecedented freedom of expression, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that tomorrow a court will begin hearing the appeals of six unjustly detained journalists who were given life sentences in April. RSF calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

Their appeals will be heard at the same time as those of a group of Muslim Brotherhood leaders with whom they were originally tried and convicted in what was known as the “Rabaa Operations Room”trial.

The six journalists were convicted of disseminating false news, inciting violence and chaos, and being part of an “operations room” aimed at orchestrating attacks against the government during demonstrations in Cairo’s Rabaa Adawiya Square in support of deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

The journalists worked for different media but all covered the demonstrations and all were critical of the government.

The outcome of these journalists’ appeals will be decisive for the future of media freedom in Egypt,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East and Maghreb desk.

The fact that their appeals are being heard at the same time as those of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood group is extremely disturbing. We urge the Egyptian authorities to quash their convictions and free them because they were arrested just for doing their job as journalists to report the news.”

The six include two journalists with the Rassd news website – reporter Abdullah Alfakharany, who is one of the site’s founders, and Samhi Mostafa, its executive director. They were arrested in August 2013 along with Mohammed Al-Adly, a presenter on Amgad TV, a religious TV channel.

Hany Salah Al-Deen, the former news editor of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV channel Misr 25 and former editor of the Youm7 news website, was arrested in December 2013 at Cairo airport. The authorities closed Misr 25 after Morsi’s overthrow in July 2013.

Mossab Al Barbary, the head of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV channel Ahrar 25 and former Misr 25 manager, was arrested at Beirut airport, where he had gone on a business trip, and was deported to Cairo.

Hassan Al Qabbani, an editor with Rassd and with the newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood party, Freedom and Justice, was arrested at his home in January 2015.

There are eight other journalists among those whose appeals will begin being heard tomorrow but RSF had not been able to establish any link between their arrests and their work as journalists.

Most of the journalists currently imprisoned in Egypt are directly or indirectly accused of supporting a banned organization, above all the Muslim Brotherhood, inciting violence and disseminating false information. The Muslim Brotherhood was declared a “terrorist organization” in December 2013.

With at least 20 journalists currently detained, Egypt is the world’s fourth biggest prison for media personnel (after China, Eritrea and Iran) and is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s press freedom index.


*Read also:

CPJ urges Sisi to release all journalists jailed in Egypt


*Artwork courtesy of Ben Jennings

HRW Report - Forced Evictions in Egypt's Rafah; Army forces 3,200 families out of their homes


In Insurgent Fight, Border Families Left to Fend for Themselves


“I myself used to make food and tea for the soldiers and they came and sat in the shade of our olive tree when the sun beat down on them … My mother told me: ‘The tree is your responsibility. I fed you from it and raised you on it. Even in times of war, we lived from its oil when nobody could find food.’ Now there’s nothing I can do but hold the tree and kiss it and say, ‘Forgive me, mom, what can I do.’” – Hajja Zaynab

Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities demolished at least 3,255 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting thousands of people. Extended families who had lived side by side for decades found themselves dispersed, forced to abandon the multi-story houses they had built next to their relatives and passed down through generations.

Some families became homeless and lived in tents or sheds on open land or in informal settlements. The Egyptian authorities razed around 685 hectares of cultivated farmland, depriving families of food and livelihood and stripping most of the border of its traditional olive, date and citrus groves. The evictions scattered families among the Sinai’s towns and villages and in some cases as far as Cairo and the Nile Delta.

The Egyptian government has indicated that these evictions could continue.

The Egyptian army began demolishing buildings along the border in July 2013 as part of a reinvigorated but long-considered plan to establish a “buffer zone” with the Gaza Strip. These demolitions rapidly accelerated after October 24, 2014, when the Sinai-based armed group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, carried out an unprecedented attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, reportedly killing 28 soldiers.

The following month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and changed its name to Sinai Province.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had taken office in June 2014 after orchestrating the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsy the year before, said in a speech on national television the day after the attack that Egypt was fighting a war “for its existence.” He declared a three-month state of emergency in most of North Sinai and convened the National Defense Council and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which agreed on a plan to establish a “secure zone” along the Gaza border.

Five days after the attack, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “isolation” and “evacuation” of 79 square kilometers stretching along the entire Gaza border and extending between five and seven kilometers into the Sinai. The buffer zone encompassed all of Rafah, a town of some 78,000 people that lies directly on the border, as well as significant agricultural land around the town.

Egyptian authorities justified the buffer zone as a way to defeat the insurgency by shutting down the smuggling tunnels that they said allowed fighters and weapons to pass from Gaza to the Sinai. Since 2007, Gaza, which is governed by the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas, has been under a strict Israeli blockade. For most of this period, Egypt has cooperated in the blockade by severely restricting the flow of people and goods between Gaza and the Sinai. Tunnels have served as a key supply line between the two sides.

Egyptian officials described the buffer zone as a way to clear the border area for military operations and eliminate this supply line. A statement on the Defense Ministry’s website described the zone as a way to “finally eliminate the problem” of tunnels, “one of the main sources” for armed groups to enter Sinai and supply insurgents with “arms and ammunition.”

Maj. Gen. Abd al-Fattah Harhour, the governor of North Sinai, said the decree was intended “to defend Egypt from terrorism.” One advisor to the military’s Commanders and Staff College told a newspaper that the buffer zone would have two benefits: putting the zone under military court jurisdiction and clearing it of civilians, so that it would “be regarded as an open theater.”

[Satellite images show final building demolition in central Rafah between October 5, 2014 and August 12, 2015. Center Coordinates : Geo-34°14'13.106"E  31°17'15.48"N ; MGRS-36RXV1773762140. Pléiades-1

© CNES 2015/Distribution Airbus DS]
Though the renewed threat of violence from insurgent groups in 2014 provided a useful pretext, the Egyptian government had for years taken steps to prepare a buffer zone. In response to pressure from Israel and the United States to more effectively seal the border, former President Hosni Mubarak had ordered a 150-meter-wide strip of land cleared in 2007, but protests forced the government to abandon the plan before it began.

Two years later, Mubarak’s government tried and failed to build an 18-meter-deep steel wall under the ground along the border.

According to Sinai activists, the government rekindled the idea of a buffer zone in 2012, under President Morsy, when al-Sisi—then defense minister—banned private property ownership on land within five kilometers of Gaza. Al-Sisi declared the land a “strategic area of military importance,” a designation that, under Egyptian law, made it easier for the military to seize property.

The October 2014 buffer zone decree issued by Prime Minister Mehleb, which contained a map, delineated an eviction area that matched al-Sisi’s decree from two years prior.

In the wake of the decree, Egyptian officials gave contradictory statements about the scope of the coming evictions. Though newspapers had published the decree and 79-square-kilometer map in its entirety, Governor Harhour claimed the day before the decree that the military would only clear an area 500 meters from the border.

On November 17, 2014, the military declared that the buffer zone would be expanded to one kilometer. In January 2015, Harhour told a reporter that the buffer zone would likely mean evicting the entire town of Rafah. In August, Harhour confirmed that a further expansion of the buffer zone, to 1.5 kilometers, would encompass about 1,200 more homes.

Furthermore, a Human Rights Watch analysis of satellite imagery showed that the Egyptian authorities actually began large-scale home demolitions on the border more than a year before the October 2014 buffer zone decree was issued and that these demolitions occurred far outside the initial 500-meter strip described in public by officials. These satellite images showed that home demolitions began after the military, led by al-Sisi, ousted Morsy on July 3, 2013.

The authorities destroyed at least 540 buildings along the border in the 16 months between Morsy’s ouster and the October 2014 decree, including 50 that lay more than a kilometer from the border, Human Rights Watch found. Yet on the day of the decree, Governor Harhour claimed that only 122 homes had been destroyed. After the decree, the Egyptian military demolished at least 2,715 more buildings.

About 3,200 families have lost their homes, according to the government.

[Satellite image shows building explosion in central Rafah on morning of November 13, 2014. Center Coordinates: Geo- 34°14'39.018"E  31°16'16.816"N ; MGRS -36RXV1844360341. Pléiades-1
© 2015 CNES/Distribution Airbus DS]

Illegal Demolitions

Human Rights Watch spoke with journalists and activists in the Sinai and 11 families evicted from the buffer zone and analyzed a detailed time series of over 50 commercial satellite images recorded over Rafah between March 11, 2013 and August 15, 2015. Human Rights Watch determined that the large-scale destruction of at least 3,255 buildings in Rafah to counter the threat of smuggling tunnels was likely disproportionate and did not meet Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law or the laws of war.
Since August 14, 2013, the day Egyptian security forces violently dispersed a mass sit-in protesting Morsy’s removal, killing more than 817 people in one day, Egypt has faced an increasingly dangerous insurgency mounted by an array of groups throughout the country but particularly intense in North Sinai.

Little is known about the Sinai insurgents. In November 2014, Western officials told the New York Times that they estimated that the main insurgent group, Sinai Province—then still known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis—might boast as little as a few hundred fighters or as many as “a few thousand.” The Sinai Province group rarely provides any details about itself. The group has never named a leader nor described its organization, and it has publicly identified fewer than two dozen fighters by name.

Though the group launched sporadic raids and rocket attacks against Israel in the years preceding Morsy’s removal and the mass killing of his supporters, by September 2013, it had turned its attention toward al-Sisi’s government and the military, promising “revenge for Muslims against whoever helped in killing or assaulting them.” The following December, it declared the Egyptian armed forces “unbelievers” who “fight against all who call for the application of Islamic law.”

Since 2013, the insurgents have proven capable of sustaining an increasingly sophisticated campaign against Egyptian military and security forces in North Sinai while also carrying out attacks on security forces and buildings in Cairo, the Western Desert region and elsewhere.

In addition to the October 2014 attack, the group launched large, coordinated assaults on government positions in North Sinai in January 2015 and July 2015, likely killing more than 100 Egyptian soldiers in total, according to local media outlets. The July 1, 2015, attack on army and police positions in the town of Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai may have been the largest insurgent attack in Egypt’s modern history and marked the first time that insurgents in Sinai succeeded in temporarily seizing populated territory.

Only attacks by Egyptian air force F-16 fighter jets managed to drive the fighters out of Sheikh Zuweid after 12 hours of combat. The Sinai Province group has also used sophisticated guided missiles to destroy tanks, shoot down at least one Egyptian military helicopter and severely damage at least one Egyptian navy vessel.

More than 3,600 people, including civilians, security forces and alleged insurgents, have reportedly died in North Sinai between July 2013 and July 2015, according to media reports and government statements aggregated by the Washington, DC-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. Roughly 2,650 people, about 73 percent of those who died, have reportedly been killed since the first major attack in October 2014.

This ongoing fighting, primarily between the Egyptian military and the Sinai Province group, may amount to a non-international armed conflict, meaning that the conduct of both sides would be subject to international humanitarian law, also called the laws of war.

Under the laws of war, the Egyptian armed forces may close tunnels that are being used to send arms or materiel to the armed groups it is fighting, respond to attacks on its forces, and take preventive measures to avoid further attacks. But such measures are strictly regulated by the provisions of international humanitarian law, which require all parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Egypt’s military can attack or destroy civilian buildings only when they become military objectives and are making an “effective contribution” to military action. The laws of war also prohibit the forced displacement of civilians “unless the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand.”

Human Rights Watch found that the large-scale destruction of homes and other buildings in Rafah did not meet the requirement under the laws of war that Egypt’s army target only specific military objectives. The demolitions made no distinction between tunnels and civilian homes, and less-destructive methods could have effectively restricted, and in fact had reportedly restricted, tunnel smuggling.

For example, in July 2013, when the military first began home demolitions on the Gaza border, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory estimated that existing Egyptian efforts to close the tunnels through demolition or flooding had been successful, eliminating perhaps all but 10.

Furthermore, Egypt likely possessed the capability to detect and eliminate specific tunnels without resorting to the arbitrary destruction of a large buffer zone. In 2008 and 2009, according to media reports and the US Defense Department, the US Army Corps of Engineers trained Egyptian troops to use advanced technological equipment that measures ground fluctuations to indicate tunnel digging. In August 2013, the US Defense Department awarded the defense company Raytheon a $9.9 million contract to continue research and development in Egypt on its version of this technology, which is known as a laser radar vibration sensor.

Though the Sinai-Gaza tunnels may qualify as lawful military objectives in some cases, Human Rights Watch also found it unclear to what extent they make an effective contribution to the Sinai Province group’s military capability or to the overall insurgency.

According to both media reports and government statements, most of the heavy weapons in use in the Sinai, including heavy machine guns, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank missiles, have likely been smuggled from Libya and bought, stockpiled and sold within the Sinai. Israeli and US officials have expressed concern about weapons smuggling from the Sinai to Gaza, but rarely the reverse. Indeed, the buffer zone appears to be as important to Israel’s security as Egypt’s.

“When we take security measures in the Sinai, those measures confirm our sovereignty over the Sinai, which is part and parcel of Egyptian territory. We will never allow anyone to launch attacks from our territory against neighbors or against Israel,” al-Sisi said in a televised November 2014 interview. “The buffer zone should have been established for years already … We took this decision in consultation with the local population. Meetings have been organized to compensate them of course, and to rebuild the city of Rafah to make it more pleasant to live in.”

Whether or not the fighting in North Sinai has reached the level of a non-international armed conflict, international human rights law continues to apply and bind the Egyptian authorities. The demolition campaign since July 2013 has violated these laws, specifically the right to housing laid out in United Nations and African conventions to which Egypt is a party.

This right provides specific protections during evictions, such as: genuine consultation with those being evicted; adequate and reasonable notice; information on the eviction and future use of the land; legal remedies; and legal aid. International law prohibits "forced evictions," defined as the permanent or temporary removal of individuals, families or communities against their will from their homes or land, without access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.

[Video shows the active deployment of dozens of Egyptian government soldiers and at least three armored personnel carriers (APCs) next to a military base along the border with Gaza. Excavator is visible in adjacent courtyard demolishing a wall and small building. Recorded between February 28 – April 12, 2014. Video Location- Geo-34°14'20.186"E 31°17'41.961"N; MGRS-36RXV1791762959.]

[Two wheeled and tracked APCs parked with soldiers observing residents remove their belongings on to pickup truck before demolition. Recorded between October 20 – 31, 2014. Video location: Geo-34°14'28.365"E 31°17'18.796"N; MGRS: 36RXV1814262246.]

Video shows soldiers setting and wiring the demolition charges in building that is later demolished.

[Video of the building seconds after the detonation of high explosives by government soldiers. Recorded November 1-4, 2014. Video location: Geo-34°14'46.823"E, 31°16'31.159"N; MGRS-36RXV1864460785.]
Egypt is also obliged to protect the right to property, as set out in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which it is a party. This includes recognizing individuals’ and groups’ property rights over homes and land they have traditionally occupied, whether or not they have written documentation. Evictions should be a last resort and accompanied with fair compensation.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that the Egyptian army provided no written warning of the impending evictions and that many residents heard about the coming demolitions from army patrols, neighbors or media outlets. These residents, often told to pack up their lives and leave within 48 hours, were sometimes made to wait for weeks for the demolition to take place and were forced to live in houses they had hurriedly emptied, amid mostly abandoned neighborhoods where shops had closed and government-supplied water and electricity had been shut off.

The government offered families a small and inadequate one-time payment of 900 Egyptian pounds (US $118) to cover three months of rent as they searched for a new home for themselves and their relatives.

The Egyptian government offered compensation to residents for their homes, but most of the families said that the compensation was not enough to buy property that would equal their previous standard of living and that the process was opaque and lacked any mechanism for objection. Residents were coerced to sign a form that falsely stated they had voluntarily given their property to the state and pledged to not build again within the buffer zone.

Rafah city council employees would not give families their compensation checks if they did not sign the form. The government did not offer any compensation for agricultural land, even land which families farmed or rented to others, considering it “empty.”

The government did not provide compensation to anyone who owned property where a tunnel or tunnel entrance was allegedly found.

The Egyptian government did not appear to have a plan to ensure that the evictions did not interrupt children’s education. The army destroyed at least six schools in the buffer zone, and families told Human Rights Watch that they struggled to place their children in new schools outside the buffer zone. One family said that they had not been able to find a new school; the others said that they had placed their children in schools with the help of family friends in the government.
The Rafah evictions have taken place amid an ongoing counterinsurgency campaign by the Egyptian government involving widespread arrests and attacks on alleged insurgent positions in the area. Since the October 2014 insurgent attack on the army checkpoint, much of North Sinai has been under a curfew and state of emergency.

One resident told Human Rights Watch that the military used dogs to intimidate homeowners during the eviction process, and in one early 2014 case their use was captured on video footage posted to YouTube. Another video provided to Human Rights Watch, filmed in the first week of November 2014, showed a US-made Egyptian army M60 main battle tank firing at a building on the border, apparently in order to demolish it.

In an October 10, 2014, incident widely circulated after also being posted to YouTube, and which Human Rights Watch verified, army soldiers near the Gura checkpoint southwest of Rafah severely beat two Sinai men, one of them apparently already injured and wearing blood-stained clothes, before pushing them into an unmarked room where at least three other people were being held. Civilians have also been intimidated and attacked by insurgents. The Sinai Province group has destroyed the property of alleged government collaborators and killed and on occasion beheaded others.

Few voices in Egypt criticized the evictions, and many Egyptian media outlets called for the armed forces to take harsh measures in North Sinai. After the October 2014 attack, current and former Egyptian security officials appeared on private television news shows saying that “there is no need for [an] understanding” with North Sinai residents and that “these so-called innocent residents are the ones harboring and protecting terrorists.”

The National Council for Human Rights, in its annual report, said that the evictions were legal and the compensation fair. The government in almost all cases denied journalists and human rights groups access to North Sinai. The head of news at Egypt’s state broadcasting authority said the authority’s journalists could not broadcast events in the Sinai without instructions and permission from the armed forces.

The evictions have received virtually no international scrutiny or condemnation. The United States reacted to them with approval. On October 30, 2014, a State Department spokesperson said, referring to the Egyptian government, “we understand the threat that they are facing from the Sinai” and that “Egypt has the right to take steps to maintain their own security.”

Neither Egypt’s Gulf allies nor sympathetic nations in the European Union, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, have condemned the evictions.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Egyptian government to halt its forced evictions along the Gaza border and study the possibility of destroying tunnels using less destructive means. Human Rights Watch calls on the United States, which supplies much of the military equipment used by Egypt, to ensure that it can undertake robust human rights vetting for the use of all US military assistance and to not supply Egypt with military aid that risks being used in the commission of serious human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch calls on the United Nations special rapporteur on housing to request an urgent visit to Egypt and on the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a joint resolution expressing concern about the human rights situation in Egypt.

As survivors' accounts emerge Mexico demands reparations for deaths/injuries of nationals; Egypt wages media battle

Mexico is demanding compensation for the families of the tourists who were killed in an accidental military airstrike in Egypt’s Western Desert last Sunday, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, as Egyptian officials wage a battle against unflattering media coverage of the tragedy.

The Mexican foreign affairs ministry submitted the demand in writing to Yassir Sharban, Egypt’s ambassador to Mexico, on Thursday. That night in Cairo, Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu accompanied survivors from the attack and relatives of the victims on a flight back home.

The airstrike killed eight Mexican tourists and four Egyptians who were in a convoy of four jeeps reportedly en route back to their hotel. The bombardment injured 10 others. Egyptian authorities assert that the convoy was in a restricted zone where the Armed Forces were waging a security operation against alleged terrorists.

But members of the General Tourist Guides Syndicate said that the convoy had the necessary security permits for the trip, had submitted an itinerary to the police and was accompanied by a police escort.

"The Mexican government demands the necessary guarantees so that the victims of the tragic and regrettable attack perpetrated on September 13, all of them innocent civilians and their families, receive full reparations for the damage, including compensation," the statement said.

Mexican officials also reiterated their demands for an exhaustive investigation into the attack to bring those responsible for committing the lethal error to justice.

In a joint press conference on Wednesday, foreign ministers from both countries emphasized their efforts to expedite investigations into the tragedy.

The survivors and relatives of the victims are expected to arrive home on Friday. Unnamed security sources told the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that Ruiz Massieu accompanied them to the Cairo International Airport on Thursday night. They arrived in six ambulances guarded by a police convoy. A medical team from the Nasser Institute and the Ambulance Authority was also present to aid the wounded.

Mexican news outlets have begun publishing the survivors’ accounts of the deadly attack.

Susana Calderon was in the convoy and survived with serious injuries, but her husband of 20 years died in the assault. They were on the “trip of a lifetime” and had planned to visit France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy after their sojourn in Egypt.

She spoke to the Mexico City-based newspaper El Universal while convalescing at Cairo’s Dar al-Fouad Hospital.

Calderon said the group had stopped to eat in the desert and the tour operators were preparing lunch when the assault began.

“We were bombed five times from the air,” she said. “It lasted at least three hours.”

A driver, the son of one of the trip’s organizers and the police escort were all killed in the first hour, she said. After the first round of bombs, one of the convoy drivers called someone — Calderon believes he was calling for help, and that’s why the ambulances arrived shortly thereafter.

“I saw my husband when they were putting me on the stretcher to take me to the hospital,” Calderon continued. “I heard him telling me he loved me. I told him I loved him too. That’s the last I knew about him. Every day I asked the nurses, and they told me he was here in the hospital. They didn’t want to tell me” that he had died.

While the Mexican government and press have circulated detailed accounts of the attack, Egyptian authorities continue to remain tight-lipped, while condemning media coverage that's inconsistent with official accounts.

On Wednesday, the prosecutor general issued a media gag on coverage of investigations. Then late Thursday night, the Foreign Affairs Ministry published an open letter to the New York Times editorial board lambasting what it called “disingenuous and misleading” coverage of the attack.

Such biased, partial reporting has become the norm in that newspaper, the letter alleged. “Responsible and ethical reporting requires the media to report facts, not pass judgment and baseless accusations in the absence of any evidence,” the ministry argued.

The ministry accused the New York Times editors of taking official statements out of context and casting doubt on official investigations into the incident. The newspaper’s coverage comes across as a deliberate attempt to “provoke the people of Mexico and incite negative sentiments," the statement continued.

“Given the impact the media has on public opinion, it is the duty of the New York Times and its editorial board to choose professionalism over sensationalism and integrity over partiality,” ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid wrote. “Unfortunately, this has not been the case in this particular incident and in many others before it.”

Sisi's state begins to demolish revolutionary mural wall commemorating Jan. 25 Uprising

Aswat Masriya
Graffiti wall in downtown Cairo to be removed in part

Thursday Sept 17 2015

Workers were seen demolishing a part of the wall surrounding the American University in Cairo on Thursday.

"In the framework of beautifying Tahrir Sqaure, the Egyptian government asked the American University in Cairo to either develop or remove its Science building along with its walls on Mohamed Mahmoud street," Rehab Saad, Director of Media Relations at the American University of Cairo, told Aswat Masriya in a phone interview.

"The university decided to demolish parts of the walls and replace them by an iron gate," she added.

Mohamed Mahmoud street, which is a side street from Egypt's famed Tahrir Square, is known for the graffiti on its walls, which includes symbols of the January uprising , the battles on the street, and murals inspired by Egypt's heritage.

*Photos by Ahmed Hamed - courtesy of Aswat Masriya

Prosecution imposes gag order on Mexican tourists killing investigation

Ahram Online 

The gag order applies to audio, video, print and online media

Wednesday 16 Sep 2015

Dar Al-Fouad

Egypt's prosecution has imposed a gagging order on the investigation into the mistaken killing on Sunday of Mexican tourists on a safari trip in Egypt, Aswat Masriya reported on Wednesday afternoon.

Zakaria Osman, the assistant prosecutor-general, told reporters the gag order applies to audio, video, and print media, as well as internet sites.

The prosecution's statements and updates about the case will be excluded from the order, he added.

Eight Mexicans were killed according to Mexican officials among 12 people who lost their lives  and 10 who were wounded on Sunday after security forces fired on the group of tourists mistakenly.

The interior ministry has stated that the forces had been chasing militants in the Western Desert.
Egypt's prosecution has regularly issued gag orders on politically sensitive investigations such as the inquest into the murder of former prosecutor-general Hisham Barakat and investigations concerning the militant outlawed Islamist group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis.

*Photo courtesy of Reuters

Army/police kill 12 Mexican tourists & Egyptian guides, seriously injure 10 others in aerial bombardment

The Guardian
Mexican tourists describe repeated Egyptian airstrikes on desert convoy

Eight Mexicans among 12 dead in mistaken attack in Western Desert - ‘We were bombed some five times, always from the air’

Thursday, September 17,  2015

Egyptian forces bombed a convoy of Mexican tourists about five times over a period of three hours, even after local security forces on the ground had stopped them twice and cleared their passage, according to one of six Mexican survivors of the deadly attack.

Susana Calderón spoke to the Mexican newspaper El Universal in a Cairo hospital before she and the other injured tourists were due to head home on Thursday. Her husband Luis was among eight Mexicans killed in the incident that claimed 12 lives.

“We were bombed some five times, always from the air,” she said. Calderón’s arm was marked with wounds and her right leg was paralysed, though doctors believe she will recover movement, the newspaper reported.

Six Mexican tourists wounded in an Egyptian airstrike that mistakenly killed eight of their compatriots were to head home on Thursday, a Mexican foreign ministry spokesman said.

Their wider group of 22 people had parked on Sunday for a barbecue near the Bahariya oasis, a tourist site in the western desert, when army aircraft began shelling them believing they were militants, security sources and survivors have said.

Egypt said the tourists had entered a restricted area in the Western Desert and were “mistakenly” killed as security forces chased jihadists who had abducted and beheaded an Egyptian.

Hassan al-Nahla, the head of Egypt’s tour guides union, said the group had received all the required permits and set off with a police escort from Cairo to the Bahariya oasis, roughly 350km (220 miles) away.

“I saw my husband when they put me on a stretcher to take me to hospital,” said Calderón. “I saw he was very badly wounded. He had a broken arm, like me. He had many wounds on his back, his waist, his whole spine, his legs.”

“I heard him tell me he loved me. I told him I loved him, too. And then I heard nothing more of him,” she said, adding that she was told days later that he had died.

The incident has proven embarrassing for Egypt, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, met the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on Wednesday.

In a press conference with Ruiz Massieu on Wednesday, her Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, promised a “transparent” investigation.

But the state prosecutor, whose office handles investigations, has placed a gag order on reporting details of the inquiry, the official MENA news agency reported.

Ruiz Massieu will accompany the survivors and the victims’ remains home to Mexico.
The five women and a man where wheeled out of the hospital on stretchers and lifted into ambulances, an AFP photographer said.

“I’m very grateful to the Egyptian people and the Mexican people for all their attentiveness,” said one, Marisela Rangel Dávalos, as she was being placed into an ambulance.

The Western Desert is popular with tour groups, but is also a militant hideout, with western embassies warning against non-essential travel there.

Last month, Egypt’s branch of the Islamic State group, which calls itself Sinai Province, beheaded a Croatian oil worker, who was abducted near Cairo, at the edge of the Western Desert.

IS’s affiliate in the Sinai peninsula has killed hundreds of soldiers since 2013, when the army ousted the Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and launched a bloody crackdown on his supporters.

*Photo of bombed convoy - courtesy of 'Doma Man.'

Police attempt to thwart labor protest in authorized area

Mada Masr

Security forces attempted to prevent a planned mass demonstration in an authorized area by civil service workers on Saturday.

Protesters called for the civil service law, issued in March by presidential decree, to be amended or annulled, until a parliament is formed to draft a new law.

Civil service workers claim current legislation negatively affects their incomes, and gives administrators sweeping powers. They say the government did not engage in any genuine consultation with public sector workers, civil servants or their unions in the process of drafting the decree.

The park is one of two designated areas in Cairo where protests can take place without prior police authorization, according to a decree by the governor of Cairo, although organizers are required to give prior notification of any action. The other is Car's Market in Nasr City.

Civil servants, particularly Tax Authority employees, have organized previous demonstrations against the civil service law. They gathered outside the Cabinet headquarters on July 27, at the Journalists Syndicate on August 10, and outside the Tax Authority headquarters on September 6. A similar protest planned for August 17 was denied authorization.

Civil servants and public sector employees were also denied access to Tahrir Square just one month after security forces secured celebrations to mark the inauguration of the new Suez Canal passageway. They were similarly denied permission to protest outside the Cabinet and Journalists Syndicate. The only location that was agreed upon for Saturday's demonstration was the walled garden, Fustat Park.

Protest organizer Wael Tawfiq told Mada Masr, "These designated protest sites are difficult to access, isolated from the streets and blocked-off from public view. It is an extension of the ban on street protests, and an attempt to isolate all protests from the public."

As protesters gathered outside Fustat Park in Cairo, police sealed off the main entrance and claimed maintenance works were taking place, although no such work was evident, according to Mada Masr reporters present.

The media spokesperson for Fustat Park, Randa al-Rawwas, confirmed that no renovations or maintenance work were being undertaken in the park.

She added that only 20 feddans (approx. 20 acres) were allocated for Saturday's protest, not the whole park. Demonstrators were reportedly told they would have to disperse by 4 pm, as the park closes at this time.

Rawwas said that regime supporters would not be permitted entry to the park during the protest, to avoid potential clashes.

The Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS) issued a statement saying that several buses transporting civil servants were stopped as they approached the park, with many participants from provinces outside Cairo returning home after being denied access.

An independent union organizer, employed by the Public Transport Authority, reported that buses transporting civil servants to Cairo were being stopped at checkpoints and some were turned back, along with supplies of water for protesters in the park.

However, after an hour of negotiation with police forces, around 500 protesters were permitted to enter the park through the back entrance, as police largely withdrew from the scene and plain-clothed regime supporters gathered at the rear entrance, prompting fears of an attack.

Civil service protest in Fustat park

Tawfiq told Mada Masr that, although regime supporters didn't enter the park, police did not prevent them from congregating outside, and some of them had weapons.

Protesters carried placards calling for the purging of the Tax Authority and bearing the name of the organizing committee "Tadamon" (Solidarity). They chanted "illegitimate" against the civil service law.

Tawfiq told Mada Masr, "Police banned protesters from accessing the park at several points. The regime also engaged in misinformation campaigns and used the threat of attack from locals to deter future protests."

In the lead up to Saturday's protest, organizers and demonstrators reported being subjected to a series of threats and misinformation from television personalities, as well as condemnation by the state-controlled trade union. The demonstration was largely planned by members of independent trade unions.

Media reports were also circulated claiming the protest had been cancelled.

Protest organizer Fatma Fouad says there were attempts to hijack the protest in a similar way to during the Battle of the Camel, which took place in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011.

Two days ago, pro-government television anchor Ahmed Moussa threatened the civil servants planning to protest: “You will pay the price dearly if you join.”

He attempted to link the protest to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, who he described as "terrorists," during his show on the privately owned Sada al-Balad channel.

“There are orders from the terrorist Brotherhood that there must be bloodshed on this day, it doesn’t matter whose blood is shed, that of Brotherhood members, employees. I warn the populace that they have tents and intend on organizing a protest camp,” Moussa claimed, adding, “They should be arrested, prosecuted and put on trial, even referred to military trials.”

However, protest organizers denied that a sit-in was planned, insisting it was always intended as a one-day event.

Civil service protest at Fustat park

Moussa warned participants, who he argued are bent on toppling the state: “You will be grabbed by the neck. You think you’ll go back home? You won’t go home.”

He asserted: “It’s an issue of the state versus no state, and I know there is a strong state.”
Organizers and independent unions behind Saturday’s protest denied that they are seeking to topple the state or to threaten national security in any way.

The state-controlled trade union federation (ETUF) openly denounced the protest. ETUF President Gebali al-Maraghy claimed the federation “strongly condemns calls for demonstrations under the guise of protesting against the civil service law,” referring to the planned protest as being “suspect,” and attempting to ruin the government’s accomplishments.

The ETUF countered calls for the protest by calling on all civil servants and public sector employees to work an additional hour on Saturday, following the conclusion of their workday on Saturday.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, whose Cabinet resigned on Saturday ahead of the planned protest, warned against attempts to strike, or to obstruct state functions last week. Mehleb claimed such protests aim “to unsettle the political scene.”

Similarly, the Justice Ministry warned against strike action or absenteeism in light of Saturday’s planned mass protest. Civil servants employed under the auspices of the ministry were threatened with disciplinary measures if they did not attend work.

Tawfiq told Mada Masr: "We were practically prevented from protesting today due to all these restrictions and police harassment, yet, our message against this unjust law has been delivered. It is the first nail in the coffin of the civil service law. This is only the beginning."

He added that further protests are being planned and will be announced in the next few days.

*Photos by Siham Shawada

Upon orders from Saudi paymasters, Sisi deploys Egyptian ground troops in Yemen

Mada Masr

Egypt reportedly deploys ground troops to Yemen

September 9, 2015 

An Egyptian military force of 800 soldiers reportedly arrived in Yemen late on Tuesday to join the ranks of the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting the Houthis, Egyptian security sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

There has been ambiguity surrounding previous local media reports about the ground military intervention in Yemen, as Egyptian government representatives remained tight-lipped amid rumors that 3000 ground troops were recently deployed to Makha, which overlooks the strategic Bab al-Mandab area.  

Four units of between 150 to 200 troops, along with tanks and transport vehicles arrived in Yemen late on Tuesday, two Egyptian security sources told Reuters-affiliated Aswat Masreya.

A senior Egyptian military source said the forces were sent “as part of Egypt's prominent role in this alliance,” which “fights for the sake of our brotherly Arab states.”

The source added, “The death of any Egyptian soldier would be an honor and considered martyrdom for the sake of innocent people.”

However, Press Secretary for the Yemeni Presidency, Mokhtar al-Rahby told Mada Masr that, “so far the Yemeni presidency hasn't received any news about Egyptian forces on Yemeni soil. There are Saudi and Qatari preparations to begin engagement with armed militias. We’re not certain about the Egyptian situation, but Egypt remains part of the Arab Coalition that might intervene at any moment.”

Spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zeid, declined to comment on the news.

Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that a widespread military operation was in the works in Eastern Yemen. The newspaper added that the task-force joining the anticipated operation to liberate areas under the control of Houthis includes coalition forces from Egypt, Qatar and other countries that “would arrive in areas of Yemen other than Ma’rib within days, to provide on the ground logistical support to the forces.”

The sources declined to name the regions where these forces will purportedly land, adding that “they will have specific fighting goals and will largely contribute to liberating Yemeni regions from the hands of the Houthis.”

Meanwhile, spokesperson for the coalition, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assery, told Reuters that their forces were focused on overcoming Houthi resistance in Yemen's central and southern provinces by a prerequisite airs campaign,” before starting the ground operation towards Sanaa.

Heavy air strikes on Houthi sites in Sanaa have been reported throughout this week. On Tuesday, fishermen said raids killed 20 Indian nationals off a Red Sea port, while at least 15 other civilians were killed throughout the country on the same day, Reuters reported.

On August 1, Egyptian authorities agreed to extend involvement in military operations in Yemen by another six months, in support of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Shia Houthi groups since March.

Egypt’s military confirmed providing the “necessary elements for the forces” in the Yemeni conflict for a further six months, or until the objectives are met, in order to uphold national security for Arab Gulf states, the Red Sea region, and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (with the exception of Oman) are leading the military offensive in Yemen, claiming that Shia Houthi rebels seized control of the state in a coup (from September 2014 until February 2015). They allege the takeover was orchestrated by Iran in an attempt to expand its influence in the region.

At the behest of Saudi Arabia’s ruling dynasty, Egypt joined Operation Decisive Storm on March 26, and continued to lend military support throughout subsequent operations, Restoring Hope and Golden Arrow.

At the time, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed that Egypt was only participating with naval and air forces. In an April speech at the Military Academy, he said, “An announcement will be made if any other forces are deployed in the operation.” 

*Photo by Maggie Michael