Saturday, April 30, 2016

Egypt: Unshackle Workers' Right to Organize!

Egypt: Unshackle Workers’ Right to Organize 

Draft Law Should Guarantee Unions’ Independence

1,277 detained in protests against Sisi's handover of islands to KSA

Mada Masr
Front states over 1,000 detained in recent demonstrations in Egypt

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters published a report on Thursday, documenting 1,277 arrests and detentions between April 15 and 27, the period coinciding with popular mobilizations against Egyptian authorities prompted by the transfer of Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia.

The list issued by the front documents cases spanning across 22 Egyptian cities wherein 577 individuals have been referred to the prosecution and 619 have been released. The legal status of 81 cases is unclear, according to the front's lawyers.

Those arrested are predominately men and include 52 minors.

Yasser Azzam, who was arrested in Dokki on April 25, was released on Thursday from a Central Security Forces camp. He told Mada Masr that he was kept in a 12-square-meter cell with another 40 inmates. The men were forced to sleep on the floor, as the camp authorities did not provide beds or mattresses.

"We demanded to go to the bathroom, so Central Security Forces came to our cells trying to scare us. But we continued protesting until they let us use the bathroom," Azzam said.

While in detention, Azzam states he was asked about his opinion on "the January 25 revolution, the June 30 events, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the government’s performance."

Fatemah Serag, a lawyer and member of the front, notes that wide ranging suspicion led to the high number of arbitrary arrests from places far from demonstration sites and the subsequent release of 60 percent of those arrested.

Other lawyers have criticized the prosecution’s handling of arrests and referrals to investigation.

Lawyer Yasmine Hossam Eddin told Mada Masr that the prosecution issued "false visit permits" to family members of those arrested on April 15 and that are currently being detained in the Tora prison.

"In the Agouza Police Station [where some protesters have been detained], I saw how prosecutors were screaming at arrested youth as though they were policemen and not investigators," Hossam Eddin said.

Lawyer Ahmad Othman told Mada Masr that prosecutors present at the Agouza Police Station and the Dokki Police Station did not intervene when police officers prevented defense lawyers from attending detainee’s interrogation sessions.

"The prosecution also refused to record how those arrested were held longer than the 24-hour legal period between their arrests and referral to investigation. It also refused to record how arrest warrants were issued after the detainees were in fact arrested...[and] to record the fact that National Security Agency members interrogated those arrested before they were referred to prosecution," Othman stated.

The prosecution has also refused lawyer’s requests to record incidents of torture that occurred in detention centers, lawyer Sameh Samir told Mada Masr. "We don't want the prosecutors to do anything beyond recording these facts in the cases files," he said.

Prosecutors have also often interrogated detainees inside police stations where they have faced torture, a practice contested by lawyers. While it is not illegal to conduct interrogations there, lawyers state that the non-neutral setting is inappropriate for the legal process.

"There is almost an agreement that the prosecution is not a neutral player in human rights cases," says Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression lawyer Hassan al-Azhari.

Azhari called for lawyers to protest the prosecution’s actions by boycotting interrogations in an attempt to showcase the process’s lack of credibility.

During the reign of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, police officers and state security officers were often hired as prosecutors. The practice is widely contended to be the reason for the prosecutor’s lack of independence from the executive branch.



43 Egyptian & foreign journalists detained/arrested while covering Tiran & Sanafir protests 


*Photo courtesy of

Egypt falls again in 'World Press Freedom Index' - Now ranked 159 / 180

Egypt falls again in World Press Freedom Index, now ranked 159th

April 20, 2016

Amid growing hostility to media criticism of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government, Egypt has fallen one place in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published today.
The Egyptian media environment is dynamic and the media reflect the country’s polarization between support for Sisi and opposition, but the authoritarian regime has used the fraught security situation to crack down on critical journalists in the name of stability and national security.

Now ranked 159th out of 180 countries, Egypt had fallen steadily in the Index since the end of the Mubarak era, when it was ranked 127th out of 173 countries. Under President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt was ranked 158th of 178 countries in 2012 and 2013.

With more than 20 journalists currently detained on trumped-up charges, Egypt is now one of the world’s biggest prisons for media personnel although, in an interview for CNN last September, President Sisi claimed that his country’s journalists enjoyed “unprecedented” freedom of expression.

A few days before the interview, Sisi pardoned two Al-Jazeera journalists who had been sentenced to three years in prison in August 2015 after being convicted, at the end of a second trial, of supporting terrorism, spreading false news and working without permission.

Some journalists have been held provisionally for extremely long periods without seeing a judge.

They include Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photographer also known as Shawkan, who was arrested while covering the eviction of deposed President Morsi’s supporters from Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in August 2013.

He was due to go on trial along with more than 700 other defendants in December 2015, but the start of the trial was postponed until March. According to the relatives of detained journalists, some have been badly tortured in prison while others have been denied adequate medical care although very ill.

Journalists who criticize Sisi or his government are liable to be harassed, fired or even jailed. And in response to Jihadi violence in the Sinai Peninsula, the government has imposed “correct” media coverage of armed attacks and bombings.

After creating a “Fact check Egypt” unit in June 2015 to verify media reports and point out (alleged) mistakes, the government went one step further in the anti-terrorism law adopted in August. Under article 33, the media are now obliged to limit themselves to the government’s version of terrorist attacks. Reporters who fail to comply can be fined the equivalent of more than a year’s salary.

Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

*Photo of journalists' protest courtesy of


100s protest as policeman shoots dead tea vendor & injures 2 others

Egypt protest after tea vendor 'killed by police'

19 April, 2016

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Egypt's capital, Cairo, to protest after a tea vendor was allegedly shot dead by police.

The unrest erupted after a policeman allegedly killed the man and wounded two others during an argument over the price of a cup of tea.

The policeman has been arrested and the case referred to prosecutors.

Video footage showed angry protesters overturning a police vehicle while chanting "the police are thugs."

Egypt has seen a series of allegations of police brutality in recent months, stoking public anger.

The interior ministry said that Tuesday's incident in the eastern suburb of Rehab began with an argument over the price of a cup of tea between several policeman and a street vendor.

One policeman opened fire, killing the vendor and wounding two passersby, it added.

Photographs showed what appeared to be a man lying still on the floor, covered in blood, surrounded by angry onlookers.

Witnesses said the protest began shortly after the incident.

"Security forces brought in two riot police vehicles and an armoured truck and the victim's family is here and pelting them with rocks," one witness told the Reuters news agency.

"Security forces are retreating and promising justice but the crowd is demanding police hand over the killer."

In February, there was a protest outside the Cairo security directorate after a policeman reportedly shot dead a driver in a street in an argument over a fare.

There were also riots in Ismailia and the southern city of Luxor after at least three people died in police custody in a single week in November.

The government has also been forced to repeatedly deny allegations that security services were responsible for the killing of Italian academic Giulio Regeni in Cairo earlier this year.

Officials have blamed a criminal gang for his abduction and torture.

*Video Courtesy of Euronews

Largest demonstration since 2013 Coup, protesters demand fall of Sisi for handover of islands to KSA

Protesters demand fall of Egypt's government over islands deal
Fri Apr 15, 2016

Thousands of Egyptians angered by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision to hand over two islands to Saudi Arabia called on Friday for the government to fall, chanting a slogan from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Their protests signaled that the former general, who is also under mounting criticism over the struggling economy, no longer enjoys the broad public support that let him round up thousands of opponents after he seized power in 2013.

In the evening, riot police who had surrounded the site of the biggest demonstration, in the heart of downtown Cairo, dispersed the crowd with tear gas, Reuters witnesses said.

Egyptian security forces detained a total of 119 protesters at several demonstrations, according to security officials.

Sisi's government prompted an outcry in Egyptian newspapers and on social media last week when it announced an accord that put the uninhabited Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters.

"The people want the downfall of the regime!" protesters cried outside the Cairo press syndicate, using the signature chant of the 2011 revolt against then-president Hosni Mubarak, who later stepped down.

They also chanted: "Sisi - Mubarak", "We don't want you, leave" and "We own the land and you are agents who sold our land." In other parts of Cairo, police fired tear gas at protesters, security sources said.

The U.S. government, which sees Cairo as a critical Middle East ally, will continue to watch carefully the situation in Egypt, the White House said.

Saudi and Egyptian officials say the islands belong to the kingdom across the Red Sea and were only under Egyptian control because Riyadh had asked Cairo in 1950 to protect them.

Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf Arab states showered Egypt with billions of dollars in aid and grants after Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, following mass protests against him.

But a sharp drop in oil prices and differences with Cairo over such regional issues as the war in Yemen have raised questions over whether strong Gulf Arab support can be sustained.


Egyptians are eager for an economic revival after years of political upheaval. But the islands issue seems to have hurt their national pride, prompting thousands to return to the streets to confront their leader.

There are no signs that Sisi's rule is under immediate threat. However, even local media, which once suggested he could do no wrong, have been attacking the president.

Critics say the government has mishandled a series of crises, from an investigation into the killing of Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, 28, in Cairo, to a bomb that brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula last October.

Torture marks on Regini's body prompted human rights groups to conclude he died at the hands of security forces, which Egypt denies. That revived complaints of police brutality, one of the issues that led Egyptians to challenge Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Sisi has made fighting corruption a top priority. But he drew fire last month after sacking Hesham Geneina, Egypt's top auditor, who had stirred controversy by publicly concluding that state corruption had cost the country billions of dollars.

In a tweet, Geneina described the protests as the "purest, bravest and most noble demonstration of Egyptians" in decades.

Many Egyptians enthusiastically welcomed Sisi when he took over. They turned a blind eye as Islamists and other opponents were rounded up, swelling the number of political prisoners to about 40,000, according to estimates by human rights groups.


A growing number are now losing patience over corruption, poverty and unemployment, the same issues that led to Mubarak's downfall, while Sisi has appeared increasingly authoritarian in televised speeches.

"We want the downfall of the regime," said Abdelrahman Abdellatif, 29, an air conditioning engineer, at the Cairo protest. "The youth of the revolution are still here ... We are experiencing unprecedented fascism and dictatorship."

There were also Sisi supporters, including a woman wearing a shirt with an image of the former military intelligence chief.

In Alexandria, around 500 people gathered near a railway station. Meanwhile, 300 Sisi supporters holding up photographs of him demonstrated outside a mosque in the port city.

Calls for protests have gathered thousands of supporters on Facebook, including from the outlawed Brotherhood, which accused Sisi of staging a coup when it was ousted and rolling back freedoms won after hundreds of thousands of Egyptians protested five years ago in Cairo's Tahrir Square against Mubarak.

*Photos courtesy of Reuters
**Additional reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, Ola Noureldin, Ali Abdelaty and Omar Fahmy in Cairo and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Larry King

Egypt: 7,400 Civilians Tried in Military Courts Since 2014

Egypt: 7,400 Civilians Tried In Military Courts

Torture, Disappearances Used to Elicit Confessions

ILO tells Egypt to stop repressing independent labor unions

Mada Masr
ILO to Egypt: Stop repressing independent trade unions

Monday, April 11, 2016

Jano Charbel 

The United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a statement Friday criticizing Egypt’s ongoing repression of independent trade unions and workers’ freedom of association.

The ILO also lambasted the Egyptian authorities for their handling of investigations into the torture and murder of Italian PhD candidate Giulio Regeni, who was in Egypt researching and writing on the condition of the local independent labor movement prior to his death.

In a message directed at President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ILO Director General Guy Ryder “expressed concern over threats to human and trade union rights in Egypt,” while calling for clear answers regarding Regeni’s brutal death.

Ryder also criticized the Egyptian government’s recent violations against independent unions, including restrictions on the publication of official documents, prohibiting their participation in collective bargaining and subjecting independent union organizers to the risk of layoffs, and even arrests.

“I wish to stress that it is the responsibility of the [Egyptian] government to ensure the application of the international labor conventions on freedom of association that it has freely ratified, and which must be respected by all state authorities,” Ryder argued.

But officials from the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) dismissively responded to the ILO’s criticisms.

The ILO statement “represents an unwarranted interference in Egypt’s affairs,” said ETUF President Gebali al-Maraghi, the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported Sunday.

Maraghi further called for “the issuing of an official statement to condemn this intervention into the affairs of Egypt, or any other Arab state.”

As the UN’s labor agency, the ILO is officially entrusted with overseeing the implementation of international labor conventions that world states have voluntarily ratified. According to Ryder, these conventions are persistently violated in Egypt.

The ILO was established in 1919 — more than two decades prior to the establishment of the UN — and Egypt joined in 1936. Since then, Egypt has voluntarily ratified several of its conventions.

However, Friday’s statement claimed that not only does the Egyptian state fail to enforce the conventions, but appears to actively violate them.

Ryder pointed to the ILO conventions on freedom of association (Convention 87) and the right to organize (Convention 98), both ratified by Egypt in the 1950s.

The current administration’s recent actions against Egypt’s independent trade unions include a lawsuit filed before an administrative court to outlaw and dissolve independent unions and federations, legislative threats against basic union rights from ETUF representatives in Parliament, and the appointment of the new Minister of Manpower Mohamed Saafan, a senior ETUF chief who largely opposes the organizational freedoms of unions.

Critics also highlight the absence of ETUF elections, which are overdue since 2011, Sisi’s presidential decree to extend the ETUF leadership’s term of office, and the appointment of ETUF chiefs by the ministers of manpower for the past five years.

“For several years, the International Labor Organization has been calling upon the government to end discrepancies between existing national legislation, in particular as regards the Trade Union Act No. 35 of 1976, and ILO Conventions 87 and 98,” Ryder said.

In contravention to ILO Conventions 87 and 98, Egypt’s trade union law recognizes the existence of only one trade union federation — the ETUF — and holds that all labor unions must affiliate themselves to this state-controlled entity.

The ETUF has held a complete monopoly over the trade union movement since its formation in 1957. However, since the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, independent trade union federations have emerged to challenge its unilateral control.

Several bills have been presented since 2011 to replace the trade union law which would recognize independent unions and federations. However, they have repeatedly been shelved by consecutive governments, and the old union law still remains in effect. 

“Since the International Labor Conference of 2008, requests have been made to [Egypt] to adopt a new trade union law in order to ensure full respect for freedom of association rights,” the ILO statement said.

Since 2008, the ILO had repeatedly placed Egypt on its shortlist of states which violate the organization’s conventions.

“The government of Egypt has committed that all trade unions in the country, including the independent trade unions, would be able to exercise their activities and elect their officers in full freedom in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations according to ILO Convention 87, pending the adoption of a new freedom of association law,” the ILO statement pointed out.

However, ETUF parliamentarians and the new minister of manpower appear to remain adamant on retaining those provisions of the trade union law that stipulate the state-controlled federation’s grip over the labor movement.

The ILO also referred to a previous statement issued by its governing body in March, entitled, “The Threat to Human and Trade Union Rights in Egypt.” The statement referred to “systematic attacks” by the Ministry of Manpower “against independent trade union organizations.”

The March statement then “expressed outrage about the death of Giulio Regeni,” who was researching trade unions and freedom of association in Egypt before he went missing on January 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 revolution.His dead body was found on February 3, bearing signs of torture.

The ILO Workers’ Group earlier called for an independent inquiry into Regeni’s torture and murder. However, Egyptian authorities have continued to withhold vital information and communications from Italian prosecutors and investigators.

The ILO’s director general issued an emphatic call for the Egyptian government to “expeditiously clarify all the facts surrounding the death of Mr. Regeni.”

In mid-February, the ETUF issued a statement expressing its “great sorrow for the killing of the Italian student.”

However, the ETUF statement also dismissed claims that Egyptian security forces may have been implicated in Regeni’s disappearance and death.

“ETUF refuses this harsh attack against Egypt conducted by foreign organizations supported by illegal organizations in Egypt, that try to manipulate the event to disseminate their poisons to attack stability in Egypt,” the statement said.

“ETUF is stressing that Egyptian workers are fully aware of the plots against their country conducted by foreign or local plotters,” it concluded. “We Egyptian workers are one front against any illegal organizations' plots.”

*Photo courtesy of Libcom.

Egyptian State won't give Italy phone records in slain student case

Associated Press
April 9, 2016
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt has rejected an Italian request to hand over the phone records of mobile subscribers in the Cairo district where an Italian doctoral student resided before being abducted, tortured and killed, a senior Egyptian official said Saturday.

Senior prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman addressed a news conference a day after Italy recalled its ambassador to protest what it described as a lack of cooperation in the investigation of the killing of Giulio Regeni, whose body was found nine days after he disappeared, bearing signs of torture.

Suleiman said Egypt rejected the request because it violated Egyptian laws and the constitution. He said the Italians told an Egyptian delegation visiting Rome this week that the continuation of cooperation between the two nations over the case hinged on meeting their request for the records, which include those of subscribers in the Cairo suburb where Regeni's body was found Feb. 3.

"Egypt rejected the request, not because it wanted to be intransigent or to conceal, but rather out of respect for the law and the Egyptian constitution," Suleiman said. "That request violates the law and the constitution and whoever meets it will have committed a crime."

Suleiman said the Italians repeated the request on the second and final day of the talks in Rome. "The Egyptian delegation reasserted its uncompromising rejection," he said.

Regeni, who was in Egypt to research labor movements, went missing on Jan. 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising, when police were out in force to prevent demonstrations, leading to speculation that Egyptian security forces were behind his abduction and death. The Interior Ministry has denied any involvement.

The Egyptian government has suggested several alternative scenarios. It recently claimed that security forces had killed members of a kidnapping gang in a raid and circulated photos of Regeni's ID cards it said had been found at the scene. That explanation was widely dismissed, including in the Italian media, which has closely followed the case.

Suleiman also said Egyptian investigators could not meet an Italian request for video footage from security cameras at the metro station nearest to Regeni's Cairo apartment, saying the recently installed cameras automatically erased footage. He said the U.S. manufacturers informed the Egyptian investigators that it was not possible to retrieve the erased footage. A German company approached by the Egyptians said retrieval had a 50/50 chance of success but that the procedure was costly.

"We met 98 percent of all the requests made by the Italians," Suleiman said. The Italians, meanwhile, provided the Egyptians with only a small number of more than 500,000 files stored in Regeni's laptop computer, he added. The two sides, however, left on good terms, he said.

"Judicial cooperation between Egypt and Italy is positive and Italy is one of the best countries that deals with Egypt when it comes to judicial matters," he said the start of the news conference. "We are eager to continue this cooperation."

He refused to be drawn into commenting on media reports on the case, saying only that anyone who has a "confirmed and documented" piece of evidence should come forward and submit it to the Egyptian investigators.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said on Tuesday his country deeply regretted Regeni's death and intended to "transparently" continue its "full cooperation" with Italy to resolve the case and bring the culprits to justice.

El-Sissi and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi have forged close ties since the Egyptian leader came to office in June 2014. Italy is Egypt's biggest EU trading partner and the two countries have been coordinating policies on Libya, Egypt's neighbor and Italy's former colony, where the extremist Islamic State group has a local affiliate.

Renzi told reporters on Friday that the decision to recall the Italian ambassador in Egypt was made "immediately" after Italian prosecutors gave their assessment of two days of meetings with the Egyptians that they had hoped would deliver useful evidence.

"Italy, as you know, made a commitment to the family of Giulio Regeni naturally, to the memory of Giulio Regeni, but also to the dignity of all us, saying we'd only stop in front of the truth," Renzi said.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Saturday that Italy will study other steps to take if the truth about Regeni's slaying doesn't come out, without elaborating.

Gentiloni recalled that he has said "we will adopt immediate and proportional measures," the Italian news agency ANSA reported from Tokyo, where he was participating in a G-7 ministers' meeting. "We committed ourselves to doing this, and we will do this."

Last week, Regeni's parents urged the Italian government to declare Egypt "unsafe" for Italians to visit, saying their son was only one of many torture victims in the Arab nation. Egypt's Red Sea resorts have for years been a popular destination for hundreds of thousands of Italians who visited Egypt annually.

World Landmine Awareness Day - Egypt maintains #1 rank as country with most landmines

Mada Masr
On world landmine day, Egypt maintains dubious top ranking for number of landmines in its soils

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Jano Charbel 

Egypt still has the most landmines of any country in the world, according to the independent nongovernmental organization the Landmine Struggle Center, with well over 21 million deadly devices hidden in its sands, down from an estimated 23 million.

The estimated figure includes un-detonated devices that remain concealed or buried in the earth. The majority are located in the Western Desert and date back nearly 75 years to World War II.

Egypt is littered with nearly 20 percent of all world’s landmines — globally estimated at 110 million — which continue to claim lives and limbs. The state may still be producing, stockpiling and perhaps even exporting its domestically made landmines to other countries.

While Egypt commemorated the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on April 4, paying tribute to thousands of landmine victims, it has refused to sign the UN’s Mine-Ban Convention since its introduction in 1997.

To commemorate the day, International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr launched the “Together for Egypt, Stop Landmines” campaign in Matrouh Governorate, which has the highest concentration of landmines in the country. Modest demining efforts are being planned, while thousands of pamphlets to raise awareness regarding the dangers of landmines are being distributed among schoolchildren and local residents.

This year Egypt has received international and private grants amounting to US$17.5 million, according to the state-owned daily newspaper Al-Akhbar — $12 million of which has been earmarked for mine-detecting equipment, while the remaining $5.5 million has been allocated to the assistance of landmine victims and their families.

Over the past few decades, Egypt has called for international assistance — particularly from the formerly warring parties of Germany, Italy and the UK — in its efforts to demine thousands of square kilometers which were littered with over 17.5 million mines during the World War II battles of Al-Alamein along Egypt’s border with Libya.

Some 5.5 million other mines were planted during the Egyptian-Israeli wars from 1956 to 1973 in the Eastern Sinai Peninsula, and along the Suez Canal and Red Sea, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and the Landmine Struggle Center  These mines were planted on Egyptian soil by both warring states.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry estimates that demining efforts from 1981 to the present have succeeded in removing nearly 3 million landmines, mostly from the Western Desert, thus reclaiming tens of thousands of hectares of land.

Official estimates suggest that hundreds have been killed and thousands of others seriously injured in minefields leftover from World War II, locally known as “hadayeq al-shaytan” (the devil’s gardens.)

While there are no definitive figures as to how many landmines and victims there are in Egypt, the Foreign Affairs Ministry reports there have been more than 8,313 documented casualties in the Western Desert alone since 1982, among both civilians and members of the Armed Forces. These are reported to include at least 696 fatalities and 7,617 serious injuries. Real numbers of casualties may be significantly higher, as many cases are not officially reported.

Mines have also killed and maimed scores of others along Egypt’s eastern border, although these numbers have not been recorded.

Among the most recent victims of landmines included two employees from the Antiquities Ministry who were killed on February 21 while conducting excavations around an archaeological site in the Suez Canal Governorate of Ismailia. A third employee was reportedly injured in this blast.

Apart from landmines dating to World War II, armed Islamist elements are currently involved in planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the northern Sinai Peninsula targeting police and armed forces.

Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that on March 21, one farmer was killed and another seriously wounded when their tractor drove over and detonated a landmine in Rafah near the border with Gaza and Israel. More recently, on April 2 the privately owned Al-Tahrir news site reported that a 9-year-old boy was killed in a landmine explosion in Rafah. A woman and man were also hospitalized the same day after having been seriously injured in two separate landmine blasts in the Rafah area.

Beyond the costly human toll, the presence of old wartime landmines of both the anti-personnel and anti-tank types continue to render thousands of kilometers of land unusable for agriculture, infrastructure development or petroleum and mineral prospecting.

According to the website of the State Information Service, Egypt faces numerous obstacles in its struggle to demine its lands. Chief among these obstacles is the very hefty price tag associated with de-mining. For instance, the clearing of Al-Alamein’s minefields is estimated to cost a staggering $20 billion.

Other factors hindering Egypt’s de-mining efforts include the loss or absence of maps indicating the locations of mines, although the UK has reportedly handed over maps of its World War II minefields.
There is also the gargantuan challenge of safely detecting mines that have gradually shifted over the course of decades — sunk deeper into the earth, covered by shifting sand dunes or washed away from their original locations.

The absence of roads leading to these minefields, along with a lack of mine-detecting equipment, compounds the difficulties associated with de-mining efforts.

According to the State Information Service site, several countries have contributed to Egypt’s demining campaigns with millions of dollars’ worth of funds and mine-detectors, including the UK, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the European Union.

The United Nation’s theme for April 4, 2016 is “Mine action is humanitarian action, because mine action saves lives.” Other than Egypt, the nations most affected by landmines include Iran, Angola, Afghanistan, Iraq and Cambodia.

As for the UN’s Mine-Ban Convention (Ottawa Treaty of 1997), to date a total of 162 countries have ratified it. However, Egypt is among a club of 35 states — including the USA, Russia, China and Israel — that has neither signed nor ratified the convention.

Citing security concerns pertaining to cross-border threats of terrorism and drug smuggling, Egypt continues refuse to join the convention. “Egypt believes the agreement is deficient, where it made no association between the disposal by countries of their stockpiles of mines, and the provision of assistance to countries in clearing mines from their territories,” said the State Information Service.

However, Egypt’s arguments regarding security concerns ring hollow in light of human rights reports indicating that it has in previous years and decades produced, stockpiled and even exported its domestically made landmines to several war-torn states, including Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Somalia.

Details regarding Egypt’s production and exportation of mines are not made publicly available. However, officials have reportedly informed the UN that Egypt has refrained from producing or exporting anti-personnel landmines since the 1980s.

Egypt's Manpower Ministry returns to grip of state-run union federation

Mada Masr
Manpower Ministry returns to grip of state-run union federation

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jano Charbel

The Egyptian government returned control of the Ministry of Manpower to the highly contentious state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on Monday, reversing progress made in labor rights since the 2011 revolution.

In the government’s recent Cabinet reshuffle, 57-year-old Mohamed Saafan, formerly vice president of the ETUF and president of its General Union of Petroleum Workers, replaced Gamal Sorour as minister of manpower. The appointment comes at a critical time, as Egypt’s independent trade unions are coming under fire from ETUF representatives in parliament, along with a lawsuit calling for their dissolution and criminalization.

From March 2011 to March 2016, the ministers of manpower were appointed from among the ranks of technocrats, independent union organizers and senior officials in the ministry. The last elections within the ETUF were held in late 2006, and they have been repeatedly postponed since 2011, when they were due to take place.

In May 2015, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree extending the terms of office for unelected ETUF officials by one year. Since 2011, the ministers of manpower have personally appointed the ETUF's top leaders.

The link between the ETUF and the Ministry of Manpower has often been described as a sort of umbilical relationship that dates back to the ETUF’s establishment in 1957. This link appears to have been re-established with the appointment of Saafan.

A recent post on the ETUF’s website congratulates Saafan on his ministerial post, thanking President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for appointing him. “The ministry has returned to its rightful owners,” it says.
Saafan has issued media statements since his appointment, outlining his ambitious plans and goals for the Ministry of Manpower.

“This next phase will involve several laws … including the new labor law, which we need to actualise in order to reach a balance between both parties in the production process – workers and employers," Safaan said in a televised interview with the privately-owned LTC satellite channel on March 26.

Unemployment, which is officially at around 13 percent (although the real unemployment rate may be significantly higher), is another major issue Safaan plans to address. “We need to cooperate with each other during this upcoming phase in order to propose ideas with which to swiftly resolve this problem, and to address it on a long-term basis. This problem affects the entire Egyptian population and continues to grow,” he said.

Other issues Safaan says he intends to focus on are the stalling of production lines and closures related to Egypt’s struggling textile industry.

But Saafan’s appointment has alarmed many labor activists and independent trade unionists.

Karim Reda, who was fired from the state-owned gas services and billing company Petrotrade, tells Mada Masr, “Saafan is the ruling regime’s man of choice, and I expect the worst violations of labor rights to be perpetrated while he presides over the ministry.”

“He will likely interfere in the drafting of new labor legislation, and will do so against the interests of independent unions, against the right to freely organize, and in violation of the right to strike,” Reda adds.

Saafan, according to Reda, is likely to issue amendments to the civil service law, which he says will only serve the interests of the state and not those of civil servants. He would also, Reda believes, prioritize the rights of businessmen in making amendments to the unified labor law and seek to maintain the ETUF as the only legally recognized trade union federation in Egypt, as stipulated by trade union law.

Indeed, according to a posting on the General Union for Petroleum Workers’ website last Monday, the new minister of manpower has reportedly refused to meet with a delegation of independent trade unionists at the ministry’s headquarters, as Saafan doesn’t recognize labor unions that are not affiliated with the ETUF.

Trade union law stipulates that all labor unions must affiliate themselves with the ETUF, giving them a monopoly over all trade union activity in Egypt.

Several draft amendments to the law have been made since 2011, pushing for the recognition of independent unions and federations in keeping with international legislation, which the Egypt has ratified since the 1950s. But the drafts have never seen the light.

The ratification of such legislation is in the hands of Parliament, not the minister of manpower, according to Niazi Mostafa, a lawyer and former member of the Legislative Committee at the ministry. He explains that a draft labor law was prepared under Safaan’s predecessor and sent to parliament for review. “However, it is being redrafted in light of reservations from businessmen's associations,” Mostafa adds.

Saafan “is supposed to shed all his prior allegiances upon accepting this ministerial post. The minister is expected to address the needs of workers regardless of their unions, or their politics,” Mostafa argues, adding, “The policies of the new minister have yet to be assessed.”

Others, like Hoda Kamel, an independent union organizer and member of the campaign “Toward a just labor law,” don’t see Saafan’s appointment holding much hope for labor legislation. “In terms of the labor law, we have to wait and see what amendments he makes, but we’re not expecting any genuine labor gains — in terms of rights or freedoms — during his tenure,” she says, referring to Saafan’s decision to openly side against striking workers at petroleum companies.

As president of the General Union for Petroleum Workers, Saafan issued three statements against the most recent Petrotrade strike, which lasted 45 days — from December 2015 to February 2016. He “claimed our strike was instigated by revolutionary groups, and that we were seeking the downfall of the state. He also claimed we were striking despite earning LE9,000 a month. In fact we earn just LE2,500 a month, on average. All his claims against us are baseless.”

Saafan has also been actively involved in acts of union busting, particularly in relation to the establishment of a local trade union committee for employees at the state-owned Enppi and Mansoura Petroleum Companies, as documented by privately owned newspapers Youm7, Al-Masry Al-Youm, and other outlets.

Choosing to conceal his identity out of fear of retaliation, a worker from the Mansoura Petroleum Company tells Mada Masr, “We’ve been trying for nearly four years to establish a union at the company, but both the company’s administration and the General Union of Petroleum Workers have been resisting, even though we had sought to establish our union under the ETUF’s umbrella.”

Protesting petroleum workers have rarely been able to meet with Saafan. “He’s not one to resolve workers’ grievances,” Reda says. “In fact, he usually ignores our work-related demands.”

*Photo by Jano Charbel