Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Egypt likely bombed wrong targets in Libya airstrikes - as a popular diversion

Egypt Is Likely Bombing the Wrong Targets in Libya Airstrikes Against Derna Are a Popular Diversion

Derna is well known as an Islamist hub, with a lot of small factions starting up there. Indeed, the ISIS affiliate in Libya was located there at one time, though that was years ago. If ISIS indeed did the bus attack, and signs are that they probably did, it was likely Egypt’s own ISIS affiliate, not Libya’s, and either way, they had nothing to do with the Derna camps being hit.

Egypt has had long-standing problems with Islamist militant groups attacking their Christian minority, and those attacks have almost exclusively been homegrown. Reacting by attacking something in Libya was a convenient distraction for the junta, and when the Egyptian public started cheering their firm response, they just kept doing it.

At this point, however, Egyptian officials are freely admitting that they are “not targeting specific groups” with their airstrikes in Derna, and that they’re hitting random camps on the assumption that “all the groups targeted have the same ideology” as the bus attackers, which is good enough for them.

Indeed some analysts believe that Egypt’s junta, long keen on exporting their style of government to Libya by backing Gen. Khalifa Hafter, had been drawing up plans for attacks around Derna and other Islamist hotbeds in eastern Libya long before the bus attack happened, and this just served as a useful pretext to go ahead with them.

Egypt blocks 21 websites for "terrorism" & "fake news"

Egypt blocks 21 websites for 'terrorism' and 'fake news'

Thu May 25, 2017

Egypt has banned 21 websites, including the main website of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television and prominent local independent news site Mada Masr, accusing them of supporting terrorism and spreading false news.

The blockade is notable in scope and for being the first publicly recognized by the government. It was heavily criticized by journalists and rights groups.

The state news agency announced it late on Wednesday. Individual websites had been inaccessible in the past but there was never any official admission.

Reuters found the websites named by local media and were inaccessible.

The move follows similar actions taken on Wednesday by Egypt's Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked Al Jazeera and other websites after a dispute with Qatar.

Qatar said hackers had posted fake remarks by its emir criticizing U.S. foreign policy but Saudi and UAE state-run media reported the comments anyway.

An official from Egypt's National Telecom Regulatory Authority would not confirm or deny the blockage, but said: "So what if it is true? It should not be a problem."

Two security sources told Reuters the 21 websites were blocked for being affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood or for being funded by Qatar.

Cairo accuses Qatar of supporting the Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in Egypt in 2013 when the military removed elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against him.

Ties between Qatar and Egypt were badly damaged after Mursi's fall. Doha welcomed a number of senior Brotherhood figures, although since then Qatar has asked several to leave.

Mada Masr, an Egyptian news website based in the country which describes itself as progressive and has no Islamist or Qatari affiliations, was also inaccessible.

Journalists at Mada Masr said the website was publishing articles on Facebook for now. It remains accessible outside Egypt or via proxy.

"Nothing explains this blockade more than a very clear intention from the authorities to crack down on critical media in ways that bypass the law," Mada Masr Editor in Chief Lina Attalah told Reuters on Thursday.

The website is registered in Egypt and its journalists are based in the country, she said. No one from the government contacted the management before or after the 21 websites went down.


Two other local websites, including that of a print newspaper registered with the authorities, were also down, as were several Brotherhood-affiliated websites and Egypt-focused ones that publish from abroad.

The Huffington Post's Arabic website also was inaccessible, although the international version could be accessed.

State news agency MENA cited a senior security source as saying the websites were blocked because they supported terrorism and that the government would take legal action.

"A senior security source said 21 websites have been blocked inside Egypt for having content that supports terrorism and extremism as well as publishing lies," MENA said.

Mahmoud Kamel, who sits on the board of Egypt's official press union, said was a clear attack on freedom of speech.

"This move is unacceptable. We oppose all blocking of news websites but this is unfortunately part of the general climate of fear we are experiencing in Egypt," he told Reuters.

Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the Islamist, secular and liberal opposition alike since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then the military chief, toppled Mursi.

Since then, hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested, including journalists. Sisi told CNN in 2015 that Egypt has "unprecedented freedom of expression."

*Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty, Eric Knecht and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alison Williams

Police arrest 32 workers following dispersal of sit-in at Tourah Cement Company

Mada Masr 
Police arrest 32 workers following dispersal of sit-in at Tourah Cement Company

Wednesday May 24, 2017

Jano Charbel

Security forces dispersed a sit-in held by workers demanding full-time contracts, as per a previous court ruling, at the privately owned Tourah Cement Company in southern Cairo on Monday. They detained 22 workers during the dispersal, arresting 10 more that evening and issuing warrants for an additional three.

Lawyer Haitham Mohamedein told Mada Masr that the 32 arrested workers were detained overnight, and are currently being held at the Maadi and Dar al-Salam police stations. They have been referred to trial, set for May 28, on charges of assaulting a police captain, obstructing justice and using violence to resist authorities.

The workers did not resist arrest or assault police, nor was the sit-in dispersed violently, Mohamedein explained, adding that they should not have been detained for peacefully demonstrating.

Dozens of police personnel, including Central Security forces, were deployed to raid the sit-in on company grounds at 2 am Monday morning.

Mohamadein said they were deployed following allegations that the protesting workers assaulted an officer. The lawyer asserted that the sit-in was entirely peaceful and did not obstruct work at the company.

According to local news outlets defense lawyers attending interrogations have also questioned the allegations that the officer was collectively assaulted by the workers as he allegedly showed no signs of bruising.

“There was no medical report indicating that the officer had been assaulted, nor was there even evidence presented to show that his clothes had been torn apart, or anything of the sort,” Mohamadein added.

Several workers went to the prosecutor’s office after the arrests to express solidarity with their colleagues.

One of the protesting workers told the privately owned Al-Mal newspaper on Monday that despite the arrests the sit-in was ongoing. However, according to Mohamadein it was called off after the second round of arrests as there aren’t enough staff to stage protests between shifts.

A total of 75 full-time employees, all employed as security personnel, have been protesting for 55 days demanding full-time contracts, and the retroactive payment of wages. Some have worked full time at the company for up to 10-15 years on temporary or part-time contracts, which don’t carry the same benefits or employment rights as full-time contracts, with wages calculated on a different basis.

The sit-in was initiated following the murder of a security guard at the company earlier this year. He died during an altercation with thieves on company grounds, however the board declined to provide his family with compensation or insurance, claiming he was a part-time employee.

It also follows the company administration’s refusal to uphold a previous court verdict. The workers filed a lawsuit against the Tourah Cement Company’s administration, and, in May 2016, a Cairo Appeals Court ruled in their favor, determining that they were entitled to the company’s profit-sharing scheme, healthcare and other employment rights.

There is a local workplace labor union for Tourah Cement Company employees, affiliated to the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), however without full-time contracts the protesting workers are not eligible to join, Mohamedein said. He added that no local or ETUF union members have expressed support of the workers.

A number of labor-related protests nationwide have been dispersed by security forces in the last few months.

In January, security forces forcefully dispersed a sit-in at the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, and in April police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt workers. In December 2016, police were deployed to disperse two sit-ins at billionaire Nassif Sawiris’ companies — the Egyptian Fertilizers Company and the Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation.

In September 2016, police forces conducted dawn raids on the apartments of bus drivers who had been planning a partial strike, detaining six of them. In May 2016, military police surrounded a sit-in led by workers at Alexandria Shipyard Company, and imposed a lockout on the company. Twenty-six of the civilian workers were subsequently referred to military trial.

Amnesty International issued a statement in April denouncing Egypt’s “relentless assault on rights of worker and trade unionists,” adding, “Demanding your labor rights and expressing your grievances should not be a criminal offense.” The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined in both Article 15 of the Constitution and international human rights conventions that Egypt is party to.

In February, Human Rights Watch also issued a statement criticizing security forces’ heavy handed response to non violent labor protests, calling on Egyptian authorities to either drop charges against detained workers, or change domestic laws restricting the right to organize and strike.

Trump compliments dictator Sisi for his shoes


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (CNN) - Moments after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi complimented President Donald Trump on his "unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible," Trump exchanged pleasantries back, praising el Sisi's shoes.

"Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man ... ," Trump said, as reporters were being escorted out of the room.

It's unclear the exact shoe the Egyptian President was wearing, but appeared to be black boots, similar to those Trump was wearing, but shinier.

The exchange wasn't observed by video cameras in the room, but was captured in an audio recording.

Trump held meetings with several Arab world leaders Sunday morning, ahead of a planned speech on confronting Islamist extremism and later a forum on Twitter.

*Photos by Evan Vucci, courtesy of Associated Press

- - - -  -

Other bizarre photos


Gaza fishermen strike over killing of colleague by Israeli forces

Anadolu Agency
Gaza fishermen strike over colleague’s death by Israel

The move comes after a fisherman was killed by Israeli gunfire

Moamen Ghorab
GAZA CITY, Palestine

Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday staged a one-day strike to protest the killing of a fellow fisherman by Israeli gunfire.

“The step aims to protest Israeli practices,” Nizar Ayyash, the head of the Gaza-based fishermen’s union, told Anadolu Agency.

On Monday, a Palestinian fisherman died of wounds sustained by Israeli gunfire off the Gaza coast.

Ayyash called on the UN to intervene to stop Israeli assaults against Gaza fishermen.

There was no comment from the Israeli military on the fisherman’s death.

According to the Gaza-based fishermen’s union, roughly 50,000 Gazans earn their living from fishing.

After Israel’s devastating military onslaught against Hamas-run Gaza in mid-2014, in which some 2,150 Palestinians were killed, Israel began allowing Palestinian fishermen to ply their trade up to six nautical miles off the coast of the strip, as opposed to three nautical miles previously.

A few days ago, Israeli authorities increased the fishing area for Gaza fishermen to nine nautical miles.

Since 2007, Gaza’s roughly 2 million inhabitants have groaned under a crippling Israeli blockade that has deprived them of many basic commodities, including food, fuel, medicine and building materials.

*Photo by Mustafa Hassona, courtesy of Anadolu Agency 

UN rights chief says Sisi crackdown "facilitates radicalisation"

UN rights boss says Egypt crackdown 'facilitates radicalisation'

Mon May 1, 2017

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Monday that heavy-handed security measures by Egypt were fostering the very radicalisation it was looking to curb.

Egypt last month was shaken by one of the bloodiest attacks in years when Islamic State suicide bombers targeted two Christian churches, killing 45 people. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency hours later.

Zeid condemned the church attacks at a news conference in Geneva but said that Egypt's approach to combating Islamist militants was exacerbating the problem.

"...a state of emergency, the massive numbers of detentions, reports of torture, and continued arbitrary arrests - all of this we believe facilitates radicalisation in prisons," Zeid said.

She said "the crackdown on civil society" was "not the way to fight terror."

Responding, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid called the remarks an "irresponsible" and "unbalanced" reading of the situation in Egypt, where society is targeted by "terrorist operations," according to a statement from the ministry.

Abu Zeid defended the emergency law as passed by an elected parliament subject to "rules and restrictions" set out by the constitution.

"We don't see the High Commissioner criticizing other states implementing states of emergency that are dealing with similar conditions," the statement said.

Sisi, elected in 2014 in part on a pledge to restore stability to a country hit by years of turmoil since its 2011 uprising, has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East.

Rights groups, however, say they face the worst crackdown in their history.

"National security yes, must be a priority for every country, but again not at the expense of human rights,” said Zeid.

*Photo by Pierre Albouy courtesy of REUTERS
**Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Monday, May 1, 2017

Increasing crackdowns on labor protests; Decrease in workers' strikes

Mada Masr
What does the cooperation Sisi called for in his Labor Day address mean amid a marked deterioration in labor rights and freedoms?

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presided over the state’s official Labor Day commemoration on Sunday, organized by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, delivering a 10-minute televised address from the luxurious Al-Massa Hotel in Cairo.

“Egypt still expects much from its workers,” the president said, in one of several statements emphasizing workers’ cooperation with the state.

What Sisi did promise centered on increased foreign investment — a central tenet of the government’s economic structural adjustment whose efficacy is contested — saying that it would translate into increased employment opportunities for Egypt’s youth and decent living standards for the country’s workers.

This is in addition to promising to recommence operations at hundreds of factories that have remained closed since 2011, by allocating resources from the Tahya Masr Fund and to push a spate of labor-related legislation — including the unified labor law, trade union law, health insurance law, and social insurance law — through Parliament.

Nonetheless, there is a more stark reality for Egypt’s workers. Parliament is stacked against labor interests and the legislative body’s manpower committee is virtually controlled by the ETUF, whose leadership has not been elected since 2011 and is instead appointed by Manpower Minister Mohamed Saafan. Sisi and Parliament have extended the ETUF executive board’s terms of office several times, with the latest occurring in January 2017.

There have also been severe crackdowns against labor movements, with police and the Armed Forces jailing dozens of workers who participated in industrial action, and the prosecution referring them to trial. Simultaneously, the number of industrial protests has decreased to its lowest level in several years, falling from 1,117 strikes between May 2015 and April 2016, to 744 in the same period the following year.

To mark Labor Day, Amnesty International issued a statement on Sunday calling on the Egyptian state to end its “Relentless assault on rights of workers and trade unionists.” Human Rights Watch adopted a similar tone in a February statement, calling on Egyptian authorities to “Drop charges, change laws that restrict rights to organize and strike.”

The independent Egyptian initiative Democracy Meter issued its latest figures on Sunday regarding the number, location and causes of labor strikes and professional protests that occurred between May 2016 and April 2017.

According to the institute’s tally, at least 151 workers, unionists and professionals have been arrested, prosecuted or referred to trial over the course of the past 11 months. During this same period, 2,691 workers and professionals were dismissed from their jobs “for exercising their right to protest.”

Cairo was the site of the most labor action in Egypt over the past year, according to Democracy Meter’s figures, tallying 151 initiatives. After Cairo comes the Nile Delta governorates of Kafr al-Sheikh, with 68 initiatives, and Sharqiya, with 65.

The 26 Alexandrias Shipyard Company workers who are standing in a military trial plagued by numerous adjournments is one of the more prominent cases to have occurred in the past year. Other notable cases include the detention of six bus drivers from the Public Transport Authority in Cairo, 21 workers from the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, scores of workers from the Egyptian Fertilizers Company and Egyptian Basic Industries Company in Suez, and 16 workers from Telecom Egypt Company.

While the state’s austerity measures have worsened labor and living conditions, workers efforts to push back have been curtailed, according to Mohamed Awwad, the lawyer for the 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers.

“Any worker who attempts to publicly demand their rights these days usually thinks twice before doing so, as the state will likely respond to peaceful protest actions with forceful and oppressive measures,” he says.

Awwad says that 19 of the 26 shipyard workers who are standing military trial have been persuaded to tender their resignations in exchange for assurances that they would not be jailed pending their military trial. Since the forced dispersal of the labor protest at the Defense Ministry-owned shipyard in May 2016, some 1,000 workers of a 2,300-person workforce have not been allowed back to work and are earning only half of their basic wages, according to the lawyer.

The string of police crackdowns on labor strikes in the Suez Governorate is symbolic, according to Ahmed Bakr, the secretary general of the Independent Union of Workers at the IFFCO Oils Company. “[The crackdown] aims to send a message to workers, that your protests or strikes will be deemed illegal and the state will only uphold the rights of big businessmen and investors.”

Bakr and all eight other members of the Independent Union of Workers at the IFFCO Oils Company, in addition to 12 other workers, stood trial in the Suez Governorate in January 2017. They have since been acquitted of charges of instigating a strike and obstructing production. However, the prosecution appealed the court’s decision, a second trial was held March before the Suez Appeals Court, which also opted for an acquittal.

“These labor rights (right to strike, and organize) are supposed to be safeguarded in the Egyptian Constitution. However, the reality in Egypt is quite different,” says Seif, the son of jailed PTA bus driver and independent unionist Mohamed Abdel Khaleq.

Abdel Khaleq and his coworker Ayman Abdel Tawwab were held in Tora for nearly seven months for planning a strike in September 2016, before being granted conditional release in March. Per the terms of his release, Abdel Khaleq must submit himself to Cairo’s Sharabiya Police Station two days a week, for nearly four hours at a time. The PTA workers still face the possibility of trial.

Egypt’s independent trade unions are organizing their own Labor Day conference, which is scheduled for the evening of May 1 at the headquarters of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) in Cairo. The event is being held under the title “Social Justice and Union Freedoms.”

Since July 2013, there have not been any Labor Day rallies, marches or public protests in Egypt.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Egypt: Relentless assault on rights of workers & unionists

Egypt: Relentless assault on rights of workers and trade unionists

April 30, 2017

Dozens of workers and trade unionists in Egypt have faced arrest, detention, dismissal from work or trials in military courts, merely for exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly, Amnesty International said in a statement published to mark Labour Day on 1 May.

Amid rising economic hardship in Egypt and a wave labour strikes in the private and public sector, as well as military-owned industries, the government is using a series of disciplinary measures and criminal sanctions to crack down on workers and trade unionists. It is also seeking to amend existing laws to further restrict labour rights.

“The Egyptian authorities have waged a punitive campaign against workers and trade unionists to deter and punish them from mobilizing or going on strike. Demanding your labour rights and expressing your grievances should not be a criminal offense.

The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined, both, in Egypt’s Constitution and international human rights law. Egyptian authorities must stop punishing people for exercising and demanding their rights,” said Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International.

Many workers have been arrested simply for taking part in a strike or a peaceful protest. Some have been held in pre-trial detention for prolonged periods or subject to restrictive probation measures. Just last week, 16 workers from the Telecom Egypt Company in Cairo and Giza were arrested for participating in a peaceful demonstration under Egypt’s anti-protest law. They were released after solidarity protests.

In some cases disciplinary measures including pay cuts, suspension or dismissal from work are used to punish workers. At the state-run Zagazig University Hospital, 12 nurses were suspended after participating in a week-long strike in February 2017 during which the hospital provided only emergency services.

Workers in military-owned factories face additional risks as they can be subject to unfair trials at military courts,. Twenty five workers from the military-run Alexandria Shipyard Company are currently on trial before a military court. They have been charged with “inciting workers to strike,” and could face up to two years in prison.

The authorities have also interfered with the functioning of independent workers unions, by targeting members with disciplinary action and by hampering their activities. The government has also proposed amendments to the Labour Law and Trade Unions Law that will make organizing strikes even more difficult and will make it virtually impossible to establish or join an independent trade union.

*For more information about the labour rights situation in Egypt see the full statement here

Security forces' campaign of extrajudicial murders in N. Sinai?

Egypt: Video of extrajudicial executions offers glimpse of hidden abuses by military in North Sinai

21 April 2017

Information gathered by Amnesty International confirms that members of Egyptian military are responsible for at least seven unlawful killings, including shooting dead at point blank range an unarmed man and a 17-year-old child.

The organization’s experts analyzed leaked video footage of the killings and compared it with photographs and a YouTube video published by the Egyptian military, as well as interviewing Sinai-based sources and experts.  The footage shows a member of the Egyptian military shooting the child dead alongside another man in military uniform, whose accent indicates that he is a Sinai local.

The bodies of five other men who appear to have been killed earlier also appear in the video.

“The ease with which the members of the Egyptian military forces participated in the killing of defenseless men in cold blood shows that they fear no oversight or accountability for their actions.

These killings amount to extrajudicial executions, crimes which Egypt has an obligation under international law to investigate, prosecute and punish. They fit into a disturbing pattern of apparent such killings in North Sinai,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Campaigns director for North Africa.

In January, Amnesty International highlighted the extrajudicial execution of six men by members of the security forces in North Sinai. The men had been in state custody for one to three months at the time of their killing.

The leaked video broadcast on the Islamist-leaning TV station Mekameleen also shows members of the Egyptian military holding at least two unarmed men in US Humvee armoured vehicles before they were shot dead. The USA is Egypt’s main supplier of military equipment.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the USA has delivered over 1,000 Armoured Personnel Vehicles to Egypt since 2003, including 100 Humvees (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.)

“States including the USA have been transferring arms used by the military in North Sinai without ensuring any oversight or monitoring of the extent to which they may being used to commit or to facilitate the commission of serious human rights violations. All such transfers must be halted,” said Najia Bounaim.

Amnesty International has confirmed that a Facebook statement by Egypt’s military spokesperson in December 2016 and YouTube video by the Ministry of Defense on 5 November 2016 showed images of at least two of the victims who are seen being killed in the leaked video.

The spokesman said these were “terrorists” killed by the military during counter-terror operations in North Sinai. The leaked video however, shows that at least two of the men killed were unarmed at the time and analysis of the footage indicates that the arms were later planted by the military next to their bodies to make it appear as if they were fighters killed after an exchange of fire.

In analyzing the video, Amnesty International experts also confirmed that this incident took place before 5 November 2016 given the video posted by the Ministry of Defense was posted on that date.

According to Sinai-based sources, this video was shot in a desert area that lies between south Sheikh Zowaid and Rafah in North Sinai. Online local news outlet Sinai 24 reported that two of the victims are brothers, named Abd el-Hady Sabry, aged 16 and Dawood Sabry aged 19. They both belong to a tribe called al-Awabda from Rafah town on the Egypt-Israel border. This is consistent with the video, which shows that prior to being shot dead the teenager said that he belonged to the al-Awabda tribe and was from Rafah.

The video clearly shows the man in uniform with a Sinai accent, believed to be a local bedouin recruit operating under military control, shooting an unarmed man with five bullets to the head.  Over the past couple of years the military in Sinai has increasingly relied on some local Sinai families to assist them in intelligence gathering.

An August 2016 Mada Masr article cites interviews with Sinai recruits who acted as auxiliaries to assist the military in conducting operations in areas where the military could otherwise not enter.

Sinai observer, Mohannad Sabry, said that this had created much friction between Sinai tribes related to revenge and retaliation given these non-military armed members acted outside of the law on many occasions against Sinai residents.

“Whether or not he is a full member of the Egyptian military, this man was acting under military command and control. The Egyptian military is responsible for these cold blooded killings,” said Najia Bounaim.

“It is crucial that those responsible for these appalling killings do not go unpunished.  A failure to prosecute and punish those responsible will further fuel the pervasive impunity for crimes committed by security forces and give a green light for an escalation of violations.”

Additional information: Analysis of photographic and video evidence 

Analysis of a leaked video do not appear to show any signs of manipulation or staging. Photos published by the Army spokesperson on December 6 , 2016, show two bodies that are also visible in the leaked video.

The same bodies appear in a video released by the Ministry of Defense on November 5, 2016, the incident thus had to happened before that date.

There are several serious concerns that should be raised: Most importantly, a corpse of a person who was filmed being executed while in custody of armed forces appears to displays the same body posture (face up, right knee at an angle, right hand on crotch) and clothes (blue jeans, dark sweater) as a corpse visible in a video released by the ministry of Defense on November 5, 2016. In the video released by the MoD,  a rifle is visible next to the body, which was not present when the person was executed.

 Corpse after execution visible in a leaked video 

Corpse displaying same body posture and clothes then the person being executed while in custody of armed forces. Rifle is seen next to body, which was absent at the moment person was executed. Screenshot taken from MoD video

A further question raises the following scene, where again a rifle was probably placed next to a corpse.


In a leaked video published on April 20. Rifle visible in the photo released by the Army spokesperson appears to be missing.

Finally, the first person being seen executed in the April 20 video is unarmed at the moment of the execution. 30 seconds later in the video, a rifle is being seen as nicely being placed on his body.

1,000+ Palestinian prisoners launch hunger strike in Israel

The Independent
Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners go on hunger strike in Israel

Strike comes as prisoners demand an end to detention without charge

Caroline Mortimer

More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails have gone on hunger strike to demand better conditions in one of the largest protests in recent years.

Prisoners are demanding more contact with relatives, better access to medical treatment and an end to the Israeli practice of detention without trial.

Strikers have also said they want access to more television channels and compassionate release for disabled prisoners or those sufferings from chronic illnesses.

Protesters have launched sympathy marches in several major towns in the West Bank, such as Hebron and Ramallah.

Qadoura Fares, an advocate for prisoners' rights, said 6,500 Palestinians are currently held by Israel. Palestinians marked Monday as Prisoners' Day.

Mr Fares said hundreds of prisoners launched a 28-day strike in 2012. In 2014, dozens of detainees held without trial went on hunger strike for two months.

Israel’s controversial “administrative detention” policy sees a varying number of Palestinians held without charge in prisons, often accused of links to militant group Hamas.

Two leading Israeli human rights groups describe the conditions in prisons such as Shikma Prison in southern Israel as “hellish”, with some inmates reportedly shackled to chairs during interrogation and held in solitary confinement in cramped and foul smelling cells no more than two metres long.
Currently 500 Palestinians are being held in this way, according to Mr Fares.

The protest was led by Marwan Barghouti, 58, a leader from the mainstream Fatah movement of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, serving five life terms after being convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis in a 2000-2005 uprising known as the Second Intifada.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times on Monday, Barghouti said a strike was the only way to gain concessions after other options had failed.

"Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses... Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention," he wrote.

The strike, if sustained, could present a challenge to Israel and raise tensions between the two sides as the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip approaches in June.


Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but started a naval blockade after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Peace talks on the creation of a Palestinian state between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas broke down in 2014.

Meanwhile, tensions have been exacerbated by the decision to allow the first new Israeli settlements in the West Bank for two decades.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision as “threatening peace and undermining the two-state solution”. Building new settlements in the occupied territories is considered a violation of international law.

Israel denies Palestinian inmates are mistreated and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the Barghouti-led protest was "prompted by internal Palestinian politics and therefore includes unreasonable demands".

Opinion polls suggest Barghouti is the top contender to succeed Mr Abbas as president.

Palestinians consider those held in Israeli jails as national heroes. Long-term mass hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners are rare, but in past cases of individual inmates who stopped eating for weeks, detention terms were shortened or not renewed after they were hospitalised in critical condition.

Mr Erdan said a field hospital would be erected next to one prison - an apparent move to preempt transfers to civilian medical facilities, which could draw wider media attention.

*Photos by Abbas Momani courtesy of Getty Images

Incompetent dictator declares state-of-emergency after church bombings

BBC News
Egypt declares state of emergency after deadly church attacks

April 10, 2017

Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has announced a three-month state of emergency after attacks on two Coptic churches that left at least 44 dead.

The measure allows authorities to make arrests without warrants and search people's homes. It needs to be approved by parliament before it is implemented.

So-called Islamic State (IS) said it was behind the blasts in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday.
The group has targeted Copts in Egypt recently and warns of more attacks.

Mr Sisi made a defiant speech at the presidential palace after a meeting of the national defence council to discuss the explosions.

He warned that the war against the jihadists would be "long and painful", and said that the state of emergency would come into force after all "legal and constitution steps" were taken. The majority in parliament backs Mr Sisi.

The president had earlier ordered the deployment of the military across the country to protect "vital and important infrastructure."

The move by Mr Sisi is likely to raise concerns among human rights activists, observers say. The president, a former army chief, has been criticised by local and international groups for severe restrictions on civil and political rights in Egypt.

Human Rights Watch says tens of thousands of people have been arrested in a crackdown on dissent, and that security forces have committed flagrant abuses, including torture, enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial executions.

The attacks coincided with one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marking the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem.

IS said that two suicide bombers carried out the blasts. One targeted St George's Coptic church in the northern city of Tanta, where 27 people were killed, the health ministry said.


Hours later, police stopped the bomber from entering the St Mark's Coptic church in Alexandria, also in the north. He detonated his explosives outside, leaving 17 dead, including several police officers.
"Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, god willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you," the jihadist group said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

The blasts came weeks before an expected visit by Pope Francis intended to show support for the country's Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt's population and have long complained of being vulnerable and marginalised.

This sense of precariousness has only increased in recent years, with the rise of violent jihadism in parts of Egypt, the BBC's Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher says.

The community's trust in the state's ability and willingness to protect them will now be even more deeply shaken after the attacks, our correspondent adds.

*Photos courtesy of Reuters and EPA, respectively

State of emergency measures include:

  • Further restrictions on freedom of movement and gatherings
  • Monitoring of all forms of communication
  • Entitles president to confiscate or shut down media outlets
  • Allows any property to be placed under control of security forces
  • Deployment of security forces to enforce measures
  • Arrest of anyone suspected of violating state of emergency


Copts in Egypt: Recent developments

  • December 2016: 25 people died when a bomb exploded at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo during a service. IS said it was behind the attack
  • February 2016: A court sentenced three Christian teenagers to five years in prison for insulting Islam. They had appeared in a video, apparently mocking Muslim prayers, but claimed they had been mocking IS following a number of beheadings
  • April 2013: Two people were killed outside St Mark's cathedral in Cairo when people mourning the death of four Coptic Christians killed in religious violence clashed with local residents

Friday, March 31, 2017

Trump-Sisi meeting confronted with protest campaigns on streets & online

The New Arab
#FreedomFirst: US activists blast Trump meeting with Egypt's Sisi

March 30, 2017 

Activists in the United States have launched a campaign to highlight rampant human rights abuses in Egypt in the run-up to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's White House meeting next week.

The "Freedom First" campaign run by US-Egyptian former political prisoner, Mohamed Soltan, kicked off on Thursday after activists put up thousands of anti-Sisi regime posters in Washington DC.

"This campaign is an effort to harness that same energy and build on it to do the same for others who remain in the grips of injustice," Soltan told The New Arab
A press statement said: "President Trump is scheduled to meet with Sisi, who Trump has called a 'fantastic guy' with whom he has 'good chemistry'."

"Sisi has also overseen horrific human rights abuses, including the massacre of more than 1,000 activists in a single day, and the jailing of more than 40,000 activists and journalists without charge or trial," it added.

The campaign hopes to raise awareness about the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience in Egypt and the at least seven US nationals unjustly imprisoned on politicized charges.

One Egyptian-US dual citizen being held is activist Aya Hegazy, who worked with homeless children until police raided her charity in May 2014 and arrested her and the staff at the Belady Foundation for Street Children.

Hegazy has since been imprisoned on charges of exploiting minors and encouraging them to join political protests led by the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Soltan, whose father is a leading Brotherhood official, was arrested in August 2013 and sentenced to life in prison for allegedly attempting to "destabilize" the country.

He was deported to the US in June 2015 after going on a 489-day hunger strike, causing relatives to fear for his life. His father, Salah was sentenced to death in the same trial as his son and remains imprisoned in Egypt.

"I never lose sight of the immense effort it took on the part of thousands of people, many of whom had never met me, to save my life," Soltan said.

Soltan had originally planned to kick off the campaign with ad spaces on the Washington DC Metro, however, the transport network rejected the ads, arguing they violated its ban on "issues-oriented advertising."

In 2013, then-army chief Sisi led a military coup against Egypt's first freely elected leader - the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi - amid mass protests against his presidency.

The overthrow unleashed a deadly crackdown on Islamists, with more than 800 peaceful protesters killed in a single day when police dispersed a Cairo sit-in demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

Egyptian courts have since sentenced hundreds of Islamists to death, including Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

This week, the White House announced that Sisi would make an official visit to visit US President Donald Trump on April 3 to "discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues".

The hashtag #FreedomFirst has gained traction on Twitter shortly after it was introduced on Thursday with social media activists calling attention to individual cases of political prisoners under the Sisi regime.

Mubarak is free again; What does this say about Egypt?

Washington Post
Hosni Mubarak is free again. What does this say about Egypt?


After six years of procedural and legal maneuvers, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is free. The top Egyptian appeals court acquitted him of involvement in the killing of protesters during the 2011 popular revolt. Mubarak’s expected freedom comes as many leaders of that revolt languish in Egyptian prisons. The other members of Mubarak’s regime put on trial in 2011 have also been set free. How did we get to this place?

In the weeks and months following the toppling of the former Egyptian strongman in 2011, calls for justice on Cairo’s Tahrir Square turned into unified demands for prosecutions of Mubarak and other officials responsible for human rights abuses and economic crimes.

By August 2011, Mubarak, his sons and a number of his top officials were on trial, accused of corruption and ordering security forces to use lethal force against protesters during the revolution.

The sight of Mubarak in the defendant’s cage became a defining image of the Arab Spring. The trial stunned Egyptians, many of whom doubted until the last minute that their autocratic leader would be brought to justice.

Egypt is not unique. Oppositions throughout the world have to balance the desire for justice with the political constraints inherent in the absence of an all-out revolution, coup or military victory.

Retributive measures are frequently replaced with more lenient policies. The possibilities for accountability are determined by the distribution of power among key actors prevailing at the moment of transition. The greater the strength of old elites vis-à-vis the new ones, the less likely are criminal trials and other forms of retributive justice.

The Mubarak trial began primarily in the context of a revolutionary moment in which the power of the “street” was at its peak and the then-ruling military council faced intense popular pressure to prosecute Mubarak and his top officials. Yet, even when the revolutionary logic was at its height, protesters had to contend with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’s (SCAF) determination to use its powers to protect its privileges and to move the country toward elections on its own terms.

The Mubarak trial was one of concessions made by the SCAF in a bid for legitimacy. After the parliamentary elections of December-January 2011-2012 conferred electoral legitimacy upon the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the party sought to negotiate the terms of the forthcoming handover of power with the SCAF in anticipation of the central role it hoped to play in governing the country.

Yet, the military allowed the trial to go forward, and even after 2013, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi appeared in no hurry to free Mubarak. Why?

Interest in ensuring stability, building its legitimacy and protecting its extensive economic and political privileges drove the military’s approach. Key military figures, al-Sissi included, have also attempted to co-opt the “spirit” of the revolution, which was broadly popular, for their own purposes.

For example, the military has simultaneously detained and repressed young revolutionary protesters while at the same time going to great lengths to attempt to co-opt the revolutionaries and the revolution, even giving special medals to the martyrs who died during the uprising. The military’s decision to allow the trial to move forward was part of broader goals than just stability and momentarily pacifying protesters.

Indeed, the military sought longer-term legitimacy from the “street” by co-opting the revolution and buying support for an early transition plan. As such, the military largely conceded to demands for justice in an ad hoc, reactive way, such as allowing for Mubarak’s prosecution after days of large demonstrations.

The decision to place Mubarak and his associates on trial was a clear response to rising public pressure — and it also created a lasting perception of the trial as political spectacle. That political perception underscored how hastily prepared the trial was.

It was not clear until the last moment that the trial would actually go forward. Public pressure was central to Mubarak’s trial in the first place — and it raised questions as to whether any judge would be able to render a verdict without regard to public opinion.

Judges were fully aware that anything less than a guilty verdict would lead to massive street demonstrations. Despite this public pressure for a conviction, state officials effectively blocked the prosecutor from gathering sufficient evidence to establish Mubarak’s alleged role in ordering the killings.

As the initial symbolic force of the trial started to wane, its shallow nature did not escape the notice of those who paid the highest price for it. As a mother of one of the victims said, “We didn’t ask them for financial compensation or pensions. They are doing that only to pacify people’s anger. All we want is fair trials.” Beyond popular anger at the shortcomings of the Mubarak trial remained broader concerns about more far-reaching reforms.

The shortcomings of the Mubarak trial, and his ultimate acquittal, may lead one to argue that the prospects for transitional justice were inherently limited in the aftermath of a popular, but still incomplete, political revolution. The truth is that the Mubarak trial was possible precisely because its genesis was associated with a time when the revolutionary logic of the Egyptian transition ruled.

Under its subsequent, negotiated, logic (and then its rollback after 2013), the possibilities for transitional justice greatly diminished. The sight of Mubarak being rolled into the defendant’s cage to be tried for his crimes was a powerful symbol of what 2011 represented for Egyptians and other Arabs.

Never before had an Arab leader been held accountable in such a visible way. Yet, the fact that the trial was ultimately shallow, and that the conviction was ultimately overturned, is an equally potent indicator of just how short the revolution fell of accomplishing its goals of justice.

*Artwork by Carlos Latuff, courtesy of Latuff Cartoons

Egypt's judiciary is the counter-revolution

Mubarak acquitted & released from army hospital; Meanwhile, 1,000s of political detainees languish in their prison cells

Thanks to Sisi's judiciary...Dictator Mubarak is acquitted & released from "detention" in luxury hospital ward

Justice for 800+ murdered protesters - Egypt's very independent judges acquit Mubarak & his entire regime, along with all police forces

 *Artwork by Carlos Latuff (2012 & 2014) courtesy of Latuff Cartoons

Toppled dictator Mubarak freed after 6 yrs in luxury hospital ward

The Guardian
Hosni Mubarak: Egypt's toppled dictator freed after six years in custody 

Ex-president acquitted this month on all charges of murdering protesters before he was ousted in Arab spring uprising in 2011

Friday 24 March 2017

Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak has left the Cairo military hospital where he had been held in custody for much of the past six years, and returned to his home in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, his lawyer said.

Mubarak, 88, was acquitted by Egypt’s highest appeals court on 2 March of conspiring to kill protesters in the final verdict in a long-running case that originally resulted in him being sentenced to life in prison in 2012 over the deaths of 239 people in Arab spring protests against his rule. A separate corruption charge was overturned in January 2015.

He left the Maadi military hospital on Friday morning and returned to his home, where he had breakfast with his family and a number of friends, according to a report in the privately owned newspaper al-Masy al-Youm. His lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, told the paper that Mubarak thanked those who had supported him throughout his trial.

The strongman, who ruled Egypt for nearly three decades, often appeared in a frail state during his court appearances, attending on a stretcher and wearing dark sunglasses, but the appearances put paid to repeated rumors of his death.

Mubarak was also healthy enough to appear at the window of his hospital room to wave to supporters gathered outside on occasions including his birthday and the anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.

For those who worked to topple the former dictator, Mubarak’s freedom marks a grim moment in Egypt’s modern history. Yet some reacted with little more than resignation as his release became imminent, numbed by the years of political turmoil since his fall.

Mubarak’s democratically elected successor, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown in a popularly backed military coup in 2013. Many see echoes of Mubarak’s style of leadership in Egypt’s current leader, the former general Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

“I’m neither sad nor disappointed,” said Tarek el-Khatib, whose brother, Mustafa, was killed in the struggle to topple Mubarak. “I’d have been surprised had things happened otherwise. Politically, everything flew in this direction and paved the way for the normality of this moment.”

Over the past six years there have been repeated efforts to punish family members and business associates who profited from Mubarak’s regime, largely without lasting consequence. Mubarak’s sons, Alaa and Gamal, were freed in October 2015, with a judge stating that they had served adequate jail time on charges of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

The notorious steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, formerly the secretary general of Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic party, was named as an honorary leader of a political party in 2016, although he had previously served three years on corruption charges.

Despite describing the revolution that ended Mubarak’s rule as “a turning point in Egypt’s history,” Sisi and his military-backed government are regarded as the autocrat’s political heirs.

“I think that Mubarak’s release was something expected as his students are ruling the country,” said Mahienour el Massry, an activist and lawyer who served 15 months in prison under Sisi’s rule. “The same regime, the same corruption, the same brutality.

“Mubarak might be released, but in the eyes of those who believe in the revolution he will always be a criminal killer and the godfather of corruption,” she said. “This might be another round that we have lost, but we will keep on fighting to change the inhuman regime that releases criminals and imprisons innocent people.”

Others were less hopeful. Mubarak’s freedom meant the families of those killed were “now praying for divine justice”, said Mohsen Bahnasy, a human rights lawyer who served as a member of the commission of inquiry into military abuses committed during the 2011 revolution.

Egypt’s highest appeals court previously rejected demands by the families of those killed during the uprising to bring civil suits against Mubarak for his role in the deaths of protesters. An official inquiry later concluded that 846 people died and a further 6,467 were injured during the revolution, as Egyptian security forces violently suppressed the protests which packed Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.

“The Mubarak acquittal is of significant symbolic value in that it reflects an absolute failure of Egyptian judicial and legal institutions to hold a single official accountable for the killing of almost 900 protesters during the January 25 revolution. It is indicative of a deeper, compounded crisis of transitional justice,” said Mai el Sedany, a legal expert with the Washington thinktank the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

“This is a clear message to all Egyptians that no one will be held accountable for any corruption or oppression in this country – the state is loyal to its men and will continue to be,” said Khatib. “Don’t dream of any revolution again.”

Mubarak’s release comes amid an economic crisis following years of political tumult and worsening security. Egyptians complain of empty pockets and rumbling bellies as inflation exceeds 30% and the government tightens its belt in return for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

“The economic crisis we are living in and the high prices take priority over everything, as does the fear of terrorism. That is what preoccupies ordinary citizens, not Mubarak,” said Khaled Dawoud, an opposition politician who opposed the Islamists but also condemned the bloody crackdown on them.

“When you see the group of people who show up and cheer and support him, you are talking about 150, 200 people,” he said, referring to occasional shows of support outside the Maadi hospital when Mubarak was there.

*Additional reporting by Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo*
*Photos by Mohamed Abd El Ghany and Youssef Boudlal courtesy of Reuters