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

Portland anarchists fight the system by fixing potholes

The Huffington Post  
Anarchists In Portland Are Fighting The System By Fixing Potholes  
Punk is still dead, though.  


Sebastian Murdock

In 1977, the Sex Pistols said anarchy was about destroying the passerby. In 2017, anarchy is apparently about fixing potholes.

A group of anonymous anarchists in Portland, Oregon, ― where else? ― have taken their version of anarchy to the streets to help their local communities by fixing unsafe potholes themselves. The project, which began in late February, is the coolest thing to happen to punk after Green Day officially ruined it for everyone.

“The roads in Portland were getting worse and worse, and like everyone else, we were just waiting for someone else to fix it,” a member with the Portland Anarchist Road Care, or PARC, told The Huffington Post in an email. “We sort of reflected on the situation, and asked ourselves the questions made famous by John Lewis: ‘If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’ Two days later we were patching holes.”

On Facebook, PARC is keeping their more than 4,000 followers updated with their progress. So far, they said they’ve repaired five potholes. They said they believe in community solutions over “hierarchical institutions like government.”

It might seem confusing. Anarchism usually tends to conjure up images of angry men in Guy Fawkes masks setting things on fire. But that’s not what PARC is about.

"Many of the critiques we have received from the left have said we should be tearing the streets up, rather than paving them,” PARC told HuffPost. “We find this view ableist, classist and antisocial. To us, anarchy is about building community and creating networks of solidarity and mutual aid."

The anarchists have also faced criticism from ― you guessed it! ― the government. Dylan Rivera with the Portland Bureau of Transportation told HuffPost that fixing potholes should be left to professionals.
“Patching can pose a risk to the individuals doing the patching because there’s traffic moving on these streets, and they may not have the proper equipment or training to make a safe work zone for themselves.”

What the anarchists are doing is illegal, Rivera said. But he sympathizes with them, saying he understands the public frustration with potholes, especially after a heavy rain and snow-battered winter.

“Portlanders are very community minded,” Rivera said. “They express themselves in many ways, whether its parades or helping neighbors out in snowstorms, and so we see what these folks are doing as really an extension of the community mindedness of Portlanders.”

Rivera also mentioned that earlier this month, the city spent a full day to fill more than 900 of the dangerous road hazards. Rivera said weather conditions also need to be dry for city workers to fix the potholes. PARC disagrees.

“[The PBC] use the excuse of not being able to pour hot asphalt in the rain, but there are alternatives,” PARC said. “The method we use, called cold patching, is less permanent than the hot asphalt that is traditionally used, but it is able to be used in the rain. There are steel road plates that could be laid over the worst of the potholes, which measure easily over ten feet long.”

Rivera said the city has used cold patching in the past before, but not often because it’s a temporary solution. Instead of fixing paved roads, which are maintained by the city, Rivera suggested the anarchists could offer help to neighbors who live on gravel roads as they’re not maintained by the city. He said as long as the property owners are agreeable to it, citizens can help patch those holes up.

PARC said they have received an influx of volunteers to help, and plan to “mobilize hundreds of people all across the city.” 

“[Anarchy] is about claiming communal ownership over our spaces, be they public, work, educational, or otherwise,” PARC said. “Our work directly puts that ideology into practice. They are our roads, we use them every day, and we will fix them together.”

Keep raging against the machine, citizens.

*Photos courtesy of PARC webpage, and Reuters

Nationwide bread protests as gov't moves to cut subsidies

Middle East Eye
Egypt bread riots: Protests erupt after subsidy cut hits poor

Crowds take to streets in Alexandria, Giza and other areas after government cuts supply of subsidised bread amid economic crisis

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Egyptians took to the streets in several cities on Tuesday in angry demonstrations at government cuts to bread subsidies in the face of a deep economic crisis and food rationing.

Reports and videos on social media showed crowds in central Alexandria protesting after bakeries refused to take paper subsidy cards, which many poor Egyptians use to gain a government ration of bread. Protests were also reported in Minya, Desouk, and the Imbaba suburb of Cairo.

They come days after the minister of supplies, Ali Moselhy, cut by two thirds the number of subsidised loaves bakeries were allowed to dole out per day to cardholders. A separate electronic card scheme was not affected.

Protesters clashed with police and blocked the main street in Imbaba as they demonstrated against the government decision.

Montaser Awad, who was protesting in Giza, told Middle East Eye: "Most of the families in poor areas have paper cards. We have been trying for years to get the electronic card, but you have to bribe the employees to follow up.”

Somaya, a housewife from Imbaba, said that by 10am, all 500 of the subsidised loaves had been handed out, meaning she could not get her daily 20 loaves for her family.

"The government is trying to limit the spending, so they apply pressure on the poor. I get 20 loaves for a family of five," she said.

Somaya said people expressed their frustration at those in control, and then turned their attention to police when they arrived.

Social media reports suggested police had fired warning shots over the heads of demonstrators in Imbaba, although Middle East Eye is unable to verify the reports.

Said, who works at the Monera al-Gharbiya government supplies office, said that the problem has been taking place for two days now. He added that several people from the ministry and the province came here to negotiate with the locals but in vain.

The office where Said works was stormed by the citizens while chanting against the government. "There were about a hundred, men and women. I cannot blame them. But we are just servants at the government. We face the same problems at our houses.”

Said explained that the orders were to stop dealing with the paper cards. “We used to distribute 1,500 loaves but now we only do 500 now," he said.

"These types of cards are called the golden cards, which include the paper cards and the poor who don't have any cards."

“The reason why the government is doing this is because they saw that the amount of bread consumed by these golden cards are huge. They decided to cut it.”

Abdel Sabour, another protester, managed to get five of the 20 loaves he had hoped for. "I haven't had breakfast. The government has to withdraw this decision."

Police officials and national security agents have asked protesters to return home, saying their demands would be satisfied if they stopped protesting, according to tweets from protesters.

Social reports said the rail link between Cairo and Minya in Upper Egypt had also been blocked by protesters.

Protesters also blocked railway station in Desouk, 80km east of Alexandria in the Kafr el-Sheikh province.

"We want to eat! We want bread!" protesters chanted in what appeared to be peaceful protests, according to Egyptian journalists on the ground.

The government recently lifted subsidies on staple foods, and has suffered shortages of other basic foodstuffs, as Egypt faces a currency crisis and rampant inflation that has hit more than 20 percent.
Moselhy replaced Major General Mohammed Ali el-Sheikh as minister of supplies in February following widespread shortages of sugar.

The Egyptian minister of foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukry, was in Brussels on Monday to discuss the social and political situation of the country with EU member state foreign ministers.

Shoukry said he hoped the EU would understand "the nature of the reform process undertook by Egypt" and said he understood the existing political and security challenges.

*Read also: Supply Ministry rescinds cuts in bread subsidies following protests

Judiciary grants Mubarak final acquittal; Counter-revolution complete

The Guardian
Mubarak acquitted in final ruling on Egypt's Arab spring deaths

Former Egyptian president cleared of involvement in death of protesters during 2011 uprising that ended his reign

Egypt’s top appeals court has found Hosni Mubarak innocent of involvement in the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended his 30-year rule, marking the final ruling in a landmark case.

Mubarak was the first of the leaders toppled in a wave of Arab uprisings to face trial. In scenes that captivated Egyptians, he appeared in a courtroom cage on charges ranging from corruption to complicity in the murder of protesters.

The case has traced the trajectory of Egypt’s Arab spring, with Mubarak originally sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for conspiring to murder 239 demonstrators during the 18-day revolt – an uprising that sowed chaos and created a security vacuum but also inspired hope for an era of democracy and social justice.

But an appeals court ordered a retrial that culminated in 2014 in the case against the former president and his senior officials being dropped. An appeal by the public prosecution led to Thursday’s final retrial by the court of cassation.

The 88-year-old ailing former leader resides in a Cairo military hospital, where he served a three-year sentence for a separate corruption case. The military overthrew Mubarak’s successor, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.

After a hearing that took most of the day, Judge Ahmed Abdel Qawi announced to cheers of approval from the Mubarak supporters who filled the courtroom: “The court has found the defendant innocent.”

The court also rejected demands by lawyers of the victims to reopen civil suits. That left no remaining option for appeal or retrial, according to a judicial source.

The families of those killed, who had attended the trial early on, were not present on Thursday. Their lawyers condemned the verdict as politically motivated.

“This ruling is not fair and not just. The judiciary is politicised,” said Osman al-Hefnway, a lawyer for the families.

Mubarak’s supporters cheered “long live justice” as the verdict was read out and unfurled posters of the former leader.

*Photos courtesy of Reuters and the Associated Press