Saturday, July 25, 2009

Worldwide day of protest against Tehran regime

AFP - AMSTERDAM — Thousands of people around the world held protests to denounce rights abuses in Iran following contested presidential elections and express support for opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Some of the biggest rallies on Saturday -- the last day of a three-day "Iran Global Day of Action" staged in 85 cities worldwide -- took place in Amsterdam, London and Stockholm, with more than 4,000 alone taking to the streets of the Swedish capital.

Among the 1,000 people in Amsterdam was Iran's Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi who led the crowd in chanting: "We want to live in peace. Long live peace".

In London, where more than a thousand gathered outside the Iranian embassy, organisers also spoke of supporting Iranians protesting against Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

"This is symbolic, it's a global day of solidarity," said Potkin Azarmehr, one of the organisers. "We need to make sure the government pays a price for the way they're treating the people in Iran."

Following charges of fraud in the June 12 presidential election, Tehran became the scene of mass street protests that shook the pillars of the Islamic republic.

Iranian official reports say at least 20 people died and more than 1,000 were arrested in demonstrations. Dozens of reformist leaders, journalists and human rights activists have also been jailed in the wake of the election that the opposition says was rigged.

Chanting "Freedom ...Now," hundreds of demonstrators marched in New York demanding the release of all political prisoners and democracy in Iran.

A crowd estimated at 600 by police and at 2,000 by the organisers waved green flags symbolising Iran's Green movement supporting opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

They filed past Iran's UN mission and read out a message from Iranian human rights activist and Nobel laureate Ebadi urging all nations to support "the freedom fighters who stand for the democratic institutions.

"Done this way, the sapling of democracy will bear the flower of freedom," the message said.

In a park in Tokyo's busy Shibuya district, demonstrators carried a placard declaring: "Ahmadinejad is not Iran's president."

In Paris, a rally of some 600 people, mostly Iranians, denounced the "electoral coup d'etat" in Iran. Many wore green in support of Mousavi who was Ahmadinejad's closest rival.

Others carried pictures of a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot dead during a demonstration and has become a symbol of the opposition's struggle.

"We want the United Nations to intervene, an inquiry into the systematic human rights violations in Iran," said the group United for Iran.

In Melbourne, one of the five Australian cities where protests took place, about 50 members of the Iranian community waved their homeland's flag and banners reading "Stop Torture" and "Iran election was a fraud".

Fariba Marzban, who was jailed in Tehran for eight years as a political prisoner following the 1979 revolution, said in London times were changing in Iran.

"The people are now speaking -- for 30 years, people were quiet, now they are talking," she said. "Our ambition is free speech, liberty."

Demonstrations also took place in Berlin, Copenhagen, Vienna and Geneva, where protesters gathered outside the United Nations' European headquarters.

In Vienna, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran urged companies such as Siemens and Nokia which do business in Iran to put pressure on Tehran.

Iranian opposition leaders Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Khatami on Saturday urged the country's clerics to intervene to help stop the spread of "oppression" by the authorities.

In a statement on Mousavi's website Ghalamnews, the three accused the regime of "savagery" and said its "interrogation methods are a reminder of the dark era of the Shah" Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was toppled in the 1979 revolution.

Worldwide day of protest against Tehran regime

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Apartheid-Zionist War Criminal Congratulates Best Buddy Mubarak

(War Criminal PM Netanyahu of)Israel Salutes (Mubarak's) Egypt on its National Day - Israel National News

Because: "We appreciate President Mubarak's efforts to thwart the radical forces in his country and strive for peace. Egypt will remain the cornerstone in our search for peace with all our neighbors."

Yes, yes like the peace of the peacefully besieged Gaza Strip.

Probably also because:

(Egypt's SUBSIDIZED)Natural Gas Fuels 40% of (Apartheid-Zionist) Israel's Electric Power - Reuters

This at a time when the smuggling of fuel into the besieged Gaza Strip from Egypt (via tunnels) is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment.

57 Years of Military Dictatorship - Commemorating Egypt's 1952 Military Coup

In Egypt the military coup led by the "Free Officers" which overthrew King Farouq on July 23,1952 is referred to only as the "July Revolution." There is no mention of a coup d'etat or a military take-over, only "Revolution" or the "Victorious July Revolution." This is what Egyptian children are taught in their history books and this is the message transmitted to the people via the state-controlled media.

Similarly President Gamal Abdel Nasser's corporatist/populist system of authoritarian rule (1954-70) is referred to only as "socialism" or "Arab Socialism." In any case all remnants of this so-called "socialism" have been permanently erased from the Egyptian Constitution via the 34 constitutional amendments of March 2007.

When Premier Mohammad Naguib announced his demands for the army to return to its barracks, and for a resumption of civilian rule he was promptly deposed by the "Revolutionary Command Council" on November 14, 1954. Naguib's calls for a return to civilian rule are rarely mentioned or discussed.

Only three military dictators have ruled this country after 1954, and for the past 28 years we have been living under a police-state dick-tatorship. The influence of the military has since been eclipsed by the influence of the businessmen who control the ruling party, the ministries, the upper and lower houses of parliament, and the local city councils.

This so-called "July Revolution" has only moved us from the dictatorships of military men to the dictatorships of businessmen. It has achieved this by crushing and dismantling civil society. Ever since this military coup Egypt's independent trade unions were brought under state control, political parties were virtually wiped out, seats in legislative assemblies denied to opposition members, professional syndicates were manipulated and are still being interfered with, while NGOs and their constituents are subjected to constant harassment and arrests.

There were in fact more civil liberties and political rights during the days of King Farouq than there are currently under Dick-tator Mubarak. Sure, monarchies are probably the most absurd madcap and degrading forms of government, but police-state republics may be even worse. Keeping in mind that Mubarak Senior has been grooming Junior for the presidency for a decade now, it looks Egypt is devolving into a monarchy once again.

Hafez to Bashar El Assad in Syria, Fidel to Raul Castro in Cuba, Hosni to Jimmy Mubarak in Egypt. Isn't it about time for new revolutions, genuine popular revolutions?


Continued Detenion of 2 Bloggers at Cairo Airport


ANHRI, Cairo - The Arab Network for Human Rights Information declares that state security services are still detaining Madgy Saad , owner of the Blog "yalla mesh mohem " and Abd El Rahman Ayyash owner of the Blog "Al Ghareeb" , after their return form Turkey yesterday. The reason of detention is still not known.

ANHRI expresses worry about detaining arriving bloggers at the airport becoming a routine. This is the fourth blogger detention incident in less than one month; Wael Abbas wad detained on 30/6/2009 after arriving from Sweden for eight hours and his laptop was confiscated since then. On 18/7/2009 Blogger Ahmed Salah was detained for several hours and was not released except after scrutinizing his belongings and currently both bloggers Magdy and Ayyash are being detained for no reason.

Gamal Eid, ANHRI executive manager, states, "This is a new episode of the blatant violation program practiced by the security services, with absolute illegitimacy and with shameful consent of the prosecution, the only entity responsible of questioning police authorities about such encroachments and law breaking incidents."

ANHRI - Continued Detenion of Two Bloggers at Cairo Airport

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Dissenting Voices of Egyptian Quarry Workers & Owners

Tuesday 21 July 2009
Chaos among the quarries

El Minya is bracing itself for a second round of violent clashes over a new government taxation system
By Jano Charbel

El-Minya- On the city’s eastern banks, dozens of workers wait idly by the side of roads in anticipation of job offers in the quarries. Empty trucks and lorries drive uphill towards the quarries, while others drive downhill loaded with stone blocks and dust-covered workers.

A July 16 protest here over a new system of government tax attracted an estimated 4,000 angry quarry workers. When Central Security Forces moved in to physically disperse the protesters, the ensuing conflict left one police conscript dead and a dozen more injured; more than 50 protestors were arrested and at least 20 more were treated for tear gas inhalation.

Meanwhile, the quarry owners and workers have returned to their workplaces.

Among the white cliffs that house the estimated 800 local quarries, business-as-usual seems to have resumed. Machine operators saw into the earth and cut out rows of blocks producing immense clouds of dust in the process; close-by a team of workers dislodge these blocks and toss them to their coworkers who line and stack them in the backs of trucks. Very few of these workers wear protective masks or goggles, although most do cover their faces with scarves and some wear sunglasses.

But a climate of fear and suspicion reigns at all levels. All workers and quarry owners interviewed for this article refused to give their names or chose pseudonyms to protect against government reprisal.

Under the protection of anonymity, the workers bitterly vented against what they see as a callous and out-of-touch government decision that will directly affect their livelihoods. The average quarry worker, they say, can make up to LE 50 per day, while a machine operator can make up to LE 120.

“The governor is a police-officer-thug, he forcefully wants to take our money that we work so hard to make" said one man. Another anonymous worker said, “The governor sits in his air-conditioned office and never comes to inspect our workplaces in these hills; he knows nothing about our working conditions." Yet another shouted, “Does he think we are working in a gold-quarry or what?"

A local activist said the harsh working conditions in the quarries have honed the workers’ feelings of bitterness and set the stage for this month’s explosion when the new tariff system was announced.

“Quarrying is an extremely hazardous occupation. Nearly 100 workers die as a result of industrial accidents each year in these hills. Several hundred more are injured, maimed by saws and razors, while others are crushed in rockslides," he said.

One 19-year-old quarry worker lifted up his galabiya to display the long scar running down his left leg.

“A saw broke off one of the machines and cut my leg open two years ago, I nearly bled to death," he said.

Even for those who escape serious injury, the harsh lifestyle of a quarry worker takes its toll.

“By thirty or forty years old the worker is physically worn-out," one man said. “You won’t find any worker in the quarries who is 50 years old. Only quarry owners reach that age."

A co-owner of a local quarry, asking that his name not be published, said the government is trying to tax the operations without providing the social and health care services that the taxes are supposed to fund.

“If the governorate provided our workers with clinics, hospitals or medical assistance then they would be willing to pay for these services," he said. “But what has the government given us? Nothing at all. They don’t give, they only take."

The owners warned that Minya could witness a second explosion of workers’ anger if the situation isn’t resolved by August 1, when the new taxation system is schedule to take effect.

The dispute began earlier this summer when Minya Governor Ahmed Diaa el-Dein ordered a change in the government’s system of taxing the hundreds of stone quarries that dot the city’s eastern hills. El-Dein decreed that instead of collecting an annual rent on the quarries, plus the annual social insurance payments, the only charges imposed would be the charge of 1 piaster upon every brick-sized block of stone produced, plus another piaster for each block that is transported within the governorate, and two piasters for each block being transported outside the governorate.

In a statement issued by the governor’s office, el-Dein said the change amounted to a mere adjustment in accounting procedures—one he discussed beforehand with several local quarry owners.

“We were surprised when we later found that quarry owners were objecting," el-Dein’s statement said.

But one local workers’ rights activist (who asked to keep both their name and that of their independent organization undisclosed) explained that the changes actually amounted to a massive new tax on quarry operations. The reason: only about 350 of the larger quarries were ever registered with the government and paid the annual rent fees or social insurance fees. Another 450 or so smaller quarries were unlicensed and never paid anything, the activist said.

“To an outsider, the governor’s decree would seem like a service to the quarry owners in its elimination of the burden of rent, but in reality most of the quarry owners and workers weren’t paying rent or social insurance," the activist said. “When you calculate it, you’ll find that this new system will generate at least another LE 10 million per year for the Governorate’s coffers."

Most local quarry owners, large and small, shut down their operations in protest at the beginning of July while they attempted to negotiate with the Governorate. But by July 16, workers left without an income source grew impatient and began marching and demonstrating, the local activist said.

The aftermath of the July 16 protest has left parts of Minya on security lockdown. Most quarry owners and workers have resumed operations, while the governorate conducts negotiations with the owners and the relatively small local quarry workers’ trade union. El-Dein postponed implementation of his new taxation decree until August 1 and has discussed plans to create an LE 5 million fund for compensating workplace injuries and deaths, along with the immediate construction of a medical center and a mobile hospital unit.

Forty three protestors remain under arrest despite a court ruling ordering their release. Prosecutors have filed charges including participating in an illegal demonstration, assault and injury of law enforcement officials, accidental murder, blocking-off roads and obstructing traffic.

Now a relative calm has settled on Minya, backed by a massive deployment of security forces and paddy wagons. Meanwhile all sides are trying to understand and explain the decisions and social circumstances that led to such a violent confrontation in this rural city about 240 kilometers south of Cairo.

“The ball is in (the government’s) playing field now," he said.

Meanwhile the local activist said that the entire conflict has already produced one interesting side effect—an unlikely unified front against the government.

“This is the first time that both the quarry workers and the owners are united in their grievances."

See also: Al Masry Al Youm Online - 43 miners in police custody following riots

Egyptian Poet Released after Court Overrules his 3 Year Sentence
Al Minya Poet Released
Tuesday 21 July 2009
Reported by Samah Abdel Aty and Saeed Nafe'i

The poet from Al Minya has been discharged and released after being accused of writing poems against President Hosni Mubarak.

Muneer Saeed Hanna Marzouk, Al Adwa Educational Department Deputy, was set free yesterday in Al Minya, announcing his innocence from the charge of insulting the president with poems he had distributed among citizens.

Hanna said that he would continue writing poems that expressed people's concerns and fight against corruption. Hanna is said to have been a communist in the seventies. He joined the ruling National Democratic Party but didn't continue being a member because of the party's policies, describing them as "words with no action."

"They arrested me because of my poem, The Black List, which they believed was against the president," Hanna explained.

"I started writing poems the Ramadan before last. My main urge was the irregular attendance of students in schools, which gave me some leisure time. I started with writing some thoughts which was the beginning of writing poetry. My first poem was about corruption in the education system," he added. Hanna went on to explain, "I like the Tunisian poet, Abul Kasem El Shaaby, and regard him as the greatest Arab poet, though he died at a young age."

Hanna said that Security Service Intelligence had begun investigating him because of his poems during March of last year. He also said that he had been warned and punished before.

"I didn't apply for the teachers' cadre exams because I regard it as lower than my academic level," Hanna pointed out further.

See also:
AllGov News - Release of Poet Jailed for Making Fun of U.S.-Supported Dictator

Friday, July 17, 2009

Egypt's Metro Comic Book Verdict Adjourned

The Qasr El Nil Court of Misdemeanors in Downtown Cairo was to issue its verdict in the Metro Comic Book case today - July 18 - but this verdict was adjourned until October 3. Apparently this court's presiding judge is in his swimming suit somewhere enjoying his summer holiday.

An ultra-conservative lawyer had filed charges of misdemeanor crimes against the comic book's author/illustrator Magdy El Shafee, and its publisher Mohammed Sharkawy several months ago - under the pretext that this comic book contains indecent material, including inappropriate language and drawings. The lawyer claimed that the actions/works of the author and publisher of this comic book amount to misdemeanors since they "contravene public decency." If found guilty both El Shafee and El Sharkawy maybe fined up to LE 20,000 (around $US 3,600) and/or sentenced to imprisonment for up to two years. This verdict may be appealed before a higher court.

In April 2008 a police officer had ordered that the Metro Comic Book be removed from all bookshelves across Cairo. This confiscation order was upheld by courts in April 2009 and again in June 2009.

Down with censorship and down with the confiscation of art!

Thousands of quarry workers clash with Egypt police

CAIRO, July 16 (Reuters) - A policeman died and several people were injured when thousands of quarry workers and owners clashed with police in Egypt on Thursday, security sources and witnesses said.

The protesters marched into al-Minya city, in the central province of al-Minya, and blocked a bridge spanning the Nile, to protest against a decision by the authorities to impose new duties on quarried rock, security sources said.

Police used teargas to disperse the crowd, but the protesters stoned police, injuring at least four officers, security sources said.

One policeman died, and accounts differed as to whether he was killed during the stoning or from exposure to teargas.

Reports of the total number injured varied. Security sources said at least 17 riot police had been wounded, and more than 20 protesters were suffering the effects of teargas inhalation.

Police arrested some of the protesters. Estimates by security sources of how many ranged from five to close to 50.

The website of the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm said the government had imposed duties of 40 Egyptian pounds ($7.17) per tonne of quarried stone, leading some quarries to shut down and lay off their labourers.

Protesters said they held the demonstration because petitions to officials had been ignored and some quarries had been shut for more than two weeks, the website said.

Labour unrest has become common in Egypt, usually over pay, and often in privatised companies. Even professional groups such as doctors, pharmacists and lawyers have stopped work or threatened strikes over pay.

Worker frustration with rising prices and shortages of subsidised bread flared into two days of clashes with security forces in the city of Mahalla El-Kubra north of Cairo in April last year. Three people were killed and scores injured.

(Writing by Aziz El-Kaissouni)
Thousands of quarry workers clash with Egypt police

AP - Fifteen People Injured in Protest in Egypt

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Egyptian Poet Sentenced to Three Years Imprisonment for Criticizing Mubarak Dictatorship

Ode to Egypt president lands clerk in jail
July 14, 2009

CAIRO (AFP) — An Egyptian civil servant who wrote a satirical poem about veteran President Hosni Mubarak has been jailed for three years after a colleague turned the villainous verses over to the authorities.

Mounir Said Hanna Marzuq was given the maximum sentence for insulting the head of state, a judicial source said on Tuesday, in one of the poems he wrote for friends in the hope that one day they would be turned into song.

Marzuq was jailed in Maghagha, southern Egypt, in May after a colleague lodged a formal complaint about the poem deemed insulting to Mubarak, in power since 1981.

The case came to light after the penalised poet's brother appealed to the 81-year-old Mubarak for clemency, the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.

The newspaper did not publish the offending verses.

Egyptian law says that anyone insulting the president can be jailed for between 24 hours and three years.

BBC - Egyptian jailed for insult poem

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Clashes erupt as textile factory workers strike in Mahalla

Daily News Egypt
By Abdel-Rahman Hussein
First Published: July 12, 2009

CAIRO: Clashes erupted Sunday between security forces and workers of the Aboul Seba’ textile factory in Mahalla after workers went on strike to demand three months of unpaid wages.

Initially, 500 workers gathered in front of the factory Sunday morning and started a strike because they have not been paid for the past three months. Clashes erupted late afternoon when security forces attempted to force workers off the street and onto factory premises. Workers responded by pelting security forces with stones.

Earlier, clashes had broken out for the very same reason and some vehicles were damaged in the process. The roads around the factory were also blocked by the workers but at one point security forces managed to steer them to one side.

Some of the workers were kept in the factory earlier in the day and were prevented from leaving the premises to join their colleagues on strike but left when their shift ended.

Alaa El-Gameel, one of the factory workers on strike, told Daily News Egypt, “People haven’t been paid in three months, the excuse we were given was that factory’s exports had stopped, that they didn’t have the money and they kept telling us to be patient.”

“Ramadan and Eid are coming, and I’m married, I can’t afford to wait any longer,” he added.

El-Gameel is one of over 4,000 workers who work in the three Aboul Seba’ textile factories in Mahalla, each one administered by one brother. The three Aboul Seba’ apparently left to Germany Sunday morning, said El-Gameel.

El-Gameel has been working at the factory for 10 years, earning take home pay of LE 300 bi-weekly. Despite the length of time he has spent at Aboul Seba’ factory, he is not on a long-term contract and remains officially a temporary worker.

Due to their status as temporary workers, “the workers of the Aboul Seba’ factories don’t have health care,” Mahalla blogger Mohammed Maree of told Daily News Egypt.

According to Maree, salaries for the factory workers range form LE 11–19 per day and while official working hours are eight a day, workers often work 12 hours with no overtime.

Additionally, 150 workers have been let off in the past three months

“They are suffering from the lack of pay, an effect of privatization in Egypt. The investor cares about profit at the expense of the workers,” Maree said.

Alaa El-Mahdy, who has been at the factory for 13 years, also on temporary status, told Daily News Egypt, “We want to feed our kids, for three months we have been trying to tell them and the factory administration hasn’t solved anything.”

“The factory hasn’t been exporting since May, but this is not our problem, we deserve pay for our work,” El-Gameel said.


Clashes erupt as textile factory workers strike in Mahalla

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Calls for workers' self-management in Egypt

Excuse me, we will take it from here

Textile strikers tell government they will self manage their factory, Hossam El Hamalawy reports.

In a solidarity meeting in Cairo, The Tanta Flax and Oil Company workers renewed their call for the nationalization of their factory, threatening to take over the factory and run it independently from the investor and the government if the latter didn’t intervene on behalf of the strikers.

“The strike enters its 41st day and the government has neither moved nor intervened to help us,” Ashraf El Harti, a worker who’s sacked a year ago for taking part in a previous strike, told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday during a mass meeting held in downtown Cairo’s Tagammu Party Head Quarters, in solidarity with the strikers. His colleague, Abdel Aziz Fathi, a telephone operator in the company which was privatized four years ago to a Saudi investor stressed: “Our first demand now is the return of the company to the Public Sector ownership. Forget about anything else. We don’t want anything except this now.”

But other strike leaders are even more ambitious. “I want to tell the government of Egypt something,” thundered Hisham El Okal, a sacked trade unionist who’s among the strike organizers. “You had more than 40 days to solve our problems, but you didn’t do anything. Ok, why don’t you lift your hands now off the issue and leave it for us to solve? We neither want the government nor the Saudi investor. We will take over the factory and self manage it.” El-Okal’s proposal drew standing ovation from the audience.

Representatives of the strikers took turns to address hundreds of workers and solidarity activists who packed the meeting hall, decorated by banners denouncing the Saudi investor and privatization. Their speeches were usually interrupted by strikers’ chanting against “greedy capitalism, privatization and the looting of the country by investors.”
The Tanta strike reasons go beyond the nationalization issue. Around 1000 workers have been staging a strike in the Nile Delta textile plant, since 31 May, demanding the reinstatement of nine sacked workers–including two trade unionists–and increasing the food allowance as well as receiving overdue bonuses and incentives.

“If the investor was Egyptian,” shouted one of the strikers during the meeting, “do you think they’d have allowed him to do so?” The striker then went on a frenzy, chanting: “No Saudi, No Japanese. Tanta Flax Company is returning to Egyptian ownership.”

Gamal Othman, one of the strikers’ spokespersons, also warned that workers’ patience was running out. “My advise to the government is to leave us to act if the Labor Ministry officials are not planning to intervene on our behalf. Do not blame us for what will happen. We stayed civil for 41 days and our voices were not heard. It seems we have to do another Mahalla to get the government’s attention,” he said referring to the food riots that rocked the neighboring Nile Delta province last year.

El Okal, the sacked trade unionist, passionately spoke about what he described as the bigger picture. “If we manage to succeed in Tanta Flax, this will be the end of privatization in Egypt. All companies will follow suit and strike to be renationalized or self managed. Our fight is not only a fight for the workers of Tanta, but all of Egypt.”
Member of parliament Mohamed Abdel Aziz Shaaban attended the public meeting, and spoke in support of the strikers, denouncing the “Saudi slave labor system the investor wants to apply in Tanta.” The MP repeatedly denounced “Saudi Wahabbism and Gulf Arabs who enslave Egyptian workers,” only to be interrupted by one of the strikers from the floor: “But the management is Egyptian! A Saudi owns the company, but he uses Egyptians to run it. Egyptians are enslaving Egyptians. The management is the enemy.”

The Tanta strike is part of a series of industrial action recently witnessed in privatized firms. Though nationalization is increasingly becoming a popular demand by strikers, self-management was rarely put on the agenda. Only two companies are self-managed by the workers in the 10th of Ramadan City. Workers took over production in textile dyes and electric bulbs manufacturing firms around four years ago after the owning businessmen fled abroad to escape their bank debts.

And while the strike continues, a court is expected to look into complaints by the nine sacked workers on 17 September. Attempts by Al-Masry Al-Youm to get a comment from the company’s management failed, as managers had evacuated the factory from the start of the strike and left behind only security personnel, and police agents.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clashes between anarchists and police in Athens

FOCUS Information Agency
8 July 2009

Athens - Anarchists and police offers clashed in Athens during protest rallies against police sweep operations which target illegal immigrants in the Greek capital, according to Greek online news.

Hundreds protested in Athens against “xenophobia and racism” and the government’s measures regarding illegal immigration.

Over the last few days the police have strengthened measures mainly against the illegal immigrants in central Athens. Actions are envisaged to be held for detaining foreigners and placing them in specialized centers.

With the tension escalating, clashes occurred between the protesters and the police - as a result of which tear-gas was used.

Protests were organized in Thessalonica too, where Molotov cocktails were used.

Clashes between anarchists and police in Athens

Aren't these old dogs so fucking cute?!


Monday, July 6, 2009

The Egyptian State's Violations of Trade Union Rights - ITUC Annual Survey

This is a very well conducted annual report on the part of the International Trade Union Confederation, it critiques the Egyptian State's historical and contemporary violations of trade union rights. Praiseworthy as this survey is, it is only a brief summary and thus merely covers the tip of the iceberg of state violations. Mention is not made regarding State Security's intervention in trade union affairs, enforced bargaining techniques, threats, along with physical abuse.

It should be mentioned that over 12,000 candidates were prevented from nominating themselves in the trade union elections of Nov. 2006 (for the ongoing 2006-2011 term) and during the vote-counting process ballot rigging was nearly the norm.

The countless violations of professional syndicates’ rights and the state’s intervention in their affairs warrant a whole separate report. This survey mentions only the “Judicial supervision imposed on many professionals' unions” it doesn’t go into detail about the state’s interventionist mechanisms of “judicial sequestration,” “judicial administration” and “administrative guardianship.”

The violations of professional syndicates’ rights and trade union rights, along with those of the rights of non-unionized workers, across Egypt are so numerous that they could fill the pages of several volumes of fat books.

The ITUC did some very good work here, nonetheless.

Down with the yellow state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation



International Trade Union Confederation
ITUC Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights

Sunday, July 5, 2009

AFP - Zelaya fails to return to Honduras, violence spirals

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) — Military vehicles blocked the runway to prevent ousted President Manuel Zelaya from landing in Honduras, shortly after troops clashed with his supporters, killing two, according to police.

Zelaya attempted his return to the crisis-gripped nation one week after he was kicked out of power, as tensions reached breaking point, with tens of thousands of his supporters massed at the heavily-militarized airport.

Shortly afterwards his plane landed in Nicaragua, officials in El Salvador said, adding that he was later due to arrive in San Salvador.

Troops fired tear gas and shot on angry protesters trying to break into airport, killing two and injuring at least two others, police said, ahead of Zelaya's much-anticipated arrival.

In a dramatic climax to the day's tensions, at least half a dozen military vehicles from the same army that sent Zelaya away in his pajamas one week ago blocked the runway as Zelaya's plane circled overhead.

Zelaya spoke live from the airplane on Venezuela's Telesur television, rebroadcast on CNN in Spanish.

"I'm doing everything I can," Zelaya said. "If I had a parachute I would immediately jump out of this plane."

Zelaya said he would denounce the situation in Honduras to the international community.

"From tomorrow the responsibility will fall on the powers, particularly the United States," Zelaya added.

Zelaya was due to join the presidents of Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay, who shortly beforehand landed in El Salvador, according to local press, along with the head of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza.

The pan-American OAS suspended Honduras in an emergency session the previous night, after the interim leaders refused to reinstall Zelaya.

Interim leader Roberto Micheletti ramped up tensions Sunday by alleging that Nicaraguan troops were moving toward the countries' joint border, a claim Nicaraguan military immediately denied.

"We have been informed that in the sector of Nicaragua, some troops are moving toward the border," Micheletti said in a televised news conference.

In Managua, Nicaraguan general Adolfo Zepeda shot back that the information was "totally false."

Amid growing international isolation, interim leaders also said they had put forward an offer for dialogue in "good faith" with the OAS, after they previously said they were pulling out of the body ahead of the suspension.

But Micheletti also said that no one would pressure him, and still insisted he had taken power in a "constitutional succession."

The OAS suspended Honduras late Saturday in the first such move since the exclusion of Cuba in 1962.

Members of the pan-American body slammed the leaders of the coup which saw the army remove Zelaya at the height of a dispute with the courts, politicians and the army over his plans to change the constitution, which opponents said included an attempt to stand for a second term.

Night time curfews -- which suspend some freedoms guaranteed by the constitution -- and media blackouts have since ramped up tension in one of Latin America's poorest countries.

A freezing of millions of dollars of international aid, regional trade blockades and recalls of foreign ambassadors have also hit the country in the past week.

Chavez, Zelaya's main backer, has said that Venezuela would suspend key shipments of oil to Honduras, which he said would drive up gasoline prices.

Zelaya fails to return to Honduras, violence spirals

Obama: Progress & Hope, Right

Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib ... Bagram?

The Sunday Herald
July 4, 2009

INVESTIGATION: US detention centre under suspicion as eerily familiar claims OF torture and rendition flights surface from the airbase on the outskirts of Kabul. by Ian Pannell, BBC Afghanistan Correspondent

NOOR HABIB'S hands shake as he draws a picture of how he says he was abused. He claims that he was taken to a small, darkened cell where his arms were tied to the ceiling and he was made to stand in waist-deep water for six hours at a time.

He says he was beaten, threatened with dogs, and deprived of sleep. He also claims there was nothing unusual about his treatment, "everyone else has the same story".

Habib was an inmate at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, an American military detention centre outside Kabul. Now, for the first time, detailed allegations of widespread abuse and neglect have been made about this top-secret camp.

"I didn't think a prison like Bagram ever existed on earth. It is a place that has no rules or law," says Sabrullah, another ex-inmate.

Over a period of more than two months, we tracked down 27 former detainees. There were others, but they were afraid to speak or had been warned not to. Just two said they had been treated well. Many allegations of ill-treatment appear repeatedly in the interviews; physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers and in four cases, being threatened with death at gunpoint.

The account of an inmate known as Dr Khandan is one of the most harrowing. He says he was kept in isolation for months and treated worse than an animal: "They deprived us of sleep, they put us in a cold room and turned the air conditioning on and would take away the blanket. They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol to your head and threatened you with death. They put some kind of medicine in the water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you."

All the men who spoke to us were interviewed in isolation and they were all asked the same questions. They were held at times between 2002 and 2008 and they were all accused of belonging to or helping al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

None of the inmates were charged with any offence or put on trial; some even received apologies when they were released. While none of the allegations can be independently verified, the ill-treatment they describe also appears in an inquiry by US Senators into the handling of detainees in US custody, and they match the findings of interviews with ex-inmates conducted by human-rights organisations and legal groups. They are very similar to the methods that were used at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

"The conditions at Bagram were harder than Guantanamo," says Taj Mohammed. The camp has held thousands of people over the last eight years and a new multi-million dollar detention centre is currently under construction.

Most of the inmates are Afghans but some were captured abroad and brought here under a process known as "extraordinary rendition", including at least two Britons. The Obama administration says they are dangerous men and it classifies them as "terrorist suspects" and "enemy combatants" rather than "prisoners of war".

It is a legal classification that critics say deliberately denies inmates access to lawyers or the right to appeal or even complain about their treatment.

The Pentagon has denied the charges and it insists that all inmates are treated humanely. We were not allowed to visit Bagram, nor was anyone made available for an interview. Instead, a spokesman for the US secretary of defence responded to written questions. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Wright insisted that conditions at Bagram meet international standards for care and custody. In a statement, he said: "Department of Defence policy is and always has been to treat detainees humanely. There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions."

The US military said it would investigate any serious claims of abuse, but none of the men interviewed had been made aware of any formal complaints procedure.

But another former inmate, known as Mirwais, said: "They have no respect for human beings. They blame others for violating human rights. You just go and see how they violate human rights."

Since coming to office, president Barack Obama has banned the use of torture and ordered a review of its policy on detainees, which is expected to report next month. But unlike Guantanamo Bay, the prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention.

Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, a legal support group which is bringing a test case in the States to try to win representation for four detainees, says the inmates at Bagram are being kept in "a legal black hole, without access to lawyers or courts".

She is pursuing legal action that, if successful, would grant detainees the same rights as those still being held at Guantanamo Bay, but the Obama administration is trying to block the move.

Last summer, the US Supreme Court ruled that detainees at Guantanamo should be given legal rights. Speaking on the campaign trail, Obama applauded the ruling: "The Court's decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration's attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo. This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus."

Foster accuses Obama of abandoning that position and "using the same arguments as the Bush White House".

In its legal submissions, the US Justice Department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time. Pentagon spokesman Wright says: "Detention during wartime is not criminal punishment and therefore does not require that individuals be charged or tried in a court of law."

Obama has also ruled against an earlier decision to release photos that show abuse of prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan.

Ex-inmate Esmatullah says he has trouble breathing when he thinks about Bagram, he gets nervous at the very mention of its name. Like many others, he also claims that he was beaten and threatened during interrogation: "The Afghan translator told me he has orders to take out my eyes, break my legs and hands. I said I am not afraid of dying. Then he hit me with a stick so hard that I had severe pains in my back for a month and a half."

Unlike Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Bagram has received scant attention so far. The men would like an official apology, recognition of the abuse they say they have suffered and compensation.

These revelations come at a time when president Obama is trying to re-set America's relationship with the Muslim world and he is redoubling US efforts to win the war in Afghanistan. It is a controversy that has already attracted much attention in the Afghan and Pakistan media and seriously threatens to tarnish the image of the new Obama administration on both sides of this troubled border.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Egypt's Strike Wave Continues

The “N-Word”
A political taboo for two decades, nationalization is a recurrent demand in the latest wave of labour strikes in privatized textile firms. Hossam el-Hamalawy reports

The Nile Delta village of Mit Hebeish, 10 minute drive from the southern entrance of the city of Tanta on the Cairo-Alexandria Agricultural Road, is usually a quite place, whose peace briefly gets disturbed every now and then by a microbus driver honking or a tok-tok acrobating its way across the nearby railway lines. Over the past month, however, the town saw Central Security Forces troops clashing with workers several times, amid a militant strike by one thousand workers in Tanta Flax and Oil Company.

Machines in the flax processing plant came to halt on 31 May, with strikers’ demands including: their 7% annual bonus unpaid from July 2008, raising their daily food allowance from LE32 to LE90 (as decreed by the government following the September 2007 strike in Mahalla) and the reinstatement of nine sacked workers including two trade unionists. For 33 days now the workers have been sleeping in the factory, sometimes bringing their families.

A marble signpost on the entrance of the factory once proudly declared the premise to be nationalized and re-inaugurated by Egypt’s former president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. The signpost today is fractured, stained with paint, and missing chunks of marble that fell over the years. It is telling of the factory’s conditions.

“The company was privatized four years ago,” said 43-year-old Akkad Tantawi who is among the nine sacked workers. “They sold it to a Saudi investor who has turned our lives into hell. This is the fourth strike we stage in four years. Every year there is one strike.”
From roughly 2,500 workers constituting the factory’s labor force prior to privatization, the number fell down to 1,000 today, due to policies by the management to liquidate the firm, says the workers.

“The company’s ten factories are located on 74 feddans,” said striker Safwat Michel. “The investor wants to sell the plant as real estate. He’ll make a fortune out of this. Do you know how much land is worth in the Nile Delta?” Michel angrily pointed at the rusting machines in the light wood production factory in the plant, “These used to bring wealth. Now they do nothing. The investor promised to modernize the machinery when the company was privatized. We saw nothing of that.”

The accusation of liquidating businesses in the Nile Delta to be sold as real estate is regularly made by other strikers. For example, the Mansoura-Espana Garments Company workers, involved in a series of industrial actions since 2006, accused the owning United Bank of trying to sell the factory to a local businessman as land property. Mahalla workers made similar accusations against their state-owned company in 2007.

The machines in Tanta Flax and Oil Company factories are aging, and so is the labor force. The company, says the workers, deliberately stopped hiring new recruits, a policy which the state-run management was slowly enforcing a decade earlier with the restructuring of the textile sector. The average age of strikers, observed Al-Masry Al-Youm during a field visit, was well above 35 years. Most workers came from peasant backgrounds and did not necessarily receive elementary schooling. Striker Safwat Michel estimated 60% of the labor force depended on extra sources of income like farming the land. Labor experts usually contrast this “traditional” working class, with the “new” working class in cities like the 6th of October, Obour, 10th of Ramadan and Port Said, who are usually younger with higher rates of literacy.

Most production workers interviewed by Al-Masry Al-Youm received on average LE500 a month each, including bonuses, after an average 15 years of service. Around 200 workers are either on temporary contracts or without contracts at all, receiving LE8 a day, like Nagui Halim As’ad, 46, has been working as production worker for nine years.

As’ad, wearing a peasant hat, joined passionately his colleagues in chanting: “No Saudi, No Japanese! Tanta Flax is returning!”… returning to Egyptian state owners-that’s what As’ad and workers interviewed in the factory felt strongly for. “The company should be nationalized,” said Mostafa Ali el-Sawy, 37, who was sacked two years ago after taking part in strike. His colleagues roared in support.

Since the government embarked on its Structural Adjustment Programme in the early nineties, nationalization has been considered passé. However, in past years, the textile sector has suffered with its labor force dwindling from almost half a million blue collar workers in 1991 to almost quarter a million in 2001, which may explain why the “N-word” is now a popular demand in some of the privatized factory. Last March, for example, around 4000 workers in Shebeen el-Kom struck against their Indian management. Their factory was privatized in spring 2007, and since then it witnessed a record 76 strikes in 22 months, according to local press count, amid calls for re-nationalizing the firm.

From December 2006, Egypt has been going through its strongest and most sustained wave of strike action since 1946, when the working class and students staged mass strikes to end the British occupation. The center of militancy in the current wave is the textile sector, where Mahalla triggered on 7 December a Winter of Labor Discontent with its successful four day strike. The Nile Delta textile mills followed suit with wild cat strikes in the winter and spring of 2007, only to be followed by another strike in Mahalla that lasted more than a week in September 2007. The Mahalla textile workers continued spearheading class action, till an aborted strike on 6 April saw the town erupting in a two-day uprising over the prices of bread.

Faced with the strikes, the state-backed General Federation of Trade Unions has reacted largely with hostility, with most of its officials denouncing or aborting protests by workers on the factory floor. The federation, founded in 1957, had never officially endorsed a strike except once in 1993 when the General Union of Mining, Construction and Carpentry lent its support to a brief national strike by the miners. The body is regularly denounced by independent activists as a “state arm.”

The General Union of Textile Workers, headed by National Democratic Party (NDP) member Said el-Gohary, has been under fire from the start of the strike wave. The local union branches stood against the strikes and tried to suspend them, only to be met with workers’ resistance. In January 2007, around 200 Mahalla workers descended on the General Union of Textile Workers’ headquarters in Cairo’s Shoubra el-Mazzallat district. In a stormy meeting with Gohary, they demanded the impeachment of their local union bureaucrats, and threatened to launch a parallel independent union. The local union head was later hospitalized by the strikers in September 2007 when he tried to suspend the strike. Gohary himself has been under attack, yet sandwiched between the workers’ pressures and the government’s desire to “put the situation under control.”

The success of Egypt’s property tax collectors in establishing the country’s first independent trade union in 51 years last December was an alarm bell for the state-backed federation that felt a wave of unionization was at the door step, which could be a silver bullet to the federation and its presence in the labor movement. Federation officials started adopting a more militant rhetoric vis a vis government ministers like the Finance Minister, and lent their nominal support for strikes. Gohary showed up in Shebeen el-Kom last March and denounced the Indian investors. The current strike in Tanta Flax and Oil Company is the second strike in the history of the federation to be endorsed officially by the union, after the 1993 miners’ strike.

But the workers’ patience is running out. Already under police siege, the workers stormed out of their factory gates twice last month, cutting the road in protest of the management’s refusal to negotiate. Another protest in front of the parliament in Cairo was also met with the police troops’ batons and sticks.

“We are staging a peaceful strike,” said Abdel Tawab Sheeha, 59, has been working in the company for 39 years. “The Egyptian governemnt doesn’t understand the culture of peaceful strikes however. They will force us to do other things, to do violence to be heard. They are the ones to blame. No one is hearing our voices out here.” Another worker shouted: “If the government wants a Mahalla, we’ll give them one.”

And while the strike continues, a court is expected to look into complaints by the nine sacked workers on 17 September. Attempts by Al-Masry Al-Youm to get a comment from the company’s management failed, as managers had evacuated the factory from the start of the strike and left behind only security personnel, and police agents. The latter assaulted on Tuesday a video journalist with Al-Masry Al-Youm, banning him from entering the factory to cover the strike.

Venezuela Suspends Oil Supplies to Honduras

Ria Novosti
Friday, 3 July 2009

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said his country is suspending oil supplies to Honduras over the recent coup in the Central American country, Spain's EFE news agency said on Friday.

The Honduran military arrested President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, the day polls were due to open for a referendum on the extension of his non-renewable, four-year term of office, and flew him to Costa Rica.

"We have suspended shipments of oil" produced by Petrocaribe to the country, Chavez said in his television program on Thursday night.

The Venezuelan president said Petrocaribe energy supplies to Honduras had been planned for next week.

Petrocaribe is an oil alliance between Venezuela and Caribbean nations that allows certain countries to buy oil at preferential rates.

Chavez denied claims that Venezuelan energy supplies to Honduras on preferential terms had constituted "financial assistance" to Zelaya.

Egypt: See no strikes, hear no strikes, report no strikes


Hundreds of workers at a local factory have been on strike since the end of May, demanding an increase in salaries and back pay that has not been given. On Tuesday, the Egyptian state security reared its ugly head when a foreign journalist attempted to cover the strike.


CAIRO, July 2, 2009 (MENASSAT) — With dozens of workers gripping the iron rod gate marking the entrance to the Tanta Flax and Oil Company, plainclothes state security grabbed, shoved and punched this American reporter. The workers began chanting as the reporter attempted to record footage of what was happening inside the factory.

“No, you are not allowed to see them. It is forbidden,” said the unnamed state security official who forced the journalist to return to Tanta’s train station.

Unsurprisingly, Egypt has no desire to have foreign journalists cover the workers' strike as it enters its second month, even if stopping them requires violence. Nassar Osman, who identifies himself as a spokesman for the workers, said he wants everyone to see what is going on here.

“The people have not been paid in months, they aren’t getting their promised raises and now they are getting harassed by police because of the strike that is going on here,” he said. Osman was working with the state security officials in order to allow the journalist to enter the factory, but to no avail.

According to state security at the factory premises, a foreign journalist, irregardless of proper accreditation, must secure a “permission” consisting of a paper from the information ministry to enter the factory. However, the foreign press office in Cairo said that “there is no such paper. If the state security says no, then you can’t go in.”

Don't look at the workers

The incident highlights Egypt’s growing concern over the coverage of workers’ strikes and demonstrations in the country. Last year, in the Delta town of Mahalla al Kobra, tens of thousands of Egyptians went to the streets in support of the local textile factory workers who went on strike in demand of better wages to combat the rising costs of foodstuffs.

The government responded swiftly, moving troops into the town to quell the dissent. At least one person was killed in the crossfire and scores of people were arrested, including an American photographer who was briefly detained.

“The way they are treating us here is horrible and they don't even allow foreign journalists to do their job,” said one worker, who was to give an interview after the journalist was forcibly put on a “microbus” and driven to the city center. He added that “because the government has a stake in the company, they don’t want the outside world to see what is going on here.”

Fighting for our rights

But, what is really going on in Tanta? According to reports and workers' statements, a Saudi company purchased the factory this year from the Egyptian government. They promised an annual 7 percent salary increase, but since May, the workers have been conducting daily protests and an almost ongoing sit-in on the factory premises after their salaries did not come.

“We want our money,” said the worker, who asked not to be named due to security risks. He argued that all the workers are demanding are better means to survive and live their lives without worrying about making ends meet.

“We are not paid well and with the rising costs of things and food in Egypt, it is becoming extremely difficult for us to support our families, so we have taken to this action in an effort to show that we are prepared to fight for our rights,” he said.

Police Looking for Journalist

Shortly after the interview began, however, the man received a phone call from a fellow worker who told him that the police were searching for the journalist. Scared, the worker immediately ended the interview and rushed out of the café. According to him, the “microbus” driver that the police had forced into taking the journalist to the train station had been arrested. He did not want to risk arrest.

“I can’t be arrested. My family is too important for me to go to jail,” he said as he paid the bill and rushed off.

This is what the state has done to Egyptian society, says Gamal Eid, the Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). He says that the state of fear instilled in Egyptian life has limited the amount of discussion toward certain areas.

“Just like workers movements, these people believe that the government can and does come in and arrest people and beat them up for simply expressing their ideas. This is wrong, but the fear is very strong and this is difficult to break,” he argues.

Workers Unite

In Tanta, with the workers holding strong, coverage of the strike has been limited to phone conversations with those inside the factory. With no end in sight for the workers' sit-in, it is difficult to gauge whether they will be successful or not.

“Look at what we achieved in building our own union,” says Mervat Hilal, a deputy of the tax collectors union, the country’s first private workers union. “We were able to create our own union and get our demands heard, so hopefully, others will follow suit,” she continues, pointing to the union established earlier this year and that has been praised as the first step toward guaranteeing workers rights.

The tax collectors held a similar sit-in at the Egyptian Parliament last year, demanding that their monthly salary be increased. With the government unwilling to budge, they formed a private union. It has been largely successful. Their monthly wages have increased from an average of 300 Egyptian pounds ($50) to over 1,200 Egyptian pounds monthly ($200).

Osman says that their example is a major force in keeping spirits high at the Tanta factory.

“We see others have succeeded. I want all to see what is going on here so we can get there, like other people have already done in this country,” he says.

Whether they will succeed is yet to be seen, but with the chanting uninterrupted every day at the factory, the workers’ pressure is growing, as is their international stature. No foreign journalists are being allowed in, but word is getting out.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pregnant Egyptian woman stabbed to death in Germany as a result of veil

Egyptian woman stabbed to death in Germany as a result of veil
Bikya Masr
3 July 2009

CAIRO: A German man outside of a Dresden, Germany, courtroom stabbed a 32-year-old Egyptian woman to death on Wednesday after she had won a defamation case against the man, Egypt’s Youm El Saba’a newspaper reported late Thursday. According to security sources in the German city, Marwa Al Sherbini, was stabbed.

Local news reported that Sherbini was three-months pregnant at the time. Her husband, who was finishing a scholarship at a German institute in genetics, was also shot outside the court, moments after the verdict had been handed down.

Reports say police shot him accidentally. It is unclear his status, with some reporting he was killed and others saying he is in critical condition.

Sherbini had filed a case against her killer, Alex, a 28-year unemployed German of Russian descent, in August 2008, after he had called her a “terrorist” on a Dresden street because she wears the higab – the Islamic headscarf that covers the hair.

He was fined 2,800 Euros for the insulting remarks.

The murder comes as Europe is in the midst of a battle over what Muslim women can wear. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said recently that the Niqab – the full covering of the face – is “not welcome in France.

The body will be flown back to Egypt for the burial and while the Egyptian foreign condemned the incident, the Egyptian Ambassador to Germany attempted to downplay the incident.

In a statement to Youm El Saba’a, Ramzy Ezz El Din denied the murder was part of a an organized hate movement against Arabs and Muslims, calling the murder “a regular incident, as terrorism exists all over the world.”

As of Friday morning, no foreign news outlet had reported on the incident.


See also:

Woman killed in courtroom bloodbath was pregnant - The Local

Egyptian woman killed in German court drama - Independent Online

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Egyptian Court Upholds Comic Book Ban

Regulating freedom of expression?

Egypt’s First “Graphic" comic book on trial, Jano Charbel attends

In April 2008 Egypt’s first “graphic comic book" - Metro - was pulled off of Cairo’s bookshelves upon the orders of a police officer who perceived that its contents were indecent. Police forces also broke into the offices of Dar El Malamih – Metro’s publishing house – and seized all the copies of this comic book. The police officer who had ordered these seizures submitted his request of confiscation to the General Prosecutor’s Office which in turn forwarded this request to the South Cairo Primary Court. In April 2009 this court authorized the confiscation of the Metro Comic Book. In response, both the comic book’s creator Magdy El Shafee and its publisher Mohamed El Sharkawy filed a judicial appeal before the South Cairo Civil Court against this confiscation order. Several months later, after having examined the contents of this comic book this court issued its verdict on June 23, 2009 – upholding the previous confiscation order.

The court’s verdict mentioned that the comic book “contains many expressions which conflict with public decency, and which conflict with its purpose of serving as a decent cultural work for its readers…" In reaction to this verdict El Sharkawy, the Managing Director of the Dar El Malamih Publishing House said “I cannot believe how comic books are being confiscated and banned in Egypt in the year 2009. I don’t understand the reasoning behind all this. I can’t believe that our freedoms of artistic creation are still at risk in this day and age. There are numerous Egyptian novelists who use far more explicit language in their works, and there are curse words in nearly every foreign movie playing in Egyptian cinemas. Moreover, on the internet there are no restrictions on language or images. However, our freedoms of expression are still at risk in this country." Sharkawy added “I feel let down."

As for Defense Lawyer Ahmad Ragheb, he explained that “I was expecting that this court would reject our appeal for the overturning of the confiscation order. Nevertheless, we are taking this case to the next level, the Appeals Court - on the basis that the initial confiscation order is unconstitutional." Ragheb added “the confiscation orders were executed in accordance to Articles 178 and 198 of the Egyptian Criminal Code. These two articles are outdated, and they allow for unwarranted governmental interference in artistic works. We are arguing that these articles are in breach of the provisions found in Articles 47 and 48 of the Egyptian Constitution – which safeguard the freedom of expression."

Articles 178 and 198 of the Penal Code prohibit the printing or distribution of publications which contravene public decency, and authorize the confiscation of publications which contain offenses to public morals. As for Article 47 of the Egyptian Constitution it stipulates that “Freedom of opinion is guaranteed. Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicize it verbally or in writing or through photography or by other means within the limits of the law. Self-criticism and constructive criticism are the guarantees for the safety of the national structure. Meanwhile Article 48 stipulates that “Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. Censorship of newspapers is forbidden, as well as warning, suspending or canceling them by administrative methods. In a state of emergency or in time of war a limited censorship may be imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or purposes of national security in accordance with the law."

Metro had only been on the shelves for one and a half months when it was banned from circulation in April 2008. El Shafee had written and illustrated his comic book over the course of five years, during which time one of his other works won the UNESCO’s gratitude for “best African comic-strip" in 2006. The comic book’s cover bears an Arabic notice reading: “For Adults Only." Its story revolves around a young Cairene software engineer named Shihab who lives in a dog-eat-dog society afflicted with the vices of poverty, political corruption, and economic injustice; all of which are sensitive issues in Egypt. In this fictitious novel, Shehab and his friend Mustafa decide to rob a bank in order to pay back a large debt owed to an illicit loan-shark. The two most controversial drawings in this comic book are those depicting a couple making love on a bed (concealed beneath the sheets,) and a half-naked woman. There are also a few curse words sparsely scattered in the pages - specifically “fag, whore, and pimp/bastard."

Further Charges

Police wasn't the only trouble facing Metro’s maker and publisher. An ultra-conservative lawyer has argued that Metro must be withdrawn from bookshelves on the basis that its comic-strip format coupled with explicit language makes its adult content easily comprehensible to all, including children. More seriously, he has also filed criminal charges against El Shafee and El Sharkawy on the basis of their “immoral works." According to Ragheb the lawsuit leveled against his clients was filed by a “Hesba lawyer" who is “under the misconception that he is obliged to uphold societal ethics and to prohibit that which he perceives as being morally wrong."

This same lawyer is said to have previously filed the criminal charges leveled against the Chief Editor of the independent Al Dustour Newspaper, Ibrahim Eissa, for his alleged publication offenses." Ragheb added that “this self-righteous lawyer has filed criminal charges, according to the provisions of Article 178 of the Penal Code, against both the book’s creator and its publisher on the basis that their actions constitute misdemeanor crimes. If found guilty both El Shafee and El Sharkawy maybe fined up to LE 20,000 and/or sentenced to imprisonment for up to two years. Ragheb believes that his clients shall not be sentenced to imprisonment, but may be fined. In any condition this case may also be appealed. This verdict is to be announced at the Qasr El Nil Court of Misdemeanors on July 18.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Does the US back the Honduran coup?
Mark Weisbrot

The Obama administration's condemnation of the coup in Honduras has been lukewarm compared to the rest of the world

The military coup that overthrew Honduras's elected president, Manuel Zelaya, brought unanimous international condemnation. But some country's responses have been more reluctant than others, and Washington's ambivalence has begun to raise suspicions about what the US government is really trying to accomplish in this situation.

The first statement from the White House in response to the coup was weak and non-committal. It did not denounce the coup but rather called upon "all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter".

This contrasted with statements from other presidents in the hemisphere, such as Lula da Silva of Brazil and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, who denounced the coup and called for the re-instatement of Zelaya. The EU issued a similar, less ambiguous and more immediate response.

Later in the day, as the response of other nations became clear, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton issued a stronger statement that condemned the coup – without calling it a coup. But it still didn't say anything about Zelaya returning to the presidency.

The Organisation of American States, the Rio Group (most of Latin America) and the UN general assembly have all called for the "immediate and unconditional return" of Zelaya.

The strong stances from the south brought statements from anonymous state department officials that were more supportive of Zelaya's return. And by Monday afternoon President Barack Obama finally said: "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras."

But at a press conference later that day, Clinton was asked whether "restoring the constitutional order" in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself. She would not say yes.

Why such reluctance to call openly for the immediate and unconditional return of an elected president, as the rest of the hemisphere and the UN has done? One obvious possibility is that Washington does not share these goals.

The coup leaders have no international support, but they could still succeed by running out the clock – Zelaya has less than six months left in his term. Will the Obama administration support sanctions against the coup government in order to prevent this? The neighbouring governments of Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador have already fired a warning shot by announcing a 48-hour cut-off of trade.

By contrast, one reason for Clinton's reluctance to call the coup a coup is because the US Foreign Assistance Act prohibits funds going to governments where the head of state has been deposed by a military coup.

Unconditional is also a key word here: the Obama administration may want to extract concessions from Zelaya as part of a deal for his return to office. But this is not how democracy works. If Zelaya wants to negotiate a settlement with his political opponents after he returns, that is another story. But nobody has the right to extract political concession from him in exile, over the barrel of a gun.

There is no excuse for this coup. A constitutional crisis came to a head when Zelaya ordered the military to distribute materials for a non-binding referendum to be held last Sunday. The referendum asked citizens to vote on whether they were in favour of including a proposal for a constituent assembly, to redraft the constitution, on the November ballot. The head of the military, General Romeo Vasquez, refused to carry out the president's orders. The president, as commander-in-chief of the military, then fired Vasquez, whereupon the defence minister resigned. The supreme court subsequently ruled that the president's firing of Vasquez was illegal, and the majority of the Congress has gone against Zelaya.

Supporters of the coup argue that the president violated the law by attempting to go ahead with the referendum after the supreme court ruled against it. This is a legal question. It may be true, or it may be that the supreme court had no legal basis for its ruling. But it is irrelevant to the what has happened. The military is not the arbiter of a constitutional dispute between the various branches of government.

This is especially true in this case, in that the proposed referendum was a non-binding and merely consultative plebiscite. It would not have changed any law nor affected the structure of power. It was merely a poll of the electorate.

Therefore, the military cannot claim that it acted to prevent any irreparable harm. This is a military coup carried out for political purposes.

There are other issues where our government has been oddly silent. Reports of political repression, the closing of TV and radio stations, the detention of journalists, detention and physical abuse of diplomats and what the Committee to Protect Journalists has called a "media blackout" have yet to draw a serious rebuke from Washington. By controlling information and repressing dissent, the de facto Honduran government is also setting the stage for unfair elections in November.

Many press reports have contrasted the Obama administration's rejection of the Honduran coup with the Bush administration's initial support for the 2002 military coup that briefly overthrew President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. But actually there are more similarities than differences between the US response to these two events.

Within a day, the Bush administration reversed its official position on the Venezuelan coup, because the rest of the hemisphere had announced that it would not recognise the coup government. Similarly, in this case, the Obama administration is following the rest of the hemisphere, trying not to be the odd man out but at the same time not really sharing their commitment to democracy.

It was not until some months after the Venezuelan coup that the state department admitted that it had given financial and other support "to individuals and organisations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government."

In the Honduran coup, the Obama administration claims that it tried to discourage the Honduran military from taking this action. It would be interesting to know what these discussions were like. Did administration officials say, "You know that we will have to say that we are against such a move if you do it, because everyone else will?" Or was it more like, "Don't do it, because we will do everything in our power to reverse any such coup"? The administration's actions since the coup indicate something more like the former, if not worse.

The battle between Zelaya and his opponents pits a reform president who is supported by labour unions and social organisations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the supreme court and the Congress, but also the president. It is a recurrent story in Latin America, and the US has almost always sided with the elites.

In this case, Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades. During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.

The hemisphere has changed substantially since the Venezuelan coup in April of 2002, with 11 more left governments having been elected. A whole set of norms, institutions and power relations between south and north in the hemisphere have been altered. The Obama administration today faces neighbours that are much more united and much less willing to compromise on fundamental questions of democracy.

So Clinton will probably not have that much room to manoeuvre. Still, the administration's ambivalence will be noticed in Honduras and can very likely encourage the de facto government there to try and hang on to power. That could be very damaging.

Protest Eviction Orders & Demolition of Palestinian Homes




Tents have become a powerful symbol of the struggle of Palestinian people living in occupied East Jerusalem. They have been set up as centres of protest in neighbourhoods threatened by numerous eviction and demolition orders - part of Israel's wider policy to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. Ultimately this would destroy any hope of East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state. A number of the tents, notably the one in Sheikh Jarrah, have been built by Palestinian residents forcibly evicted from their homes as a result of Israel's racist policy. Palestinians, who became refugees in 1948 & 1967 are, once again, facing dispossession from their homes and land as our governments stand by and do nothing.

The neighbourhoods most severely affected are Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur and Sur Beher however house evictions and demolitions are not uncommon in the Old City itself. In Silwan, 88 homes in the al Bustan quarter are facing immediate destruction in order to create space for a planned national park. In addition, two apartment buildings housing 34 families in the adjacent al Abbasiyya quarter have also received demolition orders. When completed, up to 2,000 Palestinians will be uprooted from their homes.

*The local communities are calling for international activists to organise symbolic protests and set up tents outside of Israeli embassies or Zionist organisations worldwide to stand in solidarity with the protest tents in the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur and Sur Beher.*


The neighbourhood consists of 28 families, and is facing a number of eviction orders which are part of a plan to implant a new Jewish settlement in the area, close to the Old City. After the forced removal of the Al Kurd Family from their home in November 2008, it is now the turn of the al-Ghawe and Hannoun Families to face imminent eviction, while others are awaiting further eviction orders.

The families have gone through 37 years of legal battles, fighting for the right to stay in their houses where many of them have been born and which they legally own. To date, the Israeli courts, including the High Court, decided in favour of the Jewish settler organisations, which claim the ownership of the land based on falsified documents. The courts have not only ignored all the documents produced by the Sheikh Jarrah community which clearly prove their legal status and the ownership of the land, they have also shown that their decisions are not based on law and justice, but are clearly political decisions, serving the goal of cleansing the Palestinian people from Jerusalem.

The latest court hearing, held on the 17th May, ordered the families to sign a guarantee for 50,000 NIS and present a further guarantee for $50,000 from the bank. The court has ruled for this money to be taken if the families refuse to hand in their keys and leave their houses voluntarily by noon on the 19th July. After this date, the settler organisations have permission to enter the houses and the fathers of the families will be sent to prison, charged with contempt of court.

Now that all legal avenues have been exhausted, the families last hope is that media attention & international pressure can help stop the evictions taking place

Maher Hannoun, resident from Sheikh Jarrah faced by imminent eviction order and imprisonment, said:

*As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel's authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks. The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices - either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents.*

*International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their goverments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions. *

What you can do? Suggestions for further actions:

- Contact your MPs and other political representatives to tell them about this story. Ask them to raise the issue of East Jerusalem in the Parliament and Government meetings and put diplomatic pressure on the Israeli authorities.

- Contact media representatives in your countries and ask them to cover the story of Sheikh Jarrah and the ongoing ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem.

- Organise demonstrations, talks, film nights or photo exhibitions in your countries. Email to receive updates, tell us about your ideas for actions, events and the co-ordination of an international day of actions.

-Set up a contingency plan with your organization or affinity group in the event that these evictions are carried out or Maher Hannoun is arrested. Send your email to to recieve alerts and co-ordinate your actions.

We ask for people to stand in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and support their fight for justice.

If you would like to find out more contact Eva on 054 344 2512(011-972-54-344-2512) or Liam 054 992 6354 (outside Palestine 011-972-54-992-6354)

Amnesty accuses Israel of using human shields in Gaza

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Amnesty International on Thursday accused Israeli forces of war crimes, saying they used children as human shields and conducted wanton attacks on civilians during their offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The London-based human rights group also accused Hamas of war crimes, but said it found no evidence that the Islamist rulers of Gaza used civilians as human shields during the 22-day offensive Israel launched on December 28.

It also reiterated its call for an international arms embargo against Israel.

"Much of the destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attacks on civilian objects," Amnesty said in a study.

Israeli troops forced Palestinians to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a base and sniper position, "effectively using the families, both adults and children, as human shields and putting them at risk," the group said.

"Intentionally using civilians to shield a military objective, often referred to as using 'human shields' is a war crime," Amnesty said.

It could not support Israeli claims that Hamas used human shields. It said it found no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings.

However, the report did point out that Hamas and other armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel. "Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable," said Donatella Rovera, who led an Amnesty mission to Gaza and southern Israel.

More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died during the offensive Israel launched in response to rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

Amnesty said 300 children were among those killed.

"Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons, air-delivered bombs and missiles, and tank shells.

"Others, including women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers," it said.

"Most of the cases investigated by Amnesty International of close-range shootings involve individuals, including children and women, who were shot at as they were fleeing their homes in search of shelter.

"Others were going about their daily activities. The evidence indicates that none could have reasonably been perceived as a threat to the soldiers who shot them and that there was no fighting going on in their vicinity when they were shot," the report said, adding that "wilful killings of unarmed civilians are war crimes."

It said Israel's use of white phosphorus shells was also a clear breach of international law.

White phosphorus is not illegal if used as a smokescreen in open areas "but it should not be used in a densely populated area as it was used here," Rovera told AFP, adding that her team saw Palestinians with "hideous burns" from white phosphorus shells.

Amnesty also said Israel's initial denial it used phosphorus caused further deaths.

"People could have been saved if the army had admitted using white phosphorus, rather than continuing to deny it," Rovera said. "Then they could have received the care that was necessary.

The rights group was also critical of Israel's use of flechette rounds -- artillery shells which explode to emit hundreds of steel darts.

These are designed for use in open battle but were employed by Israel in built-up areas, a clear breach of the international rules of war, said Chris Cobb-Smith, an artillery expert engaged by Amnesty.

With its dazzling array of high-tech weaponry, Israel was perfectly capable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets, he told AFP.

Asked if Israel had deliberately targetted unarmed civilians, he said it was "very difficult to come to any other conclusion".

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.