Friday, December 31, 2010

Egypt's second independent trade union is born!

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Egypt's second independent trade union is born to fervent acclaim
Thu, 30/12/2010

Jano Charbel

In a historic move on Wednesday evening, representatives of Egypt's technical workers formally gave birth to the country's second independent trade union to be established since 1957. More than 1000 technical workers received the news with fervent cheers and chants at Cairo's Journalists' Syndicate.

The Egyptian Health Technologists Syndicate (EHTS) attained this coveted status after garnering 13,000 signatures from medical institutions employees nationwide.

There are an estimated 205,000 such technical workers nationwide who formerly had no union affiliation. Thousands of these workers had repeatedly petitioned the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Health for the establishment of trade union committees since 2007.

Worker-delegates submitted the signatures for notarization to the Ministry of Manpower and the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). Within a period of 30 days, the ministry and federation may press their reservations regarding the establishment of this independent entity. But the newborn union seems determined to stay the course.

President of the EHTS, Ahmed al-Sayyed, announced the soft-opening of the union--where a 28-point organizational bylaw memorandum was distributed.

Also in attendance was Kamal Abu Eita, president of the Real Estate Tax Authority (RETA) Employees Union--the first independent union to split off from the state-controlled trade union structure since the mid-20th Century. This independent union has been subjected to ETUF reprimanding and obstructions, on the basis that the body is "weakening the unity of the Egypt's union movement."

Abu Eita and members of the RETA Union, along with labor activists, praised the struggle of the health technicians to establish EHTS as an independent entity. The RETA Union was formally established in April 2009 after collecting and submitting to authorities the signatures of 15,000 real estate tax employees.

Local union committees in each governorate are yet to be elected, and their offices and administrative functions are still being established by local general assemblies. According to their bylaws, the new union EHTS headquarters are to be established "within Greater Cairo."

"We urgently need this union because our rights have been disregarded for far too long, and are wages are unrealistically low," said Ayman Lotfy, a young health technician from Zagazig in the Nile Delta's Sharqiya Governorate.

"I've been employed as a laboratory technician in governmental medical institutions for three years now," Lotfy added. "There are no prospects for promotions, and I only make LE270 per month (approximately US$50.) How am I supposed to live on that sort of money, let alone get married or raise a family?"

Ali Eid, another young technician from Gharbiya Governorate said "I work as an x-ray technician in a public hospital, and we don't have the same rights or benefits as nurses, let alone doctors' who are members of the Physicians' Syndicate. This is why we insist upon having our own union to protect our interests."

Eid believes that most health technicians will join EHTS when its establishment gains greater recognition and it begins to launch efforts to defends the rights of its members.

"We have come here from across the country to launch this union of ours," said Mohamed Atef, a middle-aged technician from Aswan. "From Aswan in the south to Alexandria in the north we all need an independent union because the government's Association of Health Technicians, which was supposed to be representing us, is weak, unrepresentative and unresponsive."

Beyond the structure of the state-controlled ETUF in the field of professional syndicates (or white-collar unions), the independent Teachers' Syndicate was established in July of this year. It split off from the state-sanctioned Teachers' Syndicate--who boasts branches across the country--but only claims the membership of some 5000 workers from an estimated total of one million nationwide.

While serving as a pioneering experiment in the field of professional syndicates, the influence of this independent Teachers' Syndicate among Egyptian teachers, however, is limited. Supporters who came out in droves on Wednesday for the EHTS commemorative address undoubtedly hope the new trade union's efforts will be less ineffectual.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Egyptian labor unrest throughout 2010

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Year Ender: Critics question regime’s response to mounting labor unrest
Tue, 28/12/2010

Jano Charbel

This year has been marked by numerous incidents of labor unrest, raising questions as to how Egypt’s ruling regime plans to contain such unrest ahead of upcoming presidential elections slated for late 2011.

"From 2006 to 2010, the most important factors behind all incidents of labor unrest have been the absence of adequate wages--especially in light of rising living expenses--and the non-existence of an independent trade union structure," said Kamal Abbas, director of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services.

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, meanwhile, an independent NGO devoted to labor issues, has been at the forefront of the legal struggle for a new national minimum wage. Although administrative courts have issued two rulings this year--on 30 March and 26 October--in favor of a new minimum wage, judicial authorities appear to lack the authority to specify exactly what this wage should be.

Since 2007, workers have been calling for the monthly minimum wage to be set at LE1200 (about US$215). On 28 October, the state-appointed National Council for Wages officially set the monthly minimum wage at LE400 (about US$70).

Labor rights groups are still calculating the exact number of labor-related incidents this year, but estimates suggest that well over 600 strikes, protests and sit-ins took place throughout the course of 2010.

Beyond strikes, sit-ins and street protests, other recorded incidents of labor unrest included a handful of hunger strikes and boss-nappings, along with the occasional blocking-off of roads and highways by disgruntled workers.

In May, over a thousand workers that had been conducting sleep-in protests outside of Egypt’s parliament, Shura Council (consultative house of parliament) and Council of Ministers were assaulted, threatened with arrest, and forcibly dispersed by police.

Since then, sleep-in protests have been banned outside these state institutions. Although workers' demands were largely socio-economic, some labor activists see the crackdown as part of a wider campaign against all opposition voices ahead of this year’s recently concluded parliamentary polls and next year’s presidential elections.

In late August, eight workers employed at the Helwan Factory for Engineering Industries, a state-owned military production plant, were put on trial before a military tribunal for protesting hazardous working conditions. The protests had followed a string of industrial explosions at the installation that killed one worker and several others.

The protesting workers were ultimately acquitted, but the affair represented the first time since 1952 that workers were tried before a military tribunal. Amnesty International condemned the trial, recommending that the Egyptian State apply sweeping reforms to protect workers’ rights.

Such signs of repression are seen by some analysts as reflecting a reduced tolerance for labor strikes on the part of the state. It remains uncertain, meanwhile, whether this tolerance will continue to wane in 2011.

The recent postponement of Egypt’s labor union elections to 2012--they had originally been scheduled for next year--suggests an attempt to garner labor support for President Hosni Mubarak in upcoming presidential elections, say analysts.

Abbas, for his part, criticized the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) for its role in attempting to postpone the union elections. "The ETUF is anticipating a parliamentary vote to amend Trade Union Law 35/1976, in order to allow for elections to be held every six years," he said.

Abbas believes that the incoming parliament, which is almost entirely in the hands of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), will approve the amendment. "Trade union elections used to be conducted every three years,” he said. “This was changed to once every four years, then five, and now they're aiming for six years.”

“This will serve to decrease the accountability of union officials, but this is what the ETUF wants,” Abbas added. “And this also seems to serve the interests of the ruling regime."

According to Karam Saber, director of the Cairo-based Land Center for Human Rights, the slightly decreased number of labor strikes in 2010 is hardly reflective of a declining labor movement.

"The recently concluded parliamentary polls drew media attention away from the labor scene," he said. "Numerous cases of labor unrest may have gone unreported as a result."

One of the largest strikes to have been seen this year is a countrywide truck drivers' strike that began on 10 December involving some 70,000 truck owners and drivers. The strike has affected the supply of essential products--from cement and steel, to grains and sugar--across Egypt's 29 governorates.

Truckers launched their strike action in response to plans by the Finance Ministry to raise truck licensing fees and demands by the Transport Ministry that all semi-trailers be converted into full-trailers--at their owners’ expense--by August 2011.

While the Finance Ministry now claims it has revoked its decision to raise licensing fees, the Transport Ministry, for its part, does not appear to be backing down on its demands.

Truckers, however, are not the only ones in the transport sector to be waging a strike. Owners and drivers of Egypt's micro-buses, too, are similarly protesting the imposition of new taxes. While not as organized or effective as the nation’s truck drivers, Egypt's micro-bus owners and drivers may well maintain their sporadic strikes into next year.

Strikes have even spread to some sectors that had no prior experience of labor unrest, such as a workers' strike at the American University in Cairo in October, in which some 150 university workers demanded pay raises and paid weekends.

Other notable incidents of labor unrest this year included strikes, sit-ins and sleep-ins conducted by some 32,000 employees of Information Decision Support Centers, which are affiliated to the Local Development Ministry. Hundreds of center employees staged sleep-in protests outside the parliament building in the first half of 2010 to demand that their monthly wages be raised from LE99 (about US$18) to LE149 (about US$27).

In his opening speech before the NDP’s annual party congress on Saturday, Mubarak made no specific reference to labor issues, focusing instead on the party’s vows to improve conditions faced by the nation’s farmers.

Amid skyrocketing inflation and rising unemployment, continued labor unrest remains entirely likely. The only uncertainty is how the regime will react as it tries to maintain stability in the run-up to the looming presidential contest.

Ancient Egyptian music makes a comeback

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Ancient Egyptian music makes a comeback

Tue, 28/12/2010

Jano Charbel

Most Egyptians have never heard Ancient Egyptian music, a 5,000-year-old art form that has nearly disappeared. But in 2000 a small group of musicians and educators got together in an attempt to revive this music and make it available to students, performers and listeners.

There are only two places in which Ancient Egyptian music is presently taught--Helwan University's College of Musical Education and the Maqam Recording and Rehearsal Studio. The university has been offering courses, diplomas and degrees in Ancient Egyptian music theory and history since 2000, while Maqam studio has been offering courses in theory and performance since November 2010.

Mahmoud al-Qammari, one of just two students studying Ancient Egyptian music at Maqam studio said, "This music may be ancient, but it's new to me." A guitarist, al-Qammari is naturally interested in string instruments like the Ancient Egyptian harp. He has been attending courses on the harp for the past two months.

Professional harpist Sylvia Mohamad, who teaches the Ancient Egyptian harp every Saturday at Maqam, was introduced to this ancient instrument while studying harp at the Cairo Music Conservatory. "There is a band named Ahfad el-Fara'ana (Grandchildren of the Pharaohs) which performs at local venues, such as the Sawy Culture Wheel. Yet currently there is only a limited interest in rediscovering this form of music."

Mohamad explained that the Ancient Egyptian harp evolved from the hunting bow during the Old Kingdom's fourth dynasty. "It evolved from a four stringed instrument, to tens strings, to 21 strings." She explained that there is no surviving notation or sheet music available from which to study this form of harp playing. "From Ancient Egyptian murals we know that musicians had conductors, and that these conductors had symbols or arm gestures corresponding to each note or chord."

According to Mohamad the harp was the favored instrument of the day. "This instrument was performed for the entertainment of royals and notables, while also being used for ceremonial, religious and funerary music."

Other popular Ancient Egyptian instruments included wooden clappers and hand-clapping, along with the predecessors of the doff (a bassy tambourine-like drum), the naiy (a reed flute,) the lyre, and the oud (a fretless lute), along with vocals. Maqam Studio offers weekly courses on his harp, along with courses for the ginginty, a three-stringed lute-like instrument; the benet, which is nearly identical to the naiy; and ancient percussion instruments. Lessons in the kinar, an instrument resembling a lyre whose local descendants are the tamboura and simsimia, are not yet available.

Music professor Khairy al-Malt, the founder of the National Project for the Revival of Ancient Egyptian Music, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that, in addition to providing theoretical and historical education, "the project has made use of three academics from the College of Applied Arts and three craftsmen for the manufacturing of Ancient Egyptian instruments." These instruments are reproduced according to their original measurements and tones and use materials as close as possible to those used at the time. "The band Ahfad al-Fara'ana has assisted in making this ancient music available to local listeners," added al-Malt.

Ancient Egyptian music utilizes pentatonic, diatonic and minor scales, along with Middle Eastern scales based on 3/4th tones. According to Ahmed Salah, a professional oud player, ginginty instructor and owner of Maqam Studio, "We know from ancient murals that this form of music reached a point where they had developed dual harmonies, and perhaps more, since conductors are depicted leading musicians in two different lines of harmony."

"I've always been attracted to ethno-musicology. This interest of mine drew me to study Ancient Egyptian music and to specializing in the ginginty," said Salah, adding "there is not much local interest in Ancient Egyptian music; foreigners, more than Egyptians, seem to be interested in this form of music."

Ancient Egyptian music may have originated as early as 3000 BCE, with hand-clapping, singing, percussion instruments resembling tambourines, and the benet. Salah explained that the benet (and by descent, the naiy) may have originated in the homes of ancient Egypt, which used reeds or bamboo for roofing. "The wind blowing over this roof and through these hollow plants would have created musical sounds. The naiy, panpipes and flutes, all originated with these plants."

Music from the days of the Pharaohs was not written in notation until the arrival of the Greeks in Egypt. However, according to Salah, "this form of old Greek notation is inaccurate, and it can be read and interpreted in a number of different ways." The Coptic Church has retained some Ancient Egyptian music in its liturgical music and hymns; although its language and religious message are different from those used in Ancient Egypt, "a hymn like 'Golgotha,' which is still sung and recited in Coptic churches, is taken directly from Ancient Egyptian music."

Salah concluded that "there are presently only about 15 people who are capable of playing this music" on replicas of traditional Ancient Egyptian instruments. But there is increasing exposure to Ancient Egyptian music due to recitals, performances, study courses, websites and media coverage.

"It's popularity may be growing, but not rapidly. Each year perhaps five musicians will learn to perform this music."

Christmas & Graffiti in the Bethlehem Ghetto

Deck London’s Walls with Bethlehem’s Calls

December 20, 2010

Two dozen children, aged 5-17, from the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, cut out stencils of letters, stars and Christmas trees and sprayed painted ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS WORLD FROM BETHLEHEM GHETTO’ on Israel’s illegal separation wall. Photographed by UK-based photojournalist William Parry, images of the children and their message – along with powerful images of checkpoints and life under occupation – will temporarily ‘hijack’ prominent wall spaces in central London throughout the week leading up to Christmas, with the help of projection artist, Beverley Carpenter.

Says Parry:

"The idea is to provide a stark political backdrop to the frantic Christmas shopping rush, to remind Britain and the West that Israel’s illegal occupation and separation wall are strangling Bethlehem – and Palestine – the birthplace of Christ and Christmas. We’re bringing the reality of Bethlehem to London this Christmas.

The children who painted the message on the wall are third and fourth generation refugees, at risk of being made refugees again because of the wall’s devastating impact. We are complicit in suspending their rights to justice and freedom through our governments’ biased support of Israel.”

Photos of these ‘hijacked’ spaces, of bringing the reality of Bethlehem to London’s walls, will then be circulated via the web around the world to amplify the message.

Zayed, a 10-year-old in Bethlehem who dreams of travelling around the world when he can get a passport, said:

"The wall is an ugly prison. I can see it from my home. I want to tell people of the world that Palestinians want peace and justice. We want to be free like everybody else.”

Parry’s initiative was facilitated by a local Palestinian artist known by the tag name ‘Trash’, who in December 2007 helped Banksy and London-based Pictures on Walls to carry out their Santa’s Ghetto project in Bethlehem.

Among the photos being projected is one of the inhuman image of the thousands of Palestinian workers who daily queue in narrow metal corridors alongside the wall, to work in Israel. One of the labourers, named Mohammed Issa, said:

"What do you make of this? It’s fucked up, isn’t it. If Jesus had to do this every day, he’d become an atheist.”

Images of the graffitied Christmas greeting and of the children creating the stencils and spray painting the message on the wall, as well as other projected images from Bethlehem, are available from William Parry.

Egyptian Truckers' On Strike

Al-Masry Al-Youm
With no end in sight, truckers' strike set to enter 13th day
Tue, 21/12/2010

Jano Charbel

Thousands of heavy-freight truck drivers and owners in numerous governorates across the country continue to strike. The strikes began on 10 December.

An estimated 70 thousand truck drivers and owners are protesting a series of government decisions that include raising taxes, reducing the four-year grace period for trailers to two years, and banning truck drivers from using highways on Thursdays and Fridays.

The ministry revoked the tax on 14 December, in light of the on-going strike. However, the strike continues as other demands remain unmet and drivers claim that local tax authorities continue to enforce the revoked tax.

Authorities have attempted to bring an end to the strike--especially in light of shortages in basic consumer commodities such as rice, grains, sugar and petroleum along with building materials including cement and steel. Unloaded goods have reportedly piled up in ports and dockyards, while some factories have resorted to reducing production to reduce warehouse overload.

Hundreds of angry truckers staged two protests outside parliament on 16 and 20 December.

Grievances expressed by the striking protesters include a deadline of August 2012 issued by the Ministry of Transport for the owners of semi-trailers to transform their vehicles to full-trailers.

According to Abdel Azim Bassiouni, a truck owner and driver in the Nile Delta Governorate of Sharqiya, the new tax represents only part of the problem. "Most important, we are striking against the decree stipulating that all semi-trailers become full-trailers."

Bassiouni questioned the logic behind this decree, "In whose interest was this decree issued? Surely it serves the interests of businessmen, factories and companies which sell and service full-trailers."

The trucker complained of numerous downsides, "In terms of road safety, semi-trailers are safer and easier to maneuver than full-trailers. Furthermore, full-trailers cannot access alleyways, congested streets or narrow agricultural roads, and it is more difficult to load them up." Salah Sobhi, another striking truck owner in Sharqiya, criticized the Ministry of Transport's decree; "this is a uniformed decision by bureaucrats sitting in offices who know nothing about trucking or transport." Sobhi added, "we truckers have all driven full-trailers, and we know of many others who own these vehicles. I can tell you, without a doubt, that semis are safer. A full-trailer requires a very wide street in order to make a turn, while a semi is more flexible and maneuverable."

Sobhi attributed most road accidents associated with semi-trailers to the "overloading of trailers and overworking of drivers, who often work 24 hour shifts."

Road accidents represent the second most common cause of death in Egypt. A recent government report revealed that an average of 18 Egyptians died in road accidents every day last year alone.

The trucker denied the existence of studies indicating that full-trailers are safer to operate and contended that it would “cost a truck owner LE50,000 per vehicle, if not more, to convert a semi into a full-trailer.” He argued that LE100,000 is needed “to modify the tractor which pulls the trailer,” thereby bringing the total cost of required adjustments to over LE150,000. Noncompliance with the decree, he contended, risks fines or imprisonment.

Bassiouni echoed those concerns, “I've just purchased a new tractor and semi-trailer worth over LE1 million. Am I supposed to surrender my new trailer to the authorities so that they can turn it into scrap metal?"

On Sunday, media reports indicated that nine trucks were attacked, burned and destroyed in areas of Sharqiya and Daqahliya because they violated the strike. Police arrested 80 strikers said to be involved.

Striking truckers complain that police forces threaten them with arrest, while the state-controlled General Union for Land Transport Workers openly denounces the strike. Meanwhile, heads of local transport associations, which are closely associated to chambers of commerce and the Ministry of Trade, have demanded an end to the strike--at least until March.

Mohamed Abel Moneim, the president of the Commercial Transport Association in the Gharbiya Governorate told Al-Masry Al-Youm, "Unfortunately, most drivers and truck-owners are still striking in this governorate." He expressed hope at ending the crisis during negotiations to be held at the Construction Materials Division of the Chamber of Commerce in Cairo on Tuesday.

Numerous businesses have imposed fines on transport and trucking associations involved in the strike.

Bassioni attributed huge financial losses resulting from the truckers' strike to "the government's ill-planned policies," adding that "the government has led the country to incur massive losses, worth billions, in numerous industries across the country. He argued that it could have averted the crisis if it “had conducted proper studies and discussed these issues with [truckers] beforehand."

"Our strike is a peaceful and non-violent protest for our rights; it is a protest against the government's policies,” said Sobhi. He added that "the government functions as exclusive tax collector while offering nothing in return.”

“Each day I pay nearly LE600 in taxes per truck at toll stations and weighing stations. These expenses do not include annual taxes demanded by the Tax Authority."

According to some media outlets, effects of the truckers' strike have spilled into other sectors as truckers began striking at the state-owned South Cairo Grain Mill on Sunday.

*Photography by Al-Sayyed El-Baz

Marks & Spencer opening in Egypt revitalizes boycott movement

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Marks & Spencer opening in Egypt revitalizes calls for boycott
Fri, 17/12/2010

Jano Charbel

The boycott movement against Israeli products and services in Egypt is just over a decade old. Domestically, the movement is closely associated with the boycott of US goods and services, which began to gain momentum during the second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000 and again during the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The movement campaigned against the opening of the first Starbucks Coffee in Egypt in December 2006. And, most recently, it has been campaigning against UK department store chain Marks & Spencer, due to open an outlet in Egypt by the end of this year.

This domestic boycott movement has been criticized as being ineffective (there are now 24 Starbucks outlets in Egypt) and confined to pan-Arab nationalist, Islamist, and leftist activists who sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. Yet the movement is growing, both locally and internationally.

An international campaign to boycott, divest from and impose sanctions on Israel began in July 2005 and has since spread to numerous countries around the world. The boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) campaign seek to isolate Israel--on the economic, academic, cultural, and political levels--due to its ongoing occupation of Arab land and its abusive and discriminatory policies towards the Palestinians.

This international BDS movement has campaigned against multinational corporations that do business with Israel and/or have close ties to the Zionist movement, including Starbucks, Marks & Spencer, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Nestle, amongst others. Marks & Spencer in particular has been the target of a burgeoning BDS campaign in the UK and Ireland since 2006.

In Egypt, the boycott campaign against Marks & Spencer commenced in November. The campaign's website, dubbed "Stop Marks & Spencer in Egypt," lists 15 reasons why Egyptians should boycott the soon-to-open department store.

"We’re calling on Egyptians to boycott because we know that it is easier and less risky to abstain from purchasing products than it is to engage in activism and street protests,” campaign organizer Salma Shukrallah told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "We are specifically targeting Marks & Spencer because it is one of the primary corporations that support the Zionist movement.”

Shukrallah went on to say that the Jewish owners of the store chain had been involved with Zionism since the early 20th century, "decades before the establishment of the Zionist Entity [Israel]."

"We are not campaigning against Marks & Spencer because its owners are Jewish, but rather Zionists,” she stressed. “Nonetheless, accusations of anti-Semitism are typically leveled against the BDS movement by supporters of Zionism."

Marks & Spencer failed to reply to Al-Masry Al-Youm's questions by email regarding the corporation's historical links to Zionism and its position on BDS campaigns targeting the store’s new Egypt operations. The company’s customer-service section did, however, send a standard reply to activists’ inquiries, which read as follows:

“At M&S we do not support or align ourselves to governments, political parties or religious bodies. Despite this, we are sometimes asked to boycott products from various countries for a number of political, moral and social reasons.”

“Israel is one of over 70 countries we source our products from. It is important that we visit each factory or supplier location to check that our quality and ethical standards are maintained. As we are not able to do this in the West Bank or Golan Heights areas, we are not sourcing goods from there.”

“We do not feel that we should impose any specific views on our customers. All our products are clearly labeled with the country of origin or production to enable customers to make their own informed choice about what they wish to buy.”

The first Marks & Spencer store is to scheduled to launch operations in early 2011 in Dandy Mall, located on the Cairo-Alexandria desert highway. A larger branch is also scheduled to open in the Cairo Festival City shopping mall by spring 2012.

"People in Egypt are sympathetic with calls to boycott these businesses, but most are not active in these campaigns,” said BDS campaigner Tarek Shalaby. “There are a few who are willing to actively boycott, while there are more people who are willing to spread the word via online petitions, social networking sites and blogs."

Shalaby estimates that there are around half a million Egyptians currently involved, directly or indirectly, in the campaign--and, he says, that number is growing. Shalaby added that BDS campaigns and solidarity with Palestine were among the few issues on which both leftist and Islamist activists could find common ground.

According to Wael Khalil, founder of the Anti-Globalization Egyptian Group, which was established in 2000, the momentum behind the group's boycott campaign against US products "reached its peak between 2002 and 2004," during the second Palestinian Intifada and the US-led war on Iraq.

"While thousands of young people are still involved in boycott campaigns, the movement began to run out of steam and energy following the conclusion of these conflicts," he said. "US stores, restaurants and products were the focus of local boycott campaigns, especially since there are very few Israeli goods available in Egypt, while Israeli investment is limited to some agro-businesses and services."

Other activists have called for a boycott of Egyptian-Israeli business deals, especially cement and natural gas exports to Israel. A small group of Egyptian activists had briefly organized around the slogan "Mesh hanedfa'a el fawateer tul ma fi tasdeer"--"We won’t pay our (gas) bills as long as exports (to Israel) continue"--but this campaign's impact has been negligible.

Local BDS activists have also called for the closure of Egypt’s Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs), which operate using a percentage of Israeli industrial input. Other local groups calling for the boycott of businesses that engage in trade with Israel are "Kulena Muqawma" ("We are all Resitance") and "Nushata' Min Agl Filistin" ("Activists for Palestine").

*Photograph by Tarek Wageeh

How Arab governments tried to silence WikiLeaks
How Arab governments tried to silence WikiLeaks

Friday 17, December 2010

Ian Black

An appetite for state secrets led to bans on western newspapers and hacked news websites across the Middle East

WikiLeaks may be breaking new ground to promote freedom of information by releasing leaked US diplomatic cables, but Arab governments have been resorting to old tricks to ensure that nothing too damaging reaches their subjects.

Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco have all tried to stem the flow of Wiki-revelations, whether the subject is corruption, authoritarianism or simply the embarrassment of having private exchanges with American interlocutors enter the public domain.

There is certainly an appetite for reading state secrets.

Stories about the business interests of the king of Morocco and the nepotism of the unpopular president of Tunisia – both countries normally attract little interest in Britain - generated heavy traffic on the Guardian website.

But Le Monde, whose Francophone audience cares far more about the Maghreb, found its print edition banned from Morocco.

Spain's El Pais, another of the five media partners in the WikiLeaks enterprise, was banned too. So was Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the independent London-based pan-Arab daily which has been following up on the stories from the start.

Elaph, a Saudi-run website, was mysteriously hacked when it ran a piece about King Abdullah's sensational calls on the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme.

Lebanon's Al-Akhbar , a leftist and pro-Hizbullah paper, pulled off quite a trick: it somehow obtained unauthorised leaks from the WikiLeaks cache, posting 250 US cables from eight Arab countries on its website – only to find that it was cyber-attacked (and replaced by a shimmering pink Saudi girl chat room) when it published one of two devastatingly frank documents about President Ben Ali of Tunisia, who reinforced his country's reputation as the most internet-unfriendly in the region. "This is a professional job," said publisher Hassan Khalil, "not the work of some geek sitting in his bedroom."

In Arab countries where the media is state-controlled and even privately owned outlets exercise self-censorship to stay within well-defined red lines, outright censorship is usually a last resort.

So in Egypt, for example, there was little coverage of WikiLeaked material about the presidential succession, the role of the army and Hosni Mubarak's hostility to Hamas – all highly sensitive issues, though the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm did run some cables that were passed on by Al-Akhbar in Beirut.

In Syria, where newspapers are state-controlled, and the only privately owned paper is owned by a wealthy and powerful regime crony, one official insisted there was nothing discomfiting in WikiLeaks because "what we say behind closed doors is exactly the same as what we advocate publicly".

That's true enough when it comes to fierce hostility to any criticism of Syria's domestic affairs and its support for the "resistance" in Lebanon and Palestine. But the cables did show President Bashar al-Assad bluntly denying all knowledge of Scud missile deliveries to Hezbollah in the face of what the Americans called "disturbing and weighty evidence to the contrary".

Pro-western Jordan escaped serious embarrassment but Yemen's government faced awkward questions in parliament about its private admission of lying about US air strikes against al-Qaida – as well as concern that President Ali Abdullah Saleh's fondness for whisky would give ammunition to his Islamist critics. No one knew quite what to make of a document showing he had asked the Saudi air force to target the HQ of a senior Yemeni army commander.

Overall, Arab reactions to the WikiLeaks flood have been a mixture of the dismissive and the fascinated.

Some wondered why there are so few damaging revelations about Israel – giving rise to at least one conspiracy theory about collusion between Julian Assange and Binyamin Netanyahu. Others were disgusted if not really surprised at evidence of double-talk by the leaders who are quoted in the cables.

In many cases, it is striking to see the contrast between well-informed, warts-and-all American assessments of the Arab autocracies and the limited efforts made by the US to promote democracy and human rights.

Standing back to survey the big picture as the WikiLeaks effect fades in the Middle East, there are two other striking conclusions: one is the enormous scale of the US effort to contain Iran and its friends. The other – related – one is the sheer intimacy of US links to Israel.

The much-remarked dearth of documents about the Palestinian issue reflects still relatively low US priorities, a lack of contact with Hamas-ruled Gaza, and ties with Israel that are conducted through secure defence and intelligence channels or directly with the White House.

The US embassy in Tel Aviv is an inadequate prism through which to view a genuinely special relationship. No wonder that Netanyahu, unlike many Arab leaders, hasn't been too bothered by what WikiLeaks told us.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photos: Protesters Call for Dissolution of Parliament

Over 800 opposition activists, and a handful of former MPs, protested outside the office of the General Prosecutor in Downtown Cairo, on December 12. Well over 1,000 conscripts from the Central Security Forces were deployed to cordon the protest.

Protesters chanted against President Mubarak, and the ruling party's Ahmad Ezz - MP and billionaire steel-king (or steal-king) who acted as the conductor of the most recent parliamentary elections/sham.

Protesters also denounced the widespread vote-rigging and electoral fraud which took place during the parliamentary elections of November 28 and December 5.

Protesters called for the annulment and dissolution of the recently "elected" parliament, while a handful of former MPs (independents and opposition) are calling for the establishment of a parallel parliament.

Former MPs in attendance included the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed el-Beltagi, Al-Ghad's Ayman Nour, The Democratic Front Party's Osama Ghazali Harb, Karama's Hamdeen Sabbahi, and independent Mustafa Bakri amongst others.

The former Secretary-General of Kifaya, George Ishaq, and leader of the Revolutionary Socialist/Hashd Grouping Kamal Khalil, along with leading figures from the Islamic Labor Party, the liberal Al-Wafd Party, and the April 6th Youth Movement were also present.

Young supporters of Mohamed El Baradei hung up posters of this political reformer during the protest stand. ElBaradei, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency - turned salon reformer - failed to attend this street protest.

Egyptian protesters say new parliament is null & void

The Associated Press
Egypt protesters say new parliament is 'void'

(AP) – December 12, 2010

CAIRO (AP) — Hundreds of Egyptian opposition activists protested Sunday over what they said were bogus elections that had produced an illegitimate parliament, even as the president hailed the vote as a "milestone" for democracy.

The protest took place outside the Supreme Court in downtown Cairo shortly after President Hosni Mubarak congratulated the ruling party for its sweeping victory on live television.

The opposition, as well as international rights activists, have condemned the elections for widespread rigging and called for the results to be annulled. The country's two largest opposition groups pulled out after the first round.

Mubarak acknowledged there had been violence and vote-buying in the election which took place over two rounds on Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, but he described the results as lawful and told Egyptians to expect the new body to advance democracy.

But the protesters at the rally challenged the legitimacy of the parliament, which will holds its first session Monday.

"Mubarak's parliament is void," activists shouted. A number of opposition candidates that lost in the elections announced they would form a parallel parliament.

Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the country's oldest political party, the Wafd, pulled out before the second round of voting, citing widespread vote rigging.

It was an unusual move. The last time the opposition boycotted an election was 20 years ago in 1990, over Egypt's support for the U.S. in the first Gulf war.

"We can't take this anymore. It makes no sense to deal with a regime that doesn't want politics," said Mohammed Sherdi, a Wafd candidate who pulled out before the second round. "The public now must move."

The presence of the liberal Wafd at the demonstration was also unusual as the party has preferred to work with the government rather than actively oppose it.

"The opposition were all victims," said Diaa Rashwan, who ran for a seat in southern Egypt on a leftist party ticket.

But Mubarak said in his speech that the opposition had wasted their time and energy by boycotting the elections after initially participating.

He ascribed his party's success to good organization and preparations and urged the opposition to study the lessons learned.

"With its negative and positive (aspects) the election was a milestone," he said.

The 82-year-old Mubarak, who recently had gall bladder surgery, is believed to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, but there is widespread public opposition and he could yet run himself for another six year term in next year's presidential elections.

Following the elections, opposition leaders have said they will try to channel the widespread outrage over the rigging into a united anti-government front.

Leading Egyptian democracy advocate Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday that the divided opposition groups do not currently pose a serious enough challenge to Mubarak's ruling party, but the blatant vote rigging had made the people angry and deprived the regime of any legitimacy.

"These are people that don't want to change and that is not a good sign because a regime that is completely blocking all channels of peaceful change is a regime that is really risking bloodshed," he said.

ElBaradei said he is pushing to unify the country's opposition groups to build enough numbers for pro-reform protests. Protests in Egypt are generally only attended by a handful of activists and are easily controlled by massive numbers of riot police. Sunday's protest was no exception.

Respected worldwide and untouched by the corruption tainting much of Egypt's current regime, ElBaradei returned to Egypt in February after years abroad and was met by enthusiastic supporters who hoped he might run for president next year.

He has ruled out such a possibility unless there are sweeping constitutional reforms to make elections more fair and transparent.

Instead, he has been advocating change from the sidelines, while urging a boycott of all elections. He did not attend Sunday's protest, however, prompting criticism from those there.

"If he is calling for change, he should be the first in line, not just reap the results," said Sherif Abdel-Hamid, a 46-year old activist.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Media Muzzled for Egyptian Elections but Blogosphere Thrives

The Huffington Post
Media Muzzled for Egyptian Elections, but Blogosphere Thrives

December 7, 2010

Nadia Abu-Fadil

It started with a clampdown on domestic, private, "independent," opposition media and bloggers, and turned to harassment of foreign news organizations, under the pretext they disseminated falsehoods about Egypt's legislative elections.

The first round of parliamentary elections Nov. 28 that secured the ruling National Democratic Party's (NDP) clean sweep of seats, was a prelude to next year's presidential ballot.

So the media got a taste of what to expect in 2011, while the runoff Dec. 5 just nailed it shut.

The result: The NDP secured its grip on the upcoming presidential election by sidelining the candidacy of constitutionally independent candidates, and allowed aspirants from marginal opposition parties to run, thereby providing an appearance of "a democratic picture" with a semblance of diversity, Arab media reported.

"Will Mubarak run as in independent candidate?" columnist Maamoun Fendi asked sarcastically in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

Meanwhile, the BBC Arabic Service sent a protest letter to Egyptian Information Minister Anas El Fiki decrying harassment of its local and foreign correspondents assigned to cover the event.

It said filming for one of its programs in Egypt had been halted, that production companies working with the BBC in Egypt had been threatened by a senior official in the state-run media, and that a BBC correspondent had been put under surveillance by Egyptian security.

The letter also referred to strongly-worded criticism of the BBC by the NDP days before the elections and came in the wake of complaints about the potential for vote rigging, ballot box stuffing, bribes, and muzzling of opposition media -- all of which materialized, according to various reports.

The pan-Arab daily Al Hayat headlined with "NDP wins in Egypt... but new parliament loses local, international credibility."

It said the pre-election mood reflected a step backwards as the NDP slapped restrictions on the private media after being skewered by those outlets, prompting Egyptians to assert that these media had replaced political parties. It said:

The ruling party also went on the offensive by criticizing Egyptian talk shows and foreign media coverage of the elections for being biased. Additionally, the elections saw a marked change in the U.S. administration's policies under President Barack Obama, with observers noting that the Egyptian-American spring was about to end.

An op-ed in the same paper said: "While the leaked (Wikileaks) documents demonstrated how open the world is, the Egyptian elections announced how closed Egypt is."

Enterprising citizen journalists documented the vote rigging with their mobile devices and posted countless video clips on YouTube. In one instance, a man is seen marking ballots by hand.

Al Masry Al Youm newspaper published pictures of a man stuffing ballots into boxes to his left and right with both hands.

The elections coverage was extensive in Egyptian and Arab media. It was the lead story in various outlets and shared star billing with the latest WikiLeaks bombshell, but invariably, made most front pages and got ample air time on satellite channels.

Opposition papers and dissident websites focused on stories about the ruling party "stealing the election" and how the two main opposition parties -- the banned Moslem Brotherhood and Wafd -- had been creamed.

A common thread was how most media used the words "balataja" or "baltajia" to mean hoods and thugs threatening voters, candidates, delegates and monitors -- if any were allowed in the polling stations.

Wael Abbas, a dissident blogger, has been outspoken in his opposition to the regime and has been handsomely rewarded for his anti-government activities.

Journalist Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al Dustour, was fired for attacking the Mubarak government and had earlier been taken off a TV program in a bid to silence him in the run up to the election.

But he's still very present online, and anyone wanting to read his scathing criticism can do so on the paper's alternate website.

In an editorial, he lashed out at the election results, but stressed that what occurred should not come as a surprise.

"Only naïve people expect the vulture [the regime] to let go of the baby chicks [i.e. the Egyptian people]," he wrote.

Al-Dustour also ran a cartoon (center column, second from bottom) of a policeman bashing a TV set, a radio, a cell phone, as well as the Facebook and Twitter logos, representing media that broadcast or published news on election forgeries.

The government justified its actions by painting dissidents as enemies of the state whose aim was to undermine its security.

But Egyptians are becoming increasingly aware of means to circumvent restrictions and to access information from various sources.

Citizen journalists and social media users have definitely been filling a void and going to mirror sites whenever possible.

The impact may still be limited, in that not everyone is literate, much less computer literate, in the country of 80 million, and with the means and access to the Internet, but citizen media are making a dent.

Although blogger Kareem Amer was released after a four-year jail term, the message was clear: shut up, or else. He hasn't been deterred and has become even more vocal since his release by urging dissidents to keep at it.

The Egyptian blogosphere is still very noisy and in competition with an increasingly noisier Arab blogosphere, where the more governments try to clamp down, the more activists become enthusiastic about standing up to repression.

The government may have shut down religious channels, limited live political broadcasts and used licensing requirements to silence texting services, but this hasn't halted the political discourse and will likely fuel more dissent.

Cyberattacks in Retaliation for Pressure on WikiLeaks

The New York Times
Cyberattackers Focus on Assange Enemies

December 8, 2010

LONDON — A small army of activist hackers orchestrated a broad campaign of cyberattacks on Wednesday in support of the beleaguered antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks, which has drawn governmental criticism from around the globe for its release of classified American documents and whose founder, Julian Assange, is being held in Britain on accusations of sex offenses.

Targets included, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks;, which revoked server space from the group; the online payment service PayPal, which cut off its commercial cooperation, and the lawyer representing the two Swedish women who have accused Mr. Assange in the sex case. The hackers also accused Visa of stopping the processing of donations for Wikileaks, and was also affected.

By Wednesday afternoon, a counterattack had begun with Netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reporting that the Web site being used by the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch hosting firm, Leaseweb.

The hackers — a loosely affiliated group who call themselves Anonymous — continued to give instructions for the denial of service attacks via a Twitter account until it was suspended later in the afternoon.

Anonymous had vowed to take revenge on any organization that lined up against WikiLeaks. The group claimed responsibility for at least the Mastercard attack, and, according to one activist associated with the group, was conducting multiple other attacks.

That activist, Gregg Housh, said in a telephone interview that 1,500 people were on online forums and chatrooms including, mounting mass and repeated “denial of service” attacks on sites that have moved against Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks in recent days.

The hacker army has rallied around the theory that all the actions against the organization and against Mr. Assange, including the rape accusations, are politically motivated efforts to silence those challenging authority.

“To all of us,” Mr. Housh said, “there is no distinction. He is a political prisoner and the two things are completely entwined.”

In an online chatroom at, activists who announced their nationalities from around the world — “hello from Sierra Leone” — “hi from Austria” — talked openly of the attacks and said they would need 5,000 people to effectively paralyze PayPal. Many also plotted a rumor campaign to further destabilize Mastercard — suggesting that others spread stories that credit card numbers were not safe.

Mr. Housh said there had been talk among the hackers of a campaign against Mr. Assange’s Swedish accusers, but that it remained “a touchy subject, so a lot of people don’t want to be involved.”

The women were named on Web sites supportive of Mr. Assange just a few days after their allegations surfaced in late August. But a Web search shows new blog posts in recent days that name the women and try to discredit them. It was not clear whether there was any link to Anonymous, or to a concerted campaign of any kind. Swedish law precludes the naming of the women, and the authorities have referred to them so far only as Ms. A and Ms. W.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mastercard confirmed that the company’s Web site was brought down as a result of “a concentrated effort to flood our corporate Web site with traffic and slow access,” but said that card transactions were not compromised. The company, he said, was making concerted efforts to get its site back up, and security teams were working to prevent further outages. The initial decision to deny service to WikiLeaks, he said, was “Mastercard’s alone,” and was not made under government pressure.

Visa issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon saying that its Web site was “experiencing heavier than normal traffic” though it did not say why. The company said that it was “taking steps to restore the site to full operations within the next few hours" and that its payment processing network, which handles cardholder transactions, was functioning normally.

A PayPal representative confirmed a series of attacks, but said that while the Website had been slowed, it remained “fully operational.”

PostFinance, the Swiss postal system’s financial arm, which closed Mr. Assange’s account after saying he provided false information by saying that he resided in Switzerland, was also under attack Wednesday. Marc Andrey, a spokesman for PostFinance, said that the company had been under serious assault, “an overload organized by friends of WikiLeaks we think,” since Monday evening. The attack blocked the Web site for several hours, and it remains unstable, he said. The company has taken active security measures and is bracing itself for another battle.

Mr. Housh, who has worked on previous campaigns with Anonymous but disavows any illegal activity himself, said it was the first time the group had enough firepower to bring down well-secured blue chip companies like Mastercard. “No tactics have changed this time,” he said, “but there is so much support and there are so many people doing it that sites like that are going down.”

The Anonymous group, which gained notoriety for their cyberattacks on targets as diverse as the Church of Scientology and the rock musician Gene Simmons, released two manifestos over the weekend vowing revenge on those who moved against WikiLeaks after the organization’s recent release of classified diplomatic documents from a cache of 250,000 it had obtained.

“We fight for the same reasons,” said one. “We want transparency and we counter censorship.”

Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was jailed in Britain on Tuesday after being denied bail in a London court hearing on a warrant for his extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sexual offenses. His accusers have said that consensual encounters became nonconsensual when condoms were no longer in use; in the Tuesday hearing, the court heard the allegation that Mr. Assange had unprotected sex with one of the women as she was sleeping.

On the courthouse steps, his lawyer, Mark Stephens, told reporters that support shown for Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks so far was “the tip of the iceberg.”

In words that now seem prophetic, he added that the battle for WikiLeaks and its founder’s future was “going to go viral.”

Some Internet experts drew a distinction between cyberattacks and what they call “hacktivism,” saying the Anonymous moves were more aptly described as the latter. “These are not attacks by national states or criminals,” Marc Rotenberg, director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, wrote in an e-mail. “They are launched by political protesters who are seeking to disrupt business activity much like those who have engaged in boycotts and other forms of political protest have done in the past. So far, the protests appear peaceful, with the aim to be disruption of activity rather than actual destruction of property.”

Twitter, which was threatened with attack by the 4chan Web site for blocking discussions of WikiLeaks, issued a statement early in the day saying that it had not censored any of the terms related to the controversy.

“Twitter is not censoring #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related terms from the Trends list of trending topics,” the company said in a statement. “Our Trends list is designed to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The list is generated by an algorithm that identifies topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously.”

The company noted that a number of factors may come into play in determining which terms are identified by the Trends list.

Online activists fighting to keep WikiLeaks alive

Online activists fighting to keep WikiLeaks alive

December 6, 2010

Lance Whitney

Though it's in hot water with the U.S. government, WikiLeaks is being supported by online activists fighting to keep the site alive.

WikiLeaks is being propped up by a barrage of mirror sites created by activists following moves by Amazon to stop hosting its site and Domain Name System provider to cut off its DNS services, according to The New York Times. Such mirrors can replicate an entire Web site, ensuring that all content and documents remain online and accessible even if WikiLeaks' own site is taken down.

But some of WikiLeaks supporters are adopting a more hostile tone. On Saturday PayPal restricted access to WikiLeaks' account to prevent fund raisers from donating money to help the site. In return, the PayPal blog page that announced the decision to shut off WikiLeaks' account was taken offline for around eight hours last night by a distributed denial- of-service (DDoS) attack.

Experts at Panda Labs pointed to a statement from the "hacktivist" group Anonymous, which said that the PayPal blog would be the target of its first DDoS counterattack on behalf of WikiLeaks. Panda also cited comments from a Twitter account named AnonyWatcher, which released several statements related to the attack.

The offensive against PayPal could be a sign of bigger things yet to come. A poster on a file upload site has issued a rallying cry for further action on Anonymous' DDoS campaigns.

Twitter has also come under criticism from some who believe the microblogging site may be censoring trends devoted to WikiLeaks. Twitter trends reveal the most popular topics being tweeted. But Web site blogs such as OSNews, OSDir, Safety First, and have reported findings that terms such as #wikileaks and #Assange have not been trending nearly as heavily as they should given the amount of news and discussions surrounding WikiLeaks.

In response to such criticism, someone identifying himself as Twitter engineer Josh Elman e-mailed Angus Johnston of the site to defend his company saying that "Twitter hasn't modified trends in any way to help or prevent WikiLeaks from trending."

Trying to explain the absence of WikiLeaks in the top trends, Elman said that topics related to WikiLeaks are showing up in the company's trends dashboard, but aren't hitting the top ten. "While I personally feel this is a very important topic, that doesn't mean it's as widespread across the Twitter user base," Elman told Johnston by e-mail.

WikiLeaks, which has been in trouble with the U.S. government before, has come under intense fire lately over its release of classified and in some cases embarrassing U.S. State Department documents. While activists have been spurred to fight for the site, government officials have been up in arms, with several calling for WikiLeaks to be classified as a terrorist group.

And what of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange? The U.S. government is demanding his head on a platter over the leaks of sensitive information, while Sweden still wants him on charges of sex crimes. But he may yet find refuge in his own country of Australia. The country's attorney general Robert McClelland said today that Assange would be allowed back in Australia and would be accorded the same protections given to any other citizen, according to CNN.

In making the offer public, McClelland was responding to comments from Assange last week that Australia would not only prevent him from returning home, but that the nation was working with the U.S. government to attack WikiLeaks.

Shark Experts Fly to Egypt After Killing of Tourist
Shark Experts Fly to Egypt After Killing of Tourist
December 06, 2010

By Alaa Shahine and Abdel Latif Wahba

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Egyptian authorities called in an international team of marine biologists after a shark killed a German tourist yesterday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El- Sheikh, the Tourism Ministry said.

The killing was the fourth shark attack in the resort within a week and the only fatality. Authorities closed beaches for a second time and banned tourists from swimming and snorkeling.

“We are concerned,” Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Omayma El-Husseini said by telephone in Cairo. “Any incident that threatens the safety of tourists is a cause for concern and the proof is that beaches have been closed.”

Eighty percent of tourists who visit Egypt spend time on the eastern coastline seeking sun, sand and diving, El-Husseini said. Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs in the country. In 2011, Egypt aims to attract more than 16 million tourists, generating more than $14 billion in revenue, Garranah said, Minister Zoheir Garranah said in an interview in October.

Egypt invited four international shark experts to “assess and advise on the best course of action” after the attacks, Egypt’s Chamber of Diving and Water Sports, a body set up by the Tourism Ministry, said in an e-mailed statement today.


The biologists traveling to Egypt include George H. Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History; Marie Levine, head of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey; and Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee of Chatsworth, California, the diving chamber said. A fourth, Erich Ritter, a shark behavioral expert, is advising from his research centre in the U.S.

A Swedish research vessel is “surveying the topography of the ocean around Sharm El Sheikh in order to supply data to shark experts to assist their work,” the organization said.

The 70-year-old German woman was mauled by a shark while she was swimming yesterday north of Namaa Bay. The killing comes after a shark attacked and seriously injured two snorkelers on Nov. 30 off Sharm El-Sheikh. A third swimmer was attacked the following day.

The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, a non-governmental organization, said pictures of a oceanic whitetip shark and a mako shark that authorities killed after the first attacks did not match photographs of a larger whitetip taken by the snorkelers before they were attacked. “It is clear that they don’t show the same individual,” it said in a statement posted on its website Dec. 3, a day before authorities reopened beaches in the area.


A study of oceanic whitetips in the Egyptian part of the Red Sea showed that only 11 sharks approaching the size of the whitetip believed responsible for the attack on the snorkelers last week had been “documented” during the past six years, the environmental group said by e-mail. Whitetips are pelagic sharks that typically stay in deeper water, according to the Shark Research Institute.

“These observations support the idea that the string of attacks is the result of a single individual behaving in a highly atypical way,” it said.

Most areas in Sharm El Sheikh will be open for experienced divers with at least 50 logged dives, the diving chamber said in its statement.

The government doesn’t expect the ban on swimming and snorkeling to last more than three days, South Sinai Govenor Abdel-Fadeel Shousha said today in a live interview with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television.

Shark hunt on after woman killed off Egypt's coast

Shark hunt on after woman killed off Egypt's coast

December 5, 2010

By CNN wire staff

(CNN) -- A German woman died Sunday after being attacked by a shark in waters off Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in an area where three snorkelers were injured and two sharks were caught last week, officials said.

Egypt's tourism ministry has decided to close the Sharm el-Sheikh beach until the shark responsible for Sunday's attack is found, according to the nation's Interior Ministry.

Jochen Van Lysebettens, general operations manager of the Red Sea Diving College in Sharm el-Sheikh, said employees at the Hyatt Regency resort told him the attack happened about noon (5 a.m. ET) in a protected swim area off the resort. Van Lysebettens has three dive-instruction operations in the area, including one at the Hyatt Regency.

The 70-year-old woman, a regular guest at the resort, was snorkeling near a reef when she was attacked, he said. She called for help, and a lifeguard brought her to shore, but she had lost too much blood and resuscitation efforts failed, Van Lysebettens said. The woman's arm and leg were severed, he said.

After the Sunday incident, the Chamber of Diving and Watersports called on its members in the region "to stop any snorkeling activities happening from any boats or shore." The chamber is under the umbrella of the Egyptian Tourist Federation.

Van Lysebettens said all tourists were ordered to stay out of the water at least through Monday. The dive community is organizing volunteer expeditions to find the shark, he said, and about 40 people will search Monday.

On Friday, two sharks were caught and killed near the South Sinai National Park on the Sharm el-Sheikh coast, according to the Chamber of Diving and Watersports.

The chamber said that as of Friday, the condition of three injured snorkelers -- two Russian women and a man from the Ukraine -- were unchanged. One of them was critical, the chamber said in a statement, but did not say which one. The three were attacked in a 24-hour period November 30 and December 1, the chamber said.

Van Lysebettens said he is not a marine biologist, but many have speculated an oceanic white-tipped shark was responsible for the German woman's death, as well as the other attacks. Divers are upset because the two sharks killed Friday are thought to be innocent. They were a mako shark and another oceanic white-tipped shark -- which did not match pictures taken by someone accompanying one of the injured snorkelers, he said.

Officials at the national park did not provide details on "why the animals could not be relocated to remote waters as was previously suggested," the chamber's statement said, adding it "does not wish to see any harm to any further sharks."

Exploratory dives were taking place on Friday, Van Lysebettens said.

Officials are not sure what triggered the feeding behavior, described as highly unusual.

"This incident has clearly shocked our community, and the CDWS is continuing its investigation into why this may have happened," Hesham Gabr, head of the Chamber of Diving and Watersports, said in the statement. "It is clear from our initial discussions with shark behavioral experts that this highly unusual spate of attacks by an oceanic white tip shark was triggered by an activity, most probably illegal fishing or feeding in the area."

Several divers in the area saw carcasses of dead sheep in the water last week, Van Lysebettens said. It's not known how they got there, he said, but they could have washed out to sea or fallen off a boat. The shark may have been attracted by the carcass, he said, and could now be attacking slow-moving things on the water's surface.

*CNN's Brian Walker and Karen Smith contributed to this report.

Monitors urge Egypt's election results be annulled

The Associated Press
Monitors urge Egypt's election results be annulled

December 6, 2010

CAIRO (AP) — A coalition of Egyptian rights groups on Monday urged President Hosni Mubarak to nullify the results of the country's parliamentary election because of widespread vote rigging.

Egypt's ruling party is expected to almost completely sweep parliament after the second round of voting, held Sunday. The two top opposition movements boycotted the run-off because of fraud allegations in the first round. Full results are expected Tuesday.

In a statement the Independent Coalition for Elections' Observation said President Hosni Mubarak should use his constitutional powers to dissolve the newly elected parliament.

"Transparency standards were overlooked at the largest scale. Rigging and forging the citizens' will have become the law regulating this election," the groups said.

They also demanded an amendment to Egypt's election law to allow ensure "minimum standards of transparency and fairness" in elections.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on Monday described the election as "the best in Egypt's election history." He promised his government will investigate fraud allegations, but election officials say the few reports of violations have been dealt with and had no effect on the results.

The two rounds of voting are for 508 parliament seats. In the first round, the ruling National Democratic Pary swept up almost all the 221 seats that were determined. Mubarak appoints 10 additional lawmakers to the 518-seat body.

The first round of the vote, Nov. 28 and the runoff Sunday were marred by reports of armed clashes in the north and south, along with reports of vote buying and ballot box stuffing in many areas.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement, held a fifth of the outgoing parliament, but didn't win a single seat in the first round. Twenty-seven of its candidates had been slated to contest the runoffs, until the Brotherhood and another key opposition group, the liberal Wafd party, announced they would boycott.

As a result, most of the contests Sunday pitted rival candidates from Mubarak's National Democratic Party against each other, ensuring a parliament almost entirely made up of the ruling party, with a few seats going to independents and smaller parties.

Many Egyptians argue that the outcome will hurt the government's legitimacy as the country heads into a crucial presidential election next year.

The 82-year-old Mubarak has had health concerns, undergoing gall bladder surgery earlier this year. He is believed to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him. But there is widespread public opposition to the "inheritance" of power, and Mubarak could still decide to run again in next year's election.

After the first round, the Obama administration said it was disappointed by widespread reports of irregularities that cast doubt on the credibility of the polls in the strong U.S. ally. Cairo rejected the criticism of its handling of elections as unacceptable interference in the country's affairs and refused to allow foreign observers to monitor the poll.

Gunfire, Violence on Egypt's Election Day

The Daily News Egypt
Gunfire, Violence on Egypt's Election Day

December 05, 2010

Egypt holds parliament runoffs amid fraud claims

The Associated Press
Egypt holds parliament runoffs amid fraud claims

December 5, 2010

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt held runoff parliamentary elections Sunday that are certain to hand President Hosni Mubarak's ruling party a crushing victory after the two main opposition groups decided to boycott in protest of alleged fraud in the first round.

The vote, which will decide the fate of 50 percent of parliament's 508 elected seats, was marred by reports of armed clashes in the north and south and allegations of widespread vote buying in many constituencies in Cairo.

With a large-scale crackdown ahead of the vote that included arrest sweeps, Egypt's ruling establishment appeared determined to purge the largest opposition group, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, from the next legislature. The aim seems to be to ensure the Brotherhood cannot use parliament as a platform for dissent amid uncertainty over the country's future and in the lead-up to next year's more crucial presidential elections.

Both the Brotherhood and the other key opposition group, the liberal Wafd party, boycotted Sunday's runoffs. As a result, most of the contests pitted rival candidates from Mubarak's National Democratic Party against each other, ensuring a parliament almost entirely made up of the ruling party, with a few seats going to independents and smaller parties.

"NDP versus NDP," said the headline in the Wafd party's newspaper.

Such an outcome could backfire for Egypt's regime, eliminating any outward appearance of a fair vote and depriving them of any democratic legitimacy.

Election Commission spokesman Sameh el-Kashef said final results will be released Tuesday.

After the first round, the Obama administration said it was disappointed by widespread reports of irregularities that cast doubt on the credibility of the polls in the strong U.S. ally.

With apparently so little at stake, only a small trickle of voters seen going into several polling stations in Cairo, a city of some 18 million people.

"People preferred to stay away, even though some candidates are offering 200 pounds (about $34) per vote," said Salah Ibrahim, a representative of one of the contenders, referring to plainly evident vote buying.

He spoke from a polling station that saw so few voters some election workers were napping on benches.

At a polling station in Cairo's Matariya district, 21-year-old Mohammed Ashraf was collecting IDs for around 15 young men for a list of voters who received money in return for casting ballots.

"All these youth you see are going to get money but no one knows yet how much," he said.

The Independent Coalition for Monitoring Elections, which is made up of several Egyptian non-governmental organizations, said that voters were being paid "from 20 pounds to 150 pounds," or roughly from $3.50 to $26, for their ballots.

Outside the capital, Interior Ministry spokesman Tarek Attiya said that supporters of rival candidates exchanged gunfire in separate incidents in Qena province in the south and Behria province in the northern Nile Delta. Attiya said police detained around 50 supporters of one candidate for allegedly rioting in the southern province of Sohag. There were no reports of casualties.

The Brotherhood, the country's best organized opposition group, controlled a fifth of the outgoing parliament but failed to win a single seat in the Nov. 28 first round. Twenty-seven of its candidates had been slated to contest the runoffs.

The Brotherhood promotes the creation of a more Islamic society and talks of fighting corruption and heavy bureaucracy.

The small Wafd party won two seats last week, and the decision to boycott Sunday's balloting led to divisions within the party. The party warned its eight candidates eligible to contest runoffs that they would be expelled if they win seats. At least one refused to back down.

The country's election commission estimated turnout for last week's vote at 35 percent, but rights groups put the figure at no more than 15 percent.

Around midday on Sunday, the election commission described turnout as low but did not give a precise figure.

There are questions over the future of the country's leadership after the 82-year-old Mubarak underwent surgery earlier this year to remove his gallbladder.

Mubarak is believed to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him. But there is widespread public opposition to the "inheritance" of power, and Mubarak could still decide to run again in next year's election.

The Brotherhood, which is banned but runs candidates as independents, came under a heavy crackdown before the vote and about 1,400 of its activists were arrested during the campaign.

*Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Maggie Hyde contributed to this report.D

Government’s response to shark attack is wrong, say experts

Al-Ahram Online
Government’s response to shark attack is wrong, say experts

Saturday 4 Dec 2010

Hossam el-Hamalawy

As the government scrambles to end shark attacks on tourists, experts call for the killing of sharks to stop and for snorkeling to be regulated instead.

Three foreign snorkelers were attacked on 30 November and 1 December, suffering serious injuries. The attacks were blamed on, first, one Oceanic White Tip shark, and then on another two. The ministries of environment and tourism responded by shutting down diving sites in Sharm El-Sheikh, except for Ras Muhammad, and launched a wide shark hunt.

The National Park Authorities announced triumphantly they captured and killed two sharks on 2 December. However, the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) questioned whether the sharks responsible for the attacks had been found. "Two individual sharks were caught on 2 December, one Mako shark and one Oceanic White Tip shark,” according to a HEPCA statement. “Comparing the photographs of the Oceanic White Tip shark responsible for the second attack with the images of the captured Oceanic White Tip shark, it is clear that they don't show the same [shark].”

“The government has created an unjustified media scare,” said Dr Mahmoud Hanafy, a professor of marine biology at the Suez Canal University. “They adopted the wrong approach by shutting down the diving sites. It’s nonsense that they shut down a diving site like Ras Nosrani, and allow it in Ras Muhammad. A shark swims hundreds of kilometres a day. Today it can be in Ras Nosrani, tomorrow in Tiran, and after somewhere else. What’s the point of shutting down a site then?”

Frustrated, with his voice thundering over the phone, Dr Hanafy continued: “Every year there are recorded eight million dives. If you get two or three incidents out of them, that’s nothing. When you get a road accident, do you shut down traffic in the country?”

Shark attacks are rare in the Red Sea. The last recorded attack was in 2009, south of Hamata, involving a French tourist. The incident was investigated by local authorities. Diving centers in the area were accused of shark feeding. It’s not clear if any legal action was taken.

“The practice of shark feeding must stop in the Red Sea,” said Dr Hanafy. “It disrupts the marine ecology and associates man with food in the minds of the sharks.”

The Chamber of Diving and Watersports has also issued a statement demanding authorities stop killing sharks, calling instead for measures to be taken to regulate snorkeling.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment contacted by Ahram Online either were not available for comment or gave conflicting accounts. One source at the ministry said the first shark hunted was to be mummified and exhibited in a museum, while the second one was “to be released into its natural habitat.” It’s unclear how it would released, as both sharks were killed.

“Sharks do not attack divers,” explained a diving instructor who did not want to be named. “They only attack snorkelers, mistaking them for food in sites where shark feeding takes place. The snorkelers’ inexperienced and erratic behavior also agitates the sharks. If the government kills those sharks, our environment and business are ruined.”

“We don’t have many sharks in the Red Sea left,” said Dr Hanafy. “They are a national treasure that has to be protected, not slaughtered.”

*(AP Photo/Hussien Talal)