Sunday, October 31, 2010

Egypt: Police kill Sudanese migrant at Israel border

Agence France-Presse
Egypt police shoot dead Sudanese migrant at Israel border

October 30, 2010

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian border guards shot dead a Sudanese migrant who was trying to slip across the frontier into Israel on Saturday, a security official said.

The official said the 28-year-old was shot in the head after the guards traded fire with smugglers who accompanied several migrants early in the morning.

Two Sudanese migrants in the group were arrested and the others fled with the smugglers.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch this month urged Egypt to stop shooting migrants, saying its security forces have killed at least 85 migrants trying to cross into Israel since 2007.

Egypt, which holds the rotating chair of the United Nations refugee agency's governing body, says its police fire warning shots in the air.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Egypt sets new minimum wage at ONLY US$ 70 per month

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Monthly minimum wage raised to LE400; 'Not enough' say labor leaders

Thu, 28/10/2010

The government-run National Council for Wages on Thursday announced its decision to raise the national minimum wage from LE112 per month to LE400.

But while the decision was approved by council representatives of the government and business organizations, labor representatives expressed dissatisfaction.

"Government and business organization representatives supported the decision in spite of our opposition to it," said labor representative Abdel Rahman Kheir.

"At the meeting, the Minister of Economic Development refused all proposals made by council labor representatives," Kheir added. "He refused our proposal to raise the minimum wage to LE500 instead of LE400 for holders of lower-intermediate educational degrees; to LE750 for intermediate certificate holders; and to LE1000 for holders of advanced degrees."

"The decision came as a shock," said labor leader Nagi Rashad. " It is very unsatisfactory to Egypt's workers."

Rashad, who filed an initial lawsuit against the government earlier this year in demand of a higher minimum wage, added that he planned to file a second lawsuit against the government in hopes of seeing the minimum wage raised to no less than LE1500 per month.

Several Egyptian labor organizations have reportedly decided to stage demonstrations in coming days to condemn the council's decision.

Well-informed sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the council had already arrived at its decision before Thursday's meeting was convened.

*Translated from the Arabic Edition.
*Photograph by Jano Charbel

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Egypt: Court upholds ruling on new minimum wage

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Court upholds ruling on new minimum wage; workers skeptical about implementation

October 26, 2010

Jano Charbel

Egypt’s Administrative Court issued a verdict on Tuesday upholding a previous ruling in March that obliged the government to set a new minimum wage in light of rising living expenses. The courts, however, lack the jurisdiction to determine what the new minimum wage should be.

Nevertheless, Lawyer Khaled Ali, director of the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights--who filed the two cases on behalf of Nagy Rashad, a worker from the South Cairo Grain Mill--was not optimistic.

“I doubt that government will actually implement this decision. If they wanted to implement this verdict, they would have done so following the March verdict,” Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “In fact, the government is now working on filing an appeal against the verdict before a higher court. It is clearly displeased with today’s verdict.”

When exactly the appeal will be filed, however, remains uncertain.

In light of Tuesday’s court ruling, the state-appointed National Council for Wages (NCW) is due to convene this Thursday to discuss the verdict, along with other issues pertaining to the national minimum wage.

Workers, labor lawyers and activists have long called on the government to set the minimum monthly wage at LE1200 (roughly US$220).

The NCW, which has only convened a handful of times since its establishment in 2003, is mandated with ensuring that salaries and wages are kept in line with costs of living. The NCW claims that since 2008 the minimum wage has been set at LE355 (roughly US$65) per month.

In a related development, over 1000 employees of state-run Information Decision Support Centers (IDSCs), which are affiliated with the Ministry of Local Development, staged a protest outside Egypt's Council of Ministers on Tuesday, where they demanded increases to their meager monthly wages. Center employees earn between LE99 and LE149 (about US$18 and US$27) per month depending on their educational qualifications and years of service.

Some 32,000 employees work for IDSCs nationwide. They have recently staged a total of eight protests in downtown Cairo, at which they demanded wage increases. In April, they staged sleep-ins outside of parliament for 28 consecutive days. In May, they received pledges from the ministries of local development, administrative development, and finance to the effect that their wages would be raised to between LE320 and LE380 (approximately US$58 and US$69.) The Finance Ministry is said to have promised to allocate LE150 million to cover the requested pay raises. Yet the promise has yet to come to fruition.

Hundreds of demonstrating IDSC employees refused to leave the protest site until they had received an official pledge--in writing--to the effect that their wages would be raised, as had been promised in May. They initially vowed to stage another sleep-in outside the Council of Ministers until their demands were met. But they were assaulted by police as they attempted to block the adjacent Qasr al-Aini Street in protest. At least two employees were reportedly injured in the melee.

Commenting on the Administrative Court’s verdict, Mohamed Youssef, an IDSC employee from the Beheira Governorate, asked:“Since when does the government implement verdicts or laws for the protection of the simple folk?” Echoing Ali's sentiments, he added, “I highly doubt the authorities will enforce this verdict for the establishment of a new minimum wage.”

Attiya Mohamed, another IDSC employee from Beheira, said: “We were supposed to receive pay raises in July or August. But in September, we found that we were being paid the same wages as before. In protest, many of us decided not to accept our paychecks.” He added: “As a result, we haven't received payment for the past two months and are unable to feed ourselves--let alone our children.”

Minister of Economic Development Othman Mohamed Othman, who also presides over the NCW, announced on Saturday that the government aimed to raise the average annual income per capita to US$15,000 (roughly LE82,500) by 2017. Othman went on to claim that average annual incomes would be increased five-fold over the next seven years from its present rate of US$3000 (roughly LE16,500), although few Egyptian workers, peasants or employees currently earn such lofty incomes.

Ali described Othman’s claims are “unrealistic, irresponsible and unrepresentative of the general Egyptian populace.”

*Photograph by Mohamed Hossam Eddin

Egypt: Court orders police off campuses

Agence France-Presse
Court orders police off Egypt campuses

(AFP) – 23 October, 2010

CAIRO — An Egyptian court issued a final ruling on Saturday against the permanent presence of police on university campuses, saying they restricted academic independence.

The administrative court upheld a lower court's ruling against the interior ministry units, which was appealed by the prime minister and the interior minister.

A judicial source said judge Mohammed Abdel Ghani found that "the permanent presence of interior ministry police units in the midst of campus security reduced the independence of universities guaranteed by the constitution."

It ruled that security duties on campus should be the responsibility of the education ministry.

The lower court had issued its decision after a group of professors demanded in 2008 that the interior ministry withdraw its units from campuses, accusing them of intervening in academic and student affairs.

Egypt has been under a continuous state of emergency since Islamist militants assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981, giving the interior ministry broad powers of arrest and detention.

The government said earlier this year it would restrict the emergency law to terrorism and narcotics cases.


Egypt court bars police from campus

23 Oct 2010

Verdict ending police presence in universities is hailed, but government may use emergency powers to circumvent it.

Egypt's supreme court has ordered the government to ban police officers from university campuses.

Saturday's ruling came after the high court rejected a government appeal against an earlier ruling which declared the permanent presence of police inside Egyptian universities as "unconstitutional".

The case was brought against the government two years ago by a group of professors, campaigning for the independence of academic institutions.

They are also part of a broad coalition of activists who are opposed to the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, who has been in power for more than 30 years.


The court ruling is final, but the government may still use emergency powers, as it has done in the past, to circumvent the law.

Both students and professors complain of intense and continuous interference by police officers in all aspects of university life, including academic affairs.

Rights groups have long criticised the presence of police on campuses, saying its sole purpose was to prevent students from engaging in politics.

The Daily News Egypt newspaper has reported that individuals competing in the recently-held student union elections were "vetted" by security groups.

Police officers controlled access to the campus and could deny entry to visitors and the media.

Layla Soueif, a professor at Cairo University, told Al Jazeera the ruling is "definitely a positive development".

"The ruling brings an end to repression and abuse," she said.

The presence of police at universities is often used to suppress political protests organised by students affiliated to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood and other leftist groups.

"The university guards are very disliked - and they have a history of beating up students during protests. And because this case has been an ongoing one, a lot of students and faculty across the country are happy its finally out," Soueif said.

*Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Dictator Mubarak Here to Stay?

BBC News
Egypt signals President Mubarak here to stay

23 October, 2010

Jon Leyne
BBC News, Cairo

There has been the strongest official indication to date that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt will run for re-election next year, despite concerns about his health.

Hosni Mubarak is aged 82 and travelled to Germany for gall bladder surgery earlier this year, leading to much speculation over whether his son, Gamal, might be in the process of being groomed to succeed him.

But in an interview with the American Arab channel Alhurra, the head of media for the ruling party, Ali Eldin Hilal, said: "The candidate of the National Democratic Party will be President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak... This is the will of the leadership of the party."

Mr Hilal explained that the nomination would only be formally adopted a month or two before the election, which is expected in the autumn of 2011.

Nevertheless such a clear statement from such a senior official will almost certainly have been endorsed by the president himself.

It suggests that Mr Mubarak both wants to continue in office, and believes he will be well enough to do so, even though he would be aged 83 at the time of the election and 89 by the end of the next six-year term in office.

Daily pictures of him travelling, carrying out official duties and meeting foreign dignitaries are part of a campaign to underline that he is still fit and well.

Making the announcement through an American TV interview sends the signal directly to Washington as well.

The news will come as little surprise to most Egyptians.

Mr Mubarak once pledged to continue serving Egypt while he had breath in his body.

But the timing so long before the presidential contest is a bit more unexpected.

It seems to be aimed at calming nerves before parliamentary elections scheduled for 28 November.

A recent round of arrests of opposition activists, and the tightening of media controls, suggests the government is particularly nervous about the parliamentary vote.

There is concern over the economic situation, which has seen a big rise in food prices.

Those in power may also believe that speculation over Gamal Mubarak being groomed for power may be putting off voters from supporting the ruling National Democratic Party.

Hence, the logic goes, the need to reaffirm Hosni Mubarak's position.

This will certainly be seen as a big blow to Gamal Mubarak's presidential ambitions, and a further sign that he does not enjoy his father's unequivocal support.

Various unofficial petitions began springing up over the summer calling on Gamal to stand for president.

Those close to Gamal denied he was providing any support to the campaigns, but some commentators believed otherwise and Gamal issued no call for the campaigns to cease.

In fairly withering comments, Ali Eldin Hilal criticised those organising the petitions for Gamal as being motivated, either to try to get seats in parliament, to make money, or to achieve other personal goals.

Mr Hilal is known to belong to a faction in the ruling party known as the "old guard" who have their differences with the reformists gathered around Gamal Mubarak.

"We are certain that President Mubarak will be the president as long as he lives," said the leader of one opposition faction, Omar al-Ghazali.

"Whoever has bet on Mubarak junior is mistaken and does not know the nature of the political system in Egypt."

But another commentator, Imad Gad, of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, was more sceptical.

"They are having us on," he said. "They just don't want to open up the presidential campaign before the legislative elections next month."

Nevertheless, with this official announcement from a close political ally, President Mubarak has boxed himself in.

Barring a big deterioration in his health, it will be difficult for him to change course.

After three decades in power, he wants to go on.

Viva Palestina convoy reaches Gaza

Viva Palestina convoy reaches Gaza

Oct. 21, 2010

Pro-Palestinian activists in more than 100 cars and lorries have crossed into the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip through Egypt's Rafah crossing with aid worth nearly $5m.

The multinational "Viva Palestina" ship arrived at Egypt's port city of al-Arish from Lattakia, Syria, earlier on Thursday. About 300 activists then flew into al-Arish airport and converged with the ship's passengers before entering Gaza.

The activists had initially joined up in Syria from Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and more than two dozen other countries.

The convoy was organised by George Galloway a British politician. However, Galloway was not with the convoy after being banned from Egypt following clashes between activists from a previous aid mission and police in January in El-Arish, 45km from Gaza.

Zaher Berawi, the spokesman for the convoy, criticised Cairo's insistence on "excluding convoy official George Galloway," and said he hoped the issue of the former parliamentarian's banning could be resolved in the future.


Viva Palestina originally departed from London on September 18 and arrived in Syria two weeks later.

The activists then waited for over two weeks in Lattakia for permission from the Egyptian authorities for the shipment, which includes medical supplies and school equipment, to be allowed to enter al-Arish port.

Hamas officials and hundreds of Gazans welcomed the convoy, waving Palestinian flags and also those of countries participating in the mission.

The aid does not include any building materials, which the Egyptian authorities did not allow, as part of the agreement permitting the activists to enter Gaza for three days.

Israel has kept Gaza under a blockade since 2007, saying it is a necessary step to stop arms reaching the Hamas group running the strip.

Flotilla survivors

Several dozen survivors from the Israeli attack on May 31 on the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara were among those in the "Viva Palestina" convoy.

Israeli commandos killed nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists when they boarded the Mavi Marmara, the main vessel in a 'Freedom Flotilla' also attempting to deliver aid to Gaza.

Israel's leaders said their troops opened fire in self-defence after being set upon by activists.

However, a UN inquiry last month found that Israeli troops broke international law by boarding the flotilla and found that the killings of activists on-board were comparable to "summary executions".

After an international outcry over the Mavi Marmara raid, Israel relaxed its embargo but construction materials remain restricted.

Gazans have limited freedom of movement and Israel still enforces its naval blockade.

*Source: Agencies

Viva Palestina 5 arrives in Egypt after lengthy delay

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Viva Palestina 5 arrives in Arish after lengthy delay

Wednesday, October 20

Jano Charbel

Arish--The first of two passenger airplanes--part of the fifth and largest Viva Palestina convoy--arrived in Egypt Wednesday evening on its final stop before heading on to the Gaza Strip. The arrival in Arish port city follows an 18-day clearance delay in Latakia, Syria.

The second passenger airplane is scheduled to land at Al-Arish on Thursday. Each aircraft carries 155 delegates and activists from around the world. An aid ship with a cargo of 30 delegates and several tons of humanitarian aid is also set to dock at the Egyptian port city Thursday.

Viva Palestina describes itself as "A Lifeline to Gaza."

The convoy hopes to unload and transport its aid cargo to Gaza on Thursday. Egypt previously denied entrance to 18 members of the convoy, including former British MP George Galloway.

Following lengthy negotiations, Egyptian authorities agreed to grant the Viva Palestina activists access into the Gaza Strip for three days. From Colorado, independent activist Guy Benintendi, one of three Americans partaking in the convoy, said "we are pawns in the hands of the Egyptian government." He blamed the 18-day delay on "diplomatic and bureaucratic obstacles." Israel and other states may be behind this delay, he added.

One of the convoy's chief organizers, the Palestinian-English Zaher al-Berawi, said Viva Palestina, international institutions, the Egyptian government, the Egyptian people, and all the free people of the world, hope and strive to end the siege on Gaza. He praised "the Egyptian government's efforts, and its coordination with us to make this dream a reality."

The convoy includes 140 vehicles and a total of 340 delegates from 30 countries, according to al-Berawi. He added that over 80 percent of the aid is in the form of medical supplies, 10 percent in educational material and school supplies, and another 10 percent are emergency and relief equipment. The supplies are valued at US$5 million.

"The aid does not include any building materials [concrete, reinforced steel, pipes, etc.] as it was not allowed according to the agreements we had concluded with the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus," al-Berawi told Al-Masry Al-Youm. Jordanian associations and trade unions intended to deliver construction materials as part of the convoy but were not permitted to join, he added.

Israeli authorities have explicitly prevented the entrance of all such construction materials into the besieged Gaza Strip since 2007.

Even after its devastating war against Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009, Israel maintained its stance.

Egypt had similarly closed off its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip after Hamas seized power in 2007. Egyptian authorities re-opened the Rafah border following the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza -- on May 31, 2010 -- in which eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed by Israeli commandos.

One of the 115 Algerian activists participating in the convoy, former Algerian MP Mohamed Douibi was previously part of the Freedom Flotilla. He was aboard the ship that bore the brunt of this Israeli attack, the Mavi Marmara. He pointed to his injured eye and said, "Israeli commandos boarded the ship I was on and fired a rubber bullet at my face. It hit me in the eye, and I'm still being treated for this injury I sustained."

"This assault made me even more adamant in my decision to defy Israel's siege on Gaza. This is why I am participating in this convoy."

This is the first Viva Palestina convoy in which he has participated. He said that he intends to partake in forthcoming Viva Palestina convoys "until the siege is lifted."

John Hurson, from Tyrone Ireland, one of eight Irish delegates partaking in this convoy, described Egypt's decision to deny entrance to 18 activists as "ridiculous."

"The Egyptian government told the world that it would open its border with Gaza indefinitely," said Hurson. "It has now become obvious that this announcement is a lie." Egypt's decision to bar these activists "puts more of a spotlight on Egypt as being a party complicit in this siege," he added.

George Galloway is considered persona non grata by the Egyptian government. He was barred from entering Egypt during the Viva Palestina 3 convoy attempt which arrived in the Port of Arish in January, 2010. Having waited for several days in the Jordanian Port of Aqaba, for clearance from Egyptian authorities, it was then ordered to be rerouted to Latakia. The convoy arrived in the Syrian port only to be delayed for several more days.

Upon arrival in Arish, the convoy waited again for clearance. Impatience and frustration led some activists to break down one of the port's gates. Clashes between Viva Palestina activists and Egyptian police ensued. More than 20 members of the convoy were injured, along with around 10 policemen.

Mahmoud Khaled, one of 90 Viva Palestina 5 activists from Jordan said, "we're happy to be in Egypt, but we'll be even happier when we get into the (Gaza) Strip and are able to deliver our aid to that besieged populace."

He added that nine Jordanians were denied entrance into Egypt, including 83-year-old Ismail Nashwan. Egyptian authorities reportedly claimed that Nashwan is a Turkish troublemaker, "although he is not a Turk, and is too old to be a troublemaker," according to Khaled.

The Viva Palestina 5 convoy originated in London. It departed Saturday, 18 September and drove southwestwards through Europe and Turkey, and arrived in Latakia on Saturday, 2 October. In Latakia, the convoy was joined by two other contingents from Algeria and Morocco.

*See also

Viva Palestina

Palestinian Relief

Gaza TV News


Anarchism Demystified

Daily Times
Anarchism demystified

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ralph Shaw

Although the anarchists are unanimous in their detestation of state-sponsored capitalism, they have divergent views on capitalism if state sponsorship is removed. To the individualists, the evil is not capitalism itself, rather it is the collusion between the state and those who own capital

Contrary to popular belief, anarchism as a set of ideas does not mean chaos, nihilism, or social breakdown per se, but chaos and temporary breakdown of social order can occur in pursuance of anarchist aims. The same as a nihilist, an anarchist refuses to bow to authority, but unlike a nihilist, he does not believe in destruction for the sake of destruction — a position that results from the nihilist’s belief in the nothingness of existence and valuelessness of all morality. Anarchists would argue that their aims are noble and constructive rather than destructive, that they want to bring about a society that is free from chaos, war, violence and poverty and, most anarchists would, in fact, eschew violence.

So what is anarchism? The fact is that anarchism, the same as socialism, comes in so many flavours and variations that often contradict each other that it is not easy to give it a straightforward definition. It has been argued from such diametrically opposite positions as individualism and communism — one advocating individual sovereignty and the other social solidarity — that it does not seem like a consistent theory. As David Miller puts it in his book, Anarchism (1983), more than an ideology, anarchism looks like a jumble of beliefs without rhyme or reason. However, Miller has done an excellent job demystifying anarchism and some of his elucidations are summarised here.

Miller argues that there is a common thread running through variations of anarchism by which the anarchists can be grouped together. Belief in a stateless society is common to all types of anarchists. That the state should be replaced by a new form of social organisation is a universal creed held by anarchists of all shades. They see the state as a punitive, coercive, exploitative, and destructive body that should be replaced by functionally specific institutions and believe that the institutions should be voluntary and not compulsory. Their main emphasis is on privatisation of state institutions along functional lines.

According to the anarchists, each institution should have a clearly defined role such as guiding production, consumption, and social order, but none should be sovereign over the others. The anarchist institutions should also be voluntary in the sense that all those who are to be governed by a specific institution should voluntarily choose to do so. To give people such choice, some theorists have suggested establishing collective agencies that compete for people’s allegiances. To the anarchist, collective institutions are preferable to state bureaucracies, because such institutions would either be run by direct democracy or through rotation of office.

Anarchists detest organised religion and economic systems such as capitalism and socialism as much as they detest the state and have spewed as much venom against organised religion and existing economic systems as against the state. Same as their common hostility to the state, their common dread of the church stems from their critique of the principle of authority that entails that no person or institution can ever have the right to issue orders others have to obey.

The authority of the priest over the believer is seen as the origin of all authority, i.e. once a person has submitted to the authority of another in spiritual matters, it becomes easier to induce him into subservience to political leaders. The priest can use his authority to issue doctrines of obedience to the political authorities, thus legitimising the state. Even though most anarchists have been atheists, claiming that belief in God is a response to social deprivations, their enemy is not religion as such but organised religion, i.e. “churches that disseminate official creeds whose content is hierarchically controlled”.

Although the anarchists are unanimous in their detestation of state-sponsored capitalism, the prevalent mode of capitalism, they have divergent views on capitalism if state sponsorship is removed. To the individualists, the evil is not capitalism itself, rather it is the collusion between the state and those who own capital. They believe if this link is broken, the oppressive effects such as monopolies and concentration of wealth would vanish. Consequently, wealth would be more equally distributed. To the communist anarchists, however, private ownership of property means inevitable concentration of wealth and resources in a few hands. Hence capitalism of any shade is unacceptable to them. The anarchists are equally opposed to state socialism.

From the anarchist point of view, a socialist state is a state nonetheless in which a ruling class controls the rest of society. Even though the capitalists and priests have been replaced by socialists and so-called social scientists, coercion and exploitation continue. There is lack of consensus on the kind of economic system the anarchists propose.

The alternatives they advance range from free market systems to systems of communal ownership in which goods are produced by independent communes and distributed on the basis of need. Even though the proposed alternatives lack clarity on what exactly they should be, there is no confusion in the anarchist’s thinking on what they ought not to be. The anarchist economic systems cannot be centrally controlled. A decentralised form composed of voluntary associations would be in keeping with anarchist thinking and acceptable to them.

Even though most anarchists do not advocate violence, historically, a small proportion has used terrorist methods to achieve their ends. They have even tried to justify such acts, though unconvincingly, as either acts of revenge and retribution, or on the grounds that the state cannot be dissolved but through violence. Anarchist terrorism took place mostly in the 1890s and the 1970s and only a tiny minority was involved, but it was instrumental in affixing the image of an anarchist as a heinous monster in the popular imagination.

Egypt: Police forcibly put down workers' protests

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Workers' protests forcibly put down

Mon, 18/10/2010

Jano Charbel

On Sunday night, police forces assaulted a group of dismissed workers and activists at the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation where they were protesting to demand unemployment assistance payments.

This is the latest incident in a series of police crackdowns on workers' protests in downtown Cairo, in what is believed by some to be one of a range of measures to tame dissent ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for the end of November.

Tens of fired workers along with lawyers and labor activists--around 50 altogether--had congregated at the ETUF headquarters in downtown Cairo at 11 AM on Sunday to demand the workers' monthly assistance payments. The workers and demonstrators, campaigning for labor rights under the slogan "we will not be afraid," remained within the ETUF building for several hours until workers received pledges from federation officials that the monthly assistance payments would be delivered. Most workers left upon receiving the promises, but around a dozen activists and a few workers remained within the ETUF headquarters, where they said they intended to sleep-in until they received the payments.

Central Security Forces were deployed at the entrance of the building while, shortly after 7:30 PM, police officers and plain-clothed security moved into the building to forcefully clear out the remaining demonstrators. A nurse, a youth activist, and at least two workers were reportedly beaten.

One of the workers, Samir al-Qazaz from the Indorama Shebin Textile Company, was pushed down a flight of stairs. The fall seriously injured his back and leg. Because of a suspected broken back, al-Qazaz was transferred to the nearby al-Helal Hospital, where he is being held while recovering. A complaint was filed at the closest police station, although activists say al-Qazaz's x-rays and medical report were confiscated by police officers at the hospital.

Ghareeb Saqr, a fired worker from Misr-Iran Textile Company, said "we were conducting negotiations with the officials in a peaceful and civilized manner. We had intended on sleeping-in at the federation until we received our assistance payments, as we have done in the past. But police forces switched off the lights where we were sitting-in, then they began assaulting us and pushing us outside."

Police forces were previously deployed within the ETUF headquarters on 1 September, where many of the same workers had been sitting-in. A number of workers were assaulted in the incident, although no serious injuries were reported. The workers managed to secure their assistance payments from the ETUF the following day.

The ETUF's media spokesperson, Ali Othman, was not available to answer questions regarding the incident, but a front-desk secretary said the workers had received their payments. When asked whether the President of the ETUF, MP Hussein Megawer, had called in the police to clear out the demonstrators, the secretary replied, "I have no information about this, and I cannot comment."

One worker, requesting that his name be withheld, said, "Megawer is expected to run again in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Because of this he does not want the media or the populace to see workers protesting, or conducting sit-ins at the federation or elsewhere. He will silence the workers with payments or violence."

"Megawer wants to maintain his seat in parliament, and the ruling party wants to maintain its control over parliament. That's why workers' protests are being crushed these days," added the worker.

A number of the workers present at Sunday's protest have been issued court decisions calling for their reinstatement, on the grounds that they were arbitrarily or punitively sacked for their labor activism. Among the workers protesting at the ETUF, a group of 33 rural health guides (female social workers affiliated to the Ministry of Health in the Governorate of Assiut) did receive their assistance payments on Sunday--although their monthly payments have been reduced from LE350 to LE200. They are expected to return on Monday, when federation officials will reportedly look into the renewal of their contracts, and their re-employment.

The other workers were told to return to the ETUF on Tuesday to receive their assistance payments.

Another protest, scheduled for Tuesday, will include hundreds of employees from the Information Decision Support Centers (IDSC, affiliated to the Ministry of Local Development) who are demanding an increase in their unrealistically low wages. On 11 October, around 600 IDSC employees protested outside parliament demanding that their minimum wage be raised from LE99 to LE320. After a few hours on the sidewalk, police forces moved in to forcefully disperse the workers.

On 23 May officers forcibly dispersed hundreds of disgruntled workers from different companies, who had been sleeping-in and demonstrating outside parliament for several weeks. Police forces assaulted tens of workers, journalists, and activists, while several others were arrested--and released shortly afterwards. Since then no sit-down protests have been tolerated outside the legislative councils--including both the People's Assembly (lower house of parliament) or the adjacent Shura Council (consultative upper house of parliament).

Worldwide condemnation of Egypt's attacks on media

The Guardian
World's newspapers condemn attacks on Egypt's independent media

October 15, 2010

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have written to the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, to express concern over recent attacks on independent media.

It refers specifically to the dismissal of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief and founder of the private daily Al-Dustour, 10 days ago.

He was fired when the paper was acquired by new owners, who include the media mogul and opposition Al-Wafd party leader al-Sayyid al-Badawi. The owners had given assurances before the sale that they would not interfere in the newspaper's editorial line.

During his career, Eissa has had 65 cases filed against him for allegedly violating Egypt's press law.

In 2006, he was sentenced to one year in prison - later reduced to a fine - for publishing a story about the misuse of public funds.

In 2008, he was sentenced to two months in prison for "publishing false information and rumours" about Mubarak's health, though he later received a presidential pardon.

The letter, signed by WAN-IFRA's president, Gavin O'Reilly, argues that Eissa's dismissal "appears be part of a larger pattern of intimidation of critical journalists" ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary and 2011 presidential elections.

Alaa al-Aswani and Hamdi Qandil, columnists at the private daily Al-Shuruq, stopped writing their columns last month after the newspaper's management warned them about external pressure to tone down their content.

Television programme Al-Qahira Al-Yawm, presented by journalist Amr Adeeb, was also suspended last month for "political reasons".

The letter, which reminds Mubarak of the press freedom principles enshrined in the 2007 "Declaration of Table Mountain", concludes:

"We respectfully call on you to take all necessary steps to halt the campaign of intimidation and censorship of independent media so that the press is able to report free from government pressure.

We ask you to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of press freedom."

Kidnapped in Italy, Tortured in Egypt

Amnesty International
Kidnapped in Italy, Tortured in Egypt

October 12, 2010

Steve Hendricks

In 2003 the police of Milan were closing in on a network of Islamic terrorists that recruited suicide bombers—until the radical imam at the heart of their investigation, Abu Omar, inexplicably disappeared. He was, it would turn out, snatched off the street by the CIA, roughed up, and eventually flown to Egypt, where he was savagely tortured. The full story is told in my new book, A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial, published yesterday by W. W. Norton.

I started working on A Kidnapping in Milan four years ago because I was frustrated that there were no narratives that described the full horror of what our client states were doing to our captives in our offshore dungeons. By depicting that horror in all its depth (as I think I’ve done), I hope more people will understand why systematic torture is not just a crime but a crime against humanity. I hope more people will also begin to see why President Obama’s continuation of our torture-by-proxy program makes him a species of criminal that, if not up the high mark of his predecessor, is still appalling.

A Kidnapping in Milan, though, is not just a narrative of torture. In a sense, it’s a heroic story, for it also tells how a bold Italian magistrate, Armando Spataro, traced the CIA’s kidnappers through cell-phone records, hotel receipts, and other clues that they had sloppily strewn around Milan, then how he struggled to bring the kidnappers to trial—the first-ever such trial of CIA officers by an ally of the United States. One of the joys of working on this book was getting to spend a lot of time with one of the few heroes to have emerged in the “war on terror.”

The Chicago Tribune has called A Kidnapping in Milan “[a] real-life thriller … skillfully crafted, highly disturbing,” and Tom Parker, Policy Director for Amnesty International’s Counter Terror With Justice campaign has called it “an amazing good read—at once a page-turner, a wry look at CIA lunacy, and a stirring call for justice.”


FBI Secretly Track Egyptian Student's Car for Over 3 Months

The Huffington Post
Student's Car Secretly Tracked For More Than 3 Months


Two days after Mission College student Yasir Afifi found a surveillance-tracking device on his car, the twenty year old Arab-American student was confronted by six FBI agents and police officers -- who asked for the pricey gadget back. reports that upon taking his car to a garage Afifi discovered the GPS tracker, which was attached to the car's chassis with a magnet. Later on, Afifi's friend Khaled posted photos of the device on reddit, where a reader identified it as an Orion Guardian ST820, which is made by a company that deals exclusively with law enforcement.

Although Afifi has never been affiliated with any type of questionable organization and is a U.S.-born citizen, he says he is on a federal watch list and is often taken aside at airports. His late father, Aladdin, was a prominent Muslim leader in Egypt, and Afifi annually visits his family there and embarks on frequent business trips to the Middle East.

The incident comes on the heels of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' recent reaffirmation of the government's right to secure GPS devices to vehicles without a warrant. FBI Special Agent Joseph Schadler told ABC News that "court decisions have consistently upheld that there is no warrant necessary for GPS tracking of a vehicle when the vehicle is in a public space."

ABC reports that Afifi's attorney, Zahra Billoo, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request so that she and Afifi can access any information the FBI has on him (even though the agents who spoke with Afifi told him he was "boring.")

In a statement to ABC, Billoo said:

He fits the profile, as a young Arab American male who travels frequently...Is it that you can just put [a tracking device] on any person's car and I would argue that is obviously an egregious violation of everybody's constitutional rights and should be challenged.

John Lennon - Power To The People

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sacked Egyptian workers protest for their rights

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Sacked workers stage protest outside rights council headquarters
October 10, 2010

Jano Charbel

Around 50 workers and their families, along with labor activists and lawyers, congregated outside the headquarters of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the National Council for Women (NCW) on Sunday to protest “arbitrary and punitive lay-offs” and demand reinstatement.

A delegation of workers and lawyers met with officials from the state-appointed NCHR and NCW, where they received pledges that their grievances would be forwarded and investigated within 15 days. Neither the NCHR nor the NCW, however, have the authority to reinstate workers.

Journalists were barred from attending the meeting.

“This is one of the most promising visits that we've conducted in search of our rights,” said Ghareeb Saqr, a worker-delegate from the Misr-Iran Textile Company. He added that officials from both the NCHR and the NCW had informed the workers that they were merely "consultative councils."

"Nonetheless, they took note of all grievances filed by workers who were sacked for demanding their wages, bonuses, benefits, rights, and/or the establishment of unions,” said Saqr.

The workers, labor activists and lawyers are considering staging another protest at the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on 17 October. The workers had previously staged a protest and sleep-in at ETUF headquarters from 1 to 2 September. Although police had forcefully dispersed these workers, they still managed to meet with ETUF President Hussein Megawer. Megawer offered them reduced assistance payments from the federation’s emergency fund and reportedly informed them that the ETUF would not provide any additional payments.

The sacked workers, who are from ten public- and private-sector companies, have organized a campaign dubbed “We will not be afraid.” According to their leaflet, the campaign aims at: having the ETUF cancel punitive lay-off orders and arbitrary deductions in pay; halting trumped-up charges against workers before the courts; providing assistance payments to sacked workers; and providing transportation fees for those workers who are punitively relocated until they can be reinstated in their original workplaces.

Workers are from the state-owned Mahalla Textile Company, the Petotrade Company (affiliated with the Ministry of Petroleum), Rural Health Guides (female workers affiliated with the Ministry of Health in the Assiut Governorate), the private Misr-Iran Textile Company, Ameriya Textile Company, Indorama Shebine Textile Company, Mansoura-Espagna Textile Company, and the Future Company for Pipe Production.

Rural Health Guide Mona Abdel Same’a said: “Thirty-three of us have been working with the Health Ministry in Assiut for at least 16 years now. Now they want to employ us on new temporary contracts and strike off all the bonuses and benefits that we earned during our service.” She added that the Rural Health Guides had been laid off after rejecting the new temporary contracts.

Karim Reda, a former employee of the Petrotrade Company, sacked in December 2009 for attempting to establish a trade union for company employees and workers, said: “Four employees, myself included, were punitively sacked for our organizational efforts. The company’s administration refused to renew the contracts of another two worker-activists who had raised similar demands.”

Ayman Ali, a former worker at the Indorama Shebine Textile Company, said: “Around 250 workers have been laid-off since the company was privatized in 2006, many of whom were sacked on account of their labor activism.”

On 25 July, sacked workers from 25 companies--including many of those protesting today--staged a silent protest outside the regional headquarter of the International Labor Organization (ILO). These workers called on officials to apply pressure on the Egyptian state to implement ILO Conventions No. 87 and 98, regarding "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize" and the "Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining" respectively.

ILO officials informed workers that they would take note of their grievances, but stressed that they were not empowered to reinstate sacked workers or enforce workers’ demands. The Egyptian state voluntarily ratified ILO Convention No. 98 in 1954, ratifying Convention No. 87 three years later.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Egyptian soldiers shoot migrant near Israel border

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Egyptian soldiers injure migrant near Israel border

October 9,2010

El-Arish, Egypt - A migrant was shot and injured by Egyptian security forces Saturday during a failed attempt to smuggle himself into neighbouring Israel.

Security forces said the Eritrean national was caught near the Sinai peninsula's border with Israel along with two other compatriots and five Sudanese, bringing the total number of migrants arrested there this week to 22.

The officials said the injured man did not respond to warnings to stop. He was taken to hospital for treatment.

HRW tells Egypt to stop shooting migrants

Agence France-Presse
HRW tells Egypt to stop shooting migrants

October 8, 2010

CAIRO — Human Rights Watch urged Egypt on Friday to stop shooting foreign migrants who try to cross into Israel, as the African country began chairing the United Nations' refugee agency.

The New York-based rights group said Egyptian border police have killed at least 85 unarmed migrants trying to cross into Israel since July 2007.

"Egypt today becomes chair of the UNHCR's governing body, while back home it shoots unarmed migrants and blocks UNHCR's access to detainees seeking the agency's protection," it quoted deputy Middle East director Joe Stork as saying.

"To be consistent with its position as the executive committee's new chair, Egypt needs to put its own house in order."

The group said most of the migrants killed were Sudanese or Eritrean.

"It is likely that at least some had a reasonable case for asylum," it said.

Egypt has defended its policy and says border guards first fire warning shots in the air.

The border between Israel and Egypt, which runs along the desert of the Sinai peninsula, is also used by drug traffickers.

A Cairo-based representative of HRW told AFP more migrants were killed trying to leave Egypt than any other country.

"This is the worst border in the world now in terms of the number of lethal shootings of unarmed migrants," said Heba Morayef. "It is the only border where this many migrants are shot on the way out."

Israel, which is constructing a fence along the border to stop the migrants, has asked Egypt to do more to stem the influx. The migrants complain of discrimination and poverty in Egypt.

The group accused Egypt of impeding the UNHCR's access to imprisoned asylum seekers and "unlawfully" deporting recognised refugees.

"Egypt should also stop impeding the refugee agency's access to foreign nationals detained in Egypt who want to claim asylum," it said.

"If Egypt as the chair of UNHCR's executive committee continues to shoot at foreign nationals trying to leave and prevents the refugee agency from fulfilling its protection mandate, it will discredit not only itself but also UNHCR," Stork said.

Press freedoms deteriorate in pre-election Egypt

Committee to Protect Journalists
Press freedom deteriorates in pre-election Egypt

New York, October 7, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the deterioration of press freedoms in Egypt ahead of November's parliamentary elections and next year's presidential vote. In particular, CPJ is concerned over the firing on Tuesday of Ibrahim Eissa, the editor-in-chief and founder of the independent daily Al-Dustour.

Eissa has long been one of the government's biggest critics in the press. His dismissal came only 24 hours after Al-Dustour's transfer of ownership was finalized, Eissa told Foreign Policy. The new owners, including media mogul and leader of the opposition Al-Wafd party al-Sayyid al-Badawi, had made public assurances that the newspaper's editorial line would not be affected by the sale. "They bought the newspaper for $4 million, just to stop me from writing," Eissa told Foreign Policy.

Al-Badawi, in a press conference on Tuesday and again during a televised interview, disputed Eissa's version of the story and described the situation as a labor dispute revolving around staff salaries and the deduction of taxes.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Eissa said that the paper's new owners had asked him not to publish an article written by Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and leader of a political reform movement in Egypt. According to Eissa, within a few hours of his refusal to remove ElBaradei's piece, he was relieved of his duties as the editor-in-chief of Al-Dustour.

Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told CPJ that ElBaradei's article was "an excuse" to terminate Eissa. He said the editor's dismissal came only two days after Baladna Belmasry, a television program hosted by Eissa, was taken off the air.

Eid described these acts as "a harsh and swift step to intimidate the press ahead of parliamentary elections in November." Eid also pointed to unconfirmed news reports circulating in Egypt, claiming a deal had been brokered between Al-Wafd party and the government, whereby Eissa's sacking would result in political gains for Al-Wafd. CPJ could not confirm the accuracy of these reports.

In his career, 65 cases have been filed against Eissa for allegedly violating Egypt's press law and 30 are still pending, according to CPJ research. In 2006, Eissa was sentenced to one year in prison for publishing a story on the misuse of public money in Egypt. The sentence was later reduced to a fine. In 2008, Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison for "publishing false information and rumors" on President Hosni Mubarak's health. He was later pardoned by the president.

Eissa isn't the only journalist facing recent suppression. Eid told CPJ that Alaa al-Aswani and Hamdi Qandil, two of the most popular columnists at the independent daily Al-Shuruq, stopped writing their columns last month after the newspaper's administration warned them about "external" pressure to tone down their content.

And another popular television program, Al-Qahira Al-Yawm, presented by journalist Amr Adeeb on the Orbit satellite network, was suspended on September 25. Adeeb told CNN Arabic that "political reasons" were behind the suspension.

"It is no coincidence that the two shows have stopped," Mohamed Abdel Qudous, head of the freedoms committee at the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate, told Foreign Policy. "As for the rest of the programs and talk shows, the owners were given orders to tone things down."

It's part of a disturbing trend, noted Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

"Al-Dustour's ordeal can best be understood in the context of the other negative developments that have afflicted Egypt's press in recent weeks," Abdel Dayem explained. "Oblique threats and backroom deals that are not visibly linked to the government have started silencing some of Egypt's most critical independent voices. With elections on the horizon, it is vital that Egyptians are not deprived of these news sources."

Israel deports Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire

Irish Central
Israel deports Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Israel deported the Irish peace activist and Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire, 66, on Tuesday, after the country’s highest court rejected her appeal against a deportation order.

Maguire had arrived in Israel last week to be told by authorities that she could not enter. When she refused to leave she was held at a detention facility at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.

On Monday Israel’s supreme court rejected Maguire’s appeal against the ban refusing her entry into the country for 10 years. “The supreme court yesterday ruled that she must be deported and we acted accordingly,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabin Hadad told the press. Maguire was deported on a flight that departed Israel at 4.00 A.M. on Tuesday.

Earlier Maguire had argued she had not been aware she signed a no-entry document after her arrest in June aboard the Rachel Corrie, a ship that tried to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Maguire was detained and then deported back to Ireland shortly after the ship was stopped.

The Israeli Supreme Court said that its decision would not prevent Maguire from appealing the 10-year deportation order from abroad. Maguire answered that had she known that a deportation order existed, she would not have tried to enter Israel as part of a delegation of women who had won a Nobel Prize. The group was scheduled to visit female Jewish and Palestinian peace activists in Israel and the West Bank.

In June Maguire had joined 19 other peace activists on board the Rachel Corrie, which failed to reach Gaza a week after Israeli forces launched a raid on a six-ship flotilla that killed nine Turkish activists.

Maguire’s arrival in Israel came as the Israeli navy intercepted yet another boat carrying US, European and Israeli peace activists attempting to reach the Gaza Strip, which has been under continuous naval blockade since 2006.

During her hearing on Monday Maguire called for Israel to end what she called its “apartheid policy” against the Palestinians and to end the siege on Gaza, but she was reprimanded by one of the judges who told her that the courtroom was no place for propaganda.

Israeli authorities said Maguire is banned because she has twice tried to break through Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. “She knew exactly what she was doing, and that she wouldn't receive an entry visa,” Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the press. “She was fully conscious of her status.”

Israeli soldiers convicted of using human shields

RTT News
Israeli Soldiers Convicted Of Using Gaza Boy As 'Human Shield"
October 4, 2010

(RTTNews) - Two Israeli soldiers have been convicted of using a nine-year-old Palestinian boy as human shield during the 2008-09 Gaza war, officials said on Monday.

Israel's southern command military court on Sunday found them guilty of "exceeding their authority to the point of endangering life" by forcing the Palestinian boy to open bags they suspected contained explosives.

The incident happened in Gaza city's suburb of Tel al-Hawa in January, 2009. The soldiers, who face up to three years in prison over the incident, are expected to be sentenced at a later date.

"The boy, who feared for his fate and was under the stress of the situation, wet his pants," the three-judge panel said in its ruling. "The court has noted that, unlike the soldiers, the child was, naturally, bereft of any form of protection."

Without naming the soldiers, the panel acknowledged that the pair had been under "difficult and dangerous conditions." The boy involved in the incident was identified only as Majd R who, according to Israeli officials, was returned unharmed to his parents after he checked the suspicious bags.

Israel had launched a 22-day offensive against the Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to continued rocket fire into southern Israel.

The three-week war was finally halted with separate unilateral cease-fire by Israel and Hamas, the radical Islamist group that controls Gaza Strip.

Though Palestinians claim that over 1,400 civilians were killed in the conflict in Gaza, the Israeli Army reports only 1,116 Palestinian deaths in the offensive.A later report by a U.N.-appointed investigating committee led by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone had accused Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict. However, both Israel and Hamas rejected the report as biased.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, however, endorsed the Goldstone committee's report at a two-day special session held in Geneva in October 2009. Its ratification came despite warnings by the U.S. and Israel that such a move would set back Middle East peace efforts.

A month later, the United Nations General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution endorsing the Goldstone committee report. It demanded that both Israel and Hamas carry out separate internal investigations that "are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards" into allegations of war crimes committed by their forces during the Gaza conflict.

A team of U.N. experts last month criticized Israel and Hamas for failing to conduct credible and adequate investigations into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by their forces during the Gaza war.

*by RTT Staff Writer

Egyptian journalists decry media crackdown

The Associated Press
Egypt's journalists decry media crackdown
October 4, 2010

CAIRO — Egypt's Journalists' Union has accused the government of cracking down on the press after the closing of two popular talk shows ahead of parliamentary elections.

The statement received by The Associated Press on Monday said the two talk shows had been shut down for political reasons because of the sensitive legislative elections set for the end of November.

Mohammed Abdel Qudous, the head of the union's freedoms committee, said other shows had been told to tone down as well.

Egyptian authorities, however, maintain the closures were for financial not political reasons.

Egypt's media scene has seen an explosion of privately owned TV networks and programs in the past five years that have increasingly pushed government boundaries discussing politics.

BBC News
Dissident al-Dustour editor sacked ahead of Egypt poll

5 October 2010

The editor of Egypt's independent al-Dustour newspaper, Ibrahim Eissa, has been sacked by the paper's publisher.

Mr Eissa said he was dismissed hours after being told not to run an article by leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.

Critics say the move aims to restrict media freedoms ahead of Egypt's parliamentary elections next month.

Dozens of journalists at the newspaper have been staging a sit-in in protest at the dismissal.


Mr Eissa, who is known for his satirical columns against the government, said he was not given the exact reasons for his sacking, but that his dismissal came "hours after the publishers told me they didn't want me to run an article written by Mohamed ElBaradei."

Mr ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has emerged as a prominent opposition figure since returning to Egypt in February.

Al-Dustour was bought in August by another opposition leader, Elseyed el-Badawi, a business tycoon who leads the al-Wafd Party.

The Wafd party has refused to back Mr ElBaradei's call to boycott the upcoming elections, which critics expect will be marred by widespread fraud.

The sacking comes as uncertainty grows over Egypt's political future, with parliamentary elections less than two months away and presidential elections set for next year.

"There have been fears in Egyptian journalism circles at what is described as the government's intention to narrow the margin of freedom of expression available before the [parliamentary] elections," the web-based al-Azma TV channel noted on its site.

In 2008, Mr Eissa was sentenced to two months in prison on charges of insulting President Hosni Mubarak after he reported about his health. Mr Mubarak later pardoned him.

President Mubarak, 82, has not yet announced whether he will run for a sixth term in 2011. Many believe his son, Gamal, is being groomed to succeed him.

*Photo: courtesy of AFP

Peace talks come & go but Israeli settlements grow

The Associated Press
Peace talks come and go, but a settlement grows

MATTI FRIEDMAN (AP) – Oct 2, 2010

REVAVA, West Bank — The American president was pushing hard for a Mideast peace agreement when six Jewish families arrived on this West Bank hilltop early one morning with cribs, refrigerators, Israeli flags and flatbed trucks carrying mobile homes.

White House condemnation came quickly: "Settlements are an obstacle to peace and their continuation does not contribute to the development of a peace process which we have all been working toward."

It was April 16, 1991.

Since then peace talks have started, stopped, restarted, and now it's President Barack Obama's turn to feel frustrated. Last week Israel ended its temporary settlement slowdown, Palestinians threatened to quit the talks Obama has brokered, and settlers were celebrating in Revava, where those first trailers have been replaced by red-roofed suburban homes and six families have become 250.

The story is the same across the West Bank, where settlements have evolved from tenuous Jewish footholds into a massive presence across the hilly country which Israel captured in the 1967 war and which Palestinians want for their own state.

They have grown steadily through years of international condemnation, diplomacy, periods of violence and negotiations. They have often expanded as a direct protest against negotiations and the possibility that an Israeli government might uproot them.

In 1991, when the first Bush administration was coaxing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, 90,300 Israelis lived in settlements across the West Bank. Today there are 300,000 — and their population is growing by 5 percent a year, more than 2 1/2 times the growth rate inside Israel.

The settlements themselves, ranging from small cities to isolated enclaves, take up just one percent of the area of the West Bank, according to government maps analyzed by Israeli human rights campaigners. But their impact is much greater than that number would suggest; the settlements and their access roads form a web of Israeli control that Palestinians say rules out any chance of viable statehood.

Nowhere is the expansion — and its interplay with the politics of peacemaking — more apparent than at Revava.

When those first families arrived on this rocky hill next to the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares, President George H. W. Bush's secretary of state, James Baker, was en route to Israel on a round of shuttle diplomacy.

One settler leader, Daniella Weiss, told The Associated Press at the time that they had "hurried the decision" on Revava to undermine Baker's plans.

Government permits had been issued and the land, settlers said, had been quietly purchased from local Palestinians.

The Israeli government was led — as it is now — by the Likud Party, historically a champion of West Bank settlement, claiming the territory as part of the biblical Land of Israel promised by God and as indispensable to Israel's security.

Some ministers in the government of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir reacted sourly to Revava's establishment; the government was trying to mollify the U.S. and appear receptive to peace while simultaneously settling Jews in the West Bank according to its own master plan. But the balancing act was becoming increasingly precarious.

Israeli doves were furious about Revava. Lawmaker Yossi Sarid likened it to "planting a bomb aboard (Baker's) plane in order to blow up his mission."

The settlers were young couples raised in observant Jewish homes. Gideon and Miri Goldis arrived with boxes of possessions and three children under age 3. They came looking for "a new place to start," Miri Goldis told an AP reporter on the scene that morning.

Nineteen years later, the couple lives in a neat stucco home and has nine children.

"I had the good fortune to come to a rocky, empty hilltop and start a Zionist settlement enterprise that my grandfather could only dream of. Suddenly there was another ZIP code in the post office and another place on the map," Gideon Goldis said last week.

"I don't know what Baker wanted, or what Obama wants now, or any other leader — these are secondary," he said. "What comes first is my people, their birthright and their security."

Since the Goldises arrived, six Israeli prime ministers have held peace talks with the Palestinians. Some have officially restricted settlement construction. Through all of this, Revava has kept growing.

Settlements sometimes went up with the intention of forestalling concessions and in response to international pressure, said Israeli writer Gershom Gorenberg, who has documented the history of the settlement movement.

"The red-tiled houses on the hilltops remain as monuments to the fallen peace initiatives of the past," he said in an interview.

Unlike the Likud leaders of two decades ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he accepts Palestinian statehood in at least part of the West Bank. But the Palestinian leadership sees settlement construction as the true litmus test of Israeli intentions, and insists the slowdown must be maintained.

The settlers see themselves as the aggrieved party, at odds with the Palestinians, the White House, and often their own government. At Revava's celebrations last week, a sign with Obama's picture referenced the controversy over the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, saying: "If Islam can build anywhere, why can't I?"

Gideon Goldis' father, Avraham, was a metallurgical engineer in Philadelphia before he immigrated to Israel. In 2000 he followed his son to Revava.

Beyond ideology, he said, he found a close-knit community 10 minutes' drive from central Israel. A house in Revava costs about $270,000, he said — a fraction of the price in Israel's center.

"The Americans said, 'you're torpedoing our efforts,'" said Goldis, 73. "We say, 'we're coming to live in Israel, why can't we live wherever we want?'"

Two decades after Baker's trip, with a new push under way for a peace agreement that would require Israel to cede most or all of the West Bank, is Goldis concerned about Revava's future?

"I'm not worried at all," he said.

*Associated Press writer Marcus Eliason, who was AP's Jerusalem chief of bureau from 1990 to 1993, contributed to this report from New York.

Egyptian president/dictator may seek 6th term

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Foreign minister suggests Egyptian president may seek sixth term
Oct 1, 2010

Cairo -(dpa)- Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has signalled that President Hosny Mubarak will be a presidential candidate in the 2011 elections during an interview with a pan-Arab newspaper published on Friday.

Although Mubarak has in the past declared that he would rule until his last breath, his recent health problems and his delay in announcing whether he will seek reelection have fueled speculation in Egypt about his plans.

But in the front-page interview with al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit predicted that Mubarak would be reelected for a sixth term in office.

'When we elect the president of Egypt in 2011, I believe it will be President Mubarak,' he was quoted as saying.

The ruling National Democratic Party has said the 82-year-old president is its candidate for the presidential poll, but he has not officially accepted.

Mubarak has been in power for 29 years, making him the longest- serving ruler since Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century.

He has never named a successor, but his health problems have revitalised a debate in Egypt's political circles about what will happen after his reign ends.

Aboul Gheit rejected notions that there were back-handed power deals in place to position the president's son, Gamal, to inherit the top post.