Saturday, December 31, 2011

A year in review: Egypt's labor battles continue

Al-Masry Al-Youm
A year in review: The labor battle continues

DEC 31, 2011

Jano Charbel

The success of the 25 January uprising in toppling Hosni Mubarak was made possible by industrial actions in key sectors of the Egyptian economy, not exclusively by the popular occupations of Tahrir and other city squares. Starting on 7 February, a public transport strike across Greater Cairo, coupled with labor protests along the Suez Canal — along with other industrial actions across the country — helped bring down Mubarak on 11 February.

The revolution has given birth to the first independent trade union federation in Egypt's history. It has also spurred authorities into dissolving the board of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF,) which had monopolized the union movement — by law — since 1957.

The revolution has also led to the drafting — but not issuing — of a new trade union law guaranteeing union freedoms and organizational plurality. Moreover, Egypt has moved towards the re-nationalization of companies privatized during Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Yet 2011 was also marred by numerous violations of workers' rights. According to Karam Saber, Director of the Land Center for Human Rights, "The greatest setbacks to Egypt's labor and union movements this year" include: the issuing of a new law criminalizing strikes, the forceful dispersal of strikes by hired thugs and security forces, and the referral of striking workers to military tribunals.

Saber added, "Other setbacks include: the ruling authorities' failure to issue the new trade union legislation, and as a result, the non-recognition of independent unions. There are also neglected labor rights, unpaid bonuses, mass lay-offs, factory closures, and lockouts."

In Saber's opinion, "The crowning achievements of the 25 January revolution have been the establishment of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU,) along with the formation of farmers' federations and unions." Working-class organizations on this level did not exist prior to the revolution.

Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions established

Established on the fifth day of the revolution, the EFITU now has an estimated membership of more than 1.6 million workers, employees, and pensioners. Well over 100 independent unions, syndicates and professional associations have emerged since the revolution.

Previously non-unionized workers, including fishermen, commercial divers, supermarket employees, seasonally employed-laborers, nurses and hospital staff, electronic journalists, pottery craftsmen, and quarry workers, have established their own independent unions.

Furthermore, thousands of unionized workers have quit the state-controlled ETUF and have established independent unions. They include Cairo's public bus drivers, fare collectors, engineers and employees, who established the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Workers in March.

The EFITU and other independent unions have played a significant role in leading this year's strikes and industrial actions.


Egypt witnessed the largest number of industrial actions in its history with the strike wave of 2011, or at least the largest since the massive 2007-2008 strike wave.

Statistics are still being compiled, yet they indicate that several hundred strikes — well over 200 — have been reported throughout the country, along with thousands of labor protests, marches, hunger-strikes, occupations, sit-ins and sleep-ins.

According to Barakat, the common demands behind most of this labor unrest are: improved wages, payment of overdue bonuses, safer working conditions, full-time contracts for full-time work, along with a fixed monthly minimum wage of LE1,200 (around $US215) and afixed maximum wage for management.

Rather than the minimum wage of LE1,200 that workers have been demanding, the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Finance agreed to set the monthly minimum wage at LE700 (around $US125). This minimum wage is due to come into effect as of the beginning of 2012, yet may not be enforced.A maximum wage for management has not been determined.

"Throughout the revolution, Egyptian and foreign media coverage has focused on Tahrir Square, political parties, and parliamentary elections, rather than issues pertaining to working-class struggles," said Barakat. "Such being the case, numerous strikes and labor protests were either not covered, or did not receive the coverage they deserve."

Industrial actions were reported in numerous industries throughout the public, private and informal sectors of the economy. Amongst the largest and most significant strikes were: the Public Transport Authority workers' strikes of February and September/October, the strike at Mahalla's Misr Textile Company in February, the doctors' general strikes in May, and the teachers' mass strike in September.

Even police forces, for whom strike action is strictly prohibited, went on strike in Cairo and other cities in February, and again in October. The Interior Ministry was partially burned during the October strike, and policemen's salaries were reportedly raised by 200 percent.

In an unprecedented move, the interim cabinet in April issued a law criminalizing strikes and protests that "harm the national economy." The law was officially enacted in June, but has scarcely been enforced.

The law stipulates that protesters and strikers disrupting work may be punished by penalties of fines and/or imprisoned, with fines ranging from LE30,000 to LE500,000 (about US$5,000 to US$83,000), and prison sentences of one year or more. The law is meant to be enforced only during the course of the national transitional phase.

According to Barakat, "Security forces have cracked down on numerous protests, strikes and marches; hundreds of workers have been temporarily arrested or detained. However, few have actually been prosecuted or sentenced."

Following one such crackdown, on 29 June, a military court sentenced five workers to one year in prison for protesting at the Ministry of Petroleum. However, the court suspended these sentences. An unknown number of other workers have been detained pending prosecutors' investigations.


Numerous legal cases have been brought before the judiciary prior to and since the revolution — for an adequate monthly minimum wage, for the dissolution of the state-controlled ETUF, for the re-nationalization of Egyptian companies, and for the repeal of the law criminalizing strikes.

According to Wael Habib, a member of the ETUF care-taker council, "Egypt's workers are struggling to reclaim their rights and freedoms through the courts and through strikes and protests." Habib, a textile worker and labor activist, added, "We have won many gains, including the dissolution of the federation (ETUF's) executive council, and 12 of its general unions" out of 23 such unions.

ETUF elections were scheduled for November 2011, but have been postponed until May 2012, so as not to overlap with parliamentary elections.

Habib added, Trade Union "Law 35/1976 has been scrapped, and a new law has been drafted, but there has been a lot of foot-dragging on the part of the authorities." He went on to say: "Workers are using all legitimate channels available to them" in order to reclaim their companies and unions from Mubarak's men, who remain entrenched in the public and private sector companies."

The labor activist pointed out that "the combating of union corruption and administrative corruption, along with the setting of a new minimum wage and maximum wage, will be determined based on unions' ability to engage in collective bargaining with employers and the state."

Another legal victory for workers is manifested in the fact that five companies privatized over the course of the past decade are in the process of being re-nationalized via court verdicts. On 21 September, the Administrative Court nullified the privatization contracts for three companies upon finding that they were illegally privatized, having been sold to investors for less than their real market value.

The court ruled that the Indorama Shebin Textile Company, the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, and the Nasr Company for Steam Boilers are to be returned to the public sector. The privatization contracts of two other companies — the Omar Effendi department stores, and the Nile Cotton Ginning Company — were similarly annulled by administrative court rulings in May and December, respectively.

According to Gamal Othman, a worker-activist at the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, "Our company, and our rights as workers, have been raped by the Saudi investor who bought this company." Othman pointed out that upon its privatization in 2005, the company employed some 2,300 workers on ten production lines, but that "now we're only 300 workers operating only two production lines."

Although the Administrative Court ruled for the annulment of this company's privatization contract, the verdict is being appealed on 4 January. According to Othman, "The Ministry of Investment and other governmental authorities are appealing against this verdict because they claim that they want to protect investors' rights, and that they don't want to scare investors away from Egypt. We also want to protect investors' rights — but not if this means that the investor is allowed to violate the rights of workers and the rights of Egyptian state."

Othman concluded: "The corrupt practices of the old regime must not tolerated in the new Egypt."


According to media reports, state-owned and private enterprises have incurred hundreds of millions of pounds worth of lossesdue to strike actions. Transport strikes and blocked roads have inconvenienced commuters, while such industrial actions have reportedly caused the Cairo Stock Exchange to lose billions in stock values,

New terms have even been introduced to the Egyptian media's lingo in the coverage of labor unrest, terms that did not exist prior to 2011. These include ta'ateel 'agalet al-intag (halting the wheel of production) and fe'awiya (sectoral/industry-based) to describe labor protests and their demands — as distinct from revolutionary demands.

Mustafa Bassiouny, labor journalist for the independent Al-Tahrir Newspaper, said, "Strikes have scared away tourists. Strikes have harmed the stock market and the national economy. They are selfish and detrimental acts, and strikers' demands are not revolutionary demands. This is all that the mainstream media would have us think."

Bassiouny added, "The reality of the situation is that workers' strikes and protests are, and will always be, an integral part of the 25 January revolution. It was the strikes and protests that, in the last week of the uprising, actually toppled Mubarak. The chief slogan of this revolution is 'bread, freedom and social justice', and this is precisely what workers seek to achieve through their struggles."

Egypt security forces storm NGO offices

Egypt security forces storm NGO offices

DEC 29, 2011

Egypt court frees 5 police over protester deaths

Egypt court frees five police over protester deaths

DEC 29, 2011

CAIRO: An Egyptian court cleared five police officers on Thursday of criminal charges over the killing of five protesters during the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Families of the dead who attended the trial screamed in anger when the sentence was announced by Judge Essam Abdel Hamid. Police officers crowded outside the judge's office after the verdict to protect him.

"We demand that they (the police officers) are all sent to their deaths," shouted relatives of the slain protesters who had crowded into the courtroom to hear the sentences.

The police officers were ordered months ago to face trial over the killings, which took place in front of a police station on Jan. 28 and 29 as the uprising spread.

A statement explaining the judge's verdict was expected in coming days.

Around 850 Egyptians were killed in the revolt, when police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at protesters. Police eventually abandoned the streets and the army moved in.

In May, a Cairo court sentenced a police officer in absentia to death on similar charges, opening the door for other cases to be brought.

Egyptians closely watch police trials for clues to whether the killings were isolated events or carried out under orders from senior officials. Many say Egypt will struggle to face the future until Mubarak's often brutal security forces are held to account.

Mubarak himself is on trial over protester deaths, as is the Interior Minister at the time of the uprising, Habib al-Adli, and other top security officers. Adli has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.

'Virginity tests' on Egypt protesters are illegal, says judge

The Guardian
'Virginity tests' on Egypt protesters are illegal, says judge

December 27, 2011

Riazat Butt and Abdel-Rahman Hussein
Decision may open door to financial compensation for women subjected to tests during anti-government protests

Forced "virginity tests" on female detainees were ruled illegal in Egypt on Tuesday, after a court ordered an end to the practice.

Hundreds of activists were in the Cairo courtroom to hear the judge, Aly Fekry, say the army could not use the test on women held in military prisons in a case filed by Samira Ibrahim, one of seven women subjected to the test after being arrested in Tahrir Square during a protest on 9 March.

Fekry, head of the Cairo administrative court, decreed that what happened to Ibrahim and six other detainees was illegal and any similar occurrence in the future would also be considered illegal.

The court is expected to issue a further injunction against such tests and decree that the test was completely illegal, opening the door for financial compensation.

After the verdict Ibrahim, 25, posted on Twitter: "Thank you to the people, thank you to Tahrir Square that taught me to challenge, thank you to the revolution that taught me perseverance."

The 25-year-old marketing manager, who said she faced death threats for bringing the case, told CNN: "Justice has been served today.

"These tests are a crime and also do not comply with the constitution, which states equality between men and women. I will not give up my rights as a woman or a human being."

Ibrahim said her treatment showed the tests were intended to "degrade the protesters.

"The military tortured me, labelled me a prostitute and humiliated me by forcing on me a virginity test conducted by a male doctor where my body was fully exposed while military soldiers watched."

After the verdict she and others, including the presidential candidate and former broadcaster Bothaina Kamel, marched to Tahrir Square. Ibrahim was later photographed at Kaser el Nil bridge flashing the victory sign.

Egyptian academic and columnist Amira Nowaira gave a cautious welcome to the ruling. Speaking from Alexandria she said: "Nobody had heard of the virginity tests before so it is good a court has said they cannot be used. People should be prosecuted but it's going to be hard, even assigning blame will be difficult. Who is ultimately responsible?"

"The military had been denying they were doing the tests, then they said it was a standard procedure and came up with lots of excuses about why they were doing it."

The head of the judicial military authority, General Adel Morsy, was cited in state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper as saying that the administrative court ruling could not be implemented because there was nothing in the statutes that govern military prisons about permitting the carrying out of virginity tests. Ibrahim will return to court in February, to appeal against the one-year suspended sentence she received for insulting authorities and participating in an unauthorised assembly in March.

The case brings to the fore protester complaints against military actions during the transitional period.

There is a long list of violations attributed to the military, with some 12,000 civilians being charged and sentenced in military courts, and numerous incidents that have led to deaths of protesters.

Almost in conjunction with the administrative court ruling, it was announced that the military doctor who undertook the tests would be referred to a military court on 3 January.

He is being charged with public indecency and disobeying military orders, but not sexual assault.

Hossam Bahgat, the head of Egyptian initiative for personal rights (EIPR), said: "To call it a medical checkup is disingenuous. It was torture and sexual assault.

"It wasn't conducted in a medical clinic, but in full view of the soldiers, hence why the charge is one of public indecency, which is incorrect?

"The military doctor being charged is a scapegoat, because these soldiers follow orders and what happened to the detainees is the responsibility of those running the prison."

Ibrahim, in recounting her ordeal to Human Rights Watch, said two officers had entered the prison cell, where the women were detained, and asked which of them were married.

The officers informed them they would be subjected to virginity tests to confirm they were not lying.

"They took us out one by one … they took me to a bed in a passageway in front of the cell. There were lots of soldiers around and they could see me.

"I asked if the soldiers could move away and the officer escorting me teased me.

"A woman prison guard in plainclothes stood at my head and then a man in military uniform examined me with his hand for several minutes. It was painful. He took his time."

The case was heard in the first circuit of the administrative court, known as the rights and freedoms circuit, and was filed by three Egyptian rights advocacy groups – EIPR, the Hisham Mubarak law centre and the Nadeem centre for the rehabilitation of victims of torture.

However, the court ruling is an administrative one only, and because of the provisions of the military penal code the chances of pursuing criminal liability against the transgressors lies only within the jurisdiction of military courts.Campaign groups have been documenting the escalation in sexual violence towards female demonstrators and claim brutal tactics are used are to deter, intimidate and humiliate those taking part in political activities.

Last week Nadya Khalife, from Human Rights Watch, said: "Images of military and police who strip, grope, and beat protesters have horrified the world and brought into sharp focus the sexual brutality Egyptian women face in public life.

At this crucial stage in Egypt's history, women need to be able to take part in demonstrations and elections without fear. "Security forces' disgraceful attacks and the government's broader failure to address sexual violence and harassment do not bode well for Egypt's women."

The New Woman Foundation, in Egypt, said at least nine women were arrested during a protest in November, with some accusing security forces of physical and verbal assault.


Samira Ibrahim was one of seven female protesters subjected to the "virginity test" after being arrested in Tahrir Square during a protest on 9 March. The demonstrators were among almost 200 detained that day, 20 of whom were women.

The following day the female detainees were separated into two groups, the married and unmarried. The seven unmarried women were given a medical checkup during which the "virginity test" was done.

The incident occurred a month into the handling of the country's affairs by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, their authority granted by the deposed Hosni Mubarak before his ousting on 11 February.

The military was by then losing patience with Tahrir protesters, already having forcibly dispersed protests against the government of the then Egyptian prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's final cabinet appointment.

The case of Ibrahim and the other six female detainees is one of a litany of abuses that occurred that night on the night of 9 March, with many protesters who were held being tortured and beaten on the site of the Egyptian museum that lies off the square. Other protesters were subjected to whipping and electric shocks throughout the night.

Ibrahim was one of those transferred to the military prison known locally as the Haykestep, referring to its location off the Cairo-Ismailia road.

The virginity tests were carried out in full view of soldiers and other detainees present at the prison, according to the human rights lawyer Ahmed Hossam, who was representing Ibrahim in the case and is attached to the Egyptian initiative for personal rights.

Egypt's women must be allowed to protest in peace

Egypt's women must be allowed to protest in peace

23 December 2011

Amnesty International called on Egypt’s military rulers to uphold the right to peaceful demonstration as women human rights activists staged more protests today.

Activists took to the streets to denounce violence used by the military against female and opposition protesters in demonstrations over the past week that have left 17 people dead, most of them reportedly from gunfire.

"The shockingly violent scenes of recent days must not be repeated," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Egypt’s military authorities must ensure protesters are allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression peacefully, without fear of attack. The authorities are responsible for the safety of those protesting.”

Several women activists have spoken out in recent days about their brutal treatment by security forces, including beatings and threats of sexual abuse.

Women's rights groups staged fresh protests on in Cairo on Friday, sparking fears of renewed violence.

Egypt's military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), issued a statement saying armed forces and police would not interfere in Friday's protest.

However, other recent SCAF statements have attempted to depict activists as irresponsible and violent or trying to “plot to abolish the state”.

One high-ranking military official even said that military forces were entitled to use live fire against protesters.

"Such statements represent instigation against protesters. Women human rights defenders and activists must be allowed to stand up against violations of human rights by the SCAF," said Philip Luther.

"The authorities must not use force against peaceful protesters and not target women with gender-based violence."

Violence first flared last Friday when military forces attacked a sit-in protest demanding the end of military rule.

On Tuesday, women marched through Cairo carrying shocking images of soldiers beating and stripping female demonstrators during previous protests.

Egypt's armed forces and riot police have a track record this year of violence against women, including forced virginity tests against female protesters and sexual assault against female journalists.

On 16 December, soldiers were seen kicking and beating women protesters around Tahrir Square.

An online video clip showed two female protesters being dragged along the ground.

One of them had her clothes pulled off before a soldier stamped on her torso. The other, Azza Hilal, was beaten severely in the head and face. Other female protesters were dragged by their hair.

Armed forces took at least eight female protesters to a parliament building in central Cairo. They reportedly beat them with sticks and some were molested by soldiers or threatened with sexual assault. At least two was hospitalized.



Several women human rights defenders and activists have spoken out about their experiences during detention on 16 December (all video clips in Arabic):

Dr Farida al Hossy
Farida al Hossy was attacked as she was running from the field hospital in Tahrir Square. First a group of soldiers beat her with batons, then one of the soldiers continued beating and slapping her. She was detained along with other protesters, all injured and bleeding, in a parliament building before being released by an apologetic higher-ranking officer.

Dr Ghada Kamal - 28, pharmacist, member of the “6 April Youth” pro-democracy movement
Ghada Kamal says she was targeted for beatings because of an earlier encounter with masked army officers in Tahrir Square who threatened her with sexual assault. When she tried to help a girl who had been severely beaten in the square, she was hit on the head. She was recognized by a soldier who had seen her protesting earlier in the day - as a result she was taken inside the building for further punishment. She was also threatened with sexual assault during detention.

Mona Seif – member of the “No to Military Trial to Civilians” human rights group
Mona Seif was arrested while leaving the field hospital in Tahrir Square, where she had been hiding with a small boy. The soldiers took the boy from her and beat her. She was taken to a room where there was another child, several older women, a younger woman and a journalist. She says an officer identified the young woman as an activist, dragged her out and beat her. Officers and soldiers also removed the niqab from another woman and insulted her, while an older woman was slapped by several officers.

Interior Ministry publishes defamatory photos of women’s march

Ahram Online
Egypt Ministry of Interior apologises for defamatory photos of women’s march

Thursday 22 Dec 2011

Police regrets photo-shopped images it published on the ministry's official website to alter message of women protesting against military violence and rule

The Ministry of Interior has issued an apology for publishing defamatory photos of the Egyptian women’s march on its official Facebook page.

The photoshopped images showed the female protesters holding posters of blue and pink bras, even though in the original images, the posters were holding posters with the slogan “down with military rule,” written on them.

The march, which included 10,000 women, took place on 20 December and was staged against military rule and in response to military brutality against women.

One incident which sparked particular outrage was the case of the beating and stripping of an unidentified protester during the clashes. The protester, who was wearing a black veil, was stripped down to her bra and jeans and dragged through the street as she was kicked and beaten by a group of soldiers.

Military official claims army entitled to fire on protesters

Egypt Independent
SCAF adviser claims military entitled to fire on protesters

Thu, 22/12/2011

Major General Abdel Moneim Kato, an adviser to the Egyptian military's Morale Affairs Department, continues to make controversial comments on the clashes that broke out last Friday between army forces and protesters near the cabinet building in downtown Cairo.

Kato has said that international law entitles army forces under attack to respond with live fire, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported Thursday.

Kato told the newspaper that the Egyptian army pelted attackers with stones, the least deadly weapons available to defend public facilities, though he alleges the Geneva Conventions and international law give them the right to use firearms.

However, the globally recognized agreement was designed to address military forces fighting on battlefields, and does not apply to protesters, Safwat al-Zayat, a retired army general, told Egypt Independent. He criticized military statements, including Kato's, on the recent fighting.

Some 15 people have been killed by security forces and the military since last Friday, some of them shot with bullets.

Kato also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt's armed forces have endured attacks from minors paid to assault the army.

Commenting on a video clip that shows army personnel beating and dragging a female protester in the street ― which has sparked an outcry both in Egypt and abroad ― Kato justified the officers' conduct, saying that the girl had been insulting the army through a megaphone.

Kato also warned that there is an ongoing campaign to target the army, accusing unidentified parties of implementing “foreign agendas” inside the country.

On Monday, Kato had remarked that protesters clashing with soldiers and police near the cabinet should be “thrown into Hitler's ovens.”

On Thursday, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a statement that appeared to be an attempt to distance it from Kato's remarks. Referring to "some commentators and strategic analysts", the statement said: "These comments provoked negative reactions from Egypt and abroad," apparently referring to Kato's more inflammatory remarks.

The statement said that such commentators express their own point of view, not the offical views of the SCAF, which are usually given through official statements or its page on Facebook.

Public outrage over army official's 'Hitler' statements

Egypt Independent
Politicians criticize 'Hitler' statements made by army official

December 19, 2011

Activists and politicians on Monday decried statements by an Egyptian army official who suggested that protesters in front of the cabinet of ministers should be burned in "Hitler's ovens."

The private newspaper Al-Shorouk reported on Monday that General Abdel Moneim Kato, an adviser to the military's Morale Affairs Department, suggested that instead of worrying about the country's welfare, people were concerned about "some street bully who deserves to be thrown into Hitler's ovens," referring to protesters.

Kato was attempting to justify the military's use of excessive force against protesters during clashes that broke out around the cabinet building on Saturday. The clashes led to the deaths of 11 people, according to the Health Ministry.

Kato criticized the media's coverage of the incidents, saying, "Media always avoid the crux of a problem."

"When did those soldiers use violence?” he asked. "When [the protesters] attempted to burn Parliament and the Scientific Institute."

Abdallah al-Sennawy, chief editor of Al-Arabi Al-Nassery Magazine, told ONTV satellite channel that Kato's statements are grounds for referral to the International Criminal Court.

On Twitter, presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei wrote, "The likes of Kato should be in prison, not in power."

Twitter users harshly criticized Kato, with one user saying, "One strong example of why the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces should not remain in power is that they are stupid enough to appoint someone like Kato as an adviser to the Morale Affairs Department."

In statements on Sunday, Kato said that people influenced by foreign agendas are inciting clashes between the armed forces and the protesters.

He added that some members of the political elite, satellite channels and pseudo-intellectuals are trying to damage the reputation of the military.

Photos: Walls & battles on Sheikh Rihan Street

DECEMBER 18 - Clashes on Sheikh Rihan Street

On Dec. 18, clashes continued between protesters and security forces/thugs, for the third consecutive day.

After having used lethal force to dispersed the 'Occupy Cabinet' sit-in, the armed forces (on Dec. 17) constructed a massive concrete wall on Qasr el-Aini St. to keep protesters away from parliament and cabinet. Riot-police and military police attacked protesters with live ammunition, rubber bullets/pellets, tear gas, rocks, petrol bombs, and water canons using 'dirty-water.'

DECEMBER 19 - Third wall built, clashes continue on Sheikh Rihan

On the fourth day of street fighting, the armed forces constructed another wall and barriers on Sheikh Rihan St.

While groups of protesters fought-off security forces, other protesters managed to bring down parts of the wall - by dislodging massive blocks of concrete from the barrier.

Riot-police shelter behind iron shields. In five days, security forces killed at least 18 protesters, injured at least 2,000 others, and arrested over 200.

Muslim and Christian activists in a display of unity; expressing unity in their common struggle against the military junta and its crimes.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Women march in Cairo, protest against violence

Women march in Cairo to protest violence

December 21, 2011

Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Mohammed Jamjoom

Cairo (CNN) -- Egypt's ruling military council Tuesday expressed "great regret" to Egyptian women over recent attacks on female demonstrators by military police and vowed to hold accountable those responsible.

Days of clashes around Cairo's Tahrir Square were stoked by the weekend beating of a woman by military police officers, prompting a "Million Women" march on Tuesday. In a statement issued on its Facebook page, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces called for calm and said it is willing to discuss any proposal "that might help in achieving stability and safety for Egypt."

"The Supreme Council express its great regret to the great women of Egypt for the violations that took place during the recent events, in the demonstrations that took place at the parliament and the ministers' council, and reassure its respect and appreciation for Egyptian women and their right in protesting and their active positive participation in the political life," it said.

The statement added, "All legal measures have been taken to hold accountable all those responsible for these violations."

Egypt's capital remained engulfed in tension Tuesday as security forces and protesters clashed and demonstrators at the "Million Women" march railed against the regime and assaults on citizens.

Meanwhile, Egypt's capital remained engulfed in tension as security forces wielding batons, firearms and tear gas attacked defiant protesters Tuesday on the fifth consecutive day of clashes the square, witnesses told CNN.

Sherif Barakat, a businessman, heard machine gun fire early in the morning and saw the unrest from the balcony of his home above Tahrir Square. He saw security forces charge, firing tear gas and beating people with batons.

"Both sides exchanged rock-pelting until the military withdrew," he said. "They kept the protesters at bay far from the epicenter of the clashes at Sheikh Rihan Street close to the Ministry of Interior for two hours until they reinforced the cement wall erected two days back with more blocks, then they withdrew."

Nazly Hussein, an activist, said the forces stormed the square before dawn with a "startling" amount of firepower.

"I noticed protesters are not too scared of the firepower," Hussein said. But at the same time, "they are terrified from getting caught and tortured."

Ahmed Hamdi, a field medic, claimed that two people -- a doctor and a student -- were shot and killed. But Adel Al Dawi, a Health Ministry spokesman, could not confirm the casualties.

"It usually takes several hours before we get the official casualty report from the morgues or the hospitals. I know of five people who suffered gunshot wounds during the attack and were transferred to hospitals," Al Dawi said.

Demonstrators and security forces have been battling since Friday in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. At least 14 deaths in the latest spate of violence were confirmed as of Monday.

Several hundred women kicked off the "Million Woman" march, billed to highlight regime violence against female demonstrators.

It started in Tahrir Square, moved through nearby streets and grew to as many as 1,500 to 2,000 people, both men and women outraged over the treatment of all protesters.

Many held up pictures of abused people, and called for regime change. Men vigilant about assaults formed a protective ring around the female marchers.

"I am here to violently condemn the attacks on Egyptian men and women by the Egyptian Army," said Ragia Omran, a human rights activist at the march. "We will not be quiet. We will not let this happen again and we will continue to voice out our anger against this military junta that is killing this country."

The march occurred as shocking images of brutality that went viral across the Internet intensified the crisis in Egypt, the world's most populous Arab nation. One video that sparked outrage showed a military police officer stomping on a woman's exposed stomach over the weekend. Protesters on Tuesday held placards with images of that woman.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, released a statement Monday condemning what she called "vicious" and "brutal" assaults recorded over the weekend.

"The ruthless violence being used against unarmed women protesters is especially shocking and cannot be left unpunished," Pillay said.

Another video showed Islam Abdel Hafiz, a boy allegedly shot by the military. Field medics attempted to remove the bullet from his motionless bleeding body before transferring him to the hospital.

Al Dawi said he visited the boy in the operating room and met his parents.

"I hope he survives, as the bullet seems to have caused some serious internal damage," Al Dawi told CNN.

Protesters are now demanding that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces swiftly hand authority over to an elected civilian government. Egypt has been conducting parliamentary elections and the military has said it plans to transfer power after elections are completed next year.

There have already been two rounds of voting for the lower house of Parliament, and voting for the upper house will begin at the end of January and go into early March. There are plans for the election of a president in June.

Newly elected Parliament members, intellectuals and academics weighed in on the violence Monday. The 40 demonstrators held a sit-in in front of the Supreme Court. They demanded that officials involved in the killing of protesters be tried, and they called for the military to hand over authority to civilians on January 25, the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Revolutionary Alliance, an opposition bloc of secular and religious parties, held a news conference to display images and testimonials about the violence, an event that served as a refutation of a Monday news briefing by the military. The alliance has not taken part in the election.

"Our press conference challenges the press conference announced by the military yesterday which was an utter joke, with all the blatant lies and fabrications it contained. That presser displayed their arrogance and continued mismanagement of the interim period that has led us to the crisis of witnessing dead people everyday," said alliance member Rami Shath.

The military displayed videos of young boys who confessed that they received money from men who asked them to throw Molotov cocktails and rocks at security forces and burn government buildings such as the Cabinet. Many journalists attending the news conference applauded Gen. Adel Amar after his speech.

"The military fabricated these videos and forced the young boys to give these testimonials. They also invited local military correspondents loyal to the establishment that were seen clapping away after the press conference, which was broadcast live on state TV. It is a propaganda move to bury the revolution and portray us as paid thugs with no political horizon," Shath added.

Activists have filed complaints about senior government officials to the Egyptian prosecutor's office. Adel Saeed, the official spokesman of the general prosecutor, told CNN that two judges from the appeals court have been appointed to investigate the "intricate details" of the clashes and file a report to the prosecutor and the Justice Ministry.

"There are protesters and activists dying every day," Noor Noor, the son of presidential candidate Ayman Nour, told CNN Tuesday. The son filed a report under his own name against Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

"Someone has to be accountable. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has failed to govern the interim period on both the military and political level," Noor said.

Monday was the fourth day that pro-democracy demonstrators battled Egyptian security forces.

The United Nations' Pillay said she believes the individuals involved in the assaults must be arrested and prosecuted.

"These are life-threatening and inhuman acts that cannot possibly be justified under the guise of restoration of security or crowd control," Pillay said. She called for an impartial and independent investigation into "all instances of abuse and violent repression against protesters."

Video: Egyptian army brutally assaults Tahrir protesters

انتهاكات المجلس العسكرى - 17/12/2011

December 17 - Army troops and military police use lethal force in cracking down on protesters outside the Cabinet HQs and in Tahrir Sq.

These troops also assaulted journalists and female protesters; the crimes of a group of soldiers are caught on video as they sexually assault a young woman - ripping her clothes off and stomping on her body.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Egypt army clashes with protesters killing seven

Egypt military clashes with protesters killing 7 a day after parliamentary elections

Saturday, December 17 2011

Heavy-handed assault was apparently an attempt to clear out protesters who have been camped out in front of the building for 3 weeks demanding the ruling military leave power

CAIRO -- Soldiers stormed an anti-military protest camp outside Egypt's Cabinet building Friday, beating women with sticks and hurling chunks of concrete and glass onto protesters from the roof of the parliament in a resurgence of turmoil only a day after millions voted in parliamentary elections.

At least seven protesters were shot to death in the clashes, including a prominent Muslim cleric, activists said. The heavy-handed assault was apparently an attempt to clear out protesters who have been camped out in front of the building for three weeks demanding the ruling military leave power.

But the mayhem - which came despite promises from the army-appointed prime minister that the protesters would not be cleared by force - threatened to spark a new round of violence after deadly clashes between youth revolutionaries and security forces in November that lasted for days and left more than 40 dead.

Several women protesters cowered on the pavement as military police beat them with truncheons and long sticks. Another woman was seen bring dragged away by her hair by soldiers.

Plainclothes and uniformed security officers threw slabs of concrete and stones on protesters from atop the parliament building, according to state TV footage and videos and photos posted by protesters on social networking sites. Protesters threw fire bombs and rocks at the security officers, lighting a part of parliament on fire and chanting "Down with the military."

"It's pretty ironic that the military is throwing rocks at protesters from the parliament building, where a sign is hanging that says democracy is the power of the people," protester Mostafa Sheshtawy said.

A human rights activist said gunshot wounds killed at least seven protesters in the clashes.

Ramy Raoof of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said bodies arrived overnight at a nearby hospital. Raoof said it was difficult to tell what kind of bullets killed the protesters and that full autopsies were expected.

Hours after sunset, the crowds of protesters had grown to hundreds and clashes continued, with youths hiding behind a makeshift barrier of metal sheets and an overturned car, throwing volleys of stones at military police lined up in the broad avenue in front of the parliament and Cabinet headquarters.

There were reports of live gunfire from the rooftops. One protester, Islam Mohammed, said a fellow protester pushed him aside and was hit by a bullet in the stomach. "He took a bullet instead of me and fell to the ground. I have his blood on my shirt and hands," Mohammed said. The condition of the wounded man was not known.

Sahar Abdel-Mohsen, a youth activist, said she saw the bodies of two slain protesters brought to a Cairo hospital, both with gunshot wounds. "The blood is still dripping from the head of one of them," a 22-year-old man, she told The Associated Press. The other was shot in the chest, she said. A Health Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of he was not authorized to talk to the press, confirmed the two deaths.

Also killed was Sheik Emad Effat, a cleric from Al-Azhar, Egypt's most eminent religious institution, said Ibrahim el-Houdaiby, a prominent activist. He said Effat - who has taken a pro-revolutionary position, criticizing the military and issuing a religious decree forbidding voting for former members of the regime in elections - was shot in the heart after joining the protesters outside the Cabinet.

A member of the prominent April 6th movement, Ahmed Mansour, was also killed, Raoof said.

The Health Ministry said at least 222 people were injured, including broken bones and gunshot wounds.

The assault was likely to re-ignite the tensions between revolutionaries and the military, which took power after the Feb. 11 resignation of Hosni Mubarak. The youth activists who led the protests that ousted Mubarak accuse the military of acting in the same authoritarian way as the former president.

Ziad el-Oleimi, an activist who won a parliament seat in the first round of elections on Nov. 28-29, told AP that military police beat him with sticks on his torso and arms and told him, "Don't imagine the parliament will protect you.

"So long as Egyptians are being humiliated and beaten on the streets, that means the revolution has not reached its goals. Taking to the streets will continue," el-Oleimi said.

The clashes took place as election officials counted ballots from the second round of parliament elections, considered to be the freest and fairest vote in Egypt's modern history. A third of Egypt's provinces voted Wednesday and Thursday. Election results from the first round of voting placed Islamist parties ahead of more liberal parties.

The armed forces retain support among many Egyptians who see it as the only entity able to run the country until presidential elections scheduled for next year.

But the new violence exacerbates the political tensions.

Members of a civilian advisory panel created by the military this month as a gesture to protesters suspended their work, demanding an immediate end to violence against protesters and a formal apology from the ruling military council. The panel is also seeking an independent investigation into the clashes. Two of its members resigned in protest.

A number of newly elected lawmakers condemned the military for the violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest winner in parliamentary elections so far, said in a statement that it rejects the assault on protesters and the use of the parliament building to attack people.

In a Tweet, leading reform figure and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei wrote, "If the sit-in broke the law, isn't the cruelty and brutality used to break it up a greater violation of all human rights laws? This is not how nations are managed."

The protesters have been peacefully camped out in front the Cabinet building for three weeks, preventing the newly appointed prime minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri, from entering his office.

In a statement read on state TV Friday night, the ruling military said its forces did not intent to break up the protest and said officers showed self-restraint, denying the used any gunfire. It said the clashes began when a military officer was attacked while on duty and protesters tried to break into the parliament compound.

But witnesses said the clashes erupted late Thursday after troops snatched a protester, taking him into the parliament building and beating him severely. The troops later moved in, burning protesters' tents.

Hundreds of people rushed to join the protest after online video and photos showed people carrying the wounded man, his face bruised and swollen, his head wrapped in gauze and blood dripping from his nose.

Protester threw rocks and firebombs at military police, who fired back with water cannons and stones from inside parliament. Several cars were set on fire.

An American producer for Al Jazeera English, Evan Hill, was beaten by military police and his equipment and passport confiscated, the network reported.

The military's assault is also a potential embarrassment to el-Ganzouri, who vowed last month that he would not use force to break up the sit-in. El-Ganzouri had been touted as being more independent of the military than his predecessor, whose government stepped down amid the November protests amid criticism that it was simply a facade for the ruling generals.

"Who has power and who is responsible?" asked ElBaradei on his Twitter account.

'Occupy Cabinet' camp struck by mass food-poisoning

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Cabinet sit-in hit by mass food poisoning, dozens hospitalized

Wed, 14/12/2011

Jano Charbel and Abdel Rahman Hussein

Some 40 activists involved in the “Occupy Cabinet” sit-in have been transferred to hospital after suffering from food poisoning, apparently caused by free food handed out to protesters on Wednesday afternoon.

According to eye-witness reports, a woman wearing a niqab (face-veil) distributed grilled meat sandwiches — known as “hawawshi” — to protesters camped outside the cabinet building in central Cairo.

Dr. Ahmed Farouq, a volunteer physician serving at a field hospital, confirmed that "the hawawshi was delivered to the protesters at their camp, wrapped in the wrappers of a fish and seafood restaurant." The doctor added that this restaurant does not make hawawshi.

Farouq added that the protesters started falling ill nearly five hours after having consumed the food. "This may very well be a plot hatched against the protesters. It may have been prepared and distributed by remnants of the old regime who want to see this sit-in dispersed,” he said.

“It could perhaps be bad meat that was unintentionally distributed amongst the protesters,” the doctor continued. “However, I do smell the work of provocateurs and trouble makers in this incident."

Dr. Bahaa Awad, a physician present at the scene, said: "They're falling down without symptoms of food poisoning or throwing up. The large number collapsing at the same time is very strange."

Nearly 40 protesters were transferred to the Toxins Center at the nearby Qasr al-Aini Street.

Farid Abdel Hamid Allam, a protester from Kafr al-Sheikh who also ate the food, said, "I ate the inside of the sandwich, but not the bread. I threw up and fainted a bit two hours later. I felt nauseous, but I won't go into the ambulance, otherwise they’ll arrest me. They put me in the ambulance, but I left."

According to volunteer nurse Nesma Mohamed, "The hawawshi was distributed by a woman who was not recognized by any of the protesters." The nurse added, "She came with a large supply of this food, distributed it and left immediately."

According to Mohamed, more than 35 protesters had been admitted to the toxins center by early Wednesday evening, displaying a number of symptoms, such as vomiting, intense sweating, and fainting.

"I saw the meat, and it didn't look like normal meat,” said the nurse. “In any case, we have samples of this meat and it is being analyzed at the moment. The results will tell us if it was bad meat or poisoned meat."

*note - more than 70 protesters are reported to have suffered from this food-poisoning

Egyptian blogger sentenced to 2 years in prison

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Maikel Nabil sentenced to 2 years in jail

Wed, 14/12/2011

A military court on Wednesday sentenced Maikel Nabil, a blogger charged with insulting the military, to two years in prison and a fine of LE200, said activist Noor Ayman Nour from the advocacy group No to Military Trials for Civilians.

The ruling, made by the Supreme Military Court of Appeals, follows an appeal to an earlier verdict that sentenced Nabil to three years in prison. Since this is a military trial, the verdict cannot be appealed again.

Nabil's charges include insulting the armed forces, publishing false news and disturbing public security.

Nabil has been on hunger strike for 113 days to protest his detention and trial and has been surviving on water and milk.

The 26-year-old blogger has also refused to apologize to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

In a Facebook statement, Nabil wrote that some military officers asked him to write an apology in exchange for his release — an offer he turned down.

Last week, the International Federation of Liberal Youth granted Nabil its "Freedom Award" in recognition of his "firm commitment to freedom."

Nabil wrote a blog post in March titled "The army and the people weren't ever one hand," questioning the role of the military in the revolution and condemning its takeover while citing incidents in which the military was involved in arresting and torturing activists during the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Military trials of civilians — particularly bloggers — have been increasingly criticized by activists and human rights watchdogs.

A censorship debacle reflects Egypt's future

Huffington Post
The Springborg Affair: A Censorship Debacle Reflects Egypt's Future


Maurice Chammah

It began on Monday, December 5th, when English newspaper readers in Cairo learned that a new paper, the Egypt Independent, had disappeared from newsstands. They learned about the disappearance from the British press, in an article by Alistair Beach of The Independent. "A censorship row has broken out at the country's newest newspaper after staff were ordered to shelve an entire print run of 20,000 copies," Beach wrote, "over an article that suggested the leader of the governing Military Council could go to prison."

In the censored article, political science professor Robert Springborg had suggested that "resentment" might be growing in the ranks of the military against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Egypt's current de-facto leader Field Marshal Muhammad Tantawi. An edited version of the article can be read on Egypt Independent's website. Instead of the word "resentment" it used the somehow less toxic "concern," and excised the offending paragraph:

The present discontent among junior officers, Chief of Staff General Sami Anan's greater popularity than the Field Marshal in the military and among Egyptians as a whole, and intensified pressure from the U.S. could all result in the Field Marshal sharing President Mubarak's fate, The military institution could remove him to save itself. If matters became truly desperate, discontented officers not in the SCAF might decide that a coup within a coup would be the best way to save the honor of the country and their institution.

Springborg published an angry rebuttal to the censorship in Foreign Policy. Calling Egypt Independent "rather paradoxically named," he admitted, "I do not know whether [Magdy El Galad, the editor who ordered the censorship,] did so on direct orders from the SCAF or because he anticipated General Tantawi's negative reaction."

Ironically, the censorship led Springborg to more fully explain his coup theory, and speculate on how the censorship itself plays into it. "One lesson of the Arab Spring," he wrote, "is that news now travels very fast indeed. Within hours of the 20,000 copies of the second issue of Egypt Independent being pulped, the story had spread not only in Egypt, but globally, as the article in London's The Independent attests."

El Galad explained himself in Arabic. Egypt Independent editor Max Strasser published the translation on his blog. Far more remarkable than the content, which defends pulling the article on national security concerns, is the style. El Galed writes in the flowery, unsystematic fashion that is difficult to translate, and wholly foreign to English readers, which undoubtedly makes him look worse to those already unenthused with his actions. "I thank God for his several blessings, one of which is that I am thick-skinned: I only contemplate objective criticism," he began.

Waving away Egyptian journalists who are "bedazzled by the lights of the West," he grandly pronounced, "I could not care less for the broken record about freedom of speech, employed by the West to achieve its nefarious ends against us, when it suppresses those freedoms to protect its interests and national security."

"For me," he continued, "one black strand of hair from an Egyptian child in the heart of Upper Egypt is of greater value than his country or the entire West." Where Springborg "derives his arrogant power from the American arsenal," El Galed himself finds "protection in satisfying a poor man in some impoverished Egyptian neighborhood."

"This ultra-nationalist discourse is a by-product of the toppled regime, and by extension the 1952 military regime," suggested an editorial published by Egypt Independent's editors. Indeed, this kind of over-the-top prose developed in the political party press of the turn of the last century, crystallizing in the weekly editorials of Mohammad Heikal, close friend of Gamel Abdel Nasser and editor of the newly-nationalized Al Ahram in the 1960s. "He writes as he talks," American journalist Edward Sheehan once wrote of Heikal, an obvious predecessor of El Galed. "His favorite subject is himself, and he is so fond of elaborate digressions that he can consume thousands of words before he comes to his point."

The censorship incident over Springborg's op-ed, and the ensuing "Streisand Effect" (in which censorship backfires) was indicative of the intellectual battles throughout the Egyptian press these days. Among Egyptian journalists I've encountered a firm divide between Western-oriented independents, many but not all educated in English and closely linked to the protest movement, and the older generation of editors and writers like El Galed, who though independent are connected to a different era of media that involves self-censorship for the purpose of stability. After all, in the 1950s the press had legitimate reasons for downplaying Nasser's mistakes and offering a counter-narrative to British papers.

Sarah Carr, who writes for Egypt Independent, is one of the younger school who El Galed might call "bedazzled." She ripped into both El Galed and his style, in a mock translation of his article. "I have learnt that being proud of my country means using it as a basis for ad hominem attacks on colleagues and others I disagree with, as well as a device for constructing fascistic, paranoid delusions," she wrote, feigning El Galed's tone. She tried her hand at the flowery, old-school writing style, in all capital letters:


It goes on and on, and is very funny for those familiar with the old style. Carr's sarcastic humor shows the way post-revolution Egypt is confronting a generational divide evident elsewhere, but on display most clearly in the arena that is obviously most public: the press. Springborg is absolutely correct when he says that the censorship incident reaffirms the precariousness of Tantawi's rule. But it also reflects something deeper about the "Arab Spring" as it plays out in Egypt. It shows how generational and cultural divides that pervade Egyptian journalism continue to reflect the political situation, and on occasion, affect it as well.

Egypt's labor union movement struggles for independence

Ahram Online
Egypt's labour movement takes a tumble

December 10, 2011

Yassin Gaber

After a wave of strikes and workers' action fueled and empowered Egypt’s 18-day uprising, the burgeoning labour movement, subsequently empowered, began asserting itself: unilaterally declaring an independent trade union federation to rival its state-run counterpart and undertaking steps to dismantle the power dynamics and structure of the state's union. Recently, however, Egypt’s workers and unionists have found themselves fighting to maintain their gains.

In March, Egypt’s manpower minister, Ahmed Hassan El-Borai announced the right of Egyptian workers to establish their own labour unions and federations, an action hailed by the International Labour Organisation. But a new trade union law is yet to be passed by Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Following the August enforcement of a 2006 judgement, the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) board was dissolved. However, these steps have been stymied by the government’s continued reliance on members of the old-guard whenever it comes to implementation. This adds up, in the words of Hisham Fouad, a founding member of the Democratic Workers Party, to a government outlook that is “counter-revolutionary and opposed to workers’ progress.” Added to this, their refusal to consult directly with independent unionists is, for him, proof of a deeper intransigence and indicative of the ruling military council's desire to quell the movement.

The decision by former prime minister Essam Sharaf to dissolve the ETUF board and freeze the general union's assets was a high point for independent unionists. But a sobering reality set in in its immediate aftermath. A steering committee consisting of independent, state-affiliated and Muslim Brotherhood unionists was tasked with examining the general union’s financial affairs. This de-facto board began reviewing reports by the Central Auditing Organisation: reports that contain hundreds of infractions and financial remarks linked to the ETUF as well as other organisations under its umbrella.

Unionists found to have illicit financial dealings were supposed to be turned over to the prosecutor-general's office, but interests got in the way. The committee was paralysed by its multi-factional composition.

A coalition of four general unions – the Union of Petrol Workers, the Union of Flour Mill Workers, the Maritime Transport Workers Union and the Transport Workers Union – went on strike in mid-November, calling for the dissolution of the Cabinet-appointed steering committee. Members of the de-facto board also tried, unsuccessfully, to remove its head, Ahmed Abdel Zahir, a carry-over from the dissolved board and an associate of its former head, Hussein Megawer. The notorious businessman was charged earlier this year for playing a role in the 2 February “Battle of the Camel.”

When El-Borai was unable to put an end to the strike, he dissolved the steering committee and replaced it with another one consisting of figures from the old board – associates of Megawer. “We've regressed. The situation now is just like when Hussein Megawer was around,” states Wael Habib, member of the steering committee.

Fouad believes that this move is a response by the ruling SCAF to the wave of strikes that swept Egypt in September. “The SCAF felt more in control and needed to clampdown on the empowered labour movement,” Fouad states.

Following the imposition of a new ETUF committee, El-Borai announced on 28 November that the newly-formed Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) had agreed to join the state-run ETUF, creating much alarm and sending signals that the government no longer valued union pluralism or freedoms. Though confusion and speculation is still rife, it would seem that such a consensus between independent unionists and their state-affiliated counterparts never truly existed.

“We will not get involved with them in any respect. We reject the notion of a state-run trade union,” Fatma Ramadan, a board member of the EFITU and labour activist, stresses.

Ramadan had to withdraw her candidacy in the People's Assembly (Parliament's lower house) elections, after administrative courts in the governorates of Giza and Menoufiya (both in the upcoming second round of elections) refused to accept candidates who received their workers' status from the independent general union. According to Ramadan, the EITUF authorised the candidacy of between 300 and 400 workers for Egypt's three stage People's Assembly elections. Of those, around ten unionists, including Ramadan, were denied the right to stand for elections as workers.

In a 20 July decree, the ruling SCAF maintained a 47-year-old quota for representatives of workers and peasants in both the upper and lower houses of Egypt’s Parliament. Unionists are divided on whether this quota should be consigned to the fate of the old-regime or refashioned. “The 50 per cent quota for workers and fellahin is meant to protect these sectors: give them a voice, but when the quota is used to fill parliament with businessmen and technicians who do you think they will defend: themselves or the workers?” asks Ramadan.

Saud Omar, a member of the Suez Canal Authority's workers union and workers candidate in Suez, believes that the 50 per cent quota should remain but that a new law must be put in place to ensure that elected representatives come from the workers and truly stand for them, preventing misuse of the system. “Parliament does not truly speak for the people. The millions of people heading to the streets proves this and negates the supposed role of parliament, but we still must work through these political avenues.”

While the country’s first post-Mubarak elections promise to bring to power what some observers predict will be the most legitimate parliament since the 1930s, the make-up of the forthcoming parliament will to a varying degree determine the course of the workers’ movement.

First round results reveal strong electoral gains by the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafist Nour Party. Even with two rounds left in the People's Assembly elections, many observers believe an Islamist takeover is now inevitable. Should Islamists come to power, the labour movement can expect to come up against certain obstacles. The FJP has previously condoned the ruling SCAF's opposition to strikes, going a step further by attempting to force an end to teacher's strikes in some governorates last September. The Nour Party has also taken an anti-strike line, calling such labour actions, at this point in time, “undesirable.” The only liberal list to make any substantial gains in the first round was the Egyptian Bloc. The Free Egyptians, the Bloc's leading partner, also has an unfavourable labour stance which it made clear when it quickly declared its support of the ruling military council's anti-strike law in July.

Nevertheless, some labour activists are resolute: “We are undeterred by parliamentary elections; the battle for parliament is only part of the struggle. The street is where our main fight lies. We demand the right to freely unionise, an end to the law criminalising strikes, a minimum and maximum wage, the restart of stalled factories and the rehiring of their workers, an increase in pensions and adequate health care,” Ramadan states.

According to labour lawyer and Revolutionary Socialists member Haitham Mohamedein, “The true issue lies in the law.” Specifically Law No 35 (1976), which outlined the structural and electoral regulations of the state-run ETUF among other central organisations. The ruling military junta’s decision to shelve the draft legislation, approved by the Manpower Ministry and then by Sharaf's Cabinet, is the crux of the matter, Mohamedein believes. The legislation would allow, for the first time since the 1950s, trade union pluralism and freedoms for workers and businessmen to form their own unions and syndicates respectively, but strong unions and syndicates would challenge a system that breeds corruption, oligarchy and social inequality.

The Brotherhood has always fought for control of syndicates and unions, states the labour lawyer, and they will approach the ETUF in a similar fashion. “The FJP wants the general union to be under their thumb and they will control the federation through elections: elections framed by Law No 35. It is not in their interest to radically change this law. The workers movement is a source of anxiety for businessmen and the Brotherhood. They could possibly seek to amend the law but would not allow the same freedoms as the shelved legislation.”

USA - Stop sending arms, tear gas to Egyptian security forces

Amnesty International
USA repeatedly shipped arms supplies to Egyptian security forces

6 December 2011

Data obtained by Amnesty International shows that the US has repeatedly transferred ammunition to Egypt despite security forces' violent crackdown on protesters.

A shipment for the Egyptian Ministry of Interior arrived from the US on 26 November carrying at least seven tons of "ammunition smoke" - which includes chemical irritants and riot control agents such as tear gas.

It was one of at least three arms deliveries to Egypt by the US company Combined Systems, Inc. since the brutal crackdown on the "25 January Revolution" protesters.

“US arms shipments to Egypt’s security forces must be stopped until there is certainty that tear gas and other munitions, weaponry or other equipment aren’t linked to bloodshed on Egyptian streets,” said Brian Wood of Amnesty International.

On 8 April, Combined Systems, Inc. shipped 21 tons of ammunition (42,035 pounds) from the US port of Wilmington to the Egyptian port of Suez.

On 8 August, another shipment of 17.9 tons of ammunition (35,793 pounds) was loaded from New York and transferred to Port Said in Egypt.

According to the commercial trade database, PIERS, both these shipments were listed under the product code of bullets, cartridges and shells, but the latter was also described as "ammunition smoke".

A third shipment, aboard Danish ship the Marianne Danica, which is owned by the Danish company H.Folmer & Co, arrived at the port of Adabiya near Suez on 26 November.

This shipment was organized by the defence logistics company, Nico Shipping. The munitions were loaded at the US Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina and left on 13 October, according to shipping information tracked by Transarms for Amnesty International.

Combined Systems, Inc., which is based in Jamestown in the USA, manufactures a range of munitions for military forces and law enforcement agencies, including impact munitions such as rubber batons and irritant munitions such as CS tear gas.

On 1 December, a US State Department spokesperson confirmed that “export licences were approved to two US companies for the export of tear gas and other non-lethal riot control agents to the Egyptian Government. And the most recent export licence approval occurred in July”.

"These licences were authorized during a period where the Egyptian government responded to protests by using excessive and often lethal force. It is inconceivable that the US authorities did not know of evidence of widely documented abuses by the Egyptian security forces. These licences should not have been granted," said Brian Wood.

A US State Department spokesperson said on 29 November, “we haven’t seen any real concrete proof that the Egyptian authorities were misusing tear gas.”

As recently as November, protests against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in which at least two dozen people were killed and hundreds more injured, were violently dispersed with tear gas.

Many of the cartridges and grenades picked up by protestors in Tahrir Square were US-made tear gas, including those marked Combined Systems Inc. or Combined Tactical Systems, which is the company’s law enforcement division.

“Even in situations where protesters clash with riot police, it is no licence to use excessive force and tear gas recklessly,” said Brian Wood.

“Egypt’s security forces, including the riot police, must be reformed and trained to respect UN standards on use of force and firearms. Without fundamental change in the behaviour and accountability of the security forces, it is irresponsible for foreign countries to provide arms and other equipment to forces that are most likely to misuse them.”

The Egyptian security forces’ use of foreign-made tear gas and other ammunition is a clear example of the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Amnesty International is calling for munitions used for law enforcement operations like tear gas to be included among the conventional arms to be regulated by the treaty.

“An effective Arms Trade Treaty, which includes a comprehensive scope and robust national licensing controls, would help ensure that arms exports of the USA and other major arms-transferring countries do not fuel serious human rights abuses,” said Brian Wood.

Egypt Embassy in UK occupied in solidarity with Tahrir

Egyptian Embassy in London Occupied in Solidarity with Tahrir Protests


Four female activists entered and occupied the Egyptian Embassy in solidarity with the Tahrir Square movement. The activists were subsequently arrested and taken to West End Central Police Station. London, UK. 5th December 2011 Egyptian Embassy in London Occupied in Solidarity with Tahrir Protests

At 9.00am this morning a number of women activists entered the Egyptian Embassy in London with a banner reading "Solidarity with Tahrir" in English and Arabic. Tahrir is both the square which has been the focal point of protests in Cairo, and Arabic for "Liberation". They are currently occupying part of the embassy.

Over the past month, protesters in Tahrir Square have been violently attacked by the army whilst protesting continuing military rule of Egypt, despite January's popular uprising which ousted Dictator Hosni Mubarak on February 11th.

The army has been firing on protesters with live ammunition and three types of tear gas, two of which are said to have caused fatalities. At least 42 people have been killed and over 3000 injured since protesters re-occupied Tahrir square on Nov 19th. Thousands of people remain in prison without charge since the beginning of the uprising and reports of torture are widespread.

Since the Military took over street patrols from the Police on January 28th 2011, 12,000 civilians have been arrested and tried under military courts - more than the total number tried by the military in 30 years of Mubarak's rule.

A state of emergency remains in place since 1981, outlawing strikes and protests. Despite this, Egyptians continue to protest, organise and take industrial action.

The protesters in London say they are responding to a call from protesters in Cairo to occupy Egyptian Embassies worldwide.

One protester, 31 year old medic Janet Cole, said:

"The peoples' uprising in January overthrew Mubarak, but the army have retained control - the people say there will never be real democracy while the army rules the country. We're protesting in solidarity with everyone defending their revolution in Egypt".

A second activist from the group added:

"The SCAF - the Supreme Council of Armed Forces - must stop attacking protesters and end military trials for civilians. The British government must also end its' tacit approval of the Junta, through its support for arms deals and silence on the ongoing repression".

Egyptian border guards kill African migrant

Associated Press
Egyptian border guards kill African migrant

Dec. 05, 2011

Ashraf Sweilam

EL-ARISH, Egypt — A security official says Egyptian police have shot dead an African migrant and wounded three others near the border with Israel.

The security official says the four men, all in their 20s, were trying to illegally enter Israel from Egypt's Taba border region in the Sinai Peninsula on Monday.

He says three wounded men are Eritreans. The fourth, who was shot dead, did not have identification on him.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Thousands of Africans try to reach Israel from Egypt every year, risking a dangerous desert crossing in hopes of getting work or asylum.

Egyptian border guards trying to stem the flow of illegal migration into Israel have killed dozens of migrants in recent years.

Egypt: Censorship of Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper

The Independent
Censorship row fuels public's fears over Egyptian election

December 05, 2011

Alastair Beach

As Egyptians await the final results of their first free elections in decades, which they hope will herald a new era of freedom and openness, a censorship row has broken out at the country's newest newspaper after staff were ordered to shelve an entire print run of 20,000 copies over an article that suggested the leader of the governing Military Council could go to prison.

Employees at the Egypt Independent, an English-language weekly, were told the latest edition could not be distributed because of the final two paragraphs of an opinion piece about Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who became de facto president after the demise of Hosni Mubarak in February.

It is another blow for those who have raised concerns about the direction of Egypt's revolution, with critics alleging that the country's top brass appear intent on undermining the popular uprising to preserve their decades-old networks of power.

The offending article, headlined, "Is Tantawi reading the public pulse correctly?", had suggested that many in the military believed their reputation was being abused. "The military institution could remove him to save itself," argued the opinion piece, by American historian Dr Robert Springborg. It concluded that a group of "discontented officers" might decide that a "coup within the coup" was the best way to deal with Tantawi, and mentioned a possible contender for the Field Marshal's post.

"The present rumblings of discontent among junior officers, Chief of Staff General Sami Anan's greater popularity than the Field Marshal in the military and among Egyptians as a whole, and intensified pressure from the US could all result in the Field Marshal sharing President Mubarak's fate," Dr Springborg wrote. Editorial staff had cleared the article for printing last Wednesday. But, as the presses were rolling, the paper received a phone call from Magdi el-Galad, editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Arabic-language sister publication of the Egypt Independent.

Mr el-Galad, who has overall editorial control of both publications, ordered staff not to distribute the paper. "Nobody's happy about this," said one source with detailed knowledge of what transpired. "They feel that to be censored politically is not acceptable."

The intervention by Mr el-Galad, which left the publication in crisis after only its second week of circulation, is especially significant as he was recently offered the post of Information Minister in Egypt's new cabinet. Mr el-Galad refused, citing work commitments, but his attempt to muzzle mention of army discord raises questions. One source close to Mr el-Galad said he had developed close ties to the military and security services over the years. The Independent approached Mr el-Galad for a response, but he declined to comment.

The censorship row came as official results from the first round of Egypt's parliamentary elections showed that Islamist parties had captured nearly two-thirds of the vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood took 36.6 per cent of the 9.7 million votes cast, but it was the success of the ultra-conservative Al-Nour Party that startled many Egyptians. Candidates for the party, which draws support from hardline Salafi Muslims and advocates strict curbs on art and personal freedoms, polled nearly 25 per cent.

*Photo courtesy of EPA

Robert Fisk: Back to Tahrir Square

The Independent
Robert Fisk: Back to Tahrir Square

December 2, 2011

When they massed to call for the fall of Mubarak, Egypt's protesters were filled with hope. Now they are disillusioned with the army they trusted – but just as angry as ever

Robert Fisk

You can get almost anything you want in Tahrir Square these days. Corn-on-the-cob, tea, coffee, suitcases, a cheap holiday in Sharm el-Sheikh, feta cheese, firecrackers, garbage, eggs, empty tear-gas cartridges and lots and lots of arguments and heaps of banners extolling the courage of martyrs and the evils of policemen. There are still a few thousand there every day – today, the revolutionaries are calling for another million – but the many more millions who queued to vote on Monday and Tuesday have put Tahrir Square's integrity in doubt. Who represents Egypt now?

The young and secular revolutionaries in Tahrir or the growing list of successful Islamist candidates – Muslim Brotherhood and, surprisingly, an increasing number of Salafists – with their millions of votes? Certainly not Field-Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's military ruler. He glowers down critically from many a Tahrir poster. He really must get rid of his silly American baseball-style military cap and wear a proper soldier's beret like the rest of his men. And every morning, I hope he gets out of bed and says three times: "I was not elected. I was not elected. I was not elected." For that's the point, isn't it? Tahrir wasn't elected. Nor was Tantawi.

You can canvass a thousand views on Tahrir. There will be a big uprising here, I'm told at a medical tent, there will be a titanic struggle between a newly elected parliament and the Military Council, unless, of course, the Brotherhood have done a secret deal with the army (I suspect, I suspect) so that Tantawi can rule as a closet Mubarak, the Great Father Figure who will escape all civilian control by allowing the Islamists to flounder away in government in return for lèse-majesty privileges, an Algeria-like "pouvoir" above the "pouvoir", In Tahrir, it's easy to be cynical. The revolutionaries – the young, the secular, the brothers and sisters of the January-February martyrs – want an end to the Military Council, the rejuvenated brutality of the state security police, the lawlessness of the Interior Ministry.

They've even collected another clutch of martyrs: 42 in all, blasted away by snipers and cops last month with an unusual, more suffocating tear-gas, and birdshot into the eyes of demonstrators. Forty-nine young people lost eyes and the Tahrir men and women have already renamed the boulevard which leads to the Interior Ministry "Eyes of Freedom Street".

It used to be Mohamed Mahmoud Street. And here's an interesting thing. Mahmoud was one of the nastiest of Egyptian interior ministers eight decades ago, a Wafd party acolyte who served King Farouq, earlier imprisoned by the British in Malta along with that fine lawyer Saad Zaghloul. Zaghloul is the father of all Egyptian revolutions – against the British – and a hero for today's revolutionaries. His colleague Mahmoud was a pre-Mubarak Mubarak. He even became prime minister in 1928, ruling without a parliament for 18 months, a "law and order" man. Sounds, as they say, familiar?

But the old Tahrir of January and February is now more a memory than an inspiration. It's recognisably the same place; the great old apartment blocks and the wicked concrete Soviet-era Mugamma Building – a grey despair-all-ye-who-enter-here tombstone of bureaucracy that the Egyptian revolution shut down – and the rose-pink Egyptian museum and the hulk of the old Hilton and Farouq's ancient foreign ministry.

But the flowering of young courage, the defeat of the cops and their drug-addled "baltagai" thugs in February, the everyone-suddenly-burst-out-singing joy of Mubarak's overthrow, has ended up in the pit of all revolutions. Hopes betrayed, parties hijacked, cops back on the streets. I remember a woman telling me back then that, "All we want is the departure of Mubarak", and I said surely she means the system as well, but somehow Tahrir – back then – aimed only at Mubarak and the army were their heroes and all would be well in the best of all possible worlds.

The people won. The dictator fell. Long live free Egypt. And then it turned out that Mubarak had not turned his rule over to the president of the constitutional court – which the 1971 Egyptian constitution says he should have done – but to his old chum Tantawi and the 19 other generals of whom he, Mubarak, had once been an air force comrade. And Tantawi kept appointing or approving more Mubarak chums, not least the very latest Prime Minister, Kamal el-Ganzouri who had been a Mubarak prime minister; a government of the unelected, some of them very elderly indeed, would now "guide" Egypt's revolution, the old ruling the young.

It seems incredible, now, that the Military Council should have arrested so many thousands of demonstrators since the revolution, that so many should have been tortured by cops, that the army would institute virginity tests for arrested women. And yes, what are Egyptian soldiers doing, carrying out virginity tests on young Egyptian women? Is this really the same army of the brave which crossed the Suez Canal in 1973 and won back Egypt's military glory?

Off the record – of course – an army officer would explain that the tests were to prevent the women claiming later that they had been raped by soldiers. Then, he sniggered, they discovered that the women weren't virgins anyway. Ye Gods! And not far away from Tahrir was the outrageous sectarian battle which saw an army armoured vehicle driving down Christian Copts, the driver having apparently – I somehow enjoyed this weird explanation – suffered a "nervous" collapse. But no, it's not the army the people are against. The soldiers are their brothers and uncles and sons. It's the Military Council.

They've even managed to find a few thousand Egyptians to demonstrate for them, a familiar we-love-the-regime fest which we saw in Cairo under Mubarak and in Tunis under Ben Ali and in Tripoli under Gaddafi and in Damascus under Assad and in Sanaa under Saleh and in Bahrain under the King. It's as if Blair could trump up a pro-faith demo when two million marched against the Iraq war in London. But not all the Tahrir spirit has evaporated.

Wissam Mohamed, a 26-year old translator completing a masters in political science, a scarf over her hair, bright brown eyes, says she's still a revolutionary and believes that the Military Council will not hand over power without further demonstrations by "the people". She mourns the fact that so many of the dead and wounded last month were young and from such poor families. She senses that Mubarak – the farmer Mr Smith of Orwell's 1984 – has not really gone. "Mr Smith never left," she says. "His men are still here. They might well put him back in the palace."

*Photo courtesy of REUTERS