Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - Labor movement thrives despite hostile laws

Egypt Independent

Labor movement thrives in the midst of unfriendly legislation

December 31, 2012

Jano Charbel

Labor politics remain a thriving form of contentious politics in Egypt throughout 2012, reinvigorated by a Muslim Brotherhood-led ruling regime that many consider to be less than sympathetic to the labor movement.

On the macro-level, new laws have been a cause for concern for labor activists. On the ground, the tendency to unionize and strike is upheld. And in the middle, the political administration fails to show any signs of good management.

The laws don’t please

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy as Egypt’s president in June, the appointment of the Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Azhary as minister of manpower in August, the issuing of a presidential decree amending an old trade union law in November, and the passing of the new constitution in a referendum in December have all directly impacted prospects for the country’s labor and union movements.

Since the 61 year old Morsy granted himself sweeping powers with his constitutional decree on 22 November, the first decree issued he issued was Law 97/2012. This new decree amended Trade Union Law 35/1976 with provisions allowing the Ministry of Manpower to appoint replacements for the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) board members over the age of 60.

Furthermore, Morsy’s Law 97 postponed ETUF elections for another six months, although these elections had already been postponed for a year. Law 97 stipulates that elections could be held before six months if a new trade union law replacing the incumbent Law 35 is issued to regulate the ETUF’s elections. 

Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights, explains that the Brotherhood have scrapped the “Trade Union Liberties” draft law which was finalized in September 2011, and are now drafting their own laws which regulate Egypt’s trade unions and professional syndicates.

Since June of this year, the International Labor Organization has threatened to blacklist the Egyptian state as a violator of labor rights — once again — for failing to issue a trade union law protecting workers’ right to freely organize.

Meanwhile, the ruling authorities “have failed to establish either a national minimum wage for workers or a maximum wage for administrators,” Saber says.

In April of this year, the People’s Assembly (legislative house of Parliament) set a maximum monthly wage of LE50,000 (US$8,300) stipulating that the cap on wages — importantly, applicable only in public sector enterprises — should not exceed 35 times the minimum wage. This rate greatly exceeds the common demand of trade unions and workers for a maximum wage of not more than 15 times the minimum.

In October 2011, Egypt’s Cabinet and National Council for Wages agreed to establish a unified minimum wage of LE700 per month ($116.) However, this rate has not yet been enforced in either the public or private sectors. This minimum wage is around half of that demanded by unions and labor organizers – which have been calling for either LE 1,200 or LE1,500 ($200-250) per month.

With the passing of Egypt’s new constitution, drafted primarily by Islamist forces, labor activists have expressed dismay regarding Article 14, which ties wages to production — as opposed to rising prices and inflation. Reservations have also been expressed regarding constitutional articles 63 and 70, which allow for certain sorts of forced labor and child labor (respectively) to be regulated by law. Furthermore, Article 53 stipulates that there can only be one syndicate per profession – intended as a blow to the growing independent union movement.

“Whenever unjust labor laws have been issued, Egypt’s workers have stood up against them and actively resisted them,” independent union-organizer Fatma Ramadan says. “The constitutional articles which violate labor and union rights will be challenged and confronted.”

“If there is enough resistance against these laws the state will either back down, or it will not be able to enforce its interventionist legislation upon workers.”

Unionizing continues

Independent union structures, like the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC) — both of which were established in early 2011 — have grown exponentially, with thousands of new members and hundreds of new unions being established.

These two independent union structures claim to share a membership of over 2.5 million workers among them. Yet the state controlled ETUF — established in 1957 — remains the largest union structure, claiming a membership of 4.5 million.

“Regardless of the Brotherhood’s increasingly right wing tendencies, workers are still organizing their independent unions and federations,” explained Saber.

Unions for fishermen, artisans, and farmers which were established last year have grown significantly this year, according to Saber.

Moreover, previously non-organized workforces including policemen, domestic workers, street vendors and garbage collectors have established their new unions in 2012; there are even efforts at unionizing the unemployed.

In addition to this, in mid-October the EFITU and EDLC sought to merge their unions into one unified structure. These two union structures are also coordinating their efforts with a host of opposition parties coming together as the National Front for the Defense of Labor Rights and Union Liberties.

Meanwhile, both Ramadan and Saber accuse the Morsy regime of attempting to “Brotherhood-ize” the trade union movement – particularly the ETUF – via the Ministry of Manpower.

Since September of this year a number of ETUF board members have called for a unified front between this state-controlled union and the independent unions, to stand-up to Azhary’s alleged attempts at “Brotherhoodizing” the union movement.

Protests persist

While the exact number of industrial actions is still being tallied, estimates suggest that well over 150 strikes were reported in 2012, along with more than 2,000 labor protests and sit-ins in governorates across Egypt. Nearly one million workers and employees are reported to have embarked on industrial actions this year.

“These strikes and protests continue to take place, almost on a daily basis, because workers’ most basic demands have still not been met in the year 2012,” said Ramadan.

This year thousands of workers continued to demand their rights by protesting outside Parliament and the Cabinet as well as outside the Ministry of Manpower. In July of this year, an unprecedented development took place with thousands of angry workers taking their protests to the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace.

Despite the issuing of a law criminalizing strikes and protests in April 2011, industrial actions abound. Ruling authorities have reiterated that strikes have resulted in Egypt incurring tens of millions of pounds of lost revenue.

“Yet striking workers and professionals have launched their industrial actions with the aim of eradicating corruption within their workplaces, and improving public services,” textile union organizer Hesham al-Oql comments.

Oql expresses concern, however, “about the divisions and schisms which we have witnessed among the ranks of strikers this year. If these strikes continue to be divided then their impact will be far less effective.”

According to Saber, “The Brotherhood has generally dismissed labor protests and strikes as being narrow sector-based demands. Time and time again they’ve told Egypt’s workers that now is not the time for labor strikes or protests, insisting instead that it is time to push the wheel of production.”

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Hassan al-Brince declared that workers’ protests and sit-ins outside the presidential palace are being organized by “counter-revolutionary forces” that “aim to topple Morsy,” by giving “the impression that the president is unable to resolve their problems.”

Another Brotherhood member, Sabry Amer, referred to the Public Transportation Authority strike as “an act of treason.”

Since the 25 January revolution, an estimated 300 unionists have been “punitively sacked” from their jobs for organizing unions and/or strikes, according to Ramadan. 

“Ruling authorities have failed to prevent the punitive sackings of elected unionists. These sackings of unionists by private employers, and by state officials in the public sector, constitute blatant violations of the International Labor Organization’s conventions, which the Egyptian state has ratified,” added Saber.

According to Ramadan, “tens of workers and unionists have been referred to the prosecution this year merely for exercising their right to strike.”

In August, police shot dead an unemployed worker demanding work at an Alexandria power plant, while a string of security crackdowns during the month of September targeted striking petroleum workers, protesting teachers, and tree-planting workers.

Government measures are not believed to be detrimental to the labor movement, however.
With dwindling economic resources through which the old regime used to partially appease labor agitation, questions loom around how much and for how long the current Brotherhood regime can afford political restrictions.

“Egypt’s workers have confronted restrictions on the right to strike with hundreds of strikes, just as they confronted restrictions on independent unions and syndicates by establishing hundreds of these organizations nationwide,” says Saber.

“Egypt’s labor struggle will continue.”

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Egypt adopts reactionary constitution with 63.8% of votes

Agence France Presse
CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt's electoral commission confirmed on Tuesday that a controversial, Islamist-backed constitution was passed by 64 percent of voters, rejecting opposition allegations of polling fraud.

Those official results tallied with figures given by President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood immediately after the last round of polling over the weekend in the two-stage referendum. Turnout, however, was barely 33 percent.

"There is no loser in this referendum result. This constitution will be for all of us," Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said in a statement. He called on "all political forces to cooperate with the government" to restore the economy.

The opposition reiterated its rejection of the result.

"The law will take its course after the official complaints we have made to the prosecution service over violations and fraud that have been noted," National Salvation Front spokesman Khaled Daoud told AFP.

The main opposition coalition, however, has already dismissed the plebiscite as "only one battle" and vowed to "continue the fight for the Egyptian people".

That sets the scene for continued instability after more than a month of protests, including clashes on December 5 that killed eight people and injured hundreds.

Washington called on Morsi to work to "bridge divisions".

"President Morsi... has a special responsibility to move forward in a way that recognises the urgent need to bridge divisions, build trust, and broaden support for the political process," acting State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton took note of both the majority backing the constitution and the low turnout.

Repeating a call for dialogue, she added: "I urge those concerned, in particular the president, to intensify efforts in this regard."

Egypt's Communications Minister Hany Mahmoud announced his resignation Tuesday, following in the footsteps of Vice President Mahmud Mekki.

There have also been conflicting reports on whether central bank governor Faruq el Okda has stepped down, while the prosecutor general recently quit and then swiftly retracted his resignation.

"I quit for Egypt," the official Mena news agency quoted Mahmoud as saying, though the precise motives for his decision were not spelt out.

He apparently first tendered his resignation on November 22, the day Morsi announced sweeping new powers for himself.

Many creditors, investors and tourists have abandoned Egypt because of the volatility that has prevailed since the early 2011 revolution that toppled veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

The International Monetary Fund this month put on hold a $4.8 billion loan Cairo needs to prevent a looming currency collapse.

Rating agency Standard and Poor's has downgraded Egypt's long-term credit rating one notch to "B-" because the "elevated" political tensions show no sign of abating.

Samir Abul Maati, president of the national electoral commission, told a Cairo news conference that a total of 63.8 percent of valid ballots supported the new constitution. Turnout was 32.9 percent.

Opposition allegations of fake judges supervising some of the polling were unfounded, he said, though adding that results from a few polling stations were annulled because they had closed early.

The opposition has seized on irregularities and the low turnout to challenge the legitimacy of the charter.

Front leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and former chief of the UN atomic energy agency, however conceded that the referendum was going to pass.

"But it's a really sad day in my view for Egypt, because it is going to institutionalise instability," he told the US television network PBS on Monday.

ElBaradei said the new charter should be treated as an "interim one" until another is written up on the basis of consensus.

The opposition argues that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups want to use some of the charter's ambiguous language to slip in sharia-style strict Islamic law.

Both the opposition and UN human rights chief Navi Pillay have criticised the text, written by a panel dominated by Islamists, for weakening women's rights and other rights, including those of non-Muslims.

The Brotherhood argues that the constitution is a necessary step to restoring stability.
Its religious leader, Mohamed Badie, tweeted: "Congratulations to the Egyptian people on approving the constitution of revolutionary Egypt. Let's start building our country's rebirth... men and women, Muslims and Christians."

The low turnout, though, confounded the Brotherhood's public predictions that voters would give it greater support.

"Anything less than 70 percent would not be good," Amr Darrag, a senior member of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party told AFP on December 2. He helped draft the constitution.

Attention now turns to legislative elections that must be held by the end of February. The constitutional court dissolved the previous parliament in June.

Morsi has ordered the senate, which currently handles all legislative business, to convene on Wednesday, the official MENA news agency said.

Blogger Aliaa el-Mahdy joins nude protest against Brotherhood constitution

International Business Times

Aliaa Magda Elmahdy Egypt's Naked Blogger Joins Femen Protest against Mursi Constitution

December 20, 2012

Gianluca Mezzofiore 

Egypt's famous naked blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy has staged a nude demonstration along with members of the Femen radical feminist group against the planned Egyptian constitution.

Elmahdy, who last year caused a controversy across the Arab world for posting nude pictures of herself online, posed naked with "Sharia is not a constitution" painted on her body along with other two Femen activists. The protest was held outside the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm.

The blogger, 21, branded an Egyptian flag while her Ukrainian allies held banners stating "No religion" and "Religion is slavery".

Egypt has been riven by protests over the draft constitution, which President Mohammed Mursi wants enacted.

Rights activists, liberals and Christians fear that the draft will lead to restrictions on the rights of women and minorities. Among the most controversial articles, the draft says that the "principles of Islamic law" will be the basis of national law. However, this does not mean Egypt will adopt sharia law in its entirety, said some observers.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the main group aligned with Mursi, expects a big victory for the ratification of a referendum on the constitution.

Elmahdy, a former student at the American University of Cairo, made a name for herself with her naked blog postings that she said were a "scream against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy".

The hashtag #NudePhotoRevolutionary went viral after Ahmed Awadalla, who works in human rights, health, sexuality and gender, tweeted: "@3awadalla: A feminist #Jan25 revolutionary posted her nude photo on the internet to express her freedom. I'm totally taken aback by her bravery."

In her blog, Elmahdy said she published the pictures to protest against the ban on nude models in Egyptian universities and books.

"Put the models who worked at the Faculty of Fine Arts until the early 1970s on trial," she told her critics. "Hide art books and smash nude archaeological statues, then take your clothes off and look at yourselves in the mirror. Burn your self-despised bodies in order to get rid of your sexual complexes forever, before directing your sexist insults at me or denying me the freedom of expression," she said. presents: Aliaa Elmahdy & Femen protesting against Egyptian constitution by Mursi from Everyday Rebellion on Vimeo.

'Sharia enforcers' attack Egyptian Cafés

United Press International
Sharia Enforcers Attack Egyptian Cafes

CAIRO, Dec. 17 (UPI) - Members of the Hazemoun and Ahrar Movements attacked people at cafes in Cairo, chanting “Sharia is lifestyle,” witnesses said.

Several people were injured during Saturday's attack, including political activists known for frequenting the cafes, witnesses told al-Shorouk newspaper. They said the attackers fired birdshot and launched fireworks.

Hazemoun is comprised of former presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail's supporters, and Ahrar is a self-styled vigilante youth group that promotes public virtue, Egypt Independent reported.

Salafi mob attacks liberal opposition party offices

Daily News Egypt

Salafi mob attacks opposition party offices

December 16, 2012  

Ahmed Aboul Enein   

Over 500 Salafi protestors set fire to Al-Wafd Party headquarters in Dokki as dozens more surround the headquarters of the Popular Current in Lebanon Square, Mohandiseen.

The protestors attacked the party headquarters as well as the party newspaper’s offices, throwing flares that set fire to the building as well as smashing the windshields of several parked cars and injuring Al-Wafd members according to the party’s statement.

High board member Bahaa Abu Shaqa refused to comment on the claims that there were gunshot wounds and that Secretary General Fouad Badrawy was among the injured.
Police later arrived and tear gas canisters were launched although it is unclear if the police or the Salafis used it, with Al-Wafd officials claiming the latter.

Al-Wafd officials said the assailants were members of the Hazemoon group, supporters of Salafi leader Hazem Salah Abu Ismail but Abu Ismail has denied links to any violence or protests happening tonight.

He added in a press statement that he condemns these attacks and that it was obvious there is a plan to involve his name in such events, threatening to take legal action against all who accuse him of being involved in the attacks.

Known members of Hazemoon such as Abdel Rahman Ezz were seen near Al-Wafd and others were expressing their joy over the attacks on social networking websites.

The mob earlier demonstrated in Lebanon Square in protest of Friday’s events in Alexandria were a mosque was surrounded. They blamed the Ministry of Interior for failing to protect the mosque and held Popular Current leader Hamdeen Sabahy for the event.

The group surround the Popular Current’s main office in Lebanon Square and the referendum-monitoring unit inside had to relocate to the Karama Party headquarters in Dokki first, and then again to a secret place after the nearby Al-Wafd headquarters were attacked, according to a Popular Current statement.

The statement added that the Islamists only left Mohandiseen after Sabahy called the police  and that residents of the nearby Meet Okba area defended the headquarters.

Independent newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Watan received threats by the group that they were next, as did the OnTV television channel.

The sit-in at Tahrir Square was also attacked and bullets fired in the air, reportedly by the same group.

Street vendors mull forming union to combat state crackdowns

Egypt Independent

Street vendors mull forming union to combat state crackdowns

Sun, 09/12/2012

Jano Charbel

Struggling with increasing unemployment, an estimated 5 million Egyptians have long resorted to becoming self-employed street vendors, and make up a significant portion of the country’s vast informal business sector.

Unable to create enough jobs for the hundreds of thousands entering the job market annually, the state has failed to properly regulate, monitor or leverage the informal sector, which makes up an estimated 40 percent of the gross domestic product.

Economists think the informal economy makes up between 25–60 percent of the GDP — about US$218 billion, according to the World Bank — although most estimates are around 30–40 percent.

Millions of street vendors, left to fend for themselves, are constantly confronted by the state in nationwide crackdowns attempting to abolish their work. Thousands of vendors are now organizing a trade union to protect their rights and interests.

Whether they will be allowed to formalize their work is unclear. The government has not reacted favorably to vendors’ presence in Cairo.

Ousted President Hosni Mubarak, as well as his successor, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the transition Cabinet of former Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, all unsuccessfully sought to limit the spread of street vendors.

Breaking the law

State officials have openly and repeatedly highlighted the perceived problems associated with street vending, from causing traffic congestion to tarnishing “the civilized image” of streets and squares, ruining public sanitation, damaging tourism, and incurring losses in state revenue as a result of untaxed and unregulated trades.

The trade has become more visible, particularly in Cairo after the 25 January uprising, with street vendors increasingly stationing themselves in and around the epicenter of the protests, Tahrir Square, to capitalize on the presence of hundreds of thousands in one place, as well as to cater to their needs.

In the past few months, the Trade, Interior and Justice ministries, along with governorates and the Chambers of Commerce, have coordinated crackdowns and “cleanup operations” — as state media refers to them — against street vendors in Cairo, Giza, Daqahlia, Mansoura and Alexandria.

During his term, Ganzouri had produced a draft law criminalizing this unlicensed profession with a prison sentence of up to three months and a fine of up to LE1,000. Since last month, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekky has reportedly been working on a more severe draft law that would stipulate maximum imprisonment of six months and fines of up to LE5,000 for unlicensed street vendors.

But criminalizing street vending goes back a long way.

The law concerning crimes of street vendors, Law 33/1957, identifies a street vendor as an unlicensed trader who does not work in a fixed location or shop. This law allows such vendors to obtain licenses, yet stipulates regulations including the prohibition of licensing to convicted con artists and vendors with contagious diseases.

Furthermore, the law prohibits the sale of counterfeit products, along with food and beverages, as they would not be protected from contamination.

Law 33 also prohibits vendors from peddling to customers on public transport, from displaying merchandise outside shops and stores, and from disturbing the peace in the neighborhoods where they operate.

If licensed, vendors are legally entitled to establish their stalls within souqs or designated markets and zones for such small businesses.

But the absence of designated markets in Cairo has resulted in an increasing number of street vendors being scattered across the city’s sidewalks and spilling onto the streets.

Under President Mohamed Morsy, the government has proposed a relocation of these vendors from the center of Cairo to satellite cities, including 6th of October, 15th of May, Obour and Sheikh Zayed.

But these far-flung cities are not the target market, and are difficult to reach since they are not connected to the city’s public transportation system. It is simply, vendors argue, a way of isolating them.

“We won’t accept being exiled from Cairo. We are not thugs, nor do we seek to tarnish Egypt’s reputation or image,” Ramadan al-Sawy, an elderly street vendor who works on downtown Cairo’s bustling Qasr al-Nil Street, says.

Meanwhile, and in the absence of solutions, the state’s sole resort seems to be confiscation of merchandise.

Juice vendor Wael Ashour says every street vendor has lived through the experience of having their merchandise confiscated by local authorities.

“You have to chase after the police and municipal authorities to reclaim your confiscated goods. If you’re lucky and are able to find them, then you must pay a fine between LE70 and LE250. Even after paying, you often find that many of your goods have gone missing,” he says.

Ashour’s brother, Bondoq, laments the old days. “Although there was a lot of corruption during the days of Hosni [Mubarak] and just as many crackdowns, we made more money because customers had more money to spend.

“Under Morsy, we’re still subjected to crackdowns, but there’s not as much money going around. Living expenses keep rising, and conditions are getting worse for us.”

Organizing and unionizing

Sawy is attempting to organize his fellow vendors into an independent trade union.
“We now have nearly 4,000 signatures of notarization from vendors, in Cairo and other governorates,” Sawy says. “However, the [manpower] minister is resisting the recognition of our union, and is refusing to recognize any new unions.”

But regardless, they have started renting a space on Sherif Street in downtown Cairo to use as their headquarters.

While they have yet to meet, Sawy says the independent street vendors’ union seeks to protect their rights and interests, to organize vendors into zones, and provide health and social insurance for members.

If they have a union — thus, in a way, formalizing their trade — vendors would be willing to pay taxes and cleaning fees in exchange for the right to work in peace without being harassed by security, Sawy says.

“This will directly benefit us and the government, instead of our having to pay off police with bribes,” he says.

Sawy’s effort is not the first of its kind. In May 2010, under the auspices of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the General Union of Commerce Workers announced an initiative to unionize street vendors nationwide.

The commerce workers’ union claimed it had established seven regional vendors’ unions in Cairo, Ismailia, 6th of October City, Luxor and Banha. This general union had also claimed a membership of about 10,000 street vendors.

But Sawy says the general union’s initiative did not establish union committees — only loose leagues.

“As street vendors, we weren’t informed of its objectives or functions. This initiative has fizzled out,” he says.

This time around, he argues, “we’re organizing genuinely representative trade union committees, entities that are entirely independent from the state.”

The initiative was launched just over a month ago, with the assistance of lawyers from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Sawy is collecting more notarized signatures and drafting the union’s bylaws with other members.

Union organizer and EIPR lawyer Ahmed Hossam says vendors from downtown Cairo, Helwan, Giza, Suez, Alexandria and Assiut are interested in joining.

However, Manpower Minister Khaled al-Azhary, a Muslim Brotherhood member, “is resisting the official recognition of new unions, be they independent or even state-controlled,” Hossam says.

“Very few vendors were ever interested in joining the state-controlled union back in 2010. These so-called vendors’ unions were paper-based, not street-based unions,” he explains.

The independent union’s objectives, Sawy says, are organizing street vendors, collective bargaining with the state, and designating and establishing markets for vendors.

“We seek to organize ourselves and stand up against the law that is being drafted against us. We won’t accept the imposition of LE5,000 fines, or the imprisonment of vendors for half a year,” Hossam says.

Moreover, the union will seek to set standards, and address and limit violations.

Integrating the trade

Instead of outlawing the trade, vendors argue the government should tax them, and are willing to cooperate as long as they have designated spaces to work freely.

Selling bags and luggage on the busy streets of Attaba in Cairo, Hassan Atef expresses such willingness.

“I am willing to pay rent, taxes and utilities if they [the government] would only provide me with a marketplace where I can make a living without being chased and harassed by police,” Atef says.

On Azbakiya Street nearby, Gamal Awad, a used clothes vendor, echoes that sentiment.
“Just give me a reasonably priced and strategic spot that I can rent, even if it is only one square meter. Then I will happily pay rent and taxes, and would also like to pay insurance for both me and my shop,” he says.

He thinks the government could reap billions annually if it would help establish such areas. But instead, Awad says, vendors pay thugs protection money for “the so-called ‘rent of their street.’”

Many have not managed to find another job, and for them, this is the only way to earn an honest living.

“Other than being a street vendor, what other employment opportunities do I have? Nothing,” cigarette vendor Mohamed al-Ruby says. “What am I to become — a pickpocket or a swindler? I don’t have what it takes to become a criminal, nor would I like to.”


*Photo by Heba Afify


Independent Republic of Mahalla: City declares 'autonomy' from Morsi's state

Egypt Independent 

In opposition to Morsy, Mahalla declares autonomy

Wed, 12/12/2012  

Jano Charbel

Mahalla — The “Independent Republic of Greater Mahalla” was declared by thousands of angry locals on 7 December, following bloody clashes in the city’s center on 27 November between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsy.

This newly “independent city” does not have its own national flag and it maintains the national anthem. While it opposes the Muslim Brotherhood and its sponsored draft constitution, the “Republic of Mahalla” does not have its own constitution either — at least not yet.

The so-called republic is not a secessionist movement from Egypt, but rather a gesture expressing opposition to Morsy’s regime and the Brotherhood from which he hails. The declaration took place amid mounting opposition in Egypt to Morsy’s rule following a series of decisions that were perceived as an attempt by Islamists to hegemonize power in the country.

While it was born in a town where dissidence is customary, the move also further crystallized how dominant local politics has become.

Rising opposition to Morsy

The “new republic” was declared by a few thousand unionized workers, along with opposition and independent activists who unilaterally announced their independence outside the Mahalla City Council late last week.

The move was prompted following violent clashes last week between Brotherhood supporters and their opposition.

Sayed Habib, a labor-rights activist at the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services in Mahalla city, explained that “workers became interested in the idea of independence after Morsy granted himself wide-reaching powers through his ‘constitutional declaration’,” which he issued on 22 November, “followed by his interventionist labor decree,” which was issued three days later.

The decree was criticized for pushing for Brotherhood hegemony over trade unions, by removing members over the age of 60 from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and replacing them with appointed members.

Habib explained that about 5,000 workers who had finished their evening shift at the massive Misr Spinning and Weaving Company marched on to Shon Square, protesting at what they perceived to be Morsy’s power grab.

Habib said that when they arrived at the square, they found hundreds of Morsy supporters waiting for them — primarily Brotherhood members and their sympathizers.

“While we outnumbered them, a number of these pro-Morsy thugs were carrying shotguns and Molotov [cocktails], which they used against us,” he said.

Other workers and activists who had participated in this march said birdshot, firebombs, rocks and fireworks were used against them.

Videos taken around Shon Square appear to verify the use of these weapons. The videos also show anti-Morsy protesters fighting back with rocks, Molotov cocktails and fireworks. These clashes left more than 350 injured, with some putting that number at more than 700 on 27 November.

Further polarizing the two camps was the issuing of the new draft constitution on 30 November, which opponents claim was hastily prepared and rushed through the Constituent Assembly, dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists.

The fatal clashes around the presidential palace in Cairo on 5 – 6 December between Brotherhood loyalists and opposition protesters also influenced Mahalla’s move toward independence. Those clashes left at least eight dead and more than 700 others injured.

Speaking at Shon Square in honor of this “newly autonomous” city on 9 December, Ahmed Hassan al-Borai, ex-minister of manpower, announced Mahallans would “not be terrorized by the Brotherhood’s militias.” Borai added that the draft constitution “deprives women of their constitutional rights. It serves to deny 50 percent of Egyptian society their basic rights.”

Alaa al-Bahlawan of the liberal opposition Constitution Party also declared Mahalla’s independence from Morsy’s “corrupt rule.”

“We support this declaration of independence and aspire to see Mahalla leading and safeguarding the 25 January revolution,” he announced.

Addressing an audience of more than 1,000 city residents who had congregated in the square, Fathy Abdel Hamid of the Independent Federation of Pensioners joined the declaration.

“We are not here to merely denounce the Muslim Brotherhood and their draft constitution,” he announced. “We are here to declare that we will not tolerate rulers who bleed us in order to remain in power.”

Angry chants shook the square, with protesters shouting slogans such as “Down with the rule of the supreme guide,” referring to the Brotherhood’s leader, and “Raise your head high, you are a Mahallan!”  

Anti-Morsy Mahallans spray-painted graffiti on walls across the city reading “Mahalla is a Brotherhood-free zone,” while other street art and murals denounced the “Muslim Brotherhood’s draft constitution.”

Another guest speaker, veteran opposition organizer George Ishaq, described Mahalla as “a citadel of freedom” and added that he would be honored to be a citizen of this independent entity. 

“[The Brothers] are leading us toward a fascist state,” he said. “We cannot and will not accept fascism.”

Yet another guest speaker, Kamal Abbas, chief of the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress, shouted, “They want us to be slaves, not free men and women. Their draft constitution seeks to impose child labor and forced labor, and also seeks to outlaw independent trade unions.

“Mahalla is now leading the Egyptian revolution,” he concluded. “Mahalla has been liberated.”

Mahalla’s nominal act of independence, however, is largely symbolic, and has no real administrative effect severing it from the Egyptian state. Many residents do not recognize the act, while others openly reject such calls.

Mohamed Youssef, a teacher passing by Shon Square during the rally on 9 December, commented, “I don’t support these insane calls for independence. This is merely an effort organized by a few thugs aimed at weakening Egypt’s national unity.”

Following the rally, hundreds of protesters marched to the Mahalla City Council and again declared their independence. Dozens of veiled women led chants against “Morsy’s subjugation of women” and “Muslim Brotherhood rule.”

Upon arriving at Mahalla City Council, the protesters began chanting “Long live Egypt,” and then sang the national anthem.

Parking his Vespa to inspect the scene, a passer-by commented, “I thought these people had broken off from Egypt. Why are they singing the national anthem?

“I assume we still don’t have our own currency and passports here?” he added.

A history of dissidence

Referred to as the “Industrial Citadel of the Nile Delta,” Mahalla al-Kubra is located some 120 kilometers north of Cairo, in Gharbiya Governorate.

“The Autonomous City of Mahalla” or “the Republic of Mahalla” is not the first of its sort. “The Republic of Zefta,” a town also located in Gharbiya, emerged during the 1919 Revolution against Britain’s protectorate over Egypt.

However, unlike Zefta, the “Independent Republic of Mahalla” does not have a central revolutionary council or any real administrative autonomy from the Egyptian state.  

“This is not the same as the Zefta republic,” Mahalla cab driver Wael Noaman said. “We are not under occupation or colonization, like we were under the British. This is a dangerous precedent that could lead to other Egyptian peoples and cities declaring independence from Egypt.”

Noaman went on to say that as the country was under Brotherhood occupation, their occupiers would still be Egyptian.

“If Morsy or his men mess up, then we can oppose them or even overthrow them, like [former President Hosni] Mubarak.”

In more recent history following the 25 January revolution, the village of Tahseen declared administrative autonomy in September. Located in the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahlia, Tahseen residents responded to a water utilities crisis by not paying taxes or utility bills and embarking on a localized civil disobedience campaign.

Activists in the “Independent Republic of Mahalla” have said they will also embark on campaigns of civil disobedience, like the residents of Tahseen. But other than briefly blocking the Tanta-Mahalla highway and a railroad leading to the city on 7 December, not much has been seen here in terms of civil disobedience.

Mahalla’s significance as a city of resistance predates this experimental “Independent Republic.” In December 2006, Mahalla’s publicly owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company — Egypt’s largest, with a workforce of some 20,000 — launched an historic strike that resulted in an unprecedented wave of strikes throughout Egypt from 2007 to 2008.

Another strike at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, planned for 6 April 2008, was thwarted by state security, which arrested strike leaders and threatened workers back into production.

Nevertheless, a localized popular uprising erupted throughout the city on 6 and 7 April of that year. Portraits of the then-President Hosni Mubarak were smashed and the local headquarters of his National Democratic Party was attacked as throngs of protesters chanted anti-regime slogans.

That anti-Mubarak uprising in Mahalla is commonly seen as one of the precursors to the 25 January revolution.  

“This city resisted and confronted the previous dictatorship. It helped to bring down Mubarak,” said independent youth activist Mohamed Abdel Azim. “We are now refusing Morsy’s dictatorship, and we will topple him if necessary.”

*This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

Morsi's new labor decree resisted by state-controlled & independent trade unions

Mon, 26/11/2012

Jano Charbel

A controversial labor decree issued by President Mohamed Morsy on Sunday has been denounced and met with resistance from both the state-controlled workers’ federation and from independent unions.

Morsy’s decree No. 97/2012  was issued shortly after he also put out a constitutional declaration on 22 November, claiming a sweeping range of powers for himself which insulate him from accountability and judicial oversight.

Decree No. 97 stipulates that board members of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) over the age of 60 are to be replaced by newly appointed members. This decree also stipulates a six-month extension to the ETUF board-members’ term of office, or the issuing of a new trade union law to replace Law 35/1976 and determine the date of elections — whichever comes first.

The ETUF’s last elections were held in October-November 2006. Its five-year term means that ETUF elections should have taken place in October-November 2011. However, in light of parliamentary and presidential elections, the union elections were postponed for a year — and now for another half year.

Morsy’s most recent decree contradicts announcements issued by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Azhary, now serving as minister of manpower, who in September declared that ETUF elections were to be held in October-November 2012.

Decree No. 97 is “an attempt by the Brotherhood to control the union structure which had previously been monopolized by the Mubarak regime,” comments Wael Habib, a caretaker board member of the ETUF.

Habib adds, “This is merely an attempt to replace old members of the National Democratic Party (NDP) with newer members from the now-ruling regime: the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party.”

“This decree has been tailored to fit only the Brotherhood and FJP. It ignores our demands for a minimum and maximum wage, the right to strike, the issuing of the Trade Union Liberties Law — which was prepared over a year ago and shelved ever since — and other demands,” says Habib. 

“Morsy has proven to Egypt’s workers that the regime of dictator Mubarak was much more concerned with workers’ rights than the Brotherhood,” Habib argues. “Morsy has again shown that the Brotherhood is seeking to hijack the ETUF and the Manpower Ministry, along with the rest of the country.”

Habib explains that Decree 97 directly targets tens of ETUF unionists over the age of retirement, 60 years, “not because of their age, but because of their political affiliations and associations with the Mubarak regime.” Habib adds that most of these older unionists were members of the NDP. “Morsy is not seeking workers’ rights as he claims. He is only settling scores with the old regime.”

The ETUF’s elections, according to the provisions of Law 35/1976, are indirect elections whereby workers only get to vote for their local union committees — around 2,000 workplace unions nationwide. Meanwhile, the boards of the ETUF’s 24 general unions are selected through appointments and default elections.

Prior to the 25 January revolution, the ETUF’s executive board consisted of 22 NDP members out of 24, most of whom were over the age of 60. However, in early 2011 then-Minister of Manpower Ahmed Hassan al-Borai appointed tens of caretaker board-members to replace certain ETUF executives. Borai also presided over the drafting of the long-anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law. However, Borai’s initiatives appear to be in the process of being sidelined by the Morsy regime.

“We will never accept this new decree under any circumstance,” Habib says. The ETUF caretaker, who hails from the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla, says that workers’ protests against Morsy’s decrees would be staged at Al-Shaun Square in Mahalla on Tuesday and the ETUF would also organize rallies, marches and sit-ins.

Decree 97 has also been denounced by the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU). Fatma Ramadan, executive board member of the EFITU, says, “Morsy’s first decree, following his complete takeover of state powers on 22 November, is a labor decree. This is a clear indicator that Morsy is seeking to monopolize the labor movement by first ‘Brotherhoodizing’ the Ministry of Manpower, and now the ETUF.”

“Morsy is clearly preparing a systematic crackdown against Egypt’s union movement, against the right to strike, against the right to organize and against union plurality,” Ramadan argues. “Morsy is attempting to put on a mask of democracy as he points out that the ETUF leadership was appointed by the Mubarak regime. Yet he is not seeking democracy in the ETUF, he is only looking to fill the federation’s seats with members of his own regime.”

“The Brotherhood-controlled Ministry of Manpower is now in the process of facilitating this takeover of the ETUF,” the organizer adds. “This is a blatant and unwarranted intervention in union affairs from the state.”

She went on to add that the right to establish independent unions is protected by international law — specifically the International Labor Organization’s Conventions No. 87 and 98 — which the Egyptian state ratified in the 1950s.

“We will never remain silent against these transgressions,” Ramadan says. “At the EFITU we are standing against Morsy’s takeover of the state and against the Ministry of Manpower’s takeover of the ETUF.” She adds that the EFITU has pitched two tents in Tahrir Square and is participating in the open-ended sit-in “against Morsy’s dictatorial decrees.”

Weeks earlier, the EFITU had threatened to resort to the administrative courts over Morsy and Azhary’s anticipated decisions. However, the president’s constitutional declaration on 22 November served to insulate his regime from such judicial appeals.

A host of NGOs, including the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Land Center for Human Rights, have also issued statements denouncing Morsy’s constitutional declaration and Decree 97.

According to Karam Saber, director of the Land Center, “If Morsy was genuinely concerned about union plurality and democracy, then he would’ve issued the Trade Union Liberties Law to guarantee these rights."

“Instead he is simply removing old members of the NDP and appointing younger members from his Brotherhood and FJP.”

Saber explains that over 80 percent of ETUF executives are over the age of 60 and are former members of the NDP or Mubarak loyalists.

“If Morsy was genuinely concerned about democracy within the ETUF, then he would’ve called for trade union elections so that workers can democratically vote for their representatives,” he says. “Instead he has postponed these elections even further, while he seeks to handpick his own representatives.”

According to Saber, the Brotherhood wants to expand its sphere of influence beyond professional syndicates — white collar unions such as the lawyers, doctors or engineers — into the blue collar workers’ unions.

“I believe that the Brotherhood is exclusively interested in taking over the ETUF along with its workers’ bank, holiday resorts, workers’ university and its cultural centers across the country,” Saber says. “Not only do they want to Brotherhoodize the state, they also want to Brotherhoodize and monopolize the union movement.”

Yousry Bayoumi, a Muslim Brotherhood caretaker board member of the ETUF, could not be reached for comment. Attempts to reach Khaled al-Azhary were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact Alaa Awwad, the ministry’s spokesperson.

*Photo by Virgine Nguyen

Initiatives grow to fight sexual harassment in Tahrir

Egypt Independent

Hands off: Initiatives grow fighting sexual harassment in Tahrir and elsewhere

Sat, 08/12/2012 

Jano Charbel

“Don’t go there” and “Stay out for your own safety” have been the menacing messages from alarmist male protesters with which many women are welcomed into Tahrir Square, the cradle of the Egyptian revolution.

The reason: rampant cases of sexual harassment, assaults and even rape of women in and around the square.

Seen as a way of deterring women from participating in protests, sexual harassment has become a focus for activist groups, filling the gap of inaction by the state.

“Harassers are not allowed entrance” was the message hung up by some of these groups in the square. But the problem is bigger than banners.

The problem

Tahrir, which was the focal point of the uprising that deposed Hosni Mubarak last year and remains a central gathering point for major protests since the 25 January revolution, has been plagued with numerous incidents of sexual harassment and physical assaults against women, including female protesters, journalists and passers-by.

These cases appear to be perpetrated by individuals as spontaneous outbursts of mob violence, and organized harassers working in tandem to assault females in the square.

Dina Farid, founder and coordinator of the Banat Misr initiative, says “there is a concerted effort to scare away people from the square — especially female protesters.” The group has reported about a dozen cases of sexual harassment or assault within just three days.

“We have reported both individual [and] isolated acts of harassment and organized mob harassment,” Farid says, clarifying that mobs of harassers act in groups to encircle and assault females.

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment Coordinator Aalam Wassef also suggests there is a deliberate attempt to scare women away from the square.

“Harassers are targeting women with the intent of making the square feel threatening and unsafe,” he says, adding that organized harassers also seek to tarnish the image of Tahrir Square.

“Some cases of harassment are spontaneous, like the everyday cases of harassment against women that take place across Egypt’s streets,” Wassef says.

However, many cases of mass harassment are attributed to “mob mentality,” or, in some cases, “mobs that work in coordination to collectively harass women.”

“In previous occupations of Tahrir Square, we’ve noticed that coordinated and organized mobs of harassers often carry weapons with them. They are quite likely paid and armed to do so,” Wassef says.

He comments that organized acts of sexual harassment or assault were utilized against protesters during the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and presently under the regime of President Mohamed Morsy.

Reem Labib, another volunteer from Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, also sees a conspiracy in the widespread harassment in Tahrir.

“Egyptian women are subjected to harassment on a daily basis, yet organized harassers in the square utilize violence to target not only women, but also the revolution. They use both physical and psychological violence against protesters in the square,” Labib says.

In her film “Sex Mobs and Revolution,” filmmaker Ramita Navai reveals that harassers hailing from a low-income Cairo neighborhood were previously paid by men tied to the Mubarak regime to disrupt protests, and that they are still paid to do the same. But they refuse to identify who is paying them now.

Perpetrators’ use of arms is further fueling suspicion about conspiracy, while the victim can be a mother, a veiled or a conservatively dressed woman.

“Some of the [group] harassers apprehended have been found to be carrying knives, while others have been found with drugs and pills,” says Farid.

Mohamed al-Azaly, lawyer and volunteer with Banat Misr, says that “while some have been found carrying drugs, most of the harassers are sober and are well aware of the acts they are committing against women.”

“It doesn’t make a difference whether a woman has her hair uncovered, or is wearing a hijab or even a niqab,” Azaly says. “All these women have been harassed here in the square.”

He says he had helped pull out two women donning the full face veil from a collective assault against them in the square.

“They were a mother and her daughter, both of whom were dressed in conservative Islamic attire, and nonetheless they were attacked,” Azaly says.

“Many of the women harassed have violently had their clothes ripped off in these assaults,” Farid adds.


Over the course of the past week, three volunteer groups have emerged in Tahrir to patrol and protect women and girls from sexual harassment and assault in and around the square. 

Their work includes both prevention by monitoring and protection by helping out victims and intercepting the attackers.

The first to make its appearance was Banat Misr Khatt Ahmar — literally translated as Egypt’s Girls Are a Red Line — which has been involved in monitoring incidents of harassment around downtown Cairo since the Eid al-Adha holiday in late October.

Banat Misr resumed its operations, this time exclusively in Tahrir, on 29 November. The group has about 30 members, including males and females, all of whom wear white T-shirts with the group’s logo clearly emblazoned on them.

There are clearly more male volunteers in this group than females. The female volunteers are said to be more involved in the counseling and psychological assistance of women subjected to harassment or assaults in the square.

Azaly explains the group’s tactics in weeding out harassers from the square.  

“Together, we rush to the scene of the harassment. We form a cordon around the harassers and pull them out. We then take them to our tent, where we have them call their parents, or wives if they are married, to come claim them from the square.”

Azaly adds that if the harassers do not cooperate, they send them to Qasr al-Nil Police Station, and that most of these harassers are “either released the same day, or are held in detention for a day or two.”

“As of yet, no victims have been willing to press charges against their harassers — perhaps from fear of stigmatization, a drawn-out judicial process or other considerations,” Azaly concludes. “We hope that women will be willing to follow through with these legal steps against their harassers. If so, then the harassers may truly be held accountable and brought to justice.”

Farid says they take photos of the perpetrators to identify them in the future, and to keep them away from the square, but says they have not taken down their names or personal ID information.

The Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment group, also known in Arabic as Quwwa Ded al-Taharosh, made its first appearance on 30 November, when protests returned to Tahrir Square after Morsy’s controversial constitutional declaration, through which he claimed additional powers for himself. Mosireen, a revolutionary media collective, and other volunteers established the group.

Consisting of 30-some members, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment also wear white T-shirts or sweatshirts with a red logo reading “Against Harassment” on the front and “A Square Safe for All” on the back. It uses the same group tactics employed by Banat Misr in weeding out harassers.

Wassef says this group reported about five cases of harassment on its first day alone.

Both Banat Misr and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment have provided the public with social networking sites and telephone hotlines through which people can report cases of harassment or assault and other related information.

A third volunteer group known as Tahrir Bodyguards could not be reached for comment. It has been reported that this group has built wooden watchtowers from which to monitor incidents of harassment within the square.

Protesters have climbed these watchtowers and protested from above, yet no volunteers could be seen on these towers.

Wassef explains that there should be wariness about the terminology in use, which reflects the depth of the problem. He explains that the word taharosh, or sexual harassment, has replaced the much milder word, mo’aksa — roughly translated as heckling or chiding — to describe “these unwelcomed actions” against women and girls.

In his group’s experience, there are several degrees of sexual harassment, ranging from verbal to touching or groping, stripping and other forms of violent action, as well as rape.

“Rape does not necessarily involve penetration with the harassers’ genitals. Rape can be perpetrated with fingers or other objects,” Wassef explains.

Nonetheless, many activists continue to use the term “sexual harassment” as opposed to “sexual assault,” even when describing cases where women have been physically or sexually attacked.     

But other than volunteer-based initiatives to combat sexual assault, more wide-ranging activities are needed to end this plague.

Wassef thinks the state, through its Egyptian Radio and Television Union, could be the most effective in combating sexual harassment.

“If only they’d launch anti-harassment ads, public service announcements, documentaries and awareness-raising programs, then we would have a very effective tool with which to confront harassers,” says Wassef. “Yet the authorities lack the will to do so.”

Banat Misr’s hotlines can be reached at 012-8034-4414 or 010-1687-6333.

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment’s hotlines can be reached at 011-5789-2357, 012-0239-0087or 010-1605-1145.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.


Egypt: Proposed constitution limits media freedoms

Committee to Protect Journalists

Proposed Egyptian constitution would limit media freedom

December 4, 2012

New York, December 4, 2012--The proposed Egyptian constitution would impose several new restrictions on press freedom--including the creation of a new government regulator and new governmental authority to shut media outlets--while doing nothing to halt the criminal prosecution of journalists, which was a hallmark of the Hosni Mubarak regime, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ supports the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate's call to President Mohamed Morsi to withdraw the proposal from the referendum scheduled for December 15.

The Egyptian Constitutional Committee approved a draft of the constitution on Saturday. Local and international press freedom organizations including CPJ have found that the document places severe restrictions on freedom of expression while claiming to guarantee free speech. Other civil society groups have raised concerns about the proposal's lack of protection for minority rights and freedoms.

"We support the right of journalists to seek protection under this new constitution," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "We call on President Mohamed Morsi to work with civil society and press freedom groups to craft a constitution that truly guarantees freedom of expression and eliminates restrictions in the current draft."

Although Article 45 says broadly that "freedom of thought and opinion shall be guaranteed" in the constitution, several articles appear to contradict the provision, including Article 44, which prohibits "the insulting of prophets." Under the current penal code, the government can prosecute critics like blogger Alber Saber, who has faced trial since September for "insulting the religion" and "insulting the president."

Article 215 replaces the Higher Council for Journalism, an elected body of journalists, with the National Media Council and government appointees, which is required to "establish controls and regulations that ensure the commitment of the media to adhere to professional and ethical standards" and "to observe the values and constructive traditions of society."

CPJ believes that this vaguely defined mandate would give the new government agency the authority to control and guide editorial coverage and news.

Article 48 allows a court to shut down a media outlet if a judicial review finds an employee of the outlet has not respected the provisions of the article, including "respecting the sanctity of the private lives of citizens and the requirements of national security."

Article 216 announces the creation of an agency called the National Press and Media Association that would manage state-owned media outlets. The article does not specify how the members would be selected or offer details on how the agency would ensure the media would adhere to "sensible, professional, administrative, and economic standards." Local journalists fear this agency could end up serving the Muslim Brotherhood party, similar to how the Shura Council in July appointed members of the Muslim Brotherhood to leadership positions in media outlets.

The proposed constitution does nothing to halt the practice of imprisoning journalists for press-related offenses, despite the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate repeatedly asking the constitutional committee to include such a provision. Under the current penal code, journalists can be criminally prosecuted for defamation, like Egyptian TV commentator Tawfiq Okasha, who was given a jail term for defamation in October, according to CPJ research.

Local press freedom organizations, including the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate, announced a press strike today to protest the bill, news reports said. Several private newspapers, including Al-Watan, Al-Tahrir, Youm7, and Al-Wafd, ran blank front pages on Monday with the headline "No to dictatorship," news reports said. News accounts also reported that several local TV outlets have announced a strike tomorrow to protest the constitution.

Thousands of demonstrators protested in front of the presidential palace today, demanding that the referendum be postponed until a new constitution had been drafted, news reports said.



Egypt: Journalists attacked while covering protests

Committee to Protect Journalists 

Journalists attacked while covering protests in Egypt

December 7, 2012

New York, December 7, 2012--CPJ condemns a series of attacks on journalists covering protests in Cairo over the proposed constitution and calls on authorities to investigate the assaults and bring an immediate end to the anti-press violence. At least five journalists were struck by rubber bullets, leaving one in critical condition, and several others were assaulted, according to news reports.

"Journalists have played a key role throughout Egypt's transition, reporting on developments within the country and informing the entire world," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

"It is President Morsi's responsibility during the current unrest to ensure that journalists are able to do their job. Authorities should launch an investigation into these horrific attacks immediately and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets outside President Mohamed Morsi's presidential palace over the past week to demonstrate against a proposed constitution that local and international human rights and press freedom organizations have said limits minority rights and freedom of expression. A public referendum scheduled for December 15 has helped trigger the current crisis.

On Wednesday, Al-Hosseiny Abou Deif, reporter for the private weekly El-Fagr, was shot in the head at close range with a rubber bullet by an individual who local journalists and news reports said was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood party, according to news reports.

Abou Deif, whose camera was also taken, was covering protests near the presidential palace at the time of the attack and had filmed Muslim Brotherhood supporters beating up protesters and using live ammunition, news reports said.

Abou Deif sustained severe injuries to his brain, head, and neck, and was in a coma on Friday, according to Mustafa Thabit, director of El-Fagr website. Doctors said that Abou Deif had severe brain damage since the bullet had penetrated his skull, Thabit told CPJ.

The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate released a statement on Thursday saying they had filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General against members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party for inciting violence against journalists. The Muslim Brotherhood did not immediately respond to the complaint.

At least four other journalists were also injured by rubber bullets while covering protests near the presidential palace. Mohamed Azouz, reporter for the state-run daily Al-Gomhuria, was hit in the face by a rubber bullet, news reports said.

News accounts reported that Osama al-Shazzly, a reporter for the private daily El-Badil; Mohamed Saad, a freelance journalist who contributes to local news websites; and Ahmed Abd al-Salam, a reporter for the private daily Al-Alam al-Yawm, had also been struck by rubber bullets. News reports did not offer further details or say whether the attacks were linked.

Another journalist, Ahmed Khair, a reporter for the private satellite broadcaster ONTV, was beaten by Muslim Brotherhood supporters while covering the protests near the presidential palace, according to news reports.

Another ONTV journalist, Kareem Fareed, was briefly taken captive by supporters of the party, news reports said. An unspecified number of TV journalists working for the private broadcaster CBC were also assaulted while covering the same events, news reports said.

The reports did not offer further details.

In a separate development, CBC TV presenter Khairy Ramadan also resigned in protest on Thursday after the broadcaster banned former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi from being interviewed on-air, according to news reports. This comes a day after dozens of journalists from the state-run daily, Al-Ahram protested in front of the paper's offices against the paper's editorial policy, news reports said.

On Tuesday, CPJ had supported the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate's call to Morsi to not submit the proposed constitution to the December 15 referendum.