Saturday, March 31, 2012

Egypt: Activists demolish SCAF wall blocking street

Ahram Online
Hundreds of protesters tore down concrete wall near Tahrir

Saturday 31 Mar 2012

On Friday afternoon hundreds of protesters tore down the concrete wall constructed by military police on Qasr El-Eini street downtown.

The protesters, who referred to themselves as revolutionaries, told Ahram Online they do not belong to any political group. Protesters managed to bring down the concrete blocks, chanting against military rule, and facing a battalion of Central Security on the other side of the wall. Clashes with security, however, did not ensue.

Earlier in March, an event calling on Egypt's revolutionaries to gather and bring down the walls had begun to circulate on Facebook. The Qasr El-Eini street wall is one of seven walls blocking central Cairo in the area around the Ministry of Interior. They were built by the military between November, 2011 and February, 2012, after a series of deadly crackdowns by Egypt’s security forces on the protesters.

The barricades have had a significant impact on the area, causing traffic blockage along one of Cairo's busies streets, discomfort to residents as well as financial losses to shop owners.

*Photos by Mai Shaheen

Art Conquers Walls in Cairo

Foreign Policy
Art Conquers Walls in Cairo

Friday, 23 March

Mohamed El Dahshan

Walls. The Egyptian army's answer to protests has, for the past six months, been to build walls. The construction of these walls at a few key points in downtown Cairo, blocking major streets in one of the world's already hardest-to-navigate capitals, is severely damaging the neighborhood, both economically and socially. But that was the least of their concerns. (How very Israeli of them!).

The aesthetics of these walls is, naturally, horrendous. They're little more than cubes of stone piled up across the streets, sometimes several meters high.

Some Egyptians, mad as only true artists are allowed to be, decided to do something about it. And thus was born the "No Walls Project," a series of landscapes to be painted on the six SCAF Walls in Cairo.

The artists presented themselves with a challenge: to re-open the blocked streets by making the walls invisible.

In one case they came up with an image that placed the silhouettes of children under a colorful rainbow. On another, they superimposed ancient Egyptian poetry on a rich landscape. Some used the original beige of the stone as the base of their images, while others covered it completely in paint. Others set the bar higher by transforming the wall into a window by showing us what lies on the other side. So the wall depicts what lies behind ... minus the barbed wire and the soldiers manning their checkpoints.

And if, for just a second, you look at the wall and you do see the continuation of that street, the lady with the stroller, the streetlamp on the sidewalk, the car parking on the left, then the wall becomes invisible. And the artists have won their bet.

I believe they have.

The artwork is brilliant. It is both as raw as graffiti should be, and as deft as can be summoned up only by hundreds of man (or woman) hours. It was no easy job replicating the depth and perspective of an entire street, particularly on a such a massive, unwelcoming, and irregular canvas. But Mohamed "El Moshir" Gad, Ammar Abu Bakr, Alaa Awad, Laila Maged, and their fellow artists succeeded. In fact, their own skill may have betrayed them a little - the streetscapes depicted by the painted walls look nicer than the real ones.

Take a look at these excellent-360 degree views. (Go ahead, click through the six walls. I'll wait.)

One thing does leave me uncomfortable, though.

The story has it that when British street art icon Banksy went to Palestine to tag the apartheid wall (remember the graffiti of the little girl being carried to the top of the wall by the balloons she's holding?), an elderly gentleman walked up to him and told him that he was making this ugly wall look beautiful. Banksy thanked him for the compliment. "You don't get it," the old retorted. "We don't want it to be beautiful."

As I stood inside a chalk-drawn circle (to get the right visual perspective) on Sheikh Rihan street, admiring the artists putting the final touches to the mural, I asked myself the same question as the elderly Palestinian.

Isn't it wrong, in a way, to embellish SCAF's criminal act? Shouldn't we leave this abomination in its current state in order to remind people who the true criminal is, who's the one making their lives more difficult and killing local businesses?

"We're not embellishing the walls," Mohamed El Moshir tells me as he wipes yellow paint off his fingers. "We're simply stating that the streets are open. And at the same time, we're telling a story." He points at a small painting to the side of the main work.

The painting, tucked between the SCAF wall and the adjacent Scientific Complex library, shows a young man carrying books as he is pursued by flames. This isn't an artistic conceit; it shows what actually happened when the complex caught fire months ago. It reminds people of the bravery of the revolutionaries who risked their lives to save the invaluable books in the library.

After pondering my question for a few seconds, activist Loai Nagati ventured this thought: "We're building, not destroying - and this is what the walls are about. They show that the revolution is creative."

And when the murals were completed this Tuesday, after a week of intensive work, the artists and activists held a small party, with Hasaballah, the famous troupe of traditional musicians, invited to celebrate the opening of the streets and the victory of revolutionary art over the military boot.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Tale Of Two Egyptian Armies

Eurasia Review
A Tale Of Two Egyptian Armies - OpEd

March 28, 2012

Lee Smith

Last week, the Obama administration started releasing the $1.3 billion in U.S. military assistance to Egypt that’s been on hold since October. Over the objections of human rights advocates and democracy activists, Hillary Clinton signed a waiver allowing Washington to circumvent recent legislation tying military assistance to the State Department’s certification that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Egypt’s interim ruling body, is protecting the basic rights and freedoms of Egyptian citizens.

In spite of SCAF’s documented human rights abuses, the aid will begin flowing again because the Obama administration has come to recognize a little more than a year after the fall of longtime ally Hosni Mubarak that U.S. policymakers have no other instruments with which to influence a political system that may be spiraling out of control.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are unhappy, especially since charges against American democratic rights activists—including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood—for interfering in Egypt’s political system have yet to be entirely resolved.

It was clearly a case of political extortion, and there is no secret what Cairo wanted in exchange for letting the U.S. activists leave Egypt on bail—the military aid that the Obama administration was withholding in an effort to exercise leverage on the Egyptian regime.

In short, no matter how the administration plays it, Egypt right now is in a much stronger bargaining position than the U.S., and there is no sign the balance of power is going to shift anytime soon.

To be sure, many in Washington would like to cut off the Egyptian military or at least limit its share of U.S aid. Right now, only a fraction of the total assistance package, a little over $1.5 billion this year, is in economic aid, so why not tip the scales and give the whole package to the Egyptian people? With tourist receipts and foreign direct investment down, and foreign reserves dwindling, it would be an especially good time to pump cash directly into an economy in freefall.

The problem of course is that it would be almost impossible to bypass SCAF to get that money to ordinary Egyptians. And even if it were feasible, in the wake of the democracy activist trial, Washington is more sensitive than ever to claims of “interference.”

But the real issue is that Egypt’s rulers don’t see the country’s dire economic situation the same way Washington does. For the White House, Egypt is too big to fail. From SCAF’s perspective, Egypt has weathered famine and worse many times over the last several millennia and it will get through it this time, too. The fact that the Americans are scared of what might happen should Egypt crash means that SCAF’s in the driver’s seat—at least as long as it keeps threatening to steer the country off a cliff.

From this perspective, almost everything that seems bad for Egypt, or anything that terrifies the U.S., is good for the SCAF. For instance, a referendum recently passed in the new Islamist-dominated parliament to expel the Israeli ambassador, halt gas exports to Israel and identify the Jewish state as Egypt’s “number one enemy” only makes the Egyptian military look good by comparison.

Since foreign policy-making as a whole, and the care-taking of the peace treaty with Israel in particular, is the exclusive privilege of the army, it is up to them to make the final call on any of those initiatives coming out of parliament. The point is: Yes, things could get even worse in Egypt, much worse, so the White House wants to keep the Egyptian army happy.

The fact that, as the Washington Post today reports, the Muslim Brotherhood may now feel more confident in challenging the army further concentrates the administration’s attention. Washington needs to maintain the stability of the army.

After all, this is why American policymakers were finally able to convince themselves last February that they didn’t need Mubarak. The Pentagon knows the Egyptian army almost as well as its own; the U.S. military has trained Egyptian officers for thirty years and the relationship couldn’t be closer.

The reality is that there is not one Egyptian military—there are two. American policymakers are allied with the first, whom they have to support in order to prevent the second army from rising up.

The first is simply the large institution now headed by Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, who as head of SCAF became Egypt’s de facto ruler after Mubarak’s departure. This is the same junta that has governed Egypt since the 1952 revolution that deposed the monarchy and put in power a series of military officers, Mohamed Naguib, Gamal abd el-Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and then Mubarak.

It’s the most powerful institution in all of Egypt, and therefore the most corrupt, but it also recognizes that there are certain limits it can’t transgress. Tantawi and the others are raising the price on Washington, but they’re not looking to throw away the U.S.-Egypt relationship.

It is that other, second Egyptian army that might choose to rewrite the rules. This is not the military or the vast business interests overseen by the 76-year-old Tantawi. It’s the army that, if the circumstances are right, might someday overthrow those senior officers the Americans trust. Right now, it exists only in the imagination of junior officers; a shadow army with its own agenda, shaped by smoldering resentments and soaring ambitions.

This institution engendered the 1952 Free Officers’ Coup and Nasser, the Arab nationalist demagogue who set the template for half a century’s worth of radical Middle East politics. It’s an army of ideological commitment, regardless of the motivating ideas. Almost thirty years after deposing the king, this same army gave rise to the junior officers like Khaled Islambouli who made up the cell that assassinated Sadat.

The Islambouli plot only half-succeeded. Sadat was dead but the Free Officers’ regime lived on. With Mubarak at the helm, it entered its most stable—or, depending on one’s point of view, static—phase. That’s the military regime the White House seeks to preserve, essentially Mubarakism without Mubarak.

The nightmare scenario is not merely a political system dominated by Islamists, or a country of more than 80 million on the verge of bankruptcy and threatening to break the peace treaty with Israel. Rather, it’s all of that, and governed by an ideologically ambitious military that wants to revive Egypt’s role as leader of the Arab world.

The White House does not want to see that army take shape—but it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that $1.3 billion is going to keep it in the shadows forever.

Egypt: Revolutionaries protest constituent assembly

Egypt Independent
Protesters march on Parliament to protest constituent assembly

Wed, 28/03/2012

Hundreds of activists and members of leftist parties and revolutionary movements marched from Tahrir Square to Parliament Wednesday to reject the constituent assembly, which is holding its first session.

The protesters attacked the Muslim Brotherhood and accused it of monopolizing the constituent assembly. They also accused the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of “colluding with the Islamist current,” saying they have both divided state affairs amongst themselves.

The protesters chanted, “The people want to bring down the Brotherhood,” “Down with the rule of the military” and “Like they let the Americans escape, so will they let Mubarak go” in a reference to the recent case of NGOs accepting illegal foreign funding in which American citizens were charged then allowed to leave the country.

Participants in the protest, including the April 6 Youth Movement, the Free Front for Peaceful Change, the National Association for Change, and the Tagammu and Egyptian Communist parties, raised banners to call for the dissolution of the constituent assembly and the formation of another from outside Parliament.

The banners read, “No to the Brotherhood, No to Salafis. The constitution is for all Egyptians.”

Protesters from the April 6 Youth Movement drew graffiti of the SCAF and the Brotherhood on the walls of the US Embassy. They also wrote, “Do not trust two: the military and the Brotherhood.”

Ahmed Derag from the National Association for Change said the purpose of the march is to protest the composition of the constituent assembly, pressure for its dissolution and determine specific criteria for the choice of members of a new assembly that will express the wishes of all groups in society.

He accused MPs of abandoning the role for which the people elected them — legislation and monitoring — and of using their power to produce a constitution to keep the Islamist grip on power for decades.

Sherif al-Rouby, a member of the Democratic Front of the April 6 Movement, said the Brotherhood see themselves as guardians on the people, repeating the mistakes of the dissolved National Democratic Party.

“The Brotherhood only hears its own voice,” he said, warning of a revolution against the Brotherhood.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone. We want a general consensus on the constitution.”

*Photo by Aly el-Malky

Muslim Brotherhood promotes its businessmen club

Ahram Online
Brotherhood business heads enter spotlight

Sunday 25 Mar 2012

Created by Muslim Brotherhood business owners, the 150-member strong Egyptian Businessmen Development Association was launched Saturday evening with 1,000 guests in attendance

Salma Hussein

Outside the ballroom of the five-star hotel, bearded men in well-cut suits rush to line up for sunset prayers beside a banner announcing the day's event.

Piety and commerce side-by-side, this was the scene at the Saturday launch of the Muslim Brotherhood-majority business lobby, the Egyptian Businessmen Development Association (EBDA, which also means 'start' in Arabic).

The one-day event for around 1,000 guests ended with a gala dinner and three main guest speakers -- a business tycoon apiece from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey.

It had eight sponsors, among them two American multinationals: Price Cooper Waterhouse and Hill International.

"Hill International is mulling becoming a member of the EBDA. We are also member in the American Chamber in Egypt," said Ahmed Thabet, director of sales in the construction risk management company, currently working on the Grand Egyptian Museum, due to open in 2014.

Other sponsors are firms that flourished during the reign of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak but have remained unsullied after post-uprising graft investigations: cable-maker El-Sewedy; the Alkan Group founded by the late Mohamed Nosseir; Juhayna, food producer and caterer to US bases in the Gulf; and Egyptians Steel.

"In the business world, they don't give much weight to political affiliations," explained Ahmed Zein of Memark, the consultancy firm which developed EBDA's logo and works on its branding.

"That said, we had to exclude sponsoring offers from other companies closer to the old regime. You would not find companies like Ceramica Cleopatra or Ezz Steel," he admitted, naming companies linked to allegedly corrupt figures.

"This would harm the image of this business association given the reputation it wants to build."

Zein also worked on marketing 'The Makers of Life' charity project started by the famed Islamist preacher, Amr Khaled.

The final two sponsors are directly related to the Brotherhood, the country's main Islamist force whose political wing now has a leading role in parliament, and owned by members Hassan Malek and Samir El-Naggar. The former owns the Malek Group, the latter an industrial agri-food firm.

It was Malek who came up with the idea of EBDA and is its first chairman.

Joining the board of EBDA, on which Brotherhood investors and traders sit, requires members to meet two conditions, says Zein.

First, their firms must be able to show a record clean of corruption. Second, they must be medium-sized companies able to help start-ups and smaller enterprises.

"To this date, we have 500 membership applications. We only accepted 150," said board member Ahmed Abdel Hafez, describing a fastidious selection process. Membership costs LE2,500, with an annual subscription of LE2,000.

"We decided to encourage SMEs by cutting subscription annual fees to LE500," Abdel Hafez added.

"We've also invited many companies to join us," said Abdel Moneim Seoudi, another board member, who was jailed in Mubarak's time.

The owner of a supermarket chain and car-dealership, he told Ahram Online that he had invited Beshay steel makers, a business owned by a Coptic Christian family, to join.

"I am confident they will," he says, before two Freedom and Justice Party parliamentarians, calling him "Abu Obayda", ask to pose for a photo with him.

Before Malek starts his speech, four large screens play footage from 2011's mass demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Then the chairman takes to the stage.

"We seek empowerment for businessmen to boost economy. This comes through promoting investment and development but also through participating in decision making and economic legislature," he says, in words which at times echo those of Gamal Mubarak, the ousted president's 'business-friendly' son.

But for Malek the difference is in the players, not the supposed aims. He hails a "new class" of businessmen who will do things differently.

"It is time to take the lead. The corruption ring is now broken," he declares to the crowd. "We will support corporate governance and transparency in companies' management."

There is little information available about about the Malek Group, or indeed many other companies owned by members of the Brotherhood. During their years in the political opposition, many had to hide their sources of finance to avoid them being confiscated.

A few years ago, Malek's assets were frozen and he was tried before a military court. He was only cleared after the revolution.

None of these companies are listed on any stock markets, and hence deails on their sales revenues, activities and profits are not publicly available.

Despite being the majority party in parliament, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice has not proposed any laws regarding corporate governance, corruption or conflict of interests.

According to a blog called Free Hassan Malek, created in 2007, Malek was an important trader, with his family known for investing in the spinning and weaving industry.

The blog claims that, the now 54-year-old Malek established a company called Salsabeel at the beginning of the 1990s. The firm has the same name as the lawsuit brought against members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1992 after both Malek and his partner, Khairat El-Shater, were arrested.

Malek was put under provisional detention for a year before being released. He then branched into the furniture industry, establishing two Egypt-based companies that rely on imports from Turkey: Istikbal and Sirar.

But it is business itself that seems to be what intrigues Malek.

"We went through dozens of projects to adopt. We finally set our minds on two, following young businessmen advice," he told the EBDA meeting.

The association launches with a project to finance small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) clustered around bigger industry, working in partnership with the Social Fund for Development.
Another project aims to provide training programs to workers through their trade unions.

"There is a room for new business organisations," said another attendee, Alaa Ezz, an ex-member of the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) and current secretary general of the Confederation of Egyptian European Business Associations (CEEBA).

Sitting at the table nearest the podium and beside businessman Hussein Sabbour, Ezz said he welcomed the creation of the new business lobby and said he was attending as the secretary general of the Chambers of Commerce Federation.

"By law I have to be a member in every businessmen oganisation's board," he said, but added that he does not currently consider himself a member of EBDA.
Unlike Ezz, another attendee, Ahmed El-Swedy was enthusiastic about the association.

"Please let us look ahead," he said. "Islamists don't have enough experience and they need our help.

"Let's not start labelling people as Salafis, Copts or felool [remnants of the old regime]," he said in his speech. He told Ahram Online he has decided to become an EBDA member.

Egyptian police arrest sex swingers

Agence France-Presse
Egypt police arrest sex swingers: security

March 25, 2012

Egyptian police have arrested a married couple who advertised on Facebook to sexually swap spouses and to host orgies at their Cairo apartment, a security official said on Saturday.

The case involving a 30-year-old accountant and his wife of the same age had been referred to prosecutors, the official said, adding that their Facebook posting had been titled "Wife-swapping".

In April 2009, a Cairo court sentenced a man to seven years and his wife to three for setting up a swingers' club, according to their lawyer. The court said they confessed to having sex with other couples.

Extra-marital sex is generally frowned upon in Egypt, although couples go ahead with it after obtaining informal marriages, and could lead to prostitution charges.

Police & football fans clash; 1 shot dead & 18 injured

Al Jazeera
Clashes continue over Egypt football club ban

One person killed and more than 100 injured in ongoing violence in Port Said following two-year ban on al-Masry club.

25 Mar 2012

Clashes have continued between police and football fans in the northern Egyptian city of Port Said, after their club, al-Masry, was banned for two seasons following the country's worst-ever stadium violence last month.

The clashes began late on Friday, continuing into Saturday night and early Sunday morning.

Residents were assessing the damage following the violence which claimed at least one protester's life and left more than 100 others injured.

Al Jazeera's sources in Port Said said the deceased was a 17-year old teenage boy. Almost half of the injured were hurt during the clashes on Saturday and 16 of those wounded were army soldiers, our sources said.

Stone-throwing protesters clashed with police on Saturday evening near the Suez Canal Authority building, the site of the previous day's violence.

Police responded by firing into the air to disperse the crowd, security officials said. Tear gas was also fired.

"It has been another violent night here in Port Said, all the action taking place in front of the Suez Canal Authority building where we saw army soldiers firing tear gas and also using water cannon against protesters," Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reported from Port Said late on Saturday.

She said the military had decided to increase security in the area: "Central security force officers are being deployed to Port Said and more soldiers are being called from a nearby base in Ismailia to Port Said."

The city's harbour was closed on Saturday due to the protests, and ships using the Suez Canal were redirected to a secondary route, located east of the city, the Reuters news agency reported.

Eyewitnesses told Reuters that many factories were also closed on Saturday, as hundreds of protesters had blocked roads leading in to the coastal Mediterranean city.


The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) announced the ban on Friday following the pitch invasion that killed 74 fans on February 1, when Port Said-based al-Masry beat Cairo's al-Ahly, the most successful club team in Africa.

Port Said stadium, where the stampede took place, would be closed for three years, the EFA said.

Al-Ahly were ordered to play four matches behind closed doors, while the club's coach and captain were suspended.

The EFA said in a statement that al-Masry's football activities would be suspended through the 2012-2013 season. The club would be re-instated to the Premier League, the country's top competition, in the 2013-2014 season.

During the February pitch invasion, steel doors at the stadium were bolted shut, trapping fans trying to escape from the stands and dozens were crushed to death.

Many fans blamed the government for failing to send enough police to the stadium, given the tense build-up to the match, and many believe the violence was started by hired thugs. At least 1,000 people were injured.

"There is of course a purely football element to [the protests by al-Masry fans]," Al Jazeera's Tadros reported.

"They are angry at the fact that their club has been suspended for the next two seasons and the ramifications that will have for the club.

"But much wider than that we are speaking to people in the street who feel that all of these sanctions are just blaming al-Masry fans and people here in Port Said for what happened on February the 1st. The people here blame the police for what happened on that night," she said.

Prosecutors referred 75 people, including nine security officials in Port Said, to the criminal court on March 15 to face trial over the violence last month.

Fans of al-Ahly, meanwhile, contend that the sanctions against al-Masry are not harsh enough, and have called for a protest to be held outside the EFA's offices on Sunday.

Egypt: People demand an independent judiciary

Egypt Independent
The people want a free judiciary

Thu, 22/03/2012

Jano Charbel

While grappling with many unattended revolutionary demands, Egypt has witnessed during recent months a series of high profile court cases in which rulings and procedures occurred in the absence of a guaranteed independent judiciary.

Since the 25 January Revolution, advocates of an independent judiciary have criticized the executive appointments of judges presiding over the landmark trials of Hosni Mubarak and other ousted statesmen, along with the trials of police and officials accused of killing some 1,000 protesters and — most recently — the trial of international NGO employees.

Although the trial of 43 Egyptian and foreign NGO workers charged with receiving illegal foreign funding is ongoing, Egyptian authorities allowed the foreign defendants to leave the country after their bail money was paid. These judicial breaches have caused uproar in Parliament against claims of interference from the ruling military junta and the interim cabinet. These breaches have also left the Egyptian public wondering about how much sway the executive authorities have over judicial authorities — in this case, and in many others.

“We judges are not party to the NGO conflict. This is a political and diplomatic conflict in which the judiciary was sucked-in,” said reformist Judge Assem Abdel Gabbar, who is also the deputy chief justice of the Court of Cassation.

According to Abdel Gabbar, “This NGO trial has tarnished the image and reputation of Egypt’s judiciary, even more than it was already tarnished.”

Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the Cairo Court of Appeals, has been on the forefront of criticism for mediating the travel ban lift on the foreign defendants. And after news circulated about his resignation this week, he denied these reports, saying that he is still authorized to hold his position since the court’s General Assembly has not decided otherwise.

The case has elucidated the lingering question of the independence of the judiciary and raised concerns about other critical cases such as the trials of former regime officials.

Judges actively advocating the independence of the judiciary through the “Independence Current” collective see the solution residing in a legislative change. The Independence Current has been demanding the replacement of Law 142/2006 with a new Judicial Authority Law that guarantees the right of judges — not the executive branch of government — to chose and appoint other judges, the right to administrative and financial independence and the right to discipline corrupt judges.

According to Judge Mahmoud Mekky, “the current Judicial Authority Law allows 60 different pretexts for interference in judicial affairs from the executive branch of government.” Mekky pointed out that the president, prime minister, public prosecutor, along with the interior and finance minister are allowed “legal gateways” through which they may administratively and financially curtail the independence of the judiciary.

However, it is the Justice Ministry which is the most direct interferer. “The justice minister is legally authorized to handpick the judges in certain politicized trials — as we have witnessed in the trial Mubarak and his associates, the ‘Battle of the Camel’ trial, and the trials of those accused of killing protesters during the 25 January Revolution,” Mekky added. The outcome of these trials rests in the hands of judges who have been cherry-picked by the executive branch.

At the request of the Supreme Judicial Council, a draft law was prepared and submitted by Judge Ahmed Mekky, a leading figure in the Independence Current. This draft, followed by another draft formulated by Judge Ahmed al-Zend, president of the Judges Club, was submitted for approval by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces late last year, but both drafts were shelved. These two competing drafts were resubmitted to the newly-elected Parliament this January.

According to the legal analyst and director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey el-din Hassan, “The differences between the draft law submitted by the Supreme Judicial Council and that submitted by the Judges Club are few, but very significant.”

The differences between Mekky’s draft and that of Zend primarily center on the appointment of the public prosecutor and the judges presiding over specific court cases.

“Zend’s draft generally upholds the status quo,” said Hassan. It keeps the public prosecutor under the control of the executive branch. Regarding the appointment of judges presiding over certain courts, Zend proposes that they be appointed on the basis of their seniority within the judiciary.

Mekky’s draft, on the other hand, proposes that the public prosecutor be elected by judges, while judges should be elected by the top three most senior justices. “Mekky’s draft seeks to challenge the status quo and break free from the control of all executive authorities, especially from the Ministry of Justice,” said Hassan

Hassan pointed out that behind these two draft laws there may be a personal or ideological power struggle between the leaders of the Judges Club and the leaders of the Supreme Judicial Council.

The Supreme Judicial Council plays an administrative role, serving as a disciplinary committee and a body for judicial oversight, and conducting inspections of correctional institutions. As for the Judges Club, it acts as interest group for its members, serving to improve their working and financial conditions. “In this sense the club is more like unions or syndicates,” said Hassan.

According to Judge Abdel Gabbar, “The present leadership of the Judges Club,” especially under Zend, “is in no way representative of Egypt’s judiciary.” Abdel Gabbar added that the purging of corrupt judges and “reform of the judicial system may lead to a Judges’ Club which actually represents the judiciary rather than the ruling regime.”

Meanwhile, a group of 42 judges and lawyers prepared a list of 42 recommendations to guarantee the independence of the judiciary both in the constitution and the Judicial Authority Law. These include requiring the executive authority to impose the emergency law under judicial checks.

The suggestions also include that the new constitution should have a separate chapter on the judiciary that treats it as a comprehensive authority and does not fragment it into different courts under different authorities, which is the case in the 1971 Constitution. They added that all administrative decrees should be subject to judicial appeals.

The issue has been taken up by activists. “Plans to reform the judiciary and to promote judicial independence are not sufficient. We demand genuine justice through the judiciary,” said activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who had been imprisoned for several months in 2006, whilst protesting for judicial independence and again in 2011, for taking part in a mostly Coptic protest in October near the Maspero state television building in which 27 were killed by army violence.

Abd El Fattah expressed his skepticism regarding the potential of Egypt’s judiciary in upholding the principles of equality and social justice in line with revolutionary demands. The youth activist also criticized the sexism and class-based interests of Egypt’s judges.

Abd El Fattah pointed to the discriminatory policies of the Egyptian judiciary which have led to a lack of female prosecutors or judges. “Even the police and armed forces employ women in their ranks, why not the judiciary?”

*Photo courtesy of Al-Masry Al-Youm's Arabic Edition

Egypt: No Jail For Police Who Killed Protesters

Associated Press
No jail for Egypt police who killed protesters

Mar 20, 2012


CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Tuesday gave suspended one-year sentences to 11 policemen accused of killing 22 protesters and wounding 44 others during last year's uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Judge Sabri Hamed acquitted three other policemen at a court hearing in Cairo held under tight security. Families of the dead protesters rejected the verdict and vowed revenge.

"Death to the murderers!" they chanted.

In his ruling, Sabri said the defendants had a legitimate right to self defense when a mob pelted their station with rocks and firebombs, but they used excessive force in dealing with the threat, since those killed included some in homes a distance away.

The verdict is the latest in what activists claim to be a pattern of acquittals and light sentences for police blamed for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 18-day uprising. The suspended sentences mean the 11 convicted Tuesday will not go to prison.

The ruling, carried by the official news agency MENA, said the crowd outside the police station in Cairo's Hadayeq el-Qoubah district were genuine protesters, but they were later infiltrated by a "misled minority" that attacked the police.

The killings took place on Jan. 28, 2011, the deadliest day of the uprising. On the same day, thousands of convicts escaped from prisons across the nation, and scores of police station were ransacked. The attackers made off with firearms and ammunition.

Sabri said the police at Hadayeq el-Qoubah station could not request backup because of the chaos everywhere in the city, and that it would have been "cowardly" if they were to surrender to their attackers.

"The right of self defense here is legitimate, but the defendants exceeded that right with good intentions," Sabri said. "This is shown by the use of so much ammunition and the large number of killed and wounded. Their gunfire killed and wounded many persons far from the station and inside homes and buildings facing it. That amounts to exceeding the boundaries of legitimate self defense."

Seeking justice for the nearly 900 protesters killed during the uprising and at least 100 more since Mubarak's ouster has been a key demand of the protest movement that engineered the uprising. Activists also want the generals who took over from Mubarak to be held accountable for torturing detainees and hauling at least 10,000 civilians for trial before military tribunals.

The generals have promised to hand over power to a civilian administration after presidential elections in May. The winner will be declared June 21. Behind the scenes, the generals are thought to be trying to secure immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes during their rule.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fuck The Motherfucking Pope!

The Pope - Fuck The Motherfucker
Performed by Tim Minchin

Egypt: 5 Striking workers subjected to military trial

Socialist Worker
Egyptian strikers face torture

March 15, 2012

Workers on strike at a company near Egypt's Suez Canal were arrested and tortured and now face trial by military tribunal for nothing more than exercising their basic rights as workers. The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions has issued the following statement in solidarity with the latest victims of the regime.


FIVE STRIKING workers at the Somid Company Port on the Gulf of Suez were arrested and tortured by security forces personnel at the police station in Attaqa. The workers began their strike in the town of Ain Sukhna, which lies east of Cairo, on March 7 and were arrested shortly thereafter.

The five workers--Mohamed Essam Syam, Mohamed Farouk Al Gindy, Abu Alyazeed Abdel A'aty, Ahmed Mohamed Tal'at and Hassan Mohamed Al Qarmooty--went on strike to demand direct employment by the Somid Company Port instead of labor contracts of undefined duration with Subsea for Petroleum Services, a subcontracting firm.

The abuse of these workers raises the question of corruption. While the detained workers now face trial by military tribunal, it turns out that several of the company's executives are friends and relatives of members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that currently rules Egypt.

For example, Ahmed Tantawi, the brother of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, used to be director of the port's naval department before he retired. Later, he worked as a consultant to Somid Company Port.

In similar fashion, Mohamed Islam Khattab was given a role in the company as a reward to his father Khattab Hindawy, who financed the attack on the revolutionary uprising in Tahrir Square on February 2, 2011, in an attack that became known as the "Battle of the Camels."

Omar Seif Eldin Galal, the son of the former governor of Suez, also works for the company, as does a relative of General Sami Anan.

As a consequence, the striking workers directly confront the alliance between capitalists on the one hand and members of the former and current regime on the other.

The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions hereby demands that the Egyptian Parliament assume its responsibility on behalf of those who elected them in order to expedite the release of the five arrested workers.

We also demand the initiation of legal actions against those who gave the orders to torture and terrorize the striking workers as well as any personnel at the police station who participated in these acts of torture. We also demand that the company immediately grant the workers' demands.

We further call on all political parties and trade unions worldwide to stand in solidarity with the striking workers at Somid Company Port and to give their support to the struggle of these workers by whatever means they see fit.

*Photo courtesy of Zeinab Mohamed

Syria: One year into uprising, death toll at 8,000+

Syria: Witnesses Describe Idlib Destruction, Killings
One Year On, Indiscriminate Attacks Inflicting Heavy Toll

March 15, 2012

(New York) – Accounts from witnesses reveal significant destruction and a large number of deaths and injuries of civilians in Syria’s bombardment of the city of Idlib, Human Rights Watch said today. On the anniversary of the Syrian uprising, Human Rights Watch urged Russia and China to agree to a UN Security Council resolution calling on Syria to halt the indiscriminate attacks on cities and demand access for humanitarian workers, journalists, and human rights monitors.

Idlib is the latest opposition stronghold to come under attack by the Syrian security forces attempting to rout the armed opposition. Syrian activists have compiled a list of 114 civilians killed since the current assault there, which began on March 10, 2012. Five witnesses, including three foreign correspondents, gave separate accounts to Human Rights Watch that government forces used large-caliber machine-guns, tanks, and mortars to fire indiscriminately at buildings and people in the street. After they entered Idlib, government forces detained people in house-to-house searches, looted buildings, and burned down houses, the witnesses said.

“City after city, town after town, Syria’s security forces are using their scorched earth methods while the Security Council’s hands remain tied by Russia and China,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “One year on, the Security Council should finally stand together and send a clear message to Assad that these attacks should end.”

The attacks on Idlib follow months of atrocities that both the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have described as crimes against humanity.

The large-scale military operation on Idlib on March 10 began at around 5 a.m.

“Michael,” an international journalist who was in the city, told Human Rights Watch:

The army started shelling the city in the morning with tanks and continued until the night. They were shelling everywhere. In the morning we could hear shells every two minutes. There was a short pause in the middle of the day before they started again. They were not shelling anything in particular. They were just trying to scare the population. The rebels were trying to fight, but it was impossible. After the shelling, the army started to move into the city.

“Maria,” another international journalist who was there that day, said that when the army opened fire from an armored personnel carrier on a building close to her, she ran to help people who had been wounded:

[After I heard about the attack] I ran to the building with a group of Syrians to help the people there. Some of the Syrians running to the building had weapons and cell-phones, but they were not taking active part in the fighting. There was a helicopter flying above us and it seems like the attack was well coordinated. Just before I reached the building – I was about 10 meters away – the government forces attacked again. It seems like they were shooting from the gun on an armored personnel carrier. If they had been shooting with anything bigger I would have been dead.

There were no weapons in the building and, although there was fighting in the vicinity, nobody had been shooting from that building. They were just attacking places where they could see groups of people, not caring at all whether the people were actually part of the fighting.

Maria, who like some of the others interviewed asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisals, told Human Rights Watch that at least five people were wounded and two killed in that attack.

Government forces also used mortars during the attack on the city. “Wasim,” an Idlib resident, described to Human Rights Watch what he saw when he went to a building on Ajama street in the northwestern part of the city that had been attacked around 6 a.m. on March 10:

Half of the building was destroyed. Three children – two girls and one boy – and their father had been killed. One of the girls had fallen from the building so she was lying in the street. The other members of the family were injured as well. It looked like the building had been hit from the roof. There was no particular reason for the army to attack this building. They just shot at everything. They are crazy. They have no particular targets.

“Hassan,” a journalist with significant experience working in war zones, told Human Rights Watch that one of the people extracting the wounded and killed from the building on Ajama street brought him remnants of the shell used to attack the building. Hassan identified the remnant as a mortar.

Another international journalist, who was just outside the city, said that shelling was continuing on March 12, and to a lesser degree on March 13.

Many of the wounded and killed were brought to a hospital in the old city, which was quickly overwhelmed by the number of casualties. Michael told Human Rights Watch:

At least 20 killed people were brought to the hospital the first day. There were more the second day – at least 30. The third day was terrifying. I don’t think anybody was keeping lists at that point. Wounded people kept arriving all the time. Medical personnel were trying to revive and attend to the wounded on the floors in the corridors because there was no space. Doctors were doing surgery without the proper equipment. They were doing their best, but they were really exhausted.

Hassan described the same hospital in similar terms:

The hospital was in total chaos. They couldn’t cope with the number of killed and injured. The dead were buried right away in a nearby park. But by Sunday [March 11] they had run out of space in the park and the park and school behind it were also being attacked so they had to bury the dead wherever they could.

Four witnesses among those Human Rights Watch interviewed who visited the hospital during the onslaught said that many of the killed and injured had clearly not taken part in any fighting. Michael told Human Rights Watch:

I would say that about half of the casualties were clearly civilians. There were women, children and elderly among them. Most of the civilians were wounded or killed because of shelling.

As government forces moved in to occupy areas of the city, they frequently looted shops and apartments, and deliberately burned down houses of suspected activists, the witnesses said. Wasim told Human Rights Watch that after he left the city on March 12, his father called him to tell him that the forces had destroyed many of the shops in their street and that they had torched the building on the opposite side of the street.

Another Idlib resident, “Mustafa,” told Human Rights Watch:

I have a list of almost 30 houses that have been burned down. At least some of them belonged to activists. On certain streets all the stores and shops have been looted. They even took the safe from some of the stores.

Government forces also detained scores of people during the offensive, both in Idlib and in surrounding towns. Some were released, while others are still in detention.

The witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that it is very difficult for people to leave the city as the highway encircling Idlib, forming a belt around the city, is controlled by the Syrian army. Landmines planted by government forces along the border with Turkey have made it even more difficult for people to flee the government’s onslaught. Hassan estimated that 85 percent of Idlib’s population is still in the city.

“The army controls the highway,” Hassan said. “The only way to get out is to sneak through the olive trees at night and try to cross the highway without the army noticing.”

Mustafa said that he had walked through fields in the dark for 15 kilometers to get out of the city.

The witnesses told Human Rights Watch that city residents had been killed by sporadic shelling and sniper fire before the March 10 offensive, but on a smaller scale.

One year after the uprising began in Syria, security forces have killed at least 8,000 civilians according to lists compiled by local activists. Vetoes by Russia and China have prevented the Security Council from taking any action on Syria despite evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed.

The UN secretary-general’s special envoy, Kofi Annan, will brief the Security Council on his efforts on March 16. Human Rights Watch urged Russia and China to support a United Nations Security Council resolution that would give Annan’s efforts the strongest possible backing as well as demanding that the Syrian government end the indiscriminate shelling of cities and allow access to affected areas for humanitarian workers, journalists, and human rights monitors.

The resolution should also provide for targeted sanctions against officials involved in the abuse and an embargo on arms delivery to the Syrian government, and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has, on multiple occasions, recommended that the Security Council refer the situation to the court. Similarly, a growing number and wide range of countries have voiced their support for an ICC referral. On March 13, during a session at the UN Human Rights Council, Austria delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 13 countries supporting the High Commissioner’s call for a referral.

Human Rights Watch urged others to join the mounting calls for accountability by supporting a referral to the ICC as the forum most capable of effectively investigating and prosecuting those bearing the greatest responsibility for abuses in Syria.

*In Arabic:
سوريا: شهود يصفون أعمال التدمير والقتل في إدلب

**Photo courtesy of REUTERS
***Map & statistics issued by Syrian Martyrs

'Ships of Shame' carrying weapons from US to Egypt

Halt ships of shame from the USA carrying weapons to Egypt

March 15, 2012

A ship carrying a cargo of weapons with explosives en route from the USA to Egypt must not be allowed to offload because of a substantial risk the weapons will be used by Egyptian security forces to commit human rights violations, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The organization has tracked the Dutch-flagged ship, MV Schippersgracht, for the past two months. It is currently in the Mediterranean Sea and due to arrive in Egypt early next week.

The vessel had previously arrived at the US Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU), Southport in North Carolina, USA on 24 February 2012.

MOTSU is the largest ammunition port in the US and is the Department of Defense’s key Atlantic Coast ammunition shipping point.

On 3 March 2012 the ship left Sunny Point, a military-only port, carrying a class of dangerous goods that covers cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition. The ship has a cargo capacity of 21,000 tons and 1,100 twenty foot containers. The captain reported the ship’s next destination as Port Said in Egypt.

“This ship of shame should not be allowed to unload its dangerous cargo in Egypt, and there is a substantial risk that this is what it plans to do,” said Brian Wood Amnesty International’s head of arms control. “There is a clear pattern that weapons from previous ships have recently been used to commit serious human rights violations by the Egyptian security forces, and yet the US is recklessly sending a constant flow of arms to Egypt.”

As recently as last month, Egypt’s Central Security Forces (riot police) used excessive force, including shotguns and live ammunition, to disperse protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others.

Over the past year, the Egyptian security forces including the military have used excessive force, including lethal force, against protestors. More than one hundred people were killed and thousands more injured over the last five months by security forces.

The Dutch company Spliethoff's Bevrachtingskantoor BV, a contractor for the US Military Sealift Command, that manages the Schippersgracht provided no comment on the latest shipment when contacted by Amnesty International.

The latest shipment follows a series of significant quantities of arms the US supplied to Egypt.

Between 11 December 2011 and 5 February 2012, the Egyptian Procurement Office (EPO) of the Armament Authority, Ministry of Defense shipped a total of 349 tons of military and dual use equipment with a value of at least USD$35 million supplied on seven US-flagged cargo ships, which are managed by American President Lines Maritime Ltd.

Equipment on these seven cargo ships included military spare parts and components for electronic equipment, tactical and support vehicles, tanker vehicles, armoured vehicles and tanks, spare parts for AH-64 Apache, H-3 and SH-2G(E) helicopters.

The Egyptian security forces’ use of ammunition is a clear example of the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which enters the final stage of crucial negotiations in July.

Amnesty International is calling for ammunitions to be included among the conventional arms to be regulated by the treaty, a move the US currently opposes.

“The violent repression of protestors at the hands of Egyptian security forces is sadly one of many examples as to why the world needs a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty. As the world’s largest arms exporter, the US in particular needs to match its rhetoric on human rights with genuine action, something it has so far failed to do,” said Brian Wood.

Amnesty International working with Transarms and the International Peace and Information Service (IPIS) has documented a series of ‘Ships of Shame’ transferring of arms from the world’s major irresponsible arms suppliers, including China, Russia, and USA, to countries where there is a substantial risk the weapons will be used to commit serious human rights violations.

*Amnesty International conducted the research into recent ships from the US to Egypt in conjunction with Transarms and IPSIS.


The Dutch-flagged general cargo ship MV Schippersgracht arrived at Baltimore, in Maryland, in the USA, on 25 January 2012 from Eemshaven, in Groningen, in the Netherlands.

The ship left Baltimore on 26 January 2012 and reached Jacksonville, in Florida, on 28 January 2012. The Schippersgracht left Jacksonville nearly one month later, on 23 February 2012, and sailed North to the port of the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU), Southport in North Carolina, in the USA, where the ship arrived on 24 February 2012.

The MOTSU is described by North Carolina Department of Commerce as the “largest ammunition port in the nation… and is the Department of Defense’s key Atlantic Coast ammunition shipping point. It provides worldwide trans-shipment of Department of Defense ammunition, explosives and other dangerous cargo”, as well as being a logistics hub for intermodal military cargo movements by rail, trucks, and ships.

On 3 March 2012, the ship left Sunny Point with cargo that included IMO Class C of dangerous goods that is equivalent to the UN Hazard Material Division 1.4, which covers cartridges for weapons, fuzes and detonators, other ammunition.

The Schippersgracht was not listed in the commercial movements of the US East Coast ports and its last port of call in the USA was Sunny Point, indicating that its cargo is of military nature only.

The International Maritime Organisation and UN Hazarad Materials category 1.4 covers cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition.

Muslim Brotherhood drafts law threatening labor rights

Egypt Independent
Draft law threatens independent unions, but workers vow to fight

March 14, 2012

Tom Dale

A new draft law introduced in Parliament threatens to dissolve the independent trade unions that have sprung up in various sectors over the past year, but independent labor activists say that if the law passes, they won’t go without a fight.

Up to 2 million workers are thought to be members of the recently founded independent unions, which exist alongside, or instead of, the old, state-sanctioned unions in workplaces around the country. However, while in some cases the law would be resisted vigorously, it would also likely expose the weakness of many new unions, which still have shallow roots.

Three draft laws for the regulation of trade unions in Egypt have been proposed. The most likely among these to make the statute books is proposed by a group of MPs, most of whom are members of the Freedom and Justice Party, with a background in the state-sanctioned Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).

Most controversially, the law would prevent workers from organizing more than one union within any enterprise. Workers' committees at each enterprise would apparently be allowed to choose which union federation they would like to affiliate with at least once every four years. But subject to a lawsuit, any other union which attempted to establish itself would be “automatically dissolved” and its assets seized.

Independent trade unionists, who founded their organizations either in the upsurge of workers activity around 2006-2008 or in 2011, say they will be presented with a stark choice. If they refuse to merge into the ETUF unions and are unable to win a vote among workers for the status of official union, they will have to either disband or defy judicial orders.

The Independent School Teachers Union is one of those facing up to this threat. It claims 80,000 members in the education system, and led a strike in September which led to the closure of schools around the country. The Ministry of Education has promised the union to abolish the seasonal contracts under which around 100,000 teachers are employed by July 2012. The union says that the salaries of those teachers will double as a result.

“There will be strikes, demonstrations and an insecure work environment for investors,” says Sayed Abul Azim, president of the union's Cairo branch. The ETUF teachers' union did not back their strike, and he says that hard-pressed teachers are relying on the independent union to defend their day to day interests, as well as improve the quality of education in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood candidates swept the board in the ETUF teachers' union elections which took place after the strike, but only around 10 percent of teachers voted.

Among the hundreds of independent unions, however, perhaps only a few are seriously in a position to defend their independence. These include the teachers, the real estate tax collectors and the healthcare professionals, which were initiated prior to the 2011 revolution.

“The majority of the new unions are detached from the real movement” says Timur Wageddin, a journalist and activist. “After the revolution there was a mushrooming of strikes. But you will find, if you analyze, that most of the striking sectors are not unionized, and most of the unions are not striking. And even when this isn't true, the leaders of the strike were not necessarily the leaders of the unions.”

Abdel Hafiz Tayel, national vice president of the Independent School Teachers Union, agrees with Wageddin that many of the independent unions may be reabsorbed into the traditional structures.

“Of course, for some of the weaker unions, it will be a setback. It is natural that part of the workers will go to ETUF,” he says. In some cases, it is possible that independent unions will receive official recognition as the legitimate representative of workers.

Khaled Azheri, a senior ETUF official and the FJP MP leading the proposal of the draft law, argues that the law he proposes promises both freedom of association for workers, and stability for the economy as a whole. “Our main target is just to protect the Egyptian economy in this transitional period; we need stability in the workplace,” he told Egypt Independent.

Labor lawyers Khaled Ali and Nadim Mansour, Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, believe that support for the draft law would represent a break with the party's manifesto which promises commitment to the freedom of trade union association. Both also agree that the law would be incompatible with Egypt's constitution and with its commitments under international law.

Azheri says that freedom of association “doesn't mean a right for a minority to form a new union.”

However, the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations, which sets international standards for labor law, has established a Freedom of Association Committee, which has different view.

“The right of workers to establish organizations of their own choosing implies, in particular, the effective possibility to create, if the workers so choose, more than one workers organization per enterprise. Provisions which require a single union for each enterprise, trade or occupation are not in accordance with Article 2 of Convention No. 87,” the ILO Freedom of Association Committee's Digest of Decisions and Principles states.

The committee has reiterated this position in no less than 20 separate decisions.

According to Ali, senior FJP figures once supported trade union pluralism, but recently changed their view.

“Before the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood worked with me to draft a proposed syndicate law which would have guaranteed trade union pluralism. Saber Aboul Fotouh, the head of the Labor Force Committee in Parliament now, was part of this, along with Yosri Bayoumi, who is now supported by the FJP to be the Labor Minister. But immediately after the revolution, they switched,” Ali says.

Azheri believes that Egypt's economic crisis calls for special measures. But he also claims that workers will benefit from the greater unity proposed by the law. Wageddin agrees with the goal, but disagrees with the method.

“Unity is a goal which we should achieve through convincing different trends amongst the workers' movement to unite. But we should fight for the right of unions to be free,” Wageddin says.

According to Nadim Mansour, “We can already see a process where some mergers are taking place, and it's a healthy process.”

This is also the judgment of the ILO, which maintains that “it may be to the advantage of workers to avoid a multiplicity of trade unions, but this choice should be made freely and voluntarily.”

Azheri says that a special committee has been established in Parliament to listen to representatives from interested parties, including the ILO and independent union activists.

Tayel thinks that the FJP is likely to modify the law before it is ratified. But, if they don't, he is optimistic about what lies ahead.

“Laws are there to be broken. A bad law shouldn't be followed. The people of Egypt struggled hard for the right to organize. Hundreds of people were killed for this right, and we are ready to fight again.”

*Photo by Aly el-Malky

The future of Egyptian women is in danger
'The future of Egyptian women is in danger' - Samira Ibrahim speaks out

Tuesday 13 March

The verdict over 'virginity tests' was a blow to the feminist struggle in Egypt. Here, the woman who sacrificed everything to bring the case to court, warns that women's rights are now under threat from two sides - the military and the Islamists

Abdel-Rahman Hussein

Samira Ibrahim is talking tough, but her face looks fraught. The decision by a military court on Sunday to exonerate a former military doctor from conducting "virginity tests" on female protestors in March last year is a setback and a big blow to her personally.

For Ibrahim was the first to speak out about being subjected to this violation along with six other women at a military prison where they were kept overnight, having been arrested in Tahrir Square. It has been a difficult year for Ibrahim, but she is adamant she will not back down.

"I insist on getting my rights and will not leave it, no matter the cost. The future of Egyptian women is in danger," she told the Guardian. The reason for this, Ibrahim believes, is that in post-revolution Egypt there are two powerful forces that stand to hinder the progress of women's rights. "Now the Egyptian woman is violated from two sides, one is the military and the other are the Islamists," she said.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. After the ousting of Mubarak in February 2011 there was a strident hope that things would change for the better for all Egyptians, including women. Things took a turn for the worse when a women's march in Tahrir to commemorate International Women's Day was attacked. Ibrahim was arrested the following day along with 20 other women and taken that night to a military prison where they were tasered and strip-searched before the seven unmarried women were subjected to the test.

Ibrahim has paid a heavy price for being the first to speak out and become the representative of the victims of the sexual assault. "I sacrificed my job and now my reputation and the Egyptian media has forsaken me, there was some support before and now that is gone. There's no one standing by me and that is a catastrophe," she said.

"These violations have always occurred against us [Egyptian women] and many people are frustrated and depressed because of the verdict yesterday," she added.

What is strange about the verdict is that several members of the ruling military junta, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have already admitted that the tests did happen, justifying it with the rather bizarre notion that it was done to avoid allegations of rape against military soldiers.

Ibrahim is philosophical about the verdict however, stating that it was "preferable to him getting a reduced sentence because had they given him six months or a year it would be a catastrophe, so I see the verdict in my favour because now it is my right to resort to international law."

And even though she was visibly distraught after the verdict was read out she feels that it wasn't going to be any other way. "What happened is the biggest proof of the corruption of Egyptian law, especially military law because Egyptian law lets me down every time. I'm not expecting anything under military rule because the military – and especially SCAF – will never indict itself."

It seems the next recourse is international law, with Egyptian human rights groups releasing a statement on Monday that they will be pursuing the case in the international arena, firstly with the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, a semi-judicial body that is weighing cases brought against the Egyptian government by local human rights groups.

Ibrahim confirmed this, saying, "I've decided to file an international lawsuit and it is my right as a citizen since my rights are lost here even though many military commanders admitted this happened and now they're denying it."

*Photo courtesy of EPA

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Military junta takes strike-breaking into its own hands

Egypt Independent
SCAF takes strike-breaking into its own hands

Tue, 13/03/2012

Jano Charbel

While the independent trade union movement has flourished over the past year, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has taken a harsh line toward organized labor, criminalizing strikes and work stoppages, and arresting protesting workers and labor activists.

But the military rulers are also trying another tactic when it comes to limiting the workers' rights movement: using their own labor force and resources to undermine strikes.

The most recent act of strike-breaking has been the Egyptian army's operation of buses from 25 February to 5 March during a nationwide strike at the Delta Bus Company.

More than 1,500 workers employed at the Delta Bus Company violated the anti-strike law, arguing their strikes aim to improve — not harm — the national economy.

The strike began on 23 February in the Suez Canal cities when hundreds of workers at the branches of the East Delta Bus Company escalated their protests into work stoppages.

Workers demanded improved wages, affiliation to the Transportation Ministry rather than the Holding Company for Transportation, independent trade unions, spare parts and proper maintenance of buses, along with the removal of corrupt administrative officials from the company.

Army officers met with these strikers on the first day of their strike in an attempt to have them call it off. On the second day, officers reportedly threatened to arrest strike leaders and forcefully operate the company's buses. On the third day, the Second Field Army began to operate a fleet of its own buses to counter the effects of the strike.

Within a matter of days, hundreds of workers at the West Delta Bus Company had joined in the strike, followed by the Central Delta and Upper Egypt bus companies. All 14 branches of the Delta Company had ground to a halt.

"I was surprised to hear that the army was operating bus lines during our strike,” said Samy Abdel Rahman, an administrative employee at the Upper Egypt Bus Company.

“This is the first time we’ve heard of such an action,” Abdel Rahman said.

The employee clarified that while the army's acts of strike-breaking had only been directed against the East Delta Bus Company, this act also had consequences on the strikes of the other company branches.

Nabil Hamam, a bus driver from East Delta Bus Company's branch in Port Said, said the army operated its fleet of buses "servicing cities east of the Nile Delta under the pretext of keeping commuters from being stranded and protesting.

However, they should've taken into consideration the reasoning behind our strike. We strike not only for our interests, but for the interest of the commuters — for the sake of improving our company, and improving state-owned transport services," said Hamam, who earns LE300 per month, though he has been working at the East Delta Bus Company for seven years.

"The SCAF has moved to counter our strike, while the [Muslim] Brotherhood and Salafi MPs who we voted for in Port Said have ignored our demands," the bus driver said. "They're not defending our rights or the rights of commuters. Like us, the commuters have suffered from the company's poor services and broken-down buses in the past."

On 5 March, striking workers received a pledge that the entire Delta Bus Company would be financially and administratively affiliated with the Transportation Ministry by July of this year.

Their wages and benefits are to be brought on par with employees in this ministry. But that won't be enough to satisfy the workers, who say they also demand a change of administration.

"We're still struggling to remove corrupt administrators from their posts and hold them accountable for their financial irregularities. We have a long struggle ahead of us," Abdel Rahman said, adding that he expected solidarity from the new ruling authorities in the fight against corruption, especially in state-owned institutions.

Hamam says some commuters even criticized other transport companies for not joining the Delta Bus Company strike for the sake of improving their services.

"They understand our demands, and a number of commuters have even stood in solidarity with our strike," he said.

According to journalist and labor analyst Sherif al-Baramony, the SCAF is desperately trying to gain the sympathy of commuters and the general populace, which is why they operated alternate bus services.

State-owned media have also been used to demonize strikes and labor protests, claiming they are detrimental to the Egyptian economy and the well-being of the revolution. State-owned radio and TV stations have even described such industrial actions as being "counter-revolutionary."

That may be working.

During the strike, the scene at East Delta's bus terminal in the Shubra district of Cairo saw long lines of commuters waiting outside other companies' ticket offices and cramming themselves into buses, microbuses and station wagons heading east.

"This is not the time for strikes. We need to rebuild Egypt," said Hassan Mahmoud, a commuter on his way to Ismailia. "May God help us settle all these problems, and improve the conditions of this country."

There are other reasons for the SCAF's decision to break the strike itself rather than just arrest the organizers, as has been the case in other labor actions, according to Baramony. He says that after violent clashes with protesters over the last six months, the generals are trying to avoid direct confrontation.

Another analyst had a different explanation behind the army's scabbing efforts.

"The Suez Canal and its cities, along with the Sinai Peninsula, are directly under SCAF control. The military regime perceives this area to be a particularly sensitive area, and they want things to flow smoothly there without incident," explained Karam Saber, director of the Land Center for Human Rights. "They don't want additional conflicts with workers or any acts of labor unrest in this area, which they tightly control."

In April, the SCAF-appointed interim cabinet issued Law 34/2011, which criminalizes strikes and protests that harm the economy with penalties of fines and/or imprisonment. These fines range from LE30,000 to LE500,000 and prison sentences of one year or more. However, this law — meant to be enforced only during the course of the national transitional phase — has been widely ignored by workers and has seldom been enforced by authorities.

On 10 May, striking doctors at the Mahalla General Hospital were forced to resume work after the hospital’s administrators called in the military police. These forces reportedly threatened doctors with trials before military tribunals if they did not return to work.

On 5 June, military police attacked protesting petroleum and gas workers outside the Petroleum Ministry. Five workers from the state-owned Petrojet Company were jailed and, one month later, were handed down suspended sentences of one year's imprisonment.

Again, on 26 July, military police forcefully dispersed striking workers in Ismailia who had been blocking a highway in protest — at least 36 workers and two officers were injured, while dozens of strikers were arrested.

Early last month, company administrators called on the army to take over production at the Sukari Gold Mine, where hundreds of workers were striking. The army did not take over the mining operations, however.

The SCAF led a mass media campaign against a planned general strike on 11 February that was organized by youth activists rather than workers. And on 28 February, military police attacked protesting clerical employees of the Justice Ministry in Suez City, injuring at least two at their protest site outside a courthouse.

Most recently, five striking workers employed at the Sumid Seaport Company were arrested by military police on 7 March while blocking maritime traffic. These five workers have been jailed pending trial before a military tribunal.

*Photographs by Alsayed Albaz

Military court clears army doctor in 'virginity tests' case

Agence France-Presse
Egypt court clears army doctor in 'virginity tests' case

Mar 11, 2012

Jailan Zayan

CAIRO (AFP) — An Egyptian military court on Sunday acquitted an army doctor accused of conducting forced "virginity tests" on female protesters last year, triggering the fury of international human rights groups.

Ahmed Adel was cleared of conducting the test on Samira Ibrahim, who brought the case against him, after the judge found the witness statements to be "contradictory", the official MENA news agency said.

The ruling comes "from what has been proven in documents and based on my conscience," the judge said according to MENA, adding that he had "not been subjected to any pressures."

Adel was accused of "public indecency" and "disobeying military orders", after the initial charge of rape had been dropped.

"It's a joke, a theatre," an outraged Samira Ibrahim told AFP after the ruling.

"The fact that the case was in a military court is a disaster," she said.

But Huwayda Mostafa Salem, the lawyer for the defendant, told reporters outside the court: "The case was not strong in the first place. It was brought about due to media pressure."

The case had sparked a national outcry and getting it into court was considered a victory for the female protesters who were subjected to the tests and had raised hopes of further trials of those accused of abuse.

International rights watchdogs slammed the verdict as a "travesty" of justice and urged Egypt's military rulers to ensure women never again face "virginity tests."

"The ruling shows how politicised the military justice system is, and the lack of independence there," said Heba Morayef, researcher at Human Rights Watch's (HRW) North Africa division.

"The implications are far reaching and the hope that there will be any accountability for the military will be receding," Morayef told AFP.

Amnesty International said the acquittal "fails women victims of 'virginity tests'" and shows that military courts are "incapable of dealing" with human rights abuse cases.

"Once again, the Egyptian military have failed women, particularly those like Samira Ibrahim, who have shown tremendous courage in challenging the military establishment in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director.

"This decision is not only a travesty of justice but further proof that cases of human rights abuses by the military should be dealt with in civilian courts," she added.

Amnesty urged Egypt's military rulers to ban "virginity tests" and ensure that women forced to endure them "have access to justice and reparations."

The case arose from two complaints filed by Ibrahim, who in December won a case against the military which saw the court order the army to stop forced virginity tests on female detainees.

Last year, on March 9, army officers violently cleared Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the epicentre of protests that had toppled president Hosni Mubarak -- and held at least 18 women in detention.

Women said they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to "virginity tests" and threatened with prostitution charges.

An army general defended the practice at the time saying: "We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place."

Sunday's ruling could also have implications for other cases filed by women against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power when Mubarak was ousted, for violence against them.

In December, a video of military police dragging a woman along the ground with troops surrounding her and kicking her on the chest, as well as another video showing military personnel beating a female protester, sparked further outrage.

Egypt: Drop baseless charges against journalists & activists

Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian journalists accused of 'insulting armed forces'

March 9, 2012

New York, (CPJ) -- Egyptian authorities should immediately dismiss a baseless complaint of anti-state activities that has been lodged against several journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The case has been referred to military prosecutors as part of a broader practice that has raised constitutional and international concerns.

The complaint names four current journalists among a number of other government critics, accusing them of "inciting the downfall of the state" and "insulting the armed forces," news reports said.

The complainant, a little-known figure named Mohamed Salah Zaghloul, has submitted numerous vague complaints against government critics over the past year, CPJ research shows. On Wednesday, public prosecutor Abdel Maguid Mahmoud referred the complaint to military prosecutors.

The reporters--Reem Maged and Yosri Fouda, who work for the privately owned satellite broadcaster ONTV, and bloggers Alaa Abd el-Fattah and Nawara Negm--have been repeatedly targeted by Egyptian authorities for harassment, CPJ research shows.

The journalists are among 12 prominent figures identified in the complaint; all have been critical of the ruling military council.

Egyptian authorities have not disclosed any formal charges as yet in connection with the new complaint.

The other individuals targeted in the complaint include presidential contender and veteran journalist Buthayna Kamel; novelist and opposition figure Alaa al-Aswany; Member of Parliament Zyad el-Elaimy; and activists and leading opposition figures Wael Ghonim, Asmaa Mahfouz, George Ishaq, Sameh Naguib, and Mamdouh Hamza.

They have also been subjected to sustained smear campaigns and baseless criminal complaints, CPJ research found.

The Military Justice Code states that civilians may be tried in a military court if the alleged offense involves military officers or was committed in an area under military jurisdiction.

The current military government has adopted an excessively broad interpretation of the code, effectively considering the entirety of the country to be under its jurisdiction, CPJ research shows.

In the past year, more than 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts, where defendants have curtailed rights, the proceedings are opaque, and the prosecution must meet a lower burden of proof.

Human rights groups have found that the proceedings fail to meet the standards outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory.

The constitutionality of the practice has been challenged in cases now before Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, CPJ research shows.

"Authorities must end the practice of hauling critics before military prosecutors every time they disagree with something written or said," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "This contrived complaint should be dismissed immediately."

The journalists have been harassed in the past by the military, its supporters, and its proxies, CPJ research shows. In May, the military summoned Maged for questioning, and Fouda, who has constantly faced pressure and censorship, twice took his show off the air in protest, in May and October.

Abd el-Fattah was detained for two months in late October after refusing to be interrogated by military prosecutors and still faces charges of "inciting violence against the military," among others. In January, Negm was physically assaulted by a mob believed to be made up of supporters of the military.

Dozens of journalists have been questioned by military prosecutors for being critical of the military's actions, CPJ research shows. Maikel Nabil Sanad, a critical blogger, was imprisoned for close to 10 months for "insulting the military" and stood trial in military courts.

Strengths & weaknesses of Egypt's labor movement

Socialist Review
The workers' movement in Egypt

March 2012

Anne Alexander

A call for a general strike in Egypt on 11 February didn't produce the desired effect. Yet the current strike wave shows no signs of abating. Anne Alexander looks at the strengths and weaknesses of Egypt's new workers' movement and the different forces attempting to shape it

Just over a year after the fall of Mubarak, the landscape of the Egyptian workers' movement has changed dramatically. The strike wave shows little sign of running out of energy: the numbers ebb and flow but each month brings new explosions of action. The old state-run union federation has been wounded and weakened but not destroyed.

The new independent unions have grown rapidly, drawing hundreds of thousands of workers into their orbit, many in sectors with little tradition of organisation. However, this growth has also been uneven, and building organisation beyond the workplace which retains authority within it has been difficult.

The growth of workers' organisations is interlaced with the development of a revolutionary movement. Out of the waves of massive street protests and sit-ins a new generation of radical activists has emerged.

The main target for their anger has been the ruling generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and more recently the reformist Islamist parties who dominate the newly elected parliament. Despite the image presented in the Western media of a liberal elite in revolt, in reality the mass movement in the streets is largely made up of young people from working class and poor backgrounds.

On 11 February, in response to a call for a general strike to bring down the military council, it was the sons and daughters of factory workers and civil servants who marched in their thousands at provincial universities like Helwan and Mansoura. But there remains a gap between the revolutionary mood in the workplaces and the streets, with only a very small response to the strike call from workers, despite the large student mobilisation.

The hope that this gap can be overcome lies in the fact that it is likely that the main battles are still to come. Workers' expectations of social change are written into their strike demands: they want job security, to be paid enough to live in dignity, and an end to corrupt, bullying management. Politicians from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the various Salafist parties repeatedly make vague promises that these hopes will be fulfilled by the new parliament.


On the other hand they are also promising Egypt's business elite, the global financial institutions and the Mubarak regime's old backers in Washington that they will stop strikes. Moreover, the context of global economic crisis gives the new government precious little room to manoeuvre: Egypt may not have reached a Greek-style financial meltdown yet, but its debt is already nearly 70 percent of GDP and credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's has downgraded the country's rating three times in the last four months.

To understand how the workers' movement is developing it is vital to look at it from two perspectives. The first is the view from below, where strike action is pushing workers' self-confidence and organisation to new levels within the workplace. In some sectors coordination between workplaces is beginning to develop into powerful organisation which can mobilise action across entire sectors of industry.

However, we also need to look at the movement "from above", taking into account how the actions of the state and the parliamentary parties change the landscape in which workers' organisations are developing. It is particularly important to see the newly formed independent unions from these two perspectives, in order to understand that there are gaps within them, particularly between the newly developing national and federation leaderships and workplace organisation.

The motor of strike action is still working very hard. The numbers of workers involved in strike action stand at extremely high levels compared to before the revolution. In September alone between 500,000 and 750,000 joined strikes.

This included large coordinated strikes for the first time, for example a national strike by teachers, but also coordinated action by bus workers, postal workers and sugar refinery workers. Airport workers struck at the end of December demanding civilian rather than military managers.

At the end of February another wave of big strikes paralysed bus services across the Delta, and tens of thousands of workers employed by the Ministry of Justice in the courts organised a national strike.

The old Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) played a central role for decades in propping up the Mubarak regime. It both policed and contained workers' discontent in the workplace. It acted as a conduit for the distribution of welfare benefits.

It was a gigantic electoral machine for the ruling party in the 50 percent of parliamentary seats reserved for "workers and peasants". For a long time the ETUF provided the semblance of "mass popular support" for the regime by bussing members to rallies and demonstrations during elections or for particular campaigns.

The Egyptian government's privatisation policies before the revolution undermined the ETUF from two directions - it lost hundreds of thousands of members to the private sector and those who remained saw that the federation had done little to protect their interests.

Even more importantly, the strike wave, which the ETUF actively opposed, gave workers experience of organising themselves and further broke down the ETUF's ability to mobilise workers.

In the uprising against Mubarak, the ETUF leadership was the last line of defence for the regime. It played a key role in organising thugs to attack Tahrir Square during the "battle of the camel" and in calls for "mass protests" in support of Mubarak. Both of these attempts failed, and instead hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike, sealing the dictator's fate.


However, the ETUF did not completely disintegrate. The federation appears now to be playing an increasingly important role in the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to rein in the strike wave. Senior Brotherhood members were appointed to a caretaker executive for the ETUF in August 2011, along with pro-Mubarak officials and a small number of leftists and worker representatives.

By late February 2012 the first two groups were working together on draft legislation on trade union freedoms and had proposed an initiative to parliament to "solve workers' problems" by creating a special committee to negotiate with management on their behalf.

Some unions affiliated to the ETUF are still strong in the workplaces, such as the Land Transport Union (LTU), which has been involved in fierce competition with the new independent union in the Public Transport Authority in Cairo. The LTU played a key role in aborting attempts to win support for strike action on the buses in solidarity with the call for a general strike on 11 February.

The other significant development "from above" has been the partial recognition by the state of the independent unions. There has been a process created for the legal registration of independent unions, although this essentially contradicts existing Egyptian law which only recognises ETUF-affiliated unions. Two federations of independent unions have come into existence since the fall of Mubarak.

The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) claims an affiliated membership of around 1.4 million workers. Its president is Kamal Abu Aita, the leader of the Tax Collectors' Union, the first independent union to emerge before the revolution. The smaller Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress claims the affiliation of 246 unions.

Leading figures in the EDLC are affiliated to an NGO established by former steel-worker Kamal Abbas, which withdrew from the EFITU last summer after a bitter controversy over the role over NGO employees in the democratic decision-making bodies of the new federation.

The strongest independent unions have generally been built directly out of strike action. The independent union of the Public Transport Authority Workers in Cairo led four strikes between May and September 2011, for example.

The independent teachers' unions played a crucial role in organising and providing a degree of national leadership for the teachers' strike, although the number of teachers participating in the strike was much bigger than the new unions' combined membership.

However, the legal registration process for establishing independent unions has also made it possible to build unions "on paper" or with a handful of members. In addition, a narrow space has opened up for the emergence of a layer of officials who can escape from the immediate pressures of the workplace.

The bureaucracy of the independent unions is very small and has far fewer material resources and full-time officials than a single region of a medium-sized British trade union like UCU, but it is still under pressure to act as a mediator between striking workers and employers.

The mechanisms at the disposal of these officials to sell out strikes are still very weak, but manoeuvres and attempts to do deals may increase union members' passivity and frustration rather than building their self-confidence and self-organisation.


When it comes to connecting the independent unions to the wider political questions raised by the confrontations over military rule, the disconnection between the independent union leadership and the workplaces shows itself in a different way.

Leading activists in the independent unions have been strongly supportive of revolutionary activists' calls for strike action against the military council, but have not been able to deliver anything on the ground.

This was underlined by the call for a general strike on 11 February, the anniversary of Mubarak's fall from power. The call, which came from revolutionary activists who have been radicalised by the experience of the huge protests and street clashes over the past year, shows that wide layers of people beyond the revolutionary left see strikes as an extremely powerful weapon.

However, the revolutionary movement does not as yet have strong enough roots in the workplaces to be able to win the argument for political strikes, particularly in the face of a concerted anti-strike campaign by the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Winning those arguments will require a much bigger network of revolutionary activists who can begin to build connections between the wider revolutionary movement and workers' ongoing struggles.