Thursday, May 31, 2012

Standing against the "electoral" counter-revolution in Egypt

Egypt's Elections Under Military Rule: Join Our Resistance to the Counter-Revolution

June 1, 2012 
By Comrades from Cairo

To you at whose side we struggle,

From the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, the powers that be have launched a vicious counter-revolution to contain our struggle and subsume it by drowning the people's voices in a process of meaningless, piecemeal political reforms.

This process aimed at deflecting the path of revolution and the Egyptian people's demands for "bread, freedom and social justice."

Only 18 days into our revolution, and since we forced Mubarak out of power, the discourse of the political classes and the infrastructure of the elites, including both state and private media, continues to privilege discussions of rotating Ministers, cabinet reshuffles, referendums, committees, constitutions and most glaringly, parliamentary and now presidential elections.

Our choice from the very beginning was to reject in their entirety the regime's attempts to drag the people's revolution into a farcical dialogue with the counter-revolution shrouded in the discourse of a "democratic process" which neither promotes the demands of the revolution nor represents any substantial, real democracy.

Thus our revolution continues, and must continue.

Egyptians now find themselves in a vulnerable moment.  Official political discourse would have the world believe that the technologies of democracy presently spell a choice between 'two evils'.

These are: Ahmed Shafiq, who guarantees the consolidation of the outgoing regime and its return with a vengeance, openly promising a criminal assault on the revolution under the fascist spectres of 'security' and 'stability', and the false promise of protection for religious minorities (against whom the regime systematically stages assault and isolation as part of its fear-mongering campaigns); and

Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood whom we are expected to imagine might 'save' us from the 'old regime' through the myths of cultural renaissance -- all while consolidating its financial stronghold and the regional capitalist hegemony that fosters and depends on it for a climate of rampant exploitation of Egypt's people and their resources.

This consolidation, we are certain, will be accompanied by the subsequent marshalling of the military apparatus to protect the emboldened ruling class of the Muslim Brotherhood from the wrath and revolt of its victims: the multitude whom the leaders of the organization have historically fought by condemning and outlawing our struggles for livelihood, dignity and equality.

According to election officials, most voters themselves (75%) have chosen neither Shafiq nor Morsi in the first round of elections.  We refuse to recognize the choice of "lesser of two evils" when these evils masquerade in equal measure for the same regime.  We believe there is another choice.  And in times where perceived common sense is as far from the truth as can be, we find the need to speak out once again.

We perceive the affair of presidential elections in Egypt as an attempt by the as yet prevailing military junta and its counter-revolutionary forces to garner international legitimacy to cement the existing regime and deliver more lethal blows to the Egyptian revolution.  We ask you to join us in resisting the logic of this process that seeks to further entrench the counter-revolution.

Our struggle does not exist in isolation from yours.

What is revolution, but the immediate and uncompromising rejection of the status quo: of militarized power, exploitation, class stratification, and relentless police violence -- just to name a few of the most basic and cancerous features of society in the present moment.

These structural realities are not unique to Egypt or the Egyptian revolution.  In both the South and the North communities resist what we are meant to accept without questioning, rising up against the narrow realist perspective that tells us that democracy is merely choosing the lesser of 'two evils', and that the election of either represents a choice in government rather than what it is: an affirmation of the only government that exists -- that of unbridled, repressive and dehumanizing capitalist relations.

We stand in solidarity with the masses of precarious and endangered people who have chosen to defend their being from an aggressive global system that is in crisis; indeed, a sputtering system that, in its twilight hours, reaches for unprecedented levels of surveillance, militarization and violence to quell our insurrections.

We must make clear that despite the fact of the international political establishment's praise of the 'democratic' nature of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections, we strongly and categorically reject the outcome of these elections for they do not represent the desires of the
Egyptian people that fought in the January 25th Revolution.

Furthermore, we categorically reject the elections themselves in principle, for the following reasons:

1- Even by the standards of the deceased and irrelevant systems of representation that once existed in the Global North, no 'free and fair elections' can take place under the supervision of a power-hungry military junta, vying relentlessly for continued political domination and the protection of their vast economic empire, so relentlessly, indeed, that no constitution exists to define the powers of any presidency.  How can we tolerate a military dictatorship's supervision of any political process when thousands of Egyptians continue to languish in the dungeons of military prison after undergoing arbitrary arrest, campaigns of systematic torture, and exceptional military tribunals.

2- The abuse of law in favor of the power mongering of the ruling military generals: in order to run the junta's preferred candidate, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission has simply and blatantly disregarded the law of political exclusion recently passed in order to ban the candidacy of any members of Mubarak's regime from running in the presidential elections.

3- The absurdity of unlimited power concentrated in the hands of an electoral commission made up of central figures from the Mubarak era who are meant to supervise a 'democratic' process.

4- The vague programs marketed by the most strongly backed candidates fly in the face of the values and object of the revolution, the very reason why we are even having these elections today and the cause for which over a thousand martyrs gave their lives: "bread, freedom and social justice."

If these elections take place and are internationally recognized the regime will have received the world's stamp of approval to make void everything the revolution stands for.  If these elections are to pass while we remain silent, we believe the coming regime will license itself to hunt us down, lock us up and torture us in an attempt to quell all forms of resistance to its very raison d'être.

We continue on our revolutionary path committed to resisting military rule and putting an end to military tribunals for civilians and the release of all detainees in military prisons.  We continue to struggle in the workplace, in schools and universities and with popular committees in our neighborhoods.

But our fight is as much against the governments and systems supporting the regime that suppresses us.  We are determined to audit loan agreements that did and continue to occur between international financial institutions or foreign governments with a regime that claims to represent us while thriving from exploiting and repressing us.

We call on you to join us in our struggle against the reinforcements of the counter-revolution.  How will you stand in solidarity with us?  If we are under attack, you are also under attack for our battle is a global one against the forces that seek our obedience and suppression.

We stand with the ongoing revolution, a revolution that will only be realized by the strength, community and persistence of the people; not through a poisonous referendum for military rule.

Protests for release of detainees facing military trials

Egypt: Protests for release of detainees

CAIRO, May 22 (UPI) -- Some 31 Egyptian political groups Tuesday pledged to escalate protests until the government releases 89 detained demonstrators.

The most recent demonstration Sunday was a one-day hunger strike in which 400 citizens participated in solidarity with the 86 detainees already on hunger strike, Ahram Online reported.

The detainees in question were arrested during May 4 clashes between demonstrators and security forces outside the Defense Ministry in Cairo's Abbasiya district. More than 300 were originally arrested but 211 have since been released.

Political groups signing the statement issued Tuesday include the National Front for Justice and Democracy, the Free Islamist Alliance, the 'We Are All Detainees' Movement and the Egyptian Feminist Alliance.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has alleged the arrests only took place due to protesters' attempts to storm the Defense Ministry.

Activists have criticized the trial of demonstrators in military tribunals, demanding they be referred to civil court instead. Ahram Online reported approximately 12,000 civilians have been tried by military prosecution since the Armed Forces assumed power in February of last year.

Protesters throw shoes at presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq

Shoes, abuse hurled at ex-premier

May 24, 2012

Protesters threw stones and shoes at Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq after he cast his ballot yesterday, taking aim at the former prime minister for serving under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

As the ex-air force commander and aviation minister voted at a Cairo polling station, protesters gathered outside chanting “Down with military rule” and “Down with the regime.”

Relatives of people killed in last year’s uprising that toppled Mubarak clutching pictures of the victims.
“The coward is here. The criminal is here,” they cried as Shafiq’s car pulled into the area.

“You killed the martyrs. Their blood is on your hands. We either get their rights or die like them,” the protesters chanted. “We don’t want you here,” they shouted, calling Shafiq a “feloul”, or remnant, of the Mubarak era.

Protesters took off their shoes and some threw them at Shafiq, 70, as he made his way into the polling station, his armed bodyguards protecting him from the crowd.

The supervising judge briefly suspended voting, but Shafiq eventually cast his ballot.

His candidacy has polarized Egyptians, with some seeing him as a return to the past and others as a force for stability.

Shafiq’s supporters and opponents threw stones and glasses at each other as he drove away from the polling station. Several parked cars had their windshields broken.

Earlier in the day, Shafiq had defended himself against critics of his role in Mubarak’s day. “I worked for the big family of Egypt not for someone or for a regime,” he said.

*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

Egyptian army beats & tortures detained protesters

Los Angeles Times

Human rights group says Egyptian army tortured protesters

May 21, 2012

CAIRO -- Human Rights Watch has accused the Egyptian military of beating and torturing protesters detained during violent demonstrations earlier this month outside the Defense Ministry here.

"The brutal beating of both men and women protesters shows that military officers have no sense of limits on what they can do," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the human rights organization said in a statement over the weekend.

"The official law enforcement authorities may arrest people where there is evidence of wrongdoing, but it never has the right to beat and torture them."

A peaceful sit-in near near the ministry in the neighborhood of Abbasiya in downtown Cairo turned violent May 4 when protesters and military police hurled stones at one another.

The sit-in, called by scores of Islamists angry at the ouster of Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail from the presidential race, attracted several thousand sympathizers after unidentified thugs killed 11 protesters two days earlier.

Military police dispersed the crowd with tear gas, water cannons and blank gunshots. One soldier was killed and and 350 people were arrested, including a number of journalists. The military had warned of a crackdown if protesters continued to gather outside the ministry and in a nearby square.

Army officers "beat us with sticks, kicked us and punched us. At one point there were around 10 or 15 of them beating me," Adel Khattab, one of the released protesters, told Human Rights Watch. "My head was bleeding and my clothes were torn by the time they brought me after that to a military prosecutor.

Then they moved us to Tora prison. When we arrived there, we were given a 'reception party' where three plainclothes prison officials beat us and whipped us with hoses."

The accusations echo similar charges against the military and security forces after arrests during demonstrations that have erupted since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year. Human Rights Watch said its report was based on accounts of many protesters who were released.

The military, which had the support of many Egyptians in breaking up the protest, has not publicly responded to the report.  

*Photo courtesy of Khaled Elfiqi / EPA

Calls for boycotting Egypt's presidential elections

Egypt Independent

Sat, 19/05/2012

Jano Charbel

Out of some 50 million eligible voters, tens of millions are expected to partake in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections. An untold number of others are undecided, will not participate, or are actively boycotting the elections.

One of the first groups to announce its boycott of the presidential elections is the (center-leftist) National Front for Justice and Democracy.

According to one of its chief members, Mohamed Waked, “we are boycotting because there are no clear indicators of what these elections will lead to. Especially given that the new constitution has not yet been drafted, and nobody knows what the new president’s powers and authorities will entail.”

 On this basis, presidential hopefuls cannot promise to stick to their electoral programs because their jurisdiction has not yet been determined, according to Waked.

Indeed, pressing questions are still looming, such as whether the power-sharing scheme between the executive and the legislative branches of the state will remain a presidential system or change to a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. Moreover, the role of the interim rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in the state following the elections has not yet publicly been determined.

According to Waked “the political system in Egypt will be tailored according to whoever wins. The nature of the state and the executive will be determined according to the victor.”

Waked pondered whether or not the SCAF will retain the right to dissolve parliament, or if the next president will be empowered to do so. Will the president have authority over the military institution and judiciary  or is this out of bounds? “The outlook is gray and murky. It is still unclear which authorities will have which powers.”

Waked said that there are around six or seven revolutionary groupings who have joined in the boycott called by the National Front for Justice and Democracy. Among these small groups is Ha’enna (Our Right - previously a campaign front for reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, who was then also running in the elections) along with the Second Egyptian Revolution Coalition.

On Wednesday, the Mosereen Cultural Cooperative hosted a round-table discussion entitled "Presidential Elections… Boycott or Participation?" Dozens of participants were in attendance, the vast majority of whom were under 35 years of age and generally supported boycotting. Only around three participants  two of them over 35  expressed their support for participation.

Nearly all boycotters claimed that the vote will boil down, in the second round of elections, to a vote between remnants/representatives of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s regime and power-hungry Islamists.

According to the leftist youth activist, Tarek Shalaby, “Mubarak’s verdict [in a trial in which he is charged with corruption and killing protesters, due to be issued on 2 June] will be issued and sandwiched between the first and second rounds of elections. This is not a coincidence; it is intended to distract the populace from this court trial.”

Another socialist activist, Rasha Azab argued “parliamentary elections were held in November when the police and armed forces where killing protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. These elections are intended to distract us from the real revolution.”

Azzab mocked Mubarak’s successor, claiming that he would be a powerless puppet in the hands of his political overlords. “The next president will be a shoe/boot on the SCAF’s foot, a slipper on the Islamists feet, and a pair of wooden clogs on the feet of Israel and the United States.”

Pierre Sioufi, a middle-aged activist, began the discussion by encouraging people to take to the streets during the election days, rather than boycotting by staying at home. Sioufi and others called for “an active and vocal boycott, as opposed to a passive boycott.”

Others called for a campaign of posters and/or street art to raise awareness about the reasons behind the boycott.

But an activist participating in the discussion reckoned that staying at home is a better option for practical reasons. “We should stay at home during election days, because our numbers will be dwarfed in comparison to those voting. The anti-boycott camp will point to us and argue that we are a tiny misguided minority.”

This activist went on to recommend “we should stay at home, and claim all those who did the same as being in our camp.”

Another youth participant recommended nullifying ballots, “by crossing off all the names, or by writing the name of the martyr Khaled Saeed on the ballots.” However, another activist responded by saying “nullifying your ballot still counts as participating in the elections  albeit that your voice is discarded.”

Yet activist Wael Khalil argued against the boycott, claiming that “every revolution has a leadership  for example the French revolution and Russian revolution. Otherwise the revolution will be misled and will not have a clear trajectory.”

An elderly woman participant denounced the calls for boycott on the basis that it doesn’t have a critical following. “You are wasting your time and effort with your calls for a boycott. You represent only 1 percent or less of the population; the vast majority of whom want to rebuild a new democratic Egyptian state.”

Khalil commented, “if we elect a democratic president then we can guarantee that all future elections will be free, fair and representative.”

But Azzab said she expects the upcoming vote to be rigged: “there will be no difference between the presidential elections of 2005 and the presidential elections of 2012.”

But so far the calls for a boycott have not been competing strongly with the campaigning of presidential hopefuls hoping to lure voters to cast ballots in their favor.

Calls for elections' boycott have also been made ahead of the parliamentary elections which kicked off in November of last year. Activists defending the boycott also thought the elections were a distraction from the revolutionary path.

*Photo courtesy of AFP

Citizen throws his shoe at presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Aswan

Egypt Independent

Citizen throws his shoe at Shafiq in Aswan

Fri, 18/05/2012

A citizen in Aswan Governorate threw his shoe at presidential hopeful and former Hosni Mubarak regime official Ahmed Shafiq during a campaign rally Thursday evening at Sheikh Haroun area in the City of Aswan.

Ahmed Hazem was sitting in the audience listening to Shafiq deliver a speech when he took off his shoe and hurled it towards the podium.

Shafiq's supporters in the audience then beat Hazem and kicked him out of the marquee.
"The difference of opinion does not invalidate intimacy; we have to be more patient and accept all these differences," Shafiq said in response to the insult.

Youth from the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition and "Emsek Feloul Movement" (Catch a Remnant Movement) gathered outside the marquee and chanted  "Down with the remnants," and burned Shafiq posters.

Clashes followed between the youth from the two groups and Shafiq supporters, with both sides throwing stones and beating each other with sticks. Tazers were also reportedly used in the violence.
Shafiq left the rally through side streets, for fear of assault from the dozens of protesters who remained outside the marquee until the end of the rally.

In Qena Governorate, Muslim Brotherhood members and revolutionary youth objected to Shafiq’s visiting the  Abdel Rahim al-Qenawy Mosque, a landmark of Qena. Quarrels between them and Shafiq supporters did not prevent his visit, during which Shafiq paid his respects to the shrine of Sheikh Abdel Rahim al-Qenawy and performed his Friday prayers.

But Shafiq received a warm welcome from the leaders of Al-Ashraf tribe, one of Qena's largest. Eyewitnesses observed that a large number of members of former President Hosni Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party were present, many of whom have laid low since the uprising that removed the president last year.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sacked Shafiq in March 2011 in response to mass demonstrations demanding his removal for being part of the former regime.

Then, protesters were angry at Shafiq for mocking them. He had said he would give them candy if they left the square during the 18-day uprising that toppled the former president.

Mubarak appointed Shafiq as prime minister in an effort to appease protesters last winter. He remained in office for three weeks following the former president's departure.

Shafiq was previously the commander of the Air Force before Mubarak appointed him as minister of civil aviation from 2002 until 29 January 2011.

*Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm
*Photographed by Virginie Nguyen

Egypt: 14 Policemen acquitted of killing civilians during uprising

A court on Thursday acquitted 14 police officers charged with killing protesters during Egypt’s uprising last year.

The verdict is the latest in what activists see as a pattern of acquittals for officers accused in the deaths of nearly 850 people during the 18-day uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

The court found the officers not guilty of shooting protesters in front of police stations on Jan. 28, 2011.

The ruling ended the 10th court case dealing with the deaths of protesters. In nine instances, the security officers have been acquitted, while in one case the court issued a suspended sentence.

White gold: Are Egypt's cotton industries beyond salvation?

Egypt Independent

White gold: Are Egypt's cotton industries beyond salvation?

Wed, 16/05/2012
Jano Charbel

Egypt’s extra-long staple cotton, acclaimed to be the world’s finest, has been in a state of rapid decline for the past 20 years. The production of Egyptian cotton is threatened with demise, along with the country’s textile industry, which had absorbed domestic cotton production.

Often referred to as “white gold,” cotton is no longer the country’s chief cash crop, and the textile industry is no longer a leading economic powerhouse.

Since the mid-1800s, “cotton was Egypt’s primary cash crop until 2001, but not anymore,” said Mohamed Fathy, professor of agriculture at Monufiya University.

“The Egyptian state used to subsidize all the cotton farmers’ needs, from A to Z. This included subsidized seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation and subsidized prices for the purchase of their cotton harvests,” he said.

Official and independent statistics, as of 2010–11, indicate that the area of agricultural lands producing cotton in Egypt has decreased to a quarter (or less) of its size in the 1990s. An estimated 2 million feddans were being used for cotton cultivation until around 2001.

According to Fathy, in 2011, cotton-growing lands amounted to 310,000 feddans, or just over 3 percent of the nearly 9 million feddans of agricultural land. In the 1960s, more than 4 million, or nearly 67 percent, of 6 million total cultivated feddans were devoted to cotton, according to Fathy.

According to Khaled Badawy, director of the Egyptian Center for Rural Studies, “the state’s adoption of [International Monetary Fund] open-market policies in the early 1990s, the subsequent cancellation of protectionist economic policies, the move away from centralized periodic plans for agricultural production, and the lifting of subsidies have all hit Egypt’s cotton farmers hard.”

Badawy added that the Agriculture Ministry has refrained from buying cotton from local farmers because their product is well above the average global market price. The agricultural specialist added that the fragmentation of land ownership into tiny plots as well as insufficient and inadequate irrigation networks have also contributed to the woes of cotton farmers.

Thousands of farmers, unable to cover the expenses of cultivation, have turned away from cotton in favor of more profitable cash crops, particularly fruits, for both domestic markets and for export.

“Given that the government is no longer buying its cotton at market prices, most Nile Delta farmers have been stockpiling their cotton harvests since last year,” said Badawy.

Mohamed al-Sunni, a cotton farmer from Quesna, in the Nile Delta governorate of Monufiya, said “thousands of farmers are stockpiling their cotton because there’s nobody willing to buy it.”

The elderly farmer explained that thousands of cotton farmers are storing their produce, not only in Monufiya, but in a number of other governorates.

“Just a few years ago, the Agriculture Ministry used to purchase cotton from farmers at market prices,” he said. The ministry’s local agricultural cooperatives, cotton ginning companies and textile factories also paid market prices.

“Prices have plummeted. So nowadays there are very few people interested in buying our cotton,” he said. “It’s not like we are withholding our cotton harvest from the government, but the prices we’re being offered don’t even cover the cost of production.”

Sunni said that just last year he sold one qintar (or quintal, about 45 kilograms) of cotton for LE1,850. This year the qintar is worth LE900 to 1,000.

For well over a decade, a flood of cheaper cotton imports from China, India, the US and Sudan have flooded the market — most of these cotton varieties are short- or mid-length staples. The economic policies adopted by the Mubarak regime, most of which still remain in effect, have left Egypt’s cotton and textile industries prey to cheap Asian imports at the same time that cotton faces fierce competition from heavily subsidized, large American growers.

Egyptian cotton is valued for its extra-long fibers, which are characterized as being more absorbent, strong and durable. Egyptian cotton can also be spun into lengthy and fine threads, allowing for a greater thread count per centimeter, which produces a finer and softer fabric. However, increased global production of cheaper short and mid-length cottons has driven down prices worldwide. Long and extra-long staples are more expensive, and account for only around 2 percent of global cotton production.

Egypt’s textile industries have been drawn into cotton’s downward spiral.

“Since many of the existing textile machines are old, and are only designed to process long-staple cottons, these machines cannot manufacture textiles using the shorter cotton fibers, which are the most prevalent,” Badawy said. Moreover, the privatizations of textile companies since the 1990s, along with corruption, bankruptcy and the closure and liquidation of factories, have “compounded the cotton crisis since the domestic textile industries are absorbing less cotton from Egyptian farmers.”

Badawy argued that “ideally Egypt should undo the steps that led to this crisis, but it’s too late to close markets to foreign imports or impose protectionist economic policies, because the Egyptian state is bound to the international trade agreements that it signed and ratified.”

As for subsidies, “it would be very difficult to subsidize Egypt’s small farmers. Farmers typically own very small plots of land, which would be impractical to subsidize, while millions of others are landless peasants,” said Badawy, contrasting the situation here with that of in the US or European Union. “These states spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year subsidizing their farmers. Yet farmers there own large tracts of land, which are typically mechanized.

“Subsidizing Egypt’s farmers may be a temporary solution to save the cotton industries — for 10 or 20 years.  However, this would impose a heavy burden on the national economy, and is not sustainable in the long term — especially in light of declining cotton prices on the world market.”

According to Badawy, the ministries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, and Manpower have neglected their responsibilities toward the cotton industry, its farmers and workers. The Mubarak regime ignored the demands of tens of millions of small farmers, while “the 25 January revolution has sidelined them. Their problems remain unaddressed by political parties and presidential candidates. Prospects for Egypt's cotton growing industries are not at all rosy. ”

Badawy criticized presidential candidates for promising to bolster the agriculture industry with new infrastructure and irrigation systems and improve farm conditions without laying out how they plan to pay for such programs.

“Tens of billions of pounds are required just to begin addressing these basic problems,” he said.
Badawy rests his hopes on recently founded farmer unions, rather than politicians. Egypt's first farmers unions, while still in their embryonic stages, are now found in nearly every governorate.

“The former regime chose to move away from cotton production. This was a politicized decision dictated by the IMF and approved by the Mubarak regime,” said Independent Farmers’ Federation President Abdel Meguid al-Khouly. “The cotton crisis is a very clear reality, not only in Beheira and Monufiya governorates, but in all other cotton-growing governorates, and agricultural lands.”

Khouly said that “since last year, cotton farmers have protested, marched and blocked roads across the country in protest against their neglected demands.  While farmers’ representatives have repeatedly met with Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, and Essam Sharaf before him, to no avail.”

The federation leader claimed that “Egypt is moving away from self-sufficiency in all crops, because there is no centralized agricultural planning. Such planning ended in the early 1990s.” He predicted more agricultural and economic troubles if the country continues to follow the trajectory laid out by former rulers.

“Egypt has become a massive import market, we are no longer a production-based economy. We should only import that which we cannot produce domestically.” Khouly said, also advocating that the government decrease the tax burden on small farmers and resume subsidies.

Khouly also has little respect for politicians.

“It is almost impossible to identify the allegiances of these [presidential] candidates. What we do know, however, is that they are only looking after personal interests, but not the interests of farmers. This is simply because none of them are farmers.”
*Photo by Alsayed Albaz

Egyptian police raid & shut down Iranian TV station's office

Committee to Protect Journalists

Egyptian police shutter Al-Alam's Cairo office

New York, May 16, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Sunday's raid on the Cairo offices of Al-Alam, an Iranian Arabic-language satellite broadcaster, which effectively shut down the station's news gathering in Egypt. CPJ calls on authorities to immediately return the station's confiscated equipment and allow staff members to resume their work.

About 15 plainclothes police carried out the raid because the station was operating without a license, Al-Alam reported. Police briefly detained two Al-Alam staff members, news reports said. Al-Alam, which has operated a Cairo bureau for more than 10 years, has applied for a license on numerous occasions only to be rebuffed, the bureau's director, Ahmed al-Shweify, told CPJ. The station filed its latest application in April, he said.

The station, which is based in Tehran and maintains numerous bureaus throughout the world, continues broadcasting and can still be seen in Egypt.

Al-Shweify said police have prevented Al-Alam staff from entering the building and have issued a warrant for his arrest. Al-Alam staff protested in front of the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate today, a day after al-Shweify filed a complaint with prosecutors over the raid. The director, who is due to meet with prosecutors on Thursday, said staff are planning to embark on a hunger strike.

Al-Alam, which was shut down previously, in 2008, reports news from an official Iranian perspective and has been critical of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. A number of broadcasters have operated in Egypt without a license, both before and after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011. The government has a record of denying or postponing license requests, sometimes on procedural matters and sometimes without explanation, CPJ research shows.

In the past year, police have carried out similar raids against other broadcasters. In September, CPJ documented a raid on Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr's offices in Cairo; authorities said the critical station was operating without a permit. In October, CPJ documented raids on two television stations in apparent reprisal for their coverage of clashes between protesters and security forces.

"Egyptian authorities have a long record of withholding broadcast licenses from critical news outlets, and then sweeping in to shut these broadcasters when it suits their political purposes," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Al-Alam should be allowed to resume its work and have its equipment returned.

Egyptian revolution VS. Saudi absolute monarchy

The Guardian

Egyptians v Saudi Arabia: it's all got rather messy

Tues. 8 May, 2012

Putting Mubarak in the dock upset Gulf's patriarchal order. Saudi Arabia is trying to play hardball but it may not work

Magdi Abdelhadi 

While protesters were fighting street battles with the military police in Cairo last week, Egyptian officials were bowing courteously before King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asking forgiveness for the unruly behaviour of demonstrators outside his embassy in Cairo.

The demonstration outside the Saudi embassy had been triggered by the arrest of an Egyptian lawyer at Jeddah airport for allegedly trying to smuggle illicit substances into the kingdom. The Egyptians suspected foul play, saying the man was framed because he had campaigned on behalf of his compatriots held in Saudi jails without due process.

A war of words between the media in both countries followed, culminating in the mob daubing "profanities" on the wall of the embassy and hurling abuse at the Saudi king – some even trying to pull down the Saudi flag. The Saudis were angry, the Egyptians furious, and the full facts of the incident were lost in the fog of verbal abuse. We may never know what – if anything – this man is really guilty of.

The official Saudi response, however, was amazing. Recalling the ambassador and closing down the embassy looked like pressing the nuclear button for a country known for its extreme caution on foreign policy matters. Not to mention the fact that Egypt is a close neighbour, the most populous nation in the region – and "a sister Arab state", in the defunct language of pan-Arabism.

Now, though, the official supplication before the Saudi monarch has paid off – the ambassador has returned to Cairo. The storm may subside, but only for now. Critics have described the high-powered visitors to the Saudi monarch as grovellers, a delegation of shame that included the Islamist speakers of upper and lower houses of parliament (both members of the Muslim Brotherhood), prominent Salafist clerics and other figures known for their sycophancy.

The whole drama underlines two important things about Egypt and about the Saudis, as well as other Gulf rulers. The arrest of the lawyer has tapped into resentment among Egyptians regarding their treatment by the Saudis – especially under the odious "sponsor" system, according to which migrant labourers are deprived of basic rights. (There are about 2 million Egyptians who live and work in the kingdom.)

The reaction on the streets of Cairo and other cities was also a stark illustration of what post-Mubarak Egypt is like: rebellious, chaotic, irreverent and determined to defend its sense of national pride (true or imagined) after decades of ignominious clientelism under Mubarak.

And it's precisely this that worries the Saudis and the Gulf emirs, and may explain in part the unusual Saudi reaction. It's no secret that they have been terrified of the prospect of the Egyptian "contagion" spreading to their societies. They tried until the last minute to prevent the fall of their best buddy in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. They have also tried and failed to prevent his trial. Putting the old man in the dock has turned the Gulf's patriarchal order upside down.

However, the Saudis and other powerful Gulf players have tried to influence events by other means. Financial arm-twisting is the one they know best. They have withheld aid for the rapidly depleting state coffers in Egypt and dispensed their largesse on their Salafi friends and other Islamist allies in

Egyptian society, ensuring a broad and thriving ultraconservative constituency that advocates the Saudi way of life. This will ensure Egypt does not turn into the menace they fear most: an open, secular, multiparty democracy.

Withdrawing the ambassador, closing the embassy and suspending all visas to Egyptians was a warning shot that Saudi Arabia – like other Gulf states – still has another weapon in its armour should the Egyptians continue to "misbehave": closing labour markets to the millions of jobless in Egypt will bring Egyptians back to their pre-revolutionary senses.

But Egypt may not heed the finger-wagging from Arab neighbours or western aid donors, as the recent row over American NGOs clearly illustrates.

Ironically, among the countries that feel the impact of Egypt's revolutionary fervour and disorientation are two at the extreme ends of the spectrum: Israel, which had its gas supplies from Egypt cut as a result of growing popular pressure, and now Saudi Arabia. In both cases, perceived injustice and national pride have played a crucial role, and any future leader in Egypt will ignore that at his peril.

The Egyptian upheaval has laid to rest the cozy division of the region into moderate states (pro-western and pro-peace with Israel) and rogue states (Iran and Syria). In the future, Egypt may well hover between the two, thus rendering the divide useless as an analytical concept or as a guide for foreign policy.

*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

Egypt: Parliament's new law keeps military trials for civilians

12,000 Tried by Military in 2011, Hundreds More Cases Pending
May 7, 2012

(New York) – Egypt’s parliament on May 6, 2012, approved amendments to the Code of Military Justice that failed to end the unprecedented expansion of military trials of civilians, despite pleas for reform from the legal and human rights communities, Human Rights Watch said today.

In 2011 more than 12,000 civilians, including children, faced unfair military trials which fail to provide the basic due process rights of civilian courts, more than the number of military trials of civilians during 30 years of rule by former president Hosni Mubarak.

The military has continued to try civilians before military tribunals in 2012 despite promises to limit the practice. More than 300 civilians arrested since May 4 in Cairo during the clashes near the ministry of defense in Cairo are now also scheduled for military trials.

“It’s shocking that this elected parliament has failed to take the basic step of protecting Egyptian civilians against an inherently unfair military justice system,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament’s failure to ban a major abuse of the military government betrays campaign promises to deliver justice to all Egyptians.”

International human rights law bans trials of civilians before military courts. Despite this, until now Egypt has maintained its 1966 Code of Military Justice (CMJ), which permits military trials of civilians in various circumstances set out in Articles 5 (civilians present in an area where the military are deployed), 6 (presidential referral) and 7 (if one of the parties is military personnel). In addition, Article 8 (bis) (1) allows military tribunals to try juveniles when accompanied by an adult who is subject to military jurisdiction, while Article 48 gives the military justice system sole competence to determine its jurisdiction.

The amendments parliament passed on May 6 limit only the right of the president to refer civilians to military tribunals and fail to address the broad discretion given to the military in Articles 5 and 7 to try civilians, Human Rights Watch said. Parliament also only changed a few words in Articles 8 and 48, without addressing the extremely problematic substance of the two provisions, which allow children to be tried before military tribunals.

The legislative and constitutional affairs committee of the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s lower house of parliament, had during the past three months discussed reforming the CMJ based on proposed amendments drafted by SCAF General Mamdouh Shaheen, who represented the government in parliament. Two members of the committee, Mohamed al-Omda and Hussein Ibrahim, had submitted proposals with additional suggested amendments that would allow sentences issued by military courts to be appealed before civilian courts.

But parliament’s rules of procedure, which date from the Mubarak-era parliament that was dominated by one party, give precedence to government-proposed drafts, and the committee failed to adopt the members’ proposals.

Shaheen’s proposed amendments only limited the right of the president to refer civilians to military tribunals. He told the legislative committee on March 19 that this provision had been “imposed on the military by former president Hosni Mubarak” and that the SCAF “had frequently tried to change it.”

Shaheen rejected MPs’ demands to amend Article 48, which states that the military justice system is solely competent to determine its own jurisdiction, saying in a televised debate in parliament that “the provision just needs to be narrowed to guarantee the security of the armed forces against [civilians] who try to blow up a tank or steal ammunition because this would destroy the military justice system.”

Over the past year the SCAF has consistently stated that it has the right to try civilians before military courts on the basis of the Code of Military Justice.

In a live television interview on a local station, ON TV, on April 11, General Ismail Etman, the military’s head of Morale Affairs, said that “in cases where it affects the security of the armed forces or the security of the country, such as thuggery, looting, or destruction of property, theft, and especially if one of the parties is a military officer, we transfer it to military trials to be looked into immediately.”

“The SCAF-proposed amendments were the usual half-hearted, cosmetic attempts by the military to respond to criticism without limiting the military’s discretion,” said Whitson. “The failure of MPs who were the primary victims of military trials under Mubarak to end such a system undermines faith in their desire to push for reform.”

In the first eight months of its rule, the SCAF tried 12,000 civilians before military courts, more than the total number of trials of civilians before military courts under Mubarak. Under the Mubarak government, military trials of civilians were reserved for high-profile political cases, such as the 2008 conviction of the former deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shatir, and 24 others; and these were usually on the basis of referrals by the president.

“The Egyptian people sacrificed their lives and security for a government that would safeguard their rights, but apparently the parliament they elected is interested only in protecting the military,” said Whitson.

Human Rights Watch strongly opposes any trials of civilians before military courts, where proceedings do not protect basic due process rights or satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law. It has called upon Egypt’s new parliament to amend the code of military justice to restrict the jurisdiction of military courts to trials of only military personnel charged with offenses of an exclusively military nature.

Human Rights Watch has also recommended that the CMJ be amended to explicitly state that the public prosecutor shall be competent to investigate complaints regarding military abuse and to allow members of the military to be tried before civilian courts in cases of abuse and ill-treatment.

Otherwise, Human Rights Watch said, there will never be full accountability for serious human rights abuses committed by the military over the past year, including torture, virginity tests and the killing of protesters at Maspero.

Army arrests 100s following violence, refers 300 to military prosecutors

Associated Press
Egypt military detains hundreds following violence

May 5, 2012

Sarah El Deeb 

CAIRO -- Egypt's military officials moved swiftly Saturday to prosecute protesters they blamed for an attack on the Defense Ministry, in an attempt to put down increasingly violent protests against their authority just weeks before the country's presidential election.

The fierce street battles Friday raised to new heights the tension between the generals, who assumed power after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down last year, and their critics, predominantly secular and liberal groups but now spearheaded by hard-line Islamists.

At least a hundred protesters have been killed in violent confrontations with security agencies since Mubarak's ouster.

But the military's response to Friday's demonstration near its headquarters was significant in how swiftly protesters were detained.

Military prosecutors interrogated hundreds of demonstrators, referring some 300 of them to 15 days detention pending investigation into accusations of attacking troops and disrupting public order, a prosecution official said Saturday.

At least two detainees face accusations of killing a soldier in the Friday violence, the official said.
Increasing tension

Political tension between the ruling generals and different groups in Egypt has been building during an election run-up marred by legal pitfalls, a lack of clarity in the authorities of the next president and a growing fear among activists that the military is seeking to back a candidate it can trust to preserve its economic interests and a special political role in the future.

Secular forces have accused the generals of seeking to cling to power; but Islamists have only recently joined the chorus.

After issuing warnings against approaching the defense ministry, the military was quick to react when protesters tried to break through the barbed wire. Police forces used water canons, tear gas and live ammunition to break up the crowd. Hundreds were detained in a security crackdown as the protesters dispersed.

Tensions started to brew a week ago. Protesters, predominantly supporters of an ultraconservative presidential candidate who was barred from the election, held a sit-in outside the ministry starting April 28.

Deadly clashes broke out when apparent supporters of the military rulers attacked the crowd Wednesday.

Nine people were killed in those clashes, which drew in anti-military protesters from different revolutionary groups.

They called for a rally Friday, demanding the generals stick to their pledges to step down after the election.


As Islamists increasingly feel they are losing out in the jockeying for power, some of them have become louder in their criticism of the military generals. Two prominent Islamist presidential candidates were disqualified from the race on technical grounds.

The ultraconservative candidate was disqualified because his mother held dual Egyptian-American nationality, a violation of the law.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood's candidate was disqualified because of a previous political conviction under Mubarak's rule, also a violation.

The group, which won nearly 50 percent of the seats in parliament, is fielding another candidate, but it has been frustrated with translating its parliamentary success into political power.

*Photo courtesy of AP

Arab states amongst the worst violators of press freedoms


Worst countries for censorship: Syria, Saudi, Eritrea

May 3, 2012

Eritrea experiences the worst censorship in the world, while Equatorial Guinea is among the five most heavily-censored countries, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

In a report released ahead of World Press Freedom Day, the committee also notes that Ethiopia and Sudan only just escape being named in the world's "10 most censored countries".

The respected, New York-based lobby names the 10 countries, in order of appearance on the list as: Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Belarus.

Of Eritrea, the CPJ says: "Only state news media are allowed to operate in Eritrea, and they do so under the complete direction of Information Minister Ali Abdu. Journalists are conscripted into their work and enjoy no editorial freedom; they are handed instructions on how to cover events."

It quotes an exiled Eritrean journalist as saying: "Every time [a journalist] had to write a story, they arrange for interview subjects and tell you specific angles you have to write on... We usually wrote lots about the president [Isaias Afewerki] so that he's always in the limelight."

Also noting that Eritrea shuts out the international media, the CPJ adds: "Journalists suspected of sending information outside the country are thrown into prison without charge or trial and held for extended periods of time without access to family or a lawyer. The government expelled the last accredited foreign correspondent in 2007."

Access to the Internet is also restricted in Eritrea: all service providers have to connect to the world through a state-operated company, access is affordable only to a few, and a plan to introduce mobile Internet connectivity was abandoned after the Arab Spring uprisings.

In Equatorial Guinea, the CPJ says the government of Teodoro Obiang Nguema "tightly controls all news and information over national airwaves. Technically, some outlets are privately owned, but none are independent, as Obiang and his associates exert direct or indirect control. State media do not provide international news coverage unless Obiang or another official travels abroad. Censors enforce rigid rules to ensure the regime is portrayed positively; journalists who don't comply risk prison under criminal statutes including defamation."

Here too, the government controls information conveyed abroad: "Security agents closely shadow foreign journalists and restrict photography or filming that documents poverty. The government paid three Washington-based public relations firms a total of US$1.2 million between April and October 2010 to produce positive news about Equatorial Guinea, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice."

Although Ethiopia and Sudan escape mention in the top 10 list of offenders, the CPJ notes that in the former, censorship has become tighter in recent years, and that the government appoints media managers and licenses media. Also, "anti-terrorism legislation criminalizes any reporting that the Ethiopian government deems favorable to opposition movements designated as terrorist".

In Sudan, "authorities... frequently confiscate newspapers, which are the widespread form of media. This year, security forces have increasingly adopted the technique of confiscating newspaper editions wholesale to inflict financial losses on publishers".

The CPJ used 15 criteria to make its judgements, including "blocking of websites; restrictions on electronic recording and dissemination; the absence of privately owned or independent media; restrictions on journalist movements; license requirements to conduct journalism; security service monitoring of journalists; jamming of foreign broadcasts; blocking of foreign correspondents."

Egypt: Army must end attacks on protesters amid renewed violence


Egypt: Army must end attacks on protesters amid renewed violence

May 2, 2012 


Deadly clashes in Cairo between unknown assailants and protesters have prompted Amnesty International to renew its call on the Egyptian army to protect protesters amid increasing violence ahead of presidential elections.

On Wednesday morning, groups of armed individuals clashed with protesters who had been staging a sit-in since Friday evening near the Defence Ministry in Cairo.

The Egyptian army and security forces initially did little to stop the clashes, which happened in the neighbourhood of Abbaseya. The clashes only stopped at around one o’clock after army troops, including armoured vehicles, and heavily armed riot police arrived at the scene.

“The army's intervention has come hours too late," said Amnesty International’s Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"There appears to be no will within Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to prevent these tragic events. After the weekend attack, the authorities should have been prepared for the violence."

The incident follows attacks on protesters near the Defence Ministry over the weekend which left one dead and over a hundred people injured. The protesters had been demonstrating in support of a politician barred from the presidential elections and calling for an end to military rule.

One protester told Amnesty International he saw men shooting at protesters with pistols and shotguns, as well as throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks. Protesters were reported to have fought back, also throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Scores of people have been injured.

Egyptian authorities say seven people were killed in the violence, with unofficial reports varying from 11 to 20. One doctor told Amnesty International he had seen six dead bodies.

Medical sources have told Amnesty International that some of those killed and injured had been shot with pistol ammunition and shotgun pellets. One person reportedly had his throat cut.

Further demonstrations are expected in Cairo this evening in support of the protesters and against military rule.

Amnesty International has also been told that during the clashes groups of armed men prevented protesters from seeking treatment at Ain Shams University Hospital (Demerdash Hospital).

One protester told the organization that it was only after the army moved in that ambulances were able to easily access the area.

It is still unclear who is responsible for attacking the protesters. Both under former President
Mubarak and Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, protesters have often been assaulted by unidentified groups of people.

Often such groups have accompanied the army and security forces as they have dispersed demonstrations.

Presidential elections are due to be held on 23 and 24 May.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ongoing political marginalization of Egypt's labor movement

Egypt Independent 
Political estrangement, legal challenges hamper labor movement

May 1, 2012

Jano Charbel

With the ongoing marginalization of Egypt’s working classes, the revolutionary demands of “bread, freedom, and social justice” remain distant goals. On this second Labor Day since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, numerous labor grievances remain unaddressed, and workers are just as politically sidelined as they were prior to the revolution, observers say.

The Mubarak regime had been blamed for oppressing and exploiting workers, along with the rest of the nation, for 30 years. With its ouster, questions loom around who is behind the political marginalization of the working classes.  Is it the old laws, the new lawmakers, the ruling military junta, powerful businessmen, or politicians and their parties? Is it the fault of the trade unions and workers who are unable to claim their rightful place in the Egyptian political sphere?

One factor instrumental in curtailing the politicization of the labor movement has been legal challenges.  Since the 25 January revolution began, the state has introduced the unprecedented Law 34/2011, which criminalizes labor strikes and protests and assigns penalties of hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

On the other hand, the eagerly anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law has been shelved for nearly a year since it was drafted and submitted to authorities.   In the meantime, the restrictive Trade Union Law 35/1976 remains in effect, as the recently elected Parliament has been busy drafting a more obstructive version of the proposed Trade Union Liberties Law.

Although the state has maintained the 50 percent quota for workers and farmers’ representation in Parliament — in effect since Gamal Abdel Nasser was president — the military junta’s Constitutional Declaration and its amended Political Parties Law continue to prohibit workers from the establishment of labor or class-based parties.

“The establishment of religion-based parties has been authorized while the military junta continues to outlaw the establishment of worker-based parties,” said labor lawyer Rahma Refaat.  Most of the parties representing religious groups have registered under neutral, non-religious sounding names. Notably, the Freedom and Justice Party, born of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Nour Party, born of the Salafi Dawah, are in the parliamentary majority.

Other Islamist parties have also been formed.  For the time being, a layer of organization has partially filled the political gap for the labor movement.  “The emergence of an independently organized trade union movement” is one major milestone, according to Refaat, who is also the project director of the independent Center for Trade Union and Worker Services. 

The lawyer explained that, through their struggles for independent trade unionism, “Workers are gaining first hand political experience.”

Challenging the state’s monopoly on trade unionism since 1957, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) was established just five days into the 18-day uprising against Mubarak’s rule, on 30 January. Since then workers have established hundreds of unions, away from the confines of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).
Labor activist Nagy Rashad from the South Cairo and Giza Flour Mills and Bakeries Company was appointed by the manpower and immigration minister last year as a member of the ETUF’s caretaker board. Rashad argued that this state-controlled union “certainly doesn’t represent Egypt’s workers.”
The activist explained that the ETUF has a membership of around 4 million, while the EFITU’s membership has rapidly grown to around 2 million. 

“There are some 26 million [laborers] nationwide, while only 6 million of these are unionized workers,” said Rashad. “Therefore, unions represent only a minority of the Egyptian workforce.”  Ali Fattouh, a bus driver and independent union organizer with the Public Transport Authority, has a different opinion.

According to Fattouh, “If a law is finally issued to protect trade union liberties, then independent and democratically elected unions will be sufficient to protect workers’ rights.”  But independent unionism aside, there is a need for the labor movement to improve lobbying for labor rights with political parties.

Engaging with the existing parties has been a challenge for the movement, while forming its own parties remains impossible for legal reasons and lack of resources.  “Labor unions focus on workplace-based issues, but not purely political issues,” said Refaat. According to the lawyer, it is for this reason that thousands of workers are demanding the establishment of their own political parties.

“Furthermore, workers do not feel that they are being represented through the 50 percent quota, nor through the parties in Parliament.  “The Muslim Brotherhood and the other Islamists are both economically and politically conservative, and they’ve never really supported labor strikes,” said Refaat. “The Brotherhood hopes to realize social justice through charity works. They support union democracy, but not union plurality.” 

“All legally recognized and existing parties seek only their personal gains or the interests of their parties,” Fattouh said. “They don’t care in the least about workers’ rights or gains. These parties and MPs provide us with no assistance or support during our struggles. Other than lip service, they offer us nothing.

“If we have representative and accountable unions to serve us, then we will have no need for political parties,” the disgruntled unionist concluded.  However, Fattouh acknowledged the efforts of small proto-parties such as the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress and the Workers Democratic Party toward politically empowering workers.

Yet he also pointed out that these are newborn entities that do not hold the legal status of political parties.  For Rashad, “What we need to defend the rights of Egyptian workers are more independent unions and federations, along with genuine parliamentary representation.” 

Rashad added: “If we are legally authorized to establish parties, like the religious parties were allowed to do, then we will be able to mobilize workers nationwide. If this were the case then we wouldn’t need the 50 percent quota in Parliament. We would have large parties able to represent and protect workers’ rights.”  

Notwithstanding these legal challenges, the labor movement continues to be an important and persistent part of contentious politics, even following the 25 January uprising.  “The revolution has not yet effected enough change in terms of social, economic or political progress,” Refaat said.

According to her, “Workers’ living conditions remain the same, as do their demands since the ongoing strike wave which began in December 2006.”  The lawyer pointed out that strikes are taking place, on nearly a daily basis, for very similar demands — which have been unmet since then.

These demands include a minimum monthly wage of LE1,200 (around US$200) along with a fixed maximum wage, the right to establish independent unions, full-time contracts for full-time work, safer working conditions and the payment of overdue bonuses. 

Refaat added: “Although the law criminalizing strikes is in effect, it has been ignored by hundreds of thousands of workers protesting for their rights. This willingness to stand up against such an unjust law is — in and of itself — an overtly political act.” 

All this has amounted to “a growing political consciousness among Egypt’s working classes,” according to Refaat.  Meanwhile for Rashad, the legalization of workers’ parties won’t happen anytime soon. “The ruling regimes in Egypt have always feared the power of organized labor,” he said.

*Photo by Mohamed al-Garnousy

Egypt: On Labor Day - activists, workers, presidential hopefuls take to Tahrir Square on Labor Day

Egypt Independent

Activists, presidential hopefuls take to Tahrir Square on Labor Day

May 1, 2012

Jano Charbel 


In Cairo's Tahrir Square, around 1,000 labor activists, workers and unionists celebrated Egypt's second Labor Day since the abdication of Hosni Mubarak. Turnout was low in comparison to last year's celebrations, which had included several thousand participants.
Labor Day events were also organized in Alexandria and a number of Nile Delta cities.

A number of workers’ marches made their way to Parliament, where they put forth their unmet demands — including a new minimum and maximum wage, the issuing of a long anticipated law for trade union liberties, improved pension plans, full-time contracts for full-time work, and the overturning of the law criminalizing strikes.

Carrying banners, flags and placards, workers chanted, "Bread, freedom and social justice," "The (right to) strike is legitimate, when faced with poverty and hunger," and "Life is bitter, we demand independent unions," along with a host of chants against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Tens of protesters marched from the headquarters of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC) to the People's Assembly where they demanded a minimum monthly wage of LE1,200 (around US$200) and a maximum wage of not more than 15 times the minimum wage.

Last month, the Islamist-dominated Parliament agreed, in principle, to a maximum wage of 35 times the minimum. However, labor activists argue that the proposed maximum monthly wage of LE50,000 (around US$8,000) is too high, especially in light of the current average wages for workers.

Among the political movements involved in today's protests and celebrations were Nasserist parties, the Nasserist-oriented Karama Party, the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Workers and Farmers Party, the Socialist Renewal Current and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, along with independent and unaffiliated activists.

The Muslim Brotherhood, and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, were not to be seen in Tahrir. While tens of Salafis were in the square, they were not there for Labor Day but rather as part of an ongoing sit-in against the disqualification of presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative Islamist preacher.

Two presidential candidates were also present and delivered speeches in solidarity with Egypt's working classes. Addressing a small crowd near the square, presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabbahi of the Karama Party said, "We demand an adequate minimum and maximum wage, which are tied to increasing living expenses."

Sabbahi praised the uphill struggles of Egypt's working classes during 30 oppressive years under the Mubarak regime. Sabbahi also praised the left-leaning presidential candidates Hesham al-Bastawisi, Abul Ezz al-Hariry and Khaled Ali. The Karama Party leader concluded, "May God bless the simple folks, the piecemeal workers, and the country as a whole."

Independent presidential hopeful Khaled Ali then addressed the crowd, shouting, "Happy Labor Day to all of Egypt's workers, farmers, fishermen and pensioners." Ali claimed that "without a doubt, we will establish a new minimum wage and maximum wage." The 40-year-old labor lawyer emphasized that his primary concern is "the re-nationalization of privatized companies."

Ali also called for a more industrialized Egypt. "Our economy is based around tourism, while we only produce ceramics and potato chips. We need a strong industrial basis for our national economy," he said. Ali went on to criticize the state's "reconciliation agreements with Mubarak's corrupt businessmen."

Furthermore, Ali spoke in solidarity with Ahmed al-Gizawy — an Egyptian lawyer imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for allegedly criticizing the country's monarchy. The presidential hopeful denounced the kafeel (sponsorship) system which leaves migrant workers at the mercy of their sponsor. Tens of workers chanted, "Down with the Saudi ruling family," and "Down with the sponsorship system" in response.

Ali concluded by demanding the recall of the Egyptian ambassador to Saudi Arabia until Gizawy is released and all charges against him are dropped. "Long live Egypt, and its workers — free and independent," he proclaimed.

Commenting on the failure of ruling authorities to issue a new trade union liberties law to replace Trade Union Law 35/1976, Kamal Abu Eita, president of the EFITU, said, "Independent unions are legitimate in light of the International Labor Organizations conventions (particularly Conventions 87 and 98) which Egypt ratified [in the 1950s].” Abu Eita added that independent trade unionism was also authorized by the former manpower minister, Ahmed al-Borai.

Borai said that "independent trade unions are a reality on the ground, regardless of the non-issuing of the Trade Union Liberties Law." Last year Borai had authorized the establishment of unions outside the confines of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which had monopolized the country's union movement since 1957.

The ETUF had been at the center of all Labor Day celebrations since the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser. For the past two Labor Days, however, the state-controlled federation has been sidelined.

Borai concluded, "Next year we will celebrate the EFITU's growth, which will be the largest union — not only in Egypt, but in the entire Middle East."

The EFITU, which was established on 30 January 2011, currently has an estimated membership of two million workers. However, despite the fact that tens of thousands of workers have been quitting the ETUF since 2007, this state-controlled federation still claims a membership of four million.

*Photograph by Virginie Nguyen