Saturday, June 30, 2012

Egypt: Protest at Sudan Embassy against Bashir regime

Ahram Online
Protest at Sudan's embassy in Cairo against Al-Bashir regime

Saturday 30 Jun 2012

Yasser Sediq


Sudanese residents in Egypt hold protest at their embassy in solidarity with popular home revolt

Tens of Sudanese protested at their embassy Saturday in Cairo in solidarity with an ongoing revolt in their home country against President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, demanding democratic change.

"We are here in solidarity with the Sudan movement demanding democratic change, a peaceful transition of power, an end to Bashir's austerity policies, and the release of 250 political prisoners in
Khartoum," said Ahmed Essam, a Sudanese student residing in Egypt.

Protests, according to Essam, are taking place simultaneously in 14 different countries, all upholding the same demands. The invitation was spread on Facebook, initiated by members of the Sudan student movement. The call was for expat Sudanese around the world to demonstrate at their respective embassies.

Protests were witnessed in Dallas, New York, Washington DC, Toronto, London, Paris, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Canberra and Cairo, among other cities.

"The call was made to coincide with the Sudanese government's celebration of the 1989 coup that brought Bashir to power, also dating 30 June," explained Essam.

Demonstrations in Sudan against Bashir are now entering their third week. In recent days demonstrators were mobilised in "unprecedented" numbers, despite the arrest of hundreds by the regime's security forces, according to activists.

*Video courtesy of RPMackey

Labor law stalled as independent unions struggle for representation

Egypt Independent 

Labor law stalled as independent unions struggle for representation

Tue, 26/06/2012

Jano Charbel

Due to its failure to issue a new law guaranteeing trade union liberties, the Egyptian state may again be on its way to being “blacklisted” by the International Labor Organization (ILO). If the long-anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law is not issued by September, then Egypt may return to being “named and shamed” as a state which violates the ILO's basic trade union rights. 

This comes at a time when independent and state-controlled unions continue to struggle among themselves over the representation of Egypt's trade union movement — both at home and abroad.

Although the Egyptian State has been a member of the ILO since 1936 and has ratified 63 of its conventions, it has, more often than not, failed to implement the provisions of these conventions. Despite the fact that Egypt voluntarily ratified Conventions No. 87 & 98 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, respectively) in the 1950s it has not enforced these conventions, nor brought its domestic legislation in line with the provision of these international conventions.

According to Egypt's extant legislation, Trade Union Law 35/1976, unions are legally confined to operate under a monopolistic, state-controlled union.

Moreover, the recent dissolution of the ‘Revolutionary Parliament’ raises further questions regarding the future status of trade union legislation, along with other labor regulations. Beyond trade union liberties, the Egyptian state has been criticized for failing to establish a new national minimum wage, for criminalizing the right to strike and for failing to address the rampant problem of child labor, among other problems.

Since the onset of the 25 January revolution there had been high hopes — both domestically and internationally — that Egypt's interim authorities would introduce legal reforms and liberate trade unions from the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) which has monopolized the national trade union movement since 1954. These hopes have repeatedly been shattered.

In August 2011, a draft law for trade union liberties was prepared by Egypt’s former Manpower Minister Ahmed al-Borai, together with representatives of trade unions, businessmen, and political groups, and submitted to the ruling military junta for approval.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces shelved the draft law” for nearly six months until the new Parliament was elected and inaugurated, said Kamal Abu Eita, president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).

Abu Eita, who was also an elected MP in Parliament added, “Then the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament shelved this draft for several more months [until March of this year], after which the Brotherhood prepared a new draft law among themselves, without referral to any other MPs and without discussion with the EFITU.”

Abu Eita went on to say, “Both the SCAF and the Brotherhood have proven that they are against the Trade Union Liberties Law.” The independent union organizer shrugged his shoulders as he continued, “Now nobody knows when the next Parliament is to be elected; we can’t predict who’ll win these elections, and therefore we cannot predict what will become of this draft law which has been gathering dust for nearly a year now.”

Ali Fattouh, a strike-leader and organizer of the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority (PTA) Employees, expressed his reservations regarding Parliament's overall performance since it was sworn in January of this year. Yet, he emphasized, “The main culprits behind the obstruction of labor legislation and workers' rights are the SCAF, the interim Cabinet, the ETUF, and other remnants of the Mubarak regime.”

But Fattouh disagreed with Abu Eita about the performance of the Brotherhood: “The Muslim Brotherhood MPs were standing with us in our demands to have the PTA administratively merged with the Transportation Ministry.”

“The parliamentary Transportation Committee had scheduled their session on 19 June to authorize the PTA’s merger with the ministry,” Fattouh added.  

The PTA labor activist expressed his dismay regarding the dissolution of Parliament on 14 June, just days ahead of their anticipated parliamentary session. Fattouh went on to say, “Now we have no idea as to when this decision will now be issued, if it will be issued at all.”

The bus driver added that “the long-anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law is the most important piece of legislation for Egypt's workers at the moment. It is vital for the legal establishment of independent trade unions, which are capable of defending workers' rights. If we have such legally recognized independent unions then we would not need to resort to striking for our rights. Yet this law has also been put on hold, indefinitely.”

“We PTA workers refuse the SCAF's intervention in civilian political affairs,” Fattouh concluded.

According to Abu Eita, “We shall continue to apply pressure on the SCAF and the other authorities which now claim legislative powers to issue the Trade Union Liberties Law.” Abu Eita pointed to Egypt’s international obligations to recognize independent unions in light of ILO Conventions 87 and 98, as well as other international human rights agreements to which Egypt is party. 

“We did not wait for Mubarak’s approval, or the approval of his regime, to establish our independent unions. And we will not wait for his successors to authorize such unions” said Abu Eita. “We will continue to stand up against Egypt’s tyrants.”

However, Abu Eita did concede that “the absence of a law protecting trade union liberties will indeed affect the growth and perceived legitimacy of the independent trade union movement in Egypt. The ruling authorities seek to delegitimize us and to marginalize us, yet we will continue to struggle to reclaim our natural rights.”

Abu Eita is angry that the ETUF was invited by Manpower Minister Refaat Hassan, Borai’s replacement, to represent Egypt at the ILO conference in Geneva this year.  “Dozens of ETUF members were invited to represent Egypt at the ILO conference (from 3 May 3 through 14 June),” he said, “while only two members of the EFITU were invited. It is on this basis that we refused to attend the conference.”

The ETUF, dating back to the mid-1950s, has an estimated membership of 4 million workers while the quickly growing membership of the EFITU, which was established on 30 January 2011, is now estimated at some 2.5 million.  

Abu Eita explained that only four members of EFITU were invited to attend the ILO conference last year, while over 36 members of the ETUF were invited. The independent labor organizer produced a document, dated 27 May 2012, signed by the new Manpower Minister declaring that the ETUF would preside over the Egyptian delegation to the ILO this year, but hereafter the two federations would alternate year by year.

The board of the state-controlled ETUF was dissolved by ministerial decree in August 2011, and a caretaker administration has been running its affairs since then. ETUF elections were scheduled to take place during October/November 2011, yet were postponed due to parliamentary elections. The ETUF elections have again been postponed owing to the presidential election. Meanwhile, the EFITU conducted its first nationwide elections in February 2012.

According to Talal Shokr, vice president of the Independent Pensioners Federation, “there was a small delegation of around 10 independent unionists, labor journalists, and labor activists who attended the ILO conference in Geneva this year. Yet Egypt’s delegations remain dominated by the state-controlled federation.

“But more important than distant conferences taking place in Europe, are efforts on the ground in Egypt to liberate workers' from the control of the ETUF and businessmen,” added Shokr.

Predating the United Nations, the ILO was established in 1919, after the Russian Revolution and World War I. The ILO is not an exclusively labor-based organization; but is based on the involvement of governments, employers and unions. The spokesperson of the ILO’s regional bureau in Cairo was not available for comment.

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Sudan on the brink of revolution?

International Business Times

Sudan on the Brink of Revolution: Next Domino to Fall in Arab Spring?

June 22, 2012

Anissa Haddadi

Sudanese protesters have taken to the streets in growing numbers through the week and further demonstrations are expected in what activists have called "Sudan revolts".

Violence escalated across the capital Khartoum on 21 June, as riot police fired teargas at protesters, while pro-regime groups, armed with machetes and swords, attacked protesters, the protesters said.
Police denied violence had been used against demonstrators.

Saata Ahmed al-Haj, head of the opposition Sudanese Commission for Defence of Freedoms and Rights, said hundreds of protesters have been detained over the past five days - since president Omar al-Bashir announced a new austerity plan.

Al-Hadj said that even though most of them were later released, they had been mistreated while in detention.

He accused the security forces of shaving protesters' hair, stripping them naked, flogging them and leaving them outside in the sun for hours.

"I am under house arrest along with several opposition members and security forces are encircling the place," he said. "Our 'offence' is we are searching for freedom and this is a crime in Sudan," he told AP.

"This is the outcome of political, economic and military suffocation felt by people here," he added.

Crackdown against students and journalists

Police also stormed several universities where students were holding protests, in which they called for a regime change in response to the government's economic policies and widespread corruption.

Across the capital, hundreds of students demonstrated and set up road blocks on the routes leading to their campus.

Witnesses said police and pro-regime militia stormed the campuses, dispersing the protesters and beating up the remaining students.
At least seven students were injured in the attacks.

In a separate protest in the northern suburb of Bahri, women and girls also set up road blocks to protest against soaring food prices.

Salma el-Wardani, an Egyptian journalist who works for Bloomberg, told the Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm that she was detained and interrogated for five hours along with a Sudanese activist, Maha al-Senousi.

They were arrested while covering protests at Khartoum University on 22 June.

El-Wardani is now reportedly under house arrest and could be deported. A reporter with the AFP news agency has also been detained.

Austerity Measures

The country's economic situation has been deteriorating since South Sudan gained independence a year ago, following a peace deal that was struck in 2005, which ended decades of civil war.

With the two countries fighting over oil resources and unable to reach a lasting agreement, South Sudan shut down its production in January.

Oil was previously Sudan's main source of state revenue and foreign currency. Since South Sudan stopped production, the currency has depreciated, coupled with rising prices for food and imported goods.

The finance minister recently announced a series of austerity measures, which include government cuts, fewer fuel subsidies and tax increases, provoking widespread unrest.

Egypt: Unrestrained army powers threaten human rights


Egypt: Unrestrained army powers threat to human rights

18 June 2012

Egypt's ruling military council’s decision to grant itself unrestrained powers, ahead of the results of the presidential elections, sets the country on the path to further human rights violations, Amnesty International said.

Unless these powers are curtailed, the organization has warned, the military will be able to continue to trample on human rights with impunity.

Egypt’s Constitutional Declaration, issued in March last year, gave the army the power to rule until Egyptians elect a president and a parliament. However, on Sunday the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), amended the Declaration to give themselves control over all matters relating to the armed forces. The amendments effectively remove the army from civilian oversight.

A key amendment permits Egypt’s President to call on the army to combat “internal unrest”. If this came to pass, Egyptian law would have to specify the army’s jurisdiction, its powers of arrest and detention, and conditions where it is entitled to use force .

“It is deeply worrying that the army has paved the way for it to continue to arrest and detain civilians, as well as to use force against protesters, with no effective oversight of their actions,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Egyptian army – with its poor human rights record – should in no circumstances have the powers of arrest, detention and investigation over civilians".

Amnesty International has documented serious human rights abuses by the Egyptian army since it took power in February 2011. Such abuses have included arbitrary arrest, torture and the unfair trials of thousands of civilians by military courts.

The organization condemned a decision last week by the Ministry of Justice to grant military police and intelligence officers the same powers as police, when dealing with civilians suspected of national security and public order offences.

Amnesty International has also documented a series of lethal crackdowns on protests by the Egyptian army. These have included the killing of 27 protesters around the Maspero building in Cairo in October; 50 in Mohamed Mahmud Street, near the Interior Ministry in Cairo in November; and 17 in protests around Cairo’s Cabinet Building in December.

“Given the army’s record of excessive use of force against protesters, the armed forces should not be deployed to police peaceful demonstrations,” said Philip Luther.

The new provisions raise serious concerns about whether there will now be any way to hold the army accountable for human rights abuses.

Under the amendments, in the event that the army does intervene in “unrest”, Egyptian law shall set out “details of situations involving non-liability” for the army’s actions. Amnesty International is concerned that the vaguely worded language may be a move by the army to protect its forces from investigation and prosecution for human rights abuses.

“The army’s move highlights its determination to both remain above the law and to trample on the rule of law,” said Philip Luther.

“To date, purported military investigations into army abuses have not succeeded in holding a single member of the armed forces to account.”

The amendments to the Declaration also give the army the power to form a new constituent assembly – a body set up to write Egypt’s next Constitution and representing the various groups of society - in the event that the existing Constituent Assembly is unable to complete its work. The amendments go further by allowing the SCAF to object to any article proposed by a constituent assembly.

Amnesty International is concerned that this would give the army a way to reject any attempt by a constituent assembly to restrain the military and put it under civilian oversight – or to hold its forces accountable for human rights abuses.

The organization has said that it is crucial that any constituent assembly ensures equal participation and representation of women and minorities.

*Photo courtesy of AFP

January 25 Revolution haunted by 'military coup'

Ahram Online
Egypt's January 25 Revolution haunted by 'military coup,' warn analysts

Monday 18 Jun 2012

Ekram Ibrahim 

Egypt's ruling military council has disbanded parliament, and issued a Constitutional Declaration that maximises its powers at the expense of the soon-to-be elected president, moves some analysts are labeling a 'coup'

Sixteen months ago, after former president Hosni Mubarak handed over power to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the military council promised Egyptians the transitional period would lead to democracy, granting the people an elected parliament, an elected president, a popularly-written constitution and above all, rule of law.  
Today, almost none of the above has been delivered.

On Sunday night, the SCAF issued an addendum to the interim Constitutional Declaration of 30 March,2011, strengthening the powers of the military and minimising the powers of the elected president, who will be announced on 21 June.

Two days before the addendum was issued, the leader of the SCAF disbanded parliament after the High Constitutional Court deemed a third of its seats unconstitutionally elected.

Egyptians who should be celebrating their first-ever elected president are keeping their hopes grounded. Analysts see the SCAF tightening its grip on power as a coup against the January 25 Revolution.

"These [constitution amendments] are the continuation of a series of moves, taken by the SCAF on its way to a military coup, using both the law and judicial bodies," Khaled Fahmy, chair of the history department in the American University 
in Cairo (AUC) told Ahram Online.

The amended constitutional declaration, announced two hours after the doors of polling stations closed, gives the SCAF considerable authority. The generals now have the power to issue a law giving themselves legal immunity.

"This is an excessive use of power and an unprecedented action in the course of Egypt's modern history," Fahmy told Ahram Online.

The expansion of military council powers gives the SCAF the authority to make laws and decide who writes the new constitution. The SCAF will act as the parliament until the new parliament is formed.  The SCAF will also approve an austerity-driven state budget for the second consecutive year.

The military junta also gave itself the right to select the constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly, a right first given to the elected People's Assembly members.

Moreover, the SCAF reserved for itself the right to interfere with the writing of the constitution. If the SCAF and the Constituent Assembly fail to agree, the High Constitutional Court (HCC) will have the final say. But how could the HCC rule between the two parties, if it has no constitution to rule on? Such law is absent from all other constitutions around the world. "This is a form of abuse of power," Fahmy explained.

Analysing the amended Constitutional Declaration, analysts suggest that Article 53/2 and Article 56B are the most controversial elements.

Article 53/2 states that if the country experiences internal unrest which requires the intervention of the armed forces, the president can issue a decision to commission the armed forces – with the approval of the SCAF - to maintain security and defend public properties. The powers of the armed forces in this capacity will be governed by laws which have yet to be issued, and under this legal scheme, will in fact by issued by the SCAF.

Article 56/B states that the SCAF will assume the legislative authorities set out in sub-article 1 of Article 56, as written in the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration, until a new parliament is elected. 

Accordingly, there is no law stipulating the powers of the armed forces; the SCAF is to issue this law itself as it will act as the legislative body until a new parliament is elected.

"The SCAF will issue the law that will organise its actions," Fahmy told Ahram Online.  Moreover, Article 53/2 may be read in light of the decree issued by Egypt’s justice ministry last week authorising military officers to arrest civilians, a right previously reserved for police officers alone, Fahmy explains.

With unofficial reports saying that the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, has won the election and will become Egypt's president, all eyes are on the Muslim Brotherhood's reaction to the recent amendments. Some are worried there might be violence. Thousands of citizens got used to taking to the street for protesting, something that raises the threat of a confrontation between the protesters and the army "where the army opens fire on civilians."

"This is the most dangerous phase in the modern history of Egypt," Fahmy said.

However, political analyst Mohamed El-Agati does not foresee any violence; he expects the Muslim Brotherhood to negotiate with the military council to gain as much as possible with the fewest losses.

"The Brotherhood will use their classical practices and avoid clashes," El-Agati, head of the Arab Form for Alternatives Research Centre told Ahram Online.

Describing the scene as a military coup is not a recent innovation, and didn’t only stem from the announcement of the amended Constitution Declaration. In fact, Israeli news website Haaretz described the military taking power in February 2011 as a "quiet military coup," referring to the military sources' statement that if Mubarak had not stepped down voluntarily, they would have forced him to do so.

In addition, some political analysts described the Constitutional Declaration issued in March 2011 as a method for the SCAF to legalise its authority. More recently, the recent Ministry of Justice decree authorising the arrest of civilians by military officers was also described by some as another alarming coup d'état.

In response to the HCC court ruling dissolving the entire parliament, Hussein Ibrahim of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP), stressed on Sunday that: “The People’s Assembly has not been dissolved, and the invitation for our Tuesday meeting is still on."

Also, the FJP have stressed in several statements that the SCAF has no authority to dissolve the parliament, which represents the will of the people. Parliamentary speaker and FJP MP Saad El-Katatni called upon the SCAF to maintain the democratic accomplishments of the revolution, out of respect for the popular will.

The upper house of Egypt's parliament, the Shura Council, was not affected by the recent judgement dissolving the People's Assembly (the lower house) although its legal fate is not certain. In that light, head of the Council and FJP member Ahmed Fahmy has invited the members of the now-defunct Constituent Assembly to meet at the Council on Monday evening.

The amended Constitutional Declaration leaves Egypt's first president after the January 25 Revolution with incomplete authorities. He will have no authority over the military council, the military institution, no power to form the Constituent Assembly, no power to go to war without the approval of the SCAF and no power to issue any laws until a new parliament is formed.

"The president is only granted the right to select the prime minister," Fahmy told Ahram Online.

The only way for Egyptians to stop the application of the amended Constitutional Declaration is through taking to the streets and protesting, El-Agati explains to Ahram Online. Yet, he thinks that it is advisable that revolutionary forces avoid being caught in the battle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, taking the third road of working at grassroots level and creating a strong civil movement that will shape the new Egypt.

*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

Egypt: Nullified ballots show revolutionary & funny sides

Egypt Independent
Nullified votes continue to show Egypt's revolutionary and funny sides

Sun. June 17, 2012

Menna Alaa

The campaign to nullify votes, also known as Mobteloon, continued to spread online in order to call people to go to their polling stations and spoil their ballots.

The spoiled ballot papers show Egyptians' creativity in objecting to both presidential candidates. Some voters decided to stick to their revolutionary side and write things like: "Glory to martyrs, down with military rule, the revolution continues."

Others chose to portray their funny side and vote for "Batman" and "Hayatem," a famous Egyptian belly-dancer. Some voters also voted for their former favor candidates like Hamdeen Sabbahi and Mohamed ElBaradei.

The campaign to nullify votes was formed in an attempt to convince people to express their views and to reject a presidential candidate whose authorities are yet to be determined by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. 

One of the voters chose to spoil her vote by putting a ''Void'' sticker on the ballot paper.
A voter spoiled his vote by writing his beloved one's name: ''I love you a lot, Sara''
Wessam Sherif, a voter, decided to vote for Batman instead of both candidates.
A voter showed his funny side and spoiled his vote by crossing both candidates' names and writing: ''I want Hayatem ( a former famous Egyptian Belly-dancer).
Another voter spoiled her vote and wrote: ''No offense, but the voice of conscience hurts''
Another voter drew an executed revolutionary on top of the ballot paper and wrote: ''The One responsilbe for Camel Battle?'' next to Shafiq's picture and ''Flat tyre'' next to Morsy's
A voter spoiled his vote by writing ''a remnant( flool) dog'' next to Shafiq's picture and ''spare tyre'' next to Morsy's picture.
A voter in PortSaid spoiled his vote and wrote: '' Glory to martyrs, down with military rule, the revolution continues''
Another voter spoiled his/her vote by using a marker and writing: ''You can't feel safe with two groups, Ikhwan and SCAF''
Another spoiled vote had: ''I will not choose between a killer and a traitor. Down with military rule, glory to martyrs''
A voter chose to show some sarcasm on his ballot paper and say: ''Both choices are so excellent, I couldn't choose from between them. Thank you, SCAF''
Another voter spoiled his vote by giving it to El Baradei and wrote: ''No constitution or elections under military rule. Boycotting is justified Shafiq and I will not give my vote to someone who sold us out for the fake democratic Parliament. Down with military rule, glory to martyrs''.

Military junta expands its powers via constitution amendments

Sun, 17/06/2012

As vote counting got underway in the second and final round of Egypt's presidential election, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) issued amendments to the Constitutional Declaration that will limit the powers of the coming president and expand the military's role, notably giving it a heavy influence over the writing of the country's next constitution.

The amended Article 60 gives the SCAF the power to potentially appoint a Constituent Assembly to write the next constitution if the current assembly fails to complete its mandate. The current assembly was elected by a Parliament that was dissolved last week by court order. The Constituent Assembly is required to complete its work within three months and then put its draft to a popular referendum.

The seven provisions added to the declaration issued by the SCAF last March were announced on Sunday in the Official Gazette. An official told state-run MENA news agency Sunday night that SCAF will give details about the content of the document at 9:30 am on Monday.

The SCAF, the president, the prime minister, the Supreme Judicial Council, or one-fifth of the Constituent Assembly have the right to contest any clause issued by the Constituent Assembly if “it is in opposition to the goals of the revolution or its basic principles… or the common principles of Egypt’s past constitutions.”

The assembly would have to revisit the contested clause or clauses within 15 days, and if the contention holds the Supreme Constitutional Court should have the final word.

The SCAF’s new authority over the Constituent Assembly and its decisions follow a long stream of 
deliberations over constitution writing, whereby Islamist forces tried twice and failed to control the process by convening predominantly Islamist assemblies.

In a further empowerment of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), an amended Article 30 rules that the newly elected president shall swear in before the judicial body. The Constitutional Declaration previously said that the president would take office in front of Parliament.

Last Thursday, the SCC issued two critical rulings that dealt a blow to Islamist forces as it deemed the Parliamentary Elections Law unconstitutional, leading to the dissolution of Parliament. The same day, the court ruled the Political Isolation Law issued by Parliament unconstitutional, keeping Ahmed Shafiq in the race.

Shafiq, a former air force commander and toppled President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, is widely viewed as the SCAF's preferred candidate. He is competing against the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsy.  

The amended Article 56 gives the SCAF the right to assume the responsibilities of Parliament until a new one is elected. The previous interim constitution allowed the SCAF to issue and overrule legislation.

Article 53 of the amended Constitutional Declaration gives the SCAF the upper hand in running the armed forces, while the elected president can only decide to go to war after its approval. The president can also, with the approval of the SCAF, call on the armed forces to contribute to rule of law and security operations in the country alongside the police if need be.

The amendment to Article 53 retroactively provides constitutional grounds for the recent expansion of the military's power to arrest civilians. Last week, the Justice Ministry issued a decree that military police and military intelligence are allowed to arrest civilians for even minor crimes. Human rights groups had raised questions about the constitutionality of the decree.

Earlier on Sunday, Saad al-Katatny, the former speaker of the dissolved Parliament, rejected the idea of a complementary constitutional declaration and the decision to dissolve Parliament, which he deemed unconstitutional, in a meeting with military Chief of Staff Sami Anan. The Muslim Brotherhood wrote on its official Twitter account, "As far as we are concerned, the supplemental Constitutional Declaration released by the SCAF is null and unconstitutional."

Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, wrote that while many expected the new constitutional amendments to spell out the powers of the president, these amendments instead expand military powers, "rendering meaningless the June 30 'handover.'"

*Photo by Tarek Wageeh

Presidential finale sees apathetic voters, clashing supporters

Ahram Online
Sat. June 16, 2012

Salma Shukrallah

Protest votes, sporadic clashes and alleged electoral violations dominate proceedings during the first day of the country's much-anticipated election runoff 

The first day of Egypt's presidential runoff saw no Egyptian flags being proudly waved and few smiling voters queuing to vote.

The relatively small numbers of people who showed up at the polling stations visited by Ahram Online seemed less enthusiastic than those participating in any of the country's other post-Mubarak elections.

"I'm choosing the best of the worst," was a phrase heard time and again by those covering Saturday's second round vote for Egypt's next president.

A Thursday court ruling deeming Egypt's parliament unconstitutional and dissolving the assembly could have soured the celebratory mood that was apparent in prior elections.

It may also have contributed to the low turnout reported by Hatem Bagato, the head of the country's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC).  

According to a statement released by the lawyers syndicate's committee for monitoring the runoffs, participation did not exceed 15 per cent on the first day of elections. 

Voters, according to many observers, also seemed to be motivated by a need to protest rather than genuine support for their chosen candidate.

"I will vote for Morsi because he is only hope the revolution will continue. It was unfair of the ruling military to dissolve parliament," 45-year old Habiba Hosni told Ahram Online, adding that she did not vote for Morsi in the first round.

Habiba's family, however, were all planning to vote Shafiq after backing Sabbahi in late May's initial elections.

"If Sabbahi had made it to the second round he would have won," she said. She was not the only person to vote Morsi as a way of rejecting elements of Egypt's former regime, represented by ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Several political groups, such as the April 6 Youth Movement, have officially declared support for Morsi as a way to battle the "military's candidate."  

French literature student Aya Wael and her fiancé Hussein said they had voted for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh in the first round, before choosing Morsi in the second.

"We are against voting for a candidate that will take us back to the same dictatorial regime we had before," Aya said. She noted, however, that in comparison to the first round, voter turnout seemed very low.

It worked the other way, too, with others voting for Shafiq either as a rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood specifically or the entire idea of Islamist rule.

"We don’t want religious rule in Egypt. If Morsi wins, the Muslim Brotherhood will be the masters of this country," Gomaa, a thirty-something bar-tender told Ahram Online.

Similarly, 38-year old Mohammed who works in tourism said he had voted for Sabbahi in May but that Shafiq was his choice today.

"I do not like to be put in a cage or controlled and that is what the Brotherhood will do," he explained, before praising Thursday's decision by Egypt's constitutional court.

"Dissolving parliament was the best thing that happened in the last two years, even better than the ouster of Mubarak," he said.

But despite the general apparent apathy and low spirits amongst those who turned out to vote, there were others in higher, more impassioned, spirits.

Clashes between supporters of the Brotherhood and those of Shafiq took place throughout the day, although few serious injuries were reported and no fatalities.

The two sides tossed accusations of electoral violations back and forth; the bad blood risiing to a violent crescendo arguably not seen since Egypt's 2005 parliamentary elections when the Brotherhood secured nearly 90 seats.

In Daqahleyia, Shafiq and Morsi supporters reportedly fought each other with firearms and bladed weapons. One man sustained a gunshot wound to his right hand while a woman suffered a deep cut to her head.

Many Egyptians, however, felt alienated from the fight. 

Mohamed Abdel-Baky, who voted for Amr Moussa in the first round was one of an untold many who is boycotting the runoff.

"The accusations being thrown back and forth and the vote rigging conducted by both candidates reminds me of the 2005 parliamentary elections when the fight was between the Brotherhood and [Mubarak's] National Democratic Party," says the 28-year old.

"Again the Brotherhood are competing against Mubarak's man. History repeats itself".
Perhaps the most widespread accusation against Shafiq is that he owed his first round electoral success to the support of the military and police.

According to a report issued by the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASDD) on Saturday, small numbers of military personnel were spotted voting -- a right which they are denied while they are serving.

The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, was accused of using "group voting", an action also considered illegal.

Many of the voters -- as well as boycotters --  remain puzzled as to how the president will pursue his position without either parliament nor constitution.

Thursday's High Constitutional Court (HCC) decision left Egypt with neither a legislature nor a constituent assembly to draft the country's new constitution.

This leaves a vast question mark as to the role of the coming president and where his responsibilities will start and end.

One young juice-seller who told Ahram Online he was backing Morsi because "he does not have the blood of martyrs on his hands" summed up the confusion.

"How can a president be sworn in without a parliament?" he asked.

The HCC rulings also shed doubt on the integrity of the electoral process. 

Famed labour activist Kamal Khalil spoke to Ahram Online near a polling station in Abdeen, central Cairo.

"We should not be depressed, but unfortunately this seems to be the general mood at the moment," he said.

Describing the dissolution of parliament and Shafiq's candidacy as "a smooth military coup", he claimed that elections have been rigged in favour of Mubarak's ex-premier.

But Khalil also saw room for optimism, saying revolutionary forces will eventually unite, with figures like Mohamed ElBaradei, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabbahi coming together to help put Egypt on a better path.

(Additional reporting by Nada El-Kouny & Ekram Ibrahim)
*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

Egyptian activists plan vote-nullification campaign

Fri, 15/06/2012

Jano Charbel 

The campaigns to boycott the presidential election and invalidate ballots may have been given a boost following the verdicts of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on Thursday, activists say.

The SCC verdicts, which dissolved the recently-elected lower house of Parliament and kept former regime candidate Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential race, have raised doubts about the country’s electoral politics altogether.

In light of the SCC verdicts, “Voters will likely grow alienated with the voting process. I don’t regret the dissolution of Parliament. But the so-called ‘Parliament of the Revolution’ was the only democratically-elected governmental authority in the country,” said Bahaa Awwad, a political activist and head consultant at the National Cancer Institute.

According to Awwad, who intends on nullifying his ballot, “After all this squandering of money and time, people will likely become more disillusioned with the electoral process.”

Several weeks prior to the SCC verdicts, groups of activists have been organizing an electoral boycott campaign known as Muqate’oon (Boycotters), while others have been organizing a ballot invalidation campaign known as Mubteloon (Nullifiers). Among many other things, the campaigns object to holding the election under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The Muqate’oon Campaign intends to refrain from voting to withdraw legitimacy from the election, whereas the Mubteloon Campaign plans to invalidate their ballots by crossing out the names of both Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsy, the two runoff candidates. Many nullifiers would also express themselves by writing their opinions of the election on their ballots.

“Muqate’oon and Mubteloon are complimentary campaigns,” said Ghada Shahbender, an election monitor and member of the board of directors at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
Shahbender, who is a chief organizer behind the Mubteloon campaign, explained that both the boycott and nullification campaigns are organized around the expression of dissent against rigged elections, ballot-buying and other electoral violations.

“We object to the violations perpetrated during the election, and to the far-reaching powers granted to the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). We also object against the fact that the PEC is withholding the voter database from the public, claiming that such information is confidential,” she said.

Shahbender pointed out that there are systematic irregularities in the voter database, including deceased voters who are still registered and the possible inclusion of hundreds of thousands of police and military personnel, although members of these forces are strictly forbidden from voting.

“We don’t know who is authorized to vote from who isn’t authorized. We demand that this database be purged of invalid voters, updated, and made public,” said Shahbender. “We demand an electoral process which is transparent; if it becomes a transparent process then more people will be willing to participate in elections.”

The Mubteloon Campaign describes their ballot nullifications as being “an active boycott” or “a dissenting vote.”

“Both campaigns have their merits. Certain voters would prefer to express their dissent by nullifying their votes, rather than boycotting and staying at home,” Shahbender said.

“Nullifying my vote is my way of expressing dissent toward the political process,” Awwad explained. “The problem with boycotting is that the Egyptian people have been boycotting the electoral process for the past 30 years, if not longer. Yet since the revolution, the people have grown interested in voting and partaking in elections.”

“Even if they have grown disillusioned with the electoral process following the SCC verdicts, we should encourage them to participate and to express their dissent through ballot nullifications,” he continued.

“Even during the first round [of the presidential election on 23 and 24  May] there was a very significant number of nullifiers who invalidated their ballots. There were around 400,000 invalid votes the first time around, and during the second round [16 and 17 June] we hope and expect 2 million nullifications.”

Shahbender has a more ambitious goal of reaching 10 million nullifications during the second round. She hopes that the number of nullifications will equal, or surpass, the number of valid votes, sending a message that millions of voters are standing up against electoral violations.

Shahbender pointed out that Mubteloon has a hotline for text messages, which serves as a database “for nullifiers, their numbers and distribution according to their respective governorates, cities and towns. We also hope to build a core base for future opposition.”

When asked if vote nullification could contribute to a higher turnout that the election organizers will pride themselves for, Shahbender said that it all depends on a transparent announcement of results, including invalid ballots.

“The nullification of votes counts as participation in the election, and it does raise the overall voter turnout rate. However, judges must still announce the number of valid votes versus invalid votes.”

Awwad explained that because Mubteloon’s presence at polling stations may give the wrong impression that they are voting for one of the two candidates, “We have decided to wear stickers on our clothes, or Mubteloon T-shirts, clarifying that we are here to nullify our votes. This way the media cannot portray us as being conventional voters who are queuing-up to vote for Shafiq or Morsy.”

“We will also engage in discussions regarding our nullifications with the voters standing in the queues,” he added.

The Mubteloon Campaign has not agreed upon a unified message of dissent to write on the ballots; only to cross off both names on the ballot. Some nullifiers have said that they will write the name of the martyr Khaled Saeed who was tortured to death by police officers in 2010, while others plan to write, “Down with military rule,” among other dissenting messages.

The slogan of the Mubteloon Campaign is, “Nullify your ballots and depose their legitimacy.” For weeks, this campaign has immersed itself in online awareness-raising, and has produced stickers, banners and posters calling on voters to invalidate their ballots with their personalized messages of dissent.

Iman Darwish, a women’s rights activist, said that she would nullify her ballot with the words, “Military rulers are scum, judges are scum, and the Brotherhood are scum.” Darwish believes that, “Many people will take to the polling stations once again. Many of these people are still looking forward to a strongman-ruler who will chase after them with a whip in his hand.”

Not everyone agrees with Mubteloon.

Ahmed Murad, an engineering student, said that he will participate in the election regardless of the SCC rulings. “The whole point of elections is to vote for the best candidate. Going to the polls and nullifying your ballot doesn’t make sense to me. You should either vote properly or stay at home.”

Others charge nullifiers and boycotters alike of not providing alternative propositions to electoral politics.

As for Maged Mohsen, a young electrician, he is not sure yet whether he will vote and who he will vote for. “I don’t understand the court’s ruling. How many times are we supposed to vote for our representatives?” he asked.

“The situation is so confusing these days. Nobody really knows what’s happening, or where this country is going. May God guide us, Egypt, through these difficult times.”

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Egyptian court dissolves Islamist-led parliament

Associated Press

Jun 14, 2012

Hamza Hendawi

CAIRO (AP) — Judges appointed by Hosni Mubarak dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament Thursday and ruled his former prime minister eligible for the presidential runoff election this weekend — setting the stage for the military and remnants of the old regime to stay in power.

The politically charged rulings dealt a heavy blow to the fundamentalist Islamic Brotherhood, with one senior member calling the decisions a "full-fledged coup," and the group vowed to rally the public against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak.

The decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court effectively erased the tenuous progress from Egypt's troubled transition in the past year, leaving the country with no parliament and concentrating power even more firmly in the hands of the generals who took over from Mubarak.

Several hundred people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square after the rulings to denounce the action and rally against Shafiq, the presidential candidate seen by critics as a symbol of Mubarak's autocratic rule. But with no calls by the Brotherhood or other groups for massive demonstrations, the crowd did not grow.

Activists who engineered Egypt's uprising have long suspected that the generals would try to cling to power, explaining that after 60 years as the nation's single most dominant institution, the military would be reluctant to surrender its authority or leave its economic empire to civilian scrutiny.

Shafiq's rival in the Saturday-Sunday runoff, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he was unhappy about the rulings but accepted them.

"It is my duty as the future president of Egypt, God willing, to separate between the state's authorities and accept the rulings," the U.S.-trained engineer said in a television interview. Late Thursday, he told a news conference: "Millions will go to the ballot boxes on Saturday and Sunday to say 'no' to the tyrants."

Senior Brotherhood leader and lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy was less diplomatic, saying the judges' action amounted to a "full-fledged coup."

"This is the Egypt that Shafiq and the military council want and which I will not accept no matter how dear the price is," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Equally blunt was another Brotherhood stalwart, lawmaker Subhi Saleh. "The court, I can say, has handed Egypt to the military council on a golden platter and free of charge too," he said.

In last year's parliamentary elections — Egypt's first democratic ones in generations — the Brotherhood became the biggest party in the legislature, with nearly half the seats, alongside more conservative Islamists who took another 20 percent. It is hoping to win the presidency as well.

The rulings, however, take away the Brotherhood's power base in parliament and boost Shafiq at a time when the Islamists are at sharp odds with a wide array of major forces, including the military, the judiciary and pro-democracy groups behind the uprising.

The court also derailed the broader transition to democracy, said rights activist Hossam Bahgat.
"The military placed all powers in its hands. The entire process has been undermined beyond repair,"
Bahgat said. "They now have the legislative and the executive powers in their hands and there is a big likelihood that the military-backed candidate (Shafiq) is going to win. It is a soft military coup that unfortunately many people will support out of fear of an Islamist takeover of the state."

On Wednesday, the military-appointed government gave security forces the right to arrest civilians for a range of vague crimes such as disrupting traffic and the economy that would give it a mandate to crack down on protests. Many saw the move as evidence that the generals aim to stay in power beyond the July 1 deadline they announced for handing it over to a civilian president.

All day Thursday, military armored vehicles circulated through Cairo's streets playing patriotic songs as soldiers passed out leaflets urging passers-by to vote in the runoff election. Plastered on the side of their vehicles were posters saying "the army and the people are one hand."

After the court's decision was announced, a visibly energized Shafiq spoke at a rally that had the trappings of a victory celebration. Supporters chanted "We love you, Mr. President," and the 70-year-old candidate blew kisses to them. In his address, he praised the military and said he hoped for a dramatic change in the makeup of the next parliament.

"We want a parliament that realistically represents all segments of the Egyptian people and a civil state whose borders and legitimacy are protected by our valiant armed forces," said Shafiq, a longtime friend and self-confessed admirer of Mubarak.

The presidential race has already deeply polarized the country.

Shafiq's opponents view him as an extension of Mubarak's authoritarian regime. Morsi's critics fears he and the Brotherhood will turn Egypt into an Islamic state and curtail freedom. Leftist, liberal and secular forces who launched the pro-democracy uprising bemoaned the choice, and some talked of a boycott.

Now they and the Brotherhood accused the military of using the court to change the rules of the game.

In its ruling, the court said a third of the legislature was elected illegally, and as a result, "the makeup of the entire chamber is illegal and, consequently, it does not legally stand."

The explanation was carried by Egypt's official news agency and confirmed to The Associated Press by one of the court's judges, Maher Sami Youssef.

The law governing the parliamentary elections was ruled unconstitutional by a lower court because it breached the principle of equality when it allowed party members to contest a third of the seats set aside for independents. The remaining two-thirds were contested by party slates.

In a separate ruling, the court said Shafiq could stay in the runoff election, rejecting a law passed by parliament last month that barred prominent figures from the old regime from running for office.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison on June 2 for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the uprising. About three dozen figures from his regime are also in prison, either charged with or convicted of corruption.

Defenders of the law argued that after a revolution aimed at removing Mubarak, parliament had a right to prevent regime members from returning to power. The law's opponents called it political revenge targeting Shafiq. The court said the law was not based on "objective grounds" and was discriminatory, violating "the principle of equality."

"This historic ruling sends the message that the era of score-settling and tailor-made law is over," Shafiq said at his rally.

Now, elections will have to be organized to choose a new parliament, and the Brotherhood is in a weaker position than it was during its powerful showing in the first election, held over three months starting in November 2011.

After its election victory, the Brotherhood tried to translate those gains into governing power but was repeatedly stymied by the military.

At the same time, there has been widespread public dissatisfaction with the Islamist-led parliament, which many criticized as ineffective.

The Brotherhood's popularity has also declined because of moves that critics saw as attempts to monopolize the political scene and advance its own power. It angered liberals, leftists and secular Egyptians when it and other Islamists tried to dominate a parliament-created panel writing a new constitution.

The panel was dissolved by court order, and a second one was selected by parliament in a process that was boycotted by liberals who accused the Brotherhood of packing it with Islamists, as they did with the first one.

The dissolution of parliament now raises the possibility that the military council could appoint the panel, a step that would fuel accusations that it is hijacking the process.

The legal adviser of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political arm, said the court rulings were "political," lamenting the outgoing legislature as the country's "only legitimate and elected body."

"They are hoping to hand it over to Ahmed Shafiq and make him the only legal authority in the absence of parliament. The people will not accept this and we will isolate the toppled regime," Mukhtar el-Ashry said in a posting on the party's website.

A moderate Islamist and a former presidential candidate, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, warned that the pro-democracy groups which engineered the uprising would protest the court's rulings.

"Those who believe that the millions of young people will let this pass are fooling themselves," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Lobna Darwish, an activist and longtime critic of the military, said the rulings showed the entire electoral process was a "distraction" from organizing people in neighborhoods to realize the goals of the uprising.

"The military ended up getting everything and we got nothing," she said.

Detention, virginity test forced on woman in Salafi MP indecency case

Bikya Masr

Detention, virginity test forced upon woman in Egypt Salafist MP indecency case

June 12, 2012

Manar Ammar

CAIRO: Local Egypt reports mentioned on Monday the dreadful progress in the case of the Islamist parliamentarian whom police have accused of public indecency, as the girl in the case has been detained for four days under orders by the prosecutor.

A report said that the prosecutor has also ordered a “virginity test” on her to determine if she is a virgin or not.

A background search is underway to determine if she has a “past” in police records.

The news has caused an uproar among the rights community over the virginity tests, which brought back to mind the same tests that were forced upon female protesters in Tahrir Square in March 2011.

According to reports the girl was arrested from her family home in Tokh, in the conservative Nile Delta region of Egypt, north of Cairo.

Investigations have said she is a senior university student in agriculture.

Conservative al-Nour Party parliamentarian Ali Wanees’s car was raided by morality police and Wanees and the girl were accused of public indecency last Thursday.

Egypt must investigate attacks on women protesters


Egypt: Investigate attacks on women protesters

June 11, 2012 

The Egyptian authorities must immediately launch an investigation into reports of sexual harassment and assaults against women protesters during a demonstration in Cairo, Amnesty International said today.

A group of activists calling for an end to sexual harassment of women protesters were reportedly groped and punched by a mob of men as they marched across Tahrir Square on Friday.

The assault comes amid increasing reports of sexual harassment against women protesters in Egypt.

“These women stood up to demand an end to sexual harassment. What they got was intimidation and sexual assault,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“In last year's protests, Tahrir Square was a place where women stood on an equal footing with men to demand their freedom. Now it has become a place where women are singled out for sexual harassment.

“These attacks need to be investigated immediately and those found responsible held to account. An investigation would serve as a deterrent against sexual harassment and will help protect women protesters who are exercising their right to peacefully express their views.”

Activists told Amnesty International that a group of men tried to tear off the women protesters’ clothes and steal their belongings. The women and male supporters fought back but the attackers persisted.

The protest had started peacefully but became violent after several women were attacked, in spite of a circle that the men had formed around them to try and shield them.

“There were hands groping us and stealing our belongings from our bags and pockets. It was chaos, we couldn’t tell who was with us and who was against us,” said Lobna Darwish, one of the organizers of the protest and a member of Mosireen (‘Determined’), an Egyptian collective of filmmakers and citizen journalists.

Male supporters told Amnesty International they were also groped as they tried to help the women and they felt hands reaching into their pockets to steal their belongings during the scuffles.

The women were eventually able to run to safety or find refuge in nearby buildings until the situation quieted down.

The attack on the women protesters comes after reports of harassment and assault by large groups of men earlier in the week.

Nihal Saad Zaghloul told Amnesty International that she and three friends were attacked by a large group of men on 2 June in Tahrir Square as they joined a protest after the verdict in Hosni Mubarak’s trial. She was pushed and groped and her headscarf pulled off before she was rescued by some men in the square.

Her two female friends were also attacked and groped by the men who also tried to tear their clothes off while a male friend was badly beaten as he tried to help them.

Women in Egypt have increasingly become the target of attacks from mobs of men, who have gone unpunished, and from the security forces.

In December 2011, women protesters were beaten by soldiers who kicked them and dragged them through the streets. Armed forces took at least eight female protesters to a parliament building in central Cairo. They reportedly beat them with sticks and some were molested by soldiers or threatened with sexual assault.

Women who were arrested when armed forces forcibly dispersed a protest against military rule in May 2012 were reportedly beaten and sexually harassed.

"Whether the attacks are committed by unidentified mobs or by the security forces themselves, it is equally damaging for women and their human rights," said Sahroui.

Last year, attacks on female foreign journalists highlighted the issue.

On 11 February 2011, CBS journalist Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob of men in Tahrir Square.

On 24 November 2011, France 3 reporter Caroline Sinz was assaulted in a street near Tahrir Square.

Using sexual harassment and assault against women protesters is a tactic that was frequently used under former president Hosni Mubarak.

In 2005, thugs were reportedly hired to attack women journalists taking part in a protest calling for the boycott of the referendum on constitutional reform.

“Women must be free to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and assembly in full equality,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“These forms of sexual harassment, sexual assault and other forms of ill-treatment against women protesters are an attempt to intimidate them and prevent them from participating fully in public life.

"The authorities have so far done nothing to investigate these attacks. The impunity so far enjoyed by those attacking women protesters seems to have encouraged the trend of sexual harassment and assault to continue.

“The epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt will only stop if the authorities, and society at large, confront the men who act as if women are commodities. The prevailing climate on impunity must stop by bringing perpetrators to justice.”

*Photo courtesy of Filippo Monteforte /AFP/Getty Images