Sunday, September 30, 2012

Morsi adjusts his nuts while meeting Australian Prime Minister

Egyptians feel Morsi is becoming more authoritarian

Associated Press

Mohamed Morsi draws mixed reviews as he approaches the end of his first 100 days in the role, with critics arguing he has not fulfilled pledges and is repeating mistakes of the former regime
Friday 28 Sep 2012
As Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi strikes an assertive pose on the world stage, some Egyptians fear they may have replaced one authoritarian leader with another.

Critics say Morsi — the nation's first democratically elected president — seeks a monopoly over decision-making and has accepted an aura of invincibility bestowed by the official media. 

Fueling the unease is Morsi's failure to deliver on any of his key campaign promises, including resolution in his first 100 days in office of five of the nation's most pressing problems: deteriorating security, shortages of fuel and subsidised bread, inadequate garbage collection and traffic.
Morsi, who in June became the first Islamist ever to occupy the top post after longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising last year, faces extremely high expectations.

He has risen to power at a time when Egyptians have found the voice to demand social justice, freedoms and jobs after decades of perceived oppression, inequality and exploitation at the hands of Mubarak's regime and a small clique of powerful businessmen.

The US-educated engineer made a splash Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York where he passionately appealed for an end to the bloodshed in Syria, help for the Palestinians to establish their state and efforts to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. 

Addressing his Islamist constituency at home, he delivered a strong condemnation of a crude film that surfaced on the Internet this month, portraying Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a womaniser and a buffoon.
But while Morsi has made an impression in the global arena, he is facing difficulties on the domestic front.
"We changed a leader but not the regime," said Negad Borai, a prominent lawyer and rights activist. "It is difficult to accurately assess his performance after he spent only three months in office, but he clearly has no vision and is going about governance haphazardly."

Underscoring those fears, lawyers representing Morsi obtained a court ruling to shut down a private television station whose owner ranted against the president and the Muslim Brotherhood on air. The station's owner and a newspaper editor are facing criminal charges.
Morsi also did not object to the imprisonment of a Christian for "insulting the president" — a seldom-used charge.
An insider at the presidential palace, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information, says Morsi was not involved personally in a flurry of court cases against his critics, but the proceedings were initiated by lawyers from the Brotherhood or closely linked to the group.
He also said that decision-making is restricted to Morsi and a small group of senior Brotherhood leaders who meet at the president's home in an upscale suburb in eastern Cairo.

Alaa Al-Aswany, a bestselling novelist and rights activist, wrote Tuesday in the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that the time has come to take Morsi to task.
He pointed to a series of cases in which police were accused of abusing suspects, which although nothing on the scale of the torture under Mubarak's regime. He also noted Morsi has secured the support of the powerful state-owned media. 

He also charged that Morsi is suppressing freedom of expression and has failed to deliver on his promises of inclusion by allowing Islamists to dominate the drafting of a new constitution.
"The picture is now worrying," he wrote. "It's like nothing has changed in Egypt after the revolution except for the identity of the president — Mubarak is gone and Morsi has come."
Morsi, who rose to the leadership post from relative obscurity, insists the fears are unfounded. "There is just no chance that anyone will become a dictator again," he said recently. 

He also has expressed willingness to tolerate opposition and pledged not to try to remove the freedoms won by Egyptians after Mubarak was toppled in February 2011.
"Everyone has the right to express his views on the president and the government," he said. In a move to break with the past, he has decided to break with the decades-old custom of hanging a portrait of the president on the walls of all schools, government offices and universities.
Still, the state media's construction of a personality cult portraying Morsi as something of a superman is similar to the star treatment given Mubarak and Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser before him. State-owned newspapers have largely stopped mentioning Morsi's promise to resolve a series of domestic problems in his first 100 days in office.
He was reminded of the pledge in a television interview aired Wednesday. Asked what he planned to do when the 100 days are up on 8 October, he said: "I will be honest. I will tell the people what has been achieved and what could not be."
In a separate interview on state television last week, the interviewer did not interrupt Morsi, challenge his answers or deliver even the mildest of criticism of his policies. Morsi also was asked adoringly how he managed to work round the clock without getting tired. "I carry out my duties to the best of my abilities," a clearly flattered Morsi replied with a smile.
After one of his major foreign policy speeches this month, Egypt's official Middle East News Agency prophesied that his words ushered a "new era" in Egypt's foreign policy. "He can put a stop to all this if he wants," said youth leader and media activist Shadi El-Adl. "I take his inaction to mean satisfaction with how the media is treating him."

Morsi's constantly growing motorcade also has been a painful reminder to many Egyptians of the pain they endured for years every time Mubarak traveled in Cairo, leaving them stuck in massive traffic jams for hours. 

The new president made a promising start, traveling in small convoys that caused minimal disruption. But the motorcade has grown to comprise as many as 30 vehicles, with scores of black-clad policemen and sharp shooters deployed before his arrival.
He also has been offering the Friday prayers at a different mosque every week, inconveniencing worshipers who have to go through security checks and causing traffic delays. 

The heavy security around the president is a sharp contrast to his dramatic gesture hours after he was declared president, when he opened his jacket to thousands of supporters gathered at Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of last year's uprising, to show that he was not wearing a bulletproof jacket.

"Everything is gradually returning to what it used to be," political activist Ahmed Badawi said.

*Photo courtesy of AP

Egypt pursues blasphemy cases, Morsi defends ban at UN

Christian Science Monitor

Egypt pursues blasphemy cases as Morsi defends ban at UN 

September 27, 2012

Several blasphemy cases moved forward this week in Egypt. President Morsi defended curbing free speech in an address Wednesday at the United Nations. 

Kristen Chick

An Egyptian rights group also announced today that it would ask Egypt’s highest appeals court to consider the case of an Egyptian Shia man convicted of desecrating a mosque. And, in a rare case, prosecutors this week brought charges of defaming Christianity against a Muslim who ripped a Bible. 

The flurry of developments in blasphemy-related cases comes in the wake of the uproar, in Egypt and across the Muslim world, over an American-made anti-Islam YouTube clip. The protests and anger over the video have strengthened the push for an anti-blasphemy clause in Egypt’s new constitution.

Rights activists say such a constitutional clause, like Egypt’s current laws criminalizing insults to religion, limit freedom of expression and are often used to target minorities and those with unpopular views.

At a speech at the United Nations Wednesday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was unequivocal about Egypt’s position on banning “insults” to religion. “Egypt respects freedom of expression,” he said, but “not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.”

Accused by mob

Alber Saber, whose case began yesterday, was arrested during the week of protests against the American film. After an angry mob gathered outside his house, accusing him of burning the Quran and insulting Islam, he called police, says his lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat.

Instead of confronting the mob, they arrested Mr. Saber. The prosecutor who conducted the investigation repeatedly asked Saber about his religious beliefs, and played a video found on a CD in Saber’s home in which Saber, whose family is Christian, questions the meaning of religion.

Initial reports said Saber had posted the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube clip on his Facebook page, but Mr. Ezzat says those reports were false. While he was in jail, police incited other prisoners to attack Saber by telling them he was connected to the “Innocence of Muslims” film, says Ezzat.

The Christian man whose conviction was upheld today was sentenced to six years in prison for posting pictures on Facebook that were deemed offensive to Islam. He was also convicted for insulting President Morsi. “He’s now going to spend six years in jail for talking, for speech basically,” said Amr Gharbeia, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

At the hearing today in the southern Egyptian city of Sohag, three lawyers sent to represent the man were threatened and intimidated in court, says Mr. Gharbeia. People in the courthouse called them infidels, and shouted threats at them. At one point the three were separated, and they could not leave the courthouse without a security escort, says Gharbeia.

EIPR today announced it had filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation, the highest appeals court in Egypt, to take up the case of an Egyptian Shia man who was convicted of desecration. From a Nile Delta town, he was arrested earlier this year when he prayed in a mosque in a way that is traditional in Shia Islam.

The “desecration” took place when residents entered the mosque with weapons because they were angry with the way he prayed. “He's being punished for someone else's acts,” says Gharbeia. Shia Muslims are repressed and marginalized in Egypt, where they make up a tiny percentage of the population.

Defaming Christianity

Egypt's blasphemy law is almost exclusively used to prosecute people for insulting Islam, and is often used against Christians, though it officially protects "heavenly religions," understood as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, from insult.

This week, in a rare case, prosecutors brought charges of defaming Christianity against a Muslim preacher who tore a copy of the Bible outside the US embassy during protests against the YouTube clip. The self-styled preacher and television personality, known as Sheikh Abu Islam, was released until his trial, while Saber remains in prison during his case. Mr. Islam's son and a journalist who interviewed him after the protest were also charged, for reasons that remain unclear.

*Photo by Jason DeCrow/AP

Harassment of women gets more violent, but activists fight back

Egypt Independent

Harassment of women may be getting more violent, but activists are fighting back

Thu, 27/09/2012

Aaron Ross

It is a sordid tale: A 16-year-old girl is groped while walking along the street. She responds by spitting in her attacker’s face, vowing to take back her rights. He, in turn, guns her down with an automatic weapon.

That is what is alleged to have happened to Eman Mostafa two weeks ago in a small village in Upper Egypt’s Assiut Governorate. While details of the incident have only slowly trickled out, the monstrosity of the alleged crime suggests a frightening increase in gendered violence following a spate of well-publicized cases of harassment and assault in recent months.

The suspect, Ramadan Nasser Salem, is now in police custody after having fled for more than a week. In an interview on Al-Hayat TV channel Saturday, he denied the version of events offered by witnesses.

“I was riding my motorbike and I saw her,” he said. “I said hello, and she thought I was harassing her and started cursing at me and spat in my face. I mistakenly fired my gun, and a passer-by told me the bullet hit a wall. We thought the girl was afraid and fell on the ground, but then people told us that the bullet hit her. I never meant to kill her.”

Salem’s denial notwithstanding, Dalia Abd El-Hameed, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, warns that the reported circumstances surrounding Mostafa’s death reflect a disturbing trend in sexual abuse against women.

“It’s becoming more violent, and this Assiut incident is a very vivid example of this,” she says. “He killed her. He killed her just because she defended herself. The mere fact was that she just didn’t accept what’s very accepted in society. When you don’t accept the norm, society punishes you. And he punished her.”

A 2010 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have experienced harassment. In response, advocacy groups have pressed the government to tackle the issue.

Their efforts have produced an occasional glimmer of hope. In 2008, the government — for the first time — sentenced a man to three years in prison on a sexual harassment charge. In late 2010, 23 NGOs and human rights organizations teamed up in what was hailed as an unprecedented initiative to amend the Penal Code to more effectively address sexual harassment and assault, although their momentum was upended by the revolution.

And yet, by most accounts, the situation has only gotten worse. Some feel that in the past, perpetrators would flee the scene of the crime out of shame or fear of public backlash, but today’s perpetrators feel no such compunction.

Instead, silence by both the government and the public has enabled a much more virulent strain of abuse to take root.

“What is most disturbing and alarming is that there is a paradigm shift, and sexual harassment now tends more to be assault,” Abd El-Hameed says. “It’s more intrusive, it’s more bold, and I think this is the result of immunity and impunity that the perpetrators have from both the society and the police.”

More than that, she adds, police themselves have frequently been among the worst offenders.

The political and social instability of the last year and a half has also been an important factor, says Hoda Badran, chairwoman of the Alliance for Arab Women, as “women are more vulnerable than others to violence.”

Indeed, several high-profile sexual assaults have taken place at political rallies, most notably in Tahrir Square. But Badran argues that the situation is slowly improving as stability has gradually returned since the presidential election.

Activists working on the issue also point to small but substantive gains. The high-profile attacks in Cairo over the last few months helped spawn several grassroots initiatives aimed at bringing public awareness to the problem.

Their efforts were on display Sunday in a rally in front of the presidential palace co-organized by the social advocacy organization Basma and Nefsi, a Cairo-based anti-harassment group, to decry Mostafa’s death and demand a law specifically targeting sexual harassment and assault.

About two dozen protesters lined the sidewalk along the main boulevard at rush hour, holding signs bearing messages such as “I don’t want to be afraid when I walk in the streets,” and “Morsy, Morsy, where are you?” in reference to President Mohamed Morsy. Basma has also organized patrols in metro stations to identify sexual harassers and report them to police.

There is no shortage of idealism on the activists’ part.

At the rally Sunday, many passing motorists signaled their approval by giving protesters the thumbs up. Others were less impressed; several stopped to argue that women brought the problem onto themselves with their immodest dress.

But even as the activists wage an uphill battle to effect a measure of progress in Cairo, Mostafa’s case underscores the daunting breadth of the problem. In spite of the incident’s obvious shock value, it has generated scant media coverage and, with the exceptions of a demonstration at Assiut University last week and this week’s protest in Cairo, almost no public reaction.

That has not surprised Abd El-Hameed.

“Since we are a very urban-centric country, what happens in Upper Egypt doesn’t necessarily grab the attention of Cairo residents and the government, and so on. This is the first thing,” she says. “The second part is the socioeconomic status of the victim, and I guess it’s typical for people from the lowest wealth quintile to not be taken care of or to not get enough attention.”

Or, as she put it more simply: “[Mostafa] was poor, she was young, she was a girl and he’s from Upper Egypt.”

Mostafa’s father, Mostafa Salama, appealed directly to the president in an interview with Al-Hayat.

“I call on President Morsy to look at Upper Egypt and take care of it,” he says. “This is the man who spoke of God and the Prophet Mohamed, and we voted for him. Now he should take care of us.”

Although efforts at top-down reform have so far failed, recent legislative initiatives in Pakistan and India to protect women from harassment in the workplace suggest possible paths forward for Egypt.

In 2010, Pakistan for the first time defined sexual harassment in the law and required employers to create inquiry committees to look into allegations of it.

Earlier this month, India’s lower house of parliament passed a similar bill that would require employers and local authorities to establish grievance committees to investigate complaints of sexual harassment. It is expected to become law in the coming months.

While women’s rights advocates in Egypt have tended to eye Morsy warily, some still harbor hopes that he can deliver similar reforms.

“I think that Morsy wants to do something about the problem because it affects all women — secular, Islamist — but he faces a lot of obstacles and opponents,” says Nihal Zaghloul, an organizer with Basma.

But laws alone are unlikely to do much. Critics have lambasted the Pakistani government over its failures to effectively implement its statute.

Last year, the Asian Human Rights Commission complained in an open letter to Pakistan’s president and others that high-ranking government officials, including from the prime minister’s office and the lower house of parliament, were working to protect a well-connected university professor who had been found guilty of sexual harassment by two separate inquiry committees.

Huma Yusuf, a Pakistani commentator, underlined the magnitude of the challenge in Dawn newspaper.

“To take the law’s spirit and implementation seriously, the Pakistani state and activist network must overcome the cultural prejudices not only of the Pakistani public, but also of the world at large. It’s a tall task, but one that should not be neglected,” Yusuf wrote.

Likewise, Egyptian activists readily acknowledge that the root of the problem is not deficient policy — sexual harassment and assault are already technically illegal — but prevailing social norms that subjugate women and stigmatize those who speak out. And while the revolution’s aftermath has created additional challenges for women, it has also freed up grassroots organizations to more effectively wage a battle for public opinion.

“What happened now is that by mobilizing society as a whole during the revolution, you have a mobilized mass — part of it is being mobilized against sexual harassment and assault,” says Abd El-Hameed. “We have girls who make protests against sexual harassment, we have posters, we have graffiti — so we have diversity in the actors and the tools that are being used. And this can lead to addressing the root of the problem.”

Egypt: Court upholds Christian's 6-year prison sentence for anti-Islam Facebook posts

Associated Press 

Egyptian court upholds Coptic Christian's 6-year prison sentence for anti-Islam Facebook posts

September 27, 2012

CAIRO - An Egyptian court has upheld a six-year jail sentence for a Coptic Christian school teacher convicted of insulting Islam and the country's new Islamist president in postings on Facebook.

Egypt's MENA state news agency says a court in the southern province of Sohag agreed with a lower court ruling that found Michelle Bishoy, also known as Bishoy el-Behiri, guilty of blasphemy after posting pictures that were deemed offensive to Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The court also upheld Bishoy's conviction on charges of insulting Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

Thursday's ruling can be appealed.

The case is the second this month in which a Coptic Christian has been detained for posting material considered anti-Islamic on social networking sites.

It also comes after violent protests in several Muslim countries over an anti-Islam film.

5 Alexandria dock-workers sentenced to 3 yrs in prison for "inciting strike"

Ahram Online

Misdemeanours court sentences five dock workers from Alexandria cargo-handling company to three years each in prison for inciting March labour strike

Monday 24 Sep 2012

Alexandria's Court of Misdemeanours has sentenced five workers from the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company to three years in jail each for inciting a labour strike, the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress – comprised of over 271 independent labour unions – reported on Monday.

In March, dock workers staged a strike to demand the removal of the company's board of directors, members of which they accused of corruption. Striking workers also demanded that the docks on which they worked be returned to the custodianship of the state after having been leased to Chinese and other foreign port-services companies.

The chairman of the company's board of directors, for his part, had earlier filed a lawsuit against the striking workers, in which he accused them – and the independent union's administrative board – of inciting workers to strike, wasting public funds and disrupting work.

A lawyer for the workers, meanwhile, had requested that prosecutors commission an engineering committee from Alexandria University to examine – and verify, if it could – the alleged damages cited in the lawsuit, insisting that the company had falsely accused workers of sabotage.

The accused workers – Ahmed Sadek, Yousri Maaruf, Ashraf Ibrahim, Mohamed Abdel Moneim and Essam El-Din Mohamed Mabrouk – were all sentenced by the court in abstentia.

Rights groups condemn detention of atheist on blasphemy charges

Egypt Independent

Rights groups condemn detention of atheist on blasphemy charges

Mon, 24/09/2012


Human rights organizations have criticized the arrest of atheist activist Alber Saber. Saber was originally arrested over claims that he published the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” on Facebook, but when it emerged that there was no evidence to support the claim, he was later charged on the basis of an atheist video that he had made.

Two days after protests and clashes between security forces and protesters broke out over the film near the US Embassy on 11 September, neighbors of Saber claimed that he shared the anti-Islam YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims” on his Facebook account, which led an angry mob to storm Saber’s house in Marg district, kicking out Saber and his mother.

Kariman Meseha, Saber’s mother, told journalists attending a press conference at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression yesterday that she called the police to protect her son, but once police arrived, it was Saber who was arrested, not those who attacked his home.

“Police forces told me that he would be taken to the police station to protect him from the angry mob, and that I could come by the police station the next day to receive him,” Meseha said, adding that the next day, she discovered that he was arrested on blasphemy charges.

AFTE lawyer Ahmed Ezzat said police incited the prisoners against Saber, claiming that he was an atheist and insulted the Prophet Mohamed; one of the prisoners injured him in the neck with a razor blade.

“If the blade was sharper, it would have killed Alber,” Ezzat said.

Ezzat said investigation records stated that residents of Saber’s area filed a complaint accusing him of sharing the blasphemous content. Yet the records do not state clearly who had filed the complaints, which is a violation of laws that oblige someone filing a complaint to reveal their identity.

“The records also did not specifically point out what kind of blasphemous content Saber shared,” Ezzat said, adding that prosecution accused him of religious blasphemy after finding a movie on a CD of Saber, including some comparative religion material, as well as criticisms of both Islamic and Coptic religious leaders and institutions.

Prosecutors did not find the blasphemous movie when they asked Saber to log into his Facebook account, but declined to mention this in the investigations records, Ezzat said.

“The prosecution decided to refer the matter to a technical committee to investigate whether Saber ever shared any blasphemous material. We welcome this decision because it will show that Saber shared nothing,” he added.

The prosecution asked Saber during a 12-hour investigation about his religious beliefs.  One of Saber’s lawyers was kicked out after objecting to questions about Saber’s personal religious beliefs, Ezzat said.

Saber was detained for four days pending investigation by the prosecution, and his detention is now extended to another 15 days, meaning it would end Saturday.

“Religious blasphemy is a loose charge. Is criticizing religions considered blasphemous? What if someone is preaching for his religion? [Wouldn’t this] entail criticizing other religions? In this case, religious blasphemy would be considered a violation of freedom of religion,” Ezzat explained.

Yara Sallam, a member of the Nazra Center for Feminist Studies, said that though protests against “Innocence of Muslims” spread to 15 countries and was condemned by several United Nations bodies, an international law against blasphemy is not the answer.

“Some have called for religious blasphemy to be criminalized internationally. I think this is against freedom of expression as long as blasphemy does not entail calls for violence. The best way to respond to this is to ignore such calls,” Sallam said.

*Photo by Namir Galal

New & controversial labor measures in response to rising tide of strikes

Egypt Independent

New labor measures respond to rising tide of strikes

September 24, 2012

Jano Charbel

Strikes and the organization of the country’s labor movement are a hot political topic. Strikes have taken place recently, or are expected to take place shortly, among school teachers, university lecturers, university administrators, doctors and agricultural workers, as well as others.

The government and officials from the state-controlled workers’ union federation have proposed several controversial new labor measures, apparently concerned that strikes are a threat to the fragile economy.

The proposals include a new draft of the long-anticipated Trade Union Liberties Law; holding official trade union elections, which are tentatively scheduled for October and November; and a yearlong moratorium on strikes, in exchange for certain concessions, proposed by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation.


This week, Manpower Minister Khaled al-Azhary proposed the issuing of a long-awaited law to replace the restrictive Trade Union Law 35/1976. Although a draft law was prepared more than a year ago by the former manpower minister, Azhary scrapped this draft and has formulated a new version, in coordination with other Muslim Brotherhood figures. This controversial new draft has, reportedly, not been finalized.

In August of last year, a draft law was prepared under the auspices of then-Manpower Minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai. It was dubbed the Trade Union Liberties Law, yet it never saw the light of day. Both the interim military government and the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament failed to pass this draft into law, and eventually, Parliament was itself dissolved in June.

This leaves most of Egypt’s hundreds of independent labor unions, mostly created in the wake of the 25 January revolution, in a legal limbo. The second, alternative draft law, developed under the auspices of Azhary while Parliament was in session, would have allowed independent federations on a national level, but would not have permitted more than a single union in each workplace. Each union would be able to affiliate to the national federation of its choice, but in fact such a proposal would eliminate a great many independent unions that exist alongside larger ETUF unions.

Such a law would contravene international labor standards.

Mohamed Abdeen, executive board member of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, says the group met with Azhary and discussed its longstanding demands with him.

“However, he has provided us with conflicting statements about the Trade Union Liberties Law,” Abdeen says.

Neither Azhary nor Manpower Ministry spokesperson Alaa Awad could be reached for clarifications.

Nonetheless, a copy of the new draft has been leaked to state-owned papers, and it indicates that union plurality would be recognized. But by law, only one union committee would be allowed in each workplace or factory. Brotherhood officials have reiterated their argument — that allowing more than one union committee would serve to divide the ranks of Egypt’s trade union unity.

“Fear of dividing Egypt’s trade union unity — this is a cheap argument,” says Abdeen. “Workers must have the right to choose which unions they want to be members of. The Brotherhood may strive to maintain one monolithic trade union federation, because in this way it is easier to monopolize and manipulate the union movement for their benefit, to shape it according to their own political interests, just like [former President Hosni] Mubarak’s party did.”

Abdeen argued that the “EFITU is willing to take legal actions against the Brotherhood and any other force that attempts to reintroduce Law 35/1976 under a new cloak. Our legislation must be in line with the International Labor Organization conventions, to which Egypt is a state party.”

Protesting outside the Cabinet Wednesday night, Mohamed Abdel Rahman, president of the Independent Workers Union at Armant Sugar Company, also denounced the Brotherhood’s attempts to outlaw union plurality at the factory level.

Abdel Rahman’s union was established in December 2011, in parallel to the ETUF-controlled local union committee at this sugar company.

“I support union plurality on all organizational levels, especially on the local union level,” he says.

Abdel Rahman explained that “the plurality and diversity of local unions in each workplace promotes competition and genuine democracy. It is in the interest of workers to be able to pick and choose the union that best represents them, and that best protects their rights.”

He says union plurality will neither divide the ranks of workers nor the unity of the union movement, going on to suggest that a joint council of unions should be established in each workplace that has more than one union.

“The makeup of this council should be proportionately determined according to the size of each union’s membership in the workplace,” Abdel Rahman says, saying it is in the interest of employers and big-business men to restrict the establishment of unions and union plurality. “Through this draft law, the Brotherhood is seeking to promote the interests of businessmen at the expense of workers’ rights.

According to the EFITU, Azhary’s draft law also stipulates that the Manpower Ministry would continue to oversee and control trade union elections. The independent federation has denounced this provision as “an ongoing intervention in union affairs.”

Furthermore, Azhary’s draft includes hefty fines for workers violating the provisions of the proposed law, while employers’ violations are penalized by much lighter fines. In its most recent statement, “Why we reject the Brotherhood’s union law,” the EFITU has also criticized what it perceives to be “a lack of provisions protecting unionists from employers’ punitive measures.”

The EFITU statement also mentions that Azhary’s draft law “subordinates the organizational rights of union committees.” General unions and federations are empowered to override the rights and freedoms of their local union committees, according to EFITU.


The Manpower Ministry has announced that ETUF’s overdue elections will likely be held during October-November.

The ETUF elections are supposed to be held every five years, and were initially scheduled for late 2011, but were postponed in the light of parliamentary elections; and yet again postponed due to the presidential election.

Kamal Abbas of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress expressed his dismay that the upcoming ETUF election will still be held under the auspices of the Manpower Ministry, “just like it was in the days of Mubarak.”

It is not clear whether the new trade union law will be issued by presidential decree, in the absence of Parliament, or whether officials plan to wait for Parliament to be reinstated or re-elected.


Industry and Trade Minister Hatem Saleh recently claimed that labor strikes this year have resulted in a decrease of projected exports by about 50 percent. However, when contacted by Egypt Independent, a ministry spokesperson clarified that projected exports have, in fact, decreased by less than 20 percent, and in any case remain on course to match last year’s figures.

Nonetheless, officials are concerned about the economic impact of strikes. Speaking to Egypt Independent in March, Azhary said, “our main target is just to protect the Egyptian economy in this transitional period; we need stability in the workplace.”

Nagy Rashad, a worker-activist and a member of the ETUF’s executive caretaker council, says he and all the other ETUF caretaker board members had voted for “a comprehensive initiative involving the suspension of strikes, on the condition that labor reforms are realized and labor rights are upheld.”

Rashad explains that some, including Azhary, had understood that the moratorium concerned would involve reciprocal guarantees on the part of employers.

However, he says that “other officials have not read through the points of our initiative, and are merely eager to push for a suspension of strikes without any clear timetable or plans for reforms.”

Rashad maintains that he was opposed to any law banning strikes, and that he had conveyed as much to Prime Minister Hesham Qandil.

There is already a law that criminalizes strikes harming the economy, but it has rarely been enforced. Fewer than a dozen workers have been convicted under it, and none were sentenced to more than a one-year suspended sentence. Several more have been convicted under other legislation following labor-related protests.

Nonetheless, independent trade unionists, outside the state-sponsored unions, see in ETUF’s proposal the specter of a renewed attempt to crack down on strikes.

“It’s a foolish and oppressive initiative on the part of the state-controlled federation to attempt banning strikes for a whole year,” says Abbas. “How can we even begin to talk about suspensions of strikes when workers have received nothing? If the authorities grant workers their rights and liberties, they will find that strikes will naturally subside.”

He points out that workers have not been granted a monthly minimum wage of LE1200–1500, which they have been demanding for years, nor a law recognizing the legitimacy of their independent unions, nor improved insurance and pension plans, nor full-time contracts for full-time work, and so on.

“Strikes are ongoing as we speak and will continue to happen regardless of the legislation and initiatives issued to outlaw strikes and other industrial actions,” says Abbas.

Since its establishment in 1957, the state-controlled ETUF has only authorized two labor strikes: the 1993 national miners’ strike and the 2009 Tanta Flax & Oils Company strike.

“Nonetheless, hundreds of unauthorized strikes took place that the federation was unable to halt,” says Rashad.


The ETUF proposal appears to have little grip among rank-and-file workers, with fresh strikes planned in several sectors.

Dozens of ETUF members staged protest marches outside the Cabinet against the Constituent Assembly’s plans to scrap the 50 percent quota for workers and farmers in Parliament. ETUF members also demanded that their union elections be held as scheduled, without any additional delays.

As for the independent EFITU, hundreds of its members protested against the new regime’s heavy-handed crackdowns against protesting university students, striking teachers, bus drivers and unpaid agriculture workers. EFITU members also staged the marches and protests outside the Cabinet Wednesday, denouncing the Manpower Ministry’s draft law on trade union liberties, along with the ETUF’s calls for a yearlong strike ban.

*Photo by Virginie Nguyen

Egyptian tortured to death, another shot dead by police

Agence France Presse
Egyptian 'tortured to death' by police: NGO

Thursday 20 Sep 2012

An Egyptian was "tortured" to death and another shot dead by police north of Cairo, a human rights group said Thursday, urging authorities to act over what it said was an extremely dangerous development.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a leading NGO in the country, said several officers from the village of Mit Ghamr in Daqahliyah province were behind the September 16 deaths.

It said it has "collected evidence including medical certificates, photographs and videos" to back its accusations.

The group said the incident occurred when police raided cafes in the village, beating people and breaking furniture.

Village residents protested outside the police station and one of them, Atef al-Menassi, went to the police to file a complaint against an officer.

"He was then attacked by the officers and policemen with rife butts and tortured," the rights group said.

"They did the same thing with another resident, Mustafa Mohammed Mustafa, who accompanied Atef."

Later "the two men were released, but Atef was unconscious and he died on the way to hospital," it said.

Clashes erupted after his death, with locals throwing rocks at police who first fired in the air and later at demonstrators, killing Mohammed Abdel Abdellatiff "in cold blood" and seriously wounding another in the head.

Karim Annara, an official with the rights group, said: "This is not an isolated incident" and shows that the police force "is more like an armed gang... the torture and murder are increasing by the day."

He called on the authorities to intervene and put an end to this "extremely dangerous development."

Cairo activists defend revolutionary mural after whitewash by authorities

Associated Press

Cairo activists defend revolutionary mural as city tries to whitewash it

September 20, 2012

Sarah El Deeb

CAIRO—Under cover of darkness, a few municipal workers quietly began to paint over a landmark of Egypt’s revolution: the giant mural situated on a street that saw some of the most violent clashes between protesters and police over the past two years.

The mural, stretching three blocks along a wall off Cairo’s Tahrir Square, has been a sort of open-air museum of the history of the revolution and its goals — with “martyr” portraits of slain protesters, graffiti, jokes, freedom slogans.

Word of the whitewash quickly got out. A number of young revolutionaries showed up to defend the murals. In the dead of night, they began to film the workers as they painted under the guard of police, hoping to embarrass them. They talked with the painters about what the murals meant.

Arab Awakening: Egypt

The scene on Mohammed Mahmoud St. in the early hours Wednesday was a small but telling counterpoint to last week’s angry protests outside the U.S. Embassy, led by ultraconservative Islamists protesting an anti-Islam film. Those protests took place only a few blocks away, on another street off Tahrir.

Together, the scenes point to the political tug-of-war over the identity of the new Egypt, what it now stands for and what can be expressed.

The mix of largely secular activists who launched the revolt last year against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak say the “revolution” will continue until the country breaks with its authoritarian past and brings freedoms and economic justice.

The Islamists, who rode to power after Mubarak’s ouster, have their own vision for Egypt, which they say should adhere to an “Islamic identity” as they define it.

The government says it has launched a campaign to beautify Tahrir Square, the centre of anti-Mubarak protests. But activists see it as an attempt to blot out the calls for continued revolution and to assert its own view that a new and stable system is now in place under elected Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

“They are erasing history,” Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the father of a 19-year-old killed during the early days of anti-Mubarak protests, said as he stood at the mural street. “This is not my government. It doesn’t represent me.”

For some, repainting the wall just underlined the feeling that the Islamists have snatched the prizes of the revolution.

“This is not about the wall. It is about everything happening in Egypt,” said Nazly Hussein, one of the first to arrive at the scene to protest the paint job with a camera, live streaming the workers as they covered murals. “It is about territory they took away from us.”

The anti-film protests, she said, showed how under Morsi’s three-month-old rule progressives were still fighting for basic issues like freedom of expression. She pointed to government crackdowns on strikes and the recent sentencing of a Coptic Christian to six years in prison for insulting Morsi and the Prophet Muhammad.

“Our real battle is about freedom. Now we are fighting about the right to insult the president or not,” she said. “All those (martyrs painted) on the wall died for bread, freedom and social justice.”

After the intervention by activists, the municipal workers stopped the whitewashing at daybreak with only half the mural painted over. Graffiti artists moved in to start putting new images on the now white walls. By late Wednesday night, the municipal workers hadn’t returned to finish their job, amid the media uproar over the mural erasure.

The first drawing to go up was a portrait of a young man sticking his green tongue as a taunt. “Do it again! Erase, you cowardly regime,” was written beneath it.

Graffiti artist Ahmed Nadi painted a new caricature of Morsi, smiling smugly, with the words, “Happy now, Morsi?”

Ali Saleh, a 53-year old security guard at a nearby school, said the murals must stay as a reminder to authorities of the mistakes they committed.

“If we give up the graffiti, this would be the first nail in the coffin,” he said. “We are in for a worse dictatorship than Mubarak’s.”

In an apparent damage control gesture, Morsi’s Prime Minister Hesham Kandil said the whitewashing went against “intent to preserve the memory of the revolution,” and urged artists to turn Tahrir Square into a space that commemorates the revolution’s martyrs.

Many Egyptians just want stability after more than 20 months of turmoil. Some residents of the Mohammed Mahmoud area were happy to see the murals go, ending a reminder of the battles on their doorstep.

“This is ugly,” said Nour Nagati, referring to the graffiti of a man with his tongue out. “Paint me a flower, paint me a tree. This is a symbol of stability. But this provocation will only perpetuate provocation.”

Abdel-Karim Abu Bakr, a passerby, said the time for using the walls for protest was over.

“We had a revolution, we changed the regime. Let’s calm down ... we can’t have a revolution every day.”

No concessions in government crackdown on strikes

Egypt Independent

No carrot, only stick: No concessions in government crackdown on strikes

Wed, 19/09/2012

Jano Charbel

The beginning of the academic year this week was inaugurated with a host of strikes by employees across sectors — public bus drivers, teachers and administrative educational employees, university workers, students and industrial workers.

Violent dispersals, arrests and harassment have cost President Mohamed Morsy and Prime Minister Hesham Qandil some criticism for holding their stick hard against the labor movement.

This crackdown poses a dilemma. Questions are increasing regarding what the new regime can do with ongoing labor unrest, empty coffers and the inability to respond by granting some economic concessions, as per official statements.

For some, the alternative is  to grant political and organizational concessions. But that strategy remains unclear.

An independent group called the Popular Front for a Civil State issued a statement calling on authorities to hold security forces accountable for “forcibly breaking up a sit-in occupation at Nile University while threatening and terrorizing striking [Public Transport Authority] workers.” A number of human rights NGOs have issued similar statements.

Independent workers’ organizations including the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress and the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions have also issued statements denouncing the crackdowns.

The trade union federation’s online statement, declared: “The government of Hesham Qandil and presidency of Mohamed Morsy have clearly displayed their enmity toward labor,” adding this was exemplified in “the arrest of striking workers and assaults on female workers at the hands of security services.”

The labor congress mentions that the state “has returned to its old habits.” The statement denounces “the referral of tens of striking teachers to disciplinary hearings and investigations” along with “the riot police’s siege of striking PTA workers in their garages” and the “arrest of a PTA strike leader.”

This statement also decries the “police attack” on tree-planting workers protesting at the Agriculture Ministry in Giza, which led to injuries for both male and female workers and seven arrests.

The state-owned media denounced the partial strikes led by PTA workers and teachers as “failed” strikes that harm the country’s economy, transportation and education. State newspapers have criticized strikers’ demands as being “unrealistic” or “unfeasible.” The state-controlled media has reiterated the regime’s inability to meet demands in light of depleted public coffers.

Members of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party — the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm — have also openly denounced industrial actions. Several weeks ago, Hassan al-Brince, a former MP and leading figure in the FJP, declared that workers’ protests and sit-ins outside the presidential palace are being organized by counter-revolutionary forces that aim to topple Morsy, giving the impression that he is unable to resolve their problems.

In an interview this week with a state-owned paper, Sabry Amer — an FJP parliamentarian and former chairman of the People’s Assembly Transportation and Telecommunications Committee — stated that PTA workers were committing “an act of treason” by striking and halting public transport.


PTA workers launched a partial strike on 15 September, the first day of school. They announced they would escalate this into a comprehensive strike the following day, involving all 27 garages across greater Cairo. PTA workers have launched numerous strikes demanding they be made part of the Transportation Ministry rather than Cairo Governorate.

However, the strike, called for by the Independent Union of PTA workers, did not spill over into all the other garages, as had been announced. Some workers affiliated with the state-controlled General Union of Land Transport Workers did not heed the call.

On 16 September, hundreds of Central Security Forces troops were deployed outside the Mazallat and Imbaba garages, which were at the heart of the strike. These riot police forces stormed the Imbaba Garage and arrested Tareq al-Beheiry, an organizer and spokesperson for the independent PTA union.

His arrest led to the PTA strike wave spreading from two garages to nine the following day. Pending investigations by the public prosecutor, Beheiry was jailed for nearly three days before being released on 18 September.

Bus driver and strike leader Ali Fattouh says five garages were on total strike while 22 others were operating at 30 percent capacity, and about 7,000 to 8,000 workers out of 45,000 are now on strike.

“Beheiry was arrested and had trumped-up charges leveled against him because he is an independent unionist, our union’s official spokesman and a brave strike leader. It was a threat and a message directed against all us strikers. It was an attempt to intimidate us into calling off our strike,” says Fattouh.

Beheiry’s lawyer, Malek Adly, who works at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, points out that “the strike is a right, not a crime.”

“The labor policies of Morsy and Qandil are even fouler than those of [former President Hosni Mubarak,” Adly says, explaining that Beheiry was the PTA workers’ chief negotiator with the Manpower Ministry. “PTA officials presented the police and prosecutors with falsified charges against this independent unionist, which is why he was arrested and interrogated. Even the Mubarak regime didn’t resort to such lowly tactics against independent union organizers.”

The Brotherhood is in the process of scrapping the Trade Union Liberties Draft Law, which was prepared under former Manpower Minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai, the labor lawyer explains. The new minister, Khaled al-Azhary, is “working on a new trade union law prepared exclusively by the Brotherhood,” he says.

“The new regime is not presenting workers with social or economic rights, nor political or organizational rights. The regime is increasingly responding to strikes by security crackdowns,” Adly adds.

Fattouh says PTA workers embarked on strikes in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 — during Mubarak’s rule — yet “no such punitive actions” were taken against them. “We’re not asking the state for money, we’re asking for a clear stance as to where the PTA stands, under whose jurisdiction,” he says. “We demand to be administered under the Transportation Ministry or as an independent authority.”

The bus driver sees a problem affecting all sectors. “All authorities are washing their hands,” Fattouh says. “As workers, we are all facing a bleak prospect. We have no real right to organize or strike.”


Teachers and administrative academic employees began nationwide protests on 8 September. These protests escalated into a large sit-in outside the Cabinet building on 10 September, followed by partial strikes in schools with the beginning of the academic year on 15 September.

Teachers and administrative employees had launched a nationwide strike last year, at the same time and with the same unmet demands. These include establishing a fixed minimum wage and incremental pay raises, giving full-time contracts for full-time work, restructuring the Education Ministry and purging it of corruption, and eliminating the phenomenon of private tutoring.

While about 5,000 out of a million teachers and administrative employees are reportedly striking, the strike has not affected all governorates.

More than 20 striking teachers have been referred to disciplinary hearings and, reportedly, several might be referred to prosecutors on charges of instigation and/or “disrupting the academic year.” On the third day of the strike, police tore down teachers’ tents and dispersed their sit-in outside the Cabinet.

Nonetheless, dozens of teachers regrouped and launched a new sit-in the following day, in defiance of the police. These punitive measures have been criticized by the independent teachers’ syndicates, which organized the actions, on the basis that they deny members the right to strike or protest.

One protester from Giza, who asked to remain anonymous, says the Education Ministry “claims it respects our right to protest, but not our right to strike... We’re not protesting and striking for the sake of bringing down the educational and academic system. We’re striving to improve our conditions and our students’ educational conditions,” he says.

In response to this second academic year of strikes and protests, the Cabinet declared it had secured US$1.3 billion to increase teachers’ salaries. Yet teachers claim that these pay raises, if issued, would not be given out before November. “We’ve seen little to no change since the revolution. Morsy claims that he stands with the teachers and working classes, yet we haven’t seen this translated into reality,” the teacher says.

During the days of the Mubarak regime, officials would give them no responses to grievances — now they receive responses but no actions, according to the teacher.

“We hope that Morsy will not resort to Mubarak regime policies,” the teacher says.

*This story was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly Print Edition.
**Photo courtesy of Al-Masry Al-Youm

Cairo public transport strike off to an uncertain start

Egypt Independent 

Cairo public transport strike off to an uncertain start

Mon, 17/09/2012

Jano Charbel

Several thousand bus drivers, mechanics, engineers and fare collectors employed at the Public Transport Authority went on strike Saturday and Sunday. Although a comprehensive strike — involving all 45,000 PTA employees — was planned across greater Cairo Sunday, only a handful of garages witnessed strike action on the first day of Egypt’s academic year.

Ever since August 2009, some 45,000 PTA employees have been demanding that they be merged under the Transportation Ministry, rather than Cairo Governorate. These employees have also been demanding improved wages and working conditions, along with bonuses, healthcare, insurance plans and the purging of PTA officials deemed to be corrupt, among other demands.

Striking workers at the Mazallat Garage in Shubra say the comprehensive strike scheduled for Sunday has been pushed back until Wednesday.

“We have given the authorities another three days to meet our demands before we embark on our comprehensive and open-ended strike in all 27 garages,” says Ahmed Abdel Aziz, vice president of the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Employees at the Mazallat Garage.

The strikers in Mazallat claim that another six PTA garages — Imbaba, Tera’a, Athar al-Naby, Tiba, Giza and Gisr al-Suez — were also involved in Sunday’s strike, although not all the workers at these garages were striking.

On the other hand, state-owned media reports mention that only two garages were involved in Sunday’s strike — Mazallat and Imbaba. State newspapers have called it “a failed strike.”

State radio services denounced the strike on the basis that it “obstructs the wheels of production” and “prevents students from attending their classes” on the first day of the academic year, also mentioning that “legal measures may be taken against instigators.”

Indeed, legal measures have been taken against a strike leader from the Imbaba PTA Garage on Sunday afternoon. Tareq al-Beheiry, president of the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Employees at the Imbaba Garage, was arrested by security forces on charges of instigating labor unrest.

“The PTA officials are attempting to outlaw our right to strike, just as they attempted to deny us our right to establish independent unions,” says Abdel Aziz.

The PTA’s Independent Union Federation was established on 24 March last year. Since then, some 22,000 PTA employees have quit the state-controlled General Union for Land Transport and joined independent unions, the federation says.

Ten riot-police trucks loaded with hundreds of troops were deployed outside the Mazallat Garage Sunday. Abdel Aziz says PTA chief Mona Mostafa “called for the deployment of the Central Security Forces here today; she falsely claimed that we workers might resort to smashing up our buses in protest.”

Another striking worker, Fawzy al-Sayed, says, “How and why would we destroy our buses? These buses are our source of income through which we support our families.”

Sayed, a fare collector, takes out his monthly pay slip from his shirt pocket, unfolds it and points to a box on the left-hand side of the slip.

“I’ve been working at the PTA for the past 25 years and I earn only LE643 per month. This includes bonuses,” he says.

Striking bus driver Ibrahim Abdel Wahed displays his pay slip, revealing his meager LE787 monthly wage.

“I’ve been licensed to drive the PTA’s largest buses, and have been doing so for the past 23 years. Yet I have to work a second job as a taxi driver to feed my wife and three children, just to make ends meet,” Abdel Wahed says.

Dozens of other PTA employees shout in near unison, “We all have other occupations” — typically as taxi and tuk tuk drivers or janitors.

A disgruntled bus driver, Shokry Seif, asks, “How are we expected to transport children to their schools when we can’t even afford to send our children to school?”

Regarding the timing of their strike, Seif says, “We are not trying to keep students from attending their schools or trying to halt Egypt’s wheels of production, as they claim. On the contrary, we are striking to demand improved public bus services. We are striking to demand financial and administrative accountability within the PTA, and we are striking to purge the authority of all corrupt figures.”

“We demand improved services and an accountable PTA, not only for our sake and the sake of our children, but for the sake of all commuters, for the sake of Egypt and its national budget,” he says.

Seif says the former transportation minister had revealed that 49 percent of all PTA buses are not suitable for passenger transport. The Transportation Ministry and PTA board members were not available for comment.

Mazallat’s strikers pledge to continue their strike until the PTA becomes affiliated to the Ministry of Transport.

“This is our primary demand which our elected Parliament had agreed to, and was in the process of authorizing,” says Abdel Wahed. “Since then, we’ve turned to the Shura Council and Transportation Ministry for their intercession, to no avail, however.”

Bus driver and independent union organizer Ali Fattouh explains that the People’s Assembly Transportation and Telecommunications Committee was due to authorize the PTA’s merger with the Transportation Ministry during its session on 19 June 2012.

Fattouh expresses his disappointment with the court-ordered dissolution of Parliament on 14 June, just days ahead of this long-anticipated decree.

Labor protests on the rise, across sectors

A wave of fresh labor protests has hit the country this week at schools, universities and government bodies, mostly demanding better wages and improved working conditions.

On Sunday, the second day of the new school year, thousands of workers at 13 public universities demanded pay equal to that of teaching staff and the ability to participate in university leadership elections. Some workers started a strike, threatening to continue until their demands are met.

While protesting employees demanding higher salaries at Cairo University shut its gates for more than two hours, students at Helwan University demonstrated to complain about delays in making accommodation available at the students’ hostel. Students at the American University in Cairo also protested increased study fees.

Teachers have also escalated their strike, demanding the application of a new teacher payment scheme recently approved by President Mohamed Morsy. Abdel Nasser Ismail, a representative of a teachers’ association, said support for the strike has reached 100 percent of technical education schools nationwide, adding that security authorities have threatened some teachers with detention.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Ibrahim Ghoneim and the Teachers' Syndicate have played down the strike and questioned its true scope.

Workers at the Public Transport Authority also started a strike at six garages in response to an invitation by the Independent Staff Syndicate, demanding that its authority be transferred to the Transportation Ministry and calling for better payments. The other 22 garages did not take part in the strike.

While the official staff syndicate said that the strike had failed, protesting workers said other garages will join force Wednesday if demands are ignored.

In statements to Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mona Mostafa, head of the Public Transportation Authority, described strikes as uncivilized actions because they halted necessary actions at the beginning of the school year.

She said the strike had failed and that negotiations were under way with protesters at two garages. Mostafa stressed that legal action would be taken against the strike’s instigators, adding that the authority had prepared contingency plans for affected citizens.

Protests also reached the judiciary as workers at the Cairo Appeals Court, the New Cairo and Abbasseya courts, and the High Court of Justice protested a 10 percent salary cut. The protests brought activities inside the court to a halt.

At the Agriculture Ministry, hundreds of casual workers at ministry departments in Fayoum, Daqahlia, Kafr al-Sheikh and Beheira stormed the building and announced a sit-in inside calling for permanent employment.

*Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm
**Photo by Nadia Ahmed

Egypt: Wave of strikes begins on 1st day of academic year

Ahram Online
Wave of strikes begins on first day of Egypt's new academic year

University workers and bus drivers strike demanding better working conditions; school teachers threaten to strike Sunday, the first day of the new school year

September 15, 2012

On the first day of the new academic year, and the eve of the school year, Egypt is witnessing what appears to be the beginning of a wave of strikes. Many university workers and bus drivers have declared the beginning of a strike, sending out a call for others to join.

Workers of Egypt's Cairo, Beni Soueif, Fayoum, Banha and Damanhour universities started an open-ended strike Saturday, confirmed Haitham Mohamadein of the Federation of Independent Trade Union, speaking to Ahram Online.

The Coalition of University Workers had already released a statement last Tuesday declaring they would start a strike on the first day of the university year: 15 September for some and 16 September for others. The coalition further stated it would be hold an open-ended sit-in at the Cabinet headquarters building in downtown Cairo starting Tuesday, 18 September.

The demands put forward by workers include protecting the legal position of university workers by incorporating them under the University Organisation Law No 49 of 1972, providing university workers with the right to elect heads of universities and giving workers the right to attend the meetings of the Supreme Council of Universities.

Other demands put forward include that all university deputies are chosen by elections and not appointment, for all temporary workers to be given permanent contracts, for bonuses to increase to LE2000, LE1500, LE1000, LE750 depending on seniority, increasing overtime pay by 50 per cent, increasing incentive rewards by 400 per cent, and increasing exam bonuses to a 600 working days pay instead of 450.

Meanwhile, drivers of two public bus stations, that of Giza's Imbaba district and Cairo's Mazalat Station located in the district of Shubra, also declared the beginning of a strike for higher wages. Other stations are expected to follow suit after the end of the first day's shift at 2pm, according to Mohamadein.

Earlier last week, school teachers threatened to go on strike starting the first day of school, Sunday, if their demands are not met. Teachers say they want higher wages and permanent contracts. It is not known whether they will indeed strike tomorrow or not.

Egypt in recent years has witnessed an increase in labour strikes, especially after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Mass strikes are also believed to have played an important role in the buildup to the January 25 Revolution and in the final departure of Mubarak 11 February 2011.

Religion & Outrage in Cairo

The Majalla

Religion and Outrage in Cairo

Wednesday, 12 Sep, 2012 

Alastair Beach

The death of the American ambassador to Libya following the Prophet Mohammed film controversy shines a spotlight on difficult questions of religious belief in Egypt.

Congratulations to Sam Bacile, the Israeli property developer who was reportedly behind the knuckle-headed video which last night appeared to lead to the deaths of five Americans, one of them the ambassador to Libya.

The film, which was also allegedly backed by a consortium of wealthy Jewish funders, depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a fraud.

Mr Bacile, who today appeared stubbornly unrepentant, obviously knows which buttons to push.

His decidedly ham-fisted effort also triggered angry protests outside the American embassy in Cairo last night.

Demonstrators climbed the walls of the Downtown compound, eventually replacing the Stars and Stripes with a black flag often used by fundamentalist Muslims.

Yet the demonstration, which at its rowdiest numbered just a few thousand, was relatively contained. Police officers managed to persuade protesters to get off the wall without resorting to their batons, and eventually the numbers fizzled out.

In Libya it appears things took an alarmingly violent turn. The US consulate in Benghazi came under fire from a mob carrying guns and rocket-propelled grenades, with the assailants intent on using the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to carry out their spectacular crime.

So back to Sam Bacile, a man whose moronic foray into religious critique has now secured him a position in history alongside the publishers of the infamous Danish cartoons, or murdered Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh.

But he is not the only one with questions to answer.

Why did the actions of one idiot compel a gang of outraged gunmen to murder five Americans in Libya?

Why couldn’t the thousands of Egyptian Salafis who marched on the US embassy last night not just dismiss Bacile for who he is – an ignoramus not worth a single drop of angry, tarmac-chant spittle?
Everyone else knows Bacile is a fool, so why turn him into the martyr he so clearly wants to be?

Yesterday’s events once again threw a spotlight onto the ever-present bugbear of religion in Egyptian political life.

Last week I was sat under the blazing strip-lights of Hurreya, the historical hangout of beer-sozzled intellectuals in Downtown Cairo.

With me were a group of six atheists, huddled like wanted fugitives into one corner of the bar. It was their weekly meeting – a chance to discuss Dawkins and Darwin away from the skeptical ears of family and friends.

“My parents would have a heart attack if they knew I was an atheist,” said one, when asked what his mother and father thought about his beliefs.

When one considers the anger and sheer disbelief which many Egyptians feel when their faith is questioned – a point underlined by events in Libya and Cairo’s US embassy – it is no wonder atheists feel they have to live hidden lives.