Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chomsky - Emerging World Order & the Arab Spring

Noam Chomsky | Emerging World Order and the Arab Spring

Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood targets trade unions

Al-Akhbar English

Egypt: Brotherhood Targets Trade Unions

 October 28, 2012 

Trade union leaders in Egypt are joined in opposing the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to rights and freedoms for union action.

Cairo - “Their attitude to workers, trade unions and economic and social rights is even more hostile than that of the National Democratic Party,” Egypt’s now-dissolved former ruling party. That is the verdict of Kamal Abu Aita, head of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), on the performance in power of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Abu Aita was particularly critical of the behaviour of the MB’s labor minister, Khaled al-Azhari, charging that there was evidence he had been actively inciting employers and management against protesting workers in various institutions.

“What happened during the protests by Cairo University is a good example,” he said. “He contacted the dean of the medical faculty at the university and told him to pay no attention to the independent trade union and deemed it to be illegal.”

The veteran activist, who helped set up Egypt’s first independent trade union after the successful January 2007 property tax collectors’ strike, came to his conclusion about the MB’s attitude through his experience of dealing with its leaders - particularly after the MB withdrew its earlier support for a new law on trade union freedoms, which Abu Aita had been promoting as a member of the now-dissolved parliament.

The legislation was drafted by the previous labor minister, Hassan al-Boraei, after wide-ranging social dialogue consultations with various stakeholders, including trade unions and political groups. But its passage was blocked by parliament’s labor committee by representatives of the MB’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) .

The FJP members of the committee instead sought to push through amendments to the existing trade union law, which dates from 1976. But the process was halted when the then-ruling Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolved the legislature, citing a court ruling that the electoral law under which it was elected was unconstitutional.

Abu Aita, who opposed the amendments in parliament prior to its dissolution, believes that “these very same amendments are what Khaled al-Azhari is now trying to get passed.” He said the minister was planning to incorporate them into a legislative decree that would be issued by President Mohamed Mursi, who has assumed law-making powers for himself in the absence of a parliament, pending fresh elections.

These provisions include, among other things, a ban on more than one trade union operating in a single workplace.

These plans were confirmed to Al-Akhbar by Nagi Rashad, a member of the temporary board of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which was appointed pending fresh internal elections after the old board was dissolved post-revolution.“I have verified information from sources I trust that the final draft is currently being completed by the legal committee at the presidency,” Rashad said.

Rashad was a prominent figure in the Egyptian labor movement prior to the revolution, who secured a landmark administrative court ruling compelling the government to set a minimum wage, and was seen as close to leftist circles. He is now considered one of the very few members of the new ETUF board who is close to the labor minister.

The board has filed a lawsuit against Azhari’s decision to defer the union’s elections by six months, which it says oversteps his ministry’s legal powers which are confined to organizing the elections under judicial supervision.

Rashad has been trying to reconcile the two sides, and said he was planning to arrange a meeting between them this week to resolve the escalating quarrel between the ETUF and the government – perhaps the first rift between them since the union was formed –which has reached unprecedented new heights. The minister was even expelled from his position on the ETUF board, which he had retained despite being appointed to the government of Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.

Rashad charged that opponents of the proposed amendments were acting out of self-interest, because the provisions on retirement due to disability or age would be likely to force a number of the current ETUF board members out of their jobs.

A different line was taken by Abdul Moneim al-Gamal, who was a member of the ETUF board before the revolution and retained his position on the new one. He said he was opposed to the amendments as a matter of principle, “in line with the international conventions that Egypt has signed, which prohibit government interference in the internal affairs of the unions.” 
The ETUF, and especially its veteran leaders like Gamal, are scarcely in a position to speak about international conventions. They have long been fierce opponents of the establishment of independent trade unions and of trade union plurality, which these conventions uphold but local laws prevented.

“Matters are not as they are being portrayed,” Gamal told Al-Akhbar. “ I am not opposed to trade union plurality in principle, but I am opposed to it getting out of hand, as that would risk fragmenting trade union work.”

The mutual hostility between the ETUF and EFITU reflects the political nature of their rivalry. The former has been closely aligned to the state throughout its history. The latter was inaugurated in Tahrir Square, cradle of the revolution, during its first few days, joining together dozens of independently formed trade unions.

Now the MB seems unwittingly to have brought that hostility to an end, as both sides join forces to oppose it.

*This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Egypt: 727 reported cases of sexual harassment during Eid

Mon, 29/10/2012

This week's Eid al-Adha holidays saw 727 cases of verbal and sexual harassment reported across Egypt, typically taking place in public gathering places, malls and movie theaters, beaches and squares, said security sources on Monday.

The “Seen Harassment” activist initiative spotted several cases in downtown Cairo, especially on Talaat Harb Street, and accused Prime Minister Hesham Qandil of failing to take necessary security measures to prevent such violations.

The initiative was launched earlier this month by six women's rights organizations against sexual harassment that provide free legal support for women who are exposed to harassment or physical violence.

In a report issued on Sunday, the initiative described three cases of harassment that took place in front of police officers who failed to react or intervene. The cases included a 17-year-old girl being harassed by a soldier near Qasr al-Nil Bridge; a young man in his twenties violently pulling a girl by her hair and kissing her; and a veiled girl being harassed while walking with her fiancé, all before the eyes of the police who did not interfere.

The report added that a female member of the initiative was harassed while recording an interview with a television channel in Talaat Harb Square.

The initiative criticized the manner the police deal with harassment complaints as improper and typically allowing offenders to get away with the abuse. The activists held the Interior Ministry responsible for protecting citizens.

Qandil said in a press statement last week that the government was working on a bill for more severe punishments for sexual harassment, which he described as a disastrous and strange phenomenon in Egyptian society.

Activists have long called for amending the Penal Code and to punish harassers, whether men or women, by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, and a fine not exceeding LE1 thousand.

Earlier this month women protested outside the presidential palace in Cairo, demanding President Mohamed Morsy issue sanctions against harassment.

According to a recent study published by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign visitors experienced one or various forms of harassment in Egypt.

*Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

Ain Sokhna Port strike ends, but demands remain

Egypt Independent

Ain Sokhna Port crisis ends, but demands remain

Fri, 26/10/2012

Jano Charbel

While workers at the Ain Sokhna Port called off their 12-day long strike and returned to work on Wednesday after reaching a settlement with the Dubai Ports World company, the Ministry of Manpower, Suez Governorate, and the presidential envoy, the strikers' chief demand of reinstating eight sacked co-workers is still being addressed.

Mohamed Fouad, President's Mohamed Morsy's legal affairs adviser, and Dispute Settlement Secretary of the Ministry of Manpower Nahed al-Ashri were able to reach an agreement with management and strikers by which to re-operate the strategic Red Sea port - offering them concessions and pledges to meet their demands. 

By Wednesday, one of the eight sacked workers agreed to terminate his contract with the company and accepted a monetary compensation, while the seven others are being reinstated pending an administrative disciplinary hearing from DP World regarding their role in inciting strikes at the port.

Meanwhile a joint panel has been formed - consisting of the governor of Suez, Suez's security chief, DP World management representatives, and workers' representatives - to address the rest of the demands and grievances raised by workers in this strike and in previous strikes .

This latest strike, which translated into a complete work stoppage came about following the sacking of eight workers on 12 October and escalated into an acrimonious dispute that threatened to damage not only DP World, but the wider Egyptian economy.

The 2,000 DP World workers have ceased all work at the strategic port, bringing DP World to a standstill. More than 800 were involved occupying the port in shifts, said Ayman Abdallah, one of the workers who was dismissed, at presser held by the workers last Monday. 

Since last year, port workers have also been demanding job security, full-time contracts for full-time work, overdue profit-sharing payments, periodic bonuses, hazard compensation and improved working conditions. The failure to realize these demands, coupled with the dismissal of eight workers earlier this month, led workers to launch their open-ended strike.

The workers who were dismissed produced a memorandum of understanding signed by DP World officials, the Red Sea governor, and the Manpower Ministry, stating: “No workers are to be harassed or laid off because of the aforementioned demands.”

DP World officials claim they laid off the eight workers in compliance with the Unified Labor Law 12/2003. The sacked workers disagree.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Mohamed Abdel Ghany — one of the eight fired workers — commented, “We received notices from DP World claiming that we were fired due to our incompetence as workers.”

“Why are we today deemed to be incompetent?” asked Abdel Ghany, who has been employed at the port for the past 16 years. “It is because they have no other excuse with which to fire us, and they’re not willing to admit that they fired us because we helped organize an independent union at our workplace, or that we helped organize the strike.”

Abdallah, who has been employed at the port for 14 years, agreed. “Why did they hold on to us for more than a decade?” he asked.

Abdallah argued that this was a punitive measure taken by DP World against the eight workers in light of their organizing.

“Such punitive sackings are a blatant violation of the Labor Law,” he said.

A third dismissed worker, Osama Saad, said they were fired because they were “the eight most vocal workers at the port.”

“Our coworkers are striking in solidarity with us and demanding our reinstatement,” he said. “Yet they are striking not merely for our sake, but out of fear and a sense of insecurity that they too may be fired in the future for demanding their rights.”

Regarding lost revenue, DP World officials have said the port has lost LE120 million in the first eight days of the strike alone — averaging LE15 million of losses each day.

Moreover, Kadmar, a local transit company that ships Turkish goods to Saudi Arabia, has stated that the strike at Ain Sokhna port has forced the company to reroute its shipments via Israel. Saudi-bound shipments, which were due to pass through Ain Sokhna, have been redirected to the Israeli port of Haifa, and are then transferred overland via Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

Kadmar officials have threatened of canceling its export contracts from Turkey to Egypt if the strike was to continue. 

Abdallah explained that, in light of the Ain Sokhna strike, many shipments were transferred to the nearby Red Sea port of Adabiya rather than Israel’s Haifa. This statement could not be independently verified, however, as Kadmar and DP World officials could not be reached for comment.

Both Kadmar and DP World claimed their businesses are being negatively affected as a result of the Ain Sokhna strike. Kadmar and DP World also pointed to the national economy, saying it is hurting as a result of this strike.

Commenting on the millions of pounds of lost revenue, Abdallah said that if the company heeded the workers’ demands, it would cost them about LE10 million.

“Instead they (were) resisting, and have led us to strike, and in doing so have incurred more than LE120 million in losses,” he said.

Abdallah did concede that “these losses are not in Egypt’s interest.” But, he said, the strike “serves to protect the interests of Egypt’s workers.”

With more than 60 terminals across six continents, DP World is the world’s third largest port operator.

Media reports last week suggested the strikers were threatening to escalate their actions by burning down the port, but the dismissed workers vehemently denied these claims.

“These are lies,” Abdallah retorted. “How could we possibly burn down the port that is our source of income? It is propaganda directed against us and against our peaceful strike.”

“The government talks about protecting investors, but these are not investors — they are colonizers,” Saad said.

They also dispel rumors that they seized ships and prevented them from leaving the port.

*An earlier version of this piece appears in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.


More Egyptian atheists struggle to assert identity

Jano Charbel & Sherif Zaazaa

Five male members of an atheist group congregate in one of Cairo’s crowded downtown bars, sipping beer and Pepsi as they discuss their thoughts on religion, sex, science, culture, politics and Egypt’s new ruling regime.

This group — centered on an atheist website — has been holding weekly meetings since Mohamed Morsy won the presidential election on 24 June. It consists of both former Muslims and former Christians.

Mohamed, the group’s founder, says the group holds weekly get-togethers “as a forum where we can openly speak our minds.” Like the other atheists quoted in this story, his full name has not been used for his own security.

Group members say they do not seek to proselytize for their beliefs. “We are not a church, nor a religion,” one says.

Discussing the ongoing trial of Egyptian atheist Alber Saber on charges of blasphemy, in light of his Facebook posts, the same participant comments that this trial “makes me worried, and has made me think twice before posting my thoughts on Facebook.”

Discussing atheism or criticizing religion in Egypt has typically been done in closed circles like these.

Several Facebook groups about atheism have been “voluntarily” shut down over the past few weeks, and most atheists appear to be keeping a low profile since Saber’s arrest last month. On the other hand, other atheists have been coming out of the closet and expressing their beliefs — or disbelief — as openly as possible.


The Internet has connected many non-believers together, introducing them to a virtual community that shares many of their outlooks.

The widespread taboo of “thou shall not question” was gradually weakened with the advent of forums, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and credible research online.

Before the pervasive expansion of social networks in the region, the most prominent blog among non-believers was the Network of Arab Atheists, created in March 2006, Shady, another non-believer, explains.

Though it has been hacked many times, the site acted as a portal for many atheists in Egypt and the region. However, anonymity remained the norm for most members.

Since then, the number of Arab atheist groups, blogs and forums has been dramatically increasing.

Most sites haven’t been set up to promote atheism, as Mohamed explains, but rather as forums for like-minded people to share their thoughts.

He says there’s been a massive increase in new members since the revolution. “The numbers went up dramatically, more than tenfold; it’s as if people were waiting for that space of freedom to express themselves openly.”

Offline meetings are regularly organized through his group, although the locations are never publicly advertised.

What is possible or permissible — in terms of atheists’ freedom of expression — is determined not only by Egypt’s criminal law, but also by law enforcement officials and popular religious sentiment.


In Egypt, atheists represent a small segment of the population that refuses to adhere to religious doctrines. This tendency has been more or less tolerated, as long as atheists keep their beliefs to themselves.

On the other hand, disseminating atheistic views can be viewed as blasphemy, denigration, defamation or contempt of religion — all crimes punishable by law.

Mob violence, as in the case of Saber, is also a threat that some atheists fear.

The state “does not recognize atheism, as a belief or religion, by law,” says Sherif Azer of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

Egyptians can’t put “atheist’ on their national ID cards in the space allocated for religion, Azer explains. They must choose from three religions: Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

One atheist, Ahmed, says atheism “is not a religion, it is the lack of religion. I do not want it written on my ID. I don’t want to have any beliefs written on anyone’s ID.”

He explains that, given the conservative nature of society, most other Egyptian atheists would probably be unwilling to have “atheist” written on their ID cards, out of fear of discriminatory treatment or abuse at the hands of officials and employers.

According to the Penal Code, there are three articles criminalizing such affronts.

Article 98(e) stipulates that “the contempt of heavenly religions” by written, oral or any other means is punishable by six months to five years in prison, and/or fines of LE500 to LE1,000.

According to Article 160, the desecration of religious symbols is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years, and/or fines of LE100 to LE500.

Article 161 stipulates that mocking a religion or religious rite in public is a crime carrying the same penalties as Article 160.

Azer says the willingness to tolerate or criminalize atheism is still being tested under President Mohamed Morsy.

“The Morsy government isn’t clearly against or with these freedoms. We still have the same laws and same mentalities as before,” he says.


While it might be tolerated to one extent or another, atheism is not welcome among religious societies in Egypt. Families can go as far as disowning their own relatives, friends might turn away, and, in more conservative communities, the reactions to atheism and/or atheists can be calamitous.

Neveen, at 27, is a graduate of biology school who lost her faith in religion years ago. Egypt Independent sat in on an informal discussion with her and several of her friends who share a similar understanding of the world.

Their stories of growing up in a country saturated with religious beliefs reveal intolerance to any mindset that deviates from the “God-sent” norms.

“Why are we hated for the way our minds are wired?” she exclaims despondently, sitting with a few friends who share her beliefs. “Why are we scorned, looked down upon and persecuted for our personal logic?”

She recalls being grounded for questioning a verse in the Quran that conflicted with what she had learned in biology about the stages of fetal development. The incident propelled her yearning for knowledge and her choice of career.

Her friend Mohamed says he has been living a secret life, hiding his atheism from his parents since the age of 19, pretending to fast and pray when he’s called to.

“I put my head down and act the way they do. I know they’ll never understand,” he explains in a somber tone.

Conversely, Shady is a non-religious agnostic whose lack of participation in religious traditions like fasting and praying constantly raises the question of “Why?” — a question he refuses to answer for fear of prejudice.

A lack of Abrahamic belief is often associated with an absence of morals. “Many believe the stick-and- carrot dogma of religion is what creates human ethics,” Shady explains.

He then recalls how a Salafi coworker responded to a mention of atheists with “Killing them would not suffice.”

Yet a few atheists also express haughty and judgmental outlooks on their religious counterparts.
For example, Mido says, “I personally see religious people as being mentally ill. I could still love them and befriend them, but I do feel superior to them, to be honest.”


Abdel Aziz, an atheist and advocate for freedom of thought, left Egypt for South Africa after failing to find any common ground with the culture he was raised in. Although his family had accepted his way of life, he couldn’t deal with a society that treated him like an outcast.

He recalls the day when he attempted to change the religion slot on his national ID from Muslim to vacant, which ended in a contentious, fruitless argument on both sides.

Ahmed has a different opinion regarding Egyptian mentalities toward atheists.

“I think [atheism] has already been spreading among the community, especially over the last decade,” Ahmed says.

He thinks that “more people will come to question the fundamentals of [religion].”

As for Mido, who has more recently ‘come out’ of the atheist closet, he believes that the ideas are spreading.

“But I don’t see it taking over religion, especially not in Egypt ... perhaps in several hundred years,” he says.

*Art by Mohamed Qandeel
*This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

France 24 TV Reporter savagely attacked in Tahrir

Huffington Post

Sonia Dridi, Cairo Reporter, 'Savagely Attacked': France 24 TV 



PARIS — A correspondent for France 24 TV was "savagely attacked" near Cairo's Tahrir Square after being seized by a crowd, the network said Saturday. It was the latest case of violence against women at the epicenter of Egypt's restive protests.

The news channel said in a statement that Sonia Dridi was attacked around 10:30 p.m. Friday after a live broadcast on a protest at the square and was later rescued by a colleague and other witnesses.

France 24 did not give further details about the attack, but it said its employees were safe and sound, though "extremely shocked," and that it will file suit against unspecified assailants.

The network, which receives state funds but has editorial independence, said it and the French Embassy were working to bring Dridi back to France.

"More frightened than hurt," wrote Dridi in French on her Twitter page Saturday. Referring in English to a colleague, she tweeted: "Thanks to (at)ashrafkhalil for protecting me in (hash)Tahrir last nite. Mob was pretty intense. thanks to him I escaped from the unleashed hands."

Ashraf Khalil, who works with France 24's English language service, said the crowd was closing in on him and Dridi while they were doing live reports on a side street off Tahrir. He said the attack and rescue took about half an hour, but it felt like a lot longer.

"The crowd surged in and then it went crazy. It was basically me keeping her in a bear hug, both arms around her and face-to-face," he told The Associated Press, estimating that at least 30 men were involved. "It was hard to tell who was helping and who was groping her."

Khalil said they retreated into a fast food restaurant with a metal door, to keep her out of the reach of the attackers. He said they hustled into a car, and some men banged on it as it sped away. Some of their belongings had been stolen, he said.

"It didn't feel organized or targeted. It felt disorganized," he said. "I felt angry. I love Tahrir. I have a lot of nostalgia for Tahrir. I am still angry. I know this is not the first time this happened; it happened to other people I know. Still, it was a shock."

Tahrir Square was the main hub of a popular uprising that toppled longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last year. Since then, it has seen numerous other protests staged by a range of groups.

At the height of the uprising against Mubarak, Lara Logan, a correspondent for U.S. network CBS, was sexually assaulted and beaten in Tahrir Square. She said later that she believed she was going to die. After being rescued, Logan returned to the United States and was treated in a hospital for four days.

The square has seen a rise in attacks against women since protesters returned this summer for new rallies, including incidents of attackers stripping women – both fellow demonstrators and journalists – of their clothes.

No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area and women rarely file official reports on such incidents, but activists and protesters have reported an increase in assaults against women. And although sexual harassment is not new to Egypt, suspicions abound that many of the recent attacks are organized by opponents of various protests in a bid to drive people away.

Amnesty International said in a report in June that such attacks appeared designed to intimidate women and prevent them from fully participating in public life. The London-based human rights group has called on Egyptian authorities to investigate reports of sexual assault against women to counter the impression that no one will be punished.

*Sarah El-Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo

Tens of thousands protest against Muslim Brotherhood

Ahram Online

Friday 19 Oct 2012

Cairo sees another Friday of protest as pro-democracy forces march on the flashpoint square, decrying Brotherhood rule and the prospect of an 'unrepresentative' constitution
Salma Shukrallah

Several thousand Egyptians rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, protesting what they said were attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to impose its ideas on society.
Nearly 30 political parties and movements marched across the capital for the protest, dubbed "Egypt is no-one's private estate - Egypt for all Egyptians."
Protesters held banners demanding better constitutional representation and "social justice." One common chant accused the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme leader of "selling" the revolution.
Marchers flew the flags of the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Current, the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 Democratic Front. Other banners showed slain activist Mina Daniel, while dozens of party members wore t-shirts showing their affiliations.
Revolutionary groups, liberal and leftist forces called the protest earlier this week, voicing their disapproval of a draft constitution presented by Egypt's Constituent Assembly, a 100-person body they claim fails to represent the country's cultural and political diversity.
One of the largest marches came from the Old Cairo district of Saida Zeynab and was led by prominent activist Ahmed Harara. 
A second was launched from Mostafa Mahmoud Square in Mohandiseen, with well-known leftist Kamal Khalil and the founder of Egypt's first independent syndicate, Kamal Abu-Eita, at its head.
Chants at the Mohandiseen march called for "a free, revolutionary constitution" written by all Egyptians, and vowed to start the country's revolution "all over again" for the sake of those killed.
One of the most impassioned protests were by the Baheya Masr, a women's movement, and the Social Democratic Party, both of which decried what they said were attacks on the status of Egypt's women in the newly drafted constitution.
"Children should play not get married," read one banner, referring to alleged serious debate within the charter-writing assembly as to whether the marriageable age for females should be lowered to 9 years old.
Another banner voiced opposition to Article 36 in the draft constitution, which stipulates that gender equality be decided with reference to Islamic jurisprudence.
Pictures of prominent Egyptian women, including 1930s women's education advocate Nabaweya Mousa, were also on display.
"We are here to say Egypt is not [President Mohamed] Morsi's private estate and we will not have them rule us anymore," said Iman Diab, a 16 year old demonstrator. "Morsi is only recreating Mubarak's old regime."
Other activists who took part said that they didn't believe attacking the Brotherhood was the main goal.
"I'm happy we are all working together again, but we [political forces] should focus on our demands instead of what we are against," said Salma Said, a well-known activist.
"We shouldn't repeat the same mistake as before, when we only focused on our rejection of Mubarak and we disregarded our differences as to what we stood for," she continued, adding that she had come to Tahrir to hold Morsi to account for his first 100 days and to protest the government's attack on labour strikes.
Egypt has seen several high-profile strikes since Morsi won the presidency in late June, mostly by workers demanding better conditions and higher wages. Some of these protests were quashed with violent police crackdowns, to the chagrin of many activists who believe implementing fairer wages was a core demand of the early 2011 uprising.
"They use religion to justify attacking farmers," shouted protesters, led by Haitham Mohamaden, a member  of the Independent Federation of Trade Unions.
There was low-level violence throughout the day, when revolutionary groups turned on members of the Conference Party, founded by former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, calling them "remnants" of the old regime.
Other demonstrators on the square voiced anger at Brotherhood claims that their opposition to the Islamist group meant they were in favour of the old regime. It was possible to reject both the Mubarak regime and rule by the Brotherhood, they said, with some suggesting there was little difference between the two.
"Morsi is Mubarak," went another common chant.
Simultaneous protests by Brotherhood supporters and opponents in central Cairo last Friday descended into prolonged street-fights between the two sides in which over 100 were injured.
The violence seemed to spur a larger showing of secular protesters on Tahrir this time around, including groups who were absent last Friday.
"Those who beat Egyptians cannot rule Egypt," was another chant.
Among the parties and movements taking part in Friday's protest were: the Popular Current, the Constitution Party, the Free Egyptians party, the Nile Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the 6 April Youth Movement's Democratic Front, the Revolutionary Socialists, the National Association for Change, the Peaceful Change Front and the 'No to Military Trials' campaign.

Striking doctors start nationwide resignation campaign

Los Angeles Times
Striking Egyptian doctors begin nationwide resignation campaign 

October 18, 2012

CAIRO -- Egyptian doctors began a mass resignation campaign in state-run hospitals across the country Thursday after the government failed to meet demands for higher salaries, better security and a dramatic increase in national healthcare spending.

"We're targeting at least a third of the 50,000 doctors employed through the state. This will cripple the Health Ministry,” said Dr. Ahmed Shoura, a member of the strike committee. “Our campaign is going to resume until at least 15,000 resignations have been collected, then we will submit our resignations to the ministry."

For the last three weeks, doctors in public hospitals have been on a partial strike across the country, handling only chronic cases once a week. Thousands of doctors have threatened to submit their resignations if the state did not meet their demands in a strike that has become an intensifying problem for President Mohamed Morsi's new government.

The strikers are also calling for "corrupt" Health Ministry employees and former officials loyal to ousted President Hosni Mubarak to be removed from office. 

Several doctors who helped organize the strike said the ministry has been unresponsive to their pleas for negotiations. However, Dr. Ahmed Sedeek of the Health Ministry previously told The Times that officials had been meeting with doctors to find a middle ground.

“Some of the people participating in the strike believe that the Health Ministry is against the doctors; this is not the case," Sedeek said. "We are doctors as well and the ministry needs all of its doctors to contribute.”

He said that while the doctors have legitimate demands, the new government needs more time to increase the health budget as promised and implement reform.

“Our main goal is to fix the health institution,” he said. “If the doctors don't want to give us a chance or abort the steps we've already taken, then this is just unfortunate.”

Last week, 85 doctors resigned from one hospital in Cairo's urban slum district of Sayeda Zeinab, Shoura told The Times. He and several dozen doctors in Cairo and Alexandria have already resigned. He said he expects that they will reach their goal quickly because both doctors and patients are "fed up" with Egypt's healthcare system.

The total number of resignations has not yet been tallied. Currently, about 70% of doctors working with state-run hospitals are on strike, Shoura estimated.

Egypt, which is the most-populous Arab country, allocates only about 4% of its budget to healthcare. Doctors, many of whom earn less than $100 month, are demanding that the government raise the healthcare budget to at least 15%.

"After about 17 days of striking, the government hasn't even shown the initiative to review our demands because the Muslim Brotherhood sees this strike as a blow to the popularity and credibility of their Freedom and Justice Party and to Morsi’s government," Shoura said.

Several government officials have condemned the strike in local media, saying it poses a danger for the health of citizens.

Shoura said violence against doctors and attacks on hospitals, which have been occurring since last year’s uprising, have decreased since the strike began because patients and citizens understand that it’s not the doctors who fail them but the health system.

"People have finally realized that we are not the problem, the patients see how bad our healthcare system is and people are now sympathetic with our cause," Shoura said.

Islamist businessmen challenge Egypt's old money


A new business association founded by Muslim Brotherhood members claims it will create a more economically just society; critics fear another clique close to the presidency
Thursday 18 Oct 2012

A business association founded by a financier for Egypt's new Islamist rulers says it can democratise an economy long dominated by associates of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, but sceptics fear the emergence of just another clique.

The Muslim Brotherhood dominates post-Mubarak politics. It has less traction in an economy long dominated by an inner circle of businessmen around Mubarak's now jailed son Gamal.
Opponents say the Brotherhood wants to replicate in business its firm grip on politics, with a view to rewarding those who supported the movement financially through the long years it was banned. That dismays liberals who saw in Mubarak's overthrow last year an opportunity for a more meritocratic economy.
Hassan Malek, a tycoon and Brotherhood member, insists his goal has been promoting equal opportunity since he founded the Egyptian Business Development Association in March, three months before the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi won Egypt's presidency.
He has modelled EBDA, whose acronym means "start" in Arabic, on Turkey's MUSIAD, an association of religiously oriented small businesses which share information and contracts to challenge the traditional dominance of larger groups.
"We welcome everyone who wants to work with us," said Malek, who has a family background in business and made his money in software, textiles and furniture. "Unequal distribution of opportunity is what we seek to change in the new Egypt."
Businesses, many of them smaller enterprises struggling in an anaemic economy, have rushed to join EBDA, which now has over 400 members. It says 1,000 companies are waiting to join.
Some members represent leading businesses such as cable maker El Sewedy Electric, food producer Juhayna and Egyptian Steel. These flourished during Mubarak's three-decade rule but were not caught up in the corruption lawsuits that emerged after his overthrow in February 2011.
In a mark of its ambitions - and good contacts in powerful new places - EBDA sent a delegation of 80 businesspeople, many of them young entrepreneurs without personal ties to the Brotherhood, to accompany Mursi on a trip to China in August.
Many of those also joined him on visits to Italy, Turkey and Qatar as Egypt tries to end a drought in inward investment.
Osama Farid, head of international cooperation at EBDA, said Mursi's visit to China marked a break with the past when Mubarak would typically take only as few as 10 favoured businessmen on foreign trips to capture the opportunities available.
"Within EBDA there are businessmen who did very well under Mubarak and new ones looking to prosper in the new Egypt. We are not trying to replace what exists but to offer an alternative" Farid said.
Malek has multiplied his meetings with foreign diplomats and business people and representatives of international banks. Brotherhood officials credit him with facilitating a $2-billion loan to Egypt from Turkey last month.
Since Mubarak's overthrow, the change of fortunes for men like Malek has been dramatic.
Brotherhood-linked businessmen were forced to operate under restrictions on how much wealth they could amass. Some had property confiscated during the 1990s or were detained on suspicion of money laundering or funding the Brotherhood.
Malek and former partner Khairat al-Shater, another Brotherhood tycoon and financial strategist, spent more than four years in jail together under Mubarak, who sought to curtail the Brotherhood and formally banned it from operating.
The two men are now vying for economic influence within the movement, Brotherhood sources told Reuters. While Malek seeks to extend the reach of EBDA, Shater has established a chain of supermarkets and recently held talks in Dubai to establish a bank there to help manage the Brotherhood's finances.
Some executives are suspicious of EBDA's motives. One agribusiness manager told Reuters he was still trying to decide whether to accept its offer of membership: "I agree with their goals to expand the business climate," he said.
"But my concern is that EBDA could turn into another clique close to the Islamist presidency, mirroring Gamal Mubarak's."
In Turkey, admired by some in the Brotherhood for showing that Islamist democrats can take over from military rulers, the business organisation MUSIAD forged ties with Egyptian peers more than a decade ago, when Turkish entrepreneurs were trying to find ways to better exploit markets in the region.
Its emergence as a lobby for a growing entrepreneurial middle class came in tandem with the rise of the AK Party, which arrived in government in 2002 and which has roots in political Islam. MUSIAD promotes itself as a partner for foreign investors looking not only at Turkey but the wider Islamic world.
"EBDA and MUSIAD represent a huge coming together of smaller capital," said Koray Caliskan, political science professor at Bosphorus University in Istanbul. "Those people who were with the Mubarak regime were a small coming together of big capital."
With thousands of members, and favoured by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of AK, MUSIAD now poses a challenge to the dominant secular business group in Turkey, TUSIAD.
"Erdogan said capital is changing hands in Turkey," Caliskan said. "Ten years ago everyone wanted to be TUSIAD chairman. Now everyone is away from it. Even members do not go to meetings, as Erdogan takes aim at them very frequently."
With Mubarak gone, Egyptian business ties with Turkey, the biggest economy in the Middle East, are now growing to match the Brotherhood's links with the AK Party.
But Turkey's enduring tradition of secular rule could limit the scope for political cooperation. Egypt's new political landscape is dominated by Islamists and ultraconservative groups for whom secularism is synonymous with atheism.
One Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new Egyptian government sees Turkey "not as a model but an inspiration ... and Turkey reciprocates this".
EBDA officials say Egypt's business landscape needs levelling through a focus on small enterprise, vocational training and cutting red tape. They say they favour broad-based, sustainable growth that reduces widespread poverty instead of just rewarding government cronies.
Some business experts say, however, that EBDA's leadership lacks the expertise to transform Egypt's economy.
"You will find that most of them lack the know-how and experience in dealing with the state," said Wael Nahaas, a financial market analyst.
"Most of these businessmen are at heart traders, not economists. Until now they have not provided a clear economic vision of where they are trying to steer Egypt."

28 Egyptians jailed in KSA on hunger strike for 3rd day

Ahram Online
Wednesday 17 Oct 2012

Zeinab El Gundy 
Twenty-eight Egyptian nationals languishing in Saudi jails maintain hunger strike for third day in row 

Egyptian nationals detained in Saudi Arabia have continued their hunger strike for the third consecutive day to demand their release, the Association of Families of Egyptian Detainees in Saudi Arabia said in a Wednesday statement.

The association went on to demand that President Mohamed Morsi move quickly to secure the detainees' release from the oil-rich kingdom. The association also stated that it had organised dozens of protests outside the Saudi embassy in Cairo's Giza district but had received no response from Saudi authorities.

"For the third day in row, 28 Egyptian detainees have continued their hunger strike in several Saudi prisons, including Abaha Prison and Damam Prison," association coordinator Shereen Farid told Ahram Online. She added that all of the hunger strikers had been detained by Saudi authorities without charge.

"They are considered political detainees," Farid said.

"We're calling on Egyptian officials, especially President Morsi, to take speedy action on securing their release, as the president promised before," Farid asserted. "If they're true criminals, we call on the Saudi authorities to give them fair public trials according to Saudi law."

Meanwhile, human rights groups have denounced Saudi authorities for continuing to flog Egyptian detainee Naglaa Wafaa, who was sentenced to five years in prison and 500 lashes as a result of a financial feud between her and a Saudi princess. According to her family, Wafaa – who has already received 400 lashes – was denied a lawyer to represent her at her trial.

The plight of Egyptian nationals languishing in Saudi prisons became the focus of considerable media interest following the arrest this summer in Jeddah of Egyptian rights lawyer Ahmed El-Gizawi, who faces drug smuggling charges. If El-Gizawi is found guilty, he could face the death penalty, according to Saudi law.

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

Islamist teacher punishes 2 schoolgirls, cutting their hair

Egyptian father: Daughter punished for not veiling

LUXOR, Egypt (AP) — A teacher in southern Egypt punished two 12-year-old schoolgirls for not wearing the Muslim headscarf by cutting their hair, the father of one girl said Wednesday, in an incident that stokes concerns over personal rights following the rise of Islamist political movements.

The governor of Luxor province where the incident occurred called the teacher's actions "shameful" and said she had been transferred to another school. But rights groups say that some Islamic conservatives have been emboldened by the success of groups like Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafi trend in parliamentary and presidential elections and have been increasingly brazen about forcing their standards on other Egyptians.

The incident follows a surge in legal cases against Egyptians, mostly Christians, who allegedly showed contempt for religion. The trial of one, Alber Saber, opened Wednesday but was postponed.
It also comes amid a fierce debate over how the role of religion will be defined in the country's new constitution. The preponderance of Islamists on the panel drafting the document has alarmed liberals and religious minorities.

In the village of Qurna in Luxor province, 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo, Berbesh Khairi El-Rawi said the teacher forced the two girls to stand with their hands above their heads for two hours and then cut their hair in their school.
El-Rawi, the father of one of the two girls, told The Associated Press that he filed a complaint after the Oct. 10 incident with the prosecutor's office in Luxor. He had no further comment.

The prosecutor's office declined to comment on the case. Provincial governor Ezzat Saad confirmed the teacher had been transferred for a "shameful" act but did not otherwise comment.

The teacher, Eman Abu Bakar, could not be reached. She told the Egyptian semi-official newspaper al-Ahram that the amount of hair she cut off of the girls' heads "did not exceed two centimeters" (one inch).

Abu Bakar was quoted as saying she only resorted to cutting her students' hair after warning them repeatedly to cover their heads. After these repeated warnings, a student handed her a scissors from his bag, and that he and other students asked her to "implement" her threats.

In a photo published by Al-Ahram, Abu Bakar is shown wearing the niqab, a garment that covers everything but a woman's eyes.

Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the headscarf, but increasing numbers now wear the more conservative niqab.

Ziad Abdel Tawab of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights said the incident was alarming but not surprising.

"Whether in schools or outside schools, the general sentiment is that any abusive action, if it is justified as protection of Islam, is tolerable," he said.

Meanwhile, a Cairo court postponed proceedings in the trial of 27-year-old Coptic Christian activist Alber Saber, who faces charges of insulting religion, to November 14.

Saber was arrested last month after neighbors complained he had posted an anti-Islam film that has sparked protests across the Muslim world to his Facebook page, but investigators didn't find them. Nonetheless, Saber was put on trial and now faces a six-year prison sentence and fines.

His lawyer Ahmed Ezzat said in an emailed statement that all proceedings against Saber have involved serious legal breaches that should result in the nullifying of any evidence put forward against him.

Ezzat also said that after Saber's arrest on September 13, a police officer incited others detained in the station to attack Saber, resulting in detainees beating him and cutting him with a razor blade. A police officer at the station denied the report, speaking anonymously as he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International said in a statement Wednesday that blasphemy cases like the one against Saber "set a dangerous precedent for the Egyptian authorities' tolerance of freedom of expression in the country."

"Criticism of religions and other beliefs and ideas is a vital component of the right to freedom of expression," Sahraoui said. "Laws - such as blasphemy laws - that criminalize such criticism violate human rights."

The rights group said that Saber's lawyers "fear for his safety in prison and outside if released. They also fear for the safety of his mother and sister who have been threatened and forced to leave their home which was surrounded by angry mobs."

In another incident that raised concerns over the freedom of expression, a top parliamentarian suspended the editor-in-chief of a state-owned newspaper for publishing a report deemed an offense to the military.

Ahmed Fahmy, the head of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council upper house of parliament, named a replacement for Gamal Abdel-Rahim after his paper, al-Gomhuria, published a Wednesday report claiming that authorities would soon bar the country's former top military leaders from traveling abroad pending an investigation into alleged corruption and the deaths of protesters during their 17 months in power.

The paper quoted an unnamed judicial source. The report was later denied by the Ministry of Justice, and a member of the armed forces protested what he called an "offense" to the military, the state Middle East News Agency said.

The move to replace Abdel-Rahim prompted criticism from journalists and media watchdog groups. Although the state-owned media formally belong to the Shura Council, which appoints the editors, journalists say it is not the business of the council to take disciplinary measures for publishing offenses.

A group of Abdel-Rahim's colleagues gathered at the paper's offices to protest the decision and declared a strike. Abdel-Rahim told them that he will not abide by the decision. He said that Egypt's union of journalists should decide if there is to be an investigation into the matter.
Fahmy, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, could not be reached for comment.

The state-owned papers, run for years by secular-leaning editors, had a reputation as a mouthpiece for President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed last year.

Gamal Eid, the head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information media watchdog, said the decision was "arbitrary" and is a continuation of the same "mistakes" of the previous regime.

* Maggie Fick contributed reporting from Cairo

Egypt: Release man on trial for criticizing religions


Egypt must release man on trial for criticizing religion 

16 October 2012

A man facing trial for publishing videos critical of religions should be immediately released by the Egyptian authorities and all charges against him dropped, Amnesty International said today.

Alber Saber Ayad, an activist from the 2011 uprising, is charged with "defamation of religion". If convicted he could receive a six-year prison sentence and a fine of 500 Egyptian Pounds (US$82). His trial resumes on Wednesday before a Cairo misdemeanour court.

"Alber Saber Ayad is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"Criticism of religions and other beliefs and ideas is a vital component of the right to freedom of expression. Laws – such as blasphemy laws – that criminalize such criticism violate human rights.

"Criticism, insult or mockery does not interfere with the individual believer’s freedom of religion, however offensive they may find it."

Alber Saber Ayad told his lawyers that while in detention, a police officer in El Marg Prison incited other detainees to attack him.

The detainees beat Alber Saber Ayad and cut him with a razor blade along his neck. He was then taken to another room where he was beaten by 20 prisoners and forced to remain standing all night.

His lawyers fear for his safety in prison and outside if released. They also fear for the safety of his mother and sister who have been threatened and forced to leave their home which was surrounded by angry mobs.

Ahmed Ezzat, Alber Saber Ayad’s defence lawyer and legal unit director at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said: “I am concerned by the attitude of a religious judge who cannot separate his personal views from the legal safeguards for defendants”.

"The Egyptian authorities must complete a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into Alber Saber Ayad’s treatment while in detention and bring those responsible to justice. They must also ensure that he and his family are protected from further harassment and threats," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

Alber Saber Ayad was arrested at his home in Cairo on 13 September, a day after angry groups of men had surrounded and tried to break into his house and called for his death, accusing him of heresy and atheism and of promoting “Innocence of Muslims” – a short film regarded by many to be offensive.

His mother called the police for protection but when they eventually arrived the next day they arrested Alber Saber Ayad and confiscated his personal computer and CDs.

Alber Saber Ayad's mother, Kariman Masihah Ghali said that the Public Prosecutor in charge of the investigation had put pressure on her about her own faith asking whether she was a Christian and what she thought of Christianity and of Islam. When she replied that she would be judged by god on these questions he ordered it be recorded that she had refused to give an answer.

Alber Saber Ayad has been charged with “defamation of Islam and Christianity”, “insulting the divine” and “satirizing religious rituals and sanctities and prophets” under articles 98 (f), 160 and 161 of the Egyptian Penal Code.

"Many others in Egypt like Alber Saber Ayad are being prosecuted for blasphemy. These cases set a dangerous precedent for the Egyptian authorities' tolerance of freedom of expression in the country," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

"Action must be taken now to stop the detention of more prisoners of conscience. The authorities must abolish the 'blasphemy' provisions in Egyptian law which are increasingly being used to suppress legitimate freedom of expression."

Egypt: Independent labor unions declare new alliance

Mon, 15/10/2012

Jano Charbel
In a historic development, two independent workers’ groups and several political parties joined forces on Monday to establish the National Front for the Defense of Labor Rights and Union Liberties.

The goals of the front include the cancellation of the restrictive Trade Union Law 35/1976, the issuing of the draft Trade Union Liberties Law promoting workers’ right to free association, protecting unionists and laborers against punitive sackings, confronting labor violations perpetrated by the state and/or employers, and the establishment of a just pay-scale based on a determined minimum and maximum wage (of no more than 15 times the minimum).

At the core of this front are the country’s two largest independent workers’ groups — the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC). A host of left-leaning political parties have also joined, including the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Egyptian Communist Party, the Tagammu Party, the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Constitution Party, the Adl Party, and the Egyptian Socialist Party, among other political movements.

Monday’s conference was introduced by Ahmad Hassan al-Borai, the former manpower minister, under whom the draft Trade Union Liberties Law was formulated.

The former minister announced, “This front is not only for confronting the vicious attacks on union rights, but also for the protection of basic labor rights and the realization of social justice.”

Borai added that his draft union law was prepared by September 2011, “yet remained a dead paper which was shelved and collected dust” under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, then at the hands of the People’s Assembly, and most recently at the hands of the new manpower minister, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Azhary.

According to Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, chief of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, “Azhary seeks to get rid of the Trade Union Liberties Law and to merely make cosmetic changes to Law 35.”

Borai concluded by saying he hopes to see his Trade Union Liberties Law issued, and that he hopes to witness “one unified independent federation” emerge via the unification of the EFITU and EDLC.

While participants declined to mention the aggregate number of union members between the EFITU and EDLC, estimates suggest that their unification would amount to a membership of fewer than 3 million. The EFITU is by far the larger of these two workers’ groups, claiming a membership of nearly 2.5 million.

There are tens of recently established independent unions which are neither affiliated to the EFITU nor the EDLC.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) still claims a membership of 4.5 million workers. The ETUF had monopolized the trade union movement in Egypt since its establishment in 1957.

The EFITU, which was established on the fifth day of the 25 January revolution, emerged from four independent unions which were founded between the years 2007-2011. These four unions included the Real Estate Tax Authority Employees Union, Independent Teachers Syndicate, the Egyptian Health Technologists Syndicate and the Pensioners Federation.

Following administrative disagreements, the Pensioners Federation broke away from the EFITU and joined the EDLC. The EDLC had emerged as a labor umbrella group shortly after the establishment of the EFITU. 

The backbone of the EDLC is the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), a labor rights non-governmental organization. The EFITU, for their part, had objected to a non-governmental organization such as the CTUWS having rights within the organization equivalent to a union, to the CTUWS's receipt of funding from foreign trade union federations (including the US-based AFL-CIO), and to concerns that the CTUWS would act as an intermediary between workers and the authorities.

Kamal Abbas, chief board member of both the EDLC and CTUWS, clarified that future collaboration of the EFITU with EDLC could take one of two forms — either a unified independent trade union federation, or two different groupings with a common leadership council or steering committee.

Participants and panelists recommended the establishment of a joint committee of 10 board members — five from the EFITU and five from the EDLC. Abbas recommended that the merger process should be “carefully studied” and warned against “hastily rushing into the process.”

Kamal Abu Eita, president of the EFITU, commented, “Trade union unity must be voluntary and non-compulsory.” Abu Eita pointed out that affiliation to the state-controlled union federation was compulsory under the Mubarak regime, and must not be so after Mubarak.

Like Abbas, Abu Eita recommended “establishing either one unified federation, or one unified leadership council for the two different federations.”

Abu Eita urged voluntary unity among independent unions “to confront militias who attack protesting workers, and employers who punitively sack workers and unionists.”

“Nowadays we have more unionists who have been sacked, subjected to trials and unemployment than under the Mubarak regime,” he added.

“Thirty-three unionists are being interrogated by prosecutors for excising their right to strike,” Abbas said. “Azhary is fighting us on two levels. On the first level, he has been attacking independent unions claiming that we are illegitimate, while it is the ETUF which is actually illegitimate.”

“On the second level,” he continued, “he is attempting to control the ETUF. We are against party control over the ETUF. We cannot accept that the Freedom and Justice Party would take the place of its predecessor, the National Democratic Party, in dominating and manipulating this state-controlled federation.”

“Unions must be independent of the state and political parties. Unions must be democratically elected and accountable to their constituents.”

Harshest sentence against striking workers in decades

Jano Charbel

Hundreds rallied outside the Alexandria Court of Appeals on Sunday as five labor activists appealed the harshest sentence against striking workers since the time of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

The court moved to adjourn the case until 21 October.

Ahmed Sadeq, Yosri Maarouf, Ashraf Mahmoud, Mohamed Abdel Moneim, and Essam al-Dein Mabrouk, who are independent organizers at the Alexandria Port Containers Company, were sentenced to three years in prison by the Alexandria Court of Misdemeanors on 23 September. They were found guilty of instigating strikes, sabotage and obstructing operations.

The defendants claim that they went on strike to expose administrative corruption within their company and the Holding Company for Maritime Transport, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Investment. Six hundred workers joined the strike in October 2011.

The ruling against the strikers is reportedly the harshest sentence to be issued in such a case in well over 30 years.

“These are all trumped-up charges leveled against these five workers. And this is the strictest sentence issued by any court against striking workers. We’ve never witnessed such a harsh ruling against workers, not even during the rule of Hosni Mubarak,” says Fatma Ramadan, a board member of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU).

Ramadan explained that during Mubarak’s rule, workers were often assaulted and arrested at the hands of his security forces. “More often than not, these workers would be released after a few days, or weeks, at most. But now we have workers being sentenced to three years imprisonment; we’ve never seen anything like this,” she says.

According to defendant Yosri Maarouf, “Officials from the ousted regime are responsible for fabricating and filing this case against us.”

Maarouf accuses Mohamed Ibrahim Yousef, the chief of the Maritime Transport holding company, of being the leading figure in fabricating the charges.

“We exposed administrative and financial violations, we exposed corruption involving the renting of port facilities to Chinese and foreign companies,” claims Maarouf. “Officials from both our company and the Holding Company want to silence us. This is why we have been sentenced.”

When asked why the workers did not attend the last court session in which the Alexandria Court of Misdemeanors issued its verdict, Maarouf responds that they were not informed of the trial dates or verdict.

“Our absence from court may have contributed to the harsh sentence,” says Maarouf.

He adds that “the new regime is targeting workers who organize independent unions. They’re targeting our right to strike, and above all, they are targeting workers who speak out against corruption in their workplaces.”

“The ruling authorities are actively seeking to dissolve and weaken the independent trade union movement. The new minister of manpower [the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khaled al-Azhary] has proven to be catastrophic for the labor movement as whole,” Maarouf continues.

“This is the worst performance I’ve seen in the [Ministry of Manpower’s] history. This man [Azhary] has openly stood up against the rights of workers, unionists, and especially independent union organizers.”

Neither Azhary, nor his spokesperson, Alaa Awad, could be reached for comments on this ruling, on allegations against the ministry or on other recent labor crackdowns.

Since early August, when Azhary was sworn-in, security forces have forcefully dispersed a number of protests. 

Forces attacked unemployed workers demonstrating outside a power plant in Alexandria, shooting one man dead; assaulted unpaid tree-planting workers — including women — during a sit-in at the Ministry of Agriculture; besieged striking bus drivers in their garages across Cairo; assaulted and dispersed a teachers’ sit-in outside Cabinet; beat street vendors across Cairo and confiscated their merchandise; assaulted unemployed disabled persons seeking jobs who were demonstrating outside the presidential palace; assaulted striking microbus drivers, arresting four; and attacked a petroleum workers’ protest in the Red Sea town of Ras Ghareb.

Furthermore, union organizers at the Independent Union of Public Transport Authority Employees and the Independent Union of Flight Attendants were detained and interrogated by prosecutors on charges of instigating strikes.

“Repression against strikes has greatly increased under Morsy and Azhary. Numerous laws and initiatives banning strikes and labor protests have been issued. The new regime is attempting to break the will of striking workers, while the Ministry of Manpower is simultaneously working on weakening and attempting to control the independent union movement,” says Ramadan.

She adds that employers had “punitively sacked” some 300 unionists from their jobs for organizing unions and/or strikes. “The [Ministry of Manpower] has done next to nothing to reinstate these workers.”

However, the Ministry of Manpower has issued a number of statements claiming that it is actively involved in resolving labor conflicts, claiming that it has successfully resolved several such disputes.

On Saturday night, tens of activists protested outside the Journalists Syndicate in solidarity with the five Alexandrian dock workers. Protesters chanted, “We called for bread, freedom and social justice; not the imprisonment of container workers.”

The activists delivered speeches condemning the fact that while courts were indicting workers for exercising their right to strike, at the same time 24 top Mubarak regime officials were acquitted of instigating deadly attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square on 2 February in the Battle of the Camel.

A larger protest was staged in solidarity with the five sentenced workers in the Alexandrian district of Moharam Bey, near the courthouse where they are appealing their case.