Sunday, March 30, 2014

General Sisi mocked as pimp in hashtag campaign

Al Jazeera
Sisi mocked in Egypt internet campaign

Presidential hopeful subject of sarcastic "vote for the pimp" movement on social media, leading to calls for a ban.

March 30, 2014

Opponents of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have launched an internet campaign against his bid to become the Egyptian president, leading to calls from the pro-Sisi camp for a ban on social media.

The Twitter hashtag, roughly translated from Arabic as "Vote for the Pimp", is being used on Facebook and Twitter in several languages to mock Sisi's announced plans to run in the presidential poll in April.

According to the tracking website, Keyhole, the hashtag achieved more than 100 million impressions within days of creation, and generated tens of thousands of messages on Twitter. Keyhole states that 23 percent of the hashtag's impressions came from outside Egypt.

"The power cuts four times a day, therefore #vote_for_the_pimp," read one of the tweets.

The word "pimp" is extremely offensive in Egyptian culture, but its use also mockingly references the North American meaning: showy, impressive, the boss of a gang.

It comes in response to pro-Sisi hashtags over the past months, including "I will vote for Sisi" and "Complete your good deed", reflecting the general's soaring popularity among many Egyptians.

The use of the phrase has also broken beyond the realms of the internet: Footage taken by activists during Friday rallies in Egypt shows protesters chanting "Vote for the pimp, a president for Egypt."

Graffiti has also appeared in Egypt carrying the phrase.

But calls were made by several talk-show hosts condemned the campaign.

Khairy Ramadan, a CBC TV host, said it was a "character assassination ... supported by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood", and called for Twitter to be blocked.

Emad Adeeb, another host, said Egypt should follow the example of Turkey, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, blocked Twitter and the video sharing website, Youtube, after leaks of sensitive information.

“Erdogan has shut down Twitter altogether simply because they described him a thief,” he said.

The presidential election will come almost 10 months after Sisi, as defence minister and army commander, led military efforts to remove from power the country's first elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi.

*Photo of Sisi propaganda memorabilia courtesy of REUTERS

Egypt: Detainees routinely tortured at hands of police

BBC News
Egypt crisis: Young detainees allege torture

Brutal beatings, sexual abuse, and electric shocks are being carried out on detainees, including teenage children, in Egypt, according to testimonies gathered by the BBC. 

As many 20,000 people are estimated to have been held since last July in a sweeping clampdown on dissent.

A growing number are now emerging from police stations and prisons with serious allegations of torture.

The claims are denied by the military-backed interim government.

For 15-year old Ahmed Abdel Fattah, the trouble began on 24 January, when his fondness for his mobile phone cost him his freedom.

He was using the phone to film an Islamist protest near his home in Sharqiya Province, north of Cairo.

"I was curious," he said. "Why shouldn't I film something that I see every night on TV?"

When some local thugs tried to steal the phone he refused to hand it over, so they handed him over to the police.

The softly-spoken and neatly dressed teenager says that was the start of 34 days of torture at a local police station.

"They electrocuted me in sensitive places like my spine, here and here on my arms, and in sensitive areas like between my legs," he said, gesturing to the areas.

"And when they electrocuted me I used to fall down on the ground, and I could not stand up. At the same time they were beating me. And sometimes they would throw water to increase the voltage."

Ahmed said he got special attention from the police - in spite of his youth - because he was suspected of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

"They wanted me to be afraid," he said. "They thought I would have a lot to confess to. Of course I am not from the Brotherhood at all. They were saying so-and-so is getting outside financing, and this person has weapons, and you are getting weapons from them. They said you had Molotov Cocktails on you and you hit an officer. I told him I could not hit an ant."

Ahmed says he was accused of carrying a total of 18 Molotov Cocktails, though a previously broken arm means he struggles to lift much.

His father Abdel Fattah, a school inspector, sat grim-faced alongside him, as he gave his account. He told us Ahmed suffers from epilepsy, and his health has worsened since his arrest.

Many of those who emerge from detention are too frightened to speak, but we have tracked down other detainees who provided detailed and credible testimony about a range of severe abuses.

Their accounts cannot be independently verified but they tally with reports from leading human rights groups who say that there is widespread torture and brutality in detention.

"Egypt has gone back to the systematic torture of the Mubarak era," said Gamal Eid, of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. "There is more torture now because there are more people being arrested. What's different is that the proportion of barbaric torture is higher."

Yassin Mohammed says he is proof of that. The slight 19-year-old is a seasoned democracy campaigner. He was arrested in central Cairo in January and held for 42 days.

He told us he had decided to speak out for the sake of others who are still being tortured. His account of being electrocuted was punctuated by pauses and a troubled nervous laugh.

"I was expecting that they were just going to start hitting me - normally - like every time," he said, "and then I was surprised when they took off my trousers and put the wires on me. I was screaming and shouting.

"While you are being electrocuted, there are strange things happening to you, you don't know what's going on, you feel like you are going to die, and sometimes you feel like you are completely drunk, completely out of it, and at the end after they remove the wire, you just feel dizzy-dizzy-dizzy."

With shaking hands, Yassin demonstrated how his body continued to tremble after the wires were removed. He told us that after his session he heard the police calling out for others to be brought in.

Yassin says his torment included "unspeakable things". His account of being sexually assaulted is too disturbing to print.

His arrest came at a protest calling for the release of several detainees, including a 19-year-old student called Ayat Hamada.
She is now back home, having shared a similar fate.

Ayat says she too was sexually assaulted, at the time of her arrest. In this conservative society, it is a rare admission from a woman.
"It was physical," she told us. "I don't dare to explain more. But they harassed us in a very, very humiliating way, and the aim was to break our spirits."

As she spoke her friend, Salsabile Gharabawi, squeezed her hand for moral support. The women sat side-by-side, with headscarves covering their hair. Both said they were beaten and threatened with rape.

Salsabile, 21, a business student, said police forced her and other women to have pregnancy tests.
"They parked the car away from the hospital gate," she said, "and made us walk in the street with handcuffs. They kept making us go in circles around the whole hospital so people could see us. The humiliation broke us more than the beatings."

It is easy to get detained in Egypt these days - just go to a protest, or even walk by. An estimated 20,000 people have been rounded up in a brutal crackdown on dissent since the army ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July.
In a bitter irony, more than 1,000 were arrested on 25 January - the third anniversary of the revolution which swept away Hosni Mubarak. Khaled El-Sayed, a newly-wed, was one of them. The 30-year-old engineer was a leading activist in the revolution.

He described a routine of abuses, indignities and beatings - the worst of which was a brutal assault lasting over half an hour. It happened after officers found a letter from his wife in his overcrowded prison cell.

"There were two on this side and two on that side," he said. "The four flanking me starting beating me. They starting hitting me against the pillar, they hit me in the back, and they put me on the ground and started kicking me in the stomach." Khaled was freed after 42 days, but is still a prisoner to his nightmares.


A senior official showed us video footage of a neat and clean prison - filmed several years ago - and told us there was no problem.

"I categorically deny that there is any such thing as electrocution or torture in prisons or police stations," said General Abu Bakr Abdel Karim.

When challenged, he conceded there might be "mistakes or transgressions" by police but he insisted this did not reach the level of torture. "It's not covered up," he said. "We don't stay quiet about it. We confront it and we hold anyone who has mistreated the public to account."

Human rights groups disputed that. According to Amnesty International's Nicholas Piachaud, the authorities do not take reports of torture seriously and most go unpunished.

Egypt is now counting down to a presidential election. The former Army Chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, looks certain to emerge as the new Pharaoh. There are fears that torture could tighten its grip under President Sisi.

At the heavily fortified interior ministry we asked for the government's response to the growing number of grave abuse allegations.

Journalist Mayada Ashraf shot dead, 3 others killed during police crackdown

Australian Associated Press

Four dead as Egypt police, Islamists clash

March 29, 2014

Four people including an Egyptian woman journalist have been killed in Cairo as police clashed with Islamists protesting against ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's presidency bid, a security official said.

The violence erupted in a deeply polarised Egypt as supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities to vent their anger at Sisi who overthrew the Islamist nine months ago.

Mayada Ashraf, who worked for the privately owned Al-Dustour newspaper, was shot in the head while covering clashes in the northern neighbourhood of Ein Shams, the official said, adding that three more people were killed in the same violence and 10 wounded.

Four people were also wounded in clashes in the northern province of Damietta, health ministry official Khaled al-Khatib said.

In Cairo's eastern neighbourhood of Madinat Nasr, students from Al-Azhar Islamic university hurled Molotov cocktails and stones at riot police who fired tear gas to disperse them, security officials said.

Underlining Egypt's deep polarisation, clashes also erupted between Morsi supporters and his opponents in the northern Cairo districts of Ein Shams and Matareya, the officials said.

Ten Morsi supporters were arrested in clashes with security forces in Damietta province, and 28 were arrested in the southern Minya province for carrying leaflets hostile to the military and the police, they added.

Demonstrators in the southern Cairo working class district of Helwan and in Fayum province, southwest of the capital, fired birdshot and police responded with tear gas, state news agency MENA reported.

Supporters of the widely popular presidential hopeful, who toppled Morsi after massive street protests against his turbulent one-year rule, also demonstrated to celebrate his candidacy.

Carrying Egyptian flags and portraits of Sisi, dozens marched in Alexandria and scores gathered in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, symbol of the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak.

Sisi, who was also defence minister and deputy prime minister, announced his resignation on Wednesday to enable him to stand in the election.

His candidacy is likely to further inflame Islamist protesters and worry secular activists who fear a return to rule by the military and the strong-arm tactics of the Mubarak era.

Sisi faces no serious competition in his bid for the presidency and is widely seen as the only leader able to restore order after more than three years of turmoil.

The electoral committee said in a statement it will hold a news conference on Sunday to announce the timetable of the presidential election, MENA reported.

The poll is scheduled to take place before June.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has rejected Sisi's candidacy outright and a coalition of his supporters had called Friday's protests.

*Photo of deceased journalist Mayada Ashraf courtesy of Al-Dostour Newspaper


Police arrest 5 postal strikers; Doctors start resignation campaign

Mada Masr
Police arrest Alexandria workers as strikes continue nationwide

Tuesday March 25, 2014

Jano Charbel

Despite official attempts to bring an end to a wave of labor unrest that contributed to the downfall of Hazem al-Beblawi's government, a broad range of Egypt's labor workforce embarked on nationwide strikes on Tuesday.

Notable developments on Tuesday included the arrest of several striking postal workers in Alexandria, along with the beginning of a mass-resignation campaign by striking doctors. Doctors, dentists, pharmacists, postal workers, textile workers and custodial staff all staged walk-outs during the day.

Official attempts to quell the postal workers’ strike in Egypt’s second city led to the arrest of five independent union organizers. These arrests, however, served to widen the scope of the postal workers’ unrest Tuesday, the third day of their strike. 

More than 50,000 employees of the state-owned postal services have been on strike across the country since Sunday.

These arrests took place following legal charges filed to the office of the prosecutor general by the chief of the postal bureau in Alexandria. Seven other workers have also been issued arrest warrants.

The postal chief had claimed workers were attempting to obstruct public postal services, instigate work stoppages, and that workers were affiliated to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which the state classified as a terrorist organization in December.

A number of local media outlets, however, reported that families of the arrested strikers rejected claims that their goals are politicized or that they are affiliated to the Brotherhood. The family members also denounced the police raids and arrests of workers from their homes. 

A number of other media reports mentioned that the postal strike had a negative impact for both clients and customers, and was perceived as an unpopular action by workers.

Speaking at the Journalists Syndicate on Sunday, Zeinab Farag, a trade unionist and strike leader from the Giza Postal Bureau, commented that she and tens of thousands of her colleagues had embarked on strike action as they were excluded from receiving the newly imposed LE1,200 monthly minimum wage, were not paid overdue bonuses and, in some cases, actually received deductions to their salaries.

“There’s enough money and resources to provide for our demands, yet the postal authorities do not care about us, nor do they care about our livelihoods," Farag said.

Farag and her colleagues claim that 90 percent of postal workers are on strike.

Several medical physicians meanwhile submitted their resignations to the Ministry of Health on Tuesday. This campaign of mass resignations comes amid the 18 consecutive day of strike action.

These strikes include partial work stoppages which do not affect emergency rooms, intensive care wards, nurseries, dialysis, urgent surgeries or other pressing medical conditions. A string of partial strikes were launched at the beginning of this year.

Joining them in this strike action are the Dentists Syndicate and Pharmacists Syndicate. The joint strike committee for these medical professions claims that around 75 percent of constituents are maintaining partial strike action in public health facilities.

The Health Ministry, on the other hand, claims that only around 30 percent of these medical personnel are actually participating in strikes.

The mass resignation campaign meanwhile aims to escalate pressure on the health and finance ministries in order to realize strikers’ objectives: raising doctors’ starting salaries to at least the level of the minimum wage, implementing an incremental pay scale, increasing compensations for infectious illnesses, improving safety standards at public hospitals, and raising the allocation for healthcare in the national budget — from  under four percent to 15 percent.

Amr al-Shora, board member of the Doctors Syndicate commented, "Today was the first day of planning for this campaign of mass resignations.”  

He clarified that the resignations would be submitted to the Health Ministry once a certain number of signatories has been reached. The syndicate’s objective is the collection of 20,000 signatures of resignation prior to the submission.

Shora commented that he was the 11th syndicate board member to sign the roster of resignations, although “many others have also signed on to this list of collective resignations.

Some state-owned media outlets have suggested that strikes and resignations would not improve, but harm, the country’s medical healthcare system.

"Public hospitals lack proper facilities, equipment and funding," Shora said in response. "This is what really harms Egypt’s patients. We are part of a medical system with sub-human standards. This is our way of challenging this broken system, and aspiring to improve it.”

The syndicate board member added that further escalatory actions will be proposed and discussed on Friday during the Doctors’ Syndicate General Assembly meeting.

Meanwhile in the Nile Delta city of Kafr al-Dawwar, over 2,000 textile workers from the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company went on strike for the second day, demanding the payment of the new minimum wage, overdue bonuses, increased investments in the public sector textile industry, as well as the re-operation of stalled production lines within their industrial complex.

Also in Beheira Governorate, several hundred custodial workers and street cleaners in Kafr al-Dawwar and Damanhour, continued with strike actions for the eight consecutive day.

They demanded contracts for fulltime work, along with the payment of the new minimum wage.

*Photo by Mai Shaheen

Jailed Al-Jazeera journalist loses full use of arm

The Guardian

Al-Jazeera journalist jailed in Egypt loses full use of arm

Mohamed Fahmy, one of four imprisoned journalists, reveals injury has worsened after being denied treatment since arrest

One of the four jailed al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt no longer has full use of his arm after being denied proper medical treatment in prison for a shoulder injury suffered before he entered custody.

In his first trip to a civilian hospital since his arrest in late December, the Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy showed friends and family on Saturday that he could not move his right arm more than a few centimetres.

Driven to hospital by an escort of balaclava-wearing police officers, Fahmy used his rare contact with the outside world to ask to be given more regular access to his lawyer, who he meets for only 45 minutes before a court appearance, and for the court's sessions to be held more regularly than once every three weeks.

An ex-CNN producer, Fahmy also requested to be allowed more than one hour each day outside his windowless cell, which he shares with fellow al-Jazeera journalists Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed.

They have been placed next door to two leading allies of the former president Mohamed Morsi – the head of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and his one-time prime minister, Hisham Kandil.

The three journalists were arrested in their hotel rooms on 29 December and accused of spreading misinformation about Egypt and aiding terrorists – charges they describe as absurd. A fourth, Abdullah Elshamy, has been detained since August.

The Egyptian state claims that their coverage distorts Egypt's image in order to help Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which it has designated a terrorist group. But globally the cases are seen as an attack on free speech and have sparked widespread outcry.

In his appearance at hospital, Fahmy said Greste and Mohamed were in good spirits and were now allowed to read newspapers, which helped to alleviate the boredom of prison.

Fahmy appeared upbeat himself, joking with family members in between two scans on his injured arm, and saying the experience would be good material for a book.

"Let's go home," he quipped to a police officer as he left again for prison.

But his family stressed that Fahmy needed to return to hospital as soon as possible. "He should be released on bail to allow him to get proper treatment," said Adel Fahmy, the journalist's younger brother.

The three journalists are due back in court on Monday.

*Photo by Khaled Desouki courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Egypt: Censors ban 20 music videos

Index on Censorship

Egypt: Secularists and conservatives battle over music videos

21 March, 2014

Shahira Amin

In a move that has sparked concern among Egyptian secularists, the country’s censorship committee this week banned 20 music videos allegedly containing “heavy sexual connotations” and featuring “scantily-dressed female singers and models.”

The decision to ban the video clips deemed “inappropriate” and “indecent” by members of the state censorship committee, comes two months after a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and opinion was approved by 98 per cent of voters in a national referendum. The new charter replaced the 2012 constitution, widely criticized by rights organizations and revolutionary activists as an “Islamist-tinged” document.

The majority of Egypt’s secularists who celebrated the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square in July had feared that the Muslim Brotherhood –the Islamist group from which he hails –was seeking to alter Egypt’s ‘moderate’ identity. The Islamist group has since been outlawed and designated a terrorist organization by the military-backed authorities that replaced the toppled president.

The banning of the video clips comes amid heated debate on “raunchy” music videos broadcast on some of the Arab satellite channels. In recent years, an increasing number of popular Arab female singing-stars have challenged social norms and broken cultural taboos by revealing more flesh in their video clips. The trend has stirred controversy in Egypt’s deeply conservative Muslim society with many Egyptians rejecting what they describe as “the pornification of pop music”.  They insist that the “graphic, semi-porn sexual scenes featured in some of the music videos are not in line with Islamic tradition and culture”.

“Some of these video clips are more porn than music. We can hardly understand the lyrics; They are an insult to Arabic music and culture,” said Amina Mansour , a Western educated 30 year- old Egyptian freelance photographer.

It is no surprise that some liberal, westernised Egyptians agree with ultra-conservative Muslims in their society that the videos should be banned. Egyptian society–once a melting pot of different cultures has grown more conservative in the last 30 years.

In his book Whatever Happened to the Egyptians, Economist Galal Amin blames the growing conservatism in the country on the introduction of Wahhabism –a more rigid form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia and adopted by the millions of Egyptian migrants who travelled to Gulf countries after the oil boom in the seventies, seeking higher-paid jobs.

The gradual transformation from a diverse, open and tolerant society into today’s conservative and far less tolerant Egypt is evident in the style of dress, behaviour and speech of many Egyptians. An estimated 90 per cent of women wear the hijab-the head covering worn by Muslim women -while the niqab, a veil covering the face , has become more prevalent in recent years.

Some analysts believe the trend of conservatism, which had steadily grown in Egypt recent decades, now appears to be regressing. A growing number of women and girls are removing their Islamic headscarf —once adopted as a political statement against the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak and against Western-style values imposed on the society.

Leila el Shentenawy, a 31 year old lawyer told Index she removed her veil after Morsi’s ouster to express her disappointment with Islamist rule.

“Morsi failed to deliver on promised reforms,” she said, adding that she and other liberal Egyptians were alarmed by the calls made by some hardline Islamists to bring back female genital mutilation and lower the age of marriage for girls.

“We were becoming a backward society instead of moving forward,” she said.
Shentenawi however, supports the ban on the video clips, arguing that  such videos are “commercialization of women’s bodies and a downright insult to women.”

Other Egyptians have meanwhile expressed disappointment over the banning of the video clips, perceiving the move as “a reversal of the democratic gains of the January 25, 2011 Revolution” that toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent uprising against Islamist rule in June 2013.

“We had two uprisings for freedom and a modern, democratic society,” lamented 26 year-old graphic designer Amr El Sherif. “The video clips are popular with young Egyptians and the latest ban can only be considered as a means of stifling free artistic expression.”

In January, Egyptian TV imposed a ban on several video clips reportedly containing “seductive scenes”, deciding they were”inappropriate for viewers”. The ban on the music videos featuring Middle Eastern pop idols Haifa Wahby, Alissa, Nancy Agram and Ruby among others, came in response to complaints by some viewers that the “hot scenes” depicted in the videos were “provocative” and “went against the morals of Muslim society.”

While modest by Western standards, “the gyrations and revealing costumes featured in the videos were too sexy for Arab audiences”, the censors decided. The ban is a continuation of the ultra-conservative trend started by Islamists during their one year rule when some of their lawmakers had complained to Parliament (then dominated by Islamists) that “Egyptian performer Ruby’s pelvic thrust dance moves and bare midriff were too much,” warning that the “obscene scenes” depicted in the music videos would “trash the taste of Egyptians.”

The ban of the videos meanwhile, coincided with the sexual assault of a female student by a mob on Cairo University’s main campus on Monday–the first violence of its kind on an Egyptian university campus.

While condemning the assault incident in a telephone interview broadcast on the private ONTV channel later that evening, University President Gaber Nassar implied the victim was to blame, saying her “immodest attire” had invited the assault. He urged students to dress modestly, adding that those who do not follow the university’s regulation would be barred from entering the university campus by security guards.

Some Egyptians believe that the “suggestive” and “explicit” music videos are partly to blame for a surge in incidents of sexual harassment and violence against women in the country since the January 2011 uprising.

“Sexual frustrations of youth –many of whom are unemployed and unable to afford the cost of marriage– are being fuelled in part by sexy music videos and other pornograhic material on the internet, causing unruly behaviour by some youth,” Said Sadek, a Cairo-based Political Sociologist and activist, told Index.

The recent ban on the video clips also comes hot on the heels of an International Women’s Day protest-rally staged by nude Arab and Iranian women in the Louvre Art Museum’s Square in Paris, calling for “equal rights” and “secularism” in their respective countries.

Egyptian internet activist Alia Al Mahdi was among the participants in the Paris nudist rally which organizers said, was held to “highlight the many legal and cultural restrictions imposed on women in the Arab World”. El Mahdi had also protested naked outside the Egyptian Embassy in the Swedish capital Stockholm in December 2012 to express her opposition to what she called Morsi’s “Sharia Constitution.” Raising the Egyptian flag, she had the words ” No to Sharia” written in bold print on her naked body.

Many of the revolutionary youth-activists who led the uprisings in Tahrir Square in January 2011 and June 2013 had hoped the downfall of two authoritarian regimes would usher in a new era of greater freedoms including freedom of expression and opinion.But their hopes are fading fast amid increased restrictions and a climate of growing repression.

Despite the challenges, they vow to continue to push for “reforms” and “a more liberal Egypt”. While many of the revolutionaries say they oppose Alia Al Mahdi’s method of protest, perceiving it as ” extreme”, they insist ” there is no going back to repression and censorship by the authorities.”

“We’ve had our first taste of freedom with the revolution three years ago and once you’ve had that, you can only move forward and never look back, ” said Mohamed Fawaz, an activist and member of the April 6 Movement, one of the two main groups that mobilized protesters for the January 11 mass uprising. Meanwhile, the battle between secularists and conservatives for the soul of the “new Egypt” continues.

Female victim blamed for mob sex assault in Cairo University

Mada Masr 
Victim blamed after sexual assault at Cairo University

March 18, 2014

A case of mass sexual assault on a female student at Cairo University on Monday has led to a storm of accusations on TV channels and social networking sites.

This alarming incident has also raised questions and concerns regarding Egyptian society’s toleration of sexual harassment and its apparent acceptance of physical assaults on women nationwide.

On Tuesday, women’s rights activists and anti-harassment volunteer groups began preparations for a protest outside Cairo University on Thursday, while the (state-controlled) National Council for Women called on the government to enforce stricter legislation criminalizing sexual harassment and assault. 

A female law student was mobbed by a group of male students, groped and sexually assaulted, shortly after she entered the campus on Monday. The victim sought to escape from her attackers by hiding in the women’s bathroom, yet even then a gang of students surrounded her inside, awaiting her exit.

It was only after she was trapped inside the bathroom, apparently crying and in a state of great distress, that university security guards moved to disperse the assailants from around the bathroom and escorted the girl off campus.

Gaber Nassar, president of Cairo University, spoke with privately owned ONtv satellite channel on Monday, and claimed that such an incident of sexual “harassment” at the University is atypical and “exceptional.” He added that Cairo University is a respectable institution that upholds a respectable dress code.

Nassar contradicted himself, saying, “there is no justification for harassment,” yet he went on to imply that the student had brought this assault upon herself as a result of the tight clothing she was wearing.

He added that the student in question was wearing a black robe covering her body, but took it off after entering the campus. Amateur video footage shows the victim dressed in a long-sleeved pink sweater and black pants.

The incident was captured on camera and Nassar claimed the male students involved would be investigated. However, it isn't clear what legal measures have actually been taken, as he added that lawyers were scrutinizing video footage to ascertain if a crime had taken place. Originally, the University denied the incident had occurred.

On Tuesday, TV presenter Tamer Amin went even further in his justification of the assault. His program “Min al-Akher” on the Rotana Egypt satellite channel came under fire following comments he made.

The renowned TV presenter criticized Cairo University’s statement regarding “the personal freedom of attire.”

Amin said, “Clothing is not a personal freedom unless it is worn at home or in private; not in places like public universities or schools. An employee cannot go to work dressed in their shorts, for example.”

The TV presenter went on to blame the victim even further by claiming that the female student in question was “dressed like a belly dancer.” Amin asked, “How was it that university guards allowed her to enter campus in such garb, which exposed more than it covered?”

Amin further justified the mob’s sexual assault by claiming that the “student was dressed like a slut,” and thus it was her attire which aroused, encouraged and instigated the assault against her.

On social networking site, Twitter, user Mohamed al-Khateeb wrote that harassment is not only a crime that happens in dark alleyways at night, it also happens on university campuses during the daytime.

A host of female Twitter users denounced Amin as “an animal,” while many others called on the Rotana Channel to sack him from his job for his sexist comments condoning harassment and assaults against women.

Many other Twitter users commented that harassment is rampant in Egypt because of unemployment, lack of affordable apartments and the general inability to afford marriage expenses.

Other users pointed out that sexual harassment and assaults are perpetrated by prepubescent boys and married men even though they do not suffer from the aforementioned problems.

Sexual harassment and assaults continue to plague Egypt’s streets on a daily basis — and, as mentioned on social networking sites — do not appear to be based solely on womens’ attire. Women wearing the head veil (hijab) or full face-veil (niqab) are often subjected to the same mistreatment and assaults as those who don’t.

According to a 2013 report by UN Women, 99.3 percent of women have said they have experienced sexual harassment or assault at some point in their lives. 

Unprecedented sentence for execution of 529 Morsi supporters

529 Denied Right to Meaningful Defense, Face Capital Punishment
March 25, 2014

(New York) – The criminal court in Minya, Egypt sentenced 529 people to death, possibly the largest mass death sentence in recent years anywhere, in a trial lacking basic due process protections.

The March 22, 2014, trial, in which the vast majority of defendants were tried in absentia, took place in under an hour. The prosecution did not put forward evidence implicating any individual defendant, even though it had compiled significant evidence during its investigations, and the court prevented defense lawyers from presenting their case or calling witnesses, three of the defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch. A second summary session was held two days later solely to announce the verdict.

“It’s shocking even amid Egypt’s deep political repression that a court has sentenced 529 people to death without giving them any meaningful opportunity to defend themselves,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Minya court failed to carry out its most fundamental duty to assess the individual guilt of each defendant, violating the most basic fair trial right. These death sentences should be immediately quashed.”

The North Minya prosecutor collectively charged the defendants for their alleged participation in a mid-August 2013 attack on a police station in Minya, a city in central Egypt. The specific charges include killing a police officer and attempting to kill two others, damaging public property, seizing weapons, illegal public assembly, and membership in a banned organization, according to the official court judgment obtained by Human Rights Watch.

The incident took place in the immediate aftermath of the government’s violent dispersal on August 14, 2013, of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Raba’a Al-Adawiya and Nahda Squares in Cairo and Giza. Police and army forces used excessive lethal force in dispersing the protesters and killed up to 1,000 of them.

Out of the 545 people charged, 291 are at large, 185 had been released pending investigations, 11 are in detention, and 58 are in prison, according to the official judgment. Ahmed Shabib, one of the defense lawyers, told Human Rights Watch, though, that 147 of the defendants had been in detention, though authorities only brought about 70 to court. The court also barred several defense lawyers from attending the trial, according to a joint statement issued by the defense lawyers.

During the March 22, 2014, trial, the judge, Sa’ed Youssef, brought the session to a close before completing customary opening procedures after an argument broke out in the courtroom between the judge and defense lawyers, the statement further noted. The statement also said that Youssef advised the parties that they had 24 hours to make any written motions, and that he would announce a verdict on March 24. Some defense lawyers filed administrative motions with the court and separately, on March 23, brought an action challenging Youssef’s actions in front of the Bani Suef Appeals Court.

The court nevertheless issued its verdict on March 24. In its judgment, the court did not explain the evidentiary basis for its ruling, listing only the names of the defendants and the accusations against them. The court acquitted 16 of the 545 defendants.

A judicial official involved in the case and speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press on March 24 that “We are in exceptional circumstances. We don’t have time to summon each and every defendant, prove their presence, and confirm who are their lawyers.” He further stated that “Now no one would dare to think to attack a police station or a state institution after they saw death penalties falling on their group's heads.”

Under Egyptian law, Egypt’s Grand Mufti must ratify a death sentence before it can be executed. The state-run Al Ahram newspaper reported that the Minya criminal court will issue its final verdict in the case on April 28 after the grand mufti issues his decision. The defendants may appeal once a final verdict has been issued.

On March 25, the Minya criminal court will hear another case in which the local prosecutor has charged 683 people, among them Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamad Badie and the Freedom and Justice Party chairman, Saad El-Katany, with involvement in an attack on a second police station in Minya. No one was killed in that incident.

The 1,200 defendants charged in these two cases are among the over 16,000 Egyptians across the country whom the government has arrested in recent months, according to figures provided to the Associated Press by senior Interior Ministry officials. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents of arrests solely based on the peaceful exercise of the rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

The nationwide arrests have not been matched by any effort to hold security officials accountable for ordering or carrying out attacks that have killed well over 1,000 people since July 3, 2013, Human Rights Watch said. Although Interim President Adly Mansour on March 19, 2014, requested the justice ministry open an investigation into the Raba’a dispersal, Egyptian authorities have taken no steps to prosecute those responsible for the use of excessive force.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party, limits the circumstances in which a state can impose the death sentence. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body that interprets the ICCPR, has said that“in cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important.” Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and inhumane punishment.

“The Minya court’s sentencing more than 500 people to death for the killing of a police officer highlights the fact that no Egyptian court has even questioned a single police officer for the killing of well over 1,000 largely peaceful protesters since July 3,” Whitson said. “This trial is just one of dozens of mass trials taking place every day across Egypt, riddled with serious due process violations and resulting in outrageous sentences that represent serious miscarriages of justice.”

*Photo of grieving families courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

Gaza’s only power plant shuts down over lack of fuel

Gaza’s only power plant ‘shuts down over lack of fuel’

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The only power plant in the besieged Gaza Strip was shut down on Saturday due to a lack of fuel from Israel, which closed a goods crossing after militant rocket attacks, the energy authority said.

“The plant has completely ceased to function due to a lack of fuel caused by (Israel's) closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing,” said Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy director of the energy authority in the Palestinian territory ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had ordered on Thursday the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza and the Erez pedestrian crossing “until further security assessments.”

In response, the energy authority cut the plant's operation from only 12 hours a day to six until the fuel ran out.

The facility, which supplies some 30 percent of Gaza's electricity needs, has been forced to shut down several times, most recently in December.

The power plant is one of the main sources of electricity for Gaza's 1.8 million people and without it, daily blackouts of around 12 hours are expected. Electricity is also received directly from Israel and Egypt.

Gaza lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows but which also curbs imports of fuel and building supplies.

*Photo courtesy of REUTERS

Egypt/Sudan: End Torture of Refugees

Egypt/Sudan: A Call to End Torture of Refugees

At UN, 24 Countries Seek Investigation

March 17, 2014

(Geneva) – Members of the UN Human Rights Council called on Egypt and Sudan on March 14, 2014, to investigate and prosecute traffickers for kidnapping, torturing, and killing refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. The 24 countries sponsoring the German-led statement also called on both countries to identify and prosecute any security officials who may have colluded with traffickers.

On February 11 Human Rights Watch released a report titled “‘I Just Wanted to Lie Down and Die:’ Trafficking and Torture of Eritreans in Sudan and Egypt,” which documents how, since 2010, Egyptian traffickers have tortured Eritreans for ransom in the Sinai Peninsula using rape, burning, and mutilation. It also documents torture by traffickers in eastern Sudan and 29 incidents in which victims said that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated trafficker abuses rather than arresting the traffickers and rescuing their victims.

“Four years on, there is almost complete impunity for traffickers in Sudan and Egypt who torture refugees and for any security officials working with them,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt and Sudan should respond to this call for action at the UN with concerted efforts to arrest the traffickers and show zero tolerance for colluding security officials.”

The statement at the human rights council and the report recognize that Sudan has taken some steps to investigate traffickers but say that these steps have not been sufficient. Although Egypt responded to the Human Rights Watch report by acknowledging the trafficker abuses for the first time, it has prosecuted only one trafficker in Cairo, and has neither investigated nor prosecuted traffickers in Sinai.

Human Rights Watch has received reports of trafficking from eastern Sudan to Sinai as recently as February.

The failure by both countries to adequately investigate and prosecute traffickers who severely abuse their victims and collusion by security officials breaches their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, international human rights law, and, in Egypt’s case, national and international anti-trafficking laws, Human Rights Watch said.

The statement also calls on “countries involved” – a reference to Egypt – to stop detaining trafficking victims and to assist and protect them, including by allowing them to access the UN refugee agency in Egypt.

Human Rights Watch’s report documents that when traffickers freed Eritreans whose families have paid their ransom, Egyptian border police often intercepted the Eritreans. The police transferred the Eritreans’ cases to military prosecutors and then detained the Eritreans for months in inhuman and degrading conditions in Sinai police stations.

Egyptian prosecutors have charged the Eritreans with immigration offenses and denied them access to urgently needed medical care, as well as to the UN refugee agency. Those actions violate Egypt’s 2010 law on combatting human trafficking, which says trafficking victims should receive assistance, protection, and immunity from prosecution.

On March 13, 2014 the European Parliament also called on Egypt and Sudan to end the trafficker abuses and to investigate allegations of security force collusion with traffickers.

“Now that these appalling crimes are being addressed at the UN Human Rights Council, it is high time for Egypt and Sudan to publicly explain how they plan to address them,” Simpson said.

Security break up workers' sit-in at state union federation

Mada Masr

March 12, 2014

Jano Charbel

Security personnel at the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) forcefully dispersed a sit-in protest of more than 20 workers from the federation’s headquarters Wednesday.
While none of the protesting workers were arrested, a number of minor injuries were reported.

This dispersal ends a 34-day sit-in by workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company at ETUF's headquarters in downtown Cairo to demand the re-nationalization and re-operation of their stalled companies - in accordance with earlier verdicts issued from the Administrative Courts.

The courts ruled that these two companies, along with the Nile Cotton Ginning Company and the Nasr Steam Boilers Company, had been privatized and sold-off for far less than their true market value. 

Protesters have also been demanding their reinstatement, along with hundreds of other workers who had been sacked or forced to retire.

Wednesday’s crackdown comes amidst the new government’s policy of seeking to end strikes and other forms of labor unrest. It also comes amid a recent proposal by the Ministry of Manpower to ban labor strikes for a whole year.

According to Gamal Othman, a sacked worker from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company, the ETUF’s custodial staff informed the protesters in the early afternoon to move out of the halls and chambers where they were staging their sit-in so that they could clean up.

Othman added: “Shortly after that, security personnel and a bunch of hired thugs attacked us. Most of us were not physically assaulted but were threatened by tens of these thugs brandishing knives and blades.”

According to Ragab al-Sheemi, a sacked worker from the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company: “A few workers were assaulted by the ETUF staff. None very seriously, however.”

Sheemi and several other protesters confirmed that, Sameh al-Boghdadi a sacked worker from the Shebin al-Kom Company had been severely assaulted – having been punched, beaten and forcefully thrown out of the ETUF headquarters.

ETUF President Gebali al-Maraghi and the federation’s media spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The protesters confirmed that immediately after their dispersal, ETUF representatives had filed an official complaint against them at the adjacent Azbakiya Police Station claiming they were conducting an unlawful occupation, and obstructing the federation’s work.

Othman dismissed these claims stating that this occupation was peaceful, that it was a civilized protest held indoors, which did not obstruct traffic on the streets outside or operations within the ETUF’s offices.

The protesters have also sought to file complaints at this police station against ETUF on account of the physical assaults and threats they allege they were subjected to.

Most of the demonstrators have meanwhile returned to their homes in the Nile Delta after over a month-long absence from their families.

Some have proposed relocating sit-ins to their companies' premises. Others expressed their determination to move back to ETUF and continue their occupation until their demands are met.

“The ETUF president and [Minister of Manpower] Nahed al-Ashry claim that they want to get the wheels of production back in motion, yet they are the ones who are obstructing our production and keeping us from returning to our jobs in our factories” said Sheemi.

He explained that the vast majority of factories and production lines at the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company were idle and collecting dust. “We merely need the authorities to respect and uphold judicial verdicts issued in our favor.”

Sheemi explained that the Shebin al-Kom Textile Company used to produce 60 to 70 tons of fabrics per day prior to its privatization in 2007. However the company is currently operating at a fraction of its original capacity and workforce - producing a meager two tons per day.

Workers from Shebin al-Kom have been demanding that the Textile Holding Company – which is responsible for managing this company, along with 31 others – re-operate all factories and reinstate all workers to the company. Yet the Textile Holding Company has not officially responded to these demands.

The Tanta Flax Company, which was privatized in 2005, has almost identical demands. This company is managed by the Chemical Industries Holding Company, yet has not received any responses regarding re-operation of stalled factories or reinstatement of sacked workers.

Although statements issued from the Finance Ministry indicated that the Tanta Flax Company might be up and running by next year, it made no mention of reinstating sacked workers.

The sacked workers repeatedly mentioned that the authorities in charge of these companies were unresponsive.

“ETUF and its president don’t represent Egypt’s workers," claimed Sheemi. "They only represent the interests of the ruling regime and the interests of businessmen.”

Workers from these two companies, along with hundreds of sacked workers from the Nasr Steam Boilers Company and the Nile Cotton Ginning Company, are still studying means to escalate protests.

On Saturday, workers from these companies - along with others - protested outside the Council of Ministers to demand that the newly-appointed government of Ibrahim Mehleb uphold the Administrative Court's verdicts.

*Photo by Jano Charbel

Workers reject 1-year ban on strikes proposed by state

Mada Masr

Workers reject proposed one-year ban on strikes

March 11, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Following the previous cabinet’s resignation on February 24 amid a massive wave of labor strikes, the new Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry moved to issue a controversial initiative on Sunday banning work stoppages for the next 12 months.

In media statements issued Sunday, the minister also claimed that she aspires to reach a deal with employers so as to realize the demands of striking workers, with the aim of containing their anger and limiting unrest.

Ashry has served in the Dispute Resolution Bureau of the Ministry of Manpower for the past 20 years — under the labor ministers appointed by Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the Brotherhood.

On Tuesday, a host of independent labor unions and workers’ organizations responded to this initiative by denouncing it as being unilateral, and offering striking workers nothing in return.

The Ministry had announced on Sunday that it has signed this new initiative with a new, small and virtually unknown, organization dubbed the “Egyptian National Workers' Federation.”

This new proposal for a ban on strikes violates the provisions of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87 (which the Egyptian state voluntarily ratified in 1957) along with Article 8 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ratified in 1982), and may even contravene Article 15 of the new Egyptian Constitution regarding the right to strike.

According to a statement issued in response from the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), this initiative does not represent the will of Egyptian workers, as it was only signed by a novel union federation “which has a membership of no more than 200 workers.”

The CTUWS statement also mentioned that if the Ministry of Manpower had sincerely sought to end strikes and labor unrest, they would have met with genuine representatives of Egypt’s workers and unions to hear their demands, and not issued unilateral initiatives with “unknown labor organizations.” The CTUWS criticized the new minister's unwillingness to engage in dialogue or collective bargaining with independent unions.

The CTUWS also mentioned that, had the Ministry of Manpower been concerned with workers’ grievances or their resolution, it would issue a new trade union law and a new labor law to replace the outdated and repressive legislation in existence, along with the provision of an all-inclusive minimum wage.

Representatives of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the (independent) Workers’ Coordination Committee (consisting of representatives from ten companies and the Strike Committee of the Doctors Syndicate) also issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing Ibrahim Mehleb and his new cabinet, while calling for the prime minister's trial for neglecting labor demands.

The statement issued by the Workers’ Coordination Committee denounced Mehleb and his Cabinet for failing to provide a minimum wage for Egypt’s workers, not imposing a maximum wage cap on (public sector) administrators, not re-operating hundreds of stalled factories, failing to uphold court verdicts regarding the re-nationalization of four (privatized) companies, and not re-instating thousands of sacked workers.   

In April 2013, the Dokki Criminal Court sentenced then-Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to one year in prison for failing to renationalize companies in accordance with earlier Administrative Court rulings.

Neither Ashry nor the spokesperson for the Ministry of Manpower could be reached for comment.
The Ministry, along with other state authorities have claimed that labor strikes and industrial actions are harming the national economy and are incurring several millions of pounds worth of losses.

Yet tens of thousands of workers, employees and professionals have been on strike since the beginning of this year, and have claimed that their strikes are a result of governmental mismanagement and corruption – which has incurred several billions of pounds worth of losses.

In a televised public address on March 2, Mehleb recognized the legitimacy of workers’ grievances, yet he added: “I call on you to refrain from all protests, sit-ins and strikes. Let us commence the rebuilding of our nation.”

A number of cabinet members have also claimed that the state does not currently have resources at its disposal to meet the demands of striking workers.

In April 2011, the military-appointed cabinet issued Law 34/2011, which criminalizes strikes and protests harming the economy with penalties of fines and/or imprisonment. These fines range from LE30,000 to LE500,000, with prison sentences of one year or more. While this law is technically still in effect, it has widely been ignored by workers and has very rarely been enforced by the authorities.

Under the rule of former-President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's Khaled al-Azhary — who was appointed Minister of Manpower — also proposed a one-year-ban on strikes, yet this proposal was never implemented.

In a similar proposal to that of Ashry, television presenter Amr Adeeb suggested a six-month ban on all strikes. On March 3, Adeeb called on all workers to refrain from striking or protesting for half a year, and to make do with the monthly minimum wage of LE1,200.

Adeeb called on all businessmen to donate 95 percent of their profits each month to a fund to replenish the state coffers. He also called on football players and celebrities to do the same, while subsisting on LE1,200 per month.

However, thousands of striking doctors have mocked Adeeb’s proposal on social networking sites, explaining that most physicians employed in public hospitals do not even earn LE1,200 per month. This minimum wage has not yet been extended to the majority of doctors who work for the Health Ministry.

From a total workforce of over 27 million, the minimum wage has been officially provided to a mere 4.9 million public sector employees, although there are more than seven million workers employed by the government and in state-owned enterprises.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

6 Arab & Iran women stage nude protest outside Louvre

Associated Press

Six women stage nude protest outside Louvre in Paris

March 9, 2014 

PARIS (AP) The Louvre has always showcased nudes. Never quite like this.

Paris police say they arrested six women Saturday for baring their breasts and more outside the pointy-pyramid entrance to the museum in front of dumbstruck, applauding tourists. They were released after identity checks.

Protest organizer Safia Lebdi says the demonstration was connected to International Women's Day. She says the women waved flags of Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Iran to highlight the many legal and cultural restrictions imposed on women in the Muslim world.

One of the naked protesters, Amina Sboui, is a former member of a Paris-based exhibitionist group called Femen renowned for its topless protests. Last year Sboui spent more than two months imprisoned in Tunisia for allegedly desecrating a cemetery by writing "Femen" on a wall.

Medical staff & workers escalate their strikes

Mada Masr
Medical staff and workers escalate their strike actions

March 9, 2014

Jano Charbel

Tens of thousands of doctors, pharmacists and dentists launched an open-ended strike on Saturday, an escalation of unprecedented industrial action by workers and professional staff in Egypt.

Outside the headquarters of the Cabinet, dozens of sacked employees protested.

Medical professionals nationwide have been on a partial strike for weeks while workers have occupied the headquarters of the state-controlled trade union federation for a month, demanding the re-operation of stalled factories and the implementation of court verdicts issued in 2011 for the re-nationalization of several privatized companies.  

Since the start of the year, Egypt has witnessed a massive wave of strikes and industrial action, which are believed to have brought the tenure of former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi and his cabinet to an abrupt end in late February.

Egypt’s new Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb appointed Nahed al-Ashry as Minister of Manpower, a controversial figure which spurred the concern of labor activists and independent trade union organizers. She has been quoted in local media as saying that she plans to bring an end to strikes and protests, and it is for her experience in dispute resolution that she was appointed.


Since May 2011, the Doctors Syndicate has launched a string of partial strikes demanding an increase in the healthcare expenditure of the state budget to 15 percent from the current 3.5 percent.
In these three years, doctors have also been demanding improved services at public hospitals, safer working conditions, higher salaries, an incremental pay-raise scale and adequate compensation for infectious illnesses, to name a few.

The General Assembly of the Doctors Syndicate decided to resume its strike action at the beginning of this year and, on Saturday, thousands of dentists and pharmacists joined.

Members of the Veterinarians Syndicate launched an open sit-in at the headquarters of the Federation of Medical Professions located in downtown Cairo.

The Doctors’ Joint Strike Committee claimed that around 80 percent of the country’s physicians, dentists and pharmacists — around 64,000 medical professionals — participated in the first day of the open strike, which is expected to continue in public hospitals and the Health Ministry’s medical facilities until the end of the month.

On March 28, doctors are to convene for a general assembly meeting and decide on further action. Countless medical professionals have threatened to resign if their demands continue to go unmet.

The Nurses Syndicate has denounced the open strike while the Healthy Ministry downplayed the number of medical professionals taking part to 33 percent.

In a Saturday press conference, the newly appointed Minister of Health Adel al-Adawi said that while “partial strikes are a constitutional right of doctors…[they] must not negatively affect patients’ rights or deny them treatment.”

On his part, Mohamed Fattouh, a member of the Doctors’ Joint Strike Committee, said that the “partial strikes have never been geared towards denying patients treatment.”

Emergency rooms, intensive care units, nurseries, dialysis machines, and all forms of urgent medical treatment and surgeries are not affected by the open-ended partial strike, he explained.

He accused military personnel of threatening striking doctors in South Sinai Governorate to resume all non-essential medical services or face arrest.

In a televised address to the army’s fresh medical graduates on Thursday, Defense Minister Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi praised Egypt’s doctors and medical staff as being the country’s best and brightest minds. He added, however, that due to dire economic conditions, doctors’ demands for increasing the state’s medical expenditure could not be met at the moment. 

In a speech loaded with nationalistic rhetoric, Sisi repeatedly asked doctors to selflessly postpone their demands while working for the general wellbeing of Egyptians.

A day later, the Doctors’ Joint Strike Committee responded to Sisi in a written statement, citing Egypt’s place as the “world’s leader in Hepatitis C infections,” adding that “the state does not care about doctors’ rights or the rights of poor patients. It does not care about public hospitals or those within them.”

The committee called on Sisi to open up the military’s medical facilities for public use. These facilities are generally equipped with more advanced equipment and provide a relatively better standard of healthcare than public hospitals.

  Workers from Tanta Flax and Oils, Shebin al-Kom Textiles, Nile Cotton Ginning, Nasr Steam Boilers, Petrotrade Petroleum and Simo Paper companies protested outside the Cabinet building on Saturday demanding the reinstatement of hundreds of sacked workers and the re-operation of stalled factories.

Representatives of the workers filed their demands and grievances in writing to the secretarial officers of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s newly appointed government.

Saturday marked the 28th day of an ongoing sit-in of workers from Tanta Flax and Shebin al-Kom Textile companies outside the headquarters of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). They were later joined by workers from the other companies demanding that the state uphold verdicts issued by the Administrative Court nearly three years ago.

Tanta Flax, along with the Shebin el-Kom Textile and Nasr Boilers, all had their privatization contracts nullified by the court in September 2011, on the basis that they were sold at grossly undervalued prices.

Some protesting workers carried a cardboard coffin on their shoulders inscribed with the words: “May judicial verdicts rest in peace.” The coffins were left to rest outside the Cabinet offices.

Abdel Aziz Mohamed, who had been sacked from Tanta Flax, said: “We are willing to work for free for as long as it takes to get our company running again.”

He added that while the government is calling on workers to halt protests and strikes in order to increase productivity, their companies’ operations remain stalled. “We want to end our protest, and we want to go back to work but the authorities are preventing us from doing so,” he said.

Authorities from the Ministry of Investment as well as the Holding Company for Chemical Industries claimed last year that Tanta Flax may be up and running by 2015. But after nearly four years of unemployment, the sacked workers of Tanta Flax have grown impatient with officials’ promises. 

Atef Hussein, from the privatized Simo Paper Company, said that he and his fellow workers are protesting because investors had halted production and not paid wages since June 2013.

“We have been demanding the re-operation of our company and the payment of our overdue wages for nearly a year now, but government officials and authorities from the Holding Company for Chemical Industries have ignored our pleas,” he said.

Several months ago, workers from Simo Paper filed a case before the Administrative Court claiming that their company had been sold for less than its market value. The court is scheduled to issue a verdict in this case on March 15.

Hassan Mohamed, a worker in Nasr Steam Boilers, said that the Administrative Court’s verdict ruling that the state re-operate the company “has been shelved, and our demands have fallen on deaf ears.”

He described the company as “a national treasure lost to negligence, privatization and mismanagement.”

Joining the protest outside the Cabinet, Atef Abdel Mongy, an independent labor activist, said that the new Minister of Manpower Nahed al-Ashry and the rest of Mehleb’s Cabinet want to put an end to labor unrest, “but they lack the political willpower to uphold labor rights, to return workers to their jobs, or to create new job opportunities."

“They want to end strikes and labor protests, yet they offer the workers next to nothing in return.”

*Photo by Jano Charbel

UNHRC: 27 countries call on Egypt to end systematic violations

Member States Call on Cairo to End Violations, Ensure Justice
March 7, 2014
(Geneva) –A joint declaration by 27 United Nations member states expressing concern about Egypt’s repeated use of excessive force against demonstrators turned the international spotlight on Egypt’s human rights abuses. It was the firstsuch action at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva since Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of protesters in dispersing a sit-in at Raba’a Square in Cairo on August 14, 2013.

The joint declaration on March 7, 2014 called for Egyptian authorities to hold those responsible for the abuses to account. The 27 countries also denounced Egypt’s restrictions on peaceful assembly, expression and association and urged the government to release those arrested solely for exercising those rights.

“For the first time UN member states have used the forum of the Human Rights Council to spotlight the abuses going on in Egypt,” said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director. “Egyptian authorities are now on notice that the international community will not ignore their crackdown on dissent and impunity for repeated, unlawful killings of protesters.”

The joint statement highlighted the need for justice for the killing of protesters and security forces since June 30, 2013, and the installation of a military-backed government. The statement called for findings of the national Fact Finding Commission, established by the interim president in December 2013, to be made public and for those responsible for grave violations to be held accountable.

On March 3, 2014, a group of 15 nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to UN member countries calling on the Human Rights Council to address the “grave situation of human rights in Egypt at the upcoming 25th Session of the UNHRC.”

The situation in Egypt has grown increasingly dire over the past eight months, as security forces use excessive lethal force against protesters. Authorities arrest or harass journalists, peaceful protesters, and others for exercising the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, as well as solely for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been no efforts to hold accountable security officials responsible for ordering or carrying out attacks that have killed well over 1,000 people since July 3, 2013.

The joint statement was in response to a call by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, for Egypt to respect human rights, in particular protection from arbitrary detention, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“Egyptian officials should understand that the world is watching and will not accept denial, foot-dragging, and impunity for pervasive rights violations,” de Rivero said. “After killing hundreds and arbitrarily detaining many more, Egypt needs to act to address serious concerns about its human rights record.” 

Code Pink activist says Egypt police assaulted her at airport

New York Times

US Activist Says Egyptian Police Assaulted Her

March 4, 2014

David D. Kirkpatrick

CAIRO — Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the American protest group Code Pink, which opposes United States military actions, said Tuesday that she had been detained in the Cairo airport and assaulted by the Egyptian police while trying to travel to Gaza for a meeting opposing Israeli incursions and restrictions there.

A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry said that Ms. Benjamin had been stopped at the airport because the Gaza border crossing was closed, and that she had then physically resisted the airport security agents. “She arrived in Cairo and insisted on going to Gaza,” said the spokesman, Badr Abdelatty. “She was prevented because the border crossing is closed.”

Ms. Benjamin, an American, was held for several hours with other women in an airport room that was full of bunk beds. She used a mobile device to send messages and pictures over Twitter. 

“Stuck in cold jail cell at Cairo airport gives new meaning to term ‘jetlag,'” she tweeted around 8 a.m. Tuesday. Then, around 11 a.m., she tweeted: “Help. They broke my arm. Egypt police.”

Mr. Abdelatty said Ms. Benjamin had refused to board a flight back to the United States and had struggled as she was forcibly escorted to another flight, to Istanbul.

In a news release sent after she landed, Ms. Benjamin said she had been “brutally assaulted.”

“When the authorities came into the cell to deport me, two men threw me to the ground, stomped on my back, pulled my shoulder out of its socket and handcuffed me so that my injured arm was twisted around and my wrists began to bleed,” she said. “I was then forced to sit between the two men who attacked me on the plane ride from Cairo to Istanbul, and I was (and still am) in terrible pain the whole time.”

Ms. Benjamin helped found Code Pink to oppose the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group, which is composed mainly of women, has increasingly focused its attention-grabbing protests on other causes like health care, gun control and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

New gov't announces aim of limiting labor unrest

Mada Masr

New govt announces aim to limit labor unrest

March 4, 2014

Jano Charbel

New Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb’s appointment of the controversial figure Nahed al-Ashry as Minister of Manpower has caused a great deal of concern among labor activists and independent trade union organizers across the country.

Her appointment comes in light of a massive wave of strikes and other industrial actions that have rocked the country since the beginning of the year, and are believed to be the chief cause behind the resignation of Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi and his cabinet on February 24.

Sworn into office on Saturday, Ashry is only the second woman to occupy this portfolio, after Aisha Abdel Hady, who was appointed in 2005. Ashry has served as chief of the Dispute Resolution Bureau within the Ministry of Manpower under the Hosni Mubarak regime. She served in the bureau for a total of 20 years.

Many workers and labor activists claim that the 57-year-old is a Mubarak loyalist, or feloul — a remnant of the old regime. However, since her appointment Ashry has sought to distance herself from the Mubarak regime and his now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), mentioning in news reports that she is a non-affiliated technocrat with no links to Mubarak and his party, or any other party.

Adding to the skepticism about her allegiances is the fact that she was handpicked by Mehleb — who himself was a member of the NDP’s Policies Committee under Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal Mubarak.

“We definitely didn’t chose her to serve in this capacity,” said Talal Shokr, board member of the (independent) Egyptian Democratic Labor Confederation (EDLC).

“As union representatives we were not consulted regarding Nahed al-Ashri’s appointment, nor did we have a say regarding her appointment. It was the prime minister’s choice, he appointed her to serve as a technocrat in his government. Or perhaps it’s merely an attempt to return to Mubarak’s old policies and old officials.”

“Apparently the previous minister [Kamal Abu Eita] was deemed not qualified or not experienced enough to serve as minister of manpower,” he added “She’s the worst person who could possibly be chosen to fill the post of Minister of Manpower,” said Hisham al-Oql, a worker activist who was forced to resign from his job at the privatized Tanta Flax and Oils Company in 2010.

“There is nobody around whom there is complete approval or consensus. Yet I will strive to serve everybody who requests assistance,” Ashry said on Sunday during a televised interview on privately owned CBC Extra satellite channel.

Oql added: “Doctor Nahed has personally overseen the corrupt and unlawful privatizations of both the Tanta Flax Company and the Shebin al-Kom Textiles Company, along with several others. She also arranged the forced resignations and early retirements of hundreds of workers — in just these two companies, not to mention the other companies in which thousands of workers were sacked.”

Oql, along with dozens of workers from these two companies, has been occupying the headquarters of the (state-controlled) Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) for the past 24 days. They are demanding the re-operation of their stalled companies in light of the Administrative Court’s verdict on September 28, 2013 that these companies are to be returned to the public sector.

Neither Ashry nor the Ministry of Manpower’s spokesperson could be reached for comments about the minister’s plans to quell labor unrest or re-operate stalled companies.

In an interview with the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper on Wednesday, Ashry is quoted as saying that her experience in dispute resolution is the reason she was appointed.

She served in the Ministry of Manpower’s Dispute Resolution Bureau under Mubarak’s rule, Mohamed Morsi’s rule and that of the interim government propped up by the military.

In a number of other media reports, the newly-appointed minister also mentioned that she aspires to bring an end to labor unrest while promoting production and increasing output.
Oql dismissed these comments.

“If she is serious about her talk of production and workers’ productivity then she would be working to implement court verdicts for the re-operation of our stalled factories, and the reinstatement of us sacked workers,” he said.

“Doctor Nahed was a close associate of Aisha Abdel Hadi, who served as Minister of Manpower during some of the worst years for Egyptian workers — when tens of thousands were laid off from the public sector, and when the most basic labor rights were either ignored or openly violated,” Oql added.

However, the minister expressed a change of policies in her interview with Al-Shorouk. Ashry said she aims to provide the new minimum wage of LE 1,200 to all governmental and public sector employees in the near future, while also seeking to extend this to those employed in the private sector.

“Her success will depend on the recognition of workers’ rights and the enforcement of these rights, including not only the right to a minimum wage, but also the enforcement of a maximum wage for public sector officials, along with the right to collective bargaining and the right to establish unions independent of state control,” Shokr commented.

“We’ll give her a chance to prove herself and we hope that she will be able to uphold the international labor conventions which Egypt has ratified – so as to protect workers’ essential rights and freedoms,” he added

“Doctor Nahed is an eloquent speaker and a very convincing debater, but not much more,” said Oql. “She’ll only bring us more of the same — the same empty promises.”

According to Shokr the new minister must be prepared to engage in dialogue with striking workers and their representatives, or she will not succeed in her post.

“She must be open to societal discussions and to collective bargaining with unions. Otherwise she’ll just be carrying on with the state’s policy of ignoring labor rights and grievances — as has been the case for well over four decades.”

Ashri has announced her intention of discussing contentious labor issues with the state-controlled ETUF at the end of this month, but not with representatives of Egypt’s independent trade union movement.

Other statements recently made by Ashri, regarding Egyptian laborers abroad, have also caused concern. She raised eyebrows this week when she announced a return to Abdel Hadi’s policy of sending Egyptian women to work as maids in the Arab Gulf countries — on condition that their contracts are registered with Egyptian embassies and consulates there.

Yet the kafeel system (which means workers’ control by employment sponsors) has in the past translated into rampant labor violations against these workers, along with other Egyptian laborers, in the Gulf.

On Monday the spokesperson of the left-leaning Tagammu Party, Nabil Zakariya, called Ashry “an enemy of both Egypt’s women and its working class." Similar denunciations were issued from the Egyptian Communist Party and the (opposition umbrella) Kifaya Movement, among others.

In his public address to the nation on Sunday, Mehleb announced that he seeks to increase employment opportunities for the country’s labor force and “safeguard the public sector enterprises, uphold workers’ rights, and struggle to root out corruption along with those responsible for it.”

“I address you in the spirit of nationalism and love of our country, now is the time for work and production,” he said. “There must be no voice louder than that of construction and development. Thus from my heart I call on you to refrain from all protests, sit-ins and strikes. Let us commence the rebuilding of our nation.”

Mehleb failed to acknowledge that a large number of the recent strikes and other forms of labor protests have been aimed at ending corruption and mismanagement. Tens of thousands of workers have gone on strikes with the alleged objective of increasing accountability and putting a stop to corruption in the public sectors including textiles, transport, steel and iron mills and post offices.

According to Shokr, instead of focusing her efforts on attempting to end strikes, “Ashry and the new cabinet should focus on attempting to end, or at least confront corruption and mismanagement, which have been the cause of numerous strikes and industrial actions over the years.”

Mehleb continued his national address by stating that he would heed the demands and grievances of striking workers. He said workers should substitute labor protests with petitions from their representatives to the new government. He concluded by quoting a verse from the Quran regarding God’s admiration of work and productivity.  

*Photo of Nahed al-Ashry, Minister of Manpower