Sunday, November 30, 2014

This is how the "justice" system functions in Egypt



*Art courtesy of Carlos Latuff

Independent trade unionism in Tunisia VS. Egypt's state-controlled unions

Mada Masr
A Uniting Union 
Tunisia's labor federation has much to teach Egyptian trade unions

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jano Charbel 

Behind Tunisia’s ongoing presidential elections, with a run-off already scheduled for December 21, lies an intricate web of power conflicts and mediation.

Moving beyond the traditional labor federation role, Tunisia’s Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) has been playing a pivotal role in helping to resolve national political disputes, as it has been widely credited with helping the country avert bloody power struggles since the revolution.

The UGTT has been an integral mediator in Tunisia’s National Dialogue sessions since 2012. Following political assassinations and heated governmental conflicts, it succeeded in resolving a deadlock between the Islamist Ennahda Party and secular parties in October 2013.

This is when the UGTT moved a crisis-solving initiative that preserved the National Constituent Assembly drafting the constitution, formed a technocratic government and set the dates for the elections.

UGTT’s position in the Tunisian political landscape today sits in stark contrast with that of Egypt’s Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which closely remains within the state’s sphere of influence.

After the July 2013 military-led takeover from the Muslim Brotherhood, it campaigned for a “yes” vote in the January 2014 Constitutional Referendum, a move that also acted as an endorsement for the pro-military regime that followed its toppled Brotherhood predecessor.

In 2014, the ETUF commemorated the third anniversary of the January 25 uprising by campaigning for the presidential bid of military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Acting ETUF President Gebali al-Maragahi announced in his official address: “All of Egypt’s workers and populace call on you o’ Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to nominate yourself for the presidency.”

ETUF would officially join Sisi’s presidential campaign in May. Since then it has organized labor conferences to support the general-turned-president, Armed Forces and the police.

Moreover, the federation has echoed governmental calls to end strikes and industrial actions. In May 2014, ETUF signed a “code of honor” with the Ministry of Manpower to “halt strikes and all other forms of labor protests” until the election of a president and parliament. Parliamentary elections have been slated for 2015.

Some point to the basic difference in the independent outlook, since their inception, between the two workers' organizations.

“There’s almost no common ground on which to compare the ETUF and UGTT. In Tunisia their federation was established for the defense of workers’ rights. While the ETUF is a state-controlled apparatus that has always remained in the embrace of Egypt’s ruling regimes and the Ministry of Interior,” says worker-activist Nagy Rashad, who served as caretaker bureau member of the ETUF.

Secretary of the UGTT’s Educational Workers' Union, Qassem al-Afiya, echoes Rashad’s conviction. During his 23 years in power, he says, “[former Tunisian President Zein al-Abidine] Ben Ali managed to manipulate much of civil society to support his regime, with the exception of the local UGTT unions. The independence of our unions from the government is of paramount importance to us.”

The UGTT’s independence was played out during the revolution where its supportive stance was a major player in breaking Ben Ali’s regime in January 2011.

In late December 2010, scores of UGTT secretaries along with rank-and-file members participated in Tunisia’s protest marches and occupations. However, the UGTT’s executive leadership was reluctant to move against Ben Ali.

The UGTT’s upper rungs were finally pressured into launching a general strike on January 14, 2011 – the day on which Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

Not only did the UGTT call for a general strike during Ben Ali’s last days as president, it also opened its doors to protesters injured on the streets of Tunis, along with making demands to release imprisoned political activists.

The Teachers’ Union was particularly involved in these street protests. “Following great pressures from lower-ranking membership, the top leadership found itself forced to ride the revolutionary bandwagon and support the popular demands of the uprising,” says Afiya, a teacher and trade unionist.

Egypt was different. According to Rashad, the ETUF openly stood against the revolution.

Following Tunisia’s lead, Egypt’s January 25 uprising would be joined with public bus drivers’ strikes, labor protests along the Suez Canal and nationwide industrial actions beginning on February 7 – until Mubarak stepped down on February 11.

Meanwhile, Rashad explains he was summoned to the ETUF headquarters along with other workers and unionists two days prior to the revolution – on January 23 – where “the federation’s leadership and high ranking police officers called on us to refrain from joining the planned protests, or engaging in any strikes.”

During the 18-day uprising, ETUF headquarters closed its doors to anti-Mubarak protesters, while its leadership denounced the uprising in media outlets.

Rashad claims to have witnessed evidence of ETUF leaders actively organizing attacks against the January 25 uprising.

ETUF President Hussein Megawer would later be implicated in organizing attacks on anti-Mubarak protesters – specifically on Tahrir Square, including an attack on February 2, dubbed the Battle of the Camel, resulting in 11 fatalities and over 1,000 injuries.

Megawer was arrested in April and jailed pending trial on charges of instigating the attack. However, in October 2012, the court acquitted Megawer and his 23 co-defendants – mostly figures from Mubarak’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, additional purges and democratic renewals within UGTT ranks are responsible for pushing it forth, while additional governmental intervention has kept the ETUF stagnating in its traditional role, analysts argue.

The UGTT Secretary General Abdelsalam Jerad, and ETUF President Hussein Megawer, were both deposed shortly after the downfalls of Mubarak and Ben Ali. Their executive leaderships have since been replaced – but through very different means.

During the UGTT’s 22nd Congress in December 2011, Jerad and the federation’s old executive bureau were purged and new leaderships were chosen – via elections involving rank-and-file members.

In Egypt, however ETUF’s executive bureau was dissolved on August 4, 2011 - by decree of the interim cabinet. The Ministry of Manpower appointed caretaker committees to replace this executive bureau, and has been doing so for the past three years. Although ETUF elections were scheduled for October/November 2011 they have repeatedly been postponed.

The last time the ETUF held nationwide elections was in 2006.  The decision to dissolve the ETUF’s executive bureau was backed by an Administrative Court verdict in November 2006 – ruling that these elections were invalid due to mass violations and irregularities – including the absence of judicial supervision. 

“We initially had hopes and aspirations regarding our ability to reform this federation. We quickly realized that it is resistant to reform,” says Wael Habib, worker at the Mahalla Textile Company and former caretaker member at the ETUF.

For Habib, the ETUF is doomed to remain a state-controlled entity, “especially if no progress is made in reforming the outdated Trade Union Law (35/1976.)”   

In 2014, several of the ETUF’s constituent unions have filed lawsuits to ban or outlaw independent unions in accordance with this law. These unions have sprung up in response to the state's control over ETUF.

The UGTT’s relevance today arguably stems from its ability to serve the interests of the workers it represents, which is considered to be less the case with ETUF. The 750,000 member union represents a national workforce estimated at four million people and includes nationwide professional associations, industrial and service workers’ unions, with blue-collar and white collar workers, in both the public and private sectors.

“The UGGT has always stood by our side and our demands, although we sometimes wish they’d act quicker to resolve our problems of punitive sackings and increased unemployment,” says Abdel Qader Selim, a Tunisian textile worker and unionist.

With the official unemployment rate in 2014 at 15.2 percent, Tunisia has the highest rate of joblessness in North Africa.

As for the ETUF membership, it has declined since the 2011 uprising. It currently claims around 4 million members – from Egypt’s national labor force of approximately 28 million – and consists of 23 general unions and around 1,900 local union committees, largely industrial and service sector unions – primarily in the public sector.

The history of both establishments gives reason to understand the level of their independence today.

The UGTT was freely and officially established on January 20, 1946, coming into existence a decade prior to independence from France, and prior to Tunisian state control.

Armed with a long history of strikes and labor resistance against French colonialism, the UGTT has aligned with national independence leaders. Nevertheless, it was subjected to crackdowns in the late 1970s at the hands of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba.

Subsequently the UGTT’s upper rungs would be coopted to some extent. Its executive bureau endorsed Ben Ali’s presidential bids and re-elections. However, the more independent lower rungs were subjected to dismissals, arrests and police harassment under both Bourguiba and Ben Ali.

As for the ETUF, its origins date back to 1957. Established by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser as the only legally recognized union federation, it has remained under the influence of the Ministry of Manpower since then.

Since the 1950s, tens of leaders from the ETUF and UGTT served as members of parliament in both Egypt and Tunisia, typically representing the ruling party. While several of their top leaders have served as ministers.

Meanwhile, the ETUF and UGTT have entirely different track records when it comes to labor strikes.

While thousands of strikes have taken place in Egypt over the past few decades, the ETUF has officially authorized only two: the national miners’ strike in 1993, and the Tanta Flax and Oils Company strike in 2009.

The ETUF has not staged a single general strike in its 57-year long history.

In contrast, the UGTT continues to authorize both local and general strikes for its members’ rights – as it has over its nearly 70-year history.

*Photos by Jano Charbel

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Photos: Protests against Mubarak regime acquittal in Abdel Moneim Riyad Sq.

Peaceful protesters chant against Mubarak, Sisi & military rule

Elderly activist holds signs commemorating martyrs of the January 25th Revolution, denouncing the governments of Mubarak & Sisi
Well over 2,000 joined peaceful protests near Tahrir Square, numbers were growing until police cracked-down around 9pm

Chants against Ministry of Interior & police brutality
Strong criticism of the judiciary and their verdicts
Riot police trucks deployed in front of army APCs in Tahrir Square, sealed-off by barbed wire barriers. Water cannons, tear gas, and shotguns were used to forcefully disperse the peaceful protesters. At least one protester was killed, tens of others injured and arrested.

Court dismisses charges against Mubarak regime of corruption, killing protesters


Egypt: Ex-ruler Hosni Mubarak, accused in deaths of hundreds, cleared of charges

November 30, 2014 
Jason Hanna, Sarah Sirgany and Holly Yan
Cairo (CNN) -- Egypt's formear longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak was cleared of charges in a retrial Saturday and could soon be released -- a stunning reversal for a man who faced life imprisonment or worse after a revolution toppled him in 2011.

A Cairo judge dismissed charges linking Mubarak to the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 2011 revolt and found him not guilty of corruption.

Mubarak, who ruled Egypt as president for 29 years, was stoic as his supporters in the courtroom cheered the decision that capped a months-long retrial. The 86-year-old, reclining on a hospital gurney in a defendants' cage, nodded while fellow defendants kissed him on the head.

Later, he told the country's Sada ElBalad TV station in a brief phone interview that he "didn't commit anything."

"I laughed when I heard the first verdict," he said of the first trial. "When it came to the second verdict, I said I was waiting. It would go either way. It wouldn't have made a difference to me either way."

Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat will appeal the verdict, Egypt's government-controlled Al-Ahram newspaper website reported early Sunday.
Mubarak was convicted in 2012 of issuing orders to kill peaceful protesters during the country's 2011 uprising and was sentenced to life in prison. He appealed and was granted a new trial last year.

Also acquitted Saturday were Mubarak's former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly and six of el-Adly's aides, who'd been accused of being connected to the deaths of 239 protesters as security forces cracked down on them in 2011. Mubarak's two sons also were acquitted Saturday of corruption.

Mubarak still has a three-year sentence for a previous conviction for embezzlement, but it wasn't immediately clear how much time he's already been credited with, and therefore when he will be free.
CNN's efforts to reach Mubarak's lawyer Farid El-Deeb for comment weren't immediately successful.

Both sides have alleged that Mubarak's trials have been politicized, with supporters arguing he was unfairly vilified and opponents fearing that he'd be acquitted as memories of the revolution faded.

His legal fortunes did seem to parallel the political climate -- just last year, Mohamed Morsy, the Islamist who became Egypt's first democratically elected president, supported a retrial with the backing of his supporters, who argued Mubarak should have received a death sentence rather than life in captivity.

But Morsy himself was deposed by the military in July 2013, as opponents accused him of pursuing an Islamist agenda at the exclusion of other factions.

And now the Arab Spring revolt that ousted Mubarak has come nearly full circle -- Mubarak appears close to freedom; Morsy is jailed, his Muslim Brotherhood banned; and Morsy supporters allege the current government has returned to Mubarak's authoritarian practices.


Judge Mahmoud el-Rashidy said he dropped charges against Mubarak because Cairo Criminal Court didn't have the jurisdiction to try him for the protesters' deaths.

The judge said the case that prosecutors initially referred to the court listed only el-Adly and his aides as defendants -- not Mubarak himself.

But after mass protests pressured the prosecutor general to question Mubarak, a second referral was made to the court, and the two cases were merged into one.

Lawyer Hoda Nasralla, who represents the families of 65 slain and injured protesters, said the inclusion of Mubarak in a second referral should have trumped his exclusion in the first.

"The judge shied away from directly acquitting Mubarak even though he was accused of conspiring with Adly, and Adly was acquitted," she said. "The judge resorted to formalities instead."


Salway El-Sayed, mother of one of the slain 2011 protesters, sat down on a sidewalk outside the court after she heard Saturday's verdicts, praying to God to deliver justice.

She broke down in tears, her hands shaking, as she recalled her son Tamer Hanafy, who was killed in January 2011 at Cairo's Tahrir Square, epicenter of the uprising.

"I'm worried my son's blood would go in vain," she said. "Our children's blood isn't cheap. Their blood is precious, like any other blood."

"I don't want execution," she continued. "This won't bring back my son ... I want only God's retribution. Nothing more."

Tahrir Square was closed to traffic following Saturday's verdicts.

One man was killed and nine people were injured as several hundred demonstrators clashed nearby with Egyptian security forces, Egyptian Ministry of Health spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar told CNN.

Police fired tear gas and bird shot at the protesters. The Ministry of Interior said police were pelted by rocks before the incident escalated.

The human rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, whose lawyers represented more than 60 civil plaintiffs in the case, said that Saturday's verdict solidified the impunity that it says security forces and their leaders enjoy.

"Justice was dealt another severe blow," the group said in a news release.


In January 2011, throngs of Egyptians filled the streets of Cairo to decry the country's poverty, unemployment and repression. Protesters called for Mubarak to step down but were met by a fierce and often violent government crackdown. Mubarak eventually stepped down in 2011.

That freed up long-supressed Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to run for office. Morsy, backed by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, became president in June 2012.

But Morsy was ousted in a coup about a year later amid widespread protests against his rule. Since then, Cairo's military-installed government has banned the Brotherhood, calling it a terrorist group -- an allegation it denies -- and accusing it of being behind a wave of deadly attacks on police and the military.

Many Islamist and secular activists have been arrested and given lengthy sentences. A restrictive protest law and repeated deadly crackdowns on demonstrations followed.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who led Morsy's ouster, was elected president in May after leaving the military to run for the office.


Since Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, the ailing former ruler has appeared in court numerous times on a variety of charges, often wheeled in on a gurney. His lawyers say he suffered health problems after his 2011 arrest, including a stroke, and he has served much of his prison time at a military medical facility.

In May, a Cairo court sentenced him to three years in prison for embezzlement. His sons Gamal and Alaa were sentenced to four years each on the same charge.

All three were convicted of embezzling $18 million that was allocated for the renovation of presidential palaces. The Mubaraks have insisted they are not guilty.
 *Photo dick-tator Mubarak courtesy of AFP

Gov't widely expands definition of "terrorism" in new oppressive law

Mada Masr
Cabinet passes “terrorist entities” law

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Egypt’s Cabinet passed a draft law on “terrorist entities” Wednesday night, presented by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The law’s 10 articles focus on defining terrorist entities, placing identified terrorist entities on lists, and stipulating the process of legally appealing these lists.

Article one of the law defines terrorist entities as “any association, organization, group or gang that attempts to, aims to or calls for destabilizing public order; endangers society’s wellbeing or its interests of safety; harms individuals or terrorizes them, or endangers their lives or freedoms or rights or safety; endangers social unity; harms the environment or natural resources or monuments or communications or transportation or funds or buildings or public or private property, or occupies them; obstructs the work of public authorities or the judiciary or government entities or local municipalities or houses of worship or hospitals or scientific institutions or diplomatic missions or international organizations; blocks public or private transportation, or roads; harms national unity or national peacefulness; obstructs the implementation of the constitution or laws or bylaws; uses violence or power or threats or acts of terrorism to achieve one of its goals.”

The second article gives prosecution the right to draw up lists of identified terrorist entities, which includes groups that are officially ruled as terrorist organizations. Prosecution will also be tasked with creating lists of “terrorists” found guilty of running the identified terrorist groups.

The law stipulates that organizations designated as terrorist entities must remain on the lists for three weeks, and if no judicial order is issued to confirm the terrorist nature of these organizations, the prosecution retains the right to extend the period for which these organizations are kept on the lists.

Penalties against designated terrorist entities can include dissolving the organization, suspending its activities, shutting down its headquarters, banning meetings held by its members, halting funding to the organization directly or indirectly, freezing assets owned by the organization or its leaders, banning membership to or promotion of the group, and temporary banning the group from political participation.

At least 5 dead, over 200 arrested as police crush Islamist marches

At Least Five Dead After Egypt Protests Put Down By Government

At least five people are dead following the suppression of a number of anti-government protests by Islamists in Egypt on Friday. At least two killed were protesters, while three senior military officials were killed in separate shootings, the Associated Press reported. Dozens were reportedly injured in the demonstrations.

Salafi Front, a conservative Islamist group, backed the protests, calling for a “Muslim youth uprising” on its Facebook page. The protests, which attracted a few hundred, are the first in months following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military last year.

Cairo was reportedly on lockdown during the protests, with security forces authorized to use “lethal force.” The interior ministry says it thwarted 10 bombings and arrested 224 people who were connected to the protests, according to Reuters. Two of the officers killed were shot in Cairo, while another officer was killed in Alexandria.

Though some groups such as Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supported the protests, others spoke against the demonstrations. “Don't do it.... You can't fix corruption by sabotage, terrorizing safe people, and shedding blood,” an imam said on state television, according to the AP.

Following Morsi’s removal from office last year, the Egyptian government led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood members, with hundreds sentenced to death in June and thousands more jailed.

Fear, violence & hardship part of everyday live in North Sinai towns

Daily News Egypt

Fear, violence and hardship part of everyday life in volatile North Sinai town

Residents of Al-Arish are caught in the fight between militants and the military 

“At 5pm the day ends with the sound of gunshots – a new ritual to remind people that it’s curfew time – and by 7am another round of gunshots informs residents that the curfew has ended,” said the teacher – a mother of two living in Al-Arish, northern Sinai.

Several residents of the town have shared their experiences with the Daily News Egypt of living under curfew. A state of emergency was declared in the area following attacks by militants on 24 October, which left at least 30 army personnel dead. A militant insurgency in Sinai has flared since the military’s ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The residents, who all of whom asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, revealed that – even under curfew – explosions are a common occurrence, and the people are living in fear.
The teacher’s six year-old daughter wakes up every night crying and screaming, terrorised by the sounds of explosions and gunfire. A few months before the curfew, the family’s house was shot at when the children were at home alone with their mother. “Since then, the nightmares have never left them,” she said.

Residents often feel the need to report a car or a suspicious bag left in the street but, as the mobile phone networks are frequently cut, it has become difficult. “Even when something gets reported, the response from the army or police is very slow,” said the teacher.

According to a pharmacist in his late twenties, the poor mobile coverage is a protective measure used by the authorities to prevent militants from contacting each other. “However, the government is unable to take control of the situation even with this precaution,” he added.

An engineer in his mid-twenties however had a different theory, attributing the network cuts to the authorities’ aim of preventing those living outside of the area from knowing what is really going on in Al-Arish.

The mother teaches at a school in Sheikh Zuweid – a Bedouin town near the border with the Gaza Strip – and claimed that she has seen planes bombarding a village in the area known as Al-Toma.
She noted that travelling between towns in the region has become difficult.

On 17 November, teachers returning to Al-Arish from Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah had to wait for hours at a checkpoint outside Al-Arish due to suspected explosives on the road. The delays meant they were not able to get home before the 5pm curfew and as a result a 28 year-old teacher was shot in the thigh while passing a security checkpoint later that night in Dahiyat al-Salam neighbourhood of Al-Arish.

The man is currently at Al-Arish hospital and his condition is stable, she said. Other teachers were taken from the checkpoint in the Alreesa district in ambulances and military vehicles, not reaching their homes until 7-8pm.

Some mothers were not able to collect their children from day care centres and there was no network coverage to enable them to contact the centres and inform them about the delay. “The mothers were extremely worried and the children were kept at neighbours’ and baby sitters’ houses until the mobile network came back at night and the mothers were then able to know where their children were,” according to the teacher.

The day after she and a group of teachers met with the governor of North Sinai Abdel Fatah Harhour to find a solution to problems cause by security delays when travelling from Al-Arish to other towns. Two days later, on 20 November, Harhour ordered the indefinite closure of schools in Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah for security reasons.

Even travelling around Al-Arish in the day time has become arduous as security forces frequently set up new checkpoints made of sand, stone, and metal barriers, forcing residents to take longer routes to reach their destinations.

Residents report that travelling from Arish to Cairo and vice versa has become very difficult. A year and a half ago they used to pass over the Suez Canal on Al-Salam Bridge. However, following the increased security threats, people are now often forced to pass the canal via ferryboat. “The lines of cars waiting to pass are endless and more time is consumed because almost every car in the queue gets inspected,” said an Al-Arish housewife.

The financial situation has become challenging for many people in Al-Arish. All types of entertainment have been removed from their lives and they can hardly afford to buy basic necessities. Traders of fruits, vegetables and clothes have raised their prices to cover losses from the early closure of their shops under curfew.

“After 5pm Al-Arish becomes like a ghost town. Places that used to be full of people and shops that were open all night are now dead and no one dares to not abide by the rules,” said a pharmacist living in Al-Arish.People are losing their tempers because of what’s happening. “I am now considering leaving this country for good and the coming days will help me determine whether I’ll stay or leave,” the pharmacist said.

Some residents express a lack of confidence in the ability of the security forces to secure the area.
On 11 November residents stated that they had reported a suspicious car parked in their neighbourhood to the police around 4pm. At 8.30pm the car exploded, before the security forces could investigate, said one of the residents who preferred to remain anonymous.

No one was killed but some sustained minor injuries. Houses and shops sustained significant damage from the explosion. Two shops were completely shattered, buildings around the car were left with cracks and holes and windows were broken.

“I thought that the whole building was being blown up, all the windows in the house were smashed inside falling on beds, sofas and on the floors,” said a housewife and a mother of four living near the place of the incident.

Another housewife shared her view regarding the situation. She implied that things are moving from bad to worse and people are feeling unstable and insecure. “I don’t have a good feeling about what’s currently happening. After the displacement of residents from Rafah I personally think that Al-Arish will be next. I have a feeling that the government is planning to isolate Sinai from Egypt and everyday my doubts get justified even more,” she said.

The housewife is living with her husband and two children near a police station in Al-Arish; security is tight to protect the station from any attacks. She claimed that, if a car passes by the area, the security forces fire their weapons and start screaming at the driver to leave immediately. The woman always parks her car on the other side of the house trying to avoid any kind of panic. “For the same reasons we can’t even get out in our balconies,” she said.

Residents say that the behaviour of the security forces is alienating citizens.

“During the setback of the 1967 war with Israel, when the Israeli army invaded Sinai and occupied Arish, many Egyptian soldiers weren’t able to leave immediately, so they hid in local houses, where residents provided them with food, clothes and even created fake ID’s for them to protect them from the Israeli army. Now things have changed. If a similar situation happened with the new enemy in Sinai, residents wouldn’t respond the same,” said an engineer living in Al-Arish.

“The police and the military are now treating people in a very bad way, the possibility of people being taken to jail for no good reason is very high and it has been actually happening a lot lately,” said the engineer. He claims that innocent people are often arrested in their homes or in the streets.

Another resident shared a story about a neighbour who was taken from his home about a month and a half ago. The resident claims that 10-15 soldiers came to the house next door at 2am and asked for an 18 year-old man who was living in the house.

“The sound of knocking and yelling was so loud that people started getting out on their balconies to see what has been going on, but soldiers kept yelling at them, telling them to go back inside. My mother and my sister were crying out of fright and out of pity for the young man and his family.”

“Until now the parents have no clue where their son is; they looked for him at all the police stations in Al-Arish and even in Cairo but couldn’t reach him. I can’t imagine what his family must be going through right now,” the resident said.

“No one is reflecting the whole picture of what is happening in Al-Arish to the external world. Some residents in the town don’t even know what has been going on. The lack of media coverage in Sinai can definitely open the door for more human rights violations,” said the engineer.

According to the teacher, some houses are now being inspected by the army. They approached her brother’s house and asked for his family’s identity cards as well as the contract for his apartment. “He was lucky to be home at the time because if the army finds an empty apartment they smash it down without notice, which happened with his neighbour’s house,” she said.

Yet, while some criticise the military and their actions in Al-Arish, others see this as the right way to handle the current situation. A working father said that, when it comes to national security, the military and Egyptian general intelligence are the only ones who should determine what is to be done.

He said that the tunnels found in Rafah between Sinai and Gaza show that the army isn’t just performing carelessly. “They do know what they are doing,” he said.

“My work has been highly affected by the recent events as I’m losing a lot of money but I believe that what the military is doing is all in favour of the people of Sinai and to prevent the city from being separated from Egypt,” the father added.

Hundreds of stories can be told by the people of this small town as every day seems to bring them a new unpleasant adventure. People are actually eager to talk and share their experience, fear, and uncertainty with the outside world.

“Every day I feel like a disaster is about to happen and I only ask God to keep my parents and my children away from any harm, and I hope that I can get back to them safely,” the teacher said. “”Oh, Sinai, where are you headed to?”

Court dashes hopes of campaigns against female genital mutilation

The Guardian

Egypt’s first female genital mutilation trial ends in not guilty verdict

Dr Raslan Fadl and father of girl who died during the procedure have been acquitted, dashing hopes for a nationwide crackdown

Thursday 20 November 2014

Patrick Kingsley

The first doctor to be brought to trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been acquitted, crushing hopes that the landmark verdict would discourage Egyptian doctors from conducting the endemic practice.

Raslan Fadl, a doctor and Islamic preacher in the village of Agga, northern Egypt, was acquitted of mutilating Sohair al-Bata’a in June 2013. The 12-year-old died during the alleged procedure, but Fadl was also acquitted of her manslaughter.

No reason was given by the judge, with the verdict being simply scrawled in a court ledger, rather than being announced in the Agga courtroom.

Sohair’s father, Mohamed al-Bata’a, was also acquitted of responsibility. Police and health officials testified that the child’s parents had admitted taking their daughter to Fadl’s clinic for the procedure.
Despite his acquittal, the doctor was ordered to pay 5,001 Egyptian pounds (about £450) to Sohair’s mother for her daughter’s manslaughter, after the pair reached an out-of-court settlement.

The case was pursued rigorously by activists and state officials in the hope that it would send a strong message to doctors that FGM, which was nominally made illegal in 2008, will no longer be tolerated in Egypt. Instead, said a lawyer from a local rights group – the first to take up Sohair’s case – the verdict signalled the opposite.

“Of course there will be no stopping any doctor after this. Any doctor can do any FGM he wants now,” said Atef Aboelenein, a lawyer for the Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, who was the first to find out the verdict.

Interviewed in his clinic hours after the verdict, Fadl admitted he had removed a wart from Sohair’s pubic area. But the doctor said his incision was minor; claimed she died from an allergic reaction to penicillin; and denied he had ever carried out FGM – a practice he said was against religious teaching, and which he claimed he had always refused to do.

“The incision was just 1cm wide,” Fadl said. “Do you know what 1cm looks like? Do you know how small that is? In every country in the world you would carry out this operation.”

Fadl said his accusers were “on drugs”, and asked “those human rights activists to come to me and I will teach them about human rights. They’re letting the Palestinians be slaughtered, and instead they’re going after me?”

The lawyer who pushed for Fadl’s prosecution, Reda al-Danbouki, said the verdict contradicted the evidence presented in court. Though Fadl denied committing FGM, a report prepared by Egypt’s forensic authority “proved what happened in the genital area of the girl was a clear circumcision operation,” Danbouki claimed.

Suad Abu-Dayyeh, regional representative for Equality Now, an international group that campaigned on the case, said: “It’s a very unjust verdict from the judge. It sends a very negative message. It was the first case in the country and we were hoping we could build on it.”

Outrage was harder to find in Fadl’s village, where both FGM and the doctor have stronger support. “I’m very happy for him,” said one young woman waiting in Fadl’s clinic. “It wasn’t his fault.”

According to surveys by Unicef, an estimated 91% of married Egyptian women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, 72% of them by doctors. Unicef’s research suggests support for the practice is gradually falling: 63% of women in the same age bracket supported it in 2008, compared with 82% in 1995.

But in rural areas with a low standard of education, such as Sohair’s village of Diyarb Bektaris, FGM still attracts instinctive support from Muslims and Christians, who believe it decreases women’s appetite for adultery. Residents of the village say they can easily find doctors willing to operate on girls for around 200 Egyptian pounds, and that it will take more than a court case to stop them seeking the operation.

“We circumcise all our children – they say it’s good for our girls,” Naga Shawky, a 40-year-old housewife, told the Guardian earlier this year. “The law won’t stop anything – the villagers will carry on. Our grandfathers did it and so shall we.”

Mostafa, a 65-year-old farmer, said he did not realise that FGM had been banned. “All the girls get circumcised. Is that not what’s supposed to happen?” he asked. “Our two daughters are circumcised. They’re married and when they have daughters we will have them circumcised as well. If you want to ban it properly, you’d have to ban doctors as well.”

Fadl said his experience had caused other doctors to stop committing FGM so openly, but that they still did it in secret. “A lot of people got scared, so now they’re doing it in their homes.”

After the verdict, a local doctor uninvolved in the case said clinicians would continue carry out FGM undeterred. “They will do whatever they want when they want without worrying about anything,” said Dr Ahmed al-Mashady, who stressed he did not personally engage in FGM. “They must keep doing this because it’s a protection for the girl. Religiously it’s a good thing.”

While many use Islam to justify FGM, activists stress it is a cultural, rather than a religious practice. FGM is not mentioned in the Qur’an, and the practice is not as prevalent in other predominantly Muslim countries.

Sohair’s father could not be reached for comment. But at Sohair’s home, her great-uncle Mohamed said the family was unaware that the trial had ended. “The verdict was today? Praise God,” he said, before declining to comment further.

In May, Sohair’s grandmother, also named Sohair, admitted to the Guardian that an FGM procedure had occurred, but claimed her death was “what God ordered.”

Equality Now and local lawyers said they would appeal against the verdict, and redouble their efforts to curb the practice. “We will focus all our efforts on cases of FGM and underage marriage,” Aboelenein said.

 Activists, however, said it would take more than court cases to end a practice that is so ingrained.

Equality Now’s Suad Abu-Dayyeh called for a sustained outreach programme in which campaigners frequently visit Egypt’s rural areas to discuss a topic that has previously never been questioned. “You need to go continuously into the communities. We need to find a way of really debating these issues with the villagers, the doctors and the midwives.”

*Additional reporting by Manu Abdo

State radio bans popular singer Hamza Namira due to his "critical songs"

BBC News

Egypt radio bans popular singer Hamza Namira for 'critical' songs

November 19, 2014

Egyptian state radio has banned the songs of popular singer Hamza Namira from its airwaves, officials say, because they criticise the authorities.

Human rights activists have denounced the move as part of a systematic campaign to stifle dissent.
They say that anyone who is not singing the praises of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is being silenced.

The performer came to fame during the Egyptian revolution three years ago with his songs of hope and freedom.

Mr Sisi was elected in May 2014, almost a year after huge demonstrations enabled him to remove his predecessor, President Mohammed Morsi, from office.

Since 2013 the government has imprisoned thousands of Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other opposition figures. It has also used gunfire to suppress Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo says that Namira was a key voice of the revolution of 2011, appearing before huge crowds in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

But state radio's chairman, Abdel Rahman Rashad, told the BBC that a review had found the performer was not approved for broadcast - as all singers are required to be.

He added that any performer who criticises the authorities should not be on the airwaves.

Namira is the second cultural figure to get into political trouble in recent days.

One of Egypt's best known actors, Khaled Abol Naga, has been accused of treason for criticising the president.

A lawyer is bringing a private prosecution against him for "disturbing national security."

*Photo courtesy of the BBC


10s arrested in Cairo & Alexandria on 3rd anniversary of police attacks

Mada Masr

Dozens arrested in Cairo, Alexandria on Mohamed Mahmoud anniversary

Wednesday November 19, 2014

By late Wednesday evening, police forces had arrested dozens in Cairo and Alexandria who were commemorating the third anniversary of the bloody clashes that took place on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, just off Tahrir Square, in 2011.

The exact numbers of arrested protesters and activists were not confirmed, but estimates claim at least 50, possibly many more.

The privately owned Youm7 news portal, citing sources from the Cairo Security Directorate, reported that 47 protesters were arrested in the capital alone. Whereas the mainstream Sada al-Balad reported that 50 “trouble-makers” were arrested from around Downtown Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square.

Small groups of protesters were forcefully dispersed earlier on Wednesday in downtown Cairo. Another group was dispersed while protesting on Stanley Bridge in the Mediterranean City of Alexandria.

Riot police forces are reported to have fired teargas canisters and warning shots into the air, and hit largely peaceful protesters with batons while dispersing protests. However, no fatalities were reported during Wednesday’s crackdown.

The arrest of at least four activists was confirmed in Alexandria, including leftist activist Mahienour Al-Massry, lawyer Mohamed Ramadan, and fellow protesters Noha Kamel, Sherif al-Gamal, and Mahmoud Barry.

The Revolutionary Socialists Movement, of which Massry is a member, confirmed on their official Facebook page that the detainees were transferred to the nearby Raml First Police Station.

Massry was released from prison on September 21, after being issued a suspended sentence for participating in a street protest in Alexandria.

Lawyers from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) tweeted updates about the detainees in Cairo, reporting that the vast majority of those arrested were being held in the Abdeen and Qasr al-Nil Police Stations.

Officers at Cairo’s Azbakiya Police Station denied the presence of any arrested protesters Wednesday evening.

According to ANHRI's lawyers, none of the detainees have yet been referred to the office of the General Prosecutor for investigation.


*Photo by Emil Filtenborg Mikkelsen


Sisi authorizes unprecedented expansion of military trials against civilians

Decree Broadens Jurisdiction Over Civilians
November 17, 2014
(Beirut) – An October 27 decree by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt vastly extended the reach of the country’s military courts and risks militarizing the prosecution of protesters and other government opponents.

The new law, decreed by al-Sisi in the absence of a parliament, places all “public and vital facilities” under military jurisdiction for the next two years and directs state prosecutors to refer any crimes at those places to their military counterparts, paving the way for further military trials of civilians. Egypt’s military courts, which lack even the shaky due process guarantees provided by regular courts, have tried more than 11,000 civilians since the 2011 uprising.

“This law represents another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Its absurdly broad provisions mean that many more civilians who engage in protests can now expect to face trial before uniformed judges subject to the orders of their military superiors.”

On November 16, a Cairo criminal court referred five al-Azhar University students to military court on charges related to repeated protests that have broken out at the university against al-Sisi’s government. The students are charged with joining a terrorist organization, displaying force, threatening to use violence, possession of Molotov cocktails, and vandalism, according to the Aswat Masriya news service. The criminal court reportedly ruled that it lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Al-Sisi issued the decree three days after an attack in the Sinai Peninsula killed dozens of soldiers, the deadliest strike yet in an insurgency that has grown since the army ousted Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy, in July 2013.

The new decree, Law 136 of 2014 for the Securing and Protection of Public and Vital Facilities, states that the armed forces “shall offer assistance to the police and fully coordinate with them in securing and protecting public and vital facilities,” including electricity stations, gas pipelines, oil wells, railroads, road networks, bridges, and any similar state-owned property.

Military judges have presided over trials of civilians in Egypt for decades, despite efforts by activists and some politicians to eliminate the practice. In the months following the 2011 uprising, for example, Egypt’s military courts tried almost 12,000 civilians on an array of regular criminal charges. 
But the new law greatly expands the jurisdiction of military courts, giving them their widest legal authority since the birth of Egypt’s modern republic in 1952. Before al-Sisi’s decree, Egypt’s constitution and code of military justice theoretically limited military prosecutions to cases that directly involved the armed forces or their property, though the country’s 31-year state of emergency, which expired in 2012, allowed the president to refer civilians to military courts.

Egypt’s military appears intent on interpreting the new law broadly. Interviewed on the CBC television channel on November 1, General Medhat Ghozy, who heads the Military Judiciary Authority, said that military jurisdiction now extends over any building or property that provides a “general service” or is state owned.

“If there’s a public facility, or a vital one, when it’s assaulted, who’s the attacker?” Ghozy said. “[It doesn’t matter] if it’s a woman, or a man, or a teacher, or a student, or a teenager, or a child … the law is a general, abstract rule. We can’t say now: these are universities, these are factories, these are electricity stations.”

Since al-Sisi – a former defense minister and army chief – oversaw the forcible removal and imprisonment of Morsy in the wake of mass protests in July 2013, military courts have tried at least 140 civilians, according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, including three children and four journalists. Most of the accused have faced charges of assaulting military personnel or equipment.

On October 21, a military court imposed death sentences for seven men and life sentences for two others for their involvement in three violent incidents in March 2014 that left nine soldiers dead. Authorities alleged that the men belonged to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most prominent insurgent group. On November 10, the group pledged allegiance to the Syria-based organization Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Police claim to have arrested the nine men in a March 19 raid on an abandoned warehouse in the Qalyubia governorate, north of Cairo, and to have found evidence of explosives and weapons used in the lethal attacks on soldiers earlier that month. But the trial, conducted before a panel of generals at the Hikestep military base northeast of Cairo, lacked basic due process guarantees, putting its fairness in question.

Ahmed Helmy, a lawyer for four of the men, told Human Rights Watch that families of three defendants first sought his help in January, two months before the police say they arrested the men, suggesting that the authorities’ account of the raid was inaccurate.

“These three defendants simply disappeared separately in November and December 2013, months before the events they are charged with –  they were kept in Azouli prison,” Helmy said, referring to a secret military facility inside al-Galaa army base in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, which the authorities have used to hold up to hundreds of civilian detainees, according to human rights groups and media reports. “We filed a complaint to the public prosecutor but the authorities kept denying that the three guys were in custody.”

Helmy said that the authorities would not allow him to visit his clients in custody before the trial and that he first met them at the initial court hearing in June.

A brother of Hani Amer, one of the defendants, told Human Rights Watch that Amer disappeared on December 16, 2013, after visiting the district director’s office in Ismailia to obtain a permit for his information technology company. The brother said that witnesses told the family that men in civilian clothes had detained Amer and his business partner, Ahmed Suleiman, as well as the district director. The director, whom authorities released hours later, eventually told the family that police had taken Amer to the Galaa base.

Amer later told his brother that authorities had moved him in March from Azouli prison to the high-security Scorpion facility inside Tora Prison in Cairo. When his brother visited him there on August 10, Amer showed no obvious signs of injury, although Suleiman, the business partner, had told the brother that Amer’s shoulders had been dislocated by torture when he was held in Azouli prison months earlier.

Another defendant appeared at the military trial in a wheelchair. His father told Human Rights Watch that his son had disappeared on March 16 or 17, 2014, following which the father filed complaints with the Interior Ministry without success. Later, he said, a man who refused to disclose his identify visited the father’s home and told him that authorities were holding his son in Tora Prison.

When the father eventually obtained permission to visit his son, for only a few minutes, he found his son using crutches.

“He said that they tortured him,” the father said. “His left knee was completely destroyed and his left femur bone was broken. I asked him directly, ‘Did you meet with a prosecutor?’ He said he couldn’t know because he was blindfolded during most of the interrogations. All the confessions were dictated by officers under torture.”

Helmy, the lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that even though the men can appeal their sentences, the authorities have made the defendants wear the orange jumpsuits worn by prisoners who have received final verdicts, apparently to “pressure them psychologically.” He has tried to convince the men to lodge appeals, but so far they have declined.

The father of the other said he had also urged his son to appeal, but that his son responded: “You don’t hire a room from someone who stole your house.”

The nine men also face trial before a regular criminal court as part of a group of more than 200 defendants accused of belonging to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.

Egypt’s military courts operate under the authority of the Defense Ministry, not the civilian judicial authorities. They typically deny defendants rights accorded by civilian courts, including the right to be informed of the charges against them, and the rights to access a lawyer and to be brought promptly before a judge following arrest.

In April, a military court sentenced a social media manager for the online news website Rassd to one year in prison for helping to leak a tape of remarks by al-Sisi during his time as defense minister. The court acquitted one Rassd employee and sentenced two others who remain at large and an army conscript to three-year prison terms. 
In May and September, military courts handed down one-year sentences against 10 defendants – mostly Muslim Brotherhood members or allied politicians – for attempting to cross into Sudan illegally. In Suez, a military court has repeatedly postponed the trial of 20 civilians arrested in August 2013 and charged with attacking government buildings.

The use of military courts to try civilians violates the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Egypt’s parliament ratified in 1984. The African human rights commission Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance explicitly forbid military trials of civilians in all circumstances.

Al-Sisi’s law closely resembles a pair of decrees that Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid and Egypt’s then-ruling military council issued in June 2012, just before Morsy’s election and immediately after the country’s long-running state of emergency expired. Abdel Hamid’s decree empowered military police and intelligence officers to arrest civilians, while the military council’s decree empowered the president to call in soldiers “to share in law enforcement duties and the protection of public institutions.”

Article 204 of Egypt’s constitution, drafted and approved by popular referendum in January during the interim government that followed Morsy’s removal, specifies a range of crimes for which civilians can be tried in military courts, including assaults on military personnel or equipment, or crimes that involve military factories, funds, secrets, or documents. It is largely the same as Article 198 of the previous constitution, passed during the Morsy administration, which also allowed military courts to put civilians on trial over the protest of activists and some politicians.

“This new decree is pernicious and contrary to basic standards of justice,” Whitson said. “Egypt’s authorities should annul all the military court verdicts against civilians handed down since the new government took power, and President al-Sisi needs to act quickly to amend his decree.” 

Schweppes workers protest imminent unemployment due to Coca-Cola merger

Mada Masr
Schweppes workers protest imminent unemployment due to Coca-Cola merger

Sunday November 16, 2014

Jano Charbel

For the past 17 days, some 850 workers have been protesting against their imminent dismissals as the Coca-Cola Egypt Company negotiates the purchase of the Schweppes Egypt Company. Dismissals of part-time workers and the deployment of a private security firm at the Schweppes factory have led workers to protest across the country, at their company’s eight branches.

An ongoing sit-in protest has been in effect since October 30 at the Schweppes factory in Cairo’s industrial satellite town of Sadat City, while protests are also being held at the company’s seven distribution branches in Giza, Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Tanta, Ismailia and Assiut.

Moreover, this week the Schweppes Company’s drivers have been threatening to halt all distributions, in light of the non-renewal of their corporate drivers’ licenses.

Abdel Latif Emara, president of the local union committee at the Schweppes factory told Mada Masr, “Our first demand is to retain our jobs, in accordance with the country’s labor law.”

According to Ashraf Aboul Ela, secretary general of the union committee at the Schweppes factory, “It appears that both of these beverage companies are agreeing to sack us 850 workers, regardless of the law.”

Unionists have pointed out that both the Schweppes and Coca-Cola companies would be violating Egypt’s Unified Labor Law (12/2003) by sacking workers in the course of their merger.

According to Article 9 of this law “Mergers of establishments… shall not terminate the employment contracts of the establishment’s workers.”

Aboul Ela added that “our employers don’t care about the rights of us workers. These heavy-weight businessmen think they are above the law. They believe that us workers must willingly abide by the employers' whims.”

Aboul Ela went on to state that “the Ministry of Manpower is only concerned with us calling-off our sit-ins and protests. The officials there insist that there must be no protests during the course of their negotiations with these two companies. However, our protests and sit-ins are the only means by which we can push for our legally-stipulated rights.”

Workers are troubled by their imminent unemployment and the subsequent poverty for their family members.

Emara explained that the vast majority of workers at the Schweppes Company are over the age of 40 or 45. "It would be very difficult at this age, under these poor economic conditions, to seek new job opportunities. The livelihoods of our families and their well-being depend on these jobs we have."

The list of the Schweppes workers demands include: retaining all employees and maintaining all contracts, in light of the labor law; the payment of overdue profit-sharing payments (amounting to 10 percent of profits), which have not been paid over the course of 18 years; provision of all overtime work payments, unpaid over the course of 18 years; renewal of truck drivers’ licenses, and the maintenance of these distribution vehicles; provision of healthcare plans, which have been halted since September 30; and in case of subsequent dismissals, payment of six months wages per every year of service spent at the company.

Media spokespersons at both the Schweppes Egypt and Coca-Cola Egypt companies could not be reached for questions at the time of publication.

*Photo courtesy of Klmty Net

Actor accused of grand treason for criticizing Sisi's security record

Mada Masr

Actor accused of treason for criticizing Sisi's security record

November 17, 2014 

Lawyer Samir Sabry has filed a lawsuit against actor Khaled Abol Naga for criticizing President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s security record.

Sabry accused Abol Naga of treason, inciting against the Sisi administration and threatening society’s general well-being.

In a video appearance during Cairo International Film Festival, Abol Naga had criticized Sisi and the security apparatus’ performance, one year after the Egyptian people gave the president a full mandate to fight terrorism.

“If you cannot secure [Egypt] without sacrificing the people’s rights, you should not stay in your position. If you cannot do this [securing the country], then leave, go away. It seems that we are going to say it again very soon,” Abol Naga told reporters.

Sisi’s supporters launched a massive smear campaign against Abol Naga on social and private media channels in retaliation. In a phone interview with the privately owned Sada al-Balad channel, Sabry told talk show host Ahmed Moussa that Abol Naga is a homosexual.

“Anyone who slanders his president, state institutions and security is not a man — he is a homosexual,” Sabry said.

Abol Naga responded by threatening to sue all those who defame him.

“My right to sue every media body or other who is a part of the campaign against me for my rightful opinion on Sisi's failure is reserved,” he said on his Twitter account under the hashtag “down with the mentality of the military.”

“The country needs [us] to say it again: Leave,” he added, addressing Sisi.

Abol Naga dismissed the smear campaign against him as a sign that the presidency is “nervous.”

“The igniting campaign against me in the media just because that Sisi was not up to his promise [in fighting terrorism] after one year says only one thing: the regime is nervous. Why?” Abol Naga wondered.

A group of Twitter users created the hashtag #Support_Naga to send out tweets in support of the actor. Some referred to Article 65 of the Constitution granting the right to freedom of expression in any medium.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement on Monday lambasting Sabry’s lawsuit and the ensuing smear campaign against Abol Naga.

“Such an incident, which was preceded by the incident in which a complaint was filed to withdraw Bassem Youssef’s nationality for cheap accusations of criticizing President Sisi, is an indication of what we are facing in this period by those who flatter the regime or those who seek fame,” ANHRI said.

Rights delegation slams Sisi's "police state" urges int'l action

Middle East Monitor

Legal delegation to Egypt slams al-Sisi's "police state" urges international action

Thursday, 13 November 2014 15:26
ICFR logo
An international legal delegation to Egypt has slammed the government's repression of its political opponents as characteristic of a "police state", at the launch of a new report in London today.

The International Coalition for Freedoms and Rights (ICFR) presented the findings of its fourth and most recent delegation in the presence of two members of the group, solicitor Roger Sahota and retired solicitor Michael Ellman, who spoke of their findings.

According to the organisation's Secretary-General Anas Altikriti, the ICFR is a global network of legal, human rights, and media experts, whose main concern is the events of July 2013 and Egypt's regression in the move towards democracy. It was inaugurated a year ago, and seeks to document, archive, and report back on the progress or lack thereof towards respect for human rights in Egypt.

The press conference took place shortly after Egypt's appearance in Geneva for its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Two other speakers at the press conference, chair of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council Dr. Maha Azzam, and barrister Toby Cadman, attended the UPR and discussed the event surrounding the review.

Speaking first on the delegation's trip to Egypt 11-15 October, Sahota criticised the authorities' denial of access to ousted Pres. Morsi's trial, despite repeated applications and advance communication with the relevant parties.

Based on testimony from lawyers of other defendants, and drawing on the frequently-cited Human Rights Watch report of August this year, Sahota expressed concern that the trial of Morsi, as well as others, did not meet international standards for fairness.

According to Sahota, the delegation met with a variety of persons, including detainees' relatives, the families of the deceased, students, lawyers, trade unionists, politicians, and also some government officials.

"We heard disturbing accounts of indiscriminate arrests, torture in detention, the targeting of student and political activists – evidence of a deliberate strategy to deny political detainees the basic rudiments of due process."

Addressing the content of Egypt's UPR in Geneva, Toby Cadman emphasised that the point they repeatedly made to countries' representatives was that any dissatisfaction with a democratic government is to be expressed through the ballot box, not the barrel of a gun.

Cadman described the situation in Egypt today as a "classic anatomy of a dictatorship, being taken point by point, unfolding daily." The extent of the human rights violations, he said, was such that you can go through "treaties article by article" and see these abuses "occurring consistently" in Egypt.

Both Cadman and Azzam pointed to a host of areas of great concern, including the Egyptian authorities' policies in the Sinai Peninsula, where, according to Cadman, "10,000 people have been uprooted and their homes destroyed."

According to Cadman, the UPR was a "PR disaster" for the al-Sisi regime – part of the context, he suggested, for the announcement that foreign prisoners could be returned to their home countries.

The ICFR report and delegates emphasise the need for the international community to take action, and ensure accountability for human rights abuses. "It would be easy for us in the international community to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Egypt when those events are competing with stories from Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Libya", said Sahota.

"It may be politically convenient for the West to see Egypt as a key partner in its security and political goals in the region, but I would urge that these violations be addressed and for it to be made clear that there's no place for these atrocities."

Ellman echoed the report findings by describing conditions in Egypt as those of a "police state", one that is "still heavily subsidized by the USA who don't dare call it a coup."

Cadman said that what is really important is not so much what happened in Geneva but what comes after – whether there will be any pressure to address the serious concerns raised. "The international community cannot deal with Egypt like it is business as usual."

Criticism, including that from the U.S., if it is to mean something has to translate into accountability through a block on arms sales and cessation of trade agreements, he added.

Maha Azzam claimed that the international community was "waking up," and that the "pressure is on," in Geneva, London, Brussels, and elsewhere. "Not for 'political' reasons," she added, "but because we believe the citizens of Egypt need to have their rights upheld and respected by the state, and that the violations that have happened are so extreme that they can't be ignored."

Azzam urged a UN investigation into the Rabaa massacre, as well as accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities through travel bans.

"Under the guise of a war on terrorism," Azzam said, "civil liberties are being denied to Egyptian citizens."

"Closing the political space for those that respect the democratic process whatever their ideological leanings is a very dangerous development," Azzam expanded, in response to a question from Middle East Monitor.

"It means the choices are between authoritarianism and extremism. The promotion of democracy is the best way to combat extremism: the volatility of a dictator is not the way to promote democracy or fight terrorism."

French & Egyptian journalists detained in café for discussing politics

Mada Masr

French, Egyptian journalists held in café for discussing politics

November 11, 2014 

French journalist and Chief Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Alain Gresh was held for two hours on Tuesday, along with two Egyptian journalists, in a downtown café after they were overheard discussing politics.

“I was sitting with an Egyptian journalist and an Egyptian student speaking in English and Arabic when a woman listening to our conversation screamed at us, saying ‘you will destroy the country’,” Gresh told Mada Masr.

The woman then stepped outside the café and proceeded to talk with security forces, who came and interrogated Gresh on his reasons for being in Egypt.

“They took my passport and IDs from the journalists, before returning 30 minutes later with my passport, saying they would hold on to the IDs,” he said. “Then they asked if I have a work permit that allows me to work in Egypt.”

The security forces told Gresh he was free to go, but he refused to leave until his colleagues were allowed to go with him. All three were released two hours later.

Gresh expressed surprise at how easily one can be arrested and turned over to the police, adding that he knows full well how difficult it is for journalists to practice, but that today he learnt so first hand.

According to Mostafa Bassiouny, a journalist and friend of Gresh’s who was following the issue, members of the Journalists Syndicate and the National Council for Human Rights spoke with the head of the Qasr al-Nil Police Station, who told them that the woman at the café had overheard Gresh and the two women discussing politics, so she reported them to the police.

Gresh, 66 years old, was born in Cairo and left at the age of 14 in 1962. He is considered one of the most prominent journalists specialized in the Middle East, and has visited Egypt frequently since 1972.

Government proposes ban on news coverage of military

The Guardian 
Egypt mulls military news ban
Proposed law would outlaw coverage of armed forces’ activity without prior approval from senior military officials
November 7, 2014
Patrick Kingsley
Egypt is considering whether to ban news about its armed forces, after the cabinet drew up a draft law that would outlaw coverage of military activity without prior approval from senior military officials, several Egyptian newspapers have reported.

The proposed law would ban “the disclosure or display of any news or information or statistics or data or documents relating to the armed forces or its formation or movements or equipment or work or plans”, according to a leaked version of the legislation.

The army is the single most influential institution in contemporary Egypt and revered by a majority of Egyptians. But its critics have drawn attention to the lack of oversight in the military budget, and lack of accountability for its alleged human rights abuses, including the disappearances of hundreds of civilians inside military institutions.

Human rights groups denounced the proposed law as the latest of many moves aimed at extending military control over the country and ending the freedoms gained after Egypt’s 2011 uprising.

It follows the placement last week of large parts of Egypt’s civilian infrastructure under military jurisdiction; the banning of unlicensed protest last November; several mass shootings of demonstrators; and the effectively arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of both secular and Islamist opposition members over the past year.

It also comes days before a likely crackdown on rights-focused NGOs that activists fear will begin on 10 November.

Commenting on the proposed law, Mostafa Shaat, a researcher at the Cairo-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, said: “It’s really shocking to know that people in Egypt can’t yet access the basic information about where their money is spent.

The law should be seen in the context of the ongoing crackdown on the public sphere and the unprecedented limitations and restrictions that the army has recently imposed. This law, if ever enacted, will violate people’s right to access information and to their right of expression.”

But many may disagree, with a significant proportion of Egyptians supportive of a return to authoritarian order, exhausted by the upheaval created by the 2011 uprising, and frightened by a wave of terrorist strikes that have hit Egypt since last summer’s regime change.

Seventeen editors of major state and private newspapers last week agreed to avoid criticism of the state, reiterating “our rejection of attempts to doubt state institutions or insult the army or police or judiciary in a way that would reflect negatively on these institutions’ performance.”

Egyptian officials have consistently denied accusations of widespread torture and judicial irregularities. Hisham Badr, a foreign ministry official, told UN ambassadors this week that critics of Egypt’s rights record were “dealing with conditions in a country other than the Egypt in which we live.”

Spokesmen for Egypt’s presidency and foreign ministry said they needed to speak to colleagues before commenting on the proposed law.
*Photo courtesy of Anadolu Agency/Getty Images