Saturday, December 31, 2016

Good donkey!

Donkey eating poster of Egyptian dictator Sisi


Egypt topped developing countries in arms imports in 2015 - Sisi continues to squander national budget

Mada Masr
US report: Egypt topped developing countries in arms imports in 2015

December 27, 2016

Egypt imported US$5.3 billion worth of arms in 2015, more than any other developing country, according to a report released this month by Congressional Research Service, a public policy research arm of the United States Congress.

Egypt also came second among developing countries in 2015 arms transfer agreements — agreements that were signed but not necessarily delivered — signing agreements worth $11.9 billion. Qatar ranked first, with agreements worth $17.5 billion.

According to the report, which traces arms sales to developing nations between 2008 and 2015, Egypt signed arms transfers agreements totaling $30 billion, coming third after Saudi Arabia and India.

Egypt ranked sixth among developing countries in total arms transfers agreements between 2008 and 2011, worth $8.6 billion. The US was the biggest arms exporter to Egypt in this period, with 79 percent of total arms transfer agreements, followed by China then Russia.

In the same period, Egypt’s actual arms imports reached $5 billion, the fifth largest among developing countries. Between 2012 and 2015, Egypt ranked fourth in arms imports at a total of $9.8 billion, preceded by Saudi, India and Iraq. The report indicates that Egypt’s arms transfer agreements for this period reached $21.5 billion.

Western European countries and Russia were major arms exporters to Egypt in this period, with 43 percent of agreements respectively, then came the US with 6 percent.

The report revealed that US and Russia were major arms exporters to developing countries in the period between 2012 and 2015, with 81 percent of the total arms transfer agreements.

In 2015 only, Qatar topped the developing nations signing arms transfer agreements with $17.5 billion, followed by Egypt with $11.9 billion, Saudi with $8.6 billion, then South Korea with $5.4 billion.

Arms transfer agreements signed by Egypt in 2015 represented 15 percent of total agreements signed worldwide, which reached $80 billion, according to the report.

But the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has shown that Egypt’s arms imports between 2011 and 2015 reached just $3.4 billion, ranking 12th worldwide.

A report published by London-based global analysis firm IHS Markit. indicated that Egypt’s military imports reached $2.268 billion in 2015, making it the world’s fourth-largest defense importer.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the US, and under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi it has also made major purchases from other exporting countries, including Russia and France.

High-profile deals include a 2015 agreement with France to purchase 5.2 billion euro worth of military equipment, including 24 Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate, and a contract with Russian firm Rosoboronexport to buy 46 attack helicopters.

Sisi prepares clamp down on press freedom, sets up govt-picked council to oversee media

Agence France-Presse 
Egypt prepares to clamp down press freedom, sets up govt-picked council to oversee media

Cairo (AFP) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved a law to set up a council headed by his appointees that oversees the media and ensures compliance with "national security" requirements.

The law, passed by parliament and published in the official gazette on Monday, mandates the council to investigate media funding and fine or revoke permits of those deemed in violation.

The council will be composed of a head picked by Sisi and 12 members recommended by parliament and other institutions, and also approved by the president. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has accused Egypt of placing restrictions on media and being a "leading jailer of journalists."

The law says the council would guarantee the right of citizens "to enjoy a free and honest media". But it also tasks the council with "guaranteeing the compliance of media institutions to the requirements of national security."

Sisi has dismissed criticisms of media restrictions in Egypt, but he regularly complains of its performance and has suggested it occasionally harms the country with critical coverage.

The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate official Khaled Elbalshy said the law tightens government control on media. "The new law entrenches the status quo including control over the media through a council picked by the executive branch," he told AFP.

The law came days after police arrested a journalist with the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel on suspicion of fabricating news on the country.

Egypt accuses the channel of backing the Muslim Brotherhood movement, outlawed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and cracked down on his supporters.

Egypt had provoked international condemnation in 2013 when it arrested three Al-Jazeera journalists, including a Canadian and an Australian, and sentenced them to jail on similar accusations. They were later released.

*Photo of dictator Sisi courtesy of AFP 

Egypt: 1,736 social, economic & labor protests in 2016

Mada Masr
1,736 social, economic and labor protests across Egypt in 2016: ECESR

Monday December 26, 2016

According to a report published by the independent Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) on Monday, a total of 1,736 protests took place in Egypt over the course of  2016. This figure represents a decrease in the number of protests that the ECESR reported in 2015, when a total of 1,955 protests took place nationwide.

The ECESR report outlines that in 2016 the state’s new austerity measures, tax hikes and associated economic policies contributed to increased pressures and hardships on Egyptians, pushing many citizens to protest. However, the continued imposition of restrictive legislation regulating the right to demonstrate – along with security crackdowns on dissent – have likely contributed to a decrease in the total number of protests this year.

According to the ECESR acts of protest can be divided into three distinct categories: social, economic and labor protests. Based on this breakdown, the ECESR reported that the majority of protests which took place this year can be categorized as labor protests, numbering 726.

The second highest category was social protests, with 633 taking place across the country. The report also states hat 377 economic protests took place nationwide.


February saw the largest number of recorded labor and workplace protests, with 108 taking place.

Government employees carried out the greatest number of labor actions throughout the year, engaging in 478 acts of protest, followed by the public then the private sector, which witnessed 133 and 107 protests, respectively.

According to the ECESR report, the high number of protests among government workers and employees was largely triggered by the passing of the controversial Civil Service Law, a revised version of which was approved this year. The law and imposes a caps on wages and bonuses.

Employees from the Health Ministry were at the forefront of labor protests in the governmental sector this year, engaging in 159 demonstrations. This was followed by the Education Ministry’s employees who took part in 74 protests.

Looking at the specific grievances, the greatest number of industrial actions (379) were in protest against working conditions. This was followed by protests over demands for financial compensation, amounting to 368, followed by 367 protests over claims of corruption and financial irregularities. 

Protests over demands for employment amounted to 153, while 139 protests took place over disputes pertaining to contractual agreements.

Cairo was the governorate that accounted for the largest number of labor protests in 2016, with 454 industrial actions taking place, followed by Sharqiya with 128, and Gharbiya with 119 labor protests.


According to the ECESR, the category of social protests are those which are not based on, or motivated by, economic factors. Accordingly ‘social protests’ include actions organized by members of residential communities, students, and others.

Of the 633 social protests witnessed across Egypt this year, the majority took place in September – with 86 recorded that month.

The main motivating factors behind social protests this year were corruption and negligence, with citizens organizing 366 such protests. Education-related protests followed, with 218 taking place this year, as well as 77 protests organized over security-related demands.


Out of the 377 economic protests recorded this year, May saw the highest incidence with 59 taking place.

According to the ECESR, economic protests are those triggered primarily by the government’s monetary and fiscal policies, which directly impact the economic interests of different categories of people, particularly small business owners.

Within all three categories, the most common form of dissent this year was the protest rally, which included protests and marches, reaching a total of 1,210. This was followed by labor strikes or work stoppages, of which 282 incidents were reported, followed by 134 sit-ins or sleep-ins. Finally the ECESR reported  84 incidents where participants inflicted self harm, including suicides and attempted suicides.

Local residents were the demographic which carried out the highest number of protests this year (457.)

Manual workers and laborers partook in 359 industrial actions, civil servants participated in 167 protests, students in 160, transport workers and drivers were involved in 132, teachers participated in 75, doctors in 67, nurses in 71, shopkeepers in 41 while the unemployed and graduates were collectively involved in 62 protests.

The ECESR’s monthly and annual protest figures are based on information published on news websites and portals. They have been issuing periodic and annual reports on protests in Egypt since 2012.

The latest report covers the period from January 1 until December 20. The ECESR will follow up this publication with a more detailed annual report on 2016 protests in February 2017.

*Photo of Public Transport Authority workers by Jano Charbel

US absention allows UNSC to demand end to Israel's settlements

The Guardian
US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements

Donald Trump and Israel had urged Washington to use its veto to stop historic security council resolution

The United Nations security council has adopted a landmark resolution demanding a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories after Barack Obama’s administration refused to veto the resolution.
A White House official said Obama had taken the decision to abstain in the absence of any meaningful peace process.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote on Friday night. Loud applause was heard in the packed chamber when the US ambassador, Samantha Power, abstained.

All remaining members of the security council, including the UK, voted in support. Egypt, which had drafted the resolution and had been briefly persuaded by Israel to postpone the vote, also backed the move.

Friday’s vote was scheduled at the request of four countries – New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela – who stepped in to push for action a day after Egypt put the draft resolution on hold.

Israel recalled its ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal in protest on Saturday.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s office said the vote was “a big blow” to Israeli policy and a show of “strong support for the two-state solution”.

The resolution says Israel’s settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have “no legal validity” and demands a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities,” saying this “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”

The resolution reiterated that Israeli settlement was a “flagrant violation” of international law.
The United States vetoed a similar resolution in 2011, which was the sole veto cast by the Obama administration at the security council.

The abstention decision underlined the tension between Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had made furious efforts to prevent such a move.

A resolution requires nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China in order to be adopted. Among those who welcomed the resolution was UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“The secretary general takes this opportunity to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to work with the international community to create a conducive environment for a return to meaningful negotiations,” said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Explaining the US abstention, Power said the Israeli settlement “seriously undermines Israel’s security”, adding : “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Power said the US did not veto the resolution because the Obama administration believed it reflected the state of affairs regarding settlement and remained consistent with US policy.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation,” Power said.

The US decision to abstain was immediately condemned by Netanyahu’s office as “shameful” which pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with Donald Trump.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes.

“Israel looks forward to working with president-elect Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, bluntly told the council that the resolution would not have the hoped-for impact of spurring peace efforts.

“By voting yes in favour of this resolution, you have in fact voted no. You voted no to negotiation, you voted no to progress and a chance for better lives for Israelis and Palestinians, and you voted no to the possibility of peace,” Danon told the council.

The vote will, however, be seen as a major defeat for Netanyahu, who has long had a difficult relationship with the Obama administration.

Netanyahu had tried to prevent the vote by appealing to Trump, who will not be sworn in until late January, and to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatal al-Sisi.

While the resolution is largely symbolic, it will be seen as empowering an increasingly tough UN over Israel and will give pause to international companies who have interests in the occupied territories.

Originally drafted by Egypt, the original version of the resolution had been supposed to go to a vote on Thursday night, but was withdrawn by Sisi under pressure orchestrated by Israel.

Following the vote Trump, tweeted: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan 20.”

Commenting on Trump’s attempted intervention, a White House official insisted that until Trump’s inauguration on 20 January there was one US president - Obama.

Pro-Israel senators and lobby groups also weighed in following the vote. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most influential lobby groups, said it was “deeply disturbed by the failure of the Obama administration to exercise its veto to prevent a destructive, one-sided, anti-Israel resolution from being enacted by the United Nations security council.”

It also pointedly thanked Trump for his attempts to intervene: “AIPAC expresses its appreciation to president-elect Trump and the many Democratic and Republican members of Congress who urged a veto of this resolution.”

The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months.

About 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The resolution demands that “Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”.

It states that Israeli settlements have “no legal validity” and are “dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution.”

*Photos courtesy of Reuters

Proposal to ban animal carts in Cairo doomed to failure

Mada Masr
Cairo’s governor has proposed a project to rid the capital’s streets of animal carts. He is not the first to do so, but how likely is it to succeed this time?

Cart owners don’t think the new government program 'Cairo Without Animal Carts' will achieve its stated aim of ridding the Egyptian capital of carts drawn by horses, donkeys and mules.

The program, announced by Cairo Governor Atef Abdel Hamid at the end of November, would marshal in a process by which animal-drawn carts would be phased out and their owners given economic support to purchase motor vehicles.

Yahia Shawkat, an urban researcher and one of the founders of 10 Tooba Applied Research for the Built Environment, explains that “Certain types of carts — such as those used in garbage disposal, recycling, tanneries, pleasure rides — are usually associated with the local industries of certain neighborhoods.”

Animal-drawn carts sustain thousands of low-income households, and yet, in recent years, numerous municipal officials across several governorates have sought to ban them, attempts which have proven unsuccessful.

In the Cairo Governorate alone, movement against carts has been ventured as an outright prohibition in 1973, 1987, 1999 and 2006 and as the center of anti-cart police campaigns in 2010.

The state’s argument for banning animal-drawn carts is twofold: As slow moving vehicles, carts obstruct the flow of traffic and lead to road accidents, and carts negatively affect Egypt’s image, presenting it as unclean and disorderly.

But far from this understanding of animal carts as primitive and backward, Shawkat suggests that they are actually safer and more environmentally friendly. The attempts to ban and curb the use of carts in Egypt, he has previously argued, “cannot be dissociated from it being a poor person’s vehicle.” 

On last week’s episode of television show “Manchettes Qarmouty” (Qarmouty’s Headlines) last week, which is broadcast on the privately owned Al-Assema television channel, Gaber al-Qarmouty arranged to have a donkey cart rolled into the studio. With dramatic flare, the words “Goodbye to the animal carts of Cairo” were written on the animal’s hind.

Qarmouty climbed into the back of the cart with its owner, Sameh, and asked if the word “arbagy” (cart driver) – which is often used as a derogatory term to roughly denote someone who is callous, of low-social standing, or with little formal education – offended him.

“Yes, it upsets me,” Sameh responded. In a show of respect, Qarmouty kissed his head.

Qarmouty continued on to outline the failure of previous attempts to ban animal carts, asking Sameh about a range of viable alternatives, including motorcycle-rickshaws. 


Within the framework established by the Cairo Without Animal Carts initiatives, the sale of motor vehicles – ranging from motorcycle-rickshaws and trucks to pickups – will be incentivized by providing cart owners with soft loans that have long-term repayment plans, on the condition that they forfeit their carts.

While the full extent of the financing details has not been disclosed, Cairo’s governor has stated that the Fund for Social Development and civil society organizations will be a part of the process.

However, the governorate’s plan faces potential obstacles on two fronts: the legal problems posed by an influx of new first-time drivers and doubts regarding the transition’s economic feasibility that are joined to skepticism about being lifted out of the informal economy and into the state’s line of vision.

The transition from animal-drawn carts to motor vehicles must confront problems posed by the literacy requirement for drivers licenses, as many of Cairo’s cart drivers cannot read and write.

However, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, Cairo Governorate has taken the issue into account and is offering basic literacy courses in coordination with the Fund for Social Development and adult educational institutions.

The larger issue, however, centers on the financial feasibility of the modernization plan and whether those whom it will most affect view it as legitimate.

The financial terms suggested by Cairo Governorate, Shawkat argues, would be a significant burden on households dependent on economic activities linked to animal-driven carts. “Many would go into debt, and defaults on loans would likely be very high.”

While Shawkat estimates a cart driver’s monthly net income at LE1,400, the labor that is associated with the mode of transport is often precarious. Sameh, the driver that spoke to Qarmouty and works in a supplementary role for construction companies in the capital, said his take-home wages have fallen to a few hundred pounds due to the economic downturn.

Ahmed Hamdy, the owner of a horse-drawn cart from which he sells tangerines in Cairo’s working class neighborhood Manshiet Nasser, puts the cost of a cart between several hundred pounds and approximately LE2,000, depending on its specifications and weight capacity. The price of an adult horse, he adds, can range from LE1,000 to LE5,000, while the cost of a donkey or mule may range from several hundred pounds to LE2,500.

In comparison, a used pickup would cost tens of thousands of pounds and a used truck would come in at over LE100,000. 

“How could we make a living or feed our families without our carts? Our livelihoods depend on these animals and equipment,” says cart owner Galal Hafez, who lives in Cairo’s working class neighborhood Zahraa and has spent the past 30 years collecting paper, cardboard, plastic and glass for recycling. His two sons work in the same line of business, and each operate their own animal-drawn cart.

“Yes, sometimes our carts obstruct traffic,” Hafez admits, but he contends that traffic is slow due in greater part due to the number of cars on the road.

Hafez says his horse consumes about LE50 worth of animal fodder each day and sleeps in the family’s living room, as he has nowhere else to keep it. He estimates he takes home LE1,200 per month from the recycling he is able to collect using his cart.

While Hafez had not heard of the Cairo Without Animal Carts initiative, when informed he professes skepticism of its chance of success.

“If I could afford to pay installments for a truck, I would. But we’re struggling just to pay for life’s basic necessities. We are barely making a living these days,” he said.

Gamal Mahmoud drives his cart through the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, collecting and reselling used household goods. He states that any attempt to ban animal carts will be “a failed project.”

Not dissimilar to Hafez, Mahmoud concedes that carts can obstruct the flow of traffic and says he would gladly trade in his donkey and cart for an automobile, but that he cannot afford the change.

“What about people like me who cannot afford to pay for installments?” he says. “Are we supposed to steal so that we can buy a truck?”

In Manshiet Nasser, a line of animal-drawn carts loaded with refuse slowly wind their way down streets, making their way toward disposal and recycling centers. Here, Hamdy parks on a side street to sell tangerines.

While cart drivers’ placement in the informal economy comes with burdens – including the high cost of equipment and animal maintenance – Hamdy says that his lot is better now than if he had to cover the higher costs that come with motor vehicles. He looks around, pointing out the cart workshops around him.

And beyond whether the government’s plan is economically prudent, the tangerine seller says a motor vehicle would not suit his trade. The flatbed of a motorcycle-rickshaw can transport less than half of the two tons his cart can carry and is restricted in the type of cargo it can carry due to its dimensions. While his cart is longer than a pickup truck, Hamdy says, “it is also narrower and can be driven down tight alleyways.”

Across the street, Ahmed Farid, another fruit vendor, says he is frequently harassed by police officers and municipal authorities. “They either want to fine us or confiscate our carts. We just want to be left alone to tend to our work.”

Farid says he would never trade in his horse and cart for a motor vehicle, because he is concerned that a license plate would make it easier for the police to monitor him. 


Regulation and reforms rather than a ban are the best way to address the issues posed by animal-drawn carts, says Shawkat, pointing out that carts are allowed on the streets of the United Kingdom and the United States, among other industrial and “civilized” countries, albeit with strict regulations governing their operation.

“A complete ban would amount to the loss of the livelihoods of countless cart drivers and their families,” he says.

Shawkat argues that special lanes should be created for animal-drawn carts to ease traffic congestion, particularly on high-speed intercity roads and highways. He also advocates for other measures to reduce the likelihood of accident, such as mandating carts by equipped with battery-powered lights and reflectors, so as to be more visible at night.

However, while Egypt has one of the world’s highest rates of traffic accidents, they are not primarily caused by the presence of animal-drawn carts.

In 2015, 25,500 people were either killed or injured in traffic accidents, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Private cars caused 36.8 percent of accidents, with trucks causing 27.8 percent and taxis 18.9 percent.

The figures suggest that, even if a move to ban animal-drawn carts from the capital’s streets were possible, it may not lead to a significant decrease in accidents.

“We need better traffic regulations for road safety and efficiency in general,” Shawkat says. “This applies to animal carts, but some automobiles don’t have lights. Why should we worry only about applying these regulations to animal carts?”

*Photos by Basma Fathy

Egypt is world's 3rd worst jailer of journalists - CPJ

Mada Masr
Number of imprisoned journalists reaches global high, Egypt 3rd worst offender: CPJ

Wednesday December 14, 2016

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2016 has seen a record number of journalists jailed worldwide, marking the worst year on record with an unprecedented 259 behind bars. Egypt is listed as the third worst offender with 25 journalists in jail, preceded by China with 38 and Turkey with 81.

In its latest report, published on Tuesday, the New York-based group writes that, “More journalists are jailed around the world than at any time since the CPJ began keeping detailed records in 1990, with Turkey accounting for nearly a third of the global total.”

The five countries at the top of the list account for 68 percent of all journalists imprisoned worldwide since December 1, 2016. This includes Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

This year’s statistics are a significant increase from the 199 journalists who were behind bars in 2015, and surpass the previous record of 232 imprisoned in 2012.

Turkey’s high ranking this year is a result of an “ongoing crackdown that accelerated after a failed coup attempt in July,” according to the report. The government has increasingly imprisoned journalists seen as sympathetic to exiled opposition cleric Fethullah Gülen or the attempted coup.

Eight of Egypt’s 25 jailed journalists have been locked up for more than three years, since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013. The remaining 17 have been imprisoned for periods ranging from several weeks to years. This is an increase from the 23 imprisoned in 2015, when Egypt was ranked the second worst jailer of journalists after China.

Some are linked to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated newspapers like Rassd, while several others are TV correspondents, freelance reporters and photojournalists. Most are being detained in Cairo’s Tora Prison, although some are being held in Alexandria, Port Said, Arish, Fayoum and Gamasa, among others.

One of the most high profile prisoners is freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid — popularly known as Shawkan — who has spent over three years in jail. He was arrested by security forces for photographing the violent dispersal of the Rabea sit-in. Shawkan, who suffers from Hepatitis C, has claimed he has been denied access to necessary medical care, and has not yet been sentenced by a court.

Detained on July 3, 2013, Rassd photojournalist Mahmoud Abdel Nabi has spent the most time behind bars. He has remained in detention for over three years and five months, pending his sentencing.

The CPJ has reported that 12 journalists have been killed in Egypt since 1992, seven of them since July 3, 2013.

In November the committee criticized President Abdel Fattah alSisi for continuing to imprison journalists, impose travel bans on media workers and for the sentencing of three top members of the Journalists Syndicate.

In November, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) included both Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on its list of 35 global press predators.

It ranked Egypt as 159th out of 180 states on the 2016 World Press Freedom index.

After church bombing,100s gather outside cathedral chant slogans against gov't & interior minister

New York Times
Attack on Coptic Cathedral in Cairo Kills Dozens
CAIRO — A bomb ripped through a section reserved for women at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral during Sunday morning Mass, killing at least 25 people and wounding 49, mostly women and children, Egyptian state media said.

The attack was the deadliest against Egypt’s Christian minority in years. Video from the blast site circulating on social media showed blood-smeared floors and shattered pews among the marble pillars at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of Egypt’s Orthodox Christian Church, where the blast occurred in a chapel adjacent to the main building.

As security officials arrived to secure the site, angry churchgoers gathered outside and hurled insults, accusing them of negligence.
“There was no security at the gate,” one woman told reporters. “They were all having breakfast inside their van.”
A man asked, “You’re coming now after everything was destroyed?”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the attack bore the hallmark of Islamist militants fighting President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who have previously targeted minority Christians over their perceived support for his government.

It was the second major attack in the Egyptian capital in three days, marking a jarring return to violence after months of relative calm. An Islamist militant group claimed responsibility for an explosion at a security check post on Friday that killed six police officers.

Mr. Sisi’s strongman rule has come under economic pressure in recent months amid high inflation and a sharp drop in the value of the Egyptian pound. Threatened street protests last month did not materialize, but the surging attacks may be an attempt to stoke opposition through violence.

Egyptian security officials, quoted by state media, said that an explosive device containing about 26 pounds of TNT had been placed in the chapel. It went off during Mass around 10 a.m.

Most of the dead and wounded were women and children, Sherief Wadee, an assistant minister for health, said in a television interview. Mr. Sisi declared three days of mourning, state media said.

Hours later, hundreds of angry worshipers gathered at the church gates to register their anger. “We either avenge them or die like them,” they chanted. Tarek Attiya, a police spokesman, denied accusations of lax security at the church, and said the police had been operating a metal detector at the church entrance as normal.

A current of fury and frustration ran through the crowd gathered at the church gates, much of it directed at Mr. Sisi and his supporters and expressed in unusually strong terms.

At one point the crowd broke into chants of “the people demand the downfall of the regime,” the signature call of the mass uprising in 2011 that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The crowd pushed out three prominent television presenters seen as sympathetic to Mr. Sisi — chanting, “Leave! Leave!” — and called for the resignation of the interior minister, Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar.

Many Egyptians reported that TV stations broadcasting pictures of the crowd had cut out audio feeds that carried the anti-government chants.

Such public anger toward the government has become rare under Mr. Sisi, who has imprisoned thousands of opposition figures, cracked down on civil society and demonstrated little tolerance for the mildest street protests.

The blast coincided with a national holiday marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. 

Shrapnel pockmarked religious icons and stone walls inside the church, where witnesses gave graphic accounts of bloodied bodies strewn across the broken pews.

Hundreds of people streamed into nearby hospitals, frantically seeking news of the wounded. Officials said at least six children were among the dead.

Egypt’s beleaguered Coptic minority, which makes up about one-tenth of the country’s roughly 90 million people, has been discriminated against for decades, and has come under violent attack since the uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak.

The leadership of the Coptic Church, under Pope Tawadros II, has been a vocal supporter of Mr. Sisi, who came to power in 2013. But that support has also made Copts a target for elements of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. 

Islamists attacked hundreds of Coptic churches and homes in 2013, in a backlash after the security forces killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators in central Cairo in August of that year.

The violence smacks of sectarian prejudice because Mr. Sisi’s support stems from Egypt’s Muslim majority. Tensions between Christians and Muslims are highest in Minya, the province in upper Egypt that saw the worst attacks on Copts in 2013.

Coptic officials in Minya have counted at least 37 attacks in the past three years, including episodes of houses set on fire and Copts being assaulted on the streets.

“Once again the lives of Egypt’s Christian minority are dispensed with as objects within Egypt’s violent and cynical battle over power,” said Timothy E. Kaldas, a nonresident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

After the blast on Sunday, dozens of anguished Christians, some wearing black, waited for news of the wounded and the dead outside El Demerdash Hospital.

Noureen Grace, her face streaked with tears, waited for the remains of her sister-in-law, Madeline Michelle. “She was completely destroyed,” Ms. Grace said, describing the trauma of witnessing the mutilated body. “I spoke to her only yesterday. We spoke every day.”

Moments later a red-faced woman, still heaving with grief, walked past. “They are all dead,” she said, declining to give her name. “They were all my friends.”

*Photos courtesy of AFP

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Read also:

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Egypt Church Bombing and Warns of More to Come

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Workers arrested as police disperse fertilizer company protests, Tanta Flax workers call off sit-in

Mada Masr
Workers arrested as police disperse fertilizer company protests, Tanta Flax workers call off sit-in

Monday December 5, 2016

Police arrested a number of workers as they forcefully dispersed two sit-ins at fertilizer companies in Suez governorate on Monday, while in Cairo, a third sit-in by workers at Tanta Flax and Oils Company was called off.

Security forces were deployed early on Monday morning to the town of Ain al-Sokhna to disperse sit-ins involving around 1,000 workers at the Egyptian Fertilizers Company (EFC) and the Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation (EBIC), both owned by billionaire Nassif Sawiris.

Dozens of protesting workers were briefly detained in the crackdown, with two remaining in police custody. Suez-based trade unionist and regional labor organizer Saud Omar told Mada Masr that security forces initially arrested a large number of workers during the sit-in, but later released them, with the exception of Mohamed Hashim and Yasser Geneidy, who were referred to the district prosecutor pending investigations.

Security forces arrested two other workers, Hossam Mohamed and Mohamed Nassar, last week. District prosecutors ordered the extension of their detention by 15 days on Sunday, pending investigation into charges of inciting workers to strike.

The industrial action started 15 days ago, with workers demanding higher wages in light of the flotation and devaluation of the Egyptian pound.

Workers demands at both the EFC and EBIC are the same, Omar explained, as both companies are administered by Sawaris’ management. Workers began protests and strikes after company administrators deducted some of their bonuses, and workers’ grievances increased after the government’s decision to float the Egyptian Pound against the US Dollar early last month.

Both companies manufacture fertilizer products that are exported to foreign markets, which should mean higher profits following the floatation of the pound, as workers highlighted.

Two weeks ago, worker-representatives informed the local office of the Ministry of Manpower that they would embark on work stoppages before entering into collective negotiations with company administrators. However, managers refused to negotiate before the strike was called off and work resumed.

Both companies filed complaints about strike leaders with security forces, according to Omar, who explained that workers resumed their sit-ins on Monday morning, demanding increased wages and the immediate release of their coworkers.


Also on Monday, a delegation of dozens of workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company called off their sit-in. Striking workers had been occupying part of the ground floor of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), but suspended their action in light of “pressure from security forces,” according to workers.

The sit-in started on Sunday afternoon, as former workers awaited compensation payments from the Ministry of Public Works. Ministerial officials promised pay-offs of LE65,000 per worker in August, in exchange for them giving up their demands to be reinstated in their jobs.

Seeking their end-of-service compensations, representatives of some 243 workers, who were forced into early retirement following the privatization of the company, were due to meet with officials from the Ministry of Public Works on Tuesday. But the meeting was pushed back, according to one of the main workers negotiating with officials, Gamal Othman. Frustrated coworkers questioned Othman’s decision to agree to suspend the sit-in.

“I understand there were threats, along with concerns that the police would storm our sit-in and arrest us. But we’ve accomplished nothing here,” said Othman’s coworker Abdel Aziz Mohamed, who added, “We agreed to give up our jobs in exchange for compensation. Now we have neither.”

According to workers’ accounts, the state-owned Holding Company for Chemical Industries (which currently owns and manages the Tanta Flax and Oils Company) had initially proposed the end-of-service compensations nearly four months ago. But officials said they would only release the payments after receiving clearance from the Finance Ministry that it would cover the full amount of around LE16 million. Spokesperson for the Ministry of Finance, Ayman al-Kaffas, however, told Mada Masr that he had no knowledge of any such agreement.

Over 400 workers were pushed into early retirement following the privatization of the Tanta Flax and Oils Company in 2005. After years of trying to be reinstated, nearly half of these workers are now seeking compensation packages. Many are currently receiving pensions amounting to a maximum of LE700 per month.

In September 2011, an administrative court ruled in favor of the company’s workers, nullifying the privatization contract for the Tanta Flax and Oils Company. The government sought to overturn the verdict, but it was upheld by a higher-level administrative court in September 2013. The court ruled that the company had been sold for far less than its actual worth, and that there were administrative and contractual violations involved.

*Photo of Tanta Flax workers by Waad Ahmed

Supreme court upholds law restricting street protests

Egypt's top constitutional court upholds law restricting street protests

Sat Dec 3, 2016  

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court upheld on Saturday a law that effectively bans protests, settling a years-long court battle and protecting the law from further challenges.

The law was passed in 2013 amid persistent demonstrations calling for the reinstatement of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi after the military overthrew him following mass protests against his rule.

It requires would-be protesters to notify the interior ministry of any public gathering of more than 10 people at least three days in advance, imposes jail sentences of up to five years for those who violate a broad list of protest restrictions, and allows security forces to disperse illegal demonstrations with water cannons, tear gas and birdshot.

The court's ruling keeps all of these elements of the law intact and there is no further appeal.

Egyptian rights organizations have said the law criminalizes all forms of peaceful assembly and gives the state a free hand to disperse peaceful gatherings by force.

Its strict enforcement has largely succeeded in ending the kind of mass demonstrations that helped unseat two presidents in three years as activists who have held even small, peaceful gatherings were detained.

The ruling means that hundreds of protesters arrested under the law will remain in prison.

"It was a surprise. We were hoping that the constitutional court would come down on the side of rights. There isn't a court in Egypt that has mercy on the people," prominent human rights lawyer Gamal Eid told Reuters.

The case was first brought to an administrative court in 2014 when a group of lawyers challenged parts of the law they said violated article 73 of the constitution.

The article allows the "right to organize public meetings, marches, demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protest while not carrying weapons of any type, upon providing notification as regulated by law."

But the court ruled on Saturday that only article 10, which grants the interior ministry authority to deny protest requests, was unconstitutional.

It upheld three other articles being challenged, including one which requires protesters to submit detailed information on the location and purpose of their gatherings and another stipulating jail sentences and hefty fines for illegal demonstrations, which the law defines broadly.

*Reporting by Haitham Ahmed, Mostafa Hashem and Mohamed Abdellah; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Clelia Oziel

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Environment minister to export crocodiles for hard currency

Mada Masr
Egypt’s environment minister proposes breeding crocodiles for export to boost economy

Wednesday November 30, 2016

Jano Charbel

Amid the dollar crisis and a shortage of hard currency, Egypt’s environment minister proposed the creation of crocodile farms on Lake Nasser in the country’s far south to breed the reptiles for export, estimating each crocodile could fetch up to $US400.

Khaled Fahmy’s proposal followed calls from parliamentarians, including the head of the parliamentary committee for energy and the environment Talaat al-Swedy, for tighter regulation of the illegal hunting and trade of crocodiles in Egypt.

The Nile crocodile was previously endangered, and categorized as an Appendix 1 animal, meaning it could not be legally traded, Fahmy explained in a televised interview with the privately owned Al-Hayah satellite channel on Sunday. But, in 2010 this was lifted, categorizing Nile crocodiles as a threatened species that can be bred and traded with permission from authorities, in keeping with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which Egypt is a signatory, Fahmy added.

In order for Egypt to obtain permission and an export quota from CITES for the trade, farms for the breeding of Nile crocodiles must be established and approved.

A timeline for developing the farms and commercial export plans are to be established in coordination with an unnamed “national company,” which Fahmy said is due to present to CITES representatives soon. The ministry is also planning to bring in experts from Zambia and South Africa to act as supervisors for the initiative.

Egypt does not require parliamentary approval for the export of crocodiles, according to the minister, as regulations are included within the CITES protocol, which Egypt ratified in 1978. If approval is not given from convention officials, however, the trade is considered illegal.

A representative from the Environment Ministry, Loay Sayed, told the privately owned Youm7 news portal on Sunday there are currently around 3,000 crocodiles in Lake Nasser.

After news spread that the Nile crocodile is no longer classified as an endangered species, a number of fishermen began to illegally hunt them in Lake Nasser, selling them for around US$8. If breeding is regulated, they are likely to have higher quality skins that could fetch significantly more, Fahmy speculated.

The minister informed the parliamentary environment committee that he plans to have the crocodile farms ready for global exports within four years.

The first stage of the initiative will involve breeding the reptiles, Sayed said. After that, by 2018, the eggs will be transferred from the nurseries, before the crocodiles are exported, around 2020.

The Nile crocodile is the second largest living reptile on earth, after the saltwater crocodile. On average, adult Nile crocodiles measure between three and five meters long, and can weigh between 200 to 750 kilos.

Although they are mostly found in Lake Nasser, there have been individual crocodiles sighted in the Nile as far north as Cairo.

In the 1950s the species was almost extinct, but after the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, and their subsequent isolation in Lake Nasser, Nile crocodiles started to make a comeback.

The Nile crocodile was revered in ancient Egypt, depicted in images of the crocodile-headed deity Sobek.

Al Jazeera documentary on conscription in Egypt sparks uproar in mainstream media

Mada Masr
Monday November 28, 2016

The Doha-based Al Jazeera television channel and the Qatari government continue to face rebuke in Egypt following Sunday night’s broadcast of a documentary on the conditions of conscripts in Egypt’s Armed Forces.

While Egyptian media have been the principal figures leading the response, nationalist hashtags supporting the military surfaced on social media and members of Egypt’s Parliament called for an end to diplomatic relations with Qatar.

Anger toward the film, titled The Soldiers: Story of conscription in the Egyptian Armed Forces, began on Friday with the release of its trailer, which includes reenactment footage of soldiers crawling through a field in their undergarments.

The film consists of the testimonies of former military conscripts regarding the abuse they faced while enlisted. Many said that the training they received was futile and did not prepare them for combat.

Some of the media coverage became more incendiary on Monday, following the broadcast. The privately owned al-Bawaba newspaper’s Managing Editor Mohamed al-Baz wrote an article titled “A look at our mentally ill Qatari brother,” contending that Qatar’s jealousy of Egypt’s size and significance prompted it to betray its fellow Arab country to conspire with their common enemies.

In the same issue, Al-Bawaba columnist Nashat al-Deihy wrote an opinion article that begins with the sentence, “The prince is gay and his mother is a prostitute.” He proceeds to call Qatar, “The island of gays and prostitutes.”

Several daily newspapers also published accounts on Monday of reporters who were allowed to visit military training camps, using phrasing such as “the den of lions” and “the factory of saviors” for what the Al Jazeera documentary portrayed as places of abuse.

The privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published a cartoon on Monday depicting Qatari nationals watching the film and asking one another, “What is a military?” a reference to the country’s smaller military. This follows a cartoon in Sunday’s issue featuring an Egyptian struggling to point out where Qatar is on the map due to its small size.

However, these gestures are only the most recent in a series of comments issued by a broad range of figures across Egyptian society in the days leading up to the broadcast.

During a telephone interview on Youssef al-Husseini’s “Sada al-Muhtaramon” (Respectable Gentlemen) on Sunday, Foreign Minister spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid stated that it was clear that the film aimed to destabilize public confidence in the Armed Forces, a goal he asserted it would not accomplish. While Egypt’s media could address the claims advanced by the documentary, the Egyptian government, he continued, would not respond to a news channel.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam also affirmed support for Egypt’s military, saying it stands like a “proud mountain” and would not be affected by the slander propagated by partisan media platforms.
Amr Adib took to the air on Sunday night, saying that Qatar’s military is dependent on foreign elements and that the country does not understand the structure of Egypt’s Armed Forces. “Al-Ashera Masa’an” (10 pm) host Wael al-Ebrashy argued that outsiders “may not understand that compulsory military service in Egypt is a national and humanitarian duty.”

Lamis al-Hadidy, the host of “Huna al-'Asema” (Here’s the Capital) appealed to how conscription unifies Egyptians from every class, religion and race in the service of a nationalist endeavor. “Our military is a great national army. It is not a mercenary army. It is an army whose members come from every household in Egypt. Sacrifice, self-denial and glory are the slogans of the Egyptian solider.”

Regime supporters rallied around the hashtag “We will beat Tamim with a shoe” ahead of the screening on Sunday, a reference to the Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Ahmed Moussa is reported to have promoted use of the hashtag on his show “‘Ala Mas'ouliti” (My Responsibility.)

A photo depicting a military boot over Tamim’s head and bearing the caption, “Al Jazeera is under the boot of the Egyptian military” was widely circulated on social media. Another hashtag called on users to “Tweet in support of the Egyptian Armed Forces.”

A lawsuit was reportedly filed against Emad Eldin al-Sayed, the documentary’s director and an Egyptian national, on Sunday, claiming that he had defamed Egypt’s Armed Forces. Other media outlets reported that Sayed is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and an agent of Qatar. The director has denied these claims.

In an interview with the Huffington Post Arabic, Sayed explained that he is not attempting to tarnish the image of Egypt’s military. To the contrary, he told the Qatari-funded site that the “film is biased in favor of the Armed Forces,” adding that he is not opposed to military conscription.

“The film does not reject conscription. Rather, it discusses frequently-occurring incidents and accounts that are known to the Egyptian populace, including the punishment that conscripts face while enlisted, along with the exploitation of conscripted soldiers in labor markets outside the scope of military service.”

Sayed also told the Qatari-funded SasaPost news outlet that much of the documentary draws from footage either filmed by hidden cameras or leaked by conscripts who had captured it while on duty. However, other scenes feature reenactments based on testimony and archival documents.

Using the hashtag “These are Egyptian soldiers,” Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Mohamed Samir disseminated footage that emphasized the dignity of soldiers during Armed Forces training exercises.

Security forces raided Al Jazeera’s offices in Egypt during the June 30 revolution. The channel’s employees have been banned from operating in Egypt, with the last affiliate channel, “Mubasher Misr” (Live from Egypt), being shut down in December 2014.

Egyptian police arrested and jailed four members of the Al Jazeera English channel, claiming that the four used rooms in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo to meet with Muslim Brotherhood members. They were charged with broadcasting news that could harm national security and disseminating false information. The ensuing legal proceedings against Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed became known as the “Marriott Cell” case. Greste, an Australian national, was deported in February 2015, and Fahmy, the Egyptian-Canadian bureau chief, and Mohamed, an Egyptian correspondent, were released from jail in September of the same year.

Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatari government, is widely perceived in Egypt to serve as the mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two Al Jazeera Arabic reporters – Abdallah al-Shamy and Mohamed Badr – were arrested on August 14, 2013 during the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in, which resulted in the deaths of several hundreds of supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Military conscription in Egypt lasts between one and three years, depending on level of education.

Conscription is limited to able-bodied males between the ages of 18 and 30 years old and is pursuant to the completion of formal education. Conscripts with little or no formal education are often drafted into the Central Security Forces and typically serve for three years under the auspices of the Interior Ministry rather than the Armed Forces.

11/11 protests fail to take off in Cairo, scores arrested nationwide

Mada Masr
11/11 protests fail to take off in Cairo, scores arrested nationwide

Friday November 11, 2016 

Mass demonstrations planned for November 11, promoted as the“Revolution of the Poor,” largely failed to materialize in Cairo on Friday. Some minor protests, marches and clashes took place in other governorates including Giza, Alexandria and Beheira, among others.

Dozens of protesters were reportedly arrested on Friday, with mainstream media outlets reporting that nearly all those arrested were associated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. The Reuters-affiliated Aswat Masriya reported that security forces arrested 45 protesters nationwide on Friday, although the total number of detainees may actually be higher.

The state-owned Al-Akhbar news portal reported that 33 protesters were arrested while taking part in three protest marches in the town of Kafr al-Dawwar in Beheira. Those arrested were described as “elements of the terrorist Brotherhood” by Al-Akhbar, which also reported that police officers fired tear gas canisters to disperse demonstrations.

Four protesters were also arrested in Tahrir Square on Friday, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram news portal. Another four were reportedly arrested in the governorate of Minya, also said to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Five people were detained in Beni Suef, and another 10 were reported to have been arrested in Suez City.

The so-called 11/11 demonstrations were planned to protest ongoing austerity measures, including price hikes and subsidy cuts. The government implemented economic reforms to meet the conditions of a deal brokered with the International Monetary Fund for a US$12 billion loan, which is expected to be finalized on Friday.

The identities of those behind the calls for the demonstrations remain unknown with little indication as to who the organizers are. The Muslim Brotherhood endorsed the protests, and announced that they would be attending. Egypt’s state-owned Nile News channel reported on Friday that security forces were placed on high alert amid “the calls for chaos issued by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood.”

Tahrir Square was sealed off by the police and the Armed Forces on Friday, and the Ministry of Interior ordered authorities to shut down the Sadat Metro station, which leads up to the square, until further notice.
Photos of small protests and marches were circulated on social media platforms, particularly those in the city of Balteem in Kafr al-Sheikh. These demonstrations, along with those which took place in Suez, became a trending topic on Twitter.

Other notable protests were reported to have taken place in the town of Nahiya, in Giza, and in Alexandria around Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque where police are reported to have fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrations.

Armed police units were deployed across Egypt’s towns and cities late Thursday night, and patrols and checkpoints were also established.

A correspondent told Mada Masr that there is “a very heavy security presence” in Cairo’s populous working class neighborhood of Matareya, stating “officers and troops are out in force in Matareya Square, and they are preventing anybody from taking photos, even those attempting to do so using their cellphones.”

The pro-regime, partisan Al-Wafd news portal reported on Friday that the “Revolution of the Poor” can only be found in Google searches, not in Egypt’s streets.

The top trending social media hashtags in Egypt on Friday were #محدش_نزل  (“Nobody took to the streets”) along with #افتحوا_الميادين (“Open up the public squares”.)

A photograph of a young man holding up a poster of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in one hand and waving an Egyptian flag with the other, was widely circulated on social media.

*Photo courtesy of Reuters