Monday, February 29, 2016

Video: John Oliver mocks dictator Sisi & his speeches

Working as a journalist in Egypt is as dangerous as openly demonstrating against the regime - RSF report

Mada Masr
Reporters Without Borders decries persecution of journalists under Sisi
“The situation of journalists in Egypt is unacceptable,” the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB) declared in a letter sent to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday. The group exhorted the president to release the dozens of journalists, bloggers and media staffers currently detained in Egyptian jails.

The Journalists Syndicate has documented at least 32 journalists currently detained or serving prison sentences nationwide, of which at least 18 were arrested while reporting news in public.

In April 2015, RSF ranked Egypt very poorly in its global press freedom index, at 158 out of 180 countries. Since then, the number of media raids and the arrests and prosecution of journalists and editors has continued to rise.

Prominent cases include that of investigative reporter Hossam Bahgat, who in early November 2015 was summoned for questioning by military intelligence pursuant to an article he wrote for Mada Masr. Bahgat was detained and released two days later, only after signing an agreement to not write about the Armed Forces beyond the legal bounds set for him. The case against him may be ongoing.

Similar incidents took place in December and January against several other media professionals.
“In 2015, Egypt became one the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. In most cases, their only ‘error’ was to have covered demonstrations or protests or to have spoken with members of the Muslim Brotherhood (which [Egypt has] declared to be a ‘terrorist organization’) in the course of their reporting,” the group continued.

In December 2015, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed Egypt as the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide, trailing shortly behind China. The number of jailed journalists in Egypt rose dramatically in 2015, CPJ said, nearly doubling in number after Sisi’s administration assumed power.

RWB argued that several other journalists are being “held on trumped-up charges unrelated to press offenses,” including charges of affiliation with a terrorist organization, partaking in unauthorized protests, disseminating false information and disturbing the public order.

For instance, on November 29, authorities arrested the investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher Ismail Alexandrani on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and disseminating false information. His detention has repeatedly been renewed since his arrest.

Amnesty International and several other rights groups decried the arrest, arguing Alexandrani is being targeted for his criticism of the authorities in his academic and journalistic work.

“Working as a journalist in Egypt has become as dangerous as openly demonstrating against the regime,” the RWB statement claimed.

Many of these detained journalists have been “subjected to unjust trials that violate Egypt’s 2014 Constitution and international human rights law, demonstrating the Egyptian justice system’s lack of independence,” the letter charged. “Respect for the fundamental freedoms of Egyptian citizens and foreign residents has unfortunately declined since [Sisi] became Egypt’s president in 2014.”

RWB’s statement pointed to certain high-profile cases of journalists and media staffers held behind bars since the military-led takeover of government on July 3, 2013. Among them, photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (popularly known as Shawkan), who spent more than two years in jail before standing trial, violating the Penal Code’s two-year cap on pretrial detention.

The French NGO’s statement noted that several journalists have been sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment, while others have been tortured or denied critical medical treatment while in detention.

RWB also pointed to the three journalists killed by security forces while covering the dispersal of the pro-Brotherhood Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in on August 14, 2013.

More than two years later, “no investigation had been opened into the deaths of these journalists or the massacre that took place that day, and none of those responsible have been arrested,” said RWB, adding that no security personnel have been held accountable for the murders of journalists since the popular uprising of January 2011.

The statement concluded with an exhortation “to release these unjustly detained journalists and to stop persecuting them. Otherwise, Egypt’s prospects for the future will be very dim in the long term.”

Sisi dictatorship moves to shut down anti-torture NGO


Egypt rights group asks court to halt closure attempt

Staff at centre for victims of violence say government plan to shut it down is a "political decision"

An Egyptian organisation that documents rights abuses and treats torture victims said that it had filed an urgent application to an Egyptian court in the hope of halting plans by authorities to shut it down.

The director of the Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture told a news conference on Sunday that a Health Ministry decision to shut it down on Monday was part of the toughest crackdown on dissent in Egypt's modern history.

"This is a political decision," said Aida Seif el-Dawla. "And it's coming from the cabinet that represents all the actors that are keen on the survival of this regime, despite the oppression and the torture that the Egyptian people are living through on a daily basis."

Sources in the Health Ministry, which issues licences for the Nadeem Centre, have said it committed unspecified violations.

Staff of the organisation said on Sunday its complaint to the Administrative Court argued that it should have been informed of any violations of regulations and given time to rectify them.

The centre would continue to operate, said staff member Suzan Fayad, despite the closure order, which the authorities plan to implement on Monday.

Human rights groups accuse President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government of widespread abuses, allegations it denies.

As armed forces chief, Sisi toppled President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Security forces killed hundreds of Morsi supporters in the streets and arrested thousands of others. Secular activists were later rounded up.

Non-governmental organisations have been closed under what government critics say is a rollback of political freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that ended 30 years of rule under President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptian authorities deny allegations by human rights groups and activists that security forces round up people and detain them in secret detention centres where they are tortured.

Egypt's human rights record has come under fresh scrutiny since Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni, 28, was found dead on the outskirts of Cairo this month. His body showed signs of torture.
The government has denied media reports that he was arrested by security forces before his death.

*Photo courtesy of AP

Egypt: Parliament siding against basic labor rights & freedoms

Mada Masr  

Parliament stacked against labor interests?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Jano Charbel 

The new Parliament, which convened for the first time in January, is reviewing several pieces of legislation that could adversely affect the country’s workforce.

With only a handful of labor representatives — all of whom were executively appointed to the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) — the Parliament is the first legislative body in over 50 years to have been elected without the 50 percent quota allotted to workers’ and farmers’ representatives.

The 2014 Constitution scrapped a 1964 constitutional provision allocating at least half of parliamentary seats to representatives of the labor force.

The resulting legislature has been received with sharp censure by workers, labor activists and independent union leaders alike. The highly contentious civil service law — the only presidential decree to be shot down by the new Parliament — as well as the unified labor law and the trade union law are among several pieces of legislation being redrafted by an 11-member Manpower Committee.

But the lack of independent labor representation has many more than skeptical about the products of the committee’s efforts, and those of the Parliament more broadly.

For Talal Shokr of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, there is no genuine labor representation in Parliament. Instead, the five ETUF unionists who secured parliamentary seats — and who are concentrated in the 11-member Manpower Committee — won their seats on the For the Love of Egypt list — a staunchly pro-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi coalition — rather than being elected as individual candidates.

“These MPs from ETUF are following in the state’s footsteps, as they have for decades,” Shokr argues. “There is not a single MP from the independent trade union movement.”

Egypt’s independent trade unions began to emerge in 2009 as an alternative to ETUF, which had acted as the only legally recognized trade union federation since its establishment in 1957.

The new Parliament is not a real one, argues Kamal al-Fayoumy, a worker from the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, but a “large council of yes-men … a tool in the executive authorities’ hands.” He alludes to Parliament’s approval of 340 presidential decrees — from a total of 341 such laws issued in the absence of Parliament — in a period of just 15 days.

“Have you ever seen a Parliament approving every single law, out of hundreds of laws, issued by the president in such a short period of time?” Fayoumy asks.

The highly contentious civil service law was the only law that Parliament rejected, with nearly 68 percent of MPs voting it down.

Civil servants held several strikes and large protests in 2015 against the decree, arguing that it imposed caps on their bonuses and wages and thus kept their incomes flat in the face of inflation, while simultaneously empowering their administrators with sweeping managerial powers over employees.

Protesting civil servants also argued that the presidency issued the decree unilaterally without consulting them or their trade unions. Even ETUF representatives in Parliament explained that the presidency did not consult with them while the civil service law was being formulated.

ETUF President and member of Parliament (MP) Gebali al-Maraghi said in an interview on the Sada al-Balad satellite channel that he approves of Sisi's plans for administrative reform of the public sector, but objects to the presidential decree, as its drafting involved "no consultation with civil society, or ETUF."

Maraghi added that without consultations, “conspirators and saboteurs” infiltrated and mislead the ranks of the workforce, then he reiterated that ETUF is “against all protests, and all strikes.”
Another ETUF MP, Solaf Darwish, told the privately owned news site Youm7 that she rejected the civil service law since it would “harm 6 million families,” and because it could lead to a countrywide explosion of protests and strikes.

Most of the 11 members of Parliament’s Manpower Committee are reported to have rejected the civil service law. However, Parliament's voting roster for January 20 indicated that three out of five ETUF MPs voted for its approval in private, even though they opposed the law in public and in statements to media outlets. Maraghi, Darwish and one other ETUF leader, Gamal Oqabi, reportedly voted for the law in the end.

The Manpower Committee is currently said to be involved in redrafting the civil service law. Maraghi claimed there are 12 articles the committee asked the presidency to amend before they would approve it.

The Manpower Committee is set to also redraft the unified labor law.

But Hoda Kamel, an independent union organizer and member of the grassroots campaign Toward a Just Labor Law, stresses that the Manpower Ministry and Parliament alike have largely excluded independent unions from participation in the redrafting process, while allowing businessmen and their associations to make amendments in order to protect their interests.

“The drafts of the unified labor law I’ve seen include virtually no protection for precarious laborers, few contractual safeguards and decreased rights for trade unions in negotiations with the state or employers,” Kamel adds.

Several local media outlets reported that the Federation of Egyptian Industries, along with other businessmen’s associations and chambers of commerce, have formed a lobby to reject recent drafts of the labor law as formulated by the Ministry of Manpower. Business federations complained that the ministry’s initial drafts include provisions that would frighten investors and discourage investment in Egypt.

According to independent union organizer Fatma Ramadan, “The new provisions found in several of the existing drafts [of the labor law] may negatively impact workers’ total wages. These drafts have linked workers’ wages to production, even if production is on the decline due to administrative policies.”

The drafts Ramadan has read of the law “facilitate punitive sackings of worker, and stipulate they may be sacked for exercising their right to strike, or for not abiding by administrators’ policies,” she says. “Unions’ collective bargaining powers have been weakened, while employers have been empowered to determine their own labor policies without workers’ involvement.”

Another law on the Manpower Committee’s agenda is the highly polarizing trade union law. This law, and its precursors since 1957, guaranteed ETUF a legally binding monopoly over the trade union movement. Further, the law does not recognize the existence of unions or federations organized outside ETUF’s structure.

Through the Manpower Committee as well as the judiciary, ETUF has launched a campaign in hopes of outlawing independent trade unions or federations across the country. ETUF leaders filed a formal complaint at a Cairo police station in late January, while also filing a lawsuit before the Cairo Administrative Court. The first hearing took place on February 7.

The trial was adjourned until March 13 to allow ETUF to present documents regarding its last elections, held in 2006. ETUF elections have been overdue since 2011, and its leaders have been appointed by the Ministry of Manpower over the past five years.

In May 2015, Sisi issued a presidential decree extending the terms of office for ETUF’s leadership by another year.

According to ETUF’s website, its leaders describe independent unions as “illegitimate and illegal,” as well as “a threat to national security.” Moreover, ETUF leaders claim that independent unions serve to divide and weaken the unity of the trade union movement.

ETUF MP Mohamed Wahballah spoke of the Manpower Committee’s plans for the new trade union law, telling local media outlets: “The bill being prepared will determine the necessary conditions for the establishment of trade unions, and must be applicable to all unions.”

“ETUF representatives in Parliament simply want to maintain a monopoly over Egypt’s trade unions,” Shokr argues, “while they vote against basic labor rights and freedoms — even in violation of existing International Labor Organization [ILO] legislation. Their loyalty is not to the working class, but to the ruling regimes that keep them in power.”

Fayoumy concurs. “They [ETUF and the Manpower Committee] may try their best to limit the presence of independent unions, but the Constitution, along with international conventions that the Egyptian state has ratified over the past decades, safeguard the right to establish unions independently of state control.”

Fayoumy and Shokr refer to constitutional Article 76, which stipulates “the right to establish syndicates and unions on a democratic basis,” and also guarantees their independence.

They also point to the ILO's Convention 87 and Convention 98, which guarantee employees the right to form unions of their choosing.

Egypt voluntarily ratified both ILO Conventions in 1957 and 1954, respectively, but to this day has still not brought its domestic legislation in-line with these international agreements.

Under the auspices of then-minister Ahmed al-Borai, in 2011 the Manpower Ministry presided over the formulation of a bill recognizing the existence of independent trade unions. However, the bill was repeatedly shelved by the consecutive governments of the past five years.

Other laws expected to be reviewed and redrafted by the Manpower Committee in coordination with Parliament’s Health Affairs Committee include the national health insurance law and the social insurance law.

The Doctors Syndicate rejected the latest draft of the health insurance law, arguing that it deprives lower-income demographics of access to affordable medical care, while largely benefiting insurance companies.

As for the social insurance law, fewer details have emerged as to the state’s plans to amend existing legislation.

But Ramadan isn’t hopeful, saying, “I don’t expect anything positive or progressive to come out of this Parliament.”

*Photo courtesy of Libcom.

Hundreds protest police murder of taxi driver

Deutsche Welle

Deadly police shooting sparks Egypt protests

February 19, 2016

Millions of Egyptians rose up against police brutality under Mubarak's regime in 2011

A police officer has killed a young taxi driver "by mistake," according to Egypt's Interior Ministry. The incident comes amid increasingly frequent protests against police excesses, a key contributor to 2011's uprising.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of Cairo's security directorate on Thursday night after a police officer dressed in civilian clothes shot and killed a 24-year-old taxi driver.

"Hundreds marched from Cairo's security directorate to Ahmed Maher Hospital, where the corpse of a young Mohamed Ali - a victim of police - is [located]," Omar Elhady, an Egyptian journalist, wrote in a tweet accompanied by a video of the demonstration.

Mohamed Ali, known as "Darbaka," was shot by the police officer "by mistake," according to the Egyptian Interior Ministry.

"A low-ranking policeman was accompanying his relative to buy some goods and when both were uploading goods to a taxi, they had a fight with the taxi driver," said Cairo's security directorate, according to the state-owned al-Ahram news site.

"The policeman pulled out his gun to end the fight but a bullet came out by mistake, killing the taxi driver," the Interior Ministry's statement added.


Reports differ as to whether the officer was apprehended, with some local news sites suggesting he may have been killed by the neighborhood's residents who witnessed the altercation.

"He took out his weapon and loaded it," a local resident told Egypt's independent news site Mada Masr. "We intervened to restrain him and tried to break up the fight, but he was able to break loose and immediately shot him in the head."

Last week, thousands of doctors gathered in protest of police who beat two doctors for refusing to falsify medical records.

The protests come as Italian officials announced that an autopsy of graduate student Giulio Regeni's body showed signs of torture, including electrocution. Activists said Regeni's injuries had the hallmarks of Egyptian security services.

In January 2011, millions took to the streets of Cairo and other cities across Egypt to protest police excesses under former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, resulting in his ouster.

*Photo courtesy of DPA, Video courtesy of RT

Doctors strike, stage mass protests against police assaults

Associated Press 

Egyptian doctors revolt against escalating police abuses

CAIRO (AP) — When a doctor at a Cairo hospital told a police officer that his cut didn't require stitches, the response was startling and brutal. Police beat up the doctor and a colleague and dragged them off into custody.

The incident spiraled into protests by thousands of doctors in the Egyptian capital on Friday, a rare show of public outrage over police abuses that rights groups say have escalated in the country. Such public demonstrations have become unusual in Egypt, where tens of thousands of political dissidents have been arrested and street protests without prior police permits have been banned since 2013.

While protesters gathered outside the building of the doctors' union, known as the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, inside members called for the resignation of the health minister — in part because of his lack of support — and threatened to go on partial strike.

The standoff between policemen and doctors suggested that Egypt's powerful security forces may have overstepped their limits by clashing with one of the country's most respected professions. On Friday, the Arabic hashtag "support the doctors' syndicate" was trending on Twitter in Egypt. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR,) a prominent local rights group, said the doctors' assault was "a reflection of the level of police abuse of authority these days."

The protests were sparked by an assault on Jan. 28 in Cairo's Matariya hospital, one of the largest in the city, which serves around 2,000 patients a day drawn from one of Cairo's poorest neighborhoods.

The hospital entrance is surrounded by piles of garbage, and the surrounding streets are crowded with hawkers selling everything from used clothes to chickens freshly slaughtered on the pavement. A police office is attached to the hospital building so that officers are on hand to intervene in the regular scuffles.

Around 10 minutes' walk away is Matariya's main police station, described by EIPR as a "slaughterhouse" because 14 people have died while in police custody there over the past two years.

The deputy head of the hospital, Mamoun Hassan el-Deeb, told The Associated Press that two young doctors named Ahmed Abdullah and Moamen Abdel-Azzem were attacked by two policemen — the officer with a scratch on his forehead, and his colleague.

According to the online and televised testimonies of Abdullah and Abdel-Azzem, they were beaten up by the policemen and one officer pulled out his gun and threatened other hospital staff.

A vehicle carrying around seven more policemen then rushed from station to arrest the doctors, according to a nurse who witnessed the assault. When one of the doctors tried to resist, he fell to the ground and a policeman stomped on his head with his boots. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal. The nurse was among a dozen hospital staffers who later testified in front of a prosecutor.

Inside the police station, high ranking policemen intervened to rescue the doctors and offered an apology.

"The apology was not accepted by the doctors, who were deeply humiliated," hospital chief el-Deeb said.

A senior police officer at the Matariya station denied the assault took place, saying the doctors in question were members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. The accusation is commonly used to shed doubt on the motives of any dissenters in Egypt. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Abdel-Azzem said on his Facebook page that initially he filed an official complaint at the police station but later withdrew it for fear of detention inside Matariya police station, after officers filed a counter-complaint against him, accusing the medics of assault.

The withdrawal of the doctor's official complaint added fuel to the syndicate's anger. The union shut down the hospital for eight days and doctors threatened mass resignations if officers weren't held accountable.

The general prosecutor ordered an investigation into the incident and on Wednesday, 13 days after the assault, seven policemen were questioned and two were detained. All were released on Thursday pending further investigation, but the prime minister's office announced Friday that the two police officers have been temporarily suspended from work.

These measures have not been enough to stem doctors' anger, and medics gathered in their thousands outside the syndicate calling for strikes and "dignity for doctors."

"I am the doctor, who is going to stitch my injury?" read one sign held by a young female doctor. Next to her a medic raised a banner that depicted a rifle shooting at a white doctor's coat together with the caption: "Police are thugs." Others held posters for detained doctors including Ahmed Said, a rights activist and a surgeon detained since November for political activism.

Meanwhile, syndicate members voted to offer free services in public hospitals and to call a partial strike in two weeks' time unless the officers involved are held accountable, measures are taken to protect medics from police intimidation and the health minister submits his resignation. The union said that any hospital in which doctors are assaulted will be closed.

"This is a turning point in our union's history," said Hussein Khairy, the chairman of the syndicate, addressing a crowd of doctors so large it filled all three floors and the roof of the building. "We want the rule of law. Assaulters, whether they are a doctor or a policeman, must be punished."

Pro-government media outlets painted the protest as politically-motived. Al-Assema, a private TV network, questioned whether Mona Mena, deputy head of the syndicate and a Christian, is an Islamist. Mena had urged doctors during Friday's gathering not to chant political slogans.

Yet others saw in the doctors' revolt echoes of Egypt's January 2011 uprising against longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. "The January revolution hasn't died and today is a new chapter," Egyptian writer Mahmoud Mohamed Hegazy wrote on his Facebook page.
Outside the syndicate, Rashwan Shaaban, a doctor and a union official, addressed a cheering crowd, saying, "I can't treat a patient while a gun is pointed to my side or a knife at my neck."

*Photos by Amr Nabil, courtesy of AP

Officer investigating Giulio Regeni murder was previously convicted of torture & murder

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A senior police officer in charge of the preliminary investigation into the murder of visiting Italian student Giulio Regeni has a prior conviction for torturing a man to death and forging a police report, according to rights activists.

Alexandria Criminal Court sentenced Major General Khaled Shalaby to one year in prison in 2003 on charges of complicity in the abduction, torture, and murder of an Egyptian man, identified as Shawqy Abdel Aal, as well as falsifying official documents, according to human rights reports.

However, Shalaby, along with two fellow officers from Alexandria’s Montazah Police Station, was issued a suspended sentence.

Shalaby, who currently serves as chief of Giza’s General Directorate for Police Investigations, was involved in Egypt’s fact-finding committee investigating Regeni’s brutal murder.

He claimed Regeni died in a traffic accident, the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper reported, stating that there is no suspicion of foul play in the death of the 28-year-old Italian doctoral candidate. Preliminary findings revealed no signs of gunshot or stab wounds on Regeni’s body, Shalaby alleged.

When Regeni’s body was flown to Italy for an autopsy, however, coroners documented several stab wounds, along with cigarette burns, ripped-out nails, broken fingers, among other serious injuries.

Italy’s Interior Ministry reported that Regeni was subjected to “animal-like” brutality and torture.

At a ministerial press conference on Monday, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar commented that he was "disturbed by the coverage of some media outlets,” who he accused of “jumping to conclusions."

"Some have implied that Egypt's security services are involved in this incident,” he noted, stating that the ministry “only received notice of Regeni's disappearance on January 27."

Regeni disappeared on January 25, the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, as he was heading toward the downtown Cairo district of Bab al-Louq, nearby Tahrir Square, which was occupied by heavily armed police forces for the occasion.

Abdel Ghaffar went on to state that Egypt's security forces are conducting investigations with "complete transparency and professionalism" to help identify those responsible for Regeni's death.

On Monday, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told the Rome-based La Repubblica newspaper that Italy "will not settle for purported truths, as we have said on the occasion of the two arrests initially linked to the death of Giulio Regeni.”

Gentiloni was referring to Egyptian security forces’ reports that two suspects in Regeni’s death were arrested days ago. Scant information has been released on these suspects, who were described by Interior Ministry sources as criminals who are not linked to any terrorist organization.

After his motorcade is driven over 2.5 mile red carpet, Sisi calls for austerity measures


Fury as 2.5 mile red carpet rolled out for Egyptian president as he visits social housing

A row has erupted after Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi gave a speech about austerity after having a huge red carpet laid out for him over public roads.

The top official's motorcade drove over the 2.5 mile carpet during a trip to social housing projects in Cairo.

The incident sparked a furious backlash on social media, with images of el-Sisi's grand arrival being widely shared by Twitter users.

And the Al-Maqal newspaper suggested he was a hypocrite for asking ordinary people to "tighten [their] belts" when the red carpet "says otherwise".

During Saturday's speech el-Sisi claimed the state spends a staggering £3.5 million every day on clean water.

Only part of the cost passed on to consumers, he added.

He said: "One [cubic] metre of water that reaches you costs me this much, and you are taking it by that much, and the state is unable to continue this way."

A military spokesman defended the use of the carpet, saying it had not been bought by el-Sisi's administration.

He said: "It gives a kind of joy and assurance to the Egyptian citizen that our people and our land and our armed forces are always capable of organising anything in a proper manner.

"It is laid out in a way to beautify the general area, so it gives a good impression of the celebration that is being broadcast to the whole world."
El-Sisi's promises to bring stability have come amid heavy clampdown on dissent.

Several number of prominent secular activists have been imprisoned, while un-authorised protests have been banned.

Yesterday hundreds of football fans ignored the leader's diktat, setting off firecrackers and waved banners at a rally inside a Cairo park.

The event commemorate the deaths of 22 people killed in clashes last year between the police and fans of the Zamalek football club.

Additional evidence of torture in Giulio Regeni case, Italy demands Egypt's full cooperation in investigations

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Italian government is urging Egyptian authorities to heighten cooperation with their investigations into the torture and murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose body was found in a Cairo suburb on February 3. The pleas came after additional evidence supporting the theory that Regeni was tortured to death emerged on Monday, according to Italian coroners.

New evidence from the autopsy conducted in Italy showed that the nails on the 28-year-old's toes and fingers had all been ripped off, and that all of his fingers were broken, the Associated Press reported.
On Sunday, Italy’s Interior Ministry said the PhD student was subjected to “animal-like” brutality.

That day, results from Regeni’s autopsy suggested a broken cervical vertebra was the cause of death. The autopsy also revealed that Regeni’s body bore the marks of cigarette burns, cuts, several stab wounds and bruising.

"We will not settle for purported truths, as we have said on the occasion of the two arrests initially linked to the death of Giulio Regeni,” Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told the Rome-based daily newspaper La Repubblica on Monday.

Gentiloni was alluding to Egyptian security forces’ reports that two suspects in Regeni’s death were arrested a few days ago. Scant information has been released on the suspects, who were described by Interior Ministry sources as criminals not linked to any terrorist organization.

On February 5, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement declaring Egypt and Italy’s “mutual desire to uncover the reasons behind this incident and its perpetrators.”

However, in his interview with La Repubblica, Gentiloni argued, "We want those who are really responsible to be apprehended, and to be punished on the basis of law."

Regeni’s murder “is a very grave stain on a fundamentally authoritarian regime,” Gennaro Migliore, Italy’s under-secretary to the justice minister, told the Associated Press.

Regeni disappeared on January 25 – the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising against the regime of Hosni Mubarak – near Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Security forces were deployed en masse across the country that day, and local media reported more than 150 opposition protesters were arrested.

In hopes of unraveling the mystery of Regeni’s death, Italy dispatched members of its special operations police unit to Cairo to partake in the investigations.

On Monday, Egypt's Interior Ministry held a press conference presided over by Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, in which he touched on both Regeni’s death and the events of January 25.
He said he was "disturbed by the coverage of some media outlets,” who he accused of “jumping to conclusions."

"Some have implied that Egypt's security services are involved in this incident,” he noted, but “we only received notice of his disappearance on January 27." The minister went on to claim that Egypt's security forces are conducting investigations with "complete transparency and professionalism" to help identify those responsible for Regeni's murder.

Ghaffar then offered his condolences to the Italian people.

On Sunday night, around 2,000 people held a candle-lit march and vigil for Regeni in his hometown of Fiumicello in northeastern Italy, Reuters reported.

"We want a commitment at every level to shed light on what happened to Giulio,” Fiumicello Mayor Ennio Scridel told Reuters.

Regeni was a PhD candidate at Cambridge University in London. He moved to Egypt in September to research and write his thesis under the supervision of a professor from the American University in Cairo (AUC).

Both Cambridge and AUC are reportedly involved in the investigations.

In an open letter of protest released Monday that was initiated by Regeni's colleagues at the University of Cambridge, more than 4,600 academics expressed their grief for his death, while calling for investigations into his fate as well as the fate of hundreds of Egyptians who have disappeared or been abused and killed while in police custody.

The letter notes that Regeni disappeared "in the midst of a security campaign which has resulted in mass arbitrary arrests, a dramatic increase in reports of torture within police stations and other cases of disappearances."

 "We therefore call on the Egyptian authorities to cooperate with an independent and impartial investigation into all instances of forced disappearances, cases of torture and deaths in detention during January and February 2016," the letter concludes.

Regeni was writing about the labor movement and independent trade unions in contemporary Egypt.

He wrote a number of articles on the Egyptian labor movement for the Italian leftist paper Il Manifesto. An Italian journalist investigating the murder told Mada Masr that, due to security concerns, Regeni wrote his articles under the name Antonio Drius. His articles were generally critical of President Adel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration and his labor policies.

Why are Egypt's independent trade unions on trial?

Mada Masr

Why are Egypt's independent trade unions on trial?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Jano Charbel 

A Giza court commenced a case against Egypt’s independent trade unions on Sunday, filed by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which has called for their dissolution.

The ETUF claims independent unions are illegitimate and are not recognized by domestic law.

Defense lawyers claim the ETUF is un-elected and the government’s appointment of its leadership violates domestic law.

The case was adjourned until March 13 to allow the ETUF to present documents from its last elections in late 2006. Elections have been overdue since 2011, defense lawyers argue, with the ETUF’s leaders being appointed by the Ministry of Manpower over the last five years.

The lawsuit was filed by the ETUF-affiliated General Union of Tax, Finance and Customs Employees against the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) and its affiliates: the Independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees, the Independent Union of Sales Tax Authority Employees, and the Independent Union of Income Tax Authority Employees.

According to media reports, the ETUF’s lawyer, Ahmed Mortada Mansour, is seeking to outlaw all independent unions operating in Egypt, to shut down all funds and finances associated with the EFITU and its affiliates and to prevent independent unions from establishing financial accounts or collecting dues/money.

The ETUF had monopolized Egypt’s union movement, as the only federation recognized by domestic trade union legislation, since its establishment in 1957, until the January 25, 2011 revolution, when Egypt’s first federation of independent trade unions (EFITU) emerged to challenge the ETUF’s monopoly.

In 2011, the Ministry of Manpower, under the auspices of then-minister Ahmed Hassan al-Borai, presided over the formulation of a new trade union law, which recognizes the existence of independent or parallel trade unions. However, this draft law has been shelved by consecutive governments over the last five years.

The ETUF’s traditional leadership has never recognized the existence of independent trade unions or federations, claiming they violate the law.

Conversely, a statement issued by the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) maintains employees have the right to establish unions according to the 2014 Constitution. “The law shall guarantee the right to establish syndicates and unions on a democratic basis,” according to Article 76, which adds, “The state shall guarantee the independence of syndicates and unions.”

Since the 1950s, the Egyptian State has voluntarily ratified the International Labor Organization’s Convention 87, concerning freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize, as well as Convention 98, concerning the right to organize and collective bargaining, which guarantee employees the right to form unions of their choosing.

Attending Sunday’s court session were renowned trade union leader and opposition figure Kamal Abu Eita and several members of the Independent Union for Real Estate Tax Authority Employees, in solidarity with the EFITU and its affiliated unions, the privately owned Veto news portal reported.

Abu Eita helped establish Egypt’s first non-state-controlled union, the Independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees in 2009. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the EFITU in early 2011.

Italian student Giulio Regeni killed due to 'animal-like violence' in Egypt

Daily Mail

Cambridge student found dead in Egypt suffered 'inhuman animal-like violence' says Italian interior minister as Rome opens investigation into his death

  • Giulio Regeni, 28, originally from Italy, was conducting fieldwork in Cairo 
  • He was last seen in the centre of the city on the evening of January 25
  • Autopsy has revealed signs that he suffered 'inhuman animal-like violence' 
  • Examination showed Mr Regeni's neck was twisted or struck during attack 

A Cambridge student whose battered body was found on the streets of Cairo suffered 'inhuman animal-like violence' during his death.

Italian Giulio Regeni was found naked from the waist down near a highway outside the Egyptian capital, nine days after he was reported missing.

An autopsy examination has revealed that Mr Regeni's neck was twisted or struck which broke a vertebra and left him unable to breathe.

Prosecutors from Rome have now opened a murder investigation into the death of the doctoral student and ministers are calling for Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to fully cooperate.

Mr Regeni, a student of Cambridge's Department of Politics and International Studies, had been in Cairo for just a few months, as part of his Ph.D. research into Egyptian labor movements, when he disappeared on January 25.

He had left his apartment with a plan to travel by subway to meet a friend in the city, but was never seen again.

A second autopsy in Italy has shed further light into Mr Regeni's death with details so shocking that interior minister Angelino Alfano told Sky TV that he struggled to catch his breath after reading the report.

While opening details have been released analysis of tissue and body fluid, which could help pinpoint or at least narrow the time frame when Mr Regeni died, are expected to take several days.

Mr Alfano said the student had suffered 'something inhuman, animal-like, an unacceptable violence.'

Prosecutor Ahmed Nagi, who leads the investigation team on the case, had previously said 'all of his body, including his face' had bruises, cuts from stabbings and burns from cigarettes, adding that it appeared to have been a 'slow death.'

Italian police were dispatched to Cairo on Saturday and have started working with their Egyptian counterparts on the case.

Mr Alfano said: 'I am convinced that it is in the interest of el-Sissi to work together. No one can bring Giulio back to life, but bring the truth to the surface will perhaps be able to save more lives.'

An Egyptian friend of Mr Regeni, who was from Fiumicello in the north-east of Italy, said that shortly before his death the student had been seeking contacts for trade union activists to interview as part of his research.

This political research had been the main focus when the friend was questioned by police following the Italian student's disappearance, he said.  

Another friend explained he was travelling to downtown Cairo on the day of his disappearance, he said: 'A friend called him after he didn't show up. His cell was off then,' he told MailOnline, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He added: 'We briefly talked on the day of his disappearance, about two hours earlier. He was happy and cheerful, he was about to meet a friend. No indication of any worries whatsoever.

'I just feel terrible for his family, his girlfriend and all his friends.'
The Egyptian authorities had intensified a crackdown on dissent ahead of the January 25 anniversary of the Arab Spring, with police raiding apartments in downtown Cairo seeking signs of plans for organised protests and checking people's social media accounts.

For years, rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees. 

Over the past year, they have also accused them of using 'forced disappearances' - detaining suspected activists or Islamists in secret without reporting their arrest.

The Egyptian Association for Rights and Freedoms documented 314 such disappearances in 2015, according to a lawyer, Halem Henish. 

Most later turned up in prison, but at least five were found at the morgue, including one with signs of torture like burns and electric shocks. 

He said the group has documented 35 disappearances so far in 2016, including at least two of whom have died.

*Photo of memorial for Giulio in Italy, courtesy of Getty Images

Egyptian taxi drivers protest against Uber, other app-based car services

Mada Masr

Taxi drivers protest against Uber, other app-based car services

Friday, February 5, 2016

Jano Charbel 

Dozens of taxi drivers protested in Giza on Thursday against their leading competitor, the Uber driving service, continuing a long chain of protests worldwide against the global app staged in major cities from Paris to Berlin, Madrid, London, Toronto and Istanbul.

Gathering outside the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandiseen, the protesters — all of whom drive white taxi cabs in the Cairo, Giza and Qalyubiya governorates — raised their voices against what they call Uber Egypt’s illegal employment practices and unfair competition.

Aside from the San-Francisco based online car service, the cab drivers were also demonstrating against similar app-based companies, such as the Dubai-based Careem and local companies including the woman-only service Pink Taxi, Faster Line, Private, City Limousine, Express Limousine, Motocar and iCan, among others.

They also chanted against unlicensed taxi services, such as drivers of unmarked private cars who try to make their vehicles look like taxis by installing luggage racks and roof lights.

The app-based companies and these unregistered private cars equally damage licensed taxi drivers’ livelihoods, the protesters claim.

Their main grievances were outlined in a statement that circulated on Facebook. The taxi drivers say they sent the petition listing their complaints to the president’s office in the hopes of an executive intervention in their favor.

Also on Thursday night, another group of protesters filed an official complaint against both Uber and Careem at the Dokki Police Station, claiming the two companies violate domestic traffic and transport laws by using private cars as unlicensed and unmarked taxis, while cheating registered taxi drivers of their incomes.

While the protesters were unified in regards to their grievances, there was little agreement as to what sort of action they would like to see take place.

“We demand the closure of both Uber and Careem,” shouts taxi driver Mohamed Shoeiry at the Giza protest, “as these are foreign companies seeking to monopolize the market and drive us out of business.”

Fellow driver Adel Anwar, who says the competition with the foreign companies has driven him into debt, tells Mada Masr that “we want these private car companies to register their vehicles as licensed cabs, and to pay the same expenses that we professional drivers are obliged to pay. Or they can register themselves as private limousine companies, with extra fees for passengers. Otherwise, it’s just unfair competition.”

Yet another suggestion is offered by Mostafa Yousry, who demands that “a large fine be imposed on Uber and Careem for failing to abide by our national traffic laws. This money, if we ever win it in a lawsuit, should be paid as compensation to us drivers who are suffering as a result of their illegitimate operations.”

“If the government is not going to heed our demands, then we might as well not heed traffic laws and regulations,” continues Yousry, who says he owns three cabs himself. “I can turn my cars from licensed taxis into unmarked private cars and use them as transport commuters at a fraction of the costs that I pay.”

The protesters all say they have to pay the Traffic Police Department LE60,000 for the orange license plate that authorizes them to use their cars for hire.

Cab drivers also have to pay for a professional driver’s license that they must renew every three years, plus obligatory trade union dues, taxi cab registration papers that are renewed annually and a digital fare meter. That’s all in addition to an insurance policy for the vehicle, health insurance for the driver and mandatory health checks each time they renew their driver’s license. All of these fees can amount to thousands of pounds. The protesters point out that Uber and the other app-based cab services do not have to pay these fees.

Several protesters also claim that traffic police are more likely to harass taxi drivers and issue tickets and parking violations against clearly marked taxis, as opposed to the unmarked private cars used by Uber and similar companies.

“We want Uber, Careem and the other companies to pay the same expenses we pay so that we are playing together on a leveled field,” says Anwar. “If not, then we want to be exempt from paying for official licensing, insurance and union dues.”

“Our union, the General Union for Land Transport Workers [an affiliate of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation] does nothing for us except take our money in the form of dues,” Anwar continues. “Not a single union representative is present with us at this rally, and they have never championed any of our causes or stood up for any of our rights.”

Protesting taxi driver Salah Mohamed, on the other hand, wouldn’t have a problem with Uber and Careem if they would agree to hire licensed taxi drivers with marked cars.

Mohamed points to the local app-based company Easy Taxi as an example. “They employ only professionally licensed taxi drivers who drive their clearly marked taxis,” he explains. “Such a company helps officially registered taxi drivers find new passengers via an internet application, and so it helps increase our working hours and working opportunities. On the other hand, Uber, Careem and some other companies do not help, but harm us.”

Uber began operating in Egypt in late 2014, while Careem entered the Egyptian market in early 2015, and both are making their presence felt in Cairo’s domestic transportation scene. They have grown the most in popularity among middle and upper-class commuters equipped with credit or debit cards.

Responding to the protesters’ complaints, Careem Egypt General Manager Hadeer Shalaby tells Mada Masr, “It’s a large market. We don’t have to fight or compete over clients.”

“We would like to meet, talk and discuss means of cooperating with” the disgruntled taxi drivers, Shalaby says, but he did not indicate whether or not Careem would consent to welcoming licensed taxi cabs to its fleet of private cars.

She adds that Careem is a “fully legal company, abiding by all domestic legislation, and we pay our taxes in full to the state. We are providing thousands of drivers with job opportunities each month on both a fulltime and part-time basis.”

Uber’s media spokesperson could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. However, an Uber Egypt press release issued on December 2, 2015 claimed that in the course of one year, the company facilitated 1 million rides in Egypt, and created work opportunities for more than 1,000 drivers per month.

But protesting taxi driver Mahmoud Eissa points out that these claims of job creation aren't of much help to him, as the companies don’t hire licensed taxis. “If they are creating more job opportunities and income, it comes at our expense,” he argues.

Nonetheless, several commuters have expressed their preference for these app-based cab services. According to local reviews, these services are more convenient, offer reliable fares calculated by applications, don’t require haggling over prices, generally present fewer incidents of sexual harassment and feature fewer cigarette-smoking drivers.

By the protest site outside Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque, one young man passing by explains to Mada, “I prefer to use Uber rather than the white taxis. It’s always on call, with a fixed rate for their fares, and they don’t try to overcharge me. Their drivers take me wherever I want. Unlike some cab drivers, they agree to pick me up and drop me off right at my doorstep.” 

*Photos by Jano Charbel