Thursday, March 31, 2016

Saud-led war against Yemen results in 6,200+ fatalities, 2.3 million displaced

The Guardian
Saudi Arabia campaign leaves 80% of Yemen population needing aid

Peace talks give Saudis way out as conflict fails to combat terrorism and puts an already impoverished country on the brink

Friday, 25 March 2016

Simon Tisdall

It is difficult to view Saudi Arabia’s relentless war of attrition in Yemen as anything other than a destructive failure. The military intervention that began one year ago has killed an estimated 6,400 people, half of them civilians, injured 30,000 more and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN. Eighty per cent of the population, about 20 million people, are now in need of some form of aid.

The Saudis’ principal aim – to restore Yemen’s deposed president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi – has not been achieved. If they hoped to contain spreading Iranian regional influence, that has not worked, either. If the US-backed coalition’s campaign was intended to combat terrorism, that too has flopped. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in particular, and Islamic State (Isis) have profited from the continuing unrest.

The conflict pits Aden-based Hadi government forces and their Sunni Arab allies against Houthi Shia militias, backed by Tehran, who control the capital, Sana’a, and much of central and northern Yemen. Already one of the world’s poorest countries before fighting escalated last year, Yemen now faces widespread famine. Food shortages are being exacerbated by a growing bank and credit crisis, Oxfam warned this week.

“The destruction of farms and markets, a de facto blockade on commercial imports, and a long-running fuel crisis have caused a drop in agricultural production, a scarcity of supplies and exorbitant food prices,” Oxfam said. Sajjad Mohamed Sajid, Oxfam’s country director, said: “A brutal conflict on top of an existing crisis ... has created one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies in the world today – yet most people are unaware of it. Close to 14.4 million people are hungry and the majority will not be able to withstand the rising prices.”

The UN’s 2016 appeal for donor cash has largely fallen on deaf ears. Belatedly responding to international criticism, including pressure for UK and EU arms embargoes, the Saudi government has agreed to scale back military operations pending renewed peace talks. The announcement followed a horrific airstrike on a market in Houthi-controlled Hajja province on 15 March that killed 119 people, including many children.

The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, pointed the finger directly at Riyadh. “Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” he said. Markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties, and hundreds of private residences had been hit, Zeid said.

The Saudis’ agreement to re-enter UN-mediated peace talks in Kuwait following a proposed 10 April ceasefire looks like an admission that continued military attrition is no solution and is making matters worse. The Houthis are far from defeated, while Iran recently signalled willingness to step up direct involvement, as in Syria.

Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the army’s deputy chief of staff, suggested Iran could deploy military advisers. “The Islamic Republic … feels its duty to help the people of Yemen in any way it can and to any level necessary,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has paid a high political and diplomatic price for its Yemeni misadventure, with scant return so far. Its actions have turned the spotlight on its lamentable human rights record, notably its recent execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a leading Shia cleric. The Yemen bloodshed has alienated western public opinion and European politicians fearful of another Middle East refugee emergency and associated Islamist radicalisation.

Despite the Saudi-led intervention, al-Qaida, in particular, retains a strong and expanding foothold in southern Yemen and uses it as a recruiting and training base. Washington is quietly carrying out its own campaign there behind the Saudi smokescreen. At least 40 AQAP militants were killed in a US drone strike this week.

Saudi failure in Yemen follows strategic reverses in Syria, where Russia’s autumn intervention reinforced Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president and Riyadh’s sworn foe. Bold plans by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the impulsive Saudi defence minister, to send troops to support Syria’s Sunni rebels have come to nothing, while Saudi involvement in the US-led air campaign against Isis has been minimal.

Iranian leaders, meanwhile, appear ever more confident as they entrench their influence and interests in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula. Their buoyant mood can be attributed in part to last year’s landmark nuclear deal with Washington and the subsequent lifting of western sanctions. The Saudis were appalled. But the US overrode their objections.

Speaking recently, Barack Obama was woundingly candid about US-Saudi differences over Syria and Iran. He spoke of America’s Saudi alliance with barely disguised distaste. And he offered some unpalatable advice to his “friends” in Riyadh.

“The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians – which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen – requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighbourhood,” Obama said.

Sectarian rivalries were not in the US interest. And the Saudis, he suggested, could no longer count on preferential treatment.

*Photos courtesy of AFP and Getty Images 

** Related article:

Tens of thousands of Yemenis mark a year of war, denounce Saudi-led offensive - Reuters


Egypt's bloody dictator faces unusually stinging criticism at home

Associated Press 

Egypt's president under unusually stinging criticism at home

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

CAIRO (AP) — Criticism of Egypt's president has gathered momentum in recent weeks as Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's honeymoon in power appears to be ending.
The boldness of the criticism suggests that el-Sissi's aura as the man who "saved the nation" from Muslim Brotherhood rule and the chaos of revolution has faded. Replacing it now is the image of a leader struggling to fix the economy, stop police abuses or suppress an insurgency by Islamic militants.

A recent speech in which el-Sissi seemed angry and frustrated was widely derided not only by social media mockery but also by powerful voices in the media who had backed el-Sissi's rise to power.
"Mr. President and you gentlemen running the security agencies, you are wrong, and what you are doing will lead to the return of the Brotherhood. That will be hell for you and the people," veteran politician Mohammed Abu el-Ghar wrote. "Read history and think a little, so we can all save Egypt."

For nearly two years, the media commentariat, politicians, officials and religious leaders have pushed a message that any criticism of el-Sissi, his government or security agencies was tantamount to treason, undermining security.

El-Sissi vaulted to heroic status in the media when, as military chief, he led the army's July 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi amid massive protests against political dominance by the Brotherhood. He then won the presidency in a landslide election victory.

Since then, he has waged a fierce crackdown, arresting thousands of Islamists and killing hundreds more and suppressing pro-democracy activists who fueled the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Public protests have been effectively banned. Rights activists have raised alarm over widespread torture and secret detentions by police.

For nearly two years there was little outcry from the public as many supported any measures to restore stability. But a string of recent troubles has pointed to problems that are harder to explain away as caused by "enemies of Egypt."

The downing of a Russian passenger jet — widely blamed on Islamic militants — highlighted security failures, and the government's reluctance to acknowledge it as a terror attack raised criticism. The attack was a devastating blow to Egypt's tourism industry, which further gutted the economy.

The culture of abuse inside security forces, meanwhile, may have landed el-Sissi's government in an international scandal. An Italian graduate student, Giulio Regeni, disappeared on Jan. 25 and he was later found tortured to death.

Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution that stopped just short of accusing Egyptian authorities of killing Regeni. Egyptian officials deny police were behind his death, but even some supporters in the media have cast doubt on the denials.

The government's image was dented by a series of court rulings seen as outrageous. Among them, a young author was sentenced to two years in prison for the publication of sexually explicit excerpts from his novel — a step not taken under Mubarak or the Islamist Morsi. The sentence angered artists and intelligentsia who long cheered el-Sissi out of fear of Islamists.

"Your state is a theocracy, Mr. President," columnist Ibrahim Eissa wrote. "Your state and its agencies, just like those of your predecessor, hate intellectuals, thought and creativity."

El-Sissi has also appeared vulnerable in his government's struggles to repair an economy deeply damaged by five years of turmoil.

The government has been forced to let the Egyptian pound's official value slide to record lows. That has prompted public fears of price increases, given Egypt's dependence on imports.

Another difficult question is how to deal with subsidies that eat up billions of dollars but are vital for millions of impoverished Egyptians. El-Sissi partially lifted fuel subsides last year without unrest, a tribute to his popularity. But another envisaged round of reductions may not go down so well as Egyptians cope with higher prices and unemployment.

Abdullah el-Sennawy, a prominent pro-el-Sissi columnist, warned that further cuts would be "political suicide."

"To recklessly deal with the lives of ordinary people who can barely secure basic life requirements is a recipe for social unrest that security agencies won't be able to contain," he wrote in the Al-Shorouk newspaper.

El-Sissi's own ranting, televised speech on Feb. 24 damaged his image of being in control.

He demanded Egyptians listen to no one but him and stop criticizing the government, vowing to "remove from the face of the Earth" anyone who tries to "bring down" the state.

On the economy, he called on Egyptians to work harder and donate to the government. In a melodramatic gesture, he said he was prepared to sell himself if that would benefit Egypt — opening a rich vein of mockery on social media. Someone quickly posted an ad on the auction website eBay for a "slightly used" general, with el-Sissi's picture.

The speech went over terribly.

"Don't tell us we must listen to you alone," said Youssef el-Husseini, a TV anchorman and firm el-Sissi supporter. "No, we want to do a great deal of talking, discussions and speaking about democracy. Is it democratic to tell us to only listen to you?"

Azza el-Hennawy, an outspoken state TV host, blasted el-Sissi's call for Egyptians to work harder.
"Egyptians do work," she said, "but most, perhaps even all, government leaders don't work. You too, your excellency, don't work. You have not resolved a single issue since you took office."

With the bolder criticism, budding dissent emerged last week within long silent political circles.

A group of politicians and public figures led by leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who ran for president against el-Sissi in 2014, announced a coalition to create a "political alternative" toward a democratic Egypt.

The group avoided directly challenging el-Sissi, but the open talk of an "alternative" was startling.
Also, members of the 50-seat assembly that drafted the 2014 constitution and several prominent figures announced they would work to "protect" the document, opening up a new front of political pressure.

That constitution — perhaps Egypt's most liberal ever — set strong civil rights guarantees and liberties that have been widely ignored since, particularly by the security agencies and the judiciary.

*Artwork courtesy of Carlos Latuff

Italian investigators: Regeni case 'far from closed' despite Egyptian police's claims

Mada Masr 

Italian investigators: Regeni case 'far from closed' after Egypt's MOI links to dead gang members

Friday, March 25, 2016

Italian investigators examining the murder and torture of Italian student Giulio Regeni said the "case is not at all closed" on Friday, following a statement by Egypt's Interior Ministry that they found Regeni's identification documents in an apartment in Cairo as proof he may have been kidnapped by a gang.

"There is no definitive evidence confirming they were responsible," Italian authorities claimed, adding that Egyptian investigators have yet to pass on important material to them.

The Interior Ministry issued a detailed statement claiming that police found Regeni's identity documents in an apartment linked to a group of men suspected of robbing foreigners, hours after police shot several of the alleged gang members in a microbus in New Cairo on Thursday.

Pictures of Regeni's American University in Cairo and Cambridge University ID cards and his passport were posted on the Interior Ministry's official Facebook Page, along with the statement, which claimed Regeni's credit card, two mobile phones and a brown substance that could be hashish, were discovered in a red handbag in the apartment of the sister of one of the suspects.

But the public prosecution denied the linking of the suspects to Regeni's murder earlier on Thursday afternoon, after local media published a slew of articles to this effect. The prosecution stated that an Italian citizen had accused the suspects of making threats and stealing US$10,000.

In the absence of an official narrative from investigations into Regeni's death, local and international media has been replete with rumors in recent months as to how the Italian student died. Multiple Egyptian articles have implied he was working with British intelligence services, that his murder was part of a conspiracy to damage Egypt-Italy relations or that his death was linked to a fight with another foreigner.

Italian investigators highlighted a number of inconsistencies in Egypt's latest explanation of what happened to Regeni, querying how likely it is that kidnappers would torture a victim and then hold onto his ID documents for months after his death. They also lamented the deaths of the suspects, who now cannot be questioned in relation to Regeni's murder.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said on Friday it had largely succeeded in solving the case of Regeni’s death. “The Egyptian Interior Ministry offers all its gratitude and appreciation to the Italian security team for its close cooperation, and for the positive role and constant communication with the Egyptian security team throughout the investigation and information gathering."

Italy's former Prime Minister Enrico Letta tweeted: "I'm sorry, I don't believe it. Don't stopping asking for the #TruthForGiulioRegeni," in response on Friday, and Regeni's parents posted a picture on Facebook featuring them holding a sign saying, "Verita per Giulio Regeni" (Truth for Giulio Regeni.)

Security forces fatally shot five men in a microbus in New Cairo on Thursday morning, claiming they were armed gang members suspected of impersonating police officers, theft and kidnapping foreigners, a statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page asserted. There were no other passengers in the bus to corroborate the account.

A team from the public prosecution reportedly supervised the autopsy of the bodies after the incident and then ordered them to be buried immediately.

The prosecution initially denied a link between the dead gang members and Regeni, responding to articles such as one published in the privately owned newspaper Al-Tahrir, in which an unidentified security source claimed that police killed five people suspected of gang activity targeting foreigners and of involvement in Regeni’s death.

Regeni was found in February by the side of a road on the outskirts of Cairo. His body bore signs of torture, including cigarette burns, bruises, cuts and multiple stab wounds. The 28-year-old went missing on the fifth anniversary of the January 25, 2011 revolution when he was allegedly on his way to visit a friend in downtown Cairo, an area that was heavily occupied by security forces that day.

The source told Al-Tahrir that after investigations, security forces tracked the suspects to New Cairo.

The suspects then opened fire from their microbus, prompting the police to fire back, killing all five people inside the bus, the source alleged. Al-Tahrir posted pictures of the bodies of two people purportedly killed in the shootout and a microbus riddled with bullet holes.

The Interior Ministry's statement asserted that security forces raided the residence of 34-year-old Rasha Abdel Fattah, the sister of 52-year-old Tarek Abdel Fattah, and arrested Tarek's wife — 48-year-old Mabrouka Afifi.

After interrogation by police, Rasha reportedly confessed that the items found in her home were stolen by her brother. She added that she was aware of his "criminal activities," according to the statement. Mabrouka said she didn't know anything about the bag or its contents, the ministry's statement reported.

Tarek Abdel Fattah, listed in the ministry's report as defendant one, was described as “a dangerous offender,” who was reportedly involved in 24 criminal cases, and was previously sentenced to four years in prison.

The second defendant, identified by police as 26-year-old Saad Tarek Saad, is reportedly Tarek's son. The third defendant, 60-year-old Mostafa Bakr Awad, was allegedly involved in 20 criminal cases, the fourth defendant, 40-year-old Salah Ali Sayyed, was allegedly involved in 11 criminal cases, and the fifth was an unidentified man in his thirties, according to the ministry's statement.
Police said they found firearms, a tazer, and fake police ID cards in the microbus, according to the Interior Ministry. The defendants were allegedly involved in a series of robberies targeting locals and foreigners in Nasr City and New Cairo.

The privately owned newspaper Al-Dostour also reported on the story with the headline, “Source discovers the ‘foreign killing mafia’ behind the Regeni incident.” An unnamed security source told Al-Dostour that the Interior Ministry was investigating six people suspected of kidnapping and killing Regeni. The suspects have a record of intimidating and robbing foreigners, the newspaper claimed.

Reports from Reuters and other international media sources indicated that Regeni was tortured for days before he died, and that the torture methods bear the hallmarks of Egyptian security services. These reports have been strongly denied by Egyptian authorities.

Labor Protests Against Minister of Religious Endowments

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Jano Charbel

In light of a wave of labor protests against the minister of endowments, 12 of the ministry’s employees have recently been referred to criminal prosecution for protesting, while the minister has personally threatened thousands of other employees with dismissals if they embark on strikes against his policies.

Despite these threats, protests against Minister Mokhtar Gomaa have been ongoing this week, particularly outside the ministry’s offices in the Dokki district of Giza.

Hundreds of the ministry’s employees suspended industrial action on Sunday following the minister’s threats. However, a small but determined group of protesters remain outside the ministry’s Giza offices, persistent in presenting their demands.

These demands include the enforcement of the monthly minimum wage (LE1,200) applicable to state employees, dropping the ministry’s lawsuit for the prosecution of the 12 protesting employees, an end to the losses being incurred by the Endowment Ministry’s officials, accountability of those officials found guilty of corruption or misappropriation of public assets, and the appointment of specialized investment analysts to administer the ministry’s lands, real estate and funds, rather than leaving this to non-specialized religious clerics.

Other than the 150,000 mosques reportedly owned by the Ministry, as well as a number of factories, the ministry owns ample agricultural land, which it rents out to farmers, as well as residential buildings. Part of the reason why the ministry is reported to be incurring losses is that it is not fully able to collect rent or taxes from the land and real estate it rents out.

“The ministry’s authorities continue to mismanage and to squander Egypt’s public funds, and this has negatively affected us in terms of our financial rights, our contractual rights, and our basic labor rights,” Sabry Shehata, a protesting employee of the ministry who works as a mosque custodian in the Giza town of Awseem, tells Mada Masr.

Shehata did not have figures to back up these claims of financial mismanagement by ministerial officials. However, the custodian explains, “Although I’ve been employed by the ministry for over six years now, my total monthly wage amounts to LE600. Moreover, I don’t have an official contract and I'm deprived of the right to the national minimum wage, to health insurance or social insurance, and bonuses.”

Shehata adds that this is the case with nearly 11,000 of his fellow ministry employees.

In televised interviews with the privately owned CBC Extra channel on Sunday, several disgruntled employees protesting outside the ministry claimed that the average wage of (non-administrative) employees amounts to just LE700 per month.

The ministry’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

But on March 12, the ministry’s webpage mentioned that Gomaa reportedly met with a delegation of striking employees and received a list of their demands, and has since been working to resolve them, along with specialized ministerial committees.

“There has been no specific response as to our demands from the minister,"  Shehata counters. "This minister in particular is causing numerous problems. He doesn’t solve problems, but only creates them.”

Gomaa also issued a statement on Saturday against the protesting employees stating that there is “no room for those who obstruct or hinder work” at the ministry.

At the onset of this wave of labor unrest against his policies, Gomaa had previously issued a statement on the ministry’s website on March 2, in which he claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to infiltrate the ministry, establish sleeper cells within it and instigate unrest. Gomaa described the Muslim Brotherhood as being “the terrorist society,” and claimed that the ministry’s officials are vigilant and would not allow for such infiltration.

The statement was issued just one day after nearly 600 workers at the Damanhour Carpet Company launched a strike on March 1, with many demanding Gomaa’s resignation. Located in the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, the company is managed by the Ministry of Endowments, and it produces carpets for the thousands of mosques administered by the ministry nationwide.

The striking textile workers have been demanding the payment of the monthly minimum wage investment and raw materials needed for production, and the re-operation of several of the company’s stalled production lines.

On March 13, protesting workers suspended their 12-day strike after receiving ministerial reassurances that their demands would be met.

However, in October and November of last year, workers at the Damanhour Carpet Company had gone on strike for these exact reasons, in addition to the nonpayment of overdue bonuses.

Similarly, in October 2015, over 1,000 of the ministry’s employees embarked on a protest rally outside the Abdeen Presidential Palace, in downtown Cairo with identical demands, but were forcefully dispersed by police.

Beyond labor issues, Gomaa has been provoking controversy since the military backed ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, after unifying and dictating Friday prayer sermons to all preachers employed at the ministry’s mosques, ensuring that they are in support of the government.

Under Gomaa’s leadership, the Ministry of Endowments has also implored its mosque preachers to use their sermons to express support of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration.

By decree in 2013, Gomaa also revoked the licenses of an estimated 50,000 preachers in smaller mosques not under control of the ministry.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the January 25 uprising this year, Gomaa’s ministry denounced protests against the state, claiming that such actions are “malignant conspiracies” of the “ill-hearted, weak believers; those who don’t believe in the country and carry extremist ideas, who work on disintegrating society and destabilizing it.”

Justice minister forced to resign after claiming he'd jail the Prophet Mohamed

Ahram Online
Egypt's justice minister fired following comments on 'imprisoning prophet'

Ahmed El-Zend has been facing widespread criticism on social media for making comments that were considered to be blasphemous

Sunday 13 Mar 2016

Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed El-Zend was fired on Sunday little less than a year in office in the wake of widespread criticism of comments he made regarding the Muslim Prophet Muhammed that were considered to be blasphemous.

The decision was taken by Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, state-run news agency MENA said. However, Ismail's cabinet is yet to reveal the reasons for sacking El-Zend.

Last week, in response to a TV host's question on whether he would jail journalists, El-Zend said, "Even if he was a prophet, peace and blessings be upon him."

The 70-year-old then briefly uttered Islamic words of repentance before adding that "the culprit, whatever his description is... I am not talking about jailing a journalist or jailing a teacher, I am saying jailing a defendant."

El-Zend, who is infamous for making controversial media statements, has been facing a wave of criticism on social media after his comments went viral and were largely interpreted as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the most sacred figure among Muslims and whose sayings comprise a prime source of Islamic jurisprudence.
'Slip of the tongue'

"The thing that a Muslim or a non-Muslim is held culpable for is what is done willfully," El-Zend said when he called in to a TV show on Saturday, stressing that it was a slip of the tongue.

"I ask God Almighty for forgiveness over and over and over again... I know my apology will be accepted [by Prophet Muhammad]."

Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, issued a statement on Sunday warning against blasphemous comments regarding the Prophet, even those made unintentionally.

An Arabic Twitter hashtag calling for his trial went viral in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with numerous Muslim users expressing anger over his comment and heaping scorn on him even after his apology.

Prior to becoming justice minister, El-Zend was the head of the powerful Judges Club, of which the majority of Egyptian judges are members.

Before El-Zend’s sacking was announced, the Judges Club issued a statement saying that they stand by the justice minister in the face of the "systematic smear campaign against him."

Last May, El-Zend's predecessor Mahfouz Saber resigned as justice minister after saying that sons of garbage collectors should not be judges, which was widely seen as a classist statement and earned him heavy criticism in the days leading up to his resignation.

*Photo of (asshole) Judge Zend, courtesy of Al-Ahram

**Related links:

Egypt's justice minister had called for implementation of hardline Sharia law

HRW lambasts justice minister's incitement to kill 10,000 MB for every dead soldier

Video: Zend interview in which he refers to Egypt's judges as being "masters," while "the others are slaves." (ARABIC)

Porn in Egypt: Legal & ethical issues pertaining to local production of sex videos

Mada Masr
Egypt’s shady world of sex videos

In the absence of a professional porn industry, sex videos pose legal, ethical problems

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jano Charbel 

Egypt ranks second worldwide in terms of the volume of pornography shared online, coming only after Iraq, according to the global statistical study “Who are the largest consumers of online porn?” published by SimilarWeb (an online tool that measures website traffic and analytics).

The world average for shares of online porn amounts to 4.41 percent, but in Egypt the number shoots up to 8 percent, with sexual repression usually cited as the reason.

But this massive viewership stands in stark contrast to Egyptian legislation banning pornography.

Article 178 of the Penal Code criminalizes the making and distribution of any materials — including images, illustrations and publications — that could be considered indecent or disruptive to public morality.

A few months ago, a criminal suit was filed against Egyptian actress Entisar after an episode of her televised talk show “Nafsana” (Rancor), in which she praised a young man who said he exercises patience and self-control by watching pornography, and confessed to watching erotica herself. The Nasr City Criminal Court has acquitted Entisar of “promoting immorality and depravity,” but prosecutors are looking into pursuing an appeal.

“The state is attempting to tighten its grip on society by claiming that society is constantly under moral threat,” argues Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights researcher Dalia Abdel Hameed.

“A moral panic is created, with threats of social and moral degeneration. This had led to several arrests and lawsuits against homosexuals, against Entisar, against dancers or singers appearing in music video clips — on the grounds of protecting and safeguarding Egypt's morals."

The confluence of this sky-high demand for porn and a state-sponsored moral panic sets the tenor for the porn industry in Egypt, an industry that’s as secretive as it is ubiquitous, and fraught with questions of legality and consent.

A homemade industry raises questions of consent

Millions of Egyptians visit porn sites every day, with the international sites XNXX and XVideos among the top 50 viewed nationwide, according to the Alexa internet traffic and analytics server. But while Egypt ranks high in global porn viewership, it does not have a professional erotica industry of its own. But that doesn’t mean viewers only watch international high-end productions — locally made sex videos frequently end up being posted on porn sites.

Most of these domestically produced video clips are amateur, homemade productions, typically captured on low-quality cellphone or laptop cameras that are often hidden from view of the women being filmed.

Very rarely is there a third party filming the action, and there is never a camera crew involved. The videos are usually pixelated, grainy and shaky, typically shot from the male actor’s point of view as he engages in sexual acts while filming at the same time. The video titles frequently claim that the filmed women are prostitutes.

Sayed (not his real name) is an amateur producer of sex films and self-diagnosed porn addict who works in the financial sector. He explains that “numerous honeymoon sex tapes and private, homemade sex videos” end up being leaked by third parties, such as computer repair shops that accidentally find this content in their customers’ devices, “and whoever uploads them can give them any title of their choosing.”

Sayed says he has recorded over 30 of his own sex videos (which he says are higher resolution than average) with his female partner over the past five years, but has no intention of posting these private files.

These videos are based on consent with his partners, according to him, although none of them could be reached for verification. Sayed stores his films in a secure location on an external hard drive, as he fears the recordings could be leaked and shared locally via cellphones using Bluetooth technology, as well as CDs and flash drives or posted on the internet for an international audience. His biggest worry is when he sends his laptop to a computer repair shop.

“I don’t want to end up like ‘Anteel al-Gharbiya’,” says Sayed, referring to Mamdouh Hegazy, a middle-aged man from the Gharbiya Governorate who became a local porn star of sorts after his sex videos were stolen from his computer. Some media reports claim that his private porn collection was leaked by an employee of the shop where he had dropped off his computer to update his copy of Microsoft Windows.

When a dozen of his sex videos — filmed with several different women, via hidden cameras in his home — were uploaded onto the net in November 2014, the man quickly earned the honorary nickname “Anteel Hezb al-Nour” (the stud of the Nour Party). The ultra-conservative Salafi Nour Party quickly distanced itself from the amateur filmmaker and denied he was ever a party member.

“Some other sex videos are posted online as acts of revenge by a former lover,” Sayed continues, “claiming that the woman involved is a prostitute, when she actually isn’t, in order to publicly shame and stigmatize her.”

A few months earlier, in 2014 Abdel Fattah al-Saeedi, a karate instructor from Mahalla al-Kubra, earned the similar nickname, “Anteel al-Mahalla,” (the stud of Mahalla) when videos of him having sex with several different women, all filmed with a hidden camera in a gym, were posted to the internet. There are conflicting media reports as to how the videos wound up online, but the fact that the cameras were hidden, as this video shows, suggests that the partners were not informed of the filming process.

On February 24, 2015, the Mahalla Appeals Court sentenced Saeedi to two years in prison, then on May 31, also sentenced one of the women in the videos to two years, as she was married to another man at the time the video was filmed. Both defendants were convicted of adultery. The woman’s husband filed the criminal suit against his wife and Saeedi, allegedly after he found the video in question. He also commenced divorced proceedings.

A senior employee of a youth center near Damanhour City gained notoriety as “Anteel al-Beheira” (the stud of Beheira) when he was identified as the producer of a string of leaked sex videos. He was arrested in July 2014 and later sentenced to three years in prison.

A news video shows security forces interrogating the defendant, who confesses to filming sex videos with five different women. He claimed the women were paid LE100 per session and consented to being filmed — but several media reports alleged he used his stock of sex videos to blackmail the women into continuing to have sex with him for free.

“Anteel al-Beheira” pleads with his interrogators in the news video, arguing that he was “sick,” and claiming that his son accidentally contributed to leaking the videos.

Media reports alleged the son took his dad's cellphone to a service shop to purchase some new ringtones. A shop employee then reportedly copied and circulated the sex videos, which were widely shared across Beheira Governorate.

Farah (not her real name), a woman in her early 30s, says she dislikes the violations of privacy and the non-consensual aspects of local sex video production.

“It’s all homemade, and sometimes the videos are taken without informing the female or receiving her permission,” Farah argues. “We all know that there is no porn production in Egypt.”

One of Egypt’s most widely viewed sex videos was a 2007 production featuring the renowned belly dancer Dina with her then-husband, businessman Hossam Aboul Fotouh. Dina later appeared on a TV talk show in which she tearfully insisted she wasn’t aware her husband was filming her during sex.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Dina asserted that she was filmed with a hidden camera. “No woman would expect to search under the bed or by the closet to make sure her husband hasn’t planted a camera here or there,” she said. “No woman would expect her husband could harm her in such a way.”

Before finding its way onto virtually every major porn server on the internet, Dina and Aboul Fotouh’s sex tape was widely circulated on video CDs and flash drives, shared even between young students in schools. With the presence of many of these videos online for free, the locally shared material is not subject to financial transactions.

The women appearing in such videos who are aware they are being filmed frequently request of their camera-wielding partner, “Don’t reveal my face,” while others cover their faces with their hands or clothes, Sayed explains.

Because it was difficult to get a response from a female actor performing in a sex video, it wasn’t possible to confirm whether women typically only believe they are agreeing to be filmed, or have also agreed to allow the videos to be distributed.

Abdel Hameed says that anyone who filmed without their consent has the right to take legal action, especially if the resulting video was made public, but legal action is rarely taken.

“It largely depends on the status of the woman,” she explains. “If she’s a public figure like Dina for example, she may be more inclined to file a lawsuit. But many, if not most, would seek to avoid such legal actions in order to avoid the associated social stigmatization, or harm to their reputation.”

Abdel Hameed points out that "there is an increasing occurrence of the violation of privacy and personal rights … and the state usually does nothing to halt these blatant violations of privacy.”

Local vs. global

Egypt’s poor-quality sex videos often pale before the more popular professional productions made abroad.

“I’d definitely go with local porn, if it was on par with foreign porn productions,” says self-employed artist Samir Amman, who describes himself as “a major porn fan.”

Sayed agrees. “If there was Egyptian porn of good quality with actresses who are physically in shape, then I’d prefer to watch them. But this isn’t the case. That’s why I like to watch professionally made foreign porn.”

Awatef (not her real name) also prefers foreign productions as opposed to the domestic variety, saying, “Egyptian men in sex videos are burly, unflattering to watch and rough with their women.”

Egyptian sex videos “lack creativity,” she continues, “while foreign productions invest more on role-playing, costumes, and creating a whole environment.”

On the other hand, as opposed to the professional porn industry, sex videos are “very real,” Farah says, and that’s why she still likes to watch them.

But erotica coming from the region also has its charms for many viewers.

ArabSexWeb is the most popular website for Egyptian pornography, Amman points out. The site compiles erotica from countries around the Arab world, including many videos that appear to be private recordings of solo masturbation performances, heterosexual couples having sex and, to a lesser extent, same-sex acts.

In a few rare exceptions, there are videos filmed by a third party or camera crew, indicating a more public nature to this sort of erotica, or perhaps even a very low-budget, homemade porn that’s a step above the purely amateur productions.

Amman explains there are also Western-based porn websites, such as ArabStreetHookers, that falsely cast non-Arab women sex workers from Egypt and other countries from the region. Many of these women are dressed up in hijabs, niqab, belly-dancing outfits, genie costumes and other Middle Eastern garb as they perform sexual acts.

“Viewers are very curious as to what lies beneath the concealing hijab or niqab,” says Amman. He suggests that in cases where porn is falsely promoted as Arab, the target audience may be Arab men, but is more likely Western porn browsers curious to view taboo images of sex from this presumably conservative region.

Why porn is here to stay?

Entisar’s contentious program intimated that Egyptian youth come to learn about sexuality primarily through pornography, as adequate sex education is lacking in the school system. “Both male and female youth learn little to nothing form their sex-ed. classes,” claims Amman. Indeed, pornographic movies in Egypt are also referred to as “aflam thaqafiya” (cultural films.)

Education aside, porn and sex videos act sometimes as an alternative to the murkier process of having sex outside marriage, which are difficult to circumvent due to legal and societal barriers.

Sayed says that watching porn and masturbating may be more convenient than having sex.

Bareeza fil yad walla hawga li 'had,” he jokingly concludes: “Masturbation in hand, there is no need for another.”

*Related reports:

Administrative Court rules to ban access to porn websites again

Little evidence that American actress shot porn at Giza pyramids, despite local media reports


EU parliament issues resolution condemning torture in Egypt following Regeni's murder

Mada Masr

EU Parliament passes resolution condemning torture in Egypt following Regeni's murder

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Thursday recommending the suspension of military aid and assistance used for internal repression to Egypt in light of the “abduction, savage torture and killing” of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo.

The resolution was passed by a majority of EU parliamentarians, with 588 voting in favor, 10 against and 59 abstentions. Those who opposed hailed mostly from the far-right of the political spectrum, with four right-wing Dutch representatives voting against alongside three representatives of the Greek Golden Dawn, one UK member formerly with UKIP and one German representative from the satirical Die PARTEI party.

Those who abstained were made up mostly of representatives also from far right parties, alongside a few figures from the far left.

Representatives from Britain’s far-right UKIP party abstained for the most part, while those from the ruling Conservative Party voted in favor after having opposed the resolution when it was debated.

This is perhaps due to pressure from Cambridge University, where Regeni was a doctoral student.
Also noteworthy among the abstainers was Dario Tamburrano from Italy’s Five Star Movement, a populist group that bills itself as anti-corruption, who parted from his party colleagues who voted in favor.

Twenty-eight-year-old Regeni went missing on the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution in Cairo amid heightened security and the arrest of a number of activists and human rights defenders.
The young researcher’s body was found on a deserted road in early February having been subjected to “something inhuman, animal-like, an unacceptable violence,” according to Italian authorities.

The European Parliament emphasized Regeni’s murder “is not an isolated incident, but that it occurred within a context of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances across Egypt in recent years.”

The resolution calls on Egyptian authorities to provide their Italian counterparts with the requisite information in the Regeni case. It also expresses concerns about the closure of the El-Nadeem Center and calls on Egypt's government to respect human rights, allow civil society organizations and trade unions to function unimpeded and to release all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Reiterating Egypt's role in regional stability, the resolution calls on European member states to adhere to previous resolutions concerning security cooperation and the export of military technology and equipment whereby exports of surveillance equipment should be suspended “when there is evidence that such equipment would be used for human rights violations.”

This motion isn’t binding for member states, according to the spokesperson for the EU office in Cairo, Rasha Serry, who added that the EU Parliament is a sovereign entity that practices its right to vote on such resolutions.

Regeni’s case is a subject of discussion in many European countries due to its “confusing” details, EU Ambassador James Moran told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on Thursday, stressing the importance of transparency for all parties involved in ongoing investigations.

Some of the European Parliament's groups referred to thousands of “prisoners of conscience” jailed for exercising their basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including detainees Mahienour al-Massry, Alaa Abd El Fattah, Aya Hegazy, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, Ahmed Saeed, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel.

It also criticized travel bans issued against many human rights defenders, including Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, Hossam al-Din Ali, Esraa Abdel Fattah, Omar Hazek and Mohamed Lotfi, among others.

The motion cited deteriorating media and press freedoms, a crackdown on civil society organizations, mass death sentences issued for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, torture in police detention and prisons, among other practices.

This is not the first motion proposed by the EU Parliament against the Egyptian government. On July 17, 2015, it urged member states to impose a wide ban on the export of surveillance technology to Egypt on the grounds that it could be used to spy on citizens. The ban would be in compliance with the Wassenaar Agreement on the export of military aid and security equipment that could be used to breach basic rights, the resolution added.

EU criticism of the Egyptian government thus far doesn’t appear to have impacted the military cooperation of many European countries. France, for example, has been a major suppliers of arms to Egypt. In September last year, Egypt bought two Mistral helicopter carriers, which cost approximately 950 million euros, after buying 24 warplanes in early 2015.

Germany was also one of the first EU states to develop relations with the post-June 30 government, signing several economic partnerships and agreements. The trade exchange between the two countries reached its peak in 2014 at 4.4 billion euros.

Green Dutch politician and member of the EU Parliament Judith Sargentini, who has participated on discussions concerning Egypt for years, told Mada Masr she sees this resolution as a breakthrough, given how difficult it has been to pass resolutions on the country under previous Egyptian administrations.

"Egypt has always been regarded as a geopolitical partner for Europe on the other side of the Mediterranean," she explained. "But this is the first time I have seen agreement from all political currents — from the right wing, conservatives, social democrats and leftists — on the status of human rights in Egypt."

The value of this resolution is not just in condemning the murder and torture of Regeni, but "is about linking it to general conditions of human rights violations in Egypt at large," she stressed.
Head of the Arab Organization for Criminal Reform Mohamed Zarea agrees, asserting, “Egypt’s human rights record has been always criticized by the EU, but common interests have prevailed over talk of human rights. The tone and language of this resolution implies that this policy cannot continue now that European citizens are being targeted.”

Egypt: 474+ people died at hands of police in 2015; Torture, abuse & extra-judicial murders remain rampant


Egyptians furious over deadly police brutality

March 7, 2016 




Army strike-breaking in Alexandria; Strikes hit several state-owned companies nationwide

Mada Masr

New wave of public sector labor strikes from Alexandria to Aswan

Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Jano Charbel

A new wave of labor strikes is sweeping Egypt, from Alexandria to Aswan, primarily in public sector companies.

In the Mediterranean governorate of Alexandria, hundreds of bus drivers and other Transport Authority employees have been on strike for the past two days, prompting military authorities to deploy strike-breaking tactics.

In the Nile Delta, a textile workers strike is ongoing at the state-owned Samanoud Felt Company and the Damanhour Carpet Company. Employees in the Endowments Ministry are also striking, as well as an extended strike by Aswan street cleaners and private transport company drivers.

Transport workers strike

Since Sunday, workers in Alexandria have refused to operate any buses from the Transport Authority’s garages in the districts of Somouha, Sidi Beshr, Moharam Beik, Agamy, Amariya, and Kormouz.

According to several local news portals, this strike has left throngs of commuters stranded and overburdened other forms of public transport, causing traffic jams across the city of Alexandria. The strike is only affecting bus services, not the authority’s tramlines, the President of Alexandria’s Public Transport Authority, Khaled al-Eiwa, told media outlets.

Officials from the Northern Military Region, headquartered in Alexandria, dispatched 25 buses, with a 52-passenger capacity each, in response to the strike, the privately owned Tahrir news portal reported.

This is not the first time the Armed Forces has acted to break transport strikes. In February 2012, military buses were deployed in response to a drivers’ strike in the public sector Delta Bus Company, and in July 2014, they sent buses to break a bus drivers’ strike in the Giza governorate.

Employees from Alexandria’s Public Transport Authority posted a list of demands on their official webpage, calling for the payment of overdue bonuses, unpaid profit shares, and an end to pay-deductions associated with buses that have broken down or are in need of maintenance work, amongst other demands. Workers say they have presented these demands before to Eiwa, to no avail.

Despite sharp increases in public bus fares since 2008, the meager wages of Transport Authority workers have largely stagnated, they argue, threatening to escalate from work stoppages to hunger strikes if their demands continue to be ignored.

Also in Aswan, the drivers of private passenger pick-up trucks commenced a strike on Saturday in protest over the termination of their licenses by the governor. This ongoing strike caused major traffic congestion across the governorate, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.

Endowments workers strike

Several hundreds of striking employees from the Endowments Ministry protested outside its branch office in the Dokki district of Giza on Monday, demanding improved wages, and working conditions.

They had been on strike since Sunday, according to the privately owned Masr al-Arabia news portal, who added that many of these state-employed workers do not receive the minimum wage of LE1,200 per month, which was enforced in January 2014. Some Endowments Ministry workers earn as little as LE600 per month — half the minimum wage — according to the state-owned Al-Akhbar news portal.

The ministry reportedly employs around 6,000 workers, many of who cite precarious working conditions and invalid employment contracts, and are demanding the resignation of Endowments Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa, for repeatedly failing to heed their demands and resolve issues.

In October 2015, police units forcefully dispersed around 1,200 protesting Endowments Ministry employees, who had converged on Abdeen Presidential Palace to voice their grievances.

Scores of workers at the Damanhour Carpet Company, in the Nile Delta Governorate of Beheira — which is affiliated with the Endowments Ministry, have been on strike for a week.

Several workers at the company say their monthly wages are just LE400, according to the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper. Other grievances reportedly include the non-payment of bonuses, along with stalled production lines and a lack of ministerial investment in this public sector company.

Textile workers strike

In a separate industrial action in the Town of Samanoud, located in the Nile Delta Governorate of Gharbiya, hundreds of textile workers launched a strike on Monday over the sacking of their local union representatives.

The independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services reported that eight workers from the public sector Samanoud Felt Company – including the president of the local union committee and several other union members – were sacked by the company’s administration on Sunday.

These unionists were fired in contravention of domestic labor and trade union legislation, as they weren’t permitted a hearing before the General Union of Textile Workers, to which this union is affiliated.

Although Monday’s strike was held to demand the reinstatement of these eight workers, unionists and laborers have been demanding the payment of overdue bonuses and the re-operation of several stalled production lines for months.

Street cleaners strike

Hundreds of public sector street cleaners continued to strike for the eleventh day in Aswan on Monday, resulting in floods of uncollected garbage in the streets, Al-Watan reported.

Street cleaners have been demanding fulltime contracts for fulltime work, as they are currently employed by the governorate of Aswan on precarious, part-time contracts, some of them for more than five years. Such contracts deprive them of bonuses, the right to join trade unions, adequate insurance or pension plans, and other rights.

In reponse to the strike, the Governor of Magdy Hegazy has promoted a “Clean-up Your Country” campaign this week, aimed at local residents, and seeking to circumvent the strike by having locals collect and dispose of their own garbage.

*Photo of Damanhour Carpet Company strike courtesy of

Cairo police officer shoots 11 year-old girl during neighborhood altercation

Sunday, March 6, 2016
A police officer shot and injured an eleven-year-old girl during an argument with a man in the Bulaq Dakrour neighborhood, close to downtown Cairo, one of the girl’s relatives told Mada Masr.

Huna Saber Rashad was shot in the back after a young man fired rubber bullets at a police officer and the officer responded with live fire from his state-issued gun, Rashad’s relative Ahmed Omad asserted.

The officer was arrested and taken into custody at Bulaq Dakrour station, a source from Giza security services told the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

The hospital where Rashad was taken for treatment initially refused to release a report on the incident, saying it would take too long. Rashad’s family suggest hospital staff were “afraid of the consequences.” Rashad’s father had to go to the police station on Qasr al-Nil Street to obtain a report while the rest of her relatives were still in the hospital.

The hospital treated Rashad and her family with suspicion, according to relatives. “They told us to leave and come back after two weeks, even though the bullets were still inside her, and they could have operated to remove them immediately. Then they told us to donate five bags of blood for her to be treated. I don’t understand why the hospital is being so obstinate with us, but we won’t leave until they have treated her and given us our right to a formal medical report,” Omad said.

The hospital eventually agreed to keep Rashad for 24 hours, after member of parliament for Bulaq Dakrour, Mohamed Ismail, came to the hospital and intervened.

Several incidents of police violence have caused public outrage in recent months. A police officer shot 24-year-old Mohamed Sayed, a local from the Darb al-Ahmar neighborhood, in the head at close range after a dispute over payment for moving the officer’s car in late February.

The officer was arrested, charged with manslaughter and referred to criminal court, but the lawyers and family of the victim are calling for harsher charges to be brought against him.

Sayed’s death prompted a large protest, with thousands of residents surrounding the Darb al-Ahmar security directorate, chanting anti-government slogans.

The Doctor’s Syndicate staged a strike against police violations following an incident in Matareya Hospital in January, when two police officers assaulted doctors for refusing to falsify medical reports.

The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied that such incidents are emblematic of systemic issues within the ministry, asserting that they represent individual violations by police officers.

In response to the Darb al-Ahmar case, Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar stated that such “irresponsible actions” should not affect the relationship between the people and the police, maintaining everyone should recognize the “wide range of heroic policemen who make grand sacrifices every day.”