Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Egypt likely bombed wrong targets in Libya airstrikes - as a popular diversion

Egypt Is Likely Bombing the Wrong Targets in Libya Airstrikes Against Derna Are a Popular Diversion

Derna is well known as an Islamist hub, with a lot of small factions starting up there. Indeed, the ISIS affiliate in Libya was located there at one time, though that was years ago. If ISIS indeed did the bus attack, and signs are that they probably did, it was likely Egypt’s own ISIS affiliate, not Libya’s, and either way, they had nothing to do with the Derna camps being hit.

Egypt has had long-standing problems with Islamist militant groups attacking their Christian minority, and those attacks have almost exclusively been homegrown. Reacting by attacking something in Libya was a convenient distraction for the junta, and when the Egyptian public started cheering their firm response, they just kept doing it.

At this point, however, Egyptian officials are freely admitting that they are “not targeting specific groups” with their airstrikes in Derna, and that they’re hitting random camps on the assumption that “all the groups targeted have the same ideology” as the bus attackers, which is good enough for them.

Indeed some analysts believe that Egypt’s junta, long keen on exporting their style of government to Libya by backing Gen. Khalifa Hafter, had been drawing up plans for attacks around Derna and other Islamist hotbeds in eastern Libya long before the bus attack happened, and this just served as a useful pretext to go ahead with them.

Egypt blocks 21 websites for "terrorism" & "fake news"

Egypt blocks 21 websites for 'terrorism' and 'fake news'

Thu May 25, 2017

Egypt has banned 21 websites, including the main website of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television and prominent local independent news site Mada Masr, accusing them of supporting terrorism and spreading false news.

The blockade is notable in scope and for being the first publicly recognized by the government. It was heavily criticized by journalists and rights groups.

The state news agency announced it late on Wednesday. Individual websites had been inaccessible in the past but there was never any official admission.

Reuters found the websites named by local media and were inaccessible.

The move follows similar actions taken on Wednesday by Egypt's Gulf allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which blocked Al Jazeera and other websites after a dispute with Qatar.

Qatar said hackers had posted fake remarks by its emir criticizing U.S. foreign policy but Saudi and UAE state-run media reported the comments anyway.

An official from Egypt's National Telecom Regulatory Authority would not confirm or deny the blockage, but said: "So what if it is true? It should not be a problem."

Two security sources told Reuters the 21 websites were blocked for being affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood or for being funded by Qatar.

Cairo accuses Qatar of supporting the Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in Egypt in 2013 when the military removed elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against him.

Ties between Qatar and Egypt were badly damaged after Mursi's fall. Doha welcomed a number of senior Brotherhood figures, although since then Qatar has asked several to leave.

Mada Masr, an Egyptian news website based in the country which describes itself as progressive and has no Islamist or Qatari affiliations, was also inaccessible.

Journalists at Mada Masr said the website was publishing articles on Facebook for now. It remains accessible outside Egypt or via proxy.

"Nothing explains this blockade more than a very clear intention from the authorities to crack down on critical media in ways that bypass the law," Mada Masr Editor in Chief Lina Attalah told Reuters on Thursday.

The website is registered in Egypt and its journalists are based in the country, she said. No one from the government contacted the management before or after the 21 websites went down.


Two other local websites, including that of a print newspaper registered with the authorities, were also down, as were several Brotherhood-affiliated websites and Egypt-focused ones that publish from abroad.

The Huffington Post's Arabic website also was inaccessible, although the international version could be accessed.

State news agency MENA cited a senior security source as saying the websites were blocked because they supported terrorism and that the government would take legal action.

"A senior security source said 21 websites have been blocked inside Egypt for having content that supports terrorism and extremism as well as publishing lies," MENA said.

Mahmoud Kamel, who sits on the board of Egypt's official press union, said was a clear attack on freedom of speech.

"This move is unacceptable. We oppose all blocking of news websites but this is unfortunately part of the general climate of fear we are experiencing in Egypt," he told Reuters.

Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the Islamist, secular and liberal opposition alike since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then the military chief, toppled Mursi.

Since then, hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested, including journalists. Sisi told CNN in 2015 that Egypt has "unprecedented freedom of expression."

*Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty, Eric Knecht and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Editing by Giles Elgood and Alison Williams

Police arrest 32 workers following dispersal of sit-in at Tourah Cement Company

Mada Masr 
Police arrest 32 workers following dispersal of sit-in at Tourah Cement Company

Wednesday May 24, 2017

Jano Charbel

Security forces dispersed a sit-in held by workers demanding full-time contracts, as per a previous court ruling, at the privately owned Tourah Cement Company in southern Cairo on Monday. They detained 22 workers during the dispersal, arresting 10 more that evening and issuing warrants for an additional three.

Lawyer Haitham Mohamedein told Mada Masr that the 32 arrested workers were detained overnight, and are currently being held at the Maadi and Dar al-Salam police stations. They have been referred to trial, set for May 28, on charges of assaulting a police captain, obstructing justice and using violence to resist authorities.

The workers did not resist arrest or assault police, nor was the sit-in dispersed violently, Mohamedein explained, adding that they should not have been detained for peacefully demonstrating.

Dozens of police personnel, including Central Security forces, were deployed to raid the sit-in on company grounds at 2 am Monday morning.

Mohamadein said they were deployed following allegations that the protesting workers assaulted an officer. The lawyer asserted that the sit-in was entirely peaceful and did not obstruct work at the company.

According to local news outlets defense lawyers attending interrogations have also questioned the allegations that the officer was collectively assaulted by the workers as he allegedly showed no signs of bruising.

“There was no medical report indicating that the officer had been assaulted, nor was there even evidence presented to show that his clothes had been torn apart, or anything of the sort,” Mohamadein added.

Several workers went to the prosecutor’s office after the arrests to express solidarity with their colleagues.

One of the protesting workers told the privately owned Al-Mal newspaper on Monday that despite the arrests the sit-in was ongoing. However, according to Mohamadein it was called off after the second round of arrests as there aren’t enough staff to stage protests between shifts.

A total of 75 full-time employees, all employed as security personnel, have been protesting for 55 days demanding full-time contracts, and the retroactive payment of wages. Some have worked full time at the company for up to 10-15 years on temporary or part-time contracts, which don’t carry the same benefits or employment rights as full-time contracts, with wages calculated on a different basis.

The sit-in was initiated following the murder of a security guard at the company earlier this year. He died during an altercation with thieves on company grounds, however the board declined to provide his family with compensation or insurance, claiming he was a part-time employee.

It also follows the company administration’s refusal to uphold a previous court verdict. The workers filed a lawsuit against the Tourah Cement Company’s administration, and, in May 2016, a Cairo Appeals Court ruled in their favor, determining that they were entitled to the company’s profit-sharing scheme, healthcare and other employment rights.

There is a local workplace labor union for Tourah Cement Company employees, affiliated to the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), however without full-time contracts the protesting workers are not eligible to join, Mohamedein said. He added that no local or ETUF union members have expressed support of the workers.

A number of labor-related protests nationwide have been dispersed by security forces in the last few months.

In January, security forces forcefully dispersed a sit-in at the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, and in April police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt workers. In December 2016, police were deployed to disperse two sit-ins at billionaire Nassif Sawiris’ companies — the Egyptian Fertilizers Company and the Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation.

In September 2016, police forces conducted dawn raids on the apartments of bus drivers who had been planning a partial strike, detaining six of them. In May 2016, military police surrounded a sit-in led by workers at Alexandria Shipyard Company, and imposed a lockout on the company. Twenty-six of the civilian workers were subsequently referred to military trial.

Amnesty International issued a statement in April denouncing Egypt’s “relentless assault on rights of worker and trade unionists,” adding, “Demanding your labor rights and expressing your grievances should not be a criminal offense.” The right to strike and peaceful assembly are enshrined in both Article 15 of the Constitution and international human rights conventions that Egypt is party to.

In February, Human Rights Watch also issued a statement criticizing security forces’ heavy handed response to non violent labor protests, calling on Egyptian authorities to either drop charges against detained workers, or change domestic laws restricting the right to organize and strike.

Trump compliments dictator Sisi for his shoes


Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (CNN) - Moments after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi complimented President Donald Trump on his "unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible," Trump exchanged pleasantries back, praising el Sisi's shoes.

"Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man ... ," Trump said, as reporters were being escorted out of the room.

It's unclear the exact shoe the Egyptian President was wearing, but appeared to be black boots, similar to those Trump was wearing, but shinier.

The exchange wasn't observed by video cameras in the room, but was captured in an audio recording.

Trump held meetings with several Arab world leaders Sunday morning, ahead of a planned speech on confronting Islamist extremism and later a forum on Twitter.

*Photos by Evan Vucci, courtesy of Associated Press

- - - -  -

Other bizarre photos


Gaza fishermen strike over killing of colleague by Israeli forces

Anadolu Agency
Gaza fishermen strike over colleague’s death by Israel

The move comes after a fisherman was killed by Israeli gunfire

Moamen Ghorab
GAZA CITY, Palestine

Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday staged a one-day strike to protest the killing of a fellow fisherman by Israeli gunfire.

“The step aims to protest Israeli practices,” Nizar Ayyash, the head of the Gaza-based fishermen’s union, told Anadolu Agency.

On Monday, a Palestinian fisherman died of wounds sustained by Israeli gunfire off the Gaza coast.

Ayyash called on the UN to intervene to stop Israeli assaults against Gaza fishermen.

There was no comment from the Israeli military on the fisherman’s death.

According to the Gaza-based fishermen’s union, roughly 50,000 Gazans earn their living from fishing.

After Israel’s devastating military onslaught against Hamas-run Gaza in mid-2014, in which some 2,150 Palestinians were killed, Israel began allowing Palestinian fishermen to ply their trade up to six nautical miles off the coast of the strip, as opposed to three nautical miles previously.

A few days ago, Israeli authorities increased the fishing area for Gaza fishermen to nine nautical miles.

Since 2007, Gaza’s roughly 2 million inhabitants have groaned under a crippling Israeli blockade that has deprived them of many basic commodities, including food, fuel, medicine and building materials.

*Photo by Mustafa Hassona, courtesy of Anadolu Agency 

UN rights chief says Sisi crackdown "facilitates radicalisation"

UN rights boss says Egypt crackdown 'facilitates radicalisation'

Mon May 1, 2017

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said on Monday that heavy-handed security measures by Egypt were fostering the very radicalisation it was looking to curb.

Egypt last month was shaken by one of the bloodiest attacks in years when Islamic State suicide bombers targeted two Christian churches, killing 45 people. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency hours later.

Zeid condemned the church attacks at a news conference in Geneva but said that Egypt's approach to combating Islamist militants was exacerbating the problem.

"...a state of emergency, the massive numbers of detentions, reports of torture, and continued arbitrary arrests - all of this we believe facilitates radicalisation in prisons," Zeid said.

She said "the crackdown on civil society" was "not the way to fight terror."

Responding, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid called the remarks an "irresponsible" and "unbalanced" reading of the situation in Egypt, where society is targeted by "terrorist operations," according to a statement from the ministry.

Abu Zeid defended the emergency law as passed by an elected parliament subject to "rules and restrictions" set out by the constitution.

"We don't see the High Commissioner criticizing other states implementing states of emergency that are dealing with similar conditions," the statement said.

Sisi, elected in 2014 in part on a pledge to restore stability to a country hit by years of turmoil since its 2011 uprising, has sought to present himself as an indispensable bulwark against terrorism in the Middle East.

Rights groups, however, say they face the worst crackdown in their history.

"National security yes, must be a priority for every country, but again not at the expense of human rights,” said Zeid.

*Photo by Pierre Albouy courtesy of REUTERS
**Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

Monday, May 1, 2017

Increasing crackdowns on labor protests; Decrease in workers' strikes

Mada Masr
What does the cooperation Sisi called for in his Labor Day address mean amid a marked deterioration in labor rights and freedoms?

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presided over the state’s official Labor Day commemoration on Sunday, organized by the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, delivering a 10-minute televised address from the luxurious Al-Massa Hotel in Cairo.

“Egypt still expects much from its workers,” the president said, in one of several statements emphasizing workers’ cooperation with the state.

What Sisi did promise centered on increased foreign investment — a central tenet of the government’s economic structural adjustment whose efficacy is contested — saying that it would translate into increased employment opportunities for Egypt’s youth and decent living standards for the country’s workers.

This is in addition to promising to recommence operations at hundreds of factories that have remained closed since 2011, by allocating resources from the Tahya Masr Fund and to push a spate of labor-related legislation — including the unified labor law, trade union law, health insurance law, and social insurance law — through Parliament.

Nonetheless, there is a more stark reality for Egypt’s workers. Parliament is stacked against labor interests and the legislative body’s manpower committee is virtually controlled by the ETUF, whose leadership has not been elected since 2011 and is instead appointed by Manpower Minister Mohamed Saafan. Sisi and Parliament have extended the ETUF executive board’s terms of office several times, with the latest occurring in January 2017.

There have also been severe crackdowns against labor movements, with police and the Armed Forces jailing dozens of workers who participated in industrial action, and the prosecution referring them to trial. Simultaneously, the number of industrial protests has decreased to its lowest level in several years, falling from 1,117 strikes between May 2015 and April 2016, to 744 in the same period the following year.

To mark Labor Day, Amnesty International issued a statement on Sunday calling on the Egyptian state to end its “Relentless assault on rights of workers and trade unionists.” Human Rights Watch adopted a similar tone in a February statement, calling on Egyptian authorities to “Drop charges, change laws that restrict rights to organize and strike.”

The independent Egyptian initiative Democracy Meter issued its latest figures on Sunday regarding the number, location and causes of labor strikes and professional protests that occurred between May 2016 and April 2017.

According to the institute’s tally, at least 151 workers, unionists and professionals have been arrested, prosecuted or referred to trial over the course of the past 11 months. During this same period, 2,691 workers and professionals were dismissed from their jobs “for exercising their right to protest.”

Cairo was the site of the most labor action in Egypt over the past year, according to Democracy Meter’s figures, tallying 151 initiatives. After Cairo comes the Nile Delta governorates of Kafr al-Sheikh, with 68 initiatives, and Sharqiya, with 65.

The 26 Alexandrias Shipyard Company workers who are standing in a military trial plagued by numerous adjournments is one of the more prominent cases to have occurred in the past year. Other notable cases include the detention of six bus drivers from the Public Transport Authority in Cairo, 21 workers from the IFFCO Oils Company in Suez, scores of workers from the Egyptian Fertilizers Company and Egyptian Basic Industries Company in Suez, and 16 workers from Telecom Egypt Company.

While the state’s austerity measures have worsened labor and living conditions, workers efforts to push back have been curtailed, according to Mohamed Awwad, the lawyer for the 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers.

“Any worker who attempts to publicly demand their rights these days usually thinks twice before doing so, as the state will likely respond to peaceful protest actions with forceful and oppressive measures,” he says.

Awwad says that 19 of the 26 shipyard workers who are standing military trial have been persuaded to tender their resignations in exchange for assurances that they would not be jailed pending their military trial. Since the forced dispersal of the labor protest at the Defense Ministry-owned shipyard in May 2016, some 1,000 workers of a 2,300-person workforce have not been allowed back to work and are earning only half of their basic wages, according to the lawyer.

The string of police crackdowns on labor strikes in the Suez Governorate is symbolic, according to Ahmed Bakr, the secretary general of the Independent Union of Workers at the IFFCO Oils Company. “[The crackdown] aims to send a message to workers, that your protests or strikes will be deemed illegal and the state will only uphold the rights of big businessmen and investors.”

Bakr and all eight other members of the Independent Union of Workers at the IFFCO Oils Company, in addition to 12 other workers, stood trial in the Suez Governorate in January 2017. They have since been acquitted of charges of instigating a strike and obstructing production. However, the prosecution appealed the court’s decision, a second trial was held March before the Suez Appeals Court, which also opted for an acquittal.

“These labor rights (right to strike, and organize) are supposed to be safeguarded in the Egyptian Constitution. However, the reality in Egypt is quite different,” says Seif, the son of jailed PTA bus driver and independent unionist Mohamed Abdel Khaleq.

Abdel Khaleq and his coworker Ayman Abdel Tawwab were held in Tora for nearly seven months for planning a strike in September 2016, before being granted conditional release in March. Per the terms of his release, Abdel Khaleq must submit himself to Cairo’s Sharabiya Police Station two days a week, for nearly four hours at a time. The PTA workers still face the possibility of trial.

Egypt’s independent trade unions are organizing their own Labor Day conference, which is scheduled for the evening of May 1 at the headquarters of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) in Cairo. The event is being held under the title “Social Justice and Union Freedoms.”

Since July 2013, there have not been any Labor Day rallies, marches or public protests in Egypt.