Friday, May 23, 2008

Facebook Youths and Political Powers Establish the Movement of 'Together against the Act of Terrorism'; April 6 detainees join the Movement

By Mahmoud Gawish 23/5/2008
A number of facebook youths, members of Ghad party and human rights organizations leaders declared two days ago the establishment of the movement of 'together against the act of anti-terrorism'.
A number of Aprils 6 detainees joined the movement, including Shadi Al Adl and Rami Yehia. In its first statement, the movement called on all political powers to stand together to prevent endorsing the act which represents a violation of public rights and freedom stipulated in the constitution.
Ahmed Seiful Islam, Director of Hesham Mubarak Center for Human Rights, criticized the draft law and said it will be used against politicians through expanding the jurisdictions of the Executive Authority and making the Prosecution an accusation and investigation authority at one time. The act, he said, also gives legitimacy to torture as a means to get confessions.
Seiful Islam criticized the regime of adopting the method of abruptness with people, especially with laws that affect the community. He indicated that the act of anti-terrorism was not presented to the public opinion to date. He warned that endorsing a draft law that contradicts the articles 41, 44 and 45 of the constitution related to freedoms protection means that we will face a constitutional vacuum.
Ehab el-Kholi, Chairman of Ghad party (Ayman Nour's Front), pointed out that the law intended to be issued will not be applied to political oppositions only, as there will be other mechanisms for anti-terrorism which are prepared with other opposition parties, but he did not elaborate on the details of these mechanisms.
For her side, facebook girl who attended the conference said that since she was released from prison, she did not use the internet at home, due to network outage for reasons not clear to her. She added that she sought help from her specialized friends and colleagues but they were not able to determine the causes of such outage.

The (un)known Egypt of today

Due to the peculiarities of our national holidays legislation Lithuanians enjoyed a particularly long weekend at the beginning of May this year. Many of them used it as an opportunity to have a proper getaway holiday for which the Egyptian beaches are a popular destination. While enjoying the sunshine and gasping at their guides’ stories of the pharaohs, the pyramids and the temples they had built, they probably did not even hear that a general strike was to take place in the country on that same day, May 4th.

It was the day when the veteran Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak whose huge posters follow tourists on the city streets and by the roadsides celebrated his 80th birthday. The local media did not miss this occasion to sing glories to his 27 year rule – ah yes, they might have been aware of the fact that expression of a different opinion, that is libelling the president, state institutions, country‘s dignity (for example, reporting torture used by the state security) or foreign heads of state may earn a journalist a prison sentence. Along with Belarus, Burma, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and several other countries, Egypt has been listed among the “Internet enemies” by the NGO Reporters Without Borders: bloggers calling for democratic reforms risk imprisonment.

Before I forget – the country is actually on its way to democracy, alternative candidates were allowed to stand in the 2005 election which brought Mr Mubarak to his fifth consecutive term in office (yet Ayman Nour who came second and was sentenced later to five years in jail after he claimed the vote was rigged, just as the previous ones). However, elections used to be referendums before 2005 when one could only vote “for” or “against” the single candidate endorsed by the Parliament. Can you think of the person it could propose if some of its members are appointed by the President himself and formation of new parties has to be approved by the government, while “Muslim Brotherhood”, the strongest force opposing Mubarak and his ruling National Democratic Party and enjoying popular support, is banned from political activity?

In the recent few years, Egypt has seen a lot of various demonstrations and protests – these were organized by workers, university students, judges and other employees calling for reform. Strikes were impelled by the political, social and economic conditions that had become unbearable throughout the last decade and that were especially exacerbated by the recent rise of food prices. 16.4% inflation was recorded this April. With 44% of Egyptians living on or below the official poverty line ($2 a day), the price hikes of foodstuffs and other necessities have dire social consequences.

Among the biggest workers’ strikes organized to demand a higher pay and better working conditions took place in the city of Mahalla el-Kobra that houses the biggest textile factory in Egypt (110 km north from the capital Cairo) already last year and in 2006. Having occupied the factory and stopped the production, several tens of thousand workers won significant victories, but prices continued to rise steadily. Hence a new mass strike was planned for April 6th this year.

Their plans were supported by the opposition party “El Ghad” (meaning “Tomorrow” in Arabic) founded by Ayman Nour. Esraa Abdel Fattah together with other members of the party youth founded a group on the social networking site “Facebook” to publicize this action of protest in which they called Egyptian youth to support the workers of Mahalla el-Kobra on April 6 by joining the general strike and demanding the government set the minimal wage, take up antitrust measures, fight corruption and release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. By the day of the strike, around 65,000 people coming from across the political spectre had joined the group (today it has about 74,000 members); its aims were also supported by “Muslim Brotherhood”.

Yet the regime was also gearing up for that date: everyone was ordered to go to work and abstain from any demonstrations, while the presence of security forces in the cities was strengthened. In Mahalla el-Kobra the police used tear gas and rubber bullets against 7,000 protesters. Three people were killed, around 300 arrested, with cyber dissident Esraa Abdel Fattah gone missing as well (she was later released but her mother had to beg the government in the press to do so). Even the English weekly “Al-Ahram” that is considered to be pro-government admitted that “Facebook” had become a platform for the political mobilisation of Egypt's disaffected young that lacked other venues for expressing their socio-political views. The April 8th local elections from which many of the opposition candidates had been banned took place right after the strike, but few actually bothered to vote.

These events failed to attract a lot of attention from the Western media, although they made the virtual community that had emerged so spontaneously in just 10 days’ time to discover their power: it claimed that more than 40% of the Egyptian population were involved in the action. Internet activists condemned the use of violence against the protesters and called for a new general strike on May 4th, the president’s birthday.

This time the media was following the developments more closely, even more security forces were deployed, while no reporters were allowed into the hotbed of strikes, the city of Mahalla el-Kobra. Threats of fierce punishments for those taking part and the announcement by the government a few days before the strike that all civil servants would have their salaries raised by 30% helped to ensure few took part in the action this time. However, given that, for instance, meat costs $10 per kilo a raise of $6-50 for some 6 million state employees can hardly save a country of 75.5 million from poverty. Even less so, when the salaries are raised at the expense of severe increases in (previously subsidized) prices of gas and fuel which took place on May 5th.

And yet these outbursts of anger at the police state and the deplorable social situation must have left its mark on Egypt. Rabab Al Mahdi, professor of political science at the American university in Cairo told “Al Jazeera” she believed that the protests would have a long-lasting effect on the mobilisation of people and that the aim of this mobilisation was now a regime change. The same aspirations are shared by most of the “Facebook” group members. My Egyptian friend currently studying in the United Kingdom confessed that the April 6th move made him to believe for the first time that “something could be changed” in Egypt. However, he noted that a serious opposition that could bring about change was now lacking leadership as those who could take up that role were being removed from the political arena as soon as they emerged.

That means president Mubarak stays in power beleaguered by too many citizens frustrated with his rule. Will he still be able hand over his “anniversary present” to his younger son Gamal Mubarak who is seemingly being groomed for succession? We are yet to see it.

This article was first published in Lithuanian on the portal on May 10th 2008.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

President Bush's tour of the Middle East is timed to highlight his failures

THE OCCASION of Israel's 60th-anniversary celebrations has drawn President Bush into a Middle East trip he would be better off not taking. Rather than consolidating achievements or clearing a path for his successor, the president's tour of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will serve to illustrate how much has gone wrong in the region for the United States on his watch -- and how unlikely he is to reverse the tide in his final months. In Israel, Mr. Bush will face the crumbling Israeli-Palestinian peace process he attempted to launch last year; in Saudi Arabia, he will find a regime that has been deaf to his pleas to help with soaring oil prices or support the Iraqi government. In Egypt, Mr. Bush will meet a ruler, Hosni Mubarak, who not only defied the president's "freedom agenda" but also forced the administration to retreat to its old policy of backing corrupt autocracies.
The 80-year-old Mr. Mubarak, in power for almost 27 years, might at least be embarrassed if the president, while in Egypt, publicly calls for the release of some of Mr. Mubarak's political prisoners, such as the liberal democrat Ayman Nour. But Mr. Bush no longer seems to have the nerve for that.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Egypt: Investigate Beating of ‘Facebook’ Activist

Authorities Use Intimidation, Violence to Suppress Online Advocacy
(Cairo, May 10, 2008) – Egyptian authorities should immediately investigate and prosecute those security officials responsible for beating Ahmed Maher Ibrahim, Human Rights Watch said today. Maher, a 27-year-old civil engineer, used the social-networking site Facebook to support calls for a general strike on May 4, 2008, President Hosni Mubarak’s 80th birthday. Maher told Human Rights Watch that officers from the Interior Ministry’s State Security Investigations (SSI) department apprehended him on a street in the suburb of New Cairo on May 7, blindfolded him and took him to a police station where they stripped him naked, and beat him intermittently for 12 hours before releasing him without charge. “This is the work of thugs, pure and simple,” said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “The government must show that those responsible for upholding the law are also subject to the law.” Before the incident, Maher said, an SSI officer phoned him on April 25 to invite him “for a coffee” on the following day at SSI headquarters in Lazoghli, in downtown Cairo. Maher did not show up. Over the course of the following week, Maher spoke with international news media about the strike. He told the BBC that several SSI officers had contacted him, but that he was undeterred. “If we allow ourselves to fear them, we won’t do anything,” he told the BBC. “Then I would consider myself a partner in the crimes taking place in Egypt.” On May 4, it appeared that few Egyptians had heeded the call for a strike. On May 7, however, as Maher was driving in New Cairo at around 1 p.m., an unmarked van with non-official license plates pulled in front of him. Three other unmarked cars, also with non-official plates, surrounded the car and some 12 men in civilian clothes pulled him into the van, where they handcuffed and blindfolded him. Maher told Human Rights Watch that the men took him first to the New Cairo police station. There, he was beaten and insulted by men he could not identify because he was blindfolded. Maher said that around the time of the afternoon prayers (4:30 p.m.), his captors took him to SSI headquarters at Lazoghli. There, they stripped him down to his underwear, threatened to rape him with a stick, and continued kicking, beating, and insulting him, and dragging him across the floor. The blows fell mostly on his back and his neck, he said, and he lost some hearing after a sharp blow to one ear. Maher said his assailants wore gloves and applied lotion to his back between beatings in an apparent attempt to reduce bruising. According to Maher, the officers did not accuse him of anything, but asked for the password of the May 4 Facebook group that news reports said he had started. They also asked him about members of the group he had never met. The SSI officers released him before dawn on May 8 with the warning that he would be beaten more severely the next time State Security detained him. The evening after his release, May 8, Maher went to a private hospital for a medical examination, including a CAT scan, the results of which were not available as of this writing. “Sadly, Maher’s treatment is part of a pattern of abuse and extralegal intimidation by state officials,” Stork said. “Egypt needs to put an end to the lawlessness of its law-enforcement officers.” In another incident a month earlier, Isra’a `Abd al-Fattah, 29, was among roughly 500 people arrested by police nationwide in connection with a call for a strike on April 6. (Most of those arrested were from the industrial Nile Delta city of Mahalla al-Kobra, where demonstrations against rising prices turned violent.) `Abd al-Fattah had also used a social network group on Facebook to publicize the April 6 strike, leading to her detention for more than two weeks. Prosecutors had ordered her release a few days after she was arrested when charges against her of “inciting unrest” were dismissed, but interior ministry officials kept her in detention until April 23. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, holds that “no one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law,” and that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Related Material
Egypt: Investigate Police Use of Force at ProtestsPress Release, April 11, 2008
More of Human Right's Watch's work on EgyptCountry Page

The real face of democracy in Egypt:

On Wednesday, May 7, 2008 “Ahmed Maher” one of the free voices of Egypt was abducted by the Egyptian police. He is one of the founders of an anti-government group on facebook “strike on April 6”. He was forced to leave his car while he was on his way to his work in Cairo.
A private microbus hit his car and forced him to stop, while eight members of the State Security Investigation forced him to leave his car and took him to a close by police station subjected to beatings and insults because of the strike group, at four o'clock afternoon he was taken to the State Security Investigation main building in Lazoghly. He was tortured and his feet was tied , they dragged him lying on his face from the rope and threatened to indecent assault and he was beaten all over his body. This was accompanied by questions about the Group and the confidential password and that they are in control of the country and that the facebook group does not represent any threat what so ever to them. They also threatened that no one is far from their hands, after they failed with torture to get to him they tried to reason with him that the group have many true patriots yet some can misuse to cause chaos and disorder in Egypt. .
He was giving most of his belongings except for a digital camera. Then they accompaned him Even to his car in Cairo and the new release in the early morning with the promise of giving the camera.
It is worth mentioning that this is not the first incident in which freedom of speech are violated in Egypt, beaten or sexually abuse have become known methods deployed by the security services to keep the control of the people.
We sincerely hope the Egyptians as citizens of our country strongly reject this brutal act of blatant Egyptian government and its repressive tools flouted the most basic rights of democracy including freedom of expression and opinion.
The government in Egypt has failed to provide many of the basic needs to the people, Having about 40% of the population living in extreme poverty earning less than 2$ a day. They also try to silence any free voices that try to object to their polices and the state the country is in. only hypocrites are allowed in the media to advocate in the media for how the polices of the government have put Egypt in the right track ignoring all the facts that proves the exact opposite.
We found our only way to express our views on the internet, even that the government is trying to deny us. They have imprisoned one of the admins of the group and many active members through out the last month, and now with this incident they are sending a message to all of the few free voices in Egypt that they will not tolerate with any opposition what so ever to their policies.
But we will not be afraid and will not tolerate what is happening in our country violations of our dignity and our humanity daily.

April 6 Youth


Some Photos showing the brutal torture marks on Ahmad Maher’s body:




Friday, May 9, 2008

A Strike of Imbaba Microbuses Drivers Turns into a Trial to a Police Officer

By Hesham Alaa 8/5/2008
A strike of microbuses driver in Imbaba yesterday, in protest of increasing transportation tariff, turned into a trial in the attendance of a police officer who came to follow up the press coverage of the events of the strike by Al-Masri Al-Youm.
Once the drivers in strike saw the journal editor, they grouped around him and started to talk about price increase of a full tank solar for the second time within 4 months from LE 8 to LE 15, while the last increase sent the price to LE 22.
This led some taxis owners to deduct the difference of fuel price from the driver's income. In return the drivers refused to operate taxis in the morning until a decision with the new tariff is issued by Governor of Giza, as the same is done with Governorate of Cairo which issued a formal statement of the new tariff.
More than 200 drivers had to go on strike and refused operating their taxis, or letting others operate them, deciding to end their strike with announcing an official increase by the governorate. Most of the drivers were involved in squabbles with passengers, who dubbed them as 'exploiters'. Some of these squabbles ended in police stations.
One person then started to threaten the drivers who spoke with us, and promised them to increase the 'carta' (the tariff). After some moments, he returned with "amin shorta' (non-commissioned police officer), who told us that we should wait for instructions of the commissioner of police station to authorize us to speak with drivers.
In a telephone call with the commissioner, he did not protest to speaking with the striking drivers, yet, Mohammed 'Carta', as he is called, said that we cannot do anything until we ask Chief of Investigations, who later sent a major officer to monitor the situation.
Once the drivers saw the officer, they started to tell him incidents related to an officer from Imbaba Police Station, and non-commissioned officers. Alaa el-Sayed al-Sebaei told him that a non commissioned officer asked him three days ago to accompany him to an 'official mission'.
When he refused, he imprisoned him from 2.00 am to 7.00 am- Ali Hussein was witness over the incident. "We are all subject to blackmailing of non commissioned officers everyday; and whoever refuses, his car will be withdrawn and he will go to jail', he added.
The officer remained listening to the 'accusations' of drivers who named several officers and non commissioned officers and accused them of exploiting their influences. We asked the officer if this happens, he replied positively but in limited occurrences.
"When such things happen, Ministry of Interior pays for the driver", he said. A large group of people who were silent started to narrate many of such occurrences, for which the officer remained nodding with his head. He commented that the person who gets involved in such incidents has to submit a formal complaint.
Driver Mohammed Sukar replied with another incident that happened to him last week. He was instructed by a non commissioned officer to accompany him to some place saying to him; "If you do not bring me a vehicle, I will shoot you with my pistol".
When we asked him to name the non commissioned officer, he said; 'He sits in that café and if the officer wants me to get him and confront him with these incidents, I will do that". The officer then said; "We are talking about the strike and do not change the issue

New Increases in Public Transportation Tariff… Crowds and Strikes in Transport Stations

The angry reactions and the negative impacts resulting in the decisions of increasing gasoline and diesel prices, endorsed by People's Assembly last Monday, accelerated yesterday.
Some governorates witnessed new confrontations among citizens and taxi drivers, who declared strikes in some governorates. Other governors and municipalities decided to increase the tariff transport in public transportation media.
In Cairo, the Governor Dr. Abdel Azim Wazir decided to increase the tariff by 25 piasters for a distance less than 25 km, and 40 piasters for more than 25 km.
The tariff for regional transport at Abud Station witnessed different increases, reaching LE 5 to Alexandria and LE 2 to Beheira and Mansoura in Dakahlia, LE 2.5 to Kafr el-Sheikh, while Minya increased the tariff by rates ranging between 10 and 15 %.
In the Sayida Ayesha stations, drivers of microbuses operating to Al Moqatam, went on strike two days ago, as the tariff did not increase, thus leading to crowding of citizens for several hours until police intervened to force drivers to break up strike.
Governorates of Fayoum, Sharqiya, Red Sea and Suez witnessed drivers' strikes as new tariff increases were not applied. Drivers stressed that the same old tariffs will cause them grave losses. The first three governorates witnessed collisions between drivers and locals due to prices and drivers' strikes.
As for bakeries, an official in Bakeries' Section held a secret meeting between officials of Ministry of Solidarity and those of the section to discuss the repercussions of new prices over the industry of bread.
He pointed out that the section of bakeries proposed to increase the price of subsidized bread, to connect wheat shares with solar shares or to reduce the weight of bread loaf