Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Egypt court convicts 6 April Mahala rioters

An Egyptian court has sentenced 22 people to jail for between three and five years over food riots in April.
They were convicted on charges of looting, assaulting police officers and possessing dangerous materials. Another 27 defendants were acquitted.
Security forces killed three civilians and arrested hundreds of people during two days of protests over rising food prices in the town of Mahalla al-Kobra.
The demonstrations were part of a wave of protests in Egypt over inflation.
Reading the verdicts, Judge Abdel-Maaboud blamed international economic forces for the sharply rising price of basic food staples in Egypt.
Despite allegations of police brutality during the riots, he praised the security forces for the restraint they had shown in quelling the protests.

No appeal
Some of those convicted shouted at the judge as he read the verdicts, and several hundred supporters chanted anti-government slogans outside the court in Tanta, north of Cairo.
The sentences - handed down by the Emergency Supreme State Security Court - can not be appealed and only President Hosni Mubarak can issue a pardon.
Most of the demonstrators during the April riots were workers at the town's textile mill, Egypt's largest.
The World Bank estimated at the time that global food prices had increased 83% in the past three years.
There have been a number of riots in Mahalla this year, as the highly-organised workforce has clashed with state security, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in Cairo.
Elsewhere in Egypt, 11 people were killed earlier this year as people clashed while standing in line to buy subsidised bread from state bakeries.
Source: BBC

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Egyptian justice Contradictions

While famous figures like Mamdouh Ismail and Dr. Hani Surour who are members of the National Democratic party (which is headed by the president Mubarak), and many other members went to court in a variety of corruption and even manslaughter as in the ferry case, or like the case of contaminated blood bags, where a similar verdict of innocence were issued last month, it was related to Dr. Hani Surour, member of NDP and MP, as well as his sister and 5 others, having been accused of providing contaminated blood bags to hospitals which were known in the media as Hidelina case. All of those who are considered close to the president and government or hold powerful positions are never found guilty. And even if they did, the way to escape abroad is open to them. In the same time any members of the opposition are put in prison for expressing their views under a variety of false accusations, and even if they were declared innocent by the court of law the government refuse to comply and keep them detained under the claim that they are dangerous to the national security.

Or even like in the case of the Muslim brotherhood leaders where they were declared innocent of all charges twice yet the president ordered them to face one more unfair military trial which issued a prison verdict for the majority of them.

The message is clear, if you close to the president and the government you can do any thing and no one can touch you. However if you try to fight the corruption and say no to the oppression then you are a threat to the national security.

I guess this is the kind of justice we can expect from a dictatorship system, and as long as the people stay hushed and in fear not to rise against this corrupted system we will see a lot more of this justice that protects only the powerful.

Court acquits Egyptian ferry owner

An Egyptian criminal court has found the owner of a Red Sea ferry not guilty of manslaughter over the deaths of more than 1,000 passengers in an accident in 2006, court sources say.

Mamdouh Ismail, a member of Egypt's upper house of parliament at the time of the disaster, was tried in absentia because he left for the UK after the ferry disaster.
The Al Salam 98 ferry caught fire and sank en route to Egypt from Saudi Arabia in February 2006, claiming the lives of 1,034 of the roughly 1,400 people on board.
The court also acquitted four other defendants in Sunday's verdict, including Ismail's son.
The court, however, sentenced a sixth defendant, the captain of another ferry, to six months in prison for failing to take steps to save survivors.
Ismail had been accused of contributing to manslaughter by failing to inform the authorities as soon as he heard of a problem aboard the ferry.
In video

However, he said that no one on the vessel contacted either him or his company when the fire broke out.
Egyptian authorities first heard of the disaster many hours after the fire broke out.
In 2006 a committee investigating the sinking widened the blame to include the state of Panama, under whose flag the boat was sailing.
A parliamentary report on the disaster blamed Ismail for serious violations of safety regulations.
It said the ferry had forged safety certificates, the life rafts and fire extinguishers were unfit for use and the ship did not have enough winches to lower rafts into the sea.
Egyptian authorities lifted a freeze on Ismail's assets in 2006 and removed him and his family from the list of people banned from travelling abroad after he paid about $57 million into a compensation fund for victims of the disaster.

'Shocking' verdict
Mohammed Ali Hassan, the lawyer representing the family of the victims, said that the court's verdict came as a shock to the families.
The Al Salam 98 ferry caught fire and sank [YVAN PERCHOC/AFP]"It seems that the court's judge completely ignored our prosecution committee report and the reasons announced with the verdict completely contradicted it," he said.
Hassan said the incident was the biggest accidental homicide case in the history of Egypt, "and despite all of this, the defence lawyers were acquitted," he said.
The defence lawyers will meet to discuss the verdict and to take appropriate action.
"I think the prosecution will appeal," Hassan said.
Al Jazeera's Amr el-Kahky in Hurghada, said: "Families gathered since early morning outside the courthouse, and after two and a half years, they gathered for the 22nd time and today they received a shocking verdict".
The families of the victims accused the government of masterminding the exoneration of the owner who operated the company "because he is an influential figure in the ruling National Democratic Party and is well connected with influential politicians in Egypt," he said.
Kahky said that families who gathered in front of the courthouse were those "who refused to be paid compensation from the Italian company that owned the ferry. Rather they hoped they would see someone responsible for the loss of many lives".
Al Jazeera and agencies

Friday, July 25, 2008

Arrest of 26 of 6 April Movement by SSI

On the memory of the Egyptian revolution in 23 July. A new crime that is not strange to the system of repression of the Egyptian government. A group of the SSI (State Security Investigation) system dressed in civilian clothes attacked a group of young activists belonging to the “6 April” youth movement , “Solidarity Movement” and members of Al-Ghad Party and the Democratic Front Party.

They were on one of the shores of the city of Alexandria where the young people gathered to spend a recreational time, after they finished a symposium organized by Al-Ghad Party in Alexandria in conjunction with the 6 April youth movement and the solidarity movement for the release of political detainees in Egyptian prisons. After they left the symposium they started singing a series of national songs, raising the national flag of Egypt wearing white shirts with the word 6 April youth printed over it, they also tried to fly a kite with the Egyptian flag colours; however this was considered a crime of threatening the public security by the SSI officers. One of SSI officers run over the flag and shredded it, and a group of thugs of the SSI wearing civilian clothes attacked the youths beating them, using electric shocks and they sprayed them with some kind of a strange spray that some of them lost conscious afterwards.
About 26 young men and one girl were taken by a police car to one of the headquarters of the State Security Investigation, The girl was released later in the same day.
The arrested youth reported that they were beaten in several occasions. Their lawyers were banned from attending the interrogation of the youth who have not been released so far.
we in the 6 April youth movement call for the immediate release of Our colleagues as they have not committed any wrongdoing but that they loved their country and sang songs in love of their country, but that was considered a crime of threatening the national security of Egypt.

These are some of the names of the detainees :
Adel Khalid
Maheanor el Masry
Youssef Shaaban
Basem Fathi,
Amr Aly
Mustafa Maher
Nour el dine Sobhi
Medhat Shaker
Muaatasem ballah Mohamed
Tarek Tito
Mohamed Mahmoud
Ahmed Nassar
Ahmed Afifi
Ahmed Maher
Mohamed Refaat

Friday, July 18, 2008

Egypt's Facebook Face Off

While it's supposed to be a social networking site, Facebook has become the front line tool for the country's struggling democracy movement, as Sophie McNeill reports.

Young democracy activists have flocked to the social networking site, to choreograph widespread protests against President Hosni Mubarrak's 27-year rule.It's the perfect tool for them to voice their opinions, especially in a country that outlaws gatherings of more than five people. With the use of blog sites, Facebook and YouTube, their messages can now be projected globally.“They were horrified by Facebook because it was something totally new that they could not control,” says Nadia, a key promoter of a recent day-long general strike in which three protestors were shot dead and 400 were jailed, including her.McNeill manages to track down one of the co-creators of the Facebook page that promoted the recent strike. He's on the run from threats of imprisonment and rape. A few days later, he is dragged off the street by plain-clothed police to be detained and beaten at security headquarters. Upon his release he says;“All the questions were about people who were members of the Facebook group…this issue of the password made them take off my trousers…saying they would rape me…They were saying ‘think we can’t catch you? We can’. And they wanted to close the Facebook group and control the whole thing.”


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Egypt's Facebook Face Off - Egypt

For over 27 years President Mubarak has ruled with an iron fist. With protests and strikes forbidden, activists are finding new ways to fight for democracy. Through Facebook, protestors can now find a voice.

UK Council workers walk out over pay

Thousands of council staff are striking over pay in their biggest campaign of industrial unrest for years, forcing schools to close and hitting services.
Employers say 300,000 Unison and Unite members in England, Wales and N Ireland have joined the 48-hour action but the unions put the figure at 500,000.
Unions say the rising cost of food and petrol effectively makes a 2.45% pay offer a pay cut, and they want 6%.
Council employers say they have reached the "limit of what is affordable".
Meanwhile, members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who include driving test examiners and coastguard control room staff, are also striking in a separate row over their below-inflation pay offer.
The union estimates up to 5,000 driving tests across the UK may have been cancelled by the end of Wednesday.
Town hall services
The Local Government Association (LGA), the organisation representing local councils, said it estimated that half of union members directly affected by the pay dispute were on strike.
The LGA said a snapshot survey of councils showed north-east and north-west England were suffering the greatest disruption to services.
Services affected across England, Wales and Northern Ireland include:
One in three schools in Wales closed
A third of all households in Southampton will not have their rubbish collected this week
Flights cancelled at Northern Ireland's council-run City of Derry Airport
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery closed
Main libraries in Leicester and Leeds city centres closed
Torpoint to Plymouth ferry service cancelled
Hundreds of workers have also taken part in protest marches in cities including Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff and Newcastle.
Workers in Scotland are not on strike, but the Scottish secretary of Unison, Matt Smith, said a walkout was planned unless councils agreed to renegotiate their pay offer.
BBC News employment correspondent Martin Shankleman said the strikes were the biggest challenge yet to the government's tough line on public sector pay.

Road sweeper: £14,430
Teaching assistant: £15,530
Care worker: £17,088
Sports coach: £21,411
Librarian: £22,388
Building control officer: £29,840

Average basic salaries in councils in England and Wales vary greatly. Figures from the LGA show a cleaner earns £12,732 a year, a refuse collector £15,685, and a planning officer £27,561.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said more than 250,000 of its members earned less than the basic rate of £6 per hour.
"The pounds in local government workers' pockets are turning to pennies," he said.
"The cost of everyday essentials like milk, bread, petrol, gas and electricity are going through the roof - our members cannot afford to take another cut in their pay."
Unite national officer Peter Allenson said its members were "living on the breadline".
But one council worker in south-east England, who broke the picket line and did not want to be named, said the pay offer was good in the "current economic climate".
"In local government we are guaranteed a pay rise every year and over the last 10 years, it has varied between 2.5% and 3% - people in the private sector don't get anywhere near that."
The RPI inflation measure - often used as a benchmark in pay negotiations - is currently 4.6%.
Service cuts
Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers (LGE), which was created by the LGA in 2006, said: "Our greatest asset is our staff but we have simply reached the limit of what is affordable.
"We remain willing to talk to the unions on a constructive basis about the future employment conditions of our workforce but this week's strikes will not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer."
John Ransford, LGA deputy chief executive, said councils would have to put up council tax or cut services in order to meet the pay demand.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7508717.stm

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Egyptian Draft Law of Audio-Visual Transmission and Monitoring the Internet

By Alaa al-Ghatrifi 9/7/2008
Al-Masry al-Youm got a copy of the draft law prepared by Ministry of Media to organize the audio-visual transmission in Egypt, as the charter of organizing satellite transmission in the Arab region was not passed.
The charter was proposed by Cairo and Riyadh last February to Arab foreign ministers, and stirred strong opposition in Arab and international countries, and it was rejected by Lebanon, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain in the meeting of Arab ministers of media last June for the reason of restricting the freedom of speech and opinion.
The draft law which will be submitted by the government to People's Assembly at the next parliamentary term is a version of the Egyptian- Saudi- Algerian proposal to the council of Arab ministers of media last June.
The proposal included detailed points that expedite setting new firm legislations to implement policies of controlling satellite transmission in Arab countries, inter alia, national legislative rulings that correspond with the charter of satellite transmission.
Based on these legislations, a supreme monitoring authority will be established to control audio and visual transmission to maintain respecting the principles of satellite transmission. Ministry of Media sent copies of the draft law to different governmental parties for opinion.
The legislators of the draft law indicated in their introductory memorandum that establishing an authority to organize the audio and visual transmission is intended to stop airing live programs to the public that could threaten the public order and morals, thereby leading to disturbance of the country's safety and security.
The draft law includes 44 articles and is entitled as the 'draft law of the national agency for organizing audio and visual transmission'.
The first article introduces the definition of audio-visual transmission as airing, broadcasting, transmitting or making available any written or visual media material by any means including the internet and other regular transmission means.
The article states that the means of transmission and airing include any coded and un-coded transmission of sounds and images or both of them, writings of any type that are not considered of private messages, and allowed to be received and interacted with by the public, wire and wireless transmission through cables, satellites, computer nets, digital media or any such other means. Any processes of airing or transmission in which the receiver can choose the time and the venue of reception (mobile messages for instances) are considered broadcasting.
The first article included in particular the area which the law will be applied to in the 9th term entitled 'geographical region'. It stipulates the region as that which is located within the geographical borders of Egypt including the areas of special legislations for which licenses and permits are issued according to the law.
The 20th article indicated that the agency in Egypt will solely issue permits for broadcasting corporations and satellite channels and transmission authorities in Egypt according to the conditions and measures set by the agency board.
The 2nd article of the draft law determines the rules that providers of audio-visual transmission should abide by which include withholding any transmission that affects negatively on the social peace, national unity, citizenship, public order and morals. The transmission should provide comprehensive service to the public that correspond with the democratic progress.
The 3rd article defines the agency assigned for organizing the audio-visual transmission as a national agency for managing transmission utility termed as 'the national agency for organizing audio and visual transmission' which will report to the concerned minister of media. The agency will be a public entity and its headquarters will be in Cairo with branches and offices all over the country.
The agency will be managed as per the 12th article of the law by a board headed by the concerned minister, i.e. minister of media, and membership of agency CEO, chairman of Radio and Television Union or his designee of other state-owned entities which will be established to undertake current assignments of the Union, chief of General Authority of Information, representatives of the national security organization, ministries of interior, foreign affairs, communications, culture and finance, and six members (four of whom are experienced personnel of non governmental agencies or institutions, public organization or public sector, while two of them will be of public figures representing end users of audio visual transmission services).
The decision of appointment and wages will be determined by the Prime Minister. The organization structure of the agency will include a committee for granting and issuing permits of transmission means in addition to another committee to follow up the audio-visual content.
The law indicates the targets of the agency in the 4th article in five points: to organize and follow up all activities of transmission particularly the content of the product and its availability, distribution and receiving; to guarantee the provision and continuation of the service to meet the different aspects of usage for the purpose of sustained growth; to take necessary measures which ensure the legitimate competition in producing, airing, and distributing the audio-visual services; to avoid monopoly practices; and to achieve and implement environmental and technical criteria and quality standards of content, transmission, production, distribution and consumption in a way that corresponds with the requirements of maintaining social peace and values.
The 5th article states the responsibilities of the agency: to follow up the audio visual transmission services through different wire and wireless communications used currently or in future; to guarantee adherence to measures and criteria related to the content, production, distribution, protecting the community and its values; to protect juniors of contents of sex, violence and oppression, with full adherence to the valid laws in Egypt; to set laws and bases of granting permits and licenses; to determine the codes and measures of media ethical charter, and the special codes of financing or any other codes issued by the agency. These codes will be binding for the party the license is issued for.
The article included other responsibilities, on top of which is to set rules of granting licenses of opening offshoot offices for foreign broadcasting and transmission agencies in Egypt, in addition to granting licenses of importing, trading, manufacturing, assembling, or dealing with equipment and apparatuses used in audio- visual transmission.
As for financing the agency, the draft law states that the agency constitutes of seven resources of funding, on top of which the amounts the state assigns are in the general budget. According to the draft law, a board of trustees of not more than 20 members of public figures will be established. Decisions of appointment, wages and period of membership will be issued by the Prime Minister, based on recommendation of the concerned minister.
The board of trustees is entitled to set media ethical code and monitor of media on audio-visual broadcasting, morals of the media message and ways of adhering to this code. The agency is entitled according to article 13th to issue the measures that should be available in nets of transmitting, distributing and re-transmitting services provided by others.
Article 16th states that the agency will adhere to the principle of transparency by issuing periodic reports of activities of audio-visual transmission with no violation to requirements of confidentiality, and all transmission parties should adhere to provide the agency with any required reports, data and records related to activities.
The draft law specifies the administrative measures taken by the agency in the event of violation to the law of establishment starting from sending a warning letter to the violator, suspending the permit in part or totally for a certain period and finally to the withdrawal of license.
The draft law decides as per the article 32nd entitled; 'transitional rules' to set up a state-owned Egyptian company that undertakes assigned tasks of Radio and Television Union and holds all assets and entitlements of the Union. The agency will issue the licenses to maintain the transmission functions of the Union as free of charge for seven years of issuing licenses.
In penalties terms, the draft law states that trespass to any of the agency entitlements will be penalized with imprisonment and a fine of not less than LE 10,000 and not more than LE 50,000 or one of these two penalties.
Transmitting audio visual programs without prior licenses from the agency will be penalized with imprisonment for a period not less than two months and not more than two years and a fine of LE 50,000 or with one of these two penalties. Disclosure of confidential data and information on agency activities is penalized with imprisonment for a period not less than one month.

Source: http://www.almasry-alyoum.com/article2.aspx?ArticleID=112635

Friday, July 4, 2008

Freedom House Egypt Report

Capital: Cairo
Population: 73,400,000
Political Rights Score: 6
Civil Liberties Score: 5
Status: Not Free

Trend Arrow
Egypt received a downward trend arrow due to its suppression of journalists’ freedom of expression, repression of opposition groups, and the passage of constitutional amendments that hinder the judiciary’s ability to balance against executive excess.
Egyptians voted in 2007 for constitutional amendments that many warned would enshrine aspects of the Emergency Law and curtail political rights and civil liberties. Also during the year, opposition groups, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, faced a renewed government crackdown on their activities. Journalistic freedom was set back when several high-profile editors were arrested for publishing information on President Hosni Mubarak’s ill health.
Egypt formally gained independence from Britain in 1922 and acquired full sovereignty following World War II. After leading a coup that overthrew the monarchy in 1952, Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser established a state centered on the military hierarchy that he ruled until his death in 1970. The constitution adopted in 1971 under his successor, Anwar al-Sadat, established a strong presidential political system with nominal guarantees for political and civil rights that were not fully respected in practice. Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and built a strong alliance with the United States, which has provided the Egyptian government with roughly $2 billion in aid annually for the last quarter-century.
Following Sadat’s assassination in 1981, then vice president Hosni Mubarak became president and declared a state of emergency, which has been in force ever since. Despite abundant foreign aid, the government failed to implement comprehensive economic reforms. A substantial deterioration in living conditions and the lack of a political outlet for many Egyptians fueled an Islamist insurgency in the early 1990s. The authorities responded by jailing thousands of suspected militants without charge and cracked down heavily on political dissent. Although the armed infrastructure of Islamist groups had been largely eradicated by 1998, the government continued to restrict political and civil liberties as it struggled to address Egypt’s dire socioeconomic problems.
High levels of economic growth in the late 1990s temporarily alleviated these problems, but the country experienced an economic slowdown after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Popular disaffection with the government spread palpably, and antiwar protests during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 quickly evolved into antigovernment demonstrations, sparking a harsh response by security forces.
The government embarked on an high-profile effort to cast itself as a champion of reform in 2004. Mubarak removed several “old guard” ministers, appointed a new cabinet of younger technocrats, and introduced some economic reforms. However, the awarding of all key economic portfolios to associates of the president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, raised concerns that the changes were simply preparations for a hereditary transition.
Meanwhile, a consensus emerged among leftist, liberal, and Islamist political forces as to the components of desired political reform: direct, multicandidate presidential elections; the abrogation of emergency law; full judicial supervision of elections; the lifting of restrictions on the formation of political parties; and an end to government interference in the operation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The opposition nevertheless remained polarized between unlicensed and licensed political groups, with the latter mostly accepting the regime’s decision to put off reform until after the 2005 elections.
In December 2004, Kifaya (Arabic for “enough”), an informal movement encompassing a broad spectrum of secular and Islamist activists, held the first-ever demonstration explicitly calling for Mubarak to step down. Despite a heavy-handed response by security forces, Kifaya persisted with the demonstrations in 2005, leading other opposition groups to do likewise.
While reluctant to crack down decisively on the protests for fear of alienating the West, the government was quick to detain opposition leaders who crossed the line. Authorities arrested and eventually convicted Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party chairman Ayman Nour on charges of forging signatures in his party’s petition for a license. Almost simultaneously, Mubarak called for a constitutional amendment that would allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential election. The amendment restricted eligibility to candidates nominated by licensed parties or a substantial bloc of elected officials. Consequently, all major opposition groups denounced the measure and boycotted the referendum that approved it.
The presidential election campaign was characterized by open and contentious public debate as well as an unprecedented assertion of judicial independence. The Judges’ Club, a quasi-official syndicate, successfully pressured the authorities to permit more direct (if inadequate) judicial supervision of the voting.
Still, the results were predictably lopsided, with Mubarak winning 88 percent of the vote. Three rounds of legislative elections in November and December 2005 featured a strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood, which increased its representation in parliament sixfold, but otherwise confirmed the dominance of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Voter turnout was low, and violent attacks on opposition voters by security forces and progovernment thugs abounded. Judges criticized the government for failing to prevent voter intimidation and refused to certify the election results, prompting authorities to suppress judicial independence in 2006.
Egypt that year experienced a surge in terrorist violence, leading some analysts to declare the return of Islamist militant activity after a seven-year lull. In April 2006, three bombs exploded simultaneously in the Sinai resort of Dahab, killing at least 23 people.
The government postponed the 2006 municipal elections until 2008. Mubarak argued that time was needed for reforms to make the process more democratic and grant the municipal councils greater powers. In reality, the government feared that another strong showing by the Muslim Brotherhood would affect the next presidential election in 2011. After giving it some leeway in 2005–06, the authorities in 2007 renewed their crackdown on the Brotherhood, arresting prominent members, freezing its assets, and limiting its participation in June elections for the Shura Council. The group failed to win any seats on the Council. The government also rejected Ayman Nour’s bid to be released for health reasons. Despite this fresh repression of the opposition, a new political party, the Democratic Front, was formed in 2007 by Osama al-Ghazali Harb, a former member of the NDP.
In March 2007, a set of 34 constitutional amendments were submitted to a national vote. Official reports stated that only 25 percent of eligible voters participated, with 76 percent of those approving the proposals, but independent monitors put the turnout closer to 5 percent. Opposition leaders boycotted the referendum on the grounds that the amendments would limit judicial monitoring of elections and prohibit the formation of political parties based on religious principles. The Judges’ Club accused the government of ballot stuffing and vote buying. The Shura Council elections that June were similarly marred by irregularities.
Also in 2007, Egyptian newspapers reported on the ill health and possible death of President Mubarak, prompting the government to arrest a number of well-known editors for publishing “false reports insulting the president and harming the symbols of the ruling party.”
Economic reform continued steadily in 2007. The World Bank ranked Egypt number 1 out of 155 countries for trade-policy reforms. It was also one of the top 10 economic reformers in the World Bank’s Doing Business survey. However, the continued growth of the informal economic sector, which represents an estimated 35 percent of gross domestic product, is a barrier to future economic growth and reform. Inflation reached an estimated 12 percent in 2007, and the price of bread increased over 25 percent. There have been a number of public protests over the lack of government services, particularly the delivery of water. Despite Egypt’s poor human rights record over the decades, in 2007 it was elected to the UN Human Rights Council.
Politcal Rights and Civil Liberties
Egypt is not an electoral democracy. The process of electing the president, who serves unlimited six-year terms and appoints the prime minister, cabinet, and all 26 provincial governors, is not fully competitive. Article 76 of the constitution, as amended in May 2005, requires that prospective presidential candidates either sit on the executive board of a political party controlling at least 5 percent of the seats in both houses of parliament or secure the support of 250 members of parliament and municipal councils.
The 454-seat People’s Assembly (Majlis al-Sha’b), or lower house of parliament, exercises only limited influence on government policy, as the executive initiates almost all legislation. Ten of its members are appointed by the president, and the remainder are popularly elected to five-year terms. The 264-seat upper house, the Consultative, or Shura, Council (Majlis al-Shura), functions only in an advisory capacity. The president appoints 88 of its members; the rest are elected to six-year terms, with half coming up for election every three years. As a result of government restrictions on the licensing of political parties, state control over television and radio stations, and systemic irregularities in the electoral process, legislative elections do not meet international standards. Owing mainly to closer judicial supervision of the polls, presidential and parliamentary elections in 2005 witnessed fewer allegations of massive fraud than preceding polls, but there were widespread irregularities in both, and international monitors were prohibited.
The recent constitutional amendments of 2007 now allow citizens to form political parties “in accordance with the law,” but no party can be based on religion, gender, or ethnic origin. Previously, new parties required the approval of an NDP-controlled body linked to the Shura Council. Religious parties have long been banned, but members of the Muslim Brotherhood have competed as independents. Also under the new rules, a party must have been established and continuously operating as a party for at least five consecutive years and occupying at least 5 percent of the seats in parliament in order to nominate a presidential candidate. Another constitutional amendment in 2007 established an electoral commission to oversee all elections by forming general committees consisting of members of the judiciary. However, judicial independence remains weak, and the continuation of the Emergency Law undermines any formal enhancement of democratic rights and institutions.
The June 2007 Shura Council elections put the new constitutional amendments into practice. Police detained a number of Muslim Brotherhood members on election day, including six candidates, for violating the ban on religious parties. Observers also reported that only NDP supporters were allowed to enter many polling stations. Clashes outside one polling station resulted in the death of an opposition supporter. Egyptian newspapers also reported that NDP-affiliated election observers received bribes to promote NDP candidates.
The Muslim Brotherhood faced a severe crackdown on its activities and numerous arrests of its members in 2007. Human Rights Watch collected the names of 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood members who were arrested between March 2006 and March 2007, and claimed that 223 Muslim Brothers were still in detention as of May 2007. Many of the detentions followed the announcement of the Brotherhood’s new political platform. Essam al-Erian, a prominent Brotherhood member and spokesman, was one of those arrested. In May 2007, Sabri Amer and Ragab Abu Zeid, two members of parliament associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, were stripped of their immunity. As of August 2007, 40 high-profile Brotherhood members, including deputy leader Khairat al-Shatir, had been charged with terrorism and money laundering. Al Shatir was detained in December 2006 in a predawn raid along with several students from al Azhar University. Egyptian courts froze the assets of 29 Brotherhood financiers in February 2007 and put them on trial for financing terrorism. President Hosni Mubarak then ordered the transfer of all 40 Muslim Brotherhood cases to military court, where they are still being prosecuted.
Corruption in Egypt is pervasive. Investors frequently complain that bribery is necessary to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to doing business. Some form of payment or influence, known as wasta, is needed to get virtually anything done—from expediting paperwork to finding employment or obtaining seats in parliament. Newspapers have increased their reporting on high-profile corruption cases, but small, daily acts of corruption are a part of every Egyptian’s life. In 2006, the opposition Kifaya movement published an extensive report on corruption, concluding that the problem was hampering Egypt’s economic, social, and political development. Egypt was ranked 105 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of expression is restricted by vaguely worded statutes criminalizing direct criticism of the president, the military, and foreign heads of state, as well as speech that is un-Islamic, libelous, harmful to the country’s reputation, or disruptive to sectarian coexistence. The government passed a new press law in July 2006 that abolished custodial sentences for libel, but also increased the fines that could be imposed. Journalists and human rights groups say the bill puts new limits on press freedom because it allows judges to determine whether imprisonment is appropriate for related offenses other than libel.
The government encourages legal political parties to publish newspapers, but restricts the licensing of nonpartisan newspapers and exercises influence over all privately owned publications through its monopoly on printing and distribution. The three leading daily newspapers are state controlled, and their editors are appointed by the president. Foreign publications and Egyptian publications registered abroad are subject to direct government censorship. Independent newspapers were allowed to open in 2005, but limitations on press freedom still abound, especially when reporters attempt to cover issues the government does not want to highlight.
In 2007, several prominent newspaper editors were arrested for publishing reports on the ill health of President Mubarak and editorials demanding more information from the government. In September, four editors—Ibrahim Issa of Al-Dustour, Adel Hamouda of Al-Fajr, Wael al-Abrashi of Sawt al-Umma, and Abdul Halim Qandil of Al-Karama—were convicted of “insulting the president” and publishing false reports harming the ruling party; they were sentenced to a year in prison. The conviction of such well-respected editors was a shock to the journalistic community. Mohamed Sayyed Said, editor of Al-Badil, was tried for the same offenses. The government also used the state-run press to insult newspapers that reported on Mubarak’s ill health. As a result, 22 newspapers went on strike in October 2007.
The government owns and operates all terrestrial broadcast television stations. Although several private satellite television stations have been established, their owners have ties to the government, and their programming is subject to state influence. Films, plays, and books are subject to censorship, especially on grounds of containing information that is “not in accordance with the principles of Islam” or harmful to the country’s reputation. A number of books and movies have been banned based on the advice of the country’s senior clerics. In 2007, the authorities detained Mohamed al-Darini, a leader of Egypt’s small Shiite Muslim community, for promoting his 2006 book about being tortured while in detention.
The government does not significantly restrict or monitor internet use, but publication of material on the internet is subject to the same statutes as the regular press. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that the government continued to pressure the country’s main internet service providers to block access to its website. Blogger Abdul Monem Mahmood was arrested in April 2007 for belonging to the Brotherhood and defaming the government. He was released after 45 days in detention. Another blogger, Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, was sentenced to four years in jail for “inciting hatred of Islam” and insulting the president; he had been arrested in 2006. His case was the first instance of a blogger being formally prosecuted for internet activities.
Islam is the state religion. The government appoints the staff of registered mosques and attempts to closely monitor the content of sermons in thousands of small, unauthorized mosques. Most Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, but Coptic Christians comprise a substantial minority and there are small numbers of Jews, Shiite Muslims, and Baha’is. Although non-Muslims are generally able to worship freely, religious expression considered deviant or insulting to Islam is subject to prosecution. Egyptian law does not recognize conversion from Islam to other religions, though Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s grand mufti, said in July 2007 that conversion from Islam deserves “no worldly punishment” after an Egyptian court ruled that a group of Coptic converts to Islam could revert back to their original faith without penalty. Allegations of conversion sparked clashes between Muslims and Copts in 2007.
Anti-Christian employment discrimination is evident in the public sector, especially the security services and military. The government frequently denies or delays permission to build and repair churches. Muslim extremists have carried out several killings of Coptic villagers and frequent attacks on Coptic homes, businesses, and churches in recent years. In February 2007, clashes broke out between Muslims and Copts in Upper Egypt, leading security services to declare a state of siege in the town of Armant, when a number of stores owned by Copts were burned after allegations of a relationship between a Coptic woman and a Muslim man. Members of the Baha’i faith continue to be denied a range of civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses.
Anti-Shiite sentiment is also on the rise, with many accusing the government of targeting Shiite figures including al-Darini and Ahmad Sobh of the Imam Ali Human Rights Center.
Academic freedom is limited in Egypt. Senior university administrators are appointed by the government, and the security services reportedly influence academic appointments and curriculum on sensitive topics. University professors and students have been prosecuted for political and human rights advocacy outside of the classroom, and dozens of students were punished in 2007 for participating in the Free Student Union. The authorities arbitrarily block dissidents from leaving the country to attend high-profile academic events abroad.
Freedoms of assembly and association are heavily restricted. Organizers of public demonstrations must receive advance approval from the Interior Ministry, which is rarely granted. The Emergency Law allows arrest for innocuous acts such as insulting the president, blocking traffic, or distributing leaflets and posters. The government in 2007 banned the annual Muslim Brotherhood gathering as part of its renewed crackdown on the group.
The Law of Associations prohibits the establishment of groups “threatening national unity [or] violating public morals,” bars NGOs from receiving foreign grants without the approval of the Social Affairs Ministry, requires members of NGO governing boards to be approved by the ministry, and allows the ministry to dissolve NGOs without a judicial order. Security services have rejected registrations, decided who could serve on boards of directors, harassed activists, and intercepted donations. In September 2007, the government used the associations law to shut down the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, saying it had received foreign funding without permission.
The 2003 Unified Labor Law limits the right to strike to “nonstrategic” industries and requires workers to obtain approval for a strike from the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the only legal labor federation. There were a number of strikes by labor organizations, especially in the textiles industry, accompanied by a heavy handed government response in 2007. The Mahala Weaving Company staged a strike and sit-in in September. Additional spinning companies joined the strike when promises to redistribute annual profits did not materialize. Other industries also joined the stoppage, including real estate tax collectors, minibus drivers, and telephone workers. Labor unions were closed down as a result of the spreading labor unrest.
The Supreme Judicial Council, a supervisory body of senior judges, nominates and assigns most judges. However, the Justice Ministry controls promotions and compensation packages, giving it undue influence over the judiciary. A new Judicial Authority Law was passed in July 2006 that offered some concessions to judicial independence but fell short of the reforms advocated by the Judges’ Club.
In May 2007, the official retirement age for judges was raised to 70 from 68. The Judges’ Club argued that the government was simply trying to keep longtime NDP partisans in key positions, but said it would abide by the decision. Many judges also argued against the constitutional amendment establishing an elections commission as currently written, saying it would place limits on independent judicial monitoring of elections.
Egypt remains subject to the Emergency Law, invoked in 1981 and renewed most recently in April 2006 despite Mubarak’s 2005 promise that it would be replaced with specific antiterrorism legislation. Under the Emergency Law, security cases are usually placed under the jurisdiction of exceptional courts that are controlled by the executive branch and deny defendants many constitutional protections. The special courts issue verdicts that cannot be appealed and are subject to ratification by the president. Although judges in these courts are usually selected from the civilian judiciary, they are appointed directly by the president. Arrested political activists are often tried under the Emergency Law. The recently approved amendments to the constitution essentially enshrine many controversial aspects of the Emergency Law, such as the president’s authority to transfer civilians suspected of terrorism to military courts.
Since military judges are appointed by the executive branch to renewable two-year terms, these tribunals lack independence. Verdicts by military courts are often handed down on the basis of little more than the testimony of security officers and informers, and are subject to review only by a body of military judges and the president. In 2007, legislation was passed that allows for limited appeal for military court decisions. Opposition figures denounced it as an inadequate attempt to bolster the rights guarantees of the new constitutional amendments.
The Emergency Law restricts many other basic rights. It empowers the government to tap telephones, intercept mail, search persons and places without warrants, and indefinitely detain without charge suspects deemed a threat to national security.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) reports that as many as 16,000 people are detained without charge for security-related offenses, and thousands have been convicted and are serving sentences. Conditions in Egyptian prisons are very poor; prisoners are subject to overcrowding, abuse, torture, and a lack of sanitation, hygiene, and medical care. In 2002, the UN Committee against Torture concluded that there is “widespread evidence of torture and ill-treatment” of suspects by the State Security Intelligence agency. Torture is not reserved for political dissidents, but is routinely used to extract information and punish petty criminals. Incidents of police torture and mistreatment garnered a great deal of attention in 2007, including the case of a 12-year-old boy accused of burglary who died after being beaten and tortured by police. Other high-profile incidents involved a bus driver who was tortured and raped while in custody, and a man who was burned alive in a police station in Siwa. In some cases, suspects’ family members were tortured to extract confessions. EOHR detailed over 26 publicly known torture cases, but many are believed to go unreported. Meanwhile, the government has dismissed the public cases as isolated incidents, and security services have punished journalists for covering the issue. In January 2007, reporter Howaida Taha was detained while producing a documentary on police torture and charged with “harming the national interests of the country.” She was sentenced to six months in prison.
Tensions between the government and the Bedouin community in the Sinai mounted in 2007. In July and September, hundreds of Bedouin protested publicly against the government’s neglect and unfair security practices. They demanded the release of detained members of their community after a wave of arrests associated with the resort bombings of 2006. During the July protests, a boy was shot by the security services as they clashed with demonstrators.
Although the constitution provides for equality of the sexes, some aspects of the law and many traditional practices discriminate against women. Unmarried women under the age of 21 need permission from their fathers to obtain passports. A Muslim heiress receives half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, though Christians are not subject to such provisions of Islamic law. Domestic violence is common, and marital rape is not illegal. Job discrimination is evident even in the civil service. However, in 2007 the government appointed 31 female judges despite protestations from conservative Muslim groups. The law provides for equal access to education, but the adult literacy rate of women lags well behind that of men (34 percent and 63 percent, respectively). Female genital mutilation is practiced despite government efforts to eradicate it.

Source: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=22&year=2008&country=7387

Egypt's Facebook showdown

The online gathering place for young people poses a challenge to authorities.
June 2, 2008
Right now, the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is considering blocking Facebook, the social networking website that has become a popular hangout for twentysomethings worldwide and a favorite venue for Egypt's disaffected youth. The reason: In April, one group of young citizens mobilized 80,000 supporters to protest rising food prices. Facebook networking played a crucial role in broadening support and turnout for an April 6 textile workers' strike and protest. The Egyptian government, which has governed for 25 years under emergency law and doesn't allow more than five people to gather unregistered, hit back hard, jailing young dissidents and torturing Ahmed Maher, a young activist who tried, unsuccessfully, to organize a second demonstration in early May. Despite these setbacks, the "Facebook movement" in Egypt is significant for several reasons. First, it challenges the perception that there is no prospect for independent, secular opposition in the country. The majority of Egyptians are under 30 and have known no other ruler than Mubarak. They have not seen real political parties because the government has long restricted opposition parties and free media. The Facebook movement engaged large numbers of youth for the first time. Second, the Web offers a safe political space -- a role the mosque has traditionally played in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has for decades been the only viable opposition. With Facebook, young secular people can communicate, build relationships and express their opinions freely. (Significantly, the Muslim Brotherhood opposed the successful April demonstration but supported the unsuccessful May event.) Every member in the 100,000-strong online community could be, at any given moment, a leader of a movement. Third, engaging Egypt's youth is an important item on the agenda of Mubarak's son, Gamal, as he works to gain support for his succession to power. As a young politician, Gamal established the Future Generation Foundation in 2000, which incubated many of the current leaders of the ruling National Democratic Party and the new Cabinet. Facebook activists and their supporters should be able to turn to this group for support. A few weeks ago, Belal Diab, a 20-year-old college student, interrupted one of the Egyptian prime minister's speeches to protest the arrests of Facebook activists, shouting: "Look who are you fighting; it is us, the younger generation who stood with you and supported you!" Nevertheless, Facebook activists are being targeted by government-based media campaigns defaming the website and the youth activists who use it. The government also warns media not to talk about the phenomenon. I saw the heavy-handed efforts of the government while recording a TV show with Maher. During the taping, Egyptian police broke into the studio, threatened the station manager and forced the guest outside the room. What can be done to help this movement? The international community and the U.S. government should pressure the Egyptian government to support Internet freedom and keep Facebook accessible to Egyptians. One young activist, Ahmad Samih, is campaigning to gain local and international support to prevent the Egyptian government from blocking Facebook. So far, nearly 20 Egyptian human rights organizations are supporting this cause. International human rights organizations should publicly join in that show of support. Egyptian democrats are "Facebooking" their advocacy in order to escape heavy recriminations. It would be shameful for the international community not to stand up on their behalf against a government that seeks to deny them even that small space to express themselves. Otherwise, Mubarak's self-fulfilling prophesy as the only alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to hold Egypt back from the democracy its people deserve. Sherif Mansour works at Freedom House, a human rights organization that has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Egypt since 1972. He can be reached at smansour@freedomhouse.org.

Source: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=72&release=667

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Egyptian unrest rises with inflation

By Amr Hamzawy
In Arab countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Jordan, a burgeoning social crisis caused by out-of-control global inflationary pressures, a crippled welfare system and persisting high levels of poverty and unemployment is further complicated by a broader political deterioration. Taken together, the simultaneous trajectories of social unrest and deteriorating politics call into question the prospects of stability in those countries.
Over the past two years, Egypt has come to be a case in point for the dangers inherent in that kind of development. On April 6, 2008 a number of civil society organizations including independent unions, syndicates and networks of young activists - some of whom belong to political parties - organized a national strike day to express their frustration with deteriorating social and economic conditions. Although government security forces contained the strike in most Egyptian cities, they could not stop workers in state-owned industrial complexes in Mahalla, a city in northern Egypt, from orchestrating massive demonstrations. There were numerous reports of violent confrontations and clashes between thousands of protesters and security forces that went on for two days.
Workers' strikes have become frequent in Egypt. Hundreds of strikes and protests have been carried out over the past two years, but none escalated to the levels of early April. The primary demand of workers has been to link their wages to commodity price levels. Inflation has been a problem for many years in Egypt, settling at around 8 percent in late 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund. Earlier in March, unanticipated shortages of subsidized bread caused considerable popular agitation, prompting President Hosni Mubarak to instruct army bakeries to boost their production.
The social unrest of the last two years is quite different from what Egypt witnessed briefly between 2004 and 2005. Back then, street-level outbursts were the result of reform-driven activism led by several opposition movements, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya. By and large, the present unrest is a reaction to the acute decline in socioeconomic conditions, and its instigators do not appear to have a well thought-out agenda.
The regime has consistently tried to contain the situation through a combination of repressive and conciliatory measures. Government officials have issued warnings to industrial workers that participation in strikes or any other protest activities would cost them their jobs. More often than not, security forces have been deployed to preempt or smother strikes. At times, however, the regime has yielded to certain demands such as increases in wages, expanding the beneficiary pool of state welfare programs and sustaining some subsidies. Most recently, Mubarak announced a 30 percent increase in public sector wages. Yet the persistence of protest activities demonstrates the seriousness of popular discontent and the failure of both oppressive methods and minor peace-making concessions to mollify the public.
The Egyptian regime's lack of an overall strategy to address the country's enduring troubles extends far beyond the economic sphere. The regime seems to have abandoned the often implemented option of using political reforms to defuse socioeconomic tensions. The strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parliamentary elections of 2005, when its candidates won 20 percent of the seats of the People's Assembly (the lower chamber of the Egyptian Parliament), tested the regime's grip on power and led it to crack down on the political activism of the years before.
In 2006, the regime postponed local elections, extended the state of emergency and repressed opposition activists. And it suppressed efforts by the country's judiciary to accrue some measure of independence. The Muslim Brotherhood also became a target: In 2006 and 2007, the regime launched a wave of arrests targeting the movement's high-ranking leaders and financiers.
The resultant weakness of the organized political opposition is further augmenting social unrest. The capacity of opposition groups to operate effectively has been terribly deflated. The consequence of this condition has been a massive increase in spontaneous, unstructured outbreaks of civil disobedience. Leading these discordant waves of activism are labor leaders, human rights activists, bloggers and young journalists. They have roots that stretch across the ideological spectrum and are remarkably responsive to the public's sentiments. In spite of attempts by some political parties to develop links to these activists, they have remained largely autonomous. Nevertheless, this dispersion of energy from the center of the political system to its peripheries has also obstructed the emergence of a coherent movement with a clear set of demands.
Egypt is trapped in an unenviable position, characterized by growing social unrest and political deterioration. Choices made by the Egyptian regime will most likely determine whether the current social convulsions will be followed by more instability or, if matters are handled prudently, sustainable recovery. In all likelihood, the option of moderating the perilous effects of economic strain by orchestrating a new wave of political reforms is one that the regime will hesitate to embrace at this stage. The concern that such openings might make worse the odds of the approaching presidential succession (Mubarak turned 80 on May 4 and his fifth terms ends in 2011) seems to surpass any other considerations.
The current resurgence of protest activism constitutes the one promising development in Egyptian political life. But progress on the street needs to be complemented by real progress in the performance of organized opposition forces in the political process. Notwithstanding the fact that this progress is largely predicated on the regime's willingness to welcome the opposition's input, it is also dependent on the quality of the opposition. Only through active, disciplined, credible and committed participation in the political process can organized political forces in Egypt effectively advance the reform agenda and push for sensible and comprehensive policies that address the socioeconomic exigencies at hand.

Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. This commentary first appeared at bitterlemons-international.org, an online newsletter.

Menoufia Residents Demolish Bread Distribution Car

By Karam el-Dakrouri, Adel Durah and Mohamed Fayed
Residents of the 'Gawharia' village in Menoufia demolished a small car used for distributing bread in protest against reducing their quota of subsidized bread from 20 to 10 loaves a day.
Saad Mansour of the Supply Directorate said there are 214 villages facing a bread crisis due to shortages in flour supply.
Meanwhile in Kafr el-Sheikh, dozens of women staged a sit-in before the municipality headquarters to demand increasing their share of flour as Governor Ahmed Abdin had promised.
Eight security vans have blocked the entrance of the village so as to avoid a reoccurrence of the so-called revolution of the thirsty that had erupted last July.


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 www.politika.lt 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.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/12/AR2008051202576.html

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.”

Source: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/05/10/egypt18800.htm
Related Material
Egypt: Investigate Police Use of Force at ProtestsPress Release, April 11, 2008
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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


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Egyptians use Facebook to deter censorship

By LAURA KASINOF (Middle East Times)
Published: April 29, 2008

CAIRO -- Egyptians are using the online social networking tool Facebook to defy the government's attempt to muzzle the media and hush recent incidents of police brutality during a strike by workers in a town in the Nile Delta.
Indeed, Internet users in Egypt have given the popular Web site Facebook a new role: a platform for political activism, such as promoting anti-government demonstrations.
"The next strike will be the most successful, the strongest, and the least in losses," declares a Facebook group called 'A General Strike for the Egyptian People – April 6th,' which had promoted the work stoppage that occurred just over two weeks ago in Egypt. The strike was called as a response to a crisis over rising food prices that has gripped the nation recently.
The group, which calls for the Egyptian government to increase wages to match the price hike, as well as respect international human rights, announced just one day after the events of April 6 that another strike would take place on May 4 – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 80th birthday.
The April 6 strike played out most intensely in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla el-Kobra where protestors clashed with security forces. Photographs from the day showing police beating civilians in addition to protesters ripping down a giant poster of Mubarak are being circulated on Facebook.
Esraa Abdel Fattah, the 27-year-old Egyptian woman who administers the Egyptian Facebook site, was arrested mid-April in a coffee shop close to her work. She was being detained on charges of helping to organize the April 6 protest. She was released however on April 23 after a personal plea to Mubarak from her mother.
According to Facebook, Fattah's group, one of a handful of groups on the Internet Web site propagating the May 4 strike, has over 73,000 members; and the numbers are growing daily.
"Necessity being the mother of invention, as they say, led Egyptians to use Facebook to express themselves politically as well as socially," said Mona Eltahawy, a journalist who has lectured extensively on blogging and the Arab world, and recently on the Facebook activism phenomenon in Egypt. "There are very few venues available for Egyptians to express themselves so it's natural that they would take their views where there is the most freedom," she added.
Muhammad Abdel Hai, administrator for the Facebook group 'We'll Wear Black Clothes on May 4th' and personal friend of Fattah, was involved in the liberal El Ghad political party prior to his use of Facebook. He said that Facebook just became a natural extension of his political activities, because it is an easy way to connect with other Egyptians who share similar ideologies.
"Because there is no other way I can use [Facebook]," Hai said. "The first time I saw that it was a better way to broadcast my videos and pictures, and I started to write notes and I found that many people would make comments on my notes, some of them 200 or 300 comments."
As for the April 6 strike, Hai asserted that every Egyptian young person who participated did so because of messages that they received via Facebook encouraging them to take part.
Eltahawy believes that this claim just might be true.
"I believe Facebook is having that large of influence," she said. "There is a tremendous ripple effect – those who read about the strike on Facebook will then tell their friends and so on and so forth."
The Egyptian government has definitely started to feel the pressure caused by Facebook political activism, according to Eltahawy.
"The fact that a regime that has been in power for 26 years felt it necessary to arrest a 26-year-old woman for starting a Facebook group is clear proof of the threat that the regime feels from Facebook," she said.
When asked if he was worried that he would be arrested for participating in anti-government activities like his friend Fattah, Hai responded with an empathic "No."
May 4 as a planned day for political dissent was quickly picked up as news by various media sources, including the Egyptian opposition paper Al-Badil, after it was announced on Facebook.
What are Hai's goals for May 4?
"First goal is to release my friends. And the second, I would just like more people to think about the country, the life, and political affairs here in Egypt," he said.

Source: http://www.metimes.com/

The youth of 6th April statement

When the problems of economic and political and the manifestations of corruption Prevailed in the veins of our beloved Homeland Egypt clearly within this nation torn.

we started without any guidance from abroad or even from the inside unanimously to our demands to change all these circumstances and obstacles that would inevitably lead to the loss and weakness of this beloved Homeland Egypt . We the youth of this generation declare that we do not want to continue with this system corruption which surrounds the Basics of life starting from the contaminated blood and cancer food and eating donkeys meat
Also the extremely expensive cost of living for the simple citizens and the marginalization of many of us, the corruption of Education, oppression, torture of humans, concentration of Egypt’s money in the hands of a certain layer of people according to this and more we are calling for the Freedom of the Egyptian people.
We are declaring our anger and rebellion on the conditions that would not let the green or the land for our children’s future
If the previous generations had given up on our rights we will not overly our future
And the future of the next generations and these are our demands in a homeland which won’t be free except with it’s free Consciousness youth.
1- Minimum wage for all groups and jobs and pay-price as in all countries that suffer of price rise
2- Real action to stop rising prices and antitrust action
3- Release all political prisoners and the opinion cases
we are inviting all of you and inviting all gazettes and opposition and all the media video and audio to the Solidarity with the Egyptian people in their strike on the 4th of May 2008 to publish a black page on the strike day as an expression of mourning on the conditions of Egypt and the suffering of the Egyptian people or at least the abolition of colours of the newspaper on this day.
We invite all television programmes to put a black bar side screen and the programmes would be about the strike and about the deteriorating conditions in Egypt on that day the 4th of May .
And we urge the Egyptians to stand by us on our declaration of anger not to continue with the System corruption negatively as usual
The strength is in the people's will
Egypt’s youth
The free youth
The youth of 6th April

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Billal vs Nazif - Free Egypt Mr president

During the speech of Dr/ Nazeef in Cairo University for the Centennial ceremony.

Belal one of the liberals students who Came to his words demanding the release of the detainee of 6th April

His words were :

Mr president , Egypt is very sad, the detainee youths of 6 April strike are the youths of the internet, the detainee youths wants you to release them , they are those who stood beside you in your times of difficulties in the economic davos conference

There is nothing wrong with the Universities and the education

The bread is everywhere , the democracy and freedom exists

Mr president free Egypt Mr president
Free Egypt Mr president

Video capture by Adam Tantawy

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Letter to all 6 April Detainees

In the Name of God The most merciful

To all our friends who were taken away from us but their soul stayed with us,
their courage, their Enthusiasm which leads us to Do more.

From here… from inside our heart we are sending you this letter not for encouraging you
For you are courage and we draw from you courage
But to express how Egypt is so proud of you, you were the beginning and by us and the rest we opened our mouth and moved the deaf stones
Stay as you are , a candle that lights a dark road , we won’t leave it dark anymore.
Stay as you are , a blossomed rose that draws hope and smile on the faces
Stay as you are always in our hearts
This was a message directed to each detainee of the 6th of April strike 2008