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