Friday, June 30, 2017


Sometimes you just have to break the rules :-)

*Photo courtesy of Fabulous Animals

Egyptian authorities now blocking over 100 websites

Quartz Africa
Egypt has blocked over 100 local and international websites including HuffPost and Medium

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Abdi Latif Dahir

The list of blocked websites in Egypt keeps growing, as the government widens what some say is an unprecedented crackdown on both local and international digital outlets. So far, 114 websites have been blocked in the north African nation since May 24, according to the latest figures from the non-governmental organization Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

A majority of these are news websites, but also included are platforms that can be used to access blocked sites or that allow for anonymous browsing and communication.

The affected websites include sites like Mada Masr, the financial newspaper Al Borsa, and Huffington Post Arabic. Twelve websites linked to Al Jazeera were also been blocked. Medium, the online publishing platform, was also banned.

The outage also affected Tor, the free software that provides users with online anonymity, and Tor bridges, which helps users circumvent the blocking of Tor itself. The website of the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), an international network that monitors internship censorship and surveillance, was also blocked.  

The growing censorship comes as the government says it’s cracking down on websites that are “publishing false information” and “supporting terrorism.” (Link in Arabic) Egypt is currently in the midst of a three-month state emergency, following twin attacks on churches that killed almost 50 people in April.

The country is also part of a Saudi-led coalition that has put a blockade on Qatar, demanding, among other things, the closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera media network which it considers to a be a propaganda tool for Islamists. The government of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is also embroiled in a maritime demarcation agreement over its decision to vote on the transfer of two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia—a move that has angered many Egyptians.

However, journalists and activists say the campaign is suppressing free expression and voices critical of the government. Some are accusing the regime of failing to disclose any judicial or administrative decision to block the sites—or whether emergency law provisions were applied.

“Even in the darkest days of the repressive Mubarak era, the authorities didn’t cut off access to all independent news sites,” Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s north Africa campaigns director, said.

In a June 19 report, OONI stated that deep packet inspection technology was being used to monitor and block these websites. Mada Masr, one of the blocked sites, also reported that the decision to block the sites was carried through a “centralized decision” by the government rather than by the country’s telecoms or internet service providers.

Since going offline, sites like Mada have been publishing articles on Facebook. Lina Attallah, the editor of the site, said the strategy of blocking the sites works to the government’s advantage for now.

“If they did something more grave like arresting team members or me it would make big noise, whereas blocking the website is the best way to paralyze us without paying a high price for it,” Attallah told Reuters.

*Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany, courtesy of Reuters

Traitor Sisi ratifies agreement handing over two Egyptian islands to KSA

Mada Masr
Sisi ratifies Tiran and Sanafir agreement, cedes islands to Saudi Arabia

Saturday, 24 June 2017

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President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified the maritime border demarcation agreement that cedes sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, according to a Cabinet statement.

The Tiran and Sanafir agreement was passed with a majority in Parliament on June 14, with only 119 MPs voting against it.

Sisi was able to seal the deal with Saudi Arabia after the Supreme Constitutional Court temporarily froze two contradictory rulings, one issued by the State Council in January and the other by the Court of Urgent Matters in April, on Wednesday.

In June 2016 the State Council’s Court of Administrative Justice (CAJ) annulled the agreement signed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail in April of the same year. This was followed by two Court of Urgent Matters rulings on September 29 and December 31 to overturn the CAJ’s decision.

However, on January 16, the State Council’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld the initial June ruling, stating that the deal was a concession of territory, an act that is prohibited per Article 151 of the Constitution. On April 2, the Court of Urgent Matters overturned the CAJ’s decision.

Several political parties and prominent politicians held a press conference on June 12, ahead of Parliament’s discussion of the deal, to announce a series of sit-ins protesting the agreement which many members of Egypt’s opposition hailed as unconstitutional.

The presser was attended by dozens of activists and members of several political parties, as well as former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Khaled Ali. Also in attendance were ousted chief of the Central Auditing Authority Hesham Geneina, expelled member of Parliament Mohamed Anwar Sadat, critical journalist Khaled al-Balshy, National Council for Human Rights member George Ishaq and former Ambassador Masoum Marzouk.

Following Parliament’s approval, hundreds of members of professional syndicates signed statements in opposition to the Tiran and Sanafir agreement, including 850 journalists, 620 members of the Engineers Syndicate’s general assembly and more than 600 members of the Cinema Syndicate, among others.

Since the June press conference security forces have carried out an extensive arrest campaign across several governorates, apprehending more than 120 activists and protesters seen to oppose the deal.

Court reduces 3-year sentences issued against 32 cement workers, to 2 months

Mada Masr
Appeals court reduces 3-year sentences for 32 Tourah Cement Company workers, upholds obstruction of justice charge

Monday, 19 June 2017

Jano Charbel

The three-year prison sentences handed to 32 Tourah Cement Company security workers earlier this month were reduced on Sunday to two months in a ruling by the Maadi Appeals Court.

Maadi Criminal Court announced the initial prison terms on June 4 on charges that asserted the workers had assaulted a police captain, obstructed justice and used violence to resist authorities.

According to the findings of the Maadi Appeals Court published by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANRHI), the court dismissed all criminal charges leveled against the 32 workers in its Sunday ruling, except the charge of resisting authorities, as it found them guilty of obstructing police efforts to apprehend a wanted worker by collectively assisting in his escape.

Lawyer Gamal Eid, the director of the ANRHI, stated that the appeals court’s Sunday ruling represented a move “from grave injustice, to lesser injustice.”

The appeals court’s Sunday ruling was based on Article 375 of Egypt’s Penal Code. “Anyone who uses force, violence, terrorism, threats or illegal measures to attack or attempt to attack authorities is liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years and a fine not exceeding LE 100,” the article asserts.

The workers are currently being held in the 15th of May prison, located on the outskirts of Cairo.

Those implicate in the case were among the 75 full-time security personnel that initiated a sit-in in March, demanding full-time contracts and retroactive payment of wages, as some had worked full time at the company for up to 10 to 15 years on temporary or part-time contracts.

Police arrested 32 workers of the workers on the Tourah Cement Company’s grounds on May 22. The prosecutor referred them to trial the following day, and the court proceedings commenced on May 28.

The Tourah Cement Company – which had requested the deployment of police forces to disperse the workers’ sit-in protest – has not stated whether it will meet workers’ demands for full-time employment and benefits and reinstate those that have been arrested.

Lawyer Haiytham Mohamadein expressed skepticism that those who had been involved in the sit-in would be allowed back into the company, let alone be reinstated to their former jobs with full-time contracts and benefits. Mohamadein said that the Tourah Cement Company is seeking to employ new security workers through a private contracting company.

A host of organizations and individuals, both in Egypt and abroad, have expressed solidarity with the imprisoned Tourah Cement Company workers in a petition calling for the release of the 32 detainees.

Messages of international solidarity also have poured in from dozens of trade unionists and labor activists from Australia, Austria, Canada, Spain, UK, USA, among other countries.

The Tourah Cement Company workers are the latest labor group to be arrested and referred to trial for industrial action. In April, police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt Company workers in Cairo, while in January police forces forcefully dispersed a sit-in at the IFFCO Oils Company in the Suez Governorate, briefly arresting scores of workers.

In December 2016, police were deployed to disperse two sit-ins at the privately owned Egyptian Fertilizers Company (EFC) and the Egyptian Basic Industries Corporation (EBIC), both of which are owned by the billionaire Nassif Sawiris.

In September 2016, police conducted dawn raids at the apartments of bus drivers from the Public Transport Authority who had been planning a partial strike, detaining six drivers, two of whom may still face trial. In May 2016, military police surrounded a sit-in led by Alexandria Shipyard Company workers and imposed a lockout on the company. Twenty-six civilian workers were referred to military trial.

Syndicates mobilize against handover of Tiran & Sanafir islands

Mada Masr
Syndicates mobilize against Tiran and Sanafir agreement

Monday, 19 June 2017

Image may contain: 7 people, people smiling, text

Hundreds of members of professional syndicates have signed statements in opposition to Parliament’s recent approval of the Tiran and Sanafir agreement, brokered by Egypt and Saudi Arabia in April 2016.

Eight hundred and fifty journalists issued a statement on Sunday announcing that they reject the agreement, which concedes sovereignty over the two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, describing it as invalid and “demanding that state institutions respect the Constitution and the law, and the blood of martyrs who defended Egyptian land.”

The Journalists Syndicate announced that it would launch an investigation into the sit-in held in its headquarters on Wednesday, protesting the agreement.

Hatem Zakareya, a member of the syndicate’s board, told Mada Masr that no request was submitted before the protest, in violation of the syndicate’s bylaws. He added that investigations will also be launched into footage aired on Al Jazeera and other pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels from inside the building and its entrance showing non-syndicate members attending the protest.

Gamal Abdel Rehim, one of four syndicate board members who signed a statement rejecting the agreement, told Mada Masr that allegations that Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated channels entered the syndicate are untrue, arguing that it is not necessary to submit a request before initiating sit-ins at the syndicate.

“Never in the history of the syndicate has any group submitted a request to start a sit-in,” he said, adding that it is common for non-syndicate members to join political action taking place within the syndicate.

A statement was also signed by 620 members of the Engineers Syndicate’s general assembly denouncing the deal, labeling it unconstitutional. The statement criticized “attempts to pressure opposition and the blocking of websites that attempt to reveal the truth of the matter.”

The statement mirrors that issued by the Journalists Syndicate, calling on citizens to exercise their constitutional right to express their opinions peacefully “in defense of the blood of the martyrs who died to defend the unity of Egyptian land.”

Head of the Engineers Syndicate Tarek al-Nabarawy said last Friday that in his personal opinion the islands are Egyptian, adding that the syndicate should not be involved in politics.

Akram Ismail, member of the Engineers Syndicate and the Bread and Freedom Party told Mada Masr: “Major national causes cannot be separated from syndicate work,” adding that syndicates, parties and social media are the only remaining platforms for political action following the crackdown on the street movement and blocking of websites.

Ismail said that the fact that three leading figures in the syndicate expressed their opposition to the agreement on their personal Facebook pages indicates the syndicate’s position, even if no official statement was made.

Members of the Cinema Syndicate also released a statement inviting people to protest the transfer of the islands “using all peaceful and legal means.”

They called for a protest at their headquarters on Saturday to oppose the agreement, however the protest was canceled due to the heavy security presence in the area.

Six members of the Doctors Syndicate board also announced their opposition to the agreement in a statement. However Mona Mina, the syndicate’s secretary general, wrote on her Facebook page: “As a vocational institution, the syndicate has nothing to do with this important political and national cause.”

Members of the Lawyers Syndicate also held a protest inside syndicate headquarters on Tuesday to express their objection.

Since discussions of the maritime border agreement reached Parliament, security forces have carried out an extensive arrest campaign across several governorates, targeting activists and protesters opposing the deal.

Egypt authorities refuse presence of Italy prosecutors during questioning of police who probed Giulio Regeni

Egypt No to Italy Regeni prosecutors 

Slain researchers' parents meet Pignatone

Friday, 16 June 2017

(ANSA) - Rome  - Egyptian authorities have turned down a request from Rome prosecutors probing the Cairo torture and murder of Giulio Regeni to be present at the questioning of Egyptian police officers who carried out investigations into the Friuli-born Cambridge University researcher.   

They said Egyptian law forbids the presence of foreign magistrates during judicial activity. Regeni's parents Claudio and Paola were informed of the refusal during a meeting Friday with Rome chief prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone and his assistant Sergio Colaiocco.  

Cairo prosecutors have, however, sent their Italian counterparts a second report on testimony from the seven policemen who probed Regeni, who disappeared on January 25 2016 and whose mutilated body was found on the road to Alexandria eight days later.   

The testimony is a summary of what the agents said and not their testimony in full, judicial sources said.   

Italian magistrates are hoping for a third tranche of documents, starting with questioning of the national security chief who investigated Regeni a few days before his disappearance, as well as testimony given in March 2016 by the agent who searched the home of the alleged head of a kidnapping gang suspected of abducting and robbing foreigners.

Regeni, 28, went missing in the Egyptian capital on January 25, 2016, on the heavily policed fifth anniversary of the uprising that ousted former strongman and president Hosni Mubarak.

His severely tortured, mutilated body was found on February 3 in a ditch on the city's outskirts.   

Egypt has denied speculation its security forces, who are frequently accused of brutally repressing opposition, were involved in the death of the Cambridge doctoral student.

Regeni was researching street vendors' trade unions, a sensitive topic.   

Egyptian and Italian prosecutors have been working on the case but Rome has yet to send a new ambassador to Cairo in protest at the lack of progress.

"Italy has mourned the killing of one of its studious young people, Giulio Regeni, without full light being shed on this tragic case for a year and despite the intense efforts of our judiciary and our diplomacy," President Sergio Mattarella said on the first anniversary of Regeni's disappearance.   

"We call for broader and more effective cooperation so that the culprits are brought to justice".   

Premier Paolo Gentiloni expressed his support for Regeni's family and said his government was determined to get to the truth.   

Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano echoed his words and said that the young man's death "deprives all of us of a generous heart that could have done a great deal for others".   

The message on the foreign ministry website said that "the tragic death of Giulio Regeni is still an open wound not only for his family, who remain in our thoughts, but for our entire country."   

A video recently surfaced in which the head of the Cairo street traders' union, Mohammed Abdallah, secretly filmed Regeni asking him questions about the union using a police shirt-button microcamera.

Abdallah said he was doing his patriotic duty because Regeni, he said, was a spy.   

Egypt has furnished several explanations for Regeni's death ranging from a car accident to a gay fight to a kidnapping, all of which have been dismissed by Italy. 

Suspicion has fallen on seven members of the Egyptian police and intelligence services who used Abdallah as an informant and who later were responsible for wiping out the alleged kidnapping gang.   

Regeni's personal documents were allegedly found in the house of the sister of one of the alleged gang's members.    

There seem to have been signs of Egyptian cooperation on Giulio Regeni's death thanks to the work of Rome prosecutors but there is absolutely no evidence of true cooperation from Egyptian authorities, Regeni's parents said recently.   

Paola and Claudio Regeni urged that Italy's ambassador to Cairo not return to Egypt, since this "would give a signal of detente that must not be given", and stressed the importance of not sending Egypt spare parts for F35 fighter jets until justice has been served.

At least 60 opponents arrested in connection to Tiran & Sanafir handover

Mada Masr
Rights Monitor: Police have arrested 60 opponents of the Tiran and Sanafir agreement 

Friday, 16 June 2017

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Police have arrested a total of 60 people connected to political action against the agreement to concede sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, according to the Freedom for the Brave campaign.

The nationwide arrests commenced after Parliament approved the agreement on Wednesday night, with police moving to detain political activists and party members in Cairo, Alexandria, Damietta, Sharqiya, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Luxor, Port Said and Suez.

Lawyer Mohamed Abdel Aziz told Mada Masr that those arrested come from several political parties, including the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Constitution Party, the Bread and Freedom Party, the Popular Current Party and the Karama Party, as well as from Egypt’s independent activist community, all of whom voiced their opposition to the agreement.

According to Abdel Aziz, security forces arrested many of the activists and party members from their homes, including Hassan Ahwany who is being questioned by the Dokki prosecution in Cairo and is being represented by Abdel Aziz.

Many of those arrested will be questioned by prosecutors on Friday, including six people who were arrested in Port Said and Tanta, according to the Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters.

The FDEP has added that activists Mahmoud Nagib and Israa Fahid face charges of incitement to protest and obstructing public transportation, and that three people arrested in Luxor on Thursday are in the National Security Agency’s custody. In Ismailia, Constitution Party member Ahmed Santos was questioned by the prosecutor, who has issued Santos a 15-day detention order pending an NSA report.

According to lawyer Abdel Aziz Yousef, the prosecutor issued Egyptian Social Democratic Party member Islam Marei a 15-day detention order pending investigation into charges of incitement against the regime; insulting state institutions, including the Armed Forces, police and the judiciary; distributing anti-government flyers; and using social networks for incitement against state institutions.

Abdel Aziz described the arrests as “ferocious,” saying security forces are attempting to prevent any mobilization against the Tiran and Sanafir agreement. The scope of the arrests, he asserted, is disproportionate to the protests that have taken place in reaction to the agreement.

Police arrested eight people in the proximity of the Journalists Syndicate’s headquarters in downtown Cairo on Wednesday night, which was the site of a protest against the Tiran and Sanafir agreement. All eight were released yesterday on LE10,000 bail.

Police also dispersed a demonstration on Wednesday in front of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party’s headquarters in downtown Cairo, barricading the protesters inside the building, according party member Ziad al-Eleimi.

"Sisi is a Traitor" - Top trending hashtag in Egypt, following handover of Tiran & Sanafir islands to KSA

EFE News
“Al-Sisi is a Traitor” Tops Twitter’s Trending Hashtags in Egypt

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

CAIRO – The hashtag “Al-Sisi is a traitor,” referring to the Egyptian president, topped on Wednesday the trending hashtags on Twitter in Egypt.

This comes amid controversy over the transfer of ownership of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, discussed by parliament since Sunday and approved on Wednesday.

According to official rhetoric, dismissed by many Egyptians, the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, located at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba, have always belonged to Saudi Arabia, and Egypt only administered them at the request of the kingdom.

Based on this, both countries signed an agreement in April 2016 for the “return” of both islands to Saudi Arabia, sparking huge protests in the country.

The controversy, which ended in court with a ruling against the treaty issued by the Supreme Administrative Court, has resurfaced after parliament began on Sunday discussions prior to the ratification of the agreement.

The parliamentary committee gave validity on Tuesday to the pact and sent it to the Legislative Assembly which, in turn, sent it to the national defense and security commission, which should review it before it is voted on in general session by all legislators, who have approved the agreement with a two-thirds majority.

Several representatives from political parties gathered on Tuesday at the Journalists Syndicate to object the decision taken by the commission as part of a campaign of protest called by activists and minority parties on social networks.

Journalist and activist Khaled Balshi denounced on Wednesday to EFE the arrest on Tuesday night of eight people from the Syndicate building, although he confirmed they were released hours later.

The hashtag “Al-Sisi is a traitor” climbed to the top after two days when the hashtag “Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian” occupied the same place, and is now in second place.

Traitor Sisi handing over Tiran & Sanafir islands to his Saudi master

*Artwork by Carlos Latuff

Activists & journalists arrested in protest over handover of Egypt islands to KSA

Egypt approves transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

CAIRO - Egypt's parliament approved on Wednesday a controversial maritime agreement with Saudi Arabia that transferred two Red Sea islands to the kingdom.

The deal, which was being challenged in court, had sparked rare protests in the country, with the opposition accusing the government of selling Egyptian territory to its Saudi benefactors.

The vote came after days of heated debate in Parliament, with opponents even interrupting one committee session with chanting.

Courts had initially struck down the agreement, signed in April 2016, but a year later another court upheld it.

Lawyers were now challenging the deal before the constitutional court.

The accord sparked rare protests in Egypt last year, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accused of having traded the islands of Tiran and Sanafir for Saudi largesse.

The government said the islands were Saudi to begin with, but were leased to Egypt in the 1950s.
Opponents of the agreement insisted that Tiran and Sanafir were Egyptian.

On Tuesday evening, dozens of journalists protested against the agreement in central Cairo, before being dispersed by police, journalists' union official Gamal Abdel Rehim said.

Several were briefly arrested before being released, but "three reporters are still detained, and contacts are being made with the interior ministry to get them released," he said.

*Photo by Mohamed El-Raai, courtesy of AFP

ILO "blacklists" Egypt again - for failure to protect independent unions

Mada Masr
Egypt blacklisted again by International Labor Organization

Wednesday June 7, 2017

Jano Charbel 

Egypt is back on the blacklist of the UN-affiliated International Labor Organization (ILO) over the nation’s failure to issue a new trade union law in keeping with ILO Convention 87 concerning the right to organize.

The list includes 25 states, among which are Algeria, Libya, Sudan, and Mauritania, and was determined at the 106th Session of the International Labor Conference in the Swiss city of Geneva between June 5 and 16.

Egyptian authorities were warned about the blacklist when an ILO delegation visited Cairo in May and issued a statement regarding a 2011 draft law on trade liberties that protects the rights of independent unions away from the monopoly of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), and has not been passed into law.

The ETUF has maintained its hold over Egypt’s trade unions since its establishment in 1957.

However, independent trade union federations began to emerge shortly after the outbreak of the January 25 uprising in 2011.

Egypt was previously on the ILO’s blacklist between 2008 and 2010, but was removed from the list when the draft law on Trade Union Liberties was finalized in 2011 under former Minister of Manpower Ahmed Hassan al-Borai.

The subsequent shelving of this draft by consecutive governments has left the outdated Trade Union Law 35/1976 in effect, which only recognizes the ETUF, and controls the Manpower Committee in parliament, as well as all trade union legislation and the Ministry of Manpower.

The ETUF board has remained un-elected since 2011, with members appointed by the Manpower Ministry. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and parliament have both extended the ETUF’s term a number of times.

ETUF Vice President and MP Mohamed Wahballah announced Egypt would be issuing a new trade union law following the issuing of a new Unified Labor Law, which is currently being discussed in parliament.

Wahballah released a statement on the ETUF’s official website on Tuesday, criticizing the ILO’s blacklist and asserting that Egypt believes in union freedoms. On Wednesday he published another statement, asserting that Egypt has not violated international labor standards, and accusing the ILO of having “other political objectives.”

“Egyptian national security is a red line that cannot be crossed for the purpose of imaginary external agendas that are not in the interests of the common good and stability of this precious country,” Wahballah said on his return from Geneva.

The ETUF previously declared independent unions to be illegal recipients of foreign funding and havens for political agents that threaten national security.

The blacklisting of Egypt by the ILO is due to be discussed in Geneva at the International Labor Conference on June 14, ETUF board member and MP Gamal al-Oqabi told the privately owned Youm7 newspaper.

“The ETUF has tarnished Egypt’s reputation both domestically and internationally,” member of the Independent Union of Pensioners Talal Shokr told Mada Masr, adding that several ministries, including the Interior Ministry and Ministry of Manpower have refused paperwork for the establishment of independent unions.

In April 2016, ILO Director General Guy Rider called on Egyptian authorities to revoke a ban that restricts independent unions from publishing official documents, prohibits collective bargaining and exposes union leaders to dismissal and arrest.

Dozens of independent union representatives and protest organizers have been arrested and referred to trial in recent months.

The ILO was formed in 1919, more than two decades before the establishment of the UN. Egypt joined in 1936, ratifying a host of ILO laws - including Convention 87 and Convention 98 in the 1950s, but has largely failed to uphold its provisions.

32 Cement Workers Sentenced to 3 yrs in Prison - For Peacefully Protesting

Mada Masr
Court sentences 32 workers from Tourah Cement Company to 3 years imprisonment for protesting

Sunday June 4, 2017

Jano Charbel

Thirty two Tourah Cement Company workers were sentenced to three years in prison by the Maadi Misdemeanors Court on Sunday. They were arrested after security forces broke up a sit-in at the company in May.

The workers faced charges of assaulting a police captain, obstructing justice and using violence to resist authorities. All defendants are currently being held in at the 15th of May prison.

According to lawyer Haitham Mohamedein the defense team will appeal against Sunday’s verdict within 10 days of the verdict.

He told Mada Masr that although the trial was held before justices from the Maadi Misdemeanors Court, they convened at the Tourah Police Academy. The trial, which took place over two sessions was initially scheduled for May 28, however it was adjourned until Saturday after police personnel failed to transport the defendants to the trial.

“The workers’ families and friends were not allowed to attend these trial, and there were no journalists present during,” he added.

They were arrested after staging a sit-in in March that lasted several weeks before it was forcefully dispersed by security forces on May 22. Seventy five security personnel initiated the protest to demand full-time contracts and the retroactive payment of wages as some have worked full-time at the company for up to 15 years on temporary or part-time contracts.

Mohamedein criticized the court for issuing the harshest penalties against the protesting workers. He told Mada Masr last week that the charges are trumped-up and baseless, adding that “the Interior Ministry appears to have decided that it wants to extend the legal proceedings.”

The workers’ defense team and media reports claim that the judge presiding over this trial condemned them for initiating the sit-in, even before the conclusion of the court’s hearings. “A judge should only express their decision while issuing a verdict,” Mohamedein told Mada Masr.

The judge is also reported to have claimed that labor strikes are criminal, despite the fact the none of the charges were related to striking as there had been no work stoppages or slowdowns, and even though Article 15 of the Constitution safeguards the right to strike.

A petition protesting the workers arrests has been endorsed by 12 labor unions, political parties and groups and over 250 individuals. It claims that the detainees were physically abused, treated in a degrading manner and had their personal belongings stolen while in custody.

A worker who had been protesting at the company told Mada Masr last week, on condition of anonymity, that four of the detained workers had been hospitalized. They could not confirm the exact reasons for this, “as we have not been able to speak directly with our detained coworkers since their arrests, and because they were not brought to their court session.”

Mohamedein said that the workers had been “entirely peaceful and nonviolent” and, responding to accusations that they assaulted an officer, he explained that no medical report had been filed or evidence filed.

The protest followed the company’s refusal to compensate the family of a security guard who was killed during an altercation with people thought to be stealing property from company grounds. The company board claimed the deceased security guard was not entitled to any compensation or insurance because he was a part-time employee.

The board’s claim flouted a previous court verdict. In May last year, the workers filed a lawsuit against the company before the Appeals Court, which ruled that they were entitled to the company’s profit-sharing scheme, healthcare and other employment rights.

The recent crackdown on labor-related protests in Egypt has seen security forces break up several sit-ins and protesting workers stand trial. In April police arrested 16 protesting Telecom Egypt workers and December 2016 saw security break up sit-ins at two of billionaire Nassif Sawiris’ companies.

In an ongoing case 26 Alexandria Shipyard Company workers are currently standing military trial, accused of inciting workers to strike. The military trial of these civilian workers has been adjourned 12 times, and is currently scheduled to take place on June 20.

Sisi bombs Libyan militants not involved in Egypt attack


CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was quick to launch air strikes on militants in Libya in response to a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt - but the attacks do not seem to be targeting those responsible.

The response was popular with many Egyptians. The country's state-owned and private news media celebrated it as swift justice, but the president has been vague about exactly who he is attacking.

The strikes have been directed at Islamist groups other than Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for Friday's massacre of dozens in the southern province of Minya, and seem to be intended to shore up Sisi's allies in eastern Libya.

"The attacks in Minya were claimed by Islamic State, and there are Islamic State elements active in Libya, but the reports coming indicate Cairo is targeting other groups," said H.A. Hellyer, senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

In any case, analysts say the strikes will not do much against Islamists in Cairo, Sinai and Upper Egypt, where they have had a stronghold since the 1990s and have been attacking tourists, Copts and government officials.

Bombing the camps in Libya is seen as a diversion for a failure to defeat Islamists inside Egypt.

"It's easier to strike a terrorist camp in Libya by air than it is to clean up serious problems inside Egypt; sectarianism, radicalization, that led to this and other attacks," said Michele Dunne, director of Carnegie's Middle East program.

"All the horrific terrorism that is happening inside Egypt has purely domestic drivers and probably would be happening if Islamic State did not exist. It is not all that different from the home-grown terrorism Egypt experienced in the 1990s, before Al Qaeda or Islamic State even existed," she said.


Libyan Ally

Egyptian and Libyan officials said strikes had been launched on camps and ammunition stores belonging to the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council (DMSC). Areas targeted include the western entrance to Derna, Dahr al-Hamar in the south, and al-Fatayeh, a hilly area about 20 km (12 miles) from the city.

Yet the DMSC has never been involved in attacks outside Libya and in fact mostly limits its activities to Derna, rarely fighting in larger conflicts within Libya, according to Mohamed Eljarh, an Atlantic Council political analyst in Libya.

The group has denied taking part in attacks inside Egypt.

In fact, many suggest the air strikes had been planned in advance to shore up support for Sisi's main Libyan ally, Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), and that the Minya massacre was used as a pretext to launch them.

Forces loyal to Haftar, a military strongman like Sisi, have long been fighting the DMSC, cutting off supply routes to the city and hitting it with occasional air strikes. Despite the LNA's siege, the military situation in Derna has been in stalemate for months.

Egypt has also carried out strikes in Jufra, where the LNA has been fighting Islamists who fled Benghazi as well as forces linked to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli.

The LNA lost dozens of men there in a surprise attack on an air base earlier in May, but has since consolidated control.

The Minya attack was a catalyst for those inside the Egyptian government and military who are in favor of military intervention in Libya, said Mokhtar Awad, who researches extremism at George Washington University.

"This is Egypt taking action not because of the Minya attack but ... to drive out as many extremists as possible from the east," he said.


'They Are All Terrorists'

Egypt says it does not target specific groups but that it goes after all militants who could be a threat to its security. A military spokesman told state media on Monday that all the groups targeted have the same ideology as those who carried out the Minya massacre, which is reason enough to bomb them.

"Names are not important for us, they are all terrorists. Those who carried out the Minya operation do not necessarily have to be in these camps but their followers are," an Egyptian intelligence source told Reuters.

Eljarh also said it was likely the air strikes has been planned in advance and that the Minya attack was an opportunity to carry them out, as part of a larger policy towards supporting Haftar, with Egypt bombing groups that constitute the strongest opposition to him.

Egypt sees any militant activity in eastern Libya, which is near its border, as a threat to its national security. One of the reasons Sisi has supported Haftar since 2014 is to ensure that all Islamists are driven out of eastern Libya.

Sisi is getting more involved now because of improved relations with Washington, Eljarh said. He believes U.S President Donald Trump has given him the green light to fight jihadists in Libya and elsewhere.

When Sisi announced the first round of air strikes on television on Friday, he implored Trump to support him.

Trump, who has made a point of improving relations with Cairo, said his country stood with Sisi and the Egyptian people.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday May 24, 2017

Jano Charbel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump compliments dictator Sisi for his shoes


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

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

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

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

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

*Photos by Evan Vucci, courtesy of Associated Press

- - - -  -

Other bizarre photos


Gaza fishermen strike over killing of colleague by Israeli forces

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

The move comes after a fisherman was killed by Israeli gunfire

Moamen Ghorab
GAZA CITY, Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Photo by Mustafa Hassona, courtesy of Anadolu Agency 

UN rights chief says Sisi crackdown "facilitates radicalisation"

UN rights boss says Egypt crackdown 'facilitates radicalisation'

Mon May 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Increasing crackdowns on labor protests; Decrease in workers' strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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