Egypt: Catastrophic decline in human rights one year after ousting of Morsi

Amnesty International: A surge in arbitrary arrests, detentions and harrowing incidents of torture and deaths in police custody recorded by Amnesty International provide strong evidence of the sharp deterioration in human rights in Egypt in the year since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted.

Thousands of people have been detained, with figures varying. According to official estimates published by the Associated Press in March, at least 16,000 people have been detained over the past year as part of a sweeping crackdown against Mohamed Morsi’s supporters and other groups and activists that have expressed dissent.

According to WikiThawra, an initiative run by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social rights, at least 80 people died in custody over the past year and more than 40,000 people were detained or indicted between July 2013 and mid-May 2014.

Reports of torture and enforced disappearances in police and military detention facilities are also widespread. [Continue reading...]

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Citing terrorism, Egypt to step up surveillance of social media

Christian Science Monitor reports: Egypt is tightening its control over social media by acquiring new software that would facilitate extensive monitoring of dissidents’ communications, putting even stay-at-home opposition supporters at risk.

Authorities say they need such tools to fight terrorism in Egypt. On Monday, two bombs exploded near the presidential palace in Cairo, killing two police officials.

However, Egypt’s planned surveillance system comes amid the most repressive period for decades. Over the past year, security forces have carried out mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, according to Human Rights Watch. That raises fears that social media that helped fuel the 2011 uprising against Mubarak and remain a potent platform for free speech will no longer play this role. [Continue reading...]

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AIPAC lobbies to protect U.S. military aid for Egypt

Al-Monitor reports: The pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has begun a lobbying blitz to stop lawmakers from cutting military aid to Egypt, Al-Monitor has learned.

House appropriators on Tuesday defeated an amendment from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., that would have cut military assistance by $300 million, from $1.3 billion down to $1 billion.

The lopsided 35-11 vote was partly due to pressure by the American Israel Political Action Committee, Schiff suggested when asked to confirm that AIPAC was involved in the debate. [Continue reading...]

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Human Rights Watch: Al Jazeera convictions in Egypt a miscarriage of justice

Human Rights Watch: A Cairo court sentenced three Al Jazeera English staff members to multi-year prison sentences on June 23, 2014, after a trial in which prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These convictions are the latest step in Egypt’s unrelenting assault on free expression, dramatically reversing gains made following the January 25, 2011 uprising.

The verdict comes the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry. During the meeting, news media reported, Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” that the US would soon restore suspended aid to Egypt, noting that President al-Sisi “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment” to “a re-evaluation of the judicial process.”

“Sentencing three professional journalists to years in prison on the basis of zero evidence of wrongdoing shows how Egypt’s judges have been caught up in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria fostered by President al-Sisi,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is punishing people for exercising basic rights that are essential to any democratic transition, and US legislation requires progress on those rights before the Obama administration can certify additional military aid.”

The Al Jazeera English bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egypt national, and a correspondent, Peter Greste, an Australian, were each sentenced to seven years in prison, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years. The charges included editing video footage to falsely “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war,” operating broadcast equipment without a license, and membership in and support for a “terrorist organization.” Human Rights Watch reviewed the material prosecutors presented in court and spoke with independent observers who monitored the trial and found no evidence indicating any criminal wrongdoing. [Continue reading...]

The Guardian reports: Evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events with nothing to do with Egyptian politics or al-Jazeera. It included videos of trotting horses from Sky News Arabia, a song by the Australian singer Gotye, and a BBC documentary from Somalia.

Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms who has observed every session of the trial for Amnesty, said the verdict sent a chilling message to all opposition figures in Egypt.

“It’s a warning to all journalists that they could one day face a similar trial and conviction simply for carrying out their official duties,” Lotfy said. “This feeds into a wider picture of a politicised judiciary and the use of trials to crack down on all opposition voices.”

The verdict came a day after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signalled that ties between America and Egypt were inching closer to normality.

After a 90-minute meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the former general who was elected president last month, Kerry told reporters that a delivery of attack helicopters – delayed by the US last year, in protest against Egyptian human rights abuses – would go ahead.

“The Apaches will come, and they’ll come very, very soon,” Kerry said, after an earlier admission by state department officials that all but $70m (£41m) of a $650m aid package to Egypt had been released. [Continue reading...]

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Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah jailed for 15 years for organising peaceful protest

The Guardian reports: The extent of Egypt’s counter-revolution has been laid bare by the jailing of one of the key figureheads of the 2011 uprising – a conviction that means Alaa Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under each of the country’s five heads of state since Hosni Mubarak.

Abd El Fattah, one of the activists most associated with the 2011 uprising that briefly ended 60 years of autocratic rule, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for allegedly organising a protest – an act banned under a law implemented last November, and used to jail several revolutionary leaders.

According to Abd El Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, also a prominent campaigner, he and another activist were sentenced in absentia after being barred from entering the courtroom then arrested and taken to prison by some of the officials who had earlier blocked his entrance. [Continue reading...]

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Israel has Egypt over a barrel

David Hearst writes: It took the CIA 60 years to admit its involvement in the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister. The circumstances around the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, may not take as long to come to light, regardless of whom is behind it.

Mossadeq sealed his fate when he renationalized Iran’s oil production, which had been under the control of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later to become BP. Morsi’s enemy was gas, and he proved to be a major obstacle to a lucrative deal with Israel – which nobody will be surprised to learn – is about to take place now he has been removed.

Clayton Swisher of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit has spent five months delving into the corrupt sale of Egyptian gas to Israel. His report Egypt’s Lost Power to be broadcast on Monday night reveals that Egypt has lost a staggering amount of money -$11bn , with debts and legal liabilities of another $20bn – selling gas at rock bottom prices to Israel, Spain and Jordan. [Continue reading...]

(Interactive: Egypt’s Lost Power)

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Mass sexual assaults continue as Egyptians celebrate Sisi’s rise to the presidency

The New York Times reports: A video showing a mass sexual assault on a nearly naked woman in the midst of inaugural celebrations for Egypt’s new president is testing his pledge to curb an epidemic of such attacks, with captured scenes of a police officer with a gun in his hand struggling against a crowd of men to extricate the victim.

At first a black shirt covered just her shoulders, her backside purple and black with bruises. Moments later, she is seen stripped completely, as her limp and reddened body is carried into a waiting vehicle.

Captured in a blurry two-minute video taken in Tahrir Square on Sunday and circulated via YouTube on Monday, the attack is forcing the new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to confront a phenomenon many here said resulted from the collapse of the police force during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak in 2011: the recurring mass sexual assaults that have taken place amid the crowds that have gathered in Tahrir Square ever since. [Continue reading...]

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Dilip Hiro: Behind the coup in Egypt

Think of Barack Obama’s recent return to West Point at graduation time to offer his approach to an increasingly chaotic world as a bookend on an era.  George W. Bush went to the Academy in June 2002 — less than a year after 9/11, seven months after the U.S. had triumphantly invaded Afghanistan, 10 months before it would (as he already knew) invade Iraq — and laid out his vision of “preemptive war.”  In that commencement address to a class about to graduate into the very wars he was launching, he threw the ancient Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment to the sharks and proclaimed a new, finger-on-a-hair-trigger vision of global policy for a country that wasn’t about to step aside for anyone or anything. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” he said to resounding applause.  He added, “Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

Speaking to the class of 2002, Bush conjured up an epic struggle without end (that certain neocons would soon begin calling “the Long War” or “World War IV“).  It would be global, Manichaean, and unquestionably victorious.  “We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence, and law enforcement.  Along with our friends and allies, we must oppose proliferation and confront regimes that sponsor terror, as each case requires.  Some nations need military training to fight terror, and we’ll provide it.  Other nations oppose terror, but tolerate the hatred that leads to terror — and that must change.  We will send diplomats where they are needed, and we will send you, our soldiers, where you’re needed.”

It was Bush’s initial foray into the dream of a subjugated Greater Middle East and a planet destined to fall under the spell of a Pax Americana enforced by a military like no other in history.  It was visionary stuff, a genuine Bush (or Cheney) Doctrine.  And the president and his top officials meant every word of it.

Twelve years later, the results are in.  As President Obama pointed out to the class of 2014, some of those “terror cells in 60 or more countries” have by now become full-scale terror outfits and, helped immeasurably by the actions the Bush Doctrine dictated, are thriving.  In Afghanistan, a long-revived Taliban can’t be defeated, while neighboring Pakistan, with its own Taliban movement, has been significantly destabilized.  Amid the ongoing drone wars of two administrations, Yemen is being al-Qaedicized; the former president’s invasion of Iraq set off a devastating, still expanding Sunni-Shiite civil war across the Middle East, which is also becoming a blowback machine for terrorism, and which has thrown the whole region into chaos; Libya, Obama’s no-casualties version of intervention, is now a basket case; across much of Africa, terror groups are spreading, as is destabilization continent-wide.

Facing this and a host of other crises and problems from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea, and “pivoting” fruitlessly in every direction, Obama, in his second trek to West Point, put together a survey of a no-longer American planet that left the cadets sitting on their hands (though their parents cheered the line, “You are the first class since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan”) and critics from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times bored and dismissive.  It was, all agreed, the exhausted speech of an exhausted administration addressed to an American public exhausted by more than a decade of fruitless wars in an exhausting world.

If that commencement address had just been visionless words offered by a rudderless president, it might not have mattered much, except to the nattering class in Washington.  As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear, however, in a magisterial look at where the Arab Spring ended up in Egypt, it isn’t only unfriendly states or stateless terror groups that aren’t cooperating in the organization of an American world.  The former “sole superpower” of planet Earth that the president (with “every fiber” of his being) insisted was still both “exceptional” and “indispensable” seemed to be losing its sway over former allies as well.  If there is no Obama Doctrine, it may be because the world of 2014 is in a state of exceptional and indispensable entropy. Tom Engelhardt

Clueless in Cairo
How Egypt’s generals sidelined Uncle Sam
By Dilip Hiro

Since September 11, 2001, Washington’s policies in the Middle East have proven a grim imperial comedy of errors and increasingly a spectacle of how a superpower is sidelined. In this drama, barely noticed by the American media, Uncle Sam’s keystone ally in the Arab world, Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, has largely turned its back on the Obama administration. As with so many of America’s former client states across the aptly named “arc of instability,” Egypt has undergone a tumultuous journey — from autocracy to democracy to a regurgitated form of military rule and repression, making its ally of four decades appear clueless.

Egypt remains one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, with the Pentagon continuing to pamper the Egyptian military with advanced jet fighters, helicopters, missiles, and tanks. Between January 2011 and May 2014, Egypt underwent a democratic revolution, powered by a popular movement, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It enjoyed a brief tryst with democracy before suffering an anti-democratic counter-revolution by its generals. In all of this, what has been the input of the planet’s last superpower in shaping the history of the most populous country in the strategic Middle East? Zilch. Its “generosity” toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

[Read more...]

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Egypt scrambles to raise turnout in presidential vote

The New York Times reports: After Egypt’s revolution three years ago, so many voters eager for democracy turned out for elections that officials had to scramble to accommodate the throngs.

On Tuesday, the military-backed government confronted the opposite problem. Officials extended a scheduled two-day vote for a third day not because of long lines, but because so few people had shown up.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army field marshal who deposed Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first freely elected president, is still universally expected to win by a landslide. Yet the disappointing turnout has upended his supporters’ hopes that the vote would grant him new legitimacy after the ouster.

When polling places around the nation remained largely empty on the second day of voting, signs of panic swept the government. Officials initially extended voting hours on Tuesday by an hour, to 10 p.m. Then, a holiday was declared for state and private employees, as well as for banks and the stock market. Train and subway fares were suspended. State television said that the police would help the elderly or the sick get to polling stations, and it repeated admonishments from Muslim and Christian leaders about a religious duty to vote.

Officials also said that the government would fine those who did not vote up to $70 — a large sum for most Egyptians — and that unlike in the past, the fines would be enforced.

Analysts said the government’s scramble to increase the turnout undermined the endlessly repeated premise of the new military-backed order: that Mr. Sisi had the passionate support of an overwhelming majority of Egyptians to oust Mr. Morsi and to assume leadership. [Continue reading...]

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Israel wants the Middle East to remain dominated by dictators

Ynet columnist, Smadar Perry, writes: Egyptian polling stations opened Monday morning across the country. Tens of thousands of inspectors-judges, representatives of civil organizations, foreign diplomats and even representatives of the Arab League have arrived to ensure that no one would try to tamper with the ballots.

The truth is that there is no need for that. Barring any dramatic surprises, “Egypt’s strongman,” Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will be the president. All surveys grant the second candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, symbolic success. Sabahi himself is already offering his services, hoping that they’ll just take him, as the prime minister or vice president.

Next week will be the turn of the sweeping victory in Syria. After arranging two anonymous “rivals” for himself and forcibly taking the right to vote from the six million refugees who have run away from him, Bashar Assad will be the “rais” for the third time. He will of course justify himself by saying that “that’s what the nation wants,” and no one will be able to force him to keep promises or create reforms.

The reason is so prosaic: Up until this moment he hasn’t even bothered presenting a political platform or economic programs. He doesn’t have to. Bashar will win for certain, and after the elections, as they say, everything will work out (for him).

In the past few days I have been hearing more and more complaints from people I talk to in the Arab world that Israel – and the criticism focuses constantly on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – only wants dictators in our neighborhood. We democrats don’t care about the Arab Spring, the protests, the terrible economic distress, the refugees and the terror attacks.

My interlocutors present irrefutable proof of their claim, how Israeli messengers are lobbying vigorously, as we speak, for the waiting president al-Sisi among the high echelons of the administration in Washington. Netanyahu, they say instinctively, is insisting on not getting in Bashar’s way. He is the only one he wants in the palace.

Between you and me, they’re right. We’re better off with dictators. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s new strongman, Sisi knows best

The New York Times reports: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army officer soon to be Egypt’s president, promises to remedy Egypt’s crippling fuel shortage by installing energy-efficient bulbs in every home socket, even if he has to send a government employee to screw in each one.

“I’m not leaving a chance for people to act on their own,” Mr. Sisi said in his first and most extensive television interview. “My program will be mandatory.”

Mr. Sisi, 59, disciplined and domineering, is universally expected to become Egypt’s head of state after a pro forma election scheduled to begin Monday. He has already been the nation’s paramount decision maker since he ousted Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last summer.

Now, more than three years after the Arab Spring uprising raised hopes of a democratic Egypt, his move into the presidential palace will formally return Egypt to the rule of a paternalistic military strongman in the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. [Continue reading...]

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Egyptian court convicts Mubarak of embezzlement

The New York Times reports: A criminal court here convicted former President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday of diverting millions of dollars in public money for his personal use in a case that rights advocates say could also now implicate the current prime minister and spy chief in a cover-up.

The court sentenced Mr. Mubarak, 86 and living under house arrest in a military hospital overlooking the Nile, to three years in prison. His sons Gamal and Alaa were each sentenced to four years for their role in the scheme. The court ordered the three to pay penalties and make repayments totaling more than $20 million.

Two years ago, the former president was convicted and received a life sentence in a separate case for directing the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising that ended his rule in 2011, but even the presiding judge acknowledged at the time that the evidence was thin, and an appeals court has ordered a retrial. Mr. Mubarak is expected to appeal the new verdict as well, but the evidence appears far more substantial.

His conviction on Wednesday, involving his presidential palaces, arguably spares the new government installed by former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of the potential embarrassment of freeing Mr. Mubarak. [Continue reading...]

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Sisi says Muslim Brotherhood will not exist under his reign

The Guardian reports: Egypt’s former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Monday night that the Muslim Brotherhood – the group he removed from power last year – will not exist if he is elected president later this month.

The comments, in an interview broadcast on two Egyptian television stations, were the clearest indication yet there was no prospect for political reconciliation with the Islamist group that propelled Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in 2012.

“There will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure,” Sisi said on Egypt’s privately-owned CBC and ONTV television channels.

The Brotherhood has been subject to an aggressive state-led crackdown in the months since Morsi’s overthrow. The movement was formally blacklisted as a terrorist organisation on Christmas Day and continues to be blamed for bomb attacks across Egypt, although many have been claimed by militant groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Beit el Maqdis.

Sisi said he had survived two assassination attempts in the months since Morsi’s ousting in July last year.

The former field marshal’s claims appeared to vindicate the tight security measures that have dominated his campaign. Instead of taking to the campaign trail like his sole opponent, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, Sisi will reportedly be sending emissaries to his rallies across the country. [Continue reading...]

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Britain cancels three arms contracts to Sisi’s Egypt

Middle East Eye reports: Britain cancelled export licenses for three arms contracts to Egypt’s military backed government in October last year, fearing the arms would be used for internal repression, the Middle East Eye can reveal.

The contracts were cancelled during a prolonged correspondence between officials of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the legal team acting on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The lawyers claim that it was a result of their representations that a second review of the contracts was carried out in October. An earlier blanket suspension was implemented in August last year, after the mass shootings of protesters in Cairo.

Edward Bell, head of export control and organization wrote to ITN solicitors on 13 January that “we consider there is now sufficient information available about the situation in Egypt to consider each extant licence and new application on a case-by-case basis rather than applying the blanket suspension which we implemented in August”. [Continue reading...]

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Egyptian court sentences top Muslim Brotherhood leader to death

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month.

The Brotherhood, in a statement issued in London, described the ruling as chilling and said it would “continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule”.

In another case signaling growing intolerance of dissent by military-backed authorities, a pro-democracy movement that helped ignite the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was banned by court order, judicial sources said.

The death sentence passed on Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s general guide, will infuriate members of the group which has been the target of raids, arrests and bans since the army forced President Mohamed Mursi from power in July.

Some Brotherhood members fear pressure from security forces and the courts could drive some young members to violence against the movement’s old enemy, the Egyptian state. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt sentences 683 to death in latest mass trial of dissidents

The Washington Post reports: An Egyptian court in the southern city of Minya sentenced 683 people to death Monday in the most recent of a series of mass trials that have alarmed the international community, nine months after a military coup ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

The ruling came one month after 529 people were sentenced to death in a similar mass trial in the same courtroom, and it coincided with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy’s visit to Washington to meet with Secretary of State John F. Kerry in an effort to smooth relations between the United States and one of its most significant Middle East allies.

The defendants, all alleged supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, included Mohammed Badie, the “supreme guide” of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which captured the lion’s share of votes in the country’s first democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012. If the sentence is upheld, Badie would be the first Brotherhood leader to face execution in nearly 50 years. [Continue reading...]

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