Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blogger wedding

Go read this sunshine story from Amira al Husseini at Global Voices. It´s about Amr and Radwa, two bloggers that met while working towards a more democratic Egypt. sometimes civic courage and love goes hand in hand!

Alf Mabrouk li al Aris wa al Arosa!

Gauch piece on mounting pressure on independent media and bloggers

Sarah Gauch has a piece in the Christian Science Monitor today on the tough times ahead for the press and bloggers in Egypt. Imad al Kabir, Kareem and Huwaida Taha´s cases are discussed. Here is part of the article:

¨And many worry Egypt's relative freedom of expression may be ending, too. Indeed, they say, Ms. Taha's case is alarming. She was accused of fabricating scenes of torture after the authorities discovered her unedited video including reenactments of torture scenes. Taha says she had Interior Ministry cooperation for the project and had told them about the reenactments.

Activists and journalists say the government is trying to squash accusations of Egyptian police torture with Taha's case, which comes amid revelations of rampant abuse after bloggers posted videos online of apparent police torture.

In one particular case, a minibus driver is shown being sodomized with a stick. Since the tape surfaced, two police officers have been jailed and are scheduled to stand trial. The driver, who subsequently filed a complaint against the police, is serving three months in prison for resisting the authorities.

Mr. Amer is the first Egyptian blogger to face trial. A young former law student at Al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni Islamic learning, he has been in solitary confinement since being jailed. His trial was adjourned last week until Thursday.

In addition to these two cases, about 45 independent and opposition journalists in Egypt face court cases, according to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. While none of those are currently jailed, several are appealing guilty verdicts.

"For many of these cases, the Egyptian government starts the investigation and just leaves the file open," says human rights activist Gamal Eid. "This sends the message: You are under our microscope and we can restart this case at any time."

Although Mr. Mubarak promised in 2004 to abolish prison sentences for journalists, when the country's press laws were amended last July incarceration for journalists – and bloggers – remained.

The government denies accusations of stifling free expression. "Freedom of expression is guaranteed and granted on all levels," says one government official, who asked to remain anonymous. "There are at least 10 newspapers who daily criticize the government, including the president."¨

The promise to abolish prison sentences for journalists was made on the 23rd of February 2004, in about three weeks time it´s the third anniversary of that promise, let´s hope that neither Huwaida Taha or Kareem are in prison by then , or faces the risk of going there anymore.

Unfortunately Imad al Kabir will probably have some time left on his three months sentence, he will come out to face his tormentors in court in March.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mufti issues fatwa barring women from the Presidency

Ali Gouma, the Mufti of Egypt, and the second most important religious authority in Egypt for muslims, issued a fatwa on women and the presidency yesterday.

"Under Islamic sharia (religious law), a woman cannot be head of state because it is one of the duties of the position to lead Muslims in prayer and that role can only be carried out by men,"

Well, that really closes the window on speculation for Mrs Suzanne Mubarak as president, dosen´t it?

It also shuts out more than 50% of the population that happens to be women and approximaytely 10 % of the population that are non-muslim.

Interestingly enough this quite the opposite of what NDP big shot Hossam al Badrawy stated in a discussion on the future of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt on al Jazeera show , aktar min Rai(More than one view/opinion)last week. But judging from the candidate lists of the NDP in the last parliamentary elections, late 2005, this fits like hand in glove with their ¨extremly genourous¨ policy of trying to promote women and Copts.

HRW statement on Kareem

Monday, January 22, 2007

10 dead in road accident in the governate of Minya

A road accident involving a passenger bus and a truck on the desert road in the governate of Minya in middle Egypt yesterday claimed the life of 10 victims, and injured 10 more, according to security sources.

The accident occured when the backtire of the bus burst, and the driver lost control of the vehicle, resulting in a colision with the truck driving in the opposite lane.

Minya is the second largest city in middle Egypt, and situated approximately 220 Km south of Cairo.

Road accidents are common, and the authorities reports about 6000 dead and 35 000 injured annualy.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kareem court case postponed until January 25th

Abd al Kareem Nabil Soliman, the Egyptian blogger, was in court this morning in the Muharam Beq court of misdemeanour. The case was postponed upon request from his laywers. He has been in State security custody since 7 November. Were he has been held in solitary confinement . He has not been allowed to meet his family during this time and he was not allowed to counsel with his layers during the breif session, according to one of his three laywers, Rawda Ahmed, he was looking very fragile.

He was represented by Rawda Ahmed from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information , Ahmed Seif al Islam from Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Muhammed Bayoumi from the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid.

The first time Kareem was taken into state security custody on 26 October 2005, was in the wake of the first Muslim-Coptic clashes in his neibourhood Muharam Beq in Alexandria. He wrote a post describing what he saw and what he felt, so basically this is a question of him expressing his thoughts - a prisoner of conscience. He´s thoughts may not be the thoughts of the average Egyptian, but he has an equal right to express them just the same. After 18 days he was released and this was the first Egyptian blogger faced with such an ordeal, and also the first campaign asking for a blogger´s release. I wish this would have been the end of the story,but Kareem was kicked out of the al Ahzar univerity faculty of law in Damanhour in March, and then taken into the state security warm arms once again, just 51 weeks after he got out, why? the al Azhar had filed a complaint, and what was the charges they filed? “spreading information disruptive of public order”, “incitement to hate Muslims” and “defaming the President of the Republic” among others. He could face up to nine years in prison if convicted.

Hopefully the court session next thursday will aquitt Kareem

The HRinfo calls upon local and international community to protect the opinion prisoner Kareem Amer, and demand the elimination of his trial and releasing him.

Award winning blogger Jar el Kamar and his fellow Alexandrian blogger benhoz atended the court session and their accounts in arabic can be read by clicking on their names they also took photos of Kareem that can be found here

The photo is taken by Jar al Kamar.

The best place to go to find additional material is HR-Info
You could also go to the free Kareem site . Here is AP reporter Nadia Abou el Magd´s take on it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Condi in Luxor

So now we know, why the city of Luxor has been turned upside down for months, the city which is normally called the largest out-door museum in the world has recently been(and still is) a city of rubble and dust. The train station is literally four walls and nothing else. And all of this because of Condi´s comming to the city! Too bad she didn´t have time to visit Deir al Bahari(Queen Hatchepsut´s temple), Karnak or the walley of the Kings.

So what did she do, she met with President Mubarak and her counterpart Abou al Gheit, they discussed bilateral, and multilateral questions. During the conference with Abou al Gheit(transcript), it became clear that Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran´s influence in Iraq and Lebanon was on top of the agenda, other questions discussed were Darfur and Somalia. The only thing that was said about bilateral questions, was that Egypt was a strategic and important alley and that the relationship was solid.

¨Obviously, the relationship with Egypt is an important strategic relationship; one that we value greatly. We've had a chance to talk about a variety of issues. I've had a chance -- we've had a chance to talk about bilateral issues, of course, about the course of internal developments here in Egypt.¨

In addition it was said that Foreign Minister Abou al Gheit, Omar Soliman and other ministers would go to Washington in the near future.

Of course the big buzz of the day was Israel/Palestine, Secretary Rice had announced earlier during the day that she intended to invite PM Olmert and President Abbas for a three-part meeting soon. It was presented erlier during the day as the first talks in six years apart from the latest meeting,and as an opening , It´s true that it was the first meeting for the two of them , but the representatives of Israel and the Palestinian authourity have met at least twice, during the last four years. First in Aqaba in June 2003, when the roadmap(including the 13 changes that the Israeli goverment wanted) was launched, and then in Sharm al Sheikh in February 2005.

The expectations was lowered during the press brefing, it´s going to be informal talks, to get things going whatewer that means.

The question of Mubarak´s new plan, came up during the Q & A session but neither Abou al Gheit nor Rice, choose to answer. It´s pretty obvious that the road map is the only game in town.

The most heated moment came when one journalist asked Egypt´s Foreign Minister:

¨And will Egypt now finally end the smuggling that has been allowing Hamas to build up its military might?¨

Rice also got a tough question, that was more of a statement:

There are two questions, the first for Ms. Rice. In President Bush's new strategy toward Iraq, he asked for the support of the allies -- the natural allies. Egypt is among those countries. And we know that President Mubarak has warned Mr. Bush before the execution of Saddam,

Nothing will come out of this, the real talks could not start before six months into the new administration, that is June 2009. This administration is incapable of bringing anything good to any of the conflicts that are currently on their table.

What would have been done from the minute the Hamas government came to power, was to try and get them on the train. Hamas has shown pragmatism on paper, they are now willing to sign up for a solution witin the 1967 borders. What the world community and any reasonable Israeli government should have done is to test their cards, the difference in position between Hamas and Fatah are not that big on paper, and no solution will stick if Hamas is not on. Instead the international community is enforcing a de facto boycot, to what use? could somebody please explain that to me?

Egypt seem to agree with the US on the broad picture in Iraq, as long as Iraq is united. They also see eye to eye on external influence in the country,one has to ask oneself, does the Americans or the ¨moderate Arabs¨(Saudi, Jordan and Egypt) fear Iran and the ¨shia crescent the most. If this newsreport is correct the ¨shia crescent¨ counter policy will have at least two different theaters to work in. For me, if the report is correct, then we are perhaps looking at a 1958 scenario all over again. It´s really an tailormaide for Lebanon Eisenhower-doctrine, the cold war, ended in 1989 or if you like 1991, but this is really the cold war fear, but against another ism. I never thought it could be worse after the last summer, but i am not sure anymore.

So Rice didn´t mention democracy with one world, is anyone surprised? The administration went to war ¨for democracy¨ and stay´s on to create stability, and will leave because it´s not stable enough, in what would have been the mother of all Arab democracies, pretty heavy birth paigns i would say. Not even the rhetoric sounds anything but hollow, the echo from Ms Rice´s own words from the policy speech at the AUC in June 2005 is long gone. This has been written on the wall since post-elections 2005.

Michele Dunne, editor of the valuable Arab Reform Bulletin wrote an interesting paper,which came last week, it´s called time to pursue democracy in Egypt explaining the details of Egyptian politics, lack of democratization and the comming constitutional ammendments. Zvika Krieger from democracy arsenal has written a comment on the paper here and Michael Slackman qoutes Hafez Abu Saeda from the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights:

¨The government has said to us, ‘Stop, we are closing all the windows and doors we had opened¨

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Amnesty International statement on Imad al Kabir

Amnesty International issued a press release yesterday about Imad al Kabir´s three months prison sentence.

The best blogging and the best wire story by AP reporter Nadia Abou el Magd can be found at Hossam, and the Sandmonkey. I feel exactly the same way as the sandmonkey, words fail me.

For those of you who have not seen the al Hurra one hour special about the mobile video clips, showing police abuse and torture with guests, Human rights activist Bahey ad Din Hassan, Journalist/blogger/activist Wael Abbas and Political science professor Gehad Auda(Putting someone at the university of Helwan must be a punishment)joining in for a calm discussion.

You can see it here.

Resisting the authorities..

The Human Rights Watch came out with a statement yesterday, somewhat late, but probably due to the busy days ahead of the launching of their annual report.

They emphasize the urgency of protecting al Kabir from getting into a similar situation to his prior experience. This is also reflected in the statement of his defencce laywer Nasser Amin and the Amnesty staement, mentioned above. If he serves part of his three months sentence in the Boulaq Daqrour precinct police station, where he experienced his ordeal, the fear of him being subject to preasure, is a definite cause for concern, and the burden of providing him a safe environment during that lies with the state.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at the HRW:

¨The state has an obligation to protect al-Kabir as a witness in a torture case. Sending a torture victim back to the same place where he said he was tortured on charges brought by his alleged torturers raises enormous concerns about his safety.¨

UPDATE: 22 of May 2008:

The two officers Islam Nabih and Reda Fathi recieved three years prison sentences by the Giza Criminal Court on November 5th 2007, this was later appealed by the officers in the Court of Cassation, that dismissed the appeal and upheld the earlier sentence.

Unhappy birthday - Guantanamo turns 5

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Not eligible to vote anymore

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Adly orders the security services to identify tortured woman

The Egyptian interior minister, Habib al Adly has ordered the security services to identify the woman, allegedly being subjected to torture.

The two independent newspapers, Masry al youm and Fajr run the story of the torture case of the woman with some connection to a murder case(she confesses on the video), filmed with a celluar phone camera and posted on the internet by journalist/activist /blogger Wael Abbas on their front pages yesterday together with a still from the video.

This is the second time in two months that mobile phone videos of alleged torture cases has led to further investigations into the specific cases. In November, the case of microbus driver Imad al Kabir was displayed on the internet and subseqently led to the arrest of two policemen. The trial is expected to begin in March.

During the last six months or so, there has been at least 5 different videos, showing police abuse towards ordinary citizens, at police stations, accentuating what human rights groups has documented for years, that torture is a routine procedure in perfectly normal cases, substituting in depth investigations, in order to get quick results. There is a culture of torture, which has been well documented over the years by Egyptian and international human rights groups in cases like the Kosheh and Sarando investigations for instance, or an issue that has recieved a lot of attention lately , the question of street children.

The mobile phone videos can make a difference in Egyptian public awareness about torture in general and also if the purpertaders are brought to trial and convicted, it proves that the little man has a chance against the system that silently allows and aproves of this. It´s a small, but important step in trying to alter the culture of torture and impunity, toward a culture of transparency and accountability.

I will end by qouting President Mubarak, in his first public comment on the hanging of the former iraqi President Saddam Hussein, asked specifically about the mobile phone video film showing the hanging, ¨It´s barbaric and revolting¨.

Yes it is barbaric and revolting, to see citizens being abused by the very people, that are supposed to represent the institution that is in charge of upholding the law, unfortunately this is only the tip of the iceperg, of something that is common practice.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Merry Christmas to all Copts and all Orthodox Christians!

Merry Christmas to all Copts in Egypt, Ethiopia and in the diaspora, as well as all other Orthodox Christians around the world. Go easy on the food! No more foul, Adds and potatoes...

Here is a AFP story about thousands celebrating christmas mass togheter with Pope Shenouda III at St:Mark´s Cathedral in Abasiyya, Cairo, The Pontiff returned to Egypt in November to celebrate his 35 years as the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church after having a back surgery in Cleveland Ohio,as reported earlier on this blog.

The supreme administrative court turns down 12 parties appeal

The appeal of 12 would be political parties was turned down by the Supreme administrative court today. They had earlier applied for a political party license with the political parties committee(PPC), who turned them down.

This is the standard procedure for every political organization aiming for legalization ,or for that matter any political party that already have gained a party license in Egypt. The latest party to gain recognition was the al Ghad in november 2004, and their former party leader Ayman Nour is currently in jail serving a five year prison sentence. In fact most of the parties that have attained a license have done so after appealing to the supreme court, after failing to comply with the haphazard criteririon of the PPC, a body that is closely connected to the rulling party the NDP, their chairman being none other than the Shura Council speaker as well as the NDP Secretary General.

I have stated before that one prerequisite for any meaningful democratic movement should be the scrapping of the PPC(i could think of a few more). The President have stated on several occasions that one of the purposes with the forthcomming(before the Shura Council elections in April 2007) constitutional amendmends is to reinvigourate the political parties. I hope that this is the case, and not only to change the election laws, to benefit the political parties, while effectively closing the way for the independents(read the Muslim Brotherhood), something that will not be easy to achieve, considering what happend in 1987, when law 114 was deemed unconstitutional for reasons violating the basic constitutional rights of independent politicans to run for office(law 114 was the basis for the proportional representation system of parliamentary elections which only allowed partties to participate and closed the door for independents, this was the system in use during the 1984 elections).

I would also hope that the voices that want´s to decrease the judges right to overlook the elections will not be listened to, altough i find it almost impossible to think that this will not be an avenue that the best and the brightest of the legal minds close to the NDP inner circle(brat pack and and old guard(well basically only Safwat left) would die for the opportunity to come up with a magic formula - the lame excuse that the U.S A have one day elections could be recycled as part of the PR arsenal, but eventually this will only lead to additional confrontation with the judges club, and will probably be tried in court as well. Of course the court rullings are always hard to predict.

Judging by the words of the President, when describing the ammendment of 34 articles as the most democratic day in recent history, one can´t wait to see the end result, but then these exact words were used on the 26th of February 2006 as well,when opening up for multicandidate presidential elections, and by his predecessor the late President Anwar Sadat when he spoke at the opening session of the NDP, created in July 1978.

Go read the well researched HRW backround paper, that came two days ago, Monopolizing power: Egypt´s political Parties Law

UPDATE go read Arabawy´s account with a fresh reuters telegram, that is much more detailed.


Additional reports from the AP and al Masry al youm(in Arabic)


Baheyya´s account of the spectacle, is as always worthwhile and rewarding, please take a few minutes and read it!