Monday, May 30, 2011

Suleiman: Mubarak Knew of Killings

By William Fisher

The man who was Hosni Mubarak’s Vice President and Egypt’s top spy is telling prosecutors that the aging dictator was aware that his security services were firing at peaceful protestors during the January 25 uprisings in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

Testimony by Omar Suleiman could constitute key evidence against Mubarak, who will be tried for murder in the deaths of anti-government activists. Suleiman, a longtime Mubarak confidante, was appointed vice president in the waning days of the Mubarak regime and helped orchestrate the president’s resignation.

Before being named vice president, Suleiman, an army general, served as Egypt’s intelligence chief, and was reported to have been his country’s “point man” in the program of extraordinary rendition carried out during the Bush-Cheney administration. Torture victims and human rights groups charged that Suleiman oversaw the systematic use of torture on detainees and that in at least one instance he personally tortured a detainee during his career in intelligence.

Suleiman testified that Mubarak received hourly updates about the tactics used by the officers of the Ministry of Interior to disperse protesters and approved their brutal actions.

More than 864 people were killed and 6,467 wounded in the Egyptian revolution. Mubarak, who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for more than 30 years, faces a potential death sentence if found guilty. Habib El-Adly, Mubarak’s interior minister, and dozens of police, are also being tried for murder.

The Egyptian press is reporting that the prosecution’s investigation revealed that Mubarak cooperated with El-Adly and senior police officials to deliberately kill protesters, by ordering officers to shoot them and run them over with their vehicles.

Mubarak is also accused of a number of other serious crimes, including facilitating businessman Hussein Salem’s acquisition of 40 billion Egyptian pounds by facilitating a natural gas deal with Israel at low prices. The Military Prosecution will also be questioning him in connection with arms deals and issues related to "the interests and secrets of the armed forces."

“Mubarak should be prosecuted for high treason since he violated the presidential oath of office … committing several crimes against his people … for 30 years,” law professor Salah Sadek argued, expressing doubts over the seriousness of the trial.

“Had there been a serious intention to take Mubarak to court, he should have faced trial right after he stepped down on Feb. 11 … as all his crimes were exposed after the revolution erupted,” he added.

According to the Daily News Egypt, Sadek accused the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been running the country since Mubarak stepped down, of procrastination in enforcing the law against him.

“It should not take all this time to investigate the charges against him. For long he remained under house arrest inside a palace in Sharm El-Sheikh resort,” Sadek said.

On April 10, the prosecutor general summoned Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal for interrogation over the above charges, previously denied by the former president.

Alaa and Gamal were taken to Cairo’s Tora prison, while Mubarak remained in custody at Sharm El-Sheikh hospital until his medical state stabilizes.

Since then, Mubarak’s detention was renewed three times, 15 days each, which stirred the angry reactions of activists and political forces who accused the SCAF of being lenient with Mubarak.

“If anybody else faced similar accusations, there would be no place for him other than jail,” Sadek said.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) welcomed what it described as a “conclusive step towards penalizing the members of the former regime for their crimes against the people and the revolutionists.”

In a statement, ANHRI called on the prosecutor general and the justice minister to allow human rights groups to follow up on the trial and allow people to witness the hearings.

Amnesty International called on authorities on Tuesday to prosecute all of those responsible for the killings and torture of protesters, including the military.

"That Mr. Mubarak and his sons are to stand trial is a very welcome step … [but] the families of those killed during protest violence have a right to justice as do all those who were seriously injured or subjected to arbitrary detention or torture, including at the hands of the military," the statement read.

But the Arab Center for the Independence of Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) demanded that Mubarak and others charged with violations committed at the time of the overthrown regime would be granted fair trials. The center called for serving justice and ignoring any other considerations or revenge motives.

“Despite its utmost importance, this [legal] step was taken relatively late, which raised doubts over the possibility of referring the ex-president to court,” ACIJLP said, also expressing relief over the prosecutor’s decision.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has arrested four activists for handing out flyers advertising Friday’s (May 27) demonstrations. A graffiti artist, a film director, a musician, and a member of the April 6 Youth Movement, have been held for questioning regarding hanging posters advertising the protests and passing out pamphlets promoting the “Second Rage of Revolution.”

The Project for Middle East Democracy (POMED) reports that large numbers of Egyptians protested across the country today (May 27) to demand that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) accelerate the political reform process, as well as that Mubarak regime figures be tried. Some demonstrators have called the protests a “second revolution.”

The not-for-profit research group reported, "As a sign of unity and tolerance, Muslims and Christians reportedly took turns praying in Tahrir Square. Thousands of protestors have also emerged in Alexandria, Sharm el-Sheikh, Suez, Port Said, Luxor, and Aswan demanding the elimination of municipal councils controlled by members of the former National Democratic Party and the transfer of Mubarak to Tora prison in Cairo. Stages have been constructed in Tahrir Square, where prominent individuals such as Amr Hamzawy, Osama Ghazali Harb, Ehab El Khazarat, Ziad El Elimy, and Esraa Abdel Fatah were expected to speak. So far, the military has not had a strong presence at the demonstrations, perhaps fearing that its presence would incite violence."

The Muslim Brotherhood had actively campaigned against Friday’s demonstrations, are to urge the Egyptian authorities to enforce justice and put the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on trial on charges of conspiring to kill protesters and corruption.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which is relatively well organized and has a substantial political following, is charging that these demonstrations are “either a demonstration against the people and the will of the majority, or a conspiracy to incite friction between the people and the High Council of the Armed Forces.”

The protests were also to call on the ruling High Council of the Armed Forces to lift the emergency law, which it promised to do in September 2011.

Gamal Eid, president of ANHRI stated “The Muslim Brotherhood response to the calls for peaceful demonstrations are not surprising. We have seen during the previous months some leading figures in this group inciting hatred, and yesterday the group released an official statement strongly inciting in it against these demonstrations and those who call for them as if the former notorious National Democratic Party is still active fighting freedom and democracy but under a new name “Muslim Brotherhood”.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) challenged leaders in Bahrain and Yemen to release journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested, tried in Kangaroo courts, and given long jail sentences. It said there were at least a dozen reporters and photographers being held by Bahraini authorities.

RWB reported that, in the past few days, the authorities have arrested more photographers and photo-journalists who had been covering the pro-democracy demonstrations that have taken place in Bahrain since mid-February. The group said the aim of these targeted arrests is to limit the dissemination of news reports, photos and video of the protests and the government crackdown.

“Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate release of these photographers and of all the other people who have been arrested for circulating information about the protests and repression,” the organization said.

The organization also said that the Yemeni authorities continue to violate media freedom. “In the one of the latest cases, three government thugs known as baltagiyas attacked the Sanaa headquarters of the independent daily Al-Oula at dawn on 21 May, stabbing Hassan Sayeed, an employee. He was reported to be in a serious condition after being hospitalized.”

Deliveries of thousands of copies of local newspapers were also interrupted and the newspapers confiscated.

A journalist working for the independent NewsYemen site, was attacked by security forces while covering a sit-in by employees of the Yemeni oil company in the southern province of Taiz on 16 May. Deputy provincial security chief Mohamed Al-Shami hurled Adib’s camera to the ground and stamped on it. After being held with detained demonstrators for an hour, Adib managed to escape.

Another journalist working for the newspaper Al-Thawra, was threatened on 16 May with being killed or having his tongue cut out.

Yet a third journalist, based in the governorate of Hadramaout, who helps edit the Syon Press website (www.syonpress.com) and reports for the newspaper Al-Nada and the news website NewsYemen, was detained for several hours on 15 May as a result of a complaint by the head of a reconstruction fund that was created after heavy flooding in 2008 in Hadramaout and Al-Mahrah. An article by this journalist headlined “The true disaster” claimed that reconstruction money had been embezzled.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will Obama Deal with America’s Double Standard?

By William Fisher

American voters, according to Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, are hoping that President Obama’s speech Thursday will set out what Kurtzer calls “a developed U.S. position.”

"This is a moment to have a presidential articulation of how the U.S. looks at the respective political changes in Egypt and at the terrible situation that's developing in Syria and that is ongoing in Libya," Kurtzer says.

I hope they get what they’re looking for.

But to achieve that President Obama will have to confront not only Tunisia and Egypt, whose revolutions are already past-tense; and not only Syria, which is large enough and powerful enough to merit Presidential opprobrium for the unspeakable cruelty with which President Basher Assad has sought to destroy Syria’s anti-government protestors; but smaller and apparently less important countries employing equally barbaric practices against the most basic reforms, and about which the president has had little or nothing to say in the past months.

Bahrain and Yemen are the two that jump off the page. In respect to both these countries, the U.S. has remained largely silent in the face of outrageous crimes being perpetrated by governments against their own citizens.

In Bahrain, dozens of doctors and nurses have been arrested, and charged with a laundry list of crimes including, embezzlement of public funds, physical assault on civilians, assault leading to death, possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition, failure to carry out their employment duties, and so forth. All bogus. The reason physicians and nurses are being arrested and imprisoned is to keep them from treating Bahraini citizens who show up at the main hospital; to instill such fear into the wounded that they won’t use the hospital; and to keep doctors and nurses them from testifying about what they saw. The consequence is that the security services have dragged sick patients out of their hospital beds and taken them away, presumably to detention or worse.

The Bahraini monarchy has also rounded up more than two dozen protesters and put them on “show trials” before military courts. These people have been held for days and weeks without access to their lawyers or to their families. Most of them don’t know what charges have been brought against them.

All this could well have happened in Assad’s Syria or Mubarak’s Egypt. But they occurred in a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf where a majority of Shia Muslims is ruled by a Sunni Muslim king. And now a king whose position has been reinforced by the presence of Saudi and UAE troops.

And let us make no mistake: it is largely out of deference to the Saudis – suppliers of 12 per cent of our oil – that the US has not spoken out more forcefully against the brutal repression of Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority by the Sunni minority headed by the king and the royal family. The US is making nice on the Saudis because the oil sheiks were miffed by Obama’s actions in Egypt: They think he threw Mubarak under the bus too quickly. The US had no overarching national interest in Tunisia; ergo, the message welcoming the overthrow of that country’s ruler of 30 years came relatively quickly. Egypt was seen as a loyal and effective ally for many years; it had its own peace treaty with Israel and had been helpful in brokering agreements between Hamas and Fatah. So it appeared to some to be taking forever for the president to, as they say, throw Mr. Mubarak under the bus – albeit that the Saudis are miffed because they think Obama did this much too soon.


But the Syrian situation is every bit as complex as any of the other Arab Spring sites. Mostly Sunni Syria has reached out to mostly Shi’ite Iran to arm Hamas and Hizbollah. Syria sits dangerously close to Israel and the two countries have been mortal enemies for years. And Syria exerts enormous influence in Lebanon, sitting on Israel’s northern border.

So one might have expected Obama to walk as gingerly among the Syrians as among, say, the Egyptians or the Bahrainis. Better the devil you know, would have been the reasoning.

That he didn’t – that he couldn’t – so reason is a work of self-destruction by Mr. Assad. Even in this time when the US is learning again how to balance the national interest with realpolitik, the unspeakable brutality, the total blindness, of some nations – no matter how influential – reaches a point where silence is no longer an option.

And the Administration is quick to remind us of Bahrain’s strategic
importance, as the home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

In Yemen, where the US has a vital national interest in the form of hunting down AlQaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the US has helped broker a deal for the current president to step down. But the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has offered to step down numerous times before and has always reneged, is still in office. It has been reliably reported that President Saleh is attempting to win criminal immunity from prosecuton for himself and his family.

Obama’s audience should expect to hear a strong statement condemning President Saleh’s serial dissembling.

As The Arab Spring has progressed, the position of the US Government has caused consternation among pro-democracy activists throughout region,. especially among the young – who were, after all, the drivers of the uprisings.

To these young men and women, it seems that the US remains silent until it knows who is going to win, and then it lets the world know who it’s supporting.

The US had no overarching national interest in Tunisia; ergo, the message welcoming the overthrow of that country’s ruler of 30 years came relatively quickly. Likewise, Libya, whose barbaric treatment of his own people draw a quick and unequivocal response from the US and NATO.

Egypt was looked upon differently. It had been a loyal and effective ally for many years; it had its own peace treaty with Israel and had been helpful in brokering agreements between Hamas and Fatah. So it appeared to some to be taking forever for the president to, as they say, throw Mr. Mubarak under the bus. Which he finally did.

The Syrian situation is every bit as complex as any of the other Arab Spring sites. Mostly Sunni Syria has helped mostly Shi’ite Iran to arm Hamas and Hizbollah, Israel’s archenemies. Syria sits dangerously close to Israel, with which is it still technically at war. And Syria exerts enormous influence in Lebanon, sitting on Israel’s northern border.

So one might have expected Obama to walk as gingerly among the Syrians as among, say, the Bahrainis.

That he didn’t – that he couldn’t –is not so much an act of courage on Obama’s part as an act of self-destruction by Mr. Assad. Confronted with the unspeakable brutality, the total blindness, of some nations – no matter how influential – one reaches a point where silence is no longer an option.

As a concerned American citizen, I’m hoping I will hear President Obama tell us that he has drawn a line in the sand – that rulers that kill and torture their own peaceful people are unequivocally unacceptable to the United States.

One day The Arab Spring will be over. The United States will need the trust and goodwill of those who risked everything and went into the street – and eventually became democratic governments replacing aging authoritarian autocrats.

Obama can take some positive steps to bond with those brave men and women in his speech this week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Egypt: “Not Like Us,” say Muslims to Copts

By William Fisher

On May 7, 15 people were killed or mortally wounded, more than 200 injured, and two Coptic churches were burned down in the Imbaba section of
Cairo.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Egyptian media describe the Imbaba attackers as Salafis – fundamentalist Muslims who want the imposition of sharia law. The Salafis, often with links to Saudi Arabia, are seen as having become more visible because internal security is less repressive now than before the revolution. It is also widely believed that elements of the Mubarak regime are encouraging them, the Guardian reports.

"It's the previous regime that is responsible for this," one distraught resident
tells reporters. "We demand that the higher military council punish all those
responsible for this crime," says George Ishaq, a pro-democracy activist. "This is a crime – not sectarian strife."

Egypt’s interim government conducts an investigation and finds that the basis for the attacks on the churches – that Copts were holding as a prisoner a woman who wanted to convert to Islam -- was without factual foundation.

The National Council for Human Rights (whose chairman, ironically, is Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a former UN Secretary General and a Coptic Christian) released the results of a fact-finding commission, pointing to the proliferation of illegal firearms, emerging religious extremism, the presence of a security vacuum, and the interference of former regime members as the main causes of the Imbaba violence.

The government says the attacks were carried out by extremist Islamist factions, aided by the armed goons that Mubarak so often employed. The government says it will pursue the culprits “with an iron hand” and will try the accused in military courts.

Fifteen of Egypt’s most prominent Egyptian human rights organizations say Muslim-Christian civil strife, and the interim government’s pledge to quell it using the iron fist left behind by Mr. Murarak as he exited, could plunge the newly-freed country into serious civil conflict.

But the shock and awe expressed by the military, Egypt’s interim rulers, has a familiar ring. There is little difference between their response now and their responses over more than a generation of discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic Christians. The long-standing drill is that the government is appalled by the treatment of a faithful minority of its people. They vow to fix the problem. But they have no intention of doing so. They will try to simply paper over it. And one wonders whether today’s rulers are any more sincere.

Who are the Copts anyway? And why all the fuss? Well, 15 people were killed, hundreds wounded, and churches burned to the ground. That’s reason enough for the fuss, no?

Yes, except that these kinds of fusses have been going on for a very long time.

Coptic Christians are Egypt's largest religious minority -- at least 10 percent of the population, or about six million out of 64 million. There are Copts in all strata of Egyptian society. Many are in the middle and upper classes. Many have converted to Islam to avoid persecution.

The vast majority of those who are left follow the teachings of the Coptic Orthodox Church. According to generally accepted folklore, that church was established by Saint Mark the evangelist, who introduced Christianity to Egypt in the first century. So Copts were in Egypt before Muslims. They simply were those who chose not to convert to Islam when it appeared in 641 A.D.

And this endangered minority has been paying for it ever since. Millions have left Egypt, but those who have remained have found themselves discriminated against in a thousand ways that are subtle and not-so-subtle.

So why are they being discriminated against? Who is marginalizing them?

After the Arab invasion of 641, Copts were relegated to “dhimmi” status. That means they were a protected minority but without full rights. Thus, they were subjected to poiltical persecution and social ostracism.

Over the next many decades, the Copts’ fortunes were up and down. Eventually there was a kind of Coptic civil and religious renaissance, but despite this reawakening, there were periods of extreme hostility between Muslims and Copts in Egypt.

It was during one such hostile period (1907-11) that the British high commissioner, in an effort to placate the Muslims, introduced a system that effectively barred Copts from senior government positions.

Not until the 1919 Revolution did Copts and Muslims unite against the British occupation and worked together to build a new political order. That was their high point, and their road has been downhill ever since, largely because of the rise of Islamist movements in the 1930s, the appearance of Arab Nationalism during the Nasser regime, and President Sadat’s use of religion for his personal political purposes.

But the unkindest cut of all was the constitution of 1971, which proclaimed, "Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic its official language, and the principles of the Islamic Shari‘a a principal source of legislation." The 1980 constitution made things worse by designating Shari‘a a principal source of legislation.

The Coptic community rightly saw this as a move that would transform Egypt from a secular-style state into an Islamic theocracy, a la Iran.

And all of these pro-Islamic provisions are contained in the constitutional articles that were supposedly re-written following the overthrow of the Mubarak regime and voted on favorably by the people in the ‘new Egypt’s” first plebiscite.

This history of Muslim-Coptic relations in Egypt doesn’t justify the institutionalized discrimination I saw when I lived in Egypt; it merely explains it.

What one needs to understand is that the outrageous treatment of the Copts was and is essentially based on Muslim attitudes toward people who are "not like us." This attitude is reinforced by the extremist fundamentalist views of the Salafists, the tacit support of The Muslim Brotherhood, and further complicated by the fact that, in Islam, only Muslims are viewed as innocent. Non-Muslims have not accepted Islam; therefore they are seen as guilty of a crime against Allah.

But this biblical sophistry, cited mostly by uneducated Muslims, merely serves to obscure the simple one-dimensional nature of Islam’s problem with the Copts.

The heart of the problem is ‘not like us.’

This is little different from the self-appointed vigilantes like the Minutemen patrolling our Southwest border hunting illegal immigrants. Or the police in Arizona pulling someone over for a broken tail light and then asking for the driver’s “papers.” Or the golf course at Augusta, Georgia, refusing membership to females. Or the fearful morons who still doubt President Obama’s citizenship.

What is so incredibly disappointing about this particular exhibition of Muslim bigotry toward Coptic Christians is its timing. It comes less than three months after the Revolution of Tahrir Square, which proclaimed freedom and self-determination, not just for Muslims, but for everyone. Those who cling to their bigotries betray the meaning of that revolution.

But there is an unintended consequence of this bigotry that is equally serious.

It is the capacity of inter-religious strife to wreck the principles of Tahrir Square and, in so doing, to trigger violent confrontations that could destabilize the whole country. Democracy cannot grow amidst chaos. Chaos creates a security vacuum that provides an irresistible target for the next brutal demagogue.

That would be tragic enough. But Egypt, to Arabs, is not just a country. It is the motherland, the most influential of all the Arab states. What is does – or doesn’t do – will resonate and be mimicked throughout Arab societies.

That’s why Egypt has become the crucible for the hopes and dreams of would-be democrats everywhere. That’s why the world holds Egypt to a higher standard.

Bahraini Protests on Life Support

By William Fisher

As Saudi-backed Bahraini authorities prepared to carry out death sentences against four anti-government protesters for the murder of two security officers, forces loyal to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa continued their campaign of arresting physicians and nurses to make it impossible for them see and treat wounds allegedly inflicted by government gunmen.

Twenty-three doctors and 24 nurses were arrested yesterday and charged with a laundry list of crimes including, embezzlement of public funds,
physical assault on civilians, assault leading to death, possession of unlicensed weapons and ammunition, failure to carry out their employment duties, in aims of hindering medical work, consequently endangering people’s health and lives, attempting to forcefully occupying a public building, efforts to bring down and change the regime by illegal means,
inciting hatred against the governing regime, promoting sectarian hate,
spreading false news and rumors that harm public interest, and participating in unlicensed protests and rallies.

The arrests included Dr. Ahmed Jamal, president of the Bahrain Medical Society.

The U.S.-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, called Monday on Bahraini authorities to put off military court death sentences and life imprisonment of Shiites over the alleged killing of two security men.

"Bahraini authorities should set aside a military court ruling on April 28,
2011, sentencing four defendants to death and three others to life in prison for their alleged involvement in the murder of two police officers," the human rights group said.

It said that the trial of the seven defendants, aged between 19 and 24, lasted
less than two weeks, while they were the first civilians to be convicted in
special military courts set after the crackdown in March on Shiite-led protests demanding democratic reforms.

"By establishing these special courts, the government of Bahrain is making it
near impossible for defendants to enjoy the rights to which they are entitled," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.

"The role of the military prosecutor, the makeup of the special court, and the
meager access to legal representation undermine the most basic due process
protections," he added.

According to authorities, four police were killed in March after being struck by cars during the protests in the kingdom, which is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty.

Amnesty International last week urged Bahrain to block the executions.
"Those sentenced have no right of appeal except to another special military
court, raising great fears about the fairness of the entire process," Amnesty
International said.

Authorities charged the defendants with premeditated murder under Bahrain's 1976 Penal Code and the 2006 counterterrorism law, which mandates the death penalty for certain crimes, including murder, when designated a terrorist crime, Human Rights Watch said.

Bahrain had declared a "state of national safety," a lower degree of emergency, on March 16, a day before security forces crushed the month-long Shiite-led demonstration.

Bahraini authorities have said 24 people were killed during the unrest, most of them demonstrators. Last week, a Bahraini official said 405 detainees had been referred to military courts while 312 have been released.

"Sixty-two criminal cases and 343 misdemeanor cases have been referred to the courts of national safety," said the head of the Information Affairs Authority, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa.

In other developments, Maryam Al-Khawaja, Head of the Foreign Relations Office for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said Bahraini authorities have arrested two former members of Parliament from Al Wefaq political party: Matar Matar and Jawad Fairouz. MP Jawad Fairuz is known for highlighting government corruption and unfair distribution of lands as he attempted to bring the case to parliament. Matar Matar has been documenting violations and cases of disappearances and arrests.

His interview with the BBC can be found here:. http://bit.ly/kGfkWM

The Bahraini authorities are reportedly harassing and intimidating members of the press. An article entitled “The Murder of Free Speech and the Siege of Freedom” on the website of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights claims that “More than 68 journalists have been subjected to lay-off, arrest and threats because of their work.”

Since the 14th of February 2011, he article charges, “Bahrain has seen a political movement demanding freedom, democracy, and the revival of communal partnership in the framework of the civil movements seeking freedom which are currently overrunning Arab countries.

“This was followed by brutal security crackdowns and the entry of the Peninsula Shield forces (Military units of 6 Gulf countries) into Bahrain.

“Journalists engaged in this event with daily coverage through both their jobs at local newspapers, through their announcements on satellite television stations, by writing to Arabic newspapers in the framework of their presence at the site of action, and via effective action through online social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Because of that, journalists have been subjected to a campaign of lay-offs and collective arrests affecting more than 68 journalists, while many have received different threats originating from the Bahraini authorities, its associated organizations, and affiliated parties. The online activist Zakariya Al Aushayri has been killed in detention and Reporters without Borders has released an official statement demanding an investigation into the incident, indeed the reporters Faisal Hayyat, Hayder Mohammad, Ali Jawad, and other bloggers and e-activist have been arrested. Warrants have been issued for others as well, causing some to leave Bahrain, in fear of their personal safety.

“Bahrain is currently considered a dangerous zone for the freedom of press and journalists. Bahraini journalists are hoping for a helping hand and for the adoption of measures to insure their safety. We firmly believe that any journalist arrested by the Bahraini government could die in view of the current security laws (the emergency law) implemented in the country, the severity of the situation, and the arbitrary procedures that the country has seen on multiple levels that go up against the international commitments concerning human rights; especially with the rise in the number of people killed in Bahraini interrogation centers to 4, asides from the 35 dead during the demonstrations so far, all in a country with a population that does not exceed 570 thousand people.”

In other developments, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja's wife, Khadija AlMousawi was fired from her job on Sunday 2nd May. AlMousawi was Head of Guidance and Administrative Manager at Abdulrahman Kanoo International School where she has worked for the past 10 years. According to family members, AlMousawi was informed that the order for her layoff came from the Ministry of Interior. Five other employees at the same school were also fired.

Shaikh Mohammed Habib AlMuqdad (Swedish citizen) called his family yesterday asking for clothes. This is the first time his family knew that he was being held by the authorities. AlMuqdad was recently released from prison (late February) after being accused of being part of a terrorist cell. After his release AlMuqdad spoke about the torture that he had been subjected to and showed marks left on his body due to electric shocks and other types of torture.

Another Swedish citizen, Khalil AlHalwachi, has gone missing after his daughter found their home vandalized (pictures attached)

In a related development, Forbes Magazine is reporting that a major U.S.-based labor group is asking Washington to suspend a free trade pact with Bahrain in response to the Gulf nation's crackdown that includes purging union leaders accused of supporting pro-reform protests.

A senior official for the AFL-CIO says the petition urges American trade officials to halt the special accord that waives tariffs on industrial and consumer products. Bahrain is a key U.S. ally and home to the Navy's 5th Fleet.

Jeff Vogt, an AFL-CIO official, said on Monday that it's the first time the group has sought to halt a trade pact because of political pressures.

Ever since Saudi Arabian soldiers and UAE police rolled into Bahrain across the 26 km. Causeway separating the two countries, increasing numbers of observers have been writing the obituary of Bahrain’s version of The Arab Spring.

The consensus seems to be that Saudi power and influence would quickly blow the winds of change out to sea. And the effect of Saudi power is not difficult to find; the U.S. Administration has been handling clashes between Bahraini security forces (the Sunni minority) and anti-government demonstrators (mostly the Shia majority) as a super Third Rail. The U.S. wants to avoid irritating the Saudis, who are strategically important for obvious reasons. The Saudis want to avoid the possibility that the oil-producing Eastern part of Bahrain, a heavily Shia area, will make common cause with a neighboring oil-producing province of Saudi Arabia, which is home to a sizable Shia population.

The Saudi and UAE forces in Bahrain are under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC would like the troubles in Bahrain to simply go away, because many of the countries in the Council are near carbon copies of Bahrain.

In the early days of the anti-government protests, the King toyed with the idea of offering some concessions to the dissidents. But these, as in most roiled-up Middle Eastern states, have apparently come too little too late. So the royal family has adopted a hard and unforgiving line against the protesters.

The government seems prepared to arrest them all!

Tom Friedman of The New York Times put the predicament quite succinctly. He wrote, “…Saudi Arabia, which is 90 percent Sunni and 10 percent Shiite, has made clear that it will oppose any evolution to constitutional monarchy in neighboring Bahrain, where a Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority. Saudi Arabia has no tradition of pluralism. When we say “democratic reform” to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, we might as well be speaking Latin. What their rulers hear is ‘Shiites taking over from Sunnis.’ Not gonna happen peacefully.”

Hispanic Caucus Blasts “Secure Communities”

By William Fisher

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is charging that the President's Secure Communities (S-Comm) policy “is not living up to its name,” and is demanding that the Obama Administration declare a moratorium on the program’s implementation.

The Caucus said it has sent a letter to President Obama “following a chorus of growing criticism of program.” The letter states, “Evidence reveals not only a striking dissonance between the program’s stated purpose of removing dangerous criminals and it’s actual effect; it also suggests that S-Comm may endanger the public, particularly among communities of color….”

The Caucus said, “Secure Communities (SCOMM) was initially described as a program to identify and deport immigrants found guilty of serious crimes. The program enlists local police into federal immigration enforcement by screening all fingerprints of those booked in local jails through the federal ICE database.”

They added, “Data revealed through a federal lawsuit filed by civil rights groups shows the program fails to live up to its stated intention, as the program deports large groups of people without any convictions or convicted of only minor offenses.”

According to the CHC, “Lawmakers in Congress and in states throughout the country say ICE officials lied about program details and requirements at its early stages.’

Other groups are expressing similar sentiments. For example, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) applauded Illinois Governor Quinn for “his decision to terminate our state’s participation in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Secure Communities program.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, has described the implementation of the program as "dissembling and deceiving" and has called for an Inspector General (IG) investigation with the support of Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey.

The call is reminiscent of another IG report on SCOMM's predecessor, the 287(g) program, made famous by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, which showed “a program riddled with flaws that was too broken to be fixed.”

On May 4th, the Governor of Illinois terminated his state's participation in the program. In California, Assemblyman Ammiano introduced the TRUST Act to reform and regulate the program. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, large-scale rallies have taken place in opposition to the program.

Thus the Caucus states, “We appreciate and steadfastly support your efforts to reform broken immigration laws and to strengthen national security and public safety. Unfortunately, neither of these goals are served or advanced by the S-Comm policy in its current form”

The group added, “We are not convinced the program is achieving its stated goals, and we see nothing in the management and oversight of S-Comm that convinces us that these risks have been adequately addressed in the latest incarnation of local police immigration enforcement….For these reasons, we request an immediate freeze of S-Comm pending a thorough review.”

Pablo Alvarado, Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network whose organization along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, are litigants in a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). These groups said in a statement:

“SCOMM has become a symbol of the President's broken promises on immigration reform. We are all painfully aware of the poisonous political climate on immigration reform, but there is simply no excuse for the President to deploy a policy that criminalizes immigrants, erodes our civil rights, and destroys community safety. The policy is unacceptable and it needs to be stopped immediately.”

They added, “There is a domestic human rights crisis in Arizona and elsewhere, on display to the world, because of the foolish entanglement of police in immigration enforcement. To allow -- and advance -- a policy that repeats Arizona’s mistakes across the whole country would be a betrayal.”

The President must change direction immediately, through actions and not mere words. His first steps on the road to reform can- and must- be heeding the Hispanic Caucus’ call and putting S-Comm on ice.

"Obama should re-think the Secure Communities program," said Sunita Patel, Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney. "Rather than force states and local jurisdictions to become entangled with immigration enforcement, he should pause and prevent the program’s operation. Governor Patrick Quinn and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have it right. A moratorium is needed now.”

Friday, May 06, 2011

“Rendered” Canadian Blasts Assad, Living “in a state of denial.”

By William Fisher

As Syria teetered on the brink of civil war, the Canadian computer programmer who gained fame by being “rendered” to Syria by the United States, and being jailed and tortured there for a year, is charging that Syrian President Basher al-Assad is “committing political suicide” by the cruel and inhuman methods he is employing to quell anti-government protests in his country,

Maher Arar, who was spirited away from Kennedy International Airport in a case of mistaken identity for which the US has refused to apologize, was released after a year by the Syrians with no charges against him. Arar, A Canadian citizen born in Syria, wrote in an article in Prism, an online journal he founded last year:

“I believe [al-Assad] has committed so many mistakes the most serious of which is his unwillingness to understand that the continued use of state propaganda against the protesters (by accusing them of being Israeli infiltrators) in order to justify the use of lethal force against them is a tactic that does not work any more in this 21st century.”

He added that Assad is living “in a state of denial.” Assad’s “other big mistake is his total reliance on the security and intelligence people who seem to have always influenced his political decisions over the last 11 years,” Arar said.

Meanwhile, human rights groups are demanding that Deraa, the war-torn Southern city where Assad unleashed his military on civilian citizens, be allowed to receive aid. They say there are acute shortages of medical supplies, food and water.

An estimated 500 peaceful demonstraters have been killed and thousands wounded by Syrian army soldiers.

Nadim Houry, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told the Guardian newspaper, "The siege should be lifted, food allowed in, and communications reinstated."

HRW said on April 25, Syrian security troops raided Daraa and shot citizens indiscriminately, leading to the deaths of dozens of civilians, according to news agencies and witnesses. Authorities were aiming to suppress peaceful protests demanding political reforms that started in mid-March.

In later developments, HRW reported that hundreds of Syrian troops stormed the Damascus suburb of Saqba overnight - breaking into houses and arresting about 300 people, witnesses say.

Tanks and troops are also reported to have been sent to other trouble spots, amid fresh reports of anti-government demonstrations in Homs and Hama.The moves came despite appeals from the UN and US for President Bashar al-Assad to end the violence against protesters.

Activists, meanwhile, were vowing to stage a "Day of Defiance" on Friday.
More than 500 Syrians are thought to have been killed since the protests started seven weeks ago.

At least 2,500 others have been detained, although rights groups say the figure could be much higher.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is reporting that “The images coming out of Syria are desperate and distressing. A video that we're pretty sure is from Deraa shows nothing short of a massacre - dozens of people killed in the streets, people shot through the head, others bleeding to death on the ground.”

The BBC says “they appear to be mostly young and unarmed people who took part a few weeks ago in nothing more than a protest for change.

The few people managing to get out of Syria and across the border into Jordan are very frightened and wary of speaking out. But one man who came out this morning told me three members of his own family had been killed.

He says the army is now in Deraa literally washing away the blood from the streets. This is in anticipation of a visit by a UN human rights delegation in the next few days.”

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said Syrian authorities imposed complete siege on the city including a media blackout.

“The Syrian authorities bear sole responsibility for the safety of journalists. Authorities have to immediately declare reasons and places of their detention. Authorities are responsible for their disappearance and have to respond to allegations that the journalists were abducted” by government operatives,” the organization said.

The siege on the city has been the most brutal element of a vicious campaign to crush dissent that has led to widespread international condemnation. The Red Cross on Tuesday called on Syria to allow its health workers safe access to people injured in bloody protests and let it visit those who have been arrested.

"We need to have larger access, especially in the south, and here I talk about Deraa," ICRC spokesman Hisham Hassan told a news briefing in Geneva.

The Guardian newspaper reports, “There is growing evidence of a humanitarian crisis in the city. No one has been allowed in and reports trickling out paint a devastating picture of a population suffering from a lack of medical supplies, food and water. Communications are still cut off. Few agencies are licensed to work in Syria and those who are have specific remits to work with Iraqi refugees, who fled in the wake of the US war on Iraq.”

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, some activists expressed concerns that protests could fizzle out as Syrians, “who have braved security services' gunfire, fear becoming one of thousands being rounded up.” But other observers are saying that the Syrians “have lost their fear of fear” and are determined to remain in the streets despite the all-too-real possibility that they will be killed or wounded.

The Guardian quoted the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as saying that hundreds had been charged with "maligning the prestige of the state", which carries a three-year sentence.

"I would rather be killed than be locked up and tortured," said one young man in the capital, echoing many others. "We know what happens to people inside."

Amnesty International, which has not been allowed access to Syria, has revealed details of detainees who said they were beaten with batons and cables and subjected to harsh conditions. One said that after being stripped and beaten he was made to lick his blood off the floor.

Diplomats and some opposition figures continue to urge the government to undertake national dialogue. Over the past few weeks, Assad has met with local delegations, and reportedly reached out to some national figures.

But Syrian observers said such efforts were a farce: "They have quashed the opposition and thrown intellectuals into jail," said Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian dissident in Dubai. Opposition figures and activists still at large told the Guardian they would not consider meetings until the violence stopped.

That did not seem imminent as witnesses said tanks were seen heading for areas around Homs central Syria.

Homs is the largest city in Syria to experience persistant protests calling for the end of Assad's 11-year rule, while 17 were shot dead in nearby Rastan on Friday.

A witness told Reuters he had seen 30 tanks and at least 60 trucks filled with soldiers, days after an eyewitness described to the Guardian the area around Rastan as looking like a "war zone".

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has denounced what it says is a “trend of journalists disappearing in Syria in mysterious circumstances.”

Dorothy Parvaz , a journalist working for channel alJazeera disappeared last Friday and all and communications with her failed after her arrival at Damascus airport. The Algerian journalist, Khalid Si Mohand, who is stationed in Damascus and works for Radio France International, also disappeared April 9 in mysterious circumstances.

According to alJazeera, Ms. Parvaz, 39, who holds American, Canadian and Iranian passports, went to Damascus on Friday to join the channel crew and to participate in the coverage of the events of peaceful protests in Syria. But contact with her was lost after leaving the plane at Damascus International Airport. So far there has been no information on her whereabouts, her condition, the reasons for her disappearance, or her fate.

Despite the lack of information about these journalists, the Arabic Network believes that the Syrian authorities are mainly responsible, especially as it is the only power in Syria, which is “trying to impose media blackout on events to hide the suppression to public freedoms and the brutal assaults against the Syrian citizens for using their right to peaceful protest to demand democratic reforms in the country.”

Another well-respected human rights organization, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, is gravely concerned about the Syrian authorities’ continued insistence on using excessive force to break up ongoing peaceful protests demanding the right to dignity and democratic freedoms.

CIHRS believes that the repressive security approach undertaken by the Syrian regime “once again proves the utter lack of genuine will to engage in serious reform and exposes the falsity of recent official promises of reform meant to circumvent Syrians’ democratic entitlements and absorb the anger at home and abroad following the brutal crackdown that left at least 123 people dead. Most of the victims died in peaceful protests that have taken place since the second half of March, starting first in Deraa and spreading to several other Syrian provinces.”

The group noted that Syrian President al-Assad admitted a few days ago that reform had been too long delayed in Syria and that the country might face destructive dangers if it did not embark on reform. However, “these exalted phrases found their practical application in further violence against peaceful protests called for by forces demanding democratic freedoms, which has led to the death of an additional 100 people in the first half of April,” the group said, adding that most of the victims were killed in demonstrations in Latakia, Deir al-Zor, Damascus, Baniyas, in addition to Deraa.

While the official media and presidential aides reported that a decision had been made to lift the state of emergency that has been in force in Syria since 1963, President al-Assad quickly dispelled this notion. Instead, he seems to be following in the footsteps of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak by issuing orders to draft a new counterterrorism law to replace the emergency law.

“The practices of the Syrian authorities clearly show that the Baath regime is incapable of learning the lesson from the revolutionary uprisings in the Arab region, which have thus far led to the downfall of two of the most recalcitrant examples of police rule in the Arab world - Egypt and Tunisia - and which are shaking the thrones of tyrants in Libya and Yemen,” the CIHRS said.

It further warned that continued repression and deception by the Syrian regime to avoid addressing demands for reform and democracy “threaten to throw the country into an intractable spiral of violence.”

The group is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to convene a Special Session to discuss the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria and consider measures to end the abuses of the Syrian authorities.

CIHRS stresses that “saving the country from violence and avoiding the Libyan or Yemeni scenario of armed conflict, which threatens wide-scale civil war, require the Syrian regime to exercise the utmost responsibility toward its people and to immediately adopt serious, far-reaching measures that respond to the aspirations and sacrifices made by Syrians to achieve democracy.”

At the end of April, Pres. Barrack Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions against Syrian officials and others. He said, “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now. We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the Syrian people in this challenging time.”

Obama went on to say, “The Syrian Government’s moves yesterday to repeal Syria’s decades-old Emergency Law and allow for peaceful demonstrations were not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters today.

“Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began, the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian Government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations.

“The Syrian people have called for the freedoms that all individuals around the world should enjoy: freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders.

“President Assad and the Syrian authorities have repeatedly rejected their calls and chosen the path of repression. They have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses to compound the already oppressive security measures in place before these demonstrations erupted.

“Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria’s citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.

“We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world.”

Though Syrian demonstrators would no doubt have welcomed Obama’s message much earlier, this would seem out of character with the step-by-step carefully calibrated messages the President and his top people have been delivering since it became apparent that The Arab Spring wasn’t going away any time soon.

The US had no overarching national interest in Tunisia; ergo, the message welcoming the overthrow of that country’s ruler of 30 years came relatively quickly. Egypt was seen as a loyal and effective ally for many years; it had its own peace treaty with Israel and had been helpful in brokering agreements between Hamas and Fatah. So it appeared to some to be taking forever for the president to, as they say, throw Mr. Mubarak under the bus – albeit that the Saudis are miffed because they think Obama did this much too soon.

And it is largely out of deference to the Saudis – suppliers of 12 per cent of our oil – that the US has not spoken out more forcefully against the brutal repression of Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority by the Sunni minority headed by the king and the royal family. In Yemen, where the US has a vital national interest in the form of AlQaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the US has helped broker a deal for the current president to step down.

But the Syrian situation is every bit as complex as any of the other Arab Spring sites. Mostly Sunni Syria has reached out to mostly Shi’ite Iran to arm Hamas and Hizbollah. Syria sits dangerously close to Israel and the two countries have been mortal enemies for years. And Syria exerts enormous influence in Lebanon, sitting on Israel’s northern border.

So one might have expected Obama to walk as gingerly among the Syrians as among, say, the Egyptians or the Bahrainis. Better the devil you know, would have been the reasoning.

That he didn’t – that he couldn’t – so reason is a work of self-destruction by Mr. Assad. Even in this time when the US is learning again how to balance the national interest with realpolitik, the unspeakable brutality, the total blindness, of some nations – no matter how influential – reaches a point where silence is no longer an option..

I’m happy we have reached that point with Syria. I wish we could summon the courage to do the same with Bahrain.







Monday, May 02, 2011

Egypt: What Else is the Army Not Doing?

By William Fisher

Over the weekend, as I was writing a piece about the failure of the Egyptian Army to put a stop to former President Mubarak’s grisly practice of arresting people on the flimsiest grounds and then proceeding to detain, torture and abuse them, I was reminded of a couple of other big things the Army isn’t being helpful about.

One of them is press freedom. The other is labor unions. In the former, the interim military government is proposing new regulations that will give journalists less freedom, not more. And in the struggle of working people to morph from pathetic “company unions” to free and independent 21st century unions, the Army seems to be a significant obstacle.

When the Army first weighed in on press freedom, I was cautiously hopeful.
Here what the Supreme Council said:

“Maintaining the council’s policy to communicate with the Egyptian population and the youths of the revolution these days to spread the truths and reply to rumors that may harm the revolt’s achievements and cause strife between the Egyptian people and the Armed Forces, the council stresses on the following:

“1- Since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution, the Supreme Council
has been keen not to interfere in the editorial policies of all kinds of
media.

“2- The media in Egypt is absolutely free to publish or discuss any matter
and assume responsibility for the consequences of its coverage based on
its credibility.

“3- All statements issued by the Supreme Council are made without the
hiding of any facts as the council believes in the importance of spreading
truths as soon as possible.

“4- The ultimate goal of the Supreme Council and the Egyptian people
nowadays is to support all kinds of Egyptian media to restore its vital
role that made the most powerful impact on our Arab and Islamic nation
while back.”

Well, that was encouraging. Restoring the press’s “vital role.”

Until I learned that the Army (which is ruling Egypt until elections can be held) has issued orders that require local print media to obtain government approval, before publication, for any reference to Egypt’s armed forces.

A letter sent to editors by the director of the "morale affairs directorate" of the Egyptian military ordered them not to "publish any (topics, news,
statements, complaints, advertisements, pictures) pertaining to the armed forces or to commanders of the armed forces without first consulting with the Morale Affairs Directorate and the Directorate of Military Intelligence and Information Gathering."

Sound familiar? That letter could have been signed by Hosni Mubarak!!

According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the letter's content has not been reported in Egyptian publications, but “the regime of censorship has been noted by bloggers.”

There is nothing theoretical about the Army’s intentions. Witness the military court in Cairo sentencing blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad to three years in prison for "insulting the military." His crime: Writing an article in which he criticized the military for not being transparent in its decision-making.

And what was he doing in a military court? He was there because he wrote about the military.

Sanad, 25, was sentenced after participating in a hearing on his case that left the defendant and his lawyer believing the case would be continued later.

But, after his lawyer had left, Sanad was given a 10-minute “trial” and sentenced to three years in prison. Without his lawyer or any family members present.

Maikel Nabil Sanad is well-known to the powers that be, especially the military. He is a conscientious objector and a known critic of the Egyptian military.

"In a way, his arrest proves that his criticism of the role of the military in the revolution is very true", says Andreas Speck of War Resisters International.

"Far from being a free country, Egypt is presently governed directly by the military, which did never and does not now care for political freedom or human rights. The revolution might have gotten rid of Mubarak as figure head, but it has not - yet - achieved political freedom."

"The methods used by the Egyptian military do not seem to have evolved since Hosni Mubarak's fall," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Fran├žois Julliard said. "They show the degree to which the military still cannot be criticized and are still a taboo subject. A civilian should not be tried by a military court. This is not the way things are done in the democratic society to which Egyptians aspire."

Julliard added: "The circumstances of this blogger's arrest and the conduct of his trial demonstrate a complete lack of consideration by the military for the most basic principles of international law. Egypt has begun a process of democratization and it should now be possible to criticize the armed forces like any other component

Meanwhile, on the labor front, workers were struggling to come to grips with a draft anti-strike law ratified by the military in late March. According to Egyptian press reports, “this law criminalizes organizing or inciting a demonstration that is deemed by the military to halt production or the flow of public life. Those convicted will be subject to a fine of up to LE500,000 and a year in prison, even or peaceful demonstrations.”

The local press reports that the ratification “was tucked away in a few lines in SCAF’s last 15-page decree in the Official Gazette. The discreet announcement comes in stark contrast to the multi-colored, user-friendly SCAF announcements posted as pictures on their Facebook page.”

Meanwhile, in a historic “first,” Egypt’s working class was able to celebrate
Labor Day (May 1) in Tahrir Square with independent unions, said Kamal Abbas, a worker and general coordinator for the Egyptian Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services.

The newly founded Egyptian Independent Trade Unions Federation (EITUF) is now home to at least 12 labor unions. The federation sees itself as an umbrella for all independent unions created before and after the 25 January revolution.

According to the El Masry El Yaum newspaper, the EITUF aims to compete with the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), which has been accused of repressing workers and being a tool of the ousted regime.

The newspaper said labor groups have called for disbanding the ETUF, and additional demands include setting a higher minimum wage, nullifying the newly implemented protest law, permanently hiring workers who currently have temporary contracts, and removing company management accused of corruption. Workers' rights groups have highlighted the difficulty in establishing new labor unions during the transitional period.

Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS) and board member of the EITUF, filed a lawsuit earlier this week to disband the ETUF and put its money under judicial supervision.

The group also called for the nullification of the law criminalizing sit-ins and industrial actions.

"The demand for a minimum wage and, more broadly, the restructuring of the national wages scheme, is one that brings together everyone who works for a wage. Doctors and professors are at the forefront of this battle, not only
industrial workers,” said Salma Saeed, an activist and member of one of the
parties organizing Labor Day told the press.

The coalition will also call for demands that include benefits, amending the
labor law to limit the powers of employers, protecting rights for unemployed and irregular workers and resuming work in places where employers have fled the country.

The official federation, in the meantime, announced last week the cancellation of Labor Day celebrations since its chairman, Hussein Megawer, faces corruption charges and is undergoing investigations.

Egypt’s labor unions have been consistently weakened by the state exercising control over a wide range of issues. Some of these issues have arisen from the stonewalling of employers to increase wages or enhance benefits. But others have grown out of the gradual dismantling of much of the state-owned industrial sector in favor of privatization.

Privatization has had some beneficial effects, since government enterprises were generally inefficient and unable to compete in markets outside Egypt. Some private companies that purchased government-controlled industrial properties were genuinely dedicated to remaining in production with a better competitive environment based on increased efficiencies.

But many others turned out to be a scam. For example, a syndicate of Egyptian investors, or a foreign company, would acquire a state-owned company and thereby privatize it. But instead of retaining the work force to bring about increased efficiencies to boost sales, the new owners dismantled the factories, sold its equipment, with the intention of using the land for non-industrial purposes, for example, tourism.

Government officials were bribed to allow this to happen and the factory labor force was dismissed and sometimes replaced by foreign workers familiar with the planned new incarnation of the one-time factory.

In a move triggered by desperation, workers from a once-profitable privatized factory staged a sit-in in the factory rather than allow all its equipment – and their jobs -- to be shipped elsewhere. Broadcaster Paul Ray has details in his Real News broadcast. (http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=74&jumival=714)

I’m sure many of you remember the infamous photographs from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, and the allegation by former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the torture of prisoners was the work of “a few bad apples.”

Well, as we learned more and more about “enhanced interrogation” techniques, we believed less and less of what Rumsfeld and his generals (and his president) told us.

But even if there never were any written orders for “enhanced” interrogations, that phenomenon known as “commend influence” would probably have got the job done. Command influence means “everyone knows what the boss wants done, so let’s get it done!”

Was there not command influence working in the sentencing of a blogger? Was there not command influence working in the attempt to emasculate the labor movement? And was there not commend influence working as military guards snatched protesters out of Tahrir Square, arrested and detained them, and proceeded to do to prisoners exactly what Hosni Mubarak’s MPs would have done to them?

I have two questions: First, how will it stop? What will stop it? These kinds of aberrations don’t go away by themselves. They’re hard enough to change even with the best training money can buy. And here we are dealing with a culture of brutality that has been nurtured by the military for a generation!

Second question: When the Egyptian people finally get to vote for a parliament and a president, will the military accept its new civilian masters?

In the answer, we’ll know the future of the Arab Awakening in Egypt.

The Army is Watching Over Egypt. But Who’s Watching Over the Army?

By William Fisher

Mounting criticism of the way the Egyptian Army is governing Egypt grew louder yesterday with press reports that one of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers has been arrested and will likely face a military trial..

The Egyptian Daily News quoted activist Mona Saif as saying that, “Law professor at the American University in Cairo Amr El-Shalakany was arrested two days ago and will be tried in a military court in Suez.” Saif is a member of "No for Military Trials for Civilians" campaign, a grassroots campaign to eliminate such trials, which were allowed under the country’s 30-year Emergency Laws.

She said El- Shalakany faces a possible sentence of 15 years in prison for "insulting the supreme military council" and causing riots and burning a police station.

Hailing from a family of prominent lawyers, El-Shalakany has not yet been officially charged.

Initial reports said he was arrested when he attempted to drive in a restricted area near Neama Bay in Sharm El-Shiekh, one of Egypt’s top beach resorts in South Sinai. He allegedly exchanged verbal insults with the military officers who tried to stop him.

Saif told the newspaper that initially El-Shalakany was to be released Friday when the detaining officers suddenly decided to transfer him to Suez for a trial under martial law.

He faces a possible sentence of 15 years in prison for "insulting the supreme military council" and causing riots and burning a police station. El-Shalakany, who has not yet been officially charged, was arrested when he attempted to drive in a restricted area near Neama Bay in Sharm El-Shiekh, one of Egypt’s top beach resorts in South Sinai, the newspaper reported..


"We assume that he would not set fire in a police station, and would calculate his actions in this context, as someone who is very aware of Egyptian Law," said Saif.

El-Shalakany's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

El-Shalakany blogged for the NY Times during the revolution. His page at the American University says he's a member of the New York bar, who studied at Harvard and at Columbia, in the law, gender and sexuality program.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been the sole executive power in Egypt since Mubarak resigned on 11 February, and their position of authority is expected to last at least another nine months, until the next presidential elections. To date, however, there has been little effort exerted to hold the military accountable for its actions.

The military is widely credited with securing the fall of the Mubarak regime by placing pressure on the president to step down. But as Egypt enters its tenth week of martial law, activists and analysts are questioning the ruling military council’s decision-making process and challenging the military on frequent allegations of human rights abuses.

The Egyptian public’s unwavering support for the military is particularly problematic. In the early days of the Tahrir Square revolution, the Army won the applause of the anti-government protesters by using its tanks to keep pro-Mubarak forces from attacking demonstrators. Later, the Army was seen clearly to take the side of the anti-government protesters.

But, even during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the Army was accused of roughing up and arresting many anti-government demonstrators, torturing them in custody, and holding some of these civilians for military trials. Their actions sparked an outcry from the anti-Mubarak forces and an investigation by the Army Supreme Council, which is running the country until elections are held.

In recent weeks, Amnesty International has documented the continuing use of torture, arbitrary detention, trials of civilians before military courts and repression of freedom of expression by authorities.

After the army violently cleared Tahrir Square of demonstrators on 9 March, women protesters told Amnesty International that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches, then forced to submit to “virginity checks” and threatened with prostitution charges.

Many revolutionaries and others have expressed serious concerns over the
performance of the SCAF, such as the continuation of military trials for
civilians, and the relatively slow pace of certain reforms, including the
dismantling of local councils and the prosecution of corrupt figures from the
former regime.

“That’s what we were out protesting against on 9 March,” said Hazem, a
30-year-old granite contractor who was arrested by military police during the 9 March protests in Tahrir. A judge in a military court gave him a quick trial and sentenced him to three years on charges of "thuggery".

Hazem, whose name has been changed for his safety, spoke to the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper by phone from Tora prison.

“They interrogated us for 10 minutes in the kitchen of the military police
prison before quickly giving the sentence,” he said.

Military trials are perhaps the main concern of human rights organizations
regarding SCAF performance so far. At least 40 people out of a group of 150 who were arrested on 9 March remain in prison, having been tried as "thugs", says Hazem. Legal activists say that at least 130 of the 150 arrested were recognizable figures from the Tahrir uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Many caught by the military so far say that military police beat and insulted
them more severely than the State Security apparatus ever did under Mubarak.

“When they arrested us, they continuously beat us for seven hours straight
without even looking at our IDs and checking who we were,” said Hany Adel, another 9 March detainee who is now in Torah (spelling) prison.

Human Rights Watch has criticized torture in military prisons, as well as many military arrests and trials, such as the recent one of blogger Michael Nabil.

While the military denies any systematic use of torture or abuse -- including
"virginity tests" for women -- activists feel the evidence suggests that the
military is guilty as charged.

“There are too many similarities between the acts of physical and verbal
assaults in military prisons from all over to say that they are individual and
sporadic incidents,” said Mona Seif of the “No to Military Trials” campaign.

Evidence gathered by the campaign shows that many of the detentions were of known revolutionary faces, picked out by informants.

“They made fun of us and said things like ‘Do you think you will change the
world!?’” said Hazem.

With the ongoing sparcity of law enforcement on the streets, the strict
anti-thuggery laws are generally accepted as being necessary, by Egyptian
activists and laymen alike. The law was made very public, and the military
constantly lauded any resulting arrests and sentences. However, with their quick trials and harsh penalties, anti-thuggery laws have created a system by which many revolutionaries and innocent people are not given due process.
Some inmates in Tora have told Al-Masry Al-Youm that they were arrested, beaten and put in prison without having once shown their IDs to any military personnel.

“I understand, though, that the military is burdened these days with a huge
responsibility. We just want fair trials,” said Adel.

The sometimes repressive nature of SCAF’s policies is constantly lauded by its apologists as being necessary due to the supposedly precarious security and economic situation of the country.

For others, it has raised questions about the military’s ability to handle its
position as the sole executive power in the country; its ability to control
civilian life, the caliber of the civilians advising the military, and its plans
for the handover of power.

“The Supreme Council has previously said that they acknowledge the legitimacy of the revolution. However, they are not engaging enough revolutionary figures in any of their decision-making,” said Hassan.

He added that the continued presence of figures from the old regime represents a major stumbling block in the dismantling and rebuilding process necessary in this phase of the revolution. Political figures have proposed a series of reforms to enhance increased dialogue with the SCAF.

Presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei has proposed that SCAF create a 50-person civilian consultative council to help them with decision making.
“Even though the revolution has been successful in dismantling the old system, the rebuilding process is deficient. Many of the decisions are not made with enough popular or representative participation,” said Ammar Ali Hassan, an independent political analyst and columnist for the Arabic edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm.

In late March the military ratified the draft anti-strike law, which
criminalizes organizing or inciting a demonstration that is deemed by the
military to halt production or the flow of public life. Those convicted will be
subject to a fine of up to LE500,000 and a year in prison, even for peaceful
demonstrations.

The ratification was tucked away in a few lines in SCAF’s last 15-page decree in the Official Gazette. The discreet announcement comes in stark contrast to the multi-colored, user-friendly SCAF announcements posted as pictures on their Facebook page.

“Since the referendum, where we voted on a few constitutional amendments, 52 additional articles and three important laws have been passed, with almost no open participation,” said Hassan.

But public pressure in the form of protests has had an effect on the military’s
operations. The military council said they would investigate accounts of abuse and torture and have also agreed to the retrial of some of those caught and tried during the demonstrations.

“Public pressure has yielded many positive results in the performance of the
SCAF. I think they’re concerned they might lose their benevolent public image, and so they responded to some of the demonstrations and public calls for retrial,” said Seif.

The military responded to earlier protests by replacing the cabinet and
releasing some army officers who had protested against the military council.
Many feel that continued pressure could change how the military runs Egypt.

“We need to have the rule of law if this situation continues with the SCAF,”
says Hassan. “For now we are acting on good faith.”