Thursday, March 31, 2011

Egypt’s Army Being Severely Tested: Can Brutal Old Habits Be Unlearned?

By William Fisher

Ever since January 25, when the Tahrir Square demonstrations started, I have been baffled at the precise role of the army. Ambivalence and indecision seemed to be their mantra. But as the pro-democracy demonstrations progressed, the protesters were seen embracing the soldiers and their tanks. I was told this was because of the great respect the Egyptian people have for their military.

Several days into the protests, the demonstrators were attacked by gangs with machetes, petrol bombs, rocks, even horses and camels. That was the first point that I was aware of the Army stepping in to protect the demonstrators and drive the pro-Mubarak folks out of the Square.

Since that time, I’m sorry to report that Egypt’s interim military rulers have been guilty of a host of crimes formerly associated only with the dreaded security apparatus of Egypt’s ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak. But unlike Mubarak, the army is now responding quickly to public protests and international media attention.

And it is responding because human rights activists have learned how to work with international media and with social networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and You Tube that expose – or threaten to expose – Mubarak’s legacy of brutality which is apparently alive and well in the country’s military prisons.

One black-humorist said the military police fear CNN more than a gang of rock-throwing Mubarak supporters.”

For example, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has agreed to retry a protester, Mohamed Adel, and to investigate highly publicized allegations that female protesters were given “virginity tests” and tortured in other ways as well. Treatment of the women detainees was shown on television throughout the world and has reportedly been a major embarrassment for the army.

The protester, arrested on January 28, was charged with vandalism and thuggery and sentenced to five years in prison in a hurried military trial.

The military also promised to investigate whether some women demonstrators arrested by the military on March 9 were tortured after soldiers broke up a sit-in at Tahrir Square.

SCAF’s statement said that Adel's retrial was considered because of grievances sent to the military by his mother, who also publicized the issue using social media. The Associated Press reported that Adel's mother and supporters spearheaded the movement mainly through social networks and a Facebook group.

It remains to be seen whether others still in custody, such as Amr Al-Bihary, 33, arrested on February 26 and sentenced to five years, will also be granted a retrial.

Another protester, Amr Eissa, will also have his case reviewed by SCAF. Eissa is an Ain Shams University student, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment. The review was triggered by protests from Eissa’s fellow university students.

Eissa was arrested in Tahrir Square on March 9, when the military decided to disperse the sit-in that started during Egypt’s revolution, occupying Cairo’s central square and eventually leading to the ouster of the former president on 11 February. Demonstrations have continued to occupy the square in an effort to win respect for the remainder of the protesters’ demands.

The protests resulted in a statement from SCAF trying to reassure the public that the armed forces were only interested in targeting “thugs.” The statement professed the military’s respect for “free youth.” But some observers believe that mass arrests by the military police suggest that the army’s top brass is not fully in charge of those lower down in the ranks.

Since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11, Egyptians have been living under martial law, which allows for quick military trials.

Egypt’s human rights organizations and individual activists have catalyzed their resources to pressure the military to reconsider the cases of at least 150 people. These men and women, mostly young, were among Tahrir Square’s ardent demonstrators. Their trials have been in military courts, and many of them allegedly suffered torture at the hands of the military police.

Another protester, Ali Sobhi, is among those released after being jailed by the military and allegedly tortured. Again, in his case, activists mobilized to raise a loud unified voice demanding his release.

“It was the media pressure that got him out,” said activist Mona Seif, an activist, blogger and post-graduate student in cancer research at Cairo University. Her father, a lawyer for the pro-democracy forces, was arrested.

Along with other independent activists and human rights organizations, such as the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Seif has focused on this issue through an initiative called “No to military tribunals.”

She believes that international media pressure, combined with social media such as Facebook and Twitter, has played a huge role forcing the military to focus on its own abuses and shortcomings.

But for the Egyptian public, it’s a harder sell. As was seen in the early days of the Tahrir Square demonstrations, Egyptians hold their army in very high respect. The army is still being given deference because of its role in the Tahrir Square uprisings.

Seif told the Associated Press, “People and the media need to understand that there’s a big difference between confronting the Armed Forces and bringing to their attention -- as an institution we all respect -- some of the mistakes that may have emerged from their ranks.”

“The issue of the girls’ torture was picked up by international media and human rights organizations. That had a big role to play in pushing the military to investigate them, according to their statement,” Seif said.

But the Egyptian military is a huge organization and it is not always clear that orders from commanders are received, understand and carried out by rank and file.

For example, we will probably never know who exactly gave orders to the army to detain five protesters during a demonstration calling for the release of thousands from military prisons.

Three of the five were later released, but two were transferred to military prosecution. According to witnesses, over fifty soldiers surrounded the demonstration and chased protesters away while arresting five. Later, the military violently broke up the Tahrir strike and detained many protesters who later testified to having been severely tortured inside the Egyptian Museum.

Meanwhile, former detainees gathered at a conference to recount their experiences in military detention and accused the army of torture and inhumane tactics. The armed forces have vehemently denied all accusations.

Protesters arrested by the military police during its March 9 evacuation of the Tahrir Square sit-in spoke of their torture and humiliation while in military custody.

An army official, speaking with the (Egypt) Daily News on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, denied these accusations, saying that the military did not detain anyone on March 9.

But according to Adel Ramadan, lawyer with the Front to Defend Egyptian Protesters, 173 were detained on that day; some were released on the same day while others were sentenced to prison. Of those sentenced, some have had their sentences suspended. About 150 are still behind bars, he said.

Actor Ali Sobhy was taken to the military prison on March 9 and but later released by military prosecution. "I was calling lawyers to report detention cases in front of the Egyptian Museum when an army officer took me inside and started beating me severely," said Sobhy.

"I previously had an operation in my lung, but they did not care about this and started beating me everywhere."

Sobhy said that when they were taken to the military prison, cameras filmed them, identifying them as thugs after putting guns and knives in front of them.

"When army officials saw my long hair and knew that I was an actor, they started beating me, saying I wasn’t a man, and insulted me. This was extremely humiliating."

A journalist gave an account of her detention and also criticized the lack of media coverage.

"Media after January 25 is even more restricted than what we were used to before the revolution," said journalist Rasha Azab, who was arrested by the military on March 9.

"As a journalist, I cannot publish my testimony in my newspaper, that's why I had to publish it on the Internet."

Azab said that she was beaten inside the Egyptian Museum.

"There were around 30 women handcuffed and beaten by the army officers inside the museum, and I heard screams of other men who were being tortured in other rooms."

Azab said that she was released, but alleged that thousands were still detained in the military prison and no one knew anything about them.

"We only arrested those who attempted to harm other people or harass women. These videos [in which released activists recount their torture] are for sure fake; the army cannot torture anyone, with or without orders," said the anonymous army source.

"There are people who are trying to create rifts between the army and the people, just because they do not like the army."

Families of other protesters who were still in military custody also recounted their ordeal at the press conference. One of them was the mother of Waleed Samy Saad who was arrested on March 9.

"Waleed protested in Tahrir because he could not find a job. He wanted a better life for himself and for us, so he went to Tahrir to demand his rights," said Samy’s mothers in tears.

"Protesters who got out of the military prison told me about my polite son who has never violated the law. My son is not a thug; my son is a freedom seeker."

She said she did not know where her son was, and didn’t know what to bring him back.

In another happening, after hundreds of protesters barged into Egypt’s state security offices in both Cairo and Alexandria, locked up prisoners were found and freed.

Protesters started hearing calls for help from under the ground when they stormed the state security office in Alexandria. The protestors reportedly released from one of the office’s tunnel cells a prisoner that has been there for 20 years. This has not so far been confirmed.

It has been said that the death of the young Egyptian activist Khaled Said in Alexandria’s state security branch was a major catalyst in sparking the January 25 revolution that ousted the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Said was working in a public Internet case, when a gang of police dragged him out and beat him to death in the street.

In Cairo, an activist named Abdul-Aziz called the Prosecutor General and asked him to look for the designer of the State Security office so we could find others detained in the secret cells. In the state security headquarters in eastern Cairo, protestors also heard voices and managed to release 14 women and 25 men from secret cells, said Zakaria Abdul-Aziz, former head of the Judges Club.

“I called the Prosecutor General and asked him to look for the designer of the state security office so we can find others detained in the secret cells,” he said in an interview with an Egyptian satellite channel.

Abdul-Aziz also aims to get the documents that were taken from the Cairo State Security headquarters to hand the classified materials to the army to allow the military police to take the building over until it is entrusted to the general prosecution.

According to Abdul-Aziz, secret underground cells are not only exclusive to State Security offices, but there are many others at the Ministry of Interior, prison facilities, and Central Security camps.

“We demand that the truth about secret underground cells be known now to everybody.”

The size of one of these cells does not exceed a meter and a half. They are usually pitch dark, very poorly ventilated, extremely damp, and smelly, said a reporter from the Egyptian newspaper al-Youm al-Sabea, one of the five given permission by the army to take a tour in the State Security building in Lazoghli in downtown Cairo.

Like the interior minister’s office at the eastern Cairo headquarters, the offices of State Security officers are luxurious with adjacent bedrooms and fancy bathrooms.

Hell Room Protestors stormed eastern Cairo headquarters looking for documents and prisoners The National Democratic Party, which was the ruling party before the military took over, has its Hell Room as well.

This room, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly said, houses evidence of the violations committed by all senior officials in the country and supported by audio and video.

In the interrogation, Adly said that both Safwat al-Sharif, former speaker of the Consultative Assembly, Egypt’s higher house of parliament, and Gamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, were aware of the existence of this room.

Derini who speculates that he has been detained at the state security headquarters in eastern Cairo, said that he spent his detention time with bare feet and chained hands.

He added that he was exposed to several forms of torture like laying him down on a wet long chair then connecting his limbs to electricity and sitting him on an electrocuted chair.

A report from Amnesty International reinforces this testimony. A former prisoner recounts:

“The detainees had been rounded up as part of a crackdown on anti-government protesters in the days before the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. After Mubarak’s fall, the military took charge and promised to transfer power to a civilian government in coming months. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, urged the military to halt mistreatment in its lockups and release all protesters still in detention.

"The Egyptian military authorities have committed publicly to creating a climate of freedom and democracy after so many years of repression," said Amnesty’s regional director, Malcolm Smart. "Now they must match their words with direct action."

A military spokesman rejected Amnesty’s allegations of abuse, and denied that the military targets activists or protesters. "Where is this information from?" Lt. General Ismail Etman, spokesman for the military said on state TV.

"No soldier would lay a hand on the body of an honorable citizen." He said the military has received a list of detainees provided by activists and is "searching" for them. The military was deployed in Egypt on Jan. 28 to try to restore security as police disappeared from the streets amid the mass protests. Torture by police and other security agents has been widespread in Egypt for years, and grievances linked to such mistreatment helped drive the protests that erupted Jan. 25 and eventually toppled Mubarak.

Criticism of the military’s handling of the transition is on the rise. Youth groups and democracy advocates have said little has been done to usher in reform or bring civilians in the decision-making process. Detainees held in military detention centers said they suffered harsh mistreatment in the days before Mubarak’s fall.

A 29-year-old man said he was detained Feb. 3 and initially held in an annex to the Egyptian Museum overlooking Tahrir Square, the center of the mass protests. "They called me a traitor and a foreign agent and forced me to take off my clothes except my underwear and to lie face down on the floor," the man, whose name was withheld to protect his safety, told Amnesty International.

"Then they beat me with a whip and stepped with boots on my back and on my hands. They kicked me," he said. He said he was then moved to another location, subjected to electric shocks and threatened with rape before being transferred to a military prison northeast of Cairo. There, he was repeatedly beaten before being released after a week, he said.

An 18-year old said he was detained Feb. 3 at Tahrir Square and released with hundreds others on Feb.10. "Then I was taken for interrogation where they insulted me and my family," he told Amnesty. "They said things one should not say. They took off my handcuffs, because they ordered me to take off my clothes, except my underwear, but I remained blindfolded," he said.

He was then tied by the legs repeatedly dunked into a barrel of water. "They told me to confess that I was trained by Israel or by Iran. They also put electric shocks to my body and I fainted," he said.

Mohamed El-Khatib, a 53-year old government employee from the city of Suez, was arrested Feb. 2 for allegedly violating the nightly curfew enforced by the military before Mubarak’s ouster. El-Khatib told The Associated Press he was interrogated at a military detention center about why he participated in the protests, and accused of trying to overthrow the regime.

While blindfolded, he said he was beaten with sticks and whipped and threatened he would never leave the lockup alive. On Feb. 10, he and dozens of other detainees appeared before a military court and were given suspended three-month sentences. "It was as if they were telling us “accept the sentence, so we can let you out,” said El-Khatib, who has since been released. "The honorable people in the military have to get our rights back. I will not be silent. I want my right."

“The Honorable People in the Military” is what El-Khatib said.

Yes, but how can we forget who it was who beat El-Khatib in the first place. It was the Army. That suggests to me that “the honorable people” have a huge culture-shifting educational job to do. And they need to do it with all deliberate speed.

Assad’s Cookie-Cutter

By William Fisher

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria delivered what must be the Mother of all Cookie-Cutter speeches to his parliament yesterday. It’s a pretty good measure of how far out of touch Assad is with his people that he would even consider delivering a smorgasbord of generalities, devoid of any substance, and essentially blaming a conspiracy by Israel and other “outsiders” for all his troubles.

The impact of this pathetic speech was to create even more disappointment, even more anger, because it followed a hurricane of rumors from people close to the president that he was about to lift the decades-old emergency law, in effect since 1963, and begin to build a foundation for reform and constructive dialogue.

None of that even merited a mention. Pro-democracy advocates will not have been impressed with Assad’s sacking of his government – that’s a ploy used by despots going back centuries. It is a breadcrumb that will feed no one.

The dreaded Emergency Law, similar to one in effect for 30 years in Egypt until the fall of Mubarak, gives the government virtually unlimited authority to arrest and detain people without charges or access to lawyers or family members. There are thousands of untried political prisoners in Syrian jails, many of them locked up for years. The Syrian security police are notorious for torturing prisoners and there have been many deaths in detention.

For those who have been courageously demonstrating for democratic change, the takeaway from the speech must have been: “How it is is how it’s going to be. Suck it up and get over it.”

Well, it’s possible that Assad’s brutal treatment of his fellow citizens thus far has intimidated them sufficiently and that we have seen the last of demonstrators – and of target practice by the security services.

But I rather doubt it. So utterly dismissive was the speech from the chinless wonder that those who want democratic change may only become more emboldened. Friday, after prayers, may tell us a lot about the power, or lack thereof, of Assad’s words.

"We cannot say that everyone who went out (in the streets) is a conspirator. Let us be clear about that," he said in a half-hearted sop to those seeking change. But he was equally clear that all of Syria’s troubles were the result of a conspiracy of outside forces “from near and far” designed to foment sectarian violence.

“The first priority was the stability of Syria,” he told Parliament, dusting off a standard line used by dictators who have run out of every resource save bullets. The last time we heard lots of talk of stability, it was coming from our State Department – before the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak.

And the price of that so-called “stability”?

So far, the street demonstrations in Syria have largely been limited to the South of the country, away from Damascus, the capital. But those peaceful and relatively modest outbursts have cost between 60 and 100 lives. The dead have been shot by the security police.

And here’s our own State Department’s assessment of Syrian “stability”: “During [2009] the government and members of the security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses, and the human rights situation worsened. The government systematically repressed citizens' abilities to change their government. In a climate of impunity, there were instances of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life. Members of the security forces tortured and physically abused prisoners and detainees. Security forces arrested and detained individuals--including activists, organizers, and other regime critics--without due process.

“Lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention remained a serious problem. During the year the government sentenced to prison several high-profile members of the human rights and civil society communities. The government violated citizens' privacy rights and imposed significant restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and travel.

“An atmosphere of corruption pervaded the government. Violence and societal discrimination against women continued, as did sexual exploitation, increasingly aimed at Iraqi refugees, including minors. The government discriminated against minorities, particularly Kurds and Ahvazis, and severely restricted workers' rights.”

Are we really supposed to be surprised that the Syrian people would try to rise up from such a living death and create the kind of stability that comes only with leaders who respond to their people?

The so-called “Arab Awakening” may fail in Syria this time. But Tunisia and Egypt have created a tsunami of protest that cannot be held back much longer.

What’s surprising is not that the Syrian people are rising up but how patient they have been – until now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Death Penalty Declines, But Not in China

By William Fisher

The good news is that momentum against the death penalty is gaining ground around the world. The bad news is that the number of people executed in 2010 -- at least 527 – does not include China, the numbers are in
the thousands .

These are two of the conclusions of a database survey carried out by Amnesty International (AI) entitled, “Death Sentences and Executions in

AI’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign Director Laura Moye says, "It is difficult given the incredible secrecy that surrounds the death penalty, but
from the information that we do have, we are convinced that the numbers are in the thousands," she said.

Despite these numbers, Moye says there are signs of a downward trend in China, like elsewhere in the world.

"It seems that in China there has been a move to limit the number of crimes
punishable by death. So some of the white-collar crimes have been eliminated - or at least there is a proposal to eliminate them - from the list of capital crimes. So we are hopeful that China is also heeding the message from the international community and from human rights proponents that the death penalty start to be whittled down toward its elimination," she said.

While the organization did not come up with numbers for other Asian countries that carried out executions, including Malaysia, North Korea and Vietnam, it did include Iran, Yemen and the United States.

Iran ran a distant second behind China, with at least 252 reported executions, followed by Yemen with at least 53, and the United States with 46.

But the report notes that Illinois this month became the 16th U.S. state
to abolish the death penalty.

The only country that joined the list of countries abolishing the death penalty
in 2010 was the central African nation of Gabon.

AI says 139 countries have now abolished the death penalty in law or in
practice. A human rights campaign is currently under way for another African country, Ghana, to take the death penalty off its own books as it revises its constitution.

Asked by The Public Record for the reasons behind the decline, Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told us:

“The use of the death penalty is declining both internationally and in the U.S. because it is increasingly seen as a violation of human rights. In the developed world, secure prisons have for a long time supplanted any perceived need for executions. Moreover, the inherent dangers of abuse and mistake in capital punishment make it an unnecessary risk that endangers, rather than saves, human lives.”

He continued: “So many other rights that countries seek to protect for their own people and for others have their foundation in the basic right to life. With that insight, many countries of world are using tools such as treaties and economic incentives to promote an end to the death penalty. Capital punishment is largely a political symbol rather than an instrument of the criminal justice system. Countries can give it up with no real loss, while shedding the image of tyranny and embracing compassion.”

Dieter added, “In the U.S., the scales are tipping against the death penalty as its financial and intangible costs mount on one side and any benefits disappear from the other. Among those costs is the growing condemnation of the world. Many in this country recall what apartheid meant for South Africa in the 1980s -- they do not want the U.S. to be the last country standing with the death penalty.”

Moye says Amnesty International is also closely looking at the volatile
situation in the Middle East, where many countries caught up in unrest,
including Yemen, Libya and Syria, were in the top ten last year for most
executions. But she says the region also has countries which had very few or no executions.

"In the Middle East, while Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, have often been at the top of the list as far as number of executions, there are many other countries in the Middle East and North Africa that have not been actively executing its citizens in recent years. That includes Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Western Sahara and the United Arab Emirates as well as Tunisia. So overall in the region we are seeing signs of progress," she said.

In December, a resolution renewing the United Nations General Assembly call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty was adopted with 109 votes in favor, 41 against and 35 abstentions. This was a slight increase in favor of the moratorium compared to previous votes on the same issue in the world body in recent years.

Countries that continue to use the death penalty are being left increasingly
isolated following a decade of progress towards abolition, Amnesty International has said.

A total of 31 countries abolished the death penalty in law or in practice during the last 10 years but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA and Yemen remain amongst the most frequent executioners, some in direct contradiction of international human rights law.

The total number of executions officially recorded by Amnesty International in 2010 went down from at least 714 people in 2009 to at least 527 in 2010,
excluding China.

“The minority of states that continue to systematically use the death penalty
were responsible for thousands of executions in 2010, defying the global
anti-death penalty trend,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“While executions may be on the decline, a number of countries continue to pass death sentences for drug-related offences, economic crimes, sexual relations between consenting adults and blasphemy, violating international human rights law forbidding the use of the death penalty except for the most serious crimes,” said Shetty.

AI also reports on a number of setbacks during 2010 when six other countries and territories carried out executions after a hiatus and one country expanded the scope of the death penalty.

“In spite of some set backs, developments in 2010 brought us closer to global abolition. The President of Mongolia announced a moratorium on the death penalty, an important first step as capital punishment is still classified as state secret. For the third time and with more support than ever before, the UN General Assembly called for a global moratorium on executions” said Shetty.

Since 2003, less than half of retentionist countries have carried out
executions. Less than a third were known to have executed prisoners every year over the last four years.

“Any country that continues to execute is flying in the face of the fact that
both human rights law and UN human rights bodies consistently hold that
abolition should be the objective.”

“A world free of the death penalty is not only possible, it is inevitable,” said
Salil Shetty. “The question is how long will it take?”

An equally optimistic note was sounded by Chip Pitts, lecturer in law at Stanford Law School and Oxford, and a long-time human rights activist. He told The Public Record, “One of my favorite quotes is Martin Luther King’s observation that ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice’. While the so-called “global war on terror(ism) has been a notable and tragic exception to this long-term positive tendency, events like the Arab Spring validate King’s observation.”

Pitts explains the trend away from executions this way: “The global rejection of the death penalty, though still incomplete, is part of this march of civilization and expanding human rights. The trend is accelerated by information technologies that allow human beings from all over the planet to communicate, appreciate their common humanity and shared rights and values, and then cooperate in forms of education and activism that highlight the corrupt hubris and fallible decision-making of the powerful. Nowhere is the arrogance and imperfection of power more evident than in presuming to take another life, even in the name of justice.”

He adds, “The facts are that the death penalty in practice, wherever in the world it appears, is inherently arbitrary, discriminatory, and imperfect – and such imperfection is simply intolerable when it comes to the ultimate penalty. Amnesty International’s activists and supporters have been at the forefront in pointing this out, so those concerned with questions of human rights and human dignity should join Amnesty and human rights educators in building the understanding and encouraging the actions that abolish medieval atrocities like torture and the death penalty now and forever.”

Pitts is a former Chairman of Amnesty International USA and is currently a member of the Board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center was asked by The Public Record if people in the “right to life” community are as concerned about executions of adults as they are about the unborn. This is his response:

“For Catholics, I think there is such a correlation. Interestingly, Gov. Pat Quinn noted the influence of the late Cardinal Bernadin when deciding to sign Illinois's abolition bill. Bernadin was the promoter of the "seamless garment" approach that all life is sacred from beginning to end. He espoused an overall respect for life throughout one's actions, rather than various stances on discrete issues.

”Many opponents of the death penalty do not approach the issue as a moral or religious one, so they may see no connection to other ‘life’ issues. At the other end of the spectrum, there are certainly anti-abortion adherents who support the death penalty, and do so religiously. I think the distinction they draw is between innocent lives and the guilty.”

He added, ”I have a sense that distinction is breaking down, partly because of the realization that we have no infallible way of determining guilt and innocence. Also, many conservative religious folks believe that people can change, and their ministries reach out to prisoners. That may further dissipate the wall between worthy and unworthy lives.”

The AI report also includes a set of regional summaries. These are below:

The Americas
In the USA, the only country in the Americas to carry out executions, at least 110 death sentences were imposed during 2010 but this represents only about a third of the number handed down in the mid-1990s. And in March 2011, Illinois became the 16th state to abolish the death penalty.

The Asia-Pacific
In 2010 Amnesty International was not able to confirm comprehensive figures on the use of the death penalty for China, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore and Viet Nam although executions were known to have been carried out in all these countries. Available information from five other countries in the region confirmed at least 82 executions were carried out in Asia.

Eleven countries imposed death sentences but continued not to carry out executions in 2010: Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, India, Indonesia, Laos, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The Pacific Islands remained free from death sentences and executions. In January 2010the President of Mongolia announced a moratorium on executions with a view to abolition of the death penalty.

Europe and Central Asia
After a year’s hiatus in 2009 when for the first time no executions were recorded in Europe and the former Soviet Union, in March 2010 the Belarusian authorities carried out two executions. Three new death sentences were imposed in Belarus in 2010.

Middle East and North Africa
Fewer death sentences and executions were recorded in total in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 than in 2009. However, where the death penalty was imposed it was frequently used after unfair trials and for offences, such as drug-trafficking or adultery, which are not recognized as the “most serious crimes” and therefore in violation of international law.

The authorities of Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco/Western Sahara, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates imposed death sentences but continued to refrain from carrying out executions.

The Iranian authorities acknowledged the execution of 252 people, including
five women and one juvenile offender in 2010. Amnesty International says it received credible reports of more than 300 other executions which were not officially acknowledged, mostly in Vakilabad Prison, Mashhad. Most were of people convicted of alleged drugs offences. Fourteen people were publicly executed. Death sentences continued to be imposed in large numbers.

Sub-Saharan Africa
In 2010 one more African country, Gabon, abolished the death penalty, bringing the number of abolitionist countries among African Union members to 16.

Four countries were known to have executed in sub-Saharan Africa in 2010: Botswana (1), Equatorial Guinea (4), Somalia (at least 8) and Sudan (at least 6).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From Saudi Arabia: Thanks, Muammar!

By William Fisher

The civil war in Libya has been an unexpected gift to Saudi Arabia: It has diverted the eyes of the world away from how the House of Saud is dealing with its own version of Arab Spring.

The oil-rich kingdom is pursuing a two-pronged strategy.

The first prong is to provide citizens with financial incentives designed to quell deep frustrations with the regime and keep people off the streets.

On February 23, King Abdullah began implementing that strategy by announcing a $35 billion package of financial assistance to the unemployed and support for first-time homebuyers. Then, on March 18, he announced new assistance totaling $96 billion for similar measures, in addition to creating 60,000 new security sector jobs.

The second prong of Saudi strategy is silence. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “While King Abdullah announces financial gifts to Saudi citizens, his police arrest those who want more meaningful change.”

And “the scale of arrests has risen dramatically over the past two weeks,” according to Christoph Wilcke, HRW’s senior Middle East researcher in New York.

Saudi’s political prisoners number in the thousands. Some have been imprisoned for years, without charges, lawyers or trials. Others have been swept up by security police for trying to organize “Days of Rage” demonstrations in Saudi cities to advocate for a constitutional monarchy and a more open society. Still others have been jailed for gathering outside prisons to demand the release of political prisoners.

And it is fair to say that, aside from a few mainstream outlets, the media has treated Saudi Arabia like Las Vegas: “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”

Even Saudi’s deployment of more than a thousand troops to neighboring Bahrain – to help the Sunni minority rulers to hold on to power over the Shia majority – drew only passing media interest. On television, most of that interest focused on the visuals: Saudi armored troop carriers lumbering across the 26 km. causeway connecting the two countries.

HRW reports that Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ites also complain of discrimination, saying they often struggle to get senior government jobs and benefits available to other citizens.

In early March, the Interior Ministry and the Council of Senior Religious Scholars publicly reiterated the government's ban on protests ahead of demonstrations for a Saudi "Day of Rage" that had been called for March 11.

That day, hundreds of people demonstrated in the streets of Qatif and al-Ahsa', calling for the release of nine Shia men held for over 13 years without charge or trial, and dozens of people demonstrated in Riyadh, calling for the release of thousands of Sunni security suspects held without charge or trial, some for over seven years.

Similar protests took place in the Eastern Province on March 17 and 18, and in Riyadh on March 20.

And Saudi’s response? According to HRW, more than 100 people were arrested in the Qatif district, and about 45 in the al-Ahsa' district, both Shia population centers in the kingdom's Eastern Province. A smaller number of people were jailed in the Riyadh and Qasim governorates.

Security forces in the Eastern Province arrested scores of people during protests there on March 11, 17, and 18. They arrested four people on March 25 during small protests in al-Rabi'iyya and al-‘Awwamiyya, towns in the Qatif district, a local activist told HRW.

On March 17, HRW spoke to two people who took part in the demonstration that day. They said that the protests were peaceful, but that at 8:25 p.m. a member of the security forces in civilian clothes drew a pistol and shot two protesters, Ali al-Zayid and Ali al-Saffar, wounding them. The two were among a throng trying to take away the camera of a suspected mabahith (the secret police agency of the Saudi Ministry of Interior) agent.

Security forces then carried out large-scale arrests and transferred the injured protesters to a military hospital, demonstrators and local news sources said.

Saudi Arabia expelled a Reuters correspondent, Ulf Laessing, over his reporting of the incident.

From al-Ahsa' district in the southern Eastern Province, HRW received updated lists of demonstrators arrested in small protests there on March 11 and 18. Police arrested 27 people on March 11, including seven children, and have released only one person, according to a local activist. On March 18, police arrested another 18 people, another local activist said, three of who have since been released. None of them have faced any charges.

These actions by Saudi citizens are not nearly as dramatic as those that took place in Tunisia and Egypt, but in a Saudi context they are momentous.

"Unhappiness with the current situation is something that has brought sworn
enemies together," writes Eman al-Nafjan, a postgraduate mother of three who blogs under the name Saudiwoman. She wrote:

"It's becoming more and more difficult to tell apart the demands of conservatives from those of liberals and the demands of the majority from those of minorities … Across the board, there's a demand for a constitutional monarchy and accountability and the end of corruption in handling the nation's wealth."

Taking to the streets and setting fire to police stations may not be the Saudi
way of protesting but in the last few days a lot of other things have been

Mohamad al-Deheme, a 24-year-old computer programmer set up a website called (the Arabic word for "grievance") where the public can post complaints directed at government ministries – and already the site has several hundred.

Then there are petitions. One of them, headed "Towards the state of rights and institutions", attracted 1,554 signatures on the Internet before the authorities blocked access to it inside the kingdom.

Another came from the "February 23 Youth" group who are demanding "national reform, constitutional reform, national dialogue, elections and female participation".

Yet another, "from Saudi intellectuals to the political leadership", is headed
"Declaration of national reform". That too was blocked by the Saudi authorities.

HRW reminds us that “to outsiders more accustomed to open dissent, all this petitioning and complaining may look like no big deal. But under an absolute monarchy, even petitioning can get you into serious trouble.”

The organization reports that in 2006, Musa al-Qarni and three other men politely asked the king to form an Islamic debating society that would discuss "freedom, justice, equality, citizenship, pluralism, [proper] advice, and the role of women". The king ignored his request and several months later, Qarni was arrested and carted off to jail after the secret police stormed a villa in Jeddah where several men "widely known for their advocacy on issues of social and political reform" were meeting.

Some of the detainees’ stories collected by HRW are heart-breaking.

In front of the Interior Ministry in Riyadh, police detained Bahiya, Dana, and Badria al-Rashudi and held them for a day, two fellow activists told Human Rights Watch. They are the daughters of Sulaiman al-Rashudi, a 76-year-old former judge and reform advocate arrested in February 2007 and held for years before prosecutors charged him recently, a lawyer for another man arrested and imprisoned with al-Rashudi told Human Rights Watch. Al-Rashudi is prohibited from contacting his lawyers. The daughters were there to demand their father's release.

On the night of March 20, the authorities arrested Muhammad al-Bajadi at his home in Qasim province, a statement from the Saudi Association for Political and Civil Rights said, and another activist confirmed. Al-Bajadi, a member of the association, which the government has refused an operating license, had supported families demonstrating at the Interior Ministry to demand their relatives' release. Mubarak bin Zu'air, a lawyer whose father Sa'id bin Zu'air, and brother, Sa'd bin Sa'id bin Zu'air, have long been detained without charge by the country's domestic intelligence service, was also arrested, as was Abd al-‘Aziz al-Qaffari, demonstrating for the release of his brother.

Professor Abd al-Karim al-Khadr told Human Rights Watch that on March 20 he went from his home in Qasim province to the Interior Ministry in Riyadh to inquire about his son, Thamir, a rights activist detained without charge since March 2010. Police there arrested his other son, 17-year-old Jihad. Al-Khadr did not hear from Jihad until early on March 25, when he briefly saw him at Riyadh's Ma'dhar Police Station. Officers there informed him that their superiors had prohibited communication with those arrested.

Saudi domestic intelligence forces, the Interior Ministry's Directorate for General Investigations (mabahith), which runs its own prisons, also arrested two Syrian nationals over the past month, apparently for their peaceful criticism of political conditions. On February 26, the mabahith arrested Bashar Mihriz ‘Abud at his office in Riyadh, where he recently had started work as an editor of Mobily, the magazine of the mobile phone carrier of the same name, a Jeddah-based human rights activist told Human Rights Watch.

‘Abud had worked for eight years as an editor for the prominent daily newspaper Okaz and continued to write for the publication. His most recent article, written shortly before his arrest, detailed the life of the Syrian filmmaker Umar Amiralay, who died on February 5. Amiralay had been a vocal activist for political change in Syria, signing petitions in 2000 and 2005 calling for an end to emergency rule and the release of political prisoners there. ‘Abud's wife, now in Syria, told Human Rights Watch that she had received a call from her husband on March 19, saying he was in al-Ha'ir prison south of Riyadh, and that his interrogators had finished their investigation about his article.

A member of the eight-person committee of families of detained persons told Human Rights Watch that on March 23, they requested a meeting with the governor of the Eastern Province, Prince Mohammad al-Fahd bin Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa'ud, to seek the release of more than 110 people detained at protests over the past weeks, including more than a dozen children.

His deputy, Prince Jilawi bin Abd al-‘Aziz al-Jilawi, met with the families, but refused to release the protesters unless community leaders "quieted down the streets," a person present at the meeting told Human Rights Watch. The government has not charged any of the detained protesters, but required the recently released protesters from Qatif to sign a pledge not to participate in future demonstrations.

"By arresting its peaceful critics and refusing any talk of political reform, Saudi rulers are fast becoming the last hold-outs in a region yearning for democratic change," HRW’s Wilcke said.

HRW notes that, “Throwing money around is the customary way for oil-rich Gulf potentates to deal with a problem. That is not a long-term solution and, even as a palliative, all the signs suggest it is becoming less and less effective. It may be enough to placate some disaffected Saudis, as in the past, but many others are saying money is not the issue: they want real change. The question is whether that message will get through to King Abdullah without mass protests on the streets.”

Ahmed Al-Mulla is a Saudi writer and poet. He said: "There are many of the same issues here as in Egypt and Tunisia. About 70 percent of the people are young and frustrated with no rights, no freedoms, no jobs when they graduate. Our women's rights situation is probably the worst in the world. After seeing others protest, people are becoming more aware, more are connecting online… The government is spending money to make people feel better, but it's not about money. The government tries to divide people, Shia or Sunni, but it's not about that. It's about the freedom to speak, it's about the right to protest, it's about human rights.”

HRW’s Wilke agrees. "By arresting its peaceful critics and refusing any talk of political reform, Saudi rulers are fast becoming the last hold-outs in a region yearning for democratic change," he said.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Mubarak Comedy Hour

By William Fisher

I haven’t had this much fun since Grandma let all the cousins, nieces and nephews rummage through her big Brooklyn house in our fierce competition for the title “Scavenger of the Month.”

Well, imagine the sheer glee, the unbridled joy that an unreconstructed scavenger feels when you let him/her loose in the archives of the Egyptian State Information Service website.

The Archives is where the government stores old material, though in this country today, old could be as young as a month.

Much of what we find there could bring on apoplexy. For example, round about 2004-2005 – when Egypt was under a bit of pressure from the US and others to democratize its election procedures – The State Information Service decided to publish a book on, wait for it, Human Rights in Egypt.

Here’s a passage:

“Within the Egyptian pioneering role in approving, consolidating and maintaining human rights, we shall expound the international and regional agreements Egypt has joined, the human rights-related articles provided in the Egyptian Constitution, the authorities and institutions in charge of supporting and protecting these rights in Egypt, and the role played by the Supreme Constitutional Court in interpreting and adopting these rights.”

Pioneering role? Maintaining human rights? At this point the scavenger doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

But, maybe one needs to take a longer view of history, perhaps with just a modicum of forgiveness toward the blow-hard strongman who puts on his game face while trying to look and sound serious while spewing forth volumes of misinformation and disinformation to his faithful subjects.

Here are some choice passages from the SIS book, “Human Rights in Egypt”:

Since the early dawn of life, freedom and right to option God Almighty bestowed upon Adam and Eve have been of the most important options that have determined the human person’s relation with God and with others, and have determined as well the main features and methodology Adam and his descendants have followed to consolidate and safeguard human rights throughout ages.

The divine religions have been revealed to lay down a life system, and to regulate relations among individuals, with each other on the one hand, and with the ruler on the other, on the basis of justice, mercy, cordiality, cooperation and equality. They have been also revealed to renounce discrimination among human beings on the basis of interest, benefit, gender, sex or color, calling for dialogue with the other and respect for all human values.

The US Declaration of Human Rights (1766)* (sic) and The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) are the first charters that have enlisted these rights in national declarations, expressing special experiences of these peoples.

After going through a litany of the human rights-related agreements sponsored by the United Nations and signed by, among others, Egypt – most of which Egypt has arrogantly broken -- this modest volume tells us how happy the country is to be a signatory to these treaties and to wholeheartedly embrace their principals and practices.

En passant, it mentions the National Council for Human Rights. This is the fig-leaf Mubarak invented to “investigate” human rights abuses by agent of the government. And Mubarak was fortunate to able to reach out to the always compliant Boutros Boutros-Galli (who was living in Paris) to be its chairman.

The book recounts “Egypt’s keenness” on boosting the democratic course through introducing amendments into Article No. 76 of the Constitution and the ensuing multi-presidential candidate and parliamentary elections.

The book reviews “Egypt’s efforts for enhancing the right to freedom of opinion and expression, safeguarding women’s rights; including combating discrimination against her and empowering her to contribute to development as well as preserving child rights and the rights to clean environment and to education. Egypt has adhered to all these rights within the context of sustainable development and the Non-governmental organizations in Egypt.”

[Just for the record, dear readers, the Mubarak regime introduced several of the most disgracefully restrictive laws to control NGOs. It’s a wonder any of them have survived!]

“The human rights issue is presently raised as a top priority item on both the local and international agendas,” the book says. “Several human rights organizations were also established with purpose of protecting basic public freedoms. The result was the adoption of a host of international human rights agreements and declarations, to which Egypt is a signatory party.”

The author then takes us on a stroll down old-memory lane. Pharaonic Egypt, he says, was one of the earliest civilizations ever to show respect for human rights. The Ancient Egyptians were the first to acknowledge man’s right to life. A case in point would be that they deferred the execution of a convicted pregnant woman till she gave birth.

Ancient Egypt not only believed in but applied the principle of equality to its entire population. Egyptians were equal before the law, without discrimination between rich and poor, and/or free people and slaves. The Ancient Egyptians also encouraged both men and women to get a proper education.

Under Christianity, Egyptians found salvation from the injustices of they suffered under Roman Emperors.

Islam too preached equality and freed humanity from economic, political and social burdens.

So here, the book tells us, are some of the most important human rights principles that Egypt lives by and enforces:

"Freedom of opinion is guaranteed. "Every individual has the right to express his opinion and to publicize it verbally or in writing or by photography or by other means within the limits of the law.

Self-criticism and constructive criticism is the guarantee for the safety of the national structure."

“Freedom of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed. Censorship on newspapers is forbidden as well as notifying, suspending or canceling them by administrative methods.

"Education is a right guaranteed by the State."

"The State shall supervise all branches of education and guarantee the independence of universities and scientific research centers, with a view to linking all this with the requirements of society and production."

“Sovereignty is for the people alone and they are the source of authority."

"The political system of the Arab Republic of Egypt is a multiparty one, within the framework of the basic elements and principles of the Egyptian society as stipulated in the Constitution. Political parties are regulated by law."

"The State shall guarantee equality of opportunity to all citizens."

"The family is the basis of the society founded on religion, morality and patriotism."

"The State shall guarantee the protection of motherhood and childhood, take care of children and youth and provide the suitable conditions for the development of their talents."

“The State shall guarantee the proper coordination between the duties of woman towards the family and her work in the society, considering her equal with man in the fields of political, social, cultural and economic life without violation of the rules of Islamic jurisprudence."

“The State- shall guarantee social and health insurance services and all the citizens have the right to pensions in cases of incapacity, unemployment and old-age, in accordance with the law."

“The national economy shall be organized in accordance with a comprehensive development plan which ensures raising the national income, fair distribution, raising the standard of living, eliminating unemployment, increasing work opportunities, connecting wages with production, fixing a minimum and a maximum limit for wages in a manner which guarantees lessening the disparities between incomes."

“Every citizen shall have a share in the national revenue to be defined by the law in accordance with his work or his unexploiting ownership."

All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed."

“Individual freedom is a natural right and shall not be touched.”

“Any person arrested, detained or his freedom restricted shall be treated in the manner concomitant with the preservation of his dignity. "No physical or moral harm is to be inflicted upon him.

He may not be detained or imprisoned except in places defined by laws organizing prisons. If a confession is proved to have been made by a person under any of the aforementioned forms of duress or coercion, it shall be considered invalid and futile."

“The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites.”

“The right to political asylum shall be guaranteed by the State for every foreigner persecuted for defending the peoples’ interests, human rights, peace or justice. "The extradition of political refugees is prohibited.

“The creation of syndicates and unions on a democratic basis is a right guaranteed by law, and should have a moral entity. "The law regulates the participation of syndicates and unions in carrying out the social programs and plans, raising the standard of efficiency, consolidating the socialist behavior among their members, and safeguarding their funds. "They are responsible for questioning their members about their behavior in exercising their activities according to certain codes of morals, and for defending the rights and liberties of their members as defined in the law."

“Citizens shall have the right to vote, nominate and express their opinions in referendums according to the provisions of the law."

"Their participation in public life is a national duty."

A suspect assumed innocent proven guilty: “Any defendant is innocent until he is proved guilty before a legal court, in which he is granted the right to defend himself.

"Every person accused of a crime must be provided with counsel for his defense."

Perhaps, just for a chuckle, let me mention again The National Council for Human Rights,” which was set up on June 12, 2003 under law No. 94 of 2003. Operating under the Shura Council, it aims at promoting and protecting human rights, and safeguarding public freedom.

As noted earlier, The Council is chaired by Dr. Boutros Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, with Dr. Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd as Deputy-Chief and 25 public figures as members.

The Council’s goals are to serve as a tool to enhance democracy, ensuring public freedom and safeguarding human rights. And, for an avid scavenger this piece of carrion is a true find.

The Council was founded during the years I lived in Egypt. As an official of USAID I made it my business to follow its work closely, or at least at any part of Egyptian government allows you to follow it closely.

I found, among the ranks, many people who were not Mubarak cronies, people who cared deeply about the abuses they were finding, and people who were profoundly frustrated by their inability to reverse injustice, or even to get a hearing.

One could only feel sympathy for these men and women. They were NOT part of the problem.

So how, we ask, could a state so totally committed on paper to all the rights, duties and privileges of being human so degrade itself as to provoke deep disgust among free people everywhere?

How is it that a state that guarantees free expression of opinion and ideas, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to health care and a decent education – how is it that such a litany of social goods degenerate into a gruesome tale of cavalier disregard for law, imprisonment without charge, torture and death in detention, men and women with three and four-year-old master’s degrees who have never had a job!

Small wonder that, as The Times Tom Friedman wrote today, “the lids are coming off.”

* = The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, not the U.S. Declaration of Human Rights. The author evidently meant the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved by the United Nations in 1948.

Post-Mubarak Law Would “Criminalize” Protests that Brought Mubarak’s Downfall

By William Fisher

Pro-democracy protesters filled Tahrir Square in central Cairo and an estimated 2000 gathered outside the State Radio and TV headquarters in the Maspero section last week to express their anger over a new law approved by the Egyptian cabinet that would criminalize demonstrations that "disrupt society or business."

The demonstrations in Tahrir Square and many other locations did result in widespread disruptions to virtually every aspect of Egyptian life. It is unclear whether these demonstrations would have been banned under the new law.

Enactment of such a measure again raises the question of whether the country’s interim military rulers are on the side of the pro-democracy movement or the thousands appointed to positions of power by Mubarak. That group includes every member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The law imposes heavy fines and possible prison sentences on those who defy the ban and also provides for harsh punishments for calling for or inciting sit-ins. The maximum prison sentence one year and fines of up to half a million Egyptian pounds.

A step in the wrong direction and a threat to the forces that brought about the revolution is the way Opposition groups are characterizing the law. Workers’ groups have promised that protests will continue until the military’s ruling Supreme Council opens a dialogue with workers, business owners and civil and political organizations.

The Youth Coalition called on the Council to reject the law and instead abolish the Emergency Law that has been in effect in Egypt for more than thirty years. The Emergency Law gives the government broad rights prohibited by the Egyptian constitution and allows police and state security agents to arrest and detain citizens without due process or access to lawyers or family and to try civilians in military courts.

Shady Ghozali, a member of the Youth Revolution Coalition, told the newspaper Ahram Online "I'm against it [the law], this is against human rights; peaceful demonstrations are amongst the basic human rights."

News of the law drew instant heated reaction on social media sites like Twitter that disseminate calls for demonstrations, now deemed a criminal act. "Where is Essam Sharaf who said my legitimacy is from Tahrir Square and I will return to the street with you if I can't implement your demands," said blogger Amr Ezzat.

Essam Sharaf was appointed by the Egypt’s military rulers to be Prime Minister of the country after the fall of long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.

Wael Abbas, activist and blogger, commented on the relatively small turnout in Tahrir Square and said that more people would have come out but were frightened of the anti-protest law.

He fumed: “It has scared people and made them worried that they would be slammed with a jail sentence if they come out today. Even Mubarak wasn’t able to pass such a law, so how could they do it?”

Fellow activist Amr Ezzat, said that the low turnout could also be due to the fact that many students are preoccupied with demonstrations within their university campuses.

Ezzat added that the army approved the anti-protest law to try to avoid accusations that they arrested and abused protesters in Tahrir Square on March 9.

The protesters are also voicing their dissatisfaction with the trials of the former ministers and businessmen who prospered during the Mubarak regime. They have dubbed the court cases “imaginary,” and have called for swift and efficient trials for all, including Mubarak and his family, arguing that the former president used to accuse people and put them in jail quickly, and the same should be done to him.

In Maspero, an up-market section of Cairo that was the site of the burning of the Two Martyrs Coptic Church, Copts are protesting the new law but also the failure to arrest the criminals behind the fire.

“We are out today for a symbolic protest to show that we have strength in the street and that we still insist on our earlier demands,’ says Rola Sobhi, one of the Coptic protesters.

Maspero protesters are also calling for the removal of all media personalities associated with the old regime, and the replacement of all editors of national papers..

The protesters chanted, “The people want to free the media.”

“They want to give legitimacy to their actions and this law gives them that legitimacy,” says Ezzat.

Justice Minister Counselor Mohamed Abdel Aziz Al Guindi said the new measure will abort attempts by those affected by the ouster of the former regime to hinder public order and production, the minister told the Egyptian state television.

He cited factional protests that involved sabotage, vandalism and disorder.

Al Guindi noted that there is no ban on demonstrations and protests that are organized in line with the law. He said factional demonstrations are not prohibited on vacations and after the working hours.

However, the minister pointed out that these demonstrations should not be held in a manner that interrupts economic and commercial activity or traffic movement.

He said the new regulations prohibit factional protests in the working places, organizations, public and private banks.

Dr. Yahya Jamal, professor of constitutional law and vice president of the Council of Ministers, has said that the law will have no impact on peaceful demonstrations. But the Youth Coalition called upon the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to reject the law and abolish the emergency law.

The new measure has also drawn attention from overseas human rights activists. Among them is Chip Pitts, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford University Law School and Oxford University.

Pitts told The Public Record, “: Although supposedly targeted at protests that stop work or destroy property, measures which countries are allowed to take temporarily under international law in order to maintain public order and ensure stability for economic and political development, the fact that the Egyptian Cabinet in the current circumstances would enact such criminalization provides further evidence of how ‘fragile and reversible’ (to borrow from the US’s repeated characterization of Afghanistan) the Egyptian gains remain.”

He added, “Clearly, such laws could be a mask for repressing even wholly peaceful, non-disruptive speech, and seem singularly inappropriate given the historic peaceful protests at the very foundation of the Egyptian renaissance. The law demonstrates both the continued fear of genuine reform within the Egyptian establishment, and incomplete commitment to the democratic rights sought by the protesters. Almost certainly inspired by the crackdowns and retained repressive power in countries like Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, this should and will be taken as yet another direct Mubarakist affront to the “Spirit of Tahrir Square” and resisted to the utmost by the Egyptian people.”

The new law has also drawn the ire of another US-based human rights advocate, Human Rights Watch (HRW). The group said the new law violates international law protections for free assembly and should be reversed immediately.

The cabinet’s claims that this law is an exceptional measure under the country’s emergency law, which is still in effect, is a reminder of the need to revoke the emergency law immediately, HRW said. An end to the state of emergency was one of the primary demands of the protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square.

“This virtually blanket ban on strikes and demonstrations is a betrayal of the demands of Tahrir protesters for a free Egypt, and a slap in the face of the families whose loved ones died protesting for freedom,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW” Middle East and North Africa director.

“Any genuine transition toward democracy must be based on respect for the basic rights of the people, including their right to demonstrate,” she said.

HRW said the provisions to criminalize demonstrations that harm public order or public funds are of particular concern because of the sweeping arrests over the past few weeks of protesters accused of disrupting public order and destroying property. On February 25, March 6 and March 9, army and military police officers arrested peaceful demonstrators, detained them, in some cases tortured them, and brought them to trial before military courts that do not meet minimal due process standards.

The military apologized for the excessive use of force against protesters on February 25, but has not issued an apology for the abuses against demonstrators on other occasions, nor has it investigated the cases of torture associated with these arrests. At least 100 protesters remain detained after sentences by military tribunals under the new transitional government. The military has justified these practices based on its stated need to crack down on “thugs” who are disrupting public order.

In the published minutes of the March 24 cabinet meeting, the cabinet justified passing the law by saying that it was responding to a number of requests received “though legal channels.”

The minutes also say that the government was studying how best to “address demands with regards to wages and labor conditions,” referring to the ongoing strikes in various sectors of the economy over the past weeks. It went on to say that it “understood all of the demands by different sectors of society,” but that “the country was currently undergoing a critical period that required protecting its economy and security from manipulation in order to overcome the current crisis and to respond to the legitimate demands of different sectors of society.”

“Concerns about the economy or the security situation are no justification for repressive laws and no substitute for responsible policing and sound economic policies,” Whitson said. “Economic difficulties are no excuse for limiting people’s rights.”

Egypt has been under a state of emergency since 1981, which has allowed for the indefinite detention of thousands of people without charge or trial. In May 2010, then-President Hosni Mubarak renewed the state of emergency for another two years, despite having promised to end it in 2005.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Morocco and Turkey: Templates for MidEast Democracy?

By William Fisher

Such is the state of U.S. cable news and most other traditional media that when two big stories happen at the same time the rest of the world might just as well not exist.

Journalists and their editors are currently preoccupied with Libya and Japan, one caused by man-made hubris, the other triggered by natural disasters.

But as important as these stories undoubtedly are, there are other important events taking place and are largely going uncovered or under-covered by the so-called mainstream media.

So the American public might be forgiven if it didn’t know that dictators in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle East autocracies are banning demonstrations, violently breaking up gathering of protesters, and using paid mercenaries, snipers and its own security services to kill its own people.

Yemen is important to the U.S. because it is the home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; US forces work with the Yemeni government to locate and snuff out the terrorists.

Bahrain is important to the U.S. because it is important to Saudi Arabia, a supplier of oil. Sunni Bahrain, just down the causeway from Sunni Saudi Arabia, sent in 2,000 troops to help Bahraini forces to help the king hang on to power. Bahrain and the Saudis are worried about the restiveness among the country’s Shia majority, and that majority, largely in the Eastern part of the tiny country, finding common cause with Saudi’s Shias, just across the bay. There have been a number of deaths in the past few days perpetrated by government soldiers and police.

In Saudi Arabia itself, the country’s aging king is attempting to “buy off” the protesters by sinking huge amounts of money into job-creating and training programs, plus giving each Saudi family a substantial cash gift.

In Syria, often thought to be the least likely target of pro-democracy forces because of the iron grip of President Basher al-Asad, demonstrations have grown larger and larger over the past few days and the Syrian military and police are accused of killing many demonstrators. Syria is said to be important to the U.S. because of its prospective role in peace talks with Israel.

And while this enormous ferment is going on, the United States is remaining virtually mute because it says these countries share strategic interests with Washington. Yemen holds the key to the defeat of Al Qaeda. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is housed in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia provides the U.S. with some 12 per cent of its oil; and countries in its sphere of influence account for a market share many times 12 per cent.

Libya is an oil-producer too. But it is ranked 17th in terms of world oil production and produces only about two per cent of world supply. Its oil is sold largely into Europe. Arguably it has zero strategic interest to the U.S., thus making it far easier to decide to proceed with the UN-endorsed, multi-nation “no fly” program on “humanitarian grounds.”

You may have seen snippets of reports on all these happenings during last week or so, and a lot more than snippets if you were watching Al Jazeera or the Real News Network via McClatchy Newspapers.

But what you almost certainly did not see or read much about is what might qualify as “good news” in the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of that hopeful news concerns Morocco. In the March 18 issue of David Avital and David Halperin report that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has established “a foundation for reform.”

Avital and Halperin recommend that the U.S. look to Morocco as a template. “While seeking to curb extremists from taking advantage of the unrest, Washington must change its habit of blindly supporting friendly autocrats, who favor stability over freedom. The U.S. must also work with its regional allies on reforms to create a blueprint for the model modern
Muslim state.”

The authors acknowledge that the Moroccan “model has yet to emerge.” Avital is an executive committee member of Israel Policy Forum. Halperin is a policy analyst at Israel Policy Forum and the Center for American Progress.

Morocco’s progress in recent years, they say, has been significant. “Since
becoming king in 1999, Mohammed VI broke away from his father’s brutal
policies during the ‘Years of Lead’ and immediately began a series of
liberalizing reforms.”

These include permitting the return of political exiles, holding legislative elections, enhancing investing to alleviate poverty, modifying the criminal code and setting up the first truth and reconciliation commission in the Arab world to help mend the wounds of the past and set a new course, they write.

An article by Intissar Fakir, a special assistant to the Deputy President of the National Endowment for Democracy, published in the Arab Reform Bulletin, notes that King Mohammed VI’s March 9 pledge to sponsor broad constitutional reforms following moderately-sized protests on February 20 distinguishes him from other leaders in the region, most of whom have “offered too little in terms of reforms and offered them too late in the process of uprisings to make a difference. On the surface, King Mohammed’s proposed reforms are significant.”

But the lack of specifics about the depth of these reforms creates doubt in view of past experiences, the article says, adding:

“King Mohammed announced in a televised speech a process of constitutional change that will be put to a popular referendum. Proposed reforms would increase the parliament’s powers in unspecified ways, create a more independent judiciary, and grant elected officials executive powers at the provincial and local level within a decentralization scheme first introduced in 2010.

“Decentralization will redistribute power from an appointed governor to new regional representatives to be elected by the people. Under the reforms, the prime minister would have greater executive powers, and the revised constitution would contain greater assurances of political and civil liberties and human rights.

“A commission headed by constitutional law expert Abdelatif Mennouni is tasked with consulting with representatives of labor unions, political parties, civil society, and other interest groups to discuss the scope of these reforms over the coming months.

“The 18-member commission will include representatives from professional syndicates and human rights groups (such as Amina Bouayach of the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights), political activists, judges, as well as technocrats such as Omar Izziman and Lahcen Oulhaj (who represents Amazigh/Berber interests). The committee’s recommendations will be reviewed in June and then put to a national referendum. The king indicated that as soon as these reforms are ratified, they will be implemented.”

But despite the reform-minded agenda of its King, Human Rights Watch has reported that Morocco's security forces have sometimes dispersed large demonstrations “with considerable violence.”

But today (Feb. 20), says Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “the security forces allowed Moroccan citizens to march peacefully to demand profound changes in how their country is governed.”

“Thousands of Moroccans in cities across the country demonstrated in favor of political reform on February 20, 2011. Mostly peaceful demonstrations and marches took place in towns and villages largely without interference from police, who in some areas were barely in evidence,” she said.

HRW said Morocco's demonstrators encountered none of the deadly force utilized by the security forces against protesters in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen.

“The partnership between the United States, Morocco and the Moroccan people,” Burns said, “is a very high priority for President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It’s never been more important than at this moment.”

Seizing this moment requires the United States to work with Morocco on a blueprint for systematic political and economic reforms that proactively respond to the region’s spreading unrest. A U.S. effort to help Morocco achieve a balance between these reforms and reverence for its own history and religious tradition would be a crucial symbol for the developing Middle East — and its growing ties with the West, HRW says.

Even more important, a U.S.-supported program to encourage greater media freedom, economic development and open political debate could jumpstart a path for Morocco to realize its leadership as a model for re-shaping the Arab world.

Others have suggested that Turkey offers a more reliable template for real change in the Middle East because, while it is still a work in progress, many of its reforms have come to fruition as a result of the governance process.

On the other hand, according to HRW, “Well-founded concerns persist in Turkey about politically motivated prosecutions. Prosecutors and judges have pursued unwarranted cases against journalists and editors, human rights defenders, individuals participating in demonstrations, and those engaged in legal pro-Kurdish political activity.”

The trial of Pınar Selek is an example. It is what HRW calls “a perversion of the criminal justice system and abuse of due process. The pursuit of this case for 12 years violates the most basic requirements for a fair trial. These baseless charges should be dropped once and for all.”

According to Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. (Istanbul), “The third attempt to convict the human rights activist and writer Pınar Selek on allegations that she was involved in a 1998 deadly explosion is a travesty of justice.”

Here’s the background: In 1998, Selek, then 27, had been working on a street art project in Istanbul when she was arrested. A 19-year-old youth, Abdülmecit Öztürk, was also arrested. The case against them was based on the repeatedly contested claim that the explosion was caused by a bombing and on an allegation of Selek's guilt made by Öztürk during interrogation. He later retracted his allegation in court, saying he had been coerced into making the accusation under torture by police. Selek also alleges she was severely tortured in police custody.

On February 9, 2011, Selek was scheduled to stand trial for her alleged involvement in a 1998 explosion in Istanbul's Spice Bazaar that killed seven people and injured more than 100. It is the third attempt to convict her for carrying out a lethal bombing, despite substantial evidence that there was no bombing and that the explosion was the result of a gas leak.

The court where the third round of this trial will be held, Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 12, has acquitted Selek and her former co-defendant twice on the same charges, in 2006 and 2008. The prosecutor appealed each time.

Despite the evidence from multiple expert bodies showing that the explosion was caused by a gas leak, Turkey's top court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, ordered her retrial again on February 9, 2010, saying that the explosion was a bombing she carried out on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Selek's co-defendant, who later testified that he did not know her, had originally made a false confession under police torture, implicating Selek. While he was acquitted of all charges, and his acquittal upheld, the inadmissible evidence in the form of this confession remains the sole basis of the case against Selek.

The Court of Cassation's most recent ruling calling for the third trial said that Selek should be retried under article 125 of the previous Turkish Penal Code (law no. 765), which deals with crimes against the integrity of the state, including armed attacks by outlawed separatist groups. She would face a sentence of aggravated life imprisonment, a life sentence without the possibility of release.

Selek is a sociologist who has campaigned and written extensively on human rights issues in Turkey, including issues of gender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights as well as Kurdish and other minority rights. Her trial is one of the most striking instances of this pattern of unfair trials that appear politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.

"The 12-year-long campaign to convict Selek for something that the evidence has repeatedly demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that she could not have done, shows that Turkey has a long way to go toward upholding fair trial standards and ensuring judicial independence," Sinclair-Webb said.

Police reports initially discounted a bombing and suggested the explosion was caused by a gas leakage. While the prosecutor who indicted Selek and Öztürk labeled the explosion a bombing, this was later refuted by three separate reports from experts in different university departments. Autopsy reports from the Forensic Medical Institute's First Special Department and later its General Board did not find any evidence that the deaths were caused by a bombing.

When Öztürk was acquitted on all charges, which the Court of Cassation upheld, the original trial court ruled that his statement was inadmissible as evidence against Selek. No other evidence, testimonial or forensic, was ever offered to establish any link between Selek and the explosion.

A written statement purportedly made by Öztürk's aunt in which she allegedly identified Selek as having visited her home was shown to have been fabricated when it became clear in court that his aunt spoke only Kurdish, not Turkish, and she testified that the police had forced her to sign a paper whose contents she did not know. In court, both Öztürk and his aunt stated that they had never even met Selek.

I have another misgiving about Turkey as a template for Middle East democracy. It is that country’s absurd treatment of the Orthodox Christian Church.

In an August 2010 episode of ‘60 Minutes,’ the audience heard one of the world’s most important Christian leaders say he feels ‘crucified’ living in a country which is Muslim-dominated. With as many as 300 million followers world wide Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew feels that the future of the Church in Turkey is threatened as there have been attacks over the years on the Christian properties as well as anti-Christian movements.

The episode showed that empty churches and lack of recognition of the minority religion by the government is almost threatening to destroy the very foundations of Christendom. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the leader of 300 Million of the world’s orthodox Christians, said that he is adamant to stay in Turkey because he felt that the orthodox Christians loved the country they were born in and want to die in. At the turn of the century there were as many as 2 million orthodox Christians but now there are merely 4000 left.

Observance of the rights of the minority – especially the religious minority – should be a litmus test for any country claiming to govern democratically. On this score, Turkey fails miserably.

And both Turkey and Morocco will have to have a lot more actual achievements to demonstrate before anyone should be comfortable about hailing them as examples of positive change in the MENA region.

We should applaud them for how far they’ve come. And we should be prepared to help them form more perfect unions – if and when we’re invited.

Egypt: For Now, Euphoria Trumps Details

By William Fisher

Millions of Egyptians turned out in record numbers, proud and euphoric, to vote in a referendum that will help determine important next steps in Egypt’s democratization.

For most, Saturday’s vote was the first they had ever cast in a poll that was not suspected of being rigged and fraudulent. They were proud that it was their spirit and perseverance that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak and made this referendum possible. And they were euphoric – though perhaps still a bit unbelieving – that they now had the opportunity to create a government they would be proud of.

But results of the referendum confirmed that there are deep divisions between the various groups that comprised Egypt’s spectacular version of The Arab Spring, which brought down a 30-year dictator in xmxm DAYS.

Of the approximately 18 million men and women who turned out to cast their ballots, 14.1 million (77.2 per cent) voted to approve the nine constitutional amendments. Four million (22.8 per cent) voted against them.

The turnout – 41 per cent of the country’s 45 million eligible voters – was the largest in Egypt’s history.

In announcing the results, Mohamed Ahmed Attia, the chairman of the supreme judicial committee, which supervised the elections, said, “We had an unprecedented turnout because after Jan. 25 people started to feel that their vote would matter.”

In general terms, the liberal wing of the Tahrir Square protesters, voted against approving the amendments. Their principal objection was that the military government did not allow the people enough time to organize political parties and build effective “get out the vote” programs. They also objected to having to vote for all nine amendments as either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Those who voted to accept the amendments were largely influenced by groups that had built “get out the vote” programs, i.e. The Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the National Democratic Party, which was the party of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

These parties are older and relatively well-established, despite the fact that for many years the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed. Its members ran for office as “independents” and the Mubarak regime turned a blind eye until 2010, when the government arrested many MB candidates to keep them from running. In the 2005 election, the Brotherhood won 20 per cent of Parliamentary seats but failed to secure a single one in 2010.

Preliminary analysis of the votes suggested that most of the ‘no’ votes came from Egypt’s urban areas, with ‘yes’ votes carrying the country’s provincial governorates.

Many expert observers were surprised by the outcome. For example, Joel Beinin, professor of Middle East history at Stanford University and a contributing editor at Middle East Report, said, "The Revolutionary Youth Coalition, after an internal debate, has decided to reject the constitutional amendments. Polls, while not entirely reliable, indicate that a majority of Egyptians likewise reject the amendments. The reason is that the amendments address only a few articles relating to election procedures and leave the rest of the highly undemocratic 1971 constitution intact. Many believe that the first step in constructing a democratic Egypt is to convene a committee of experts to draft a democratic constitution which would be submitted for a referendum."

The ruling military council, uncomfortable with the job of governing, was responsible for the short notice given before the Saturday referendum. The referendum triggered a rapid process that will see legislative elections in June and a race for the Presidency in August.

Over the years, the Mubarak regime had created various amendments to the 1971 Constitution. Their purpose was to make it virtually impossible to become a candidate, become a recognized political party, impose term limits, and have competent and independent monitoring of all elections.

If the process proceeds according to the timetable proposed by the military council, the new constitutions will be written by the Parliament that’s elected in June.

If candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood do well in the parliamentary election, they will be in a position to exert heavy influence on the language of the new constitution.

The Brotherhood “will hijack the revolution, and they will not listen to us,”
said Wael Biltagi, 40, an owner of a plastics factory, told the New York Times. “They are stubborn and nobody knows their real intentions. They think they are right and everybody else is wrong. But that is not what the revolution is about.”

While many political players advocated for a complete re-write of the constitution, the committee appointed by the interim military rulers was mandated only to write amendments.

The government said the committee’s work would be responsive to the leaders of the Tahrir Square opposition. They want the constitutional changes to reflect clearer separation of powers, strengthening of an independent judiciary, clear rules governing establishment of political parties, and less power for the president.

But there appeared to have been little consultation between the drafting committee and the opposition as preparation of the amendments progressed. The amendments were announced on Feb. 25 after virtually no public discussion by an 11-member committee of experts chosen by the military. This lack of opportunity for input angered many of the more liberal Tahrir Square groups.

The Arab Reform Bulletin (ARB) reported that because of the huge turnout, more than 1.5 million additional ballots had to be printed in order to accommodate voter turnout.

“Lines stretched for more than one mile in some places, as thousands were lined up outside the polling stations. High numbers of women were seen voting, and the lines for the polling stations were extremely diverse with regard to age, religion, and background. Observers and monitoring groups have reported that the process has unfolded smoothly across the country, with minimal security disruptions.”

The ARB said the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring the Referendum issued a preliminary report of the referendum, citing scattered issues including some stations failing to open on time, votes being cast outside of the regulatory curtains, some ballot boxes without locks, the un-washable ink on voters' fingers coming off, and a large number of voting forms being unstamped.

The report also mentions that Muslim Brotherhood members have been telling people to vote 'Yes' as they queue.

The referendum came in for criticism by four human rights groups, who filed complaints with the higher judicial committee alleging some irregularities during the voting.

The groups, including Observers without Borders, the New World Foundation for Development and Human Rights, said members of the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Salafists tried to influence voters during voting held for the constitutional amendments.

Even officials at polling stations attempted to convince voters to vote "yes",
they said. They also alleged that there were no judges at several polling stations.

There was little violence, despite the small numbers of police and soldiers around polling places. In Mubarak’s time, the army was normally present in significant numbers and often interfered with those who were voting or queuing up to vote.

But in one well-publicized incident, presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei was pelted with rocks and struck with batons, and his car’s windscreen was shattered. It was later asserted that the attack came from a paid mob of criminals, paid by Islamists, though no one has yet produced any evidence.

Another aspect of the referendum is providing a cause for concern among the pro-democracy supporters. The Christian Coptic turnout was a major disappointment to many who thought a heavy Coptic vote could help turn the tide toward a “no” note. But the Copts – 10 per cent of Egypt’s population or 85 million citizens -- more or less sat on their hands. Many Copts evidently thought their vote would be meaningless.

In the months preceding Mubarak’s ouster, relations between the Copts and the government were extremely troubled. Long discriminated against in a host of ways, churches and homes were burned by, it is believed, Islamists who want to establish a Muslim theocracy. This is one of dozens of issues not addressed in any of the amendments.

For a host of other reasons, many Egyptians simply had a tough time making up their minds about which way to vote. Radio talk show host Samar Dahmash Jarrah told The Public Record, “I have had many different Egyptians on our live radio show, True Talk, in Tampa. Most were active participants in the Jan. 25 revolt and all have voted differently on the referendum! Both sides have their own reasons on why they voted ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and none of these reasons had to do with religion or being conservative or liberal. Many Egyptians who voted ‘Yes’ did so because they want to move on and pay attention to the larger issues that Egypt faces like poverty, Education and Tourism.”

She adds, “My very own family who lives in Egypt voted ‘No’ and ‘Yes!’ One household couldn’t agree on one vote and I guess this is what democracy is after all and this is what counts.”

My old friend Herb Williamson has lived in Egypt for more than twenty years. We worked together when I lived in Egypt. Herb, an American expat, is an Agri-business Development Consultant working on an international donor-funded project. I think his view of the referendum pretty well sums up the way most Egyptians see it.
“In my very humble opinion,” he says, “I think the long term (i.e., six months) consequences of the ‘yes’ decision puts pressure on the less organized political groups to get their act together very quickly if they want to compete successfully against the more established and better organized groups - e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).”

He adds: “Having said that, I think MB will have to work very hard in the upcoming parliamentary elections as many who voted ‘yes’ were simply voting for stability rather the perceived instability a ‘no’ vote would have brought. For example, my housekeeper voted ‘yes,’ because she wants stability. She has no interest in MB. I look forward to the coming six months as they will be full of great debates and arguments as Egyptians progress further down the path of democratic reform!!!”

And he concluded: “The good news is that Egyptians, both those who voted ‘yes’ and those who voted ‘no’, are still savoring last Saturday as it was the first time they had ever voted!!!”

“The first time they had ever voted” – that’s the beauty part. I can understand people raising objections to this or that infraction at the polling places. I can understand that it might have been better for people to be able to vote on each amendment separately.

And I can even understand the Army being uncomfortable with the job of governance; armies are not trained to govern. And they are particularly not trained to govern democratically. They are guided by discipline, hierarchy and the chain of command. They are good at war-fighting, not so good at peace-making.

That said, it’s unfortunate that the generals felt they had to depend only on their own internal resources for guidance. Egypt is home to a host of professionals, experienced in consensus-building. Had any of these men and women been consulted, their first bit of advice would have been: Be transparent; let your constituents know what you’re doing and why; invite their thoughts and incorporate the good ones; share your work as it progresses, not simply the final product.

While there was little consultation with constituents, there was a lot more than would have been the case under the Mubarak regime. The Army met with 25 leaders of political parties, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, to discuss the constitutional amendments and mechanisms for impending elections. But no one will argue that a single meeting satisfies the need for transparency.

Still, it is very early days for democracy in Egypt. We shouldn’t be surprised that the army has made some mistakes. Be thankful that none of them seems to be life threatening.

However, down the road, what will be a lot more worrying will be a democratically elected president and his (or her) government making the same mistakes.