Monthly Archives: October 2010

Adel Hammouda’s ‘Another Gossip on the Nile’

Historic map of the River Nile by Piri Reis

You will not find a better example of Egypt as an Orientalist than in the newly released “Tharthara Ukhra Fawq al-Neel” (Another Gossip on the Nile, a title borrowed from Naguib Mahfouz) by Adel Hammouda, the current Editor in Chief of the Egyptian tabloid newspaper El Fagr. The book investigates the recent crisis around the Nile basin and the resulting deep mistrust between Egypt and the other Nile basin countries. Continue reading

شهدي عطية الشافعي يكتب للرسالة


ناحية من فلسفة تولستوي … عنوان مقال الشافعي في الرسالةبعددها السابع (15 أبريل سنة 1933)

>No police on campus: A new era for universities?


Photographed by Tarek Wageeh

Ahmed Zaki Osman

Al-Masry Al-Youm

Students, academics and intellectuals are celebrating a recent court ruling barring security personnel from university campuses, but concerns about its enforcement remain.

“The presence of permanent Interior Ministry police forces inside university campuses represents a violation of the independence guaranteed to the university by the Constitution and the law,” read the Saturday court ruling.
The High Administrative Court upheld a previous court ruling ordering Ministry of Interior affiliated security guards to vacate the Cairo University premises. The suit was filed by a group of Cairo University professors in 2008.
The ruling comes during an academic year that has witnessed a crackdown by university officials, in cooperation with police guards, against students affiliated with the political opposition. Analysts argue that this crackdown indicates the determination of the regime to suppress dissent ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“All the time there have been administrative violations against students such as searching them at the gates, putting them before disciplinary boards, or preventing them from attending exams,” said Cairo University academic Kholoud Saber. “This academic year, administrative violations against students have been extraordinary.”
Those violations include an alarming number of students transferred to the prosecution office before undergoing trial, Saber added.
Nine students who staged a demonstration to protest alleged violations against Somayya Ashraf, a student affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood at the Al-Azhar University branch in Zaqazeeq allegedly physically assaulted by a university security guard in early October, are currently awaiting trial in custody.
Saber accused Ain Shams University officials of threatening the families of politically involved students.
Security have also barred policitally active students’ access to university dormitories, particularly in Cairo, according to student accounts.
The ruling also comes less than a week after controversial student union elections which were reportedly marred by violations against opposition students.
According to Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University and the general coordinator of the reform group, the National Association for Change, students’ union elections indicate how the university is managed by the Ministry of Interior.
“Look at the student elections,” Nafaa said. “It is not university presidents who remove students from electoral lists. State Security does all the work.”
Lawyer Fatma Serag of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an NGO advocating for student rights, said security perceive students as troublesome political agents.
“They know that students have a political role,” said Serag. “Students, for example, are really active in collecting signatures for the seven-demand reform program [launched by the NAC].”
Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on Sunday said measures are intended to “protect the safety of both students and professors on campus.”
Criticism against security differs from one university campus to another. “It depends on the university itself as well as the year in question,” said Saber.
However, governorates-based universities have an increased share in police brutality against students since those universities don’t attract much attention from the media and civil society. “Such [lack of attention] gives police guards a free hand in managing university campuses as they wish,” said Serag.
According to Saber, universities in Cairo and Alexandria have more students supporting the opposition groups 6 April Youth Movement and the NAC, which translates into a heightened security presence.
Students affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, however, constitute the biggest opposition voice on public university campuses. They dominate the whole scene in governorates-based universities, according to Mohammed Elkassas, a political activist affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
For the last ten years, according to Elkassas, students affiliated with the group have been subjected to police intimidation and harassment.
“Despite being the biggest opposition group on campus, the last Brotherhood representative in the student union of Cairo University was in 2001,” Elkassas said.
Serag echoed those remarks. “The most affected group in terms of being a target to the police is the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “However, this doesn’t mean that liberal or leftist students are in a safe haven from the brutality of the police.”
Observers, academics and students view the presence of university security guards as a main violation of university independence.
According to Elkassas, regulations dating to 1979 indicate that security should be present to protect university buildings. President Anwar Sadat issued in 1979 new regulations for universities in which he ordered the police to guard campuses. But the role of security has extended substantially from that initial mandate.
“Security has the upper hand in determining what’s legal and what’s not legal, according to their views,” said Elkassas. “They transformed the role of the university. University has become a branch of the Ministry of Interior.”

>Eye on elections: How violent could it get?


Photographed by Ahmed Almasry
Street clashes two months ago between supporters of rival candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Port Said and Daqahliya governorates claimed at least two lives, according to media reports.
In another incident, the son of MP Bilal al-Siwy of Matrouh Governorate was kidnapped in late September. His abduction was reportedly in connection with November’s parliamentary elections. Similarly, in early October, when Nasserist MP Hamdeen Sabbahi was hit in a car accident, the mouthpiece of his party, Al-Karama paper, said the accident was related to the electoral race.
Within the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), the candidacy nomination process is fomenting tension. The process has witnessed clashes between candidate supporters and heightened security around NDP offices.
With violence erupting even before the official campaign period kicks off, fears of more clashes in the lead up to the poll are growing.

In the 2000 elections, election violence claimed eight lives and left 64 Egyptians injured. In the 2005 poll, at least 12 people lost their lives and 500 were injured in election-related violence, according to a report by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
“Violence in the upcoming parliamentary elections may result from seats being hotly contested, or in response to government irregularities during the balloting,” says David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Security forces will also likely prevent meaningful monitoring of the polls, which could result in clashes with civil society activists pushing for transparency,” Schenker adds.

Moreover, this year’s elections will not be conducted under full judicial supervision; a 2007 constitutional amendment abolished the requirement to have a judge in each polling station.

State institutions, particularly the Ministry of the Interior which organizes the elections, are not accountable for election violence, says Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession.
“The state doesn’t usually investigate the killings around the elections. After the announcement of the results, officials close the whole issue of the elections,” Amin, who has monitored various Egyptian elections, says.

According to Amin, violence perpetrated by police officers is of a different caliber than aggressive acts by candidate supporters.
“In cases of [violence by candidate supporters], the police can control the scene and prevent individuals from escalating the violence,” says Amin. “In contrast, the violence committed by police forces, whether they are riot police, plainclothes police officers or armed thugs, could turn sometimes into massacres.”

Police violence in past elections has taken many forms, such as cordoning off polling stations with security personnel, preventing voters from reaching polling stations, and using tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and open fire with live ammunition.

Sectarianism is another source of recently-heightened tension. “Egypt has been sitting on top of a sectarian volcano,” writes academic Mariz Tadros in a report published by the Middle East Research and Information Project.

Three Muslims are currently on trial for fatally shooting six Christians and a Muslim man outside a church in the city of Nagaa Hammadi, southern Egypt, last January.
Moreover, last month witnessed conflicting sectarian remarks between Muslim scholars and Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Holy Synod.

Experts fear that tensions could lead to more violence, or have a knock-on effect on political representation.

Samir Morcos, political researcher, says that “in such an atmosphere of political tensions, it is possible to have a political utilization of religion to weaken Christian candidates.”

Violence also pervades efforts to buy votes.
“It’s becoming obvious that candidates in Cairo and other urban places are involved in acts of violence as they seek to buy as many votes as they can,” says writer and journalist Saad Hagras. The deployment of thuggery is closely associated with financial deals, when disagreements loom around prices of votes (reported in the press this week to have reached between LE100-700 per vote in the Alexandria region).
Increasing disputes between large, influential families over electoral seats are another major reason for electoral violence.

Last year, two men from the two prominent tribes in al-Mahroussa village in Qena–the Arab and the Fellaheen tribes–lost their lives in a power struggle centered around parliamentary representation. The Arab tribe’s current representative in parliament stirred a clash with the Fellaheen families, resulting in one Fellaheen death. In response, Fellaheen members took the life of an Arab family member.

“People of the village are deeply divided but they are united in two things: They wish the whole issue of elections to be over, with the least possible casualties, and they are determined not to go to the polls,” says Ibrahim Ahmed, resident of al-Mahroussa village.
Human rights activist and lawyer Negad al-Borai argues that family power can be more important than political parties in the parliamentary race. “It’s very common to see family members as the winners of the elections because they have the power that makes it easier for them to control the polling stations, even with violence,” Borai says.

>Press freedoms improved in Egypt, says media watchdog

>Ahmed Zaki Osman
Al-Masry Al-Youm

Egypt, thanks to the global deterioration in media freedoms, moved upward to be ranked 127th among the 178 countries included in this year’s annual global Press Freedom Index. However analysts argue the country remains in a difficult situation.

On Wednesday, the 2010 World Press Freedom Index, issued by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said Egypt has climbed 16 places in just one year; it was ranked 143rd and 146th in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
The ranking reflects the press freedom situation from between 1 September 2009 and 1 September 2010.
The rankings do not take into account the recent crackdown on media outlets in Egypt that has included shutting down several private satellite TV stations on the grounds they violated broadcast procedures.    
Reporters Without Borders compiled the index using indicators that measure the freedom that journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country.
The ranking of a country may change from year to year even if its score stays the same, depending on the global trends of deterioration versus improvement in press freedoms.
Egypt was classified by previous reports as an “Internet enemy,” with Egyptian authorities “striving to regain control over bloggers who are more and more organized, despite all the harassment and arrests“.
In addition to Egypt’s improved ranking, Iraq also climbed 15 places (and is now ranked 130th), because “safety conditions for journalists improved substantially in the country,” according to the index.
In contrast, press freedom in the whole Arab region is deteriorating, according to the index.
Three Arab countries–Yemen (170) , Sudan (172) and Syria (173)–are on the list of the world’s ten most repressive countries towards journalists.
Bahraini’s [sic] ranking in the Index dropped from 119th to 144th place, which can be explained by the growing number of imprisonments and trials, notably against bloggers and netizens,” the index pointed out.
The same trend applies to Kuwait, which fell 27 places, from 60th to 87th position.
Iran is a member in the club of the worst countries marked by persecution of the media and a complete lack of news and information.
At the bottom of the list remains North Korea, which occupies 177th place. Eritrea ranks
Cuba, for the first time since 2003 , is not one of the ten last countries. This is due, above all, to the release of 14 journalists and 22 activists during the course of the past summer, the index stated.
One of the main surprise conclusions of the ninth annual index is a growing deterioration in the press freedom situation in the European Union, where fourteen of the EU’s 27 members have a very low ranking.
Bulgaria and Greece for example, have slipped down to 70th place, and are now on an equal par with the likes of Benin, Comoros and Kenya.
Northwestern Europe and Scandinavia maintain their positions as the world leading countries in terms of press freedoms–a trend that hasn’t changed since the index was created in 2002.
Six countries–Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland–jointly share first place for the best press freedom practices in the world.

>Egypt suspends 12 satellite TV channels for ‘inciting religious hatred’



Ahmed Zaki Osman

Al-Masry Al-Youm

Egypt on Tuesday suspended the broadcast licenses of 12 satellite channels–mostly devoted to religious themes–and issued warnings to 20 others about their alleged involvement in “inciting religious hatred and violence” and in promoting medical products without authorization from the Health Ministry, Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi announced in a press release on Wednesday.

The suspended religious channels include the Al-Rahma satellite channel, owned by prominent Salafi figure Mohamed Hassan, and the Safa (Kuwait) and Ayat (Saudi Arabia) channels.
Critics, for their part, see the recent suspension of privately-owned Egyptian media institutions as a strategy aimed at curbing media freedoms in the run-up to next month’s parliamentary elections. They also point to the cancellation earlier this month of popular news talk show Al-Qahira Al-Youm and the sacking of Ibrahim Eissa, former editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Dostour and vocal critic of the government.
According to al-Fiqi, however, the moves aim merely to safeguard public well-being.
“These corrective measures are intended to protect the Egyptian and Arab publics from broadcasters determined to make calls for murder, degradation of religious groups, and the endangerment of people living with serious illnesses–all in the pursuit of profit and extremist ideologies,” the minister declared.
“Among the most egregious of these violations are repeated broadcasts by extremist presenters calling for the excommunication, banishment and murder of Shiite Muslims,” al-Fiqi added.
Last June, French broadcasting regulators warned France-based satellite provider Eutelsat about alleged anti-Semitic content aired by the Al-Rahma channel. Al-Rahma has also adopted a strong position against Egypt’s Coptic Church following controversial remarks made by a Coptic bishop last month in which he questioned the authenticity of certain verses of the Quran.
Earlier this month, Al-Baraheen, an Arab satellite company that brodcasts the Al-Khaleegiyah, Al-Nas, Al-Hafez and Health & Beauty satellite channels, was temporary suspended for allegedly airing programs that included incitement to religious hatred.
In his press release, al-Fiqi pointed to the Al-Khaleegiyah channel in particular, which has repeatedly hosted radical Sunni Muslim presenters who reportedly called for the banishment, excommunication and murder of Shiite Muslims.
Other channels, meanwhile, have been suspended for providing medical advice by unlicensed practitioners and marketing alternative medical products and herbal cures for serious medical conditions–such cancer and Hepatitis B and C–without official authorization from the Health Ministry.

>Egyptian students protest police brutality on university campuses


Photographed by محمد عبد الغني

Ahmed Zaki Osman 
Al-Masry Al-Youm

Hundreds of Egyptian students on Monday protested in front of the Ministry of Higher Education against police brutality on university campuses.
Students from 12 opposition movements–in particular those affiliated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood–chanted anti-police slogans.

“We came here to shed light on the regime’s policies that torture students, discriminate against them and prevent them from exercising their political rights,” said Muslim Brotherhood student at Cairo University Abubakr Hamdy.
Last week, Somiya Ashraf, a female student at Al-Azhar University’s branch in the Nile delta city of Zaqazeeq was allegedly assaulted by a university security guard. University officials denied the claim.
The demonstrators distributed a press release condemning “the continuation of the systematic violations of the Ministry of Interior against students.”
The statement went on to call for the “expulsion of the security guards affiliated with the Ministry of Interior from university campuses,” and investigating the “violations committed by the police officers against students.”
“What happened to Somiya is not exceptional. Students are subjected to security harassment on a daily basis,” said Afaf Mamdouh, a Cairo university student affiliated with the 6 of April Youth Movement.
Mamdouh added that it’s becoming hard for students to “act in any independent way. The regime is getting mad before the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The security doesn’t want any kind of opposition within the universities.”
Last year, Mamdouh was among 59 students barred from taking exams because of her participation in anti-regime activities on campus.
In related developments, opposition student groups claimed university officials at Cairo University have disqualified dozens of student union candidates.
Cairo University was under heavy security Monday. Hundreds of riot police and plainclothes police officers lined the front of the university. A number of journalists were denied entrance to the campus.
“Today is not an ordinary day. We can’t risk. We have to be here and ready for any moves by the illegal groups inside the university,” said a high-ranking interior ministry official, who requested anonymity.
An official from the public relations department at Cairo University, who also requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said the “university is full of security forces monitoring what’s going on.  We declare today an emergency because of the (student union) elections.”
At Ain Shams University, faculties’ representatives were chosen without competition. Elections were held in only four–out of a total 17–faculties.
Mohammed Kuriyim, from Zaqazeeq University, said university officials managed to ensure ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) support among elected candidates by removing 61 Muslim Brotherhood candidates.
“The Mubarak regime is silencing every single voice and want everything to be quiet in order to focus on how to fraud the next elections,” said Abdel Galil Moustafa, coordinator of Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change (NAC).
In addition to Muslim Brotherhood students, police have cracked down on pro-ElBaradei student supporters on university campuses.
“The regime can’t survive without manipulating the elections,” said Moustafa. “They manipulate the municipality, parliamentary, presidential and of course the student elections.”