European Union bank blasted for links to Mubarak

The European Union’s house bank invested in funds that benefited Egypt’s ruling clique and had links to the ruling elites of Palestine and Syria, even as it preached the importance of human rights and democracy, suggests a new report obtained by Ahram Online.

The family and associates of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak directly gained from some of the investments made by the European Investment Bank (EIB) into private equity funds run by Cairo based EFG Hermes bank, says a draft of the report by Counter Balance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations.

The European bank’s transactions with EFG Hermes meant the ex-president’s son, Gamal Mubarak, was a direct financial beneficiary of at least two investments as a result of his shareholding in the bank’s Private Equity division — a conflict of interest of which, Counter Balance, says the bank should have been aware.

Titled ‘Private Equity, public inequity: The EIB’s questionable partners in the Middle East’, the investigation will be published on 25 January.

EIB is owned by the 27 member states of the European Union and is the continent’s largest public lender.

Under scrutiny in the report is EIB’s business partnership with Egypt’s EFG Hermes bank and its related private equity firms, as well as Gamal and Ala’a Mubarak, the two sons of the country’s deposed president.

The investigation looks at some of the financial investments made by the EIB in private equity funds in Egypt and the Middle East. Convicted industry and trade minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid was also connected to one such fund.

The report looks at four investments made by EIB, an allegedly non-profit financial institution, to EFG Hermes related entities between October 2000 and May 2010, and investigates the links between two of these transactions and key figures in the Egyptian regime via EFG Hermes Private Equity.

Two EIB transactions involve 4.5 million euros with the Jordan High Tech fund in October 2000 and 6 million euros with the Middle East Technology fund in February 2001. Both funds were set up and managed by EFG Hermes Private Equity.

The other two transactions were a 6.3 million euros risk capital facility extended to EFG Hermes Holding Company in December 2005, and a 39 million euros co-investment with EFG Hermes Private Equity into the InfraMed Infrastructure Fund in May 2010.

Counter Balance’s investigation questions the European Union’s bank’s involvement in these funds in the light of widely publicised information that Gamal Mubarak had an 18.5 per cent stake in EFG Hermes Private Equity and was on their board of directors. This means he would have directly profited from the EIB’s investments in at least two of these funds.

The NGO coalition also asks why the EIB associated itself with the InfraMed Infrastructure Fund when the strategic board chairman at the time was minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid.

The former minister for trade and investment has since been sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison and ordered to pay a $237 million fine for profiteering, misusing public funds and corruption.

The investigation makes further connections between the EIB and Mubarak’s ruling clique by looking at Gamal Mubarak’s close associate Walid Kaba.

Kaba, who set up Bullion Co. with the ousted president’s son and was also a shareholder of EFG Hermes’ Private Equity division, not only managed Gamal’s private offshore business interests but also sat on the boards of the parent company of EFG Hermes investment bank along with the bank’s CEO and co founder. He represented Bullion’s interests on the board and was also a director of the bank’s private equity division that ran the funds in which the EIB invested.

EFG Hermes has other interests in the region.

EFG Hermes’s subsidiary in Syria is a joint venture with Syrian businessman Firas Tlass who is widely believed to belong to President Bashar Al-Assad’s inner circle.

Counter Balance also connects the EIB with the Palestine Investment Fund through a joint investment. This fund has allegedly been misused by the President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas to further his own political interests.

Vast sums have reportedly been misappropriated by the fund and it was recently embroiled in a high profile lobbying scandal involving Britain’s ex-PM Tony Blair.

The report contrasts the EIB’s behaviour in the Middle East with statements it has made about its goals and philosophy. The bank has previously said it promotes “human rights and democracy projects, the fight against poverty and education and training” across the MENA region.

The report also questions why the EIB has chosen private equity funds as its strategy for development, claiming that as a financial product they are “inherently non-developmental.”

Counter Balance’s investigation also criticises the apparent lack of due diligence performed into those involved in chosen funds.

Formed in 2007, Counter Balance is a European coalition of development and environmental NGOs set up to challenge the EIB which it claims lacks transparency and binding social and environmental standards.

Counter Balance claims the EIB does not fulfil the mandates for sustainable development by which it is legally bound.

Egyptian citizen journalism ‘Mosireen’ tops YouTube

Mosireen, an Egyptian media collective of filmmakers and citizen journalists, has become the most viewed non-profit YouTube channel of all time in Egypt and the most viewed non-profit channel in the whole world this month. The group, which has only been producing videos online for four months, collates footage and video testimonies from filmmakers and people who attend protests in Egypt and disseminates these clips online.

This comes at a time when citizen journalism across the Arab world is playing a leading role in news gathering and challenging official media and state discourses attempting to quell dissent.

Mosireen is responsible for some of the most iconic videos from the ongoing revolution. Their key YouTube pieces include the coverage of the 9 October attack on a protest for Coptic rights in Maspero, when the army denied killing 27 protesters, and the memorial video The Martyrs of the Revolution, a definitive collection of footage of those who have lost their lives since 25 January.

“The success of Mosireen shows how people need a different type of journalism and how this new form is gaining more and more support,” explains Lobna Darwish, 25, one of the founding members of the Mosireen collective. “It’s not about being a professional filmmaker, it’s not about editing; the footage is from people who are volunteers and are not making money out of it.”

Darwish also emphasises how the clips are not exclusively shot by Mosireen filmmakers: “A lot of footage is donated by people who have risked their lives at the scene and are corroborating to make this network of citizen journalists, who want to share their experiences and get the information out.”

Working beyond the internet, the collective also runs workshops, training sessions, talks and provides meeting rooms and editing suites. During the July sit-in in Tahrir, Mosireen organised screenings of their short videos in the square. Cinema Tahrir, as it became known, was the inspiration for the recent de-centralised movement Kazeboon, which has seen informal screens set up across Cairo and Egypt, often playing films edited by Mosireen.

The name Mosireen, meaning the people who insist, comes from a play on the word Masireen (Egyptians) which is spelt in the same way in Arabic. During one of the sit-ins, a T-shirt was produced depicting the wordMasr (Egypt) on the front but with tashkeel, intonation marks indicating the vowel sounds, changing the word into mosr, which means determined or adamant. This gave the group the idea for their name.

An additional touch to the name is that if you take the tashkeel from Mosireen and make it into a sentence, in Arabic it translates as: (domma) assemble, (iskar) break and (shad) pull together, which, the group add, aptly describes the rhythm of change in Egypt.

From the moment protesters first set up camp in Tahrir, they established a media tent where a small community of filmmakers congregated, and started to build an archive of footage shot during the revolution. When the sit-in was cleared, they lacked a common meeting space.

Khalid Abdalla, 31 a filmmaker and founding member of Mosireen, had access to an empty flat. Together with other filmmakers, including Aida El-Kashef, 23, who was an integral part of compiling the initial archive, they converted the space into an office. Mosireen, although it hadn’t been named yet, was born.

“We came up with an idea to make it into a space were we could edit, help build the archive and support citizen journalists,” says Abdalla. “We aimed to do screenings, run workshops and training. Civic media became the citizen’s form of participation and of occupying media space.”

Others joined them and they aim was to collect footage documenting the human rights abuses by Egypt’s security forces into bite-size clips and immediately disseminate these videos via the web. “It became a war of stories,” Abdalla explains.

From the outset Mosireen recognised that those without access to a computer or the internet were cut off from them. Cinema Tahrir was the answer.

Spearheaded by Omar Robert Hamilton, another filmmaker who had also been documenting the revolution, the group found a bus stop in Tahrir and set up a screen. As many of the filmmakers had become familiar with the archive, they used the daily screenings, which attracted hundreds of people, as a way of sharing the raw footage that many had not seen before.

July also marked a change in the relationship with the army making these screenings possible. “The July sit-in broke the taboo, it became more acceptable to condemn the army publicly,” Abdalla adds.

Mosireen rose to prominence in October when it released on YouTube a collection of clips from the Maspero protest, capturing military personnel killing protesters, even though the army and state media consequently denied the security forces were responsible.

Within two days the group put out Blood by Night, Grief by Day, a video documenting the relatives of the military’s victims mourning, which attracted over 17,000 views. Their graphic video entitled The Maspero Massacre: What Really Happened got over 13,000 hits and featured a mixture of testimonies from eyewitnesses, footage shot during the attack and of the victims from inside the hospitals and the morgue. Both were widely shared on Twitter and Facebook.

The team have tirelessly documented every march, protest, sit-in and battle, including gathering clips from people’s mobile phones and recording testimonies from victims of torture, detained bloggers and protesters maimed in the clashes. In many instances, traditional media channels have used Mosireen footage because they simply haven’t got the manpower to cover all the events.

“Mosireen’s success shows the other side,” explains Darwish. “People are viewing these videos. When there is a war between what the state and the protesters are saying, people are looking for new ways to find this information.”

Hamilton agrees. “It shows how strong the demand for alternative sources of information in this country is, how little faith people have in state media and how much trust people are now putting in grassroots civilian action rather than corporate structures.”

It also, he adds, brings hope to the revolutionaries: “The fact that is the most viewed in the world this month shows that the Egyptian Revolution still resonates globally and people everywhere are deeply invested in seeing it succeed.”

At the close of 2011, Mosireen provided downloadable clips on their website, and started handing out DVDs so people could spread the information and further challenge state rhetoric. Each day more people subscribe to their YouTube account. Crucially, in the run up to the one-year anniversary of the January 25 uprising, Mosireen has been running a series of popular workshops on filming, editing and sound.

“In periods of massive social change, there becomes a certain urgency over ownership in stories and over the truth,” says Abdalla. “This is a revolution that was filmed by its people rather than by a news organisation and it is one of the first in history to be so… Mosireen is, in part, a reaction to that.”

Determination and optimism mingle in Tahrir Square

“2011 ended honestly,” says Khalid Abdalla, a 31 year-old British-Egyptian filmmaker and activist, about the New Year’s Eve celebrations on Tahrir Square. “It felt balanced: an appreciation of what we have achieved over the year and what there is still to fight for, a sense of mourning over the cost.”

The price Egyptians paid for the last year of revolution is astonishing. 2011 saw almost 2,000 protesters killed and 12,000 face illegal military trials, as well as a loss of 32 per cent of Egypt’s tourist trade and an estimated $10 billion dollars of the country’s money.

The revolutionaries are still pushing for the changes they demanded back in January. The government is no rush. Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri even said in a press conference last week, “for a country that was silent for 60 years, why are we pressing ourselves over five or six months?”

As Egypt moves into 2012, emergency law is still in place, there is no president, no constitution and the military, led by Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is in power. There has been no reform of the police force, whose brutal behaviour towards civilians sparked the revolution. Little legislation has changed.

The ongoing elections, which saw violence, vote-buying, stolen ballot papers and illegal campaigning, will produce a parliament with no legislative powers that is overseen by the SCAF. Judging by the electoral results so far, this will also be a predominantly Islamist People’s Assembly, even though no party was allowed to have a religious basis.

The military continue to authorise increasingly violent crackdowns. During the closing months of 2011 they used live ammunition, brutal beatings, sexual assault, tear gas and rocks against civilians in battles which stretched over five days. In November they resorted to walling protesters into Tahrir using concrete blocks to build barricades on its surrounding streets.

Even though Mubarak and a handful of his cronies are facing trial, the financial and political infrastructure of the regime is still very much in place. But yet they feel hope, people said during the New Year’s Eve celebrations on Tahrir Square.

“I believe it’s a duty to be optimistic,” says Khalid, who has been documenting the revolution since January.

“It was very uplifting,” adds Ghada Shahbender, from the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights who was also on the square that night. She likened the gathering to the initial 18 days of revolution: “It was the first fully festive assembly in Tahrir since 18th February, a week after Mubarak stepped down.”

The square was lit up with candles and fireworks. Christians and Muslims gathered around protest tents on the central roundabout wearing homemade party hats. Families held posters of their loved ones lost in the year’s numerous battles. Balloons in the Egyptian flag colours were released into the night sky.

Revolutionary singers such as Ramy Essam, who was imprisoned and tortured in March 2011, sang against the military, Coptic hymns came from a nearby church and a Sufi singer performed for the crowds.

Muddled with these messages of hope was the quiet acknowledgement that this year is sure to be harder.

“We will have a bigger fight than last year. We have a long way to go, ” admits Amani, 54, a Christian researcher who also celebrated New Year on the square. She talked about the 9 October Copt-led demonstration at Maspero where the army killed 27 Christian and Muslim protesters. “The religious ‘differences’ are all politics. The government wants us to be divided. We will win.”

“The military are not backing down,” agrees Omar, 42, a musician and producer, “They have regularly escalated events and have repeatedly antagonized otherwise peaceful demonstrators.”

It is clear when you talk to protesters they are mentally preparing to lose their lives in 2012. There will be more blood, many say.

“They will attack us but we will keep fighting,” explains Ramy Essam, who has been nicknamed the singer of the revolution, “What I hope is people will go to the streets in January, stay and make a sit-in in every square in Egypt until change happens.”

Although the international media focuses on these squares, last week’s riot-police raids on nongovernmental organisations illustrated there are many frontlines of this revolution.

“The authorities try to stop our work because these organisations have succeeded in winning in court against the ruling military council,” explains Khalid Ali, a prominent lawyer and director of Egyptian Centre for Economical and Social Rights, who fears further attacks.

“We speak about their crimes so they want to shut us up” adds Ghada.

The Internet has been another battleground this year. Bloggers like Maikel Nabil and Alaa Abd el Fattah have been imprisoned for the blog posts they write. Even the aged military council got involved by issuing communiqués via its Facebook page.

“Citizen journalism is also going to be increasingly vital as people recognise it as a tool of civil engagement,” explains Khalid who is part of a media collective Mosireen. Mosireen collects and compiles footage from protests and disseminates the short clips via the Internet, which often end up in the traditional media.

Their YouTube Channel became the second most watched channel in the whole of Egypt following their continual stream of new videos documenting human rights abuses by the security forces.

This sparked a decentralised movement called Kazeboon. Meaning ‘liars’ in Arabic, in the last few weeks, it has seen groups spontaneously erect screens in streets and on squares and play these clips, all over Egypt. Kazeboon has become so popular it spread internationally; people are organizing screenings in New York, Paris and London.

The protesters face a lot of criticism that they are marginalised, divided and leaderless. Omar disagrees, adding the movement’s strength is because “it’s always been led, not by a person but by very basic, very simple precepts… Freedom, Liberty, Social Justice.”

“We never had the ‘majority’ nor, and I say this with some ambivalence, have we needed them,” he continues, “one per cent of Cairo would give you 200,000 people in Tahrir. If even 5% of Egyptians come down on the 25th of January the SCAF would realise their clock is ticking.”

The anniversary is looming on the horizon and everyone is gearing up for it. Despite frustratingly slow change, when you look back to pre-revolution Egypt the people are bolder. If you look at the 18 days, you see maturity, especially on Tahrir. The last year seems to have been a process of self-education about what it means to go through a period of social change.

“What is crucial for me is my sense of time has shifted – no one really knows whether you will inherit what you are fighting for or whether you’re fighting for a future generation. Everything is uncertain,” explains Khalid, “But we all know the 25th of January is coming. That is really the New Year.”

NGO crackdown: Frontline of the ongoing revolution

Operating as a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) in Egypt is no mean feat. Aside from the fear of further crackdowns following last week’s raids and what civil society groups are calling a government-led “smear campaign,” advisory council spokesperson Mohamed El-Khouly on Wednesday urged Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to issue a law further regulating the already carefully monitored activities of NGOs. Most groups are on guard.

“This is just the beginning,” says Khalid Ali, a prominent lawyer whose organisation, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, was not visited in the recent raids. “There are rumours that 100 NGOs will be subject to investigation, with some saying as many as 400 will be targeted.”

The fear of investigation is so keenly felt that Ahram Online has received several reports of civil society groups sending staff members home for the week, encouraging workers to remove all personal belongings from offices, and duplicating and securing key files and documents.

Many groups who initially spoke out against the police raids on NGO offices are now declining to comment. On Tuesday, the German government announced it would send a special envoy to Egypt because the German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation had been raided.

In the latest development, prominent civil society workers and activists (including some whose offices were raided) are set to take legal action against Egypt’s Al-Wafd newspaper following unfounded allegations published in its online edition that the groups had received American funding. The offending article referenced a US diplomatic cable, recently published by online whistleblower Wikileaks, which documented several meetings between Egyptian NGO activists and American diplomats.

“There’s no mention of funding whatsoever in the cable,” says Ghada Shahbender of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), whose name appears in the Wikileaks document. “I never denied meeting with Americans. I will continue to meet with them every chance I get to push our pro-democracy demands.”

“On more than one occasion at these meetings I have personally criticised American foreign policy double standards in dealing with the region,” she said. “This comes in the context of a harassment campaign by the state aimed at discrediting human rights advocates and organisations that report on state crimes.”

Daily News Egypt reported on Tuesday that the editor of Al-Wafd’s online news portal, Adel Sabry, had admitted to inaccuracies in the article on a television talk show. Nevertheless, the piece, entitled ‘‘Wikileaks announces the names of those who got American funding”, remains online.

Interestingly, the Egyptian police website (, an informal webpage run by the media office of the Ministry of Interior, picked up the Al-Wafd story and – despite both parties having access to a translation of the Wikileaks document – simultaneously published a post entitled, “Urgent and surprising… Wikileaks announces on its website the activists and politicians that had American funding.” The fact that a website claiming to represent one arm of the Egyptian security apparatus is taking the (factually incorrect) state party-line of a supposed “opposition” party newspaper is concerning.

Ali believes the action taken against NGOs is likely to escalate. “They may even take some groups to court and imprison NGO workers,” he told Ahram Online. Ali also fears his organisation will be targeted as it is mentioned in a recent government fact-finding report.

The report was first mentioned in July 2011 by Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul-Naga and commissioned by Minister of Justice Mohamed Abdel Aziz El-Guindi. The document, which was leaked to El-Fager newspaper in late September, purportedly identifies 39 Egyptian and American civil society groups that are operating “without a license from the Ministry of Social Solidarity (for the Egyptian organisations) or from the foreign ministry (for the American organisations).”

The list includes the three American NGOs – the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and Freedom House – that were raided last Thursday.

However, as NDI director Julie Hughes told Ahram Online, obtaining these licenses can be difficult. The NDI has been attempting to register for six years, she explained. They were finally told in June 2011 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they would not be granted a licence for “political reasons.”

“The authorities want most of these organisations to be registered because, when you register, the agreement comes from State Security, so you’re under their jurisdiction,” said Ali. “The authority’s objective is to force all NGOs and organisations to work under their authority.”

Ghada, whose organisation is licensed, agrees: “We are monitored and controlled by the Ministry of Social Solidarity under legislation passed in 2003 that gives the government complete control over NGOs. We object to this, but the EOHR nevertheless operates within their guidelines.”

Foreign funding has also been another reason to target NGOs, which, again, must be approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity. In August, the Supreme State Security Prosecution launched investigations into foreign funding allegations, warning that groups could be charged with high treason, conspiracy against the state and compromising national security through the implementation of foreign agendas.

This is despite the fact that the Egyptian Armed Forces receive $1.3 billion in annual military aid from the US in an agreement that links Egypt to Israel’s US aid package.

“Most NGOs have foreign funding because there is very little money in Egypt,” one civil society worker who wished to remain anonymous for fear a backlash, told Ahram Online. “The Ministry of Social Solidarity will only fund projects that are in line with government politics, ruling out certain topics. We tried to run a project on prostitution, but they don’t want to be seen backing immoral people, so we didn’t get the funding.”

Bypassing legal means of funding can sometimes be the only way to work effectively on the ground, civil society workers say, forcing NGOs to violate the law and encouraging corruption. The legal situation for these NGOs leaves them in a precarious position, as outlined in a complaint letter written by civil society groups to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) following the recent crackdown on NGOs.

The 2003 legislation, which the letter says is systematically vague and has not been updated since the fall of the Mubarak regime, states that NGOs can only be created with approval from the Ministry of Solidarity (see Article 6). Article 17 of the law confirms that all receipt of funds must go through the ministry, while articles 34 and 42 give the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the security apparatus the right to object to board elections and disqualify candidates from the board. It also gives them extensive rights to dissolve civic associations.

The document cites the treatment of the New Woman Foundation as a recent example of ministry interference in the work of NGOs. The ministry was able to reject a prestigious international award the foundation had received on the grounds that the foundation was advocating for a new law conforming to international standards, which the ministry claimed was outside the remit of NGOs.

The letter sees this action as symptomatic of the “authoritarian” behaviour of the ministry and is in “clear violation of Article 22, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The letter also condemned the minister’s request to Egypt’s central bank to allow him to monitor NGO bank accounts, saying this represented a breach of account confidentially “upheld in Law 88/2033.”

The purpose and details of last week’s raids on NGO offices remain unclear.

Abu El-Naga, who appears to be the spokeswoman for the crackdown, gave no clear explanation as to why this particular group of civil society organisations had been chosen. The initial number of offices targeted was set at 17, but was then reduced to ten in the national and international media. Until now, Ahram Online has only been able to confirm seven. No official list has been issued.

Ahram Online can confirm that the targeted organisations are the NDI, the IRI, Freedom House, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation, the Arab Centre for Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession (ACIJLP), the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory and the Future Centre of Judiciary Studies.

There are some obvious political motives behind the choice. The three American organisations are on the NGO hit-list drawn up by the Ministry of Justice. The Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory has been campaigning against the secrecy of the military budget – a controversial topic and one of the main features of the SCAF’s supra-constitutional proposal. Nasser Amin, ACIJLP director and Helwan parliamentary candidate, recently filed a court case because of potential vote rigging.

The Egyptian authorities may also have used the raids to send a message to Washington. At the very least, including American NGOs and a German foundation would help support the domestic party line that the government was cracking down on organisations with “foreign agendas.”

Civil society groups also question the use of paramilitary troops rather than normal police officers and the bizarre behaviour of the security forces, which included confiscating a water boiler, inspecting bathrooms and looking at a roof. Several of these groups have been operating since 2005 – so why raid them now? Then, in a televised interview with Abul-Naga, the government claimed the SCAF had no knowledge of the raids.

The actions last Thursday are not new. “This crackdown on Egyptian civil society has been happening for years,” said the anonymous NGO worker. “People who have been working for land rights in Egypt have been consistently tortured and imprisoned, from as far back as the 90s. It’s only new in the sense that we’re now supposed to be ‘post-revolution’.”

She emphasised that, since Mubarak stepped down, NGOs had become bolder in their work, which, she says, the SCAF rightly identifies as having contributed to the revolutionary process. Ghada agrees, seeing the raids as an extension of the security forces’ behaviour in November’s and December’s clashes in Cairo: “We have yet to see reform,” she said. “Events of the last quarter of 2011 show the SCAF is trying to abort the Egyptian revolution.”

‘Muslims and Christians are one hand’: Tahrir Square celebrates New Year’s Eve

By 8:30pm Tahrir Square was packed. The flag-bearers were back. The neon pink standard of the candy-floss man could be spotted again, bobbing over people’s heads in the crowd. The men with their fireworks had also returned.

People were handing out stickers calling for the release of detained blogger Maikel Nabil and carrying posters of shohadaa (martyrs) commemorating the dead.

Groups huddled together to keep warm. On the stage the poet Abdel Rahman Youssef was speaking beautifully about the continued fight for freedom.

Had this been a few weeks ago, we would have been facing bullets and tear gas. But last night, for the first time in months, it was a celebration.

“I wanted to be here, to see the New Year in the square. It’s important,” Magdy, 54, tells me as he stands next to his daughter who is beaming. “Next year will be good, I hope, but we are in the process of getting freedom, we have a long way to go.”

I bumped into Ramy Essam before he was due to go on stage. Dubbed the singer of the revolution, Ramy was detained and tortured by the Egyptian military back in March. The photos of Ramy’s whipped and beaten became one of the iconic images of the revolution.

“I’m not sure 2012 will be better than 2011, but we will do our best to make it better. We will keep fighting… Right now, everyone here is very happy.” Ramy sang “Irhal” (Leave) to ecstatic crowds, a song he penned in the 18 days and initially dedicated to Mubarak.

Gamila Ismail, who ran as a parliamentary candidate for the constituency surrounding Tahrir Square and one of the organisers of the event, spoke on the stage with a mother of a boy who had died in the clashes. Candles were lit for the martyrs while people spontaneously chanted “Down, down with the military regime.”  Intermingled in the candlelit crowds were people in party hats waving flags.

A service was held at nearby Qasr El-Dobara church, a place that had become a makeshift field hospital during the November and December clashes. Groups of youth made a human shield around the church to protect it from attack – reminiscent of scenes during many battles when Christians have guarded Muslims as they prayed.

At 10pm the worshippers marched from the Church to join the square. They were met with applause and chants of “Muslims and Christians are one hand.” A flag of Mina Danial, the Copt socialist activist who was shot dead by the Egyptian security forces during the Maspero protest, headed the march. There were signs saying “Blessed be Egypt – Our people.”

“The government tries to set Muslims and Christians against each other,” explains Eman, a Christian doctor who was on the march, “It’s divide and rule. But we are one.”  The celebrated Sufi singer Sheikh Ahmed El-Touny sang in the background. Later a Muslim wedding was announced on the overhead speakers by a Coptic MC, the happy couple joined the stage, hugged and danced.

At midnight, large bouquets of balloons in the Egyptian flag colours were released into the sky.

Tahrir, the heartbeat of the revolution, a home for many sit-ins, a battleground in the clashes and occasionally a badly organised roundabout showed the wear and tear of a long and incredible but difficult year. The central circle, once a garden now a sandy tent city, was full of families gathering in groups to keep warm. Revellers in homemade fez hats were chanting outside the Hardees burger restaurant, where the pavement has been broken up for rocks in the battles. There are now four walls built by the army, blocking some of Tahrir’s surrounding streets.

“It’s very different in comparison to last year,” adds Eman who was reflecting on 2011’s New Year’s Day which saw the bombing of the Two Saints church in Alexandria. Large gatherings in a public space like Tahrir were not allowed under Mubarak’s regime; this event would have been impossible to organise then. “In the end we are all Egyptian. The people are together, both Christians and Muslims, we will stay until we reach out goals. No one can stop that.”

SCAF ‘restraint’ proves hollow as more Egypt protesters killed









A 15-year-old boy is in critical condition and there are unconfirmed reports of another four casualties afterEgyptian Central Security Forces (CSF) and army personnel stormed Tahrir Square in the early hours of Tuesday morning, as clashes raged on into their fifth consecutive day. The latest attacks follow a statement by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Monday in which it denied using excessive force against protesters and praised the “high levels of self restraint” exercised by military police.

At 3:30am, CSF troops and military units arrived at Omar Makram Mosque, located adjacent to Cairo’s flashpoint Tahrir Square, following a similar strategy as the night before, when two protesters were killed. Using batons, live ammunition and tear gas, the CSF pushed protesters from the mosque and nearby Kasr El-Aini Street. Security forces tore down a tent erected the day before, along with a banner depicting the female protester who had earlier been stripped and beaten by military police. Protesters also accused security forces of burning medical supplies and blankets.

Clashes between activists and police continued on the nearby Talaat Harb and Bab El-Louk streets and in front of the Nile-Ritz Carlton Hotel. Ahram Online witnessed several protesters attempting – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – to speak to security forces. In contrast to yesterday’s attacks, the army remained on the periphery of the square, allowing the CSF to do most of the fighting.

Last night also saw an escalation of violence by security forces using automatic weapons.

“The use of machine guns was unbelievable; it didn’t stop,” says Nazly, 28, a protester lightly injured in last month’s clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. “We’ve become so accustomed to the shooting that we’ve stopped running. We’re no longer afraid of getting shot.”

Stone-throwing protesters faced off against police, who took the lead in attacking the square last night, successfully pushing the CSF back to Kasr El-Aini Street on several occasions.

Those in the square also reported the liberal use of live ammunition. “The bullet wounds were deeper and bigger than we usually see. I saw so many of these injuries,” said Nazly. “We treated them in makeshift field hospitals since ambulances refused to come to Tahrir.”

Yesterday evening, ambulances – usually stationed in the vicinity of Omar Makram Mosque and along Kasr El-Aini – moved to the area behind the Shepheard Hotel, a safe distance from the fighting. Panicked protesters called the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, a Cairo-based rights watchdog, and the health ministry to urge paramedics to return to the field.

The army remained near the mosque for the duration of the attacks. “I saw two men die from gunshot wounds,” said 21-year-old protester Lina, who spoke at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “I found bloody clothes and bullets and held them aloft, only metres from the army. I thought I could shame their conscience. I was wrong.”

Revolutionary groups convened two press conferences on Tuesday afternoon to condemn the violent behaviour of security forces and the SCAF.

Egyptian security forces have also faced a barrage foreign criticism. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described recent events as “shocking,” calling the behaviour of the security forces a “disgrace.”

During the recent clashes, the army appears to have fortified the improvised wall on Al-Sheikh Rihan Street, making it two concrete blocks wide.

At approximately 5:30am, security forces withdrew to the Omar Makram Mosque side of Tahrir Square. Sporadic bursts of gunfire could still be heard as limited clashes continued around the US Embassy in Cairo’s nearby Garden City district.

Hundreds are now participating in a woman’s protest march that started at 4pm on Tuesday in solidarity with female protesters who have been subjected to sexual assault and beatings at the hands of security forces.

There are fears among protesters that the movement may be losing public support, but morale in the square remains high nevertheless.

“Now we’re used to fighting a daily battle,” said 20-year-old protester and graffiti artist Mohammad. “The fact that we’ve held out this long against police and the army just shows how powerful we are.”

Video: Security forces kill two more protesters in Egypt

As the fierce fighting between protesters, the military and Central Security Forces entered its fourth day, at 3:50am Monday morning Egyptian security forces attacked Tahrir Square, leaving two protesters dead.

Despite video footage showing the contrary, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) claimed in a televised press conference Monday afternoon that there was no evidence of the use of violence against protesters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton begged to differ, making separate public statements a few hours before the conference to condemn the use of violence with both calling for the security forces to respect human rights.

Last night, Mohammad Mohie Hussein, 30 who was detained with 163 others during the last four days of fighting on Qasr El-Aini Street, died from his injuries whilst in custody. In response, the lawyers working on the cases staged a sit-in, refusing to continue until those in detention received medical attention.

Just before 4am, Central Security Forces, who the day before had joined the army against the protesters, appeared at the Omar Makram Mosque entrance to Tahrir and attacked those in the square with rocks, Molotovs and occasional gunfire.

At the same time Khalid Abdalla, 31, a filmmaker on the square tweeted that the army had started “making preparations for another wall” at the junction between Sheikh Rihan Street and Qasr El-Aini Street.

Protesters initially held the CSF soldiers off with rocks and Molotov cocktails. At 4am the security forces stormed the square, firing gunshots and tear gas at protesters who fled up Talaat Harb Street and towards the Egyptian Museum. Central Security Forces took over the central roundabout in the square, ripping down the few tents and banners that had been erected yesterday afternoon.

“It was another incredibly violent push by both the police and army working together,” says Sherief, 27, a researcher and activist, who was on the square at the time, “I saw people who were suffering from tear gas, were shot with shotgun pellets and who had been hit very badly by batons. We were pushed down Talaat Harb Street, under fire.”

Army and police officers then attempted to enter flats looking onto Tahrir, as they had done during raids on Saturday when they confiscated cameras and media equipment.

Ahram Online witnessed CSF personnel firing large amounts of long range tear gas canisters and bird shot at the square’s central roundabout. Mohammed, a 33-year-old photographer, filmed officers using automatic weapons. “I saw a police officer with what looked like an M16 on the midan (square) and two army officers with AK47S,” he said. “I saw them fire a few rounds directly at protesters who had retreated down the street.”

The army and police set upon any protesters who had not managed to leave the square. “I filmed five police officers and a solider drag an injured protester and beat him on the corner of Talaat Harb Street,” says Mohammed. “Later there were about 20 army and Central Security Forces beating an inert protester in the middle of the square.” Protesters reported seeing snipers on the government Mogamma complex, although this is unconfirmed. There were also plain clothed people spread amongst the uniformed forces. “We saw around 100 of them,“ Mohammad confirms.

After a continued and brutal assault of tear gas, gunfire and rocks at round 5:30am, CSF and the army began to retreat. Protesters entered from the museum side of Tahrir and Talaat Harb.

Four soldiers and police officers were captured by protesters. Groups of men made human chains around the captives to protect them from the angry crowds. One member of the military, who was badly beaten, was then treated by protesters in a nearby field hospital.

“The army built another wall in downtown on Sheikh Rihan Street, showing their inability to deal with the situation in a positive way,” adds Sherief. “Although we dealt with tear gas and guns, the people pushed them back and won a victory last night.”