We protest so our children know we once had a home, say Palestinians

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Deir al-Balah, Gaza

Even though he knew there was a risk of being shot, as Abdel al-Mohsleh saw it there was a good reason to take his 11-year-old son to the border protests in Gaza. Like many parents in the blockaded strip, he feared that his children would grow up not knowing they were refugees forced from their ancestral lands in Israel when it was founded 70 years ago this week.

That was why he needed to take him towards the fence and teach him about the conflict.

“We fear that when the old people die, when we ourselves pass, the children will forget why we are even trapped here in Gaza,” Mr Mohsleh said.

Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on Monday
Sixty-two people in total died in the clashes on MondayADEL HANA/AP

During the protests Mr Mohsleh, 42, whose family is originally from an area near Ashkelon, just a few miles north on Israel’s coast, was separated from Rakan when an Israeli drone dropped eight tear-gas canisters on them.

While they were apart his son, who had been waving a Palestinian flag, was hit by an Israeli bullet.

“I went to protest but I was shot while waving my flag,” said Rakan, whose arm hangs limp in a rudimentary sling at a hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza. “There was no ambulance. I was all alone because of the gas. An old man found me and took me to the hospital.”

He was among 2,700 injured and 62 killed on Monday, the consequences of which continue to reverberate internationally. Hamas, which runs Gaza, said yesterday that 50 of the dead were its members. It said that 12 were not and were likely to include the eight children under 16 who died, including an eight-month-old baby.

Hamas accepted a convoy of aid sent from the Palestinian authority in the West Bank but declined lorry loads sent by Israel, some of which contained treadmills to help rehabilitate those hit in the legs by bullets.

Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a drone
Palestinians flee after tear gas is dropped from a droneSPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Turkey asked Israeli diplomats to leave the country, provoking a rebuke from Yair Netanyahu, the son of the Israeli prime minister, who posted an altered image of the Turkish flag on the internet using the Islamic crescent to help spell “F*C* Turkey”.

Rakan and many other children will need all the help they can get. Of the 10,000 people who were wounded since the rallies were first called six weeks ago at least 1,000 were minors, according to Save the Children, and at least 250 were hit with live ammunition…

 

For full story read: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-protest-so-our-children-know-we-once-had-a-home-say-palestinians-7zmbnbpgm

Photo: SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

Food, fuel and faith divide Cairo’s streets

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While the president and army appear locked in conflict, the streets are divided between the extraordinary groundswell of dissent against the president and those loyalists staging their own sit-ins and demos.

“If the price for legitimacy is my blood, then I am prepared to sacrifice my blood to legitimacy and my homeland,” said Egypt’s President Morsi in a defiant television speech around midnight on 2 July. A day earlier, the army had given him an ultimatum: to “fulfill the demands of the people” or it will intervene. In other words, step down, or we will remove you.

Morsi’s speech rejected the army’s road map, derided the millions of protesters against him as remnants of the former regime and repeatedly declared his “constitutional legitimacy”, won at the ballot box just over a year ago.

The protests, largely spearheaded by a grass roots campaign called Tamarod (Rebel), which had collected 22 million signatures calling for his resignation. The group demands early presidential elections and a new constitution as well as an interim president and ruling technocratic council.

While the president and army appear locked in conflict, the streets are divided between the extraordinary groundswell of dissent against the president and those loyalists staging their own sit-ins and demos. As tensions rise, deadly clashes between rival protest groups have erupted across the country leaving dozens dead.

We are seeing two different visions of Egypt: Morsi and his largely Islamist supporters say he has legitimacy as the democratically elected president. But Egyptians in the street maintain that democracy is bigger than the ballot box: the president is unfit to rule, the people have spoken.

“I voted for that guy, so I’m here to defend my voice, he won the election the people made their choice. . . If some don’t like it, go the polling stations at the end of his term,” says Hamza Abu-Seer, 57, selling Morsi hats in the ongoing Islamist sit-in defending the president outside a Cairo mosque.

Democracy is a contractual agreement between people and an elected leader, maintains Gehad El-Haddad, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) which are spear-heading the pro-Morsi protests, “and that contract was for four years.”

He sees their struggles as means to defend “the right of the people to choose the leader of their country”.

“We will not be jeopardised by anyone, even those with guns.”

A flagbearer in Tahrir Square.
Photograph: Bel Trew

However, those calling for the president’s ousting say he broke that trust with a series of unpopular and undemocratic decisions.

“This is part of democracy, people have the right to come to the streets and demand this, he breached the contract, especially with the constitutional declaration,” says Mohamed Waked, an editior of Middle East-focused e-zine Jadaliyya, referring to a controversial move by the president in November last year to immunise his decrees and the Constituent Assembly from judicial review..

Waked sees this as a “turning point” for the beleaguered leader, who had won support after prying power from the military.

Morsi then pushed through a hastily-written constitution that many slammed as being drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly.

“Added to this was his and his party’s incompetence, ineffectiveness at governing – they couldn’t even run the country,” Waked adds. Egypt’s economy is in freefall: the pound is down about 20 per cent since the president took office, and foreign reserves continue to shrink. The knockdown effect on Egyptians is chronic fuel, water and bread shortages and crippling unemployment.

Economy aside, there have been concerns about freedoms as the number of people charged with insulting the president, which include journalists, bloggers and TV commentators, is higher than under Hosni Mubarak.

“I don’t think it’s a bad idea that lousy presidents who perform poorly are impeached. Egypt would be a garbage bin in four years if he stays,” concludes Waked.

Photograph: Bel Trew

Back at the pro-Morsi encampment, defenders of the president maintain a year is not long enough to fix Egypt. The president, they say, has wrestled power from the military, who took over for a year after Mubarak’s ouster; ratified a fair constitution; and expanded media freedom.

Leading member of the Brotherhood Mohamed El-Beltagy riled up supporters on the sit in main stage calling on them to “say goodbye to their wives and children” and get ready for martyrdom.

The chants in the loyalist demonstrations often reference Islam as source of legitimacy: this is question of identity as much as political affiliation. Like the president said in his speech, their vision of Egypt must be defended to the death.

The Islamist current also assert that they are still the majority: “Everyone knows the Islamic stream in Egypt across repetitive elections represents 70 per cent of the population,” asserts Haddad. “We’re the biggest, most organised stream of Egyptians inside Egypt.”

This again is refuted by anti-Morsi protesters.

“We are witnessing the demise of political Islam,” Waked maintains. “It meant oppression, horrible economic conditions, it set social segments against each other, demonising the Shia and the Christians. People are fed up with this.”

The president is backed by some Islamist groups like Gamaa Al-Islamiya, a once banned terrorist organisation, and the Wasat (“Centre”) Party, originally formed in the Nineties as a splinter group of the Brotherhood.

However, the united front appeared to crack Wednesday when leading member of Gamaa Al-Islamiya Tarek El-Zomor told Reuters that his organisation was now calling for early presidential elections.

The embarrassing comment was quickly denied by the group –  El-Zomor is not a spokesperson – but the damage had already been done.

Added to this the conservative Salafist Nour Party, the Brotherhood’s main political rivals and the second biggest party in the country – called on Monday for snap elections and a technocratic government.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has only their supporters, and they’re staying behind him, but outside the core he’s weakened,” maintains Khaled Fahmy, a historian and activist. “His power base is shrinking.”

Fahmy adds that the president’s speeches and actions appear to be only speaking to his support-base.

Certainly a number of unpopular government reshuffles over the last year have sparked these fears including the latest appointment of governorate heads last month. This saw tourism-hotspot Luxor given to a leading member of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, the very organization responsible for the infamous 1997 shooting spree which killed at least 58 foreign tourists.

A flag is waved during the presidential palace demonstrations.
Photograph: Bel Trew

The president left little room for manoeuvre with the opposition parties in his Tuesday speech. He did, however, call for dialogue.

Dr Diaa Adha, another leading member of the FJP, says the opposition over the last year repeatedly ignored offers of positions in government and his administration and have not met the president halfway. “They refused all kinds of democracy,” he said.

However, the country’s leading coalition of opposition forces the National Salvation Front (NSF), refute this. “We’ve had no communication from the other side [the Brotherhood] since December,” maintains Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, senior member of the NSF.

Morsi asserted in his speech on Tuesday that his “will is the will of the people” however he is losing support from within his own administration. In the last two days, six ministers have resigned together with two presidential spokespersons, rumours abound that more are jumping ship.

Meanwhile members of the military, who vowed to stay out of politics, released a statement on an unofficial Facebook page after his speech saying they will die protecting the Egyptian people from “terrorists, radicals and fools,” leading many to wonder whether this was a warning shot at the president.

Back in the rival protest camps, it is telling that that each side compares the other to the former regime, claiming that they represent the real Egypt.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is like Mubarak’s National Democratic Party,” says Ismail from the Nile Delta’s Zagazig, Morsi’s hometown. Ismail believes the Islamist group are slowly taking over and suffocating the country. At the anti-government rallies, organizers told all parties and movements to leave their own banners at home. A clever move: the result is a sea of Egyptian flags, a united nationalistic front.

Meanwhile at the Islamist sit-in, civil aviation engineer Farid Ismail, 43, says protesters are following the agenda of the former regime: “The opposition the minority in our country they want to act like thugs.”

The military are in emergency talks, the presidency remains steadfast and the anti-government protesters vow they will not stop their daily demonstrations.

“We will never respect the president. He has split the nation,” says Eman El-Mahdy from the Rebel campaign. “The Egyptian will is very strong. We won’t be silenced.”

 

Morsi’s hometown divided on day of mass protests

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Residents of the president’s birthplace praise his administration, while in Zagazig, the Nile Delta governorate’s capital, many complain of chronic shortages and a struggling economy

 

 Campaign posters of President Mohamed Morsi, bleached in the sun, line the walls of a dilapidated building in tiny Nile Delta village of El-Adwa: the only sign that this might be the street that Egypt’s president grew up on.
Morsi’s family still live in the area on a farm, but as far as anyone there can tell, the president rarely visits. Especially after he lost what was once a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold to rival candidate Mubarak-era minister Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential elections last year.

Nevertheless those who live just down the street from Morsi’s birthplace remain fiercely loyal to the beleaguered president.

“He’s the most respectful person in the whole world, Wednesday was the best speech I’ve heard,” says Umm Hussein, a 62-year-old housewife, referencing Morsi’s televised Wednesday address to the nation.

The president admitted he had made mistakes and that the last year had been difficult, but attracted criticism when he named and shamed opposition figures and slammed the grassroots signature campaign Tamarod, or ‘Rebel’ – who are largely behind Sunday’s nationwide anti-government rallies – as “illegal.”

For her part, Hussein vehemently attacked the ‘Rebel’ initiative, which announced Saturday that it had gathered over 22 million signatures calling for the ouster of the president.

“Since Morsi took over, we’ve had a better life. He gave us everything bread, healthcare, money. I want one of the Tamarod lot to tell me what the president did wrong?” she asks emphatically.

Despite crippling youth employment, which this year reached a staggering 77 percent according to national statistics agency CAPMAS, the gathering crowd of young boys in Al-Adwa insist that they do support Morsi, saying he is one of them, particularly as he grew up in the same area. Tok-tok drivers zoom past hooting their support for the president.
The one voice of dissent, Mohamed Mohamed Youssef, a 53-year-old vendor who voted for Shafiq, is not well liked in the village.

“He didn’t do anything to remember, he hasn’t changed anything at all, ” Youssef says, sitting in front of a sparsely-stocked, rundown shop. “It’s affected my job, the electricity goes off sometimes twice a day, which is a nightmare.”

Sharqiya

Vendor Mohmaed Youssef, from the president’s hometown, says Morsi has done nothing to improve Egypt (Photo: Gregg Carlstrom)
 The fuel shortages, he adds, have bumped up the prices of goods, as suppliers are loathe to transport them out to far flung villages like Al-Adwa: “I have to sell things at more expensive prices so my percentage loss is high: I’m making a lot less, than last year.

Mohammed Fahim, a 28-year-old driver, tentatively admitted that “nothing has changed” but emphasised that rather than coming to the streets and demanding Morsi’s ouster, “we should leave him alone to fix it.”

It is a different story in Zagazig, the capital of Morsi’s home governorate. As you enter the city, graffiti slamming the Brotherhood and ironically calling for Morsi to “go home” is scrawled across the walls.

An enthusiastic pamphleteer decorated an entire tunnel and round-about with stickers of Morsi’s face reading“Erhal” or leave.

At a 100s-long queue of cars at a gas station, anger against the president is mounting. Twenty-six year-old Abdel-Rahman sums up his sentiment in a single phrase: “Have on mercy on us, Morsi.” His friend, Ismail Ismail, likened the Muslim Brotherhood to Hosni Mubarak’s much-hated National Democratic Party, as he believes they’re slowly taking over and suffocating the country.

In the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) headquarters, local leader Ahmed Shehata presents a very different Egypt.

He claims from his calculations that the “real revolutionaries” who will protest peacefully on 30 June will amount to no more than 20,000 people.

“If you take away the thugs, there won’t be more than 300 protesters on the streets of Sharqiya,” he adds, slamming Tamarod as criminals.

Despite weeks of anti-government protests, and with millions expected to fill the streets again Sunday – citing economic woes, fuel, water and electricity shortages, a bread crisis and a lack of reform – Shehata painted a picture of an Egypt moving forward.

 

Sharqiya

Posters reading “leave” plaster a roundabout in the Nile Delta’s Sharqiya, Morsi’s home governorate (Photo: Gregg Carlstrom)

The Muslim Brotherhood-led government, he says, has increased public sector salaries, the minimum wage, and social insurance for women who don’t work and are heads of households, while wheat farmers will be paid more for their crop.

“The people expected change would happen overnight post-revolution, but it needs time after the mess the old regime left the country in,” Shehata tells Ahram Online, pointing to the fact that they won a majority of seats in 2011 parliamentary elections as proof that the FJP have not lost support in his Nile Delta governorate.

The presidential elections, where Morsi lost Sharqiya to Shafiq by about 160,000 votes, were a result of corruption and intimidation by paid thugs, Shehata concludes.

“Egypt has had five decent elections, we changed the country from being under the army, and the media is more free: all this in just one year,” he claims, though on a local level, the only improvement he was able to point to was a road in nearby Bilbis.

“People are not protesting for the country but for money,” Shehata concludes, “30 June without thugs would not be 30 June.”

Nonetheless, the Freedom and Justice Party is still plugging the gaps left by a chronic failure of the state at a local level.

Dr Hanaan Amin, a paediatrics professor and advisor to the FJP on women’s issues, listed a number of projects for women that the Islamist party is running in the impoverished governorate. These include putting over 1,500 women through Brotherhood-run literacy classes, operating mobile healthcare clinics and providing financial and training support to small businesses.

“The FJP is the link between women and the big supermarkets… we’ve helped women set up jewellery and dairy businesses, providing them with a stable place where they can work,” she tells Ahram Online, “We coordinate with village doctors, mosques, schools and nurseries. We’re trying to improve people’s lives on a local level.”

Sharqiya

“Morsi have mercy on us” says Abdel-Rahman in 100s-long queue for fuel in Sharqiya (Photo: Bel Trew)
Despite this, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is feeling the heat. Just hours after Ahram Online left the Islamist group’s headquarters in Sharqiya, it was attacked by armed assailants.

A 21-year-old student, Hossam Shoqqi, an office worker who made tea for Ahram Online reporters during the interview, was gunned down that evening and died from the bullet wound to his chest.

FJP offices across the country are bracing for further assaults.

With little change at a local and national level, thousands are expected to descend on Sharqiya’s streets Sunday.

“Everything we’re going through with the traffic, electricity, water, everything,” Nadia Mohamed, a local chemist concludes to Ahram Online. “I’m very worried all the time. We’re going from the worst to the worst.”

Al Jazeera: Nowhere to hide, Egypt’s vulnerable eyewitnesses

Click for original articleCairo, Egypt – Ahmed el-Said Salem, 19, said he witnessed his friend being killed by police at a downtown Cairo protest during the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Salem was later beaten and hospitalised by security forces in March, his family says, apparently to keep him from testifying about it.Yet under Egypt’s new draft of the Witness Protection Act, the same police force accused of abusing him would be put in charge of his safety.

The draft law, discussed by Egypt’s beleaguered Shura Council last week, was slammed in a recent report released by three Egyptian human rights organisations. They said they fear increased intimidation for witnesses to police crime, which is reportedly on the rise since 2011.

However, rights groups had little opportunity to present their concerns to lawmakers. Egypt’s legislature said it would host an open consultation with NGOs and the media, but discussions were held in private.

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Salem, meanwhile, has been locked up in a mental institution, his family says.

“The police report says Ahmed is mentally ill and was carrying documents outlining an Israeli plot when he was arrested,” said Nadia Loutfi Mahmoud, his sister-in-law.

She has a letter from his school stating he was a happy, psychologically sound student. Mahmoud alleged Salem was drugged while in detention at Cairo’s notorious Gabal Ahmar police camp, before being sent to a psychiatric hospital in Abbasiya.

“We wrote to the Ministry of Health asking for an immediate psychological re-assessment, but they replied saying, according to the law, his case will be reviewed in six months. So he’s stuck.”

Salem’s determination to testify and the implications of the new draft law will mean he will remain trapped indefinitely in the archaic Egyptian mental health system, his mother Wafaat Mohamed Mostafa said.

Vague regulations

Osama Diab from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) co-authored the recent report condemning the draft law.

“Our main concern with the current Witness Protection Act is that it doesn’t encourage witnesses to testify, at a time when discussions about implementing a transitional justice process and truth commissions – which is highly reliant on testimonies – is mounting,” said Diab.

The authors say the language of the legislation, which is just 10 articles long, is dangerously vague.

Unlike the United Nations model law, the document fails to properly outline what a witness is, or what should be the composition or activities of the police-run “protection unit”.

In addition, under Egyptian law refusing to testify is illegal. However, according to Article Nine of the new constitution, witnesses “found to have lied” will receive an “aggravated prison sentence”. This, Diab says, puts witnesses in an impossible position: forcing them to testify even if they fear the consequences of their testimony.

Meanwhile, those who disclose a witness’identity are “subject to imprisonment for at least a year” and a fine, which could end up being a lighter punishment than “lying” witnesses, Diab adds.

It will also only protect blood relatives of the witnesses – unlike similar legislation used in other countries, which covers anyone affected by the testimony.

The law puts witnesses and their families under the care of the security forces at a time of little police accountability and security sector reform. In the two years since the January 25 revolution toppled Murbarak’s regime, only three police officers have been jailed for wounding or killing citizens.

The combination of reported police crimes going unpunished and President Mohamed Morsi publicly praising the security forces, effectively gives officers the green light to abuse witnesses, rights groups say.

Widespread intimidation

Witnesses to police crimes are typically bribed, beaten, threatened with jail or even kidnapped, EIPR lawyer Reda Marey told Al Jazeera. Even though the state should legally pursue all murder investigations, once families or friends drop the complaints case against police are often shelved.

Cases of intimidation are widespread across Egypt, Marey said, citing examples in the Damahour, Giza and Daqahila governorates.

Mohamed Marzouq, a worker from Cairo’s lower-class district of Marg, was reportedly taken from his home by police shortly after the 18-day uprising against Mubarak’s rule began, detained in a flat, and allegedly tortured after he filed a case against his local police station for injuries sustained on January 28, 2011.

  Ola Mohamed Ibrahim’s brother died in police custody [Bel Trew/Al Jazeera]

Terrified, Marey said, Marzouq dropped the charges. When civil society groups encouraged him to file a lawsuit claiming he retracted his statement under duress, he said he was badly beaten with a gun by the same policeman.

Last year, one of the more shocking examples of police interference took place in the impoverished Nile Delta town of Mit Ghamr.

On September 16, 2012, Atef Bahbah was reportedly tortured to death in a police station as he attempted to help an assaulted woman file a report, following a violent security raid in the area.

When angry locals assembled outside the police station, security forces opened fire with automatic rifles, reportedly killing another resident, Said Asaalia.

Local lawyer Ayman Sakr, who has worked on the Mit Ghamr case, told Al Jazeera how he was pressured to step down. “The very day I went on [Egyptian channel] ONTV to talk about the two murders, the police accused my brother Youssef of being a thug; blocking roads and stopping trains.”

Among the eight other residents slapped with similar charges, two were Asaali’s relatives: a warning shot to the community, residents say.

Bahbah’s own wife Ateyad was offered 200,000 Egyptian Pounds ($28,500) to retract her testimony incriminating the police, Sakr added. She said she was told the authorities would jail her brother if she did not back off.

“She subsequently re-wrote her testimony a month later, which now reads that her husband died after falling heavily on his head.”

To date, none of the police officers are known to have been called in for questioning, and no forensic reports have been released. The policeman identified by residents as shooting Said was transferred to a different police station.

Better than nothing

The government maintains it is working on security sector reform and laws such as the Witness Protection Act are a step in the right direction.

“I can’t stress how important this legislation is,” said Taher Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and a Shura Council MP, who is working on the law.

Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed said the FJP had been pushing for the act before the Ministry of Justice drafted the document. He also maintained the problem was not with the police per se but with remnants of the former regime inside the Interior Ministry.

“The ministry will create a separate unit of specially chosen members of the security forces. If you look at the situation that we are in, there is no other solution than that the police protect us.”

The president, the government and the FJP, Abdel-Mohsem Ahmed added, were committed to security sector reform – but change will take time, and so people “must be patient”.

The Ministry of Interior declined to comment about the criticisms levelled at the ministry and the draft legislation.

But there is little to reassure those desperate to receive justice for their loved ones.

“I still don’t understand how you get to be the judge and the executer?” Bahbah’s sister, Ola Mohamed Ibrahim, asked from her small home in Mit Ghamr. “I don’t care what laws they author, I lost my brother, and I just want someone to be held to account.”

Karim Ennarah, an EIPR researcher who worked on Bahbah’s case, said the only way to protect witnesses was for civil society to make their stories public, while putting pressure on the state.

“This shaky transitional period – marked by inability to implement anything – will continue, as long as there is no real commitment from the ruling elite to ensure police accountability,” Ennarah said.

“Any attempt to pretend that Egypt’s institutions are functioning normally and are capable of enforcing laws like these, will be met with a different reality.”

Follow Bel Trew on Twitter: @Beltrew

France 24 ‘The Debate’: Egypt’s endless revolution, how to break the stalemate Part 1