Lobster, grilled fish (12)

May 31, 2006

The other day I got to experience one of the few perks of the job out here and attended a monthly lunch for journalists thrown by Baghdad division commander, Major General J.D. Thurman of the 4th Infantry Division.

I had to use his name in a story once and asked a subordinate what the "J" stood for and he blanched and said he'd have to get back to me. J.D.'s a beefy fellow from Oklahoma who describes himself as a "straight shooter" who just wants to touch base with us folks every month or so.

I'll give him this, he put on an impressive spread of t-bone steaks, lobster, shrimp and grilled chicken (where does this stuff come from?) before subjecting himself to our barrage of questions about why this place is such a mess.
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The Ikhwan and the money

Right now, the Brotherhood has other problems, with continuous arrests taking place and PM Nazif thinking that they should not be in parliament in first place. But a while ago, I thought it was time to document what the Brotherhood thinks about how to regulate the Egyptian economy. After all, with 88 seats in the People's assembly, they are the second strongest political force in the country and possibly the most popular one. After their surprisingly strong showing in the parliamentary elections, I also heard a number of people in the Egyptian business community already voicing concerns, with corporate HQs abroad calling their Egyptian operations to find out whether their business would still be safe. I rather thought it might be time to look for alternatives to an economic policies of the NDP, which as a whole, despite some decent reform measures of the economic reform ministers, is still catering to certain interest groups, combined with a state bureaucracy that all too often shelves good initiatives coming out of the cabinet. Below is an excerpt of my piece on the Brotherhood's economic policies, the full text can be read here.
As far back as the 1980s, years before the Egyptian government actually implemented a programme of privatisation that was forced on them by the international community, the Muslim Brotherhood demanded a less marked public sector and more support for small companies. The organisation champions the free market economy.
As a result of their moral standpoint, two points in particular are at the heart of their economic theories. It must be said that these two points are indeed the key weaknesses of the Egyptian economy: high unemployment and corruption. According to the OECD, unemployment in Egypt currently stands at over 17 per cent.  
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HRW calls for investigating assaults on pro-democracy detainees

The US-based rights watchdog has slammed the Egyptian government, in a statement today, over the torture of Mohamed el-Sharqawi and Karim el-Sha3er, calling for an independent judicial investigation into the incident, and asked Hosni Mubarak to “put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state.� Egypt: Police Severely Beat Pro-Democracy Activists  One Activist Also Sexually Assaulted      (Cairo, May 31, 2006) – President Hosni Mubarak should immediately order an independent judicial investigation into last Thursday’s severe beatings by security agents of political activists Karim al-Sha`ir and Mohamed al-Sharqawi, Human Rights Watch said today. Police also sexually assaulted al-Sharqawi, according to a written statement he smuggled out of prison. On May 25, agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested al-Sha`ir and al-Sharqawi as they were leaving a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Both men said they were beaten in custody. “The Egyptian government must investigate these attacks and punish the perpetrators,� said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “President Mubarak should put a stop to repeated outrages by agents of the state.� In his statement, al-Sharqawi wrote that his captors at the Qasr al-Nil police station beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube. Then they sent him to the State Security prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he saw al-Sharqawi at the prosecutor’s office around midnight that night. “There wasn’t a single part of his body not covered in bruises and gashes,� the lawyer said. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security agents beat al-Sha`ir in the street. According to his lawyer, al-Sha`ir said that the beatings continued once he was in police custody. The State Security prosecutor ordered both men to be held for 15 days pending investigations. The authorities had released al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir from Tora prison on May 22 after detaining them in earlier protests on April 24 and May 7 respectively. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of widespread violence by police and ruling party thugs against journalists and demonstrators urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum. Al-Sharqawi wrote in his statement that around 20 State Security officers surrounded him as he attempted to leave last week’s protest by car and began beating him furiously: “Their punches and kicks came one after the other... There were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many blows... targeting all my body.� Al-Sharqawi wrote that he was stuffed into a police van, after which “they ordered me to put my head between my knees. Of course I obeyed. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength.� Al-Sharqawi, though blindfolded, believes he was taken to the Qasr al-Nil police station because of communications he heard over the police radios. “Inside the police station,� he wrote, “the beatings targeted particular places.� One of the officers ordered al-Sharqawi’s pants to be removed and began squeezing his left testicle, causing excruciating pain. “The pain was terrible. He kept doing it for three minutes, during which I was screaming and asking him to stop so I could catch my breath. He pulled my underwear down, tore it to pieces, and kept hitting me on different parts of my body. They ordered me to bend over. I refused, but they forced me.� Al-Sharqawi said the officers then sodomized him with a roll of cardboard. Gamal Eid, a lawyer for al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sharqawi that night, His lips were swollen and bloody, his eyes were nearly swollen shut, and you could see the imprints of shoes on his skin. He told me the beatings had continued for nearly three hours and that he had been unable to reply to police questioning because his mouth was full of blood and his lips were too swollen. It was pure sadism. I hadn’t seen anyone that badly tortured in 12 years. Eid said that he asked the prosecutor, Muhammad Faisal, to allow a doctor he had brought with him to examine and treat al-Sharqawi, but that the prosecutor refused. The authorities only allowed al-Sharqawi access to medical treatment four days later, on May 29. Al-Sha`ir was leaving the protest by car at around 4:45 p.m. in the company of three journalists and another activist. Dina Samak, a BBC journalist, was driving. “As we were leaving the Journalists’ Syndicate, Jihan [Sha`ban, a journalist for Sawt al-Umma and Al-Karama] asked if we could drop her and Karim [al-Sha`ir] off downtown,� she told Human Rights Watch. As we left the garage of the syndicate, a State Security officer pointed at our car and a taxi started chasing us. About 20 meters later, the taxi pulled in front of us, blocking the street so we couldn’t continue. We were afraid. Everyone in the car locked their doors and closed their windows. Karim was shouting not to let them get him. Around 20 men in civilian clothes surrounded the car and started shouting “stop the car, you bitch,� and all kinds of horrible insults. They threw Karim on the ground and started beating him violently. Dina Gamil, another BBC journalist, was also in the car. “Around 20 men surrounded the car and smashed the windows with rocks and bottles,� she told Human Rights Watch. They unlocked the doors through the smashed window and opened them. They pulled Jihan halfway out of the car so her head was on the ground. They tried to pull me out, too, but I had my seatbelt on.... They got Karim out of the car and threw him on the ground. When a crowd formed and judges started coming out of the Judges’ Club to see what was happening, the security agents threw Karim in a car. Sha`ban confirmed this account to Human Rights Watch and said she is suffering from back pain from the officers’ assault.  Eid told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sha`ir at the Heliopolis office of the State Security prosecutor later that night, he also bore marks of beatings. On May 27, a group of prisoners detained over the past month for participating in peaceful demonstrations in solidarity with reformist judges announced they were beginning a hunger strike to protest the treatment of al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, and to demand the release of all those held for participating in the recent demonstrations. On May 30, visitors to the prison reported that 13 hunger strikers had been transferred to solitary confinement.
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Syndicate news...

Gamal Tag el-Din, Lawyers’ Syndicate council member, is holding tomorrow Wednesday 11am a press conference on the democracy detainees, at the syndicate’s conference hall. Tag is a Muslim Brotherhood activist, who played a major role in publicizing the infamous “Blacklist of Judges,� that included the names of pro-government judges accused of rigging the vote during last November parliamentary elections. He’s currently facing slander charges together with three other journalists. Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Mahmoud el-Khodeiri are speaking also tomorrow Wednesday, 7pm at the Press Syndicate.
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Tora Prison authorities crackdown as hunger strike escalates

The Prison authorities cracked down on the hunger-striking detainees in Tora, as the strike escalated, with 13 activists in total taking action on its second day. The strike started on Saturday night/Sunday morning, with six detainees in Mahkoum Tora, refusing to eat. The prisoners, according to activist and legal sources, made it clear to the prison authorities the strike was not directed against them, but against State Security’s brutal treatment of Mohamed el-Sharqawi, demanding his medical examination, an investigation into to the torture incident, and the release of all pro-judges detainees. “By torturing Sharqawi,� detainee Wael Khalil was quoted by an activist who visited him today, “State Security was sending a message to us ‘This is what awaits you if you decide to take to the streets again after your release.’� The prison authorities on the first day of the hunger strike, moved the six detainees into solitary confinement cells. The Mahkoum Tora “is an old prison. These solitary confinement cells do not meet the legal standards specified by human rights treaties,� the detainees’ lawyer Gamal Eid said. “The ventilation is horrible. There is no water, no toilets.� Kamal Khalil, director of the Center for Socialist Studies who’s suffering from respiratory problems, was transferred to the prison hospital yesterday, Eid added. When protesting the solitary confinement of their colleagues, the prison authorities notified the detainees they were acting on orders from State Security Police, Wael Khalil was reported as saying by the activist who visited him. Faced with that, seven more detainees joined the hunger strike, instead of two as originally scheduled, on the following day including: 1-Karim el-Sha3er 2-Ashraf Ibrahim 3-Bahaa Saber 4-3emad Sho3eib 5-Ahmad Maher 6-3adel el-Gazzar 7-Nael Abdel Hamid Since there were only 10 solitary confinement cells in Mahkoum Tora, the first three above-mentioned prisoners were moved to another prison complex, said to be Mazra3et Tora. According to Eid and an activist source, Sharqawi’s health is still in a critical level, suffering from unbearable chest pains. Eid said however, the authorities finally transferred his detained client to the forensic medical department on Sunday, and provided basic medical treatment at the prison hospital yesterday.
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Demonstration planned in front of Qasr el-Nil police station

The Hisham Mubarak Law Center has called for a demonstration in front of Qasr el-Nil Police Station, (located in Garden City, downtown Cairo) on Thursday, 5pm, to protest the torture of Mohamed el-Sharqawi and Karim el-Sha3er, the two Youth for Change activists. The announcement came during a press conference held by the Liberties’ Committee at the Cairo Lawyer’s Syndicate Saturday, where Kefaya leaders and rights lawyers denounced the recent arrest and torture of democracy activists. Moreover, they called on the General Prosecutor to open an investigation into the incident, accusing the State Security Prosecutor’s office of complicity with State Security police, by stalling Sharqawi’s medical examination, in an effort to conceal as much possible of the torture marks on his body. Muslim Brotherhood activist, Mohamed Abdel Qoddous, also announced the postponement of Tuesday’s protest at the Doctors' syndicate to Thursday, 7pm.
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A second Alex?

At the WEF in Sharm last week, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif fed the national press with some projects to be announced soon, in tourism, real estate and transportation, which will mostly be financed by UAE or Kuwait based investment groups. I am under the impression that the government over the past months has focused its efforts to attract foreign investment to Gulf investors. An oil price at around $70 per barrel is a solid reason for the government to do so, but now they are exaggerating:
Gulf and Egyptian investors were planning to develop a $US40 billion ($53billion) tourist resort on the coast of northern Egypt, an Egyptian official said. "It will be the biggest Arab construction project in Egypt," covering more than 100 million square metres, government spokesman Magdy Rady said. He did not name any of the investors involved in the project, details of which will be released in mid-June. The consortium planning the resort included companies from the United Arab Emirates, and the signing ceremony in June would be attended by Dubai's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Al-Ahram said yesterday, citing Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. Al-Akhbar eported that the resort would be as big as Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city, and take 20 years to build.
Is there no more space in the Emirates for mega-projects? To me this looks like Egypt is now the Sheikhs' mega playing ground. A few weeks ago, there were some press reports that Gulf investors wanted to invest no less then $4billions in an ArabDisneyland in Egypt, providing jobs for half a million young Egyptians. This was denied by Disneyland -  looks like Mickey Mouse has a better sense of reality then some of those oil investors at the moment.
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Letter from Sharqawi

Mohamed el-Sharqawi has sent a testimony on his arrest and torture, from Tora Prison. Here’s the English translation of it:
A Letter from Mohamed el-Sharqawi Kidnapped on 25 May, Currently in Cell 8-1, Mahkoum Tora How I was kidnapped, beaten and tortured for eight hours? I went through many moments of fear and horror in my life, but nothing was like those I went through after I left the Press Syndicate on 25 May, 2006, around 6pm. I got into one of my colleagues’ car, to take a ride to the train station, so as to catch the train to Alexandria. I wanted to see my family, after a period by no means short—30 days—behind bars in Tora Prison. The car stopped at the traffic light of Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St. crossing Talaat Harb St. I wasn’t paying attention, till my colleague screamed, “Who are those?!� I looked around me, and behind the windows there were tens of men in plain clothes trying to open the door. I could only think of one thing in few seconds… State Security personnel had come to kidnap me… I threw whatever I was carrying in the car, and opened the door, only to be met with a violent push into the entrance of the last building on Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St., before it crosses Talaat Harb St. The fiesta started. They introduced themselves to me by their swift fists, till one of them kicked me to the floor. There was about 20 persons or more. Their punches and kicks came one after the other, and without much planning, which led them to kick one another, because they were all keen to do anything that props them up in front of their bosses. I could not recognize any of the faces, but three. I had seen them before several times in demos. The first kept on insulting me with the dirtiest slurs and words, which actually left me feeling he was talking about himself instead. He gave me the first kick, which invited other legs to join in. These were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many hits. The second was one of the Public Security (Al-Amn Al-3am) officers. After he saw the blood pouring from my nose and mouth he tried to stop the beating. He was shocked when he was banned from doing that. All of this is happening while I’m on the floor, with their feet sending my body pain signals all over. The third did most of the beatings. He is also the one who dragged me on the floor and staircase till I was shoved in a blue police van. He kept on hitting me, and asked for my mobile, which I was carrying at the Press Syndicate. His, and the others’, slurs where directed at me, my mother and father… I was seated in the van behind the driver’s seat, while he sat across me, and kept on hitting my face strongly and swiftly. I can’t say I held on for a long time while they were beating me in the building entrance, back in Abdel Khaleq Tharwat. After they threw me to the floor, and found myself bleeding, I kept on screaming. I don’t why, but I was scared, and it’s human. And it’s my right to fear death on their hands without anyone knowing anything about me. After I got into the van, I was told to put my head between my knees, and of course I obeyed their order. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength. I can say I was completely silent till they said they arrived. They took me out of the van, and went up three steps, then another relatively narrow staircase, before they led into a wide corridor, then to another staircase. Finally, they threw me in a room, and the beatings started again. Before that, back in the street and the building entrance, the beatings went on for at least 20 minutes, and targeting all my body. Also in the street, every animal hit any spot he could reach in my body. This even led them on occasions to kick one another’s legs, which was in my interest I guess to decrease the beatings I receive. On the way to the place they took me to, I heard one of them saying, “Close off the Garden City traffic light, and don’t let anyone pass, for the Sheriff's car.� I knew then I was in Qasr el-Nil Police Station, as there were no other police stations in Garden City. Also the stair steps I walked on is similar to those of Qasr el-Nil’s. Inside the police station, it was different. The beatings targeted places in particular, which showed more professionalism in practicing torture and sadism. The started repeating one sentence, “What the fuck brought you today?� Then, they hit me in several places on my body, till someone ordered them, “take his pants off.� They unbuttoned my trousers quickly, while he shouted “you are a fag, wearing colored underwear.� Inside, I wanted to laugh, but the injuries my face sustained and the blindfold they had on my eyes prevented my facial expressions. After that, he started rubbing my left testicle, I think, with great pleasure. The pain was terrible. He kept on doing it for three minutes, during which I was screaming asking him to stop so that I can catch my breath. He took down my underwear, and tore it to pieces, and kept on hitting me on different parts of my body asking me to bend down. I refused, but they forced me. Then, this man, the one with the angry rough voice, inserted a paper in my anus. They kept doing their job, beating me, till I heard him say, “Lift his trousers up. May God curse he who looks, and he who’s being looked at.� I couldn’t help but appreciate so much the faith this man might have had sometime. After that, I was asked about the money I had in my pockets, and whether Dr. Hani Enan gave it to me. I said I borrowed it from my friend Mohamed Taima. They asked me about my mother, and told me she was sick in Alexandria, and that she will die before she sees me. Then I felt so much remorse for not traveling to see her as soon as I was released. A short while later, another person, I think I know well, came in and told me: “Do you know now, @#$%, that you are worth nothing, and if we wanted to get you, we would get you? We would get you in three minutes you son of a dirty woman.� I was silent. I couldn’t figure out anymore what’s happening around me. The beatings were almost over, when I was told to lie on my stomach. He stood on my back with his feet and said, “you sons of $#%^@! As long as I’m in the Maktab el-Mokafha, the "Counter Bureau," I will screw the shit out of you. You are all not even worth 10 piasters.� It was then that I recognized he was one of the sick people, called the “Mr. President Security� officers, formerly known as “State Security.� He then added, “What brought you today you son of #$%^? True you didn’t chant, but you are acting important, giving interviews to journalists and satellites.� Finally he added, “I brought you the other pimp. He’s in the other room.� I asked him “whom?� He answered, “Essam al-Islambouli’s fag.� I said, “Whom? I don’t know.� He answered “Karim el-Shaer. You are pretending to be thugs. Alright. This time it’s a case, and you’ll never see Earth again… And your mother will die without seeing you…� He finished talking, and ordered me to sit on the floor. I sat for more than two hours, scared of stretching my legs lest someone hit me, till they came to handcuff me, and put me blindfolded inside the prisoners’ truck. I heard someone inside saying “Karim, with whom you were in the car?� I knew then he was with me. The truck moved, and for few moments I thought I was on the road to Lazoughli. However, as the we crossed freeways with no change in direction, I assumed we were either heading to State Security HQ in Nasr City, or to the State Security Prosecution in Heliopolis, which we should name Waleed al-Dessouqi’s branch-Heliopolis—and that’s where we went. Before they let us into the detention cell, they took off the blindfold, but not the handcuffs. First, they denied us water and going to the restroom. After a while, they left us, but I still went to the restroom, handcuffed, in their company. After that, they called my name, and went upstairs to see the chief prosecutor. As soon as I got in, he asked me, “Who did this to you?� I told him the story, so he said, “ok, I’ll start the interrogation.� I asked him, “where are the lawyers?� He said, “Are there lawyers? If they are present, I’ll send for them. Go wash your face and come back.� I got into the toilet, and stood in front of a mirror. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I saw someone else standing with red eyes, swollen face, and a bare chest full of cuts and bruises. I returned to the chief prosecutor’s office, to find Gamal Eid, and another lawyer called Mr. Sayyed. I felt secure as soon as I saw Gamal, as after all he is a dear friend. The interrogation started. They told me to record every injury and how it happened to me, where, when and by who. Moments later, Ragia Omran came in with Ahmad—they are two lawyers. After I recorded my injuries, I said I refuse to be interrogated in front of the State Security Prosecution, and asked for a magistrate. I left the Prosecutor’s building, after I spoke on the phone with Nora, Manal, Salma, Walaa, and Salma’s mother Dr. Mona. I felt so much pride and strength having all of them around me. After all of this, I found myself in front of the gate of Tahqiq Tora Prison. Between the time of my arrest, till my arrival at Tora, the time passed was no more than eight hours. Before I got into the prison, I saw Nora and Manal who were behind me, following the Prisoners’ Truck. Manal’s laughter and Nora’s smiles mean a lot to me. I one wrote to Nora that I used to remember her laughter and say “Tomorrow Egypt will be better.� I am now in Tora Prison. I admit I miss Ahmad Droubi, Salma, Manal, Walaa, Nora and everybody. But I have friends and brothers here… Kamal, Maher, Walaa and Alaa. Mohamed el-Sharqawi, Tahqiq Tora Prison, Cell 8-1
.... For those of you, dear readers, who are wondering what Maktab el-Mokafha, the “Counter Bureau,� mentioned in Sharqawi's letter means--this is short for Maktab Mokafhet el-Shyou3ia, the “Counter-Communism Bureau.� (Yes, I'm not joking wallahi.) It is a department in State Security Police, which was actually inherited from the Political Apparatus, the pre-1952 predecessor of Egypt’s State Security Police. The Counter-Communism Bureau's job is to infiltrate, monitor, and crack communist, and generally left-wing, organizations in Egypt. The director of that bureau now is State Security Lt. Colonel Waleed el-Dessouqi. Several leftist activists have previously accused Dessouqi of involvement in their interrogation under torture. On another note, I visited last night Ahmad el-Droubi, who’s been recently released, at his home in Heliopolis. I couldn’t recognize him initially, as they shaved his long Ché-like hair and he grew a beard. Droubi was in good spirit, and his morale was high. He shared his prison stories with me and other fellow AUC alumnus. He still hasn’t lost his sense of humor. Droubi, and other friends, had gone earlier on Saturday morning to Tora again, this time as visitors not prisoners, to see Sharqawi. Droubi and another friend told me, though bruised and fatigued, Sharqawi was also in good spirit, and determined not to let the abusers go unpunished.
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Statement by the Tora detainees

Statement by Detainees in Tora Prison
Released 27 May 2006

We, the detained in Tora Prison, charged of insulting the president and blocking the traffic, condemn police violence, the kidnap and torture of our colleagues Mohamed el-Sharkawy and Karim el-Sha’er, and condemn the complicity of the Regime Security Prosecution (formerly known as State Security Prosecution).

 

The regime has now two agents of torture: the State Security police and the State Security prosecution, which is the regime’s tool in oppressing and torturing the opposition, which has previously closed the files of all torture cases, and which has blocked the examination of Mohamed el-Sharakawy by forensic medicine in the hope that the signs of torture would resolve.

The regime’s resort to thuggery is evidence of its weakness, and shows how close we are to the day when we rid ourselves from it, the day of Egypt’s liberation. Our continued detention proves the regime’s fear and terror of people’s opposition to its corruption, dictatorship and its systematic destruction of the country.

We announce the beginning of an open escalating hunger strike until our demands are met:
1. Examination of our colleagues by forensic medicine
2. Investigation into the kidnap and torture of our colleagues, bringing State Security officers involved to justice and exposure of the complicity of the prosecution and its crime of closing torture cases and refusing forensic medical examination of the injured.
3. Release of all detainees in the solidarity movement with the judiciary.

 

Together, until torture criminals are brought to justice

List of strikers on the 1st day: Kamal Khalil, Saher Gad, Ahmed Abdel Gawad, Karim Mohamed Reda, Ihab Mohamed Idris, and Sameh Said

List of strikers on the 2nd day: Ahmed Maher and Nael Abdel Hamid

Hunger Strike organizing committee: Gamal Abdel Fattah, Wael Khalil, Ibrahim el-Sahary

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Egyptian detainees are starting a hunger strike

I was contacted by one of the detainees' wife, who called me this afternoon to say the incarcerated activists will start a hunger strike as the clock strikes midnight today, demanding: a) the examination of Mohamed el-Sharqawi and Kareem al-Sha’er by the Forensics Medical Authorities, b) an investigation into the torture and abuse incidents the two Youth for Change activists were subject to last Thursday, c) the release of all those detained for their solidarity with the judges. The six detainees who will start the strike are: 1-Kamal Khalil 2-Saher Gad 3-Ahmad Abdel Gawad 4-Karim Mohamed Redda 5-Ihab Mohamed Idriss 6-Sameh Mohamed Said Two other detainees will join the strike in 48 hours: Nael and Ahmad Maher. Gamal Abdel Aziz Eid, the director of the Arab Human Rights Information Network who is representing the detainees, confirmed to me Sharqawi and Sha’er have not been medically examined up till now. Eid’s organization, together with four other rights watchdogs, have issued a statement today calling on the interior ministry to investigate the recent arrests and abuses, and accusing the State Security Prosecutor’s office of “complicity� in leaving those who conduct torture to go unpunished.    On another front, I was told the Press Syndicate refused to host the Liberties’ Committee press conference scheduled for Sunday. Instead, the press conference has been moved to the Lawyers’ Syndicate, and will be held, tomorrow Sunday, at 1:30pm.
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Details of Kifaya protester's rape with piece of rolled-up cardboard

I should have a copy of Sharqawi's full testimony later, but the AP is covering the story:
CAIRO, Egypt -- Egyptian police allegedly tortured two protesters - sexually assaulting one of them - after a peaceful demonstration in support of pro-reform judges, a lawyer and an opposition group said Friday. Activist Mohammed el-Sharkawi, 24, was sodomized "using a rolled up piece of cardboard for nearly 15 minutes," his lawyer Gamal Eid told The Associated Press. "Almost all of el-Sharkawi's body is bruised, swollen, or cut," Eid said. "I haven't seen such brutality and sadism since 1995," he added, referring to a period when the state mounted a crackdown on Islamic militants. The alleged assault occurred Thursday night after el-Sharkawi was taken to a Cairo police station, the lawyer said. The lawyer said El-Sharkawi told him about the incident when Eid was permitted to attend an interrogation session later that night. Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment. An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw more than 15 men in plainclothes grab el-Sharkawi and punch and kick him after he participated in a peaceful protest outside of the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo.
A more cautious story is at Middle East Online. I can understand news agencies wanting to be cautious about this, but it has been verified by reputable Egyptian human rights activists and the international rights organizations are working on it. This story needs to get out. See previous posts on Arabist here and here, including a picture of Sharqawi.
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Kefaya demo in South Korea!

Forget about Cairo's Abdel Khaleq Tharwat St. where people are increasingly getting into the bad habbit of "disappearing." Once again, Kefaya strikes in Seoul..
Socialist activists in South Korea held a demo in front of the Egyptian embassy in Seoul, supporting the Egyptian judges and denouncing the crackdown on pro-reform activists.

Last March, President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea paid Hosni Mubarak a visit in Cairo, where they discussed economic cooperation. My instinct tells me, Moo-hyun was also advised on the use of Korean baltaggiyas against Kefaya demonstrators in Seoul, after the Egyptian experiment proved to be a success by all international standards.

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Events planned in solidarity with the Cairo detainees

Activists in Cairo are planning events this week in solidarity with the detainees, and to protest the sexual assault on Youth for Change activist Mohamed el-Sharqawi last Thursday, in Qasr el-Nil Police Station.

A press conference by the Liberties Committee (Lagnet el-Hurriyat) will be held at the Press Syndicate on Sunday, 5:30pm.

There will be also a one-hour stand by activists in front of the Doctors’ Syndicate, Dar el-Hekma, in Qasr el-Eini St. on Tuesday 7pm, followed by a conference inside the syndicate.

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Iran would have accepted Beirut Declaration

Did Iran offer recognition of Israel according to the Beirut Declaration in 2003? Some top experts on Iran at no less an establishment institution as Johns Hopkins' SAIS think so:
WASHINGTON, May 24 (IPS) - Iran offered in 2003 to accept peace with Israel and to cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders, according to the secret Iranian proposal to the United States. The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-U.S. agreement covering all the issues separating the two countries, a copy of which was obtained by IPS, was conveyed to the United States in late April or early May 2003. Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iranian foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies who provided the document to IPS, says he got it from an Iranian official earlier this year but is not at liberty to reveal the source. The two-page document contradicts the official line of the George W. Bush administration that Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel and the sponsorship of terrorism in the region. Parsi says the document is a summary of an even more detailed Iranian negotiating proposal which he learned about in 2003 from the U.S. intermediary who carried it to the State Department on behalf of the Swiss Embassy in late April or early May 2003. The intermediary has not yet agreed to be identified, according to Parsi. The Iranian negotiating proposal indicated clearly that Iran was prepared to give up its role as a supporter of armed groups in the region in return for a larger bargain with the United States. What the Iranians wanted in return, as suggested by the document itself as well as expert observers of Iranian policy, was an end to U.S. hostility and recognition of Iran as a legitimate power in the region. Before the 2003 proposal, Iran had attacked Arab governments which had supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The negotiating document, however, offered "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration", which it also referred to as the "Saudi initiative, two-states approach."
The Beirut Declaration, which when you think about it was a really landmark proposal from the Arab League, was always ignored by Israel. Why? Because Israel wants to annex part of the West Bank, against all UN resolutions and principles of international law. And this is why we risk another war in the Middle East rather than a solution to the crisis. I'm sure the Iranian proposal probably included other demand, and perhaps negotiations would have led nowhere, but the point was that they were ready to talk before the recent election brought back that nutcase Ahmedinejad. The article makes for good reading to put things in perspective -- the Iran regime may be nasty, but it is neither automatically belligerent nor unwilling to negotiate on something as fundamental as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process according to the generous terms of the Beirut Declaration. If there is no partner for peace, it's on the Israeli side.
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What fatwas are most often about

Here's what happens when you get a (presumably) Arab-American journalist to do a story about something to do with Islam: a balanced, nuanced story that shows the full complexity of the question at hand for an audience not familiar with the topic. And it reads well and has a saucy lead.
Fatwas: Muslim religious edicts are rarely about violence, war Monday, May 22, 2006 By Moustafa Ayad, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Imagine the latest videotaped message from Osama bin Laden. He's scowling and raising a finger, but instead of taking aim at Americans he's holding forth on the bleaching of Muslim women's eyebrows. While most Westerners think of religious edicts -- or fatwas -- as orders to fight Americans and infidels, Muslim scholars, evangelists and spiritual leaders across the globe issue them on a daily basis -- on eyebrow bleaching and hundreds of other mundane topics.
Read on... Although the article doesn't dwell on it, it's interesting to contrast of how both Osama bin Laden and the various fatwa internet sites represent the globalization of fatwa-issuing -- you don't have to ask your local imam anymore. So what happens when an eminent sheikh with a website disagrees with your local imam, or even your country's Mufti?
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Osama is not the Arab everyman

So Egyptian media moguls the Adib brothers are talking to Robert de Niro on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival, where they are presenting the Yacoubian Building, about making a movie about Osama Bin Laden:
The pipeline movie about Osama bin Laden, head of the Al-Qaeda network and the world's most wanted man, has also caught the eye of Robert de Niro, one of the world's most respected actor/directors and co-founder of the Tribeca festival. De Niro wants to see the script when it is completed next month, Adel Adeeb, Emad's brother and head of group's GN4 Film and Music arm, said. But though De Niro is interested in the project, which will start shooting next year, he is not planning on playing one of the characters, he emphasised. The movie will revolve around an imaginary meeting between an American journalist and bin Laden in which both men explore their completely opposing views of world politics. "Our aim is not defend bin Laden" but to help create a dialogue between the Western and Middle Eastern worlds, leading to a better understanding between them, underlined both brothers.
Great -- a movie about civilizational dialogue and the Westerner is a journalist while Osama stands in for the Arabs. Very representative.
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Abu-Assad and Paradise Now

Hany Abu-Assad, director of Paradise Now, responds to the Angry Arab's critique of his film:
I attempted to repaint the story no longer from the mythological point of view but from that of current reality. To kill yourself with your enemy is a Biblical story. The story of Samson already tells us that people prefer to kill themselves together with their enemies rather than accept humiliation. I believe the story of Samson never happened, but was written as a fable in order to tell us something about human beings and humiliation. Unfortunately, the same story is now happening on the same land, with different people. It’s no longer a fable, but a reality. If I wanted to repaint it, I had to take it beyond its subject. Instead of concluding that people choose to kill themselves with others rather than accept humiliation, which has already been done, I began with this point and then tried to open the discussion about morality and its relevance. To be or not to be. The Last Supper also happened 2,000 years ago in Palestine, not in Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci painted as if the light came from God. I tried to repaint it in a new medium in a place not far from where it happened, but with the light coming from a neon lamp. We the Palestinians are a human phenomenon facing a gigantic colonizer, and we refuse to give up. What’s more, our colonizer doesn’t simply want to pillage our resources under the guise of “civilizing” us, it wants us off the land altogether. We are facing a project of ethnic cleansing. Our only weapons are persistence, knowledge, culture and art. The role of art in this case is to be so creative as to change our specific case into a universal one without losing authenticity or the differences of details. It must feel real without generalizing or stereotyping. Oppression necessitates a militarily strong, organized group, but art necessitates talented individuals whose conscience is not for sale. A superior book or a beautiful painting will persist throughout history as a metaphor for humanity in all times and all places. Let the Israelis put all their energy into the science of oppression, serving the interests of a civilization that not long ago made them into soap in order to protect the narrow idea of a Jewish state. Let the Palestinians instead put all of their energy into the science of the human....
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Sexual abuse as a tool against dissidents

It's not the first time that Egyptian police rape people they arrest -- it happened several times a few years ago when the security services were conducting a pogrom against homosexuals. But the sheer barbarity of using sticks to sodomize dissidents (a claim now verified by several rights activists) tells you a lot about the nature of this regime and how it has gotten completely out of control. Here's a statement from a Kifaya on the matter:
A horrid torture festival in the Mubaraks' Abu Ghraib Torture and Sodomizing A new crime reveals Mubarak Jr's "New Thought" to continue his father's approach and to revive the memory of sexually attacking Egyptian women during last year's constitutional referendum that was enacted to extend the Mubarak dictatorship. State Security officers sodomized Mohammed El-Sharkawi, a young activist, using rolled cartoon paper for nearly 15 minutes. They tore his underwear and threatened to rape him. This came as part of the horrid torture festival that Karim Al-Shae'r, another activist, was exposed to in Kasr El Nil Police Station. This is the peak of the crime that was recorded during interrogations in the State Security Prosecutor Bureau in Misr Al-Gadida. The crime started when they dragged El-Sharkawi on the ground from Ma'rouf st. to the entrance of a building at the cross road of Ma'rouf and Talat Harb streets, where he was brutally beaten. Lawyers who have seen him recalled torture perpetrated against Islamists. Afterwards, El-Sharkawi was blindfolded and taken in a blue microbus to what is thought to be Kasr El Nil Police Station where he was detained for 24 hours. There he was exposed to more torture. According to lawyers, there is nearly no area on El-Sharkawi's body that is void of bruises, swells, or injury. This insinuates as stated by the lawyer and human rights activist, Gamal Eid, that the torture was perpetrated with extreme "spitefulness". A few minutes after El-Sharkawi was kidnapped, State Security officers were dragging journalist Jihan Shaaban on the ground simply because she was accompanying Karim Al-Sha'er, each going to their home. Dina Samak and Dina Gameel were also dragged on the ground because they were present there. Dina Samak was injured and bruised. The fact that she is six months pregnant did not act as a deterrent to such attacks. No respect to women and no respect to pregnant women is the slogan of the father and the son. No respect to honor. Both sexes are treated equally when it comes to sexual and physical assaults. Lawyers could not maintain their calmness when they saw the beastly marks of torture all over the activists' bodies. It was as if they were in Abu Ghraib-Mubarak. According to the activists, the torture festival lasted for four hours before news spread that they are on their way to the prosecutor where the crime of the Mubarak Sr. and Jr. was revealed at around 11:30 pm. The audacity of Mubarak's regime will not stop. It has found the boldness to harass lawyers and attempt to stop them from attending interrogations. After a verbal quarrel, authorities agreed for one lawyer to attend, then two, then three. Before the prosecutor, El-Shrakawi and Al-Sha'er insisted that the torture that they have been exposed to should be registered in the interrogation files. They refused to make any statements until they are put before a delegated investigative judge. They demanded that they are sent to the forensic department. Until 1:00 a.m. the prosecutor continued to interrogate them, to decided, at the end, to detain the two activists for 15 days. They are accused of violating emergency law codes that prohibits more than five persons assembling. The prosecutor ordered that they are sent to the forensic department, if possible. This means that we will have to wait until Saturday at the least. The prosecutor refused to allow a doctor who volunteered to make first aid treatment. There are doubts that El-Sharkawi's ribs are broken. The prosecutor also refused to transfer them to a hospital for treatment. For a comprehensive coverage of Thursday's event: Torture and Sodomizing A new crime reveals Mubarak Jr's "New Thought" to continue his father's approach and to revive the memory of sexually attacking Egyptian women during last year's constitutional referendum that was enacted to extend the Mubarak dictatorship. State Security officers sodomized Mohammed El-Sharkawi, a young activist, using rolled cartoon paper for nearly 15 minutes. They tore his underwear and threatened to rape him. This came as part of the horrid torture festival that Karim Al-Shae'r, another activist, was exposed to in Kasr El Nil Police Station. This is the peak of the crime that was recorded during interrogations in the State Security Prosecutor Bureau in Misr Al-Gadida. The crime started when they dragged El-Sharkawi on the ground from Ma'rouf st. to the entrance of a building at the cross road of Ma'rouf and Talat Harb streets, where he was brutally beaten. Lawyers who have seen him recalled torture perpetrated against Islamists. Afterwards, El-Sharkawi was blindfolded and taken in a blue microbus to what is thought to be Kasr El Nil Police Station where he was detained for 24 hours. There he was exposed to more torture. According to lawyers, there is nearly no area on El-Sharkawi's body that is void of bruises, swells, or injury. This insinuates as stated by the lawyer and human rights activist, Gamal Eid, that the torture was perpetrated with extreme "spitefulness". A few minutes after El-Sharkawi was kidnapped, State Security officers were dragging journalist Jihan Shaaban on the ground simply because she was accompanying Karim Al-Sha'er, each going to their home. Dina Samak and Dina Gameel were also dragged on the ground because they were present there. Dina Samak was injured and bruised. The fact that she is six months pregnant did not act as a deterrent to such attacks. No respect to women and no respect to pregnant women is the slogan of the father and the son. No respect to honor. Both sexes are treated equally when it comes to sexual and physical assaults. Lawyers could not maintain their calmness when they saw the beastly marks of torture all over the activists' bodies. It was as if they were in Abu Ghraib-Mubarak. According to the activists, the torture festival lasted for four hours before news spread that they are on their way to the prosecutor where the crime of the Mubarak Sr. and Jr. was revealed at around 11:30 pm. The audacity of Mubarak's regime will not stop. It has found the boldness to harass lawyers and attempt to stop them from attending interrogations. After a verbal quarrel, authorities agreed for one lawyer to attend, then two, then three. Before the prosecutor, El-Shrakawi and Al-Sha'er insisted that the torture that they have been exposed to should be registered in the interrogation files. They refused to make any statements until they are put before a delegated investigative judge. They demanded that they are sent to the forensic department. Until 1:00 a.m. the prosecutor continued to interrogate them, to decided, at the end, to detain the two activists for 15 days. They are accused of violating emergency law codes that prohibits more than five persons assembling. The prosecutor ordered that they are sent to the forensic department, if possible. This means that we will have to wait until Saturday at the least. The prosecutor refused to allow a doctor who volunteered to make first aid treatment. There are doubts that El-Sharkawi's ribs are broken. The prosecutor also refused to transfer them to a hospital for treatment.
Here's a picture of Sharqawi from a recent demo: Img 2280
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Impressions from Washington

Sumita Pahwa, one of the organizers of the Washington, DC, 25 May demo, writes about the day:
Ustaz Ibrahim and I got there a bit early to set things up, and within a few minutes there were two police-type cars there, which read "United States Secret Service - Uniformed Division" and the cops asked us what we were protesting about. Then a few minutes later a State Department security/secret service guy came up, introduced himself and asked lots of questions about why we were protesting, chatted about the time he had spent in the Middle East, and mentioned that the Embassy was "concerned" about our protest. He asked us to stay within a small perimeter and said that they didn't want to create an uncomfortable situation because the Egyptian government provided a lot of security for the American embassy in Cairo so out of reciprocity and courtesy they had to address the Egyptian security demands in Washington...Ibrahim quipped that it was already starting to look like a Cairo rally, with more security than protestors present. There were official and security type Egyptian men coming up near the entrance and chatting and looking at us. Perhaps they were a bit flustered to not have their reassuring rows of amn al-markazi there.
The protest started at noon, there were about ten of us to begin and more trickled in later, I would say there were between 20 and 30 total, including graduate students, professors, journalists, Naiem Sherbiny from the Ibn Khaldun centre, a few socialists and Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch. We held up signs protesting police brutality, calling for judicial independence, the freeing of political detainees and for Bush to live up to his remarks about supporting democracy in the Middle East. No chanting, though some guy passing by in what looked like a construction truck called out "Baa-tel! baatel!" when he saw the Mubarak baatel poster (baatel = useless, illegitimate). (A renegade embassy employee? a random construction worker?) Then the security guys asked to talk to Ustaz Ibrahim and me again and asked if we would agree to move the protest across the street. We said we would be willing to if that was the law. He hemmed and hawwed and explained that there was a grey area in the law about whether or not one had to stay at a distance from an embassy when protesting, but said that it was at the request of the Embassy and they would be much more receptive to hearing our message if we would just move the hell away (not his words, but you get the idea). He mentioned that the Egyptian embassy was "very well connected in Washington" and the ambassador could pick up the phone and talk to Bush when he wanted...Egypt is an important partner for us in the region, etc. We said we felt under no obligation to do the Egyptian government any favours. By this point some media people had arrived - a photographer from AFP who took lots of pictures, the DC bureau guy from Al Ahram, and a reporter from Al Jazeera - Hossam's relative, Mahmoud Hamalawy (small world!). There was a phone call from Nora Younis in Cairo telling us that people had been beaten up and re-arrested, and sent the names of those who had been arrested. Ibrahim on behalf of the Alliance of Egyptian Americans had put together a letter for Ambassador Fahmy and asked to present it, and he and I and Mr. Sherbiny went in and spoke briefly with the deputy assistant third factotum something or other, talked a bit about why we were protesting and how disappointed we were in what the Egyptian government was doing (it was amusing to see how the functionary maintained all the Egyptian politenesses, taht amraking all over the place). When I mentioned the arrest of activists, he asked "who? who has been arrested?" I could only remember Mohamed Sharqawy from Nora's message and mentioned him, as well as Alaa Abd al-Fattah. We mentioned that Mubarak was backsliding on his promises for reform, and the factotum gave us the usual "that was only a few months ago, these things take time, you can't expect overnight change" line - we retorted that we expected at least good faith, and it was not acceptable to be throwing people in jail for voicing peaceful opposition and beating young people up in the streets. Sensing that he was trying to keep us there and figuring it was more productive to talk to journalists, we left. The barred gate you see in the pics was the front gate and Ibrahim made a show of escaping from prison, as you will also see in the pictures! Jazeera filmed a bit of the protest and asked to interview "an American" - Kristin represented us! I didn't get to hear the interview but she reports that they asked questions about why we were protesting, who we were, the usual. (He said that *if* they decided to use the segment it would air on the 4 pm bulletin, but I was on the train then - did anyone see if it did air?) We also distributed a backgrounder on the judges crisis, some recent reports from HRW on repression, and a petition that people could send to their representatives calling for the release of prisoners, support of the rule of law and fair elections and basing the US-Egypt relationship on democracy and morality for a change. When we left at one o'clock, security guys asked us if we were planning any further protests. Ibrahim replied "if they are going to keep arresting people like this, then we will have no other choice." I hope to send it around to encourage people to follow up and keep the pressure going. I think the protest was largely symbolic and good for building networks and laying the base for mobilization - several people expressed interest in continuing some sort of activism on the issue. I find it encouraging that we managed to scare the embassy enough to get their police-state/playground bully instincts going (not that it takes a whole lot). Cheers, Sumita
The aforementioned Kristin had some great pics: Muzahirat Washuntoon 003 Holding the enough sign there is Ahmed Fekry, who translated Montasser Al Zayat's book on Ayjman Zawahri. Muzahirat Washuntoon 002 Wearing the tie is Joe Stork, Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch, and next time to him is my former colleague Ethan Heitner, now of TomPaine.com. More pics available on request for anyone who wants them.
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Droubi released!

Finally some good news for a change..... Youth for Change activist, Ahmad Yasser el-Droubi, was released today. Droubi was among the first group of pro-judges activists to be arrested last April, and spent his prison time in Tora. The State Security prosecutor has decided to release him, based oh his medical conditions. Droubi is diabetic, and his health was deteriorating in detention. I spoke with Droubi over the phone. He's home with his family, and in high spirits, looking forward to meet all of his friends and fellow activists. I thought of sharing the happy news with you, as there was nothing good coming out of Cairo for sometime. Mabrouk ya shabab!
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