Egypt’s military shows it is no friend of freedom

SOME IN Washington argue that the United States has little choice but to support the new military regime in Egypt. While some of its tactics may be distasteful, the argument goes, the military is preferable to the presumed alternative — the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood — because it is friendly toward the West.

Those who make that claim may remember the former government of Hosni Mubarak that way. But they clearly haven’t been paying close attention to the regime of Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.

Since leading a coup against the elected government of Mohamed Morsi last July, Gen. Sissi has turned Egypt’s state media into a propaganda apparatus that has made virulent anti-Americanism a touchstone. Television channels and newspapers regularly broadcast vicious attacks on U.S. officials and diplomats and lend credence to wild conspiracy theories about Western plots against Egypt.

Now the regime has taken the step — unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history — of jailing and prosecuting professional Western journalists reporting from Cairo.

On Dec. 29, security forces raided a hotel room being used as a production office by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s English language channel. A creepy video broadcast on Egyptian television Monday showed how police interrogated and then arrested Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Mohamed Fahmy, an Egyptian-Canadian television producer. Both are well-known professionals: Mr. Fahmy previously worked for CNN; Mr. Greste has reported across the world for Reuters, the BBC and other organizations.

During weeks of imprisonment, the journalists and their colleagues sought to persuade authorities that they were “caught in the middle of a political struggle that is not my own,” as Mr. Greste put it in a letter from Cairo’s Tora prison. Yet last week prosecutors raised the stakes, charging the two journalists and 18 others withsupporting a terrorist organization and broadcasting false information. Three other foreign nationals were charged: two Britons who are outside Egypt and Dutch freelancer Rena Netjes, who fled the country Monday.

Most of those being prosecuted are affiliated with Al Jazeera, which the regime accuses of conspiring with the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, while the channel (and the Qatari government) was relatively supportive of the Morsi administration, the charges are ludicrous. Ms. Netjes, who did not work for Al Jazeera, believes she was indicted simply because she interviewed Mr. Fahmy for a story.

Mr. Greste wrote from prison that he had been in Egypt only a few weeks on a get-acquainted tour. “The fact that we were arrested for what seems to be a set of relatively uncontroversial stories tells us a lot about what counts as ‘normal’ and what is dangerous in post-revolutionary Egypt,” he wrote.

The arrests add to a growing pile of evidence contravening the Obama administration’s contention that the new regime is carrying out a transition to democracy. In a departure from its usually supportive rhetoric, the State Department last week condemned the prosecution of journalists, saying it “is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms.” The administration must certify to Congress that Egypt “is taking steps toward a democratic transition” in order to release $1.5 billion in annual aid. It should inform Gen. Sissi that it cannot do that while journalists are being prosecuted.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

GROWING HERBS A REMEDY FOR SOME GAZA ECONOMIC WOES

AL-QARARA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza farmers have begun growing mint, basil and coriander, saying such herbs can serve as a remedy for some of the blockaded Palestinian territory’s economic woes.

The economy has struggled since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007, triggering severe restrictions on trade and movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. More than 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million people receive humanitarian aid, and nearly 33 percent are jobless.

Looking for blockade loopholes, five Gaza farmers began growing herbs a year ago, most in greenhouses on land where Jewish settlers used to raise the same crops until Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. “The motive … was to find new products that we can grow here in Gaza and that return a good income and can employ more people,” said farmer Jamal Abu Naja, 47.

Output is still small. Over the past year, the Gaza pioneers exported 50 tons, compared to 10,000 tons by their Israeli counterparts and more than 2,000 tons by Palestinian growers in the West Bank.

However, growers in the West Bank and Gaza believe their market share can increase, especially in Europe where several major supermarket chains have stopped buying produce from Jewish settlements in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, war-won land the Palestinians want for their state.

“There are no signs yet of (Palestinian farmers) replacing the Israeli products, but there is a big potential if we expand the sector,” said Mazen Sinokrot, the biggest Palestinian herb grower in the West Bank.

Israel bars virtually all exports from the Gaza Strip, as part of the border blockade, but makes an exception for some fresh produce.

Traditionally, Gaza farmers have exported strawberries and carnations, though the cost of growing water-intensive crops and transporting them to Europe has cut deep into their profits.

Some argue that cultivating fresh herbs makes more sense economically because they require less water, grow more quickly, cost less to ship and are always in high demand.

“This can elevate the Gaza economy,” said Mohammed Abu Ouda, an expert in agricultural development.

Even if herbs offer a new opportunity, Israel’s export policies make it harder for Gaza farmers to make a profit.

Israel only permits the farmers to export abroad, but not to Israel and the West Bank, traditionally Gaza’s main markets. Gaza’s agricultural exports are trucked through Israel to Jordan and from there flown to far-flung destinations, including Europe, the United States and Russia.

Critics say that once goods are allowed out of Gaza after having undergone Israeli security checks, there’s no reason to limit the destinations to which they can be sent.

“Any attempt to develop new industries and markets is wonderful, but the bottom line is that in order to revive the economy people in Gaza need access to external markets, and right now that access is extremely limited,” said Sari Bashi of the Israeli human rights group Gisha. “Europe is not going to be a big money-maker for Gaza in the short or medium term.”

Israel has slightly eased its blockade since 2010, but closes its cargo crossing with Gaza — the territory’s only export route — whenever Gaza militants fire rockets toward Israel.

At Abu Naja’s farm near the Gaza village of al-Qarara, gloved workers prepared a shipment of mint and chives to Russia this week. Employees sat around large tables, washing and sorting the herbs. Others weighed them and packed them into cartons.

Foreman Suleiman Kahwaje, 60, said he has been growing crops for export for the past 40 years, including on farms run by Gaza settlers and in Israel.

“We have the workers. We have the land, but we don’t have free borders to market the products in the right way,” said Kahwaje. “When they close the border, my heart races and I start to pray to God that it will open the next day.”

Abu Naja said European clients are reluctant to sign long-term contracts with the Gaza growers because of uncertainty at the border. “They fear that the products don’t reach them on time,” he said.

He said he burned three tons of basil and mint intended for export last April, losing $15,000, because of a prolonged closure of Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing in response to rocket fire from Gaza. He said Israeli packaging restrictions at the crossing also drives up costs.

Maj. Guy Inbar, an Israeli Defense Ministry official, said the crossing is only closed for security reasons and the growers should register any complaints with Hamas.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire, arguing that as Gaza’s ruler the group must keep the border quiet even if most of the attacks are carried out by smaller militant groups.

Inbar said Israel has supported the efforts of Gaza farmers to branch out, including by arranging training for the herb growers. “They are still learning, they are still improving,” he said. Abu Naja and others said they learned about herbs from U.N. experts who visited Gaza.

Gaza’s current export level is about 1 percent of what it was before 2007, when Gaza traded in a wide variety of goods, Bashi said.

Most of the agricultural exports to Europe from Gaza last year were subsidized by the Dutch government, in part because of the higher transportation costs, she said. But 22 truckloads of herbs sent to the U.S. were not.

Still, herbs have emerged as a profitable crop, said Abu Naja who also grows carnations, strawberries and cherry tomatoes.

For example, a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fresh mint sells for about $2 locally, but for $20 in northern Europe. Meanwhile, Gaza’s flower exporters also face increasing competition from growers in North Africa.

If Gaza’s borders were open, farmers would have an incentive to look for more new crops to grow, said Abu Naja, who is branching out into broccoli and ginger.

“Instead of asking for food donations, we could feed the world,” he said.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

Envying the Tunisian people

 

Fahmi Huwaidi‘The people of Tunisia are to be congratulated and, I must admit, envied. Theirs has been a great achievement’

The Tunisians have succeeded where the Egyptians failed; they’ve agreed on a new post-revolution constitution and given a vote of confidence to a government of independents. Egypt’s third anniversary of the revolution, in contrast, saw 90 people killed, almost 300 wounded and 1,341 arrested.While the Tunisian constitution was approved on January 26, we in Egypt have spent the past three years since the 2011 revolution immersed in conflict and question marks. In Tunisia, they at least know where they are going; we don’t.

In Egypt we have been provided with a constitution the political references of which are highly questionable as it was drafted by a group chosen by the military-appointed interim government and not elected by the people. We are heading to presidential elections in an atmosphere clouded by fear; the guarantee of public freedom is in doubt amid growing signs of the security establishment’s dominance and the militarisation of society. In addition, there are many questions about the future vision of a divided society suffering from a political vacuum hoping for a “Messiah” to solve its problems.

I should point out that political decisions in post-revolutionary Tunisia are the products and creation of Tunisian civil society as its political parties, unions and elected institutions represent the people. In Egypt, political decision-making remains in the hands of the military and security services. As political polarisation is the current reality in Egypt, relative harmony and unity seems to be the preferred choice for the Tunisian elite, at least in that they succeeded in agreeing on a basic minimum which enabled them to approve the constitution and a prime minister, and to give the confidence of the Constitutional Assembly to the new cabinet.

I don’t claim that the Tunisian elite agreed on everything, and I do not say that the differences between the parties and civic institutions have disappeared. Nor do I say that the future path for Tunisia looks rosy, because the opposite is true in all of the above. However, the genius of Tunisia has emerged first with the elite’s ability to manage their differences by deciding to invoke a dialogue when dealing with controversial issues. Secondly, the Tunisian people agreed that the most important thing is for Tunisia to win by advancing the democratic process and that it did not matter which political forces lost or gained power along the way.

This last phrase is cited from a statement made by Shaikh Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda Party that has a parliamentary majority, in which he said that the concessions made by the party should not be considered as a defeat. As long as Tunisia remains the winner, then the movement is going in the right direction. If the party loses its majority (after the government steps down), it will always be able to regain power at a later date; however, if Tunisia’s security and stability are jeopardised, this is something that could never be compensated.

The achievements that have been made thus far were not attained easily because they were preceded by accusations and denunciations of the constituent assembly and demonstrations on the streets. Any attempt to give birth to something new is difficult and painful and the most important thing is that the labour process is over and the attempts to abort the revolution failed. The main reason for this is that the Tunisian people talked to one another and sat at the negotiating table, carving out an agreement over the past five months. The discussions that occurred between Tunisia’s various parties began with accusing the majority, represented by Ennahda, with plans to implement an Islamic constitution. This is what encouraged many of Tunisia’s modernist thinkers and leftist leaders to attack the party; however, its concessions coupled with dialogue allowed the Tunisians to overcome the difficulties and provide the Arab world with its first progressive constitution in modern history. That is what the leaders of the secular faction and the communist and non-communist left have said.

To be clear, this achievement led to the development of other factors such as the maturity and wisdom of Tunisian politics. For example, it is no longer a secret that European pressure and Algerian mediation played a large role in convincing Tunisian parties of the importance of making concessions. In this regard, one cannot deny that what occurred in Egypt was an attempt by both sides to abort the revolution and its principles, with each party choosing to go its own way.

Many in Egypt were inspired by the idea of a “salvation front”, which gave shape to the Tamarod movement. There have been rumours that Egyptians and Tunisians involved in Tamarod have been exchanging political experiences and that the Egyptian branch of the movement hosted its Tunisian counterparts for one week in one of Egypt’s beachfront hotels, an initiative funded by various Gulf countries. In the time it took attempts to abort the revolution to fail, the publicly-active political elite in Egypt realised that the revolution was in danger and that widening rifts among the members of society opened the door for a counter-revolution, which overthrew the January 25th revolution.

Since then, the wheels of history have been turning backwards and this is what has placed political pressure on Tunisia and led its people to believe that if they did not achieve a consensus, all of their revolutionary efforts would come to nothing. One could argue that all the hardship and pain that was suffered in Egypt contributed to finding a solution in Tunisia and that the disadvantages of the Egyptian people worked towards somebody else’s benefit.

The people of Tunisia are to be congratulated and, I must admit, envied. Theirs has been a great achievement.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

Yarmouk refugee camp death toll up to 100

Eighty-two refugees died of hunger at the camp in 2013, and it is feared that the number of refugees dying of starvation may continue to increase due to blockage of humanitarian aid coming to the camp.
DAMASCUS, Syria 

Four more people died of starvation and lack of medical supplies on Wednesday in the YarmoukRefugee Camp bringing the total deaths from starvation in the camp to one hundred, according to a statement from a coalition of 40 Syrian opposition groups, the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC).

There are currently 18,000 people living at the camp which has been under siege by Syrian regime forces and pro-regime militias since September.

Eighty-two refugees died of hunger at the camp in 2013, and it is feared that the number of refugees dying of starvation may continue to increase due to blockage of humanitarian aid coming to the camp.

Most of those seeking shelter at the camp are Palestinian women and children.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

‘Rosa Parks’ of Saudi Arabia drops racism case

Saudi pilot Nawal al-Husawi, her husband David McCarthy and their child pose for a picture after an interview in Riyadh.

A Saudi female pilot has dropped a racism case against three women who called her a “slave” after they apologized to her, she told Al Arabiya News in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Nawal al-Husawi took her grievances to court after the women verbally attacked her, with at least one of them calling her “abda,” a derogatory term meaning “slave” in Arabic, during an event celebrating the Saudi National Day at a shopping mall in Makkah last September.

“I am very happy how the legal proceedings have developed; I was very fortunate because I was able to reach a resolution with the three ladies and received an apology from them,” al-Husawi said after her appearance on MBC1’s 8PM with Dawood al-Shirian.

“Believe or not we are now actually good friends. The best blessings come through adversity.”

Al-Husawi said that her father did not want her to pursue legal action against the women and instead wanted her to forgive them for calling her “abda.”

“My intention was to see what the verdict would be and did not want the judge to go through with the ruling, and informed my lawyers that I was willing to forgive them before the judge issued the ruling,” al-Husawi added.

“The turning point for me through the course of three months and numerous attempts at apologies was when one of the women told me that God punished her, her husband divorced her and she has been going through a lot of trial in tribulations in her own personal life since the incident,” she said.

“I looked in her eyes I felt bad for her because we all make mistakes. I stood up and hugged her and cried for a long time because I didn’t know what to say,” the Saudi pilot said.

Her husband David McCarthy confirmed that his wife did not want the women to be punished for their racial slurs. He said she wanted them to learn that racism is hurtful and wrong.

The couple said they were satisfied with the Saudi justice system and compared their experiences with their time in America.

Al-Husawi said she was the victim of racial discrimination in the United States as well, but she could not pursue legal action there because calling someone ’the N word’ is protected under freedom of expression.

A believer in the power of social media, al-Husawi started an anti-racism campaign on Twitter using the word “abda” as a hashtag to raise awareness in the kingdom.

She is also in the process of forming a non-profit organization called the “Adam Foundation” to raise awareness against racism.

She said the women who attacked her are now members of her campaign.

Al-Husawi has been named the Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia by local newspapers.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

US urges Egypt to drop charges against journalists and academics

Jay Carney

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

The US administration has expressed “deep concern” about freedom of expression in Egypt and the interim government’s detention of journalists and academics. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told a press conference, “Regardless of their affiliations, such individuals have to be protected and allowed to carry out their work freely in Egypt.”

According to Carney, the administration has “strongly urged the Egyptian government to drop these charges and release those journalists and academics who have been detained.”

He noted that democratic change in Egypt cannot be achieved unless people enjoy the freedom to express their opinions and ideas peacefully without being afraid of or faced with violence.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

Israeli land authority destroys Bedouin fields in Negev

BEERSHEBA (Ma’an) — Bulldozers and tractors sent by the Israel Land Authority on Wednesday morning destroyed fields of wheat, barley and other cereal grains planted by Palestinian Bedouins in the Negev.

Residents told a Ma’an reporter in the southern Israeli region that tractors plowed and destroyed crops that had been planted on lands belonging to the Huzayyil tribe, before moving to the area of the nearby Awajan Bedouin village.

Israeli authorities said that Negev Bedouins have taken control of state lands which they could have instead leased on a yearly basis at cheap rates.

The Bedouins said they refused to sign any lease because if they do it would constitute approving Israeli claims that their private lands are state properties.

The Bedouin Negev-based Al-Naqab Association for Land and Human Beings denounced the Israeli assault on vast areas of lands, calling them an “attempt to make the lives of the people of the Negev people very difficult and force them to evacuate their land to be confiscated for Jewish settlements, farms and military bases.”

Bedouins in Israel were under military rule until 1966, and tens of thousands were forcibly expelled from their lands and deported in the nearly two decades prior.

Because Bedouins generally lack titles to the lands their ancestors have historically grazed and lived on, it is difficult for them to prove their right to live there.

Israel refuses to recognize 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, which collectively house nearly 90,000 people, out of a total of around 200,000 Bedouins.

The Israeli state denies them access to basic services and infrastructure, such as electricity and running water, and refuses to place them under municipal jurisdiction.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

Gaza cancer rates on rise due to Israeli use of banned weapons

Patients and doctors have protested inside Gaza’s Shifa hospital as they marked the World Cancer Day. The number of cancer cases has been on the rise in recent years following two Israeli wars on the blockaded coastal strip. An average of one thousand cancer cases has been recorded annually among Gazans for the last two years.

The Gaza Health Ministry says the Israeli regime’s use of internationally banned weapons has sharply increased the number of cancer cases. During the 22-day Israeli war at the turn of 2009, Norwegian Doctor Mads Fredrik Gilbert who volunteered at Gaza’s Shifa hospital said that some victims had traces of depleted uranium in their wounds. The majority of Israeli high-tech weapons contain depleted uranium. Most cancer patients lived in areas that were heavily bombarded by Israeli forces during the last two Israeli wars. Lack of medicines as well as cancer patients’ inability to receive treatment abroad due to closure of crossings by both Israel and the Egyptian military is putting their lives at grave risk. Experts have said that Israeli forces used internationally banned weapons like White Phosphorous and weapons containing depleted uranium against the civilian population of Gaza. Experts say such weapons are carcinogenic.

(Source / 05.02.2014)

At least 10,000 children killed in Syria, UN reports

UNITED NATIONS: UN investigators say in a new report that children in Syria have been sexually abused in government detention, recruited to fight with the opposition, tortured and used as civilian shields.

The report, the first to assess the impact of the nearly three-year-old Syria war on children, was quietly presented to the Security Council last week, as Syrian government and opposition representatives met in Switzerland for peace talks under the auspices of the UN

Secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, is scheduled to brief the council next week on the report, which was not released publicly until Monday.

It estimated that at least 10,000 children had been killed and that “grave violations against children” had been committed by “all parties to the conflict” since it began in March 2011. While the report did not discuss accountability, the evidence it presents will inevitably invite discussion about how to pursue accountability for accused war criminals.

In 2011 and 2012, the report said, children as young as 11 were held in government detention centers with adults and, according to witnesses, subjected to torture in order to coerce relatives to surrender or confess.

“Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” the report said.

Investigators said they had documented reports of sexual violence against children in government detention, “perpetrated mostly by members of the Syrian intelligence services and the Syrian armed forces” against those who were suspected of being affiliated with the opposition.

The government denies it detains children. In Geneva, Faisal Mekdad, the deputy foreign minister, said in response to a question last week, the day before the report went to the Security Council: “I categorically deny there are any children being detained. Those are rumors.”

He accused opposition forces of abducting and killing children.

The UN investigators said they were unable to corroborate allegations of sexual violence by opposition fighters because of what the report called “lack of access.”

Investigators were able to chronicle abuse by opposition forces, including summary executions of children. It received two reports from Hasakah province, in northeast Syria: a 16-year-old boy fatally shot last April by the Nusra Front, which is aligned with al-Qaida, and a 14-year-old boy killed by a Kurdish group.

The Syrian government told UN investigators that at least 130 children had been killed by opposition forces.

The report said the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition force, had recruited children in military and support roles. While there seemed to be no policy of doing so, the report said, there were no age verification procedures.

“Many boys stated that they felt it was their duty to join the opposition,” the report said.

A spokesman for the rebels’ Supreme Military Council, who goes by the name Omar Abu Leila to protect his family, said that the Free Syrian Army permits only combatants who are at least 18, but that other rebel groups might deploy younger teenagers.

“I don’t believe the report because the number of fighters in the Free Syrian Army is large, so there is no need to use children,” he said.

A State Department spokesman said the United States condemned the use of child soldiers. “We thoroughly vet recipients of our assistance in Syria,” he said. “The leadership of the moderate armed opposition has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to upholding international human rights standards.”

(Source / 05.02.2014)

Cast Lead missile found unexploded under Gaza mosque

The missile weighing a ton found under al-Nour al-Mohammadi mosque (Feb. 5, 2014: www.seraj.ps)

The missile weighing a ton found under al-Nour al-Mohammadi mosque

Gaza, ALRAY – Citizens found Wednesday an unexploded Israeli missile weighing tons near a mosque targeted by jetfighters during 2008-2009 offensive.

Local news website Seraj.ps reported  that the missile was discovered in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood north of Gaza city, as workers embarked on digging under the mosque for the foundations.

A police bomb squad has arrived to the scene immediately upon a call from the witnesses.

Israeli F16 warplanes fired three missiles at al-Nour al-Mohammadi Mosque on January 7, 2009, which resulted in its total destruction.

The Israeli occupation army destroyed dozens of public facilities including mosques during the 22 day offensive, which Israel codenamed Cast Lead.

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 (Source / 05.02.2014)