By Roger Annis
August 26, 2013—The rally two days ago in Vancouver against the coup in Egypt was larger than the previous week’s, about 100 people. There were more non-Egyptians compared to last week.
Enclosed is a link to a news article from the Aug 24 New York Times that reports on the dire human rights situation in Egypt today, including the arrest and detention in Cairo of two Canadians, Dr. Tarek Loubani and filmmaker Jonathan Greyson, who were on their way to Gaza as part of a Palestine solidarity initiative. See the Change.org petition campaign for their release.
The rally was very strong politically thanks to three speeches—by Tarek Ramadan (the main organizer), Shareen Ginena and former California senator Tom Hayden. Shareen spoke of the political and human rights violations that the July 3 coup in Egypt has ushered in. Tom spoke on the role and responsibility of the U.S. government and on the hypocrisy of liberals who are saying that the elected government of Mohamed Morsi took Egypt away from democracy whereas the installation of a violent, military regime can now take the country towards it. “This is madness,” he said. His speech is published today in Counterpunch.
I spoke briefly as a member of Stopwar. I spoke on the international stakes of the fight against the coup, for example, the ‘coincidence’ of moves to war against Syria and harsh border restrictions against Gaza. I spoke out against the latest statement of position of Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird. The second enclosed article here from the Ottawa Citizen reports that Baird is siding squarely with the coup and in favour of the terrible, bloody repression that has been unleashed by the Pinochet-style regime now in power in Cairo.
Yesterday’s rally was a day of action across Canada. Here are reports on actions in Ottawa (second time in one week) and in Montreal (on Aug 23). I am told there was a rally in Toronto though I’ve not seen a news report. Here is a report of a large rally in Toronto on Aug 17, a story of a rally in Winnipeg on that same date, and here is a photo display from a rally in Edmonton on Aug 18 organized by Canadians for Democracy in Egypt.
There is an Egyptian Canadian in Vancouver who is a friend of one of the 37 people killed by Egyptian police by Egyptian police while in detention in the north of the country on August 18. They were being transported to a prison. He is speaking publicly about the case of his friend. The shocking story of the friend’s fate is explained here in this two-minute CNN report. (As a sidenote, the report shows that similar to what took place in Chile, the number of people being arrested by the military regime in Cairo is such that the arrestees are being detained in a soccer stadium.)
Here is the statement of the Muslim Brotherhood on the August 18 killings: http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=31258. The Muslim Brotherhood English-language website is an important reference point for news from Egypt.
Amr Kassem, a Toronto resident of Egyptian origin, was shot in the back of the head by a sniper in Alexandria on August 16 while attending an anti-coup rally. Protests across Egypt that day condemned the day of massacres in Cairo on August 14, including at the Rabaa mosque. At his funeral the following day, Kassem’s widow Asmaa Hussein and other family members were attacked by knife-wielding vigilantes. They were unable to complete the funeral ceremony. Plainclothes fascist gangs have emerged in the streets of Egypt as vigilante accessories to the violence of police and soldiers.
The Canadian peace Alliance has issued a statement on the events in Egypt. It is strong on calling for an end to the repression. Unfortunately, it overlooks calling for the restoration of political democracy and elected government.
Please read my footnote at the very end of the following news compilation concerning the attacks on Christian churches in Egypt.
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Egypt Widens Crackdown and Meaning of ‘Islamist’
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, New York Times, Aug 24, 2013
CAIRO — Having crushed the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian authorities have begun cracking down on other dissenters, sometimes labeling even liberal activists or labor organizers as dangerous Islamists.
Ten days ago, the police arrested two left-leaning Canadians — one of them a filmmaker specializing in highly un-Islamic movies about sexual politics — and implausibly announced that they were members of the Brotherhood, the conservative Islamist group backing the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi. In Suez this month, police and military forces breaking up a steelworkers strike charged that its organizers were part of a Brotherhood plot to destabilize Egypt.
On Saturday, the chief prosecutor ordered an investigation into charges of spying against two prominent activists associated with the progressive April 6 group.
When a journalist with a state newspaper spoke publicly about watching a colleague’s wrongful killing by a soldier, prosecutors appeared to fabricate a crime to punish the journalist. And the police arrested five employees of the religious Web site Islam Today for the crime of describing the military takeover as a coup, security officials said.
Police abuses and politicized prosecutions are hardly new in Egypt, and they did not stop under Mr. Morsi. But since the military takeover last month, some rights activists say, the authorities are acting with a sense of impunity exceeding even the period before the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak.
The government installed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has renewed the Mubarak-era state of emergency removing all rights to due process or protections against police abuse. And police officials have pronounced themselves “vindicated.” They say the new government’s claim that it is battling Islamist violence corroborates what they have been saying all along: that it was Islamists, not the police, who killed protesters before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.
“What is different is that the police feel for the first time in two and a half years, for the first time since January 2011, that they have the upper hand, and they do not need to fear public accountability or questioning,” said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
In the more than seven weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster, security forces have carried out at least three mass shootings at pro-Morsi street protests, killed more than a thousand Morsi supporters and arrested at least as many, actions Ms. Morayef characterized as “massive police abuse on an unprecedented scale.” But even beyond the Islamists, she said, “anyone who questions the police right now is a traitor, and that is a protection that they did not have even in 2010,” when public criticism was tolerated and at least a few complaints were investigated.
Prosecutors had already begun investigating Mohamed ElBaradei, the liberal former United Nations diplomat, for “betraying the public trust.”
President Obama has said the new government is on a “dangerous path” marked by “arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s associations and supporters” and “violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.”
Warning that “our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” the president canceled a planned joint military exercise. He pledged a review of the $1.3 billion a year in military aid to Egypt, and the State Department took steps to hold back some of the roughly $200 million in nonmilitary aid. But mindful of Egypt’s importance in the region, he stopped short of declaring the takeover an illegal “coup” or cutting off the aid, instead urging an early return to democracy.
Officials of the new government insist they are committed to establishing the rule of law, as soon as they overcome what they describe as the mortal threat to Egypt of violence by the Brotherhood and other Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi.
The police appear to be rounding up Brotherhood members on the basis of their affiliation, without other publicly known evidence of crimes. Mr. Morsi is being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. But government spokesmen insist that every individual, including Mr. Morsi, will be tried by a court and released if acquitted.
“It is up to the courts,” Nabil Fahmy, the interim foreign minister, said in a recent interview. All will be handled “in accordance with the rule of law,” he said.
But some of the recent charges, like those against the two Canadians, strain credibility. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician with Palestinian roots and a history as a liberal and pro-Palestinian activist, was in Egypt on his way to the Gaza Strip to provide training to Palestinian doctors. John Greyson, a liberal Toronto filmmaker whose work often focuses on cosmopolitan sexual themes, was with him, documenting the trip for a possible movie. A lawyer for the two said they were stopped at a checkpoint near a street battle, trying to walk back to their hotel after the 7 p.m. curfew.
“They were just in the wrong place at very much the wrong time,” the lawyer, Khaled El-Shalakany, said Saturday.
The exact circumstances of their arrest were unclear. In a public statement, Egyptian prosecutors accused them of “participating with members of the Muslim Brotherhood” in an armed assault on a police station and “taking part in bloody crimes of violence.” Prosecutors told reporters at the time that the police had detained 240 Brotherhood “members,” including two Canadians. (Mr. Shalakany said they remained in jail as “overwhelmed” prosecutors tried to deal with a backlog of hundreds of arrests in the crackdown.)
At the Suez steel plant, workers started a sit-in several weeks ago over compensation, health care and the firing of about a dozen employees. On Aug. 12, state news media reported that the Egyptian military had tried to force an end to the strike, arresting two of its leaders. “They picked the ones with beards!” a bystander shouts in a video of the arrests.
An army statement at the time used unmistakable coded language to blame the Islamists, charging that “infiltrating elements” who were “exploiters of religion” were trying to poison the workers’ meetings “in the name of religion.”
A state-run newspaper quoted the interim labor minister, Kamal Abu Eita, saying that security forces had found Brotherhood members from another factory involved in the strike. A privately owned newspaper supporting the military takeover, Youm El Saba, quoted Mr. Eita blaming the Brotherhood for inciting strikes in several cities.
Among some supporters of the new government, “Islamist” has become a popular indictment. After Mr. Obama criticized Egypt’s crackdown on the Islamists, Tahani el-Gebali, a former judge close to the military, publicly accused him of having ties to the Brotherhood, claiming his Kenyan half brother directed investments for the group.
The activists with the April 6 group being investigated for spying, Asmaa Mahfouz and Esraa Abdel Fattah, were associated with the group when it was working in opposition to Mr. Mubarak. State news media reports on Saturday indicated the charges were a revival of old allegations that the group had worked on behalf of Western powers to stir unrest in Egypt. The notion was first floated by Mubarak intelligence agencies and the generals who succeeded him, no evidence has emerged to support the claims, and the group has denied the charges.
The journalist who spoke out about his colleague’s killing had been driving with the colleague, Tamer Abdel Raouf, the head of the local office of the official newspaper, Al Ahram, in the delta province of Beheira. When their car was at a checkpoint, soldiers enforcing the 7 p.m. curfew shot and killed Mr. Abdel Raouf.
The authorities have granted journalists a curfew exemption, and Mr. Abdel Raouf was driving a car bearing an official press badge from a meeting with the governor. A military spokesman offered no apology, only condolences, and warned others not to try to speed through checkpoints.
The next day, the journalist who had been in the passenger seat, Hamed al-Barbari, began giving television interviews contradicting the spokesman. Rather than speeding, Mr. Barbari said, his colleague was shot in the head while slowly turning his car in response to a soldier’s instructions. “A foolish act” by one soldier, said Mr. Barbari, who was injured when the car crashed.
About two hours after he spoke, a prosecutor arrested Mr. Barbari in the hospital and placed him in custody for four days, for allegedly possessing an illegal shotgun in the car at the time of the episode.
Prosecutors set a court date to begin investigating a citizen complaint against Mr. ElBaradei after he quit as vice president to protest the police violence against the Islamists. (A conviction could carry only a fine, and he had already left the country.)
Last week, a prosecutor even opened an investigation into some of the young organizers behind the protests calling for the military to remove Mr. Morsi. The prosecutor was weighing a complaint of “disturbing the public order” because they criticized the release from prison of Mr. Mubarak.
Such a case would be an attack on the new government’s first supporters. Prosecutors have not yet begun a full investigation of the complaint and could still set it aside. “It is ridiculous,” said Mai Wahba, a leader of the group.
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Baird expresses solidarity with Egyptian Copts, slams Muslim Brotherhood
By Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen, online August 23, 2013
OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird met Friday with leaders of a Coptic Christian church in Ottawa to express concern about religious violence in Egypt. Baird told reporters that Canada stands in solidarity with Copts in Egypt and is deeply concerned about the situation. Hundreds have died in demonstrations since President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown.*
“Dozens of churches have been burned or vandalized,” he said. “Even nuns paraded through the streets like prisoners of war.”
The Conservative government has taken a harder line against supporters of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. While some countries — including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom — have called for the restoration to power of the democratically elected Morsi, Canada has not supported his return, instead advocating for negotiations and an end to violence.
“The former president became autocratic and did not want to build a peaceful, inclusive society,” Baird said. “We’re certainly not calling for them to be restored to power.”
Though both Morsi supporters and security forces have been accused of violence during demonstrations, Baird pointed to the Muslim Brotherhood. “We think the interim government is dealing with some terrorist elements in the country,” he said. “A lot of this is being led by senior officials in the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Baird says Canada would like to see negotiations between peaceful participants and move to a return to elections, once the violence is curbed.
His message finds a receptive audience with Egyptian Copts, who feel targeted by Islamists. “We are very satisfied with the steps that are going to be taken by Canada,” said Fr. George Mikhail, of the St. George and St. Anthony Coptic Orthodox Church, after a closed-door meeting with Baird.
Mikhail said Canada shouldn’t necessarily suspend foreign aid to Egypt if the money is being used to help people who are subject to violence. Baird’s officials said Canada’s aid contributions to Egypt total about $10 million annually.
Baird also said that Canadian officials had visited two Canadians imprisoned in Egypt. Two Ontario men, John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, were arrested last week in Cairo — allegedly for asking directions at a police station — and will spend at least 15 days in jail while investigators review the case.
Baird said he knows of no basis for any charges and said he had met with the Egyptian ambassador to demand their release. The men have also seen a lawyer and a doctor, Baird said.
Baird, accompanied by local Conservative MP Royal Galipeau and Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, participated in a candle lighting ceremony with leaders of the St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church on Friday morning.
* Note by Roger Annis:
The views of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as expressed in this article are bad enough. Unfortunately, the reporter and his editor have, probably unwittingly, implied in the first paragraph of the article that “hundreds” of Coptic Christians have died in Egypt since the July 3 coup. This is not true.
The Muslim Brotherhood has condemned in several statements the attacks that have taken place on churches. The Coptic Church has criticized the Egyptian army and police for its failure to protect churches.
Egyptians know well the story of the bombing the Church of the Saints in Alexandria one month before the January-February 2011 uprising to overthrow the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak’s interior minister Habib Al-Adly and the security apparatus were found responsible, part of the regime’s effort to discredit Islamists and spread suspicion and acrimony.
Human Rights Watch, mainstream media, governments such as Canada’s and many, many other agencies are insinuating or accusing leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood of orchestrating attacks on Christian churches. But in this lengthy report by Human Rights Watch of August 22, the sum total of the “evidence” presented is that Muslim Brotherhood leaders are accusing the Coptic Church of supporting the July 3 coup d’etat. But this happens to be true. The HRW report goes on to list examples where Islamic religious leaders are accused of inciting attacks on churches.
Are Brotherhood leaders expected to remain silent about the political situation and context while its members and followers are killed, maimed and imprisoned in their thousands by the coup regime?
Here is an interesting background print report on the Coptic Church in Egypt that is published on Al-Jazeera.