Environmental activism in Egypt

<p>تلال من القمامة أمام كوبري المشاه ، منطقة الحضرة ، الإسكندرية ، 22 سبتمبر 2010 ، تعوق القمامة المواطنين من استخدام الكوبري </p>

It’s no longer limited to the slums and low-income neighborhoods: at this point even a brief stroll through any of Cairo’s districts will leave one wondering, why do people chose to live like this? Mounds of malodorous trash on every corner, overflowing sewers, and perpetually smoggy skies, mostly due to the literally millions of cars continuously clogging the city’s arteries. With most people expressing little or no faith in the government or state service’s ability to adequately deal with the pressing issues at hand, who is there to turn to?

The answer--albeit a far from complete one--can be found in eleven-year-old Amr Abdalla, whom Al-Masry Al-Youm first encounters standing knee-high in a pile of trash. When asked what it is exactly that he’s doing, Abdallah replies, although not too happily: “recycling.”

For the past few weeks, Abdalla, inspired in part by a clean-up campaign that recently visited his street, has been attempting to start a recycling initiative in his neighborhood, trying to raise awareness towards what he believes has become a critical issue. “There is garbage everywhere,” he explains, “Mainly because people haven’t been taught how to dispose of it properly.” Abdalla believes that even cleaning up his relatively tiny street constitutes a step in the right direction. “All this [garbage] everywhere—it looks bad, it smells terrible, and it spreads diseases.” Even though a quick glance into Abdalla’s collection cartons reveals he hasn’t quite gotten the basics of recycling, his heart is clearly in the right place.

In recent years, environmental awareness has become something of a global trend. It’s ‘cool’ to be green now, as seen by the rapidly growing numbers of corporate social responsibility campaigns and Facebook groups of the ‘clean up the streets/stop littering/start carpooling’ variety. But how much of these initiatives are sincere enough to actually carry through with their promise of environmentally-conscious conduct? And in a city like Cairo, effectively a microcosm of the rest of the planet’s environmental ailments, are any of these efforts actually effective?

“Of course, a lot of these [campaigns] are just following a popular trend, just because it’s currently fashionable,” says Inji al-Abd, a 29-year-old environmental activist. “But there are many sincere and genuine efforts.” A development consultant specializing in sustainable living, el-Abd has, over the past couple of years, had extensive experience with various environmentally active groups, including tree-planting initiative Shagarah, street clean-up project Keep Egypt Clean, and the popular Cairo Cyclers Club, which she’s particularly fond of.
“It’s a really good idea,” she says of the group, the members of which regularly bike to and from work--an impressive feat considering a significant number of them work at Smart Village, situated on the outskirts of Cairo. “There’s a lot of diversity in that group, in every way, age, social background, gender.” Al-Abd claims that, at one point, 60 percent of the Cairo Cyclers Club’s members were girls. “It’s a very socially inclusive group. People only focus on the activity that unites them.” An activity which, according to al-Abd, and painfully obvious to anyone who’s spent even a few minutes in Cairo’s notoriously frustrating traffic, is good for the environment as well. “It’s also great exercise,” she adds.

Al-Abd explains that while the Cairo Cyclers’ Club is only one of many significant and effective initiatives, there could always be more. She believes that the biggest obstacle to this much needed proliferation is continuity. “People have commitments and at first may be reluctant to say, waking up early on a weekend to clean someone else’s street. There’s a resistance to change, but once someone sets a precedent, it becomes easier for others to follow their example.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Ahmed al-Dorghamy, a senior business developer at an environmental consultancy, agrees. “A positive process can replicate rapidly,” he says, “Especially when the people involved are doing it for the common good, and not for recognition, or credit.” Along with al-Abd, al-Dorghamy is partially responsible for the current establishment of Green Arm, an environmentally-active entity of the popular NGO Nahdet el-Mahrousa, as well as being a founding member of the aforementioned Cairo Cyclers Club.
Al-Dorgamhy, who believes that these proactive initiatives are “only sustainable when they are fuelled by people’s concern and passion,” believes that the number of genuine attempts are on the rise. “It’s got to the point where the pollution--in terms of both trash and air--has literally reached our doorsteps, and that has mobilized people, especially the youth, into wanting to do something about it.” In his opinion, though, the biggest obstacle facing this desire to change is “a lack of focus and organization. People want to change, but they don’t know how.”

“You can’t save the world single-handedly overnight and that’s what most volunteers usually want to do,” he says. “Everyone wants to do everything, but that will never work. What people don’t seem to be aware of is that there are so many dimensions to this problem--renewable energy, biodiversity, environmental justice, awareness raising, fund raising--it’s not just limited to climate change, which seems to be the common misperception.”

Al-Dorghamy argues that this misperception has been nurtured by years of insincere and “superficial and over-marketed” efforts funded by international corporations in an attempt to enhance their image. “Those types of events operate on a very shallow level, and have little to no lasting impact,” he explains. However, that seems to be changing, thanks to the recent global financial meltdown.

“There’s been a significant phasing out of international aid in general, which has had a huge effect on the money previously put into environmental activism. You take away the money, and you can start to see the withdrawal symptoms.” Al-Dorghamy states that ultimately, this will lead to a wake-up call of sorts, directing people’s attention to the gravity of the situation, and what realistically needs to be done to combat it.
Overall, though, he does believe that the number of positive efforts is on the rise, as does Hazem Saleh, a project manager at WESC, the Wadi Environmental Science Center, located on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road.

“We are catching up in terms of environmental activism, but we still need much more work,” Saleh states. “Three years ago, there were barely any individual activists, but now there are all sorts of independent groups and university students. Of course, there are different levels of interest.”

Saleh’s responsibilities as a project manager at WESC revolve heavily around teaching school children the necessity of being environmentally conscious. As such, he has an early gauge on the future of environmental awareness in Egypt. “If you approach thirty students and manage to get five of them interested, that’s a success.” The problem, according to Saleh, is that what the children see as acceptable behavior in their daily routines doesn’t correspond with the values he attempts to imbue them with. “You can have the children temporarily convinced, but what they see from their own community will discourage them from putting those values into action.”
The key to effectively promoting change is, Saleh believes, “media coverage. It’s a tool that, if utilized in the right way, can reach the majority of the population. These are all issues that people need to be aware of. The current vegetable crisis, for example--that is directly related to climate change. Some people might not know that, and so we need that push from the media.”

Despite the slow pace of progress, Saleh is optimistic about the multitude of initiatives currently in operation, highlighting Spirit of Youth--an NGO concerned with educating garbage collectors on proper waste management methods--and charity organization Ressala’s nation-wide recycling campaign as admirable efforts. He is also—not surprisingly--a fan of the Cairo Cycler’s Club.


Egypt's elections outlook not promising

The prospect for Egypt's next month elections is not promising as the government is suppressing the democratic outlets and opposition groups.

Although the legislature has some power in Egypt, the outlook for the votes "does not sound too good to me because there has been crackdown on media outlets and people's operative satellites in Egypt," African political analyst Nii Akuetteh said.

On Wednesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak set in a decree November 28 as the date for the country's much-anticipated parliamentary elections.

The announcement comes as Cairo continues to maintain pressure to silence critics of the government in the media and elsewhere in the run-up to the vote.

Referring to the opposition groups' stance towards the elections, Akuetteh pointed out, "The Muslim Brotherhood, by all accounts, has a lot of support across the country, but at the same time, the authorities in Cairo are suppressing them."

"The fact that ... they will run and they are predicting that they will get at least 30 percent of the votes seats, tell that they feel the support [for them] is strengthening," he added.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood, won nearly a fifth of the People's Assembly seats in the 2005 general elections.

Despite its setback, the Muslim Brotherhood has defended its decision to field candidates, saying "participation is the best way to expose the corruption of the regime."


Poor grain storage fuels rising cancer rates

Quantities of wheat which is imported from abroad upon its arrival in seaport

Poor grain storage conditions fuel increases in cancer rates, according to participants of a recent series of Food Security Policy Council (FSPC) meetings.
The meetings established poor storage conditions lead to grain contamination by the poisonous Aflatoxin substance.

The Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) presided over the meetings.

Meanwhile, coordinator of the Food Security Information Center, Aqeela Saleh, said the center conducted a survey throughout most Egyptian governorates focused on local food staples.

Awareness campaigns for poorer Egyptians have failed, according to Saleh. Saleh requested the Ministry of Agriculture provide 1000 people to advocate proper storage methods across Egypt.

FAO representative at the meetings, Fatma Hashim, said the organization conducted studies at two governorates on chronic diseases that afflict children below the age of five. The study revealed that up to 25% of children are malnourished.

Hashim claimed that the rate of meat consumption in Egypt is particularly low among children.
Hashim also said the FAO is currently conducting a survey throughout Egypt exploring changes in food styles after recent vegetable and fruit price hikes.


Eye on elections: How violent could it get?

<p>File photo (dated: December 7, 2005) showing part of violent clashes between riot police and voters during Parliamentary Elections 2005, Mansoura, Dakahliya.</p>

Street clashes two months ago between supporters of rival candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Port Said and Daqahliya governorates claimed at least two lives, according to media reports.
In another incident, the son of MP Bilal al-Siwy of Matrouh Governorate was kidnapped in late September. His abduction was reportedly in connection with November's parliamentary elections. Similarly, in early October, when Nasserist MP Hamdeen Sabbahi was hit in a car accident, the mouthpiece of his party, Al-Karama paper, said the accident was related to the electoral race.
Within the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), the candidacy nomination process is fomenting tension. The process has witnessed clashes between candidate supporters and heightened security around NDP offices.
With violence erupting even before the official campaign period kicks off, fears of more clashes in the lead up to the poll are growing.
In the 2000 elections, election violence claimed eight lives and left 64 Egyptians injured. In the 2005 poll, at least 12 people lost their lives and 500 were injured in election-related violence, according to a report by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
"Violence in the upcoming parliamentary elections may result from seats being hotly contested, or in response to government irregularities during the balloting," says David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"Security forces will also likely prevent meaningful monitoring of the polls, which could result in clashes with civil society activists pushing for transparency," Schenker adds.
Moreover, this year’s elections will not be conducted under full judicial supervision; a 2007 constitutional amendment abolished the requirement to have a judge in each polling station.
State institutions, particularly the Ministry of the Interior which organizes the elections, are not accountable for election violence, says Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession.
"The state doesn’t usually investigate the killings around the elections. After the announcement of the results, officials close the whole issue of the elections," Amin, who has monitored various Egyptian elections, says.
According to Amin, violence perpetrated by police officers is of a different caliber than aggressive acts by candidate supporters.
"In cases of [violence by candidate supporters], the police can control the scene and prevent individuals from escalating the violence," says Amin. “In contrast, the violence committed by police forces, whether they are riot police, plainclothes police officers or armed thugs, could turn sometimes into massacres.”
Police violence in past elections has taken many forms, such as cordoning off polling stations with security personnel, preventing voters from reaching polling stations, and using tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and open fire with live ammunition.
Sectarianism is another source of recently-heightened tension. "Egypt has been sitting on top of a sectarian volcano," writes academic Mariz Tadros in a report published by the Middle East Research and Information Project.
Three Muslims are currently on trial for fatally shooting six Christians and a Muslim man outside a church in the city of Nagaa Hammadi, southern Egypt, last January.
Moreover, last month witnessed conflicting sectarian remarks between Muslim scholars and Bishop Bishoy, secretary of the Holy Synod.
Experts fear that tensions could lead to more violence, or have a knock-on effect on political representation.
Samir Morcos, political researcher, says that "in such an atmosphere of political tensions, it is possible to have a political utilization of religion to weaken Christian candidates."
Violence also pervades efforts to buy votes.
"It's becoming obvious that candidates in Cairo and other urban places are involved in acts of violence as they seek to buy as many votes as they can," says writer and journalist Saad Hagras. The deployment of thuggery is closely associated with financial deals, when disagreements loom around prices of votes (reported in the press this week to have reached between LE100-700 per vote in the Alexandria region).
Increasing disputes between large, influential families over electoral seats are another major reason for electoral violence.
Last year, two men from the two prominent tribes in al-Mahroussa village in Qena--the Arab and the Fellaheen tribes--lost their lives in a power struggle centered around parliamentary representation. The Arab tribe’s current representative in parliament stirred a clash with the Fellaheen families, resulting in one Fellaheen death. In response, Fellaheen members took the life of an Arab family member.
"People of the village are deeply divided but they are united in two things: They wish the whole issue of elections to be over, with the least possible casualties, and they are determined not to go to the polls," says Ibrahim Ahmed, resident of al-Mahroussa village.
Human rights activist and lawyer Negad al-Borai argues that family power can be more important than political parties in the parliamentary race. "It’s very common to see family members as the winners of the elections because they have the power that makes it easier for them to control the polling stations, even with violence," Borai says.


Environmental degradation and the 'poverty trap'

Yesterday, 17 October, the world observed the 19th International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. In the words of Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, the day presented “an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and struggle of people living in poverty.” Since the early 1990s, the eradication of poverty has re-emerged as a mainstay in the international community’s agenda.

Egypt’s government seems to recognize the link, as many of the proposed policies from the Ministry of Environment would suggest. Sara al-Sayed, a senior coordinator at the Wadi Environmental Science Center, believes the ministry has pinpointed many important problems and solutions, but lacks the support to implement them.

“They know the bad effects rice burning has on the environment and general well-being, for example…They know how to fix the whole problem to actually help turn it into an economic benefit, but they don’t have the ability to make it happen.”
As is the case with many inefficient governments, shortsighted policies and practices tend to lead to long-term setbacks.

Here in Egypt, the effects of the mismanagement of arable land on economic well-being are all too palpable. According to al-Sayed, many farmers who her organization has collaborated with around the country complain of agricultural/irrigation mismanagement and private sector urbanization and industrialization as affecting the land and the livelihood of many farmers.

“There are very few incentives left for people to farm, and maintain the land. This leads to [long term] damage and you see now we are one of the biggest food importers.” As they feel powerless to give to the land, the land obviously cannot give back to them.

The environmental crisis poses yet another reinforcement of the constantly perplexing "poverty trap." The alleviation of one will help solve the other. The question of which should go first is not as important as the need to work on both in tandem for a viable solution to either and both.

Scientific research in Egypt falls short of global standards

 Cairo University Building
In a recently-issued report, the state-run Central Auditing Organization (CAO) criticized Egyptian universities for their relatively low output of scientific research compared to universities in other countries. 

The CAO also chastised Egyptian universities for not being included on recognized lists of the world's top universities.

The CAO report listed the 60 top scientific research papers to be published recently in the Middle East and Africa. The list, which did not include any research from Egypt, included 47 research papers from Israel, seven from South Africa and four from Saudi Arabia.

Despite an annual increase in the number of research papers published in Egypt, these, the report noted, tended to be "modest," especially in the field of natural sciences. Research in information technology, biotechnology, genetic engineering and other areas of modern science, meanwhile, were found to be almost non-existent in Egypt.

The report went on to criticize officials responsible for education in Egypt, asserting that they were busy with "less important" issues--such as amending public high school and university admission systems--while paying scant attention to issues that might advance the field of scientific research.
The report attributed the decline of Egyptian universities to inadequate funding, noting that only 0.2 percent of total national income was spent on education, three quarters of which was earmarked for paying salaries. The report also blamed the phenomenon on rising enrollment figures, the slow development of curricula and teaching methods, weak libraries and information centers, and a lack of modern scientific reference works.

In addition, the report found that many laboratories in Egyptian universities lacked modern equipment, while faculty members and researchers were often unavailable on a full-time basis. What's more, the report noted that priority was generally given to the quantity, rather than quality, of research.

The report concluded by asserting that the low level of scientific research in Egypt was not due to a lack of human resources, since Egypt boasts 1128 researchers per million inhabitants, while South Africa has only 938; India 149; Turkey 261, and China 350.

Participants in Lifeline 5 upset at Egypt's entry ban

The participants in the fifth aid convoy Lifeline for Gaza expressed their dismay at the Egyptian decision to ban 17 of them from entering Egypt and crossing into the besieged Gaza Strip and demanded Cairo to reconsider this decision.

The 17 persons who were mentioned in the ban list included Jordanian nationals, five Britons especially former British MP George Galloway and spokesman for Viva Palestina Zaher Al-Beirawi, in addition to two Turkish survivors of Freedom Flotilla massacre.

Egypt's ban list raised the ire of all activists participating in the convoy because it included names of people who do not in any way pose a threat to Egypt's national security.

Galloway criticized the Egyptian decision as ridiculous and sad blamed president Hosni Mubarak and for making such "cowardly" decisions as he described.

The names of persons who are not participants in the convoy and were not on the list submitted earlier to the Egyptian authorities were also banned from entering Egypt. This confirmed that Egypt had already prepared its ban list before it even received the names of passengers from Viva Palestina.
For his part, Ala Barkan, the coordinator of the Jordanian aid mission that participated in Lifeline for Gaza convoy, expressed his deep regret at the Egyptian decision to prevent him and other participants from crossing the Egyptian territories into Gaza.

Barkan said he was not surprised at the Egyptian ban, saying that the country which is involved in besieging one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza cannot hesitate to prevent humanitarian activists from helping them.

The ‘S’ word: Egyptian sex life

Egypt, where sex is still a very much taboo subject,
ranks high (NR. 1 in the World) on the list of countries generating the most Porn-related online searches.

Despite the proclivities their online indulgences imply, many Egyptians disavow any knowledge of sex, or the role it plays in their lives, for fear of violating social norms.

Through a series of interviews, a mosaic of the wildly differing points of view and perspectives Egyptians have regarding sex and its role in contemporary society. Sex therapists, physicians, writers, artists and college students all share their opinions; insightful contributions that range from entertaining to illuminating to disturbing—particularly those of a handful of doctors and sex “experts” whose comments reveal a chilling detachment from the notion of basic human rights and sexuality.

in a busy downtown square we asks them what they think about sex. Most of the men giggle awkwardly, while women—especially college-aged girls—are quick to assure they know nothing of the subject, with the answers usually falling firmly in the “sex is for reproduction” camp. We proceeds to examine the causes behind the vagueness, denial and outright shame Egyptians so closely associate with sex, be it pre- or post-marital, as well as the rampant double standards that have come to define men and oppress women across the country.

with a separate topic such as masturbation, female sexuality, extra-marital affairs and female genital mutilation. The latter is the most disturbing, beginning with a sudden horrendous act which many still commit out of a belief that it will protect their daughters from a future of promiscuity resulting from being able to enjoy sex. also the controversy generated by the issue, manifested mainly in the ongoing clashes between the Ministry of Family and Population and Islamist groups. In one of the interviews, renowned sex therapist and television personality Heba Kotb unwittingly embodies a further disturbing dimension to the debate by pompously explaining that while female genital mutilation isn’t essentially right, it is necessary in many cases in order to prevent discomfort caused by friction between clothes and a large clitoris.

Contradictions and warped perspectives of this sort characterize “Sex Talk,”. while masturbation isn’t forbidden by religion, people should be “kept in the dark” about it to avoid “wearing out their organs” a truly fascinating range of the confusion with which a significant amount of Egyptians approach sex.


USAID: US$187 million given to support democracy in Egypt


USAID in Cairo said US$187 million ( 1.065.900.000 LE ) has been allocated in Egypt over the past six years--starting 2004--to support democracy and civil society, with the goal of encouraging more competition and transparency in the electoral process, strengthening the capacity of civil society organizations, and increasing awareness of the role such organizations play

But we all know it's totally fake. There is no democracy in Egypt. Egypt is still a police state under dictatorship and torture for 30 years. There is no freedom and no privacy. Telephone lines and internet the Government is wiretapping. You can not say your opinion about the Government or President. You are not allowed to tell the true what's really going on in Egypt. Zionist Political Egypt are licking the asses of Zionist Nazi Israel and the USA Zionist administration. 

In a report published Friday, USAID explained that the sum spent between 2004 and now has gone partly toward preparing a trained cadre of more than 13,000 local election monitors on the national level. According to the report, USAID is currently focusing on the agricultural field, with the goal of improving productivity and the competitiveness of small farms, in addition to improving the administration of water resources. USAID will focus in the coming phase on training youth in social and political participation and deepening their understanding of citizenship so they can positively influence society.

The report estimated the total volume of American aid offered to Egypt through the US Agency for International Development from 1975 until the present, as being around US$6.28 billion. The report explained that the current goal of USAID is economic development in Egypt, enabling the country to compete globally and to benefit all Egyptians, in addition to running programs that help create job opportunities in the private sector, and preserving human and natural resources.

It's time for the Egypt people who live like slaves and sheeps to wake up. It's 80.000.000 people against 600 Zionist political Government. The Egyptian people are stupid. 

Egyptian experts blame Israel and Mubarak for Nile Basin dispute

<p><br /><br />
A general view shows Egyptian sailboats, known as falukas, and a small ferryboat (back) used by locals to cross from one side of the River Nile to the other on the outskirts of Cairo on May 18, 2010. Four African countries signed on May 14 a new treaty on the equitable sharing of the Nile waters despite strong opposition from Egypt and Sudan who have the lion's share of the river waters.</p>
A pair of academics have blamed President Hosni Mubarak and Israel for their role in the Nile Basin crisis after a move by five Nile Basin countries to disregard Egypt and sign a new treaty organizing the exploitation of the Nile waters.
Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, all upstream countries, signed a pact earlier this year toward what they consider an equitable use of the Nile waters. Under the treaty, Addis Ababa intends to build dams and export power to neighboring countries, while also setting up irrigation projects. The pact has been condemned by Egypt and Sudan, who fear it would reduce the river's flow.  
At a conference at the Journalists Syndicate on 14 October, Ibrahim Nasser Eddin, professor of African Studies at Cairo University, accused the Egyptian government of being responsible for the recent crisis. "The government doesn't understand the racial, religious and linguistic complexities in East Africa. The government is completely ignoring this part of the world despite its strategic importance."
Nasser Eddin suggested that Egypt is not engaging well with the changing balance of power in East Africa, especially after the 2006 fall of the Somalian Islamic Courts Union government and the increasing regional control of Ethiopia, backed by the United States. 
"The fall of Somalia and leaving it to Ethiopia broke the balance in the region," said Nasser Eddin. Eritrea's President Isayas Afewerki has visited Egypt 18 times since his country’s independence, while Mubarak has never visited Eritrea, he added, which, he said, indicates Egypt's careless politics towards the region.
Moreover, Abdullah al-Ashaal, former ambassador to several East African countries and professor of international law at the American University in Cairo, said that former Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, currently the Arab League's secretary-general, is responsible for not paying attention to East Africa and for giving Israel the chance to expand there.
"He told us [Egyptian ambassadors to Africa] in 1994 that you have no relation with politics. He has all the necessary information about Africa," said al-Ashaal. According to al-Ashaal, Moussa’s remarks show how Egypt has moved away from dealing with the changing political context in Africa. 
Al-Ashaal also dismissed the proposition that the Nile Basin crisis is centered around the nature of the current legal framework, which gives Egypt domination over the exploitation of the Nile. 
East African countries have been complaining about the negative effects of the 1929 colonial-era treaty with Britain, which empowers Egypt to veto any irrigation or hydro-power projects proposed for implementation by upstream countries. 
The treaty states in its Article II that "no irrigation or power works or measures are to be constructed or undertaken on the river and its branches [...] so far as these are in the Sudan or in countries that are under British administration, which would, in such a manner as to entail any prejudice to the interests of Egypt, either reduce the quality of water arriving in Egypt, or modify the date of its arrival, or lower its level." 
Al-Ashaal argued that there is no legal crisis in this regard, because all the calls coming from the East African countries are politically motivated and ignited by Israel, which has been interfering in the internal politics of East African countries, especially Ethiopia. 


Soaring vegetable prices strain household budgets in governorates

<p>Small tomatoes sold at LE10 per kilo at a market in Mansoura, Dakahliya, 9 October, 2010. The recent jump in vegetable prices, especially tomatoes, has made it one of the country’s central concerns, prompting the government to hold a meeting to determine reasons <span title="">behind the sudden rise in tomato prices.</span><br />

Vegetable prices continued to rise this week in governorates throughout Egypt, with per-kilo tomato prices reaching LE13; garlic LE9; cucumbers LE5; potatoes LE4; and fava beans LE10.

Gawaher Saad al-Sharbini, head of consumer rights in the Qena Governorate, said a campaign was being organized aimed at boycotting tomatoes and replacing them with canned tomato sauce in an effort to force retailers to lower their prices.

"The high prices are a huge burden on my household budget," said Mohasen al-Bayoumi, a teacher in Qena. "A meal consisting of rice, meat and vegetables for my family of five now costs almost LE90."

Qena Governor Magdy Ayoub laid the blame for the price hikes on the local Chamber of Commerce. At a recent meeting with chamber head Ismail Wishahy and a number of wholesalers, Ayoub stressed the importance of coordinating the activities of chamber executives and wholesalers--especially given that Qena represents one of Egypt's mainstays for tomato production.

In order to bring down prices, Ayoub said, the number of middlemen involved in the delivery of vegetables from farmer to consumer must be reduced. He called on the government to provide the public with subsidized foodstuffs and to provide farmers with "agricultural guidance."

Retail vegetable prices are also on the rise in the Beheira Governorate.
“The price of tomatoes has reached LE10 per kilo; potatoes and onions LE3; garlic LE12; and green beans LE4,” lamented Beheira housewife Niema Hassan Zidan. "With our meager household income, I don't know how we'll survive."


6,486 deaths in 23,000 road accidents last year in Egypt

Egypt’s road accidents in 2009 reached an estimated 23.000, an 8.9 %  increase from the previous year, according to a report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).
Highway accidents constituted the majority — 5,014 — a 22% increase from 2008, added the report which was released last week.

According to the statistics, 18 people were killed every day and four injured every hour due to these accidents in 2009. This is considered a decrease in traffic deaths, as the number of road-accident-related deaths in 2009 was 6,486, precisely 17.77 deaths a day, in contrast to 18.09 deaths in 2008.
According to CAPMAS, 68% of the accidents were due to human error, while 21% were a result of tire explosions and 2% to car dysfunctions.

The lack of well-equipped hospitals, emergency rooms and ambulances has been a rising concern among Egyptians, especially on and close to highways and holiday destinations.

However, there has been an increase in the number of clinics on highways as they have now reached 1,035, in addition to 2,713 ambulances available on highways across the country.

Meanwhile, the number of train-related accidents in Egypt increased by 22%, according to the report, with 1,577 rail accidents in 2009. In these accidents a total of 62 people were killed and 155 injured.
Minister of Transportation Mohamed Lotfy Mansour resigned from his post in 2009 after he took full responsibility for the Al-Ayyat train crash which took place on Oct. 24, claiming 18 lives and injuring 36 people.

French, Italian tourists killed in road accidents

An Egyptian medical official says a speeding van overturned and killed two foreign tourists, one of them French, on their way to a Red Sea resort city

The head of South Sinai Emergency Services, Mohammed Fayez, said the tourists: a 30-year-old female and 34-year-old male, were heading early Sunday to the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

The official described them both as French, but the embassy itself said only the man was a French national.
The accident took place 10 miles (15 kilometers) from Ras Sudr, east of Cairo where an Italian tourist was killed and four other people injured a day earlier in a van speeding down the highway.

Fayez says the van overturned Saturday on the ring-road around the resort town shortly after nightfall.
Fayez says four tourists — from Japan, Germany and Italy — and the van's driver were injured. He says that one other tourist — a 27-year old Italian woman — later died in the hospital from head injuries.

Road accidents are common in Egypt because of bad roads and poor law enforcement. An estimated 6,000 people die in accidents in the country each year.

Muslim Brotherhood enters election fray

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been arrested over the past 12 months.
The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group, has announced that it will take part in next month's parliamentary elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood will field candidates for 30 percent of the 508 parliamentary seats being contested, Mohamed Badie, the group's chairman, told reporters at a press conference on Saturday.

The Muslim Brotherhood hopes to increase its seats in parliament from the current 20 percent level. In 2005, the Brotherhood won 88 out of 454 seats in parliament, with its candidates running as independents since the Egyptian government has banned the movement.

The government arrested over 5,000 Brotherhood members last year and has repeatedly attempted to target the group's top leadership and its funding resources.

"We are in a state of corruption and disruption that hasn't been seen before in the history of Egypt, therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood has to declare its position concerning the next parliamentary elections," Badie said during the press conference.

Prominent Egyptian opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei had earlier called for a boycott of the elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood defended its decision to field candidates, saying that the Egyptian regime relies on force and not elections for its legitimacy.

"We participate for Egypt's sake," Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Erian said. "Participation is the best way to expose the corruption of the regime." 


Egyptians denounce security forces' assault on activists opposing inheritance of power

The Popular Campaign to Support the Nomination of ElBaradei and the Demands of Change, has condemned the violent means used by the state security apparatus against a protest which included  300 Egyptians gathering in Cairo and Alexandria against what they believed were plans to hand over power to the president's son.

In a statement to news agencies, the group maintained that the detention, humiliation and excessive use of force and torture by the regime's agents will neither intimidate its members and other national youth movements nor dissuade them from continuing their call for reform and change in Egypt . They criticized the current situation where they asserted the country fell prey to the greed of a handful of businessmen and NDP's corrupters led by Gamal Mubarak
Egyptians denounce security forces' assault on activists opposing inheritance of power

"We will proceed on our way in a bid to end Gamal Mubarak's possible succession and we will pay the price of this", campaign's members stated".
MP Hamdi Hassan, spokesman for the MB parliamentary bloc, condemned the brutal treatment of the demonstrators in Cairo and Alexandria .
The MB's Media spokesman said: "We salute and support the Egyptian protestors who turned out in a peaceful way," adding:" The Protests express the people's rejection to Egypt 's Police State that does not allow freedom of expression".
Dr. Hassan stressed that the aggravated assault against April 6 Youth Movement, Kefaya and other groups by Interior Ministry is a grave sin. He added "These hideous acts are tarnishing Egypt 's reputation internationally.
MB MP Sobhi Saleh affirmed that the anti-bequeathing protests will be a beginning of public outcry demanding the regime to take it into account.
"Negligence of popular anger by tackling it with such violent means demonstrates political ignorance committed by the ruling regime".
Dr. Abdul Jalil Mustafa, from the National Association for Change (NAC), criticized the Police beating of the demonstrators stressing that the Egyptians completely reject the inheritance of power and deem it an affront to human dignity.

Breaking news: Security forces ransack Islamist bookstores arresting owners

Security services in Damietta, embarked on a campaign, raiding a number of Islamist’ bookstores, and arresting 3 of the stores owners and managers.  Stores were searched  for publications concerning parliamentary elections  and computers were confiscated.

Breaking news: Security forces ransack Islamist bookstores arresting owners
Security forces searched numerous bookstores including “Imtiaz”, “Iman”, “Zohour” and “Fagr” bookstore arresting its owners Wael Al-Sawi, Sherif Al-Issawi and Hassan Marei. Storeowner Hazem Al-Fagr claimed that he was surprised at the number of security forces present during the searches.

 In a related note 2 other bookstores were raided in the governorate of Kafr ElSheik in Kafr Magar and Shabbas Al-Shohoda where forces also ransacked stores searching for election related documents.

MB arrests after announcing participation in elections

Arbitrary arrests began early dawn shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood chairman Dr. Mohamed Badie confirmed that the group would partake in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
UPDATED: 10 MB arrests in Daqahleya after announcing participation in elections

Security forces rounded up MB members from the Daqahleya governorate arresting 10 leaders after breaking into their homes, cutting phone connections and smashing doors. The arrests are aimed at a large number of the group’s leaders and it is expected that state security follow a series of steps to hinder the participation of the strong political opposition.
The MB group has become accustomed to the unjust arrests seeing it as a continuation or intensification of a crackdown on dissent that has always preceded elections in Egypt.

Security officials have ascertained that the 10 political detainees from the MB have been arrested with charges including promoting the principles of a banned group, disturbing public security and possessing pamphlets advocating ideas which could endanger social harmony and security."
According to analysts the wave of arrests is an attempt to thwart the MB’s performance in the parliamentary elections in fear of a repeat of the group’s successes
Leaders of the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak, for their part, recently issued statements that the MB would fail to secure the same number of seats that it won in previous elections.

Lifeline 5 convoy geared to set sail to Gaza, awaits okay from Egypt

The Lifeline 5 convoy lead by former MP George Galloway is geared to move out from the Latakia port in Syria to the Egyptian Al Arish port.

The convoy’s supervisors expect Egyptian authorities to decide later on today whether they will allow the convoy to dock at the Al Arish port before crossing over to the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid.

Egypt had previously banned the convoy because of a deportation ruling against George Galloway sometime back. Efforts have been made to push the Egyptian government to let the fleet transit through the country.
Lifeline 5 spokesman Zahir Beirawi said Sunday that the ship’s cargo of humanitarian aid has been packed and is fully ready to set sail.

He said the convoy has included 140 buses. He confirmed earlier on Saturday that all information requested by the Egyptian government has been submitted to the Egyptian embassy in Damascus, which has promised to make a timely response to their appeal.

Despite an overwhelming optimistic atmosphere after a meeting between the Egyptian ambassador and the convoy’s leaders, Beirawi said he is concerned Egyptian authorities will delay giving the convoy the green light.

He said if the request was rejected, widespread frustration could erupt among the international activists, and an atmosphere of conflict may rise between Lifeline members and Egypt.

The convoy consists of 140 buses loaded with 5 million pounds Sterling worth of medical equipment, educational supplies, and food. On board are 385 activists from 30 countries, who include a large number of politicians, trade union leaders, and charitable organization officials.

Egypt's inflation rises to 11% amid food price hikes

<p>أحد محلات بيع الخضروات والفاكهة تعرض الطماطم بسعر 8 جنيهات للكيلو، القاهرة، 8 أكتوبر 2010، ارتفعت مؤخرا أسعار الخضروات بشكل عام والطماطم بشكل خاص إلي أن أصبحت من القضايا المحورية التي تشغل المواطنين والحكومة، ما دفع الأخيرة للاجتماع ورفع التقارير للوقوف علي أسباب الارتفاع المفاجيء في أسعار الطماطم . </p>

Egypt's inflation notched up slightly to 11 percent in September, the government said Sunday, amid complaints about rising food prices.

Urban inflation was up 0.1 percentage point from 10.9 percent the previous month, according to data from the official Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. Annual change in consumer prices, meanwhile, increased 0.2 percentage points to 11.7 percent compared to August figures.

Economic Development Minister Osman Mohammed Osman said the gains came amid increase in poultry, vegetable and fruit prices, which climbed due to "seasonal and temporary reasons," the official Middle East News Agency reported. Osman did not elaborate.

Rising food prices sparked protests over the summer, and Russia's ban on grain exports, because of a supply crunch there, have contributed to further increases in key staples on which Egyptians rely. The country is the world's largest wheat importer.

Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif last month said officials expected the economy to grow by about 6 percent in the fiscal year ending June 2011.

Egypt's gross domestic product grew by about 5.3 percent in the last fiscal year. The economy had grown by an average of 7 percent for three years before the global financial meltdown in 2008 battered trade and squeezed growth.


floating hotels increase river pollution

In related news, the Egyptian Organization for the Advancement of Children reiterated the conclusions of the Habi Center for Environmental Rights in its report on the pollution of the Nile waters, after a review of the data from the most recent scientific studies conducted by the cabinet at the behest of economic adviser Ahmed Nagem.  The studies confirm that every year some 17,000 children die from gastroenteritis caused by polluted water.

The same study indicated that kidney failure, also caused by polluted drinking water, is four times higher in Egypt than in the rest of the world. It notes that there are some three hundred floating hotels between Luxor and Aswan which are responsible for the pollution of the river water, due to their lack of efficient water treatment systems.


Poor education squeezes Egypt’s growth

<p>إحدى طالبات الثانوية العامة  تبكي بعد امتحان اللغة الإنجليزية للمرحلة الأولى ، 14 يونيو 2010 ، الإسكندرية ، حيث اشتكى الطلبة من صعوبة الامتحان واصفين أياه بأنه تعجيزي ، ويحتاج إلى وقت إضافي .</p>

Sawsan Gomaa, 18, thought memorizing vocabulary and grammar from the ministry textbook would be enough to ace Egypt's yearly national language exam for high school graduates, the main gateway to university. After all, that's how everyone did it.

But this year's exam took her by surprise, requiring tough translations and idiomatic phrases not taught in class. She was caught out by what experts say are disjointed education reforms that have changed exams but not teaching methods.

"These questions were definitely not from the curriculum we studied," a tearful Gomaa said.
Egypt's secondary education needs an overhaul, teachers and employers say. High school teaching, based mostly on rote, does not give students practical skills, leaving them unprepared for college and hindering their transition to the workplace.

If the Arab world's most populous country is to extend a run of economic growth, now edging back to 6% a year, the roughly 300,000 university graduates churned out annually must be better prepared.
"Improving the quality of education is the number one factor that needs immediate attention. There is a unified call in Egypt for improving primary and secondary education to prepare people for the workforce," said Angus Blair, head of research at investment bank Beltone Financial.

Overcrowded classrooms, poor attendance and a lack of good libraries or office space for teachers are problems that run through the system from the earliest years to final classes. Facilities like computers and science labs are often rundown if they exist at all in state schools.

Frustrated parents scrimp and save to pay for private tutorials. Teachers, who usually earn no more than LE1,600 (US$281) a month, often rely on that extra income.

The government admits problems but says it will take time.

"School textbooks really need to be updated. There are many problems in education and we are putting in place plans to gradually resolve them. But we cannot solve these problems overnight," Education Minister Ahmed Zaki Badr told a parliament committee, the official news agency reported.

Nawal Saadawi, a government critic who has drawn threats from Islamists for her views in the past, says religious dogma had permeated some schools in Egypt, where she said the beliefs of conservative-minded teachers can seep into the curriculum.

Religion has a modest place in the school timetable. Parents and teachers say the curriculum covers maths, science and other core subjects but these are based on facts to learn not problems to solve. Memorization has long been the key to final school exams that determine what a student can study at university.

"National exams in Egypt are based on specific lessons taken from textbooks in the last two years of high school. SATs, however, test the student's ability to draw inferences and think critically," Laila Iskandar, an education consultant, said.

Deviations in exam questions from expected memorized material can ignite panic among students.
In June, local media reported scenes of hysteria as students like Gomaa emerged from exam centers in disbelief. In an effort at reform, the Education Ministry had inserted new questions aimed at pushing students to think beyond memorized material.

Girls fainted in their mothers' arms while outraged fathers screamed and hurled insults at examiners. One newspaper said ambulances were called in to treat traumatized students.

Asking more challenging questions may be an essential part of reforms, but instructors say it is pointless adding them unless methods are reformed first.

"For decades now, the student's way to success has been memorizing material that will ensure passing the exam. No thinking is required, just commitment to a set of rules," said Refaat Ibrahim, a high school teacher in Alexandria.

"Suddenly, these students must think creatively. Of course they will fail."
The picture does not improve once students get to university, where they face overcrowded lectures, underpaid professors and outdated textbooks.

So when they enter the workforce, they don't have the skills for jobs in banking or technology, the kind of fields where Egypt is seeking to become a regional power centre.

The United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) 2010 Human Development Report highlighted the weaknesses in university education, saying more than 40 percent of employers ranked graduates' ability to apply their knowledge to work as "poor".

The UNDP report said at least 90 percent of Egypt's unemployed were under 30, saying this was "high by any measure". Many youth resorted to the informal market indicating the mismatch between education and labor market needs, it added.

Indicating weaknesses in the system, Egypt had no universities in the 2010 Academic Ranking of World Universities, a ranking of the top 500 institutions. In rival markets, South Africa had three, Saudi Arabia had two and Turkey had one.

Cairo University was in the bottom fifth of the list in 2007 but was bumped out the next year. It has not reappeared since.

"Compare new graduates in Egypt to their counterparts, say, in Pakistan, and you'll find the latter are way ahead on capacities to use technology and critical thinking skills in higher-skilled jobs," Simon Kitchen, an economist at investment bank EFG-Hermes, said.

Many international companies in Egypt pay for training programs to teach university graduates technical and language abilities they say should have been learned in college or that they must pay a premium to secure qualified recruits.

The government is trying to narrow the gap, including a US$10-12 million program set up by the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) in 2008 to teach university students English, Microsoft software and other skills.

The EduEgypt programme trained 3,000 students in its first year, and aims to train 40,000 graduates per year by 2011, according to information from ITIDA, a Communications Ministry body set up to promote and nurture Egypt's off shoring industry.

EduEgypt is due to be replaced within a few years by a broader program that includes curriculum developed by IBM and other firms. Oracle and Microsoft have also been involved in helping develop education programs.

Still, the current pool of trainees who benefit from such programs is small compared to the hundreds of thousands graduates each year, leaving most scrambling to catch up.


Fraud guaranteed in upcoming elections

<p>Ayman Nour, founder of Ghad party, casting his vote for new board election at Ghad headquarters, April 30, 2010. Nour and Ehab Al Khouly, party's present leader, are in dispute over legitimacy of present board.</p>
According to a report released recently by the Middle East Report Information Project (MERIP), Egyptian elections should not be confused with barometers of national opinion. Nor is there any question the government will retain control of parliament in the November balloting.

“No one thinks parliamentary elections in Egypt are democratic or even semi-democratic. They are not free and fair. And citizens know that elections are rigged, with polling places often blocked off by baton-wielding police, so few of them vote,” says the report. “No wonder the reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei and others are trying to build political and moral momentum for a boycott of the contests coming up in November.”

But the report does not restrict its criticism to the ruling National Democratic Party and other government forces.

“And yet, both the government and opposition take parliamentary elections very seriously,” the report continues. “Despite the renewed impetus for a boycott in 2010, all of the major opposition forces have announced their participation in the November poll.”

Opposition groups do not enter elections to win a majority and certainly not to govern, but rather to accumulate political capital, says the report, which adds that most Egyptians avoid elections altogether because they pose physically danger or because they find no incentive in casting a ballot.

The report argues that opposition victories in the 2005 elections prompted an even stronger crackdown on dissent. As soon as the elections concluded, the regime began a systematic restructuring of the political arena, changing the constitution and electoral laws. The legislation weakened the Muslim Brotherhood and strengthened the NDP’s party organization.

Given its rigorous preparations over the past five years, all forecasts are that the regime will emerge triumphant, according to the report. The laws intend to corral the Muslim Brothers into a measly number of seats and aim to put an end, once and for all, to the Islamist organization’s brief prominence on the national and international stage, the report concludes.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

Post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt

The worsening of 83-year-old Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's illness has raised concerns in the Arab world and the International community over the future of Egypt after Mubarak's possible death.

Hosni Mubarak, who has been ruling Egypt since 1981, is suffering from lymphoma and has undergone several surgeries outside his country.

Although a president's death seems like a normal thing, Egypt's social and political conditions fundamentally differ from those of other countries.

Over the past 29 years, Mubarak exclusively secured all levers of power for himself and the National Democratic Party, through holding the positions of commander of Armed Forces, chief of National Security Supreme Council, secretary of Supreme Council of Economy, and chairman of the largest political party.

The incumbent National Democratic Party, which is headed by Mubarak, enjoys the majority of the seats in the two-house Parliament of the country; and it is impossible to elect the president in Egypt without the consent of 250 members of the Shura Council and the People's Assembly.

According to article 76 of the Constitution, the majority of the members of both houses nominate the candidate for presidency, and the president is elected by direct popular vote for a six-year tenure.

Over the past 29 years, Mubarak has always tried to give key positions to the members of the incumbent National Democratic Party, which has deprived the Egyptian elite of political participation.

There are basically two powerful institutions directly involved in forming the structure of political, security, and economic power.

The first one is the Armed Forces. The president of Egypt has always come to power from within the ranks of the Armed Forces since 1952, when army officers of the "The Free Officers Movement" carried out a coup d'état against King Farouk.

Over the past 48 years, General Muhammad Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar El Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak, all members of Egypt's Armed Forces, have respectively ruled Egypt.

The second institution that has an effective role in framing domestic and foreign policies is the intelligence organizations of Egypt, without whose consent, it is impossible to elect a president, form a parliament, establish parties, or elect cabinet members.

Thus, the likely death of Mubarak, who is also the commander-in-chief of the country's Armed Forces, will complicate the political situation of the country.

The political elite of Egypt have recently made several suggestions to lead Egypt out of a likely crisis in the future.

The first option proposed by renowned Egyptian journalist Mohammed Hassanein Heikal is to establish a council of experts to amend several articles of the Constitution.

The most important article of the Constitution that hinders collective participation is article 76 that emphasizes every presidential candidate either has to gain the votes of 250 members of both houses of the parliament (i.e the Shura Council and People's Assembly), or must have the experience of heading a legal party for five consecutive years.

Hassanein Heikal believes that once this constitutional article is amended, the Egyptian elites will have an opportunity for collective participation and Egypt will enter a new process of forming a democratic system.

Heikal's suggestion has faced opposition from Egypt's intelligence organizations who believe that an increase in the number of election candidates will cause political chaos in Egypt.

Some of the elite have suggested that the Armed Forces and the influential intelligence organizations refrain from interfering in the issues of the country's presidential election; so that the path will be paved for the participation of non-military figures in the upcoming election of Egypt to be held in 2011.

Possible candidates for the election are former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, prominent Egyptian chemist and Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, chairman of the opposition El Ghad “Tomorrow” Party Ayman Nur, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa, a Muslim Brotherhood leader Esam Al-Aryan, the Egyptian president's son Gamal Mubarak, and Chief of the Egyptian Intelligence Amr Suleiman.

Considering Hosni Mubarak's health, and the expressions of concern by the US, European countries and Israel over Egypt's vague political future after Mubarak, is it possible to run a healthy and competitive election in the country?

Without changing certain articles of the Constitution, participation is impossible for the Egyptian non-factional political figures who wish to enter the election competition without backing from the Armed Forces or Egyptian parties.
Therefore, the likely death of Hosni Mubarak before the 2011 election would result in the Armed Forces to stage a coup and take control of power for a while.
On the other hand, Gamal Mubarak's chance to assume power is higher than the other candidates, as he is backed by the incumbent party and the Armed Forces.

If Hosni Mubarak's son wins in the presidential elections, the wave of dissatisfaction will intensify among Egyptian intellectuals, who believe that the transfer of power from father to son has resulted in the formation of a new system in the political literature of the Arab world: “royal republic.”

Regarding the vulnerability of the Egyptian society, one must mention the large population of Egyptian non-Muslims, the Qibtis, who are not included in the country's decision-making process. This minority constitutes 12 percent of the 80 million population of Egypt.

The Qibtis or the “eastern Christians” call for a change in the articles of the Constitution and a redefinition of the new law, because the current law does not give them an opportunity for political participation.

Thus, Mubarak's likely death may lead to a conflict between the elite, the middle class, Muslims and the non-Muslims on the one hand and the Armed Forces, who always holds power, on the other hand.

That is why Israel is more worried about the situation in Egypt after Hosni Mubarak's death; the leaders of Israel fear that Mubarak's sudden death may cause a power vacuum and finally lead to a civil war in Egypt; and the Muslim Brotherhood may take power by taking advantage of such a situation. (which will be finally good news for the Egyptians).

In the political definition given by leaders of Israel, it is natural that the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, that has extraordinary influence in Egypt, will lead to annulling peace treaties between Egypt and Israel. (they mean peace treaties between the Political Elite Egypt and Israel. Not the population Egypt!)

This will be harmful for the security of the Israeli regime, because the power of Palestinian resistance movements to resume their armed struggle would increase. (Which means Israel will loose is criminal dictating power).
Therefore, the Israeli army has already deployed its forces along the common border between Palestine and Egypt in order to be prepared to confront any possible changes in the country.


Electoral violence, the sectarian saga and failure of peace talks

Central Security Forces clamping down on protesters at People Assembly, April 6, 2001. Scores of 6 April activists, opposition figures and ordinary citizens took to streets calling for constitutional reforms and lift of Emergency Law under heavy security.
On the front page of al-Wafd opposition paper stands a story about an exceptionally pressing issue: electoral violence. Today’s issue dedicates almost one-third of its front page to an article that highlights the recruitment process of thugs during elections. The article headlines “Thugs determine the political future of Egypt” and cites a recent study that discusses the nitty-gritty details of how to hire thugs.

The study prepared by an expert on criminal sciences says that the cost of hiring thugs has gone up expotentially ahead of the parliamentary poll slated for November. Prices range from 300 to 25,000 depending on the level of violence required. Some packages include beating the adversarial candidate to death while others feature sexual assault. The study also claims that thugs have developed new means to market themselves. According to the study, thugs now circulate videotapes that reveal their physical capabilities and methods of tainting the reputation of adversaries.

Besides the powerful headline, the paper posts a colorful picture that depicts two thugs holding knives while riot police watch from behind in utter indifference. Electoral violence is a growing phenomenon in Egypt. In the 2005 poll, electoral violence killed 13 people. Opposition voices constantly accuse the ruling National Democratic Party of hiring thugs to defeat opposition parliamentary hopefuls.

The privately-owned Al-Dostour daily engages a topic no less timely. In light of ongoing sectarian debates, the paper dedicates two full pages to an article by the Islamic thinker Mohamed Selim al-Awa, whose name has recently made headlines after his battle with the second ranking official in the Coptic Church.

Earlier the local press reported that al-Awa said churches were weapons caches. The accusation came in response to an incendiary statement by Bishop Bishoy, the secretary general of the Coptic holy synod, in which he said Muslims are guests in Egypt. A few days later, the local press reported that the bishop pressed further in his provocation of Muslims by claiming, in a clerical publication, that some Quaranic verses were made up by Muslim caliphs.

The claim has provoked many Muslim clerics and fueled several protests. It has also forced Pope Shenouda III to apologize to Muslims in a televised interview. In his recent article, al-Awa issued a detailed rebuttal to Bishoy’s claims, insisting that he is the one who should apologize and not the pope. “Bishop Bishoy should apologize himself for what he said, did and wrote. Pope Shenouda is the head of the church and should not bear the mistakes made by those who belong to the church,” wrote Al-Awa.

Away from local politics, the front page of state-owned Al-Ahram daily leads with the headline: “The collapse of direct negotiations because of settlements and calls to resort to the Security Council after discovering American weakness.” The Palestinian Authority decided yesterday to halt direct negotiations with Israel as the latter insists on resuming the construction of settlements on Palestinian territories in the West Bank. In the meantime, according to Al-Ahram, US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell announced that the US would keep supporting indirect talks between the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahau. President Barack Obama’s administration has been pushing hard to make the two parties resume direct talks and reach a settlement whereby a Palestinian state could finally be established. But it failed to exercise enough pressures on the Israeli side to halt settlement construction, according to Arab observers.

Egypt's papers:
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhorriya: Daily, state-run
Rose el-Youssef: Daily, state-run, close to the National Democratic Party's Policies Secretariat
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouq: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party
Youm7: Weekly, privately owned
Sawt el-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Egypt rebuffs US concerns over human rights

<p><br />Egyptian opposition activists clash with riot police during a demonstration in front of the Shura Council in Cairo on June 1, 2010 to condemn Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla the day before. </p>
Egypt on Saturday rejected US concerns over the recent cancellation of a human rights conference, a move that activists have called an example of Cairo's hostile attitude toward rights groups.

The conference, organized by Egypt's One World Foundation and scheduled for the last week of September, was expected to discuss limits on freedom of association in Egypt, and the Arab world more broadly, according to Washington-based Freedom House, which was to take part.

It was not clear why the gathering was canceled two days before it was slated to begin. But Freedom House said in a statement that Egyptian security officials called the event off, which the organization described as a brazen example of Egypt's "hostile behavior" toward rights groups.

The US voiced concern this week over the conference's cancellation, and State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley on Wednesday urged Egypt to reschedule it and allow non-governmental organizations to operate freely.

In a statement, Crowley also expressed concern over recent reports of activist arrests and the beating of demonstrators.

Egyptian Foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki rejected the US comments, saying they reflect "a lack of knowledge of the facts, and ignore the reality of the Egyptian position, which encourages civil society."
Zaki did not comment on the conference's cancellation.

Gamal Eid, a human rights campaigner, said the cancellation fits into a broader pattern of increasing government restrictions on civil society ahead of November parliamentary elections. He pointed to the recent detention of activists and the denial of entry of a Freedom House official last month.
"The pace of repression is picking up," Eid said.