Posts Tagged ‘Egyptian authorities’

Galloway: A double betrayal

January 16, 2010
Morning Star Online,  January 15, 2010
George Galloway

I have been in a few dangerous places in my life. In the mid-1980s, I was bombed along with an ITN news crew by the Ethiopian air force.

With my face pressing into the dirt and no cover at all around me, I saw the shrapnel tear and kill small children, and watched others die on a wooden table in a grass hut after the bombers had gone.

I have been bombed by Israel in Beirut and held with an Israeli machine gun at my chest in Nablus during the first Iraq war.

I’ve never however been in a more dangerous situation than two weeks ago in the tiny Sinai port of Al-Arish to which the Egyptian dictatorship had insisted we bring the Viva Palestina convoy. Five hundred foreigners from 17 different nationalities with their 200 vehicles were crammed into a locked compound without water, food or toilet facilities.

They included no less than 10 Turkish MPs, one of whom was the chairman of Turkey’s foreign relations committee, there at the express wish of Turkey’s prime minister.

We captured on film from a third floor office the thugs of the Mukhabarat (intelligence) piling up stones and sharpening their sticks behind the backs of several ranks of riot police with helmets, batons and shields.

Then there was mayhem. We may have complaints about our own police, but I tell you when you see policemen hurling half-bricks into a crowd of women and men who’d only come to deliver medicine to desperate people under siege, you thank your lucky stars we don’t live in such a state. Fifty-five of our 500 were wounded and, but for the shocking effect on Arab public opinion – our own media didn’t give a damn – of the live footage (all on Youtube now), we might still be there now.

The morning after our siege was over and the dictatorship wanted us on our way. We refused to leave without our wounded comrades and the seven who had been taken prisoner. After another stand-off, our demands were met and we proceeded to a tumultuous welcome in Gaza, our numbers complete.

Then the word came to me from inside the Egyptian tyranny that I was to be arrested when we came out. Had that happened while I was surrounded by 500 pumped-up convoy members there would have been serious trouble, and I mean trouble.

So I sent them the message that I would come out in the dead of the night before and face the music alone but for my old friend Scots journalist Ron McKay.

We emerged into the hands of a grim phalanx of mainly plainclothed secret policemen, none of whom could speak English, who bundled us into an unmarked van.

An Egyptian gumshoe journalist from the Daily News tried to interview us but was battered away. We were then driven off at speed.

I knew we were not going to be killed as we were able to call the Press Association, which makes all the difference in these situations.

We also made the formal call to the British Foreign Office, but it wasn’t worth the money. During the five-hour car journey to Cairo – in which a British MP of 23 years standing and a senior British journalist were hurtling, surrounded by three other vehicles and at least 25 security men – the British diplomats did nothing but tell us to co-operate.

But co-operation was difficult as our captors could speak no English and were saying nothing.

Britain used to run much of the world but now our diplomatic service couldn’t run a menage.

The chinless wonders of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – whose shameful silence in the run-up to the Iraq war is seeping out at the Chilcot Inquiry – are just about the last people with whom one would go tiger shooting.

They are very good at lying for their country’s rulers abroad, but incapable of doing much else – such as helping travellers who are in trouble, especially if they’re largely British Muslims who’ve just broken the siege of Gaza and incurred the wrath of the tin-pot dictatorship in Cairo as a result.

News came to us from London that Nile News, a mouthpiece of the dictatorship, was reporting that the seven convoy prisoners who had been released at Al-Arish were to be re-arrested on emerging from Gaza. Thus the bloodbath we had sought to avoid now looked inevitable.

We demanded to turn around and return to the Gaza-Egypt border but were refused. Security-force goons pushed us physically into the airport building and gave close quarter attention to both of us, even in the toilet.

The British embassy, having provided zero support for the hundreds of British citizens with Viva Palestina caught up in the battle of Al-Arish, now failed to send even an inky-fingered clerk to the Gaza border when the convoy was coming out and there were legitimate fears that there would be further arrests and another bloody battle.

I would complain to their boss, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, but what’s the point?

He met the Egyptian foreign minister the day before my arrest and deportation and gave the Egyptians the green light to go ahead.

And anyway, he’s busy sheathing his banana after yet another failed assassination attempt on Gordon Brown

The security goons finally ushered us up to the entrance of the BA plane and the first English speaker of the night stepped forward to declare me persona non grata in Egypt. I had been banned from Egypt apparently because I was “a trouble-maker.”

I made my own declaration to him which was that he and his fellow torturers would one day face the wrath of the Egyptian people, who incidentally had queued up at the airport in full view of the goons to shake hands with us. Mr Mubarak, a tin-pot tyrant who gets 99.99 per cent of the vote in elections, ain’t seen nothing yet.

George Galloway is Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.

EGYPT: Solidarity With Gaza Brings Jail

March 3, 2009

By Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani | Inter Press Service

CAIRO, Mar 3 (IPS) – Magdi Hussein, secretary-general of Egypt’s suspended Socialist Labour Party, has been sentenced to two years in prison by a military tribunal. Hussein, along with two others, was charged with “infiltrating” into the Gaza Strip following Israel’s recent campaign against the coastal enclave.

Protests against his arrest continue to be ineffective.

“It was an illegitimate, vindictive sentence, for which there is no moral or legal excuse,” Gamal Fahmi, managing editor of opposition weekly Al-Arabi Al- Nassiri, and board member of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate told IPS.

Hussein was arrested by Egyptian authorities Feb. 1 while returning to Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the sole transit point along Egypt’s 14-kilometre border with the Gaza Strip. Hussein was on his way back from a week-long visit to the territory, still reeling from Israel’s military campaign from Dec. 27 to Jan. 17.

“People are free to travel from one country to another,” Hussein told independent daily Al-Dustour shortly after his arrest. “When did it become a crime to visit our besieged Arab brethren?”

While in the Gaza Strip, governed by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas, Hussein witnessed the destruction wrought by Israel’s recent campaign, during which more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, and infrastructure demolished. Hussein visited numerous bombed-out mosques and homes, as well as the badly damaged Palestinian parliament building, Gaza’s Islamic University and the Shifa Hospital, teeming with critically injured civilians.

While in Gaza, Hussein also spoke to the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television channel and Sout al-Aqsa radio station. In live interviews, he criticised Egypt’s official stance vis-à-vis the conflict, particularly Egypt’s insistence on keeping the Rafah border crossing closed to both people and badly needed humanitarian aid.

Ever since Hamas wrested control of the strip in the summer of 2007, Egypt – like Israel – has kept its border with the territory sealed for the most part. Despite the increasingly desperate need for food, medicine and fuel supplies among Gaza’s roughly 1.5 million people, Egyptian authorities have continued to keep the border sealed both during and after the conflict.

Given the sensitive nature of the border area, which has come under frequent Israeli attack in recent weeks, Hussein’s expedition was not treated lightly by the authorities.

On Feb. 5, he was brought before a military tribunal in the canal city of Ismailiya on charges of “illicitly infiltrating across Egypt’s eastern border.” Independent daily Al-Bedeel reported the next day that Hussein’s lawyers had been banned from the courtroom and that his defence would be conducted by three state-appointed military attorneys.

In a second court session on Feb. 11, Hussein was slapped with a sentence of two years in prison in addition to a monetary fine. Outside the courtroom, security forces reportedly beat back dozens of Hussein’s supporters who had gathered to protest the harsh verdict.

One day earlier, two other activists – Ahmed Dumma and Ahmed Kemal Abdel-Aal – received one year in prison each on charges of “infiltrating” into the Gaza Strip.

On Feb. 12, the Journalists Syndicate organised a protest march in front of the syndicate’s Cairo headquarters to express its disapproval of the stiff sentencing.

“We strongly reject the trying of civilians before military courts,” Mohamed Abdel Qaddous, head of the syndicate’s freedoms committee, was quoted as saying by Al-Bedeel. “The committee will do whatever it can to secure Magdi’s release.”

According to Fahmi, the court’s accusations against the defendants have no basis in Egyptian law.

“There’s nothing in Egyptian law about ‘illicit infiltration’ over the borders,” he said. “Egyptians are frequently caught trying to immigrate to Europe illegally, and they are merely questioned and released – not sentenced to prison on charges of ‘infiltration’.”

Fahmi went on to say that, aside from a small protest march and a handful of angry statements, the Journalists Syndicate had done “nothing at all” to help Hussein, who was himself a syndicate board member from 1999 to 2003.

“Most of the syndicate’s board members are also members of the ruling National Democratic Party,” Fahmi said. “Their positions, therefore, generally reflect their affiliation to the regime rather than their loyalty to the syndicate or to their fellow journalists.”

The trial hardly represents Hussein’s first brush with the law. He was arrested twice in the past – in 1985 and 1991 – for organising protests against normalised relations with Israel and the first U.S.-led war against Iraq.

From 1987 to 1990, Hussein was an MP for Egypt’s Islamist-leaning Socialist Labour Party (SLP), established in 1978. In 1993, he became editor-in-chief of the party’s daily newspaper Al-Shaab. Four years later, Hussein was made party secretary-general.

In 2000, state authorities shut down Al-Shaab – after it ran a series of articles critical of high-level government officials – and officially suspended the SLP. Despite a number of subsequent administrative court rulings overturning the decision, the party has remained suspended, and Al-Shaab banned.

Even after the party’s suspension, however, Hussein continued to be a vocal critic of Egyptian state policy, especially as it pertained to the long-running Israel-Palestine dispute.

During Israel’s recent assault on the Gaza Strip, Hussein blasted the regime’s approach to the crisis, which he said favoured Israel at the expense of the Hamas-led Palestinian resistance. In the first days of the campaign, Hussein told IPS that there had been “indications” of Egyptian coordination with Israel in advance of the attack.

Hussein’s wife, Naglaa al-Qalioubi, told Al-Dustour that the harsh verdict represented “a settling of scores” between the government and her husband. “It also has to do with the fact that Magdi was planning to call for a peaceful march on Feb. 25 calling for (President Hosni) Mubarak to step down,” she was quoted as saying Feb. 12.

According to Fahmi, the stiff sentence constitutes a warning to other would- be Gaza sympathisers. “It was a message to others not to make any show of solidarity with the people of Gaza, the way Magdi did.”

The use of military tribunals is permitted under the terms of Egypt’s controversial 28-year-old emergency law. In 2007, a constitutional amendment gave the president the additional right to refer civilians to military courts if the case in question “has a bearing on Egypt’s national security.”

Last year, 40 members of the Egyptian Brotherhood opposition movement were brought before a military tribunal on charges of money laundering and promoting terrorism in a months-long trial that ended with stiff jail sentences for most of the defendants.

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