Tag Archives: Egypt

Press advocates denounce Egypt’s arrest of Al-Jazeera producer on fake news charge

Egyptian authorities must release Al-Jazeera news producer Mahmoud Hussein immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Officials initially questioned Hussein on Dec. 20 when he arrived in Egypt on a family visit from Qatar, where he is based, according to reports.

Hussein was arrested on Dec. 23, Al-Jazeera said.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry confirmed in a Dec. 25 statement published on its website that Hussein was being held on charges of “incitement against state institutions and broadcasting false news with the aim of spreading chaos.”

The ministry said Hussein worked with Al-Jazeera to produce fake documentaries about the country’s institutions. Authorities ordered him to be detained for 15 days pending investigation, Al-Jazeera reported.

In a statement on its website, Al-Jazeera described the charges against Hussein as fabricated and said it was concerned for his safety.

The arrest comes after Al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary, “Al-Asaker” (The Soldiers), in November, about conscription in Egypt. The documentary was criticized in Egypt by government officials and local media, who said that it attempted to incite against the armed forces and allegedly used fake footage.

On Dec. 25, pro-government and state-run media broadcast police videos of Hussein that they described as confessions. A narrator in one of the interviews, which were filmed in several locations, claimed that the videos showed evidence against Hussein.

Two of the videos showed him standing by production equipment that he said Al-Jazeera asked him to keep in his family’s homes after the broadcaster was forced to close its Egyptian office in 2013.

“Egyptian authorities are waging a systematic campaign against Al-Jazeera, consisting of arbitrary arrest, censorship and systematic harassment,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Egypt must release Mahmoud Hussein immediately and ends its crackdown on the press.”

Al-Jazeera closed its Egypt offices in 2013 after they were raided and shut down by authorities, CPJ documented at the time. In the past two years, three Al-Jazeera Arabic journalists have been sentenced to death in absentia and three journalists from Al-Jazeera English were sentenced for up to 10 years in jail in Egypt for “aiding a terrorist organization,” spreading false news, and working without a license, according to news reports. They were later released.

Egypt has 25 journalists in jail in relation to their work, according to CPJ’s annual prison census.

6 wealthiest countries host less than 9 percent of world’s refugees

The six wealthiest countries host less than 9 percent of the world’s refugees, an Oxfam analysis shows.

Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa and the Occupied Palestinian Territory host more than 50 percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers but account for under 2 percent of the world’s economy.

Collectively, the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom hosted 2.1 million refugees and asylum seekers last year — just 8.88 percent of the world total.

Germany recently welcomed far more refugees than the other richest nations, yet a major gap remains with poorer countries providing the vast majority of safe havens for refugees.

Ahead of two major summits about refugees and migrants in New York in September, Oxfam called on governments to host more people in need of safe havens and commit to do more to help the developing countries sheltering the majority of refugees.

“It is shameful so many governments are turning their backs on the suffering of millions of vulnerable people who have fled their homes and are often risking their lives to reach safety,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International said. “Poorer countries are shouldering the duty of protecting refugees when it should be a shared responsibility, but many richer countries are doing next to nothing.”

“The international displacement we are seeing is an unprecedented and complex challenge requiring a coordinated global response,” she added. “The richest countries need to be part of the solution and do their fair share by welcoming and protecting more refugees.”

More than 65 million people have fled their homes because of conflict, persecution and violence; the highest level since records began.  A third of these people are refugees and asylum seekers, while the majority have been internally displaced.

The conflict in Syria has been a major factor, but people are also fleeing violence in South Sudan, Burundi, Iraq and Yemen and elsewhere.

This is happening as the mood for offering safe havens to people on the move is darkening. The recent deal between European governments and Turkey left thousands of people detained in Greece in often appalling conditions and legal limbo.

The Kenyan government, when announcing the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, said that if Europe could turn away Syrians, Kenya could do the same for Somalis.

“Too many people who have taken treacherous journeys to reach safety end up living in degrading situations littered with abuse, hostility and discrimination and too few governments are doing anywhere near enough to help or protect them.”

On the Web

Oxfam’s petition 

Casting Christian Bale as Moses reflects Hollywood’s fear of casting non-whites in epic roles

Put “ancient Egyptian people” into a Google image search, and none of the resulting photos resemble Christian Bale or Joel Edgerton, stars of Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings.

The director inflamed calls for a boycott of the film with his comments last week that he couldn’t have made such a big-budget movie if “my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.”

“I’m just not going to get it financed,” he told the trade paper Variety. “So the question doesn’t even come up.”

The question, perhaps, being: Should Hollywood be concerned about casting white actors to portray people who were definitely not white?

It’s an institutional problem, said professor Todd Boyd, chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the University of Southern California. Hollywood is a place where profit is king, he said, and it rarely takes big-budget risks on casts of color.

“The way movies get financed, and the overall ignorance in this country about Africa, explains why you’d have a big budget film with a very well-known director backed by a well-known studio mogul and get this problematic representation in 2014,” he said.

The financial argument doesn’t hold up. What might make a movie successful is speculative, and those with diverse casts are just as likely to become global box-office hits. Consider the Hunger Games and Fast & Furious franchises. The latter has made more than $2 billion worldwide.

Exodus, opening next week, stars Bale as Moses, Edgerton as pharaoh-to-be Ramses, John Turturro as the Egyptian leader and Sigourney Weaver as his queen. Actors of color occupy minor, mostly non-speaking roles.

There’s a long history of such casting in Hollywood. Moses — who the Bible and historians would say came from the north African nation of Egypt — was only brown-skinned on the big screen as an animated character in 1998’s The Prince of Egypt. Otherwise, Hollywood’s version of the biblical hero has been white, played by actors such as Charlton Heston in 1956, and Christian Slater more than 50 years later.

Rupert Murdoch, who owns the studio that produced Exodus, defended its casting on Twitter.

“Since when are Egyptians not white?” he wrote.

He followed up with, “Of course Egyptians are Middle Eastern, but far from black. They treated blacks as slaves.”

Representatives from 20th Century Fox declined comment and Scott was not available for an interview for this story.

Another biblical epic, Noah, also faced criticism for its all-white cast led by Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. At the time of its release earlier this year, screenwriter Ari Handel said the filmmakers opted for an Anglo cast so as to avoid calling attention to issues of race.

“They’re supposed to be stand-ins for all people,” he said. “Either you end up with a Bennetton ad or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.”

It’s not unusual for some ethnicities to play others on screen. Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal portrays the real Iranian journalist at the center of Rosewater and Japanese actor Ken Watanabe played the fictional Arabic villain in 2005’s Batman Begins. Yet Boyd notes that actors of color are rarely, if ever, cast as white figures.

For example, he said, Hollywood wouldn’t make a movie about Princess Diana with Kerry Washington in the lead role.

“That’s basically the equivalent of what’s going on, but in reverse,” he said. “They would never neglect to cast a white actor as a (white) historical figure just because there were box office concerns.”

As Chris Rock wrote in his recent essay in The Hollywood Reporter, Hollywood’s reputation as a liberal place doesn’t seem to extend to casting actors of color in leading roles.

“We’re never ‘in the mix,”” he said. “When there’s a hot part in town and the guys are reading for it, that’s just what happens. It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey?””

While Will Smith and Denzel Washington are as bankable as Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, Hollywood has been historically reluctant to cast minority stars in tentpole leading roles. While Hercules, starring Dwayne Johnson, failed to recoup its budget earlier this year (as did The Legend of Hercules, which featured Kellan Lutz in the title role), Washington’s The Equalizer was a $190 million international hit. Kevin Hart has also proven to be box-office gold, scoring successes this year with Ride Along and Think Like A Man Too.

A recent USC study of race and ethnicity in film found that while non-Caucasians make up 44 percent of moviegoers, they’re represented less than half that much on screen. Among the 100 top-grossing films of 2012, almost 11 percent of speaking characters were black, five percent were Asian and just over four percent were Hispanic. Do these statistics mean non-white stars aren’t making money at the box office? Or do they reflect a lack of opportunities in big-budget projects for actors of color?

Actor and producer Harry Lennix, who appeared in last year’s Man of Steel and now stars on NBC’s The Blacklist, believes the casting of Exodus had everything to do with profitability.

“In their minds, they have the best shot at making the most money if they have white actors,” he said.

Lennix has started making his own movies — including one that features a black Jesus — and advocates for artists to create and fans to support the kind of movies they’d like to see, where quality transcends color.

“There’s an untapped, underserved market of highly cultured people of color and other marginalized people that have a golden opportunity to take advantage in this digital age of ours to create this content,” he said. “There’s little hope that all of a sudden, a business like show business is going to start doing the right thing by underserved markets.”

In Egypt, 8 convicted for same-sex wedding ceremony

An Egyptian court over the weekend convicted eight men for “inciting debauchery” following their appearance in an alleged same-sex wedding party on a Nile boat, sentencing each of them to three years in prison.

The Internet video shows two men exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends. The eight were detained in September when a statement from the office of Egypt’s chief prosecutor said the video clip was “shameful to God” and “offensive to public morals.”

Egypt is a conservative majority Muslim country with a sizable minority of Christians. Homosexuality is a social taboo for both communities and only in recent years have fiction and movies included gay characters. Consensual same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited, but other laws have been used to imprison gay men in recent years, including “debauchery” or “shameless public acts.” Same-sex marriage is unheard of in Egypt.

The verdict was received with protesting screams by relatives waiting outside the Cairo courthouse court. Some of them broke down and cried while others protested that medical examinations carried out by state doctors showed the defendants were not gay.

While inside the defendants’ cage for the hearing, the eight buried their heads in their hands or hid their faces under baseball caps. They covered their faces with pieces of cloth or paper when they were led by police out of the cage after they heard the verdict.

The verdict is the latest in a crackdown by authorities against gays and atheists. The campaign also targets liberal and pro-democracy activists and violators of a draconian law on street protests.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in September that Egyptian authorities have repeatedly arrested and tortured men suspected of consensual gay conduct.

HRW condemned Saturday’s convictions as part of a widening campaign of intolerance in Egyptian government and society.

“Egypt’s government, evidently not satisfied jailing opposition members, students, and human rights activists, has found the time to prosecute (gays),” said Graeme Reid, HRW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights director, in a statement. Reid called the sentencing “the latest signal that the new government will prosecute anyone to try to bolster its support.”

In April, four men were convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for “debauchery” after allegedly holding parties that involved homosexual acts and where women’s clothing and makeup were found.

In 2001, Egypt made headlines around the world when 52 men were arrested in a police raid on a Nile boat restaurant and accused of taking part in a gay sex party. After a highly publicized trial in an emergency state security court, 23 of the men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of one to five years for immoral behavior and contempt of religion.

Egypt’s crackdown on gays and atheists is taking place as the country of nearly 90 million people appears to be steadily moving to the right, with jingoism and xenophobia dominating the media as the army and security forces battle Islamic militants waging a campaign of violence against them in the Sinai Peninsula. The media, meanwhile, is targeting civil society groups and activists, accusing them of being foreign agents on the payroll of sinister foreign organizations.

Authorities say the country’s national interests must take precedence over everything else so Egypt can be spared the fate of countries like Syria, ravaged by a three-year-old civil war, or neighboring Libya, where radical Islamic militias control large areas of the oil-rich nation.

A much harsher crackdown targets members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the now-banned Islamist group that has been labelled a terrorist organization by the state. Authorities have killed hundreds of Islamists and jailed thousands since the military last year toppled the regime of Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

Morsi’s ouster took place in July 2013 as millions of Egyptians staged street protests to demand his removal.

Miley Cyrus leads in Time’s Person of the Year poll

Pop singer Miley Cyrus is in the lead in Time magazine’s annual readers’ Person of the Year survey.

Cyrus, with two days left in the popular balloting online, had 20.3 percent of the vote.

In the No. 2 spot is Egyptian defense minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with 18.5 percent, followed by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan at 18.3 percent and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi at 16.9  percent.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was in fifth place at 2.7 percent, then Bashar Al-Assad, Edward Snowden, Malala Yousafzai, Pope Francis, Jimmy Fallon, Vladimir Putin and more.

The popular vote on Time.com does not decide the magazine’s Person of the Year, who is chosen by editors and will be named Dec. 11. The popular vote decides readers’ Person of the Year, which will be announced on Dec. 6.

On the Web…

Time voting: 

http://poy.time.com/2013/11/25/vote-now-who-should-be-times-person-of-the-year/slide/narendra-modi/

UN deplores Tahrir Square rapes, demands action

U.N. officials this week deplored reports that 25 women were sexually assaulted during recent protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanded that Egyptian authorities take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said her agency “is deeply disturbed by the gravity of recent attacks against women, including the reports of sexual assault, many of which occurred in the same Tahrir Square in which women rallied to contribute to a better future for their country.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said about 25 women were reportedly sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square in demonstrations in recent days, in some cases with extraordinary violence.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she deplores the attacks and the fact that authorities have failed to prevent them or bring the perpetrators to justice.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the demonstrations against President Mohammed Morsi, two years after mass protests toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak and led to a transition period in the country.

Up to 60 people were killed in the latest wave of protests, and more than 1,000 were injured. The violence spurred Morsi to declare a 30-day state of emergency and curfew in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said districts.

“As a vibrant force in civil society, women continue to press for their rights, equal participation in decision-making, and the upholding of the principles of the revolution by the highest levels of leadership in Egypt,” said Bachelet, the former president of Chile. She said Egyptian authorities must protect women and punish wrongdoers.

Tahrir Square, the center of the 2011 uprising, has been the scene of a number of assaults against women – both protesters and journalists – in the aftermath of the revolution. In October, a correspondent for France 24 TV was “savagely attacked” near Tahrir after being seized by a crowd, the network said.

Complaints about the problem, which has long been a feature of Egypt’s society, gained prominence during the 2011 popular uprising that unseated Mubarak. Women activists and reporters told of severe assaults by men in Tahrir Square, the focus of the mass protests.

Rights activists have faulted Morsi’s Islamist government for failing to take action against the wave of sexual assaults.

U.S. ambassador killed in Libyan protest sparked by film mocking Muhammad

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three American members of his staff were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad.

Reports say the film depicts Muhammad and Islam’s other founders as womanizers, child molesters and homosexuals.

In Libya on Sept. 11, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed when he and other embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as the building came under attack by a mob with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Earlier, hundreds of protesters in neighboring Egypt scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to tear down and replace the American flag with a black Islamic banner.

That demonstration also was said to be sparked by outrage over a film ridiculing Muhammad.

Several reports said the film was written by Israeli-American Sam Bacile and promoted by Florida preacher Terry Jones, the man who earlier this year threatened Barack Obama, who in 2011 burned the Quran and who made threats to do so in 2010.

A short video for the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was released on the Web on Sept. 11. Jones promoted it, along with declaring Sept. 11 “International Judge Muhammad Day.” He said in a statement that the film is “an American production, not designed to attack Muslims but to show the destructive ideology of Islam.” The film, he continued, “further reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad.”

The president, in a statement after the deaths in Libya, said, “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

He also said, “The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.”

RIGHTS REPORT: Egyptian court bans military ‘virginity tests’

An Egyptian court this week ordered the country’s military rulers to stop the use of “virginity tests” on female detainees, a practice that has caused an uproar among activists and rights groups.

The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9 rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters, and the army cleared the square by force. The group Human Rights Watch said seven women were subjected to the tests.

The ban came a week after public outrage over scenes of soldiers dragging women protesters by the hair, stomping on them and stripping one half-naked in the street during a fierce crackdown on activists.

“This is a case for all the women of Egypt, not only mine,” said Samira Ibrahim, 25, who was arrested and then spoke out about her treatment.

Ibrahim filed two suits against the practice, one demanding it be banned and another accusing an officer of sexual assault. She was the only one to complain publicly about a practice that can bring shame upon the victim in a conservative society.

A small group of women gathered outside the court building, holding banners. One said, “Women of Egypt are a red line.”

The ruling “is incredibly important not only because it comes after scenes of sexual assault and battery of women by military troops,” said Heba Morayef, an Egypt researcher with HRW. “It is also important because it is the first time a civilian court acknowledged and criticized abuse by the military.”

At first the military denied administering virginity tests.

Source: AP

Study: Fox News viewers less informed than people who watch no news

Viewers of Fox News viewers are less informed overall than people who don’t watch any news, says a new poll from Farleigh Dickinson University.

Researchers asked New Jersey residents about the uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East and correlated their responses with their news sources. “People who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government” and “6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government” compared to those who watch no news at all, the researchers concluded.

Overall, 53% of all respondents knew that Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak and 48% knew that Syrians have yet to overthrow their government.

The study controlled for demographic factors such as education and partisanship to ensure the results were not driven by those factors. “Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all,” concluded Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Farleigh Dickinson.

Last year, a study from the University of Maryland reached a similar conclusion. It looked into whether Fox News viewers were more likely to be misinformed about news events and found that they were. 

Michael Moore urges Madison protesters to fight

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore urged protesters in Madison on March 5 to fight Republican-backed efforts to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, telling them, “Madison is only the beginning.”

The crowd roared in approval as Moore implored thousands of demonstrators to keep up their struggle against GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation, comparing their fight to the revolt in Egypt. He also thanked the 14 state Democratic senators who fled the state to block a vote on the bill, saying they’ll go down in history books.

“We’re going to do this together. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up,” Moore said.

Protesters have become a permanent fixture in and around the Capitol over the last three weeks. Police said a crowd of about 70,000 showed up on Feb. 19, and an even larger crowd rallied on Feb. 26.

Moore said the wealthy have overreached, first taking the working class’ money and then taking their souls by shutting them up at the bargaining table. The crowd yelled, “thank you,” before Moore began to speak, and he responded, “All of America thanks you, Wisconsin.”

Walker has said the legislation is needed to help ease a budget deficit projected to hit $3.6 billion by mid-2013, though opponents see it as an effort to weaken unions.

Two Democratic senators from Wisconsin joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago to urge Walker to negotiate with workers. Sen. Lena Taylor said Democrats left because they “needed to slow the bill down” after it was approved unchanged in the state Assembly.

Walker, however, has said repeatedly that he would never negotiate with lawmakers. He’s responded to senators’ defection with threats to revoke their parking passes at the Capitol, end automatic deposit of their paychecks and dock them for missing work. He’s also threatened massive lay offs of state workers if the senators don’t return to Madison.

GOP leaders have repeatedly sent state police to the senators’ homes to intimidate their families and have ordered their arrest.

Sen. Chris Larson urged protesters in Chicago to stay strong.

“We’ve been here for the last 16 days we’ll continue to be here until workers’ rights are removed as the target in this budget repair bill by our governor,” he said.

Activists began a sit-in at the Capitol on Feb. 15, and although a judge ended protestors’ overnight stays late last week, several hundred were back in the rotunda Saturday chanting, “Who’s house? Our house” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Scott Walker’s got to go!”

Renee Peplinski, a fifth-grade teacher in Wisconsin Rapids, said she doesn’t mind making financial concessions to help the state even though it would hurt her family. She’s more concerned about losing her collective bargaining rights. Without union protections, teachers would be at the mercy of administrators who could decide to fire them for any perceived slight, she said.

“Every teacher I know is depressed,” said Peplinski, 42. “Every minute of the day there’s this black cloud.”
Walker has exempted police and fire unions from his budget proposal. Those unions backed him for election. Nevertheless, thousands of police and fire personnel have joined the demonstrations in Madison.