Morsi’s ‘authoritarian regime, with special features’ worse than Mubarak, say rights groups

Human rights violations are worse under President Muhammed Morsi’s rule than under his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak’s regime, according to a consortium of pro-democracy and civil society groups.

Egypt is witnessing “another version of an authoritarian regime, with special features,” said a statement prepared by 21 human rights groups, citing attacks on the media, curbs on the independence of the judiciary and the torture of civilian protesters by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

The levels of attacks on the media during Morsi’s tenure and on the independence of the judiciary are also new phenomena, according to the statement.

The human rights record over the past eight months since President Mohamed Morsi took the seat of power… are worse than before the revolution,” said the statement. Signatories included the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies,and the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.

The statement warned that the government’s policies and practices “will lead to more serious threats and attacks against a number of fundamental rights,” including the right to peaceful assembly which may be curbed by a new draft protest law being considered by the Shura Council.

Freedom of association and the right to form independent trade unions, freedom of belief and religious practice of non-Sunni Muslims and the rights of non-religious minorities are all under threat, according to the statement. The rule of law and judicial independence of the judiciary were undermined by Morsi’s 22 November constitutional declaration and the appointment of a prosecutor general.

“Morsi’s government is trying to use violence against demonstrators as a weapon to settle things down until the upcoming elections,” said Yasmin Hossam, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

“We demand the government act,” Yasmin said. “But we know they will not since they are behind these attacks to begin with.”

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Egypt opposition fears April poll will fuel tensions

Egypt’s opposition has attacked President Mohammed Morsi decision to call for parliamentary elections in April, a move one opposition leader denounced as ‘‘a recipe for disaster’’ because of the current political turmoil.

But opposition groups “face a test of unity in challenging Islamists who have won every poll since the 2011 revolution,” Reuters reports:

No sooner had Morsi called the parliamentary polls on Thursday than liberals and leftists accused him of deepening divisions between Islamists and their opponents. Some threatened to boycott voting which starts on April 27th and finishes in late June……Islamists hailed elections as the only way out of Egypt’s political and economic crisis. However, liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei said holding polls without reaching a national consensus would further “inflame the situation”.

“The insistence on polarisation, exclusion and oppression along with … the deteriorating economic and security situation will lead us to the abyss,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, a former United Nations agency chief, said on his Twitter feed.

Essam el-Erian (above right), deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said he expects Islamists to win about 75 percent of the seats and warned opposition groups against a boycott.

‘‘Everyone understands the importance of this stage and that the absence of their voice is a big mistake and will mean a lengthy absence from parliament, its parties and its politics during this stage of building Egypt,’’ he said.

With Egypt so polarized, the stakes are high for the FJP, observers suggest:

The party has said it will seek an outright majority in the vote, an outcome that would allow Morsi administration to press ahead with its plans for a country caught in political limbo despite the Islamist victory in last year’s presidential vote…..The opposition must now decide whether to take part in the vote and try to gain a foothold in Egypt’s elected institutions or boycott in an attempt to deny legitimacy to the process, analysts said.

“We face a difficult political decision and time is running out. The opposition faces a test of its ability to remain united,” said Amr Hamzawy(above left),a professor of politics at Cairo University and former liberal lawmaker.

While the opposition can agree on attacking Mursi, previous boycott threats have fizzled out. It remains fractured and disorganized, unlike the well-financed and efficient Islamist election machines which have triumphed in votes for the presidency and parliament.

“This confronts them with a real dilemma,” said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University and an Egypt expert.

“If you have a majority that is very sympathetic to the president, then the president can do an awful lot,” said Brown. “If you have a parliament that is fractured, you could have a system of infighting and even gridlock.”

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Kenya poll – ‘running on amnesia’?

Civil society and labor activists are using a range of techniques and strategies to prevent a repeat of the ethnic violence that devastated Kenya following the 2007 election, including an engaging movie:

Mercy Wanjiru, who was born in Nairobi’s Korogocho slum, stars in Ni Sisi (It Is Us), a film (above) produced by the Kenyan NGO Safe (Sponsored Arts For Education), which uses street theatre and film to promote social change. The film  is based on a street theatre production that Safe actors, including Wanjiru, have been performing across the country for around two years, hoping to prevent a repeat of the violence that tore through Kenya after the 2007 election.

“Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors,” the New York Times reports:

The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way. In less than two weeks, Kenyans will line up by the millions to pick their leaders for the first time since a disastrous vote in 2007, which set off clashes that killed more than 1,000 people. The country has spent years agonizing over the wounds and has taken some steps to repair itself, most notably passing a new constitution. But justice has been elusive, politics remain ethnically tinged and leaders charged with crimes against humanity have a real chance of winning.

“The rest of Africa wants to know whether it’s possible to learn from past elections and ensure violence doesn’t flare again,” said Phil Clark, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “With five years’ warning, is it possible to address the causes of conflict and transfer power peacefully?”

Spurred on by Kenyan intellectuals and Western allies, Kenya has overhauled its judiciary, election commission and the nature of power itself. Dozens of new positions, like governorships and Senate seats, have been created to ensure that resources flow down more equitably to the grass roots, an attempt to weaken the winner-take-all system that lavished rewards and opportunities on some ethnic groups while relegating others to the sidelines. Most analysts here feel this election will be turbulent, though some argue it will not be as bad as last time.

“Things are different,” said Maina Kiai, a prominent Kenyan human rights advocate.

For instance, he noted, it was the Kikuyu and Kalenjin who fought one another in the Rift Valley in 2007 and 2008, but now many members of those two groups are on the same side because their leaders have formed a political alliance.

“There may be new arenas of violence,” Mr. Kiai said. “But I don’t think the extent of violence will be the same.”

Other observers are not so sanguine.

“After the 2007 election Kikuyu and Kalenjin militias were given machetes, spears and cash payments, trucked to where they could do most damage and let loose on rival ethnic communities,” writes Michela Wrong, author of It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower:

Many analysts believe that the official estimate of more than 1,000 deaths is a laughable underestimation. Now, thanks to an alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto, who both face trial before the International Criminal Court for allegedly organizing the violence, attackers and victims are being asked to become buddies. Anything to keep Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a Luo who almost certainly should have won the 2007 election, from becoming president.

Kenya has a tradition of strained tribal coalitions, but few have been more grotesque, or demanded more torturous mental acrobatics of scarred constituencies, than this.

Odinga, who has pulled together his own alliance, is also hoping for some serious short-term memory loss from his supporters. They will need to forget that he was lucky — enemies say miraculously so — to escape an I.C.C. indictment for what Luo lieutenants perpetrated in Kenya’s warring slums in 2007 and 2008.

“Any breakdown of the electoral process and political order in Kenya would … have major economic consequences in the region and jeopardize other US objectives,” according to Joel Barkan, a Kenya expert, author of a recent report for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Two major US foreign policy goals in the region – preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan – could be compromised,” writes Barkan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:

Five of the eight presidential hopefuls addressed labor movement leaders in the largest gathering of candidates organized by civil society during the election cycle (see below):  

The Labor Forum, organized by the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-Kenya), the national trade union center, and the Solidarity Center AFL-CIO East Africa Office [a core institute of the NED], was held in Nairobi on February 20.  The Forum organizers note that an educated voter is less likely to cast votes along ethnic lines, which has been past practice in many parts of Kenya.

But some observers believe the labor movement’s message of non-sectarian solidarity will be eclipsed by the toxic overtures of populist politicians.

“Yes, Kenya is East Africa’s most vibrant economy, a strategic gateway to the mineral resources of the Great Lakes region and — potentially — the oil riches of South Sudan,” notes Wrong:

It has an aspirational middle class, a ballooning pool of potential workers and a relentless entrepreneurial spirit. But a generation of cynical, short-termist politicians has turned ethnicity into a poisonous national obsession, Nairobi’s slums are the most squalid in Africa, and the vision required to defuse the frustrations of the young population trapped in them is noticeable by its absence.


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Dissidents ‘unnerved’ as police probe cyber attacks’ China connection

Source: RFA

“Hong Kong police are investigating the use of an IP address belonging to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology after college authorities reported suspicious activities on their servers linked to recent reports of hacker attacks on U.S. companies originating in China,” Radio Free Asia reports:

The IP address was the only one traced to Hong Kong by security firm Mandiant in its recent report, which alleged that hackers based in China had infiltrated a large number of U.S. corporate computer systems in recent years. Mandiant traced a total of 613 IP addresses involved in transnational cyber-attacks to a building it said belonged to the People’s Liberation Army’s cyber-division in Shanghai.

Mandian’s investigation follows a series of cyber-attacks on US government, commercial, civil society and media organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“News of The Post’s infiltration, first revealed this month, alarmed Texas-based religious rights activist Bob Fu,” the newspaper reports:

As recently as December, he had obtained a sensitive Chinese document and passed it along by e-mail to a Post correspondent in Beijing. The resulting story named Fu but not the document’s original source within China, who Fu said could have been arrested if discovered.

An associate working for China Aid* was briefly detained after the story appeared and was questioned about the document. It’s not clear if any information was gleaned from Fu’s e-mail exchange with the Post correspondent, which took place after the company’s computer system was secured. “Oh, my goodness, that makes me a little sweaty,” Fu said, recalling the incident. “The consequences could be so unbearable.”

The hacking attacks have unnerved Chinese dissidents, said Columbia University professor Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“There’s a paranoia that sets in,” he said. “That may be one of the functions of this surveillance.”

A non-governmental democracy assistance group was one of over 70 companies, governments and non-profit organizations targeted in a massive cyberspying offensive in 2011 that experts believe was likely conducted by China.

“The presence of political non-profits, such as the a private western organization focused on promotion of democracy around the globe or U.S. national security think tank is also quite illuminating,” said the report from the McAfee security firm. “Hacking the United Nations or the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Secretariat is also not likely a motivation of a group interested only in economic gains.”

China Aid is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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