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Palestina Hotel (AP)

I read judge Santiago Pedráz’s ruling – rigorous, professional, categorical, efficient- and I, as a first-hand witness of the case, cannot help but remember what happened that April 8th, 2003 in Baghdad, when in less than three hours the US Army attacked the three headquarters of independent media in Baghdad –the Palestine Hotel, and the headquarters of Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera TV-, killing 3 journalists and severely wounding three others.

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By Olga Rodríguez / Translation: Blanca García

Youssef Butros-Ghali and Dominique Strauss-Khan during the G-20 summit in April 2010 (Cliff Owen/AP)

  • Butros-Ghali, sentenced to 30 years in prison and subject of an Interpol arrest notice.
  • Until February he headed the IMF’s Monetary and Financial Committee

(Click on the link. Interpol website. Butros-Ghali’s record)

One of the main causes for the outbreak of the protests in Egypt was without a doubt the constant repression enforced by the regime against dissidents, critics, bloggers and political opponents. But there were also other factors that were the final straw and they are those related to the Arabic country’s economic situation and the corruption practiced by many members of the Government, including Mubarak himself.

Some of those abuses, that have widened the gap between the rich and the poor even more, were committed within the context of the so-called Egyptian economic reform that began in the nineties and through which a privatization of public enterprises process was promoted, with counseling from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Some of the regime’s former ministers and strong men face trial in court, accused of having sold state properties to foreign capital or to Egyptian businessmen close to the government for a price below its real market value, and of having profited from such transactions.

In fact several actions have been filed that ask for the State’s recovery of some privatized companies. It is the case of department store chain Omar Effendi, state-owned until it was sold to a Saudi company in 2006. An Egyptian court has ordered to restore its public ownership because it had been sold at a lower price than its real value.

For that same reason, the courts have deemed illegal a state land sale carried out during the regime to Palm Hill company, ran by people close to Gamal Mubarak, the ex-president’s son.

One of the men who instigated the privatizations policy was former finance minister Youssef Butros-Ghali, member of an influential family of politicians (he is the nephew of former UN Secretary General Butros Butros Ghali). During the eighties he was one of the ones who negotiated the country’s foreign debt, a process that led to the privatizations and to the wide opening to foreign investment.

In 2004, already as minister, he kept the same line of economic policy. In 2008 he held the post of president of the International Monetary Fund’s Monetary and Financial Committee (IMCF), main advisor to the IMF’s Board. It was common to see him in pictures next to Strauss-Khan and John Lipsky, president and vice-president of the IMF. The outbreak of the revolts prompted his resignation as minister and president of IMCF, and thus one of the members of the international organism’s leadership fell.

It is strange to see how what undoubtedly would have to be called the other great IMF scandal has barely gotten any attention. Butros-Ghali fled Egypt a day after the overthrow of Mubarak. The Egyptian government issued an extradition order to Interpol. There are several corruption charges against him, for which he has been sentenced in absentia to 30 years in prison.


One of those close to Butros Ghali is former Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin, who currently –since October 2010- holds one of the three managing directors of the World Bank and therefore one of the key posts in the international organism. Egyptian lawyers and activists accuse him of favoritism and of being involved in the privatization of a hotel chain that was sold under its real value.

A report recently published by the Egyptian government itself admits that in the last few years poverty and inequality have grown in the country. They are even more visible due to the price increase for basic foodstuffs such as bread in the year 2008, produced, among other reasons, by the speculation of the international financial markets.

That is the reason why, in spite of the ban on protests, there have been for some years constant workers’ strikes and demonstrations on the streets and factories, demanding decent wages and greater distribution of wealth. But none of that seemed to matter to the international community.

In fact the World Bank praised Egyptian economic policy in several reports, such as 2008 and 2009 “Doing business report”, responsible for rating in different countries the capacity of doing business with foreign capitals. Mahmoud Mohieldin himself obtained the Doing Business 2010 Award.

In October of that same year Mohieldin was named World Bank Managing Director and director of said organism’s Poverty Reduction program, posts he still holds to this day.

“The fact that one of the ones responsible of the Egyptian economic policy in the last years, that has fomented the breach between the rich and the poor, is director of the World Bank poverty reduction program, is worrying”, several of the groups that encouraged the January 25th movement have denounced.

When the revolts broke out in Egypt, the until recently IMF director, Strauss-Khan, admitted the existence of the economic factor as one of the causes of the uprising, asserting that “what is happening in the north of Africa shows that it is not enough to take into account the good macroeconomic data; we have to look much further than that”.

Seeing this affirmation it is inevitable to ask if up to this date Mr. Strauss-Khan and the rest of the team of the financial organism he headed had not realized that the first marker to look at to congratulate themselves or not is the one that refers to the citizens living conditions; that, using his expression, people also exist and are “far beyond” economy.

Ironies aside, what is true is that poverty, rise of inequality and corruption spread a wave of indignation across the Egyptian population, tired of seeing how a minority, the country’s political and economical elite, became richer every time, with the blessing of international financial organisms.

The existence of economic and social causes in the outbreak of the Egyptian revolts cannot be denied. Egyptians, like Tunisians, have demanded freedom, bread, housing and decent wages and a true democracy headed by autonomous governments –“we do not want an imported democracy”, has been one of the most chanted slogans-.

Their demands are in turn within a global context marked by the crisis of an unsustainable economic model that only benefits a few and that does not reject the dictatorships that take in the voracity of their codes.

In Egypt, public health care barely covers patients’ basic needs (AP)

“My mother –explains young activist Kareem El Beherey- got hepatitis C while she was working. Now she cannot pay for the treatment she needs”.

Hers is not an isolated case. That is why Egyptian doctors are calling strikes and protests to demand decent wages and investment in healthcare. They do it in spite of the government having approved a law that bans protests.

One of the groups who are organizing the strikes is the “Doctors without Rights” movement, headed by Doctor Mona Mina.

“Egyptians’ health is still at the tail of the State’s list of preferences, in spite of being in a pressing situation”, states Mina.

“Hepatitis is very common in this country and still most people with kidney disease have to pay for their medicine. There are people who cannot do it, who die for not being able to pay for a kidney transplant”, complains Doctor Mohamed Shafik.

(Olga Rodríguez)

An estimated 15% of the population is infected with hepatitis C. Each year 500,000 new cases are registered, more than any other country.

Shakif and Doctors Ahmed Fayed and Mohamed Tawfik meet in Cairo to talk to Periodismo Humano.

Shakif defines himself as a man with socialist ideas, Fayed considers himself liberal and Tawkif is part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youth branch, in dissent with the leaders of the movement in some aspects, for example, regarding demonstrations and strikes.

While the brotherhood leadership is against the protests, the young people in the Muslim Brotherhood support them and participate in them.

In spite of their ideological differences, the three doctors share the same objective: a workers’ movement that demands decent wages and investment in public healthcare.

With Mubarak people died in hospitals because of the lack of public services. Without Mubarak, this is still happening. The only difference, for now, is that now I can criticize the government, but my message will not be spread in most newspapers”, protests Doctor Shafik.

Manshiet el Bakry hospital, in Heliopolis, in the outskirts of Cairo, has become an icon of a new model of workers’ union, creating the first union in Egypt formed by all the employees, from doctors and nurses to transport and cleaning staff.

They voted, they decided to kick out the director –who they accused of being a servant of the regime- and they chose a new manager, a Coptic Christian among a Muslim majority.

“I was in Tahrir square during the 18 days of the revolution. And that was unique, for me the most exciting and moving thing that I have ever seen has been how the nurses, cleaners, workers decided in an assembly how to manage the hospital’s money, after so many years of corruption”, explains Mohamed Shafik, who is now advising other medical centers to set up similar unions.

The three doctors, who work in different hospitals, have a basic wage of 50 dollars a month. Sometimes they work one hundred hours a week to be able to earn bonuses and have a decent life.

“If I get sick I won’t be able to support my family. I could try to go to a private center, but I believe in public healthcare, in the need to commit to it”, indicates Doctor Shafik. And he adds:

As a doctor, if you have morals, you will always be poor. Meanwhile, there is an elite that controls master’s degrees in universities, medical schools, who open up hospitals, clinics, who make money. But that does not help the majority of Egyptians, who cannot pay for their medical attention.

Less than a third of Egypt’s medical school graduates work as doctors. This is because a lot of physicians emigrate to the Gulf countries looking for decent wages. Others end up working in other professions to pay their bills. Women emigrate less than men. That is why in hospitals like Manshiet el Bakry women hold 60% of the medical posts, in spite of the fact that more graduates are men.

Imagen de previsualización de YouTube

(Video: doctors’ strike last May 29th. Doctor Shafik, among others, gives declarations)

“I do not want to emigrate – indicates Doctor Fayed-. It would be like abandoning my country, in the worst sense of the word. Some media outlets accuse us of being selfish for calling strikes. They present doctors as if we were all rich. They do not realize that this fight is not only about our wages, but for a more just society in which people do not die of not too serious diseases”.

“40% of the population lives with a dollar a day and hospitals demand that they pay for their medicine. It is cruel and immoral”, adds Doctor Tawfik.

Some days ago doctors of diverse political tendencies demonstrated again in downtown Cairo and in their workplaces, wearing their white robes. They have already announced new protests.

They demand a commitment with investment in public healthcare, a minimum wage of 200 dollars and a maximum wage that does not exceed 25 times the minimum wage.

“The dignity of the Egyptians is our red line”, is one of their slogans.

“In the revolts more than 800 people died, some died in our arms. That is not easily forgotten. They did not die for nothing. That is why we cannot let the new rulers kidnap the possibility of real change”, points out Shakif with a moved gesture.

By Olga Rodríguez / Translation: Blanca García Bertolaza
  • An 18 year old girl, new victim of police brutality after taking part in a protest in memory of Khaled Said
  • Human Rights Watch reports repression, random arrests and 5,600 civilian subject to military trials since February
Imagen de previsualización de YouTube

The cry of  “We are all Khaled Said” has been heard again this week in Cairo and Alexandria, during the protests held for the first anniversary of the murder of the young man at the hands of the Egyptian security forces, an event that increased outrage among the population and speeded up the process that led to the revolts.

The protest in the capital took place in front of the Ministry of the Interior building, where thousands of people gathered, among them known activists of what has been called the Egyptian revolution.

“The dignity of the people of Egypt is our red line”, they chanted

Graffiti artist Hossam Shukralleh brought a paper stencil cut out with Khaled Said’s features that left the victim’s face stamped on the walls of the Ministry, to the moved applause of those gathered there. (See video)


One of those who took part in the protest was young Salma Al-Sawy, member of the April 6th Movement, key in last January’s popular uprising, and ex member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Salma Al-Sawy left the concentration at dusk and headed for her home.

According what she has reported, on the way she was intercepted by a police officer, who blindfolded her and took her to a place where she was interrogated

Salma Al-Sawy

The officer asked her about several April 6th movement activists, among them Asmaa Mahfouz, a young woman who in January uploaded a video on Youtube in which she called to participate in the protest organized for January 25th, date in which the revolts started.

“The officer asked me if Asmaa was abroad gathering economic help to finance movements and parties, to overthrow the military Council that is in power”, Al-Sawy has explained.

“When I denied the accusation, he hit me with a stick on my hands, legs and then on my head. I lost consciousness”

Salma remained under arrest for 6 hours. Eventually, an officer told her that he was going to set her free because he could not stand to hear her whimpers.

When she got out on the street, she saw that indeed she was in one of the National Security Forces headquarters.

Two days later, the young woman met with Prime Minister Esaam Sharaf to report what had happened. Sharaf promised to take her complaint to the Ministry of the Interior, but that organism has already hurried to deny the accusations.

“The new security forces serve the country without interfering in the citizens’ lives and without violating their right to political participation”, it has stated.

“These statements [the Minister’s] are not true; the State’s security machinery has come back strong”, replied Salma Al-Sawy, who has received the support of numerous activists.

Salma’s case is not an isolated event.

In the past few weeks several cases or arrests and interrogations from the military police to well-known bloggers, graffiti artists and activists have been registered.

Young people protest against repression, arrests and military trials. Tahrir, Cairo, June 3rd 2011. (Olga Rodríguez)


Even though Egyptian personalities such as prestigious writer Alaa Aswany have publicly placed their trust in the intern military Council, the fact is that since Mubarak’s fall many cases of abuse and repression on the part of the Army have been reported.

A new accusation came this week from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

According to HRW data, at least 5,600 civilians have been convicted in military courts since the fall of ex-president Hosni Mubarak in February 11th.

Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director, has pointed out that the Egyptian executive’s level of compromise to investigate and arrest every member of the security forces involved in tortures and abuse is not clear.

“To really change an institution it is necessary to go after the supervisors who ordered the torture, not only after the torturers; if not, torture will show its ugly head again and infect the new agency”, he has pointed out.

Roth interviewed an official of the Egyptian military council about the “virginity tests” to women who were protesting in Tahrir last March 9th. Said officer defended before Roth the use of those tests (done against the women’s will, which is why it would be more accurate to call them sexual abuse).

HRW has denounced those procedures, which it describes as degrading and humiliating.

It has also asked the Egyptian provisional government to set free the arrested protesters and to repeal the emergency law, in effect since 1981.

Farmers who were protesting arrested by the police. Cairo, June 8th (Nora Shalaby)


Several groups who propelled the Egyptian revolts have denounced a ¿?stop in the advance towards democracy since April 9th, date in which the Armed Forces violently vacated about 3,000 people camped in Tahrir, among which were about twenty military men who had joined the protests.

As this journalist was able to witness that morning of April 9th in Cairo, the Army fired shots nonstop for two and a half hours.

The official reports admitted the death of two protesters. 71 more were wounded and dozens more were arrested, among them the soldiers who had joined the protests.

“They feared that the presence of members of the Army could be seen as a division in the Armed Forces and they did not hesitate in attacking them brutally. That date marks a turning point Now things are at a standstill”, denounced this week a spokesperson for the Committee of Young People for the Revolution.

In spite of the HRW recommendations, the emergency law is still in effect. And not just that.

This week the intern government has confirmed the entry into force of another law that bans strikes and protests “that hinder productivity”

In the last few days, protests by students, automotive industry workers, farmers or Petrojet employees have been broken up.

Several protesters have been arrested, as various human rights defense groups have denounced.

Another law has also been approved, which raises the number of people necessary to form a political party to 5,000. This hinders the work of left-wing groups, which had been clandestine until now.

That is the reason why there are many public voices who report the existence of a counterrevolution, with intermittent repression on the street and a complicated political scenario for the new groups, who played a leading role in organizing the revolts.