Egypt Approves Law Limiting Protests

Egypt, Egypt Protests, Adly Mansour Protests, Egypt Government, Egypt Crackdown, Egypt Repression, Adly Mansour, Egypt Protest, World News

CAIRO — Egypt’s interim president on Sunday banned public gatherings of more than 10 people without prior government approval, imposing hefty fines and prison terms for violators in a bid to stifle the near-constant protests roiling the country.

The new law is more restrictive than regulations used under the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, overthrown in Egypt’s 2011 uprising that marked the start of unrest in the country. Rights groups and activists immediately denounced it, saying it aims to stifle opposition, allow repressive police practices and keep security officials largely unaccountable for possible abuses.

“The law is giving a cover to justify repression by all means,” said Bahy Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the local groups that had campaigned against the law.

The military-backed government first floated the law in October. Interim President Adly Mansour approved a slightly amended version Sunday, which removed a proposed ban on sit-ins and a draft portion criminalizing “insulting the state.”

The law requires three-day prior notice for protests. It grants security agencies the right to bar any protests or public gatherings, including election-related meetings of political parties, if they deem it a threat to public safety or order. Protesters can appeal the decision, but the law doesn’t force judges to rule ahead of scheduled protests.

The new law also bars gatherings in places of worship, a regular meeting place for all protests in Egypt and one heavily used by Islamist groups. The law also says the police have the right — following warnings — to use force gradually, including the use of water cannons, tear gas and clubs.

Rights groups say the law also gives police unrestricted use of birdshot to put down protests, omitting an article that prohibited the use of force in excess.

Penalties in the law range from seven years in prison for using violence in a protest. It calls for one year in prison for covering the face in a country where many women wear full-face veils. It calls for a similar prison sentence for protesting in or around a place of worship.

The law sets fines of $44,000 for being violent at a protest. It sets fines of $1,500 for protesting without a permit, a hefty sum in Egypt, where the minimum monthly salary for public employees has finally been raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($175).

U.S. Suspends Egypt Aid, State Department Says

U.S. Suspends Egypt Aid, State Department Says

WASHINGTON — The United States is cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt in response to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown by the military-backed government on his supporters.

The U.S. provides $1.5 billion in aid each year to Egypt. While the State Department did not provide a dollar amount of what was being withheld, most of it was expected to be military aid. A U.S. official said the aid being withheld included 10 Apache helicopters at a cost of about $500 million.

The official provided the information only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to comment by name.

The U.S. decision to slash aid to Egypt will create new friction in Washington’s already uneasy relations with the government that ousted the first democratically elected Egyptian president. And the consequences won’t end there. The move will anger Persian Gulf states, push Egypt to seek assistance from U.S. rivals and upend decades of close ties with the Egyptians that that have been a bulwark of stability in the Middle East.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement Wednesday that the U.S. will withhold delivery of certain large-scale military systems as well as cash assistance to the Egyptian government until “credible progress” is made toward an inclusive government set up through free and fair elections.

The U.S. will still provide health and education assistance and money to help Egypt secure its borders, counter terrorism and ensure security in the Sinai.

The U.S. also will continue to provide parts for military equipment coming from the United States as well as military training and education. The U.S. military has continued shipments of thousands of spare parts for American weapons systems used by the Egyptian forces, including armored bulldozers for border security, radars and missiles.

In Cairo, military spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali declined immediate comment.

Other details about what military assistance is being cut were not immediately known.

The U.S. had already suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt and canceled biennial U.S.-Egyptian military exercises.

The next military weapons shipment for Egypt was slated to include the Apache helicopters as well as a number of M1A1 tank kits, including machine guns and other equipment used with the tanks. That shipment also was to involve some used missiles — which have been moved and handled, but not yet fired. They could be used for spare parts by the Egyptian military or they could be refurbished and fired.

The U.S. and Egypt have gotten used to relying on one another. Egypt gives the United States permission to fly over its territory to supply American troops in the Gulf, allows the U.S. to move men and materiel through the Suez Canal without delay and cooperates with American intelligence agencies. It is unclear if cooperation on these fronts will be affected by the aid decision.

The decision also is not just about money. There are fears that the suspension of some aid will embolden pro-Morsi supporters who oppose the current government to stage more protests because they think the military-backed government will be weakened by the cut in aid.

The U.S. has been considering such a move since July, when the Egyptian military ousted Morsi. Ensuing violence between authorities and Morsi supporters has killed hundreds. The scheduled Nov. 4 trial of Morsi on charges that he incited the killings of opponents while in office and the U.S. decision to cut its aid to Egypt threaten to add to the turmoil.

The cutoff of some, but not all, U.S. aid also underscores the strategic shifts underway in the region as U.S. allies in the Gulf forge ahead with policies at odds with Washington. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are strong backers of Syrian rebel factions and were openly dismayed when the U.S. set aside possible military strikes against Bashar Assad’s government. The Gulf states also feel increasingly sidelined as Washington reaches out to their rival, Iran.

Iran had moved quickly to heal long-strained ties with Egypt following Morsi’s election but now is redirecting its policies with Egyptian leaders who don’t share Tehran’s agenda.

In Cairo, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the military effort that ousted Morsi, described Egypt’s relations with the United States as “strategic” and founded on mutual interests. But he said his country would not tolerate pressure, “whether through actions or hints.” His comments were in an interview published Wednesday — before the U.S. decision was announced — by the Cairo daily Al-Masry al-Youm.

U.S. aid to the Egyptians has a long history. Since the late 1970s, the country has been the second-largest recipient — after Israel — of U.S. bilateral foreign assistance, largely as a way to sustain the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.

The United States gave Egypt $71.6 billion in assistance between 1948 and 2011, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued in June. That included $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1987. The rest was economic assistance, some going to the government, some to other groups.

How much will the loss in U.S. aid matter?

Egypt has other allies who may be able to fill the financial void. In fact, Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf Arab partners have provided a critical financial lifeline for Egypt’s new government, pledging at least $12 billion so far and aiding in regional crackdowns on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. On Monday, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, visited Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip in a sign of the importance of the Gulf aid and political backing.

But Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said he isn’t convinced that Saudi Arabia, for instance, is interested in providing the amount of long-term aid that Egypt has received from the United States for more than three decades. The Gulf states, generally, will express their disappointment over any cuts in U.S. aid to Egypt, he said.

“The Gulf states aren’t happy because they think that not only has Egypt not done anything wrong, but that Egypt has done a lot of things right in snuffing out the early flames of political Islam,” Alterman said. “They will feel that the U.S. in the interest of … democracy is acting against its own concrete interests and the interests of its friends.”

“Countries like China and probably Russia will likely see this as an opportunity to find new markets and to build a new relationship,” he added.

A suspension of U.S. aid to Egypt, regardless of its size, also could feed the wave of nationalist sentiment gripping Egypt since the ouster of Morsi and boost the popularity of Egypt’s military chief, el-Sissi, who has not ruled out a presidential run next year.

It will also resonate with Egyptians who believe that the United States was sorry to see Morsi go.

The aid decision is getting mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the Obama administration’s expected announcement.

“The Egyptian military has handled the recent transition clumsily, but they have begun a democratic transition which will serve the Egyptian people well in the future and have also worked to maintain regional stability,” Engel said in a statement. “During this fragile period we should be rebuilding partnerships in Egypt that enhance our bilateral relationship, not undermining them.”

Others, including some sharp political opponents of Obama, supported the president’s decision.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., whose bill to halt aid to Egypt was roundly defeated in the Senate in July, said he was happy to see the administration “finally thinking about following the law.”

The administration has refrained from declaring that Morsi’s removal amounted to a military coup, a designation that would have required the U.S. to suspend all but humanitarian assistance to Egypt. It did delay the delivery of some fighter planes, and as Egypt’s military began a crackdown on Morsi supporters the president’s advisers started to consider more muscular action. Obama canceled a joint military exercise and announced a new review of assistance.

3 Years After Arab Spring, Democracy’s Future In Middle East Still Uncertain

3 Years After Arab Spring, Democracy's Future In Middle East Still Uncertain

CAIRO — “For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused, oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability… We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom, and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.” — President George W. Bush in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 21, 2004

Almost a quarter-century ago, a young American political scientist achieved global academic celebrity by suggesting that the collapse of communism had ended the discussion on how to run societies, leaving “Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

In Egypt and around the Middle East, after a summer of violence and upheaval, the discussion, however, is still going strong. And almost three years into the Arab Spring revolts, profound uncertainties remain.

That became shatteringly clear on July 3, when Egyptian generals ousted the country’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, installing a technocratic government in the wake of massive street protests calling for the Islamist leader to step down. He had ruled incompetently for one year and badly overstepped his bounds, they argued. A crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood has put more than 2,000 of its members in jail and left hundreds dead, and a court has ordered an outright ban on the group. Although new elections are promised, the plans are extremely vague.

All this happened with strong public support, especially among the educated classes where one might expect a strong yearning for democracy. Foreigners in Egypt were frequently stunned at how little many Egyptians cared that Morsi had been democratically elected.

How could that be? Around the region people are asking the question, and the stirrings of a rethink, subtle but persistent, are starting to be felt.

Few people — not even the absolute rulers who still cling to power in some places — would openly argue against democracy as a worthy goal. And people bristle at any suggestion that the region’s culture is somehow at odds with freedom. But with the most populous Arab nation having stumbled so badly in its first attempt, there is now an audience for those saying total democracy must grow from the ground up, needs time to evolve, and need not be the same everywhere.

“Democracy is not a matter of principle or faith for most people” in the region, said political scientist Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “It is something they believe in to the extent that it brings good results. … If democracy does not bring those things, then people lose faith in the democratic process.”

“That’s part of the story in the past three years,” he said. “When push comes to shove, many say, democracy is fine in theory, but is not actually improving our lives. If the generals can promise us a greater degree of security and stability, we prefer that instead.”

Oil-rich Gulf countries, meanwhile, have largely avoided the Arab Spring as the wealthy ruling families offered what has essentially been a swap — generous handouts such as state jobs and discount-rate housing in exchange for political passivity. The exception is Bahrain, where an uprising has been led by majority Shiites seeking greater rights in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Hamid, for example, is based in the Gulf state of Qatar, where no one expects democracy anytime soon. That’s more or less the situation in the entire Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf area, where emirs and monarchs are for the most part firmly in charge. The same goes for Jordan, where officials offer learned explanations about democratic reforms that do not extend to relieving King Abdullah II of his executive power anytime soon.

“Most of the Arab rulers are trying very hard to give the impression to the West that their peoples are not prepared for democracy because these rulers are afraid that they are going to lose in any fair democratic elections,” said Adel al-Baldawi, a history professor at Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad.

The region’s experiment with democracy in recent years actually precedes the Arab Spring. The Palestinians, under the framework of their interim accords with Israel, held a number of parliamentary and presidential elections beginning in the late 1990s. Iraq has had several democratic elections since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein — part of then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s vision for democratizing the region.

Few in the region today seem willing to credit that “Bush Doctrine” in the least with the Arab Spring that erupted in December 2010. More often cited are the explosion of satellite TV news stations, social media and mounting anger at decades of authoritarian rule. In swift succession governments fell in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya’s dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, was toppled — and killed by a mob — in a civil war. All three countries have tried to set up democracies, with elected governments.

The results offer some cautionary tales.

Sectarianism and tribalism often override political debate — such as in Iraq, where Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites generally vote for their own parties. The violence-wracked country has ended up plagued by partisanship and political gridlock, its leader Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused by many of having authoritarian tendencies.

Existing parties in Jordan are even more granular, with some representing tribes. Critics say a healthy democracy needs a contest of ideas instead.

Another challenge is the level of education in some countries. All over the world voters face a challenge in grasping the increasingly complex issues of the day — but the problem is on a different scale in a place like Egypt, where about a third of the almost 90 million people are illiterate.

That provided a major opening to Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which successfully convinced many in Egypt’s impoverished rural population that a vote for them was a vote for Islam. Critics saw an irony: Islamists, they argued, were great at using democracy for the ultimate goal of theocracy, non-democratic to the core.

In the Palestinian areas elections have been delayed for years and a split has set in between the West Bank’s autonomy zones, run by an elected Mahmoud Abbas whose mandate has long expired, and the Gaza Strip, which was seized by the Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas, who make no democratic pretense today, although they did win parliamentary elections in 2006.

“Our Arab societies largely lack a democratic culture,” said Majed Sweilem, a political scientist in the West Bank. “The democratic movements are weak and can’t get to power. The only ones that can get to power are the undemocratic forces that don’t believe in real democracy.”

Once in power, they can rule more or less at will, elections having lent legitimacy to an executive unencumbered by the basic infrastructure of democracy — the institutions, checks and balances that prevent a tyranny of the majority. That prospect terrified the elites in Egypt, where people are less traditional and many feared their lifestyle was under clerical attack.

Mohammed Magdy, a 27-year-old Egyptian, said the path to democracy would be long.

“The ballot box is one of the means of democracy . but (it is) not everything. At a time when there is popular action, it is not the strongest tool for change, because there are other ways,” he said — such as protests and public monitoring of officials.

There have been some calls for denying illiterate people the right to vote, although they have not gained traction.

In Syria, of course, an Arab Spring-like revolt has morphed into a civil war whose rebel side is sufficiently dominated by Islamic extremists that it has been unable to muster effective Western support against authoritarian President Bashar Assad, despite more than 100,000 people killed.

In the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf, rulers seem determined to maintain things as they are. Most countries have taken only small steps to take politics beyond the ruling clans.

“If the Gulf leaders needed anything to justify their crackdowns on political dissent, they have a perfect self-justification in the chaos in Egypt and other countries hit by the Arab Spring,” said Christopher Davidson, an expert in Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University.

Fawaz A. Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, said that “unlike eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s,” which clearly wanted to emulate the West, “the Arab world does not know where it wants to go.”

Gerges warned against assuming “that this transition will lead to Western-type democracy.”

Perhaps religion will play a formal role in some places. Perhaps monarchs will retain a hand in the executive. Perhaps certain ethnic groups will have positions reserved for them, as is the case in Lebanon, where the president is a Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Francis Fukayama — the political scientist who wrote “The End of History?” in 1989 — said he still believes democracy is the direction of things. But subsequent events have shown that the road is long, and cultural differences may apply.

“Democracy in Asia … doesn’t look like European democracy — there are going to be variants all around the world,” the Stanford University fellow said in an interview. “I think people’s expectations are too high for how quickly you can make a transition. The experiments we’ve seen (in the Middle East) have not worked very well, but they’re also very real and these institutions just take a long time to evolve. Nationalism derailed democracy in the 20th century in Europe, (and) religion is playing a similar role in the Arab world right now.”

“All of these places are going to look different, but they face a common set of challenges and there is a common evolutionary path.”

The Belarusian president has lashed out against President Barack Obama

The Belarusian president has lashed out against President Barack Obama

MINSK, Belarus – The Belarusian president has lashed out against President Barack Obama, drawing a comparison between American exceptionalism and Nazism.

Alexander Lukashenko told the Kazakh TV station that Belarus had “already survived this ‘exceptionalism’ … which cost us 50 million lives.” He appeared to be referring to the number some cite as the Soviet death toll during World War II, although most historians put the figure between 20 million and 30 million.

In the interview, which was shown in Belarus on Thursday, Lukashenko said he was surprised that Obama would promote such rhetoric, given he comes from a country “where black people were slaves not all that long ago.”

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for nearly two decades, has been known for his outbursts in the past. In 2011, he called European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso a “goat.”

But this time he appeared to be taking his lead from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took to the opinion pages of The New York Times in September to criticize Obama’s description of America as exceptional.

In making the case for holding the Syrian government accountable for a deadly chemical weapons attack, Obama had asserted that American ideals and principles were at stake. “That’s what makes America different,” Obama said. “That’s what makes us exceptional.” – Another Radioactive Leak Reported At Fukushima - Another Radioactive Leak Reported At Fukushima

TOKYO, – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Tuesday that four tonnes of rainwater contaminated with low levels of radiation leaked during an operation to transfer the water between tank holding areas.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, has been trying to contain contaminated water at the Fukushima site after it found 300 tonnes of radioactive water had leaked from a tank at the plant. Fukushima suffered triple nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Heavy rain during a recent typhoon flooded one of the tank holding areas where Tepco stores excess water flushed over damaged reactors to keep them cool, a spokesman said.

After tests last month showed the rainwater contained 160 becquerels per litre of radiation, a relatively low level, Tepco officials decided to transfer the water to another holding area for tanks, he said.

During the transfer a worker found the leak, which the company estimated to be 4 tonnes and was absorbed into the ground, the spokesman said.

The company faces the prospect of more heavy rain in the next few days as another storm approaches Japan from the south.

Tropical Depression Sepat is forecast to gain strength overnight and arrive in the vicinity of Fukushima by 1200 GMT on Wednesday, the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Centre said.

Tepco has been pumping hundreds of tonnes of water a day over the Fukushima reactors to keep them cool and storing the radioactive wastewater in tanks above ground. In August, the utility said at least one of those hastily built tanks was leaking.

It has also found high levels of radiation just above the ground near other tanks, suggesting widespread structural problems with the tanks.

Tepco’s stock, which was up in the morning, fell after the utility announced the latest problem with water storage, closing down 4.1 percent.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tepco said one of three units for injecting nitrogen into the damaged reactors shut down due to a worker mishandling the equipment, but was restarted later. Tepco injects nitrogen into the reactors to prevent explosions similar to those that rocked the site in the early days of the disaster.