20 November 2014– Nine people have been wounded in two bombing incidents in Cairo. Five police officers were injured in an explosion targeting a police outpost near Helwan University in Southern Cairo. Reports from the interior ministry indicate that the assailants threw an incendiary explosive device (IED) from a speeding car as they approached the university.
Earlier today, four Egyptians were wounded in a stampede following a stun grenade detonation at Ramses railway station in Central Cairo. Outside of Cairo, three state transport buses were set ablaze in Sharqiya province. The buses were empty; no injuries were reported.
The series of incidents today is part of a string of attacks that have been conducted in Egypt over recent weeks. On 13 November, sixteen people were wounded when a bomb detonated near a metro train during rush hour. In early November, four people were killed in an explosion on a train carriage in Menoufiya, north of Cairo.
While no one has taken responsibility for the incidents earlier today, militant groups have been targeting security forces around the country since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Ansar Beit al Maqdis has conducted several bombings and shootings of police and military forces. The group predominantly operates in North Sinai but occasionally targets major cities in the Nile Valley. In mid-November, Ansar Beit al Maqdis announced that they had sworn allegiance to ISIS. A second militant group known as Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) also operates in Cairo and has claimed responsibility for several attacks targeting security forces.
Meanwhile, security forces have arrested a Mohammed Ali Bishr, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, now deemed a terrorist organisation by the Egyptian government. Bishr’s arrest was linked to a call for demonstrations at the end of November, however the group organising the demonstrations is Salafi Front. The government has conducted heavy crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood since August 2013. The crackdown has given rise to heavy, sometimes violent protests, particularly around universities throughout the nation. Security has been tightened around universities across Egypt; protests supporting former President Morsi have increased in number since the school year began in October. In the past academic year, at least 14 students died in clashes with security forces on campus. In the wake of Bishr’s arrest, it is likely that protests will continue to rise. Heavy clashes are likely on the last Friday of November.
21 October– The Carter Center, a human rights organisation founded by former US President Jimmy Carter has announced that it will close its offices in Egypt due to restrictions on democratic rights. The organization has also stated that it will not send a mission to observe parliamentary elections that are scheduled for later this year.
The organisation has monitored six elections in the country since opening offices in Cairo in 2011. In a statement, Jimmy Carter said, “The current environment in Egypt is not conducive to genuine democratic elections and civic participation.” The Carter Center cited “crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms”.
Since July 2013, over 16,000 people have been detained in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi hails. Late in 2013, the organisation was designated as a terrorist group. Hundreds of Brotherhood members, including senior leaders, have been sentenced to death.
In addition to the crackdown on the Brotherhood, the government has imposed a restriction on public gatherings or demonstrations which include more than ten people. Several journalists have also been arrested and imprisoned, some on terrorism related charges for meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Carter Center assessed that “the political environment is deeply polarised and that political space has narrowed for Egyptian political parties, civil society, and the media. As a result, the upcoming elections are unlikely to advance a genuine democratic transition in Egypt. Both Egyptian civil society and international organisations face an increasingly restrictive environment that hinders their ability to conduct credible election observation.”
The organisation called on Egyptians to work toward ensuring and enhancing the democratic rights of all Egyptians, including the right to participate in political affairs and the fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression.
Over the past week, Egyptian students have conducted a series of protests,
Today members of the Students Against the Coup (SAC) alliance, a pro-Muslim Brotherhood organisation, launched a week long “breaking the siege” campaign to protest security forces’ tight grip on university campuses across Egypt. In addition to Egyptian security forces, the government has hired private security companies to prevent political protests or activities on campus.
Students have gathered at Al-Azhar University and at the universities of Alexandria, Damietta, Mansoura, Dakhalia, Ain Shams and Cairo. One student said that the “oppressive methods used by the security forces” were worse than those used during the rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011. The students in Cairo attempted to march toward Tahrir Square as security forces halted the protest with teargas and rubber bullets. The students have said they will continue their demonstrations.
On Sunday, large numbers of riot police stormed the campus gates at Mansoura University. Students also clashed with personnel from Falcon Security, the privately owned security firm that has been hired to guard 15 universities across Egypt. The SAC branch in Mansoura called the incident “systematic attempts to use violence against students”, using armoured vehicles and riot police. The group added that hold the president of the university responsible for all the attacks.
Since 2013, over 1,000 students have in the crackdown against supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi. Many students have been given extensive prison sentences in a series of mass trials. Over 500 students, accused of “rioting” have been expelled or suspended. Since the start of the academic year on 11 October at least 163 students have been arrested, including 29 students over the past weekend. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression demanded the Egyptian authorities release university students arrested.
As many as six bombs have been detonated across Cairo, resulting in at least six injuries, including injuries sustained by a potential suspect. The first three blasts occurred minutes apart at metro stations in Cairo during rush hour. Reports have indicated that a fourth explosion detonated later, injuring the sixth victim. The blasts occurred at Shubra station, Ghamra station, Haydek al-Quba Station, and Ezbet al Nakhl station.
On Facebook, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior acknowledged only two of the blasts; those at Shubra and Ghamra stations. The ministry said that the explosion at Shubra station was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED), and the bomb at Ghamra station was a sonic explosive hidden in a rubbish bin. No one was injured in the Ghamra explosion. One man, considered a suspect, was wounded at the Subra station. He appeared to be carrying a homemade explosive device.
Metro services are operating normally.
Approximately an hour later, two other bombs struck near a courthouse in Heliopolis. Two IEDs were placed underneath two cars, causing damage to the vehicles but inflicting no injuries. A third IED was found in the vicinity and defused. Security forces are investigating the incidents and searching for further explosives.
The bombings are the first since President Abdul Fattah al Sisi became president in Early June. Violence and attacks targeting Egyptian security became commonplace after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July of last year. The attacks were originally concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula, a stronghold for militant groups, but gradually moved west into Nile Valley Egypt. The Egyptian government has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of supporting militant groups intent on targeting government and security forces, and in November of last year, the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, seizing assets and imprisoning large numbers of individuals accused of affiliations with the group.
While no groups have yet taken responsibility for the attacks, Sinai based extremist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has previously taken responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in Egypt, including a bombing at a police station in Mansoura in December that left at least 15 dead and 134 injured. The group has stated that their violent actions are in direct relation to the actions taken against the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian government and security forces. In April 2014, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis as a terrorist organization. Nearly two weeks after their designation, on April 30, the group posted a YouTube video in which spokesman, Abu-Ahmad al-Misri says, “We have suicide bombers who could turn Egypt into a hell. Our main target is killing off al-Sisi, the Egyptian army, the apostates, and Christians of Egypt.”
Immediately after Sisi’s landslide victory, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis issued a warning: “there will be a decisive battle between faith and disbelief if al-Sisi continues to rule Egypt.” On the militant group’s Twitter feed, the group added, “Will Al-Sisi make it to rule Egypt? If he does, will he continue? It is a battle between faith and infidelity. Finally, we would like to say to tyrants, expect a catastrophe in your backyard, God willing.”
As a result of these messages, security forces have remained heighted in Cairo and other major cities. Once sources said, “Ambushes will be deployed all over Cairo and all vital facilities, which are expected to be under attack by elements of the terrorist group, will also be secured.”
Apart from Ansar Beit al Maqdis, extremist group Ajnad Misr have also been in operation in Cairo, but have fallen relatively silent in recent months. Analysts also fear that the actions could be conducted by individual extremists, or fighters returning from Syria, whose goal would be to destabilise the presidency of al-Sisi and further weaken the Egyptian economy.
In the latest government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian court in Minya has sentenced 683 defendants to death. The new verdict, issued by the same court, surpasses last month’s sentencing of 529 defendants to death, becoming the largest mass-death sentencing in living memory. The judge will confirm the verdict on June 21.
In both cases, the defendants are accused of association with the Muslim Brotherhood and involvement in the death of two police officers on 14 August 2013. The 529 defendants tried in March were accused of lynching a policeman in the town of Matay, in Minya province. In Monday’s trial, 683 others – including Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie – are said to have killed another officer in the nearby town of Adwa.
Since the overthrow of Morsi, and particularly since the clearings of pro-Morsi protest camps at Raba’a and el Nahda squares on 14 August of last year, at least 16,000 people have been arrested and more than 2,500 killed since the ousting of Morsi.
Defence lawyers boycotted the last two brief sessions of the hearing, branding it “farcical” after the mass death sentencing. As in the previous case, the trial was fraught with irregularities. The majority of the defendants were tried in absentia; only 73 are in custody, and the others have a right to a retrial if they hand themselves in. The hearing lasted only 10 minutes. Earlier this month, the judge commuted 492 of the 529 death sentences to life in prison. Many family members claimed that their relatives had been unjustly convicted or put on trial, in some cases because of personal disputes with police officers. In many cases, the defendants have evidence proving they were not involved, and in fact, not in the province at the time of the events.
The court, presided over by judge Said Youssef Sabry, has sparked international outcry with its sentencings. The defence lawyers claim that Judge Sabry could not have had time to read the thousands of pages of court documents relating to the case. Families have alleged that some defendants are not even mentioned in the documents.
The United States urged Egypt to reverse the court decision. A statement from the White House read, “Today’s verdict, like the one last month, defies even the most basic standards of international justice. This verdict cannot be reconciled with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “alarmed” by the death sentences and feared it could impact the entire region. Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said, “Verdicts that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those which impose the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.” The UN chief will discuss his concerns with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy later this week.
Amnesty International also condemned the ruling, saying, “Egypt’s judiciary risks becoming just another part of the authorities’ repressive machinery, issuing sentences of death and life imprisonment on an industrial scale.”
However, the government has defended the rulings, insisting that the case was carefully studied, and the verdict was “subject to appeal. In the media, many see the sentences as a fitting penalty to the Muslim Brotherhood, who are blamed for an increase in militancy and violence in Egypt since August. A newspaper commentator said, “The outrage over the conviction of 529 terrorists is in itself an outrage.”
Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the country’s Grand Mufti (top Islamic scholar) for an advisory opinion before being ratified. The court may choose to commute the sentences, which can later be challenged at an appeals court.
Meanwhile, a separate court in Cairo has banned the April 6 Movement, a youth movement that was in large part responsible for spearheading the 2011 revolt which toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak. The group was accused of defaming Egypt and colluding with foreign parties. At the UN, Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at that decision and the jailing of three “emblematic figures” of the uprising, including two founders of the youth movement.
27 April – In a press conference on Sunday, Egypt’s Presidential Election Commission (PEC) has announced that the final contenders for Egypt’s presidential election are Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Fattah El Sisi. The documents of both candidates meet the eligibility requirements set by the commission.
The PEC also revealed details of the presidential election process, and has announced approvals for six international election monitoring organisations, as well as 79 domestic ones. A total of 116 Egyptian-based organisations applied to monitor the process. The PEC may allow the eliminated domestic organisations to participate by granting them “guest status”, the same status granted to the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the National Council for Women.
Forty four international media institutions applied to cover the elections. Thirty six were granted approval, along with 13 out of 18 satellite channels.
The two candidates have until 4 May to select their voting symbols; however both have already selected and are pending approval from the PEC. Election symbols are placed on ballots so that those in the population who are illiterate can associate the symbol with the candidate. El-Sisi, who was given priority in choosing his symbol because he submitted his papers first, plans to use a star. The star, long used by Arabs as a guide, is intended to suggest that Sisi will “lead the country to the right path.” Sabahi has requested the eagle, the symbol of Egypt’s national flag, and the symbol he was granted during his 2012 candidacy.
Election campaigning will run from 3 May until midnight on 23 May. A committee of representatives from the ministries of endowment, media, education, the police’s general investigation department, and the Egyptian Anti-Corruption Agency will monitor for violations of the no-campaigning policy after 23 May.
For Egyptian expats, voting will occur from 15 to 18 May. The PEC has announced that pre-registration is cancelled; any Egyptian who is outside of Egypt on the days of the election can vote at Egyptian embassies. There are 144 embassies and consulates in 124 countries that will serve as polling stations; however these do not include Libya, Syria, or Somalia, due to security concerns. Expatriates in those regions are encouraged to travel to nearby countries where polling stations are located.
Domestically, elections will begin on 26 May at 9 am, and end at 9 pm on the first day. On 27 May, polling stations will open at 9am and will not close until the last person standing casts his/her ballot.
The presidential elections are part of a three-step transitional roadmap adopted by the army upon Morsi’s ouster in July of 2013.
Shortly after the PECs announcement, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, a group led by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, announced that they will boycott the election, calling it “a comic play”. In the statement made on their website and their Facebook page, they described the vote as “a farce” meant to appoint “the coup orchestrator” president, and that they would not recognise election monitoring conducted by “Western supporters of the coup.”
The group, which boycotted the referendum for the Egyptian constitution in January, believe that the existing government body have “committed crimes that exceed those committed by the Zionist Gang in Palestine.” On Saturday, supporters of the group held protests against El-Sisi, who authorised the removal of Morsi last year and has risen to popularity, expected to be the winner of the elections. Sisi has urged all Egyptians to vote in unprecedented numbers.