Volume 20, Number 12
Winter Soldier Campaign
Iraq veterans against the war -- Ivaw
Eighty and Still Protesting
Nut House Econ
Behind Burma's Repression
Nukes Are Back
Eleanor J. Bader
2 Book Reviews
U.S. & Eygpt
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With Friends Like These
U.S. solidifies relations with Eygpt, ignoring increasing human rights violations there
Laura Bush, writing in the Wall Street Journal on October 10, said: “Whatever last shred of legitimacy the junta had among its own citizens has vanished. The regime’s stranglehold on information is slipping; thanks to new technologies, people throughout Burma know about the junta’s assaults. The public mood is said to be ‘a mixture of fear, depression, hopelessness, and seething anger.’” Substitute “state” for “junta” and “Egypt” for “Burma,” and you’re left with a description of the current mood on the street in Egypt. I am referring to the same Egypt that receives nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid every year, including more military assistance than any other country in the world except Israel. It was the same Laura Bush who, in 2005, praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for his “very bold step” towards democracy just days before the opposition was beaten down by his supporters in Cairo as riot police stood watching.
In January a video of police officers raping a bus driver with a stick spread like wildfire from cell phone to cell phone, eventually making its way to the Internet. The video had apparently been sent around by those same officers as a warning to other drivers, in a bid to humiliate them. Another video showed a woman hanging from a pole by her knees and wrists, under police interrogation. In July a 19-year-old man accused of theft died inside a police station after he was tortured and burned alive. A month later, a plumber who had had the audacity to file a complaint about a previous incident of police brutality was hurled headfirst by police officers from his balcony while his 9-year-old son and wife watched. The same month, a 13-year-old boy died after being held in police custody. He had been arrested for stealing a few packets of tea from a shop. In September the government shut down the Association for Human Rights and Legal Aid (AHRLA), an NGO leading the campaign against torture in police stations and prisons.
Contrary to assertions by the Egyptian government, these are not isolated incidents. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) released a report in August 2007 documenting 567 cases of torture in police custody since 1993, including 167 deaths that EOHR “strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment.” EOHR also estimates that as many as 16,000 to 18,000 people, often held in inhumane conditions, remain imprisoned without charge or trial. Some of these detainees have been held for more than a decade, including many whose release had been ordered by the courts. The banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement contends that Egyptian security forces arrested more than 1,000 of the organization’s members over the past year alone. Calls to the regime have also gone unheeded for the release of Ayman Nour of the secular Al-Ghad party, who ran against Mubarak in the 2005 elections. He has already served one year of a five-year sentence on what are widely believed to be false charges of voter fraud.
Mubarak, who is nearly 80, has ruled Egypt for the past 26 years. Although he denies that he is grooming his son Gamal to take over the presidency, for many Egyptians it is a foregone conclusion. Earlier in the year, the government took to highlighting a March 2007 constitutional referendum as proof that it is engaging in political reform. According to government figures, nearly 76 percent of those voting in the referendum endorsed the proposed constitutional changes. These include presidential powers to dissolve parliament without a referendum, to suspend civil liberties when deemed necessary to fight terrorism, and to limit the role of the judiciary in election monitoring. Opposition and human rights organizations argued that not only are the constitutional changes the result of widespread vote-rigging, they elevate presidential emergency powers to the level of the constitution.
The government, however, denies this, insisting that the new amendments represent progress for Egypt, moving the country closer to lifting the Emergency Decree in effect since 1981. Indeed, a myriad of laws around this decree facilitated the repressive environment that has prevailed for decades. One law in particular, Article 188 of the Egyptian Penal Code, has been getting quite a workout lately. It stipulates punishment in the form of prison sentences and fines for anyone who “makes public—with malicious intent—false news, statements or rumors that [are] likely to disturb public order.”
Not surprisingly, Article 188 has direct consequences for Egypt’s independent media. While much of Egypt’s press is under state control, several privately owned newspapers have flourished since 2005, when the government, under intense domestic as well as U.S. pressure at the time, allowed some opposition parties to run in presidential and parliamentary elections. This year, however, with U.S. pressure no longer a reality and the press increasingly becoming a thorn in the government’s side, the state apparatus took swift action to silence independent journalism. Most dramatically, in September, 11 journalists were handed custodial sentences for “libeling” senior members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). This crackdown on the press drew intense attention from the Egyptian public and the international media because, in an unprecedented move, four senior editors from various independent newspapers were fined and sentenced to one year custodial sentences. Less than two weeks later, the editor-in-chief and two journalists from another paper were given even harsher sentences.
Of the editors convicted, Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Al-Dustour newspaper and a vociferous critic of the regime, has learned that a further, more serious case against him is being pursued, under the charge of attempting to destabilize national security by spreading false information about President Mubarak’s health. Furthermore, by allegedly spreading those rumors, Eissa is accused of driving away foreign investment, resulting in the loss of $350 million in the stock exchange. If convicted, he faces up to three years in jail.
The use of Article 188 as a weapon in the assault on liberties has not stopped with the media. Just a few days after the conviction of the four editors, the same clause was used to hand out a one-year sentence to Kamal Abbas, coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS). The case, filed by a member of the NDP, accused Abbas and his lawyer of “slander and defamation of character.” The accusation came following the reporting in CTUWS’s magazine, Kalam Sinai’ia (Workers’ Talk), of financial and other irregularities in the running of a youth center chaired by the NDP member. Ironically, the allegations were corroborated by an internal investigation led by the youth center’s own Committee on Financial and Administrative Inspection, the results of which led to the dismissal of the NDP member and the center’s board of directors. Nevertheless, the courts went ahead with the conviction of the unionists. This was proof to many that the convictions had little to do with the official charges and more to do with recent bouts of labor unrest in Egypt.
For 17 years, CTUWS has provided an alternative to the government-controlled General Federation of Trade Unions, including critical legal counseling to workers, awareness-raising about workers’ rights, and reporting on labor-rights violations. The assault on CTUWS began earlier in the year, when the organization’s headquarters and several branches were closed down by the government for “security reasons.” Faiza Rady, writing in the October 11–17 edition of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Weekly, noted that the prosecutions come at a time “when workers, long thought to have been neutralized by the government, are beginning once again to organize and act in the face of a resurgent privatization drive that threatens their livelihoods and rampant inflation that has steadily eaten into their ability to afford the basics necessary for a dignified life.” In this privatization drive, the U.S. has been a steady presence, providing through its Agency for International Development (USAID) approximately $1.8 billion in cash transfers to the Egyptian government since 1992 for carrying out “reform-related activities, such as privatizing state-owned companies.”
A 2005 demonstration against the Mubarak government—photo by John Donoghue, GlobalAware
This leads to American-Egyptian relations more broadly and whether they have been impacted at all by the events of the past year. In June the U.S. House passed a fiscal 2008 appropriations bill that voted to withhold $200 million of the Pentagon’s $1.3 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) package to Egypt, pending certification that Cairo has progressed in judicial reforms, police training, and the control of weapons smuggling into Gaza. Not long after, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the original $1.3 billion Pentagon request with no conditions. Earlier in June, a group of U.S. companies with significant Egypt-related defense trade programs launched Operation Pyramid to advocate congressional support, free of any conditions, for Egypt’s 2008 FMF plan. Given that as a condition, U.S. military aid (with the exception of Israel) goes almost exclusively towards U.S. weapons purchases, it was not in the companies’ interests for relations between the American and Egyptian administrations to deteriorate. More and more, it is looking like the defense contractors will get their wish. With the nightmare in Iraq continuing, Iran growing in influence, and last ditch efforts at brokering an Israeli-Palestinian agreement faltering, Egypt’s support in the region is arguably more critical to Washington now than it has been in a long time.
In fact, Washington has recently moved to cement its military relationship with Cairo for years to come. In late July, a short time prior to their high-profile trip to the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to provide billions of dollars over the next 10 years for advanced weapons purchases to the U.S.’s key allies in the region, including Egypt, which stands to get $13 billion in military assistance. The main argument for the arms deal, in Rice’s words, is “to give a chance to the forces of moderation and reform” in the face of Iranian influence in the region. As with the war in Iraq, Congress showed itself unwilling to check White House power. The main concern of the Democrat-headed Congressional committees which considered the proposal had little to do with the further militarization of a volatile region; rather, they simply wanted an assurance that the weapons packages would only be “defensive,” posing no threat to the Israeli military.
Speaking to a Procter and Gamble gathering in Cairo at the height of the crackdown on labor and the media, U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, declared that he sees “a country on the move…. What remains about Egypt,” he went on to say, “is its stability, its safety and its security…what is new is the movement, activity, dynamism and excitement.” He asked Egyptians to consider “the numerous benefits that our friendship brings” beyond aid, pointing to the flow between the two countries in trade and investment, which has increased by nearly 50 percent in both directions since 2001. Concluding, he affirmed, “We are very optimistic about you and your future.” Naturally, Ricciardone made no mention of his own State Department assessment of the human rights situation in Egypt in its latest report on the subject, which states that “the [Egyptian] government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas.”
For his part, George W. Bush used a speech to the UN General Assembly the same week as Ricciardone’s remarks to urge others to join him in a broad “mission of liberation,” reproaching the UN’s Human Rights’ Council for having “been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran.” Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Belarus were singled out as particularly heinous regimes, while the situation in Burma occupied center stage. Egypt on the other hand failed to garner a single mention. Once again, human rights proved to be relative as far as Washington is concerned. In the process of protecting its strategic interests in the Middle East, Washington made sure that 2007 turned out to be just another year in the life of America’s friends in the region.
Sara Abbas has worked the past five years in international affairs and human rights, both at the UN as well as at not-for-profit organizations in the U.S., UK, and Sudan. She is currently an intern at the Nation magazine in New York.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.