Saturday, May 24, 2014

Video: Max Blumenthal and Ali Abunimah in San Francisco

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 05/23/2014 - 16:12

On 23 April, Max Blumenthal and I appeared together at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco in a discussion on Palestine sponsored by Haymarket Books and the Lannan Foundation.
Blumenthal, a frequent contributor to The Electronic Intifada, is the author of Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
With thanks to for this video.

Sisi cannot ignore the Egyptian public

 May 24, 2014 12:08 AM
By Rami G. Khouri
The millions of Egyptians who supported General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi when he removed from office President Mohammad Morsi eleven months ago gave the impression that Sisi had overwhelming popular support for his actions and his candidacy.
It remains unclear whether these sentiments among Egyptians were a genuine and lasting political statement or merely a short-lived form of mass hysteria that understandably sought the comforts of a secure and orderly life under a strongman.
The presidential election in a few days probably will not clarify this issue, because of the boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood and the authorities’ continued suppression measures against leftist, independent and progressive activists in Egypt.
We will get a more accurate picture of public political sentiments in Egypt only after President Sisi bears the weight and test of incumbency. The Egyptian public in the year ahead will judge how he behaves and what he delivers in response to the urgent need to provide real services and jobs – rather than emotional fantasies and cave-dwelling, feel-good hope – to tens of millions of needy Egyptians. This force of the public will – the consent of the governed – will ultimately define the nature of Egyptian public politics and governance, and who leads the government.
We must not be dazzled or disoriented by the state-sanctioned public political behavior that we can see, while opposition forces are banned or intimidated. Fortunately, we have a more accurate picture of political sentiments among Egyptians from polls conducted by respected local and foreign pollsters. Two in particular – by the Bassera organization in Egypt last year and the Pew Research Center last month – provide important insights into the two enduring realities that should shield us from being blinded by the craze of the moment: that significant pluralism in ideological sentiments defines Egyptian society, and that the public’s support for any single person or party will change significantly over time.
The Pew poll revealed some fascinating realities, including that last July’s military takeover is now supported by a slender majority of 54 percent, while 43 percent oppose it. Sisi enjoys marginal majority approval rather than overwhelming popularity, receiving a favorable rating from 54 percent of Egyptians, while 45 percent view him unfavorably.
Morsi is rated favorably by 42 percent of those polled, a drop from 53 percent in last year’s survey. About four-in-10 Egyptians continue to have a positive view of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned by the current government and named a terrorist group.
These swings in public sentiment are a normal reflection of human nature. They are also a welcome novelty in the Arab region, where state-hijacked public sentiments for half a century more typically showed 90 percent support and more for the great leader – a farcical and demeaning legacy that, mercifully, has now been challenged throughout the region.
The ups and downs of pluralistic public political sentiments were also captured in a yearlong Baseera poll of Egyptians from July 2012 to August 2013, during the Morsi presidency – with follow-up polls this year. These reaffirmed two crucial points: that Egyptians will judge their president by his conduct in office, and that the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys a solid core of support from roughly a quarter of the population.
It showed that public approval of Morsi declined from 76 percent to 32 percent during the year, when disapproval also rose from 9 percent to 61 percent; but 25 percent of Egyptians polled in June this year said they would vote again for Morsi. In November 2013, after Morsi rammed through his party’s constitutional declaration that solidified Muslim Brotherhood control of political power, public sentiment was 30 percent in favor and 37 percent against, with the rest unsure.
These and many other indicators emphatically remind us that Egyptians’ wide range of political views constantly evolve over time, in response to the conduct of politicians in office. It is fair to expect that a President Sisi will be judged by his compatriots in the year ahead in the same manner that they judged the last president they elected.
In my view, the most important finding in the Baseera poll was the one showing that 83 percent of respondents said they thought Egyptians were not afraid of the state. This means that most Egyptians have achieved a level of citizen empowerment and agency that is unprecedented in modern Arab history. They will express their views and exercise their political rights to hold their government accountable.
Most worrying for any Egyptian leader today, though, is the finding in both polls that a large majority of Egyptians – around 70 percent or so – feel their living conditions have worsened or are worried by the direction of their country. This is the majority that counts when the time comes to judge the performance of any new government or president, because ordinary Egyptians have learned how to install and remove presidents and governments.

Friday, May 23, 2014

As Washington Focuses on Another Benghazi Probe, Could a Civil War Be Brewing in Libya?

Democracy Now!

"While Congress is beginning its ninth investigation into the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya may be confronting its worst crisis since the NATO intervention that ousted Col. Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Fear is growing of an all out war between militias aligned with the Islamist-dominated parliament and forces led by a former general named Khalifa Haftar who was reportedly once trained by the CIA. Haftar has accused the government of fostering terrorism and is calling for an emergency administration to oversee elections next month. Haftar, a former general under Gaddafi, says he wants to rid Libya of Islamists, and led an assault against militant groups in Benghazi last Friday. On Sunday forces allied to him took control of Libya’s parliament building in the capital, Tripoli. At least 100 people have died since the fighting broke out last week. We speak to Mary Fitzgerald, a journalist based in Libya, and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent reporting from Tripoli...."

Bottom-Up Politics in World Crises Establishment Elites Are no Longer in Control

By Immanuel Wallerstein 

May 22 2014 "ICH" - "Toward Freedom " -
 The list of countries with enduring and worsening civil strife is growing. A short while ago, the world media were highlighting Syria. Now they are highlighting Ukraine. Will it be Thailand tomorrow? Who knows? The variety of explanations of the strife and the passion with which they are promoted is very striking.
Our modern world-system is supposed to permit the Establishment elites who hold the reins of power to debate with each other and then come to a “compromise” that they can guarantee. Normally these elites situate themselves in two basic camps – center/right and center/left. There are indeed differences between them, but the result of the “compromises” has been that the amount of change over time is minimal.
This has operated as a top-down political structure, within each country and geopolitically between countries. The outcome has been an equilibrium slowly moving upward. Most analysts of the current strife tend to assume that the strings are still being pulled by Establishment elites. Each side asserts that the low-level actors of the other side are being manipulated by high-level elites. Everyone seems to assume that, if their side puts enough pressure on the elites of the other side, these other elites will agree to a “compromise” closer to what their side wants.
This seems to me a fantastic misreading of the realities of our current situation, which is one of extended chaos as a result of the structural crisis of our modern world-system. I do not think that the elites are any longer succeeding in manipulating their low-level followers. I think the low-level followers are defying the elites, doing their own thing, and trying to manipulate the elites. This is indeed something new. It is a bottom-up rather than a top-down politics.
Bottom-up politics is sometimes alluded to when the media speak of “extremists” becoming important actors, but the locution “extremists” misses the point too. When we are amidst bottom-up politics, there are versions of every complexion – from the far right to the far left, but including ones in the center. One can bemoan this, as did Yeats in one of his oft-quoted lines from The Second Coming:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
But note that Yeats is attributing the category of “best” to the old elites. Are they really the best? What is indeed true, to cite one of Yeats’s less quoted lines, is that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”
How then can we navigate politically in such an environment? It is very confusing analytically. I think however that step one is to cease attributing what is happening to the evil machinations of some Establishment elites. They are no longer in control. They can of course still do great physical harm by imprudent actions. They are by no means paragons of virtue. But those of us who wish to seek a better world to emerge from this chaotic situation have to depend on ourselves, on our own multiple ways of organizing the struggle. We need, in short, less denunciation and more constructive local action.
The wisest lines of Yeats are the last two in the poem:
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
As our existing historical system is in the process of dying, there is a fierce struggle over what kind of new historical system will succeed it. Soon, we may indeed no longer live in a capitalist system, but we could come to live in an even worse system – a “rough beast” seeking to be born? To be sure, this is only one possible collective choice. The alternative choice is a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system, also seeking to be born. Which one we shall see at the end of the struggle is up to us, bottom-up.

Capitalists, Technocrats and Fanatics: The Ascent of a New Power Bloc

By James Petras

Introduction: The sweeping electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India is the latest expression of the world-wide advance of a new power bloc which promises to impose a New World Order harnessing ethno-religious fanaticism and narrowly trained technocrats to capitalist absolutism.

The far-right is no longer at the margins of western political discourse. It is center-stage. It is no longer dependent on contributions by local militants; it receives financing from the biggest global corporations. It is no longer dismissed by the mass media. It receives feature coverage, highlighting its ‘dynamic and transformative’ leadership.
Today capitalists everywhere confront great uncertainty, as markets crash and endemic corruption at the highest levels erode competitive markets. Throughout the world, large majorities of the labor force question, challenge and resist the massive transfers of public wealth to an ever reduced oligarchy. Electoral politics no longer define the context for political opposition.
Capitalism, neither in theory nor practice, advances through reason and prosperity. It relies on executive fiats, media manipulation and arbitrary police state intrusions. It increasingly relies on death squads dubbed “Special Forces” and a ‘reserve army’ of para-military fanatics.
The new power bloc is the merger of big business, the wealthy professional classes, upwardly mobile, elite trained technocrats and cadres of ethno-religious fanatics who mobilize the masses.
Capitalism and imperialism advances by uprooting millions, destroying local communities and economies, undermining local trade and production, exploiting labor and repressing social solidarity. Everywhere it erodes community and class solidarity.
Ethno-Religious Fanatics and Elite Technocrats
Today capitalism depends on two seemingly disparate forces. The irrational appeal of ethno-religious supremacists and narrowly trained elite technocrats to advance the rule of capital. Ethno-religious fanatics seek to promote bonds between the corporate-warlord elite and the masses, by appealing to their ‘common’ religious ethnic identities.
The technocrats serve the elite by developing the information systems, formulating the images and messages deceiving and manipulating the masses and designing their economic programs.
The political leaders meet with the corporate elite and warlords to set the political-economic agenda, deciding when to rely on the technocrats and when to moderate or unleash the ethno-religious fanatics.
Imperialism operates via the marriage of science and ethno-religious fanaticism- and both are harnessed to capitalist domination and exploitation.
India: Billionaires, Hindu Fascists and IT “Savants”
The election of Narendra Modi, leader of the BJP and long-time member of the Hindu fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) para-military organization was based on three essential components:
(1) Multi-billion rupee funding from corporate India at home and abroad.
(2) Thousands of upwardly mobile IT technocrats mounting a massive propaganda campaign.
(3) Hundreds of thousands of RSS activists spreading the “Hindutva” racist doctrine among millions of villagers.
The Modi regime promises his capitalist backers that he will “open India”– namely end the land reserves of the tribes, convert farmland to industrial parks, deregulate labor and environmental controls.
To the Brahmin elite he promises to end compensatory quotas for lower castes, the untouchables, the minorities and Muslims. For the Hindu fascists he promises more temples. For foreign capitalists he promises entry into all formerly protected economic sectors. For the US, Modi promises closer working relations against China, Russia and Iran… The BJP’s ethno-religious Hindu fanaticism resonates with Israel’s notion of a “pure”Jewish state. Modi and Netanyahu have longstanding ties and promise close working relations based on similar ethno-racist doctrines.
Turkey: The Transition to Islamic-Capitalist Authoritarianism
Turkey under the rule of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has moved decisively toward one-man rule: linking Islam to big capital and police state repression. Erdogan’s ‘triple alliance’ is intent on unleashing mega-capitalist projects, based on the privatization of public spaces and the dispossession of popular neighborhoods. He opened the door to unregulated privatization of mines, communications, banks – leading to exponential growth of profits and the decline of employment security and a rising toll of worker deaths. Erdogan has shed the mask of ‘moderate Islam’ and embraced the jihadist mercenaries invading Syria and legislation expanding religious prerogatives in secular life. Erdogan has launched massive purges of journalists, public officials, civil servants, judges and military officers. He has replaced them with ‘party loyalists’; Erdogan fanatics!
Erdogan has recruited a small army of technocrats who design his mega projects and provide the political infrastructure and programs for his electoral campaigns. Technocrats provide a development agenda that accommodates the foreign and domestic crony corporate elite.
The Anatolian Islamists, small and medium provincial business elite, form the mass base – mobilizing voters, by appealing to chauvinist and ethnocentric beliefs. Erdogan’s repressive, Islamist, capitalist regime’s embrace of the “free market” has been sharply challenged especially in light of the worst mining massacre in Turkish history: the killing of over 300 miners due to corporate negligence and regime complicity. Class polarization threatens the advance of Turkish fascism.
Israel and the “Jewish State”: Billionaires , Ethno-Religious Fanatics and Technocrats
Israel, according to its influential promoters in the US, is a ‘model democracy’. The public pronouncements and the actions of its leaders thoroughly refute that notion. The driving force of Israeli politics is the idea of dispossessing and expelling all Palestinians and converting Israel into a ‘pure’ Jewish state. For decades Israel, funded and colonized by the diaspora, have violently seized Palestinian lands, dispossessed millions and are in the process of Judaizing what remains of the remnant in the “Occupied Territories”.
The Israeli economy is dominated by billionaires. Its “society” is permeated by a highly militarized state. Its highly educated technocrats serve the military-industrial and ethno-religious elite. Big business shares power with both.
High tech Israeli’s apply their knowledge to furthering the high growth, military industrial complex. Medical specialists participate in testing the endurance of Palestinian prisoners undergoing torture (“interrogation”). Highly trained psychologists engage in psych-warfare to gain collaborators among vulnerable Palestinian families. Economists and political scientists, with advanced degrees from prestigious US and British universities (and ‘dual citizenship’) formulate policies furthering the land grabs of neo-fascist settlers. Israel’s best known novelist, Amos Oz condemned the neo-fascist settlers who defecate on the embers of burnt-out mosques.
Billionaire real estate moguls bid up house prices and rents “forcing” many “progressive” Israelies, who occasionally protest, to take the easy road of moving into apartments built on land illegally and violently seized from dispossessed Palestinians. ‘Progressives’ join neo-fascist vigilantes in common colonial settlements. Prestigious urbanologists further the goals of crude ethno-racist political leaders by designing new housing in Occupied Lands. Prominent social scientists trade on their US education to promote Mid-East wars designed by vulgar warlords. Building the Euro American Empire : Riff-Raff of the World Unite!
Empire building is a dirty business. And while the political leaders directing it, feign respectability and are adept at rolling out the moral platitudes and high purposes, the ‘combatants’ they employ are a most unsavory lot of armed thugs, journalistic verbal assassins and highly respected international jurists who prey on victims and exonerate imperial criminals.
In recent years Euro-American warlords have employed “the scum of the slaughterhouse” to destroy political adversaries in Libya, Syria and the Ukraine.
In Libya lacking any semblance of a respectable middle-class democratic proxy, the Euro-American empire builders armed and financed murderous tribal bands, notorious jihadist terrorists, contrabandist groups, arms and drug smugglers. The Euro-Americans counted on a pocketful of educated stooges holed up in London to subdue the thugs, privatize Libya’s oil fields and convert the country into a recruiting ground and launch pad for exporting armed mercenaries for other imperial missions.
The Libyan riff-raff were not satisfied with a paycheck and facile dismissal: they murdered their US paymaster, chased the technocrats back to Europe and set-up rival fiefdoms. Gadhafi was murdered, but so went Libya as a modern viable state. The arranged marriage of Euro-American empire builders, western educated technocrats and the armed riff-raff was never consummated. In the end the entire imperial venture ended up as a petty squabble in the American Congress over who was responsible for the murder of the US Ambassador in Benghazi.
The Euro-American-Saudi proxy war against Syria follows the Libyan script. Thousands of Islamic fundamentalists are financed, armed, trained and transported from bases in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya to violently overthrow the Bashar Assad government in Syria. The world’s most retrograde fundamentalists travel to the Euro-American training bases in Jordan and Turkey and then proceed to invade Syria, seizing towns, executing thousands of alleged ‘regime loyalists’ and planting car bombs in densely populated city centers.
The fundamentalist influx soon overwhelmed the London based liberals and their armed groups.
The jihadist terrorists fragmented into warring groups fighting over the Syrian oil fields. Hundreds were killed and thousands fled to Government controlled regions. Euro-US strategists, having lost their original liberal mercenaries, turned toward one or another fundamentalist groups. No longer in control of the ‘politics’ of the terrorists, Euro-US strategists sought to inflect the maximum destruction on Syrian society. Rejecting a negotiated settlement, the Euro-US strategists turned their backs on the internal political opposition challenging Assad via presidential elections.
In the Ukraine, the Euro-Americans backed a junta of servile neo-liberal technocrats, oligarchical kleptocrats and neo-Nazis, dubbed Svoboda and the Right Sector. The latter were the “shock troops” to overthrow the elected government, massacre the federalist democrats in Odessa and the eastern Ukraine, and back the junta appointed oligarchs serving as “governors”.
The entire western mass media white-washed the savage assaults carried out by the neo-Nazis in propping up the Kiev junta. The powerful presence of the neo-fascists in key ministries, their strategic role as front line fighters attacking eastern cities controlled by pro-democracy militants, establishes them as central actors in converting the Ukraine into a military outpost of NATO. Euro-America Empire Building and the Role of Riff-Raff
Everywhere the Euro-American imperialists choose to expand – they rely on the ‘scum of the earth’: tribal gangs in Libya, fundamentalist terrorists in Syria, neo-Nazis in the Ukraine.
Is it by choice or necessity? Clearly few consequential democrats would lend themselves to the predatory and destructive assaults on existing regimes which Euro-US strategists design. In the course of imperial wars, the local producers, workers, ordinary citizens would “self-destroy”, whatever the outcome. Hence the empire builders look toward ‘marginal groups’, those with no stake in society or economy. Those alienated from any primary or secondary groups. Footloose fundamentalists fit that bill – provided they are paid, armed and allowed to carry their own ideological baggage. Neo-Nazis hostile to democracy have no qualms about serving empire builders who share their ideological hostility to democrats, socialists, federalists and culturally ‘diverse’ societies and states. So they are targeted for recruitment by the empire builders.
The riff-raff consider themselves ‘strategic allies’ of the Euro-American empire builders. The latter, however, have no strategic allies – only strategic interests. Their tactical alliances with the riff-raff endure until they secure control over the state and eliminate their adversaries. Then the imperialist seek to demote, co-opt, marginalize or eliminate their ‘inconvenient’ riff-raff allies. The falling out comes about when the fundamentalists and neo-Nazis seek to restrict capital, especially foreign capital and impose restrictions on imperial control over resources and territory. At first the empire builders seek ‘opportunists’ among the riff-raff, those willing to sacrifice their ‘ideals’ for money and office. Those who refuse are relegated to secondary positions distant from strategic decision-making or to remote outposts. Those who resist are assassinated or jailed. The disposal of the riff-raff serves the empire on two counts. It provides the client regime with a fig leaf of respectability and disarms western critics targeting the extremist component of the junta.
The riff-raff, however, with arms, fighting experience and financing, in the course of struggle, gains confidence in its own power. They do not easily submit to Euro-US strategies. They also have ‘strategic plans’ of their own, in which they seek political power to further their ideological agenda and enrich their followers.
The riff-raff, want to ‘transition’ from shock troops of empire into rulers in their own right. Hence the assaults on the US embassy in Libya, the assassination of Euro-American proxies in Syria, Right Sector riots against the Kiev junta.
A new power bloc is emerging on a global scale. It is already flexing its muscles. It has come to power in India, Turkey, Ukraine and Israel. It brings together big business, technocrats and ethno-religious fascists. They promote unrestrained capitalist expansion in association with Euro-American imperialism.
Scientists, economists, and IT specialists design the programs and plans to realize the profits of local and foreign capitalists. The ethno-fascists mobilize the ‘masses’ to attack minorities and class organizations threatening high rates of returns.
The Euro-Americans contribute to this ‘new power bloc’ by promoting their own ‘troika’ made up of ‘neo-liberal clients’, fundamentalists and neo-Nazis to overthrow nationalist adversaries. The advance of imperialism and capitalism in the 21st century is based on the harnessing of the most advanced technology and up-to-date media outlets with the most retrograde political and social leaders and ideologies.

CNN camera catches Israeli soldier who fired at, killed Palestinian teen

CNN has an important break in the story of the deadly shooting by Israeli occupation forces of two Palestinians teenagers.
As this report by Ivan Watson shows, CNN’s cameras were apparently trained on the Israeli occupation soldier who shot one of the boys. (If you cannot view the video above, see thestory on CNN’s web site.)
Nadim Siam Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Mahmoud Odeh Abu al-Thahir, 16, were killed at a Nakba Day protest near the Ofer military prison in the occupied West Bank village of Beitunia on 15 May.


A screenshot from CNN shows the precise moment an Israeli soldier fires and Nadim Nuwara falls to the ground mortally wounded.
“At the precise moment when Nuwara was shot,” Watson says, “CNN’s camera was rolling, filming an Israeli soldier shooting his rifle at the Palestinians and then demonstrators carrying the mortally wounded teenager to the ambulance.”
Israel has continued to deny its occupation forces used live bullets, intimated that Palestinians might have shot the boys, and even suggested that the security camera footage capturing the boys deaths had been faked.
As Watson’s report also shows, Nuwara’s family recovered the live bullet from inside the back pack Nadim was wearing when he was shot. The bullet had passed through his body into the bag, spattering his school books with blood.
Palestine Center director and commentator Yousef Munayyer observes:
In addition to the two teens who were killed about an hour apart, two more Palestinians, one aged 15 and one in his twenties, were injured by live fire at the same location that day.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has said it has “obtained medical opinions regarding the entry and exit wounds found in the bodies of all four victims, which are completely consistent with injuries caused by live fire and could not have been caused by rubber-coated metal bullets – especially not when fired at a relatively long range, as was the case here.”
The evidence, B’Tselem said, raised “grave suspicion” that occupation forces “willfully killed two Palestinians” and “injured two others” and demanded investigation by Israel’s Military Police Investigations Unit “into the military’s highly incorrect version of the incident conveyed to the media.”
CNN’s footage offers further clear proof that Israeli authorities are lying.
Ultimately, the type of weapon the Israelis used is irrelevant. The fact is that day after day, year after year, Israel uses all manner of weapons to occupy and suppress millions of Palestinians with the result that thousands are dead including, just since the year 2000,more than 1,400 Palestinian children.

Full coverage:

Egypt: Dozens of disappeared civilians face ongoing torture at military prison

These are practices associated with the darkest hours of military and Mubarak’s rule. Egypt’s military cannot run roughshod over detainees’ rights like this.
Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty international
Thu, 22/05/2014
Torture is absolutely prohibited under all circumstances and is a crime under international law. Prosecutors, courts and other Egyptian authorities must never use ‘confessions’ or statements extracted through torture or other ill-treatment in any proceedings. Imprisonment on such a basis constitutes arbitrary detention
Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui
Thu, 22/05/2014

Dozens of civilians have been subjected to enforced disappearance and held for months in secret detention at an Egyptian military camp, where they are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to make them confess to crimes, according to shocking new evidence gathered by Amnesty International.

Egyptian lawyers and activists have a list of at least 30 civilians who are reportedly being held in secret at Al Azouly prison inside Al Galaa Military Camp in Ismailia, 130km north-east of Cairo. Former detainees there have told Amnesty International that many more – possibly up to 400 – could be held in the three-storey prison block. The detainees have not been charged or referred to prosecutors or courts, and have had no access to their lawyers or families. 

These are practices associated with the darkest hours of military and Mubarak’s rule. Egypt’s military cannot run roughshod over detainees’ rights like this,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty international. 

The authorities must immediately inform the families and lawyers of all those being held in secret at Al Galaa Military Camp or elsewhere. Anyone who has been forcibly disappeared must immediately be granted access to doctors, lawyers and their families. 

They must be protected from further torture or other ill-treatment, and released, unless they are promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offence before being brought before a judge for a fair trial. 

“Reports of torture in Egypt have been steadily emerging. Yet, what’s happening inside the prison is taken straight from a torturer’s textbook and shows that behind the authorities’ rhetoric of the road map to democracy and upcoming elections lies ruthless repression,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.

There must be full, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, with all those responsible brought to justice.

Amnesty International met with recently released detainees from Al Azouly prison. They gave harrowing accounts of torture, including the use of electric shocks, burns and other ill-treatment during interrogations at the military camp.

Lawyers and activists have told Amnesty International that enforced disappearances have been on the rise in Egypt since November 2013. It is expected that the detainees being held in secret will be brought before state security prosecutors after they have “confessed” under torture. In some cases, it appears that individuals have been secretly detained for months, during which time they were tortured to extract “confessions”.

Lawyers working on state security cases, including those involving prisoners at Al Azouly, described a systematic pattern where people are abducted from streets or their homes and sent to Al Azouly, where they have no access to lawyers or their families and the authorities refuse to acknowledge that they were in custody. 

The defendants are coerced to “confess” to a crime or implicate others. Some of the detainees agree to confess once referred to the state security prosecutor, to get out of the prison and stop the torture. Lawyers told Amnesty International that they are never allowed to attend the first investigation and they are not informed about the date or time of the investigation. 

“Torture is absolutely prohibited under all circumstances and is a crime under international law. Prosecutors, courts and other Egyptian authorities must never use ‘confessions’ or statements extracted through torture or other ill-treatment in any proceedings. Imprisonment on such a basis constitutes arbitrary detention,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui. 
One prisoner recently released from Al Azouly military prison:
“The military arrested me in January [2014]…and took me on the same day to Al Azouly prison after they beat me in a military camp in my town for four hours. I was held in Al Azouly prison for 76 days without seeing a judge or a prosecutor, I was not even allowed to talk to my family. They put me on the third floor of the prison in solitary confinement. The authorities there interrogated me six times. They took off my clothes and gave me electric shocks all over my body during the investigations, including on my testicles, and beat me with batons and military shoes. They handcuffed me from behind and hung me on a door for 30 minutes. They always blindfolded me during the investigations. In one interrogation they burned my beard with a lighter. The investigations were held in another building inside the camp…the soldiers call it S1 and S8 buildings [which are military intelligence buildings]. I could not see the investigators because I was blindfolded in all investigations and handcuffed from behind. They wanted to know information about protests and demonstrations, they asked about the active members in the university. They wanted to know who funds protests, who holds weapons and who buys them. They also asked me about my affiliation and whether I belong to the Muslim Brotherhood…
“After 25 days I was transferred to another cell with another 23 prisoners. Most of the persons in this cell were from Sinai. One of the prisoners had burns on his body…he mentioned that they put out cigarettes on his body. We were allowed out of the cell once a day to the bathroom before sunrise, and for five minutes for all the 23 persons in the cell. The food was very poor. I was then released without a prosecutor’s order or investigations …they took me from prison and put me outside gate 2 of the military camp.”
Another prisoner recently released from Al Azouly:
“I was arrested from my home by security forces dressed in civilian clothing in February. I was beaten upon arrest and then was taken to Al Azouly prison. They questioned me 13 times. They blindfolded me, handcuffed me from behind and took off my clothes…then they gave me electric shocks all over the body including in my testicles. I was not allowed to call my family…I gave their number to a cellmate who was released and informed them about my location. A man with us in the cell called Haj Shetewy, he is from north Sinai…was suffering from torture that he faced upon arrest by 101 Military Brigade in Arish. They inserted a hot steel rod in his anus…he was not able to go to the bathroom for nine days. They did not treat him….he died in cell number 11 on the second floor. After the investigations they released me in May.”

Amr Rabee is an engineering student at Cairo University who disappeared after he was arrested from Ramsis Street in the capital on 11 March by security officials dressed in civilian clothing. His family did not know his whereabouts. They asked in police stations, prosecutors’ offices, National Security and filed a report with the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 15 March about his disappearance. The authorities denied holding him. 

Amr Rabee’s family later received a phone call in April from a released prisoner who told them that Amr was being held in Al Azouly military prison. According to the released prisoner, Amr Rabee cannot move his left arm due to a torture-related injury. On 17 May, more than two months after his disappearance, Amr Rabee was brought before the East Cairo Prosecutor’s Office. A lawyer who was present at the time called the student’s family, who rushed to the Prosecutor’s Office. They arrived to learn that a detention order had been filed and that, according to the official case file, Amr was arrested from his home in Al Haram on 17 May – more than two months after his actual arrest. The family was able to see him for five minutes in the prosecutor’s office and he mentioned that he was held in Al Azouly military prison and then Al Aqrab prison in Tora. He has a dislocated shoulder.

A woman in a town 250 km from Cairo told Amnesty International that her husband was arrested when the security forces dressed in civilian clothing and police uniforms raided their home in the middle of the night in January 2014. Before he was taken away, they gave him electric shocks in front of her. Despite repeated efforts to find his whereabouts, she was finally able to see him in Al Aqrab prison in May 2014. He bore signs of torture, including bruises and cuts in his hands and arms and burn marks on his arms. He also had a dislocated shoulder. He told her that they wanted him to confess to involvement in an explosion that led to the killing of soldiers. 
Al Azouly prison is inside the headquarters of the Second Field Army Command. The camp includes a military court, the prison and Military Intelligence offices. The prison has three storeys: the first floor has military detainees facing trial; the second floor has a mix of civilians facing military trials and individuals who are “under investigation” but who have not been referred to a prosecutor or court; the third floor has more individuals who are “under investigation”. 

Amnesty International was not able to determine exactly how many people are being held in Al Azouly prison. Released prisoners say that up to 200 people can be detained on each floor, and estimate that there are 200 to 400 prisoners in total.  

Released prisoners said that the torture method used against individual detainees depends on the suspect’s profile. Those accused of killing soldiers or police are given electric shocks, hung on doors, burned, and sometimes whipped. The interrogations are held in a building 10 minutes away from the prison. Detainees are blindfolded and driven in a military vehicle to the investigation building before being taken to the first floor. The investigations take place from 3 pm until 10 or 11 pm. Since they were blindfolded, prisoners were not able to know whether the interrogations were being conducted by Military Intelligence or National Security officers.

Last week, Amnesty International launched a new global Stop Torture campaign, which accused governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture, three decades after the ground-breaking Convention Against Torture was adopted by the UN in 1984.

Aid group Mercy Corps forced to close Damascus operations

Palestinians from the besieged al-Yarmouk camp receive food aid from UNRWA, south of Damascus
Palestinians from Yarmouk camp receive food aid south of Damascus. Aid group Mercy Corps says it is now only operating in rebel-held areas of Syria. Photograph: Reuters
Leading provider of aid in Syria told by Assad officials not to operate in opposition-held areas in defiance of UN resolution
One of the largest aid providers in Syria, Mercy Corps, has been forced to close its operations in Damascus because Syrian officials said it could not work in opposition-held areas of the country.
The demand is in defiance of a UN security council resolution demanding that all those who need humanitarian aid in the war-torn state be able to receive it, no matter where they are.
Mercy Corps confirmed to the Guardian that it stopped working in the Syrian capital on 30 April after having to choose between operating from areas of the country controlled by the Syrian army and those under rebel control.
"We are deeply disappointed by the closure of our Damascus-based operations," said the aid group's spokesperson, Cassandra Nelson. "Since 2013, Mercy Corps has also maintained aid-delivery operations from Damascus into south-central Syria – with the consent of the Syrian government – serving more than 350,000 affected civilians."
At the same time, the NGO has been delivering aid into the rebel-held north reaching more than 1.7 million civilians, and making it the largest provider of relief to opposition areas.
Delivery of aid has remained contentious throughout the Syrian war, which is now into its fourth year, with regime officials insisting that all relief be funnelled through the state apparatus. But with almost half the population having been displaced and the Syrian military having lost control of large parts of the country, those most in need have increasingly sought shelter in opposition areas, or across borders.
Aid has been routinely denied to some opposition areas, such as theYarmouk Palestinian camp in Damascus, and in the old city of Homs, which was retaken by Syrian forces in late-April after a crippling siege. Some opposition fighters and their families who were allowed to leave as part of a surrender deal say they were starved into submission.
A resolution passed by the UN security council this year aimed to ensure equal access to food, blankets, clothing, water and medicine. Resolution 2139 was hailed as the first meaningful decision by the global body that has been in deadlock since the war began, with Syrian allies, Russia and China, vetoing all other moves to impose pressure on regime officials.
Even that resolution, which avoided blaming either side for the crisis, was only passed after protracted debates about wording and no threat of enforcement.
"Humanitarian relief has become so politicised," said a European ambassador working on Syria who did not want to be named. "Because it was a big step for the Syrians to acknowledge that they could no longer control the whole country and for Russia to acknowledge that those who were suffering were real people, not terrorists. It defied both their narratives."
Nelson said: "Our experience clearly shows that the Syrian Government has not been swayed by UNSC resolution 2139 to allow aid to cross through border crossings it does not directly control. These direct and high capacity access routes are often the best way to deliver large volumes of urgent assistance to civilians in need.
"It has been 90-days since the resolution was approved and, unfortunately, we are still not seeing any positive, major changes on the ground. The international community must continue to elevate this issue and push for the full implementation."
Dominic Bowen, co-ordinator for the NGO Forum, which acts as a steering body for aid agencies in northern Syria, said: "Any organisation forced to choose between one side or the other has clearly lost any form of control or independence. This goes completely against the spirit of aid.
The Syrian government is clearly neglecting their obligations to protect their own citizens. I would suggest that there are similar considerations being faced by other agencies."
On Thursday up to 21 people, 11 of them civilians, all of whom were attending a Bashar al-Assad election rally are reported to have been killed in the town of Deraa during a mortar attack.
The attack took place less than two weeks before a presidential election that is certain to rubber stamp Assad's bid to become Syrian leader for a third seven-year term. Residents of opposition-held areas are prevented from voting, unless they cross back to regime areas and register with the authorities.

Syria video shows chlorine gas floating in streets: activists

Women, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, receive treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama May 22, 2014. REUTERS-Badi Khlif
1 OF 4. Women, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, receive treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama May 22, 2014.


(Reuters) - Syrian opposition activists have posted a video of what they say is chlorine gas floating through the streets of a village, the first such footage of they say is a chemical weapon campaign by President Bashar al-Assad.
The village of Kfar Zeita, in the central province of Hama 125 miles north of Damascus, has been the epicenter of what activists and medics call a two-month-old assault in which chlorine gas canisters have been dropped out of helicopters.
Damascus denies that forces loyal to Assad have used chlorine or other more poisonous gases and blames all chemical attacks on rebels fighting them in a three-year-old uprising. 
Text accompanying the video, posted on Thursday by a user called Mustapha Jamaa, said it was filmed on Thursday in Kfar Zeita by the Revolution General Commission, an opposition group.
It showed green-yellow gas in a street. A man runs away from the gas cloud with a woman who is holding a cloth to her mouth. Another man in camouflage trousers and wearing a gas mask calls out for a car to assist the woman. A voice off screen says: "Chlorine gas bombing. Yellow smoke."
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the footage. The video did not show an impact site or indicate where it was filmed.
A Reuters freelance photographer said he arrived at the scene of the attack an hour after a helicopter dropped the bomb.
"The smell of chlorine was very obvious. It smelt like vinegar, or bleach. I started to cough and hyperventilate. My eyes were burning," he said.
One of his photos showed the woman who was running away from the gas in the video. She was being treated with oxygen at a field hospital. "There were 70 wounded people," he said. "Those who were at the impact site fainted."
Activists said Kfar Zeita was attacked twice on Thursday, as well as the village of Al-Tamana'a in northwest Idlib province. There have been more than a dozen reported chlorine attacks in Syria since April 11.
The alleged attack came on the same day that Russia and China vetoed a resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Assad agreed with the United States and Russia to dispose of his chemical weapons after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of the capital last August.
Chlorine is thousands of times less lethal than sarin but its use as a weapon is still illegal under a global chemical weapons convention that Syria signed.
Its use would also breach the terms of the deal with Washington and Moscow, itself now weeks behind schedule, with roughly seven percent of Assad's chemical arsenal still inside Syria.
Syria did not declare chlorine as part of its stockpile, further complicating the operation to rid Assad of chemical weapons.
The watchdog Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is considering launching its own fact-finding mission to investigate the reports of chlorine gas attacks, sources told Reuters last month.
Syria's civil war started with a pro-democracy movement against Assad that armed itself following attacks by security forces on protesters.

The ensuing conflict has killed more than 160,000 people, a third of them civilians, and caused millions to flee.