Posts tagged egypt
Hundreds of Christians were under siege inside Cairo’s Coptic cathedral last night as security forces and local residents, some armed with handguns, launched a prolonged and unprecedented attack on the seat of Egypt’s ancient Church.
At least one person was killed and at least 84 injured as Christians inside the walled St Mark’s cathedral compound came under a frenzied assault from their assailants in the main road outside.
The fighting erupted after a mass funeral for five Copts who were killed during violent clashes in a north Egyptian town on Saturday. A Muslim man also died in the clashes, which happened after an Islamic institute was daubed with offensive graffiti.
Following yesterday’s service thousands of Christians poured out on to the street and began chanting slogans against Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian President and long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and extremist groups here want us to leave. They don’t accept Copts. But this was our country, ever since the time of the pharaohs.”
Late last night President Morsi issued a statement in which he said he had spoken to Pope Tawadros II, the leader of the Coptic church, and had given orders for the cathedral and citizens to be guarded. He said protecting the lives of Muslims and Christians was a state responsibility and added: “I consider any attack on the cathedral as an attack on me, personally.”
The man killed in the clashes outside the cathedral was named by the state news agency, MENA, as Mahrous Hana Tadros, a Christian name. MENA said 11 of the 84 injured were police officers.
Earlier, witnesses described how they were attacked by locals from Abbasiyya, the north-east Cairo neighbourhood where the cathedral is located. After being hit by rocks from the roofs of nearby buildings, the mourners were reportedly forced back into the cathedral compound.
Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian blogger who attended the funeral, said he saw people being showered with broken bottles from the roof of an apartment block opposite. After being attacked, he said, the people “started racing out of the side street and destroying the nearby cars”. He added that he was not sure if those attacking the vehicles were mourners. As night fell the streets around St Mark’s were echoing to the sound of gunshots and exploding tear gas canisters. Young men on either side of the 18ft-high compound wall exchanged a continuous hail of rocks and broken masonry. Others hurled Molotov cocktails and let off fireworks.
The security forces positioned outside the cathedral launched volley after volley of tear gas into the compound. Some of the thousands of onlookers gathered in the road cheered as the canisters rocketed towards Christians perched on the walls overlooking the main street.
One young man, his right hand clasped around a shiny steel handgun, clambered on top of a petrol station alongside the cathedral and blasted a single round at those trapped inside. He was helped down by a friend who was also carrying a handgun, before they both jogged off through a nearby line of riot police who had been watching the young man take aim. Soon afterwards there was a flash from inside the compound as a young man stepped up on to the perimeter wall and fired a weapon towards the thousands of onlookers below.
A second later a number of people recoiled as they were hit by birdshot. Handguns and other weapons, many of them homemade, are becoming a more common feature of the violence which has regularly convulsed the country since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
“Only God can save us from what is happening right now,” said Mina Zakaraya, a 25-year-old Coptic seminarian who was positioned inside the compound. At the cathedral’s rear entrance, panicked young men ushering people inside demanded to see the cross which most Copts have tattooed on their wrist.
“I’m worried about the situation in Egypt,” said Makram Girgis as he sat on the steps leading up to the imposing cathedral building. source - Independent UK
Just like in the bible, imagine that
“And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.” Exodus 10:14
As if we hadn’t already seen enough Biblical events this year, a plague of over 30 million locusts swarmed over Egypt’s cities and farms just three weeks before Passover begins.
But put your apocalyptic fears to rest. This happens every year as part of the locusts’ natural migration pattern, though this year’s swarm is especially large.
That doesn’t mean Egyptians aren’t freaked the heck out by millions of nasty bugs buzzing through the air at all hours of day and night, possibly descending upon the agriculture fields where they’re known to destroy entire crops, just like in the actual Passover story.
The crops are so far safe, Egyptian officials assured the public. As the plague made its way from the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia at the end of last week and this weekend, though, Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abdel Moamen explained the situation to the country in a calmly worded statement.
“The current inspection teams at areas targeted by locusts did not witness swarms damaging a single inch of crop,” said Moamen. He added that the locusts are “sexually immature and do not depend on plants for energy since they mainly rely on fat stores.”
That said, these plages can be unpredictable. Egyptian officials didn’t expect the plague to pass by the country’s capital, until Sunday when the locusts unexpectedly arrived in Cairo. The government denied reports that the locusts had started devastating crops as well as a report from United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that the Ministry of Agriculture cleared 11,000 hectares of land in an attempt to save the harvest. When they get hungry, a one-ton hoard of locusts can eat the same amount of food in one day as 2,500 humans, according to the UN. Egypt knows this too. Less than a decade ago, a plague of locusts nearly 40 miles wide swept over Egypt damaging crops at the majority of the country’s farms. That’s a picture of it, to the right.
Conflicting reports aside, Moamen insists that the government has everything under control. “Egyptian armed forces and the border guards are attempting to fight the swarm with the means at their disposal,” the agriculture minister said. “I ask the families living in the locust-plagued areas not to burn tires. This does not chase away the locusts, but only causes damage and could ignite large scale fires that would cost in lives.” Also, that smoke isn’t doing Egypt’s grandchildren any favors. Scientists anticipate that, as global warming worsens, plagues like this will also get worse. source – The Atlantic Wire
Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel warned Tuesday, Jan. 29, that Syria is falling apart and no one knows what the next day may bring: “War may not break out tomorrow,” he said, “but we stand ready for any eventuality.”
If war is not expected tomorrow, why have Israel’s armed forces, including the air force, been on their highest level of preparedness since Friday, Jan. 25? The Syrian crisis may not technically fit the description of a state of war. However, the violent turbulence in that country may at any time spill over the border into hostilities in some shape or form.
The “no comment” stance on the Syrian civil war, long held by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is untenable and pointless, especially after the latter cut short an overseas family trip to be flown home in a hurry Saturday.
No one believes the official explanation that the three Iron Dome anti-missile batteries stationed over the weekend in northern Israel – in the sight of many thousands of local dwellers – are there for a preplanned routine test – least of all after a senior Israeli officer told AFP that large Hizballah forces are parked at Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons stores poised ready to seize them.
If this happens, said the officer, “A decision to attack Syria or Lebanon will need to be implemented immediately.”
This is beginning to sound as though the politicians and the generals are not on speaking terms.
Gen. Eshel’s comment came hard upon the grave warning issued earlier Tuesday by Egypt’s army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is also the defense minister. “The political strife is pushing the state to the brink of collapse,” he said on the sixth day of turbulent protests across the country at the cost of more than 60 lives.
Gen. El-Sissi reacted to the chaos and lawlessness engulfing Egypt. The government headed by President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer a functioning administration. They have been reduced to the single task of fighting to hang onto power.
None of the forces of law and order – the army, internal security, police – are willing to clash head-on with the opposition protesters rampaging on the streets of the main cities including Cairo. Some towns have descended into chaos and some outlying areas in this country of 90 million are no longer receiving regular food and water supplies.
The Egyptian defense minister’s warning may be taken two ways:
1. As a last warning to the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition on the streets that this is the eleventh hour and if they don’t step back from their confrontation, the military will be forced to seize power to save the country.
2. Alternatively, that the army will not interfere and will stand aside for now, while warning that a civil war in Egypt would be more extensive and calamitous than the vicious conflict bringing Syria to ruin in the last two years. As the two countries teeter on the brink of catastrophe, Gen. Eshel’s dry forecast of doom correctly noted that no one knows what tomorrow will bring.
However, Israel is coming face to face with its worst fear: being hemmed in by a blazing ring of hopeless conflicts just across its borders: Syria and Lebanon in the north; Egypt in the west and south; and Jordan under threat. source – DEBKA
Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.
The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group. And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.
It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East. The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.
“A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”
It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”
“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.
He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”
The report, entitled Christianophobia, highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them. State hostility towards Christianity is particularly rife in China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world, according to the report.
It quotes Ma Hucheng, an advisor to the Chinese government, who claimed in an article last year that the US has backed the growth of the Protestant Church in China as a vehicle for political dissidence.
“Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities,” he wrote in the China Social Sciences Press.
“Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the regime…in China and overturn it,” he added.
The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.
“There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands,” it claims.
The report shows that “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.
It catalogues hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.
It claims George Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after the September 11 attacks on New York created the impression for Muslims in the Middle East of a “Christian assault on the Muslim world”.
“But however the motivation for violence is measured, the early twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians,” the report says.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 further priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010.
“In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.
In Pakistan, the murder last year of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minister for minorities, “vividly reflected” religious intolerance in Pakistan. Shortly after his death it emerged that Mr Bhatti had recorded a video in which he declared: “I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.
“I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”
The report also warns that Christians in India have faced years of violence from Hindu extremists. In 2010 scores of attacks on Christians and church property were carried out in Karnataka, a state in south west India.
And while many people are aware of the oppression faced in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists, targeted abuse of Christians in the country has been given little exposure, the report says.
In some areas of Burma the government has clamped down on Christian protesters by restricting the building of new churches.
“Openly professing Christians employed in government service find it virtually impossible to get promotion,” it adds. source – Telegraph UK
Obama arms the Muslim Brotherhood to the teeth
The Obama administration took a careful look at the political calendar before announcing that the first four F-16 fighter planes – of the 20 approved in a $1 billion US foreign aid package to Egypt – would be delivered Jan. 22.
The announcement came Tuesday, Dec. 11, as Cairo and other Egyptian towns were set for massive rival demonstrations for and against President Mohamed Morsi’s decision to hold a referendum on a pro-Islamist constitution Saturday. It therefore came in for rising criticism in Washington of the wisdom of sending the jets to an unstable Egypt in the grip of a strong political confrontation.
A broad range of opposition groups – pro-democratic, liberal, secular, women and Christian – are demanding that President Morsi cancel the referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood is mobilizing its supporters to counter this protest. As the first anti-Morsi groups began gathering in Tahrir Square Tuesday, nine were hurt by masked gunmen.
The opposition has clipped President Morsi’s wings once by making him annul the near-dictatorial powers he gave himself. Forcing him to forego the referendum would further undermine his authority.
So the president fought back by authorizing the military to secure state buildings and arrest civilians in the incendiary days leading up to Saturday’s referendum. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Monday, six Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighters flew symbolically over Cairo.
However, the 2nd and 9th Divisions stationed around Cairo stayed in their barracks and the only uniformed personnel visible on the street were the Republican Guard troops on permanent duty in the capital’s center.
By approving another 20 F-16 jets for Muslim-ruled Egypt on the day of the competing demonstrations, President Obama showed the Egyptian people that he stands foursquare behind President Morsi and that more US military aid is on the way.
The first four jets will arrive in Egypt the day after Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 swearing-in for a second term as US president at the Capitol – and not by chance. That date also coincides with Israel’s Jan. 22 general election.
Obama is therefore using those warplanes as a signpost for the Muslim-Arab Middle East – and the Israeli voter – to show them that he is sticking unswervingly to his policy of support for the region’s Muslim Brotherhood – and especially the Egyptian president – even if Morsi did slip up by a grab for sweeping powers that alienated most of the opposition.
The US promise of new fighter planes was also a recommendation to the Egyptian army to pick the right side and opt for President Morsi if they wanted US military assistance to keep coming. Washington was also ready to consider providing them with more high-tech items in addition to those already supplied.
At all events, President Obama has made his choice, opting for Egypt’s Islamists against the pro-democracy and liberal opposition – a choice that he might have found embarrassing when he campaigned for his second term.
Israel had a dark premonition of what was coming. Obama began laying the background for his strong alignment with Islamist Egypt last month with the dramatic announcement of a ceasefire in Cairo on Nov. 20, that was delivered jointly by Morsi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
By this announcement – and by maneuvering Israel into abstaining from a ground operation in the Gaza Strip to complete its air operation against Palestinian terrorist targets – Obama pulled the Egyptian president out of his hat as a fully-fledged international figure ready to jump to the top of his newly-minted Sunni Muslim Middle East coalition. In addition to Egypt, its chosen members were to be Turkey, Qatar and the Palestinian Hamas. Israel was to be a secret partner and contributor of high-grade intelligence.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was ready to fit into the role cast Israel by the US president. He therefore chose to hold back from a ground incursion in the Gaza Strip and then agreed to the radical Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal visiting Gaza last week.
His reward came at the same time as Washington’s announcement of the 20 F-16 fighters for Egypt: The US has appropriated $650 million worth of ordnance to refill the Israeli arsenals depleted by the massive Pillar of Defense air offensive in Gaza.
Under this deal, the US will supply the Israeli Air Force with 6,900 satellite-guided “smart bombs;” 10,000 mixed bombs – including 3,450 one-tonners and 1,725 bombs weighing 250 kilograms – as well as two kinds of buster-bunkers – 1,725, GBU-39 bombs and 3,450 BLU-109s. source – DEBKA
(Reuters) – Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Mursi’s palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, two presidential sources said.
Police fired teargas at demonstrators angered by Mursi’s drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on December 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.
Several thousand people had gathered nearby in what they dubbed “last warning” protests against Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a November 22 decree that expanded his powers. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the crowd chanted.
“The president left the palace,” a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had left the building.
Mursi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition.
Riot police at the palace faced off against activists chanting “leave, leave” and holding Egyptian flags with “no to the constitution” written on them. Protesters had assembled near mosques in northern Cairo before marching towards the palace.
“Our marches are against tyranny and the void constitutional decree and we won’t retract our position until our demands are met,” said Hussein Abdel Ghany, a spokesman for an opposition coalition of liberal, leftist and other disparate factions.
Despite the latest protests, there has been only a limited response to opposition calls for a mass campaign of civil disobedience in the Arab world’s most populous country and cultural hub, where many people yearn for a return to stability.
A few hundred protesters gathered earlier near Mursi’s house in a suburb east of Cairo, chanting slogans against his decree and against the Muslim Brotherhood, from which the president emerged to win a free election in June. Police closed the road to stop them from coming any closer, a security official said.
Opposition groups have accused Mursi of making a dictatorial power grab to push through a constitution drafted by an assembly dominated by Islamists, with a referendum planned for December 15.
Egypt’s most widely read independent newspapers did not publish on Tuesday in protest at Mursi’s “dictatorship”. Banks closed early to let staff go home safely in case of trouble.
Abdelrahman Mansour in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the cradle of the anti-Mubarak revolt, said: “The presidency believes the opposition is too weak and toothless. Today is the day we show them the opposition is a force to be reckoned with.”
After winning post-Mubarak elections and pushing the Egyptian military out of the political driving seat it held for decades, the Islamists sense their moment has come to shape the future of Egypt, a longtime U.S. ally whose 1979 peace treaty with Israel is a cornerstone of Washington’s Middle East policy.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, who staged a huge pro-Mursi demonstration on Saturday, are confident that enough members of the judiciary will be available to oversee the mid-December referendum, despite calls by some judges for a boycott.
Cairo stocks closed up 3.5 percent on Tuesday as investors took heart at what they saw as prospects for a return to stability in a country whose divisions have only widened since a mass uprising toppled Mubarak on February 11, 2011.
Mohamed Radwan, at Pharos Securities brokerage, said the Supreme Judicial Council’s agreement to supervise the referendum had generated confidence that the vote would happen “despite all the noise and demonstrations that might take place until then”.
“NO WAY PERFECT”
Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, a technocrat with Islamist sympathies, said in an interview with CNN: “We certainly hope that things will quiet down after the referendum is completed.”
He said the constitution was “in no way a perfect text” that everyone had agreed to, but that a “majority consensus” favored moving forward with the referendum in 11 days’ time.
The Muslim Brotherhood, now tasting power via the ballot box for the first time in eight decades of struggle, wants to safeguard its gains and appears ready to override street protests by what it regards as an unrepresentative minority.
It is also determined to stop the courts, which have already dissolved the Islamist-led elected lower house of parliament, from further obstructing their blueprint for change.
Mohamed ElBaradei, coordinator of an opposition National Salvation Front, has said Mursi must rescind his decree, drop plans for the referendum and agree on a new, more representative constituent assembly to draft a democratic constitution.
In an opinion piece published in the Financial Times, he accused Mursi and the Brotherhood of believing that “with a few strokes of a pen, they can slide (Egypt) back into a coma”.
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once headed the U.N. nuclear watchdog, wrote: “If they continue to try, they risk an eruption into violence and chaos that will destroy the fabric of Egyptian society.”
Despite charges that they are anti-Islamist and politically motivated, judges say they are following legal codes in their rulings. Experts say some political changes rushed through in the past two years have been on shaky legal ground.
A Western diplomat said the Islamists were counting on a popular desire for restored normality and economic stability.
“All the messages from the Muslim Brotherhood are that a vote for the constitution is one for stability and a vote against is one for uncertainty,” he said, adding that the cost of the strategy was a “breakdown in consensus politics”. source – Reuters
Fear, intimation, and business as usual in Egypt
Egypt’s ruling party is paying gangs of thugs to sexually assault women protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against President Mohamed Morsi, activists said. They also said the Muslim Brotherhood is paying gangs to beat up men who are taking part in the latest round of protests, which followed a decree by President Morsi to give himself sweeping new powers.
It comes as the Muslim Brotherhood co-ordinated a demonstration today in support of President Mohamed Morsi, who is rushing through a constitution to try to defuse opposition fury over his newly expanded powers.
Just 24 hours earlier around 200,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square, the heart of last year’s revolution which toppled President Hosni Mubarak, yesterday to protest against a new draft constitution.
Large marches from around Cairo flowed into the square, chanting ‘Constitution: Void!’ and The people want to bring down the regime.’ But amid the calls for democracy a sinister threat has emerged.
Magda Adly, the director of the Nadeem Centre for Human Rights, said that under Mubarak, the Government paid thugs to beat male protestors and sexually assault women.
‘This is still happening now,’ she told The Times. ‘I believe thugs are being paid money to do this … the Muslim Brotherhood have the same political approaches as Mubarak,’ she said.
One protestor, Yasmine, told the newspaper how she had been in the square filming the demonstrations for a few hours when the crowd suddenly turned.
Before she knew what was happening, about 50 men had surrounded her and began grabbing her breasts. She said they ripped off her clothes, starting with her headscarf and for nearly an hour, indecently assaulted her with their hands.
A few men tried to help her but they were beaten away. Eventually some residents who had seen the attack from their windows came to her aid and an elderly couple pulled her into their home. She suffered internal injuries and was unable to walk for a week.
Four of Yasmine’s friends were also sexually assaulted in the square that day, in the summer.
Afaf el-Sayed, a journalist and activist, told the newspaper she was assaulted by a group of men while protesting in Tahrir Square just over a month ago and she was sure her attackers were ‘thugs from the Muslim Brotherhood’.
In February 2011 the correspondent for the American network CBS, Lara Logan, endured a half-hour sexual assault in Tahrir Square by a group of men. She said after the ordeal that she had been ‘raped with their hands’.
While the exact frequency of these attacks is unknown, activists have reported nearly 20 attacks in the last ten days and say there has been a dramatic increase in mob sex attacks on protestors in the last year.
Most attacks take place in one particular corner of the square, at roughly the same time every evening, and usually starts with a group of men forming a human chain around women as if to protect them.
Yasmine said she was almost sure the assault was planned. She managed to throw her camera to a friend and was able to watch the footage later. She told The Times: ‘Just before the attack it looks like men are getting into position. They look like they’re up to something, they don’t look like random protestors.’
The newspaper spoke to two men who admitted they were paid to target female protestors. Victor and Tutu, both in their thirties, said they operate in a group of around 65 local men and got paid between £10 and £20 a time. But they would not reveal who pays them.
‘We’re told to go out and sexually harass girls so they leave the demonstration,’ Victor told The Times. He said the aim was to cause disruption and instil fear in protesters. He said members of the public sometimes joined in.
Protestors in Tahrir Square yesterday angrily vowed to bring down a draft constitution approved by allies of President Morsi. source – Daily Mail UK