Monday, April 1, 2013

Women's status, unrest in Cairo, and weakened protest rights

The Muslim Brotherhood has responded negatively to a newly ratified United Nations (UN) declaration, which seeks to end violence against women. They reject the declaration deeming it as misleading and deceptive and stating that it contradicts the principles of Islam and would destroy society. The National Council for Women (NCW) has dismissed the Brotherhood’s statements insisting the declaration advocates for law enforcement to execute plan to combat violence, while stressing equality in education, health, and human rights. Further, they state the claims made by the brotherhood that it violates Sharia are a “misuse of religion, and an attempt to tarnish the UN’s image in order to quash women’s rights.” Other groups see the “showdown” between the two groups as a stage due to Egypt signing the declaration, meaning the ruling party (Brotherhood) signed it, keeping appearances both internationally and locally.   Is the Brotherhood feigning a feud with the women’s council? By Dalia Rabie March 25, 2013)

The "Strong Egypt" Party launched an initiative in January called “Transportation that respects women” in an effort to alleviate sexual assault and other issues women face while in public. The microbuses are provided to offer an alternative to public transportation system that “is failing to provide a basic, respectable method of transport that meet women’s needs.” In a study conducted in Cairo and Monufiya universities, 68% of women said they had been subjected to either physical or verbal abuse. Private taxis are too expensive so many women are happy this new alternative is available to reduce the risk of harassment. However, some women’s-rights groups are concerned that it encourages gender discrimination and only treats the symptom of an overarching problem. ( Women only: Will a segregated transport system solve or perpetuate a problem? by Heba Helmy March 27, 2013) 

Meanwhile, two years after the revolution, street violence remains high, and the rule of law seems weak. 

At least 90 people were injured during clashes on Friday the 22nd between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents. The opponents ransacked three of the brotherhood’s offices including their headquarters in Cairo. The Brotherhood’s spokesman said opponents attacked women who were holding mother's day commencements. Riot police defended the headquarters but did not interfere to break up the sides a few blocks away. The opposition demanded Morsi to be tried for the killings of protestors just like Mubarak. (Dozens injured as clashes erupt in Egypt  by Al Jazeera March 22, 2013)

Last week, a new round of clashes erupted in cities in northern Egypt, and protestors rallied in Cairo in the latest demonstrations against President Morsi. The clashes in Alexandria occurred between citizens, those who supported the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who oppose the group. At another location, anti-government protestors threw stones at offices that used to be home to the Brotherhood’s office before it was stormed a few weeks back. This halted train traffic for a few hours. In the Nile River Delta, protestors and riot police clashed in front of the office of Prosecutor General Talaat Abdullah. Early this week, Egypt’s prosecutor general issued warrants for five of Egypt’s most prominent advocates stating they instigated the violence over the past few months where hundreds have been injured. A few weeks ago members of the Brotherhood beat activists, including women, who were spray-painting anti-brotherhood graffiti outside their headquarters. Earlier this week, Morsi gave a speech calling his opposition thugs and warned foreign nations that are interfering in their domestic issues. “No one in our neighborhood wants this nation to stand on its feet. I will cut off any finger that meddles in Egypt.” ( Protestors rally in Cairo, clashes erupt in 2 other Egyptian cities in latest wave of unrest by Mohammed Khalil March 29, 2013)

Despite this tough talk by Morsi about foreign meddling, perhaps Morsi should work on cleaning his own house. 

Amnesty International is criticizing the Egyptian government for failing to protect Coptic Christians, the largest minority group in the country. There has been a rise in tension in religious communities and authorities have done little to relieve it. In February a Muslim woman was reported “missing” and accused a church of converting her to Christianity. Protest erupted demanding she be returned and the Coptic Christians leave the community. “Let the Christians die from fear” were common chants that were paired with anti-Christian leaflets distributed throughout public areas. After a week of protest and violence (shut down Christian stores and beat anyone who resisted), on March 25, a large group of Muslim men threw Molotov cocktails inside a Christian church and set fire the local priest’s car. Muslim and Christian elders met for a “reconciliation meeting” which agreements to allow Christian stores to reopen and for the missing woman to be returned by April 24 were made. Amnesty International state the response is poor and “reconciliation” should not be a replacement for prosecution of offenders of sectarian violence.    (Amnesty Slams Morsy for failing to protect Copts by Egypt Independent March 27, 2013)

Freedom of speech is increasingly restricted in Egypt. A draft that restricts the right to demonstrate has been approved by the Shura Council. The bill prohibits citizens from organizing protests that “pose a risk to the nation’s security.” To enforce this law, the police must approve all demonstrations three days in advance. All demonstrations must be 200 meters away from all governmental building. Anyone who violates this law will be sentenced to prison and a hefty fine.   (Shura Council passes law curbing protest rights Egypt Independent March 26, 2013)