Newscast for Friday, July 5, 2013

  • Clashes erupt in Egypt after security forces fire on pro-Morsi protesters
  • Women advocates in Egypt call for accountability after sexual assaults in Cairo protests
  • Privacy advocates plan new legal action against US spying programs after nationwide rallies
  • Residents along India’s Narmada River protest major dams, warning that livelihoods are at stake

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International community weighs in on Egyptian power transfer

As supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi protest today in Cairo, governments around the world are beginning to take sides.  Reaction in the Middle East has been mixed, with leaders calling the overthrow either a triumph of people-power against overreaching Islamists or a flagrant military coup that’s deposed a democratically-elected leader.  FSRN’s Jacob Resneck explains.

Syria’s leadership says the military intervention – backed by public protest – to topple Egyptian President Muhamed Morsi represents the overthrow of “political Islam.”  Meanwhile, Syria’s only regional ally Iran expressed guarded disappointment.  Under Morsi, Egypt had made moves to reestablish ties with Iran, which were severed following the 1979 revolution. The Arab League’s secretary general sent a message of congratulations to the “Egyptian people” for what it called a “historic achievement.”   Egypt’s interim leader has also been welcomed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and even Qatar, whose emir had extended Morsi’s government $7.5 billion dollars in loans and grants since 2011. Meanwhile, the African Union has suspended Egypt from all activities, while Tunisia has called the military action a “flagrant coup.” But perhaps the deposed Egyptian president’s most stalwart friend is Turkey.  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose own Islamist-rooted AK Party has been the target of recent protests,  has called for Morsi’s immediate release from house arrest and reinstatement as leader. Pro-government NGOs have organized pro-Morsi rallies in cities across Turkey, including Istanbul.  Hundreds rallied in the old quarter following Friday prayers while holding pictures of President Morsi and waving Egyptian and Turkish flags. Ahmed Laysee of Cairo is visiting Turkey with his family and joined today’s protest.  He says polarization in Egypt is at dangerous levels but that Morsi supporters are prepared for the worst.

“I’m afraid for more violence.  But — freedom deserve – freedom deserves some blood.  You know?”

The UN is voicing concerns about the military takeover, but other countries like the US and Canada have been publicly neutral, calling for a democratic process in finding a solution to Egypt’s unfolding crisis.  Jacob Resneck, FSRN, Istanbul.

French domestic spying program revealed

The French government intercepts and collects phone and on-line communications data of its citizens. The French newspaper Le Monde reports the country’s version of the NSA has been collecting individual data through a program similar to PRISM, the US spy program recently brought to light by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The spying program appears to have been active since 2008, not collecting the content of the messages, but who was communicating with whom, when and how often. Le Monde says the program is not legally authorized in France. Yesterday France officially rejected an asylum request from Edward Snowden, but also extended an apology to Bolivian President Evo Morales. Earlier this week the country denied Morales’ plane permission to enter its airspace, on suspicion that the plane was carrying the NSA leaker.

Zimbabwe high court won’t delay elections

Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court has struck down an appeal to delay national elections.  The court previously set Election Day for July 31st, but both the Prime Minister and President, who are often at odds, argued the country needs more time to prepare for fair elections.  FSRN’s Garikai Chaunza reports from Harare.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and MDC Party leader Welshmen Ncube appealed to delay the general election to allow more time to reform the security forces and state media.  President Robert Mugabe initially followed the court order and set elections for the end of the month, but then came out in support of the delay. On Thursday, the high court unanimously rejected the request.  Tsvangirai’s attorney Lewis Uriri told reporters after the ruling that his client is going to abide by the court’s decision.

“It is the obligation of every Zimbabwean to uphold this constitution to uphold the very fabric of the Republic and it is a judgment that has been made by the court it is accepted.”

Tsvangirai has indicated he plans to launch his party’s election platform on Sunday.  The 61-year-old Prime minister will challenge 89-year-old incumbent Robert Mugabe for the presidency.  After violently contested elections in 2008, the two agreed to a power-sharing deal.  Garikai Chaunza, FSRN, Harare.

Prosecution rests case in Zimmerman trial

The mother and brother of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin took the stand today in the trial of accused shooter George Zimmerman.  Both said the voice crying for help in the background of a 911 call from a neighbor belonged to the 17-year-old shooting victim.  That point is highly contested by Zimmerman’s lawyers.  After questioning their final witnesses, Florida state prosecutors rested their case.

BART strike on hold as negotiations continue

Commuter train service in the San Francisco bay area resumed this afternoon after a temporary deal was reached between BART officials and striking workers.  Representatives from two employee unions and BART agreed to a 30-day contract extension while wider negotiations continue.  Workers had been on strike since Monday.  State mediators have been leading negotiations.


Clashes erupt in Egypt after security forces fire on pro-Morsi protesters

In Egypt, at least three protesters were shot dead and dozens more injured outside the Republican Guard Headquarters after security forces fired on the crowd rallying in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. An AP video shows crowds tending to injured and bloody protesters as others hold posters of Morsi and chant. The Army has denied firing live rounds at the crowd, but the BBC had a reporter at the scene who was himself injured by shotgun pellets, and reports that soldiers did fire on protesters. Massive pro-Morsi crowds also gathered outside Rabaa Adawiya mosque where Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie told supporters that their “revolt is peaceful and will stay peaceful” and their “demonstrations are stronger than bullets and tanks.” Many thought Badie had been arrested Thursday. This evening, crowds continued to fill the streets, with tensions rising between those for and against the deposed president. Egypt’s new leader, Adli Monsour, chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, was sworn in as the interim president Thursday. While he called for an inclusive process, many have raised concerns about the military’s actions over the last few days, including the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members, the raiding of several news stations and detention of journalists, and the attacks that took place earlier today. For more, we spoke with Sara Salem, staff writer with Muftah, a site that provides news and analysis on the Middle East and North Africa. She joined us from Cairo.

Women advocates in Egypt call for accountability after sexual assaults in Cairo protests

Women are also increasingly reporting harassment and sexual assault in the thick crowds of Tahrir Square, the symbolic center of the protests that came ahead of Morsi’s removal earlier this week. At least one woman has reported rape by a sharp object, according to rights groups and monitors in Cairo, who have also documented nearly 170 sexual assaults by mobs in Tahrir Square since Sunday, 80 on Wednesday night alone. The group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Assault also confirmed 46 attacks on June 30. One woman, from the violence-prevention group Tahrir Bodyguard, told the Guardian that she narrowly escaped an attempt at assault this week as her group tried to prevent attacks on women. Two women, Hania Moheeb and Yasmine el-Baramawy, described to Human Rights Watch how they were attacked when they attended protests last year and early 2013.

“They made a very tight circle around me. They started moving their hands all over my body. They touched every inche of my body. They violated every inch of my body. I was so much traumatized, I was only screaming at the time. I couldn’t even speak, I couldn’t cry help. I was just screaming.”

“A car backed up and stopped on my hair, so they took advantage of the fact that I was trapped on the ground. They held my legs and turned me around. They raised my legs up and raped me as they wished. This was my weakest point.”

Moheeb and el-Baramawy, along with five other women, filed a joint complaint with authorities and gave testimony in March, but three months later no attackers have been identified or indicted. Sexual assault and harassment of women in Egypt is a long-running issue. Heba Morayef is the Egypt Director for Human Rights Watch. She said such mob assaults happen in the absence of police presence or serious accountability from the government.

“Impunity in these mobs and the violence against women has led to a situation where the perpetrator feels that we won’t be held accountable. It has also led to a rise in these types of attacks. At the same time several initiatives to protect women have been launched by activists and civil society as a result of the state’s failure to protect women and the lack of accountability in crimes of violence against women.”

Rights groups, such as Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Assault send out volunteers to intervene in attacks and prevent assaults from happening. The group also runs a hotline for survivors of attacks, but advocates say government action is needed to address the broad problem. Ghada Talhami, emeritus professor in the department of politics at Lake Forest College, has tracked the development of women and politics in Egypt through the decades. She told FSRN that the latest attacks on women could be partly a reaction to their growing political visibility.

“I think there will always be male attempts to prevent women from being in the public space and seeing women in the public space, particularly by conservative, reactionary elements is very upsetting and the only attack they have against it is to attack women physically.”

The problem also extends beyond the protest zone. According to a UN survey in April, 99 percent of Egyptian women report being sexually harassed during the course of their daily lives.

Privacy advocates plan new legal action against US spying programs after nationwide rallies

Organizers with the newly formed coalition “Restore the Fourth” say they plan to continue advocating for privacy protections, after holding nearly 100 rallies in cities across the US, including San Francisco, New York City, Tampa and Washington on the Fourth of July. The rallies came together following the revelations in June about the US government’s widespread surveillance of personal phone, snail mail, and online data. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein attended the Restore the Fourth rally in Washington, D.C., and brings us this report.

Residents along India’s Narmada River protest major dams, warning that livelihoods are at stake

In India’s state of Madhya Pradesh, thousands of people are protesting the building of five major dams on the Narmada River. The dams will displace local residents and farmers, who say the government’s offers to help relocate them are falling short. FSRN’s Shuriah Niazi reports.

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