EGYPT’S Port Said entered its eighth day of a mass civil disobedience campaign on Sunday in response to the killings of protesters during clashes with security forces last month.
Groups of demonstrators closed down the Raswa and Nasr customs checkpoints and halted railway movement, while more than 35,000 workers from other governorates were blocked from working in the province’s free zone.
rotests have rocked Port Said since the end of January, when a court sentenced 21 local residents to death for the murders of 72 people in the Port Said football violence case, when Mursi-supporting Al Masry fans joined with police in attacking revolution-supporting Ultra fans.
Protesters have also demanded justice for the deaths of nearly 40 people during clashes with security forces following the verdict.
The strike has shut down activities at several government authorities, including the Port Said seaport and the Customs Authority.
Mass school absences have also been reported governorate-wide, and bus drivers have gone on strike, grinding transportation to a halt.
Dock workers have also continued striking at the seaport.
Clerics affiliated with the ruling Muslim Brotherhood have tried to negotiate with them to end the strike but have so far been unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, a move by Egyptian authorities to prohibit national NGOs’ contact with foreign organisations without prior permission from security bodies represents a new low for freedom of association, said Amnesty International.
In a letter to the NGO the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, Egypt’s Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs stated that no ‘local entity’ is permitted to engage with ‘international entities’ in any way without the permission of the ‘security bodies’, referring to instructions issued by the Prime Minister.
Amnesty International has obtained a copy of the letter. The vague language on ‘international entities’ is likely to include both international human rights organisations and UN bodies.
‘NGOs in Egypt already face staggering restrictions, but this instruction is a new low,’ said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. ‘It is a disturbing indicator of what may lie ahead for human rights groups in the government’s new law.’
Under current legislation the numerous obstacles faced by NGOs include restrictions on registration and obtaining foreign funding.
Drafts of new laws seen by Amnesty International tighten restrictions even more – in some cases severely limiting the ability of NGOs to conduct fact-finding visits and other essential activities, as well as further restricting funding.
‘We fear that the authorities are yet again trying to push through legislation to stifle civil society to prevent criticism,’ said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
Since the ‘25 January Revolution’ of 2011 the Egyptian authorities have continued cracking down on international organisations and human rights groups.
In July 2011, the Egyptian government launched an investigation into the foreign funding of NGOs, leading to an unprecedented series of raids on both international and local civil society groups in December of that year.
Following the raids, 43 staff members of international organisations were put on trial on charges of operating without official registration and obtaining foreign funding without the authorities’ permission.
Amnesty International has urged the authorities to drop the charges.
‘The authorities must stop using independent civil society organisations as scapegoats for all the ills of Egypt,’ said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. ‘Banning contacts with international ‘entities’ invokes Mubarak-era practices that the current President had pledged to break with.’
‘We’re urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure that any legislation to replace the NGO law is in line with international law, respects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and is based on transparent consultations with human rights organisations and other NGO.’
Egypt’s government has recently faced criticism over another new draft law limiting freedom of assembly, amid reports of other restrictive laws being on their way.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights was refused government permission last year to work on a freedom of association project.
Meanwhile, global union federation IndustriALL has complained about an attack on a workers’ occupation in Alexandria.
In the early hours of Sunday 17 February, Central Security Forces stormed workers conducting a sit-in at the Portland Cement Factory in Alexandria, injuring dozens of workers.
Eighteen of the striking workers remained in detention last week.
IndustriALL said in a statement last weekend: ‘The workers were performing dawn prayers when the raid was launched.
‘The workers were severely beaten by the security personnel and attacked by dogs leaving dozens injured and four in intensive care.
‘Workers were jumping from the third and fourth floor of the building to escape the dog attacks.
‘450 workers began the strike action on 14 February, demanding the company honour the promises it made in January to provide permanent job contracts and improved pay and bonuses.
‘The workers had already stopped work in one department and were threatening to stop feeding ovens from 17 February.
‘Almost 100 workers were arrested, 18 remain in detention, including two who sustained serious injuries during the attack according to trade union sources.
‘The workers are facing charges of hindering foreign investment and detention of hostages (management) at the factory.’
The IndustriALL general secretary has written to the President of Egypt, Mohamed Mursi, calling on him to intervene and ensure the immediate release of all detained workers.
The letter said: ‘IndustriALL Global Union is shocked and outraged to hear that workers at Portland Cement Factory located in Alexandria were brutally attacked by the security forces on Sunday morning while they were conducting their early prayers.
‘It was reported that the Central Security forces raided the workers sit-in with unmuzzled police dogs, and at least 150 workers were injured; several were bitten on their legs by the dogs.
‘In addition, approximately 30 workers were arrested and taken to an unknown location.
‘IndustriALL Global Union condemns and deplores the blatant disregard of the human rights and trade union rights of workers, who were peacefully raising their legitimate demands for decent working and living conditions.
‘I urge your Office to intervene to ensure the immediate release of all the workers, and to launch a full investigation on the police brutality.
‘Sincerely yours, Jyrki Raina, General Secretary IndustriALL Global Union.’
CC: Dr Hisham Mohamed Qandeel, Prime Minister Mr Khaled AlAzhari, Minister of Manpower and Immigration Mr Hatem Saleh, Minister of Industry and Trade Mr Osama Abdel Moneim, Minister of Investment.