Egypt: hunger strikes continue as U.S. counts on regime more than ever (AWTWNS 22 September 2014)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 22 September 2014 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.

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Egypt: hunger strikes continue as U.S. counts on regime more than ever

22 September 2014. A World to Win News Service. Hunger strikes in Egyptian prisons have been a problem for a regime that has found it easier to consolidate its power than dispel challenges to its legitimacy. While the authorities have attempted to deal with the situation by temporarily releasing a few of its jailed opponents, some have remained on hunger strike and others have joined them.

This new wave has come at a bad time for President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the U.S., which has been going even further than before in publicly supporting the regime that first came to power in a military coup in July 2013 and then confirmed its rule in an election ignored by half the electorate.

Hunger strikers Alaa Ebd Al-Fattah and Mohamed Abdel Rahman, along with Wael Metwally, associated with the youth movements that brought down President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, were released on bail on 16 September. The three were part of a small group that held a rally outside the upper house of parliament last November in defiance of a new law forbidding any public protest not authorized by the regime three days in advance. They had been convicted in absentia after security forces prevented them from entering the courtroom. Now they are to be retried.

However, some veterans of those movements have remained on hunger strike, which has now expanded as other people in and out of prison take it up in opposition to the anti-protest law.

Reports of the number of prisoners refusing to eat vary, and it seems that some are waging on-and-off hunger strikes. Others have not eaten for months, although they are taking dietary supplements to prevent permanent damage. Amnesty International reports that the authorities have tied Ibrahim al-Yamany’s arms and legs to the bars of the cell where he is being held in isolation. He was accused of working in a field hospital set up when the military attacked a demonstration at the Rabbaa mosque in support of the Moslem Brotherhood it had overthrown. Another long term hunger striker, Mohamed Soltan, accused of working with the Brotherhood’s media centre, is said to be in a coma.

The regime has also imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste since last December. They are not part of this protest movement.

After overthrowing the elected Moslem Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, the military massacred more than 1,000 people, most of them in a single day at the Rabaa mosque, and arrested tens of thousands, at first mainly Islamists and then also secular youth who had opposed military rule after Mubarak’s fall and later came to oppose the post-Morsi military government.

On 21 September, dozens of journalists began a three-day hunger strike against the ban on protests. Doctors and health workers fasted for one day in symbolic solidarity.

Egyptian news outlets report that after Sisi agreed to join the U.S.’s “coalition of the willing” against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. Defence Secretary called his Egyptian counterpart to inform him that ten Apache attack helicopters will be delivered to the Egyptian armed forces. Washington had put this delivery on hold last year to distance itself from Sisi’s repression, although this was mainly symbolic, as U.S. aid for the Egyptian government has continued with little change. The importance of this phone call, on the eve of Sisi’s departure for the UN General Assembly meeting, was that it made it possible for the regime’s media to announce that its differences with the U.S. are a thing of the past.

So far, the Egyptian armed forces have been reluctant to directly participate in U.S.-led military actions, although Sisi lends his country’s name to the list of coalition members and promised logistical and intelligence support. Sisi is the former head of Egyptian intelligence, which played an important role in torturing prisoners handed over by the U.S. in its secret “renditions” programme. The U.S. also thanked him for brokering the recent cease-fire in Gaza, without which the U.S. would have found it even more difficult to find an Arab government willing to take the political risks of joining the U.S.’s “coalition”. The Egyptian regime is also said to be playing a role in discussions regarding military coordination between the U.S. and Syria.

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Anders Fog Rasmussen was incorrectly identified in awtwns140908. He is the Secretary-General of Nato.

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