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Detained protestors released
Police released the remaining Kefaya activists in custody today in the afternoon, after they spent their night in the Qattamiya desert, locked up in two prison trucks. There were two prison trucks; one containing eight detainees: Ahmad Droubi, Adham el-Safti, Omar Mustafa, Ahmad Samir, Khaled Mustafa, Sherif Ragab, Mohamed Abdel Qader, Kareem el-Sha’er. The other car, it turned
Tuesday, March 27,2007 00:00
by Hossam el-Hamalawy, arabawy

Police released the remaining Kefaya activists in custody today in the afternoon, after they spent their night in the Qattamiya desert, locked up in two prison trucks.

There were two prison trucks; one containing eight detainees: Ahmad Droubi, Adham el-Safti, Omar Mustafa, Ahmad Samir, Khaled Mustafa, Sherif Ragab, Mohamed Abdel Qader, Kareem el-Sha’er.

The other car, it turned out, had two activists only: Mohamed Gamal and Omar el-Hadi.

The detainees, according to a phone interview with Droubi, were not allowed to leave the car, and were given food only once at 4am. They even had to urinate inside the prison truck in empty Koshari boxes and bottles, courtsey of Mubarak’s police.

The prison trucks started cruising in the afternoon again, and dropped each detainee off in a different location out in the desert, starting from 2:40pm, according to lawyer Rajia Omran.

Meanwhile, a group of 40 activists slept over at the Press Syndicate part of their continuous sit-in that should end today. The syndicate had come under the siege of CSF and plainclothes thugs who barred anyone from leaving. I was told by an American reporter who was present today in the scene that the US and Canadian embassies had to send “security officials” to “retrieve” some of their nationals (researchers and students) who were trapped inside the syndicate by the security forces.

Clashes between the police the demonstrators and the police occurred more than once, as a group of NDP thugs were allowed to march in the street in front of the syndicate, and shout abuse against the KEfaya demonstrators under the supervision of the police. Click on the photo below taken by Amr Abdallah to see more pix of the sit in.

Activists protest Mubarak’s dictatorship

Lawyers also held a protest today at their syndicate in Ramses St., and raised the black flags mourning the country’s constitution.

Needless to say, the turn out for the vote has been ultra low, marred with the usual “bussing” of public sector workers, and those who work in private companies owned by NDP-affiliated tycoons.

Here’s a good report by reuters from this morning…

Egyptian government wary of constitution protests
Jonathan Wright, Reuters


The Egyptian government deployed thousands of extra security men in Cairo as the country prepared for Monday’s referendum on constitutional changes which would help the government exclude Islamists from the political system.
Police and plainclothes security men beat up groups of demonstrators in the centre of the city and small protests also took place in some of the northern provinces, witnesses said.
The country’s largest opposition force, the Muslim Brotherhood, said the Arab world’s most populous nation faced a dark future if the changes win approval in the referendum.

“Everyone’s being beaten over the head,” Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mahdi Akef told Reuters. “They’ve killed off everyone’s hopes. Even those with a shred of hope had it killed off.”
All major opposition groups including the Brotherhood, which won one fifth of the seats in parliament in 2005 elections, have told their supporters not to take part because they have no confidence that the voting and the counting will be fair.
Monitors say the turnout in Egyptian referendums has traditionally been very low but the authorities tilt the balance by busing civil servants and public-sector workers to the polling stations on supervised voting trips.

The government says the changes are part of a gradual political reform process but the opposition and human rights group say they are a step away from freedom and democracy.
The United States joined in the criticism last week, saying it was concerned and disappointed that Egypt was not taking the lead in the Middle East on greater openness and pluralism.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Egypt on Sunday, tempered her criticism.
VARIOUS GUISES
“We recognise that states do this (political change) in their own way and that they do it in a way that is consistent with their own cultural circumstances,” she said. “It is not a matter to try to dictate to Egypt how this unfolds.”

The United States campaigned for democratic change in Egypt in 2005 but analysts say Washington has since lost interest because it needs help from conservative Arab governments such as Egypt’s in Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Officials of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which has been in power in various guises for about 50 years, said they were aiming for a turnout of 25 percent because of capacity limits at polling stations.
The authorities said the turnout at a similar constitutional referendum in 2005 was 54 percent but observers said the real figure was less than 10 percent, possibly as low as 5 percent.
The amendments, which passed parliament one week ago after a secretive drafting process controlled by the NDP, target mainly the Brotherhood, an Islamist group which has built up strong support in Egyptian society since it was founded in 1928.

Under the amended constitution, Mubarak and the ruling party could dissolve the existing parliament and hold new elections under a new voting system which would make it more difficult for the Brotherhood to win seats.

The changes will enshrine in the constitution a ban on political activity or political parties with a religious basis or reference point — wording which could outlaw even moderate Islamist groups similar to Turkey’s ruling party.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders say the government’s aim is to push the Islamists out of the way and make it easier to install Mubarak’s son Gamal as the country’s next president.
Gamal Mubarak, who denies he has presidential ambitions, told a briefing on Sunday he recognised the opposition. “We are aware of the criticism and the scepticism,” he said.
He denied there was any link between the amendments and any plan to dissolve parliament. “I don’t see any reason for dissolving parliament,” he added.

And in another Reuters report by Alaa Shahin and Aziz el-Kaissouni…

A trickle of Egyptians voted on Monday in a referendum on constitutional amendments which would help the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) exclude opposition Islamists from the political system.
All major opposition groups including the influential Muslim Brotherhood have told supporters to boycott the referendum, saying they cannot be sure the voting will be fair.
The independent Committee for Democracy Support, which deployed 300 observers, said overall turnout was no more than 3 percent by 5 p.m. (1500 GMT). Several polling stations in Cairo shut down 40 minutes before the official closing time.
Some election officials in Cairo and Alexandria said they had seen a turnout of more than 30 percent but their polling stations were either deserted or had only a handful of voters.
Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have criticised the amendments, which will perpetuate the government’s broad powers to detain people in the name of combating terrorism.
The United States joined in the criticism last week, saying it was concerned and disappointed that Egypt was not taking the lead in the Middle East on greater openness and pluralism.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Egypt on Sunday, tempered her criticism. “We recognise that states do this (political change) in their own way,” she said. “It is not a matter to try to dictate to Egypt how this unfolds.”
Small trucks chartered by the ruling party toured several streets of Cairo on Monday urging people to vote.
At a polling station in a Cairo working class area, seven “yes” voters interviewed by Reuters said they had not read the amendments proposed by President Hosni Mubarak.
“I did not read them,” said Shehata el-Sayyed, a civil servant. Asked why he voted yes, he said: “You know, this man (Mubarak) is not bad. People around him are bad.”
The government says the referendum is part of a gradual reform programme which gives parliament and the prime minister more power. The opposition calls it a setback to freedoms.
The main thrust of the changes is to give the authorities more freedom to prevent political activity by the Muslim Brotherhood, which won a fifth of the seats in parliament in 2005 and could have won more if it had run more candidates.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Four volunteers working for the liberal opposition Ghad Party were detained outside a polling station in the Nile Delta province of Kafr el-Sheikh, the party and police sources said.
In Alexandria, some 300 activists, mostly members of the opposition movement Kefaya (Enough), protested with chants of “The amendments are invalid. (President) Hosni Mubarak is invalid.” Police watched from nearby but did not intervene.
The independent Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) and witnesses reported incidents of the ruling party or government officials using public transport to take civil servants and public-sector employees to polling stations — one of the most common methods for inflating the “yes” vote.
Khaled Ali, a lawyer at the independent Hesham Mubarak Centre, said state-owned Misr Petroleum in Suez, the iron and steel plant at Helwan and state textile mills in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla were illegally bussing workers to vote.
Few Egyptians bother to vote in referendums unless they receive some incentive but several voters said they would vote against the amendments out of principle.
In the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) took hundreds of university students to polling stations but many said they voted “No”. One student, who asked not to be named, said professors had urged them not to vote in favour of the changes.
Ahmed Gaber, an NDP member, said reading the text was enough to make anyone vote no. “These amendments will turn Egypt into a private estate (for the Mubaraks),” he added.

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Analysis: Cairo spring revisited
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As Egypt votes on laws, cynicism rules the street
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Opposition leaders in Egypt decry constitutional amendments
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Egypt: Opposition groups boycott referendum on constitutional changes
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Egyptian president’s son calls on strong turnout in constitutional ...
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Egypt to vote on divisive reforms
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Rice raised concerns over reforms with Egyptian leaders
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Mubarak’s son calls for support on constitution
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US Tones Down Criticism of Egypt’s Constitutional Changes
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Rice tones down criticism of Egypt over reforms
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Rice says she told Egyptian leaders of concerns over reforms
Boston Herald, MA
Rice expresses concern over Egyptian reforms
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Rice Urges Egypt to Reform Its Democracy
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Los Angeles Times, CA
Egypt to Vote on Expanding Powers of the Presidency
New York Times, NY
Egypt Rejects US Amendments Criticism
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Egypt Rejects Us Amendments Criticism
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Kansas City Star, MO
Egypt Rejects US Amendments Criticism
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