Protesters Gather to Support Egyptian Families Seeking Asylum

Protesters rally outside the Prime Minister’s constituency office to voice their displeasure regarding the refusal of five Egyptian families seeking asylum in Canada

Across Canada several groups protested Vancouver’s Canadian Border Service Agency’s (CBSA) refusal to grant five Muslim Egyptian families refugee status in Canada, due to allegations that they were associated with a political party connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 Dozens of people protested outside Justin Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal on Jan. 29, along with groups in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, to voice their opposition of the CBSA in Vancouver for placing these families in a precarious situation, especially if deported back to Egypt.

In 2017, CBSA officers in Vancouver terminated the process of an Egyptian seeking asylum. Though he filed a refugee claim stating he was a member of the Freedom and Justice Party during the 2011 revolution in Egypt, he was deemed inadmissible due to the political party’s association with the Muslim Brotherhood despite the group not being listed under Canada’s list of terrorist entities. The Muslim Brotherhood had a following of over 2 million people and were one of the biggest oppositions to the Egyptian government in 2011.

 Mohamed Kamel, one of the organizers of the event, said all CBSA offices but one accepted refugees with the same allegations. 

“How can CBSA [in] Vancouver decide to take actions on their own? This is something nobody can understand!” Kamel said.

“We have hundreds of people who have been accepted. Only the CBSA office in Vancouver decided to favour the claim of the Egyptian government.”  

 According to protesters, CBSA in Vancouver has not provided any proof to support the allegations towards the individuals, and rather, refused admissibility based on the alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood. Though two families have gone public, none of the five families knew each other before the refusal from the agency.

 Protesters and family members are now alleging CBSA Vancouver was acting in bias and islamophobic way, in a press release, stating that “the CBSA’s evidence is sourced from the current Government of Egypt, and right-wing institutions that have exhibited a patterned anti-Arab and Islamophobic bias.”

 “We now fear the actions of the CBSA could have the same impact and build on Islamophobia […] as a part of a government agency doing what they’ve done — they’re creating a new level of systemic discrimination,” Kamel said.

The protest coincided with the five-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting. They want the Minister of Public Safety to intervene in not only helping the refused families but to also recognize the racism and Islamophobia within the CBSA. 

“That’s why we’re here today, to call on the minister to take action. He just has to issue the CBSA to follow the Canadian government terrorism list,” said Kamel.


Photo by Gabriel Guindi


Swept Under the Rug: the cost of the Renaissance Dam

The construction of the biggest dam in Africa is creating friction

The Nile River’s water flow will soon be dominated by human hands as Ethiopia is constructing the biggest dam in Africa on one of its core arteries: the Blue Nile.

The Nile is vital for the survival of the countries down its path. Now that Ethiopia has the power to cut one of its flows, this conflict specifically targets Egypt and Sudan, who historically rely on the Nile’s yearly water cycles to sustain themselves.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is a nation-defining opening for Ethiopia. The opportunities that it will bring to this poverty-stricken country is immeasurable as it will produce a reliable source of income and jobs for Ethiopians.

Also, according to the World Bank, only 45 percent of Ethiopians have access to electricity. This dam will be able to offer service for all Ethiopians with enough leftover energy to offer surrounding countries. So, for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, this strengthens his resolve to complete the construction of the dam.

For Egypt and Sudan, the consequences of Ethiopia’s control over the Blue Nile are dire. According to Al-Jazeera, Egypt gets about 90 per cent of its fresh water from the river, and the Blue Nile contributes to 85 per cent of the Nile’s water flow.

Even partially cutting water supply from the Blue Nile could have catastrophic effects for the over 140 million Egyptian and Sudanese people.

Since 2011, negotiations have been ongoing between the three countries to reach a consensus, but Ethiopia has been shrewd throughout. For Ahmed, keeping up with a bigger country like Egypt is a show of strength for the Ethiopians. According to The Week, Ahmed has the intention to mobilize troops if push comes to shove.

Even with the mediation of the African Union, currently led by South Africa, the negotiations have not progressed.

Ethiopia is still proceeding forward with the dam’s construction, disregarding Egypt and Sudan’s fragile water supply.

Recently, Ethiopia has banned flight activities over the dam’s construction site for security reasons, according to The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. Ethiopia’s reluctance to give further details will put yet another dent in the everlasting negotiations.

Ahmed said last month at the United Nations that Ethiopia has no intention to harm Egypt and Sudan, but the targeted countries have continued to voice their concerns.

However, the Ethiopian government officially announced that it has every intention to start generating power with GERD’s two established turbines this year.

They are committed to completing this project, even if agreements have not yet been met. This leaves Egypt and Sudan in suspense; will there be a way for them to reach an agreement, or will the dam be completed beforehand?


Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Lighting a candle against hate

Vigil takes stand against intolerance—and pays tribute to murdered Copts

A small but devoted crowd gathered before McGill’s Roddick Gates on Wednesday, Feb. 25 in a sombre vigil for the 21 Copts, native Christians of Egypt, captured and decapitated on video by Libyan ISIS-affiliated extremists. Holding candles, signs, or each other’s hands, they braved the chilly temperatures to protest against intolerance and bring to light the perilous nature of life for Copts in the Muslim world. One amongst them gave a simple speech in remembrance of why they congregated, offering it in English, French, and Arabic.


Finkelstein speaks out for Egypt and Gaza

The media and America blamed for a lack of transparency and democracy

Controversial scholar Norman Finkelstein spoke as part of the Human Rights Conference at Concordia University on Wed. Nov. 5 concerning the human rights crisis in Egypt and Gaza and the link between both countries.

The talk, entitled Egypt and Gaza Intertwined: Human Rights Conference, was based around three main topics: understanding what Finkelstein calls the Gaza massacre of 2014; media misinformation and Israel’s ability to take advantage of it; and the role of the United Nations (U.N.) and primarily the United States with regard to both Gaza and Egypt. The event was sponsored by the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy, the Egyptian Canadian Home Organization, and the Concordia Egyptian Student Association (CESA).

Photo by Keith Race.

Finkelstein, a political activist who has done extensive research on both conflicts, has seen his fair share of criticism over his opinion on what he sees as flagrant human rights abuses in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  That night, he focused most of his speech on creating a timeline of the major events that took place during Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli name for this summer’s seven-week assault on Gaza, which was spurred on by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives.

“[The event] was not unlike the previous massacres, though on, clearly, a larger scale,” explained Finkelstein on the thousands of overwhelmingly civilian casualties in Gaza, which he said the European Union and United States turned a blind eye on. “Surprisingly, the United States and the European Union did not break off relations with the new [Israeli] government, but basically took an approach of ‘let’s just see what’s going to happen’,” Finkelstein said.

While the world sat by their T.V.s, computers and/or smartphones, there was little to no reference to the conflict as a major issue. According to Finkelstein, Hamas were not behaving like terrorists, a necessary premise for Israel, whose actions would otherwise be considered war crimes, as stated explicitly by Amnesty International.

Finkelstein argued that one of the main reasons Israel was able to continue attacks in Gaza for nearly two months was because of the media. He cited the fluidity and ever-changing focus of the news as something that allowed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue the “massacre” relatively unnoticed. His two primary examples of this shift were the bizarre and tragic Malaysian airplane crash over Ukraine and the first ISIS beheading of an American.

The other side of the media coin was the lack of research of Israel’s claim of terror rockets sent by Hamas. Finkelstein called this claim a piece of “science fiction,” explaining that it is highly implausible that 4,000 rockets would kill a mere seven civilians and cause only $15 million in property damage. He also denied Israel’s claim that its Iron Dome (a system that Israel claims intercepts and destroys short-range rockets) saved countless lives.

The latter half of the conference focused on the U.N. and U.S.A.’s role in both Egypt and Gaza. With regard to Gaza, Finkelstein condemned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his laissez-faire attitude toward Israel. Particularly, Finkelstein said Ban Ki-Moon only released a statement calling the Israel-Gaza conflict a “moral outrage and criminal act” after Israel attacked a seventh UN shelter. “Ban Ki-Moon, [the] comatose puppet of the United States, wasn’t doing anything,” Finkelstein said. It was the later that day that President Obama spoke out. Having Ban Ki-Moon speak out was very embarrassing for Obama, he added.

Finkelstein argued that the events that took place in Egypt, the overthrowing and jailing of the elected president in the name of democracy by the United States, were and continue to be unfounded. Finkelstein refused to call the current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a president.

It took about 40 minutes, but Finkelstein managed to find the place to compare the two situations, making the title of the conference relevant. Finkelstein argued that the common denominator between the atrocities in both Gaza and Egypt is America. The U.S.A. is a country in which the last two presidents have defended and illegally armed those who were vested interests to them, according to Finkelstein. “Egypt is not on a democratic transition, Israel is on a dictatorial transition,” he explained. This is because the United States have allowed it to be so by expressing how both Israel and President Sisi have the right to defend themselves, despite the lack of evidence that they are being attacked.

“Israel has the right to defend itself, Sisi has the right to defend himself, the only ones who don’t have the right to defend themselves are the people living under brutal and illegal siege,” said Finkelstein. “And the people of Egypt who are now living under a brutal dictatorship, they don’t have the right to defend themselves. Only important people have the right to defend themselves and the rest of us just have to live with it.”


Opinions: Egyptian Military vs. Muslim Brotherhood: two sides of the same coin

The world has its eye on Egypt, and many have been quick to choose a side. However, the complexity amidst the turmoil makes it rather hard to point fingers in just one direction.

Anti-SCAF protests. Photo from Gigi Ibrahim on Flickr.

In one corner is the Egyptian army under the leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). After a year of chaos under Prime Minister Mohamed Morsi, the SCAF, in the supposed interest of the people, has deposed the Prime Minister. SCAF outlawed his Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, installed itself as interim protectors of the revolution, and vowed a fresh round of elections.

Prim in their medal-laden and immaculately pressed army uniforms, these chosen few wave a paper. They believe their ‘roadmap’ to peace and stability is the only sure defense for all Egyptians against fanatics, counter-revolutionaries and terrorists.

In reality, the army is a cabal that has run and exploited the Egyptian state for five decades. When the revolution in Tahrir square began and millions of Egyptians across the country took to the streets, united in their opposition to the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak, where was the army? They were the ones wielding police batons as maces and plowing into the very people they now claim to represent. They were the ones that stood by and even aided sectarian violence against the Copts, Egypt’s Christian minority.

To stave off the revolution, they killed innocent protesters; now, to preserve it, they kill hundreds more. This roadmap of theirs will surely be a path doubling back to feed upon itself, producing more of the same. Can one honestly expect anything different from an organization whose command structure remains virtually unchanged throughout all this upheaval? Anybody who truly believes they’ll give over power, or even agree to share it with whoever they allow to win any future elections, is sadly mistaken.

In the other corner is the equally distasteful Muslim Brotherhood. A blatantly Islamist movement with aims at refashioning Egyptian society to be more sharia-compliant, they eked out a victory at the polls in the first democratic elections Egypt has ever had in its 6,000 years of recorded history. They essentially bribed their way past the finish line by providing supplies and services to the marginalized and poor.

Rather than pragmatically compromising, they proceeded to assume they had a mandate to rule alone. They ignored the constitution, handed Morsi powers above and beyond judiciary oversight, and alienated wide segments of the population to the point where their opponents had nowhere to turn to but the military.

They played and lost the guessing game of how many constitutional abuses it takes to bring down a democratically appointed government. By their numerous steps back, they’ve erased the one forceful stride forward the Egyptian people managed to take for themselves.

This is why it is difficult to pick a side. If this was Frost’s proverbial fork in the road, neither road would make all the difference. Egypt’s people continue to suffer and die. Their hopes of implementing a government that is answerable to its constituents is quite dead.

It might as well be decided by flipping a quarter. No matter the result – heads or tails, Muslim Brotherhood or army – we are dealing with two sides of the same coin.

People have long memories, even if they have short attention spans. This brief taste of empowerment may still give Egypt’s people victory – one day.


Opinions: Egyptian turmoil through the eyes of the West

Mohammed Morsi Mural. Photo from Thierry Ehrmann on Flickr.

People have the tendency to declare actions as good or bad, because it’s easier to dump the blame on one party and call it a day. When it comes to the current situation in Egypt, things cannot simply be broken down into “good guys” and “bad guys.”

On July 3, a celebration took place in Tahrir Square.  Egypt’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, who was also a leading member in the Muslim Brotherhood, was removed from power by the Egyptian military. Supporters of the military and state, revolutionaries, and Egyptians alike took to the streets, but the festivities were quickly interrupted by what some have argued to be peaceful protests that have left over a thousand dead.

While many Egyptians saw the removal of Morsi as an opportunity for growth and democracy, many saw it as a stab at equality. A whole lot of change cannot occur in such a short period of time without ruffling a few feathers. With everyone wanting their voice heard, reporting on such a layered issue becomes even more complicated.

As people continue to lose trust in Western media, they become wary of which news source is unbiased and factual. The manner in which some Western media outlets have handled themselves during the past few weeks of the Egyptian revolution has not done much to garner the trust of the public.

For example, on Aug. 18, 2013, CNN’s Matt Smith published an article on Brotherhood prisoners who had attempted to escape from jail and were killed by military officials in the process. Smith paints a picture of heartless soldiers mindlessly killing helpless Brotherhood members who just had their “first democratically elected leader” ousted. He then goes on to quote several Brotherhood spokespersons who claim the military is lying and is a danger to the Egyptian people. They also call the events of June 30 a “bloody” and “ugly” coup.

What Smith has done here is convince the reader that the Muslim Brotherhood is a democratically elected political party that is being unjustly silenced, not a terrorist organization that has been accused of several assassinations, countless cases of voters fraud, was previously banned in the country, has ties to Al Qaeda, and openly supports terrorist activities.  Smith forces his readers into sympathizing with MB members because he only focuses on their side of the story. Vital information that the military, Egyptian people, police and government could have provided is left out.

What Smith needed, and what most reporters at this time could have used, is a plain view of all sides.

On the other side of the spectrum is the instances where news outlets publish articles  written by one side and not the other. Gehad el-Haddad wrote in his article published in The Guardian, July 26, “…all the deaths have been among those protesting the coup and calling for the return of Egypt’s hijacked democracy.” He also goes on to say that anti-coup protesters “avoided Tahrir [Square]” and “carefully organized their marches to avoid instigating violence.” According to The Guardian’s website, el-Haddad is a “media spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood and senior advisor to the Freedom and Justice party.” One has to ask where the government’s point of view is.

The idea of being completely unbiased is one that has been deeply debated among journalists. What’s important for the reader to keep in mind is that biases are inevitable in journalism, whether it’s because of association, money or simply unintentional.

PHOTO caption: Mohammed Morsi Mural

Credit: Thierry Ehrmann, Flirckr


Sources used: (el-Hadded’s article) (Smith’s article) (also used basic information about the protest, “coup,” etc.)  (muslim brotherhood’s activities, 6th paragraph )

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