Small But Rare Protests in Egypt After Online Call for Dissent

Hundreds protested in central Cairo and several other Egyptian cities late on Friday against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption, witnesses said.

Protests have become very rare in Egypt following a broad crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who took power after the overthrow of the former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Security forces moved to disperse the small and scattered crowds in Cairo using tear gas but many young people stayed on the streets in the center of the capital, shouting “Leave Sisi,” Reuters reporters at the scene said.

Police arrested some of the demonstrators, witnesses said.

Small protests were also held in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, Suez on the Red Sea as well as the Nile Delta textile town of Mahalla el-Kubra, about 110 km (68 miles) north of Cairo, according to residents and videos posted online.

There was a heavy security presence in downtown Cairo and on Tahrir Square where mass protests started in 2011 which toppled veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities could not be immediately reached to comment.

State TV did not cover the incidents.

A pro-government TV anchor said only a small group of protesters had gathered in central Cairo to take videos and selfies before leaving the scene. Another pro-government channel said the situation around the Tahrir Square was quiet.

Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor turned political activist who lives in Spain, called in a series of videos for the protest after accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.

Last Saturday, Sisi dismissed the claims as “lies and slander.”

Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage, in a vote in which the only other candidate was an ardent Sisi supporter.

His popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures.

Sisi’s supporters say dissent must be quashed to stabilize Egypt, after a 2011 uprising and the unrest that followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians.

They also credit him with economic reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund.

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Judge: Trump Must Give Deposition in Protesters’ Lawsuit

A New York judge has ordered President Donald Trump to give a videotaped deposition in a lawsuit filed by protesters who claim they were roughed up outside Trump Tower.

State Supreme Court Judge Doris Gonzalez of the Bronx on Friday denied Trump’s effort to quash a subpoena seeking the president’s testimony.

She ordered Trump to videotape a deposition before the trial, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 26.

The lawsuit was filed by six activists who say they were assaulted by Trump security staff during a Sept. 3, 2015, protest by people upset over comments Trump made about Mexican immigrants.

The judge says Trump’s testimony is “indispensable” as someone in charge of the business and his campaign.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately return a phone message.
 

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US Marines Charged in Connection With Human Smuggling Ring

Thirteen U.S. Marines arrested in July in connection with an alleged human smuggling operation in Southern California are now facing formal charges from the military.

The charges range from failure to obey an order to drunkenness and theft, and include the alleged transportation of undocumented immigrants, according to a statement from the 1st Marine Division.

Two of the Marines, Lance Corporal Byron Law II and Lance Corporal David Salazar-Quintero, were arrested on July 3 after border patrol agents found them picking up three illegal aliens along a stretch of Interstate 8, about 11 kilometers (7 miles) north of the U.S. border with Mexico.

According to court documents, Law and Salazar-Quintero admitted to having been in contact with a recruiter, who offered to pay them for transporting the illegal immigrants from the interstate to other locations.

Law told authorities he and Salazar-Quintero were never paid for the interaction, according to the complaint.

A third Marine was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol a week later, on July 10.

The other 10 were taken into custody during what some officials described as a sting operation July 25 at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base located about 79 kilometers (49 miles) north of San Diego.

In a statement following the mass arrests, the Marine Corps’ 1st Division said the regiment’s commanding officer “will act within his authority to hold the Marines accountable at the appropriate level, should they be charged.”

In addition to the Marine Corps and U.S. Border Patrol, officials with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service also aided in the initial investigation.

According to the Marine Corps, none of the Marines detained as part of the investigation were assigned to the U.S. military operation to support efforts to secure the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

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Pennsylvania Latinos Changing the Political Rhythm in Key Swing State

More than a half century ago, a group of Puerto Ricans moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, to work the nearby mushroom fields. Since then the Latino and Hispanic population of the city itself has mushroomed — to 65% of the total. That majority-minority population is being closely watched politically because it is a key constituency in a swing state considered a must-win for both parties in next year’s presidential election. VOA’s White House bureau chief, Steve Herman reports from Reading.
 

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Trump Administration Revokes California’s Strict Emission Standards Despite Its Pollution

Remnants of tropical storm Imelda have caused serious flooding in eastern Texas, including parts of Houston, forcing evacuations, flight cancellations, school closures and causing some outages. Reports of other environmental disasters come from various parts of the world, as the United Nations General Assembly prepares to discuss climate change, which is linked to human activity such as pollution and gas-fueled transportation. Zlatica Hoke reports the Trump administration so far has shunned efforts to curb pollution, and there are no signs this will change.
 

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Remembering Afghanistan’s War Dead

Afghanistan has been awash in violence for decades, and hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in the fighting. A memorial designed to remember those lost and help survivors heal recently opened in Mazar-e-Sharif. VOA’s Mirwais Bezhan visited this exhibition and filed this report narrated by Bezhan Hamdard.

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‘Deeply Sorry’ Trudeau Begs Forgiveness for Brownface Photo

Canadian leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign moved to contain a growing scandal Thursday, following the publication of a yearbook photo showing him in brownface makeup at a 2001 costume party. The prime minister apologized and begged Canadians to forgive him.

Time magazine published the photo on Wednesday, saying it was taken from the yearbook from the West Point Grey Academy, a private school in British Columbia where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. It depicts the then 29-year-old Trudeau wearing a turban and robe, with dark makeup on his hands, face and neck.

Trudeau, who launched his reelection campaign exactly one week ago, said he should have known better.

“I’m pissed off at myself, I’m disappointed in myself,” Trudeau told reporters traveling with him on his campaign plane.

The Canadian prime minister is but the latest politician to face scrutiny over racially insensitive photos and actions from their younger days. Earlier this year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam faced intense pressure to resign after a racist picture surfaced from his 1984 medical school yearbook page. He denied being in the picture but admitted wearing blackface as a young man while portraying Michael Jackson at a dance party in the 1980s. Since then, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has acknowledged wearing blackface in college, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly apologized for donning blackface during a college skit more than 50 years ago. None has resigned.

The photo of Trudeau was taken at the school’s annual dinner, which had an “Arabian Nights” theme that year, Trudeau said, adding that he was dressed as a character from “Aladdin.” The prime minister said it was not the first time he has painted his face; once, he said, he performed a version of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” during a talent show.

“I should have known better then but I didn’t, and I am deeply sorry for it,” Trudeau said. “I’m going to ask Canadians to forgive me for what I did. I shouldn’t have done that. I take responsibility for it.  It was a dumb thing to do.”

He said he has always been more enthusiastic about costumes than is “sometimes appropriate.”

“These are the situations I regret deeply,” Trudeau added.

The prime minister, who champions diversity and multiculturalism, said he didn’t consider it racist at the time but said society knows better now.

The photo’s publication could spell more trouble for Trudeau, who polls say is facing a serious challenge from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Trudeau has been admired by liberals around the world for his progressive policies in the Trump era, with Canada accepting more refugees than the United States. His Liberal government has also strongly advocated free trade and legalized cannabis nationwide.

But the 47-year-old son of late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was already vulnerable following one of the biggest scandals in Canadian political history, which arose when Trudeau’s former attorney general said he improperly pressured her to halt the criminal prosecution of a company in Quebec. Trudeau has said he was standing up for jobs, but the scandal rocked the government and led to multiple resignations earlier this year, causing a drop in the leader’s poll ratings.

Following the release of the brownface photo, Trudeau said he would talk to his kids in the morning about taking responsibility.

His quick apology did not stem the criticism from political opponents, who took the prime minister to task for what they said was troubling behavior.

“It is insulting. Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live, for what their lived experiences are. I think he has to answer for it,” said Leftist New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban and the first visible minority to lead a national party.

Scheer, the opposition Conservative leader, said brownface was racist in 2001 and is racist in 2019.

“What Canadians saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity and someone who is not fit to govern this country,” Scheer said.

Robert Bothwell, a professor of Canadian history and international relations at the University of Toronto, said he was “gobsmacked” at the development and wondered how it would land in Parliament and with voters.

“We’ll just have to see how the party reacts,” he said. “I’m very curious to know how Liberal members of Parliament that are black will react.”

He added: “The case has never been conclusively made that Justin is a person of substance. I mean he may well be. But that impression is just not out there.”  

How the scandal will affect Trudeau’s campaign remains in question. Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said he didn’t think the photo’s release would cause people to vote differently. Wiseman said race and blackface play a much bigger role in U.S. politics than in Canada.

“I don’t think this will swing the vote, although the story will get a lot of media play for a couple of days,” Wiseman said.  “The Liberals may very well lose the election — they almost certainly will not do as well as in 2015 — but this is not the type of scandal that will drive voters to the Conservatives.”

 

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In new Sudan, Women Want More Freedom, Bigger Political Role

On her daily walks from home to her job at a primary school in the city of Port Sudan, Khalda Saber would urge people to join the protests against the three-decade rule of Sudan’s autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.
 
At school, she rallied fellow teachers to join the pro-democracy uprising.

“I was telling them that there is nothing to lose, compared with what we have already lost. I was telling them that we have to take to the streets, demonstrate and express our rejection to what’s happening,” she said.

One January morning, two months after the protests erupted, plainclothes security forces snatched Saber off a bus and took her to the feared security and intelligence agency’s local office.
 
There, she was detained in a newly built wing in a prison in the capital, Khartoum, alongside other protesters. She said security forces beat her and the other new arrivals for several hours.

Saber spent 40 days in detention. She was among many thousands of Sudanese women who risked their lives leading protests that eventually pushed the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April.

Several turbulent months followed as the protesters feared the military would cling to power, before a power-sharing deal in July. An interim, civilian-led government was sworn in last month.

Amid high hopes for a new era, many Sudanese women like Saber are looking for greater freedoms and equality. They seek to overturn many of the restrictive laws based on Islamic jurisprudence, or Sharia, that activists say stifle women’s rights.

“For sure the whole Sudanese people have an interest in this revolution, but we, the women, had a bigger interest and motivation to make it happen,” Saber said.

Al-Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, adopting a harsh interpretation of Islamic law that diminished the ability of women to participate meaningfully in public life, Human Rights Watch said in a 2015 report.

Public order laws imposed an Islamic dress code on women and restricted their ability to move freely or, if unmarried, with male colleagues, said Jehanne Henry, an associate Africa director at the New York-based rights group. Violators faced lashing in public and hefty fines.
 
But the end of al-Bashir’s rule would lead Saber, who worked with a local NGO on women’s rights issues for years, to flee the country. She spoke to The Associated Press from her home in self-imposed exile in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Along with her husband and two daughters, Saber escaped Sudan just two days after al-Bashir’s ouster on April 11.

She says the family was threatened, mainly by the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias that al-Bashir used in the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
 
Saber had documented the RSF’s rights violations, especially against women, through testimonies before and during the uprising.

“There were threats that they would attack my daughters,” she said.
 
Following her release in March, she had immediately joined demonstrations at the main sit-in outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum. “At this time, the threats were increased. I found no way but to leave (the country),” she said.

Saber’s story reflects a wave of violence against women during the protests. A Sudanese rights group, Sudanese Women Action, said in a report released earlier this month that women protesters faced an “unprecedented amount of violence and human rights violations” that amounted to “serious atrocities.” Twelve women and a 7-year-old girl were killed in the protests, it said.

The group said it documented at least 26 cases of rape as security forces broke up the protest camp outside the military headquarters in early June. Dozens more rape cases weren’t reported or documented “due to fears of reprisals or stigma,” the group alleged.

During the uprising, Saber said countless women in both rural and urban areas participated in the demonstrations.

“It was not strange to see so many women at the front in the marches,” she said. “This is because of growing awareness of women’s rights. Women in time realized they have to stick to their demands.”

After five months in Cairo, Saber remains wary. “Fear and dread still exist. It is too early to go back to Sudan,” she said.

Sudan’s democratic transition remains fragile. But the appointment of several women to the interim government _ including Sudan’s first female foreign minister, and two women in an 11-member sovereign council has raised hopes that the role women played in the uprising will lead to change.

Henry, the HRW associate director, said the new government is committed to several legal reforms, including changes needed to achieve gender equality. Family and inheritance laws “clearly discriminate against women, limiting their ability to inherit property equally,” she said.

Wifaq Gurashi, a women’s rights activist in Khartoum, said the government should prioritize annulling all laws that restrict women’s movement and freedoms, and implement policies that offer broader opportunities for women.

“With a little determination, we will be represented fairly,” said Gurashi, who was herself briefly detained during the uprising in February.

But, she said, women face formidable obstacles.

‘It’s a long way (to go), especially to get rid of the traditional way of thinking in this masculine and authoritarian society,” Gurashi said.

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