Daesh calls on fighters to disrupt Egypt’s vote with attacks

Egyptians walk in front of the Lawyers Syndicate near a poster of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election, in Cairo, Egypt February 8, 2018. The poster reads: “Story of country will continue with you.” (Reuters)
Updated 12 February 2018
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Daesh calls on fighters to disrupt Egypt’s vote with attacks

CAIRO: A video purportedly by the Daesh’s affiliate in Egypt is calling on its fighters to stage attacks during next month’s presidential elections and warning Egyptians to stay away from polling centers.
The authenticity of the 23-minute video posted late Sunday on websites known to be sympathetic to the group could not be independently verified, but appeared similar to past releases by Daesh. The video makes a brief mention of an ongoing offensive by security forces against Daesh, suggesting it was made after the campaign began Friday.
The video showed what appeared to be footage of past Daesh attacks in Sinai and the gruesome killings of unarmed off-duty soldiers or men suspected of collaborating with security forces. The timing of its release and its contents, however, appear designed to project an image of the group as a resilient force in the face of what is possibly the largest offensive by government forces since the insurgency began nearly five years ago.
Egypt’s military says it has destroyed dozens of targets, killed scores of militants and detained many suspects as part of the operation, which targets “terrorist and criminal elements and organizations” and involves land, naval and air forces from the army and police. The operation covers north and central Sinai, the Nile Delta and the Western Desert along Egypt’s porous border with Libya, home to a number of militant groups.
Branding elections an act of “apostasy,” a Daesh operative speaking to the camera in the video called on the “soldiers” of the group to “spoil the day of their apostasy, shed their blood and target the heads of apostasy among them.” He also called on Muslims in Sinai and elsewhere in Egypt to stay away from polling centers and other vote-related installations, saying they would be targeted on the days of the election. The vote is staggered over three days — March 26, 27 and 28.
Such threats are routine from militant groups opposed in principle to democratic practices, or even a hollow version of them. They also rarely materialize.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s re-election is virtually assured in the March vote. After a string of potentially serious challengers have either been arrested or forced out of the race, el-Sisi’s only challenger is an obscure politician who is also among his ardent supporters. Moussa Mustafa Moussa’s last-minute entry into the race saved el-Sisi and his government from the embarrassment of a one-candidate election.
A coalition of eight opposition parties and scores of prominent pro-democracy figures called last month on voters to boycott the elections. This week, prosecutors began an investigation into complaints by pro-government lawyers accusing them of “incitement against the state” and seeking to destabilize the country.
The move by the prosecutors was the latest sign that authorities were not prepared to allow even a hint of dissent or any questioning of el-Sisi’s continued rule ahead of the vote.
On Monday, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Al, a die-hard el-Sisi supporter who presides over a chamber packed with backers of the president, claimed that politicians calling for a boycott had no popular support. He also accused them of being unpatriotic. Abdel-Al, according to the official MENA news agency, was speaking at a plenary session debating legislation to set up a fund to “honor” victims of terror attacks.
Egypt’s security forces have for years fought militants in Sinai, but the insurgency became deadlier and expanded after the military in 2013, then led by el-Sisi, ousted an Islamist president, whose one year in office proved divisive. El-Sisi later oversaw what is perhaps the largest crackdown on dissent in Egypt’s modern history, jailing thousands of Islamists along with scores of secular, pro-democracy activists.
He also curbed freedoms and placed heavy restrictions on the work of rights groups as he pursued an ambitious economic reform program that has left the country’s poor majority struggling in the face of soaring prices.


Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

Updated 3 min 35 sec ago
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Amnesty: Firm at Qatar 2022 World Cup not paying wages

  • Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, owes thousands of dollars of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than $2 a day
  • Qatar previously has faced criticism for worker conditions as it prepares to host the World Cup

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A contractor involved in building the marquee stadium for Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup did not pay its workers, leaving them stranded thousands of miles from home, according to a report released Wednesday.
Mercury MENA, an engineering and plumbing firm, owes thousands of dollars of wages to workers from countries where many live on less than $2 a day, Amnesty International said. Those employees helped build projects including Qatar’s Lusail Stadium, which will host the opening and closing matches of the soccer tournament.
The company, whose website is now down and offices in Doha are shuttered, did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. Qatar’s government said it was investigating.
“People from all over the world cheering, laughing, touring some of the beautiful stadiums, recreational sites and hotels here... Will they ever think what are the stories behind those structures?” one worker reportedly told Amnesty. “I guess not... Blind eyes are common nowadays.”
Amnesty said it examined the cases of 78 former employees of Mercury MENA, interviewing 44 and analyzing documentation of another 34. Of them, 58 came from Nepal, 15 from India and five from the Philippines, Asian nations that send thousands of laborers, taxi drivers and office workers to the Gulf.
Mercury MENA worked on several projects in Qatar, including the stadium, the new Qatar National Library and a worker’s hospital and modern accommodation for laborers, Amnesty said. Workers told Amnesty that the firm owed them on average between $1,370 to $2,470, a huge sum for their families back home. It said one worker was owed nearly $25,000 after over a decade of work.
Some workers found themselves stuck in Qatar without money and unable to leave the country as local laws require workers to get an exit permit supported by their employer before they leave. Earlier this month, Qatar partially ended that requirement, part of its internationally criticized “kafala” system that ties expatriate workers to a single employer.
Amnesty said Mercury MENA’s CEO told them in 2017 that his firm “had been the victim of unscrupulous business partners resulting in ‘cashflow problems’ and a number of disputes over payments with contractors and clients.”
Companies around the Gulf have been suffering from an economic slowdown in part aggravated by oil prices going as low as $30 a barrel in early 2016. Brent crude now is trading at over $80 a barrel. Meanwhile, Doha has faced a boycott by four Arab nations since June 2017 as part of a regional political dispute, further affecting its economy.
In a statement, Qatar’s Labor Ministry said such abuse of workers is “not tolerated” in the country and that there are unspecified “legal proceedings” against Mercury MENA.
“While Mercury MENA no longer operates in Qatar, legal matters will continue and we will conduct a full investigation,” the statement said.
Qatar previously has faced criticism for worker conditions as it prepares to host the World Cup in an Arabian Peninsula country where temperatures rise to a humid 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. FIFA already has agreed to a 28-day World Cup tournament from to November to December 2022, which is already a departure from the regular mid-year schedule.
A British worker, Zachary Cox, died after falling nearly 40 meters (130 feet) in January 2017 at the Khalifa International Stadium. A British coroner blamed dangerous working practices for his death. A 23-year-old Nepali worker died at its Al Wakrah Stadium project site in August.