Aug 6 • President Trump wants social media to catch shooters before they strike. It’s going to be hard He and his family are already battling the federal government in court over their land. But their prospects of winning the case don’t look good.Anzaldua says he’s also opposed to the wall because he sees this region of South Texas and Northern Mexico as one community, as have the generations of his family who came before him. He doesn’t like the idea of dividing it with a barrier.”We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” Anzaldua says. “I’m not giving up to the last minute, until it’s all done. Then we’ll have to work to tear it down.”The river’s endThe Rio Grande is the fourth longest river in the US. It originates in the Colorado Rockies, then bends and winds its way through New Mexico and along the edge of Texas to eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico, 1,896 miles later. After traveling hundreds of miles along this river, I had to see its end.I drive my rental car toward the gulf, past cabbage, melon and grapefruit farms, to the dunes and salt flats of Boca Chica State Park. When the road ends at a long, desolate beach, I park and walk. It’s about three miles to the mouth of the river. A cool, thick fog hangs over the ocean as small waves tumble onto the shore.Where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Dara Kerr/CNET Behind me, a lifted black Ford pickup comes driving down the beach. I still have a ways to go, so I give a wave and ask for a ride. It’s a couple from Missouri wintering in Texas. A pop country station plays over the radio. Like me, they want to see where the river disappears into the sea. We slowly crawl down the beach until we make it to the mouth of the Rio Grande.The land out here is open and rugged. It’s only about 30 feet across to Mexico. The US side is empty, but on the Mexican side, a handful of fishermen in fluorescent green waders stand shin deep, casting their nets. Herons, gulls and pelicans look on.As I’m taking it in, I’m reminded of a plaque I saw at the Butterfly Center engraved with a quote from the writer Wallace Stegner:”Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed. … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”A small, black SUV pulls up to the water’s edge across the river in Mexico. A family of four gets out to take in the view, just the same as us. The dad looks over at me, standing here on the US side. He smiles and waves.Tall Order: Building the Border Wall is our Texas border series exploring what a wall and tech alternatives might mean to the people, communities and law enforcement agencies living in its shadow. Read the first story here: Trump wants a border wall. Texas may want a smarter alternative, and the second story here: At Texas border, tech can’t keep pace with immigrant influx. Tags 2:09 Tall order: Building the border wall Jul 28 • Apple’s Q3 earnings are all about the iPhone 11 hints Along with historic sites and wildlife refuges, the Trump administration is also looking to build the wall across residents’ private property. Throughout Texas, more than 1,000 landowners are going to be potentially impacted by property seizures, says Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose district covers more than 800 miles of the Texas-Mexico border and who opposes a wall along the entire southern boundary.In the Rio Grande Valley, the government has been sending letters to dozens of property owners over the past few months asking to survey their land for the wall. If the landowners refuse, these matters typically end up in court with the government making a case to seize the property under eminent domain. The Butterfly Center and La Lomita had cases against the federal government over the use of their land, and both cases have been dismissed. The Butterfly Center appealed that decision.”The messiness of all these takings has become a real burden for people,” says Peter McGraw, a lawyer with the nonprofit legal assistance firm Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.Mission area resident Reynaldo Anzaldua (left) and the mayor of Mission, Armando O’Caña. Dara Kerr/CNET Reynaldo Anzaldua’s family has lived in the Mission area since before the US was even a country. He’s a descendent of the Spaniards who settled on both sides of the river in the 1750s. His extended family owns plots of land throughout the region and even has a land grant dating back to 1767. Now the government aims to build the wall through about 70 acres of his family’s property.Anzaldua, who’s soft-spoken with thin, gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses, is a retired customs officer and Vietnam War vet. He says he’s opposed to Trump’s wall because he doesn’t think it’s needed or will work.”One thing I do know about is smuggling. They need to look at the root causes of things,” Anzaldua says. “This is about demand for drugs and demand for illegal immigrant labor. If you reduce demand, you reduce violence in Mexico, you reduce problems here.” The messiness of all these takings has become a real burden for people. Peter McGraw, lawyer for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid reading • In a Texas border town, a church on the edge and wildlife at risk Trump wants a border wall. Texas may want a smarter alternative At Texas border, tech can’t keep pace with immigrant influx Politics Security Clear-cutting isn’t the only side effect the wall will have on South Texas’ wildlife, Sánchez-Navarro says. It’ll also cut off access to water and migratory routes for animals. And the 36-foot-tall barrier will exacerbate wind flow, light pollution and trash and debris buildup.Flooding may be a serious issue too. South Texas is prone to what locals call “rain events,” when a sudden storm pours down massive amounts of water. When this happens, the Rio Grande tends to flood very quickly.”With the wall there, animals would get trapped and drown,” Sánchez-Navarro says. “They don’t have a way to escape.”Enlarge ImageThis map shows where the border wall will be built in the Mission, Texas, area of the Rio Grande Valley. Amy Kim/CNET Customs and Border Protection says it’s waived various environmental laws to build the wall, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. But it also says it’s working with federal, state and nongovernmental organizations to identify the potential impact on wildlife.”To the greatest extent practicable, CBP will incorporate design considerations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any potential impacts that are found,” the agency says.A couple miles west of the Butterfly Center, Customs and Border Protection’s excavators have already uprooted brush and cleared about eight acres in a tract of land called La Parida Banco, which is in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is the first location in Hidalgo County to get Trump’s new border wall.”It is happening next door to us, but not to us,” Wright says. But if Trump’s agenda continues, she says, “they will eventually build the wall through us.”‘We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us’After mass, Father Snipes offers to take me on a boat tour down the Rio Grande on his 50-year-old Kenner ski barge. He puts on his cowboy hat and Texas A&M jacket, towels the morning dew off the boat’s seats and gets the old barge’s motor going.”And we’re off like a band of turtles,” he jokes.The river is wide and calm here, flanked by palms and swamp grass. As Snipes steers the boat downstream, he points to Mexico with its riverside houses and a tidy park full of picnic tables. On the US side, Border Patrol surveillance towers watch over the water. An aerostat hovers in the distance.Father Roy Snipes steers his Kenner ski barge down the Rio Grande. Dara Kerr/CNET “It’s hard to see any signs of a crisis,” Snipes says, as he scans the empty river. “The crisis is demonizing and despising your neighbors.”Snipes took his final vows as a priest at La Lomita in 1980 and he’s been here ever since. He’s had hundreds of parishioners from both sides of the river, including Border Patrol agents and Mexicans who entered the US without papers. The church sits just below the levee, which means it’s inside the 150-foot enforcement zone. Snipes says he hasn’t heard talk of demolishing La Lomita, but being in a deforested area next to a 36-foot-tall concrete and steel wall will change the church.”It’s such a serene and peaceful place to pray, and if you have a militarized zone right there, it would desecrate the atmosphere,” he says. “Couldn’t we find something better than a 15th century wall?” The crisis is demonizing and despising your neighbors. Father Roy Snipes, parish priest for La Lomita Border wall dividing homes and habitat • Now playing: Watch this: Aug 6 • Trump says he’s watching Google ‘very closely,’ slams CEO Sundar Pichai Adobe Donald Trump More than 100 pilgrims quietly make their way into La Lomita Chapel and slide onto the wooden pews of the 120-year-old Catholic church. As one man sits down, he hangs his cowboy hat on a post near the pulpit. The one-room adobe chapel is lit only by a table of flickering votive candles. It’s a cool February morning in Mission, Texas, and the sun has yet to rise.”We pray for ourselves,” Father Roy Snipes says with a Texan lilt, holding a flashlight as he reads his sermon. “But we also pray for our oppressors.” Enlarge ImageThis is the third story in our Texas border trilogy, Tall Order: Building the Border Wall. Click here for the first story and click here for the second story. Amy Kim/CNET Snipes, who’s tall with a slight stoop and combed white hair parted on the side, has served at La Lomita Chapel for nearly 40 years. As he continues his sermon, he turns to a topic his parishioners are familiar with: the border wall.La Lomita sits directly in the path of President Donald Trump’s proposed wall. The tiny white church is situated in a grassy park less than a block from the dark green Rio Grande — the international boundary between Texas and Mexico. That has turned this historic landmark into a symbol of what might be lost once the wall is built. And it’s turned Snipes, who’s locally known as the “cowboy priest” and has been described as “Mr. Rogers with a Stetson,” into an unlikely symbol of protest against the physical barrier the Trump administration just started building in Texas last month.”In the long run, it’s going to be a real sad chapter in our history, that wall,” Snipes says. “It’s a shame they couldn’t think of something better than that with all of the tech we have.” It’s going to be a real sad chapter in our history, that wall. Father Roy Snipes, parish priest for La Lomita The US Border Patrol has blanketed the nearly 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border with technology, most of it geared toward surveillance. The agency relies on a network of sensors, cameras and drones equipped with lidar and radar to spot people, boats and vehicles crossing the border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Watchdog groups warn that this mass surveillance could have serious privacy implications. But a wall, say the dozens of Texans living along the border who granted me interviews, may be even worse.If all goes according to Trump’s plans, roughly 550 miles of wall will be built along the US-Mexico border as soon as possible. Most of that new construction is expected to happen in Texas. Unlike California, Arizona and New Mexico, which already have about 60% of fencing or walls at their borders, Texas only has around 20% because of its natural barrier with Mexico — the Rio Grande. Aug 7 • Trump’s emissions and fuel economy rollbacks will cost Americans money, study says Neema Singh Guliani, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, says, “A lot of us would have objections to surveillance infrastructure in our communities that could track everywhere we went, every time we went to a doctor’s office or a place of worship.”Still, many people who live in South Texas say all that surveillance is better than a physical barrier.”You don’t have to build the wall; you could increase border security, you could increase technology,” says Susan Keefer, an avid birder and part-time resident of Mission. “In some places a wall might be best, but it sure isn’t right here.”Trapped between the river and the wallThe National Butterfly Center sits on 100 acres of riverside property that’s thick with vegetation. Within that tangle of bushes and trees, it’s teeming with wildlife. Kids on a field trip are learning about local butterflies, like the zebra heliconian and southern dogface. And birders walk the grounds, stopping to fix their binoculars on a small gray screech owl sleeping in a tree and a flock of bright green jays that jump branch to branch.The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biodiverse habitats on the continent. It’s home to 1,200 plant species, 300 butterfly species and 520 bird species, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. And at least 18 threatened or endangered animal species live here.”We’re at the crossroads of the subtropical and tropical Americas,” says Marianna T. Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center. “If you’re doing a Venn diagram, the Rio Grande Valley is that sweet spot in the middle.”The Rio Grande Valley is home to hundreds of species of birds, butterflies and animals. Clockwise from the top left: zebra longwing butterfly, Altamira oriole, ocelot cub, javelina. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service Down the road from the Butterfly Center in a flat, dusty lot enclosed by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, a completely different scene started taking place on April 16. Flatbed 18-wheelers began hauling in truckloads of massive steel bollard panels. Bright orange tractors unloaded the oversized metal planks, placing them in several 10-foot-high stacks across the lot. These are the panels for the border wall.”We’re getting a 36-foot-tall barrier that no terrestrial wildlife will be able to cross,” Wright says. “That means trapped between the river and a wall, there will be increased competition for resources, for mating territory, for food, for shelter, for breeding.”So far, the majority of construction on Trump’s wall has been replacement of existing barriers. That’s about to change.Along with more funding for border technology, Congress’ spending measure authorized $1.375 billion for 55 miles of steel fencing in the Rio Grande Valley. The measure also said, however, the wall couldn’t be built in four protected areas: the National Butterfly Center, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and La Lomita Chapel. But the day after Trump signed the measure, he announced a national emergency at the southern border, arguing that the US is struggling with an “invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country that we stop, but it’s very hard to stop. With a wall, it would be very easy.”Marianna T. Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, stands with football players Demario Davis and Josh Norman in front of a stack of steel bollard panels that’ll be used to build the border wall. The National Butterfly Center That move lets him tap into more than $6 billion in additional funds, diverted from other government reserves. It also lets him waive environmental assessments and override the no-wall provision for those four protected areas.While Trump is facing several lawsuits and a congressional challenge to the national emergency, his order stands and construction on the wall moves forward.Along with the 55 miles of wall authorized by Congress in February, an additional 33 miles of steel barriers in the Rio Grande Valley were funded by Congress in March 2018. Of this, 25 miles of nearly continuous wall are slated for Hidalgo County, where the Butterfly Center and La Lomita are located, according to a July 2018 letter that Customs and Border Protection sent to a nongovernmental organization and that was seen by CNET. Customs and Border Protection didn’t respond to a request for comment on the contents of the letter.The wall in Hidalgo County will be 36 feet tall — nearly as high as a four-story building. It’ll start at the foot of the levee with an 18-foot base of reinforced concrete and be topped with 18 feet of steel bollards, according to the letter. Detection and surveillance tech will be incorporated into the wall, along with floodlights. All trees and brush will be excavated 150 feet south of the wall toward the river to clear an area called the “enforcement zone.” If you’re doing a Venn diagram, the Rio Grande Valley is that sweet spot in the middle. Marianna T. Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center See All I set out to travel the length of the Texas-Mexico border, about 1,200 miles, starting in El Paso and ending here at the southern tip of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. While much of the border is remote and desolate, South Texas is different. It’s peppered with numerous towns whose inhabitants live on both sides of the river. It’s also one of North America’s top biodiversity hotspots for birds, insects and animals, such as the endangered ocelot and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.Building a wall in the middle of such a wildlife corridor will harm the hundreds of different species that live here, say scientists and conservationists across Texas. It also puts at risk the future of La Lomita.Father Roy Snipes, the parish priest at La Lomita chapel, holds a dawn mass in Mission, Texas. Dara Kerr/CNET As Snipes finishes mass at the chapel, birds chirp awake and a hawk hovers in the nearby field. Through the church’s windows, the sky over the levee is cast in red, peach and bright turquoise. In the other direction, a low fog lifts off the river. Overhead, a Border Patrol helicopter buzzes.”They think they’re going to build a wall and it’ll solve all of our problems,” Snipes says. “I think it’s going to cause more problems than it’s going to solve.”Surveillance stateThe Rio Grande Valley isn’t actually a valley, it’s a river delta. It’s flat, dry and hot. Along Highway 83, one-stoplight towns sell tacos and barbecue brisket out of roadside trailers, and broken-down gas stations are a mainstay. Through the dense and thorny brushland filled with sweet acacia, Texas ebony and mesquite trees, the Rio Grande drifts in and out of sight.Every few dozen miles, a white blimp floats 5,000 feet in the sky. Called aerostats, or tethered aerostat radar systems, these apparatuses look like a cartoon version of an airplane, with a softly rounded nose and curved puffy tail wings. They’re one of the surveillance tools US Customs and Border Protection uses to monitor the border.An aerostat, used for border surveillance, gets lowered to the ground in rainy weather. Dara Kerr/CNET Each balloon is attached to the ground by a nylon cable that can be extended and reeled in. When in the air, the unmanned aerostats monitor the terrain below. Using radar, along with infrared and electro-optical cameras, they can “see” approximately 20 miles and pick up the movement of people and vehicles, according to Customs and Border Protection.The Border Patrol has six tactical aerostats in the Rio Grande Valley. Each blimp’s radar and camera feeds are monitored 24 hours a day by government contractors and a Border Patrol agent, according to Jose A. Martinez, assistant chief patrol agent.”It has greatly assisted us,” Martinez says. But, he adds, “The aerostat has its limitations because it’s only operational 60% to 70% of the time due to weather and maintenance.”Aerostats are just one of the Border Patrol’s surveillance tools. To detect potential illegal immigration and drug trafficking, the federal agency uses everything from surveillance towers equipped with high-powered cameras to military grade drones to a complex system of sensors, including seismic, magnetic, acoustic, infrared, radar, microwave and photoelectric. The Border Patrol is also testing innovations such as machine-learning AI software and facial recognition tech.The federal government is pouring money into border technology. A congressional spending measure, passed Feb. 14 and signed by Trump, awarded $100 million in technology funding to the Border Patrol, with an additional $112 million for aircraft and sensor systems.Border Patrol agents keep watch on the Rio Grande in Mission, Texas. Dara Kerr/CNET But some people aren’t happy with the indiscriminate surveillance. A group of 28 tech and human rights organizations, led by digital rights group Fight for the Future, has been pushing Congress to stop funding border surveillance tech.”It’s sickening to see both Republicans and Democrats add significant funding for invasive surveillance technologies to trample on millions of people’s basic rights at a mass scale,” Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement after Congress passed its spending measure in February. “The US government’s mass surveillance programs are already out of control.”Civil liberties groups and some think tanks are also opposed to added border surveillance. Libertarian think tank Cato Institute says the tech “intrudes on law-abiding Americans’ privacy” and it’d “be naive to believe that Border Patrol surveillance equipment won’t be turned on Americans going about their days.” You don’t have to build the wall, you could increase border security, you could increase technology. Susan Keefer, part-time resident of Mission, Texas Environmentalists say this could deal a devastating blow to South Texas’ already compromised ecosystem. Agriculture and urban growth have destroyed almost all of the Rio Grande Valley’s native brushland, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Less than 5% of this habitat remains — and what’s left is mostly along the banks of the Rio Grande. This is where birds nest, butterflies lay their eggs, and animals hunt and burrow.”This tiny strip of wildlife along the river is now in jeopardy because of the border wall,” says Paul Sánchez-Navarro, senior representative for advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife. “We’re talking over 50,000 acres of deforestation.” US Tech Policy US Tech Policy
A banner picturing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during the opening ceremony of the new city houses executed near the Suez Canal in Ismailia. Photo: ReutersThis spring, as Egypt’s parliament debated handing president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi greater power and allowing him to govern until 2030, speaker Ali Abdelaal declared the proposals were the will of the nation’s legislature. The ideas, he said, were “born in parliament, and the president has nothing to do with them, from near or far.”The reality was different, said five people with knowledge of the matter.Three of Sisi’s close advisers, including his eldest son, Mahmoud, had begun planning the changes to the constitution several months earlier, soon after Sisi was elected to a second and final term in office in April 2018, according to these sources, one of whom was present at the discussions.In meetings in September and October 2018 at the headquarters of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service in Cairo, Mahmoud al-Sisi, intelligence chief Abbas Kamel and Mohamed Abou Shoka, a legal adviser to Sisi’s election campaign, talked through ideas for prolonging the president’s time in office, the sources said. They discussed which articles of the constitution to rewrite, how to do this and the timing of such a move.The proposals that emerged – extending Sisi’s presidency and his power over the courts and parliament – were put before parliament by pro-Sisi lawmakers in February. The draft amendments raced through a chamber dominated by Sisi loyalists, and were approved in a referendum in April, in which critical voices were largely silent. Sisi’s opponents say the revisions to the constitution extinguish all hope for a civil, democratic and modern state. Not since the decades-long rule of Hosni Mubarak ended in 2011, they say, has so much power been concentrated in the hands of one man.”The tyrant regime is legitimized,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and a senior member of the Civil Democratic Movement, an alliance of opposition groups.The Egyptian government did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters for this article. Sisi has said previously that Egypt is besieged by terrorism. Supporters of the constitutional changes argue that the president still has work to do in that fight and in reforming Egypt’s economy, and so he needs more time and extended powers.Parliamentary speaker Abdelaal told parliament last month that Sisi “has a dream to make this country strong, advanced and developed.”Sisi, a former general, became president in 2014 after the military toppled Mubarak’s democratically elected successor, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, following weeks of street protests. Since then, Sisi has steadily tightened his grip. A crackdown on opponents has drawn criticism from human rights groups and Western governments. A Reuters investigation in April found that Egyptian police had shot dead hundreds of suspected Islamist militants in what authorities said were gun battles, but bereaved families said were extrajudicial killings. A Reuters investigation in July showed a threefold rise in the number of death penalties carried out since Sisi came to power.In interviews, lawmakers, security sources and people with links to Egyptian intelligence described how Sisi’s supporters rewrote key passages of the constitution to give the president and the military greater power, then pushed the changes through a pliant parliament and the public vote. One of Egypt’s few independent news outlets, Mada Masr, first reported that Sisi’s son and intelligence chief Abbas Kamel attended talks about changing the constitution. Reuters pieced together more details about the discussions and how lawmakers and the media were brought into line.A person familiar with the parliamentary process said lawmakers had no hand in drawing up the draft amendments that were put before the house. Some lawmakers who opposed the changes – they were approved by 531 votes to 22 – said they were subject to smears and intimidation.Senior judges wrote to parliament, in a March 16 letter that was reviewed by Reuters, warning that the amendments “would impinge on the independence of the judiciary.” Opposition politicians said there were dozens of arrests in the run-up to the referendum.SOFTLY, SOFTLYSisi’s son Mahmoud rarely appears in public. A graduate of Egypt’s military academy, he holds a senior position in the General Intelligence Service, according to two sources with close links to Egyptian intelligence. A Western diplomat said Mahmoud is in charge of national security, one of three sons of the president known to hold official positions.Abbas Kamal, nicknamed ‘the president’s shadow’ because of his closeness to Sisi, became head of the General Intelligence Service in June 2018, having previously served as Sisi’s chief of staff. Mohamed Abou Shoka, a former chief prosecutor, acted as spokesman and legal adviser for Sisi’s 2018 presidential campaign.The reshaped constitution that they helped to craft expanded presidential and military powers. It made the president responsible for appointing chief judges and the public prosecutor, and selecting one-third of deputies in a new parliamentary chamber, the Council of Senators. It tasked the military with protecting “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature,” giving it latitude to step in if it deems Egypt is going in the wrong direction.The president’s term was increased to six years from four. A special clause said that Sisi’s current period in office, which began in 2018, will run to 2024 and he is allowed to stand for election a third time, overriding a ban on more than two consecutive terms.These last revisions were complicated by a legal requirement that any change to the presidential term must bring with it greater freedoms. By stipulating that at least 25 percent of lawmakers must be women, the amended constitution sought to satisfy that rule.Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a pro-democracy think tank, said the Egyptian government had tried to sell the changes as “some normal constitutional housekeeping and sweeping the extension of his presidency as just a small part of a package of improvements to the constitution.”Sisi’s advisers were keen to win approval for the changes before fuel price rises in the summer, diplomats and opposition figures said. Egyptians are feeling the strain from higher sales taxes, reduced fuel subsidies and a weak currency – all part of an economic reform programme backed by the International Monetary Fund. And while the economy has steadied, Sisi’s popularity has suffered. Egypt’s official statistics agency reported in July that one in three Egyptians is living in poverty.SWIFT PASSAGEWhen parliament’s legislative committee presented the draft amendments to the house in February, it said the proposals had the support of 155 lawmakers. But a source familiar with the process said these lawmakers hadn’t been involved in drawing up the amendments. They had simply put their signatures to a pre-written document. In a departure from normal procedure, the names of these signatories were not disclosed to the house, according to three lawmakers. The government did not respond to requests for comment.In the weeks that followed, parliament held consultations about the proposed constitutional amendments involving representatives of civil society and some opposition leaders. Speaker Abdelaal said the hearings allowed for a free airing of views on the planned changes. Opponents disagreed with this account. “There wasn’t a real dialogue,” said Mohamed Sami, leader of the leftist Karam Party.Members of the judiciary, which sees its powers diminished, pleaded for a rethink. The State Council Judges’ Club, which represents about 3,000 judges, wrote to parliament to warn that amendments would “impinge on the independence of the judiciary in general and reduce the role of the State Council,” a body that rules in administrative disputes and reviews state contracts.”Justice is the basis of governing, the independence of the judiciary is the basis of justice, and without justice the state will be undermined,” wrote the club’s president, Samir al-Bahay, in the letter, which was reviewed by Reuters. Reuters couldn’t reach al-Bahay for comment.One judge described the situation as worse for the judiciary than under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s authoritarian president from 1954 to 1970. “Nasser used to sack judges, not put them under full control like is happening now,” he said.Some lawmakers who voted against the changes described being subject to smear campaigns and intimidation. Activists, including some living abroad, said they and their families came under increased pressure.Lawmaker Khaled Youssef, who is also a prominent film director, said online attacks against him started “as soon as I announced that the regime was making a mistake.” In February, after Youssef spoke out against changing the constitution, video surfaced on the internet purporting to show him and several women engaged in sexual acts. The same video had appeared in 2016 after Youssef opposed Sisi’s decision to hand two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. Youssef said the video was fake.”Every time I oppose a law … they start publishing these videos,” said Youssef, who is currently in Paris.ARRESTS AND SILENCEIn early April, even before the proposed amendments had passed through parliament, roads in Cairo were festooned with banners, posters and digital displays urging people to take part in the yet-to-be-called referendum. Some advertisements went further, pushing for a “yes” vote.More than 120 opposition figures were arrested before and during the April 20-22 referendum, according to the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of opposition parties. Among them was Amir Eissa, a senior member of Al Dostour, a liberal party. Eissa’s brother, Moataz, and the party’s lawyer told Reuters that Eissa was arrested outside a polling station in Al Qalyubia Governorate, north of Cairo, on the second day of voting, after telling the official in charge that he had seen people offering bribes to voters. Reuters wasn’t able to contact the official.Eissa remains in custody, said the lawyer, who declined to be identified. Prosecutors ordered that he should be detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and using social media to commit crimes that would threaten peace and security, the lawyer added. Egyptian authorities didn’t respond to requests for comment.Criticism in Egyptian media was muted.Mohamed Abdel Hafiz, a board member of the Journalists’ Syndicate, a professional body, said articles opposing the amendments were stopped by government censors stationed at printing houses to check newspapers pre-publication.”Newspapers were prevented from publishing any views that opposed the constitutional amendments,” said Abdel Hafiz.A website collecting signatures against the referendum was blocked hours after the site’s launch in March, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring group. It was unclear who was behind the move. The site had already gathered 60,000 signatures.On 24 April, Egypt’s election commission announced that 89 percent of voters had backed the amendments on a turnout of 44 percent. The commission declared it a free and fair vote.
It was a coming out party for the seniors at National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School, as they were presented to their friends and families and treated like kings and queens at the 6th Annual Sankofa Ball Feb. 24.National Collegiate Preparatory High School seniors celebrated their academic achievements at the 2018 Sankofa Ball. (Courtesy photo)Held at University of Maryland Conference Center in Hyattsville, Md., these bright students entered the ballroom donned in elegant formal attire. The young women were clad in royal blue strapless gowns paired with gloves, while the men entered the ballroom in black tuxedos.National Prep is the only school in Washington, D.C. that host “cotillion-style” galas for their students as a reward for their academic and leadership achievements.One out of many significant goals achieved was completing the Rites of Passage Empowering Students Program (R.O.P.E.S), a 12-week life skills class.“We felt it was important for them to understand what it means to be Black in America today,” Chief Academic Officer of R.O.P.E.S, Dr. Dianne Brown said.Many of these seniors are from Ward 8 in Southeast, D.C., an area known to suffer from inequality. For many guests, the cotillion proved that these seniors are not going to allow society to strip them of their success and future.Top 11 academic achiever, Arrange Blake, a student who aspires to be a graphic and fashion designer, spoke with the AFRO about battling with unhealthy friendships leading up to the event. “I had to stop hanging with fake friends because they were holding me back from achieving the goals that I wanted to achieve…so I had to cut a lot of people off.”The decorated room was filled with proud families, as well as academic teachers and staff, who listened to these gifted seniors as they recited their career goals, along with quoting historical Black leaders that they each admire.The biggest showstopper was their “Official Dance” known as the “DC Hand Dance,” which is a unique tradition that pays’ homage to their descendants who created such distinct movements.In conjunction with the seniors’ important night was an award honoring the 100 Black Men of America, which received the first James Howard Vance III Community Service Award, an award that was renamed in honor of the late journalist. Vance’s partner, Christina Eaglin presented the award.Eaglin said, “If he were here he would say “What?!…Are you kidding me?!” I wanted to say thank you because I know he would be honored…He loves National Prep…He would be proud.”In addition to the 100-Black Men being recognized, the Greater Washington Urban League presented the Jim Vance Scholarship Award of $14,000 as a gift to National Prep at the Sankofa Ball.