19 Egyptians to face military trials in Lebanon after clashes at embassy

Yasser Seddiq, Sunday 29 Apr 2012

After Egyptians clashed with Lebanese troops in front of the Egyptian embassy in Beirut protesting against the sponsorship system, 19 Egyptian workers face military trials on charges of attempted murder

Activists lie covered with white sheets stained in red paint, mimicking blood, during a flash mob in front of the Ministry of Labour in Beirut, to protest against what they claimed to be violence and abuse that migrant domestic workers are facing, April 28, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Lebanon's judicial authorities decided to try the Egyptians who protested and attempted to attack the Egyptian embassy in Beirut through military court on charges of killing Lebanese military troops.

The Lebanese security forces arrested 19 of the roughly 200 Egyptian protesters who hurled stones.

Ten Lebanese security were injured, four with severe wounds that were later hospitalised. MENA, Egypt's state news agency, says only two Egyptians were injured while the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar newspaper claims the number is as high as 15 as the Egyptian workers were simply protesting against the sponsorship system, but the demonstration escalated from slogans to hurling stones.

"Egyptian workers should abide by Lebanese laws," Egypt's worker's advisor in Lebanon said. "About 50 Egyptian workers demonstrated in front of the Egyptian embassy in Beirut demanding the individual sponsorship system used in Lebanon be cancelled, while others tried to attack the embassy," he added.

The "sponsorship system" gives residency permits to foreigners working in Lebanon only if a company sponsors them. In the sponsorship system throughout the Middle East and North Africa, foreign employees must obtain authorisation from their sponsoring company or individual if they want to leave the country (whether on vacation or for work), furthermore, the companies and individuals can withold salaries, but the worker has no legal recourse.

Egypt's ambassador to Lebanon, Muhammad Tawifq said he is closely following the developments and condemned the protests' shift from slogans to clashes with the Lebanese security forces.    

Tawifq confirmed that two delegates from Egypt's foreign ministry are due to arrive today and tomorrow to discuss the rights of the Egyptian workers in Lebanon. He also confirmed that they will hold a meeting with Lebanon's Labour Minister Salim Jreissaty to discuss concerns of the Egyptian workers.

Nearly at midday a number of Egyptian workers convened before the Egyptian embassy. Their numbers grew, which made Lebanon's Internal Security Forces (ISF) ask for further reinforcements from the Tigers brigade, Al-Nahar newspaper reported.

The ISF built a wire fence to prevent the workers from passing to the main entrance of the embassy. When the protesters realised that the ambassador would not meet with them, they hurled stones at the ISF troops, which responded by throwing a limited number of tear gas canisters.

A number of workers retreated and the security forces apprehended 10 of those involved in the protests.    

The Egyptian workers threaten to reconvene before the embassy on Saturday until their demands are met.

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