Egypt referendum: Opposition fear return to Mubarak era


A man walks in front of a banner reading, "Yes to the constitutional amendments, for a better future", with a photo of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before the approaching referendum on constitutional amendments in Cairo, Egypt on 16 April 2019.Image copyright
Reuters

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Banner in central Cairo urging Egyptians to “say yes to the constitutional amendments”

Walking across Cairo, you can’t miss the huge banners calling on Egyptians to support constitutional amendments that would keep President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030.

Egyptians are now voting on the proposed changes, a few days after they were approved by a sweeping majority inside parliament.

“Say yes to stability and security,” reads one banner in central Cairo. The new amendments will extend the presidential term from four to six years, and the president can only be re-elected once.

But Mr Sisi is being given special treatment.

Not only will his current term be extended to six years, but he will be allowed to run for a third term as an exception.

The military-backed president, who took office in 2014, was originally meant to leave in 2022 after his second term expires.

“We are rebuilding through these so-called amendments the state of the single ruler,” says Khaled Dawood, a liberal opposition figure. He believes Egypt will go back to “square one, the same autocratic rule it experienced before the 2011 revolution”.

The changes will give President Sisi tight control over the judiciary, with powers to appoint the prosecutor general and all high level judges.

“This ends the hopes of millions of Egyptians who took to the streets in January 2011, wishing to have a rotation of power and a president who can be held accountable,” Mr Khaled adds.

Growing apathy?

Mr Sisi has not issued any statements regarding the amendments or the referendum.

The speaker of the parliament has made it clear the proposals have been put forward by the majority bloc. But the parliament is full of the president’s loyalists, and it has been repeatedly criticised for being a rubber stamp.

The president’s supporters argue he should remain in power to carry on with his economic reforms.

MP Mohamed Abu Hamed believes it’s the people who have the final say.

He says the amendments will not annul any future elections, adding: “If President Sisi decides to run again, he might be challenged by another candidate who is more appealing to voters.”

Image copyright
EPA

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Egypt’s parliament, packed with Sisi supporters, approved the constitutional changes last week

Following the 2011 revolution, Egyptians were politically very active.

They queued for hours in front of the polling stations in the first presidential elections staged a year after the revolution. These elections brought Mohamed Morsi to power, the country’s first civilian president.

A year later, he was overthrown by Mr Sisi, the defence minister at the time, following mass protests.

Many Egyptians, today, seem to have lost a lot of their enthusiasm.

“What kind of a difference would my vote make? Whether or not I take part in the referendum, these amendments will pass,” a young man, who preferred to remain anonymous, tells me.

Other priorities

Some people are concerned about their livelihoods, more than anything else.

“I haven’t heard much about these changes, but I am certain they are made for the powerful not the people,” says a middle aged lady, who also did not want to be identified.

She has decided not to vote because “everything is going wrong. Prices are high and our living conditions are dire”.

Image copyright
Reuters

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Rights groups have questioned the haste at which the vote was organised – in just a few days

For a considerable number of voters, stability remains an important priority.

“Look at what’s happening in the region. At least we feel safe here,” Mohamed, a man in his 50s tell me. He believes the president is investing in infrastructure by building “new bridges, tunnels and roads”.

“If he leaves no-one can continue what he started,” he adds.

The Sisi government takes pride in bringing back a long-missed stability.

Tourism, for example, a lifeline for the economy, has benefited from the stable status quo. Official statistics show that visitors are coming back and growth rates in this vital sector are on the rise.

Militarising the state?

The amendments will boost female parliamentary representation, allocating a quota of 25 per cent of seats to women. They will also introduce a second chamber to parliament, in addition to appointing one or more deputies to the president.

One significant change is related to adding extra powers to the army.

For decades, the military institution has been a key player in Egyptian politics, and economy. Now it has been appointed as “the guardian of the constitution and civil state”.

Critics say this will open the doors wide for militarising the Egyptian state.

But MP Abu Hamed says the army had sided with the people to unseat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and to oust Mr Morsi in 2013.

He believes this change is “not inventing a new reality, it is just legitimising it. The army always acts upon people’s wishes”.

Opposition cyber campaign ‘stifled’

Opponents say the authorities are leaving them no room to hold any public campaign against the amendments. “Members of our parties are arrested, and we are banned from all local media,” Khaled Dawood says.

Meanwhile, Netblock – an NGO that monitors cyber security – says internet providers in Egypt are blocking access to an estimated 34,000 internet domains “in an apparent bid to stamp out an opposition campaign under the slogan Void”.

The monitoring group says the campaign’s website was blocked after it had reportedly gathered 60,000 signatures in a few hours.

Hundreds of news websites, which the authorities accuse of supporting terrorism, have been already blocked in Egypt over the past year.

“There is no press, no media, nothing but the government voice,” says Mokhtar Mounir, a human rights lawyer, who paints a very grim picture of Mr Sisi’s rule.

“We have a huge number of political prisoners, people dying of medical neglect behind bars, and women sent to prison for trivial charges,” he adds.

The president has repeatedly said there are no prisoners of conscience in Egypt, insisting on the independence of the judiciary.

For now, things are apparently calm and it’s up to the Egyptian voters to decide.

But the concern is if President Sisi tightens his grip on power further, public anger could erupt as it did less than a decade ago.



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As More Investors Flock to Crypto, Will US Presidential Candidates Start Making it a Priority?


It’s no secret that over the past several decades politics in the United States have become increasingly about appealing to voter blocks, and regardless of whether or not this is good or bad, this trend may ultimately prove to be beneficial for the crypto industry.

Because the number of cryptocurrency investors in the United States is actually quite large on a percentage basis and will likely continue growing along with the markets, it is highly likely that more and more candidates for influential public offices will begin placing cryptocurrencies on their list of priorities to address.

Crypto Advocates May Ultimately Represent a Large Voter Block

According to a study published in March of last year, 8% of Americans are currently invested in cryptocurrencies. Although it is highly likely that this number has changed in the year since the report was first published, the lack of any significant changes in the overall markets has probably led this number to remain relatively stable.

Some candidates for elected offices are already taking note of the portion of citizens who are invested in the nascent technology, and although 8% seems like a small number, gaining a voter block of that magnitude for a national election could sway the results.

Moreover, as this number grows – which it undoubtedly will, assuming that the crypto markets continue to expand – it will be critical for candidates to acknowledge these investors by presenting solutions to the regulatory problems the industry currently faces.

Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang Advocates for “Do No Harm” Crypto Regulations

Recently, Andrew Yang – a candidate running for the presidential office in the 2020 race as a Democrat – laid out his thoughts on cryptocurrencies, lambasting New York state’s BitLicense while advocating for a “do no harm” approach that allows the United States to remain on the forefront of innovation in the rapidly evolving industry.

In the post, Yang explains that the crypto market’s growth over the past several years has outpaced the government’s response, making now a critical time to begin implementing regulatory frameworks.

“Cryptocurrencies and digital assets have quickly grown to represent a large amount of value and economic activity. This quick growth, however, has outstripped the government’s response… It’s time for the federal government to create clear guidelines as to how cryptocurrencies/digital asset markets will be treated and regulated so that investment can proceed with all relevant information,” Yang explained.

Although the term “regulation” may scare some ardent cryptocurrency advocates, Yang further explained his position by describing the controversial BitLicense in New York as “onerous.”

“Some states have onerous regulations in the space, such as NY’s BitLicense. Navigating this has had a chilling effect on the US digital asset market,” he wrote.

As to how he plans to go about implementing the proposed regulatory framework, Yang explains that if he were to be elected, he would offer better definitions for what a token is and when it is a security, and would clarify the tax implications of buying, selling, and trading crypto, among other things.

All this would be done with the goal of creating “clear guidelines in the digital asset world so that businesses and individuals can invest and innovate in the area without fear of a regulatory shift.”

Although Yang may currently be somewhat of a dark horse in the presidential elections, his friendliness towards cryptocurrency has already garnered him publicity and support amongst crypto investors and may spark a larger trend of other mainstream presidential candidates laying out similar frameworks to incubate growth within the crypto markets.

Featured image from Shutterstock.



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Replay – Mortal Kombat: Deception


Although 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot sparked a huge wave of interest in the fighting-game franchise, it was built off the back of what many would call the series’ worst era. In the PlayStation 2 days, Mortal Kombat was a 3D fighting franchise, and while the fighting itself wasn’t at its best, a number of modes and cool (kool?) features made sure fans stuck around long enough for the series to return to its glory days.

Andrew Reiner and I are joined by interns Hunter Wolfe and Jay Guisao to look at a time when Mortal Kombat games had Chess, Puzzle, and Konquest modes, and featured absolutely no fatalities. Nope, none whatsoever. What could possibly make you doubt me?



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Recipe: Spinach Artichoke Frittata | Kitchn


Frittatas have long been my go-to solution anytime I need to use up the sad-looking produce, wilting herbs, and little nubs of cheese in my fridge. It’s not often I make them with a plan — until now.

Inspired by my favorite cheesy dip and the warm spring weather, I came up with a frittata loaded with garlicky marinated artichoke hearts, earthy baby spinach, salty Parm, and rich sour cream. I knew it would be good, but it went above and beyond all of my expectations. And now it’s the only frittata I want to make.

The Best Artichoke Frittata Starts at the Antipasti Bar

If you’re not already well-acquainted with it, you should know that your grocery store’s antipasti bar is basically a treasure trove of delicious and convenient ingredients.

Heading to the antipasti bar is a particular must for this frittata, because the marinated artichokes you’ll find there act as the primary flavor booster for your frittata. Unlike their canned or frozen brethren, marinated artichokes are infused with hints of garlic, herbs, and savory olive oil that take this anytime egg dish from good to spectacular.



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Missouri’s Jontay Porter will enter NBA Draft


Missouri Tigers sophomore Jontay Porter announced Friday he would be entering the NBA draft.

Porter missed the entire 2018-19 season after tearing his right ACL and MCL in October during a closed preseason scrimmage against Southern Illinois. Porter then re-tore his right ACL in March, a school spokesman told ESPN at the time.

The 6-foot-11 Porter is the younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., who was selected No. 14 in the 2018 draft despite playing just three games at Missouri due to a back injury.

Jontay Porter averaged 9.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks as a freshman, but returned to the Tigers for his sophomore season despite being projected as a late first-round pick in 2018. He’s now ranked No. 42 in ESPN’s NBA draft rankings, slotting in as the No. 8 center.





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HMRC: Beware of tax rebate text message scams


woman on mobileImage copyright
Getty Images

Earlier this month John, who believed he was due a tax refund, received a text message from “InfoHM”.

“I was bleary-eyed from waking up early,” he says. “The excitement of what my tax refund would be overwhelmed my normally pretty rational brain.”

He followed online instructions, and unwittingly provided personal and bank account details to online fraudsters.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is now warning young adults to be wary of such phone scams.

In April and May, the government body says, fraudsters target vulnerable people with fake messages to coincide with the time legitimate rebates are being processed.

Because younger adults typically manage their finances via their mobile phones, they can be particularly susceptible to an approach via text message, HMRC warns.

Last Spring, HMRC received 250,000 reports of such scams.

John, who did not want the BBC to use his real name, says he is now “cringing” over falling for it. But he says the page he was directed to was “the spitting image” of a gov.uk site. After entering his national insurance number and date of birth, it informed him he was due a credible sounding rebate of £462.

He ended up providing details including his bank details and even his mother’s maiden name.

Image copyright
HMRC

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Example of a scam text, provided by HMRC

“I didn’t even think twice about giving out this information to this website,” he says.

“They just have to catch you off guard. If I’d have got the text yesterday at 11:30am after a good night’s sleep, I’d have been like: ‘This is clearly a scam’.”

‘I know I’m an idiot’

John reported the breach to HMRC and Action Fraud, and has since put in place extra online security on his accounts.

“You don’t need to tell me I’m an idiot,” he says. “I know I’m an idiot, this is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever done.”

The HMRC says it never requests bank details by text or phone, and that it is shutting down hundreds of sites a week associated with these schemes, which are known as “phishing scams”.

“We are determined to protect honest people from these fraudsters who will stop at nothing to make their phishing scams appear legitimate,” says head of customer services at HMRC, Angela MacDonald.

“If you receive one of these emails or texts, don’t respond and report it to HMRC so that more online criminals are stopped in their tracks.”

Scammers also use phone calls, voicemails and emails, which may contain computer viruses designed to copy personal or financial information.



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Maker is planning on raising its “interest rate” to 14%, up from 0.5% a few months ago. : CryptoCurrency


‘The Stability Fee is a bit like an interest rate on Dai. Users who lock ether into a collateralized debt position (CDP) contract to obtain Dai are charged interest over time, and this interest is known as the “stability fee.” This fee is an annual interest rate, and the loan can be returned at any time. When the loan is returned the CDP owner returns the Dai and pays outstanding interest.

The stability fee is used as a risk parameter, by which stakeholders can influence the price of Dai to maintain its $1 peg. The price of Dai is simply determined by supply and demand: when supply outpaces demand the stable coin falls below its peg, as it has done continuously for the past month.

The lagging demand for Dai is expected, since the cryptocurrency market has been surging recently. In a bear market, investors retreat to stablecoins for security. In a more bullish market, those same investors sell their stablecoins and move value to the riskier crypto assets.

What does this mean for Dai?

The fact that the ecosystem needs to keep increasing its stability fee could mean that the model isn’t working. That could have two reasons:

CDP owners aren’t paying attention, and have no idea they’re being automatically forced to pay outrageous interest rates. CDP owners just don’t care or understand what’s going on. In the announcement for the latest vote, MFIRT outlined 3 key reasons for another increase:

“Key factors under consideration for increasing the Stability Fee are:

Exchange price persists below $1

High inventory levels among market makers and prop desks

Little attributable impact from the previous Stability Fee increases”

It’s surprising that this vote is happening so soon after just hiking the rate 3.5% less than a month ago. Some analysts have suggested the system hasn’t been given enough time to recalibrate at the previous rate. Others are in disbelief that a 150% collateralized loan is seeing the same interest rate as an unsecured line of credit.

In any case, it’s clear that these rate increases aren’t working as planned, since Dai is still trading below $1.

To counteract the decrease in demand, MakerDAO tries to decrease the supply by raising the stability fee. This makes it more expensive to hold a Dai loan, encouraging CDP owners to close their contracts and pay the accrued interest that they owe.’



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New Days Gone Trailer Explores The Dangers Of The Open World


With Days Gone only days away from release, there are still a lot of questions about how the world functions. The open-world zombie game is meant to be freely traversed on a bike, but there’s always danger around every corner, and behind every tree.

The newest Days Gone video is meant to convey that world and how it was created straight from the developers.

You get a good look at all the various things that will kill you, including the various types of Freakers out there, but also humans who worship the Freakers and try to act like them. The video also explains how something as simple as the current weather might make or break your entire escape strategy, so having contingency plans will be important for Deacon St. John.

Days Gone releases on PlayStation 4 on April 26.



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Tiger Pounces At Girl In Front Of Zoo Enclosure


While it may seem cute to watch tigers behave like house cats, teasing them from behind the glass is not the most respectful way to interact with them, Bass said. The cats instinctively lurk and prowl to find food.

“Tigers prefer to sneak up behind their prey,” Bass said. “It’s very frustrating for the glass to be between him and what he sees as prey. It’s not fun at all for the tiger and this isn’t a normal type of enrichment.”

After the video was posted on social media, the zoo shared the post encouraging other visitors to do this during their visits as a form of enrichment for the animal.





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420: Seven charts on how cannabis use has changed


A cannabis plantImage copyright
Reuters

Around the world, on the 20 April – or “420” – cannabis users will be lighting up to celebrate “weed culture” and protest about its prohibition in many countries.

But even though recreational cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928, the evidence shows that punishments for its possession have plummeted in recent years in England and Wales.

Comparative figures for policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not available.

Today cannabis is classified as a Class B – or middle-risk – substance.

Despite this, prosecutions are lower than when it was considered a low-risk, Class C drug in 2008.

Number of cannabis possession punishments

Out of court disposals and prosecutions for possession of cannabis, England and Wales

In theory, possession of cannabis can still land you with five years in prison.

However, if you only have a small amount on you, then you are more likely to get a cannabis warning, often used for first offenders. These warnings do not show up on criminal records checks, but are recorded on the police database.

Repeat offenders could face a penalty notice (fine), a caution or prosecution.

A Home Office spokesperson said that enforcement of cannabis laws is “an operational decision for chief constables, but we are clear that we expect them to enforce the law”.

Some police forces have openly changed tack towards small-scale users, with Somerset and Avon Police, for example, offering drug awareness courses for those caught with small amounts, while maintaining a tough approach to dealers and growers.

The drugs lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Assistant Chief Constable Jason Harwin, says it is up to chief constables to determine “operational priorities”.

“However, there is strong evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent reoffending and result in the best outcome for both the user and the criminal justice system,” he says.

Despite this, the vast majority of police seizures are of fewer than five grams (0.18oz) – or about £25 street value in the UK.

Number of cannabis seizures

Total seizures of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin by weight group, 2017-18, England and Wales

Last year, almost 36,000kg (79,000lb) of cannabis was seized by the police and Border Force, with the largest seizure weighing more than 100kg.

Racial disparities

A lot of the time, small-scale seizures of cannabis come from stop and searches, the police power which allows officers to search someone under the “reasonable” suspicion that they are engaged in an illegal activity.

Stop and searches disproportionately affect black people, who are nine times more likely to be searched for drugs than white individuals.

Research carried out by by the London School of Economics suggests this is why black people are so heavily represented in cannabis prosecutions, with more than 20% of those convicted being black people. who only make up 5% of the population.

Ethnicity and cannabis

Drug stop and searches and cannabis prosecutions by ethnicity, England and Wales

In 2016, the College of Policing issued guidance saying that the smell of cannabis was no longer a good enough reason for a stop and search.

Currently, almost half of all stop and searches are linked to suspicion of drug possession.

Most popular illegal drug

Cannabis remains the country’s most popular illegal drug.

In England and Wales, 30% – that’s around 10 million – adults aged 16 to 64 have tried the drug at least once, according to the annual crime survey.

Regular cannabis use has dropped

Percentage of cannabis users by age group and frequency of use, England and Wales

Regular use is far less common, with only 3.3% of adults saying they had used it in the past week.

Among young adults cannabis is used more widely, but weekly use has more than halved since 2002, down to 7.3%.

Issues around health

The NHS warns that regular use of cannabis can lead to dependency, similar to alcohol, and severe mental health issues, such as psychosis.

In 2017-18, almost 55,000 people were receiving support for cannabis use in England, making it the fourth most-represented substance after opiates, crack cocaine and alcohol (although in many cases it is abused alongside other drugs).

Individuals receiving substance abuse help by drug used

% of those individuals receiving substance by drug used, 2017-18, England

The number of people under 18 who are receiving support stands at 12,066; a small decrease from a decade ago.

Because of its illegal nature, it is impossible to fully assess the potency – and therefore the health risks – of cannabis being sold on the street, but research in 2016 highlighted that people are being sold higher-strength strains of the drug.

The research comes as A&E admissions because of mental and behavioural problems linked to cannabis in England have increased by 50% in five years.

A&E admissions due to cannabis

Admissions due to mental or behavioural disorders linked to cannabis, England

But when the chemicals in the plant are controlled, some evidence suggests medicinal cannabis can help patients suffering from illnesses such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or sickness linked to chemotherapy.

Towards the end of 2018, cannabis was reclassified to allow some cannabis-derived medicines to be prescribed by specialist doctors in limited situations, but so far very few prescriptions have been issued.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, has called for more research into the plant’s benefits, so that any future guidance on prescribing cannabis-based medicines has a more solid scientific basis.

The UK is in a good position to lead this research.

According to the UN, the UK produced 44% of global cannabis plants intended for medicine and scientific research in 2016, even though the end product is still tightly restricted.

Top cannabis production for medical and scientific use

Kilograms of cannabis produced by country, 2016



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