(With Jack Shenker)
Egypt’s military generals rode roughshod over human rights and instigated violence against the Egyptian people during the post-Mubarak ‘transition period’, according to a damning pair of reports released by Amnesty International last week.
In the sixteen violent months of army rule that followed Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011, security forces killed and tortured with impunity – subjecting thousands of civilians to arbitrary arrest and unfair trials, and targeting women activists through a programme of sexual intimidation.
“Unless the soldiers responsible for killing, maiming and abusing protesters are put on trial in front of an independent, civilian court, there is no hope that the victims will see justice or that soldiers will fear punishment if they repeat such crimes,” said Hassiba Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
“Male and female protesters were subjected to severe beatings, given electric shocks, sexually threatened and abused by military troops. Thousands were tried or face unfair trial before military courts. Women protesters were singled out for abuse, and months later have been left with mere excuses by the SCAF, instead of independent investigations and redress.” Read more…
There was Sadat’s corrective revolution in 1971, and 2012 gives us the Morsi maneuver, where in one fell swoop the Muslim Brotherhood president removed the country’s top two military generals, cancelled their constitutional addendum and appointed a senior judicial figure as his vice president.
With no discernable reaction to the spate of decisions, Mohamed Morsi seems to have consolidated his power after a month and half in the presidency where it seemed that there was two distinct powers in Egypt, the military and the presidency.
“Egypt’s strategic partners were certainly concerned about the duality of power in Egypt, so there had to be a consolidation of power within one institution and normally it had to be the elected one,” said chief editor of the Egypt Independent Lina Attalah, “I imagine the move was well supported if not blessed by strategic partners because it has been so messy in Egypt amidst two contesting powers and what happened in Sinai served as an index for this state failure.”
Morsi removed head of the supreme council of the armed forces (Scaf) Hussein Tantawi, replacing him with head of the military intelligence Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi. Things seem to have come to a head however after an attack in Sinai 6 August that resulted in the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers. Read more…
If it was a salute to seal the deal, the Scaf chimera of Tantawi and Anan willingly gave it in greeting to president-elect Mohamed Morsi as he stepped out onto the tarmac of the Haykestep, there to be officially handed power by the military. It was a cursory salute mind you, not the official salute they often gave Mubarak, but it would have been more appropriate for them all to sign on the dotted line, bringing to an end the 18-month long negotiation process on the new state.
Meet the new state, same as the old state, just with the avuncular Morsi in the middle. What the Haykestep ceremony indicated was that the old state has succeeded in absorbing the dominant external force in Egyptian politics, the Muslim Brotherhood, into its bulletproof bosom. Through blunt and crude machinations, the deep state as well as the not-so-deep-state has managed to emerge unscathed from a season-long revolt, its functioning bodies more or less intact.
Morsi can riff all he likes on the revolution and its goals to Brotherhood throngs in Tahrir, but with the exception of the 1979 NDP machine and its patronage network of quid pro quo interconnections, the dismantlement of the corrupt embedded state has not happened. Even the NDP stalwarts will survive – and potentially thrive – in a new guise. Read more…
You’re sitting in a café with your friends. A foreign stranger walks in and being the ever-hospitable Egyptian, you invite him to your table. You garrulously bemoan the state of the nation, prices are high, there is a gas shortage, a dastardly plot against the military is being hatched underground – in the metro. The stranger’s interest is piqued, and he texts this information to his foreign intelligence handler.
Ludicrous as this may sound, this is the plot of a state-sponsored ad doing the rounds on Egyptian television channels, warning against talking to foreigners armed with tweet-ready smartphones. The ad is a window on the toxic discourse that has engulfed Egypt since the ouster of the dictator Hosni Mubarak, in those heady days of February 2011.
What has come out of a botched transitional period overseen by the ruling military junta, the supreme council of the armed forces (Scaf), is an extremely polarized society and political process that has culminated in a choice between two options the majority did not want, the old regime that was supposedly overthrown and its age-old antagonists the Muslim Brotherhood. Read more…
In the end I walked out, which wasn’t what I was expecting. Nor was I expecting the cameraman on the army APC filming us as we filed past. I had been trapped in between two sets of clashes, thugs on one side and military and residents on the other. I didn’t know where to go. And on Hosni’s birthday of all days.
The clashes had already started at Abbaseya by the time I arrived. Abbaseya is not like Tahrir, it’s a perpetual death trap for protesters. There are no safe exits, and there are many people there that are generally annoyed by your presence, and are willing to let you know about it. It’s also huge, which should be an advantage when you’re scurrying off, but it isn’t because you have further ground to cover to get away.
At that point it was rock-throwing and the army were firing water from a cannon at protesters. The clashes were further up the street and as I walked up to the front tear gas was fired. The army had advised that people go to Tahrir, and not the MOD, Tahrir now being a center point for people who had long forsaken the revolution, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. You know that Tahrir is not the place to be when Mustafa Bakri is there; then it’s definitely not the place for any sort of pro-revolution, anti-Scaf action.
This was different from other clashes in that protesters didn’t return to the same line after the gas cleared; they merely retreated and set up a new boundary. The gas was potent, with a long range, and the stifling summer heat kept the pungent stench permeating through the air. The protesters weren’t only Salafis like the media keeps regurgitating. There were the usual types who tend to be at these things, the street movements and those who were just opposed to military rule. Read more…
I know Mohamed Mahmoud Street quite well, albeit in more tempered times. I used to traipse down it back and forth while a student at the American University in Cairo. This is not meant as an introduction to a piece along the lines of Mohamed Mahmoud through the eyes of an Aucian, merely to point out that it is a street I am familiar with, by virtue of having attended a university whose two main campuses line the street.
Admittedly it was off-putting to see tear gas crack through the glass of what used to be the library on the Greek Campus last November during the first Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, but the street has become much more than just the path between one classroom and another. It’s become the main locale for a fight, both real and symbolic, over this country, interrupted by concrete walls and shattered shop facades.
Depending on your mood – inspired or despondent – Mohamed Mahmoud is a street of struggle, of great bravery in the face of a heavily armed adversary, of sacrifice, not just of life but also of limbs, of eyes. It is also a street of death, of senseless loss, blood spilt yet to be paid for. The murderers get away time and time again. Read more…
The anniversary is coming up and with the new year behind us it’s a time to take stock. And looking back, despite the incredible highs, there are many causes for pessimism, for how things haven’t yet worked out as many thought. Here are just ten:
1- SCAF: Many reasons for pessimism are inextricably linked with the ruling council of military men that have taken over affairs of the country in the transitional period. There are enough to have their own separate numbers on the list but one reason that must be included is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself.
Under this heading is a plethora of human rights abuses and examples of mangled dealings of a botched transition period. Violence against protesters is enough to be considered the norm, a barrage of abuses and thousands of civilians subjected to speedy military trials.
Add in a constitutional declaration that granted the council sole executive powers even though that was not voted for on the referendum, the delay in holding elections until pressure from the street brought them forward and a preciousness that makes the council skittish about any form of criticism. Read more…
As events have spiraled into violence after the military attacked the cabinet sit-in in the early hours of 16 December, with fourteen dead and over 600 injured so far, the pace at which things have unraveled has left observers reeling.
It’s easy to lose sight of what this sit-in was about in the first place, who was in it and what they were doing during the three weeks of their protest. After the events in Mohamed Mahmoud last month that left 42 dead, there were calls for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to step down immediately and hand power to a national salvation government.
SCAF responded by announcing that it would appoint Kamal El-Ganzouri to replace Essam Sharaf as Prime Minister. Ganzouri held the post under Hosni Mubarak in the late nineties, and protesters objected to his appointment, some of who made their way to the cabinet to being the sit-in.
The cabinet sit-in did not have too many people in it, a few hundred, and displayed a decidedly artistic bent, with graffiti sprayed on the walls of the buildings, protesters reciting poetry and spoken word pieces threw the night, and ornamental decorations of faux coffins to commemorate the dead of Mohamed Mahmoud. Read more…
This blog was supposed to have been written for 17 December, but events in Cairo put it on the backburner, and indeed seem to provide a connecting thread to events on that same day a year ago.
I was never really one for commemorating my birthday. Sure, it was a reason to see friends and family, but on a personal level it wasn’t something that resonated deeply. It was always just another day, a benchmark maybe but never a significant shift.
On 17 December 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi went to the office of the governor of Sidi Bouzid to meet him and ask for the return of his electronic scales, which had been confiscated by police earlier that day. He was turned away at the meeting, even though he threatened to set himself on fire if he didn’t meet the governor.
He went to get a can of gasoline from a nearby petrol station and set himself alight. It was a story that filtered through on that day, my birthday. Of course, then it was a story in and of itself. No one knew it was a precursor of things to come.
It was taken as a very symbolic gesture at the time. The young man burnt himself alive because he felt he had no other choice. Meanwhile, Arab leaders lived off illegal gains that belonged to the people they violently oppressed.
Many seemed to have seen it that way as well. Within hours, protests began in Bouazizi’s hometown. I remember following the Sidi Bouzid hashtag on Twitter, likening the demonstrations in my mind to the 2008 Mahalla riots in Egypt. And then, ten days after Bouazizi died on 4 January, 23-year despot Zine El Abadine Ben Ali was ousted from power.
People in the region were a bit shell-shocked. The questions began to be asked: Would this happen elsewhere? The oppression was broadly the same across the board; the frustrations and grievances were similar. Was Egypt like Tunisia? After Ben Ali had high-tailed it to Saudi Arabia, three Egyptians attempted to set themselves on fire in front of the cabinet. There was also unrest in Egypt at the time because of the Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria. And police day was coming up on 25 January, and Egypt was a police state, like Tunisia had been before the revolution. Read more…
The first of two pieces I will post on here that are not penned by me. This is the editorial of the English edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm, stating what happened with the second issue of its print edition, the Egypt Independent. It highlights issues of censorship still prevalent in the Egyptian media, and the undue influence of the military, whether directly or indirectly, on the freedom of the press. Here it is:
On 24 November, we issued the first edition of our new project, Egypt Independent, a weekly, 24-page newspaper that attempts to unpack Egypt’s complex and dynamic political and cultural landscape. It was not long before we were interrupted. Our second issue never made it to the newsstands.
This interruption has not only caused us a major frustration after putting days of work and much investment into the project. It has also disappointed our nascent readership. This is why we want to explain what happened and take the opportunity to introduce our team. Read more…