Where are the politicians?

We marched to Tahrir by the hundreds of thousands on the 25th of January, then we marched again on the 27th, and we marched yet again on the 3rd of February. In all these marches we chanted with all the strength we can muster “down! down! with military rule!” (yasqot!  yasqot! hokm el-askr!). But no one in a decision making capacity seems to be listening. 

Many protesters now believe that the standard response of those in power to any threat is to engineer a national tragedy. This is seen a part of pattern that has been going on for while now and the football massacre in Port Said is but the latest. Egyptian have plenty to be angry about and the want to bring down those who are ultimately responsible for their suffering, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

A day prior to the Port Said massacre, thousands marched to parliament demanding that their elected officials take over control of the country and call for an immediate presidential elections. Those protesters were labeled as vandals by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The claimed, that protestants  were out to destroy the “revolution’s parliament” and are enemies to the “principles of the revolution”. Hundreds of MB youth stood guard (some even carrying tasers) to “protect” parliament and though there were many injuries, it could have been much worse. The protester are still trying to be as no violent as humanly possible within a self-organized and leaderless group. Seeking to profit from the tragedy, the MB issued a statement  about the Port Said massacre linking it to the march to parliament, as part of an “invisible” plan to destroy the state.

Since the 2nd of February many have gathered in front of the fortress like building of the ministry of interior (MOI) and started pelting it with stones. The MOI is now seen by many as the SCAF’s newly refurbished instrument of repression. There actions, or lack thereof, were the cause of the Port Said massacre. It is infuriating that not a single MOI official has been convicted for the death of at least two thousand Egyptians and injury of innumerable thousands during last year’s protests. Also since Mubarak’s exit, many more have died, lost their eyes, female protesters have been subject to horrific abuses and forced virginity tests, and sixteen thousand Egyptian lie in prison after being subject to summary military “justice”.

No one has been held responsible, no one!

SCAF generals are only too happy to continuously utter nonsense about the foreign evil plans, invisible hands, and sinister third parties. The Islamists seem to have caught the bug too. As I write this post,the toll of those injured in the past couple of days has reached 2532, and at least 10 have been confirmed dead throughout the country. 

Sadly, many western commentators are now seeing the protesters as a violent and angry rabble. The fact that they are angry is undeniable, their violence has to be put however in the context of their frustrations. What should be surprising is not the sad descent into violence, but how relatively restrained that descent is. The protesters try their best to protect public and private property, they even protect MOI soldiers who sometimes get stranded in their midst. Although the country is awash with guns, their means of violence has been of the most primitive kind. 

If the Islamist lead parliament does not take concrete measures to respond to the people’s demands and pains, then it will a partner in blood in what could unfold to be a very violent turn of events for the Egyptian revolution. Their talk of fact finding committees and assorted nonsense of putting the minister of interior on trial no longer cuts it with the people. We have had a fact finding committee and a trial for Mubarak and the ex-minster of interior running for over a year now. The parliament must be seen as agents of rapid change to civilian rule. It must grease the rusty wheels of justice. If it does not act quickly, it might spur a disillusionment with the whole democratic process. At this critical juncture the people are asking, “where are the damn politicians?”


The ghosts of 9/11 and the art of management by crises

I write this reflecting on the tumultuous events of September 9 and its aftermath in Egypt. Those events and their repercussions occurred around  the anniversary of the cowardly attack on the US that occurred 10 year ago. Though my focus is strictly on Egypt’s struggle for freedom and democracy, I can not but feel the ghosts of that catastrophic event still haunt us. Perhaps “haunt” is not the right word, one gets the sense that there are actives and intentional force from this dimension of existences that are pulling certain strings to push towards certain outcomes.

Prelude to the September 9 demonstrations in Egypt
Popular discontent has been on rise for a while, key factors are:
  1. Twelve thousands civilians have been tried before military courts and issued summary verdicts without proper due process. 
  2. A sizable fraction of those thousands were put in prison for being in demonstrations, or for expressing there opinion in a manner not to the likely of the country’s leadership. 
  3. No clear schedule for the elections or a clear plan for handover of powers to democratic forces. 
  4. Many of the economic demands of the revolution have either been ignored, or unfulfilled promises have been made. 
  5. Reported cases of continued  abuses of power by the ministry of interior (MOI), and no clear plans for reform of the ministry that most people regard as a instrument of political repression. 
  6. The events of September 7 where many thousands of football fans where brutally attacked, chased through the streets and many incarcerated for chanting against the police during a match. 
  7. The trial of Mubarak and his buddies that seem to be proceeding at a snail’s pace. This stands in sharp contrast with civilians being given summary justice and sentences to long prison terms. 
  8. Curbs of freedom of expression and the media.
  9. The killing of five Egyptian soldiers at our borders in Sinai by Israeli forces who were engaged in hunting down terrorists involved in a attack on there soil. The Israeli gunships violated Egyptian airspace and killed our men. If this were to happen anywhere, it would be considered an act of war, with serious repercussions. The ruling SCAF treated the whole situation as a non-event, and were content with Israel’s expression of regret (it was too much, it seems, for Israeli officials to offer an apology).This was quite injurious to Egyptian national pride and started a number of protest outside the Embassy. SCAF completely ignored this demonstration (as is becoming the fashion of late). The reporting of these events by the NYTimes leaves much to be desired
The ghosts of 9/11 in Tahrir
The atmosphere in the early hours of Friday in Tahrir could be described as jubilant. The people have managed to reclaim the favorite square after and month long occupation by the combined forces of MOI’s central security forces and military police. That Friday was given the title of “The Friday of Path Correction”. There was plenty of discussions taking place in the square about what needs to be done to bring about democratic transitions. Many were unhappy with SCAF’s management of affairs. 
After the Friday prayers, I was shocked to hear the preacher make plea for SCAF to release the Omar Abdel-Rahman from US prison. Abdel-Rahman played a significant role in inciting hate and providing religious sanction to acts to of terror. Very few payed much attention to that preacher. However, half an hour later somebody gave me free copy of a dinky newspaper known as al-sha3b with have on its front page a banner add calling for the release of Abdel-Rahman. My friends and I were wondering, who the hell is calling for this on day should not be about Egypt and it future and not about that awful historical drag. Who is trying to advance this a revolutionary demand?  and who is paying for all of this?

Embassy storming and aftermath
Later in the day the Israeli embassy was stormed. There were very few troops around to protect it, the troops were pulled out that day from around the embassy, and a few tens of protesters entered the building. After the storming their was brutal attack on the protester around the area by the police, it left one thousand injured and three dead. It is hard to believe that SCAF tried and failed to prevent the storming. There is growing belief that  it must have been a way of sending some message to either the US and Israel. Those violent events further gave rise to the following:

  1. Beefing up the emergency law is Egypt with to give the state almost unlimited powers to detain anyone
  2. Terminating Al-Jazeera’s local channel operation.  
  3. Further restrictions on media and journalists and fostering and general sense of fear and foreboding in state owned media. 

SCAF is trying to shape the political landscape to serve its interests. Their are worrying signs that it wants to stay in power for much longer than it had declared. The setup for the next election seems to be designed in push for old NDP figures or their close relation. 

Neo-Mamelukism unraveling 

    The SCAF seem to many to be manufacturing crises after the next to gain legitimacy as the sole protector and preserver of order. It is essential saying the people “it is either me or chaos”. They can not keep playing that game for long and eventually they have to scramble for a face-saving exist. Since last Friday, there has been a growing tsunami of strikes that were taking place despite the beefed up emergency law and all the dire warning that are being announced by SCAF. Egyptian are declaring “you can detain us, torture us, kill us, but you can not scare us into submission anymore”. Tomorrow, I will be back in Tahrir with many thousands, we will be protesting the emergency status and Draconian laws.

    The Revolution continues….


    Regroup Now!

    We are under attack and our dreams are under siege. After a little over three months it is becoming deadly clear that certain forces are trying to outflank us, and they have already had some success. We must regroup now or all is lost and noble sentiments and aspirations that we experienced will be nothing more than a fading memory. The stuff of lamentations over what could have been and how we it let slip our grasp.

    Some readers at this point might object: What are you whining about? Why this talk of gloom, conspiracy and dark forces? Shouldn’t we be focused on the upcoming parliamentary elections?

    Let me first try to go over what we have managed to accomplish:

    1. We got most of Mubark’s coterie under detention and they are being tried for corruption
    2. Mubark, his sons, and wife are facing charges of corruption (though no criminal charges have been pressed yet). 
    3. We have temporary constitution that limits the power of the president, and the duration of his/her presidency (never mind that it gives the supreme councle of the armed forces [SCAF] unchecked power for the time being). 
    4. We have some sort of road map for democratic transition where we are having  parliamentary elections in September, followed by presidential elections six months later. 
    5. We have Prime Minster who supported the revolution, and who many still believe is genuinely a decent person (though many have doubts about his ability to assert the demands of the revolution). 

    So why complain? Can’t we just hold-on for a few more months and get the representative parliament of our dreams and then a few more a get an elected president? The SCAF and government seem to be telling us to do just that. They don’t seem to like people expressing any sort of complaints or grievances. They even managed to pass an anti-protest law!!! Quite ironic, after a revolution. It all boils down to a crisis of trust.

    Trust broken with a butt of a gun
    In the early hours of the February the 26th, I stood with a couple of hundred revolutionaries in front of the People’s Assembly building. We were all gathered for sit-in, demanding that Shafik and his cabinet step-down. This was the same cabinet that Mubarak put in place in his last days and that the SCAF had kept for mysterious reasons. That night many of us were severely beaten, electrocuted, and subject all sorts of abuse. In one harrowing account of the torture that went on that night, it is clear that many in the army are still loyal to Mubarak. The army officers reveled in forcing the protesters to cry “long live Mubarak”. I was lucky to have escaped being captured, I was running and hiding in nearby streets.

    The SCAF tried to deny any wrong doing and often declared that it never incarcerated any of the protesters. Their narrative does not hold much water, and runs counter to the many eye witness accounts. The SCAF has shown itself very trusting of the late regime’s corrupt figures. This was clearly  demonstrated in the appointment of the governors, many of who were from the minister of interior who were notorious for their involvement in torture cases, and others who have often spoken out vocally against the revolution.

    The SCAF reputation now reeks of anything  to but trustworthiness. I firmly believe it becoming exceedingly hard to see them as honorable custodian of our revolution. Their decision making is opaque and their actions are far from comforting. It is very hard to explain how the army highly trained special forces were being used to hunt and incarcerate protesters while idling when churches were being burnt or peaceful  protesters were being shot at.

    Why regroup, why a second Friday of Anger?
    The SCAF has proven itself to be at best incompetent in helping achieve the demands of the revolution, and at worst having designs on post revolutionary political landscape to serve the best interests of the SCAF generals. The SCAF generals maintain massive economic interests and no civilian oversight. One can see that it would be hard for generals to abandon many of their perks for the greater interest of the country. I find it very suspicious that a supposed scholar like Moataz Abdel-Fattah tries to push forth the notion that SCAF is totally immune to ambitions of its generals and that there is something, that almost veers on the supernatural, the will make them the honest executors of the people’s will. Recalling the faces of the soldiers chasing in on February 26th and their determination to capture and torture makes me immune such flimsy (or more likely disingenuous)  arguments.

    What do we do? Fire the SCAF?
    The SCAF for all its sins still maintains a semblance of stability and yet we would never trade away our freedom and our revolution for this poor attempt at maintaining “order”. We are pressing forward demands that we hope will keep the SCAF straight, yet those demands are still being worked out, refined and crystallized.

    Over the past few months a great deal of trust has been eroded and it is about time that SCAF pays attention to the revolutionaries and stop trying to undermine the spirit of the revolution.  I am looking forward to May27 where amongst a sea of competing memes, the best ones will dominate.

    What does the situation look like now?
    It is best captured in this brilliant graffiti by Ganzeer showing a taking facing of a bicycle. The revolutionaries are doing the difficult act of moving forward while balancing a bread tray over their head. The bread tray is future of Egypt. The tank (SCAF) seems to be standing in the way. Together we can force the tank to change direction, and we are far more powerful than what naive sizing up of strength may suggest.


    Staring at Black Boxes

    In a span of a week we have witnessed per-referendum agonies, post referendum joy (and depression), then we learned that the provisional constitution will be a mishmash of the amended articles we voted on and some bits and pieces for the old 1971 constitution. Lots of people are shaking their heads and saying, “what was it that I voted for?” More puzzling still is why didn’t we have a referendum on the provisional constitution instead of the amended articles. Is there foul play involved? Something smells!!!

    Then came the trifling bit of news that Egypt has resumed pumping gas to Israel at the fantastically low prices that were “negotiated” by Mubarak cronies. What happened to our revolutionary prime minister? “Rome was not built in a day”, some may say, and they would follow it by “give the guy a chance”. So we forget about trifles and we move on. Then we hear that many protesters have been unfairly detained and some received absurd sentences for “thuggery”. We hear from reputable human rights organization that some female protesters have been subject to a disgustingly degrading treatment by the army. We try to reason that sometimes accidents happen and it will be a matter of time and everything will be resolved. We keep hearing “Rome was..” and we wait for some good news to arrive. But it does not !!!

    We see the ministry of interior burning and we hear of assassination plans. We are clueless still, and just when we thought that things couldn’t get worse, we get a knockout. Our ministerial cabinet, upon which so much hope has been placed, decreed that hence forth all forms of “disruptive” protest are banned. If that was not disappointing enough, soon after we see a peaceful sit-in at Cairo University brutally disbanded, students detained (later released) and university professors verbally abused and then herded into armored vehicles (only to be released later).

    After this emotional roller coaster we are left wondering: Who is pulling the strings? The prime minster? The Army? Some other “force of darkness”? People get very emotional about the Army, I find myself hearing:

    The Army is good
    The Army is bad
    The Army is the best we ever had
    The Army is both our mom and dad

    But emotions aside we are determined to march forward. We will pry open or crush whatever black boxes we find on our way. Rome was not build in a day, but we will not stand idle while injustices are being perpetuated.

    Tahrir! here we come again!