Democracy a’ la SCAF

As I write these lines, members of the first “post-revolutionary” parliament are being sworn in. Most TV stations are calling it the “revolution’s parliament”. The process of democratic transition is almost complete. We should be seeing a new president being sworn in a six months or so, and we should be well on our way to becoming the largest democracy in the Arab world. The Islamists now dominate parliament, and that should take the sting out of their bitterness after decades of marginalization. A casual observer of international news would conclude that the world now is  safer and more stable, with freedom and justice for all. A cause for celebration? Not really.

We have endured decades of faux democracy and many of us are smelling the familiar stench of oppression in the air. I am not trying to imply here that the Islamists will be the new oppressors (although that is not entirely unlikely) or that Egypt is on its way to become another Iran, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Egypt is subject to a different set of dynamic forces that will push it along its own peculiar trajectory. Historical analogies are of little value in our current situation.

The ruling junta, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have made many statements where they declared that they have little interest in power. They often repeated that they would like to be honest custodians of democratic transition. Many believe that to be a lie.  Scratch a bit beneath the surface and  many unsavory facts start to ooze out:

  • There are over ten thousand Egyptians who are locked up in prison after  kangaroo (aka military) trials, while the ones involving Mubarak and his coterie are proceeding at a snail’s pace. Those thousands are placed in military prison facilities that are beyond dreadful.
  • Activist and groups the where at the forefront of the revolution are being targeted by SCAF. Some of the have been imprisoned, others “temporarily detained”.
  • Many of the families of the martyrs of the revolution are left without any form of support despite promises to the contrary. Many of the wounded have been denied proper medical care.
  • Many of the wounded and the families of the fallen have been subject to threats and have been offered “blood money” to stay hush about all the atrocities the have been committed.
  • SCAF had conducted a Goebbelsian propaganda war against protesters, shifting the blame on them for all the ills of the country and accusing them of being agents of unidentified foreign powers. 
  • Coptic Christians and have been subject to numerous attacks on their houses of worship. The perpetrators of the attacks were seldom prosecuted. Thirty protesters were killed during  a peaceful demonstration against this injustice. Furthermore, the SCAF controlled media incited violence against the Copts during the protests.
  • Protesters have been dragged into violent confrontation with security forces in November and December, resulting in the death of over fifty five and the maiming of countless hundreds.
  • All SCAF promises for a swift investigation of abuses by security forces since Feb 2011 have been reneged.
  • No serious effort has been put in chasing Egypt’s billions that have been siphoned by the ruling cleptocracy.
  • Thanks to SCAF appointments almost all the mayors of Egypt’s governorates are either ex-military or ex-police.
  • Over the past ten month many key position in various ministries have been taken up by ex-military men.
  • It is becoming patently obvious that SCAF never wants to be held accountable to the people. It will meddle with the process of “democratic transition” to achieve that end.
  • Electoral law prohibits the use of religious slogans in political campaigning, but the rules were flaunted by the Islamists with SCAF’s apparent blessing. The Islamists relied heavily on their platform in the mosques for political campaigning. This reeks of “special deals”.
  • In Feb 2011, SCAF promised a swift plan for full democratic transition with a deadline of six months. They are six months behind schedule and the date for “full” handover may even slip if not for the continued pressure for the protestors.
  • And Finally, members of parliament are swearing to uphold and protect an ambiguous constitution (there are doubts if it is SCAF’s constitutional declaration, the seemingly defunct/amended 1971 constitution, or the one they will help draft).

We will not settle for nothing but genuine democracy. We can not build the foundations of a new Egypt on lies and deception. The revolution continues.


Politics vs. Protests: The Egyptian Revolution in Crisis

I write this post to try to clarify a few points with regards to the situation in Egypt and process of the democratic transition.  This has been spurred by requests form my English speaking friends who are trying to keep up with unfolding events in Egypt and my general dissatisfaction with the reporting of current events in Egypt, such as this WJS article.

Is the Revolution over?
If you were to believe the supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) and a great many of those who have not been talking to revolutionaries and watching too much state television, it is very much over. We have entered a new phase of democratic transition. Here is what they say has been achieved:
  1. A referendum where SCAF has proposed constitutional amendments that implied some process of handing over power to civilian control and some vague process for drafting a new constitution once a new parliament has been elected. 
  2. A brand new council of ministers that is headed by a prime minister who was known to have taken part of part in the revolution. 
  3. Members of the Coalition of the Youth of the Revolution acting as advisers of the prime minister. 
  4. Parliamentary elections coming up in couple of month.
  5. SCAF is even giving financial aid to you new parties to cover some of expenses of registration and making the legal mandatory newspaper announcements. 
So why complain? and why take to the street and protest? The logic goes, SCAF is not perfect, but they seem to be doing the best they can. The country needs stability more than anything else. The economy is in tatters and investor confidence is low. Protests are disruptive and slow down the wheel of production.   
The old mechanism of electoral corruption are still in place (by Carlos Latuff).

These points is not held by the protesters, and here is how they might respond:

  1. Referendum: there is a great deal of confusion as to what is was really about. We thought we voting for a amendment to the existing constitution, but SCAF trashed the old constitution and gave us a provisional one that gives it unrestricted powers and no accountability whatsoever. SCAF also sees that the passing of the referendum means that they people of Egypt gave it a carte blanche to run the country (that was not in any of the amended articles!). Interestingly enough the Islamist see the referendum as a vote that affirms that the people of Egypt want their future state to be an Islamic one and not secular. Although the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafis (Wahabis is more apt description) have very incompatible ideas of what that might mean. 
  2. The prime minister and the his council have very limited powers and SCAF calls all the shots via the powers that they have  granted themselves in the provisional constitution. The prime minster and the council  act as shock absorbers for SCAF, taking the blame whenever it is convenient. Such a tactic has all the hallmarks Mubarak era style of governance. We have a very peculiar situation where the prime minster reports of the minster of defense and not vice versa. 
  3. The youth coalition have been castrated since they held offices in power and have been quickly loosing whatever support they held in the ranks of the protesters due to their neutral or their lukewarm attitudes on several issues that are key to the protesters demands. Their eroding power base and the proliferation of hundreds of  coalitions, many of them from the youth of Mubarak’s now banned national democratic party,  have made them completely ineffective. 
  4. The governing laws for the parliamentary election have yet be finalized, and there are doubts about whether the elections will be truly fair. SCAF have objected to international observers and the old corrupt police force is what used to turn a blind eyes to fraud during election has not undergone significant reform. 
  5. Parties that are hungry for power have been taking a somewhat comprising in there stance  vis-a-vie SCAF so as not to fall out of favor before the ultimate ruler.  
Hence presenting the false dichotomy of the politics in direct opposition to the protests, and favoring the former for the sake of stability will not sell amongst the protesters.

What about the “backlash” against the protests?
SCAF has tightened its grip on the media. We now have a a minster of information (disinformation) whose sole purpose is mobilize state media to present SCAF message. That message has been one of fear and panic. Fear about the economy and stability, and panic that there are some dark foreign forces that are now meddling in our affairs.

SCAF hypnotizing the populace into believing that revolutionaries are traitors (by Carlos Latuff).

Recently SCAF has accused the April 6 Youth movement that they are being funded by foreign and nefarious powers. The movement has played key role in keeping the uprising non-violent and is the largest secular block of all the organized movements with the revolution. SCAF seems however to maintain a very good relationship with the Islamist. Speculation has been rife in the ranks of Tahrir protesters the  Islamist must have cut a sweet deal with SCAF. The accusation has been made without evidence. Recently  in an TV interview with a SCAF representative, the talk show host started to ask few hard questions with regards to evidence.  The SCAF man was clearly unconformable with her “audacious” grilling. She lost her job as a result.

Talk show host Dina Abdel Rahman fired for questioning SCAF (by Carlos Latuff).

A few days ago protester were met by a violent “backlash” on their peaceful march to the ministry of defense to press forth their demands. Such a backlash came primarily as the result of SCAF or its agents spreading rumors the the protesters were on their way to burn down the ministry of defense and start up a fight with army. It is telling a few hours prior to the march that  Major General Hassan Al-Ruweiny we on TV hurling further accusations at the April 6 movement and condemning the march as the work of saboteurs who care nothing for the greater good of Egypt. He also said there could be many how are innocent amongst the marchers who are victims of “disinformation”. Interestingly he bragged about how used to manipulate the protesters in  Tahrir during the first 18 days of the revolution by spreading rumors. One can only wonder if he was behind the rumors in Abbaseya where the clash happened.

Cowardly assault on protesters in Abbaseya (by Carlos Latuff).

But what do the protesters want?

There are a number of demands and concerns, but the most pressing concern has to do with the families of the martyrs of the revolution and the injured. The families have been subject to threats and pressure from the Police to drop their charges levied against their killers. They have been offered blood money, and if they refuse they were subject unbearable harassment. Similar pressure was also applied to those who were injured during the revolution. 

The revolution grows forth from the blood of the martyrs (from a mural in Tahrir).

The ministry of interior (MOI) in engaged in propaganda to project the view that the deaths were either accidental or (preposterously) the work of foreign snipers. This runs contrary to video footage showing the snipers perched on top on the ministry and  during the early days of the revolution.

“Snipers!!! Where?” the minster of interior declares (by Carlos Latuff).  

The families of the martyrs form and core around which protesters gather. They want the killers to be put on trial immediately along those  higher-ups who are gave the orders. The demands that the officers who carried out the shooting, the minster of interior at the time, and Mubarak be put on trial immediately. There have been many rescheduled sessions already that most protesters are certain that foul play is involved. SCAF declares that it is not their fault, the wheels of justice just happen to be slow at times and this is the responsibility of the judiciary. We know that the judiciary does not enjoy much independence there is no clear separation of powers yet.

SCAF is molesting Lady Justice (by Ahmed Nady).

Those who are protesters will not end their sit-in in Tahrir until they see the wheels of justice turning and they are stratified that it is doing so in the right direction. There is a very serious concern that if SCAF keeps on ignoring such basic demands for justice that things take a violent turn as the ominous graffiti below suggests.

We will avenge ourselves SCAF! (photo by Lilian Wady)



Banning protests and handling labor problems: an email to Dr. Sharaf

I sent this email to PM Sharaf on the 26th of March, 2011.  I have not heard back from him yet. 

Dear Dr. Sharaf,

I urge you to reconsider the law banning “disruptive” protests. This law has been a great disappointed to a many of your supports, myself included.

I understand the pressure that you are under and the difficulties of getting the economy back on its feet. However, there could be other ways of achieving that, rather than outlawing peaceful strikes and protests.

I suggest that you immediately form a directorate to investigate labor disputes. The directorate would receive complains and all supporting evidence to resolve issues of labor unrest.  It will have wide powers and will handle such issues as expeditiously  as possible. It will operate in transparent manner and its successes will be widely advertised. This will help restore confidence in the government.

Peaceful protests are a form of pressure release that should not be made unlawful. If such an outlet is blocked,  the risk of breakdown of public order is very real. We would want to avoid that at all costs.

I am very concerned about the Army being seen  as an instrument of repression. This portents of violent clashes between those with real and serious grievances  and the army. There is a growing perception that the army is no longer the guardian of the revolution, rather that it is there to extinguish its noble spirit. We do not want that perception to take root and spread. Having laws such as these, where the army is acting as the enforcer will make violent confrontations with the army inevitable.

Finally, I would like to emphasis that the wheels of justice should be seen as turning in the right direction even if slowly. I believe you will find that the people of Egypt are willing to be patient if they clearly see that progress is being made. This requires the successes, achievements, and reform plans be communicated often.

I pray that God will give the intuition and insight to do what is best for our land in these very difficult times.


The mounting stink of lies

Over the span of three days many Egyptians have watched with great agitation programs and events around El-Sebaie Ahmed El-Sebaie on ONtv. The chief coroner came across as a being devoid of the slightest remnants of humanity. He is still basking in power and authority in a manner quite reminiscent of the toppled dictator.

His shining suit, arrogance, and  presumed knowledge were an eyesore. Even the usually blase Yosri Fouda could not help but appear visibly disgusted by his counter-factual statements and contradictory arguments. This was not a case of somebody (or something) that smelled bad, it totally reeked to the point of inducing a mental nausea of the severest kind. El-Sebaie was involved in corroborating the absurd stories that were put forth by the police with regards the events surrounding the death of Khaled Said. Said’s callous murder was one of the key catalysts for the revolution. El-Sebaie also approved a report that concluded that Mubarak should stay in Sharm El-Sheikh and that his condition prevents him from being incarcerated in a prison hospital. His reports have more holes in them than a mountain of swiss cheese.

The fact that many people like El-Sebaie are still enjoying power and authority is very puzzling and it casts the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and PM Sharaf’s government in a very dubious light. The revolution still has a long way to go. It will not attain its objectives by simply removing all the rotten eggs such as El-Sebaie, but it is has to dismantle the system, mindset and culture that allows for them to emerge in the first place. The existing leadership does not seem to be helping in that regard. There is a theory that the SCAF will continue to present Egypt with many of El-Sebaie ilk, so as to keep the revolutionaries from questioning the SCAF’s action. That theory is gaining ground these days. If that perception becomes widespread, it is bound to have dire consequences for the SCAF and Egypt.