Transition to Democracy?

A functioning democracy is much more than a ballot box and a “fair vote”. It is about a system of government, checks and balances, and above all certain principles that act as an anchor to those in power, and to which they are held accountable.

If we were to examine how the  United States Constitution was defended in the Federalist papers we get a sense of expansive minds with a deep awareness of history, human nature, and the passions and foibles that the pursuit of power often induces. The authors had  a very thorough understanding of the nature of their country and how their  union could prosper and be effectively preserved. A passage that I find particularly  relevant to the situation is Egypt:

...a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

In the Egyptian parliament  there are now many Islamists  who have appointed themselves as spokesmen for the revolution. In their vacuous speeches the pay lip service to “rights of the people” and the “blessed revolution”. 

However,  a few days ago they were dodging any attempts to discuss the brutality of the police in dealing with demonstrators  around the building of the ministry of interior (MOI). The demonstrations have been going on in the aftermath of the massacre of the ultras. They were denying evidence that the police were using bird-shot and live ammunition to inflict heavy physical and  psychological damage on the protesters. They payed no attention to reports  that surfaced a  day prior about that the head of the doctor’s syndicate who was injured with bird-shot while surveying the area around MOI, a news correspondent who suffered serious eye injury, or the  injury of the activist Salma Said (below left) . Instead, they were going through the motions of sending a “fact finding committee” and waiting for its report, all the while protesters where being shot at. The MOI building where all this was ongoing was only a few minutes walk away from parliament!

House speaker Mohamed Abu Hamid was was denied a chance to present evidence he had collected earlier in the day and was booed down by the Islamists majority. In the same session ex-regime puppet Mostafa El-Bakry was given ample time to glibly declare, without a shred of evidence, that the protesters are agents of the United States and Israel that they are being lead by El-Bradie. El-Bakry got a standing ovation from the Islamists!

The next day, while parliament was discussing the clashes that were still ongoing, a salafi house speaker decided to announce the call to payer in direct defiance of parliamentary procedure and  decorum. It is horrifying to think that men like these will be the ones charged with the task of writing our new constitution.

Egypt has much better men and women than those sitting now in parliament. Many in the ranks of revolutionaries are deep minded intellectuals, however they have failed at organizing themselves as a coherent block during the elections. They also failed at articulating the principles by which lived in Tahrir during the first eighteen days of the revolution. They were too busy trying to get the ruling junta to take obvious steps, like putting Mubark on trial, setting a fund for injured and families of the martyrs,or setting a firm date for the elections.

This  parliament is unlikely to survive for long. I have strong doubts it will be able to deliver to the Egyptian people the aspirations that they have sacrificed so much for. It may look like a democracy, but it is not a functioning  one, and it shows very little hope of functioning anytime soon. Given the glaring lack of intellectual abilities in parliament, it will require divine intervention for them to deliver an efficient national government. Such a government as the author the papers would put it, would be one where

  …the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it.

If the parliament continues to “function” as it has,  then we will follow a trajectory where we will have to suffer through the trials and tribulations that occurred during the passage from  the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment, albeit at an accelerated rate.

My hope still remains that Egyptians will find a way to carefully consider struggles of other  nations so that they “may profit by their experience without paying the price which it cost them”. Despite this rather disappointing first attempt at democracy, I am still hopeful. The revolution is still ongoing, and its spirit is like a phoenix and when things seem very bleak, I find those line echoing in my head

A thousand times I have been stabbed before
A thousand more times, till they I believe I am no more
Forever, I will rise again and on wings of truth will soar

….. the revolution continues.


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?”


Terminate the Ultras with extreme prejudice

Yesterday 74 Egyptians died in a football stadium in the city of Port Said. International media presents this as a case of football hooliganism gone out of control, as David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times puts it:

The deadliest soccer riot anywhere in more than 15 years, it also illuminated the potential for savagery among the organized groups of die-hard fans known here as ultras who have added a volatile element to the street protests since Mr. Mubarak’s exit.

The fact that they played a role during the revolution (and still do) is mentioned as a footnote:

The ultras joined the revolt against Mr. Mubarak on the first day of protests, taunting and harassing the police as they tried to crack down on thousands of other marchers heading for Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Protest organizers said that they had played a more central role in the “battle of the camels,” helping to beat back mobs of Mubarak supporters in a daylong battle of rocks and gasoline bombs.

The ultras maybe not be saints, but something does not sit quite well with me with that sort of reporting. I probably owe life and limb to the ultras who defended me and other protesters during the toughest days of the revolution. The ultras were always the calvary during protests. When goings got tough, the ultras were there and they were steadfast and unflinching in the face of brutality. They never tried to milk their heroism and bravery for political gain, or attribute any small victory to their efforts alone, as the Islamists often do. The ultras may not be philosophical or articulate, and they do not have political agenda, but they fully believed in the just cause of the revolution. They are youth who fight their sense of disenfranchisement by strong camaraderie and love of their football team. During the revolution their sense of camaraderie expanded to the rest of the protesters. It was not uncommon for ultras from competing football teams to fight side by side against those who were attacking the protesters. Since Mubarak’s exit they have took part in battles that were many time more fearsome than the “battle of the camels”. Though their behavior may appear rowdy to some, I can not but feel love and respect for them. 

The tragedy in Port Said stadium must be the worst in the history of Egyptian football. What happened there can not properly be interpreted without putting it in the larger context of what has been going on in Egypt. The Al-Ahly club utras have been very supportive of the recent calls for the military junta to step and hand over control to civilian leadership.  As recent as Saturday in match they rocked the stadium with their chants that are roughly translated to:

Oh you MPs
You turned out to be more rotten than the Police
Raise the prison walls higher and higher
Tomorrow the revolution with lay them to waste
Oh brother, write on the cell wall
Junta rule is shameful and treasonous
Down Down with Junta rule!
Police are thugs…Police are thugs
I hear a mother of martyr crying  “Junta dogs killed my son”
Down Down with Junta rule!
Down Down with Junta rule!

The circumstances of what happened in that stadium yesterday are incredibly conspicuous. The “fans” of opposing team, after a 3-1 victory on Al-Ahly club, attack the losing side with viciousness, this has never happened before! The ultras of Al-Ahly had no escape as the all exists were blocked my the military police. The lights of the stadium were turned off, thereby increasing the panic in the ranks of the ultras. Those who were beaten senseless were stripped off their shirts and their belongings stolen. All this while hundreds of riot police stood by and watched!

Later on, Field Marshal Tantawi sent a military plane to pick up  Al-Ahly players and after greeting them he remarked ,“How come the people of Egypt are complacent about those who foment violence? ” Many saw this statement as a tacit admission that the state has no role in insuring safety of its citizens, others saw this as an invitation for civil war or a “battle of the camels, part II” !

Many Egyptians now believe that somewhere in the echelons of power, an order must have been given to …

Terminate the Ultras with extreme prejudice!