Saturday, April 05, 2014
Why would the regime arrest and torture someone if they didn’t do anything wrong or if they can prove their innocence?
Such a question seems to be a common logical retort by many Egyptians in response to accusations that the regime, personified in its security and judiciary bodies, carries out gross injustices such as random arrests, assault, torture, beatings, illegitimate detention, sexual assault and killing. At first glance it seems to cast a shadow over irrefutable evidence that the regime is indeed torturing many of its citizens, including the innocent. That is why we must remind ourselves of reality and attempt to answer that question: Why would the regime torture the innocent?
Perhaps the answer to this question is best illustrated in the 1979 film, ‘We’re the bus guys’ where two people are arrested after a fight with the ticket collector on a bus. They are taken to police headquarters and mistakenly transferred with political prisoners to a torture camp. They defend themselves by explaining that there must be some kind of mistake – that they’re the bus guys – but no one cares to listen. The warden doesn’t care either, he doesn’t necessarily disbelieve them but he’s under orders to get confessions out of all prisoners, after all, it’s not like the other political prisoners are more criminal in any way. Torture and humiliation ensue in the name of the country and the reason they ended up there along with the political prisoners gets lost along the way.
The story is set between 1966 and 1967 and is based on true events. Back then, the mukhabarat, Egypt’s intelligence services, were dominant in dealing with political security matters. They told the guards – the torturers – it was necessary to lock these people up, they were enemies of the state and Egypt would triumph if they were held in prison. In 1967, after Egypt was defeated in the Six-Day War, one question haunted the torturers: “Why were we defeated if we locked all the bad guys in?”
The story of the bus guys is the story of the Egyptian regime post 1952 when the free officers enslaved an entire nation. Power was in the hands of a few self-seeking individuals who profiteered from their positions and constantly fought to retain them. It remains very similar to the story today.
The keys to the dynasty changed hands within security services, but the regime’s indifference – and perhaps even contempt for its citizens – carried over. Upon taking over, President Mohamed Anwar Sadat arrested old power brokers within the government in 1971 to empower himself and keep their followers from regaining ground. Sadat attempted to uphold Nasser’s previous promise to end the ‘intelligence state’ by reforming the security apparatus already notorious for its harsh oppressive practises.
Under Sadat, there were moments where such practises were reduced considerably but the targeting of political opponents remained focused and old security practises were revived at various times. Towards the end of Sadat’s reign, state security had been more empowered to deal with the country’s internal politics.
In 1981, officers within the military conspired with extremist Islamists and assassinated Sadat. When Hosni Mubarak became president, more power was granted to the police represented by state security, the sadistic arm of the Mubarak regime. This was partly due to the assassination of Sadat, which meant that the military was not immune to infiltration and that mukhabarat failed to uncover the plot to assassinate the president. Mubarak was also attempting to sideline Field Marshal Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazala, the defence minister at the time and a popular figure within the ranks of the military.
By the 1980s and 1990s, state security had become so strong that it replaced intelligence as the main driver of the political agenda. Along with other factors, shifting control to the Ministry of Interior allowed one ministry to become both the judge and executioner, and thereby, torture became systematic by spreading inside police stations and over a much wider range of offences not limited to the political.
Under the firm grip of either intelligence services or state security, citizens’ rights and their dignity are disregarded. The current security apparatus is not trained to serve the people, but the regime. But regimes aren’t human and perhaps that is why most members of the security apparatus are dehumanised. On a more practical level, those inflicting the torture are quite separated from those making the arrests; they are taught not to listen and to inflict pain no matter what words are uttered by their victims.
Another way to describe it is that the regime does not care how many innocent lives they destroy, but how many threats to the state are averted irrespective of the cost. There are bound to be a handful of threats amidst the thousands they have arrested and killed. In the end, torturers are not held accountable because orders come from the main agenda drivers who protect the state and, in many ways, are the state. In all likelihood they do not think that torturing innocent people is a mistake in the first place.
The state has been consistent in its approach but the more worrying aspect of today’s Egypt is the silence – and even blessing – in response to such practises. Many have not only turned a blind eye, but even blessed the brutality of the state and created excuses.
Perhaps it is as American philosopher Eric Hoffer says, “The most effective way to silence our guilty conscience is to convince ourselves and others that those we have sinned against are indeed depraved creatures, deserving every punishment, even extermination. We cannot pity those we have wronged, nor can we be indifferent toward them. We must hate and persecute them or else leave the door open to self-contempt.”
Many Egyptians today believe that the police state can help solve the current crisis by offering some sort of stability. Researchers Thomas Plate and Andrea Darvi described it best when they said, “The tragedy of the secret police solution is that it is such a blunt and crude instrumentality that in the name of preserving paradise it winds up creating hell. And when even the moderate critics of the regime are eliminated, incarcerated, exiled, or intimidated, the secret police machine rolls on … Enemies of the regime will be created even if real enemies have long since ceased to exist.”
In the end, the answer to the question as to why the regime would chose to torture the innocent is found in the question itself. It’s because the regime chooses the immoral act of torture in the first place. It is because the security apparatus that is violating the law also controls who is to be held accountable for violating the law. It is because the regime doesn’t really care.
The fact of the matter is that we’re all the bus guys. To be subjected to grave injustice is just a matter of chance. It does not help if you do everything right, abide by whatever laws you can, cheer for the police despite their injustices, or keep to yourself. Sooner or later, you or someone close to you will fall victim to these injustices. By that time, it will not matter to security forces if you had been protesting their rule or cheering them on.
First published in Daily News Egypt on 23 February, 2014.
Monday, March 24, 2014
There is a great divide between a very thin class of revolutionaries and the mainstream direction Egypt has taken. The gaps in Egypt are not just between the rich and poor, they’re not just between the classes but they seem to be in values too.
Recently, Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox pope made a baffling statement. He said, “You want to talk about Human Rights while there is terror and crime?”
I would have imagined human right values to be more closely aligned with Christian values. I wonder how what it would have been like had Jesus said, “Don’t talk to me about Christian values during times of persecution.”
But the Christian church isn’t the only institution that has witnessed leadership in direct opposition to the values it ought to preach. Gaber Nassar, a lawyer and supposed Human Rights defender seems to be making similar mistakes. In an incident involving the mass sexual harassment of a female on campus, he blamed the girl for her ‘mistake’ of dressing inappropriately.
Such is the state of leaders of the Christian denomination and someone from the education sector. They’re not the only flawed leaders, in fact they are considered among the least scathed by accusations of corruption. But they fall short of the mark, they can perhaps be of use in medieval times, but not in today’s world.
Gaber Nassar later apologized for his mistake of blaming the girl and her attire for the incident. It wasn’t a very strong apology but it’s a start to a culture of apologies. In the same vein, Bassem Youssef apologized for ripping off an article in his weekly column, but Bassem is no official leader.In his apology he managed to give a lesson on how to apologize and what accountability means.
Leadership remains lacking in every sense. The head of the state that violates its constitution daily is the former head of the constitutional court, the police that’s meant to uphold the law break it every day. The head of the army that is meant to protect the borders and the constitution is sinking the army’s claws deeper into politics and the country’s economy and has tried to extend their expertise to medicine as well. The heads of religious institutions are diverging from core human values and delving into unprecedented modes of hypocrisy.
All of Egypt’s leadership is letting its future inhabitants down, yet there are no apologies, particularly from those that have harmed this country the most, simply blindness.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Setting aside miracles, something about the story of Jesus seemed incomprehensible to me when I was younger. I found myself wondering how people were so willing to cheer on Jesus’ crucifixion although he had done nothing but preach values of goodness. After three years of preaching, he was smeared and condemned to death. There is no surprise his deeds bothered religious leaders and rulers, but that people he’d helped turned against him so quickly was what troubled me.
Three years into the revolution, that part of the story doesn’t baffle me anymore. Jesus offered personal liberation not political, and because he was unable to provide for anything but the soul, he was blamed for not doing enough and his death cheered on. On the anniversary of the revolution, it has become apparent that the nation has turned against it. The rumors surrounding the 25 January Revolution have ranged from accusations of treason and foreign funding, to being a plan hatched by the Muslim Brotherhood. The underlying issue that has turned people against the 25 January Revolution is that it did not deliver. For three years it preached nothing but values, but the biggest accusation against its prime actors is that they did not provide anything but a personal, impractical salvation. There are no policies in place, no projects and no formidable organisation representing this revolution. That is why people are cheering on its death.
Three years on, what’s left of the revolution remains isolated. Here revolution would have to mean those who have chosen to side with values rather than individuals, rights rather than ideologies. The block of individuals that once captured the imagination of Egyptians and the whole world has now been shrunk, targeted and smeared.
The reason why we’re still talking about the revolution that took place three years ago (other than its anniversary) is because this revolution is about conscience. It revolved around the idea that justice was possible irrespective of race or creed; that lies, corruption and crimes can be called out, no matter the perpetrator.
Today, none of these ideals seem to have picked up. Seeing all the regime crimes justified, it seems that the revolution is dying. On its anniversary, the regime celebrated by crushing protests that did not support General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Such measures are widely accepted by Egyptian society. Many of its activists were arrested and imprisoned and it seems that there is no real control over the actions of the police who act with impunity.
The conscience of the nation seems to be at bay as Egyptian citizens are arrested, beaten and tortured without due process. Citizens are treated in a manner that contradicts the constitution they just voted on, but no one seems to mind. Many ask if those tortured, arrested or killed were Muslim Brotherhood members or supporters, as if it justifies these measures. Even when those arrested are described as activists opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, you get the usual rhetoric that they must have done something wrong.
The space for peaceful opposition in Egypt is shrinking. How can there be opposition in a police state controlled by state security agenda and a supposed fight on terror? Egypt has drifted further from its promised goals of democracy and freedom, and what’s worse is the mass support for that drift. Many Egyptians have made their own gods, not only worshipping them, but cracking down on those who don’t. A revolution that has rejected such gods has now regressed.
The power of the revolution was in finding a moment with consensus that the only way forward was through justice, equality and dignity. Today, people don’t mind less bread, less freedom, less dignity. The consensus seems to be lost and the regime’s smear campaign against a revolution that aimed to end its corruption is now more effective than ever.
The real trouble is that the revolution seems to be confronting people now rather than the regime. The people chose to see its path as a failure, opting for a quick solution, finding a saviour in the army. The revolution that fought for the people must not continue to confront them. After all, it was a revolution to give people choice, even if that choice is to reject it. Egypt must continue its path without revolutionaries until people realise once again that there is no way forward but equality, justice and freedom. Perhaps the revolution and its conscience have to die for now before they can rise again.
Monday, February 17, 2014
A referendum is meant to be a vote by the public whereby they can freely express their position on a certain political matter, but what is the point of a referendum when you’re only allowed to “freely” express one position but not the other?
Enough has been said about the referendum to understand that it was never a vote on the constitution. The document itself is flawed as pointed out even by extremely biased state influenced media. The rhetoric used to urge voters to accept the constitution interprets the referendum as a means to legitimise their existence through means other than mass protests. It marks the desire of the regime to end street politics that are difficult to control, into the more easily containable ballot box.
A great majority of voters were transparent as to why they voted Yes. It was simply a way to emphasise their rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood and close the chapter. Other reasons branching from this general sentiment are the desire for stability, gratitude for General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and military intervention, approval of the roadmap and so forth.
These reasons are not to be undermined. That there is a great sentiment of resentment against the Muslim Brotherhood within Egyptian society is undoubted; however, questions arise as to whether the path chosen actually achieves the goals perceived by those who approved it.
The real question is whether the government, bent on selling lies to the public, is actually taking the Yes vote as a means to achieve what people think it does. Was the regime asking a question to its citizens through the referendum or sending out an answer?
The government sent out every possible message that Yes was the only acceptable answer to the referendum. The defamation of potential actors who disapprove of the fore-drawn path combined with state security crackdowns on both Islamists and their independent opposition sent out a message that dissent is not tolerated. Public personalities queued up to echo state rhetoric, media did not allow opposition voices and the streets were flooded with expensive advertisements both direct and subliminal to guide people into participating with a Yes vote.
This unnecessary oversell had adverse effects on some people who grew suspicious as they would of a salesperson overly insistent on selling a product they already thought was good. But perhaps the most damaging of all measures is the arrest of activists campaigning for the No vote in the referendum (that along with ridiculous incidents, such as the arrest of a voter who wrote “No to Military Trials of Civilians” on the ballot box). It is a message from the regime in the strongest possible sense that this is the same kind of faux democracy under Mubarak, where democratic procedures were allowed but not democratic participation. Choice would be allowed in theory and eliminated in practice.
It is not likely that the majority of the voting block sees the crackdown on No campaigners as necessary or even beneficial. They probably see it as a needless, stupid act that is inconsequential to the results (and rightly so). But it is exactly because such campaigning would not have changed the outcome that there is a fundamental problem and that these arrests cast a biggest shadow on the legitimacy of the referendum. A democracy is measured by the strength of the opposition, but in Egypt there is no opposition, only supporters and traitors.
While people see this act as entirely unnecessary, it is possible to speculate that the current regime doesn’t. These acts, along with a referendum, are meant to establish order. A government needs people to obey and dissidents to fear, and what better means other than enforcing that which the majority has already agree to. The referendum holds a different promise to the regime than it does to people, the promise that people will accept what they’re told through media, songs, posters, threats and punishment, if necessary. After all, governments have no reason to exist unless they govern, and in Egypt’s case, its governance has meant it can mandate what people should think.
In my assessment, impunity for the regime was implicitly voted for along with some of the people’s aspirations. The real concern, however, is that state impunity and oppression will strengthen opposition against it. In the long run, this may even strengthen the Brotherhood once again, who can be regarded as the most powerful organised alternative in the ranks of the opposition if sufficient numbers survive this crackdown. The results don’t seem to help avert this path either. A medium turn out, with an approval percentage of nearly 98%, reminiscent of Egypt’s oppressive past will make it seem that a boycott may have worked at least within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it isn’t true.
The regime can avert this path by living up to people’s expectations, both those announced, such as moving towards a new democratic legitimate post Morsi state, and unannounced, such as better livelihoods. Otherwise, people, disappointed in how their vote is turned into something that it’s not, will eventually rise up against those who fooled them.
As history looks back at this referendum, the climate in which it is remembered may look like that of an authoritarian rule backed by popular support (depending on how we move forward). A crackdown without due process of political opponents to the regime, arrest of activists who dared to campaign for a No vote, no party that supported a No vote in the referendum, a rhetoric that accused those in disagreement of treason, a climate that terrorised political opponents, both Muslim Brotherhood members and secular opposition, an environment where protesting against the state was practically prohibited through a protest law controlled by a police force diligently proving its corruption, a complacent judiciary and the absence of accountability for any state crime.
First published in Daily News Egypt on 18 January, 2014
First published in Daily News Egypt on 18 January, 2014
Saturday, February 15, 2014
The 29th of December marks Jika’s birthday. Gaber Salah, or “Jika” would have turned 19 in late 2013 had he not been killed by the Ministry of Interior under the then president Morsi. His birthday was celebrated by a few valiant friends and protesters who defied the new Protest Law by marching from his house in Abdeen to where he was shot over a year earlier. They were under a hundred. Such numbers symbolise what’s left of what was once a revolution.
There is a small section of society referred to as secular revolutionaries, who remain in opposition to the false choices of military and Muslim Brotherhood rule. As part of an ongoing campaign to silence them, the state has approached several activists and offered them governmental positions. For those who have turned it down, the security apparatus has threatened and harassed them, but the greatest weapon the state is using is the defamation campaign, which has already been set in motion.
As part of the defamation campaign, accusations of treason have been greatly damaging, sold to a public bent on believing outrageous allegations in order to justify the current reality. Almost every day, a television presenter with strong security ties broadcasts illegally recorded calls of prominent activists or media personnel known to support the 25 January Revolutionary ideals. The calls do nothing to prove treason but are aimed at character assassination of 25 January figures. When rights groups requested an investigation into citizen conversations that have been illegally leaked and the mobile provider, Vodafone, the state has brushed that aside and opted instead to investigate the same company for a puppet advertisement.
The defamation campaign comes as part of a systematic crackdown on secular opposition, rather than as a result of investigations. Why else would the regime first start by offering activists positions in the government? Why else would state security approach several of these activists explaining clearly how they knew that their accusations of espionage were not true, but that they would still use them to defame them?
One of the most revealing accounts of meetings with the state security was written by former MP Mostafa AlNagar, whose call with poet Abdel Rahman Youssef was leaked. The conversations, AlNagar reports, ensure that state security want activists to rid themselves of “illusions of democracy” and to stop talking about human rights and accountability. AlNagar is also left with promises to defame 25 January and ElBaradei supporters. But perhaps more compelling than the testimony itself is the corroboration of such messages from other activists hounded by state security.
It may be time for the secular revolutionaries to stop fighting and realise that they’ve always been traitors; traitors to the Egyptian government’s way of life and their propaganda, traitors to their injustice and traitors to their methods. These activists dare to denounce unjust laws and protest them not because they root for a person like Mohamed Morsi or Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, but because they support an idea, seemingly unfathomable to the myriad of Egyptians supporting their own personal saviours. That notion of holding on to an idea instead of a person is also treason to the Egyptian way of politics.
On 22 December, following the sentencing of three prominent activists, Mohamed ElBaradei tweeted, “Egypt: renunciation of violence, transitional justice and national reconciliation based on inclusiveness. Anything short: exercise in futility.”
ElBaradei’s words seem far removed from what’s happening, but they directly address what is happening in Egypt, an exercise in futility. While the connotation is that the state will not achieve stability due to its failure to address the basic needs of society, exercises in futility had a heavy toll, from the brutal illegal crackdowns and detentions of Morsi supporters to the defamation, harassment and imprisonment of secular activists and rights defenders.
The truth is that Egypt has been undergoing an exercise in futility for some time. The same Mubarak era tactics were used by all regimes, from the time of SCAF to the absent Adly Mansour, and all the more forcefully now to regain control. Defamation was a tactic employed under both SCAF and Morsi. Whether it is the farcical NGO trials attempting to undermine human rights and their defenders or moral accusations aimed at portraying activists in an immoral light, whether as traitors or infidels, the tactic hasn’t changed, but the ferociousness and efficiency of the attacks have been improved.
Activists are already tracked down, defamed, accused of malicious foreign funding, assaulted and imprisoned, much like the old ways. Protests are dealt with violently much like the old ways. Oppressive laws to counter any threat to the state are established much like the old ways.
Egyptians decided to give the new faces of the regime a chance, which means that the injustices counter, reset by the removal of Morsi, will have to accumulate once again until injustices seep into the everyday lives of ordinary Egyptians. Justice remains absent and the term reconciliation would mean an end to the current plan of complete annihilation of any form of opposition (although actual reconciliation with old regime figures is ongoing anyway). So the regime continues every day in its exercise in futility to give the current order a lifeline.
Perhaps even activists have been undergoing that same exercise themselves. They have been trying to convince Egyptians that they’re not traitors, that they believe in a different way of life with fewer injustices and more freedoms and more loyalty to values rather than individuals.
It is difficult to know whether it really is an exercise in futility on their part, but I cannot help but draw a parallel with the story in the movie, The Battle of Algiers. The movie talks about resistance between the years 1954 and 1957 when guerrilla fighters were prepared to fight for the independence of Algeria. They were crushed by French paratroopers, yet a few years later, people rose up and fought the occupation without a direct intellectual link between the movement and the uprising that ensued.
Will people reject the crackdown on humanity and activists before complete eradication? Will people wait and then take matters into their hands again when oppression once again permeates their everyday lives?
Perhaps the rejection of the regime’s old oppressive ways can be seen as treason. Maybe that’s why people are supportive of the treason rhetoric pushed by the regime’s intelligence agencies. This too may change by time. However, until it does, there will be no room for those who want to challenge the current accepted norms of repression and injustice. There will be no room for these types of traitors who want to challenge the status quo, not until Egyptians themselves turn into traitors of this sort, traitors to injustice.
First published in Daily News Egypt on 4 Jan, 2014.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Tell yourself you’re better off not knowing. Tell yourself everything will be okay. Tell yourself there’s no need to make a fuss about things that go wrong with the world. Tell yourself that those in charge are responsible and know what they’re doing. Tell yourself that those who robbed your country now have your best interest at heart. Tell yourself that the police that violated all laws will bring about justice. Tell yourself that the judges who have politicized most of their verdicts will now be impartial. Tell yourself that the corrupt businessmen who have manipulated politics for so long will now serve their districts.
Tell yourself that those who called for bread, freedom and justice were all financed from abroad. Tell yourself that it was their responsibility to fix everything that has gone wrong. Tell yourself that the country is better off without them. Tell yourself that they’re naïve and lack the wisdom that you see. Tell yourself that they belong in jail. Tell yourself that the calls they leak are deserved. Tell yourself they’re in prison because they broke the law.
Tell yourself that it’s not acceptable that people protest using bad language even if who they’re protesting against are thieves, killers and thugs. Tell yourself that you’re better because you support the government politely and they oppose the government with impolite curses. Tell yourself that bad language is worse than murder, shouting worse than torture, that anyone with a uniform is better than someone without.
Tell yourself that your morals are intact when you preach them in the mosques, in the churches and in your work place, but that they don’t apply to political life. Tell yourself that you haven’t violated your own moral code when you cheer on every violation of human rights, every torture, every arbitrary arrest and every murder. Tell yourself that these things happen everywhere and that things will get better by themselves.
Tell yourself everything you need to put your conscience at ease, so that you can sleep better at night.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
A chance encounter got me to look into the faces of state security officers and informants as they were stalking one of the activists. I’m not at liberty to describe what brought this about, but I can certainly remember their behaviour and I remember their faces. With that look, as we both stared at one another, I got a glimpse of what state security is really like.
The one I looked at seemed to be a young officer in charge of the case. He was dressed casually, but in his face there was a look of death. There was darkness underneath his eyes and a look of defiance to the entire world. If he had not been a state security officer, that same look would have been in hardened criminal, familiar with the underworld and excelling at it by mercilessly eradicating his opponents. That was the look on his face, as though humanity and mercy had been robbed of him. It was as if his soul had already been condemned to the darkness of hell, if there really was a soul in there. There was no redemption in that face.
I came to think about whether I was making this up in my head or if it was true. I have a thing for reading people’s faces though, they tell me so much about them, and my sense of what they tell is seldom every wrong. Still there’s no way to find out whether all of this was true, and so I figured I’d reason through it.
As a state security officer, I can imagine the kind of life he may have had. When he was young he was probably impoverished, picked on for his poverty and in his attempt to escape such judgement, he must have taken the only possible route that would earn him some respect, a path of servitude to the powerful so that he can be powerful and respected for his position rather than his money. Such a path must have lead him to blind servitude to powerful men and in exchange for respect from others, he accepted to serve those with power. What was new about this? He was always looked down upon anyway. One of these days he’d grow powerful and show all these little people that he was better than them. One of these days he’d show them that it was only their money that earned them respect. But he, he is a survivor who has gone through darkness and ended up triumphant.
He had to serve a series of powerful people in the police, and in gratitude to his obedience, they made him one of them, with the power to get away with anything they chose. He could break the law, but not only that, he would be doing it in the name of serving his country, personified in his power masters. What more could he want, the dark underworld he was accustomed to, but with a position of ruling over it. No one would question anything he does and he can always justify any crime he chose to do through patriotism. This was a strong network of the most powerful people in the country, they can force any judge to acquit him, any government body to succumb to his will. They did that for one another, and in return demanded loyalty, whether they’re right or wrong.
They were charged with the security of the state, but they themselves were the state, and they were charged, using the most vile means available to safeguard themselves. Those police officers from lowly origins need to be seen as masters, and so they act like it. They are charged with the politics of the country, they knew best.
This officer finds that he was given the chance to do anything he wants, with no one to answer to but his corrupt masters. He can torture, he can kill, he can interrogate and he can sexually abuse any woman or man. He’s seen it all and done it all and no one could ever bring him to account. All the humanity inside him has been killed. He feels like a god on the streets. Who could ever question him or bring him to account if he chooses to commit a crime in the name of the state? If two ordinary policeman can beat a young man to death in plain view and get away with it, is it not easier for a state security officer to do the same?
For a time, people have rejected these sinister practices, understanding fully well that this group of people never cared for national security, never cared for the state. They only cared to preserve the current order of power. But now, people have given them a license to be gods once again, they can pillage and plunder, they can torture and kill, they can harass and intimidate and no one would bring them into account. No one can claim that what they do is a crime, there is an assumption they’re working for a greater good. They themselves feel their crimes can be justified through nationalism and elitism.
And so as I look at him, he looks back at me with complete disdain and arrogance. Looking at him is like staring into the abyss. There’s no one to turn to, it’s just you and the beasts. No police can help you, no judiciary, no army personnel, no politician, no foreign power and even the people you trusted for solidarity have forsaken you. You’re staring darkness in the eye.
But as I look into this darkness, I remember one thing. That I’m not as filthy, not as criminal, not as corrupt. I’m not as soulless as the person I’m staring into. Perhaps that doesn’t mean much to him, but it means the world to me.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
A lot of advice is given day and night over all the television channels as to how we must ally ourselves with the military and move forward because of the Muslim Brotherhood threat. I’ve read a lot of it that sounds great from a literary perspective, talking about deals to be made and compromises that we should do. Most of the advice is given to everyone other than the police, the military and the government.
I think such advice really patronizes those fighting for our cause. The problem is that the words sound good, but they mean nothing to those on the ground. It addresses none of our real concerns, it provides no way out. If advice is talking about building a real democracy then we all agree to it, but such advice ends up addressing the wrong party. The revolutionaries aren't running the country, they're just monitoring its progress.
While we all agree we want to build a democracy, some of us on the ground are worried about 'How'. How can you deal with a regime that offers revolutionaries positions in government and then offers them rape and death threats if they don't accept? How do you ally yourself with a military that is overreaching for more power and does not want to compromise any of its interests for the sake of the country? How do you address unjust laws passed that give police the power to select your next parliament and to keep you in jail? How do you address a protest law combined with a constitution that can get you tried in a military court for protesting. (Yes, you can get tried in a military court for protesting because CSF troops are not police, they're military conscripts and the police usually fabricates charges against protesters).
These are just a few simple examples, the rabbit hole goes deeper. So until there is solid advice that answers the real concerns and the how of the matter, I would advise the advisors not to give us advice that doesn't really give us much to do. If only it were that simple, if only it were that possible. In case they write away, they put out a disclaimer that this is just literature.
On the other hand and to be fair, there is a problem with revolutionaries too. They do have valid reasons for opposing the roadmap, the constitution and the protest law. They do have valid reasons for going out to protest and rejecting the unsound advice. But they do not articulate their ideas and their reasoning well enough. A few go out in protest and say ‘Down with military rule’, with this chant not being representative because the military now rules through proxy, and the chant alienates more than charges. To counteract this, some say ‘Down with MB guide’s rule’, another nonsensical chant because he isn’t ruling.
In a sense, both Rabaa and June 30 are the flip side of the same coin that undermines January 25. The trouble is that revolutionaries aren’t working on patiently counteracting the silly flawed arguments put forward by Rabaa and June 30 supporters turning as populist as their counterparts. In order to move forward, we must address the nonsensical notions of our advisors and our opponents by patiently coagulating our rhetoric so that it’s more cohesive and comprehensible and irrevocable. Until then we must, side-by-side, call the oppressors out on their oppression, call the liars out on their lies.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Recently the regime, personified in the entity of the police, lead an attack on Egypt’s activists who opposed the protest law and the military trials of civilians. The attack on 26 November 2013 was brutal, vindictive and lacked professionalism. The police violently assaulted protesters in a manner that violated the law they were implementing and furthermore targeted women through beatings and physical assaults during arrests and while in custody.
The attack on these activists who are greatly related to the January 25 revolution can be simplistically described as an attack on revolutionaries. The attack on a legitimacy already gained by revolutionaries is a move that may cost the regime much if not corrected. At the end of the day, the legitimacy of a regime is determined by its perceived integrity, even when taking extraordinary or unlawful measures. This may explain why unlawful attacks on the Muslim Brotherhood were widely supported and did not negatively impact the regime’s popularity at least among the wider section of the public opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, the recent attacks on the revolutionary class may prove problematic to the regime. Despite numerous efforts, accusations against the revolutionary activists were never solidified. As a matter of fact, the regime reversed its positions several times with regards to past events. Most recently, they acknowledged the Mohamed Mahmoud protesters as martyrs who died for a legitimate cause, even though the killings were performed by the police and supported by the army in November of 2011.
The acknowledgement took the form of a press statement by the police and a cheap monument erected in the middle of Tahrir square on 18 November, the anniversary of the events. They may have thought that such a shallow gesture would be enough to placate the revolutionary class that had restrained its opposition to the regime for some time. The gesture failed to bring about desired results, mainly because there was more at stake for the revolutionary class than a memorial. The activists remain searching for accountability and real change in style of governance which never really took form.
The recent retaliation can perhaps be explained as frustration from the current regime because of failure to placate the revolutionary class. The attempt ended in a huge political triumph for the revolutionaries on 18 November 2013. This is perhaps why the police reverted to what they are accustomed to, attempting to provide a security solutions to what is essentially a political and social problem. Police have reverted to Mubarak era practices in order to bring about stability. The current regime spearheaded by the military is perhaps counting on its current popularity in the hopes that police may find a solution to the constant instability in the country.
It is my assessment that such measures will not work. The economic situation is far too dire and the alliances formed by the current regime representatives are too fragile for such oppressive measures. The regime is counting on a false sense of strength derived from their controlled media, security apparatus, judiciary system, army supporters and MB haters. Despite military fervor, the tide can still turn against them.
While at first glance, such institutions and tools seem to translate into formidable power, the government cannot continue to exert its hegemony over society without the consent of the numerous factions of society such as workers, students, activists, lawyers, and so forth. That is where the failure will come about – unless the regime can quickly undo the damage. This remains unlikely to happen considering how incompetent Egypt’s political class proved to be. The military, however, seems to have become more sensitive to public sentiments. There is a chance they may understand the potential shift in society that will be caused by the retaliation of revolutionary activists.
Despite the confrontational nature of these activists and their mistrust of the generals who they believe are ruling the country behind the scenes, the military’s worst enemy is its own police force charged with the country’s internal security. It is the corruption and incompetence of this police that will more likely eat away at whatever legitimacy the current regime has drawn from mass protests (which they now want to hamper).
At the end of the day, the military may soon realize that they have no possible path for stability and consensus except through reforming the police, which they, not the activists, will need to do. With such an obvious conclusion, the question remains whether the military itself is free enough of corruption to take such measures, and whether its own network of interests and false sense of security will burn the political class it is trying to build.
Originally published on Counterpunch.
Originally published on Counterpunch.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
|Poster by El Teneen|
Myths Rabaa supporters must believe to continue supporting what they do
- Morsi is the legitimate president of Egypt because he is democratically elected
- The MB never ruled because they were never really given a chance to
- The failure of Morsi’s rule is due to a conspiracy by the media
- The failure of Morsi’s rule is due to a conspiracy by felool (and sometimes Copts)
- Morsi may have made a mistake not reforming the police, or maybe he was trying to reform the police but he wasn’t given enough time
- The numbers of June 30 weren’t really that big
- Morsi had his mistakes, but they were political mistakes not crimes worthy of removing him from power
- The Sisi regime is much worse than Morsi’s and that’s why the Muslim Brotherhood members did not object to Morsi’s rule
- Elections were free and fair under SCAF
- SCAF cannot hold free and fair elections now
- Protesters under SCAF and Morsi were hired thugs
- MB protesters are not violent
Myths military supporters must believe to continue supporting what they do
- All Muslim Brotherhood members are terrorists
- The state is fighting a war on terror
- The police has been reformed
- Those who have been killed in Rabaa deserved to die and the crackdown is justified
- The new road map is the path to stability
- The army is patriotic and has stood by the people
- This is not a coup, this is a revolution
- Revolutionaries are naïve or funded from abroad and do nothing but protest
- We must vote yes to the constitution even if we do not like everything in it
- We can change the constitution at any time
- Military trials are a necessity
- State Security no longer exists in its oppressive vindictive brutal form
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Revolutionaries have let people down. That’s the sentiment. People are disenchanted with their notions of justice and democracy and instead opting for pragmatic entities with more power such as the military.
The revolution did not deliver because it was idealistic. There were never enough opportunists within the revolutionary camp to take power. The reason is that opportunism by definition gets you expelled from the revolutionary camp. It was always idealistic, and that’s why it could never make deals; could never deliver a knockout blow, but that’s also why it hasn’t died yet.
In talking about the revolution, I’m not talking about famous activists who are no longer present on the streets, nor others who have opted or a more political route. The real revolution is the unsung heroes holding on to revolutionary principles every day. We mostly hear about them when they die, and a great many live and die in silence. That is the true revolution that does not want to die. We’re in a war of attrition fought by a generation of revolutionaries born out of the darkest injustices. Despite no assurances they will ever win, they are holding on to values that those around them seem to have forsaken.
But it’s not just revolutionaries who have let people down, people have let revolutionaries down. Many respected figures have lost that respect by giving way to flawed values and perceived practicality over adhering to sound moral positions. In effect the tables have turned in Egypt, the younger people hold the higher moral ground. They can see murder as a crime, theft unacceptable and impunity as corruption. They’re being asked by an older generation to turn a blind eye to injustices, to be practical, to be adults. Since when did adults preach moral corruption in the world so blatantly? No wonder those young people are in a constant state of depression and despair. It’s not because they’re being beaten, arrested, tortured and killed on the streets while trying to stand up for what’s right. It’s because those they may have respected and looked up to have condoned lies and crimes over truth and justice. It’s because the moral responsibility of identifying what’s wrong and what’s right rests on their shoulders. Young as they are, they bear that burden. It’s a treason of sorts, committed by the larger faction of society, leaving the moral responsibility up to their children.
As the revolutionaries take on what seems to be the whole world, those around them mistake their obstinacy for arrogance. It’s not arrogance, but perhaps their only defense in the face of a world gone mad. They are confronting a world that wants to take whatever soul there is left in them. They’re obstinate not because they’re always right, but because everyone is asking them to forfeit all that they are, to corrupt their soul.
There never was any winning for these young people anyway because they were never just fighting for themselves, always fighting for others. It was a battle too colossal for any small group to win on their own.
People looked up to revolutionaries once upon a time, thinking they would an exodus out of the morally forsaken land, but it was much too difficult. A great many including grownups were born as babies after January 25, and the world expected them to run before they could even crawl. Such high expectations rested on them, and they were just children fighting the ugliest of beasts. The older generation left them to battle in what should have been their fight. When those young people were overwhelmed, conspired against and beaten down, almost everyone looked away. Everyone was looking for a winner and revolutionaries were looking for truth and justice. Everyone was looking for salvation, and revolutionaries were looking for dignity.
Back then when revolutionaries called out murder against the police, people applauded their bravery. When they asked for military trials to stop, people commended them. When they spoke against injustices performed in uniform in the name of law, country and religion, their values and morals were cherished. Now, all of this means nothing, such notions are mocked and ridiculed. There’s no room for idealism in the new Egypt, there’s no room for revolutionaries, no room for heroes.
Perhaps today revolutionaries with their values and their high moral ground are seen as fallen heroes. Those fallen heroes still hold on to their values in the midst of accusations of treason, in the midst of their own depression and despair. But it is those who have stood by the killers, the thieves and murderers in uniform in the name of practicality who are the true villains. They’re the fallen heroes, the heroes that should have been, the heroes that never were. They have let down their children because of their fears. They have let down those who could have believed in them because they themselves were the real children who needed a uniform to trust.
I do not know if it is possible for revolutionaries to rise again and capture the hearts and imagination of society through their sheer resilience. I do not know if this is a tale of triumph or defeat. I do not know for certain if there will come a time when people wake up. What I do know is that these young people are worth something in this world, for holding on to ideas of justice, truth and heroism in a land of fallen heroes.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
|Photo: Mos'ab ElShami|
These don’t seem to be the important questions to ask. The clashes were a result of the courage of revolutionaries who confronted a regime adamant on playing dumb. The revolutionaries never took aim.They simply fired and the result was a tragic triumph, perhaps as all great triumphs are.
It’s not accidental that, on November 19, 2011, the police, the epitome of the tyrannical state, aimed at unarmed protesters’ eyes. The regime was unable to hide behind its lies. Those in Mohamed Mahmoud were there to send a message: we see you, we can see past your lies. Unable to hide, the regime chose instead to blind those looking on. That’s why the streets of Mohamed Mahmoud were filled with blinding teargas, and yet the response from the people was brave and resilient, refusing to retreat.
Instead of backing down and retreating to the relative safety of Tahrir, protesters, armed with little more than their integrity and handfuls of rocks made their choice. They chose to open their chests to bullets, were open to death, fighting for a great many who were already blind or too scared to fight for their right to keep seeing, to keep looking.
The best of us died in November 2011 and little by little, all that’s left of us now are the worst. That’s what happened to the revolution; the worst of us survived and now we’re unable to do what the many brave protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud did two years ago: choosing to see. Now the worst of us play politics, make tactical calculations and gang up on the few remaining revolutionary spirits.
One year passed after the clashes in Mohamed Mahmoud, and the few brave ones that survived returned to the same place, and in continuing to tell the regime they can still see, they faced a similar fate.Gaber Salah, better known simply as Jika was gunned down. He was 17.
Jika’s funeral was the largest I have been to since the start of the revolution. In a silent procession towards the graves, people marched as though mourning the death of the last of us. On the way back, once again they defiantly chanted against his killers.
In truth we’re not as strong as those who died. We’re the remnants, we’re the ones who stayed behind, and that’s why the revolution is faltering, because they’ve taken the best of us. As weak as we are, we need to at least hold on to the values of the brave people who died. We need to hold on even if we can’t fight for them as hard as they did, that’s the absolute minimum we can do.
How many masked strangers have thrown back tear gas canisters under heavy fire? How many of them have fended off thuggish attacks? How many have taken a bullet for you?
This is not an attempt to romanticize Mohamed Mahmoud protesters as individuals, they are who they are, ordinary people with all their flaws, but extraordinary in their choices and sacrifices. On the streets of Mohamed Mahmoud, I saw who I like to call Jika’s friends, the little hope remaining in our revolution. They’ve been let down by everybody, by the Mubrak regime into which they were born. They have even been let down by the older generation who chose to confront Mubarak. They’ve been let down by the so-called revolutionaries because a great many of them don’t realize that Jika, and those like him, are the real revolution; they are its hope. They have played politics or spend their time on social media, promoting an unfinished revolution rather than going out to finish it.
What you see should change you, and I have changed. I know who I’d rather be loyal to. I’d rather be loyal to the fallen and their ideas. I’m one of the weak ones that survived, I cannot fight as bravely as they have, but I do know this, with whatever little strength I have, I will continue to fight, even if it’s a fight I’m destined to lose, for a country that has given its children so many funerals.
We have nothing left to do but try our best in all our weakness to do what the lions of Mohamed Mahmoud were doing: keep looking. We should not swallow the lies that ask us to look the other way, nor accept the myth that now is not the time to speak the truth. We should never accept the joke that maybe things have changed without anything really changing. We have nothing left to do but look, even if they once again, take aim for our eyes.
First published on Atlantic Council's Egypt Source blog.
|Photo: Mos'ab El Shami|
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
There is a lot of hypocrisy about the Bassem Youssef show. The amount of double standards highlighted by the show is worrying. The thing is that the hypocrisy is not coming from within the show, but from outside it.
I must confess I was worried about Bassem Youssef. I was afraid he would sell out and act against values he had previously claimed to hold. Why shouldn't I have expected that? Most others did the same. The nationalist tendencies have lead many figures calling for democratic values and change to relinquish such values in favor of a flavor of nationalistic fascism.
Bassem Youssef proved me wrong and pushed the envelope of criticism as much as the street should be able to handle without going over the top with needless criticisms. It was only when I started to breathe hope again that I realized I was holding my breath.
What is truly shocking are his fans. They were happy when he criticized their opponents but were not happy when he criticized them. They cannot see themselves as being just as bad as those they claim to oppose. If you ask what they found offensive, they will point out exactly what their Islamist counterparts have been pointing out. Bassem Youssef's show had too many sexual innuendos... He criticized a respectable figure like the Minister of Defense (he didn't) .. He mocked national sentiments.. etc..
The list goes on and on but without any valid criticism related to what he actually said. All he said was that he was against any fascism, Islamist or not. Why did they get upset? Is it because they know they're fascists?
It's not just hypocrisy we're witnessing, it's a sense of fascism. That it's okay to put Bassem Youssef behind bars now because he upset the wrong people and yet criticize Morsi for trying to do the same. In a way Bassem Youssef has done what no one else has managed to do, brought together the pro Sisi and pro Morsi fanatics in hating him.
In a way, we find ourselves with Bassem fighting the same old forces we were fighting from the start. The old interest networks of the feloul and army along with their Islamist allies. Even though they're not allies anymore we still have to take both of them on again.
Every day that passes, Bassem exposes hypocrites and fascists. I'm not deifying Bassem, I'm not saying that everything he does is correct and that he's on to the truth, I'm saying that his critics expose themselves through what they choose to criticize. His show is like a mirror that some of the ugliness cannot bear to look into.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
The building guard explained to me how one of the protesters pointed a gun at him and shot at the building. The building’s glass door had been shattered with rocks. I didn’t believe the guard when he told me they had shot at them, but he told me that the holes the bullets left were still there. I asked him to show me, and he did.
|Alleged bullet hole|
On 6 October 2013, I saw a small part of the clashes between residents of the Dokki area and pro MB protesters. There was a lot of anger, but that anger was not just directed at security forces, it was directed at the entire country, with all that it entails. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters were angry at streets. They destroyed the advertisements and statues in their anger. They pelted rocks at residents of the area and they destroyed private property.
There are many reasons why the Muslim Brotherhood won’t win back the people and they sprouts from one cause. They care little for anything beyond their own group. Their ultimate goal is not to establish a democratic form of rule but to restore their own flavor of oppression. They accept that people will be oppressed anyway, so why not through the autocratic decisions of the General Guide?
The other point they’ve managed to emphasize is that they do not respect citizens. They have opened fire on Egyptians in their neighborhoods and needlessly destroyed their property.
In a famous tale about Solomon, two women were arguing over whose son a new born baby was. In order to settle the dispute, Solomon asked the baby be cut in half and each half be given to the women. One woman agreed and the other would not allow her baby to die. The MB are acting like the woman who wanted to cut the baby in half.
The MB’s strategies and ideas have all been targeting the economy. However, people will not choose to go back to their oppressive rule through coercion. They continue to represent oppression. Apart from incitement against Christians and opening fire at citizens, their peaceful ideas were along the lines of on riding the metro all day to cause congestion and stalling their cars on the road.
That’s not to say that supporting the army irrespective of how they act is the support of democracy. You can be against the military takeover and not be a Brotherhood supporter, but in this case you would never use the Rabaa symbol.
The new faces of the regime understand that there's been a shift in public behavior, they'll try to account for that in their decisions. The true danger now is that the military players are better at shifting public position rather than what they’ve done in the past which is disregard it.
The MB are paying the price for supporting the military ever since 2011. To some it looked as if they were placating the military in order to oppose them, but they were placating the revolutionaries to quell revolutionary fervor. The single most damaging move against the revolution was siding with SCAF and MB were the stars of that movement. They never represented the revolution. SCAF would have conceded many things if they found no political cover, but Islamists were happy to give them that.
In 2013 the military intervened on behalf of itself not the people. Their other option was siding with tyrannical MB, which would have been a losing gamble since the street had turned against the MB enough to compromise security control over Egypt had they sided with them.
In the revolutionary camp, many had warned the MB numerous times that SCAF would turn on them, but they thought they knew better. They always thought they knew better. MB were strongly persuaded to side with people not the men with guns, but they chose to make their pacts with the institutions that had all the guns. (That same warning applies to figures cozy with the military)
Today, after they were removed from power, the MB’s obstinacy continues to push a narrative that is implausible and unacceptable is hardening people's hearts against them. MB supporters seem to have strict instructions: It's about the coup, it's not about our crimes...keep pushing that rhetoric.
The nail in their coffin however can well be the revolutionary forces that they’ve come to alienate, not only during their rule but the ones that have sided with their rights as humans following Morsi’s removal. There are many who have been openly critical of the police for the brutal dispersal of Rabaa. They are met with an onslaught of attacks for not siding enough with the Muslim Brotherhood. One such example is Khaled Dawoud, the spokesman of the National Salvation Front (NSF) who was later stabbed by ‘anti-coup’ protesters.
All the Brotherhood had to do is offer the one thing that can possibly placate these forces, the truth in the form of an honest apology. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood stubbornly clings to illogical arguments and evasions.
The targeting of those siding with MB’s rights as not being enough is alienating and through continuous obstinacy the MB is ridding itself from shackles of empathy or sympathy that may have played out in their favor on the long run.
In the end, Egypt doesn’t win. The continued stand-off between two oppressive forces may weaken real civil opposition. According to Farag Fouda, in the absence of that, the Islamists and the military will continue to toy with Egyptians till that changes.
The answer does not lie in a brutal crackdown. Cracking down on MB while welcomed by the masses, is not a sign that the regime has changed to the better.