Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hillary or Bust


Early polling showed Bernie Sanders beating Donald Trump. In those early polls Hillary Clinton lost to Trump. I don't personally believe polls are accurate in general, but many do. What that means for believers, is that they chose a risky route. They wanted Hillary to win the primaries even though the DNC would have come to power more assuredly if Bernie was it's nominee. In fact those voters were Hillary or bust.  They turned down the candidate who was closer to democrats on the issues because they gambled on Hillary changing her popularity. I'm not generalizing or judging motivations, maybe they thought she was a better candidate, maybe they didn't like Bernie, I'm talking about the practical implications.  

When push came to shove Bernie rallied for Hillary because he realized the Trump danger early on. The DNC on the other hand, wanted to destroy Bernie. It was not because he wasn't aligned with them on issues, but because they had special interests. Maybe they thought Hillary was a better leader, maybe they thought Bernie wasn't capable of delivering, but still, they too gambled on liberal resources rather than weighed out what's more aligned with their platform.

One thing I respect about Bernie is that he stuck to the issues. Following her triumph over Bernie, Hillary shifted her focus to one thing, how she isn't Trump. Hillary was silent on most issues, she did not want to gamble her connections with big businesses once in the white house so that her words won't be used against her. In effect, she wasn't able to win over a bigger base.

People did their part and she won the popular vote, mostly out of fear of Trump. However, the question that that needs to be asked is: what did she do to try and win over those who wanted a better economy for themselves and who know for certain that the status quo wasn't good enough? Did she promise a better economy for them like Trump's empty promises? Not so much, and it's because Hillary knows the value of words and chose hers wisely. That is something we can respect Hillary for, she tried not to lie about her positions on issues so that they do not haunt her while in office, but that came at a cost. In effect, Hillary became silent about most issues that weren't instigated by Trump, she never called him out, she just responded to his silly ludicrous claims. She missed most opportunities outside the 'glad I'm not Trump' zone, and failed to comment meaningfully on something as obvious as the Dakota pipeline.

Hillary sat on the fence and hoped that Trump's stupidity would be enough. It wasn't. Mocking Trump and avoiding the issues gave his poor supporters no alternative but to challenge the status quo. The politics of fear were employed and even though fear of Trump did not deter voters, the politics of fear won. The real fear here for the working class was the continuation of the status quo. Hillary Clinton did not alleviate any of that fear.

Those who support Hillary are probably happy with the status quo to a great extent. There is currently a president from a discriminated group. I do not deny that a woman president would be progress, but to those whose lives will not be bettered it's cosmetic. Obama bailed out banks, lead drone wars, came after whistle blowers and under his presidency big businesses thrived and continued to make colossal profits. This simply isn't good enough for most. 

I'm certain there are many who chose Trump for his racism, but what about winning over those who just wanted a shift in the status quo? What has been offered to them beyond cosmetic check boxes of progress? 

There is something wrong with a country that would vote for a vile character like Trump simply because they are unhappy with the status quo. While people should be accountable for their bigotry, there are many reasons why they ended up that way. Media was sensationalist, catering to their base, on both sides. The liberal media focused on Trump and his crazy supporters. It may have been better to identify what is really wrong with the country rather than what is wrong with Trump and his supporters.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Egypt Digs Itself Back To 1977


Ahmed Kamal, a medical student, was arrested by police and delivered to his family the following day via the mortuary. Ahmed had been sentenced to two years in absentia and only recently arrested and killed by Egyptian police, possibly tortured to death. Sometime in the past this may have been breaking news, causing outrage in Egyptian society, and perhaps even internationally. But in today’s Egypt, this is a repeated story, predictable in every way.
The state will cover up for its security apparatus, and as its ridiculous story is exposed, details may shift slightly until the whole ordeal is forgotten. If Giulio Regeni’s murder did not bring about any accountability for the Egyptian regime or its security bodies, it is highly unlikely that Ahmed Kamal’s murder will result in any better.
Security bodies will deny wrongdoing; forensics may end up fabricating a report like they did in the case of Khaled Said. Regime apologists at best will ask people to wait for meaningless investigations by the state. Even if the forensics report doesn’t appease state institutions and the evidence is found to be compelling, then arrests may be made, but only to silence public pressure. These arrests will not result in a condemning verdict, and if they do it will be repealed quickly.
The murder of Ahmed Kamal and the story that follows is not an isolated incident; it reflects the workings of a brutal regime whose institutions are complicit in crimes against Egyptians and works in perfect harmony to provide impunity to its members. This state of complicity and criminality is hard to digest even when witnessing it. Yet time and time again the regime has consistently proven that this systemic injustice is its modus operandi.
Police brutality is the government’s chosen means of looking out for its interests and enforcing policy. While political protests bore the brunt of re-establishing these means, the same will be applied to enforce harsh economic policies advocated for by Egypt’s ‘allies’.
An implicit agreement between the Egyptian government and the people was negotiated over the past six years, following the murder of Khaled Said whereby police brutality and government impunity became more or less accepted. Yet, even with the carte blanche provided by the regime’s supporters to use excessive violence, dire economic conditions may breech that agreement. Egyptians are angered by their struggle with the prices of basic goods, medicine, and cost of living.
Despite this anger, the people do not have the power, or perhaps the will, to attempt to change the regime or depose President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Any such attempt may start a new wave of harsher economic conditions that the people are not ready to handle. The people have willfully given up their right to protest this regime. Many feel compelled to live with the consequences having deprived themselves of influence. But can we call the inability to remove Al-Sisi or influence his regime’s policies ‘stability’?
Egypt needs reforms in order to address its ailing economy, but these reforms need to be political rather than strictly by the numbers. It’s disingenuous and far removed from reality to claim that a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an answer to Egypt’s ailing economy. The incessant advocacy to impose IMF conditions, such as the value-added tax or lifting of subsidies, is far too reminiscent of the 1977 bread riots. Likewise, back then, subsidies were lifted causing a large wave of protests that left 79 dead and 566 injured. These austerity measures were taken without regard for the political backlash or the context which made these measures back-breaking to the average Egyptian.
Besides, the government is underperforming in most sectors, exhibiting even more incompetence than under Hosni Mubarak. No matter what the plan is, it is unlikely it can be executed efficiently, with the farfetched assumption these are the reforms Egypt needs.
What hope is there for a country whose economy is systemically worsened by pouring state money into a military economy that neither pays taxes nor contributes back to the state budget? How can any tax reforms be sustainable while the military continues to take money out of the economic cycle? What mechanisms or possible oversight could there be for a regime that has ignored its own laws as well as international treaties to further its own political and economic agenda?
Can any loan or condition stop the military from manipulating the market and muscling out competition to push forward its own products and services? What is there to address policies that favour the army’s air conditioning units, bottled water, and food products that cripple civilian competition? Can any condition be imposed to change the contracts that are being delivered directly to the army and revenue not being pumped back into the economy through taxes and parliamentary oversight?
For many in the Egyptian government, corruption is a way of life they’re not willing to give up. Economists advocating loan conditions fail to address these pressing issues that are key to Egypt’s structural economic problems. The present debate sidesteps some of the most important factors that are negatively influencing the economy. Some of these factors include political repression, lack of judiciary reforms, the police state, and military economic interests driving policy.
Ahmed Kamal is a recurring story, symptomatic of a security state that has turned criminal, motivated by narrow economic interests that favour an economic elite over the Egyptian populace. Ahmed won’t show up in the numbers punched up by experts, nor will the nonsensical story provided by the government be questioned.
The present regime has alienated numerous factions of society: doctors, lawyers, journalists, students, youth, businessmen, and even some civil servants. Meanwhile, Egypt holds its own future hostage. Youth are threatened constantly and barred from decision-making circles. Many are detained in jail, tortured or placed under solitary confinement without fair judicial process, and some, like Ahmed, are killed in police custody.
Egypt’s problems will not be solved by applying cosmetic reforms, they will only entrench Egypt deeper down an abyss, like a car stuck in the sand digging itself deeper when the accelerator is pushed hard. Further austerity, which comes hand in hand with state violence and repression, may cause the eruption of an already simmering street. What’s more, even if understated, Egypt cannot move forward as long as stories like Giulio Regeni and Ahmed Kamal and countless others persist. It will take real change and the unchaining of Egypt’s youth—its future—to dig it out of this hole that’s growing deeper by the minute.
First published in DNE on 3 Sept 2016.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Where Hope Lies in Egypt




This article was published in DNE on 2 November 2016.

As calls for protests garner more attention from the media and citizens who have long ignored them, many serious questions about Egypt's trajectory arise. This is perhaps Egypt's most disheartening moment in recent history. Besides the unprecedented scale of human rights abuses, it is obvious to dwellers and onlookers that Egypt's economy is swiftly spiraling towards collapse. The leadership is struggling to keep its head above water, as the long sought after hope of political stability turns frail.

What makes the moment more tragic is not the absence of hope but its fleeting presence. Egypt's path to recovery has long been clear. Yet, the economic interests of the policy makers have stalled any political will to execute them. Economic figures aside, future prospects are primarily based on trust. As conditions worsen and the interests of the political elite become clearer to the average citizen, trust in Egypt's present leadership withers.

Egypt's economic ills are but symptoms of its political ailments, and they require urgent redress. Egypt needs direct political reforms to establish a system capable of executing long-term plans beneficial to the country's future.

At the moment, the majority of decisions are taken by non-elected officials belonging to one security apparatus or another. They have three major motivations: narrow individual interests, securing the present regime, and a revenge agenda against Islamist or secular opposition. Their decisions are not subject to oversight. The parliament's handpicked members are more a representation of security agencies than of the people.

Similarly, the entire political system lacks cheques and balances. There is no manner to challenge decision makers without paying a heavy price. Egypt's top auditor, Hesham Geneina, was removed from his post after releasing statements about his report's findings that indicated mass corruption. In theory, that ought to have triggered an investigation into the government bodies accused of financial violations, but the opposite happened and Geneina was referred to trial.

The absence of balances has also corrupted the market in Egypt. While the army's role in the economy has long been established, the army is now, more than ever, directly involved in policy. This means that generals control the army's share of contracts and the shares of non-military owned companies in the market. Hence, it is not just the army's economic empire that affects the market, but rather the complete hegemony over economic and business policies.

Many civilian companies are subcontracted by the army, but they have no means to litigate against the army if they are extorted in some way or another or their payments delayed. When the army does business, it does not pay taxes; it utilises poorly paid conscripts, and its budget is not subject to parliamentary oversight. Even if the army produces goods or delivers construction projects at a lower cost, there's no way to ensure that profits made are pumped back into the economy. Money is taken out of the monetary cycle.

Private businesses have to compete with military industries that do not have to pay labour, taxes, customs, and transportation, and have no difficulty finding foreign currency to conclude their deals with partners abroad. This arrangement certainly doesn't consider long-term, economic growth.

Egypt's hope lies in the ability to challenge political, economic, and social policies. Egypt must prioritise the country's interests rather than a few individuals who enjoy impunity or corrupt rewards.

To find hope, trust in the process and leadership must be restored. Opportunities must be afforded to clever, competent decision makers. In actionable, concrete terms, hope lies in a parliament comprised of fairly elected representatives of the people willing to challenge the government, in the immediate release of all political prisoners (estimated to be in the tens of thousands), in repealing the flawed Protest Law, in ending the targeting of civil society so that it is vibrant and able to call out abuse of power, and in abiding by the Constitution to call into account all extrajudicial decisions and actions taken by state officials.

These steps are where hope lies in the short term to instill trust, and in order to stand a chance, there's more. The army must gradually distance itself from its hegemonic role in the economy and allow for businesses to operate within a fair and healthy market. There must also be a commitment from the government to end brutal police practices and devise an organisational restructure with meaningful oversight. The judiciary must end punitive rulings that serve the regime.

Egypt's youth, its most important resource and symbol for its future, are targeted instead of embraced. Many are defamed, imprisoned, disappeared, and sidelined. Instead of engaging with youth, the regime opted for a flashy youth conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh. The conference was insulting to many as it attempts to window dress systematic abuses against Egyptian youth each day. A more realistic youth conference would have been held in jails where many politically enlightened youth are being held. At this more legitimate youth conference, we would have witnessed Egypt's forcibly disappeared youth reappear and go home with their families.

Empty rhetoric and obstinacy is the regime's alternative to meaningful change. False promises for a better future only entrench Egypt deeper into its failing trajectory. Egypt's hope lies in investing in youth and accountability; hopes that Egypt's trajectory miraculously changes without real reforms are lies.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Repitition

There's little real in politics to talk about which hasn't already been said. It feels as though people take a long time to catch up with what is happening. Each time I start writing, it feels I've said these things before and the repeat causes the sentences to be more robotic, less passionate, seemingly more rehearsed.

I read through my old stuff and I realize I gave it my all. Maybe someone out there has read what I tried my best to honestly reveal. Maybe someone out there was inspired to do the same. I'm tired of repetition and it feels I've been on a break from saying things how they are. 

I'm not sure when I'll return.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

On Bubbles



There's a bit of a trend to try and describe some communities as living in a bubble.The idea has become so deformed that people use the term incorrectly. So if people are interacting on twitter sharing similar views, they call it a bubble, if people have facebook timelines which show only their supporting views they call it a bubble, when revolutionaries are talking about torture and police brutality while most citizens don't, they call it a bubble.

I don't think people really understand what a bubble is as opposed to a community. A bubble is mostly defined by an unawareness of those around you, not by your preferences. You can't be in a musical rock bubble if you're aware that others like hip hop or house. The fact that you have a different taste or preference doesn't place you in a bubble. When you have preferences that are not mainstream, it doesn't put you in a bubble.

Bubble here is being oblivious to the reality of the world around you rather than relates to the choices you make. One particular example that stands out is the revolutionary bubble, which is complete nonsense. Revolutionaries are perhaps some of the most aware people of the existing contradictions in the country and the different communities and 'bubbles' out there. The fact that they've chosen a set of tastes and principles doesn't put them inside a bubble, particularly that their main concerns are the bitter realities of regime brutality that others want to shield themselves from.

The fact that other communities are not so accessible to them so that they can influence them doesn't put them inside a bubble, they just don't have means.

Also worrying is how many, even from within these circles, completely discard revolutionaries or activists as citizens. There is a form of elitism shrouded in the appearance of humility there. These activists are citizens too and just because they are trying to change things beyond their local scope doesn't invalidate their citizenship or opinions and most certainly doesn't warrant describing the whole lot of them as living in a bubble. In some sense, revolutionaries are the biggest non government sponsored coalition whose cohesion is based on a set of principles rather than an an institution.



People have used the term bubble to express their escape from the madness, in that sense it's building your own defenses against the surrounding madness, but there's a difference between choosing to isolate yourself and being oblivious to what is around you.

The More We Kill

The more we kill in absence of rule of law, the more we lose. The more we cheer for these killings, the more we lose. The more we repress in the name of fighting extremists, the more extreme we become. The war on terror feels like a hole growing bigger every time you think you've removed something from it. We may be defeating one brand of terrorists but we're creating more and expanding the pool.
Terror can still prevail even if 'terrorists' do not.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Dutch Ambassador to Egypt and I - How I got blocked by a diplomat

Below is a screenshot of a series of tweets and interactions with the Dutch ambassador to Egypt in which he claimed Egypt has made progress on the path towards democracy. Having checked the speech and seeing these responses, I called out the Dutch ambassador on what he described as democratic progress. 

He implied that I did not have the gift of close and contextual reading. 

All this is okay but what is note worthy is that the ambassador used to follow me on twitter, and furthermore extended an invite to discuss the topic further at his office. That is why it is all the more perplexing that at some point following this conversation I was blocked on twitter by this ambassador.

That's not very diplomatic is it?

Here is a link to the original tweet: https://twitter.com/RenaNetjes/status/725626112303321088





Thursday, April 28, 2016

Islands transfer backs Al-Sisi’s regime further into corner


The regime has its back to the wall. Egypt’s president, reputed for his hyper-nationalism, has made concessions about what is viewed by many as Egyptian land. The transfer of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which control the straits of Tiran, has angered many Egyptians, particularly in light of what seems like a covertly negotiated deal.
The historical rights to the islands have been in contention for some time, but the idea of unilaterally giving up the islands without consultation or referendum has called the decision into question. Egypt’s decision to deny Israel access to the straits of Tiran was one of the primary motivations for the 1967 war.
The decision has sparked protests across the country, despite the tight security grip that has pervaded Al-Sisi’s rule. On 15 April, a large protest, dubbed the Friday of the Land, gathered several thousands who were allowed to protest for a few hours before autonomously dispersing and calling for new protests on 25 April, which marks Sinai Liberation Day.
It is important to note that both these protests were marked with a revolutionary fervour that indicated that the dissatisfaction of those willing to protest extended beyond the decision to hand over the islands. Under Al-Sisi, Egypt has experienced dire economic conditions and the largest violations of human rights in its recent history.
More and more, Egyptians are realising they are dealing with a government that cannot be swayed or petitioned. Parliament, marred by a low turnout, has exhibited signs that it will not do much to oppose the government of its own accord. Mainstream media have become nothing but puppets for security agencies.
While the 25 April protests did not manage to congregate freely, nor create the customary marches with chants and slogans to denounce the transfer of the islands and the Al-Sisi regime, the attempts themselves cannot be written off—they offer an insight into what to expect in Egypt’s future.
A few observations are in order. Numerous protests were being formed and dispersed across the capital after two of the three previously announced venues had been closed off, namely the Press Syndicate and the Doctors Syndicate. The third location, Behouth metro station, was filled with informants who went through the phones of people they suspected, in an attempt to clamp down on protests before they began.
When protests moved to Messaha Square in Dokki and people gathered outside the Al-Karama Party headquarters, the police continued to clamp down on these. Yet, even as police raided the headquarters and arrested several dozens, the young determined protesters did not just go home, but attempted to assemble again and remained within a stone’s throw of the police. As passersby questioned the commotion, officers falsely informed them that they were dealing with a Muslim Brotherhood situation.
Many were determined to join the protests, and would have, had they survived the dispersal by the police, informants and conscripts dressed in civilian clothes, transported using Central Security Forces (CSF) trucks. There were many new faces of young people determined to protest despite the dangers and the hundreds arrested on the day and prior.
These non-protests were more telling of the spirit of determination present in revolutionary youth, perhaps even more than if the protests were allowed to run their course. People who joined the protests were aware of the dangers of standing up to a regime that never shied away from expressing its lust for brutality.
But the islands transfer is not the only trouble Al-Sisi is facing. A Reuters news piece has emerged recently claiming that young Italian PhD candidate Giulio Regini was held in police custody prior to his murder. This contradicts Egypt’s official narrative and, if proven, it would implicate the Al-Sisi regime with a cover up, which adds to the mounting pressure worldwide to understand the truth about Regeni’s murder.
The United Kingdom has already been forced into providing a response after a petition to pressure the UK to take steps to ensure a full investigation of Regeni’s death. The response indicates awareness of the implication of Egypt’s security forces as suspects, even if not yet proven.
On the home front, there may be dissatisfaction within the ranks with regards to the islands transfer, due to the professed patriotic nature of the army. Al-Sisi was reported to have expressed a wish not to see a repeat of 15 April protests—something which presidency has denied—but the events of 25 April cast major doubts on such a denial. In effect, with the allowing of protests that supported the islands transfer and the raising of the Saudi flag in Tahrir and Talaat Harb squares, yet at the same time quelling any protests against it, the regime’s apparatus, including the police and the army, are being viewed as less nationalistic, which may affect morale.
The ailing economy is contributing to the disgruntlement and, to make matters worse, Al-Sisi must make some concessions to Saudi Arabia, which has helped bail out his regime by providing economic aid and energy subsidies. While Al-Sisi was not able to provide Saudi Arabia with the troops they requested for Yemen, the island seemed like an adequate way to make amends, yet that too is not an easy deal to sell on the home front.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has little choice but to continue his existential fight for power. He has already hedged his bets on his brutal police generals, along with some of the most disreputably corrupt officials, to run the government. How could Egypt’s generals deal with mounting dissatisfaction with the economy, the island transfers, and the mounting pressure from abroad to hold Regini’s murderers accountable?
The political arena in Egypt is in disarray, with an absence of balance in power merely camouflaged by the security apparatus’ iron grip. Egypt, and in particular its ruling class, must come to terms with that fact that some concessions must be made locally in order to achieve some stability. This would mean rolling back some of the hazardous policies enacted by Al-Sisi when he had free reign. Yet, the question remains, are those in power willing to concede to this reality, or will Egypt continue on its crash course?
First published in DNE on April 26, 2016

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Why Some Egyptians Believe Islamists Killed Giulio Regeni





In a recent speech, Sisi finally confessed that taking down the Russian plane was a breech in Egyptian security and an act perpetrated by extremists. In the same breath he alluded to the murder of Giulio Regeni as a similar act, hence fortifying whatever predisposition loyal Egyptians had that he was killed by Islamists to frame the Egyptian regime.

The first murder of a Morsi supporter following the July 3 military takeover was caught on tape outside the Republican Guard headquarters on 5 July when the army shot and killed three pro Morsi protesters. I did not want to believe we had so quickly descended into the same violence and brutality we had fought so vehemently against under Mubarak, SCAF and Mohamed Morsi. That first kill meant a complete return to SCAF days where the military was rampant, vicious and as always, unaccountable. In utter disbelief and in the hopes of averting reality, I rushed to examine the evidence, I saw a few videos showing the shooting, from different angles, along with photos of the poor man's head which had been shot.

No sooner had the young man been shot and media circulated social media, conspiracy theories started to appear to salvage the narrative that things have not descended into the same old crimes and impunity. I remember being dragged into these theories in the remote hopes that they would pan out and we would not have to once again confront the military's crimes. Please let it be something else, please let it be something else I thought to myself.

Duly like an apologist, I began to examine the pictures, the videos and the testimonies. I looked at theories that postulated that it they were Muslim Brotherhood supporters who shot themselves in order to frame the military. It seems so silly now, but I had to treat it seriously, maybe it would offer salvation. The evidence pointed to a black car in the background passing at the exact same moment he was shot. There were also photos of his head with a small wound entering, and the back of the head blown off, indicating, by those theorists, that he had been shot from the back.

I entertained all these ideas and posted them and got into discussions. I may have even ignored Jeremy Bowen's testimony regarding that incident which he witnessed in order to give these conspiracies the benefit of the doubt. While some people responded to me by saying, “How could you?”others were very objective and dispelled all these lunacies. Exit wounds were larger than entry wounds, both angles show that the soldier shot him, there was no evidence that the black car fired any shots and more than that, the military was armed, accustomed to killing and it made no sense for protesters to kill their own instead of military personnel.

From that day onwards I toyed around with theories to explore them but was never able to dedicate that much attention or give them credence as much as I did the first time. The rest of the kills were about sometimes entertaining ideas of how justified they could have been, but never buying into it.

The Rabaa massacre was the price paid by Egyptians who entertained conspiracy theories and found justifications for the regime as they continued to kill innocent people with impunity. Many are not even aware of how monumental that price is till today and continue to argue there was no other way.

Five years into the revolution, a wider base of opposition was created thanks to the uprising in 2011, but that sheer number lead to more brutality against the growing number of dissidents. Crimes against humanity are as widespread as never before, forced disappearances, torture,.. With every escalating brutality comes its own set of conspiracies and justifications. The simple harsh reality of brutal criminal security forces in itself too brutal to handle in the minds of many.

This brings us to the brutal killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni who was kidnapped on January 25 and tortured to death with cigarette burns, stab wounds, broken ribs and signs of electrocution all over his body. The act is seemingly unprecedented, although a Frenchman was killed by the police in September 2013. Yet the disappearance the brutality and the manner with which it happened has only been customary with Egyptians, never with a foreigner.

The fact that it is seemingly unprecedented was enough for many who cannot deal with this as an escalation in brutality as another conspiracy theory. It must have been the Islamists that kidnapped young Giulio, tortured him exactly like the Egyptian police and dumped his body to implicate the police, who would, sure, do this to an Egyptian, but never in a hundred years would they do this to a foreigner. That is the rhetoric and the main reasoning, despite the army killing eight Mexican tourists, which they would claim is different because it was an accident.

It wasn't the media campaign and pressure from the Italian government that caused authorities to dump the body, no it was a perfectly timed plan by Islamists. To feed into this convenient conspiracy theory, a security affiliated newspaper, Youm 7, purposefully mistranslated security forces to Muslim Brotherhood from an Italian paper that postulated that Regeni could have been killed by a rival security agency to undermine Sisi. In another strange twist, another Italian paper reported on the mistranslated Youm 7 article that claimed it was the Muslim Brotherhood who killed Regeni. To make matters worse, an Italian paper noted that eyewitnesses in the NY Times piece who described how Giulio Regeni was taken by plain clothed policemen were not consistent in terms of timing with what they had found on Giulio Regeni's messages which indicated he was able to text 2 hours after the alleged arrest by authorities.

This to them seems like a golden opportunity to discount not just the eyewitnesses but the three security sources cited in the NYT piece indicating that Giulio was in police custody before his death.

The most enlightened of them would say that we still do not know what has happened and that investigations are underway, so we should not point fingers, and yet in the same moment, the mere mention of the Muslim Brotherhood in an Italian piece, has caused some on occasion to jump to the conclusion that investigators suspect the Muslim Brotherhood. Having examined the said paragraph it only commented that trade unions were monitored by the regime and garnered the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood who sought to create unrest. That unrest was all too quickly concluded by the apologists to be the murder of Giulio Regeni.

There are many benefits and motivations of having Islamists kill Regeni instead of the regime. It would confirm the bias that Islamists are an absolute evil, it would offer hope that while Egyptian police do this to Egyptians, there is still hope they are responsible enough not to do this to foreigners. But in reality, many also understand that the police would never own up if they had done this and the international implications if they did would be huge, and would mean that this is indeed a criminal regime that is far too brutal and ugly to carry the country forward.

It is fear of confronting such a reality that drives some to believe that it isn't the police, although I'm very certain many know deep down inside, just like I did when I examined the first murder, that Egyptian security forces the most likely culprits of this heinous crime. It doesn't even matter that the Ministry of Interior sent out instructions in a periodic secret memo, shortly after Giulio's murder, not to take action against foreigners without informing state security and the ministry of interior.



Denial is an endless river in Egypt, and it is surprising what you can find if you're looking for it and how easy it is to ignore reality.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Zacchaeus

When I was young, it was visible that I would always be short in stature. While that quality of being short was in my physical stature, it never was in my stature as a character. I had always wanted to please others and wanted nothing but for them to like me. Whether this desire to please and this search for love was due to my own physical deficiencies, I shall never know, but by the time I was old enough to understand other things in life, I was old enough to understand my physical inferiority.

I do admit that being short developed in me an inferiority complex that wasn't bettered by other kids who were around. I dare say they were abusive and unkind to an extent that caused me bitter nights and utter self disdain. I had been shrewd with numbers, and that competence did nothing but add to the discrimination I faced from the other boys in the yard. I was a hard worker and would put myself through hell to give my best to a team I belonged to, but that was never put to the test as no one wanted to have me on their team.

The years passed by and each day was filled with an incident or two where I was rejected and mocked. I remember one time when I had been given many figs by my parents to take to school and I had wanted to share them. Having offered the other kids some, they turned me down, but to top it off, just when I was about to eat one, one of the boys came and snatched it away from me. I wasn't too upset, and I reached for the basket to offer him some more, but I realized that the other kids had already reached for it and taken it. They ate some and played around with others and threw them on the ground. I cried that day, and I felt so much pity for myself, not so much for them taking away my basket but because they would rather fool around with what I offered than to accept it when offered from me.

From that day onwards I decided never to have pity on myself and I decided that I would show them all. The hate I had for myself had surpassed all limits and had turned against the other kids. By time, as I realized I was not going to get treated any better ,my hate spread to all those around me, all those whom I suspected to mock me behind my back. I realized I was never going to be accepted, and I decided I had no need to.

I no longer tried to hide my talent at school and aced all the exams, and I no longer cared for others' mockery or their affection for that matter. I was more and more determined to succeed without the help of others. Even while still learning I had learnt the secrets of trading, I had nothing to lose and so I took big risks and dealt with the buying and selling of many items, till I had more than most around me.

When I'd grown, I became known to be rich and somehow all those who were around me started treating me differently since they were still stuck in poverty. I started lending money to people around me and demand great interest. I was found to be shrewd and so the Roman Empire deemed it fit for me to be a tax collector. I had no problems collecting taxes from all those around, most of whom had mistreated me.

With time I had the power to collect money from everyone around, I would take more sometimes from those who reminded me most of the hatred that was directed towards me and the hatred I felt for them. I plundered, but their sorrow and desperation was never enough for me, for though I wanted them to suffer for what they did to me, what I inwardly wanted was for them to accept me.

I still wanted their acceptance and I wanted their love, but I had not even admitted that to myself. The more I felt the need for others to love me, the more I hurt them and made them hate me. I was alone, entirely alone but it didn't matter because I had always been alone. It didn't matter that they hated me, because they always hated me.

Then one day I heard of a great prophet that was passing through, a man of great deeds and ultimate kindness. When I heard that this healer was passing through, I screamed at the messenger, "yet another one of them who will preach to us our duties and point out our sins." Yet in my heart I had said, "if only he can heal this hatred."

I saw him from afar, surrounded by crowds of people, swarming all over him. I could not see him properly, but I observed the parade as it moved forward. My height denied me any vision of what was happening and even my standing as a rich tax collector would not have any of the simple people give way. I looked at the path they were taking and saw a sycamore fig tree. I decided I must climb up to see who this so called compassionate and kind teacher was.

In my heart I had hoped that this man would show to me or to people the sort of kindness I had only dreamt of as a kid, but in my mind I knew that there was nothing that would change. I struggled hard to get on top of that tree, and by the time I was up the parade had moved towards me. When the prophet had reached the spot, he looked up and said to me, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."

Despite all my thoughts, my heart was filled with gladness. This prophet had stopped and chose me of all the people. This man whom many swarmed around did not rebuke me and did not choose any of those others, but chose me, someone filled with hatred and darkness. I was overwhelmed with joy despite all my thoughts, this great man had chosen me. How had he known my name? How had he heard of me? I was close to tears but would not let it show. I was broken by his kindness to me, something I was rarely shown.

The people were still unkind, and kept making references to how the prophet had chosen a sinner's house to go to. I knew I had shown them as much unkindness as well, and I had cheated them and hurt them, but they had shown me the same too. In any case, it did not matter, I was accepted by he who they seek approval from. I had forgiven all that had happened to me because I felt love from that man. I felt guilty for having returned their hatred with hatred. The reason I had gathered up all that money was to bring myself satisfaction through revenge, but the more and more I piled up and the more I cheated those around, the less satisfaction I got. I didn't care about money, I just wanted kindness, so I stood up and said, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

The man who was called Jesus replied saying, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."





Sunday, November 29, 2015

Egyptians disappear, Egypt disintegrates

Nabil Elboustany was on his way to Sinai on 6 October to meet his brother Tarek for vacation. At a checkpoint just outside Sharm El-Sheikh, the police performed a background check on Nabil and found him on their system due to an old case that included trumped up charges of which he had been acquitted. Tarek arrived to the checkpoint only to find the police adamant, even after Nabil had presented a copy of his acquittal which he carried with him. Tarek’s friend, who was also present at the time, attempted to win the officer’s favour, but while talks were underway, the military stepped in to take Nabil to a nearby camp in Sinai.
Tarek went with his brother in the army jeep to the camp. Upon their arrival, he was told he was not allowed into the camp, and so he decided to wait outside for his brother’s release. By nightfall, the military issued Tarek a stern warning that he may himself arrested or worse if he didn’t leave. Reluctantly, Tarek left the camp, returning the next day only to find what he had feared the most had happened, the army had disappeared his brother Nabil.
Nabil’s story is of a state gone renegade beyond its traditional framework of oppression.  Tarek proceeded to look for his brother in numerous army camps in Suez and Ismailia. He was keen to pursue every legal means to find his brother so as not to upset authorities who seem to take offense to any public calls for justice. Yet all of Tarek’s attempts have failed. He found out through some back channels that his brother is in Ismailiya, while some other sources indicated he was in Suez. But the official military story remains that they don’t have him. He is not sure if Nabil is being kept until after elections, or if his brother will be slapped with trumped up charges related to some random terror case as we’ve seen happen before.
The entire legal system in Egypt, along with rights defenders and diplomats seem helpless in the face of a military that has decided to disappear a young man on a whim and deny his family even the right to know why this has happened to him. In fact, the current order has deemed citizens searching for their rights, impotent and incapable of addressing injustices inflicted upon them or their loved ones.
There have been 215 cases of forced disappearances documented in August and September alone by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF), according to its director Mohamed Lotfy. Earlier, there have been 163 cases documented by the campaign Freedom for the Brave from April to June.
The forced disappearances, the impunity, the lawlessness by which the current regime operates are signs of a disintegrating state. The most dangerous indication of the forced disappearances is that the state’s own oppressive mechanisms enforced by the law don’t seem enough, and so the state is forced to enter into extrajudicial immoral measures in order to handle perceived threats. It’s not just forced disappearances, but several incidents of assassinations or extrajudicial killings have taken place over the course of the last few months.
When there is no order, people’s beliefs about what the state does changes, and instead of respect for the body that purportedly upholds justice, it turns into resentment and every act of money collection is viewed as extortion.
Similarly, in a shocking yet not so surprising move that reeks of fear or resentment, (both of which should not be the basis of governing), a scientific lecture about the planet Mars by scientist Essam Heggy was cancelled due to security reasons. It is known that Heggy was critical of the AIDS cure announced by the army in February 2014.
Faith in the current regime and its promised reforms is already fading, with an extremely low turnout, doctored yet again by the elections apparatus to reach over 26% instead of the 6% announced by the head of the judges club. It is unclear who believes the presently announced number.
As Egypt turns more towards its old stable oligarchy through a new legitimately stillborn parliament full of notoriously corrupt figures, western powers remain content with the trajectory, as long as their own economy is thriving.
Nabil and hundreds like him languish in prisons without charge. His family and many others are living a nightmare unable to find a son or daughter forcibly disappeared. What’s worse, the regime’s actions are sponsored by the international community’s indifference or complicit silence.
The silence is justified by a desire for a ‘stable Egypt’ under Al-Sisi, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case. Workers are becoming disgruntled as the country moves towards an economic abyss. The pound is losing worth and there is a marked increase in the intensity of strikes such as the recent Mahalla strikewhich started 19 October.
Al-Sisi prepares to visit the UK to obtain even more international support, and all of the Nabils out there will not matter inside rooms where the most sinister deals are drawn up at the expense of individuals. The most we’d ever get is a complacent question, shrugged off by the visiting oppressor and accepted by a sinister politician enabling the disappearance of Nabil and many others like them.
To the populace, Nabil is just another name. People disappearing or ending up in prisons tend to seem like numbers in “the war against terror”. But those people are real, and so are their families and their sufferings. Individuals who support this regime’s actions are real as well. The deals they strike at the expense of others are also very real. As the state resorts to extrajudicial measures to punish its citizens, it starts to disintegrate, and so does our humanity with our continued silence.
First published in DNE, on 1 Nov 2015.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Mysterious Case of Falsely Imprisoned Ahmed Abdel Rahman





In a different country, it would be a policeman fending off against the assault on women by a hound of rabid civilians dragging them violently in the street in plain view, but this is Egypt. It was a passer-by, an ordinary young citizen from Aswan, who saw women being dragged and beaten by men in plain clothes and was moved to intervene to protect the women.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman was arrested when it turned out that the thugs he had been protecting the women against were plain clothed policemen, and for his chivalry he was sentenced to five years in prison. His sentence matches that handed to one of Egypt’s most prominent prisoners of conscience, Alaa Abdel Fattah, sentenced in the same case.

The Shura Protest, as it came to be known, was a protest planned before the Protest Law was issued on 24 November 2013, but took place just after, on 26 November. It protested articles in the constitution at the time of its writing which allowed for the military trials for civilians, thus denying citizens a fair trial. Most of the Shura protest prisoners had their prison sentences pre-empted after serving over a year, through a presidential pardon in September 2015. The chivalrous Ahmed Abdel Rahman was not among those pardoned.

It is unlikely that the names pardoned were picked at random; it is almost certain that those imprisoned in political cases were all on the same list, including names like Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Douma, Mahienour El-Massry, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel. Somebody at the top studied the list and scratched off the names that should not be pardoned. As frustrating as it is that some names were scratched off the pardon list, it’s still understandable that they were viewed as political adversaries to the regime.



But what doesn’t make sense is to scratch off Ahmed Abdel Rahman’s name from those who would be pardoned. Why would he remain while others have been freed? This young man was not even part of the political protest. The explanation that it is incompetence is one we’ve grown accustomed to, but seeing a name and scratching it off seems far more deliberate. How was Ahmed Abdel Rahman described to the pardoning authorities? Was he described as a name caught up in the events, who had nothing to do with the political opposition? Were names picked based on those whose release resulted in a political win? Or was he perhaps described as a passer-by, who had nothing to do with the cause that was protested? That he did not think much about the dangers of entrenching military trials for civilians in the constitution, but felt compelled out of sheer humanity to stand up against an injustice he witnessed?

One of the first protests I witnessed was the famous Khaled Said protest in Lazoghli. “The regime’s biggest threat is the average protester; someone who is not well connected, not overly political and not influential,” explained a human rights defender who had monitored similar protests as we watched protesters beaten and dragged away. He explained that the regime will let go of political activists, but their fear is when an average citizen turns into a protester.

Perhaps that’s how Ahmed Abdel Rahman was reported, as a citizen capable of becoming politicised, daring to stand up to plain clothed thugs. Maybe he was too reminiscent of Sambo, another citizen who helped organise protests against the police back in November 2011 and was referred to a military tribunal. Protesters are anything but average at times when the regime has made it clear that the risks include being shot, assaulted, tortured and imprisoned. Likewise, Ahmed Abdel Rahman is no average citizen; he is someone who has moved in defence of the defenceless, against a group that does not even uphold their own laws. For that, he was crucified with the rest, and while many were released, he remains.

That innocent people remain locked inside the regime’s prisons is not surprising, having been attested by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi himself in a publicised speech. Even now, Shawkan, a photojournalist, remains in prison without trial exceeding the maximum time allowed for pre-trial detentions as stipulated by the Egyptian law. Likewise, Mahmoud Hussein, who was arrested while still a minor, remains in pre-trial detention for over 600 days for wearing a ‘no to torture’ t-shirt.

Yet, it remains a mystery as to why these injustices are not rectified, particularly with advertised attempts to pre-empt some of the injustices with something like the presidential pardon. It is as though an inverse sort of morality is being established, where the exception is to release the innocent. Even as a hundred were released, it seems the regime is adamant on replacing them by continued attempts to arrest, imprison and kidnap activists. In a different country,

Ahmed Abdel Rahman would have been the first released after his arrest, he would have been the first acquitted in a trial, the first pardoned irrespective of the political misgivings Al-Sisi has with politicised youth. But this is not a different country, this is Egypt.

First published in DNE on 6 October 2015. Translated to Arabic in Sasa Post.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

To Those Who Will Not Read These Words


I've often stared at a blank page recently, just as blankly as the uniform whiteness looked back at me, as I thought how to smear it with something meaningful. My words sometimes flow, but most times I’m filled with the thought of what little they will do. Even now, the futility of addressing those that refuse to be addressed persists in the back of my head as I try to write.
It is unfortunate that I have to think often of those who do not want to read my words, but it is they, with their complacency and blind support for injustices, who have allowed my friends to be targeted, assaulted and locked in cages without having done wrong. It has come to my attention that it’s not just the oppressor who is to blame, but it’s the multitude who have chosen not address injustices and cheer them on that protects him.
I have time and time again engaged with those I would rather not address, in the hope of lobbying for my imprisoned and tortured friends. I have taken numerous routes but they have all failed. I can sense that some, including those who know me well, want me locked up with the others. The more bearable of them have responded that we have no choice but to allow these atrocities, because “you and your friends have failed”.
How did I and a group of other people suddenly all become an entity? When did my friends and I become responsible for ridding this country of its injustices, I wonder? Was it the minute we saw it? Was it the minute we voiced it? Was it the minute we experienced it? I cannot place that moment in time when I was lumped up with others who share my values as guardians of the country to fix a brutal police force without any guns, or a crony military without any command, or an unjust judiciary without any power. I cannot place that moment when we had to rid bureaucracy of its deep corruption, or put the corrupt businessmen in check.
I cannot place the moment when, all of a sudden, seeing things for what they are put me in a certain camp and demanded more of me than it did of others cheering on brutality. I’ve always thought of myself as an individual, but seeing things in a manner different to those who seek the status quo has earned me a place of blame.
I do not want to count how many of the people I know personally are targeted, assaulted, put in prison. Many I’ve known well, some our paths crossed often, even more close friends to my friends. I do not want to count because it will be sad and seemingly finite for what seems like infinite injustice. Many are not as well known to others as Alaa Abel Fattah, Yara Sallam, Sanaa Seif and Mahienour El-Massry, but they are no less valuable. Among those imprisoned are some of the finest and bravest people I’ve come to know across the world, and I’ve done my fair share of travelling.
It is not a coincidence that the finest are in jail or targeted. They are there because of that. Many are not just a case of an unfortunate loss of people with integrity who have been sentenced for other reasons. They are in there because of their positions and their integrity.
From those who will not listen to my words and reasoning, I have been asked why I even bother about what silly things greedy men with power do. On the one hand, I care because there are many people I know behind bars, suffering the extreme heat of the summer and the harsh winter cold, next to other, things I don’t even want to begin to imagine. On the other hand, I see myself in others who may have shared this same fate and I care because I would not wish such a tragedy upon myself, and if it happens, I would wish at the very least that others remember me and speak on my behalf.
I still care and speak because they are even more voiceless than I am. My words mean nothing to those who wish to imprison an entire generation, and their supporters, but perhaps they will mean something to the unjustly targeted in some bizarre cosmic manner that I do not comprehend. I write some words, knowing how unwilling the people I want to address are to listen.
Many friends who have seen me vocal have approached me worriedly. “Take it down a notch,” they said. “We’re worried about you”.
Whether they support the regime or not, they understand the brutality of the regime and how vicious they can be if they target someone. They may kidnap, jail, falsify charges, they may assault, perform a legal or criminal activity depending on how much they are angered or view my expression as risk. They have done all the aforementioned before, and there are few reasons why they won’t do this again, because in most cases, they can get away with it.
To be silent at a time when others I’ve known have paid much more than just fear of harm seems cowardly. My usual silence is out of despair or inability to express something meaningful, but it should not be fear of harm, particularly with no direct imminent threats.
Even now, I say nothing of value, just an expression of where I’m at, with nothing new to offer those I would have loved to address. But what if I had to say something to which they would listen? What would it be?
I would say: Your values and beliefs are worth something, they can crown the oppressor and hurt the innocent. Your fears, your thirst for survival, they’re not excuses to support the crucifixion of those who hold ideas and values contrary to yours, or to look away nonchalantly telling yourselves there’s nothing you can do. The choice between morals and survival is a false choice, and we can still survive salvaging some of our humanity.
I would tell them the law by which thousands have been arrested is not applied uniformly or justly, and we’ve seen the enforcers of the law break it and escape its unjust punishment. I would tell them, there are those detained without charge, targeted brutally without cause and there are those who have committed heinous crimes yet are permitted to walk free.
Yet those I want to talk to don’t have ears for my words, don’t visit the sites I do, don’t believe the things I do, don’t feel the things these words are meant to make them see.
First published in Daily News Egypt, 31 Aug,2015