Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Advice to Revolutionaries

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

A False Sense of Security: The Egyptian Military’s Lost Bet on the Police

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.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Myths, Sheep and Bootlickers

Poster by El Teneen

Myths  Rabaa supporters must believe to continue supporting  what they do

  1. Morsi is the legitimate president of Egypt because he is democratically elected
  2. The MB never ruled because they were never really given a chance to
  3. The failure of Morsi’s rule is due to a conspiracy by the media
  4. The failure of Morsi’s rule is due to a conspiracy by felool (and sometimes Copts)
  5. 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
  6. The numbers of June 30 weren’t really that big
  7. Morsi had his mistakes, but they were political mistakes not crimes worthy of removing him from power
  8. The Sisi regime is much worse than Morsi’s and that’s why the Muslim Brotherhood members did not object to Morsi’s rule
  9. Elections were free and fair under SCAF
  10. SCAF cannot hold free and fair elections now
  11. Protesters under SCAF and Morsi were hired thugs
  12. MB protesters are not violent

Myths military supporters must believe to continue supporting what they do

  1. All Muslim Brotherhood members are terrorists
  2. The state is fighting a war on terror
  3. The police has been reformed
  4. Those who have been killed in Rabaa deserved to die and the crackdown is justified
  5. The new road map is the path to stability
  6. The army is patriotic and has stood by the people
  7. This is not a coup, this is a revolution
  8. Revolutionaries are naïve or funded from abroad and do nothing but protest
  9. We must vote yes to the constitution even if we do not like everything in it
  10. We can change the constitution at any time
  11. Military trials are a necessity
  12. State Security no longer exists in its oppressive vindictive brutal form

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Land of Fallen Heroes

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 lead 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

In Memory of Mohamed Mahmoud: Nothing Left to Do but Look

Photo: Mos'ab ElShami
Even I cannot comprehend it; these ordinary people, extraordinary in their bravery, fighting off the gruesome beasts of an ugly regime that refuses to die. Two years ago, these ordinary people, these protesters took to a street off of Tahrir Square, facing security forces for four days in some of the most brutal clashes the country had witnessed since the eighteen day uprising. Some of the biggest questions about the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes persist to this day. What was the point? What did they aim to achieve? 

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

The Bassem Youssef Hypocrisy

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

Why Ikhwan Protests Won’t Work

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.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Remembering the Maspero Massacre: The Sectarian State Lives On

Mina Daniel's Autopsy report: "Projectile entered the upper chest and exited from the lower back"

Maspero is on my mind. Yet I find no words to express my feelings. It's no longer sadness, defeat or anger. It's something hallow. I've already collected most of what there is to see, written about how horrible it was, and remembered it last year with a post that aims to look deeper into it. This year, I feel less competent to express anything of value, but I write because I feel I must express what little there is to express.

There is something deeply saddening about the memory this time around. Perhaps it's because people are cheering on an army that crushed protesters mercilessly just because they were Copts and shall not retaliate. Perhaps it's because people are cheering on the unreformed regime that incited against a large section of society through it's state owned media without any real provocation. Perhaps it's because people believe that the regime has been reformed magically without a single serious step to lead them to believe so.

Maybe it's all of these things and more, but to me I'm saddened that where we are now leaves more to be desired. There is a sad and flawed assumption that it is only the MB and Salafis that are sectarian and the corollary of that, is that when they've been removed, all the sectarianism has disappeared. 

This is still a sectarian state, with its army and intelligence still considering anyone Shiite, Christian, Nubian, Baha'i or from Sinai a potential traitor. There is still a sectarian state that will not protect Copts, or other minorities, nor bring the perpetrators to justice. There's still a sectarian state that does not care for citizens and classifies their worth based on their origins or social status. There's still a state we marched against and tied our ropes around its neck in attempts to bring it down.There's still a state with all its flaws, but a people that are willing to turn a blind eye to its flawed structure yet again.

I doubt there's anything words can express about this matter that does the heart justice. It's perhaps well and good that it was decided that it would be a silent protest opposite Maspero. Our voices were mostly inaudible anyway.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Rabaa has Come to Symbolize

‘The Rabaa symbol has come to symbolize peaceful resistance,’ someone once wrote me. These words could not have been further from the truth.

I’ve come to think what Rabaa has come to symbolized for me. It symbolizes Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it symbolizes everything I’m not. They are supporters whose voices were heard throughout the past two and a half years. Their voices, however, were not calling for democracy, justice or freedom but to condemn our stance against the military, support military trials, support injustices when carried out by the military or the Muslim Brotherhood.

It’s not that Rabaa wasn’t yet another brutal atrocity green lighted by the army and executed by the police. It’s the reaction of the supporters of the sit-in who once again chose to distort the truth. The trouble with Rabaa supporters is that they’re either lying to us or propagating lies they believe to be true.

The MB narrative is simple enough. Everyone conspired against Morsi from day one, and in the end the army moved to remove him. This narrative is straight forward enough for the simple minded but observing one of Morsi’s many authoritative actions is enough to dispel it. If Morsi did not control the police why did they target his opponents? If Morsi favoured justice, why did his own Minister of Justice lie to protect the police? If Morsi was a democrat, how did he manage to alienate the many voices that supported him before he became president?

It’s impossible to highlight all the lies in the Rabaa narrative. But maybe some examples relating to the events might help. Never mind mounting evidence of torture in the camps, there is the assumption there were no armed elements within the protest. Firearms were used in Rabaa and Nahda. To use a similar phrase to their dethroned leader, use of firearms and peaceful don’t mix.

There are many more omissions that make the narrative deceitful and dishonest. The Rabaa sit-in even started from before the ‘coup’ while Morsi was in power. It was started through orders from the Muslim Brotherhood leaders with no specific purpose except perhaps to counteract the mobilization for June 30.
The rallies were always pro Morsi, even from before he was deposed. It is a hard sell to say that it turned into pro democracy rallies, particularly with evidence to point that the change in rhetoric was prompted.
The rallies have always been sectarian, at times claiming there were Christians who joined their ranks, but simultaneously calling out ‘Islameya, Islameya’. The signs all turned from Arabic to English to cater to a western audience that was angered by Morsi’s ouster, yet the violent and sectarian messages in Arabic were lost in translation. There are far too many examples of facts that discredit the entire MB narrative, but in the end, it’s not the individual lies but the attitude of malicious distortion that the Rabaa icon has come to symbolize.
There is no attempt to vilify those supporting Rabaa or those who were present or those who died. Many were unarmed and did not deserve to die. Many were indeed kind people, who are likable in person. There is no reason why they should be villains to stand for something I’m against.
There is also no attempt to lump them into one homogeneous group. There are those who knew why they were there, some who didn’t. There were some who were there despite the hardships of the sit-in and those who were there because these hardships were better than their life back in their homes. There were some who knew there were weapons in the sit-in and many others who did not. There were some who knew the risks and some who did not.
Overall, people were there for different reasons and hence those that died, died for different reasons, not just the MB. Some died out of necessity of being there, some died for the MB, some died thinking they were protecting legitimacy and others died thinking they were protecting Islam. In the end, they were sacrificed by MB leadership and they were sacrificed by the army. In the end, the reasons they have died are not those I believe in, there’s no honour in dying that way because the reasons do not reflect my values.
They are people who have chosen loyalty to individuals or groups, with a pretence of values but no real commitment to them. That is the true symbol of Rabaa, loyalty to a group irrespective of the group’s moral actions. The Rabaa supporters were among those vocal enough to applaud for Morsi while threatening to use military trials. They were vocal enough to support the army part stripping a woman in Tahrir. They were vocal enough to support a constitution that cemented military trials against civilians. They were vocal enough to support a limiting protest law.
All the chants they’re chanting now, we’ve chanted before. All their stances against the military, we’ve taken before. But here’s the worse part, all the responses they’re hearing today objecting to their stances, they’ve said before. As we were chanting for bread, freedom and social justice they chanted, ‘Field Marshal [Tantawi], you’re the prince’ (Ya moshir, enta el amir) They have been the main actors providing political cover to injustice and oppression.
They were vocal when they were the oppressors but in favour of the oppressor not the oppressed. The only reason they are speaking up now is because the harm is befalling them. They were in a position to serve justice and yet they only see injustice when it is directed at them. That is what the Rabaa icon symbolizes, a myopic vision that will only speak against injustice when applied to them. The Rabaa icon symbolizes that it’s okay to target my enemies but not me.
So when I think about calling Rabaa a symbol of peaceful resistance, I’m perplexed. There was nothing peaceful about throwing your opponents off the roof, there was nothing peaceful about incitement to burn churches across governorates. It’s not called resistance if you welcome brutality when it happens to others and resist it when it happens to you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Different Flavors of Protests in Egypt

A father took his son to the zoo. On the way the young boy saw a giraffe, he asked his father if he could come closer. The father took the son closer and even had the zoo keeper give his son a carrot to feed the giraffe. The son was pleased. As they crossed the tiger’s cage the boy asked his father if he could do the same, but the father said no. The boy looked disappointed and asked his father why he could do that with the giraffes but not the tiger. The father responded kindly to his son and said, it may look like it’s the same, but there’s a difference. You need to look closely and you need to understand. 

Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy
Context is everything. To understand where we are at the moment, we need to understand why people took to the street. It is also vital that we understand the differences between January 25, 2011, June 30, 2013 and protests in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. 

January 25 was motivated primarily in response to police brutality. Alongside the objection to brutal police practices, however, there was a desire for real change.  Chants for bread and freedom were an integral part of the protests, and the triumph of these demands would have served only the people. January 25 was unparalleled because people were fighting every state institution, including the police. They had no assurances for their safety and they were aware of the high risks of arrest, beatings and even death. 

In contrast June 30 was less risky. Big protests, as we've learned, are safer, and the police gave assurances they would not attack protesters. That said, the possibility of violence from the Morsi camp remained a risk. Morsi’s supporters are known to have attacked protesters and civilians, long before his removal on July 3. Beyond the support of the security forces, there is a fundamental difference between January 25 and June 30.  The June 30 protests were boisterous and calls were directed against Morsi and the Brotherhood. Chants for bread, freedom or human dignity were not prevalent in these protests. June 30 was effectively about rejecting what they perceived as a foreign element in Egypt’s body, irrespective of what would come next. 

While June 30 protests saw unprecedented numbers, this turnout was a direct result of January 25. January 25 activists paved the way, solidifying the idea that street protests could bring about change. These activists never left the streets and seldom stopped opposing the regime in whatever form it took, whether under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) or the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The idea that June 30 is independent of January 25 is a myth propagated by many who did not support the January 25 uprising. In their efforts to abolish January 25 they have labeled June 30 a new revolution, rather than another wave of the revolution that started two and a half years ago. The support of state elements, including the army and police, was aimed to hijack a movement sparked by activists. 

The massive turn out to “protest against terrorism” on July 26 may have been in response to calls by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, but the numbers could be more an indication of disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood rather than support for Sisi. If nothing else, it was certainly in support of Morsi’s removal. Sisi simply symbolizes a chance to save them from the threat of the Brotherhood. While the media has helped magnify these fears, there is, however, a real threat places like Alexandria,Bein El SarayatManial, Assiut, Sinai, Minya, and governorates across Egypt that have been attacked by Morsi supporters

As for Muslim Brotherhood protests, it is important to note that they are facing a state known for its brutality, but unlike January 25, there is a clear leadership asking a great many of them to take to the streets. The narrow demands call for a return to the old order: the reinstatement of the constitution, and the return of Morsi and the Shura council. Their chants were quickly transformed, as Islamist rhetoric was replaced with anti-SCAF, pro-legitimacy and even pro-democracy rhetoric. This development was, however, prompted from above, and is a fabricated imitation of anti-government protests over the past two years, during which the Brotherhood was noticeably absent. During watershed moments– the massacring of eighty in Port Said, the targeting of activists including Mohamed al-GuindyKristy and Jika, of journalists like Al Husseiny Abu Deif – the Brotherhood was busy creating political cover for SCAF or Ministry of Interior crimes.  

The Brotherhood now calls for the return of an autocrat, one who thanked the police and army for their service, all of which is in direct contradiction with their newly adopted pro-democracy rhetoric. The sincerity of Brotherhood protests is also questioned because of a clear support for autocratic measures set up during the one year of Brotherhood rule.  The Brotherhood advocated for a restrictive protest law, which they are now breaking, and also pushed for restrictions on media.

The final issue that must be addressed when looking at protests in Egypt is the question of violence. Pro-Morsi protests cannot all be described as peaceful. Some protesters randomly attacked neighborhoods in Cairo and Alexandria and twice attempted to storm Tahrir using firearms where another sit-in was being staged. When pro-Morsi sit-ins were forcefully dispersed, over fifty churches, andChristian homes and businesses attacked in retaliation. 

While violence has been witnessed in pre-July 3 protests, the violence primarily targeted state actors. Protesters were careful not to affect private property or the interests of ordinary citizens. The anti-military movement Kazeboon staged screenings in public squares of human rights violations perpetrated under SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood, but were careful not to steal electricity, or damage private property. When met with strong resistance, protesters did not attempt to confront residents of an area. They did not ransack mosques or churches. When the Institute of Egypt caught fire during clashes between protesters and security forces in December 2011, protesters formed a human chain around the building after the fire was extinguished.  

Violence and polarization on the street has escalated to an extent which has hampered meaningful protests in support of ideas rather than entities. It is not possible to protest against state crimes without being associated with the Brotherhood, and it is no longer possible to protest against the Brotherhood now that they’re out of power without being associated with the army. The space created by the January 25 uprising is being reclaimed again by repressive forces that are fighting for power, rather than an enforcement of values. With Brotherhood protests dying down, and police empowered through anti-Brotherhood sentiments, we can expect the streets to remain relatively quiet for some time to come, until the perceived Brotherhood threat is averted. There will come a time when the unreformed state and the unfulfilled demands of bread, freedom and social justice will drive people to protest. For those who refuse supporting the false binaries of army or Brotherhood, now is a time to adopt ideas rather than entities or people for the next time protests kick off. But by that time, how much consensus is built over these ideas and how much of stronghold the security apparatus would have garnered will determine the nature of these protests.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

The Answer is Guindy

This article was first published on July 23, 2013 on Atlantic Council's Egypt Source blog.

Funeral of the two martyrs Mohammed El-Guindy and Amr Saad.

The most interesting aspect of the mundane debate over whether what happened between June 30 and July 3 was a coup or a revolution is the debate itself. Irrespective of the definitions of these words, the debate acknowledges two simple facts. Revolution is good, coup is bad. This is perhaps the one point all parties involved in the debate can agree upon, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, the military and the people against the Brotherhood. 

The army wants to avoid the term coup for international considerations and to reinforce its own legitimacy, while anti-Morsi protesters want to avoid it because it denies agency. The Brotherhood, on the other hand, uses it because it implies theft. 

Brotherhood apologists adhere to a list of talking points they believe demonstrate what happened in Egypt is the theft of power: Morsi is a democratically elected president, and therefore removing him was unconstitutional and illegitimate; a democratic government was overthrown; Mubarak-era figures, the media, Egypt’s Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, the United States, Iran, all bear responsibility for Morsi’s removal.  

While it is easy to pick apart each of these points, it adds little value to an endless debate. I do, however, have one answer to any doubts or questions, one answer that is worth sharing. That answer is Guindy

Mohamed al-Guindy was kidnapped by the police after appearing on a news channel denouncing the Ministry of Interior for its excessive use of force against anti-government protesters. He was taken to a Central Security Forces (CSF) camp and tortured to death by the police, in the alleged presence of Muslim Brotherhood members inside the camp, who helped torture other detainees.

Guindy was tortured, turning up later at a hospital where he spent a week on life support before succumbing to his injuries. According to the medics, he died of a brain haemorrhage. His ribs were broken, there were signs of electrocution on his body, and even his tongue was bruised from torture. 

The story doesn’t end here. Ahmed Mekky, then-minister of justice and a Brotherhood loyalist announced that the autopsy report showed his death was the result of a hit-and-run accident. His statements were made before an official report was issued. Later, Mekky confessed he only did so because the minister of interior told him to. The state attempted to cover up Guindy’s murder, his case resembling that of Khaled Said, whose death at the hands of Egyptian security forces is said to have ignited the Egyptian revolution.

Guindy’s death is not, however, an isolated incident. Jika, Kristy, Al Husseiny Abou-Deif, Amr Saad, Mohamed al Shafie, Omar the sweet potato seller and many more, were killed during Morsi’s rule.  Any hopes for security sector reform were forgotten, as the Brotherhood-led government cracked down on opposition, using police brutality to serve their agenda instead of delivering justice. Guindy is but one name, one face we know of, but Morsi’s state produced many Guindys.

The Brotherhood government tried to takeover relics of the Mubarak regime, and make these failed institutions their own. It seems odd that the Brotherhood were trying to resuscitate a system, which was not only responsible for their own repression, but had failed miserably enough to elicit a revolution. Morsi came to power with the promise of building democratic state institutions, which he failed to do.  Egypt never matured into a democracy with formal channels to prevent the power-grab of a dictator. 

Meanwhile the West is stuck in their moulds of democracy and ballot boxes, as they seem to have forgotten how they got there. They forget that a framework ensuring rights and democratic institutions must be in place before relying on the ballot box. A coup can bring about disastrous results; just as a revolution can bring religious fascism to power, as was the case in Iran; just as the ballot box can bring a Liberian warlord like Charles Taylor to power. The only questions that matter are: What state is Egypt in? How close is it to genuine democracy? And how do we bring it closer?

Democracy ensures that minorities are not oppressed. A democratic state does not witness verbal incitement against Shia’a citizens, in the presence of a president who does nothing to stop it. A democratic state does not witness this incitement escalate into the lynching of four people a few days later, and no one is brought to account. 

I agree with Morsi’s supporters that he should not have been removed on July 3. He should have been removed much earlier. He should have been removed with the first unpunished torture or death that was never properly investigated: Jika, Guindy, Kristy or any of the dozens that have been killed and the scores tortured.  He should have been removed with his first attempt at taking over state institutions instead of fixing them. He should have been removed with his first attempt at subverting democracy.

To all the questions about coup or revolution, do labels really matter? It’s an irrelevant question, because a revolution is more of a mind-set than a single isolated event. It’s like asking whether a car is metal or plastic. There’s only one revolution, and within it are changes of government, people, alliances, but most of all a change in power dynamics and the way of life. 

I don’t know what the right questions are. I don’t know how democracy should be built or how state institutions can be fixed. I don’t know what we really need or how to put the right people in the right place. I only know that the right answer is Guindy. I know that the only tears worth shedding are over those killed brutally for no reason, not Morsi or his proclaimed legitimacy. As long as citizens are targeted and killed and their killers continue to rule, we should exert every effort to bring about justice or remove them. Perhaps this revolution will truly succeed when we have no more Guindys to answer questions with.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Revenge of the Police State

Originally published in Jadaliyya on 17 Aug 2013

[14 August 2013, security officer firing tear gas on protesters as they attempt to escape the attacks by the security apparatus. Image originally posted to Flicker by tarek1991]
[14 August 2013, security officer firing tear gas on protesters as they attempt to escape the attacks by the security apparatus. Image originally posted to Flicker by tarek1991]
While the ongoing violence in Egypt has contributed to a state of confusion and polarization, one thing is certain: The biggest threat facing Egypt remains the return of the police state. More specifically, the threat concerns, not only the reconstitution of a police state, which never really left since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, but also the return of the implicit, if not overt, acceptance of the repressive practices of the coercive apparatus. In this respect, the current face-off between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood holds very damaging potential. Widespread anti- Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is currently providing the state with legitimacy to use of force against the Brotherhood, and, in the future, a potential cover for using similar tactics against other dissidents as well.
There is a problem with the way security forces have violently dispersed the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-ins, even with claims that both Nahda and Rabea sit-ins were armed. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the Muslim Brotherhood or with the objectives of the sit-ins, the murdering of over five hundred people goes against any sense of human decency and morality. The armed protesters’ reported use of unarmed individuals as human shields is equally despicable and reprehensible. Beyond the serious moral considerations at hand, other problems persist.
The forced dispersal of Rabaa and Nahda marks a triumph of security solutions over political ones—a trend that characterized much of the Mubarak era. Security solutions rarely solve a problem without the support of a political course of action, which seems to be missing in our current context. There is no question that the Muslim Brotherhood leaders have a long history of poor negotiating behavior, showing extreme stubbornness, and failing to uphold their end of the bargain on many occasions, in power and in opposition. But this is exactly why dealing with them demands a politically savvy approach, instead of reliance on security solutions, which will only reinforce the Brotherhood’s rigidity, not to mention the heavy human costs associated with such measures.
Instead, the military and its sponsored government chose a confrontational, security path. This path will only further empower the coercive apparatus without guaranteeing any results, in terms of political stability and social peace. As extremist groups are pushed into hiding, the security leaders will find excuses to employ intrusive surveillance measures, interrogate, torture, and abuse, all with zero transparency and accountability. Supporters of the crackdown among those who oppose the Brotherhood will gladly accept. Reinforcing this trend is the fact that the crackdown has apparently empowered radicalized elements among the supporters of the deposed president.
Some may say that the increasing influence of the security sector will only be limited to “counter-terrorism” and extremist Islamist groups that espouse violence. There are clear signs that this would not be the case. For example, immediately prior to the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, retired generals took control of governerships in an overwhelming majority of provinces. For many, this was a clear signal that the state has opted to “securitize” governance, and political files.
Additionally, those who believe that security sector will not overstep its boundaries clearly overlook the long history of the Egyptian state’s meddling in political and private affairs in the name of counter-terrorism and national security. Given that rich history, we could safely conclude that today domestic intelligence agencies are quickly gaining a blank check to meddle in our affairs for the sake of national security. Soon Egyptians will be asked to support their government in whatever decisions it takes on the grounds that the government is at the frontlines of the fight against “violent Islamists.” Political dissidents of all orientations will be vulnerable to the accusation of being soft on “terrorism” or supportive of “radical Islamists.” Will anyone care in the confusing state of insecurity?
Egypt, in other words, is on a dangerous path. There are many reasons to believe that police forces will employ their brutal practices at Mubarak era rates. The policing establishment itself has not changed in any way, never reformed, and never held to account for its past crimes. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim has even signaled that such a return is imminent, pledging, “Security will be restored to this nation as if it was before January 25, and more."
Tacit supporters of the security state will respond that there was no other way, that there was no room for negotiating with the Brotherhood, and that the forcible dispersal of the sit-ins was necessary.
Such a response, however, overlooks the major limitations of the security solution to the underlying problem, namely that calling on the police—unreformed and lacking the proper training—to resolve the standoff between the Brotherhood and the government is like asking a butcher to do a heart surgeon’s job. Additionally, one could counter and ask: Was it necessary for the police to target unarmed civilians carrying cameras? Was it necessary for security forces to shoot at unarmed crowds? Was it necessary for the police to leave unprotected all the churches that suffered attacks in the aftermath of the sit-ins’ dispersal?
But setting aside analyses of what the police could have done differently, it remains that the recent violence has only deepened people’s reliance on the security state and will exempt politicians from devising solutions to political differences. With the increase in social conflict, particularly along sectarian lines, security services will once again regain their traditional role as an arbiter of these conflicts, as well as their license to employ abusive, repressive tactics. This sustained sense of insecurity will only steer Egypt away from real justice. With the empowerment of the security sector, there will be no reason or motivation to push for revolutionary demands for real reforms inside the policing establishment. It is also likely that the escalation in violence and the pro-security rhetoric that the state has been touting will make it difficult for political dissidents, who are equally opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, to employ street action.
In some ways, the MB’s confrontational approach, wittingly or not, is handing back the coercive apparatus its license to kill and repress with impunity, but so are all those who are cheering on the security forces’ crackdown against the Brotherhood. Many such voices have criticized Mohamed ElBaradie for resigning his post as vice president in the wake of the recent violence. But in reality there is no role for a politician in a state that is poised to pick a security solution in dealing with every pressing challenge.
As we confront the question of whether or not Egypt will witness the “return” of the police of the Mubarak era, a number of critical questions arise, such as: Is there any revolutionary fervor left to resist this route? Or have revolutionary commitments been drained through all the blood and the failed attempts at establishing a democratic political order?
Whether or not a new wave of revolutionary mobilization will emerge to push back against the growing power of the security state is an open question. But it is clear that the persistence of the confrontation between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood will only deepen the securitization of politics by reinforcing demands for security solutions. What it will take to reverse the return of the police state, which revolutionary activists have worked hard to resist, is uncertain. One could argue that the brutal injustices that the police are bent on committing will always make resistance structurally inevitable. But that suggests that reviving resistance will come at a high price, one that Khalid Said, Jika, Mohamed al-Guindy, and many others have paid.