Monday, March 27, 2017

The Ides of March

         Although there has been no shortage of depressing news with regards to politics in 2017, the release of the modern pharaoh  Hosni Mubarak on March 13 is some of the worst, in my view. Al Ahram put it better than I could have, noting 

"The former autocrat ruled Egypt from 1981 until a popular uprising ousted him on 11 February 2011."

In a somewhat incredulous statement, Mubarak's lawyer Farid al Deeb claims that his client owns no money or property outside of Egypt, and is now borrowing American President Donald Trump's phrase of "false news" in defense of his client. Meanwhile, amidst these denials, a Swiss bank states that they have frozen close to 500 million in Egyptian assets linked to the Mubarak family. 

          In 2012, relatively free elections ushered into power the Islamist leader, Mohammed Morsi’s administration, which was short lived as his leadership was deposed by General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in 2013.  Since then, the Sisi administration has drafted draconian laws that prevented illegal protests, which was a strategic law to prevent any dissenting views hence increased the number of political arrests. The police made more recent arrests of Muslim Brotherhood militia personnel who made several attacks on the police and army in Cairo through exchange of fire leading to the death of a civilian. In good news, the Egyptian Supreme Court has declared portions of the controversial protest law unconstitutional

            The New York Times piece on the prominent youth leader (Ahmed Maher) during the 2011 uprising, explains how Egyptian judges used draconian laws to find him guilty of illegal demonstration and ‘thuggery.'  Maher was sentenced to three years in the Tora Prison, which is a notorious complex housing political prisoners and criminals. Maher is still monitored closely by the police because the government views his influence over social media as "a terroristic threat". As a result, he spends 12 out of 24 hours of each day with the police to ensure that he is not inciting any dissenting views to topple the new administration as well. 

         France has been eyeing Egypt as a strategic partner in to become a major military force in the region. I thought Egypt was already a huge military force in the region. Egypt has long been an ally of USA and receives over a billion a year in military aid from the US.  

Indeed, the US provided $6.5 billion in military assistance to Cairo between 2011 and 2015.  As a result, President Trump is expected to visit Egypt from April 1 to 4 as a follow-up of their 23 January 2017 phone conversation to discuss ways to increase bi-lateral relations. Let's hope they do not trade notes on how to crush dissent . . . .


Huge thanks to my wonderful graduate assistant Shem Ngwira in helping me put together this piece. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Mubarak's Rise and Fall

They say that if you are going to commit a crime, you should commit a big one, like the Savings and Loan scandal, or the Wall Street Credit default swap debacle, or in the case of former Egyptian President Mubarak, perhaps, loot a country for a generation. 

In the run up to the verdict, the main response of Egyptians was a big yawn. 

The Washington Post reported that  the "trial of the century" for Egypt has largely dropped from people's attention, partly because of its length, and partly because of the massive protests that began in June 2013, during the retrial. After the protests against the domination of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood that brought to his ouster, TV and newspaper dropped their criticism of Mubarak's old regime and shifted the blame for the violence on Islamists and foreign conspirators. Issandr al-Amrani, North Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group declared that "there's been a steady narrative to say 2011 wasn't a real revolution, the real revolution was June 30, 2013".  (Mubarak verdict due, but Egyptians' interest wanes by Associated Pess, The Washington Post, November 27, 2014) 

But Mubarak got off in any event. The New York Times reported today that

" An Egyptian court dropped all remaining charges against former President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, raising the possibility that he could go free for the first time since being removed from office in the 2011 uprising that defined the Arab Spring revolt." (Kirkpatrick and Thomas, 11.29.2014 NYT) 

Most bizarrely, Mubarak was acquitted of corruption charges, which seemed to be a slam dunk. It makes one wonder. Here are two reasons why. First, the judiciary is widely rumored to be full of "feloul" Mubarak allies. Second, the government is currently run by a new military-backed strongman, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. Mubarak is from the military, so it is no surprise that they are taking care of business. 

This verdict seems to bode well for another not-very-well liked Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi. 

A committee was appointed by Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour to investigate the violence after Morsi's ouster. The committee will present a final report divided into five parts, and it will cover 11 files. The most important part, entitled "Gatherings and sit-ins in public squares and roads in Egypt," will document events in support of Morsi during which several supporters were killed. Marawan announced: "The report will give a complete list of the names of the victims from the dispersals and where and how they were killed". He also announced that "the report tried to be as neutral as possible". (Committee to announce report on Egypt's post-Morsi violence on Wednesday by Gamal Essam El-Din, Ahram Online, November 24, 2014)

Given the Mubarak verdict, one can expect that impunity will be the order of the day, although you never know. 

Women may have been a major beneficiary of the Arab Spring, along with some release of restrictions on the press. 

In Egypt, more than 90 percent of women are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), although the practice, also known as "circumcision", has been penalized in 2008. Some still  still consider whether to circumcise their daughters or not, because without it she could be "sexually voracious", and this could be "dangerous for her". The tradition is practiced because "it is seen as needed for cleanliness or to prevent a girl's sexual desire from running out of control". In fact, a widely used Egyptian Arabic term for it translates as "purification". In southern Egypt, Manal Fawzy runs the Assiut Childhood and Development Organization, a UNICEF partner organization that "takes a community approach to getting people to abandon the practice". She and her colleagues go from village to village to talk to the residents, but also to religious leaders and doctors, encouraging the latters and the families to speak publically about their rejection of the tradition. (Egypt making slow progress on genital mutilation by Associated Press, The Washington Post, November 25, 2014)

Many thanks to my fabulous GA, Paola Cavallari, for doing much of the research that helps me stay on top of things.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wrap up of August, 2014, events in Egypt


On the Rab'a Massacre

In a 188-page report entitled "All According to Plan: The Rab'a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt", Human Rights Watch has accused the Egyptian police and army of crimes against humanity committed during at least 6 demonstrations between July 5 and August 17, 2014. The report is the result of interviews to more than two hundred witnesses, visits to the protest sites right after the attacks, and reviews of physical evidence, video footages, and statements by public officials. In particular, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, has declared that the Rab'a massacre of August 14, 2013, "was a violent crackdown planned at the highest level of the Egyptian government." Egyptian officials have tried to justify the massacre by claiming that the civilians were armed. Human Rights Watch documented the throwing of rocks and Molotov cocktails against the army forces, but it affirmed that the killing was disproportionate. In about 12 hours, 817 people were killed in what is considered "the biggest mass killing of civilians in modern Egyptian history." Moreover, the Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim declared that his forces found only 15 guns in the square. This massacre was not "the result of poor training or unexpected circumstances", but it had been premeditated because "the violent dispersal of the sit-in was thoroughly planned in advance". 

The main question surrounding the events in Rab'a is: "How do we explain the behavior of the Egyptian military on Tahrir in January 2011 and in Rab'a in 2013?" On one hand, in January 2011, the military at first stood by Mubarak, killing hundreds of people during the uprising. Then, a week into the rebellion, the army declared its refusal to raise its weapons against civilian protesters. On the other end, during the Rab'a massacre, the army coordinated closely with the Ministry of Defense, locking any possible way out of the Rab'a's square where people were gathered, using snipers to shoot on the crowd and bulldozers to clear the path for the gunmen. The operation was overseen by President al-Sisi, at the time "minister of defense, general commander of the armed forces, chair of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and deputy prime minister for security affairs". 

Scholars have been studying and developing theories to explain these two different behaviors of the military forces, but it is hard to reach a conclusion examining one single regime crisis. "Future research [...] would do well to account for both" events. Finally, since those events took place, Egyptian authorities have engaged in several other measures to deprive citizens and political opponents of their basic human rights. No one has been held responsible for the massacres, although the government has created a committee to investigate the human right abuses since June 30, 2014. Human Rights Watch has asked the government to provide its perspective on the events, but it has not received any response yet. One year after the Rab'a massacre, not one of the officials who perpetrated the massacre has been held accountable for it. 

Other issues regarding democratization 

On a different note, in July 2014 the Egypt's regime announced the reduction of fuel subsidies. Although the announcement generated waves of anger among the poor, many of whom are still suffering from the turmoil undergoing in the nation since January 2011, the next day the lines at the gas station across the country seemed as normal as ever. After several weeks, gas stations recorded a shift in the preference of private drivers from the 92 unleaded gasoline to the 80 gasoline, the cheap one, and to natural gas. One reason for the lack of uprisings was the deployment of riot police at several gas stations and around main arteries of Cairo. Another reason is that many decided not to protest because they estimated the cost of an uprising to be higher than heeding the government's decisions, while wealthier citizens consider inflation a natural phenomenon, and thus see no reason to protest against it. A third reason is the intervention operated by the military to open three main traffic intersections, relieving the traffic jams suffered by the eastern part of Cairo. This operation had two main consequences: it increased the value of real estate in those areas, and it had positive effects on public transportation and taxi services, since the drivers don't have to take massive detours anymore, increasing their income. Finally, according to Hatem Zayed, an economic researcher, people accepted the recent economic measures because of the fear generated by the outcomes of recent protests, and because of how gradually inflation is happening. However, although President al-Sisi keeps promising mitigation policies, he is just maneuvering around the economy. Therefore, '"it's only a matter of time before people start protesting the economic distress; it is inevitable"'. 
Additionally, the Ministry of Interior has launched a government project aimed to relocate street vendors from downtown Cairo to Al-Torgoman. The project has the purpose of enforcing the sovereignty of the law in Egyptian streets, as well as to deal with traffic congestion, electicity theft, and violation of public property, as declared by Major General Abdel-Tawab. Street vendors have been protesting against the measure, stating that Al-Torgoman is a non-commercial area, and that they foresee huge material losses. Hussien, head of the street vendors syndicate, affirmed that the measure took them by surprise, and that they are willing to prove that the new location is non-commercial. They will sell their products  in Al-Torgoman for five days, and decide to stay if satisfied, or return downtown if not. 

Finally, prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat is leading an investigation into the administrators of the Facebook page "Popular Resistance Movement" because it allegedly "incites against state institutions and calls for assaulting army and police personnel". The police has arrested the page's administrator, a teacher living in Qalioubiya, for posting slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they have confiscated his laptop. His brother has been arrested too. This investigation follows restrictive measures enforced by the Egyptian police after the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted last summer. Since then, hundreds of his supporters and members of the Brotherhood have been killed and thousands have been put into jail. In January, the Interior ministry has declared the beginning of arrests of users and administrators of social media websites that incite violence against the police or citizens; dozens of Brotherhood members have been accused and arrested after the announcement.

Good news: Karima El-Serify, detained in Qanater prison since mid-April, has been released by the Cairo Criminal Court under "probation measures". Karima has been on hunger strike for 68 days, and this may be the main reason behind her release, according to one of her friends. Karima was arrested and charged in espionage cases along with other members of Morsy's presidential team. Moreover, as her mother has declared, her arrest has been a way "to put pressure on her father, Ayman Al-Serify" close associate of Morsy. Karima began her hunger strike after "prison guards ordered cellmates to beat her and her colleagues and steal their belongings". Hunger strike has been used as a protest tactic by several prisoners currently detained in Egypt.


Many thanks to my Graduate Research Assistant, Paola Cavallari