Friday, February 25, 2011

Governing the Egyptian Internet

This piece was published today, March 25, 2011. In the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

Governing the Egyptian Internet
Dr. Warigia Bowman
February 28, 2011

In a futile effort to cling to power and quell dissent, Mubarak’s government used many avenues to restrict or control information during the January 25th Revolution, including shutting down the Internet on January 27th.  By January 29th, 91% of Egypt’s Internet networks were down.[1]  What does the Egyptian Government’s decision to shut down the Internet mean for information governance globally?

What Happened?

Multiple methods were used to take Egypt offline. To get access to the rest of the Internet, Egyptian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) need a “gateway”:  a physical link to other ISPs outside of Egypt, which ISPs lease from the Egyptian Government.[2] First, the government asked Internet Service Providers to disconnect their services or lose their licenses.[3] As the ISPs complied with the government’s order,  network addresses within Egypt became unreachable.[4] To its credit, Vodafone resisted, until, in the words of the New York Times, “it was obliged to comply.”[5] 

Had ISPs chosen not to comply, Telecom Egypt could have physically cut off connection to the network at the gateway level, which would have severely disrupted traffic in other countries.[6]   In addition the government reportedly took down Egyptian country code Domain Name Servers,[7] halting all traffic to and from local sites.[8] Finally, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)[9] were disabled, severing in-country connectivity.[10]


With the Internet down, Egypt seemed cut off from the world. The sense of disconnection was heightened because the government had shut off mobile texting and twitter, pulled Al Jazeera Arabic TV, and even stopped all mobile telephony temporarily.  Egyptian business was devastated, untold millions of dollars were lost from electronic transactions, and the banking system and stock exchange were crippled.

Shutting off the Internet is not a new tactic during civil unrest, but the scope of the Mubarak government’s effort was unprecedented. According to the Open Net Initiative, similar blockades have been imposed by Burma, Nepal and China.[11] Colonel Qaddaffi has mimiced Mubarak’s actions, creating an information blackout in Tripoli.[12]

The Mubarak government probably intended that shutting down the network would slow political agitation. Although we will never know the true impact, in fact it likely sped up the regime’s fall. In the absence of new technologies, people were forced to rely on traditional means of communication, including knocking on doors, going to the Mosque, assembling in the street, or other central gathering places. Thomas Schelling (1960) won the Nobel prize for discovering that in the absence of information, people will coordinate by selecting a focal point that seems natural, special or relevant to them. Given the protests, Tahrir was the obvious focal point. By blocking the Internet the government inadvertently fueled dissent and galvanized international support for the people of Egypt.

Next Steps

Both technological and policy solutions are urgently needed to respond to the autocratic blackouts imposed by Mubarak and Qadaffi. From a technological standpoint, activists in countries likely to experience similar problems should invest in “redundancy” as well as “distribution.” Redundancy is an information concept which emphasizes building multiple lines of communication, should one line fail. Distribution is the idea that more independent means of communication should be used, and should be distributed throughout multiple users, not centralized.

A blend of old and new information technologies is best for maintaining true connectivity. “Pen and paper” lists of staff, friends, landlines, mobile, home addresses and other key information to prevent isolation even if the Internet goes down. Further, robust and tested methods, such as FM and shortwave radio are an outstanding means to communicate with the outside world.

The Internet network is inherently not governed. Yet, each player has a valuable role. January 27th teaches us that a move away from centralization, particularly in the presence of autocratic governments, is crucial. Universities and NGOs who can afford to do so should invest in Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs). VSATs provide independent wireless link connectivity through satellite, not cable connections. VSATs can only be forced to stop operating by physically disabling them.  In addition, ISPs should secure satellite links, or find other means to create non-vulnerable gateways.[13]  ISPs must also decide at what point they choose to cooperate with government repression, and at what point they resist. January 27th suggests the market will reward those who take efforts to keep the network up.

The January 25th Revolution has powerfully demonstrated that social networks and the Internet can play a powerful role in empowering people and promoting democracy.[14] Yet, the January 27th shutdown demonstrates the fragility of access, particularly in countries with high governmental control.[15] Efforts should be made to expand Internet connectivity and computer access in rural, poor and remote areas throughout Egypt, the Middle East and Africa, so that future political movements can empower and mobilize the grassroots. Finally, activists and policy people should  demand that rights to telephony and Internet connectivity be incorporated into freedom of information guarantees.

[1]“Egypt Internet Shutdown Q& A,” ISOC Monthly Newsletter, February 2, 2011, available at []
[2]James Glanz and John Markoff, “Egypt Leaders Found “Off” Switch for Internet,” The New York Times, February 15, 2011.
[3]Matt Richtel, “Egypt Cuts Off Most Internet and Cell Service,” The New York Times, January 28, 2011,
[4]One of the only websites still active in the entire country was the AUC website.AUC owns the IP prefix announced by the AS8524. This connects with RAYA Telecom and Noor Data Networks. AUC was able to maintain very limited connectivity by switching between these two service providers. See, Claudio Squarcella, Roma Tre University, “Three Case Studies on the Egyptian Disconnection,” RIPE Labs, available at []
[5]Email communication with L.Jean Camp, Professor of Informatics, University of Indiana, February 2, 2011.
[6]ISPs operate at level three in this diagram, whereas Telecom Egypt controls the gateway at levels 1 and 2. See Novell Connection Primer, available at
[7]Johnson, p. 2.
[8]ISOC Newsletter, p. 2.
[9]Fahim, p. 3.
[10]Email communication with Timothy McGinnis, African Internet Infrastructure Consultant and Ambassador to the World Summit on Information Society Ambassador, February 18, 2011.
[11]ISOC Newsletter, p. 3; Richtel, page 1; Bobbie Johnson, “How Egypt Switched off the Internet,”, January 28, 2011, available at []
[12]Kareem Fahim and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Qadaffi’s Grip on the Capital Tightens as Revolt Grows,” The New York Times, February 22, 2011.
[13]Email communication with Badru Ntege, Systems Engineer, one2net, Uganda. February 16, 2011.
[14]Mohamed Abdel-Baky, Cyber-Revolution, Al Ahram Weekly, Available Online at []
[15]Rick Ferguson, as quoted by Bobbie Johnson, p. 3.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Text Message from Armed Forces

I received two text messages from the Armed Forces today. The first was at 11:15 a.m. and the second was at 2:20. Here is the translation provided by my office manager. We do not know what these text messages are referring to, although they are clearly meant to intimidate.

"From the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces: the dignified civilians must be responsible and prevent the actions of irresponsible people and organizations"

"The Armed Forces will not allow any illegitimate action due to its risk in the time being for our country. We will take the necessary legal action to stop it."

Feb 25

My Egyptian friend pointed out that she does not believe these messages are supposed to be intimidating. She thinks the texts are a way of reaching out to the Egyptian Youth. She also believes the texts are supposed to promote beneficial behaviors. She mentioned that the Armed Forces has created a facebook page. I must look for that.

Feb 25 12:39 p.m.

Here is some more information on the facebook page of the Egyptian Armed Forces. Here is a link to the official page. I commend the Egyptian Armed Forces for reaching out to the youth.


First Class

Class has been significantly delayed by the Revolution. First, all universities and schools were closed. Most primary and secondary schools remain closed. American University reopened on February 13, 2011. 

I taught my first class in nonprofit management last night. It was a lot of fun. I had about six students, all women. I expect that number to increase, since no one knew what room we were in last night. We talked a lot about what a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization is, or is not. We also discussed the probability that this "third sector" will likely explode in a new, more democratic environment where significant donor money is flowing in. Finally, we discussed which NGOs or organizations were most important in the Revolution. The names that came up were the April 6 movement,  and the Revolution Union, syndicates of doctors and lawyers, including the Arab Doctors Union.

March 3, 2011 Update
According to the students in my Nonprofit Management Class, here is a partial list of groups which  participated  in the Jan. 25th revolution in Egypt:

1. April 6 movement.
2. El- Baradie campaign (National Association for Change).
3. Muslim Brotherhood.
4. Doctors syndicate.
5. Pharmacist syndicate.
6. Judges.
7. Socialist Revolutionists.
8. Labor unions.
9. lawyers syndicate.
10. Arab doctors union.
11. Freedom and justice union.
12. Kefaya ( members participated, but were not self-identifying)
13. Liberal front.
14. Ghadd party.

My student Nashwa notes, "This is for sure in addition to the other huge diversity of ordinary Egyptian people, actors, journalists and others."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood

Feb 21, 2011

I am beginning my research on who, or what, the Muslim Brotherhood is. This not an area I intend to publish on. I just want to have an informed opinion.

What I know right now is that they were a banned opposition party under Mubarak. They were the most organized opposition movement. My students tell me that the Slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is "Islam is the Answer." However, they have said that they will not field a candidate for President in the upcoming elections. The MB has formed a new political party called the Justice and Freedom Party. Elections are expected to be held in Egypt in September.

Conventional wisdom is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not polling more than 20% of the Egyptian public. Egypt is the most modern, and the most secular of the major Arab states. Women pay a key role at all levels in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood did not organize the protests on Tahrir Square, nor did the Brotherhood actually endorse the first round of protests, and only joined them belatedly. Their slogans, say my students, were no where in evidence. The youth of Egypt led the Revolution, not the Brotherhood. Rob L. Wagner argues that the Brotherhood does not have the support of Egypt's youth.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in1928 by Hassan al Banna. The Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt since 1954. Notably, the Brotherhood denounced violenced years ago.  The Brotherhood won 88 seats in Parliament (20%) in the 2005 elections.  Mubarak saw the Brotherhood as a threat, and cracked down on the organization in 2005.
Now, Mubarak has stepped down, the parliament has been dissolved, and the constitution has been suspended. It appears that the Armed Forces is in favor of amending the constitution, which would allow the Muslim Brotherhood a new shot at legitimacy. A panel of experts drawing up changes to the Egyptian constitution will include a member of the Brotherhood.

Many fear that the Brotherhood will turn Egypt into an Islamist state. However, many characterize the Brotherhood as "moderate." The question is whether the Brotherhood truly supports multi-party democracy, or would prefer a theocracy, such as currently rules Iran.



Labor unrest is everywhere in Egypt, it seems. Even the ivory tower is being struck by protests. This morning while getting my coffee I walked through hundreds of staff at AUC protesting for a 15% increase in pay. All banks in the country were closed due to strikes until yesterday. Even the faculty at AUC are trying to unionize, even though they are arguably management under American law. AUC has committed to pay increases to entry level staff to a  minimum of 1100 Egyptian Pounds per month.

I received a mysterious text message from "Armed Forces" on February 16, 2011. I thought that it was weird, innovative, and somehow progressive to get a text from the military.  It was in Arabic, so I could not read it. But my department chair told me that it was meant to discourage labor protests, and that workers should play their part, during this time of great change (i.e. not strike).

Economic demands were at the heart of the Tahrir square protests. The military has cleared out all signs of protest from Tahrir square, but the square has become the de facto site for labor protests in the revolutionary period. Unionizing and organizing was basically forbidden under Mubarak, so this is a period where people are rediscovering their basic rights.It is particularly poignant to consider the untold millions stolen by Mubarak from a country where the average per capita income is roughly $5000.

"Follow Up on October Labor Negotiations" Email from AUC President Lisa Anderson, February 20, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Islamic Caliphate": NOT!

Dear friends,

I am no expert, but in my unexpert opinion, the "Brotherhood" is not going to take over Egypt, and neither is an "Islamic Caliphate."

Take conservative American talk-show host Glenn Beck, whose success as a pundit of outrage depends upon identifying and hyping the next threat to Western civilization. He sees in Egypt's revolution the invisible workings of an Islamic caliphate bent on ruling much of the Middle East. "When I say that there's a caliphate -- that it is a desire of the Islamic extremists in the Middle East -- that is not a conspiracy theory," he said on his talk show last Thursday. "They want a caliphate. Look it up ... []."

Why am I confident in my opinion? Because the women of Egypt will not tolerate a Caliphate.  Many do not wear Hijab. Many are professionals. Many are educated, and opinionated. Look at the pictures of Tahrir. Many of the activists were women. They, in my humble opinion, will not submit to a caliphate. More on this later.

Also, Glenn, I am not sure that there are enough communists and socialists in Egypt to warrant a mention. 

March 11, 2011

Okay, that last post was written on the basis of logic. Now, let's do some research. First of all, what is an Islamic Caliphate? Does that phrase even make any sense? To say Caliphate is to refer to the political religious state which lasted between 632 A.D and 1258 A.D. It is sort of like talking about the Holy Roman Empire. The caliphs held temporal, and some spiritual authority. 

After Muhammad passed away, the society he had built needed a new ruler. The word caliph is from the Arabic Kalifa, or successor. Abu Bakr  was selected by a group of elders of Medina. If you are a Christian,  would think of Abu Bakr the way you think of Saint Peter, the first pope. The first four Caliphs were Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. Their reign was considered the Golden Age of Pure Islam. They expanded the Islamic state into new regions, including Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt. Raids were made into Persia and Armenia, as well as North Africa. 

See, the comparison to the Holy Roman Empire is becoming more obvious!Al Mutassim was considered the last Caliph, but he was defeated when the Mongols sacked Baghdad. 

Now, what exactly might Glenn Beck be driving at when he says that an Islamic Caliphate wants to take over the Middle East. I think he may be basically suggesting that an Iran type theocracy will become the dominant form of government in the region. This is fear-mongering, plain and simple. Ironically, it amuses me that Mubarak played the same game. As his government faced collapse, Mubarak warned ominously, "after me, the deluge," playing on the West's fears by suggesting that if he left, the only alternative would be radical Islam. Interestingly,  hawkish Likud former PM Netanyahu informed Mubarak in 2008, that Israel and Mubarak "face a common Islamist threat." [To my Egyptian Students, you KNOW I do not believe in conspiracy theories]. 

I think the real story here in Egypt, is that I predict we will see that Islam can be compatible to democracy, and that a state will emerge with a range of views, a range of religions, a range of parties. 


Things you need during a revolution

Here are some items that would have been good to have during the Egyptian Revolution.

1. Cigarettes. I do not smoke,  but everyone else in Egypt does, so these could become bartering, friendship tools.
2. Water. Lots of bottled water for drinking. Two weeks worth of drinking water to be on the safe side. A big plastic container for water for bathing. A pot for boiling water.
3. Candles and matches, in case the electricity went out.
4. Lots and lots of Vodafone scratch cards. I learned this the hard way. The only way to communicate when the Internet went out, and the long distance landlines went down was mobile. Scratch cards for adding air time were in rare supply. I am going to stock up on these.
5. Rice. I think I can live for a long time off of rice and water.
6. Cash in the house. The banks always seem to be closed. One friend suggested 1000 dollars split between Egyptian pounds and US dollars. The dollars can come in handy if the local currency craters, or if one needs to bribe someone to get out of the country.

The Best Ideas

I think some of the ideas from the faculty meeting were better than others. In particular, I liked ideas which focused on the educational advantage which AUC could provide to Egyptians. Here are my favorites. 

  1. 1. Re-Open Tahrir Square Campus of AUC
  2. 7. Use Tahrir Sq, campus of AUC for organized talks and debates on topics such as how elections were forged, and torture.
  3. 8.a Open up a dialogue with other Cairo universities.
  4. 8b. Create a mural commemorating the revolution on the science wall.
  5. 12. AUC should work on eradicating illiteracy in Egypt.
  6. *16. Each department should have a follow up to see what specifically it can do in terms of initiatives to support the revolution.
  7. *17. The Internet should never go out again. AUC should buy its own VSAT (Very small aperture terminal)
  8. *17a) AUC students should train citizens to combat electoral fraud.
  9. *19) (Dr. J) mobilize AUC alumni. Make corporations exercise true social responsibility.
  10. 20. (Rami Qubain)  Create a group to encourage toursim aggressively in Egypt.
  11. 21. Work closely with faculty in national universities.
  12. *22. Train election monitors at AUC.
  13. *23. Use equipment at the journalism department to educate the people. Create podcasts about elections and constitutions. Simplify information.
  14. *23b. Create community service announcements regarding elections and voting, and the constitution. (WMB Note, these were used to GREAT effect in Kenya in our recent constitution process)
  15. 24. National clearing house website for volunteers. Pool resources.
  16. *24a. Build system, offer solutions. Don't just tear down the system.
  17. 25. Teach people to be proactive.
  18. *26. Create an independent people's radio station not owned by the government or a foreign country. This should be FM, and hosted by AUC. (WMB Note. Most American universities in the US have these and they are a GREAT resource)
  19. 27. Utilize continuuing education at AUC to educate the public.
  20. 28. Bring Tahrir Square to AUC-create a free speech corner
  21. 32. Train people for elections.
  22. 33. Hold workshops on the ethical responsibilities of different professions.
  23. 34. Create crisis management forecasting for Egypt.
  24. 34a. AUC should partner with NGOs.
  25. *35. Hold constitutional convention sessions at AUC.
  26. 36. Stop the ongoing harassment of journalists.
  27. 37. AUC should be less top down. It should be more open. We need more faculty input.
  28. *38. (Dr. W) Look to African continent, particularly SA, Kenya and Ghana, for guidance on the process of democratization.
  29. *52. Workshops on how to conduct elections.
  30. *53. Awareness campaigns for democracy.
  31. 54, Support and sustain "New Egypt" behaviors, like civility, volunteerism, common defense.
  32. 55. Document the Revolution outside Tahrir Square.
  33. 56. Mobilize NGOs from other Governarates, not just Cairo.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ghost Cities

Today has dawned bright and cleared in the desert. Yesterday it rained a bit, so the air is very clean, and the sun is extremely bright.

The New AUC campus is in New Cairo, in the Fifth Settlement. When it was built five years ago, there was absolutely nothing out here. It is sort of near El Katameya on the far southeastern side of the city.

Now the New AUC campus is being slowly surrounded by new construction. People tell me that many of the developers are from the United Arab Emirates. There are thousands and thousands of half constructed empty buildings. Many of them are quite grandiose with elaborate plaster edifices and columns. The buildings are usually four stories high. There are no gardens or yards. They are zero lot construction. They are also just jammed together with very little space between them.

Clearly, there is no zoning and no urban planning going on. What is worse, is that there do not seem to be any shops to service these miles of fancy buildings. No one lives in the buildings, and many of them are only partially built. Part of the problem is that there are very few investment vehicles for wealthy Cairenes or Egyptians, so they have a tendency to over-invest in real estate. In addition, people often run out of money before completing buildings, leaving half built empty buildings in the middle of the desert.

This is all a potential economic disaster. What if people do not actually rent or buy these houses? Also, there is a catch 22: no one wants to build a store because no one lives in the neighborhood, and no one wants to live in the neighborhood because there are no stores. The ghost cities "landlock" capital. This has already happened in Ireland.

Ghost towns plague Ireland as unsold houses litter the country

AUC Faculty Committee for the Defense of the Revolution

Last night (Wednesday, February 16, 2011) a meeting was held of all faculty who wanted to provide support for the Revolution. The meeting was held at the Zamalek Hostel of AUC. The meeting consisted of about 120 faculty, staff and students from the AUC campus. The meeting was convened by Amr Ahmed Shalakany of the law department, Sherene Seikaly of the Department of History, Malak Rouchdie from SAPE (soc-anth).

A rather long list of suggestions was made of how we could support the revolution. I shall write them here for historical purposes, but I do not blame you if you get bored reading. But there are some amazing ideas in here, (and then, some less amazing ones. . . )

1. Open Tahrir Square Campus of AUC
2. Convene a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and provide amnesty for leaders who participate.
3. Do NOT provide amnesty for leaders.
4. Start a long term AUC publishing series
5. South African Truth and Reconciliation model does not apply to Egypt. Egyptian atrocities should never be forgotten.
6. How as an AUC community can we react.
7. Use Tahrir Sq, campus of AUC for organized talks and debates on topics such as how elections were forged, and torture.
8. Form a student association in Egypt. There is one in Brazil.
8.a Open up a dialogue with other Cairo universities.
8b. Create a mural on the science wall.
9. Volunteer at AUC initiatives.
9a. Document the revolution with pictures.
10. University of Cairo meeting tomorrow morning (Thursday the 17th)
10a. Open our AUC library to the public.
11. Support the community.
11a. Educate the youth.
11b. Undergraduates teach the average egyptian.
12. AUC should work on eradicating illiteracy in Egypt.
13. Document human rights abuses during the revolution.
14. Community Based Learning.
15. AUC has an international advantage.
15a. US AID to the New Egypt should be socio-economic, not military.
15b. AUC needs to use its academic power and its student power to support the revolution.
*16. Each department should have a follow up to see what specifically it can do in terms of initiatives to support the revolution.
*17. The Internet should never go out again. AUC should buy its own VSAT (Very small aperture terminal)
*17a) AUC students should train citizens to combat electoral fraud.
18 AUC students should go out into Egypt to give an unbiased account of the revolution.
*19) (Dr. J) mobilize AUC alumni. Make corporations exercise true social responsibility.
19a. More freedom of information.
20 (Rami Qubain) group to encourage toursim aggressively in Egypt.
21. Work closely with faculty in national universities.
*22. Train election monitors at AUC.
*23. Use equipment at the journalism department.
*23a. Create podcasts about elections and constitutions. Simply information.
*23b. Create community service announcements regarding elections and voting, and the constitution. (WMB Note, these were used to GREAT effect in Kenya in our recent constitution process)
24. National clearing house website for volunteers. Pool resources.
*24a. Build system, offer solutions. Don't just tear down the system.
25. Teach people to be proactive.
*26. Create an independent people's radio station not owned by the government or a foreign country. This should be FM, and hosted by AUC. (WMB Note. Most American universities in the US have these and they are a GREAT resource)
27. Utilize continuuing education at AUC to educate the public.
28. Bring Tahrir Square to AUC-create a free speech corner
29. Collective job security(?)
30. Create a faster communication tool that does not need to be screened by University higher ups.
31. Create a job matching web site.
31a. Improve research funding.
32. Train people for elections.
33. Hold workshops on the ethical responsibilities of different professions.
34. Create crisis management forecasting for Egypt.
34a. AUC should partner with NGOs.
*35. Hold constitutional convention sessions at AUC.
36. Stop the ongoing harassment of journalists.
36.a Hold AUC trustees responsible in truth and reconciliation.
36b. Make classes open to auditors.
37. AUC should be less top down. It should be more open. We need more faculty input.
*38. (Dr. W) Look to African continent, particularly SA, Kenya and Ghana, for guidance on the process of democratization.
39. Tahrir Book fair on campus.
*40. (Dr. J) Committees need to be formed a) ICT b) educational outreach c) educational skills d) university to university outreach.
41. Three groups, research, speakers, organizers (for what?)
42. Look into internal university offices for corruption.
*43. Work on tourism in Egypt.
44. Give workers in Egypt a bit of pride.
46. Mobilize communities with the social development fund(?)
47. Egyptian Archives committee to document the revolution. what is the specific role of AUC? (?)
48. Re FM radio station. It is a good idea, but currently the radio station is being crushed.
48a. prevent sexual harassment in the post revolutionary period.
49. AUC needs to embrace the open university concept.
50. Help Arab youth in the middle east to repeat the gains made in Egypt.
51. Support Palestinians who cannot get back into Egypt and are stuck at the airport (?)
*52. Workshops on how to conduct elections.
*53. Awareness campaigns for democracy.
54, Support and sustain "New Egypt" behaviors, like civility, volunteerism, common defense.
55. Document the Revolution outside Tahrir Square.
56. Mobilize NGOs from other Governarates, not just Cairo.
57. (From the floor) Thank you for organizing this meeting! It was great.
(in process)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three steps toward freedom in Egypt

Here is an Oped by my department chair.

By Jennifer Bremer
February 16, 2011, 12:48 am

Egypt has started down the road to truly momentous reform, but reformers will find that road blocked unless three barriers are removed, and soon.

First, state approval to form political parties must be suspended for at least six months. In principle, such approval should be eliminated altogether, but first things first. Egypt cannot hold elections without real parties that can field candidates nationwide and compete for popular support. Right now, Egypt has no real political parties at all. Instead, it has an odd-ball assortment of handicapped and moribund groups, each dysfunctional in its own way.

The largest official party, the National Democratic Party, has been a creature of the regime from its very creation. Mubarak’s departure has hopefully put a stop to the NDP’s alarming evolution toward a quasi-fascist machine linking regime-dependent businessmen, party apparatchiks, tame intellectuals, and government officials.

This is not the time to ban the NDP or its members, however. Whatever the sins of the party leaders, the NDP, like the Chinese Communist Party and Iraq’s old Baathist party, attracted many capable and dedicated people looking to get on the inside track or, more rarely, to promote policy reform.

Many will no doubt move adroitly to distance themselves from the NDP. Their emergence in successor parties is to be welcomed, not shunned: this is the time for unity, not de-Baathification-on-the-Nile. Ex-NDP-ers who were not themselves involved in illegal or corrupt acts can bring knowledge, governing experience, and (yes) patriotism to new political groupings. There will be time later for a truth and reconciliation process, if need be.

What matters most in the coming months is that the process be truly open. This means letting not only former NDP-ers but also Muslim Brothers into the process. The Ikhwan, a party in all but law, is the only such grouping with a legitimate mass following. It cannot be kept outside the process if there is to be hope for real democracy in the Middle East’s largest nation.

The second urgent priority is to suspend state control over the formation, funding, and governance of civil associations of all kinds, including NGOs and professional syndicates. Never has there been a more urgent need to foster free exchange of ideas and information among Egyptians.

Ultimately, the whole NGO law should be rewritten, if not abolished altogether. For now, NGOs should be permitted simply to register under the companies law as non-profit corporations, as some have done in the past to avoid the repressive associations law. The one-stop-shop should accept and process such applications on an accelerated basis.

Both state approval for external funding to NGOs and state authority to approve or name board members should also be suspended. Under current regulations, NGOs must get approval for any foreign funding, even support from well-known foundations for utterly innocuous apolitical activities. Approval can take months or be denied for frivolous reasons or no reason at all.

It is meaningless to allow NGOs to open up if they cannot go after funds to do their work. Egypt’s security faces much greater threats from the social ills that NGOs tackle than from any type of social activism.

The syndicates should be freed up as well. They have historically served as independent reform voices in Egypt and across the Middle East. The Mubarak regime crippled and repressed these bodies, particularly following elections of Ikhwan-dominated boards at several syndicates. It is time to hold syndicates accountable for their performance and to end ex-ante censorship.

Third, the Higher Council should suspend state control over public polls and surveys. Policy-making during this critical period must be able to benefit from solid information on the public’s opinions, their problems, and, simply, what is happening. At present, a researcher who conducts a survey in public without state approval quite literally risks prison. No wonder reliable information to guide policy is notoriously scarce.

How to achieve all this without a legislature? Well, one advantage of being a successor state to the Ottoman Empire, like Egypt, is that senior government leaders have very broad authority to issue decrees with all the force of law.

While over-reliance on decrees has self-evident weaknesses, a recent assessment of Middle East public governance reform found using decrees could speed reform and encourage experimentation, improving later legislation. Now is a time to foster experimentations, if ever there was one.

Jennifer Bremer
chairs the Department of Public Policy and Administration in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo.

Banks closed

Yet again, the banks are closed. They have been closed for three days, Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday. In fact, since I have been here (Jan 25th), the banks have only been opened one time. No one is sure exactly why they are closed. They may be closed due to impending strikes. They may be closed due to a potential run on the bank. Yesterday they were closed due to the prophets birthday. It is very difficult to understand how an economy can function when the banks are never open.
(Feb 18, 2011) The banks are still not here. I arrived back in the country on Saturday night. The banks were open on Sunday, but were closed every other day of this week. Some say the banks are closed so that the wealthy can withdraw their money. Who knows? 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Building the New Egypt

February 13, 2011

Today is the first day of classes at AUC. Mubarak stepped down Friday at 6 p.m.

We had a fantastic meeting at the Asili Auditorium at the AUC new campus today. President Lisa Anderson presided. Faculty, staff and students were there. Everyone began there comments with "Mabruk!" Everyone referred to the events of the last days as the "Egyptian Revolution." We are thinking it may be referred to as the Tahrir Revolution.

The downtown campus is still closed. AUC is planning on renaming the downtown campus Tahrir Campus.

Everyone who spoke at the meeting began their comments with Mabruk, a joyful greeting conveying happiness at the outcome of the revolution, and meaning congratulations in Arabic. One professor asked how many had participated in the Tahrir Square protests, and 3/4 of the room stood. We held a moment of silence for the martyrs who gave their life for the revolution.

Many faculty and staff, American Egyptian, and other nationalities participated in the protests, AUC will be putting together a retrospective book and video of their experiences.

We had a faculty meeting with journalism, public policy and law. We are going to do a two day teach in about the "way forward." As Dr. Jennifer noted, the question now is shto delat, as Lenin asked. "What is to be done?"

In other news, the citizen militias appear to have dissasembled. During the revolution, groups of about twenty men would sit outside their houses on plastic chairs. The plastic chairs have been stacked up by the guard booth, and the men are no longer gathered at checkpoints. El Rehab is very quiet and pleasant, and the only reminder of the turmoil are the tanks every few miles.

The government, such as it is, is largely close. The Ministry of Interior is not operational. When I arrived I was informed that I needed to register the name of each person living in my house, along with a copy of their passports withing 48 hours. In addition, guests must register as well. Obviously, I did not do that, due to the Revolution. However, I will not be fined for registering late, since the office is not even open.

I spoke to Hamadi and Mamu. Mamu has her Kenyan accent back. She asked why she could not go to the airport with Mommy. . . .

Memories of the Revolution: Saturday, end of January, 2011.

Diary Entry: The street lamps just went on. We are sitting on the porch, Mariamu, David, Ali and I. I do not really know what is going on becuase I do not have a radio or a TV, and I do not speak Arabic.

What I do know is that most of the men in the neighborhood have armed themselves with sticks and bats. I tried to take the children on a walk. Some Egyptian women asked where I was going. I said I was going to the market. They told me not to go. They told me to go home, lock the doors, and stay inside. They said bad men were coming. On the short walk I went on, I saw many clumps of both old and young men armed with sticks, bats and metal rods.

I do not know who the bad men are. I do not know if they are the military or the protestors, or someone else.

There was prison breakout because there are no police. The population is supporting the military. The military is maintaining security. There are military helicopters flying overhead.

The government has shut down the Internet and the cell phones. Hamid Ali called on my landline to make sure that I am okay.

Memories of the Revolution: January 28th, 2011 Friday.

Diary Entry: First Impressions of Cairo are quite positive. El Rehab is much cleaner than downtown Cairo. There seems to be less air pollution. Rehab is a pleasant city, although all the apartments look alike, and it is easy to get lost. The kids really miss Hamadi and are very clingy.

In political news, there have been massive street demonstrations against Mubarak in downtown Cairo. I wonder if they will be successful. He came into power in 1981. I was 13 or 14 then. Amazing that he is still here.

I have found a good nanny, Feba. She is Sudanese. She speaks very good English and good Arabic. The kids like her. Such a relief.

Huge protests today in downtown Cairo. People are protesting Hosni Mubarak's government.

Memories of the Revolution: January 25th, 2011

Diary Entry: In Cairo. Lots to do! Trying to get Mamu into the British School. Not easy.


Right now Cairo is in the middle of a sandstorm. A sandstorm is the desert's equivalent to a blizzard. Winds range from 20 miles an hour to 100. Visibility is sharply reduced. Walking is difficult. I actually walked right past my building because I was being buffeted by the wind so hard, and could not see the giant inscription of Jameel Hall. The palm trees sway gracefully, as though they are accustomed, but the deciduous trees struggle, branches cracking.

Monday, February 14, 2011


We had a very exciting campus forum yesterday. Over three quarters of the students and staff had spent some time protesting at the Tahrir Square. Many of them had been shot at and beaten. Not all were Egyptian either. Faculty and students from a variety of countries, including the US joined the protests. Everyone prefaced their comments with the saying "Mabruk!" which means congratulations in Arabic, but more specifically expresses joy at the New post-revolution Egypt. People are referring to the events as the Egyptian Revolution. The Egyptian Flag, funnily enough, is a symbol of the Revolution. Perhaps they will call it the Tahrir Revolution.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Memories of the Mosque

The neighborhood I live in boasts at least four mosques. The early morning call from the mosque is at 5:30. Al-fajr, or al-fajiri in Swahili. The normal call in the morning is Allahu Akbar, but as the protests wore on, the calls became more complex, interweaving songs, as though the muezzin were speaking to each other. Speaking to Arabic speaking colleagues, I realized that each of these calls had a political meaning. Some days the muezzin would warn, save water. Other days they would suggest, protect your house. In a country where the government had shut down Internet, and texting, had made al jazeera in Arabic illegal, and had even made it impossible to call internationally, this society reverted quite elegantly to their oral tradition.

A New Mexico Yankee in Mubarak's Court

Dear friends

This blog will detail my adventures and experiences while working and living in Cairo in the year of protest.

I arrived in Cairo, Egypt on January 25th, 2011 to teach at American University in Cairo. I live in El Rehab, New Cairo, about 35 kilometers to the city center. I am a professor in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and I will be teaching nonprofit management as well as leadership and communication.

This blog will mix both my personal, and political experiences during this time.

Viva la democracia! Viva!