Saturday, April 30, 2011

update on Amr El Shalakany via twitter

May 2, 2011

10:54 a.m.

Tweets say Amr has been released. In my office at AUC. No law faculty around. I asked the staff secretary and she says she knows Amr has been released. She does not know whether charges are pending or not. I will keep you posted.

Nell Lancaster
RT @: Amr el-Shalakany has been released. ||Yay! Thanks.Hadn't checked my Egypt list yet, distracted by other nooz.

 00.48 a.m.

no new tweets of substance

22.19 p.m. April 30th.


Amr Shalakany transferred from military to ordinary prosecution in El Tur.  

 dalia bayoumi 

Amr El Shalakany Prof.Law Cairo Uni & AUC arrested in Sharm 3 days ago. in Suez @ Military Prosecution 4 trial Lawyers & activists on way

 allison brown 
RT @: Egyptian Military arrested AUC law professor AmrShalakani in Sinai resort Sharm el Shaikh. Now with military prosecutor.

 The Daily News Egypt 

AUC law professor to be tried before a military court  

 Mostafa Hussein 

Why is Amr El-Shalakany, a law professor in AUC, facing a military trial? WTF?

Egyptian Military Arrests AUC Law Professor

Dear readers

My colleague today pointed out that a fellow professor has been arrested by the military. Amr El-Shalakany, a well known law professor, and a faculty member at the American University in Cairo, has apparently been arrested and will be tried by a military court. On April 29,  2011, the Daily News Egypt (English edition) reported that Professor El Shalakany was arrested two days ago in the Suez for allegedly "insulting the supreme military council," and even more fantastically causing riots and burning a police station.

The Daily News Reports that "Initially he was to be released Friday when the detaining officers suddenly decided to transfer him to Suez for a trial under martial law."

I do not know Professor El Shalakany well, but I do know him. We work on the same floor at The American University in Cairo. Philip Weiss is also covering El Shalakany's detention. Amr organized an event for faculty and staff in support of the revolution that I attended, and published on my blog. He has written several columns in the New York Times.

As an attorney, as an AUC faculty member, and as a supporter of freedom of speech and the rule of law, I am really worried about Amr. I think we need to realize that we are all at risk now. I do not know what happened out in Sharm el Sheikh, but at a minimum, Amr deserves a free and fair trial, and I do not believe that a military trial is appropriate.

I am a khagawa, and I am scared, and I do not know what to do. How can we help him?

Rain in the Desert

It has been raining a lot lately in Cairo. The average rainfall in Cairo is one inch a year. Since March, it has rained four times. Yesterday it rained heavily for an hour, with large, round raindrops, which evaporated on the hot concrete. My taxi driver, Emad, remarked yesterday that he does not understand why there is so much rain, but is pleased about it. You can smell the rain when it is on its way in the desert. I grew up in the New Mexico desert, so I know the smell. It is a delicious, earthy, full smell which makes you feel happy and alive.

The desert is blooming. Bougainvillea vines (Bouganvillea glabra), previously merely undistinguished climbers, are exploding in a profusion of pink, magenta, and orange leaves. Jacaranda trees (Lamiales Bignoniaceae, genus Jacaranda) shade the streets with blooms of a deep violet. Cassia trees (Senna bicapsularis or possibly Cassia spectabilis) produce an abundance of golden flowers. Closer to the ground, the grass is a sturdy, intense dark green, shrubs of Lantana (Lantana camara), a hardy dry weather plant favored by goats, is growing wildly in clusters of tangerine and red balls flecked with white. Bright red hibiscus (Hibiscus Rosa-senensis) are coming into their own with showy flowers. The shrubs are thin, and not as abundant in Egypt as in Hawaii, but they do a wonderful job of livening up the gates of my drab monochromatic residential estate of El Rehab.

I wonder if the high amount of rain Cairo is receiving has anything to do with global warming? Geographer David Rutherford, recipient of a one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation for climate change education notes:

"Global warming produces greater energy in the atmospheric system, and that produces the potential to cause more and stronger weather (weather of all sorts). Also, warmer air holds larger amounts of water, but it also increases the rate of evaporation and transpiration (from plants). Consequently, the actual affects of increasing temperature on rain and weather events is uncertain. In addition, these effects vary from place to place, and the question of whether global warming is causing more or less rain or weather events in any particular place is difficult to determine."

The Saharan climate is fragile and it is volatile. A warmer Africa with very small increases in rainfall could green the Sahara quickly, leading to a virtuous circle of increased rainfall due to more green bio mass. Max Claussen of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has looked into this possibility.

Yet, increasing desertification remains a danger for the Sahel and Sahara. If pastoralists drive their herds into greening areas, this could destroy the positive effect increasing vegetation has on the climate. In addition, the southern edge of the Sahara is home to a rapidly burgeoning human population, which is placing severe pressure on waterways such as Lake Chad and the White Nile. According to National Geographic, North Africa is the area of greatest disagreement among climate change modelers.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Back in the MASR

Dear readers

I have been gone for ten days for some much needed rest and relaxation. The last few months have been completely exhilarating, and also completely exhausting. I spent some time in the US, tending to my garden, sipping on mint juleps, and enjoying time with my husband.

Back here in Egypt, the weather is perfect, 75 degrees farenheit, sunny and perfectly dry. The grass is green, and I awoke to birdsong. The sky is not quite blue, it has a tinge of grey in it, and the clouds are not distinct, but wispily intermingled in the background.

The weather has an edge to it, as if the sky is saying "enjoy this bout of spring, it won't last long." The coming months will be fiercely hot.

In my neighborhood I noticed for the first time that some of the palm trees in El Rehab are fake. Large metal contraptions with artificial palm fronds, topped by radio transmitters of some sort. I wonder what their function is?

Things are fairly quiet in Egypt politically, compared to weeks gone by. There is discussion of transferring Mubarak to a military hospital. The Libyan civil war rages on, with heavy fighting in Misurata and Libya's western mountains. Muslim Brotherhood members believe they are under attack by Islamophobes.  Mohammed Hassan argues that "He said the media is spiralling out of control, adding that there should be a kind of media freedom that respects the teachings of Islam." A 3400 year old statue of Amenhotep of King Amenhotep III has been discovered  in Luxor, as well as a black granite statue of the goddess Sekmet. Popular committees from around Egypt met in a demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday afternoon in an attempt to inaugurate a prolonged coordinated effort.

While I was in the US, my husband remarked that I was spending money like there was no tomorrow. Perhaps because in the past few months, it has often felt that way. WMB

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Solidarity Musical Interlude: Sout el Horeya "the sound of freedom is calling"

University of Texas first year Arabic students sing Sout el Horeya, an anthem of the Egyptian Revolution.

I went down to the streets, vowing not to return

And wrote with my blood on every street

Our voices reached those who could not hear them

And we broke through all barriers

Our weapon was our dreams

And tomorrow is looking bright as it seems

For ages we've been waiting

Searching for a place for us

In every street in my country The sound of freedom is calling

we held our head up high to the sky

And hunger didn't matter to us anymore

The most important thing is our rights

And write our history with our blood

If you were one of us

Don’t blather and tell us

to leave and abandon our dream

and stop saying the word ‘I’

In every street in my country The sound of freedom is calling


Dark Egyptian Hands; against discrimination, rise

Outstretched amid roars of might

O Novel Youth,

Into spring the autumn weaves

Awakening the murdered by a miracle achieved

Kill me, the dead shall not retreat your country

With the ink of blood, I write the future of my country

Is that my blood or spring?

Both are in green

I smile from happiness not grief

In every street in my country The sound of freedom is calling

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Updated Facts on Libyan Crisis: Week of April 11, 2011

Dear readers

This update is culled from Al Jazeera, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Democracy Now. WMB

Gaddafi accepted the African Union's road map for peace, which calls for an immediate cease fire, and a dialogue with the opposition about the reform. The rebels said that the only thing that will satisfy them is the ouster of Gaddafi and his family. The African Union is not thought to be neutral because it is packed with Gaddaffi allies. (Washington Post, 4.10.11)

The Libya contact group has met in Qatar. The Libyan rebels are seeking international recognition. They are to tell world powers at a meeting in the Qatari capital Doha that Gadadafi's removal from power is the only way out of their country's deepening crisis. (Al Jazeera 4.12.11) Libyan rebels offensives on Misurata. Widespread fighting continues as NATO comes under pressure to step up its military campaign against Gaddafi's forces.  Qatar has delivered oil products to Benghazi. The gulf state also confirms it has marketed one million barrels of Libyan crude oil on behalf of rebels. (Al Jazeera 4.12.11)  Misurata is under siege by Gaddafi's forces. (Al Jazeera 4.12.11) France and Britain want NATO to fight harder against Gaddafi's forces (Washington Post, 4.12.11)

A truce plan for Libya is rejected by the rebels (NYT, 4.13.11)  Rebel groups in Libya have rejected an African poposal to end the fighting unless leaders Muammar Gaddafi agreed to leave office immediately. Ali Suleiman Aujali, the former Libyan ambassador to the US argues that Libyans cannot accept Gaddaffi or his family. (Democracy Now, 4.12.12)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


This post previously published at Blogcritics. WMB

Dear readers,

I got on the elevator this morning to go to my office at AUC. I was alone with my coffee. I saw a group of about twelve janitors, both male and female, standing around in front of the elevator. My co-worker had told me that sometimes in Egypt, higher status people will not share the elevator.

Egypt is a deeply class-based society, in my opinion, and there are many moments when people jostle for status over everything from titles, to clothing, to who rides in the elevator. Well folks, not on my watch.

I am American. We hold these truths to be self evident: all men (and women) are created equal. I am "Black." My people have been held down too long for me to hold someone else down. I am African, descended from the Mau Mau. We have to fight for the right to be free.

One of the slogans of the January 25th Revolution was "bread, democracy, human dignity." I asked all the janitors to come into the elevator. I smiled broadly and waved them in. My Arabic is not very good, but I said, "Ahlen." Be welcome. Everyone came in, and everyone smiled and laughed. The elevator door closed, and we started moving. The revolution starts here, and it starts now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Political Parties are the Frameworks of Democracy: Issues in the Transition to Democracy in Egypt Part 2

Dear readers

These are my notes from the question and answer session of a really amazing lecture I attended at the American University in Cairo, Tahrir Campus. The lecture was held on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. These lectures are part of the Tahrir Dialogue Series were sponsored by the AUC School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The speakers included Dr. Ibrahim Awad (Director of the Center of Migration and Refugee Services at AUC), Dr. Nevine Mossaad (Institute of Arab Research and Studies Cairo University), Dr. Ibrahim El Issawy (National Planning Institute, People's Alliance Party), Dr. Amr El Shobaky (Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies) and Dr. Samer Soliman (AUC and Social Democratic Party). Simultaneous translation was provided. [] means I am adding in my own summary or interpretation, or pointing to something I may have left out. Any errors in transcription are my own. WMB

Questions from the Audience for Ibrahim

1. Economic Cost of the Revolution

2. We did not have a market economy before. How do we create one?

3. Six point program- how does it affect investment?

4. Nasr/National Project/Arab Israel Conflict

Ibrahim El Issawy

Regarding Economic costs. I make my calculations based on the ministry of finance. $610 million Egyptian Pounds (LE) daily were lost during the revolution. Such losses will continue for two months. The total would be 37 billion LE. This is the equivalent to the national economy over 9 days. This is not a big cost for a revolution that will lead to social justice and human dignity.

Can the economy go back to pre-financial crisis levels? Well, the government reports under Mubarak that Egypt was growing at 7% were not true. I have been saying this for forty years. Maybe the growth rate was at 4%. In terms of what citizens got, maybe it was at 2%. Let us say the economy was grwoing at 4%. We can get back to that. There was a lot of distortion in the economy [under Mubarak] Corruption was beyong our imagination. Liberalization was designed to open our markets to the West to service them. Let's look at the Eastern Tigers. We cannot copy things. We need a new developmental philosophy.

Questions from Audience for Niveen

1. Tripartite political parties?

2. Is the new party going to allow competitiveness?

3. Is there a pact between the Military and the old regime?

4. Are there MB Links with Hamas?

[One strange thing] is that I hardly see any of the faces we saw throughout for 18 days. Opposition is something we need. The Military Council is practicing control of the media. The Military Council is not impartial. I do not think I am going home today {laughter, referring to endangering herself with this statement}. There is a partnership between the Military Council and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is clear. And the major powers who pushed for amendments are NDP. Another proof. Formation of Sayed Mashaal. [Not sure about this].

How can we have constitutional amendments without dialogue? [The military thinks they can take] step 1,2,3, and after that the democratic system will appear. [We tried that in Iraq and it did not work] It is only form, and not content. Everyone is talking about a civil state. Muslim Brotherhood will run for presidency. Now we are in the middle of a competition, but we are not equal. Some parties have had a head start. {Muslim Brotherhood and National Democratic Party}.

Iran’s leadership has a double standard. They supported the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. They are supporting the revolution in Bahrain. Iran supports Bashar and Hezbollah. Inside and outside. I do not think there is a relationship between Moshed and MB. Not inspired. The Iranian Revolution has a specific meaning.

Political Issues in the Transition to Democracy in Egypt. Part 1

Dear readers

These are my notes from a really amazing lecture I attended at the American University in Cairo, Tahrir Campus. The lecture was held on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. These lectures are part of the Tahrir Dialogue Series were sponsored by the AUC School of Global Affairs and Public Policy  and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The speakers included Dr. Ibrahim Awad (Director of the Center of Migration and Refugee Services at AUC),  Dr. Nevine Mossaad (Institute of Arab Research and Studies Cairo University), Dr. Ibrahim El Issawy (National Planning Institute, People's Alliance Party), Dr. Amr El Shobaky (Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies) and Dr. Samer Soliman (AUC and Social Democratic Party). Simultaneous translation was provided. [] means I am adding in my own summary or interpretation, or pointing to something I may have left out. Any errors in transcription are my own. WMB 

Ibrahim Awad: Regarding the transition to democracy, there are a number of questions concerning the political parties law. Who was consulted in drafting this law? Is three to five months enough to create new parties?

Ibrahim Issawy: Actually, I want to talk about an economic angle. After this optimishm that we enjoyed for a few days after Mubarak left, after a short time we had the constitutional amendments. Some were confused, so appeared not to vote. Some said it was a religious duty [to vote]. People were victims []. Article 2 was not part of the referendum, but people were told to vote on it. They told us that there was going to be a dialogue. No one contacted me. Nothing was arranged. This banning of demonstrations. Why? We should have a dialogue. This insistence makes us worried and suspicious. The idea here is that what we see now is restoring the old law. Also, the military council was given a note [?]. Referendum, new constitution. Why are we wasting our time? Why should we go for--we need more time. If the military people are in a hurry [to get back to their duties] we can have a technocratic caretaker government. [We need the] formation of a committee for amendments. The legal personnel [appointed by the SCAF] were not specialized in Constitutional Law. Too much weight was given to the Muslim Brotherhood [on the committee].

The slogans of the revolution were economic.

1) Change, freedom, social justice
2) Bread, freedom, human dignity

Democracy is a tool to get to these objectives. We need a more even distribution of wealth. We want the whole system to come down. Not destroy the state, but redesign the state. The New Prime Minister said we are not going back "on free economy [?]." I think that this is just a way to reassure investors. What is the Egyptian economy going to be like.

In the short term, urgent steps are needed to bridge the economic gap. It is important to have a multi-phase program to deal with problems. Students want to get rid of the leadership that enslaved people for a long time. [missed some words] One is making 10 million Egyptian pounds a month, one is making 150 Egyptian pounds a month. We see this in banks. We can redistribute income and improve lower wages. Regarding minimum wage-let;s take some measure. Make people feel assured. Lets take from the millionaires. Improve services. Create investment opportunities. Right now there is no tax for capital profits. Maybe we can divide one big company into smaller ones. Investors want stability. In the previous period we lacked planning. They lacked a ministry for planning. There are clear ways to coordinate between sectors.

Ibrahim Awad: The economy is part of political life. The revolution succeeded because the victims reconsidered their doubts [Not sure about this].

Nevine Mossaad: I will talk about some points in brief. Are we actors or reactors? The relationship between three parties: The people, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the religious powers. We were not consulted by SCAF on the amendments or the coming elections. When some of us had some reservations, we were told we wanted to delay stability. Mubarak stated this for 30 years, If what we wanted was stability, why did we have a revolution? We are not actors, we are reacting. The law of political parties was imposed on us. The national dialogue, I was invited to it, but it was not set for a sepcific date. How serious is it if no preparation is made? No, we will choose speakers according to their importance. No one has mentioned anything to us, and the dialogue is supposed to start tomorrow. {I am not sure if this dialogue took place. I will have to check} You have not prepared the files for the speakers.

We are invited to discuss the political parties law. But we don't have a trade union law. Law 100 has been annulled. Some people in the trade unions and syndicates drove away their leadership by force. Part of the civil society is not well organizaed. We need to prepare for ILO {International Labor Organization}. Some of the provisions in the political parties law: it is not allowed to have a political party on the basis of religion or race. Why don't we establish a political party for the workers as a class? Don't the workers matter? How can the MB be a member of another party if he is from a religious group. Annull Article 3.

The relationship between religious organizations and civil society. Why do we have to have a committee to approve political parties. It is an obstacel. There is a short time between the April and September elections. Who has the power to organize these large numbers. Collect 5000 signatures form 10 governorates in a short period of time. I have serious reservations about the political parties law. Egyptians want to form new parties, We need to form NGOs. One party wants to establish development programs.

Samr Soliman: He is with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He is a leftist. On the one hand we have trade union freedom, but protesters do not have the right to speak. The nature of this transitional period is important. I am not here as an academic, but as the founder of a new party. 1) People must be held accountable 2) We must be able to form civilian parties.

It is natural what is happening in Egypt. It is difficult to have a revolutionary government. We could have a coalition government, but the opposition is splintered. I think that party of the old regime is trying to get rid of a different part of the old regime.

The military is leading the transition. They could have gotten rid of the Constitution completely. But people are tired. We have lost momentum. The pressure should continue to keep the gains of the revolution and to clean the system. {Editors note, this talk given before the events of April 9th}. Look at the military police. Sometimes they are very violent for no reason. There are cases of torture. The committee making amendments was not elected. In fact, the committee was very imbalanced.  Bad luck. The 2d article was not part of the referendum. What is really worrying and scary about the amendments is that people with a double nationality or people with a foreign wife or husband cannot be president.

We need peaceful pressure to follow the right path. We have a problem. There is no political life for the last thirty years, and suddenly we have elections in September, yet there are no political parties. 1) forgery 2) violence 3) mney 4) groupings want to be represented. We have to pressure the transitional authority. We have to build political parties, work, join, volunteer. For the first time in years, people have an appetite for politics. Thousands of people have come to us {the SDP}. Middle aged and young. People have lots of ideas, social justice and democracy. bread, democracy, humanity and dignity. These were the goals of the revolution. The religious trend is gaining. Some times they give bribes like good supplies. We cannot do that. We have to respect people's political rights [not bribe them]. We need to talk to them about education and opportunities.

Ibrahim Awad: Dr. Samr said part of the old regime has moved away the most corrupt people. What is your opinion about the political parties law?

Amr El Shobawky: I am more optimistic than what my dear friend Dr. Nevine said. This optimism means that the transition to democracy is difficult. The late transition did not eradicate the old regime as occurred in revolutions in France, Russia and Iran. The Egyptian institution was not prepared for this. The Egyptian Revolution got up to 12 million people in one day. They did not eradicate the old regime. So I don't think we are an exception. One half of the Eastern Europeand countries were transformed by arrangements [at the end of the Cold War]. The camel battle has its precedent in Argentina. This is a good start we can build on in the future, In 2003, there was a change in Iraq. Iraq is a rich country. It has oil. But the starting point for the revolution in Egypt should be better than that in Iraq. The relationship between the people and the army: mutial respect will open horizons. In Portugal there was a coup d'etat and this opened the path to democracy.

The difficulties and the challenges we are witnessing in our transition to democracy. Article 3 of the political parties law is a disaster. [Based on the current amendments to the Constitution] President Sadat should not be president, because he is part Sudanese. Sarkizy could not be President of France because he is part Hungarian. Egyptians are reacting [missed something here] This is not in favor of the Egyptian society. The principle regarding independent candidacy. Membership requiring 5000 members to have a new party. This is good because we need to develop the hairdressing and barber profession [I know, non sequiter, but that is what my notes say] . 5000 signatures is reasonable. Solid ground. It is reasonable to get rid of parties without 500 signatures. There were 12 million protesters at the square. We need real elites. 5000 members to establish a party is reasonable.

In the same framework, political Islam is different now than before the 25th of Jan. There are problems. They are allowed now to have their political parties. We cannot have a democratic system that solves these issues by oppression. It appears the Muslim Brotherhood will have three parties. Christians were raising the flag of Egypt. The fundamentalists were raising the flag of Egypt. There is a New Egyptian identity.

Ibrahim Awad: He is optimistic, despite the confusion. He thinks the political parties can collect signatures. This democracy game will teach people not to be extreme.

See question and answer session in next post. WMB

The Arabist's Account of Army Crackdown on Tahrir

Dear readers

Here, I am reposting  the account by Issandr Al Amrani  of the Army crackdown on Tahrir Square on Friday/Saturday, April 9, 2011. WMB

I received this email about last night's events in Cairo's Tahrir Square, when army and security forces crackdown down on protestors who had set up camp in the square. There is still a lot of confusion about what happened, with the army claiming that thugs from the NDP had attacked the square and claiming it intervened to disband them. Activists say this is untrue. Reuters reported (and here's an updated version of that same article) that the army intervened against the protestors after curfew, firing shots in the air. The videos at the bottom of this post have the sound of a lot of gunfire, but there have been no reports of wounded or casualties to my knowledge (Update: Reuters says 2 dead, 15 wounded @11am). David Dietz also has an eyewitness account of the night, including brutality, in this post.

Another night of army brutality, nearly 1500 protesters were spending the night in Tahrir square tonight including 30 army officers that joined the demonstrations today and remained with the demonstrators throughout the night.

The demonstrations today April 8th and the sad morning of the 9th stressed those main two demands:

1.The immediate trial of Mubarak, the dictator that has not yet been touched, still operating in his luxurious mansion in Sharm, given the time to transfer and move the stolen funds and creating with his presence a major sense of disappointment, encouraging his followers to keep the pressure on the nation and keeping his system intact, igniting the counter revolution.

For the remainder of the article continue reading at the arabist. WMB

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lecture by Amr Hamzawy: Egyptians Need Political Awareness

Dear readers

I attended a lecture at Bassily Auditorium at the AUC New Cairo on April 8, 2011. The speaker was Dr. Amr Hamzawy. Dr. Hamzawy, who irritatingly is the exact same age that I am, earned his doctorate at the Free University in Berlin. He has announced his intention to form a new political party , the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He has worked at the Carnegie Endowment, and currently teaches at Cairo University. Learn more about him here and also here. Again, translation was provided by a student. He spoke incredibly fast, so I have done my best here.  I summarize in some places indicated by [...] I was unable to stay for the question and answer period, but this represents the entire formal lecture. WMB

"I worked at Carnegie in Beirut. I write a monthly report. I teach political science in Cairo University. I am so happy to be teaching at Cairo University where I graduated. This is a very important time in Egyptian History. All of you are living it and joining in it."

"I am happy with the new Prime Minister. I am working with the Ministry of Youth. I am 43 years old. I am engaging with the Youth Ministry in the upper governorates of Egypt, not just Cairo and Alexandria. I have closen this role, I have not been forced into it."

"We are in a transitional phase in Egypt. It is not the role of political analysts to take a political job. They should raise awareness instead. There are four main points I want to make. {He did not immediately say what those were. They came out later} We as Egyptian youth, we need awareness and engagement. I do not think we should have one organization for young people. Youth should participate in all parties, and in all organizations."

"What is happening now in Egypt? The worry of all Egyptians, the changes we have asked for, the demands we have made are not being implemented quickly enough. This is causing worry. There is fear. People are worried because elections are taking place very fast. It is normal that we have fear and concerns. We never thought about having a real competitive election. We do not know how to participate in elections."

"Yet, do not let this fear and worry [paralyze you]. Do not become victims of the fear. Now, because of this fear, people may not engage enough in political life. There is a fear that one party will take over {Probably referring to Muslim Brotherhood here}. This will lead to where we have been in the past where only 2 to 3 percent of people were engaging in civilian life."

"We might be afraid to make a decision. It is hard to make up your mind. Or, if you go and make up your mind to vote for someone, you do not know if he will win. We must control our fear so that we can make decisions and form political parties. How do we deal with this fear?"

"We must be organized as Egyptians. We need more knowledge about politics in Egypt. The youth should care about this. We need a lot of political awareness all over Egypt. Awareness, Awareness, Awareness. We have to create awareness to make people feel secure".

"1. Make Egyptians Feel that they have freedom of choice
2. Social Media. We can use nontraditional media in an organized way to handle our fear. Discuss our fears in a written format, verbally, online.
3. Organize events like the one we are sitting in now. Encourage people to have events in the villages. Go outside Cairo, go outside Alexandria. Have an organization to teach people about democracy all over Egypt.
4. Each person has his own society, his friends, his family, his mosque. Teach them. Some people are asking for things to calm down. [Tell them that we need to ask for our rights] Discuss with family, neighbors. People are asking for their rights."

"There are four main ways to deal with fear."

"People are afraid that the religious parties will take over. [It is important to understand] that democracy will not always lead to what you want. This does not change the normal life. There is the fear that the liberal people want to cancel the identity of Islam in Egypt. There is a contrast. On the one hand, people worry that there will be a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. On the other hand, people worry that Egypt will lose its identity as a Muslim nation. [These fears are exaggerated]"

"What are the challenges that we are facing here in Egypt?

1. We got rid of some of the people in the old regime, but the system is still in place. Aside from the removal of the President and the Parliament, the entire system is still in place. We should question and investigate everyone in every hierarcy in the country. We need an appraisal. We need to question everything going forward. Everyone should be held accountable for his actions. There should be freedom of ideas. Everyone should accept others' ideas. The people should be comfortable with accountability and questioning whether something is [being done correctly in government].

2. If you want to move to democracy, all our energy should not be exhausted on [removing] the old regime. Building democracy requires a longer time frame. The first step is the Constitution. The changes to the Constitution [should take place] in September, after the elections. The change of the Constitution should take place. All of us should engage in discussion. What do we want the new identity of Egypt to be? People from the military cannot just write the Constitution. People need to engage, and the [Constitution] has to represent us. We have to believe in it and [have ownership].

3. Parliamentary elections [something about fundraising, something about legal framework]. Get to know the people. Some want liberty, others want social equality. Everyone who comes up with a party program has to be responsible for it. Each Egyptian has three roles. (1) Go for the election (2) Monitor the election (3) Be a source of news for what you see. The coming elections will not be perfect. After parliamentary elections come the presidential election. We have to think about what we want. Do not think about [which candidate] you like, but about your demands.

4. Think about the hierarchy of responsibility in Egypt. We come from an autocratic system. Do you want the old way, where one person [Mubarak] is in changre of everything, or someone who gives responsibilities to others in the country. Or do you want a president who is judged and held accountable for everything? After the presidential election, there will be a calming down. Think about the hierarchy of responsibility. Think about the organization of Egypt. What about local governance? Egypt has been centralized. The budget has been centralized. Governorates need their own budgets and their own plan."

"You have to be passionate as Egyptians. Democracy needs patience. You have to have patience and accept the other side."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Army Cracks Down on Protests in Tahrir Square

Dear Readers

As you know, there was a massive protest in Tahrir Square yesterday. Local reports suggest as many as one and a half million gathered in the square to ask for more rapid reform and oppose corruption. According to a lecture I attended moderated by Dr. Ibrahim Awad the other day, what may have taken place on January 25th was not so much a Revolution, but a situation in which a slightly more liberal part of the government (SCAF) ousted a more conservative, and stale part of the government (Mubarak).

Citizens are increasingly dismayed by the slow rate of reform in the post-revolutionary period. Further, the SCAF has become gradually more repressive, restricting rights of freedom of organization and freedom of assembly, rushing through edicts with no public input, and limiting the right of the people to form the political parties of their choice. This is leading to anger and frustration among Egyptian citizens.

Things came to a head yesterday. News reporting is very unclear, but some kind of fighting broke out yesterday. Local sources differ regarding exactly what happened. One version is that NDP (Mubarak) thugs caused trouble, dressing up as army people. One version is that some soldiers joined the protesters. Regardless, it appears that there was fighting between protesters and the Army. Protesters have put barricades of barbed wire around square.

Here is a flash update.

Political Leaders Call for Peace with Army as Protesters Pledge to Continue.

Egyptian Museum Closed Following Clashes

Egyptians turn Anger on Army in Tahrir Protest

Police Fire on Crowd in Tahrir Square

Egypt Army to Use Force To Clear Protests

Egypt's Youth Leaders Vow Continued Protests

Friday, April 8, 2011

Reformer from Muslim Brotherhood: Talk by Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fottoh

Dear Readers, I attended a talk by Dr. Abol Fottoh today. There was no simultaneous translation. A student translated for me. So this is not verbatim, but gives you a good gist of what was said. It was a very long talk, so this is just an excerpt. Dr. Abol Fottoh is known as a reformist within the Muslim Brotherhood. He has resigned from that party, and is planning to start his own party, known as Egypt's Renaissance. For more about him, read here . WMB

"Islam provides general laws, not specific ones. Egypt needs freedom for everyone. We should not force people to obey Islam. We give them advice. We would not do like Gulf Countries when they force people to wear the veil. This is against freedom."

"Islam provides general rules. The government should represent the majority of the people and do what they want. They underestimated Al Azhar {editors note, Al Azhar is an educational institute in Egypt. It was founded in 970 A.D. It is the chief Centre for Arabic literature and Sunni Islamic Learning.  The University's mission includes the propagation of Islamic Culture and Religion} They did not give it its proper position. It could act as a ministry that shows whether someone is following Islam. Those who think people are religious extremists should try to balance them, bring them to reason, not judge them or punish them."

"El Azhar is also a place where they educate people. Someone wanted to study music. Dr. Fottoh says that is fine. It is nice and acceptable. Music is art. If it is classy, music is fine. {Some Muslims think Music is forbidden} Just do not abuse the music. Do not play innappropriate music. Do not play innappropriate songs that are meaningless." [Fottoh does not say he would ban this bad music, but he is against it] "The main purpose of art and literature is to enrich the human soul. But art these days is meaningless and useless."

[Fottoh would not order all women to wear the veil, but he would advise them to do so] "But, I will not ask all girls to wear the veil. France should not ban hijab. People have a right to wear hijab. But Iran should also not make people wear hijab, people have a right not to wear it."

"The Turkish model is secular, but it is not against religion. It does not prevent people from being religious. Being secular is about freedom. They [probably referring to recent SCAF ban on religious parties] cannot ban religion."

"Parliament originally comes from society. It represents society. We can argue in Parliament about a social issue like homosexuality. They would not agree on something against society. They would not accept it. It is not acceptable in society to have homosexuality, it is taboo. So, in the Parliament they cannot accept it."

"Will the Muslim Brotherhood be participating in politics? There are different groups, Salafists, sunnis. All Muslims have the same Muslim thought. Forcing people in the name or religion is not allowed. All of Egypt should represent itself, not a certain group or party. There are over 200 political parties right now {They are incredibly weak}. Eventually, there will be three or four who dominate. A certain party will be in charge until then. There are extreme religious people in Egypt. They want that Sharia laws will be applied. It is in human nature that people will be divided by religion, politics, gender. We should accept different points of view. This will make society stronger. Variety will make us stronger. We need competition in a good way.  Al-Ikhwān [Muslim Brotherhood] is not a political party. It is an Islamic Movement that demands improvements to the country. Any Islamic movement is not concerned about politics."

"We only had a few weeks to decide whether to change the Constitution. It is not the Army's job to rule the country. The change in the Constitution should have taken more time.  Perhpas two years, to choose what changes to make or not make. The previous system considered Al-Ikhwān a competitor. In the previous system, I wanted to compete with honest and fair people, not corrupted ones. We were only allowed to vote yes or no on the Constitution. Neither yes or no meant radical changes. This vote was not reasonable. We should have been allowed to ask for a totally new Constitution."

"Q: Why is there a crisis of trust between the people and Al-Ikhwān? A: Movements are from the people. A percentage does not agree with what the Brotherhood thinks. That does not mean that all of Egypt is against the movement. In 1984 the Brotherhood entered the parliamentary elections. Some of the Brotherhood saw corruption, and did not want to be part of a corrupt system."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mohammed El Baradei: We are born with a call for freedom

Dear Readers

Sorry to gush, but today I met Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Prize Winner, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and revolutionary. One of the really cool things about my current job is that I work with Dr. Laila El Baradei, who is the sister of MEB. I attended a lecture today organized by students. It was called the Leadership for Education and Development Program. The theme was "Political Activism." Mohamed El Baradei was one of the speakers. Here are the best effort I could make of notes from this event. The event was in Arabic, so I listened to the translator. Notes are mostly verbatim, but some places I summarize. These are indicated by [..] Cheers, WMB

Here is the very short Al Masry Al Youm article about it El Baradei calls for 50 strong civil consultative council.

"We do respect the Army's role because it was the protector of the revolution. Today, the Army could appoint a consultative council to help it govern. Transparency is the road to Democracy."

"Do we have the kind of parties that enrich the debate? No, we do not. It does not matter if we have a parliamentary or a presidential system. There is no perfect democracy in the world. Every day, we learn something new. It is so important to be critical, to think critically. The important thing is that you think. This is something the previous regime killed in us."

"[Law must change with the times] In the US, in 1954 they said segregation was constitutional. The Highest Court said segregation was constitutional. The same court in the 1970s said we need integration. In terms of politics in Egypt, we need a coalition. We don't necessarily want a proportional system if it will result in distortion. We want everyone to be represented. The electorate should feel you represent their interests."

"The recent law requiring that a party have 5000 signatures from 29 governorates and publish in two state owned papers is an obstruction. Each of these signatures must be publicly notarized.: This is an obstruction, an impediment. [The new parties should be allowed] Before we promulgate the laws, we need the laws to reflect the views of the people. We are still holding the old mindset. The laws are not like the scripture, or the Bible. We should be able to change. Do not restrict freedom of association."

"Democracy means respect of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. The judiciary must be independent. Open the windows of democracy for freedom. Give the people the right to debate."

"In the 1971 Constitution, it said freedom of religious affiliation or belief is absolute."

"One half of Egyptians are below the poverty line. People went to the referendum because for the first time, they felt their voice was heard. One year when I finished working at the agency [IAEA] I defended the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in politics. Each citizen should have the same rights or duties. Turkey has an Islami party but the country is completely secular. [This is the model we should follow] No one should impose his or her religious affiliation on anyone else."

"The youth are ready to hold office. I visited all the Eastern European states, their leaders are young, between 30 and 40."

"In a press conference, I said Egypt would live in this malady unless Mubarak was tried, or left the country. We should start with the head of corruption who is the former president.  There are 500 prominent figures who should be tried. Does it make sense that we have a camel battle during the Black Wednesday of the revolution? We err, but we need to learn from our mistakes. The only perfection is in God."

"The characteristic of democracy is that we do not need to take rushed decision. Take a slow decision with many views considered. I live near the pyramid side. I look at the luxurious buildings, and then the slum areas. We do a lot of injustice. How do we reduce the gap of poor and rich? We need access to education and health care. You have to know your budget, and allocate appropriately. The AUC graduates knowledgeable people. They need to help the poor. The short term goals of the country should be

  • Education
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Food

"We lack credibility with the people. If you are planting your fields, ensure a minimal level of food security. Our priorities today [must be to] build the Egyptian human being. [Help people] to live a decent life. I met John Kerry. I said that the money you spend on terrorism is squandered. The human being, when he loses hope in life, bombs himself. Help the young people meet their aspirations, and they will not be terrorists."

"Can we say that whole nationalities should be denied entry to Egypt? We should think rationally. In the past it used to take us a year to get a visa to Western countries. [We should not repeat that mistake]."

"The constitutional referendum was controversial. It was not proceeded by national dialogue. Would I have prevented [unclear] from seeking the presidency because his wife was French? No. We should think about what we are saying."

"I hope that we continue to put our faith in the Army. I do not object to the army itself, but rather to the Army as the [essence] of the state. Should we have mandatory military service? Obligatory enrollment in the Army for three years? All these issues are subject to discussion. The Army, Police Officers and Judiciary should vote. [They have not in the past] Maybe mandatory service is good, but we should discuss this. Maybe we need a reserve, or a volunteer service. I cannot give you the answer, but we need to have a public discussion of these issues."

"42% of Egyptians live under the poverty line, but realistically,90 percent of Egyptians are poor. We must guarantee people a free and dignified life. In 2010 the minimum wage was 35 LE  a month (about 7 dollars) Now it is 400 LE (about 80 dollars). The Editor in Chief of a Government Newspaper was making One million pounds a month (A lot, 250,000 dollars) It is not that the country is poor, but we need to redistribute the wealth."

"Article 2 of the Constitution. There is a great sensitivity to this. Article 2 does reflect Islamic principles. Equality and Justice are also Islamic principles. It is about the interpretation of the article. Let us focus on the real problems facing Egypt. I was in Cuba. The education rate there is 100% despite the American embargo of forty years. Castro's son chaired a program at UNESCO on how to reach out to people in villages to educate them."

Question from Audience: Do you think that Egyptian people are politically mature enough for democracy?
Answer. "The elite in Egypt has been polarized. But now, people are excited about the chance to vote. Many people voted in the referendum even though they were not well informed. [This is okay, people will learn as they exercise their right to vote.] Democracy is freedom and social justice. We are born with a call for freedom. It is inherent in us."

QFA: What should the position of the New Egypt be towards Israel? Answer: "Israel marginalized the Palestinians. The Arab World did not deal with the issue. There is no balance of power. Israel will come to us when Arab states become strong. Iran and Turkey are two strong states. A strong state is measured by what you contribute to world civilization. The Palestinian problem will not be solved in a military way. In the 40s, we had the Arab League. Recently, Arab regimes have become a joke."

QFA: Should we have a parliamentary or presidential system? Answer: "We need a popular consensus. We need an alternative to the authoritarian example. India is progressing ahead because it is a democracy. Unleash the powers and freedom of the human being."

QFA: Do you believe that Egypt can become an Islamic State? Answer: "We are always talking about mottos and slogans. Does religious reference mean we have divine and lofty values? Yes. If we believe in the true spirit of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, we must have good intentions. I met the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama says that prayer should be linked to action. Islam says that also. It is better to do an action, then spend the day in the mosque praying. When we speak of this political coalition [that should rule Egypt.] We should solve these problems within a humanitarian framework."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Updated Post on Facts of Libyan Crisis: Week of April 3, 2011

Dear readers

Sorry for the hiatus on news reporting. I went to Kenya to pick up my children this weekend. I evacuated them from Egypt during the Revolution. So we are all back in a New Egypt. Okay, back to work! WMB

Updated April 9, 2011, 11:21 p.m. Cairo time. 

There is the possibility that Libya will be partitioned as war continues into a stalemate.

Updated April 8, 2011, 12:03 p.m. Cairo time. For previous updates, click here

According to Democracy Now, Libyan rebels accuse NATO of killing rebels in air strikes near town of Brega. Rebel leaders have sharply criticized NATO of failing to stop advance of Qadaffi. {editors, note, surprised what a big difference between NATO and US, and also surprised at how strong Qadaffi is.} Four journalists, including two Americans, have been detained in Libya.

April 5th
Democracy Now reports the following:  The FBI has begun questioning Libyans and Libyan Americans living in the US. Libyan Rebels have rejected a proposal that would depose Qaddafi but leave one of his sons in power (Seif Al Islam el-Qaddafi). Rebels are beginning to export oil to fund their operations. Libya is Africa's third largest oil producer. Mohammed Nabous, a Libyan citizen journalist in Benghazi was shot and killed Saturday morning. According to the New York Times,  "Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi battered rebel fighters on the road outside a strategic oil town Tuesday." Libyan Rebels Flee Brega. Apparently, since NATO has taken charge of the air command, air strikes are less frequent. The Libyan government spokesman stated that Qaddafi must remain in power or risk a power vacuum. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Protecting Freedom of Information in Egypt: What is Old is New Again


Please read the rest of this article in Al Masry Al Youm.  WMB
Freedom of Information and freedom of expression are under fierce and sustained attack in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East. Innovative solutions are required to protect our right of assembly, our right to dialogue, our freedom of the press, our right to form political parties, and our right to communicate with our global neighbors.  Yet sometimes the answers are right in front of us.
Much has been written about how "Army and the people are one hand" in Egypt. Overall, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has exercised a competent and relatively benign approach to governing Egypt. Yet, lest we lapse into complacency, there are some warning signs, particularly in the area of free expression and freedom of information.
First, the right of the Egyptian people to organize themselves into political groupings of their choice is under attack. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. This gives political parties only five months to form and prepare for elections. This short time line arguably heavily favors already established groups.  New parties will need the approval of at least 5000 voters from ten of Egypt's 29 provinces. I attended a lecture at the American University in Cairo at Tahrir Square on Tuesday night, in which the Nevine Mossad, Amr El Shobaky, Samer Soliman, and Ibrahim El Issawy said that this provision also requires publication in two major newspapers. The costs for this kind of publication could run to one million Egyptian pounds, which will likely disadvantage new parties.

Continue reading in Al Masry Al Youm