Sunday, October 30, 2011

Discrimination, Censorship and Torture

Activist blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah (Photo:

We are all Essam Atta today.

Essam Atta, 24, has apparently been tortured to death at Cairo's Tora prison. He was a victim of flooding his body with water through his mouth and anus. His family received calls from other inmates about the torture. Atta was being punished for smuggling a mobile phone SIM card into his cell. He had been tried by a military court on February 25th in relation to illegally occupying an apartment, and sentenced to two years. His family says he was simply nearby a scuffle at the time of his arrest.

Egyptian Prison Guards Accused of Torture Death
Latest alleged torture death in Egypt prompts public outcry against SCAF

It is not an easy time to be a journalist or a blogger in Egypt. In my view, the SCAF seems to have a consistent, and purposeful policy of harassing, intimidating, and arresting journalists and bloggers who criticize their regime.

Activists Alaa Seif Abd El-Fattah and Bahaa Saber were questioned at the offices of the military prosecution this morning, Sunday on charges of instigating the Maspero clashes. Abd El-Fattah runs the political blog Manalaa. He is one of Egypt's most famous bloggers. Human rights activist Mona Seif says that military prosecutors claim to possess video footage proving that Seif and Saber (rather implausibly) had incited protesters to commit violent attacks against army personnel during the Maspero clashes.

Here is a good post by fellow blogger Abdu Rahman that links the Maspero clashes with the deaths of Atta and the imprisonment of Alaa and Bahaa.

Pictures of the Dead Continue to Haunt Us

According to Al Ahram and Al Masry, around 12,000 civilians have been tried before military courts since February 11, 2011.

The military prosecutor also summoned a journalist, Mahmoud Al-Daba, who writes for the independent weekly Sawt al-Omma, for criticizing irregularities in the appointment of lecturers at Al Azhar University. The weekly magazine was confiscated in September after criticizing Egypt's General Intelligence Services. The Editor in Chief of the paper has rejected the summons. Three journalists Hossam el-Hamalawy, Reem Maged, and Nabil Shraf al-Din were summoned to appear before military judges for criticisms of the SCAF.

Meanwhile, detained blogger Maikel Nabil has been cleared of mental illness by a panel at Abbasiya Mental Hospital. He has been returned to a military prison in northern Cairo.  Nabil was sentenced to three years in military prison for writing a blog called "The people and the army were never one hand." Ironically, as the SCAF becomes more and more ruthless against civilians, the title of Nabil's blog appears to be increasingly correct.

Journalist summoned by military prosecutor

Detained Blogger Returns to Military Prison

Finally, in the wake of the Maspero tragedy, the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a draft resolution accusing the Egyptian and Syrian governments of persecuting their Christian minorities. Some 10,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt since March, 2011. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Egyptian Expatriates can now vote (perhaps), women organize, and Egypt Above All

This report is compiled from my morning review of the Daily News Egypt, Al Ahram Online, and Al Masry Al Youm. This review was conducted over ahwa bi laban. Meanwhile, Tahrir is busy as "low-ranking (AFP's words, not mine) policemen strike in Hurghada and outside the Interior ministry in Cairo to demand  the ouster of elements of the former regime, and improved pay.

In big news reported by all papers Egyptian expatriates now may, sort of, perhaps have the right to vote. Justice Abdel Salam Al-Naggar of the Administrative Court ruled that electoral headquarters should be established in Egyptian embassies around the world. A lawsuit was brought by a group of expatriates that included famous novelist Ahdaf Soueif. The Egyptian vote abroad movement was organized partly using social media, including Facebook, and twitter.

Mohamed ElBaradei talked about the matter before the revolution. Approximately 8 million Egyptians live abroad. Apparently, after the Revolution, numerous Egyptians began to register at Egyptian embassies in their host countries. It is not clear if the SCAF will respect the court's ruling.  This ruling is not likely to translate immediately into implementation, and it is not clear if it will be applicable for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Al Ahram points out that women in Egypt are organizing. Before the Revolution, women in the farming sector were forbidden from organizing. Female peasants in Imbaba district's Werdan village formed the first union for women farmers in Egypt this week. They aim to defend womens' rights in the sector, and fight for equal treatment of male and female workers in the agricultural sector. I am hopeful that this increased level of organization spills over into the political arena. 

Mahmoud Ramzy of Al Masry reports that a newly formed coalition has formed supporting Field Marshall Tantawi, current president of the SCAF, as president of the Egypt. Posters have appeared in Cairo and Alexandria. The campaign is called "Egypt Above All." Gallows humor moment: I am fluent in German, and if we translate that phrase into German, it reads Aegypten ueber alles. Not good.

Rana Khazbak reports that The Revolution Continues Coalition is composed of the January 25th Revolution Youth Coalition and six other parties, including the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Freedom Egypt Party, and the Islamist Egyptian Current Party (a radical youth breakoff of the MB). They aim to filed 270 candidates on party lists, and 20 individual candidates. Sixty of the coalition's candidates are women, and more than fifty percent are young people. The ideological scale of the group is predominantly leftist, but it also includes an Islamist party.

Meanwhile, Nate Wright reports that the centrist El Adl party will compete in the parliamentary elections alone. It has refused to join the MB dominated Democratic Alliance, or the Egyptian Bloc led by liberals. The party wants to move away from patronage, and towards changing ideology.

Noha El-Hennawy reports that the MB will use the slogan "We bring good for Egypt." This is a move away from their earlier slogan "Islam is the Solution." The MB heads the Democratic Alliance, which includes 11 parties. The Freedom and Justice party will now run for all seats in parliament, because of the current list based system. This contradicts a promise that they made not to run for more than 50 percent of seats earlier this year. Heba Fahmy of the Daily News says the the Democratic Alliance List includes 76 women and 2 Copts. About half of the female candidates are on the top of the list.

Finally, Heba Fahmy tells us that the political parties found the list candidacy system this weekend very disorganized and difficult, but those vying for individual seats had no problems. Okay, now I am exhausted, and my coffee is finished.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Egyptian parliamentary election campaigns heat up

Dear readers

We are approximately a month away from the Egyptian parliamentary elections. Hang on to your seatbelts!

The Wafd Party has fielded 332 list-based candidates in 46 electoral constituencies, and 96 individual candidates in 83 constituencies for the upcoming elections. Wafd Party President al-Sayed al-Badawy says there are 23 Coptic candidates on the lists, and 52 female candidates on the lists. Four former members of the NDP were nominated by the Wafd in the Red Sea, Qena, Minya and Sharqiya.

[One important point, it matters where your name is on the list. If your name is on the bottom of the list, and your party does not get very many votes, you will not get a seat in parliament.]

There has been large turnout for candidacy applications for parliament. The Egyptian Bloc, the Freedom party, and Wafd Party all have former NDP candidates on their list.

I am pleased to report that President Obama has asked Field Marshall Tantawi to end the state of emergency, and to end military trials of civilians.

I am sad to report that two activists and bloggers have been summoned by the military prosecutor for questioning regarding the Maspero violence. The bloggers are Alaa Abd El Fattah, and Bahaa Saber. One of the blogger's father reportedly remarked, " we are at a stage where the regime cannot stand freedom of expression anymore and wants to curb it. . ." Both have previously been arrested under Mubarak.

Meanwhile, as elections approach, NGOs say they are experiencing harassment from the government. The Justice Ministry is targeting NGOs who are allegedly receiving foreign funding and are not registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Sources shortly.~ WMB

Liberated Libya

Dear readers

Liberation is breaking out all over. I am thankful for the positive outcomes in Tunisia's election. For more detailed coverage, I refer you to The ArabistA Personal Note on Tunisia's Elections, The Arabist But, I have limited time and energy, so will keep my focus on things closer to home.

Presciently, Democracy Now had reported before Qadaffi's death that Qadaffi was particularly threatened by Islamists, and ordered them detained, tortured, and killed. Nermeen Shaikh, Anjali Kamat, and Amy Goodman discussed the fact that Islamists will be free to speak under the new government.

Democracy Now also interviewed Mahmood Mamdani, of Uganda, who I think is a genius. He noted that Libya is more divided than neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. He commented on the increasingly military focused approach of the West towards Africa. Concerns were expressed by both Kamat and Mamdani that the NATO powers would try to extract concessions from the Libyans, with the potential for turning Libya into another Iraq.

Overall, DN has great Libya coverage. Here is a taste.

Muammar Ghadafi killed in Libya as Interim Government Seizes Last Stronghold. Democracy Now.

Democracy Now generally has great coverage of a lot of things, and even the New York Times has noticed.

A Grassroots Struggle Gives Voice to Struggles, New York Times.

Meanwhile, not everyone is happy about Qadaffi's death. Qadaffi was particularly close with Uganda. Many Africans believe that the west only intervened in Libya to gain access to the oil. Nigerian Muslims also mourned Qadaffi's demise, and some leaders suggested retaliation was possible. Qadaffi cultivated many African allies, and was a strong supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. South African mercenaries may have been involved in helping Qadaffi escape.

Josh Kron, Many in Sub-Saharan Africa Mourn Qadaffi's Death, The New York Times.

Gadaffi's SA Soldiers, the New Age.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Libya's transitional government, including Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the chairman of the Transitional National Council, has vowed that the new government will be based on Islamic tenets. Islamic banks will be established, and Libyan men can marry more than one wife now. (Hurrah for them).  The New York Times characterizes this move as "a new piety."

Adam Nossiter, and Kareem Fahim, Revolution Won, Top Libyan Official Vows a New and More Pious State, The New York Times.

In my view, this statement in and of itself is not that controversial, as elements of Sharia are present in most countries, including Egypt. I have written many posts on this, including this one Initial Thoughts on Shariah Law and Women. The issue is whether having law based on Islamic tenets will result in discrimination against those who are not Islamic, such as Jews, Christians and Bahai. This is, in my opinion, a matter of both interpretation and enforcement. Has the US and NATO bet on the wrong horse again? Taliban anyone?

Sorry to be a contrarion, but I am one of those who is a bit concerned that Qadaffi was captured alive, and then executed. A better approach would have been to put him on trial, like Saddam Hussein or Hosni Mubarak. The right to a fair trial is, after all, one of the cornerstones of democracy.

Max Fisher, Qaddafi was captured alive, who killed him? The Atlantic. 

I was appalled by Secretary Clinton's comments on Qadaffi's demise. Have some, gravitas Madame Secretary. Death is not a game.

We Came, We Saw, He Died.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Election Deadline in Egypt

Today's papers are abuzz with the two-day extension granted by the High Elections Commission to prospective parliamentary candidates.  (Until October 22, 2011)

Egypt's main electoral coalitions have submitted their candidacy papers. One big coalition consists of the Egyptian Bloc (mostly liberal and leftist), which will field at least 332 candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Bloc includes the Free Egyptians party, Al-Tagammu, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. There are also members of the Revolutionary Youth running with the Bloc.

Amr Hamzawy (who works with me here in PPAD) belongs to the Misr Horreya party, which apparently withdrew from the Bloc and is now allied with the Popular Socialist Alliance, whom I have interviewed and the Arab Nasserists. Their group is to be called "The Revolution is On." 

The Democratic Alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, is fielding 265 candidates. Sobhy Saleh, of the MB, says that "Egypt is an Islamic State, and nothing else." The Salafi's and the MB have had a spat, and now it seems that the Salafis (Nour and Asala parties) have allied themselves with the Jama'a al-Islamiya Construction and Development Party.

There is also a youth movement called the Coalition of Youth, which includes the April 6th Movement, the Popular Alliance, and the Youth for Freedom and Justice, as well as the Equality and Development Party.

The People's Assembly consists of 498 seats, two-thirds of which are allocated to the closed party list system, and one third to the individual candidate system.

Around 3024 people had registered as of last Monday as parliamentary candidates, most of them for the individual candidates seats. Many of those who registered as independents in the first seven days were members of the former NDP.

Selected Sources
Gamal Essam El-Din, "Little Election Wars," Al-Ahram Weekly 
"Brotherhood party: We will compete for over 50% of People's Assembly Seats," Al Masry Al Youm 
Heba Fahmy,"Egyptian bloc to field over 300 candidates, Democratic Alliance still to determine number," Daily News Egypt

Thoughts (some humorous, some serious) on the death of Qadaffi

Of course, by now, various news agencies have verified that Colonel Muammar El-Qaddafi is dead, killed in his home town of Sirte. 

I am not sure what I am feeling right now. Here are some random thoughts on his demise. 

Has any dictator inspired so many dilemmas about how to spell his name? Ghadafi, Qadafi, Qadaffi, Ghadaffi, two dds or one? two f's or one? Q, G or K? the list goes on and on. I have been thinking at night, before I fall asleep, why more people do not go for the straight phonetic of Kadaphee?

Further, you have to congratulate the man on his audacity to make everyone read his "Green Book." The allusions to Mao are as inescapable, as Qaddafi's arrogance was spectacular. 

From a political perspective, the most important aspect of The Big Q's death is that the rebels can now officially establish a transitional government and officially announce the country's liberation, and schedule elections. Of course, scheduling elections in Egypt has been harder than it sounds.

Some, such as Robert Grenier, suggest that Qaddafi's demise signals the end of Nasserist Arab nationalism. This is an interesting thought. I think a more expansive idea might be that nationalism itself is in its end days. Meanwhile, regionalism is an increasingly more important concept, recalling the Ottoman empire, which encompassed Libya, Tunisia and Morocco on its very periphery. It is interesting that in a way Qaddafi was important to actually helping found Libya as a distinct nation.

Many in Sub-Saharan Africa are mourning Qaddafi's death. He was very generous with African countries, building mosques, hotels, and telecommunications companies. Honestly, I cannot help but be impressed at how long he kept the rebels on the run, despite their strong support from NATO. You have to admire the Q man's tenacity. Okay, maybe you do not, but I am impressed at how long he hung in there.

The real question for the new Libya is who are the rebels?

Furthermore, given that we here in Egypt are struggling to get our first democratic election off the ground, the road ahead for Libya may not be as easy as it looks right now, and jubilation may be premature.

However, as I always tell my friends, when you are happy, laugh out loud, and when you are sad, let those salty tears run down your face. Feel what you are feeling, because who knows what the next moment will bring?

Selected Sources

Muammar Gaddafi killed as Sirte falls, Al
Gaddafi: Death of an era, dawn of an era, Al
Violent End to an Era as Qaddafi Dies in Libya, New York Times

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Other Good Analyses re Maspero

Dear readers

I went to graduate school at Harvard with Anthony Shenoda.We were Graduate Research Associates at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.  He argues that Copts are largely invisible in Egyptian society until they are attacked. Here is a link to his recent work on Maspero in Jadaaliya, which is a good magazine, by the way.

Reflections on the (In)Visibility of Copts in Egypt. 

Yasmin Salem says the Copts face institutionalized racism in Egypt.

A Case of Institutionalized Racism?

If you read Arabic, here are Maspero testimonies.

Testimonies of Eyewitnesses in Maspero incidents.

My colleague Mr. Hussein talks on his blog Sibilant Egypt about the problems with press coverage that have emerged in the wake of the Maspero incident.

Will Maspiro ever be cleansed?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Egyptian Election Update, October 18, 2011

On Wednesday October 12, 2011, election committees nationwide began accepting nomination applications for Egypt's November 28th Parliamentary elections.

Many observers believe that the MB's Freedom and Justice party is extremely prepared for these elections organizationally and politically.

Meanwhile, papers reported that some political forces are considering boycotting the elections. The SCAF has announced that two thirds of parliamentary seats will be allocated to list based candidacies, and one third to the single winner system. Political parties have expressed  concerns that the single-winner system favors remnants of the NDP.

Meanwhile, confrontations between the Salafis and the MB are escalating. There are two major coalitions. The MB Freedom and Justice party is a member of the Democratic Alliance. A recently formed coalition of Salafi parties includes the Jama'a al-Islamiya party. The Salafis are ultraconservative Islamists, and have left the Democratic Alliance to form their own coalition. ("Confrontation Escalates between Brotherhood and Salafis," Al Masry Al Youm, October 17, 2011) The President of the Omma al-Gadid Party filed two lawsuits against the Democratic Alliance and the MB's Freedom and Justice Party. He accused them of stacking the list with their candidates, while underrepresenting the 18 alliance member parties.

The Military and Maspero

The smoky haze created by the social fire called the Maspero tragedy still blankets Egypt.

As I have reported in earlier posts, deadly clashes between the military, unarmed Coptic Christian protesters, and thugs left at least 26 dead, and more than 300 injured last week. The SCAF has promised to form a fact-finding committee. The clashes were some of the worst violence the country has seen since the January 25th Revolution. ("Egypt Army seeks probe into Cairo clashes,", October 11, 2011) 

International rights groups condemned the Maspero violence, including the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Some have called on the US to withhold military aid to Egypt. Military aid to Egypt may be worth as much as 1.3 billion dollars. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton spoke on the phone with Minister of Foreign Affairs Amr Mohamed to offer condolences to the victims of the Maspero violence. ("US rights groups slam Egypt's military for Maspero violence, Al Masry al Youm, October, 12, 2011)

The Egyptian military denied charges that the military used live ammunition on protesters, and also denied that army vehicles crushed demonstrators under their wheels. (Amirah Ibrahim, "We did not Kill protesters," Al Ahram Weekly, Week of October 16, 2011) Members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces denied at a press conference that soldiers used weapons or force during the protest. (Rana Khazbak, "Military denies use of forces, accuses protesters of armed violence in Maspero, Al Masry Al Youm, October, 12, 2011)

However, online videos, as well as credible journalists present at the scene give credence to these allegations. ("Egypt's Army Defends Actions in Protest Crackdown," Al Masry Al Youm, October 12, 2011) General Mahmoud Hegazy, a member of the SCAF asserts that the armed forces "would never and have never opened fire on the people." (Ibid) The Army pins the blame for inciting violence on foreign elements.The SCAF has released its own videos showing individuals attacking soldiers with stones and a sword. (Al Ahram)

Major General Adel Emara claims that tear gas was used for riot control. He claimed that a soldier was driving an armored vehicle to disperse the crowd, when the vehicle was set on fire. He claims the driver was badly injured. (Khazbak,"Military denies use of force") Initial hospital reports show that most victims were killed by gunfire, or by being crushed by military vehicles. Emara accused the protesters of possessing firearms and antagonizing the armed forces. (Ibid.) He showed a video of protesters setting civilian cars on fire, and claimed that the priest was inciting people to violence. He called soldiers involved in the incident "martyrs."

According to a Reuters report on October 11, 2011,  the SCAF is increasingly viewed as a new autocrat, borrowing a page from Mubarak's handbook. Christians and Muslims alike, reports reuters, say that the army's reaction during the Maspero event was as brutal as any of Mubarak's tactics. The Egyptian citizenry is increasingly impatient with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, 75, the leader of the SCAF and a veteran of the 73 war against Israel.

Al Masry Al Youm, Egypt's most respected independent newspaper, condemned the military's actions in the Maspero tragedy. (Al Masry Editorial, "The military has gone too far, Al Masry al youm, October 11, 2011) They state a peaceful protest was met with excessive force by the military and the police. They urge that all those responsible for the violence be held accountable. The paper called for an elected government as soon as possible.

Amr Hamzawy, an activist and political force, and also a faculty member in my department at AUC, stated that " the partnership between the authorities, . . . the SCAF, the cabinet, and the citizens, is over. "("With Clashes, Egyptians Lose Trust in Military Ruler," Al Masry Al Youm, October 11, 2011) The New York Times reports that confidence in the SCAF reached a "breaking point" when the military tried to place blame for the deaths on the Coptic protesters, and denied the use of live ammunition. David Kirkpatrick, "Egypt's Military Expands Power, Raising Alarms." The New York Times, October 14, 2011)

As long as no presidential election is held, reports Reuters, executive power will remain in the hands of the military. The times quotes Maj. Gen Mahmoud Hegazy as saying the military will stay in power until Egypt has a president. Since no timetable has yet been set for presidential elections, this could mean that the SCAF stays in power well into 2013. (Ibid)

The Muslim Brotherhood blames remnants of the NDP, the party of Mubarak--now disbanded--for the violence in Maspero. MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie says that NDP members had threatened to set "Egypt on fire," if they were banned from political activity. He recommended an elected parliament, and an Ombudsman. (DPA, "Brotherhood supreme guide: NDP remnants behind Maspero bloodshed," Al Masry Al Youm, October 12, 2011)

The Daily News Egypt reports that Egyptians are worried, because the Army draws broadly from the national population. The idea that the military would attack civilians has thrown them into "shocked confusion."Sarah El-Deeb, "Stunned by bloodshed, Egyptians torn over army," Daily News Egypt, October 17, 2011). Sheik Osama raised an Orthodox Cross among mourners to show his support for Christian victims at a vigil Thursday. One woman, whose fiance was killed, said a military police officer kicked her fiance's corpse and hit him and called her "an infidel." (Ibid)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Collective insanity in the aftermath of Maspero

According to Rana Khazbak of Al Masry Al Youm, members of the SCAF denied at a press conference today that soldiers used weapons or force during the Maspero clashes. SCAF general Emara claims that only tear gas was used. Major General Mahmoud Hegazy claims that soldiers were killed with bullets and gunshots, but the SCAF has not announced the names or numbers of military casualties.

Al Jazeera reports that the SCAF states the clashes were the result of "some to destroy the pillars of the state and sow chaos." I find Al Jazeera's reporting on this uncharacteristically weak. They do not mention that protesters were run over by tanks, or fired on by the military. They write that

"the Copts say they were marching peacefully when thugs attacked them, drawing in the military police who used what activists described as unnecessary force." 

Why is this usually reliable news source soft pedaling this crucial story?

Hazem El-Beblawi, the deputy prime minister and finance minister tendered his resignation over the clashes.  In another instance of collective insanity, the SCAF has rejected his resignation. Beblawi has told Reuters that he has not withdrawn his resignation, and he still wishes to resign.

The military's refusal to accept El-Beblawi's resignation, and their denial that the army used force are both symptoms of a type of collective insanity gripping the nation. The events were widely captured on film. Yet the Egyptian Army is claiming that the armored vehicle drove into a crowd when protesters set it on fire. Yet, this did not, in fact, occur.

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali has brought in forensic doctors to the Coptic Hospital. Their reports show that the dead were killed by live ammunition or by being crushed by army vehicles. Amnesty International pins blame for the carnage on the military.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Update on Egyptian Elections October 11, 2011

The Egyptian elections are still scheduled.

The US has called for restraint in the wake of the Maspero military killings of Copts. White House spokesman Jay Carney emphasized the need to move forward with timely elections and a continued transition to democracy.

Parliamentary elections currently appear to be scheduled on November 28, 2011.

The April 6th Youth Movement said that the group is launching an awareness campaign to teach citizens the meaning of their vote. Some observers have expressed concerns that formed NDP members may win seats through bribery or provision of social services. (Sherine Rabie, "Apil 6 Movement Launches Political Awareness Campaign Before Elections," Al Masry Al Youm, October 10, 2011)

On Saturday, the SCAF agreed to cancel a provision barring members of political parties from running as independents. Professor of political science Gehad Ouda explained that allowing members to run as individuals gives candidates two options, to run as part of a party list, or as individuals. Under Mubarak, all candidates ran on the single-winner system, which ensured solid majorities for NDP. See Ahmed Zaki Osman, "Recent Amendments may fail to ensure fair elections," Al Masry Al Youm, October 9, 2011)

Also on Saturday, the Egyptian Bloc Coalition, which includes 21 political parties, laid down its rules for the parliamentary candidates it will field. Members include the Egyptian Democratic Party, the Egyptian Social Party, and the Free Egyptians. Essam Serry, President of the Sout Al Horreya Party, said the party has not decided whether to run under the coalition or not. (Adel el-Daragli, "Egyptian Bloc Coalition sets criteria for parliamentary nominations," Al Masry Al Youm, October 9, 2011)

Maspiro: The Aftermath

Mourners at Coptic Funeral. Photo Credit: Sarah Carr

 Well folks,

We are all in mourning here in Cairo. Everyone is in tears. I am reaching out to all of my Copt friends. I just cannot believe that the military fired on, and ran over, unarmed civilians. Regardless of religion, this is very difficult to stomach.

One of my colleagues suggested that the military is actually using the Islamists. That had not occurred to me, but that makes sense in a way. If the country is wracked by sectarian violence, the elections will be derailed, and the military retains power. Another colleague, who is a devout Muslim, places blame squarely on the head of Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the SCAF. 

Regardless of religion, the goal here is DEMOCRACY. Do not get distracted. Keep your eyes on the prize. We need to stay focused on peaceful, free and fair elections for all Egyptians, Sufi, Shia, Sunni, Copt, Bahai and secularists.

Here is the Arabist's take on it. Maspero and Sectarianism in Egypt. 

Here is journalist Sarah Carr's powerful eyewitness account. Marching from Shubra to Deaths at Maspero.

On to the news.

According to the Arabic edition of Al Masry Al Youm, Egyptians demonstrated in Aswan, Alexandria, Ismailia, Qena, Fayoum, and Assiut. Islamic groups held demonstrations in Aswan "condemning Coptic attacks on military personnel." Meanwhile, security forces strengthened their presence around churches to avoid further clashes. ("Egyptians demonstrate in wake of Maspero violence," Al Masry Al Youm, October, 10, 2011)

Umm, is it just me, but why do people believe that the Copts attacked the Army. It just does not make sense from a strictly logical standpoint. Just a little bit of gallows humour here: what are the Copts going to do, fight the Army with giant crosses? But seriously, it is pretty implausible that the Copts attacked the Army. I do not buy it. Many Muslims realize that these clashes represent incitement to sectarian strife, which is ultimately destabilizing.

According to Al Masry Al Youm, political party leaders and activists met Monday and called for an immediate transfer of power to civilian authorities. Political leaders also criticized the state run media's provocative coverage of Sunday night's violence. Leaders in attendance included Naguib Sawiris (Free Egyptians), Amin Iskander (Nasserist Karama Party), former finance minister Samir Radwan, and Hossam Eissa. 

Amr Moussa stated "We as Egyptians are facing a problem. It's not a Coptic and Muslim Problem. It is not a military or civilian problem, but it is a problem in Egypt's flawed society and inter-relations." Amr Moussa is a presidential candidate and a former foreign minister under Mubarak.

Okay, overall that is a good statement. However, I disagree with him on one issue. If the military fires on civilians, that is a military and civilian problem in my book. Call me crazy. . . .Anyway, Moussa lost my support when he stressed the importance of "ruling with an iron fist in order to protect the country from looming chaos." Sounds like he is on the SCAF payroll to me. . . .

Many leaders present criticized the SCAF's rule, and blamed them for their role in Sunday night's events. Those critical of the SCAF included Abdel Gelili Mostafa, leader of the National Association for Change, Mohamed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour, leader of the liberal New Ghad party, Mohamed Abul Ghar, president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and female presidential hopeful Bothaina Kamel.The leaders also criticized state TV's coverage of the incidents, stating that this coverage was inciting sectarian violence. (Rana Khazbak, "Political Forces Slam Ruling Military Council for Attack on Copts," Al Masry Al Youm, October 11, 2011)

Egypt's state run media, which whitewashed the Revolution, has been harshly criticized in the wake of the Maspiro massacre. Minister of Information Osama Haikal urged the media to deal "wisely" with the clashes in their coverage. Maspiro (or Maspero) is the site of the Egyptian television, as well as the site of numerous protests. On State Run Channel One, Rasha Magdy said that Coptic protesters had been attacking soldiers and ended her show with a call for Egyptian citizens to protect the military. Many view her call as an incitement to sectarian violence.  Many media personalities who work in state television have distanced themselves from the official coverage of the incident. The main message of the state run news (the state run paper is Al Ahram) is that conspiracies are underway to arouse conflicts between the armed forces and the people. (Mai Elwakil, "State Media Coverage of Maspero violence raises tempers," Al Masry Al Youm, October 11, 2011)

According to Ahmed Zaki Osman, some eyewitnesses claim the military threw the bodies of dead protesters into the Nile during Sunday night's clashes. These reports are unverified. (Ahmed Zaki Osman, "Eye-witnesses claim military threw protesters bodies into the Nile," Al Masry Al Youm, October 11, 2011) 

A Guest Blogger Comments on Maspiro: The Massacre of Christians in Cairo

Photo Credit: L'Indro

Dear friends,

This post was written by my teaching assistant. His name is John Ehab. He is a Copt, a journalist, an activist, and a masters student at AUC. It was published in an Italian newspaper. If you read Italian, check it out here. Un Esercito Contro I Copti, L'Indro.

Here it is in English.

After a deadly evening in Cairo Sunday night, families gathered to bid farewell to the 24 victims in a crowded mass funeral. The ceremony took place in Cairo’s central Coptic Cathedral in the presence of thousands of family members, supporters, activists and politicians. The killings took place after hundreds of Copts marched to protest the destruction of a church early last week in Aswan, which has not been resolved by the state.

Eyewitness accounts say that they were showered with live ammunition by members of the Egyptian armed forces. Witnesses added that protestors were literally bulldozed by Armored Personnel Carriers(APC), leaving behind a number of casualties. The Coptic Church synod, the highest council of the Coptic Church in Egypt, issued a statement that was read at the funeral assuring that violence had come from the side of the Armed Forces, not from the Copts. “We confirm that violence, with all its forms, was not used (by the protestors).” The statement also expressed that “Copts feel that the problems are reoccurring continuously without punishing the perpetrators”. The church called for three days of fasting and prayer to show that, for the Christians in Egypt, their only hope is to turn to God.

Many analysts have pointed out that the church’s statement reflects a lack of hope in the state. “You can read between the lines that the church no longer trusts those who run the state in Egypt, whether from the Security Council of Armed Forces , or the Cabinet,” said Ahmed Zaki Osman, a reporter familiar with Coptic issues. “The Christians simply have no hope in the state to bring them their rights anymore.”

One of those who attended the funeral, Zachariah Adly, who had also participated in the march the night before described his experiences to L’indro. Adly, a truck driver, said that the march had started in the primarily Christian area of Shobra, and continued several kilometers to the area of the state run TV, known as Maspiro in central Cairo.

“On the way people started stoning us from a bridge, until we reached the street leading toward the state TV building. Armed forces started shooting directly in the air and then began aiming at us. A few minutes after we saw their tanks coming towards us quickly to disperse the crowd.” Adly had to jump over a car onto the sidewalk to keep from being run over by the rushing vehicles.

Adly pointed out that the violence had come from the armed military forces, rather than civilians or even the security police. “In the same spot there were tens of riot police standing by and there were no clashes with them.” 

That afternoon state TV, the mouthpiece of the Egyptian army, had announced that the army was calling for “honest citizens” to go to the streets to help protect security forces from the Christian protestors.

Witnesses who were at the Coptic hospital to donate blood for the victims told L’indro that thugs surrounded the hospital and started attacking the families of the victims late at night.

Initially, the state-run TV reported that 3 soldiers had been killed by Copts during the riots, without mentioning any civilian deaths. However, the SCAF never made an announcement to confirm or deny this report. Many activists began to challenge this claim.

Doctor Aida Seif El-Dawla explained to L’indro, “even the state-run media was unable to fabricate any photograph of Copts carrying weapons as they have done in the past.” She explained that usually if any member of the army died, the state-run news would air extensive coverage including details about him and his family in order to gain the sympathy of the public. In this case there was none of that.

Not only the national media, but other sources including Al-Jazira issued reports accusing “the Coptic youth” of instigating the violence. However, reports on the ground show otherwise. According to Seif El-Dawla, the founder of Al-Nadim Center for the rehabilitation of victims of torture, “it is very clear that the army is responsible. They are the ones that carry arms, and they are responsible for this massacre. The army took advantage of widespread prejudice toward the Copts to defend their behavior.” 

The Coptic problem is one of the most vulnerable issues that has the potential to divide Egyptians, especially with the recent increase in Islamic fundamentalism.

Al-Nadim was among the independent human rights organizations in attendance at the Prosecutor General’s autopsy of the victims. Doctor Magda Adly, manager of the Al-Nadim Center, attended 7 out of 17 of the autopsies that took place at the Coptic Hospital in central Cairo. Four other bodies were buried earlier in the day without autopsies, and another five were reported to be in other hospitals.

Two of the seven, Adly reports, died by bullets, while the other five had been crushed by military vehicles with multiple fractions throughout their bodies. This confirms what can be seen in videos posted on YouTube of the APCs rushing protestors.

The decision to perform the autopsies came 20 hours after the deaths, a procedure which is normally done as soon as possible to optimize the results. The former director of the forensic medical unit was fired back in March due to similar delays in investigating the deaths of protestors from the January 25 revolution.

“Field Marshal Tantawi should face trial like Mubarak,” Zachariah Adly believes. “Demonstrators have torched a police station and stormed the Israeli embassy, and no one killed them like what happened with us.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Maspiro clashes against the Copts

Photo Credit: Mohammed Hossam Edin
Dear readers,

Please forgive my sketchy cite form as I attempt to get the news out.

Violence occurred last night against the Coptic people of Egypt. Ten percent of Egypt's 80 million people are Copts. Cairo on Edge After Deadly Violence A group of mostly Coptic protesters clashed Sunday with military and police forces in the Maspiro area of Cairo.  I have not been feeling well, so I learned of this from my Coptic teaching assistant. I have reached out to some of my Coptic students to make sure they are okay. They appear to be fine.
Sarah Carr reports that Coptic protesters rallied regarding an attack of a church in Aswan on September 30th. I summarize and paraphrase her compelling, vivid, and scary report here. The march began in the Cairo district of Shubra. (Sarah Carr, "A Firsthand account: marching from Shubra to deaths at Maspiro," AMAY 10/10/2011)  The march statred at 4 p.m. The army had apparently hit a priest while dispersing protesters in front of the Maspiro state TV building on Wednesday. The march came under attack around 6 p.m. rocks were thrown at protesters from the bridge. Outside the Ramsis Hilton Hotel, gunfire began. Two armored personnel carriers started driveing through the protesters, and soldiers began firing at random. An APC drove toward the crowd, flattening protesters. Sarah Carr, "A Firsthand Account: Marching from Shubra to Deaths at Maspiro," Al Masry Al Youm, October 10, 2011

Other reports confirm that the army shot bullets intensively once the march arrived at Maspiro. ("At Coptic Hospital, Christians Hysterical over lost relatives," AMAY, 10/10/2011) Several victims were run over by Egyptian military armored personnel carriers. According to medics at the Coptic Hospital, all dead bodies were either run over by military vehicles or shot with gunfire. The floor of the Coptic Hospital was covered by blood.

Egyptian state TV has reported that "Christian protesters stole weapons from the army and killed soldiers."

The violence at the Maspiro state TV building left 24 dead, and 272 injured. ("Clinton Made no Statement," AMAY10/10/2011) The US embassy did ask people to remain calm. US Embassy statement about Maspiro Violence

I am at the AUC campus in New Cairo, and we are perfectly safe here. The university has issued no official security warnings. I am holding class tonight, and I have told my students they can choose whether to attend.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf warned Egyptians of a "despicable conspiracy against Egypt." ("Sharaf: We are facing a conspiracy," AMAY 10/10/2011) Is this guy serious? I really do not think the New York Times got this story completely right. But, feel free to make up your own mind. Church Protests in Cairo turn deadly

As of 12:18 a.m this morning, eyewitnesses were reporting that groups of thugs were attacking Christian-owned businesses. A fierce street battle occurred on Ramses Street near the Coptic Hospital between groups in civilian clothes. Rioters set cars on fire, and threw molotov cocktails. Hundreds of thugs attacked the Coptic Hospital but were unable to get inside. Street clashes continued until early this morning. The MB condemned the clashes, but blamed both Coptic protesters and the military. By last night, the police had control of Tahrir Square, and protesters had left the area. ("Live Updates: As death toll rises in clashes," AMAY, 10/10/2011)

Some are concerned that the clashes could have been instigated by provocateurs. I second that emotion.  It is not plausible that unarmed Christians attack the military.  Mohamed Selim al-Awa, an Islamic thinker and presidential hopeful says that he has a video clip which exonerates the Coptic protesters from shooting at army soldiers. He says that gunmen arrived from  nearby streets and shot at protesters and army forces at the same time. ("Islamic Presidential Hopefuls condemn violence," AMAY 10/10/2011) Some Muslim Activists have expressed solidarity with the Copts, stating that the problem is not between Christians and Muslims, but between the military and Christians. ("At Coptic Hospital," )

The question of the day is who is the instigator? It could be a bid by the old NDP to derail democracy. One of my colleagues suggested that it was the Copts trying to bring attention. I do not believe that, because why would the Copts attack their own hospital?  Some Islamists have suggested that the incidents in Maspiro could be a bid by the military to tighten its grip on power. This strikes me as plausible. Or it could be the military working with the NDP . . . .

And then this craziness by Presidential candidate Aboul Fotouh who says "Christians picked the wrong time and place."

Oh dear. Gloria dios, se pican los pecados del mundo, ten piedad, ten piedad.

Egyptian Musical Interlude: Hisham Abbas sings Fino Habib Fino

Somehow, my son Ali (who is 3) is in class with Tamara (4), the daughter of famous Egyptian pop star Hisham Abbas.

We went to a very posh birthday party at their house. The funny part is that I had no idea when I went to the party that it was at the house of a pop star. I asked them if I could bring some food or if I could help out.  But looking at the video, yes, his face is the face of the father of Tamara. Anyway, the party was very posh, with trained dogs, doves, djs, jumping castles, and loads of food including a shewerma stand and a pasta stand. Thanks for your generosity Mr. Hisham. We had a lovely time.

Anyway, Mr. Hisham is a mechanical engineer, trained at AUC! I guess he followed his passion. we all should do that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Musical Interlude: Yesterday by the Beatles

Hi gang. I am feeling a little blue on Egyptian Armed Forces Day. I miss the euphoria of those first revolutionary days. Now we are in the Brumaire . . .


Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Suddenly, I'm not half the man I used to be
There's a shadow hanging over me.
Oh,  yesterday came suddenly

Why she had to go I don't know she wouldn't say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Why she had to go I don't know she wouldn't say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday
Mm mm mm mm mm mm mm

Happy Armed Forces Day

Today is Armed Forces Day in Egypt. It is a national holiday. The SCAF, using its Facebook page,  has invited the Egyptian public to celebrate the 38th Anniversary of the October war in various public spaces in Cairo. The anniversary celebrates Egypt's military victories against Israel in the 1973 October War. Strikes me as rather Soviet. Also the focus on opposing Israel tends to distract people from the real problems at home.
Personally, I do not think there is very much to be happy about with regard to the Egyptian Armed Forces. As the eloquent protester in Tahrir has put it, we have traded one dictatorial government for another. Mubarak is gone, but Egypt is currently ruled by a military junta. The transition is going very slowly, and there are fears that there will not be a democratic transition at all. It is good news that we have a firm date for upcoming People's Assembly elections. However, the presidential elections are still far off, and the SCAF does not want to allow the parliament to have the power to review the military budget. Such a restriction would eviscerate parliament's power of the purse, and keep Egypt from being a true democracy.

There may be a massive protest tomorrow to demand a timetable for handing over power from SCAF to an elected civilian authority. The days when the people and the army were one hand seem far away . . .As the Beatles sang, Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now they look as if they're here to stay . . . sigh . . .

Regardless, my favorite newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reports that six presidential hopefuls have prepared a potential timetable for the transfer of power to an elected civilian president by April 15, 2012. This timetable intends to shorten the transitional period, which appears to be harming Egypt's economy. Indeed, the Minister of Manpower and Immigration, Ahmed al-Borai stated on Wednesday that Egypt is on the brink of bankruptcy. He cautioned Egyptian workers against "excessive demands."

The presidential candidates wish to submit their candidacy papers two weeks after the Shura council elections conclude. The period for presidential campaigning would run from February 15th to the end of March. The elections would begin on April 1, with runoffs on April 10, 2012. This accelerated timetable is in response to a constitutional declaration issued by the SCAF on September 25th stating that presidential elections will be held at the end of 2012, or the start of 2013.

Meanwhile, Noha El-Hennawy reports that some worry the generals may be eyeing the presidency. Under the military's plan, the generals will remain in charge until the end of 2012 at the earliest. This contradicts their initial pledges, which were that the SCAF would return to the barracks six months after presidential and parliamentary elections. The plan has changed repeatedly. Many fear the military is stretching the transitional period to prepare the ground for a general to run for president.

Ruling Council's proposed timetable ignites fears of a military president

In further political woes, Sarah Carr reports that my favorite Egyptian party, the SDP is riven by divisions. I cannot believe that they signed a document last Saturday in support of the SCAF! What is going on people? I am really feeling shocked and dissappointed. Mohamed Abul Ghar, ESDP's leaders said he left the meeting early and found that a paragraph had been inserted into the statement saying "the signatory parties ...declare their complete support for SCAF and recognize the role SCAF has played in protecting the revolution and transferring power to the people." Abul Ghar disavows this statement.

Egyptian Social Democratic Party Divided over military council statement

Political Parties Divided after some sign statement in support of military council 

Well folks, things are not going that well. Prayers for the Egyptian people. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sean Penn Becomes a Revolutionary

This past Friday was the "Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution." Sometimes I just wonder if the activists will run out of names for their Friday protests?

Thousands of activists, including Sean Penn, occupied Tahrir this past Friday, September 30, 2011. According to the British Guardian Newspaper, "The two-time Oscar winner arrived in North Africa at the invitation of Egyptian film star Khaled El Nabawy as part of efforts to show the country is once again safe for tourists following the revolution earlier this year that overthrew the regime of president Hosni Mubarak." (Ben Child, "Sean Penn Joins Protesters in Egypt," The Guardian, October 3, 2011)

I like Sean Penn. He was compelling and plausible in the movie Mystic River. I also like it that he is an activist. One more reason for me to watch his movies!

Many protesters were objecting to the concept of military rule. Other protesters were condemning the extension of the state of emergency. Field Marshall Tantawi of the SCAF was a special object of the protesters' anger. Demonstrators also protested against military treatment of civilians. Many protesters emphasized that this revolution was not going to turn out like 1954, and that Field Marshall Tantawi is not Gamal Abdel Nasser.

As explained by a particularly eloquent protester--Mirale Mohamed Hashem--who channeled my thoughts exactly, "This is not why we revolted. The goal of the revolution was to get rid of a tyrannical, oppressive regime, not to replace it with another one." (Ali Abdel Mohsen, "Activists, Sean Penn, Take to Tahrir for Friday of Reclaiming the Revolution," Al Masry Al Youm, September 30, 2011)

On Saturday, the SCAF represented by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Anan sat down with leaders of 15 political parties. According to Al Shorouk, the camps agreed to a roadmap to hand over power within one year, (although we have heard that song before). The hardline Islamist Jama'a al-Islamiya was not invited to the meeting. Apparently, the People's Assembly and Shura Council will hold their first meetings in January and March, respectively.

According to Ahmed Zaki Osman writing in Al Masry Al Youm, the political parties are divided over Saturday's meeting. The Wafd party as well as the MB's Freedom and Justice Party, and the Adl party signed a statement following the meeting pledging their support for the SCAF. Thirty members resigned from El Adl after they signed this statement.  This statement was met with derision by the Popular Socialist Coalition Party.

The Wafd party has allegedly been recruiting former NDP members. This has apparently created a rift between Wafd and the MB's Freedom and Justice Party, which were thinking of forming a coalition. On Monday, the SCAF approved a treachery law which supposedly will prevent Mubarak regime members from being active in politics for five years, and remove those officials from their government positions. The treachery law was passed initially after the 1952 Revolution.

Meanwhile, Egypt is in financial trouble. Economic growth is at 1.36 percent in the 2011-2012 financial year. Growth for the 2010-2011 financial year was at 1.8 percent, a low figure. Mohamed El Baradei has warned that Egypt may face bankruptcy within six months, and criticized the SCAF for economic incompetence.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Public Transport workers strike

Yesterday I made my weekly pilgrimage into downtown. I live in Rehab, which is part of Greater Cairo, but kind of a suburb out in the desert near the AUC campus. I enjoy getting into town and experiencing the urban life of one of the greatest cities in the world.

I came into town and had a lovely cocktail with an editor friend of mine, at Al Masry Al Youm and a journalist friend. We went to Estoril, at Talaat al Harb, which is one of the most atmospheric of Cairene venues.

Walking back to the car in the evening, the road was blocked by large buses with large banners hanging on the front of them. There were hundreds of workers sitting on the street, smoking, drinking coffee and eating Taamiya. Apparently, this was the public transport strike which I read about in the news this morning. The workers closed Qasr al Ainy street and said they would remain until the cabinet responded to their demands.

The workers are demanding higher salaries, and improved services. According to my guest lecturer, Dr. Samer Soliman, one of the issues plaguing the public sector in Egypt is the vast inequity in public pay. In some offices, employees earn millions of pounds a month. In other offices, employees earn a few hundred pounds for similar work. These issues must be resolved as the revolution progresses.