Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wrap up of August, 2014, events in Egypt


On the Rab'a Massacre

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

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

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

Other issues regarding democratization 

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

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

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


Many thanks to my Graduate Research Assistant, Paola Cavallari