Tag Archives: Egypt

Egypt military court refuses blogger’s appeal

Appeal filed by Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah denied by military court…

 

Alaa Abdel Fattah

 

Abdel Fattah was detained on October 30 for 15 days after refusing to be interrogated by a military court, and insisting on his right to be investigated before a civilian court.

Abdel Fattah’s lawyers argued, among other things, that he was a no-flight risk since he was originally in San Francisco when the court summoned him, and he returned a few days later to appear before the court the next day.

It is therefore evident that he is not trying to escape trial. Instead, he insists on his civilian right to being tried before a civilian court, especially that the military is itself accused in the Maspero case for which he is being investigated.

Following the denial of appeal, Abdel Fattah was transferred to Tora prison, which has much better living conditions than the appeals prison he was originally in. He had published an article in Al Shorouk newspaper [in Arabic] and the Guardian [in English] in which he explained that the conditions at the appeals prison are simply inhumane, and declared that his imprisonment is a return to the post-revolution Mubarak days. Abdel Fattah had previously been detained under Mubarak for 45 days in 2006 after participating in a protest in support of an independent judiciary.

A second blog post by Abdel Fattah [a translation of which is available here] was published on the award-winning blog Manal and Alaa Bit Bucket (manalaa.net), which is maintained by the blogger and his wife as one of the first and most popular blogs in Egypt and the Arab world. In his second post from behind bars, Alaa said he was offered and refused a deal to be released if he stops attacking Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Egypt’s current ruling authority.

On a more personal note, Alaa reveals a graceful self-embarrassment at having asked to be transferred to a more humane prison, thus having to leave other cell mates behind. He tells his readers that although he was brave enough to face imprisonment, he wasn’t brave enough to hear the opinion of his nine-month pregnant wife, Manal, in his decision to remain silent before the military prosecutor, which they knew would probably lead to detention. He knew she would support him anyway, he says. He ends his blog on a note of gratitude, crediting any bit of courage that he has to the influence of his mother, his younger sisters, and his wife, whose being separated from is the hardest part of detention.

Rasha Abdullah is a communications professor at the American University in Cairo.

This article originally appeared at Global Voices

HSBC accused of helping Egyptian generals

The global bank is helping the military to stifle dissent in Egypt say campaigners…

 

Protester holds Field Marshal Tantawi poster © lilianwagdy

 

Democracy and social justice campaigners in Egypt say that HSBC bank is colluding with the Egyptian military generals currently running the country, in order to intimidate them and stifle their legitimate activities.

A range of NGOs and human rights groups say the global banking giant has been contacting them over the last two months, requesting information and documents relating to their work and activities in Egypt.

Nawla Darwiche of the New Women Foundation, says the group was asked to provide a list of all planned future projects:

They also said they could release our accounts to the government if they were asked,

This is very serious.

The suggestion is that the military, increasingly at odds with the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, are using such channels to stifle attempts to investigate military abuses and related issues.

Omnia Samra, HSBC Bank Egypt’s head of communications, said the bank had an obligation to reply to the Central Bank of Egypt (also accused) “on a wide range of queries”, adding:

We are not in a position to advise the nature of such queries to third parties,

Read more at The Independent

 

The era of the Arab strongmen is over

Events in the Arab world this year show that the era of the Arab strongman is all but over…

 

Mubarak burns © FM

 

The now dead Libyan dictator Col Gaddafi gave a prophetic speech to the Arab League in 2008. As an audience including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad laughed at Gaddafi’s typically rambling performance, he said:

A foreign power occupies an Arab country and hangs its leader while we all stand watching and laughing,

Your turn is coming soon!

He was talking about Saddam Hussein, but little did he realise how his words would come true. Mohammed Bazzi of the Council of Foreign relations, says that the era of the Arab strongmen, many once considered ‘revolutionaries’ themselves, has now all but come to an end:

They are not laughing now. Qaddafi was the last of the old-style Arab nationalist strongmen, and his death…marks the end of an era. His contemporaries were the likes of Saddam and of Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad — military men from poor families and hardscrabble towns who fought their way to the top, riding the wave of revolutionary sentiment that swept the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s.

Their inspiration was Egypt’s charismatic military officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew the British-backed King Farouk in 1952. Nasser’s rousing speeches, heard across the region via the newly invented transistor radio, kindled visions of Arab unity. It was a time of upheaval, in which the merchant and feudal elites — the allies of the old European colonial powers — were losing their grip. At first, Saddam, Qaddafi, and Assad seemed to embody a promising new era of populist reform.

However Bazzi says that there is a key difference between the revolutions led by the likes of Gaddafi, and those that are taking place in the Arab world today:

The current Arab revolutions are different from those of the mid-twentieth century in one crucial way: They are not top-down movements like those that brought the autocrats to power. They are not being led or instigated by military men or charismatic figures. The age of the Arab strongmen is over, and although it remains unclear who or what will ultimately take their place, today’s revolutionaries are redefining Arab nationalism by making it more populist and grassroots.

Read it at Foreign Affairs

 

What now for the Arab Spring?

Tunisia has held democratic elections this weekend, while Libya has celebrated its liberation and the fall of Gaddafi, but what is next for the Arab awakening?

 

The Arab Spring on The Rise © Khalid Albaih

 

When fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated in a Tunisian fruit market last December, no one could have predicted how one act would send shock-waves throughout the Arab world.

Less than a year later, Tunisia has held democratic elections, Egypt has seen the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, and Libya has declared its freedom following the death of Col Gaddafi.

Syria and Yemen meanwhile have been in a permanent state of uprising for many months, while Bahrain’s democracy movement was crushed but still simmers.

Other countries in the region have also been hit by protests, with reforms for more representative government being implemented in Morocco and Jordan, and unease prompting gestures even in regional powerhouse and Western ally Saudi Arabia.

But what now for the Arab Spring?

Read a country by country analysis at the Independent on Sunday

 

 

The re-birth of a liberal world

Political leaders should ignore worldwide discontent at their own peril…

 

Franklin Roosevelt Memorial © Scott Ableman

 

History is a constant repetition of peaks and troughs, like a double helix raising and falling over time. It used to be that we measured these peaks by emperors and kingdoms, with the interceptions of the lines being marked by wars and invasions.

Of course these lines do not run symmetrically but alter, with every interception forever changing the paths of those that follow and with the end of imperialism as was known in ancient antiquity and the middle ages and the birth the industrial revolution, capitalism, and in the post-war era we mark history through social movements, economic catastrophe, and cultural change.

At this moment in time we are experiencing the fall of one history and the rise of a newly liberal and economically responsible era.

The collapse of the financial sector in 2007 saw a global catastrophe not seen for generations. Poor practises in the financial sector led to international disaster, forcing governments to save their financial institutions to save the investments of their constituents whilst simultaneously paying for the bailouts with their taxes and cutting on mass government spending whilst the institutions with whom the responsibility truly lies are left to continue the practise of rewarded risk that led to the situation we face.

As we know this did not happen without consequences. Dictators fell in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya, with Syria maybe soon to follow, revolution in Iceland, and occupations in New York, Madrid, London, and Athens

This was not unforeseeable. Since the time of President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher the general precedent has remained the same, allow the rich to improve their wealth and the society will benefit. This general belief meant a decrease in public spending and corporate responsibility, whilst reducing income tax and capital gains to increase competition amongst ‘job creators’ a belief that has long outlives the former President to become an almost religious belief in the United States, less so in the United Kingdom but still prevalent throughout New Labour.

Inevitably this lead to the situation we find ourselves in now with the richest taking liberty with their newfound freedom, creating vast economic growth amongst those at the top of the economic chain and some growth amongst those beneath. This system led to collapse that left the top relatively unharmed whilst the middle classes took the burden of the collapse through lost savings and investments, higher unemployment and cost of living and austerity cuts rather, cuts which could have been spared by those responsible taking responsibility for their actions.

All these protests are looking for this exact aim. People have realised the true consequences of unfair government policies and their blind following of economic growth. No longer do people want a government whose only focus is the economy and growth but whose focus is on the living standard of all their people, economic equality, and an end irresponsible banking practise.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented his New Deal. These focused on his three R’s: Relief for the unemployed and poor, Recovery for the economy, and Reforms of the financial sector. The people of today are looking for the same and the longer our leaders resist, the stronger the forces against them will grow. We are creating a newly liberal world and our leaders would be fools not to follow.

 

Thomas Baron is a freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East, Over Population, and Enviromentalism. See his blog at TheArsenalofDemocracy

Twitter trolls hit the Arab Spring

So-called e-thugs aggressively defending oppressive regimes online…

 

© Al Jazeera English

 

The Arab Spring has been notable in one respect for the harassment and intimidation of commentators on forums such as Twitter, with discussion on Bahrain being perhaps the most extreme example of the activity of the ‘trolls’.

While the country has attempted to counter negative attention by employing public relations firms, at the same time many people including journalists report receiving vitriolic abuse when writing about the regime.

The same pattern has been seen with other countries, though perhaps with less suggestion of state involvement. Even today countless people on Twitter are spreading misinformation about the final battles with Gaddafi loyalists in Libya, apparently sure that Nato and the ‘rats’ are imminently about to be defeated.

Academic Mark Owen Jones studied Bahrain and social media at the height of the uprising, and said:

Twitter itself has seen a huge surge in the number of ‘Trolls’. These trolls are usually engaged in spreading information that is either controversial, offensive or just plain wrong. While one may easily dismiss this as an irrelevant detail, the presence of such disinformation is very harmful in times of conflict, for it is also a time when people are feeling vulnerable, defensive and afraid. I have even seen Trolls termed ‘e-thugs’ in recent days, perhaps not surprising since the term ‘thug’ has now become an important part of the Middle Eastern protest lexicon. The trolls are exploiting both our need for information, which surely increases in times of crisis, and also the dearth of credible information on the issues. This lack of credible official information compounds the issue, and as the government continues to remain absent, the scramble for answers is both desperate and blind.

Bahrain blogger Hussain Yousif says that the ‘trolls’ have a very defined set of characteristics on Twitter. They have very few followers, only push one line of argument, refuse to get into discussions, and clock on and off Twitter at the same time. As if it were a day job…

Read more at The Lede

 

Dispatches from Cairo: #5

British writer Lucy Emmerson blogs from Cairo on events taking place in post-revolution Egypt…

 

© Lucy Emmerson

 

Sprinting away from a military charge on Sunday night I had a sinking “here we go again” feeling. The sense of déjà vu only intensified as I spent the evening following the tags #tahrir and #maspero on twitter, and learned of the 24 confirmed deaths, the 200 wounded, and that the curfew had been reinstated, if only temporarily.

Back in January and February these nights were common; nights where we’d stay awake in groups, calling friends across town, and debating worst-case scenarios. What was different in this case was that it was so unexpected. Sunday, the first day of the Middle-Eastern working week, has not traditionally been marked by excessive violence but last night proved to be an exception.

“Bloody Sunday”, as it has already come to be known, began early in the evening outside the Maspero building in Downtown. The building houses the headquarters of the state television station, and was the destination of a peaceful march-turned-sit-in by thousands of Coptic Christians.

Copts constitute an estimated ten percent of Egypt’s population, and they suffer much discrimination, legal and otherwise. Their specific grievance in this case was that a church in a village called Merinab in the Aswan governorate was attacked after the governor, Mustafa al-Seyyed, claimed that it had been built without planning permission.

Sectarian violence is common in Egypt, and has been especially so since the revolution, with sporadic attacks on churches being perpetrated by plainclothes thugs, and the general lack of personal security impacting minority groups most seriously. Fears for the future also play their part, with Copts fearful of the possibility of an Islamic state.

However, this was no ordinary incidence of sectarian violence. The exact sequence of events is hard to pinpoint. State TV claims that the Copts were armed, and attacked first, and rumours once again abound of “foreign influences”, but later reports suggest it was the army who attacked first. This version appears to be backed up by images and videos appearing on social media websites showing protesters being brutally beaten, and armed vehicles driving directly at groups of unarmed individuals.

Furthermore, these clashes were not as simple as Muslim versus Copt. Many Muslims came out in support of the Copts, and by the end of the night the violence appeared to be of a civilian versus military character. January’s chant of “The people want the downfall of the regime” has been replaced with “The people want the downfall of Tantawi”, General Tantawi being the head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which currently runs the country.

Grievances against SCAF include continued military tribunals for civilians, and on-going disputes about election laws, as well as allegations of corruption due to their strong ties to Mubarak’s regime.

Opposition to the army is growing, and Sunday’s clashes mark the largest outbreak of violence since Mubarak stepped down in February. On Twitter, one phrase was much re-tweeted:

Today’s Martyrs are not Muslims, or Copts – they’re Egyptian. And their Own Army Killed them.

It is in the military’s interest to portray Sunday’s events as a particularly violent outbreak of sectarian violence, and if they succeed in spinning it as such, they will be able to use it in their on-going propaganda war against reform and progress, and to justify claiming for themselves increasingly draconian powers for “security reasons”. Whether they succeed in doing so, will depend on how events unfold over the next few days.

 

Lucy Emmerson is a British writer and political commentator based in Cairo, focusing on the Arab Spring and other key developments in the region. You can follow her blog here 

 Archive:- Dispatches from Cairo

Dozens killed in Egypt clashes

It’s now thought that 24 people have died in clashes with security forces in Egypt following a protest over the burning of a Coptic Christian church by Islamic fundamentalists.

Dramatic video footage shows armoured vehicles charging protesters in Cairo, while youths also threw stones at security forces in Alexandria. Prime minister Essam Sharaf has called for calm following the violence.

 

 Video via TelegraphTV

Dispatches from Cairo: #3

British writer Lucy Emmerson, currently based in Cairo, blogs on events taking place in Egypt…

 

© Lucy Emmerson

 

A malaise has settled over Egypt’s population as the ever more complicated saga of how best to move towards democracy unfolds. As the politically engaged debate increasingly ideologically charged issues of election law and the “continuing revolution”, large swathes of the population want nothing more than for elections to be held, and for life to go on.

The debates are, for the most part, extremely valid. The path to democracy was never going to be an easy one, and the hastily wrought unity of Tahrir Square was never going to last. Arguments rage over the electoral process, the implications of imposing supra-constitutional principles before elections to “safeguard” the revolution, and how far the legitimacy of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to make these kinds of decisions extends.

The problem is that the slogans of the revolution made it all sound so simple: remove the dictator, democracy will reign. Done. The end. Egypt will become an enlightened utopia. Sadly, there was no “one” vision for what that would entail; sharia law, a secular constitution, or something in between.

The general feeling of hostile indifference also stems from the overwhelming impression that nothing has changed. The old guard still dominate in the form of SCAF and leaders of business, industry and the media. Now there is even a word for it: ‘flool’ literally meaning ‘the remnants’ referring to the remnants of the old regime.

While there are still some die-hards keeping up with every political development, many just want some semblance of “normal” to return to the country in order to allow economic recovery to begin, and socio-economic conditions to improve. And while so much focus is on events in Cairo it is easy to forget that millions of Egyptians live in Upper Egypt and Sinai, where revolutionary spirit never took a hold in the first place.

The revolution has been hard on ordinary Egyptians, damaging incomes through loss of tourism and causing high rates of inflation. Disenchantment is high, and while hope still remains, more and more there is sense that people expected too much too soon, and are now disappointed.

 

Lucy Emmerson is a British writer and political commentator based in Cairo, focusing on the Arab Spring and other key developments in the region. You can follow her blog here 

Archive:- Dispatches from Cairo

Israel fears total isolation

Pressure mounting from all sides as Palestinian’s push for statehood…

 

© US Embassy Tel Aviv

 

Israel is growing increasingly isolated in the world reports Der Spiegel, and it will perhaps result in a more conciliatory approach from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Recent weeks have seen a diplomatic spat with Turkey, the siege of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, and mounting pressure from Palestinian plans to go to the UN for recognition. Additionally there have been comments from former US defence secretary Robert Gates that called Netanyahu ‘ungrateful’, comments that significantly weren’t criticised by the US administration.

Netanyahu also faces pressure on the domestic front, pushed to take a more moderate stance by figures such as Ehud Barak and members if Israel’s intelligence services, while at the same time hemmed in by his traditional supporters; four ministers from right-wing parties have said Israel should annex the West Bank if the Palestinians go for full recognition.

So while his comments praising Egyptian commandos -who rescued the Cairo embassy staff- in recent days may signal a toning down of his stance, it may be to late to offer any compromise to avert a Palestinian statehood vote, and even if he wanted to his hands may simply be tied.

 

 

Dispatches from Cairo: #2

British writer Lucy Emmerson, currently based in Cairo, blogs on events taking place in Egypt…

 

 

Once again protestors in Egypt have hit the headlines, this time for their storming of the Israeli embassy late Friday night. The embassy protest was not the most well attended of the Friday protests, but sadly has garnered the most attention due to the ferocity and violence of its attendees, and the fact that it led to the withdrawal of the Israeli diplomatic mission almost in its entirety, leading to fears of a complete breakdown in diplomatic relations. While it seems that the situation has been salvaged, this sinister new development has caused a distraction from the movement to get the revolution back on track, the aim of “The Friday of Correcting the Path”.

In Tahrir Square, where I was, hundreds of thousands gathered after Friday prayers to peacefully protest against continued military tribunals, to demand election laws be amended (more on that next installment), and to implement a minimum and maximum wage limit.

Those who marched on the Israeli embassy, tore down the recently-constructed protective wall, and then breached the most easily accessible of the rooms, were a splinter group consisting of several thousand people.

Their professed aim was to protest against the killing of Egyptian border guards last month, the inadequacy of the subsequent botched apology made by Israel, and also to show the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that their stance on Israel was too lenient, and not in keeping with popular opinion.

While the construction of the wall was widely seen as provocative, and symbolic of the government’s perceived protective stance towards Israel, even many of the most ardent revolutionaries have spoken out against this blatant infringement of international law.

Anti-Israeli sentiment is rife among protestors, left-secularists and Islamists alike, but most seem to be in agreement that Friday’s events were a step too far. They correctly, judging by recent commentary, ascertain that it will harm the credibility of the protest movement in the eyes of the public, and offer ammunition to those who claim that Egyptians are not ready for democracy.

Reactions to the event are almost universally appalled by both the slow response of the armed forces, and the actions of the protestors themselves who, after breaking in using hammers and other tools, threw documents out of windows and attempted to attack staff within, who had to be rescued by Egyptian commandos.

The question of why the police and army did so little to stop the attacks is as yet unanswered. A likely answer appears to be that they were afraid of being accused of using the same harsh tactics as the Mubarak regime, who always came down hard on indications of anti-Israeli sentiment.

Whatever the reason, it has done little to calm fears of a continually deteriorating domestic situation, and will likely lead to future protests, peaceful or not, losing the backing of the public at large, and being greeted with hostility by the armed forces.

 

Lucy Emmerson is a British writer and political commentator based in Cairo, focusing on the Arab Spring and other key developments in the region. You can follow her blog here
Image © Lucy Emmerson

Archive:- Dispatches from Cairo