Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category
This was written for the excellent Lobelog.
In August 2012 Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi attended a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran. His presence at the conference was something of a diplomatic victory for the Iranian leadership, whose relations with Egypt, the pivotal Arab state, had been at the lowest of ebbs since the 1979 revolution.
Egypt’s President Sadat laid on a state funeral for the exiled Iranian shah. A Tehran street was later named after Khalid Islambouli, one of Sadat’s assassins. Like every Arab country except Syria, Egypt backed Iraq against Iran in the First Gulf War. Later, Hosni Mubarak opposed Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, worked with the US and Saudi Arabia against Iran’s nuclear program, and was one of the Arab dictators (alongside the Abdullahs of Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to warn darkly of a rising “Shi’ite cresent”. Not surprisingly, Iran was so overjoyed by the 2011 revolution in Egypt that it portrayed it as a replay of its own Islamic Revolution.
Iran also rhetorically supported the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya, the uprising in Yemen, and, most fervently, the uprising in Shia-majority Bahrain.
In Syria, however, Iran supported the Assad tyranny against a popular revolution even as Assad escalated repression from gunfire and torture to aerial bombardment and missile strikes. Iran provided Assad with a propaganda smokescreen, injections of money to keep regime militias afloat, arms and ammunition, military training, and tactical advice, particularly on neutralising cyber opponents. Many Syrians believe Iranian officers are also fighting on the ground.
A few days ago a well-planned resistance operation killed eight Israelis. Israel has no idea who carried out the operation, except that they were probably Arabs, so it has responded in its usual way – by randomly murdering Arabs. Fifteen have been killed so far in the Gaza ghetto, and six Egyptian soldiers were killed when Zionist forces violated Egypt’s sovereign border. Before the revolution there was no response to this kind of arrogant aggression. This time the Zionist government has been forced to apologise to Egypt. That’s not enough, of course, so the Egyptian people have taken matters into their own hands. In this film, the Zionist flag falls in Cairo. This was last night. The demonstration outside the Zionist embassy continues today. People are firing fireworks at the occupied building.
Update: Syria’s tame mufti Hassoun has said there is no truth to the news which I repeat below, that Buti, Hassoun and other clerics met with the minister of Awqaf and decided to cancel taraweeh prayers. I heard the false report from someone in Syria. Obviously a rumour was circulating.
When I lived in Syria in the 1990s people would speak very respectfully about Shaikh Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, a Damascus-based cleric and a traditionalist. I could never quite understand why. I attended his mosque once after an American bombing run on sanctions-starved Iraq; on that occasion Buti blamed the deaths in Iraq on ‘a lack of love between the Muslims.’ Perhaps some of the congregation imagined this was a veiled criticism of the Arab leaders. People called al-Buti honest and fearless.
I had a conversation with someone who taught archeology at Damascus University. This academic arranged a debate on human origins, the scientific versus the religious view. The debate went very well until Shaikh Buti arrived, with entourage. The cleric encouraged noisy religious chanting until the debate had been entirely disrupted, at which point he declared ‘this is a victory for belief over unbelief’ and had himself carried away on the shoulders of his admirers. A great victory indeed.
Throughout the Syrian uprising, Buti has told Syria’s Muslims to trust the regime that is murdering them. He has repeatedly condemned peaceful demonstrations for dignity and rights. He has accused the protestors who set out from Friday mosques of not knowing how to pray. I accuse Buti of not knowing how to think, or feel, and of having no moral sense. Yesterday, following the most savage massacres yet perpetrated by the regime, Buti released a ‘fatwa’ cancelling the taraweeh prayers which are held every evening during Ramadan. The truth could not be clearer: this ‘honest, fearless’ cleric is even willing to cancel prayers when he is ordered to by the state. He is to religion what Dunya TV and Syria Comment are to objective reporting; what the shabeeha are to domestic security. Many of Syria’s Christian leaders, meanwhile, have taken the most unChristian step of joining in state propaganda against unarmed Syrian citizens even as these citizens – of all sects – are tortured, maimed and humiliated.
I was a guest on BBC Wales’s All Things Considered, a religious programme, talking about Christians in the Arab world in the light of the Arab revolutions. Also talking are the Right Reverend Bill Musk, based in Tunisia, Bishop Angelos, who serves the Coptic community in London, and the Reverend Christopher Gillam, who admires the Syrian regime and overemphasises Syrian Christian opposition to the uprising. Apologies for my voice, which was heavy with cold.
This review of Leila Aboulela’s novel was published in the excellent Wasafiri magazine.
It’s the mid twentieth century, as British control over north east Africa fails. Sudanese cotton tycoon Mahmoud Abuzeid, awarded the title Bey by Egypt’s King Farouk, is pulled between his two wives.
“They belonged to different sides of the saraya, to different sides of him. He was the only one to negotiate between these two worlds, to glide between them, to come back and forth at will.”
The two wives share a compound. Sudanese Waheeba in her hoash – a traditional living space half open to the air – represents “decay and ignorance…the stagnant past” to gregarious, multi-lingual Mahmoud. Egyptian Nabilah, much younger, better educated, attempts to recreate Cairo in her Italian-furnished modern salon. She represents “the glitter of the future..sophistication.” But events question such easy distinctions.
Egypt’s revolution could go in any direction in the months and years to come. It could end up in a tame army-supervised semi-democracy under the presidency of Amr Moussa, with the army running foreign policy. More likely, the result will be far more interesting than that.
The Supreme Military Council has decided not to lift the state of emergency. The core of the old system remains in place. And Communique Number Five calls for an end to industrial action. But oil and gas workers continue to strike, as well as transport, textiles and media workers. More significantly, workers are refusing the authority of Mubarak-era union officials, and are organising to represent themselves. Another instance of spreading revolutionary fervour: state TV workers chased the head of the news department out of the building.
Writing for Jadaliyya, Egyptian blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy examines the role of the working class in the revolution. He concludes: “We have to take Tahrir to the factories now. As the revolution proceeds an inevitable class polarization is to happen. We have to be vigilant. We shouldn’t stop here.”
Throughout yesterday messages were sent out from within the Egyptian regime to the effect that Husni Mubarak was about to resign. Millions went onto the night streets to celebrate the victory. Then, incredibly, Mubarak repeated his intention to stay. He lied about his contributions to Egyptian sovereignty and addressed the Egyptians as his children, to screams of derision. Despicable as he is, there was something of the tragic hero about him, tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean sense. The very traits which had thrust him to greatness – stubborness, brutishness, contempt for the people – were condemning him, with every word, to the most ignominious humiliation. He spoke from the gravel of his octogenarian throat, a man of the past adrift in a strange new world.
Tragic or not, it was certainly theatre – directed by the military. Communique Number One had already been delivered. Then this evening Omar Suleiman made a curt admission of defeat, for he too has been deposed (although he announced only Mubarak’s fall). The military’s Supreme Council is in charge.
He copies phrases from foreign newspapers into a notebook. Then he copies his notes into a larger notebook with a flag and a band of gold on the front.
His mouth imitates the words of the state TV channel, and the words of undead clerics, and the words of puff-eyed men who sit in cafés.
He curses his country’s backwardness. At the same time he proclaims that the world was brighter when his grandfather was still a rheum-eyed boy.
At school he wrote poems praising his teacher. At work he writes letters praising his boss. When the time is right he writes reports denouncing his colleagues.
He is embarrassed by his social station. In the presence of his inferiors he imitates his superiors. He swings his belly like a wealthy businessman, preens his moustache like a tribal chief, avoids eye contact like a distracted poet or professor, or establishes it, beneath beetling brows, like a policeman. He aims to provoke fear. He is scared of everything.
Until today the earthshaking Egyptian revolution appeared to be losing momentum. Regime propaganda, repeated on state TV and in Saudi-owned regional media, appeared to be convincing significant sections of the population that the protests were responsible for diminished security (although it was the regime that freed violent criminals and pulled police off the streets) and economic destabilisation (although it was the regime again which closed the internet, halted the trains, and dealt perhaps a long-term blow to tourism by encouraging mobs to attack foreigners). As 40% of Egyptians rely on daily wages for survival, success of regime propaganda in this area could fatally undermine the revolution.
The United States clearly believed that Mubarak, Suleiman and the military, having weathered the initial shock, were slowly but surely regaining control. After meeting the ruling clique, Obama’s envoy and Mubarak-business partner Frank Wisner praised Mubarak and insisted that he “must stay in office to steer” a process of achieving “national consensus around the preconditions” for the future. The White House said Wisner was speaking in a personal capacity, but didn’t contradict him. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, expressed support for Vice President Omar Suleiman’s transitional leadership. Suleiman’s credentials for midwifing democracy include personal supervision of execution by torture, a rock solid reputation with Israeli intelligence, and his oft-stated belief that Egyptians are not yet ready for democracy.
Even as the regime and its American sponsor speak of dialogue, reform and transition, arrests of opposition activists and harrassment of journalists continue, as does the decades-old state of emergency. In one hand the stick, and in the other the carrot: state salaries and pensions have been increased by 15%, and the public sector has announced it will employ the unemployed. The regime has had neither the time nor the inclination to reorder the economy to benefit the working class, so it’s most probable that Egyptians are about to benefit from a temporary cash injection from Saudi Arabia and other terrified Gulf states.
Tony Blair, with the blood of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine dripping from his fingers, says Egyptian dictator Husni Mubarak is “immensely courageous and a force for good.” The opinion is based on working “with him on the Middle East peace process.” Mubarak’s record on the pacification process involves helping the Palestinian Authority transform itself into a (stateless) police state apparatus, obstructing Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, and constructing, in concert with US army engineers, a metal wall underneath the Gaza border.
Under Nasser’s police state Egypt had no popular sovereignty, but it did have national independence. This was lost at Camp David in 1979, when Sadat signed peace with Israel, retrieved the occupied Sinai peninsula, and received the promise of billions of dollars of annual American aid. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US aid. American funding of the military is the reason why top officers remain loyal to the regime despite all the humiliations (for Egypt lost its Arab leadership role long ago) and committed to the peace treaty, although Israel has reneged on its Camp David undertaking to provide a just solution to the Palestinian problem.
In common with journalists and human rights workers, Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey was beaten by regime thugs today, and his blog closed down. Fotunately his last post was reposted at War in Context. And here it is below, a depressing (I hope against hope he’s being overly pessimistic) account of the last days.
“The End is near,” Sandmonkey writes. “I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay “because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people”. This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”
I don’t know how to start writing this. I have been battling fatigue for not sleeping properly for the past 10 days, moving from one’s friend house to another friend’s house, almost never spending a night in my home, facing a very well funded and well organized ruthless regime that views me as nothing but an annoying bug that its time to squash will come. The situation here is bleak to say the least.
When the pro-Mubarak protestors appeared on the streets yesterday they were a comical sight. The small crowd near the Egyptian TV building (so obviously a propaganda set-up) were surrounded and outnumbered by police. It was as if they were trying to remind Egyptians what a traditional demonstration should look like. It was a vision from a previous age, but not quite authentic because the police didn’t break any heads.
Last night Mubarak announced he would step down at the next election. In his last months in power he would arrange an orderly transition of power. This is the ‘managed’ change that Tony Blair, Obama and Netanyahu want. In other words, the survival of the regime, under the torturer and sadist Omar Suleiman if not under Mubarak, co-existing with an impotent parliament which would emerge from slightly-less-rigged elections.
The enormous crowds in Maydan Tahreer, Alexandria, Suez, Mahalla al-Kubra and elsewhere met Mubarak’s speech with howls of derision. But by this morning it seems that the regime has succeeeded in splitting the democracy movement. The hardcore are entirely aware of the threat to the revolution, and will not retreat. Those who are less politically conscious, however, feel that they’ve won a victory and should now go home, lest chaos ensues.
This has been Mubarak’s argument: without me, chaos. It’s certainly true that Egypt needs a resolution soon. The already precarious economy has been on hold for over a week and basic food supplies are running low. Until this morning it seemed regime strategy was to exhaust the revolution.
But now the regime is speeding things up, by engineering chaos. Interior ministy goons masquerading as ‘pro-Mubarak protestors’ have poured into Maydan Tahreer, many on horse and camel back, armed with whips, machetes and sticks. Gunfire has been heard. The army is doing absolutely nothing to protect the people. Earlier today an army spokesman on state TV told the revolutionaries to go home. Old men, women and children are amongst the crowd in Maydan Tahreer. This is going to be very bloody indeed.
The day the revolution started. In the second film Waseem Wagdi, an Egyptian protesting outside the embassy in London, says it all, beautifully.
My past experience talking to Egyptians, in Egypt and around the world, is that 95% of them hate Husni Mubarak and the humiliation he’s brought upon their once great country. When I ask of their hopes for change, they answer with the bitter resignation common to all Arabs: “Nothing will change. His son will come after him. People are more interested in football, or their next meal.” Arabs from other countries also despair of escaping their state of stagnation. Some like to repeat the Arabic phrase al-‘arab jarab, or ‘the Arabs are scabies.’
But that was then. That was until the Tunisian revolution, which has now reached the centre of the Arab world. Egypt’s Friday of Rage was a beautiful revolutionary moment, when individuals, having witnessed the strength of their protesting compatriots over the previous days, suddenly realised they were not alone. After Friday prayers, a nation claimed sovereignty over its streets – young people, the unemployed, professionals, workers, students, families. The people who didn’t demonstrate provided food, drinks and tear gas remedies to those who did (which means that womens’ participation has been much greater than TV pictures show). On at least one occasion, Christians guarded a Muslim mass prayer under assault by police.
And in Suez, Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo they defeated the police. They torched police stations and police vehicles, as well as the headquarters of the ruling (and absurdly named) National Democratic Party. (The Israeli embassy, meanwhile, has helicoptered its entire staff out of Cairo. One slogan being chanted: ya mubarak ya ameel/ ba’at biladak l-isra’il, or ‘Mubarak you Foreign Agent, You Sold your Country to Israel.’ Tonight the only Israeli flag flying in the Arab world is in Amman.)