Ahvazi Arab nationalists claim Iran bomb

Iran appears to be another of Iraq's neighbours to suffer from an overflow of violence from Iraq. Bombings in Ahvaz and Tehran earlier this week, the worst Iran has suffered in several years, have been blamed by Iranians on al-Qaeda style groups, the US, or even on their own government (the argument being that the regime is trying to scare reform-minded voters away from polling stations on 17 June). However, a vivid film posted on an Ahvazi Arab nationalist website seems to show that Arab separatists were responsible for the bombings in Khuzestan. Ahvaz Khuzestan province shares a long border with Iraq, and some of the most vicious fighting in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war was along the frontier. Most of Khuzestan's ancestral population is Arab, and the region is home to most of Iran's oil fields, as well as good number of its refineries. Khuzestan only came under firm and direct control from Tehran in the 1930s; before that Arab tribal leaders treated directly with British representatives in the Gulf and oil developers. Arab-Iranians in Khuzestan have complained for many years that they do not receive a fair share of the region's oil revenues. They also argue that while many Arabs are employed in the oil industry, a glass ceiling prevents most of them from gaining the top managerial positions in the national oil company NIOC. The resentment has bubbled away for many decades, and the central government has made sporadic and generally short-term attempts to address Ahvazi criticisms. Ahvaz saw severe protests in April 2005 when rumours circulated that the government intended to move Arabs away from the area. It now seems that, despite border patrols that have made the Iran-Iraq border one of the most secure of Iraq's post-war borders, violent Ahvazi nationalists have been able to mount attacks in the heart of Khuzestan. It is difficult to imagine that the violence and absence of law in areas of Iraq has not made the task of such attackers easier. Few Arab Ahvazis appear to be pursuing a separatist agenda, but the campaigns of Arab Ahvazis to secure a better deal from the Iranian government will doubtless suffer following the recent bombings and the subsequent crackdown. For the Iranian government, nationalists can now be blamed for the Ahvaz bombings. However, the Tehran bombs, and another blast in Baluchistan on 15 June, remain unsolved.
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"Sweeping Sayida On" Protest

Sayida protest __________ For more pictures of yesterday's protest, visit this album. Let me know if you want to use any of the shots. _________ Yesterday, several groups that are nominally linked to Kifaya held a sunset protest at the Mosque of Sayida Zaynib in Cairo. These groups, such as "al-Sharaa Lina" and "Shafeenkum," are sprouting up following the referendum violence on May 25th. As best as I understand, these groups' members are for those who may not subscribe to Kifaya goals but were outraged at the electoral violence. So groups are emerging to accommodate and channel discontent into opposition. Rumors on the street another group is coming next week. The big difference between yesterday's protest and its predecessors is that the Kifaya brass such as Kamal Khalil, Abd al-Halim Qandil, and George Ishaq did not attend. Instead, this protest was organized by younger members of Kifaya and those interested in protesting against state-sponsored violence. The protest was rather small with one sympathizer telling me that there was no more than 300 people. There was lots of media covering the event in what is starting to be called "Democracy Wednesdays" in Cairo. That said, the younger activists are interesting. Their backgrounds are varied and many of them are new to street politics. The are internet savvy and many have blogs. Of the activists I spoke with most professed that they did sympathize with Kifaya but did not want to be active in the movement. This all changed on 25 May as these unsatisfied citizens now want a stake in their future. The most striking is one young woman who worked for NGOs that provided social services. She has a picture taken next to Egypt's First Lady Suzanne Mubarak - it was a sort of reward for her efforts. Now, I am not sure either side would want to be in the room with the other. Kifaya is slightly changing. Younger activists are starting to gel together and bringing new ideas and themes to protests rather than the older generation of "legendary" protesters of the 1970s generation. While their future strength is tied together, whether the center will hold remains undetermined. The theme of last night's protest was "Nuknus Sayida ala.." which translates as "Sweeping Sayida on..." Rather than denote an act of cleaning, it carries a mystic connotation. When you sweep Sayida on to someone or something it means you are wishing evil to befall them. It is akin to putting a curse. In last night's context, this means placing curses on the government, its ministers, and its chief executive. Overall, the protest was very orderly. Despite the younger activists - some of whom wanted to challenge the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the Saad Zaghloul protest a week earlier - emotions were controlled and there were no scuffles or near-scuffles to report. The protest was also disciplined in that it advertised between 6-8pm. It ended promptly at 8pm. Two side notes: 1) Ayman Nor showed up very briefly. He passed through the opposition crowd and drew a lot of attention. At the post-protest festivities, I bumped into a group of the younger activists/organizers. Several of them were perplexed at why Ayman came. 2) On the other side of the street, a group of Pro-Mubarak supporters showed up during the protest. There were two types of supporters but all carried the same sign - a picture of the president that said "Yes to Mubarak". It underscored how highly staged these pro-Mubarak retorts are. Of the two types of supporters, there were the calm and unenthused supporter that looked like they were unhappily there bil'affiya (by force). Then, there where the shabbier supporters in football jerseys. They were late 40s/early 50s and many of them acted like they were hopped up on speed. They were scaling lampposts, pulling at their hair with crazed looks in their eyes as they screamed pro-Mubarak slogans. For some of these characters, the only solution maybe an exorcism. The pro-Mubarak supporters were separated by the street and loads of CSF, who looked like they were working harder to control the Pro-Mubarak rage than their colleagues manning the opposition side. _________________ Next week - a new location, new themes, and more symbolism is promised.
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Mubarak to name V-P (if he wins)

President Mubarak will name a vice-president after he wins presidential elections in September, according to his spokesman cited in the FT on 14 June. This confirms everyone's expectations that Mubarak will run and win in September. Naming a successor also means that Mubarak will have to come off the fence on talk of succession; until now, he's always pointed to the constitutional mechanism for deciding the president. This announcement means another round of "will-he, won't-he" president-centred specualation, following the earlier 'uncertainty' about whether he would run for president at all. Guessing who will be the VP will distract attention away from the fairness of presidential and parliamentary elections later this year. Still, the choice of VP will indicate how Mubarak sees the future of the regime. Unless, like the Iranians, he names more than one vice-president...
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National Council for Human Rights Article in MER

Egypt's NCHR has been been a subject of fierce debate on the Arabist. An Arabic version of the NCHR report is available here. For debate on this blog, see here. In the latest print edition of MERIP (Summer 2005), which was published in early June, I published an article discussing it and the first annual report. For those of you I personally or electronically know, you should have already received a copy. Now, it is available to all the Arabist's readers. The article can be found here. Have at it and all feedback is welcome. ________________ Since MERIP does not publish acknowledgments, please bear with me as I thank some folks now. Many thanks to Maye, Jonathan Noble, Ursula Lindsey, and Hossam al-Hamalawy. Also, special thanks to Chris Toensing and the editorial staff at MERIP for all their marvelous work and suggestions.
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Kifaya protest in Seoul

There is an email making the rounds that details a Kifaya protest by Korea's All-Together movement outside of the Egyptian Embassy in Seoul. All-Together was protesting in solidarity with Egypt's Kifaya movement. I am not sure what this means but it is amusing to think of the Egyptian Ambassador sitting in his office fuming as he reassures the foreign ministry that it is really nothing (MaFesh Hagga, Yanni). Oh, how traumatic it is not to have Central Security Forces at one's disposal to contain the crowds and beat on people from time to time. korea12 Here is the email and some pictures: ____________________________
Dear friends and comrades,
On 9 June, 2005, 11:00am, a diverse group of anti-war and human rights activists gathered in front of the Egytian Embassy in Seoul to demonstrate against Egyptian dictator Mubarak.
Because the the domestic law forbiding any protest in front of foreign diplomatic offices, the group called it a press conference. People began the protest by chanting "Down Down Mubarak","24 years is enough", "Kifaya! Kifaya", "Victory to the Egyptian People's Struggle for Democracy!" The ambassador refused to see us. But we made sure that he will be seeing us more often as long as Mubarak and his son is in power. It seems South Korea is far away from Egypt and no one here will be interested in what is going on in Egypt. It is far from truth. Although not much of the situation in Egypt is reported in the mainstream media, when South Koreans hear about the Kifaya movement and Mubarak's desperate attempts to keep his power, they immediately make a connection to their past military rulers.
Yes, South Koreans have seen their ruler putting forth political reforms that are nothing more than shams to maintain control. If they did not all, military rulers resorted to brutal violence. A prime example is the Kwangju Massacre where citizens of Kwangju city were shot to death by the army. It seems the rulers all over the world are learning from each other on how to control the people.This is why it is utmost important that people struggling for democracy build strong international solidarity and learn from each other. South Koreans' democratization movement have shown that it is possible to defeat the military dictator. With courageous demonstrations and strikes, the Egyptian working people have shown South Koreans what is at stake and what must be achieved, a better world where working people manage their lives and society in true democracy.
On behalf of the South Korean anti-war and human rights activists I wish a grand victory to the Egyptian working people fighting for democracy and real change.
International solidarity,
CJ Park, All Together
________________________ ko2 As Neil Young sings, "Keep on Rockin in the Free World"
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A couple of thoughts on Al Ghad Radio

I wanted to post about the new Al Ghad radio, but after a busy day it seems Josh beat me to it. I think it's worth noting that the SMS many of us received also said that Al Ghad had applied for a FM broadcasting license, but I suppose was either denied it or never received an answer. This is excellent news for freedom of speech in Egypt, and perhaps a landmark enough. But it is also a small step. I remember several years ago chatting with a journalist from Mali. I asked him about freedom of the press in his country. He said that basically there was much more freedom than in Egypt, notably with radio stations, with several hundred small ones around the country running independently. Perhaps that number is an exaggeration, but from what I understand there is still quite a number of free radio stations there. The conversation made me rather depressed, because not only in Egypt but most of the Arab world there are very, very few independent radio stations -- never mind TV stations. An internet radio like Al Ghad's is a start, but it's still far off from what is really needed. The internet reaches only a small percentage of Egypt's population, and internet radio only potentially reaches those who can afford a DSL connection. These people are likely to be reading newspapers anyway. Regular -- i.e. terrestrial -- TV and radio stations are the most important to liberalize because even satellite stations, whose effect on political discourse in the Middle East have been much talked about, are really limited in a country where so many are poor and illiterate. As I think I've noted before, there are now efforts to push for further media liberalization -- including by some personalities inside the establishment media. Al Ahram's Salama Ahmed Salama, for instance, has been lamenting the absence of discussion of the violence of referendum day by state media. Just a few days ago, he wrote that the silence of media and the state-run women's organizations was inexplicable:
Defending women and calling for their contribution to politics has become over the past few years a frequent issue in the media and national institutions… Yet unfortunately, the women that participated in the peaceful demonstrations and demanded democracy in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate were faced with heinous, shameful acts – acts committed by hired thugs who went as far as sexual molestation. I must confess that I had myself placed great hope in the National Council for Women [an organization founded by Suzanne Mubarak] ... It is rather strange: these voices that had previously been raised to defend women and promote their political rights were mute when it came to crying out against these incidents.
Other people have also criticized the main state-run papers for being so out of touch and cowardly when covering local news at a time of national political crisis (at least that's how many pundits are describing it). With the recent rumors that the head of the main newspapers would change (and counter-rumors that they would not, and that Gulf sheikhs came to Cairo to protect Al Ahram Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Nafie's position with bribes -- an odd mirror image to reports that Egypt is threatening Qatari sheikhs in order to get Al Jazeera to tone its coverage down), the state media is clearly in some kind of turmoil. Several opposition newspapers also reported that presenters on state TV were issued a directive last week, as Egyptian opposition movements called for a day of mourning and urged citizens to wear black, to wear bright colors, avoid any mention of the Kifaya movement, and smile a lot. TV and radio, therefore, has been even more out-of-touch with the burning political issues of the moment than the state newspapers, which at least mention these events in their crime pages. Imagine if you had an independent, and perhaps even activist, FM radio station that could spread the news that the independent press talks about, but with the immediacy of broadcasting. And by the way, if you're not using Windows you can still listen to it: just copy this link, launch Windows Media Player for Mac (or for whatever you're using), and use the "Open URL" function. Paste the link into the dialog box and it should work. (It worked for me last night, but this morning there was nothing -- maybe they're offline on Friday mornings!)
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Al-Ghad Radio Station

I received a text from al-Ghad this morning. The party applied for a FM radio station but was denied by the authorities so they put the station online. The text read enthusiastically:
"Today El Ghad has broken the regime's monopoly on Radio Transmission in Egypt."
Al-Ghad Radio for all you die-hards (and windows users) can be found here. The radio programs are scheduled to have political, economic, and social commentary. ______ Its a shame Mona Makram-Ebeid is missing all this. Now, really, back to my thesis....
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CFR Report on Arab Democratization

The Council on Foreign Relations published its latest report, "In Support for Arab Democracy: Why and How" which was directed by Steven Cook and co-chaired by Fmr. Sec of State Madeline Albright and Fmr. Congressman and Project for the New American Century signature Vin Weber. I have not read the report yet, but look forward to. The independent task force was reportedly in Cairo to conduct field research last January. In semi-related news, rumor has it Condi Rice may be swinging through Cairo to meet with the president and to possibly to give a address about democratization in the Arab World around the 20th of June. According to a Reuters story,
In their public statements, U.S. officials have advised the Egyptian government to take specific steps such as ensuring free presidential elections in September, allowing international monitors, giving the opposition access to the state media and preventing violence against peaceful street protests.
But the officials have thrown little light in public on how fast they think change should happen and whether they are really willing to see the departure of President Hosni Mubarak, who has worked closely with U.S. presidents for a quarter of a century.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March rejected the argument that political change could lead to instability, saying the region was not stable anyway.
Washington would speak out for ``freedom'' without offering a model or knowing what the outcome would be, she added.
All this while MEPI is witnessing 26-percent cut in its funding. In 2003, MEPI had $100 million to democratize the Arab world. This year, it will have $74-million to liberate the oppressed. _____________
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Candle-light Vigil at Saad Zaghloul

vigil Last night around 8pm, the various women's associations that are spouting up in protest to the violence against women on May 25th were supposed to convene a candle-light vigil. Yet, as pictures confirm, there were by-far more men than women and the theme of the event changed from "women's issues" to a straight-out Kifaya function quickly. Unlike last week's protest in black where new females attended, the candle-light vigil witnessed those people staying away while other political trends showed up to participate. It was pretty shocking to see al-Ghad's Ayman Nor show up. He announced this week if he is elected president that he intends to have a two-year transitional term after which he will hold fresh elections to help heal the political and historical wounds of Egypt. Ayman's attendance, and that of his entourage, supplemented the numbers a good deal. In fact, this was the largest Kifaya protest since December. Reuters is saying 800 but it could have been 1000. The event was more festive than previous protests. There was music, almost a hippie-ish atmosphere at times, and the slogans were playful digs at the president, the son, and the establishment. The candles were a nice touch but it was hard to photograph. At one point, some of the Kifaya shebab (youth) looked overtaken with anger and wanted to confront the security forces. The older and wiser Kifaya members, such as MB Abd al-Qaddos and businessman Anani, convinced the majority of the crowd to prevent them from doing so. After the faux-charge, I saw plain-clothes security figures with walkie-talkies grinning smugly. My most interesting exchange of the evening was with a younger Kifaya activist I am friendly with. I said to him that it was a good turn out and surprised to see al-Ghad signed on. He looked at me and said, "al-Ghad has always been a part of us." Not wanting to hear it, I responded, "Come on...Ayman Nor is here. This is a little different than random folks from al-Ghad showing up." He looked around and and said, "You are right but to tell you the truth al-Ghad is not very strong." As we parted, I told him it is blending trends - not bashing them - that will determine Kifaya's future impact. He was more ambiguous about it. The biggest news circulating last night and that which drew the most applause was that editor-in chiefs Samir Rageb (al-Gumhuriya) and Ibrahim Nafia (al-Ahram) were "resigned". I have not seen the papers yet today so I cannot confirm. When departing, one of the guys I was with noticed some fits-a-cuffs breaking out in the street. We grabbed our cameras and started to shoot. The uniformed big-shots screamed into their walkie-talkies, "Bring them back! Bring them Back!" I then saw Abu Ala Madi talking to George Ishaq and telling him "Don't worry, it was nothing. It is nothing." As we stood in the middle of the street trying to figure out what the hell happened, someone patted me on the shoulder. I turned around and it was Nabil Ezabi (the head of Cairo Security). He was dressed in a brown suit and he said to me, "There is nothing to see. Do you see how we have control?" He nodded "yeah". He had a huge sheepish smile on his face (I was waiting for him to wink at me). As my friends and I walked down the street past the lines of stand-by security trucks, a female protester handed a candle to a solider sitting in the truck's driver seat. He reached out for it, and his superior - witnessing all this - flipped and smacked his hand. He rhetorically asked him in a loud voice, "What are you doing? Are you gay?" He then ordered the solider to get out of the truck. He was led to the back of the truck out of our view. So somebody went to bed without dinner last night for trying to be a human being. _______________ It was a big protest by Cairo-standards. The venue was nice and watching protests at night is much nicer than standing on the syndicate stairs in the heat. People are still angry about the attacks during the referendum. But, Kifaya is back and they milking this for all it is worth. If these past two demos indicate anything, Kifaya is incrementally getting bigger and bolder. But we are a bit aways from the security using coercion. I would like to say they learned their lesson but they didn't. They are just waiting for orders. _______________ On another note, a new women's group is forming which plans to monitor fall elections "looking for abuse against women" but I suspect that this is a cover. No doubt they will monitor elections, and no doubt they will look to document abuses against women, but if that is absent, then they may diversify their monitoring mandate. They are meeting at the syndicate today to plot and plan. They are calling themselves "shafiinkum" or "We See You". It is another catchy name for the PR astute Kifaya movement.
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Now...there are institutions

Al-Jazeera is reporting that al-Ghad leader Ayman Nor called for a parliamentary committee to look into the molestation and assaults on protesters during the 25th of May. The report cites that "a majority of some 100 MPs rejected the request at Saturday's session." According to AP, 22 MPs had signed on to Nor's initiative calling for an investigation. Unsurprisingly, NDP MPs are emphasizing that an inquery into the electoral violence does not have anything to do with them. Besides as NDP MP Hussayn Magawir argues "The judiciary is looking into those events." ______ In times of pressure (or its appearance), institutions and division of labor become important. The rest of the time...well...it is more ambiguous who and what institutions are doing what. This is not really news...it is more like business as usual.
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Another Group against Mubarak's rule?

The AP published a story, which is being carried in loads of the major international dailies today that a new group called the National Coalition for Democratic Transformation is coalescing in opposition to Mubarak's rule. It includes former PM Aziz Sedki, judges such as Yehya al-Rifai (who is also been vocal in the ongoing judges-state political wrangling), and Mustapha Bakri - the editor-in-chief of the weekly state-security connected al-Osbua. Bakri, who usually described as connected to former Minister of Information Safwat al-Sharif, will act as the group's spokesperson and notes that they will work with other opposition groups (I am assuming Kifaya rather than the MB) and will draft a new constitution. A conference is scheduled for next month. _______ I am not sure what all this means but there seems to be a lot going on in opposition circles. Al-Ghad is rumored to be suffering internal divisions, further seen in the resignation of Mona Makram-Ebeid. Some Kifaya members are quietly voicing concern over George Ishaq and Abd al-Halim Qandil's unwillingness to work with the MB. The judges made their demands and there has been little follow-up on that story. And Now...we have the National Coalition for Democratic Transformation. The interesting question is.... Do new groups and demands translate into more pressure on the government or is this a sign of increasing opposition fragmentation? Stay tuned....
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A quick guide to publishing in Egypt

In my post below, many people left comments asking about how the press system worked in Egypt. This is a quick overview, I hope I got nothing wrong. There are essentially two systems for putting out a publication in Egypt. You can have a local license, which is obtained either by applying to the higher press council or by starting a legal political party, which has an automatic license for its organs. These papers with local licenses do not have to go through censorship. However, they are influenced through self-censorship (people have a good sense of what the red lines are), informants and pressure from state security, and finally the confiscation of the issues from newstands or mysterious delays at the printing press (several if not all of the good-quality printing press are owned by the public newspaper groups, such as Al Ahram's partly USAID-funded printing press, the most modern in Egypt -- American taxpayers, you financed the Egyptian Pravda!) The thing is, it's extremely difficult to either start a political party or get a local license. Both are controlled by the Shura Council, the Upper House of parliament, which is run by NDP loyalists. If you wanted to start a daily, for instance, the Higher Press Council would simply delay giving an answer for years and years, during which time the money you will have put in an escrow account to prove that you have the means to run the paper and pay your printing debts (a legal requirement) will not be earning any interest for you. Therefore from the start as a financial proposition it's risky. Papers can be declined a license for political reasons, too. When the firebrand former editor of Al Destour was going to head the weekly tabloid Sawt Al Umma in 2000 (a newspaper put out by the same publisher as Al Destour) security officials made it clear that the paper would not get started with Eissa on its masthead. He was eventually replaced with Adel Hammouda, and the project went ahead. So most Egyptian papers fall into what's called the "Cyprus press." That label heralds back to the day where many publications would be licensed and print in Cyprus, although that's now no longer the case. (Cairo, for instance, is licensed in London and the Cairo Times, after being originally licensed in Cyprus, was licensed in Delaware.) Common places include the US (Delaware is an obvious choice for tax reasons), the UK and its tax-free islands, Beirut, other Arab countries, and elsewhere, including the usual tax havens. This licensing is essentially a piece of paper -- a legal myth -- as for all intent and purposed the company only operates in Egypt. Typically, this foreign licensee is teamed with a local company which handles staffing, management, marketing etc... Cyprus publications, these days, are mostly either printed in Lebanon -- which has higher quality presses for glossy magazines than are available locally -- or in the Free Zone in the neighborhood of Nasr City in Cairo. Two or three printers run a cartel there, which means prices are rather high compared to what you could get on the local market. The choice of paper is limited, and sometimes it's difficult to get a printing slot. This is not an ideal situation for the publishers, but they're pretty much stuck with it. Once the magazine is printed, it goes through the same censorship office any foreign publication goes through. In other words, in theory the same standards apply to Cairo, The Economist and Playboy. The latter would not be approved because it contains nudity, which is illegal. The Economist sometimes get delayed, and at least once banned entirely. Cairo and similar magazines often have ongoing problems -- even the normally apolitical Egypt Today ran into trouble a few months ago. Of course, foreign-licensed magazines that are intended for an Egyptian audience would get a closer look than purely foreign one, and some foreign magazines that are illegal for moral reasons get through: a remember seeing a stack of Attitude, the gay lifestyle magazine, next to bodybuilding and fitness mags at the Ezbekiya book market once. But even that is only theory. In practice, things don't get banned -- they get delayed. In the case of a weekly magazine, any delay of four days or more effectively has the same effect as a ban, since at best the magazine will have a shelf life of 2-3 days. The other thing is that unless the publisher has decent contacts with state security or the censors, there is no information on what got the magazine delayed anyway. (This is the case currently with Cairo.) So there cannot be any serious negotiation or even attempt to remedy the situation if the publisher would prefer to modify his publication's content so that the issue gets out and he doesn't lose money (something Cairo would in any case not consider.) Delay has considerable financial impact on the publication: it wastes the costly staff and printing bills for that issue, scares off advertisers, and angers subscribers. On another note, it has to be stressed that the media landscape has changed considerably in the past year. The "red lines" have been pushed back on the president and his family and the security services (the army seems to stay untouchable, though) and more quality newspapers are being published. This will be the subject of an in-depth article in a forthcoming issue of Cairo, and I'll keep you posted when it comes out. The other thing is that there has been a persistent rumor for about two weeks that the heads of all three big state-owned dailies -- what's referred to as the "national press" were about to be replaced. If this happens, it will be a very big deal indeed, but I'll explain why in another post.
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Supplementing Violence with Fruad

This week's al-Ahram Weekly- a paper the state owns and allows to come out on time - has a smattering of articles following up the referendum. Naturally, the violence is weakly covered and there is only a small article on last Wednesday "protest in black". I encourage all of the Arabist's readers to review the articles to see how electoral fraud was at work during the referendum (in addition the use of thuggery, hired by people connected to the ruling party and allowed to operate by the security services). For example, Mona al-Nahass notes that "Only the 329 main polling stations were under judicial supervision." That is 329 main polling stations out of a total of 54,000 lower stations, according to presidential spokes-person Sulayman Awwad. That accounts for .0061-percent of the polling stations. Rather than emphasizing the potential fraud, the Weekly plays it safe by entitling the article "Opposition cries foul". In another article, "The only safe path," the reporter again points to potential voter fraud:
Opposition newspapers reported a host of irregularities, with a number of civil and human rights organisations joining the fray. The Independent Egyptian Committee for Election Monitoring (IECEM) claimed members had monitored 26 per cent of polling stations.
"These," they reported, "were characterised by low turnout and the absence of judicial supervision."
Mohamed Ragab, spokesman for the NDP majority on the Shura Council, insists, however, that "the figures, as announced by the Interior Ministry, are realistic."
In the article that specifically deals with the black protest on Wednesday the 1st, Jailan Halawi shows Ahram's editorial policy at its best. In her lead she writes:
Yesterday members of the Press Syndicate and the Bar Association joined several non-governmental organisations, led by an ad hoc group of women calling itself the Egyptian Mothers' Union, to protest the series of violent assaults against women, allegedly by sympathisers of the ruling National Democratic Party, that marred Wednesday's referendum on amending Article 76 of the constitution.
Eight journalists and two lawyers were among the most seriously injured in the assaults which activists claim amount to an attempt to systematically intimidate women from exercising their right to protest.
My Emphasis Added _______ Before the comments start pointing out the obvious - that this is a state-owned paper and what do I expect - I thought it was worth recording the discrepancy for those not reading the Weekly online. It is telling that a little bit of electoral fraud can be acceptably received by al-Ahram's editors when reported in the state-press while the violence is not. I'm sure when Bush reads about the electoral fraud, he is going to be very very very not upset.
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Feeling naughty?

Then read something the government doesn't want you to. Like this week's Cairo magazine, which the censors at the Ministry of Information have decided is just not appropriate for Egyptian readers. The magazine may yet come out in a few days -- we hope the good folks at the censorship office will come to their senses -- but in the meantime the whole issue is online, as usual. Maybe they didn't like this article on the referendum? Or could it be the cover below?

cover.jpg

Surely not.
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Protest in Black

UPDATE Sorry, I just saw that Issandr posted below on the same demo. Sorry for all the redundant material - but there are differences between the posts. ________________________ PICTURES: For pictures of yesterday's demonstration and meeting at the Journalist Syndicate, go to this album. Feel free to circulate these. ___________________ NDP-supporters and thugs are not very consistent. Upset at Kifaya-sponsored protests and their opposition to Mubarak (or 'Mobarak' as their signs say), they had showed up at the past two protests on the 13th May and 25th May. At those protests they traded insults and eventually attacked Kifaya demonstrators (including women). Yesterday, however, their zealous fever and thuggery was absent as the Egyptian Mothers Association and the White Ribbon Association called for a protest in black. The reason for their absence is likely to do with a lack of orders rather than a lack of enthusiasm. The protest, held at one of the scenes of the last week's crime (the Journalist Syndicate), turned out between 500-700 people either dressed in black or in regular clothes with black cloth attached to their shirts. Everyone assembled at the syndicate's stairs, where al-Amn al-Markazi sealed off and stood two-deep on the other side of the barrier. Despite that this was the largest of the opposition protests since December (excluding MB protests), the street was kept open to traffic and security officers were keen to keep photographers inside the barrier so that it was difficult to capture a wide angle shot of the sea of black. Yet, when one ventured outside the security cordon to have a look down the street, plenty of security - including "thugs-on-standby" - were visible. Fortunately, the security figures decided against using their services. In addition to the increase in numbers, in which I saw new elements of AUC professors/Cairo university professors protesting to supplement the swelling numbers of women, the atmosphere was noticeably different from previous demos. As people coalesced and hoisted their signs, one could feel the anger bubbling amongst the protesters - particularly from the women. Rather than being a feeling of general discontent, a focused hatred and faces stared down the security in a unsaid taut that dared them to "bring the thugs on". The day's demands were somewhat less focused. Some wanted a public apology from the president. Others wanted victims to press charges against 'their' particular group of thugs. The commonality was the call for the resignation of the interior minister, Gen. Habib al-Adly. The reason they gave was because they connect the use of thuggery to his office. Whether this is true or not (I doubt there is a written order to prove such an allegation) seemed inconsequential. The real reason they want al-Adly's resignation is because of an assault on the dignity of Egypt's sons & daughters. Dignity is a funny concept. Impossible to measure and quantify, you felt the deep impact of dignity driving the anger and the harshest criticisms yet forwarded to the regime. Speaking to activists old and new about their participation, there is a sense that the violence against men and women last Wednesday was simply a bridge too far for most to handle turning apolitical individuals into mobilized opposition. One women I spoke with had not been involved in a protest since 1972. Whether this is the emergence of a new trend or a one-day thing will remain to be seen. For about an hour, people stood in black under the hot summer sun. Someone brought green, blue, and yellow umbrellas to protect people from the rays. Others feigned the umbrellas in favor of getting into the security's face with signs of al-Adly which an X crossed over it that read "Make Him Resign". Others carried sings with pictures of security personnel which read "Try him [in court]". Another sign read "the dignity of Egyptian women plus the dignity of Egyptian men equals the dignity of the Nation. We will not give up our Nation's dignity." The symbol of Egyptian women was a journalist for the paper al-Geel called Nawal Ali. Nawal had been leaving the syndicate last week after an English class when she was put upon by the rent-a-thugs. She was beaten and her clothes practically ripped off. She lost gold and her mobile in the attack. Nawal, since her humiliating day, turned into a voice of those attacked through her confrontation with the Crimes Editor of Egypt's largest daily - al-Ahram. The day after the referendum, al-Ahram choose to give the violence light coverage. It appeared in the crime section of the paper on page 26. In the article, editor Ahmad Mosa approved that the article read that lewd women began ripping their own clothes off and blaming NDP-supporters. Nawal Ali was pointed out in this particular article. Had the assault not been bad enough, her dignity and honor were further tarnished publicly. A few days later, Ali appeared on Orbit satellite TV opposite of Mosa to have it out. She demanded an apology and Mosa backed down...kinda. The following day, his crime section printed a two line apology saying it was not Ali but another unnamed disreputable women. Hence it was a half-retraction. For any of you that cannot detect where this is going, it was not enough (mish Kifaya). Nawal prominently stood on the steps and retold her story to the press in an effort to clear her name. At one point she almost broke down before her fury re-emerged. After nearly an hour, a journalist syndicate meeting/press conference was held inside the air-conditioned syndicate. Inside, the syndicate's secretary-general, Yehia Qallash, and president, Galal Arif, delivered introductory speeches that essentially argued that the syndicate was being active in this matter. They remarked that they were contacting NGOs and gathering testimonies to submit to the public prosecutor. They repeatedly said that the syndicate was a non-partisan bastion of democracy available and open to all people of any political trend. Their profession as journalist brings them together as the conscious of the people. Arif then got about as controversial as he could. He said that a state that uses violence and thuggery in its streets was heading for danger. Among the audience this was seen as an understatement but drew no reaction. Then `Arif made his mistake. He said, "We at the syndicate will continue to work with and cooperate with the state to stop the violence." The audience erupted. Journalists rose to their feet screaming at the Arif saying that the violence was state-sponsored. What could he be talking about, they exclaimed. the S-G intervened and tried to hush some of the more vocal participants. This backfired as well. Frustrated one of the audience members asked, "you're silly. I know you must be from the NDP." Qallash responded curtly, "Yeah, I am a member of the NDP, whatever you say. And what are you a member of?" Enraged the journalist, who works for the Labor party's al-Shab newspaper, screamed, " I am working for justice and God." Qallash snidely remarked, "It figures." At this point another journalist rose and told Qannash, "You have no right to prevent him from expressing his opinion. Behave yourself." There were applause all around. Nawal Ali then took the microphone and explained that she wanted the resignation of Habib al-Adly. She went on to attack al-Ahram's Ahmad Mosa by saying that he took her honor and that he was nothing more than the "interior ministry's representative in the syndicate." She called for his membership to be revoked in a no-confidence vote. She said that she wanted girls and women behind her. Lastly, she had faith in president Mubarak, who if he knows what happened to one of Egypt's daughters will surely respond publicly. Syndicate members took to the floor for question and answer, which mainly turned into people pontificating. The first gentleman rose and said, "Ustaza Nawal, I can tell you right now - don't have any faith in the president." Rapturous applause overtook the auditorium. He continued to say that he was "shocked at what happened to you but we stand with all women who have had this happen throughout the years." Then he concluded by saying, "and who is this Ahmad Mosa character? I will tell you. He is the same guy who was a tattletale in primary school that would run to the teacher and tell on the other students so he could be the teacher's pet." The hall burst into laughter. Others rose and spoke in order. Continuing the government bashing, one journalist said, "This regime is illegitimate and it is impossible to have a dialogue with it. They are the sponsors of violence and we want an apology." He was less interested in the interior minister resigning. From his point of view, whether it is some spokes-person from the NDP's policies secretariat or the interior minister, it is all relative. He argued that these types of people are don't have any real power because, "it all comes from above". In this vein, he felt Egyptians need to look for the "root of their problem, not at the branches." At this point, Arif interjected and said that they were talking about the state and not the government officials and that the state is higher than the government. Again, this did not go over well. Mohamad Sayid Idris got up and sensibly argued that what the journalist syndicate needs to do is come up with a unified position like the judges and university professors. A lefty from al-Arabi newspaper got up and argued that beatings and imprisonments were no longer deterrents. He said the syndicate's call should not be for al-Adly's resignation but rather call for the resignation of the president of the republic. Another member got up and said the syndicate was already infiltrated by thugs. The thugs he spoke of are journalists working for Ahram and Gumhuriya papers. People were also calling for their to be weekly demonstrations every Wednesday until the government takes its demands over resignations seriously. ___________________ Around this time and seeing that this was going to go on for a while, I left the auditorium and bumped into some friends. I saw Raba Fahmy, who was highlighted on the Arabist. She is doing well but still very pissed off. Another friend - the former activist - and I were speaking. He was a bit shell-shocked. He said to me, "two years ago, this was unimaginable what they are saying about Mubarak in public". I agreed that it was quite a change but was unsure of what to make of it. ________________ You know...People connected to the party sponsored thugs to beat up the Kifaya people. In the past week, I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had that concluded that their was a seriously personal element to the beatings of the 25th. Their aggressiveness was rooted in the fact that for months "these Kifaya elements" were talking smack on the president. Those attacking protesters wanted to teach them a lesson for being insolent towards the president. Yet, the repression led to wider appeal and greater discontent towards the state. Now, the security services and their masters find themselves in another predicament. Do they allow Kifaya and the women organizations to continue to demonstrate and slowly, slowly gain street credibility? Or do they crackdown and risk further polarizing society? Neither is an attractive option from the state's point of view. I suppose their are other means at the state's disposal such as law suits, smear campaigns, and whatnot. But the best advice at the moment seems to be to leave its citizens' dignity out of its plans.
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A little more about yesterday's demo

Sorry if this is an overdose of demo-watch, since Josh has already posted at length, but I wanted to share my own thoughts about yesterday's "Women in Black" demo. On the one hand, I was disappointed by the turnout. Although I did not stay long and I understand there were many more people inside the Journalists' Syndicate, outside there were only about 500 people at most. It's better than many other Kifaya demos, but still a bit disappointing. It's also too bad many of the attendees hadn't gone through the trouble of wearing all-black, which would have sent a more powerful image.

kifayablack.jpg

On the other hand, I saw many new faces there, and many more women, which is a positive sign. I also talked to some women who were from a different background than the ones you normally see at Kifaya demos -- the engaged activist types. One woman, distributing white ribbons (a second campaign parallel to the wearing black one), said upper class women were now getting behind this, saying that they felt "they should have been there instead" on Wednesday. That dynamic, if it continues, could have some impact and certainly help with fund-raising.

baltagui.jpg

One thing that I noticed is that, once again, baltaguia (hired goons, see above pic) were waiting on the sidelines. Their presence was clearly meant to send a message of intimidation, and to some degree it worked. One (female) friend who wanted to join the demo hesitated outside, nervously eyeing the waiting thugs. Many will have similar doubts before joining a demo now, unfortunately. (My friend eventually went in the protest zone and joined enthusiastically.)

adly.jpg

Perhaps the most important new step taken yesterday, apart from trying to involve women outside activism, was that there were specific attacks on certain persons -- Minister of Interior Habib Al Adly (on the poster above) in particular -- as well as a new more general attack on not only the security and police forces, but also the army. Some of the slogans against a military regime were, I believe, the first ever in such a demo. One interesting thing that happened after the demo was a meeting inside the Syndicate, during which several activists excoriated Ahmed Moussa, syndicate member and Al Ahram correspondent, for reporting last week that women were voluntarily taking their clothes off. There is now a movement within the syndicate calling for his expulsion. For me, it's too soon to tell whether this will really lead anywhere. But highlighting the role of security elements seems to be a smart step, something tangible activists can focus on. PS: You can see a short movie of the demo here. (Direct download)
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Calling Mubarak

Yes, its true. Yesterday, while protesters dressed in black, Bush called Mubarak to talk about democracy and free elections. According to a Reuters report,
"I urged him [Mubarak] once again to have as free and fair elections as possible because it will be a great legacy for his country," Bush told reporters during a session with visiting South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Bush and Mubarak spoke by telephone for about 10 minutes and among the topics they covered was the start of the presidential election campaign in Egypt, and last week's referendum there and incidents of violence.
Bush said Mubarak assured him that he wants to have free and fair elections. "I will to the best of my ability continue to try to convince him that it's not only in Egypt's interest, but the world's interests, to see Egypt have free and fair elections," Bush said.
And a little further down the article:
Mubarak's "publicly stated he is for free and fair elections, and now is the time for him to show the world that his great country can set an example for others," Bush said.
He laid out what he called some reasonable standards for free and fair elections.
"People ought to be allowed to vote without being intimidated, people ought to be allowed to be on TV, and if the government owns the TV, they need to allow the opposition on TV, people ought to be allowed to carry signs and express their pleasure or displeasure. People ought to have very vote count," he said.
______ Call me a cynic, but it is going to take a little more than "about a 10-minute" conversation for "democratic" and non-violent presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall. Besides, seeing that the amendment has been changed, the point is mute. The legal mechanism now heavily favors the Egyptian government rather than benefiting those looking to participate. Bush is a little to late on the scene with his democratizing agenda. To me, Bush's call yesterday is like waiting to contact the fire brigades after the house has burnt to the ground. But then, again, what do I know...
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Youm al-Iswid

dsgsd zcxvzxcv More Tomorrow! _______________________ Here is a copy of the demand that was sent around at the protest today: Nothing less than the Resignation of Habib El Adly We the women and men of Egypt will wear black today mourning the deterioration of conditions in our country. We the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, youth, students, workers, employees & housewives, along with all honorable people in this country will stand today in unity, to demand the Resignation of Minister of Interior Habib El Adly We might not have all participated in Wednesday’s demonstrations; however we have all seen the state’s violence to which the women and men of this country have been subject. The state represented in its security forces and the thugs, and even some members, of its ruling party have committed their crimes, protected by the impunity provided by the emergency state or that of a parliament, whose legitimacy is contested. The state committed its crimes in public and while everyone was watching and listening. Wherever their hands reached, their was beating, molestation, sexual harassment; and whenever their voices were heard, it was humiliating chants that in our minds offended the chanters themselves more than anyone else. The women assaulted on Wednesday were not the first women to be assaulted by this regime, and it was not the first time that this regime resorted to female molestation in public in an attempt to humiliate the people of Egypt and weaken their will power & determination. For decades, Islamist women have suffered from similar practices in state police stations and state prisons. The women of Areesh, the women of Serando, university female students and thousands of other women who were arrested randomly by the security forces, have always been subject to the most brutal torture methods and humiliation in police stations and by state security intelligence, which has turned, under the emergency state, into a wild monster, above all law and beyond all accountability. It is therefore that this apparatus feels safe in escalating its brutality, protected by a regime that has nothing to offer the people except violence. Though the events of Wednesday 25th, 2005 are considered to be a common practice for this regime, yet the stunning fact on that Wednesday was the declaration of the state that this was the only way it has for dealing with its citizens. The stunning fact was that those events took place in public, downtown and in the presence of international media coverage, whose personnel did not escape actions of violence & robbery that took place this Wednesday. Their equipment was damaged, some of their female journalists were harassed and some of them were detained for a while. It is the same old unethical weapon used by tyrants all over history; if you want to humiliate a nation, target the dignity of its women. If you want to oppress men, molest their women. If you want to damage a village, rape its women. If you want a prisoner to confess, threaten to rape his wife, sister or daughter! Today we are telling them that their plans did not and would not work. The dignity of this nation is inseparable from the dignity of its citizens. Today we are telling them that their violence has only strengthened our will and determination to demand and seize our democratic rights. It has strengthened our determination to see an Egypt free of poverty, illness, ignorance and oppression. Today we vow that we shall do our best, exert all our efforts to make sure that the events of Wednesday 25th 2005 are the last of their type. That it is the last time that the Ministry of Interior would dare to molest our sons and daughters. We will exert our utmost efforts to end the rule of the emergency laws, release all detainees, and liberate the state institutions, universities and syndicates from the domination of the security forces. We will do our best to acquire our fair rights in freedom of expression, freedom of demonstrating and peaceful gathering. We will do our best to make the days of our children better than the ones we are living. As for now and at this very moment where Egypt is wearing black in mourning for its pride and dignity that were violated on May 25th, 2005, we demand the resignation of General Habib El Adly Minister of Interior, and that he be brought to justice. Egypt 1 June 2005
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