In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.

LIVING WITH THE MARTYRS

By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

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One more thing about Maspero

For the last week, I and most people I know in Egypt have been shell-shocked by the events of October 9. It is partly because they came after a period of growing unease about the SCAF's handling of the post-Mubarak transition, and partly because the event appears like something new, previously unseen, in the Egyptian context in several ways.

One is that the military fired on protestors after its whole claim to be a protector of the revolution came from supposedly refusing to fire on protestors — I say supposedly because whether or not Hosni Mubarak asked the military to do this is unclear, according to SCAF head and minister of defense Tantawi himself. And it is new because it has been a long time since Copts became under the direct assault of state agents (i.e. soldiers and policemen) in what seemed to be explicitly sectarian terms, particularly in the context of state media presenting the incident as one of Copts attacking the military. Finally, equally shocking is that large numbers of people appeared to respond to sectarian incitation in a way that might be not so unusual in rural Upper Egypt, but has rarely been seen in Cairo.

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Maspero and sectarianism in Egypt

The clashes that broke out a few hours ago at Maspero, the large Downtown Cairo building near Tahrir Square that houses the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (basically, state TV and radio), are a deeply worrisome turn in Egypt’s fledging transition.

Worrisome because they started off at a protest of Christians (joined by some Muslims) over restrictions on church-building and have taken on a more sectarian overtone than anything we’ve seen so far.

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Five January 25 gains that have (so far) survived the counter-revolution

As quite a few commentators have gloomily noted, an Egyptian counter-revolution appears to be in full swing. The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces has vowed to step up its use of Emergency Law and demonstrating a willingness to crack down on street protesters, strikers, critics of the military, NGOs who receive foreign funding, and anyone else who might trouble their hold over the country. Newspapers are again being censored. The Interior Ministry seems to have successfully resisted real reform, at least for the time being. Supporters of the revolution are trying to count the tangible achievements of the January uprising and coming up short, sober observers are reminding us that those who create a revolution rarely get to determine its outcome, and some Edmund Burkes are surveying the scene and declaring that they knew all along that the naive youth of Facebook could never seriously shape the course of Egypt's future, except as pawns.

I would agree that the vision of Egypt's future articulated by protesters in Tahrir is still far from being realized. However, they have already accomplished far more than many would give them credit for doing. Some examples:

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The Emergency Law needs to go

"No To Emergency"

Tomorrow is is set to be the "Friday of Deafening Silence," the latest in "million-man" protests to take place since Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11. Yes, it's a silly name. But this could be one of the more important protests that has taken place in a while.

Unfortunately, the picture has been muddied by last week's break-in at the Israeli embassy and the raids on interior ministry facilities, which are in part reported to have been attempts at destroying criminal records, etc. Considering the rather surprising reaction to the embassy incident — almost unanimous condemnation by political parties, activist groups, media figures, etc. including many Islamists of the embassy break-in and the other events of the day —  the current atmosphere is somewhat confused. On the one hand, last week's incidents have really driven home the need (and perhaps even more importantly, the public's desire) for greater order, and the difficult task of simultaneously empowering the ministry of interior to do its job and reforming it. 

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The situation in Sinai and Egypt-Israel relations

The events of the last week or so in Sinai have been overshadowed by the current diplomatic rift and public outrage over Israel’s shooting of at least three Egyptian border guards a few days ago. The question of security and state legitimacy in the Sinai, the attack that killed 17 Israelis in Eilat, Israel’s latest bombing campaign in Gaza (and the Palestinian rocket fire that came in response), the border incident and the future of the the Egyptian-Israel relationship has interwoven in complex ways. But there are also distinct issues worth separating to get a better understanding of the whole.
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Where Egypt is at

The #May 27 "Second Revolution" came and went this weekend without the drama that many had expected. Turnout was pretty good — good enough to show that the ranks of those unsatisfied with the current state of affairs is plenty big, and big enough to show that the Muslim Brothers' participation is not essential to getting a decent number of people protesting. Impressive also was that the protests took place across the country, as Zeinobia points out with her gallery of videos. Get more videos and an account at Jadaliyya. It may not be a second revolution but it's enough to keep the SCAF on its toes and give media traction to multiple grievances: high-ranking corruption, insecurity, slow justice, heavy-handedness of the military, etc. 

Although many of these grievances are indeed worthwhile, this opposition movement should start coalescing over one or two core demands with regards to the transition. It has already been a tragedy of Egypt's revolution that the revolutionaries did not have a clear aim beyond the removal of Mubarak and that the post-Mubarak transition has been handled poorly, to say the least, by a SCAF that is guilty of bumbling incompetence perhaps more than malice. In particular, the transition process could have been more along the lines of Tunisia's, with an elected constituent assembly rather than one appointed by parliament and independent commissions to investigate corruption as well as violence. The real drama, it seems to me, is that right now transitional justice consists of immediately going after certain persons (those close to Gamal Mubarak) yet only going after older apparatchiks (NDP apparatchiks, etc.) after popular pressure forced the SCAF to. And, most of all, a piecemeal approach to trying former officials: consider that Hosni Mubarak has just been fined for cutting off the internet, and may only be tried for the violence during the revolution, while not being held accountable for 30 years of autocracy.

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Egypt: The media and the military

From CPJ:

Substantial setback for press freedom in Egypt
 
New York, April 13 2011- A new requirement by the Egyptian military that local print media obtain approval for all mentions of the armed forces before publication is the single worst setback for press freedom in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  
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Tahrir's rebel officers

A former army officer gathers crowds with slogans against army leaders Hussein Tantawi and Sami Enan on morning after army crackdown on Tahrir Square protest that left at least two dead.

(I shot this on April 9, around 11am). Obviously not all former officers have been arrested, activists say some managed to change out of their uniforms and run away before the army attacked.

If you want to see videos of the April 8 protests, see here.

An account of the army crackdown on Tahrir

I received this email about last night's events in Cairo's Tahrir Square, when army and security forces crackdown down on protestors who had set up camp in the square. There is still a lot of confusion about what happened, with the army claiming that thugs from the NDP had attacked the square and claiming it intervened to disband them. Activists say this is untrue. Reuters reported (and here's an updated version of that same article) that the army intervened against the protestors after curfew, firing shots in the air. The videos at the bottom of this post have the sound of a lot of gunfire, but there have been no reports of wounded or casualties to my knowledge (Update: Reuters says 2 dead, 15 wounded @11am). David Dietz also has an eyewitness account of the night, including brutality, in this post.

Another night of army brutality, nearly 1500 protesters were spending the night in Tahrir square tonight including 30 army officers that joined the demonstrations today and remained with the demonstrators throughout the night.

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Israel may not be so worried about Egypt

Amos Gilad, director general of political-military affairs for Israel's defense ministry, in TIME:

The Sinai has never been easily policed by Egyptian authorities,and has been even more wide-open since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. (When a hierarchy slackens, the periphery loosens the most.) But Gilad signaled that things are tightening up, saying the military government that succeeded Mubarak is working closely with Israel on Sinai.

"We have intensive dialogue with Egyptian authorities and they are doing their best to rise to the challenges," he said. Indeed Gilad was downright ebullient about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, referring admiringly to its "sophisticated use of power" and singling out Field Marshal Mohamad Hussain Tantawi, a close adviser to Mubarak. Israel's quite public worries about the course Egypt might take after Tahrir Square seemed a thing of the past, at least for now. "I must say I'm very much impressed by the stability of the Supreme Council," Gilad said. "I think they embody the best of Egypt."

Update: At around 18:00 today a large protest was taking place just outside the Israeli embassy, presumably because of the strikes in Gaza, so the army may be the one concerned about Israel!