More on police firings in Egypt

A reader writes in:

I'll share a personal experience. A member of my family was let go by the police force, a few days ago. He was promoted to the rank of General then let go. (No, he wasn't involved with any of the protests. His work with the police force was actually a different kind of role that wouldn't have had him on the streets or in any of those orders.)

As an honest police officer - I promise you there are several, though they might be a rarity - his letting go came as a surprise. Upon checking, it was found out that more honest police officers (though all close to retirement age) were similarly let go. The fact that the Ministry of Interior isn't divulging any details on who they let go is also particularly irking. It seems that if the number is close to 500, only about 50 were not close to retirement age and let go for other reasons, which of course would be too low of a number anyways.

The evidence makes it seem like this firing is largely a sham. Most of the murderers are still out there with eagles on their shoulders, masquerading as officers of the law. The Ministry of the Interior is unchanged, but what can you honestly expect when the Minister himself is a member of that corrupt club?

Bottom line: the details of who is being let go, and why, should be publicly available. The minister of interior said that there were several people charged with murder among those let go. But that doesn’t amount to more than around 60 people. How about the 500+ others? What criteria was used for their early retirement, besides age?


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Police firings

The announcement by Minister of Interior El Essawy that he will fire over 600 police generals and officers has gotten quite a bit of attention. I did a piece about it for the radio show The World (featuring our good friend, activist Hossam el-Hamalawy) that you can listen to here. While the announcement is a positive step in the sense that it's an obvious response to the pressure of the protests, it begs the question: Who are these officers? Were they on their way to retirement anyway? Are they the ones accused of shooting protesters and of torture? 

I have a better idea for starting a purge of the Ministry of Interior. Every officer who, as happened earlier this week, doesn't show up to work -- to protest the total unfairness of demands that police officers actually be tried, and that those accused of murder be suspended from work -- should be sacked. That way you don't even need to spend a lot of time figuring out who the most dangerous psychopaths and troublesome assholes in the police force are -- they identify themselves. And anyway, as we keep being told, isn't striking illegal? 

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

On the State Security secret file leaks

Over the weekend, as everyone knows, activists started posting documents they found in State Security offices online. I've read a fair number (there are good collections here and here) and just wrote something about them for The Daily Beast

The heading at The Beast, which I didn't write, gets a few things wrong--I'm not sure if there are "thousands" of documents out online yet (?), and I haven't seen SS documents directly discussing kidnapping and torture (although of course we know from other sources that it took place). In fact:

The documents made public do not discuss the rendition program that Egypt operated for the United States; there is no documentation of secret detention facilities, no transcripts of interrogations, no information about how informers were bribed or blackmailed into collaborating. These documents may have been destroyed already; or they may be in secret, secure locations.

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Something very fishy is taking place — the Egyptian people are being manipulated and terrified by the withdrawal of the police yesterday, reports (some of them perhaps untrue) of widespread looting, and yesterday's (during the day) relatively low military presence in the city. I can only speak about central Cairo, I suspect the situation is much worse in the Suez Canal cities, Alexandria and the Delta, and perhaps most of all the Sinai. I spoke to my former bawaab (doorman) who is near Aswan, where is he the police is still out and there is no military, although the local NDP office was ransacked and set on fire. So the situation is different from place to place, and there is very little national-level visibility.

There is a discourse of army vs. police that is emerging. I don't fully buy it — the police was pulled out to create this situation of chaos, and it's very probable that agent provocateurs are operating among the looters, although of course there is also real criminal gangs and neighborhoods toughs operating too. 

For me, Omar Suleiman being appointed VP means that he's in charge. This means the old regime is trying to salvage the situation. Chafiq's appointment as PM also confirms a military in charge. These people are part of the way Egypt was run for decades and are responsible for the current situation. I suspect more and more people, especially among the activists, are realizing this.

I hope to have more steady internet access later. For now, the questions are:

- Why was the NPD building fire not put out even though it risks spreading to the Egyptian Museum?

- Why is Egyptian state TV terrifying people with constant pictures of criminal gangs?

- Why was there such a small military deployment during the day yesterday?

- Why were all police forces pulled out, and who made that decision?

- What is the chain of command today in the military? Is Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Enan still in position?

- If the reports about prison breakouts are true, how come these facilities have not been secured?

- Why are we getting reports of intelligence offices burning documents, CDs and tapes?

The situation is obviously very confusing at the moment. All I can say is that I have a hard time believing that Mubarak is still in charge, and that the hard core of the regime is using extreme means to salvage its position. 

A new standard for desperate

Screengrab from today's al-Ahram: "Chocolate and flowers on Police Day". That's Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly on the right. Here's the link, I just wanted to preserve it in case they take it down.

Via Ethar Kamal.


On the occasion of Police Day

Many readers will know that today is Police Day in Egypt, a commemoration of the resistance by Islamailiya police against the British in 1952 during which 41 police officers were killed. For decades it has also bee the annual occasion for pageantry by the Ministry of Interior, the highlight of which is a boat show on the Nile. It will also be, potentially, the revival of a large anti-government, anti-torture protests, with many hoping for a turnout on the streets not seen since 2005 or perhaps even the day of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. One of the main organizer appears to be the Facebook group for Khaled Said, the victim of police brutality who died last year and became a symbol of torture, which will be providing continuous updates throughout the day. You might also read Jack Shenker's optimistic take in the Guardian, or this piece on the Ministry of Interior's pledge to arrest anyone who takes part in al-Masri al-Youm. We'll see how it turns out — in my book, if you get a tenth of the 80,000 people or so who support the initiative online, it will be a success. 
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Egypt's amazing DNA scientists

Forget everything you heard from the Arab Human Development Reports and Ahmed Zuwail about Egypt's scientific research and development lagging behind. The country actually has the most advanced bio-geneticists in the world, being able to retrieve all sorts of information from a DNA sample:

Security sources: DNA reveals bomber was from Egypt’s Delta region 

Authorities have announced that a body found at the scene of the Two Saints Church attack is suspected to be that of the suicide bomber.

According to DNA tests performed on the body, the bomber is suspected to be from Egypt’s Delta region, north of Cairo. Officials say that investigation results show he was a university graduate with no permanent job, who left his family home about one year ago.

Officials also say that investigations are still undergoing in order to confirm these finding and to track down the suspect’s family members for further interrogations.

This new information refutes previous statements by the government, which claimed that the bomber was of Afghan origin.

Wow. Just wow. Egypt has done such a great job at genome sequencing it can determine Delta genes, as opposed to Saidi ones. And it has the amazing ability of determining employment status, university enrollment and all sorts of other info.

All joking aside, this piece is a prime example of why basic scientific literacy is necessary in journalism. Still, I'd like to know how exactly DNA sampling helped find this suspect — if at all. 

The very relative safety of Egypt

Egypt is generally considered a very safe place, and Cairo is perhaps the safest megapolis in the world — consider that in Rio you might be killed for your Nikes and in Mexico City gunned down in a gang war. That's why when something happens, it feels all the more surprising, especially for foreigners who think (usually rightly) that they have extra protection from the seedier side of the city. Check out the experience of this American blogger in Egypt first getting beaten up by some kind of protection racket, and then being arrested by police and forced to apologize to his attacker.

Muggings take place everywhere. But the way the police acts, as Egyptians know all too well, is a much more depressing and serious problem. When you think of some of the things that can happen in detention, the khawaga factor may have saved him from a worse fate than humiliation.

Conclusion: Egypt is a very safe place — until you have a problem.

Update: Also take a look at Sarah Carr's latest post for another take on everyday violence.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Mosaad Abu Fajr, a voice for Sinai

Sinai writer and blogger Mosaad Abu Fajr, who was recently released after three years in prison:

My experience as a detainee is infinite, it is like fate which one has to adjust himself to. The conditions in Egyptian prisons are unendurable. The way inmates are received is cruel. I was not exposed to sunlight until my family came to visit me. We remained confined in our cells for 20 days, and were only allowed out within the one meter that separates the cells. The atmosphere there is filled with the odors of death and silence, and empty of any signs of hope.

Worst of all is the process of searching the prisons. At such times, we are treated as objects or animals rather than humans. Officers goad us with their sticks, forcing us to put our hands on our heads as they drive us out of our cells. Then we have to gather all our belongings into one pile and spend a whole day searching for them. These conditions do not suit Egypt’s name and history.

As for me, I was put in a cell with inmates sentenced to life. Imagine a cell originally devoted to six inmates but containing more than 60, with prisoners sleeping in shifts.

Some interesting stuff happening in Sinai in recent weeks — notably Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly's meeting with tribal elders. About the time the bull was seized by the horns: Egypt had allowed this situation to fester for far too long, largely because the faults of the Interior Ministry (brutality, etc.) went unpunished. Al-Adly deserves to be sacked many times over for various things — the general decline of police work and torture epidemic, his lackluster counter-terrorism policies, his inability or unwillingness to reform a central state institution — but his handling of Sinai may be the most serious crime of all, from a national security point of view. His political longevity is one of the great mysteries of today's Egypt.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

The meaning of Khaled Said

Soha Abdelhaty of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (one of the most dynamic Egyptian NGOs around) has a good piece framing the Khaled Said murder in context of Egypt's emergency law over at FP's Middle East Channel

The Khaled Said case has offered a graphic demonstration of the emptiness of the pledge by the government of Egypt when it renewed the country's decades-long period of emergency 'aw that it would limit its application to terrorism and drug-related crimes. Khaled Said's brutal murder is a chilling reminder of what emergency law -- and Interior Ministry impunity -- means for Egyptians. Frustration with that impunity is what leads protesters to take to the streets.

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Egypt: Technocracy vs. Securocracy

YBG in parliament. Photo by Omar Anas of al-Ahram Weekly.

I recently wrote about the postponement of the real estate tax and the Egyptian government's credibility problem when pushing through necessary legislation. Yesterday a ruling party MP took things further, saying that Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali could face his grandfather's fate and be assassinated for his unpopular policies:

Abdel Fattah Omar, parliament's national security undersecretary, launched a withering attack on Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali in Tuesday's parliamentary session over the latter's controversial economic policies.

"The minister doesn't pay attention to anyone and is hated by both the government and the people alike," said Omar. "I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up assassinated like his grandfather."

Boutros-Ghali's grandfather served as Egyptian prime minister from 1908 to 1910. He was assassinated in 1910 following accusations of entertaining sympathies for Egypt's British colonial occupiers.

Omar went on to urge the Interior Ministry to lead the government so as to "restore order," both among government ministries and on the street.

"Because certain ministers have taken wrong decisions, the Interior Ministry has had to deal with street demonstrations," he said, calling on Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif to punish those ministers found responsible for popular protests.

Quite apart from being tasteless, this is yet more anecdotal evidence of the transformation that has taken place in the past decade in how the Interior Ministry's role is perceived. Due to the social instability of the country and the rise of protest movements from Kifaya to blue collar workers, the Interior Ministry is increasingly seen as a legitimate policy driver, since it has to clean up the mess. In several labor demonstrations we've seen the Prime Minister and other similar officials come away empty-handed from negotiations, while when a police general is sent in the matter is resolved quickly. In other words, there is a shadow government that handles many of the day-to-day issues that politicians and ministers should be dealing with. The Interior Ministry and State Security in particular has become an inextricable part of the way the business of government is conducted, acting as the middle man between the policy planners — the cabinet and the Policy Committee of the ruling party — and citizens. It's not surprising that this MP wants to see the technocrats like YBG take a backseat to the securocrats like Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly: it's already the way things are being done informally. 

I touched on this "securitization" of governance in a recent article for MEI (subs).


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Booleess Day

I had wanted to write something funny and incisive about Police Day, the annual event of pageantry and appreciation for your local cops celebrated in Egypt. But the above-mentioned cold has prevented me from doing so, and I even missed my favorite part of Police Day, the Nile Squad river rescue demonstration. If you are so privileged as to have a room or be a member of the gym at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, it offers the best view.

Don't despair, though, Jack Shenker has written a nice-guide on how to celebrate Police Day and Bikya Masr has a collection of their articles on the performance of Egypt's finest.

I still haven't entirely confirmed this (partly due to my near-comatose state), but President Mubarak in his Police Day speech several days ago is said to have made several important statements (about fundamentalism, among other things, and allusions to the Iranian threat.) Most interesting though is that Police Day is now an official national holiday — i.e. a bank holiday as they say in the UK (or has this always been the case? I can't remember). Is this a promotion of the police to the same status as Armed Forces Day? Compensation for the humiliation suffered by the police at the hands of the army last March? A sign of a great leveling between coppers and soldiers? Is Minister of Interior and supercop Habib al-Adly the next president? Hosni works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, all joking aside, whatever happens in Egypt over the next few years dealing with the declining quality of police work, rock-bottom trust for law enforcement and a routine practice of torture will be one of the most important challenges the country will face. Worth mulling over on this day.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,

Links for 10.21.09

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Nozette: Pollard, 2.0? | On the latest Israeli spy scandal in the US. ✪ "friday-lunch-club": Netanyahu refuses Kouchner's request to see Gaza's destruction ... | Gaza? What Gaza? ✪ To Earn HIs Nobel Prize, Obama Will Need a "Plan B" | Stephen M. Walt | "If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work." ✪ ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة - الصحافة | Alexandria Library's online collection of historical Egyptian newspapers, including the first issue of al-Ahram (which was founded, it must be reluctantly noted, by Lebanese.) ✪ News Analysis - Painful Mideast Truth - Force Trumps Diplomacy - | Painful Media Truth: For NYT, bias always trumps journalism. Look at the language used in this piece: Palestinian violence is "very bloody" and Israel carries out "military action." Israel's plans to attack Iran are considered as legitimate. And there is a mixing of terrorism and the attacks on Israel's "legitimacy" -- i.e. the legitimacy of its landgrabs, occupations and militarism. Pure hasbara. ✪ Israel, US start major joint air defence drill - Yahoo! News |
The exercise will test the Arrow (Hetz) system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, as well as Patriot and Hawk anti-aircraft systems, media said. It will simulate the firing of long-range missiles from Israel's foes Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and towards the end it will include a "live" missile interception, reports said.
Matthew Yglesias » Bernstein on Human Rights Watch | A good retort to the latest silly attack on HRW (by one of its former chairman) "or having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country." But this just points to the problem of bias in the higher echelons of HRW - among former and current staffers. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | No Fly Zone | Nice story looking at the recent airport detentions of various kinds of activists. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Pope Shenouda: "I Support Gamal Mubarak" | What a nasty little man, and what disservice he does to his flock. I hope Copts flee the Orthodox Church en masse over this. ✪ Arab states consider joint counter-terror police unit | "Arabpol." Oh Lord Have Mercy. ✪ Egyptcarpoolers | A carpooling connecting website for Cairo. ✪ Saddam Interview | Transcripts of interviews with Saddam Hussein during his captivity in 2004.
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Links January 7th and January 8th

Automatically posted links for January 7th through January 8th:

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Links for January 6th

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Links for November 29th

Automatically posted links for November 29th:

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