It's heartening to finally see some uplifting, positive news in these depressing times. The march of around 10,000 women that has taken place today is precisely the type of unexpected turnaround that has made the Egyptian uprising a success at various points this year. It comes out of nowhere and recharges the depleted batteries of activists. It reminds the protestors that their rage will not be sated by throwing stones but only by seeing the solidarity of their fellow men and women. It is the type of event, once it percolates throught the late night TV talk shows and the newspapers, can actually deliver change and political pressure. For those who thought the protests went astray in the last few days by becoming more about revenge than demands, it is a welcome correction.
The SCAF of course rushed to produce an apology after its agents in the media began spreading rumors that the photo of the woman who was attacked by soldiers several days ago was doctored. Just like earlier today it suddenly announced it would punish officers involved in the "virginity tests" and the Maspero killings. But I doubt people will settle for show trials.
CAIRO (AP) -- Thousands of Egyptian women marched in the streets of Cairo on Tuesday, protesting abuse by soldiers who dragged women by the hair, stomped on them and stripped one half naked on the street while cracking down on anti-military protesters in scenes that shocked many in the conservative society.
The march was a rare protest by women and its numbers - about 10,000 by some estimates - underlined the depth of anger over the images from the fierce crackdown over the past five days on protesters demanding the ruling military step down immediately.
Even before the protest was over, the ruling military council issued an unusual apology for what it called "violations" - a quick turnaround after days of dismissing the significance of the abuse.
CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets of downtown Cairo on Tuesday denouncing the excessive use of violence and sexual abuse by the Egyptian army against female protesters, drowning out the relevance of an official apology to "Egypt's great women" published on SCAF's Facebook page four hours after the march started.
The march, which included about 6,000 women and around 2,000 men, began in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's revolution, and headed to the Journalists' Syndicate. Protesters had a loud and clear message for Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces: "Egypt's women are the red line."
Mothers, daughters and grandmothers marched hand in hand chanting against the military, calling for their fellow Egyptians on the streets and in their homes to join them in demanding that the military step down immediately.
All this sorts of reminds me of a column I wrote on January 1, about women leading the (then not happening) uprisings.
Above, Jonathan Rachad's photography of the recent protests.
Some good narratives of the days of fighting:
- Friday Dec. 16: Egypt military attacks Occupy Cabinet protesters: Updates from the day - Ahram
- Saturday Dec. 17: Egyptian Soldiers, Protesters Continue To Clash : NPR
- Tuesday Dec. 20: Security forces kill 4 in morning attack on Tahrir, says doctor - Ahram
Extremely graphic video of treatment of wounded, dying.
Al Jazeera English report by Sherine Tadros on the violence and SCAF's press conference.
Possibilities of a political solution:
There have been various initiatives to obtain a ceasefire between protestors and the armed forces, but to no avail. A number of public personalities are now gravitating towards another option: moving presidential elections even earlier to get SCAF out of power as soon as possible. A Facebook campaign has been started and obtained the backing of various personalities. The former prime minister, Essam Sharaf, is also backing earlier presidential elections (I say "earlier" because in mid-November, after the Mohammed Mahmoud St. clashes, they were just moved from sometime in 2013 to June 2012).
Most political parties have remained silent on this matter. The Muslim Brotherhood has issues a series of messages condemning the clashes and the military's behavior, but only issued a vague call for investigations. Mohammed Beltagi of the FJP has however gone further in his critique and suggested a handover of SCAF's power to parliament instead of a presidential election (obviously this benefits them). Abu Ela Madi, the head of the al-Wassat Party (MB dissidents), has resigned from the SCAF's consultative council (he was deputy head) along with 10 other personalities and is now joining calls for SCAF to step down as soon as possible.
- Emad Effat, Shaykh of Egyptian Revolution, Shot Dead During Protest | Politics | Religion Dispatches
- CairObserver — Destruction Alert: Institut d'Egypte burned
- Amid street clashes, civilians coordinate to rescue rare documents | Al-Masry Al-Youm
- The Frankenstein of Tahrir Square - By Steven A. Cook | Foreign Policy
- Activists report interior minister, two SCAF leaders to prosecutor general - Ahram
- Egypt activists call for Friday demo against military rule - Ahram
- I won't stop aiding revolutionaries, Egyptian publisher tells SCAF - Ahram (on Muhammad Hashem)
- Eyewitnesses confirm snipers shooting in Tahrir Square | Al-Masry Al-Youm
- A look back at Egypt's military violence | Al-Masry Al-Youm
I won’t recap here the events of this morning in which several protestors from the #occupycabinet sit-in on Magles al-Shaab St., where the prime minister’s office and parliament are located, were arrested, wounded and/or beaten. You can take a look at Aya Batrawy’s reporting for AP, excerpted at the end of this post, for context. Suffice to say that, from what appears to have been an accident (an activist entering the gardens of the parliament building to retrieve a football was arrested and mistreated) we now have a return to the kind of street warfare seen a few weeks ago on Mohammed Mahmoud St.
As you can see from the video above, which I shot this afternoono, it’s not quite as violent as that. But the battle is now blocking Qasr al-Aini St., one of Cairo’s major arteries, and has been stagnant for hours. No riot control police has been deployed, and you have a few hundred of protestors on one side vs. a few hundred plainclothes police and, possibly, some soldiers on the other. No decision has been taken all day to stop the violence, and those plainclothes police are engaged in the same rock-throwing and Motolov cocktail-throwing as the protestors. There does not seem to be any authority there, or chain of command, and my bet is that the SCAF are paralyzed about what to do. Send in Military Police or riot control police and you risk an escalation.
Hossam reminded me with this post that today's is the seventh anniversary of Kifaya's (or to use its proper name, the Movement for Change's) first protest against the rule of Hosni Mubarak. I remember being in a cab Downtown and driving past the High Court when I noticed a crowd. I got out to see what was happening and saw well-known leftist activists (it's important to note these were practically entirely leftists and nationalists) singing together a funny version of the Egyptian national anthem, with the lyrics changed to poke fun at Mubarak and Gamal. I was stringing for the London Times at the time and had to convince the editors that it was worth filing a piece despite the small size of the protests.
I wrote this post at the time — I'm glad I called it a "significant milestone."
It was those brave few people, at a time when no one else would dare call for an end to the Mubarak regime, who began to roll the snowball that turned into this year's avalanche — not the Muslim Brothers, not liberal activists, not political or business leaders. That's worth commemorating.
My latest column for The National, which appeared yesterday, about the events of the last week:
Pandemonium ruled Cairo's centre last week - entire streets were covered in upturned stones, large clouds of acrid tear gas hung in the air, and protesters' chants and drumbeats echoed day and night.
The fighting didn't really stop until after the army was able to make use of a truce to build a wall of concrete blocks and barbed wire, to separate protesters and police. But this has not resolved the crisis. A new spark could rekindle fighting at any time.
The events of recent days are more complicated than the dramatic tale we are told by television news. It is not just about valiant democracy activists versus ageing autocratic generals; not just about Tahrir Square's new Egypt against Hosni Mubarak's old Egypt - though that is part of the story.
It is also about the failure of the political class and about the old regime having created lasting problems that cannot be resolved by well-meaning demonstrators. And it is about a state, which employs millions, fighting to maintain itself.
"Tahrir is not Egypt," the generals argue, and they are right. As much as we may sympathise with the hundreds of thousands who descend into the streets, we cannot say they represent all of a country of 85 million. Likewise, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with its 20 or so generals, is not Egypt either.
Read the rest here, where I predict the elections will move attention away from Tahrir and towards parliament.
I've updated my chart from a few days ago to reflect the narrowing of possible positions (from 5 to 3) and the leftward drift of most parties and personalities. At this point, of the major parties only the Muslim Brothers and al-Wafd are not officially backing the protests as far as I can tell. As always, comments, corrections and feedback appreciated. This chart does not show positions on elections — again, for now no party has called for their cancellation (although some revolutionary groups and Mohamed ElBaradei are suggesting an alternative transition plan) and the idea of postponment has only been floated.
This is a major taboo being broken, with the call of for the indictment of the head of the Central Command, General Ruweini (considered third most powerful person on SCAF) and the head of the military police:
Five human rights organizations said today that the past three days' brutal attacks on demonstrators, carried out by the Interior Ministry's security forces and military police forces under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Ismailiya, Assyut, and other cities, constitute criminal offences. These offences are without a statute of limitations and the perpetrators and instigators must be brought before criminal trials.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, El-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information pledged to continue to identify the civilian and military officials involved in killing demonstrators, bursting their eyes and breaking their bones and skulls. These crimes have been extensively documented by these organizations and by the media over the past few days.
The signatory organizations stated that the list of officials it plans to prosecute so far includes: General Mansour al-Essawi, Minister of the Interior; General Sami Sidhom, Assistant Interior Minister for the Security Sector; General Emad al-Din al-Wakil, Assistant Interior Minister for the Central Security Forces; General Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police; and General Hasan al-Ruwaini, commander of the central military district. This is in addition to other civilian and military officials in a number of other cities which have seen similar criminal offences against demonstrators.
Here's the full press release.
A stroll around Tahrir Square as thousands more join the protest, now in its third day.
✪ I walked around Tahrir Square tonight. Tons more people. A bizarre mixture of a carnival atmosphere and intensity. Fighting continues down Mohammed Mahmoud St. non-stop, with new frontline protestors replacing every wounded person coming out. The slogans are simple: they are all against SCAF, for a civilian government, and against Tantawi.
✪ Since yesterday evening there has been no new raid on the Square. Yesterday’s raid was aimed at destroying the encampment — troops withdrew afterwards. It’s simply not true protestors “retook” the square, they were allowed to return. The police today is holding Mohammed Mahmoud St., which leads to the Interior Ministry. Their numbers are few and they are simply holding a line. The situation is static, because while protestors may be wearing down units, these are being rotated. It’s not like January 28 when it was a full-blown war across the city. The army can of course take the square back (with huge casualties). But they have not decided to do so yet, either because they’re afraid of what will happen, or because of pressure, or because the present situation suits them. I doubt the latter: I’m betting that they don’t know what to do.
After the last two days' exceptional events in Tahrir Square, Egypt seems to teeter on the brink of another revolution or political chaos. We discuss the recent violence and the scenarios the country faces: more violence and authoritarianism from SCAF, or a new political direction for the transition. Or will Egypt judt muddle through again — if it can?
Reader Akkadia has kindle transcribed this podcast — get it as a PDF.
I shot the video above in Tahrir Square just after the raid by the army and police. In it protestors say they captured an army officer — he was later released.
It didn’t have to be this way. On Friday, a large peaceful protest was held against the military’s attempt to impose itself into Egypt’s future constitution. The generals had tried to ensure that the military budget would be above parliamentary scrutiny and other measures. The funny thing is that it was tacitly understood for a while now that the military would remain powerful in the background. But they had to put the issue on the table, and therefore make it a public contestation point.
Most participants in Friday’s protests left that same evening, and a few stayed overnight. By the next day only a few dozen protestors who wanted to reoccupy Tahrir remained. The police was sent to clear them, using excessive violence and firing rubber bullets into the heads of protestors, killing at least two and blinding several in one eye. The protests escalated as a result, and after an attempt to take back the square in the early morning, there were many more protestors this morning (Sunday) than the previous one. The attempt to dislodge them during the day, culminating in a combined army-police assault at around 5pm — apparently to clear the tents that had appeared in the square’s central island — will probably only draw more people. Once again, the SCAF’s and interior ministry’s decisions have probably landed them in more trouble.
I have been sick for the last few days and stayed at home yesterday as Tahrir Square, among other places, descended into violence. I headed out this morning to survey the damage — arriving from Qasr al-Aini, getting tear-gassed on Mohammed Mahmoud St, then circling around behind the police line from Bab al-Luk to take a look at the damage on the opposite side of Mohammed Mahmoud, near the American University in Cairo. Finally I headed back to Tahrir Square to listen to some of the chants and the hypnotic banging on railings protestors tap, just like last January. Sorry for the shaky camera, the idea is just to give readers an idea of what things are like today.
The small al Qaeda franchise in Yemen is known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The American industry of terrorism experts has dubbed AQAP the greatest terrorist threat facing the United States and has wrung its hands over AQAP’s threat to the Yemeni regime. This is despite the fact that AQAP’s international success amount to a failed underwear bomb and a package bomb that failed to detonate. In fact the regime does little to pursue AQAP because it does not perceive it as a threat. Rather than being too weak to fight AQAP, the regime has focused its various security forces attention on fighting domestic political opposition, killing or wounding hundreds of demonstrators. Likewise the demonstrators have not been concerned about al Qaeda except as a pretext for the regime’s security forces to target innocent people or receive international support. Al Qaeda is a marginal phenomenon in Yemen (as in the rest of the Middle East). While it is the primary concern of the United States government and hence the United States media, it is far from the real problems facing Yemen which the demonstrators express in a near blackout of international media attention.
I have an account of what happened with the women's protest in Tahrir today up at The Daily Beast.
Protesters were attacked and driven out of the square, accused of being “foreigners” (quite a few foreign women and journalists were present), and had their flyers and posters torn up.
There was tension from the beginning, with throngs of male hecklers outnumbering the hundreds of female protesters.
“A man tried to rule us and failed—will we let a woman?” an middle-aged man yelled at the crowd of Egyptian women holding banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The men around him burst out laughing.
Egyptian women had called for a demonstration demanding that their demands and rights be taken into greater consideration by the military currently running the country.
People's impressions of the protest varied a lot, in terms of atmosphere. I left right before things turned ugly, and didn't sense they would. There were lots of obnoxious hecklers, but I actually witnessed quite a few substantive and civil arguments (no one was aggressive to me). I actually thought that depressing as many of the men's point of view was, it was at least a good thing that people were arguing these issues openly. I was very troubled to hear about the violence. I would say -- and this is purely a strategic observation, not meant in any way to blame -- that the organizers might have been better served by biding their time and getting a much larger coalition of supporters involved (where were the opposition parties? why wasn't this publicized by the Kullena Khaled Said group?) so that the protest might have been larger and not mainly made up of women's rights activists. I hope this doesn't discourage them from organizing something else in the future.
Things in Libya are getting ugly:
- Human Rights Watch: "(New York) - Government security forces have killed at least 84 people in three days of protests in several cities in Libya, Human Rights Watch said today, based on telephone interviews with local hospital staff and witnesses."
- The internet has been cut in large parts of the country, making it difficult to upload the videos to Youtube that have been a major source of information.
- Journalists are not allowed in for the most part - see What If Libya Staged a Revolution and Nobody Came? - By Najla Abdurrahman | Foreign Policy. I understand that some of the correspondents for the Arab satellite channels were pro-regime anyway — it was the only way they could get into the country in the first place. Because of this the picture of what's really happening is not detailed, we have tidbits here and there. Diaspora Libyans in the US and UK are doing much of the work of getting word out. Enough Qaddafi (whose great website is unfortunately still down after being attacked) noted on Twitter: "catch 22 in libya. You spk 2 media you could suffer, and if you don't get word out by spk 2 media u could suffer#Feb17 the result is that we can generally understand what's happening, but the details that describe magnitude of events are virtually impossible to confirm.its frustrating for pple on ground and those that want to report"
- Mercenaries have been employed by the regime.
- There are reports of divisions within the regime on how to handle the uprising. For now one of the main tools used has been the Revolutionary Committees controlled by Qadhafi. I am not sure where the army has been doing though.
- Audio recording by a protestor: Audioboo / LPC: Detailed on the ground account of violence in Benghazi moments ago!! #Libya #Feb 17
- The heart of the revolt appears to be Benghazi, long a town critical of the regime and where politics have been dominated by Islamists. But several other cities have fallen out of government control.
My gut feeling is that the most important protests now taking place in North Africa are those in Libya. I say this with no disrespect to those in Algeria, where the regime certainly deserves to be brought down, or my own native Morocco, where the palace and Makhzen need a wake-up call that the status quo (and indeed, the regression of the last few years) is not acceptable.
But Libya shares something important with Egypt and Tunisia: an aging leader (41 years in power) faces a looming succession crisis in which the leading candidates are his own sons. I simply don't think that's an acceptable outcome for any republic in the 21st century, and was a key aspect to the revolt against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Tunisia (with the rumored heir apparent being his nephew). Of course there are also differences: the Libyan regime is much more brutal, more tribalized, more totalitarian than Egypt or Tunisia. The country is split along an east-west axis, with the east kept systematically poorer and discriminated against, along with older historical grievances. That's why it's not surprise Benghazi saw the first and biggest protests, particularly since core organizers were relatives of the victims of the Abu Salim prison massacre of 1996.