Israel and the new Egypt

Lisa Goldman writes in +972 that Israelis should mind their own business and stop panicking about the Muslim Brotherhood dominating Egyptian politics :

My colleague Larry Derfner writes that if he had known what the results of this first post-Mubarak election would be, he would not have supported the revolutionaries. He describes Islamist parties’ victory as a “demoralizing defeat” for “we liberals” and concludes that the Middle East has taken a “giant leap backward.”

Well. “We liberals” are citizens of the democratic state of Israel, which freely elected, as the largest faction in its governing coalition after the Likud, the quasi-fascist Yisrael Beitenu party. The head of that party, Avigdor Lieberman, is now the foreign minister. He cozies up to Vladimir Putin and once said that Israel should bomb the Aswan Dam. In our Knesset, we also have Kahanists and a large contingent from Shas, which is quite similar to the Nour party. So I don’t think we have all that much credibility when it comes to commenting on the election results of our neighbours.

There's another reason our estranged cousins the Israelis might mind their own business about Egypt and other post-uprising countries: they won't be doing much business with them at all for some time to come.

The Mubaraks' last hours in power

From an article in The Times of 18 January [behind an annoying paywall that doesn't even let you link] by Michael Binyon and James Hyder:

Based on insider accounts, The Times can reveal exclusively the chaotic final hours of the deposed President’s 30-year rule, and the successive months of decline as he languished in a tiny hospital room.
At his side throughout the tumultuous events was his wife, Suzanne, the daughter of a Welsh nurse and an Egyptian surgeon who, at the crucial moment of her husband’s resignation, kept Egypt and the rest of the world waiting as she sobbed uncontrollably on the floor of the presidential villa, refusing to leave.
Mrs Mubarak had joined her two sons, Gamal and Alaa, in the helicopter to take them to internal exile in Sharm el-Sheikh on the day that her husband was forced out of office. But as the blades were whirring, she leapt out and ran back to the villa.
Impatient officials suspected that she may have forgotten her jewellery or a favourite dress. In fact, she had returned home and broken down. The guards who finally breached protocol and burst into the villa found her prostrate on the floor and inconsolable with grief, surrounded by the trinkets and records of her lifetime.
The final hours of the regime are dramatically outlined in a new book by the former head of Egyptian television, who played a key role in persuading Mr Mubarak to quit and in drafting his farewell speech.
Abdel Latif el-Menawy says that the guards had to pick up the President’s wife and carry her round the house, her tears staining their shoulders as she collected the few possessions she could not bear to part with.
“In her grief she kept repeating the same line, over and over, ‘... They had a reason ...’ When she had composed herself enough, she turned to the guards and asked in a panic, ‘Do you think they can get in here? Please ... don’t let them come here! Please, don’t let them destroy it, please. Look, you can stay here, stay in the villa ... please, protect it!’”
All this time Mr el-Menawy was waiting in his office for the order to broadcast the tape that would announce the President’s resignation. “Though no one knew it at the time, the whole country was waiting for Suzanne Mubarak as she wept in her empty palace,” he says. 

The rest has been put up here by Abdel Latif Menawy, and includes details on Mubarak's post-power depression, his minor heart attack, cancer of the intestine, brief coma and more – including an account of how Gamal Mubarak changed his father's third speech and how Egyptian intelligence and Anas al-Feki negotiated the president's departure. I suspect Menawy inflates his own role and omits more from this, but it's interesting to see a detailed account emerge nonetheless.

Final results for Egypt's parliamentary elections

From the Beltone newsletter:

Freedom and Justice Party wins 47.2% of lower house parliamentary seats, followed by Al Nour party winning 24.7% of seats

Freedom and Justice Party wins 47.2% of lower house parliamentary seats, followed by Al Nour party winning 24.7% of seats, Al Ahram reported citing the Head of Egypt’s Higher Elections Council, who announced yesterday the final results for the lower house parliamentary elections

Read More

Egypt and censorship

Khaled Dawoud reports on artists' concerns in Egypt:

The main conference hall at the Press Syndicate was packed with nearly all the big names in the Egyptian art and culture industry. Actors and actresses, poets, painters, musicians, novelists and writers all gathered on Saturday to announce the creation of the "Egyptian Creativity Front" to face what they see is growing pressure to limit freedom of expression and creativity in Egypt following the landslide victory political Islamic groups scored in parliamentary elections that concluded last week.

Where have these people been all this time? The Mubarak regime practised censorship – political, cultural, and other – widely. Often the reasons were Egypt's terrible legislation and bureaucracy of censorship, which is very politically malleable. No doubt an Islamist government may enforce some forms of censorship more (and others less).

I'm very glad people are organizing to protect freedom of expression and the wave of creativity of the last few years (culminating in the 18 days of Tahrir). But taking the position that the Islamists are the problem is the wrong approach, it's the legislation and the mentality of a ministry of culture that seeks to micro-manage cultural life that's the real problem.

One more thing: I am willing to bet any taker that, within a year, even if the situation for political or human rights really improves, we'll see some people writing of an Islamist winter in Egypt because they've banned a movie or something, and we'll have no mention that under the Mubarak regime courts for instance banned the reprinting of the Arabian Nights because it was considered too lewd.

Of the sacredness of the Moroccan king

From an excellent essay on the Moroccan monarchy's response to the Arab Spring [PDF], by Ahmed Benchemsi – this passage deals with the new constitution approved in July, heralded by the regime as democratic and abandoning the position that the king is beyond reproach:

Perhaps the first thing to come in for harmonization should be the constitution’s Arabic and French versions. On at least one crucial mat- ter, they differ. This is the question of the king’s “sacredness.” The official line is that this antiquated feature has been abandoned for the sake of modernization. Yet that is far from clear, and may depend on whether you read the constitution from the standpoint of a cosmopolitan, French-speaking opinion leader, or from that of the average, Arabic-speaking Moroccan.

Read More

Italy is back in business in Libya

The mourning period is over in Italy: Italy to help Libya protect borders, oil: Libya PM | Reuters

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Italy will help Libyan authorities protect the North African country's borders and oil facilities, Libyan Prime Minister Abdurrahim al-Keib said on Saturday.

"The defence ministers (of Libya and Italy) signed a letter related to creating a system to control borders managed by Libya and provide training, especially for (protecting) oil installations," Keib told a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

"(The letter is) asserting Libyan sovereignty and that no Italian troops will be present," he said.

Monti is in Libya at the head of a diplomatic, economic and military delegation which is hoping to lay the groundwork for contracts for reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars over the next few years.

Projects include building major roads, expanding and rehabilitating airports and seaports and training the armed forces and police, which need new border security and reconnaissance equipment.

As the article notes, in 2008 Silvio Berlusconi agreed with Qadhafi to pay $5bn in compensation over 20 years for crimes committed during Italy's colonization of Libya, when it killed over a quarter of the population. It doesn't look like that payout is going to be honored from this deal, aside from some aid that will be well compensated by oil and infrastructure contracts. Shouldn't Libya expect prompt payment, like the blood money the victims of the Lockerbie bombing took a decade ago? 

[Thanks, PM, who adds: "Given the Italian-made weapons Qadhafi used against his people, I think the NTC should have driven a harder bargain."]

Update: Meanwhile – Protesters storm Libyan government HQ in Benghazi | Reuters

An Egyptian revolutionary "J'accuse"

I can hardly think of a more effective way to convey Egyptian revolutionaries' feeling towards political parties, the military and the whole idea that they were robbed of a revolution than the above video.

The split that has developed between those who espouse this worldview and the rest of the country is a little worrying, because it can turn into a lasting bitterness and misanthropy. What is needed down is to turn this frustration into effective new ways of organizing, lobbying, and campaigning.

And if that video depressed you, cheer up and watch this one:

Podcast #25: A divisive anniversary

In this episode, we discuss Mohamed ElBaradei's decision not to run for president Egypt, the preparations for Egypt's new parliament and for the anniversary of the January 25 uprising, which has divided those who want more revolution and those who favor stability. All through the lens of Ashraf Khalil's new book, Liberation Square

Remember, you can send feedback to podcast@arabist.net, and donate to keep this podcast going here.

Show notes:

Podcast #25

Dispatch from Qatar: Pigeons 36, Falcons 0

Joseph Hammond sent in this dispatch from Qatar.

This past weekend Qatari falconers and falconry fans gathered for the start of the 3rd Qatar International Falcon and Hunting Festival and event which will see some 1300 birds and their owners compete before it concludes on February 2nd. The festival will also include dog racing, target shooting demonstrations and a “Junior Falconer” competition all held under the patronage of Shiekh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Prizes include new luxury landcrusiers for the winners.

Journalists which made the hour drive near the Saudi border, where the event was held, had to wait on the roadside for off-road transport to the desert location of the event. A Qatari organizer arrived in his land cruiser. The driver tossed a dead pigeon from the backseat before journalists climbed in. As the press was taxied to the event, the owner’s prized falcon road “shotgun” next to him.

Read More

Carter: Tantawi in denial over "girl in the blue bra"

One of the interesting tidbits in Jimmy Carter's report on Egypt from his recent trip (which I blogged about here) is a revelation that the generals on SCAF tried to convince him that soldiers had been trying to help the now icononoc "girl in the blue bra." I had heard about this last week from people at the meeting, but off the record. As it's now in the report and has been picked up in the Egyptian press, here's a highlight:

I was received with a friendly welcome as I congratulated the military leaders for what seemed to be a successful election, and then asked a number of questions. It seemed that the SCAF had full confidence that there would be accommodation to their demands by the Muslim Brotherhood and their coalition partners as the new government is formed. Instead of the reported 12,000 mostly political prisoners being held for trials in military courts, the Field Marshal stated that there were no more than 3,000, all of whom were guilty of criminal acts and being tried in civilian courts. He stated that the widely promulgated videos showing military attacks on demonstrators and a woman "with the blue brassiere" were all falsified. He said the soldiers were actually helping the woman re-clothe herself with what was provocative attire. I was assured that the emergency law would be lifted before the presidential election, no later than June.

Tantawi and the other generals actually went on at length over how the video had been doctored and that the soldier was actually trying to cover her up and help her, and that the widely viewed video on YouTube was basically a plot against them. They also suggested that the woman was dressed inappropriately under her cloak. You can tell exactly what happened – that she was beaten and stomped upon by the soldiers – in the video. The generals either lied to their teeth, or more probably and more worryingly, actually believe the crap they spew. The real question is, who is feeding them that line?

Pic of the day: The Ambassador and the Guide


From today's cover (top fold) of al-Tahrir newspaper, a pic of US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson shaking hands with General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Badie, at his offices. This is the first time a US official has met, at least in an official capacity, a General Guide of the Muslim Brothers. More on the meeting in this Ikhwanweb article. The US message seems to have been centered on concern about the Egyptian economy and the need for a quick infusion of IMF cash. The US Embassy did not issue a press release on the visit, despite its custom of doing so on other occasions – it appears the MB is more interested in publicizing this than the US. In the past few weeks, Badie has met with John Kerry, William Burns and Jimmy Carter. The US had previously avoided meeting with any senior Muslim Brothers unless they were elected MPs.

On intervention in Syria

The shorter Steve Cook: Bashar al-Assad is massacring his own people, but the West doesn't want to intervene because they think he'll fall soon enough. He won't though, and while intervening is difficult, it's not as difficult as the conventional wisdom holds. It may have the added bonus fo the US to undermine Iran's regional position. That being said, post-Assad Syria might be a disaster.

The shorter Marc Lynch: Bashar al-Assad is massacring his own people, but a massacre is not enough ground to strike against a country, even if it may be part of the ground. Any form of military intervention, such as a no-fly zone, would quickly grow into something complicated that would draw the West in further. The Syrian opposition is not yet strong enough to provide a real alternative to the regime anyway. Beef up sanctions and go to the ICC first to isolate the regime further and provide a legal basis for more down the road.

My short take: I am always againt military intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, because of the experience of Iraq and because I believe in national sovereignty as the cornerstone of democracy and in respecting international law. I do not see Russia and China giving a go-ahead for UN-sanctioned intervention, nor do I see Arab unity over intervention in this case. That being said, we must be realistic about Syria: the conflict is likely to perdure and will probably draw in its neighbors – Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel. In other words, it is likely to internationalize. These countries (and in the case of Lebanon and Iraq, others working through them) may want to back a particular faction, or quarantine the conflict (which will have an impact on the belligerents, of course). What's more, fighters from those countries may very well want to join one side or the other (there have already been rumors of Iranians joining in on the regime side). In other words, foreign intervention will be a reality sooner or later. I'd rather it'd be done by Syria's neighbors then the West, even if that means it will be bloodier or even if it leads to Assad staying in power. Quite simply, it's none of our business.

In Translation: Diaa Rashwan on Mohamed ElBaradei

Earlier this week, I penned my own reaction to Mohamed ElBaradei’s decision not to run for the presidency (here and here). I have discussed the matter with both pro-ElBaradei and anti-ElBaradei Egyptians: the former are split between those who back his decision and those who chide him for not providing an alternative, the latter say that ElBaradei was always clueless anyway.

I thought it would be interesting to showcase some of the more critical responses to ElBaradei’s decision from those who are not from his political family. Diaa Rashwan, is a political analyst and expert on Islamist groups who, post-revolution, took charge of Egypt’s most prestigious think-tank, the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (replacing the neoliberal scholar Abdel Moneim Said, a former member of the NDP’s Policies Committee who was said to be close to Gamal Mubarak and is the very ideological opposite of Rashwan).

Rashwan is from Upper Egypt, calls himself a Nasserist, was an early signatory of the anti-Mubarak Kifaya manifesto. He is said to be one of the few public intellectuals who is consulted by SCAF, and of course his position at the al-Ahram Center makes him something of a public official and, in some circles, a power-broker of influence. His trajectory in politics has been consistent with the nebulous ideology that is Nasserism, in that he is a corporatist, an anti-elitist, a nationalist, a believer in the centrality of the armed forces and the interventionist state, and that his membership of Kifaya may have made him part of the opposition to Mubarak but not a liberal – an important distinction. In the piece below, he takes ElBaradei’s decision to make a wider critique of what he terms the liberal elite in Egypt.

As every week, In Translation is brought to you by the fantastic Industry Arabic.

 

§§§


Dr ElBaradei and the Theory of Perpetual Revolution

 

By Diaa Rashwan, al-Masri al-Youm, 16 January 2012

Dr ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from running for president of Egypt, and the remarks made in his statement justifying this decision give rise to many questions and observations not only related to Dr. ElBaradei’s stances, but also to the trajectory of the Egyptian revolution as a whole, especially in important segments of the young elite that contributed to its success from the beginning.

As concerns ElBaradei, the timing of his withdrawal and the contents of his statement indicate that he believes that the Egyptian revolution will not succeed in its first year and has become in need of a new revolution. This much seems clear given that he timed his withdrawal only ten days before the first anniversary of the outbreak of the revolution. Indeed, some youth coalitions are calling for this anniversary to become the launching point for this new revolution, whose only goal is summed up by their most prominent slogan – which is also the crux of ElBaradei’s statement – “toppling military rule.”

Read More

The Arabist to go dark on Jan 18 to fight SOPA/PIPA

The Arabist will be going dark on January 18 (Egypt time) to protest the SOPA and PIPA, two bills promoted by the American entertainment and publishing industries currently making their way through Congress. The bills are so bad that even the White House opposes them. Some major sites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Boingboing and others will be goinb black on this day, but there’s a special reason for us to join in: in a SOPA world, the Arab Spring’s inventive use of the internet would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.

The problem with SOPA and PIPA is that they break the internet. They add all sorts of liability problems when a site links to another: we have to be sure that this site has the right to display the media it contains. They would give power to companies to decide to block sites they feel infringe of copyright laws. They would stop the wonderful culture of remixing cultural production to give it a new message, a subsersive act widely used throughout the Arab Spring and before. Check out the video below that explains much more.

In addition to this, I think this industry cannot be trusted to censor the internet (no one can be trusted to do that) but also that it does not deserve to be. This is the same industry that lets you buy digital books on one device but won’t let you read them on another. Or that would not let you play a US DVD on a European DVD player. It’s out to maximize profits by setting up new legal liabilities (an already mounting problem in all walks of life in the US) to use and abuse in the future. All of this will make it considerably more difficult for labors of love like this website to continue.

If you want to do something about it, check out americancensorship.org and sopastrike.com.

Update: For example, this is the kind of thing people might not be able to make — or that could get Vimeo censored — if the bills get through:

Hello from ant1mat3rie on Vimeo.

 

Meet Egypt's next speaker of parliament

From Profile of Dr. Mohamed Katatni, FJP's Nominee for Parliament Chairman - Ikhwanweb:

After the announcement of his win in the parliamentary seat in Minia, Katatni recalled the ironic twist after former NDP member Ahmed Ezz sarcastically prayed during the last parliamentary session that they (the NDP) succeed to take over the Muslim Brotherhood's places. Ezz's prayer could not have been more precise; the MB members were released from jails and the NDP and former regime affiliates responsible for oppressing a nation for over 30 years, are in fact sitting in their places, however, in jail.

How sweet that must feel. Me, I remember when Katatni – a decent man I have long thought respectfully of, aside from his defense of FGM in parliament – told me in 2008 that if is able to form a political party, he will quit the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the chief problem with the FJP's win for me: it's not clear whether party leaders make decisions, or the unelected leaders of the secret society (with no legal existence or accountability) that is the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Katatni will be the Speaker of the People's Assembly, and that could make him third in line for the presidency if similar provisions as the previous constitution are maintained. 

A sister on the Brothers

Don't miss this review of a new book critical of the Muslim Brotherhood's attitude to women, written by a former Muslim Sister. Noha Hennawy has the story at al-Masri al-Youm:

As the Muslim Brotherhood strives to project the image of a moderate and democratic political organization, a book featuring the angry account of a former member has hit the market.

"The Memoirs of a Former Sister: My Story with the Muslim Brotherhood" is the testimony of Intissar Abdel Moneim, an Alexandria-based novelist and author. With a compelling style and sharp language, the book takes the reader on a journey exploring the internal politics of the 83-year-old organization, placing special emphasis on discrimination against female members.

Throughout her work, Abdel Moneim decries the sisters’ internalization of oppression as women are socialized in a way that compels them to accept male dominance within the organization — and the household.

The book takes Hassan al-Banna to task for his views on polygamy, women's role in society, etc. and recounts the author's experience as a MB activist.

She goes on to criticize Banna's insistence that men and women should be separated. With a scathingly sarcastic tone, the author argues that Banna’s view portrays humans as if they are mere animals who have little control over their impulses.

“You cannot by any logic perceive all people as mere female and male sex organs that roam the streets looking for the moment of intercourse like cats," the book reads. Abdel Moneim attributes Banna’s rigid outlook to his rural background.

This outlook still shapes the group’s perception of women’s roles within the organization and in the society at large. It justifies why the Muslim Sisters' division cannot operate independently from the Brothers, why no woman is admitted into the group's highest bodies, namely the Shura Council and the Guidance Bureau, and why the group will not acknowledge a woman's right to rule, according to the book.

Read the whole thing.

A good read at a time when some MB leaders have voiced opinions that women should not take part in protests (even though some women who support the MB have been at the forefront of the recent violent protests).

On this topic, you should read the work (less hostile to MB patriarchy) of my friend Omayma Abdel Latif. Here Carnegie report on the Muslim Sisters is probably the most in-depth recent thing written on the subject.