Is Egypt’s new parliamentary election law constitutional?

The following post was contributed by Nathan Brown of GWU and Carnegie — see Brown's previous posts on Egyptian constitutional matters here and here. (Updated with further commentary after the jump.)

The short answer is: Maybe. We’ll have to wait and see.

The quick retort: Not again?

The quick answer: Yes, it could be déjà vu all over again. But it might not.

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Support independent journalism in Egypt

Almost every morning I read half a dozen articles in Egypt Independent, the English-language, online (and now weekly print) offshoot of Al Masry Al Youm. (Today, for example, I read this and this.) We link to their stories regularly.

I think the publication had gotten off the ground shortly before the revolution, and I remember their entire staff -- a dozen people at least -- sharing a room in the Semiramis hotel (which at the time had one of the only working internet connections in the city) to cover Tahrir. I don't think anyone in that room slept for a week. 

Since then, the publication has grown, cultivating talented local voices and reporters; becoming largely independent of its Arabic sister publication; and offering long-form investigative pieces like this that are rare. It features great photo slide shows and original columns from some of my favorite Cairo-based writers (Maria Golia, Sarah Carr), and from Egypt experts like Robert Springborg, Khalil Al Anani and Michael Hannah. 

At the moment, the entire private media in Egypt is suffering from the economic crisis, and EI is encouraging readers to subscribe. Please do -- you can see a message from them after the jump.

Have you benefitted from Egypt Independent over the past few years in getting news from Egypt? Has it been a regular source of information for you? Do you value their contribution to English language journalism in/on Egypt? Do you appreciate their writers, columnists, cartoonists, and staffers that strive to bring you top-notch work day-in and day-out? If you answered yes to any of these questions, and you are keen on making sure independent and free-wheeling journalism in Egypt continues to flourish, then you should subscribe to the weekly print edition for 300 LE a year. To do so fill in this form: 

http://goo.gl/pDSfU

I started out in journalism in Cairo many years ago at what was then the only independent English-language news publication in town, the Cairo Times. I was grevously underpaid, stupendously ignorant, and almost immediately hooked. English-language media in Egypt can get away with publishing stories that the Arabic media is pressured to squelch; it is a window on Egypt for the whole world; and it is often a great place for local and foreign journalists to learn from each other and combine their strengths. 

As media censorship and intimidation in Egypt increases, and the economic crisis makes it harder for alternative voices to thrive, it's more important than ever to support publications like Egypt Independent. 

How does the MB knows what is says it knows?

Egypt’s Brotherhood Still Operates Secretively | TIME.com

(CAIRO) — Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks publicly of firsthand knowledge of a meeting where opponents allegedly plotted against him.

A few months earlier, the most powerful man in his Muslim Brotherhood group, Khairat el-Shater, says he has access to recordings of former military rulers and electoral officials engineering his disqualification from last year’s presidential race.

In Egypt, those statements are seen by security officials, former members of the Islamist group and independent media as strong hints that the Brotherhood might be running its own intelligence-gathering network outside of government security agencies and official channels.

Here's another possible interpretation: intelligence or state security is feeding information to Morsi about the opposition, whether real or made up, with the intention of making him more paranoid and rely on them more. That's one reason why it might not be willing to show its evidence.

Comment

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, www.arabist.net.

Kagan & Dunne: Time to get tough on Egypt

This is one of those times that I wished that the Washington Post's editorial board hadn't spent the last four years making all-too-often spurious criticism of the Obama administration's foreign policy, because this quite good op-ed by Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne would have more punch. Neoconservative wonk Kagan (perched at Brookings) and Egypt expert Dunne (who has done a sterling job running the Atlantic Council's Egypt Source) have good credentials to speak about this, they have been engaged in the democracy debate for years and Kagan is probably the only neocon whose intellectual credentials are respectable (and isn't mostly motivated on this issue by the question of Israel's interests). They call on Obama 2.0 to get tough on Egypt right now.
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Ted Swedenburg on Egypt's post-revolution music scene

Egypt's Music of Protest | Middle East Research and Information Project

Great article on music and revolution in Egypt, by Ted Swedenburg who runs the great Hawgblawg. Here's the bit of my favorite style, mahragan, of DJ Amr Haha, Ortega and Figo fame:

If one were seeking an Egyptian parallel to rap music, then one’s attention should be drawn to the genre known as mahragan or “festival” music, which started to appear on YouTube in 2007. The music has been also called (mostly by outsiders) techno-sha‘bi or electro-sha‘bi. About one half of Cairo’s population lives in ‘ashwa’iyyat, “haphazard,” unplanned settlements that teem with the poor, working and lower middle classes. Sha‘bi music, rooted in the ‘ashwa’iyyat as well as the traditional popular quarters of Cairo, has long been derided as unsophisticated at best by Egypt’s educated elites. But many educated Egyptians listen to and appreciate sha‘bi music, if apologetically, and so several sha‘bi artists have crossed over to mainstream culture, to wit, Sha‘ban ‘Abd al-Rahim, Hakim and Ahmad ‘Adawiyya.

Mahragan is at once deeply rooted in sha‘bi practices and something quite new. The rhythms that drive mahragan are for the most part resolutely sha‘bi, but are often produced electronically. Over the sha‘bi beats that urge onlookers to shake their belly-dancing hips, singers chant or sing and occasionally rap, their voices most often distorted by synthesized autotuning. A DJ on computer and mixer, and on occasion, electronic keyboard, provides a heavily electronic musical soundtrack. Mahragan artists began to make names for themselves by playing at weddings in popular quarters, where they were appreciated not only because of the novelty of their music but also because it was cheaper to hire a singer and a DJ (and perhaps an additional percussionist) than to book the traditional troupe of musicians and dancers. Mahragan artists spread their reputations beyond their neighborhoods by circulating their home recordings via YouTube. They also began to organize on their own parties in their urban working-class neighborhoods. The name mahragan (festival) seems to refer to the carnivalesque atmosphere of the electro-sha‘bi parties and weddings, which resembles that of mulids, Egypt’s famous saint festivals, which typically are celebrated in popular quarters and are patronized by millions.

If the artists who performed at Tahrir in early 2011, and who continue to play there in ongoing protests since the uprising, mostly manifest veneration of the country’s national revolutionary repertoire, the usual attitude of mahragan artists to that tradition is one of irreverence, humor and even sarcasm. This sensibility is on full display in the mahragan song “The People Want Five Pounds’ Phone Credit” (Al-Sha‘b Yurid Khamsa Ginay Rasid) by DJ ‘Amr Haha (or 7a7a), from ‘Ayn Shams, and DJ Figo, from al-Salam City. The song opens to the slow strains of Egypt’s national anthem, “Biladi, Biladi,” penned by Sayyid Darwish, played on an electronic keyboard. The anthem quickly begins to grind down and then is abruptly halted with an electronic crash, as the beats of sha‘bi darbouka take over, and a vocalist (probably Figo) chants,

The people want something new [to think about]
The people want five pounds’ phone credit
The people want to topple the regime
But the people are so damn tired.

“The People Want Five Pounds’ Phone Credit” both invokes the famous slogan of the Arab revolts, and at the same time, the people’s (and especially the people of the sha‘bi quarters) exhaustion with it.

Here's a link to the song.

Comment

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, www.arabist.net.

Not even the MB really thinks the new constitution that great

One of the controversies about Egypt's new constitution is the way it has an ambiguous reference to al-Azhar having an advisory role as part of the expanded role of religion in state affairs. In January, we had the spectacle of the FJP's much-ballyhooed new Islamic finance law being twice rejected by al-Azhar, to the dismay of the Brothers, because it allows for (Islamically-correct) financial instruments to be used to raise investment in public infrastructure projects. Al-Azhar did not like the idea of foreigners owning such public infrastructure, and thus rejected the draft law — what seems like a secular rather than religious objection, although perhaps they had a religious reasoning too.

This was a great illustration of my fundamental problem with the constitution — the lack of forethought that went into it, and the unintended consequences of it. I think it's just the beginning, as this example unearthed by Nour the intern shows. She writes in first about the ongoing debate about the police (the Brothers' new best friends) but the second item speaks to my point:

Fast forward to minute 4, where Al-Qahira Al-Youm reporter, Mohamed Saad Eldeen, explains the Shura Council's session where MOI representative specifically stated that it is the police's job to "protect the legitimacy of the President" and they intend to do so. An outraged Wafd party member objected to their shamelessly political stance arguing that it's the exact same, wrong, stance they took for Mubarak. Instead of the MOI representatives defending themselves, Freedom and Justice party members did it for them, saying that it's the MOI's job to protect the regime and that the police should be using more force with the protesters. Eldeen added that the Minister of Interior didn't attend the session and sent a deputy instead, like every other minister who has been asked to attend for the past two weeks. The council later moved on to the European agreement with Egypt in the works. The agreement is worth €60 million, and includes loans and interest, which irked Salafi members who demanded the agreement be referred to Al-Azhar first, before they formally reject it. That's when Essam el-Erian intervened to stress the government's need for the money and that, with all due respect to Al-Azhar, "this is a legislative council." At that point, Salafi Nour party members reminded him of the continued existence of the constitution.

So many sessions are going to sounds like this one — one of the many factors that will add to the politicization of al-Azhar, because it has the potential to become a veto power (especially over Islamists, who can't very well just ignore the advisory opinions of the country's leading Islamic scholars the way secularists might) and that, therefore, controlling al-Azhar will become part of getting your ducks in a row when you want to pass legislation.

This is why I think the recent controversy over the election of the new Mufti is just the beginning of a long fight, as do Nathan Brown and Hisham Hellyer

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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, www.arabist.net.

"Burning the furniture"

Egyptian spring could be European storm - FT.com

Interesting tidbit about the recent OCI transaction here — and a good and alarming piece overall:

Foreign currency is increasingly difficult to come by in Egypt, even if you are rich by local standards. A number of the companies represented in the Cairo share index have substantial, viable, foreign operations, which the equities allow you to buy for Egyptian pounds. What is supposed by capital markets theory to be a measure of investor sentiment about the future has become a measure of half-concealed capital flight.

It could be argued that an interesting recent example of this is the Orascom Construction Industries share exchange offer. This was talked about in some quarters as “Bill Gates invests in Egypt”. Well, no. Orascom is one of the few internationally competitive Egyptian groups; I have used the group’s mobile phone providers in the Middle East. The ongoing exchange offer essentially allows an Amsterdam-based holding company to buy the Cairo-based construction company in return for a net payment of something more than $1bn to the forex department of the Egyptian central bank. Bill Gates’s family group is among the investors in the Amsterdam holdco. This would allow the central bank to make up for a few weeks’ drain of forex reserves at the current rate of loss.

So a resounding vote of confidence in Egypt’s future may actually be a case of burning the furniture. On the other hand, buying three weeks to a month may seem worth it if it’s your food ration that is being financed.

Comment

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, www.arabist.net.

The US ambassador's speech

As I've previously written (and I'm not the only one to think so), I think US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been too incautious in her embrace and praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last two years. Her recent speech in Alexandria, though, helps correct some of her recent media statements and strikes many right notes for where US policy should be. Her assessment of the economic situation is devasting, and a pointed critique of the Morsi administration's handling of this. The speech does not touch on politics much, but does hint at great alarm at Morsi's poor leadership.

I am pasting the whole thing after the jump.

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The other failed dialogue

A couple of weeks ago I received a very funny email out the of blue from Nour Youssef, a young reader of the website. It started like this: “Would you be interested in taking on a slave under the pretense of an internship?” After some further quite funny correspondence and a meeting, we decided to try things out — I was not sure I had the time to work with an intern but she was persistent. She calls me Mr Miyagi and I have created a rule for my email that takes her emails and files them under a folder labelled “grasshopper”.[1] She has heen sending me some very useful links and notes that I will be putting up periodically. A few days ago, she went to the debate AUC hosted between ”Egypt’s Jon Stewart“ Bassem Youssef and ultra-conservative Islamist from the Gamaa Islamiya (once a terrorist group) Nageh Ibrahim. This is her account of the debate, and serves as the inaugural post of the contributor who shall henceforth be referred to as ”Nour the intern”.


  1. Fans of The Karate Kid will appreciate.  ↩

The debate on political satire between the famous political satirist, Bassem Youssef, and member of Gamaaa Islamiyaa Nageh Ibrahim, moderated by Hafez Al-Mirazi at AUC on February 7, did not have much to do with political satire or debating. While Bassem Youssef stood his ground, Nageh Ibrahim defied gravity to hover several inches above his.

Ibrahim, who is an accurate representation of the current Salafi mood — in the sense that he is a loyal Morsi supporter, but is openly, and politely, critical of the Muslim Brotherhood — was under palpable pressure to liberalize his views to mollify the high-class audience of embittered liberals and moderates, whose main reason for attending (apart from admiring Bassem Youssef up-close) was to see an Islamist get an intellectual beat down and have the “Islam they know and love” reinforced. They got more than they bargained for: a subdued and eager-to-please Salafi who let Youssef set the tone for the argument-turned-ditto and was content to smile benevolently and merely build on Youssef’s points.

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Egyptian activist to Obama: at least have the decency to stop voicing support for Morsi

A striking open letter to President Obama by veteran Egyptian human rights activist Baheieddin Hassan:

Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.

Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president. Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.

I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

Read the whole thing. 

The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.

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, www.arabist.net.

Brothers and cops

Brothers and soldiers: A weakened security apparatus is implicated in political play | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohammed Adam on police-MB relations:

Mohamed Mahfouz, former colonel and assistant coordinator of a coalition of officers dubbed “Officers but Honorable,” accused the police leadership of surrendering to the regime out of fear for their posts and the financial benefits they reap through it.

He said leaders are ready to serve any regime, as long as they maintain their positions and secure a source of wealth.

“A large segment of Interior Ministry officers learned the lessons of the January revolution and realized that leaders would be protected by the regime, while they would be leading confrontations in the street,” Mahfouz said. “A minority of officers, though, are ready to carry out any orders.”

Another security officer, who preferred to be referred to as Eissa, agreed with what Mahfouz said about the majority of police officers not wanting to protect the regime.

Meanwhile, some officers do not care who is in power, whether it is the Brotherhood or others — especially junior officers who just want to prove themselves efficient by suppressing people in the street, Eissa said, referring to a prevalent culture within the apparatus.

The judge who loved the police

Minister of justice denies systematic torture by Ministry of Interior - Daily News Egypt

Ahmed Mekki was a hero of the Judges' Intifada of 2006. Since he became an ally of the Muslim Brothers and Morsi's minister of justice, his positions have been despicable:

A discussion held between the committee drafting the Information Act and a number of human rights activists and university professors have broken down on Tuesday after the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki consistently defended the Ministry of Interior’s actions.

Mekki attended the meeting along with the head of the history department at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Khaled Fahmy, associate dean of AUC’s business school Nagla Rizk, human rights researcher Amr Gharbeia and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ (EIPR) director Hossam Bahgat.

All four members withdrew from the meeting after Mekki refused to acknowledge any form of systematic torture from the Ministry of Interior.

The meeting was held to discuss the latest draft law surrounding freedom of information which, according to an official statement released by Fahmy, was not brought to the fore.

According to Fahmy, the minister said that the media has been mostly misleading and false. He also said any reform within the interior ministry should be done internally, at which point Fahmy questioned whether the minister really believes that a ministry which “kills and tortures will voluntarily change their style”. If so, Fahmy added, “why not undertake even a single serious restructuring project over the past two years?”

Fahmy pointed out in his statement that there has not been a single punishment handed out to officers in relation to cases of murder or torture.

Bahgat posted on his Twitter that what he had heard from Mekki in relation to the rights of citizens and media freedoms was “far worse” than anything he had ever heard from the Mubarak-era minister, Mufid Shehab.

I'd heard that in a previous meeting with rights activist Mekki urged them not to blame police but rather "lift the hatred of the police from their hearts"

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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, www.arabist.net.

The revenge of the have-nots

Back Street's Back | Foreign Affairs

Elijah Zarwan on the under-discussed phenomenon of urban squalor as a source of protests and rioting:

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the protesters as paid thugs, or to blame the unrest on revolutionary anniversary pangs, Muslim Brotherhood misrule, or a court's verdict -- although those are all elements of it. True, it is difficult to systematically track the demographics of a stampede, but what most of those rushing to escape birdshot and tear gas canisters have in common is that they are male, urban, young, and unemployed; they have very little to lose, and even less confidence in a political class that does not represent them. For them, the mantra of the uprising that began two Januarys ago -- "Bread, freedom, social justice" -- remains an urgent and unanswered demand.

If anyone doubted that Egypt's unrest would continue until the urban poor saw a concrete improvement in their daily lives, the events of the last few weeks should have convinced them otherwise. For the majority of the Egyptian population that grew up poor and has known no president other than Mubarak, life has been hard and has only gotten harder. The narrow streets of the urban slums admit little air. Decent work, already scarce, has become scarcer. Prices have continued to rise. Prospects for a dignified life -- a steady job, marriage, and escape from the family home -- have grown steadily more remote.

Before the 2011 revolution, some of the poor had turned to the streets, to pills, to hashish, to brawling, to fun. With the army hesitant to appear involved and the opposition in disarray, that street culture is now likely the biggest check on the Islamist project. The dispirited urban population is perhaps more heavily armed now than at any time in modern history. Families -- "honorable people," as onlookers describe them -- still join protests by day, but they melt away by night, and a leaner, angrier group takes their place.

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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, www.arabist.net.

Does a child with cancer belong in jail?

If the dark absurdity of the Hamada Saber case isn't enough, here is another illustration of the ongoing casual cruelty of the Egyptian state that has activists riled up.

Mahmoud Adel Mohammed Hassan and Abdel Rahman Ramadan Mohammad are two 14-year-old kids who were arrested in Alexandria recently. They have been detained in a regular prison, with adults, for 15 days, and a judge recently renewed their detention for an additional 15 days. The prosecution told police to transfer them to a juvenile home, but although some officials intervened in the case nothing happened. The police would not move them.

The thing is, young Mahmoud suffers from Ewing's Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The judge has denied an appeal for his release on medical grounds. He has thus been unable to attend the chemotherapy sessions he needs to survive. His family has tried everything to get him out, a number of activists are trying to petititon the prosecutor the intervene.

To get a 14-year-old kid his chemotherapy treatment, apparently, is not that easy. Even if you have a prosecutor's order and their case appears to lack any clear evidence.

If any journalists are interested in their story, I have numbers for family members — just contact me here.

Update: Mahmoud has been released.

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, www.arabist.net.

The meaning of Hamada Saber

The ordeal undergone through by Hamada Saber — the man whose beating by police was caught on video and who, under police pressure, blamed protestors — has a meaning, says Nervana Mahmoud in her excellent weekly news review:

 Hamada’s case is another ugly reminder that no one has changed; the police haven’t changed, the leadership hasn’t changed, and many ordinary Egyptians haven’t changed. We will never know what really happened to Hamada, even if he later appeared on TV to tell a different story. Egypt is now a country in which truth is as elusive as its newly born democracy. Hamada is a symbol of what went wrong; in other words, we as a society haven’t changed. I don’t blame him as some do − he is not a celebrity that citizens and foreign embassies will rush to save. He is just a human being who thinks humiliation is his only method of survival.

Saber has once again returned to accusing police of beating him, by the way:

His son Ahmed told Al-Masry Al-Youm Sunday that his father telephoned him Sunday, cried and told him that he was under pressure and terrorized. Then he asked him to get him out of the Police Hospital and take him home or to any other hospital.

“The police forced my father to lie,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “He did not know the incident was filmed.”

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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, www.arabist.net.

A solution to Egypt's food crisis

Last week, the excellent economics blog Rebel Economy highlighted a recent report on food consumption in Egypt:

Egypt’s most vulnerable households don’t have enough money to buy food, clothes and shelter.

That’s the frightening conclusion of the Egyptian Food Observatory’s latest government survey.

Of the 1680 households surveyed (and 7532 household members) in September 2012, 86% said their income was insufficient for covering total monthly needs including for food, clothes and shelter, up from 74% in June 2012.

As food prices have steadily increased over the year, income levels have remained static as the country’s fragile economic climate impacts salaries.

The knock-on affect of this has left many families adopting increasingly extreme coping strategies, the report says, the most common of which has prompted families to consumer cheaper foods and borrow food or money.

fooddivide

Meanwhile, the government has acknowledged across-the-board food price inflation on a range of commodities in a new report — confirming what was obvious to all. In the report, the government also advises citizens not to over-eat. Really. Still wonder why Egyptians are protesting?

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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, www.arabist.net.

The story of Hamada Saber

Hamada Saber went to the presidential palace at Ettihadia on Friday night with his family to protest against President Morsi. At some point in the evening, he ended up stripped naked and beaten by police. The beating was caught by a satellite television channel and broadcast live, instantly turning into an iconic moment of police brutality like that of the video of the girl with the blue bra in December 2011.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

The authorities immediately reacted to the footage, with presidency and interior ministry pledging to investigate the matter and condemning the violence. [Update: here's the NYT coverage of their contrition.] Prosecutors began an investigation into the security forces in the footage. But Hamada Saber was still held overnight on Friday by police, and by the time he was hospitalized he began to give a different version of events, as al-Ahram reports:

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

The public prosecutor then began to change tack and began to blame protestors for beating the man — even though the video evidence clearly showed that whatever protestors did, the police clearly hit Saber. Saber is effusively thanking the interior ministry. Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being cooperative. From al-Ahram, again:

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.
One report, for example, picked up by a number of online papers said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.
Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who said he is a day labourer who is constantly short on gigs, a job.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.
In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.
"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."
As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

He does not want problems. One can understand. But it does appear that he is being threatened into shutting up so that the police and the government don't see this turning into the same iconic moment as previous instances of beatings and abuse. Human rights lawyers and his own family (which was on the scene) have kept on saying that he was beaten by police.

In the most surreal part of this sad episode, Hamada Saber and his daughter Randa ended up arguing about what happened to him on a major satellite TV talk show, with Hamada accusing Randa of having taken money from satellite channels to lie about him. Here's the footage:

Whatever happened to Hamada, the police did what it did, and he appears to have been intimidated against blaming the interior ministry as the government worked overtime to carry out damage limitation. Such practice is actually quite typical of what has happened in Egypt for decades, including since the 2011 uprising. If you look at the court cases into police murders during the 18 days of the uprising, you often have officers leaning on the families of the victims to settle out of court or withdraw charges. Not that many have been actually convicted thus far, or that there has been any attempt at creating either a transitional justice process or carry out serious security sector reform thus far — under SCAF or under Morsi.

[Thanks to Ashraf Khalil and Samer Atrush for some of the links used here. Update: here's Ashraf's piece on the incident.]

Update: More surrealism:

And an eye-witness account of the beating.

Embarassing MB statement about Jews, part 235

Fathi Shihab-Eddim: Holocaust 'is an industry that America invented' - UPI.com

Someone should have really briefed the US media on the long history of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial of the Muslim Brotherhood a while back — it's not exactly a surprise:

CAIRO, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Holocaust was a U.S. intelligence hoax and the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis actually moved to the United States, an Egyptian state news official said.

"The myth of the Holocaust is an industry that America invented," said Fathi Shihab-Eddim, a senior figure close to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi responsible for appointing the editors of all state-run newspapers.

"U.S. intelligence agencies in cooperation with their counterparts in allied nations during World War II created [the Holocaust] to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, and to justify war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb," Shihab-Eddim said.

He said the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II moved to the United States -- contradicting the accepted version of events.

I'm not sure what's more depressing about this — that these people believe this, that there is a wider cultivation of such views in Egypt, or that people with such skewed perceptions of reality have important positions,  in this case chairman of parliament's Culture, Tourism & Information Committee. 

Congress is going to love this!

The original IkhwanOnline article by Shihab Eddin is here (cached for posterity).

Egypt mulls new anti-protest law

Nour Youssef writes in about a new law being drafted by the Egyptian Ministry of Justice in response to the recent protests, as highlighted in this article [Ar]:

The ministry of justice drafts a law to regulate the right to protest and die as a direct result of it.

    Translated the dumbest points in it:

  1.  Police officers have the right to use more force and “not just shot cartouche in the air,” citing attacks on police stations as applicable examples. What’s odd is that they're just paraphrasing the same old “They are thugs attacking institutions, we are allowed to fire at them in defense” argument that's not only worn out, but already based on a law, making this one redundant. Of course, this could just be a pretense for officers to shoot whomever they want, claim they were committing a crime, and escape legal prosecution, but officers don't require assistance in that domain.  
  2.  Protesters must give a five-days’ notice to the MOI before demonstrating, as if protests just spontaneously pop into existence in Egypt. Not only does everyone with ears know about every protest, about a week or so in advance, they also know where it is going to take place, its name, its agenda, how many people are expected to show, and most importantly, that the MOI knows about it and is prepared for it. Human brains are supposedly hardwired to detect patterns, surely by now MOI should have noticed a correlation between angry people, Fridays and Tahrir Square.
  3.  A minimum distance of 500 meters must be maintained at all times between every protest and vital places, like presidential palaces, legislative bodies, police departments, etc. While it may not be a bad idea, it's probably unrealistic and will only serve as a reason to take advantage of point 1, which is a bad idea. Also, it introduces the question of whether or not the officers can even aim at eyes from such a long distance? 
  4. No protesting after 11 pm, those who protest anyway will be fined a minimum of 20,000 pounds. But rest assured it explicitly states that it will never exceed 50,000 pounds to express one's views at such an inconvenient hour, not in this free country.
  5. In the unlikely event that the interior minister doesn’t welcome a protest, he can ask a judge to review the case  and– if MOI has "good grounds," which means everything from quicksand to hot air – the judge will accordingly decide to cancel, postpone or relocate the protest in question. Obviously, there is no conceivable way to abuse this law. None whatsoever. 

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, www.arabist.net.

Who are the "snipers" in Port Said?

There have been some disturbing reports of what is described as sniper fire (although it may simply be gunfire, not actual snipers) in Port Said in the last two days. The videos below, some of which whose provenance cannot be verified, paint a rather scary picture

The one below, for instance, shows men dressed in black paramilitary garb - perhaps special forces - using a rooftop position to fire on people on the streets (or perhaps merely survey the streets). There is no way to confirm the place and date of the video, although it is an Egyptian flag that is seen and it is plausibly Port Said. The video is titled to suggest the armed men are Muslim Brothers, but there is nothing to confirm that.


Egypt Muslim Brotherhood Snipers Shoot People... by GWHH19

Another video, shot by Euronews and more credible, shows what appears to be a man in army uniform (light beige) monitoring the street from a window. It's not clear either what exactly is going on, because the street is not empty as you might expect if he was firing on people, but the journalists seem to be believe he is sniping from the windows. Nor, as in the video above, is it clear to me (as a military neophyte - if it's not in Call of Duty I don't know what I'm talking about) whether the weapon he has is anything like a sniper rifle. Help from military geeks appreciated here.

The military has denied using live ammunition in Port Said. But then the question is, who is, since local health authorities say most of those killed were killed by birdshot and live ammunition? Why were the 30 or so people killed during the 26 January attack on Port Said's prison buried without a proper autopsy and forensic report

The precedent of the last two years of investigations into such events does not leave one confident that we'll know anytime soon.

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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, www.arabist.net.