Qatar has installed a statue of French footballer Zinedine Zidan's infamous head-butt (after Italian player Marco Matterazzi allegedly said something rude about his mother) which may have cost France the World Cup in 2006. Zidan's outburst was criticized and defended at the time. Here is an impressionistic version of the statue (called "Coup de Tete," which in French means both header and whim, impulse) by contributor Paul Mutter, who also notes: "Now if only I could photo-shop something representing the Western left walking off the playing field.."
A while back, I expressed some misgivings about the great Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim's seemingly uncritical support for the military leadership. I ended up paying him a visit and conducting a rather distressing interview. Despite my admiration for Ibrahim, and his friendliness to me, we were almost immediately disappointed with each other's grasp of what is going on in Egypt these days, and unable to agree on the meaning of words like "massacre" and "nationalism." I was surprised with Ibrahim's willingness to accept repression in the name of abstract, hard-to-achieve and easy-to-manipulate goals like "fighting terrorism" and "standing up to the West."
MM: I can't help feeling that there will never be security sector reform. It's very good for [the security services] to be fighting terrorism. Nobody is going to push them to change. Do you see what I'm saying?
SI: It takes time. The fundamental thing now is, if the police officer who used to insult me and kick me and beat me under Mubarak, if now he is fighting against terrorism, I am with him.
The full interview is at Mada Masr, which also has lots of coverage of Egypt's celebrations of October 6 and of popular sentiment to the army.
There has been much media focus lately on the ongoing, growing campaign to get defense minister and commander of the armed forces Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to run for president -- a bandwagon on which we can expect see many more flatterers and opportunists jump. El-Sisi's candid discussion with other officers on how Egyptian need to get used to paying more for services and talk on the phone less, how the army can get the media to practice some self-censorhip, and how military personnel will never be held responsible for killing protesters were recently leaked, and seen as evidence of his nefarious dictatorial tendencies by Islamists and of his economic genius and straight-talking by army supporters.
It is also instructive to see the reaction to another possible military contender. Nour Youssef has this report.
While it is generally good to be a soldier rather than another weakling civilian in Egypt, it has not been so for former Chief of Staff General, Sami Anan.
After news of Anan’s announcement of his run for president spread, and despite it being followed by a quick denial, the pro-military media began airing his dirty laundry and then tried to suffocate him with the clothesline. So far Anan, aka The Bringer of the Brotherhood (or at the very least: Key Person Who Helped Make Mistakes That Lead To MB Rule), has been accused of having an under-qualified son as head of the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport, wasting state land (200 acres of it by Cairo-Alexandria desert road on himself and his wife), having grandchildren born in the US for the citizenship, buying a whole floor in a fancy hotel, among other things.
Although many, like Mahmoud Saad, perfunctorily expressed their respect for Anan's constitutional right to run before all but telling him not to, much of the talk about Anan has been focused on his newly published memoirs and his past.Read More
My latest Latitude column is on the difficult position of human rights activists in Egypt today -- and of that minority that is equally critical of the Brotherhood and of the military-police state.
Democracy and human rights activists in Egypt are exhausted and worried. Many of them have spent the two and a half years since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak working nonstop — monitoring elections, submitting reform plans to ministers who have ignored them, counting bodies at the morgue — only to find themselves back at square one. The situation is “the worst it’s been since the 1990s,” a veteran human rights defender told me recently.
At Mada Masr, human right activist Sherif Azer discusses the issue as well.
In an unprecedented moment, we are currently witnessing public support for human rights violations. The stereotypical idea that only governments are against human rights has been proven wrong, as the majority of Egyptians reveal their open rejection of the concept of human rights. We have seen people calling for sacrificing their own rights and freedoms, just to see their opposition removed. We, the human rights advocacy community, have been called traitors by friends and family members. People began openly calling for abandoning human rights altogether in the name of fighting "terrorism.”
I'm not sure I agree with Azer that the most effective argument for human rights, domestically, is an appeal to international law and treaties. It seems to me that highlighting an issue like torture here is more relevant. But of course when people offer to suspend or sacrifices their rights, they almost always do so in the belief that 1) it is temporary and limited and 2) they're not at risk because they aren't one of the criminals/terrorists/bad guys being targeted.
I've had several people compare the current moment in Egypt to the United States right after 9/11 -- a moment to which we can trace the seemingly irreversible erosion of some key protections and principles.
In late September, the Moroccan police arrested Ali Anouzla, the editor of the independent online Arabic-language site Lakome. His crime? Publishing a story that linked to a story in the Spanish paper El Pais that featured a jihadist video in which members of Al Qaida in the Maghreb threatened the Moroccan king, Mohamed the VI. Even though the Lakome story condemned the video, Anouzla may be charged with encouraging terrorism.
This is from an Amnesty International statement:
“We fear Ali Anouzla is being punished for Lakome’s editorial independence and criticism of government policies, in what signals a worrying setback for freedom of expression in Morocco. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
No kidding. Lakome is one of the only voices of serious critical journalism in Morocco. The authorities of this supposedly liberal monarchy have systematically harassed the country's small independent press (the editors of the two best independent magazines of the last decade -- Le Journal and Tel Quel -- both live outside the country now, after being the targets of endless litigations, and Le Journal closed down).
A sad, amazing new video from the Egyptian Mosireen collective, setting a beautiful poem by Mahmoud Ezzat ("Prayer of Fear") to film and finding a way to cut through all the bluster and bombast to the confusion and tragedy of this summer.
From Bernard Lewis' autobiography, Notes on a century , a vignette about Nasser requesting Pakistan's help to restructure the Egyptian military in 1960:
The government of Pakistan was willing, but on condition that it be permitted to send a small feasibility mission to examine the situation and then advise on what, if anything, Pakistan could do. It told Nasser that the mission must be allowed to go wherever it wanted, and its questions must be answered truthfully and honestly. Nasser agreed, saying that there would be no point otherwise.
A small group of Pakistan officers was then sent to Egypt. they toured the country, spoke to many people and reported that they were not told the truth. The reason that they were not told the truth is that nobody knew the truth. In the Egyptian armed forces, they said, "The corporal lies to the sergeant, the sergeant lies to the lieutenant, the lieutenant lies to the captain, the captain lies to the major and so on all the way up the chain of command. By the time it reaches the high command or the Ministry of Defense, they haven't a clue what is going on." The Pakistan general heading the mission concluded that the high command in Cairo was sitting on top of a pyramid of lies. The Pakistan government therefore declined and said it was sorry but could not help.
Last week a Cairo court issued an injunction that seems to pave the way for a new ban on all the Muslim Brotherhood's activities. Meanwhile, the new constituent assembly is discussing banning all political parties based on religion.
In my latest contribution to the NYTimes' Latitude blog, I argue that banning the Brothers -- rather than really addressing the question of the relationship of politics and religion in Egypt, and of the appeal and contradictions of political Islam -- is hypocritical and short-sighted.
The Brotherhood — and other Islamist parties — should have been required to open their activities to outside scrutiny and to commit to basic democratic principles over two years ago, just after Mubarak was brought down. But back then, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was afraid of how far the revolutionary fervor might go and turned to the Islamists to help it stabilize the country.
The current legal cases against the Brothers are selective and politically motivated. Serious violence has taken place at the hands of Islamists in recent months — police officers and military conscripts have been killed, churches attacked — but the direct responsibility of the Brotherhood’s leadership for that violence has yet to be proved in court. And while the organization is being tried for inciting violence, in case after case police officers are being acquitted of shooting protesters.
Why is the judiciary only examining the organization’s legal status now? What of other Islamist groups, some of which have more violent pasts than the Brotherhood and hold more odious positions on women or Christians?
The Islamist organization needs to be held accountable, but as part of a broader process of transitional justice. Instead, the goal of Egypt’s interim authorities now seems to be to punish the Brotherhood for getting into power and ensure it never does again. Egypt’s non-Islamist political parties have uniformly welcomed the idea of banning the group, even though that would in effect disenfranchise its hundreds of thousands of members and its millions of supporters.
Artist Amira Hanafy -- whose work I've written about here before -- is doing a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her next project, a dictionary of the revolution. She will travel around the country soliciting people's definition of various terms that have come into heavy use in the last years.
From a press release about the project:
“I’m not interested in creating one uncomplicated narrative for the revolution,” says Hanafi. “You could say, I’m not interested in “the Truth”. Instead, I’m interested in the truths that people believe. Egypt’s population is around 85 million. That means 85 million unique perspectives, 85 million truths. For one unique and incredible moment, it seemed that a great majority of those people were in agreement on what the country needed. But what’s happening in Egypt today is a clash of many truths. I’m interested in documenting the complexity of this moment.”
Brian Whitaker continues to follow the strange case of a widely circulated article alleging chemical weapons were used by Syrian rebels -- one of whose alleged authors has been vainly trying to remove her byline.
Mint Press named the journalists who wrote the story as Dale Gavlak (an established freelance based in Jordan who has worked regularly for the Associated Press) and Yahya Ababneh (a young Jordanian who claims to have carried out journalistic assignments "in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Libya for clients such as al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, Amman Net, and other publications").
The story got more attention than it might otherwise have deserved because Gavlak's relationship with the Associated Press gave it an air of credibility. Ababneh, on the other hand, is virtually unknown and Google searches for examples of his previous journalistic work drew a blank.
Yesterday, however, Gavlak issued a statement denying that she was an "author" or "reporter" for the article. "Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author," she said. It was a carefully-worded statement which did not specifically exclude the possibility that Gavlak had been involved in some other capacity in helping to produce the story.
Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph publishes an interview with a former chemical weapons chief in the Syrian army:
Gen Sakat says he was ordered three times to use chemical weapons against his own people, but could not go through with it and replaced chemical canisters with ones containing harmless bleach.
He also insists that all such orders had to come from the top – President Assad himself – despite insistent denials by the regime that it has never used chemical weapons.
Now he also claims to have his own intelligence that the Syrian president is evading the terms of a Russian-brokered deal to destroy his chemical weapons by transferring some of his stocks to his allies – Hizbollah, in Lebanon, and Iran.
A friend recently quoted the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila (An overnight Project) and then I read this profle in the Guardian and belatedly discovered them. It's a nice article, but I wish the focus was less on the lead singer's sexual orientation and more on the fact that they rock. Which they absolutely do.
Living as I do at the moment under the psychic bombardment of full-throttle Egyptian nationalism, I just love the way the song and video Lel Watan ("For the Homeland") punctures everything fake, grandiloquent and sinister about the way the supposed good of a nation is used against the actual good of its people.
Here is my very awkward translation (please share corrections and suggestions for improvement in the comments):
Others domesticate hurricanes to govern destiny
We fly off with the breeze and return to destruction
Dare to ask about the worsening situation
And they silence you with talk of all the conspiracies
The herd accuses you of betrayal, if you call for the homeland to change
They make you despair till you sell your freedom, as the homeland is lost
They tell you
Come on smile, come on, dance a while
Why the frown? Come on, dance with me a little
They taught you the anthem, they said your struggle is good for the homeland
They numbed your veins, they said your sedation is good for the homeland
They tell you
Come on smile, come dance a while
Why the frown? Come on, dance with me a little
In my latest column for the New York Times' Latitude blog I look at the writing of Egypt's new new constitution -- a process that despite offering some promise of improvement, is rather dispiritingly familiar.
The last assembly was drawn overwhelmingly from Islamist parties that had just performed well at the polls. Non-Islamists didn’t have the numbers to exercise veto power and complained about their marginalization; eventually almost all of them withdrew. The new drafting committee looks like a photo negative of the old one: It contains a single delegate from an Islamist party, and he has already walked out in protest over being ignored.
The Islamist assembly pointedly excluded prominent feminist, activist and secularist voices. It’s unclear to whom the current committee — appointed by an interim president, backed by the army, packed with the heads of official institutions — is accountable to beside the state itself. Organizations such as the Journalists’ Syndicate have already complained that their recommendations on press law and freedoms of speech have been overlooked.