AmCham Luncheon

Today the American Chamber of Commerce hosted NDP policies secretariat chairman Gamal Mubarak, who gave a press conference at the Four Seasons. Gleaned from foreign press journalists invited to attend, Gamal gave a presentation which mainly dealt with economic - rather than political - issues. After the presentation, a Q&A section followed. Rather than directly taking questions from the audience and press, questions were written down and vetted on stage before the moderator asked Gamal to respond to a selection. During the Q&A, Gamal took questions that deal with the "historic initiative" of the constitutional amendment and how Egypt is working to sign a FTA agreement with the US. Another question that Gamal tackled was the rather general "why is economic reform going faster than political reform" query. The details of today's meeting should be published on the AmCham website in the coming days. ABC, BBC, LA Times, and the Washington Post posed written questions asking whether there would be investigations regarding the women sexually assaulted last Wednesday and if the crackdown on opposition was a contradiction with the policies secretariat's view of the reform process. None of their questions were selected by the moderator. After the meeting ended, the foreign press stringers went to the podium where they were cut off by AmCham's executive director (Hisham Fahmy) and executive V-P (Gamal Muhharam). As one stringer told me, "They switched from speaking about democracy in American accents to treating us like we were in a local coffee shop." According to reports, "Fahmy and Muhharam started saying things in Arabic like 'you all don't have manners and are rude,' 'you are not invited again to an AmCham event,' and 'if you ask those types of questions, you should go and talk to the Americans about them'." The Western affiliated journalists were offended and told them not to invite them anymore and that it was a waste of time. ________ So much for damage control... This is another example of how not to win hearts and minds of the Western press. Yet, rather that chalking this up to government/AmCham mishandling/stupidity, there may be another explanation. Based on recent statements coming from government and its appendices - it seems that the Egyptian government is feeling extra-confident that there is not going to be any follow-up Western pressure. Washington....Are they right? If they are -really- shame on you. _____________ UPDATE: The text of Gamal Mubarak's speech at the AMCHAM luncheon is now available.
Read More

The Egyptian government responds

According to Reuters, the Egyptian government is responding to the accounts of violence against demonstrators last Wednesday. According to the report:
Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told Reuters he believed the U.S. comments and media coverage in the United States and elsewhere were "unfair and unjustified".
"When you have more than 54,000 electoral units nationwide, (and) when you have two sad, unacceptable incidents taking place in the greater Cairo area, this is not something to be exaggerated in the way some circles did."
Later on, Awad said:
[The] public prosecutor Maher Abdel Wahed was investigating victims' complaints. Asked if there would be arrests, he said: "This is something to be decided by the judiciary."
________ Rather than condemn what happened, the government is blaming the international media for focusing on the violence rather than the polling stations. But then, again, it is difficult to do 'damage control' with the international press when women working for that press are being groped and kicked by thugs. This is a case where the government is blaming the messenger rather than the message its security forces were ordered to send.
Read More

Makram-Ebied resigns from al-Ghad

In a text from al-Ghad party member, Wael Nawara:
"Mona Makram Ebeid, Secretary-General of El Ghad, had today resigned from the party for what she described as 'Personal reasons in addition to internal division.'
We realize that these are difficult times for anyone to be in opposition in Egypt. We respect Dr. Mona's decision and wish her well."
Will this be an isolated incident or will the government make a move to exploit the "internal divisions" which could lead to the party being frozen like several of its predecessors. At last count, 7 out of 19 political parties, including the Liberals (Ahrar) and Labor, are frozen.
Read More

al-`Arabi newspaper delayed

al-`Arabi newspaper, the voice of the Nasserist opposition party, has been delayed for at least 24 hours. Usually, the highly critical paper is released on Sunday morning but can be picked up at a news-agent on Saturday night. The paper's editorial staff is saying that it has been delayed but will be available by this evening. It seems censorship/delays are on the rise in the wake of last week - with the Brotherhood's site only intermittently available and the Kifaya site down. Updates to follow. UPDATE: I spoke to Abd al-Halim Qandil and there appears to have been a problem with al-`Arabi's computers rather than a censorship issue. Yesterday was a slightly paranoid day for censorship. But…one has that in such a climate. Apologies for jumping to conclusions.
Read More

Egypt's beaten women pledge to fight on

Below is a profile by WaPo's Daniel Williams regarding one woman's experience last Wednesday. The story was published on 27 May. I could not locate it on theWaPo website but found it via MSNBC. Williams' profile can be found here. The LA Times' Megan Stack also had quotes from this victim in her article on 26 May. ra Raba` Fahmy was one of the women I saw assaulted at the Journalist Syndicate. I have some pictures of her in the middle of a crowd of attackers but it is near-impossible to see what is happening (other than she is trying to get away). Read her story and forward it. Raba's story is but one of several that are starting to be concisely told. Pictures of the assault on Raba` Fahmy are published here. ____________ One of the interesting aspects of these women who were horridly assaulted and beaten is that many Egyptians, relying on the Egyptian press, are not aware of it. Equally, I have received emails from foreigners in Cairo that are surprised to hear of the referendum violence. When Mohamed commented the other day that it was unclear who was watching the Egyptian scene, I was slightly taken aback. Yet, his point has merit. All indications point to increasing polarization between the opposition and the state. Many of the female Kifaya activists I have spoken with said that this was not a game and that it was far from over. One email explicitly said, "we will make them pay for what they did." _____ As the saying goes: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned
Read More

Stories/Rumors About Town

Last evening, I met up with my shilla (gang). It was partly a get-together to relax in the aftermath of the previous days, but also an apt setting to compare notes. Two interesting points are worthy of sharing (although there were others). 1: The Wafd newspaper sent a journalist out to see how many times he could vote during voting hours on the 25th. The reporter managed to vote eight times around Cairo (although he did not mention which way he voted). 2: The information ministry's press center is circulating an email and trying to touch base with Human Rights Watch in an effort to do, in their words, "damage control". _____________ NDP Policies Secretariat Chairman, Gamal Mubarak, is holding a press conference on Sunday at the Four Seasons. While I did not receive an invite (why should I have?), I may just have some friends who are ready with questions to pose to Mr. Mubarak. Stay posted for the press conference's details at the Arabist.
Read More

HRW Press Release on the Referendum Violence

Human Rights Watch released a press release regarding the violence in Cairo on the 25th of May. Some of the key portions of the release are:
A witness to the Sa`d Zaghlul confrontation told Human Rights Watch that there were two separate groups totaling about 50 Kifaya demonstrators on the sidewalk, with a cordon of about a hundred riot police. On the street facing them was a larger group wearing NDP pins: At first the NDP crowd was just content to shout and threaten the Kifaya people that if they came out of the cordon they were in for a beating. The Kifaya group stood their ground, so the thugs changed tactics. The police would let a bunch of them cross into the Kifaya group, where they would single out one person to pull out to their side, all the while beating that person. They’d repeat that. It was almost choreographed, someone would say “attack” and then say “stop.” It was brutal but it was not chaotic.
Also, this passage of this incident from the Journalist Syndicate:
It was about 2 or 2:30 p.m. I was at the top of the steps of the syndicate building, to the left of the entrance. The steps were full of Kifaya people and I was on the edge of the crowd. There was a cordon of security and riot police on the street. I saw a group of NDP people come down the streets—they had Mubarak posters—and there were at least 20 riot police walking with them, looking like they were protecting them. The police at the bottom of the steps opened the cordon to let the NDP gang through to the demonstrators. The next thing I knew a gang of about 20 or 30 NDP guys came at us from the left. One of them groped and manhandled me. I tried to push him away and he shouted, “I have a lady, let her through.” This seemed to be a signal for others to attack me. They pulled my hair and ripped my shirt, touching me all over. All over. I started screaming in English. “Hey, she’s screaming in English,” they shouted. They grabbed the strap on my bag and pulled me to the ground. Then the kicking started, and more groping. They were laughing and cheering. I crawled closer to the stairs. Another NDP guy came. He pulled me up and told them to calm down. I ran down the stairs. The police at the bottom let me through to get away.
Lastly Joe Stork, the Washington Director of the MENA program at HRW, had this to say in response to Condi Rice's neutral response about Egypt's electoral violence: “This kind of mealy-mouthed talk from Washington must have been the best news President Mubarak had all day. When push came to shove, as it did literally in Cairo on Wednesday, the Bush administration’s commitment to reform looked bankrupt.” _______
Read More

Referendum Results In

Tonight, it has been reported by the BBC that yesterday's referendum passed with 83-percent of the votes being "Yes." According to the Egyptian state 16.4 million of the 32 million (54-percent) eligible voters turned out nation-wide. UPDATE: Reuters is reporting that the initial electoral returns from the first two provinces showed that referendum was approved by 98-percent. Hence, it was the remaining 24 governateswhere all the "NO" votes came from - yeah right! ALSO: I had brunch with the scholar this morning. We were talking about the turnout and the 83-percent YES margin. Both of us felt it was manipulated to lower it. After all, as the scholar put it, that would mean "around 3 million people turned up to vote 'NO'." Actually, it would have been 2.77 million people voting NO. Based on the empirical finding we collected, this seems impossible. That said, however, we were in Cairo and not outside, where the government claims the polls were more active. But who are those 2.77 million naughty citizens voting no? Al-Masri al-Youm spoke with one voter who said no to changing the constitution. Why? Well, according to this guy, he did not want to change the system because he wants Hosni Mubarak and only Hosni Mubarak forever. He did his part by trying to make sure there won't be any democratic slips in Masr. After all, you never know what happens when you open-up the system.
Read More

My Referendum Experience

DISCLAIMER: Everyone whose name I use was consulted for permission. ____________________________ There has already been much said about yesterday's referendum to amend constitutional article 76 and the accompanying violence against protesters (including the harassment and beatings of women) in Egypt. I doubt I have much to add or contribute. But I will try to give as full a description as possible of my account. Yesterday's events and incidents happened very quickly so excuse my delay in posting as I tried to tie everything together. Pictures I took can be found posted below on the Arabist or directly accessed here. I met up with two friends - the scholar and the photographer - around 930 am. We cabbed over to Agouza's National High School for Girls. Outside this polling station, there was a small smattering of people going to vote. There were signs outside that essentially indicated that a vote for the amendment was a vote for Mubarak, which was pretty confusing. Was one voting to amend the constitution or affirming a president chosen by the parliament? There was no doubt that the referendum was heavily connected to the NDP and the president (to a lesser extent). There was a copy of the ballot on the wall which basically said "Do you agree to amend article 76 of the constitution and add a new amendment entitled article 192 based on the law parliament passed on 10 May 2005?" Below in green, it read "Agree" and in Black "Disagree". Naturally the color choice was telling - green means go while black symbolizes tragedy. This, however, was better than the proposed alternative I have heard about in the days leading-up to the referendum. The rumor was that the referendum question would be "Do you agree to amend the constitution article 76?". That would of been general, which is usually how governments like to handle "reform". Some folks walked out of the Agouza station and were happy to see us. They wanted their pictures taken by their bus, which was adorned with slogans about Yes to Mubarak, stability, and democracy. The photographer and I snapped some shots. At the time, I was thinking that they believed if we put them in the papers, it would be seen as evidence or an extra affirmation of their "yes" vote on the ballot. Their story was typical. They work for the public sector company (in this case called Benzeyoun) and came on a bus with about 50 total to come and do their national duty. I asked a group of them how they voted and they outdid one another with thumbs ups and enthusiastic yeses. Afterwards we returned to the station's entrance. The interior ministry personnel at the gate were not keen about letting us in. We charmed them and went to the third floor where the voting was taking place. There were five polling stations (Lagaan) on the floor. Each station had 550 allocated voters according to one of the poll managers, who was friendly and open to questions the scholar put to him. We got the government line back but that was to be expected. At this point, it was around 1030 am and the manager we spoke with said 180 had voted. We left Agouza and went to a second school to see how the referendum was progressing elsewhere. We went to the Nasariya school off of Talat Harb and around the corner from the Tugammu and al-Ghad parties' HQs (as well as perhaps a more important reference: the Greek Club). The polling stations were in this incredibly beautiful but run-down school. Again, we sweet-talked our way in. In the building we entered there were three stations. The manager was overtly welcoming and willing to talk with us about democracy and whatnot. We hung out there for about 20 minutes with no voters showing up. I asked him about the voting and he reacted with shock. "You vote? you are not Egyptian...that is impossible," he exclaimed. I rephrased and said that I had no intention of voting but wanted to see Egyptians voting. Relieved, he smiled and said, "Wait a second, I'll grab someone for you." Within 60-seconds, a man entered all smiles, grabbed a ballot, checked "Agree", and placed it in the box slowly so that even the most ridiculously poor photographer could catch it. Under a portrait of the president, he deposited the ballot into a box that was not only unlocked but had the keys attached to it with a metal wire. Now, I am no election monitor, but even the most optimistic part of my logic was suspicious. We hung around some more. A couple people entered. One guy had his three sons with them (he voted, they did not). Then, as I looked around, I saw the manager overly active when anyone put anything into the box. He was more or less watching over them. Also, a face that I started to recognize more and more was the voter I photographed earlier. It turned out that he was sort of an assistant to the manager. Only God knows how many times he got to vote yesterday. The photographer, the scholar, and I were two-for-two at getting into polling stations. I am sure there had to be a judicial-type somewhere, but I did not see one. On our way out, I expressed concern that there were not many voters. The manager assured me to come after 1 pm and there were be "people pressure". I told him that I would try to get back. It was about 1145 am at this point and we were in the street talking to a member of al-Ghad and Tugammu. They were watching Gamila Ismail's (Ayman Nor's wife) SUV, which the security were threatening to tow away. The al-Ghad and Tugammu guys assured them Gamila on her way. After a while we took off to a coffee shop around the corner. By this time, the mobiles were ringing relentlessly. One journalist was at Cairo U, others were heading to Monira (by the Saad Zaghloul mausoleum), and still more went on about a demo at the journalist syndicate (off Ramsis street). The scholar, photographer, and I discussed a strategy. Then in mid-cup of coffee, we heard explosions of chants and cheers resonating from the main street. We gathered our things and returned to the polling station. We were told the NDP Secretary-General and long-time regime stalwart, Safwat al-Sherif, was voting in Nasariya. We caught up with the crowd of well-wishers, bodyguards, sycophants, and journalists surrounding al-Sherif. I squeezed my way in and photographed him casting his ballot. It was a big scoop and a fortunate coincidence. Afterwards al-Sharif gave some interviews to the press and again our mobiles were ringing. One of my buddies told me to "come quickly to Monira". We hopped in a cab and took off to the protest. We arrived and I immediately saw Kamal Khalil flashing a peace sign and loads of Mubarak sign-carrying Shabab (younger males) coming down the street. Within two minutes of being there and seeing basically my entire social network in Cairo, scuffles broke out. It was unclear who was fighting who. I could not entirely identify where the Kifaya people were and it seemed there was a fight among the NDP mini-thugs (as opposed to the well-built ones). After that calmed, it became clear that Kifaya people were being hunted by the NDP mob (pun intended). The NDP-supporters were chasing the Kifaya people into local shops like pharmacies and whatnot. When the Central Security forces, police, NDP-thugs, and journalists arrived, residents of the street were locking down their shops' shutters and moving their cars through a sea of people in hopes of not having their property damaged. One concentrated mob waited outside of a store dying to get in and have a go at the Kifaya activists trapped inside. Then Kifaya people outside were identified and chased as a gang of teenagers punched, kicked, and basically lynched them. In one case I was close to - the Kifaya-kid just barely got away. I was shocked he was not more seriously wounded. As I made my way through the Mubarak-supporters, I saw a Kifaya activist friend (female) trying to reason with the police. She was saying something about "what is this? They are going to really hurt someone!" The officer she spoke with gave her an uninterested look. Frustrated, she looked over at the Central Security Forces (Amn Markazi) mobilized around the circus and screamed, "You are all Faggots!". The CSF personnel who heard her looked back as if they did not understand why they were being insulted. Some of them looked like disappointed children who had just been told off by their parent. Around this time Magdi Allam (a policies secretariat member - read Gamal Mubarak's committee) arrived on the scene. I was standing next to a female journalist friend trying to get quotes from this NDP official while young men periodically groped her behind. Magid Allam was nice enough but his explanation for the violence was that "it was hot out and people may be a bit agitated." For all of you that have done August in Cairo, it is still only May. It was not that hot. After Allam gave some statements about the importance of the referendum and whatnot, the mobiles were telling us to go to the Journalist Syndicate. We grabbed some water and our group of three increased to eight. As we passed through Lazougly square (where one of the State Security HQs are) one of my Egyptian friends, who has done some HQ time there, waved and thanked the statue of Lazougly Basha for all the "Ta`zeeb" (torture) done in the place named after him. We got to the journalist syndicate around 130 pm. After making our way through the security cordons, we got to the syndicate's stairs. Everything looked familiar to the previous Kifaya protests at the syndicate. There were loads of security personnel (three deep at the barriers in front of the stairs), trucks, and journalists. The haphazard nature of the how the protest had been setup and disrupted by the NDP-supporters meant that there were only 70 Kifaya demonstrators there. I started to talking to people from the movement. I did not expect what would come next. About ten minutes after getting there, the same NDP-characters that where in Monira showed up. Unlike the previous NDP-Kifaya protest Issandr posted on, security made way for them to also come onto the syndicate's steps. Initially, there was a lot of insult trading as empty plastic water bottles were thrown from one side to the other. The NDP people made their way to the center of the stairs and then pushed upward en-mass. Anyone with a Kifaya sticker or seemed to be one of its supporters became a target. In the beginning, I don't know what I was thinking. It was pretty surreal and I did not believe it would last. Then I started to feel like the circus-master lifted the cage that was holding the lion. People were being thrown down the stairs as the NDP-thugs screamed "Allahu Akbar". Then after the men were beaten and older members of Kifaya escaped beyond the threshold of the syndicate door, the cowardly thugs began attacking women. I saw Raba Fahmy get attacked but it was all very unclear what was going on. There was not this wrestling style that was apparent when the men exchanged blows. Also, Raba looked like she was getting away as they pursued her down the stairs. Most of Raba's clothes were ripped off. Another friend - Jailan Zayan, a news assistant with the LA Times - was cornered as the thugs placed their grimy hands all over her body. As she tried to get away, they grabbed her by the bra-strap and pulled her down and began kicking her in her back and stomach. Other stories I heard involved AP reporter Sarah El-Deeb's hair being pulled as the thugs attacked her. When trying to clarify which women were and were not beaten up, a friend responded, "basically if you were a women, you were at least groped yesterday." After the initial rush on the stairs, most of the journalists and Kifaya supporters escaped to the other side of the security lines. By this time the NDP-thugs had burned a Kifaya sign, ripped their stickers into pieces and were chanting a ripped-off Kifaya slogan, "Ya Gamal Ya Gamal, Tell your Father, The Egyptian people Love Him" (as opposed to Hate Him). Also they screamed, "Hey Kifaya, Hey Kifaya, Hosni Mubarak until the End." Lastly, the NDP-supporters started saying "Long live Mubarak, Long live Egypt". With the stairs occupied and Kifaya beaten, chased away into the syndicate, or running for their lives, the Central Security Forces three-deep line decreased to only one-deep along the barricade (it was not a very disciplined line). The remaining violence at the syndicate was with about 10-15 trapped Kifaya people being held in a dead-end space immediately adjacent to the syndicate steps but separated by a wall. The security forces surrounded them in a way that I initially thought they were protecting them. Yet, after the area was syndicate stairs were occupied, they called over some thugs into order to turn them loose. Hossam al-Hamalawy, a news assistant with the LA Times and long-time friend, went over to security. He spoke to a plain-clothed guy with a walkie-talkie. Hossam said to him, "Hey what is going on? They are going to slaughter them." The officer coldly replied, "We have our orders." Amazed and confused Hossam asked, "Do your orders include having people kill each other in the streets?" The officer smirked and said "Yes". Somehow the trapped Kifaya folks managed to get out after their beating. Hossam escaped with a punch on the back and arm. After the Kifaya people disappeared the CSF mobilized most of its forces and got them out of there. Undecided what to do next, we thought about going to another polling station (since it was afternoon and the election officials promised loads more people). A group of about six of us went to Bab al-Shareyya to see what would be going on in Ayman Nor land. We got directed to a polling station in Gamilaya (as opposed to Bab al-Shareya). It was bigger than the others I had been to. There were nine polling stations. Our journalist friend began asked all sorts of questions - about the judges, turnout, and whatnot. We were there twenty-minutes and I did not see a soul vote. The gentleman watching the station told us we just missed the crowds. A bit disappointed, I suggested I take everyone to the station in Talat Harb. By now, those people knew me (and I had promised to return). We arrived and there was about 20 people sitting in the courtyard drinking tea. There were not many voters from what I could tell. Mohamad, the station organizer, told me that I just missed all the voters but to come back at 5 pm because that is when it gets really busy. The journalist started speaking to people who claimed to have voted. One gentleman was a retired 72-year old. He was talking about how and why he voted. It was for the future of Egypt and his kids and grandkids. He spoke about how Hosni was a real democrat with loads of political experience. He wanted Hosni to be president for life. A second gentleman was asked about why he voted today. He got a huge smile on his face and proudly said, "Well, I came here to vote Yes to Mubarak." A silence overtook the group as one of his companions hit him on the arm for him to change his answer. He straighted up and said, "I mean... I came here to vote Yes to amend the constitution." We all sort of laughed (including the NDP folks) as we all realized that this was not a referendum about the constitution. Indeed, the only real constitution and institution in this country is the president. The journalist then asked the "voters" about their feelings about the opposition. The latter of the two argued that the protesters were traitors and did not love Egypt. Voting in the referendum, to him, is a national duty. To do anything otherwise - let alone protest - is unacceptable. Then the more elderly gentleman spoke up. He said, "Today was a day for the system (al-Nizam). You cannot have democracy without a system and today we witnessed the system's power". Oddly enough, it was from this 72-year old man that the most accurate depiction of the day was stated. About this time, the scholar called me. He told me one of the woman beaten and harassed by the thugs was in the al-Ghad HQ (Ayman's law offices). We quickly made our way there. Sitting there was the victim, who was traumatized and scared. She said she was not an al-Ghad member but she knows Ayman Nor helps people. She did not know where else to go. She explained that she clothes were ripped off her and she was naked in the street. Her co-workers saw her and she was ashamed to go back to work. After re-telling her story, Hossam tried to console her. She wanted nothing of it. She said her frustration was at an all time high and that her only wish was to leave Egypt and never look back. Hossam did his best. He told her, "No, this is our country, not theirs." With tears in her eyes, she quickly responded, "No this is their country, we are nothing." After a quiet period she looked up more angry than scared and said, "This was a message today. If you go to the streets, the government will beat and humiliate you." Ayman showed up a bit later and took the woman into his office - perhaps to discuss her legal options and cheer her up. The woman was determined to go to the authorities and report her attackers. For her part, this victim wants a public apology from the Egyptian president. ____________________ After this, I went home. I could not even think about writing this up last evening. I was tired, had a splitting headache, and was not entirely sure what I saw. I certainly did not know how to put it together intellectually. This account, then, is just a testimony of a day's events that saw highs, lows, humor, sadness, and fear. One thing is for sure - Egypt looked bad. There was a way the Egyptian political establishment could of come out of this looking well. They could of left the small numbers of demonstrators alone. Let the voting continue, won by dominate margin, and spun it as "look, we tolerate opposition but still had the people express their will (which happens to compliment our vision of reform)". It would of been denounced as sham democracy and the press and bloggers alike would have moved on. Instead, they opted for a show of force against their citizens. This amplified the opposition's voice internationally and squared their more determined demands on a direct collision course with the Egyptian government and American calls for democracy. George W. Bush likes simplistic black/white depictions of the world. Well, he got his wish. Will he be with an opposition looking to be more inclusive or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with autocracy? It is becoming an us vs. them dynamic in Egypt. Yesterday was not the end of the story. It was, in many ways, the beginning of a showdown yet to come. Rather than using repression to concentrate power and quell the opposition, it was on this day when the opposition was so badly beaten and humiliated that their ranks may strengthen. But, then again, this may only be wishful thinking by those wanting to see their state treat its citizens with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Read More

Referendum Photos

Pictures taken from yesterday's voting, protesting, and violence can be viewed here. One thing I failed to clearly capture were the attacks against females (primarily demonstrators and journalists). I have some pictures of one woman in a group of men but it is impossible to see what is going on (although I cannot even imagine). That said, I saw many women (including some friends) after they were sexually harassed and, in some cases, beaten by those animals masquerading as humans. ____________ Feel free to circulate the photos among any interested parties.
Read More

Egyptian NGOs issue statement over referendum attacks yesterday

Published as Received: Massacre in the Streets of Cairo The Police Leads Ruling Party Thugs to Attack Demonstrators What happened on the day of the (historic!) referendum is an additional black spot in the history of the Egyptian regime and its security authorities. A day before the Minister of Interior had announced that he will meet any breach of “legitimacy� with severe firmness!! And so it was. The police prepared itself for this firmness in proportion to the “historic� nature of the day. Small groups of demonstrators were gathering to express their opinion regarding the referendum concerning article 76 of the constitution; a referendum which the coalition of opposition parties (7 parties) and the Egyptian Movement and Popular Campaign for Change have called to boycott. The demonstrators reached the meeting location in the Darieh Sa’ad area at the city center. As usual tens of antiriot police cars were waiting for them. Before the demonstrators even started, news arrived that members of the Labour Party were arrested. A few minutes later microbuses arrived carrying dozens of young men, some of them younger than sixteen. Neither their language, nor their age indicated that those were members of any political parties, as clearly shown later in the day. They were groups of hooligans carrying banners, some of which in English, and pictures of Hosni Mubarak. The demonstrators had already been encircled by the police and pushed to a narrow pavement. The rest of the street was cleared for the hooligans, who did not only occupy it but also started moving towards the encircled demonstrators, after the police had opened a small path for them to enter. They climbed on top of parking cars, and started harassing the demonstrators, beating them, using obscene language and accusing them of betrayal and treason. Those “troops� beat the demonstrators, while the police stood by and watched before they decided to lead some of the demonstrators to a nearby pharmacy, allegedly to protect them, leaving a few to guard them. Those few were among the very same troops which were beating them up 10 minutes earlier!! After about an hour and to avoid a massacre which seemed inevitable the demonstrators decided to move to the press syndicate to join the protestors there. At once the hooligan contractor, wearing a badge “National Democratic Party� called in his microphone ordering his troops to move at once towards the press syndicate. The following are some of the testimonies of that “historic� day. Dr. Laila Soueif (Lecturer at Faculty of Science, Cairo University) We were harassed by those hooligans several times. They verbally and physical aggressed us several times in front of the police. At the end they continued to beat us uninterruptedly. Then the police interfered and pushed us into one of the pharmacies “Pharmacy Iman� in Nubar Street under the pretext of protecting us. Then they withdrew and left us in the guard of tens of hooligans who locked us up inside. With me was Alaa Seif, Bahaa Risk, Rabab and Hend Dr. Magda Adly (Physician at El Nadim Center) After most of the demonstrators had left for the Press syndicate we heard that Dr. Laila Soueif and others are held inside a pharmacy in Nubrar street called Iman Pharmacy. I hurried with Aida Seif El Dawla towards the pharmacy. We tried to enter. We were met by a large number of men. Some of them blocked the entrance of the pharmacy and pushed us away. The remainder of the men hit us, pushed us around and tried to strip us of our clothes. Again this tookplace n the presence of a number of police offices, some of them high rank police. I addressed one of those high rank officer and told him to get Dr. Laila Soueif and the rest of our colleagues from the pharmacy. He said: OK, but those men have to leave first. How do you think can I enter into the pharmacy with those men blocking it!!!! Rabab We were standing on the stairs of the press syndicate. A large number of men arrived. The police was also there. They led them towards us. We kept retreating. The security prevented us from entering into the syndicate. The hooligans occupied the whole of the stairs. We jumped from the stairs and went into the garage. The officer told us: “Stay here .. we shall protect you!� They brought a line of soldiers and encircled us completely except for a single point of entrance towards the stairs and from there they let those hooligans in and a group of bodybuilders (very tall men, very muscular men, like cinema doubles). And they stood by and watched. They beat us brutally. We screamed for help. They tore out clothes. We had a journalist among us. He told them he was a journalist. They beat him all the same. I fell to the ground and crawled between the legs until I reached outside the police circle. I had several other colleagues with me. When we left that horror circle, the hooligans kept running after us until Kasr El Nil Street. We jumped into taxis and left. Engineer Adel Wassily After we reached the press syndicate and stood on its stairs the hooligans came. The police lead them to the stairs where we were standing and encircled both groups with large troops of police. They started pulling us one by one and beat us. The women were terribly humiliated and harassed. I saw a woman journalist. They beat her and tried to open her trousers to strip her. Another pregnant women was kicked in her abdomen. Some were injured and were bleeding. I pulled the journalist out of their hands. They surrounded me and beat me brutally. The police closed the gates of the syndicate preventing any of us to enter for protection. I tried to leave with engineer Mohsen Hashem to seek refuge in the nearby bar association. They ran after us. They pulled us and tried to kidnap Mohsen Hashem. With great difficulty we managed to reach the bar association and cold not leave because it is encircled with dozens of hooligans. Rabea Fahmy I went to join the Kefaya demonstration in the press syndicate. I was wearing the KEFAYA badge and was leaning at a wall because I have recently had an operation in my neck. Those men attacked me and beat me brutally and tore my clothes and underclothes until I was naked. The police was standing there, watching. What has happened is a major violation, a molestation of women in the streets of Cairo. The streets became an Abou Ghraib prison. It was clear those were the instructions of the police. I caught the hooligan who tore my clothes. But he was helped to escape by the police authorities. I shall file a complaint. I know how he looks like. I shall not let him go. Lawyer Safaa Zaki Murad We went to Zein El Abedin police station to look for the demonstrators who were arrested from the Dareeh Sa’ad area. We were not allowed to enter. The police station denied their presence. We were surrounded by a number of hooligans. A while later we were attacked by butchers from the nearby slaughter house. They came with their cattle, cows and sheep. In the minutes when we were distracted by escaping the attack by the cows and butchers, they had transferred the arrested demonstrators, put them in a car and took them to an unknown destination. Until now we do not know where they took them. Those are the testimonies we have received until now (3 p.m., 25th of May 2005). The police has arrested a number of demonstrators. The following are the names we have identified until this moment: Tamer Wagieh, Hani Riad, Mohamed Mahmoud, Diaa El Sawi, Akran El Irani, Yasser Soliman (camera man of El Jazeera). Undersigned organizations: Egyptian Association Against Torture Hisham Mubarak Law Center El Nadim Center Arab Network For Human Rights Information Egyptian Initiative For Personal Rights. Foundation for Egyptian Woman’s Issues Egyptian Center For Women’s Rights. Cairo 25 May 2005
Read More

Good Old Fashioned US pressure for Egyptian Democratization

In a turn around trip in response to Egyptian PM Ahmad Nazif's visit to the States last week, Laura Bush has come to Cairo. It seems as if George W. and Hosni are comfortable talking about democratization and "the Process" through proxies. And because we all know that there has not been much commentary in the news recently about the Arab Spring, there is no need for Mubarak and Bush to meet face-to-face. So what was Laura Bush up to during her visit to Egypt? She basically endorsed the emasculated constitutional amendment, hung out on Sesame Street and at the Pyramids, and read to some young Egyptian school girls. All in a day's work and for the sake of democracy, I tell you. here is an exerpt from a WaPo article
First Lady Laura Bush on Monday praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's controversial plan for elections this year, even though pro-democratic opposition groups say they would be prevented from participating.
"I would say that President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," the first lady told reporters after touring the famous ancient pyramids here. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."
Laura Bush's comments amounted to a timely endorsement of Mubarak's plan to hold the first multi-candidate elections later this year. A referendum is scheduled for Wednesday on the new law, which would require challengers to the president to be high-ranking members of officially sanctioned parties and effectively disqualify independent candidates. Opposition groups, led by the large Muslim Brotherhood, say the election plan effectively blocks a serious challenge to Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 23 years and is widely expected to run and win this year. "I think it's a very wise and bold step," Laura Bush told reporters, when asked about complaints from opposition groups.
The U.S. first lady, who spent much of the day with Mubarak's wife, Suzan, pointed to the United States as an example of how free and open democracies do not appear overnight. "He is taking the first step to open up the elections and I think that's very, very important," she said. Critics say President Bush and the first lady should apply more pressure on Mubarak to open up the elections and allow international monitors to police the vote. Under Mubarak's plan, government-dominated committees will conduct the election monitoring.
Earlier, Laura Bush made a cameo on "Alam Simsim," the Egyptian version of "Sesame Street." The show, which the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $8.4 million to help create, is an extraordinarily popular learning show for children under the age of 8, reaching 99 percent of them in urban areas and slightly less in rural communities. The first lady appeared with a furry peach character named Khokha. "Reading in English, Arabic or any other language does expand our minds," she told the audience. A few hours later, she toured a school for girls from disadvantaged families.
__________ Any wagers on a democratic Egypt before 2011 (Egypt's next scheduled presidential elections)?
Read More

Amendment Approved by Parliament

Today, Maglis al-Sh`ab approved the restrictive legislation regarding Egypt's presidential elections by a 405-for, 49-against majority. That is a 89.2% margin of victory for the draft. No serious amendments were made. Since this is breaking, there is not much analysis. This will come in the following days. See al-Jazeera's coverage for the results of the parliamentary vote. It passed in the Shura Council two days ago with a 241-for, 23-against/abstention. This is a 91.3% majority. As it looks now, Ayman Nor will be able to run. Not that it makes much difference because they still have the forgery charges hanging over his head. Ayman's trial is due to start on 27 June. There will likely be a break in the middle of the trial and a resumption in September (the presumed month of the presidential election). But what if the government leaves him be, drops the charges, and lets him run (while carrying on with disruptive behavior until the election and then rigging the results). If Nor got an absurdly low amount of votes (such as 8% of the vote), this could be advertised as strengthening Mubarak's hand. This would galvanize the opposition but I am not sure that would matter. Well now the amendment of article 76 of the constitution has been institutionally handled, it will be put to a popular referendum (yes/no) vote in two weeks. I am guessing we see more low-90s results.
Read More

US Renews Sanctions on Syria

Thursday, Bush extended US economic sanctions on Syria in line with his powers granted by December 2003 law's known as Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act (SALSA). He did so because he claims Syria supports "terrorism" and is undermining the US's indirect occupation of Iraq by sabotaging stability while rebuilding the country. US Sanctions, subject to yearly review every May, on Syria came into effect in May 2004 when Bush choose two of six-potential options. Last year, he opted for disallowing Syrian aircraft to use US Airspace. Since they do not anyways, it was seen as choosing one of the more toothless options. The other option Bush renewed Thursday is the mandatory ban on US exports to Syria (with the exception of some medical and food supply for humanitarian purposes). When I was in Damascus in February/March in the wake of the Hariri assassination, speculation was rife among Syrian analysts that Bush would renew existing sanctions and add the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) option. So the fact he did not add any new ones is telling. Damascus is displeased with the renewal of sanctions and denounced them as having a pro-Israeli leaning. _________ Of the existing options at Bush's disposal, only one is really applicable (FDI). The reasons the other options are not appealing are: Restricting Syrian diplomats movement to a 25-mile radius of their work in the US would be countered with similar restrictions made on US diplomats by the Syrian government. Forget the Syrians, if they did this to US diplomats, there could be a revolt from the embassy in Damascus. Freezing Syrian government assets is tricky legally to do and is essentially a bureaucratic nightmare. Reducing diplomatic contact with Syria is well....Margaret Scobey, the Amb in Damascus, has been in Washington on "consultations" since the end of February. This one is actually just poorly worded. _____________ What this means in the grand scheme of things, I am not sure. The sanction that is in place regarding American exports has not hurt the Syrians a great deal because of the smuggling from Lebanon. The only sector it has hit is petroleum. Now with the Syrian out of Lebanon (the UN was happy with the withdrawal), the question is will the smuggling continue just without the oversight of the military and mukhaberat.
Read More

Beyond Cosmetic Reform: Amending Article 76

This morning al-Ahram published the full text of the draft legislation to amend article 76 of the constitution in order to allow multi-candidacy, direct election for the Egyptian presidency. The draft outlines the conditions for potential candidates ahead of September's election. The conditions are the worst of all previous speculation. See Baheyya's Palaver Vs. Politics for analysis and description. The draft legislation says that 300 people from the Maglis al-Sh`ab, Maglis al-Shura, and Maglis al-Mahlaya (local councils) have to endorse a potential candidate. A candidate needs at least 65 MPs (14.6%) to be signed on, 25 Shura Council folk (around 10%) as well as 10 elected local councilmen in 14 of Egypt's 26 governates. That is 140 mostly local NDP councilmen. The NDP commands 90% majority in the parliament and a 98.5% majority in the local councils. This all be ensures the exclusion of independent candidates (read Muslim Brotherhood but any other independent opposition figure i.e. Saad Eddin Ibrahim). As for party-sponsored candidates, a party must have been in existence for 5-years (so no Ayman Nor because al-Ghad received its license in October 2004). And a party must have at least 5% representation in parliament. None of the parties in parliament meet this criteria except the ruling NDP. So no 82-year old Khalid Mohy al-Din (al-Tugammu) or Noman Guma (al-Wafd). Furthermore, the presidential elections will be in full control of the "Presidential Elections Commission". It is presided over by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (co-opted), appointed judges (no one with any inclinations of independence will be chosen), and 5 public figures (3 appointed by parliament and 2 by Shura). The commissions findings are final and cannot be overruled by any institution or person. Similarly, the commission has a dominate monopoly over the presidential electoral process including complaints and result contestation. This is a big "We don't care" regarding the Judges dissent widely reported as of late. Nor does this suggest that if these restrictive measures are enough because on the day of the presidential election (still not set) in September, this body will oversee 35,000 polling stations. Even if all 8,000 of Egypt's active judges oversaw the stations, it would not cover it. So expect rigging to be inevitable and high. Yet, NDP MP such as steel-magnet Ahmed Azz have been arguing in parliament that since "America does their presidential elections in one day, so should we." al-Ahram Weekly's Gamal Essam El-Din has a good informative piece on the technicalities in the lead-up to the release of the draft legislation. For those particularly interested, his pieces the previous two-weeks are also good. They are here and here. ____________________ Now what does this all mean? As it stand now, only the president could wade through through these exclusionary restrictions. This is not a surprise. Yet, this is a draft proposal. It goes to Shura tomorrow for approval which I expect to go smoothly. Then on 10 May, it goes to parliament. I expect two things in particular. Firstly, the condition that an opposition party must have 5% representation in parliament will be axed. They will keep the other restriction as a means directly targeting Nor and al-Ghad. Second, I expect the number of public figures included in the Presidential Elections Commission to be expanded - not dramatically but perhaps doubled to number 10 (Perhaps they will wheel out Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Ahmad Kamal Abul-Magd for another go because their leadership lead to the "credible" and "critical" report from the National Council for Human Rights NCHR). Beyond those predictions, I am waiting with the rest of you to see the rhetorical acrobatics that ensue with its passage into law (with subtle amendments). This will make it look like parliament put up a fight and is not completely a docile rubber-stamp. It is an inconsequential fight however. We should know by the 11th or 12th what the passed amendment looks like, then two weeks later a popular referendum will accept or reject the parliament's approval. If you cannot tell from my tone, I believe that this is beyond cosmetic. In fact, the Egyptian political establishment is delving into the realm of creating a new social science term with their masterful manipulation of cosmetic reform. ________________ That aside, this is a big week in Egypt. Kifaya is talking about holding a conference at the end of the week and the judges will meet in Cairo on the 13th. I am sure the MB and al-Ghad will also add something to the mix. My feeling is that they are going to feel empowered and opposition is going to increase in the wake of extreme reform cosmetics. Another question that remains is on which side will the US fall - with the regime or with the opposition? To this point, the best description of US democracy promotion in Egypt since the "Freedom doctrine" in Bush's January inaugural speech has been unclear. We see signs like increasing normalization with Israel and the US establishment's adoration of Egypt's young business community but also Condi's cancellation of her trip in February because of Ayman's imprisonment. Unlike Syria where US policy is very clear, towards Cairo it fluctuates. UPDATE: I was out speaking to friends last night. The way they (correctly) understand the proposed draft legislation is that the 5% represenatation a party needs to nominate a candidate would not be enforced until the 2011 presidential election. This stipulation would be waived this round. So Khalid Mohy al-Din and Noman Guma can run but would not be able to in 6 years if the situation stays the same. Also, this measure rules out al-Ghad's ability to nominate a candidate because they do not have any MPs who were elected. The al-Ghad people were elected as Wafdists in the 2000 parliamentary contest. Sorry about the error above.
Read More

MB Arrests following Protests

As many as 1500 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were arrested following multi-governate protests on 4 May (President Mubarak's 77th Birthday), according to the MB. Khaleej Times used a Reuters report dated from yesterday, in citing the detentions. Arrests were most prominent in Sharqiya, Fayoum, Monsoura, Alexandria, Kafr al-Shaykh. The MB Supreme Guide, Mohamad Mahdi Akif, said "We stress that the Brotherhood continues to demand reform. These oppressive means only increase the tensions in Egypt." MB statements and slogans are much more benign than other group's mobilizing against the government. Cairo's MB protest was said to consist of 2,500 people - which is much lower than they are capable of mobilizing but far more than any Kifaya protest has been able to muster to date. The protest, according to CNN, witnessed MB chanting slogans such as "Muslim Brotherhood is part of the nation" and "Copts are sons of the nation" (which is a first to my knowledge). The MB has been criticized for their distance in the ongoing social opposition protests underway in earnest since December 2004. Most of their demos have been arranged through getting permission from State-Security, raising questions about the opposition nature of such events. Similarly, Akif has said several times (most recently on 22 April) that the MB "will back the candidature of President Hosni Mubarak for another Mandate." Where exactly the MB falls on the issue of the dissenting opposition movements seen in Kifaya, the judges, the professors, al-Ghad, and others remains unclear. Sure enough though, the arrest of at least 1,000 MB supporters following Wednesday's demo is strikingly large but keeps with the trend that outside Cairo different levels of repression apply in comparison to the capital. Every parliamentary electoral year, the MB is subjected to round-ups but nothing on the scale of this. _____________________ As a side-note, many of the journalists I have spoken with in the past few days remarked that they had no prior knowledge that Wednesday's demo was taking place. Not that observers' presence probably would have made much difference but the lack of publicity seems to work in favor of the government. UPDATE: In separate arrests this morning Assam al-Arian (Brotherhood spokesperson for Akif) was arrested at his Giza-home this morning along with three other MBs leaders (Omar Darrag, Hamdi Shaheen and Mohammed Assabchi) because they were planning a pro-Palestinian protest today. Assam spent between 1995-2000 in jail - he was arrested in preparation for the 1995 elections. Arrests of the opposition is starting to be a daily occurrence. UPDATE #2: According to the AP, MB Mohammed Habib said more than 2,000 supporters of the group were arrested during the past two days. Police estimates put the number at about 600 this week. Yesterday also saw another political opposition protester die. MB Tariq Ghannam, a 40-year old school teacher, died in a stampede after police used tear gas to disperse some 2,000 protesters who threw stones that injured 30 police Delta town of Talkha. The authorities claim he had a heart attack.
Read More

al-Ghad UPDATE

Today, Hizb al-Ghad went to Sharqiya governate to open a party office in the town of Kafr al-Saqor. There were problems. I received a text from Wa'el Nawara (Senior al-Ghad Member) who wrote:
Government thugs, supported by police forces, have attacked 3 buses full of al-Ghad members on their way to a conference in Kafr Sakr, Sharkiya as part of a Door knocking campaign. 20 Ghad Members were injured and hospitalized. Buses were damaged and looted. This shows how the system tolerates opposition and its true intentions in having true democracy and free elections
A second text read:
Eyewitnesses said the thugs were paid 50LE each. Buses changed their courses in response to advanced warnings but traffic troopers alerted police, who instructed the thugs to change their position to intercept el-Ghad's buses. Attackers and police climbed the buses looking for Ayman Nor & attacked press photographers and damaged film and cameras. A police officer said in confidence they they were instructed to keep a close eye on the attack but to prevent fatalities.
____________ If this keeps up, in addition to arrests of MB and Kifaya people, I am guessing the fall scheduled parliamentary elections could be bloody (outside Cairo, at least).
Read More