The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

✚ The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

Wonderful piece by Yasmine Fathi in al-Ahram English profiling Mina Daniel, the revered Christian activist killed on October 9, 2011 during the Maspero massacre. It begins by talking about Tarek al-Tayeb, a Salafist who met Mina Daniel in Tahrir Square during the anti-Mubarak uprising and instantly became his close friend:

Despite the closeness of the two, El-Tayeb still struggled to overcome his discomfort at having a Christian friend.

"I never told him how I felt about Christians," says El-Tayeb. "He would sometimes tell me that he loved me and I would respond by saying that I hate him. It was just hard for me to get rid of these fanatical ideas all at once. It took time."

Since becoming a Salafist, El-Tayeb made sure he was civil to his Christian neighbors and colleagues, however, being friends with a Christian was simply out of the question. Danial was different.

"I just could not hate him. For the first time in my life, I found that I could not hate a Christian. I could not put this barrier of religion between me and him," El-Tayeb explains, "The emotions I felt towards him destroyed all of these shackles. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now. What is it about Danial that made him have this impact on people?"

The revolution, or whatever you want to call it, was a remarkable transmogrifying moment for many people. We tend to forget it.

A year ago: The Maspero massacre

A year ago today, the Egyptian army violently repressed a protest led by Coptic Christian activists across from Maspero, the building where Egyptian state TVand radio are headquartered in Central Cairo. Panicking soldiers crushed protestors with their APCs and fired live ammunition, and state television incited against Christians. Later that evening, mobs of Muslims attacked Christians and Muslims who had taken part in the protest. Twenty-seven protestors died during the clashes, as well as an unknown number of soldiers.

The Egyptian military in charge at that time promised an investigation but also alleged that "hidden forces" were responsibile for the clashes to discredit the military. The investigation has not yielded any results thus far. There is a march at Maspero today to commemorate the massacre. 

Below is our coverage at the time:

 

 

In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.

LIVING WITH THE MARTYRS

By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

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In Translation: Amr Hamzawy on the civil state

In this week's translation from the Arabic press — as always courtesy of translation service Industry Arabic — we turn again to Egypt. Amr Hamzawy is a political researcher who worked in Washington for several years for the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs, a think tank, and become over the past decade a prominent commentator on political reform in Egypt and the Arab world. After the January uprising, Hamzawy returned to Egypt, began teaching at Cairo University and quickly became a popular guest on television shows and a rising political star of the liberal movement. He is currently a candidate for the Masr al-Horreya Party, which he co-founded, in a central Cairo district. Hamzawy's relative youth (he is in his late 30s, I believe), his telegenic style and progressive views have made him popular among young Egyptians close to the liberal side of the revolutionary movements. His public declaration of love to the actress Basma, several weeks ago, after the couple was carjacked late one evening outside of Cairo, added to his celebrity status. Although some dismiss him as too inexperienced in politics to be taken seriously, in some ways Hamzawy's outsider status (compared to the old opposition) make him an interesting example of the new space being carved out for progressive liberal politics in Egypt, even if that space is small. One supposes the parliamentary elections wil tell.

In his regular column for al-Shorouk this week, Hamzawy reacts to the recent events at Maspero and argues that not only the return to civilian rule must be quick, but that a civil state is the only hope against sectarianism.

On the Necessity of a Civil State

By Amr Hamzawy, al-Shorouk, 18 October 2011

To tell you the truth, today, and in the days following the events of Maspiro, I have become more convinced that the establishment of a civil state – by which authority is transferred from the military establishment to elected civil bodies, the relationship between religion and politics is arranged, and equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens – is the only way Egypt’s situation can be fixed. The coming parliamentary elections are an important stage along this path: they will either bring us and the civil state – defined as neither military nor religious – closer, or will spread us apart.

The longer the transition period has lasted during which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) runs Egypt’s unstable affairs, the more SCAF has become mired in clashes with political and social powers and transformed from an authority standing at everyone’s side to a party in clashes and conflicts over politics and public affairs. The longer the period has lasted since the SCAF has undertaken the job of the standing security forces in protecting and securing public facilities, and at times controlling the movement of protestors and strikers, the more the military has become mired in violent confrontations, which both it and society could do without.

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One more thing about Maspero

For the last week, I and most people I know in Egypt have been shell-shocked by the events of October 9. It is partly because they came after a period of growing unease about the SCAF's handling of the post-Mubarak transition, and partly because the event appears like something new, previously unseen, in the Egyptian context in several ways.

One is that the military fired on protestors after its whole claim to be a protector of the revolution came from supposedly refusing to fire on protestors — I say supposedly because whether or not Hosni Mubarak asked the military to do this is unclear, according to SCAF head and minister of defense Tantawi himself. And it is new because it has been a long time since Copts became under the direct assault of state agents (i.e. soldiers and policemen) in what seemed to be explicitly sectarian terms, particularly in the context of state media presenting the incident as one of Copts attacking the military. Finally, equally shocking is that large numbers of people appeared to respond to sectarian incitation in a way that might be not so unusual in rural Upper Egypt, but has rarely been seen in Cairo.

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Podcast: Interview with Youssef Sidhoum

Youssef SidhoumLast week, I interviewed prominent Coptic intellectual Youssef Sidhoum about Maspero and the events that led up to it. I wanted to include it in this week's podcast, but since it was already long, I decided to release it separately. You can listen to it below, or get through your iTunes podcast subscription as usual.

The newspaper that Sidhoum publishes and edits, al-Watani, has an English section.

Interview with Youssef Sidhoum

More on Maspero

Comedian/commentator Bassem Youssef ("Egypt's Jon Stewart") takes Egyptian State TV to task for its coverage of the Coptic protests and its contribution to the violence that followed (in Arabic).

Youssef does his usual great job of collecting egregious examples of the media coverage, including footage of the break-in at the private TV channels in Maspero (which were shut down the night of October 9). 

As Youssef drily notes: "Copts are often protesting about superficial things, like the fact that 6 churches have been burnt down in under a year and no one has been prosecuted. And there were "infiltrators" in the protest...there were Muslim sympathizers!" 

Also, the site Maspero testimonies is collecting eye-witness accounts of the violence. 

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Podcast #15: After Maspero

In this week’s podcast, we turn to the tragic events on October 9 in Downtown Cairo, when at least 25 people (mostly Coptic protestors) were killed at the Maspero state TV building. Ashraf, Ursula and I host New York Review of Books contributor Yasmine El Rashidi, an eyewitness to the massacre, and talk about what happened and its consequences.

Links for this week’s episode:

Arabist Podcast #15

Mariz Tadros on Maspero

This part of her excellent MERIP article highlights the state media complicity in the violence:

The second action was to announce on state-run television that “Copts” had put the army itself in peril. Subtitles at the bottom of the screen read: “Urgent: The Army Is Under Attack by Copts.” The presenter called upon all “honorable citizens” to go to Maspero to help defend the soldiers. Around this time, a report was also circulated that that two officers had been martyred at Coptic hands. Viewers at home were not unmoved. Indeed, that evening, many residents of Bulaq and other nearby working-class districts armed themselves with clubs and other weapons, before heading off to Maspero to assist the army in beating up and even killing protesters. One corpse had its head split in two, clearly by a sword or another sharp instrument, not an army-issue weapon.

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Bullets from Maspero


These bullets were shown to me by relatives of the victims of the October 9 massacre at Maspero. Anyone have any insight on the type of ammunition used or the markings on the casings? Click on the pics for a larger size.

Notes from a shell-shocked Egypt

Here are links to pieces I read yesterday about the massacre at Maspero on October 9, in no particular order, while above is Rawya Rageh's report for al-Jazeera English last night. A longer post is forthcoming, but the mood in Egypt is one of mourning and suspended life (Cairo felt eerily empty yesterday), with the political outcome unclear. There has been some focus on whether elections will be postponed (SCAF says no), but I think this is besides the point: the real question is whether political parties and civil society will push for genuine accountability (for the military and the state media), and more generally whether the parties and revolutionary movements have the appetite to take on SCAF. More on all this later.

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