In case you're wondering how things are in Egypt: not good

The highlights of the last week include:

1. A new law "regulating" protests that has been energetically put into effect by the Ministry of Interior.

The break-up of a protest outside the Shura Council. Uploaded by Mosireen on 2013-11-30.

2. The arrest of two of the country's most renowned digital activists and youth grassroots organizers, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ahmad Maher. That these two young men are being targeted (again!) is a worrying sign of how emboldened the Ministry of Interior feels to go after its non-Islamist enemies now. This is accompanied by the usual media campaign. We linked to a piece last week smearing activists as sexual deviants and immoral hooligans; here's another recent example of writing in a similar vein (it's in Arabic): "Human rights? What human?" 

3. The murder of Cairo University Engineering student Mohamed Reda, who was shot by police in yet another clash on campus. This has led to further protests and student ferment

Al Masry Al Youm video

4. Last but not least, the handing down of 11-year sentences to female teenage supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who held a protest. While Mubarak is out on appeal and police officers charged with shooting demonstrators have been cleared. 

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Sudan revolts (again)

Sudan revolts (again)

 

"Should we pack?", asks President Omar al-Bashir wife's as protests in Sudan continue. The answer is no - his rule in Sudan is stable enough he doesn't need to keep a toothbrush on his person at all times and Saudia on speed dial. But Sudan's President, who claims he will not seek "re-election" in 2015, cannot exactly trust the men he pays to bug the country's phone lines these days, either. 

He cannot, apparently, even trust his own uncle: Al-Tayeb Mustafa, the paper's owner and a critic of the ruling party, has been ordered to stop publishing the leading Sudanese daily, al-Intibahafor the duration of the protests. The paper's editorial criticism of slashed subsidies and reporting on the country's insurgencies has proven too much for the President, who has ordered other papers to shut down as well.

Closing the daily down is just one of the steps the government is taking to diffuse coverage of the protests. Sky News and Al Arabiya were forced to close their offices, and access to the Internet was also temporarily cut off. It was restored, though: presumably because the security services need it to infiltrate protest circles online to false flag and blackmail people.  Sudan has gone down this route before - preventive detentiontorture of detaineesclosing down newspapers, and forcing foreign correspondents out  - when demonstrators held protests last June on the anniversary of the coup that bought al-Bashir to prominence in 1989. This time around, at least 70 people have been killed, and some 700 arrested (the numbers of dead and detained may be even higher). Once again, al-Bashir has dismissed the protestors (last year, he infamously described them as "elbow lickers"), but unlike past demonstrations where most of the participants were students, "those involved were … middle-class Sudanese from well-to-do areas, and those from the poorest districts of Khartoum and towns across the country," with significant female participation through silent solidarity and other actions.

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The voice of the opposition

A quite beautiful song by the مسموع ("heard/audible") campaign, which calls of Egyptians to make clear their opposition to both the Brotherhood and the return of the security state  (or as they put it, to both "religious fascism and the Egyptian state's route to civil war")  by banging on pots and pans every evening. The refrain is "Freedom is coming." Unfortunately, at least in my neighborhood, all I've heard every evening so far is a resounding silence. 

 

Brotherhood protests

The Muslim Brotherhood is calling for further protests tomorrow, and a campaign of civil disobedience. But the organization hasn't been able to mobilize successfully so far, and faces public resentment, as Nour the Intern, who attended some Islamist protests earlier this week, reports. 

The man in the blue galabeya was at loss. In one hand, he held a large poster of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and in the other an icy cold bottle of water. He stood in the baking heat torn between setting down the poster to uncap his bottle for some much-needed hydration, or awkwardly holding it between his knees. He scanned his environment a clean surface to place the delicate poster. When he found none, he prayed for patience and put it between his knees. Behind him, the bearded men were growing restless.

The protesters' squabbles were interrupted by a sudden bang from above. An adolescent was beating a pot with a spatula in her balcony, proclaiming el-Sisi to be her president, drawing laughs and claps from the loitering passersby, and frowns and prayers for retribution from the protesters. An old woman excitedly poked her head out of her window, opposite to the balcony, to praise the girl and suggest she boil some water in that pot to clean the street.

As they stood there squinting their eyes at the balcony, frozen in anger and anticipation, waiting for the rain to fall so they could bring the building down, four men  shoved a middle-aged protester and his son for giving them a headache and ruining the country. With impressive speed and coordination, four large buckets of water were emptied from different buildings. The water was accompanied by insults, saliva and three slippers.

Shoppers came out of shops, mechanics out from under cars, and women out of their windows; teenage boys let their female counterparts walk without receiving a detailed description of their bodies, to join the fight, or sigh at it. Facepalms outnumbered kicks three to one.

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The mood in Cairo

We asked Nour The Intern to send us a ground-level view of the mood in Cairo ahead of #June30mageddon. This is her response. 

Well, the atmosphere in Cairo is relatively calm, as opposed to other governorates, like Sharqia, Alexandria, Assiut, Suez, where unrest arrived a few days early. Whether it’s the kind of calm that comes before the storm or one that could last beyond June 30, no one knows.

The weather has officially lost its spot as the number one topic for small talk to June 30. Asking someone about their views of, or plans for, June 30 is the new "Very humid today, worse than yesterday, right?" and saying "God save us on June 30," or things to that effect, has all but replaced goodbyes.

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Culture protests

Culture protests

We have a guest post from occasional (and valued) contributor Parastou Hassouri on the protests by artists and intellectuals that have been going on for some time now at the Ministry of Culture in Cairo.  

Over the past week, I have been attending, with some regularity, the protests that are being staged in front of the Culture Ministry in Zamalek. 

The protests/sit-in have been taking place on a daily basis since June 5th, when the demonstrators, many of them members of the artistic community, broke into and occupied the Culture Ministry building to demand the removal of the newly-appointed Minister of Culture, Alaa Abdel Aziz, whom they see as trying to “Ikhwanize” the arts.  Alaa Abdel Aziz, who was appointed by President Morsi during a cabinet shake-up in early May, promptly alienated the artistic community (often referred to as the muthaqafeen, literally “the cultured”) by firing the heads of the General Egyptian Book Organization, the Fine Arts Sector, the Cairo Opera House, and the National Library and Archives.  His firing of the Opera House Director Ines Abdel Dayem, in particular, aggrieved the artistic community and catalyzed them into action.  On May 27, the opening night of Aida, the Opera House curtains lifted on performers and staff in full costume holding anti-brotherhood signs and chanting for the downfall of the regime. 

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Egypt: To the barricades, again

Egypt: To the barricades, again | The Economist

From the conclusion of a long briefing on Egypt:

Mass defiance of the president’s curfew order in the canal cities, along with persistent protests elsewhere, have deeply dented Mr Morsi’s prestige. Few elsewhere in Egypt fully share the fury of Port Said; many despise the destructive antics of, as they have been called on Twitter, “spoiled brats living out Che Guevara fantasies”. Yet the frustrations of rising unemployment and soaring prices are keenly felt, and exacerbate the political discontent.

Mr Morsi is trying harder to coax the NSF into his hitherto vacuous dialogue. He speaks with new seriousness of being open to revising the constitution. He is working on securing backing from the International Monetary Fund for economic reform. Without broad support, though, enacting such reform will be impossible, and so far he has rejected demands to form a broader-based government of national unity, an idea endorsed by leading Salafists as well as the NSF. If he could summon to such a task of reconciliation the boldness he has previously displayed in his own interest, his country might move forward. If he does not, Egypt’s divided narratives will split further asunder. Radical Islamists could seek to settle scores with those they see as challenging “their” revolution. If so their opponents will fight back, and the world’s willingness to help would fade. Miserably, his people might just decide that things were better in the old days.

Morsi got into this mess. He's got to get out of it by paying a price and making a significant concession — everything else besides the point.

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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 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.

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.

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.

Photos from the Nile Corniche clashes

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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.

Of flags in protests

Brothers in the Hood: Egypt’s Soft Powers and the Arab World

This is an interesting piece in Jadaliyya but I have a problem with this:

When Egyptian liberals complain of Islamist protesters waving Saudi flags in Tahrir Square, it needs to be pointed out that this is not so different from when liberals wave Tunisian and revolutionary Syrian flags. One has a conservative pan-Islamist agenda, the other a revolutionary pan-Arab one – both with an Egypt at the head.

Not really — on the rare occasions Egyptian protestors had Tunisian or Syrian flags, it was to express solidarity for those revolutions. Since Saudi Arabia was not having a revolution, one can assume it was either an indication of allegiance to the Saudi monarchy or the regime's religious viewpoints. There's a big difference there. 

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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.

Morsi isolates himself

As Egypt’s Crisis Deepens, Morsi Turns to Muslim Brotherhood - NYTimes.com

As tens of thousands chanted for his downfall or even imprisonment in a fourth day of protests outside the presidential palace, Mr. Morsi’s advisers and Brotherhood leaders acknowledged Friday that outside his core base of Islamist supporters he feels increasingly isolated in the political arena and even within his own government. The Brotherhood “is who he can depend on,” said one person close to Mr. Morsi, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Morsi appears to believe that he and the Brotherhood can deliver a strong vote for the draft constitution in next Saturday’s referendum — strong enough to discredit the opposition, allow him a fresh start and restore some of his authority.

And this:

“He called on the Muslim Brotherhood to become a human shield and protect the presidency because he can’t trust the state,” said the Brotherhood leader. “He is isolated.”

Some leaders might have concluded that this is because they simply don't have a broad mandate to do what they would like to do. Morsi  overreached by implementing a decree that resulted in a much stronger pushback than he expected, and then compounded his mistake and doubled down on rushing the constitution. He has pushed himself increasingly to rely solely on Islamists, and if this referendum takes places he will have only them to rely on for the rest of his administration. Moreover, he and his party last Wednesday incited people to go out into the street and "defend the presidency" — an unjustifiable action with predictable consequences (and an unnecessary one, after all he has the Republican Guards even if interior ministry forces are not to be trusted). Muslim Brothers went out there and held (and allegedly tortured) protestors for 12 hours, on presidency grounds, to extract confessions of a conspiracy. Morsi referred to these as "evidence" of a conspiracy in his speech the following day, but his own public prosecutor released these people. I am struck that this has been missing from much of the coverage of the situation in US media.

Morsi has pushed himself to rely on Islamists and appears to be accepting their resorting to violence on the grounds that violence has been used against the MB. On this trajectory, one can easily see him rely on such "muscle" for the foreseeable future because these protests will not stop once the referendum is held.

Egypt activists call for general strike on #feb11

click for full size

This is the poster designed by graphic artist Ganzeer (whom we interviewed in this podcast) for the upcoming "general strike" announced by revolutionary movements on February 11, the anniversary of Mubarak's overthrow. As al-Ahram reports, the revolutionaries –regrouped under a new umbrella organization – have the following demands:

The Egypt Revolutionaries’ Alliance – which brings under its umbrella over 50 political groups including the country’s six most prominent revolutionary movements – listed seven demands to be met in order for its anticipated campaign of civil disobedience to end.

A host of political groups, university students and workers in various fields have been increasingly calling for a campaign of civil disobedience to begin on 11 February, the one-year anniversary of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

The group’s chief demand is the immediate handover of power from the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to a civilian administration in the People’s Assembly (the lower house of Egypt’s parliament). The six additional demands are:

  1. The immediate dismantlement of the incumbent interim government, led by SCAF-appointed premier Kamal El-Ganzouri, and the appointment of a bona fide government of national salvation members of which shall be selected by the People’s Assembly.
  2. The immediate holding of presidential elections.
  3. The formation of an investigative committee mandated with the judicial and executive authority to investigate all crimes and massacres committed by the ruling authorities since 25 January 2011.
  4. The establishment of “revolutionary tribunals” to try all former regime figures found guilty of involvement in crimes committed after the January uprising.
  5. The immediate dismissal of Egypt’s prosecutor general.
  6. The purge and overhaul of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, especially the National Security apparatus, which continues to be seen largely as a continuation of the notorious, now-defunct State Security apparatus.
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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.

Another update to football protests map

I went down to the area near the Ministry of Interior this morning (on both the protestors' side and the police's side) to see the new fortifications built in the last day or two. Two whole new concrete block walls have been built on Nubar St. and Mansour St., the main sites of confrontation in the last few days, but there were still a few hundred protestors shouting slogans against SCAF on Mohammed Mahmoud St. That makes it a total of four concrete walls blocking major Cairo thoroughfares, not counting the one on Mohammed Mahmoud St. that was destroyed a few days ago.

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Map of Mansour St. protest (updated)

Speaking of the geography of the current street protests in Cairo, and my observations from this morning and this afternoon, here's a quick map that shows much of the city is now cordoned off.

Update: I've corrected some errors on the original map and added a couple of more details. See also this latest post on the fighting moving to Nubar Street, and some history of the names of these streets.

 

The football protests, day two

This morning I took a ride only my bicycle just before prayers to check out what the situation was in Downtown Cairo. I got all the way the the HQ of the interior ministry, passing through checkpoint after checkpoint (and by much barbed wire) in the whole area surrounding it, which has many government buildings. It seems an area roughly the size of nine blocks has been cordoned off to traffic (see map), with the Interior Ministry at its center. Around these streets are mostly riot police, but close to the ministry itself there are also a bunch of army APCs. On streets around the ministry, nearby shops had broken windows and signs of having been looted – despite that they were on the side of the police rather than the protestors.

The marches towards the ministry did not restart until after prayers, and were in full swing by the afternoon. When I ventured down Mansour Street, which leads to Lazoghly Street where the ministry is located, it was packed and a familiar scene of an Egyptian riot/protest: pavements upturned, the air acrid with tear gas, hundreds of youth launching into impromptu sloganeering, and a general atmosphere of exhilaration and anxiety. Except this time there were also large flags of Cairo's two main football clubs, al-Ahly and Zamalek, whose normally rival fans had united against the police. As someone said on Twitter, Mansour St. is the new Mohammed Mahmoud St., and I saw very much the same kind of bravado, anger and desire for martyrdom I'd seen in November.  (You can see a short unedited video I shot of the crowd there at the top of this post.)

The biggest difference is perhaps that for now the police are less aggressive than in November they are firing tear gas canisters and birdshot, but I  have not seen rubber bullets or live ammo being shot in Cairo, although that's not the case in Suez were two protestors appear to have been shot. They seem to be under instructions not to escalate the situation, and on TV were even shown trying to urge the protestors to stop by shouting – in a bizarre reversal of positions – "kifaya, kifaya" ("enough, enough"). Kifaya of course was the battle cry of the opposition to Mubarak since 2004. I wonder how long this restraint will last.

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The geography of Cairo's street protests

Here's a take on the recent events in Egypt by Nate Wright, an Arabist reader and Cairo-based freelance journalist. My own take coming up soon. Update: see this map to get a better idea of where's where.

After a week of violent clashes between protesters and police forcesin November, the military moved in and built a concrete wall betweenthe two parties on Mohamed Mahmoud street, the main thoroughfarerunning from Tahrir Square towards the Ministry of Interior. Lastnight, activists toppled the wall using metal beams and ropes, and thebattle lines were dramatically shifted.

Now, police officers are facing down protesters on Mansour street.It's a good distance from Tahrir but a lot closer to the Ministry ofInterior. The sight of tear gas raining down, motorcycles ferrying outthe wounded and protesters standing their ground recalls the clashesin November on Mohamed Mahmoud street and again in December on anearby street. But these similarities mask the changing geography of the battle.

Mansour street is straighter and wider, making it a lot easier forspectators to watch from a distance. The slight bend in MohamedMahmoud street meant that in order for people to see the tear gasthemselves, they often had to be fairly close to the front lines. WhenI walked down Mansour street this evening it was clogged withthousands of people -- many more than I'd ever seen on Mohamed Mahmoud.

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Bad Brothers

After the recent days clashes between Muslim Brothers and revolutionary activists, it might do well to reflect on the motives for the Brothers' actions. (For balance here's the MB's version of events.) There are those who see the Brothers are inherently anti-democratic and ready to settle with the military now that they control parliament. There is certainly a lot that pushes in that direction, not the least of which is the lack of a coherent cross-party platform for engaging with state institutions (including the military, security services, senior civil service, etc.) and the rivalries between various political groups.

But I still think it's too early to imagine that the MB will simply end up as the military regime's new NDP, like Sudanese Islamists were first allied and then marginalized after the military takeover. But it is absolutely stupid of them to think their mobilization of young Brothers to form a human shield against protestors (who were not, as some MB press was saying, going to "sack" the parliament building) is an appropriate way to respond. The Muslim Brotherhood's job is not crowd-control, that's something the police is supposed to do. By deploying in that capacity (rather than, say, a counter-protest that did not block those who wanted to protest in front of parliament) they are entering the party militia zone. It's a worrying sign, and the Brothers would be advised to review this kind of action (as well as some of their past statements). Protests are not about to end, and if they decide to send in their boys to block them every time, there won't only be wounded people the next time.

Khalil al-Anani has a take on this, reflecting that the MB's own authoritarianism needs to be challenged before the FJP behaves differently - Old Habits Die Hard! - By Khalil al-Anani | The Middle East Channel:

Paradoxically, despite the outright majority attained by its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the MB is still thinking and acting as an opposition movement rather than a responsible power-holder. It seems reluctant to take full power over the country or as Nathan Brown aptly puts it, "the MB confronts its success." Hence the MB's leaders are grappling with making the shift from long-standing repressed mentalities to those of statesmen, or as one of the MB's defectors has told me "they need a psychological rehabilitation" before ruling the country.

However, the question is not how the MB's leaders will rule the country but rather how will they legitimize and justify their power. The response of the MB's leadership on the disputes with other forces provides a gloomy pattern. Strikingly, the statement the movement issued on Tahrir Square's quarrel alarmed those who might disagree with its political stance. Whereas the movement should have apologized for its stark blunders over the past few months (e.g. disavowing Mohamed Mahmoud's street events, condemning Tahrir protesters during the cabinet building clashes, frequently granting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) legal and political immunity, etc.), it defied the mounting calls for an immediate transfer of power from the military to a civilian president. Ironically, the MB's newly-issued newspaper al-hurriyya wal'adala reiterated the rhetoric of notorious public newspapers toward Tahrir's protesters when it dubbed them "anarchists [who] seek to destabilize the country."

The conformity between the MB and the SCAF in dealing with the revolution comes as no surprise due to their mutual interests. The MB seeks to consolidate the extraordinary gains it attained since Mubarak's disposal without risking its internal coherence. And the junta wants to maintain their unusual privileges without any civilian oversight. Clearly, both are exemplifying an obsolete mindset. They promote "reform" over "revolution," "stability" not "change," and "procedural" instead of "genuine" democracy. Not surprisingly, they are involved in negotiating, compromising, and brokering the future of the country behind the scene.

The Kazeboon campaign

Coming to a neighborhood near you.

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.