Tahrir has lead to...

Alaa Abdelfattah writes:

Tahrir has lead to an explosion of activism and community engagement. But Tahrir has also exposed the weaknesses in the current model of organizing. Relying too much on a small, highly connected network of activists who work on all causes at once has led to a revolution where 'the people' were not later represented in the political process. It has mobilized masses with no community memory of the long struggles that led to the uprising. Legions of citizen hungry for change and looking for ways to help change happen are failing because they lack the proper networks and experiences.

What next? That's been the question for two years.

Rape in Tahrir

On today's podcast, we talked about the disturbing lawlessness that is the result of Egypt's political polarization and of the erosion of trust in state institutions. We didn't discuss the escalating sexual violence against women that has become a regular phenomenon at protests in Egypt. 

I think I know, for myself, why I haven't brought this topic up much. It's because I find it too awful. Read this article, if you can bear to, by Egypt Independent's (as often, daring to speak of a subject skirted by most of the media) news editor Tom Dale. I've read too many similar accounts in the past. They make me heartsick. And I would rather not write, and not think, of these incidents because I am frightened and confused by them. And ashamed for Egypt, a country I've lived in 10 years now. These acts -- let's just call them what they are, these gang-rapes -- do not fit with my experience of Egypt, where the constant harassment, the plentiful misogyny have always been balanced by a sense of being, fundamentally, in safety, capable of calling on those around me to enforce a shared code of decency, to stop anything truly terrible from happening.

I'm in awe of Egyptian women -- and fellow female journalists -- who continue to expose themselves to pain and danger and humiliation to participate in and witness this country's history. I commend the groups that are trying to fight this. I myself no longer feel safe in Tahrir. I don't cover daily news these days, and I don't go there.

I hesitated before titling this post, because it puts a knot in my stomach to place those words together. Because I worry that this post will be used to smear the opposition, to make hateful generalizations about Muslim countries. But it is the correct term (the assaults in Tahrir, although they don't generally seem to involve full sexual intercourse, definitely meet the WHO definition of rape). And for the women who are victims of these attacks...I can't think of a worse betrayal of their trust in their fellow-citizens and in the promise of the revolution, of their belief that they can safely join a peaceful protest in a major square in their capital city. 

This is not a reflection on the revolution that took place two years ago -- it is evidence of how far, and into what a dark thicket, we have traveled since then. Who are the men doing this? It almost doesn't matter, because where and how these attacks are taking place -- amidst thousands of bystanders, in the heart of Cairo, in the open -- indicts everyone. 

Podcast #36: Mean Streets

Back for another podcast! Ashraf tells us about his ordeal in Tahrir Square, where secularists gathered against Muslim Brotherhood domination. We take a look at the political dynamics of the fight over Egypt's constitution, and the possible scenarios it could lead to. And finally we discuss the last US presidential debate, or at least the bits that have to do with the Middle East, and wonder at the lack of big ideas on either side.

Show notes:

 

 

Podcast #36:

Pic of the day

 

Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the first round of the presidential election, surfs the crowds gathered to protest the Mubarak trial verdict.

Found through Betsy Hiel — we don't know who the photographer is. (Update: Reader Tine Lavent writes in - "According to al Masry al Youm photographer Virginie Nguyen, the photo of Hamdeen Sabahi was taken by Mohammed Salem for REUTERS.")

I also love this one by Hossam El-Hamalawy, which is actually from last September, but very a propos. The sign says, "Down with the next president."

Down with the Next President! يسقط الرئيس القادم

Looking through walls

 

 

This mural was painted a few days ago on the wall blocking Sheikh Rihan Street, at the corner of the American University in Cairo. There are still at least half a dozen cinder-block barriers cutting off streets in Downtown Cairo -- most notably the major artery of Kasr Al Aini Street. Many of the walls block the way to the Ministry of Interior (after clashes between demonstrators trying to reach the ministry and police). Others just block the way to Tahrir Square, create enormous traffic jams, and seem part of the ruling generals' general passive-aggressive strategy of making life in Egypt as uncomfortable as possible right now ("how do you like that whole revolution thing now?"). No one knows, but at this point it looks likely that the streets will remain closed until after the presidential elections. They are a spectacularly apt metaphor for the short-sighted heavy-handedness and senseless obstruction that has characterized the military leadership's handling of the transition.

And this artwork is a sweet reminder that the current barriers won't last forever. 

Column: The shift away from Tahrir

My latest column for The National, which appeared yesterday, about the events of the last week:

Pandemonium ruled Cairo's centre last week - entire streets were covered in upturned stones, large clouds of acrid tear gas hung in the air, and protesters' chants and drumbeats echoed day and night.

The fighting didn't really stop until after the army was able to make use of a truce to build a wall of concrete blocks and barbed wire, to separate protesters and police. But this has not resolved the crisis. A new spark could rekindle fighting at any time.

The events of recent days are more complicated than the dramatic tale we are told by television news. It is not just about valiant democracy activists versus ageing autocratic generals; not just about Tahrir Square's new Egypt against Hosni Mubarak's old Egypt - though that is part of the story.

It is also about the failure of the political class and about the old regime having created lasting problems that cannot be resolved by well-meaning demonstrators. And it is about a state, which employs millions, fighting to maintain itself.

"Tahrir is not Egypt," the generals argue, and they are right. As much as we may sympathise with the hundreds of thousands who descend into the streets, we cannot say they represent all of a country of 85 million. Likewise, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with its 20 or so generals, is not Egypt either.

Read the rest here, where I predict the elections will move attention away from Tahrir and towards parliament.

Chart: Who stands where in Egypt, v2

Click to enlargeI've updated my chart from a few days ago to reflect the narrowing of possible positions (from 5 to 3) and the leftward drift of most parties and personalities. At this point, of the major parties only the Muslim Brothers and al-Wafd are not officially backing the protests as far as I can tell. As always, comments, corrections and feedback appreciated. This chart does not show positions on elections — again, for now no party has called for their cancellation (although some revolutionary groups and Mohamed ElBaradei are suggesting an alternative transition plan) and the idea of postponment has only been floated.  

NYC protest in solidarity with Egypt

There will be a march to the Egyptian consulate in New York tomorrow to protest this week's violence in Egypt. Details after the jump.

 

Stop Sales of Tear Gas to the Egyptian Military!

End All US Military Aid to SCAF!

Picket at Point Capital Lookout, Majority Stockholder of

 Tear Gas Manufacturer Combined Systems, Inc.

Friday, November 25th

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Chart: Who stands where in Egypt

Click to enlargeAbove is a very, very approximate reading of various political actors position on the current crisis. It is based on the following assumptions:

  • The question of postponing elections is not particularly important to any actor — some are intent on holding them now, but very few have urged postponing them. We can either assume it's not a priority issue (apart from those who insist they take place) or people want them to go ahead.
  • SCAF has conceded on transition to civilian rule by next July and the formation of a new government. The real difference is (1) between those who insist on a firm date for the transition and (2) those who want a NUG now, want a NUG after election or want a not just a new government, but the transfer of SCAF's powers to this government. 

I am putting this up hoping for corrections, feedback, fine-tuning, etc. Let me know in the comments. Of course this chart is impressionistic and I am aware of divergences within the Egyptian Bloc, etc.

For reference on who's who, take a look at our chart of players in the elections (I've only included major coalitions and parties) and this list of Egyptian presidential candidates.

Video: "People have this thing called a remote control"

A wonderful appearance on Egyptian TV by my friend Ezzedine Shukri-Fishere, in which he pulls out a remote control out of his pocket and proceeds to explain that every one has one of these in their house and can switch the channel from State TV. He then says enough with accusations of foreign hands, spies and agitation, there are tactics from the 20th century and we are in the 21st. The presenter is quite defensive. He goes in to say State TV must be the television of the Egyptian people, not that of the Interior Ministry or SCAF.

Although State TV continues to be fairly bad, especially with the call-ins, I have to say it has improved tremendously even since Maspero last month. It may be partly because of rumored rebellions by its employees. And there’s still much, much room for improvement.

Egyptian rights groups call for indictment of senior police and military officials

This is a major taboo being broken, with the call of for the indictment of the head of the Central Command, General Ruweini (considered third most powerful person on SCAF) and the head of the military police:

Five human rights organizations said today that the past three days' brutal attacks on demonstrators, carried out by the Interior Ministry's security forces and military police forces under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Ismailiya, Assyut, and other cities, constitute criminal offences. These offences are without a statute of limitations and the perpetrators and instigators must be brought before criminal trials.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, El-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information pledged to continue to identify the civilian and military officials involved in killing demonstrators, bursting their eyes and breaking their bones and skulls. These crimes have been extensively documented by these organizations and by the media over the past few days.

The signatory organizations stated that the list of officials it plans to prosecute so far includes: General Mansour al-Essawi, Minister of the Interior; General Sami Sidhom, Assistant Interior Minister for the Security Sector; General Emad al-Din al-Wakil, Assistant Interior Minister for the Central Security Forces; General Hamdy Badeen, head of the military police; and General Hasan al-Ruwaini, commander of the central military district. This is in addition to other civilian and military officials in a number of other cities which have seen similar criminal offences against demonstrators.

Here's the full press release.

On the tear gas being used in Tahrir

A lecturer in neurology at Ain Shams University, Ramez Reda Moustafa, issued the following statement via Twitter:

To the doctors in the field (tahrir and elsewhere), my experience with the gas used by the police: It causes extra-pyramidal symptoms (involuntary jerks in extremities and trunk mimicking a convulsive seizure, occulo-gyric crisis, etc.) and little respiratory distress. The jerking is relieved by low-dose (3-5mg) diluted diazepam given slowly IV.

The type of gas used is still uncertain but it is certainly very acidic and is not the regular tear gas used in January. Please try to capture as many videos as possible of the symptoms for documentation (and eventually legal action).

There is mounting indication that it might be CR gas as opposed to normal tear gas which is CS gas:

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Tahrir: what next?

So, the Field Marshall has given his speech, and lo and behold, it was a dull speech that did not offer a clear way to pacify the crowds in Tahrir. It did make a significant concession, to be sure, in a quick mention that the SCAF was willing to hold the presidential elections by July. That should have been its centerpiece. It would have been better if announced by a credible new cabinet, or at least PM,who said there was real independence. And if it has offered a head or two to the angry crowds for the last few days' violence.

I went down to the area where the fighting is taking place today and I have an uncomfortable take on it: it's that the fighting is being sustained by the protestors, not by the police, who right now appear satisfied with holding the line to prevent the protests from reaching the Interior Ministry at Lazoughly Street. They may be violent, but they are not on the offensive, even if many protestors think they are preventing them from returning to the square. They are paying for the excessive force they used over the weekend. 

More than that, there is this ambience of martyrdom. Everyone is excited and wants to participate, to get their chance to be a hero. People are angry — and they have a right to be. But right now it's an open-ended process, and the crowds want the satisfaction of achieving what did they in January: to see the man in their sights fall.

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Video: Tahrir 2011-11-22

A stroll around Tahrir Square as thousands more join the protest, now in its third day.

 

I know these videos are a little surreal. I just take the camera with me where I go, film and then edit a bit when I get back home. I put them up to capture a little of the mood. I did not go all the way to the end of Mohammed Mahmoud St. at the end of the video, when it's hard to see what's happening. I like having both of my eyes.

Notes from Tahrir, 2011-11-22

✪ I walked around Tahrir Square tonight. Tons more people. A bizarre mixture of a carnival atmosphere and intensity. Fighting continues down Mohammed Mahmoud St. non-stop, with new frontline protestors replacing every wounded person coming out. The slogans are simple: they are all against SCAF, for a civilian government, and against Tantawi.

✪ Since yesterday evening there has been no new raid on the Square. Yesterday’s raid was aimed at destroying the encampment — troops withdrew afterwards. It’s simply not true protestors “retook” the square, they were allowed to return. The police today is holding Mohammed Mahmoud St., which leads to the Interior Ministry. Their numbers are few and they are simply holding a line. The situation is static, because while protestors may be wearing down units, these are being rotated. It’s not like January 28 when it was a full-blown war across the city. The army can of course take the square back (with huge casualties). But they have not decided to do so yet, either because they’re afraid of what will happen, or because of pressure, or because the present situation suits them. I doubt the latter: I’m betting that they don’t know what to do.

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