Egypt's unprecedented instability by the numbers

Michele Dunne and Scott Williamson write for Carnegie:

Egyptians have suffered through the most intense human rights abuses and terrorism in their recent history in the eight months since the military ousted then president Mohamed Morsi. The extent of this story has been largely obscured from view due to the lack of hard data, but estimates suggest that more than 2,500 Egyptians have been killed, more than 17,000 have been wounded, and more than 16,000 have been arrested in demonstrations and clashes since July 3. Another several hundred have been killed in terrorist attacks.

This is based on data from WikiThawra, reinterpreted below in graphic format:

They conclude:

Egypt’s rulers have already earned two dubious distinctions in less than a year: since 1952, no Egyptian regime has been more repressive, and no regime in more than a generation has confronted a more intense terrorism challenge.

Women, "honor" and public space

This is a guest post by friend of the blog Parastou Hassouri, who has been living in Cairo since 2005, has taught international refugee law at the American University in Cairo and specializes in issues of gender and migration: 

Earlier this month, what was perhaps the biggest demonstration by women in Egypt in several decades took place. Thousands marched through Cairo, protesting the abuse of women protesters by soldiers. It was followed by a mass Friday demonstration in support of women, called the “Friday to Restore Honor.”

The show of support was impressive. But the title “restoring honor” was perhaps an unfortunate one in a society like Egypt, where the concept of honor has been used to repress women and push them out of the public sphere.

As the Egyptian feminist organization, Nazra, said in their excellent statement on the issue, this is not about women’s honor.  What must be protected here is not the honor of women, but rather their right to protest and be politically active alongside men as equal partners in this critical phase of Egypt’s history.

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Revolution 2.0?

After the police violently  cleared 100 or so demonstrators (including a group of the relatives of revolutionary martyrs and injured) from Tahrir Square today, thousands more poured into the square and began clashing with the security forces, burning one police truck and trying to reach the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior denies using any bullets, pellets or bird shot, but witnesses have widely documented their use. Hundreds are injured, and one dead confirmed so far. Tens of thousands have streamed into Downtown Cairo and are demonstrating in Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura. The fighting goes on, and people are saying that it feels like January 28 all over again. 

These clashes feel almost unavoidable, given the military council's terrible performance, the increasing vocal criticism it is facing, the rising tensions of all kinds surrounding the upcoming (poorly planned, utterly confusing) elections -- given the terribly unclear transition process that has been put in place, and the fact that none of the revolution's demands, including the reform of the security forces and real transitional justice, have been met. 

Islamist leaders -- the Salafist sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and the Islamist presidential candidate Mohammed Selim El Awwa -- have gone to Tahrir. Mohammed El Baradei is once again calling for the creation of a "national salvation" government. 

This is a huge escalation, and it's not clear whether it may lead to something good (an accelerated transition to civilian government, and a better articulated plan for that transition built on a real consensus between all political forces) or to something even worse (a further army crack-down, the cancellation of elections without proposing an alternative). 

On TV tonight, there was plenty of criticism for SCAF, the government and the police and of lamenting of the fact that there is no governing body with legitimacy in the country today. But of course there were also the usual conspiracy theories and condenmations of "chaos." 

A chant in the square used to be "The People and the Army are One Hand." Today people chanted (with their usual wit) "The People and the People are One Hand." 

Maghreb riots and violence

The Moor Next Door's Kal (who is part Algerian) wrote a long post on the recent riots in Algeria. I think the following passage on violence particularly interesting, because it deals, on top of an Algerian particularity, with a key aspect of political change in the Arab world — namely, in the absence of strong incentives and willingness for change from the regimes, is there an alternative to violence? In the face of completely locked political-security systems, have such riots — generally discouraged by even opposition political leaders as well as outsiders — became the only vector for change, even though it is often undirected, aimless violence? 

On these riots, protests, demonstrations or  intifada in Algeria — whatever one wants to call them — the government has been relatively quiet except to announce its confidence that it will lower consumer prices or deploy more security forces to manage them. The President and Prime Minister have been silent. A grave statement from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika or Prime Minister Ouyahia would show weakness by condescending to the level of jobless boys and legitimizing their conduct. It could also escalate tensions as was the case following Tunisian President Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali’s speech last week. Those high officials that have commented have done so in puzzling ways. The Minister of Youth and Sports, for example, was quoted as urging youths to stop rioting by arguing “violence has never had results, not in Algeria or anywhere else, and our youth know that”. Algerians that have grown up with stories of a million martyrs who brought the country independence through armed struggle have been taught through their whole lives quite the opposite. In a country with great streets, squares, airports and whole towns are named after men like Larbi Ben M’hidi, Che Guevara, Mourad Didouche and Mustapha Ben Boulaid — not to mention an entire Ministry of Moudjahidine — such a comment sounds remarkably detached (don’t even start on the national anthem). And even more directly, the young men in the street know full well the government has kept power with many of the same faces in power for so long through quite violent means. The Algerian national anthem declares: “had we not spoken up none would have listened” (لم يكن يصغى لنا لما نطقنا) (similarly, Jay-Z says “a closed mouth don’t get fed.”) The Minister’s statement reflects the long obvious gap between the old and the young.

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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.