In Translation: Fahmi Howeidy on SCAF

For a variety of reasons, I was unable to put up a translated article about the early May clashes in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Cairo, near the Egyptian Ministry of Defense, that appeared earlier this month. The clashes may have receded into memory with the excitement of the presidential elections, but they’re still relevant — if only because more clashes might be expected if the results (as the polls predict) exclude revolutionary candidates or are seen to be rigged.

For a reminder of what happened in Abbasiya, check out this Storify stream compiled by Arabist contributor Paul Mutter, which he put up on FPIF. The column we’re featuring today deals not so much with the clashes themselves as the reaction from the SCAF, and their repeated lack of accountability and scape-goating in such incidents. It raises important questions about whether the next president will even to hold anyone accountable, since the army appears to have successfully buried the investigations with their cryptic talk of “third elements” and so on. In my mind, this is one illustration of why a presidential election should not have been held under military rule, as their record is far too flawed.

The column below was written by Fahmi Howeidy, who has had an interesting turn lately. A conservative writer often seen as close to the Muslim Brothers but also close to the Egyptian establishment, he has voiced doubts about the wisdom of the Brotherhood’s presidential run and is also increasingly critical of the SCAF. Since he is considered to be the most-read columnist in Egypt, his voice counts and speaks of the unease with the SCAF beyond revolutionary circles — and, if you read between the lines, the effort to distinguish between the military and the SCAF.

As always, this article provided by the translation gnomes at Industry Arabic, who do sterling work when it comes to putting out clear copy of your Arabic articles, reports, documentation, and much more into whatever language you want and vice-versa. Professional, bespoke translation with a fast turn-around — what more could you want?

They warned us, but did not understand us

By Fahmy Howeidy, al-Shorouk, 5 May 2012

It is not enough for the Military Council’s spokesmen to say that the army is innocent of the Abbasia massacre, and it is not appropriate for one of the Council’s members to say that the protestors rejected an offer from the authorities to protect them. The former statement could be made by anyone, with the exception of those who run the country, while the latter should not be made by any state official.

There is nothing new in the statements that seek to exculpate the army – and often the police – from the charge of suppressing protestors and opening fire on them. We have heard this talk several times before. Not only did some official spokesmen not wash their hands of the incident, but they went so far as to deny that there were snipers in the first place, even though hundreds of thousands of people saw them standing on the tops of buildings shooting at them.

These repeat occurrences, however, cause the argument to lose its credibility. It may be possible to accept the official version once, and doubt what everyone witnessed and experienced, but it is nearly impossible to believe these statements every time. The country is supposed to have investigative agencies and bodies whose duty is not to exonerate people of crimes, but rather to lay their hands on the elements responsible and the people pulling the strings in order to hold them to account and prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents. In this case, the choice is either to follow the thread of the crime to reveal those who planned and executed it, or to admit their failure to do so, and step aside to clear the way for those who are more up to the task. But when neither of these two things takes place, and society is expected to be convinced by their statements, and to be satisfied with the continual attribution to hidden “unknown elements” every time, that is what is hard to accept. Furthermore, this leaves the door wide open to suspicion, which could lead some people to believe that there are elements concealing and protecting the perpetrators of these crimes, whether because the official bodies are happy with what these unknown actors are doing, or because they are collaborating with them, if not directing them outright.

When Military Council officials are intent on exonerating the army every time, and content themselves with that, they are acting like the guilty person with a “head wound” they want to hide. It is noteworthy that people did not accuse the army in the first place, but were just wondering who perpetrated, planned and had in interest in suppressing and killing protestors. They draw a fine distinction between the Military Council that is governing the country — and it is their right to criticize its governance and policies — and the army, which continues to enjoy the trust and respect of the people. They also distinguish between the combat army that defends and secures the country, and some of its arms that have begun to carry out domestic roles. Condemning these arms – the military police, for example – does not have to go along with condemnation of the army, since its place in the transition period almost corresponds to the role played by the apparatus of the Interior Ministry that citizens have constantly been clashing with.

We know that the “thugs” were the Interior Ministry’s weapon in confronting people demonstrating against Mubarak and his regime, and that link indicates that talk about their connection to the authorities is neither an insult nor a slander. When newspapers publish statements by protestors talking about the weapons and gas canisters in the possession of these thugs, and the meals sent to them by some official guest houses, our suspicions mount that the authorities are not far from the issue.

We want to believe that the Military Council has no connection to the massacre that took place in Abbasia Square, but the statements by members of the Council do not help us with that. Their words are trying to convince us that they are watching the country, not responsible for running it. It is a statement we got from one of them, who said that the demonstrators refused an offer by the authorities to protect them, as if protecting citizens was not the state’s duty, but a choice. This means that there is confusion between the role of the official and that of the average citizen, or between the official’s role and that of the foreign tourist, who has no sense of obligation toward the society he visits.

In summary, the previously mentioned statements do not encourage us to have faith in the current investigations into the Abbasia massacre. Would that the People’s Assembly would form a committee from its members to investigate the “thugs” and figure out who is doing this, like it did before for the massacre of al-Ahly fans in Port Said.

My final remark on the press conference in which representatives of the Military Council spoke is that it was a form of self-defense and an attempt to deny the existence of “thugs” or rule them out. Then, they aimed to warn us and frighten us out of concern for our safety, and to make us understand, or offer us condolences for what happened in Abbasia.

Because we promised a time of fear, I’m claiming that what they said showed that they did not understand us, and that their remarks were an example of the wrong words at the wrong time.

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.