The use of weapons

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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 general

The above video was from an amazing moment when what appears to be a one-star general stood atop a tank and addressed the crowd. He told them that the country was in a dire situation, and the army had to restore calm. When pressed on whether he supported Mubarak, he told them, more or less, that this was not his mission. People are free to protest and express their opinion, and free to choose their leader.

I don't have time to translate the whole thing, so if someone wants to do so in the comments, please do so. 

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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 who's who of the has-beens

I know a lot of journalists (and even some normal, decent people) out there are wondering about the who's who of the regime. As a person with a someone unhealthy obsession with the Egyptian regime for over a decade, I have been making charts of who's who for a while. Here are two:

The first one shows the who's who of the National Democratic Party - PDF.

And here's one of the top military brass - PDF:

If you use them, please credit this. And ideally, you should really donate to the site (see the donate button towards the top of the sidebar?) Don't be a moocher.

P.S. Efforts were made to ensure these were accurate but this is not a super-transparent system. Caveat emptor.

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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.

Academics' letter to President Obama

A number of prominent academics from the field of Middle East Studies and beyond have penned a letter to President Obama about the situation in Egypt. Get it in PDF here  or visit Accuracy.org or EgyptLetter. The text is also below.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

January 30, 2010 Dear President Obama:

As political scientists, historians, and researchers in related fields who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

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The officer

The man on the front page of today's al-Masri al-Youm is a national hero. He's an army officer who decided to join the protestors (he hadn't been part of those deployed in Cairo). I spoke to him about what he and the Egyptian people wanted — here's the video. Again, please translate it in the comments if you have time, but a summary is below.

 

His demands, in brief:

  1. The end of the Mubarak regime and its apparatchiks
  2. Constitutional reform
  3. Free and fair elections
  4. No more presidencies for life
  5. An honest police force "like any developed country"
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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.

Eyewitness to murder

I just got a call from an eyewitness to a situation near my neighborhood. The person is a member of one of the Popular Committees (the citizen's watch groups protecting streets) in Mounira, a middle class central Cairo area. This morning around 6:30am a car drove up the street leading from Qasr al-Aini St. to Saad Zaghloul metro station. The citizen watch didn't let them go through at first, but then they showed them their State Security IDs, so they were allowed to pass. At the end of the street they stopped, opened the rear of the vehicle and dumped a body out. The citizen watch people ran towards them, and the State Security fired a few shots before getting back into the car. Another car sped in the Citizen Watch's direction and hit two of them companions before fleeing. When the neighborhood people reached the body, they saw it was a dead man who had been shot in the stomach. He is unidentified and the body been taken to Mounira's hospital.

A note on this: there have been widespread reports of security forces being involved in the looting and violence that has taken place. This is one of the many incidents I have heard about. No doubt we'll hear of more. 

Photos from January 29

I did not have time to caption them and uploaded low-rez ones for now to save time. More photos and movies coming soon.

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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.

Manipulation

Something very fishy is taking place — the Egyptian people are being manipulated and terrified by the withdrawal of the police yesterday, reports (some of them perhaps untrue) of widespread looting, and yesterday's (during the day) relatively low military presence in the city. I can only speak about central Cairo, I suspect the situation is much worse in the Suez Canal cities, Alexandria and the Delta, and perhaps most of all the Sinai. I spoke to my former bawaab (doorman) who is near Aswan, where is he the police is still out and there is no military, although the local NDP office was ransacked and set on fire. So the situation is different from place to place, and there is very little national-level visibility.

There is a discourse of army vs. police that is emerging. I don't fully buy it — the police was pulled out to create this situation of chaos, and it's very probable that agent provocateurs are operating among the looters, although of course there is also real criminal gangs and neighborhoods toughs operating too. 

For me, Omar Suleiman being appointed VP means that he's in charge. This means the old regime is trying to salvage the situation. Chafiq's appointment as PM also confirms a military in charge. These people are part of the way Egypt was run for decades and are responsible for the current situation. I suspect more and more people, especially among the activists, are realizing this.

I hope to have more steady internet access later. For now, the questions are:

- Why was the NPD building fire not put out even though it risks spreading to the Egyptian Museum?

- Why is Egyptian state TV terrifying people with constant pictures of criminal gangs?

- Why was there such a small military deployment during the day yesterday?

- Why were all police forces pulled out, and who made that decision?

- What is the chain of command today in the military? Is Armed Forces Chief of Staff Sami Enan still in position?

- If the reports about prison breakouts are true, how come these facilities have not been secured?

- Why are we getting reports of intelligence offices burning documents, CDs and tapes?

The situation is obviously very confusing at the moment. All I can say is that I have a hard time believing that Mubarak is still in charge, and that the hard core of the regime is using extreme means to salvage its position. 

The army and the people

Going around central Cairo today, it strikes me the deployment of the army is quite meager considering the circumstances. The crowds are very pro-army, I filmed an amazing moment when a charismatic one-star general addressed the public and spoke of the importance of maintaining public order. People kept shouting, are you with or against Mubarak? He answered that his mission is making sure the looting stops, and that the issue of who governs if the people's decision, not the army's, and that government should be civilian.

Of course there is mounting tension and uncertainty about where the army stands. There are so few tanks (maybe 20-30) and personnel around Midan Tahrir that I feel they could easily be overwhelmed.

A lot of reports of looting and attacks on civilians by mobs. The Carrefour supermarket in Maadi is burning and looters have been shot by the army. Tonight might be dangerous in areas.

Again, that being said, the vast, vast majority of protestors are peaceful people, mostly middle class, and they are showing great solidarity. People are still defending the Egyptian Museum. Volunteers are cleaning the streets and helping fireman. There is a great sense of civic duty out there, and great sadness at the looting and crime (which is being mostly blamed on police and baltaguia).  

There is an unconfirmed rumor that police is expected back within the hour, and the curfew has been moved to 4pm. I will probably not have internet access after this.

P.S. Al Ahram's headline today was "Government dismissed" - I suppose they are still trying to salvage this. Personally I think if Mubarak does not go soon we will see much more violence.

P.P.S. Last night it appeared the Republican Guard had taken control of key buildings. It's now the regular army, according to several officers.

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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.

Aftermath

I don't have much time to post thoughts here. I landed in Cairo around 4pm and had to pay a lot to get a driver to go a roundabout way to get home in Garden City. My street was full of rocks and cars bashed in. I saw the NDP office a block from my house get looted and then burned. Some shops were looted and destroyed nearby too. The NDP HQ building has burned down, many were horrified that the fire could spread to the Egyptian Museum next door, which protesters and later the army protected from looting. Central Cairo is a mess, with barricades made out of burned out cars blocking major streets.

Crowds were out until late despite the curfew, I got tear-gassed (it's not pleasant). Some people are getting mugged - it is not safe late at night in some places, although most of the protesters are extremely nice. There's a lot of solidarity among the people, helping those who are wounded and tear-gassed, and so on, and an amazing sense of exhilaration.

You know the situation: we may be in the process of a revolution in Egypt, but it hasn't happened quite yet. No one is sure where Mubarak is, although most assume Sharm al-Sheikh. In his speech last night he appeared resolute to remain president, but the situation can change rapidly. Everyone I spoke to on the street this morning said this speech would not satisfy their demands and that the problem is him, and therefore he must step down.

Last night there was some confusion about who would speak - when the name Fathi Surour, the speaker of parliament, came up many assumed he would take over as interim president, as constitutionally mandated in the event of the president's permanent incapacity. We have army and republican guard units in central Cairo, but I am not sure what the current military chain of command is. Last night Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan flew back from Washington, it's not clear whether his role is the same. As expected, coup-proofing measures are in place.

The hyper-caution and concern of the Americans was evident in the statements last night. They are potential kingmakers but appear terrified of acting before having a better understanding of the situation on the ground. I thought Mubarak's speech was in large part directed at them, touching on all State's and White House's talking points: freedom of expression but responsibility not to use violence, making still uncertain concessions. At this point there will be a natural tension among Egyptians between those who are terrified (my middle class Egyptian neighbors are panicking) and those who are angry Mubarak is still there. More protests expected later today, situation may turn violent again. We just don't know at this point, and having just experienced the uncertainty of post-revolutionary moments in Tunisia, I expect the situation and public mood will be extremely volatile, changing hour to hour between the desire to restore order and the realization that they may be tantalizingly close to the regime change they were clamoring for.

I dread to think what the death toll might be, especially in the provinces (and most of all the Canal cities). There is no overall picture of the national situation yet.

More later, internet access permitting (I am at a five-star hotel, they have limited access). The mobile phones just came back on, but not mobile internet yet.

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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.

Arson and agents provocateurs in Central Cairo

I have received eyewitness reports from three people that Central Security Forces (the riot control police) are pulling out of multiple locations in Cairo. Plainclothes security has been seen at various locations pouring gasoline on vehicles and setting them on fire, also trying to burn storefronts in the following Downtown Cairo locations:

  • Falaki Square
  • Omraneya
  • Near the American University in Cairo

Earlier in the day, I received an eyewitness report from a friend in Downtown Cairo (near Champollion Street) that policemen were loading vans with clubs, nails, metal bars and other objects that could be used as weapons by Baltaguiya, the hired thugs sometimes used by police to attack protestors.

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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.

Phones disrupted, SMS and Blackberry

I have received confirmation from a person in a position to know at one Egypt's mobile phone operators that the phone companies have been ordered by the authorities to shut down SMS services (which has been the case for at least an hour) and Blackberry Messenging in Cairo (and perhaps elsewhere in Egypt).

This is on top of more confirmation that internet is not available at least in the Cairo area.

There is a certain irony that I am reporting this from Tunisia, until recently the Arab country with probably the most sophisticated internet censorship in the Arab world.

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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.

URGENT: Egypt has shut off the internet

I just received a call from a friend in Cairo (I won't say who it is now because he's a prominent activist) telling me neither his DSL nor his USB internet service is working. I've just checked with two other friends in different parts of Cairo and their internet is not working either.

This just happened 10 minutes ago — and perhaps not uncoincidentally just after AP TV posted a video of a man being shot.

Will update with more info. The ISPs being used by my friends are TEDATA, Vodafone, and Egynet.

Update: It's not everywhere. A foreign journalist at the Semiramis Intercontinental hotel says he has internet access.

Update 2: The Semiramis uses Noor as its ISP. I am trying to confirm whether Noor uses a different technology to connect to the internet, such as satellite, rather than the main fiber optic cables that connect Egypt to the rest of the world. If anyone knows about this, please let me know in the comments.   Never mind, they apparently use a dedicated fiber optic connection and a source said they did not receive any instructions.

Update 3: Via POMED:

The AP confirms that the Egypt government has disrupted Internet service and “deployed an elite special operations counterterrorism force” hours before a new wave anti-government protests are expected to begin. A major service provider for Egypt, Italy-based Seabone, reported early Friday that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time.

I received news earlier tonight that riot-control police were moving out of Central Cairo and that troops from 'Amaliya Khassa (Special Operations) were now in Central Cairo, wearing green fatigues. These are not military troops — they depend on the Ministry of Interior.

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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.

Links 27 Janaury 2011

  • Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The White House is prepared to step up its criticism of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Middle East ally, if his government intensifies its crackdown on protesters, said an administration official. President Barack Obama privately pressed Mubarak in a telephone call last week to embrace democratic changes, said the official, who requested anonymity. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said Mubarak, in power since 1981, has an “important opportunity” to enact economic, political and social reforms.
  • Slogans used during protests. Some great ones there.
  • Le pire, c’est le bon tour joué aux experts en poussées islamistes. Amis Tunisiens, où avez-vous donc rangé l’islamisme ? Tout de même, ils auraient pu aligner, en tête des manifs, quelques barbus photogéniques, pour faire plaisir à Sarkozy et Pujadas qui, d’une seule voix, avaient classé Ben Ali à l’inventaire mondial des «remparts contre l’islamisme». On n’en demandait pas beaucoup, deux ou trois, même avec barbe fine, mais si possible en costume typique, pour la photo. Elle fait peine à voir, la déception à peine dissimulée des présentateurs, depuis le début des «événements». Il fallait voir Pujadas, en direct de Tunis lundi soir, cherchant ses islamistes à la lanterne, à la sortie d’une mosquée. Mais il n’y trouvait, hélas, que de simples fidèles, expliquant tranquillement que oui, bien sûr, des islamistes aux élections, au gouvernement, pourquoi pas, s’ils n’embêtent personne. Alors, ces islamistes ? Ce n’était donc qu’un fantasme ?"
  • Against Ali Abdallah Saleh (president for 30 years), corruption and more.
  • Rachman slams Amr Moussa - it might be time to speak out and say something meaningful, Mr Moussa! 
    Events on the streets of Cairo meant that this afternoon’s session on security issues was packed out. That is because one of the participants was Amre Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League and a former foreign minister of Egypt. The bad news is that I am not allowed to report what Moussa said. The good news is that he actually said nothing worth reporting, so it’s no great loss. If this the calibre of political leadership on offer, I can see why Egypt is in trouble.
  • Sarah Carr: 
    Later politician Ayman Nour appeared and, in a grand fashion, presented a riot police officer with an Egyptian flag. He and his acolytes assaulted the officer with kisses. Happy Police Day and all that. The bewildered officer held the flag awkwardly, like it was a turd, before returning it.
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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.

Stay cool and read Jonathan Wright

My friend Jonathan Wright is the former Cairo bureau chief for Reuters, and now a highly respected literary translator (notably of Khaled Khamissi's Taxi.) He has decades of experience in journalism for an exacting news agency, and has seen real warzones (in fact, he was kidnapped in Lebanon during the 1980s and escaped). I highly recommend that you follow his blog for level-headed analysis and accounts of what has been taking place in Cairo for the last few days, notably his reflections on the media's exaggerated numbers for the January 25 protest in Midan Tahrir:

Media coverage of Egypt's 'Day of Anger' on Tuesday, some of which has been greatly exaggerated, could in fact create perceptions way out of proportion to the events on the streets. Hamdi Kandil, a respected commentator, for example, was just on Al Jazeera saying that 80,000 to 90,000 people took part in the protests. Al Jazeera itself is saying tens of thousands, which itself seems fantastical judging by what was evident on the streets of Cairo (it's hard to judge what happened in Alexandria and Suez). Television footage, by selecting the most dramatic shots and playing them repeatedly, could reinforce the perceptions that there was a true mass uprising. The main effects would be to embolden those who took part, encourage others to join future protests in the belief than there is safety in numbers, and on the other side of the equation throw the government off balance by making it sense a greater threat than initially existed.

See also:

Unrest in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

Cairo slums on the edge

P.S. I should add that Twitter is extremely unreliable as a source of info. When I retweet something, it does not mean that I believe it's true — I am just noting that the information is flying around. I feel slightly uncomfortable with that and thus often add TBC (To Be Confimed) to my retweets. And, in my journalism, I would exercise a lot of caution like most in the profession (except the Daily Mail, which put a story on its site alleging that Gamal Mubarak had fled the country with 100 pieces of luggage and has now taken it down rather than issue an apology or correction — what a pathetic attempt at increasing traffic to their site by using a trending story). I also try to be cautious on this blog, a medium that leads one to a certain level of over-enthusiasm. But I always try to correct myself.

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.

Suez is a warzone


Pictures of Suez - see Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy.

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 funniest joke you'll hear about Egypt and Tunisia today

... is in French, from Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari on Twitter:

L'Egypte se tunisifie, Moubarak se benalise. C'est du Djeddah vu!

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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.

Today's headlines in Egypt

On 27 January — compare to yesterday's. The policy for the state press has changed from ignoring the situation to scaremongering about chaos.

The state press

Al Ahram: "Four dead and 118 wounded among the protestors; 162 policemen wounded and 100 arrests in Cairo and the governorates"

Al Akhbar: "Protests in Cairo and Suez; Minister of Interior has banned protests"

Al Gomhouriya: "Security forces will firmly face any attempt to break the law and spread unrest"

Rose al-Youssef: "In an exclusive interview, the Minister of Interior affirms that the Egyptian state is not fragile. This regime is supported by millions of Egyptians and a few thousand protestors will not destabilize it."

The private press

Al Masri Al Youm: "Protestors and police hold to their positions for the second day of protests"

Al Shorouk: "Gratuitous violence and excessive police brutality"

Al Wafd: "Change is the solution"

Nahdet Misr: "The protestors are right to be angry"

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.

Yesterday's headlines in Egypt

Meant to put this up earlier — these are from 26 January.

The state press:

Al Ahram: "Heated protests and calls for strikes in Lebanon"

Al Akhbar: "Protests in a few places in the capital and calm in the governorates"

Al Gomhouriya: "Demonstrators cut off traffic and cause disorder in Tahrir Square"

Rose al-Youssef: "Security deals with protestors in a tolerant but firm manner"

Private press: 

Al Masri Al Youm: "The Day of Anger: A Warning"

Al Shorouk: "Angry Egypt takes to the streets"

Al Wafd: "Outbreak of anger in Egypt"

Al Destour: "Protests continue until midnight in Cairo and Alexandria"

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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.