Pictures from yesterday's Protest Violence

Yesterday, the groups that comprise Kifaya launched a protest against President Mubarak's candidacy ahead of elections on 7 September. PICTURES: Pictures are in this album. For the second time in shortly over two months, security quashed the protests violently. Plain clothed security employees beat and arrested the movement's leadership. Some have been released while others are being held at a military base called el-Darrasa (according to Kifaya sources). At a sit-in today at the Public Prosecutor's office, he informed those striking that he had no knowledge of those detained. This means that not only has violence been used against peaceful male and female protesters but that the regime is using extra-judicial means to process the detained. Where is Condi now? As Wael Khalil said as a gang of six security personnel led him away, "Welcome to Mubarak's fifth term." UPDATE Someone phoned and asked the difference between 25 May and yesterday. The answer, in my view, lies in the perpetrators and style of the repression. On 25 May, rent-a-thugs paid by some MPs and licensed by the security services wreaked havoc by beating anyone and everyone deemed to be from Kifaya. Journalists and photographers (and overtly Westerners) were left alone. The rent-a-thugs were highly undisciplined. When they attacked it was akin to letting a lion out of a cage. The rent-a-thugs could not easily be controlled or stopped once they were unleashed. I remember seeing the thugs of the 25th fighting with security when the latter tried to halt the attacks. Perhaps, the powers that be (or at least this power center of the regime that thinks violence against protesters works) saw this 25th May-type violence as dangerous or uncontrollable. It is here they tried to rectify how violence was conducted. Yesterday's thugs were clearly in the employ of the security services. Several said to journalists and on-lookers that they were police. There were no arguments between plain-clothed and uniformed security as they took orders and directives from their bosses. They were disciplined and more targeted when they went for people. They also could be recalled easily - hence it was less out of control (if violence can be). Yesterday's thugs also had an arrogance about them regarding journalists and photographers. They were much more aware of cameras and being filmed than the rent-a-thugs of 25 May. In this sense, yesterday's perpetrators were like trained attack dogs. They could be released to bite but also had masters that could end the violence on a moment's notice.
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The war of the crescents

I heard this story this morning, but here is a report from AFP that has a few more details. It is basically about how Mubarak cheated Ayman Nour of he symbol he had chosen for his campaign, the crescent moon. Because there are many illiterate people in Egypt, candidates in parliamentary election must choose a symbol (such as the crescent, lantern, pen, etc.) that they display on their posters alongside their photos. NDP candidates have tended to always get the crescent, the most highly valued symbol because of its Islamic connotations. Although Nour was the first to register with the electoral committee (he allegedly started queuing on its doorstop at 2am the previous morning) and chose the crescent, a few hours later it was announced that Mubarak had the symbol:
CAIRO, July 30 (AFP) - With Hosni Mubarak's re-election a foregone conclusion, the toughest battle of Egypt's first contested presidential poll is being fought over party symbols, a major vote-winner in a country where illiteracy is rampant. Each candidate wishing to run in the September 7 election for the country's top job has to choose the symbol that will appear alongside his name on the ballots.
But only one will be allowed to use the coveted moon crescent (hilal in Arabic), an Islamic symbol several candidates, including to the two frontrunners, want as the logo for their campaign.
Ayman Nur, who heads the Ghad (Tomorrow) party and is presented as the most serious obstacle to President Mubarak's re-election, was the first to enter the electoral commission when it opened on Friday.
He registered his candidacy and therefore claimed his right to using the Islamic crescent as his symbol.
Yet Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party, which has used the crescent as its symbol in previous elections, claimed that the president's lawyer, Mohammed Dakruri, was the first to register at the electoral commission.
An AFP photographer at the commission said Mubarak's representative did not show up until several hours after Nur completed his registration process. "It's a huge scandal, the crescent is ours," Nur's wife and spokeswoman Gamila Ismail told AFP. She added that if her husband was barred from using the crescent, he would opt for the palm tree.
Three other candidates who were less swift to file their candidacies also chose the crescent: Osama Shaltut, Sabri Abdel Aziz and Wahed al-Uksuri, all of them representing minor parties.
So it seems the electoral commission, which has been accused of being stacked by presidential cronies, has its first scandal. Let's see how it resolves it.
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Anti-Mubarak protest squashed

I wasn't there (stayed home because I felt sick) but heard that today's cross-faction rally against the nomination of Mubarak for president was squashed violently. Riot police, plainclothes security goons and other baltaguia charged protesters and hit them with clubs, kicked them and generally seem to have behaved as they did on 25 May during the referendum. Over 25 people were arrested, including top Kifaya members George Ishaq (who is 67), sloganmeister KamalWael Khalil and Amin Iskander. This doesn't bode well for the election. There are already reports out on this:
  • Al Jazeera
  • Reuters
  • Associated Press
  • I'm not sure when Charles or Josh, who were there, might post, so here are a few of pics sent to me by my friend Paul who was there. Pretty self-explanatory: paul_protest1.jpg

    paul_protest2.jpg

    paul_protest3.jpgCorrection: It was Wael Khalil and not Kamal Khalil who was arrested earlier, the wires got it wrong. I received this email, originally by the Weekly's Amira Howeidy, this morning:
    Anti-Mubarak demonstration attacked by police
    30 July
    Central Cairo was a military zone today. Armies of anti-riot police and goons dressed in civilian clothing made sure no demonstration took place today. When I arrived in Tahrir square at 5:45 pm, it was evident from the unsually high volume of security forces (special forces, anti-riot police and others) on every single street, square, building and every platform in tahrir and all the streets that lead up to it.
    It was around just beofre 7pm when saw police officers order these thugs to arrest "him" in Bab El-Luq st. Him turned out to be my friend and brave activist Wael Khalil. I wrote a mini profile of him a couple of weeks ago here.
    Kifaya big names like Amin Iskandar and George Ishak were arrest in front of the Nasserist Party headquarters but releasted a couple of hours later. By the time I got there at around 6, there were hundreds of thugs running in organized groups and arresting lots of young men. Anti-riot police stood there watching while high ranking police officers issued their ordrers to the thugs (who were armed with short but thick truncheons).
    I've never seen anything like this before. Not even on 21 March 2003 when thugs were set loose on the demonstrators in downtown cairo. The Security apparatus today has announced its new election policy which obviously wont tolerate demosntrations- at any cost.
    Until writing this email, Wael and other activists were still in detention.
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    Al Jazeera makeover

    The Aaardvark has in interesting post on recent changes in the programming and style of Al Jazeera. I had noticed the long overdue stylistic makeover (Al Jazeera for a long time looked a bit like an Eastern European channel from the 1980s), especially with the competition from Al Arabiya (which still has the best graphics and jingles of any news channel I watch in any language.) But he also has more on the content -- as I don't watch much TV this is rather enlightening. Now, if only the Aardvark could point to the schedule of these shows so that I could catch some of them...
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    O'Reilly on Islam

    It's an uncomfortable fact of life for Muslims that the most prominent terrorists of our times commit murder in the name of their religion. That is something that has caused a fair amount of soul searching in the Islamic world, even if it is sometimes muddied by conflicting thoughts on other problems that preoccupy Muslims like imperialism and occupation. Of course, you wouldn't turn to the O'Reilly Factor for thoughtfulness when tackling that debate. Here is what Bill O'Reilly said in an interview with Franklin Graham, the son of the popular American televangelist Billy Graham, who is holding a "crusade" in New York this weekend:
    O'REILLY: Now, the problem that many of us — I'm a Christian. I'm a Catholic. And the problem that we have is that our enemy, our primary enemy, is centered around Allah. And most media people sweep that under the carpet.
    GRAHAM: Yes.
    O'REILLY: But if Islam didn't exist, there wouldn't be a war on terror. That's the fact. Now, we know that Islam has been hijacked by extremists and that most Muslims aren't terrorists and don't wish us ill. We know that. But how do you deal with an enemy that is religious-centric?
    None of this is a surprise, of course, but what pisses me off the most about this exchange is that O'Reilly comes back to is obsession media conspiracy to hide the fact that the people behind recent acts of terrorism are Muslims. Does he live on a different planet? Is the American media really hiding the religion of the perpetrators? I seem to remember cover pictures of Muslims with the headlines "Why do they hate us?" right after 11 September. The funny thing is, as I went to read the transcript of interview, the sidebar on the Fox News site had the following link to a video: foxvideo.png If you can find the segment (there's no way to link directly to it), watch it. It's incredible in that you actually have Bill O'Reilly saying things like:
    "Why does Britain let so many Muslims - if you go to London, Edgware Road and other areas of London - it's just packed with dense Muslim neighborhood , which just breed this kind of contempt for Western society. Why do they let them in?"
    You can catch the whole segment if you go the page linked above. Pretty sickening.
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    New issue of Cairo is online

    Readers of Arabist.net might be interested in Cairo's analysis of the fallout of the Sharm Al Sheikh bombings, an interview with radical writer Sayed Al Qemani, who gave up his writing career and recanted after receiving a death threat, a campaign against the way the ministry of tourism depicts Egypt that got started online, a voxpop on the Muslim Brotherhood, a look at how MEPI is not working out in Egypt or perhaps a new Adel Imam comedy about living next door to the Israeli embassy. There's a lot more here too. Fun for the whole Arabist family.
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    Protests against Mubarak nomination

    As expected, there will be protests against Mubarak's announcement that he will stand for a fifth six-year term. Manalaa.net has announced a demo on Saturday at 6pm in Midan Tahrir. It will be attended by most leftist opposition parties and and the major movements that march under the Kifaya slogan, including Kifaya itself. Also, don't miss the latest Anthony Shadid piece. He looks at how the Kifaya movement writ large has failed to mobilize the masses against Mubarak but started something that will build up over the next few months and years. Kifaya may not have gotten rid of Mubarak, but there is little doubt that today's speech would have been much less reform-minded if Hosni was not feeling their heat (and, to be fair, America's) on his neck.
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    The Mubarak Speech

    Here's a partial transcript of the speech from the official Middle East News Agency:
    Brothers and sisters,
    I speak to you today from the Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura School in the Menoufeya Governorate where I completed my high school education. I speak to you after a short visit to Quowesna where I made a stop at the emergency hospital and was informed about the renovations made to the Central Hospital. I was delighted to see proof of the attention we devote to upgrading our educational and health care system. I was especially pleased to see these real-life examples occuring in the Egyptian countryside and serving its people, proof ouf our dedication to promoting out rural communities and upgrading the services and infrastructure available to both Upper and Lower Egyptian governorates. This includes our programme that aims at gradually finalising the planning zones for our villages so as to absorb the population increase in a way that strikes a balance between meeting the citizen's demands and right to housing, while protecting our wealth of agricultural land.
    The great satisfaction I felt with what I saw today is, however, marred by a deep occupation with the current status of the Arab regioon, the critical phase that is passing through, and the worrisome developments it witnesses. Namely; the recent developments on the Palestinian level, the situation in Iraq and the many challenges that might drive the region to dangerous paths.
    There exists now an urgent need to formulate a common Arab vision with regards to these developments and their ramifications upon the causes and supreme interests of our Arab states and peoples.
    With this in mind, and in the framework of consultations and coordination with our brotherly Arab leaders and the contacts made by the Arab League, I hereby call for a convening of an extraordinary Arab summit, suggest to convene it in Sharm el Sheikh on Wednesday 3rd of August and that it be preceeded by a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on the day before, to consider a report by the secretary general on the current situation in the region and the formulation of a common Arab stance towards the dangers and challenges facing our nation. I am fully confident that this coming extraordinary summit will be capable of crystallizing a strong Arab position that reflects the determination of the Arab states and peoples to overcome the current challenges, and to achieve the peace and stability that all Arabs long for.
    Brother and Sisters,
    While on my way down here, I recalled the memories of Kafr Moselha and my first steps on a long and difficult road. Kafr Moselha was, at the beginning of the 20th century, a rare example of an Egyptian village that challenged illiteracy and prevailed, to such an extent that the people of Al-Menofeya took to calling it Kafr Paris. Joint efforts form the villages high and middle classes were combined to provide education for its lower income population, until no one was left illiterate. This was achieved at a time in our contemporary history that witnessed the marginalization of the overwhelming majority of the Egyptian people in the villages of both Upper and Lower Egypt, and their ensuing deprivation from health care and educational services.
    When I joined the Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura high school in Shibeen el Kom to complete my education .. I experienced yet another example of solidarity: the active contribution of Egyptian civil society and its NGOs. The Al-Masa'ee al-Mashkoura Society was the pioneer of all Non-governmental organisations in Egypt, created by the principal landowners of al-Menoufeya on 1829, opening its high-school-the fifth school established in Egypt - in Shibeen el Kom in 1904. The Society has then established elementary schools in all the cities in al-Menoufeya, amongst them the first elementary school for girls in the governorate, preceded in Egypt only by al-Saneya girls' school in Cairo. This leading NGO was built through efforts and contributions from a number of honest and loyal Egyptians such as Abdel Aziz Abou Hussein, Ahmed Abdel-Ghafaar, Mohamed Elwy al-Gazar, and Abdel- Aziz Habib. Its activities were met by the needs of a society hungry for science and education, both of which had only ever been accessible to a limited affluent citizens.
    I reminisced about memories of el-Sheikh Ga'far Quran School; the mosque of Abdel Aziz Fahmy; the view of the fields at the time of cotton harvest and the three kilometre journey that I used to traverse in order to reach this reputable school where we met today. Many things have changed in Quowesna and Shibeen el Kom and the roads leading to it. The narrow alleys have been transfomed into wide streets, and the sandy, beaten paths have been replace by a modern network of developed roads. Electrical power, water, sewage, telephone lines, health care and educational services have become indispensable necessities, and lead to legitimate aspirations for more.
    I recall all this ... and more. I remember where we have been, and see where we have come and for that I thank God. What I saw today is an example of many other accomplishments that we have achieved, in hamlets, villages, towns and cities, all over the different governortaes of Egypt. I recall the long journey we have made together and the countless accomplishments we have achieved.
    With this in mind, I take more pride in our present and greater certainity in our future. I am filled with a stronger belief in our ability to create a brighter future for our children and our grand children. I am more convinced of the significance of the role that civil society and NGO's can play as partners in building this future; a role that we urgently need in our society today. A role that is guided and inspired by those great figures of Egypt who have contributed both physical effort and money establishing their own educational institutions in al-Monoufeya 50 years before the first government school was established in this governorate.
    Brothers and sisters ...
    I owe much to this respectable school from where I speak to you today. I owe much to the early years of my childhood in Kafr Moselha. I have upheld the principles and values that I learned here throughout my life. I upheld them when I left to Cairo after attending high school. I upheld them in my mind and in my heart, when I joined the Military Academy and the Airforce Academy thereafter. Throughout my service in the Armed Forces and the battles we fought, I have become as much a part of these principles and values as they have become a part of me. I have upheld these scruples untill, and since the moment I assumed political responsibility, first as vice president, then as the president of Egypt.
    I have witnessed firsthand the Egyptian peasant's string attachment to his land, and have borne in my heart a deep conviction of its sanctity and the necessity of defending it, even if doing so requires sacrificing everything that is dear.
    My admiration for the endeavours and activities of Al Masa'ee al Mashkoura society in serving the people of Al Menoufiya turned into a strong desire to contribute with similar effort in serving the Egyptians nationwide. My love for Egypt was inspired by the history lessons taught in my old school; lessons I took while the country was still under foreign occupation.
    From that moment on. I dreamt of Egypt ridding itself of the occupation once and of all, and return to its old glory ad the days of its renaissance and rich civilisation. I experienced at my home, my school, and the mosque of Kafr Moselha the spirit of true and tolerant Islam, deepening within me my conviction of the importance of national unity between Egyptian Muslims and Copts and that religion is for God and the nation for all.
    I have seen the Egyptian peasant wearing his blue galabiya, I have witnessed the el qersh project to overcome barefoot phenomenon, and through that I have become dedicated to tackling the plight of the poor. I was inspired by his perservance and resilience in cultivating his land through hot summers and cold winters, which instilled in me the values of persistence and determination. I have learned in this school, and over the years, that our fate is in our hands and not in the hands of random chance and luck. I have learned the crucial difference between trusting God and passivity.
    Ladies and gentlemen,
    We have passed together through difficult years, faced many challenges and accomplished many achievements. We completed the liberation of Sinai, refused any compromise on Taba, and thus regained every inch of our national territory. We waged, and continue to wage, a battle against terrorism and extremism, with the threat they represent to the stability of our nation and the lives, livelihoods and unity of our sons. We restore our relations with the sisterly Arab countries, and the headquarters of the Arab League found its way back to Cairo. We forged ties of friendship and cooperation with all countries based on equality and mutual respect. We preserved the peace and avoided being drawn into situations that could threaten it. We were not dragged into adventures that would jeopardise the lives and prosperity of this nation's sons. We did not acquiesce to the policies of alliances or axes. We refused any foreign presence on Egyptian soil. In our relations with the nations of the world, and with the only remaining superpower, we were steadfast in preserving Egypt's sovereignty and independent will. We moved with confidence and determination in our support for the Palestinian cause, and assuming Egypt's responsibilities and leading role in the region.
    On the education front, twenty million students were enlisted in pre-university and university education in more than 35,000 schools and more than 500 faculties and higher institutions. The number of tourists that flock to Egypt yearly is now eight times the number it once was. To show our deep and sincere concern for, responsibility towards people with limited income, we have maintained commodity, fuel and electric subsidies, so that prices of such goods remain within their reach. We have expanded our social security network. At this point in time, 52 per cent of our population is covered by health insurance, more than 18 million citizens are covered by social insurance, and 9 million families are covered by pensions and the social security network. We have accomplished all this and what is more, we have accomplished this over two decades that have witnessed a population increase of thirty million.
    All this, we have experienced together, and all the while I have had a firm belief that paths of political, economic, and social reform are inseparable. I have always been convinced of the need for political reform to continuously develop the institutional framework for our political system.
    My conviction in this regard emanates from a vision that has constantly accompanied me since the first day I assumed office; a vision that foresaw a modern Egypt; free citizens in a democratic society; a society that expands the scope of liberties and enhances the participation of its citizens in political life; a society that builds a democracy the pillars and practice of which are enhanced day after day. We have succeeded in establishing the main pillars of a democratic system; institutional and legal frameworks that ensure the constitutional supervision through the Supreme Constitutional Court; that guarantee the independence of the judiciary and uphold the rule of law; enhance political pluralism and participation; protect civil rights and liberities; protect human rights; and open the way for a free press that enjoys the right to free expression for all political viewpoints in society.
    Brothers and Sisters,
    Before God and the nation, and before you, I feel satisfied with all that we have accomplished together towards these goals. However, we should not loose sight of what remains before us to achieve. We still have problems and challenges that demand greater efforts; poor citizens who need our help; youth who expect job opportunities; education that needs further improvement. We need more schools, hospitals, and social services. We need more reforms for our economic system, and our constitutional and legislative framework. We still have before us many challenges and much hard work to be done. What compounds the critical nature of the coming phase are the worrying developments in our region, and the ongoing unprecedented global transformations, as well as the forces of terrorism that continue to threaten us.
    We are approaching a new and critical phase, a decisive juncture in our contemporary history; a critical turning point in our national endeavor that presents fateful choices for the future; a choice between moving our journey forward, or halting its progress; a choice that affirms our progress towards completing our democracy or hindering it; a choice between enhancing the strength of Egypt and accelerating our steps towards the future, or faltering through hesitation. It will be for Egypt's people to make their decision on these choices during the upcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
    I am confident of the choice I favor. I choose a strong and democratic Egypt; an Egypt that strives towards the future with free Egyptians. I choose to cross a new threshold that is now before us, and to complete the journey that our people started and continued thourgh the last fifty years.
    Fellow Citizens,
    My vision for the future will be realized with steps that will conclude the development of our democracy. This vision will be realized with yet further constitutional and legislative reforms based upon a strong foundation of public rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. Our constitutional provisions have established a system of rights and freedoms guaranteed to all citizens according to the standards universally acknowledged in the international human rights instruments. We will always adhere to this system. Our constitutional provisions uphold the rule of law, equal rights and obligations for all, respect for personal freedoms and sancity of private life. These provisions have ensured religious freedoms, freedom of expression, and other basic freedoms. Amending article 76 of the constitution came to emphasize its preeminence, to entrench the Republican system, to strengthen its pillars and to open new doors for further complementary constitutional and legislative reforms.
    This amendment has taken us to the threshold of a new stage, where we can implement these reforms according to a vision based upon principles stemming from a deep conviction of the necessities and requirements of this stage. I spoke of these principles here in Menooufeya when I first requested the amendment earlier this year. Now that I have announced my intention to apply for nomination and run for president in the coming elections, and should I gain the support and mandate of the people for a new term, I will work with the Parliament in order to adopt the constitutional and legislative amendments necessary for the realization of this vision with all the reform it requires, within the context of a national dialogue that I call for and encourage.
    These reform will reshape the relationship between the legislative and executive authorities in a way that creates a greater balance between them and strenghtens the Palliament's role in ensuring oversight and accountability.
    The reforms will also reinforce the cabinet's role, widen its mandate, and further the scope of government participation with the president in the duties of the executive authority.
    These constitutional and legislative reforms will provide the best electoral system which guarantees an increased chance for party representation in our representative councils, and will consolidate the presence and representation of women in parliament.
    I aim to work on constitutional and legislative reforms that will bring about a new and enhanced concept for local administration; strengthening its powers and furthering decentralisation.
    I shall seek constitutional reforms that give us the right to choose the country's economic activity , social justice, property rights in all their forms and work rights.
    I shall put forward constitutional rights to choose the country's economic orientation, while simultaneously maintaining free economic activity, social justice, property rights in all its forms, and work rights.
    I shall put forward constitutional reforms that will entail further checks on the poweres of president, under the constitution during times of threat which endanger the safety of the nation or hinder its institutions from performing their constitutional functions
    Fellow Citizens ...
    The present constant threats of terrorism require constitutional and legislative reforms that will enable the community to protect its children, its gains, and its future by the rule and deciciveness of law. Thus far, we have had to work under the emergency law due to tragic circumstances that we are all aware of.
    The necessity for such a law has prevailed in light of the need to counter a terrorism that still besieges us, targets the souls of our citizens, terrifies our people and harms our national economy. I renew my vow to you that the nation's security and safety of its citizens will remain at the top of my priorities.
    Our battle against terrorism and the threat it represents to the people and future of Egypt will preserve. We will continue to confront terrorism with all our persistence and determination, never faltering and never relinquishing the nation's security and stability.
    The emergency law has, to a great extent, minimised terrorist threats and helped preempt many terrorist plans during the past years. Many country's have recently passed comprehensive laws to combat terrorism. Time is ripe for us to follow suite during the upcoming period. There is a need for a firm and a decisive law that eliminates terrorism and uproots its threats. A law that protects national security and ensures stability. A law that provides a legislative substitute to combat terrorism and replace the current emergency law.
    Fellow Citizens:
    This vision I propose goes beyond this primary priority of political reform to deal with other priorities and problems. Unemployment, housing, prices, means of transport, cost of medical care and medications, sufferings of the retired and those who live in slums. I am not offering words and promises, but a pledge to implement this vision.
    Achieving national goals takes more than words and promises. Words do not defeat terrorism, can not offer jobs. Words cannot build a school or a hospital, neither can they build a free democratic society. I am committed to continue building a modern society; a growing economy; free citizens in a democratic nation. A police force that enforces law and respect human rights. A strong Egypt, proud of its armed forces, stability, modernity, regional role and international high standing. Proud of its institutions and competitiveness.
    I'm committed to continuing economic and social development that ensures job creation for the youth, higher income for the families, a decent life for the retired and better services for the citizens. Together we shape a new tomorrow that supports the aspirations of the middle class, protect the vulnerable, supports women and single parents and secure the future of our sons and grand sons.
    I will seek to gain your trust and support for a new term. Should you bestow upon me the honour of continuing to lead the next phase of our journey, we will embark together on the next stage, with its transformations, challenges and hopes, confident that we are on the right path.
    We will never compromise on the security and stability of the nation.
    We will guard its supreme interests and its free will. We will never permit a foreign presence on our soil or external interference in our affairs. We will not be dragged into gambling with Egypt's security or the lives and future of its people. We will not surrender to the threat of terrorism or appease it. We will not compromise on the safety and security of our citizens.
    Together we will complete the tenets of our democracy and the liberalisation of our economy. We will preserve the gains of our farmers and workers, while protecting the needy. We will open the doors of prosperity and employment for our youth. We shall affirm Egypt's role, both in the region and worldwide. We will pave the way for our future generations to raise the banner of a nation that has found its way towards the future; generations ready to take their turn to lead.
    I extend my hand to you, renewing my pledge to God, to the nation and each and every one of you, to be as you have always known me, faithful to the interests of Egypt, able to shoulder this responsibility with dedication and integrity, discharging its duties and bearing its burdens with honour and sincerity.
    Your troubles are my troubles, your concerns are my concerns, your ambitions are my ambitions, We are joined by a common vision for a future that holds prosperity for all, and a journey that we embarked upon together and will conclude with the help and the blessing of God Almighty.
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    Mubarak goes for it, again

    Just a few minutes ago, Hosni Mubarak officially announced that he would be running for president for a fifth term, after 24 years of rule. No big surprise there, the announcement has been expected for a while and was previewed in yesterday's papers. Mubarak made the announcement in Shibin El Koum in the governorate of Menoufiya, where he was born, after visiting the school he (and other Egyptian bigwigs) attended as a child and a new local hospital. The speech was in this sense very much a repeat of the 26 February announcement of the amendment of the constitution to allow for multi-candidate elections, which he made in a university in Menoufiya's capital, Menouf. One thing that this ensures is that Mubarak is surrounded by people who probably do genuinely like him as an ibn al balad (son of the country) and, predictably enough, after the speech he was surrounded by a throng of excited admirers that security forces shoved back rather forcefully. Most senior NDP figures were there, including most of the cabinet as well as his wife Suzannne and sons Alaa and Gamal. The speech was not used only to announce his candidacy -- which will be ratified later today by an internal vote in the NDP, a new procedure introduced by Gamal Mubarak -- but also to call for an Arab summit on 3 August in Sharm Al Sheikh to discuss "regional issues" and presumably terrorism. Thus, in one stroke, Mubarak appeared as a politician and a international statesman. The gist of the speech focused on the core of Mubarak's message: economic aid for the poor and stability for the country. But it also included some semi-surprises, although not as great as in his earlier speech. As hinted for a long time by the NDP's leadership, Mubarak pledged to cancel the emergency law in place since 1981. It will be replaced by an anti-terrorism law perhaps modeled on the Patriot Act or another Western terror law. Opposition activists have long suspected this could take place and the law is likely to confer many of the same powers (notably detention without charges) the emergency law did. It will also be permanent and presumably not need to be renewed by parliament periodically, since it will be a proper law. Without the details it's too early to say what the law will contain, but there is no reason for optimism. Mubarak also hinted at future economic and political reforms, and made a big deal out of changing the relationship between the executive and the legislative branches of government, reducing the power of the presidency and increasing the power of the cabinet. He also hinted at legislative changes, which could be the long-rumored change in parliamentary election procedures -- perhaps even a switch to proportional representation or a list system (like Israel's), which would presumably rule out the role of independents in elections in favor of parties, which would be likely to increase their presence in parliament. Taking independents out of the equation will make it impossible for Muslim Brothers to run as they do now (as independents), and is likely to push them to run as candidates for existing parties. But none of this is confirmed yet and this change is unlikely to take place before the presidential election. I will be posting the full speech soon, but in the meantime I have a little note about its coverage on Arab satellite channels. The Egyptian channels--Nile Al Akhbar and Nile TV (in English and French) gave the speech predictably dull and sycophantic coverage, referring to Mubarak as "the leader" and praising his historic wisdom. The focus was on what Mubarak said, with little analysis. Nothing surprising here. Al Jazeera did not seem to have a correspondent on the scene but ran footage on a split screen, with commentators reacting. The studio anchor interviewed three people (at least that I saw) in succession. Magdi Hussein, the editor of the banned Islamist newspaper Al Shaab, ranted and wailed until he had to be cut off. He was followed by George Ishaq, a Kifaya leader, who made some very matter-of-fact commentary on the election being a farce, and finally Abdallah Senawi, the editor of the Nasserist weekly Al Arabi. All of these are well-known anti-Mubarak activists. I don't remember seeing anyone giving the party line, but perhaps I missed it. In other words, the coverage was extremely hostile to Mubarak and makes me doubt these rumors of a deal between Al Jazeera and the government that have been floating around. Next I tuned in to Al Arabiya. They had a correspondent on site covering the speech, and after interviewed NDP bigwig Mustafa Al Fiqi, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in parliament. Although he was never going to be critical, the questions seemed pretty balanced. Still, no Mubarak critics and what you would expect from a generally pro-Egypt channel. And finally I turned to Al Hurra. Whereas the other channels had switched to live coverage of the event -- which I think was important enough to warrant it, whether coverage is positive or critical -- Al Hurra was showing a documentary about Irish cooking and Guiness. And then they wonder why they're not taken seriously...
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    88 and counting

    The death toll for the Sharm Al Sheikh bombings is likely to continue to rise, doctors on the scene say. Some of those who are counted among the wounded today are not likely to make it. In the meantime, there are conflicting reports about who claimed responsibility and what kind of explosives were used. There's plenty of fine coverage on this issue by our friends at the wires (this is when more than ever they are the backbone of journalism) and elsewhere, but in the meantime read Cairo's take on the attacks.
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    Bombings in Sharm Al Sheikh

    About half an hour ago, five explosions went off in Sharm Al Sheikh. There are three casualties for now, according to AFP and Al Jazeera. I have little info to add, except that: 1. These are the first bomb attacks in Sinai since last October's Taba bombings; 2. It's worrying that Sharm is attacked because it's the crown jewel of Egyptian resort tourism; 3. President Mubarak spends a lot of time there. This is supposed to be the most secure resort in Egypt -- hence the significance of an attack. It's also not a resort that attracts a lot of Israeli tourists, compared to Taba. Most tourists there are European, particularly Italian, French and German. More in the morning, as it's just past 2am here. Update: The death toll has risen to 50 (at 9am) and will probably continue to rise. A lot of severely wounded people among the 200 or so wounded. A thought: is it a sheer coincidence that today is the anniversary of the 23 July 1952 coup by the Free Officers that brought the current regime to power?
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    What the Mubaraks own

    When you've lived in Egypt long enough and you take an interest in politics, sooner or later you'll hear a story about how one of Mubarak's sons edged himself into a business. The one I heard was about one of the more prominent members of an old Egyptian family -- what would have been called under the monarchy a Pasha. The family didn't have that much money left, but enough to start businesses and be able to take take advantage of certain business opportunities. This elderly man, at some point in the 1990s, managed to become the dealer for one of the more prominent European car brands. The car retail industry is a lucrative one in Egypt, and the dealerships are much sought after. As he was about to sign the deal, he received a visit from Alaa Mubarak, Gamal's older brother. He offered him to become a 50% partner in the new venture -- the venture that he had spent a number of years trying to set up. It was, as they say in The Godfather, an offer they couldn't refuse. A few months later, the man died. His relatives say he withered away at the shame of having been taken advantage of and being robbed of his property. And now, read this compilation of all the brands the Mubaraks have a stake in. I don't know if it's all true, but I know for a fact that some of it is. But basically it means it's practically impossible not to hand over some of your money to the Mubaraks if you live in Egypt. There is one I would like the add to the list. Hussein Salem, the owner of the Movenpick Jolieville in Sharm al Sheikh (where the president has a residence), has long been a frontman for Mubarak. Most of his activities have to do with weapons dealing (or so I've heard from one of his employees). But lately, he's been involved in a deal with an Israeli businessman that was just sealed: the purchase of Egyptian gas for the next fifteen years by the Israeli Electricity Company. This multi-billion dollar deal, in which Mubarak personally intervened with Ariel Sharon to solve when it was being blocked by board members of the electricity company and some ministers, has been talked about in the press by as part and parcel of Middle East. The Bush administration is said to have encouraged it as part of Egypt's normalization with Israel. And then you wonder why Egyptians aren't positive about normalization...
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    Why the Brotherhood disappoints

    As many of you know, there was a Muslim Brotherhood organized protest on Wednesday evening, with one of the bigger turnouts we've seen in a while in Cairo (turnouts in the governorates--the areas of Egypt outside of Cairo--tend to be higher, especially when Brotherhood-led). Although some say there were as many as 5,000 people there, I don't think there were more than 1,500. But that's besides the point. This demonstration was meant to be the first one organized by Islamists since the 3,000 or so who protested in Cairo last March (again, in the governorates there have been other demos, but the dynamic there is very different for reasons I'll keep for another post). This latest protest was disappointing for many reasons. Although it was largely meant to be a face-saving protest to show that the Brotherhood was not intimidated by the massive waves of arrests of its members that took place two months ago, it really underscored their fundamental weakness in the current political crisis. Here's why. First, prominent Brothers like Essam Al Erian, a "middle generation" member who was elected to parliament, spent the second half of the 1990s in jail and is #2 in the Doctors' Syndicate, had boasted a few months ago about a million-man march that would show the Brothers' true force. The number of people who made on Wednesday night was pathetic by their own standard, even if it was more than the movements that campaign under the Kifaya slogan usually bring out. I am not blaming this on Al Erian, although he does have a big mouth. Al Erian is currently in jail (it's been three months now) and while most other detainees have been released, his temporary detention without charges keeps being renewed. The Brotherhood has largely failed to campaign on his behalf (presumably because he is too much of a firebrand for the cautious leadership), even though this would have been the perfect occasion. Hell, even Human Rights Watch is campaigning for his release. The poor turnout was partly due to the fact that the entire demo was entirely coordinated with the security forces, which reportedly asked that no more than 10,000 people attend. They also forced a change of location from Abdin Square to the Lawyers' Syndicate, a venue that is much easier to control because you can easily cut off the street there. So on this they caved in. Second, the Brotherhood failed not only to raise issues such as Al Erian's incarceration, but also did not venture beyond the tried old slogans such as "Islam is the solution" and "With our blood, with our soul, we'll sacrifice ourselves for you O Islam." Pretty much any Kifaya demo has more exciting slogans, and their recent shift to focusing on single issues (last week unemployment, this week corruption) is a rather clever development in its tactics. But not only did the Brotherhood show lack of imagination, but they also tried to control what other protesters that they had invited (from the leftist-dominated Kifaya-related movements). One Hamla activist told me there that when they began to shout slogans against Hosni and Gamal Mubarak, the Brothers told them to stay quiet and began to shout their generic Islamist crap. Eventually, the demo split in two and the leftists went to shout their own slogans at the nearby Journalists' Syndicate). It was frankly pathetic and a clear example of why the Brotherhood is failing to rally other groups to its "national alliance." The authoritarian streak in the way they behave (Islamist demonstrators are incredibly disciplined and well-behaved) is worlds apart from the chaotic, occasionally out-of-control and spontaneous nature of the youngest Kifaya offshoots, particularly the youth group Shebab Min Agl Al Tagheer. Speaking of which, I thought this poster was rather good: Shebab poster The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid has a good story on the splits in the demo. For an illustration of the Islamist vs. leftist tension, I thought this was rather good: Lawyers' Syndicate Nasser, whose portrait was hung from the Lawyers' Syndicate, is the person he Brotherhood loves to hate (with justification: he put more Brothers in jail than anyone else). It must have been put there by a leftist who wanted to send out a message. miss-universe-egypt-maria.jpg The demo largely confirms what the Arabic press here is gossiping about--that the Brotherhood has made its deal with the government and will concentrate on the parliamentary elections, where it hopes to make a large advance. In the 1980s, independent candidates representing the Brotherhood managed to get around 80-90 seats. They may get their chance again. In fact, with around that number the regime would have a much more convincing argument that the Brothers are a threat. A strategy to let them in but limit their influence makes sense at this juncture, and perhaps they could even allow a bill or two that pleases the Islamists to be passed--for instance something like banning beauty pageants, a populist conservative issue that the Brotherhood MPs regularly bring up in parliament and that probably has cross-party support anyways. (On the right is a completely gratuitous shot of Mariam George, Miss Egypt 2005. Sorry for the Aardvarkism.) If this scenario is correct, I think it poses something of a medium to long term threat to the prospect of political integration for Egypt's Islamist movement. First, by getting into bed with the regime, the Brotherhood's current leadership will alienate some of its followers, who will either defect for movements like Al Wasat or, possibly, something more extreme. There have been rumors, notably in the Iraqi press, of an ultra-conservative faction of the Brotherhood having forged an alliance with the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and reforging links with Egyptian mujahideen in Iraq who have previous links to the Gamaa Islamiya and Islamic Jihad. I have no idea how credible this is, but if true it points to a radicalization of elements of a group that officially rejected violence (at least domestically) in the 1970s. At some point, under the right circumstances (such as an increasingly tense situation at home, like what might be caused by the now widely expected post-election crackdown that could take place in a few months), this could become a serious problem. The regime's inability or unwillingness to take reform seriously only exacerbates matters, as will its involvement in the Gaza withdrawal and any future Fatah-Hamas-Israel conflict. In short: to what extent will the young and angry part of the Brotherhood--the part that looks at Kifaya and wished it had the courage to do the same--keep on following the cautious and conciliatory approach of the elderly leadership? And what future for a Brotherhood that decides to follow the principle of wilayat al amr and give its support to a leader that keeps imprisoning its members--lately in the biggest crackdown on any political group since 1954? Bonus fun pic: IMG_2933.jpg
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    The "Egyptian chemist"

    "Find the chemist" was the headline in the UK tabloid The Sun a few days ago, and he has now been found. I've spent the past several days on the track Magdy Al Nashar and was actually not far from him when he was arrested (although I did not know it then.) There's been a media blitz over this, but one of the more curious aspects is that the Egyptian ministry of interior seems to think he didn't do it. And they're not the type to entertain much doubt -- more "torture now, ask questions later." I've done several stories on this as it broke -- in the Times and the Express in the UK (first site asks registration, second doesn't put up its stories) -- and a lot of radio and TV interviews (including for Fox News, which makes me perhaps the first person to have worked both for Fox and Al Jazeera -- if only they knew). The Fox News people in particular were intent on calling this man "very suspicious" and saying he had "sinister unanswered questions about him" and didn't seem to like it too much when I said that prima facie he doesn't seem guilty (even if the fact that he let a bomber use his house certainly had to be explained. The way I see it, not only did he not have a history of connections with Islamist groups, but he had everything to lose. This is a guy who was born dirt poor and through his studies managed to get scholarships to study abroad. Even a bigger indication that it's probably not him is that he chose to return to Egypt, which amounts to self-rendition. I don't claim to have any answers, these are just impressions. The investigation continues and I'm well know soon what role he had in the London bombings. But some people in the press seem to be jumping to conclusions a bit too soon with little evidence, looking for another Muhammed Atta. You can read the fairly extensive backgrounder story we wrote about him for Cairo here.
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    Cairo court report: Legalize Al Wasat Party

    It looks like Hizb Al Wasat, the centrist Islamic political party, may be on its way to legitimacy. A report commissioned by the Cairo administrative courts gave a hearty endorsement to the party. The court will issue a final ruling on the party in October. Hizb Al Wasat has been rejected by the parties committee three times. If the court rules in Al Wasat's favor, and overturns the decision of the parties committee, there should be little to stop it from becoming a full fledged party. The establishment of Hizb Al Wasat as a legal political party could provide a less menacing (from the regime's perspective that is) alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, and a political outlet for the Islamic current in Egypt. It would establish a dual track for Islamists, akin to that found in Morocco, where the Justice and Development Party is allowed to participate legally, while the more popular Justice and Charity Organization remains banned. Legalizing Al Wasat, it seems, would also lessen the increasing sentiment, both within Egypt and abroad, that the regime's ongoing repression of the Brotherhood is without justification. See, the recently announced alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and long reticent secular elements of the Egyptian opposition. Also See this pointed question posed to Condi Rice at a press conference in Saudi Arabia on June 20:
    When you were asked today at the Cairo address about the Muslim Brotherhood, your response was also that the United States will not engage with this group. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood has, for a generation now, renounced terrorism and, in fact, last year issued an 11-page statement of principles in which it embraced parliamentary democracy, free elections and even universal suffrage. So how can you reconcile the refusal to engage at all with this group with the reasoning that you give for not engaging with, say, Hamas -- Hamas and Hezbollah?
    Or this comment by Bush when asked about Hezbollah: "I like the idea of people running for office. It's a positive effect when you run for office." Or this comment by Condi Rice: "I don't mean to underestimate the impact of radical Islamists having a say in the political process, but remember that the political process also has an effect on those who run in it."
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    Kefaya's 1st demo in a month

    The Abdeen demo was the first Kefaya sponsored rally in a month. After declining turnouts at recent demos, as Issandr pointed out in his post on the Imbaba demo, last Thursday's protest saw improved turnout and a more charged atmosphere. The demo was bigger than past demos (Al Misry Al Yom generously estimated turnout at 800 people), and more confrontational. Why? First, the focus of the demonstration was unemployment, a galvanizing issue for the millions of unemployed youth in Egypt. Second, Kefaya reportedly succeeded in bussing in demonstrators from over 20 governorates. And third, perhaps, is the historical significance of Abdeen Square, the site of numerous nationalist demonstrations in the first half of the 20th century. Penned in by police in front of the Daoud Engineering and Trading Co. in Abdeen Square, protestors charged security forces, broke through their cordons on a number of occasions, and even climbed atop security forces, like a crowd surfer at a punk rock show. I saw four protestors and one police officer pulled out of the melee unconscious, presumably from heat exhaustion. Another demonstrator had his leg cut open after falling onto a metal fence meant to protect a flower bed. Both the fence and the flowers were crushed by demonstrators and police. Demonstrators hoisted a dwarf in a wheelchair above the crowd. He held a sign reading “Freedom Now! Change Now!� Later the wheelchair-bound dwarf would lead a charge of angry demonstrators into a wall of security. As things seemed to be spiraling out of control, the head of Cairo security, Nabil Ezzaby, appeared. He paced back and forth on the outskirts of the demo, worry beads in one hand, a cel phone in the other, barking orders at police to alternately box the protestors in, or open up and give them space. Splinter groups of protestors, recognizing Ezzaby, soon singled him out with a handful of ad-libbed chants. “Down with Nabil Ezzaby� instead of the customary “Down with Hosni Mubarak.� The personal affront seemed to get to him at one point. Ezzaby stopped in his tracks, doubled back to the protestor, and asked him, “Why? Why?� Striking at all these demos is the presence of Copts, leftists, and religious types. Famed socialist Kamal Khalil will lead a chant followed by a veiled woman, followed by Coptic Kefaya leader Hani Anan. Standing apart from the masses at Thursday’s demo, was a bearded angry sheikh, the sort of person you’d expect to be heralding the apocalypse in downtown San Francisco. When Ezzaby passed by him, he screamed, “You’re a dog, you just follow orders. If they tell you to beat people, you beat people.�
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    The US in Iraq = Soviets in Afghanistan?

    My favorite part in a good editorial from the Daily Star's Rami Khouri, from a few days ago:
    The allusion is often made to America's failures in Vietnam; the better analogy is the Russians in Afghanistan. A generation has passed, and the Americans in Baghdad in 2005 have become like the Russians in Kabul in 1985 - mighty foreign warriors, armed to the teeth, technologically superior, full of determination and staying power, clear on their mission and their resolve, willing to kill hundreds at a time ... but unable to walk into a local grocery store and buy a chocolate bar from the people they are trying to liberate and protect.
    A very apt analogy, and a rather worrying one considering the failure to win the Afghan war was perhaps one of the biggest factors in the downfall of the Soviet Union.
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