Another #feb20 activist killed in Morocco

The tenth victim of police brutality, use of thugs and popular incitement against Morocco’s February 20 movement died yesterday, after being stabbed in a neighborhood of the northern city of al-Hoceima. (Update: actually, several of those listed below set themselves on fire — they weren't killed.)

Kamal al-Houceini, an unemployed graduate, was with other February 20 activists in front of a newspaper stand last night in Ait Bouayach near al-Hoceima around 7pm after being attacked by a “baltaguia” (thug suspected of working for the Ministry of Interior). He is now the tenth person to have died for participating in the movement since it began on 20 February 2011 (a full list is below, in French.)


Read More

In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.


By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

Read More

The Western Spring

I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States intermittently but with great interest. I am deeply pleased to see people in my country finally express some indignation (indignation that, unlike the Tea Party’s, isn’t high-jacked by racism and right-wing millionaires) over the way financial interests have dominated and perverted our political system. And challenging the insidious restrictions on the use of public space and the freedom of assembly and expression that have proliferated since 9/11 (regarding which, please, please watch this video by genius British activists).  

I’m also fascinated by the fact that the protests in the US and in Europe are so clearly inspired by the so-called Arab Spring. 

Read More

Of Tunisia and Egypt

We were in Tunisia for nearly a week and it was impossible for me not to spend a lot of my time there making comparisons with Egypt. 

It would be hard to find two more different countries than small, Francophone, organized, serious Tunisia and boisterous and chaotic Egypt, a cultural and intellectual hub of Arabism with a population eight times larger. 

But the comparison between the two countries in the Arab world who, through peaceful demonstrations, overthrew their dictators, in nonetheless unavoidable. And, sadly, much to Egypt’s detriment. 

Read More

Egypt enters electoral mode

I am pessimistic about Egypt's forthcoming elections, mostly because I don't think they have been seriously prepared for, notably in comparison to Tunisia's. In an op-ed that should come out today or tomorrow (it's now out), I will explain why exactly. Ideally, the elections should be postponed and a civilian authority take over immediately, but that's not in the cards. So the best scenario forward is for these elections — despite them being already flawed — go forward and the new parliament unite around a platform of greater civilian oversight of the transition and to get SCAF out of power as soon as possible, most probably through the election of a president.
Read More

On Nahda's victory in Tunisia

I am about to leave Tunisia — I'm writing this from the airport — and wanted to write a few thoughts down before I left, as I promised in my post two days ago. It's still not clear what the final results are, as the Election Commission is taking a very long time to count the votes and make sure there are no errors. I don't think any election has been as meticulously scrutinized, ever! But it's clear that Nahda has won a plurality of seats in the constituent assembly — right now they are projected as having won at least 32% of seats, far less than the 47% I was hearing on Monday. I suspect the final result will show them in the low 40s. Even at 32%, they still obtained twice the number of seats as the second party, the CPR.

Now, there are all sorts of allegations floating about. Some say Nahda supporters were told to vote CPR in part, and some hardline secularists view CPR as  a Trojan horse for Nahda. This is a bit much, as CPR also benefited from a strong campaign (or so I've been told) and the personality of longtime dissident Moncef Marzouki.

Read More

What the al-Sauds don't want you to see

As the al-Saud dynasty engages over a mega-production over the death of Prince Sultan — one of the most profligate of the gerontocracy that rules Saudi Arabia — it might be good to remember that making films like the ones, above, on poverty in the kingdom, get you arrested. 22% of Saudis are defined as poor, according to the film, despite the vast oil wealth controlled by the al-Sauds.

Ben Ali in La Goulette

I've written before about Tunisia's great get-out-the-vote initiatives. But the above video shows the best of all. What they did is restore a giant poster of Ben Ali that used to be a landmark of La Goulette, a suburb of Tunis. Passersby are astounded as they see it in the morning, and their stupefaction shifts to anger. They are being filmed by hidden cameras and don't know what's happening. Watch what they do, it's really clever.


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,

A personal note on Tunisia's elections

Graffiti in Ariana, a suburb of Tunis

I have a confession to make: I used to hate Tunisia. I spent some time reporting there in the last decade and had an awful experience, including a fistfight with police informants who were following me at one point. Many others have had similar experiences. But most of all I disliked Tunisia because so many Tunisians I met seemed perpetually on the verge of a nervous breakdown, which I thought was because they were partly complicit in their ordeal under Ben Ali.

Of course I met admirable Tunisians: I remember how, at a conference of human rights activists in Casablanca, a Tunisian woman broke down in tears as she told me of the daily humiliations the police subjected her to when she visited her husband in prison. But I thought far too many of her compatriots were silent, and this beautiful country seemed, compared to boisterous Egypt where I lived, dead in the soul. This was no doubt unfair — I was, in part, blaming the victims. I have never had to endure what they were subjected to.

Read More

In Translation: Amr Hamzawy on the civil state

In this week's translation from the Arabic press — as always courtesy of translation service Industry Arabic — we turn again to Egypt. Amr Hamzawy is a political researcher who worked in Washington for several years for the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs, a think tank, and become over the past decade a prominent commentator on political reform in Egypt and the Arab world. After the January uprising, Hamzawy returned to Egypt, began teaching at Cairo University and quickly became a popular guest on television shows and a rising political star of the liberal movement. He is currently a candidate for the Masr al-Horreya Party, which he co-founded, in a central Cairo district. Hamzawy's relative youth (he is in his late 30s, I believe), his telegenic style and progressive views have made him popular among young Egyptians close to the liberal side of the revolutionary movements. His public declaration of love to the actress Basma, several weeks ago, after the couple was carjacked late one evening outside of Cairo, added to his celebrity status. Although some dismiss him as too inexperienced in politics to be taken seriously, in some ways Hamzawy's outsider status (compared to the old opposition) make him an interesting example of the new space being carved out for progressive liberal politics in Egypt, even if that space is small. One supposes the parliamentary elections wil tell.

In his regular column for al-Shorouk this week, Hamzawy reacts to the recent events at Maspero and argues that not only the return to civilian rule must be quick, but that a civil state is the only hope against sectarianism.

On the Necessity of a Civil State

By Amr Hamzawy, al-Shorouk, 18 October 2011

To tell you the truth, today, and in the days following the events of Maspiro, I have become more convinced that the establishment of a civil state – by which authority is transferred from the military establishment to elected civil bodies, the relationship between religion and politics is arranged, and equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens – is the only way Egypt’s situation can be fixed. The coming parliamentary elections are an important stage along this path: they will either bring us and the civil state – defined as neither military nor religious – closer, or will spread us apart.

The longer the transition period has lasted during which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) runs Egypt’s unstable affairs, the more SCAF has become mired in clashes with political and social powers and transformed from an authority standing at everyone’s side to a party in clashes and conflicts over politics and public affairs. The longer the period has lasted since the SCAF has undertaken the job of the standing security forces in protecting and securing public facilities, and at times controlling the movement of protestors and strikers, the more the military has become mired in violent confrontations, which both it and society could do without.

Read More

How USAID underwrote Egyptian corruption

This is an important story in the Washington Post about the USAID underwriting of Egyptian crony capitalism in the 1990s and 2000s:

Formed with a $10 million endowment from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies gathered captains of industry in a small circle — with the president’s son Gamal Mubarak at the center. Over time, members of the group would assume top roles in Egypt’s ruling party and government.

Read More

In Tunis

Ursula and I arrived in Tunis today, and the city is abuzz with electoral excitement. On Sunday, Tunisian will hold the first election of the Arab Spring, to appoint a constituent assembly that should not only write the first constitution, but effectively be parliament for a year. I won't give my impressions now, except to say that after several depressing weeks in Egypt this is a breath of fresh air. It makes you wish Egypt had followed the same transition model. One thing that strikes me is that although there are plenty of malcontents — apparently especially in the inner region that started the uprising last December — in Tunis I sensed real optimism.

It's going to be a little messy, for sure. I am now watching the bizarre spectacle on state TV of candidates being given three-minute video spots to explain their platform. This means for for about five hours a day at peak evening viewing time, TV is dominated by little-known personalities from the some 60 of 110 political parties that are participating (in this country of some 10 million.)

The pictures above are from a show at an art gallery, with young artists doing their own provocative versions of get-out-the-vote posters.


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,

Ali Ahmed Saleh's Washington digs

Luxury Condo, For Saleh or Rent - By Ken Silverstein | Foreign Policy:

If Saleh is forced out -- he has held power for more than three decades -- the asset hunters might want to begin their search in Washington, D.C. Real estate records show that in 2007 a man named Ahmed Ali Saleh bought four condominiums in a luxury building in Friendship Heights, right near one of the capital's swankiest shopping areas. He paid $5.5 million -- in cash -- for the condos. He also owns a property assessed at about $220,000 in Fairfax, Virginia, bought in the 1990s.

Saleh is a common name in Yemen, and the Yemeni embassy in Washington won't comment on the matter, but substantial evidence indicates that the Ahmed Ali Saleh who owns the condos is the eldest son and longtime heir apparent of President Saleh. He also heads the elite Republican Guard, which has allegedly led many of the attacks on the country's largely peaceful protesters at Change Square in Sanaa.

I hope the US authorities show the same zeal they did when seizing the Qadhafi family's assets.

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,

One more thing about Maspero

For the last week, I and most people I know in Egypt have been shell-shocked by the events of October 9. It is partly because they came after a period of growing unease about the SCAF's handling of the post-Mubarak transition, and partly because the event appears like something new, previously unseen, in the Egyptian context in several ways.

One is that the military fired on protestors after its whole claim to be a protector of the revolution came from supposedly refusing to fire on protestors — I say supposedly because whether or not Hosni Mubarak asked the military to do this is unclear, according to SCAF head and minister of defense Tantawi himself. And it is new because it has been a long time since Copts became under the direct assault of state agents (i.e. soldiers and policemen) in what seemed to be explicitly sectarian terms, particularly in the context of state media presenting the incident as one of Copts attacking the military. Finally, equally shocking is that large numbers of people appeared to respond to sectarian incitation in a way that might be not so unusual in rural Upper Egypt, but has rarely been seen in Cairo.

Read More

The Organization Man

Imagine you belong to an organization that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Its stated purpose is to safeguard that which you hold most dear. The organization is large, one of the largest of its kind, and rich – very rich –commanding a vast array of enterprises and influencing still others in some definitive and profitable way. You may not be in the higher echelons, but you bask in their reflected glow: they are strong which makes you, by association, a little stronger, more worthy of respect.

The organization counts some courageous individuals who have formed bonds of loyalty to confront danger, and not only survived but turned difficulties to their advantage. You’ve seen how, out of chaos, they created and imposed a kind of order that if not pervasive is at least persuasive. It has certainly persuaded you, who were born of chaos, shot like a bullet into the air and plummeting inexorably to the ground from whence you came. You long for direction, a flight plan.

You know that if you were to rise within its ranks, the organization would protect you. You know that some of your fellow members have had the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about how to live and stay alive. In a world where death is the only certainty, you can look forward to a degree of security that is denied people who do not belong. All that is asked in return is unquestioning obedience. This is fairly easy since you haven’t time for questions anyway, or at least you have just one you seldom entertain, i.e. if I wasn’t part of this, who or what would I be/do?

Read More

Egypt, designed for dictatorship?

Egypt's government: designed for dictatorship - Opinion - Al Jazeera English:

Egypt’s government is designed for a dictatorship: It is extremely centralised and tightly controlled by national policy, and local councils are void of power. Although Cairo’s three governorates have separate budgets and various departments, they largely depend on the country’s ministries, led by presidentially appointed ministers, to care for essential elements of the urban environment: housing, schooling, transport, parks, healthcare, etc. Governorate budgets largely go to paying salaries rather than public spending. There is no unified city government with elected local officials and a mandate to effectively manage the city. Instead, governors do the occasional ribbon-cutting, and make hollow announcements regarding randomly selected projects that suit their whimsy.

A good piece on Cairo's governance as a metaphor for the country's by Mohamed ElShahed. This kind of stuff is part of what has to change in the way the country is managed. Also, informal areas are as much designed for corruption and the rise of a mafia state as they are for autocracy.

1 Comment

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,

Podcast: Interview with Youssef Sidhoum

Youssef SidhoumLast week, I interviewed prominent Coptic intellectual Youssef Sidhoum about Maspero and the events that led up to it. I wanted to include it in this week's podcast, but since it was already long, I decided to release it separately. You can listen to it below, or get through your iTunes podcast subscription as usual.

The newspaper that Sidhoum publishes and edits, al-Watani, has an English section.

Interview with Youssef Sidhoum

More on Maspero

Comedian/commentator Bassem Youssef ("Egypt's Jon Stewart") takes Egyptian State TV to task for its coverage of the Coptic protests and its contribution to the violence that followed (in Arabic).

Youssef does his usual great job of collecting egregious examples of the media coverage, including footage of the break-in at the private TV channels in Maspero (which were shut down the night of October 9). 

As Youssef drily notes: "Copts are often protesting about superficial things, like the fact that 6 churches have been burnt down in under a year and no one has been prosecuted. And there were "infiltrators" in the protest...there were Muslim sympathizers!" 

Also, the site Maspero testimonies is collecting eye-witness accounts of the violence. 

Read More