The Beni Suef fire scandal

For the past three weeks, the story that has dominated the Egyptian media is the scandal that erupted in the wake of a fire in the small town of Beni Suef, 100km of Cairo, which killed 46 people included prominent critics and writers. Under tremendous public pressure, Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni tendered his resignation to President Hosni Mubarak, who a few days later refused it and urged Hosni to remain in his position. The affair has nonetheless mobilized left-wing intellectuals and activists who blame Hosni for the derelict state of the theater, which had only one fire extinguisher and a blocked fire exit. “The incident of the fire in Beni Suef is just the latest chapter in ongoing saga of corruption in Egypt, which has infected the entire pyramid of power of the state,” wrote Salama Ahmed Salama in Al Ahram. “If we take into account the collapse of buildings, fires on trains, etc. the resignation of Mr. Hosni merely hints at the iceberg of corruption.” In the opposition daily Al Wafd, Mohammed Salmawi—who usually writes in Al Ahram and is known for being friendly towards Hosni—took the position that the affair had taken inflated importance in the national media “because Egyptians do not have a culture of resignation.” The state media carried reports of a petition signed by 400 “intellectuals” asking President Mubarak not to dismiss Hosni. But Al Masri Al Youm, continuing its campaign on the affair, has publicized another petition signed by prominent artists and intellectuals—and led by filmmaker Youssef Chahine, one of the most famous Egyptians internationally—asking Mubarak to dismiss him after all. Their columnist Magdi Mehanna chimed in, in his backpage column fil mamnou’ (On the forbidden), saying that the petition defending Hosni was “scandalous” and “pure hypocrisy on the part of these ‘intellectuals,’ who are sabotaging Egyptian political life by their attitude.” Perhaps saddest of all for Hosni’s detractors was to read, prominently displayed on Al Ahram’s back page a few days ago, a short statement by Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, the towering figure of Egyptian literature, which stated: “We must not blame a minister who has given so much to culture for this catastrophe,” and adding that Hosni’s offer to resign was a “courageous move” and a “return to decent political traditions.” It may have been all the sadder as it is an open secret that the man who collects and edits (and perhaps invents) the words of the blind, practically senile, 94-year-old Mahfouz is none other than… Mohammed Salmawi. In the meantime, conspiracy theories and political theatrics are proliferating. Sawt Al Umma, the weekly political tabloid that has taken a critical turn after Al Destour editor Ibrahim Eissa began to also edit it, presented a new theory in its editorial: that Hosni’s resignation was but a replay of the surprise resignation of Al Akhbar Al Youm editor Ibrahim Saeda, which foreshadowed by a few weeks the fall of the main public sector press barons. Even in Al Ahram, related stories began to emerge. For instance, a small fire in the storehouse of Cairo’s Islamic Museum received front-page treatment, with the newspaper stressing that Hosni rushed to the scene as soon as he knew. The disappearance of three priceless artifacts from the Egyptian Museum also unusually received front-page treatment, with other papers claiming that these thefts were actually old but that Hosni had previously refused to investigate them for unexplained reasons. But some of the theories being floated around about this have to do with internal regime fights. While Hosni has kept his job for now, he eventually dismissed Mustafa Elwi, the director of the Cultural Palaces section of the ministry of culture. Elwi, whose department was in theory responsible for the Beni Suef Theater, was the target of as many accusations as his boss, and evidently was chosen as the fall guy for the affair. The independent and opposition press, as it wildly speculated about an upcoming cabinet shuffle (now apparently delayed until at least December, some say), presented a conspiracy theory about the fallout of the fire really being a fight between old and new guards in the regime. Al Arabi, for instance, wrote that “the resignation of the minister was a ploy designed to get rid of Mustafa Elwi and detract from the disappearance of artifacts from the Egyptian Museum, which the minister has refused to investigate.” For Al Masri Al Youm's Magdi Mehanna, writing before Elwi’s dismissal, Elwi “enjoyed a protection against any accusation on his responsibily for the Beni Suef catastrophe because he is a member of the Policies Committee of the National Democratic Party. This committee must not become the ‘Defense League for the Corrupt.’… Could it be that a committee from the ruling party would sacrifice a minister to protect one of its own?” Mehanna added that it was not enough for Hosni and Elwi to resign, but that the ministers of health and interior should resign, as well as the governor of Beni Suef. And finally: wondering why Mubarak had refused Hosni’s resignation, the highly critical independent weekly Al Destour wondered if the resignation had been refused because Mubarak did not want to set an example that could lead others to ask for his own resignation. Point of the story: in a society whose politics is characterised by opacity and lack of clear information, even a relatively free press is not much use, as it will tend to get taught in details and process rather than the fundamental problems behind a scandal like the fire. For while tons of ink has been spilt discussing the political ramifications of the fire, I have not yet heard of new measures being set up to ensure fire safety in theaters.
Read More

Ibrahim on monitors, Abdo on Islamists

A few days ago Saad Eddin Ibrahim had a new op-ed in the Washington Post, in which he says the time is ripe for international monitors.
Many of the opposition parties that once went along with the Mubarak regime in opposing international election monitoring are now loudly insisting on it for the forthcoming November parliamentary elections. This is a major development in the evolution of Egyptian political culture, long replete with xenophobia and conspiracy theories about the outside world. Even the most anti-American leftists are demanding to know where President Bush and the United States stand vis-à-vis this sham presidential election. Will the West be similarly oblivious to the expected travesties in the parliamentary elections?
. . .
One issue Mubarak is still adamant about, and hence made no campaign promises on, is his refusal to legalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamic movement. Believed to be the strongest opposition bloc, the Brotherhood has long enjoyed a de facto popular legitimacy. During the presidential campaign, nearly all the opposition parties courted it by pledging to work for legalization of the party. Increasingly, it looks as if all of Egypt's political class except Mubarak's party has come around to this position. Thus, instead of Mubarak's isolating the Muslim Brotherhood, it has managed to isolate him. To consolidate its moral gains and prepare for upcoming parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood has joined the chorus calling for international election monitoring in November.
This is a time of tremendous ferment in Egypt. It demands that the United States and the rest of the world stay vigilant and bear witness to Egyptian popular demands. If it is too much to expect outright support for the fledgling dissident movement, there should at least be an effort to hold Mubarak accountable for the promises he made.
It still looks as though the regime is doing everything it can to avoid having international monitors. And right now it looks like it will get its way. There were apparently no strong pressure on having monitors before the presidential election (despite Condi Rice's Cairo speech) and there is little so far, although Karen Hughes probably raised the issue with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit last week and might raise it again in her upcoming trip. But the election is a month and a half away and there has not been, to my knowledge, a serious offer by an international election monitoring agency (say, Jimmy Carter's people or the OSCE or the UN). Perhaps things don't work that way; but in any case the Egyptians will fight it even if it comes. In a recent interview in Al Gomhouriya, presidential advisor Osama Al Baz once again stressed that monitors are out of the question. One interesting thing in Ibrahim's op-ed, though, is that it's true that public opinion towards international monitoring is changing. The regime's absurd claim that it would infringe on national sovereignty is not being swallowed. When I was following Ayman Nour on the campaign trail a few weeks ago, he told me that one of the most surprising thing was that a lot of his supporters across the country were in favor of monitors--just ordinary people who I guess realize that it's good enough for dozens of countries across the world, it's probably good enough for Egypt. Anyway, Ibrahim is actually holding a meeting at this very moment at the Ibn Kahldiun Center to draw up support for 6,000 election observers to take part in the parliamentary elections. Good luck to him. Elsewhere (and earlier) in the Washington Post (surely by now the main forum in the American mainstream media for discussions of Egypt), Geneive Adbo had a bizarre column on Islamists:
But the far more significant outcome of the presidential election is that over the last year, as Egyptians anxiously anticipated election day, a strong and significant opposition movement against Mubarak went public. And who is the backbone of this opposition movement? The Islamists. For the first time since the 1970s, thousands of Egyptians of all political and religious persuasions joined forces in street protests, demanding political reform and an end to the regime. While a fractured opposition had operated behind the scenes for years, this election inspired secularists, leftists and, most of all, Islamists to take the unprecedented step of coordinating their various campaigns against Mubarak's expected victory.
Er... no. It's not Islamists that were behind the rise of the Kifaya movement, but the leftists. This is probably something that disturbs some Americans who don't like the anti-globalization, anti-US ideology that is partly what fuels Kifaya. But the Islamists--the Muslim Brotherhood at least--officially supported Mubarak when its Supreme Guide endorsed him back in March. That decision has not been annulled despite later statements by the Guide that Brothers could vote for who they wanted. Moreover, Abdo suggests that the Wasat party and the Brotherhood are one and the same, although these is clearly a break in ideology between the two, even if it was started in part by former Brothers. I suppose Abdo is still as attached to the alarmist thesis of her late 1990s book, but one wonders if she's actually been in Egypt lately. P.S. Meant to post this days ago, but between a nasty cold and being busy with work, I didn't get a chance to. Same goes for a few others posts lately.
Read More

The opiate of the masses

Richard Dawkins warns of a conspiracy to get people across the world hooked on a sociopathic drug. Governments are pushing it. Children are encouraged to do it. Gerin oil is all around us:
Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self-damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time.
How do we stop this plague?
Read More

Officers, but not gentlemen

Reading the news this morning, I see a pattern emerging... Reuters on the closing of the trial of Lynndie England, one of the soldiers responsible for sexual abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib:
FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept 26 - Defense lawyers have a last chance on Monday to argue that U.S. soldier Lynndie England was not responsible for her actions when she posed for notorious photos of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
England, 22, faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted on all seven counts connected with the abuse, which included posing with Iraqis who were forced to masturbate and famously holding a leash tethered to the neck of a naked prisoner.
. . .
The military jury panel of five male officers has repeatedly asked written questions of witnesses, taking advantage of a privilege not afforded U.S. civilian juries. Foremost among them on Friday was whether England, a former chicken factory worker who worked as an army administrative clerk, knew that what she was doing was wrong.
But the question did not fit into the narrow legal framework of the defense case as they are not arguing insanity, in which an accused cannot tell right from wrong.
"The issue of full mental responsibility is raised by the members' questions," Judge Col. James Pohl said on Friday outside of the presence of the jury. "To opine whether she knew right or wrong at this time is now legally irrelevant."
How Pohl set the legal framework is essential, especially since he negated a guilty plea at England's first trial in May after Graner told the court he ordered England to hold the leash.
She was originally charged with crimes that could have landed her in prison for 38 years.
England's trial is the latest in a series dating back more than a year focusing on low-level soldiers who served at Abu Ghraib. Since then, the military has launched investigations into hundreds of other cases of possible detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and reprimanded some higher ranking officers.
(Note: by the time I posted this late at night, England had been convicted.) Human Rights Watch, announcing a new report on the use of torture by US troops in Iraq:
(New York, September 24, 2005) -- U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers released by Human Rights Watch today.
The new report, “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division,” provides soldiers’ accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.
Three U.S. army personnel—two sergeants and a captain—describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan.
According to the soldiers' accounts, U.S. personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to “relieve stress.” In numerous cases, they said that abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse.
Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch:
"The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden. Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility."
The Los Angeles Times,on a scandal hitting the inspector general of the Department of Defense:
WASHINGTON — When Joseph E. Schmitz took over as the Pentagon's inspector general in 2002, the largest watchdog organization in the federal government was under fire for failing to fully investigate a senior official, falsifying internal documents and mistreating whistle-blowers. He publicly pledged to clean it up.
Three years later, similar accusations now surround Schmitz.
Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines, according to interviews with current and former senior officials in the inspector general's office, congressional investigators and a review of internal e-mail and other documents.
Schmitz also drew scrutiny for his unusual fascination with Baron Friedrich Von Steuben, a Revolutionary War hero who is considered the military's first true inspector general. Schmitz even replaced the official inspector general's seal in offices nationwide with a new one bearing the Von Steuben family motto, according to the documents and interviews.
The case has raised troubling questions about Schmitz as well as the Defense Department's commitment to combating waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayers' money, especially in politically sensitive cases.
And this one seals it.
Read More

Nour's problems and the NDP's internal struggle

The Washington Post's Daniel Williams has a moment with Ayman Nour, who has been facing multiple attacks by infiltrators in his party:
CAIRO -- It was an unsettling moment. Ayman Nour, the politician who challenged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's bid for a fifth term, shed tears of joy in the presence of a visiting reporter. He had just received a phone call informing him that a judge had dismissed an effort by renegade members of his party to oust him as leader.
If the effort had succeeded, it would have paralyzed the Tomorrow Party within weeks after Nour finished a distant second in the Sept. 7 presidential vote and less than two months before parliamentary elections.
Ayman Nour, leader of the Tomorrow Party, finished a distant second in the presidential election but wants to run candidates in every legislative district.
"Thank God," he said at the news. "One obstacle down. There will be others.
"There's a lot of stress involved," he continued, explaining the tears.
For the past week or so, Nour has been facing a challenge by senior members of his party, notably Ragab Hilal Hameida and Mustafa Moussa. That these people--the former of which is a sleazy Islamist-populist politician who just wrecked the Ahrar (Liberals) party and the latter already tried to gain control over the party when Nour was in jail this February--were given top positions in Al Ghad in the first place is surprising enough. I really have to wonder what he was thinking, and what these people were providing that he needed. AFP has a similar story with more details on what Nour is facing:
"There are regime elements in our party. We are badly infiltrated and this is going to hit us some time, probably after the election," Nur's spokeswoman Gamila Ismail had told AFP during the presidential campaign last month.
Nur now alleges the moles have been activated, as several leading members of the party challenge his leadership in a bitter internal row reminiscent of those that led to the freeze of several Egyptian opposition parties in the past.
One of the things that has the chattering classes chattering away here is that while Nour's opponents appealed to the Higher Political Parties Committee to freeze the party--a time-tested tactic--the Committee's head, veteran regime crony Safwat Al Sherif, refused to intervene. This has fueled an old standing rumor: that Al Sherif is using Nour and Al Ghad as a pawn against Gamal Mubarak and pals, who threaten the old guard that is epitomized by Al Sherif. According to this, Al Sherif used his power to grant Nour the permission to form Al Ghad last October because Al Ghad and Nour, like Gamal and his cronies in the ruling party's Policies Committee, present a youthful and liberal face of Egyptian politics. (Whether you believe that either party is serious about liberalism is another matter, but it is what they are trying to sell. And Gamal and Nour are the same age, give or take a year.) Now, Al Sherif is refusing to help Gamal get rid of Nour by uncharacteristically deciding it's not his place to meddle in other parties' affairs. As the articles above point out, the backdrop of all this is the parliamentary elections, now scheduled to start on 8 November (with two more rounds at ten days interval). But there is also a shorter-term event that may be influencing all this: by the end of the month, President Mubarak will have officially started his fifth term and the cabinet will resign. New ministers are bound to be appointed, and many are predicting a new influx of Gamalists at the head of ministries. Veterans like Al Sherif or Kamal Al Shazli could be removed. The Nasserist weekly Al Arabi--conspiracy central as far as Gamal Mubarak is concerned--suggested this week that Gamal's cronies who participated in the recent presidential election effort would now being rewarded. Steel magnate and MP Ahmed Ezz, for instance, is said to have received as a gift the recent sudden rise in steel prices. He is a prime candidate for a ministry, as is Muhammad Kamal, a political science professor widely credited for being the key architect of the recent American-style NDP election campaign. Hossam Badrawi, a doctor, MP and businessman also close to Gamal Mubarak, could gain the health or education portfolio. Al Arabi editor-in-chief Abdel Halim Qandil wrote that “time had come for the replacement of the old guard, particularly Kamal Al Shazli and Safwat Al Sherif, and the rise of the young partisans of Gamal Mubarak” and warned that “the danger of inheritance of power continues to loom over Egypt. The president could accelerate the execution of the crime of having Gamal succeed him simply by suddenly stepping down.” Al Ahali, another leftist party publication (of the Tagammu Party) put it thus: “it seems that being a member of the NDP’s Policies Committee is now a precondition for being named minister.” If the conspiracy theory about Al Sherif and Nour is true, then the refusal to help Gamal could be a negotiating tactic to show that Al Sherif is still useful. But is the theory plausible? After all, why couldn't Al Sherif simply be replaced with someone more pliable if Gamal is as powerful as everybody said? Also, Al Ghad people still worry about Al Sherif; he may have delayed looking to Al Ghad's affairs out of propriety for now but could use any other pretext to freeze the party. There is, to me, little tangible about this conspiracy theory. There is even the possibility that Gamal and the "old guard" are perfectly happy with each other, even if there are stresses here and there. Getting rid of party bosses like Al Sherif and Al Shazli just two months before an election could also be a huge mistake, as the Gamal crowd has little experience in running a 444-candidate election. Much of what's really going on is opaque, and believing what the talking heads say in the press is foolish as no one really has solid info on what goes on inside the regime--it's all speculative Kremlinology. That being said, I would risk a public prediction regarding the cabinet change, one based on previous ones: a lot less will change than most people expect. On top of Al Sherif and Al Shazli (both unlikely to be removed, or at least completely, in my opinion), Al Masri Al Youm, a usually credible independent daily, gave a long (wish?) list of who could go that included the ministers of Youth & Sports, Social Affairs, Planning, Military Production, Culture, Manpower and Housing. Youth & Sports and Housing should definitely go--the first is inept and has failed to resolve embarrassing disputes in football clubs (a big deal, actually) and the second is notoriously corrupt and has been involved in a lurid tale of assassination attempts. As for the others, it's anyone's guess. Otherwise, I would assume a small shake-up or rotation among the economic team (Rashid as PM?) and the entrance of one or two Gamalist ministers, but probably neither Ezz or Badrawi, who would be too controversial--especially Ezz. Overall, it will be a small, incremental change. That is the only kind that Hosni Mubarak can handle. But I may yet be proven wrong, we should see within a week. In the meantime, Nour's trial restarts tomorrow morning. What goes on there can affect--and can be affected--by the power games in the ruling elite, one way or another.
Read More

Baheyya on Qandil

qandil.jpg While discussing what she dubs the "Gamal Mubarak Project" (Omar Suleiman Experience anyone?), Baheyya draws a quick portrait of Abdel Halim Qandil, a leader of the Kifaya movement and the editor-in-chief of Al Arabi, the mouthpiece of the Nasserist party and by far the most outspoken and virulently anti-Mubarak publication in Egypt (yes, more so than any Islamist publication).
Resistance against tawrith (inheritance of power) fed and bled into resistance against tamdid (extending Mubarak’s tenure). An intense, bespectacled man deserves much of the credit for this linkage; on one occasion he nearly paid for it with his life. I confess that before 2002, I didn’t think much of Abdel Halim Qandil, classifying him as a rather defensive and shrill Nasserist. But exigent circumstances spawn unexpected metamorphoses. Between 2002 and 2005, Abdel Halim Qandil came into his own as Egypt’s most articulate, most clear-headed, and certainly most effective critic of the Gamal scheme. I don’t remember precisely when his Sunday columns became much-anticipated events, when friends asked, “Did you read Qandil today?!” and marvelled, “This man is committing suicide!” I do remember erupting in little temper tantrums when al-Araby was sold out by noon on Sunday. I can’t imagine what the week would be like now without Qandil’s electrifying intervention. By what strange turn of events does a slight, lapsed physician with a gifted, intrepid pen morph into one of the most formidable threats to la famiglia Mubarak?
Baheyya's post is in part a review of Qandil's book Dhid Al Rayess (Against The President), an anthology of his vitriolic, often shrill but passionate articles about politics in Egypt and the presidency in particular. Its publication (and the articles it is composed of) not only represent a courageous move on the part of Qandil, but also the remarkable breakdown of the traditional "red lines" that not so long ago were impossible to cross. Today, the president and his family are legitimate targets. Corruption is increasingly a legitimate target. The military, from time to time, even gets mentioned--even if only to lament the fact that the amount spent on it in the national budget remains unclear. mubarakrepubliccover.jpg Qandil's book came out a while back, but there have been others like it. More recent is Al Gomhourikiya Al Mubarak (As Amr pointed in the comments, I misread the title - I missed the 'kaf', which turns gomhoureya--republic--into a made-up word akin to 'republicarchy.' It's essentially the same idea as the 2000 Al Hayat article that got Saad Eddin Ibrahim in trouble, which spoke of gomloukiya--an amalgam of gomhoureya and malakiya, or republic and monarchy), which has raised a fuss with its provocative cover and contents. The book's publisher was jailed (on charges of threatening national security or something similar) and the author has been threatened. It is quite hard to find, although the Sphinx of Egyptian booksellers, Hagg Madbouli, stocks it. (Hagg Madbouli runs one of Cairo's best known bookshops on Midan Talaat Hard and has a tradition of publishing and selling controversial books since Nasser's era.) I don't have much to add about the book at this point--there will be a review in next week's Cairo--but the cover seems promising.
Read More

Cole on Egypt

I like Juan Cole's blog, and I like some of the principled stands he's taken against CampusWatch's attack dogs, and his valuable coverage of Iraq over the past few years. And I like to watch the fights he gets into with people like Christopher Hitchens. This makes it all the more painful to see him do a sloppy job in this Salon story on the Egyptian presidential elections. It's not only that the article is very superficial in its description of Egyptian politics, which might be excused by the fact that this was a short article for a non-expert audience. Still, simplistic and sometimes simply erroneous statements like these are grating:
On Saad Eddin Ibrahim: Mubarak, thin-skinned about his family and his son's ambitions, tossed Ibrahim into prison in 2000, sentencing him to seven years, but released him early in the face of international pressure.
That is a oversimplification of the Ibrahim case, which has a lot of twists and turns. Also, it is plausible that Ibrahim was eventually released by honest judges rather than political interference.
On Ayman Nour: Mubarak tossed Ayman Nour, the popular leader of a major new recognized political party, al-Ghad ("Tomorrow") into prison for 45 days on trumped-up charges.
Again, it simplifies the Nour case. Some of the charges against him are serious, as we will see when next week's trial resumes.
On the boycott:The bottom line: The outcome of the Sept. 7 elections was never in doubt, a fact recognized by Kifayah, which called for a boycott. The boycott received far more support than did Nour.
Just because 77% of eligible voters did not vote does not meant that they supported a boycott or Kifaya. Apathy may have been the real winner here.
On the middle class and Kifaya: The Egyptian middle classes, many of them highly educated and with entrepreneurial ambitions, chafe at the government's heavy-handed interference in the economy (mostly for protectionist purposes), which they believe limits their opportunities. They and other groups have formed the Kifayah ("Enough!") movement, which has held protests against the regime.
It's dubious that the middle class, if you can talk about it as such, is mostly liberal either politically or economically. This particularly applies to the vast chunk of the middle class that is employed in the public sector. I would argue that conservatism defines the middle class today, culturally and politically. The appeal of the liberal Nazif government is not so much what it is doing, but that unlike previous governments that it is doing anything at all.
On the middle class, Al Wafd and Al Ghad: The new middle class is represented by the New Wafd Party and by its new competitor, the Tomorrow (al-Ghad) Party. The government recognized al-Ghad in October 2004; many observers believed it did so to weaken the Wafd and to split the urban middle-class vote.
Saying that Al Wafd represents the middle class is ridiculous, in fact that it represents anyone under the current leadership is dubious. The NDP has as much claim to represent middle class interests as any other "liberal" party. Furthermore, if what I and others saw on election day is representative, the "urban middle-class" does not vote Al Ghad or Al Wafd -- it doesn't vote at all. Finally, he also calls Gamal Mubarak "Galal", although that might just be a copy editing error. Altogether rather sloppy, particularly for an academic. Cole writes quite well, but one wonders whether he might not have too much on his plate at the moment and should be writing about everything and everyone. Or whether he (and Salon) should be publishing articles about the Middle East whose main purpose seems to be not describing the situation in the region but bashing Bush. As a bona fide "Bush hater", I wish more time was spent digging up real dirt on the bastard (Valerie Plame, cronyism, FEMA, etc.) than this rather trite question of US policy towards the Middle East, which wasn't exactly great before Bush anyway.
Read More

Minister of Culture Farouq Hosni fired?

Rumor is right now that Farouq Al Hosni, the painter turned Minister of Culture who is rumored to be a close friend and protege of Egypt's first lady Suzanne Mubarak, has resigned. This comes in response to a barrage of assault on him after a fire in Beni Suef that killed more than 40 people last week. Intellectuals, artists and actors have waged a campaign against Hosni (one of many) since the fire took place, saying that he underfunded theaters, which led to safety budget cuts. I don't have this 100% confirmed for now, so stay tuned.
Read More

Preliminary results

Mubarak has 78-80%, and Nour comes second with 12%. Huge upset in Nour's favor, whom many people thought would lose out to Nomaan Gomaa for second place. This makes Nour a rising political figure and his party a strong contender to overtake the liberal flame from Al Wafd. Or, less likely, the Wafdists will get tired of their uncharismatic president who probably lost them the second place despite a quite good campaign. This might also hurt them in the parliamentary elections. Read about it here.
Read More

A voter's experience

Okay, we're sorry: we haven't been good at keeping the blog updated. With the elections and all, we've been too busy that we were too exhausted to blog regularly. That will be rectified soon with some notes on yesterday's elections that will come later tonight. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you the impressions of Mustafa, a 20-year-old friend who voted yesterday in his first presidential contest. Enjoy.
It took me about 45 minutes to find my name. Actually I'm not sure it was my name that I found, but then I figured first to come first served. You see The list of Ms or actually of Meems weren't all together and mostly were out of alphabetical order. My full name is; Mustafa Muhammad Salah Eldin Bayoumy. What was on the list was; Mustafa Muhammad Salah, the guy at the box didn't seem to mind so I got to vote.
I've heard that NDP members were told to go in force to the polls at around 5 o'clock so as to make it seem that there is a lot of people partisipating after work. A lot of the people that showed up didn't have voting cards but were hoping to find there names present none the less. I helped an old couple look for their names, well actually only the husband's but his wife was with him, I guess she would've went to vote if he had been successful. So helping Fathi Mustafa, the elderly husband I got to chat with them and see a few funny names on the list. When I told him I was there trying to find my name because I was born in 85 and was told that people born is the years 84,85 and 86 were going to be automatically added, he said well I was born in 1925 so why shouldn't I be there too? Nice question. I also think their mane concern was the 100LE fine. Now I don't think they exactly looked poor, it looked more like they never did anything wrong in their life and they weren't willing to be fined for not voting after 80 years. Fathi's wife didn't know that you had to go to the police station to get a voting card, I think the only time she entered a police station would'v been when she got her personal ID which I couldn't say how many years ago that happened.
Now back to my voting. So I cast my vote, signed and got to put my finger into the ink, which looks red. I had read a blog where the guy thought that phosphoric ink ment it would be a slight greenish white and would glow in the dark, while it just means it has some phosphorus compound in it. The ink is quite wierd. First, I have to say I didn't get that much on, but still it took for ever to dry and it was sticky. It is more of a maroon in color and when it dries it makes an outer coat that is bronze or gold color. Then I decided to wash my thumb, so first the broze goes and there is maroon left. Ok I thought I'd try soap, the maroon gets lighter. Next I though wy not washing detergent, that works best for greese and motor oil, Persil to be precise, and it worked better. I also tried Pril, for dishes, and even a little vinager. In the end I have a pastel-like pink thumb that any 5-year old girl would love to have.
I must say I was super happy after voting. And to add to that the guy at the supermarket noticed my thumb and asked who I voted for. When I said No'maan Gomaa he said quite a few people had told him that already. Now I'm even more optimistic that Gomaa will break the 15% threshold.
Well that's what I have to say and I'm attaching the picture of my pink thumb in case you're interested. Although my phone's camera isn't that good, it still gets the pink pretty well
Read More

The original Ayman Nour soundtrack

The Aardvark noted the whole scandal over Ayman Nour being forbidden to air his TV advertisement because he hadn't paid the royalties over Muhammad Mounir's song from the Youssef Chahine movie Al Massir--a catchy and appropriate song, actually, since it urges listeners to (loosely translated) "Raise your voice, anything is possible." And the Nour team should have known better than to use someone else's song, especially one as famous as that. But of course their video was produced by young volunteers (unlike the NDP-one that was produced by one of the hottest directors in Egypt). The objection seems entirely legitimate, although I'm sure it would not have been applied if the shoe was on the other foot. But funnily enough, Mounir's song was not the original choice. I was with Nour's campaign most of the day last Friday, and during the lunch break I sat two seats from Nour as aides came to show him the clip for the first time. It shows images of "ordinary Egyptians", from an old to a young child, and is then cut with an interview of Nour talking about hope, the future etc... And the music to all this was originally composed and performed by the Kronos Quartet and most famously used as the theme music to Requiem for a Dream and the preview of The Two Towers, the second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (you know, that scene where you see the Orcs storming through Helm's Deep.) As you can imagine, it's rather grandiose music, in keeping with Nour's image of himself. Had they chosen to stick with Kronos, there would have still been a copyright violation issue, but at least not of a musician and song that are well known in Egypt. But come to think of it, they would have probably found another excuse: under the rules set for the elections, state TV authorities have the right to take up to 72 hours to review an advertisement--something Gameela Ismail complained about and said was not being applied to the Mubarak campaign, of course. Even if they change the soundtrack, I'm not sure that there will now be enough time for the Nour clip to get sufficient airtime before the election. A Nour aide promised to email me a compressed version of the clip when it's finalized. I'll post it here if I get it before the election.
Read More