More pictures and some videos will be posted later in the day.
Amir Salim -- Nor's lead defense attorneyToday, in the third day of Ayman Nor's trial, judge Adil Abd al-Salam Guma postponed the trial until the 25th of September. This is two-and-a-half weeks after Egypt's scheduled presidential elections on 7 September. The immediate repercussions of today's announcement suggest that Ayman will officially be a candidate in those elections, where he will presumably run against president Mubarak. Today's hearing was short and sweet. My group got into the courtroom around 1030. The trial started a little before 11am and concluded an hour later. Today, Ayman Ismail Hassan (defendant number 3) officially stated before the judge that he was taking back his confession from 28 June that said Ayman ordered them to forge party membership lists. Hassan surprised the court last Thursday when he announced to the media that the government was pressuring him to testify against Nor. But, because the retraction was not officially included in the courtroom minutes, it did not count. So, as of this morning, Hassan's recantation is official. The question on some people's minds this morning is why delay the trial until the end of September. According to the head of Ayman's defense team, Amir Salim, the court that is overseeing the case only works the last week of every month. Today's session was extra-ordinary. So rather than delaying it until the end of July or resuming two weeks before the presidential elections, the judge opted for the end of September. The proscecution has bearly said a word in the court to this date. The defense team basically argued that they needed more time to prepare their case. Gamila Ismail, Ghad spokesperson and Ayman's wife, seemed unpleased with the delay due to statements she made to the press following the judge's announcement. Today, there were loads of plain-clothes security in the courtroom. Most milled in the back of the courtroom while others photographed those in attendance. I recognized one of State-Security's photographers from the weekly demos. _____ Useless Anecdote: When leaving the courthouse today, we were waiting in the street for a taxi to take us to a coffee shop to get a caffine fix. A interior ministry guy with the eagle and two stars on his epaulet asked if we wanted a taxi. As we stood back, he hailed us a cab and politely saw us off. Now that is wasta... _________ Other related Ayman trial tidbits: Defendant Number 5, Mervat Sabr, has gone to the police and alleged that Nor tried to bribe her to recant her story. Whether this is the state encouraging her to make such an allegation to smear Hassan's recantation or whether Nor did this is unknown. It seems unlikely to be the latter. Ayman, on a legal basis, seems to have the upper-hand against the state for the time being. There has been some speculation that Hassan was bought off by Nor in the days following his surprise reversal last Thursday. I have neither seen nor heard any evidence to substantiate or rubbish this claim. Amir Salim and his defense team look to be tackling the case based on the numerous procedural errors that the state made in the lead-up and aftermath of Ayman's detention on 29 January. This focus on procedural mishandling was the same strategy used in the Saad Eddin Ibrahim defense, which proved unsuccessful until it reached the Egypt's highest appeals court (Court of Cassations). The defense team are also looking to untangle the relationship of Ismail Zakaraya Abd al-Latif (known to Ghad founders between March 04-January 05 as Diaa Zakaraya Abd al-Latif) and the head of the checks and fraud department in the Ministry of Interior Adil Yassin. ____________________ At any rate, in between now and the next court session, there is more time to prepare the cases on both sides as well as the early September presidential elections.
WASHINGTON -- "I think that the war on terror, if it's a war, then it has to be treated as a war."
Ahmed Nazief, the Egyptian prime minister, recently explained to a group of Tribune reporters and editors why his country has agreed to receive what he estimates are "60 to 70" suspected terrorists delivered into its hands from all points of the globe by the CIA.
"As terrorism has crossed borders, it's the right of the people who are doing the investigations to also cross borders. At the end of the day, you have those people being investigated," Nazief said.
"Whether it's in Egypt or the U.S. or they're kept in Guantanamo or in a prison near Cairo is immaterial in this case. It's not the physical location. It's the process itself."
Egypt has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East since 1979, the year it agreed to peace with Israel and began receiving more than $50 billion in U.S. aid.
The nation appears to have received more such deliveries of terror suspects, known as "renditions," than any other country, in large part because it is the native land of many of the militants who carried the Muslim doctrine of jihad, or holy war, to Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Nazief admitted he isn't "privy to the details of each case," which he said are worked out between "security people" in Egypt and the U.S. But he said he has no concern about the practice as long as the "rendered" suspects are Egyptian nationals.
Nazief also acknowledged that a criminal charge isn't necessary to land a suspected terrorist in an Egyptian prison.
"If they fall within our definition, and your definition, of terrorists, they're dealt with this way."Strong words.
The campaignâ€™s near-total focus on senior officials in President Mubarakâ€™s NDP has been concurrent with the political rise of his son, leading to speculation that the crackdown is simply clearing a path for an increasing public role for Gamal....Given the rumoured shake-out in the state-owned media, should we assume that the patronage networks at al-Ahram and al-Gomhouriyya will simply be replaced by new patronage networks headed by cronies loyal to the new generation of rulers rather than to the septuagenarian leadership? Or have the rules of the media in the Arab world changed so much - as Brian Whittaker suggested in his Guardian column a few days ago - that state media empires of the kind so useful to Safwat Sherif and his clients are a thing of the past? A second question comes from the report's mention of a period of parliamentary diversity in Egypt after the 1987 elections, when independent and opposition MPs held 30% of the seats in parliament (the NDP has since taken firm control of parliament). Was this parliamentary diversity reflected in the broader political environment? Was the executive ever questioned or tested by parliament in this period? And how and why did Mubarak allow this diversity to come about? I'd be grateful if anyone can shed light on this.
Egypt has a number of agencies that could, if properly empowered by the president, promote transparency and fight corruption. A central auditing agency, working out of the prime ministerâ€™s office, is engaged in privatization of government assets and strives for financial transparency. 42 The Administrative Control Authority is Egyptâ€™s primary anticorruption watchdog,43 although it does not have jurisdiction to investigate accusations of corruption against certain categories of state employees. All of these agencies are directly tied to the executive branch and thus the presidency; therefore, reform (with public accountability and transparency as part of that overall agenda) is only possible if the president wants it.
If stability had been sacrificed for democracy, the former national security adviser and secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Ford could not have negotiated major Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements: Sinai I, Golan and Sinai II. Without the undemocratic, benign dictatorial figure of Anwar Sadat at the helm in Egypt, or without the late Syrian dictator and master terror-broker Hafez Assad, yet another page of war history would have been written.
With a democratic parliament in Egypt in 1974, presumably dominated by the popular Muslim Brotherhood, Sadat could not have made his spectacular, death-defying trip to Jerusalem -- and suddenly become the most popular leader in Israel. A peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and between Jordan and Israel were possible only because absolute rulers -- Sadat and the late King Hussein -- led both Arab countries.
Sadat knew his courageous act of statesmanship was tantamount to signing his own death warrant. It was carried out in 1981 -- by Islamist extremists -- on worldwide television.
In Egypt, Miss Rice, presumably attempting to confer respectability on President Hosni Mubarak's challengers, took time to receive a known political charlatan who over the years has been exposed for forging election results as he climbed the ladder of a number of political parties under a variety of labels.
Even Mr. Mubarak's enemies concede Ayman Nour fabricated and forged the signatures of more than 1,000 citizens to conform to regulations to legalize his Ghad (Tomorrow) party. His career is dotted with phony academic credentials, plagiarism, a staged assassination attempt on himself, charges of embezzlement by his Saudi media employer, and scads of document forgeries.
Miss Rice had canceled a previous trip to Egypt to protest the indictment and jailing of Mr. Nour pending trial. And before Miss Rice's most recent accolade, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also went out of her way to praise Egypt's master political con man. Makes you wonder what kind of political reporting is coming out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.His conclusion is that it's unrealistic to expect democracy anytime soon in the Arab world. I find his argument about Sadat particularly offensive: so what if the peace treaty hadn't happened? Is democracy OK only if it doesn't prevent an Arab leader making peace with Israel? Many politically engaged Egyptians I speak to, while grateful that they didn't have to fight a war against Israel or suffer the economic consequences of war, feel that Camp David was wrong and did not get Egyptians that much in exchange for peace aside from Sinai. In fact, many make the argument that the price they paid was a quarter-century of US-approved dictatorship. The Washington Times (which is owned by the same owner as UPI, the Moonie cult) has had a strange habit recently of being pro-Mubarak after a long anti-Egyptian stance. They even interviewed Mubarak last time he was in Washington, while the Washington Post went on a campaign against him. One wonders what changed.
The only real effect of this sort of behaviour is to make the state media look ridiculous, since people can easily find out what is going on from satellite television, the internet and Egypt's non-state media. Some of the best day-to-day coverage comes from a group of unpaid bloggers on The Arabist Network.From Cairo with Love is also mentioned, and Samir Ragab gets his comeuppance. It should be noted that Brian's site Al Bab was one of the first websites discussing the Arab world and was one of the inspirations for Arabist.net. It has a round-up of his favorite blogs here. Update: I just checked the server logs, Arabist.net has just broken the 50,000 visits barrier (51,688 to be exact) for June with an increase of over 20% compared to May. Many thanks to all the readers, and especially to Josh and his dedicated (and sometimes risky) blogging while Charles has been away and I've been swamped with work. I think it also shows that the world at large is taking an interest in what's happening in Egypt at the moment, and that can only be a good thing.
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic group, has launched an alliance devoted to the peaceful removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.
Several other opposition groups promptly lent their support Thursday to what the Brotherhood has called the an alliance intended "to exercise peaceful pressure on the regime, through legal and constitutional means, to make it respond to democratic change."
Although not directly called for by the Brotherhood, Magdi Ahmed Hussein of the banned Labor Party said a disobedience campaign is already underway.
"The regime is dying and there should be one goal for this alliance - toppling Mubarak and his family rule," said Hussein.
The deputy leader of Wafd Party, Egypt's oldest liberal party, Mohammed Alwan described Mubarak's regime as "authoritarianism living in the dark."
He said his party had no problem with the Brotherhood's religious foundation and called the alliance "long overdue."Other coverage (EgyptElection.com, UPI) generally noted that apart from the Wafd, the establishment parties were against joining in. According to these reports, even Hamdeen Sabahi's post-Nasserist Karama (Dignity) party stayed outside the coalition. However, according to other reports and people who attended the conference, the coalition did get the support of several prominent university professors such as Hassan Nafaa (read this article by him to get a flavor of the man) and some pseudo-parties (Al Wasat and Karama are mentioned, which mudies the picture.) Al Ghad has apparently joined in, and while I'm dubious as to whether the above quote from Wafdist Mohamed Alwan is really representative of what regime crony and Wafd leader Nomaan Gomaa thinks, other parties such as Al Tagammu and the Nasserists are pretty unlikely to join in. The reality that the picture is still very unclear. First and foremost, how serious is the Brotherhood about this? Apparently Mohammed Habib, the Brotherhood spokesman, attended and spoke at the conference. But why was Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef not there is the Brotherhood is really serious? And are these claims of a million-man march and a campaign of civil disobedience really serious? The feeling I get is that the Brotherhood, like many Egyptian parties and movements, are divided over the issue of establishing a cross-ideological alliance against Mubarak and of taking their activism further. The generally pro-regime independent daily Nahdet Misr published an article a few days ago about splits within the Brotherhood which seems credible. It's also interesting that one of the more outspoken Brothers, Essam Al Erian, is still being held in preventive detention for over a month now without being charged. Al Erian, while not a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Council, is a favorite of journalists and a prominent public figure, and famously declared that he would run for the presidency, which the Brotherhood leadership quickly distanced itself from. Some of the more conspiracy-minded people here are wondering whether the regime might be doing the Brotherhood's old guard a favor by keeping Al Erian in jail. Another interesting and much-publicized aspect of the recent conference was that the Brotherhood is reaching out to Copts to reassure them about what a stronger role in national politics would mean. Back in the March/April Brotherhood-led demonstrations, I was struck that some Brothers were carrying signs that said "Copts are Egyptians." To my knowledge that was the first time that ever happened--and a far different line than that former Supreme Gudie Mustafa Mashhour held, when he famously told a newspaper (Al Arabi I think) that Copts should not be in the military. Rafiq Habib, a prominent Copt, is now supporting the Brotherhood-led alliance. It does seem rather controversial with other Copts, though, who are much less trusting of any Islamist group. For some discussion of this topic (and also secular attitudes towards the Brothers), I recommend this article by my friend Omayma Abdel Latif in the current issue of Al Ahram Weekly:
The ongoing debate over the role of the outlawed group in the reform process is likely to become more urgent following the Brotherhood's expected announcement today of a new reform initiative allying pro-reform figures and movements under the National Coalition for Reform. The new alliance is likely to be met with dismay by those opposition parties which, say Brotherhood sources, chose to keep their distance.
Arguments about the imminent rise to power of Islamists tend to be viewed by the Brotherhood as an aspect of Islamist phobia.
"This myth about Islamists capitalising on calls for reform to leap to power has long been used, by both the regime and by liberal intellectuals, to hinder any process of change," says Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh, a senior member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau. "It is generally accepted that in a free and fair election we would gain between 20 to 25 per cent of seats in parliament. Any talk about the group monopolising power is utter nonsense."
Currently, the Muslim Brotherhood controls 13 seats in parliament held by members who stood independently, making it the largest opposition bloc.
But what of the group's recent political performance which many believe has been fraught with contradictions?
Recent weeks saw a surprising surge in the group's street activism as demonstrations were held across the country in what many viewed as a show of strength, only to be followed by a period of deafening silence. Brotherhood leaders take an outspoken line with the regime only to follow it up with a more compromising tone. Some Brotherhood members have joined the ranks of pro-reform movements while their leaders refuse to be lumped together with other reform movements and insist they are the strongest group.To be fair, I think Omayma should have mentioned that since that "surprising surge" over 2000 Brothers and sympathizers have been arrested (and since then mostly released), an event that has been incredibly under-covered as it is probably the biggest crackdown specifically targeting the Brothers since 1965 or perhaps even 1954. So, to conclude, is the Brotherhood going for it? I'm skeptical. I think we know very little about the inner workings of the Brotherhood and what debates are taking place there now. But it strikes me that like so many other Egyptian political organizations, such as the ruling National Democratic Party, there is a real generational divide inside the Brotherhood. If the Brotherhood is serious, we should be seeing a larger presence in street protests (although it remains unlikely that it will alongside Kifaya) and a plan to present a serious roster of candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. So far, we have nothing of the sort. (A little aside: I'd be grateful if readers can point me towards good online resources on the Brotherhood and blogs that are sympathetic to it, in Arabic or other languages.) Update: I mistakenly omitted the word not above (see in bold) when discussing the Brotherhood's attitude towards Copts. A rather big difference, obviously. Apologies to those who were misled or confused, and thanks to Paul for catching the typo.