The US ambassador's speech

As I've previously written (and I'm not the only one to think so), I think US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been too incautious in her embrace and praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last two years. Her recent speech in Alexandria, though, helps correct some of her recent media statements and strikes many right notes for where US policy should be. Her assessment of the economic situation is devasting, and a pointed critique of the Morsi administration's handling of this. The speech does not touch on politics much, but does hint at great alarm at Morsi's poor leadership.

I am pasting the whole thing after the jump.

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Links 7-9 February 2013

Today you get a twofer. Nour the intern writes in (mostly Arabic links):

The usual links:

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The other failed dialogue

A couple of weeks ago I received a very funny email out the of blue from Nour Youssef, a young reader of the website. It started like this: “Would you be interested in taking on a slave under the pretense of an internship?” After some further quite funny correspondence and a meeting, we decided to try things out — I was not sure I had the time to work with an intern but she was persistent. She calls me Mr Miyagi and I have created a rule for my email that takes her emails and files them under a folder labelled “grasshopper”.[1] She has heen sending me some very useful links and notes that I will be putting up periodically. A few days ago, she went to the debate AUC hosted between ”Egypt’s Jon Stewart“ Bassem Youssef and ultra-conservative Islamist from the Gamaa Islamiya (once a terrorist group) Nageh Ibrahim. This is her account of the debate, and serves as the inaugural post of the contributor who shall henceforth be referred to as ”Nour the intern”.


  1. Fans of The Karate Kid will appreciate.  ↩

The debate on political satire between the famous political satirist, Bassem Youssef, and member of Gamaaa Islamiyaa Nageh Ibrahim, moderated by Hafez Al-Mirazi at AUC on February 7, did not have much to do with political satire or debating. While Bassem Youssef stood his ground, Nageh Ibrahim defied gravity to hover several inches above his.

Ibrahim, who is an accurate representation of the current Salafi mood — in the sense that he is a loyal Morsi supporter, but is openly, and politely, critical of the Muslim Brotherhood — was under palpable pressure to liberalize his views to mollify the high-class audience of embittered liberals and moderates, whose main reason for attending (apart from admiring Bassem Youssef up-close) was to see an Islamist get an intellectual beat down and have the “Islam they know and love” reinforced. They got more than they bargained for: a subdued and eager-to-please Salafi who let Youssef set the tone for the argument-turned-ditto and was content to smile benevolently and merely build on Youssef’s points.

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Egyptian activist to Obama: at least have the decency to stop voicing support for Morsi

A striking open letter to President Obama by veteran Egyptian human rights activist Baheieddin Hassan:

Mr President, when I spoke with you in 2010, I asked why the US administration condemns repressive practices in Iran while remaining silent when Arab regimes engage in the same violations. Over recent months, statements by your administration have similarly failed to address violations and have even blamed protesters and victims for violence committed in the context of demonstrations. Indeed, the stances of your administration have given political cover to the current authoritarian regime in Egypt and allowed it to fearlessly implement undemocratic policies and commit numerous acts of repression.

Statements that “Egypt is witnessing a genuine and broad-based process of democratisation” have covered over and indeed legitimised the undemocratic processes by which the Constituent Assembly passed the new constitution, an issue which has in turn led to greatly heightened instability in the country. Calls for “the opposition [to] remain non-violent” and for “the government and security forces [to] exercise self-restraint in the face of protester violence” have allowed the police and the current Egyptian administration to shirk their responsibilities to secure demonstrations and to respond to the demands of the Egyptian people, and have allowed them to place the blame for violence and instability on protesters themselves. Urging “the opposition [to] engage in a national dialogue without preconditions” undermines the ability of the opposition to play a real role in the decision-making processes of the country, as these “dialogues” seldom result in anything more concrete than a photo-op with the president. Is it a coincidence that the statements issued by your administration reflect the same political rhetoric used by the new authoritarian regime in Egypt? But when these statements come from the world’s superpower — the one most able to have a positive or negative impact on policies in Egypt and the region, not to mention the biggest donor and material supporter of the Egyptian regime for the past 35 years — they become lethal ammunition, offering political protection to perpetrators of murder, torture, brutality and rape.

I do not write you today to ask you to condemn the repressive policies of the current regime, or to ask you to urge President Mohamed Morsi to “cease” using excessive force and violence against Egyptians, even as your administration was so eager to achieve a ceasefire with Hamas to stop hostilities in Gaza. I write you not to ask for troops to protect political protesters in Egypt, or to suspend, freeze, or reduce military or economic aid to my country, or even to impose conditions on that aid. My request is quite modest: that spokespeople and officials in your administration stop commenting on developments in Egypt. This will no doubt spare your administration much time and effort, but more importantly, it may spare more bloodshed in Egypt, as the current regime will no longer enjoy the political cover that the US administration now offers them. Certainly, Egypt has seen enough bloodshed over the last two years, and Egyptians are tired of being punished for their uprising.

Read the whole thing. 

The Obama administration has the same problem it had with Mubarak: it suffers from acute clientitis, has an ambassador whose embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood has been way too much too fast and is incautious with her praise, it fails to appreciate the seriousness of the current situation and thinks things will just blow over, and has a department of defense whose interest in the status quo consistently overrides other elements of the foreign policy machine. We are back to the Mubarak era where the main concern of the embassy, and large elements of the departments of State and Defense, is how they are going to protect Egypt (whether the generals or the Morsi administration) from Congress. It's a sad state of affairs.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The not-so-secret secret base and the not-so-wet-towel towels

The Washington Post, among “several” other unnamed news outlets, have reportedly known of a US airstrip in Saudi Arabia that, aside from the apparent distinction of being the first new US base opened on Saudi soil since the 2003 troop withdrawals, was the airstrip that participated in the 2011 raid(s) that killed Anwar al-Awlaki.

According to the Post, it and those outlets have sat on the information for a year at the administration’s request for fear it would jeopardize the base’s security and the secrecy of US combat operations in Yemen, which are also supported by the Saudi Air Force. It is also notable that the US has set up this while still retaining its heaviest aerial assets (which are reserved for contingencies against the Islamic Republic of Iran) in the region in Qatar, so this is solely an anti-AQAP program that’s been set up.

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Brothers and cops

Brothers and soldiers: A weakened security apparatus is implicated in political play | Egypt Independent

Good piece by Mohammed Adam on police-MB relations:

Mohamed Mahfouz, former colonel and assistant coordinator of a coalition of officers dubbed “Officers but Honorable,” accused the police leadership of surrendering to the regime out of fear for their posts and the financial benefits they reap through it.

He said leaders are ready to serve any regime, as long as they maintain their positions and secure a source of wealth.

“A large segment of Interior Ministry officers learned the lessons of the January revolution and realized that leaders would be protected by the regime, while they would be leading confrontations in the street,” Mahfouz said. “A minority of officers, though, are ready to carry out any orders.”

Another security officer, who preferred to be referred to as Eissa, agreed with what Mahfouz said about the majority of police officers not wanting to protect the regime.

Meanwhile, some officers do not care who is in power, whether it is the Brotherhood or others — especially junior officers who just want to prove themselves efficient by suppressing people in the street, Eissa said, referring to a prevalent culture within the apparatus.

Egypt: To the barricades, again

Egypt: To the barricades, again | The Economist

From the conclusion of a long briefing on Egypt:

Mass defiance of the president’s curfew order in the canal cities, along with persistent protests elsewhere, have deeply dented Mr Morsi’s prestige. Few elsewhere in Egypt fully share the fury of Port Said; many despise the destructive antics of, as they have been called on Twitter, “spoiled brats living out Che Guevara fantasies”. Yet the frustrations of rising unemployment and soaring prices are keenly felt, and exacerbate the political discontent.

Mr Morsi is trying harder to coax the NSF into his hitherto vacuous dialogue. He speaks with new seriousness of being open to revising the constitution. He is working on securing backing from the International Monetary Fund for economic reform. Without broad support, though, enacting such reform will be impossible, and so far he has rejected demands to form a broader-based government of national unity, an idea endorsed by leading Salafists as well as the NSF. If he could summon to such a task of reconciliation the boldness he has previously displayed in his own interest, his country might move forward. If he does not, Egypt’s divided narratives will split further asunder. Radical Islamists could seek to settle scores with those they see as challenging “their” revolution. If so their opponents will fight back, and the world’s willingness to help would fade. Miserably, his people might just decide that things were better in the old days.

Morsi got into this mess. He's got to get out of it by paying a price and making a significant concession — everything else besides the point.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The judge who loved the police

Minister of justice denies systematic torture by Ministry of Interior - Daily News Egypt

Ahmed Mekki was a hero of the Judges' Intifada of 2006. Since he became an ally of the Muslim Brothers and Morsi's minister of justice, his positions have been despicable:

A discussion held between the committee drafting the Information Act and a number of human rights activists and university professors have broken down on Tuesday after the Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki consistently defended the Ministry of Interior’s actions.

Mekki attended the meeting along with the head of the history department at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Khaled Fahmy, associate dean of AUC’s business school Nagla Rizk, human rights researcher Amr Gharbeia and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights’ (EIPR) director Hossam Bahgat.

All four members withdrew from the meeting after Mekki refused to acknowledge any form of systematic torture from the Ministry of Interior.

The meeting was held to discuss the latest draft law surrounding freedom of information which, according to an official statement released by Fahmy, was not brought to the fore.

According to Fahmy, the minister said that the media has been mostly misleading and false. He also said any reform within the interior ministry should be done internally, at which point Fahmy questioned whether the minister really believes that a ministry which “kills and tortures will voluntarily change their style”. If so, Fahmy added, “why not undertake even a single serious restructuring project over the past two years?”

Fahmy pointed out in his statement that there has not been a single punishment handed out to officers in relation to cases of murder or torture.

Bahgat posted on his Twitter that what he had heard from Mekki in relation to the rights of citizens and media freedoms was “far worse” than anything he had ever heard from the Mubarak-era minister, Mufid Shehab.

I'd heard that in a previous meeting with rights activist Mekki urged them not to blame police but rather "lift the hatred of the police from their hearts"

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

In Translation: A president who does not know how to address his people

This week’s translation — made possible by our partners Industry Arabic, whom you should hire immediately for your translation needs — is a light-hearted one to catch a break from all the doom and gloom.

Newara Negm is an Egyptian journalist and activist. She’s the daughter of the irrepressible leftist poet and world-class hashish smoker Ahmad Fouad Negm and the irascible Islamist writer Safinaz al-Kazem, and the author of the blog Gabha al-Tahyyes al-Shaabiya (Popular Front of Sarcasm). This commentary is a little hard to translate because of the casual writing style, but she provides an original take on one of Morsi’s mistake: he doesn’t know how to talk to the Egyptian people. It is largely in reaction to his most recent television speech, during which he waved his finger at the camera and scolded protestors.

That’s Not the Way to Do Things

Nawara Negm, al-Tahrir, 1 February 2013

A friend of mine from the Gulf, who loves Egypt and loves to speak in Egyptian dialect, told me that he deals with different nationalities in his capacity as a company manager, and he would do humorous impressions of each nationality. When he got to Egypt, he said that you can be three months late in paying an Egyptian’s wage, but you have to meet him with a big smile and speak to him with the warmth of kinship, saying “You’re different from the rest, you’re important.” No sooner than that will the Egyptian put his hand in his pocket and say: "Do you need money? Really, please, in God’s name, take it, please…”

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The revenge of the have-nots

Back Street's Back | Foreign Affairs

Elijah Zarwan on the under-discussed phenomenon of urban squalor as a source of protests and rioting:

But it would be a mistake to dismiss the protesters as paid thugs, or to blame the unrest on revolutionary anniversary pangs, Muslim Brotherhood misrule, or a court's verdict -- although those are all elements of it. True, it is difficult to systematically track the demographics of a stampede, but what most of those rushing to escape birdshot and tear gas canisters have in common is that they are male, urban, young, and unemployed; they have very little to lose, and even less confidence in a political class that does not represent them. For them, the mantra of the uprising that began two Januarys ago -- "Bread, freedom, social justice" -- remains an urgent and unanswered demand.

If anyone doubted that Egypt's unrest would continue until the urban poor saw a concrete improvement in their daily lives, the events of the last few weeks should have convinced them otherwise. For the majority of the Egyptian population that grew up poor and has known no president other than Mubarak, life has been hard and has only gotten harder. The narrow streets of the urban slums admit little air. Decent work, already scarce, has become scarcer. Prices have continued to rise. Prospects for a dignified life -- a steady job, marriage, and escape from the family home -- have grown steadily more remote.

Before the 2011 revolution, some of the poor had turned to the streets, to pills, to hashish, to brawling, to fun. With the army hesitant to appear involved and the opposition in disarray, that street culture is now likely the biggest check on the Islamist project. The dispirited urban population is perhaps more heavily armed now than at any time in modern history. Families -- "honorable people," as onlookers describe them -- still join protests by day, but they melt away by night, and a leaner, angrier group takes their place.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

On the secular roots of "religious" conflicts

Leave religion out of it - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition

Georges Corm writes:

As European-style secular liberalism and socialist ideology (both of which had spread beyond Europe) have receded, conflicts have become reduced to their anthropological and cultural dimension. Few journalists or academics bother to maintain an analytical framework based on classical political science, taking into account demographic, economic, geographic, social, political, historical and geopolitical factors, as well as the ambitions of leaders, neo-imperial structures and regional powers’ desire for influence.

Conflicts are generally presented in a way that disregards the multiplicity of causes, caricatures the issues, and makes it a matter of “good guys” and “bad guys”. The main players are defined according to their ethnic or religious affiliations, as if opinion and behaviour were homogeneous within these groups.

. . .

Tibet, Xinjiang, the Philippines, the Russian Caucasus, Burma (where we have just discovered a Muslim population in conflict with its Buddhist neighbours), the former Yugoslavia (broken up along sectarian lines between Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosnians), Northern Ireland (Catholics and Protestants) and now Mali: can the conflicts in all these regions really be seen as a clash of religious values? Or are they in fact secular, anchored in a social reality that hardly anyone bothers to analyse, while self-appointed sectarian leaders seize the opportunity to realise their personal ambitions?

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

This is how Congress discusses Palestine

Link here. So first, frame Palestinian reconciliation as a BAD THING even if it seems peace is pretty unlikely if the Palestinians are divided. Second, only invite Jewish experts from pro-Israel think tanks and advocacy groups. Third, whatever you do, don't invite Palestinians. Got it? Good.

Does a child with cancer belong in jail?

If the dark absurdity of the Hamada Saber case isn't enough, here is another illustration of the ongoing casual cruelty of the Egyptian state that has activists riled up.

Mahmoud Adel Mohammed Hassan and Abdel Rahman Ramadan Mohammad are two 14-year-old kids who were arrested in Alexandria recently. They have been detained in a regular prison, with adults, for 15 days, and a judge recently renewed their detention for an additional 15 days. The prosecution told police to transfer them to a juvenile home, but although some officials intervened in the case nothing happened. The police would not move them.

The thing is, young Mahmoud suffers from Ewing's Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. The judge has denied an appeal for his release on medical grounds. He has thus been unable to attend the chemotherapy sessions he needs to survive. His family has tried everything to get him out, a number of activists are trying to petititon the prosecutor the intervene.

To get a 14-year-old kid his chemotherapy treatment, apparently, is not that easy. Even if you have a prosecutor's order and their case appears to lack any clear evidence.

If any journalists are interested in their story, I have numbers for family members — just contact me here.

Update: Mahmoud has been released.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The meaning of Hamada Saber

The ordeal undergone through by Hamada Saber — the man whose beating by police was caught on video and who, under police pressure, blamed protestors — has a meaning, says Nervana Mahmoud in her excellent weekly news review:

 Hamada’s case is another ugly reminder that no one has changed; the police haven’t changed, the leadership hasn’t changed, and many ordinary Egyptians haven’t changed. We will never know what really happened to Hamada, even if he later appeared on TV to tell a different story. Egypt is now a country in which truth is as elusive as its newly born democracy. Hamada is a symbol of what went wrong; in other words, we as a society haven’t changed. I don’t blame him as some do − he is not a celebrity that citizens and foreign embassies will rush to save. He is just a human being who thinks humiliation is his only method of survival.

Saber has once again returned to accusing police of beating him, by the way:

His son Ahmed told Al-Masry Al-Youm Sunday that his father telephoned him Sunday, cried and told him that he was under pressure and terrorized. Then he asked him to get him out of the Police Hospital and take him home or to any other hospital.

“The police forced my father to lie,” he told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “He did not know the incident was filmed.”

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

A solution to Egypt's food crisis

Last week, the excellent economics blog Rebel Economy highlighted a recent report on food consumption in Egypt:

Egypt’s most vulnerable households don’t have enough money to buy food, clothes and shelter.

That’s the frightening conclusion of the Egyptian Food Observatory’s latest government survey.

Of the 1680 households surveyed (and 7532 household members) in September 2012, 86% said their income was insufficient for covering total monthly needs including for food, clothes and shelter, up from 74% in June 2012.

As food prices have steadily increased over the year, income levels have remained static as the country’s fragile economic climate impacts salaries.

The knock-on affect of this has left many families adopting increasingly extreme coping strategies, the report says, the most common of which has prompted families to consumer cheaper foods and borrow food or money.

fooddivide

Meanwhile, the government has acknowledged across-the-board food price inflation on a range of commodities in a new report — confirming what was obvious to all. In the report, the government also advises citizens not to over-eat. Really. Still wonder why Egyptians are protesting?

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The story of Hamada Saber

Hamada Saber went to the presidential palace at Ettihadia on Friday night with his family to protest against President Morsi. At some point in the evening, he ended up stripped naked and beaten by police. The beating was caught by a satellite television channel and broadcast live, instantly turning into an iconic moment of police brutality like that of the video of the girl with the blue bra in December 2011.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

The authorities immediately reacted to the footage, with presidency and interior ministry pledging to investigate the matter and condemning the violence. [Update: here's the NYT coverage of their contrition.] Prosecutors began an investigation into the security forces in the footage. But Hamada Saber was still held overnight on Friday by police, and by the time he was hospitalized he began to give a different version of events, as al-Ahram reports:

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

The public prosecutor then began to change tack and began to blame protestors for beating the man — even though the video evidence clearly showed that whatever protestors did, the police clearly hit Saber. Saber is effusively thanking the interior ministry. Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being cooperative. From al-Ahram, again:

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.
One report, for example, picked up by a number of online papers said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.
Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who said he is a day labourer who is constantly short on gigs, a job.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.
In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.
"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."
As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

He does not want problems. One can understand. But it does appear that he is being threatened into shutting up so that the police and the government don't see this turning into the same iconic moment as previous instances of beatings and abuse. Human rights lawyers and his own family (which was on the scene) have kept on saying that he was beaten by police.

In the most surreal part of this sad episode, Hamada Saber and his daughter Randa ended up arguing about what happened to him on a major satellite TV talk show, with Hamada accusing Randa of having taken money from satellite channels to lie about him. Here's the footage:

Whatever happened to Hamada, the police did what it did, and he appears to have been intimidated against blaming the interior ministry as the government worked overtime to carry out damage limitation. Such practice is actually quite typical of what has happened in Egypt for decades, including since the 2011 uprising. If you look at the court cases into police murders during the 18 days of the uprising, you often have officers leaning on the families of the victims to settle out of court or withdraw charges. Not that many have been actually convicted thus far, or that there has been any attempt at creating either a transitional justice process or carry out serious security sector reform thus far — under SCAF or under Morsi.

[Thanks to Ashraf Khalil and Samer Atrush for some of the links used here. Update: here's Ashraf's piece on the incident.]

Update: More surrealism:

And an eye-witness account of the beating.

Morocco: how state corruption works

There is an excellent, multifaceted investigation of corruption involving licenses attributed by the state for the use of quarries in state lands that has recently been published in Lakome, the independent Moroccan news website. As editor Aboubakr Jamai explains in a  companion editorial piece, the investigations details how members of the royal cabinet, their relatives, and other well-connected people have had privileged access to sand and other quarries, often through companies that barely have a legal existence, pay no taxes, and operate in very shadowy circumstances.

The corruption surrounding access to quarries has long been a commonly known fact about Morocco, a country with a long coastline and where sand quarrying in particular often takes place in an often unregulated away — something environmentalists have long complained about, since the quarrying takes place at times in what should be protected areas (the beautiful Atlantic beaches near Tangier and Asilah in the north are a case in point). But Lakome's investigation takes one rather banal type of corruption and paints a picture of such "state capture" takes place. You can probably imagine the same things happen for, say, touya wood felling in the Middle Atlas or fishing licenses that often go to senior army officers. 

This is precisely the type of in-depth investigative journalism that is so rare in the Arab world — using even inadequate public data to understand how one particular type of corruption works, which can tell you a lot not only about where money flows (and doesn't flow — the municipalities where these quarries are losing out on revenue that could go to facilities for locals) but also about how power flows. And it's not a pretty picture for a monarchy that boasts of being headed by a "king of the poor." 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.