The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Egypt
Egypt's 97.7 Per Cent: If Everyone Votes Yes, Is It Democracy?

Peter Hessler in The New Yorker hits on an important truth about Egyptian politics - its fickleness: 

Hassan was smoking a shisha pipe at a coffee shop near the polling station, and he told me that he planned to vote yes. He had voted for Morsi in 2012. “He was a good man, but there was so much corruption around him,” Hassan said. I asked him if the Brothers are really terrorists.

 

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating. “I see what is happening on television, the things in Sinai, and I can see that they are terrorists.”

I had heard similar comments from many others. But Hassan surprised me when I asked about Sisi. “I’m telling you, if Sisi runs and wins, then the people will hate him,” he said. “Right now everybody loves him. But, once he gets the chair, then it will all change.”

This is hard to recognize in the 97.7 per cent: beneath the surface, there’s an incredible volatility to the Egyptian majority. Outsiders tend to see two entrenched sides, the security forces and the Islamists, but in fact most Egyptians occupy a much less partisan and less predictable political space. And they still have power, whether it comes through the vote or through public protests.

Thus far, everybody who has tried to run the country in the post-Tahrir era has failed to understand how quickly things can change. Until the bitter end, Morsi and the other Brotherhood leaders truly believed that they remained popular, simply because they had won elections in the past. But, at the polls this week, I met many people who had voted yes on both constitutions, and it was common to talk to a former Morsi supporter who was now an enthusiastic fan of Sisi. Nagat Abdel Latif, a middle-aged woman who worked at the Ministry of Aviation, told me that she came to the polls not because of the constitution but because she wanted to show her support for Sisi. A year and a half earlier, she had voted for Morsi, even though her ministry had been led by Ahmed Shafik, Morsi’s opponent in the Presidential election. “I worked there, so I knew about Shafik,” she told me. “I liked him, too. Still, many of us there voted for Morsi. We just thought it was time for a change. But we were wrong; Morsi was terrible.” She told me that she was certain Sisi would be better.

I suspect that we were to draw a Venn diagram of Egyptians who voted for Morsi in 2012, voted for the 2012 constitution, voted for the 2013 constitution and intend to vote for Sisi in 2014, the overlap would be significant. 

Reach of Turmoil in Egypt Extends Into Countryside

Great reporting in the NYTimes on the tensions and the harassment of MB families outside Cairo. On the funeral of one MB member:  

In this small, close-knit and rural Nile Delta town, it is customary for the community to gather behind the family for the procession to the graveyard. Mr. Abdel Aal, however, was greeted with epithets — someone called him a dog, someone else an infidel. One family even held a wedding at the same time, something unheard-of.

Meanwhile, another Times article gives a more complex picture of the recent operation to "liberate"Dalga, a town near Minya where Christians have been terrorized by local Islamists (and opportunistic thugs). 

But the security forces did not bring such heavy weapons to protect Christian residents. Interior ministry officials said the expedition was an attempt to capture a single fugitive Islamist, and it may depart soon. The overwhelming force, they said, was merely for self-protection: the surrounding province of Minya is still considered a bastion of Islamist support for Mr. Morsi.

 

Impunity

I took over from Issandr this week to pen a post for the New York Times' Latitude blog about the so far unreleased (but now partly leaked) fact-finding report into the deaths and abuses of protesters, ordered -- but so far buried -- by President Morsi.

Last week, the British paper The Guardian published leaked chapters and several articles about the report that was written -- but not released -- by the fact-finding committee President Morsi created in July 2012 to investigate killing and injuring of protesters from the time of the revolution until his assumption of office (although in fact the committee appears to have focused on the revolutionary and early post-revolutionary period only). The Egyptian newspaper El Shorouk had already been reporting on the committee’s findings for several moths. Nour The Intern has heroically waded into these leaks and their coverage, to try to give us a sense of what has emerged from the committee’s work so far. Read it all after the jump. 

An interview with former fact-finding committee members complaining of the limitations of their authority and purview: 

  • According to former committee members, the committee was not allowed to investigate the prison breakouts or the burning of police stations in 2011. When the committee members asked for permission to dig deeper, they were told that “(the authorities) were content with the result of the old investigations.” It’s worth noting that El Shorouk published this tidbit from the old investigations into the prison breaks by the public prosecution, which alleged that they found “that Hamas and Hezbollah had a hand in the (2011) prison breaks" to get "their colleagues” (meaning MB leaders) out of prison.
  • During the committee’s first meeting with former Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud,  he actually asked the victims' families to "bring (him) evidence."
  • The former committee members complained that the committee was not given authority over state institutions or the proper tools (security details, access to documents, etc) to investigate and collect whatever was left of the evidence, much of which had already been destroyed. 
  • Presumably to make up for the committee’s lack of authority, it included representatives from the Public Prosecution, the MOI, National Security and General Intelligence (it also included a human rights lawyer, a martyr’s family member, a judge and lawyer etc). However, these government agents’ authorities were temporarily revoked in order to join the committee as “fact-finder”, which defeated the supposed purpose of their membership.
  • According to the ex-members, these agents, particularly the MOI and the General Intelligence’s, were more chaperones than helpers.
  • The military officials in the committee, on the other hand, were worse than the MOI, according to Yasser Al-Sayed Ahmed, a committee member, who accused them of “withholding information.” Despite having documented information about the early days of the revolutions, they have kept it and have not given them over to the investigating authorities, he said.
  • The MOI used tear gas ordered in 2002 and expired in 2006. 
  • Thanks to an "encrypted channel," Mubarak was kept up-to-date on everything that happened in Tahrir, which is why committee member Mohsen Behnasi is accusing Anes al-Fekki, the ex-information minister, of obstructing justice and withholding information that are vital to the investigation. He insists that al-Fekki launched the channel for Mubarak and kept a record of everything that was broadcasted on it.
  • Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli said that the MOI gave out its orders on paper. Each officer got a handwritten order on paper addressing him by name, telling him where to go and what to do. 
  • The committee also discovered that there were attempts to kidnap injured/near death protesters from the hospital by police officers. They also allegedly removed bodies before the deaths (and causes of death) could be documented. Behnasi said that this is was main reason why no death certificates were made for some victims -- their bodies were missing or they were simply buried without a proper examination.
  • The fear of getting arrested or kidnapped in the hospital led many of the injured to seek medical treatment elsewhere, away from governmental hospitals. The injured then refused to give their information fearing that the detectives will somehow managed to track them down.
  • 3/18/2013 El Shorouk: Meanwhile, police officers were caught with large amounts of weapons, belonging  to the station, without permission, months after the 18 days. This article says that a considerable number of officers have been identified by their colleagues when they were confronted with videos of them shooting or beating protesters.
  • On Jan 29, 2011 in Suez, the Armed Forces ordered two officers to go back to the abandoned prison and free the prisoners.
  • Report says that the tear gas, rubber bullets and weapons for law enforcement were delivered by lorries, which were to head to the conflict zones, park far away and wait to be unloaded by the officers. 
  • Also according to El Shorouk, the few officers who were interviewed said that while they were sent these weapons, they never received them because the lorries were parked so far away from clashes; yet the protesters somehow found the trucks, looted them and then used the guns to shoot each other. 
  • The report also states that the MOI and Suez Security Directorate orders were to deal with the protests as riots. They all assigned armed officers to identify and isolate gathering points and disperse the people by all means necessary. Orders also included increasing the number of covert, civilian-clothed officers to infiltrate the protests and make sure they didn't get out of hand. 
  • 3/15/2013 El Shorouk
  • Morsi received the final report of the fact-finding committee he formed to investigate the killing of protesters  on 2nd of January, 2013.
  • The only decision he made regarding the report came out a week later. He decided to create a “Revolutionary Prosecution” using the “Revolution Protection” law he introduced in the constitutional declaration. 
  • Both the declaration and the laws it contained were strictly meant for the transitional period, which Morsi declared over after the approval of the constitution, says lawyer and former committee member Yasser Sayid Ahmed.

 An article in Al Masry Al Youm, not about the fact-finding committee but about the public prosecution’s investigation into 14 cases of killing demonstrators. 

  • Al Masry Al Youm, 5th of March: This is not the fact-finding committee's work though, just the prosecution. The former is investigating 14 main cases, so they cross path sometimes.
  1. When they checked the Tora prison and security forces' camps, they didn't find any of the detainees, but they did find some of their names in the camps’ records.
  2. The MOI's officers that faced the protesters during these events admitted to arresting large numbers of them and transporting them to camps, but claim not to know or be responsible for whatever happened to them there. Their orders were to transport them only.
  3. The prosecution was not notified of many of these arrests when they happened. Though sometimes, they were notified 4-6 days after the arrest was made. Meaning that many protesters were detained but not charged with anything.

According to the statements of protesters, the police followed the same strategy with everyone, which was:

  1. Arrest and assault a person in Tahrir, Abdel Monem Riyad Square or the Corniche. If near the Nile, throw them in it.
  2. Once down, throw them into a truck with everyone else you've arrested and assaulted, and close the windows - mostly so they wouldn't know where you are taking them, partly so they would suffocate (a wish the policer officers felt free to express out loud).
  3. Once there, strip the detainees down to their underwear, beat them senseless, and pace yourself with "Who is paying you to ruin your country?" questions.
  4. Then leave the almost-naked detainees in a small room with no food or water for 3 days.
  1. Officers meanwhile maintained that the protesters were violent and bordering on vandalism, which is why they arrested them, non-violently. Their job was to transport them only; they don’t know what happened to the prisoners after they reached their destination. No one personally saw any transgressions, and thus couldn’t be questioned about it. 

Here is a selection of some of the testimonies given to the fact-finding committee, according to the leaks:

  • The committee received a fax from the mother of Mohamed Hassan Ali Mohamed confirming that her son has been missing since Jan 25, 2012, ever since he went out to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution. He was last seen in front of Maspero. “The next day Mohamed called me and told me not to search for him because I won’t be able to find him. I asked him where he was, he replied saying  “Where am I? I swear I don’t know where I am.” I later called the same number, but someone else answered and told not to call it again. Then the general prosecution sent me a paper saying Mohamed is wanted as a witness.
  • “On the 7th of May, 2012, I went to the General Attorney and told him that Mohamed is missing. I asked an employee that was working on a computer and he told me that Mohamed was sentenced a year and half in military prison, so I went to the military prison and asked about him but I didn’t find him. On my way out of prison, I got on one of the military trucks with an officer who told me ‘the prison is full of lawyers, human rights lawyers and students who were arrested.”’
  • Tawfiq Mohammed Aglan’s mother told the committee that her son went to Tahrir on January 28 and never came home. Eighteen days later, on February 11, he sent his uncle a text message: “Call me.” His mother called him three time and on the fourth call he answered and said: “Yes, mother, it’s me Mohammad” -- then the line dropped. That was the last time she heard his voice. Later that night an unknown man answered the phone and swore at Mohammad’s mother; four months later a man answered Mohammad’s number and said he had obtained the phone from his brother, a soldier, who had found it in the Gabal Ahmar riot police camp, where protesters were detained during the revolution. 
  • The report also says that some of those burials were ordered by the general prosecution without even trying to identify the victims.
  • Witness Kareem al-Ghirbali, friend of the martyr Osama, said that the latter was fluent in English and so was surrounded by foreign reporters, to whom he instantly translated the chants and slogans of the protesters in Tahrir. Osama was kidnapped by a group of people in civilian clothing, detained in the basement of the Egyptian museum for the night and then sent to a military prison. According to the report written on 5th of March, 2011, Osama's autopsy (which was conducted several days after his death) says he died having suffered a sharp drop in blood circulation and respiration, brought on by a brain hemorrhage caused by traumatic injuries. 
  • Zakia, mother of Hassan, a husband and a father of  three, who has been missing since the 29th of Jan. 2011. He went out at 7 pm with nothing but 10 pounds and his national ID. He's uneducated, she says, and he doesn't have a cellphone. She filed many reports the al-Haram police department, went to Wadi El Natron prison, Wadi El Gedeed, the military base and prison at the Hikestep, in addition to military police, Zeinhom morgue and hospitals. 
  • Witness Hassan Shata said he spotted 15 CSF trucks with men in civilian clothing coming out of them. The men mixed with the crowds during friday prayers and attack the CSF, who then responded by beating the protesters. Also include the statement of Samir al-Sayed, father of Amira al-Sayed, a woman who was shot by police officers for videotaped them standing on the roof of al-Raml police station shooting protesters. Amira’s father says he was offered a check for 3 million pounds, to share with the families of other martyrs, by Captain Ahmed Khamees al-Sorogi.

Reactions:

  • Nothing for the most part. The public nodded thoughtfully at the few newspapers, other than El Shorouk (which has been publishing what is probably the same report leaked to the Guardian in installments since January 2013), who mentioned the report.
  • The Guardian’s reports stirred up some, but not much, controversy in newspapers and on TV, but it was mostly dismissed as “sensationalized” for accusing the military leadership outright rather than the individual soldiers who have supposedly committed these crimes. The military quickly denounced the report, considering it a foreign smear campaign SCAF leaders, which will not be tolerated.
  • For its part, the presidency has done nothing and said less.

 

Blind Ambition

I'm sitting in the beautiful old Radio movie theatre in Downtown Cairo, watching a black and white movie filmed on a cell phone. On screen, people (all so familiar I feel I crossed them once in the street) are complaining, arguing, not listening to each other while charging forward in endless linguistic loops. The dialogues, as one audience member suggest afterwards, are as frusrating as unresolved mathematical equations. They are also captivating, the way overheard snatches of intense conversation often are, full of urgenty invoked cliches and naked self-assertion and self-righteousness.

We laugh, out of both the pleasure and the discomfort of recognition. Humour, I would venture to say, is rare in contemporary art films, which is another reason that Egyptian artist Hassan Khan's "Blind Ambition" is worth seeking out (although I do wonder how much of this very verbal film is lost to non-Arabic speakers). I saw it last night, as part of the ongoing D-Caf cultural festival. As Khan explained after the screening, it is based on "daily, personal observations" but also elaborated through a painstaking directing/acting process (which as far as I understand toes the line between scripted and improvised) and clever formal choices meant to undercut the exchanges' seeming naturalism. When people aren't speaking, for example, the film is silent. It is as if the characters' voices make them "come into being," says Khan -- the space of single, memorable moments. 

Here's a good write up in Egypt Independent, too. 

The Bassem Youssef case

A lot of ink has been spilled already over the charges that have been filed (by individuals absolutey not formally affiliated with the Freedom and Justice Party) against Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef of insulting the president, and religion, and Pakistan.

I was (I think) the first English-language journalist to profile Bassem, back when he was filming his show in a room of his appartment (and I can barely ever claim to being a trend-spotter). I have been following his career with interest ever since, as he has morphed into a social and media phenomenon and, now, a test case in the ways the revolution may have broken the stale old bounds public discourse. 

Sarah Carr has written a great post about the double standards here regarding what "proper" language and behaviour is. Youssef has challenged this by speaking and joking in a way that is much closer to the way people actually express themselves -- this is the basis of his appeal and of people's discomfort with him. 

After being questioned by the Public Prosecutor, and being featured on the Daily Show, and causing a minor diplomatic spat on Twitter between the US Embassy in Cairo and the presidency, Youssef dedicated an entire show to Qatar, the "little brother" that is buying up Egypt now (and supposedly backing the Brotherhood). Please forgive me for linking to MEMRI, but here is a sub-titled video of the send-up of Arab nationalism that has become an instant classic. 

French academic Yves Gonzalez-Quljano has a great analysis on his blog Culture et politique Arabes, in which he writes: "Plunging his scalpel unceremoniously into the open sore of national amour propre, with only a strong dose of humour for anaesthesia, the former surgeon has seemingly dashed any hopes on the regime's part of silencing him. More than ever, he can count on powerful supporters, not just among the defenders of freedom of expression around the world, but even more among Egyptians, who were hit in the heart -- the expression isn't too strong -- by a parody of nationalist operetta that provoked exasperation and enthusiasm." 

Youssef's influence and reach is such that the show was enough to ignite a public debate -- and a lot more satire --  over Qatar's growing leverage and influence. In Qatar (where I travelled just last week) the public reaction was more muted but predictably negative. But after a visit from Prime Minister Hesham Qandil probably intended to smooth things over, Qatar pledged several more billion dollars in assistance. 

Islam, politics and academia

Sitting on a curb outside the college where she was recently expelled, Eman is defiant.

"I did it for the sake of God," the 21-year-old Tunisian history student—who asked to be identified only by her first name—said of her insistence on wearing the niqab, the full-face veil. Such a display of piety is banned in the classrooms of the University of Manouba's Faculty of Arts and Letters, and she has been forced to leave. "He will reward me in other ways."

Eman is covered head to toe in flowing brown-and-beige polyester. She wears gloves and shields her light-brown eyes from view with a second, transparent veil. Depending on whom you talk to in Tunisia, her attire, and the militant strain of Islamism it is associated with, represents either the future of the Arab Spring—or the greatest threat to it.

To her supporters, Eman is staking a righteous claim for a greater role for religion on campus. To her opponents, she embodies a threat to the university's liberal values and to academic freedom itself.

Fundamentalists like Eman, says Habib Kaz­daghli, a dean at the university, believe that the primary purpose of the university is "not to deliver knowledge but to serve as a place for spreading religion."

This is from a piece I wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education (it is behind a pay wall but this link gives temporary access) looking at the fights that have erupted, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, over the role of religionon campus. I visited Manouba University in Tunisia, where Dean Habib Kazdaghli has taken a hard line against allowing women in niqab to attend class (and is now facing what he says are trumped up charges of slapping a munaqaba student). I also visited the ancient Islamic university of Al Azhar here in Cairo, to look at how a historical model of Muslim learning has evolved into the 21st century. 

Women's safety and participation

I attended a day-long meeting in Cairo yesterday, facilitated by the NGO Safer World, addressing women’s safety and political participation in Egypt, Yemen and Libya. The meeting was attended by activists as well as a few government representatives.

Although the situation varies quite a bit from one country to the other -- in Yemen the context is much more rural, for example, than in Egypt, and geographic isolation plays a big part in women’s security and participation -- there were many similarities. In all three countries, women are the victims of violence -- and of an ideological discourse that blames them for that very violence -- that intimidates them away from the public and political sphere.  Also in all three countries, women’s groups are extremely frustrated and angry with the Islamist groups and parties that have come to power since the uprisings, who they describe as “dictatorial” and accuse of wanting to undo progress on women’s rights. 

In Egypt, as the New York Times recently reported, Islamist members of parliament and preachers have been saying grotesque things about women who were victims of gang rapes in Tahrir. The FJP has condemned some of the recent statements -- but only at the prodding of journalists, and even as some of its members have also expressed similar sentiments. 

President Morsi’s office sent a young female advisor on human rights and women’s rights to the meeting. She responded to the indignant questions of the activists with platitudes about the Freedom and Justice Party’s desire to listen before acting and the need not to demonize each other and to work together. In response to a question about the FJP’s position on lowering the age of marriage for girls, she said that the party had never advocated doing so and that there were “extreme” positions on all sides -- while some Islamists call for lowering the marriage age (to as low as 9), non-Islamists call for defending homosexuality. The claim prompted one activist to ask: “Why are you always bringing up homosexuality when we’re discussing women’s rights?”

The presidential advisor also noted President Morsi’s recent Women’s Initiative, a vague and hastily put together initiative that does not include any of the country’s prominent feminist groups and that at this point seems to be little more than Facebook page. The fact that this initiative took place just days after the FJP caught flak for its strongly worded dissent from a recent declaration by the UN Commission on the Status of Women does not seem coincidental. 

“Where can there be a meeting point between civil society and government?” a moderator asked. I’m not optimistic about that meeting point being found in Egypt today, especially as the Shura Council (which was elected by 10% of the population, remember, and whose original mandate did not include passing laws) prepares an extremely restrictive NGO law that seems designed to bring civil society to heel. 

It’s worth noting that it is not only Islamists who have misogynistic attitudes. The army also victimized and marginalized women. Non-Islamist parties’ platforms do not include measures to curtail women’s rights, nonetheless they do very little to empower women within their ranks and tend to view women’s rights as a means to criticize the Brotherhood. Women were under-represented in all leadership positions and in politics under Mubarak, and they were the victims of sexual and political violence. These are not new phenomena. 

That said the FJP’s record on women is abysmal. An article criminalizing gender discrimination against women was removed from the Islamist-drafted constitution; Islamists have consistently opposed a quota for women in elections; on the question of women’s safety, Islamists employ a paternalistic discourse in which they call for women to be protected (and controlled) by individual men, rather than guaranteed a simple, gender-blind right to be visible, active participants in cities, societies and political events. 

The FJP also does not trust and does not consult with the National Women’s Council (the government body established to deal with women’s rights) or with any of the country’s well-regarded, vocal feminist organizations. Yes, some of these organization are "elite," some had contact with Suzanne Mubarak (they could hardly afford not to) and some took foreign funding to promote largely empty women's empowerment programs (what does it mean to encourage women's political participation in the context of rigged elections?). But the vast majority of these organizations have been doing serious and ground-breaking work for decades; some activists put themselves in extraordinary personal danger to protect female protesters these days. Any initiative to discuss or address women's rights that excludes the country's seasoned activists and NGOs is bankrupt. 

And any political party that is serious about women’s safety will speak out strongly and consistently against all violence against women -- regardless of its political context -- and will condemn any attempt to blame the victim. It it will also support a quota, which experiences around the world have proven is one of the only ways to initiate large numbers of women into political life -- and which was used in Tunisia, for example, ensuring a significant female representation in that country’s constituent assembly. 

 

 

 

 

Protests as seen by the FJP's newspaper

In an attempt to report public opinion towards all the protests that took place in the past eight months since Morsi came to power, the Freedom and Justice Party's newspaper, al-Horreya wa al-Adala, published this news article on 15 March in its Youth and Sports section.


Despite the fact that people are clearly divided about everything from Morsi to the weather, MB’s report shows a uncharacteristically unified image of society. From the Ettihidiya clashes and Tahrir sit-ins to Port Said protests and the Ultras’ attacks; the Egyptian people who had one collective view on the matter: Protesters are thugs.

The article, which is merely a collection of tweets and FB status updates by ungoogleable individual(s), begins with this headline: What do you want to be? A thug.

The sub-headline then goes:“It's a great job, gets you fame and money..."And if you get caught, you're an activist!"

Sohila Mahmoud on Facebook: "I don't see any reason to block the roads, why is everyone silent about these continued acts of thuggery against the average Egyptian citizen, who wakes up to make a living, only to go back home empty-handed?"

According to the article, “activists,” on Facebook have unanimously confirmed that these protests Mahmoud is referring to are "crimes" which can only be committed by "thugs."

"This is a crime against society. Thugs who throw rocks at the police, or Molotov cocktails, carry guns or knives should be immediately shot, so that we'd get rid of the National Damnation Front's thugs and the toppled president's as well," hopes Mohamed Abdullah in his FB status.

"What are these demands they are making? Don't they see our economic situations? Can't they feel our foreign enemies just glaring at and stalking us? Or are you the domestic enemies, as we have describe you since all the evidence is against you. Have mercy on your country, it's not just for you, but for all the Muslims and Christians inside of it. So we have the right to fear for it and hold you accountable for any mistake you make that harms Egypt for it is really the Mother of the World," said Hamid Rashid, another representative sample from the heart of Cairo.

Further down the FJP reporter's newsfeed, a status, by an Abu Osama Shehab, said: "This is a crime by all standards committed by failed politicians to burn Egypt and bring down the president, but they will fail, God willing."

"The goal of these acts is to destroy the country's economy and waste state prestige. It's about pushing certain groups to destroy the police, and force owners to sell their properties - to completely destroy tourism - and get in the way of the country's interest. And to make matters worse, the Public Prosecution's pushing the citizen's right to arrest into effect, will be abused, which will push the country towards civil war," Abdo Mosad said.

A thug, not a revolutionary.

Others like Ibrahim Abu Attia found the labels the "feloul media" gave these vandals weird.

"Are those who block the roads, burned, vandalize, steal and call for chaos and strikes called protesters? All of these people are nothing but enemies of the revolution, outlaws. Are those who burn the Football Association called protesters? Are those who burn the Police Club called protesters? Those serve no one but the supporters of the counter-revolution,” he said.

Then another member of Egypt's homogeneous society, Mostafa Shokry, tweeted: "They're just some thugs, and the media and the parties call them protesters, they have no goal but chaos."

Followed by a Hany Zahdy: "When you hear the media call a thug a protester, know straight away that it is funding thuggery or financially benefiting from it."

"It's a crime, of course. What's the rest of the people's fault? What's the patient who's going to the doctor for treatment's fault, the patient who could die on the way there because thugs blocks the roads. What about tired people who are going home from work, people who want to go home early to rest, shave and go to their second job to provide for themselves and their families? What's their fault?"  wondered Ahmed Kamal.

"Blocking the road was never a protest tactic in any time or in any place. I think the person blocking the road knows that that's barbaric, even if his demands are legitimate, because he's blocking the average citizen's way, who may have demands that are more important and more pressing than his own, but is behaving and expressing himself respectfully and peacefully. I think Egyptians have a background they can't forget about stating their demands, which they learned in the revolution's days," said Ahmed Mahmoud, the only person in the article so far to have used the words "I think" when expressing personal views.

"This is a barbaric and thuggish way, it is a blatant violation of the citizen's freedom. This is a way only someone who wants to distort the country's reputation and image in front of the world to force the president to take his orders, which are impossible to establish. From this point forth, there will be bloodshed and intentional vandalism," warned Medhat abu Talab.

For those who haven't yet understood what thuggery is, who is doing/funding/covering it and why, an “Egyptian mother” reminded the FJP that "thuggery is the work of gangs."

"This is the counter-revolution lead by the feloul and the Damnation Front, which is given media coverage by the lying media, which is owned by the feloul," she reasoned.

"These thugs are very well financed  and they along with the street children are working very well and making a lot of money. They are protected by the NSF lawyers who wait by police departments to bail them out and defend them day after day," revealed a Nasser Ahmed, who didn’t need to provide any evidence to support his claim, since no one wanted to refute them.

Solar eclipse

I'm not sure whether I linked to it, but last week my Latitude piece was about the shortages in diesel fuel in Egypt (called Solar). It's here.

For a closer look at the frustrations faced by microbus drivers, who have been blocking roads in protest at shortages, there is a fine piece of reporting in the Daily News Egypt. It's also the top story in many of today's Egyptian dailies, with fighting breaking out during protests and at gas stations. Some report that fuel is being diverted to Gaza (it is much cheaper to get Egyptian fuel than Israel fuel, after all.) Others that the fuel shortages reach as much as 60% in some provinces, and 30-40% in most. Apparently several fuel tankers are awaiting to be paid to unload their cargo — but the government has no cashflow.  

Lessons from Egypt's student elections

To follow up on last week's news about a Brotherhood routing in student elections, we sent Nour The Intern to Ain Shams university to see what happened exactly and what lessons might be drawn for national elections.

“(The Brothers) can't have the presidency and the student union," happily exclaimed a dentistry student at Ain Shams university, Shaymaa Hosny. 

According to recent results of student elections and the commonly outspoken sentiments against the Muslim Brotherhood in universities; Hosny is not alone.

"Students didn't just vote for the not-MB candidates only because they're not-MB," argued Amany Bahgat, a Masr Al Kawia 2nd year candidate in Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, "but also because not-MB candidates had actual work plans."

Masr Al Kawia Party (Strong Egypt, centrist Islamist party founded by former Brother and presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh) has been working on its campaign and forming alliance with Al-Destour (social democratic party founded by Mohamed ElBaradei), and others, since January, Bahgat explained. She speculates that the reason why the MB did so poorly - aside from their popularity dip thanks to Morsi's blunders - was because the MB's youth, unlike all the other parties, didn't put much effort into their campaign and lacked a solid program.

The results of the elections were surprising to many, particularly in major universities like Ain Shams where the MB lost in 13 (out of the 15) faculties, some of which they failed to win any seats. However, Mahmoud Kandil, an ex-Muslim Brother, wasn’t in the least bit surprised. They lost because they got arrogant, he said.

"The Brotherhood was never inclusive, but it was cooperative... During Mubarak's era, (the MB) used to work with the Revolutionary Socialists and April 6th against the NDP," he noted, but now that NDP has been reduced to an almost parasitic and persecuted existence as “feloul,” in addition to the MB’s electoral winning streak; the Brothers have lulled themselves into a false sense of security.

That false sense of security lead them to believe there was no pressing need for campaigning, particularly when their opponents were seen as likely to boycott, or at least fail to provide an actual alternative to them, like the MB's older opposition.

Ironically, the MB's student opposition did in fact consider a boycott — which would have certainly resulted in a slam-dunk win for the MB — to object to the Egyptian Student Union’s (an entity created, headed and dominated by the MB) new regulations, which were not put to a referendum despite the absolute lack of consensus upon them — not quite unlike the constitution.

These regulation included rules such forbidding activities or seminars without the permission of the Department of Youth Monitoring and Welfare, which raised Brotherhoodization concerns since positions in that department are held by the Dean’s direct appointment, who is appointed by the Supreme Council of Universities. So if one was to infiltrate the Council, which already has some MB-sympathetic and anti-MB members, managed to appoint an MB, then the MB, by extension, has complete control over every single study activity. But since the appointments are customarily based on seniority and the MB lost its foothold in universities, that’s no longer a pressing concern. Nonetheless, there are now talks about possible MB protests against the new regulations, drafted and passed by them, which, now that the power balance has shifted, they suddenly realize are unfair.

The regulations passed by the ESU prove that the MB didn't expect to lose, Kandil asserted. "Why would the MB-dominated ESU give student unions the power to ban any student activity or cancel any event with just one third of the votes, if the MB didn't expect to win?" he asked, rhetorically.

However, others attributed the MB's loss to their failure to form alliances, despite trials with Al-Wasat (moderate Islamist party founded by ex-Brothers in the 1990s) and Salafis, a failure that could simply be an extension of the rekindled political animosity between the Islamists. Whereas new political forces such as Masr Al-Kawia, which is still lacking in organization, easily paired up with El-Destour (which is also still lacking in organization), popular currents, independent candidates, etc, “because they form alliance based on skills and qualification rather than just political agreement” and “want to ensure that the university is for everyone," according to the Masr Al Kawia candidate, Bahgat.

Meanwhile, the MB's default response to the election results was to act cool.

"Success was our ally, Thank God," wrote an intentionally-nonchalant MB spokesman, Ahmad Araf, on Facebook, before he accused the media of presenting the numbers in a way to make it look as if the MB has lost miserably, when it actually lost humbly. Using al-Minya University as proof of the MB's "success," Araf presented his main argument to prove MB’s continued electoral dominance: "(MB) ran only for 50 percent of the seats...and it got 54 percent!" (of that 50%... in that one university... which is full of Brothers).

Media coverage of the student elections, particularly from MB critics, portrayed the student elections as an indication of a decline in MB popularity — which can't be disputed, but is nonetheless exaggerated, since many students, as Bahgat put it, were unaware of the elections, yet alone involved. Furthermore, the MB was not so much popular previously as the most likely group to capture protest votes.

“People didn’t necessarily love the MB, we felt sorry for them,” said Tanta University graduate, Amr Youssef. The MB lost sympathy rather than popularity. One of the biggest reasons why the MB dominated SU elections during Mubarak’s time, although results were forged often, was because of how ill-treated MB students were.

“(State Security officers) used to arrest the MB students (to torture them) in February and let them go in May, right before their finals so they’d fail,” Youssef explained. “Sometimes, they’d arrest them during May and they had to attend their exams in cuffs,” he added. A famous case of that common practice is Dr. Youssef al-Qaradawi, who was once released after a long arrest the night before his finals, but still managed to be first in his class.

Apart from robbing the MB students off their dignity and time to study, MB students generally received an especially bad treatment from security personnel and faculty members. So much so that in 2006, MB students, having been bullied enough, struck back with a martial arts demonstration in Al-Azhar university, where intimidating students showed off high they can kick to send a message; MB can stand up for itself, if need be. The affair ended up sending Khairat Al-Shater and other senior Brothers to prison for financing the then-banned MB and its youth. Therefore, voting for them in elections, which were mostly between the MB and the NDP,  was the least fellow students could do in solidarity.

MB critics now fancy the recent student union elections to be a sign of the MB's performance in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

"That's entirely untrue," said Dr. Ahmed Abu-Rabou, a Comparative Politics professor at Cairo university. "Sabahi and Abou El-Fatouh topped all the university polls, prior to the presidential elections, but the run off was between Morsi and Shafik! Let that be a reminder to everyone," he added. Dr. Abu-Rabou went on to argue that support for the MB and education are inversely proportional, thus "MB loses badly when it comes to the educated youth."

“These results should humble the MB, and teach the opposition," said Ain Shams student voter, Ahmed Gamal, who compared the MB's electoral loss to Morsi barely winning the elections against Shafik; "both are evidence that (MB) is not invincible." He added that “the wise old men” of the opposition should now sit down and take notes, "because "the shortsighted youth" not only faced the MB, but united, ran, despite the MB-imposed flawed regulations, and won."

"The wise old men need glasses," he added derisively, before advising them to abandon their reactive policies, the boycott, and "work for Egypt, not just against the Brotherhood."

In Translation: How the Constitutional Declaration came to be

Much of the mayhem currently taking place in Egypt is a direct result of the Constitutional Declaration President Mohammed Morsi announced on 22 November 2012 and the political upheaval it caused. There has been much speculation as to why the declaration was made when it was (just after the end of the Gaza crisis), who had planned it and who was out of the loop and what its purpose was. Mohamed Basal, a reporter for al-Shorouk newspaper, has the inside story of how the Declaration came to be, shedding some light on some of these questions. We bring it to you in English thanks to the upstanding folks at Industry Arabic who make our In Translation series possible.

Basal's article is meticulously — though anonymously — sourced and provides a plausible narrative of how the Constitutional Declaration came to be. Some key points:

  • It was largely drafted by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, in consultation with Brotherhood leaders, but only with late input from presidential advisors.
  • Key judicial figures were only consulted late and opposed some of its provisions.
  • It was initially intended to include bringing the retirement age of judges down to 60 years old. Such a provision could still be implemented later this year to purge a large number of senior judges. The Vice-President threatened to resign over this.
  • The Minister of Justice and the Vice-President, both judges, fought against several of its provisions and did not think it was necessary — or legal — to "protect" the Constituent Assembly from a Supreme Constitutional Court decision.
  • Morsi and the Brothers believed a conspiracy was afoot (this much we know from their cryptic statements) for the Supreme Constitutional Court to launch impeachment proceedings against President Morsi — even though there are no constitutional means for this. They were also receiving information of a destabilization campaign from "sovereign bodies", meaning intelligence agencies.
  • The Constitutional Declaration was originally intended mostly to deal with the replacement of the Public Prosecutor and the extension of the Constituent Assembly, which by late November was far from finishing its work. It was the FJP's legal committee that added other provisions, backed by Morsi notably on the question of protecting the Constituent Assembly from dissolution and giving himself extraordinary powers (intended to deal with a perceived threat of unrest caused by the opposition).

Here's the quite long and detailed article for Egypt-watchers who want to understand the steps that led to the Morsi administration's biggest mistake to date.

Freedom and Justice Party drafts the declaration’s articles. President agrees without consulting the Vice President. Al-Shorouk provides a behind-the-scenes look at the November 21 declaration.

Mohamed Basal, al-Shorouk, 5 March 2013

The constitutional declaration, issued by President Morsi on November 21 of last year, remains the most dangerous and pivotal event of the Morsi administration thus far. The declaration became a land mine, exploding in the faces of the President, the Brotherhood, and the opposition. It helped to divide Egypt as never before, and resulted in the bloodshed that continues to this day.

The declaration was a serious one, as it the dismissed former Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, protected the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly against being declared invalid and dissolved, and canceled all legal suits brought against them in either the Supreme Constitutional Court or the Administrative Judiciary. It also placed all decisions and constitutional declarations made by the President of the Republic above review and granted him the power to take extraordinary measures to protect the revolution, without specifying the nature of these measures.

The constitutional declaration (which was partially revoked on December 8) was followed by the demonstrations outside the Presidential Palace, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people of various political orientations. The situation deteriorated still further after that, and the scene become one of complete polarization, pitting the Muslim Brotherhood against the National Salvation Front.

The full, behind-the-scenes truth of the declaration has remained a secret, known only to those who were present as it was drafted and issued, and a large part will still be unknown even after the coverage by Al-Shorouk. This article is not intended to represent a journalistic ‘scoop’ so much as an effort by the newspaper to document this sensitive period in the history of the revolution. It is based on conversations and the testimony of six individuals who lived through the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the declaration, and the scenes at the Presidential Palace which immediately preceded it. At the request of these six sources, Al-Shorouk has not revealed their names.

Some of these six, who for various reasons have refused to reveal their identity, are close to the group of decision makers at the Palace, while the rest belong to higher judicial bodies.

The most important and surprising detail upon which these sources agreed was that the declaration was a brainchild of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, and not the President's advisors. As such, it is unlike the decision to reinstate the People’s Assembly, as well as the August 11 declaration that abolished the Supplementary Declaration. They also revealed that the first draft of the declaration lowered the retirement age of judges to 65, thus going beyond just dismissing the Prosecutor General, who was 66 at the time.

Here are the details:

Act 1: The Palace Committee

It was interesting that for several days in October and November of last year, several members of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party met at the Presidential Palace, without anyone knowing the reason. Of particular interest was the presence, at these meetings, of the President’s legal advisor, Mohamed Fouad Gadallah.

The members, who met personally with both the President and his Chief of Staff Dr. Ahmed Abdel Ati, did not disclose the purpose of their meetings to anyone inside the palace.

Some members of the Legal Committee of the Brotherhood Party spoke of a conspiracy, whereby certain judges within the Constitutional Court were said to be trying to impeach the President. There was and still is an outstanding legal dispute between the Court and two Legal Committee members who accused the Court of rigging the ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly, despite the results of an investigation conducted by office of the Prosecutor General.

This talk of conspiracy was communicated to the Brotherhood's lawyers by individuals who had had several friendly meetings with a member of the Constitutional Court, during which he spoke recklessly of “our ability to impeach President Muhammad Morsi, ” saying: “Just as we appointed him, so we can impeach him. ” This is according to the narrative related by the Brotherhood's lawyers, who conveyed the same version to the President.

The President then relayed this information to several members of what was then his presidential team. Even though judges at the Constitutional Court denied the possibility of impeachment, chief among them their president, Counselor Maher al-Beheiri, the Brotherhood took the matter seriously, and it became a major factor in the countermeasures taken against the Court, both from within the Constituent Assembly and otherwise.

Meanwhile, talk of conspiracy and concerns over the Constituent Assembly began to dominate the atmosphere in the Presidential Palace, especially when the Court, in its November 7 meeting, scheduled a session on December 2 to review both the dissolution of the People’s Assembly and striking down the law to immunize the Constituent Assembly. This latter issue was promoted as if it would result in a dissolution of the Assembly, even though this was legally impossible according to high-level sources in the Court.

The decision only increased apprehension within the Brotherhood, especially in the wake of the fragmentation and resignations which were then taking place within the Constituent Assembly. At that point, the Assembly was not even close to completing a first draft of the Articles, a task that would certainly require stability within its ranks, not additional disruptions.

Thus, during the second week of November, the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party began to seriously think of clearing the Constitutional Court, or at least preventing it from examining the issues that awaited on December 2.

Morsi and the Judges

President Morsi has maintained a cautious attitude towards the judges since the day he took office, and his choice of Counsellor Mahmoud Mekki as Vice President was in no way intended to satisfy or flatter the judges, as some have tried to portray it.

At the first meeting to which the President invited the heads of the various judicial bodies, and before Mekki was appointed to his position, the President explicitly stated that there was no intention to undermine the judges. This announcement came amid rumors of a law that would lower the retirement age for judges.

Two weeks after Mekki’s appointment on August 12, the President put a proposal before him to lower the retirement age of acting judges to 60. This would legally dispose of former Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, as well as a large number of judges on the Constitutional Court. This includes a number of judges known for their opposition to the Islamist movement, chief among them former Counselor Tahani al-Gabali.

The Vice President strongly objected to this proposal, and indicated that he would resign if it was put into effect. Before this, Counsellor Mekki had personally assured the senior judges that they would not be affected, at least until the end of the judicial year on June 30, 2013. This marked the end of the issue between the President and his deputy.

Following the formation of the presidential team, the matter was again proposed by advisors to the President, at meetings attended by both the President and the Vice President. The President agreed to the idea, while the Vice President rejected it, and warned that it would potentially shock the legal community, as well as cause general agitation among the people.

Amid increasing demands for the Prosecutor General’s dismissal, there was a plan to transfer the Prosecutor to the Vatican as ambassador, but then they backpedaled away from this decision. The Freedom and Justice Party still persisted in its desire to lower the retirement age of judges.

Act 2: The Revolutionary Prosecution

During the second week of November, the Presidential Palace began to move towards issuing a new constitutional declaration. At that time, the declaration would only “extend the work of the Constituent Assembly by two months, ” by amending Article 60 of the then-in-force constitutional declaration.

This action received strong support from the President’s legal advisor, as well as from the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice party. For them, the legal basis for the right of the President to amend the article, despite the March 11 referendum, came from the fact that the referendum concerned other articles, not ones which had been effectively included by the constitutional declaration. Furthermore, the deadline mentioned in the text was by way of organization, and was not binding.

It was also agreed within the presidential circle that a special prosecutor be set up to protect the revolution, and to retry the cases of demonstrators killed in the revolution. The President tasked his legal counselor with drafting a law to organize the office of this special prosecutor and its judicial business.

This was how it appeared on the surface. Behind the scenes, the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party was busily engaged in drafting other articles to be included in the new constitutional declaration, one of which was originally devoted to extending the activities of the Constituent Assembly.

In the matter of the Prosecutor General, the administration had already prepared to cooperate with the Vice President, Mahmoud Mekki, and his brother, the Minister of Justice, Ahmed Mekki, following the dismissal of the Prosecutor General and his transfer to the Vatican. They had called for the résumés of a number of counselors, including several living abroad, as well as associate justices of the Court of Cassation, and the President of the Court of Appeals in Cairo. However, at the last moment, the Prosecutor General backed down from his agreement to move to the Vatican, which held back both the final step in his overthrow, and the announcement of his replacement, who the President had decided would be Talaat Abdullah.

The name Talaat Abdullah, however, was still in contention for Presidential appointments, and remained the strongest candidate for the post of Prosecutor General, as soon as the first opportunity arose to dismiss Abdel Meguid Mahmoud.

Act 3: Behind the Curtain

The Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party prepared the complete constitutional declaration, whose first article provided for a special prosecutor to defend the revolution, as well as the agreed-upon retrials. The fourth article stipulated an extension of the work period of the Constituent Assembly, another matter that had been agreed to within the Presidential Palace.

However, the other articles would come as big surprises to members of the presidential team, as well as those non-Brotherhood members close to the President.

The second article placed all presidential decisions and declarations above scrutiny, meaning that cases against the declaration could not be brought before the Administrative Judiciary.

The third article was the most dangerous, as it lowered the retirement age for judges to 65, meaning that the Prosecutor General would be gotten rid of along with the heads of all judicial bodies, chief among them the Supreme Constitutional Court, as well as five associate justices of the Court, Tahani al-Jabali not among them.

This article would also mean that no review could take place, or ruling be issued, against the Constituent Assembly or the Shura Council, as might have occurred in the December 2 session of the Constitutional Court. However, leaving nothing to chance, the committee also drafted Article 5, which banned any judicial authority from dissolving the Constituent Assembly or the Shura Council.

The President was presented with the draft of the constitutional declaration within days of the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and he agreed to it in principle. However, he ordered that it be shown to both his legal advisor and to the Minister of Justice, in order to get their opinion concerning the judges.

On November 21, President Morsi was able to score a strategic and political victory when acting under the patronage and blessing of the U.S., he oversaw the truce between Israel and Hamas. This cleared the way for the bomb that was the constitutional declaration to explode upon the Egyptian political scene.

That evening, the President apologized that he was unable to travel to Pakistan for an Islamic summit, and sent his deputy Mahmoud Mekki in his stead. He was preparing to detonate the constitutional bomb.

Mekki knew that something was happing without him, but did not know what exactly. On November 7, he had left his resignation at the discretion of the President, after having been assured that the judges’ retirement age would not be lowered, and that no other move would be made to dismiss the Prosecutor General.

Act 4: The Bomb Goes Off

The Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party had finished drafting the declaration and several of its members had been at the Presidential Palace since the morning of November 22. Some committee members specifically informed Brotherhood leaders of several of the declaration’s clauses, in particular the lowering of the judges’ retirement age. Clearly, they considered the matter “over and done with,” and not subject to change.

As a matter of fact, Brotherhood leaders began informing their headquarters of the need for a demonstration at the Supreme Court building in support of important presidential decisions concerning the judges. In their words: “A popular demonstration in support of these decisions is strongly needed. ”

At noon, the president summoned Ahmed Mekki, the Minister of Justice, and Doctor Mohamed Mahsoub, the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, asking them to come quickly. A meeting was held, involving them as well as members of the Legal Committee of the Freedom and Justice Party and the President’s legal advisor, Mohamed Fouad Gadallah.

Mekki and Gadallah strongly opposed lowering the retirement age, and warned of a violent reaction from the judges. They suggested that this step be postponed, and that it be implemented in phases, beginning gradually after the end of the judicial year. Such a step, according to them, should absolutely not be taken at the present time.

The discussion, which lasted almost two hours, ended in a compromise. Article 3, concerning the appointment of the new Prosecutor General, would provide for a four year term, and a new clause would be added: “This provision applies to the one currently holding the position with immediate effect.” Mekki and Gadallah supported this course of action, given that the dismissal of the Prosecutor General was one of the central demands of the Revolution.

The new Prosecutor General, Counselor Talaat Abdullah, was immediately summoned so that he might take the oath of office prior to the official announcement of the Prosecutor General’s dismissal. They were eager to maintain secrecy and not repeat the Vatican incident. As for immunizing the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly and stopping litigation on all legal actions calling for their dissolution, some of those at the meeting argued that this was not needed, and that it was not legal to prevent the Constitutional Court from reviewing a case. However, a majority of Freedom and Justice Party members considered immunization to be necessary if the retirement age was not lowered. They argued that the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly would be left exposed, and subject to dissolution at the December 2 session.

Some replied that the Constituent Assembly case that was currently before the court would under no circumstances result in its dissolution. It was merely a dispute with regard to implementing the ruling that dissolved the People’s Assembly. The most that could happen was that it could allow a new case to be brought before the Administrative Court to invalidate the Constituent Assembly. However, the President, wanting to prepare for all contingencies, supported the article.

Article 6 expanded the powers of the President to include extraordinary measures to protect the revolution, and was also insisted upon by the President. He based his decision on reports, which stressed that the chaotic atmosphere on the streets demanded that he take measures against forces hostile to the revolution.

This was almost 10 days after the President received reports from sovereign bodies that businessmen, some belonging to the former regime, were holding meetings in a major hotel to coordinate efforts to destabilize his government. The declaration was issued in a routine manner, and marked with the previous day’s date -- November 21 -- in order to facilitate immediate implementation.

Act 5: No to Extending the Constituent Assembly

After the declaration was issued, a controversy arose among members of the Technical Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly and Counselor Hossam al-Gheriany, concerning the extension granted to the Constituent Assembly. Al-Gheriany contacted the President, and emphasized his support of the declaration, despite one reservation concerning the extension. This was that a change had been made to an article that had already been approved by a referendum of the people.

Article 60 of the constitutional declaration sets a period of six months for the work of the Constituent Assembly. This deadline is binding, not merely a guideline, and as such cannot be interfered with. Therefore, this article of the declaration was ultimately disregarded. In the end, the Constituent Assembly finished its work two days before the scheduled December 2 meeting of the Constitutional Court.

The declaration then became like a ball of fire, burning everyone it touched. It continues to enflame the political street, and no one knows how it will end.

Khaled Fahmy on police reform

Khaled Fahmy asks What doesn't Morsi understand about police reform?, looking at a landmark 1861 decision to end beatings by the Egyptian police.

After I spent many years exploring the National Archives, I concluded that torture was repealed from the Egyptian criminal code in the 19th Century because of a decision from within the state apparatus itself, specifically the police which reached an advanced degree of professionalism. It was also a reflection of a high degree of centralisation, strength and self-confidence of the state’s administrative apparatus, at the heart of which is the police.

It is disappointing to watch the serious regression of the Egyptian state over the past 30 years; a regression back to torture practices at police stations and locations of detention in Egypt.

Even more upsetting is that those in power today do not recognise the dangers of continuing to ignore this explosive issue, especially after a revolution which – in my opinion – primarily occurred to end torture and other systematic abuses by police against citizens.

The president has not said a single word about torture; the prime minister went to the headquarters of Central Security Forces after recent clashes in Port Said to promise them he would give them more weapons; the government has brushed aside all initiatives to reform the police; the minister of justice denied torture existed under President Morsi, and has often said the police cannot be reformed except from within and based on initiatives by its leadership. And so it seems, President Morsi’s government has made up its mind on this matter and does not wish to address police violations, and at the same time cannot force police leaders to change their ways in dealing with the people.

Rural Egypt's anger

A good report from Kafr al-Sheikh by al-Jazeera's Rawya Rageh. This undermines the notion that unhappiness with the Brothers is mostly urban, some of the current crises — notably shortages in diesel — are actually more deeply felt in the countryside.

Update: This report highlights growing anger elsewhere, mostly in provincial towns rather than strictly rural areas.

Egypt: Brothers get routed in student elections

Results for student elections taking place in Egyptian universities this week suggest the Muslim Brotherhood, normally one of the best-organized and most successful political movements in student politics, has lost much ground. This tends to confirm and accelerate trends first seen last year of new political movements on campus becoming more popular, as well as some good coalition-building between radicals, leftists, liberals and others to face challenges by Brothers and the Salafis. The trend has also been seen in professional syndicates over the last year, and may also grow this year. This should be striking, as one would expect the Brotherhood to reap the benefits of being the party in power. But the opposite is happening, and the failure of the Brotherhood to win a majority in a single election yesterday (although of course there will be more) is telling of the discontent with them.

Three things stand out to me other than the Brothers' relatively poor performance:

  1. Coalitions of non-Islamist political trends seem to work quite well, suggesting it is worth it for them to contest elections;
  2. I think the formation of Salafi factions on campus is a new thing (someone tell me if I'm wrong — Update: Assiut of course had strong Gamaa Islamiya presence in university), and they are doing well in places (like Minya in Upper Egypt), possibly at the expense of the MB.
  3. In several places the Destour Party (of Mohamed ElBaradei) is running in coalitions or alone and doing quite well — which shows that contrary to the prevalent armchair punditry that they are getting out there and mobilizing to some extent.

How does this translate in a national election? It's not clear. Obviously university students are more educated and live in an urban environment (although many, of course, will come from a rural background — or what passes as rural in one of the mostly densely populated countries in the world.) They are not that representative of the national whole, and vote for different reasons. The Brotherhood's electoral machine alone, depending on who else is running, makes its goal of winning an outright majority in the upcoming parliamentary within reach — although I think it's a longshot.

Below are results of elections in various university faculties, culled by Nour The Intern from the @afteegypt Twitter account which has been doing some sterling coverage of student politics.

 

Student election results, 2013-Mar-05.

El-Minia University:

  •  Faculty of Arts’ student union’s election results for 2013: 26.79% for “We are all one” - civil movement. 23.21% for “Construction” (affiliated with MB), and 50% for “Life Pulse” list, Salafi movement. Fourth year: 5 to "We are all one," 3 for "Life Pulse" and 6 for the MB.
  • Faculty of Information Technology’s student union’s election results for 2013: 57.1% for "Developers" (civil movement), and 42.86% for "Construction" (affiliated with MB).
  • Third year, Art: 5 for "We are all one" (civil movement), 2 for MB, one for the Salafis.
  • Faculty of Education, 33 seats for civil movement, 23 for MB.
  • Dentistry: 50% for "We are All One" and 50% for MB.

Tanta University:

  • Faculty of Law: 38 seats for the civil movement, 11 for the MB, 4 for the "We are all one hand" family, 2 for the independent, and one for the Family of Colors.
  • Engineering: coalition between al-Dostor, the Revolution Contiues and independents get 39 seats, MB gets 27, Salafis get 2.
  • Business: coalition between al-Dostor and A Strong Egypt, and independents gets 52 seats, other independents get 3, and MB gets one.
  • Agriculture: 37 for coalition of independents vs. 19 for MB.
  • Dentistry: al-Dostor and independents get 34, other independents get 23 seats, MB gets 3, and 10 seats are supposed to be appointed.
  • Art: civil coalition gets 47, independents get 8, and MB one.
  • Pharmacy: al-Dostor and independents get 45, and other independents get 25 seats.
  • Science: 41% for Dostor and independent, 14.29% for other independents, 44% MB.

Alexandria University:

  • Faculty of Pharmacy student union’s election results for 2013: 32.86% for civil movement for change and awareness, 32.86% for "Pharma Mix" (affiliated with MB), 5.71% for others, and 28.57% for independent runners. First year results: civil movement got 7 seats, the independent got 3, and Pharma mix (affiliated with MB) got 4 seats. Second year: 12 for the independent, 2 for the MB. Third year: 9 for the MB, 5 for the independent. Fourth year: 6 for the civil movement, 6 for the MB, 2 for others.
  • Third year, (faculty of art): 3 seats for "Strong literature" (Strong Egypt), 4 for regular students, 6 for MB.
  • Fourth year art students: 12 for the "Voice of the students" (a coalition of student movements and families), no seats for MB.
  • First year, (faculty of law): 11 seats for "Challenge and Change" (Dostor and popular current coalition), 2 seats for independents, 1 for the "Voice of students" (coalition of Kefaya and Masraweya family) 
  • Fourth year, Engineering: independents get 14 seats, MB none.
  • Education, 53.57% MB. 46.3% for "Leaders of the Future" (civil movement),
  • Engineering, 58.57% for independent candidates, 41.43% for MB.

Banha University:

  • 65.11% for "The Values" (civil), 24.66% for al-Dostor and independent candidates, 4.43% MB, 0.57% for Salafis, 5.23% for Strong Egypt.

Ain Shams University:

  • Fifth year medical school: 9 for "A strong Egypt," 3 for the MB, and 2 for the independent. Third year: MB gets 6 seats, independent get 8. Fourth and sixth year: a coalition of Al-Dostor party, the Democratic Party, and the Socialist Revolutionaries wins 28 seats, MB gets nothing.
  •  Faculty of Science,, First and third year: revolutionary forces' coalition gets 24 seats, independent get 4, MB gets nothing.
  • First year, Engineering: "fingerprint" (coalition of al-Dostor, Socialist Revolutionaries, Democratic party, Students for Freedom) take all seats.
  • First year, Business: Coalition "No sheep" wins all seats, "Ultras for change" don't win any. 

Beni Suef University:

  • Science, fourth year: Independents get 9 seats, MB gets 6. Third year, the independent get all the seats. 
  • Law, third year: 6 seats for the independent, 3 for the Salafis, and 3 for MB. Remaining 2 seats a run off between Salafis and Brothers.
  • Art, 10 seats for MB, 2 for others,and 2 for Salafis.
  • Business, fourth year: 12 for MB, 2 for Salafis and 2 for independent.
The speech ElBaradei could have made after meeting Kerry

Much has been made about the refusal by National Salvation Front leaders, aside Amr "I never miss an opportunity to show I'm a big shot" Moussa, to meet incoming US Secretary of State John Kerry. I'm not sure not meeting him was that much of a missed opportunity, because I'm still not sure what the NSF exactly has to say for itself. Beyond, that is, describing Washington's urging for the opposition to compete in the upcoming elections as a form of foreign interference, thus echoing both the Mubarak regime and SCAF's (and the Brotherhood regime's) hysterical accusations and hyperventilation every time someone outside the country suggests something.

Imagine ElBaradei (or Sabahi, or whoever) coming out of a meeting with Kerry and, at the press conference, making a speech that begins along these lines:

We just had an honest and forceful exchange of views with John Kerry, whom we welcome to Egypt and wish good luck as he begins his tenure as Secretary of State. The United States has a long history of relations with Egypt — not always good relations, it is true, but relations that have nonetheless been pivotal to the region and its future. I told Secretary Kerry that as he begins a new job, and the Obama administration begins a second term, many Egyptians will be watching him for what direction America takes.

Under the Mubarak regime, many of us felt that the US had made the wrong choice in backing a president and a regime that grew more authoritarian and unjust over the years. We hoped such a mistake would not be repeated again, and were optimistic to see President Obama speak of the need for democracy in the region in 2011. But, more recently, some of us have been sorely disappointed.

We have a hard time understanding how the country of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and John Adams — a country whose people, perhaps more than any other in the world, takes great pride in its founders' framing of its constitution — stayed silent when a new constitution was shoved down the throats of Egyptians. We wonder whether Americans would find it acceptable that the majority party of the day rush the approval of their nation's covenant in less than 24 hours. Or that their Supreme Court be fettered by an all-powerful president. 

We do not believe that the Egyptian people deserve any less a constitution than the American people. And we were puzzled to hear Washington call for consensus only after the recent referendum, precisely after the opportunity to create a wide consensus had evaporated.

We hear Secretary Kerry's calls to focus on our foundering economy, and could not agree more: it has been terribly mismanaged by an administration that decided to sacrifice Egypt's economic and social well-being for short-term political gain. But we ask Secretary Kerry: was Egypt ever likely to be able to tackle its challenges and take painful decisions for the sake of reform without establishing a genuine consensus? Where was America's advice in December, when the decisions that have led to the current economic crisis were taken?

Secretary Kerry, a long time ago you fought against your president's decision to prolong an unnecessary war in Vietnam, and more recently you had the wisdom to speak out against another president's policies in Iraq. Some called you unpatriotic, but history proved you right. When Egyptians denounce their president today, they do not do so out of spite — they do so out of concern for their country and their future. We believe history will prove us right — but fear the costs we will have to pay in the meantime.

Secretary Kerry, we will not take part in the next elections not because we are afraid of losing, but precisely because we do not think the consensus that is necessary to set Egypt on the right path politically, economically, and socially has been created. We will not legitimize an administration that believes winning one or two elections gives it the right to single-handedly write the rules of the game and treat other parts of our great nation in an arrogant and humiliating way. We know this might be a risky proposition — but we must stand by our principles. And we ask: what are America's principles?

. . .

The point is not the content of the speech, in which I echo what I see as potential NSF talking points rather than my own opinion. The point is, as an opposition leader, why not leverage such an occasion to make a speech that might send a strong message to the US, play to concerns of some American groups (some in Congress, parts of the media, civil society, elements of public opinion, etc.) that can put pressure on the Obama administration? That also sends a message to a domestic audience that it has leaders that are able to stand next to an American Secretary of State and sound both statesmanlike and defiant — but without being petulant? Why not take every opportunity to score political points?