The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged april6
In Translation: April 6's Ahmed Maher on Egypt under Sisi

Last month, Huffington Post launched its Arabic edition in London to great fanfare. Like other spin-offs of the American website, HuffPo Arabi is a joint venture, not under the direct editorial control of the original. It is not the first Arab world edition to launch – HuffPo Maghreb has French-language Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan sites – but it is the first Arabic edition one. It has generated some controversy already (update: meant to link to this critical Buzzfeed piece), in part because the site is far from the liberal leanings of the HuffPo mothership, but also because of its pro-Islamist leanings. One of the key people behind HuffPo Arabi is Wadah Khanfar, a former director-general of al-Jazeera known for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood trend. The site has predictably taken the kind of positions generally associated with the Qatari-funded media (i. e. anti-Assad, anti-Sisi, pro-Erdogan, etc.)

Among one of its early coups is to secure an interview with the imprisoned leader of the April 6 movement, Ahmed Maher, sentenced to prison last year for violating the draconian protest law approved by interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and enforced with gusto under President Abdelfattah al-Sisi. The interview does show some criticism of the Brotherhood, even  if most of the vitriol is reserved for Sisi, and paints an alarming picture of the radicalization taking place in Egypt's over-flowing prisons.

We bring you this translation through our friends over at Industry Arabic – we heartily recommend them for any Arabic translation job big or small. Check out their website to get a quote for your needs.

Ahmed Maher to Huffington Post Arabic: Every Justification Now Exists for a Revolution against Sisi

Moataz Shamseddin, Huffington Post Arabi, 29 July 2015

For more than 20 months, Ahmed Maher, the general coordinator of the April 6 Movement, has been locked up in solitary confinement on the charge of violating the protest law. Despite the possible dangers, he has agreed to answer questions for Huffington Post Arabic and speak about his broken dreams and regrets.

In this interview, Maher states that all the reasons that justified revolution against Mubarak exist for Sisi as well. He believes that the Arab Spring is not dead, and that the period we are going through is the start of change and not the end. It resembles to a great extent the intellectual transformations before the Renaissance in Europe or before the French Revolution.

Maher describes here the harsh conditions of his solitary confinement and what occurs during his occasional encounters with Muslim Brotherhood members. He insists that Egypt’s prisons will be an incubator for radicalism and that the “autocratic” regimes of the Arab world – and not the uprisings of the Arab Spring – are what gave the impetus for ISIS, while casting blame on Western nations for backing these regimes.

First off, we would like to know about the conditions of your imprisonment currently. Have you suffered from any rights violations?

I haven’t suffered any physical violations, but the hardship is increasing day by day because of the increasing psychological pressure on me. Things have gone from bad to worse over the 20 months or so that I have spent in prison. I have been in solitary confinement for around 20 months. This in itself is a sort of psychological pressure. Isolated from the outside world, I live in complete isolation under maximum security and deprived of personal contact and correspondence with anyone, including family and friends. Newspapers, TV, and news sources are forbidden, and sometimes even food, on the pretext of emergencies in the prison or the country. It’s also forbidden to pray the Friday prayer. I was also forbidden from breaking the fast or eating sohour with the others during Ramadan. My personal belongings were also stolen.

Up until a year ago, [prominent young revolutionary activists] Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma were in the same building as me, and despite the fact that we were all in solitary confinement, we would meet for several hours every day and talk. But then about a year ago, each one of us was suddenly transferred to a different prison and I don’t know anything about them. Currently, I’m in intense isolation under maximum security and deprived of the most basic rights. Meanwhile, felons have much better conditions and enjoy rights that I could only dream of, such as TV, letters, newspapers, Friday prayer, and listening to music.

Does Sisi’s regime deserve a revolution or attempts at reform?

From the start of his rule, Sisi rejected any path toward reform, and he rejects any advice. He doesn’t respect democracy, politicians or political parties. He wants to lead by himself like in the army. Anyone who tries to draw his attention to any error is accused of treason because they dare to criticize him.

Sisi is ruling in the same manner and with the same rules as Mubarak. Mubarak was actually more flexible, whereas Sisi is driving people away from him and the anger against him is mounting, even if it is muffled now. Sisi is ruling in the same manner, with the same stubbornness and with the same stupidity as Mubarak – but worse.

What are the chances of and conditions for a reconciliation between the regime and the revolutionary youth?

The current regime, structured as it is around the military and security apparatus, is cutting all ties with youth and treating them with hostility. The current regime is under the control of a number of Mubarak’s cronies who want revenge against young people and especially anyone who had a prominent role in the 25 January 2011 revolution – even though most of these youth also rose up against Mohammed Morsi in 30 June 2013, and I was among them.

However, those in power now don’t want a rapprochement with young people; they just want revenge. The current regime is the one who started the hostility with the revolutionary youth and with everyone. The proof of this is that it imprisoned the revolutionary youth, then harassed them inside the prisons. It refused to repeal or amend the anti-protest law or pardon young people, even though they are not terrorists and did not bear arms. All they did was defend their right to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom to protest peacefully. These are things that the military regime considers a crime.

Is there a chance that the revolutionary forces will come together once again and work to change the situation?

Some groups that played a major role in the 25 January 2011 Revolution are coming together and they still do stand by the demands of that revolution, such as freedom, dignity and social justice. However, the past few years have caused changes, fissures and deep transformations in concepts and positions.

I don’t think that anyone who is calling for a religious state could join the revolutionary youth, nor could anyone who supports authoritarianism, military rule or who dreams of a return of the oppressive Nasser regime join the revolutionary youth. The revolution was not launched for religious rule or authoritarian rule, and so there are a lot of deep divides that have emerged after all these events.

Before talking about rapprochement, we have to re-define who are the revolutionary forces, which revolution are we talking about and what are its goals, so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes that were made after Mubarak was ousted.

Is there anything that you regret on the personal level that you wish you could change?

Of course there are things that maybe I would decide to do differently if I knew the outcome. For example, I think that trusting the military and the Muslim Brotherhood was naïve, because each of them have a plan and their own interests. They each tricked us and broke all their promises. Each of them are authoritarian and think that they have the absolute truth.

When I re-read about the events or read about the history of revolutions, I realize that the radical demands were sometimes excessive, romantic or unrealistic, especially since our camp was not united and did not have sufficient power. Many revolutions only succeeded in agreeing on peaceful transition between two sides or after transitional justice, or after agreement on a gradual transition of power. I’m not speaking about a specific situation, but I think I was very romantic and a dreamer. I think that if I knew that truth about the regime or the truth about certain people, I certainly would have thought differently.

Have any politicians or participants in the revolution lost your respect? If so, why?

Certainly, there are those who have lost my respect. I don’t want to mention current figures, but I have lost respect for all those who claimed to support the January 25 Revolution who now support authoritarianism and repression, who support the anti-protest law, who take part in lying and obfuscation, who distort the January 25 Revolution, who promote sick conspiracy theories, or who circulate rumors against us knowing that they’re false, anyone who justifies authoritarianism and human rights violations, or who used to defend human rights but after the military took power dropped everything they were calling for and started to justify human rights violations in order to curry favor with the authorities. I have lost respect for all young people, academics and human rights activists who have changed their stripes and now started to defend authoritarianism and human rights violations.

Have you had any discussions with the Muslim Brotherhood in prison? Do you see any benefit in dialogue?

Despite the extreme isolation imposed on me, sometimes I am able to speak with some members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In general, they refuse to recognize that they made any mistakes while in power. They are saying that the protests of 30 June 2013 were not due to popular outrage but to a Western Crusader conspiracy against Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are still in denial about what happened. On the whole, I don’t think that there is serious reflection or any flexibility among the Brotherhood. This means that the solution is still far off. How can there be a solution without serious reflection – not just about their practices while in power, but also a reconsideration of the theory itself? This is what they refuse to do. They claim that they did not make mistakes but rather that the world conspired against them.

The Muslim Brotherhood is talking about human rights violations against them inside the prisons – did you see any of that?

Violations against the Brotherhood and the Islamists are taking place every day in all prisons. I met some of them by chance and I heard many stories of torture, maltreatment and harassment in every prison. In general, the treatment of political prisoners is bad, and there is psychological and physical punishment, but the treatment of Islamists is worse.

Has prison become a breeding ground for extremist ideas?

Prison has really become a breeding ground for extremists. It has become a school for crime and terrorism, since there are hundreds of young men piled on top of each other in narrow confines, jihadists next to Muslim Brotherhood members next to revolutionaries next to sympathizers. There are also a large number of young people who were also arrested by mistake and who don’t belong to any school of thought.

Everyone is suffering oppression and punishment inside the prisons. Everyone is accused of being either a terrorist or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is turning the people arrested by mistake who don’t belong to any movement into jihadists. Moreover, Muslim Brotherhood members are gradually becoming radicalized, since they suffer from inhumane treatment in the prisons. The authorities treat the prisoners like slaves, and this inspires a thirst for revenge, not to mention the undignified treatment that the families face when they visit.

The Arab Spring is dead, while ISIS is thriving – who is responsible, in your opinion?

The Arab Spring isn’t dead. I think this phase is the beginning of a change, not the end. It is similar to the intellectual transformations that took place before the Renaissance in Europe, or before the French Revolution. Concepts of democracy are still new in the region, and there are those who are resisting it in order to stay in power.

Meanwhile, ISIS has exploited the situation. The Arab uprisings are not the cause, but rather the bloody authoritarian regimes that resisted change and resisted democracy, true justice, and concepts of tolerance, co-existence and freedom. This is what gave rise to ISIS and continues to drive it.

ISIS found fertile ground because of Bashar al-Assad’s brutality in Syria, Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarianism in Iraq, Iran’s ambitions in the region, and the oppression and authoritarianism that people are suffering from. So long as authoritarianism and sectarianism exist, you will find extremism as a response.

Extremism found a foothold in Egypt because of Sisi’s brutality and authoritarianism. The more the oppression and authoritarianism increased and the more freedom and democracy vanished, the more justifications ISIS and al-Qaeda have. ISIS is saying that your regimes are corrupt, unjust failures and we’re the alternative. This is a disaster, because injustice generates extremism. For this reason, neither the coalition’s strikes nor Sisi’s raids will stop ISIS. Defeating ISIS requires freedom, democracy, justice and a culture of tolerance, co-existence and acceptance of the other.

But I also do not excuse the revolutionary youth from the mistake that they made, since they rose up against oppression without putting forward an alternative project to the authoritarian regimes. We now face two choices, each of them disastrous: either religious fascism or a return to authoritarianism.

The West is warmer toward Sisi despite the violations. Do you have a message for US President Barack Obama and Western governments about this?

Western governments are now warming to Sisi because of economic or military interests. In my opinion, this is short-sighted and a repeat of past mistakes. US support for Mubarak over 30 years did not stop the spread of radicalism or lead to stability. The West’s support for authoritarian regimes and dictatorships is damaging its credibility. The West should not repeat the same mistake of backing authoritarian regimes, since supporting military regimes in South America, Africa and the Middle East has only led to popular outrage against the US and the West. It has only increased radicalism and violence due to the repressive climate. This is what causes instability. I’m saying to government leaders: Don’t support authoritarianism in Egypt just to preserve old economic and military interests with the regime, because the perseverance of authoritarianism and repression is what leads to violence, extremism and instability. The Egyptian government has signed agreements to respect human rights – so why do you reward authoritarians in Egypt despite flagrant human rights violations, especially against young people? International treaties and international values of human rights make clear that basic rights may not be violated, rights such as freedom of opinion, belief, expression, decent and humane treatment, and a refusal to use torture regardless of the emergency or exceptional situation. Thus, the war on terror is not a justification for the violations committed by the Sisi regime. It actually creates terrorism through oppression, corruption and injustice.

It appears that the April 6 Movement has been completely absent from the streets lately. How do you explain that?

I am not up to date on all the details due to my isolation in prison, but in general, the political climate in Egypt is more stifling than during the Mubarak era. It has become easy for the authorities to abduct or kill any young opposition member without any legal accountability. Also, in the absence of a parliament, the post-July 30 regime has also modified the laws so that young people spend years in prison under investigation just for a trivial police report or on mere suspicion. Then there is also the anti-protest law, under which I have been sentenced to three years in prison. Some of my colleagues were sentenced to five years or more just for opposing the anti-protest law. Meanwhile, some were abducted and still have not resurfaced. On the whole, we are going through a period of repression worse than anything under Mubarak. We feel like we’re back to square one and we have to start from scratch and develop mechanisms according to developments.

The April 6 Movement, for its part, will continue to work for democratic transformation, even though the idea of starting a political party and engaging in conventional politics is not feasible right now. The current authorities do not respect political parties, and all means of creating change through parties or conventional political activity are blocked.

The current authorities do not respect the constitution or the law – not to mention the fact that we currently don’t have a parliament. The current authorities, which are just an extension of the Mubarak regime – have arranged it so that the next parliament will not be a source of trouble or an effective opposition.

Was the April 6 Movement organizationally affected by the arrest of its leaders?

Of course the imprisonment of its leaders affected the movement’s performance, but the movement is carrying on despite repression, imprisonment, torture, slander in the media, the spread of false rumors about it and its founders, harassment, terrorism, persecution, and the lack of either local or foreign funding. The fact that it continues to persevere is cause for hope. The April 6 Movement has not been broken despite this dirty war waged against it.

Why have the members of April 6 been singled out for special treatment in the prisons and isolated from everyone else?

The harassment and isolation in the prisons is so that we don’t think together and so that we can’t come up with any new ideas. It’s also so we can’t access any news, communicate with members or plan any new events.

Another reason for it is so we can’t rally together and demand our basic rights inside prison, or encourage others to demand their rights.

Being together made it easier for us, since when we were together our worries were shared. It seems that the authorities want to inflict the greatest possible psychological harm on us, to the point that even meeting people who have the shared interests is now a luxury.

Finally, support for civil, democratic values is the solution. Support for democratic transformation is what will stop the spread of radicalism and jihadism and not the reverse. If authoritarianism and tyranny continue, it will lead to the spread of ISIS’ ideology as an alternative or a reaction.

Egypt in TV: Highlights and low points on the talk shows

Did you know letting non-rich Egyptian kids become judges could lead them to suffer from “depression and a lot of things”?

The former minister of justice, Mahfouz Saber was there to inform you. His knowledge and concern for the psychological well-being of the poor is the reason he argued that the sons (forget daughters) of trash collectors should not join the judiciary, regardless of how academically accomplished and gifted they may be.  A judge needs to grow up in an “appropriate,” “respectable” environment, and be able to cultivate the necessary “loftiness” of judges, he told Ten TV’s Ramy Radwan. Saber's remarks ignited a media debate and led to his forced resignation. 

Prime minister Ibrahim Mehlab later told to CBC host Lamis el-Hadidi that Saber’s statement was a long slip of the tongue, and that he was actually the son of a peasant, who was lucky to continue his education. Saber then came out to say that it was not a tongue slip after all and that he stood by what he said.

“(I said that) to placate the people,” Saber all but muttered to el-Mehwar’s Mohamed Sherdy. Luckily, the poor were too busy being socially immobile to pay much attention to this back-and-forth. 

OnTV’s Ibrahim Eissa found it amusing that the sad little public didn’t know that the minister of justice has no say in the appointment of judges. It is the State Council’s job, and they should be focused on the alleged attempted assassination of a judge working on MB cases -- presumably by the MB --- rather than on the overt scorn the head of the entire judiciary just poured over the population.

Saber’s statement brought out an interesting and new side to Rola Kharsa, the TV presenter who frequently criticized the MB for “mixing religion with politics.”

“If you go back to religion ,I can simply tell you: If God willed, He would have made you a single people,” Kharsa said without further explanation, prompting one to assume that Kharsa thinks God has created people different -- and unequal, given the context -- and wants to keep it this way. This is funny because this verse (which is no. 48 from chapter 5, Surah al-Maidah) has nothing to do with social class. It is about religion and how Allah wanted to create diversity in beliefs to test humanity.

But Kharsa said that even if many might agree with the minister, it is not right for a government official to speak this way, and that individuals should be judged on their merits. 

Also mixing religion with politics this week was Rotana Masirya’s Tamer Ameen, who said that since we elected president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run the country for us while we “sit at ahwas, smoke lots of shisha, go out a lot and don’t work a lot” rather than collectively run the country ourselves, we are religiously mandated to support him according to this Hadith: “Support your brother, whether oppressor or oppressed,” meaning when he is right back him up and when he is wrong correct him, which is another form of support -- one I don’t remember Ameen preaching for former president Mohamed Morsi, who was also elected. What’s more amusing than that is that Ameen is talking religion on Rotana of all channels. (Rotana sponsors music and broadcasts movies often laden with sexual innuendo.)

Refusing to be the only official not making classist generalizations this week, Minister of Urban Development and Slum Areas Laila Iskandar came out to blame (poor) Upper Egyptians for Egypt’s informal housing problem, as opposed to the government. She later said that she, too, is from Upper Egypt and deeply cares for the people there.

While the government told the poor to dream small, ElHayah TV’s Ahmed el-Meslamani advised the government to adopt China’s Internet censorship policy, just like he thinks France will do. The French interior minister, el-Meslamani claimed -- despite knowledge that Google is not blocked in Egypt -- said that 90 percent of terrorists today were radicalized on social media, making Facebook and Twitter the new nuclear bomb. What actually happened is that the French minister visited Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google to ask for direct cooperation with the French government. He did not give any statistics or compare these websites to weapons of mass destruction.

Sharing el-Meslamani’s disrespect for Google, Al Kahera Wal Nas’s Amany el-Khayat aired an amazing reportage about April 6 to warn Gulf states of the imaginary spread of the once-influential student protest movement, whose leader, Ahmad Maher, is in jail.

The report starts with a series of superimposed edited logos of April 6, claiming it has branches all over the world and that it is related to “Zionist Christianity, which is heralding the nearness of the apocalypse and seeks to establish The Structure.” The leading US Republicans controlling this branch of Christianity include  George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice.They chose to name the movement after the month of April, because of Passover, the regrettable day when Jews were freed from Ancient Egyptian slavery (which explains why they are targeting Egypt now). The number 6 was chosen because it is apparently important to Jews and probably because of the 2006 film The Omen, in which the spawn of Satan had the numbers 666 as a birthmark on his head to prove he was the spawn of Satan. The bottom line is that the “6” and the “April” in April 6 links it to Judaism which links it to Free Masonry. 

Meanwhile in the world of reasonable adults, the beloved political analyst and former member of parliament Amr Hamzawy kind of sold out. Hamzawy gave Khairy Ramadan a mercilessly long interview earlier this month that was so boring, one almost missed/no longer cared about his selling out. Hamzawy was one of the few liberals to publicly say that July 3 was a coup, but that was before he made his “revisions.” He fell silent when Khairy said the following: “Amr Hamzawy is not saying now that July 3 is a coup. Amr Hamzawy admits that the president of the republic Abdel Fatah el-Sisi was democratically elected.”


Hamzawy is also no longer wishes to bring down the regime. He wants to reform it from the inside and he regrets his support for the law which banned former members of the Mubarak’s dissolved ruling National Democratic Party from contesting elections.

Recent weeks have seen something of a Mubarak come-back tour, with the president and his sons being covered and quoted in the media. “Who is the first one to admit to the mistakes that we lived through in the past 30 years?”  asked Mahmoud Saad. “Mubarak,” he answered. He is the one who removed his son, Gamal Mubarak, and notoriously corrupt NDP members like Ahmed Ezz and Safwat el-Sherief from power (admittedly after putting them in power in the first place). Mubarak’s only fault was letting his son and wife rule with him, said Saad (who also at one point asked someone off camera if he was being polite enough about the former ruling family). So what is the point of this walk down Saad’s edited memory lane? It is to say that the wife and son did a poor job and that el-Sisi now is trying to save what Mubarak couldn’t. 

The only thing stranger than Saad’s logic was Wael el-Ibrashy’s awkward recent interview with Ahmed Fouad, the last king of Egypt and the son of King Farouk, in which el-Ibrashy kept asking his docile guest to tell us in his accented Arabic how much he approves of July 3 (which is arguably in bad taste, since his father was deposed by the military too) and how grateful he is to el-Sisi for giving him a diplomatic passport that says “Former King of Egypt” under occupation.

Does April 6 really have a PR firm in the US?

Steve Cook writes, in Flacking The Revolution, that April 6 now has a PR company in the US:

Yesterday afternoon I became aware that a Beverly Hills-based public relations firm is representing Egypt’s April 6th Movement. In a small way, the movement’s ties to Levine Communications Office (LCO) reveals many of the incongruities and paradoxes that make Washington’s relations with the Arab world so fraught. To be fair, on a practical level, it makes a lot of sense: The firm is working for April 6th on a pro bono basis, it is sure to have a better list of press contacts than any Egyptian firm, the U.S. media market is the biggest in the world, and speaking to American reporters provides the movement a good way to try to influence the Obama administration.

On another level, the April 6th Movement’s relationship with LCO is curious given the group’s history and role in the Egyptian uprising. April 6th was founded in solidarity with Egyptian workers who had been engaged in wildcat strikes and job actions against the neo-liberal economic policies (hatched in Washington) that the Egyptian government was pursuing. A primary goal of the movement’s leadership was to convince workers that their economic problems were inextricably linked to the authoritarian nature of the Mubarak regime. Moroever, my understanding is that the underlying causes of the uprising—which would not have happened if not for the efforts of the April 6th Movement according to the message journalists received from LCO—were national dignity, authenticity, and empowerment. A primary component of the anger directed at Hosni Mubarak was his close alignment with the United States, which many Egyptians believed warped Egyptian foreign policy and compromised Cairo’s regional influence.

I’d treat this news with some caution — April 6 has had problems with members doing and saying things that go against its leaders’ policies in the past. In the current environment of a witchhunt against foreign funding, it's worth approaching this with caution. I’ve emailed LCO asking them for a clarification, we’ll see what they say. Let me know if you have any info in the comments.