The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged in translation
In Translation: Western superiority and Arab denial (Part 1)

In a long two-part article, the prominent Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel has written an epic rant about how badly off the Arab world is and how incapable it is of facing its own shortcomings. I'm not sure what triggered the timing, but it is probably related to the collective hand-wringing about the state of the region, and the Syrian calamity in particular, that the picture of Aylan al-Kurdi and thousands of other refugees from Syria has triggered. Much like some segments of the Western press about the West's response, there has been much questioning as to whether enough is being done for Syria by Arabs. (Of course, there has also been much opportunistic blame-shifting by the various sides of the Syrian war.) 

Al-Dakheel's jeremiad, an increasingly common type of article by Arab intellectuals in these dark ages (although one could trace the style, at least, to Sadik al-Azm's Self-Criticism After the Defeat), is about something more general, though. It appears as an exasperated antidote to the widespread strain of fuzzy, conspiratorial, delusional and self-aggrandizing rhetoric that dominates so much of public discourse in the region. It has little interest in focusing on the colonial and neo-imperial roots of the Middle East's troubles, seeing them as a way to deflect responsibility for Arab countries' and societies' faults and choices. Yet in its flattering (and somewhat provocative) assessment of Western superiority, it still remains trapped in the us-versus-them logic that it decries as so poisonous. This is part I of his article published in al-Hayat, part II will be published on Wednesday.

Brought to you, as always, by the excellent professional translation team of Industry Arabic

Western Superiority and Arab Denial

Khaled al-Dakheel, Al-Hayat, 30 August 2015 

Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.

This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing.

Consider with me this landscape that has now prevailed for more than a century: political leaders, religious clerics, intellectuals, journalists, religious thinkers, artists, and different schools of thought relentlessly mock the West and downplay its civilizational superiority without offering an alternative. Instead, their own views always lead to infighting and wars between them, or to justifications for endless wars and battles. What is strange is this seeming consensus to disparage the West and its civilizational achievement has never bolstered what they call the “united [Arab-Islamic] front,” but rather has always led to fissures and disintegration. Ironically, it always increases the pretexts for war and strife between these factions, which still never tire of their superior attitude. The more they mock the West, the more their disputes and divisions escalate. How strange is it that the more they mock, the more the mockers have cause to fight one another! What does this mean? Before you answer, consider these three points: first, in most countries, the Arab Spring (which cannot be said to have ended) has turned into a gelid and deadly Arab Autumn or even Winter. This outcome has seemed to many an occasion to revisit conspiratorial thinking about plots to divide the region – as if the Middle East were a dish of chocolate or fruit just waiting to be divvied up from the outside. Was Muammar Gaddafi part of the conspiracy to divide Libya? Is Bashar al-Assad a part of the current conspiracy to divide Syria? Are Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdullah al-Houthi part of a conspiracy to divide Yemen? You will not find an answer to this among conspiracy theorists. Not because there is not an answer, but because like those who mock, they are preoccupied with pinning the conspiracy on the West. The conspiracy is comforting and it relieves them from the difficulties of analysis, painful self-reflection and accepting responsibility.

The second point is that the people most committed to and loudest in their mockery, disparagement and resistance to the West are the most politically backwards, the most sectarian, and the most brutal against Arabs and Muslims – and in particular, toward the people that they themselves belong to and govern. Leave ISIS aside for the moment, since that is a self-evident example. There is an example older than ISIS that is similar to it and which paved the way for its emergence, an example that combined these qualities of mockery of the West, sectarianism and brutality: the Syrian regime itself. Since 1963, the feature that has most distinguished this regime has been combining brutality with mockery of the West, while claiming to resist the West. It is no surprise then that Syria’s current president led Syria to the most vicious civil war in its history. After the death of 300,000 people, and the displacement of more than half of the Syrian population, Bashar al-Assad has the gall to claim that he is fighting terrorism. In the same context, you find Hezbollah – which is the loudest proponent of “resistance” – to be the most drenched in the blood of Arabs and Muslims in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while it is trying to do the same in Bahrain and Yemen as well. Who is trying to divide Syria in this case? Russia? The Americans? The EU? Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey? Or is it Iran and its Shiite militias? Or the leadership of the Syrian regime itself and its foreign and domestic allies?

The third point is that the vast majority of Arab migrants who are fleeing Arab civil wars do not go to other Arab countries or to Iran. Could you imagine Syrian refugees going to Iran, especially when most of them are Sunni, not Shiite? In the same way, could you imagine Shiite refugees from Iraq or Alawites from Syria going to Jordan or Saudi Arabia? When some refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon, it was a textbook example of a hostile reception, bad housing and lack of services, alongside a loss of dignity and rights. This is despite the fact that the Arabs talk most of “dignity,” rather than rights, and despite the fact that the “Party of Resistance” – whose supporters found a generous welcome in Syria in 2006 – dominates Lebanon. Do you see the irony (according to the logic of Arab-Islamic mockery of the West) in the fact that Syrian refugees in Turkey, Europe and the US are much better off?

These points clearly show that mockery of the West and disparagement of its superiority are a flight from reality and a shameful self-justification and excuse for an inability to succeed. It is an excuse for bigotry, religious obscurantism and sectarianism – and first and foremost, for authoritarianism. Over time, this mockery and disparagement has turned into a political and ideological mechanism for reproducing an outworn and obsolete culture that props up authoritarianism and incubates authoritarianism’s fellow henchman: sectarianism. What is unclear is how this mockery of the West and disparagement of its superiority turned into a civilizational complex that over time has become an insurmountable obstacle for the Arab themselves. In next week’s article, I will try to answer that question.

Links March 14-20 2015
In Translation: Standing on Saddam's Grave

Courtesy our friends at Industry Arabic -- a professional translation service that can fulfill your every Arabic need -- a column on the battle to liberate Tikrit from ISIS, Iran's prominent role there, and the way it may undermine the fragile equilibrium in Iraq. 

Suleimani, on Saddam's Grave

By Ghassan Charbel

El Hayat, 12 March

ISIS is a cancer that can only be treated by excision. Its removal is a patriotic, national and humanitarian duty. Successful treatment to ensure that a relapse will not occur requires involving the community that it has infiltrated in uprooting it, and insulating this community against ISIS' lies and claims. It is not out of place at this juncture to consider in advance what the patient’s condition will be after the malicious tumor is removed.

It is not insignificant for ISIS to control Tikrit, a city with much resonance in recent Iraqi history -- not because Saddam Hussein’s tomb is in the nearby village of Awja, but because it is symbolic of the Sunni Arab role in Iraq. The Iraqi government could not leave Tikrit in the hands of ISIS, but the conditions of the current surgery raise concerns that if Tikrit falls into the hands of its attackers – which is the necessary outcome – this could lead to the collapse of balance required for Iraq to remain united and part of the Arab world.

These concerns would not have been prompted if the Iraqi army was the one leading the charge to retake Tikrit and had adopted measures to quell the concerns of the inhabitants of Anbar, Saladin and Nineveh. But what is happening now is that “popular mobilization” is playing the main role in combating ISIS, and “mobilization” means an alliance of Shiite militias. The attack is also marked by an American refusal to provide air cover and an increasing tendency by Iran to openly admit that it is managing the campaign.

Iran has intervened in the countries of the region over the past two decades and has skillfully found many covers for this activity. What is remarkable in recent weeks is that Tehran has openly avowed these interventions through images of General Qassem Suleimani in the field in both Iraq and Syria and statements by Iranian officials about their solid influence in four Arab countries, not to mention talk about the Mandab Strait and an entrenched presence on the Mediterranean.

Why has Tehran abandoned its previous reserve? Does it wish to say that it has seized its regional role in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen before any potential nuclear agreement with the US has been signed? Does it wish to make decisive changes that cannot be reversed? Does it wish to signal that the above countries are a vital extension of Iran and that the inhabitants of the region ought to get used to seeing Iranian generals left and right? Does it wish to unequivocally declare what it used to whisper to its visitors, which is that it is not just an important country in the region, but the most important country? And that the most important country has the right to recalibrate the balances in the region in a manner that accords with its new role? It is not a trivial matter for Ali Shamkhani to be declaring that Iran has prevented the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and Damascus.

To return to Iraq, this past January in Baghdad and Erbil I heard people expressing concern that Sunni Arabs will be the biggest loser in the war to eliminate ISIS. The war is being fought in their areas, with all that entails in terms of death, destruction and displacement. However, there was a belief that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was interested in convincing Sunni Arabs of the legitimacy of the fight before going to battle in their strongholds. There were also those who believed that the American role would moderate the Iranian conduct of this war. Because of fears that the spirit of revenge would break out, Ayatollah al-Sistani repeated calls to avoid vengeance and even to arm the Sunni tribes that were willing to take part in the war.

There is no doubt that we are at juncture that will be decisive for Iraq, decisive for its internal equilibrium and decisive as well for its future position. Clearly, roles are being drawn in blood. The most dangerous thing that could happen is for the current battle to be seen as marking the final loss of the country’s internal balance and the increased marginalization of Sunni Arabs. If that happens, it would expose Iraq to future turmoil. The previous victory over al-Qaeda evaporated due to infighting, which gave ISIS the chance to infiltrate wide swathes of Iraq. Refusing to recognize the necessary conditions for a real national reconciliation threatens a repetition of the same deadly mistakes. It is the end of a turbulent era for Iraq. Recall, dear reader, that the Iraqi army invaded Iran in 1980, and it was a long, destructive war that ended with a ceasefire and the “poisoned cup.” That Iraq is gone and shall not return. Even the Iraq that was born out of the American invasion seems transitional. We are on the way to a new Iraq, and to a new region. And to conflicts that may be more dangerous than policies of invasion and encirclement.

I called an Iraqi friend to ask questions and verify things. He said that the current surgery poses great risk to Iraq and to relations between its Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish components. He also said that the fall of Tikrit was a major event by every measure, even if Qassem Suleimani had not come forward to stand on Saddam Hussein’s grave to announce the end of one era and the start of another.

In Translation: Belal Fadl on Egypt becoming "A Nation of Snitches"

Belal Fadl, an Egyptian screenwriter and columnist who has continued to speak his mind on the brutality and hypocrisy of the country's military regime, has published a five-part series with the news site Mada Masr on the history of domestic espionage in Egypt. Our good friends at the professional translation service Industry Arabic have translated the final installment in the series; the earlier ones are available in Arabic on the Mada site. 

Egypt: The Nation of Snitches Makes a Comeback. Is Sisi Fulfilling Nasser’s Dream of Turning All Citizens into Informers?

When a ruler depends solely on the power of oppression and completely impedes rational thinking, he no longer concerns himself with ensuring that there is an informant for every citizen.  Rather, he seeks to drive each and every citizen to become an informant of his or her own volition.

Some weeks ago, Abdel Rahman Zaidan, coordinator of the Revolutionaries Front in East Cairo, published a testimony on his Facebook page that soon became widely shared.  In this testimony, Abdel Rahman states that as he was riding a microbus [shared taxi-van] home, he was surprised to hear a middle-aged woman begin to fiercely criticize Sisi, the current government, and the Interior Ministry, much to the shock of those riding in the microbus with her.  One of the other passengers, encouraged by what the woman was saying, joined her in openly attacking Sisi, the government, and the Interior Ministry. Before Abdel Rahman could join the discussion, the woman suddenly asked the driver to pull over next to a church along the way.  As soon as the microbus stopped, the woman stuck her head out the window and called to the church guards, shouting, “Save me! There’s a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist in the microbus!” The guards rushed over, began beating the young man who had criticized Sisi, and pulled him from the microbus. The woman also got out of the microbus in order to accompany them and to testify to the heinous act that the young man had committed. She shot a sharp glance back at the other passengers, as if defying them to intervene, and stated proudly, “We’re cleaning up this country!” The remaining passengers, shocked at what had happened, sat frozen in their seats as the microbus drove away. Abdel Rahman concludes his testimony by advising his colleagues – who are busy defending their comrades who are among the students who have been detained, providing for their needs, and publicizing their cases – to refrain from talking about politics on public transportation in order to focus their efforts on what is most important. He urges them to avoid falling into this new security trap, set to ensnare anyone who expresses opposition to what is happening in Egypt.

Unfortunately, the woman from the microbus probably didn’t become an informer and begin to trick microbus passengers in order to hand them over to the police because she was recruited by one of the security bodies. Rather, I believe that she did this because she felt a sense of responsibility to protect her country, which drove her to participate in “purging” Egypt of the traitors who are ostensibly obstructing the country’s progress and undermining its stability. It should not be forgotten that this phenomenon emerged nearly a year and a half ago, when the state announced the establishment of telephone hotlines and urged “honorable citizens” to use them to report neighbors and acquaintances belonging to or supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the Rabaa massacre, the regime’s wanton incitement of “honorable citizens” expanded to target those who have been labeled in the media as “the fifth column,” including all who object to the foolish and violent manner in which the country has been managed, even if they are opposed the Muslim Brotherhood. In order to understand what would drive an ordinary person to act as the woman from the microbus did, we must take into account the vast number of radio and television programs that host supposed strategic and security experts and indomitable presenters who constantly advise millions of citizens – just like the woman from the microbus – not to hesitate to inform the police of anyone seeking to undermine the Egyptian state, and claiming that any citizen who fails to do so will be an accomplice in such crimes. Since this incitement began, we have heard of appalling incidents in which family members, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues have reported each other to the police, including an incident in which a mother turned in her son and insisted that he be detained because of his affiliation with the April 6 movement. Most recently, some “court” sheikhs issued fatwas claiming that it is the duty of believers to report even their family members if they are found to be plotting against the Egyptian state. The language used in these fatwas is vague enough that it may be stretched to include anything from creating bombs to speaking ill of the mothers of state officials.

In considering all of this, we must ask ourselves an important question: Would any Egyptian citizen feel shame at turning in a loved one to the police for being an Israeli spy?  Of course not -- in such a case, any Egyptian citizen would feel proud to have carried out his or her duty to protect the country.  As such, why should Egyptian citizens not feel the same pride at turning in an individual – whether a relative or a stranger – for criticizing Abdel Fattah el-Sisi while using public transportation, sitting in a café, or even attending a private gathering?  Has the media – with all its announcers, experts, writers, and intellectuals, including many who fiercely opposed Mubarak and who were major figures of the revolution – not convinced the average Egyptian citizen that (as Sisi himself put it) there is a vast international conspiracy seeking to overthrow the Egyptian state and to divide the Egyptian people from the army and the police? Why, then, do citizens wait to catch their relatives, neighbors, or friends red-handed, holding explicit proof of their direct involvement in espionage? Are Egyptian citizens still not convinced that there is something called fourth generation warfare, and that all those who engage in criticism, sarcasm or opposition are participants in this war? Do our citizens still not see that this war is no less serious than the wars that use tanks and planes? Why, then, should not each citizen become a soldier in the defense of his country, to the best of his ability? Why don’t we consider that every microbus, every café and every home has become a battlefront, in which we should strike down the traitors who plot against Egypt?  Why don’t we see that these plots begin with mere insults, even if it has been scientifically proven that “insults don’t stick”?

In the four previous parts of this article, we surveyed the documents of the vanguard organization presented by Dr. Hamada Hosni in his book Abdel Nasser and the Clandestine Vanguard Organization. Perhaps through this survey it has become clear that this disturbing approach is not a recent product of the difficult days we are currently living. Rather, it began early on, when Gamal Abdel Nasser decided that his hold on power in Egypt would not be consolidated unless he completely co-opted the political sphere. As a result, he abolished the multiparty system and established a shadowy political entity known as the Arab Socialist Union to monopolize all political activity in Egypt. Nasser went on to nationalize the press, thus ensuring that the only narrative heard in Egypt would be his own. All who dared to oppose, criticize, or accuse Nasser of injustice faced direct harassment and abuse. Viewing the state’s formidable security and intelligence bodies as insufficient, Nasser added to their ranks his clandestine vanguard organization. This organization incorporated the elite writers, intellectuals, artists, and politicians of the time, who of their own volition went from being leading shapers of public opinion to filing intelligence reports. Of course, Nasser was unable to achieve all of this until after he had convinced the Egyptian citizenry – via intensive media and instructional campaigns – that democracy, parliamentary life, multiparty politics, transfer of power, and freedom of the press are all dangerous concepts that would impede Egypt’s progress and play into the hands of imperialist states seeking to control the country.

In light of such a toxic environment, it is not surprising that the members of Nasser’s vanguard organization resorted to filing reports on their relatives, friends, and colleagues without experiencing the least bit of guilt. On the contrary, they felt pride at having played a role in protecting their country from its enemies and traitors. Let us consider, for instance, the testimony provided by Samy Sharaf, one of the leaders of this vanguard organization, after he was arrested in the context of the events of 15 May 1971, when Anwar al-Sadat purged Nasser’s supporters who were impeding his control of the country. These events, known as the Corrective Revolution, were referred to in the media at the time as “honorable.” Over the years this turned into something of a joke, particularly after the 15 May Bridge – named after this revolution – became more well-known among Egyptians than the revolution itself.

In the interrogation report published in Dr. Hamada Hosni’s book, Samy Sharaf breaks down and provides information about the head of the vanguard organization, Ali Sabry, claiming that he had insulted President Sadat using profane language. Sharaf denies accusations that he himself had opposed Sadat, saying that he considers Sadat’s leadership to be the natural continuation of Nasser’s legacy, as he knows that Sadat had been chosen by Nasser to succeed him. In order to absolve himself of the accusation that he had been closely linked to Shaarawy Gomaa, the Minister of Interior and one of the most prominent leaders of the vanguard organization, Sharaf emphatically states in the interrogation report that “personally and in my work, I never did anything except follow the orders of the president and uphold moral principles, even if this raised personal conflicts. For example, despite my presence in this workplace, I myself reported two of my brothers. One of them was a police officer and belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, so I reported that he was a dangerous member of the Brotherhood, and he was transferred to the provinces. The other one was an officer in the armed forces, and I reported him to the president himself, saying that he had undertaken communications with other officers, and that these communications were considered to be damaging to the safety and security of the country. This second brother was arrested and remained in detention until President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered his release without my knowledge. This happened because President Nasser assigned Mr. Mohammed Ahmed to release him, in agreement with Shams Badran at the time, and to find work for him. When I learned of this, I objected, so Mr. Mohammed Ahmed told me, ‘You don’t have the right to object, because these are the orders of the president.’”

If you were to ask Samy Sharaf today about what he said in this interrogation, do you think that he would show any remorse for this surprising stance of out-Nassering Nasser himself and objecting to the president’s having obtained employment for his brother after releasing him? We should note that Nasser would not have done so unless he was sure that Sharaf’s brother did not represent a threat to his regime. If this had been the case, Sharaf’s brother would have faced real punishment, as occurred to others who were detained, killed, or prevented from working. Indeed, even Nasser’s comrades who had risked their lives to overthrow King Farouk were not spared from such punishment. Instead of feeling remorse at what he did, Samy Sharaf would likely display pride – the same pride shown by the woman from the microbus who turned in the man riding next to her. Both of these individuals would accuse you, albeit each in their own way, of lacking patriotism because you fail to understand the satisfaction of rising above all worldly and human ties in order to become a soldier in the fight against the enemies of the nation, even if these enemies turn out to be the closest people to you – whether members of your family, colleagues at work, or passengers next to you on the microbus.

Surely, Samy Sharaf’s two brothers were more fortunate than many who did not enjoy Nasser’s favor and thus receive lesser punishments. Others who experienced injustice under the Nasser regime found that some among the leadership of the vanguard organization volunteered to report these injustices and to demand redress for them. Yet this was always done in a manner that placed the goals of the vanguard organization above all other considerations, even if the result was further injustice. Here, we should consider the report sent directly to Nasser by Ibrahim Eltahawy, a member of the vanguard organization, in which he speaks of “a self-sacrificing man whose devotion knows no limits, who rejects the world and delves into knowledge, who burns with devotion to his country and love for Your Excellency.”  The man described in this report is none other than Dr. Yousef Wali, Professor of Agriculture at Ain Shams University. Wali later became Mubarak’s longstanding Minister of Agriculture, pioneered agricultural normalization with Israel, and was responsible – according to the testimony of respected experts – for the systematic destruction of Egyptian agriculture, although this case has not been seriously investigated to this day. After describing Wali in such glowing terms, Eltahawy begins to review a number of reports written by Wali for the vanguard organization regarding the details of a two-week trip to the United States that he had taken at the invitation of an American university.  Among these reports was a report about Egyptians living in the United States who had previously been detained on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and who, after their release, had fled to the United States to escape further security persecution. When these Egyptians met Yousef Wali, they expressed that they would be willing to provide Egypt with all of the knowledge they had obtained and to return to Egypt to offer all that they could from their expertise, if not for their fear of arrest.

Rather than objecting to the injustice that these Egyptian citizens had faced and that prevented them from returning to their own country – and that also prevented their country from benefiting from their knowledge and experience – Eltahawy’s report (also published in Dr. Hamada Hosni’s book) merely asks Nasser, “Why lose them?” In addition, instead of proposing guarantees to allow these individuals to return safely to Egypt, the report suggests that they should remain abroad. It proposes that a top secret office be established within the presidency “to communicate with them, to obtain their information and experiences, and to assign them specific research of interest to Egypt in America’s laboratories, without requiring that we take on the difficulties and costs of such studies. The mission of these individuals should be to obtain whatever scientific secrets they can, whether industrial, agricultural, or chemical, and to study the work methods that lead to success, and then to return to translate and transfer all the knowledge that they have obtained into the service of their country. The countries that should be focused on are the United States, Russia, West Germany, Japan, China, and France.”  The report further suggests that a committee be formed between Dr. Yousef Wali and the Minister of Scientific Research, Dr. Ahmed Mostafa, to personally study the matter in secret.  Eltahawy’s report does not mention what measures should be taken to engage officials in the countries to which Egypt would send delegates in order to convince them to provide these delegates with their countries’ most highly prized scientific secrets. Nor does Eltahawy note that the “delegates” who were leaving Egypt were not returning in the first place, as they found in developed countries the freedom, dignity, independence, and other necessary conditions for a humane existence that the Nasser regime viewed as luxuries. Indeed, the Nasser regime considered that Egypt could do without such “luxuries” if the leader so wished, as the leader’s will supposedly embodied the will of the people. As is reflected in the sad state of scientific research in Egypt today, however, Nasser was not interested in establishing such a scientific intelligence body made up of Egyptian delegates living abroad. Instead, Nasser was interested in catching those conducting espionage within the country, in order to consolidate his rule and establish his legacy as the leader who would drive Israel into the sea and unite the Arab nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea.

Let us now move beyond all the distressing details that we have surveyed in the previous installments of this series, in order to return to contemplate the authoritarian way of thinking that remains entrenched in the political and intellectual life of Egyptians to this day. Despite our acknowledgment of this authoritarian mentality, we still wonder why we have not as advanced  as other peoples who started out on the road toward progress later than Egypt. As we conclude our discussion, we should note the significance of the founding of the vanguard organization, as its guiding philosophy continues to dominate Egypt to this day. Moreover, many of the individuals belonging to this organization continue to corrupt political life in Egypt.  Let us read a momentous text from the minutes of the second preparatory meeting for the vanguard organization, convened on 10 March 1957. Both the text of the minutes and a copy of a photograph of this meeting have been published by Dr. Hamada Hosni in the appendix of his book. In these documents, we are able to see that the leader never ceases to sing the praises of the people, even as he secretly explains the dangerous philosophy that he follows in ruling the country: “It is a well-known fact that Egyptian society is corrupt, and that it has a tendency towards corruption. When the constitution was established, the situation in Portugal was taken into consideration. What was required was not the organization of the party, nor did we ask how to organize the party. Rather, what was required was to discover how to recruit the country, how to recruit the people, and how to communicate with the popular authorities in order for us to move the country forward. It had been noted that we would have to build strong individuals, for any structure not based on individuals will be considered a failure. Thus, what is required is that we build up individuals, that we build contacts, that we link the people with popular leadership, and that we move the people to adopt the philosophy of this leadership. Every individual among the people must consider himself to be a recruit of this call.”

Admittedly, Gamal Abdel Nasser was able to push Egypt to take some steps in the direction of progress, and it cannot be denied that Egypt continues to benefit from the economic and social advances that were achieved during his rule. However, even if Nasser did understand the real meaning of the statement that “any political entity not based on individuals will be considered a failure,” he regrettably dealt with individuals as mere numbers making up “totals” – as anonymous numbers which do not have the right to choose or to refuse, to object or to think.  Nasser dealt with the citizen as a brick which does not have the right to object to the place where it is laid by the master architect within the building of the nation.  This same mentality was similarly followed by all regimes that crushed the freedoms of the individual for the sake of “higher” and “greater” purposes. Indeed, these regimes built a “popular structure” which appeared great and mighty from the outside, but whose fragile hollowness was not made evident until the country faced serious challenges, whereupon it precipitously collapsed, leaving everyone to pay the price – including those who willingly relinquished their freedoms, believing that by doing so they were protecting their country from enemies and traitors who may be as close as friends, relatives, neighbors, and even fellow passengers on the microbus.

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Albert Einstein – God bless him – defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  And I think if you asked him to define filth, he would say that it is repression: a repression that labels as traitors all those who warn the people of the danger of repeating the same actions that have led to their defeat in the past, expecting that these actions will somehow lead them to victory now. It’s like expecting milk from an ant’s…well, let’s just say from an ant. [The expression “getting milk from an ant’s c#nt” means attempting the impossible]. 

In Translation: Think it over, judges!

There have been several examples in the Egyptian press lately of extremely belated hand-wringing. Now Lamis Elhadidy -- a former media advisor to Hosni Mubarak, fierce supporter of President El Sisi and talk show who host who has featured many times in our Egypt in TV columns -- comes out and says it: Some of the recent judicial rulings are not very beneficial to the country. She asks judges, with all due respect, to "reflect" a little more. Given how much Elhadidy has acted as a mouthpiece for the post-June 30 regime, it's fair to assume that this is a message. We bring you this latest entry in our In Translation series as always courtesy of Industry Arabic, a great professional translation service. 

The Judges

Lamis Elhadidy, El Masry El Youm, June 30

I choose my words carefully before talking about the judiciary. It is an emotional topic, and any unconsidered approach may be understood incorrectly or expose one to accusations of insulting the judiciary, wanting to politicize the institution, or “lacking patriotism," alongside other prefabricated charges.

But honesty requires that we do not shy away from speaking the truth, nor fear blame. I hold great respect for the judiciary and its officials; I am certain of the lofty position that it has occupied throughout Egypt’s political history, and that it is one of the few institutions that stood steadfastly against attempts at encroachment from various political regimes. However, those within the judiciary themselves may need to pause in order to frankly and honestly analyze the results of recent rulings and their influence on the path of the nation as a whole.

An independent judiciary, whose independence we all defend, does not imply that the institution is separate from the nation, or that it operates on an island with no connection to what is going on around it, in terms of international repercussions, challenges, or ambushes. An independent judiciary means that the institution does not experience any form of pressure from other branches of the government, especially the executive branch, and that the judge rules from his stand justly and according to the law -- the law that was promulgated in order to administer justice, set the scales, and reform society, not handicap it.

With this in mind, the judiciary's wise and senior figures must pause and evaluate some of the most recent rulings and their influence on the nation’s path. Egypt is facing ambushes both domestically and internationally, and they must consider how—unfortunately—some of these rulings have obstructed our path, to the extent that these rulings have even been employed by enemies to fuel denunciation and intensify international hostility toward the June 30th Revolution and the new Egyptian regime. All of this comes in addition to the heavy financial losses that we have suffered.

The rulings to renationalize companies that were privatized decades ago and the resulting legal cases cost billions of dollars in international arbitration. The death sentence rulings [of hundreds of alleged Muslim Brotherhood members, tried en masse] were immediately appealed by the public prosecutor, but their impact remains ineradicable as they formed the largest concurrent batch of death sentence rulings in human history. And -- despite my absolute disapproval of Al-Jazeera’s approach and the poisonous lies that it broadcasted -- the case of the Al-Jazeera journalists is also one of the rulings that have created disastrous international consequences for Egypt. Every bit of progress that we make on the diplomatic and popular front takes place through great pains; every constitutional and electoral mandate proves that the path of June 30 is our goal. And then these rulings come along and drag us two steps backward. Then we begin the series of justifications and explanations, affirming that the judiciary is not politicized, that there are other stages of litigation, and that there is no intention to suppress opponents, silence them, or otherwise.

We have failed – and I mean that we have all failed -- to explain the grounds of these rulings or the reasons behind them sufficiently to convince the world of their logic. It appeared to the world as though we have a unique judicial system with no relation to the global system, which is no longer acceptable internationally. Egypt cannot live divorced from international law.

The results are not only catastrophic on a political level, in that they result in the judiciary being charged with politicization, silencing or oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood; on a material level as well this is not sustainable, as we have no means to pay back the billions incurred by arbitration. In any case, it is difficult, or rather impossible, to implement the rulings to renationalize companies that have been sold a number of times. If the official does not carry out the ruling — a ruling that cannot be executed — then he ends up in jail!! As a result, the government was forced to introduce a law to circumvent those rulings instead of litigating them, by prohibiting appeals of state contracts by third parties.

Now, we have to speak the truth. These rulings, despite their enormous impact, are few in number within the long history of Egypt’s judiciary. Its leaders were known across the Arab world as pillars of the law. They wrote the constitutions of Arab countries, neighboring nations such as Turkey, and others. The men of the Egyptian judiciary stood firmly in the way of attempts at tyranny and domination that spanned decades, most recently during the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus it is not shameful or wrong for them to pause to reflect if they sense the danger that threatens the state as a result of these rulings. They are part of a community that wants to move forward and evolve, not decline.

On the other hand, we have to find solutions to the horde of issues and poor conditions under which judges operate. We must amend the laws and toughen punishments for anyone who submits a malicious complaint and wastes the time of the prosecution and judicial bodies. The guaranteed right to litigation must be paralleled by proper exercise of this right so as not to squander time that we do not have.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pledged not to interfere in judicial affairs and he acknowledges this as an important principle at the beginning of his rule. However, this does not mean that those within the judiciary should not do some reflection. We want the judiciary to remain lofty and not be taken advantage of by the enemies lying in ambush for us on all sides.

In Translation: Letter to Sisi

The talented team at the professional translation service Industry Arabic brings you this installment in our regular In Translation series.

Letter to Sisi: Why do they object to your candidacy?

Moataz Bellah Abdel-Fattah, al-Watan, March 28, 2014

A statesman is like someone driving a very large vehicle with many mirrors and gauges; he has to pay attention to all of them at once and to pick up on warning signs in time. All of this he must handle with the requisite wisdom.

Presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi began his electoral campaign Wednesday and many – I believe the majority – celebrated his announcement of candidacy. However, it is a poor political and strategic calculation on the part of candidate Sisi and his team to not pay attention to those rejecting his candidacy, some of whom have said outright: “He’s entered the trap” and “He’ll drink from the same cup.”

The efficiency of Sisi’s campaign will come from its ability to deal with the objections raised against him by his opponents. He and his campaign must answer these questions and prove the soundness of his position.

For example, when I asked what the main reasons advanced by some of those rejecting Sisi’s candidacy are, I got the following responses:

1. He’s a billionaire who has not and will not feel the pain of the vast majority of the people suffering every day. This is evidenced by his statement that people should “tighten their belt and go to work”, which indicates a mindset far from that of the people and their reality.


 2. All of his experience is with the military. He hasn’t worked in any other fields -- political, social, or economic. This is no time for experiments and learning on the job in a country whose economy is on its last legs and whose infrastructure is collapsing.


3. He’s not an independent decision-maker. Just as Morsi was a deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi will represent and take orders from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Thus SCAF will be the true ruler, and all state institutions will exist merely for appearance’s sake and as a cover for oppressive military rule.


4. He’s connected to the interests of Mubarak’s corrupt regime and the National Democratic Party (NDP). He appointed [Prime Minister Ibrahim] Mehleb, a member of the NDP’s Policy Committee and assistant to Gamal Mubarak, to be Egypt’s prime minister—after two revolutions. This is the biggest catastrophe of all, and shows the orientations and intentions of Sisi as well of those close to him once he takes power.


5. It’s not possible to guarantee fair and impartial elections, because SCAF supports him and is nominating him out of a true eagerness for power, and at the same time it is the only one protecting the ballot boxes at night after the observers and judges leave.


6. The absence of equal opportunity and fair competition. One candidate has all the state’s bodies and intelligence agencies on his side. The state media is fully under their service, polishing his image and supporting him hypocritically, broadcasting lies about his competitors, spreading delusions, and exaggerating his popularity such that it surpasses that of the prophets and messengers.


7. His entire history is one of assisting Mubarak and keeping quiet about corruption. By virtue of his position as a director of Mubarak’s intelligence services* and as direct assistant to Mubarak, he witnessed, participated in, or supported much of Mubarak's own corruption and collaborated with him. Then under Tantawi he was directly responsible for the virginity tests scandal and for killing and shooting at the eyes of protestors in Mohamed Mahmoud and other confrontations. He was a member of SCAF when it handed the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood, and he didn’t refuse or resign. Instead, Morsi appointed him minister of defense in appreciation of his efforts to crush the January revolution and the revolutionaries, which was in their mutual interest. All this with a direct recommendation from Tantawi, leader of the counter-revolution!


8. He is not an independent decision maker when it comes to national issues. Most of the training, study, and intelligence experience he received before being appointed a director of intelligence was in the United States and England.


9. More than half the population hates him and regards him as an enemy. More than six million elected Morsi, and four million elected Aboul Fotouh. Most revolutionaries, five million of whom voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, view him as an enemy of the revolution and a continuation of the comic theatre of military rule over 22 million. A state can’t be built cooperatively with a public who knows that their ruler will be chosen by deception, forgery, and force.


10. Continued rule of civil institutions by military men. Most of the state’s problems come down to the fact that the head of the largest institutions and authorities in Egypt are generals who don’t know and are not proficient or qualified in the field to which they are appointed. Thus, corruption and cronyism continue and the person who is trusted and loyal to the regime is preferred over the person with experience. This is the basis of corruption in Egypt.


11. He won’t empower his opposition and dreams of democracy and a ‘state of institutions’ will be lost, and with them all the goals of the revolution. From now on, anyone who joins a protest to demand anything will be called a terrorist and arrested or sentenced to death. The accusations are ready-made, the ruling will be issued in days, and the trials will be in military courts – even if you just happened to be walking near a demonstration. Under him, all opposition will be classified as ‘traitors’ and ‘agents’ who want to wipe out and destroy the army. There will be no one to protect the people from his tyranny, since the army will be completely with him in his tyranny and injustice.


12. All of this will have a very dangerous effect on the army’s attention to its main duty, which is protecting the country from foreign threats. The bloodshed will start to build a wall and lead to enmity and reprisals between the army and the people. This will completely ruin the idea of electing Sisi for the sake of stability, because having the military in power is a great danger to Egypt and its stability.


13. Sisi is one of the main sources of the rigid divisions in Egypt and it is self-deceptive to think that he could be a source of unity or that he will be able to lead everyone all together in a nation-building project. A large percentage of Egyptians (especially the youth segment set on change) thinks that he won’t fulfill their aspirations and in fact see him as a symbol of something they want to get rid of (military rule) in order to get on with building a modern civil state. What is certain is that he will win the elections in light of a wide boycott by this segment and by every party opposed to the road map, which is no small percentage of the people. 14. The many wrongs that have occurred and which many people believe he bears responsibility for. True, the media doesn’t show this picture and instead shows us something false, but the content of this picture has settled in the consciousness of a large number of people, including the relatives, neighbors, and friends of innocent individuals who have been killed and wounded. Same with the detainees, etc.
 

Here the comments from Facebook friends end. These comments are repeated by them in their private gatherings. I know that many are imprecise and can be refuted, but my goal in this article is not to answer on behalf of the presidential candidate. Rather it is to let him and his campaign know that Egypt is like a worn out rubber raft, suffering from age and exposure, making anyone in it a knife or sharp object capable of puncturing a hole. The message has been received. It’s up to you to act.
And may God protect us.

* Sisi was Director of Military Intelligence in the last years of the Mubarak regime and until August 2012, when President Mohammed Morsi named him Minister of Defense.

 

In Translation: "The army's job is to protect us from foreign enemies, not each other"

Once again, the team at Industry Arabic brings us a new installment in our In Translation series. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a Brotherhood leader who left the organization to run as a moderate Islamist candidate in the 2012 presidential election. He is the leader of the Strong Egypt party. His party campaigned both against the Brotherhood's constitution, and against the one that recently passed (a few of its members were just given 3-year sentences for handing out flyers encouraging a No vote). We include the original headline and introduction, although it is rather inaccurate and tendentious -- Aboul Fotouh spends most of the interview criticizing the army's intervention and does not actually suggest that the Brotherhood is supporting potential presidential candidate General Sami Anan, just that they would sooner vote for him than for Aboul Fotouh himself. 

Aboul Fotouh in a conversation with Al-Ahram: “I reject the participation of the religious current in the political process…Morsi is a failure…what happened at the Presidential Palace was a crime”

Interview – Zeinab Abdel Razzak and Karima Abdel Ghani

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the chairman of the Strong Egypt Party, has announced that he will not be running for presidential elections. [He stated] along with this announcement what he felt were strong justifications, while others feel they were a cover for the decline in popularity of the Islamist current on the Egyptian street. Others still went so far as to say it was part of a prior agreement to clear the field for Sami Anan to be the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

However, in his conversation with Al-Ahram, Aboul Fotouh asserted that his popularity in the Egyptian street had doubled, and that if he were to run in the upcoming elections, he would receive many times more votes than he had in the previous election. He stated that he rejects the Islamist current’s support for him and outright opposes the presence of Islamists in political life. Concerning the Brotherhood, Aboul Fotouh confirmed that the organization is “prepared to stand behind Sami Anan and not behind me.” As for reconciliation, he indicated he had made efforts in this regard, but was met with intransigence from both sides, though he is continuing his efforts.

The heated discussion with Aboul Fotouh revolved around these and other thorny issues, rubbing him the wrong way at times. In any case, however, frankness is the overarching quality of this interview.

Why are you not running in the upcoming presidential elections?

I made this decision early on, more specifically when I called for early presidential elections. At that time I made it known that I would not be running, as the Muslim Brotherhood had harshly attacked me because I called for the early elections. They accused me of seeking to run myself. However, my call was prompted by President Mohammed Morsi’s weak performance and failure to keep his promises. I felt it necessary to save our country and our nation from chaos. This is what I had been calling for throughout the three months leading up to June 30. We were rushed and I was personally shocked on July 3, thus I differentiate between June 30 and July 3.

Don’t you think that the army's intervention at the request of the masses protected the country from a civil war and all-out massacres?

Claiming that what happened on July 3 transpired in order to face down the prospect of a civil war is untrue. I reject such claims, since we don’t have Sunnis and Shiites or Christians and Muslims that are going to kill each other.

We do not deny that the people had rejected Morsi. I shared this opinion with them; however, there are democratic mechanisms through which to express this rejection.

There is a difference between political and judicial accountability. This does not mean that every time we get a failure of a president we call on the army to come in and remove him.

The army is the guardian of the people, so what is wrong with that?

The army’s job is to protect us from foreign enemies, not from each other.

What could the people do when faced with the Brotherhood’s militias?

What militias?

The ones that killed and tortured demonstrators in front of the presidential palace?

What happened at the presidential palace was a crime, though it has nothing to do with militias.

Don’t you think what happened at the presidential palace could have been repeated on June 30 if the army had not stepped in?

Let me be clear that what happened in front of the presidential palace is a crime that is punishable by law. This does not, however, justify what transpired after that. The army’s job is to protect the people from foreign enemies, period.

Do you want the army to let the people quarrel internally with the ruling power and not intervene to stop the bloodshed?

We were not quarrel internally and there was no fitna [strife].

Wasn’t the country on the road to perdition at the hands of the Brotherhood?

Not at all. Morsi was simply a failed president and he had to go. However he should have gone via the ballot box, which is where I differ with others from the National Salvation Front (NSF) who wished to bring down Morsi through a coup. This become apparent through the NSF’s statement in anticipation of the first statement from the army. Whoever prefers this does not love the Egyptian army, which is a national institution of which we are proud and the most protective of. However, its only role is to defend the country from any foreign enemies.

The internal political dispute should have been dealt with through peaceful means.

Why didn’t you oppose the army’s involvement in the January 25th revolution when it stood with the people?

The Egyptian army did not side with the people or with Mubarak on January 25th, nor did it fire a single bullet. The police were firing at us and at the youth. The army hit the streets after the police collapsed, and it took a neutral position. It did not carry out a coup against Mubarak – even though he was a corrupt president over the course of 30 years – in the way it did with Morsi for being a failure of a president.

What does the referendum on the constitution represent for you?

A constitutional text that was very poorly amended.

Doesn’t the large turnout of Egyptians casting their votes on the referendum signify that the popular will backs the road map?

Who are the Egyptians that turned out?

More than 20 million Egyptian citizens.

You mean the Egyptians who voted on the constitution; do you want to ask whether or not this is a constitution? We'll say it's a constitution.

Don’t you think that the broad popular turnout represents the Egyptian will to support this roadmap and discredits the theory of a coup?

Everything you are saying is incorrect. It [the road map] was not submitted to the people in order for them to vote on it. What was submitted to them was an amendment to the constitution, which is a respectable procedure. However, what we demanded from the current authorities in order to gain some sort of legitimacy was for the people to approve the road map via a referendum, but the authorities refused.

If the people were opposed to the road map, wouldn’t they go out in the streets and object like they did against Morsi?

Not necessarily.

Some think you are not running for president because you know your popularity in the street has declined.

If I ran this time, I would receive many more votes than I received last time.

But the climate of these elections is different.

There have not been any changes in the Egyptian street or in reality. Egyptians rejected the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood; they will not reject Islamists. They will accept the idea of an Islamist candidate; we cannot mix between Islam, religion and the Brotherhood, since the latter is a political faction. Egyptians rejected them because of their political practices; they did not reject them from the beginning as shown by the five elections in which they gave their votes to the Muslim Brotherhood with their full desire and awareness and without having drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid.

Were the people deceived by the phrase: “Those who know God”?

Do not say deceived. They rejected them after they tried them out and found them to be weak and their performance poor. I was certain that if the Muslim Brotherhood was left to continue in its weak performance, it would not have won the next elections.

Don’t you think what we’re suffering from as a people and a state is because of the Brotherhood’s violence?

No, and it would have been better to wait out the four years.

And for the country to collapse?

This rhetoric is false and is only propagated by the media. The Egyptian people are not oblivious and their army would not stand by while their land was squandered and sold.

Aren’t you bothered by the number of terrorists let into Sinai by the Brotherhood?

There has been terrorism in Sinai since the days of Mubarak; under the Military Council; and during Morsi’s presidency; and it still exists there now under the current regime. Terrorism entered into the Sinai because of the army’s involvement in political life!

And the terrorists that were released by Morsi?

Most of those who were pardoned…Field Marshal Tantawi was the one who released them, while Morsi released some of them. However, they were not terrorists, but rather a group whose sentences had ended and they were wrongly being detained. They were released.

How do you respond to accusations that you are a Muslim Brother by inclination and belief and just left the organization because of conflicts and issues around positions in the Guidance Bureau?

It is not commendable to pretend to be heroes or brave now and to speak about and defame the Muslim Brotherhood. I was the strongest of those who faced them and their errors during their time in power.

What do you say about the acts of violence carried out by them?

Whoever commits violence must be arrested.

Why do you regard those who are arrested for acts of violence as [political] detainees and not as accused?

That is not true. What is happening now is that people who did not commit acts of violence are being arrested. Did Ahmed Maher [head of the youth grassroots movement April 6] commit any violence? What about [secular activist] Alaa Abd El-Fattah, [head of the Islamist party El Wasat] Abu al-Ala Madi or [former speaker of parliament] Saad El-Katatni? They are being held captive to settle political scores.

They are all being held on charges and in most of their cases voice recordings have emerged that condemn them…what do you think about that?

Which cases are you referring to?

How do you think the trial of the deposed President Mohammed Morsi is being handled?

I am not in a position to evaluate Morsi’s trial.

Do you think that he is not being given his right to a fair trial?

Morsi himself proclaims that he is not permitted visits from his family. Regardless of how the trial is being handled -- which is evaluated by the judiciary itself – we reject the fact that as an accused detainee he is being subjected to abuse, no matter who he is.

Witnesses say that Morsi is being treated well, but he does not want this. For example, the prison food.

Have you tried prison food? Everyone who speaks about prison, including those in power, I challenge them to put up with one week in prison.

How can you consider Morsi's being held at the naval base in Alexandria to be a sort of kidnapping, when EU Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton was able to visit him where he was being held?

Was Morsi the one who asked Ashton to visit him?

He is being detained appropriately in a way that is not degrading to him…and Ashton visited him where he is being detained.

Did I say he was being degraded? Are you making up things I haven’t said?

Doesn’t the entrance of Hamdeen Sabahi into the presidential race indicate that there is equal opportunity, contrary to what you have said?

Although Hamdeen Sabahi has decided to run, I do not feel that the presidential elections are following a sound democratic course. Here is a question: Does the propaganda for Sisi allow any candidate, whoever they may be, to enter into the competition with him?

Why don’t you run and get all the supporting votes that in your opinion are being repressed?

The ballot boxes have been prepared ahead of time!

Do you think the presidential elections and the ballot box will be rigged?

I did not say that the ballot would be rigged.

Do you deny that there exists a real, popular will for Field Marshal Sisi to run?

This popular will does exist…but we must know who manufactured it, who told them Sisi’s name and if they knew of him before.

The people are the ones who sought his help to do away with the Brotherhood’s rule.

The media propagated this to the people and told them: Sisi is the savior who rid us of terrorism.

Why don’t you bet on the awareness of the Egyptian people, who are capable of choosing and making their own choices?

I cannot “bet on” the awareness of the Egyptian people amid the power of businessmen and their control over the media, be it state or private media.

What about the Islamist current and the Muslim Brotherhood…can’t they help you win the presidency?

I do not want the support of the religious current and have been opposed to its involvement in the political process since 2007. As for the Brotherhood, they and the Salafis were my biggest obstacle in the previous elections, and now it’s worse. This is clear from the declarations made by their leaders, since the Brotherhood could vote for Sami Anan or Hamdeen Sabahi, but they cannot vote for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. I base this on my own understanding of them and not on any information I have from them.

How do you respond to the accusation that you refused to run for the sake of Sami Anan, the Brotherhood candidate?

I have not seen Sami Anan nor have I met with him, neither before nor after the January 25 revolution. I have never met him. I reject Sami Anan’s candidacy just as I reject Sisi leaving the army.

You always criticize the way Brotherhood violence is dealt with; how can the state deal with such events?

The difference between normal citizens and the police is that the latter must be trained to deal with acts of violence and unrest. An officer is entitled to defend himself, and the law is against whoever tries to deal with him.

There is a difference between a police officer who shoots someone in the foot for inciting unrest and throwing Molotov cocktails and a police officer who aims for his head or heart in order to kill him. There is a difference between security institutions trained to face violence by stopping its perpetrators without killing them, which is how it happens all over the world.

What do you feel about the acts of terror and the assassinations sweeping the country?

They must all be confronted by a professional police apparatus.

And what about the assassination of policemen themselves?

It is wrong and a crime…No one applauds terrorism or assassinations against policemen.

Aren’t these assassinations and explosions sufficient justification to classify the group as a terrorist organization?

I have nothing to do with the group. Go and ask them.

What do you think of the comment made by the wife of a Brotherhood leader on the bombing of the airplane in the Sinai, which provoked not only the families of those killed, but all Egyptians?

In a surprising response from Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, he said: “You’re talking like the Kharijites."

I interrupted him with my laughter in order to salvage the situation: How can you compare me to the Kharijites? That makes me mad.

He began to tone down the way he was speaking at this point and said: I’m comparing you to the Kharijites in that they cursed whoever kills a flea when they were the ones who killed Hassan ibn Ali. You are talking about a crazy woman who said something on Facebook. You did not come and carry out a discussion with a leader of the Brotherhood. I left the group in 2009 because of mistaken ideas help by its members, however I am proud of my association with Islamist thought and civilization and I fully stand by it.

Aren’t some of the ideas you say you rejected the sort of extremism that has brought us to the sort of violent acts happening today?

None of them were extremist ideas. This was never a point of discussion between me and anyone. My differences with them had to do with my rejection of the idea that the group should become a political party, as my vision was that its role should be preaching and education. They insisted on turning it a party, however.

In your view, what is the solution to patch things up and avoid violence and terrorism?

The solution is that the media oppression and the hatred it transmits among Egyptians must end. Likewise, the security oppression must stop and the freedoms and human rights that have been violated must be restored. Whoever uses violence must be held accountable in order for the country to rise up again.

The idea of reconciliation has been proposed by numerous figures, but it has not yet happened.

Reconciliation was one of the points in the roadmap that was not carried out and it will never be if the oppression and animosity continue as they are. For this, all Egyptians are paying the price.

Why have you not tried to make an effort to reach out to all sides in order to reach some sort of reconciliation?

I did do this; however, I was met with intransigence from both sides of the conflict.

The Strong Egypt Party has recently been experiencing a great number of defections within its ranks.

There have not been any defections; some of its members have left since some of them are aligned with the Brotherhood and others seek to antagonize the NSF. It is the party’s principle to reject polarization.

Bassem Youssef on the Egyptian media's "Great Writers"

Another entry in our In Translation series, courtesy of the excellent team Industry Arabic. Comedian Bassem Youssef had his hit satirical news show pulled -- after just one episode -- last Fall. While he looks for new options, he has been one of the few voices of reason and conscience and humor in Egyptian op-ed pages. This column appeared a few weeks back, but what it has to say about local media's free use of anonymous sources, rumors and conspiracy theories is still (and unfortunately will probably remain for a long time ) relevant.

Your Dear Old Professionalism is Dead, Shorouk newspaper, 24 December

by Bassem Youssef

What I read was not the typical sort of Facebook nonsense. And it wasn't a "prank" on one of those fake forums; it was a respectable article penned by the Great Writer.

There are a few names that just need to appear on any article for it to receive the "stamp of authority." For the Great Writer and Journalist cannot just flush his history down the drain and publish "any old drivel and that's it."

But between the "stamp of authority" and what I read I'm at a loss about what to believe.

Here the Writer is narrating true and accurate details about what happened between the US Secretary of State and the Gulf State Ruler.

And oh my what details!!!

The Secretary of State conveys to the king serious information about Qatar and their relations with Israel and the article goes on to relate how the Secretary of State fidgeted and how the Ruler cleared his throat. The article narrates with great precision what the US Secretary of State told him, from the opening "Allow me, Your Highness, to tell you a critical secret," to secret phone calls between Obama, the emir of Qatar and Erdogan, to how a Syrian minister snuck into Jordan dressed as a woman, to details about the latest episode of "Sponge Bob."

The article did everything short of following the minister into the bathroom!!!

The article was not a general account of what happened between the two parties – you know, the big picture. It was a word-by-word script with choice lines from a screenplay by Osama Anwar Okasha.

I'm not casting doubts on the credibility of the Great Writer, and I'm not accusing him of lying. However, the Great Writer and his comrades from among the legends of Arab journalism are the first ones who told us that if a writer writes something for his readers, he has to have sources for it. I read the article from start to finish and didn't find a single source….at all.

All that's written is that "someone trustworthy" told him these things.

Who's the layabout source that would spin these yarns?

So why were we upset with the Islamists?

Weren’t their show nothing but a steady 24-hour stream of "I was told" and "He told me and I told him”?

So why are we upset? It's enough that thousands of people read the article and really believed this friendly dialogue between the US Secretary of State and the Gulf State Ruler, and that they exchange the Arabian Nights stories that this article is chock-full of.

The problem is that, unfortunately,  this type of writing, which was invented by a Great Writer in the Sixties, has become acceptable in Arab journalism, and since then "bullshitting" has become a lifestyle for many who were at the forefront of the Egyptian newspaper scene.

There's an entire generation that grew up hearing urban legends about how Sadat put poison in Nasser's cup of coffeee. And for you to be able to know this story, either Sadat told you or Nasser came back from the dead and told you, or you yourself were hiding in the coffee pot.

This Writer who confounds us every two months with a new book about the secrets of the intelligence services, the presidency and the army and who by sheer dumb luck just happens to be present at the right time and place to hear what Mubarak, Tantawy, Anan and Morsi all said. This is in addition to his uncanny ability to get in the good graces of Mubarak, Morsi and anyone else he ends up with. And let's not forget that "the Minister of Defense will force himself to run against his will;” Congratulations!

Then you have the other Writer who every now and then will inform us about the plots that American intelligence is hatching and divulge to us what spy agencies around the world are telling us. I recall that at the time of the trial of the human rights NGOs when the Americans fled, the Great Journalist told viewers that he had verified information that the US army was going to land helicopters on the roof of the American embassy to evacuate the people working in these NGOs. As a result, those in power were forced to give in and allow them to be smuggled out so such a scandal would not take place. Of course the Great Writer thought that he was thereby serving the Military Council by relating this ridiculous scenario so that people would say: "This is God's grace and wisdom.  Thank God America didn't get the better of us."

Do you get it? A helicopter penetrates Egyptian airspace like it's nothing, crosses the Delta and gets past the air defense systems -- again no big deal -- then the welcome mat is rolled out for these aircraft to reach downtown. Finally, these helicopters land – nothing to see here – on the roof of the embassy and get these people out of Egypt. All while we – pardon the expression – sit around like a sack of potatoes.

But why? The Military Council at that time – how awful! – was forced into this shameful solution so that Egypt wouldn't be put to shame by a landing operation. Although this boot-licking scenario is actually more shameful to the country and its rulers. But it seems that the Great Writer "didn't think it through." But no matter, is there anyone who's paying attention or remembering these stories?

I don't mind that there are these people who know the inside story of all these matters – I wish you nothing but the best, good fellow! But I have a question about all these nice stories that these people are circulating about America, Obama and intelligence agencies: how did these stories escape the notice of American newspapers, American media outlets and American oversight bodies to end up in our newspapers and books, out of all of God's good creation?

Do you remember the story of Khairat El-Shater, who sold Sinai for 80 million dollars? Do you remember the documented information that Obama's brother is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? Do you remember the documented information that came from a German base where a meeting took place between the great powers, and newspapers published details of the foul conspiracy that these countries were plotting against Egypt? How is it that the "respectable" newspapers and "respectable" talk shows were able to dedicate large amounts of space to discuss this villainous conspiracy -- then days later, we forgot the villainous conspiracy and Egypt's leaders sat with representatives of these countries that had plotted against us, as if it was nothing?

Doesn't it get you riled up or make you proud if you believe that neither the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN or any American media outlets were able to obtain this information, yet the bold, heroic journalists of Egyptian newspapers were able to get a hold of it so the "super" professional broadcasters could circulate it on Egyptian TV?

Do you remember the Egyptian talk show stars who reported statements about the Brotherhood, Morsi, Morsi's wife and Ezzat al-Garf -- but they were reporting statements from fake Twitter accounts?

Have you followed the transcripts of the calls attributed to Morsi and the rest of the Brotherhood leadership?

Have any of us heard them? If these calls describe their treason in detail, why are the Egyptian people not allowed to hear them? If journalists are allowed to publish transcripts of these recordings, then what objection is there to releasing the recording themselves?

I remember now the famous program that was broadcasting the events of 30 June moment by moment; The presenters in the studio were determined to read funny tweets from an account attributed to Mohamed Morsi, while the journalist sitting in their midst was trying to explain that this Twitter account was satirical. But the veteran presenter insisted on reading this fluff as if it were real.

Now the ground is ripe for such beings known as strategic experts to emerge, and for journalists who were educated at the same "Great Writer School" of the poisoned coffee cup. And nobody gives a thought to consulting sources or asking for proof of the bullshit that they spew.

My dear reader, I'm asking you to review all the information that you've read on Facebook or on websites that you think are news websites, or from presenters that read their news from these sites. How may pieces of news turned out to be true? How many pieces of news were confirmed by global news sources?

To be frank, the answer to this question is: "It doesn't matter." This news sooths your nerves because it is against those you hate. So there is no need for us to check it or verify its sources.

This is the same sin that the Islamists were guilty of before. They did not hesitate to use rumours and fabrications no matter the source, as long as it served their aims.

Now the Islamists are gone and the rumors remain, but going in the opposite direction.

Khaled Dawoud: Point of no return

Another entry in our In Translation series, courtesy of the great team over at Industry Arabic.Khaled Dawoud was the spokesman for the National Salvation Front, a coalition of Egyptian political forces created in 2012 in opposition to Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi. Dawoud supported the June 30, 2013 protests against Morsi but resigned from his position after the police attack on Islamist protesters in Rabaa El Adawiya Square on August 14, 2013 that left hundreds dead. In October Dawoud was recognized by pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters, dragged out of his car and stabbed in the hand and chest. He is a critic of the Islamist group, but nonetheless continues to argue against its violent repression. 

Point of No Return

Khaled Dawoud, El Tahrir newspaper, December 28

On a daily basis and sometimes several times a day I receive the following question: "How can you defend the Muslim Brotherhood when they tried to kill you? Do they have to chop off your head for you to realize they're terrorists?" This is in response to my remaining committed to the belief that we must strive toward a broad national consensus and not just rely on security solutions. I consider consensus to be the sole means to bring about true stability in Egypt and to start achieving the real goals of the January 25 Revolution – most significantly fighting poverty, promoting education and health, achieving real development and building a democratic system where Egyptians enjoy rights and freedoms.

The most aggravating part of this charge that I'm defending the Brotherhood is that I have always been a stern opponent of them. I am opposed to their intellectual foundations and their medieval way of governing the organization. In particular, I am opposed to how they treat the Supreme Guide as the Shadow of God on Earth and swear loyalty and obedience to him, to the extent that violating his commands is akin to going against religion itself. I also disapprove of their views on women, of the way they bar them from leadership posts just for being women, and of their sectarian discourse that they can never seem to leave behind. To start with, in 1997 the previous Supreme Guide Mustafa Mashhur made a statement to me in my capacity as a journalist to the effect that if the Islamic state that he desired were established, the jizya tax would be imposed on the Copts and they would be barred from joining the army. Then there was the statement made by Khairat al-Shater in the aftermath of the Presidential Palace protests on 5 December 2012, that "70% of those protesting against the Brotherhood were Christians." Finally, there is the latest statement by the Brotherhood that came out after the decision to shut down hundreds of their charitable associations, with the claim that "The door has been flung wide open for Christian missionary organizations to turn poor Muslims away from their religion."

The people who pose this question to me also ignore the fact that the Brotherhood supporters who attacked me and stabbed me with knives at a protest of theirs about three months ago certainly did not consider me to be one of their "defenders." Nothing occurred to them except that I was someone who "called for the coup" on June 30 after I had been working for nine whole months as spokesman for the National Salvation Front. This is the NSF that unified the opposition against former president Mohammed Morsi, after he broke all his promises to achieve national consensus, and just strove to empower his clan and his organization, thereby threatening to plunge the nation into civil war and real sectarianism.

However, my appeal for national consensus was based on my absolute faith that violence only begets more violence, and that handling the protests of the Brotherhood – who in their statements are claiming that they are fighting a war for Islam and not for their wealthy organization with affiliates worldwide – only from a security angle would increase the influence of more radical, militant organizations like al-Qaeda, as well as other groups who have unprecendented expertise in explosives and terrorism from recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and most lately Syria. They are able to claim that they are "taking revenge" for their Brothers who died in confrontations with the police and the army. My main concern is not to shed crocodile tears over the brutal attack they faced, but to consider how we can prevent such attacks and bloodshed in the future – by protecting all Egyptians: civilians, police officers and soldiers alike.

The current struggle between those who cling to the "Islamic identity" of Egypt and those who believe that Egypt has one of the most ancient identities in the world, while striving to build a modern state, has been going on for more than two hundred years and will not die out anytime soon. I was one of those who said that the Brotherhood's arrival in power was a chance to prove that their abuse of religion does not mean that they have preternatural abilities to solve Egypt's accumulated and intractable problems. Egyptians discovered this quickly and hit the streets in the millions on June 30 to call for an end to Morsi's failed rule. I had hoped that the integration of the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process would help put an end to their insularity and their claims that they are a "Godly organization" that does not err because God is helping them, and that they would acknowledge that they are a political organization that can co-exist with others if they would only give up their claim to possess absolute truth.

Now, after the government's announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood is a "terrorist organization" and the Brotherhood's reciprocal escalation by threatening to "string up" the "coup-plotters," it seems that any talk about national consensus has become a sort of delusion and the upper hand belongs to whichever of the two sides escalates and doesn't blink. The Brotherhood has the chance to reconsider its position and start on the path of reconciliation with the Egyptian people, if it recognizes that what happened on June 30 was an expression of real popular outrage and not just "Photoshop" and that the end of Morsi's presidency – even though he was elected – is not the end of the world. It certainly does not mean that the alternative is to destroy Egypt and burn it to the ground. This is taking into account that we are still making our first steps toward trying to build a democratic system after sixty continuous years of one-man and one-party rule.

We have fallen into a cycle where the Brotherhood keeps repeating specious claims that the terrorist bombing in Mansoura was in fact an inside job perpetrated by the "leaders of the coup" to justify more oppression. They have also crossed red lines by issuing a statement titled "Message to the Noble Soldiers of the Egyptian Army" where they blatantly call for disobedience and mutiny within the ranks of the armed forces, and threaten them with painful vengeance from God Almighty because they are the ones who hold the mandate in this matter. On the other hand, the government issued a statement that accused the Brotherhood of being responsible for the Mansoura bombing -- despite the fact that investigations have not yet concluded and that the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis organisation issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack -- and for all the terrorist attacks that Egypt has suffered since the 1940s, including the 1977 killing of Sheikh al-Zahabi by the Takfir wal-Hijra organization. This is a point of no return, and the price will be a lengthy period of violence, instability and moving further away from the goals of the January 25 Revolution.

How to recognize an Egyptian activist

A taste of the kind of venomous, scurrilous attacks being launched all over the Egyptian media against the young people who made January 25, 2011 happen. This latest installment of our In Translation series is brought to you as always by the excellent translation service Industry Arabic. 

Characteristics of an Egyptian Activist, by Dandrawy Elhawary, November 23, El Youm El Sabaa

Political activists in Egypt vary according to gender. The male activist is unemployed, soft and effeminate, with long hair that is either braided or disheveled,  and he wears a bracelet and a Palestinian keffiyeh. He has a Twitter account, a Facebok page, likes to curse and use disgusting obscene expressions. He repeats slogans calling for a non-religious state, attacking heavenly religions and accusing them of being backwards and reactionary, and he defends the rights of sexual deviants.

On the other hand, the female activist takes on the male role -- she "mans up." She listens to the songs of Sheikh Imam and the lewd poetry of Fouad Haggag and Naguib Sorour. She "likes" all the pages that use foul language and puts pictures of the great revolutionary Che Guevara on her Facebook and Twitter profiles.

She attacks the military and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, while praising the ideas, genius, tenderness and romance of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei's policy paper. She attacks the hijab, calling it backwards and contrary to women's freedom, while defending her right to live her life in freedom and have open relationships. She doesn't care what other people say.

She claims that society is governed by a backwards moral code and obsolete customs and traditions. She greets her boyfriend with an embrace and a torrent of kisses. She tells him all the details of her life and the sufferings she endures with her family, while calling for a secular state and railing against military and religious fascism.

There are characteristics shared by both sexes, in particular the fact that they have memorized the most famous sayings of the Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, such as: "I love my country more than my own soul"; "It is better to be feared than loved"; "The ends justify the means"; "All armed prophets have conquered, and all unarmed prophets have come to grief"; "Religion is necessary for the government not in order to serve virtue, but to enable the government to control the people"; "Sometimes a prince must support a religion even though he believes it to be corrupt" and "Man cannot be noble all the time."

From this emerges the scale of the disaster that lies in mistaken belief, in the appearance of ideas, without depth or significance. This is how the activists' hatred for all institutions developed and became entrenched – particularly for the police and the army. They are contantly calling for these institutions to be toppled because they killed their friends and peers in the events of Mohamed Mahmoud, Maspero, Abassiya and the Cabinet building.

These activists are more dangerous to Egypt than the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, whom they resemble in their partisanship and extremist ideas. They have come to save humanity in general, and the backwards, ignorant Egyptians in particular. Society should not yield to their ideas, whatever their obscenity and their hostility to heavenly religions, and their claims that whoever attacks them is oppressive and their idea that each person in society has to right to do as he or she pleases.

 

 

 

Police brutality (part 1)

This week as part of our In Translation series -- as usually assisted by the excellent folks at Industry Arabic -- we have an op-ed by Salafi spokesman Nader Bakkar in the pages of the privately-owned, secular El Shorouk newspaper, condemning police brutality against female pro-Morsi demonstrators (22 women between 15 and 25 were arrested while protesting in Alexandria. You can see a short video -- in which a police officer is trying to kick the women, and they are yelling "dogs!" -- here). I am slightly surprised that El Shorouk has opened its pages to Bakkar to criticize the police, and that Islamists would focus their indignation on the mistreatment of female protesters when hundreds of people have been killed during demonstrations since the summer (unless the explanation is that the clearing of Rabaa is still off-limits to editorialists). And just as Bakkar asks: Why don’t secularists care about the treatment of Islamist protesters? Others will ask: Why haven’t Islamists spoken out about state brutality – against Copts, young revolutionaries, etc. -- during so many of the demonstrations since 2011? He mentions Magliz El Wuzara -- or the infamous case of the girl in the blue bra -- but the Islamist silence on that violence (which they feared would derail their imminent parliamentary victories) was shameful. 

Young Women of Alexandria
Nader Bakkar
I believe that everyone – regardless of their political affiliation – who has held onto a shred of their humanity was dumbfounded by the arrest of 21 young women in Alexandria, the most recent insult we have witnessed. And not just dumbfounded but horrified that these Zahrawat were not charged with participating in anti-authority demonstrations or even violating the Protest Law, in its current, distorted incarnation – all they were charged with was protesting. 
Although the current security situation is indeed volatile, even if it deteriorates to a level far worse than it is now, the situation would still not justify treating young Egyptian women with such moral depravity and inhumanity. Those of weak faith: if you wanted to arrest one of these women for an infraction or on suspicion, you could have used female policemen to do so; you could ensure they preserved the female detainees’ dignity. Moreover, your religion requires you to act honorably, and governed by a sense of humanity. Unless you have no regard for religion, honor, or humanity? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. There are universal laws that are stricter in application than your personal sadistic rules – among them: “Act as you wish; for as you judge, so will you be judged.”
Has the police apparatus forgotten that the countless photographs and videos of their human rights violations and systematic torture that came out over the last ten years of the Mubarak regime -- culminating in the Khaled Said and Sayed Belal incidents -- were the main cause behind the people's mounting outrage against them? The outrage that reached its peak on January 28, 2011 and spilled over to both those who deserved it and those who did not – just because they belonged to the police force?  
The humiliation, the human rights violations, the torture – they repeat themselves again and again on the news. Yet these are not the result of June 30th – they date back earlier than this. Even so, individual violations have increased drastically, calling attention once again to the inherent shortcomings in the Egyptian police’s doctrine for dealing with citizens. 
This doctrine should be placed under review as quickly as possible. Educational experts have previously worked with the security apparatus, and they are not lacking in field experience. These experts have put forth dozens of studies to improve the security system’s performance and the way they deal with civilians. They strengthen our belief that it is possible to uphold both security and human dignity at the same time.
Yet we cannot blame only one unjust party, and turn a blind eye to all the others. Thus the question of blame should be posed to the human rights activists and their organizations: Is the honor of the young women of Alexandria of less interest and importance than the honor of the young woman from the Cabinet protests? Or does their political affiliation prevent people from feeling compassion for them?

 

 

In Translation: Egypt heading outside history

Courtesy Industry Arabic, the latest in our In Translation series, in which Fahmy Howeidy -- a writer with moderate Islamist leanings and a big following --  critiques 

Egypt Heading into the Unknown and Outside of History

Shorouq Newspaper, 22 October, 2013

Egypt’s current problem is that it is moving along a path leading outside of history, and one fears that Egypt will drag the Arab world along with it in the end.

(1)

Reading Egyptian newspapers these days and following the statements of politicians -- who have begun to compete with each other to court the military  and outdo one another in praising its role -- it might not occur to you that the newspaper headlines, the comments of the editors, and the statements of the politicians could almost be an exact copy of the discourse in Turkey around half a century ago. However, anyone who has read the history of the militarization of Turkish society notes that the voices calling for the armed forces to intervene to save the country from chaos and collapse reverberated loudly during every political crisis. Given the fragility and weakness of the political situation, everyone considered the military the savior and rescuer. The military had credit with the public that permitted it to play this role, since it saved the country from occupation after the First World War, established the republic and led the process of modernizing the state. This is the background that was repeatedly invoked in order to militarize society from the establishment of the republic in the 1920’s and for 80 years afterwards.

The episodes of this repeated and rehearsed scenario would play out as follows: Weak parties fail in running the state; voices are raised calling for the military to carry out its role as rescuer; the military gives a warning to the government, telling it to carry out its responsibilities; after the warning, the military announces the coup and takes over the administration of the country and the management of the out-of-control conditions. Barely a few years go by (most usually ten) before the crisis recurs and the same voices and calls reverberate again. Then the military would give its warning, followed by intervention to take over power as the only disciplined and cohesive institution, and the one with the force of weapons on the ground. This is a scenario that recurred with the coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, until the coup of 1997 that was described as a “soft” or “post-modern” coup. The jumping-off point for these coups was the fact that the military considered itself responsible for protecting the principles of the Turkish republic, along with its job of protecting the nation. To fulfill this responsibility, it imposed itself as the guardian of society. The constitution of 1982 codified this guardianship, which was exercised by the National Security Council and which formed advisory offices for the country’s military, political, economic, cultural, and media affairs, etc. The military institution went on alert after the elections of 1995 that were a relative win for the Islamist-oriented Welfare Party. This win led to the formation of a coalition government with the True Path Party. The head of the government at that time was Necmettin Erbakan, the leader of the Welfare Party. The military leadership responded to this by pulling the strings that it had spread out through key posts in the state and the decision-making authority, until it forced Erbakan to resign from office in 1997.

(2)

The prevailing winds Egypt since the removal of Dr. Mohamed Morsi are going in this same direction against history, after the military council’s mission came to an end in 2012. The renewal of the hopes pinned on the possibility of democratic change and creating institutions that manage society -- all of that was dashed on the 3rd of July after the removal of the elected president, the freezing of the constitution, and the dissolution of the Shura Council and other councils that had been formed. It became clear that the orientation was towards betting on the military institution and boosting the state's power over society. In this climate, the preparations for issuing a new constitution were carried out by a group that was chosen, not elected, and the military institution became the de facto source of authority and the decision maker in shaping the new situation. In this, the military institution did not force itself upon society. Rather, its steps were supported and welcomed by the elite and the civil forces with their different orientations – liberal, nationalist, and leftist. The media was the strike force that succeeded in “manufacturing consent,” in Chomsky's phrase, using the failures of Mohamed Morsi’s rule to mobilize the public and incite them against his regime, and thus standing with the camp betting on the military institution.

Given the new situation, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Defense Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, became the presidential candidate around which the civil forces coalesced. The presence of the armed forces in the committee tasked with drafting the constitution took on special significance when a clamor was raised over the defense minister’s immunity and the condition that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces approve the minister’s appointment. This action takes this authority away from the president or the prime minister. As a compromise, some proposed applying this just during a transition period of ten to twelve years. Also, the concept of trying civilians in military courts was retained, even though these courts are not even independent, but rather are subject to the minister of defense’s orders.

In this atmosphere, we read in the Al-Shorouk newspaper (edition of 10/5) important statements from a military source that the newspaper’s editor said is close to the military institution. In his statements, he focused on the following:

- That the experience of the last few years proves that the army is the only real power in Egypt for the foreseeable future, because of the weakness of secular political parties. Thus the army must have the means to guard the country against any organization or group that wishes to change the country's identity.  

- That under the current circumstances, the army can't hand the presidency to anyone it doesn't know. For the people can't lose the only weapon they possess, their national army. We don't want to far the possibility that someone disguised as a secularists gains the presidency, and appoint whoever he wishes as minister of defense, and thus can change the identity of the army. 

The newspaper Al-Shorouk did not say that the military source was speaking in the same of the armed forces, but he at least expresses a school or a trend within the armed forces that considers the military the only force and the highest authority in the Egyptian political arena. Also, he holds a position opposing the Brotherhood experience and is concerned only with avoiding a repeat of this experience, claiming that it could affect the identity of the armed forces. As for the nation’s identity and its greater good, this is a concern of secondary importance.

(3)

With the continuing expansion of the military institution in the current political vacuum and the military’s undeniably increasing role, Egypt has begun to move outside the course of history. At the very least, this means that the dream of the democratic civil state that the January 25th revolution aspired to is in a state of decline and retreat. The tangible advancements barely hint at the possibility of achieving a fraction of this dream in the near future.

The structure that is currently being set up in Egypt suffers from a fatal flaw in its balance of power and its vision. That is because it is taking place in the shadow of the strength and dominance of the military institution, and in the shadow of institutions chosen from sectors united only by their rejection of and enmity towards the Brotherhood. They represent fragile political groups without a popular base, to the point that these groups have begun to derive their legitimacy by relying on the military institution and riding on its coattails. This represents the heart of the current political crisis in Egypt. This large country cannot be built on a foundation made of an alliance between liberals and the military, and its program cannot be based simply on the idea of excluding the Brotherhood and continuing the war against terrorism. This is the observation made by numerous Western analyses that keep talking about how Egypt is headed towards the unknown now that its political influence has declined and it no longer has a notable role in regional affairs.

Not only that, but Egypt in its weakness finds itself surrendering to schemes for security and non-security cooperation with Israel, especially since the military institution is considered the most prominent pillar of the Camp David Accords. Perhaps the international predicament facing Egypt pushed it to become closer to Israel and to interact with it more. The current regime is comfortable and reassuring to Israel, contrary to President Mohamed Morsi’s regime, which Israel was uncomfortable with and found worrisome.

This same weakness – which arises from the confusion and perplexity that the strategic vision for the new situation suffers from – has driven Egypt to throw itself into the arms of Arab coalitions antagonistic to the Arab Spring in its entirety. These coalitions have their own ties and loyalties that are incompatible with the revolution’s goals and the desires of the Arab masses. When this happens while the Arab region is facing giant upheavals that could redraw its maps and subject it to plans for fragmentation and division, it reveals the high price that the Arab world could pay because of the upheaval and setback that occurred in Egypt.

(4)

The picture is not entirely frustrating, because the shocks and upheavals from which the regimes of the Arab Spring are suffering are almost completely confined to the outward manifestations of this Spring. However, the Arab Spring has another, hidden aspect that has not yet lost its vitality. I was among those who said previously that the Arab Spring, in its actuality, is a historical transformation in the constitution of the Arab person, who has begun to call for change and announce his rejection of the political and social oppression that regimes imposed on him. What I expressed was recorded in a report by the New York Times published on October 18th. This report talked about the manifestations of an unspoken mass movement that all of the Gulf Arab countries are witnessing, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates at their forefront. This report was written by Christopher Davidson, a political science professor at Durham, a British university. He chose an evocative title for this report: "The Last of the Sheikhs?"

Egypt, if it loses itself through its current behavior will take the Arab world along with it as well. However, even if Egypt stands outside the course of history it will not be able to stop the wheel of history from turning. This is one of God’s rules for the universe, which is expressed in the Quranic text that states, {And if you turn away, He will replace you with another people; then they will not be the likes of you.} (Surah Mohammad, Ayah 38).

 

In Translation: Sisi for president

This editorial by Ahmed Samir appeared in Al Masry Al Youm on October 12. It is translated, as usual, by the excellent team at Industry Arabic.  

Sisi for President: The Turn, the Turn, the Turn, the Turn

(1)

The Place: The Republican Guard headquarters

The Time: Days after the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi

The Event: The Brotherhood’s sit-in, followed by clashes in which dozens of Morsi supporters are killed.

And those who joined the Brotherhood are astounded.

For an entire year, the organization prepared to crush those whom Mohamed Abdel-Maqsud described as “atheists and hypocrites.” The Brotherhood did not understand why the “Get angry, Morsi!” campaign did not succeed, while the “Grind them to pieces, Sisi” campaign did… when the smartest one of them is a grocer in Zad supermarket. [1]

They didn't understand a simple truth: the security state is loyal only to the security state.

The Guidance Bureau's use of the organization's police dogs to break up the sit-in by Morsi's opponents at the presidential palace was proof that Morsi's continued hypocrisy towards the police and the many changes that he made in the Ministry of Defense, the intelligence apparatus, the Ministry of Interior, and the Republic Guard were not enough – and the organization had to do its own suppressing.

Afterwards, the Brotherhood chose a minister who suited them, and suited what they wanted to do in the country.

After this minister was appointed, the police killed dozens of people in front of Port Said Prison because they were armed (doesn't that accusation remind you of something?) before opening fire on their funeral the following day -- to the cheers of our brothers in God.

Ibrahim is Morsi's choice… but they brought him on for a reason. He did not carry his mission out in full for them, but did so for someone else. The question is, why?

(2)

"He was afraid that he would be accused of using force."

This delicate phrase does not refer to the artist Nancy Ajram, but to General Mohamed Ibrahim, the Interior Minister.

According to Ahmed Mekki, the former Minister of Justice, Ibrahim refused more than once to "break up the Tahrir Square sit-in by force."

The brothers in God in Morsi's government, most of whom are now carrying the picture of a sit-in that was broken up by force, wanted to break up their enemies' sit-in by force, but the same minister refused.

It is clear – extremely clear – that Mohamed Ibrahim is now not afraid of being put on trial.

But what does this all have to do with Sisi?

To put it simply, if Sisi becomes president, Mohamed Ibrahim will stay, and no Mohamed Ibrahim will ever have to worry about being put on trial.

(3)

Sisi for president…

Optimism is treason. No tourism, no investment, no stable international relations, and therefore no social justice. How can social justice be achieved when there is not even production or growth?

For the sake of security, they want those who frighten us to rule. Did you know, my fellow citizen, that the largest share of bombings over the last decade has occurred during the past 100 days?

The country is headed towards ruin, and those who promised nothing but security have failed to achieve it. Still, they want their turn in the seat of power.

(4)

The turn, the turn, the turn, the turn.

You're lucky, it's your turn

Her destiny

This one it's her turn, this one it's her turn[2]

(5)

It's often said now in Egypt that the first person who chanted "This time for sure, we're not budging for anyone"[3] was General Sisi speaking to his chief of staff.

Once, we were told that we could not take away a citizen's right to run for president simply because he is the president's son, and now we are told that we can't take away a citizen's right simply because he is the defense minister in a country ruled by an emergency law and curfew.

They say that the people are looking for a leader… the same people told us in 2005 that the people are looking for a young man.

Since time immemorial, we've been living in a free country in which everyone in power has an equal opportunity to run for president.

Will you uphold the tradition?

(6)

He said, as he said as he said

Surround her with tambourines, clap for her

He said, as he said as he said

Who can appreciate this beauty, this beauty

Other than eyes that hope for her… perfume her with incense

(7)

The Director of Military Intelligence during Mubarak's time; a member of the military council in Tantawi's time; and Defense Minister during Morsi's time.

For some reason, a certain segment of society does not consider him their preferred candidate for president.

The Defense Minister is a candidate for president, which means that for many years to come, our slogan will be "Down with military rule."

They will say that the Defense Minister is not military rule. They will also say that the sun is not in the sky and we are imagining things.

Those who believe that the just state will last for an hour and the military state will last forever say that the people love him, don't dismiss the people. Good logic… but the Brotherhood won five elections – all overseen by Sisi and his military council – so why is their outcome being dismissed?

It is said that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different outcome, so how should we describe those who have tried the same thing for 60 years, and now want a different outcome?

The soldiers of Islamic preaching are gone and the soldiers of the nation have arrived. We've gotten rid of the Islamist Salafis so that the Nasserite Salafis can rule us. Those who aren't able to bring us into the future are content to rule us and harp on about the past.

We do not need a military president. How many times have callers phoned into the program to say "Egypt is full of talent, Captain Shobier"?[4]

(8)

Her destiny has come to her, her destiny

Bringing something she never expected

This one it's her turn, this one it's her turn

(9)

Whoever wants to have everything, loses everything.

Those who want to control political life in the way that it has been for 60 years, may be taking the chance that we will discuss everything with the presidential candidate, starting with the armed forces' budget, and including lands controlled by the armed forces.

It is their right to call for Sisi to run for office, and it is our right to be against that.

Sisi promised that he would not run, and that the military institution would not support a candidate… didn't they see?

How many before them who broke their promise not to run for president has God destroyed?

Some say we can count on Sisi's intelligence – that he realizes the danger of running for office. Do not bet on anyone's intelligence, since it is well known that the only lesson one can learn from history is that no one learns from history.

They say that he is in the lead in any opinion poll. Did the lion of Islamic preaching, the young people's lost one, the king of Maryotia Hazem Abu Ismail do anything but lead the same polls for a year and a half?

We are not spoils to be had, and whoever wants to consider us as such, let him have his turn. History shows that those who insist on military trials for civilians end up in civilian trials for the military.

Ultimately, countries of the future are not going to be ruled by armies. Those who want to wage a war against the future will soon become the past.

 

The song The Turn the Turn… The Turn the Turn, a relevant link.

[1]A reference to Khairat al-Shater's son, Saad al-Shater, founder of the Zad supermarket chain, with a pun on the name "Shater," which means "smart, clever" in Arabic.

[2] These songs lyrics, which are quoted as a recurring motif throughout this article, are taken from a 1985 play about Egypt's most infamous serial killers, Raya and Sakina, who went on a grisly killing spree in Alexandria in the early 20th century. In the play, this song is sung by Raya and Sakina as they are preparing to kill their next victim.

[3] A common protest chant in Egypt over the past several years that is being ironically attributed to Sisi – with something of a different meaning.

[4] Captain Shobier is the popular host of a sports program called "Captain Shobier's News"