The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged rabaa
Egypt in TV: Mubarak was a nice guy, Rabaa was inevitable

Another entry in our Egypt in TV series from our correspondent Nour Youssef

Recently, a college-educated friend asked me to explain how 9/11 could not be a Zionist conspiracy when all the Jewish employees of the World Trade Center were told to take the day of the attack off. This was a sincere question. And a sad reminder of how easily a ludicrous lie can be instilled in a mind (with IQ points and access to the Internet) when repeated enough times. 

Following the broadcasting of the Mubarak trial, there has been a perceptible increase in the frequency and temerity of such lies in the Egyptian media. It is not enough to believe Mubarak is innocent and that the Muslims Brothers and the West are the source of all evil. One must wish to kiss the sand beneath his hospital bed because under his leadership, Egypt was the best it could have possibly been -- considering that he was busy battling The Source this whole time without telling us, so as not to worry us. The same way he opted for selflessly falling and breaking a leg in the bathroom instead of waking up his nurse to help him limp to it, according to Al-Faraeen’s Tawfik Okasha, who wonders how we don't feel shame allowing the trial of this gentle soul to go on -- a dangerous rhetorical question since it implies the judiciary is conducting a farcical trial that could be stopped if enough people wanted it to.

"But why air the trial now?" CBC's Khairy Ramadan asked. Are they trying to elicit sympathy for Mubarak or agitate people? Are they going to air MB trials too? Ramadan continued to skirt the obvious reason, which is that people were angrier before and would have made a fuss seeing the judge go out of his way to accommodate the Mubaraks and offer to move the trial to anywhere they like to allow their father to defend himself outside the usual defendant’s cage, and profess his personal desire "to give them back their freedom” if only for a few moments.

Ramadan went on to echo some of the Al-Nahar TV’s Mahmoud Saad’s questions: Why did ex Interior Minister Habib el-Adly fail to stop Jan 25 if he knew that the MB and April 6 “were taking courses on how to revolt in Doha paid for the by US” (where they must have learned how to stand in a crowd and cry when teargassed, etc)? If it was a conspiracy, does that mean every person that stood in Tahrir was a conspirator/a typical nosy Egyptian who likes to see things for themselves (Adly’s contention) or could life under Mubarak have been so bad that people seized the opportunity to topple him immediately? Also, if Mohamed ElBaradei was a spy, why did former head of military intelligence, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, let him become Vice President in the summer of 2013? And if there is information proving that Jan 25 was a conspiracy, hasn’t anyone shown it to Sisi so he can stop embarrassing himself and quit calling it a revolution? (And why did the former Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Tantawi side with and glorify this abomination?)

These questions are a sign of some division among propagandists. Others signs include Saad waging war on the long boring monologues that are the backbone of Egyptian nighttime television; Tamer Ameen accusing his colleagues of overreacting to news and fear-mongering to fill airtime and Hassan Rateb, head of el--Mehwar TV, complaining about the lack of coordination and synchronization in the media, which has been too unkind to the Mubaraks for his taste. It seems moderate hosts like Saad and Ramadan just want a little more coherence in the official narrative, whereas hardliners like Ahmed Mousa and Okasha want to bang a drum all day. Others like OnTV’s Youssef el-Husseiny, who fancies himself a revolutionary, simply want everyone to cherry pick the same “facts” he does. In Husseiny’s world, fighters from rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas put aside their difference to sneak into Egypt through tunnels, cross the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula, spread across the nation attacking police stations and freeing prisoners, and then make their way back to Gaza completely undetected in 2011. Nevertheless -- this is where el-Husseiny parts with the becoming-official narrative -- that does not make Jan 25 a US conspiracy because the fighters idling on the borders only piggy-backed on a very real revolution.

That being said, the worst coverage of the Mubarak trial was that of weather vane media personality Ibrahim Eissa, who wondered why people who are angered by the Mubarak trial don’t just switch the channel and accused Jan 25 supporters of being hypocritical because they were incensed by el-Adly’s accusations of treason, even though they, too, accuse the Mubarak regime of betraying the people. The revolutionaries’ anger, Eissa decided, is a classic  case of “can dish it out, but can’t take it.” This from a man who once wrote scathing condemnations of the Mubarak regime. 

The trial itself reveals two interesting things. The first is that Mubarak’s smiley attorney, Farid el-Deeb, is not as good as he is is meant to be, says journalist Abdel-Halim Qandil. In his opening statement, el-Deeb spent more time talking about how fond Egyptians are of the word “revolution,” and the many times in which they have misused the term in recent history, than about the the charges facing his client. The trial has also revealed that Ahmed Mousa can smile. Unlike Qandil, the Sada el-Balad host was very impressed with el-Deeb's opening statement and how it cited exciting "official documents that he didn't get from his brain, home or the moon." These documents and statements, he beamed, are from irreproachable former officials like Tantawi, and Head of Intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman from the Mubarak regime exonerating the Mubarak regime. To Mousa, the matter is settled. These statements come from “the people who used to run the country...they people who held the keys to everything” and they say there was no corruption -- who can say anything otherwise? Naturally, the only credible source of information about the Mubarak regime is the Mubarak regime itself.

El-Adly’s statement, on the other hand, was an unsurprising rerun of everything the media has been saying for the past 3 and a half years (Hamas this, Amerika that), with the addition of two gems. The first (featured above) was his resentful account of an alleged conversation with former US ambassador, Anne Patterson, when she called him to complain about the Internet shutdown and how the embassy couldn’t work due to it -- which he found irritating because it’s not like the representative of the world’s superpower needs Egypt’s lowly Internet when “she could find out what (he) is wearing today, if she wanted it to.” “But that was before it was announced that she was the head of the conspiracy,” he concluded with a smile. The second gem is his claim that the Egyptian police just so happens to have  given the Gaza police weapons from its own inventory before the revolution, which should answer any lingering questions about why Egyptian police ammunition was found in the bodies of protesters. 

What should have been the topic du jour of the week was the Rab’a massacre's uneventful first year anniversary. Virtually no video footage or photographs were shown of the bloodshed. The Human Rights Watch report on Rab’a was dismissed for not taking the official narrative and local  NGO reports seriously enough, as well as taking the bloodshed out of context (the context basically being "they started it/deserved it"), journalist Abdullah el-Sinawy told OnTV’s Yosri Fouda -- the only TV host who dedicated an entire episode for the anniversary. Meanwhile, others like Ramadan and Saad  murmured variations of "What Happened, Happened."

Others, like former-MB-turned-TV-talking head, Abdelsatar el-Meligy, were less kind. “Rab’a was occupied and the police cleared it so cars could pass. It’s really not complicated,” he said, matter-of-factly. Mousa went on about how the shoes of non-Muslim Brotherhood Egyptians are better than Morsi, his son and all his supporters and urged his viewers not to forget the 64 police officers who died last August while killing 1000+ people. 

(PS: If you are having a hard time falling in love with Mubarak, the following story, according to writer and person known primarily for being married to actor Yahya el-Fakharani, Lamis Gaber, should help: Shortly before Israel launched its surprise attack on the Egyptian Air Force in the 1967 war, Mubarak reportedly thought to himself: “Pilots gets worse without practice.” So he took three other pilots and flew. While in the air, they received the news and were told that the only airport they could land in was Luxor’s. Once they landed there, the airport was attacked and their planes were destroyed, forcing him to heroically take the train back to Cairo. The End)

HRW: Deadly protest dispersals in Egypt a crime against humanity

Human Rights Watch -- whose senior members were prevented from entering the country yesterday -- has just released a report arguing that the dispersals of pro-Morsi protests in Egypt last summer (the most deadly of which, in the Rabaa El Adawiya Square, may have killed over 1,000 people) amount to crimes against humanity. This because they involved the premeditated (government officials openly discussed how many thousands of protesters they expected to be killed)  use of widescale violence against civilians. You can read the full report -- which calls for the indictment of the Minister of Interior and of President Sisi -- here

As if the protesters killed each other

Mada Masr's Naira Antoun reports on the National Human Rights Council's report on the deaths in Rabaa last summer. Unsurprisingly, the report skirts condemning the overwhelming state violence that took place that day (one of the bloodiest in Egypt's history). 

The council also criticized security forces for not giving protesters sufficient time after warnings to evacuate and for preventing injured protesters from receiving treatment.

 

No mention was made of the army, however. When asked about this, Amin said that military forces secured the area but did not participate in the dispersal itself, and as such, “it is not relevant to mention the army.”

In the council’s account, the presence of armed individuals was the primary cause of the bloodshed that occurred on August 14.

“It was if the protesters killed each other,” one journalist said — to applause from other attendees.

While the council repeatedly emphasized its impartiality and integrity, and its commitment to documenting violence on all sides, journalists demanded to hear about the violations of the security forces. When Amin responded that it was all in the videos, journalists called for videos of the police.

 

 

The life of a Muslim sister
A woman looks at a graffiti of a quote from the Quran, Tahrir Square, November 2011. Photo by Issandr El Amrani.

A woman looks at a graffiti of a quote from the Quran, Tahrir Square, November 2011. Photo by Issandr El Amrani.

Nadia is a former Muslim Sister with a gummy smile. She has run out of reasons to show it after the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in, which took the lives of 63 of her friends and acquaintances and a part of her that she can only describe by grabbing the air, her head or her chest.

Although she often finds herself in a depressive trance – remembering the overly-friendly girl she befriended during the sit-in who gave her a necklace as she had requested a few days before the dispersal, and how Asmaa el-Beltagy had promised to tell her an exciting secret upon her return to Rabaa – Nadia tries and likes to think that she derives strength from the bloodshed. “The sound of gunshots doesn’t frighten me,” she said, more to herself. This enables her to join the regular student protesters clashes with security forces at Al Azhar University, something many of her friends and relatives can’t do. “They would freak out at the sound of fireworks or any loud noise... and drive around all of Nasr City just to avoid Rabaa,” she added, before admitting that she too has only been there twice since the dispersal and had failed not to sob in front of the Central Security Forces (CSF, the riot-control police) leaning against their black vans outside the mosque on both occasions. But, to be fair, one of the outbursts was aided by a CSF van that followed her home (which is right down the street), matching her pace and discussing her mother on the way, to the great amusement of onlookers.  

Although she frequently gets labelled a Muslim Sister (and suffers for it), Nadia was among those mostly young men and women who left/were kicked out of the Brotherhood shortly after the 2011 uprising for objecting to what they saw as the leadership's deafness to criticism, political opportunism and betrayal of revolutionary goals in alliance with the SCAF.

That batch, she says, is now divided into two camps. The first camp, to which she belongs, that has seemingly and temporarily returned to the MB out of solidarity and sense of obligation. Others remain resolutely separate. Those who have returned are not always fully accepted and often face accusations of betrayal and abuse, especially if they voice any old or new criticism of the leadership’s actions and how they lead to the state the Brotherhood is currently in.

However, inside the MB itself, resentment is mainly directed at the Anti-Coup Alliance (ACA), which is frequently criticized for lacking organization and the clear hierarchy the MB once had, which allowed one to identify the source of a decision and set blame. A prime example of the ACA’s incompetence, Nadia said, was changing the anti-constitutional referendum protest venues last minute on FB, after many protesters had left their homes and internet connection behind, resulting in confusion and the arrest of over 400 Brothers; or trying to stage a sit-in at  Suk al-Sayarat (the car market), an unfriendly neighborhood that probably wouldn’t leave much protesters for the police to shoot.  “No one really knows who is making these decisions,” interjected Hoda, another young Sister, who was just lost in monologue trying to decide whether she should flash the four-finger Rabaa sign or put on a poker face when suspecting classmates inquire about her political views. “Everybody just ends up doing whatever they feel like, there is no cohesion; no vision,” she added, shaking her head before returning to her monologue and deciding to be safe rather than hungry like her brother, Hamza, who now resides in a 2x2 cell with an unspecified number of people and cockroaches that fly, unable to sit or sleep comfortably. She sees him for exactly one minute a day with an officer present. Some of his teeth are broken and so is his right wrist, she suspects. Hamza, she paused to beam, had tried to convince the police officers, who arrested him, that he was a non-religious, playboy who drinks, smokes and copulates before they did. They gave him a cigarette and asked him to prove it, he let out a telling cough and was summarily given for 15 days pending investigation. "Ah, Hamza," she sighed.

“Many of (those arrested) have wrist fractures and things of that nature, it’s the handcuffs,” guessed another Sister, Gehad, rubbing hers instinctively. She has been recently released after being detained for nearly  three weeks on the charge of “piercing a car roof,” carrying a camera and belonging to a terrorist organization trying to destabilize the country. “[Prisoner treatment] depends wholly on the officers and the jail or department you’re in,” she explained. She, for instance, was lucky enough to fall into the hands of a kind prosecutor, who gave her Nescafe. And she managed to charm the prostitutes and convicted murderers  they routinely detain Sisters with, "as a scare tactic," with her religious knowledge. “They thought that God wouldn’t forgive them, so I recited Quran to them and we prayed together,” she recalled with pride. More importantly, the pregnancy test they forced on her (virginity tests for female protesters -- i.e. sluts -- caused an uproar, but pregnancy tests have reportedly taken their place) didn’t break her as well because she knew it was meant to, Gehad said, speaking at a considerably higher volume intended to prove she was unaffected by the memory. Others, however, she said, had cigarettes put out in them, and if the corporal she bribed is to be believed, they were also whipped with belts, electrocuted, stripped and made to stand in a room with holes in the walls known as the Tellaga (refrigerator). Other reports of abuse include being forced to clean the police department, sexual harassment, spoiled food and denial of family visits (and harassment of family members and friends who came for them). 

It is worth noting that Gehad later managed to flee to Turkey, where a small Egyptian MB community has already formed, thanks to the failure of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to update the no-fly lists. She was then given a five-year sentence in absentia. Also grateful for the poor coordination and communication between state institutions is the Kamal Youssef, a father who waits in line to get into Tora for an average of four hours, gets his bag x-rayed, his body aggressively searched and waits in the cafeteria in plain view for the minibus that will take him to el-’Akrab prison, where he will provide all of his personal information to visit his son, although there is a warrant out for his arrest. “They only let first degree family members in, but I sometimes visit about seven non-related people in the same prison and pretend to be their cousin and no one says anything,” Nadia said, grinning for the first time, before reassuming her inscrutable countenance. 

She then begins to systematically list the problems of getting her jailed friends their exams (if they have not already failed the academic year). Normally the prosecution only requires a registration certificate and the exam schedule from the detainee’s university to issue a permit for said detainee to take the exam, but since sending a bruised student handcuffed to a police corporal to take a test among their classmates might win them some sympathy, Nadia has to get a copy of the police report to prove to the university that the student is in jail and get permission from the student to take the test in jail. Only problem is books and papers are generally not allowed in, making the hassle of getting them their exams almost pointless since they can’t study and will probably fail anyway. This process of selecting what is and is not allowed in, like treatment, seems to be governed by whim. For instance, she once managed smuggle in a cell phone with Internet, but failed to smuggle in a pillow to the same person.

When the contempt Nadia receives from law enforcement wears her or her friends down, she comforts herself and them with the knowledge that they are not one of the leaders or the wives, whom the police targets for particular abuse, according to a number of unverified reports by MB activists.The abuse, they say, includes “threatening (the detainee) with his wife’s honor"  to flush him out or to force a confession out of him. The leaders have had to forgo family visits because theirs require them to sit behind a glass partition and talk over a phone that’s monitored. MB leader and former MP Mohamed el-Beltagy  was allowed to keep the poster of his dead daughter, Asmaa, that his wife, Sanaa Abdel Gawad, gave him -- but they wouldn’t give him the tape to hang it on the wall with, Nadia said. Instead of meeting, Beltagy and Abdel Gawad now exchange letters that a bribed officer delivers – and censors. 

“One time [Abdel Gawad] wrote 'I am proud of you and I love you' and the officer insisted that she crossed it out...They don’t allow anything uplifting through,” Nadia explained. “She just lost it and started praying for retribution so hard, one of the officers cried and asked her to stop because he has nothing to do with this. He is just following orders.” However, most officers were not as affected. They started clapping for a visitor who began singing the pro-Sisi song Teslam el-Ayadi, and bellydancing. What salted the wound, Nadia said, was that the visitor was the mother of a horribly treated prisoner. “The same thing happened with Om Hassan, she hadn’t seen or heard of her son in weeks and [police officers and other visitors] sang her Teslam el-Ayadi,” an offended Hoda said, thrusting a hand in my face like I was Mustafa Kamil (the song's writer and composer).

Although the desire for revenge is palpable within the MB, it is almost always accompanied by equally palpable helplessness and frustration. Regardless of the presumed-to-be-MB attacks on police and army officers, Nadia maintains that so far most of the MB’s retaliation has been limited to mean prayers, reciting Quranic verses like “Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners. [28:9]” to necessitate the punishment of every soldier as well as the commanders. Sure, there is a list, whose accuracy and origin are a matter for consideration, of the officers who dispersed the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins but no one has done anything with it – yet. Every Brother and Sister I’ve spoken to recently thinks someone is going to lose it soon and that whoever that person is; no one can blame him/her.

Revenge aside, Nadia advocates (and regularly participates) in the burning of police vans and in doing anything that would “upset” the MOI. When asked to explain how that can fall under the title of “peaceful resistance,” she screwed up her face in bored disgust. “They have guns, gas, cars and water. We have Molotov and rocks. It’s not a fair equation... We’re certainly more peaceful.” Nadia’s definition of peacefulness is popular in the MB (and in non-MB revolutionary circles). Ahmad Hijab, a Cairo University Brother, for instance, spent fifteen minutes explaining how not only are the student protesters completely peaceful, but that they must be because military chief, General Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, would love an excuse to have them all shot, before he casually added that he had never been to a protest without fireworks, Molotov and rocks. “What, am I supposed to stand there and let them kill me or go defenseless when I know they are going to attack me?” 

As far as the MB youth is concerned, it seems, the only viable course of action now is to aggravate the MOI at every opportunity. The future, many believe, will likely hold what the present is already offering: politically ineffective, routine clashes with the police like those of Al-Azhar University and Alf Maskan, deaths, injuries, arrests, broken bones, prison visits, uncomfortable body searches, deliveries of exams and medical supplies, police bribes, etc. “Things have to and will get much, much worse for everyone... everyone has to and will taste humiliation and injustice, it has to become unbearable, so they will revolt again,” Nadia hopes. “Or they will apologize and sing Teslam el-Ayadi,” Hoda told the ceiling, resentfully.

So while things get worse, Nadia is just going to deliver some food to detainees and continue to rearrange the digits of a cellphone number an MB prisoner scribbled on her hand, to reach his parents and tell them he has been in jail for the past month. “Is this a seven or an eight?” she asked no one in particular before deciding to try a six.

The names of the people interviewed for this post have been changed to protect their identity.

What this terrible article in the Atlantic Monthly means: nothing

I don't generally have the time or inclination to go after bad writing on the middle east, but this absurd "analysis" on the Atlantic Monthly's site is just too much, starting with the first paragraph, which states: 

Astute observers of recent pro-Morsi protests in Egypt will note a new symbol cropping up in photos of the protesting crowds: Demonstrators are now holding four fingers in the air. Many carry yellow posters emblazoned with the same gesture.

How "astute" do you have to be to notice a hand gesture that is directed at every camera in the vicinity, and as the author says "emblazoned" on bright yellow posters? 

The gesture that is here referred to as "the Rabaa" apparently "signals both a conscious shift in the Muslim Brotherhood’s focus from a global audience to an Arabic one and a rejection of the ideals of the Arab Spring." Unlike, the author argues, the V for victory that was used by earlier demonstrators and that "allowed protestors to communicate a set of shared ideals embodied in the initial self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller: half economic freedom, half national self-determination."

Where to begin? The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that bid Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi an un-fond adieu used a panoply of slogans and symbols. The most common, meaningful and trans-national chant associated with the Arab Spring has to have been the Arabic chant "The People Want the Fall of the Regime." Not only is the argument that the V sign epitomized the Arab Spring extremely debatable; the comparison between the huge heterogenous masses in Tahrir and elsewhere almost three years ago and the mostly Brotherhood supporters protesting today doesn't make sense. They're different groups of people, in different circumstances, saying different things. 

images-3.jpeg

And as for the four raised fingers that derive from the Arabic word for "four" and refer to the Rabaa El Adawiya square where hundreds were killed on August 14 when Egyptian security forces cleared an Islamist sit in -- it's a distinct, eloquent gesture such as people might come up with to telegraph a political stance (although according to the author it is "orchestrated" and "not organic"). Is the author suggesting that people who want to express outrage and solidarity with the dead of Rabaa should be flashing a victory sign? What in the world is sinister with crafting a message based on your own language, addressed to your own people? Or do Arab gestures, to count as meaningful -- let alone inspiring -- all have to be addressed to an international audience? I guess all the ways that largely anti-Islamist young Egyptians have appropriated and subverted the Rabaa symbol is also at odds with the Arab Spring. 

The way the writer makes four raised fingers stand for all the Muslim Brotherhood's faults is strange nonsense: "It reveals the Brotherhood’s roots as a political party and the propaganda upon which it relies. Morsi’s followers are not a popularly supported movement with a widespread and diverse base." The Brotherhood is an on-message political organization that isn't very popular right now -- I somehow knew that already. It wasn't "revealed" to me by this hand gesture. 

The Atlantic's policy of soliciting unpaid freelance contributions for its site has been the source of recent controversy. This piece seems to show the results. But does The Atlantic also only use unpaid freelance editors? Does it have editors at all? 

 

The tale of Kerdasa's police chief

 Thugs are thugs. They attack because they can. It makes little difference whether they are from the MB or not. Those were Kerdasa's police chief Mohamed Gabr's thoughts on his unfriendly neighborhood thugs, according to his relative Mohamed Khalil, which he conveyed a month before his brutal murder became a default example of the violence carried out by some Islamists.

Khalil and his friend Amr (an acquaintance) met chief Gabr the night they got into car accident and were taken to the Kerdasa police station for driving without a license on the Mehwar. The man offered the tea and coffee while they waited for the unlawful released the car without due process. Mostly done as a favor for his relative, partly because parts of the vehicle were going to “get misplaced” in police custody anyway. 

There Khalil and Amr encountered two signs of police weakness. The first came as a suggestion by chief Gabr himself to pay a neighborhood thug some money to let their car be and the second stood as a reminder outside the station. 

It was a lonely watchtower that fell outside of the station’s premises, inexplicably completely out of reach for the officers who were supposed to man it. The tower is the awkward result of a standoff between the police and thugs months ago that took place when the station was being restored after the 2011 nationwide attacks on the police. They had begun to build an enclosure wall around the then-new tower. However, their plan was frowned upon by a group of thugs, who had unilaterally decided that they owned the land outside the station and didn’t wish to see a wall built on it. The land, they decreed, was going to be used as a garage, where they could keep the new cars they found parked alone nearby. Outnumbered (and humiliated I might add), the police conceded to build the wall behind the tower, leaving it stranded in the new garage.

One of the few, if not the only, positive outcomes of Jan 25 that people cite is the breaking of the barrier of fear. People now are not afraid to speak their mind, protest, etc. But courage turned into impudence for some. Now people also feel safe criticizing the killing of hundreds mostly peaceful protesters, or retrieving a family member from a jail cell and shooting whoever doesn’t get out of their way fast enough.

That prompted chief Gabr to take a series of precautions to avoid the recurrent violence. First, he decided not to keep weapons in the stations anymore - nothing more than the handguns carried by each officer, that is - to dissuade nonpaying gun shoppers from visiting. And then he decided to play Hide and Seek (Elsewhere) with the families of all prisoners.

"If I arrest someone, I always make sure they get transferred to another prison so their families wouldn't know where he is," he had explained to Khalil in his office over tea. "If a prisoner spends the night here, his family will come in, take the keys, unlock the gate and take him out. If I so much as say a word; I would get shot." And he did, less than a week ago.

Only he wasn't just shot, they also reportedly slit his throat, stripped him down to his underwear, tied him to a car, next to his subordinates who suffered a similar fate, and dragged him around the station for a while before coming to rest in front of a brick wall (believed to be al-Sho'araa mosque, 300 hundred meters away from the station) where his body was dumped alongside others on the ground for people to gawk at.

There, the corpses were videotaped and asked why they brought that upon themselves. Their mothers were cursed and their red faces were covered with white sheets, only to be repeatedly uncovered by curious bystanders. (To sample the mindless violence, watch this video of one of the victims, seemingly alive, being asked to say the shahada, and when he failed to respond, a bystander furiously concluded that he was a Zionist).

Meanwhile, other bystanders cursed “the bearded sheikhs” that allegedly killed the policemen, only hours after the dispersal of the Raba'a sit-in begun, according to Mohamed Hossam, a local who watched the attack from his balcony with his neighbors.

“The neighbors were crying the whole time. My own father didn’t eat for the rest of the day,” he said, as if more perplexed by the emotional reaction to the vile public murder of almost a dozen people than by the murder itself.

“(Kerdasa’s islamists) lost people in Raba’a, so they wanted to make an example out of the police in Kerdasa,” he added dryly. “I wanted to do something, anything...but if the police can’t protect itself, then who will protect me?”

Egypt links 15-18 August 2013

The most important piece of the last few days about Egypt, in my view, in this great reporting by David Kirkpatrick, Peter Baker and Michael Gordon in the New York Times. It's worth reading carefully because it represents the most detailed public account of efforts at defusing the post-July 3 crisis, negotiations between the army and the MB and how hardliners in the government nixed them, and gives some indication of key personalities around Sisi. It also provides details, such as that Mohammed ElBaradei meant to resign in late July after the second massacre of pro-Morsi protestors in Cairo but was convinced to remain by John Kerry. It's really sterling work.

One impression I came away reading this was that, while dynamics inside the Egyptian leadership were the most important factor, the interventions of Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham may have prevented (because of their perceived arrogance from an Egyptian point of view) a breakthrough in efforts to avoid further violence. 

Update: A source familiar with the negotiations / mediation efforts (not a journalist and not an American) confirms the NYT account is, small errors aside, largely correct but that the deal had already collapsed when McCain and Graham came to Cairo. Their swagger, at most, helped the Egyptian government in providing a pretext for nationalist backlash, but the decision had already been made to close the talks and move to a crackdown. 

Below are links collated in the last few days, from different perspectives. I may come back to a few later. 

August 17-18

  • Gulf Islamist Dissent Over Egypt | Marc Lynch
  • Saudi Arabia warns against pressing Egypt on crackdown | Reuters
  • Egypt: Building the narrative | The World
  • Egypt's Brotherhood cries foul over prison deaths | Reuters
  • AUC TA Sonbul shot in Rabaa but officially declared to have died naturally | The Insider (AUC)
  • GM, BASF reopen in Egypt, Electrolux plans partial resumption - Yahoo! Finance
  • Minister of Defence Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi statement - Aug. 18, 2013 - YouTube
  • Obama balances short-term, long-term goals in Egypt - The Washington Post
  • US has lost all credibility in the Middle East says John McCain | World news | theguardian.com
  • European Union - EEAS (European External Action Service) | EU-EGYPT TASK FORCE Fact Sheet
  • Weekite أجنحة صغيرة: Head of Foreign Press Association in Egypt Exposes Foreign Media Bias
  • Bloodshed in Egypt: No End In Sight | The Nation
  • EU considers suspension of €5bn in aid to Egypt - FT.com
  • David Remnick: Speaking the Truth About the Egyptian Coup : The New Yorker
  • 4 common Misconceptions Egyptians have
  • Algérie FocusTariq Ramadan : "Les Frères Musulmans doivent cesser les manifestations, cesser la politique du pire" - Algérie Focus
  • Can Human Rights defenders in Egypt win their war for country of law? - YouTube
  • Egypt’s identity crisis - The Washington Post
  • Now Egyptians are all paying the price | Ahdaf Soueif | Comment is free | The Guardian
  • The Revenge of the Police State
  • Egypt's State Information Service Statement to Foreign Correspondents
  • Morsi Critic: 'What Happens In Egypt Is Not Very Clear Abroad' : NPR
  • U.S. military needs Egypt for access to critical area
  • For Muslim Brotherhood, A Painful Day of Reckoning - WSJ.com
  • Egyptians grieve for loved ones as massacre continues | World news | The Guardian
  • August 15-16:

  • There is still time to side with those committed to democracy in Egypt | Maha Azzam | Comment is free | The Guardian
  • Vicious Backlash Shakes One Egyptian Town - WSJ.com
  • Massacre in Cairo: Egypt on Brink After Worst Violence Since 2011 Revolution | Democracy Now!
  • Mubarak Still Rules - By Steven A. Cook | Foreign Policy
  • Working-Class Cairo Neighborhood Tries to Make Sense of a Brutal Day - NYTimes.com
  • Blood and Chaos Prevail in Egypt, Testing Control - NYTimes.com
  • Gunbattle fought in Cairo mosque as Egypt mulls Brotherhood ban | Reuters
  • Egypt - A Fire That Will Burn Us All | Transitions
  • Israel Keeps a Wary Eye on Turmoil in Egypt - NYTimes.com
  • Multinationals in Egypt Hunker Down To Keep Workers, Infrastructure Safe - WSJ.com
  • AP Analysis: Egypt enters uncharted territory - Yahoo! News
  • Things Fall Apart - By Ned Parker and David Kenner | Foreign Policy
  • Egypt’s Day of Rage - The Daily Beast
  • Ties With Egypt Army Constrain Washington - NYTimes.com
  • Hulsman on attacks on police stations and churches

    From the Arab West Report's newsletter, by its editor Cornelis Hulsman, a veteran advocate of better Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt who has extensive contacts on both sides:

    The Kerdassa police station (Giza) has been attacked using an RPG after elsewhere in the city sit-ins of demonstrators were broken up. This resulted in the death of the local police chief and several police officers whose bodies have then be mutilated. Twenty other police stations were attacked, often with weapons that they were not prepared for. Demonstrators who claimed to be with the Muslim Brotherhood threw a police car with 5 policemen from a bridge killing all of them. Those images are spread all over and have created a shock-wave. It is thus no wonder that policemen seek safer locations to operate from. It also makes the mutual hate between police and Muslim Brothers and militant groups much deeper. The mutual hate is many decades old. Between 1992 and 1997 militant Muslims engaged in attacks on police and civilians. Militant Muslims and political Islamists were targeted by police, many of them ended up for years in prison, also if they had no involvement with any violence. The police did not have a good reputation. Officers were often accused of torture. It is thus no wonder that the police are most hated by Islamists and now, just as on January 28, 2011 and following weeks, are targeted.
    The patterns of systematic attack on Egyptian security resemble those of January 28, 2011. People have again come from villages and popular areas to massively destroy government property. But unlike 2011, people now also targeted churches and Christian shops. AWR called priests, friends of ours, in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Maghagha, and Minya. The police have disappeared from all these cities and other cities because they became targets themselves and fled. That is no wonder if one sees on videos how policemen have been brutally slaughtered in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The consequence is that the police are withdrawing to centers where they feel safe and can defend themselves better. The consequence, however, is that thugs have had more opportunities to engage in violence and destruction. The police in Assiut disappeared on the 14th from the street, but returned again on the 15th.
    Violence is widespread, but AWR has also spoken with priests who told us that there had been no violence in their village or town. Much of this also, but not only, depends on local relations. Fear is widespread in all parts of Egypt. If particular areas have not yet been targeted they later may or may not become targets.
    It all appears that General al-Sisi has made a miscalculation when he, in cooperation with other authorities, decided to end the demonstrations around the Rābaʽah al-‘Adawīyyah mosque and al-Nahda square. Protesters spread and throughout the country militant groups are seen. It is obvious that these groups are organized. It is not possible to explain how otherwise they suddenly appear all over Egypt. AWR has asked friends in various cities to explain why they believe that these were Muslim Brothers. Some friends said that the people marching with weapons in the streets scream, “Islamiya, Islamiya.” Many of them are young. They were surprised to see also small children among them. Priests we spoke to said they believed them to be a mix of Brothers joined by many thugs, people seeing an opportunity to loot.
    Emad Aouni lives in Assiut and has seen Muslim Brothers he knows from the sit-in in Assiut participating in attacking churches. They were, however, not alone but in the company of members of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, Salafīs, and thugs. “They usually would not do this alone but in a group with other Islamists they would go along.”

    AWR's website has been hacked, so the full piece is not up there. I am pasting it here for those who are curious – it also includes a full list of churches that have come under attack. 

    Shatz: Egypt’s Counter Revolution

    Adam Shatz in the LRB: 

    So this is how it ends: with the army killing more than 600 protesters, and injuring thousands of others, in the name of restoring order and defeating ‘terrorism’. The victims are Muslim Brothers and other supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, but the ultimate target of the massacres of 14 August is civilian rule. Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.

    Particularly harsh words for the revolutionary camp:

    The triumph of the counter-revolution has been obvious for a while, but most of Egypt’s revolutionaries preferred to deny it, and some actively colluded in the process, telling themselves that they were allying themselves with the army only in order to defend the revolution. Al-Sisi was only too happy to flatter them in this self-perception, as he prepared to make his move. He, too, styles himself a defender of the revolution

     

    Driving about with the Islamists

     Sixth of October Bridge is missing parts of its railing. Although only one armored vehicle was fell off it. 

    With one eye on the railing rather than the road and another on his phone, my cousin searched for a scandalous picture on his phone. “I found it! Look at actress Elham Shaheen sleeping naked next to Mahmoud Abdel Aziz!” he said, showing us a blurry picture of a clothed Menna Shalabi and Kareem Abdul Aziz cuddling under a blanket that’s only a few inches short of their neck.  

    “And then she gets mad when Abdullah Badr calls her a whore,” my father said, shaking his head, and passed the phone to my uncle to see. 

    “Oh, it’s art! It has a message within the dramatic context; it’s purposeful!” my uncle quoted the common intellectual defense of nudity in films in a singsong manner. 

    “The message is: I am a whore,” my cousin replied. They guffawed.

    The laughter died once the Ministry of Finance finally came into view, it was reportedly attacked by MB supporters on Wednesday night with Molotov cocktails. 24 hours later, parts of the building were on fire again. On the seventh floor, bright yellow and orange flames were dancing unfettered by the three fire trucks parked in front of the building. The firefighters, distracted by their sandwiches, had pointed their hoses a tad too low, accidentally watering the shrubbery in front of the ministry instead of putting out the fire.

    Next stop on our field trip around Cairo, inspecting the damage of the sit-ins dispersal and the violence that followed them, was Raba’a al-Adaweya. It was mostly smoky and empty, just charred buildings, broken glass and burned cars. The streets were littered with remains of the sit-in: blankets, torn clothes and indistinguishable items, or parts of them, some of which choosy robabekya men (junk traders) scrutinized before collecting. 

    Every now and then, my company would stop lamenting the events of August 14 and existence of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and express their bewilderment at the virtually pristine condition Cook Door, a fast food restaurant in Raba’a, managed to stay in.  

    Much like Raba’a, El Alf Maskan looked battered. During an attempt to launch a third sit-in the area, MB supporters clashed with security forces. The result was the combustion of innocent cars and the dismantling of sidewalks. Now piled up pieces of the sidewalk lie abandoned by the side of the road waiting for closure. 

    Meanwhile, the Giza Governorate Complex caught fire, news which pleased my father for he thought that meant that the believed-to-be-responsible MB supporters have now “seized” the governorate. Already, my uncle was half-seriously entertaining thoughts of moving to the fledgling emirate. 

    “For every action, there is a reaction,” my father explained time and time again. If el-Sisi thinks he can toppled the president, kill his supporters and get away with it, then he’s got another thing coming for him. Namely, the burning of churches and/or anything believed to have contributed to the coup, such as the house and farm of military-friendly and former Gamal Abdel Nasser’s good friend, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, in Belqas, Dakahlia. 

    Like many Islamists, my company fluctuated from denying responsibility for the attacks to taking pride in them. One minute they blamed the conspiring Christians, “who caused this mess with the army,” for growing beards and burning their own churches to make it look as if Islamists were burning their churches and the next they reveled in the belief that the Islamists are and will continue to rightly burn churches to punish the people who tried to end Islam. 

    Similarly, some in the anti-Morsi camp maintain that the Morsi supporters shot themselves to make it look as if the military killed protesters, when they are actually being shot at by protester-killing protesters. Such claims, no doubt, will be supported by a shaky video with an arrow or a red circle around some indiscernible yet revealing detail in the footage meant to give the attentive viewer a headache and allow the prejudiced viewer to sleep easy knowing that the video title is proven by that thing they didn’t actually see in the video, but must have been there, because otherwise the title would be wrong.

    Egypt Crosses the Line

    Peter Hessler in the New Yorker, with -- as usual -- a nuanced and original reading of the MB's and the army's interpretations of democracy:

    In Egypt, the current conflict reflects the vastly different responses that groups can have to a fledgling democracy after decades of dictatorship. For the Brotherhood, this means stubbornly following what it believes to be the correct and legitimate political path, even if it alienates others and leads to disaster; for the military, it’s a matter of implementing the worst instincts of the majority. In each case, one can recognize a seed of democratic instinct, but it’s grown in twisted ways, because the political and social environment was damaged by the regimes of the past half-century.

     

    August 14 in Egypt in numbers

    Dead (according to Ministry of Health, and still counting): 525

    Wounded: 3,500

    Churches, monasteries, Christians schools and libraries attacked (Source) : 56

    Days that Mohamed ElBaradei lasted as a civilian figure-head of the army-run "second revolution" before resigning in protest: 28

    Other resignations: 0 

    Justifications presented by Egypt's non-Islamist media and political parties for the gratuitous murder of hundreds of their fellow citizens, and commendations of the security forces for their "steadfastness" and "restraint": too many to count

    Linkdump 14 August 2013