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. 


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?