Judicial Bullets And Egyptian insecurity

Judicial bullets and Egyptian insecurity

Egypt has become one massive kangaroo court for Islamist opponents of the Al-Sisi regime. The security repercussions of such systematic repression and injustice may potentially lead the shortening of the life span of a regime struggling to maintain a security hold on a nation increasingly plagued by terror attacks. In a rational dynamic of politically …

 

Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

Egypt has become one massive kangaroo court for Islamist opponents of the Al-Sisi regime. The security repercussions of such systematic repression and injustice may potentially lead the shortening of the life span of a regime struggling to maintain a security hold on a nation increasingly plagued by terror attacks.

In a rational dynamic of politically and legally violent oppression  begetting violence, mere hours after a death sentence to Egypt’s ex-president Mohamed Morsi, four officers of the court and a driver were killed and two injured respectively in Al-Arish, Sinai. As the scene spirals out of control, we must look to comprehend the incomprehensible. In stating the obvious to many, Amnesty International called today’s verdict “a charade“.

But unless Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has lost his political marbles, ex-president Mohamed Morsi will likely never see a hang man’s noose. Nonetheless, verdicts today condemning the former president and 104 others to death and another labeling the ultras as a terrorist organisation are the latest punch to the gut to freedom in Egypt. But discussing today’s verdicts with the necessary bluntness is a risk. There are laws that ban critique of judicial verdicts and this has a stultifying effect on deconstruction of the current scene; with that in mind,mere analysis can be a dangerous thing.

Only in the Egyptian legal sphere can you be killed twice. To truly raise these verdicts to the height of comedy, the Egyptian judiciary sentenced to death, in today’s Wadi El-Natrun case, a man, Hossam el Sana, who died three years prior to the outset of revolution. Other than Morsi, those on the receiving end of the Egyptian judicial guillotine, were Yusuf Al-Qaradawi a Muslim scholar, Emad Shahin a US residing Egyptian political scientist, a former IkhwanWeb organiser and several dead and Israeli imprisoned Palestinians.

For Al-Sisi, the execution of Morsi would be tantamount to political suicide. Put simply, executing Morsi now would present the Muslim Brotherhood with the kiss of life. The regime while, arguably, blinded and having attacked systematically political Islam recognises that execution of such a verdict could potentially present a tipping point that strengthens those it seeks to weaken.

In the light of highly suspicious prison breakouts that many believe were ordered by the Mubarak regime in its final days to bring to fruition Mubarak’s threat ‘Chaos or me’, today’s verdicts are nothing short of embarrassing for a once grand Egyptian judiciary. ‘There is not one single piece of paper in our computer databases to indicate that president Morsi was a prisoner in Wadi El-Natrun prison said, at the time, minister of interior Mohamed Ibrahim. Couple that with the fact that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out a consistent paucity of legal fact to back up politicised verdicts and a dark picture grows legally and politically moribund. Indeed, several weeks ago, the trial completed today was deemed ‘badly flawed’ by Human Rights Watch.

But the miscalculations by president Al-Sisi, who wields a politicised judiciary as an authoritarian hammer, extend outside the realm of political Islam to cover all dissident voices. Just this very week, in a critical report by state security that Al-Shorouk newspaper was able to partially peruse, activists on social media were called worse than ‘black terror’. The report makes it clear the groups such 6 April and the Revolutionary Socialists and a wide scope of public personalities all, along with various NGOs, are all potential recruits for external forces seeking to destabilise Egypt. Such language in the past has been a harbinger of even more severe crackdowns on liberties, both far and wide. The report insists on a state narrative that argues that ill-timed ‘political and human rights demands’ will have a debilitating effect on the nation state. But it escapes those who control the levers of power in the Egyptian zeitgeist that this exclusionary rhetoric is at the core of increasing instability the current regime claims to fight.

No less crucially, both the executive and judicial arms of Egyptian government appear to have blinders on regarding the security repercussions of this seemingly endless stream of death sentences. Only days after the Economist warned of ‘more upheaval unless Sisi loosens his grip,’ the prediction came true. Today, hours after death sentences for 105, terrorism struck down three prosecutors, one judge and a driver in Al-Arish, North Sinai. Contrast this highly dangerous and successful attack by extremists with a speech earlier this week by president Al-Sisi where he claimed that the month of April, alone, witnessed major strides against terrorism in Sinai. ‘’Six hundred terrorists were arrested in April alone… 62 individuals, upon their arrest, were found to have 122 explosive devices.’’ If these figures are credible, one must question what are the true figures of terrorists operating in Sinai are? Bifocally, one must question if the state understands the linear relationship between state repression and extremist violence.

The attack comes on the heels of an attempted assassination of a judge in Cairo which resulted in the explosion of several cars. Violence has rattled the Egyptian Judges association which called for an urgent conference a mere two hours after the Al-Arish attack. In an even more worrisome sign the Ministry of Justice, on the same day as the assassination of the judges, decided to move North Sinai court to Ismailia.

On the opposing political flank the, now politically defunct, Freedom and Justice party, political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, exploded in a vitriolic response to today’s verdict against Morsi and many of its leaders. ‘’The party will not stand with its arms tied vis-a-vis this dangerous development. The coup regime will pay a hefty price, revenge is coming and criminals will not escape punishment’’.Shortly after that press release, there was yet another machine gun attack in Sheikh Zuweid, North Sinai that left none injured but was reflective of the action reaction dichotomy of questionable verdicts further destabilising a troubled domestic scene. From a strictly utilitarian angle, one must wonder about the rationale employed by a regime that came to power on a security platform but whose decisions, legal and otherwise, engender an environment of bullets and explosions.

The timing of all this is puzzling to say the very least. There have been rampant press reports questioning Al-Sisi’s alleged successes, including Ibrahim Issa TV talk show host, among his most ardent supporters, who summarised his talk when he retorted ‘’the government is not doing its job’’. In fact, Issa went on to question the astronomical figure 1 million acres that Al-Sisi himself quoted as saying had been developed. Yet it is against this backdrop that the endless execution of the Muslim Brotherhood continues unabated. Such is the current Egyptian divide that pro-Sisi Egyptian social media ignore increasing instability amid systematic repression and instead loudly trumpet the, so called, courage of a leader doing what must be done.

If as a reader you find the puzzle to be confounding be certain that you are not alone. These days Egypt is an ice cream cone made of judicial bullets and sprinkled with insecurity.

Rather than bring the sure footed steps of the law to the party the regime has, unabashedly, used the judiciary as a weapon of political destruction. Continue down this path and the regime will continue to hemorrhage domestic support and face increasing foreign pressure.

So long as denial is the regime lingua franca solutions for Egyptian insecurity will continue to be as scarce as a rose in the desert.

Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fear, Oppression and the Pen

Fear, Oppression and the Egyptian Pen

By Amr Khalifa To be an Egyptian journalist on World Press Freedom Day (3 May), one must have a healthy sense of ironic juxtaposition. In Egypt, as most journalists and readers know, the words freedom and journalism, particularly under the harsh light of the Al-Sisi regime, in the same sentence elicit a loud and bitter …

 

Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

To be an Egyptian journalist on World Press Freedom Day (3 May), one must have a healthy sense of ironic juxtaposition. In Egypt, as most journalists and readers know, the words freedom and journalism, particularly under the harsh light of the Al-Sisi regime, in the same sentence elicit a loud and bitter laugh. Freedom of speech has never, in many years in this profession covering Egypt, been a mainstay. But in the past 20 months, while Al-Sisi ruled initially de jure and now de facto, holding a pen has become associated only with fear and oppression-especially if you write in the political/economic realm. Indeed, as respected Egyptian journalist Yosri Fouda said, last week: “The current scene in Egypt is among the worst in journalism history.” I disagree – in 25 years of practicing, reading, watching and listening to Egyptian media this is, without equivocation, the darkest hour for Egyptian media. But the regime neglects an important detail, just as it plies the journalistic drink with fear it greatly fears the very pen it attacks.

There is little that is haphazard about the Al-Sisi stranglehold on all media streams. The regime comprehends reality: a profoundly professional journalist can be a political metre, measuring stick, indeed, a representative of the people in the parliament of public opinion. Immediately following the coup, the regime undertook a verbal battle, largely with western press, to shape public discourse about what had transpired: the naturally ultra nationalist stance of the regime pitched 3 July 2013 as a people’s revolution in contrast to reporting by many western outlets, and of course Islamist media, calling it a coup.

By the time this process unfolded, the military and the deep state had plenty of practice shaping discourse, and manipulating the media since days after a failed revolution unfolded in 2011. Initially, it was crucial for those wielding guns to convince, and in many cases control outright, how the press covered revolutionaries and the revolution. The difficult trick would be convincing the general population that the revolutionaries perceived as heroes by most in the days following the revolt, had become a danger to stability of Egyptian society. There is a popular Egyptian saying, loosely translated, that goes ‘’repetition to the ear is far more effective than magic’’. Employing this methodology, through radio, TV, print and electronic media SCAF, Mubarakists and Islamists conspired to colour revolutionaries as foreign agents, traitors, non-representative of main stream Egyptians. By the time Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi came to power the counter revolution and its associated fear and repression were well under way.

Such is the state of things that, late last year, 17 editors-in-chief pledged a ‘statement of allegiance’ to the Al-Sisi regime and the army, for all intents and purposes, promising to politically self-edit. While a very small minority rose up to counter this obvious attempt to create a ‘one voiced media’, this has not stopped the regime from creating a, largely vacuous monolith that mushrooms its few victories while submerging its many frailties in a river of editorial silence. To see Egypt through the rose coloured glasses of mainstream Egyptian media is to see it through Al-Sisi’s infamous sunglasses.

Seemingly illogical projects requiring unrealistic sums of hard currency, The New Cairo project for example, requiring over $45bn, were welcomed with open arms by the vast majority of Egyptian media swimming in a sea of ultra-nationalistic molasses. Similarly, the Suez Canal mega project, revered by the government and its supporters as a big step in the right direction. But these supporters, and the vast majority of Egyptian media, make virtually no mention of ‘’poor planning and expensive mistakes at the design stage’’. To understand why things continue to unfold this way you need to understand the power of fear.

Fear is a two way street: government fear the pen for it understands its impact on public opinion and journalists, in turn, fear imprisonment, torture and death; all of which have occurred under Al-Sisi leadership and systematically so. You would be hard pressed to find anyone not aware of the injustice faced by Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed after their arrest by the State Security and the laughably politicised judicial proceedings that resulted in their incarceration for more than a year. But you probably have not heard anywhere near as much about the Al-Dostour journalist who wrote the following headline recently: “The Collapse of Egyptian police morally and security wise as never before.” The headline, in bold lettering with the word danger repeated three times in red, resulted in the arrest of the journalist responsible and a police raid on the paper’s headquarters; a raid which saw the physical assault of several journalists as well.

This news report was not a unique incident as it has become clear that something of a power struggle between the military and ministry of interior has developed. While nothing can be said with certitude about who is putting pressure on whom and to what end this much is clear: rampant repression utilised by all security forces, army, police or central security forces alike, is suddenly in Egyptian media’s view finder. By no means is this a sudden spurt of freedom of speech but rather, Egyptian press has become a weapon in the hands of the mega powerful lurking behind well protected doors. Shortly after the Al-Dostour piece similar discourse found its way into the highly pro government Al-Ahram: He who didn’t perish by torture died because of overcrowding. The article told of rooms in police precincts meant to hold 13 prisoners holding 380 resulting in the death of two prisoners within three days. The first day of May brought an equally surprising news item in El-Watan, a newspaper notorious for strong links to the security apparatus: 10 torture related deaths and 86 confirmed cases of torture in April say El Nadeem Center, a respected human rights group. But such pointed critique of the notorious State Security comes at a premium.

When Al-Masry Al-Youm, another pro -government Egyptian paper, spoke up about similar police abuses the five journalists behind the extensive report were turned over for investigation. Though news reports indicate the investigation was terminated in its infancy the threat of what may happen to your pen or neck should you report rampant abuses, torture or corruption is crystal clear. The plank of truth is potentially a plank to nowhere but prison or an early grave for many an Egyptian journalist.

Citizen journalists are, also, in severe peril in Egypt. Politicians, power brokers and the strong man himself are aware of how instrumental the Internet was in the revolutionaries’ fight against the regime in 2011. And go after those brave souls as the regime. Many Islamist and liberal Facebook page administrators have already been arrested and it rarely raises an eyebrow when filed under the ‘fight against terrorism’. Moreover, the past several months have seen an alarming rise in unconstitutional and illegal searches of mobile phones at police checkpoints within Cairo and without. The invasive and highly politicised searches are about to become formalised, ‘legal’ repression, say recent news reports as the new minister of interior institutes a ‘Widening of the circle of political suspicion’. Indeed, some in legal and human rights circles feel this step, allowing police to accost anyone at checkpoints for dissident political views, can lead to civil strife. ‘’Anyone can stop anyone in the street claiming to be with police investigations,’’ said Malek Adly, a respected human rights lawyer.

To complete the choke hold on citizen journalism the government is also introducing a law which will make illegal much of Internet radio, and the broadcast by citizens of mobile streaming such as Ustream and Bambuser, as confirmed by respected citizen journalist Zeinobia. The move is both draconian and Machiavellian as those very broadcasts uncovered many abuses and crimes by Supreme Command Armed Forces (SCAF) during the many clashes which followed the 25 January Revolution. One could say Al-Sisi’s fist never learned subtlety and seems to forget the obvious: countries can never be run through unitary military vision.

For those expecting better days ahead for journalism in Egypt reality says otherwise. With a struggle for power, surging insurgency, a summer approaching that will uncover glaring power shortages, no political solution in sight for the military Islamist dichotomy, turbulence will likely fuel an even harsher brand of repression.

To bravely hold a pen that sees all and writes all you risk all in Egypt these days. Just hours ago, in fact, six journalists for Al-Ahram were injured, three critically, when their bus was shot at by unknown assailants on Cairo’s outskirts.

For both government and press, fear has become repression’s companion.

Amr Khalifa is freelance journalist and commentator recently published by Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah, the Tahrir Institute, and Arab Media Society. You can follow him on Twitter @cairo67unedited

Posted in Egypt, Journalism, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Sisification of Egypt

2014: The Sisification of Egypt

By Amr Khalifa If your wishes for 2014, in Egypt, included respect of human rights, a civil state and respectable judiciary, the year was an efficient delivery system of pain. The stark reality that this dark turn in history delivered, to analysts and dissidents alike: the majority of Egyptians prefer to exalt in Abdel Fattah …

 

Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

If your wishes for 2014, in Egypt, included respect of human rights, a civil state and respectable judiciary, the year was an efficient delivery system of pain. The stark reality that this dark turn in history delivered, to analysts and dissidents alike: the majority of Egyptians prefer to exalt in Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s iron-fisted glory. This ‘fist’ has seen Egypt arrest over 10,000 Egyptians this year alone, including hundreds of minors. When Mubarak was, recently, found innocent of charges of killing protesters, in yet another dark twist, two more protesters were killed while protesting the verdict. The 25 January Revolution seems an increasingly hazy historical relic in an era of extreme political dichotomies. Such is a refusal that any narrative outside the government line exists that, two weeks ago, a man was arrested for possession of magic markers in the bathroom of a mosque: accused of writing anti-regime messages . The world stands idly by, for various reasons, and watches the ‘Sisification’ of Egypt in 2014.

The western bankers, and increasingly many governments, perceive Al-Sisi in a positive light as Egyptian payments to creditors have increased, and government subsidies have decreased. Tell that to the tens of thousands of political dissidents languishing in Al-Sisi’s jails – many for hundreds of days without charge, either criminal or political. Al-Sisi’s supporters, and they are many, strongly believe that his presidency will bring the dream of stability. So long as Al-Sisi can deliver on that singular campaign promise, it appears that the audience, both domestic and foreign, is willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to systematic abuses of human rights. Those very supporters manage to ignore an increasingly heated terror paradigm seeking to stretch its nefarious hold from Sinai to multiple governorates within the domestic arena. Time and again, conscripts, police officers and the army are shot at, blown up and the security apparatus are reactive rather than proactive. There are waves of public anger but of note is whom that anger seeks out. In all cases, naturally, it targets the Islamist/Jihadi extremist element, prominent among them Sinai State, formerly Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, and Ajnad Misr.

After some of the larger operations against security forces that anger has targeted Minister of Interior Mohammed Ibrahim, and just this past week policemen in Alexandria blocked off the precinct preventing the warden from entrance while demanding better protection from terrorists. Even as soldiers and policemen are thrown, as lambs, to the slaughter, the official government narrative continues to pound away about stability. What has helped construct the false paradigm of stability are ever weakening weekly Islamist demonstrations.

Not only have these, largely Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrations decreased both in size and frequency, but their biggest failure has been an inability to ferment any kind of tangible political alliance with Salafists or, more importantly, with 25 January ‘revolutionary’ camps. Accordingly, the Al-Sisi regime plays a strategic game of wait-and-see: live fire has decreased as government realises that Islamist deaths assist, the now banned, Muslim Brotherhood in donning the victim’s cape. This cannot belie that the vast majority of Egyptians killed, tortured, and jailed since 3 July 2013 have been Islamists. But for the Al-Sisi camp the image, sans nuance, is one of increasing stability; hence, one of Sisification of the security environment.

If democracy is a sail ship Al-Sisi has, instead, boarded a battle ship into the political sphere. A recent article by The Guardian pointed out, with precision, that the Adly and Al-Sisi administrations have rendered the term ‘dictatorship’ an understatement and crossed, with sure steps, into the realm of the draconian. Al-Sisi has “used the absence of an elected parliament to almost unilaterally issue a series of draconian decrees that severely restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly”. In an, often cited, sickening irony the very modus operandi of revolt, demonstration, has been made illegal via the, now infamous, Protest Law and used to thrust the leading figures of the 25 January revolt into system’s dungeons.

But the question, often ignored, is why has the vast majority of Egyptians turned a blind eye to this crude violation of human rights? The answer is darker than the act of imprisonment itself and is two-fold. Primarily, after over 36 months of demonstrations, the average Egyptian became an embodiment of demonstration fatigue even when they are well warranted. But the revolutionary camps, liberal and later Islamist, became guilty of lacking a strategy and relied too heavily on demonstration based refusal of the status quo. Many in the opposition, from various political quarters, hang their hope on a belief that the regime’s consistent errors will hasten its demise. Sadly the opposition does not recognise that their own naive errors have assisted Al-Sisi in tightening the noose around the opposition’s neck. The equation for Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has been security in exchange for a carte blanch from the populous and a carte blanch he has received. Those waiting for a parliament, in the coming months, will be sorely disappointed as all indications point to a highly muted and pro regime version being prepared to formalise the status quo and strengthen the vice grip of the police state.

Police states, such as Al-Sisi’s, are fond of loudly trumpeting the rule of law, but if 2014 uncovered anything it showed the systematic flouting of such laws by Al-Sisi and his elites. 2014 became the year of the ‘leak’ and leak did the upper rungs of the Al-Sisi administration. Leaks appeared throughout the year but the most dangerous ones, ones that appear to be recorded in the head Al-Sisi’s office, found their way into public purview in the last five weeks of the year. The first leak appears to show intentional attempts by a highly important member of SCAF to collude with the general prosecutor and a high ranking official in the Egyptian navy to doctor paper work pertaining to the imprisonment of ex-president Morsi.

On a basic level, the regime felt, due to Morsi being held in a military hanger and not under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry, that the case against Morsi was prone to collapse. Crucially, in second part of the leak Al-Sisi, then defence minister, speaks to actors in scandal who confirm the matter has been handled. Try as the regime might to indicate that said recordings were doctored and/or manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood those attempts only showed desperation by a regime publicly uncovered.

Other leaks followed but most important was the last, having been released this past week. It showed manipulation of the judiciary – the very same judiciary implicated in a number of dubious and, what appear to be, politicised verdicts earlier this year. In the days following Rabaa [Al-Adaweya], there was another massacre involving 37 prisoners who were murdered by police officers who tossed tear gas in the transport bus of Muslim Brotherhood members. The verdict against those officers has since been overturned. The leak, where listeners can hear Gen Mamdooh Shahin of SCAF discussing with Gen Abbas Kamal, who heads Al-Sisi’s office, appears to show the former promising the latter to manipulate the judiciary on behalf of one of the implicated officers – the son of a high ranking official. In Egypt, circa 2014, the law, rather than a purveyor of justice, was a conduit of control for the ruling elite.

For Egyptians in love with Al-Sisi tunnel vision is the rule but, for all others, this is a regime with no vision. With a system of non-existent legislative, highly pliable judiciary, and a draconian executive visions of 2015 are not full of happy song. Al-Sisi is correct in one regard, however, “the crisis facing Egypt is bigger than any president”.

Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tha Camera and the Gun: Khaled Abol Naga

The camera and the gun: Khaled Abol Naga

By Amr Khalifa In Egypt, the Al-Sisi regime wants opposition pens dry and artist’s mouths shut. Many Egyptian viewers expected Khaled Abol Naga to be more reticent after recently saying “we may soon need to be saying ‘leave’ to Al-Sisi” – those watchers couldn’t be more wrong. In an interview where he held nothing back …

 

Amr Khalifa
Amr Khalifa

By Amr Khalifa

In Egypt, the Al-Sisi regime wants opposition pens dry and artist’s mouths shut. Many Egyptian viewers expected Khaled Abol Naga to be more reticent after recently saying “we may soon need to be saying ‘leave’ to Al-Sisi” – those watchers couldn’t be more wrong. In an interview where he held nothing back and predicted the end of Al-Sisi if he failed in his ‘war on terror’, Mr. Abol Naga came out swinging.

For this artist, there is no doubt that “fear is the weapon of our current government” and he has chosen to stand in stark opposition of the current policy. Some actors feel their place is strictly in front of, or behind the camera, but Abol Naga is not among those. For this actor, there is no difference between the two fascisms: Islamist and military. While terming Egypt’s current state a “nightmare”, Abol Naga will not stand by quietly and watch it unfold.

Censorship has blemished journalism, cinema, singing and the art scene, in general, and with increasing ferocity during the tenures of SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces), Morsi and, more so, Al-Sisi. Thinkers and writers, like Belal Fadl, have been blacklisted from the mainstream Egyptian press and had a Ramadan soap opera cancelled from the airwaves, at great financial loss. Deeply respected TV presenters, highly enmeshed within the 25 January narrative, like Reem Magued and Yosri Fouda, have chosen to leave the scene and been sidelined. With mainstream media, both public and private, widely known and understood to be under regime control, the space for dissent grows more miniscule by the day.

Music has also seen slaps across its artistic face: Hamza Namira, another 25 January icon, has been banned by Egyptian radio. Even more incriminating was the reasoning given by radio chairman Abdel Rahman Rashad: “Any performer who criticises the authorities should not be on the airwaves”. During that very same week, radio decided to ban yet another singer, Tamer Ashour, who lambasted Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in a video as a “Pharaoh returned… who calls white pink, while those surrounding him agree in fear”.

So when Khaled Abol Naga spoke out, in such an atmosphere, clearly stating that Al-Sisi’s security option was a failure, it was no surprise when he came under severe attack by mainstream Egyptian media – both TV and print. No one would have faulted him had he retraced his footsteps, as it is explicitly understood that taking such risk could have severe repercussions. But Abol Naga is full of surprises.

“Freedom of expression is under attack. More than we expected even during Morsi. It’s…military rule at its worst,” said Abol Naga exclusively to Daily News Egypt. From Khaled’s vantage point, there is no doubt about what Egypt is experiencing now: “Fascist military-oriented rule.” While analysts and political scientists may quibble about the exact terms to best describe the current Egyptian paradigm: dictatorship, autocracy or fascism; one thing is certain: the current regime likes one voice – its own.

Khaled Abol Naga
Khaled Abol Naga

But this bleak reality will not last for long, argues Abol Naga: “Fear is the weapon of our current government. But historically we all know well, fear cannot work for long. And Sisi is facing this, exactly in my opinion, very soon.” The artist is on point with respect to fear, on several levels. The Protest Law has been used as a bayonet to the soul of any dissent in Egypt’s streets. Thousands have been placed under arrest due to this controversial law and tens of thousands more are under political arrest, mostly from the political Islam camp. Even minor recent demonstrations, to commemorate the third anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud battle, are put down with the most terse of methods of the state security apparatus. Planned Islamist demonstrations, for 28 November, termed by the camp as a defence of the Quran and Sharia, were met with live bullets by the Ministry of Interior.

Subtle, the government is not: when Mahmoud Saad, a popular TV host, recently made mention of the 1967 defeat, understandably a sore spot for the Egyptian army and many Egyptians, the very next day when he showed up for work he was prevented from presenting his show. Assisting the government in the construction of this tenor of fear are multiple writers and TV hosts. One of those highly popular hosts Ibrahim Eissa called Abol Naga “a parrot” and labelled Khaled’s statements as “politically and intellectually naïve”. But the attack didn’t have its intended effect, as Abol Naga responded on his Twitter account: “I still respect him even though he and his generation fear us”. The statement is a revealing one. Even though the regime employs the tactics of fear to quell any and all voices of dissent, it is that generation, and that regime that, in fact, fears the opposition and revolutionary voices.

In Khaled’s mind, and artists like him, an artistic vision and “honest artists are always on the tip of change”. Essentially, the work itself doesn’t have to be political in order to have political impact. Art, in this artist’s world, isn’t a blunt instrument to beat the audience into submission with; rather, art is an honest reflection of the artist’s environment. “Being honest to more than that story; to their whole environment, to their future,” elaborated Abol Naga on the artists’ role in a society such as Egypt. In fact, he pointed out, a movie like Microphone – a 2010 production predating the revolution – was prophetic as “it clearly pointed the revolution is coming”. The movie featured a group of underground musicians in Alexandria, rebelling against the status quo, aided in that quest by the lead character played by Abol Naga.

Despite the dark hue of authoritarian rule hovering over Egypt, Khaled Abol Naga remains unchanged in his optimism. Literature is a natural framework for an artist’s outlook and Khaled is no different: “A Tale of Two Cities is a great example of how Cairo… (resonates) as a real epoch of people’s social awakening,” he said. Abol Naga is not alone in his critique of the current Al-Sisi regime and insists that he has received support from the artistic community, some implicit and some explicit. When asked if artists were on his side, he explained “[some] extremely openly, and much more through indirect hidden messages”. In the days preceding and following Abol Naga’s stance, two prominent artists, Khaled Youssef and Wahid Hamed, a director and a writer, previously highly supportive of Al-Sisi, criticised him as well. By no means is the regime teetering, but there is a new and increasingly vociferous tenor of opposition.

The sort of censorship and attacks faced chiefly by Abol Naga, which he is on record as saying he will combat through legal avenues, and his supporters to a lesser degree, is a mechanism of an encroaching fascism. Mohamed Attia, a singer, who was loud in his support of Abol Naga, was also attacked, in newspapers and TV near and far. It is not only the intent of regimes, like Al-Sisi’s, to have hegemonic control over media outlets, but it is equally crucial to intimidate opposing voices to send a message to anyone else considering speaking out.

If the man with the gun continues to turn a deaf ear to the man with the camera it is likely that the cries, like Khaled Abol Naga’s, of “leave” will only multiply. But revolutions are not born of silence; and Abol Naga has promised to be loud, the man with a camera and a voice.

 

Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr

Posted in Egypt, freedom of speech, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trials of Spring

Trials of Spring: Hend Nafea and a revolutionary storyOpen in fullscreen

Amr Khalifa

Trials of Spring: Hend Nafea and a revolutionary story

The story of Hend symbolises the plight of Egyptian women (al-Araby al-Jadeed)

Trials of Spring: Hend Nafea and a revolutionary storyOpen in fullscreen

Amr Khalifa

Trials of Spring: Hend Nafea and a revolutionary story

The story of Hend symbolises the plight of Egyptian women (al-Araby al-Jadeed)

Date of publication: 28 August, 2015

Feature: Hend Nafea tells al-Araby al-Jadeed about her fight with Egypt’s brutal regime, in one of the most inspiring and iconic stories of the Egyptian revolution documented on film.

Imagine being pulled by your hair through the streets, on your way to be stripped and tortured.

Hend Nafea does not have to imagine, only remember.

Such experiences leave scars, for those who survive are the strong. Unencumbered by battle fatigue, Nafea spoke exclusively to al-Araby al-Jadeed about her revolutionary path and the documentary featuring her, Trials of Spring.

Nafea’s story provides a crucial window into four years that changed the course of Egypt’s history.

Egypt is where it lurks now, on the edge of an abyss, because of the regime’s continued body blows to revolutionaries such as Nafea. Hauntingly innocent eyes tell a complex tale, offering hope, anger, pride, fear and bountiful perseverance.

An unexpected visitor

She told al-Araby about a notorious visit she was paid on December 19, 2011, as she lay in Kobri al-Koba Military Hospital. The then-head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein el-Tantawi, had to come to see her.

“I started to scream, it was a nervous breakdown,” she said.

“What are you doing here?” she said she asked him. “You gave orders to your soldiers to kill those who died at the sit in, to hit us, beat us and torture us and bring us here.”

The determination darting through her energetic eyes, nearly four years after the faceoff, is one of the prime reasons that Nafea has managed to survive her personal ordeal with a state ruled by the military.

The audience [are transported] to the daily travails of a stubborn, sometimes broken, but always passionate woman

She was tortured, then sentenced in absentia to life in prison, along with 229 co-defendants.

The documentary, Trials of Spring, paved the way for a journey from Egypt to the US by way of Lebanon. Structured not as vignettes but rather as interwoven tapestry “trials”, it tells the story of three powerhouse Egyptian women.

Khadiga el-Hinawi, aka “Mama Khadiga” – a maternal figure in the revolutionary camp, Mariam Kirollos, an Egyptian revolutionary feminist endowed with political realism, and Nafea – the one who stood up and shouted down the bully – are the protagonists.

Lending a megaphone

The documentary is “not a personal statement”, but rather “a message to the international audience who mostly only receive the image the regime wants it to see”, asserts Hend animatedly.

While no artwork can claim to be a holistic time capsule of such an explosive phase in any nation’s history, the documentary equips itself well by lending a megaphone to the voices of those whose voices are not always heard – the women of the revolution.

“Women were, at least, 50 percent of the revolution”, proclaims Khadiga – via the non-intrusive camera of director Gini Reticker. Yet, in the conundrum that is Egypt, the film subtly shows that it is these very women who, less than a month after the revolution, were sexually harassed and shouted down on International Women’s day in the very square where they fought a winning battle.

With one glaring omission – the scene with Tantawi, which brought Nafea into the public limelight as a fighter for the cause of those fighting military rule – the documentary manages to transport the audience to the daily travails of a stubborn, sometimes broken, but always passionate woman.

Fighting on all fronts

From the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, where she documents the regime’s abuses from the time of Tantawi onwards to Mohamed Morsi and through to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to her home in the countryside where she wages more personal battles, you sense a human being simply searching for dignity in every stage of life.

Our protagonist didn’t commence on her trip of political enlightenment through an interest in politics, per se, but rather through “an anger, a socially based anger… there were limits, everything was forbidden”, she said, pointing at Egypt’s conservative countryside.

Even when it came to her personal career, she remembered, she wanted to study journalism – but her family, as with many Egyptian families, wanted her to study engineering or medicine. So studying mathematics was a choice powered by those pressures.

Nafea’s political awareness was a growth process seared by fire: the infamously corrupt parliamentary elections of 2010.

“I saw a National Security directorate officer stuffing the ballot,” she recounted. From there, her familiarity with local politics, through her college’s student union, only increased before that fateful day, January 25, 2011.

She continued to be one of the many toiling in the revolutionary halls during the tumultuous transitional period that followed, until the young woman was young no more.

A time of torture

She was arrested by the army.

“On the 17th of December 2011, we [Nafea and nine other women] were tortured and molested from 8:00am until 1:00am,” Nafea said, showing no emotion. Further revealing the depth of corruption, she explained how, in the Shura Council’s torture chamber, the daughter of a VIP accidentally arrested with them was treated with kid gloves by one of the generals in charge of overseeing the operation.

“What brought you here among these low lives and thugs? You are the daughter of someone very important, and all hell is breaking loose, I will release you now but I never want to see you here again,” Nafea overheard the officer say to the detained girl.

For Nafea and the others, there were beatings, electric shocks and seemingly endless insults.

One officer, named by Nafea as Hossam El-Din Mostafa, aka Khabalana, threatened to cut her face. Nafea found his name while researching him after her release.

Near midnight that night, an Egyptian TV journalist, Shehat Mabrook, was brought in by the general, along with an officer named Ahmed Mansour. Mansour, in turn, instructed the women to follow him and admit to all concocted accusations – or they were to be “buried alive where they stand”.

The women, indeed, followed instructions under threat and the “confessions” were broadcast by the ministry of interior on national television. Nafea, bloodied and deformed by 17 hours of torture, was not put on air.

Only when she fainted that night did the women’s screams ensure that she received medical attention. To hear this story told with unswerving resolve is to come face to face with the embodiment of strength.

To hear this story told with unswerving resolve is to come face to face with the embodiment of strength.

Family shame

But instead of breaking her, the ordeal served to transform the experience into Nafea’s personal Trial of Spring.

Upon returning to the family home ensconced in the quiet village of Ikyad Digwa, Qalyoubia governate, there was no innocence.

On the contrary, her pro-regime conservative family imprisoned her in her room for a further 55 days.

“I went to the second battle at home,” said a smiling Nafea. But the stubborn spirit, the documentary reveals, would not wilt.

Rather, towards the end of her home imprisonment, self-made posters adorned her room declaring her own personal revolution. Her family were very angry, scared and “they received threats”. Denied all means of communication, including internet and phone, her response was a “revolution of the mind”.

Posters were her weapon: “Hend wants to break the siege,” one shouted. In response to her family expression of shame “I’m not a shame, I am not dishonour, I’m one of the revolutionaries.”

“Prison can never contain an idea” was one of the slogans seen in one of the documentary’s many moving moments.

Winning for the future

But the road travelled by Nafea, and countless others, in a police state such as Egypt, is not adorned with the fragrant rose of freedom, but filled with the thorns of oppression.

In this battle, the regime insists on the steepest of prices for revolutionaries.

Let us not forget this is a regime that has made it a high priority to put many heroic revolutionary Egyptian women in jail – Yara Salam, Sanaa Seif, Esraa el-Tawil and Mahinour el-Masry to name but a few.

“I consider my presence here, outside of jail, a victory for me and a defeat for the regime,” said Nafea. Her Twitter handle, Steadfast until victory, says it all.

“Five hitting you and 20 touching your body,” a tearful Hend recounted in a video from the hospital, where she was incarcerated, after her brutalisation by security forces during the so-called “cabinet clashes”.

“I will not leave Egypt because Egypt is the best country in the world,” she says in the clip.

But in the end, the uniformed men ruling Egypt forced Nafea out. She will not be denied her eventual return, however. She continues her fight from a new home – for now

Imagine being pulled by your hair through the streets, on your way to be stripped and tortured.

Hend Nafea does not have to imagine, only remember.

Such experiences leave scars, for those who survive are the strong. Unencumbered by battle fatigue, Nafea spoke exclusively to al-Araby al-Jadeed about her revolutionary path and the documentary featuring her, Trials of Spring.

Nafea’s story provides a crucial window into four years that changed the course of Egypt’s history.

Egypt is where it lurks now, on the edge of an abyss, because of the regime’s continued body blows to revolutionaries such as Nafea. Hauntingly innocent eyes tell a complex tale, offering hope, anger, pride, fear and bountiful perseverance.

An unexpected visitor

She told al-Araby about a notorious visit she was paid on December 19, 2011, as she lay in Kobri al-Koba Military Hospital. The then-head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Mohamed Hussein el-Tantawi, had to come to see her.

“I started to scream, it was a nervous breakdown,” she said.

“What are you doing here?” she said she asked him. “You gave orders to your soldiers to kill those who died at the sit in, to hit us, beat us and torture us and bring us here.”

The determination darting through her energetic eyes, nearly four years after the faceoff, is one of the prime reasons that Nafea has managed to survive her personal ordeal with a state ruled by the military.

The audience [are transported] to the daily travails of a stubborn, sometimes broken, but always passionate woman

She was tortured, then sentenced in absentia to life in prison, along with 229 co-defendants.

The documentary, Trials of Spring, paved the way for a journey from Egypt to the US by way of Lebanon. Structured not as vignettes but rather as interwoven tapestry “trials”, it tells the story of three powerhouse Egyptian women.

Khadiga el-Hinawi, aka “Mama Khadiga” – a maternal figure in the revolutionary camp, Mariam Kirollos, an Egyptian revolutionary feminist endowed with political realism, and Nafea – the one who stood up and shouted down the bully – are the protagonists.

Lending a megaphone

The documentary is “not a personal statement”, but rather “a message to the international audience who mostly only receive the image the regime wants it to see”, asserts Hend animatedly.

While no artwork can claim to be a holistic time capsule of such an explosive phase in any nation’s history, the documentary equips itself well by lending a megaphone to the voices of those whose voices are not always heard – the women of the revolution.

“Women were, at least, 50 percent of the revolution”, proclaims Khadiga – via the non-intrusive camera of director Gini Reticker. Yet, in the conundrum that is Egypt, the film subtly shows that it is these very women who, less than a month after the revolution, were sexually harassed and shouted down on International Women’s day in the very square where they fought a winning battle.

With one glaring omission – the scene with Tantawi, which brought Nafea into the public limelight as a fighter for the cause of those fighting military rule – the documentary manages to transport the audience to the daily travails of a stubborn, sometimes broken, but always passionate woman.

Fighting on all fronts

From the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, where she documents the regime’s abuses from the time of Tantawi onwards to Mohamed Morsi and through to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to her home in the countryside where she wages more personal battles, you sense a human being simply searching for dignity in every stage of life.

Our protagonist didn’t commence on her trip of political enlightenment through an interest in politics, per se, but rather through “an anger, a socially based anger… there were limits, everything was forbidden”, she said, pointing at Egypt’s conservative countryside.

Even when it came to her personal career, she remembered, she wanted to study journalism – but her family, as with many Egyptian families, wanted her to study engineering or medicine. So studying mathematics was a choice powered by those pressures.

Nafea’s political awareness was a growth process seared by fire: the infamously corrupt parliamentary elections of 2010.

“I saw a National Security directorate officer stuffing the ballot,” she recounted. From there, her familiarity with local politics, through her college’s student union, only increased before that fateful day, January 25, 2011.

She continued to be one of the many toiling in the revolutionary halls during the tumultuous transitional period that followed, until the young woman was young no more.

A time of torture

She was arrested by the army.

“On the 17th of December 2011, we [Nafea and nine other women] were tortured and molested from 8:00am until 1:00am,” Nafea said, showing no emotion. Further revealing the depth of corruption, she explained how, in the Shura Council’s torture chamber, the daughter of a VIP accidentally arrested with them was treated with kid gloves by one of the generals in charge of overseeing the operation.

“What brought you here among these low lives and thugs? You are the daughter of someone very important, and all hell is breaking loose, I will release you now but I never want to see you here again,” Nafea overheard the officer say to the detained girl.

For Nafea and the others, there were beatings, electric shocks and seemingly endless insults.

One officer, named by Nafea as Hossam El-Din Mostafa, aka Khabalana, threatened to cut her face. Nafea found his name while researching him after her release.

Near midnight that night, an Egyptian TV journalist, Shehat Mabrook, was brought in by the general, along with an officer named Ahmed Mansour. Mansour, in turn, instructed the women to follow him and admit to all concocted accusations – or they were to be “buried alive where they stand”.

The women, indeed, followed instructions under threat and the “confessions” were broadcast by the ministry of interior on national television. Nafea, bloodied and deformed by 17 hours of torture, was not put on air.

Only when she fainted that night did the women’s screams ensure that she received medical attention. To hear this story told with unswerving resolve is to come face to face with the embodiment of strength.

To hear this story told with unswerving resolve is to come face to face with the embodiment of strength.

Family shame

But instead of breaking her, the ordeal served to transform the experience into Nafea’s personal Trial of Spring.

Upon returning to the family home ensconced in the quiet village of Ikyad Digwa, Qalyoubia governate, there was no innocence.

On the contrary, her pro-regime conservative family imprisoned her in her room for a further 55 days.

“I went to the second battle at home,” said a smiling Nafea. But the stubborn spirit, the documentary reveals, would not wilt.

Rather, towards the end of her home imprisonment, self-made posters adorned her room declaring her own personal revolution. Her family were very angry, scared and “they received threats”. Denied all means of communication, including internet and phone, her response was a “revolution of the mind”.

Posters were her weapon: “Hend wants to break the siege,” one shouted. In response to her family expression of shame “I’m not a shame, I am not dishonour, I’m one of the revolutionaries.”

“Prison can never contain an idea” was one of the slogans seen in one of the documentary’s many moving moments.

Winning for the future

But the road travelled by Nafea, and countless others, in a police state such as Egypt, is not adorned with the fragrant rose of freedom, but filled with the thorns of oppression.

In this battle, the regime insists on the steepest of prices for revolutionaries.

Let us not forget this is a regime that has made it a high priority to put many heroic revolutionary Egyptian women in jail – Yara Salam, Sanaa Seif, Esraa el-Tawil and Mahinour el-Masry to name but a few.

“I consider my presence here, outside of jail, a victory for me and a defeat for the regime,” said Nafea. Her Twitter handle, Steadfast until victory, says it all.

“Five hitting you and 20 touching your body,” a tearful Hend recounted in a video from the hospital, where she was incarcerated, after her brutalisation by security forces during the so-called “cabinet clashes”.

“I will not leave Egypt because Egypt is the best country in the world,” she says in the clip.

But in the end, the uniformed men ruling Egypt forced Nafea out. She will not be denied her eventual return, however. She continues her fight from a new home – for now

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Unholy Trinity: terrorism, state terrorism and human rights

First published here March 26 2016

 

The Unholy Trinity: terrorism, state terrorism and human rights

To understand the Egyptian Rubik’s Cube, your eyes must turn to the unholy trinity of terrorism, state terrorism, and systematic human rights abuses. Close examination of each arena reveals an Egyptian Body Politic in desperate need of remedy but heading downhill with meteoric speed. Attacks on Egyptian non-governmental organisations are at an all-time crescendo, attacks …

 

To understand the Egyptian Rubik’s Cube, your eyes must turn to the unholy trinity of terrorism, state terrorism, and systematic human rights abuses. Close examination of each arena reveals an Egyptian Body Politic in desperate need of remedy but heading downhill with meteoric speed. Attacks on Egyptian non-governmental organisations are at an all-time crescendo, attacks on citizens in their homes in broad daylight by government forces and massive terror attacks are only the events of the past week. Turning the tide, in all three directions, will not prevent Egyptian haemorrhaging, but it would be a step in the right direction. Facts on the ground, instead, show steps in the direction of danger.

Traditionally, governments of the dictatorial ilk have justified the iron fist as a necessary response to terrorism. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s Egypt is an embodiment of this nefarious ethos. There is little question that the regime is being hammered with body blows, on daily basis, particularly in North Sinai by its nemesis “Sinai Province”. Regardless of whose version you believe, the latest major attack bore the hallmark of the Sinai “Islamic State” (IS) branch’s bloody handprint. By the time the desert dust settled, last week, at least 18 Egyptian policemen lay dead.

Time and again, Egyptian police and army prove the old adage true: guerrilla tactics will, consistently, outwit organised forces. But the government is in a complex catch-22 that it does not even comprehend. On the one hand, Al-Sisi needs the terror attacks to justify the state of war he requires to press on with his stranglehold and continue to rule. Yet, those very same attacks undercut his regime in two key ways. With every drop of Egyptian bloodshed, public opinion backlash becomes louder, questioning the government’s ability to provide security, while simultaneously uncovering a lack of accountability that has become the regime’s Achilles heel.

Cairo’s problem in Sinai is best summed up by American historian Max Boot: “To defeat an insurgency you must provide security for ordinary people to live their lives.”  There is nothing magical about Boot’s counter-insurgency tactical paradigm: he who wins the street wins the war. “Sinai Province” understand this and Egyptian security forces do not. An insistence on treating the locals as terrorists until proven otherwise has been a naïve staple of the Egyptian security operation.

Worse yet, there have been numerous incidents of haphazard firing on innocent civilians at checkpoints, missiles striking homes, and bodies dumped just a few hundred metres from army and police camps. So, rather than co-opt the crucial Sinai tribes as allies, security forces have inflamed that important constituency while also refusing their assistance. As a result the Sinai’s volcanic heat is felt hundreds of kilometres away in Cairo. It is a dual-threat insurgency featuring terrorism and state terrorism.

With a well-documented whirlpool of conundrums ranging from teetering tourism, to an economy near collapse, and state institutions that Al-Sisi himself, during a conference with intellectuals days ago, called “decrepit and defunct”, the regime nonetheless insists on choking dissent. That mechanism brings with it a witch’s brew of repression, oppression and state terrorism, with the old umbrella of the “war on terror” serving as the standby excuse. The dynamic triggers massive human rights abuses with a healthy dollop of state terrorism.

This week’s supreme embarrassment came from a government led by a man who famously said “listen to no one but me”. After the current Regeni fiasco, few may listen to anything he says, let alone everything. Since Giulio Regeni’s murder, Al-Sisi’s government has persisted in refuting the obvious: the increasing likelihood of the culpability of Egyptian security forces in the Italian’s murder. This week things took a gruesome turn: five men murdered in broad daylight. Believe the Ministry of Interior’s comically macabre theatre or not—and most do not—five Egyptians are dead.

Egypt has become a Darwinian disaster: those who possess guns are given the right to ‘’exterminate’’ those who do not. Whether those men were indeed criminal or innocent is a fact that will never be known; the old adage that dead man cannot talk, ironically, is a mafia truism. Extrajudicial killings are not a step short of state terrorism Mr President, they are its very definition.

The government not only damages rule of law in exterminating those outside its narrative or those who serve its narrative, it also severely undermines a necessary element in its relationship with the citizen: respect. Put another way, when the government lies in such grand style, it simultaneously projects a lack of respect for the mind and analytical ability of the average citizen, while losing what little respect, even of those within its camp, these citizens have for its ability to be transparent.

After all, what are the chances that a criminal gang who operates for profit, not for political purposes, would retain three sunglasses, drugs and the money of its so-called victim Giulio Regeni? For that matter, why would Giulio have taken three sun glasses with him for an evening outing, as shown in the Ministry of Interior’s pictures? These sort of intellectually-lazy, easily-punctured lies not only embarrass the regime both domestically and internationally, but serve to underscore the degree to which Al-Sisi has lost control over the most important of apparatus: the police. Even as the government tried to back paddle from the laughable story in the local press on Friday, the damage was done as Regeni’s parents were reported to be “hurt and embittered”, while the Italian prime minister told AP: “I’m sorry I don’t buy it.” Neither do we, sir.

In Egypt’s deep state, it is clear: the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. The far-fetched gang story appears only days after Al-Sisi’s meeting with intellectuals, after which, to appease the opposition and attempt to quell a rising international tide of condemnation, he released Mahmoud Mohamed, the anti-torture t-shirt detainee. As one hand appeases, the other inflames.

Torture, which the Al-Sisi regime indefatigably justifies as “individual cases”, is a wicked synthesis of human rights abuse and state terrorism. This week brought to light the latest case of an Egyptian journalist in the vice grip of this abomination.

“You son of a bitch… I will exterminate you, show me your heroism then … I pronounced the ‘shahada’ [Islamic declaration of faith in God uttered before certain death] … he pulled the trigger, my heart jumped from my body … it was an empty chamber … he laughed.” These were the words of Mahmoud El-Saqqa, the young journalist at the centre of this brazen abuse. He is now out of jail, after receiving many beatings by that officer’s underlings, but these practices are daily helpings of sadism administered to tens of thousands of Egyptians behind bars. Hours after El-Saqqa’s release, video evidence emerged showing the homes of political prisoners, allegedly burned by Egyptian security forces in the northern port city of Damietta. State terrorism is the rule, not the exception.

Those courageous enough to attempt to quell the torture tsunami are also under severe attack by the Egyptian government. Names such as Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, veterans of the Egyptian human rights community, are being pummelled, with a freeze of assets and a travel ban, joining an ever-growing list of rights NGOs.

Previously, under Mubarak for example, those attacks meant slowing down NGOs. Now, it is a full frontal assault. Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch added its voice to a growing list of international condemnation of Egypt’s rights record. “The Egyptian authorities have moved beyond scaremongering and are now rapidly taking concrete steps to shut down the last critical voices in the country’s human rights community.”

These moves by the Sisi regime are further buttressed by insistence of all Egyptian officials, led by foreign minister Sameh Shoukri and Al-Sisi himself, on repeating the credo “stay out of Egypt’s internal affairs”. Throwing temper tantrums in the international arena does little to improve Egypt’s reputation. Systematic human rights abuses that run contrary to both the Egyptian constitution and the United Nations charter cannot be muted by shouting “sovereignty”. These convulsions are not just a display of brutal force by an autocratic ruler, but rather an attempt to permanently remove the notion of human and civil rights checks and balances from the conversation all together.

Ugliness, lies, naiveté, disorganisation, lack of historical perspective, and zero accountability: it is a toxic cocktail, a regime favourite. Every drop of innocent blood shed via the unholy trinity will hasten the forced departure of a regime that cannot even lie well.

Egypt does not require a regime change; its rescue demands a paradigm shift.

Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published by Ahram Online, Tahrir Institute, Muftah and Mada Masr.

Posted in Egypt, egypt sisi judiciary revolution middle east journalism, sinai, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another revolutionary wave is on Egypt’s doorste

By   Amr Khalifa For the New Arab

Popular anger at state abuses may yet rise to the level of outright revolt [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 January, 2016

Comment: Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed, writes Amr Khalifa.

There will be a revolution. But when, how, by whom and what will trigger it are questions that need examination.

Since a glorious sunset on January 25, 2011, with few exceptions, it has been the worst of times and the very worst of times for Egyptians who dared to dream of something better sprinkled with dollops of dignity.

Sisi and The Gang may very well, in trying to stunt revolution, cause it. It will not be easy – nothing ever is in Egypt. But as eyes focus on super-heated Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, the pot has begun to simmer in Cairo as well.

In the Egyptian political zeitgeist 1+1 rarely equals 2.

Where injustice reigns, fear, anger or revenge are present. Though unquantifiable, emotions and national psyches are invisible agents of change. In Egypt’s case, one cannot simply say, as was said by many: “Leadership, after January 25, must be fair – otherwise the people know the way to Tahrir.”

Indeed, all know the way to Tahrir. But under Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s watch, there isn’t one Egyptian that doesn’t know that marching to Tahrir, in opposition, could be a death sentence.

This is not about Sisi the persona, no matter how anointed he feels, this is about army rule. Far too many state actors win with army rule. There is far too much money to be had.

When you have a group of men who control vast swathes of the economy, aka Military Inc, estimated as high as 40 percent of the entire national economy, those who dream of revolution had better understand that those men will only retreat over their proverbial or literal dead bodies.

That is why the army’s role in the Egyptian economy has been called the black box in a recent Carnegie MEC study.

The Egyptian police are no less an impediment to change than the army. For the police, the equation isn’t just about political power and riches. Rather, the ministry of interior, fully understands that it is the first line of defence for the regime, should anger explode.

Accordingly, part of the bargain are monumental pay raises across the board to the tune of 30 percent as recently as early 2014. The Interior Ministry also receives a benefit they sadistically enjoy: Impunity.

Police imprison, both judicially and extra judicially, whomever they wish, and when they wish, with systematic torture and forced disappearances featured heavily.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard

The very police force that people rebelled against in January 2011 is taking revenge on the populous at large. Such brutality will cost state actors.

So who wants revolution? Why? Can it happen? And if so, when?

For the first year of his presidency Sisi was the Teflon Man; little, in his supporters’ eyes, damaged his credibility – nothing stuck to him. But that has begun to change – simply look at social media and some articles in the Egyptian press for abundant proof.

Causes of a potential revolution are as numerous as snowflakes in an arctic blizzard. The toughest security crackdown in Egyptian history is an obvious indicator the regime understands what roils beneath the surface. But in trying to prevent revolution the state is creating revolution.

In attempting to stymie a public uproar, Sisi, his policies, his security apparatus, his corrupt judiciary, and a political process laced with condescension towards an accepting public, have become triggers.

But Sisi is a byproduct of the intelligence apparatus – and in Egypt that is less about gentle cajoling as it is slamming heads into tables. And slam he has. More than 50,000 Egyptians languish in jails on politicised charges.

By jailing dissenters, the government believes it will blunt opposition. But the reverse may be occurring. If you remain insistent on putting your army boot to the necks of dissenting voices you create multiple dissenting voices for every broken neck.

Unemployment, murder of family and friends and widespread torture turns youths into ticking time bombs.

For purposes of analytical economy there are three chief dissenting camps, though it could change in the coming months: The revolutionaries belonging to January 25, the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi strain.

But one major wildcard many ignore are disheartened ex-Sisifites. This is a growing group who once supported Sisi for security reasons will mushroom in the coming months as disillusion spreads.

Tens of thousands have called prison home for the majority of the past two years since Sisi’s coup. Revolutionaries aren’t just hampered by the clampdown, they have been flustered by fatigue, depression and disorganisation.

But issues of torture and political prisoners, in particular, are replenishing the organizational reserves. The more the regime breathes fiery violence and repression and shows fear of the fifth anniversary of the revolution –searching homes arbitrarily and arresting activists – the more gasoline is sprayed upon a building fire.

Another source of worry for government is the split within the Muslim Brotherhood. For months it has been no secret that the MB has split internally. One side is the old guard, officially, eschewing violence, and the new guard, led by revolutionary youth frustrated by its leadership and the regime and leaning towards systematic escalationand violence.

Repression is radicalism’s birthplace

For now, indications are, the violence is hit-and-miss and does not target with intent to kill – but this could change in a heartbeat as the crackdown continues takes its toll. As though reality wishes to buttress this very point, an explosion in an apartment, in a crowded neighborhood kilometres away from the pyramids, killed at least six.

The punchline? The Ministry of Interior issued a statement saying the bomb had been planted by Muslim Brotherhood militants. But it was caught with its story-telling pants down when the Cairo branch of the Islamic State group later claimed responsibility.

True or not, such allegations will be used to justify the monumental repression underway. Repression is radicalism’s birthplace. There are zero signs this elaborate system of collective punishment will cease, instead, the opposite is likely.

The stick approach is why anger may rise to the level of revolution in due time.

No one can predict how a cycle of injustice, economic malaise, political corruption and unemployment will coalesce to produce a revolt – or when.

Events in Tunis, as I type, speak beautifully to the unpredictable nature of revolt. Having said that, one cannot discount that there is a rising anger among two major camps: revolutionaries and Islamists.

These are youth majority camps who have been hard hit by killings, torture and forced disappearances – coupled with large spikes in unemployment. That is the TNT, but the detonator will be provided courtesy of future events.

But with the Jihadi, Salafist, and increasingly some of the Brotherhood youth in the mix working to destabilise a discombobulated government, the prospect of revolt is real. While it may not be weeks or months away, it is also not many years away.

This will not be January 25 part II, rather, a tiger coming at full speed with claws at the ready. A toxic mixture, from a regime perspective, is afoot: revolutionaries, Islamists, Salafists, Jihadists, Mubarakists and ex-Sisifites all make for a fragmented state.

Unless Sisi changes, he will be changed.

Blood produces blood. And Sisi fired the first shot.

Amr Khalifa is an Egyptian analyst and commentator. He has written for Daily News Egypt, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Muftah and the Arab Media and Society Journal. Follow him on Twitter: @cairo67unedited

Posted in Egypt, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment