Tag Archives: politics

Egypt: Nationwide Protests Leave Dozens Dead

Originally Published on VICE, 28/01/2013 – Photos by Amanda Mustard (@mustardphoto)

On 25th January 2011 – coinciding with “National Police Day” – thousands of Egyptians flocked to the Ministry of Interior in central Cairo in protest of widespread police brutality. Eighteen days later, 846 people had died, over 6,000 more were injured and Egypt’s longest serving president, the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, had abdicated his post.

Two years later and Egypt has its first democratically elected, non-military leader since King Farouk was overthrown in 1952. The president now has a maximum tenure of two four-year terms. The infamousemergency law has been terminated. Egypt has a newly elected upper house of parliament, a new constitution and parliamentary elections for a lower house due in the upcoming months.

Yet for all that, the goals of the revolution have yet to be achieved: economic stagnation persists, unemployment has increased, military trials of civilians continue and the new constitution meant to enshrine civil liberties remains hugely contentious.

These remain serious affronts to millions of Egyptians. For the anniversary of the revolution, 16 parties and movements held marches in each governorate while maintaining a rejection of the anniversary as a day of celebration. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters would not even venture into Tahrir Square – “the symbol of the revolution” – for the day, highlighting the current political polarisation.

Tens of thousands packed Tahrir as the old chants of “Down with the regime” and “Bread, freedom, social justice” rang out alongside newer ones of “Leave Morsi!” and “Gika” (the first martyr of Morsi’s tenure). Meanwhile, several marches from around Cairo advanced towards Tahrir shortly after Friday prayers, amassing huge numbers along the way.

In the heart of Tahrir, the atmosphere remained relaxed and non-celebratory as tens of thousands slowly packed the square. The numbers were smaller than last year, but the sense of purpose for those in the square remained resolute. “The revolution didn’t end with Mubarak leaving,” says Mohamed Nawaz, a young protester in Tahrir, “it only ends when we get what is due to us: bread, freedom and social justice.”

On the outskirts, clashes between protesters and the Central Security Forces (CSF) continued in a volley of stones and tear gas.

The injured from the area were brought to a nearby makeshift field hospital in Qasr El Dobara Church. Inside, a small group of doctors and volunteers helped to treat the wounded – over 100 people in less than six hours. One man was escorted in with around 30 small, bloodied holes in his torso and face, “It’s just birdshot,” he sighed nonchalantly.

He had been a part of a march that had attempted to get into a Muslim Brotherhood building on the nearby Talat Harb Street before clashing with security. Members of the march stated that the clashes were instigated by a small group of men dressed all in black – apparently the new Black Bloc group.

As darkness fell in Tahrir, reports emerged of accounts of brutal sexual assault – something that’s been occurring with alarming frequency over the past two years. The group “Operation Anti Sexual Harassment” reported that there were 19 cases of mob sexual assaults with at least six needing medical attention.

Meanwhile in the city of Suez, eight protesters and a CSF conscript were killed in clashes with security forces from the Governorate headquarters, which had been set ablaze during the fighting. Head of the Doctor’s syndicate, Mohamed Salama, said the deaths were the result of birdshot and live ammo. At the funeral processions the next day, thousands marched through the streets shouting “Revenge!”

As the anniversary came to a close, the Ministry of Health reported that nationwide protests had seen more than ten deaths and hundreds of injuries.

The next day marked the trial verdict of the 73 defendants of the Port Said Stadium massacre. With momentum from the anniversary still strong, it seems inconceivable that the judiciary could have chosen such a politically charged time to release such an important announcement.

On February 1st, 2012 following an Egyptian Premier League football match between Port Said’s Masry football club and Cairo’s Al Ahly football club, supporter’s of Masry invaded the pitch and attacked the away fans: over 1000 people were injured and 74 died, including 72 Al Ahly fans. Descriptions of people being thrown from the stands or beaten to death resonated around Egypt.

In the aftermath of the country’s worst football disaster, reports trickled out indicating the massacre was more than just another example of football hooliganism at work. It’s widely believed that the security officials at the time – military and police – played a major part in the massacre, with reports of security leaving their posts, locking supporters inside the stadium and the apparent use of “Baltageya” (hired thugs) suggesting that the massacre had a dark political undertone to it.

The interim ruling power at the time, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), may have created the chaos in the hope of gaining public opinion for “greater security”, thus giving them greater influence in the long run. If that was their plan, it failed miserably.

Ultras Ahlawy, the hardcore supporters of the Al Ahly football club, had been a constituent element of the revolution. However, it was only really after the disaster that the Ultras became truly involved in the fight against the establishment, amassing thousands in a short space of time and channelling all their effort into the political sphere.

In the run up to the verdict announcement, graffiti saying “1-26: Justice or Chaos” sprung up on the walls of Cairo – the date of the verdict with a barefaced threat to the judiciary and government.

Shortly after 10AM on the Saturday morning, the Port Said Criminal Court made their announcement: 21 Masry fans were handed the death sentence, while the remaining 52 defendants had their verdicts postponed until March 9th.

The response was immediate. In Cairo, the Ultras celebrated, while in Port Said, people became distraught, then angry. While the Ultras were setting off flares and fireworks, gun battles were raging in Port Said.

The Ultras Ahlawy Facebook page released a statement that read, “Today was the start of justice, but not in its entirety.” Ahmed, a young Ultra in Cairo, described how, “Today is justice, I am so happy,” before being joined by a friend and singing a song that included the words “Fuck you, Port Saidis.”

It’s hard for the residents of Port Said to see the verdicts as anything other than highly politicised; nine security officials among the defendants had their verdicts postponed, while 21 of their own were sentenced to death. Hundreds of angry and armed residents stormed the jail where some of the accused were held in an attempt to free them. The fierce fighting that followed necessitated the arrival of the army. At the time of writing, there have been reports of at least 30 deaths and 300 injuries.

On Sunday 27th, tens of thousands marched through the city’s streets for the funeral procession of those killed the day before, only to then have unidentified gunmen fire upon them. Al Jazeera showed harrowing footage of the procession shortly after the attack – people running away or frantically scouring the buildings in hopes of spotting the gunmen.

Exactly who was behind this attack remains unknown, but it provoked yet more clashes with the security forces. At the day’s end, Ahram Online reported that five people had been killed and 436 injured: live ammunition, birdshot and tear gas responsible for most of the injuries and deaths.

President Morsi appeared on state TV late last night to invite the leaders of the opposition for a dialogue, announced a state of emergency and a curfew of 9PM to 6AM for the cities of Ismailia, Suez and Port Said, set to last 30 days. HRW Egypt Director Heba Morayef tweeted, “Curfew is one thing but giving the police emergency law powers is really just an invitation to more abuse.”

With so much death in such a short time frame and this sudden antagonising emergency ruling, the prospect of this period of violence dying down soon seems unlikely. But unless these revolutionary protesters present a meaningful and feasible proposal to the Muslim Brotherhood, mental and physical fatigue will inevitably set in and the status quo will surely remain for the near future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Politics

Crisis Control: Morsi’s latest Non-Concession

“No ruler of any kind, qua ruler, exercises his authority, whatever its sphere, with his own interest in view, but that of the subject of his skill.  It is his subject and his subject’s proper interest to which he looks in all he says and does.” – The Republic

That Mohamed Morsi is partial to reading Plato in his spare time is unknown, but his management of the situation – since his ‘power-grabbing’ November 22nd Constitutional Decree until its annulment late on December 8th – suggests, at the very least, an affinity with Platonic sovereignty as well as a sly nod to Niccolo Machiavelli.

After a 9-hour ‘national dialogue meeting’ that excluded both Mohamed Morsi and the main opposition figures of the National Salvation Front (NSF), it was announced that the decree which had caused so much outrage was to be annulled.  International Media celebrated this ‘concession’ as a major breakthrough in the political impasse.

Morsi’s main defence on the appropriation of his vast powers was in a need to protect and speed up the process through which the country’s governmental foundations could be laid, and in so doing, allow Egypt’s real journey towards prosperity and justice to begin.

In other words, he deemed that due process and the concept of democracy outside of the ballot box – never mind public opinion – could take a backseat while he frogmarched the masses towards a future they didn’t even know they all wanted.  Within Morsi’s decree, the most important was the sudden unassailability of the contentious constituent assembly.

The deteriorating, and suddenly untouchable, constituent assembly – almost exclusively made up of old Islamist men – worked long hours to rush through a final draft before the Constitutional Court could pass a verdict on the Assembly’s representative legitimacy.

The question of legitimacy lay in the assembly’s make up: It’s 100-strong members had been proportionally drawn from the lower house of parliament; itself dissolved 5 months prior after it was discovered that independent seats had gone to party-affiliated candidates, such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The actual contents of the final draft seemed to invoke criticism from nearly every group bar those affiliated with the FJP. “A constitution that eliminates rights and limits freedoms. No to Dictatorship” was a message printed in 11 independent newspapers.  The full front page of the Egypt Independent newspaper this week simply read, “We object to continued restrictions on media liberties, especially after hundreds of Egyptians gave their lives for freedom and dignity.”

FJP senior advisor Gehad El-Haddad was kinder in his analysis, “It’s not perfect, but I think it s a very good basis from which we can move forward” although even he lamented the “compromising language” in some of the articles.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to have overestimated the political torpor of the Egyptian populace and overplayed their hand: a strangely naïve move that may be put down to a sudden surge in hubris after his praised role in the Gaza-Israel peace brokerage.

The masses came out as protests swept through the governorates. Opposition figureheads capitalised on the situation, uniting to create the ‘National Salvation Front’ (NSF) and gaining popular acceptance. In what is a symbiotic relationship, the people give the opposition figures the critical mass necessary to put demands to Morsi, while the protesters could now demonstrate under the political aegis of the NSF and avoid being easily labelled ‘heretical traitors’.

Meanwhile the Pro-Morsi side came out in support of the President.  The Muslim Brotherhood wanted to show the watching world that they too had numbers and outside Cairo University tens of thousands of pro-Morsi Egyptians showed up and duly answered the call.

Both sides rallied peacefully when separated, but the violence that eventually materialised 5 days ago in Heliopolis was inevitable.  The Muslim Brotherhood called on a march to where anti-Morsi protesters were demonstrating and the two-sides finally met – 8 people dying as a result.

The NSF said they would only enter into dialogue with Morsi after an annulment of his 22nd November decrees and a postponement on the referendum.  Morsi began borrowing from Mubarak’s playbook with paranoid conspiracy talk of “fifth columnists” before eventually succumbing to the pressure from the street and rescinding his decree of judicial immunity – but is this really a concession?

Those placated are the armed forces and the judges: Morsi had time to pass a law that grants the armed forces power of arrest and detainment of civilians (effective martial law); and the judges will be pleased that he is no longer above the law (a point that had them initially threatening to boycott supervision of the referendum, thus jeopardising its legitimacy).

The major point to note is that the referendum is still due to take place on December 15th.  What is arguably an illegitimate constitution has bypassed judicial scrutiny via Morsi’s initial decree and is now to be judged by the ballot box in 6 days time.

This is the reason why many in the opposition say there has been no concession.  The main point of contention was the validity of the assembly and any draft they released.  This point remains.  Instead, Morsi has rescinded his powers a week early (for it was due to expire after the voting anyway) and in so doing, offered a superficial misdirect while preserving the referendum.

Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood are, as an Egyptian journalist for Bloomberg put it to me, “very good at the ballot boxes”, the opposition are divided in whether to vote ‘no’, or to boycott what they see as an unreservedly illegitimate referendum.

In a press conference last night the NSF again announced their “total rejection” of the draft constitution and the referendum.  Never explicitly calling for a boycott or a vote saying ‘no’, they instead reiterated their call for peaceful protests to continue.

Therein lies the problem of the opposition forces, whether now or 20 months ago, they are in unison when objecting, but divided when it comes to offering answers, thereby giving the object of their ire more room for manoeuvre.  Room that, in this case, Morsi is fully capitalising on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Opinionated, Politics

Constitutional Crisis

Banner in Tahrir by Mohamed Mahmoud St reads "Muslim Brotherhood Forbidden Entry"

Banner in Tahrir by Mohamed Mahmoud St reads “Muslim Brotherhood Forbidden Entry”

President Mohamed Morsi’s opposition was given extra impetus today after the hugely controversial constituent assembly chose to ignore their two-month extension to rush through their final draft constitution.  The process was expedited in an uncharacteristic burst of energy from the assembly with more than 50 articles debated since Saturday.  Yesterday the assembly approved all 234 articles, one by one, after a marathon voting session that went on into the early hours of Friday morning.  Under Article 60 of the March 30th Constitutional Declaration, the referendum for the draft’s ratification is due to take place within 15 days.

Morsi has promised to renounce his extra powers once a constitution is in place and a lower house has been elected.  In what many see as yet more political strong-arming from Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, they see the choice offered them as lose-lose situation: vote no and continue to live with a President who holds ‘dictatorial powers’, or vote yes and have a constitution that many feel is unrepresentative and inadequate.

Mass walkouts and resignations from liberals, Christians and the journalist syndicate meant that only 74 of the original 100 members were at the final day’s proceedings, 51 of them from various Islamic groups.  Hossam al-Gheriany, the chairman of the assembly, started the day by adding 11 reserve members to the assembly’s members (the majority from the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi Nour Party) bringing the total up to 85.  Of these 85, there was not a single Christian and only 4 women, all of them Islamists.

At the beginning of the day, the much-discussed article 2, that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the primary source of legislation, was passed unanimously.

There also appears to be inherent contradictions in several of the articles, especially pertaining to freedom of expression.  Article 31 prohibits “insulting the prophets”, article 44 prohibits disparaging the “dignity of the human” whilst article 43 somehow guarantees the freedom of expression.

A praiseworthy edit was made to article 36 with the explicit addition of “torture”.  It now stipulated that the torture and humiliation of detainees would not happen, adding that they must be held in a morally and ethically appropriate place.

In contrast, Article 198, on the military justice system, accepted the military trials of civilians “only in crimes that harm the armed forces”.  The military trial of civilians is a phenomenon many Egyptians hoped would be banished.

Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch Egypt Director, pointed out that the highest number of objections came with regards to Article 219 defining the principles of Sharia.  The Salafis in the assembly wanted it moved to the front of the constitution as an addendum to article 2.  After some discussion it remained where it was.

Many of the articles drew fire from Morsi’s opposition, specifically with regard to the semantics.  But others were more lenient with regards to some of the more obtuse wording.  “Some of the language is compromising, which is unfortunate, but they are trying to appease everyone with this constitution,” says Gehad El-Haddad, Senior Advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party.  El-Haddad conceded that the constitution was not perfect but replied “look at the American or French constitution, were they perfect when first drawn up? How many amendments do they contain?  This constitution is a good basis from which we can move forward”.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei seemed certain the constitution was destined to fail, “It will be a part of political folklore and will go to the rubbish bin of history” he said in an interview on private al-Nahar TV.  El-Haddad, meanwhile, remained “optimistic” of its chances in the referendum.

The schism between Morsi’s proponents and opponents was further highlighted when both sides called for two separate rallies to showcase their support.  The opposition inundated the square once again today.  ElBaradei and ex-presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi made an appearance and announced that they would be sleeping on Tahrir.  The Muslim Brotherhood plan to hold their million-man march outside Cairo University tomorrow.

Initially the plan was for the Brotherhood to come to Tahrir tomorrow, but the obvious clashes that would result meant that they had to make a late change in venue.  The Brotherhood had already been forced to call off a march to Tahrir last Tuesday in the face of the massive opposition rally that flooded the square.  Tahrir Square, the symbol of Egypt’s revolution, has denied the entry to the Muslim Brotherhood twice in a week.

Update: State TV has reported that Morsi went to Sharbatly mosque today for Friday prayers and was heckled.  The Imam attempted to bless the presidential decrees and reportedly compared Morsi to the Prophet, causing outrage in the mosque where Morsi was trapped for an unspecified time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Hundreds of Thousands Protest Morsi Decree

First published in the New Internationalist

A copt speaks from the stage

On Thursday 22nd November 2012, Egypt’s President Morsi issued new constitutional declarations; then all hell broke loose.

The stock market plunged a staggering 9.57 percentage points by Sunday.  The fighting between the CSF (Central Security Forces) and protesters intensified.  Judges around Egypt have gone on strike.  22 Egyptian Rights Organisations unequivocally rejected the declarations in a joint statement.  18 political parties and groups called on Morsi to rescind the declarations. Yet more members of the constituent assembly resigned.  3 protesters have died.  Today, demonstrations swept through the governorates as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians made it clear that they were not indifferent to the matter.

Morsi’s declarations resulted in: the removal of the despised prosecutor general; the retrial of anyone convicted, from the revolution to his appointment as president, with regards to protester deaths; the immunity of the Shura council (upper house of parliament) from dissolution; the immunity of the constituent assembly from dissolution; the authority for the President to take any measures he sees fit in order to “preserve and safeguard the revolution”; and the immunity of any decree made by the President from any body, judicial or otherwise.

From a man that already held executive and absolute legislative authority, this attack on the judiciary has raised eyebrows and a fair few tempers too.  “The balance and separation of powers in Egypt has been utterly demolished” say 22 Egyptian Rights Organisations in a joint statement released Saturday.  They assert that Morsi has contravened the goal of the revolution – democratisation – and that the arrogation of these unparalleled powers portends a “bleak future for Egyptian rights and liberties”.

Morsi defended his decision by saying he would give the powers back once a constitution and people’s assembly (lower house of parliament) was in place.  In a statement he reiterated “the temporary nature of those measures, which are not intended to concentrate power, but to avoid…attempts to undermine democratically elected bodies and preserve the impartiality of the judiciary”.  Many were less than convinced.  Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and head of the Constitution Party, cautioned that Morsi had appointed himself “Egypt’s new pharaoh”.

18 political opposition parties and groups joined together to form a “National Front” tasked with opposing the declarations.  Among their members is ElBaradei, and ex-presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabahi and Amr Moussa.  On Monday, they called on Morsi to annul the declaration and refuse to have any dialogue with him until he has done so.  The opposition parties called for a massive demonstration to be held in Tahrir Square today and the people have duly delivered with the square as full as it has ever been.

Tents were set up in the middle of Tahrir Square as soon as Morsi’s declarations were made with people promising a sit-in protest until the decision was overturned.  One of the first to arrive was 79 year-old Khaled Hamza a play writer and outspoken communist – Hamza spent 5 years in prison during Nasser and Sadat’s premiership due to his activism.  “Mohamed Morsi-Mubarak is a dictator now, but he has even more power than a dictator” said Hamza, his insistence on referring to Morsi as ‘Morsi-Mubarak’ emphasised this view.

Beside banners saying “Egypt for all Egyptians” (perhaps an allusion to the Islamist-heavy make up of the controversial Constituent Assembly) and while the crowd chanted “One Hand” Hamza explained the aura of unity he felt, “Today we are united in our anger at Morsi-Mubarak, nobody would care if I told them I am a communist now”.

By evening the Square was completely packed, chants of the initial revolution were now being directed at their incumbent president, “Down with the regime”.  But there were newer ones too “Morsi is Mubarak”, “Morsi is the new Pharaoh”.

Fighting with the CSF has been constant in central Cairo since the 1-year anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud St clashes 8 days ago.  267 people have been detained in connection with the anniversary clashes and 3 have died during protests this last week.  Another large concrete wall has been erected – a not unusual sight in downtown Cairo – blocking off Kasr El Aini St. off Tahrir Square to stop the fighting; instead it has just moved to Simon Boulevard.

It’s very clear that Morsi has to deal with this soon, before it gets out of hand.  The masses are angry and the people are united.  They realise that even if Morsi is honestly trying to speed Egypt into a new era of freedom and democracy, using dictatorial powers seems a slightly perverse way to get there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles, Politics

Deep State

Last Thursday, the Supreme Presidential Electoral Committee (SPEC) made it known that they were going to delay the announcement of the winner of the Presidential run-offs until yesterday (24th June).  They claimed the delay necessary to ensure that every one of the 400 complaints issued by both parties were excoriated to a satisfactory level.

This seemed a bad omen for the Morsi supporters, as they claimed the SPEC were using the time to rig the votes to overturn the approximately 900,000 lead that Morsi appeared to have in the preliminary counts.  On the flip side, the Ahmed Shafiq supporters were concerned that the delay was giving the SCAF and the MB time to form a deal and ensure a Morsi victory.  Either way, people were concerned with how SCAF were going to deal with the situation, rather than trusting the democratic process and those involved in overseeing it.

The ‘Deep State’ mentality is something that has popped up recently as the ugly head of the former, openly autocratic, regime lies on his deathbed and the country does it’s best to wake from their slumber and transition to a true democracy.  But then again, most Egyptians have experienced autocratic rule their entire lives, why should they believe things will really change now?

The Egyptians I had spoken to seemed to feel that their first ‘freely’ elected president was going to be decided, not by the votes of the Egyptian people, but rather by the judgments and accords made by the old ruling bodies of power.  Déjà vu all over again, one might say.  I had theorised what the most astute moves would be for the ‘underlying powers’ at work, should they attempt to affect Egypt’s tortuous journey to democracy.

As SCAF and the judiciary seem to be almost universally seen as the groups with the largest sway in matters undemocratic, the question one must ask is: what would they do to ensure their survival as major institutions and remain with the powers they have enjoyed for so long?

Alter the constitutional declaration to ensure that more powers are kept with them, rather than with the incoming president and parliament? Check – They annexed a number of changes to the constitutional declaration, allowing the military council complete control over the military whilst gaining veto powers over foreign policy, including declarations of war.

Ensure that legislative power moves back to the ruling military council and away from Parliament?  Check – the HCC (High Constitutional Court) dissolved the entire parliament over a legal hiccup, that could and should have been aired out a long time ago, and SCAF have set up their own National Defence Council to preside over any legal wranglings that take place.

Guarantee that the new constitution maintains their role in society? Check – they made sure that they had the power to oversee the appointing of the 100 member strong constitutional council that will draft the next constitution.

Make full use of the country’s poor literacy rates (28.6% of people over 15 are incapable of reading and writing.  With women, it’s 40.6%) to try and appeal to their most benighted, basic wishes by giving them an Islamist president figurehead to be content with? Check – Mohammed Morsi won the presidency by 51.7% to Shafiq’s 48%.

Now, of course these audacious moves are certain to ruffle a few feathers, indeed just after the addendum to the transitional constitution was declared, ex-presidential candidate Khaled Ali filed a lawsuit to remove the changes.

Surely if they were to try such a daring power grab and in turn, reduce the role of the incoming president to nothing more than an emaciated figurehead, they would need to have the powers to control the inevitable populous backlash.  Unfortunately, Egypt just lifted its emergency law, for the first time in 31 years, not 3 weeks prior to the Presidential elections – a strangely myopic move if there really were a state within a state seeking to control future matters.

However, two weeks after Egypt was decreed ‘no longer in a state of emergency’, the Egyptian Minister of Justice effectively reinstated emergency law by granting military intelligence and officers the power to arrest civilians until a new constitution is in place.  This decree came into effect on June 14th, the same day that the HCC dissolved parliament and awarded sweeping powers to the SCAF.  Good save guys.

With such evidence suggesting that the SCAF have done all within their power, bar an actual military coup, to ensure the continuation of their power, one must not think the election of the uncharismatic Mohammed Morsi portends anything other than more struggle in the effort for true freedom.  This is not the beginning of a bright, new, democratic era; with a lot of hard work this can be the final chapter in the old one.  The journey ahead will be incredibly slow and if the goal of true democracy is ever to be realised, the people must wake up to the fact that the foundations they are building on are being laid out, not by themselves, but by the SCAF.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

A Revolution Reborn?

Ahmed sits down on a sofa in my flat and smiles nervously.  He has never met me before and yet here he is, dropping by to say hello.  Ahmed was shot 4 times during the initial revolutions last year – one in the hand, two in his right leg and one bullet is lodged so close to his spine no doctor will dare try to retrieve it.  He speaks of the upcoming Mubarak trial and sings the tune that everyone seemed to be singing; Mubarak would effectively get off with little more than a slap on the wrists.  Nobody believed he would get more than 5 years, pointing to the corrupt judicial system as evidence of that.  As the managing editor of Al Ahram, Hani Shukrallah, put it on twitter “…investigated by the culprits, prosecuted by the defence.  Fat chance we get a proper ruling on June 2nd”.

There was a sense of the poetic as the sentencing was outside the Police Academy (once called the Mubarak Police Academy) in an area half an hour east of Cairo called ‘New Cairo’.  I stepped out of a friend’s car and cursed as soon as my head moved from the relative cool of the back seat and fell under the intense gaze of the sun.  The heat was unrelenting and the ameliorative breeze that one usually finds in Egypt seemed to be having a lie in.  It was only 8:30am and scanning the setting, most Egyptians seemed to have been following the breeze’s example.  There were only 100 or so Egyptians braving the conditions but over 300 journalists.  It was a depressing sight but it was still quite early and I held hope that more Egyptians would arrive as the day progressed.  The journalists sat in their air-conditioned tents and watched the Egyptians like locusts, descending on anyone in a flurry of clicks and questions if they dared raise their voice about a whisper.

Thousands of riot policemen cordoned off our area to the left of the main gate, a human fence of boredom and ennui, noticeably wilting under the scorching sun.  They ease their unfortunate situation by getting ice creams.  It is a strange sight to behold; a couple of policemen eating ice creams whilst an Egyptian is railing, having tied himself in chains, in an attempt to get noticed by the press.

To the right of the main gate is an even stranger sight as 30 or so pro-Mubarak supporters sit, awaiting the final verdict.  Surrounded by the same security set up as the other area, they sit and smile, every one of them holding aloft an image of Mubarak.  One man comes over to me and opens up a photo book dedicated to Hosni Mubarak; every page filled with newspaper clippings and photos of Mubarak, the occasional heart drawn around his face.  I knew the situation was volatile as there was going to be some problems no matter what the verdict was.   The imminent clash between the two groups (and the policemen) was guaranteed as one side was bound to find the verdict either too light or too heavy.

By 10:30am the sentencing was being broadcast.  Around 400 Egyptians had now arrived in the anti-Mubarak camp and they crowded around anyone that had a radio.  The half-hearted chanting that had gone on for the preceding 2 hours turned to silence.  I strained my ears past the stillness of the crowds in an attempt to decipher what the verdict was to be.  Suddenly I hear something and then “Hosni Mubarak…” and the crowds explode in euphoria.  People scream “Allahuakhbar” and run around, ripping their t-shirts off, embracing each other, tears flowing.  Many others fall to their knees, crying over the pictures of those they had lost, perhaps feeling redemption.  My mind immediately turns to the pro-Mubarak crowd.

I make my way over to the group, about 100m away, and pass a friend who is walking back.

“Put your camera away, they’re charging some journalists with sticks”

I decide to follow his advice before proceeding.  What I see is yet more tears but for different reasons, obviously.  People are screaming “Haraam!” (Sinful) before stopping to sob, visibly shaking.  One man drops to his knees beside me with choking cries of despondency; attempts an upright stance, before bending over double and throwing up.

Then the inevitable, as the proceedings take a violent turn.  The anti-Mubarak side decide to exit their area and meet the pro-Mubarak side in the streets.  The riot police act quickly as they decide to form a human barrier across the street between them.  The odd man squeezes through and a few scuffles break out.  Suddenly one of the pro-Mubarak women, an impeccably dressed middle aged blonde walks to her car, grabs something from the back seat and starts throwing what can only be described as a small explosive at people.  The force is small but the sound is loud enough as to force everyone back.  She throws one at a passing taxi and with a loud bang, smashes the back window.  She is screaming at the top of her lungs the entire time and then ducks into her car and makes a speedy getaway.

Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister Habib el-Adly were sentenced to life imprisonment.  This was far better than anyone I had spoken to could have hoped for, perhaps the judiciary are not as corrupt as everyone thought.  Except the Egyptians then made sense of the rest of the ruling and the initial euphoria very quickly died down.  Everyone else on trial was acquitted.  That includes Mubarak’s two sons, several senior former interior ministers and 6 senior policemen (on grounds of lack of evidence) that have been described to me as the leaders of Mubarak’s Gestapo.

Not one hour after the initial sentencing and euphoric cheer, things turned sour as the anti-Mubarak crowd began throwing rocks into the police while cries of “Illegitimate” were screamed out. Meanwhile in Downtown Cairo, crowds began gathering in earnest in Tahrir Square to show their disgust at the ruling.

Almost the whole of Tahrir Square was packed as tens of thousands had made their way in; people began singing the revolutionary songs of 15 months ago.  There was a definite focus on Shafiq, Mubarak and the Judiciary ruling with the chants and the signs.  Most interesting of all was the distinct lack of anti-Morsi chants or signs.  Not two days before his name was being thrown about with ‘Shafiq’ and with the same hate by the protesters, but now the focus was purely on the Folol.  There were calls to cleanse the Judiciary and to finish off the old regime once and for all.  Morsi pounced on the opportunity presented to him and called on people to head to the squares to revolt again, hoping to gain the respect of some of the voters by doing so.

On twitter there was a stream of comments of a revolution ‘reborn’.  Personally, I can’t help but wonder whether there is not too much focus, yet again, on the young guard who are willing to come out and protest and too little focus on those who just want to get it over with and have that sense of normality back in their lives.

Whatever the case may be, the High Court’s ruling will have an impact on the narrative of these tumultuous times.  They attempted to hand Mubarak, the pantomime villain, on a plate in the hope that this would be enough of a compromise for the others getting off scot-free.  But the Egyptians are not so fickle as to think that Mubarak was alone in facilitating the deaths of the 850 or so protesters a year ago.  As I write, the protests continue, and Morsi must be licking his lips at the prospect of the run-offs now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Amr Moussa Rally

It was relayed to me that Amr Moussa would be holding a rather intimate rally in Kafr el-Dawaar – an industrial city of around 250,000 people that lies just outside of Alexandria.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to see a secular/folol (delete as appropriate) campaign and hear what his supporters thought of him. From Cairo, the transit requires a two and a half hour train journey, one half hour mini-bus journey and two 15-minute taxi rides.  The setting for the rally was most obscure.  Through some gates, in a more rural than residential area, was a small, dusty football pitch that had been cleared to make way for the rally.  A large tent had been erected and peppered all round were the 500 or so people waiting to see Moussa.

Whether fashioning an Amr Moussa t-shirt, badge or poster, nearly everyone had some form of Moussa campaigning memorabilia on them.  I couldn’t help but feel that everyone here had been brought in, to try and fill the relatively small-capacity rally.  Everyone was desperate to have their picture taken showing their support, they were telling me to take pictures of anything and everything that was to do with Moussa, one person even demanding I photo two posters on the side of the tent; they were identical.

They were certainly more vociferous in their support, but on reflection it can be understood why:

  • Whereas the Fotoh rally I visited earlier had scores of journalists and photographers, here there were only two journalists and one photographer present – including myself – so they wanted to make damned sure they got equal coverage.
  •  The area I was in is notoriously Salafi (the Salafis, having thrown their weight behind Fotoh, are critical of Moussa and Shafiq).  I was told that in the parliamentary elections, 70% of the votes from the area were for the Islamists.  A student called Mohammed Samir and a 48 year-old accountant called Mohseen Ilsamat told me how “there would be trouble if [they] declare support of Moussa on these streets”.  So I can see why, when they can all meet up, they are so demonstrative in proclaiming their allegiance.

In this haven, the men and women all sing along to an Amr Moussa song that is blaring over the speakers.  The mood is fairly pleasant, if somewhat forced, but around 3 hours after the rally started, there was a chilling change in atmosphere.  The shouts of joy morphed into shouts of anger.  I was approached by an incredibly calm man in a grey thobe who leaned over to me and said “Ikhwan” before pointing back towards the gate we had entered from.  I see the security clambering past the growing crowd of people heading towards the gate.  Everyone seemed to be gravitating towards the gate.  A man charges past me with a large stick in his hand.  I follow.

I could see past the crowd and through the gate, where around 20 people were stood, some on cars, shouting and throwing an arm up every now and again.  Eventually I realise that they are hurling rocks over the fence and into the crowd of Moussa supporters.  I take some photos and try to make my way forward, before being stopped by the large muscular arm of a security man who wouldn’t let me go any further.  A brick lands with a thud 5 meters behind him.  “Good idea” I think, as I slowly walk back.

Standing at the rear, I try to make some sense of the chaos in front of me.  There are people running away from the gate, some towards.  I spot a man nonchalantly lighting a cigarette in the mass of people, carefree as can be.  Eventually, a dense sub-group of angry people emerges, with a young thin man in tow.  It appears they got one.  More people surround him and a few punches are thrown, but in their impatience in wanting to exact retribution, he managed to wriggle free.  With one sharp tug, he yanked away from their grips, before vaulting a fence and sprinting away across an adjacent field, middle finger up the entire time.

After a further 20 minutes, everyone seems to calm down and return to his or her seat in the tent.  I find myself speaking to a lawyer called Mahmoud, but the moment I bring out my notepad, men and children surround me, some peering over my shoulder to see what I am going to write. I am instantly reminded of eating waffles on Brighton pier, seagulls circling overhead.  I ask in English “Is everyone here going to vote for Amr Moussa?”  There is confusion at first but the moment the word “Moussa” leaves my lips, thumbs go up and a chorus of “Aiwa, Moussa, Aiwa” rings out.  (I am tempted to talk gibberish and end it with “Amr Moussa” to see if I would get the same response but quickly suppress the urge).

Mahmoud ushers me away from the crowd and into a room behind a makeshift drinks shop.  He tells me, almost in a whisper, that he is supporting Hamdeen Sabahi but that he was intrigued to hear what Moussa had to say.  He tells me how he wants Egypt to be become the epicentre for Islam in Africa.  Sabahi seems a strange choice if that is what he wants.

“So why not vote for Mohammed Morsi or Abo el-Fotoh instead?” I ask

“The Muslim Brotherhood have been useless in Parliament, why would they be any better if they were president as well? As for Fotoh, I just don’t trust him”

I query his interest in coming to a Moussa rally instead

“Moussa has a lot of experience, he knows a lot of people and is capable of dealing with the military.  We need security, it is a big problem right now.”

“Do you not mind how people are calling him a folol?”

“He is not a folol, he left so long ago!” he laughs and smiles briefly, before leaning forward “But Shafiq is, he cannot come to power, not another person from the military.  He is a military man and Moussa is an office man who is familiar with the military, surely that is better no?  I want to see what he has to say and maybe if I can I may try to ask him some questions”.  He offers me an Egyptian cigarette and orders me some tea.  “If he is good today, then who knows, I may vote for him”.

Amr Moussa was meant to arrive at the rally at 2pm.  He arrived at 11pm.  I left some 5 hours previous and cant help but feel he may have cost himself a vote.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics