Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Death of Middle East Conspiracy Theories–Syria


In my previous post (The Death of Middle East Conspiracy Theories – Egypt), I discussed how the political confusion in Egypt can be explained by identifying the interests and ideological principles of each faction and how these 2 factors shape the decisions of each actor on the political stage. The same concept can be applied to the events unfolding in the Syrian Revolution (or Civil War, depending on your perspective on what’s occurring there).

Syria 


To start off: The simplest of facts is that in Syria, we currently have 2 alliances fighting for survival and the destruction and annihilation of the other. The first of these alliances is the Free Syrian Army-Nusra Front alliance. The second of these is the Assad regime-Hezbollah alliance.
Of course, to get a clearer understanding, we need to briefly go over a simple fact: Peaceful protests, fueled by the successes of Tunisia and Egypt in toppling their corrupt leaders, filled the streets of Syria; demanding, of course, the removal of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Assad first relied on security personnel and state-sponsored thugs to deal with the situation. Their failure at ending the peaceful revolution lead Assad to decide to use military brute force. Military personnel who rejected the idea of killing their own people began to split off and formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA for short). They were originally formed to defend protesters, yet as Assad’s violence against the protesters escalated, and as more military forces joined the FSA, a full-scale war eventually formed.

At this stage, Assad is merely interested in surviving and crushing the revolution. The revolutionaries (or rebels, however you see them) at this stage are also interested in surviving, crushing Assad’s regime, and establishing the foundations of a new country.
At this point, 2 new factions step into the scene: The Sunni Nusra Front (جبهة النصرة Gabhat Al-Nusra) and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Both of these factions have one thing in common: Both have an Islamist ideology. Yet the one thing that differentiates them is the reason they ally themselves to opposing camps: One is Sunni, while the other is Shiite.

Hezbollah has had a historic alliance with the Assad regime. The Assad regime also has had a historic alliance with Iran, which has enormous influence of Hezbollah.
Despite Assad’s Baathist (a form of pan-Arabism that existed in Iraq and Syria) ideology, he eventually found himself isolated from Arab nations as their relations with the United States grew through the years. This lead him to search for support in the Shiite nation. (Assad himself is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiism which mainstream Shiites themselves consider to be a false sect.) Iran welcomed Syria as a close ally with open arms. This relationship grew as both countries began to be isolated internationally, with the exception, of course, of Russia and China. (Iran became isolated due to its nuclear project, and Syria became isolated by the West due to his hostile language toward Israel, and the fact that he never signed a peace treaty with the occupier of the Golan Heights.)
Hezbollah supplied the Assad regime with some of its own brigades from Lebanon. Numerous battles between the revolutionary alliance in Syria and Hezbollah alone have taken place.
Assad has been a major sponsor for Hezbollah, supplying it with military equipment (and probably training). Losing an ally in Syria would force Hezbollah to rely only on Iranian cargo ships that would sail from the Gulf of Arabia, through the Red Sea, and onto Lebanese shores; a much longer timespan that would prove to be inefficient in times of war, in comparison to immediate delivery of weapons from across the border.

The Nusra Front is similar to what we had in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Muslims from around the world travelling to fight against an oppressive regime they consider to be oppressing a Muslim population. Under the banner of jihad, Arab (including, of course, local Syrians), South Asian, East Asian, European, and American Muslims travelled to Syria and formed a various multiethnic Sunni-Islamic armed groups. The Nusra Front became one of those armed groups. (The group has alleged ties to Al-Qaeda.) (The group has managed to prove its major role in the war against the Assad regime. One Washington Post article published in August of last year described its growing “prominence in [the] war to topple Assad.” Another opinion article in the Washington Post published in the end of November last year described it as “the most aggressive and successful arm” of the anti-Assad alliance.)
(Another Islamist coalition of military brigades, the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front [SILF] has also managed to become a major participant in the war against Assad’s regime. According to a New York Times article published in April, 2013, this coaliition has distanced itself from the Nusra Front due to the latter’s allegiance to Al Qaeda.)

The two factions have reached somewhat of a stalemate so far, both constantly gaining and losing land.

Then comes the 21st of August, 2013. That day, the Assad regime launched chemical weapons at the farming region of Ghouta in the Rif Dimashq governorate. This event (though probably not the first use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime) sent a shock throughout the international community. The massacre that occurred then by the use of chemical weapons has lead the United States, along with some European nations, to declare that it may very well use force to punish the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons.

(And this is where I decide to delay the discussion of foreign intervention in Syria for another post.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Death of Middle East Conspiracy Theories - Egypt

People living in the Middle East consume 4 things: food, water, rumors, and conspiracy theories. At the center of these fantastic ideas is the almighty United States of America with its magical CIA that manages to penetrate even the most solid of structures. Of course secret societies such as the Freemasons add spice to these tales. The Zionist neighbor across the border is ‘the 51st State’ and whenever it and the ‘mother country’ differ on a matter, it’s the global deceptive media machine trying to trick us.

And then, depending on your ideological background, the US either supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists groups (including Al-Qaeda) or the liberal-socialist-secularist alliance (including the armies that always jump to their rescue).

There are no conspiracy theories. Things are more simple than that.

But, of course, to understand what is going on in the Middle East, we need to break it down to simple terms. First, we list the countries that play a role in the Middle East (not just the countries in it, and not the countries in it that don’t play a role).
  1. Egypt
  2. Syria
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
  5. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Countries (not including Qatar)
  6. Qatar
  7. The United States and the EU
  8. Russia
  9. China
  10. Israel
  11. Palestine
Then we list the religious divisions in the region.
  1. Sunni Islam: Present throughout the Middle East
  2. Shiite Islam: Heavy presence in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and some Gulf Countries
  3. Coptic Orthodox Christianity: Only present in Egypt
  4. Maronite Catholic Christianity: Present in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria
Then we list the various political ideologies in the region:
  1. Islamism
    1. The Muslim Brotherhood: Originated in Egypt, Present throughout the Middle East
    2. Mainstream Salafism: Present throughout the Middle East.
    3. Jihadist Salafism: Varying presence in the Middle East
    4. Shiite Islamists: Heavy presence in Lebanon and Iraq. The ruling ideology in Iran
  2. Nasserism: Originated in Egypt (during the reign of Gamal Abdel Nasser). Varying presence throughout the Middle East
  3. Socialism: Present throughout the Middle East
  4. Liberalism and Secularism: Present throughout the Middle East
  5. Nationalist Militarism: Currently the ruling ideology in Egypt. (Usually a mixture of some elements of 2 and 3)
To start off: The interests and ideological principles of each country are what guide it to take the decisions and actions it takes. And, in a number of cases, the interests and/or ideological principles of a nation or political faction may coincide with the interests and/or ideological principles of another.

That statement alone should already begin to simplify things.

We’ll discuss the current major hotspots in the region; the major players in those hotspots, and why each of those players took/takes the decisions it has taken/will take.
In this post, I’ll focus on Egypt. (Hopefully I don’t get bored and forget to do the rest later.)

Egypt

If you speak to a liberal, secularist, Nasserist, or a supporter of the current junta, he/she will speak about how the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists are puppets of the United States. If you speak to an Islamist, he/she will speak about how the junta, Nasserists, secularists, and liberals are puppets of the United States.

Simply put: The faction whose interests coincided with the interests of the United States changed rather quickly and dramatically over the past few months.

To start off: In no way do the ideological principles of Islamists coincide with those of the United States. Afghanistan would not have been attacked in 2011 if that was the case.And Israel would have probably had a harder time selling the idea of bombing Gaza to the international community if the US sided with Islamists. So my expectations are that America reluctantly tolerated the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling Egypt due to the fact that it coincided with the principles of democracy (which the US has been trying to market to the world for the past couple of centuries) given its rise to power through free and fair elections.

The increasing warmth of relations, then, between Egypt and Hamas probably irked Israel and the US, despite proving useful to diplomacy in November, 2012, when Morsi managed quickly to broker a ceasefire in record time (within a week!) between Israel and Hamas.

The reality of politics and ruling Egypt forced Morsi to place interests above theological principles during his time in power. The age-old Islamist hopes of cancelling the Camp David Treaty was deemed harmful to the interests and security of Egypt.

Yet, even with the compromises and Morsi’s diplomatic approach to attempting to resolve the crises facing a revolution-era Egypt, the Nasserist liberal, secular, and militarist elite and socialists considered Morsi’s rule to be a threat. Allying with remnants of the old Mubarak regime, they fought perhaps the fiercest political offensive against the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. To them, a successful Islamist president would mean the end of their political career.

Morsi’s political mistakes became fuel for his opposition, and, eventually, his popularity began to take a sharp drop after the first 5 months.

As the end of Morsi’s first year approached, and as electricity cuts, gas lines, and absence of security increased (and, of course, as attacks from the old media celebrities increased), Morsi’s popularity reached dangerously low levels. Having been distanced from the mainstream revolutionary factions, in a revolutionary Egypt, Morsi’s presidential term was under threat of being shortened by another revolutionary wave. In an effort to save the first democratic experience in Egypt from failing, he gave a speech to the nation a few days before the anniversary of his inauguration. He attempted to win over the revolutionary youth once again, and announced that he would take actions to bring about revolutionary change to the country.

Perhaps seeing Morsi’s presidency’s imminent doom, it seems that the US eventually supported the military coup that ousted Morsi on the 3rd of July, 2013. This perfectly matches the interests (though not necessarily the ideological principles) of the US administration; getting rid of an Islamist ruling entity, ending a flow of support to Hamas, and (hoping) Israel’s western neighbor still remains relatively stable.

The junta took dramatic steps to deal a heavy blow to the pro-Morsi (and, later, the anti-coup) camp. Islamist satellite channels were immediately taken off air and their personnel arrested. Morsi was taken to an undisclosed location. Khairat El Shater and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, 2 Islamist political heavyweights in Egypt, were arrested 2 days later. An anti-coup sit-in, that was already underway, received threatening leaflets that were dropped from military helicopters. Numerous massacres were committed by military and security personnel against peaceful protesters. A demonization campaign was broadcasted by every Egyptian satellite channel, radio station, and non-Islamist publication against anyone who opposed the junta. Muslim Brotherhood leaders and members found their bank assets frozen.

Footages of the bloody massacres and arrest-sprees against opponents of the junta began to fill international and American airwaves. Here, the American ideological principles of democracy and free-will were being questioned. The US administration began to find itself obliged to speak against the crimes committed by the junta. The administration announced that it would begin to ‘review’ the aid it gives to the Egyptian army, and cancelled joint military training it annually had since the Camp David Accords were signed.

Yet the interests of the US administration still force it to keep a certain level of relations with whoever is in charge of Egypt. A stable Egypt is important to it for the security of its closest ally (obviously I’m referring to Israel here), and the safety of naval transportation through the Suez Canal (both an economic and strategic interest). It also doesn’t want to burn all its cards now, so that in the event that the anti-coup movement fails completely, the US administration doesn’t find a complete deterioration of relations with Egypt.

Hamas was originally an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that broke off administratively, but not ideologically, when it took to armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. The Muslim Brotherhood, naturally, has always supported and sympathized with Hamas. Morsi worked to improve official Egyptian relations with the group. During Mubarak’s reign, when the rulers of Gaza met with Egyptian officials during negotiations or meetings, Mubarak employed intelligence officials to meet with them, avoiding meeting with them himself. Morsi ended that with the first visit of Hamas leaders to Egypt during his reign, meeting them himself in the presidential palace. This relationship proved to be useful during the November, 2013 Israeli offensive against Gaza, when Egypt managed to broker a fair ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel within one week since the start of hostilities.

Israel, an old enemy of Hamas and, naturally, of Islamist groups and allies of Hamas, was not very fond of the rise of Islamists to the seats of power in Egypt. When Morsi signed a typical administrative decree to appoint a new Egyptian ambassador to Israel, it leaked the document to the Israeli press in, what seemed to be, an effort to embarrass the Islamist president. Israeli media celebrated the moment Morsi was ousted. Strict orders were given to government officials not to express any reactions on the events in Egypt. As violence increased in Sinai, news spread that Israel was helping the Egyptian army deal with the armed groups in the peninsula.

The Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries (excluding Qatar) considered the Arab Spring a threat to their monarchial system of governance. They were also never really fond of the Muslim Brotherhood. During Morsi’s rule, they generally refrained from giving Egypt financial and energy aid while the country was dealing with an ailing economy and an energy crisis. Almost immediately, upon the announcement of the coup, these countries poured in aid in large quantities.

Since the launch of the satellite channel AlJazeera, Qatar has worked hard on becoming an important player in the international political field through the use of its soft power (the AlJazeera network, energy sources, and wealth). With the rise of the Arab Spring, Qatar found a golden opportunity to gain some more influence in Middle East politics. Over the years, before the Arab Spring, Qatar managed to market itself as the new promoter of pan-Arabism (and, in some cases, Islamic unity). As the dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya began to fall, Qatar supported the new ruling systems financially and energy-wise. It also aligned itself quickly with the new democratically-elected rulers. When Morsi was ousted, and with Egypt’s return to military rule, Qatar, wisely, took a business-as-normal approach, sending another cargo of fuel to Egypt to help survive through the energy crisis.

Russia and China have, so far, remained rather silent on the events. The only statement made by Putin on Egypt, so far, was said 4 days after the coup, in which he warned that violence may escalate in Egypt. According to Reuters, Putin said, “Syria is already in the grips of the civil war . . . and Egypt is moving in the same direction.” (In Egypt, rumors spread, at some point, that Putin would visit Egypt on one particular Wednesday. So far, that has never happened.)

Turkey’s long experience with coups has taught it one important lesson: Coups are bad for the country. Given that, and Erdogan’s Islamist-leanings (Turkish Islamism is, of course, a more liberal version than Egypt’s), it is only logical that Turkey would oppose the coup in Egypt. Erdogan wasted no time in denouncing the coup, the military junta, those who supported the coup and the junta, those who remained silent as the coup occurred, and anybody who refused to call the coup a coup. (Egyptian-Turkish relations have dramatically declined since the coup. Egypt’s toughest actions against Turkey so far have been: Summoning the Turkish ambassador and boycotting popular Turkish drama episodes. Turkey’s toughest actions against Egypt: Summoning the Egyptian ambassador and cancelling many economic and business deals.)


To briefly repeat what we just mentioned: Interests and ideological principles, not wild conspiracies of evil alliances, are what shape the decisions and actions of each player in the political field in Egypt. (Temporary) Political alliances are built when the interests and/or ideological principles of one faction lead it to support another against a third faction. In some cases, the importance of a faction’s interests may outweigh its principles, and, the next moment, its ideological principles may outweigh its some of interests.
And the world turns.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Rab'aa State of Mind

August 13th Anti-Coup Protest

When Egyptians split up into 2 camps on the 30th of June, nobody imagined how significant a large intersection in one of the suburbs of Cairo would become. 

Anti-Morsi protesters converged at Tahrir Square and in front of the Ittihadeya Palace. Morsi supporters gathered at the Rab’aa ElAdaweya Mosque and Nahda Square (located in front of Cairo University).

Large numbers of Morsi supporters camped at their locations. Anti-Morsi protesters would gather in large numbers from the afternoon till midnight, and leave a number of tents and campers to remain for the rest of the day.

On the 3rd of July, in the evening to be exact, the minister of defense Abdel-Fattaah ElSisi gave the statement in which he announced the ousting of Egypt’s first freely elected president. Opponents of Morsi cheered and celebrated throughout the streets of Egypt.

That night, and almost immediately after the statement, security forces stormed the offices of pro-Morsi satellite channels, arresting the staff of those channels and effectively placing it off air. AlJazeera’s offices were also stormed and its employees and management in Egypt arrested.

Khairat El Shater, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hazem Salaah Abu Ismail, a former potential presidential candidate, were arrested 2 days later.

Rab’aa ElAdaweya remained resilient despite the coup. (When I refer to Rab’aa, I’m also referring to Nahda Square as well.)

The message Rab’aa was delivering to the world immediately changed. It was no longer a sit-in in support of an elected president, but a statement of objection to military rule (symbolized by minister of defense AbdelFataah ElSisi) and a demand to return to the democratic process (symbolized by President Mohamed Morsi).

The junta wasted no time in trying to clear the protests with as little negative publicity as possible in the beginning. Military tanks, APCs, and personnel were positioned in areas near Rab’aa. Helicopters flew overhead, sometimes at low altitudes. Leaflets were dropped from the helicopters at times. These leaflets first addressed those at Rab’aa as a minority, then as members and followers of Islamism, and later as citizens of Egypt. The leaflets carried with them a rather hostile language that hinted at a forceful clearing of the square.

Egyptian media had an Orwellian style in the delivery of news. Those channels that were not closed constantly demonized those who participated in the anti-coup sit-ins. Egyptians who took to Rab’aa to voice their rejection of military rule were labeled as terrorists, brainwashed, destructive, archaic, foreign, or traitors. They were always called ‘Muslim Brotherhood members’ despite the large presence of non-Muslim Brotherhood protesters. These channels claimed that the sit-ins were armed; sometimes going as far as claiming they had heavy weapons and chemical weapons in some instances. There were also claims that those who tried leaving the sit-ins were tortured or killed. (I have known people who went, stayed, and left without experiencing any pressure or force to remain against their will.)

As the numbers at the sit-ins increased, the protesters attempted to extend the boundaries of their territory. Nahda Square experienced a few hit-and-run attacks on its sit-in. A group of Rab’aa protesters marched to the Social Club of the Republican Guard where it was believed that Morsi might be held. Military and security personnel opened fire and killed dozens of peaceful protesters at dawn in what was called the Republican Guard Massacre. When protesters pushed the border of the Rab’aa sit-in to the Memorial of the Unknown Soldier, security forces attacked, committing another massacre in which dozens more died.

Despite the media censorship of their views, the demonization campaign by pro-coup media outlets, the arrests of anti-coup activists and protesters, the military-security attacks on protests and despite the series of massacres, the protesters held their ground in perseverance at Rab’aa. Peaceful protesters stood steadfast through the summer heat and the fasting of the holy month of Ramadan.

An atmosphere of jubilation filled the square on the holiday of Eid ElFitr, as protesters celebrated both their success at surviving through the ordeals during the month of Ramadan, and the end of the obligatory fast. Playgrounds were made for children, and people exchanged greetings and congratulations.

In the morning of the 14th of August, 2013, the military junta launched the bloodiest massacre in Egypt’s modern history. Military and security personnel, equipment, and vehicles moved in. Shots were fired. Snipers, perched on rooftops of buildings near the sit-ins, killed innocent men, women, and children in cold blood. Ground forces pulled the trigger of machine guns, ending the lives of hundreds. The field hospital was stormed. Tents were burned to the ground, burning with it corpses that remained in them. Bulldozers cleared the streets of makeshift defenses and tents, along with bodies that had been placed near them.

Over a thousand men, women, and children died in Rab’aa, Nahda, and other squares across Egypt. The bravest of Egyptians died that day voicing their rejection of oppression, injustice, dictatorship, and military rule.

Rab’aa, once merely a large intersection in front of a mosque that many Egyptians hadn’t heard of, became a symbol of steadfastness, perseverance, and patriotic sacrifice. It has become a symbol of peaceful activism against brute force and violence.

Rab’aa has become a synonym of freedom, liberty, and dignity. Rab’aa has become an adjective expressing the state of being resolute and firm in one’s demand for freedom, justice, and liberty.

Despite the atrocities, massacres, and demonization campaigns, the anti-coup protests march on across Egypt. It seems that the Rab’aa state of mind remains ingrained in the hearts of many. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The 12th Century Repeated


The situation in the Middle East:

Palestine is occupied. Egypt is suffering from a bloody political conflict after a Vizier led his armed forces against the ruler. Syria is suffering from warring factions attempting to gain control of the Levant. The Turks are attempting to gain influence in the region.

That was the scenario in the 12th century. Frankish knights (crusaders) had occupied the eastern shores of the Mediterranean decades earlier. Emirs fought each other in Greater Syria over land and titles. Turkish emirs formed political alliances with various factions and managed to gain land and the support of local rulers. An Egyptian Vizier, Shawar, managed to overthrow his predecessor by force. This coup lead to a bloody political struggle for the control of Egypt. 

The situation in the Middle East:

Palestine is occupied. Egypt is suffering from a bloody political conflict after the minister of defense overthrew the elected president. Syria is suffering from a civil war between a dictator and rebel factions. The Turks are attempting to gain influence in the region. 

This is the scenario today. Zionists occupied Palestine decades ago. Bashar al-Assad is battling a rebellion after he attempted to forcefully bring an end to peaceful revolutionary protests. Egypt is suffering from a bloody political crisis after Abdel-Fataah ElSisi overthrew Egypt's first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup. Numerous massacres have already taken place in which hundreds of Morsi-supporters died when military and police forces attacked peaceful protests. And Turkey is attempting to gain more influence in the region through alliances with and support for various factions across the Middle East. 


History repeats itself once again.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Only a Dream?

We were celebrating. Fireworks exploded in the night sky. Music was playing all around us. Happy drivers beeped their car horns in musical rhythm jubilantly. Flags were waved high in the air. People greeted each other, congratulating each other, with smiles that stretched from cheek to cheek.

The future seemed so bright then, that we felt that the world would bloom with flowers by the end we achieved what we wanted.



Blood spilled onto the streets. Stones were thrown in response to rubber-coated and live bullets and teargas. Pavement was broken into fist-sized rocks with anger. People were yelling their lungs out as they carried the injured. Young men charged to the front, knowing that they may not see their families by the end of the day. Women and the elderly chanted slogans to bring their spirits up. Military helicopters flew at low altitudes, and angry men shouted at them and raised their fists at the general direction of the helicopters.

The future seemed bleak, and, as days passed, many complained of depression. Chaos, war, or just ongoing violence were words that spilled from our tongues when asked what the coming days held.


The above-mentioned scenes are written in chronological order: The first occurred on the 11th of February, 2011 - when millions of Egyptians spilled onto the streets in celebration of the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; The second occurred during the weeks that followed the military coup that removed Egypt's first elected president Mohamed Morsi on the 3rd of July, 2013. What occurred between the two events is a mixture of a counter-revolution that won ground and popularity, and a revolution that split and lost ground and popularity.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blown out of Proportion

I’m sure, a day ago, very few would have even heard of the film that has become the center of the news today. What was but a mention on the streets of some Islamic countries has grabbed attention from every media outlet, not because of the film itself and its attack on Islam, but because of the response that I would describe as immature.

What was supposedly supposed to be a peaceful protest changed entirely when a group of members of the Ultras White Knights (a group of young ultra-fanatical lovers of a sports club in Egypt) joined the protest.

A group of youth climbed the wall that encircled the American embassy, and took down the star-spangled banner, replacing it with a flag bearing the famous ‘Testimony of Faith.’

The anniversary of 9/11 has become an annual attempt at instigating anger among the Muslims around the world. It was just last year, if I am not mistaken, that an announcement was made that there would be a burning of the Quran. Uproar also occurred, and it died down later.

The energy caused by the anger should have been used to promote the Message of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him), rather than injure a promise made by the nation that no embassy would be attacked.

Invading an embassy in one’s own country that the nation is obligated to protect, and the burning of a flag is more of a display of a weakness, than it is of strength.

It is no sign of bravery and strength to break into a room in one’s home. But displaying the truth and standing by it against the storm is what we need to practice.

Much Change

Much change has occurred since the last post I made. (I was busy fixing my laptop, unfortunately).

Miracles occurred faster than expected. The ‘spare', as he was nicknamed, won the presidential elections. Morsi utilized the Sinai incident that killed over a dozen Egyptian soldiers to end the decades-long reign of the military, finally establishing a civilian rule over the country. A new government has been formed, with Hesham Kandil at its head. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces underwent changes. And many members and followers of the old regime have been swept away.

And more is yet to come.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Status

The current position of many who claim that fraud will be prevalent in the second round and won’t vote remind me of the age old question: What would you do if you knew that you have 24 hours left to live?

I mean, would you truly just sit there, watch what happens, and just accept it as it comes, or would you do your part, vote, and help prevent fraud?

Would you sit and wait for death, or actually do something useful before it comes?

Would you sit and wait for Shafiq to win, or actually do something useful and try to prevent him from winning?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Random Thought of the Week

Whenever an entity is placed at a position above the truth and the people, be that entity a man or government, it is bound to become corrupt for believing itself to be wiser than all whom he governs.

For that reason, the concept of socialism eventually leads to a corrupt government, for the government, believing itself to know what is best for those it governs, finds itself more worthy of governing than those outside its ranks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Face-Off that ended in a Draw

The Egyptian revolution is arriving at the most crucial stop along its path. One of the greatest political battles in the history of Egypt and the Middle East is unfolding.

On the 12th of February, 2011, it would have seemed outlandish if we were told that Omar Suleiman would run for the next presidential elections. Just 2 days before that date, Hosni Mubarak had delegated presidential authority to Omar Suleiman. And on the 11th of February, 2011, the whole world watched as Omar Suleiman announced that presidential authority was being transferred to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces after millions protested at the public squares throughout the nation demanding that both Mubarak and Suleiman step down.

Yet, as politics in this world has always been, those who took part in the revolution were in for a surprise on the 8th of April, 2012. On that day, and just minutes before the doors were closed for nominations, Omar Suleiman nominated himself (with thousands of signatures he miraculously collected within 24 hours).

A few days earlier, the Muslim Brotherhood made a tactical change in plans. The Brotherhood had – on the 10th of February, 2011, to be exact – promised not to field out a candidate for presidency, expecting, in return, understanding and cooperation from other ideological groups in Egypt, and assuming the good intentions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. As a response to both political isolation (on the intellectual-level, despite a continuing street-support and winning elections in various syndicates and universities) and a lack of cooperation between the parliament and the SCAF, the Brotherhood decided to send out perhaps one of their best – Khairat El Shater.

Those 2 men represented the decades-old rivalry between Egypt’s greatest political powers: the old National Democratic Party that, during Mubarak’s reign, governed Egypt; and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that Mubarak, Sadat, and Nasser had always feared as their real rival political force.

Omar Suleiman was a formidable column in the old structure, he supported Mubarak’s reign from behind curtains. Khairat ElShater was a formidable column within the Muslim Brotherhood, he helped finance the organization and played a major role in forming its political strategies and, after the 11th of February, 2011, worked hard towards formulating the organization’s economic, social, and political program for the nation (which he named مشروع النهضة, or the Revival Project).

Omar Suleiman gained a reputation similar to Vlad the Impaler, a man with no heart, who would kill, decapitate, and torture at will without hesitation. Khairat El Shater has gained a reputation of a powerbroker and a political mastermind, a man (it has been said) who controlled and lead one of the country’s most powerful political forces from behind bars and so persuasive that his foes respect his skill.

Quite surprisingly, destiny had it that both candidates would be banned from the competition. Omar Suleiman did not fulfill the geographical-numerical requirements regarding the nominations that were required to be considered a candidate. Khairat El Shater’s previous politically-motivated legal cases (from which he received pardon) prevented him from running.

At the moment, 13 names remain as candidates, and still, anything remains possible.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Latest Milestone

The Egyptian Revolution, which began with protests that took place on the 25th of January, 2011, is reaching its latest, and one of the most crucial milestones.
The doors of new presidential-candidacy nominations closed today at 2:00 pm. And the competition is just getting started.
On the 23rd and 24th of May, 2012, Egyptians will head to the polling stations (those living abroad will be heading to Egyptian embassies and consulates) to elect the first freely-elected president of the Arab Republic of Egypt 1 year, 3 months, and 12 days after the people successfully toppled Egypt’s last pharaoh.
Prior to that date, on the 26th of April, the final list of candidates for the presidency of Egypt will be announced. And prior to that date, the Presidential Elections Council will announce whether any of the currently-listed candidates does not actually fulfill the requirements and criteria stated by law and the constitution.
And the current list is as follows:
  1. Ahmed Aoud AlSaeedy (Nominated by the Egypt National Party [حزب مصر القومي])
  2. Abu ElEzz AlHariry (Nominated by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party [حزب التحالف الشعبي الاشتراكي])
  3. Mohamed Fawzy Eisa (Nominated by the Democratic Generation Party [حزب الجيل الديمقراطي])
  4. Hossam KhairAllah (Nominated by the Democratic Peace Party [حزب السلام الديمقراطي])
  5. Amr Moussa (Nominated by over 40,000 citizens)
  6. Abd ElMeniem Abu ElFetouh (Nominated by over 40,000 citizens)
  7. Hazem Salah Abu Ismael (Nominated by over 150,000 citizens and 47 members of parliament)
  8. Hesham ElBastawisi (Nominated by the National Progressive Unionist Party [حزب التجمع الوطني التقدمي الوحدوي])
  9. Mahmoud Hussam (Nominated by over 30,000 citizens)
  10. Ibraheem Ghareib (Nominated by over 30,000 citizens)
  11. Mohamed Sileem ElAwa (Nominated by 30 members of parliament)
  12. Mohamed Khairat ElShater (Nominated by 277 members of parliament)
  13. Ahmed Shafeeq (Nominated by over 60,000 citizens)
  14. Hamdeen Sabbahy (Nominated by over 40,000)
  15. Ayman Nour (Nominated by the New Egyptian Tomorrow Party [حزب غد الثورة المصري الجديد])
  16. Mamdouh Qotb (Nominated by the Civilization Party [حزب الحضارة])
  17. Abdallah AlAshaal (Nominated by the Authenticity Party [حزب الأصالة])
  18. Khalid Ali (Nominated by 32 members of parliament)
  19. Mohamed Moursi (Nominated by the Freedom and Justice Party)
  20. Omar Suleiman (Nominated by over 30,000 citizens)
  21. Hussam Khairat (Nominated by the Egypt Arab Socialist Party)
  22. Ashraf Barouma (Nominated by the Egypt ‘Kenana’ Party [حزب مصر الكنانة])
  23. Murtada Mansour (Nominated by the Egypt National Party [حزب مصر القومي])
The first 2 names were officially nominated on the 13th of March, 2012, and the last 7 names were officially nominated on the last day for nominations, the 4th of April, 2012.
The representation of ideologies and perspectives and identities is extremely variant in the list of candidates. Hazem Salah Abu Ismael represents the Salafist ideology. A number of socialist parties pushed forth their own candidates, including Hussam Khairat and Abu ElEzz AlHariry. 2 candidates come from pan-Arab perspectives, AbdAllah Alashaal and Hamdeen Sabbahy. (What is interesting about Alashaal’s nomination is that the Salafist Alasala (Authenticity) Party were those who nominated him).
And on opposing sides, we find 2 Muslim Brotherhood candidates and 4 pro-Mubarak candidates. On the MB corner we find Khairat ElShater and Mohamed Moursi (who is seen as a reserve-candidate in case Khairat ElShater is taken off the list for any reason), and on the pro-Mubarak corner we find Murtada Mansour, Amr Moussa, Ahmed Shafeeq, and (former chief of intelligence) Omar Suleiman.
This is, perhaps, the election of the century. And anything is possible to happen.

THE UNVEILING OF THE CONSPIRACY

Previously, I wasn’t very inclined to agree with conspiracy theories. Yet the conspiracy that is beginning to unfold and unveil itself here, in Egypt, is perhaps one of the most outstanding and realistic conspiracies in history.
The curtains began to open to reveal this conspiracy a few days ago. However, the actual plan was already in effect since (perhaps and most probably) the 11th of February. In what many saw as a noble and honorable action on the part of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Omar Suleiman announced the transfer of presidential power to the Military Council. And all of Egypt erupted in celebration. Yet it was in that act (that many at that time considered to be patriotic) that the conspiracy (may have been) hatched.
It is no secret to anybody who has paid attention or read into Egyptian politics over that last 3 decades (and 6, if we were to take into account Sadat and AbdelNasser’s reign) that the ruling authorities have always had a sense of animosity towards the Muslim Brotherhood. There was perhaps not 1 year during those years in which at least one prison was empty of a member of the Brotherhood. And there was not 1 media organization that had even the slightest ties with the ruling system that did not spread (false) accusations against the Muslim Brotherhood. It seemed as though the ruling powers only had 2 things they worried about: corrupting the nation and attacking the Brotherhood.
And anybody with an understanding of the nature and personality of the majority of the Egyptian people, as well as the real potential and popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood had an understanding as to what to expect with regards to power shifts once the revolution toppled the old pharaoh.  The Brotherhood would have eventually gained unrivaled power in the political system. (Yet to the surprise of many, the Salafists came around to become the Brotherhood’s main political competitor.)
And the old gang would stop at nothing to prevent that from happening.
Looking back at the post-Mubarak events, it seems that the first step in the conspiracy (that one group later saw as a plot to divide the revolutionary front and another group saw as an early lesson and practice in democracy and elections) was actually an attempt at portraying the Brotherhood as a power-hungry entity to the other ideological groups that differ from the Islamist political thought. Despite the fact that the council that was selected to change a few articles in the constitution were from a variety of ideological backgrounds, the media zoomed in on only 2 members: Sobhi Saleh (a member of the Brotherhood and a legal expert and lawyer) and Tareq AlBishry (though not a member of any Islamist organization, yet an Islamist-leaning legal expert).
The other splitting point of the constitutional-amendment predicament was that the amendments called for early parliamentary elections before the creation of a constitution, and also noted that the parliament would elect the members of a constitutional assembly that would write Egypt’s new constitution. Although the objective was to speed up the transfer of authority to a civil government, political opponents of the Brotherhood objected to that for the fact that it was predicted that the Brotherhood would win the majority of seats in the parliament. And so the media focused on those aspects as well.
In the game of politics, in order to win against an opponent, it is best to understand his way of thinking, his objectives, and what would either stop him from reaching those objectives or delay them until you gain a better ground.
The old system understood it from the start: The Muslim Brotherhood wants the transfer of power from the Military Council to be transferred to a civil government as soon as possible, with parliamentary elections to take place at the earliest possible date. And so all was done to delay both of those objectives.
Events took place in ways that were aimed to instigate the revolutionary anger among the youth. And at each event, the young revolutionists would run down to the streets and protest, and the old system would begin killing, fuelling the fires of anger even more.
And at each event, the Brotherhood would take a step back and refrain from participating in the protests. The youth would interpret lack of action and participation as either a deal struck with the Military Council, or simply selling out the revolution for personal gains. The Brotherhood would claim that the event was a bait to lure members of the Brotherhood in and create a status of greater chaos and blame it on the Brotherhood.
And again, the media would portray the Brotherhood as both striking deals with the ruling powers and selling out the revolution for personal gains, ruining the public image of the Brotherhood more.
And so the parliamentary elections finally took place. The Muslim Brotherhood won the most significant majority (though not the absolute majority, the 50%+1). Only to face 3 more obstacles.
The first of these obstacles came in the form of a chaotic aftermath of a soccer match that ended in a bloody massacre. The parliament created a fact-finding group. The media, again, played into the hands of the old system, belittling the efforts of the parliament.
The second of these obstacles was a militarily-chosen government that remained so complacent that it actually had negative impact on a country that was already struggling from revolutionary stress. And so with current crises on one hand, demands for revolutionary legislations on another, and demands for the toppling of the government on yet another, and with media focusing its lenses on the negativity of the parliament, the public image of the Muslim Brotherhood (despite sharing the parliamentary burden with other political entities) continued to decline.
The Muslim Brotherhood then made an attempt to improve its public image. It publicly demanded the Military Council to dissolve the government. However, with the media’s ever-focus on the Brotherhood, this act was portrayed as an attempt at reaching for more power, rather than calling for a transfer of power to a civil-selected government.
In a similar publicly-announced demand, the Muslim Brotherhood publicly questioned the Military Council’s intentions. In response, the Military Council, in a threatening tone, called on the Brotherhood to learn from ‘historical mistakes.’ That was a clear reference to a campaign of mass arrests of members of the Brotherhood in 1954. Surprisingly, the media considered those statements to be merely an act for the public and without real substance.
Then came perhaps the most controversial move the Muslim Brotherhood ever made: it chose from among its members a candidate for the presidential elections (when it had previously stated it wouldn’t). Khairat ElShater, known by many as the political and economic mastermind of the organization, was chosen by a majority vote by the Brotherhood. (This was most probably the Brotherhood’s response to the threat made by the military council.) And, of course, the media attacked the Brotherhood for breaking its word.
And then, the conspiracy was exposed. Omar Suleiman, the former chief of intelligence and the vice president during a part of the 18 days of the revolution, announced that he would be running in the presidential elections. And the reason he stated for his nomination: To protect the revolution from the Muslim Brotherhood.
And rather than labeling Omar Suleiman as a former member of Mubarak’s inner circle, and rather than labeling his stated reason for running for elections as laughable (given that he was the chief of intelligence during the first few days of the revolution and the vice president through the remaining days, while Khairat ElShater was imprisoned and while the Brotherhood was participating in the protests), the media began to label him as a worthy candidate and a respectable individual.
These are, perhaps, the most crucial crossroads of the Egyptian revolution. It is that point in which all sides either make it or break it. It has reached the point where both the old system, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all who participated in the revolution, face the famous Shakespearean quote: To be or not to be.
If the old system gets out of this crucial point alive, it would most probably mean that the Brotherhood would face another 1954 scenario, and that anybody who took part in the revolution is a potential inmate at a prison, and that is to put it lightly.
A victory of the Brotherhood (or anybody supported by the Brotherhood or with close ties to them) would ultimately mean that the tombstone has finally been laid upon the burial spot of the old system.
This is the actual point that everybody spoke about when they mentioned that: A revolution never ends half way, and when it does, it ultimately means the end of the revolutionists.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Such Fools We Are


Before a little over than a month ago, I still had some optimistic views regarding the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. After all, they obliged Hosni Mubarak to resign and refused orders from Mubarak to fire live bullets at the protesters. They also allowed the first free and transparent referendum in Egypt to take place. And, of course, all the ‘king’s men’ were arrested and sent to prison during SCAF’s reign.

But then skepticism started to get the better of me. The first reason for this was their increasing acceptance of the ‘above-constitutional articles,’ despite the fact that they claim that they stand at an equal distance from all parties. (And many parties and presidential candidates and political figures refuse the idea of those articles, given that they act as a ‘decree’ over the people’s will.) Then came Bastawisi’s version of those ‘above-constitutional’ articles and with it a nice piece of sweets for the Supreme Council: The army becomes an ‘assurer’ of those articles, and ‘protects’ the constitution. (This isn’t a secret or a rumor, Hesham ElBastawisi himself announced it, and, when asked once about it, he even stated that it was to “reassure the army for a limited time, only.” As though we are in a position today to play tricks with the SCAF, and as though the SCAF won’t play tricks later when we try to cancel those articles.)

The first thing that came to mind as soon as I heard of Bastawisi’s proposal was Turkey before Erdogan. The army there was an assurer of the secularist identity of the nation, constitutionally speaking. But, of course, whenever any entity is placed in a position with unchecked power, there is no way you can question its exercising of that power. And because of that unchecked power, whenever a civil government in Turkey came to power and had interests that did not please the high-ranking officers, a coup would take place and the excuse would be, of course, safeguarding the secularist identity and the stability of the nation. Coups took place in 1960, 1971, and 1980. The ruling AK Party (The Justice and Development Party lead by Erdogan) uncovered a number of coup plots during recent years, yet they managed to prevent them by filing lawsuits against the officers who were responsible. That wasn’t the form of republic I was dreaming of while taking part in the revolution.

And, of course, we didn’t come up with a revolution against a military leader to be placed under the supervision of a military council for the next 100 years.


Another problem with Bastawisi’s proposal is related to the military budget. Rather than call for more transparency, Bastawisi proposes that we stick to the status quo: Their budget is only a figure in the nation’s budget, and only the top generals of the armed forces have the right to discuss and know any details of that figure. And so, we would be sitting for another 100 years knowing that a big portion of the US aid goes to the armed forces, and knowing that the armed forces has a humongous budget, yet not knowing anything about where that money is actually coming from and being spent on. We’d be placing absolutely blind trust in the army again. No change, really.


In addition, any laws being proposed that have anything to do with the armed forces, according to Bastawisi’s proposal, must be approved by the armed forces. 


The problem, however, is that, instead of ignoring these sweet treats and truly remaining at an equal distance from all parties and political entities, SCAF announced over a month ago that it had formed a committee that would come up with a list of guidelines (advices for the people, as though we aren’t ready enough for democracy, as Omar Suleiman once said) to guide us ‘unprepared’ and ‘foolish democracy-loving’ citizens when we form the constitution we (excuse me, I mean they) want the country to be ruled by. And of course, rather than stick to the original idea, that these guidelines were guidelines for how the constitution would be formed, the members of that committee (including Tohany ElGebaly, whom Hosni Mubarak, and, as rumor has it, Suzanne Mubarak, appointed as a member of the Supreme Constitutional Court) twisted it to become articles that guided the constitution itself, or, in other words, ‘above-constitutional’ articles.


Now let’s leave that issue, which is quite controversial, to the side. There is one issue that has exposed the SCAF, and it’s an issue we can all agree upon.


The recent Israeli ‘incident’ has proven (at least to me) that Mubarak-era foreign policies are still as they are. The SCAF’s refusal to bow to public pressure to show anger over the death of the Egyptian soldiers and officers by Israeli fire is the same as the Mubarak strategy of remaining silent when an Egyptian soldier or officer is killed and taking ‘monetary’ compensation instead, without a formal apology.


And the wording of the statement by the SCAF and the Ministries itself seemed absolutely repulsive, in my opinion. Rather than calling what Israel had committed a “crime” (جريمة), they referred to the event as merely an “incident” (حادث), as though the killing of a member of the Egyptian Armed Forces is something regretful, yet its occurrence is not out of the ordinary, just as car crashes are incidents that are regretful, but not out of the ordinary.


But the idea of kicking them out of authority at the moment is unreasonable. The main reason is that there is no other proper alternative other than to speed up the elections a bit. Presidential committees are unreasonable. Every committee the SCAF came up with for other purposes so far was extremely controversial, with about half of the political parties and figures in support of the members and the other half absolutely rejecting its formation in the first place. That is with regards to little law-forming and political-discussions committees. A committee that will govern Egypt will bring along with truckloads of controversy and problems that we are not in luxury to deal with during these times.


The SCAF, despite its current political games, is perhaps the most neutral entity that is capable of ruling the country for the interim period. (Judges are not fit to be politicians. They practice law, only making decisions when the issue is 100% certain, which isn’t the case with politics, where uncertainty is abound.)


The longer SCAF stays on the seats of authority, however, the longer they will be tempted to stay. Power has its problems, as it is one of the most addictive concepts to mankind so long as it remains unchecked. The SCAF currently holds the legislative (law-making) and executive (law-enforcing) powers in its hands, and in many instances flexes some judicial powers through its military courts. The longer we allow SCAF to stay in power, the more of a pharaoh we make out of it. For that reason it is in the best interests of this nation that we pull the election dates sooner, so the generals may return to their bases and leave the seats of power as soon as possible.


And to give them constitutional powers above the people’s will is to ruin the hopes of many who have really fought for a civil state away from the hands of the military.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Living through Dramatic and Historic Moments


I highly doubt that even the most experienced, skilled, and professional screenwriter or playwright could have ever written what we have been witnessing since the first moment of 2011. Yet God, as it has always been the case, produces before us a most spectacular and magnificent chapter in the history of mankind.

It is not a common pattern that whole systems and regimes are toppled and foreign policies of all the countries in the world change all within a short period of time. And what is even rarer is that such changes go along with the real interests of the people of the countries being affected.

There has always been talk since the 11th of February that foreign interests will be playing a major part in the political events in Egypt. The idea of a free, independent, and self-sustainable Muslim country (especially if Arab) is a threat to Western-Israeli interests in the region.

I had expected events to unfold rather peacefully and with more dialogue than separation and disunity. Yet the interests of the different political factions seemed to overcome the members of these factions after the ousting of Mubarak. The shape each party wanted the nation to be in began to take the center focus of political talk, with arguments regarding the form, identity, and structure of the nation consuming up time and energy that was needed in other aspects of the nation-building process.

And, apparently, because of Egypt’s influence on the Islamic and Arab world, along with the impact of its geographical location (especially the fact that it borders Palestine), the West and Israel have interests in mending, molding, or at least suggesting the form, identity, and structure the new Egypt will take.
It is not hard to realize from the past decades that the last entity the West wants leading an Arab or Muslim country is an Islamist entity. Despite all their claims of their support for democracy in the Middle East, every time that support was tested, it failed. Take the Algerian experience as an example. When the Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of parliamentary elections in Algeria, rather than support the new democratic experience in the Arab world, the US, by turning a blind eye to the events, gave the green light to the Algerian government to begin security operations against the Islamists, forcing the Islamists to take up arms in defense of their right to exist as Algerian citizens free to take part in the political life of the nation.

A more recent example is the parliamentary elections that took place in Palestine in 2006. Prior to those elections, Hamas was focused only on resistance and the development of the Palestinian society. The Bush cabinet had some sort of belief that any free elections in the Arab world would bring about (what they called) a ‘moderate’ government. (In the Palestinian situation, their version of a ‘moderate’ government would be a Fatah-ruled government.) The US pressured and persuaded Fatah to encourage Hamas to take part in the parliamentary elections of 2006. Contrary to the US’s hopes, and as anybody who understands the Middle East would have expected, Hamas won the seats needed to form a majority government. However, seeing the need for a national-unity government, Hamas began to offer Fatah ministries. Yet, with pressure from the US, Fatah refused. The US and Israel began to use their influence on the so-called international community to isolate Hamas more and more.

It is no surprise to see that Egypt would be no exception to this pattern. The American support for the revolutionary experience in Egypt is not for democracy as it should be, with all partners of the country taking part in forming the government the people want, but rather the democracy America and Israel want from us, with only those whose interests do not collide with Israel’s interests to take part and all else to the side.

While we have been trying to rebuild the nation (politically), the Israeli government has been facing pressure from protests around occupied Palestine calling for better housing and living conditions (which would, if put into practice, would mean more settlements). As is the practice with previous Israeli governments, the current government tried to instigate trouble from Gaza in order to switch to focus from domestic problems to security and defense issues.

At the same time 2 resistance officers in Gaza were assassinated by Israeli airstrikes, some ‘gunmen’ suddenly appeared by the Egyptian-Israeli border firing at the Israeli side of the border. Israel responded with aircraft (most probably a helicopter), firing at the ‘gunmen’, and killing an Egyptian officer and two soldiers.

It is important to note here that this was not the first time since the Camp David peace treaty was signed that an Egyptian was killed by Israeli fire. Following is a short list of incidents in which Egyptians (civilians and security personnel) were killed or injured by Israeli fire.

12, November, 2000: (civilian) Solaiman Qomeiz injured by Israeli gunfire along with his aunt while collecting olives

April, 2001: (civilian) Milad Mohamed Hameda martyred by Israeli gunfire while attempting to cross the border to Gaza

9 May, 2001: (security) Ahmed Eisa injured by Israeli gunfire

June 2001: (security) Elsayed Elgharib Mohamed Ahmed died from injuries caused by Israeli gunfire

28 February, 2002: (civilian – 5 year-old child) Faris ElQambiz injured by Israeli gunfire

18 November, 2004: (security) 3 Egyptian soldiers martyred by a tank strike along the Egyptian-Gaza border

12 December, 2007: (security) Mohamed Abdel Mohsen ElGeneidy martyred by Israeli gunfire

27 January, 2008: (civilian) Hamedan Solaiman martyred by Israeli gunfire

27 February, 2008: (civilian – 14 year-old child) Samaah Nayef martyred by Israeli gunfire

22 May, 2008: (civilian) ‘Aish Solaiman martyred by Israeli gunfire

17 August, 2009: (security) Egyptian soldier injured by Israeli gunfire

18 August, 2011: (security) 1 Egyptian officer and 2 soldiers martyred by Israeli gunfire

We aren’t calling for war, because we’re simply not prepared for that now. But we are calling for is a response that rises to the seriousness and importance of the situation. To expect anything from Israel is simply ignoring their history and current practices. Israeli investigations regarding international issues always tend to somehow support their side of the story, or the story they want to sell to their people.

The expulsion of the Israeli ambassador isn’t a declaration of war, nor is it a cancellation of a peace treaty. And speaking of the peace treaty, it is about time that we renegotiated the articles of that treaty that go against our sovereignty on our own land. When we are forced to ask permission before adding an additional soldier every time we wish to, then there is no Egyptian sovereignty on Sinai.

The values of the revolution were not made only for internal politics, but for foreign relations as well. Dignity and honor are not only gained by cleaning from within, but also by standing tall and keeping our heads up high in front of our rivals around the world.

It is of extreme importance that all political parties and factions put their differences aside now and work together to rebuild Egypt in the shortest time period possible so we can rise up to the seriousness of the matter. It is important that every Egyptian, regardless of his or her political background, takes part in the political life of this country today so that the best of ideas are placed on the table to build a better Egypt today.

And may the martyrs rest in Heaven. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today we Witness and Write History in the Making


Prior to the Tunisian Revolution (or, as they call it, the Jasmine Revolution), and therefore prior to the January 25th Revolution in Egypt, I had become pessimistic and thought that no Arab population would ever be able to remove its dictator and oppressor alone.

I had seen numerous opportunities gone to waste. And the more I reflected on the stories my grandfather told me of the political oppression of Nasser and Sadat’s era, and stories I’ve read of other political activists as well, the more I was convinced that the general public cared less about politics and how politics affects their daily life.

Yet the news of the ousting of the former Tunisian president Ben Ali changed that perception entirely. I suddenly had hope that change can come sometime soon to Egypt as well. Yet, as we are told, any revolution or public uprising requires an igniting event, one event that will light up the anger held in from all the years of oppression, to suddenly kindle the flames of revolutionary anger, to perform what was once thought to be impossible. And I, therefore, believed that whatever change would come would have to wait until that igniting event takes place.

Suddenly, the idea of a revolution spread amongst Egyptian youth on the internet on social networks such as facebook and twitter. And what was more interesting was that this ‘planned’ revolution even had a ‘start date’ to it. At first I was skeptic of the idea. First: there was no ‘igniting’ event. Second: what kind of revolution has a planned ‘start date’ that is announced publicly? The Tunisian revolution lit up when a street-seller was humiliated and burned himself in protest against that humiliation. Nothing in the few days prior to January 25th occurred that I thought would have a similar impact. (It was that skepticism that pulled me back from participating on January 25th, yet as events unfolded, I decided to join on January 28th.)

When I later thought about it, I realized that there were numerous igniting events that lit up the revolution. And the match that lit them all up was the major victory of the Tunisian revolution, offering to us a beacon of hope that, as Obama once put it, “Yes, we can.”

There was no one single cause for the revolution. All the events during the past few years fueled up the tank that the Tunisian Revolution lit up. The level of fraud that took place during the parliamentary elections of last year angered many. The death of Sayed Bilal, a young man who was tortured to death because he refused to falsely confess that he took part in the Alexandrian church bombing, angered many, especially Islamist youth.  The death of Khaled Said, another victim of torture, also fueled the anger of many around the nation.
And we cannot forget the corruption and oppression that took place throughout Mubarak’s reign in power. Many (tens, hundreds, and possibly thousands) political prisoners died from torture during the past 60 years. Hundreds, and probably thousands, died from food poisoning that could have been prevented. Train crashes caused by lack of maintenance and proper management (all results of the corrupted system) killed many throughout the years. Many pilgrims died returning home from Mecca as the ferry they were on sank. Hundreds and thousands died throughout these decades not because of low-level corruption, but because the heads of state sponsored corruption either by ordering the elimination of political opponents and activists, appointing corrupt officials, or by keeping corrupt officials in their offices.

It was all those events of all those years that filled up the gas tank that the Tunisian Revolution lit up. It is the martyrs, not only of the events of the revolution itself, but the martyrs of the decades of oppression, corruption, injustice, and carelessness as well, who are the reasons behind we saw on the 3rd of August (the 3rd of Ramadan). For the first time in modern history, an Arab leader is not only removed out of office by his people, but judged by a civil court by proper judicial procedures.

It was historic. In the same hall Mubarak spoke his last speech before the revolution began, there he was, locked in the defendants’ cage on a stretcher, accused of conspiring to kill Egyptian citizens, no longer being called “President,” and listening to the attendees referring to the ‘President of the Tribunal’ as “Mr. President.” There he was, the man whose words were law, listening to the list of accusations being read in public and being watched around the world. There was the ‘Pharaoh’ of our time, locked away and tried by the people of Egypt.

This is history in the making. The events that occurred and the events that are still to come during this year and for the years to come are lessons that will be taught for generations. These are the foundations of a proper nation.

The nation we look forward to is a nation of justice, dignity, and tolerance.

And speaking of tolerance, I would also like to bring up the issue of the protests we all witnessed on the 29th of July. What we saw that day isn’t a threat to the nation, but rather another lesson that we all must learn. The people who stood in Tahrir Square are not aliens from another planet, nor are they a group of immigrants that came from another country. These are not man labor that we imported from the Gulf or the Indian Subcontinent. These are a group (or, rather, groups) of Egyptian citizens that were isolated culturally and politically and stereotyped by state-sponsored media during the past 60 years as well. (In the case of the ElJama’a ElIslamiya, a group that has reformed to a peaceful movement, and was still isolated.) These are a significant portion of the society we live in that many of us have ignored and rather than listening from them, many of us have listened to the stereotypes that the media has been trying to feed us. They went to Tahrir Square peacefully to peacefully speak their mind, and left the Square peacefully. As Egyptians, they, too have the right to protest and to speak their thoughts freely.

Yes, there was a lack of wisdom among some of the slogans shouted by a number of them, yet we cannot, today, ask for freedom of speech for ourselves and refuse that same freedom for others. It is not by isolation that we solve the problem of ‘extremism,’ but by dialogue, openness, and transparency. To truly build a nation of tolerance, we must accept the idea that we can allow others whom we differ with to speak their mind.

The old system was built on the idea that by stereotyping different groups of the society, and selling those stereotypes within the society to different segments, one can rule more easily when the citizens fear each other more than they fear their oppressor. As the oppressor is now being tried in court and facing the rule of law (after his rule was once law), let us begin to clean out the intolerance that is within ourselves and work together to clean out intolerance from Egypt, so we can all work together for a better future for the country. 

(written on the 6th of August)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Enough Pessimism and Negativity


If there is one phrase I’ve hated since the revolution began, it would definitely be, “What has the revolution achieved?” (Usually said in a sarcastic tone, giving the impression that nothing has been achieved.)

That is the most pessimistic phrase I have ever heard in the past few months. Millions of people did not go out and protest for 18 straight days for to hear those words. The martyrs definitely did not die in vain. And the country’s economy did not go through some extremely tough times for no return.

And I would like to take this opportunity to prove the idea that nothing has been achieved wrong.

If the revolution did not achieve anything except for one achievement; that achievement would most definitely be the ousting of Mubarak. After a 30-year dictatorial reign of oppression, injustice, corruption, and cruelty at his hands, his ousting would be enough, in my opinion, for the revolution to be considered even somewhat of a success. And very few people had even dreamed of him leaving the presidential office except in the case of death. (There was even a joke that was widespread, that a man asked him to deliver his farewell speech to the people, and his reply was, “Where are the people going?”)

Another achievement would be eliminating the idea of the inheritance of the presidency. With the ousting of Mubarak, his son, Gamal, has absolutely no chance of ruling Egypt (especially given that he is behind bars.)

A third achievement would be the end of one of the most corrupt governments in Egypt’s history. The end of Habib elAdly’s stay in the Ministry of the Interior by itself is a great achievement, as well as other infamous corrupt officials such as Sameh Fahmi, Mohamed Garana, Aboul Gheit, Yusuf Boutrous Ghaly, Hatem ElGabali, and others.

Another achievement is the dissolving of the People’s Assembly and the Consultative Council (مجلسي الشعب والشورى ), especially after the most fraudulent elections ever held in Egypt.

A fifth achievement is that many famous corrupt officials, whom we never dreamed would leave their positions in government except by Mubarak’s orders, are now locked behind bars, where both we and they never thought they would be before the 25th of January.

Another great achievement would be the first free and fair referendum in Egypt’s history (despite our opinions about the outcome or why it was done); that for the first time the Egyptian people are given an opportunity to express their opinion on an issue that affects the politics of the nation peacefully and without the need of a protest is by itself an achievement, and it helped prove wrong the famous phrase that Omar Suleiman once said (and that NDP members and Hosni Mubarak himself probably believed) that the Egyptian people are not yet ready for democracy.

Another achievement is the fact that Egyptians will finally have the opportunity soon to elect those who will truly represent them in parliament and a president who will truly be chosen by the free will of the people.

And perhaps the most important achievement is the attainment of free speech. We are, today, capable of expressing our opinions about anything regarding the politics and leadership of this nation without having fear of being detained, tortured, or exiled for those opinions. And we are also free today to protest against any wrongdoing on the streets of our nation.

Yes, there is still more that needs to be done. Some areas of the country are still infested by the disease we call corruption. Yet let us not let the burden of the tasks yet to come eliminate from our memory or our minds the fact that we did achieve what was once thought to be unachievable. Let us celebrate our achievements as we continue to build a better nation.

(written on 22nd of July)

The People First


The past few months have witnessed probably the worst period of the revolution. The referendum on the constitutional amendments brought about a split within the ranks of the revolution. On the one hand, people are calling for the formation of a constitution before elections are made. On the other, people are demanding that we stick to the timeline already established and agreed upon by the majority of the people, and that is that parliamentary elections be made in September, and the elected members of parliament select the members of constitutional committee within 6 months of their first assembly. And a third group calls for a compromise between the two sides, keep the people’s will as is, yet delay the elections a few months more.

All of this talk is being done in some other world, or at least that is what the common Egyptian thinks.

I’ve actually took it upon myself to see what the ‘regular’ Egyptian citizen thinks of all this talk. I’ve spoken to taxi drivers, who drive all day in the congested streets of Egypt just to give the taxi owner the larger sum of the money he managed to collect, only to keep hardly enough money to put bread on the table. I’ve also spoken to Egyptian citizens who travel from and to work in microbuses and Alexandria’s tram.

And what I’ve learned actually proved to me the hypotheses I’ve been living with since the major victory of the Egyptian Revolution (since Mubarak was ousted out of office), that the ‘thinkers,’ politicians, and the ‘political elite’ (or the نخبة as they are called) live in one planet, while the common Egyptian lives in a whole different world.

The fellow citizens I’ve spoken to aren’t busy thinking about what the next Egyptian republic will look like. Nor do they care whether the form of democracy that will be established will be presidential or parliamentary. Nor do they care whether we will apply the Turkish or Malaysian models. And even thinking of what the constitution will look like seems like a luxury they have no time to afford wasting on.

The number one issue is whether they will earn enough at the end of each working day to put a loaf of bread on the table for each member of the household. They juggle between how they will manage to pay for their child’s education, the bills, the food, and the transportation.

At the moment, they just want a real government that will manage to offer them some form of employment that will manage them to get by with some dignity. And a number of them see that the government they want is a government that is accountable to the people and will deliver what the people want.

And at the moment, in my opinion, the best solution to most of the problems now is establishing an elected government that represents the people as soon as possible, so that an elected group of leaders can (for once in the history of Egypt) be held accountable and will have no other duties other than to serve the people and deliver their demands.

The most important thing is that, it’s not the constitution that is the foundation of a proper nation, nor is an elected government the foundation either. The real foundation of any nation is its people, its citizens. Therefore, the people, and the people’s will, comes first, before the constitution and the government.

(written on the 5th of July)

The Solution


Separation, in a time when unity is necessary, is a crime. Standing and watching idly as gaps increase within a community is complacency. Adding cause to the separation is treachery. And not knowing how or when one does increase the separation is ignorance.

I remember how optimistic I was on the 11th of February when the news reached us at Ras ElTeen that the old man left the office. That optimism began to fade away about a week before the referendum on the constitutional changes (which turned out to be a constitutional decree by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces). What was supposed to be a simple referendum on which path was to be taken towards the formation of a new constitution and a new republic was quickly turned into a power struggle and an early rehearsal for the parliamentary elections. As soon as the date of the referendum was announced, one side immediately called on people to reject the changes, considering it insufficient for a democratic change, and some even claiming that it did not mandate the creation of a new constitution. Another group announced their support for the changes, considering it adequate for the changes that were necessary to form a representative government that would, on behalf of the people, form the new constitution. And, quite strangely, each side stuck strongly and stubbornly to its opinion and decision, and accusations began to fly. Some among the supporters considered those who rejected the changes to be pro-chaos and were only adding more problems to the ‘crises’ that the country was already facing. (And yes, among the supporters were those who, ignorantly, considered a no-vote to be against Article 2.) Some among those who rejected the changes considered the supporters to be part of the counter-revolution, accused them of ‘betraying the blood of the martyrs,’ and labeled them as National Democratic Party members or Muslim Brotherhood members, or extremists trying to build a ‘Wahabi’ state, all of this despite the fact that there were Christians, liberals, and leftists who supported the yes-vote.

And so a rift was formed. The revolution, and, to an extent, the society, was split between Islamists and pro-Islamists on one side, and liberals, secularists, socialists, leftists, and other ideological groups of the society on the other side. Instead of coming together to form some sort of understanding for this sensitive transitional period; so that we can quickly end this period, form a constitution that takes into consideration all of our beliefs, opinions, and ideas, and form a civilian government, a parliament that issues laws that we, the people, want, and elect a president who we want to rule; we have widened a gap that we had thought was over when citizens of every segment of the society (the rich and the poor, Christians and Muslims, secularists and Islamists, socialists and capitalists) joined together to achieve one goal, as Christians stood to protect Muslims as they prayed, and Muslims protected Christians as they stood for their prayers, when Azhari and Salafi imams stood side by side with Christian priests. Instead, today, we see accusations of fundamentalism flying from both sides. Secularists and liberals wrongfully accusing Islamists of trying to create a ‘Wahabi’ government, and accusing Salafis of every crime committed against a church or Sufi burial chamber, when, in fact, no judicial process so far has found them guilty of the crime. And Islamists accusing liberals and secularists of attempting to establish a constitution based on the total separation of church and state and ruining the Islamic identity of the country.

And after the referendum was finished, we all agreed that we would all accept whatever the result was (which turned out to be over 70% “Yes”). And to comfort those who said no, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces made a constitutional declaration (or a provisional constitution) that took into account the fears of the ‘no-voters’ and included the articles that were changed during the referendum.

Suddenly, however, a call for a protest on the 27th of May was announced by political internet activists. Fears aroused that among the unannounced demands for this protest was a call for a constitution to be made before elections, contrary to the amendments made to Article 189 that was included in the referendum. And despite the fact that participating members denied that it would be included in their demands, many banners and signs on that day called for a constitution first, and many slogans that were shouted did call for it as well.

And instead of focusing on a common ground and call for common demands, there were those who called for the controversial concept of a ‘presidential council’ which nobody agrees as to how it would be formed it or what it’s roles and responsibilities would be.

We stand at an import crossroad in the history of Egypt and we either succeed or we fail; we either succeed in establishing Egypt’s first true republic and democracy, or we fail and prove the word’s of Omar Suleiman right, that Egypt is “not ready for democracy. “ And the first step in building a true democracy is tolerating people’s views, letting the people decide, and accepting the people’s decision.

The revolution is in your hands and mine. We either reach an understanding and save it, or suspect and mistrust one another and destroy it. 




Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization. – Winston Churchill

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all. – John F Kennedy

(Written on the 28th of May)

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