Still falling off that cliff

I had a brief sojourn in Beirut recently visiting lovely friend Hadeel. I was only there for four days so didn’t really get a chance to sit down with it and ask it about its hobbies and future ambitions in any depth. I also had some mystery stomach turbulence and at the airport saw a woman and her young daughter in matching t-shirts reading “love you baby” above a picture of said baby, a hairy, non-descript man wearing sunglasses looking smug. This made the stomach turbulence worse. So all in all I was glad to board the plane back to the motherland, despite Egypt mostly being an overflowing vat of never ending heartbreak at the moment.

The plane was really badly behaved upon landing, the worst I have ever witnessed. Egyptians are in my personal experience genetically programmed to stand up while aircrafts are still in motion in order to frantically retrieve hand luggage. This was the longest taxiing ever and the harried air hostesses spent the entire time bombing up and down the aisle demanding that passengers do el ma3roof and park their fucking arses until the plane actually stops. One woman sitting right at the back actually half-heartedly attempted to fake passing out in an attempt to jump the queue and get off first! The air hostesses were wise to her game.

My heart was warmed immediately at the airport by the familiar sound of loud Egyptian invectives, and the glorious spectacle of two middle-aged men half-arsed fighting by the suitcase carousel. You know that loose limbed pawing at each other men in street altercations do while they wait for someone to intervene, like small kittens rearing up at their own reflections. All very infra dig. Eventually someone materialised and wrestled them apart very easily and one of the men stormed off with his trolley re-adjusting his combover.

Then a sour faced policeman of a not very high rank took umbrage about something a colleague of a slightly lower rank said.

BAS YABN EL METNAKA he shouted, one foot on the seat of a chair, elbow resting on knee, fingers cradling a cigarette, other finger pointed into his seated colleague’s face in a threatening and unpleasant manner. All in all it was the perfect welcome back and I mean that sincerely.

Every year we say this is the worst that Egypt has ever been or a variant on that and then the next year we are always proved liars. I remember standing on Qasr el Nil Bridge with Sharshar and other friends (two of whom subsequently migrated abroad in the early days of the revolution, ahead of the curve) in 2010 and we remarked how everything felt stale and stagnant and shit. It was around the same time of the year as now, and the air was thick with the putrid stench of the burning rice fields that floats down from the Delta and assaults Cairo, marking the start of winter, just as it is now. There was a sense of resignation to things never changing, at least within my circles, even though 2010 had been relatively tumultuous politically.

Four months later protesters waged an epic battle with the police on that very bridge. The battle when people performed the afternoon prayer while being sprayed with water canon, and were shot and teargassed and run over. So we were wrong, things did change wonderfully and briefly. And now the dust has settled again on a status quo that is grimmer than anything we could ever have imagined in 2010.

The inevitable, painful, question is whether it was worth it, whether those lives shattered and destroyed have laid the groundwork for something or are just gone. This isn’t a question we (people who lived through it and supported it) can answer – not only because we perhaps don’t (yet) know but because of the impossibility of answering objectively. Wishing for a world where it never happened would re-animate the dead, return sight to lost eyes, unbreak shattered bones. It would free thousands of political detainees. But it would mean the death of those fleeting moments of untrammelled hope and happiness, of friendships, even love, found during the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud and then lost, of the possibility of a future we are now trying to un-see, of that tomorrow that never came but of which we got a glimpse. How can we wish for that never to have happened, when it has become part of those that lived it – even if today it is a hidden scar. That time we jumped off a cliff reaching for the moon.

During the recent Eid holidays I went downtown. Throngs of young men pulsated through the streets in their Eid best clothes. The street lights in Talat Harb square were not working. Car headlamps cut through the gloom, briefly illuminating the packs of strutting youths in their multicoloured finery and preposterous haircuts. The crowds and the darkness combined with the incessant fog horning of the vuvuzelas made for something of a nightmarish scene, and the atmosphere was fleetingly reminiscent of the protests of 2011 at their most animated. In Tahrir Square families picnicked on the grass watched by bored soldiers in armed personnel carriers parked at the entrance to the square. Parents do not hold up infants to be photographed with them anymore, nobody poses in front of them. They are just more street furniture.

Overall it felt like the celebrations when Egypt wins the African Cup. That same brand of joyous, neutral, overwhelmingly masculine energy. The ghosts of January 25 are all still there, the faces painted on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street staring out accusingly at all their work undone. But there are times when the events of 2011 -  2013 seem almost apocryphal. It is only the regime’s revenge-driven torment of individuals associated with it that keep its memory alive. But that will stop eventually and then the embers will die out completely and the real revolution will live only in our heads, where perhaps it always was anyway.

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Catastrophe*

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Animals are dear to my heart. I have five cats and am essentially one more cat away from being that woman who feeds 90 street cats and never talks to humans. I was thus really upset that cats living in the Gezira Sporting Club (GSC) had been poisoned to death. Other reports suggest that some had been both poisoned and beaten to death. Whatever the method used was, there were some awful pictures of dead cats on Facebook. Incidentally, this incident happened a week after someone in my own neighbourhood elected to poison street cats that live around our house.

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Poisoning street animals is not unusual. Sometimes local authorities mix it up by shooting street dogs. During the pig cull, when in their wisdom the local authorities decided to tackle Swine Flu by killing pigs owned and bred by Christians for their meat, some of the poor animals were buried alive. In summary: street animals are in many quarters viewed as rodents and animals in general are not given the respect a sentient being capable of experiencing emotion and of feeling pain should be afforded. Neither are human beings I anticipate some readers will be thinking, but we’ll get to that later.

After this latest round of poisonings something unusual happened: GSC members organised a demonstration in protest at the killings, which had made first page news. I went to the protest this evening.

For those that don’t know the GSC is an exclusive institution in one of Cairo’s most affluent suburbs, Zamalek. Its prohibitively expensive membership fees mean that its patrons are drawn from the upper crust economically speaking, as this gentleman’s sign very gently hinted at:

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It was a good turnout, some 50 – 60 protesters showed up. Their placards approached the issue from three angles primarily:

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1. Religious – demonstrators held up ahadith enjoining kindness to animals. One woman held up a picture of an adorable kitten above which was written “you will meet her on the day of judgement”.

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2. Mercy – some protesters simply urged people to have mercy on animals.

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3. Legal – demonstrators urged the government to hold the GSC administration to account for violating the law (although which law? The 2014 constitution obliges the state to “guarantee humane treatment of animals”, I don’t know of any other Egyptian laws on animals other than laws concerning farm animals, and it is something I need to research).

At one point a scowling man who bystanders said is a member of the GSC administrative board (but who in an interview with a journalist described himself only as a Club member and who I think was called Hussein) came out to address the media. He alleged that the whole incident was a fabrication and was immediately shouted down by the formidable lady members of the GSC who shouted ra7ma (mercy) to drown him out.

Hussein was challenged by a man who said that a legal complaint had been filed with the police proving that a man had been hired by the GSC administration to poison and kill the cats. Hussein responded by alleging that he had read the complaint and that it only referred to poisoning and not killing of cats (??). He said that “when the cats were put in a sack they were still alive”. A journalist asked him what interest GSC members would have in falsely accusing the Club administration of poisoning animals.

“They are doing it to terrorise us,” was the memorable reply. Hussein skulked off. “Go on you sick man,” a woman shouted behind him.

There was lots of traffic going past the protest and numerous inquiries about what exactly it was about. Upon being told that it was about dead cats there were puzzled looks but not the guffawing or snorting that I thought such a demonstration would elicit, which was a small source of hope. In a moment of supreme irony a grinning police officer, one of six assigned to police the protest told a passing motorist that the demonstration was about a “humanitarian matter”. Hearing this word pass his lips was like listening to Hannibal Lector talk about vegetarianism.

And on the subject of humanitarianism, sort of, the standard response to any appeal to stop animal cruelty and promote animal welfare is that Egypt must sort out the rights of humans before it can address those of animals, as if the two things are mutually contradictory, or as if animals are competing with humans for resources. Even to bundle animals and humans together seems inconsistent when many of the people who make this argument regard humans as a higher species and animals as their inferior slaves/food/objects.

In practical terms animal welfare in Egypt could greatly (and easily) be improved through a comprehensive TNR (trap, neuter, release) programme in cities, criminalisation of animal cruelty and government/volunteer monitoring of animal shelters and pet shops. Anything state run in Egypt is vulnerable to corruption (inspectors can be bought off, for example) but there exist a bunch of animal enthusiasts who keep a close eye on such goings on. Unfortunately however the animal activist scene in Egypt is riven with in-fighting and clashes.

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It is my dream that an inspection team of truly independent experts/vets be established with powers to order the closure of shelters or veterinary practices that abuse animals as well as e.g. confiscate neglected working horses and donkeys. The Egyptian Constitution obligates the state to guarantee the welfare of animals (amongst the other rights and obligations it lists which exist only on paper, or in politicians’ mouths). Even the fact that the constitution acknowledges this is progress, and a group of activists are currently drafting an animal rights law which they will present to parliament once it convenes.

Any approach in Egypt that relies on compassion will not work. People poison rats do they not, and nobody kicks up a fuss about that. (They also kill hundreds of humans in one day and there wasn’t much objection to that, either). Cats are viewed as disease spreading nuisances, just like rodents. The argument for the GSC situation should be that poisoning simply doesn’t work. A respectable animal protection group should be put in charge of TNR in the Club with zero interference from the administration. As someone pointed out in a FB group, members who like to feed the animals should be encouraged to do so in designated areas far away from places where people eat (the cats were apparently poisoned following complaints by members that the cats disturb them begging for food). Cats should also not be handled so that they remain frightened and suspicious of humans and do not approach them (thereby lessening chances of their being regarded as a “pest”).

In Egypt though, as the past three years have shown, the people who really care, and who really understand, are usually ignored by those in charge following the rule that shit always rises to the top. Judging from the stories going around about the administration, the GSC seems to be a microcosm of the Egyptian state in that regard. Ultimately what is needed is a long term education campaign, similar to the campaign against sexual harassment (which played a big role in the passing of a law against sexual harassment and the beginning of a change in attitudes to the problem). It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and to refrain from exerting energy to torture an animal. Until the law makes cruelty an offence, and until some of the (often repeated) suggestions listed here become a reality, animal welfare will unfortunately be at the mercy of human conscience – of which there is very little going around these days.

* I cannot resist wordplay, and I am in no way taking away from the seriousness of this issue which I hope you have realised keeps me awake at night.

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Norman and his abominations

My friend Hellyer alerted me to the existence of the charming thing below, a post by Norman Finkelstein in which he attacks me, slurs Human Rights Watch’s Heba Morayef and suggests that we would deserve horrible things to happen to us, should they happen to us. He is also adamant – and expresses this conviction with a barely concealed tone of joy – that Heba and I will be locked up in a jail cell with the MB in a year’s time, if we are “not tweeting and blogging from the US”.

It is difficult to tell from Norman’s confusing blog when this post was written but it was posted on his Facebook page in December 2013, so that gives Heba and me 10 months to get our white tracksuits ready.

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Norman’s blog also doesn’t allow comments so I emailed him requesting that he clarify which of my “statements” provoked this vitriol.

He wrote back with this, written in a similarly cunty tone.

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Let us examine this missive one point at a time.

“The article of yours to which I referred was the one that you posted closest to this date 25 July 2013.  It should not be difficult for you to track down insofar as my references are quite specific.  You express such surprise that one might think you don’t read what you write.”

I assume he means this, in which I talk about how the regime mobilised the media as part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and in which I state that I don’t think that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation and questioned the popular narrative that the Brotherhood were responsible for all the acts of violence attributed to them during the Rab3a and Nahda sit-ins.  I then condemn the planned violent breakup of these sit-ins (that happened just over two weeks later).

The reason I did not recognise what fucking article he was talking about is that he summarised it out of all recognition. Perhaps it is Norman who needs to actually read what he writes about before posting catty little remarks on his blog. He seems to have missed the fundamental point that in referring to the supportive mood of the general public for the crackdown I am describing, rather than endorsing, this.

He also doesn’t seem to get that this article was about tracing the gradual vilification of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to what extent they contributed to their own downfall with their stupidity and hubris and thirst for power. But god forbid nuance should come into anything. This may be news to Norman and others from that coterie of shrill myopic observers who fail to get it, but one can be opposed to the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsi in July (and I was and still am) while AT THE SAME TIME be highly critical of the Morsi administration and its various fuck ups. IS THIS SO FUCKING HARD. This article was about examining what the MB did and didn’t do and ultimately concluded that the war on terror launched against them is politically driven and dodgy. It wasn’t in my opinion necessary to specifically mention that the army has arrested hundreds of MB members in the context of a post that is criticising this war on terror. If there is any reader who read this article and concluded that a state led war on terror targeting the Brotherhood means anything other than Brotherhood members being royally fucked then I won’t wait for the 10 months to pass and will just take myself outside now and shoot myself in the head.

“Be so kind (dare I also say humble?) as not to lecture me on web protocol. In general I consider internet an abomination.  I am an old-fashioned believer in books and documents.  I also don’t post every (empty) thought that passes through my head.  I don’t have comments on my web site because I spend approximately five hours each morning answering email.”

If you are a bore who considers the Internet an abomination then eff off and don’t use it. Stick to your “books and documents”. I find it remarkable that an academic finds it acceptable to reproduce part of a letter in which he badmouths people and spouts off maledictions against them like a gossiping housewife without any context or explanation. I mean the least he could have pissing done if he can’t bring himself to insert a hyperlink to my cunting article is provide my full bastard name so that people could search for my “statements” i.e. article and judge for themselves whether I deserve to be locked up and/or tortured.

Five hours of emails every morning? He is indeed a very important public personage. However when he posted a link to this post on his Facebook page (which has 8,778 fans) he was inundated by a deluge of comments totalling three (3), one of which was mine, another of which supported his assertions and a third which repeated “Norman Finkelstein has shit fer brains” eight times. The author of this comment liked his own comment for good measure. Perhaps Norman’s blog readers are more energetic than his Facebook fans and if he threw caution to the wind and opened up comments on his blog his legions of fans and critics would subject him to a storm of comments and he would expire at his laptop answering them all and have no time to come up with new gems to post on the World Wide Abomination. And if he did have comments open I could have commented there, provided a link to his readers to add a bit of balance to his post and defend myself and then we could have all moved on.

As for his cheap little slur against Heba Morayef, I’ll let her respond to that should she choose to. The only point I want to make is that one can have crap politics and still be a good human rights monitor, just as one can have good politics and be a crap human being. A human rights monitor’s job is to monitor, as objectively and as neutrally as possible, regardless of his or her political views, and if Norman Finkelstein believe that Heba Morayef failed to do this, and if he is unaware that she is one of the few high profile Egyptians to have retained their professionalism, neutrality and humanity while the rest of the country went mad then he knows even less about Egypt and what happens here than I feared.

Speaking for myself I won’t be tweeting and blogging about Egypt from the US any time soon – I’ll leave that to Norman.

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Bread and butter

Here is something I did on the radio.

And here I ramble on about why I didn’t vote in the referendum.

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Fun with facts

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Two opinion columns on Egypt were published this week which could usually safely be ignored but taken together present a nice example of opposite ends of the bullshit spectrum of writing on this country.

The first column was published in the Wall Street Journal’s Europe opinion section (who knows) and is by Dina Khayat, who describes herself as the founder and chairman of an asset management company and head of the economic committee of the Free Egyptians Party.

Khayat’s column starts as it means to go on, which is erroneously.

“The Egyptian government formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terror organization on Dec. 25″

In fact it designated it a terrorist organisation. Terror is not synonymous with terrorist and its use says more about the person using it than the intended subject. See: Israel. George W Bush.

Another important point is that the government’s announcement is largely rhetorical and meaningless in legal terms and will have much impact as a fart in a wind turbine because it is judges that decide what is terrorist or not and not politicians riding a populist wave.

A group called Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, believed to have ties with Palestinian militants in Gaza, claimed responsibility for the [Mansoura] attack. The Muslim Brotherhood was quick to deny any involvement and to distance itself from the perpetrators (though it did not condemn them). Regardless, Cairo and much of the public nonetheless blame the Brotherhood for the mounting violence in Egypt.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood did condemn the bombing.

Khayat then employs some strange logic. She acknowledges that the Brotherhood denied responsibility for the attack while stating that “Cairo and much of the public” (what does that mean? By Cairo does she mean the government? Or is Cairo a separate planet) still ascribe responsibility for the bombings to the Brotherhood (on the basis of zero – no evidence). And yet somewhere between the full stop after the bracket containing the baloney about the MB’s failure to condemn the bombing and the “regardless” Khayat decides that a government’s (legally meaningless) decision to designate the MB a “terror” organisation can be made on the basis of the public “outrage”. I remember there was a fair amount of public outrage directed at Algeria during Egypt’s 2009 football qualification matches against its North African neighbour. Perhaps, on the basis of this, the government should have declared that Algeria no longer exists? Or what about the 2005 controversy surrounding the cartoons insulting to the Prophet Mohamed when the general public was braying about Denmark. Perhaps the government should have banned clogs?

The writer next addresses the Brotherhood’s drop in popularity, saying that “it is estimated today to be down to a core base of about 500,000 people in a country of 90 million”. No source is given for this remarkably precise figure, or on what basis it was calculated. Khayat tells us that the “drastic drop in affection for the Brotherhood speaks volumes about their singular ineptitude during Mr Morsi’s year in office and their continued refusal to accept Egypt’s current realities”. Khayat doesn’t state what she means by current realities. Perhaps she means the murder of hundreds of Morsi supporters in Rabaa and the failure of anyone to be held accountable for these deaths. Or she might mean the massive crackdown on anyone associated with the Brotherhood or thought to be associated with it (including Al Jazeera English journalists) and the regular killing of protesters by security bodies in demonstrations.

Khayat then complains that the Brotherhood are demonstrating regularly, and that these demonstrations are “often violent and always disruptive of traffic [lol] and normal daily life”. Khayat is no doubt aware that in the three years since the revolution demonstrations by parties across the political spectrum have been a regular occurrence. As has the use of force by security bodies against them. Perhaps Ms. Khayat is aware that protesters themselves sometimes throw a rock, or a molotov cocktail, or even fire birdshot. She might be aware that in the large majority of cases the police response to such actions are disproportion, heavy handed and nearly always inflame the situation.

And yes demonstrations can be ever so inconvenient for those who don’t support the cause. Which is why perhaps the government needs to find an alternative way of dealing with Brotherhood grievances.

I find it interesting that after dealing with pesky Brotherhood demonstrations that disrupt traffic Khayat segues immediately into Islamist militants assaults. Could this be an admission (whisper it) that the Brotherhood demonstrations are one thing, and the terrorist, sorry “terror” attacks are something else?!? No of course not. Because the Brotherhood has “ties to Hamas” and has made “thinly veiled threats of violence in the Egyptian media”. What is more, “students loyal to the Brotherhood” (is a student loyal to the Brotherhood a member or not for the purposes of the terrorism designation?) “torched two [university] buildings” AND EVEN CALLED FOR AN EXAM BOYCOTT!!!

Ms. Khayat is perhaps unaware that calling for an exam boycott does not constitute terrorism or flout a call for nonviolence. In addition, if international legal norms are at all relevant terrorist organisations should only be designated as such on the basis of specific acts and not on the basis of some dickhead member running his mouth off at a camera. As for the university building burning, Khayat omits to state that the fires that broke out happened during the context of clashes – much like the burning of a building containing a rare book collection in Tahrir Square in 2011. Deliberate acts of arson are morally indefensible and endanger life but they cannot in isolation be taken as irrefutable evidence that their perpetrators are members of a terrorist organisation. That is assuming that students caused the fire in the first place.

Having adduced evidence of why the traffic-disrupting, exam-boycotting Brotherhood are terrorists in such a convincing manner Khayat deals a knockout blow to cement her argument: a homemade bomb exploded the day after the government announcement (with which the MB again denied involvement) and “Egyptians are fed up”.

Khayat tells us that the Brotherhood’s struggle is now “not primarily with the state” (you could have fooled me) and that during the Mubarak years “the majority of Egyptians sympathised with them as underdogs”. Another statement put out there unencumbered with evidence or backing or whatnot.

There is next a mini u-turn. “Cairo’s move to outlaw the Brotherhood is indeed part of a crackdown, but one that was demanded by the public”. Well that’s alright, then.

Khayat ends her piece by informing us that until the Brotherhood decides to “operate with the context of a stable state” (what does that mean) its members will remain “pariahs”. Should we understand from this that:

The Brotherhood must create this stable state and then operate in it

or

that it has to wait until the rest of Egyptian society bring the stable state into being before it is allowed to join the fun?

We are not informed.

And now for something completely different, from the Telegraph’s Peter Oborne who has a dire warning that we will all pay the price for the crushing of democracy in Egypt.

Oborne tells us that he graced Egypt this week after his last visit in 2011, which is almost three years ago, “when everything seemed possible”. Had he made more frequent visits to Egypt in the interim he might have a better grasp of how it was all made un-possible.

In any case, Oborne tells us that today, “protest is punishable by jail. Abductions are commonplace, torture routine”. As if prior to Today we were all running around demanding our political rights as benevolent police officers looked on and offered us refreshments.

Oborne says that Defence Minister Abdel-Fatah el Sisi “told friends” about a series of visions. In fact he told a newspaper reporter and the interview was leaked but this is a minor quibble. The Mansoura bombing Oborne says without any shadow of a doubt, was carried out by Bayt al Maqdis (who have claimed responsibility but unless I have missed it, there have been no convictions yet).

President Morsi (I prefer to call him by that name, since the military coup that displaced him was not just illegal but immoral) is in prison.”

Oborne can call Morsi president Morsi if he likes, and so can all of his supporters. We laughed at Mubarak supporters after Hosny’s removal when they did it, too. I called myself Field Commander Abo Carr on Twitter for a while for a laugh. And as for a coup being “immoral”, what a strange description. Are there moral coups? If yes, what makes a coup moral? A demonstration of public will backing the army action? Mass demonstrations nationwide of millions of Egyptians calling for the removal of the regime that is then removed by the army?

Oborne then makes a hilarious statement: “Egyptian police are are well practised in crowd control and the use of rubber bullets” implying that over the course of the past three years there has been some improvement in its performance and it hasn’t just been heavy-handed and shite. “It can therefore be assumed that the mass killing [at Rabaa] was deliberate”. Well yes, Peter, but not necessarily because the police are “well practiced”. You can have lots of practice in something and still be shit – look at the Egyptian national football squad. It doesn’t make the police any less culpable, mind you.

Apparently 20 people were run over police bulldozers at Rabaa. This is an incident I have heard nothing about. I only saw them run over corpses (horrific also, as was the whole way the dispersal was handled).

“So far, General Sisi’s regime has made no attempt to investigate these crimes” Oborne says. Not quite true: there was a shitty fact-finding committee cobbled together.

Oborne then takes us further back, describing the 80 years the Muslim Brotherhood spent “plodding towards power”. In the process he makes the organisation sound like the Salvation Army. No mention of its initial use of violence (it then went on to renounce violence, someone send a memo to Dina Khayat about that) nor the interesting way in which its supporters practised non-violence at the Ittehadeya Palace in December 2012, when they accosted and tortured opposition protesters, and at other times during Morsi’s tenure when they attacked protesters with rocks and used firearms against them (not unusual – guns have frequently appeared in protests of all kinds over the past three years but most unfortunate when your boss is the president of a country). There is also no mention of the November 2012 constitutional amendment when Morsi tried to turn himself into a pharaoh and tried to make his decisions unchallengeable by the judiciary, nor his regime’s general ignoring and belittling of the opposition, nor its general crapness.

The thrust of Oborne’s column is that the Muslim Brotherhood did absolutely nothing wrong while in power, much as how Dina Khayat thinks that the current regime is doing sterling work. Both seem to regard depth, nuance and accuracy as optional, and like the majority of commentators attempt to reduce events to an exceedingly simplistic case of good guy vs bad guy. In the process they miss the essential point that the reason why we are so royally fucked is that there are no good guys in this picture. Well there are, but most of them are dead or locked up.

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Laughing till we cry

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Sometimes it seems that Egypt does extreme tragedy and extreme comedy and nothing in between. As a result, living in this country is a bit like cohabiting with someone with a hormonal imbalance.

Egypt dazzled the world today with the revelation that a puppet is under criminal investigation. The particulars of this case are too traumatic to recount in detail, and can be read about here, but in summary telecom giant Vodafone is accused of employing a popular puppet, Abla Fahita, to send coded terrorism messages in one of its adverts. As evidence of this the instigator of the case mentions:

1.A cactus tree

2. A christmas bauble

3. Mama Toutou

The instigator concerned is non other than Ahmed ِElsayed AKA Ahmed Zbaydar, apprentice of late night television king and Freemason botherer Tawfik Okasha. Zbaydar is a lisping streak of piss who is no stranger to hair gel and who fancies himself a spy hunter.

He has been wafting about in the public sphere since 2011 when he shot to somewhere roughly 392 kilometres north of fame by appearing with Okasha and dropped earth shattering revelations about Freemasonry. He went on to fight the good fight for his beloved country by defaming opposition activists on his Facebook page. Both he and Okasha really came into their own after June 30 when their dire warnings about the Muslim Brotherhood being a secret Freemason organisation directed by Israel and America merged with popular suspicion of, and discontent with the group. And so they were brought out of the twilight slightly, along with that other grand wizard of bollocks Amr Mostafa, a music composer who also runs a Facebook page where he currently spends most of his time wishing death on members of the Muslim Brotherhood and getting many likes for doing so. His latest coup (insert joke here) was a series of illegally-got recordings of telephone conversations between opposition types in which nothing of any import was said. They were broadcast on a satellite channel with much fanfare.

And so it seems that this grand civilisation of 7,000 years is once again being held hostage by buffoons. Every country has its Glenn Beck type public figures, the difference in Egypt is that they are taken seriously where it suits the political ambitions of those at the reins and serves a useful purpose. Thus we have the Public Prosecutor accepting a complaint about a finger puppet while nobody has been charged for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people at Rab3a, because the current mood is almost fascistic in its reverence for the state and for state hegemony and for state opponents to be eliminated. If there was a page equivalent to We Are All Khaled Said now it would be Turns Out We Are All Adolf Hitler. Comedy and tragedy often overlap.

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keef keef

 

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I returned yesterday from a brief sojourn in Tunis, where I attended a one-day workshop on small arms and ate inordinate amounts of food.

The last time I was in Tunis was in 2005, when I went with a fact-finding mission and spoke to brave people defying Ben Ali and his vast network of cops whose job was to silence dissent against him. On one day we went to an activist’s house and she cooked us a Brik while two policemen who had followed us there sat outside. It was delicious.

Much has changed politically of course but the capital remains unchanged, shiny and white and gorgeous. I stayed in an area called Gammarth, which is an upscale district of sprawling villas plonked on rolling hills overlooking bays of impossibly beautiful serene blue water. A taxi driver showed us a villa formerly owned by one of the Ben Ali clan somewhere between Gammarth and La Marsa, another chi-chi area full of expensive real estate and attractive foliage.

Much of our stay was spent shuttling between Gammarth and downtown Tunis, about a 20 minute ride by car along a well-maintained motorway-type road bordered by commercial parks and residential areas of mostly nicely designed white villas. French cars zipped alongside us maintaining good lane discipline and stopping at red lights. Signs accurately indicated to motorists which way to go. Upon rolling down the window gusts of clean air forced themselves into our grateful lungs.

Downtown Tunis continued the theme of being everything Cairo is not with its well laid out streets and cleanliness and friendly people. The people really are wonderful, although that might be part in due to the mystique of the Egyptian accent in the Arab world. Not my accent, obviously (which is mystifying in a different way) but that of El Sheikh Adam. I have heard tales of legend about the effect produced by an Egyptian opening his mouth and emitting sound at Arabic speakers of non-Egyptian provenance and these tales were proved true, not all the time, but on multiple occasions in Tunis, apart from one kid who looked blankly at El Sheikh Adam when he asked a question and then appealed to a woman standing nearby for translation.

(In any case several people were helpful above and beyond the call of duty, including a newspaper seller who went out of his way to walk us through the scary deserted lanes of the market area to safely deliver us to a restaurant).

For someone whose ears are attuned to Egyptian Arabic, the Tunisian dialect is absolutely bonkers and wonderful and sounds like syllables having a fight to leave the speaker’s mouth first, with French trying to break things up.  Speech is delivered fast, and often loudly, with a unique lilt, and sometimes when I heard two Tunisian citizens in full flow and couldn’t grasp the meaning of what they were saying I had no way of determining whether they were pissed off or neutral or joking because of the similarity in tone to outsider ears. To listen to it is sometimes like being assaulted by the letter qaf and the letter sheen, but in a nice way, and I think that if there was a trade fair of world languages the Tunisian stall should just  “Sfax” سفكس the most Tunisian sound in the world apart from shkoun. (Egypt could have “mga3las” as its trade fair exhibit).

When not listening to taxi drivers we wandered around the old market area with its wonderful doors and so on. At one mosque a self-appointed doorman demanded to know whether I am Muslim or not (based on my exotic English appearance), addressing his questions to Adam rather than get his hands dirty with the heathen. Adam informed him that I am Egyptian and understand Arabic, to which Busy Body replied that that is irrelevant because Christians can speak Arabic. I then (irony of ironies) produced my ID card whose religious field was useful for the first and last time in its history but this was not enough for Defender of the Faith who made me complete the shahada. Muslim credentials established, upon entering the mosque we realised that it was the same mosque we had just exited, unbothered by anyone, and which we had entered by a different entrance. How we lolled!

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Like Egypt, Tunisia is going through a never-ending transition. While we were there a new PM was appointed who nobody seemed very enthusiastic about (and who many people had never heard of). There was a conference by the Nahda Party in the hotel we stayed in entitled something involving “etarat” which in Egypt means wheels. Adam had a good laugh about this in the bloke’s toilets with a conference delegate who chuckled and slapped him on the back and laughed about “el akh el masry” and his zany humour but refused to divulge more information about what these mysterious etarat are. There is interesting graffiti everywhere on the streets, and a demo was called for on the day we left (to coincide with Bouaziz’s death rather than in protest at our departure) but otherwise, and again like Egypt, life proceeded normally.

The highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the food part from the booby-trapped salads (I don’t eat animal products) which often house concealed tuna and luncheon meat. I ate the most delicious thing ever, a fricassee, which is fried bread filled with delicious things, purchased from a hole in the wall, and in Sidi Bou Said I was presented with a mint tea containing pine nuts, which I drank while seeing rainbows and stars, and which lasted until I got the Egyptair flight home and survived on an anaemic salad and bread roll that had clearly given up on life some centuries ago, their having forgotten to book me a special meal. And by special I mean the same as above but with some added slop roughly resembling vegetable matter.

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A note on the imminent dispersal of the Pro-Morsy sit-ins

Every time I go to the Rab3a sit-in I think that it would be an almost impossible task to clear the people crammed into it; surely not even the Interior Ministry and armed forces would want to take on that task, not because they are concerned about loss of life but because of the logistical difficulty, and the political fallout internationally (the July 26 protests demonstrated that the anti-terrorism crowd seem to care about what the international community thinks).

So I did some cursory reading (Wikipedia, what else) on how Tiananmen Square was cleared of the pro-democracy protesters on June 4 1989 and so far there have been close parallels between the events that led up to that clearing, and events in Egypt.

June 1: the state Politburo issued a report to its members in which protesters were described as “terrorists and counterrevolutionaries”. A state security report said talked about American influence on the protest movement, and said that American forces had intervened in the student movement with the objective of overthrowing the Community Party.

June 2: newspapers began publishing articles calling for protesters to leave the square. State-run newspapers also reported that day that troops were positioned in ten key areas in Beijing.

June 3: the politburo decided that the dispersal of protesters would begin at 9 p.m. and must end by 6 a.m.

State-run television warned residents to stay indoors (but they didn’t because unlike here, the residents were with the student protesters).

At 10 p.m. an army division used live ammo against protesters outside the square as their advance proceeded. APCS were used to ram through barricades.

The first APCs reached the Square at 12.15 a.m.

At 1.30 a.m. army soldiers arrived at the north and south ends of the Square and sealed if off from reinforcements of students and residents, killing more protesters

At 4 a.m. the Square’s lights were turned off and government loudspeakers announced that, “Clearance of the Square begins now. We agree with students’ request to clear the Square.”

Light went back on at 4.30 a.m. Soldiers advanced and stopped 10 metres from students. Soldiers took aim with machines guns while in the prone position. Behind them soldiers stood with assault rifles and behind that row were tanks and APCs.

Students began withdrawing.

Just after 6 a.m. tanks pursued students attempting to vacate the Square. One drove through the crowd, killing 11.

Later in the evening thousands of civilians tried to re-enter the square. Many were parents of protesters. Troops opened fire. Dozens of civilians were shot in the back.

Conservative estimates put the death toll at 300 civilians.

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Today, the Interior Minister gave a press conference in which he said that police, the army and the public prosecution office were coordinating on the best time to clear the square. He said that the Interior Ministry is waiting for a decision from the Public Prosecution Office on complaints filed against the Nahda and Rab3a sit-ins from residents of the areas in which these sit-ins are being held. The Ministry appears to be seeking to give the dispersal legitimacy via a court decision that the sit-ins are a public nuisance.

I find it odd that it is doing this, since the Minister also (correctly) said that there have been incidents of torture and even killings in the sit-ins. Surely these crimes are more serious than disturbance caused to residents, and more than enough on their own to justify that the Ministry acts. For this reason I think this waiting for Public Prosecution Office decisions is probably bollocks. Either a smoke screen of some kind or another installment in this public mandate nonsense made popular by the army.

It seems more and more likely that security bodies will act in the next few days. Yesterday night’s violence on Nasr Road demonstrates that they are incapable of acting with restraint or with any kind of sensible plan. That they are taking on a massive civilian sit-in spells disaster. But just for the record, I would like to suggest that there are ways to minimise the deaths and injuries so that we do not replicate what happened in Tiananmen Square.

1. If the pro-Morsys fail to see that they are backing a losing horse and refuse to withdraw (just like Tahrir Square protesters refused to withdraw from many of their sit-ins) then they should at least ensure that children and people who are physically unable to escape/cope with the attack leave the area.

2. Hospitals surrounding the area must be on red alert. Extra blood supplies must be collected in advance. Field hospitals should be established nearby the two sit-ins.

3. The security forces will probably attack at night, when there are fewer cameras but more protesters. This automatically ensures more blood. The Nahda protest is virtually empty during the day and in my opinion could be controlled with much less force than is required at night. Rab3a is almost always full and there is no good time to attempt to disperse it.

4. Independent journalists have seen weapons in the Nahda sit-in. It seems unlikely that one sit-in has weapons but the other doesn’t. BBC journalists saw a very basic weapon used on the pro Morsy side yesterday but the pro Morsy death toll (estimates range between 50 – 100) compared to the zero reported deaths on the police side demonstrates that the pro Morsys either did not have weapons last night or were unwilling to use them against the police (it’s a shame they didn’t show such restraint with the civilian residents of Giza, Alexandria and Manial).

5. When dealing with armed opponents the police of course has the right to use force to defend itself. If the police cared about international standards, it would use only enough force required for self-defence or to control the situation. Yesterday night they started with teargas and quickly escalated to bullets when trying to stop some Pro Morsys blocking the October Bridge. The death toll indicates that regardless of how the clashes started, the police did not use reasonable force.

6. Security bodies must anticipate and plan for the thousands of frightened, angry protesters who will be forced out of Rab3a, possibly in the dark of night, surrounded by residents who for three weeks have been slowly fuming about their presence. This is in addition to the general public at large, who since June 30 have been told that these protesters are terrorists. How will they protect these protesters from reprisals?

7. The Armed Forces must not use its vehicles as weapons. If there is a risk that its soldiers will “panic” and in the face of resistance run protesters over with APCs as happened at Maspero then it is under a duty not to take these vehicles anywhere near areas of civilian conflict until its soldiers man up and/or are trained properly in the art of dealing with large, angry crowds.

8. The police must not employ civilians to attack other civilians. Yesterday a video shows young men in civilian clothing throwing stones and hanging around uniformed officers as they shot at Pro Morsys. Often the worst brutality happens when one side of civilians apprehends another civilian from the other side (the torture in Nahda demonstrates this). Must it also be stated that using civilians as police is illegal and immoral?

9. Detainees must not be brutalised. Arrests should in any case be kept in a minimum and reserved for only the most serious acts (using firearms, physical assault etc).

10. Journalists and NGOs should be coming up with a plan to document the dispersal, seeking out vantage points where they can see but are safe. The security forces and other civilians should leave them alone to do their job.

I hope that anyone who protested yesterday against terrorism is able to differentiate between acts of terrorism, and violence used in response to an attack by security bodies. I hope also they realise that Egypt’s security bodies have never demonstrated any ability to deal with civilian protesters in a way that protects life and minimises casualties, and that in “mandating” security bodies to deal with the “terrorists” they sanctioned arbitrary and excessive use of force.

The fallout from arbitrary and excessive use of force against a group like the Muslim Brotherhood will not be confined to them. But yesterday’s protesters are not responsible for the violence that is about to take place because the idea of them giving a mandate to the army or security bodies is of course ridiculous nonsense. Egypt’s security bodies act with complete disregard for what citizens want and they care no more about the wishes of the people who took to the streets yesterday in support of the army than they do about those in Rab3a and Nahda.

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On Sheep and Infidels

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Here is something I wrote about the current mess.

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Before I begin, let me state some facts so that when people begin the ad hominem attacks they can try to rein them in within the following boundaries:

I voted for Mohamed Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections (to keep out Ahmed Shafiq).

I am one of the administrators of a blog called “MB in English” that features English translations of awful statements of a sectarian, conspiratorial, or bonkers nature that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) intends for domestic consumption only.

I am against army intervention in politics.

I state all this because Egyptian politics and society in general are split along identity lines in a way that they have never been in the last three years. This problem is so chronic that the merits or flaws of an argument are almost entirely determined by who is making the argument in a haze of fury and suspicion.

For the past week I have been trundling between the pro- and anti-Morsi protests. It is like travelling between two planets. The pro-camp has significantly more men than women (although there are women and children there) and it lacks the social diversity of the anti-camp. I have never seen one unveiled woman who is not a journalist there. I have never met a Christian or encountered any other journalist who has met one there. It is important to note that pro-Morsi protesters and pro-Morsi media have often claimed that there are Christians attending their sit-in. At the same time, they also allege that the church was behind the feloul-US-Zionist plot to oust Morsi.

The point is that that the pro-Morsi crowd is largely homogenous. Their opponents use this homogeneity as evidence that the MB, is at best, an organization that has failed to market itself to non-supporters and at worst a closed group unconcerned with non-members.

Full article here.

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Zeinhom

Zeinhom Morgue sums up everything that is wrong with the Egyptian state. It is a small box of a building down an alleyway covered both with the rich stench of excrement coming from the Brooke Animal Hospital next door and the graffiti of the aggrieved; the forensic authority is the last step on the production line of state oppression. It shits out its mutilated victims to their relatives, congregated in the morgue’s yard, the ground of which is covered in sand and abandoned furniture and scraps of wood.

Relatives are not being allowed inside. Some are lined up in a narrow corridor with their empty coffins, waiting. One coffin has a pillow. After a long stretch without the door opening and a body coming out, a frustrated young man begins kicking at the iron door furiously, demanding to be let in. The door remains closed and no one stirs inside. An older man storms out, pushing people out of the way and grabs a piece of wood with the intention of doing something with it, pauses, reconsiders. He grabs wildly at the electricity cables hanging carelessly over the morgue’s walls like cobwebs until he is urged to move away.

Still no movement from inside, so men hoist each other up to look through a space above the door. One man delivers an uninterrupted stream of the bluest obscenities imaginable at the doctors inside, who he accuses of refusing to work. People shift around uncomfortably as the words bounce off the walls and reverberate. Still nothing. A man walks in and shouts that people must check the forensic reports before they leave; the morgue is saying people were shot in the stomach when they were shot in the back.

There is a middle-aged man holding a plastic bag on the side, observing. He starts telling his story, a dead daughter, medical negligence and years of fighting with the forensic authority for some kind of redress. He asks for the address of a human rights group, asks for it to be written carefully because he can’t read or write and needs to show it to people for directions. He says thank you, pulls out a little book with details of the case and a picture of his daughter, 5 years old, and says, could anyone abandon this beautiful girl.

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