The Tahrir Square Defeat of Foreign Agents Youth Club

It is freezing in Egypt at the moment, the kind of cold that follows you wherever you go and harasses you, inside or outside. Drivers in their jackets drive hunched up against it. country boys turned into embassy guards light fires that spit out their warmth into it. On the way home in a taxi the passenger in the front seat and the driver looked at the wind shaking the trees. They discussed whether it was tooba yet, the coptic month whose name – like another coptic month, amsheer – is now used to describe the inclement weather that without fail strikes egypt at a specific time of the year.
Each month has its associations and its rituals, fixed certainties in the middle of all the confusion, the rocks around which the driftwood floats. Scheduled meteorological blips when enraged winds coat everything in sand in february and apologise in april with the sweetest, most gentlest of breezes during sham el naseem. Religious occasions, some of them lunar based and migratory, others – such as western christmas which has taken off in the past few years – not.
And then there is the country’s political ups and downs, much loved because they can mean days off. They have also provided a readymade lexicon of names for bridges, schools, metro stations and corner shops. numbers in the form of dates are particularly popular. Presumably they appeal to Egypt’s inner bureaucratic geek, its fetish for keeping a handle on everything and everyone with numbers scrawled on endless documents.
Since 2011 a flurry of new names and new dates have been added to the lexicon, and to the rhythm of the year. some have been very markedly left out, for obvious reasons. This is state building taken literally. A citizen travels to work over the 6 October Bridge or gets out at the Sadat metro station or buys his cigarettes from a June 30 kiosk and the intangible is made physical and unchallengeable. Something amazing happened on that date and the proof of that is that lads play football in a youth club named after it and not after something else.
Consider January 25. January 25 “police day” was only declared a public holiday in 2009 and was largely ignored by everyone except the establishment. Originally it commemorated 50 police officers killed and wounded when they refused british demands to evacuate the Ismailia police station in 1952. When Mubarak declared it a public holiday in 2009 he did so in recognition of the police’s efforts to maintain security and stability in Egypt. lol.
When the April 6 (more dates) youth group chose to stage mass protests on January 25 they attempted to turn this on its head, the equivalent of flying the flag upside down: a distress signal. And now January 25 has two associations, national revolution day (in unstated parenthesis: against police brutality) alongside national police day commemorating police sacrifice for the sake of the country’s security. Nothing better represents the contortions the regime has had to go through to reconcile its natural revulsion at January 25 with the fact that the incumbent regime would not exist were it not for the January 25 uprising. It tacitly acknowledges this (through gritted teeth) in its rhetoric and thus to delete January 25 from Egyptian history (as attractive a proposition as this might seem) would leave an unsightly gap. And so January 25 commemorates both the day when the people rose up against police brutality and the day the police “made sacrifices” (mmhm hmmm) for the nation’s security and stability, which when you think about it isn’t that far removed from what actually happened, so well done, Egypt!
And then there are the events ignored altogether, the ones that aren’t inscribed on any bridges, don’t adorn metro signs, are ignored by history books, hover over no confectionary goods and cigarettes. Almost exactly four years ago on January 2nd 2011, protesters marched from Shubra attempting to reach the Maspero television building. The protest was in response to the bombing of a church in Alexandria on new year’s eve which killed 21 people. Two days later there were more clashes, this time actually in Shubra (a Christian neighbourhood). The police – presumably not taken off guard as it had been on the 2nd – responded with greater violence.
Both sets of clashes were an extremely mild version of what would happen at the end of the month and there were no arrests of protesters other than 8 activists outside a church. But they were significant in the context of a police state that quashed mass public demonstrations of dissent everywhere other than on university campuses (and even there protests were carefully monitored). What happened on the corniche and in Shubra was a riot, a public demonstration of anger by demonstrators that descended into violence when the state attempted to silence them (in Shubra the stone throwing began when police blocked a march’s access to a church, on the corniche protesters were prevented from reaching the television building).
Like the Mahalla riots of april 6 2008 (also omitted from the state memory) these were crucial events that separately and cumulatively laid the groundwork for january 25 by revealing chinks in the interior ministry’s impenetrable armour. And now they are forgotten about. The early January protests were eclipsed by subsequent events but the same reason cannot explain the expunging of April 6 2011 from the public record, nor the deliberate ignoring of the bread riots of January 1977.
At the site of the August 2013 Raba’a massacre the state built an ugly statue honouring the army and the interior ministry. The purpose of the statue was clearly to shit all over the memory of the vanquished (Muslim Brotherhood terrorist as they were presented in state rhetoric) dead. I can’t understand why the state doesn’t build more monuments to its victories over its own people. It would put to bed any and all ambiguity over historical events. “The October 9 Maspero Defeated Hidden Hands Attack on the Army Conference Centre” is arguably better than producing badly edited military propaganda films to rebut an allegation of a state massacre. It is also an investment in public facilities, and a solid fuck you fact.
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Another week of Egypt

An occasional series that will appear whenever I can be arsed to produce it. 

As has been the case for the past year, this week was mostly dominated by news of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, counter-terrorism efforts and Abdel-Fatah.

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King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia modelling a new type of head dress that handily allows wearers to keep presidents of subservient countries within arm’s reach 

* One triple whammy news item combined all of the above, with reports that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are friends again and King Abdallah wants Egypt to do the same with that den of Brotherhood directed hostility against Egypt in the Gulf so that peace and brotherly love can once again be restored in the middle east, qualities for which it is the world’s envy.


A recessive gene and his friend enjoy peace in the Arab region.

The news that Abdel-Fatah is “considering” the Saudi initiative sent his sycophants scrambling.

amr-mostafa A slightly transparent jumper

Musical composer Amr Mostafa (known for some really very catchy pop songs) has had a Facebook page since 2011. He has used it to warn of the dire plots against Egypt being cooked up by the 6 April Youth Group, the United States, Hamas, Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel, the Jews, the January 25 revolution, Mohamed ElBaradei (when he was still in fashion) and the word يريد (“yoreed”, as in el sha3b yoreed esqat el nezam, as in “the people will go out and protest against the regime and then change their mind three years later”). Amr thinks yoreed is a Hebrew word and this ties in which his theory about the January 25 revolution being a zionist plot.

When he started the page it had about 15 likes and everyone laughed at him and dismissed him as a lunatic. Now he has over a million fans and people are still laughing but most of them are in prison.

Anyway Qatar used to feature on that list of massive dangers threatening to destroy Egypt, until two days ago when this happened:

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Showing his strong commitment to his principles Amr says that he retains the crown for the “person in the world who most hates Qatar” but that “we want to build the country now”.

Various attempts were made to justify this U-turn by other members of the anti-Qatar crowd, most noticeably a cumbersome hashtag, #we_support_ourcountry_decision which arguably sums up why Egypt and every other authoritarian country in the world has ended up in the mess it is in since time began.

* While students at universities attempt to avoid being chucked out, arrested or killed for peaceful political activity some female students demanded that they be allowed to join the army in a protest held on a campus which was allowed to go ahead without anyone being shot.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 17.23.50  The Spice Girls announce that they’re reforming

The girls are demanding that women be allowed to volunteer to serve in the army and that military colleges for women be established. One student said that she knows that Egyptian soldiers are “men” (by which she means brave and tough rather than possessors of penises) but that girls too want to defend their country. Military service for males is mandatory in Egypt and it is an honour and a privilege and something that men look forward to. A Facebook friend of mine articulated his distress upon being informed that he had been exempted from military service in a status here, translated by Bing, and over 1,000 people commiserated with him that he had been denied this honour.

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Some girls have a different sort of relationship with the army.

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Say coup de foudre not coup d’etat!

In this, the greatest video in the world, we apparently see a herd of schoolgirls giving chase to two dashing soldiers. A shrill female voice can be heard saying yaghaty yaghaty yaghaty (“phwoar phwoar phwoar”).

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A man being carried away on a tide of turbulent teenage hormones indicates how many life jackets he needs for him and a companion

* This week in the Muslim Brotherhood a man said that the reason Egypt did not qualify for the African Cup of Nations was because of the bearded ones and their antics and their destruction of the institution of Egyptian football over the past three years.

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It’s a good job Egypt didn’t qualify because by Captain Azmy Megahed’s logic Mohamed Morsi would have had to have been appointed general manager of the Egyptian national football team

This week in music a short man in an Angry Birds t-shirt who looks like a Millwall supporter addressed a woman’s pubic region while requesting that members of his audience raise their hands if they hate the Brotherhood and love god.

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…and Bolbola annoyed a man while both of them were fully dressed in a swimming pool and continued to do so after they had got out of the pool in a feminist song.

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The bridge

Just beside the Qasr el-Nil bridge tonight a man suddenly appeared, distress contorting his face as he stared alternately between a police officer and a cart filled with peanuts. He may have been crying even, it was difficult to tell.

The cart, roasted peanut smoke coming out of its chimney, was being wheeled away by young central security forces recruits. They were also looking back at the officer, unsure where to take the contraption. The man appeared to be pleading with the officer, his words inaudible through the taxi window. the officer, a walkie talkie in one hand, grabbed him by his shirt collar, roughed him up a bit, as the cart got further and further away.

Further along, on the bridge, a young man was sitting on the outside of the railing as if to jump. but he was smiling. He hopped back over and ran to catch up with a woman who playfully refused to look at him and kept marching on, feigned fury, held up her palm to his face as she looked resolutely in front of him with the faintest of smiles concealed under the mask. The young man’s smile grew broader.

Even further along, underneath the lions, a man and a woman held up signs reading, “honk if you want the muslim brotherhood to be executed”. The woman’s other hand was in a victory sign. Nobody was bothering them, the police – busy at the other end, perhaps – were nowhere to be seen. My taxi driver didn’t honk.

On sunday night I went to see a film and walked home with a friend, The Pig. a homeless family lives at the end of El-Galaa Bridge and they are permitted (?) to roll out a blanket there late at night. As we passed a woman was seated on it, surrounded by what were presumably her kids. A man holding a plastic bag in one hand was using his other to twist her arm behind her back upwards while she screamed. Then he gave a vicious kick in her side, pushed her over, and so on. At one point he stopped to gently guide a tiny girl who had wandered off and was watching the events with her fingers in her mouth back towards the woman. He used the side of the plastic bag to shepherd her in with an obvious tenderness.

There is a group of policemen permanently stationed in El-Galaa Square. The Pig informed one of them, a heavy set moustachioed character in a leather jacket with the stink of the police about him.

Yes, but they’re together, the officer replied as he considered the scene across the street.

The Pig challenged him.

It’s between them it doesn’t involve any citizens does it, the policeman said. By them he presumably meant street low lives. The Pig, growing more and more irate again asked why he did not feel compelled to intervene to stop a man beating up a woman.

If a man was hitting his son would I intervene? No I wouldn’t, said the policeman, as he regarded the pig with obvious contempt, filled with the knowledge that the interior ministry are back in the position they were prior to 2011 and then some, with the licence on violence and brutality, the prison keys back on their belt.

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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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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.


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:


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


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”.


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


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.


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



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


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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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!


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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