Here is something I did on the radio.
And here I ramble on about why I didn’t vote in the referendum.
Here is something I did on the radio.
And here I ramble on about why I didn’t vote in the referendum.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is something I wrote about the current mess.
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.
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.
On my way home today an hour before sunset there was an ethereal light. It leaked through trees and between buildings and stopped, suspended. Below it the roads were almost entirely empty except for the permanent queue at the petrol station, kept orderly now by a line of police barricades. At its head was a large group of men on motorbikes and carrying jerkins, holding forth in loud voices about an unknown subject.
Further down the almost empty road was a man walking purposefully with a small child. The man was shouting something unintelligible while holding a picture of Morsy with a big red X through his face and “leave” written above his head. He weaved through parked cars and held the poster up forcefully at shop windows.
In the supermarket three employees were huddled together discussing Morsy’s speech, “he spoke for three hours and didn’t say a single thing I wanted to hear” one said. Outside two middle-aged women in Tamarod t-shirts were hailing a cab.
Even as the violence rages in the Delta there is an unbearable tension in Cairo even though we all know what is coming. These 36 hours or so before the June 30 will be like waiting for a spring to snap. If protesters – or the army – wait that long, that is.
At a party yesterday an activist said that he wouldn’t be taken part in June 30 because it isn’t “his fight” but rather between the Muslim Brotherhood and a group of people a large proportion of which seem to be clamouring for army intervention to remove the MB. (There are of course groups who are anti-MB, anti-army and anti-old regime taking part).
I can’t understand why the MB doesn’t retreat, both politically and on the ground. Five of its members have been killed so far, according to reports. If the leadership doesn’t care enough about its members’ lives surely it realises that prolonged, violent clashes on a mass scale will prompt army intervention, and that this army intervention is part of the Tamarod plan for Morsy’s removal. If they withdraw they leave their opposition to either protest peacefully or attack MB property without the clashes, and without loss of life.
Of course if Morsy had any decency he would have made a significant concession by now. As I described at excruciating length in my last post, I have problems with a fairly elected leader being ousted by the army (even where this is on the back of protests and even where the leader is a jumped-up little buffoon from a sinister gang tearing the country apart with its obdurateness) because it means the end of Egypt’s brief experiment in democracy.
The army is already swooping as the protests grow and all we hear from the MB is the steady sound of a grave being dug. There are several possible outcomes to this mess. Even if Morsy is not sacrificed there is likely to be a major army-imposed cleaning out at lower levels. Whatever the result the MB will undergo a military-led emasculation of some sorts and the bill will be written in civilian blood. Everyone loses.
This man’s thumb does not reflect my own opinion.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t keep a diary of events during the revolution, and by that I don’t just mean the major happenings but rather stuff that was going on in my house that turned into a hotel (thanks to its functioning internet and proximity to Tahrir Square rather than my magnetic personality) and my thoughts and feelings (vomit) about everything. It would be nice to remember, but when I started this blog I wrote anonymously and chose the name Amnesiac, and for good reason.
I’m inevitably thinking about what little remains in my head of those days now because apparently on June 30 Egypt will implode (again) when protesters take to the streets in order to demand that Morsy fuck off. There is the same charged atmosphere as there was in 2011 with those who are able rushing to ATMs to withdraw large wads of cash before rushing to supermarkets to buy everything it has left on its shelves before abandoning ship and rushing to the airport to join other panicked people fighting to get onto planes. Embassies have issued the usual warnings to their citizens to avoid large gatherings, expats are shipping out, and if Egyptian social media was a human being it would be your mother, ringing you five times an hour begging you not to leave your house because she has heard that there are men with exploding beards roaming the streets and she is sick with worry.
That panic has taken a physical form on the streets. Egypt has had periodic bouts of fuel shortages in recent years but this is the worst I have witnessed in Cairo (it’s been terrible in other parts of Egypt for yonks but nobody cares, those areas don’t exist, politically, most of the time). Every petrol station you pass has a static queue of vehicles filled with stony-faced drivers who sometimes wait all day to fill up. This has worsened the pre-existing congestion in unimaginable ways, so next to the stony-faced drivers are irascible taxi drivers and other motorists literally fighting their way through the gunk of cars in a haze of heat and pollution and despair.
And then of course there are the Shia lynchings. A friend pointed out that this is 2013’s version of the El-Qedeseen Church bombings that preceded the revolution and prompted (then) rare running street battles with the riot police and a whole lot of useful tension that was funneled into January 25. These horrible murders are different though, firstly, because Egypt’s Shia population is tiny and, secondly, while people were generally horrified by the brutal nature of the killings, Shias remain somewhat of an unknown/suspicious entity to the majority of the population so there isn’t that emotional attachment that arguably exists with Copts.
What they have done is reinforce suspicions that conservative Islamist groups are sinister, heartless, nutjobs on some maniacal mission to turn everyone into versions of themselves (there are allegations that Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi sheikhs incited the mob that killed the four Shia men).
All this has come at a most unfortunate time for Morsy and friends as they attempt to fend off mounting criticism that they are shit. It is also unfortunate that earlier this month Morsy presided over a Syria rally in Cairo Stadium where a sheikh shrieked into a microphone that Shias are “angaas” (impure, sullied) and Morsy sat impassively like he was waiting for a bus. It is also unhelpful that if one delves into the Muslim Brotherhood archives one is assaulted with reams of sectarian nonsense about Shias (and Copts, and also passing references to the “cow worshippers”), and that the muted condemnation of the Shia killings was delivered through gritted teeth and, in the case of @ikhwanweb, issued over 24 hours later.
But this is understandable I suppose, because they are ever so busy deflecting criticism by condemning future outrageous acts of violence and disorder. Have a look at their English page and you will find post after post denouncing the irresponsible opposition intent on burning Egypt. In fact, the MB’s response to political crisis comes in four guises:
1. Suggest that various formations of secularists, communists, nasserists or felool are carrying out an attack on Islam (as pointed out by Basil El-Dabh).
2. Organise a rally attended by mostly male supporters and hope that the Salafis are on board to make up numbers.
3. Announce sudden press conferences at 9.30 p.m. that are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. and which begin at midnight and in which nothing of import is said.
4. Wheel Morsy out for a speech in which he rails against parties listed in point. 1 above while making a total of zero concessions.
So incompetent is the Muslim Brotherhood’s response that it seems to be interpreted in some sectors as, “they’re up to something” rather than “they are a bunch of showers who have not got a fucking clue how to extricate themselves out of this sinking tub of shite and so are winging it through a series of opaque and kneejerk reactions confusing even to themselves”. All this contributes to the panic.
As I have quoteth previously on this blog, the MB are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills. Alas, they have shown themselves to be remarkably uninventive in the autocratic rule department and have largely borrowed from Mubarak (violent thugs at protests, smear campaigns against detractors, invoking draconian legislation to shut critics up, drawing up draconian legislation to shut NGOs up, dismissing everything as a Zionist plot against Egypt or Islam).
So they have had a year to prove themselves worthy of leading this country and largely failed to win confidence. I have yet to meet anyone who defends the way they are running the country, but there are non-MB citizens who are perturbed by calls for his removal on the grounds that he was democratically elected in fair elections.
I have problems with the Tamarod campaign that called for the protests. I don’t like the messy way in which signatures have been collected and announced – it needlessly opened the door to attacks on their credibility. I hate the self-important tone of the Facebook page’s admin, their micromanagement of every detail of the protest and their fascist injunctions about what we can and cannot do (they even want to control what people chant), they swoon in a worrying way about the army and above all else, the non-existence of/failure to articulate clearly a plan for what happens after June 30, whether or not Morsy exits stage left, is unfathomable.
Ideologically, I am extremely torn about the protests’ demands. I would like nothing better than for Morsy and his arrogant, obstinate Brothers to be booted out of Egyptian political life (and I voted for Morsy in order to keep out Shafiq) but have three issues:
1. It would hit the Muslim Brotherhood harder if they were ejected from Egyptian public life via elections. They would not be able to cry foul, and this would hit at their precious legitimacy in a way that the protests don’t. I have long been of the opinion that the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to their own devices as long as the economy can stand it, so that they continue to fuck up, destroy their support base, and we can be rid of them forever. This is a problematic and unpopular position, I know and it assumes firstly, they hold elections and secondly, they don’t forge results.
2. I keep imagining that it was ElBaradei or Hamdeen or someone non-MB and palatable to those taking to the streets on Sunday was elected. I imagine, what if Mr Palatable did something to garner the ire of his (Islamist) opposition on a par with Morsy’s constitutional amendment, something along the lines of removing all reference to Sharia in the constitution (PEDANTS: I AM JUST IMAGINING FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE AND AM NOT SUGGESTING THEY WOULD).
Say that this inspired mass protests similar to those at the presidential palace in December 2012 and that Mr Palatable’s supporters used violence against the raging Islamist mobs. Now imagine that the political impasse dragged on and on until the exasperated Islamist opposition, together with ordinary Egyptians fed up at the economic situation and turmoil (I am assuming that no president could have fixed much in a year) took to the streets demanding Palatable go.
What would my position be? I would most likely stand against the Islamist mob and one of the arguments I would invoke is that Palatable was democratically elected and you, raving Islamist mob, represent nobody but yourselves.
3. If a miracle happened and Morsy did step down as a result of these protests it sets an awkward precedent. Particularly if the army is involved.
So I am in a quandary. I despise the Muslim Brotherhood and hate what they have done to the country. I like democracy, such as it is, and think that respecting clean election results is a useful and pretty essential rule in a functioning society, but then the Muslim Brotherhood themselves seem to have no respect for the rule of law. The reappearance of the Egyptian army in politics would be disastrous, and prompt a jingoistic army lovefest that my embattled nerves could not withstand. It would be ammunition for the Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy” crowd, and that would be heartbreaking.
Bad picture of a good sunset.
Last year I went on a holiday to Gouna, a magical make-believe gated city on the Red Sea. I wrote something about it that for one reason and another forgot to post on my blog. I’ve just returned from a week in Gouna and dug out what I wrote last year and thought that I might as well bung it online.
I finally escaped Cairo, sweating in its summer fury, for Gouna, a couple of months ago. We conveyed ourselves there by Go Bus, securing the last seats to Hurghada, that coast-destroying aberration just up the Red Sea coast from Gouna.
Go Buses leave from Cairo’s central Abdel-Meneim Reyad Square, which houses both a microbus hub and numerous exits and entrances to the October Bridge and downtown Cairo. It is a sludge of vehicles driven by people furious that other drivers exist. Go Buses pick people up outside the office. There is no formally demarcated stopping area other than a cigarette-smoking man sitting on a chair barking orders into a loudspeaker at throngs of families and their suitcases.
Our bus left at 3.10 a.m. and we raced through Cairo’s empty streets to Nasr City where more passengers embarked and a hurried young man thrust a complimentary meal at us in a cardboard box.
Once on the road the film started. It was Sarkhet Namla, (“the scream of an ant”) a mediocre film about class injustice and poverty whose central trope (the poor have no voice in this country, we are all ants) is repeated several thousand times to numbing effect.
We watched a different kind of film somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was daytime by this time, we had watched the sun float out of the sea somewhere in Sokhna. At a police checkpoint a young policeman in plain clothes got on board and languidly surveyed the passengers. He then selected some of the male passengers and demanded to see their IDs before ordering four men off the bus. They were all in their mid-twenties and from their dress, clearly working class. They were taken into an office next to the bus and the grumbling passengers still on the bus watched as the men’s suitcases were searched. Some of us got out to stretch legs or smoke cigarettes.
We asked two policemen on what basis the men had been targeted.
“They are suspects,” one of them replied, without specifying suspected of what. The policemen/conscripts themselves were as usual, poorer, than the men their superiors had stopped, dressed in rumpled, dirty khaki uniforms, their shoelaces undone or torn, their authority as tattered as their clothes.
I remembered hearing once that Egyptian men of a certain profile are refused entry to Sinai unless they can prove that they are employed in one of the resorts. Maybe the same policy applies to all tourist areas. One of the suspect men laughingly told us that he has been working in Hurghada for eight years and this is the first time he has been challenged.
Half an hour later all the men were back on the bus and we were off again.
Since this was the bus to Hurghada we were deposited at the entrance to Gouna. It consists of a security gate and a gently trickling water feature. A passing microbus took us to our hotel.
The interior of this microbus was entirely covered in expressions of devotion to Jesus and Christian Orthodox saints, it was like a mobile church. A small television screen played a tarneema sha3beyya, the first I have ever heard. I enjoyed it. The lyrics flashed across the screen next to images of nature and small children, while the driver, who was from Qena in Upper Egypt talked to us in the waterfall that is the Sa3eedy accent with its tumbling Gs for Qs and Js for Gs.
As is typical, we arrived on one of the hottest days so far of this summer. It was like the sun had taken umbrage at something we said about its mother.
Patrons of Moods, in Gouna’s marina, bathe in water coloured by swirling patterns of boat oil, which everyone ignores. The sea is placid, disturbed only by the passing of enormous yachts and tumbling children pursued by nannies.
Gouna’s marina area is a film set of perfectly constructed buildings in tasteful colours gazed at by the enormous yachts. It is all very calm and very clean. The “downtown” area five minutes away is slightly shabbier, if it possible to use that word in connection with Gouna, and seems to be where the town’s less well-off residents live judging by the ordinariness of some of the boxy apartment blocks there. Visitors are ferried about by tuktuks for LE 5 per trip. They hurtle along the well-signed, well-maintained roads at breakneck speed.
Gouna has its own security force, a library, a hospital. You cannot hear the call to prayer, either because the azaan is quiet or the mosque is at a far remove. It is all very pleasant and – like the majority of tourist and holiday resorts here – as far away from Egypt as you can imagine. Visitors are hit over the head with reminders of where they are by the usual pharonic trinkets and a place called the Nubian Village, but otherwise there is something distinctly and disconcertedly un-Egyptian, almost alien about Gouna, like a 7ft wrestler in a knitting class.
On our first evening, in an area of the town between the Marina and Downtown, we saw the silhouettes of a crowd of people, standing perfectly still. They turned out to be almost life-sized cardboard cutouts of “ordinary” Egyptians: a plump woman in a veil, a disgruntled looking man carrying a plastic bag. It was a strange, soulless display, lost figures scattered around some scrubland, but then Gouna – for all its wonderful qualities – seems intent on reducing Egypt to a two-dimensional spectre of itself and neatly packing it away in the basement.
At a Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon we went to, twice, because it is so good we had a chinwag with one of the waiters who told us that he is known as Bonny because his real name is “too difficult” for the Vietnamese owner and staff.
“What’s your real name?” I asked.
“Abanob”, he said.
We protested that this is not a difficult name, but he said that it is two syllables too much for his Vietnamese colleagues who he says are all extremely economically named with one-syllable appellations. Another waiter announced that everyone, even his parents, call him Maradonna because he was born on the same day as a momentous act by that diminutive Argentinian. His real name was again something distinctly Christian.
I wanted to enquire about the large number of Christians employed in Gouna but it seemed an indelicate question and was in any case based largely on my own unscientific observations. I didn’t do a survey of religions, but the majority of employees I encountered either bore obvious signs of being Christian (crosses, tattoos) or responded to unambiguously Christian names. I wondered how the recruitment process works, whether Christians radiate towards Gouna, baby of the Christian Sawiris dynasty, whether it puts off any potential Muslim employees.
The bus journey was just as unpleasant as last year, and began with another passenger fighting with the harried staff about his seat, which kept falling off.
The film lineup this time was a comedy that made light of domestic violence followed by an Ahmed El-Saqqa flick about women and babies. We stopped at the same checkpoint for nearly an hour and poor young men got on the bus and singled out other poor young men for random body searches and ID checks.
Gouna is still majestically aloof and doesn’t give a toss about what is happening in the rest of Egypt. Life proceeds gently, at the slow rhythm of the waves lapping the shore where the beautiful people continue to frolic. The most dramatic thing I experienced there was a drink holder falling off my bike and a series of cryptic conversations with the woman in the Information Centre who is nice but clearly unused to being asked for information about Gouna.
The town is not entirely impervious to the outside world though: numbers are clearly down and business is suffering.
A boat driver who took us on a tour of the lagoons so we could snoop about (at a safe distance) the millionaires’ villas said that tourism has taken a nosedive ahead of June 30. He maintained that he and other workers in Gouna are prepared to put up with a couple of months suffering if it means that the Muslim Brotherhood are driven out once and for all.
An aunt who has lived in Gouna for three years issued spirited imprecations against the package tour “rubbish” from Europe that is now being admitted to the place. An observation to which I will add nothing other than I hope she wasn’t referring to half-Europeans resident in Cairo.
I encourage everyone, Egyptians, Eurotrash and non-Eurotrash alike to do their bit for the Egyptian economy and visit Gouna. I believe those in Europe can currently get mad good deals. Do it. And if you do go, go to the Zia Amelia restaurant and die and go to heaven as you feast on the most delicately prepared empty carbohydrates you will ever consume.
And nobody has paid me to write any of this, more’s the pity.