Members of the One Hand Group yesterday apologised to their spiritual leaders Tawfik Okasha and amoeba Ahmed Zbaydar for failing in their duty to kill and/or imprison absolutely all Egyptians.

The One Hand Group is a group of 20 retired army officers who in February took over the running of a tour bus previously operated by the Hosny Travels Company. They initially signed-on to run the tour for six months but have since extended their contract without anyone asking them to.

On Sunday the One Hand Group gave a press conference to journalists about recent violence on the bus. Only journalists born within a 10-mile radius of Mansafees, Minya, or Dayroot, Assiut were allowed to attend the conference, which was chaired by pensioner Adel Emara wearing his special green soiree beret.

Emara mostly droned on about foreign plots to flatten the tour bus’ tyres and schemes to undermine the stability of its chassis. When a journalist attempted to question him he threatened to eject her from the conference but instead gave her detention. Another journalist who works for a news agency from a small insignificant Gulf country suspected of funding the plot against the tour bus was reprimanded when she attempted to show Emara a picture of some of the atrocities committed on the bus.

Ploughing on through this maelstrom of press chaos and insurrection Emara provided conclusive proof backing up the One Hand Group’s contention that a subversive group, known as “Egyptians” are pursuing a deadly plot to ensure a better future for the tour bus with better facilities and a better air conditioning system.

Emara screened the video below, in which we see Egyptians wreaking havoc in a garden shortly before they boarded the tour bus.

“What kind of people attack a tour bus! What kind of people throw molotovs at the television monitors!” he asked nobody in particular.

“Our men showed the upmost restraint while pursuing their task of wiping out the Egyptians, as they did during the Maspero affair,” Emara said, making reference to the events of October 9 when Egyptians threw themselves in front of the tour bus in an attempt to destablise it.

Emara elaborated on this restraint, explaining that rather than use boulders they threw rocks, stones, china, filing cabinets, ladders and sheets of glass off the top of the tour bus at the riff raff below them, which is kinder. They also used large groups of men to beat up individual Egyptians in order to ensure a quicker end.

Egyptians that inconveniently refused to cease living were dealt with speedily in the tour bus’ luggage compartment, Emara said, explaining that the One Hand Group’s men were “under great pressure” as women, rather than stay at home and excoriate themselves about their female existence went out and flung themselves at batons and shoes while being armed with breasts.

Tawfik Okasha, a professional mouth who has a Phd from the University of Doesntexistongoogle said that the One Hand Group had not done enough to kill all Egyptians.


Ahmed Zbaydar the amoeba could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press, it is believed that he might have been accidentally obliterated by some errant Dettol.

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Walls go up


There are now not one, but four walls in downtown Cairo. Huge cubes of round-edged cement are clumsily stacked on top of each other, as if by a child. Hours after its construction, the Qasr al-Aini wall was almost completely covered in graffiti on the protesters’ side. Tens of silhouetted army soldiers stood sentry behind the cubes, visible through the gaps between them. Two young boys stood next to the wall and made obscene gestures at soldiers on the building behind the wall. Above them a young man clambered on top of the cubes and stretched out his arms to the side, fingers in a victory sign.

Around the corner the battle raged, with perhaps ten meters separating the two sides. The protesters’ front line was a wriggling mess of men and women in constant motion made up of three rows of stone throwers and spectators and people ferrying rocks to the front line. The flying missiles filled the sky like locusts. Protesters cheered and advanced at each security retreat, and were met with the sound of ammunition of some kind. False alarms of an army advance produced panicked surges back every so often. Old hands stood their ground in the middle and shouted “esbet, esbet”(stand your ground).

The army has been trying to find a successful formula to control public space for 10 months and has tried everything from threats of the law to attempts to co-opt political players to physical brutality and incitement of the general public against protesters. Nothing has worked. The protesters returned to Tahrir, and then to parliament. The threat of death and injury has not been enough to keep them away, and the army has resorted to this most crude of devices to control them, erecting monuments to its own failure.

It has adopted a similar approach in its dealings with that other public space, the media. On Saturday, gangs of soldiers raided flats and hotels overlooking Tahrir Square in order to confiscate and destroy the cameras filming the brutality below. It threw Al Jazeera’s equipment off a balcony. It wasn’t quite quick enough. The whole world has seen the image of the soldier stomping on the breasts of the prostrate woman in the blue bra while next to her six soldiers vigorously set upon a man like a pack of feral dogs.

There were other images, too — of a woman in her late fifties surrounded and hit, old men caught and bashed, bleeding children being dragged away by soldiers twice their size, photographs of a smiling Al-Azhar sheikh and a student of medicine, both shot and killed. In another universe this might constitute damning evidence but here, capturing the truth of something means holding truth hostage, making it disappear.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) employed Major General Adel Emara to do just that on Monday, assisted by Egyptian state media in yet another post-crisis press conference. Emara, in a green beret, sat in front of journalists and delivered a soliloquy about plots to destabilize Egypt and genuine and non-genuine revolutionaries and the enormous pressure soldiers are under and the disaster of the books lost in the Insitut d’Egypte fire. When Al Jazeera English journalist Nadia Abul Magd held up a copy of the front page of Al-Tahrir newspaper, featuring the now infamous photograph of a half-naked woman being attacked by soldiers, Emara instructed her to put it away. The SCAF general dealt with this incident by saying it was under “investigation” and told us that we must think about the circumstances in which it happened and the pressure soldiers are under.

Just like that, one of the most shocking images of the last 10 months was dismissed with the prospect of a disciplinary procedure that will likely never happen. Then Emara screened a video of the SCAF’s interpretation of recent events — the usual compilation of murky night shots and shaky mobile footage of youths hurling rocks and missiles at a target kept conveniently out of frame. This was interspersed with the “confessions” of various individuals including minors who had clearly been physically assaulted and seemed to have memorized a script. Inevitably, there were echoes of Maspero as Emara delivered his performance and the journalists clapped (literally). Maspero, when even death was rewritten.

There is a terrible absurdity in all this, not least of which is that as the atrocities get worse and the excuses more preposterous, public support for SCAF remains unchanged — there has been no significant public outcry over the latest scenes (outside of Tahrir Square and independent media), no mass rallying behind the call for an end to military rule.

State television’s Channel 1 had an interesting split screen on Saturday evening. On one side it was showing one of its insipid documentaries on Cairo, full of picturesque, tranquil shots of Nile and Islamic Cairo. This was juxtaposed against live shots of the battling on Qasr al-Aini. When I first switched it on I thought they were making some kind of point: look what we’ve lost because of these Tahrir hooligans. In fact, it seems to be their version of coverage following the Maspero fallout (when they were viewed as accomplices to army murder): accept grudgingly that something is happening but don’t enquire. But this strange split screen captures Egypt at the moment: Tahrir in a little box, the others, with their resentment and anxiety and yearning for stability in another.

On my way to the funeral of Sheikh Emad Effat, killed outside parliament on Friday, the taxi driver said that protesters who died in recent events “can go to hell” — a stark condemnation given the taboo about speaking ill of the dead. The taxi driver argued that the protesters “are not genuine revolutionaries.” Emara used the same tactic during his press conference. This has been the military’s strongest weapon. It has succeeded in dehumanizing protesters, making them unworthy of respect even in death while its soldiers are exculpated from the most inhuman of acts, again and again. Untouchable. Not all walls are visible.

Originally published here.

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Piss off!

As a service to readers who don’t read Arabic, we have translated a recent important column* by Al-Masry Al-Youm editor Magdy El-Gallad, commenting on this. And this

I have been bestowed with many blessings, and one of them is that I was chosen to be Magdy El-Gallad. I am waterproof, microwave and oven safe, and most importantly I fear no criticism. I fear nobody.

Another blessing is that like you, dear reader, I was lucky enough to be born of an Egyptian mother. The Internet doesn’t exist. All of you lucky enough to be reading this are members of the superior race, in the beautiful Land of Kanana.

I have learnt that being proud of my country means using it as a basis for ad hominem attacks on colleagues and others I disagree with, as well as a device for constructing fascistic, paranoid delusions designed to distract people from the fact that I am a self-obsessed, cow-towing sycophant.

Robert Springborg (who I describe as American when he is in fact Australian because it fits into my theory of a US plan to invade Egypt**) and that British correspondent Alistair Beach don’t understand something. Even some Egyptians living amongst us have misunderstood – despite their superior intellect – because they have been mislead by the Internet. What they have misunderstood is this:


Springborg and Beach don’t understand this because they hail from countries with inferior genes. They don’t understand that I WILL NOT BE THREATENED, other than by whoever happens to be in power in Egypt today.

As we have established, I am not an ordinary mortal. Since I am not an ordinary mortal I gave the benefit of the doubt to the idiots working in the new Al-Masry Al-Youm English supplement when they decided to publish that article by Springborg. Not everyone can be Magdy El-Gallad, but luckily Magdy El-Gallad can be everywhere.

Springborg wrote an article suggesting that there are schisms between my moustache and my face, and that my moustache – together with my nostril hair – wants to stage a coup against my face. This Springborg supposes to threaten me with well-researched opinion pieces based on a 30-year academic career!

I do not fear Springborg, nor the Independent, nor Foreign Policy nor that broken record of “freedom of opinion” that the West uses to play its dirty games against us. I don’t give a damn about Springborg or his great country that I say is the US when it is in fact Australia**, because the US fits my imperialist plot theory better. I will not publish his article and will bang the nationalist drums in order to cover up the censorship.


Springborg thinks that I can be blackmailed into publishing this article when I don’t give two hoots about what he thinks, because a single, testosterone-filled black hair of my (non-coup leading) moustache is better than him, his country and the entire West.

While he is busy plotting instability on my face I am with the common man, lurking around Establ Antar and Imbaba going on about the good honest Egyptian brown soil before leaving to my lucrative CBC presenting job. I work for the common man. I AM THE COMMON MAN AND THE UNCOMMON MAN.

I say to Springborg this: our several thousand years of culture has taught us that difference of opinion is healthy, unless it is difference of opinion about my moustache. 87 million Egyptians and the army and Islamists are in agreement about my moustache because my moustache is Egypt, and they were taught to love Egypt while still at their mother’s breast. In fact my mother has on several occasions tried to throw me in the Nile, such was her concern to teach me to love this blessed country.

I say to Robert Springborg and to those in league with him: Springborg, you are an American (whether you like it or not)** and you work for the US Ministry of Defence. Your status as a foreigner from a foreign country disqualifies you from the right to comment on affairs concerning my face. I say this because I am the gatekeeper for Egyptian morals and decide what and what Egyptians can handle with regards to moustache affairs.


*Update: Max Strasser provides an alternative English translation here.

**In fact I am informed by someone who knows Mr Springborg that he is a dual citizen. Clearly I am the douche who didn’t do my homework and not El-Gallad.






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Bloody elections

I wrote something about them and Arabist put it up here.

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November 19th

There is a public toilet in a car park in Falaky Square, downtown Cairo, whose walls have become an outlet for people’s grievances.

At the end of January a joker had scrawled “we want freedom, we want to live, we want Hashish”. In February, a huge and beautiful mural of one of the revolution’s martyrs appeared. The council painted it out and the kids came back and drew it again. Then the anti-army graffiti started, including one stencil of the Field Marshall’s underpants. The latest graffiti before the November 19 uprising was of Alaa Abdel-Fatah, imprisoned by the army at the end of October.

On Saturday this public toilet was turned into a defence against riot police attacked from a street directly opposite it. Protesters and spectators sat on top of the building or sheltered behind it as teargas canisters, flying brides with their train of vicious white danced around them and buckshot splintered into pieces, and into people.

The scene was repeated at several points around Tahrir Square, as for six days the police and protesters engaged in trench warfare led by indefatigable young men in LE 15 gas masks on one side, and armed troops on the other. The battle eventually turned into a costly and interminable war of attrition waged over 50 metre stretches of street. The Interior Ministry’s defence of its actions is that it was defending the Ministry building – its “house” – against hooligans intent on attacking it. Never mind that if you look at a map of downtown Cairo you will find that the battles are on streets that either don’t lead directly to the Ministry or are relatively far removed from it.

Never mind also that the spark for these clashes was a violent attack by police and army soldiers trying to clear a tiny sit-in in Tahrir Square a week ago.

There is a stunning obtuseness to Interior Ministry actions, barely masked by the viciousness.

Like a lumbering heavyweight fighter it stumbles from public relations disaster to public relations disaster, pounding its way through problems. The approach worked with minor dissent but has proved to be less successful 30 years later when there are ten people to replace the one taken out by a bullet. But still it continues, defending itself and its “yard” using the same unsuccessful tactics, briefly cowed in January, but now back on its feet and smarting.

On numerous occasions during these six days the riot police fired multiple volleys of teargas. I witnessed five or six in the span of a minute. It didn’t feel like riot control so much as punishment, or revenge. Brave protesters picked up the canisters and returned them to sender, but the field hospitals set up around Tahrir Square received a never-ending stream of people who had either suffocated on the gas or were experiencing minor spasms, thought to be as a result of exposure to huge amounts of gas in a confined area, thereby reducing oxygen in the blood to dangerous levels.

Despite this, spirits remained high. On one night a man stood in the middle of the clashes, raised his arms in the air and expounded in florid classical Arabic, “DO NOT TURN YOUR BACKS ON THE ENEMY!”

“Mate, talk to us in Arabic so we understand you,” a man grumbled in the Egyptian dialect as he sauntered past.

During the six days of fighting the square itself became a squalid mess of medical waste, human waste and rubbish whose miasma was sealed in by a floating ceiling of bonfire smoke and occasional teargas. At night figures drifted in and out of the gloom in masks, gas or medical, or with faces wrapped in scarves or covered up by goggles. Sometimes people wore all of the above.

A thriving market in industrial safety wear inevitably developed as Cairo’s enterprising street vendors identified a gap and plugged it with goods bought from the nearby Gomhoreya Street, Mecca for all things construction. Goggles are sold for LE 10, gas masks LE 15, medical masks LE 1.

An ambient seller walked through the crowd holding the masks aloft shouting, “protect your heart, protect your chest…Masks, masks”. By the third day the streets around Tahrir resembled a cross between an emergency room and Star Wars, as people sat at cafes with helmets on and gas masks hanging around their necks as they drank tea and this became normality.

Tahrir became even more all-consuming then it did in January, the constant battling a permanent reminder of its fragility. A blitz mentality developed, the sense of solidarity manifested in everyone looking the same in their industrial safety wear uniforms. A little army formed, and the outside world was forgotten.

One night we wandered up from Falaky Square and found ourselves amongst an angry crowd of men who prevented anyone taking photos and aggressively shooed protesters out of their area. On state radio there are callers who out-Mubarak the notoriously deferential state radio, calling the Tahrir protesters child hooligans set on dragging Egypt into the abyss and rejecting any suggestion that Tahrir Square represents them.

On the sixth day of fighting – the day a truce held – I was back at that bloody public toilet in Falaky Square and witnessed an animated discussion between citizens. It was like taking a time machine back to February 2nd 2011 when the state media propaganda machine was at its zenith and you couldn’t move for infiltrating elements and their meddling hands.

A group of men furiously condemned the Tahrir protest, saying that peaceful expression of demands is one thing, “destruction” another. They rejected the idea that the police were at fault. One man said that the army had scheduled elections and put in place a timeframe for a handover to civilian rule – what else did the protesters want?

Another man alleged that protesters were being paid LE 50 a day. He didn’t say who was paying them.

They were admonished by a tall and robust looking woman who called the protesters “men” and rejected the idea that protesters had vandalisd property or started the violence.

She asked where the police were during the security vacuum, and how it is they are now everywhere “like ants”.

“How are protesters meant to defend themselves against the police?” she asked when the men challenged her about Molotovs and rocks thrown by protesters.

“Are they just meant to sit there rocking back and forth reading the Quran and hope for the best?”

A phrase, “the sofa party”, has developed recently to describe those perceived as reactionary or apathetic. They are often conflated with another group, vocal Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) supporters, who think that the revolution was a foreign plot to destablise Egypt.

This group – on Facebook called “we are sorry President [Mubarak]” staged a protest to counter Tahrir on Friday. At its largest a reported 15,000 turned out at the protest to condemn the people of Tahrir, (all traitors and/or foreign agents) Freemasons (Israelis) and “pro-revolution” TV presenters such as Yosri Fouda (mercenaries).

I attended one of their protests once, and it was an extraordinary display of jingoistic paranoia and anti-revolution bile. One speaker, Hassan El-Ghandoury – who once kidnapped an activist, Amr Gharbeia, and publicly admitted to doing so, describing it as a “citizen’s arrest” – played a song dedicated to Hosny Mubarak whose refrain is, “you are a legend, general”.

They are however the extremist wing of the “silent majority”, that amorphous lump of general public perceived as prepared to support anything just for a quiet life. Tahrir and the protests elsewhere in Egypt have yet to co-opt them – at least in terms of numbers on the ground – and it is a mistake to dismiss them. The elections – scheduled despite everything to start on Monday – will decide where they stand.

In case you’re asking I won’t be voting. Neither will several of my acquaintances. While there is a strong argument against a boycott (it might help keep out religiously conservative forces) it doesn’t sway my conviction that taking part in the election gives legitimacy to a regime that doesn’t deserve it, that has treated Egyptians like foolish children and whose only display of creativity during this never-ending transitional process has been in methods of killing people and building walls.

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A group of pensioners running the Egypt tour bus say that they will not allow the tour to be disrupted by uninvited elements who surreptitiously enter the bus with the assistance of foreign backing and then attempt to sabotage it.

Pensioner Mahmoud Hegazy told reporters that one such element, Alaa Abdel-Fatah, had been summoned for questioning by members of the One Hand Group today.

Hegazy said that the One Hand Group was acting on information received from the group’s legal advisor, Ahmed Zbaydar.

Zbaydar is an amoeba who has defied evolution and developed the ability to fastidiously apply copious amounts of hair gel despite always wearing Michael Jackson leather gloves. In addition, he produces a high pitched droning sound believed to be speech and whose frequency is only audible and comprehensible by douches, hence his job, his recent appearance on the Tawfik Okasha talk show and his popularity on Youtube.

Pensioner Mahmoud Hegazy.

An amoeba indicating the size of something.

Abdel-Fatah has been charged with assaulting members of the One Hand Group, stealing machine guns and inciting violence against the One Hand Group.

These charges relate to an unfortunate incident on October 9 2011 when members of a subversive group known as the Egyptian Orthodox Christians stood on the side of the road chanting and singing hymns, causing great fright and distress to the driver of the Egypt tour bus who had no choice other than to accelerate and mow them down.

Other members of the subversive group responded by deliberately colliding their bodies with the Egypt tour bus, which again caused great fright and distress to the elderly members of the One Hand Group and greatly undermined stability.

Pensioner Mohsen El-Fingary’s finger is reportedly limp since the incident.

“iogw9erjo qhu Alaa ncoiuvuoiua auw99r30 nf” 290fjeg 8q2jilef 2q2in, said Zbaydar.

Pensioner Hegazy translated Zbaydar’s comments for reporters. “Alaa was there inciting violence and stealing weapons. He drove off in a tank”.

One reporter asked Hegazy to ask Zbaydar whether he had personally witnessed this. Zbaydar responded – via Hegazy – that he had not in fact seen this because amoebae don’t have eyes, but that his trusted friend Mas Pero told him it happened.

It was also revealed that a member of the Egyptian Orthodox Christians group who died on October 9 is also now a suspect alongside Abdel-Fatah and is also wanted in connection with crimes committed on October 15 and October 18 – although so far police have been unable to track him down.

Zbaydar also revealed via a powerpoint presentation that Abdel-Fatah had been involved in several other high profile incidents and that he is likely to be questioned about them.

The amoeba provided photographic evidence to back up these claims, reproduced below.

 Abdel-Fatah was seen shortly before the murder of King Hamlet.

Abdel-Fatah was present when the Israelites fled Egypt and blogged about helping the prophet Moses to part the Red Sea.

Americans want answers about where Abdel-Fatah was on April 15 1865.

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Marching from Shubra to deaths at Maspero

This is my account of what I saw yesterday at Maspero, originally published here.

The march from the Cairo district of Shubra was huge, like the numbers on 28 January. In the front row was a group of men in long white bibs, “martyr upon demand” written on their chests. A tiny old lady walked among them, waving a large wooden cross: “God protect you my children, God protect you.”

The march started down Shubra Street around 4 pm, past its muddle of old apartment buildings, beat up and sad but still graceful compared with the constructions from the Mubarak era next to them – brutish and unfinished-looking.

A man explained why there were bigger numbers than the march last week in response to the attack on the St. George’s Church in Aswan: the army had hit a priest while violently dispersing Coptic protesters in front of the Maspiro state TV building on Wednesday. A video posted online showed a young man being brutally assaulted by army soldiers and riot police.

At a traffic underpass at the end of Shubra Street, at around 6 pm, there was the sudden sound of what sounded like gunfire. Protesters at the front told those behind to stop – the march was under attack. Rocks rained down from left and right and from the bridge, underneath which protesters were taking shelter.

Some threw stones back. Behind them, protesters chanted, “The people want the removal of the Field Commander.” The stone throwing eventually stopped sufficiently for the march to continue. A teenage boy crossed himself repeatedly as he moved forward toward the rocks.

Darkness fell just as the march reached Galaa Street. “This is our country,” protesters chanted, led by a man on a pickup truck full of speakers. An illuminated cross floated through the darkness. At the headquarters of state daily newspaper Al-Ahram, a single rock was thrown at the door, likely a comment on its coverage of violence against Copts.

Outside the Ramsis Hilton Hotel, the chanting stopped momentarily – the exuberance of having escaped the attack in Shubra faded as the march rounded the corner toward Maspiro.

It was immediately met with gunfire in the air. As protesters continued moving forwards, the gunfire continued.

Suddenly, there was a great surge of people moving back, and something strange happened. Two armored personnel carriers (APCs) began driving at frightening speed through protesters, who threw themselves out of its path. A soldier on top of each vehicle manned a gun, and spun it wildly, apparently shooting at random although the screams made it difficult to discern exactly where the sound of gunfire was coming from.

It was like some brutal perversion of the military show the armed forces put on for the 6th of October celebration three days before. The two vehicles zigzagged down the road outside Maspiro underneath the 6th of October Bridge and then back in synchronicity, the rhythm for this particular parade provided by the “tac tac tac” of never-ending gunfire, the music the screams of the protesters they drove directly at.

And then it happened: an APC mounted the island in the middle of the road, like a maddened animal on a rampage. I saw a group of people disappear, sucked underneath it. It drove over them. I wasn’t able to see what happened to them because it then started coming in my direction.

Later, as riot police fired tear gas at another small attempt at a demonstration and fires burned around Maspiro, I found on the floor part of one of the white “martyrs upon demand” bibs the men had been wearing, and took it home. It had been ripped in half.


The Coptic Hospital tried its best to deal with the sudden influx of casualties. Its floors were sticky with blood and there was barely room to move among the wounded, the worried and the inconsolable.

A man asked if we were press, and whether we’d like to film the morgue if we “were strong enough.”

The morgue was a harshly lit two-room building surrounded by men and women screaming and hitting themselves in paroxysms of grief. In the first room there were two bodies, middle-aged men on the floor next to the fridge, which we were told held three bodies. In the other room there were the bodies of 12 men of varying ages.

A young woman sat by one of them clasping his hand and wailing. Vivian and Michael, who were engaged to be married. Michael had been crushed, his leg destroyed. Next to Michael was the body of a man whose face was contorted into an impossible expression. A priest opened his hands and showed me the remains of the man’s skull and parts of his brain. He too had been crushed.

Outside a woman said out loud to the dead, “How lucky you are, now in heaven!” A man screamed, “We won’t be silent again.”


Even while the wounded were still being brought in, state TV was reporting that Christian protesters stole weapons from the army and killed soldiers, and that the busy foreign hands are back again, still trying to destabilize Egypt.

There should be a finality in death, an unchallengeable truth when it happens with the simple brutality of last night. But even when death happens on Maspiro’s doorstep, it can be rewritten, in order to lend a twisted sense where there is none, to justify the impossible and, above all, to sabotage any attempt to consider that the problem is within us, not without.

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We have our men

There was something different about Dokki police station after the revolution, or perhaps it just changes at night, when the civil servants dispensing ID cards leave the building to the police.

From the outside nothing has changed, there are still a group of men at the gate identifiable only as policemen when they ask you where you’re going. The police are in the service of the people, a sign says. There is a momentary smell of piss from an unidentifiable source in the courtyard.

Inside the villa that houses the police station the same never-ending stream of young men dressed in cheap clothes walk up and down the corridor, knock on closed doors, or just lounge, waiting. Their superiors intermittently emerge from offices, strut and stare, stare and strut, handguns pointing out of jean waistbands like a shark’s fin.

We are eventually admitted into an office containing two desks, a sofa, a television, a picture of Mecca, a screen concealing a bed and five men doing nothing. A young, well-dressed officer sitting behind a desk, after consulting our IDs and availing himself of a diary, asks us to tell us what the problem is.


My cousin came home from work on Monday and found that someone had drawn, in pencil, a Star of David and written next to it, ‘there is no god but God’ on the wall next to her front door. I photographed it and she immediately rubbed it off.

We don’t know who did this, or why they did it. The writing was a sort of childish scrawl, but the star was drawn at a height a young kid wouldn’t have been able to reach. While the graffiting of Islamic expressions is common in Egypt, a Star of David never accompanies them, and has only one meaning.

There is a background to this, and that is that my grandfather was Jewish and converted to Islam while in his teens. He raised his family as Muslims and I’m told was liked, that he took care of his family, friends and employees. My mother casually mentioned a month or so again that they had some trouble during the 1967 war, but other than that his religious origins don’t seem to have been an issue.

There are people in the neighbourhood who know my grandfather was Jewish, children of people who knew him. Maybe that’s relevant. Or maybe the fact that I am foreign and my house was the venue of a very celebratory and very loud party the night of Mubarak’s ousting attended by Egyptians and foreigners is relevant.

About a month ago there was a fight over parking in our street and my aunt swore she heard a man refer to our house as “that house of Jews”. Someone else though says she misheard. So the art on my cousin’s wall might be the first or second incident, we don’t know.

In any case my friend Noov sought the advice of her lawyer friend and they all advised filing a ma7dar waq3a with the police, something like opening a file and recording an event, just in case. I resisted vehemently, since the police are useless and hating the police is one of my favourite activities. She and others insisted this was the correct course of action, and that there is no alternative. So we went to the police station.


We told the young officer all this. He demanded to know who lives in our building and when he discovered that the ground floor is rented out by one of my aunts to people who are not family became fixated on them, insisting that they might be involved simply because they are not related to us. I had to repeatedly state that he was wrong several times.

I thought that generally I was being very polite and congratulated myself on behaving while talking to a popo. When we were waiting outside the office Noov told me that I was in fact behaving in a surly and rude manner towards him.

Next was the senior officer’s room and when I walked in I almost walked out immediately. I recognised the officer as the cop who had physically attacked a Dostor journalist during a protest last year outside the Kuwaiti Embassy. He had screamed in my face to leave during the protest, and generally been a shit.

Today though he was a model of professionalism, sitting at his big leather desk in his office with its paneled walls and high ceiling. He didn’t recognise me. The whole room smelt of an expensive aftershave, in fact several expensive aftershaves. All of the policemen looked confident, at home. One man came into the office wearing slippers. They all emitted a sort of quiet hubris.

It was decided that the young officer accompanied by three others would “inspect the scene”. I tried to explain that there was nothing to see but they insisted. I told the young officer that I don’t want the issue to escalate.

“What do you think we’re going to do? Go to everyone in your neighbourhood and tell them your grandfather was Jewish?” he said.

“We have our men – on every street, in every area. We’re just going to ask questions.”

We got in our car, they got in the officer’s Volvo Passat, and off we went.

Silently we went up the door of my cousin’s flat and looked at the blank wall. Stared at nothing, with the assistance of a mobile phone light. Then they left, and briefly questioned Mahmoud our bawwab (janitor) about what he had seen and why he doesn’t have a passport (he is a refugee from Darfur and hasn’t renewed it) and then left.

We returned to our cars while I had visions of Mahmoud being deported and wanted to die.

Back at the police station we returned to the junior officer’s room and waited while he dealt with a man who was going to get him the names of all the taxi drivers who worked at the Pyramisa Hotel. A complaint had been filed. The man was clearly an informant. The junior officer asked him if he would be able to get him this list of names and the man paused mid-sentence and his expression said say for your eyes anything. They both smiled, the man left.

Behind us Hala Sarhan was on television presenting her show “Naas Book”.

We were sent downstairs to write the ma7dar in an almost empty basement room filled with an esteefa (reception) desk and empty barred cage. There was a man with a young boy still in school uniform at midnight but noone else other than the uniformed officers.

A jolly middle-aged man began writing the ma7dar. “You have an Egyptian ID so you’re Egyptian, but where are you from?” he asked. I explained that my father is from England.

“England is Britain, isn’t it?” he asked maybe making a joke I couldn’t tell. He wrote Egyptian-British in the ma7dar.

Several dad-like jokes were made during the writing of the ma7dar, we battled on nonetheless.

I explained about my grandfather. “This is news that makes me happy, to hear that someone has converted to Islam,” he said. Noov tried to put the graffiti incident in context; there is currently suspicion of all things foreign and so this needs to be viewed in that context – foreigners are regarded as spies, as a threat.

Something clicked in his head. “Just like people think that all police are bad!” he exclaimed, and set about writing the ma7dar with a renewed sense of purpose. I felt sick, again.


A sad thing about this whole sorry episode is the discovery first hand that the police still don’t know how to police. There is still the same reliance on informants, the lack of imagination in the detective work, the bullying lad culture of it all.

This experience comes at a particularly low point in Egypt’s transition, one filled with confusion and violence and a sense that we’re being robbed.

I try to avoid watching scenes from January 28 – February 11. It’s like looking at a photo-wedding album with the knowledge that the bride is killed on honeymoon. Even if sensibly speaking I know that what happened was immense and historic there is still this awful sense of what if, what could have been, and that now that door has closed.

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A group of septuagenarians who took over a tour bus and crashed it defended their actions last night.

“We were asked to go on this fucking tour. We didn’t invite ourselves,” Mamdouh Shaheen said as he walked away from the debris.

Shaheen was one of 20 retired army officers invited onto the tour bus by the now defunct Hosny Travels Company.

Other guests on the tour – which was scheduled to last 6 months but in fact extended well beyond this period and only ended when the bus crashed – said that while initially friendly, the pensioners soon became aggressive and shirty with other passengers.

Passenger Hamdeen Sabahy said that the tour had initially been “unpleasant” until January 2011 when the Hosny Travels Company collapsed and ownership of it was transferred in mysterious circumstances to the One Hand Group.

Sabahy said that the group of 20 pensioners appeared “just before we were told that the company had collapsed”.

For a short period the tour became “magical”, passengers say, as they were allowed to roam around Egypt freely “without some cunt in a uniform accosting them”.

When the pensioners boarded the bus they were “very friendly”, other passengers say, and pledged to offer support and protection for the tour.

“They sent us cute SMSes on our phones telling us to behave and protect the tour. We thought they were joking,” one passenger said, adding that the pensioners sometimes dressed in their military uniforms and allowed passengers to take photographs with them.

The mood soon changed.

“They made us do a vote on the route the tour bus would take. We wanted to go Cairo – Luxor – Aswan because that makes sense. They gave us this choice, or an alternative option of going Luxor – Cairo –Aswan – which is patently ridiculous and unworkable,” passenger Amr Hamzawy said.

“Somehow the unworkable option won. They then said that they would draw up a menu declaration. It took ages to arrive and when it did they had completely changed the sandwiches section”.

All of the passengers agreed that they don’t remember when and how the pensioners had taken over the tour bus but didn’t say anything because the bus appeared to be moving forward, albeit occasionally on the wrong side of the road.

In March trouble started when tour bus passengers insisted on visiting Tahrir Square, and staying there for a while.

The pensioners became violent and aggressive when they refused to leave, and insisted that they visit the Egyptian Museum, where they assaulted them.

Mohamed ElBaRaDei, a retired diplomat complained about the lack of a clear roadmap or timeline for the tour.

“Disorganised and unprofessional. Opaqueness and lack of a clear vision eroded credibility. Shame”, he said.

Things changed on the bus, too. The pensioners began monitoring films and programmes shown on the bus’ television monitors. They started posting statements on the bus windows accusing some of the passengers of being criminals.

“Sometimes one of the pensioners, General Fingary, read out the statements in a strange voice,” a passenger said.

Matters became even more sinister.

“I was locked in the luggage compartment for 6 days after I told one of pensioners that he is a moron and has ruined the tour,” a passenger who requested anonymity said.

“They made me play paper stone scissors with someone they said is a lawyer and when I lost they said that I had been found guilty and down I went”, he added.

Soon passengers were being denied the right to speak without first presenting a short summary of what they intended to say to pensioner Mohamed El-Tantawy.

The crash that ended the tour happened when the pensioners announced that the bus would be going for a short detour to Eilat because it’s lovely there and they needed to see some friends.

Passengers began chanting in protest and the pensioners responded by driving the bus backwards while spraying them with fire extinguishers.

We asked ElBaRaDei what happened next but he was unable to say because he he had been sending a short message to Twitter at the time. It is believed that Fingary, while waving his big finger about knocked the steering wheel, causing the tour bus to fall into a canal.

Shaheen insists that the pensioners did nothing wrong.

“Those bunch of bastards didn’t have a fucking clue and about running a tour it was a bloody circus. Everyone was doing what the hell he wanted to do. Complete chaos and instability, it was a fucking shit show. What they don’t understand is that order is more important than fun. Now they know,” Shaheen commented, before buggering off.

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It’s all revolution goddamit.

I don’t usually like to expound on events I haven’t witnessed first hand (I was stuck at home with flu) but can’t shut up about what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night, or more specifically the response to what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night.

What happened (according to media reports) is that after protesters dismantled the hideous wall erected by the army last week outside the Israeli Embassy a group entered the building housing the Embassy. They were able to gain access to one floor of the two-level Embassy where they threw documents out of the window. There were apparently some diplomatic staff on the building’s upper floor, and one member of staff was accosted by the group and the Military Police had to rescue him. The Israeli flag was removed, again.

The Ambassador and almost all diplomatic staff were evacuated by an Israeli military jet.

Later on riot police finished whatever it was they had been doing for the past eight hours and using their typically light-handed approach and, having lost control, used armoured vehicles to drive at protesters.

Much of the criticism (on Twitter and Facebook) centers around Egypt’s obligation to protect diplomatic missions under international law. The Vienna Convention applies to states not citizens. The criticism levelled against protesters in this regard is thus confusing; why didn’t the army and the police protect the building?

Because this is a trap set by SCAF for protesters, has largely been the response. Commenting on my Facebook friend Per Bjorklund says this:

Some people might not see this as the SCAF losing control but an example of what some elements in society will do when left to their own devices. Trying to spread confusion and fear by creating a sense of chaos and disorder isn’t exactly an unusual tactic for regimes facing popular uprisings. Riots and violence will always push a lot of people to support any force for stability, whether the military or the ikhwan, even if a majority support the cause – in this case chasing the ambassador out of the country. Even within “the movement” some people will think things have gone to far, which will create divisions. It seems like this has been the strategy of the SCAF for seven months now because it’s basically their only option – but that doesn’t mean they will succeed or that the Egyptian street won’t see through it, or that the revolutionaries should back down from future confrontations.

On the basis of what I saw on Al Jazeera Mubasher and on Twitter it does seem that the army allowed the Embassy to be breached rather than being overpowered. As we saw when protesters attempted to march to the Ministry of Defence on July 23 2011 when the army doesn’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen.

The suggestion is that since general publics everywhere love draconian measures (as long as they don’t directly fall victim to them) SCAF engineered a situation whereby a mob of braying barbarians broke into and ransacked the Embassy, attacked the nearby Giza Security Directorate before engaging in a violent street battle with the fuzz.

The theory goes that this allows SCAF to impose draconian measures as part of a noble attempt to stop the barbarian hoards from dragging Egypt into a cycle of chaotic violence that will culminate in war with Israel, activists using amateur DIY hammers to knock down the billion dollar wall built by the US and Israel on Egypt’s border with Gaza, Khaled El-Meshal being elected President of Egypt and the closure of Carrefour and City Stars.

My only problem with this is that 1. SCAF have been imposing draconian measures for the past 8 months, seemingly oblivious to criticism 2. They don’t need to engineer situations to do what the fuck they want and 3. the draconian measures (12,000 people tried in military courts) have done nothing to discourage felons nor encourage the police to do their job of maintaining law and order.

The argument that protesters have given SCAF the perfect excuse to clamp down on them thus strikes me as odd. What exactly were SCAF doing in the past 8 months if not clamping-down on dissent? Yes of course they could escalate, but allowing the risk of a SCAF escalation to dictate protest strategy amounts to giving up.

SCAF have criminalised protests, used violence – sometimes fatal violence – against protesters and orchestrated a dangerous media campaign aimed at discrediting its opposition, all while failing to carry out the promises it has made. It has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t require a reason for an escalation.

Public sentiment is different however, and matters. As mentioned above, there continue to exist security problems in parts of Egypt post-revolution. SCAF and others have exploited the general public’s legitimate fears about their safety by somehow linking the absence of security and stability to peaceful protests.

As far as I’m aware, all the protest violence Egypt has witnessed since the revolution has been between protesters and security forces and the result of heavy-handed policing tactics. The telling exception to this is the clashes between anti and pro-Mubarak protesters outside his trial. The point is that violent protests are frightening and unwelcome but they are 1. Avoidable if policed properly and, 2. Nothing to do with the general disorder caused by the security vacuum.

Alas however the army’s media machine speaks loudest and also The Army Is Always Right.

The public is more or less generally always fed up with protests, but seems particularly so when the cause is Palestine. While there is of course a strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli current in Egyptian society, there are also numerous others who think that Egypt has done enough for Palestine and are happy with the status quo. Some people think the timing isn’t right, because Egypt has a priority to get its domestic affairs in order before thinking about foreign policy issues.

I would argue that Egypt’s relationship with Israel is part of domestic affairs, because it is a legacy of the Mubarak era, and cleansing Egypt of traces of Mubarak is what the revolution was about. It’s one thing to make concessions as part of a peace deal with a neighbouring state, quite another to put the priorities of that neighbouring state and its patron above everything else, even to the extent that when six Egyptian officers (never mind the thousands killed in Gaza, whose border Egypt semi-controls) were killed by the Israeli army Egypt barely made a sound.

The final, and most irritating, criticism of last night’s action are the suggestions that breaking into the Embassy is somehow “uncivilized”, and tarnishes the image of the revolution.

While largely peaceful, police stations and other symbols of the state were targeted and attacked during the revolution on Friday 28 January. In February, activists entered Nasr City’s State Security Investigations building and turned it over. I don’t remember anyone condemning the protesters for that.

Protesters did not go on a rampage randomly targeting embassies. They stormed the diplomatic mission of an apartheid, occupying, murderous state. Israel protested. You’d of thought Israel would be the first to understand what drives people to trespass on, and occupy, what is not theirs.

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