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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

ABDEL-FATAH HAS LONG HISTORY OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY, SAYS AMOEBA

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

PENSIONERS TAKE OVER TOUR BUS, CRASH IT

 

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Scullery skullduggery part. 2

Here is part 2 of What I did in the summer holiday by Sarah Carr aged 34.

Salvation came in the form of Usta Mahmoud, who was recommended to me by my friend Karima.

My friends and I did an experiment whereby they hid me, the foreigner who doesn’t know shit, out of view while they met Usta Mahmoud, to see if perhaps this would lessen the ripping-off odds. As it turned out Usta Mahmoud charged a fair rate, but I think only because he is a decent human being and Karima had told him to be nice. We agreed on a price.

FUCK UP NUMBER 1

Shortly before this happened a friend’s wife who is an architect came round to see if she could help with the quest for an engineer/builder type. Within five minutes of walking in the kitchen and looking the plan she identified a huge mothafucking problem in the design the company had done for me.

In the design almost the entirety of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room was going to be knocked down to create an open plan living dining shagging thingie.

The problem is that there is an indent in the dining room, i.e. the kitchen back wall doesn’t just merge into the dining room back wall, it goes in a bit.

So, if you knock down the entire wall you will find yourself with nothing between your good self and the outside world but some oxygen and the sound of me cursing your existence. The youth who came to do the measurements failed to notice this. The engineer has never at any point troubled herself to stretch a leg and come to my kitchen so she wouldn’t know.

Usha and I went to the engineer and pointed out this mistake, which had bollocksed up the design. She informed us that in fact it wasn’t their mistake because I am the house owner and I should have pointed this out and the youth doing the measurements “cannot be expected to look behind walls”.

I responded that even the three engineer types had not noticed it, but it is the company’s job to do so. I silently thanked god that this woman and not decided to go into surgery if this was her view of client participation in delicate processes. She remained unconvinced that it was their fuck up, and since the kitchen had already been shipped nothing could be done.

(The people who installed the kitchen – who seemed more capable than the engineer – sort of resolved it half-satisfactorily by shuffling shit about but if I recover from the ordeal any time too I will try to insist that the company provides a better solution).

BEVERAGES

Demolition started and I began my exile in the living room.

I memorised the hotlines of several food delivery places since there are only so many sandwiches a human being can eat and I was concerned scurvy might set in. One restaurant in particular will have noted a steep hike in their profits during this period. I like to think I did my bit for the Egyptian economy, though not my arse.

Ramadan arrived and work shifted to after Eftar and I was forced to stay in every night watching OnTv and staring at Twitter, so no perceptible difference to my life. Faltas, Noov and Sharshar came round with food in a demonstration of solidarity. I made endless cups of teas upon the request of a surly youth.

FUCK UP NUMBER TWO

It was while standing knee deep in the detritus of my former kitchen that Usta Mahmoud noted the second mistake.

In the plan the engineer had deposited a tall cupboard that – amongst other things -houses the oven, directly in front of the electricity meter and switchboard thing (lo7at kahraba).

There was consensus on the fact that if this cupboard housing the oven and its heat went anywhere near the meter my kitchen would explode.

Another phone call to the engineer. Surely the youth who did the measurements noticed a giant fucking electricity meter and noted it on his plans? He did not, and the company suggested that the solution would be to cut a hole in the expensive mothafucking cupboard so that the electricity man could read the meter. They offered no solution to the risk of my house exploding.

In the end I got the meter turned around so that its face is outside in the back stairwell and its body under a coat of plaster, thereby avoiding explosions. All at our expense of course.

FUCK UP NUMBER THREE

The engineer put shelves where the (unmovable) gas heater is. I didn’t even bother to complain, because by this point I was starting to lose the will to live and it had become impossible to talk to the company who, when backed in a corner, proved to be ghastly in a cunting way.

FUCK UP NUMBER FOUR – MINE

When I signed the contract both Noov and I somehow failed to notice the small print stating that customers must pay for the kitchen in full before it will be delivered.

No one does this in Egypt. Pure cowboy behaviour. But alas I didn’t see it and I signed, effectively bending over and saying “insert here”.

FUCK UP NUMBER FIVE – PARTLY MINE

Installation finally began and then promptly stopped, when the installation bloke noticed that the gas pipe has to be moved in order to be attached to the hob thingie and to allow for the hood. Again, the youth and his tape measure had failed to notice this.

(N.B. It also stopped because we decided to do the tiling AFTER installation because we did not trust their bloody measurements. But this turned out to be impossible).

FAITH AND BEVERAGES

With one day left to spare before the Eid holidays installation began – after the gas pipe issue had been set right. It being Ramadan, there was the delicate issue of tea offerings.

I knew that at least one member of the group was called Ahmed, but there was also Beshoy and Girgis. I consulted widely on the protocol and two opinions advised against proffering beverages. In an unorthodox move, Samia who cleans my house, meandered into the kitchen and nonchalantly asked if anyone wasn’t fasting. A sea of hands went up and the caffination began.

FUCK UP NUMBER SIX

They put two cupboards up the wrong way round, so the door opens in your face. It’s exciting avoiding facial injury the first time, but soon grows tedious.

When I requested that this be changed they said it was “difficult” but when they come back to put up a shelf they forgot to bring (FUCK UP NUMBER SEVEN) I will try locking them in my house until they do it.

FUCK UP NUMBER EIGHT – THE BUILDERS’ FAULT

After demolishing a wall and doing their bit of the job the builders buggered off, but left some of their materials downstairs in our building’s garden. Not only did they leave their stuff next to the rubbish bin, they didn’t tell anyone they had done so.

Two weeks later when the kitchen was finished I asked Sameh, our local rubbish recycler/collector if he would like to take away some of the detritus littering our back stairs and the area around the rubbish bin, including junk our family had accumulated over several years.

Summary: The builders weren’t happy, Sameh was.

And so endeth my bourgeoisie tale of suffering.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Scullery skullduggery part 1

Warning: Not only is this post about getting a bloody kitchen installed, it’s the first of a two-part series. If – unlike me – you have better things to do than reflecting on home decorating trauma, go back to your porn viewing.

After witnessing a revolution I thought that I had traversed the gamut of human feeling and emotion, but then in May I decided to get a kitchen installed. I discovered that pain and suffering lurk waiting for you everywhere.

PROLOGUE

It took me almost eight years to get a kitchen fitted.

My uncle sold to my mother the flat I live in (housed in a building owned and entirely occupied by my maternal aunts). When she took ownership it was almost empty, and had metres and metres of walls painted yellow.

Furniture was acquired gradually over the course of years, with the exception of sofas, a flock of which migrated to the flat all at once. I still don’t understand why, it’s like my mother unleashed them on me. I also had a television and a washing machine. So you could watch TV in clean clothes on a selection of canapes but that was about it. I lived like this for a couple of years until the combination of the yellow walls and my voice echoing in the barren rooms and the sofas staring at me got too much.

My mother helped fill the place up, mostly it has to be said with clothes horses, but the kitchen remained a challenge.

I acquired a second-hand cooker from my cousin, but it exploded. I bought kitchen gadgets but had nowhere to put them since there were no counters. People came into the flat and ooed and aared at its nice high ceilings and shiny floors and then saw the kitchen. A bit like noticing the fit bloke you are checking out has urine stains on his trousers. Also it’s nice to have a bit of surface to chop an onion on.

Imbued with a renewed sense of optimism following the revolution I decided that if regime is possible, I can do my kitchen. The hunt began for a company.

Kabnoury would have been alright save for the fact that we are no longer living in the 1980s. Amr Helmy meanwhile designs kitchens of such opulence that if I had purchased one from him I would have had to install a bed in there to get my money’s worth. One company whose name I forget had reasonably priced stuff but I tried opening one draw in the showroom and frankly was reminded of demonstrators resisting arrest.

WORKTOPS WORKTOPS WORKTOPS WORKTOPS

One fateful afternoon my mother and aunt Nefissa were out shopping when they came across the company that would eventually supply my kitchen. We went along and the showroom was filled with tasteful, sturdy-looking cupboards. My heart was filled with confidence anew.

The company sent a youth round to take the measurements, and then we were summoned back to the showroom to view the designs the engineer had come up with.

As Nefissa listened to her motivational CDs with her eyes shut and my well-meaning but spacey mother tuned in and out of the discussion I was left with the task of deciding the kitchen’s fate.

I noticed that the engineer pronounced ‘worktop’ as if it has three syllables and placed the emphasis on ‘top’. Mostly everything else was in Arabic save for this strange insistence on saying ‘worktop’ in English. After months of dealing with this individual I can’t now hear this word without experiencing a vague feeling of rage.

A design was eventually settled on and a large wad of cash deposited with them. They told us that their showroom got looted on January 28, and the visa card machine got nicked. They still hadn’t got one eight months later in August, when we deposited another large wad of cash with them. I started to believe there was something a bit cowboy about them.

A BLOW

My family has never got a kitchen done. When we moved into our house in Croydon my dad removed the pre-installed cupboards and put up shelves in order to ensure that our food and kitchenware got an absolutely thorough coating of cooking grease and dust.

I was under the impression that in addition to designing and fitting your kitchen the company will do whatever it necessary in your old kitchen to accommodate the new one. The engineer broke it to me that in fact, they have nothing at all to do with this process. She gave me the names of two engineers who could assist me.

MOSTLY WANKERS

I rang the first one. His name was Mark. He appeared within an hour of the call and, as became standard with virtually all the males that entered my flat during this period, immediately took the kitchen’s measurements. He was a short, quiet sort of man whose aftershave lingered long after he left.

He returned with an associate to advise on the flooring and I requested an estimation of costs. Mark and said associate huddled over a sheet of paper and suddenly the scent of dodgyness was stronger than his eau de perfume. They were even smirking.

Later the same day Noov, Usha and I went to a street filled with bathroom and tiling suppliers, armed with the kitchen plan the company had drawn up. We got talking to one owner who insisted that I work for CNN without providing any basis for this assertion other than the colour of my hair. He then launched into a discursive monologue on the vast differences between foreigners vs Egyptians re. plumbing.

We left that street empty handed. On the way back Usha rang Mark up and asked why he was quoting me LE 500 to hire a van to remove rubble. He had no answer. Mark’s problem was that he was a pissant who couldn’t talk himself out of shit. He was an amateur, and he got rumbled.

I saw three more engineers/builders/designers. The first, Ahmed, followed up with a risible quote and then had the temerity to send a follow-up email when I ignored his joke of a quotation.

The second individual was a young designer type who appeared dressed like the 1970s. He had beads on. They hid shyly in his chest hair.

He opened his laptop and showed me some of his previous work, and I played a secret game in my head of searching for the actual kitchen behind the zebra print and giant suspended unidentifiable objects. He seemed like a decent bloke and was clearly passionate about what he did. He would be my first port of call if ever I needed to recreate a Duran Duran video.

Tomorrow: more of this shit.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Love me I’m a looter

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m from Croydon. Someone has to be.

Croydon is a borough almost 10 miles south of central London. My family arrived in Crystal Palace, a  suburb about 15 minutes away from central Croydon, in 1988. We moved into a small housing association project for first time owners that allows them to buy half their house, and rent the rest. The estate is sandwiched between Edwardian houses on one side and a huge detached house on another that was recently converted into a gated luxury flats complex, and whose owners drive my mum mad with their barbeques.

Crystal Palace consists of a triangle of shops, pubs, restaurants and more restaurants. Remarkably, it has a Blockbusters video that battles on through the digital age. A few chichi shops started appearing shortly after I left and moved to Egypt in 2003 (when the tone of the place improved. Purely by coincidence) and now as I understand it houses there are in some demand by people who commute to central London because they have connected Crystal Palace train station to the underground, and Crystal Palace is leafy and green and has a nice park.

Commuters also seek housing in Croydon, but only because it’s cheap and there are fast trains to central London from East Croydon station. Whenever I bemoan to people the fact that I’m from Croydon their usual response is that it isn’t that bad, and then I ask them whether they’ve been there and they say yes, well, I passed through it on the train on the way to somewhere else. Nowhere looks that bad at 50 miles per hour.

Croydon’s “heart” (or perhaps heart is too generous. Its artificial lung) is the high street and Whitgift shopping centre, a pedestrianised zone of consumerism indistinguishable from any other suburban shopping centre in the UK. Boasts are often made about the Croydon “skyline”, a collection of tall office towers including the Lunar and Apollo Houses, inter-galatically named perhaps because they are owned by the Immigration and Nationality Department and their clients and half the people who work there wish they would disappear into outer space. A couple of years ago an employee threw himself off the top of one of the towers.

I worked there when I was 18 after starting and then abandoning a university course in marketing (!) because I only had one decent A Level having gone a bit off the rails after school. I worked in the post room and my job was to open parcels from people applying for residence permits, list their contents and then send them off for processing on one of the many floors above us.

Two months was enough for the realisation that life is pretty shit without qualifications of some sort to sink in, and I did A Level evening courses. The post room was a sad place. I worked with good people but nobody wants to open envelopes forever and some of the people had sent thousands of parcels upstairs but had no hope of escape themselves.

As soon as I was old enough I stopped hanging around in Croydon and went on adventures in central London which is prettier, has more interesting shops and most importantly catered to my music needs in a way Croydon never could. I would occasionally however be dragged to Croydon on shopping expeditions with my parents and still am today on visits back home.

On my last visit in March of this year I noticed that Croydon had become noticeably shabbier in the 6 months that I had been away. I went in a HMV on Friday and when I went back on Monday it had closed down. Numerous shops have met the same fate in the last 2 or 3 years and are either left boarded up or replaced with pound shops, or shops filled with a random assortment of crap. I also noticed on my last visit that the number of homeless people had increased, or at least they were more visible. I saw one huge man with a dilapidated airport trolley on which his belongings were stacked who stopped to eat out of bins in front of a Marks & Spencer. West Croydon station is opposite two pubs and a pawn shop and has become something of a meeting point for people out of their minds on drugs or alcohol.

I am constantly amazed in Egypt when people leave items in their cars or casually leave handbags on the backs of their chairs in restaurants. Being able to walk down the street alone at night in Cairo is a luxury that doesn’t exist in London, or at least my part of it. I’ve only been robbed twice in Croydon (and in one of these incidents it was my friend and not me who was punched in the face and his bike nicked) and I largely feel safe during daylight hours. But there is that constant threat of random low level violence.

Yesterday afternoon I jokingly asked people on Facebook to tell me if they hear of rioting and destruction in Croydon so that I could book a ticket to the UK asap and live out a fantasy. Five hours later I was watching the place go up in flames on TV. I hate Croydon for its mediocrity and its ugliness, its suburban gloom. Or perhaps I just hate it because I spent ten years there without a choice.

A friend tweeted to me, “things look really bad in Croydon, hope everyone’s ok” to which I replied, “oh don’t worry Croydon always looks bad” and was only half joking. If Croydon could somehow magically be razed to the ground without anyone getting hurt economically or physically or any other way I would be the first to sign up to that initiative. I harbour the same feelings towards Nasr City in Cairo.

Rioters in Croydon apparently feel the same way, but choose odd targets, ignoring police stations, government buildings and Apollo and Lunar Houses and instead selecting a furniture store, amongst other targets.

I was initially overjoyed when I heard about the march on Tottenham police station and dismissed the tut-tuting when the looting started as the usual Daily Mail moral outrage. But I’m less certain now. Part of this uncertainty is because of the media’s inexcusably poor coverage conducted almost uniquely from helicopters and behind police lines. I don’t know who the looters are and what they’re thinking because nobody is talking to them so am left with no alternative other than to read into their actions, and their actions are breaking into shops (chain stores and independent), nicking stuff, setting cars alight, bricking people’s windows, torching buildings apparently at random and robbing individuals unable to protect themselves.

Virtually all of the rioters/looters are young people in the hoods and trainers uniform favoured by London’s youth. Videos show them bopping around and facing off against the police with the youthful bravado I recognise from the encounters I have had with them (them being young people from London who wear hoods and move about in loud gangs). I’ve been trapped on buses with these kids and they are annoying little shits in the way that most teenagers are.

In short the media coverage makes them look like cunts. And perhaps many of them are. But even cunts can have legitimate grievances. Maybe they’re destroying stuff because they have no other channel to express their sense of hopelessness and rage at their situation. Or maybe they and their friends just like the thrill of a ruckus with the added bonus of free gear.

As a dual British-Egyptian citizen 2011 has been an interesting year to say the least. The inevitable comparisons are being drawn between the revolution and the riots. There has been annoying smugness from some Egyptian commentators about how civilised the Egyptian revolution was compared to the barbarians in London, and how well Egyptians responded to the security situation compared with Londoners.

Firstly, the majority of protesters who took to the streets in January were motivated by a cause and outnumbered opportunist looters. Secondly, who relies on the police in Egypt anyway? They’re a bunch of useless murderers. In London the police are more trusted despite also killing people with alarming regularity. People have little experience of defending themselves (interestingly, and perhaps supporting this theory, Turkish-Kurdish shop owners in north London fought off looters. I know very little about community-policing relations in Kurdish areas of Turkey but I suspect that the police aren’t on speed dial).

In summary I’m confused, and I wish I was in London so I could ask the kids what the fuck they’re doing and why. The media is showing us hour after hour of Outraged Upstanding Citizen all saying the same thing because Upstanding Citizens tend to hit journalists less. There is an echoing void when it comes to the other side of the story, a void that is being filled with image after horrible image and calls for looters to be flogged in public squares and theorising about the legitimate social political grievances that drove them to commit inexcusable acts. Both camps are as bad as each other.

Martin Luther King said that a riot is the language of the unheard, but Ralph Waldo Emmerson said what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying. The media is not even trying to listen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 181 Comments

White tracksuits have never looked so good

 

Another encounter with the Mubarakaristas on Wednesday, as their cult leader was rolled into ignominy horizontally in a white tracksuit.

When Sharshar and I arrived at the Police Academy in which Hosny and friends are being tried we caught the tail end of the first of a series of rock battles between Mubarak disciples and protesters who are not mentally unbalanced.

The Mubarakistas had clearly arrived in the middle of the night and had appropriated the area around a giant screen erected in the Academy’s car park. There they held up pictures of Hosny as well as a giant banner declaring that Mubarak was the first person to support and protect the revolution. A yafta ta3beereyya.

Sharshar quickly identified the woman who had enthusiastically ejected him from a Mubarakistas meeting in Roxy Square, Cairo, two weeks ago, and advised us to hang back near the cordon of policemen separating them from the anti-Mubarak protesters.

They were like a bunch of bitter, clucking, grieving widows, even the men. One woman next to me quite literally bawled, tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked at the screen. Next to her a man sobbed and cursed the bunch of thieving, bribe-taking scumbags from Tahrir who had so impertinently set in motion events that led to the ousting of their spiritual father.

Some were so paralysed by grief that they were unable to form words, so one middle-aged woman instead held up the middle finger and then her shoe, her face skewered with rage.

I photographed this and a frankly lunatic woman next to me who had been bothering me for some time began pushing me in that playschool way that women do when they want a fight but don’t really, and declared that I had photographed the woman with the shoe. A woman looked on and was clearly embarassed, until they found out that was press when her face morphed into the possessed wolf look many of them had and she demanded that I bugger off too.

I couldn’t help but laugh, it was all so pathetic. I was nonetheless glad that I was taken behind the cordon before the shoe woman could get me because Amr Gharbeia was on my mind and I would have loved to have taken on one of the mothafuckers with the excuse of self-defence.

A second round of stone throwing began after an Anti-Mubarak grappled a Hosny portrait out of one of the protesters’ hands and threw it in the air. The police legged it with the press and left them to it before remembering that their job description extends beyond ball scratching and random violence against citizens. They, in the summer whites, were eventually able to form a cordon around the Mubarakistas while the black-uniformed riot police cordoned off the revolutionaries in a symbolic sort of way. I overheard one man complaining that this decision was a declaration of loyalties.

The Mubarakistas were eventually driven out altogether and the Antis reclaimed the screen, which by this time had taken a few rock blows so that a small black rectangle appeared in the middle, which at certain points during the trial landed exactly on Alaa Mubarak’s eyes, making him look like a sex rapist in a tabloid.

Seeing Mubarak being wheeled into the dock was a moment of intense strangeness. There was a rush of feeling through the crowd when he first appeared, like a window bursting open with a gust of wind, but that subsided into what was almost a trance, a little sea of upturned heads silently watching a dynasty unraveling.

Interestingly, the crowd responded much more vocally to the appearance of Habib El-Adly. This might have something to do with the fact that in addition to being a murderous cunt the man is possibly the smuggest mothafucker ever to have stretched a leg on this planet. He is still smiling, despite the fact that he is currently doing bird after being convicted in a separate case and faces a long stretch if convicted of killing protesters.

He sat in the dock with his lieutenants behind him like a man waiting for an order of coffee. Occasionally he turned around and shared a laugh. After the session ended State TV showed him striding out, still grinning, and confidently shaking the hand of a military police soldier. Alaa and Gamal looked less merry but no less confident. They reminded me of New York gangstas on a Miami break, standing sentry in their tracksuits, legs spread, guarding the godfather busily picking his nose behind them.

On his way out Alaa put his palm over the camera filming him. Think: Britney Spears meets the man in your office nobody likes.

I have problems with this trial. I don’t understand why Mubarak is being tried for three offences out of 30 years of hell and why the charges were brought so quickly. Why not prepare a watertight case? I’m concerned that there prosecution hasn’t got the evidence that will prove Mubarak gave the order to kill protesters, and wonder whether under the law just the fact that the police killed people under his watch is enough to convict him. And what about the systematic torture? Will neither he nor Adly be tried for that?

This trial (if it is indeed a genuine attempt to hold Mubarak to account) is more important to Egypt’s long-term future than the current state of affairs, in that with any luck it will make potential tyrants think twice (or think “is it worth getting rich via milking the country dry and silencing dissent through violent repression at the risk of ending my days in a five star hospital?”)

Unless something really dramatic happens and Tantawy appears and has a meltdown on the stand it won’t though affect the army’s place in the state and its grip on power. It also won’t stop the gangs of plain-clothed men and their gold watches who are slowly creeping back to their posts, dispensing instructions to minions carrying walkie talkies; fittingly enough there was a group of six of them strutting around outside the Police Academy. I recognised one of them and the only thing different about him was that he was carrying prayer beads.

This trial is particularly sweet for Moftases’ generation. Moftases has been slightly obsessed with Mubarak ever since I met him (him being Moftases, not Hosny yuck) in 2007. I remember once asking him about the obsession and him gripping the steering wheel tightly and saying something along the lines of that he has been subjected to Hosny Mubarak every single day of his life for 30 years (on television, in newspapers), and that he realised from a tender age that Mubarak was responsible for all the shit that was happening.

Victories in this revolution are fragile, brief snippets of sunrise between the shadowy gloom of past disasters and the cloying heat of an uncertain future. Despite all the doubts, the appearance of Mubarak and his sons in a cage, contained, is one of these victories.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments