Friday Prayers for Egypt: April 683

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Recent court decisions in Egypt beg for pause and reflection. But too often even the suggestion thereof raises tensions and accusations. So much is at stake that the chosen path must continue. All opposed simply stand in the way. Any who question risk wholesale collapse.

And God, this is the attitude on both sides.

The revolutionary April 6 youth movement was dissolved by court order, finding them guilty of espionage and defaming the state. One of the primary forces behind the original revolution, they were briefly lauded before falling again afoul of all subsequent governments. They have been critical of all, and have links with movements abroad. But are these crimes?

683 people have been sentenced to death for rioting and the death of a police officer in Upper Egypt. Six hundred and eighty-three. Among them is the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. But also among them, it is said, are an uninvolved Christian and the already dead. Crimes were committed and many are guilty. But is this justice?

Perhaps the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, God. Egypt asserts an independent judiciary in which interference is impossible. In an earlier mass sentencing of over five hundred, the standard review reduced the death penalty to 37, which still is not final. And April 6 members have been in and out of prison several times over the past three years. Immediate judgment is unwise in law, but this slows the rush of few.

Among them are international analysts and politicians, which are piling criticism upon Egypt. Even among backers of the current order, some are daring to criticize.

For maybe the answer to both questions is ‘no’, God. Or ‘maybe’, or ‘mixed’. Maybe they are guilty, but of other charges entirely. Maybe they are political sentences, maybe it is just incompetence. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

God, help Egypt to know. Demonstrate guilt and innocence transparently. But how long must this prayer be uttered until the lack of transparency becomes damning? Let there be no rush to judgment, but judgment must be issued eventually.

Will a new president, after elections, set the record straight? How long should he have?

Transparency and accountability do not come from structured power, God, but from good men and women who press upon it, and enter in it. Raise up this strength, and aid in the structuring of justice and good governance. Then protect them from falling victim to the same ills.

But today, more Egyptians have simply fallen. Bombs have targeted policemen, and by the end of the day who knows but that some may have died in protest clashes. With blood on the ground, week after week, who can pause and reflect?

Is it a terrorist conspiracy to be routed, God? Is it a vicious coup to be resisted? In reflective pause, allow none to sink into the morass of ‘maybe’. Hold steady in conviction, give wisdom and courage towards action, but humility and openness for continual revision.

May accusations be pure; may tensions be righteous. But whatever chosen path Egyptians adopt, may they also find yours.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Activists, Shuffle

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The news is not new, but it is current. This last week has seen another spate of activist arrests, coupled with yet another shuffle in the cabinet. The themes are on repeat with only names differing. But names can make all the difference.

One of the activists’ names is Ahmed Maher, founder of the principle youth movement behind the revolution. Having supported Morsi during the run-off presidential elections, he is now provisionally detained by the Morsi-appointed prosecutor general for ‘inciting protests’. A prominent Islamist, Hazem Abu Ismail, is under investigation as well, for roughly the same charge. As far as names go, these are major ones.

There are new names in the cabinet also. These are not so prominently noteworthy, but they include two judges and three additional Muslim Brothers. The longstanding call by the opposition for an inclusive cabinet was not answered; will this one prove more effective?

God, may it be so. Placing politics aside, the government must work. Increase the leadership and capability of each minister to nurture growth in each sector of society. Give them boldness to tackle the economic issues facing Egypt, with wisdom especially on the IMF loan. Their jobs cannot be easy.

But inasmuch as this cabinet is not reflective of societal consensus, God, may the playing of politics work as well. Opposition pressure must demand tangible results; government plans must stimulate opposition counter-proposals. Help the interplay to enliven debate in society about the direction Egypt must take. May both government and opposition fully represent the people.

But where politics leads to a scaling back of freedom, God, help the people to demand more. Perhaps these activists crossed a line. They live on the edge of the permissible, God, and need your wisdom deeply. The quest for justice is easily derailed by a single poor decision.

Of course, perhaps they made none and are simply targeted as a political nuisance. Give the government strength in its legitimacy, God, to accept protest, and as necessary, reform.

Activists and ministers are almost by nature at odds, but they are both Egyptians, both working for the betterment of Egypt. Help society to grasp this, God. Perhaps if it does then leadership will follow.

May the names of the nation be men of principle. As they shuffle, in and out of prison or of office, may these principles remain.


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Tahrir Protestors Turn on Each Other: My Video

For the first time since the revolution, protestors from opposite camps attacked each other at Tahrir Square. The events have been well documented – and disputed. Here is my version.

Please read this EgyptSource article for a good summary of events and context. Please read here for my brief introduction in the form of a prayer. In brief, a protest against the constitution drafting committee was joined by a protest against the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the revolutionary ‘Battle of the Camel’.

The former protest was called for largely by liberal and leftist forces; the latter by Islamists and revolutionaries. Perhaps there was some overlap between them.

‘Perhaps’ is the key word in all that follows. Previous violent skirmishes all involved the people against the police force. When protestor turned on protestor it was very difficult to tell one from the other.

I arrived at around 3:30pm. As I ascended from the Metro I looked around to see sporadic rock throwing in several locations throughout the square. It took me a little while to gain my bearings. I anticipated a full crowd of dueling chants. Instead, I discovered Tahrir to be quite empty.

As I watched I was surprised to find my only reaction was to laugh. The scene was so surreal. I was standing calmly beside the Metro steps with a few dozen others, while about fifty yards away on the other side of the Omar Makram statue rocks were being hurled through the air.

Onlookers told me there was a single stage set up by the anti-constitution protest, but it was destroyed by supporters of President Morsy. Others told me it was the Muslim Brotherhood members who were attacked first by rocks, and then responded. See the EgyptSource link above for video about the stage destruction. Clearly they are Morsy supporters, but how can one tell if it was the Brotherhood or not?

While we were watching the nearby rock throwing, other bystanders told me the Brotherhood had now withdrawn from the square. Their organization has since issued contradictory statements, but the official spokesman stated their members were not present at that time at all. I could see some of those tossing rocks wore beards in Islamist fashion. But then again, anyone can wear a beard.

Eventually the scene settled down nearby, and fighting concentrated on Mohamed Mahmoud Street towards the Ministry of the Interior. Months ago the clashes there with security had been fierce. Now, the battle lines were on the edge of the square leading in, with little to suggest either side cared particularly to advance.

But who was ‘either side’? Onlookers were completely confused and had no idea who was fighting. Eventually one person who seemed like he knew said it was the two wings of the April 6 Movement fighting each other. Indeed, the black flags with clenched fist of April 6 were on both sides. Then again, anyone can hold a flag.

Please click here for my video of this scene (three minutes). The proximity is from the zoom lens, but there were a few moments I thought to judge how close the stones were coming to my vantage point. At this point I wasn’t laughing. If anything, my eyes were a touch moist watching Tahrir disintegrate.

Again, it was hard to tell who was who, but I did not see many bearded protestors; one was assaulted by fists and ran away from the scene to the relatively open Tahrir Square behind us. As for April 6, they have long been divided into two fronts with separate leadership and institutional decision making. One front has closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood as a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the other increasingly sees this as a betrayal. It was hard to know.

And then, the reconciliation happened, sort of. All the while the stones were being thrown other revolutionaries were gathered to the left in front of Hardees, chanting furiously, but peacefully. They made their way towards Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and upon arrival, united the two groups. Once together, they chanted the now-popular anti-Brotherhood slogan, ‘Sell the revolution, Badie,’ referring to Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide. Perhaps they were not fighting over a supposed allegiance to the Islamists.

Please click here for my video of these scene (four minutes). It is after the reconciliation itself but shows that perhaps a quarter of Tahrir was now relatively packed, presumably by liberals and leftists.

Somehow they were still divided. A short while later the fighting broke out again.

But by now the main fighting had moved to the Talaat Harb Street entrance to Tahrir Square. This was too far away for me to determine who was who, but onlookers said the Revolutionary Socialists march had just arrived. Again, if flags are any indication, their banner was on one side, while April 6 was on the other.

At this point I decided to leave, figuring there was not much left to see. The only possible development would be if the riot police entered to stop the fighting. Indeed, that was my first thought near the Metro: Why did President Morsy not put an end to in-fighting?

One observer commented, likely correctly, this would then turn into a brawl against the police which would fall on Morsy’s account. At the same time, should it not be the role of the police to calm a civil disturbance? Was Morsy letting the protestors paint each other black? Does he not feel confident he has full control over security forces? Did he just hesitate? Or were there Muslim Brotherhood members present who were stoking tensions, even deliberately?

These are too many questions, which unfortunately fits with the lack of answers that characterizes Egyptian politics these days. Perhaps in days to come everything, everywhere, will be made known.


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