Friday Prayers for Egypt: Old Things

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So much in Egypt is old. Some gets preserved. Some gets restored. 

All is its heritage. Honor and judge appropriately.  

Over the past few weeks many Pharaonic artefacts have been discovered. Mummies, statues, funerary cartouches.

Let Egypt celebrate, God, and the world with her. Some are inspiring, some are mishandled. Help archaeology support the understanding of history. Help tourism support the suffering economy.

Over the past several weeks many Mubarak-era figures have been highlighted. Businessmen, ministers, political operatives.

Let Egypt reflect, God, and the judiciary with her. Some have reconciled, some have fled. Help the people understand this era properly. Help justice come where it is due.

God, may Egypt honor her past and her elders. Yet at the same time you make all things new. 

From generation to generation, from millennia to millennia, help her find her way. 

Preserve her peace. Restore her faith. May she honor you. 




Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sadat, Mubarak, and Sinai

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One is expelled from parliament, for alleged wrongs.

One is released from confinement, alleged wrongs dismissed.

Hundreds are displaced from home, for no alleged wrong but existence.

God, intervene.

If Sadat is a criminal may he have his day in court. If he is simply silenced direct his voice.

If Mubarak is a criminal give justice to the protestors. If he is rightly judged restore his reputation.

If Copts flee crime in Sinai preserve all left behind. If they are vilely treated vindicate their faith.

God, contest.

Defend the weak and innocent. Promote the pure in heart. Discern the truth from falsehood. Dismiss the chaff from wheat.

In politics, justice, and civility guide.

Give her good men to govern.

Give her wise counsel to rule.

Give her your peace to compose.

High and mighty, poor and lowly – humble, strengthen.

Where there is allegation, prove. Where there is wrong, right.

Where there is existence, bless. For Egypt and all Egyptians.





Misrepresenting the Coptic Church and Politics


The debate is valid: What is the proper role of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the nation’s politics?

It is also an unavoidable debate. Once Pope Tawadros appeared with the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar to back the popularly-backed military overthrow of President Morsi, he reasserted the church into the political scene.

The decision of the pope can be criticized, but in a recent article for the Carnegie Middle East Center, Georges Fahmi goes much too far. He writes:

With the election of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in June 2014, the Church has attempted to reestablish itself as the monolithic voice of Egypt’s Coptic community. But that role, too, carries risks. Rather than trying to unify Egypt’s Christians under its leadership, the Church should withdraw from the political sphere and allow Copts to defend their interests themselves by joining political parties and movements. The Church should focus on being an institution of civil society that defends universal ideals such as human rights and social justice, and on supporting developmental projects for both Muslims and Christians.

In the essay which follows, Fahmi does an admirable job of summarizing the recent history of the Coptic Church in politics. Within a limited political sphere, President Mubarak allowed Pope Shenouda to represent the Coptic community outside the realm of law. After the revolution Pope Tawadros spoke against a political role for the church, but increasingly found himself drawn in during the Morsi administration. Famhi helps the reader track with an often neglected sub-theme in the Egyptian transition.

But in his summary critique, he makes statements that do not completely gel with my understanding of the situation.

  • Though the church does invest much charity in Christian focused projects, it also benefits local Muslims. Surely it could do more, of course.
  • He recommends the church defend universal ideals, but would this not also be a form of political engagement?
  • Perhaps his wording is poor, but is the church doing anything to disallow Christians from joining political parties and movements?

The church has always presented its participation in the overthrow of Morsi and the backing of the roadmap as a national decision, not a political one. It backed the constitution and the presidential election, but did not back a specific candidate. Again, its decision to speak at all can be criticized, but the nature of its speaking does not represent an attempt “to reestablish itself as the monolithic voice of Egypt’s Coptic community,” as the author accuses.

Here is his evidence:

The Church’s support for the military’s 2013 intervention has given it a privileged position in the new regime, prompting the Church to try to revive the old pact it had with the Mubarak regime. And changes carried out by the state have helped the Church regain its position as the only representative of the Coptic community.

As the new political authority has tightened its control over the public sphere, youth movements, including the Maspero Youth Union, have lost their ability to mobilize. Coptic politicians have also lost their influence, as the new regime seems to see little role for parties; President Sisi has not held any meetings with political parties.

What sort of privilege does the author intend? Is the church any more privileged than the judiciary, or the police, or the administration, or other institutional bodies that backed the overthrow? And where is the evidence of the church’s intention to “revive the old pact”? One can guess at their internal desire, but the author confuses the conduct of the state with the approval of the church.

The Maspero Youth Union lost its ability to mobilize long before the overthrow of Morsi. But it says that despite initial uncertainty it has a good relationship with the church. And within the political parties, Coptic politicians are still quite numerous and influential. Yes, the public sphere has shrunk, and political parties appear marginalized. Yes, the church has not spoken out against this, but few have. This is a national issue, and not one to lay at the foot of the church.

So should the church take a stand? Fahmi argues in his conclusion:

In terms of discourse, the Church needs to differentiate between defending universal values in the public sphere and engagement in deals with the state or political parties. While the first is needed and would improve the Church’s public image among Egyptians, the latter could have drastic consequences because it makes the Church a part of the political regime. The ideals of human dignity, social justice, and human rights need to be integrated into Church discourse. Only by struggling for a political regime that respects these principles will the Copts, together with all Egyptians, receive their full social and political rights.

In this and Fahmi’s other recommendations are found much wisdom. But where he wants to differentiate, I see simply a different involvement. To hold out a discourse for these values would be to very obviously criticize the current regime. Perhaps this prophetic voice is the burden of the gospel, but it is also very political. If the author wishes to accuse the church of hypocrisy for criticizing Morsi and not criticizing Sisi, let him do so. But the stakes for Christians were different, and as mentioned above, the church presented its approach in a national context, not one of religion or politics.

The consequence of its decision, however, is to put the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters outside the national context. Indeed, Egypt’s Christians are convinced of the terrorist designation with which the government labels them. And Christians suffered much terrorism, as their churches were attacked by Morsi supporters across the nation.

This is a high price to pay for the church, but the author comes very close to blaming the victim.

This leads to a situation in which Church decisions can put the lives and property of any individual Copt at risk, even if he or she did not actually participate in making a political choice.

Earlier he wrote:

The strategies of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Church in this period have increased the level of religious polarization between Egyptian Muslims and Christians. The result has been a cycle of sectarian violence, with each side accusing the other of attacks on its followers.

Unfortunately, this critique is partially true, but is it a cycle? The Brotherhood has certainly accused the church of a conspiracy, but their manner is deeply sectarian and propagandist. If the church had stayed silent, if Christians were not among the many, mostly Muslim activists who campaigned against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps they would not have been targeted.

But did the church stand against Morsi for political gain only, to reset the Mubarak-Shenouda relationship? Or, did they place themselves in jeopardy because they thought it was right – for Coptic liberty, yes, but also for human rights and the good of the nation?

If their intentions were true, which can be debated, then this is exactly the situation Fahmi calls for now, with the church defending universal values as part of its discourse. Many Muslims have spoken positively of the church, for what it has suffered, and many Copts appreciate that the bulk of ‘moderate Muslims’, as they call them, now see Christians in a different and better light.

Like Fahmi, I can read into recent actions of the church a pattern of political engagement and representation of Copts as a community. I lean toward his perspective, wishing Copts as citizens would be in the forefront. But I try to watch carefully for evidence of this being the intention of the church, and I have not yet seen it. Fahmi links considerably to articles which trace history, but he can only interpret on this issue, and not link to any quotes.

Certainly I have not seen the church discourage its people from their own participation in politics. If movements are faltering and parties are weak, is this not their own fault? They have had three years since the revolution to assert themselves, to build apparatus and win support on the street. They have not done so. If Sisi ignores them, as mentioned above, is it because they do not yet have sufficient weight to force their hand.

The church does have weight. Fahmi’s correct question concerns how the church should wield it. The weight of the gospel does call for a prophetic voice, for self-limitation, and the promotion of the common good. Within the sharp political polarization and challenge to state authority, the church has a very difficult line to walk.

It is right to call the church to sublime ideals, but Fahmi’s article misrepresents in its critique. His opening sentence stated:

The Coptic Church’s recent involvement in politics in Egypt has harmed both the Church and the country’s Christian community.

If so, were he in Egypt, he would be one of the very few Christians to say so. Nearly everyone else is overwhelmingly positive about the status quo.

Perhaps this is why his own prophetic voice, even in overstatement, is needed. May his readers in Egypt bristle, but also consider.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Mubarak Verdict

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The judge ended his 200 page judgment with an appeal to you as Ultimate Judge. Perhaps his conscience was pained after avoiding a ruling.

Mubarak was neither convicted nor acquitted, his case dismissed on a technicality. And a similar reasoning let his security generals off the hook. Since no officers were found guilty in the three years since the revolution, there could have been no top-down order for them to kill.

On some points, God, it seems fair enough. Many deaths occurred in attacks on police stations, which the judge ruled as self-defense.

But it leaves a void of culpability and an emptiness of satisfaction. They may well be innocent, but who is guilty?

Many in are Egypt are convinced he is. After a long revolutionary pause, a few thousand descended to Tahrir Square to protest before being dispersed by security.

Many in Egypt are convinced he isn’t. They place blame on Islamists, accused of opening prisons and killing protestors to enflame sentiment against the police.

And many in Egypt no longer much care. They see Mubarak as old and deserving of sympathy, but the state as imperiled and in need of stability.

God, judge Mubarak rightly in the end, and in the now. Honor the judge, but judge his conscience. Judge the consciences of all who contributed, assembled, and weighed the evidence.

Comfort those who still mourn the blood of their loved ones. May their cries to you be heard in the end, and in the now. Give them perseverance until all facts are known and all crimes convicted. May neither they nor their cause be forgotten.

But neither, God, let it be manipulated. May those who protest seek justice, not retribution. May those who support seek truth, not stability.

But God, in your wisdom, give all the above.

Clean the conscience of Egypt, God. Too many avoid repentance, too many escape guilt.

In their pain, may they appeal to you. Judge.



Mubarak Verdict Reactions

Mubarak Verdict

From Paul Attallah, a roundup of reactions to the verdict acquitting former president Hosni Mubarak from responsibility for the deaths of protestors during the January 25, 2011 revolution. His perspective is evident, and he is a decent representative of  local, non-Islamist opinion:

Mixed reaction

According to Professor Said Sadek of California Miramar University, there is a mixed reaction as Egypt Court drops charges against Mubarak. The 86-year-old former leader’s trial generated sympathy after his supporters said the charges against him were a conspiracy against Egypt.

However, Sadek also said some Egyptians are displeased with the court’s ruling. “For the victims of the 2011 revolution and those who feel he was responsible for a lot of the legacy of corruption, religious extremism, bad education system, they feel justice has not been done,” said Sadek.

The people said this revolution was a conspiracy against Egypt’s stability, security, safety and future. “People are fed up with revolutions or any attempt to call for big demonstrations.

Percentage of pro and against Mubarak verdict

What’s the percentage of those who are against Mubarak’s innocence? I would say that it is equal to the percentage Hamdeen Sabahy got during the presidential elections (about 3 to 4%). In fact, Hamdeen Sabahu said: Shame for the tyrants even if they had been unpunished and glory to the martyrs.

This tone cannot get more than 4%.

Negative reactions

It’s amazing to see that the West media goes to the MB, 6 April, Ayman Nour and Alaa el Aswany to get the Egyptian reaction forgetting that they represent just a minority, but a minority which gives to this media the statements they are looking for:

“The politicized decision to acquit Mubarak is a declaration of the collapse of the judiciary,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said on its website. The party called upon what it described as “revolutionary forces” to unite and respond to the ruling in squares. “Rise up to proceed with the revolution and resist injustice,” the statement read.

The April 6 Youth Movement, one of the most prominent activist groups against Mubarak’s rule, said on its Facebook page that one of its members, Mahmoud Hussein, was arrested at Faisal Street in Giza for writing “down with Mubarak” on his bare chest. “Down with Sisi Mubarak rule,” read a post on the page.

“I offer the sincerest condolences to the families of the January revolution martyrs,” Ayman Nour, chairman of Ghad al-Thawra Party, who was jailed following his presidential quest against Mubarak in 2005, said in a tweet. “Justice is dim and injustice is glowing… protesters get 15 years, hundreds are executed for murdering one person, while those who killed hundreds are acquitted.”

“The plan’s last stage is executed successfully. Lobby spies and media drumbeaters. People, never raise your chins before your masters again,” tweeted prominent author Alaa al-Aswany, who is known for his fierce criticism of Mubarak.

Balanced reaction

Wael el Obrashi said that the verdict must not give to the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to create divisions and achieve their ambitions.

Egyptian political parties refuse the MB call to protest after Mubarak’s trial

The Muslim Brotherhood are trying to ride the popular anger again to repeat the 25 January revolution scenario. This brotherhood is the real enemy of the Egyptian people

Ahmad Mousa: The Muslim Brotherhood and 6 April are calling for an armed protest in Tahrir square

A Salafi preacher: Mubarak innocence proves that the Muslim Brotherhood are involved in killing the Egyptians

Arab Gulf double reaction

King of Bahrain congratulated Mubarak for the verdict

But, A Qatari Emir, Faysal ben Gasem, incites the Egyptians to start a revolution.

He twitted: The Muslim Brotherhood must put all their weight to support the revolution. They must bandon their slogans (?) and not to make a distinction with the people. By God’s will the revolution will succeed even if thousands killed

(what’s the matter of your mother ya Faysal Ben Gasem)

Mubarak says he committed no crime, calls January 25 Revolution ‘weird’

In his first published comments since being found not guilty of graft and cleared of charges of murdering protesters demonstrating against his rule in 2011, former President Hosni Mubarak said in a phone call with Sada El-Balad TV he “didn’t commit any crime,” and gave no orders during the January 25 Revolution.


One dead after Egyptian security forces disperse Mubarak verdict protest

One has been confirmed dead and 8 injured according to Health Ministry spokesperson Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar after Egyptian security forces dispersed over 3,000 protesters who had gathered near Tahrir Square on Saturday evening to protest a court verdict that dropped charges against Hosni Mubarak of killing protesters.

The “ultras” tried to occupy Tahrir square and chanted against the regime, the army and the security.

(The “ultras” had been politicized becoming a destructive political group under a Muslim Brotherhood and 6 April control. Actually, all football games are not attended by people).

85 arrested in storming of Abdel Moneim Riad Square protests

Security forces arrested 85 protesters, after storming Abdel Moneim Riad Square on Saturday evening during demonstrations against the acquittal of Hosni Mubarak, according to a Cairo Security Chief Ali al-Demerdash.

Protesters gather near Tahrir Square to denounce Mubarak verdictThe Muslim Brotherhood alliance support calls the members of the alliance to go to Tahrir Square

And, here is an interesting take from blogger Maged Atiya at Salama Moussa, resident in the US but a keen and sympathetic observer of Egyptian affairs:

The author of this blog will note that he never liked Mubarak. It was not a reasoned response, but a visceral reaction. Mubarak seemed to embody the worst aspects of Egyptian male misbehavior, controlling, domineering, occasionally indifferent, sometimes sneering, and at other times self-pitying. The reaction was enough to persuade this former Egyptian to avoid the country for the duration of his rule, and beyond. Mubarak made being born in Egypt a congenital condition worthy of seeking cure in a larger and perhaps less visible identity. Of course, it is wrong to pin all the blame on Mubarak; but he was case 1 of what has gone wrong in Egypt. He lived on to see himself, and by turns, his country humbled. Yet one senses that no grand understanding came his way. His derisive survival mocked his country as poor and humble and incapable of greatness.

There were some positive aspects to the long years of Mubarak. The Army was persuaded to stay away from politics. Infant mortality was reduced dramatically. He made deft moves diplomatically in the 1990s to have the country’s external debt wiped off.  He tried to open up some political room for the Muslim Brotherhood. He made stumbling steps toward liberalizing the economy. Yet, every positive step lived in the shadow of greater errors.  But few of his errors match his performance in February 2011, and none of his successes are as great as his final acquittal in court.

Mubarak insisted that he stood between Egypt and disaster. We are tempted to think of this as the refrain of a humble and limited man who rose above all he ever expected to be, only because he never did much about it. He was not delusional enough to expect immortality, yet he never developed leadership to follow him and stave off disaster. He never even appointed a Vice President, until he was nearly gone. He raised his palms against a nation, insisting that it should not look behind him where abyss looms, but did nothing to point to a better direction. He got away with it because his opponents were too pious or too foolish to point out this simple fact. They railed against him as a dictator, but demonstrated little liberality themselves.

Mubarak’s greatest sin came in February 2011. He attempted to stay in office by a patronizing display of self-pity. He begged his nation to respect him as an elderly father. He should have taken a different tack. He should have simply explained that to shove him off with 6 months remaining in his term would legitimatize arbitrary transfer of power to the Army by street mobs, and God help a country that sets up such a precedent. He should have begged to stay on as the elderly humble Bawab, who would sweep around while younger men built a better structure. His final magic act would have been to finish his term humbled for the sins of his errors. But a man capable of such reach would not have stayed in office for so long, nor left a vacuum in his wake.  His final atonement and redemption would be to offer his country a Shakespearean tragic denouement. He went for the tawdry television serial.

If Mubarak’s greatest error came in February 2011, his final success came afterwards. We should praise him for what he did not do. He did not flee the country. He did not beg for mercy. He stood in court, judged by men we judge inferior, even by his lowered standards. There was indeed the flood after him. A torrential downpour of errors, and blood. Nowhere near as much blood as the rest of the cursed region, but far too much by Egypt’s perceived gentle standards. In the end he was acquitted of charges that could not be proved, but not tried for errors that he demonstrably made. Those errors were that of a nation; formed of its clay and shaped by its humiliation.

In the end Mubarak was acquitted, and acquitted himself perhaps better than the mercurial and damaged country that sought his removal and now longs for his reign.

And finally, here is the reaction of CNN. After recapping the first trial and the political situation at the time, the author concludes:

The defendants appealed and the retrial began in January 2013. It would take more than 50 sessions to arrive at a verdict but this time Mubarak’s trial would be overshadowed by growing turmoil in the country.

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the first democratically elected parliament after declaring it unconstitutional. The Egyptian military ousted Morsy on July 3, 2013 following another popular uprising. Security forces began arresting the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership and thousands of their followers. The following August, security forces would clear Morsy supporters from two squares in Egypt resulting in more than 1,000 people killed. Morsy now stands trial over the death of protesters as well as an array of other charges.

From the chaos emerged Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. He served as the head of military intelligence under Mubarak and was promoted by Morsy to be minister of defense. He oversaw the overthrow of Morsy and handover of power to Adly Mansour, although many believed al-Sisi remained the power behind the throne. In May of this year, Egyptians elected him president and thus the fourth recent leader of Egypt.

Today’s verdict reflects the times. Fewer people were outside the courthouse for the trial. Small bands of protesters took to the streets. Most Egyptians vented their anger online. Talking to Mubarak supporters and protesters on both sides, they did agree on one thing. They told me the revolution is dead.

With whom do you agree?



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Blame and Impose

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The last three years in Egypt have been troublesome. Find a culprit, and force your way.

An early culprit was Mubarak. Today he faces a verdict that may exonerate him.

The current culprit is the Muslim Brotherhood, according to a national fact-finding investigation into the post-June 30 violence. They initiated the violence in the dispersal of their pro-Morsi sit-in, and followed it up against Christians across the nation.

An ongoing culprit is also named. The security services exercised an inordinate and random response, resulting in hundreds of deaths. They have the ire of Islamists who called for nationwide protests this weekend, but did not galvanize.

God, of course there are many to blame. Find them and transparently hold them to account. But blame deflects from one’s own culpability.

Give Egypt humility, and help her hold herself to account.

For it far easier to impose. The state has the strength and is asserting its right. Thousands have been arrested and dissenters marginalized.

But even weakness seeks to impose. A Salafi group, backed by the Brotherhood, called on the masses to impose sharia law and Islamic identity.

Each is trying to fix what went wrong.

The state does not wield the sword in vain, God, you have asked it to maintain justice and order. But the human impulse to blame and impose contradicts other principles you demand. Mercy, patience, confession, and other-centeredness – these are absent among too many.

Preserve goodness in Egypt, God. Protect her against those who wish her ill, but may she not respond in kind. Generate a wide consensus, so that no force is necessary.

Issue no blame, God, and impose no wrath. Forgive, and rebuild Egypt.



The Face of the Former NDP

Suleiman al-Hout (L), with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab. (via New Republic)
Suleiman al-Hout (L), with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab. (via New Republic)

Much has been speculated about the coming Egyptian parliament being dominated by figures who used to belong to the National Democratic Party of former President Hosni Mubarak. Given the favor conveyed to the January 25 activists, this proposition scares many.

Perhaps it should. The understanding of the old parliamentary system was that it was a non-ideological patronage network, living off corruption while extending government, business, and other services. It certainly was neither clean nor efficient.

But it was human. Unfortunately, few carry the stories of such figures beyond their ugly caricature. Fortunately, this article from New Republic does, profiling Suleiman al-Hout.

In 2007, Suleiman al-Hout had a problem. Local officials in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia refused to license the food-cart from which he sold kebda, or fried liver, a common Egyptian street food. At first he asked a relative who sat on Ismailia’s local council to intercede on his behalf, but to no avail. So Hout took matters into his own hands. He walked into the local headquarters of then-President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) with one simple question: “How can I vote for you?”

Within two years, Hout was a card-carrying NDP activist with excellent government and business connections, which he put to good use by “solving problems” for others. He frequently acted as an intermediary between local businessmen and the poor, between his neighbors and the electricity ministry, and, of course, between food-cart owners and the registration bureau. If your mother-in-law needed special medical care, he could get you into the top government-run hospital. If you had a problem at a nearby police station, he knew the officers. If there was a street fight, his “men”about 30–40 toughs, depending on the eveningtook care of it. And if street combatants didn’t accept his intervention? Well, that never happened. “They know that if they don’t respect me, I’ll take it personally,” he darkly boasts.

The author, Eric Trager, compares Hout to a different fruit cart vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian who launched the Arab Spring when he set himself on fire to protest inability to obtain a license. But the question is fair: Whose reaction was superior?

Trager continues to chronicle Hout’s political activity during the revolution and throughout the period of Brotherhood rule. It is insightful and comical, a precious insight to how life was actually lived on the streets during this time, far from the rhetoric issued by both sides.

But Hout himself allows Trager to conclude with the common ‘ugly caricature’ that so infuriates many Egyptians, and certainly those who desire a transparent, non-patronage system:

But four months after Sisi’s inauguration, Hout feels let down. “I was among the first to call for Sisi to run for president,” he told me. “And I still haven’t made my money back yet. I have no job, no position, and it makes me angry. … He didn’t give us our rights.”

By “rights,” Hout means a high-level governmental appointment, such as serving as an assistant to a minister or governor. Hout was sure that this would be his reward for mobilizing his patronage network to support Sisi, since this is the way things have historically worked in Ismailia. “I deserve it!” Hout, who has a high school education, insisted. “I served this country. I am an eyewitness against the Brotherhood in two [court] cases. And I returned that vehicle to the police, which costs 450,000 Egyptian pounds.”

Instead, Hout is living off of the local businessmen who fund his patronage network, and growing more frustrated by the day. “[Sisi’s] chance is, maximum, one month,” Hout told me. “If he doesn’t give us our rights, it’s thank you, goodbye. … If I don’t take my rights, I will be very angry and you never know what my reaction might be.”

In lieu of a governmental appointment, Hout intends to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. “I think I deserve to go [to parliament], and I wish to go,” he told me. “But it depends on the arrangements.” Hout explained that he’s still waiting for businessmen to back his campaign. “A businessman will pay, and I’ll be his face in the parliament,” Hout said. “This is normal.”

And apparently, this is normal Egyptian politics. It is also human.

Reform is necessary, and entrenched inertia is no excuse to refuse it. But have patience, and be sympathetic. This is life on the streets.


Block 1, Cell 8: A Letter from Damanhour Women’s Prison


From Mada Masr, publishing a letter by Mahienour al-Massry, an activist from Alexandria imprisoned for illegal protest:

Ever since I set foot in Damanhour women’s prison and was placed with my inmates in ‘Block One’ — The cluster of cells assigned to those accused or convicted of embezzlement — only one thing has been on my mind and I repeat it like a daily mantra: “Down with this classist system.”

Most of my inmates have been imprisoned for defaulting on the payment of instalments or small loans. They are loans taken out by a mother buying some direly needed items for her bride-to-be daughter, or by a wife who needed money to afford treatment for her sick husband, or a woman failing to pay back a LE 2,000 ($280 US) loan on time, only to find herself slammed with a LE 3 million ($420,000 US) fine in return.

She recalls a similar, but more high profile recent case:

At this point, news reaches us of Hosni Mubarak’s three-year sentence for charges of widespread corruption, embezzlement of funds, and financial fraud in the ‘Presidential Palaces Case.’ Cracking up, I ask them, “What kind of future do you expect me to have in an unjust society, in which the regime thinks that Umm Ahmed (‘Ahmed’s mother’), who has been incarcerated for the past eight years and still has six more to go for signing a bad check worth no more than LE 50,000 ($7,000 US), is more of a dangerous criminal than Mubarak?”

Let us imagine that these women are indeed guilty, have broken the law, and are justly imprisoned, however unjust their sentence and the system behind it may be.

Mahienour and other January 25 activists forged their revolution at least in part to overturn this system. I imagine other activists are laboring with those like Umm Ahmed, to provide legal counsel and advocacy for those perhaps guilty but entrapped in this system.

This post is not for evaluation of Mahienour’s option; this choice is three years ongoing with mixed but still inconclusive results, even if she has found herself on the wrong side of the bars.

But even so she counsels:

Freedom for Umm Ahmed, who hasn’t seen her children for eight years. Freedom for Umm Dina, who is the sole provider of her family. Freedom for Niamah, who agreed to go to prison instead of someone else in return for money to feed her children. Freedom for Farhah, Wafaa, Kawthar, Sanaa, Dawlat, Samia, Iman, Amal and Mervat.

Our pains compared to theirs are nothing, as we know that there are those who will remember us, say our names from time to time, proudly mentioning how they know us. Instead, these women, who deserve to be proudly remembered, will only be mentioned at most in family gatherings.

Do they deserve freedom? Allow lawyers and judges to argue over this. But they deserve remembering. They deserve advocacy.

Lord, when did we see you in prison and go to visit you? … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Surely there are a number of activists who intercede already for the likes of Umm Ahmed, but is this not a challenge to lay before the Egyptian church?

Lawyers and judges can argue over Umm Ahmed, but does she even have a lawyer? What if Umm Ahmed and all in similar circumstances knew they could go to their local church and find advocacy?

This challenge would not be Mahienour’s. It is not to overturn the system, not even to reform it. Let other activists labor in these struggles, as warranted.

But that someone might stand with Umm Ahmed in the courtroom, plead her case and seek at least the minimum sentence, would this not be a service worthy of the church?

Some might be bold and say the church should stand with Mahienour also. Perhaps they are right; I do not know the details of her case. If she is jailed unjustly, if the law imprisoning her is unjust, should not the church speak?

Let Christians debate this; some might find it an improper interference in politics. Perhaps it is.

But there are no politics with Umm Ahmed. There is no statement against the system. There is no public protest, there is no agitation.

There is only solidarity with the occupant of Block 1, Cell 9. And 10, and 11. Maybe 12 deserves her fate. But Cell 13, and 14, and …

The Anglican Church of Egypt already has a program to visit foreigners imprisoned in local jails. Some have committed crimes, others are detained on visa irregularities. But the church regularly visits to encourage and furnish needed supplies. It is a good application of the above verse, and donations are welcome.

But could the churches of Egypt do more? If not the churches, could the Christians? Could they do so in close partnership with like-minded Muslims?

If so, I imagine they would please Mahienour immensely. But more importantly, they would please the women of Damanhour prison, their families, and even, it could be imagined, the state.

Here, Mahienour will likely disagree. But which would the state prefer? An activist calling “Down with this classist system,” or citizens working quietly on behalf of individual cases of justice? The guilty would still be sentenced, but the women and their families would know they were treated right. The church would ensure it was not otherwise.

And with accumulated evidence, the church could possibly ensure that all are treated right. Once a critical mass of accountability is reached, the system might naturally reset. A large segment of popular discontent with the regime might be quieted. A revolution might not be necessary.

Surely Mahienour would have been happier if she had the last three years of her life back, and with it a more just society. Let activists and citizens argue the type of activism needed, but surely there is some.

What kind can the church provide?


Cairo’s Christian Garbagemen Back to Work

From the Guardian, describing a reversal in state policy to work with those who do the job best:

In 2012 former president Mohamed Morsi had made the state of the streets an electoral issue, claiming that he would clean them up in 100 days. He failed. “There’s only one solution,” said Greiss, “and that is to bring the Zabaleen back to the core of the waste collection and disposal process.”

The Zabaleen are a Christian community who migrated from Upper Egypt to the outskirts of Cairo in the 1940s. Extremely poor, they earned a living as the city’s ragpickers before turning to recycling in the early 1980s. With the help of NGOs, including APE, they have facilities for recycling plastic, paper and metal; they feed organic waste to the pigs they keep in their backyards. Animal excrement is sent to a compost plant in a Cairo suburb where it is processed and sold to farmers.

The Zabaleen currently collect some 9,000 tonnes of garbage per day, nearly two-thirds of the 15,000 tonnes of rubbish thrown away by Cairo’s 17 million or so inhabitants, and yet they have never been officially recognised by the Egyptian government.

Now 44 local companies have been registered, moving the model away from foreign based companies:

Iskandar has reversed the policy of previous governments, which tried to marginalise the work of this Christian, mainly Coptic, minority. In 2003, Hosni Mubarak‘s economically liberalising regime asked multinational corporations to handle waste disposal. “That model is not suited to Cairo, where residents are used to dustbins being emptied on each individual floor of a building. People couldn’t get used to taking down their garbage and putting it into special skips, which were later raided by thieves,” said Greiss. “As a result most people continued to pay the Zabaleen to come up and get their garbage unofficially, and then complained because they also had to pay for the foreign service company.”

If their talents are now being unleashed, without restriction, I hope we see a quick turnaround in the garbage problems allowed to fester since the revolution.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Trial, Satire

Flag Cross Quran


Egypt’s tests continue. Popular talk show satirist Bassem Youssef returned to the air after a long absence and subsequently lost a lot of his popularity. Praised and hated for poking fun at President Morsi and fellow Islamists, he turned his attention to the adoration mania surrounding military leader General Sisi.

Not only did many complain, lawsuits are threatened.

Meanwhile, this week a more critical lawsuit begins. Deposed President Morsi stands trial on charges of espionage and inciting violence. Widespread protests are expected, as unlike the trial of Mubarak, Morsi maintains a significant social base. How the trial is handled may have much to say about the reality of the democratic transition.

God, help Egypt to pass these tests.

Youssef is pioneering, bringing the celebrated Egyptian humor to public expression, challenging the ingrained taboos on insulting authority. His popularity and international profile, perhaps, has kept him safe so far. Give him wisdom, God. Does he drag Egypt forward, or backwards?

He exposes hypocrisy and doublespeak, God, and this is deeply needed in Egypt, as everywhere. But he also undermines respect for authority, and this is deeply dangerous in Egypt, as everywhere.

But what if the authority does not deserve respect, having engaged in hypocrisy and doublespeak? This question, perhaps, is on trial with the president.

Validate or convict him, God, according to the truth. Just as important, may this truth be transparent. Give courage to the judge to fear you alone. May he stand strong, should pressure come from above or below. May he rule rightly.

But for those below, hold fast the discipline of their protest. Keep Morsi’s supporters peaceful; protect them from any external breach of the peace.

God, guide Egypt. Refine her culture, refine her politics, refine her dispensing of justice. In all her trials may she prove righteous.

Protect her from being an object of satire.



The Brittle State

Salama Moussa writes about the Orwellian realities in Egypt today:

The narrative surrounding the January 2011 revolution has done damage to the goal of progress in Egypt. The accepted myth is that of an impossibly brave action against an exceptionally impregnable wall.  While there is no denying the bravery, the Mubarak state was less an impregnable wall than a pile of rubble.  Like a bridge with heft and no strength it awaited the first burst of wind under the right conditions to exhibit spectacular collapse. The Egyptian state will be made stronger and more durable by trimming rather than adding. Everything in Egypt today is the opposite of what it seems. The arbitrarily empowered policeman undermines law and order rather than enforce it. The hectoring Sheikh (or Abouna [i.e. priest]) does not promote morality, just false piety. The constantly declaiming politician does not enlighten, but obfuscates. The preening man in uniform does not protect, but menace. The deeply patriarchal men do not hold the family together, just rob it of half of its strength. The Islamists are menacing not because they are the “other” but because they are a reflection of a damaged self. A country this deep in the rabbit hole has to consider doing the exact opposite of what its instincts demand.

The goals of the 2011 revolution, Bread-Freedom-Social Justice, are catchy, vague and contradictory. The country needs a chicken in every pot not more poorly-baked and subsidized bread. Only an unfettered market will guarantee that, and such a market will initially run counter to social justice, although it will ultimately strengthen it in profound ways. Freedom is a vague concept, notable only by its absence. What will free Egypt from its current chaos is respect for the rules, which may seem initially counter to “Freedom”, but is ultimately its true servant and guardian.  Incremental progress, not revolutionary action, may guarantee the most profound change in Egypt today.

He also provides an interesting lesson in (literal) bridge-building.

But speaking of the state, there is also the concept of Egypt’s ‘deep state’, which according to Amr Darrag, one of the few prominent Muslim Brothers not arrested, caused the fall of Morsi:

MM: What would you say were your biggest mistakes?

AD: We underestimated the power of the deep state. We thought that just having the revolution and elections, the deep state would diminish automatically or gradually.

When parliamentary elections took place and only 13 members from feloul [remnants of the Mubarak regime] parties made it, we thought it was a strong indication that they don’t have much influence. But maybe at that time they were still gathering themselves.

As time passed, we found that they have much more influence. They managed to have their candidate be the second top presidential candidate. If you go through the government, as I did as minister, you find out that they are really deeply rooted everywhere. A more revolutionary path would have been necessary to expedite reform.

When he says ‘everywhere’, Muslim Brothers often mean the Egyptian bureaucracy – bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and the mechanism through which most of the state moves. It can be bypassed, perhaps, but it must be placated.

The Brotherhood believed this ‘deep state’ was against them from the beginning and foiled their project. Darrag points out their ‘mistake’ was underestimating it, but let us suppose his point is true.

The mistake is not in underestimation, but in losing their revolutionary allies who would be willing to confront it with them. But I have yet to hear a Brother articulate this manner of ‘mistake’. What could they have done to keep their very fragile and distrustful coalition together?

Of course, others say the Brothers had no intention of reform, but of takeover. Either way, they failed.

But Salama Moussa’s labeling of the state as ‘brittle’ is at the heart of making sense of Egypt these days: What is the nature of the beast?

How can it be harnessed – either whittled or strengthened – for Egypt’s good? And, who can do it?

Here is his unfortunate conclusion:

The only open question is whether Egypt will be lucky enough to find leaders who can articulate this vision to its people in terms both understandable and respectful. It would run counter to the last decades of leadership, which has been alternately charismatic, theatrical, tedious, and stupid, but rarely effective.

Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

A Conversation with al-Gama’a al-Islamiya’s Hani Nour Eddin – Part One, Background

Hani Nour Eddin

A few months ago, before President Morsi was deposed, I had the chance to interview Hani Nour el-Din, a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya who was elected to the most recent parliament. His group is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but they formally gave up violence as a doctrinal strategy in the early 2000s.

This fact – indeed question – is very important now that Islamists find themselves outside the political spectrum. They gave up violence at a time when there was still no means to enter Egyptian politics. The revolution opened up political space, but now it appears closed. Will the group decide they made a mistake – that the only way to transform Egypt into a political state is through a violent seizing of power?

This is a very necessary question to put to al-Gama’a al-Islamiya now. But in the meanwhile, here is a window into the group’s thinking while they were on the winning side.

The interview was reduced and published by the Middle East Institute. Please click here to read the article.

But here on the blog I will post parts of the interview that had to be trimmed for space. Part One here will concern Nour Eddin’s personal history before his group gave up violence. Part Two, in a few days, will concern his views on violence, whether or not the party truly has abandoned the principle. Please enjoy.

Please introduce yourself to us:

My name is Hany Nour Eddin and I represent the Building and Development Party and serve on its high council, and was a member of parliament in 2011 before it was dissolved. I got to know IG in university, when I joined it and engaged in a number of student activities and preaching campaigns. After university I was arrested and spent many years in prison. This is where I became better acquainted with the group’s leadership.

I have read about this experience, and you maintain your innocence. What happened during this clash with police?

Here in Suez we were giving lectures in opposition to Hosni Mubarak and his remaining in the presidency. It was around 1993 and the GI organized a campaign called ‘No to Mubarak’. The state line was to forbid any opposition to the renewal of his presidency. We organized a large exhibition against him and spoke about the damage he was doing to the country, whether politically, economically, or otherwise. So he gave the order to security to stop the campaign, and to do so forcefully.

A large number of police arrived and we understood we needed to withdraw, but were surprised at the gunfire that began as we were doing so. One the bullets struck an officer accidentally, and a campaign was launched against us accusing us of killing him.

Who did kill him?

Someone from security, as the bullet hit him from behind. Part of their tactic was to disperse the crowd with gunfire, but he was hit from close range. Afterwards we all started getting arrested.

What was your role in GI at this time? Did you organize the exhibition?

Yes, I supervised it, collecting pictures and articles to help educate the people. The level of arrests practically stopped the work of GI in Suez, except for taking care of the families of those incarcerated.

So if you were imprisoned unjustly, why were you released later on?

When we were arrested they wanted to dissolve the Islamist movements, and especially our operations, targeting even our preachers. A violent clash took place between us and the police which became an armed struggle, targeting leaders on both sides, including Mubarak himself on many occasions.

By 1974 we realized the struggle was shedding the blood of the nation in general, and not just of the GI. We wanted to overthrow the state, but our violence was met by greater violence by the regime. We considered that we were defending ourselves, but it resulted in oppression and hostility, which reached even our families and relatives. It was not good.

So we undertook a campaign in the prisons, suggesting a unilateral cease-fire, stopping all violence against the regime, both inside and outside Egypt. It is important to note the whole time, even from outside, we targeted only Egypt and were working on its behalf alone. This is opposed to al-Qaeda, for example; we specified our conflict and goals were only against the regime. By 1979 we launched the non-violent initiative officially, opposing all violence against the regime, whether in the media or with weapons.

For a period of time we tried to send this message to GI members internationally, while we waited for a response from the government. Unfortunately the regime did many things to undermine our credibility, representing us falsely. But by 2000-01 they accepted the initiative. We published our ‘Revisions’, publicizing them first in the prisons and then internationally. They began releasing us from the prisons, and I got out in 2005.

So you found normal work to do?

Yes, after the necessary legal procedures, I returned to my job in the Suez Canal Company. I have a BA in Agriculture but my work with them is administrative.

But you have the time to take off work and talk to me today?

(Laughing) Yes, it’s normal, it’s ok.

So from 2005 until the revolution, what were you doing for GI?

We chose to work in preaching, rather than in organization. We would meet in mosques, talk to the people, and engage in social work – helping the poor, the orphans.

Were you a preacher in the mosque?

Sometimes, but not much. I served on the Shura Council of the GI in our governorate.

Served? But not any more?

Since we started the political party it has taken my priority and I left the Shura Council. Politics is different than preaching and social work. But we agreed to keep the party as the political arm of the GI for about two years until its administration is complete and mature. Then it will become independent, and when the appropriate laws are passed the GI will register legally also.

Please click here to continue reading the interview at Middle East Institute.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: A Call to Purge

Flag Cross Quran


Another protest was assaulted, this time one called for by Islamists. An otherwise peaceful demonstration calling to purge the judiciary was met by violence, when then lasted long into the night.

Not all Islamists participated; some believed such a protest would not help matters. Perhaps others remembered their own earlier criticism that continued demonstrations only serve to destabilize Egypt. This was a Muslim Brotherhood project, and it cost them Morsi’s minister of justice, an independent Islamist, who resigned in a protest of his own.

But if it is their project, what are they developing? What would a purge of the judiciary look like? The complaint is that many judges are of the Mubarak era, corrupt and aligned with the old order. The conspiracy claimed is that they are actively opposing the Islamist project, seeking to keep the nation in limbo by preventing development of democratic institutions on flimsy pretexts.

But the only proposal floated in the media currently is to lower the retirement age for judges, removing a few thousand of the most senior. Is such an across the board move a purge worthy of the name, eliminating corruption? Or does Brotherhood leadership have something else in mind?

God, it all seems clumsy and obvious. Certainly the justice minister thinks so. But in every sector of the old regime there was corruption. Mubarak manipulated the judges to the extent he could, but the judiciary was still relatively independent. He was unable to fully ply his will, and many opposed his policies. Surely there are good men among the senior judges.

Of course, many are also deeply suspicious of the Islamist project, which has shown willingness to step outside the law when circumstances merited. Where is the line between judicial pretext and blind justice? Are they subverting democracy, or catching Islamists when they try to cut corners?

Furthermore, are justices protecting former regime officers tried for the killing of revolutionaries? Or are they courageously issuing verdicts of innocence where insufficient evidence is presented? Someone killed hundreds; why do we still not know who?

No consensus exists for a straightforward purge of the judiciary, God. But to some degree the call is correct. Let the matter be in your hands. From good intention or ill, politicians may force a change. May it be that the sins of the guilty fall on the guilty. Protect the institution of the judiciary. Protect the honest judges. But for those who compromised themselves – no matter the commonness of their failing – may the guardians of Egypt’s law be clean moving forward.

But God, keep the process from being dirty.



‘Fight Club’ and Egyptian Sectarianism

Fight Club

From the blog Tabula Sara, her conclusion:

The first rule of sectarianism: you do not talk about sectarianism.

In most of my writings I seek to counter inflammatory headlines about Coptic persecution. There is almost always an initial incident stemming from ordinary community disputes, of which a Christian can be at fault as easily as a Muslim.

There is almost always a context in which the incident is understandable, due to cultural peculiarities which outdate any current political leader.

But there is also a narrative that strings together almost every incident, which is frightening. Here, Tabula Sara outlines the sectarianism of Egypt in four easy steps:

There are typically four stages to a full-on sectarian crisis in Egypt. First, you have the long, hard, arduous work of actually spreading sectarian venom in society. Luckily, there is no shortage of people willing to take that noble task upon themselves.

Anyhow, after the successful spread of such rhetoric, the second stage of a sectarian crisis can begin. All it needs is a little spark, nothing big: a girl and a boy who happen to be from different religious background are rumored to be in love, a fight between two merchants, a facebook status update, a scribble on a wall etc.

In between her first two stages she absolves the political leadership while appropriately holding them accountable at the same time:

The majority of people who are involved in these attacks are arguably not paid to do so, nor ordered to so by some political figure. They are people whose minds are saturated enough with that venomous broth which has been slowly simmering in society for a long time. It is not Mubarak or Morsi who order these attacks, as some like to believe. Yes, they bear some responsibility for either leaving criminals unpunished or actively promoting sectarianism, but the fact of the matter is that sectarianism is well-founded in society so it doesn’t need a top-down approach.

She then continues:

So the violence happens, the third stage can commence. No sectarianism without victim-blaming. The circle is full when the incendiary rhetoric that was used in stage one is repeated again, this time to justify the violence or to claim it was the Copts themselves who are at fault (or whichever community is attacked).

Finally, the fourth and most important stage of any sectarian crisis commences. It is the part in which a lovely state representative with a wide smile tells us there is no sectarianism in Egypt. He then recounts stories from his youth in which he used to have a Muslim/Christian neighbor with whom he used to play in the street, or alternately, depending on the level of apparent tolerance needed, in whose house he used to eat during feasts and special occasions.

Unfortunately, in conversations aplenty, these stages are evident.

Fight Club is an organized conspiracy, and I don’t believe Tabula Sara is making this exact comparison. She is right at the edge, though, for ‘sectarianism’ has such a life of its own it is almost an entity itself. Like a cancer, it spreads and destroys, but has no earthly master, only pawns and victims.

Fight Club ends in redemption and victory, but only after death and resurrection, and amid much ambiguous destruction. Will Egypt follow the same path? Would that be good, or bad?

Please click here to read the whole article at Tabula Sara, including examples of her four stages.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Independence of the Egyptian Judiciary

The Supreme Constitutional Court, under protest by Islamists, December, 2012.
The Supreme Constitutional Court, under protest by Islamists, December, 2012.

From my recent article on Arab West Report:

The Egyptian transition following the 2011 January 25th revolution has been fraught with controversy; among many has been the reform of the judiciary system. While the 1971 constitution guaranteed an independent judiciary, the following year President Sadat presided over the passing of law 46 which moved many judicial proceedings – including appointments, transfers, and inspections – to the executive branch through oversight of the Ministry of Justice. President Mubarak continued use of these privileges to ensure a regime-friendly judiciary.

Though the reform of the judiciary was not chief among the primary demands of the revolution, many reformist judges had long been seeking to expose these executive abuses. The tensions came to the fore during the transitional period, as the judiciary became a battleground between the revolutionary popular will and what was interpreted as pro-regime rulings from the court.

Though published recently, this article was written September of last year after Mursi assumed the presidency, but before his full-on clashes with the judiciary. In this light the following recommendations are noteworthy, as many anti-Islamists look to the courts to curb presidential power and prerogative:

The first guarantee [of judicial independence] is for security of tenure. Judges must understand their position is safe, not subject to removal for rulings issued against the government. Second, the judge and court system as a whole must enjoy financial security. All necessary resources must be made available for the smooth functioning of justice. Third, there must be sufficient guarantees for individuals in the justice system. A culture of rights ensures the public demand for judicial independence, making it more difficult for the government to infringe upon it.

Unfortunately, Binnie noted, the current Egyptian arrangement does not lend itself to judicial independence. First, the body tasked with inspecting judges is within the executive Ministry of Justice. This allows the executive branch to offer rewards to compliant judges – such as promotions or post-retirement ambassadorships – while penalizing judges who buck the system by assigning them judgeships in remote locations.

Second, there is a threat to the independence of the judiciary if there is not sufficient public confidence in the system. Binnie noted that even if independence is achieved, the courts can operate as an ‘old boy’s network’, appointing from their own circles rather than drawing from the diversity of society. The presence of women is particularly helpful, he noted, but a comment from the audience helped demonstrate his point. Egypt boasts only 42 women judges, but 39 of these are the daughters of established judges.

Third, the presence of a parallel court system undermines judicial independence. Even the best system will fail, Binnie noted, if the government can simply bypass it. With separate jurisdictions for military, security, and emergency courts – each able to try civilians – Egyptian justice suffers. Binnie noted that some drafts of the coming constitution do not sufficient guarantee rights during periods of national emergency, threatening to perpetuate the current system into the post-revolutionary era.

The constitution limited the use of military courts, but it did not eliminate their jurisdiction of civilians. Still, this has not been a practical issue since the end of direct military rule. Noting the importance of public confidence, it is at an all time low. Islamists have none at all, while non-Islamist revolution supporters still see it as in service of the regime in concept, if in particularity the identity of the regime is still under contention. Meanwhile, courts across the country issue rulings that send advocates of human rights up in arms.

But consider these examples, the latter of which was held as a pro-revolution step only a few months ago. If implemented now it would cause shockwaves:

In Egypt, moving from an autocratic tradition, enshrinement in the constitution is necessary. This must be done in detail, lest the situation resemble Russia where vagueness in wording has allowed erosion of judicial independence. Experts expect it may take years to reverse Russia’s political culture of judges as servants of the executive branch.

A positive example could perhaps be taken from the experience of Bosnia. Political leaders took the decision to sack all judges, and then require them to reapply for their positions in competition with new applicants. In the end, 70% of judges were reinstated, but two significant results were produced. First, this measure resulted in a great sense of public confidence in the governing system. Second, the judges themselves ‘bought into’ the new program from the necessity of keeping their jobs. It also reset their orientation, as most judges everywhere, Lund believes, desire independence.

As with much of the state infrastructure, bold reforms are necessary, but political conditions do not permit the unity needed for orchestration. It is a shame polarization has reached such a point.

Please click here to read the whole article on Arab West Report.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Morsy’s Inviolability


Egypt is once again divided, perhaps more visibly now than in some time. President Morsy issued a decree to shield both his past and present decisions from judicial review, until a new constitution and parliament appear.

He promises not to abuse this authority, claimed as necessary to stabilize Egypt and complete the revolution. He also sacked the public prosecutor and declared retrials for Mubarak and those acquitted of killing protestors. He additionally sealed the current constitutional writing committee from any possible legal dissolution.

Opponents call him a new pharaoh; supporters defend his revolutionary legitimacy. God, protect Egypt.

Protect her from deepening divisions between the people. Egypt has been on edge since the revolution. Frustrated in the political process, some may take to violence. Buoyed by their political success, some may sanction violence. Forces manipulating on either side may provoke violence. And violence has a way of spiraling out of control.

Protect her from men with designs on power. God, you know the hearts of men. You know why Egypt has suffered up until now, and what is necessary to move her forward. Help Egyptians to know how to interpret Morsy’s decision within this context.

Protect her from international intrigue, but also from paranoia. On the heels of the Gaza crisis Egypt’s role in world affairs has only increased. Are the powers that be turning Morsy into a new dictator to be relied upon, or are they working to undermine him and undo the revolution? Both sides find larger forces as work; grant Egypt alone to forge her sovereignty.

God, in looking to you, help Egyptians to find strength and conviction amidst their divisions. Where there is good, may it be honored. Where there is wrong, may it be purged. Where both are found in the same people; God, have mercy.

Have mercy and do not allow simplification. Have mercy and prevent manipulation. Have mercy and give Egypt a singleness of purpose that respects her complexity.

No man is inviolable, God, but test the president and prune him accordingly. May all that is good in his purposes remain. Give him wisdom; bless Egypt through him.

In the end, God, be just, but let your mercy triumph over judgment.


Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Israel’s Gaza Escalation Puts the Question to Brotherhood Rhetoric

Egypt Prime Minster Visits Hospital in Gaza

From my recent article on EgyptSource:

Yet from my perspective in Egypt, I wonder if the Israeli motivation is to test Cairo more than Hamas. Of course, domestic factors always outweigh international ones. But at the least Tel Aviv may wish to discover what sort of president it faces in Mohamed Morsy, if not seek to discredit him altogether.

Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric during the Mubarak administration was always to harshly condemn the state’s refusal to take decisive action against Israel vis-à-vis Palestine. Yet Mubarak was not shy to issue strong verbal condemnations against Israel, nor did he refrain from withdrawing his ambassador to Tel Aviv. Morsy’s government, to prove consistent, must do more.

Morsy is not the Muslim Brotherhood, officially, which allows for an undefined relation of influence and agency:

Interestingly, the Muslim Brotherhood called for massive protests on Friday, as did every other political force rallying behind Gaza. Opposition to Israel has always been a hallmark of every Egyptian political movement, but it is ironic to see liberal parties now in condemnation of an Islamist presidency’s failure to stand up to Israel. But the Brotherhood is not falling behind: It has called for cutting all ties.

Do they mean it? How much effort will they pour into protest mobilization? Are they forcing the hand of the president? Or are they simply covering themselves should Morsi’s obliged inaction have to be explained away later?

But maybe Israel is seeking more definition:

Perhaps Israel is nudging at one of these contradictions. Morsi and the Brotherhood built their power base on anti-Israeli rhetoric. Yet seeking the approval of the international community and commercial interests also pledged to respect all treaties. There is little wiggle room. If they imitate Mubarak’s outrage they risk losing the people. If they take decisive steps against Tel Aviv they risk losing credibility. Such are the demands of leadership; can they step up to the plate?

The full text notes also the domestic considerations of Israel’s actions, and notes as well certain conspiratorial factors involved. Please click here to read the article at EgyptSource.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Camel Recall


Egypt has once again produced a crisis. This one may only be mini, but perhaps official reactions will reveal its extent. Tahrir filled with rocks and Molotovs, as demonstrators faced off one to another.

The crisis was slow brewing, and then sudden. For weeks liberals have railed against the membership of the committee tasked to write the constitution, saying it was unrepresentative of society and dominated by Islamists. For days they have called for a protest against it.

Then only two days before a bombshell was announced. The accused in the revolutionary Battle of the Camel were found not guilty on all charges. The Battle of the Camel followed on the heels of Mubarak’s promise not to run for reelection, and had quieted some revolutionary fervor. Once camels and horses followed afterwards – with snipers reported as well – the protest dug in its heels. Soon Mubarak was gone altogether.

It was a strange event, making little sense even at the time. It galvanized the opposition, with blame laid at the feet of members of Mubarak’s regime. Now, they are free men.

The Muslim Brotherhood especially and revolutionary forces additionally were outraged, and pledged to fill Tahrir in protest. The Islamists had previously dismissed and criticized the already planned demonstration; now, they appeared ready to overwhelm it.

Groups in opposition with contrary demands do not make good bedfellows. With the stage set for conflict, it erupted. Throughout the afternoon and evening Egyptians threw projectiles at Egyptians. Much of the time, it was hard to tell who was who.

What to make of this, God? Amid all the confusion, perhaps prayers should be simple.

Give justice to those responsible for all protestor deaths and injuries during the revolution. Be it the accused or others, men were willfully killed. To date, almost no one has been held accountable. Establish the truth, God, so that Egypt might know. Only upon the truth can there be healing, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

These are requested between demonstrators as well, God. Old wounds were opened, causing recent ones to pain all the more sharply. The issues run deep, but so does the original unity of Tahrir.

But together, God, it seems Egypt is moving backwards. Judicial observers say the court case was handled poorly. Rock throwing is juvenile. But there is no time to lament steps in reverse when a constitution is pending.

Draw Egypt back, God. Mend her spoiled relations and develop her fractured politics. Give her good leadership and active citizens. Protect protests when they are necessary, but help most issues to congeal through consensus.

And though it is a near constant refrain, God, expose the manipulators and give transparency to the process. May those who plot evil fail. Rebuke them that they may repent, but keep them from a share in shaping Egypt’s future. May this be left to those who love her and honor all her citizens.

God, establish the right and the good in Egypt. Help her to live in peace.


Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Spinning the Muslim Brotherhood

In politics, spin is inevitable. But in times of great political struggle spin is often transformed into misrepresentation. In Egypt these days, as seen in the press, the Muslim Brotherhood is spun virtually into a dervish.

Consider first this article from al-Akhbar, ‘Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Reassures Washington’, published April 7, 2012. Though it details current Brotherhood efforts to portray itself as a moderate political force, the article opens with a similar effort from 2005.

Muslim Brotherhood Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater penned an article in the Guardian following the group’s victory of one-fifth of the parliamentary seats. US President George Bush had been pushing the region towards democracy, but now the West was fearful of the results.

The article carries Shater’s words, saying:

He added that they only ran for 150 seats out of 444 (in the people’s assembly), because they “recognize that the provision of a greater number of candidates will be considered a provocation to the system” and lead it to “falsify the results.”

Here, the picture Shater paints is of the Brotherhood as a keen political player, limiting their rightful ambition for the greater democratic transition. Rather than provoke the autocrat Mubarak, they will do just enough to keep nudging democracy along.

Fair enough. Only it isn’t the truth. Or, sort of. The Brotherhood alluded as such last month.

At the time there were rumors the Brotherhood had ‘cut a deal’ with the regime for partial political representation. The win-win gave a measure of political representation to the Brotherhood, while Mubarak could complain to the West about the results of ‘democracy’ and continue to rule autocratically. If true, it worked. The Bush administration fell silent and dropped its democracy rhetoric.

These days as well the Brotherhood is accused of ‘cutting a deal’ with the military council.

Therefore it is very interesting to consider the new spin the Brotherhood gives to the 2005 elections. Egypt Independent carried the news of their ‘confession’, on June 13, 2012.

According to ‘an official statement’, the Brotherhood:

Confessed to meeting with the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) in 2005, saying in an official statement on Wednesday that it attended the meeting “in order to avoid a string of arrests that would have affected hundreds of Brotherhood members.”

The Brotherhood said the SSIS had summoned a number of the group’s members to its headquarters after it nominated 160 candidates for the 2005 parliamentary elections.

In its statement, the Brotherhood said that during the meeting, SSIS leaders asked them to withdraw a large number of candidates and to only compete for thirty seats in Parliament. However, according to the statement, the Brotherhood heads refused the request.

“We said, ‘Let the people elect 40, or more or less. This is their right. We do not expect all 160 candidates to win and no one will withdraw.’” The statement went on to say that the group was threatened, but that they were not intimidated by the threats.

There is plausibility to this story, but it is a different tale than was given by Shater at the time. No longer is the Brotherhood the self-limiting democratic champion, but rather a political player negotiating with the regime for what it can get. There may well be spin in this presentation as well, as it fits with the post-revolution acceptability of exposing Mubarak’s ills. The Brotherhood, in this presentation, is a victim – though not powerless. They stood up to authority to the level possible.

It is noteworthy, though, to notice numbers. The Brotherhood confessed to seeking 40 representatives in this ‘deal’, however coerced it was. Somehow, they wound up winning 88.

In light of similar Brotherhood post-revolutionary promises to ‘limit’ their political representation, it is curious to watch the pattern repeat itself. To what extent in both 2005 and 2011 was the Brotherhood pressed to limit their ambition, and how in either case did they exceed the deal/expectation?

Perhaps they simply play the political game better than anyone else.

This fact becomes clear when examining the spin that is marshaled against them. The Egypt Independent ended its article:

The statement came after repeated accusations from presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq that the Brotherhood used to meet with and have friendly relations with the Mubarak regime.

Here, the writer does a good job of not endorsing the accusation, putting it in context, but also leaving the impression in the reader’s mind. It is a slight use of spin, but it is there.

Far less subtle is this example from Aswat Masr, published July 19, 2012. The headline reads, ‘The General Guide Commenting on the Death of Omar Suleiman: God, Save us from the Helpers of the Deposed [Regime]’.

Closer examination of the article, however, shows the Brotherhood statement has no direct relation to Suleiman whatsoever.

An indirect relation is possible. July 19 is the day Suleiman died. He was widely reviled for his alleged roles in torturing prisoners, and especially in his efforts to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

During the revolution Mubarak appointed Suleiman as vice-president, but only a few days later he fell with the regime. When Suleiman briefly resuscitated his political career in a failed attempt to run for president, he fit well into the secular-Islamic dichotomy and was hailed by some as a hero. Upon his death he was given a military funeral.

While some Islamists have praised his death, the Brotherhood has been more cautious. President Morsy permitted the military funeral, but kept his distance and did not attend. It is judicious for them to keep their silence and not gloat over the fall of their long time enemy.

In this light the headline of Aswat Masr is better understood. It paints the Brotherhood as celebrating Suleiman’s death, and wishing similarly for salvation from those still alive.

Perhaps the writer has divined the Brotherhood’s intentions, but he has not accurately conveyed their words. The article takes from a written, weekly statement issued by the General Guide, Mohamed Badie. The text opens with Ramadan and praise of the Qur’an.

Only later on does the headline quotation occur, and Suleiman is never mentioned. Instead, Badie asks God:

Save us from tyrants, the corrupt, and the helpers of the dead, deposed regime. Aid our president in leading the ship of the nation to safe shores.

This statement can very much be read into the current political struggle between the Brotherhood and the military/old regime. The headline, however, makes the reader think it is an attack on Suleiman, painting the group as a vindictive entity worthy of Suleiman’s attempts at suppression.

When spin is present, it is best to find truth, however difficult.

According to my best and current understanding, the Muslim Brotherhood and the old regime danced together, awkwardly. There were periods of oppression and jailing, and periods of limited freedom of operation. On the whole, the group was free to function socially, but restricted politically. The regime always had the upper hand, but the Brotherhood knew how to exploit its limitations and slowly develop its legitimacy.

Omar Suleiman was a loyal employee, tasked with protecting the state from violent Islamists, and protecting the regime from political challenges. I suspect the tales of oppression are true.

What is still unclear, due the presence of spin from all sides, is if the Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate democratic governing party. There is a great political struggle underway, and nearly all focus rests on this question.

The Brotherhood is spun, but also spins itself. Perhaps soon the dust will clear.

Even a dervish eventually stops.

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What’s Behind the Mubarak Verdict?

Mubarak, transferred to Tora prison

The headlines in the West will read, ‘Mubarak sentenced to life imprisonment.’ They may also say, ‘Egyptians take to the street in protest.’ Confused?

Unless one reads more deeply the obvious connection must be that protestors wanted his head, literally. The reality is rather simple, just not within the headlines.

Mubarak and the former Minster of the Interior Habib al-Adly were convicted, but the chiefs of the Ministry of the Interior were declared innocent. The statement says there was insufficient evidence to link them to the charge of killing protestors during the revolution.

So the primary revolutionary reaction sees a political ruling pure and simple. Mubarak and Adly were thrown under the bus – though many fear the case may be overturned on appeal. Meanwhile the figures on the ground who represent the backbone of the old regime are let free. The cry is that the regime is rebuilding itself, just in time for presidential elections.

To add salt to the wound, Mubarak, his two sons, and other financial cronies were declared innocent on corruption charges.

Therefore, this is where Egypt currently stands. A year and a half after the revolution, the president is in jail, but still no one knows who actually killed the protestors.

What is far more curious is the estimation of what is going on behind the scenes. It is little coincidence that the verdict was issued today; closing arguments were presented months ago. The only difficulty is deciphering what the coincidence means.

To preface, however, it must be stated first and foremost this may have simply been a ruling according to the evidence. Sufficient or otherwise, all involved may be honest men. It is noteworthy few voices are asserting this at the moment, though some have celebrated the achievement of a guilty verdict being issued against a former Arab strongman. Like the trial itself, it is a marked change in the traditional status quo.

But it is much more fun to engage in conspiracy, however sad the fact it is still the traditional status quo.

There are three main variations espoused:

The immediate judgment, for which thousands have now descended to Tahrir Square, is that the old regime is defending its own henchmen, though Mubarak has outlived his usefulness. Fitting in with halting efforts at implementing social justice and real democracy, protestors see this judgment as one more nail in the revolution’s coffin. The final one will occur with the election of Ahmed Shafiq, by hook or by crook. Many of this ilk judge his presence in the run-off elections as due either to their outright interference, or to the fostering of conditions prejudicing the people to desire the return of law and order.

How does the confusing judgment against Mubarak aid the Shafiq campaign? This removes the conspiracy one step beyond the revolutionaries who have been sucked in. Conspiracy number two has two prongs, the second nastier than the first.

The first prong states the verdict was made exactly to draw protestors back into the square. Over the past eighteen months the legitimacy of street politics has been whittled away as the people grow tired of endless protest. Given the revolution is still largely leaderless, protestors can be relied upon to trip over themselves in greater and greater radicalization. If not, well-placed infiltrators will foul things up for them. This pattern has been seen over and over again. Repeated once more on a large scale, the public will say – ‘But they convicted Mubarak, what more does the revolution want?’

Then they will go to the booths and elect Shafiq.

The second prong posits the conspiracy is not working solely for the preservation of old regime or military council power, but for a United States and Israel who desire to see Egypt devolve into utter chaos. Here, the powers-that-be are accomplices, but the Mubarak trial and the presidential elections are simply means to pull the rug out from under those whose appetite was whet for reception of power.

This could be the socialists, or it could be the Islamists. The point, as mentioned before, is radicalization. A coming corollary to the manipulation of Mubarak’s trial could be the ruling on the constitutionality of parliament, or on the constitutionality of parliament’s law to isolate Shafiq politically, not yet applied. Any number of vague, unclear, or manipulative judgments on these issues could get people back to the streets en masse. Take care to watch if somehow or other the presidential run-off elections are ‘postponed’.

At what point will aggrieved parties take up arms? This prong of the conspiracy is salivating at the question.

The final conspiracy batted about is not nearly as nasty but nearly equal in cynicism. This has been heard most often by Coptic voices and some liberals, finding a scheme in the works to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

To introduce this strand of thought, it is noteworthy the Brotherhood has called upon members to take to the street in protest of the Mubarak verdict.

Of course, drawing the Brotherhood in fits well with the different prongs of conspiracy two. Back before parliamentary elections the Brotherhood stood aside while revolutionaries were being killed on Mohamed Mahmoud St. They feared a trap, and did not want to jeopardize the elections in which they were poised to do well.

As it turns out, pragmatically, they made the right decision. But though they won the great plurality of seats, they lost almost all of their revolutionary legitimacy. Now deeply committed to the presidential election, the Brotherhood is trying to claim it back. As Shafiq is clearly a non-revolutionary candidate, they must capture the revolutionary constituency if they wish to win.

Now back at the square, they can either be discredited or radicalized, but conspiracy three posits otherwise. It notes the Brotherhood has been in close collaboration with the military/intelligence service since the revolution began. It furthermore asserts that Brotherhood-regime bickering has been mostly a show.

The point at hand is in order to cede power to the Brotherhood legitimately, the population must embrace them democratically, and by a wide margin. A wary public and international scene would demand no less. Step one engineered the victory of Shafiq, to the detriment of other candidates with more revolutionary cred. Step two is to engineer crises in order to get the Brotherhood to lay claim to revolutionary leadership.

Most revolutionaries have not bought any of the Brotherhood’s efforts at rebranding, but this does not matter much. They have already been strong-armed into at least a boycott if not grudging support for Morsy out of their deep conviction against the old regime. They have little appetite for an Islamist project, even if some to many have Islamic sympathies. But they feel they can deal with the Brotherhood whereas a Shafiq victory will crush them.

But revolutionaries have no nationwide electoral weight, though the revolution bears much electoral sympathy. The conspiracy states the public is being shown every reminder of old regime corruption – gas shortages, shady court cases, financial fraud, and even the reconstituting of the Ministry of Interior – in order to lend their vote to anyone but Shafiq. Who would this be now, after the run-off? Only the Muslim Brotherhood, as all other revolutionary forces have been set aside.

Since this scenario is so counter-intuitive to the traditional status quo, the question must be asked about why. The simple answer is that in order to remake the old regime, it needs the Muslim Brotherhood. Mubarak’s political power rested in the National Democratic Party, which was thoroughly dismantled – and headquarters burned – after the revolution. No suitable party exists to take its place, except the formerly hated Islamists.

Of course, if this conspiracy is true, there are even more possibilities. The first is that the presidency is given to the Brotherhood for the same reason parliament was given – to discredit them in the eyes of the people. Perhaps the old regime, not truly in cahoots with them, will give four years to watch them fail in handling every crisis they inherit, and others to be provoked along the way. Then, finally, Islamism can be dismissed without weapons or prison terms – the ineffective methods of the traditional status quo.

The second and third possibilities return the conspiracy to the international scene. The United States (Israel features less prominently here) desire Islamist rule perhaps to foster regional stability in accordance with democratic principles. Egypt is Muslim, let the pro-business and pragmatic Brotherhood rule, and we can get on with our lives without incessant instability from Cairo.

Or, in the apocalyptic scenario, the United States desires another eventual enemy. The war on terrorism is running thin, with the only current conflicts parried about through drone warfare. The military-industrial complex needs more than that. The region – through Islamism – must become stronger to at least enable another Cold War. This will permit defense contracts to remain plumb parcels of every budget for years to come.

Unfortunately, this scenario works well to prove the depth of depravity to which conspiracy thinking leads. Unfortunately further, this is the reality in which Egypt is currently operating.

Perhaps the Mubarak verdict was perfectly just given the standards of law. The standards of revolution, however, are always murkier.


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