Friday Prayers for Egypt: Reuters 25

Flag Cross Quran


Ninety million Egyptians have a name. With truth and courage, may they state them freely.

For much can be hidden without it, God. The name of the Italian researcher is known, and have mercy on him. But he was killed by the anonymous, as anonymous others point to a culprit.

Reuters will protect these sources, as good journalism must do. But they ask readers to trust them, as others call false.

Judge between them, God, and hold the guilty accountable. But make Egypt a place where none will ever need to hide their name. Let all be transparent. Let all be true.

For on the 25th, some will rally publicly while others wear a mask. In continuation of protests over the designation of Red Sea islands as Saudi territory, thousands may again descend to the streets.

They are unlikely to have authorization to do so. God, give wisdom to the government, to permit, forbid, or restrict. May no blood be shed. May all act honorably.

And give grace to Egypt, to meet these challenges righteously. Correct. Reprove. Transform. Redeem.

Let all be done before the public eye. Let the name of Egypt merit respect. So too for each of the ninety million.




Reporting on Kerdasa

A view shows a damaged police station burnt in a blaze by supporters of former president Mohamed Mursi in Kerdasa, a town 14 km (9 miles) from Cairo in this September 19, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
A view shows a damaged police station burnt in a blaze by supporters of former president Mohamed Mursi in Kerdasa, a town 14 km (9 miles) from Cairo in this September 19, 2013 file photograph. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Here is a recent report from Reuters, showing the difficulty in covering Egypt well. Kudos for going there, but we can only trust the journalist for his/her impressions.

The pronoun is not specified, as he/she requested anonymity. The fear, likely, is of covering anti-regime sentiment. The question is if he/she covered it well.

The brief story is that Kerdasa, Giza was the site of an Islamist take-over following the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and Nahda. That day locals stormed the police station with rocket-propelled grenades, killing 12 officers. Authority was not reestablished until a month later. Since then, 185 Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death for their role in the violence.

The headline states: Sisi’s Crackdown on Islamists Yet to Win Over Egyptian Village.

Fair enough, as Kerdasa would be a difficult village to win over. The article reports that night raids on suspected Brotherhood members continue, and the police man checkpoints into and out of the village.

But the following first-hand anecdotal description could be found almost anywhere in Egypt:

A look around Kerdasa offers plenty of reminders that arrests and intimidation have never succeeded in silencing enemies of the state.

Idle teenagers who can be easy recruits for jihadists. Women covered from head to toe in black. Profanities scribbled on a burned-out police station insulting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and calling for Mursi’s return.

This is one of the troubles in reporting about Egypt — those reading don’t know the commonality of everyday life. Teenagers are idle in every city. Many women wear the full niqab. And anti-Sisi graffiti from the past year and a half has rarely been scrubbed from the walls.

None of this necessarily suggests a dissatisfaction with him, nor ongoing support for Morsi.

Good reporting gets local opinion, on the record. But still the journalist must be trusted in selection of sources. Some quotes against the current atmosphere were given anonymity, but the following are bold in their public criticism:

Ayman al-Qahawi works at Al Azhar, a center of Islamic learning seen by Sisi as an ally in the fight against extremism.

“Kerdasa has become a black spot in our lives even though there are only a small number of criminals. They treat all of us as if we are terrorists,” said the professor, adding that a colleague was not allowed to leave Egypt because his identification card showed he lives in Kerdasa.

Bus driver Sayed Hassan, 31, says that when he went to renew his vehicle license, police stopped him at a checkpoint.

“Pull over you terrorist. You are from Kerdasa. You will spend a lot of time with us,” he quoted an officer as saying.

What should be inferred from these voices? Is Kerdasa so Islamist they don’t fear to give their names, safe in the protection of village solidarity? Or that Kerdasa is in the process of being restored, and thus there is no fear to voice complaint?

Probably no inference is best, but the willingness to go on the record is a positive development.

Of course, the fear of the correspondent is still telling.

Even so, he/she did a good job of balancing opinion:

“We are sure that Mursi is oppressed and his case is political,” said student Abdel Rahman Mohamed, 22.

“The country will not calm down. The only solution is Mursi’s release and the release of the 40,000 people detained since the military coup.”

A pharmacist blamed both sides for the deterioration in Kerdasa and in his finances.

“Please don’t mention my name,” he told a Reuters reporter. “The Brotherhood are already boycotting my pharmacy because I don’t agree with their viewpoint. I don’t want to anger them even more. They are still around.”

Fear, apparently, is shared by many. It makes reporting difficult.


Is a Third of the Sinai Lost?

Last week I offered excerpts from a report describing the amateur terrorism campaigns in the Nile Delta. Here are excerpts about the professionals, via Reuters:

In a rare visit to eight villages in Northern Sinai last week, a Reuters reporter saw widespread destruction caused by army operations, but also found evidence that a few hundred militants are successfully playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Arab world’s biggest army and are nowhere near defeat. It is increasingly difficult for foreign correspondents to openly enter conflict zones in the Sinai.

Residents say the militants – a mix of Egyptian Islamists, foreign fighters and disgruntled youth – have seized control of about a third of the villages in the region and are now taking their fight closer to Cairo.

The article obtain testimony from an anonymous militant revealing their local strategy:

“At the start of the fighting we used to hide in mountains but now we are present in the villages among residents, because it is safer there,” he said. “When we were in the mountains it was easy for the army to strike us with helicopters. But as long as we are with the people it is hard to reach us.”

S.A. said that he and his fellow fighters use simple home-made bombs such as jam jars stuffed with dynamite. The devices are hidden in olive trees or on the side of road, with desert sand covering detonation cords. He said the militants wait on hilltops for military convoys to pass and then detonate their bombs by remote control, using cellphone identification cards.

“We use cooking cylinders and water jugs and we will pack them with explosives, and connect them to timers and a SIM card and we plant them on roads we know are used by the army,” said S.A.

The threat of roadside bombs has prompted the army to cut mobile phone networks and the Internet during daylight hours when military vehicles move around.

Local residents describe how militants infiltrate, and the response it sometimes brings from the army:

Ahmed Abu Gerida, who lives in al-Bars village, said militants sometimes hide in civilians’ houses to avoid detection. “They hang up women’s clothes, including bras and underwear, because they know the army will hesitate to approach Bedouin women,” he said. “One time soldiers entered one of these homes and found a storage place for explosives and blew up the house.”

Air strikes, launched almost daily since Mursi’s fall, have hammered villages like al-Lafitaat, where all 12 single-storey cement houses have been destroyed or heavily damaged over the past few months. Some were reduced to a few beams, while others were burnt out, their ceilings collapsed. Residents fled, leaving behind a handful of sheep.

One woman named Ni’imaa stood next to the remnants of her house with her two children, after returning a few days earlier to retrieve her belongings. She collected a pillow, a mattress, some dishes and a small stove and placed them in a pick-up truck. She said the army killed her husband, who she said was not a militant, four months ago.

These poor local people, who feel frustratingly paralyzed:

Even residents who are opposed to militants say they are scared to cooperate with the army, which has appealed for tips to find the fighters.

Sheikh Hassan Khalaf, who heads the Sawarka tribe in Sinai, said 35 Sinai residents who gave the army information on militants had been shot dead in the past three months. The army confirmed the shooting, but not the numbers involved.

Many people feel trapped between both sides.

“We are between two fires. If we report the terrorists to the army, the militants will kill us the next day,” said Subayha, a Bedouin who said that she and her children struggle to sleep because of army shelling in her village of al-Mahdiya. For safety, they sometimes sleep outside the gates of a building that houses international peacekeepers, she says.

“If we remain silent the army considers us allies of the terrorists and can start attacking our villages,” said Subayha.

And here are the offerings on responsibility:

Khalaf, the Sawarka tribal leader, said he saw Mohamed al-Zawahri, the brother of al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawihri, in a presidential car. Sinai police were not allowed to approach the convoys or meetings, said Khalaf.

Senior Muslim Brotherhood official Mohamed Saleh told Reuters: “There is no evidence of this. It is all lies spread in an attempt to hurt the reputation of the Muslim Brotherhood. We have never associated in our history with any groups that hurt Egypt.”

Wael Haddara, a senior adviser to Mursi while he was president, said Mursi’s public “efforts to reach out to bona fide tribal elders and leaders” might now be “cast as a meeting with terrorists”. The Brotherhood has said it released prisoners when it was in power because the prisoners had been unfairly tried or had served their sentences.

At the same time, senior Brotherhood leader Mohamed el-Beltagy said last year after Mursi’s fall that the violence in the Sinai would stop if the army reversed what the Muslim Brotherhood calls a coup.

Zawahiri is a Salafi-Jihadi, of whom I wrote these reports, and two other previously written pieces will be posted later. From the other side, here is a report I wrote from a security source with deep experience in the Sinai.

From what I understand, Morsi did release militants, but the military council released more after the revolution but before Morsi’s presidency. Many had served their full sentence and were being held on continuing security grounds.

And additionally, Morsi did either conduct or permit several delegations out outreach to the Sinai. The point was to change the security-solution-outlook that traditionally ruled the area, into one of dialogue and reconciliation, convincing residents to give up violence on a religious basis. Perhaps other more sinister conversations took place, but the details are lost amid the vagaries of Sinai, and of Egypt in general.

But regardless, if Reuters summarized correctly, the situation is not encouraging, especially for residents. Does anyone have any solutions to propose?


What Happens if US Aid to Egypt is Cut?

As the US administration has decided to suspend some foreign military assistance to Egypt, consider this article from Reuters, carried by Ahram Online, from a few weeks previous:

Richard Genaille, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said he hoped the Obama administration reached a decision soon on whether to continue $1.23 billion in U.S. military assistance to Egypt, given the large number of weapons shipments in the pipeline.

“We’re kind of antsy about that,” Genaille said after a speech at the ComDef industry conference in Washington. “There’s a whole bunch of contracts out there. The bills keep coming in and we’ve got to be able to pay them somehow otherwise we go in default.”


Funding for the weapons sales must be finalized or “obligated” by September 30, when the U.S. government’s 2013 fiscal year ends, or the funds will revert to the U.S. Treasury, officials say.

“We’re kind of hoping that sometime pretty soon they’ll make a decision one way or another – either we terminate or they actually give us some more of the Egyptian (foreign military funding) so we can pay the bills,” Genaille said.

He said the administration was trying to sort through the potential costs associated with terminating contracts, but the amount would be “substantial – in the billions.”

US ‘aid’ to Egypt is a useful foreign policy tool, worthy to be debated as a legitimate budget expenditure. But it is important to remember this aid is essentially a subsidy to the defense industry. It’s just nice to hear the Pentagon brass say so.


Muslim Brotherhood Newspaper Soldiers on Despite Crackdown

This is a very interesting article from Reuters:

Whenever Muslim Brotherhood journalist Islam Tawfiq files a story about the group’s struggle for survival for its newspaper Freedom and Justice, he fears his Internet address will tip off state security agents to his whereabouts.

Thousands of Brotherhood members have been arrested in a widening crackdown on the group since the army deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.

Reporters for the newspaper, which still appears in a tiny fraction of its previous circulation, see themselves as the last people left to tell the Brotherhood’s side of the story in a country dominated by media that back the military crackdown.

The price, the journalists say, is an underground existence, moving from place to place, communicating from Internet cafes, rarely seeing family or friends.

“The greatest form of jihad is speaking up against an unjust authority,” Tawfiq, 27, said by telephone from an undisclosed location, citing the words of the Prophet Mohammad.

It also has two very interesting tidbits of information I did not know previously about the paper. The first concerns where it got its money:

He and about 50 others produce Freedom and Justice. It used to be a 16-page daily but is now half that length because, since the arrest of Saad al-Katatni, chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party and the newspaper’s financier, it has no money.

And the second concerns who printed it, and does still:

A mystery is why the government, which has closed down Islamist television channels, still allows the paper to be printed on the presses of the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram.

Some suggest it may help keep tabs on the movement, in the knowledge that the paper is struggling to stay afloat and reaching only a small audience. It also could provide a defense against accusations that the government is suppressing dissent.

The article also mentions that none of the paper’s employees are arrested, though it tells a horrific story of a photographer who was killed at a protest.

Now that we are back in Egypt after a long visit away, I am curious to find out the condition of mid-level Brotherhood members. I called one on the phone from the US and he spoke freely. Others, even prominent members, appear to speak freely in the press. Reports say that 100s have been arrested; do the rest live in immanent fear?

But courage to the FJP journalists who are still trying to tell their side of the story. I only hope they tell it objectively, rather than continuing in the pattern of partisan press they and others engaged in prior to the deposing of Morsi.