Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sexual Harassment

Flag Cross Quran


The problem is well known: Over 90 percent of Egyptian women complain of sexual harassment. The problem is well witnessed: Repeatedly at mass rallies in Tahrir women are sexually assaulted by groups of men.

Finally, perhaps, the problem is well addressed: The cabinet passed a law to criminalize such conduct and is undertaking plans to address the issue culturally.

The new administration of Sisi could hardly do otherwise. His inauguration celebration witnessed another incident, marring what he hoped would be a joyous occasion launching a fresh beginning.

Instead, the bickering blame game began. Some accused the Brotherhood, others the lax morality of a coup. In it all the suffering woman was not lost; Sisi brought her flowers.

But God, are suffering women lost? Is new legislation enough? And how long will it take to change a culture?

Protect women from violence, God. Protect them from words. Protect them from eyes. Protect their dignity in all public and private space.

Cultivate men. Refine their manners, God; increase their chivalry. Change their mentality. Discipline their passions. May they esteem each and every woman they encounter.

But plenty must change outside the individual as well, God. With whatever hope the revolution brought, it has broken down and is yet to build. And even before there was much that was crumbling.

Create a productive society that honors courage and beauty. Occupy idle hands; stimulate idle minds. But address this issue not through distraction, but through purity. Transform idle hearts.

Promote modesty, God, and pursue justice. Identify the criminals and redeem them. Convict the wayward thoughts of all, and have mercy.

May Egyptians be well loved, and well honored. Men and women together.



Repackaging January 25

Sisi for President

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is an unannounced, unofficial candidate for president, but the announced, but still unofficial campaign for him to run has long been strong. Immediately after deposing President Morsi on July 3 he denied any intention for seeking office, but has since expressed an openness without declaring himself either way, though he dropped strong hints he would run if the constitution was ratified with strong turnout.

It has, and Sisi-mania has persisted, with many politicians offering their unqualified support should he decide to announce his candidacy. There is even a lawsuit filed to compel him to run for president.

The above poster is a new initiative in this direction. It translates:

Complete the good you have done and choose your president

‘The good’ represents the massive demonstrations on June 30 which demanded early elections to remove Morsi as president. June 30 has been billed as a new revolution, but also as a corrective extension of the original January 25 uprising against President Mubarak. To others, June 30 is the counter-revolution, less against Morsi than for the state/regime which had buckled in 2011, but not collapsed.

So within this mix, the translation continues:

The day of the people’s victory and of completing the path

Take to the streets and share in supporting the nomination of

General Sisi

President of the Republic

25 January 2014

It is unknown whether or not General Sisi is behind this effort or if other state forces desire him, or, if it represents simply the will of a great portion of the populace. Almost all observers predict that if Sisi were to run for president he would win in a landslide.

Will January 25, therefore, be repackaged as the launching pad for the next president of Egypt? If so, will the original revolution lose more of its luster among a weary population, or, if not and, will the June 30 extension restore much of what January 25 meant to topple? Mubarak, of course, was a president from the ranks of the military.

January 25 was originally selected as the start-date for the revolution because of its coincidence with the national observance of Police Day. It was a protest against the police state and its brutality, but also against corruption in general throughout the regime.

Incidentally, the Interior Ministry has called on the public to rally in Tahrir on this day – without mentioning Sisi specifically. He has also floated the idea that Police Day be moved to June 30, to coincide with the revolution against President Morsi.

Let us suppose General Sisi removes his uniform, runs for president, and wins his mandate. This may reflect very poorly on Egypt abroad, giving ammunition to those who call what happened on July 3 a coup d’etat, however popular. He has the right to run, of course, but is it wise?

That may all depend on the type of president he will be. Will he restore the Mubarak state and rule similarly with token appreciation for parliamentary politics? Or will he honor the original revolutionary demands and reform both the police and the culture of politics, presiding over a true and ongoing democratic transition? Might he perhaps, with his military background and popular backing, be the only one who can accomplish this?

Doubters say the manner in which he has presided over Egypt since July 3 reflect a very low possibility of the latter. The violent crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, the controversial protest law, and the media campaign to tarnish original revolutionary icons all suggest resuscitation of the dominant state. Furthermore, electoral flexibility passed by the constitutional assembly to the interim president – viewed in this framework as Sisi’s puppet – allow great maneuverability to shape the coming parliament along conciliatory lines.

But throughout the previous three years there has been a lingering sentiment, now a fully raging fire, that Egypt, especially through the Muslim Brotherhood, has been the victim of a conspiracy. Morsi, it is said, won his victory through fraud and foreign pressure, recalling the Brotherhood monitors who declared his victory long before the official results were counted. Judges who participated in the alleged charade are now being investigated.

Egypt’s judiciary – alternately reviled and respected among the people – will have to judge these matters. Their decision either way will be filtered through the lens of some conspiracy. But it reminds of the question ongoing since revolutionary trials began: Who killed the protestors? Has the judicial system let murders off the hook? Were police shooting in defense of stations attacked throughout the country? Or was there simply a lack of sufficient evidence to rule against anyone?

And though many analysts dismiss these thoughts as the knee-jerk reaction of any autocratic regime that comes under popular pressure, conspiracy theorists have a powerful retort. Look at Syria, Libya, and Iraq before that. Their states and armies are all victims of foreign interference. Shall we allow Egypt to fall next?

Or, through Sisi, is it falling now? Pro-Morsi forces are also calling for mass demonstrations on January 25, at Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt. They are now warning of civil war, even as they mobilize.

The general is at the nexus of many attempts to define January 25 amid ongoing Egyptian turmoil. The success of January 25, 2014 to push Sisi to the presidency, as well as the manner in which he may eventually govern, will define the ultimate packaging of the revolution.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Remembering Egypt’s Maspero Massacre through its Most Prominent Martyr

Marry Daniel
Marry Daniel

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 9, 2013.

I never met Mina Daniel, but today many in Egypt consider him a hero and a martyr. Recently, I met his sister.

Two years ago this week, the 20-year-old Daniel was gunned down during a peaceful Coptic protest outside the Maspero state TV headquarters in downtown Cairo on October 9, 2011. More than 25 others died and scores were injured by military vehicles swerving through the crowded demonstration, or by local thugs who attacked the scattering remnants.

To this date, only a few low-level officers have been handed sentences, ranging from two to three years in prison.

Commemorating the massacre, Copts gathered in the Cave Church of Muqattam in the mountains outside Cairo, a scene of many interdenominational prayer services. Last year, on the first anniversary, thousands of Muslims and Christians marched together to Maspero from Shubra, a northern Cairo district with a high percentage of Coptic residents.

The religious unity of both events was just as Daniel would have wanted it.

“Mina didn’t care if you were a Mina [a typical Coptic name] or a Muhammad,” his sister Marry told me. “He dealt with everyone as created in the image of God.”

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Defining 6 October

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Egyptian national holidays seek to honor the deeds of the past. Their value is invested by the state, but the people can sometimes force a redefinition.

The most recent example occurred on January 25, 2011, now celebrated as the birth of the revolution. But the date was chosen to coincide with Police Day, in protest of the brutality for which they were known.

The current example is under contention, taking place October 6, 2013. The date traditionally honors the launch of the surprise attack across the Suez Canal which led eventually to the liberation of Sinai, known more often in the West as the Yom Kippur War.

Now, pro-Morsi supporters have chosen the day to launch massive protests against what they deem was a military coup. As January 25 became a popular rejection of the police state, they hope October 6 will become a popular rejection of the military state, and in particular its head, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The protest weekend kicked off today, leading to sporadic clashes, and an at least initial failure to occupy desired squares such as Tahrir and Rabaa, site of the pro-Morsi sit-in violently dispersed in August.

God, what is Egypt’s history? In all nations it is part fact and part construct, defining what it means to be a citizen. Only in Egypt there is plenty to choose from, simply pick your millennium. Which is more honorable in your eyes: distilled data or cherished myth? As Egypt faces her future, give an accounting of her past. Help her self-improvement to be based on self-reflection.

But what of today, God? In one sense it is more of the same. Protests of diminished size seek to keep alive the hope of reinstating a president and returning achieved legitimacy. But they also appear to further antagonize a tired population which – at least in the cities – had largely rejected the president even before he was deposed.

The difference is twofold in possibility. First, they aim this time for the squares, which if occupied bring great symbolic value. Second, they call for numbers and have built up the hype, which if fulfilled can redefine the struggle.

God, success and failure are in your hands. Many Egyptians pray you grant them success, while many others praise you for thwarting their ambition. In a polarized nation, God, make clear the facts. Reveal all offenses and manipulations, so that culprits are exposed for all to see.

A new Egypt was born on January 25, God, but such a venerable nation can never be truly new. A part of that nation was recovered on October 6, and some hope to claim – or reclaim – her again this week. Be sovereign in Egypt, God, and give sovereignty to the people. Protect them and Egypt together.

But redefine them according to your will, that peace, justice, transparency, and love might define the nation entire.




Men on Motorcycles

Men on Motorcycles

From the New Yorker, providing an account of the dawn killings between the military and pro-Morsi protestors:

Fifty-one dead at dawn. A doctor who said he preferred not to give his name lives in an apartment building that overlooks the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo. He told me he woke for the dawn prayer before 4 A.M. Shortly afterward, he heard gunfire and went onto his neighbor’s balcony for a better view.

“I saw that the Army retreated about ten metres and began to fire tear-gas cannisters, about ten or fifteen of them,” he said. “I couldn’t see if the other side [the protesters] was shooting, but I heard people through megaphones encouraging jihad. Then I saw four to six motorcycles coming from the direction of the Rabaa intersection to the Republican Guard barracks. Some people were still praying, some were not, because the dawn prayer had finished by then. The men on the motorcycles were all masked, and it was hard to see them through the dark and the tear-gas smoke, but they seemed to be shooting, they were coming from behind the protesters, so they were shooting toward the protesters and the Army. Then the Army started firing. And the protestors were firing. I saw firing from both sides.” As for details, though—what they were firing, whether it was one or two protesters or something more organized—he said that it was dark and that he couldn’t exactly tell.

Men on motorcycles. It is a maddening detail, constantly repeated over the past two and a half years. It has parallels even in the January 25 incidents of snipers firing into Tahrir Square. Back then it was widely suspected to be the police, but to this day no one knows – as no one has been convicted.

If it was the police trying to disperse the crowds, it was a woefully unsuccessful strategy. If anything, the crowds increased and the nation turned against the government. The result, coupled with continual suspicion against the Muslim Brotherhood, made people argue the opposite: Snipers were with Hamas, who acted on behalf of the Brotherhood to help the revolution succeed. Here and there since then, the theory goes, Hamas reappeared to do the dirty work.

Liberal revolutionary activists I know hate this theory, as they believe it is old regime propaganda to let themselves off the hook. Even so, the commission which studied post-revolutionary transgressions on the part of the military – also often assumed to be old regime partial – gave its report to President Morsi, who let it sit on his desk. Did he hold it as leverage to use against the army? Leaked pages suggested their wrongdoing. Or did he hold it because Hamas was implicated therein? To this day – though the day is still early – we do not know.

What is in the report? And who rode the motorcycles? Was it Muslim Brotherhood sponsored, seeking to provoke the army and paint them as killing innocent civilian protestors? Was it the army itself, raising a false flag against the Brotherhood to paint them as extremists and justify jailing their leaders? Was it jihadists seeking to create chaos? Was it foreign powers wishing to do the same? Every conspiracy floats well in a sea of obscurity; they sink where transparent systems are in place.

So is Egypt trying to build one, or protect the old sea of mud? To close, here is the explanation offered  by a friend:

First: MB ignored completely the Egyptian people who asked Morsi to leave as if they are just ghosts. They want to put in equation: MB and the military. It had been always the MB strategy: We (the civil state) vs. the army (military regime) and always neglected the Egyptian people as if there is a vacuum outside these two entities.

Second: Ignoring the Egyptian people we reach this conclusion: the army toppled Morsy and his regime.

Third: Reaching this result we get a new equation: Fighting the army is a national and religious duty.

Fourth: MB international mass media (CNN, Jazira and I would say Euro news) must confirm this equation putting the Egyptian army at the same ignoble level as the Syrian army.

Fifth: This will bring us to the big game in Sinai. The big battle against this “dirty” army will be deployed in Sinai.

Beltagui threatened that violence in Sinai will continue in case Morsy will not return.

It means that if you will not give us Egypt again we will get Sinai and establish our Emirate with the help of Hamas and all jihadists. Something is better than nothing.

Natanayahu asked all Israel citizens to leave Sinai immediately.

The Egyptian army sent military reinforcements to Gaza borders.

Another link

Many attacks against el Arish security forces (the last point that must be reached by Hamas militias to get their alternative homeland)

A priest assassinated in el Arish.

It seems that Russia supports the Egyptian army with a “military satellite” to track the militias in Sinai.

Most probably the scenario they want to implement is to establish an Egyptian sub-state on the area Gaza/Arish under Morsi’s legitimacy (the legitimate president of Egypt). This State will be blessed by Israel and US.

Most probably, this is the reason why US don’t want to announce officially if what happened in Egypt is or is not a coup. They are keeping this card to the last moment.

It was not in US “best interests” to decide yet whether the armed overthrow of the country’s elected president amounted to a coup or not.

If Hamas will get this area (Gaza/Arist) and will establish their new State, US will announce that 30th of January had been a coup. If Hamas and all other Jihadists will fail, US will announce that it was not a coup.

Suez Canal

On the other side, the army deployed military forces in Suez, Ismailia, Port Said and Suez Canal is under strict control.

Closing Suez Canal would be an excellent argument to allow international forces to occupy this vital passage. In this case, the Egyptian army will have problems to go to Sinai and will help the Jihadists to do whatever they want.

This is my reading of the events. I hope that I am wrong. No doubt that the best thing to do to stop this “crescendo” is to announce clearly, loudly and officially that 30th of June had not been a coup but the revolution of a people who are looking for their freedom.

Judge for yourself, but to reach a place of stability, Egypt needs to know who rode the motorcycles.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Rebellion, Legitimacy and Fire

Flag Cross Quran


Watch over Egypt this weekend. Watch over her in what follows. Keep her future in your hands.

As the Rebellion campaign is in its final preparation hours for anticipated massive June 30 demonstrations at the presidential palace, other forces are also at work. An unrelated protest brought thousands and perhaps tens of thousands to Tahrir Square to demand President Morsi leave.

But pro-Morsi protestors have gathered in the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands not far from the presidential palace, supporting his right to the remainder of his term. Meanwhile, especially in the Nile Delta, violence has flared as Muslim Brotherhood headquarters have been attacked in multiple cities.

Throughout the nation hundreds have been injured and a few have died. Many fear today was just a dry run, a dress rehearsal for the battle to come.

Each party, God, has pushed forward a D-Day scenario. How is it possible now for the right and the good on all sides to prevail? The president has electoral legitimacy, but from a constitution and post-revolutionary process many view as illegitimate. The opposition has legitimate grievances, but many of their supporters advance them in an illegitimate way. The president’s Islamist supporters claim religious legitimacy, but many speak as if they are fighting illegitimate infidels.

God, is it legitimate to be both sad and hopeful for Egypt? You are putting the nation through a crucible; tried by fire, will only the pure emerge?

May it be so. Fire proves the quality of men’s work. It tests their character and reveals their inner being. God, Egypt is in such great need of this evaluation. Give discernment to the people, and place sovereignty in their hands.

Or, God, is this your other fire? Is it punishment for sins collected, whether over long years or recent months? If so, be merciful. May your hand of judgment fall only on the deserving, and even for them, may it eventually redeem. Spare the innocent, shield the righteous, and aid the poor. Only you know their numbers, God, but do not pour your wrath upon the nation as a whole. She has suffered enough.

But God, perhaps there is no fire at all. Perhaps there is little legitimacy anywhere. Perhaps this is a drama construed simply for reshuffling the chairs of power. But may this not be so. Make life more than theater; honor men and their freedom of action. May manipulations and deception cease in Egypt.

God, bless the president. May he do what is wise and necessary for the peace and prosperity of the nation.




A Signature Rebellion

I got in a taxi on Thursday and within a few minutes of conversation the driver asked my nationality. This has been a sensitive question recently; last week an American near the embassy answered in the positive and was stabbed in the neck for his troubles. ‘I hate America,’ the assailant confessed afterwards.

For the taxi driver, however, it was an opportunity of a different sort. After I owned up to my nationality he leaned over to his glove compartment and…

Rebellion Flyer

… pulled out a sheet of paper.

In fact it was one of many, some signed, most not yet. The driver was preaching the merits of a new campaign to oust President Morsi, and wanted me to convey the message to America. As I mentioned in Friday Prayers yesterday, they aim to collect fifteen million signatures to their petition, vaulting over the total number of votes cast for Morsi in the presidential elections. They claim two million to date.

Their grand finale is planned for June 30, at the presidential palace, one year to the day in which Morsi took office.

Here is the translation of their flyer:


To withdraw confidence from the Brotherhood regime

The Rebellion Campaign

(to withdraw confidence from Mohamed Morsi ….)

Because security has not yet returned to the street … we don’t want you

Because the poor still do not have a place … we don’t want you

Because we are still begging from abroad … we don’t want you

Because the rights of the martyrs still have not been fulfilled … we don’t want you

Because there is still no dignity for myself or my country … we don’t want you

Because the economy has collapsed and is built upon begging … we don’t want you

Because you follow the Americans … we don’t want you

Since Mohamed Morsi the … came to power, the simple citizen has felt that not one goal of the revolution has been achieved – for bread, freedom, social justice, and national independence. Morsi has failed to realize them all. No security, no social justice – he is a demonstrated failure in the complete sense of the word. It is not fitting for him to administrate a nation of Egypt’s weight.


I, the undersigned, from my free and complete will, as a member of the general assembly of the Egyptian people, withdraw confidence from the president of the republic, the dictator Mohamed Morsi, and call for early presidential elections. I pledge to hold firmly to the goals of the revolution and to work on their behalf, spreading the Rebellion Campaign among the masses until we are able to achieve social dignity, justice, and freedom.


National Number:



Would you sign?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Sinai, Rebellion

Flag Cross Quran


Egypt is not quite rumbling again; bubbling is more like it, though the bubbles can grow bigger. Security apprehended alleged terrorists plotting to blow up the US and French embassies, while their colleagues in the Sinai abduct seven security officers.

In Cairo a small protest in Tahrir threatens a creative escalation. The ‘rebellion’ campaign is collecting signatures to demand the departure of President Morsi. The have announced two million so far; they aim for fifteen – more than the total ballots cast in Morsi’s favor – by June 30, the day he assumed office. On that date they will return in mass to the presidential palace.

Many Islamists complain there is no legal legitimacy to their action. Of course they are right, but there was no legality to the demonstrations which deposed Mubarak either. It is the symbolism which is important – if they can get the numbers.

Terrorists, though, do not need numbers. They need space, materials, and determination alone. Few dispute their illegality, but along similar lines, the symbolism is important.

God, amid Egypt’s many problems, few prayers have been necessary concerning terrorism. For this thanks is necessary; terrorism has been a constant in Syria, with appearances in Tunisia and Libya as well. For all deserved criticism of the security void there has been vigilance on this front. May it continue; free the abducted personnel and give the authorities wisdom and perseverance in the Sinai.

And of rebellion? Surely the name is not that pleasing, God. Is the campaign? Is it honest? Does it use the memory and practice of demonstrations past simply for political pressure? Or is the real end game to remove the popularly elected leader? If so, by what mechanism?

It is good to have popular means of accountability and activism, but it is troublesome many feel this is the only avenue for political participation. Frustrations are high and shared ideals are broken amid widespread polarization. But does Egypt need another uprising? Can it stomach one?

God, you know what is behind the scenes, if anything. But may those putting their signatures to paper be represented well. May the opposition be properly empowered. May the president fulfill the demands of the people. May the civil political arena widen.

Give patience and determination to the ‘rebels’, God; urgency and flexibility to the president.

Give constriction and repentance to the terrorists, God; space and vision to the president.

For Egypt, God, give all of the above, merged together in sovereignty, prosperity, and peace. May the bubbles turn out beautiful.



Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Interview with Dr. Essam al-Haddad, Presidential Advisor

Essam al-Haddad, with Hulsman (L) and Schleiffer (R)
Essam al-Haddad, with Hulsman (L) and Schleiffer (R)

The following is an excerpt from an interview I was privileged to be a part of with Arab West Report. We visited the presidential palace in Heliopolis to meet with Essam al-Haddad, President Morsi’s advisor on foreign and security affairs.

Visiting the palace itself is a strange experience. The walls are covered with anti-Morsi graffiti and lined with barbed wire due to recent clashes in the vicinity. It is a good symbol of the current state of Egypt. An Islamist occupies the top office but faces significant backlash, as the state appears to be breaking down, unable to maintain the respect necessary for such a vital institution. Can you imagine if the White House was similarly afflicted?

Here is Haddad’s take on this, including his explanation on why the conspiracy against Morsi has not yet been brought to light:

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: The amount of violence against security which was not experienced before, has reached a level where security is now responding but with tear gas and water cannons. But for each rule there are exceptions. Our position is that there is no tolerance for violence against peaceful demonstrations and there is no tolerance for violent demonstrators who are attacking either other people or institutions. So the balance is very tight.

However, if there are any documented incidents of violation, we are taking this very seriously on two sides. First, it has to be investigated and those accountable need to be brought to justice. Second, strategic measures need to be taken to ensure it won’t happen again within the ministry and within the officers. And in this case we would say that we have experienced that the level of restraints, self-restraints by the police is not seen in the Egyptian public for years.

And I invited you to come here to see how we are operating within Ithahadiya [Presidential Palace]. By night on Friday Ithahadiya is attacked by Molotov cocktails and graffiti on walls and everything. Nobody is doing anything to them. So because they are not allowed to carry bullets, the police force, they are only allowed to use tear gas and water cannons. So this is what is going on in the police. But if things are going more violent from some of the violent demonstrators then they have to take action. The rule is using the acceptable level of force in order to stop this from going on.

Any violation of these acts, whether those who have been here in Ithahadiya or anywhere else, will be investigated and those who have been considered accountable will be brought to justice. This is the rule we are working on. Going back to the other side where we have experienced women harassment, huge women harassment at Tahrir Square, there have been claims that these had been organized by the FJP and the MB. This is nonsense, complete nonsense. We have information now that these people are paid by the day, sometimes by hour to demonstrate and to do whatever damage in any part they are and we even know that the fee reaches nearly 1000LE for a day and if they are wounded they could get up until 1500LE, so it is a good job.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: If you have this information why don’t you bring them to charge?
Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Because this information is not 100% on record. Like drug trafficking, you can see that this person is giving that person an amount of drug to be used and he is selling it and he is getting the price. If you don’t have the license from the public security…

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: But you could simply arrest the perpetrators, because there are groups who are fighting them and they could testify evidence, because, again, this is where there is a credibility problem. I have no reason to doubt you at all.

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We had a revolution 2 years ago. The dictatorship has been there for 30 years with all its levels of corruption. And people are now experiencing a totally new atmosphere that they are free to do whatever they want and there is no security apparatus enforcing law on them. And they feel this as an opportunity to do whatever they want.

I have been to South Africa for nearly five years after the Apartheid rulers. I was not in Johannesburg, but in Cape Town. I was not allowed to go outside the five-star hotel where I was staying without having a stick and without being warned. When I went around the streets of the five-star hotel everyone was holding a stick. And this was five years after the Apartheid regime.

You don’t have a complete change in such a short time. I always say, you need nine months to have a baby. Can you have a baby in less than nine months? Sometimes, maybe. But you need two years to start to speak two words. And another ten, thirteen years to be mature in order to be a responsible person. This is traditional of course. You cannot expect that after a full collapse and a full blown over of the regime, things would go back to normal immediately.

And you have a counter revolution going against you. But what I can say, we know very well where we are going. And we expect that this time will come and we are determined to carry on building our institutions. And carry on in the reforms we are trying to make in order to make the environment more acceptable and attractive for investors. This is how we want to do it.

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: The issues we mentioned thus far are all issues for which you need consensus building. How would you find a consensus in Egypt to address all these issues that are of major importance to Egypt because a consensus will help to address this?

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: Yes you are right, it is important, we are trying our best. Mr. President has invited for dialogue, once, a second, a third time. His invitation was that everything could be discussed, no constraints. You can discuss whatever. But what we are seeing from the other side is that we will not sit unless you are meeting this condition. So, it is a conditional dialogue. “No we will not sit with you ‘cause you are not credible enough”, “no we will not accept this, no we will not accept that.”

Our experience is that, not only experience, our information is that there are elements who are not willing to enter the dialogue, but they are only willing to delay the democratic process. This is their point. Whenever there is an election, they say this is not the right time for an election. If there is a referendum, they will say that this is not the right time for a referendum. If there is any sort of action building democratic institutions in order to go forward there is a sincere trial to hamper and to obstruct it.

This is what we see so in order to archive consensus within this environment, it is not that easy to reach a 100% consensus. But you have to reach out and to open the door and whoever will be joining you will carry on with them. And those who are sending their own agents inside the country and playing outside and sending money, there is more than country and business man who are intervening in our country to avert whatever is going on.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: There is a credibility problem. What countries are you talking about? When you are talking about foreign countries intervening, especially since that is a phrase that has been used over sixty years, so it has a very negative, when I hear that it is like I am hearing…

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman: Mubarak.

Prof. Abdallah Schleiffer: Mubarak or Qadafi. Is there any way you could clarify that? What countries are intervening? I understand why you do not want to, but just asking whether you can.

Dr. Essam Al-Haddad: We do not want to spoil the relations with this country, because this is a brotherly country, which is scared of what is going on here. We prefer to keep it calm. And to avoid it, with the hope that they would realize that intervening in the internal affairs of Egypt is not at ease.

Please click here to read the full interview at Arab West Report.

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A Family Errand through Tahrir

Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad
Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad

My life in Cairo is spent mostly in our house and the surrounding area of Maadi, which is about half an hour from the famous Tahrir Square.  Friends and family in the states get nervous when they see the violence and flare-ups in Egypt, but the reality for me is generally far removed.  Last week, however, we needed to take a family trip through the heart of the uprising.

Our destination was the American Embassy in Garden City, normally only a five-minute walk from the Square.  Our son, Alexander, was born in Cairo three months ago, and it has taken us this long to secure an appointment with the embassy for his “Certificate of Birth Abroad” (the equivalent of a US birth certificate) and his first passport.  We originally had an appointment at the embassy on the 29th of January, but that was a particularly unstable week around the embassy due to ongoing clashes, and so it closed for several days. All appointments were postponed.  We were hoping for calm now, so we could get this process started.  I didn’t like not having a passport for our baby, as I wasn’t sure what would happen if we were forced to travel.

Since our two oldest girls were still on school break, we ended up taking the whole family downtown for our adventure.  We left our house around 8am with the hopes of arriving in time for our 9am appointment.  Of course, when you are two adults accompanied by three smaller walkers, plus a baby slung snuggly on your chest, it takes a bit longer than normal to get places.  We had an uneventful walk from our house to the closest metro station.

Unfortunately we were traveling during rush hour which meant the metro was packed.  Emma, our oldest, gets a little nervous getting on and off the metro.  She seems to have a fear of our family being split up as some of us get on the train, and others get shut out behind the door.  This has never happened to us, but I understand her fear considering getting on and off the metro can be a real battle due to the sheer number of people.

As we saw the train approach, we noticed that the cars were all quite full.  When the train stopped and the doors opened, we quickly pushed our way in, crowding together with those already in the car.  The trip from our station to downtown is about 20 minutes, and it looked at first, like we would all be standing for that whole time.  But as is common in Egypt, others in the car noticed our small children, and offered me and my baby-in-carrier a seat.  I put Layla on one knee and Hannah on the other until a few minutes later, another seat was offered to Emma and Hannah.

As we rode along, I looked around me and realized there were no other women that I could see in this particular car.  In fact, I was totally surrounded by men.  I was really glad my husband was among them.  Not only was I surrounded, though, but the men had made a barrier of space between me with my kids and everyone on the train.  That was much appreciated considering that where we were standing earlier, there was no space around anyone.  My thoughts went to the many articles I have been reading of violent attacks on women in Tahrir Square.  They sound awful, and the men involved sound like barbarians.  This, on the other hand, was an example of what my family usually experiences: considerate people who look out for the sick, elderly, and moms with young children.

When we arrived at Sadat station, the metro stop under Tahrir Square, I was glad to notice the absence of tear gas.  I have never actually experienced tear gas, but Jayson has on several occasions, and so have some other family members when he has taken them to visit the Square.  I had heard that over the last week, the tear gas was quite palatable in the station, and I was most concerned for our three-month old son if there were any lingering fumes.  I was glad not to notice any.

We exited the metro, Jayson carrying Hannah and Layla, Alexander strapped to me, and Emma holding tightly to my hand.  We quickly escaped the traffic that was exiting with us, regrouped in an open space, and walked toward the turnstiles.  We then followed the crowd through the narrow door, up the steps, and into the open air.

I looked around and saw the white tents covering the center of the traffic circle.  We considered taking a family picture, but, being that we were an American couple with three blonde daughters and a new baby, we didn’t want to linger and attract any more attention than we naturally do wherever we go in Cairo.  We headed toward the embassy.

Embassy Plea
Photo from a few months ago; no cars dare park in the area now.

Normally this walk would take us only 5 minutes, even with the little ones in tow.  However, due to the recent fighting, several walls have been constructed over the last few weeks.  These walls are made of large concrete blocks, each one is probably 3 feet by 3 feet.  The blocks are then stacked 3 or 4 high, and they cover the entrance to streets, blocking the thoroughfares to cars and people.  This meant we had to walk out to the road which runs along the Nile, past the Semiramsis Hotel, which was sadly boarded up at every door and window due to the attacks from last week.

We walked two more blocks until we finally came to a road without a wall.  Turning left, we walked another block to the road the embassy is on.  People were milling about normally, and we noticed several police trucks and tens of riot police walking around, perhaps preparing for coming protests.  The line at the embassy, on the non-American services side, was perhaps slightly shorter than normal, but long, as always.  On the American services side, however, we got right inside once we showed the guard our appointment paper.

The embassy is a comfortable place to sit as you first wait for your number to be called, and then for the staff to get your paperwork started once you’ve submitted it.  The girls enjoyed playing various games in the spacious waiting area.  It is one of the few places in Cairo that I have seen a water fountain … the kind you drink from.  The embassy also had done a good job preparing us for exactly what forms we would need to get the birth certificate and passport.  We were able to submit the papers without any trouble, and look forward to seeing Alexander’s passport in a couple weeks.

Once the work was done, we headed back outside after grabbing our cell phones from security, and decided to walk back to a different metro stop since the Tahrir stop wasn’t as close as it used to be.  Jayson is much more familiar with downtown than I am, so he led the way and eventually we found the stop were looking for.

The ride back home on the metro was a lot less-crowded.  The whole family got a seat and we were glad to have accomplished what we set out to do.  It even included a glimpse of the downtown scene.

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Egypt’s Protestors Come to Aid of Ransacked Semiramsis Hotel

A harrowing account from Ahram Online:

“We ran to the crisis meeting point on the 4th floor and barricaded ourselves in,” Samak describes, “it unfolded so quickly we followed all our security measures, but no guards of hotels in Egypt are armed. We had to secure guests and colleagues.”

Meanwhile revolutionaries outside the hotel attempted to prevent the thugs from entering the building, reports Ahram Online journalist Karim Hafez who was at the scene.

“When they realised these groups were trying to loot the hotel, protesters shot fire crackers at them as they attacked the building and tried to push them away from the area but these groups were armed with birdshot bullets,” says Hafez.

The assailants also attempted to steal the ATM in front of the hotel.

Journalist Mohammed Mare, who witnessed the event, recounted on his Twitter account that four people arrived in a Lancer car with no licence plate behind the protesters and fired the shots to scare protesters away, before storming the hotel.

The attackers shot at employees and continued to destroy the building for approximately three hours before security forces arrived.

So far there have been no confirmed injuries.

“We are the frontline, I’m still a bit shaky, and the situation is still not resolved. Clashes are starting again,” Samak says, who thanked the revolutionaries that “stood by us last night,” via the hotel’s Twitter account, adding “you are awesome.”

One of my pictures from the previous post is of the entrance to this hotel. One detail I neglected to mention was the pungent effect of tear gas still in the air. I could barely keep my eyes open as I walked through the area. Strangely, this was also true at the Nile River bridge – I would have expected the open air to have dispersed it by then.

This story helps show the complications of Egypt’s situation. Moments earlier these protestors were going hard against the police. But it was the protestors, and not the police, who intervened to save the hotel. [I recall seeing another statement saying the two cooperated to fight back the thugs.]

Egypt’s opposition seems to be banking on the chaos to reverse the president’s extra-legal gains, cause damage to his political chances and reputation, or else have the army step in and reset the situation entirely. Dialogue is so necessary at this moment, but they also have so little reason to trust its fairness. It is a dilemma.

But the opposition in all likelihood does not control the street. A possible outcome is for the president to do what so many Egyptians lament Mubarak is no longer around to do: Crackdown and ensure security.

If this scenario emerges, will it revolution be completely reversed? Will there be another one party system with a handful of loyal opposition parties?

It is far too complicated to say so, and history never repeats itself exactly. But these days, most political parties and ordinary citizens are nervous, expecting the worst. Its just that they define ‘worst’ differently.


Photos from the Aftermath of Tahrir Clashes

Cornish Tree
An uprooted tree on the Nile Cornish, just outside of Tahrir Square. Muslim rules of war forbid the wanton destruction of nature.

Egypt has just witnessed some of the fiercest clashes in the revolutionary era, as many protestors appear radicalized. There are still peaceful demonstrations, to be sure, but even these appear to be violently resisted by police. It is hard to blame the police, though, as the lines are blurred.

I missed out on the latest battles. I spent January 25 in Helwan, a city to the south of Cairo at the end of the Metro line. The Muslim Brotherhood was conducting an outreach campaign to counter-program the message of demonstrations and unrest offered in Tahrir. I planned to take the Metro downtown to see these protestors, but on the way the car stopped and sat for five minutes – at the very stop nearest our home in Maadi.

Demonstrators in Tahrir had cut the tracks, causing a backup. Rather than waiting what could be an hour or more, based on previous examples, I left and went home, seeking to catch up on the news of the day, and perhaps go down after a bit.

A minute later, before I was able to exit the station, the Metro started up again. Perhaps it was propitious I had left.

These pictures taken this morning are from my first visit back to Tahrir. The worst clashes occurred in the Suez Canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez, where a state of emergency has been declared. It is hard to know precisely what happened anywhere – the consequence of sitting home and following news updates and Twitter bylines. But the pictures to follow give a disturbing indication of where Egypt stands at the moment.

Is this the last gasp of resistance to a new order, or a sign of worse things yet to come? Please pray for Egypt, either way.

The worst clashes took place on the Nile Cornish. This rock pile is on the road leading there from Tahrir, where protestors would retreat to reload in the volleys against the police.
The worst clashes took place on the Nile Cornish. This rock pile is on the road leading there from Tahrir, where protestors would retreat to reload for their volleys against the police.
At one point during the fighting, armed criminals broke in to the Semiramsis Hotel, smashing this door. According to reports, protestors intervened and beat them off.
At one point during the fighting, armed criminals broke in to the Semiramsis Hotel, smashing this door. According to reports, protestors intervened and beat them off.
Outside on the Cornish clean up crews were hard at work collecting the debris, preparing the road for traffic
Outside on the Cornish clean up crews were hard at work collecting the debris, preparing the road for traffic.
Traffic into Tahrir, however, was blocked by these makeshift barricades.
Traffic into Tahrir, however, was blocked by these makeshift barricades.
And on the bridge across the Nile leading into Tahrir, group of protestors were trying to block traffic, as they had over the previous few days. This attempt petered out after about five minutes.
And on the bridge across the Nile leading into Tahrir, group of protestors were trying to block traffic, as they had over the previous few days. This attempt petered out after about five minutes.
Meanwhile, camera crews were already in place, awaiting the next round of violence.
Meanwhile, camera crews were already in place, awaiting the next round of violence.
Back in Tahrir, things were calm, as protestors celebrated their previous night's capture off a police van.
Back in Tahrir, things were calm, as protestors celebrated their previous night’s capture off a police van.
Even the local Pizza Hut was open for business - sort of.
Even the local Pizza Hut was open for business – sort of.
Protestors opened their very own Tahrir Museum in the center circle of the roundabout.
Protestors opened their very own Revolution Museum in the center circle of the Tahrir roundabout.
The celebrated statue of Omar Makram had a new round of graffiti.
The celebrated statue of Omar Makram had a new round of graffiti.
And the walls were updated with the pictures of the latest martyrs and targets of political rejection. Here, the Muslim Brotherhood's General Guide hovers behind a split image of Mubarak and former army General Tantawi.
And the walls were updated with the pictures of the latest martyrs and targets of political rejection. Here, the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide hovers behind a split image of Mubarak and former army head General Tantawi. A plaque has been affixed bearing a verse from the Quran.
But at some point since my last visit a huge Egyptian flag had been draped on the side of this building. Perhaps it can be read as a sign of hope.
But at some point since my last visit a huge Egyptian flag had been draped on the side of this building. Perhaps it can be read as a sign of hope.

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Two Years of a Shrunken State

From the Arabist:

This is a useful follow-up to the previous post on diplomacy:

Perhaps the only viable way to get the state to function is for the Brothers to offer the opposition enough reassurance that major political forces together could reach consensus on the illegitimacy of violent protest. If Egypt’s political forces acted in unison — a general appeal for order, or for justice to take its course, or for disputes to be resolved in parliament rather than in the street — these have a powerful calming effect. The Interior Ministry, for example, has called for such an appeal to “patriotic forces” to calm Port Said.

The opposition would probably not try to coax protesters out of Tahrir, nor would it be necessary — the square can probably remain an open-air museum of the revolution as the state rebuilds itself elsewhere. But a joint appeal for order would at least contain street violence and push Egypt’s flare-ups of violence to become less frequent and bloody.

The opposition knows however that to stand alongside the Brothers would be handing Morsi a major concession. The National Salvation Front has demanded as the price for its cooperation that a committee be empowered to amend the constitution. If Morsi’s objective in pushing through the constitution in December was to provide some security for his administration — ie, to prevent the Supreme Court’s from topping off its dissolution of parliament by pushing Morsi out of office, as Brothers said they suspected might happen — then perhaps he would take that risk.

But the first articles targeted would be ones that circumscribe civil rights with religion. The Brothers have in theory agreed to revisiting the constitution. If the Brothers are committed to aggressively Islamicizing society, or if they are worried about having their Islamic credentials challenged by the Salafis, they aren’t going to give the opposition what it wants.

This is an excellent analysis of why the opposition is being somewhat mum on all the street violence. Conspiracy will say they started it, but they are not standing in the way. In fact, rightly in a sense, they lay the burden of responsibility on the state. Ongoing violence is a function of state ineptitude and political intransigence.

So after sidelining the opposition to get what they wanted (i.e. the constitution), Morsi now calls them back for dialogue – but as above – will he be willing to pay the price? It is as if the opposition is saying: You cheated to get your constitution, we’ll cheat to take it back.

Islamists may say the opposition has been cheating from the beginning, but this only opens up the conspiracies even further, which most liberals are happy to slap back at the Brotherhood. It gets Egypt nowhere.

The only thing that will, as the author suggests, is consensus. Can it be found? If not, what is the price?


Family in Tahrir

Sidu and Hannah
Sidu and Hannah

With Egypt on the eve of another potentially massive demonstration, it is time to pull these pictures out from the archive. They are from the day I took my four year old daughter and her grandfather to Tahrir. I didn’t post them immediately, as I didn’t want to scare the rest of the extended family. And to set hearts at ease, I don’t plan to take anyone tomorrow.

It is hard to recall all the events of Tahrir, but on that occasion there were once again clashes – the night before. My parents were visiting to help assist with the birth of our new son; of course my father had to see the famous square. The best time to avoid violence is morning, when all are exhausted from fighting through the night.

‘I smell nail polish remover,’ said Hannah, my daughter. She was sort of right; I had never noticed how it resembled the scent of lingering tear gas.

‘What pretty decorations,’ she said. I looked all around, wondering if she was referring to the graffiti, some of which is rather creative.

‘No, the shiny ones,’ and she pointed toward the middle of the road. Ah, barbed wire.

With a local protestor
With a local protestor

Some lessons I explained, others were left unsaid. My children are getting quite an education in Egypt.

As for my father, he was particularly impressed by an incoming march as we exited the square along Kasr al-Nile Bridge. ‘Such passion,’ he remarked. We even got a quick glance of Hamdeen Sabbahi’s silver locks as he accompanied the procession to Tahrir.

(Sabbahi not visible)
(Sabbahi not visible)

As for tomorrow, the two year anniversary of the start of the revolution, expectations are meaningless. Tahrir could be packed, or victim of protest fatigue and sullen resignation. It could spark a second revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood, or descend violently into anarchy and chaos.

Here’s hoping for a protest without nail polish and decorations.


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My Jihad: This Video will Restore your Faith in Humanity

The title is a little bit much (to be explained below), but it is a nice scene. The video is taken from a Christmas celebration in Kasr el-Dobara Church in downtown Cairo, right behind Tahrir Square. The imam of Tahrir’s mosque pays a visit to wish his Christmas greetings to a congregation that shared with him the trials and courage of the revolution. The video is 15 minutes long, and subtitled, but you don’t have to watch the whole thing to get the gist.

Please click here to go to YouTube.

The gesture is very important in contemporary Egypt, as the Salafi current of Islam has forbidden Muslims to wish Christians a merry Christmas. On one hand this is fine – why should they honor a supposed incarnation they reject?

On the other hand it is horrible – it strikes at the fabric of national unity which has been nurtured in Egypt over generations, amid instances of sectarian tension. Every Egyptian knows their religions are not the same, but they greet each other warmly nonetheless.

But if there is one comment against the video, its production (not its content) strikes too much as propaganda in the other direction. ‘My Jihad’ is an English language campaign designed to redefine the American understanding of jihad.

Again, this is well and good. Jihad does encompass the meaning of warfare for the cause of Islam. But it also, and for most Muslims around the world who are at war with no one, signifies the struggle to improve one’s soul and the world around them. It would serve many Americans well to be more aware of this.

But using Egypt as an example to restore faith in humanity? Directly after a campaign for their constitution laden with religious rhetoric, much of which labeled their opponents – and sometimes Christians – as unbelievers and the enemy? As the war cry ‘Allahu Akbar’ rang out from podiums urging the triumph of God’s religion?

Do not make these worrisome developments out to be more than they are, but do not make this appearance of a sheikh in a church out to be more than it is, either. Yes, it is a necessary and valuable gesture, received to great applause by the Christian audience.

But if one wishes to be cynical, after Islamists used religion to divide Egypt and get their constitution, may they now want to use religion (and religious unity) to govern from the center amid expected economic difficulties? Even if not, forgive the nation’s Christians and non-Islamist Muslims for feeling rather jaded.

These events are far removed from the American consciousness, which is generally ready to move on from Egypt after being consumed with its transition for the past two years. It is hoped the My Jihad campaign, as necessary as it must be, is not painting a purposefully imprecise picture to take advantage.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt Erupts Again: Christians Resist Muslim Brotherhood President’s Power Grab

Cross and Quran Held Aloft at Tahrir

From my new article on Christianity Today:

The recent deaths of two teenagers best communicate the situation in Egypt today.

Gaber Saleh, a 16-year-old revolutionary activist, was killed in confrontations with police in Tahrir Square last Sunday. That same day, Islam Massoud, a 15-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member, was killed in clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi in Damanhour, a city in the Nile Delta.

The deaths reveal a nation deeply divided by the decision of Morsi last week to appropriate all governing authority until a new Egyptian constitution is completed and a new parliament elected. Protests have broken out throughout the nation; Tahrir Square has once again filled to capacity. Many of Egypt’s judges have decried the attack on their independence, with the two highest appellate courts joining others in a nationwide strike.

The nation’s Christians are firmly in the opposition camp.

At least officially, Egypt’s Christians are not calling to depose Morsy:

“This is a national issue, not a Christian one,” says Safwat el-Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and a former member of the constitutional assembly.

“As Christians, we are not calling for the downfall of the president. And we do not fight against the authorities. As a church, we ask only for a suitable constitution for Christians and Muslims.

“But normal people have the right to be in the squares.”

Some, if not many, might hope for it, but the outrage is directed primarily at his constitutional declaration. It has led a vice president to resign from his administration:

Morsi’s opposition is not just in the street. Samir Marcos, Morsi’s vice president for democratic transition and the most prominent Coptic member of his administration, has resigned.

“I refuse to remain [in my position],” he told the international Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, “in light of this presidential decision that is crippling to the democratic transition process … and which is contrary to what I am trying to achieve through my position.”

One idea floated now is that his powers could be submitted to a referendum, or yield to a referendum on a rushed constitution:

This might also create a scenario where a weary public votes “Yes” in the constitutional referendum to follow, simply to end the deadlock and restore stability. In the process, liberals and Christians fear, the public would accept a flawed and religiously tinted constitution.

Of course, either way the people vote, a deadlock might continue. The Muslim Brotherhood will hold a rally on Saturday to support the president, whereas they previously canceled a competing protest out of fear for “bloodshed.”

“In order to save Egypt from going back to square one—dropping into chaos and nearly civil war—we have to think of a compromise,” said Sidhom. “But I fail to see how or where.”

Please click here to read the whole article at Christianity Today.

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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.


Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Voting Behind Barbed Wire

It is usually not an easy process to vote overseas. And then, all of a sudden, I had.

Weeks ago we printed out our internet registration form, necessary to secure a ballot sent from America. We also heard we could drop this off at the US Embassy in downtown Cairo, but delays – including a few days of rioting you may have heard of – kept us away.

But even then the process was complicated. Even after we received the ballot and sent it back, it was still necessary to physically mail an official registration form, even if it arrived late.

It has been a while since I voted in America, but basically all I recall is signing my name and pulling a lever. There is much I took for granted.

This includes, apparently, not having to walk through a war zone.

I exaggerate. Everything downtown is calm and has been for weeks. But the earlier riots only ended when the army intervened to impose its staple post-revolution solution: Build a wall. The main street of access to the embassy from Tahrir Square is now barricaded completely, forcing a five minute walk around the corner.

Didn’t I just lament taking things for granted? Now I complain about an extra five minute walk? The sign on the wall shows those who have a right of grievance. The shop owners outside the embassy and all along the now barricaded road are pleading with the government to take it down.

Once around the corner, however, the second security step is visible. During the original demonstration against the film protestors scaled the embassy walls and took down the US flag, replacing it with a black flag of Islam. The rest of the evening they stood atop the wall, holding placards but doing nothing in particular.

Now, barbed wire lines the embassy wall in its entirety.

Getting in was nearly as simple a process as usual. There was a line outside, ID, phone, and camera to leave at the desk, a metal detector to pass through, and then… that’s when things were different.

Normally the American Services Center of the embassy is calm and orderly, waiting in turn for your number to be called. The embassy advertized two days, however, to assist the absentee voting process, which was held outside regular visiting hours.

The line outside was due to the great crowd, let in by smaller groups to ease the congestion. There were few instructions given on what to do upon arrival. Forms were everywhere – mostly organized – but only one very helpful and very patient embassy employee inside. I had figured I only needed to drop off my ballot request form, so I was a bit confused.

And then she handed me my ballot.

I wasn’t quite prepared to vote on the spot. The main problem is that my attention is given almost entirely to Egyptian politics. Outside the headlines, I haven’t followed the US race much at all.

Basically, I hadn’t done my homework, nor had I reflected sufficiently. The only solution was to pray quickly, swallow hard, and write down a name.

With that, it was over. My envelope was sealed and placed in embassy mail. I don’t even have a hard copy registration letter for later, as they mailed that too.

Really, it was wonderful facilitation by the embassy, and a good reminder of the blessings of our system. It was a responsibility to cast a vote, but it was also a privilege.

Even behind barbed wire.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: An FJP Ezba?


Protests this week were stronger, safer, but the symbolic divide was wider. It remains to be seen who has the momentum.

As thousands filled Tahrir Square to protest lack of social justice and an unrepresentative Islamist constitution, they introduced a uniquely Egyptian term to the English speaking world. ‘Egypt is not an ezba,’ they declared, saying the Muslim Brotherhood was treating the nation as its own private estate.

At the same time, the Brotherhood’s party – Freedom and Justice – was holding elections for party president. The winner took two-thirds of the vote over his competitor, but both celebrated the display of democratic credentials.

So which is it, God? Are protestors reactionaries who lost an electoral contest and now sing of sour grapes and malign their opponents? Or have they identified patterns of governance which exclude and deny the basic goals of the revolution?

Do Freedom and Justice Party elections signal a commitment to the rule of the people in open and transparent choice? Or was the competition theatrical disguising a choice made or manipulated by Brotherhood leadership, signaling the same for Egypt?

God, it is good these issues are before the people. Give discernment as Egypt’s political forces state their case. Refine them as they navigate the task of winning the people’s trust and favor. Reject them if their politics stray too far into propaganda.

Build Egypt in these days, God. It is now known a full quarter of the people live in poverty – and half of those in Upper Egypt. A constitution is being written which will guide the nation for years to come. And these challenges must be solved by a nascent – and some fear transitory – democracy with little political consciousness.

It is required the leaders be men of good conscience, at least until the people can catch up with them and create institutions of accountability.

Bless Egypt with these men, God. Surely they exist, and surely among them are charlatans. Bring Egypt to the right ones.

And as for the president who does exist, strengthen and encourage him. Give him wisdom to govern wisely. May all he has placed in authority serve well.


Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Tahrir Protestors Turn on Each Other: My Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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