I did a segment from the Democracy Now! studio while on a visit to New York about the latest developments in Egypt:
My piece in The Nation on Western Sahara filed from the Dakhla refugee camp in southwestern Algeria.
Tchla Bchere has visited Western Sahara, the land she calls her rightful home, only once. Born and raised in a refugee camp in the remote desert expanse of southwestern Algeria, the 30-year-old activist has always clung to the promise of an independent homeland, free from Moroccan control. Yet in the entwined contradictions of hope and despair that have shaped her life as a Sahrawi refugee, Bchere never wants to have children—to have them grow up like her, in a state of permanent displacement and consigned to a life of waiting in the harsh desert.
“My hope has no limits,” she says. “But I don’t want to raise a child in this situation.”
Bchere is a refugee of Africa’s last colony, the site of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts and one of its most invisible.
Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975, when Spain, the former colonial power, signed an agreement handing over control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, allowing the two countries to invade. The United States and France supported the forced annexation.
The Moroccan army carried out brutal attacks against civilians, including bombing, strafing and dropping napalm on those trying to escape the fighting. The violence prompted nearly half the Sahrawi population to flee on foot and cross into Algeria, where they were allowed to settle near the town of Tindouf.
For close to four decades, nearly half the native population of Western Sahara has lived as refugees in Algeria; the other half lives as a minority population under foreign rule. Two parallel societies, one living in exile, the other under occupation.
The Dakhla refugee camp lies in a remote corner of southwestern Algeria. For nearly four decades, tens of thousands of refugees from Western Sahara have lived in exile here after Morocco and Mauritania invaded their homeland. I had the opportunity to spend several days there with the FiSahara international film festival organized by Spanish activists every year to raise awareness of the plight of the Sahrawis.
Click on the image to view the full photo set.
More in the Toronto Star:
In a sign that the Egyptian authorities are moving the case of two detained Canadians up their priority list, lawyer Marwa Farouk said that “an aide to the minister of the interior personally visited them” on Wednesday.
Farouk’s law firm, meanwhile, confirmed that John Greyson and Tarek Loubani have ended their hunger strike in Cairo’s grim Tora Prison where they have been detained without charge since Aug. 16. They were arrested during violent clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Friends and family had feared for the two men, who consumed only juice and water for two weeks to protest their jail conditions and detention without charge, which was extended by 45 days to mid-November.
The Canadians’ detention has brought embarrassment and unwanted attention to Egypt’s military-backed interim government, which earlier this week announced to world leaders at the UN that it is on a “road map” to democracy.
My latest for The Nation is a longer analysis of the different and shifting positions towards the Muslim Brotherhood, the army and civil liberties by the various non-Islamist political groups and movements:
Opposition to Morsi grew throughout his time in office, eventually stretching across nearly every sector of Egyptian society. It also had grassroots support, manifested in more than 9,000 protests and strikes during his year-long rule that culminated in calls for early presidential elections and the unprecedented June 30 mobilization.
His opponents included a broad swath of political and social movements, often characterized by conflicting ideologies and grievances. It included revolutionary activists, labor unions, human rights advocates, the Coptic Church, intransigent state institutions, former Mubarak regime members and sidelined business elites as well as the formal opposition—the flock of non-Islamist political parties and figures routinely lumped together as “liberals,” despite the fact that many of them have rejected any notion of political pluralism, a defining characteristic of liberalism.
The result has been a confusing, and increasingly atomized, political landscape. Of the disparate groups opposed to Morsi, some actively sought military intervention, fewer opposed any military role, while others—like Dawoud—stood by the military as it ousted the president, but eventually broke away in the face of mounting state violence and mass arrests of Islamists under the guise of a “war on terror.”
The military—which formed a coalition of convenience with the Brotherhood for much of 2011 to manage the post-Mubarak landscape and hold revolutionary aspirations and unfettered popular mobilizations in check—successfully co-opted the movement against Morsi and, along with the security establishment, emerged as the clearest winner from his overthrow.
Latest for the Toronto Star:
The handwritten document, in scrawled Arabic, ends with a thumbprint and the signature of Toronto filmmaker John Greyson.
It outlines an alarming, and wide-ranging, list of allegations — among them murder and “intention to kill” — against Greyson and London, Ont., doctor Tarek Loubani, who have been detained in a Cairo jail since Aug. 16. The pair were arrested during a week of violence that followed protests against the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
The authorities have not yet laid formal charges against the men, but their detention was extended on Sunday by another 45 days to allow for ongoing investigations by the Egyptian attorney general. For the first time, the Star is publishing a detailed list of the intended charges the authorities are pursuing against them. Similar charges are also being sought for 140 Egyptians scooped up during demonstrations in the heart of Cairo that left dozens dead.
I filed a short update piece for the Toronto Star on the case of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani who have been imprisoned in Egypt since mid-August.
A prosecutor in Egypt has ordered two Canadians detained in a Cairo jail since August 16 to be held for an additional 45 days, prolonging any hope of their release until mid-November.
Toronto filmmaker John Greyson and emergency doctor Tarek Loubani were arrested in mid-August in the midst of a week of violent clashes between security forces and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi that left hundreds dead.
Up until today, their detention had been extended over three 15-day periods. The decision to extend their detention by an additional month and a half is the most severe ruling yet.
“This is the worst possible outcome,” said Marwa Farouk, the lead defence counsel on the case. “They are dealing with them in the same way they are dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said, referring to the government-led crackdown on the Islamist group that has seen thousands of its members imprisoned.
Click here for more information on the case
My piece for The Progressive filed last month is finally published online:
The corpses lay in neat rows on the floor of al-Iman mosque—more than 230 of them, wrapped in bloodied white sheets with names scrawled across in felt pen. Clusters of portable electric fans and the occasional spray of air freshener did little to overcome the smell of death that pervaded the summer heat. Family members gathered around the bodies of their relatives. Some stood in silence, others wept openly, their wails of grief rising through the halls of the mosque that had been transformed into a charnel house.
Osama Said, a skinny nineteen-year-old in a T-shirt and track suit bottoms, knelt over the body of his older brother. He gently pulled the shroud aside and stared at his face. A thin line of caked blood ran from his brother’s nose to the top of his ear. Abdel Rahman Said, twenty-three, was shot and killed on August 14, taking a bullet to the heart when army soldiers and security forces stormed the encampment at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, the epicenter of support for the deposed president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Another large sit-in at Nahda Square was also stormed the same day in a display of brutal force that Human Rights Watch described as “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” At least 638 were killed across the country, according to official tallies, though many suspect the toll to be higher.
My piece for The Nation on Syrian refugees in Egypt who find themselves targeted amidst the country’s political upheaval:
Abu Shihab recalls when armed police officers in full riot gear barged into his cramped apartment and led him away in handcuffs, along with a dozen other Syrian refugees. “They were dressed like they were ready for a war,” he says. He stands in the sun-washed courtyard of Masaken Othman, a cluster of cracked reddish-brown residential buildings rising from the dust in Cairo’s desert outskirts. Trash and car tires float in fetid green water seeping from a drainpipe onto the sand.
Abu Shihab arrived with his wife and children in May, fleeing his hometown of Hama after his 12-year-old son was killed in an airstrike by the Assad regime. They now live in this isolated apartment complex alongside some 240 other families, among an unprecedented wave of Syrians who have fled the fighting at home only to find themselves trapped in the cross-hairs of Egypt’s political upheaval. Those who have not been turned away at the border have been detained in large numbers by police and vigilante groups. Dozens have been deported. Meanwhile, members of Egypt’s established Syrian community face increasing harassment, their businesses attacked and looted.
My interview on Democracy Now! after a bloody weekend in Egypt:
Afterwards, I was joined on the program by writer and activist, Ahdaf Soueif and Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research Information Project.