Exclusive: Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah on Prison & Regime’s "War on a Whole Generation"
My in-depth discussion with one of Egypt’s most prominent dissidents, Alaa Abd El-Fattah, speaking in his first extended interview after nearly four months behind bars. Alaa talks about his imprisonment, the wave of repression in Egypt and the state of the revolution:
Is being a journalist a crime? Defence grills witnesses at trial of Canadian journalist in Egypt
My piece for the Toronto Star after the third session of the Al Jazeera trial:
The trial of a Canadian journalist and his two colleagues, who have been imprisoned in Egypt for the past 12 weeks on terrorism charges, was adjourned for a third time on Monday with the defence team’s requests for bail again denied by the court.
Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.
The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.
Monday’s four-hour court session was marked by the defence team grilling government witnesses, including questioning that centred on whether the prosecution was criminalizing basic acts of journalism.
Prosecutors have charged the Al-Jazeera journalists with fabricating news reports and tarnishing Egypt’s reputation abroad.
During Monday’s hearing, defence lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr questioned a member of a state media team that issued a forensic report requested by the prosecution. It concluded the defendants manipulated footage to create “false scenes” that endanger national security.
Canadian journalist imprisoned in Egypt gets MRI under heavy guard
I got to spend some time with Mohamed Fahmy - a friend and journalist with Al Jazeera who has been jailed since December 29 on terrorism charges - when he was taken to hospital for a scan on his injured shoulder. I filed a piece for the Toronto Star about his condition:
Mohamed Fahmy’s mother couldn’t hold back the tears when she saw the armoured police truck carrying her son enter the hospital compound. “Look at how they treat him,” she sobbed. “Why?”
Half a dozen heavily armed security forces had come to escort Fahmy, a respected journalist who has worked for CNN and the New York Times, from the southern Cairo prison complex where he has been detained for the past 84 days to a public hospital to receive a scan on his shoulder. Fahmy’s family and friends were waiting to greet him as he arrived.
A Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al-Jazeera English, Fahmy was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. The three have been accused of belonging to or aiding a terrorist organization in a case that has sparked worldwide condemnation and accusations of a crackdown on press freedom led by Egypt’s military-backed government.
Fahmy emerged from the police truck dressed in prison whites and hugged his mother, younger brother and fiancée. Police officers stood nearby, some sporting flak jackets and assault rifles, their faces hidden behind black balaclavas and helmets.
He had been taken to the Qasr al-Aini hospital for MRI scan of his shoulder, which was broken during his arrest after having been previously fractured. The injury was further aggravated by his being forced to sleep on the floor during his initial detention period, when he was held in solitary confinement in extremely harsh conditions in a maximum-security prison wing for more than a month.
Canadian journalist, two colleagues deny charges in Cairo court
I attended the opening session of the trial against the imprisoned Al Jazeera English journalists and filed for the Toronto Star:
CAIRO—Imprisoned Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and two other colleagues working for the news channel Al Jazeera English appeared in court for the first time on Thursday nearly two months after their arrest by Egyptian authorities.
The trial was held at the Institute for Police Trustees inside Tora, a sprawling prison complex in southern Cairo guarded by army tanks. The three journalists stood inside a caged dock in the courtroom wearing white prison outfits and denied the charges against them. They were refused bail and will remain behind bars until the next court session scheduled for March 5.
During a recess in the trial, they managed to communicate with reporters by shouting from the defendants’ cage. Fahmy said they faced “psychologically terrible” conditions in prison and were locked up 23 hours a day with no access to books or newspapers and no way to tell time. “We are strong,” he said.
Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for Al Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.
The three are among 20 defendants accused of belonging to, or aiding and abetting a terrorist organization. Of the 20, only eight were present in the courtroom. The rest are at large and will be tried in absentia.
A Voice for Democracy Against Egypt’s ‘Fascist Buildup’
I have a profile piece in The Nation on liberal intellectual Amr Hamzawy:
Amr Hamzawy was once the toast of the town among Egypt’s liberal elite.
A prominent political scientist and scholar, he rose to fame following the launch of the 2011 revolution, emerging as the spokesman for the “Committee of Wise Men,” an ad hoc coalition of public figures formed to mediate between protesters and the Mubarak regime.
Hamzawy went on to help found two liberal political parties before winning a seat in Parliament, soundly beating a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in one of the strongest showings in the 2011 elections. His liberal politics often put him at odds with the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups during their time in power. He was a frequent guest on television talk shows and a regular public speaker.
But it was Hamzawy’s outspoken criticism of the army’s overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi last July that set him apart from his liberal counterparts.
Now, three years after the revolution began, Hamzawy finds himself politically isolated. He is vilified by his former colleagues, branded a traitor and a “fifth columnist” in the press and barred from travel after prosecutors charged him last month with insulting the judiciary.
“It’s hard to be with no allies and no friends, but it’s always better to understand where people stand and what they think in order to mind future steps and maybe fashion new alliances,” Hamzawy said in a recent interview in his small office at the American University in Cairo, where he is a professor of public policy.
My first column for Mada Masr focusses on the crackdown on journalists in Egypt:
In Egypt, journalism can now be a form of terrorism. At least that’s what prosecutors are alleging in a case targeting Al Jazeera, with 20 defendants referred to trial on charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security.
Among the principal accusations, the prosecutor’s statement accuses the defendants of manipulating video footage “to produce unreal scenes to suggest abroad that the country is undergoing a civil war that portends the downfall of the state.” The statement goes on to say prosecutors assigned a team of “media experts” from the Egyptian Union for Television and Radio to inspect equipment seized from the hotel where Al Jazeera English was operating. The technical reports show that “the footage was altered and video scenes were modified using software and high-caliber editing equipment.”
So they used Final Cut Pro. They edited. They probably even selected the fiercest footage of clashes for their reports. The nature of the charges would be comical if they weren’t so serious.
The journalists accused in the case are being treated as terrorists – that is to say, inhumanely. Two of the detained Al Jazeera English staff, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, are being held in Al-Akrab, the maximum security wing of Tora prison, alongside jihadis and militants. They have been kept in solitary confinement 24-hours a day in insect-infested cells with no beds, books or sunlight for over four weeks. Following the series of bombings in Cairo on January 24, guards even took away their blankets and food their relatives had provided. After a recent visit with him, Fahmy’s family said his spirit appeared to have been broken. Peter Greste is being held in only slightly better conditions.
The second segment focusses on the third anniversary of the revolution, the potential presidential candidacy of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Morsi’s trial, growing militancy and targeting of security forces and more:
My piece for The Nation coinciding with the third anniversary of the revolution:
January 25, 2011, was a transformative moment for Egypt. Thousands of protesters flooded the streets to call for the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s sclerotic regime, confronting the notorious security forces on National Police Day and sparking a mass uprising that reverberated around the world.
This year, January 25 brings with it a feeling of the revolution’s undoing. A crude monument erected by the new military-backed government stands in the center of Tahrir Square—once the epicenter of autonomous mass mobilization, now a space controlled by the state and its security forces. Three protesters this week were sentenced to two years in prison for defacing the structure. The ruling barely registered in the news.
Since the military ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi last July, followed by the brutal crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, the security establishment has emerged re-empowered, reinvigorated and out for revenge, cracking down on its opponents with unprecedented severity. Much of Egypt is awash in conformist state worship, fueled by the shrill narrative of a war on terror and the age-old autocratic logic that trades rights for the promise of security.
Harsh prison conditions taking toll on Canadian held in Egypt
Another piece for the Toronto Star on the imprisoned Al Jazeera English journalist Mohammed Fahmy:
A Canadian journalist detained in Egypt since Dec. 29 is suffering the effects of extremely harsh prison conditions, his family says.
Mohamed Fahmy, a 40-year-old Canadian-Egyptian citizen, has been kept in solitary confinement for nearly three weeks. He is being held in a dark, insect-infested cell with no sunlight or bed, and is only allowed out for interrogation.
“The first time he saw me he didn’t recognize me for the first few seconds,” says a close family member who visited with him. “He didn’t say anything.”
Fahmy, who is being held in a maximum-security prison known as “The Scorpion,” was arrested along with two colleagues, Peter Greste, an award-winning Australian correspondent, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer. Greste has been held in slightly more favourable conditions.
International Correspondents Call for the Release of Journalists in Egypt
I helped spearhead an effort to get representatives from international media outlets to sign a statement calling for the release of journalists detained in Egypt. The result was an impressive list of more than 50 correspondents and editors from media outlets around the world, that included some of the biggest names in the mainstream press but also smaller organizations as well.
In addition to the Al Jazeera English correspondents arrested on December 29 - Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed - at least five other journalists are currently detained in Egypt, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: Metin Turkan of Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, Abdullah Al-Shamy and Mohamed Badr of Al Jazeera, Mahmoud Abdel Nabi of Rassd Online News, and freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid, all of whom have been imprisoned for over five months.
The joint statement highlights concerns by the international press over media freedom in Egypt and the ability of journalists to do their work without fear of arrest.
Canadian journalist held in notorious Egypt jail in crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood
My piece for the Toronto Star on the imprisonment of three journalists from Al Jazeera English, one of whom, Mohamed Fahmy, is a good friend and longtime colleague:
A Canadian journalist detained in Egypt has been held for over a week in a dank, insect-infested cell inside a maximum security prison wing with no sunlight or bed for 24 hours a day, allowed out only for interrogation.
Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian-Egyptian citizen and the acting bureau chief for the news channel Al Jazeera English, was arrested by Egyptian authorities on Dec. 29, along with colleagues Peter Greste, an Australian correspondent and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian producer.
Prosecutors ordered the three men to be held for 15 days on accusations that include spreading lies harmful to national security and joining a terrorist group. An Egyptian cameraman was also arrested the same day but subsequently released.
“The charges against the Al Jazeera journalists are completely unfounded,” says Ragia Omran, a human rights lawyer who represents Greste and has also visited Fahmy several times. “It’s part of the general crackdown on the Brotherhood, opposition activists and journalists.”
I was honored to be on a great panel talking about the dangers journalists face in Egypt with former Al Jazeera correspondent Sherine Tadros and photojournalist Mosaab Elshamy on CBC Radio’s “The Current”
The Case of Imprisoned Al Jazeera Journalist Abdullah Al-Shamy
My piece in The Nation about one of six journalists currently behind bars in Egypt:
The Abu Zaabal prison complex lies some twenty miles northeast of Cairo, where the dense urban cacophony of the capital quickly gives way to rolling fields, rubbish-strewn canals and small clusters of hastily built red brick buildings. Outside the main gate—a pair of large metal doors flanked by Pharaonic-themed columns—sit four army tanks, their long snouts pointed up and out.
Gehad Khaled, a 20-year-old with an easy laugh and youthful intensity, has been coming to Abu Zaabal on a regular basis for nearly four months to visit her imprisoned husband. Abdullah Al-Shamy was among hundreds rounded up on August 14, the day security forces violently stormed two sit-ins in Cairo and Giza that formed the epicenter of support for the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, leaving up to 1,000 people dead.
Abdullah was at the Rabaa Al-Adeweya sit-in for work. As a correspondent for the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, the 25-year-old journalist had been stationed at the pro-Morsi encampment for six weeks, becoming a familiar face to the channel’s viewers in one of the summer’s biggest international news stories.
Gehad would visit Abdullah at the sit-in, where he was working around the clock. The two had been married in September 2012, though Abdullah spent little time at home because of regular deployments to countries like Mali, Libya, Ghana and Turkey for Al Jazeera. “The longest period we spent together since we were married was in Rabaa,” she says with a smile.
Now, Gehad sees Abdullah just once every two weeks inside Abu Zaabal, waiting hours each time for a fifteen-minute visit. She brings him food, water, clothes, newspapers, books, toiletries and other necessities to alleviate the austere conditions inside Egypt’s jails.
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.
Jail conditions improve for detained Canadians in Egypt: lawyer
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.
Egypt considering murder charges against Canadians
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.
Canadians held in Egypt have detention extended for another 45 days
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.
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.
More of a commentary than an article for my latest in The Nation:
Cairo at night has become a city of silence. Once among the world’s most crowded and raucous nocturnal metropolises, it is now home to ghosts, a place haunted by fear and despair. Never ones to abide by past military-imposed curfews, Egyptians stay indoors after sunset. The night is owned by helicopters roaming the skies, fat army tanks sitting heavily in the streets and bands of men wielding knives, clubs and guns at makeshift checkpoints. The occasional crackle of gunfire rings out, a reminder that the violence has only slowed, not stopped.
Most of the killing is done during the day. Over 1,000 dead in three days of carnage. As a reporter covering conflicts over the years, I have seen many dead bodies—but never have I seen so many people dying before my eyes. The last gurgling gasp of air, the eyes turning lifeless, the rising wails of grief.
As Egypt plunges headfirst into a deadly downward spiral with no end in sight, many of its citizens are baying for still more blood. Both sides leading the conflict, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, are playing a zero-sum game, based on a false binary demanding that Egyptians choose one or the other. Both are defined by hierarchy, patriarchy, secrecy, mendacity and a blinding sense of their own superiority. Both are juggernauts in the Egyptian body politic that have heedlessly clawed away at Egypt’s social fabric in their struggle for power, proving time and again that their own political and economic interests trump all.
My article for The Nation after the deadly raids on the pro-Morsi Rabaa el-Adeweya and Nahda sit-ins:
The raids began shortly after 6 am, according to witnesses, with security forces deploying bulldozers, helicopters, snipers, shotguns and tear gas. The smaller of the two sit-ins, at Renaissance Square in Giza, was cleared within hours. But the raid of the much larger encampment, at the Rabaa al-Adeweya mosque in Nasr City, a neighborhood in eastern Cairo, lasted far longer.
In Nasr City, the crackle of intermittent machine-gun fire punctuated the rhythmic clang of metal poles the protesters were beating to warn of the ongoing attack. Tear gas mixed with black smoke rising from burning tires and branches pulled from trees on the sidewalk.
To enter or exit the sit-in, protesters were forced to sprint across a road exposed to sniper fire. Some took to writing their names and a number to call on their arms should they get shot. I saw one man scream as fell in the street after being hit in the head with what appeared to be birdshot.
Protesters mostly responded with rocks, though there are reports that some used firearms as well against security forces.
It was a scene of chaos and bloodshed inside the Rabaa medical facility, a four-story building near the central mosque. Wounded protesters were carried in every few minutes, many of them shot in the chest, neck or abdomen. The floor was covered in grime and, in places, slippery with blood. The heat was stifling, since the windows had been closed to prevent tear gas from entering.
The corpses emerge from a field hospital near the Rabea al-Adeweya mosque every few minutes in a grim routine. First, a man on a megaphone strides purposefully out into the sun, announcing the name of the dead to the waiting throng of mourners—the Grand Marshal of a macabre parade. Behind him come the medical workers carrying the body on a fluorescent orange stretcher. The white shroud is invariably splattered with blood, the name and hometown of the deceased is scrawled across the front. Hands and feet have been tied together to prevent limbs from flopping out. Two lines of men with linked arms form a thin passageway through the crowd that leads to a waiting ambulance. Pleas to God fill the air, rising to a crescendo of grief and anger as the body passes through. The commotion subsides until the next body is brought out, and the scene repeated.
This was Cairo on a scorching Saturday morning after predawn clashes between supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi and police and armed men that left scores of protesters dead and hundreds injured in the deadliest attack by security services since Mubarak’s ouster. The Health Ministry puts the official toll at seventy-four. The Muslim Brotherhood says sixty-six were killed and an additional sixty-one are “clinically dead.”
The bloodshed plunged Egypt into a deepening crisis with a highly polarized population, an unresolved standoff between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, spiraling levels of violence that have left more than 200 people dead since Morsi’s ouster and a coercive security apparatus reconstituting itself under the guise of a “war on terror.”
My latest piece in The Nation about the rise of the conservative wing within the Muslim Brotherhood and what options the movement has after the overthrow of Morsi:
It took the Muslim Brotherhood eighty-five years to reach the pinnacle of its power in Egypt—culminating in the inauguration last year of one its members, Mohamed Morsi, as the country’s first elected president—only for the group to lose it all twelve months later.
After a wave of popular anger led to an unprecedented mass mobilization on June 30, opening the door for Morsi’s sudden overthrow in a military coup, the Brotherhood went from controlling the presidency, the legislature and the cabinet to finding itself thrust out of office, its members protesting in the streets and hounded by security forces.
This was neither predicted nor preordained. Although it faced immediate political opposition upon winning at the ballot box, along with a declining economy and stiff resistance within the judiciary and state bureaucracy, critics largely blame the Brotherhood’s precipitous fall on the organization’s unilateral decision-making and an exclusionary style of governance—marked by hubris and a winner-take-all logic—that left it politically alienated, engendering open hostility from most sectors of Egyptian society.
Q&A with leading Muslim Brotherhood member Amr Darrag
I recently interviewed Dr. Amr Darrag, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood who most recently served as minister of planning and international cooperation in former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil’s Cabinet. He formerly served as secretary general of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 2012 Constitution. The interview was for an article on the Brotherhood for The Nation but I thought the conversation brought up some interesting points so the full Q&A was published in Mada Masr. A sample:
Mada Masr: The military appeared quite comfortable with the constitution that was passed in December; it granted them their privileges. Why do you think the military is targeting you now? Is this something you foresaw?
Amr Darrag: To be honest, I don’t think we expected that the military would make such a move, and I don’t think the military made such a move without a clear green light from the United States. The problem is that although the constitution seemed to be quite satisfactory to the military at that time, they knew quite well that that was a transitional period. The more time that would pass, the less benefits they would get, and the less authorities and power they would have. They wanted it all, they wanted to go back and have complete power.
By definition, at least some of the military leaders cannot stand to be in a democratic environment — they are not used to it. It’s not just the military; the military is the tool. It is mainly the old regime in full, with all of its tools, supported by the United States. This is the combination that led to the development of such a coup, which we believe was being planned for some time.
My piece in The Nation on the clashes across the country:
Zakaria Ibrahim was only several yards away when his younger brother was shot dead. It was just before dawn on July 8, and the two men were outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, along with hundreds of other supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. They stood in neat rows as they observed early morning prayers, facing away from the phalanx of armed soldiers guarding the gates.
They were still praying when the chaos began. Zakaria remembers the tear gas first, repeated volleys of hissing canisters that filled the air with poisonous white clouds. Then came the crackle of machine-gun fire and shotguns. He ran from the army bullets, blinded and spluttering, unaware that his 24-year-old brother, Gamal, had been hit in the chest with a live round that exited through his back and left him dead on the street.
“I only found out he had been killed hours later, when someone who saw his name on the casualty list called me,” Zakaria says, holding back tears as he waits for his brother’s body in the courtyard of a squalid state morgue. The two brothers had come to Cairo from Beni Sueif, their hometown in southern Egypt, ten days earlier to take part in a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adeweya mosque to support Morsi in what would become the final days of his year-long presidency.
My piece for The Nation on the latest developments:
Just over one year ago, on June 29, Mohammed Morsi chose Tahrir Square to deliver his first address as president-elect of Egypt.
“There is no power above people power,” he declared. “Today you are the source of this power. You give this power to whomever you want and you withhold it from whomever you want.” But twelve months later, Morsi would be unable to set foot in Tahrir, his words coming back to haunt him as millions took to the streets calling for his ouster in the largest protest in Egypt’s history.
The mass mobilization on June 30 eclipsed even the 2011 demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak; a few days later, on July 3, the army forced Morsi out of office, in what amounted to a military coup. His year-long tenure ended with a televised address by the head of SCAF, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sissi, himself appointed by Morsi less than a year earlier.
Tens of thousands gathered in Tahrir, jubilant at the news. The incessant drone of vuvuzelas mixed with a cacophony of drums, whistles and cheering, as the sky lit up with fireworks and green lasers. “Morsi’s gone and we are finally taking a step forward,” said a man named Shady, 38, who lives across the city but came to join the celebrations. “I don’t see this as a military coup,” he added. “The army is not trying to take control. The people are the source of all legitimacy and they took the power away from the president.”
That a popular revolt facilitated Morsi’s ouster is undeniable. But it has also solidified the military’s role as the final arbiter of power in Egypt.
As Morsi-Army Showdown Grips Egypt, Protesters Reject Authoritarian Rule
My interview on Democracy Now! hours before the President Mohammed Morsi was forced out of office by the military following the massive popular uprising against him and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood:
My latest in The Nation on the highly anticipated June 30 protests against President Mohammed Morsi:
Egypt is bracing for June 30. Anticipation for the first anniversary of the inauguration of President Mohammed Morsi has reached a fever pitch, as millions prepare to take to the streets to demand his removal from office. Fears of a showdown between protesters and the president’s supporters have led people to stock up on food and fuel supplies. The military and police are deploying extra forces and barriers around public buildings and army tanks have reportedly taken up positions outside the capital.
One year ago, many Egyptians had hoped the inauguration of the country’s first-ever democratically elected president would mark a turning point following decades of autocratic rule and a turbulent transition. Yet since Morsi took office, the political quagmire has only deepened, the economy has been in decline and daily life has become harder for most Egyptians.
The country is plagued by frequent fuel and diesel shortages that create long lines outside gas stations and cause incapacitating traffic jams. Electricity blackouts have become a daily routine during the hot summer months. Prices for food, medicine and other staple goods have sharply risen as the Egyptian pound has lost 10 percent of its value leaving already impoverished families less to live on. Unemployment is growing, tourism and investment are down sharply, the stock market hit an eleven-month low last week, while insecurity, crime and vigilante violence are on the rise.
The Black Bloc and the Ongoing Campaign to Quash Dissent
My first piece for Tahrir Squared is about the government crackdown on street protesters:
In Egypt, brutality, intimidation and legal harassment have long been the blunt tools wielded by the state in its futile effort to quell citizens into submission. In the year since the country’s first democratically-elected president took office, the tactics of Egyptian authorities to quash dissent have changed little. Mohamed Morsi appears content to follow the same playbook as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Mubarak regime before it in dealing with grassroots opposition to his rule.
The police violence that left scores of protesters dead and hundreds more wounded in the days following the second anniversary of the revolution has given way to a less bloody yet more sustained and pervasive crackdown.
Authorities are pursuing a twin-pronged strategy of dragging prominent activists into successive court cases on dubious charges in what appears to be a government campaign to hound and subdue them. Meanwhile, ordinary protesters on the street, often poor and marginalized youth, are being rounded up, mistreated and often handed harsh prison sentences and steep fines.
On March 28, Egypt’s former trade minister, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, was removed from an arrest list after he paid back a total of 15 million Egyptian pounds (approximately $2.2 million) to the state as part of a reconciliation program under President Mohamed Morsi. Rachid, who served as minister from 2004 to 2011, fled just before the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak and was tried in absentia for profiteering and squandering public funds during his time in office. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison and fined over 1.4 billion Egyptian pounds (approximately $202 million).
The deal struck between Rachid and the Morsi government came amid accelerated efforts by Egyptian authorities to reach out-of-court settlements with former regime officials and businessmen accused of corruption and cronyism. “We will reconcile through a legal process with anyone who did not corrupt or was somewhat corrupt but did not spill blood,” Hatem Saleh, the current trade minister said in January.
The sale of state assets, mainly land for housing and tourism developments, to crony businessmen at prices below market value became a hallmark of the Mubarak regime, particularly during its last decade in power. In the wake of Mubarak’s ouster, cases were brought against numerous businessmen and regime officials. But in January 2012, just days before Egypt’s newly elected parliament was to hold its opening session, the military council that ruled in the interim period issued a decree amending an existing investment law to allow charges to be dropped if the accused paid back their illicit gains. In an attempt to reinvigorate the process, this year the Muslim Brotherhood–led cabinet voted to allow defense lawyers to plea bargain for clients convicted in absentia.