What is happening in Egypt, by AbdulRahman El-Taliawi (French)

Après 30 ans de dictature brutale et corrompue dirigée Par Hosny Mubarak, des millions de manifestants pacifistes se sont soulevés, il y’a trois jours, réclamant le changement. Le régime Egyptian a, en réponse, coupé toutes les communications téléphoniques (portable & fixe) et … Continue reading

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What is happening in Egypt, by AbdulRahman El-Taliawi

Three days ago, after 30 years of a brutal and corrupt dictatorship ruled by Mubarak, the Egyptian people have risen to free their country with millions of peaceful protesters calling for change. In response, the regime cut all internet and mobile communications off the whole population, committed mass arrests to local and international journalists, and literally isolated the people from all sources of news, outreach or communication. Moreover, they met the demonstrations with all violent measures to oppress the voice of the people. United in their cause, the people prevailed refusing to leave the streets until Mubarak steps down. In response, the regime set the army in the streets to control the protests with tanks and armaments. Omar Suleiman, an infamous key ally to the interests of the US, was appointed vice president. Again, the people refused, fighting for their liberty. In response, the regime freed prisoners, convicts and thugs from nationwide prisons to the streets of the Egyptian cities, armed with police trucks, uniforms and weaponry, attacking unarmed civilians. Museums were looted, banks were robbed, houses were attacked and thousands are being killed as you read this note. And
still, all internet, journalism and communication sources are cut off the whole nation.

Barack Obama and world leaders have chosen to bet on the corrupt and brutal regime of Mubarak, despite all those facts, to protect their interests in the region; interests that come at the price of the life and liberty of the Egyptian people. We appeal to you and we call upon your conscience to know what is currently happening in Egypt, and do all that you can to exert pressure upon your government and officials to reassess their alliance, and protect fellow humans or else they will find themselves on the wrong side of history. We appeal to you by virtue of the stability in which you live in your own country; a
luxury that we are unable to find.

We, the free Egyptian people, appeal to you!

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Why Egypt’s popular rebellion is the greatest historical event in a decade, and how Barack Obama missed the boat, by Kragen Javier Sitaker

I’m writing this on January 28th, 2011, at 11:53 AM Cairo time, although I’m an ocean away from Cairo. But, as someone wrote the other day on Twitter, yesterday, we were all Tunisian; today, we are all Egyptian, and tomorrow, we will all be free. So today I am writing this on Cairo time.

Three days ago, I read Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. He delivered it on the same day that the #Jan25 protests began in Egypt. I was dismayed that he didn’t mention the protests at all, because they’re more important than almost everything he did mention. This essay is an attempt to explain why they are so important, why Obama ignored them, and what the possible results of that choice could be.

  • What Egypt is like

For readers who don’t know much about Egypt, like most Americans, here’s my attempt to sum up a country of 80 million people in three minutes.

Egypt is not a republic, any more than the People’s Republic of China is. Egypt is a brutal dictatorship, governed by the same dictator since 1981, 29 of those years under state-of-emergency regulations. That dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was the vice-president of the previous dictator, Anwar Sadat, who in turn was the vice-president of the dictator before him, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had held absolute power since 1956. Egypt has been under one-party rule since 1952, and although the ruling party has changed its name several times, it has never yielded its power.

Egypt has gradually declined in influence and quality of life throughout Mubarak’s reign.

Some opposition parties are now formally allowed. They currently hold 3% of the Egyptian parliament. All influential opposition parties are banned, and the press is heavily censored. Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work fighting nuclear proliferation, moved to Vienna so that he can find reporters willing to talk to him.

Egypt is desperately poor. The majority of the country depends on the bread dole for survival.

Egypt is one of the countries where the US would ship prisoners to have them beaten, electrocuted, and raped by the Egyptian police for years, as a means of interrogation. (Abu Omar and Ahmed Osman Saleh are two of the best-known cases.) Indeed, its reputation for torture was so well established that it was the first US ally selected for this “extraordinary rendition” program.

The Egyptian police are famous for their lack of controls. Last year, Khaled Said was sitting in an internet café; a couple of policemen came in and demanded to see everyone’s ID, which is against Egyptian law. He refused, so they dragged him outside, beat him to death, and dumped his body in the street.

It’s also one of the top recipients of US aid in the world, much of which is earmarked for the security forces — the same security forces who are currently beating journalists bloody and shooting protestors with US-made tear gas, birdshot, and now bullets.

Much of Egypt’s military, the tenth largest in the world and the largest in Africa, is actually paid for by the US. Egypt produces US-designed armaments such as the M1 Abrams tank under license. Without the political and financial support of the US, it is generally believed in Egypt that the current dictatorship would have fallen decades ago.

As Shahi Hamid said, “If the army ever decides to shoot into a crowd of unarmed protestors, it will be shooting with hardware provided by the United States.”

However, as Steven A. Cook of CFR says, all those soldiers “are not there to project power, but to protect the regime.” He calls the Egyptian military “the ultimate instrument of political control.” In other words, all those weapons are bought to be used against Egyptians, not to protect Egypt.

This is exactly the sort of situation that fosters non-state terrorism: a disempowered citizenry, kept in check by only the military might of an unaccountable and corrupt dictator backed by a faraway country, watching their future being destroyed one year at a time — all so that that faraway country can have a “reliable friend” to support political goals the nation opposes. This country profile fits both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as it has for decades. And, indeed, non-state terrorism has been on the rise in Egypt for decades, and in 2001 an Egyptian flew a plane into a US building with the help of 15 Saudis and a couple of guys from other countries. We have not begun to see the end of this.

US elites believe that crushing the Egyptian people’s dreams of opportunity and justice, year after year, is a worthwhile price to pay for having Egypt as an ally in the region. Understandably, US elites are not very popular among Egyptians.

  • The revolution in Tunisia

Last month, there was a Tunisian revolution. It started when one Mohamed Bouazizi, of Sidi Bouzid, committed suicide. There’s 30% unemployment in Sidi Bouzid. At 26 years old, he was eking out a living as a fruit vendor, one of a series of marginal jobs he’d been working since he was ten years old — until a police officer slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his fruit cart and electronic scales, and beat him.

So he burned himself to death in protest.

This sparked mass protests by the Tunisian people, and after a month, the 23-year rule of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali ended, and he fled the country. This was the first successful popular Arab uprising in history.

Even as I write this, the new government is still reshuffling; yesterday, six ministers left over from Ben Ali resigned from the cabinet. It is possible that the new government will still not be truly democratic, but it seems likely that protests will continue to make the country ungovernable until there is at least a credible promise of improvement.

The Tunisian dictatorship had been considered stable and a steadfast ally of the US government, to the point that it, like Egypt, accepted “extraordinary renditions” from the US government for torturing.

There’s a lot of debate about what made this revolution happen now and not at some time during the previous 23 years. Perhaps the economic situation finally got bad enough; perhaps it was the Al-Jazeera coverage; perhaps a critical mass of Tunisians had access to Twitter and Facebook to organize; perhaps US embassy cables leaked via Wikileaks sparked new anger, or made Tunisians realize that their dictator’s backing from the US government was weaker than it had appeared.

  • The uprising in Egypt

Whatever it was that happened in Tunisia, Egypt has been following suit. The story I mentioned earlier, of Khaled Said, has been a rallying point.

(Liz Henry’s running summary of sources is good.)

On January 25th, Police Day, almost a hundred thousand people protested in the streets — mostly peacefully. This was the biggest protest since 1977, when Sadat cut off the bread dole. There were mass arrests, but only of a few hundred people. A policeman was killed by a thrown rock, and several protesters were killed. The government illegally and erratically blocked the web sites of Twitter, Facebook, Bambuser, the opposition newspaper Dostor, and other services. The Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest opposition party (one of the illegal ones), didn’t participate in the protests.

One freelance Al Jazeera news cameraman survived being shot by the police with 11 rubber-coated steel bullets, which were surgically removed over the following days.

There was a rumor that Gamal Mubarak, the son of the dictator, had fled to England with his family.

Nour Ayman Nour, the son of Ayman Nour, the leader of the El Ghad party, was arrested at from a protest, but escaped.

Hillary Clinton said that Mubarak’s government as “stable and looking for ways to respond” to the protestors’ demands.

On January 26th, protests continued, and activists made plans to have big protests on January 28th after prayers. Police began shooting protestors with birdshot instead of rubber-coated bullets. Hundreds of detainees were being held incommunicado with no access to lawyers. (The interior ministry said it had detained 860 people.) Hillary Clinton said that Mubarak should allow protestors to demonstrate, and “should implement reforms.” Crowds burned down government buildings in Suez and reported being “massacred”. Minister Rachid canceled his planned trip to the World Economic Forum.

By January 27th, at least three more people had died. Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt. Crowds stormed morgues in Suez to recover the bodies of the dead. The stock exchange halted trading for 45 minutes due to rapidly dropping stock prices. 140 protestors were charged with sedition. Ahmed Ezz, the country’s wealthiest businessman, was rumored to have fled the country. The Muslim Brotherhood pledged to participate in Friday’s protests. Crowds burned a fire station in Suez. Egypt canceled football games. ElBaradei published an op-ed entitled “A Manifesto for Change in Egypt”.

A major protest is planned for the 28th, right after early afternoon prayers.

On the morning of January 28ththey turned off nationwide internet access, BlackBerry messaging, and SMS, and there are rumors that satellite phones are jammed. The news media is supposedly forbidden from reporting. Ham radio and telephone systems are still in operation, including internationally.

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian expatriate journalist, has warned that this dark curtain being drawn around Egypt is intended to conceal a massacre.

The police began mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood activists, and police started setting fire to cars for no apparent reason. Joe Biden says he wouldn’t call Mubarak a dictator.

One ISP remains connected internationally, permitting banks, the stock market, and activists to reach the rest of the world.

  • What is at stake in Egypt

First, Mubarak could fall. The new government could be democratic, military, or Islamist. 80 million people could be liberated from tyranny.

Tunisia is a tiny country with little influence. Egypt, however, is one of the most powerful countries in the Middle East and in Africa. It houses al-Azhar university; it’s the origin of many of today’s Middle Eastern political movements; and it has immense military strength. Its current government is also a key ally of the US in the region.

If Egypt democratizes, it is very likely that other Arab autocrats will be overthrown by popular uprisings, too. Hundreds of millions of people could wrest back their futures from the hands of the greedy autocrats who rule them today.

Because the people of the region have been living under US-supported dictatorships for so long, it is likely that any new governments will be less favorable toward the US (and Israel) than the current ones — although Egypt is probably the most severe case of this.

It’s likely that such a transition would result in more violence in the short term, but less in the long term.

And the influence of the US would be dramatically reduced.

On the other hand, the army could massacre hundreds of thousands of people, finally putting to use all those US-made, US-funded guns and bombs. There is surely some level of violence at which the people would be cowed, even if there wouldn’t be anything left fighting for afterwards.

  • Obama’s choice to snub the Egyptian activists

Barack Obama, in his speech, naturally spoke most about the United States; but he also spoke about Korea, Russia, Chile, China, India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Panama, Pakistan, Brazil, El Salvador, Sudan, and Colombia. He even said he supports the revolution in Tunisia:

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

But he didn’t say a word about Egypt.

Of course, actually “supporting the democratic aspirations of all people” would mean that he supports the Egyptian protestors in their efforts to liberate their nation from its ruthless dictator. But Obama’s vice-president, Joe Biden, says he doesn’t even think Mubarak is a dictator, and that some of the protestors’ demands are not “legitimate”.

Obama is a first-class politician, maybe the best in the world. He wouldn’t leave out Egypt by accident.

It seems that he’s simply continuing the policy described earlier, supporting the Egyptian government no matter how oppressive it is, because it might survive and he believes its support is essential.

Perhaps he has calculated that any new government would likely be anti-US whatever he does, so he has nothing to lose by backing Mubarak. Or perhaps he thinks he can get away with taking no real action, and later claiming that he always supported the democratic aspirations of Egyptian people?

In any case, his support emboldens Mubarak for the massacre he is planning a few hours from now. Some of the innocent Egyptian blood shed today will be on Barack Obama’s hands.

It is often difficult and risky to take the side of justice, righteousness, freedom, and democracy. But those who side against them will not be remembered kindly by those who risked their lives for them. Obama has chosen cowardice and expediency over principles and honesty. And that choice undermines his stirring rhetoric much more than any sloppy choice of words could have.

Courtesy of:

http://canonical.org/~kragen/egypt-massacre-sotu.html

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America’s missed opportunity in Egypt, by Osama Diab

There’s no reason to believe that the uprising will bring radical Islamists to power – so why isn’t the US supporting it?

Hosni Mubarak’s days are numbered as the president of Egypt, and possibly as a living human being. The 80 million people of Egypt are not going anywhere; the struggle for democracy and fight for a better life goes on. After Mubarak is gone, the world will have to deal with the reaction of thousands of protesters who were injured, killed, arrested, tortured on the street while the leaders of the international community were issuing empty, meaningless statements and taking no action except to support this ailing regime in its fight against its own people.

The hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who have taken to the streets since 25 January are not political activists or full-time dissidents. They are also not the Islamists who have long been portrayed by the media as Egypt’s largest opposition and the only real threat to the regime. It was thought that any change in Egypt would automatically bring to power radical Islamists whose masterplan is believed to be the application of sharia (Islamic law) and the destruction of Israel. This is why the US government has always given unconditional support to the authoritarian regime of Mubarak and his party.

The protesters who took to the streets to challenge the country’s brutal security forces did not risk their lives to apply shariaa or wipe Israel off the map. I should also point out that the protesters also had no interest in stoning adulterers to death. Their demands were for a job with a decent income, an end to the 30-year-long emergency rule, safe roads and public transportation, fair elections and a police force whose role is to protect rather than intimidate them.

Despite an endless number of international human rights reports condemning Egypt and giving the country a very poor ranking in the various global freedom and transparency indices, Joe Biden, the US vice-president, unashamedlyrefused to describe Mubarak as a dictator and said he should not step down . President Barack Obama himself described the Egyptian dictator as a “friend of the US” and a “force of stability in the region”.

The Obama administration, especially Hillary Clinton, keeps using the word “reform” instead of “change” when commenting on the situation in Egypt. What the Americans fail to understand is that Egyptians are willing now to sacrifice their lives for change and don’t want reform; they simply want Mubarak to step down and they want his regime to remove itself. Law and order will not be restored until this happens.

The problem is that international and domestic media reports about Egyptian politics have always been coated with a great deal of cynicism. The people of Egypt have for far too long been denied basic democratic rights based on dangerous misconceptions promoted by the regime itself. First, that free and fair elections would lead to a sweeping victory of the Muslim Brotherhood and hence would lead to instability in the region and a new threat to Israel. And that the consequences of democracy in Egypt would also involve the “ethnic cleansing” of the country’s Coptic Christian minority and the introduction of stoning and and other barbaric punishments.

But let’s take a look at the role of the main “religio-political” groups in the 25 January protest and following protests. Many Salafist groups have denounced the uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood was until the last minute reluctant to participate in the protest movement. Even the Coptic Church urged its followers not to participate in Tuesday’s protests.

Nonetheless, it was still the country’s biggest protest since the 18 January 1977 upheaval – despite the absence of Egypt’s main religious groups and institutes. During the protests, it is worth noting, no one chanted “Death to adulterers” or “Down with Israel”. There were no Qurans or crosses on display – instead, protesters were peacefully chanting “Freedom, freedom” and waving the Egyptian flag.

For far too long, people inside and outside of Egypt have turned a blind eye to the regime’s human rights violations due to their fear of the country’s Islamists and, in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The misconception that Islamists are waiting in line to seize power was based on the Brotherhood winning 88 seats (20 per cent) in the 2005 parliamentary elections. But many observers believe this number was carefully decided by the Mubarak regime itself to send a message to western superpowers about the supposed threat from Islamists – in order to resist the Bush administration’s pressure to democratise the country further.

The number was big enough to scare everyone they wanted to scare, but still not big enough for the Brothers to drive any real change in Egyptian politics. Interestingly, the regime “allocated” no seats at all for the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2010 elections, by which time US pressure – under Obama – had reduced.

It’s true that Egypt has seen growing conservatism and even extremism during the past three decades, in what has been described as a soft Islamic revolution. However, this growing trend has found a fertile ground to grow in the regime’s oppressive environment and systematic policies of impoverishing its people, such as its determined refusal to enforce a fair minimum wage despite a court ruling to that effect.

It seems, however, that the wave of Islamophobia, or in this case “Islamistphobia”, that hit the world after the September 11 attacks drove many to turn a blind eye to their ideals of freedom, liberty and human rights, including President Obama, who has always raised the banner of change and liberty but has been a great deal softer with the 82-year-old Egyptian despot than his predecessor.

If Washington continues to support “reform” rather than “change” in Egypt, it gives way to Islamists to present themselves as the only saviour to the Egyptian people, and risks having a confrontational, radical Islamist regime and a populace full of bitterness towards a nation, the United States, that refused to support the struggle for basic human rights, and chose instead to support a dictator who committed countless crimes against his own people.

 

 

Originally published in the newstatesman and republished here with the author’s permission. Courtesy of:

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/01/egypt-regime-rights-islamists

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A Manifesto for Change in Egypt, by Mohamed Elbaradei

When Egypt had parliamentary elections only two months ago, they were completely rigged. The party of President Hosni Mubarak left the opposition with only 3 percent of the seats. Imagine that. And the American government said that it was “dismayed.” Well, frankly, I was dismayed that all it could say is that it was dismayed. The word was hardly adequate to express the way the Egyptian people felt.

Then, as protests built in the streets of Egypt following the overthrow of Tunisia’s dictator, I heard Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assessment that the government in Egypt is “stable” and “looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people”. I wasflabbergasted—and I was puzzled. What did she mean by stable, and at what price? Is it the stability of 29 years of “emergency” laws, a president with imperial power for 30 years, a parliament that is almost a mockery, a judiciary that is not independent? Is that what you call stability? I am sure not. And I am positive that it is not the standard you apply to other countries. What we see in Egypt is pseudo-stability, because real stability only comes with a democratically elected government.

If you would like to know why the United States does not have credibility in the Middle East, that is precisely the answer. People were absolutely disappointed in the way you reacted to Egypt’s last election. You reaffirmed their belief that you are applying a double standard for your friends, and siding with an authoritarian regime just because you think it represents your interests. We are staring at social disintegration, economic stagnation, political repression, and we do not hear anything from you, the Americans, or for that matter from the Europeans.

So when you say the Egyptian government is looking for ways to respond to the needs of the Egyptian people, I feel like saying, “Well, it’s too late!” This isn’t even goodrealpolitik. We have seen what happened in Tunisia, and before that in Iran. That should teach people there is no stability except when you have government freely chosen by its own people.

Of course, you in the West have been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That’s obviously bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

Instead of equating political Islam with al Qaeda all the time, take a closer look. Historically, Islam was hijacked about 20 or 30 years after the Prophet and interpreted in such a way that the ruler has absolute power and is accountable only to God. That, of course, was a very convenient interpretation for whoever was the ruler. Only a few weeks ago, the leader of a group of ultra-conservative Muslims in Egypt issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for me to “repent” for inciting public opposition to President Hosni Mubarak, and declaring the ruler has a right to kill me, if I do not desist. This sort of thing moves us toward the dark ages. But did we hear a single word of protest or denunciation from the Egyptian government? No.

Despite all of this, I have hoped to find a way toward change through peaceful means. In a country like Egypt, it’s not easy to get people to put down their names and government ID numbers on a document calling for fundamental democratic reforms, yet a million people have done just that. The regime, like the monkey that sees nothing and hears nothing, simply ignored us.

As a result, the young people of Egypt have lost patience, and what you’ve seen in the streets these last few days has all been organized by them. I have been out of Egypt because that is the only way I can be heard. I have been totally cut off from the local media when I am there. But I am going back to Cairo, and back onto the streets because, really, there is no choice. You go out there with this massive number of people, and you hope things will not turn ugly, but so far, the regime does not seem to have gotten that message.

Each day it gets harder to work with Mubarak’s government, even for a transition, and for many of the people you talk to in Egypt, that is no longer an option. They think he has been there 30 years, he is 83 years old, and it is time for a change. For them, the only option is a new beginning.

How long this can go on, I don’t know. In Egypt, as in Tunisia, there are other forces than just the president and the people. The army has been quite neutral so far, and I would expect it to remain that way. The soldiers and officers are part of the Egyptian people. They know the frustrations. They want to protect the nation.

But this week the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.

Mohamed ElBaradei was awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize along with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which he headed at the time. Since his retirement at the end of 2009, he has emerged as a political force in his native Egypt. His book, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times will be published in June.

Courtesy of The Daily Beast:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-26/mohamed-elbaradei-the-return-of-the-challenger/

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Statement

We, a group of Egyptians living abroad, believe we have the opportunity to support our sisters and brothers in their fight for freedom. We particularly have something to offer because we can access the world’s cyberspace, unlike our fellow besieged people in Egypt at this moment.

We believe that the crackdown on media and the internet will not stop the people of Egypt from going forward with their revolution. Moreover, we believe the measures taken to thwart the revolution do nothing but add to its fuel. We, Egyptians abroad, despite the distance, have the will to participate in overthrowing a regime that has been systematically torturing, impoverishing, and suppressing its people for the past 30 years. We are hopeful that this statement and set of suggestions will reach the conventional channels of news (not the internet) and cross the siege to reach the people of Egypt, so they can consider it.

Therefore, we think it will be better for Egypt now to have a temporary shadow government that enjoys popularity and acceptance among the people as an alternative to the current regime. In this state of lawlessness and anarchy, we believe that a shadow government could then come down to discuss the future of Egypt with the military and the international community representing the people of Egypt. We believe this can speed up the process of overthrowing Mubarak, an eminent and unavoidable reality, and make the restoration of law and order sooner than later. It restores calm and saves lives.

We urge the Egyptian people to appoint a shadow president and a spokesperson to deliver their demands and speak on their behalf. The obvious name that comes up to our mind is Mohamed Elbaradei due to his huge popularity, connection with different opposition groups in Egypt and governments and organizations around the world, but more importantly, for the influence that he had in igniting the revolution since he returned to
Egypt.

By:

Osama Diab, London-based journalist and writer

AbdulRahman El-Taliawi, Milano-based activist for Change

Amira Mohsen, London-based journalist

Nermine Wally, Paris-based socioeconomic researcher

Ibrahim Ismail, Jeddah-based civil engineer

Amira Elhawary, Australia-based photographer

Maher Hamoud, London-based journalist

Youssef Daoud, Paris-based lawyer

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