Egypt Links

by zunguzungu

The Egyptian cabinet building in Cairo has been evacuated and officials relocated after pro-democracy protesters gathered outside, sources tell Al Jazeera. Pro-democracy demonstrations are gaining momentum in the Egyptian capital, with some protesters moving from Tahrir [Liberation] Square to camp out in the area outside the parliament buildings. Protesters are demanding the assembly’s immediate dissolution. Wednesday’s developments came as public rallies calling for Hosni Mubarak to hand over power immediately entered their sixteenth day. (ALJ)

In response, appointed heir-apparent to the presidency, Omar Suleiman, threatened the protesters with a military coup d’etat if they didn’t disperse. This is the man the US has invested its hopes for “transition” and “stability.”

Folks in Tahrir gotta eat:

News about checkpoints almost always has to do with whether they will or will not allow food into Tahrir square at a given point. There seems to be no consistent policy for what is allowed in Tahrir and what isn’t (except for weapons, citizen checkpoints ensure that no weapons enter the square). One isn’t sure whether this is an intentional policy of irregularity and uncertainty or simply irregularity among the army soldiers at checkpoints acting on whims to the same effect. Similarly, there have been reports of confiscation and destruction of food by pro-Mubarak thugs, throwing bread into the Nile in what looks like a small scale scorched-earth tactic. At other times, such as “Bloody Wednesday,” besieged protestors had to time their entry and exit from the square carefully to avoid getting beaten or possibly killed on their way to get food.

From Global Voices, the KFC revolution:

According to the Egyptian blogger and writer Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, one phone caller to Egyptian television said that he had witnessed protesters eating from the famous American fried chicken restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), which led him to believe this was proof enough that they were traitors. Tawfik mocks the KFC situation here:

“Tens of phone calls have been received by the television channel, whereby callers made the smart point that they had seen the protesters eating from KFC, and that this was proof that they have foreign agendas. They seem to believe that no one can eat from the American chain without being an agent of foreign forces.”

Producing this satire :

David Africa, a South African security analyst, recommends the protestors play hardball:

Fundamental political change, in Africa and elsewhere, is always brought about by the forced removal or collapse of a regime or a negotiations process facilitated by a credible entity. It is never facilitated by an oppressive regime itself, and the Mubarak regime is certainly not set to create historical precedent in this instance. History is replete with examples of ostensibly sincere negotiations that were actually aimed at sustaining and sometimes rescuing an oppressive regime. The South African apartheid government thought it could negotiate while trying to decimate its chief negotiation partner in the early 1990s and Robert Mugabe negotiated with his Zimbabwean opposition while bludgeoning its supporters into submission in recent years…

Negotiation is a tactic of political warfare and the Egyptian resistance movement must realise that the Mubarak regime is using it as such. The regime seeks to use its Suleiman-led negotiations as a back door to retaining power. In doing so, to use a metaphor by South African anti-apartheid leader Joe Slovo, it is trying to prevent the resistance snowball from becoming an avalanche and sweeping it away.

Robert Naiman — of the Just Foreign Policy center — describes the steps the Egyptian government could immediately announce it was taking (but hasn’t) and which the US could publicly press for them to take (but hasn’t), which would give some indication that they were actually serious about living up to their words:

First, the Egyptian government can immediately stop arresting and harassing local and international journalists, bloggers, democracy activists, and human rights lawyers and release or charge and bring to court everyone it has detained. Some estimates have put the number of people arrested since January 25 at more than ten thousand.

Second, the Egyptian government can immediately move to repeal the emergency law, which in 2008 the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights declared to be “the main source for violations against human rights,” noting “a close relationship between the declaration of a state of emergency” and a pattern of routine torture.

Third, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that all political parties, including new ones, will be allowed to compete in the September election without discrimination, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

Fourth, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that the September election will be fully observed by Egyptian judges and independent monitors, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

Fifth, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that state media will be neutral in the September elections, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

The implementation of all of these reforms may not be immediately feasible, but there is no justification for delaying the statement of intent to enact them.

Human Rights Watch estimates the numbers of protesters killed since January 28:

Human Rights Watch has collected figures from doctors in eight hospitals giving a total of at least 302 killed in the unrest in Egypt since January 28, 2011. The breakdown of these figures is: 232 in Cairo, 52 in Alexandria, and 18 in Suez. These figures are based on unofficial information obtained from doctors by Human Rights Watch at two hospitals in Cairo, two in Alexandria, and one in Suez and by the International Federation for Human Rights, which visited a further three hospitals in Cairo…

According to some of the doctors to whom Human Rights Watch spoke, hospital officials have been under pressure to downplay the overall number of deaths. It is possible that the actual number of deaths is significantly higher than the 302 reported to Human Rights Watch, because that figure is based on visits to eight hospitals in only three cities.

Lenin’s Tomb points out that

The revolution in Egypt has partially been built on the back of workers’ struggles going on for several years, especially since the magnificent insurgency in Mahalla, the general strike in 2008, and the big strikes in Suez and Alexandria in 2009. This uprising has seen new groups of workers form independent trade unions, as a national labour movement takes shape. Yesterday, workers from five companies on the Suez Canal went onstrike. They’ve been joined by workers from government, sanitation, courts, and elsewhere. Railway technicians and oil workers are joining the militancy today, according to Hossam el-Hamalawy. Factories in Suez, Helwan and Mahalla have gone on strike, and more workers from Mahalla will be joining tomorrow. Strikes are popping up everywhere.

(also the NY Times on worker strikes)

Christopher Anzalone on the Muslim Brotherhood, and the various bogeyman myths produced of it:

The claim that al-Qaeda emerged seamlessly from the Brotherhood is the most egregious claim that has been made. Pundits who make this claim point to former members of the movement such as al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Faraj who founded militant jihadi-takfiri groups that declared Muslims with whom they disagreed to be apostates. A fact that it usually left out is that these individuals left the Brotherhood after it swore off the use of violence to achieve its ends. Al-Zawahiri, who had been an Brotherhood activist at age 14, was particularly bitter about the movement’s “betrayal” of “Islamic principles” and in the 1990s he wrote a lengthy monograph harshly criticizing it entitled The Bitter Harvest: The Muslim Brotherhood in 60 Years. For its part, the Brotherhood frequently condemns al-Qaeda in its public statements and positions.

On the origin of the “stability” vs. “chaos” meme, Ira Chernus traces it back to Roosevelt:

The Obama administration faces an agonizing choice:  Should we prioritize stability or democracy?  Or so the U.S. mass media almost unanimously tells us.  But how did our foreign policy establishment and its media scribes come to view the events unfolding in Egypt—and indeed events around the world—in the now taken-for-granted paradigm of “stability versus democracy”?…

It was during the Roosevelt era that the “stability versus democracy” paradigm, in the form so familiar to us, first crystallized. For decades that paradigm has been a fundamental lens through which policymakers, pundits, and general public have viewed world events. By now it is so pervasive, so deeply entrenched, so multifaceted, and so influential that it might well be called a mythic vision…It’s been that way at least since 1943, when Roosevelt faced a situation something like today’s Egypt crisis.  U.S. troops invaded Italy and toppled Mussolini.  What would the president do?  Ten years earlier he had written in a private letter that he was “deeply impressed” by what Mussolini had accomplished in Italy, that fascism there might restore order and then democracy.  Now, a decade later, FDR told Churchill that rather than risk a power vacuum he would deal with any new ruler who could “best give us first disarmament and second assurance against chaos.”  Churchill, too, worried about “chaos, bolshevisation, or civil war.”

From Jadaliyya (which I just assume you’re reading), Paul Amar, on “Why Egypt’s Progressives Win” and Samuli Scheele’s (lengthy) anthropologist’s diary of the revolution.

Mohammed A. Bamyeh reports on spontaneity in Tahrir square:

…in every sense the revolution maintained throughout a character of spontaneity, in the sense that it had no permanent organization.  Rather, organizational needs—for example governing how to communicate, what to do the next day, what to call that day, how to evacuate the injured, how to repulsebaltagiyya assaults, and even how to formulate demands—emerged in the field directly and continued to develop in response to new situations.  Further, the revolution lacked recognized leadership from beginning to end, a fact that seemed to matter greatly to observers but not to participants.  I saw several debates in which participants strongly resisted being represented by any existing group or leader, just as they resisted demands that they produce “representatives” that someone, such as al-Azhar or the government, could talk to.  When the government asked that someone be designated as a spokesperson for this revolt, many participants flippantly designated one of the disappeared, in the hope that being so designated might hasten his reappearance.  A common statement I heard was that it was “the people” who decide.  It appeared that the idea of peoplehood was now assumed to be either too grand to be representable by any concrete authority or leadership, or that such representation would dilute the profound, almost spiritual, implication of the notion of “the people” as a whole being on the move.

Spontaneity was a key element also because it made the Revolution hard to predict or control; and because it provided for an unusual level of dynamism and lightness—so long as many millions remained completely committed to a collective priority of bringing down the regime, represented by its president.  But it also appeared that spontaneity played a therapeutic and not simply organizational or ideological role.  More than one participant mentioned to me how the revolution was psychologically liberating, because all the repression that they had internalized as self-criticism and perception of inborn weakness, was in the revolutionary climate turned outwards as positive energy and a discovery of self-worth, real rather than superficial connectedness to others, and limitless power to change the frozen reality.  I heard the term “awakening” being used endlessly to describe the movement as a whole as a sort of spontaneous emergence out of a condition of deep slumber, which no party program had been able to shake off before.

Further, spontaneity was responsible, it seems, for the increasing ceiling of the goals of the uprising, from basic reform demands on January 25, to changing the entire regime three days later, to rejecting all concessions made by the regime while Mubarak was in office, to putting Mubarak on trial.  Removing Mubarak was in fact not anyone’s serious demand on January 25, when the relevant slogans condemned the possible candidacy of his son, and called on Mubarak himself simply not to run again.  But by the end of the day on January 28, the immediate removal of Mubarak from office had become an unwavering principle, and indeed it seemed then that it was about to happen.  Here one found out what was possible through spontaneous movement rather than a fixed program, organization or leadership.  Spontaneity thus became the compass of the Revolution and the way by which it found its way to what turned out to be its radical destination.

It proved therefore difficult to persuade protestors to give up the spontaneous character of the Revolution, since spontaneity had already proved its power…

and, of course, John Foster Dulles writes an advice column on the Egyptian revolution.