28 February, 2009
The ToGaza group staged another march yesterday - click the pic for my report in Daily News Egypt - and pledged that the campaign will continue. I'm the first to admit that this event only made the news because the crackdown on the previous march. It's worth noting that many of the participants this time were newcomers who decided to join after hearing about the last march - a clear sign that since the recent war on Gaza, many foreign students and others in Egypt really feel an urge to do something about Palestine, despite the obvious security constraints imposed on all forms of activism here.
27 February, 2009
26 February, 2009
* Leftist writer Elhami El-Marghani talked about the history of the railway workers in Egypt and the central role they played during the struggle against British colonialism, not least during the 1919 uprising when a strike stopped train traffic for more than a month, delivering a hard blow to the British by hindering their troop movements.
* Since the beginning of the 1980's there has been a push for privatization of the railway sector, opening it to participation of private companies. During this period wage differences within the state railways have also increased, with wages ranging from 200 pounds for the lowest paid workers, while engineers within the same company make at least 5000-7000 pounds, and top managers towards 25.000.
* Train drivers spoke about worsening working conditions, including shorter periods of rest and more overtime.
* Management always try to blame workers for accidents, while corruption, mismanagement and neglect of basic maintenance are the true reasons.
* Labour protests and strike within the state railways are always perceived by state as a political threat, even when they are about purely economic demands, because of the huge effects on society and economy when train traffic is stopped. This has positive and negative implications: While it makes it more likely that the government will give in to demands, it also increases the risk of violent repression.
* The government is dealing with railways and all public transport in a militaristic way. When train drivers go on strike, they always find themselves negotiating with state security, not the management. There was even a famous banner hung up after one strike, where the state-controled union express it's gratitute for "the presence of state security" during the strike.
* There is a state of fear among workers: "At any point, state security can come and ask for someone, and this person will not be seen again," one driver said.
* Railway workers are dispersed throughout the country, which makes any organizing around common demands more difficult. There is also a need to think about how to unit the different groups of workers: drivers, conductors, signal operators, technicians, and so on.
* One driver suggested that the best strategy for achieving unity is to demand a raise in the minimum base salary for all workers, instead of fighting for bonuses and allowances that are often specific for different categories of workers.
* There is also a need to unite the different groups of workers and civil servants that is currently struggling only for their own specifik demands. The demands for a national minimum wage of 1200 pounds that was put forward by workers in Mahalla before the aborted 6 April strike last year was a major step in this direction - and a major reason that the state decided to intervene forcefully to stop the strike.
* There is currently a campaign by civil society organizations and oppositions groups to pressure for a new trade union law that would establish the basic principles for independent unions: any group of workers should have the right to form a union without having to gain recognition from authorities, the ultimate power within the union rests with the general assembly, union elections should take place every year (not once every 5 years as is the case today) and outside the working place.
* In order to enable organized and sustainable stikes, it's important to establish some kind of strike funds.
* Train drivers described all the strikes that has taken place within the railway sector since the 80's and until now as very disorganized, spontaneous eruptions of anger.
* There is an acute need to find ways to transfer experiences and lessons learned from one generation of workers and activists to another, in order to avoid having to start from zero again and again.
* Building unions and a strong labour movement is a long-term process. It's does no good rushing out to the streets and shouting "down with Mubarak."
* An activist from the center for socialist studies emphasized the value of spontaneous protests, as they are what gives consciousness and experience. "The spontaneous protests that have taken place recently is the reason we are here today," he pointed out.
* "There's nothing wrong with experimenting," Elhami el-Marghani pointed out. "But the problem is when there is no evaluation afterwards. After the 6 April events, activists immediately decided to call for a new strike in May, without any serious evaluation of what had happened."
* It's very important for political forces and activists to support workers struggles, even if only by visiting striking workers and show support, to strenghten their morale.
* Lawyer Ahmed Ezzat made a call for supporting the workers in Mahalla that are currently being targeted by a campaign of intimidation.
25 February, 2009
Click the pic for my report in Daily News Egypt about the development project for northern Giza. The first stages of this project is centering on the old Imbaba Airport, seen in the picture above - with the affluent Mohandiseen area in the backgrund. The airport was used primarily for pilot training, but was closed down some 8 years ago. One of the reasons it was closed down was that the surrounding informal residential areas and slums had grown to close, with buildings making the navigation harder and apparently causing some accidents. Today, the area is used mainly as a football field by local kids.
The development plans include connecting the end of Ahmed Orabi street with the Ring Road, construction of new residential areas and a "public park." To complete these plans, some of the current residents will ondoubtedly have to be removed, but it is unclear exactly how many.
As I walked around the narrow alleys of Ezbet el-Matar and other areas, most people I spoke to had heard about the development project, but said they knew nothing about how they would be affected. Many simply refused to talk about it. "People here are afraid," one man told me. "They think they will get in trouble if they talk to the media. And most of them don't like journalists anyway. Last week a TV-crew came here and started filming. The filmed people and the garbage in the streets. When we asked what they wanted, they told us to mind our own business!"
When I asked him what he knew about the project, he pointed towards the distant high-rises in Mohandiseen and said: "The only thing I know is that these are the people who will benefit from this. Once the area is developed, it's going to be for the rich. Not a single one of us who live here now could afford to stay."
Asked if he would agree to leave his house if he received compensation, he replied firmly: "I don't want compensation. I'm not moving anywhere."
24 February, 2009
It seems the management of Misr Spinning and Weaving in Mahalla must have been listening, because it has filed a court case against Ibrahim Eissa, the editor al-Doustour, as well as labour journalist Mustapha Bassiouny and the papers Mahalla correspondent Mohamed abu el-Dahab, accusing them of inciting the workers at the factory in an article published ahead of an anti-privatization protest that took place in October.
It's likely we'll see more attacks on the opposition media, and especially on papers like el-Badeel and al-Dostour that cover a lot of the strikes and protests that is happening in Egypt, in the coming year. With the global economy going into a recession that already hurt Egypt badly, it must be tempting for the government to deal with the crisis in the way any healthy authoritarian government would do: Eliminating the problems by shooting the messenger.
23 February, 2009
21 February, 2009
Students from a broad range of political currents - from Muslim Brotherhood to socialists, nasserists and the "6 April movement" - demonstrated for several hours at Cairo University today, protesting security interventions on universities and rising tuition fees. Needless to say, the security presence outside the main gates was massive. The students were allowed to protest just outside the campus - surrounded by hundreds of riot police - only after they attempted to force open the locked gates.
Click the pic above for a set of photos on flickr, or here for Hossam al-Hamalawy's links to updates and reports about the protest.
There has been some confusion as to why this was announced in some places as an "International Student Day" event, as this day is in November. Zeinobia has a post here with some of the historical background to the National Student Day, an Egyptian event that, just like the Police Day celebrated a month ago, has it's origins in the struggle against British colonialim after World War Two.
Additional note: It's worth mentioning that on this day four years ago the third demonstration by the Kifaya-movement took place in the exact same spot, outside the main gate of Cairo University. It was described by Al-Ahram Weekly as "the largest anti-Mubarak demonstration that had ever taken place." The scenario described in the article was similar to that of today, with students allowed to join the demonstration outside the gates only after climbing on and rattling the chained iron gates.
19 February, 2009
Update: A lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and a member of al-Ghad both confirm that Hossam Shahata did visit Rafah - but without crossing the border to Gaza. Hossam Shahata and Diaa Gad also held a protest outside the public prosecutors office demanding the release of Magdy Hussein, almost three weeks ago - according to a jaiku sent by Gad at that time. So the disappearance of Gad and Shahata is very likely to be connected.
According to information floating around in cyberspace members of Al-Ghad and the 6 April movement were supposed to gather outside the Public Prosecutors office today at noon. The only ones who showed up, however, was the usual assorted security men, with or without uniform. An officer told me, with a gleeful smile and obvious satisfaction: "Yeah, we came because there was supposed to be a demonstration for Hossam Shahata, but no one came."
18 February, 2009
Not surprinsingly these sudden developments has led to speculations in media and blogs that Nour's release was "a gesture of goodwill to the Obama administration." Zeinobia writes: "The Washington Post was speaking from two days ago that Mubarak wanted to meet with Obama in the first 100 days and the White House put some conditions : The Release of Ayman Nour and the Return of Saad El-Din Ibrahim."
It's possible. Adding my own wild conspiracy theories to the speculations, I can't help but wonder if there is any relation between the release of Nour and the probable detention by state security of a party activist last week. Was the "disappearance" of Hossam Shahata some kind of revenge for the administrative court decision? Or a signal that even as Nour is released in order to appease Obama and easen the pressures for "reform", the security apparatus will persist in it's harassment of party activists in order to prevent al-Ghad from capitalizing on Nours release to broaden it's support base? Or (most likely) was the kidnapping just "business as usual," part of the daily routine repression that Obama is now going to ignore because one of thousands of political prisoners was released?
Update: More on Hossam Shahata.
The most disturbing part of this story is perhaps the fact that it took so long before it was even reported. Maybe because there is so much of this kind going on now that another disappearance is hardly noticed... Of course I don't read all Egyptian newspapers and blogs, so maybe I'm the only one that didn't notice. But al-Ghad is after all a party with a lot of media contacts, they should have been able to make a big fuss about this.
17 February, 2009
I heard about this game but didn't see the clip until today.
I note that the Left Party in Sweden, as well as the youth and womens sections of the Social Democrats is demanding a boycott of the upcoming tennis game between Sweden and Israel, to be played between 6 and 8 March. Similar calls were heard before the olympic games in China, and of course didn't have any effect. In this case, however, the game is played in Sweden, not in a distant police state, so it's very likely that there will at least be large demonstrations in connection to the game. Media has been speculating that Israel might want to send it's own security agents to Sweden in order protect the team and the ambassadors to Sweden and Denmark in case they attend the game. The boycott campaign caught the attention of Jerusalem Post after an activist threw a shoe at the Israeli ambassador during a public lecture at Stockholm University.
One of the groups that support a boycott has set up the blog "Stop the Game" in Swedish as well as Arabic (although the arabic version only have one post so far).
But the most damning verdict was passed by a reader commenting on the el-Badeel article on-line, who caught my attention with these words (roughly translated): "The last bastion of freedom and justice in Egypt has fallen. The nation is now the property of the military, and Egypt turned into a police state of the first degree. We will soon hear about military trials for civilian politicians opposing the government [wait - isn't this already happening?] ... Bye bye freedoms, bye bye Egypt."
As Zeinobia writes, this strike is not like most others in Egypt: "First of all the Syndication is insisting on its demands and the minister of health is backing them, describing the strike as a civilized one. This is a very rare statement from an official regarding a strike in Egypt."
It's true that this is rare - but at the same time, it's not surprising that the health minister would try and score political points by backing demands that has to do with decisions taken by the finance ministry. (The issue here is a new law that would impose higher taxes on the farmacists)
What really makes this strike different is this simple fact: strikes are usually about workers putting pressure on employers. In this case, however, big chains like Seif Pharmacies and Misr Pharmacies have decided to close their shops - "in solidarity with the union" according to notes posted on the doors of local branches. So it's clearly about employers and small shop-owners taking on the finance ministry. And while workers on strike hope to win their demands by causing economic losses for the employer, the pharmacists can never hope to do the same.
One of the pharmacists interviewed by Daily News estimated that the strike will reduce revenues from medicine sales by 12 million per day. This affects primarily the drug companies and the pharmacists themselves, and the state only indirectly, by reduced tax revenues. So the pharmacists only chance to win is by raising the political costs for the government, trying to create public support for their demands (or at least anger at the government as frustrated customers demand badly needed medicines and even more badly needed cosmetics), until some compromise is reached - or they are forced to open their stores in order to avoid bancruptcy.
The striking pharmacists are clearly not part of the Egyptian labour movement or trade union movement then. But this doesn't mean, of course, that their demands cannot be legitimate or that their campaign shouldn't be seen as a part of the general wave of political and social protests in Egypt during the last few years. It's another sign that more and more people from different segments of society are willing to openly challenge the policies of the government and fight for what they perceive as just demands.
Update: This confirms what I wrote above: "Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly said he ordered all state-owned pharmacies — which are mostly part of state hospitals and clinics — to stay open 24 hours, to counter any effects of the private-sector strike." Doesn't this mean that if the strike continues, customers will turn to state owned pharmacies, increasing the revenues of the state while ruining the striking businesses? In the end, the lack of economic logic in this strike only strenghtes the impression that this is a desperate campaign, a result of the absence of any other means to influence the policies of the utterly authoritarian government.
16 February, 2009
According to a report in al-Youm al-Sabi3, Hussein sent a letter to his wife stating that we doesn't want to present a plea for pardon to the president, as his party was planning.
15 February, 2009
I agree with most of his points, and maybe I should point out that when I post summaries of articles like these it doesn't necessarily mean that I guarantee their accuracy. In this case, the original article refered (without any critical scrutiny) to an alarming report used by an independent MP to criticize the government's economic policies, and the numbers mentioned should definitely not be taken for granted. There are problems not only with scientific method but with journalistic standards here. Ideally the reporter should at least have asked some independent psychiatrist to comment on the claims made in the report.
I still found the report interesting, however, because the fact that a politician could deem it useful to present this kind of argument (and journalists find it worth reporting) says something about the general outlook of the Egyptian public towards the state of the economy. Anyway, by blogging this item at least I provoked an interesting discussion...
Pic above: The sign reads "Farmers of Daqahleya, no alternative but land, we won't leave without a reply."
14 February, 2009
"The Gaza Strip is a different form of concentration camp. No Palestinian- whether students, the sick, businessmen and women- can travel beyond its borders and Israel permits only a very very few internationals to enter. These- mainly journalists and NGO workers like I used to be- remind me of zoo visitors that take pictures and talk about the terrible conditions of the animals in their cages but then leave, in the meantime Gaza remains the same. According to the UN 85% of Gazans are reliant on food aid, again like animals in a zoo they are fed and kept alive, but barely. Leaked reports from the Red Cross recently reported high percentages of malnutrition of children especially in the refugee camps- 70% of Gazans are refugees from 1948. The purpose of our protest march was and continues to be to raise awareness of the ongoing siege on Gaza building on the momentum of protest during the Israeli military onslaught on Gaza at the start of this year.
Your outrage about my unjustified imprisonment mirrors my outrage about this ongoing injustice done to the Palestinian people. If our governments and representatives the world over will not change the status quo we- the multitude-must mobilize, on the streets, on the web, in government, in schools, anywhere to call for change. Such an outrage changed South Africa not that long ago and it can change the injustice carried out against Palestinians today.
Email us your ideas and actions here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow up with us here: togaza.net"
While there is no way for me to judge the scientific credibility of this report, the numbers - if they are correct - point to a horrifying trend: In 2005 there was around 1100 suicides, in 2006 the number had risen to 2300 and in 2007 to 3700. In 2008 the number had almost doubled again, making the total 12.000 for the last 4 years. It's not unlikely that this trend is related to the dramatic rise in food prices and increasing economic hardships for Egypt's poor during the last years. With the global depression about to hit the tourism industry and other sectors of the Egyptian economy, the future looks dark.
According to The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information "bloggers have become a major target of the police authorities in Egypt and all these assaults are committed outside the law or under the cloak of the emergency state. ANHRI demands that all defenders of freedom of expression join hands to bring an end to this abominable state of emergency."
13 February, 2009
12 February, 2009
30.000 real estate tax collectors have signed the founding statement of the Free Union, el-Badeel reports. More than 300 collective resignation letters have been sent to the state-backed union. Representatives of the union also extended their support to the workers in Mahalla, firmly rejecting accusations of the state-controled union that attempts to establish a free union there is illegal and funded by organizations with a "foreign agenda". Leading unionist Kamal abu Eita says that such accusations can only come from "someone who doesn't know anything about the international agreements that Egypt signed", adding that it is in fact the state-controlled union that is operating outside the law.
Interviewed by ANHRI, Philip said, “I was repeatedly questioned about everything and I was terrified. Although I was not abused physically, I was blind-folded all the time. Officers kept saying to me: "Do you know what we can do to you?", and I was threatened with long term imprisonment. They asked me if I supported Hamas, was working for Israel, and, being Christian, if I was an evangelist. I was never informed of any charges against me.”
Besides these threats directed towards Philip, there was also the disturbing refusal to give any information to lawyers, friends and family members about his location, health condition, or why he was being detained. This was a deliberate tactic, of course. The act of "disappearing" someone, whether it's for a short period of a few days, or permanently, is in itself a calculated and cruel method of torture and intimidation, targeting family, friends, and other activists. It leaves them in a painful state of uncertainty, which also amplifies the effect of further threats. As Sarah Carr writes in a powerful post on her blog:
The Egyptian regime is clearly displaying an amount of irrational paranoia regarding anything related to Gaza. But it also seems to me that the tactics of State Security during the last few days has been carefully calculated in order to have maximal intimidation effect, especially on the foreigners who took part in the Gaza solidarity March on Friday, while causing the least possible amount of international criticism. As many others have suggested, this may have been why they singled out a dual national from the participants in the March.
It is remarkable how little effort the footmen of a police state have to put into intimidation. The mere suggestion of a threat, of danger, is enough. The invisible scarecrow.
The strategy works because of the not knowing, the waiting, which entirely consumes novices. Every act, every decision, every word is suddenly imbued with a new significance. Immediately after the threat is received, things seem to speed up somehow, and the outside world retreats – or is blocked out - a little. External sounds become distant as the deafening fear courses through the bloodstream from the stomach and the heart until it reaches the head, where it sits like spilt oil on seawater, choking hope and happiness and normal thought. And in that moment they've won.
This balancing act, weighting the costs and benefits of repression, is something the Mubarak regime has spent almost 30 years mastering. This time they may have miscalculated, since they could not imagine the amount of solidarity and media attention directed to the case. But in the long run, the discouraging effect this episode may have on foreigners otherwise inclined to join protests or political media-stunts in Egypt under the cover of the protection granted to them as holders of European or US passports, might still be regarded as a benefit that outweights the short-term political cost.
And needless to say, the fact that the regime can arrest thousands of opposition activists or try people in military courts merely for visiting Gaza in solidarity (leaving and returning to your own country beeing a basic Human Right) withouth causing any international uproar, shows that the cost-benefit analysis still works to the advantage of the regime. If change is to happen in Egypt, this equation need to be altered.
11 February, 2009
Meanwhile, a military court in Ismailiyya is expected to announce the verdict today against Magdy Hussein who was arrested after visiting Gaza in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Other also remain detained, including pro-Palestine bloggers Mohammad Adel and Diaa El Dein Gad. Let's not forget about them.
Update: Magdy Hussein was sentenced to 2 years in prison.
10 February, 2009
Volleyball and Civil War
Gaza: Calm before the storm
Sderot created the Gaza Strip
Visiting The Dead in Gaza
Awaking to a different Gaza
The desecration of democracy
The failing of Gaza
A family under siege
My birthday in Jabalya refugee camp
“This happened within the framework of the Egyptian law. You can go to the office of the general prosecutor. I have no information about Philip. Who said they don’t know where he is? What is the secret behind the interest of The New York Times in Philip? Are you working for human rights organizations?”
It's funny he should say that, considering we did go to the general prosecutor, who claimed he doesn't know anything about the whole thing.
The Chicago Sun-Times also reports that around 40 people gathered outside the Egyptian consulate on Northern Michigan yesterday to demand Philip's release.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that 22 year old pro-Palestinian blogger Diaeddin Gad was also detained in Gharbiyya on Friday.
"Al Masriyya Fertilizer is a company owned by Unsi and Naseef Sawiris, under the umbrella of Orascom for Construction. The company signed a deal to export 1000 tons of phosphate fertilizers to Israel, (100 tons a week). The company has a labor force of roughly 800. Two days ago the packaging workers were shocked to see the management asking them to package the products in unmarked bags to be transported "somewhere" by Jordanian truck drivers. The workers (around 100) went on strike suspecting rightly this shipment was for Israel. The management cracked down, deducting 15-days of everyone's salary!"
09 February, 2009
Words cannot even begin to describe how inappropiate this is, considering that the article is about a peace activist and writer - and arguably one of the most friendly and peaceful personalities I've ever met - who was just kidnappad mafia-style and taken to a secret location where he risk torture, instead of being where he should be: finishing his documentary film about non-violent resistance against the occupation in Palestinian villages!
It all makes sense, however, when you read this sentence in the article itself: "The Egyptian government fears opening the border would ease pressure on the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza and supports exporting radical Islam across the region." Now, you can say a lot about Hamas, but "exporting radical Islam across the region"? When? How? Where? The Egyptian government could save a lot of the money it spends on propaganda if LA Times reporters are going to do it for them.
"At 1:30am when we had just gone to bed the doorbell rang. 5 plain clothed men and two in full riot gear and machine guns stood outside our door. They wanted to enter to search the house. We found out that they were looking for evidence against Philip. Two men entered and began searching through the papers of our home office..."
The police came back a second time, and didn't leave until 5 am.
This kind of behaviour can have absolutely no purpose whatsover other than terrorizing the family. It's disgusting. But at the same time, of course, for the agents involved it's routine, since rule by fear is the only method known to this US- and EU-funded government of gangsters.
Clearly, this nightly visit was a calculated attempt to terrorize the whole family as a punishment for Philip's activism. If state security actually did believe that Philip constitutes some kind of security threat, why the heck did they wait more than 48 hours before doing this search?
But this whole affair is also a symptom of the serious paranoia that has infected the Egyptian state. After three decades with Hosni Mubarak in power, the regime is starting to show signs of senility. It has bought its own propaganda about Hamas and the Palestinians being a threat to Egyptian national security, to the extent that they fear anyone who dare raise his voice about Gaza. The absurdity of the situation is beyond all imagination: it is actually less dangerous today to go to stairs of the press syndicate and shout "down with Mubarak" than doing a peaceful march in solidarity with the Palestinians.
State security has inofficially confirmed that he is being held for "further questioning."
Protests will be held every Monday and Wednesday at 10 am on the AUC campus, demanding his release.
Another protest is planned on Tuesday, 6 pm, outside the Press Syndicate in Downtown Cairo to demand the release of a number of pro-Gaza detainees, including: Philip Rizk, Magdy Hussein, Ahmed Doma, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Kordy.
Meanwhile, if you are not in Egypt and cannot join these protests, another way to honor Philip and other political detainees in Egypt is to join any pro-Palestine protest or campaign in your area. Phillip Rizk did not commit any other crime than being a passionate supporter of the human rights of the Palestinian people. Wherever he is, I'm sure that what he would want more than anything right now is for more people around the world to speak up against the occupation and the complicity of governments around the world in the systematic ethnic cleansing- and apartheid policies being pursued by Israel...
08 February, 2009
"This kidnapping occurred with the complicity of the police – the laughing general – so the police are out of the picture. The judicial system meanwhile has been entirely emasculated by what is a mafia given a legal licence to operate freely. They are above the law in the sense that they have trampled, spat and shat all over it, reducing it to the crumpled up betting forms which litter racetracks after bets gone wrong: yes in theory there is a remote chance that the law might protect you, but your odds depend on who you are, and where you're from, and who you know, and the mood of the state security officer holding you.
Like me, Philip is half-Egyptian, half-another nationality which carries some weight, and I truly hope that this both protects him while he's in the custody of this gang and ensures his release.But think for a moment of the Egyptians without another nationality and the protection is affords, without foreign friends. What a truly sorry state of affairs, Egyptians in state security custody who are turned into ghosts, the odds of their escaping this mafia intact - physically, mentally and in terms of their dignity – virtually impossible. Unreachable and lost."
I can only agree with this. It was really amazing to see so many of Philips teachers, friends, and even some AUC students who didn't know him personally to show up with short notice yesterday outside the prosecutors office to demand his release - facing, of course, a ridiculuosly massive security presence and the usual attempts of intimidation while doing so. But it also made me sad because I knew that this protest was tolerated only because it involved a large number of foreigners and AUC professors and students. Even as we do all we can to ensure Philip's safe release, we should at least give a moment of thought to the Egyptians that has been detained and imprisoned by the Egyptian state-mafia for political reasons, like the Mahalla scapegoats or the hundreds that were detained for protesting the Israeli assault on Gaza, sometimes being beaten unconscious in the process.
07 February, 2009
05 February, 2009
Railway workers at the workshop in Kom Abu Radi in al-Wasta went on strike on Monday, demanding the implementation of earlier promises of increased monthly incentives, al-Youm al-Sabi3 reports. According to the report, clashes took place between the workers and central security forces as they gathered in the station in al-Wasta, preventing some trains from moving. One officer and more than ten workers were wounded. Despite this, the strike continued on Wednesday. A meeting was held with the manager of the company for railway services on Wednesday, where he agreed to implement some of the demands of the workers. No union officials took part in the meeting, according to the workers.
Here's the funny thing: While the first event didn't cause much concern in Sweden, I predict that tomorrow's newspapers will be filled with condemnations of today's terrorist act against the ambassador, which clearly constitutes an assault on Democracy itself. But shooting unarmed civilians protesting Apartheid doesn't, of course.
04 February, 2009
03 February, 2009
The essence of Bradley's take on history is captured in this amazing sentence: "Nasser's coup got rid of everything that was good in Egypt, and slowly replaced everything that was bad with something much worse."
Thus, everything that is bad in Egypt today ultimately derive from the wrongdoings of Nasser and his cronies, described as having "none of the positive attributes of the former decadent, but culturally sophisticated, aristocracy they had replaced and humiliated." (Note that cultural sophistication is the only "positive attribute" of the ruling aristocracy that the author bothers to mention here, perhaps because there were no others)
In his scarce references to the situation before the Free Officer's coup, Bradley gives the impression that it was a wonderland of democracy. Thus, he writes that "Nasser banned the opposition political parties that had similarly thrived in prerevolutionary Egypt." While the first part of this sentence is certainly true, it doesn't exactly hit the spot to say that opposition parties "thrived" in prerevolutionary Egypt, as communists and muslim brothers alike were persecuted and British colonial officials repeatedly intervened in national politics, while striking workers and demonstrating students were often shot and killed by the police.
In one paragraph, Bradley describes the prerevolutionary era as "a time when Egyptian society's undoubted inequalities and exploitative political manipulation by outside powers were somehow tempered by the refined high culture of tolerance, cosmopolitanism, intellectualism and architectural extravagance." It's a beautiful sentence, but I fail to see exactly what role "architectural extravagance" or "high culture" played in tempering "inequalities," since the latter were constantly on the rise in Farouq's Egypt.
The intellectual weakness of Bradley's reasoning is displayed most clearly in the following paragraph:
"By the interwar years of the early twentieth century, after Egypt had been granted nominal sovereignty by the British and was ruled by a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy [sic] in all matters except national security and control of the Suez Canal, Cairo became the most cosmopolitan city in the world. But six months before the 1952 revolution, on a day remembered as Black Saturday, anti-British mobs torched Cairo's Western landmarks including the Turf Club, major hotels, banks, cinemas, and residences.... Nasser's Free Officers would hijack the popular unrest to seize power."
The problem here is that since the Cairo fires or "Black Saturday" occurred before the revolution, the Free Officers and Nasser clearly cannot be blamed for it. So if Cairo somehow changed from "the most cosmopolitan city in the world" to one where raging "mobs" would attack and set fire to British targets, then surely this must be the responsibility of the prerevolutionary regime.
Bradley's take on prerevolutionary Egypt is completely in line with official British imperial history - perhaps not surprising for someone who has been reporting regularly for The Economist and The Financial Times. It's very revealing, for example, that Bradley doesn't care to mention the incident that preceded and triggered the Cairo fires: the attack by British forces on a police station in Ismailiyya - during which tens of police and gendarmes were killed - an event that was perceived by the public opinion in Cairo as an outrageous massacre.
Most importantly, the all too common idea of early 20th century Cairo as a cosmopolitan heaven must itself be critically examined, since this would certainly not apply to Egyptian workers and government clerks who were being systematically discriminated against in favor of Europeans, or to the rural migrants who were deported back to the countryside to preserve the social order in "cosmopolitan" Cairo. But as often seem to be the case with writers in the tradition of colonial nostalgia, "cosmopolitan" here should perhaps be interpreted simply as "dominated by foreigners."
"A central feature of this program was rendition to torture, namely that the prisoner was turned over to cooperating foreign governments with the full understanding that those governments would apply techniques that even the Bush Administration considers to be torture. /---/ The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture."
However, as pointed out by Arabist, in the case of renditions to Egypt, even the earlier program did lead to trial in exceptional courts and torture.
Update: Sarah Carr sent me a link to an interesting post by Allan Nairn on this subject. An excerpt:
"If you're lying on the slab still breathing, with your torturer hanging over you, you don't much care if he is an American or a mere United States - sponsored trainee. /---/ The catch lies in the fact that since Vietnam, when US forces often tortured directly, the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by proxy -- paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed. That is, the US tended to do it that way until Bush and Cheney changed protocol, and had many Americans laying on hands, and sometimes taking digital photos. The result was a public relations fiasco that enraged the US establishment since by exposing US techniques to the world it diminished US power. But despite the outrage, the fact of the matter was that the Bush/Cheney tortures being done by Americans were a negligible percentage of all of the tortures being done by US clients.For every torment inflicted directly by Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the secret prisons, there were many times more being meted out by US-sponsored foreign forces."
Read the rest.
It was just a show, of course, as Stratfor writes: "Turkey is effectively an ally of Israel. Given this alliance, the recent events in Gaza put Erdogan in a difficult position. The Turkish prime minister needed to show his opposition to Israel’s policies to his followers in Turkey’s moderate Islamist community without alarming Turkey’s military that he was moving to rupture relations with Israel." (By the way, I believe the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would face the same problem if they ever came to power).
For the participants of the WEF this event probably came as a welcome distraction, as they are unable to come up with any credible answers to the global economic crisis, which according to the ILO is threatening the jobs of 50 million people, and may push 200 million workers into poverty. After all, those folks gathering at the WEF are the ones who created the conditions for this crisis in the first place, aren't they?
It's not surprising then that a number of Latin American presidents decided to abandon the WEF and instead go to the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil. Generating some pathetic coverage in the international media of course; This meeting of more than 100.000 activists from around the world was reviewed by the AFP correspondent in this way: "Through it all, references to the global economic crisis were rife. But few realistic solutions were advanced."
Never mind that this journalist hardly did any serious attempt to examine the multitude of proposals and solutions that does exist at the WSF, chosing instead to refer dismissively to the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the leftist groups that participated. But of course it's very "realistic" to maintain a system that is threatening to throw 50 million people out of their jobs and push 200 million into poverty?
02 February, 2009
This is not a big surprise, at least if you keep in mind that the illegal renditions was introduced already by democrat president Bill Clinton, before the Bush-era and the "war on terror." What really makes me concerned is this part of the LA Times article:
The decision to preserve the program did not draw major protests, even among human rights groups. Leaders of such organizations attribute that to a sense that nations need certain tools to combat terrorism. "Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place" for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch."What I heard loud and clear from the president's order was that they want to design a system that doesn't result in people being sent to foreign dungeons to be tortured -- but that designing that system is going to take some time."
Is this the new strategy of human rights watchdogs in the Obama-era? Are they suddenly going to trust the good intentions of governments, softening their criticism in gratitude for any small positive measures being taken? I hope not, but also fear this is a consequence of the general liberal attitude which says that the problem is not so much with the "war on terror" itself, but the particular way it was being conducted by the Bush administration.
Totally unrepresentative and unscientific, of course, but kind of interesting nevertheless...
For those interested in a discussion of this topic (in arabic) from a leftist perspective, I see that the center for socialist studies in Cairo is holding a public lecture tonight at 6 pm, entitled "Victory for the Resistance?"
01 February, 2009
Note that this report was published yesterday, so the situation might have changed since then. For more background: Here's my last post about the railway struggle, and here is Hossam el-Hamalawys links. Also read Zeinobia's posting about the railway and bus strikes. And here is a report in the Daily News with details about the new incentives presented by the ministry of transport.