In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
On Friday, we wrote about the arrest of Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, who was detained at Cairo International Airport as he returned from a series of meetings with officials and speaking engagements in the United States. The Daily News Egypt reports that Maher was released on Saturday after spending the night in Cairo's al-Aqrab prison, and that he remains under investigation for "inciting a protest" in March at the home of the minister of the interior. Several Egyptian political parties have condemned Maher's arrest, though they have also distanced themselves from his politics and protest tactics. Upon his release, Maher tweeted out thanks to his supporters and urged them to show the same support for Egyptian political activists still in prison.
Maher co-founded the April 6 Youth Movement, which was instrumental in Egypt's 2011 revolution. Though he supported Mohamed Morsy's presidential campaign, he has since become a vocal critic of Morsy's government and the pace of security sector reforms.
In addition to still being under investigation, Ahram Online reports that Maher was injured in a severe car crash today. The circumstances of the crash are unclear, and Maher is now filing a police report to determine if the collision "was caused by a criminal act."
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian activist Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, was arrested at the Cairo International Airport on Friday, according to Egyptian press reports. He was returning to Egypt from a 13-day trip to the United States hosted by the Milken Institute and the Project on Middle East Democracy, during which he met with officials from the State Department, the Obama administration, and Congress, and spoke at universities and the Milken Institute Global Conference. "The goal of Maher's trip," according to a press release from POMED, "was to highlight the many challenges to democratic progress in Egypt, including a widespread crackdown on freedom of speech, assembly, and association."
Egypt's Ahram Online reports that Maher's arrest is in connection with a March 28 protest outside the residence of the Egyptian minister of the interior in which activists waved women's clothing and banners claiming the ministry had "prostituted" itself to the government of President Mohamed Morsy. Maher tweeted a picture from the protest, "Now in front of the house of the minister of the interior."
?? ???? ???? ???? ???????? ???? twitter.com/GhostyMaher/st…— ?Ahmed Maher (@GhostyMaher) March 28, 2013
Four members of the April 6 Youth Movement were arrested and then released last month for their involvement in the protest. At the time, a spokesman for April 6 told Ahram Online that no arrest warrant had been issued for Maher. But today, an Egyptian official told AFP that "the prosecution has decided to jail Ahmed Maher for four days as part of the investigation."
Maher and April 6 supported the candidacy of Mohamed Morsy. But since the country's constitutional crisis in November, he has felt disillusioned by the new government. "This regime is the same old regime, but has a religious atmosphere or shape," he said at an event at the New America Foundation on Monday. It has "the same rules, the same constitution ... the same behavior, the same strategy, the same politics -- so we need to keep the struggle until step down all of that regime."
Maher also knows the potential consequences of his protests. "Our members are arrested now and in the jail, and sometimes are tortured. So our role now is to keep the struggle," he said Monday. It's not his first arrest, either -- in fact, Maher was arrested for organizing protests as early as 2008, years before the January 2011 revolution.
"Opposition figures and protestors being arrested isn't new, unfortunately," Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University's Middle East Studies Program and an FP blogger and columnist, told Passport by email. Lynch met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "What is striking is that Ahmed would be arrested after returning from the US where he spoke (I understand) to a variety of US officials as well as academics and think tankers. It just points to the ongoing urgency of real reform of the security sector in Egypt," he wrote.
Maher's arrest also demonstrates the government's unwillingness to work with even receptive members of the opposition, according to Nancy Okail, Egypt director for Freedom House, who also met with Maher during his visit to Washington. "The arrest of any activist is worrisome, but Maher's arrest is particularly significant as he was one of the strongest supporters of President Morsy before and after his elections," Okail told FP by email. "He repeatedly expressed his willingness to extend a helping hand to the government to solve Egypt's problems -- especially with regard to reforming the police. The current repressive approach of the Egyptian government is stifling constructive discussions at the very time it should be expanding dialogue with different segments of Egyptian society."
At the State Department's daily press briefing this afternoon, Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told reporters that the State Department was still trying to confirm reports of Maher's arrest, saying "of course, if it were true, we'll express our concerns, but at this time we're still seeking more information." Representatives from the Egyptian embassy did not respond to requests from FP for comment.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
The Egyptian government is promoting a new blog showcasing the work of the Egyptian Foreign Policy Forum, a state-sponsored think tank. But the target audience isn't just Egyptians -- the first few posts indicate that officials are looking for an audience abroad as much as at home.
That's because almost all of the articles are translated into English. They include big-picture think pieces with titles like "Egyptian Foreign Policy, a New Vision," and more specific policy outlines like "Egypt and Russia, Horizons of Cooperation." What's more: They're translated verbatim.
Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. But over the past year, Egyptian officials have made a habit of saying one thing in English and something very different to their constituents in Arabic. There was the Twitter sparring last September, when the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language feed tweeted after the protests on Sept. 11, "We r relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff were hamed & hope US-Eg relations will sustain turbulence of Tuesday's events," while praising the protests, which breached the embassy compound, in Arabic. "Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too," the U.S. Embassy account shot back (the tweet was later deleted). More recently, there was the Brotherhood's consolatory message to the U.S. government in the wake of the Boston marathon bombing, and, in stark contrast, a bizarre, conspiracy-laden rant posted to Facebook in Arabic.
The blog's sole Arabic-only posts so far are on Egyptian-Sudanese and Egyptian-Libyan relations, and they don't delve into anything scandalous -- both are pretty bland discussions of border economic zones and, in the case of Sudan, water-sharing rights.
There are a couple interesting tidbits tucked away in the English articles. Specifically, "A New Vision" states Egypt's intention to achieve a position of "regional leadership and special international status," including "a permanent seat in the UN Security Council." (Egypt's been swinging for the fences lately -- in March, it proposed joining the BRICS as well.) In "Egypt and Russia," the Egyptian administration expresses its interest in "achieving balance, independence, and political influence in foreign relations," breaking free of "the shackles of subordination and occupation." "This can be realized through the development of relations with different countries across the globe including Russia," the policy paper states.
All in all, it's not that provocative (though maybe a bit grandiose). But is it sincere? There's no reason to think these bland policy pronouncements aren't expressed in good faith -- but they're just a few more data points amid Egypt's many mixed messages.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
People have a tendency to get carried away when hyping a new leader -- particularly one who represents significant change. Still, reports on Tuesday that the Muslim Brotherhood will be publishing a book on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy's achievements -- nine months into his first term -- can't help but feel a bit premature, particularly considering the political and economic turmoil that continue to grip the country.
The 124-page book, literally titled, "Months of achievements...President Morsy builds Egypt anew," will be divided into five chapters chronicling the new president's successes, including freeing the country from military rule, endorsing the constitution, and supporting Gaza's uprising against Israel.
Author Reda al-Masry, whom the Arabic-language version of Egypt Independent identifies as an Egyptian "educational expert," explained his decision to write the book to the paper, noting that he feels the Egyptian press has given Morsy an unfair hearing (ironically, he praises Western media for giving Morsy due respect as a leader). Masry then goes on to cite an impressive list of "firsts" that Morsy has achieved. These include:
The last two firsts are nods to the corruption and nepotism that characterized the Mubarak years. But while, in some ways, Morsy has been a breath of fresh air, opposition members accuse the president and his administration of trying to monopolize power and control public discourse. In this light, the book seems more propoganda than political chronicle. In the Brotherhood's defense, recent reports that the Egyptian Ministry of Culture was planning to pay for printing the book and disseminating free copies to the public have been denied. Instead, the chronicle of the young presidency's accomplishments will be distributed to young Brotherhood members.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Twitter feed disappeared for about an hour today following an online sparring match with a feed operated by the office of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy over Jon Stewart's impassioned defense of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef. When the embassy's feed returned, a tweet linking to the Daily Show clip had been deleted, and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that embassy officials "came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."
There's bad diplomacy, and then there's the Twitter fight that followed this afternoon between the Muslim Brotherhood's English-language Twitter account (@IkhwanWeb) and American radio show host and media personality Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezTV). The improbable feud started when the Muslim Brotherhood tweeted an Al Jazeera report featuring a comment Sanchez made in 2010 that was widely reported as being anti-Semitic and led to his firing from CNN. The Muslim Brotherhood pointed to the incident as an example of the West's "double standards" about free speech:
The Muslim Brotherhood's confusion about the government-ensured rights of an individual vs. the rights of private employees notwithstanding, Sanchez came looking for a fight this afternoon. Armed with a loose understanding of the situation, Sanchez eagerly began trolling @IkhwanWeb.
The Muslim Brotherhood responded, and from there, it was a good, old-fashioned troll fight. @IkhwanWeb was right that Sanchez didn't have his facts straight, but their defense of Egypt's freedom of speech rang a bit hollow given the circumstances:
.@ricksancheztv Mr. Shanchez, we value freedom of speech, it's what Egyptians fought for & no power can take this fundamental right away— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv perhaps u shld get facts first. He wasn't arrested, but questioned and released re complaint brought by pvt citizen, not us— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
.@ricksancheztv absolutely false, we've nothing to do w investigations, it's a fact & if u ve evidence to contrary plz announce to the world— Ikhwanweb (@Ikhwanweb) April 3, 2013
Sanchez then declared victory. Several times.
And that's today's installment of how Twitter is making politics weird. Remember, folks: Don't feed the trolls.
With Egypt's economy entering crisis mode, you'd think government officials would have their hands full. But Prime Minister Hesham Kandil seems to be finding time for the obscure mobile game Smurfs' Village. Or at least that's how his Twitter account made it seem on Monday, when a tweet that may have been automatically generated by the app appeared on his feed, reading "Doctor Smurf prescribes cakes, pies and smurfberries as part of a healthy diet."
The bizarre tweet has since been deleted from his account, but not quickly enough to prevent an inevitable onslaught of snark. The blog Egyptian Chronicles, for instance, ran with the gleeful headline, "The PM of Smurfs Village!!"
One Twitter user blamed the politician's smurf addiction for Egypt's current state of turmoil:
.@kandilhesham someone's having a VERY productive day at the office. No wonder the country's going down the pooper.— Farah Saafan (@FarahSaafan) April 1, 2013
Another pointed out the tweet's problematic public health implications:
.@kandilhesham should you really be advising people to eat cakes, pies and smurfberries when Egypt is dealing with a diabetes epidemic?— sherief gaber (@cairocitylimits) April 1, 2013
Some people, however, were a bit more understanding:
We've blogged before about politicians whose accounts have accidentally been hijacked by apps after their children used their phones to play games. Our advice still applies: In an age where a stray tweet can provoke an almost automatic backlash, politicians should keep their phones out of the hands of their children. Unless, that is, they're playing the games themselves.
Screenshot of Twitpic
Who knew calling for pedestrian safety could be so dangerous? Earlier today, skirmishes between students and the guards at Egypt's Misr International University resulted in bloodshed following a 15 day sit-in to protest the suspension of 16 students and expulsion of eight.
The suspended students had been calling for greater safety measures after several incidents of pedestrians being hit, hospitalized, and even killed by traffic outside the university. As reported by the Daily News Egypt:
[On March 3], students demanded a pedestrians' bridge outside the university gate to prevent accidents. Protesting students marched to [the University Deputy Chairman Hamdy] Hassan's office to put forward their demand. They claim to have been stopped by the security personnel.
"We have a video of Hassan asking the security personnel to beat anybody who tries to move forward," said Bassem, another MIU student who preferred to withhold his last name. "In another video, Hassan threatens to kill any student who approaches his office."
Hassan denied these claims. "I told the protesting students we could meet in one of the lecture halls; my office was too small to fit us all in," he said, adding that there were between 70 and 100 protesters. "They insisted on coming into the office, so I asked the security personnel to prevent them from breaking into the office, giving them clear instructions not to beat any of them."
Hassan said that after this incident, the university chairman referred the students involved to investigation. The students accuse the administration of arbitrarily suspending students. "We don't even have disciplinary bylaws to resort to," Mustafa said.
Things escalated quickly when protesting students tried entering the campus today. They were met by security who used "rubber bullets, rocks, and fire extinguisher gas." Photos emerging show many with head injuries from bird shot. Video shows the state of chaos around the campus. It's currently unclear if it's campus security or hired security that's engaging in attacks.
Classes have been suspended until further notice.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has spent the past three days in India on his first state visit to the country. Before heading to New Delhi, though, he floated an odd -- and more than a little ambitious -- idea.
"I am hoping BRICS would one day become E-BRICS where E stands for Egypt," he told India's The Hindu in an interview in Cairo published this week.
It's a bold proposal. The Kremlin has acknowledged the comments but didn't seem particularly enthused about the idea, and it's unclear whether Morsy broached the subject in his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The BRICS -- that's Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- are an economic alliance of top-tier rising powers, the crème de la crème of the developing world. Egypt? Not so much.
Let's put this in perspective. The average GDP of the BRICS countries in 2011 (in current U.S. dollars, according to the World Bank) was $2.78 trillion dollars. Egypt? $230 billion. The country's development isn't exactly in high gear, either. The instability of the revolution has dealt a blow to Egypt's economy, and its estimated growth rate for 2012 is a meager 2 percent, which places it behind four of five BRICS countries. Even as Morsy was meeting with Singh, he was sharing the front page of Egyptian dailies with the news that BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Hyundai are planning to withdraw from the Egyptian market as new customs laws take effect.
Morsy knows this, and clarified that he hopes "the E-BRICS would emerge when we start moving the economy." So it's something of a longer-term goal. Perhaps Morsy might consider one of these starter coalitions instead? Then again, the MIKT (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) countries, which are moving beyond "emerging market" territory, have an average GDP of $973 billion, so it might still be a stretch. In the same interview with The Hindu, Morsy expressed a desire to be more active in the Non-Aligned Movement. It's probably a good place to start; the NAM is far less discriminatory.
PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this week, we reported on the controversy in Tunisia and Egypt over some "Harlem Shake" videos, which have provoked arrests and an investigation by the Tunisian Ministry of Education, and the follow-up Harlem Shake protests Egyptians and Tunisians were planning.
Well, they happened.
The video above is from Cairo, outside the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Another protest took place outside the Ministry of Education in Tunis, though rain deterred some dancers.
The videos are spreading (here's one from another school, Tunisia's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology), as is the backlash. Salafist groups have tried to intimidate students making Harlem Shake videos, and, at one school, a protest broke out that was dispersed by police with tear gas.
The videos are clearly becoming more political. In the video from Egypt, for example, a protester is wearing a large fake beard to mock conservative critics. And in the videos from Tunisia there are a number of protesters wearing the Guy Fawkes and gas masks that were popular during the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Unlike so many other flash-in-the-pan memes, the Harlem Shake might be around for a while -- especially if politicians in Egypt and Tunisia keep trying to get rid of it.
Members of the amorphous hacker collective known as "Anonymous" released a video on YouTube Tuesday warning Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy that he risks cyberwarfare unless he relinquishes his claim to extrajudicial powers.
In the video, titled Anonymous #OpEgypt, a figure wearing the group's signature Guy Fawkes mask threatens cyberattacks against the Egyptian government as well as Morsy personally:
"Dr Morsy has repeatedly shown his lack of care about the core values of democracy...Now, he is gradually grasping more and more authoritarian power in his hands...To Dr. Morsy: Anonymous will not sit by and watch you washing away what thousands of Egyptians got killed and injured for...when you ignore this message, not only will we attack your organizations and websites; Anonymous will make sure you stand exposed against your people as well as the international community...we are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive, we do not forget. Expect us."
This isn't Anonymous' first warning to the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian government. In a video released on Nov. 7, the group announced that it would shut down the official Brotherhood website; a threat which was carried out a few days later.
Anonymous played an important role in the original 2011 Egyptian uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak, when it successfully targeted a number of government websites and provided technical support to activists during a government-instituted Internet blackout.
Anonymous' other recent notable attempt at targeted "hacktivism" in the Middle East occurred during the conflict in Gaza earlier this month, when it claimed to have defaced 10,000 Israeli websites and released the personal data of 5,000 Israeli government officials in a press statement. Israeli officials confirmed that the government had deflected over 44 million cyberattacks, but maintained that only one website was briefly shut down.
Cyberattacks have emerged as a popular form of activism in recent Middle Eastern conflicts, especially the Syrian uprising, which has prompted hacking attempts by pro and anti-regime groups. In August, hackers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad targeted Reuters and Al Jazeera, while an opposition group released what they claimed were over 3,000 personal emails between Assad and his wife in March.
Although it's unclear how much damage Anonymous and other cyberactivists have actually inflicted on the governments and institutions they target, anyone who has ever had their computer freeze at an inconvenient moment can sympathize with what's potentially in store for Morsy. Given the protests currently blazing across Egypt, it's hard to imagine a more inopportune time for him to experience technical difficulties.
Egypt's increasingly influential Salafis won a victory this week by pressuring the government to finally implement a 2009 court ruling, enacted under former President Hosni Mubarak, to ban pornography. On Wednesday, Egyptian Prosector Abdel Maguid Mahmoud instructed authorities to "to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state."
There are already strong reactions, with many on twitter using #EgyPornBan to either advocate mass downloading before the ban is enacted or to question the legitimacy of restricting freedom of expression.
While it has not been made public how and when the ban will actually be enforced, there are those like journalist and presidential advisor, Ayman El-Sayad, who think that the government should be "more concerned about the drafting of Egypt's new constitution" and other more pressing issues.
The ban does have serious consequences, however, as it upholds the ruling that the "freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism." How Egyptians decide to tackle the issue of who gets to decide what their values are, could have far reaching consequences down the road. There is also the dangerous precedent set by countries such as Russia, China and the United States, who have been accused of using anti-child-pornography laws to implement web censorship.
Egypt's porn ban will make it harder to spread "harmful" content on the internet, but for the Islamist's moral purposes, it probably won't work.
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
In June, when Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, replacing the military transition government, he claimed that he would fulfill 64 promises within the first 100 days. That very same day, the website MorsiMeter was up and running to keep track of his progress. It's been about a week since the 100 day mark has passed and the weighing in has begun.
MorsiMeter is the creation of social entrepreneurs Amr Sobhy, Abbas Ibrahim and Safwat Mohamed, modeled after PolitiFact's Obameter. By crowdsourcing through their mobile app and website, MorsiMeter compiles information from a variety of sources (official, opposition and social media) in addition to direct communication with the presidential office to document initiatives implemented or in progress. MorsiMeter is as 2012 recipient of the U.N World Summit Youth Award which the team also won in 2011 for the anti-corruption initiative Zabatak. They consider MorsiMeter to be a "data tool" and strive to "empower the average citizen through sharing of information about crimes and corruption" while staying as neutral as possible.
Their report is now out and according to MorsiMeter, the baseline stats say that the president has achieved 10 out of 64 goals and that another 24 are in progress. This leaves 30 more promises "not spotted", to use to their terminology.
To provide a more nuanced look at what has actually been done, objectives are broken down into five categories: Traffic, Security, Fuel, Bread and Environmental Cleanliness. Many plans in progress are geared toward using financial incentives tied to citizen satisfaction to promote performance in civil servants and police, coordinating between the government and civil society, or using social institutions such as Friday sermons to promote civic behavior such as not throwing trash on the street.
The president's achievements include cracking down on fuel smugglers, providing waste disposal services for reasonable fees, using radio reports to decrease traffic congestion, and increasing the nutritional value of bread while subsidizing bakeries for potential crises.
Several of the "not spotted" promises, such as building new government centers out of urban areas, are additionally large undertakings that couldn't be accomplished in a 100 days. And to be honest, even if there are campaigns to make people follow road rules and traffic lights, it's not going to take effect immediately.
Is it fair to judge Morsi based on 100 days alone? Maybe, maybe not. Online voters at MorsiMeter have an overall satisfaction level of 39 percent. But given the recent clashes and all the hype surrounding this rather arbitrary deadline, Egyptians need to figure out what their real expectations are.
The Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that two children, aged nine and ten, were arrested and charged with blasphemy in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef after being accused of urinating on copies of the Quran.
Ibrahim Mohammad, a local sheikh, filed a complaint about the incident, stating that the children were incited to desecrate the Muslim holy books. A prosecutor ordered that the minors be transferred to a juvenile facility on Tuesday night.
Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Egypt Independent that 17 cases of religious blasphemy have been filed in Egypt in the wake of violent protests against the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims.
On Sept. 27, an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence for Albert Saber, a Christian man accused of posting the controversial video to his Facebook page. In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended Egypt's blasphemy law, stating that "Egypt respects freedom of expression," but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."
These arrests worry activists who are concerned that free speech in Egypt is being silenced by the new government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information expressed its outrage at the crackdowns, calling them a "general inclination by the state to silence opponents."
No. 13 USC rebounded from the drubbing Stanford gave it last week by grinding out a 27-9 victory over Cal on Saturday. It wasn't flashy -- quarterback Matt Barkley did an awful lot of handing off -- but Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, was probably relieved. "Go Trojans!" he said in a pre-trip interview with the New York Times. He did not offer any commentary on Barkley's tanking Heisman campaign.
Morsy, who completed his Ph.D. in materials science at USC in the early 1980s and whose two sons are U.S. citizens, has a complicated relationship with the United States. He told the Times that he "learned a lot" during his time in California, but then quickly clarified that he meant "scientifically." California's laid-back attitude about cohabitation, gang problems, and preponderance of "naked restaurants" all made him uneasy. "I don't admire that," he told the Times. "But that is the society. They are living their way." The future Muslim Brotherhood official apparently never really got into the swing of SoCal life.
But if he is still lukewarm on American culture, Morsy seems to have at least moderated his most outrageously anti-American positions since becoming president. Whereas for most of the 2000s he was all too happy to peddle 9/11 conspiracy theories -- "When you come and tell me that the plane hit the tower like a knife in butter, then you are insulting us...Something must have happened from the inside. It's impossible," he told the Brookings Institution's Shadi Hamid in 2010 -- Egypt's first democratically elected president at least steers clear of the topic now.
Morsy rankled American officials by reaching out to Iran and by failing to denounce (immediately) the attack by demonstrators on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, but on the whole, his approach has been what you would expect from the leader of a deeply conservative country that is understandably wary of the United States. (Egyptians have no illusions about who propped up Mubarak for all those years.) As Morsy said in the Times interview: "Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region." But if Morsy has been resolute about demonstrating his independence from the United States, he has also indicated that he wants to maintain a constructive relationship with Washington, going as far as saying that the two countries have the potential to be "real friends."
Since the embassy storming, however, Obama has been remarkably cool toward his Egyptian counterpart. On Sept. 13, Obama told the Spanish-language network Telemundo that he did not consider Egypt an ally -- a position the White House later clarified -- and he reportedly declined a request to meet with Morsy at the White House this week. It's not clear, however, what Obama expects of Morsy. On the one hand, he has repeatedly supported the right of Egyptians to "determine their own destiny." On the other, he appears nonplussed by Morsy's need to respond to domestic political forces.
Steven Cook, a fellow at CFR, has a good read on this cognitive dissonance:
Americans consistently fail to recognize that Arabs have their own politics and have the ability to calculate their own interests independently of what Washington demands. As a result, whenever a crisis erupts that presents Egyptian leaders with a choice of kowtowing to Washington or protecting their political position at home, domestic politics will win virtually every time.
Obama may not be able to fully appreciate the drama of college football, having attended only universities with second rate football programs, but maybe he and Morsy ought to watch the USC game next week and talk this one out.
The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record since 1895. In June alone, we smashed more than 3,000 temperature records across the United States. It was the 328th consecutive month in which the average global temperature exceeded the 20th century mean. As Bill McKibben put it, "the odds of [that] occurring by simple chance were [one in] 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe."
But if that much is obvious to most people who don't harbor deep suspicions about the value of science, the rate at which global warming is changing life on this planet may still come as a shock. Not only are the 3.7 million Americans living within a few feet of the coastline already experiencing more frequent flooding -- the result of rising sea levels -- but unusual weather patterns are likely to make food more expensive, and fast.
Figures released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture predict substantial increases in food prices as a result of weather patterns in the Midwest -- the worst drought in nearly half a century.
The prices of chicken, beef, dairy, and eggs are all supposed to rise between three and five percentage points this year. Corn futures have already spiked nearly 50 percent over the last month to roughly $8.00 a bushel on fears that crops will be ruined. (The Department of Agriculture estimated that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is in poor or very poor condition as a result of the drought.)
And it's not just the U.S. market that will be affected. The U.S. is the world's largest producer of corn -- exporting millions of tons every year to countries like Japan, Egypt, and China. In 2000, for example, Egypt imported 76 percent of its corn from the United States.
In 2011, revolutions erupted across the Arab world at least in part because of rising food prices. Recall that protesters in Tunisia wielded loaves of bread and Egypt suffered a spate of "bread riots" when grain prices spiked between 2007 and 2008. Now, more than a year after the uprisings, many Arab economies are struggling to get back on their feet. Significant increases in global food prices might well plunge them back into chaos.
But bad weather and worse crop yields in the U.S. are not the only forces driving grain prices skyward. Southern Europe, which typically supplies 16 percent of global corn exports, is having its own ecological disaster. Temperatures in the band that runs from eastern Italy to the Black Sea averaged about five degrees higher than normal last month, according to Bloomberg, baking corn crops that are in the critical pollination phase. Cedic Weber, whose company advises about 5,000 farmers in Europe, told Bloomberg, "in Europe we'll need to import a lot of wheat and corn...That's just adding to the problems we've got everywhere."
That doesn't bode well for the Egypts and the Tunisias of the world -- or for any other net importer of food, for that matter. As it happens, that's practically all of the Middle East and Africa, and much of Southeast Asia.
On Saturday, as Ramadan began, a new Egyptian satellite television channel was launched, catering to and run by women. Maria TV is an all-woman Islamic channel -- the first of its kind -- in which women work the cameras, determine content, and appear as presenters and actresses, providing programming directed at a female audience. No men will be featured in any of Maria's programming.
Shows on Maria TV will include daily news, talk-show-style programs on topics such as the first year of marriage and make up tips, as well as investigative reports on subjects like women who cheat on their husbands. There will also be a satirical news show starring a female puppet.
Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai will head the programming. The channel is the newest creation of Ahmed Abdallah, a Cario-based producer of Islamic television, who is also the founder of Ummah TV, a religious satellite station targeting Muslim audiences throughout the Middle East.
Hosni Mubarak's regime had targeted several security raids against Ummah TV , but since Mubarak's fall, Egyptian media has seen some relaxation of restrictions. Earlier in the summer, Egyptian broadcasting also began featuring its first political humorist and satirist, Bassem Yousef, on the air.
Maria TV, which will for now consist of six hours of programming on Ummah TV, will show only fully veiled women. Guests who choose not to wear the Niqab will have their features blurred out.
AMR NABIL/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy marked the first day of Ramadan today by addressing the nation in the inaugural episode of his new radio series. The program, called "The People Ask and the President Answers," gives the president a new platform to promote his "100-day" plan, which promises to improve security, make subsidized food and fuel widely available, and improve Cairo's notorious traffic problems.
The first 10 episodes have been pre-recorded and feature a "listener" asking Morsy a single question. Each episode runs about 5 minutes long and touches on a different subject, ranging from security, to housing, to unemployment, according to a report by UPI.
This morning, Morsy also addressed worshippers at his mosque, urging them to beat the lassitude that typically settles over Egypt during the holy month.
"Ramadan is a month of fasting and worship... and it is also a month of work and production," said Morsi in the speech which was broadcast on state television.
Morsy, it seems, was being extraordinarily generous. During the holy month, practically nothing gets done. As Vali Nasr put in FP in 2010, "[P]roductivity in the Muslim world plummets during the fast, and government business grinds to a halt."
Perhaps Morsy should take it up with the Egyptian people in the next episode of his radio show.
It's an old story: Journalists tend to see their occupation as a calling, and investors see newspapers as a business. At Egypt's only independent English-language print daily, the balance sheets won out.
Daily News Egypt announced yesterday that it was closing after over seven years in business. In a combative editorial, the Daily News staff lamented that the paper's closure had come "quite abruptly" and noted that they had "specifically and repeatedly requested" that the paper's owners allow them to keep the website online - a request that evidently went unheeded, as the website went offline yesterday,
In the somber Daily News offices last night, the white board that laid out the next day's agenda of stories had been wiped clean, and the collection of tchotchkes that gathers in any newsroom -- in the case of this Egyptian paper, a gas mask that allowed its staff to cover the revolutionary upheaval over the past year -- had been stripped away. The staff's editors were busy downloading their archived issues -- insurance that their years of work would not disappear should they fail to reclaim the website.
The paper was one more casualty of Egypt's deteriorating economy, which is projected to grow at a paltry 1.5 percent in 2012 and has bled $21 billion in foreign reserves during the past year. "The paper was without ads for a whole year," said Rania al-Malky, while bouncing her toddler, Hassan, on her lap. "And the hotels are empty, so nobody is buying newspapers."
Egypt's problems aside, the truth of the matter is that independent journalism in the Middle East is always a tenuous endeavor. The only question is how tenuous. Newspapers in the region face two primary ills, both of which can be fatal to quality journalism: a shortage of money and an excess of political influence. It is a testament to the long hours that employees put in, and a shared sense that the work carries a meaning not expressed solely in a paycheck, that newspapers like the Daily News exist in the first place.
Sometimes, newspapers in the region are forced to pick their poison: poverty or politicians. Lebanon's Daily Star was at one time the Daily News' sister publication -- both were the local partners for the International Herald Tribune in their respective countries. In 2009, the Daily Star was subject to a court-ordered shutdown after the publisher fell hopelessly in debt -- without warning, security officers showed up at the paper's Beirut offices and evicted the staff, even ordering them to leave their personal laptops. The Daily Star would return to newsstands, but its money problems would only be solved when it was purchased by one of Lebanon's wealthiest politicians, Saad Hariri.
Back in the Daily News offices, there were plenty of good memories about which to reminisce. The newspaper covered the 2011 revolution against Hosni Mubarak with aplomb -- it was one of the few offices with working Internet access after the Egyptian regime ordered Internet service providers to cut off service in a failed bid to stop the growing protests.
Hassan, the only one in the office unaware that the Daily News had put out its last issue, entertained the crowd by playing with a BlackBerry. When he handed it back to one of the editors, the staff, to his delight, cheered in approval. "Someone's getting some applause in this office, at least," said Malky.
Finally, the inevitable moment came -- the investors, perhaps irked by the editorial, pulled the plug on the Daily News' last remaining connection to their audience. "That's it; they closed the site," Malky announced, clicking her mouse at the computer. And then Hassan banged his head against the doorway and started crying, and shortly after, the staff drifted out.
Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Just days after announcing that it would back deputy leader Khairat El-Shater as a presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming election, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party made a pit stop at Georgetown University on Wednesday as part of a "charm offensive." FJP representatives repeatedly emphasized the Islamist party's commitment to fulfilling "the demands of the young people who revolted in Tahrir Square" through promoting democracy, justice, freedom, and human dignity, and insisted that they intend to be "as inclusive as possible."
"With the new Egypt, it doesn't matter anymore what the party wants," said businessman and FJP adviser Hussein El-Kazzaz. "Our compass is not a movement that's internally inward-looking, our compass is now with the revolution.... Our distinct belief is that the country cannot be be run by one faction."
That's why, he explained, the Muslim Brotherhood flip-flopped on its decision to field a presidential candidate:
"We didn't want to nominate someone ... because we didn't want to be monopolizing positions of power at that time..... It's a very different reality now than it was 10 months ago."
Even though the FJP holds over 47 percent of the seats in Egypt's parliament, Member of Parliament Abdul Mawgoud Dardery from Luxor acknowledges that the parliament itself hasn't exactly been smooth sailing:
"It's very tough [to negotiate].... All of a sudden now we are expected to decide ... the fate of our country through a very, very democratic process from which traditions and figureheads are and history and so on are being created as we go."
He added that the members have tried to do "traditional things," like holding meetings and using mediators, but that it's not working "100 percent."
El-Kazzaz also argued that the Freedom and Justice Party seeks to take a "middle ground" when it comes to the existential struggle between secular liberalism and traditionalism:
"We have a tradition that needs to be respected ... but we cannot ignore human civilization ... Europe has great things to offer, the United States has great things to offer, let's look at them and choose what we like, leave what we don't like."
If only it were that easy. Unfortunately for the FJP's philosophies of inclusion and finding a middle ground, it appears that Islamists are set to dominate Egypt's constitutional committee, a crisis that's already alienating the country's minority groups.
KHALED ELFIQI/AFP/Getty Images
After it was reported this morning that the United States intends to "release at least a portion of $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt," a Brookings Institute Panel this afternoon discussed the future of U.S.-Egypt relations. Shadi Hamid, the director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, said he thinks this sends the wrong message given the current the NGO crisis:
"I think it sends a very dangerous message that right now we're going to resume military aid even though Egypt is essentially waging war on civil society...There's a sense that the Obama administration will back down when push comes to shove, and the Egyptian military is right to think that because we are about to back down, and that sets a precedent for future governments...It sends the message that U.S. threats are hollow."
Hamid added that U.S. favorability ratings in Egypt during the Obama administration have been lower than under the last year of the Bush administration, and that the President's Cairo speech has changed nothing:
"Contrary to the perception that the Cairo speech brought about this new beginning, this new era in U.S.-Arab world relations in the region, that's not quite the way it worked out...The SCAF has in some ways manufactured this [NGO] crisis, but they're also tapping into something that's very much there in Egyptian society."
According to visiting fellow Khaled Elgindy, not much has changed on the Egyptian side either:
"All of what we've seen is actually less a shift in U.S.-Egypt relations than a deepening or acceleration of preexisting trends."
The turning point for the U.S.-Egypt relationship, notes Saban Center for Middle East Policy director Tamara Cofman Wittes, is on the horizon.
"It didn't come last year with the revolution itself, it's coming now as this transitional period comes to a close with the presidential elections and the anticipated handover of executive authority to a civilian government in June."
The U.S. is going soft, Egyptians have always disliked America, and bilateral relations are business as usual. Same old, same old.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
As Egypt prepares to mark the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on Wednesday, with activists mapping out protest routes and the ruling military council partially lifting the country's emergency laws and releasing prisoners in apparent goodwill gestures, Al-Masry Al-Youm is reporting something rather odd. Anonymous security sources tell the Egyptian newspaper that security forces are planning to use batons, loudspeakers, and "colored chemicals that will stain one's skin for six months" against "those perceived to be violating the law."
It's the colored chemicals in particular that's gotten picked up by Twitter users in Egypt, generating a mixture of outrage ("colored chemicals you idiots?!!!!!), humor ("so it's paint ball fight now?"), advice ("Vaseline reduces the effects of colored water") and skepticism ("if it's real we wouldn't be finding out about it a week beforehand"). Several people have tweeted this footage of Ugandan police using water cannons to spray opposition activists with pink dye in Kampala in May, after rising food and fuel prices sparked "walk to work" protests.
According to Maki Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, injecting semi-permanent, bright-colored dyes into water cannons is a relatively cheap and nonviolent way to identify and detain rioters after crowds disperse and deter demonstrators who worry about staining their clothing or skin. "Water is considered to be benign but at the same time people don't want to be sprayed by water and especially colored water," she explains. "So it's not a bad alternative." But Haberfeld adds that modern police departments aren't likely to use such a low-tech tactic.
Nevertheless, the approach is still employed frequently. The most famous use of colored-water cannons took place in South Africa in 1989, when police soaked anti-apartheid activists with purple water and one protester turned a water cannon back at police and government buildings, giving birth to the anti-apartheid slogan "the purple shall govern."
But there are more recent examples (including blue water cropping up in a confrontation between squatters and South African police last May). Photos and videos online capture colored-water cannons dispersing protesters everywhere from Argentina to Malaysia to Hungary, and Israeli police have used colored water on protesting Palestinians (see above) and Jewish settlers in the past several years (the water aimed at settlers being evacuated from Gaza also contained turpentine). Some British lawmakers suggested tagging looters with dye during the London riots last year. And, as the pictures below of Kashmiri government employees protesting in Srinagar in 2008 and 2011 attest, Indian police appear to be particularly fond of purple water:
When supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya took to the streets of Tegucigalpa in 2009, meanwhile, they were hosed with red liquid:
Sid Heal, a retired commander with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and riot-control consultant, says red dye isn't the best because it can be mistaken for blood. And he adds that dyes can also be mixed with pepper spray or delivered through sophisticated projectiles. "If you see someone lighting a building on fire, you can hit them with the dye and record the incident," he explains. "And then if you find the person, you can connect them back to the projectile and prosecute them." This past summer, David Hambling noted at Wired that some dye tactics are actually quite high-tech:
A more subtle approach is to use invisible dye that only shows up under UV light, a technique used for marking suspected insurgents in Afghanistan. UK company Smartwater goes even further, with invisibly coded sprays which can record exactly where a suspect was sprayed. These provide solid forensic evidence for a prosecution.
But dyes have their drawbacks too. When Kashmiri protesters stared down purple water in 2008, Slate pointed out that innocent bystanders had been hit by the spray and some locals were complaining that the dye was toxic. "The technology by itself doesn't provide a solution," Heal argues. "It has to be incorporated into a plan to identify suspects."
Additional photo credits: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images; Rouf Bhat/AFP/Getty Images; Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images
It's been almost two weeks since Foreign Policy released its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011, and while the year is nearly up, many members of the list are continuing to make headlines.
Russian anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny was arrested on Monday, the day after Vladimir Putin's United Russia -- which Navalny has famously dubbed "the party of crooks and thieves" -- saw losses in an election widely thought to have been less than free and fair.
In a historic trip to Myanmar last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition movement recently announced it will reenter the political system, paving the way for her possible candidacy for parliament.
Pakistan lawmaker Sherry Rehman has been selected as her country's new ambassador to the United States. The move followed the controversial departure of Husain Haqqani, who resigned in connection with a memo sent to former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who was seized and attacked by security forces in August, has been named one of two recipients of the 2011 Press Freedom Prize, awarded by Reporters Without Borders and Le Monde. Fellow Syrian activist Razan Zaitouneh recorded a video message for Foreign Policy, speaking from hiding in Damascus.
Democracy activist Mohamed ElBaradei has expressed concern about religious extremism in Egypt, following the results of the country's November parliamentary elections. ElBaradei is scheduled to give a speech about Egypt and the Arab Spring on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Cisco Public Services Summit in Oslo.
In other media coverage, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker both recently got the big profile treatment, in the New Yorker and the New York Times, respectively. Reuters has also filmed video interviews with several Global Thinkers, including economist Esther Duflo, former Al Jazeera director-general Wadah Khanfar, and social media guru Clay Shirky.
The sight of Hosni Mubarak, lying prostrate on a gurney inside a cage in a makeshift courtroom while his sons Alaa and Gamal stood dutifully by, electrified the Arab world Wednesday, raising the prospect that the ousted Egyptian dictator may soon be held accountable for his crimes.
Yet for all the palpable excitement over Mubarak's trial, as well as that of several other top regime figures like former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, the chaotic scenes in the courtroom -- and the rock fight outside of it -- did not exactly inspire confidence in the Egyptian justice system. In one particularly bizarre moment, a lawyer speaking on behalf of Mubarak's victims claimed that the man in the cage was an imposter, and that the real president of Egypt died in 2004. At other points, Mubarak was caught on camera picking his nose. Dozens of lawyers on both sides crowded the bar and shouted their demands, forcing the judge to shut them up.
The trial, which will resume tomorrow for Adly and for the Mubaraks on Aug. 15, is being held under the military rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the junta that deposed Mubarak in February at the height of a popular street uprising demanding his ouster. Although the SCAF adamantly denies meddling in the civilian court system, its claims of neutrality are about to be put to the test: Mubarak's lawyer is demanding that Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, the defense minister who is now Egypt's de facto ruler, be called to the stand, along with former intelligence cheif Omar Suleiman, who briefly assumed the vice presidency during the 18 days of the revolution.
Interestingly, Mubarak's defense team claims that it was Tantawi who was technically the ruler of the country from Jan. 28 onward, meaning that the infamous Feb. 2 "Battle of the Camels" in Tahrir Square happened on the field marshal's watch. That strategy seems dubious, however, given that this legal status was never communicated at the time -- and it was not until Feb. 11 that Suleiman appeared on state television to announce that Mubarak had "resigned his position as president of the republic." [UPDATE: Al Jazeera's Evan Hill says that the defense is actually arguing that Tantawi was in charge of security, not that he was running the country.]
Still, it will be fascinating to see if Tantawi, Suleiman, and other senior figures like former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq will be dragged into the courtroom drama. The Egyptian regime was, and still very much is, a police state backed by the military. The circle of criminality and repression goes far wider than just a few dozen people. Mubarak isn't being tried for the 30 years of dictatorship, stagnation, and ruin he brought upon his country, but for the actions his subordinates took, allegedly under his orders, during the three weeks that brought him down. But there are no doubt many dark secrets that will come out during this trial, if the SCAF will allow it. Ironically, it might be the Big Man himself who, in trying to save his own neck and that of his sons, brings the rest of the system down with him.
Egyptian State TV
A two square mile patch of grassland on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, surrounding the 11th-century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, has been a regional flashpoint for decades. The skirmishes have escalated in recent years and both countries maintain hundreds of troops along the border. But the fighting could quiet down soon if the sides agree to a ruling today by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice. The court declared that a demilitarized zone should be established immediately in the region surrounding the temple, outlined here in diagrams from the Bangkok Post. The two countries have indicated they would abide by the decision.
With the U.N. ruling, the area surrounding Preah Vihear joins a handful of other demilitarized zones around the world. The most famous of these has divided North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The zone has played an important role maintaining the uneasy peace between the two countries, while also serving as a surprisingly effective wildlife refuge for a number of northeast Asia's endangered species. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the buffer zone established under U.N. control in 1974 between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway region recognized only by Turkey.
Israel also deals with its share of DMZs -- one at the Golan Heights, where U.N. forces have maintained the ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974, and one at the Sinai Peninsula. But the latter now contains Egyptian soldiers deployed with Israel's permission during the chaos of the Arab Spring, after Bedouin tribesmen started bombing gas lines in the region to protest their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian government. Israel imports 40 percent of its gas from Egypt.
Looking for the next emerging DMZ? The two Sudans agreed in late May to set up a demilitarized zone along their border, but the details are still very much in the works. Conflict continues to brew over the contested region of Abyei, which lies in the middle of the border. Without a resolution to the dispute, the DMZ there could be a long ways off.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Scenes of protest and war from Bahrain to Libya have become more than familiar over the past six months. Still, these satellite images published today by Stratfor, a risk analysis and geopolitics website and publisher, are striking.
The image above shows Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 11, the day Hosni Mubarak gave up the Egyptian presidency. An estimated 300,000 protesters crammed into downtown Cairo.
Below, more aerial shots from the Middle East's uprisings.
If it hadn't been clear already, it should now be obvious that the military junta running Egypt -- the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- is doing a terrible job.
Once again, thousands of angry protesters have taken over the area in and around Tahrir Square, amid the worst scenes of violence in Cairo since the events of Jan. 25 and Jan. 28. Intense battles involving rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and massive amounts of tear gas are ongoing even now, nearly 24 hours after they began.
The details are sketchy, but from what I can piece together from online accounts, what happened was this: For the past few days, families of those killed during the revolution have been camped out in front of the state television building, demanding justice and accountablity for the deaths. Yesterday, some of them heard about a commemoration that was happening a few blocks south for families of martyrs, and wanted to attend. As it turned out, the event was to commemorate members of the police killed during the uprising, and the protesters weren't admitted. An ugly scuffle broke out, which you can see here:
Things quickly devolved from there, as the families and their supporters took their protest over to the Interior Ministry. Cairo's famous thugs -- some accounts say from the neighborhood' others suggest they were plainclothes police -- suddenly made an appearance, fighting broke out, and then the black-clad Central Security Forces drove the demonstrators back to Tahrir Square. A few thousand protesters arrived to bolster the protesters, and a nasty street battle has raged ever since (you can listen to the Guardian's Jack Shenker's account here) -- creeping ever closer back toward the hated Interior Ministry. This was what the scene looked like last night:
If the riot's origins are murky, so are its aims. What's clear is that the anger is mounting. Alaa Abd El Fattah, a well-known Egyptian activist, probably spoke for many when he tweeted, "dont ask me how it started, Ive no idea, most of us don't care, there is police and there is us, there is tear gas and there is rocks." The clashes have become a contest of wills between the street and the police, with neither side willing to back down. Dozens, if not hundreds, have been injured, ad hoc medical clinics have been set up, and the April 6 protest movement has called for a sit-in.
Here we go again?
Egyptian tycoon and politician Naguib Sawiris has come under fire for posting a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Islamic dress, sparking a torrent of condemnation on social networking sites. ...
The magnate, a Christian, had posted a picture on his Twitter account of Disney character Mickey Mouse wearing a traditional Arabic robe and sporting a thick beard, next to a Minnie Mouse donning a niqab, or full face veil.
Sawiris's Twitter apology hasn't appeased Egypt's Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists who have become increasingly important in Egyptian politics since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. Egyptian newspaper Al-Dostour reports that Salafi leader Assem Abdel Maged of Jama'a al-Islamiyya, a radical group supporting the installation of an Islamist regime in Egypt, is rallying a boycott against Mobinil, the mobile phone network that Sawiris owns. Facebook groups denouncing Sawiris and supporting the boycott have gained more than 60,000 followers, and Sawiris has himself received death threats.
These scandals on Twitter are getting old. Can we get a new destination for social-networking fiascos? LinkedIn, anyone?
GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images
This is beginning to follow a pattern. A day after he was arrested in Spain, one of Hosni Mubarak's top aides was taken to a hospital over the weekend, complaining of heart problems, Reuters reports. Hussein Salem had fled Egypt in the waning days of Mubarak's rule, in early February. He was wanted on charges of money laundering, fraud, bribery, and corruption. He's accused of misusing public funds by selling gas to Israel below market value.
Astute readers might recall that this is not the first time an Egyptian official stayed out of jail, claiming heart trouble. Hosni Mubarak was rushed to a hospital after reportedly suffering a heart attack while being questioned by prosecutors back in April.
A month later, his wife Suzanne suffered a "suspected heart attack" after Egyptian authorities ordered her detained and accused her of stealing public money during her husband's tenure. A doctor said she passed out after hearing the news. She was later released, without serving jail time.
A Bahraini security court sentenced 20-year-old student Ayat al-Qurmezi to one year in prison yesterday. The young woman, infamous for her February recitation of an anti-government poem in Pearl Square, has been found guilty of speaking out against the king and inciting hatred. Her poem has become an international symbol of the Bahraini opposition:
We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams
Down with Hamad
Al-Qurmezi has been in captivity since March. She was rumored to have been raped and tortured after an alleged phone call was made from doctors at an army hospital in April. Yesterday, a relative confirmed that her face had been shocked with an electrical cable, she was forced to clean the prison bathroom with her hands, and held in a near-freezing cell for days at a time. Ayat al-Ghermezi has incited a rally cry for free speech in Bahrain, where female students, doctors and professors have become targets of government crackdown on civil rights.
She is not the only poet to face such harsh punishments recently in the Middle East. Waleed Mohammad al Rumaishi had his tongue cut out after reciting poetry in support of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, civil servant and poet Moneer Said Hanna wrote a five-lined satirical poem about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is now serving a three year sentence, as well as paying a fine of over $16,000. Syrian poet, Faraj Bayrakdar, now fuels the revolution from Sweden after enduring over 13 years of torture in prison where he would carve pens from wood splinters and make ink from tea leaves in order to write poetry.
Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but for Ayat al-Qurmezi and her fellow dissident poets, the message is quite clear.
John Moore/Getty Images
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.