Saturday, March 17, 2007

سبت حتة من قلبي في مصر

Translation of post title: "I left a piece of my heart in Egypt". Which I genuinely did after spending a lovely piece of my life there. I really love the fact that Egyptian blogging has really taken off as well the last few years, in Arabic and English. And especially now that there is good representation from the younger generation of Muslim Brothers, it's good to say that the Egyptian blogosphere is not merely a reflection of some tiny English-speaking minority but actually does have representatives from a decent cross section of at least the younger generation of the country.

All of which makes it all the more disconcerting that the current Mubarak regime crackdown on all forms of political opposition is being utterly ignored in the Western press. Al-Jazeera has been covering it intensely in Arabic and English, Egyptian bloggers have been covering it intensely, the Egyptian independent press has been covering it intensely. There's no excuse to say there is no info out there for even the laziest of correspondents or bureau chiefs to tap into.

I won't go into the details here, click on some of the links to see in-depth (others are writing in great depth on the topic), but in a nutshell: Mubarak is trying to ammend the Constitution to further entrench the power of his corrupt NDP party by making the registration of other parties totally subject to their whims for approval and not allowing independent candidates (so no Muslim Brothers running anymore despite their impressive electoral performance and subsequent parliamentry performance), limit the independence of the judiciary, entrench draconian security laws, and apparently ease the way for Hosni's son Gamal to be the next President. A "referendum" is supposed to take place in April - yet another fixed referendum by an Arab dictator, whoopee. Virtually every single independent political voice outside of the entrenched cronies of the regime - from leftists to Islamists - is united in opposition, including even many of the generally toothless "official opposition". With the US having completely stopped raising criticism of the Mubarak regime at the top levels of government (Congressionally-mandated annual human rights report don't count, they can be and are ignored both by the White House and the Mubarak regime) because of the Bush regime's decisions to try and inflame Sunni-Shi'a tension in the region and to get an alliance of corrupt regimes to ally with Israel (Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi primarily) against Iran, Mubarak is fully deploying his goons of domestic repression knowing Washington won't say a thing.

Unprecedented numbers of leftists, secularists (including bloggers which has caught a little bit of western press attention), independent opposition voices, and Islamists are being arrested. Indeed, while the Muslim Brothers have by in large continued to try and remain non-confrontational (more so than the Kefaya movement), the regime is cracking down harder than ever arresting large numbers of their members and leaders reaching up to the top levels of their leadership. Torture continues apace at police stations despite all the unprecedent public revelations that have been aired and one of the most notorious torturers - Islam Nabih - has had his trial delayed while the victim he tortured finds himself in jail for 3 months for "resisting authorities".

As Baheyya so elegantly points out in her writing, Egypt has a long, distinguished history of political activism that often gets buried and forgotten by many outside the country. The present period is shaping up as one of the most fateful in a long time. I have high hopes that Egypt has some of the best chances of coming out of this with a government that is more genuinely representative of the people's will (i.e., more genuinely democratic with an independent judiciary and a rejection of American and Israeli schemes for the region). But the entrenched powers that be will fight like lions. I hope at the end of the day they'll just follow Farouk's footsteps and take a free ride out of the country, but I also hope that "revolutionary" convulsions can be avoided. I think people are well aware of the pain of revolution and the need for peaceful change, but the more extreme the current regime is in holding on to power at all costs (and the more extreme the US is in aiding and abetting the regime) and denying genuine democratic change and judicial independence, the more likely they will make the changes unnecessarily painful.

One addition, I've translated an article below from al-Masri al-Youm on the most recent Kefaya calls for a boycott of the constitutional ammendment referendum. I found the comparison to Mauritania (which has likewise been receiving wide coverage in the Arab Press) quite interesting as well: a military coup against a long-entrenched dictator followed by the writing of a widely-accepted Constitution which limits the president to two five year terms, and now a set of elections broadly considered to have been fair and transparent, including an upcoming runoff after the top two presidential candidates each garnered only about a quarter or less of the vote. I won't go into the ins and outs of Mauritanian politics which I'm not really qualified to comment on anyhow, but on the surface at least, a fine example for the Egyptian opposition to point to and undoubtedly one that terrifies both Mubarak and Bush as they know full well that a genuinely representative legislature, executive, and judiciary in Egypt would throw both the bums and their cronies out of power and influence in the country.

[Non-Arab Arab's translation of «كفاية» تدعو إلي «مقاطعة الاستفتاء» ومطالب بتطبيق «التجربة الموريتانية»]

By Magdi Sam'aan and Muhammad Azzam


"Kefaya" Calls For "Boycotting the Referendum" And Demands Implementation of "The Mauritanian Experiment"

The Egyptian Movement for Change "Kefaya" called for boycotting the referendum on constitutional ammendments which is expected to take place the first week of this coming April on the 2nd. The movement renewed its rejection of the constitutional ammendments and threatened more demonstrations opposing it. They demanded the release of 33 of its members which security forces arrested in a demonstration which the movement organized in downtown Cairo the day before yesterday.

Doctor Abdulwahab al-Maseeri the General Coordinator of the Kefaya Movement accused the security forces of dealing barbarically with him and his wife in the movement's demonstration rejecting the constitutional ammendments. In a press conference Kefaya held yesterday, al-Maseeri said that he had received a phone call from senior officials in the interior ministry warning him against organizing a demonstration the day before yesterday. Al-Maseeri said "The governing regime doesn't get that the country is in need of peaceful change, avoiding a popular explosion which would bring things no one knows or wants".

Security forces pursued a strategy of "drying up the wells" to abort any demonstration the day before yesterday. They prevented any gathering of citizens in Tahrir Square and closed the side streets and some of the coffee shops in which political activists gather. About 20 protestors were able to form a bloc in the sidestreet next to the headquarters of the Tagammua Party and keep on chanting against the constitutional ammendments and poltical reforms in the midst of an intense security siege.

In their chants, the demonstrators drew a connection between what they called the bogus political reforms in Egypt and the democratic changes that are happening in Mauritania. The chants rang out: "Mauritania O Mauritania, Egypt is with you second by second" [note: it rhymes in Arabic - Mauritania ya Mauritania, Masr ma'aki sania bi-sania]. They also got into a verbal altercation with the leaders of the Nasserist Party who were holding their annual conference in the Tagammua Party headquarters [note: both are "official" - i.e., defanged - leftist "opposition" parties] because of their loud chants. Dozens of members of the Labor Party [note: a small Islamist party] organized a demonstration after Friday prayers in Al-Azhar Mosque yesterday protesting the constitutional ammendments, demanding the necessity of implementing the Mauritanian democratic experiment in Egypt.

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