Category Archives: Crime In a Box

Crimes against humanity from within and without; all those prejudices that choke self-determination

The Counter Revolution Fails

The Egyptian Revolution crosses a historic landmark, with massive implications for the world. The history of revolutions is as full of counter-revolutions as revolutions and commentators were confident in warning that somebody somewhere will definitely be ‘stealing the revolution’ in Egypt (Al-Jazeera commentary). Maneuvering and politicking saw Senators and Prime Ministers visit Taḥrīr Square and drive on to talk with the country’s new caretakers. A new law was mooted to ban demonstrations and strikes. Israel and Saudi Arabian leaders lobbied hard for the return of Mubarak, who was planning to return to power from his compound in Sharm el-Sheikh. That was the purpose of his speech on April 10th when he pleaded poverty in a speech broadcast on Al-Arabiyya TV. As far as he was concerned according to the speech he had no more savings than an average Egyptian businessman, and claimed he certainly had no assets abroad. When the incensed directors of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina responded immediately by demanding the return of $145m taken from funds donated to them by the European Union stolen by Suzanne Mubarak, the new facade immediately crumbled, as previous facades had done immediately after his two other major speeches since the beginning of the revolution.

Reports from Al-Goma’a newspaper had Mubarak and his entourage trying to flee to Saudi Arabia on the following day, April 11th. Sharm el-Sheikh Air Traffic control advised the military authorities of a plan being lodged with them for a helicopter flight from Mubarak’s compound to Riyadh. The flight was disallowed, several attorneys general subsequently visited Mubarak on April 12th and he was arrested on April 13th even though he suffered a minor heart attack and was hospitalised.

But let us start from the beginning. On Tuesday 25 January 2011 – the Day of Anger and Uprising [yawm al-ġaḍab wa al-‘intifāḍa]– the revolution began in Taḥrīr Square. There followed a crackdown which involved the shutdown of the internet and mobile phone networks, attacks by covert police, police snipers on rooftops, and hired thugs, as well as wholesale looting by further hired thugs targeting various residential neighbourhoods to simulate a total breakdown of law and order – a tactic intended both to instil fear and drive protesters back to their homes and provide justification for potential further crackdowns. The people responded in their millions with massive rallies on Friday 28 January – the Friday of Anger [ǧumʿat al-ġaḍab] – The call went out and the message that was read from the Qur’an said:  Think not that Allah doesn’t heed the deeds of those who do wrong. He merely gives them respite against the day when their eyes will stare fixedly in horror [at the consequences of their actions](14:42); meanwhile the call continued for the ‘fall of the régime’ [al-sha‘ab yurīd isqāṭ al-niẓām]. Mubarak – oblivious to the true nature of the events – appoints a hated figure, Omar Suleiman, head of intelligence (and personal friend since he saved his life in an attempt on Mubarak’s life in Addis Ababa in 1995) as Vice President, and hopes that a simple Cabinet reshuffle will quell the revolution. Another confidant of Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq is appointed Prime Minister. Determined, the millions gathered again for the ‘march of the millions’ on Tuesday 1st February culminating with prayers onFriday 4th February – called the Friday of Departure ǧumʿat al-khulāṣ – setting an immediate deadline for Mubarak’s departure.

The régime was shaken – little did the protesters know it. Some hated figures from the régime, probably selected on the basis that their usefulness had expired, were arrested for interrogation as to corruption and use of force against the protesters. The previous day –Thursday, February 3rd – however, repressive measures had nevertheless led to a day of the greatest losses among protesters. The total figures were by now some 800 deaths and 5,000 injuries. Meanwhile Omar Suleiman opened dialogue with the leaders of the protesters. The pressure was kept up by the protesters with the Coptic community now at the centre of prayers on Sunday 6th February, gathered to say mass over the fallen of the revolution – it was dubbed the Sunday of Martyrs –Aad al-shuhadā. Muslims prayed alongside them. On Friday 10th February Mubarak made another defiant (although less strident) speech, but one that it turned out was actually against the wishes of the Supreme Military Council [SCAF] (hence the lesser stridency – the element of sheepishness). SCAF met without Mubarak or indeed Suleiman in attendance and this was filmed on state TV to introduce the public to the de facto take over bySCAF.

On Friday February 11th 2011, SCAF took power in Egypt after the forced resignation of President Hosni Mubarak (finally). The Council, led by the Defense minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, included Air Marshal Reda Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, Armed forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eldeen, Commander of air defense, and Vice Admiral Mohab Mamish).

Leadership of the protesters was invited by the SCAF to amend the Constitution and a hurried vote (to the anger of the budding political parties that wanted time to organise) was planned for 19 March. The Muslim Brotherhood, having launched its Freedom and Justice Party, supported the idea of the SCAF for fear of loss of momentum – although they were seen as being self-interested because they were more organised than the others. Fears that there would be a counterrevolution were stoked by the continued presence of Ahmed Shafiq at the helm of government as Prime Minister, the preparations of the NDP for forthcoming elections, and the continued presence of the gathered Mubarak clan in their compound in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Omar Suleiman however, had been dropped from an active role as being too closely connected with Israel to make him credible. More pressure from protesters who signally refused to stop protesting and meeting in Taḥrīr Square despite repeated curfews, warnings, and – on two occasions – attacks by military police this time, led to yet more NDP figures being arrested on charges of corruption and murder, and the growing perception that a popular figure was needed as Prime Minister.

On 3rd March Ahmed Shafiq was removed and Esam Sharaf installed, signally taking his oath in Taḥrīr Square to defend the revolution. The protesters finally had a friend within the ruling body, and this would serve them as events unfolded from now on. The protesters became worried as the NDP continued to organise for elections and the Mubarak clan continued to be gathered in the compound in Sharm El-Sheikh despite rumours the Mubarak was ill and possibly going to Germany for life-saving treatment – all now clearly recognised as disinformation meant to defuse passions on the street and try to gain some measure of sympathy for the old dictator.

A march was planned to go to Sharm El-Sheikh but was disallowed by the military authorities. Military units had been stationed in Sharm El-Sheikh since February 11th in clear violation of Camp David accords which stipulate that the Egyptian army cannot cross the Suez Canal. Clearly, Israel had given its approval for this. On March 22, in view of the successful referendum on the constitution, a meeting took place to review the forthcoming electoral process between all the new political parties and General Hasan Rowaini as representative for the SCAF. The rump NDP was present. The Youth Coalition Movement under the vociferous leadership of Taqadum Al-Khatib accused the SCAF of protecting Mubarak and his friends. Everybody’s attention had been focused by surprising reports from the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm claiming that someone in government had received a call from Gamal Mubarak in Sharm complaining that no one had consulted the Mubarak clan about the changes to the constitution.

At the March 22 meeting, Hasan Rowaini’s blank refusal to allow Mubarak to be charged with crimes against his people and with grand theft as the Youth Coalition Movement demanded, together with his bad tempered manner, meant that the meeting ended with daggers drawn on both sides.

The protesters threatened further massive demonstrators and were true to their word when on Friday, April 1, dubbed the “Friday to Salvage the Revolution” (ǧumʿat inqadh al-thawra) hundreds of thousands marched while tens of thousands met in Taḥrīr Square itself carrying a massive Egyptian flag in their midst. Chants went up for the return of ‘stolen millions’, for ‘the purification of the country’, warning al-Tantawi of the power of the street, chanting and ‘Marshal, Marshal, all legitimacy stems from Taḥrīr’ (Mushīr, Mushīr al-quwwa min Tarīr). This time state TV and all the newspapers were covering the demonstration, and furthermore they were joining in with protester demands. On Friday, April 8 a further rally was held in Taḥrīr with a mock trial of Mubarak in which his effigy ended up being hanged – also – crucially – covered by state TV.

The rest is history.

On April 7, Zakariya Azmi, Mubarak’s chief of staff and most trusted aid, was arrested.

On April 10 Ahmed Nazif, Mubarak’s last Prime Minister before the revolution, was arrested

On April 11 Safwat El-Sherif; the president of the Shura council and NDP General Secretary, was arrested;

On April 13 in the morning Hosni Mubarak was arrested, then Fathi Soroor, the Speaker of the Parliament, then in the evening Gamal Mubarak and Alaa Mubarak;

On April 14, heirs of the late influential NDP member Kamal Shazly were blocked from accessing the family fortune

On April 19, the NDP was declared an unlawful organisation, their assets confiscated and their main building given over the Human Rights Watch as offices

Charges are being drawn up for the arrest of Suzanne Mubarak for the theft of $145m from the Bibliotheca Alexandria.

After the chief medical officer indicated that the hospital prison in Tora jail was not equipped to receive Mubarak, some preparations have since been made and the attorneys general in charge of his case have decided to move him there when the preparations have finished.

The name Mubarak is coming off all public spaces now.

There were two factors that have led to the success of the revolution: the discipline of the Youth Coalition Movement and the quite separate actions of the Muslim Brotherhood. What the ‘international community’ including commentators failed to recognise about Egypt was that (as was the case in the final days of the soviet empire) the age, lack of energy of military leaders and the divisive nature of its organisational structure, designed to deter young officers from rising in the ranks and taking power from within, was making the military impotent in the face of raw street power.

The organisational restructuring of the Egyptian army instituted under the aegis of Mubarak and his US paymaster meant that its vital force – the vibrancy of youth was deliberately cut away. The quicksand under the military castle was accentuated by the fact of conscription in Egypt which doesn’t make for a clear dividing line between ‘soldiers’ and ‘people’. Every male in Egypt has been in the army and has contacts in the army if he is not still in it. Furthermore, Tantawi the Chief of the Supreme Military Council is a retiring figure put in the position of ultimate power by Mubarak specifically because he had the opposite character to Abu Ghazala, the previous chief and hero of the 1973 war, who had been primus inter pares ruler of Egypt until Mubarak sidelined him with the help of the US for being too independent (following the Condor incident).

Given the new status of the armed forces, where there are no new young officers to take over, finding a safe military pair of hands for the US, for Israel or for Saudi to make a deal with wasn’t going to happen. That is why it was important for those powers that Mubarak and his sons stayed on. The fact that clan Mubarak remained in Sharm el-Sheikh in their compound unable to predict the dangers facing them was entirely due to the confidence they had in their ability to make a comeback, based entirely on the assessment of the support from the US, Israel and Saudi. Normally, during the years of public quiescence in Egypt such an assessment may have been sensible – today however, obviously not. That the Mubarak clan is in Tora jail has clearly shocked every one of them (looking at their faces on TV when they were arrested), and their foreign backers.

International politicians trying to avert this situation had no understanding of what they were dealing with. The nature of the Egyptian people is something they haven’t fathomed – after all, having been so quiescent for so long – what’s up with them now? Actually his was a revolution that was brewing for some time – since the Camp David accords. The extraordinary brutality of the régime is evidence of the continuous pressure on it from the people. Finally the dam burst. But there was one element which commentators could not understand about the situation of the Egyptian people. Conscription, which was actually instituted after the 1967 war to prepare for the 1973 war and which was continued as a way of controlling the population, has led to the perverse result – from the point of view of the régime – that the ‘people’ had acquired a militarised mindset. This was what was behind the Youth Coalition Movement’s success. The ‘peaceful’ demonstrations in Egypt are a counterintuitive result of the discipline inculcated into Egyptians through the years of conscription.

Violent demonstrations would on the contrary have been symptomatic of the kind of indiscipline which one would associate with uneducated tribal behavior.

In respect of the bogeyman of the West – the Muslim Brotherhood – it surprised everybody by both embracing the Copts in all of its policies and actions, thus unifying the country, and also rupturing with Saudi Arabia. The medieval kingdom, the key Western and Israeli ally in the region, was, it was pointed out a major destabilizing force in Egypt using and funding Salafis in Egypt to cause unrest by attacking Sufi shrines and desecrating Coptic Churches. This divide and rule Saudi tactic is widespread in the Middle-East, nevertheless the Muslim Brotherhood openly opposed Saudi policy, by rounding on Salafis, and helping to rebuild churches for the Copts which the Salafis damaged. Furthermore, when the Muslim Brotherhood launched their new Freedom and Justice parliamentary party, they opened competition for all jobs including the top job, to Muslims and Christians alike.

The commentators are now confident that the ‘Arab Spring’ is slowly winding down. Maybe in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain, but not in Egypt (and Tunisia). Whatever happens in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain now doesn’t take from the reality that the ‘Arab Spring’ is ongoing. All it needs is one foothold.


Egypt’s Economy, the Nile Waters, Libya and the Military

If the Egyptian military has had a strategy entirely of its own apart from its concern over its economic pre-eminence within Egypt, it is securing Egypt’s borders as well as the waters of the Nile.

If Egypt has had a ‘cold peace’ with Israel, this has not been entirely the result of public emotion over the undemocratic nature of the treaties signed at Camp David. It is also due to the fact that the Egyptian military has continued to view Israel as Egypt’s main enemy. This was despite Mubarak’s cosy business relationship with the Israeli leadership. Irrespective of the prodding by the US to reconfigure its positions on the ground, the Egyptian military has insisted on keeping a structure that assumes that Israel may attack at any time: hence the ‘cold peace’. If everybody is wondering why when the Libyan Justice Minister and close confidant of Ghaddafi defected to the rebellion and then visited Egypt for help in structuring an offensive against Ghaddafi the Egyptian military refused, it is for this reason. The greatest danger in this period of instability is perceived as the possibility of a re-invasion of Sinai by Israel. Reconfiguring Egypt troop positions in this period was inconceivable. On the other hand, Mustapha Abdul Jalil did get what he wanted because it was the Egyptian military which pressured the Arab League to vote for a no fly zone (with the help of the US of course).

Which brings us to the matter of the Nile waters and the Mubarak era: Mubarak was funding a massive irrigation project in the North Sinai desert called the North Sinai Agricultural Development Project ( NSADP) which was going forward despite the severe warnings from an environmental impact study. Since 1987 this project had been diverting Nile water to agricultural development plots west of the Suez Canal. This water was supplied through two tunnels under the Suez Canal. When in 1996 Mubarak announced the opening of a third tunnel, it became clear that a final leg of the project would bring Nile water to just south of the North Sinai town of El Arish, only 40 km away from the border of the Gaza Strip at Rafah. There have been rumours, given the study of Israeli water expert Elisha Kally 1974 aimed at bringing Nile water to Israel, that the ultimate goal of the project was precisely this. Given Mubarak’s ‘ultra-cheap gas’ deal with Israel, it is not conceivable that a similar water deal might have been dreamt up by the corrupt regime of Mubarak for personal gain – at a massive cost for Egypt and indeed for Africa.

So what was Mubarak’s Nile water policy. How could he think that he could suddenly divert water not just to the desert of Sinai but ultimately to Israel? In respect of the lower Nile countries – he simply threatened them with military action if they interfered in any way with the current arrangement where Egypt uses 75% of the Nile water (55.5 billion cubic meters of water per annum), compared with 11% for Sudan and 1% for Ethiopia, and the remaining 13% amongst Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Uganda. Already Mubarak’s Tushka project in Southern Egypt was a huge drain on the river’s water. Perhaps Mubarak hoped that he and Israel could put together a punitive force which would blow these countries up if Israel received a share of the water. Certainly the US would never be able to object to such an ‘alliance’. This isn’t clear though – it is speculative.

But what is clear is that when the Agreement on the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework (CFA) amongst the countries south of the Sudan was proposed on April 13, 2010, DR Congo and Burundi didn’t sign the document like the others on May 14th. It was reported by AP on 12/07/2010 – 2:57 p.m. GMT that local Burundi newspapers carried allegations of the bribing of Burundi officials by Egypt. It is isn’t clear why DR Congo didn’t sign, but assuming similar reasons couldn’t be far off the truth. Burundi Minister Degratias N’Duimana has been on record saying that Egypt has regularly used divide and rule tactics, leveraging off the Burundi Muslim community to achieve its aims of reducing water consumption in the country.

As of 03/03/2011 – after the departure of Mubarak – Burundi has now signed the agreement, which involves a plan for a new dam in Ethiopia and various projects throughout the other countries. The current Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs for Egypt – Mona Omar – has stated a new policy that eschews the violence and manipulation that was Mubarak’s principal modus operandi and instead embraces negotiation and compromise. This blog carried a piece earlier regarding Farouk el-Baz’s ‘superhighway’ built partially to use desert aquifers as a source of water. It is unlikely and unwise to consider such aquifers to be a panacea in respect of Egypt water needs. Nile water may also be needed for this project.

Thus it is vital that the statement by Mona Omar should be expanded into a full-blown policy of economic development, free trade and free movement of capital and labour between all Nile countries in order to achieve economic balance all along the Nile and afford opportunities for Egyptians in African countries that have existing underutilised potential, while giving the Nilotic peoples all the opportunity of exploiting Egypt’s strategic location as well as its other commercial resources. The Egyptian military would also then be freed from the potential liability of having to plan for ridiculous potential punitive measures in deepest Africa. It would seem that from Egypt’s long term perspective that the end of the Mubarak era could not have come at a more crucial time in the country’s history.


Viral Threads Rear Their Heads Again

The Saudi-US Axis and its tethering of self-determination

Saudi Arabia today issued a ban against public marches and protests, claiming that such acts are anti-Islamic. It’s obvious that their preemption of anti-government sentiment in response to revolutions taking place across the region remains the central reason behind their ban. They have reason to be afraid, and their fear underscores the contradictions between the majority of the people’s will, the monarchy’s rhetoric of upholding Islamic values, and the monarchy’s foreign policy. Such a contradiction, although profitable for the elite in control of various lobbies – namely the arms and oil lobbies – has bred a viral thread throughout the region (and arguably, throughout the sphere of global security) primarily since the 1970s, when the United States and Saudi Arabia incited a form of Islam which they today accuse of being the target and instigator of the War on Terror. The truth is that the viral thread, simply put, is the encouragement of delusion; as opposed to being honest with the people, the Saudi government, due to its contradicting stances and the lack of alignment between its stated values and policies, actively coerces the masses. This trend has existed throughout the Middle East though in varying forms, and seems to be the foundational reason behind the revolutions taking place.

What happens in Saudi is important. Saudi is the US’s second-largest military client, coming second only to Israel, which on the surface of things seems to be the monarchy’s archenemy. Isn’t it funny how that works? The country defined as the nest from which Islamic extremism has taken flight, is the same country that produces the largest amount of oil in the world, which the United States pays for with military hardware. Just last year, the US and Saudi Arabia signed a 20-year plan worth over 60 billion US dollars, and reports have said that the deal is one of the largest ever made by the United States to one country. Surely it secures Saudi reliance on the United States for protection against the monarchy’s vulnerability to Iran , as well as to upheavals in Yemen which could threaten an influx of migrations at the border, and emphatically, to the US’s reach on Saudi’s control over the current of political Islamic extremism. If we just pause for a second and take a look back into history – the very same Al Qaeda which the US claims to be the target to its War on Terror – was created by US-Saudi policy makers who armed mujahideen in the 1970s against communist forces during the Cold War. Another pause for thought: to control extremism in one country by ensuring its government’s militarization and reliance on the United States, is to strip that government of credibility in the eyes of its people; to strip it of the promises it made to its people – promises of dignity in the form of upholding Islamic principles, and promises of those Islamic principles being the highest priority.  Extremism of any kind is often reactive, and is constructed by elements in society who feel degenerated by their governments due to the reality that their leaders care more about their relationship to powerful foreign elements – the United States – than they do about the people’s struggle to understand their own identity. Saudi Arabia is a large country with varying ethnic, sectarian and geographical landscapes, and no elected parliamentary body to represent them.

Such militarization enables US clout in Saudi Arabia, strengthens their relationship financially, and makes it more difficult to give incentive for the monarchy to listen to its people’s needs because at best, the people’s needs would bring the contradictory structure right to its knees, and a weakened Saudi Arabia is truly in no one’s interest. However, a strong Saudi Arabia, one that need not give money to its people to ensure their contentment – as Saudi Arabia has just done to quell the possibility of an uprising – would mean facing the virus, and locating its antidote. Relationships are certainly complex things, and the US-Saudi  rendezvous is no exception, however, what message are the masses in the Middle East meant to receive when the beacon of democracy symbolized by the United States, stages “core theatre wars” in some country’s in the name of democracy, and does businesses with others who blatantly have no interest in democracy. Forget democracy and theory for now, for one second, and lets talk simple math: If you want to stop the anger, you’ve gotta find out why it’s there. And you’ve gotta listen.

The people are no longer willing not to be heard. That’s been made very clear.

– Love in a Box


De-Americanizing Democracy: Can Egypt Bring Its Majority Voice to Light, Uninterrupted?

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Who said a pro-democracy movement in Egypt, or any Arab country for that matter, meant that an American element permeated the vibe of the Egyptian revolution? How deeply can the American government’s affinity for the neoliberal economic order seep into … Continue reading