Friday, February 24, 2012

How Some Egyptian Christians Are Rediscovering Egypt

It was Sunday morning, February 20th 1910; Egypt was on the verge of a political earthquake. Ibrahim Nassif El Werdany waited patiently outside the parliament building clutching a loaded gun. The tranquility of this Cairo morning was shattered by the sound of 6 bullets shot by El Werdany towards Prime Minister Botrus Ghali Pasha. Egypt’s first Coptic Christian Prime Minister was instantly killed.

The assassination of Botrus Ghali Pasha created a tremendous rift between Muslims and Christians at that period, a rift that our British colonialists were keen on exacerbating. El Werdany claimed that his motives were purely political. He regarded Botrus Ghali Pasha as a traitor for his “decision to support a proposed extension to the Suez Canal Company’s concession for forty years beyond the expiry of the original concession in 1968, in exchange for increased payments to Egypt.” El Werdany said he would have done the same thing if the Prime Minister was a Muslim.

Nevertheless, El Werdany’s justifications to his act did little to save the country from the schism that awaited it. Many Christians were furious at what happened and regarded the assassination as an attack on their community as a whole. A year later, a group of prominent Christian figures opposed the Coptic Pope and held what was known as “The Coptic Conference” to discuss grievances Christians complained of. The idea of this conference was anathema in a country that was trying to unite and fight for its independence from the world’s superpower back then. To counter the sectarian “Coptic Conference”, another conference called “The Egyptian Conference” was held in Heliopolis that included both Muslims and Christians. Among the Christian participants was Wesa Wasif Pasha who in the 30s was elected as President of Parliament.

A few years after the death of Botrus Ghali Pasha, Egypt witnessed the emergence of a leader who managed to overturn the political landscape of the country and place our case for independence on the world’s stage. Saad Zaghloul, considered to be one of the greatest Egyptian minds ever, managed in an unbelievable short time to obliterate the effect of Botrus Ghali’s assassination and bring Christians to the fold of the Egyptian dream of independence. He understood that the Muslim majority had to take the initiative and extend justice, security and acceptance towards the Christian minority. Not only was Zaghloul restoring Muslim-Christian relations, he was basically ushering in the golden liberal era that remained until the military coup of 1952.

Saad Zaghloul’s remedy, or what I call Zaghloulism, was so powerful that when the British, in 1919, forced Sultan Fouad (he became King in 1922) to appoint one of their Christian allies as Prime Minister, the Christian community were the first to oppose him. In fact there was an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life. This time it was a Christian who tried to kill him!

Why am I giving you a history lesson? Because I believe this revolution has created smaller “Saad Zaghlouls” who were born in Tahrir square on January 25th and the months that followed the downfall of Mubarak. Young nationalist Muslim Egyptians who believe in the same principles of equality and justice that Saad Zaghloul believed in. Exactly the same principles, nothing more nothing less. And Christians will always get attracted to a Saad Zaghloul.

For the past months, I have seen a rise in the number of Christians who’ve joined the revolutionaries in Tahrir or have at least became politically active in some party or movement. This is quiet significant. Christians in Egypt for the past 40 years have normally been found in three locations: their homes, their churches and their secluded area inside a university or school. Today I can see that a number of them have chosen to leave the confines of their churches and make history with their fellow citizens whether by joining the protest movement or simply getting more involved in political affairs. I am not claiming that the numbers are big, but I can definitely see a phenomena. These Christians are basically doing exactly what their grandfathers did with Saad Zaghloul. They are responding to the call of someone willing to accept them on the basis of justice, security and equality.

I am often accused of being too optimistic regarding the future of this country. I admit it is very hard to be optimistic given the current situation in Egypt. I mean look at the joke called the parliament! But I still believe that just as this revolution has unearthed every ill we have in our society, it has also exposed the good which often go unnoticed. It is exactly like digging the earth with a shovel. You will unearth lots of worms. Your attention will only be on the worms and you won’t notice that you’ve also exposed fresh clean mud that you can use to plant new seeds.

The “Saad Zaghlouls” this revolution has uncovered are definitely the new seeds we’re hoping will one day, if ever, pull the country away from its abyss and towards a better future. The same future Saad Zaghloul had in mind when he was forcibly evicted from the country with his 5 close companions, 2 of whom were Christian.

  Posted by BP at 5:35 pm Comments (13)
Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sorry America, But You Have to Play “Enemy” For a While

It was 1954. Gamal Abdul Nasser had just managed to get rid of his predecessor General Mohamed Naguib and put him under house arrest. He also went ahead and banned every aspect of democracy we had before the military coup of 1952. Parliament, parties, elections and free media were all abolished when Nasser became sure he was on his way to single handedly rule Egypt. However, one thing was still missing. A thing that ensured Nasser had minimum opposition to his rule: an enemy.

Egypt’s new military dictator had to keep the country in a constant state of war in order to portray dissidents as foreign agents aimed at undermining Egypt “when the whole world was conspiring against it”. Nasser managed to rule for 17 years before death decided to end his regime. During that period, we’ve been to 3 wars and between these wars, thousands of opposition figures ranging from communists to Muslim Brothers were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

I believe our military generals or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), are trying to copycat the same plan. They might not be able to singlehandedly rule like Nasser, but given the pressure exerted on them these days, portraying that we are under the threat of an outside enemy will definitely give them more freedom to undermine and tarnish their opposition, namely the revolutionary force. This is where the whole confrontation with the US comes in.

SCAF is under considerable pressure both from the revolutionary street and from within the army itself. What better way to protect their position than to portray themselves as victims of the world’s sole superpower that have nothing else to do except “fomenting plans against Egypt”. This is one of the things SCAF wants from this whole NGOs crisis. The other thing is to silence and intimidate the institutions that help in creating an Egypt quiet different from the one they have in mind.

  Posted by BP at 11:47 am Comments (13)
Saturday, February 11, 2012

Why Egypt’s Military Rulers are Picking a Fight with the Americans

I have to admit I have been pondering over this whole NGOs saga for quiet some time. I just couldn’t reach a solid theory behind why our military rulers, or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), decided to agitate the Americans in such a way. I cannot remember that it ever happened that foreign workers in Egypt were banned from leaving the country in such a manner. What is happening is quiet serious. Come on, the son of an Obama Administration member is hiding inside the US embassy!

After much thought, I think I reached a theory that my mind can accept. Still I do not presume that my theory constitutes the full truth.

Before I tell you my theory, we have to agree together on certain things. First, SCAF are in control of almost every institution in the country including the General Prosecutor. There was no way on earth our judiciary system would take such a move against American and German linked NGOs without at least tacit SCAF approval. Second, these pro democracy institutions are definitely a headache to whomever rules Egypt. They work on human rights issues and help nascent political parties. In fact, the investigators even reported that the Muslim Brotherhood’s own party had received funds from one of these NGOs. Ironically, the MB did not react after the NGOs were stormed last December. Bums comfortably parked on parliament seats, why would the MB speak against the persecution of the same institutions that supported them when Mubarak threw high profile MB leaders in military jails?

The third thing we have to agree upon is this: SCAF’s popularity has been underminded during the past months and the generals are under immense pressure from the street. They might still be enjoying the approval of a weary and revolution-tired population, but the anti-SCAF movement, especially among the middle class and university students, is growing. Last January 25th, we saw crowds that far exceeded any protest during the past year, including the 18 days of the revolution.

So, you’re under pressure from the revolutionary force, what do you do? You do exactly what Gamal Abdul Nasser did in 1954. You pick up a fight with the West, you portray yourself as if you’re standing to the US. Above all, you make it appear as if the country is being threatened from some sort of “foreign plan” aimed at dividing or conquering it. This is what SCAF are doing now to gain popularity and undermine the revolutionary force working against them.

The NGOs case has to been seen within the context of everything else that is happening. The news that they found maps inside one of the NGOs detailing a plan to “divide the country across religious lines.” SCAF’s Facebook Admin page that recently claimed the American University in Cairo students and faculty were behind a plan to “destroy the Egyptian state” through calling for civil disobedience. NGOs, maps, dividing Egypt, foreign money, American university, foreign hands, American threatening to cut aid. Connect these words and you have a perfect conspiracy to sell to the general public.

Now, can SCAF risk loosing the annual US1.3 billion in US aid they get? According to Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif, yes they might be willing to loose the aid if that helped their sinking ship:

They’re trying to provoke [the severing of US aid], because they’re desperate and they want to present themselves as popular defenders of the nation. So what better way to do it?

Springborg adds:

It wouldn’t mean a thing to Egypt’s military were the aid to stop. A great bulk of that has gone into the procurement of weapons systems that have not been used, are not likely to be used, and that [Egyptian forces] haven’t been properly trained on.

The above poses a very important question: are the generals willing to forgo Abram tanks that are destined to rust in order to save their political future in Egypt. Or are they just going the extra mile with the belief that the US cannot go its own extra mile: cutting the aid. Days will tell.

Update:

Foreign Policy analysis that basically explains what I mentioned above.

  Posted by BP at 1:47 pm Comments (10)
Saturday, February 4, 2012

How Egypt’s New Rulers are Intimidating Their Only Opposition

How Egypt’s New Rulers are Silencing Their Only Opposition

I have stated before that there are three main players on Egypt’s political stage: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the revolutionaries.

Egypt's 3 power players

Judging from current events on the ground, it is quiet apparent that SCAF and MB have managed to reach some sort of a “power deal” or an understanding between them. The agreement is not coherent nor officially documented and it did have its own ups and downs. It was basically born out of the mutual interests of both parties. The SCAF want to hand over power while retaining as much Mubarak-era benefits as possible. The MB just want to enjoy and celebrate what post-Mubarak Egypt have unexpectedly bestowed on them.

The third player is the revolutionaries; a mosaic of Egyptians from all walks of life who are determined to continue the revolution till all its demands are met. They are young, old, Muslims, Christians, well off and poor. Some of their girls don the nikab, others do not cover their hair. You cannot even group them ideologically. They range from the anarchists to the salafis. Yet the bulk do not adhere to a specific ideology.

The revolutionaries are the most difficult to satisfy. SCAF just want to retain their economical interests and independence. The MB just want the seat they’ve been drooling over for the past 80 years.  The revolutionaries are different though. You cannot throw them a bone. These people are willing to die or lose an eye for their cause. This is the reason why they’re a pain in the neck to whoever is calling the shots in Egypt. This is the reason why the other two players in the above pie would rather see them silenced, weakened and above all tarnished.

SCAF’s war against the revolutionaries started days after the toppling of Mubarak. With the bulk of those who participated in the January revolution gone from Tahrir, SCAF made sure to obliterate the remaining hardcore protesters who would not relent until all revolution’s demands were met. And we all know what befell those protesters last year: military trials, torture inside Cairo’s museum, virginity tests, violent crackdowns on sit-ins and a state media orchestrated campaign to tarnish whoever remained in Tahrir after February 11.

Since the revolutionaries are so diverse and unorganized, SCAF needed a sole body to direct the campaign towards. April 6, probably the only organized and coherent body besides the MB became the target. SCAF were so successful in their fear mongering campaign to the extent that the mere mention of the words “April 6” to average apolitical Egyptians today would send chills of fear down  their spines.

After securing the majority of seats in parliament, it seems that the MB are joining SCAF in their attempts to silence and tarnish their common rival in the Egyptian political equation.  A month before the scheduled protests on January 25th,  SCAF started yet another scare mongering campaign targeting that day. They spoke of plans to “burn the country” by certain groups and “hidden hands.” It was very surprising to see the MB joining this campaign. Secured by the number of seats they won, the MB wanted to be the only legitimate voice of the people, in other words, the only voice to be heard.

MB Attacking RevSoc

Their campaign started by picking another group this time besides April 6. It was the Revolutionary Socialists’ (RevSoc) turn. The workers advocacy group that supported the MB back in 2007 when Mubarak’s security apparatus cracked down on them. On December 24, MB’s official newspaper carried a main headline that read: RevSoc…Violence Comes First. MB attacks even reached independent women who participated in a march denouncing violence against female protesters by army soldiers back in December. MB’s head of Women Affairs, Manal Aboul Hassan, said in a newspaper interview that those who participated in the march received foreign funds and have an agenda of their own. After the backlash her statement caused, she claimed the newspaper twisted what she actually said and promised to show a recording of the actual interview. This recording has not surfaced up till now.

The attempts to silence or drown protesters’ voice continued till January 25th. On the night of that day, the MB descended on Tahrir and built the largest stage there. And for the very first time they placed loud speakers in almost every corner of the square. Their goal was clear: to “drown” the protesters and to dominate the square. The message was: I am the parliament, I am the people and you shut up. I have an understanding with SCAF and I won’t allow you to disrupt it.

They were up to a big surprised though. Masses of protesters joined the marches to Tahrir from the four corners of Cairo and it was the MB who got drowned and not the other way round. They had, again for the first time, to beam Quran out of their loud speakers in order to cover up the chants coming from the throngs around them.

The above leads us to a very important current question: will the Ultras, the hardcore soccer fans who proved to be instrumental in the revolution and who were the main victims of the Port Said massacre, end up being the next target? They are as organized as April 6. They can mobilize and they’re starting to be politically active. They have all the necessary elements to make them detested by Egypt’s new rulers.

 

  Posted by BP at 3:24 pm Comments (16)