Thursday, May 30, 2013

Understanding The Brotherhood’s War Against NGOs

The Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) newly drafted NGOs law is the perfect embodiment of how low the Brotherhood can reach. By trying to pass a law that will greatly hinder NGOs funding, the MB is stifling the same organizations that supported it during Mubarak’s dictatorship. You can’t get any lower!

Why is the MB biting the hand that fed it?

First, repeat after me: the MB is a repressive regime, the MB is a repressive regime. When that reality sinks in, you will discover that there isn’t much of a difference between the Mubarak and the MB regimes. As any repressive regime, the MB considers a free strong well financed civil society as a threat to its regime and plans for consolidating absolute power in Egypt.

Second, NGOs with adequate financing are more capable of exposing the regime’s misconduct. For example, if democracy advocates have ample funding, they’ll recruit enough elections monitors to venture into the rural remote areas and witness what’s going on there.

Third, MB is working frantically to clone Mubarak regime and makes it operate for its political benefit and ambition to totally seize power. Mubarak curbed NGOs in order to protect his rule, the MB are doing the same thing, if not worse. By passing their law, the MB will provide a legal basis for intimidating NGOs and curbing their funding.

What should Western governments do? Western officials, whether American or European, should first fathom this fact: public statements are inadequate, they are useless. If Western governments really want to help the democratic transition in Egypt and they’re sincere in their desire to see a functioning democracy, they should start using their leverage on the country’s new rulers to push for things like an internationally standard NGO law. And there are a zillion cards to play ranging from political pressure to economic incentives. Yes it is the good old carrots and sticks approach. However, judging from my recent trip to Washington, this won’t be happening anytime soon. May be the Europeans will do things differently this time.

  Posted by BP at 1:34 pm Comments (0)
Friday, May 17, 2013

The Significance Behind Tamarod “Rebel”

The Tamarod or Rebel campaign, the Morsi no-confidence signatures drive that began less than a month ago, triggered very little reaction from the media, opposition parties  and well known activists who became figureheads of the January 25th revolution. After their press conference, where they claimed to have collected over 2 million signatures, Rebel activists saw thing turning upside down and everyone rushed to jump on the Rebel bandwagon.  The regime took note and the MB started pointing their guns at Rebel. Since the kids behind this signatures drive managed to piss off the MB, then they’re most probably doing the right thing.

Shook the Opposition Out Of Its Hiatus

For the past four to five months, the opposition was simply in a hiatus. The failure of the mass protests of last December and January to force the Brotherhood to change their behavior seems to have discouraged many people and convinced them that protests and filling up squares do not work anymore.  The opposition managed to fill two squares simultaneously without a single bus to ship people from outside Cairo yet the MB went ahead with their plans to consolidate power and clone Mubarak’s regime and make it work for their own benefit.

The Rebel campaign came as a bolt of lightning shaking the opposition out of its despair. Now almost every opposition party declared their full support of Rebel and offering their offices for the nationwide campaign to use. Rebel was the stone that fell inside a stagnant pond of water.

At Last Grassroots Work!

One of the most cited criticisms directed to the opposition is the fact that they do not engage in grassroots political activity. The Rebel campaign, on the other hand, spread across the country by the means of purely grassroots efforts.  People were encouraged to photocopy the petition and pass the copies around. Once the petitions were signed, a Rebel representative will collect them and add to the number that Rebel hopes will reach 15 million by  June 30th, the day on which they will march to the High Constitutional Court to deliver the petitions. The Rebel Facebook page is filled with pictures of Egyptians from all walks of life signing the no-confidence petition form. People the opposition would dream about reaching.

The End of the Mubarak Era Activists

I watched as well known Mubarak era activists were “philosophically” debating the merits of Rebel. Some were supportive; others thought the campaign was a waste of time. I followed this debate on the place where most Mubarak era activists are finding their refuge now: Twitter.

I believe Rebel is the first sign of the end of Mubarak era activists and the rise of a new generation of far younger activists. No one can blame the older generation activists for their demise. First, this is the natural cycle of life. Second, most of these activists are now in their mid thirties and early forties, they are married, they have children and the responsibilities of life are starting to weigh in on them. Third, these activists saw their life dream grumble right in front of their eyes. They saw their revolution being stolen while they’re standing powerless. Their energy was drained. It’s time for new soldiers to fight the new enemy.

Will Rebel make a difference? I don’t know but I do know it is the start of something and it is definitely better than the inertness the opposition was in since the beginning of the year.

  Posted by BP at 4:09 pm Comments Off on The Significance Behind Tamarod “Rebel”
Sunday, May 5, 2013

Two Tweets Foretelling the Future

I have written before that if this revolution produced one good thing it is the clash of mentalities we’re witnessing ever since the Islamists reached power a year and a half ago. I said that the halo political Islamists sported during Mubarak is diminishing and this is opening up debates that we have never experienced before.

This clash of mentalities is fully symbolized in the below tweets.  The tweet on top, written by a Morsi supporter and possibly a Brotherhood member, mocks Muslims who chose to say “Happy Easter” to Christians. “Greetings on the occasion of the Lord’s death and his waking up,” he wrote mockingly. Islam does not believe in Christ’s death and resurrection, extremists use that as an excuse to forbid well wishing Christians especially during Easter.

The tweet on the bottom is a reply by another Muslim. “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion. Allah truthfully said. May Allah punish you,” read the tweet. The author of this tweet is basically saying that even though Islam does not recognize Easter, the Quran declares that everyone is free to believe in his own religion and the difference in beliefs should not make humans antagonistic towards one another.

This exchange foretells two things. First, as mentioned above, we are entering in an era of debate and second thought. More and more people, especially the young, are refusing to take things at face value again. Mubarak kept us stagnant for 30 years. He did the thinking for us; we were left to talk only about religion, football and sex. The revolution, regardless of all its current ills, has stirred the minds of many people and brought a wide array of topics into the public discussions forum. When you debate you think, and when you think you question, and when you question you’re most likely going to reach a good conclusion.

Second, the author of the second tweet invoked verse 5 from Al-Kafirun chapter in the Quran to state his point. He used his religious beliefs to dispel the demeaning statement. I believe the current shock many people have from political Islamist rule will open the door once again for religious reformation. Politics unmasked the politicized Islamists and many people, especially those who belong to the influential middle class, do not like what they see. This will eventually lead anyone who despises radical thought to two reactions:  either leave the faith and become very nominal or even an atheist, or return back to religious text and use it to change the current radical religious discourse. This is what our friend who wrote the bottom tweet did.


  Posted by BP at 9:01 pm Comments Off on Two Tweets Foretelling the Future
Saturday, May 4, 2013

Understanding What Happened to the Sawiris Family

Last March, the Brotherhood appointed General Prosecutor placed Egyptian billionaires Onsi Sawiris and his son Nasif on the travel ban and arrivals watch lists. The government accused their company, Orascom Construction Industries (OCI), of evading taxes worth $2.1 billion.

“The Egyptian Tax Authority has submitted a tax claim to the company to pay 4.7 billion pounds related to the sale of Orascom Building Materials Holding to Lafarge SA in 2007,” the company said on its website. “To date, the company has received no additional claim with any different tax liability.”

The debate over whether OCI owes the government this amount could go on forever and I do not want to discuss that here. I want to tell you why I think the Brotherhood led government went after this particular family.

I believe the target of this whole ordeal was not the 82 years old billionaire- who is not running any of his businesses today – or his son Nasif. The target was Naguib Sawiris and his political activity. Naguib, who literally sold everything he owns in Egypt, including the private satellite channel ON TV, was the major financier behind the Egypt Bloc, the loose coalition of liberal parties that ran against the Islamists during the last parliament elections. Now that the MB is rapidly losing popularity because of their dreadful way of running the country, having a billionaire on the opposition side is pretty dangerous for the regime. He had to be neutralized. He had to be intimidated. Since Naguib got rid of the vast majority of his assets in Egypt, they has to find another weak spot: his family. They went after his old father who could very much spend the rest of his life in a mansion on the French Riviera, instead he returned to Egypt yesterday after settling the tax issue with the government (OCI will pay $1 billion over 7 years).

What if OCI was indeed guilty of tax evasion? Let us assume this is in fact the case. Why was this particular company targeted on its own? Is OCI the only company that evaded taxes? Is OCI the only company the broke the law? Business laws in Egypt are very complicated, unrealistic and many of them do not make any sense. The nature of these business curbing laws led to the following reality: there isn’t a single businessman in Egypt who has never broken the law even if he was merely a cigarettes kiosk owner. If you want to pull down any business in Egypt, all what you have to do is dig in its papers and you will find something illegal there. This is Egypt! In fact, there is nothing called law abiding Egyptians either! You remember that 20 pounds you stuffed inside the government employee’s pocket so that he gives you your driving license in 1 hour instead of 5? Well, that’s called bribery, that’s against the law!

So if the MB appointed General Prosecutor had targeted a whole list of companies, including Islamist owned companies, I might have believed the whole issue was about trying to collect money from any source possible. But the whole saga has the word politics written all over it. The MB is using the same dirty tactics of the Mubarak regime to ensure that money does not go to their rivals.

Now we will have to watch whether Naguib will relent and stay away from financing the opposition. A source told me that a prominent opposition party approached him for finances and he declined. It seems this will be the case in the foreseeable future. It turned out that his old man loves his Cairo apartment more than the Cote d’Azur mansion.


  Posted by BP at 9:46 am Comments (10)