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An act within a revolution: Egypt

Jack Shenker’s book wears its heart on its cover. From the top right hand corner, Nefertiti’s eyes above her gas mask fix you with a stern, sorrowful look, the nom de plume – or de guerre – of her creator, the street artist Zeft, on the spray-can pointed at her temple.

Possibly the most famous example of Egyptian revolutionary graffiti, here she’s been given a collar of blood, echoed in the bottom left hand corner by the red-dripping Egyptian flag – itself a graffito that appeared in November 2011 after the army and police killed dozens of people in downtown Cairo.

Since the regime in Egypt is stonily set against the merest suggestion – however playful – that walls should be seen as anything other than brutish enforcers of division, simply deploying graffiti puts you in the revolutionary (revolutiophile?) camp.

And this is where Shenker deservedly belongs.

Andrew Bossone shared a link.|By Ahdaf Soueif

By January 2011 he had lived downtown for three years, made friends, nosed out good stories and told them with style – so when the long-awaited revolution suddenly boiled over on his doorstep he was poised to be as bouleversé by it as any Cairene.

Describing his notebooks of the time, he writes:

“Two of the spiral-bound ones are twisted, their spines dislocated from the pages … The handwriting is hurried, messy – words have been snatched hastily to the paper amid drumbeats and shouts and gas and flight, and they’ve brought bits of that universe with them: grubby stains, smears of rock dust, strange ink … sentences appear in different colours and some of them are splotched by teardrops. Many pages are torn, and a few are missing.”

Can the description of a notebook wring your heart? Yes, if you see yourself and those whom you love, those thousands whom you learned – in the streets – to love, in them.

Bruised and dislocated, stained and splotched, some missing forever, but the ones who remain holding on – at least – to the narrative.

it had always been war, and it hadn’t started with the revolution; 25 January 2011 was just when everyone who had opposed Hosni Mubarak’s regime or who had wished they’d dared to oppose it came together and, for a long, miraculous moment, acted as one.

The Egyptians: A Radical Story is fully cognisant of both: the long struggle that fed that revolutionary moment – and the miraculous nature of the moment.

The revolution, as historian Khaled Fahmy has pointed out, is part of a sequence of turbulence that ebbs and flows but has never been entirely stilled since the mid-19th century.

Seen like this, it becomes possible to freely examine what it was like and why. We are able to give it its due as – in Shenker’s excellent phrase – a “leaderful” rather than leaderless revolution, and accept that it was “make-do” because “Make-do is all you have when you try to make and do something entirely new against the forces of old.”

It needs to be celebrated as a “revolution on the form of revolution” that, like 1848, exploded the old ways “though struggling, so far, to articulate the new”. And most importantly, we need to recognise it as a climactic and transformatory point in an ongoing revolution that is not Egypt’s alone.

The Egyptians positions the 18 days both within their national historical context, and within their political context in the world.

The central argument of this meticulous, carefully researched and passionately argued book is that the battle in Egypt, as in almost every other place in the world, is between a dominant global neo-liberal capitalist system and the people whose lives and livelihoods it is destroying.

It finds Egypt situated at the acute end of a global continuum of citizens struggling against the combined might of state and capital to find a formula for real, participatory democracy.

the revolutionary wave in Egypt has been beaten back for now by a powerful counter-revolution.

In November 2013, as General Sisi was moving towards the presidency, the well-known Egyptian open-source software designer, blogger and dissident, Alaa Abd el Fattah wrote:

“The trajectory of the revolution and the trajectory of the counter-revolution run together and influence each other. The counter-revolution is not just a defensive position taken by the enemies of the revolution; it is reactionary forces in their own right trying to profit from conditions of fluidity to shape the world to their liking – just as we are doing …”

The Egyptians pins down these forces and their backers with care and in chilling detail.

For all its revolutionist fervour, this is a work of painstaking research and investigation. Just one of the tens of examples cited of the international backers swinging into action is the formation of the Deauville partnership with Arab countries in transition under the auspices of the G8 summit in May 2011to keep multinational capital fused with whatever political models emerged from the countries’ massive anti-government uprisings”.

Everyone who is for the revolution in Egypt agrees that what it did achieve was to turn ordinary people into participants in political life rather than its passive subjects – or victims;

that it was about “marginalised citizens muscling their way on to the political stage and practising collective sovereignty over domains that were previously closed to them”.

But for more than six decades the state had actively barred people from political life – and in July 2013, weary, scared and disappointed in the Muslim Brotherhood they had elected into office, huge numbers of Egyptians chose to return to what they knew; they put their trust in what was presented as the one remaining pillar of the state: the military.

So we are back in what Shenker calls “Mubarak country”, but with everything heightened a couple of notches – the glitz of the economic conferences, the grandeur of the promised projects, the severity of the proposed austerity measures, the scale of begging and borrowing, the war in Sinai.

And heightened also is the state’s distrust of the people and the level and spread of state violence against them.

But similarly heightened is the people’s sense of themselves as agents of their own fate. Shenker quotes a young activist, Nour, who, while admitting to exhaustion and the need for rest and recuperation, insists that “a significant proportion of the Egyptian population no longer think about themselves and about politics in the same way, and are no longer prepared to put up with the old crap.”

Shenker lists some of “the debates lived out by Egyptian revolutionaries – over what sort of governance structures their lives, whether or not they should aim to seize state power, how best human beings can find the space in which to imagine and implement alternative forms of sovereignty and the courage to stand up to the brutality that will confront them along the way”. These are, as he says, “debates that are playing out everywhere”.

The Egyptians is not just about the revolution, it is an act within it; making its case, documenting its achievements and tragedies, pushing forward its narrative.

It celebrates the collective and enacts it in its co-operation with texts and witnesses.

It exemplifies the social solidarity that recognises the global nature of our problems and the new and radical solutions they require.

Ahdaf Soueif’s Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed is published by Bloomsbury. To order The Egyptians for £12.79 (RRP £15.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Tragic loss of academic freedom

There is no doubt that the recent murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni poses a real threat to political and economic ties between Egypt and Italy.

Italy is, after all, considered to be Egypt’s most important economic partner in Europe.

Habib Battah shared this link

“A quick glimpse at countries like Turkey, Israel and the United States shows the extent to which academic freedom is constantly under threat.

In Turkey, hundreds of university professors are being investigated for signing a petition against the government’s policy towards Kurds.

In Israel, academic freedom is almost non-existent for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian students and professors. In the United States, there is a situation in which corporatization has encroached on university campuses, eating away the rights of non-tenured professors.

We are thereby in need of the defense of academic freedom in order for students and professors, who are paying high fees for information and to conduct research, to triumph.

That being said, it is worth noting that the threat to academic freedom in Egypt now supersedes that of other countries…

Amid the lack of defenders of academic freedom, the American University in Cairo, where Giulio was a visiting scholar, posted a shameful statement to extend its condolences for his “passing away recently” — Security forces have tightened their grip on all aspects of academic life.

We can see how security personnel at all Egyptian universities have extended their authority over university campuses through approving faculty appointments, deciding whether conferences, seminars and public lectures are to be held or not, and granting faculty members travel permits.

As we all know, anyone conducting social science research that requires fieldwork must get permission from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

As is evident by its name, CAPMAS reflects a vision of information as a war effort.

These restrictions apply to Egyptian researchers, even those employed in public universities. We can imagine then how state security must have viewed a foreign researcher who spoke Arabic fluently, was present in the street without a permit, and, when questioned, revealed that he was conducting research on the state of workers and their syndicates following the January 25 revolution.

We are not certain of the events surrounding the death of Giulio Regeni, but we know for sure that his murder is a tragic manifestation of how students and researchers have absolutely no rights in Egypt.

It is true that the Egyptian constitution stipulates the freedom of universities (article 21), and the freedom of scientific research (article 23), but the reality is that the over-riding powers of state security forces have led to the systematic violation of constitutional rights.

Researchers and academics have at best fallen suspect to the whims of security officers, and at worse fallen prey to their brutality.”

By Khaled Fahmy

In its Friday issue, the Italian newspaper La Stampa published a photo of the 28-year-old student on its front page, under a headline that read, “Giulio, Egyptian police under accusation.”

According to this and other newspapers, the evidence suggests Regeni’s death was a case of intentional murder, rather than an accident.

These accounts propose he was arrested on January 25, Police Day, and summoned to a police station for an interrogation that led to his torture and death. The newspapers claim Giulio’s body was kept in one of the morgues until Italian authorities demanded to know what happened to him.

Egyptian authorities then, as far as the reports suggest, decided to get rid of the body by dumping it in the desert, claiming Regeni was killed in a road accident.

In addition to the grave repercussions of this tragic incident on Egyptian-Italian relations, it is equally indicative of the dire straits of academic research in Egypt.

Regeni’s gruesome murder will definitely harm the country’s reputation and its ability to attract researchers and students. It signifies the dangers that both Egyptian and foreign researchers face in Egypt today.

In reaction, the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) sent a strongly worded letter addressed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, expressing outrage at the news of Regeni’s apparent torture and murder.

In its letter, dated February 4, the committee stated that,

what makes this case even more disturbing is that it is but the most recent, if the most deadly, example of the growing danger posed by the current political climate in Egypt to all those engaged in academic work. We have written to you repeatedly over the past months to express our deep concern regarding a range and number of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression that would require countless pages to list in full: denial of entry to the country and harassment of numerous scholars and researchers; gross state interference in university student and faculty governance; the dismissals and expulsions of hundreds of students and faculty; the sentencing of academics to death.” The committee added that, “Regeni’s murder, far from an aberration, is in fact a predictable outcome of the progression of state repression of academics and students.”

In spite of its strident tone, MESA’s letter is the least that can be said in reaction to the dire state of academic freedom in Egypt. It also sheds light on the weakness of local oppositional voices in speaking out against the precarious existence that our universities, and educational and cultural institutes, are subjected to.

With the exception of a few civil society organizations, most significantly the March 9 Movement for the Independence of Universities and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, there are hardly any other voices that speak in defense of academic freedom and its significance.

The truth of the matter is that academic freedom and freedom of thought have always been under threat everywhere in the world. Such freedoms are in constant need of valiant defense against attempts to restrict them under the pretexts of the preservation of “societal norms” or “national security.”

That being said, it is worth noting that the threat to academic freedom in Egypt now supersedes that of other countries. This is not only due to what the Egyptian state deems a “war on terrorism,” which warrants all freedoms until it ends, but also due to the absence of defenders of academic freedom.

This comes at a time when voices that claim that academic freedom is an unnecessary luxury — or go as far as calling it a goblet of poison — are being heard loud and clear.

Amid the lack of defenders of academic freedom, the American University in Cairo, where Giulio was a visiting scholar, posted a shameful statement to extend its condolences for his “passing away recently” — Security forces have tightened their grip on all aspects of academic life.

We are not certain of the events surrounding the death of Giulio Regeni, but we know for sure that his murder is a tragic manifestation of how students and researchers have absolutely no rights in Egypt.

I understand the need for state security agencies to suspect, investigate and gather information on what is going on in the country. This is, after all, their role and duty.

I also understand and accept that these agencies have an added responsibility to curb lurking national threats. But state security agencies must abide by the law and the constitution. They must be subjected to public scrutiny and be held accountable.

An outlook that encourages scientific research, empowers researchers and students to approach original and critical subject matters must exist to balance state security’s skeptical mindset. Scientific research does not flourish by ruminating on the past or recycling information.

Therefore, state security agencies must lay their hands off our academic institutions.

We must separate public mobilization from statistics, for the logic behind such association is long gone.

Both society and the state need to perceive academic research as a necessity, not a luxury. Academic freedom must be understood as the basis for the advancement of society, rather than being yet another Western term that we parrot. Academics, including university professors, students, and researchers must hold on to the value of academic freedom, not only by demanding that state agencies stop harassing and monitoring them, but also through requiring them to facilitate their work.

Without holding on to the freedom of research and expression, we, foreigners and Egyptians, will remain vulnerable and susceptible to the gruesome destiny that Giulio Regeni faced.

This article was originally published in Arabic on albedaiah.



Three girls in the nude at Egypt embassy in Paris: Demonstrating against the mass death penalty in a single session

Is Egypt on a steady course of self-destruction?

Khaled Fahmy published in Aswat Masriya  this April 29, 2014 :

About two years ago, I had a very interesting conversation with my neighbor who lives in the same apartment building in Zamalek, Cairo. I remembered this conversation today in light of the notorious verdict today by a judge in Minya sentencing 720 people to death.

My neighbor is a nice, decent man in his late sixties, and we have always had a cordial relationship with each other, despite once causing serious damage to his apartment when a water pipe burst in my apartment flooding his just below mine.

Relatives and families of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Mursi react in front of the court in Minya, south of Cairo, after hearing the sentence handed to Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and other Brotherhood supporters April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

I was rushing to some demonstration against the ministry of interior to protest against the endemic use of torture in police stations. I had my kufiyya on (head gear), and was already waving the Egyptian flag. I ran into him on the landing on the third floor.

“I see you are going again to join the Tahrir Square crowd. Don’t you think it is enough?” he asked half-jokingly.

“Not enough,” I replied. “Nothing has changed since we started demonstrating a year ago, and the notorious police have yet to mend their ways.”

The minute I said this, the guy’s face changed, and I immediately realized my mistake. My neighbor is a retired police officer.

“You’re a good man, Dr. Khaled, but you are mistaken. The police are not that bad, we are all serving our country with our full hearts.”

“I have no doubt, sir. And of course, I have nothing but respect to you personally. But I am talking about those younger police officers who order people to be tortured as a matter of course, not even in political cases.”

“Well, let me ask you a question,” he said. “Don’t you remember when your own brother who used to live in your own apartment before you moved in – don’t you remember when his car was stolen right here from in front of the building?”

“Yes, I do remember that incident. What about it?” I replied.

“Do you remember when he got it back?”

“If I remember correctly, not before long.”

“Exactly,” he said. “And do you know how? I’ll tell you how. It is through the diligent work of the Egyptian police. Because your brother is a decent man like you, I immediately called some of my colleagues and they sprinted to action in no time, and in a matter of a few hours we managed to identify the culprit. We rounded up some suspects form the street, and encouraged them to confess in the police station,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

“But, sir,” I replied, “this is exactly what I am talking about. You rounded up 10 innocent suspects, beat the hell out of them in the police station, and one of them confessed under torture.”

“So? What’s the problem then? Didn’t your brother get his car back? And in no time? And didn’t we succeed in catching the real culprit? What’s the problem then?”

“Sir, with all due respect, this is not a proper way to conduct an investigation. Yes, my brother got his car back, but at what cost? The police come and picked up the ten car attendants and doormen of the neighboring buildings; they then took them to the police station where they were subjected to severe beating and humiliation; one of them eventually confessed. Case closed and my brother got back his car.

But what about the 9 innocent guys who were beaten up for no fault of their? How do you think my brother is supposed to feel when he now knows that he is being blamed by these innocent men for something they didn’t do? Yes, my brother got his car back, but he also got with it the enmity and deep resentment of nine innocent men. And I also know what happened to these men in police custody. They were being rounded up by some basha, beaten up for something they don’t know, and the only way they could get out of this mess was to promise to be a snitch.

And finally, what about the police officer who instead of conducting a proper investigation and applying what he is supposed to have learned in the police academy about criminal investigations, cuts corners, chooses the easy way out, and decides that the fastest way to resolve the case is by torturing innocent people? What kind of society is being created by resorting to torture so wantonly and so freely?”

“Oh, youth. Always idealistic and naïve.”

I didn’t want to tell him that I was nearly fifty, and that our disagreement had nothing to do with our respective ages.

Off I went to my demonstration, and he went to his apartment.

I remembered this conversation today in light of the notorious verdict issued by a judge in Minya.

I know it is tempting to read this verdict as a politicized one; a feature of the ongoing struggle between the military-led government and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The judge must have received a phone call ordering him to pass on this bizarre verdict sentencing to death 720 people in one day.

But I believe things are more complex – and more simple at the same time.

Like my police officer neighbor, I believe the judge to be a decent man. Honest, upright, and hard working. He must have sat pondering the case for hours yesterday. He believes he is protecting the country, defending basic rights, passing out heavy verdicts to people who deserve it.

The country is in turmoil, the judge must be thinking. We have to stop this. We have to defend our nation. We have to send a strong signal that we are serious, that we are not joking. The stability of the regime and of the whole country is at stake. No compromises. No mid-way solutions. Hanging is the only deterrence, and we should not hesitate in resorting to it.

Like my neighbor, however, this judge, even if I give him the benefit of the doubt (and I have bent over backwards to do so), is in fact undermining the stability of the country while thinking that he is doing the opposite.

The judge may be thinking that he is sending a clear message that the Egyptian state is not to be tampered with, that it will hit back hard and swiftly at those who dare to violate its sanctity. But the only thing he actually managed to accomplish is to erode whatever faith people still have in the judiciary.

How can anyone now believe in an independent judiciary when one judge passes these draconian verdicts with such speed in complete disregard to the most basic rules of justice?

These verdicts were passed without even allowing the lawyers to present their cases, and instead of pretending to do so, he actually fined the lawyers and charged them of contempt of court. Instead of being investigated or suspended, this judge is still sitting on the bench and passing one notorious verdict after another.

This is not only a travesty of justice.

It is not a violation of basic legal and constitutional rights.

It is a very reckless and dangerous political move. If there is a sure way to bring down the Egyptian state, it is not by attacking police stations or throwing Molotov cocktails at the presidential palace. It is by making sure that people lose whatever respect and confidence they still have in one of the main pillars of the regime, namely the judiciary.

More than any one else, this judge has had a huge contribution in undermining the stability of the Egyptian state.

* Khaled Fahmy is a professor and the chairman of the History department at the American University in Cairo. He studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and previously taught at New York University. 

Note: As soon I get a link of the nude girls in front  of Egypt embassy I’ll post it.





January 2023

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