Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Tahrir Square

We’re  letting go of nothing, “Mamfakinch”

The revolution, this evolving dream

In the midst of the this zone of turbulence

Borders deserted, reconquered,

Vast waiting zones to huddled masses for exit and egress

Running away from their dangerous shadows

Prisons stormed, police stations in flame..

As the dance of Spring advances

Love is in the air

Life continues, fear is shed off

We are breathing new emotions of connectedness

Citizens are learning instinctively to get engaged

Taking initiatives, everyone is expert in something,

Hope shines in the eyes

hand in hand, united in coming dreams

Dreams coming true, smiling of real

Dreams of liberty, regained dignity

Birds of gloom and disaster miles away

Can’t let go of anything

The masses reclaimed Tahrir Square

Reconquering what is their dues in human rights

Weeks of ardent patience and steadfastness, of authentic poems

Will not be swept away by the abrasive first sand wind

The splendid city of light is recaptured

Time for hating, time for war

Love forever

To reconstruct a better world

For every one of goodwill and good faith in others

We claim the liberty of conscience, our guiding rod…

The pen is all mine.

It delineate the Red Lines not to trespass

It satisfies my conscience

It does not submit to authority figures…

Our revolution is not the making of a moment of craziness

And we are not leaving the Square

Sorry citizens, we have been a bit late to react

But we are here to stay

We’re  letting go of nothing, “Mamfakinch

Free at last, free at last

Note: Inspired from a poem by the Tunisian Mahmoud Chalbi, extracted from the French book “Arab Springs, the breath and the words” (Riveneuve Continents)

 

Female socialist activist is gunned down by police during demonstrations on fourth anniversary of Arab Spring that ousted Hosni Mubarak

So far, 20 Egyptians died in this long day of demonstrations throughout Egypt.

Egyptian Arab Spring is still bringing its toll of brutal military dictatorship.

  • WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT 
  • Shaima al-Sabbagh died of birdshot wounds in clashes with police
  • Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab vowed to ‘punish’ whoever is responsible 
  • Al-Sabbagh’s death follows that of an 18-year-old protester on Friday 
  • WHAT IS BIRD SHOT AMMUNITION?

A female demonstrator was killed in clashes with Egyptian police during a protest in central Cairo today on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

A health ministry spokesman said Shaima al-Sabbagh died of birdshot wounds, which fellow protesters said were fired by police to disperse the march.

Al-Sabbagh, who was said to be 34-years-old with a five-year-old son, was shot while she peacefully marched towards the Tahrir Square to lay a commemorative wreath of roses.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh’s death was being investigated and vowed that ‘whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be.’

Socialist Popular Alliance Party activist Shaima al-Sabbagh (middle) was shot and died of birdshot wounds during clashes with Egyptian police during a protest in central Cairo today on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak

Al-Sabbagh can be seen, right, hitting the ground as a fellow protester comes to her aide during the clashes

Al-Sabbagh can be seen, right, hitting the ground as a fellow protester comes to her aide during the clashes

Fellow protesters said Al-Sabbagh was shot by police trying to disperse those involved in the protest march

Fellow protesters said Al-Sabbagh was shot by police trying to disperse those involved in the protest march

Al-Sabbagh, a member of the party, was hit in the head with birdshot, and was taken to a hospital where she was declared dead.

The interior ministry said it was investigating the death, and suggested Islamist ‘infiltrators’ were to blame.

The clash took place hours before state television aired a pre-recorded speech by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to mark the fourth anniversary of the uprising.

He said: ‘I salute all our martyrs, from the beginning of January 25 (2011) until now.’

The speech appears to have been taped in the presidential palace before Sisi left for Saudi Arabia to offer his condolences over the death of King Abdullah. 

Islamists called for protests tomorrow to revive what they say was the ‘revolution’ that overthrew Mubarak. It also briefly brought to power Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who was toppled by the then army chief Sisi in July 2013.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh's death was being investigated and vowed that 'whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be'

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh’s death was being investigated and vowed that ‘whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be’

Morsi’s supporters often hold small rallies that police quickly disperse.

Yesterday an 18-year-old female protester was killed in clashes in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Police had warned they would confront protests ‘decisively.’

Authorities have cracked down on the Islamists since the military overthrew Morsi after a year in power, and hundreds have been killed in clashes.

Scores of policemen and soldiers have also been killed in militant attacks.

The crackdown has also extended to leftwing and secular dissidents who initially supported Morsi’s overthrow but have since turned against the new authorities, accusing them of being authoritarian.

Today’s central Cairo protest was organised by the Socialist Popular Alliance party.

Egyptian policemen detain a supporter of the People's Alliance Party during a demonstration in Cairo's Talaat Harb square, near Tahrir square

Egyptian policemen detain a supporter of the People’s Alliance Party during a demonstration in Cairo’s Talaat Harb square, near Tahrir square

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement leave as security forces arrive to disperse a demonstration on January 24, 2015 in the Cairo district of Heliopolis
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Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement leave as security forces arrive to disperse a demonstration on January 24, 2015 in the Cairo district of Heliopolis

Party member Adel el-Meligy said: ‘The party decided to hold a symbolic protest to commemorate the anniversary of the January 25 revolution.’

WHAT IS BIRD SHOT AMMUNITION

Bird shot is designed to be used in shotgun shells and consist of spheres of metal, or bb’s, that can be packed into a shell and which separate when fired.

It was originally made from lead, but is now made from steel, tungsten and other materials.

The ammunition was designed for shooting birds but it can injure larger animals.

In 2006 American Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter with it. His victim was not severely injured.

Birdshot is used by law enforcement as a non-lethal alternative to shot gun pellets and is often used in riot and protest situations.

Police also replace the slugs with rubber bullets. (That should be a better idea)

He said police fired tear gas, birdshot and arrested the party’s secretary general and five other young members.

The 18-day anti-Mubarak revolt had been fuelled by police abuses and the corruption of the strongman’s three decade rule, but the police have since regained popularity amid widespread yearning for stability.

Activists, including those who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt, have accused Sisi of reviving aspects of the former autocrat’s rule.

Sisi and his supporters deny such allegations, and point to his widespread popularity and support for a firm hand in dealing with protests, which are seen as damaging to an economic recovery.

The anniversary will be marked just days after a court ordered the release of Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, pending a corruption retrial along with their father.

Another court had dismissed charges against Hosni Mubarak over the deaths of protesters.

Archive footage of anti-Mubarak uprising in Egypt

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2924709/Shocking-moment-female-socialist-activist-gunned-police-demonstrations-4th-anniversary-Arab-Spring-ousted-Hosni-Mubarak.html#ixzz3PowZlldR
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Photo

 

posted this July 10, 2014

When the people of Cairo took to Tahrir Square in January 2011 to oust Egypt’s longtime ruler, Hosni Mubarak, the streets exploded with murals and graffiti that both mirrored the revolutionary spirit of the movement and propelled it forward.

A young graphic designer joined the fray, working under the pseudonym Ganzeer, or “bicycle chain.”

Ganzeer distributed questionnaires, stickers, posters and, most notably, one mural of a massive tank gunning down a lone bicyclist. He called it his “alternative media campaign” to counteract propaganda from official news outlets.

Over the past three years, Ganzeer, 32, emerged as a star of the anarchic movement, finding fresh targets as leadership in Egypt repeatedly changed hands. His participation now in the revolution will have to proceed at a distance.

On May 9, he was denounced by a television broadcaster, Osama Kamal, on the program “Al-Raees Wel Nas” (“The President and the People”). He singled out Ganzeer by his real name — Mohamed Fahmy — accompanied by his photograph, making him easily identifiable;

Osama Kamal labeled Ganzeer a “recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood”; and demanded that the government take action against him. This accusation, which Ganzeer and several curators denied, has been widely used against journalists and activists in Egypt in recent weeks, leading to sweeping arrests resulting in prison terms.

Two days later, Ganzeer left Egypt for a long-planned trip to the United States.

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Ganzeer, one of Egypt’s most famous street artists, is in the United States temporarily.Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

“No one stopped me at the airport, because I am not on any official list,” Ganzeer said in a recent interview in his temporary sublet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “But it is quite typical of the Egyptian government to start a campaign in the media, so when the time comes to crack down, their action is supported by the masses, because they had read about it in the papers.”

From Cairo to Beirut to Dubai, Arab artists have mounted a vigorous creative response to the political upheavals of the past few years, exploring a range of art-making strategies, including the street-art agitprop of Ganzeer and others, who draw from ancient hieroglyphics and teach themselves stenciling to put their cause on the walls.

A glimpse into the diverse and vital art scene arrives on July 16 at the New Museum with “Here and Elsewhere,” a survey of 45 artists from 12 countries in the Arab world who take a more nuanced approach to bearing witness, often questioning the veracity of storytelling and news accounts.

Carlo McCormick, a critic and author of “Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art” (Taschen, 2010), puts Ganzeer in a tradition that includes notable street artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. “They have a defining style, but Ganzeer is working more as an activist than a muralist,” he said. “He’s more of a chameleon and adapts his visuals to the content.”

Ganzeer has had high visibility, arriving with the United States premiere of a documentary in which he is featured, “Art War,” by the German filmmaker Marco Wilms, that traces the development of street art in Egypt since 2011. His projects are also prominent in a new book, “Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution,” by Basma Hamdy and Don Karl a.k.a. Stone (published by From Here to Fame).

Dressed in T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops with black curls and a short beard framing his youthful face, he said he misses his home in Cairo, a spacious 5-bedroom apartment overlooking the Nile that he shares with two artist-friends.

Here, he is making do with a spare room in a stranger’s apartment and survives by producing new prints that he sells for a modest $500 to $1,000 through Booklyn Artists Alliance, an alternative space in Greenpoint.

Ganzeer was introduced to Booklyn by members of the collective Interference Archive, a political study center near the Gowanus Canal, where he will be speaking on July 23 about the new breed of protest art that alarms Egypt’s leaders.

Photo

Ganzeer working on a new piece in Brooklyn. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Ganzeer said he calls himself “bicycle chain” because he likes to think of artists as the mechanism that pushes change forward. “We are not the driving force,” he said. “We are not the people pedaling, but we can connect ideas and by doing this we allow the thing to move.”

This young artist-designer may have been singled out for his most recent street art project in Cairo: a mammoth mural depicting a zombie soldier standing atop a pile of skulls. Or, as he suspects, it was a reaction to an interview in The Guardian on May 8 in which he called for international condemnation of the soon-to-be president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. 

Ganzeer has always been quite outspoken with the foreign press and has thousands of supporters on the web.

In response to the news announcer’s accusations, he posted a refutation on his blog, titled “Who’s Afraid of Art?,” demanding a public apology.

“Ganzeer is a really great, smart intelligent brain and he has a very modern exciting view of the world,” said Mr. Wilms, who first met him in Tahrir Square in 2011, when Ganzeer was engaged in his first public project, distributing a questionnaire asking citizens what they wanted from a revolution. The scene, captured in the film, shows a much younger looking Ganzeer enthusiastically recruiting participants.

“All the artists in my film have been targeted,” Mr. Wilms said. “These young people are willing to sacrifice their lives. They are really dying in the streets. It’s very difficult to understand from a Western point of view, but they are really not afraid.”

On July 4, Ganzeer emailed that a young street artist and activist named Hisham Rizk, who had gone missing a week earlier, had been found. He had drowned in the Nile. Mr. Rizk was 19.

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Ganzeer’s “Of Course #2.” The text is an ironic reference to the military as the protector of the revolution. CreditGanzeer

Born in Giza, Egypt, in 1982, Ganzeer attended business school when he failed to pass an art school entrance exam. “I grew up reading comic books, and I saw myself as someone who would make comic books someday,” he said, only later discovering graphic design while attending college. He ran his own graphic design firm for eight years, developing skills that prepared him to participate in the creative efforts at Tahrir Square.

At first, he made items easy to distribute on the streets and in the subway. But in March 2011, he undertook an ambitious mural project, a larger-than-life portrait of a 16-year-old boy killed by police gunfire, printed about 13 feet high on a wall near the Supreme Court in Cairo.

Using Twitter, he gathered a troupe of volunteers to help him paint the tribute to a martyr with stencils, a 20th-century tradition that originated with Italian propagandists under Fascism but was later used by contemporary artists, Mr. McCormick said.

“Ganzeer was quite courageous carrying out his activities,” said William Wells, director of Townhouse Gallery, a contemporary art space in Cairo. “He knew people were going to stop him when he worked on the street and threaten him, and he always encouraged them to take part in what he was doing.”

Mr. Wells allowed Ganzeer to use his gallery as a base, but became particularly frightened for him in the past year. “The whole dynamics of the city has changed, and everybody was nervous about what Ganzeer was doing,” he said. “I think if he were arrested, nobody would have been surprised.”

Surfing the web for source material, and posting his graphics for anyone to use, he advanced the method of printing images, encouraging other activists to make street art.

In the chaotic early days of the uprising, Ganzeer mostly escaped police scrutiny until May 2011, when he distributed stickers of his Mask of Freedom, now globally known. Posted on the Internet, the image depicts a superhero-style visage, blindfolded and gagged, as a symbol of military repression.

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“Face the Vitrine,” Ganzeer’s collaboration with Yasmin Elayat, in Cairo. CreditGanzeer

This time, civilians were not so friendly, and when one of his volunteers got into an argument with a man attacking them as “spies,” the civilian police arrested Ganzeer, who tweeted to his followers. Caught off guard by the outpouring of support by protesters, the police released him without charges. When he showed up in Tahrir Square the next morning, his Mask of Freedom could be seen everywhere: on T-shirts, posters and stickers.

Ganzeer refuses to label himself a street artist. He has had art residencies in Finland, Poland and Switzerland and has shown in Cairo’s vibrant gallery scene. In 2012, his solo show at the Safar Khan Gallery focused on the military’s involvement in rape and sexual harassment.

He is adamant that he is not going into exile or seeking political asylum in the United States. “That’s what the government would like me to do,” he said, revealing a sudden flash of anger at the suggestion. “I would never be able to vote again. I would never be able to go back. After getting rid of Mubarak, I am not going to give up now on getting rid of this guy,” he said of President Sisi.

Alexandra Stock, a Swiss-American curator who lived in Cairo from 2007 to 2012 and who recently worked with Ganzeer on a mural in Bahrain, noted the mass exodus of intellectuals in recent weeks. “It’s very sad to see this whole wave of people who have left Cairo,” she said. “But I think for Ganzeer, seeing things unfold from a distance might help.”

When asked if he can have a role in the revolution from the shores of Brooklyn, Ganzeer gave an emphatic “Yes.” “In the United States,” he said, “I can make people aware of the situation, so at least the American people can pressure their government to not support our war criminal turned president Sisi or sell weapons that are used against the Egyptian people.”

While Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Egypt to support a transition to democracy, easing restrictions on freedom of expression, the administration recently announced that it would like to resume military and counterterrorism aid.

Neither this announcement nor his current status has dimmed Ganzeer’s optimism or determination to go back.

“Egypt has had a schizophrenic relationship with its street artists,” said Soraya Morayef, a Cairo writer who has made Ganzeer a topic of her blog, Suzee in the City. “It’s been a case where we love you, we hate you, we’ll jail you, we’ll free you, we’ll celebrate you, and, now, we’ll force you to leave the country.”

Correction: July 11, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the name of an alternative space in Greenpoint through which Ganzeer sells his work. It is the Booklyn Artists Alliance, not the Brooklyn Artists Alliance.
Correction: July 11, 2014
An earlier version of a picture credit with this article, based on information from a publicist, misidentified who took the photograph of Ganzeer painting the mural “Foundations.” It was Eva Frapeccini, not Ganzeer himself.
Correction: July 11, 2014
An earlier version of this article misidentified the nationality of a curator who recently worked with Ganzeer on a mural in Bahrain. Alexandra Stock is Swiss-American, not Egyptian, though she worked in Cairo from 2007-2012 and is currently based in Bahrain.

Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state. We watched transfixed as a movement first ignited in Tunisia spread from one part of Egypt to another, and then from country to country across the region.

Before it was over, 4 presidents-for-life had been toppled and the region’s remaining dictators were unsettled.

Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.

Instead, some Arab countries have seen counterrevolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of postapocalyptic horror.

But keep one thing in mind: The rebellions of the last three years were led by Arab millennials, by young people who have decades left to come into their own. Don’t count them out yet.

Given the short span of time since Tahrir Square, it is far too soon to predict where these massive movements will end. During the “Prague Spring” of 1968,  a young dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel, took to the airwaves on Radio Free Czechoslovakia and made a name for himself as Soviet tanks approached. But then, after a Russian invasion crushed the uprising, Havel had to seek work in a brewery, forbidden to stage his plays.

That wasn’t the end of the story, however. Two decades later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic.

Or consider the French Revolution: Three and a half years after the storming of the Bastille, the country was facing a pro-royalist uprising in the Vendee, south of the Loire Valley, a conflict that ultimately left more than 100,000 (and possibly as many as 450,000) people dead.

And let’s remember that a decade passed between the Boston Tea Party and the American victory in the Revolutionary War.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons for pessimism in the medium-term in the Middle East. But when it comes to youth revolutions, it’s a pretty good bet that most of their truest accomplishments will come decades later.

The young Arabs who made the recent revolutions are, in fact, distinctive: substantially more urban, literate, media-savvy and wired than their parents and grandparents. They are also somewhat less religiously observant, though still deeply polarized between nationalists and devotees of political Islam.

And keep in mind that the median age of the 370 million Arabs on this planet is only 24, about half that of graying Japan or Germany. While India and Indonesia also have big youth populations, Arab youth suffer disproportionately from the low rates of investment in their countries and staggeringly high unemployment rates. They are primed for action.

Analysts have tended to focus on the politics of the Arab youth revolutions and so have missed the more important, longer-term story of a generational shift in values, attitudes and mobilizing tactics.

The youth movements were, in part, intended to provoke the holding of genuine, transparent elections, and yet the millennials were too young to stand for office when they happened. This ensured that actual politics would remain dominated by older Arab baby boomers, many of whom are far more interested in political Islam or praetorian authoritarianism.

The first wave of writing about the revolutions of 2011 discounted or ignored religion because the youth movements were predominantly secular and either liberal or leftist in approach. When those rebellions provoked elections in which Muslim fundamentalists did well, a second round of books lamented a supposed “Islamic Winter.”

Yet, in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has been ousted (albeit through a reassertion of power by the military).

In Libya, Muslim fundamentalist candidates could not get a majority in parliament in 2012.

Even in Tunisia, where the religious right formed the first postrevolution government, it was able to rule only in coalition with secularists and leftists.

As they wait their time, many of the millennial activists who briefly turned the Arab world upside down and provoked so many changes are putting their energies into nongovernmental organizations, thousands of which have flowered, barely noticed. Others continue to coordinate with labor unions to promote the welfare of the working classes.

In this way, they are learning valuable organizational skills that — count on it — will one day be applied to politics.

Their dislike of nepotism, narrow cliques and ethnic or sectarian rule has already had a lasting effect on the politics of the Arab world.

And two or three decades from now, the twentysomethings of Tahrir Square and the Casbah in Tunis and Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli will, like the Havels of the Middle East, come to power as politicians.

We haven’t heard the last of the Middle East’s millennial generation.

Juan Cole is director of the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of “The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East.” A longer version of this piece appears on tomdispatch.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

 

Ban Presidential festivities Mr. Sisi: The Women  are sexually assaulted at Tahrir Square 

Yesterday thousands of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to celebrate the inauguration of Egypt’s 7th president Abdelfatah El Sisi.

While many television networks have been featuring footage of large unified crowds cheering and holding Egyptian flags, one YouTube user posted a video from Tahrir Square, shot on his mobile phone, which documented a much grimmer reality for the country.

Woman stripped, beaten and sexually assaulted at Tahrir Square

 posted this June 9, 2014

The original video, which was removed from YouTube due to its graphic nature, shows a naked, injured woman, attempting to flee a large group of men who have sexually assaulted her in the middle of the square.

man

The sexual assault was reposted by YouTube user Marwan Arafah, and already has over 48,000 views [Warning: video below is graphic].

In another video that has gone viral, a Tahrir Channel correspondent is shown reporting live from Tahrir Square. During the report, she mentions a high number of sexual harassment cases. Before she is finished with her report, the in-studio anchor talks over her and states “they are just happy.”

The Ministry of Interior released a statement claiming that it had arrested 7 men between the ages of 15 and 49 for sexually assaulting “a number of women” and for injuring a police officer.

Sexual assault epidemic

Although the sexual assault epidemic is nothing new in Egypt, recently there has been an extended initiative by the government to crack down on the issue.

Before stepping down last week, Interim President Adly Mansour passed a law criminalizing all forms of sexual harassment, regardless of the medium through which it occurs.

A new article, which has been issued into power, adds a harsh punishment to those found guilty of unwanted sexual contact. Violators of this law will be punished with a minimum of one year in prison and a fine between EGP 10,000 and EGP 20,000.

If such sexual contact is by an authority figure, whether it be in the work place, at school or even at home, then the punishment would be a prison sentence of at least two years and a fine between EGP 20,000 and EGP 50,000.

Other amended laws, under article 306, declare that those found guilty of verbal sexual harassment in a private or public place will be sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison and fined no less than EGP 3,000 ($US 420).

These new laws come after several television hosts have discussed cases of sexual harassment occurring at universities throughout the country, while blaming women for provoking their aggressor through their clothing choices.

In his talk show, Egyptian presenter Tamer Amin of Egypt Today, declared that clothing choice is not a personal freedom, while accusing women of going to the universities not to study but in order to drive male attention.

Amin also blames the security guards at the schools who allow the women into the universities with their “provocative clothing.”

With the increase of transparency through videos like last night’s horrific footage, it has become increasingly difficult to sweep such issues of sexual harassment under the rug. However, it remains to be seen how effective these laws will be in creating safer streets for Egyptian women.

– See more at: http://egyptianstreets.com/2014/06/09/woman-stripped-beaten-and-sexually-assaulted-at-tahrir-square/#sthash.jPj8qPDP.dpuf

Writing a Revolution: Ahmed Fouad Negm, the voice of Egypt’s Revolution

He has been dubbed the voice of Egypt’s revolution, but can the late 83-year-old find his place in a revolution of the young?

When the Egyptian revolution erupted in 2011, it was the words of Negm’s famous poems, like The Brave Man is Brave, that were chanted in Tahrir Square.

Just as people look to him for leadership, Negm finds himself unable to write.

In this rare, intimate portrait, we witness  Negm seeking his place in this revolution of the young, and searching for the inspiration to write again.

Director May Abdalla, Filmmaker’s view: The politically incorrect poet

“What do you mean you’re not in love? A crazy woman like you will make a man very happy! I’ve loved crazy women my whole life and they have kept me young,” says Ahmed Fouad Negm.

About the series: Poets of Protest reflects the poet’s view of the change sweeping the Middle East through its intimate profiles of six contemporary writers as they struggle to lead, to interpret and to inspire.Poetry lives and breathes in the Middle East as in few other places.In a region long dominated by authoritarian regimes, poetry is the medium for expressing people’s hopes, dreams and frustrations.Poets became historians, journalists, entertainers – and even revolutionaries.

The wiry 83-year-old poet has shot verbal daggers at every Egyptian president he has lived under – resulting in spending 18 years of his life in prison.

The poet famous for his carefree lifestyle and quick wit, sits in his cluttered living room and peers over his thin-rimmed glasses at me with a twinkle that belies his age. “I still write like I’m 25, eat like I’m 25, and please a woman like I’m 25,” he says.

Ahmed Fouad Negm is a living legend in the Arab world and famous for not holding his tongue.

One of 17 children, Negm was raised in an orphanage and sent to prison as a young man for forging papers. During his 3-year sentence he began to write poems in the street slang of everyday Egyptians, merging inside working class jokes with the harsh reality of oppression.

Prisoners began to smuggle tape recorders into his cell to bootleg his new writings and his prison guards, themselves struggling to get by, would help pass on his poems.

Negm became a working class hero and his writings became more openly political. When he was given an 11-year sentence under President Anwar Sadat for a poem that mocked his television addresses, he achieved underground fame across the Middle East.

Over three decades later, in Tahrir Square, the same poems came to life – chanted now against Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. During tense nights in the Square, protesters would chant his poem The brave men are brave: The brave men are brave The cowards are cowardly Come with the brave Together to the Square I had met Negm in the tiny backroom of a radical publishing house in downtown Cairo.

A dozen poets and writers spanning three generations were seated between pillars of books reaching the ceiling. Wedged in at a computer table, Negm, in his smoker’s rasp, was holding court.

Between the Shakespearian-style word play and classical Arabic verse, the subject was the new religious rulers of Egypt.

“Let me tell you. I met a lot of Muslim Brothers in prison. Sometimes I would offer to lead them in prayer. When their heads were still on the ground I would walk off and leave them for hours trying to work out: Is this permissible? Is this not? How do you imagine they can run a country as rich as Egypt? The poor of Egypt are geniuses, don’t underestimate them.”

Egypt’s tide towards religiosity has clearly affected Negm’s reputation. His openness about hashish and girlfriends and his love of a good curse word mean that many Egyptians have dismissed him as beyond the pale.

His daughter, Nawara Negm, has been one of the revolution’s leaders since its inception. She inherited her father’s sharp tongue and politics – singing his Guevara is Dead anthem at her step-sister’s wedding. But earlier in the year, she was assaulted by a mob who shouted “daughter of the druggie” as they beat her.

It was of little surprise that whilst filming, Negm received the news that he was being sued for blasphemy after he used a rude word on live television which invoked religion. His wife was terrified, but Negm slid comfortably into his old fighting position:

“I am not scared, they are trying to frighten us into shutting up. But how can I be frightened? I have already spent more time in jail than you have even been alive!”

There was even the small sense that a court case, especially one that was being referred to the higher courts, was the assurance Negm needed to know that he was still as relevant as ever in the midst of a revolution branded in Egypt as ‘The Youth Revolution’.

This episode of Artscape: Poets of Protest can be seen from Friday, August 31, at the following times GMT: Friday: 1930; Saturday: 1430; Sunday: 0430; Monday: 0830. Click here for more Artscape: Poets of Protest.

 

What are your questions about Egypt? No need to feel embarrassed to ask…

Today’s violence in Egypt is claiming hundreds of lives, worsening the country’s already dire political crisis and putting the United States in a quandary.

It’s also another chapter in a years-long story that can be difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it. You might have found yourself wondering what Egypt’s crisis is all about, why there’s a crisis at all, or even where Egypt is located on the map.

Admit it, and fire up your questions: not everyone has the time or energy to keep up with big, complicated foreign stories.

This story is important and critical.  Here are samples of the most basic answers to your most basic questions.

First, a disclaimer: Egypt and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Max Fisher published this August 14, 2013 in The Washington Post World Views (with slight editing):

9 questions about Egypt you were too embarrassed to ask

(Laris Karklis/Washington Post)

(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)

1. What is Egypt?

Egypt is a country in the northeastern corner of Africa, but it’s considered part of the Middle East. It’s about the size of Texas and New Mexico combined and has a population of 85 million. Egyptians are mostly Arab and mostly Muslim, although about 10% are Christian Copts. Egyptians are very proud of their history and culture; they are among the world’s first great civilizations.

You might have heard of Egypt from its ancient pyramids and Sphinx, but Egyptians are still changing the world today. In the 20th century, they were in the forefront of the founding of two ideological movements that reshaped – are still reshaping, at this moment – the entire Middle East: Arab nationalism and Islamism.

2. Why are people in Egypt killing each other?

There’s been a lot of political instability since early 2011, when you probably saw the footage of a million-plus protesters gathered in Cairo Tahrir Square (Liberation) to demand that the president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, step down.

Mubarak did and that opened up a big power struggle that hasn’t been anywhere near resolved. It’s not just people at the top of the government fighting among one another, it’s lots of regular people who have very different visions for where they want their country to go.

Today is the latest round in a two-and-a-half-year fight over what kind of country Egypt will be. Regular people tend to express their political will by protesting (keep in mind that democracy is really new and untested in Egypt), and because Egyptian security forces have a long track record of violence against civilians, the “fight for Egypt’s future” isn’t just a metaphor. Often, it’s an actual physical confrontation that happens on the street.

3. Why are they fighting today specifically?

Egyptian security forces assaulted two sprawling sit-in camps (of the ousted Moslem Brotherhood from reigning) in downtown Cairo this morning and tried to disperse the protesters. The protesters fought back.

So far, the casualties are rising every day.  The assault “to clear” the squares left over 560 killed (officially) and 4,000 injured. A lot of them apparently civilians shot by live ammunition rounds used by security forces.

The protesters were there in support of former president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in early July (the military is still in charge). Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group to which a number of the protesters in today’s clashes belong. He was also the country’s first democratically elected leader.

4. If the military staged a coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, then all those Egyptians who protested in 2011 for democracy must be furious, right?

Actually, no. A whole lot of Egyptians, especially the liberal groups that led the 2011 revolution, were happy about the coup. A number of them were even calling on the military-led government to break up the largely peaceful pro-Morsi protest camp, even though there were children present and no one thought it would disperse without bloodshed.

There are two things to understand here.

First is that Morsi did not do a good job as president. He had a difficult task, sure, but he really bungled the economy, which was already in free fall.

(Morsi didn’t receive any financial aid from either the rich Arab States or the IMF or the US and European countries. After the military coup, the new government received $12 bn within a week from the rich monarchic Arab States)

Morsi did precious little to include non-Islamists, and took some very serious steps away from democracy, including arresting journalists and pushing through an alarming constitutional change that granted him sweeping powers. (No political parties accepted to join the Morsi government)

The second thing to understand is that Egypt is starkly divided, and has been for decades, between those two very different ideologies I mentioned. Many Egyptians don’t just dislike Morsi’s abuses of power, they dislike the entire Islamist movement he represents.

What you’re seeing today is a particularly bloody manifestation of that divide, which goes far deeper than liberals distrusting Morsi because he was a bad president. (The army is a class by itself and enjoys vast privileges, facilities and independent enterprises…)

5. This stuff about ideologies sounds complicated. Can you just tell me why Egypt is such a mess right now?

The thing about today’s crisis is that it has to do with basic stuff like the breakdown of public order and some really ham-fisted governance by the military. But it also has to do with a 60-year-old ideological conflict that’s never really been resolved.

ack in the years just after World War II, Egypt was ruled by a king who was widely seen as a British pawn. Egyptians didn’t like that. They also didn’t like losing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and they wanted a way out of their long period of national humiliation.

A lot of them were turning to a movement called the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in the 20’s), which argued, and still argues, that Islamic devotion and unity are the ultimate answer. Their ideas, and their campaign for an Islamic government, are called Islamism.

A group of Egyptian military officers had a different idea. In 1952, they led a coup against the king. A charismatic lieutenant colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power and promoted, as his answer to Egypt’s problems, an ideology called Arab nationalism. It calls for secularism, progress, Arab unity and resistance against Western imperialism.

Both of those movements swept through the Middle East, transforming it.

Arab Nationalists took power in several countries; the Syrian regime today is one of them, and so was the regime headed by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

Islamism also expanded in many countries, and sprouted some violent offshoots. But the two movements prescribe very different paths to the Middle East’s salvation, see themselves as mutually exclusive and have competed, at times violently, ever since. That is particularly true of Egypt, and has been since Nasser took power in 1952.

And that’s why you’re seeing many Egyptian liberals so happy about a military coup that displaced the democracy they fought to establish: Those liberals are closely linked to secular Arab nationalism, which means that they both revere the military and hate the Muslim Brotherhood, maybe even more than they crave democracy. Old habits die hard.

6. Getting really complicated? Do you need to take a music break?

Egyptian pop culture dominates the Arab world, in part because Egypt is so populous and in part because it’s really good. Their most celebrated singer is Omm Kalthoum (known as Planet of the Orient), whom Egyptians revere in the way that Italian-Americans do Frank Sinatra. Her recordings can sound a bit dated. Here is a cover by the contemporary singer Amal Maher:

7. Lots of people are upset with the U.S. for not doing more to support democracy in Egypt. What’s the deal?

The United States is a close political and military ally of Egypt and has been since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter engineered an historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (Sadat and Begin) that involved, among other things, enormous U.S. payouts to both countries as long as they promised not to fight any more wars. That also required the U.S. to look the other way on Egypt’s military authoritarianism and its bad human rights record. It was the Cold War, and supporting friendly dictatorships was in style. And we’ve basically been stuck there ever since.

The Obama administration most recently drew withering criticism for refusing to call the military’s July 3 ouster of the president a “coup.” Doing so would likely require the U.S. to cut its billion-plus dollars in annual military aid to Egypt. That is also why you’re seeing the White House appearing very hesitant about responding to today’s violence with actual consequences.

Sure, the U.S. wants democracy in Egypt? And it wants leverage with the Egyptian government even more? That has been true of every administration since Carter.

It was not actually until the Obama administration that the U.S. came to accept the idea that Islamists, who have been a big political force in Egypt for almost a century now, should play a role in governing. But they’re sticking with the status quo; no one wants to be the administration that “lost” Egypt.

8. Are you getting depressed. Surely someone wants Egypt to be a peaceful and inclusive democracy?

Not really. Most Egyptians are way too preoccupied with their ideological divide to imagine a government that might bridge it. Self-described liberals seem to prefer a secular nationalist government, even if it’s the military regime in power today, as long as it keeps Islamists out.

The Islamists, for their part, were more than happy to push out anyone who disagreed with them once they took power in 2012 through a democratic process that their leader appeared very willing to corrupt.

Both movements are so big and popular that neither one of them can rule without at least attempting to include the other. But neither appears willing to do that.

When I asked Steven Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, what he made of the liberals’ embrace of the military coup and why he had started referring to them as “alleged liberal groups,” he wrote as part of his response, “I think Amr Hamzawy and Hossam Bahgat are the only true liberals in Egypt.”

9. And What happens next?

No one has any idea, but it looks bad. There are 3 things that most analysts seem to agree on. Any or all of these could prove wrong, but they’re the most common, short-term predictions:

1• The military-led government will keep cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and stirring up preexisting public animosity toward the group, both of which they’ve been doing since the 1950s.

2• The U.S. will call for a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition, as Secretary of State John Kerry did this afternoon, but will refrain from punishing the Egyptian military for fear of losing leverage.

3• The real, underlying problems — ideological division and a free-falling economy — are only going to get worse.

In the aggregate, these point to more violence and more instability but probably not a significant escalation of either. Medium-term, with some U.S. pressure, there will probably be a military-dominated political process that might stagger in the direction of a troubled democracy. Longer-term, who knows?

As the highly respected Egypt expert and Century Foundation scholar Michael Hanna told me recently, “Egypt might just be ungovernable.”

Note: Before the latest bloody crackdown, a feasible alternative would have been to bring back Morsi for another year, after a parliamentary election. Unless a drastic deal is reached with the Moslem Brotherhood movement, Egypt might be sinking into a civil war within a very populous State.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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