North Africa, West Asia

This week's window on the Middle East - June 22, 2014

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: A voice from inside Mosul.

Arab Awakening
22 June 2014
  • A voice from inside Mosul
  • Only in Egypt’s media: women raped because the “guys were having a good time”
  • The Arab World: between liberal imperialism and liberal oppression
  • The no-State solution for Israel and Palestine
  • Mob sex attacks and the everyday reality of street children in Egypt
  • Jordan’s Muslim Brothers: the last of a dying breed?
  • Egypt’s deep state rediscovers itself
  • A voice from inside Mosul

    By QC, ICSSI

    What is the situation now in the city of Mosul?

    QC: In terms of the security situation, there is no fighting or bombing. The roads are open, but there is a shortage of basic goods and services. For example there is no electricity or Internet, and water, as well as gas cylinders and fuel are in short supply. Food prices are high, too. While the hospitals are still functioning, other government institutions have shut down.

    Is it possible for non-governmental organizations [NGOs] and human rights defenders [HRDs] to work in Mosul?

    QC: No, it is not possible for NGOs and HRDs to work freely. Insurgents, especially extremists, do not accept civil society, and if I said I wanted to work in Mosul they would punish me. They call it “Had”; it is punishment according to Sharia law. Organizations must operate secretly in order to send reports about the situation. I also prefer to keep my name unknown for this interview. Civil society in our cities must work in alignment with the government, otherwise you will be accused of supporting the militants. But at the same time, the insurgents also reject any independent role for civil society.

    What about the displaced — are there people displaced from Mosul? How large are the numbers?

    QC: There are many families — as many as one hundred thousand — who fled to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq [KRG].  We are talking about perhaps five hundred thousand people, the majority of whom are children and the elderly. The KRG authorities did not allow most of them to enter because they require that those who enter have a guarantor from the Kurdish region. Many of these now internally displaced persons [IDPs] are being kept in very basic camps. The crisis of the IDPs is immense and urgently requires the assistance of humanitarian organizations. The crisis is growing worse, especially after the battles in the city of Tal Afar, which created thousands of newly displaced civilians.

    Who controls Mosul? Are there now sanctions or reprisals against civilians?

    QC: The situation in Mosul has been very bad since militants seized control of the entire city. The city’s immediate future is not clear. People do not know whether there will be a military strike, or if we will remain under the rule of the gunmen who seized power (who are not themselves ruled by law), or if they will form a government in these areas. Until now there have been no acts of revenge or collective punishment of civilians. We heard that a new governor has been appointed, a former army officer named Hashim Aljmas.

    Who are the gunmen who entered Mosul?

    QC: There was a mixture of armed groups who entered Mosul:  some Islamic extremists (from ISIS) and other rebels (or nationalists) some of whom are former members of the army and some Ba’athists. In Mosul there are now different groups that are in control of each neighbourhood. Generally, these groups do not discuss their future plans for the city, and they do not allow the media to operate in the city.

    What do the people of Mosul feel about what has happened? Why do they think that the city fell?

    QC: The main reason for the fall of the city of Mosul - the second largest city in Iraq – is that the Maliki government did not respond to the demands of the citizen protestors who demonstrated in Mosul, Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Hawija over a year ago and so the citizens did not support the Iraqi army.

    The policy of the Iraqi government headed by Nouri al-Maliki has been totally sectarian in the way it has operated in the Iraqi provinces. The government has almost totally excluded representatives of the Sunni population from the sovereign ministries, or left them with no real authority. Even the new Iraqi army was formed on this basis.

    How is the Iraqi army viewed by the sons of the city of Mosul?

    QC: The Iraqi army unfortunately does not support a doctrine of loyalty to the homeland (or an Iraq that is inclusive of all people); instead it is loyal to the Madhhab or Shia doctrine. It deals with citizens according to their religious sect. The armed forces have attacked people in the cities of Mosul, Anbar, Salahuddin, Diyala and Hawija. They have carried out arrests, torture and extortion. There have also been many cases of rape by members of the army, both outside and inside prisons.

    But Mosul contributed to the recent elections, wasn’t that a sign of hope for change through peaceful means?

    QC: The last election was frustrating. Most of the political blocs accused the Prime Minister of rigging the election for the purpose of securing a large number of seats (93) in the Iraqi parliament. This has raised a fear among many politicians and citizens that Nouri al-Maliki would return for a third term as prime minister of Iraq, which would essentially amount to the creation of a new dictatorship. Everyone is aware of how he has attempted during his two terms in power to increase his control over all aspects of political life, especially the “independent” commissions including the Electoral Commission and the Human Rights Commission. He accused his opponents in Parliament of crimes and had many arrested and imprisoned. Now the state security institutions are largely dominated by one sect (Shia) and are constantly fed sectarian ideology.

    I think the insurgents planned this current invasion of the provinces to coincide with the announcement of final election results, which was an excellent time for them to suggest to the citizens that their revolution would rid the Sunnis of the sectarian Maliki government, which is now trying to control the state for a third term. Maybe this is why rebels received a warm welcome from some citizens in the provinces where the insurgents took over. When the gunmen entered the city of Mosul, the military was very weak due to fear of reprisals from the community (since most of the community hates the army). This explains why military commanders fled, and why the army was unable to defeat what was only a small number of insurgents.

    Do you want the army to “free” the city of Mosul?

    QC: I think the solution must be a political one first. The Iraqi army, if it acts professionally and patriotically, and works in collaboration with the people of the city, is capable of freeing Mosul from the insurgents. But there must be a military plan that takes into account the population of the city and ensures the safety of Mosul’s civilians. There are a million civilians who may now be at risk. Aerial bombardment would be especially catastrophic for them.

    What will help the civilians in Mosul? What is the role for the US in the future of Mosul?

    QC: I think we need to guarantee and strengthen the capacity and the activity of civil society, so that it becomes a link between the government and society, so that citizens are empowered to play a greater role in identifying and implementing solutions to problems in the future.

    Recent events are the beginning of the division of Iraq into three regions (Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite). This is increasingly considered by many politicians to be the solution to political and armed conflict among the different groups in Iraq. The Kurdish authorities and the leaders of the insurgents seem to have agreed that this is what will happen. Iraqis were once unified, but the experience of the past eight years and the likely continuation of the current political situation makes it almost impossible for our cities to go on like this.

    I think that America understands what is happening and that it will push for the division of Iraq. The US will not necessarily send its military to Mosul or Iraq, but it will clearly play a role in what will be agreed upon. People here want civilians to rule the city so we can solve our problems ourselves. We want the extremists to leave and we want the end of military activities and the presence of weapons. But at the same time we don’t want to return to sectarian rule in any way.

    Only in Egypt’s media: women raped because the “guys were having a good time”

    By Ahmed Magdy Youssef

    Some Egyptians show their deepest sympathy and voice their anguish openly while others seize the opportunity to lay the blame for the harrowing incident of mob sexual harassment in Tahrir Square on the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the comment of an Egyptian TV host on “isolated cases of sexual harassment” during the celebrations of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s inauguration in Tahrir Square is by any estimation the most shocking of all. 

    On June 9, a blurry video showing a mass sexual assault on a nearly naked woman during Abdel Fattah El Sisi’s presidential inauguration celebrations went viral on YouTube. The amateur video, most probably taken with a low-resolution mobile camera, portrays a chaotic scene in which a blood-stained naked woman limps away with the help of a police officer grasping a gun in his hand and struggling against a mob of men to rescue her. The woman barely made it to a nearby ambulance, which took her to hospital. 

    On the same day, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that the police had arrested seven suspected men, aged 15 to 49, for sexual harassment. However, according to The New York Times, an Interior Ministry spokesman said he couldn’t tell whether the arrests were related to the mob assault seen in the aforementioned video or not. 

    Needless to say, the withering irony within this horrendous incident lies in the fact that neither the government nor the former army chief himself, who has received fervent support mostly from women, have responded properly to this excruciating scene. El Sisi urged the Interior Minister to act promptly to enforce the law to fend off the “phenomena” of sexual harassment, not to mention to commend the police officer who rescued the female victim.   

    Nevertheless, another video shows a female news anchor on a private TV channel, Al-Tahrir, saying cheerfully that the attackers were “just having a good time.” This struck a nerve and has incited outrage on Egypt’s different social networks.

    Ms Maha Bahnassythe anchorwoman, later apologised for her comment, but only after receiving reports about women being sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square on the eve of El Sisi’s inauguration. She justified her actions by saying that she was merely commenting to her guests in the studio, unaware that her microphone was on. The correspondent, Samar Negida, whom Ms Bahnassy was corresponding with at the time, deemed this explanation “unacceptable” in a Tweet. 

    “I don't understand what difference it makes, whether the anchor was talking to me or to a guest?! Does it change anything? …The apology Maha Bahnasy just issued is unacceptable, because she had said she thought the information I was providing was based on ‘rumours’, questioning my credibility,” Ms Negida said in two different Tweets.

    By and large, what made the incident even worse were the comments of some Egyptian prominent figures. Hoda Badran, the head of the Egyptian Feminist Union, told a TV anchor that the mob sexual assaults in Tahrir Square, which included at least five women, were merely the work of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Similarly, the Egyptian human rights activist Dalia Ziadadescribed the-then sexual assaults as being “deliberate” and “purposeful”. She even avowedly accused the Muslim Brotherhood in her Tweets by saying: “I blame the (Muslim) Brotherhood for the harassment acts that occurred in Tahrir Square yesterday, as this wasn’t the first gathering of both men and women together in the Square. Same rallies held all over the last year, and no sexual harassment incident had been reported. In the protests that proceeded June 30, the (Muslim) Brotherhood did something like this. Remember the memorable scene of the last year where a woman had her clothes stripped off in a similar way?”

    It’s of paramount importance to say that no evidence has been given to indicate that Muslim Brotherhood members were involved in these heinous acts. However, there is a wilful belief among some Egyptian liberals and elites that the banned Muslim Brotherhood group is the root of all evil.

    Ironically enough, the egregious incident came a week after the enactment of a law which criminalises sexual harassment. According to this law, any person who sexually harasses a man or a woman in public or private will face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of 50,000 EGP ($6,990).  

    Many may pin high hopes on El Sisi to resolve the issue of frequent assaults on women in public spaces once and for all, especially since he has regularly emphasised his utter respect and support for Egypt’s women. He even enunciated that he will resort to religious institutions, schools and media to raise awareness against sexual harassment. 

    Meanwhile, others may be sceptical of his potential role in warding off this plague from ruining Egyptian society, ever since he defended the military’s use of forced “virginity tests” on female detainees in 2011 when he was an army general. The latter act was justified to protect the soldiers from rape accusations and to make sure that they were respectable women, seeing that they “are not like your daughters or mine”, as Sisi referred to the women in Tahrir Square. 

    Egypt’s patriarchal culture should be blamed for violence against women. The police's inability to provide much-needed security for women in large gatherings, in addition to their failure to combat sexual violence, makes them as guilty as the society itself for sexual harassment. It is worth noting that a 2013 United Nations report entitled "Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women" found that 99.3% of Egyptian women have suffered from sexual harassment in the country, while 91.5 percent have experienced unwelcome physical contact. 

    Unfortunately, this means that a long battle lies ahead and people need to start taking responsibility and stop trying to find scapegoats, whether it’s the Muslim Brotherhood, the culture, women’s clothing’s, etc… We all need to stand side by side and put an end to this.

    The Arab World: between liberal imperialism and liberal oppression

    By Maged Mandour

    The Arab World, like most regions of the Third world, has been suffering from a multilayered process of oppression, on both international and domestic scales. This oppression manifests itself by closely interlinking the domestic elites with the elites in capitalist core countries, both in terms of material interests and ideological justification for oppression. 

    To understand this dynamic a closer look at the ideological connection between ‘liberal imperialism’ on an international scale, and what I perceive as its ‘Arabised’ version, which is closely connected with the rentier states and crony capitalist classes ruling the Arab World, what I term ‘crony liberal oppression’, is due. 

    What is meant by ‘liberal imperialism’? In the academic sense, ‘liberal imperialism’, is the propensity of liberal democratic regimes to use force to enforce ‘regime change’ or initiate ‘democratisation’. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, is arguably, a very prominent example of this tendency.

    Both regime change and the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) were used as justifications for the invasion. The ideological justification that underpinned this process is what has been called “the democratic peace thesis”, based on Kant’s pamphlet Perpetual Peace, where he argued, that democratic regimes, based on the standards of that time, do not fight each other due to the pacific nature of citizenry, as opposed to the warlike nature of kings. Thus, war would disappear if the world was filled with the “right kind of political system”. Naturally, taking a wider view of this ideology, the free market is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a fully functioning democratic system, thus, an essential ingredient of this ideology, is the introduction of what has been called “market reforms” to the Third World, through organisations like the IMF and the World Bank. 

    This ideology, is also underpinned by another element, that is rarely highlighted, namely, an orientalist, imperial perception of the ‘other’, those not living under the same liberal system that emerged in the west. From my perspective, this is rather a crude extension of the ideology that underpinned the beginning of the European imperial project, that arguably started with the colonisation of the Americas. The ideological justification was to educate the ‘savages’ and bring them to the fold of civilisation, a process that seemed without end, since the colonial project extended over hundreds of years with no change in European views of natives. 

    This, in effect, also involved a substantial degree of falsification of history, ignoring parts, and blaming other parts on the nature of the ‘natives’. For example, the aftermath of colonial policies on the famine that killed millions across the Global South at the end of the nineteenth century in what is brilliantly described by Mark Davis in his master piece The Late Victorian Holocaust, is all but ignored, and there is no sense of collective responsibility for what took place. These views are still prevalent in the west, perhaps in more hidden and subtle form.

    As one can plainly see, this ideology has contradicting tendencies, and can justify imperial intervention on both sides of the spectrum, for ruling dictators or against them, causing devastating effects to societal development in the Arab World, and the Middle East at large.

    The first tendency, is direct intervention for the sake of regime change, and ‘democratisation’. Under this guise, the United States launched a devastating war in 2003 that not only devastated Iraq, but led to the emergence of what Fawaz Gerges calls a third generation of Jihadists, who are more ruthless than previous generations.

    It also led to the propagation of Al-Qaeda as a decentralised network, much more difficult to combat and contain. This ideology is also used to provide justification for supporting Israeli colonial policy, which is seen as another friendly “liberal democratic” regime, surrounded by Arab dictators and fanatics. This, of course, ignores the openly racist colonial policy of Israel, and the apartheid nature of the Jewish state.       

    Ironically, this same ideology is used to justify support for Arab dictators across the Middle East, from Mubarak to the Gulf states and beyond. The ideological justification employed in this case, places more emphasis on the ‘orientalist’ aspect of liberal imperialism, where arguments regarding the need to support stable, allied governments in the face of Islamist fanatics prevail in western rhetoric.

    There is also the justification of the ‘exceptional’ nature of the Arab World and Islam, which are not compatible with fully functioning democratic systems. This glaring contradiction between the above mentioned ideological need for intervention and the support for dictatorships, doesn’t seem to cause any angst to the western policy maker, nor to the western public. As far as one can see, this ideology is deeply entrenched in the collective psyche of the west, and in certain cases was used to justify intervention on behalf of dictators and against democratic forces in the Middle East, and the developing world. 

    The most famous examples of this include operation Ajax in Iran in 1954, the American intervention in Jordan and Lebanon in the 1950s, the coup in Chile in 1973, the continued American and western support of the military regime in Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. All in the name of promoting ‘democracy’.

    This policy is also accompanied by the imposition of market reforms across the Arab World in a manner that cements the position of the Arab World as at the periphery of the international capitalist system. This involves, naturally, a cut in government spending and subsidies, the liberalisation of trade and most importantly capital flows, without liberalising the movement of labour, and privatisation. Which, in effect, has a massive distortive effect on the political economy of the Arab World. 

    First, it leads to the creation of a crony capitalist class that relies on the appropriation of public funds, rather than productive activities as the base of wealth accumulation. In other words, this leads to the creation of a new elite that is closely tied to the local oppressive regime, and supports the status quo, which makes sustainable economic and social progress difficult to achieve. 

    Second, it increases the level of labour coercion across the Arab World, where the lack of mobility of labour, accompanied by political oppression, and high levels of inequality produce inhumane working conditions, which allow the employer, who is most likely also the crony capitalist, to use strong coercive tactics. All resulting in lower standards of living for the masses, while promoting capital accumulation at the top.  

    In summary, the total effect of this policy is that it inhibits capitalist development in the Arab World, and conversely promotes the development of parasitic capitalism that would not only stunt economic development, it also inhibits political and social development, cementing the position of the Arab World as a peripheral zone in the capitalist system.

    Those local elites, that I have referred to above, carry this ideology of ‘liberal imperialism’ into the heart of the Arab World. However, this ideology is modified, with greater emphasis being placed on the “orientalism” aspect of the ideology and the “need for market reform”, while belief in democratic change is dropped from the equation. This type of ideology I like to call ‘liberal oppression’.  Under this ideology, the local elites, whom I have called elsewhere “The new Janissaries”, share the same openly racist views of their fellow citizens. 

    The “new Janissaries” share the western view of the Arabs as lazy, deceitful and most importantly, incapable of ruling themselves, and as such there is a need for a “strong” leader that will keep the forces of chaos at bay. This perception interplays with a strong class bias, where the lower classes are seen as “uncivilised", and the more that one climbs the social ladder, the more civilised he becomes, and consequently more “western”, “liberal” or “secular”. 

    There is even a geographic bias included in this distinction, where the rural areas are considered to be less civilised, as opposed to the urban areas, even within the same social class. This acts as the ideological backbone for a highly oppressive social system, that extends from political oppression, in the realm of political society, to oppression in the work place, schools, universities and even television programmes.

    The majority of the people are supposedly uncivilised and the elites have the responsibility to “guide” them, even if by coercive tactics. Thus, orientalism becomes the ideological justification for the oppression of farmers and workers across the Arab World.

    The other pillar of “liberal oppression” is the belief in the merits of the “free market”, and the need to implement an international neoliberal programme, propagated by the IMF, World Bank and other international powers. This, as recent history has proven, has only allowed for further accumulation of wealth to the crony capitalist elites, and has justified the continued oppression of the mass of citizens under the guise of “progress” and “economic development”.

    In reality, these policies disrupt the operation of the market and lead to the creation of monopolies, which undermine any  “free market”. Thus, the aim is to facilitate wealth accumulation, through rent seeking behaviour, rather than creating a framework that would allow for the development of a mature capitalist system.

    In the end, what is the role of the Arab revolt in this construct? I propose that the first step for a successful revolutionary push is to deconstruct the ideological base of the current political order. It is essential not only to expose the ideological weaknesses of the current order, but to link the current political order with the international neo-colonial ideology, and replace it with another ideology, that is based on the welfare of the average Arab citizen.

    The no-State solution for Israel and Palestine

    By Doris Carrion

    There are a whole range of options for what one state for Israelis and Palestinians would look like, which fit broadly into two types. The first type, a bi-national state, would be a secular state governing two, Jewish and Palestinian, nations which would enjoy equal citizenship status and rights. Sovereignty would be based on either power-sharing between the two communities or on the basis of individual representation. Supporters, who are typically Palestinian, Israeli or international activists, journalists and academics on the left, acknowledge how hard this would be to implement – some low level, localized conflict would be likely.

    The second type of ‘one state solution’ is broadly referred to as Greater Israel, in which the Israeli government would permanently extend its sovereignty over the Palestinian territories by some measure of annexation. Supporters, who are typically Israeli politicians and intellectuals on the far right, vary on whether Gaza should be included, on how much territory should be annexed and on whether Palestinians should be full citizens. In all cases, their aim is to establish one Jewish state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, arguing that this is the only way to guarantee Israel’s security. While the binational state is a distant prospect, the Israeli government already has the means to establish some form of Greater Israel if it decided to do so. 

    When placed together, these one state models do not look that different from the two-state solution. A Jewish state can be realized either by a separate Israeli state alongside a Palestinian one, or by a Greater Israel one state. Palestinian rights and privileges can be realized either by establishing a separate Palestinian state, or by a secular bi-national one state. Whether the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is split or kept whole matters less than on whose terms it would be governed. Solutions based on models of the state are not getting us anywhere new. 

    A real alternative

    A real alternative would be to move the debate away from one state versus two states or from how to divide territorial sovereignty. The aim for a peace process would instead start by negotiating each side's national narratives and needs and then later address models of state.

    A forward-looking agreement based on these needs would have to address difficult, sensitive and perhaps unavoidably unjust questions, such as: what are Jewish Israelis’ minimum needs in terms of symbolic and political representation - what could be other ways to preserve Jewish self-determination, apart from a Jewish state? What symbolic steps can Palestinians take to help Israelis feel secure? What is the minimum that Palestinians can accept in terms of refugee return, and how can Israelis endorse the Palestinian right to self-determination? Can both narratives of the conflict be reconciled? This list of questions is not exhaustive, and individual rights and beliefs can never be negotiated away. But these issues cannot be avoided.

    Experts from both sides of the Green Line have already begun to think about how some of these questions could be addressed. At a Chatham House workshop earlier this year, working groups of Israelis, Palestinians and internationals debated how and whether the two sides’ national narratives about the Palestinian refugee issue could be reconciled.

    While right of return is a core element of the Palestinian national narrative, so far it has clashed with the deeply held Israeli national narrative of Israel as a Jewish state. After two days of intensive discussions, twenty-two different potential ways to reconcile the narratives were proposed. These kinds of debates and potential alternative narratives now need to move out of expert forums into a more mainstream conversation. The media, politicians and educational institutions all have contributed to polarized views in both Israel and Palestine – they equally have the power to encourage publics to consider alternative positions.

    Some will argue that starting with national narratives and needs is too ambitious and would prevent talks from ever getting off the ground. But for years talks have been increasingly disconnected from realities on the ground, all while the two sides move further away from each other. Tackling identity and self-determination questions head-on could be the only chance to restart a stalled process. 

    Mob sex attacks and the everyday reality of street children in Egypt

    By Nelly Ali

    I read the papers and online testimonials of mob attacks on Egyptian women protesters in the streets and if I had not read the titles, I would have thought that the authors had suddenly taken a keen interest in the everyday life of street children. I would have concluded with some justification that they had become avid observers who have taken to the streets to highlight the prevalence and normality of sexual violence in street culture that very little children live every night.

    But no, I have read the title; the words indicate this is about other girls; younger and older women, “welaad naas” (literally means "children of people"), of the working and middle class (because remember street kids are the “excluded” class, second class citizens if that!). These articles are written because “citizens” have been struck, “citizens” honour has been violated; “citizens” human rights have been wronged. But street children? They aren’t citizens – they don’t even hold an ID. When they are raped, shot dead, and left in front of shelter doors, a crime has not taken place because a citizen hasn’t been involved. So no, this flood of articles about harassment, sexual attacks and gang rape on the street, are not about the street kids.

    But because this is the everyday reality for those children, I came to know the streets as what they have now recently been discovered by others. So I thought that maybe by writing this, I could shed a different light, a look from a different angle on a phenomenon that many are so horrified by, so unfamiliar with.

    I am arguing here that this is one of the ugly faces of the street. And, just as each human, each friend, has an ugly face, you only get to see it, know it, get scorned by it, once you have spent long enough with it. Its crude reality cannot hide forever and the euphoria of the imagined utopia of solidarity that the street brings during revolutionary times soon begins to crack when the street and all its non-citizen inhabitants become a reality that you cannot escape and one whose reality you have shared, one which has scarred you, too.

    Talking of scarring, a lot of attention and horror has been expressed following the attack where a blade was used on one victim of these assaults. I wondered about the irony of the timing of this. Just last month I took one of my street girls to a generous plastic surgeon who have offered my girls free reconstructive surgery for the scars they suffer during such attacks on the street. The scarring is part of the street rape culture – any boy or girl who has been raped on the street, will be “marked”. This mark, usually a curve under the eye of the victim, will mean that they are no longer virgins. Subsequent sexual attacks, and there will be many, will lead to smaller marks anywhere else on the body. One girl, none of us at the shelter forget, was lucky. She escaped the scarring on the face, but needed 16 stitches on her lower back where she was knifed as she escaped her rapists.

    I am not an expert in conspiracy theories, but I am a consultant on street kids and the risks of the street. And so, when I read the musings out loud that the National Democtratic Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, the who ever else must be organizing these mob sex attacks, my better judgment makes me tentative. I remember that no one paid the four men in their thirties and forties to gang rape seven-year-old Maya who had been living on the street just four days. The younger the child, the attackers think, the smaller the risk of contracting HIV.

    Being on the street brings with it much risk: the longer you stay on it, the more likely you will be exposed to that risk. Does it make it OK? Of course not! But what it does is highlight the plight of the children who do not conjure up the same attention and horror when these attacks happen to them, daily. What it does do is to emphasize the terror that the streets have become because we have allowed them not to be safe -  how the law and its enforcement is and always has been neglectful of that sphere, that in our country, is home to many.

    Does it deserve to be treated with less fury because it’s an everyday reality? No, but the anger, the support, the reform that needs to come after it, has to be extended to include those who are not among the official figures for these attacks – because there have not only been 25 attacks on the street since the start of the year.

    As street kids will tell you; gang rape is just the start for them – prostitution, trafficking and pornography come shortly afterwards. What the revolutionary class are experiencing now is only the initiation of what thousands of children on our streets, boys and girls experience. Imagine that?

    The dysfunctional compass of blame is at work. Just as people point a finger of reprimand at the street kids for being on the street and not at home, ignoring all the reasons that have pushed them into it, now the same fingers point at the females getting attacked in Tahrir and elsewhere suggesting it’s their fault for not staying safe at home. Accountability. Once we learn the meaning of this word, perhaps the streets might be a little safer for all.

    This piece was originally published on Nelly Ali's blog "nellyali" on 8 February 2013.

    Jordan’s Muslim Brothers: the last of a dying breed?

    By Nikita Malik

    When Tayseer first joined Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood after graduating from university, fitting in proved difficult. “I faced managerial as well as age issues,” he tells me carefully. “Even my thoughts on Islam and my Islamic values were different. They were not accepted by the Brotherhood”.  

    In the past, emphasis on religious ideology served the Muslim Brotherhood well, but now Jordanians desire a nation-centric focus. For the last two years, Tayseer has been involved in a younger, more welcoming movement. It goes by the name of the National Initiative for Building, which in Jordan is better known as ZamZam. ZamZam presents a credible alternative to Jordan’s largest opposition party. 

    Following the overthrow of the Brotherhood’s leadership in Egypt, Jordanians are interested in new factions that focus on local issues and reform. ZamZam achieves this by involving all members of the Jordanian polity, irrespective of religion. Some members describe the organisation as ‘post-ideological’, given its emphasis on empowering Jordanian society and strengthening the state, rather than an organisation that has a religious decision-making process.

    ZamZam’s main challenge, for the moment, lies in increasing the power of leaders within constituencies, which is proving to be very difficult. Participation in the municipality elections has been disappointingly low in the past. It is hoped, however, that changing perceptions on micro-governance will strengthen a bottom-up dynamic. 

    In response to competition posed by ZamZam, the Muslim Brotherhood is striving to initiate changes within its own conservative leadership. But these reforms have resulted in further divisions within the organisation. Earlier this week, one hundred dissenting members planned an ‘opposition conference’ in Jordan’s Irbid district, aimed at revolutionising the group’s governance structure.

    A number of decisions made by the governing body have been meet with criticism, particularly a recent ruling to expel three brothers for their involvement in ZamZam. The ousting of these members has been at the heart of an ongoing dispute on the perceived threat of ZamZam. As a result, rivalries within the movement have severely weakened its authority. 

    With a fragile centre, members of the Muslim Brotherhood claim political success is impossible. This is partly due to inherent biasin the makeup of Jordan’s electoral system. In the past, Jordan’s King Abdullah famously described the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. On the occasions that the Muslim Brotherhood has not boycotted elections, its political wing, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), has gained seats. Yet many insist that these seats are not enough: a mere 27 of 150 seats are eligible to be contested by political parties, on the basis of a national proportional representation voting system. The view that the ‘system works against them’ kept the IAF from running in 2010 and 2013. During this period of political disengagement, conflict within the organisation only escalated.

    Coupled with internal fragmentation is the fact that the Brotherhood has had to contend with a number of other Islamist movements. In an article last week, Prince Hassan bin Talal defined Islam as a tolerant religion, stressing that “laws that do not respect human rights and freedom to choose one’s belief lead to oppressive regimes; they do not project the message of religion”. In addition, he elaborated that such “feelings” can fuel violence and extremism. The monarchy’s reaction to an upsurge in Jordanian jihadi sympathisers has meant that the Brotherhood, also based on Islamic ideology, has suffered from the consequences of new regulations.

    In response to threats of extremism, the monarchy passed a new anti-terrorism law to aid the work of Jordanian intelligence and military agencies in combating terrorism. The new stipulation, when put into practice, will also allow the government to detain and imprison citizens that support groups in Jordan like the Muslim Brotherhood, which are legal in the Hashemite Kingdom but outlawed in neighbouring countries.

    In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood has criticised new amendments to the country’s anti-terror law, arguing that these changes are a sign that the Kingdom is devolving into a ‘police state’. Jordan's new legislation comes after Saudi Arabia listed the Muslim Brotherhood and both Syrian jihadist groups as "terrorist" organizations, and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment. 

    As a result of the law, members of the Muslim Brotherhood anticipate that their activities will be more heavily regulated and tightened in the future. It is unlikely, however, that the Hashemite regime will criminalise the Muslim Brotherhood. This may be because the Muslim Brotherhood is not seen as a serious threat. Even at the peak of events of the ‘Jordanian Spring’, the movement called for reform within the system of a monarchy, maintaining open channels of communication with the regime. 

    The greatest threat to Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood lies not in potential competitors, parliamentary limitations, or new regulations, as much as it does in lack of progress within the movement itself. “Any person who does not change or develop his thoughts”, Tayseer states simply, “will not have the right tools to cope with new times, with a revolution in the atmosphere. They will not be able to cope with new paradigms”. Reform within the movement has been a long time coming. For the Brotherhood’s future to be bright, it must turn the spotlight on itself. 

    Egypt’s deep state rediscovers itself

    By Amr Osman

    If there is anything positive in the events in Egypt since the military’s junta against its elected president on 3 July 2013, it would be the exposure of what has conventionally come to be called the 'deep state', which is a result of this deep state rediscovering itself. 

    Among the various groups that participated in the January 25 revolution – Egypt’s real and only revolution – many seem to have sincerely wished to transform Egypt into a state that respected the dignity of its citizens. In fact, they wanted to restore the state – that is, their state – from a corrupt coalition that had hijacked it for decades and divided it into what looked like a confederation of middle-age principalities. The army has its own principality, a giant economic entity with its own factories, supermarkets, and even recreational facilities. As do the police, who are part of the colossal Ministry of the Interior that, in addition to its internal security functions, provides all vital civilian services such as issuing national IDs, passports, etc. 

    The judiciary is another principality that the parliament cannot even touch without the permission of its lords. The same applies to Al Azhar University and mosque; as well as to the various, and ironically tremendously rich, Sufi ‘orders’; to the equally rich Coptic Church that pretends it is only accountable to God to evade any supervision over its financial and other affairs; to private media that is run by tycoon businessmen who themselves have their own principality, exploiting Egypt’s workers and monopolising trade in all the vital industries. Last but not least, the Egyptian presidency is a principality of its own, with a budget no one dares to inquire about, that is of course, if it has a fixed budget at all.  

    Within each of these principalities, different cantons have different privileges and powers. Military police and intelligence officers, for example, have powers and access to benefits other military counterparts envy. A senior police officer in the traffic department within the Ministry of the Interior is no match for a young officer in State Security. Within the judiciary, judges in the State Council may feel resentful towards their arrogant and privileged counterparts in the Supreme Constitutional Court. 

    This applies to all other principalities, where you always find the powerful and the less powerful; the privileged and the less privileged. But what is common among all these principalities is that they all reject the interference of any outside institution in what they regard as their own domains. This, as it turned out after the revolution, applies to even an elected parliament, as well as the various state bodies put in charge of monitoring the activities of public and private institutions and supposedly fighting corruption. 

    These various principalities have taken their present shape only gradually as autonomous principalities since the 1950s (many of them did of course already exist, but they were significantly reconstituted after the army’s 1952 coup). Their relationship was determined in a largely ad-hoc manner. At a certain point after their takeover in 1952, the army, as the head of state, was able to exercise a great deal of authority over various state and non-state institutions. In the 1960s they were able to undermine the authority and independence of Al Azhar, the judiciary, private businesses and mass media. In the early 1980s, their second representative (Sadat) felt he had the power even to remove the Pope of the Coptic Church himself – supposedly divinely chosen and appointed – and arrest almost everyone who dared challenge his authority. His policies also gave rise to a new class of businessmen, and the National Democratic Party (NDP) began to assume the role of a moderator to moderate the interests of the various institutions and forces that made up the ruling regime. 

    Under the army’s third representative in the presidency (Mubarak), each of these institutions began to reassert itself over a long period of time, engaging in a long and mostly silent (but at times turbulent) negotiation with other institutions. However, they never had the opportunity to 'sit down' together to demarcate their respective domains and agree on how to deal with any possible outside threats.

    This was well-known before the January revolution. People talked about the “deep state,” even if that exact term was not used. Such awareness was tacitly evident in simple but strongly indicative sayings that Egyptians commonly deployed before the revolution, and particularly when they felt like outsiders in their own country; helpless when the ‘father’ (Mubarak), for example, was grooming his son (Gamal) to ‘inherit the property’ (Egypt). Why not, Egypt is their principality. “It’s their country,” Egyptians used to say. 

    With the fall of Mubarak in 2011, therefore, Egyptians – ordinary Egyptians who are not part of any principality – felt for the first time that Egypt was theirs, that they were not helpless anymore, and that they could determine their own future by electing their own leaders and their own representatives. This was the real cause of the euphoria that followed the revolution. It was a strong feeling of empowerment following a long period of fear, helplessness, and indifference.   

    In the interim period between the revolution in 2011 and the coup two and half years later, the principalities of the old state maintained a low profile. The army, now officially in charge, was in the forefront of events, of course. But the events of those years made it clear that their popularity and influence among the Egyptians (which rests on various myths of different kinds) could deplete in a matter of months. Very soon the military realised that things could get out of control and, in their perspective, they did. For the first time since 1952, a civilian became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, one whose legitimacy came from elsewhere, who expected military obedience from senior military leaders and was brave enough to attempt to sack senior officials to make political gains, and more seriously, could ask questions about an empire that has insightfully been described as a “black box in a black room.” 

    This ‘non-sense’ had to be stopped, all in the name of national security, and allegedly of saving Egypt from a global conspiracy to sabotage the country in which even world leaders were involved, along with their “internal traitors” and “terrorists”. But the events prior to the election of a civilian president must have made it equally clear to the military that if they wanted to regain control, they would have to rebuild the old coalition of principalities, but now on more conscious grounds, where every principality knows its rights and duties. This is exactly what was going on in Egypt after its revolution; the coup itself was just its culmination. 

    Admittedly, we do not know exactly when the Egyptian military began to orchestrate the coup or with whom. It is unlikely that the President of the Supreme Court (the judiciary), the Sheikh of Al Azhar and the Orthodox Patriarch (the institutions of the “religious establishment”), the Salafi leader, the journalists (mass media), and the “liberal” politicians (liberal and secular forces) were summoned on the day of the coup to show their full support. These representatives of many of the old principalities had very likely been communicating and negotiating for months. And most likely, they were not just negotiating over whether a coup might succeed or not, but also over how the deep state would be restructured and reconstituted in the post-coup era. 

    All this would be mere speculation had it not been for the events of the last twelve months. A mere glance over the new Egyptian constitution (and the composition of the committee that produced it) and the presidential decrees – issued by the un-elected, army-appointed interim president (Mansour), who is the President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and who also held both executive and legislative powers, just as his present successor does – suffices to demonstrate the point. The constitution now recognises the virtual autonomy of the judiciary and the army, with the elected president of the republic stripped from his previous military leadership rights (this, of course, becomes irrelevant when a military leader is the president). Many presidential decrees gave the army ownership or management of various lucrative and vital projects, including real estate, high-ways, as well as entire sea ports. 

    Other decrees have weakened the ability of the Egyptian judiciary and legislature to protect the Egyptian economy from the abuses of domestic and foreign businesses. And we must not forget the decrees that have nearly outlawed protests or criminalised entire groups of political forces in an attempt to eliminate any potential future threats. These are only examples, but almost every single presidential decree from July 2013 to June 2014 has empowered old institutions and weakened “outsider” institutions, groups, or individuals.

    This is all we can see for the time being. What appears to be certain, is that the institutions of the old, deep state have become ‘conscious’, both of themselves as separate entities within the state (to the extent we can talk about a state in this context), and of their inter-dependence. Yet as much as this consciousness seems to have strengthened these institutions (to the extent that they successfully orchestrated a counter-revolution with popular support), it may also trigger their undoing.

    Each one of these institutions now has both expectations and what they regard as their entitlements for their role in the coup. It is not unlikely that these institutions – whose relationships are based on purely pragmatic calculation but who are otherwise worlds apart  – could fail to continue in balancing their respective interests and the interests of the entire coalition that brought Egypt back to square one. This does not necessarily mean that all of them will collapse, but it means that at least some of them will collapse or simply concede to the power of others in a hierarchy of authority, power, and privileges. 

    Whatever the circumstance, it is now evident that the coup has not taken Egypt any step closer to being a 'real state' where the supreme authority lies within its elected legislature, issuing laws and holding the government to account. On the contrary, the coup has deepened the roots of the deep state, resulting in an entity that is far from modern. 

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