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This week's window on the Middle East - October 22, 2012

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: Secret reading in Khartoum

Arab Awakening
22 October 2012
  • Secret reading in Khartoum
  • Has corruption become sacrosanct in Morocco?
  • Remembering Maspero
  • Political violence in Tunisia takes the country backward?
  • Attack as the best mode of defence in Egypt
  • Secret reading in Khartoum

    By Reem Abbas

    When Fathi Al-Daw, a Sudanese journalist and writer published a book about the state security apparatus and how it has operated over the past few years, the security apparatus quickly confiscated copies of the book from bookstores in Khartoum, turning it into a much-sought after book, with a badly photocopied version selling at $10. 

    After Al-Daw's book, travelers who arrived in Khartoum with books found themselves put through a much more rigorous airport security. Many reported confiscations of books, especially travellers coming from Cairo, where a large number of Sudanese authors are published.  

    A few weeks ago, a doctor returning from Cairo was stopped at the airport and a very early work of politics by Al-Daw was confiscated from the luggage of a university professor who refused to leave the airport until the confiscated books were returned to him. He organized a sit-in and encouraged his students to join him, which they did. The security apparatus feared that the students would turn the sit-in into a highly organised protest. 

    Abd Al-Aziz Baraka Sakin, a well-known Sudanese novelist, caused ructions last week when his books were three days late arriving at Khartoum's book fair. Sakin threatened to begin a hunger strike before the books were brought over from Cairo to the book fair. 

    His books only lasted a few hours at the book fair before the security officers confiscated all copies saying that they had to read them before returning they could go into circulation. The, they said, they would return them.

    In total 15 books were confiscated from the book fair, causing many intellectuals and youth to boycott visiting the book fair.

    In a matter of minutes, the social media broke the news of these latest confiscations and a whole crowd of youngsters started asking where they could get their hands on the confiscated books as an act of defiance against a surveillance state where freedoms and civil liberties and now creativity are shackled. 

    Trading secret books is somewhat similar to organizing a protest in Sudan. Code words are used, the planning takes places only through trusted sources, and personal security becomes important. 

    A young woman keeps Sakin's books, which are now officially banned, in boxes in the back of her car. She tells me that the "marijuana", is selling fast.

    In Sudan, they used to say that Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Khartoum reads, but in recent years, the reading circle has shrunk to politicians and the creative community. Now with the growth of a politically-aware younger generation, the ongoing censorship campaign is endowing books with their long-lost status all over again. 

    On social media, the blogs of writers were tweeted, retweeted and shared and novels written by Sakin and other banned authors have been circulated as pdf files by one of the largest Sudanese online lists. 

    Meanwhile, its not too bad that security officers will get the chance to read the banned books. Who knows – they might find their personal stories between those covers which Sakin dedicates to "a class with slaughtered hopes and dreams". 

    Has corruption become sacrosanct in Morocco?

    By Jamal Elabiad

    The problems that Moroccans have been suffering from since independence are many. And all the governments that ‘ruled’ Morocco before the outbreak of the Arab Spring failed to reduce their negative effects on Moroccan daily life. Some argue that the ruling parties cannot solve those problems because they are too preoccupied with winning elections in the time-honoured manner.

    Bribery has played a pivotal role in the recent elections of a significant number of members of parliament. Impoverished Moroccans are all too ready to sell their votes. It’s really absurd to speak of transparent elections in a country where citizens live in poverty. They got their new posts through vote-buying rather than convincing strategies of reform.

    In fact corruption lies behind many of the social maladies Moroccans are subjected to, including poverty and  unemployment. Trying to solve these problems without rooting out their source is like pouring water on sand, as the Moroccan proverb has it.

    So one reason why Moroccans voted for the Justice and Development party (PJD) in the November 2011 parliamentary election was that the party put fighting corruption first on its list of promises to Moroccans. Many PJD candidates delivered speeches to their supporters during the election campaign, shedding light on those responsible for the spread of corruption in Morocco.

    Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, is an example in point. During his electoral speeches, he pointed the finger at several people who, according to him, were personally to blame for allowing corruption to be prevalent at all levels of Moroccan society. Two of those identified were Fouad Ali El Himma and Mounir Majidi, a close advisor to King Mohamed VI and the person in charge of managing the royal financial holdings, respectively. They were accused of being behind unlimited corrupt practices in the North African kingdom.

    Mr. Benkirane promised Moroccans to put an end to corruption as soon as the PJD became one of the Moroccan ruling parties. The first thing he would do, he promised, was to put on trial all the “symbols of corruption” in Morocco. The PJD accompanied this declaration of war with a little mixture of religion to create the perfect election cocktail – but this is a topic for another time.

    How popular did this make Mr. Benkirane with most Moroccans? Mr. Benkirane was certainly popular among a cross-section of Moroccans. But he started to lose popularity and momentum soon after the formation of the new government. Why? Because he did a 180 degree turn and simply broke these promises.  Moroccans were shocked to see him say on Al Jazeera TV channel that he had after all decided to pardon all the sources of rampant corruption identified by the Moroccan protesters during their pro-change demonstrations.  Far be it for him, he said, to engage in  “witch-hunts” and “chase goblins”.

    Nobody knows for sure why Mr. Benkirane didn’t stay true to his promises.  However, I do add my voice to those who suspect that this is a government whose priority is not to deal with social problems at source.

    Take the way the Islamist-led government made public the names of Moroccans who had benefited from transport permits, but made no further investigation into why so many were granted permits when they did not qualify for them. 

    It seems that the PJD, like all previous Moroccan governments, prefer to combat the consequences of corruption rather than tackle corruption head on. That’s possibly because corruption has become sacrosanct in Morocco!

    Remembering Maspero

    By Ali Gokpinar

    October 9, 2011. A peaceful protest of the Copts joined by Muslims is taking place in front of the Egyptian state TV building, Maspero, named after Gaston Maspero, a famous French Egyptologist. Surrounded by young soldiers who are joking with each other and probably thinking this is a usual sort of protest, somehow somebody starts to throw stones and the security forces arrive out of nowhere to crush people with tanks, killing more than 24 Copts and some Muslims. I spent two months with some of the members of the Maspero Youth researching their grievances and the mobilization of the Coptic community in the last seven years. I have to pay  tribute to the Maspero martyrs at this point, Muslim and Christian.

    The Maspero Youth Union emerged out of the revolution as a small but influential focal point for university students and people from Shubra, a working class neighborhood in Cairo. An increase in violence against the places they held sacred, together with the deportation of some of their Coptic number due to rows over love affairs, and their attempt to raise the voice of Copts in Egyptian politics prompted them to entend the movement to the Delta and rural cities like Fayoum and Asyut. Their rationale was simple: the prevention of conflict and in case of conflict, to compel government authorities to implement the rule of the law rather than hold the more traditional meetings of reconciliation.

    Tunis

    It was a warm March night when I met some of their leading activists in downtown Cairo to discuss the causes of the Maspero massacre and other violent incidents. One mid 30s professional who ran a crisis-mapping NGO dedicated to conflict prevention told me that the protestors came all the way from Shubra to Maspero peacefully. He remembers joking with the soldiers who were enjoying themselves. Copt protests directed at Mubarak’s regime and the shortcomings of the transitional government led by SCAF members were altogether peaceful added another student leader. They were calling for equality, the implementation of the rule of law, democracy, an end to latent and systematic sectarianism and a role for Copts in the post-Mubarak Egypt.

    Since March, there has been no response to such calls. The situation of the Copts in Egypt has not improved, nor have the perpetrators of the Maspero killings been tracked down. The court case to find out what happened in Maspero, why it happened and who ordered the killings of peaceful protesters was held in limbo as the prosecutor claimed that there was a lack of evidence. Every few months, the case was adjourned. Finally, the court verdict read that three soldiers were found guilty but that nobody had been charged with any crime.  Why there was no evidence? How did the court find three soldiers guilty but not charge them? Who then was responsible? Let’s assume there was no evidence or that the soldiers simply did not know who gave the order to kill. Does this justify the prosecutor in dropping the case? Quite the contrary. This denial of justice is obvious and unacceptable. Furthermore, the decision not to touch ‘the untouchables’ poses a grave threat to a revolutionary Egypt.

    Skeptics might argue that justice mechanisms are dysfunctional for all Egyptians, so why should these people be treated any differently? But this case stands out as a prime example of how the past must be confronted. More than anything else, this would show ordinary Egyptians that the rule of law can be established, that their wounds and grievances could be addressed, and that diversity and national unity will be promoted as significant values for Egypt.

    But this will not happen overnight. Egypt needs time, but the Maspero martyrs should not be forgotten. Egyptian civil society wants its judiciary to touch the untouchables, to provide justice for all and respect their dignity. Egyptians would like their government to ensure there is equality, rule of law, democratic principles and religious tolerance. Indeed, that’s why Maspero martyrs were protesting one year ago. May God rest their souls.

    Political violence in Tunisia takes the country backward?

    By Meriem Dhaouadi

    The first political assassination in Tunisia occurred on Thursday in the town of Tataouine (south of Tunisia) when the coordinator of Nida Tounes (call of Tunisia) party, Lotfi Naqdh, ‘died’ after an outbreak of violence between his party and government supporters.

    While the ministry of interior spokesman stated that the death of the politician was caused by a heart attack, eyewitnesses backed by an amateurish footage of the incident claim that Lotfi Naqdh was beaten to death by members of the League of the Protection of the Revolution (people who sympathize with the party in power, Ennahda). The latter sponsored the march to ‘cleanse the regional governments of the remnants of the former regime’.

    Earlier this month the leader of the Ennahda party, Rachid Ghannouchi, declared in a radio show in a local radio station, Shems Fm, that, "The Salafis are not a danger, because they are only elements outside the state… the harm stems from the party of Nida Tounes because it is made up of RCD (former party) elements that forged the country's history ... with corruption, torture and  looting.”

    Only last month, five Tunisians were killed at the hands of their fellow Tunisians in the attack on the American embassy in Tunis following the protest over the “innocence of Muslims” YouTube video. The ministry of interior has failed once again to prevent repeated deadly clashes between Tunisians. The absence of a robust security system or tolerance for opposition activists will eventually lead the country to civil war.

    Post-revolution Tunisia has been caught up in blame, counter-blame and vengeance because the coalition government has shown such little interest in engaging in an authentic reconciliation between Tunisians with different political allegiances. The remnants of the Ben Ali regime have become the scapegoats for a government dealing with economic, political and social crises that still fuel rage across the country. The Ennahda party, in a statement on Thursday, accused the opposition of provoking the violence and attacking their rivals with Molotov cocktails.

    Clashes between pro government groups and the opposition are not a novelty following the elections of October 23, 2011. The close of the anniversary of the first democratic elections of the national constituent assembly in Tunisia has escalated tensions, since the constituent assembly should have concluded drafting the promised constitution by this date. The opposition argues that this date should also mark the official end of the mandate of the troika government, a coalition monopolized by the Islamist party Ennahda. Both the Ettakatol and Congress for the Republic (CPR) parties have become overwhelmingly unpopular according to recent polls. But the same poll suggests that Ennahda remains very strong despite some slippage in public esteem.

    The creation of the political party Nida Tounis ( the call of Tunisia) by the Opposition leader and former premier Beji Caid Essebsi was a surprise success in challenging the monopoly of Ennahda, marketing itself as an alternative to the Islamist party, and attracting a wide range of politicians and figures from other parties around the charismatic figure of Beji Caid Essebsi, who led most of the transition period until the first transparent post-revolution elections.

    So how can a sustainable democracy be achieved in a climate of bloody rivalry? Will the experience of autocracy under the former regime be replicated in Tunisia with the survival of the fittest (the ones who hold political power) coming once again to dominate the Tunisian political scene, alongside the curbing of freedom of the press, the intimidation of opposition activists, and the tarnishing of the reputations of one’s political rivals? 

    Attack as the best mode of defence in Egypt

    By Karim Adel

    One of the oldest ways of oppressing freedom is to encourage people to practise it and then come down on them like a ton of bricks for making that choice. People are beginning to realize that if despots can’t stop someone opposing them, they will take a pot shot at anything they see them doing, whether it is the expression of a particular political point of view or the creation of a work of art  - whatever they come up with first…

    The Muslim Brotherhood seems to be worried about freedom of expression, although they must realize, since they arrived in power after a revolution, that they cannot oppress those freedoms directly, but will have to create a counter media to take on all the media criticism that president Morsi is most likely to find coming his way during his first four year period. 

    The editors of government newspapers as well as many other important media people have been fired and replaced by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated names during the first couple of months of Morsi's presidency. Many Brotherhood-owned TV channels, newspapers and magazines have sprung up in the past year, and a month ago a phalanx of so-called ‘peaceful demonstrators’ surrounded Media City on the outskirts of Cairo, stopping the traffic for hours while they targeted with their protests those studio bosses who they claimed were responsible for creating channels of corrupt media.

    These militias have also spread all over the cyber world, as thousands of young Muslim Brotherhood recruits have been encouraged to swarm against anti- Brotherhood online media, deploying thousands of verbal attacks and un-Islamic insults that would make a local street thug blush.

    Muslims acting against their own faith to serve what they claim to be an overall Islamic goal is not a new phenomenon for us either. The only surprising thing about this is the lower depths that seem to be reached by these villains on each renewed attempt. In the case of sheikh Abdullah Badr who has verbally attacked actress Elham Shaheen for her anti-Brotherhood comments, calling her a whore on public TV, how can this man actually still add the title Sheikh to his name after this? Is there no shame? We wish he had stopped at that, but it gets worse. Abdullah Badr also went to the street, giving out anti- Elham Shaheen posters in front of a Cairo courthouse -   posters depicting very unprofessional photo-shopped fakes of what was supposed to be a semi-nude Elham! Such accusations without a shred of evidence in Islam constitute a major sin!

    Now when your son returns home with a pack of nude magazines and porn movies and uses the term ‘whore’ and worse vocabulary, don’t jump to conclusions and blame Gangster Rap or the internet. It might be that he has fallen under the influence of a fake sheikh!

    Trade deals, Brexit and disaster capitalism

    If you're tired of Brexit, you ain't seen nothing yet.

    Is the UK joining Trumpland? Does this explain Boris Johnson's kamikaze EU negotiating strategy? And could beating this deal begin a challenge to the iniquities of the global economy?

    Join us for a free live discussion at 5pm UK time, 24 September

    In conversation:

    Nick Dearden Director of Global Justice Now and author of 'Trade Secrets: The Truth about the US Trade Deal and How We Can Stop It'

    Caroline Molloy Editor of openDemocracyUK and ourNHS

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