Giuseppe Acconcia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/12724/all/feedall cached version 12/07/2018 11:15:44 en “From the revolution, we learned to be united”: leaving politics behind. An interview with Mahienour el-Massry https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia-mahienour-el-massry/Egypt-revolution-elections-Sisi-prison-women <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On the occasion of the anniversary of the eighteen days’ occupation of Tahrir Square, beginning 25 January 2011, Mahienour el-Massry, lawyer and Revolutionary Socialist activist in interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/PA-16161404.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/PA-16161404.jpg" alt="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." title="AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Egyptian political activists, victims and prisoners' relatives take part in a protest on 29 March 2013. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><em>Giuseppe Acconcia (GA): It is the seventh anniversary of the </em><em>revolution bringing an end to the Mubarak regime. Can you elaborate on what those days mean to you?</em></p> <p><strong>Mahienour el-Massry (MM):</strong> One of the best moments that ever happened to the Egyptian people. It was an uprising against the injustices of the Mubarak regime and especially against the police state of that time.</p> <p>Over the years, the lack of political space, and the inclusion of public space in formal politics, resulted in an apolitical environment in Egyptian society. People preached the idea of revolution but no one thought that it would actually happen during their lifetime.</p> <p>This is why, after the revolution when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) assumed power, most of the initiatives by revolutionaries failed. The first elected president, who was from the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized political group, did not win with a great majority. </p> <p>The problem is that when you look at the revolution itself, the Egyptian people were great at mobilising, but when you consider what should have been done afterwards, the people were at sea. We did not have one clear vision: we were divided.</p> <p><em>GA: Did this make it easier for the army to regain power after the coup of 2013?</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> Actually, the Muslim Brotherhood played their part in dividing the revolutionaries; they do not really believe in the idea of democracy. This paved the way to the 3 July coup, which was launched by the army and remnants of the Mubarak regime. </p> <p>What took place on 3 July 2013 and since can be seen as the worst time Egypt has ever witnessed. And it began with dividing the people. </p> <p>For example, among those who called themselves leftists, there were those who supported the army (they were Islamophobic and very afraid of the practices of the Muslim Brotherhood) and others who were totally against what happened after 3 July and considered it a coup against the people’s will, because the Egyptians protesting were only asking for early elections. </p> <p>The most horrific moment was the Rabaa massacre – since then, all public spaces have been closed down and the army has made it clear that no power was going to be handed to anyone except the army itself.</p> <p>Since the Rabaa massacre there has been a huge crackdown on civilian political movements. After they finished with the Muslim Brotherhood, they started going for one group after the other.</p> <p><em>GA: Egypt's Attorney General, Nabil Sadiq, has begun an <a href="https://pomed.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=8a185f96ecfeb10569f5120d0&amp;id=6a6f2380bf&amp;e=d6af688774">investigation</a> against 13 opposition leaders from the Civil Democratic Front, claiming their call for a boycott of the presidential elections as an attempt to "overthrow the regime." What do you think about the next presidential elections?&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> You cannot call this an election, it is a referendum. This is why I will boycott it. There is no other candidate except Sisi. </p> <p>Everyone who attempted to run against Sisi gave up. Two were from a military background: Ahmed Shafik, the prime minister at the time of the revolution; and the second was Sami Anan, former army chief of staff. </p> <p>This shows that there has been a division in the army because most of the army is backing Sisi, and only a small group, hardly revolutionaries of course, are engaged in an internal conflict within the army itself. </p> <p>In addition, there have been thousands of people who have been paid to support al-Sisi. Sisi is a lunatic dictator who would like to be the only player in these elections. His idea of “democratic elections” is to have a second candidate that will not threaten him. </p> <p>For example, a few days ago, the liberal pro-state Wafd party wanted Sayed al-Badawy to run. He refused because the party is backing Sisi. </p> <p>Hesham Geneina, a supporter of the Anan campaign, was beaten up and is hospitalised in a critical condition. Geneina was the chief of Egypt’s Central Auditing Authority and was dismissed from his position after attempting to expose the regime’s corruption. &nbsp;</p> <p>I was working on the Khaled Ali campaign prior to his withdrawal and discovered that those who filled out registration papers for Sisi are generally very poor people who did it for EGP 50. The same people told us that Sisi is a thief and a dictator. </p> <p>Sisi’s popularity has dropped and is at a turning point now. This situation is one of the weakest in which the state has ever been since 30 June 2013. And it is an opportunity for change.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p><em>GA: What’s your position on Sisi’s definition of human rights, when he argues that “western human rights” are not applicable to Egypt?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> Sisi clearly does not believe in human rights. He said: “Talk about education or healthcare as we are poor, and not about human rights”, as if education were not part of human rights as well. </p> <p>This is how the army works. Sisi said that he is fighting terrorism; therefore, there should not be any calls for democracy, human rights or the opening of public space. </p> <p>This is how he treats Egypt, as if the main enemies are human rights and the Egyptian people.</p> <p><em>GA: You were released a few weeks ago: tell us more about your last experience in prison.</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> Last time I was imprisoned only for two months – I went to the Qanater prison as well as the Damanhour prison. It was the first time I was in Damanhour, and the conditions the prisoners are kept in are degrading. They were bad when I was first detained, but now they are even worse. </p> <p>In a cell of six metres by four the number of imprisoned women are around 32. Every person has around 30 centimeters to sit in and sleep. </p> <p>Of course, healthcare is awful. One woman was not allowed to go to the hospital and died, because the doors of the prison had been closed for the night. </p> <p>The number of detained people has increased in Egypt and capital punishment is applied, even though during the last years of Mubarak no one was executed despite having been sentenced to death. </p> <p>Since the 3 July coup, the number of executions and people sentenced to death have been steadily increasing. This also applies to political prisoners. </p> <p>Political prisoners are in solitary confinement and the number of women political prisoners is on the rise. </p> <p>Sarah Hegazy, the girl arrested for raising the rainbow flag during a concert in Autumn 2017 and later released on bail, has been in solitary confinement for a while now. While I was in Qanater, she was even threatened with a death sentence. </p> <p>Even prisoners who have been acquitted are still in prison. Four men in Cairo, for example, were released on bail a month ago but are still behind bars.</p> <p><em>GA: In this repressive context, there have been worker strikes in Mahalla al-Kubra and Alexandria. Are the workers' movements still active?</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> One of the things that the regime is doing is trying to close down public space, but actually workers’ movements have not stopped. </p> <p>In Mahalla and Alexandria, workers are trying to get their rights even though the regime is reacting brutally. </p> <p>The regime made amendments to the law on trade unions, banning independent trade unions: so a number of workers are facing trials. </p> <p>There are 21 workers from the Alexandria shipyard factory facing military trials. The government is attempting to arrest all the leaders and liquidating independent trade unions.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>GA: You were arrested for your participation in the Tiran and Sanafir movement. Can you tell us if the protests criticizing Sisi’s decision in this case have ontinued?</em></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> The Tiran and Sanafir movement was very important because it was an exceptional moment for the opposition to show everyone that Sisi is a traitor. The army and Sisi argued that the Muslim Brotherhood were supported by Qatar; however, this case showed the people that Sisi is a traitor as well. </p> <p>The people took to the streets, but this time it was kept as a judicial case. We did not use it to talk to the people about state policies and Sisi’s new liberal agenda. Because of this, I believe it resulted in a fracture within the regime. </p> <p>If people believed that the army was protecting Egypt, the Tiran and Sanafir case changed their minds and exposed the regime. For this reason, people like Sami Anan began to think about running for election. </p> <p>Tiran and Sanafir was part of a huge plan to normalize relations with Israel, which Egypt has always sought to do.</p> <p>This was a very important movement. We could have built more on it. Khaled Ali’s decision to run for president is also related to this. As a lawyer, he defended the idea of the unity of Egyptian land.</p> <p><em>GA: What is your opinion on the cuts to subsidies due to the IMF’s loan? What does it mean in terms of mobilization in Egypt?</em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> There have been more austerity measures due to the IMF loan. Cutting any kind of subsidies, while the prices of oil and gas increase, is causing huge inflation in Egypt. People are suffering. This is reducing Sisi popularity amongst the masses. </p> <p>A number of people focus more on economic conditions rather than on the political. For the past two years, the people have been feeling that they have been betrayed by the regime. Sisi is losing his allies, namely the entrepreneurs who were against the revolution in the first place, because they are also now suffering due to the devaluation of the Egyptian Pound. </p> <p>Sisi’s popularity has been dwindling across all sectors, even in the sectors considered pro-state. Already last year during the commemoration of the revolution, people were melancholic. This year the Egyptian people are thinking about how to organize themselves again.</p> <p><em>GA: There have been several protests recently in Tunisia and other north African countries. Do you think that this can trigger a new social movement in Egypt as well?</em>&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>MM:</strong> When the protests erupted in Tunisia, people here were thinking: “This will affect Egypt.” I disagree, but I do think that the Egyptian people will be on the move soon.&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the state has a firm grip on society and people are afraid of the army’s reaction. However, they are also fed up with the regime. They want to move on and have a clear alternative.&nbsp;</p> <p>Our duty now is to make a united front, if only because the people will move anyway and the state’s reaction will inevitably be violent and brutal.</p> <p>We will pay with our lives defending the things we believe in. A new society with a new social structure is coming.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/maged-mandour/sisi-elections-presidential-egypt-opposition-Anan-Mousa-Khaled">Sisi’s coronation and the Egyptian opposition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/nawa-giuseppe-acconcia-mona-abaza/strikes-protests-and-egyptian-nights-of-curfew">Strikes, protests and Egyptian nights of curfew</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia/regeni-victim-of-regime-of-fear">Regeni: victim of a regime of fear</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia/mahienour-elmassry-workers%E2%80%99-revolutionary">Mahienour el-Massry: a workers&#039; revolutionary </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/amr-magdi/we-need-to-talk-sisi-human-rights-world-youth-forum-egypt">‘We need to talk’ about Sisi’s twisted take on human rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/sameh-naguib/sisi-s-neoliberal-assault-context-and-prospects">Sisi’s neoliberal assault: context and prospects</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Democracy and government elections Egypt in the balance Giuseppe Acconcia Mahienour el-Massry Thu, 08 Feb 2018 14:25:35 +0000 Mahienour el-Massry and Giuseppe Acconcia 116008 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Strikes, protests and Egyptian nights of curfew https://www.opendemocracy.net/nawa-giuseppe-acconcia-mona-abaza/strikes-protests-and-egyptian-nights-of-curfew <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A conversation about journalism and research in times of uprising and repression on the fourth anniversary of Egypt's Rabaa massacre.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Rabaa_protesters(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Rabaa_protesters(1).jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>August 2013 Rabaa massacre. Wikicommons/Mosa'ab Elshamy from 6th of October, Egypt. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is another interview in a series on the dilemmas and contradictions researchers encounter in undertaking research in the Middle East. The idea of interviewing social scientists on the processes of the production of knowledge has been inspired from Michael Burawoy’s concept of &nbsp;‘public sociology’, which he initiated and was followed by other sociologists who carried out further interviews with social scientists in ‘Global Dialogue’. </em></p> <p><em>These interviews will attempt to focus on questions of methodology, equally, on the obstacles encountered by researchers when undertaking fieldwork in enduring political upheavals. It will also attempt to highlight the multiple and varied trajectories and voices which a younger generation of social scientists in the Middle East have been confronting. </em></p> <p><em><strong>Mona Abaza (MA)</strong></em><em><strong>: </strong></em><em>How did you get interested in Arabic culture? You had a number of other jobs before going into academia?</em></p> <p><em><strong>Giuseppe Acconcia (GA):</strong></em> I began travelling in the Middle East on long expeditions with my family when I was very young. Our first trip was to Syria in 1999 and I loved this country. Then I decided to write my Italian degree thesis on the reformist movement in Iran and I worked in the political section of the Italian Embassy in Teheran to that end. I really enjoyed studying Iranian civil society and often returned to that wonderful country after my graduation. All my first job experiences were informed by my interest for the Middle East. Since 2005, I decided to learn spoken Arabic after having studied standard Arabic at college. That same year, I began working for think tanks and NGOs focused on human rights and Euro-Mediterranean cooperation. In 2009, I finally decided to leave my job and move to Egypt.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Cairo, initially I worked as an Italian language teacher at the Italian School, at the Italian Cultural Institute (Zamalek) and at the American University. Later I began work as a journalist at the English-speaking newspaper, al-Ahram weekly. My editor in chief was the great Egyptian writer, Youssef Rakha (author of the “The Book of the Sultan's Seal”, 2016). When the events in Tahrir Square began to unfold I was still in Italy for the new year holidays. I landed in Cairo on the night of January 29, 2011 (four days after the first demonstrations), in the company of a friend working for the World Bank. They advised us to sleep in the airport. And we did. The next day, we thought the safest way to get to Downtown Cairo and join in was to take an ordinary taxi with some Egyptians. </p> <p>Benjamin, my friend, mentioned that his house had just been attacked by unknown looters that very night. On our way back home, in Heliopolis, it was the first time I remember noticing something that was to become much clearer in the ensuing months - that is the way thugs had infiltrated Popular Committees. As the scholar Hatem Hassan defined them, these local Committees are “self-defence groups heterogeneous in their tactics, organisation, and efficacy”. In other words, this is the way in which ordinary citizens organise at the micro-level to respond to the absence of police and security personnel. &nbsp;</p> <p>On this occasion – they tried to stop the taxi on the grounds that we were foreigners, but our Egyptian fellow-travellers asked them to give us a break, and in the end they let us go. I was fascinated by this unique way of mobilizing a local neighborhood and later found that a similar mobilization was up and running in my vicinity too. I was living behind the Odeon Cinema, close to Talaat Harb Street. <span class="mag-quote-center">It was following the revolutionary dreams of so many comrades that I learned all I know about reporting in a context of widespread political mobilization.</span></p> <p><strong><em>MA: </em></strong><em>Your research in Egypt has been on social movements and the 2011 uprisings. How did you get interested in these topics?</em></p> <p><em><strong>GA:</strong></em> I guess that the real change in direction for my studies, together with my love for the region as a whole, was intimately related to the so-called "Arab Spring". It was following the revolutionary dreams of so many comrades that I learned all I know about reporting in a context of widespread political mobilization. I spent my time following the events of grassroots mobilization, witnessing the violence of the police battling against the aspirations of the younger generations. As a scholar I have often drawn upon my previous experiences in the 2011 protests to enhance my study of this interesting region in a context of potential political transformation. That of course was also where the trouble started…</p> <p>That year, from February 2011 onwards until June 2016, I became a correspondent for the Italian left-wing newspaper <em>il Manifesto</em>, covering Tahrir Square events. Between 2011 and 2015 I also reported extensively for European mainstream and specialized media. I was arranging constant interviews and meetings with activists and experts, and I began to use this overall access to form some rather original insights into political developments in Egypt, gradually arriving at a better understanding of these events that I daily witnessed.&nbsp;I met great people, including journalists and bloggers such as Ahdaf Soueif, Wael Abbas, Hossam el-Hamalawi, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mahiennour el-Masri while these incredible events were under way.</p> <p>I decided to opt for a PhD after finishing my Masters in Middle Eastern Studies, in the politics department at SOAS. Looking on from abroad for a while as these events unfolded, I soon thought that I had to spend more time in Egypt. I had been reading Foucault, Gramsci, Beinin and Tripp, and I was convinced that among the most interesting outcomes of the 2011 events, there was the rise of a working-class-based social movement. Several opportunities to report back from events in Suez and Mahalla al-Kubra only <a href="https://www.madamasr.com/en/2016/01/05/feature/economy/strikes-and-labor-protests-hit-state-owned-companies/">confirmed</a> for me the <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/64634">central relevance</a> of the <a href="http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/49130/Egypt/Politics-/Wave-of-strikes-Egypt-Labour-fights-back,-capital-.aspx">workers' movements</a> in Egypt, despite puny coverage of the strikes by Italian mainstream media.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>It was especially difficult to meet up with activists in Suez for my focus groups (2014-2015). I remember that when I left the microbus that brought me from Cairo to the outskirts of the town, the driver looked at me with some suspicion and asked me where I was heading to. No sooner had I found a place to sleep downtown but I became aware that the local branch of the Amn el-Dawla was monitoring me closely. After having been informed about my presence by the hotel owner, scared by my foreign passport, they even paid visits to my room very early in the morning and again in the afternoon, asking incessant questions. </p> <p>I tried to be obliging and to talk in Arabic as much as I could, but I was very afraid. Once I managed to link up with the strikers and various Revolutionary Socialists I wanted to meet, we repaired to a garden where they used to spend their “revolutionary nights” together. </p> <p>Later that particular night we even visited army headquarters because the sister of one of them had an art show in the local theatre. I was surprised that, when there were no clashes, this area was regularly visited by ordinary citizens heading to the theatre or sports facilities. Military personnel never asked me or my activist friends for identity cards or other documents. </p> <p>This for me was one of the most unforgettable nights in the aftermath of the revolution. I only ever experienced that same kind of atmosphere when, in that same year I had the chance to meet up with football Ultras in Port Said. So, we spent our evenings watching Bassem Youssef TV-programmes and everybody felt very happy. <span class="mag-quote-center">So, we spent our evenings watching Bassem Youssef TV-programmes and everybody felt very happy.</span></p> <p>Back in Suez, close to the port, the police continued to ask me many questions and even briefly detained me. On that occasion, I remember, I felt I had to conceal my identity. I just told them that I was an Italian sailor, looking for a job.</p> <p><strong><em>MA:</em></strong><em> Tell me about more of your experiences, after the military coup. </em></p> <p><strong><em>GA: </em></strong>After the military coup in 2013, I was going daily to Rabaa al-Adaweya to cover Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins calling for the defence of the legitimacy of former president Mohammed Morsi. My reading of the August massacre, when the sit-in was “cleared” by security personnel, is that this will be remembered as one of the most ignominious attacks on human rights in Egyptian history. It was very hot and Ramadan. I often had iftar with the demonstrators, and I spent many hours in the Media Centre close to the Rabaa mosque. I was joined by many other Italian photographers and other colleagues. </p> <p>The day of the assault on the sit-in, I was woken by a phone call from the Muslim Brotherhood politician, Jihad al-Haddad, who said that they knew the police were going to attack them. I joined Medinat Nassr at ten o clock. And I witnessed scenes of shocking devastation. I knew some of the people who were killed on this day. At that time I was living in Agouza and I remember that my flatmates were very afraid for me. They were strict respecters of the curfew, very aware of the minor thugs hanging around our house.</p> <p>Meanwhile, I was deciding that it would have been really great to begin a general study of the patterns of mobilization and demobilization of the Egyptian oppositionists both before and after the Tahrir Square occupation, and in both urban and peripheral contexts. Ultimately I settled on a focus on the Popular Committees in the Cairo district of Sayeda Zeinab and the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) in Mahalla al-Kubra. They seemed to me from what I had witnessed to manifest the most interesting outcomes of the uprisings. And I did publish two ethnographic books of reportage and commentary on the Egyptian 2011 uprisings in Italian: <em>La primavera egiziana</em> (Infinito, 2012) and <em>Egitto. Democraziamilitare</em> (Exòrma, 2014). <span class="mag-quote-center">My reading of the August massacre... is that this will be remembered as one of the most ignominious attacks on human rights in Egyptian history.</span></p> <p><strong><em>MA:</em></strong><em> In what ways did this path you took become a struggle?</em></p> <p><strong><em>GA:</em></strong> As a journalist and a scholar, I have had to manage very complicated situations in very different contexts, both in Egypt and Northern Syria. For example, it is true that in times of political repression, it is difficult to do research in Egypt. But it was also very complicated to work there as a journalist, especially during the 2011 uprisings. </p> <p>On the morning of February 2, 2011, for example, together with other Italians, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of baltagyys (thugs) in Shubra on our way home to Westel Balad. They were carrying chains and swords. Later they delivered us to the <em>Mukabarat</em>. When it was time to let us go they questioned me particularly keenly about my Iranian visas. I remember that a Canadian intervened on my behalf asking for the release of all of us. In this case, the security personnel only briefly detained us, bringing us back to downtown Cairo the same evening, leaving us along the Corniche of the Zamalek district, where intense clashes between demonstrators and the police were still taking place. </p> <p>On another occasion, in June 2015 in Northern Syria, I was arrested together with other Italian and French journalists, going back to Turkey after conducting fieldwork research with YPG-YPJ fighters. In the end we were expelled by the Turkish authorities. It is one of their priorities to prevent the coverage of what is going on in Rojava and the Kurdish areas of Turkey. <span class="mag-quote-center">After the 2013 military coup in Egypt, I became aware that my fieldwork research could cause major problems for my Egyptian activist friends and interviewees.</span></p> <p>After the 2013 military coup in Egypt, I became aware that my fieldwork research could cause major problems for my Egyptian activist friends and interviewees. This was especially true in relation to some very sensitive issues that I was tackling over the last six years, in my studies of Egyptian leftists and the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) in Mahalla al-Kubra. The attitudes of the unionised workers locally towards my research changed rather markedly after the 2014 political repression. Even experienced trade unionists began to be concerned about the long arm of the Egyptian authorities and infiltration by the Security Services (<em>Mukabarat</em>). This was especially evident after the so called <em>Tamarrod </em>(rebel) campaign – the petition signed by different strands of the opposition that demanded that Mohammed Morsi should step down. This mobilization paved the way for the June 30, 2013 Cairo protests and <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/07/03/how-egypts-generals-used-street-protests-to-stage-a-coup/?utm_term=.8f8d5e440b3a">the arrest of the first ever elected Egyptian president</a>, Mohammed Morsi. This was a point of rapid deterioration. It was exactly at that time that the forces of reaction gained the upper hand and were particularly dangerous to any researcher or journalist working in the country. </p> <p>Later the military junta set about sealing the success of their military coup by <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/giuseppe-acconcia-joel-beinin/egypt%E2%80%99s-new-interim-government-is-not-leftist-coalition">trying to co-opt</a> some leftist figures (for example, Kamal Abu-Eita) into the interim government and thereby demobilize the working class. I remember one day, while my brother was visiting me, we were coming back home from Mahalla to Cairo by microbus, and discussing the day with the activists. In the course of this I referred to Shaimaa el-Sabbagh by name. She was an Egyptian activist and poet killed close to Talaat Harb Square by the police on January 25, 2015. On arrival in Cairo, the driver told a policeman that we were talking politics and he duly set off after us. Luckily, we had just enough time to grasp the first available taxi out of there. <span class="mag-quote-center">On arrival in Cairo, the driver told a policeman that we were talking politics.</span></p> <p><strong><em>MA:</em></strong><em> What problems do you see for foreigners generally hoping to do research in Egypt?</em></p> <p><strong><em>GA:</em></strong> In general, in the last six years, foreigners in Egypt have felt a growing atmosphere of mistrust. The 2011 uprisings were portrayed by the mainstream media as a foreign-led conspiracy. This, despite the fact that in 2011 at least, many Middle Eastern activists appeared to have very poor connections with anti-regime movements in other countries.</p> <p>On the one hand, it is true that one of first accounts to highlight the presence of the Egyptian uprisings was Gene Sharp's books on Tahrir Square. His ideas of non-violent resistance were widely publicized in 2011, alongside the latest generation of cyber-activism techniques disseminated by Wael Ghonim, and those other tactics of non-violence allegedly studied by Egyptian political activists in workshops on the mobilization against the Milosevic regime in the former Yugoslavia. On the other hand, one of the main targets of the Egyptian military junta has been to prevent the formation of any kind of transnational solidarity among activists, especially if they are socialists or communists.&nbsp;This has been done in different ways: depicting all foreigners as potential spies; generating a chauvinistic sense of xenophobia; stigmatizing both youth and labour protests as fundamentally against the national interests. </p> <p>The public media has depicted all foreigners as possible spies listening out for the private political sentiments of ordinary Egyptians in the local cafes. Especially since 2013 it has been increasingly difficult to work as a journalist and a researcher without being harassed or threatened with the police. Many of my colleagues have been expelled from Cairo airport or advised to leave the country. <span class="mag-quote-center">Put simply, the disappearance must be publicly reported as soon as it is discovered.</span></p><p><strong><em>MA:</em></strong><em> What can researchers do about these dangers?</em></p> <p><strong><em>GA:</em></strong> I know that after the torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, there is a better understanding of the dangers that foreign journalists and scholars might face in Egypt. This is a first step: to be aware of the possibility of being targeted and misrepresented by the security forces and confronted by a range of threats. It is clear now that in the case of an arrest, a standard reaction should be to provide an immediate response from the close circle of people who first become aware of the disappearance of a researcher and also from national and local diplomatic authorities. Put simply, the disappearance must be publicly reported as soon as it is discovered. </p> <p>A quick reaction increases the possibility of a positive conclusion to events. Now and in more general terms, Scholars at Risk is tackling the need to protect scholars involved in fieldwork research in countries where they might encounter major threats during their work. This might help in the future to avoid any underestimation of the risks that scholars can be faced with during their research, especially in authoritarian regimes.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://rsf.org/en/news/shawkan-completes-fourth-year-prison-taking-photos">Shawkan completes fourth year in prison</a> for taking photos - <em>Reporters without borders</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia/regeni-victim-of-regime-of-fear">Regeni: victim of a regime of fear</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mona-abaza-elena-chiti/criminal-victim-policeman-judge"> The criminal, the victim, the policeman, the judge </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mona-abaza-nada-t/multiple-entanglements">Multiple entanglements</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/north-africa-west-asia/mona-abaza-benjamin-geer/surviving-sociology-in-egypt-and-elsewhere">Surviving sociology in Egypt and elsewhere</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mona-abaza-karim-yassin-goessinger/sitting-on-top-of-egyptian-civilisation"> Sitting on top of Egyptian civilisation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/leila-zaki-chakravarti-mona-abaza/ethnography-in-time-of-upheaval-egypt-before-and-af">Ethnography in a time of upheaval – Egypt before and after the ‘Arab spring’</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/leila-zaki-chakravarti/remembering-contesting-and-forgetting-aftermath-of-cairo-massacres">Remembering, contesting and forgetting: the aftermath of the Cairo massacres</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Mona Abaza Giuseppe Acconcia Mon, 14 Aug 2017 07:53:59 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia and Mona Abaza 112841 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Regeni: victim of a regime of fear https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia/regeni-victim-of-regime-of-fear <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Giulio Regeni was a dedicated and meticulous researcher, an “avant-guarde for Europe”, as the Italian writer Erri De Luca described him.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/giulio-regeni.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/giulio-regeni.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Giulio Regeni</span></span></span>“We ask to write with a pseudonym for security reasons”. This is one of the emails a friend of Giulio Regeni sent to il <em>manifesto </em>last December 2015. The circle of friends of the Italian researcher is a key to disentangling this apparently irresolvable mystery on the arrest and torture of Giulio Regeni. </p> <p>Let’s try to keep these two moments as distinct. It is almost sure that at least six days passed between his disappearance, on January 25 2016 downtown Cairo, and his death. Six days of torture, a “slow death”, as confirmed by the Italian autopsy. </p> <p>Moreover, the Italian public prosecutor, Mr. Sergio Colaiocco, added two points germane to reaching the truth on Giulio’s murder: firstly, on his body there are evident signs of torture made by “professional hands”, in other words this is a work that only the Egyptian Amn el-Dawla (National Security) could have perpetrated, as it does so often with Egyptian political prisoners; secondly, Giulio Regeni was not being monitored before January 25 2016, and the reasons for his death are related to the fieldwork research he was carrying out in Egypt. These two points terminally refute the most ignominious allegations, often advanced of late by many Egyptians regarding any foreigner sitting in a Cairo café with local people: “you are a spy”. On the contrary, Giulio Regeni was a dedicated and meticulous researcher, an “avant-guarde for Europe”, as the Italian writer Erri De Luca described him in an interview with us. Nothing that could prompt suspicion emerged from searches of his laptop and of his contacts in Egypt. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>So why was Giulio Regeni arrested on the night of January 25 2016?</strong></h2> <p>From initial inquiries within the circle of friends of the Italian researcher it is clear that all of them felt a generic fear: they might have come to the authorities' attention during their participation in trade union meetings last December 11, 2015 or in gatherings with other trade unionists - for example Fatima Ramadan and Amr Assad who were among Giulio Regeni's usual interlocutors for his research. The young Italian was working on independent trade unions in Egypt, but he was particularly concentrated on participatory research, approved by the University of Cambridge, into the tax collectors' unions. </p> <p>It is very unlikely that these elements, together with the almost certain absence of his phone calls as recorded by the Egyptian Security apparatus before January 25 2016, will yield sufficient evidence to justify the suspicion that the arrest of Giulio Regeni was not random, as argued by the first witnesses to give statements. On the contrary, we are still not sure if, that night, Giulio Regeni was arrested outside his house in Dokki, not far from the Nile, or close to the metro station Mohammed Naguib, closer to El Falaki Square: his social network profile passwords and call records are not yet in the hands of the Italian prosecutors.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“Giulio was an excellent Arabic speaker who could have been confused with an Egyptian”, one friend confirmed to us. So it is plausible that Giulio Regeni was arrested on January 25 2016 in a general crackdown of police control. During the same hours, 5 thousand homes were searched in downtown Cairo because the Security forces were worried about possible demonstrations that finally never took place. </p> <h2><strong>At that stage, why was Giulio Regeni tortured to death?</strong></h2> <p>Giulio Regeni and his friends were scared of coming under surveillance. For this reason, a random arrest could have made the researcher even more tense given the feeling of responsibility to conceal the identities of all the people involved in his research, including many Egyptians engaged in anti-regime political activities or simply in the ordinary participation in trade union assemblies. </p> <p>When Giulio Regeni disappeared, some of his Egyptian friends began to tweet&nbsp;<em>Where is Giulio?</em>&nbsp;But after a few minutes all these tweets were deleted because his friends decided, together with the Italian Embassy in Cairo, to proceed according to the usual custom in Egypt of not announcing publicly the enforced disappearance of a relative, but beginning with informal enquiries in the local hospitals while negotiating with the Egyptian authorities to gain information about his fate. This decision is clear evidence of the mood of fear and suspicion in the lives of his circle of friends and Giulio himself, under the Egyptian military regime. </p> <p>The Italian citizenship that surfaced at some point during the detention, the reticence to involve his colleagues and activists' friends might have triggered the passage of Giulio to different branches of the Egyptian State Security’ apparatuses and headlong to the place of his torture and murder. Or it might even be the case that if Giulio Regeni was never identified as a foreign national, they might calculate that he could be involved in an exchange of persons with some of his friends, if they were considered more likely to be active in the political opposition.</p> <p>The outrage that the death of the doctoral student elicited in Italy together with the sit-in asking «Verità per Giulio» (Truth for Giulio), organized on February 25 2016, in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome by Amnesty International, triggered the first reactions, forcing the reluctant Egyptian investigators into minimal cooperation with the Italian team (Ros, Sco and Interpol), working in Cairo since last month in order to clear up his murder. </p> <p>The Egyptian role in the conflict in Libya, in which the Italian authorities are willing to take part, and the commercial agreements on the use of Zohr IX gas-field by the Italian ENI company with their Egyptian counterparts, must not get in the way of the demands for truth and justice regarding the murder of a brilliant researcher and the forthright denunciation of the violations of human rights currently taking place in Egypt. </p> <p>Pressure, as applied by many Egyptian political activists, brought about the rare and temporary arrest of a police officer, Yassin Mohammed Hatem, responsible for the murder of the Egyptian Socialist, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, who was taking a rose to Tahrir Square last year. Only this unrelenting, continuous monitoring of the Egyptian authorities will reveal the names of the killers and the reasons behind the murder of Giulio Regeni. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/gilbert-achcar/shame-on-those-who-try-to-justify-giulio-regeni-s-assassination">Shame on those who try to justify Giulio Regeni’s assassination</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Giuseppe Acconcia Fri, 04 Mar 2016 12:12:00 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia 100302 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Mahienour el-Massry: a workers' revolutionary https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/giuseppe-acconcia/mahienour-elmassry-workers%E2%80%99-revolutionary <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>To describe Mahie’s activism over the last three years is to describe how the protests have been going on in Alexandria, throughout, protesting at the antidemocratic methods of the Egyptian army.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/396455.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/396455.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Trial started in July, 2010 of the undercover police officers accused of killing the young Egyptian in Alexandria, Khalid Saeed. Hundreds of people demonstrated outside the courthouse against Egyptian police practises. Tarek Hussein/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>«We will topple this regime, created on the back of the protest law», is Mahienour el Massry’s <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6mIrYFdjh4&amp;list=UUkz9lBMClADZOmXrt1gk02g">message</a>&nbsp;from inside the cage of the Alexandria Court. The activist has been <a href="http://www.madamasr.com/content/run-mahienour-run">condemned</a> to two years because she took part in and organized a gathering in Alexandria to commemorate one of the symbols of the 2011 uprisings, <a href="http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5845/saeeds-of-revolution_de-mythologizing-khaled-saeed">Khaled Said</a>, killed by police officers in 2010. </p> <p>«In my cell there are dozens of daughters of farmers», continues the lawyer, now in prison for 40 days and bound in the white cloth worn by female detainees. The Court fans were suddenly switched off despite the humid heat, to push the hundreds of people, who came to see Mahie making her appeal, to leave the courtroom. The black looks of the judge Sherif Hafez, known for his harsh methods against political prisoners, for a while restrained the activists from chanting. Not only their friends were there and dozens of Egyptian activists, but the families of all those accused of petty crimes and waiting for a sentence before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which started on Sunday. &nbsp;</p> <p>There were people fainting and scuffles between guards and the families of the detainees preceding the court decision to postpone the verdict until July 20, leaving Mahie in prison. «After the 10th of Ramadan, you can visit me every week», whispered Mahie to her mother and sisters, Miral and Mahiesoon. The lawyers, communist Khaled Ali, the revolutionary socialist Haitham Mohamedain and others, in their defence, criticized the anti-protest law as anti-Constitutional, and the unmerited arrest of Mahie who, according to her defence, was participating as a lawyer in a spontaneous gathering. &nbsp;</p> <p>When the postponement was announced, Mahie <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6mIrYFdjh4&amp;list=UUkz9lBMClADZOmXrt1gk02g">shouted her message from the cage</a>, followed by the chants of dozens of activists: «To protest is our right, we refuse the anti-protest law. The revolution is in every street». In those hours in the Council chamber, some photographers managed to take some pictures inside the cage, and give them to her family, while food, beverages and cigarettes were passed by the families of detainees through one door. Mahie, who has <a href="http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/508869.aspx">received</a> the International Ludovic Trarieux human rights award for her political engagement, asked a family member to come to the aid of another female detainee who did not have not enough money to pay her bail for leaving the prison.</p> <p><strong>2011-2014: the space of the contestation in Alexandria</strong></p> <p>The Egyptian judges have singled out Mahie to frighten a huge number of &nbsp;secular activists who, despite censorship and restrictions after the July 3, 2013 military coup (the 6 April movement ban, the arrests of the leaders of the movement, the <a href="http://www.madamasr.com/content/abd-el-fattah-shura-council-defendants-sentenced-15-years-absentia">15-year jail sentence</a> given to the activist Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as other activists and the <a href="http://www.madamasr.com/content/blog-court">24 arrests of protesters</a> marching last week towards the Heliopolis presidential palace against the anti-protest law) are still criticizing the antidemocratic methods of the Egyptian army. </p> <p>To describe Mahie’s activism is to describe how the protests have been going on in Alexandria, throughout the last three years: a city completely different from Cairo, with a public space which extends from the sea up to the immense university (where, between the Qait Ibrahim Mosque and Sidi Gaber all the major demonstrations have taken place since 2011) - an immense hinterland, with an extremely disadvantaged periphery. </p> <p>We met Mahie for the first time in December 2012 when Egypt was divided over the Constitution as approved by the Muslim Brotherhood. With her, we visited the local neighbourhood of West al-Aghani, Al-Amereia where there are hundreds of factories packed into the coastal town of Marsa Matruh. Downtown Alexandria has the concentration of the richest districts of Kafr Abdu and Rushdy. However, the further away you get from the sea, the less paved are the alley ways, and random brick houses seem to sprout up arbitrarily. The cosmopolitan sea-walk with the Qait Bey tower and the Alexandria Library, is far removed from the Nadi el Sid and Ali slums.</p> <p>Before the usual Friday clashes, we took part with Mahie in a meeting of the opposition group, the National Salvation Front, now dissolved. Her friend, the activist Taher Mokhtar had been organizing a big doctors’ strike. «We are asking for a budget for the health system, to set health up as a right for everybody and to increase the salaries of the hospital workers. 90% of the medical personnel is on strike because the Constitution is not going in this direction», Taher explained, alongside dozens of other activists, Ahmed Galal, Mustafa Sakr, Ranwa Ali. At that time, Suzan Nada, another protagonist of the Alexandria movements and Secretary of the Socialist Alliance Party, strongly criticized the Constituent Assembly defined as illegitimate because of the marked absence of women, farmers, students and workers’ representatives. «They want to privatize healthcare and prevent an independent trade unions’ movement. If the Constitution of 1971 stated that 6% of the factory profit should be split with the workers, now this provision has been cancelled. This is not the outcome we wanted for our revolution», Nada concluded.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>From Tamarrod to the arrest</strong></p> <p>We met Mahie again during the Alexandria demonstrations for the dismissal of the former president Mohamed Morsi. The campaign Tamarrod (rebellion), on May 2013, was supported by liberal and socialist movements and not then infiltrated by military secret services members, as proved to be the case later on. Mahie’s voice as she shouted the slogans led all the chants in the demonstrations that took place in front of the same court where Mahie is currently appearing as a defendant. Her commitment to breaking up the system from the bottom up meant that she spent several days in the Alexandria and Cairo courts or in the police stations, standing shoulder to shoulder with arrested activists and asking to know what had happened to activists of whom little was known, or defending detainees who has been arbitrarily arrested. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>After 20 days in prison, Mahien­our sent out her first <a href="http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18041/">letter from prison</a> through her lawyer Mohamed Ramadan. Mahie described the prison as a microcosm of poor and rich people where the latter have access to everything and the former to nothing, as in everyday life. The majority of the detainees of her cell are there because they cannot afford to pay their debts, after their sons’ weddings. Moreover, Mahie has denounced the women’s conditions in Damanhour’s prison: «we cannot ask for the release of an individual and ignore the needs of the people ». From the prison, Mahie continues to ask for the cancellation of the anti-protest law and calls for a class struggle to overthrow the system, which must include the participation of those who are less well off. «We must be organized and interact with the ordinary people, we must talk of the rights of those who are poorer and the solutions we propose. We must ask for their liberation so that people understand that we are not isolated from their needs», Mahie said. In a second letter from prison, Mahie has refused any amnesty unless the protest law is fundamentally amended.</p> <p>Two demonstrations have been organized asking for Mahie’s release. The first in front of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights in Alexandria (ECESR), led by her lawyer and the former presidential candidate, Khaled Ali. 16 activists, among them Taher Mokhtar, were arrested, then subsequently released. In Cairo the protest took place at the entrance of the downtown Journalist Syndicate. A march started crossing Sherif Street and leading to Talaat Harb Square. However, the activists suddenly came under attack from people with stones and glass missiles and were forced to end the protest. After the election of the former general Abdel Fattah El Sisi, last May, with such a low turn-out, the space for contestation in Egypt has vanished. Nevertheless Mahie will continue the fight for the rights of the disadvantaged and the families of the thousands of people murdered or disappeared in the last three years in Egypt. We wish that by next July 20, a verdict will set free the most sincere and brave among the Egyptian activists.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mina-fayek/egypt%E2%80%99s-police-department-of-thugs">Egypt’s police: a department of thugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/juan-cole/arab-millennials-will-be-back">The Arab millennials will be back</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics Giuseppe Acconcia Tue, 01 Jul 2014 07:12:23 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia 84133 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Egypt’s new interim government is not a leftist coalition https://www.opendemocracy.net/giuseppe-acconcia-joel-beinin/egypt%E2%80%99s-new-interim-government-is-not-leftist-coalition <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A historian of the Middle East from Stanford University discusses Egypt’s new interim government and the labour movement.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>Giuseppe Acconcia: Professor Beinin, we are told that the Muslim Brothers have been abandoned by the armed forces to foster a government more engaged in the defense of social justice, as requested by millions of protesters, is this true?</em></p> <p><strong>Joel Beinin</strong>: To be sure the army is aware that with this economic crisis, with rising prices and the fall in the import of wheat, the Egyptian people’s social rights have to be addressed. I would not say that the new government looks likely to follow this path. The prime minister Hazim Beblawi is a man of the centre and his government arises out of an agreement between the youth movements, the liberal party al-Dostour, led by Mohammed el-Baradei, and the Nasserists, supporting Hamdin Sabbahi: it is not a leftist coalition. </p> <p><em>GA: In terms of political direction, what does the Minister of Manpower, Kamal Abu Eita, president of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, lend the government?</em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> Eita is a Nasserist, not a socialist. It is enough to read his first commentary after the offer: “Workers should become the heroes of production”. According to the Nasserists, strikes should never take place: the national economy must ameliorate to the point that all salaried workers can live properly. For this reason, Eita has been criticized by the left, for instance by Fatma Ramada, representative of the Independent Syndicates’ board, who harshly opposed his appointment.</p> <p><em>GA: Have the Muslim Brothers lost their support among the Egyptian workers?</em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> They never had any such support. The workers in the industrial sectors showed their clear opposition towards the Brotherhood; for instance, by rejecting the Constitution in the Nile Delta region and Cairo, the biggest industrial areas of the country. </p> <p><em>GA: During this year, did the many leftist parties that supported the rebel campaign swell their ranks </em><em>before the 3 July military coup? </em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> The true leftist parties, such as the Revolutionary Socialist party, do not have a significant constituency. They are not able to mobilize the workers. They had some political space before and after Mubarak: but the economic crisis alienated their support in the workers movement. The Tamarrod (rebels) always described itself as a big coalition. Among the signatures collected, a fifth come from the left. But this component is rather lost in nationalist discourses. The campaign which led to Morsi’s fall speaks to and for the nation, without expressing the demands of any one class. </p> <p><em>GA: This secular change has been helped by the Nasserist component within the army?</em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> The true Nasserists were eliminated within the top posts of command inside the military, years ago. In the political arena, the army has always fought against both Nasserists and Islamists, which explains why Marshal Hussein Tantawi needed a week to admit that Morsi won the elections against Ahmed Shafiq last year. </p> <p><em>GA: Why has the law on independent syndicates, approved after the revolts, never been enforced?</em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> At the last syndicate elections in 2006, the Muslim Brothers and leftist movements did not participate, because the activists of those groups had already been identified, removed or rounded up and put under arrest by state security. The military junta did not permit the governments, after 2011, to apply a law that could revitalize the Egyptian trade union movements. </p> <p>The parliament elected in 2012 had been discussing the new syndicate law, and three different versions were proposed. However, the process was abruptly terminated by the Parliament’s dissolution. Last August 2011, members of the Brotherhood, remnants of the old regime (feloul) and leftist independents entered the Central Committee of the Egyptian syndicate’s federation. At that stage, the Islamists began to work with the <em>feloul</em>. Last year, the syndicate elections were postponed and the same will happen again this year. In the meantime, the Muslim Brothers and the National Democratic Party’s former members still control the trade unions. </p> <p><em>GA: Is it correct that the Mahalla al-Kubra’s workers were active in these latest revolts?</em></p> <p><strong>JB:</strong> At the moment, nobody knows who represents whom. The workers in Mahalla are a force that could lead the movement, but up till now none of the political parties have been able to organize it. The real socialist parties are very far from power; while social-democrats, already active in the previous regime, have been co-opted within the new government. This means they have become party to a nationalist ideology that for years has categorically rebuffed the workers’ requests.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Revolution Joel Beinin Giuseppe Acconcia Mon, 29 Jul 2013 10:04:41 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia and Joel Beinin 74362 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A year of democratic farce https://www.opendemocracy.net/giuseppe-acconcia-samir-amin/year-of-democratic-farce <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Samir Amin, Egyptian philosopher and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samir_Amin">economist, director</a> of the Third World Forum in Dakar, talks about the last year in Egypt with the Brotherhood in power, interviewed by Giuseppe Acconcia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>On 30 June 2012, Mohammed Morsi took over as the Mubarak successor. However, on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Muslim Brothers’ victory when this interview took plave, bloody clashes broke out in the country.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Acconcia: What do you think about the Tamarod’s campaign?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin</strong>: The <em>Tamarod</em>’s campaign for the Morsi dismissal is magnificent. Millions of people signed their names after giving deep political consideration to what they were doing: something totally ignored by the international mainstream media. They represent the majority of all the electoral constituencies, but they do not have any voice. The Muslim Brothers wield political power and like to think they can control 100% of the votes. Thus, they ensured members of the movement in every public sector. Their way of managing the country is informed by a type of crony capitalism which simply does not leave any room for the opposition figures and technocrats who had some power even in the Mubarak era. </p> <p><em>A: This is happening during the worst economic crisis of recent decades</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> There is more than an economic crisis. Islamists have only ultraliberal answers to give to the crisis: they have replaced the capitalists’ bourgeois clique that were Mubarak’s friends with reactionary businessmen. Moreover, their goal is quite simply to sell off public goods. The Brotherhood is hated by Egyptians because it continues with the same policies as its predecessor. </p> <p><em>A: Maybe worse in the case of the Islamic Finance Bill?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> It is theft to attach derisory prices to goods that are worth billions of dollars. These are not the usual privatizations that reactionary regimes indulge in, selling off goods at their economic value. This is pure fraud more than a privatization. </p> <p><em>A: Recalling the stages of this year with the Brotherhood in power - Morsi won after eight days of uncertainty and finally the elimination of the Nasserist, Hamdin Sabbahi, in the first round. Were the 2012 presidential elections manipulated?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin</strong>: There was massive electoral fraud. Hamdin Sabbahi could have passed into the second round, but the US Embassy did not want it. European observers listened to their American diplomatic counterparts and turned a blind eye to the fraud involved. Moreover, the five million votes for Sabbahi were squeaky clean and highly motivated. On the other hand, the five million votes for Morsi came from the most wretched part of the population, devoid of political conscience: the votes of people willing to be bought off for a piece of bread and a glass of milk.&nbsp; </p> <p><em>A: But would you agree that the sharpest clashes between the presidency and demonstrators broke out last November as a consequence of the presidential decree that extended Morsi’s powers? </em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> Morsi got going with a few weeks of demagogic speechifying, promising to listen to the other political contestants. After that, it soon became clear the extent to which the President was a puppet with the Gulf countries pulling the strings out of sight. He became a mere instrument of the <em>murshid</em>’s will&nbsp; - that of Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood.</p> <p><em>A: The historic support to the Palestinians had been shelved as well?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> The Egyptian Muslim Brothers support Israel, like the Gulf countries and Qatar do. They have always adopted an anti-Zionist discourse, but this was just an ongoing deception. The Qatari Emir, for example, is quite used to saying one thing and then doing the opposite, given the complete absence of public opinion. Now Egypt is supporting the worst type of opposition in Syria, as do the most reactionary western powers. The end result is that the majority of the western weapons furnished to the rebels are being used to finance the very worst outcome in Syria. </p> <p><em>A: Is this why Morsi supported the creation of a Free Trade Area in the Sinai, favouring an economic relationship with Israel?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> This is a huge loss to Egypt. The effects of the new Free Trade Area will not be the imagined industrialization of the region, but the perpetration of a huge fiscal fraud. This will strengthen small mafias and the dismantling of public assets. In the end, the Brotherhood would accept all the conditions of the International Monetary Fund and the expected loan will accordingly come to fruition despite the fact that corruption and financial scandal have spread all over the country.</p> <p>A: So how do you see the acceptance of the Constitution written by the Muslim Brotherhood, last December?</p> <p><strong>Samir Amin</strong>: This is a dictatorship of the majority. However, judges put up the strongest and indeed an unprecedented fight against the ratification of the constitutional referendum results. But it is clear that the ultimate goal of Freedom and Justice (the political party of the Brotherhood) is to build-up a theocracy on the Iranian model. </p> <p><em>A: To conclude, is there anything left to preserve in this year of Morsi’s presidency?</em></p> <p><strong>Samir Amin:</strong> The lumpen proletariat is easily manipulated, and <em>a fortiori</em> would not obtain anything by the upheaval Morsi’s overthrow will bring. Moreover, the division of power the Brotherhood has with the army who is behind the scenes, ready to intervene, is full of ambiguity. The military personnel, as a class, are corrupt - a corruption guaranteed by American help, and carefully composed of segments of different classes, divided into political currents, many of them close to the Brotherhood and the Salafists. </p> <p>However, with normal elections, with a period of democratic preparation, the Brotherhood will be beaten. But if this is not going to happen, next October there will be a more repressive climate and the vote will be manipulated by widespread falsification as happened on the previous occasion.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics International politics Violent transitions Samir Amin Giuseppe Acconcia Thu, 04 Jul 2013 08:08:52 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia and Samir Amin 73796 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Giuseppe Acconcia https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/giuseppe-acconcia <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Giuseppe Acconcia </div> </div> </div> <p>Giuseppe Acconcia is an award-winning journalist and researcher focusing on the Middle East; researcher at the University of Padova, visiting scholar at the University of California (UCLA), teaching assistant at Bocconi, and a lecturer at the Cattolica University in Milan (Aseri). His research interests focus on youth and social movements, Iranian domestic politics, and the state and transformation in the Middle East. He is the author of The Great Iran (Exorma, 2016), Egypt. Military Democracy (Exorma, 2014) and The Egyptian Spring (Infinito, 2012). He publishes in Il Mulino, The International Spectator, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Sada) and Palgrave.</p> Giuseppe Acconcia Mon, 13 May 2013 08:02:43 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia 72666 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Syrian rebels’ faults are surfacing https://www.opendemocracy.net/giuseppe-acconcia-roger-owen/syrian-rebels%E2%80%99-faults-are-surfacing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Roger Owen, professor of Middle East history at Harvard University talks about Syrian rebels’ narratives and current US strategies. Interview.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>Acconcia: Professor Owen, can you explain why Israel attacked Syria in recent weeks?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>Owen.</strong> It is mysterious, we know only a few facts. Apparently, the Israeli target was a centre of military research. Thinking about the dangers posed by Syria, on the one hand the Israelis worry most about Iranian rockets that are destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and on the other Americans&nbsp;worry about chemical weapons - possibly sarin. Only the former has so far come under attack.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>A: Would it be true to say that the attacks exposed how the use of non-conventional weapons by the regime has been wrongly portrayed abroad?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O: </strong>President Obama has spoken about the «red line» that must not be crossed on several occasions. But news coverage on the use of chemical weapons has disclosed a deeper truth: the rebels can do whatever they want, but the information we receive only entails that which is the exclusive responsibility of the regime. There is an evident lack of credibility in this.</p> <p><em>A: At this stage, the situation on the field appears unclear.</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O: </strong>We cannot draw a map of Syria at the moment. The government assures us it controls some cities but not others. The army has just two reliable divisions. In this context, military personnel are forced to withdraw from some areas and the rebels take advantage of this. Certainly, the regular army aims to control the borders, especially with Iraq and Jordan because it is from there that weapons come into the country. The same happens in the north, along the border with Turkey and Lebanon. This allows the transfer of war materials from one side to the other of the country, destabilizing the regime.</p> <p><em>A: And increasing the number of refugees?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O:</strong> In Daraa and Damascus the atmosphere of war with its sense of destruction and danger has forced many people to leave, as happens during any military campaign. In a sense, the history of the Palestinian refugees in 1948 is similar. The only reliable numbers come from the United Nations and the only country that would have any interest in exaggerating the figures is Jordan, in order to ask for more help from the international organizations.</p> <p><em>A: The minorities face major challenges, especially the Kurds, would you say?</em></p> <p><strong>O:</strong><em> </em>It is necessary to draw a distinction between the interests of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the remaining Kurdish movements who are trying to take advantage of the current crisis. There is a continuous flow of Turkish and Iraqi Kurds to Washington. The Iraqi Kurds argue that their administration would be far more effective than the al-Maliki government. However, just two families manage the entire flow of international aid into Iraq. Christians and Sunni are also waiting: if they can afford it, they try to leave for Beirut. The most worrisome thing is the presence of the Alawites who have displaced Sunni Muslims within many villages. Moreover, it is interesting to look at the Druzes, because they do not have any external support. So they are forced to find a refuge in the mountains.<em></em></p> <p><em>A: It is very difficult to grasp the nature of the Syrian opposition and who makes it up?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O: </strong>There are ideologically-driven as well as local opposition movements who draw on weapons and money coming from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. There are the Qaedists who are very well organized, but thy have no links with the previous type of rebel. The jihadists have tried to establish popular committees and courts, but they cannot put in place a restrictive interpretation of Sharia. And neither can impose themselves on the population because there are not many of them, as was the case in Afghanistan, even if they are ready to die. </p> <p>Former and current State Secretaries Hilary Clinton and John Kerry both attempted to unify the opposition. They began with the intention of giving aid to ngo’s, but they could not find any. What they should do in fact is to support the women’s associations in the north of the country: they are the only ones who know what the people need and who controls each local network. Finally, the Syrians of Washington and London act as lobbies in favour of military intervention, but they too are not an organized and coordinated movement.</p> <p><em>A: If the attempt to unify the opposition has failed, what is the strategy of the United States?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O:</strong> They only have an end game in sight. If Assad is defeated, they would support the intervention of Saudi and Qatari soldiers in Syria favouring the refugees’ &nbsp;return to the country. They fear that control could pass into the hands of the Muslim Brothers. But it is too late to intervene now. They are waiting for the moment when the Syrians become exhausted. Meanwhile, the Russian authorities do not want to see regime change. They know that Assad has a good army, able to shoot down Turkish planes. It is important that there is a general feeling that Israel will not attack Iran. Nevertheless, the fear is that missiles might arrive from the South of Lebanon and this spreads terror in Tel Aviv.</p> <p><em>A: Is the Syrian economy as bankrupt as was its counterpart in Egypt?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O: </strong>The economy never collapses. People find a way to restart, and not only people on the rebel side. These people live in a free market. For sure, such a crisis entails the return of longterm planning. Thus, the left, whether it has been killed off or incorporated into the status quo in the past, could be back, beginning in Egypt. Ordinary people are living through a revolutionary moment, especially middle class women. They are experiencing a sexual liberation, and it does not matter how long they have to wait before incorporating that into their legislation – they won’t let it go.</p> <p><em>A: Does this transformation of the Middle East have any historical precedent?</em><em></em></p> <p><strong>O:</strong> In 1917-18 Russia, local leaders organized popular committees relying on those who the people trusted. However, Middle East societies are patriarchal, managed by religious and political authorities. Revolutions involve politicians and judges: and if they are purged, nobody can do anything. If in Libya the new government wants to exclude those who had connections with Muammar Gaddafi, who actually remains? </p> <p>The other model is the French Revolution, with the magnificent eruption of people, even if they are disorderly, where the square itself created the revolutionary process. Then we can turn to the American version, with a document that begins with the people and the necessity to create a new political order, settle down and obey these new rules.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> Syria Violent transitions Roger Owen Giuseppe Acconcia Mon, 13 May 2013 08:00:17 +0000 Giuseppe Acconcia and Roger Owen 72665 at https://www.opendemocracy.net