Egypt: revolution under threat from the army

Violent army crackdown on Cairo protesters shocks Egyptians
Morning broke on a scene that wasn’t supposed to be in the new Egypt: burned military trucks, skeins of barbed wire, blood in the dirt, one protester dead.

In a predawn raid Saturday that stunned the nation, Egyptian soldiers stormed Tahrir Square to disperse about 2,000 protesters angry at the ruling military council for failing to deliver democracy and bring corrupt officials to justice after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

The capital’s central square, a scene of celebration two months ago when Mubarak fell from power, became a surprise battlefield as soldiers beat protesters and tore down tents. One demonstrator was shot dead and 71 others were injured. The military said its troops fired only blanks, but protesters said the air was peppered with live ammunition.

The city echoed with sustained gunfire as soldiers swept into the crowd shortly after 3 a.m. Many protesters were dragged toward trucks, and hundreds of others scattered as troops closed ranks and demonstrators hurled stones. Tensions were further heightened as protesters formed a line to protect at least eight junior military officers who had switched sides and joined the demonstrations hours earlier.

“We are starting to realize that unfortunately the military is our enemy,” said Mohamed Wagdy, a protester and unemployed engineer who witnessed the raid. “They were an integral part of Mubarak’s regime, and now their mask has fallen off. Now we can’t say that the army and the people are one hand anymore.” (Los Angeles Times)

Soldiers in Tahrir Square
No one is quite sure where the red lines are in Egypt these days. Over the past weeks, protesters have gathered and been dispersed, most notably a month ago, on March 8th, when dozens were detained and some were beaten by the military with electric cattle prods, while women among them were subjected to forced virginity tests. The Army seemed to step back from these heavy handed tactics over the past weeks. Then, at around 3AM on Saturday, an hour after a curfew that is routinely ignored, the Army moved in on a few hundred protesters still in the square—firing into the air, beating people with batons. The protesters clearly tried to fight back; at daybreak, burnt vans were visible, and a bloodied patch of trash.

The light fell, gold and then grey, on Tahrir Square Saturday evening. The vans still smoldered and set an acrid tang in the air which stung bitter in the back of the throat. The ground was littered with the detritus of fighting: rubble, the ammunition of the protesters; and the Army’s bullet casings. By a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet that had been the gallery for the revolutionary cartoonist syndicate the day before, the patch of blood had been reverently cordoned off. The crowd—milling, chanting, angry, bruised, defiant—were almost entirely young men of the poorer classes. The families that one usually sees in the square were missing, and there few women present. The atmosphere was grim and tense and uncomfortable. There were no police or soldiers to be seen.

I found a young blond woman, a Moroccan called Faten; she was distraught, explaining to a group of people that she had come to the square the day before with her fiancé, Mohamed Tarek Al Wadie, an officer with three stars on his shoulders (between a captain and a major). He had arrived in civilian dress, she said, just to see what it was all about, and seen a fellow officer he knew, in uniform, addressing the crowd. There were several officers on the square Friday—I saw one of them, and tried to talk to him, but he dared not be seen speaking to a foreign reporter—even though the military had forbidden soldiers to attend in uniform on pain of mutiny charges. Her fiancé had been inspired to take the microphone, and had denounced Mubarak and his regime. Later, around midnight, he was arrested by the military police from his parents’ house. Faten told her story to several activists who wrote the details down: “They came in seven cars and took him away like a criminal.” She said she had tried to call her fiancé’s friends, also officers, but their phones were switched off, “which is something not normal at all.”

Nearby, a chanting mob paraded a uniform on a stick. “It’s all about Tantawi”—the defense minister and head of the Supreme Military Council—Nawra Mourad told me. She was picking up garbage, exhibiting a vestige of the spirit of the old, utopian Tahrir Square. “They are saying that seven people were killed last night. Someone else told me that two officers who were on the square yesterday were killed.” The crowd was young and brooding, and there looked like there would be trouble again. Mourad shrugged. She had been through the revolution, and “the fear barrier is already gone,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll go home today, a lot of us will stay. This is Tahrir, this is ours—this is for the rebels.” (Wendell Steavenson)

Hosni Mubarak breaks silence to deny corruption
Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak has denied he stole billions of dollars from his country’s coffers, in his first public address since he was removed from power by mass protests in February.

Mubarak said he would defend himself from any accusations of corruption, after a fresh wave of protests in Cairo in part to demand he be put on trial.

“I will uphold all my legal rights to defend my reputation as well as that of my family,” he said in a speech broadcast on an Arab satellite news channel. “I have been, and still am, pained by what I and my family are facing from fraudulent campaigns and unfounded allegations that seek to harm my reputation, my integrity and my military and political record.”

Mubarak said he held just one account with an Egyptian bank, and promised to co-operate with any investigation in order to prove that he did not have property or bank accounts abroad. He also denied similar accusations against his wealthy and once powerful sons, Alaa and Gamal. (The Guardian)

Egypt prosecutor alleges schemes by Mubarak family
Egypt’s top prosecutor has notified the United States and other governments around the world that former president Hosni Mubarak and his family may have hidden hundreds of billions of dollars worth of cash, gold and other state-owned valuables, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.

Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud wrote in the document that Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, may have violated laws prohibiting the “seizing of public funds and profiteering and abuse of power,” using complex business schemes to divert the assets to offshore companies and personal accounts.

The claims spelled out in the document are the most sweeping to date against Mubarak, a strategic ally of the United States for three decades until he was forced from power in February in the wake of national protests and international pressure. The sum of the assets alleged to be appropriated by the Mubarak family — more than $700 billion — far exceeds earlier estimates and might be wildly exaggerated. Previous figures for the amount allegedly stolen by the Mubaraks range from $1 billion to $70 billion.

The 12-page document, written in Arabic and titled “Request for Judicial Assistance,” is intended to provide the legal basis under civil law to recover assets belonging to the Egyptian people. The copy of the document obtained by The Post indicates it was prepared in February 2011 but does not provide a more precise date. An Egyptian official in Washington said the request was sent to countries where the Mubarak family might maintain assets. (Washington Post)

Mubarak threatens to sue over allegations against him
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday issued his first public remarks since his recent ouster, decrying corruption accusations against him.

In a brief audio message aired on Al-Arabiya television, Mubarak said the Egyptian government’s probe into his finances is aimed at tarnishing his reputation and undermining his “history.”

“I cannot keep silent facing this continued falsified campaign and the continued attempt to undermine my reputation and the reputation of my family,” he said.

He has agreed to allow the public prosecutor to contact governments around the world “to take all the proper legal steps to reveal” whether he and his family own any properties or real estate outside of Egypt. He also claimed he has no bank accounts abroad. (CNN)

A new era for US-Egypt relations?
The narrative whereby the West orchestrated a careful conspiracy to keep down the Arab world by imposing Mubaraks is no truer than the idea of that democracy and its promotion will suddenly become a priority for strategic planners in Washington, London or Paris. The truth is more humdrum: For a host of complicated reasons, ranging from their domestic politics to colonial legacy to the need for a stable oil-producing Middle East, the West preferred to deal with tyrants whose behavior was predictable and, at least most of the time, friendly. But it’s worth considering that the tyrants were often indigenously created, not the invention of an outside power. Lack of democracy in the region is partly related to outside intervention, but also fundamentally rooted in its own political, cultural and developmental dynamics.

The West and the United States in particular will continue to prefer dealing with a friendly and predictable regime. It will not take great risks to ensure that the next government of Egypt is a democratic one, but it will try to nudge things in that direction when possible. This, at least, is what appears to be the attitude of the Obama administration towards Egypt. We need only look at Washington’s tacit support for repression of the uprising in Bahrain to know that, in different circumstances, things would be different.

In Egypt, Washington sees many things: an influential power in the region; a military partner that can help reduce logistical headaches for the US military (for instance by granting overflight rights and refueling facilities, as it has done throughout the occupation of Iraq); a country with a combustible mix of social, economic and political ills; the host of the Suez Canal; and a place for which the American public has a certain fondness (for a variety of reasons ranging from the Pyramids to the infectious enthusiasm of Tahrir revolutionaries to the presence of a large Christian minority). It’s also worth remembering that America’s foreign policy system is complex and multi-layered, with the US-Egypt bilateral relationship having increasingly been dominated by military and security imperatives in recent years. Official attitudes in Washington today are shaped as much by the Pentagon and CIA as they are by Congress, the State Department and the White House.

Because Pentagon strategists tend to plan for everything, they also fear that Egypt might become another Iran, or even another Somalia. And they know from experience that the US will inevitably be drawn into Egyptian affairs, partly because of the logic of its imperial military posture towards the Middle East (secure oil routes, contain the rogue states, protect the Gulf monarchies, etc.), but also because the Egyptian government is already asking for help. Those who think Egypt can now, for instance, break off the Camp David agreement should be asking how receptive Washington will then be to supporting Egypt’s borrowing on the international markets or its requests for World Bank or IMF funding.

It will take time for Egypt to develop a new relationship with the United States. The patron-client relationship in which Egypt was increasingly pigeonholed over the last decades, in part because its foreign policy sought to defend a regime rather than advance the interests of a nation, will continue for some time. To re-balance it — hopefully so that Egypt can be more like Turkey, which has closer military ties to the United States (through NATO) but can afford to be more independent in its foreign policy (a good corrective to American hubris in recent years) — will take time, careful planning and a clever reinvention of what Egyptian foreign policy stands for. But it need not be couched in either reflexive hostility or naiveté. (Issandr El Amrani)

The rise and fall of Egypt’s most despised billionaire, Ahmed Ezz
With a curt wave of her hand, the wife of one of Egypt’s richest men poses a question she already knows the answer to. “Who is sympathetic to the billionaire?” Abla Ezz asks. “No one.”

Just a couple of months ago, her husband, the steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, moved in Egypt’s most elite circles, a parliamentary leader and political enforcer for the ruling party and a close friend of Gamal Mubarak, the son of then-President Hosni Mubarak.

But since the regime-toppling revolution here, Ezz, 52, has been paraded through the streets like a common criminal, taunted by a mob and tossed into jail on charges of graft. (For good measure, pro-
democracy demonstrators also looted and torched the headquarters of Ezz Steel.)

Ezz, in a recent public letter from jail, says he did nothing illegal. But as Egypt purges elements of its old order and gropes to structure a new one, he has emerged as perhaps the most hated symbol of a system that rewarded the few and oppressed the many. Fairly or not, Ezz — the oligarch who cornered the market on steel production in the Arab world — represents for millions of Egyptians a pervasive crony capitalism that, before the revolution, was simply a fact of life. (Washington Post)

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1 thought on “Egypt: revolution under threat from the army

  1. Norman

    Seems like the old plutocracy is still calling the shots, including those same Military officers that were involved in the corruption before the revolution. Power is something that is hard to pry from the hands of those who have held it as long as the Army has in Egypt. This may turn out to be a sad ending to the hopes & aspirations of those that participated in the overthrow of Mubarak.

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